Saturday, September 17, 2011

Do I have anything more to say?

I am beginning to wonder if I have anything else to talk about besides homeschooling? It has, seemingly, consumed most of my communication with other people and with myself (yes, I communicate with myself...and if you are a woman reading this, you likely do the same whether you admit it or not). Just yesterday Matt said to me, what are you thinking about? He could tell by the look on my face that my mind was consumed. I took a deep breath and let it all out...everything that had passed through my mind in that 20-30 second window of time. Matt shook his head and said "I am so glad NOT to be a woman". 99% of the long list of things that had passed through my mind were homeschooling related.

I think I am consumed. Shouldn't I be, though? If I were a teacher in a classroom with 30 kids, I would teach them all day long...bring their work home for me to grade...prepare for the next day to come...etc. As a teacher to my kids, shouldn't I be constantly thinking about how to teach them. I am more invested in my own kids than I would be in a classroom of kids. So maybe I don't have more to say because there is simply nothing more important right now than that.

Oh, but there are other things going on in life outside of homeschooling...really there are. For instance, Star Wars came out on blu-ray yesterday. My husband is one of the masses that saw Star Wars when he was but a small boy and he quickly became obsessed with the franchise. This is a big event in our house, one that equaled Matt staying home from work and the kids not having to do school. Of course, I did sit in my recliner and plan out the next week of school work for my son. I read and re-read his science work (he is beginning the free *incredible* curriculum that was developed to go alongside the upcoming movie "A Dolphin Tale"). I researched lap-books and began planning how and for what subjects he would be using these great learning tools. I obsessed over when the mail would arrive as I have not received the rest of his curriculum I ordered a week ago. Um, I am back on the homeschooling topic.

Well......Matt took 2 other days off this week and we took advantage of him being home and took the kids to a skatepark to have fun. Matt rode my bike around and the kids had a blast!! There was a man there with his son and the man was uber friendly. His son and daughter are also homeschooled...have been for years. His son was a couple years older than Daniel and could skateboard really well. He is enthusiastic with his skateboarding and not at all what you would picture as a homeschooler. His family often go to Africa on mission trips and they go to our church (small world). Yep, homeschooling pops it's *pretty* head.

Ok, so church last week was great. Our pastor, Jeff Wells, is doing an incredible series on Romans 8 dealing heavily in the holy spirit...don't be scared. lol It has been VERY insiteful and I just love his passion. I was especially excited for this last Sunday as many of the small groups at our church had tables set-up for members to come by and get information on. My own group On Thee Edge had a pretty table set-up and I perused around the tables with great excitement and anticipation. Our church has a BOOK CLUB....who KNEW!! But, I also found out that there was a we go again ........ HOMESCHOOL GROUP. Yes, there it goes again. Homeschooling pops up. I, rather obsessively, went from table to table...looking for this group. How cool to connect with other Homeschoolers that are a part of my own church. I went from table to table several times only to discover....the group didn't show up. It was a great disappointment to me.

It seems little happens, at least now, that does not somehow reverse back to homeschooling. It is what it is, I suppose. I do not think it is a bad thing. It is a family focused is a Christ centered topic. On the other hand, if I can have maybe an hour where I do not think or talk about homeschooling, I just might do my very first cartwheel. I am going to see Lion King 3D today...hmmm, a unit on African wildlife for Daniel...the circle of much would Daniel LOVE that........... uh oh ........ *sigh* ....... here we go again.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Homeschooling Daniel

You could have knocked me over with a feather when Daniel started expressing an interest in being homeschooled. He is a very social boy who loves school and was excited about going to school. He told me that he would let me homeschool him around 4th grade. After the first week of school, he became pretty adamant, though, that he wanted to be homeschooled.

There were a couple factors that came in to play with him being homeschooled...and some of these were typical 6-year old boy things. He didn't want to have to wake up at 6:30 and rush out the door at 7:10. Who does? He wanted to be done with school earlier. He wanted to be able to go on morning bike rides with Mommy. And, he was frustrated about the pace at school. As a 6 year old, his needs were far different from Sierra's needs when she wanted out, but I already had the desire to homeschool him so any reason was good for me.

Matt had his reservations. Daniel was bored with school, but it was only a couple weeks would get more challenging. He was concerned with cost (Sierra's curriculum cost us over $500 and that did not include Math which we will buy towards the end of the year and will cost over $100). He was concerned that Daniel will regret being pulled out. I did not want to badger Matt into submission, but I began pointing out things like going at a more Daniel pace with his schooling (faster)...and being able to do more hands on things....and I perused curriculum and found I could get his curriculum for under $150....and the gas used to take him to and from school...etc. Last week, after much prayer, he relented.

