We’ve Gone and Done It

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After that last update about 8th grade in May, we went ahead and made it official.

  • Started planning college admissions more actively with Barbara, our fantastic college counselor.
  • Prepared kiddo to be sent off to a summer math program at HCSSiM in Amherst, MA.
  • And while kiddo was away, started writing my counselor documents – counselor letter, course descriptions and school profile. Then, polished and updated the transcript I had started way back when (kiddo was chronologically in 6th but finishing up 9th grade level work at the time).
  • When August came along, I told myself to be brave and skipped the kid to 12th grade for the 2016/17 school year.
  • Kiddo is checking the very last “requirement” boxes now…the ones we happily ignored while following a very pointy math journey.
  • Yes, in the end, things did turn out to be okay. All the worrying I did when kiddo was in 4th-5th-6th about looking like there will only be loads of math credits on the transcript and nothing else turned out to be just worries. The kid will have more than 10 math credits and also more than 4 each in english and science. History and foreign language at 4 and 5 respectively. A bunch more for electives.

This November, kiddo wrote and submitted all applications. Essays! Yes, they were actually written and polished! We had to brainstorm together but I think that’s something many families do. Still 14 after all, right? Oh my goodness, to think I used to be so nervous about writing ability. It caught up too. We celebrated with M&Ms and ice cream.

Now, we wait. If all goes well, I will have a 14-year-old college freshman in the 2017/18 academic year.

Proud of this kid and even more proud of how hard he works. (Shhh…and still worried for health, safety and everything else but hey, isn’t that what parents do? Worry all the time?)

We are still very pragmatic folks and if things don’t go well, we’ll just pick up where we left off and move forward. Homeschooling definitely seems to be wrapping up here but that’s a post for another day.

Year 6 Record-Keeping

First, I wanted to thank everyone who weighed in on my last post about blogging. I feel very honored. Very inspired. Very grateful that there are others out there who think what I write has helped them in some way. That’s what this blog was meant to be when I first started it…not only a think-aloud and memory-keeping space, but also a helpful tool for others. You guys have made my heart beat a little faster with your kind words. ūüôā Thank you! So onward with a record-keeping post! ūüėÄ Continue reading “Year 6 Record-Keeping”

Funschooling is 5 … and Year 6 Begins!

Can’t believe the blog is five years old! What began as an experimental log of our homeschooling journey in August 2008 (when kiddo was in Year 1 or first grade) has evolved into an obvious part of my life now. I might not update the blog as often as I used to but I do look forward to posting when I can and am thankful I started it when I did. I can’t rely on memory alone much these days. I’ve made so many wonderful online friends through the blog too…a most unexpected and valuable experience! ūüėÄ

So kiddo is now in Year 6. Sixth grade. Almost 11 years old! Wowzers! Continue reading “Funschooling is 5 … and Year 6 Begins!”

Homeschooling with Google Drive

Name any homeschool record-keeping software and chances are high that I’ve either subscribed or given it a whirl through the free trial option. I’m sad to say that despite all the choices, nothing comes close to the kind of functionality and interface I am searching for. So far, the tool that comes closest is Homeschool Tracker Plus but after pulling out my download from cold storage (yet again), and spending hours playing with it, I decided that there HAS to be something simpler than HST’s soaring learning curve. Continue reading “Homeschooling with Google Drive”

Using Weebly To Centralize Learning Links

Last summer, I wrote about organizing assignments with a blog. We like to follow different “tides” in our learning pattern and the blog became a little stifling when we felt unschoolish. From an assignment space, the blog morphed into another link-collecting space. Since I already have funschooling to park links, as well as the free, online bookmarking site Diigo to categorize links for online games, I ended up with long lists of unused links. Well-categorized, true, but still too much clutter!

Since late winter, I have been playing around with a different tool. I started compiling only the links kiddo uses most often, both for online classes and for fun, into a Weebly site. Of course, a blog will still work for this purpose. Weebly just makes it easier with its free, drag-and-drop widget-based interface. Most important, kiddo seems to prefer this to the blog. He just clicks on the site’s icon (he bookmarked it on his browser’s horizontal navigation bar) and now has visually clean, quick access to all his classes and preferred links.

How I created the site:
  1. I signed up for a free account at Weebly. 
  2. I personalized my chosen template with kiddo’s photo instead of the standard stock photo.¬†
  3. One can include a website name. The standard domain name, unless upgraded, is yoursite.weebly.com
  4. I made pages for the main subject areas we like to learn.
  5. I added sub-pages to each page. Pages automatically turn into drop down menus when sub-pages are added. A sub-page can be an actual page on the site or a link to another site. So far, I haven’t encountered a limit to the number of sub-pages allowed in the free account plan.
  6. Below kiddo’s photo, I included an at-a-glance, simple schedule of subjects using the text/ paragraph widget. You may separate the paragraphs as I have done into multiple columns (I chose 5 for the 5 weekdays). This schedule provides structure on the days that he wants it, and may also be changed easily, just like how you would edit any text box. Where possible, I also added links in the text.
  7. Below Friday, I added a button to remind us to check out Coursera’s offerings and sign up for any new ones that catch our eye.

We have been using this site for a few months now and we really like it.

Another benefit I see to this is that I can save every schedule in a separate page to keep a “record” of what he learned each year and how he learned it. It could be a convenient, quick-glance list vs. the longer blog records that require a few days’ worth of writing, editing, and photo-compiling. After saving the record for the previous year, I can update the site with new links and schedule for the next year.

Funschooling PDF Organizers 2012-13

Introducing…The Funschooling PDF Organizer series.

Whimsical graphics, a weekly grid plus additional space for thoughts and homeschool/ afterschool record-keeping make the Funschooling PDF Organizers a simple-to-use organizing tool. Its flexible format will suit classical learners, living books lovers, relaxed homeschoolers and unschoolers alike!

On the behest of a friend (thanks P!), I’ve also added space for weekend activities and inspiring quotations to keep you motivated and excited to learn throughout the week.

Choose from two formats for July 2012 – June 2013:

  • A simple-to-use, journal style, 54-page organizer for weekly record-keeping
  • A weekly double-page-spread, 106-page organizer for more in-depth record-keeping…use one per child for up to 10 subjects. If you do fewer subjects, it may be useful to keep records for up to 3 or 4 kids in one nifty book.

Each organizer is available as a PDF download for a low, low download price. I’m offering customization too!

