Category: Single mother

Homeschooling with Minecraft

I’ve been homeschooling my daughter for the past two years now, and it’s definitely been an adventure and a learning experience…for both of us. She’s now eight years old, and she’s got a strong sense of self. A stubborn streak that’s pretty awesome. So you may imagine that it’s pretty difficult to “teach” her things unless she’s self-motivated. Lucky for her, I appreciate and accept her personality and learning style, so “unschooling” is the method we use.

Minecraft is a game that my daughter has taken a huge liking to. And I was quite surprised to find out that it became a bridge for learning. In case you don’t know much about the game, I’ll give a brief overview. In Minecraft you can do what you want. There aren’t goals you have to meet, no “bosses” you have to beat, etc. It’s open ended.

The main things you can do in Minecraft are mine ores (coal, iron, gold, diamonds, etc.) and craft items and buildings. You can play alone or on a server with others. We are part of a homeschool server where parents monitor their children’s behavior. You can set it so there are monsters (zombies, spiders, skeletons) to fight, or not. You explore the game’s “world,” with various biomes (jungles, oceans, mountains, deserts), you find resources (wood, stone), food (cows, pigs, mushrooms), and you “live” or build or dig. It’s up to you.

So what’s this got to do with homeschooling? My daughter got really interested in iron and the things it makes in real life. She wants to know about diamonds, rubies, and other items from inside the Earth. She’s building things in the game and thinking about how to build them in real life. She’s reading the words on the screen and chats with friends on the server. And there’s math involved, resource management, electricity, and more!

She also watches YouTube videos (that I approve) where others are playing the game, so she learns how to do other cool things in the game and is privy to their knowledge base as well. For Christmas I bought her some papercraft Minecraft thingees, where she is building items from the game and working on dexterity, puzzling, putting things together, and creative play. The learning possibilities are endless. At some point she’ll realize she can buy things from other players on the server, so even money will be involved, as well as cooperation.

Before you get too concerned about this virtual reality and her socialization, rest assured that in real life she plays with other kids and talks to many adults. Sometimes she teaches them about Minecraft, other times she finds other Minecraft players just because she walks up to people and talks to them about her interest in the game. Like me, my daughter’s an extrovert, so I find that I have to reign her in more so than try to make her be social. When we get some time, there’s also a weekly group that meets at a local library where the kids bring their laptops and play, either alone or on a server. There are lots of ways to include real life socializing.

Minecraft has been a welcome addition to our homeschooling lives, and I’m excited to see her interested in science, architecture, and computers in general.

Have you played Minecraft? What about your kids? Have you noticed their learning from the gameplay?

Balancing Act

Credit: Kristin Smith

My daughter is seven years old this year, and I’ve finally taken the plunge and decided to homeschool her. I wanted to start when she was five, but she was more interested in going to regular school. It kind of worked for a couple of years, but with our big move, she seemed to be more comfortable with the idea of staying with me. I don’t blame her.

This year is definitely going to be an experiment. I have to make a living solely with my writing business, all while working at home with a young child. In the past, while she was at school, I’d either work for someone else part time or I was a full-time student (with student loan money as a supplement to my writing business). But this is going to be quite the test.

So far, it’s been rocky. When I’ve landed big projects, I’ve taken her to play areas that included wi-fi. That way, she kept busy and so did I. I also stay up late or get up early (or both). My parents moved to Georgia as well, so they’ve been a source of babysitting from time to time. But it’s mostly been me.

The challenge will be keeping my daughter happy and fulfilled while I also seek out prospective clients and work on projects. It helps that I’m not strict about our homeschooling “curriculum.” I’ve chosen to unschool her. We’ve joined a local homeschool group that offers classes and field trips, and we’ve made friends with some neighborhood children. Prospecting via cold calling is pretty non-existent at this point, though. It turns out that the only child of this single parent requires lots of interaction (no surprise).

Creativity is going to be essential if we’re to be successful, but I’m determined. I truly believe that homeschooling is best for my daughter, and that working for myself is best for me.

Have you needed to be creative to balance your work and your family?

Time for a change – What’s next?

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For the past seven years, ever since my daughter was an infant, I’ve lived in Tucson, Arizona. I can’t say that it was “home,” but I lived there for a chunk of time. I’d actually moved to Tucson from Atlanta, Georgia. Tucson made more sense at that time, when I was a new mother and I wanted to stay at home with my daughter.

Thank goodness Georgia didn’t mind me too much. Crayon Writer’s new home is back in Georgia. We drove across country and we’re starting over. How exciting and scary all at the same time!

