Initial Thoughts on the IHM Catholic Homeschholing Conference


This past weekend I got to attend the IHM Catholic homeschooling conference in Fredericksburg, VA. It went from 9am – 9pm Friday and then 9am-4pm Saturday, and was a fantastic experience for me as someone just starting out in the homeschooling world.

The best part for me was the wonderfully Catholic nature of this conference. It seems like among the people I know here, there are a lot of great active, friendly, and devoutly religious Catholic families, none of whom homeschool. There are also a lot of homeschoolers, but the ones I know are either non-religious or devoutly Protestant. And, while I love all these various people dearly, and value their insight and experience in various different things, I was feeling a little bit of an outcast in whatever circle I was in. So, a conference where everyone was already doing what I want to do was very reassuring.

Among the Catholic elements I really loved was that every day began with the Rosary, that there was confession offered all day on both days, that many of the speakers were priests and nuns, and even just the sheer number of religious there who weren’t speakers (and obviously weren’t homeschooling parents). Almost every session began with a Hail Mary, and many of the speakers addressed the spiritual components of and spiritual solutions to homeschooling difficulties.

There was also a fairly large curriculum fair, although not quite as large as the pictures I’ve seen from other conferences. I had made a tentative decision before I even got there that I was not going to invest in any full curricula or anything that would be a huge investment. It was great to see products like MathUSee, RightStart Math, etc. in person because it gave me a good idea of whether I could see something working for us. Of course, I still ended up spending about $120 on various books, mostly dealing with issues of how to identify temperaments and learning styles, etc. (like I didn’t already have a huge backlog of books to read). Four of those books were autographed by the authors, though, so that’s definitely worth paying full-price for.

Since we are just starting out, and especially since technically we are delaying kindergarten rather than officially starting homeschooling, I want to take it really easy academically this year, and focus on creating good habits, routine, discipline and structure. And that was a recurring theme among the various speakers – that if you build a foundation of good habits, discipline and organization, you can teach any child everything they need to know.

I got to meet a couple of people during breaks and meals, most of whom have been doing this for a long time already. That was inspiring, in a different way than listening to the speakers. Despite their impressive street-cred – one of them homeschooled 12 kids all the way through and is now helping her kids homeschool their kids, it is easy to be a little in awe and assume they must be some kind of super-mom to have done that. Meeting others who are still in the trenches, so to speak, helps me think I can do it too.

Funny story: I belong to a Facebook group called homeschoolers, a lot of whom are Catholic. Before the conference I had posted that I was going to be attending and had asked if anyone else was. I didn’t really get much of a response, so I assumed that there might be one or two people there, but didn’t plan on meeting any of them. So, after one of our sessions, I was in line to speak with the speaker, and I struck up a conversation with the woman behind me. This was a pretty brief conversation, mostly about the fact that she was from Pittsburgh, which is where Dan is from. We said hello a couple more times in passing during the conference after that, but didn’t really talk again. So, when I got home, I went back on the FB group to post about how great an experience it was and asked if anyone else had been there. Well, guess what? Yep, Lisa from Pittsburgh turned out to be one of our group members! Weird how we picked each other to speak to without realizing we already knew each other, at least online.

I did end up attending a whole lot of sessions, even though I was a little worried that I would get burned out from all that sitting and listening. I didn’t need to worry; every speaker was different, and interesting. My favorite sessions were the Beginner’s sessions which were very inspirational, the sessions on organizing and time management by Colleen Billing, and oddly enough, two sessions by a Carmelite nun, Sr. Mary Joseph Heisler, one on how love is our vocation, and one on finding time for silence in the middle of our busy workdays. A thought from her that I’ve been repeating ever since “God does not plant desires in our hearts, and then leave us on our own without giving us what we need to fulfill them.”

Two other sessions that really stood out to me were one by Laraine Bennet about temperaments (I ended up buying two of her books to find out more about the subject; I’ll probably post a review when I’m done reading them), and one by Andrew Pudewa about the importance of music. That last one was fascinating, as he talked about scientific research describing actual changes in the brains of mice exposed to different types of music. He convinced me that I need to find some sort of music instruction for my kids, and better sooner than later.