Print and bind what you need either at home using your printer and a ProClick or at an office supplies store near you.

Many, many thanks to all my friends who’ve supported these design projects. Designing these organizers have been more fun than I dared imagine! ūüôā I might design another series for Jan 2013 – Dec 2013 in the coming months. Watch this blog for updates!

Free Funschooling Printable Planner

You may have noticed that I have designed a full-year PDF planner for sale. The planner is priced low but for the even more budget-conscious parent, I also wanted to offer free weekly planning/ record keeping printables. Below are two designs and if you scroll down, you’ll see suggested ways to use them.

July 2013: I have updated this post to include more free printable planners. Go here for download links. Enjoy!

http://www.scribd.com/embeds/94247778/content?start_page=1&view_mode=list&access_key=key-184f3fxvgmdl61khunzc

Helping Kiddo Manage His Learning

We’re trying something new at Funschooling Academy. We’re trying to help kiddo take more ownership over his learning. I might say I wish I’d thought of this sooner but I can’t. I think a child needs to attain a certain age or maturity to be ready for a responsibility like this. It just wouldn’t have been reasonable to expect this of him when he was 8.5, for example.

Now at 9 however, the boy seems to be ready to handle this.¬† Once quite an easy-going child about listening to Mom’s plans, he is becoming a lot more insistent on things being done his way and I want to respect that. And I want to ensure he continues to have plenty of time to play and tinker and think about his various interests.

These are the steps we’re taking as we try to make this plan work:

1. What to include. To begin, I needed some insight on what is important for kiddo to learn right now. So we started by looking at what he wants to learn and why. Next, we looked at what his Dad and I want him to learn and why. Finally, we pared down the three lists to the very essentials. I further divided the essentials into parts because it helps me to plan better this way. For example, when I list “science”, I tend to forget about experiments, for example. I created this chart using MS Excel to help me remember what to plan for every week. The printed chart is placed on our fridge for easy reference.

2. Flexible targets. Until kiddo has the maturity to set his own targets, I will fill the chart with a reasonable weekly overview of work to be completed. I will work on it a week at a time. This overview needs to be simple and predictable so that neither of us feels stressed about unexpected deadlines. It needs to be open-ended so that we can drop everything for a day and go attend an interesting talk or take a field trip 60 miles away, for example. Yet, it needs to be meaningfully significant enough that kiddo learns the value of having free time after working hard.

To set a weekly target, I look at how much work kiddo is usually able to complete in a day. I then multiply it by three. We follow a four-day learning week (and take the fifth to visit friends/ the library/ park days/ attend classes etc.). So for example, if kiddo is able to finish one math section a day, I target three sections for the week. This allows him to use the extra day to complete one more section and feel as if he accomplished more than planned. Or it gives him the flexibility to use the extra day for living math learning, playing math games/ puzzles or spend the day reviewing what was learned. Or he could take that day off and pursue one of his many projects.

If you follow a more rigorous schedule than we do, you might look at how many sections each resource has and divide the work accordingly into 36 weeks or something like that. We, however, like to skip around too much so very detailed planning won’t work for us. ūüôā

3.Tools. While I help with the weekly targets sheet, kiddo will be in charge of the daily planning. His job is to break up one week’s targets into manageable daily chunks and this is where I think he will learn most about being organized and responsible about his learning. I deliberated awhile over what tool to use for this. His Dad felt we should utilize an online planning tool. I felt kiddo wasn’t ready to use an online tool on a consistent basis. Besides, I haven’t come across an online tool that can tell us at a glance what he has completed and what he has coming without printing it all out on several sheets of paper. I use the free Skedtrack website for record-keeping and Skedtrack has planning and student log-in functionality but we don’t always have connectivity when we’re out and about.

I think it very important to have a clear, visual snapshot of how much he’s learned. So for now, he’ll be using a plain ol’2011-2012 planner that I bought at a bookstore for about $10. It’s spiral bound and can be flipped and folded over and placed on his table right next to his computer. It’s small enough to be popped into my tote bag or his backpack too. Easy.

4. Time. This may be the most challenging step of all. Challenging for me, I mean. I need to be patient and give kiddo time to make this work. We’ve set aside Sunday evenings to record the weekly target and then have him decide on his daily targets and write them into his planner. Throughout the learning week, I’m focusing on baby steps and gentle reminders but I hope he won’t need to be reminded too often once he sees the benefits of having a say over the planning (what gets done when), keeping track of work completed and having the rest of the day free to do the things that excite him. Today, for example, it worked really well. He knew in advance what he (and not just Mom) had planned for the day and even added an extra task so he’d be done with it sooner.

5. Motivation. To be honest, I don’t think this strategy will work without a child’s buy-in. Before there’s buy-in, the child has to know why he’s learning Subject X, also, why he’s being put in charge of planning his day. I feel very strongly that if a child doesn’t have a say over “the what”, he will not have any passion to see-through the “when”s and the “how”s. That’s why I don’t see this method working for curriculum that uses a lot of busywork or subjects that are not meaningful or interesting to the child. There’s something to be said about a child excitedly filling in his planner for learning activities as opposed to a child filling it in because it’s required of him or not knowing why he’s doing it.

I’ve tried other ways of planning and I think I like this one a lot better. It’s simpler and neater somehow. I honestly hope this works for us. I would also love to know if you are already using something like this in your home school and how’s it’s played out for you.

PS: I still manage the assignment blog I’d written about here but these days, instead of using it to assign work, I use it as a bookmarks blog for the online resources kiddo uses the most. I save the blog’s URL on kiddo’s favorites list (on IE) and the bookmarks toolbar (on Firefox) for a quick two-click access to his favorite sites.

Organizing Assignments with a Blog

I¬†thought I’d explain how I use Blogger for homeschool assignment tracking and to some extent, record keeping. Blogger of course, does not give you the full flexibility of tools created especially for lesson planning or record-keeping. I’ve blogged before about record-keeping tools I’ve tried or heard of and since then, I have also attempted a trial version of Simply Charlotte Mason’s $99/yr online planner. Apart from tracking and organization, these tools provide a helpful report function to¬†print a day’s, week’s, month’s or year’s¬†worth of work.

However, in the end,¬†these web or software-based tools became either too expensive or too unwieldly for me to use for longer than a month or two. They didn’t have the level of flexibility I wanted so I switched to pen and paper record-keeping with a planner.