What lessons did I learn in Arizona? I’m not afraid of spiders anymore, cactus can be beautiful (who knew that they have such wondrous flowers?), and the desert is nice year round…for the most part. I got to know the mother I became, and my daughter grew up in one of the most unique places in the country (nature-wise). I also learned that diversity isn’t just a good thing in nature. Tucson lacks racial and cultural diversity, so it was time to move back to a place that thrives on diversity.

On the horizon for Crayon Writer is pretty much what I’ve always said I wanted. I will homeschool or unschool my daughter, I will continue to work at home and grow my writing business, and I hope to hire an employee in the next 12 months. I’ve updated my business’ website, and I’ve created Facebook pages for this blog and Theda K. Communications. LinkedIn is also something I’m going to become best friends with.

Change is inevitable. Change is exciting. Change is renewing. So join me on my new adventures in a not-so-new locale.

Saving money – online and off

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As a mother, I try to find any and every opportunity to make money and save money. Making money is pretty straightforward (though not necessarily easy, I admit). You have to either find someone to employ you, find someone to buy stuff from you, or invest your money so it can work for you.

But saving money is another way to “make” money, and couponing something a lot of my friends are doing. It’s not something I’m great at (yet), but I do try. You may have heard of “extreme couponing,” where people buy groceries worth hundreds of dollars and wind up paying a fraction of the cost. Some people even wind up getting money back when they go to the store. Extreme couponing usually means clipping coupons, stacking coupons, and buying items in bulk. Personally, I’m not the most organized person in the world, so adding lots of paper to my life isn’t the best idea.

What I am good at is using online coupons. Being a freelancer, I spend a lot of time online, so that’s also where I tend to do my shopping. Also, unlike the stereotype, I abhor going shopping in malls and such. Online coupons are usually in the form of coupon codes. So there’s no clipping involved. You just take note of the code, found on various coupon code websites. When you make your online payment, there is usually a spot for you to type in the code. It’s super easy. I use coupon codes for things like webhosting, clothing, toys, and more.

The thing about coupon codes is you have to find reputable sites, and you have to keep checking. Codes expire all the time, but there are also always new ones. Before you shop at any online store or buy any product or service online, check to see if you can find a code for that company.

Coupons are an excellent way to save money, both online and off. If you’re not using coupon codes online, you’re pretty much throwing money away.

A child’s first laptop

Kids & Computers 81Photo credit: Anissa Thompson

My daughter loves computers. It’s no wonder, since I spend a fair amount of time blogging, taking online classes, emailing, working, and researching. But I have to confess that I’m a bit stingy with my computer. She wants to play PBSKids.org games, or she wants to “type” on Word. I’m not really good with sharing. Plus, if she’s quietly playing a game, what better time for me to write a blog post or finish up a client’s project?

When is too soon to give a child her own computer? I decided that 5 was a reasonable age in our case. My old laptop was getting, well, old. Some of the keys are faded, the memory is pretty full, and it’s too heavy to lug around to coffee shops that often. On top of that, it gets hot pretty quickly (though thankfully it doesn’t overheat since I bought a nice cooling pad).

I recently took the plunge and bought a brand new laptop for me. It’s much lighter than the old one, it comes with Windows 7 (it’s always good to learn a new operating system), and I have no problem carrying it around. My daughter gets to use my old laptop. Even though I wasn’t sure I should do it, it’s been a welcome addition to our household.

The only problem I didn’t foresee was where she’d use the computer. Even at 5, she knows how to go online, so I need to be nearby to monitor her computer usage.

All in all, we love having two computers. When I’m working, my daughter can do her “work” too. And I love that she’s learning while having fun, since there are a lot of great websites for children.

Does your child have her own computer? At what age do you think it’s appropriate for a child to have their own computer (if ever)?

A true garden for children

Love and Joy

A few weeks ago I posted that I decided to send my daughter to a regular public school, despite my strong objections to homework, worksheets, mindless recitations, limited recess, and the goal of separating children from their parents (among other objections). Every time I sent her to school I felt a little shudder. I was on edge, stressed out, and suspicious. Not a fun way to feel every morning.

And then one week they sent home homework, and I let the teacher know I refused to make my daughter do the work. I also told her my concerns about a lot of worksheets and sitting for long periods of time. And I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of constantly telling children their work wasn’t good enough.

Anyway, I finally had enough, and I rescued my daughter from the prison…er….school. Kindergarten is supposed to be fun and carefree, with learning hidden amongst the joys of playing.

I found just what I was looking for! There are a few play-based schools in Tucson, and I found a way to send my daughter to one of the best, which is the closest thing to homeschooling I can find. She now gets to play outside most of the day, while learning is in the form of fun games and one-on-one activities. There are 4 adults for her class of 20 children (the ratio at the public school was 1 adult for 26 children). And the best part is they welcome and encourage parent participation. I’m not shuffled out of the classroom when I drop her off. No one is giving me dirty looks when I hang around. My daughter’s educational experience isn’t a secret. I’m not left wondering what they’re hiding.