Since Daniel has been home, he hasn't done a LOT of organized learning. I have gotten a LOT of advice from fellow homeschoolers and I am taking a lot of it in. I ordered his curriculum and am waiting for it to come in. A friend so KINDLY offered me some geography curriculum for FREE where Daniel will learn all about each state of the United States one by one. Daniel is SUPER excited about this. We got a large map today and he LOVES it. I was also able to download free 1st grade Spelling curriculum which Daniel is ZOOMING through already (I doubt he really needs these first several sections). A friend suggested poetry...he copies the poem and works on memorizing it. I wasn't sure how this would go, but he memorized the first poem within minutes on Thursday of last week and can recite it on command. Great idea....and FREE. I am waiting for his Phonics and Reading (Horizons), History (Our Christian Heritage), Math (Singapore Math), Handwriting (A Reason for Handwriting). I got a Science book at our local Homeschool store...used with projects in it for $3!! One of his favorite things to do is to write. He is currently writing a chapter book 100% on his own...he has written many stories. I am incorporating topical ideas for him to write stories on.

We are part of 2 Homeschool groups...each of which have park days on different days and times. He has participated in one park day and will participate in another this week. Also, due to Matt being home today, we were able to take both kids to a skate park this morning to ride their bikes and Daniel also rode his scooter. While there, he collected leaves for a science project AND I also got some green chile seeds that we will be planting...he can keep on his desk and observe it's growth for science!! He even has his elective down....he takes bi-weekly piano lessons that he LOVES!!

He is quite smart and I think he will breeze through many 1st grade subjects (possibly by Christmas)....I anticipate Phonics and Reading, Spelling and Math will be done by then...the rest we will likely stretch throughout the year. We are having a BLAST even though we just got started. The possibilities are ENDLESS!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

We've Done the Research...Now It's Decision Time

As you know, or maybe you don't know, we have been shopping around for a new way to save money and one of the most obvious ways is to get rid of cable, but we have found ourselves in quite the pickle as we try to figure out what is the best way to do this and I will tell you why....but I will break it down by categories: Netflix (dvd and instant streaming), Hulu (and Hulu+), Amazon Prime, Digital Antenna with Tivo.

Netflix (dvd and instant streaming): Despite the recent hoop-la over the hike in prices, the benefits of Netflix abound. You can pick the plan according to your wants/needs/budget. We have 2-3 accounts (depends on how our budget is going). It is easier for us to keep track this way: I have an account where we have our instant streaming and I receive unlimited 2 discs a month. This works well for me because I like watching TV on dvd, so I, on my free time, will watch different series of shows like Little House on the Prairie or White Collar. Sierra has an account where she does not get instant streaming, but she does get 1 disc at a time with unlimited discs. This works well for her because she has things she likes to watch and the cost is minimal. Matt also has an account that is the same as Sierra's except he can get blu-rays. With his account, he can watch those obscure movies that I/we have no interest in AND/OR he will get any family movies we want to get. With instant streaming, there is a growing library of movies and tv shows that benefit the whole family...Matt has been watching Bond movies as well as old Star Trek shows, Daniel has Spongebob, Sierra...well, now that you mention it she doesn't watch anything personally, though she DOES benefit the most on our favorite family show, The Cosby Show, and I watch several tv shows with Netflix and several movies. The benefit to Netflix Streaming is all you need is a device that has Netflix Streaming like a Wii, blu-ray player, Playstation, tv, etc. The negative to instant streaming is most of the shows are older shows. We, as a family, have certain tv shows we look forward to each season like Amazing Race and Survivor plus other shows like Fringe, NCIS, Criminal Minds, etc. With Netflix ONLY we would be forced to wait for dvd sets to come out, which none come out for Amazing Race or Survivor (never mind that we would likely hear WHO won via the internet). So, for our purposes, Netflix does not work on it's own. We need something that can keep us up to date on our favorite shows. So, then there is--

Hulu (and Hulu+): Ah, Hulu. It is a great program, in theory. They play many of the more recent episodes of many of your favorite shows (sounds like their byline, huh). There are certain restrictions, though. First of all, there is Hulu and Hulu+. Hulu is FREE, but can only be viewed on your computer (gather around kids, we are going to watch our show on mommy's laptop). Now, for a small monthly fee you can get Hulu+ that is broadcast over the tv, but you have to have a device to hook up to the tv to view...a blu-ray player or a tv with hulu+. The monthly fee is low (something like $7/month) and they have a fair variety of shows. So, easy choice, yes?? Well, not so. Reviews on blu-ray players that have interfaces with Netflix or Hulu+ are less than stellar. I read many, many reviews that said the same thing, you are better off with a Roku device than the blu-ray player., let's do that. A Roku box is about $70 and has the best reviews. BUT, hold on....what shows ARE on Hulu+?? Not as many as you would think!! First of all, CBS will not stream ANY of their recent shows. They feel that they are the number one network so WHY would they give a consumer a break? So, that cuts off a lot of what WE like to watch...most of our shows ARE CBS. Also, amazingly so, many shows signed contracts with Hulu, not Hulu +. So, there are a number of shows that are ONLY available through Hulu and NOT Hulu+. So why not just Hulu?? Well, Hulu is for the COMPUTER only. There are a number of shows that you can only watch on the computer. Well, we are back to the original issue....Hey kids, let's gather around Mommy's computer to watch Castle (only show I could think of). That's not cool. So then we hear about a little thing called:

Amazon Prime: Amazon Prime. I am a big fan of Amazon. They rock...they have everything available. I do a lot of my consumer fact checking via reviews on Amazon. I LOVE AMAZON. With Amazon Prime, you pay a one time, $79/year. You can pay this and be good for a year of Amazon Video on Demand shows and movies at your fingertips plus free 2-day shipping on any item, no matter how big or small. Sounds GREAT, right. Yeah, I thought so too. But then you realize not ALL Amazon Instant Video shows are FREE....just some select titles. You can imagine what is free. Comparing these titles to the Netflix titles is just sad. So, how much could an episode cost? Well, most of what I saw was $1.99 per episode. A typical TV series has 24 episodes in a season. If you don't have cable and you would pay about $25 a season per show you were watching. If we were doing Cosby and Castle, and any number of shows, you are getting into MAJOR dough AND you still run into the CBS problem. WHY!!! Then there is:

A Digital Antenna paired with Tivo: It was one of those "a-ha" moments last night. I started thinking aloud....what about getting a digital antenna?? Well, then we run into the problem of having to be tied down to when shows aired versus watching at our own pace. With a digital antenna, you can pull in a variety of channels, but how does one record them?? Then I thought, what about Tivo?? So, here is the deal on Tivo. You can get a Tivo for about $85 on amazon. It is a "smart" dvr that can be hooked to a digital antenna. With Tivo, you can also stream Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu+ and whatever, so you have a dvr and the other things. There is a fee, of course, for using the Tivo service...$20/month. When you are paying close to $100 in cable, that $20/month is still a savings...a significant one. But where do you get the shows without cable?? Why, a digital antenna, of course!! Who would've thunk?? Such a concept as this. Gone are the rabbit ears. Gone are the sketchy receptions (I think). To get a good quality antenna, you need dole out some money, but than you have your local channels and a number of other channels broadcast over the monthly fees....and it interfaces with Tivo.

There is, of course, the other thoughts: Continue paying the exorbitant cable fees with the current plan. Sign up with a new service from a new provider with lower cable fees (to start), but know that in a year, you'll be about where you started. And, of course, get rid of it ALL...rely solely on dvds/blu-rays and spend more time on family time. The first is just not an option...neither is the second. The third was a front runner last night...we thought, why not just get rid of it all. We can beef up our dvd collections and spend more time outside or having game nights or what have you.

But, let's get real. TV is not ALL it's cracked up to be, but there are certain things that bring us joy as a family. We like watching Amazing is a great show to watch together. The best option, for now, seems to be the digital antenna and Tivo route. It is not eliminating costs, but it is still bringing those costs way down. We still dvr, but we dvr only local stations and we do not pay a service fee for DVR AND Cable AND Local Stations. You eliminate 2 of those factors. The output cost at first is kind of high with getting the Tivo and the digital antenna, but in the end, you will save tons. And IF Hulu+ or Amazon Instant Video updates with more of our favorite shows, with the Tivo we can explore that.

Are we 100% sure this is the way we want to go?? NO!! But, I think we have gathered SO much information that we can go no further. It is time to pick it apart and make our decision. Hopefully, you can benefit from our research too!!

Addendum!! We have done it. We have made our changes and are fairly certain that we made the best choices. The fact is, there are several shows that we really enjoy throughout the fall and spring season. So, we called out cable company, AT&T Uverse, and talked to them. We ended up going down to Basic Cable (which gives us local channels and WGN) and we are saving $50/month. With this, our internet price will not go up (internet without a tv package would have raised our cost $10 more). We still have dvr. We do, however, lose the ability to watch our favorite USA and TNT shows (mainly Psych and The Closer), but next month we will buy a Roku box and decide then whether to use Amazon Prime for these shows or Hulu.

So, there you have it. Our decision is final, our channel line up is is simpler...we are happier. We are not saving the $90 we originally were looking to save, but $50 is nothing to sneeze about.