So that’s my experience in a nutshell (yes, it’s a really big nutshell; I am enough out of practice in writing that brevity will take me some time, I think). I’m more convinced than ever that this is the right path for us, although I’m still not sure what precise path we are going to follow (in terms of eventual academic philosophy). I’m excited about starting school this fall, and I’m even more eager than I was to get our house and time organized so we are ready to go when we do officially begin. The kids are excited too, because I’ve been talking a lot about the various things we are going to do and how much fun it’s going to be. I can’t wait to see what the fall’s going to bring!


Making a Decision on Homeschooling

So Dan and I have been talking about wanting to homeschool our kids since before we were even married. Those conversations were along the lines of “Yeah, not sure if we can pull it off, but it’s something we’d like to do.”

Well, now that we have kids that are approaching the age at which they would start traditional schooling, the question becomes more urgent. So I’ve been looking into it pretty seriously over the last year, researching everything I can about philosophies, methods, resources, tools, legal issues, social groups, etc.

Legally speaking, Virginia is a pretty homeschool-friendly state. We’d have to notify the school district of our intent to homeschool, and starting in first grade, we have to administer annual testing in English and Math. Other than that, there’s no onerous requirements or hoops to jump through. (Please correct me if you know something I don’t about legal stuff).

As far as social issues are concerned, we’re already part of a social network through the Central Virginia Mom’s group, which has a lot of kids the same age as my kids, so they’d have an age-peer group to socialize with. We’ve also hooked up with LyFE homeschooling group, which is a great group of homeschooling families, with different numbers of kids of various ages, and with various different educational philosophies. So they also get to interact with kids that aren’t exactly the same age as them, which I think is valuable. Add in church, the Y, and any sports, or other extracurricular clubs/teams they might become interested in joining, and I think we would be extremely well-covered in the socialization arena.

I don’t think there’s any question about the fact that the quality of education they receive at home will be better than at public school – the very worst outcome is we use the same syllabus and teaching methods, but do it at the pace and level that meets the kids’ needs.

Of course, here in Lynchburg we do have a Catholic school option, and it is one I’d like to look at more closely. But I find it hard to believe that anything in the education or the whole experience they receive there would be enough better than what they would get at home to justify the high price. We can buy a whole lot of materials and take a whole lot of field trips for 6-9K/year – and that would be just for one kid.

So having said all that, have we really decided to homeschool? Not yet, not really. Because the remaining factor to be considered is how the kids actually respond to the homeschooling experience, which we won’t know until we try it. Still, I am pretty sure I know how The Big Kid would respond to public school, and I don’t think it would be a joyful, positive experience. He’s just too sensitive, and too opinionated to do well in that environment, at least at his age. (And I don’t think either of those traits are completely bad and need to be beaten out of him – I think if we can help him get a little bit of a handle on them, they will help him become a really good leader). 

So our only official decision at this point is that we are not sending him to public school kindergarten this year. This might end up being “redshirting” and he might end up there in 2013. However, I think this is highly unlikely because I can hardly keep him from learning during the year I’m keeping him home, and since he’s pretty much already mastered most kindergarten material, it’s almost certain he’s going to be well over grade level academically by the time he’s ready emotionally. And that would just cause its own set of problems in a public school setting.

Also, The Little Kid is practically at the same level as his big brother right now. In fact, his reading skills are better than his big brother’s, and he’s only a little behind on everything else. Which means that he’s almost certainly going to blow past grade level by the time he’s old enough for school. Not to mention, he’ll already have a couple of years of unofficial homeschooling under his belt by then, so we should already be familiar with our setup and method choices.

And with the baby already responding appropriately to such purely verbal statements as “the leap pad won’t work unless it’s plugged in” (he found the plug and brought it over and attempted to plug it in), I’m guessing he’s going to be right up there with his brothers in a very short time.

So, this is the current plan:

In august, we send a letter to our school district stating that The Big Kid is not emotionally ready for school, and will not be starting kindergarten this year.

While he’s home during the upcoming school year, we continue to encourage and follow his interests in various subjects, with especial focus on building reading and math skills within those activities, without necessarily following a kindergarten curriculum. The little kids would get similar but possibly even less structured activities.

Shortly into the school year, midway and again near the end, we evaluate where we stand on the ease and effectiveness of a) homeschooling itself, and b) our current instructional methods, and readjust as necessary, in plenty of time to decide on our options for the following year.

If he really really hates it, and is not learning anywhere near as much as we would hope for, we would reconsider all our options and try something else – and that may even include public school.