Lately, thanks to a post by Tracey at Leaners at Home, I¬†have¬†started a private blog to¬†“suggest” (because I don’t “direct” anymore)¬†learning trails to the kiddo as well as to help him keep track of his daily routine (e.g. piano practice) and assignments due for his online classes.

Of course, my FunSchooling blog continues to be a major record-keeping resource for me. But¬†I don’t envision it¬†to be suitable for¬†listing assignments. Therefore, our new private assignment blog was born. The blog has been a fabulously helpful, visual tool for kiddo not only to keep track of his assignments but also¬†his favorite links. Every month, just before we meet with our charter school education specialist, I’d quickly look through a month’s worth of recorded work. This helps me prepare a simple report for her using a one- or two-page¬†Microsoft Word document.

This is a snapshot of what our assignment blog looked like the last few months of Year 3.

If you’re curious or wish to start one of your own, here’s¬†one way to do it. Please note that if you already have a Blogger account, you can simply sign in, and from your dashboard, click on the Create a Blog link. If you don’t have a Blogger account, signing up is free. WordPress, TypePad etc¬†users may want to adapt these steps according to blogging platform¬†of choice.

Step 1: Create a new blog, choose your prefered template (you can tweak it later, see Step 3), choose a blog ID/URL.

Step 2: If you look at my example above, I wanted a template similar to FunSchooling’s. So I went to the Dashboard and under my new blog’s name, clicked on Design.

Step 3: Under the Design tab, I chose Template Designer. I played around with the Templates, Background, Adjust Widths, Layout and Advanced tabs until I got¬†a look similar to FunSchooling’s.

Step 4: Some of you may want to explore using free blog backgrounds. Hot Biggity Blog is one that comes to mind.

Step 5: Once you have a look you like (in my case it was one main body in the middle and one sidebar on the right and three footer columns), click on Apply To Blog and save it.

Step 6: To make assignment planning easy, go to the Settings tab and click Formatting to create a Post Template.

Step 7: As seen above, scroll down to Post Template. List all (yes, every single one) of¬†the materials you’ve planned for your child to use. I’ll explain why below. Since we are often¬†semi-unschoolers, I also listed some of the most frequent delight-directed materials he likes e.g. his favorite historical fiction of the month, his favorite puzzle books etc. You can make the list as simple or as complicated as you want. And you might revisit this step often as your child completes materials and you add new ones. If you are a HTML pro, add your line break etc tags here. Otherwise, see next step. Don’t forget to Save Settings.

Step 8: Now go to the Posting tab and click on New Post. If you’ve saved your Post Template in Step 7, your new post should auto-list everything you typed into the Post Template box. However, it will look a little run-on¬†like this (unless you’re a HTML pro!):

To keep it clean and easy to read, you may want to use bullets or a numbered list. So…

Step 9: Reformat the post box so that all your text looks neat and tidy, each resource or assignment in its own line. Next, highlight all the text and click on the numbered list icon (three lines with 1, 2, 3 next to them) as seen on the left. Check to see that everything looks okay.
As seen on the right, click on the Edit HTML tab (top right of post). Highlight all text and right-click to copy. Press Save Now (unless you intend to publish the post as it¬†is). Saving will help ensure you don’t have to repeat this step if you make a mistake or your computer hangs etc.

Step 10: Go back to Settings/ Formatting/¬†Post Template. Highlight everything in the Post Template box to delete, then right-click and choose Paste to paste the copied text with the HTML tags. Don’t forget to Save Settings.

Step 11: Return to the Posting tab and choose Edit Posts. Delete the saved draft from Step 9. (Skip this step if you prefer to keep the draft).

Step 12: Click on New Post. It should show a much neater, run-on free, numbered list of materials/ assignments.

Now you’ll see why it’s easier to list everything. I use the day of the week for the title and the year of study as the label. I then delete all the materials that I don’t think we’ll use for that particular day, leaving only the materials or classes we *will* use. Easy-peasy! This helps you avoid all that¬†typing every single day! Deleting all the unwanted text is so much easier than typing it all over and over again.

Step 13: You may want to add specific instructions now to the remaining assignments. E.g. things like “Read pp X – Y” or “Do 30 minutes of A” etc.¬†Click on Publish and then View Post.

Step 14: Place the link to your assignment blog’s URL strategically on your desktop or somewhere easy for the child to access.

Step 15: For the sidebars, simply go back to the Design tab. Choose Add a Gadget. Scroll down to¬†Link List¬†or Text or the relevant gadget to the sidebar space. Start placing links. Now your child will have all the links handy for his or her lessons in one place and right next to the day’s assignment post too.

Step 16: Every morning (or if you’re able to, a week in advance), prepare a day’s (or week’s) worth of posts, click on Post Options/¬†Scheduled at and select when you want the post to publish.


If like me you prefer to keep this blog private, go to Settings/ Permissions. Under the heading Blog Readers, choose the radio button next to Only blog authors. Click the orange button that appears to save your settings.

Be sure to¬†explore other gadgets (like the Search box) that Blogger offers as well. There are also widgets like Library Thing, Shelfari etc that you can use as you would with your usual homeschooling or personal blog. You’ll need to find the HTML/Javascript codes and use the add HTML/Javascript gadget for these.

Do be aware that this idea may not be your cup of tea if a¬†specific homeschool record-keeping¬†tool already works well for you. The reason this works extremely efficiently for us is that it’s free (hooray!) and because I have the flexibility to park all of our most-used links within the same interface. I also like changing plans at the drop of a hat and tend to be more and more delight-directed as kiddo grows older and more aware of what he wants and doesn’t want to do. I found record-keeping software more rigid for this purpose.¬†I can also see this method working beautifully for very structured homeschoolers because of the convenience of the Post Template feature. However, if printing reports is your thing, record-keeping software may do a better job for you.

The key disadvantage I can think of is that it requires me to spend about 5-10 minutes every morning deleting unwanted resources for the day’s¬†post and then another 5 or so minutes editing it in the evening according to how much kiddo accomplished. I do forget to do this¬†sometimes as well. But we don’t do so much every day that remembering to do it a few days later is a chore.

Hope this is helpful to someone!

Keeping A Portfolio Of Your Child’s Work

Readers who know me well, repeat after me, “This is in no way an authoritative how-to”.