On the other hand, if he loves it and continues to excel at learning new things, we’ll know we’re on the right track and stick with it.

Metabolic Starvation

Seth Godin wrote an interesting blog post yesterday about how organizations need to realize that an insatiable appetite for a resource is a sign of a problem.

An insatiable appetite is a symptom: There’s a hole in the bucket. Something’s leaking out. When a system (or a person) continues to demand more and more but doesn’t produce in response, that’s because the resources aren’t being used properly, something is leaking.

If your organization demands ever more attention or effort or cash to produce the same output, it makes more sense to focus on the leak than it does to work ever harder to feed the beast.

It occurred to me that this is a pretty good description of metabolic starvation. When your level of circulating insulin gets too high, it blocks the proper routing of nutrients into the cells where they are needed. Some portion of what you eat gets diverted into being stored as fat.

So, instead of the normal cycle:

  • your cells need nutrients
  • you get hungry
  • you eat
  • your body sends the nutrients to the cells
  • you are satisfied and stop eating

You get this vicious cycle instead:

  • your cells need nutrients
  • you get hungry
  • you eat
  • some of the nutrients get diverted towards fat storage
    • your body grows more/bigger fat cells
    • fat cells trigger more inflammation and insulin resistance
  • only some of the nutrients get sent to the cells
    • your cells still need nutrients
    • they signal that you are still hungry (or hungry again shortly after eating)
    • you eat some more
  • you get obese

And of course, obesity leads to less activity which leads to more insulin resistance, etc.

So, despite taking in lots of nutrients, your body is still metabolically starving because it is unable to use them as efficiently as it should.

So telling an obese person that they just need to eat less and move more really does not address the problem. You need to address the source of the problem, which is insulin resistance.

Father’s Day Marketing Mania

I know marketers will always seize  any opportunity to promote their product, no matter how far fetched, but the 2 offers I got in my email this morning are really ridiculous!

  • HP Father’s Day Gift Guide “A gift for every kind of dad.” Conveniently groups all dads into one of four types – Sports Dad, Business Dad, Musician Dad, and Traveling Dad, and suggests an HP product that would be appropriate.
  • Matrix Direct: “This Father’s Day, give your family the security of term life insurance.” Because nothing says Happy Father’s Day like a reminder that you’re going to die!

I’m sure there are others out there just as bad, if not worse. Seen any you care to share?


I think we can officially declare the big kid potty trained now. Today he willingly peed in a potty (the big toilet, no less) at a friend’s house – despite being hassled by their extremely large dog. He also pooped in the potty at home (twice) and used toilet paper to wipe his butt.

Most surprisingly, he wore his underwear to bed last night, and woke up dry this morning. Although, he wasn’t willing to try it again tonight, so that one might take some more work.

He’s also peed in public toilets, and pretty much goes all by himself while we’re home with only minimal reminders.

There’s clearly more work to be done, especially on the ‘stay in the bathroom until your butt and hands are clean’ front. Still, whatever’s left in the process is merely fine-tuning and practice. The major hurdles have been overcome.

There is light at the end of the diaper changing tunnel!

Best game of tag, evah!

Today, the big kid, the baby and I were sitting on the couch, and everybody was in a happy mood (for once). So I leaned down and kissed the baby, spontaneously, and then tried to lean over and kiss the big kid, but he ducked away. So I tried again, and he ducked again, but on the third try, I caught him and planted one on the top of his head.

Thus started the game, where I would lean over, and he would try to avoid me, which eventually led to me trying to kiss him, and him running away.

And then, his compulsive need to order everyone around kicked in, and he was like “Ok, Mama, you run, and I’ll catch up and kiss you.”

This seemed like a reasonable plan to me, so I ran off down the hallway, with him at my heels. Unfortunately, this didn’t really lend itself to many kisses, seeing as how he was behind me, but then I surprised him by cutting a corner, and was able to hug him and get a kiss.

After that the game was really on, with us running down different directions in order to end up face to face with a kiss. And, of course, I took many detours in order to plant kisses on the little kid and the baby as well.

We tried to get the little kid to join in the run around and get kisses game, but he wasn’t terribly interested. And, eventually we all wore ourselves out, and were too tired to keep running.

Still, that was the sweetest game of tag I’ve ever been involved in Smile