There are many reasons for keeping a portfolio of your child’s work and there are many organizations that require such things before they will provide admittance or offer some kind of scholastic benefit to your family. Perhaps you would like to apply to a special school or see if your child qualifies for summer camps or retreats with exclusive requirements. Perhaps you are compiling a homeschool “what kiddo did” scrapbook. Or perhaps you just like to be prepared because face it, you usually¬†realize you need such things only too late.

Please keep in mind that every portfolio must be driven by a¬†purpose. When I get immersed in projects such as these, I am usually controlled by a momentum of thought and feeling that makes the result¬†suited specifically to that one purpose. These are just thoughts to get you started and so¬†may not be helpful unless you have a similar¬†purpose in mind. Also, this is a guide for submitting a portfolio of work when your child is still young, umm…let’s say¬†6 to¬†9 years old.¬†I’m guessing¬†that a portfolio for older kids will have different needs so I’ll write a post for that when I get there.

I’m writing this from my very recent experience¬†creating¬†an achievement portfolio for kiddo.¬†I will try to remember to update the post if I stumble across other ideas.

KEEPING TRACK OF DEVELOPMENT

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A box of memorabilia from kiddo’s birth till now. His Book of Days is¬†in the bottom right.
Helps to start early! I began keeping a record of the kiddo’s development from the first weeks of his birth. Into it went the usual things: day and time of birth,¬†measurements, overall temperament and a bunch of snapshots. His first year, I wrote what I called ______’s A Book of Days. I’d note little observations of what he did and said and what others said about him in a little journal,¬†leaving out quite a lot of detail which in retrospect I wish I had included. But again, my purpose was to capture a brief record of his first year as a gift to him when he was older.¬†Today, kiddo loves reading and re-reading this little book. It delights him to discover again and again¬†the truth of his total tyrannical control over his besotted parents. Much of his second to fifth¬†years failed to be recorded in writing due to life events and lack of time. But I faithfully updated his¬†growth chart and took many photos of¬†his learning milestones.

Sometime in 2008, kiddo turning six, I began keeping a little journal again. This time, the book was filled with milestones as well as observations of his interests, obsessions, inventions and so on. Developmental milestones sat side by side with a record of his rapidly developing observation/¬†thinking/ analyzing skills and other little achievements. I still regret not writing down enough but am thankful for what I had. Plus, I also started this blog. Both have¬†been¬†helpful as sources of information for an explanatory letter I am including in his¬†achievement portfolio. Please keep in mind that I’m no scrapbooking expert and haven’t thought in detail about using acid-free or archive-quality materials. So¬†do carry out¬†appropriate research on these¬†if necessary.

PUTTING TOGETHER THE ACHIEVEMENT FOLIO

Don’t shred without checking! When hubby cautioned me years ago to hang on to the¬†drawings, doodlings, cipher-like codes,¬†etc. kiddo had produced, I scoffed. I hate clutter so off everything went into a recycle bin. Besides, we were moving thousands of miles within a limited budget. How could I find room for these? Yes, I am swearing at myself¬†now. Hard. So keep all that you can. If you don’t have time, find a box for it and just dump it in there, scribble a name on the box, lest you accidentally throw it away.¬†Keep said box somewhere close or you won’t remember to use it.

Date and organize. If your obsession for being¬†organized runs deeper than boxes, use¬†a 2-inch¬†binder with¬†sheet protectors or something similar. Date your kiddo’s work¬†(you won’t remember otherwise when it happened,¬†trust me).¬†Use one binder a year or one every¬†six months if you have a prolific producer of¬†amazing talent.¬†Organize electronically if closet space is limited. Take photos, rename the file to include event and date (e.g. ExplosiveDevice031209), save it in a folder with your child’s name, organize¬†folders by year if necessary,¬†and always back up your files (again, just trust me). I once took a video of kiddo reading aloud from his chapter book at just over¬†three years old and was so happy I’d been able to catch him doing it. I forgot to back it up and overwrote the memory card! I didn’t¬†have another opportunity that year.

Notebooks. Don’t underestimate the value of notebooks and sketchbooks. There are many affordable notebooks, graph paper books, sketchbooks etc. out there. Let your child have as many as you can afford.

What to include? When you’re putting aside work for a memory book or precious storage, anything goes. But when you¬†start compiling meaningful work for an achievement portfolio, you want to look for work that’s precocious or unusual for age. You want to ensure it’s handwritten/ hand-drawn by the child when¬†possible. You want to try to remember what made your kiddo produce it. So,¬†apart from date, try to attach a short explanatory note too. Ask your child what made her do it. Take her explanation down in dictation if necessary. Your explanatory note is¬†basically trying to explain your child’s thought processes, her ability to analyze and synthesize information. Not just the “what” but also the “how”¬†and “why” of her creation.

Often, work like this is produced as a result of¬†free will or is delight-directed and is rarely assigned by an adult. There are exceptions of course. One of the sheets that went into kiddo’s achievement portfolio was math homework assigned by his tutor. It was of obviously different quality from¬†work I’d assigned a semester before and¬†I wanted that difference to show.

Here’re¬†more ideas of what could be suitable to¬†include:

  • copies of achievement test scores, standardized test scores, etc. and if you don’t use such tests, perhaps chapter review tests from curricula she’s completed could be helpful too
  • copies of any IQ test reports you may have — we don’t have these so I may not be the best person to advice here. If in doubt, call the people who will be assessing the achievement portfolio and ask them what they need.
  • depending on the situation, other anecdotes and observations you’ve recorded spontaneously about your child —¬†if you need to explain further, attach an explanatory letter. For example, frustrated about not finding suitable curricula options for my rapidly learning youngster, I’d scribbled a note to myself one day in that journal I’d started in 2008. I’d forgotten about this but when I flipped through the pages and found it,¬†I remembered why I’d written it and felt it was ample evidence to show¬†how challenging it has been¬†to homeschool him.
  • it bears repeating…include videos and pictures — pictures do paint many, many words. This is also especially useful when like me you have a kiddo who hates to write and¬†won’t “perform” for a planned video. So if you have a chance to capture a moment on tape when she isn’t aware of it, do it!¬†I keep my camera just next to the sofa where he does most of his¬†written¬†work. And again, don’t forget to date and back-up the clips.
  • running list of ideas: baby milestones, comments about child from other parents, observations by school/ enrichment class teachers (if any), stories, doodles, artwork, crafts, poems, invention ideas, toys child made out of paper/ boxes/etc, puzzles created by and solved by your child, examples of handwriting and reading milestones, a list of hobbies, types of books (fiction and nonfiction) she reads, plays child has performed, songs she likes to sing and how quickly she memorized a script or lyrics, child’s musical compositions. Again, I’ll add to this if I have more ideas!

How much to include? This is a question only you can¬†answer. There’s only so much you can send by mail or email or interest someone long enough to explain to face-to-face. So all the more important to choose work that will grab attention and create a good first impression in the first 3 to 5 seconds of viewing it. You could perhaps consult a trusted friend to assess the portfolio before you send it. And¬†unless you are on a strict submission deadline, it helps to spend a day or two compiling the portfolio and then taking a few days to let it¬†“simmer” in the background. Giving yourself think-time might help you to remember to include something important you¬†missed and help you decide if you should leave something else out.

Just as you would for a job interview, if you are submitting a portfolio, tailor the contents and your explanatory and cover letters to the situation. Keep it relevant to the purpose. And always make a copy of what you submit and keep it safe.

Good luck!

If you have experience compiling portfolios for your kids¬†or have other ideas to contribute, please leave a comment.¬†I’d love to learn more from you!

A Homeschool Filing and Storage Idea

Have you ever pulled hair out over how to put away all the work you accumulate after a year or years of homeschooling?

Here’s a suggestion. Now that our official school year is over, it’s time to¬†compile all the copies of his charter school reports and portfolio samples to¬†file away. So for¬†Year 0 and Year 1, I kept the copies in¬†soft-covered binders. I bought different colors for every year and they served me well when we lived in our small apartment because I could store them in a bookshelf. However,¬†these soft binders were too thin for me to include completed workbooks and projects.

I didn’t want to tear out pages from the workbooks because for one, I didn’t know which ones to keep or toss. So I’d end up storing workbooks separately in a Staples cardboard crate. While it was convenient to just dump workbooks in the crate, it failed the purpose of filing materials away by year of completion. And then there was the space issue.

So this year, I bought us two expandable binders. Here are a few that I considered:

I finally settled on¬†two 20-pocket Ampad expanding files¬†from WalMart.¬†A blue one for Years 0 to 4.¬†I expect the green will last us from Year 5 to at least¬†7. These hold samples and attendance records as well as completed workbooks, notebooks¬†and projects that we want to keep. And the expanding file¬†has a slim¬†footprint, even if you live in a very small space. See photo on left comparing one expanding file with enough space to hold about 5 years’ worth of work for one child to the crate which holds a lot but ends up looking a mess.
Of course, I also tossed a small pile of completed work that I thought was unnecessary to store.
Photos here show the “great transfer”, from crate and¬†binders to a hold-it-all expanding file ūüôā From mess to streamlined organization!
Each year’s work¬†is color-coded using binder clips:

Total cost (for enough space to neatly hold at least 6-8 years’ worth of work for my child) was just over $25 and this included 2 expanding files and 2 tins of colorful binder clips.

2011 Update: I still use the binder clips to sort work by year. But have now moved from expanding files to clear tote containers with handles. Very much like this one (only ours have blue lids). I like the difference because it helps me to visually inspect some of the contents without even opening the container. I couldn’t do that with the expanding files. Some options below:

   Sterilite Large ShowOffs Storage Container       Officemate Easy Grip Large Binder Clips, Assorted Metallic Colors, 6 Packs of 6 Clips Each (31051)
Here’s a record-keeping for homeschoolers post by my friend Lisa. Thanks Lisa!ÔĽŅ

A FunSchooling Guide to Homeschooling

204d4-derekowensch1I don’t really mean to make this Homeschooling 101-style post¬†sound like it’s coming from a how-to expert. Well, it is a how-to article of sorts, just that I’m no expert. But I would like to share some thoughts for anyone¬†considering homeschooling as a choice for your elementary-school-aged¬†child.

I get asked how to homeschool very often, and find that many parents have so many what-if scenarios running around in their heads that their imagination alone makes them decide not to homeschool. I’m not saying home-learning is an option for everyone. Only that you won’t know if it is the best option for you if you don’t try. I hope that this post will help dispel some of your worries.

I also hope that if you are already a homeschooling veteran, you’d be willing to add some of your own thoughts and tips to this post (by pressing comments)…anything important you disagree with, or feel I have missed, will be so very¬†useful to me to pass on to friends who are planning to homeschool in the coming years.

There are also lots of better-written how to homeschool articles out there ūüôā If you scroll down to the footer, you will see a¬†whole¬†bunch of links for¬†new homeschoolers. I wanted to write this anyway to give you an idea of how natural it can be¬†to homeschool (but it can feel overwhelming in the start too and that’s entirely normal).

First, you are possibly already homeschooling if…

So many folk don’t realize that they are already homeschooling their kids. You were your child’s first teacher the moment you taught her her ABC’s, helped her learn to walk, to feed herself, to tie her shoes¬†etc.

Other folks are even better candidates for homeschooling if they follow their passions for science, nature, math, animals, gardening etc. on a regular basis with their kids. Do you go hiking together every weekend or once a month? Do you help your child find answers to his pressing questions? When your child wanted to learn to ride a bicycle, did you help him buy a helmet, explain what it is for, how the brakes work etc.?

All of these are “homeschooling” in their way.

Even if you didn’t do all these things, it doesn’t mean you are not going to be successful at it. I didn’t do any of the examples mentioned.¬†But we gradually fell into it when our whole lifestyle became one of learning and discovering together.

Homeschooling is not school-at-home…

Not as often as you may think any way. This is why the word “homeschool” tends to be regarded a misnomer by more experienced families. This brings me to two salient points:

#1 – You don’t have to be an expert in every subject to homeschool. That’s what enrichment classes, homeschooling co-ops, online learning sites, documentaries on cable or Netflix, that wonderful neighbor of yours who teaches in a community college and wouldn’t mind answering your kids questions in the weekends¬†etc are for.

#2 – You don’t have to re-create a school atmosphere to teach at home. Many parents start out doing that and find they are preparing themselves for burnout. We did that too. What you can do is focus on subjects you feel are essential. Start out slow and once you are comfortable, add subjects as you feel the need to.

In our home, the only assigned subjects are Math and English/ Foreign Language. The kiddo¬†does some Math every day (about¬†30 minutes, sometimes an hour if interest is high). For¬†English/ Foreign Language, he picks one area a day and spends about 20 minutes on it. He may¬†choose Grammar/ Mechanics on Mondays, Greek on Tuesdays and either Spelling or Vocabulary exercises on Thursdays. We are out the whole day on Wednesdays for a co-op. We try to spend some time doing some silly writing on Fridays. I’ve found this to be a lot more enjoyable for him since he has some choice over what is assigned. And we read LOTS of good books (read alouds and his own free reading),¬†so he gets tons of real-life practice¬†with and listening to high quality English usage.

This is just an example of what works for us.

Get your feet wet by specializing in a subject…

Regardless of why you are thinking of homeschooling, start simple.

Identify one topic your child is truly passionate about. And after school or during weekends, pursue that topic diligently with your child. Read together about it at bedtime. Find websites that if possible, incorporate that subject with well-designed, interactive and age-friendly games or videos. Research field trips in your city that you could take together during non-school hours to learn more or if you are fortunate, find experts in the field in your own family or extended family who will talk about it cheerfully/ frankly with your child. Look for books and videos in the library to supplement. And then, a couple of months to a semester later, gauge how much your child (and you) have learnt about that topic.

You may find the results to be absolutely shocking. This is how I personally realized (my hubby had known forever that¬†it was the best way) that homeschooling was the answer for my son. All the questions¬†the kiddo would¬†ask and we’d answer, bewildered about how¬†interested he was in diseases and death and yet not wanting to stifle him, all the reading he’d do on his own when given the chance, all the documentaries that thrilled him to bits…had nothing to do with the run-of-the-mill academic subjects introduced in his expensive private school (that he went to for only 3-4 weeks). His obsession with death eventually petered out (as developmentally it tends to do for many kids) but his interest in diseases is still fresh and strong.¬†And together, we have learnt so much about infections, illness, immunity, and overall, how the human body works…much more than a typical¬†elementary science or even middle school biology curriculum could have taught us in the same period of time.

Your child’s special area could be anything…there’s no such thing as an area being not good enough…there’s just so much to learn about in our world, after all and who knows where her interests could lead her?

Treat this one-topic strategy as your opportunity to try out homeschooling after school or on weekends for a semester or more. It could be very valuable to give you the confidence and experience you need to homeschool full-time.

Socializing with other kids…

I can understand how anxious new homeschooling parents must be about socialization opportunities, especially if you homeschool an only child like we do. To begin, perhaps your child is already very well socialized through close bonds with siblings, cousins, and neighborhood kids. Perhaps your child attends many after-school activities, or at least one or two a week where he meets and interacts with lots of kids his age.

Or perhaps, your family tends to be quiet, not very-outdoorsy. Perhaps you are a shy parent with a very sociable kid. Or vice versa.

I would say our most difficult challenge has been finding a balance (and peace of mind) with the socialization choices we’ve made. The kiddo meets kids regularly at least three times a week through classes, a co-op and field trips. We try to have at least one playdate every week if not every two weeks.

Why not more? Well, we live in an area where kids tend to be very active and very participatory in sports like baseball and soccer. My son’s preference has been for more “solo”-style sports like swimming, golf and walking. He isn’t the sort of kid to shine in a team. So to overcome this, we actively seek out other families like us…I join area-specific support groups to regularly ask about families with kids who would like quiet play, playground and park-day-style meets, kids who don’t necessary like vigorous activities. We don’t normally find lots of them, and sometimes we do encounter personalities that we are not comfortable with but we also do find¬†families who are like us in some ways and things work out well between the kids and parents. Also, we are quite happy to be private too. We don’t feel like we need tons of socialization just for the sake of it. Meeting a few good friends, a few times every two weeks, works out very well for us. And my boy is generally polite and well behaved, thank you very much ūüôā

By this example, I hope to convey that socialization can be anything you want it to be as long as it is healthy, safe and leads to happy relationships. If you invest a little time looking for the opportunities you seek, you will find it.

What curriculum to use…

This may not be the popular view but what has worked for me is to try everything I could for the first 2 years. I spent¬†a lot of money (but also managed to make some selling the curriculum back to others) on my search for perfect curricula but found none. I don’t regret this because I am not sure I could have learnt all I could any other way, being the¬†too-shy-to-ask-others-in-real-life type of person I am. I would say try anything you want to. If you are curious, go research it. If you can afford it, buy it. If you can’t, try it at your library or at another homeschooler’s before you buy. If you need to switch, switch. If you don’t, don’t fix what’s not broken (something I have huge trouble dealing with myself LOL). Join homeschooling support groups (I’ve listed a few below that have helped me tremendously) for been-there-done-that ideas.

Here are a few support groups I have found very helpful:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/SecularCM/
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/LivingMathForum/
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/WellTrainedMindSecular/
(Please note that we are secular homeschoolers. Although I read messages from groups named CM, Well Trained Mind etc, we no longer follow these homeschooling methods exclusively).

There are many types of support groups out there. Ask around or spend some time googling key words like “homeschool support group” or “homeschool yahoo group” etc.). I also like¬†regional support groups that organize field trips, park days and the like. If you do some dedicated googling, you may be able to find a few of these in your area too. Check the group’s policies and always remember to show courtesy when asking and replying to questions.

If you really feel you need some sort of “just pick up and teach” curriculum, there are many boxed-curriculum providers. Any search for “homeschool curriculum” will lead to hundreds of thousands of hits. Check out this link for common homeschool curriculum abbreviations. As more new curricula are written, newer abbreviations always¬†crop up. There are several guidebooks you could read first to get an idea of what style of homeschooling you want to pursue. Or whether you want to just find your own style (like many of us end up doing).

Here are a few guide books I’d readily recommend to any new homeschooler. But take what they say with a very careful pinch of¬†salt because not everything will apply to your family’s situation. Don’t feel like you have to do it all:

You could also keep these books handy solely for the very helpful reading and curricula lists many of them contain.

Although I’ve spent many nights reading such books, eventually, we have become very eclectic in style, choosing to pursue topics that the kiddo is passionate about (diseases is just one of them) and reading as much as we can from¬†well-written (frequently well-illustrated¬†books). I often get him lots of books to read on his own, and in some cases due to his age, I¬†try to pre-read the higher level ones to screen for inappropriate content. We also choose about 2-3 books to read aloud from every day.

There is some really good advice on curriculum and what homeschool supplies to buy here.

How about testing?

Testing is a very personal choice and I am sure you will find more thorough information by googling for it or asking other homeschoolers in your area. If you are very worried about whether or not what you are doing at home matches well with what your child’s peers are learning in school, there are several testing options you can choose. You could check with your school district to see what the required tests are and see how they may be administered. If you are signed up to homeschool with a charter school or independent study program, they will normally take care of test administration for you. Or you could sign up for a test like the Johns Hopkins SCAT, or Explore if you want to have an idea of how far ahead your child is working.

In most scenarios, for an elementary-school-aged child, your own observation and confidence in your child’s abilities can be a lot more useful than a test.

Am I doing it right?

So you’ve just started to homeschool and are wondering if you’re doing the right thing. I would say, look to your child for the answer. Is he happy? Is she thriving? Are they in love with learning?

Usually any anxiety we parents feel are ours alone. Children tend to adapt easily as long as any decision is made gently and lovingly, always¬†taking their likes and dislikes into account. One look at your kids and you’ll know instinctively if something needs to be tweaked or if nothing at all should be changed. Trust your gut feelings!

We are not doing enough!

Or so you think LOL. Honestly, it may not be as little as you think it is. Aim for about 20 Р30 minutes per day initially, gradually building it up to for as many hours as your child wants to happily learn. Sometimes, it can really help to write down or take photos of what you do together and keep some sort of a journal or online photo-record or scrapbook. See this post on record-keeping for ideas of keeping track of your day.

Remember that schools have 20 or more students in a classroom to teach and that’s why they need to be in school¬†five or more hours a day. If you’re teaching just one or a handful of kids, three, sometimes four hours is usually sufficient.

My child hates it, but I really want to homeschool…

Has your child had time to de-school from his unpleasant school experiences (if any)? Perhaps you are trying to do too much too soon? Perhaps you could try a few non-academic pursuits to liven things up? There’s also a possibility that your child genuinely misses school. Have a chat with your child about what’s causing her discomfort. She may reveal ideas, feelings you may not have guessed.

I thought I’d share some of my favorite learning strategies (in no particular order) for when my son is just not interested in doing anything academic. I call this our downtime ideas:
Origami
Board games/ math dice games/ card games
Web-based games
Documentaries
Walks around the neighborhood
Cooking/ baking together
Quiet time with a book
Comics
Weeding (very therapeutic!)
Being silly (looking for jokes online, making up limericks, composing silly pieces on the piano etc)
Researching Amazon together and drooling over books
Reading blogs about cooking, books, science etc.
Experiments (having a science kit around helps)
Creating “inventions” with odds and ends
Cycling/ scootering
Dancing to our favorite music with air guitar

And all of these are very frequently accompanied by chats about the nature of the universe (a.k.a. those incessant ‘why’ questions LOL). None of which I pretend to know answers to ūüôā

Learning differences…

One of the most wonderful things I’ve gained from this whole homeschooling adventure is the realization of how my child’s mind works. I’m still not done understanding him completely but it’s been positively inspiring to see that he learns best when given the “gee-whiz, this is awesome”¬†picture about something first…and¬†finding out basic foundational concepts only if his appetite is really whetted. This style is often linked to visual-spatial learners. I’m not certain if my son is visual-spatial because he does not seem to fit many of its characteristics (example: he is a very visual and also a very auditory learner) but he does share this one¬†characteristic…of wanting to know the big picture intimately first.

I would seriously suggest observing closely how your child learns and using those cues to shape learning opportunities, to make this endeavor a lot more enjoyable for the both of you.

How do I homeschool¬†my gifted child? I am not an expert in the subjects she’s interested in!

I strongly believe that a parent of a gifted child¬†will be able to actively¬†learn along with her offspring. That’s the beauty of homeschooling…even if it takes 6 months to a year or so to discover how it will really work out for you, you WILL eventually figure out how to do it.

Your life will gradually adapt to include your child’s varied, and often complex, interests. There is a wealth of information on gifted children at the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page. For specific information on homeschooling gifted children, see this link.

For an example of one family’s typical¬†day homeschooling two gifted boys, be sure to read this¬†article by my friend Lisa.

If you have any specific questions about anything I may not have mentioned here, please ask!

Webberific Resources

I love technology, don’t you? I never fail to be amazed by the explosion of web toys out there. I wouldn’t call myself a techie by anyone’s standards. Man, I don’t even have an iPhone let alone an iPad or iPod or anything else that begins with an i followed by an uppercase alphabet (yes, my hubby guy, that’s a hint! Feb 14, get it?). But I like finding new online toys. The free-er the better!

Here’s a bunch of my favorite free and mostly kiddo-safe web tools. We learnt about these only recently, a few through our wonderful online myths class and others by sheer stumble-upons.¬†Most of them make home-learning even more fun than you would think.

COMICS & ANIMATION

Possibly the kiddo’s hands-down fave site among the bunch,¬†Pixton is available as a¬†Public¬†as well¬†as For Schools version. We got to play with it because his Myths teacher got the class a temporary school subscription. But I know you can create an account for free. You get to create comics online and print them or download to share with friends. Here’s the comic the kiddo created as a Mythology Project.

Similar to Pixton but with the added pizzazz of animation is Go Animate. Although the kiddo likes this, I felt that having the flexibility of a number of free custom characters instead of only one would make it a more popular choice.

CARDS and POSTERS

Big Huge Labs or BHL as we call it at home has been around a while but I just got wind of it. We used it to create trading cards for another Mythology Project but there’s really so much more you can do with it. Use it to create personalized monthly calendars, pop art posters, jigsaw-ed photos, a photo collage, ID badge¬†and so on.

How about creating online notebook pages in the form of an e-poster like this one on TJ? Glogster is an interesting tool that allows you to make your own interactive poster, called a glog. We haven’t tried this in detail yet because I was a little wary of featured glogs that looked, well, um not really appropriate for the kiddo to see. Among all the sites featured in this post, I would say Glogster is the least kiddo-safe. So please preview before use with your kids.

NEAT EMBEDS

As a highly layout-picky blogger, I like tools that allow me to embed dynamic graphics on this blog. One of the tools that I’ve already¬†blogged about a little is SlideShare. This is a nifty YouTube-like tool that lets you embed Powerpoint slides just as you would YouTube videos.¬†Once it’s embedded on the blog, you can view the slide without leaving the page. Cool eh?

Another tool I just found today through a friend’s blog is the Issuu Smart Look. Smart Look allows you to view publications online without downloading them. One real-time version you can preview is on Loyola Press’ Voyages In English site¬†(note: this is not an advertisement for ViE and I’m not affiliated to them in any way, I’m just in love with the functionality of the site, that’s all).

PERSONAL ORGANIZER

I’m such a sucker for organizing¬†tools. Anything that makes life easier you know? Although I absolutely adore my Microsoft One Note software, Cozi just took the cake on flexibility. It gives you a personal/ family journal, online calendar (that you can sync with Outlook) and even a little email field where you can send an email to family members all from the same web page. It’s not perfect. For example, I wanted the To Do list to appear on the same home page as the daily calendar but found no way to make that happen so I had to improvise. The Shopping List is now my To Do List. But otherwise, it’s quite impressive. I can use it as a temporary space to note down something cute DS said or anything productive we did in the day that my charter school might like to know about and later copy and paste it into this blog or our learning journal. I can set it as my home page so that it’s the first thing I see when I launch the browser. I think it’s Mac friendly too. And if I own an iPhone (ahem!) or some other phone that doesn’t look like it came from the prehistoric era (clearing of throat), I can sync it all together¬†and read grocery lists at the store without having to transfer them hurriedly onto post-its.¬†¬†And it’s all free!

So if like me, you’d like to procrastinate packing for a long-distance trip for as long as possible, go check these great tools out! (grin).

OneNote Experiment Part II

The final verdict:

I would say that I’ve definitely experienced more pros using my MS One Note-based schedule or e-workbox system than cons. Our days are smoother, I’m better able to juggle the sudden curveballs life throws at us and have on the whole a much better idea of what we’ve accomplished for the week.

Important bonus: kiddo finds it easy to use. And he gets a lot of free time in the afternoons to tinker and think.

At the same time I must emphasize that I have no dreamy ideas about the system staying as it is. As I type this I’m already wondering how it will evolve once we finish kiddo’s mythology course and again, once we get back from Malaysia in April. I’m going to be tweaking and changing it as we need to. It’s still dependent on me to make it work after all. Me. Capital M. The forever schedule tweaker-changer.

But I still like it. I have a feeling it has a lot to do with the system being on the computer (and hence we save on paper…woohoo!) and being pleasing enough on my eyes.

OneNote Experiment Part I

The week is over and the verdict is in: it was a 50% success rate (yes perceptive reader, I’m trying to think of it as a cup half full!).
First, I realize it’s not a good idea to expect any system to work the week after a delightful 2-week holiday LOL, more so when we’ve been unschooling so much for the past 2-3 months. Second, I fell (again) into the trap of trying to do too much and actually ended up leaving out the one thing we’ve always had the most success with…reading aloud for literature. Third, I spent too much time tweaking here and there throughout the week for me to even remember what my initial plan looked like! Fourth, I had to decide mid-week to mix up our Math activities with some Singapore Math for extra thinking and problem-solving challenge and that knocked some other stuff askew. Fifth, I tell myself this each time but still forget…I must not try to fix what’s not broken.
What is still clear is that the One Note platform clearly works better for us than using a cart or files or folders or anything else. All assigned texts are stowed away in a single drawer and can be accessed easily at any time. And the screen offers the both of us a very clear view of what’s next and gives DS more control over what he wants to do.
We had a much better Thursday and Friday. Monday was close to disastrous. Tuesday was here and there. So thinking back about what I might have done right for Thursday and Friday, here’s the plan for next week:

Latest look (passwords blacked out)
  1. No more individual pages for Monday, Tuesday, etc. Everything is on one page.
  2. I’ve decided to put the time slots back in but with lots of wiggle room. For e.g. even if we do something for only 20 minutes, I’ve planned it as a 30-minute slot. It feels a lot more relaxed.
  3. I’ve designed boxes of the same color for the resource that best fits a particular time slot. So for example, if I need to switch Singapore Math with another resource for the morning, it’s an easy copy and paste and quick resize from Powerpoint.
  4. I’ve not cut down on what’s assigned but have inserted more choice. Kiddo, for e.g., may choose Latin over EPGY Math if that’s what he feels like doing at the moment. But he is still visually made aware that EPGY Math is due that week.
  5. We’re done for the day by 1.30pm (in theory anyway) so that we have at least a half hour to get outdoors or do something active in the garage and then, he has the entire rest of the day free 3 days a week. And partially free on the one day that he has music and martial arts.
  6. For days when things are particularly going badly, there’s a menu of fun activities to choose from at the bottom of the schedule.

Here’s hoping for a more positive Part II ūüôā

OneNote Workbox Tweak

I blogged about trying out a virtual workbox homeschool organization system here. One day before implementation, my twitchy fingers needed to carry out a little interface redesign.

Here’s what I’ve changed:


I dropped the time slot fields. Experience has shown that he is rarely able to begin a lesson at the assigned time. So instead of time slots I have a suggested starting time (9.30am every morning). We seem to have a good routine going for length of lessons anyway: automated 20-min online lesson sessions and 30-40-min read alouds or text-based lessons. Now, the screen looks a little more streamlined.

I designed 30-min and 60-min free time icons. This way, if he really needs a break to wiggle and squirm, he can drag and drop the icon to switch places with the curriculum box of his choice.


If he wants a 30-min break when it’s time for Latin, for example, he drags the 30-min icon to where Latin is and then drags and drops Latin to the last line. to complete in the afternoon. Or if he likes, he can keep the total 2 hours of free time to be enjoyed all at once in the afternoon and that way, be done for the day by about 2pm. I’m hoping this will teach him the joys of delayed gratification. I’ve also added a Game Time icon to be used in a similar fashion.

The traffic light icon indicates that we’ll have a snack and then head out for a walk or vice versa. I’m hoping this visual reminder will help us stop being such homebodies!

The tweak also clearly indicates what’s assigned and what’s child-led. The first row of online class items are all assigned. The second row of reading/ writing and project items are all stuff he’s chosen to try this semester and stuff I won’t mind leaving aside if he wants to do something else. Then we’ll have one more short assigned math practice session after lunch.

Therefore, I’m targeting 1.5 hours of assigned work a day for 4 days a week. Everything else will be “kiddo-choice”.

Explained the whole thing to the kiddo today and he seems to be taking it positively. Hopefully it’ll go smoothly for Implementation Week (Jan 4 – 8)!