She gets to be creative at this school, mixing paints, digging in the mud, planting and cultivating a garden, playing super hero, drawing on herself to be a dragon, telling her elaborate stories to a listening adult. She is being celebrated for who she is at this stage in her life, rather than being told she needs to fit into a certain box. Can you tell how much I LOVE her new school? Last week they even found time to bake bread together…cooking will be part of the curriculum.

Sure, with this much play she might not be reading and writing like a pro when she leaves kindergarten, but who says reading at 5 makes you smarter? Actually, research shows that it’s good to let little children wait a few years before reading. What they need, as little kids, is to play in this developmental stage. Playing helps them learn better. It’s what they were meant to do. In fact, because they’ll be doing real-world activities (field trips, cooking, and more), there’s a good chance that reading, writing, and arithmetic will come naturally and readily…when the children are ready.

The new school is a private school, and it is a little pricey. I’m working on getting a small scholarship from friends/family, but it will still be a challenge to pay for it. (Shameless plug coming up.) So if you support the idea of play-based kindergarten, you sympathize with a single parent household, or you find Crayon Writer to be valuable to you, consider making a donation to my little scholarship fund. The donate button is below, and it’s also in the sidebar to the right.

The best thing about it all is that now I send my daughter to kindergarten with a huge smile in my heart and on my face. I’m SO overjoyed that, surprisingly, I’m almost without words. Almost. I’m so glad I followed my gut on this, though I wish I’d done it sooner. This is going to be a great year for her and for me.



Jobs for Single Mothers – A Look Back

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Being a parent is hard work. Single parenting is harder in some ways, and is arguably one of the most difficult forms of parenting there is – for a number of reasons.

One major issue is childcare and its associated cost. For children attending daycare, the costs can be enormous, especially when the parent makes a low income. According to the department of labor, women generally earn less than men, so income matters.

While staying at home is often a wiser financial decision (saving money on childcare), it’s difficult to find jobs for single mothers that pay the necessary bills.

Another problem for single mothers is the much-needed time off from work during the end of pregnancy or immediately postpartum. Though it’s illegal for an employer to fire a woman for taking maternity leave, it can happen, especially at smaller companies or for women who don’t know their rights.

And what about breastfeeding? Mothers get so many strong messages that “breast is best,” but maternity leave is usually only about 12 weeks…nowhere near the 1 year of breastfeeding recommending by the American Academy of Pediatrics, and a far cry from the 2-year recommendation of the World Health Organization.

The Internet, for now, provides a way for single mothers to remain at home and have a more flexible lifestyle while raising children. Though I haven’t worked hard enough to make a living online, it is possible (according to the many “friends” I’ve met online…not all of whom were trying to sell me something).

People can work at home as virtual assistants, freelance writers/editors, bloggers, Internet marketers, call center representatives, medical billing workers, transcriptionists, and more. It’s all a matter of finding something you’re interested in, and having a financial cushion to help while establishing your business.

Here on Crayon Writer, I’ve sort of been spinning my wheels. I tend to try too many tactics at one time. I’m a wannabe blogger, freelance business writer, freelance magazine writer, and internet marketer. Some of that is simply my personality (I enjoy multitasking), but it’s also a sign of failing to make a decision.

If you work from home, whether as a parent (single or not), or not, did you make a decision to focus on one income stream? If you diversify, how do you give it your all with the various methods you choose?

Kindergarten after all

Back to school

For those of you who’ve been reading Crayon Writer for a while, you know I strongly want to homeschool or even unschool my now five-year-old daughter. As a single mother, though, I recognize that we need time apart, so I enrolled her in preschool when she was a little older than three.

Preschool worked out off and on, and I still felt that I was primarily homeschooling. I purposely chose preschools that were strongly play-based, so the academics were light. My daughter has been learning to read and do math at home for the most part, and she’s very smart too.

As the big 5 approached, I started interviewing various play-based kindergartens and even the local public school. In the end, I decided to send her back to her preschool so she could continue to play while I taught her at home.

But to my surprise, a couple of weeks ago my little one announced that she wanted to go to kindergarten, not “play” school, and she didn’t want me to teach her at home!! All of a sudden I had to scramble for a school. The play-based kindergarten programs I found were okay, but either far away or had days that were too short.

Believe it or not, despite my strong objections to the “traditional” school philosophy, my daughter will start at a regular, public kindergarten this week! And she’s thrilled. Me…not so much. My issues with traditional schooling involve homework, grades, testing, “socialization” aka peer pressure and bullying/teasing, and extrinsic motivational techniques.

A little background: I have been a substitute teacher (which included several teacher-of-record jobs) for more than 7 years, and I’m currently in teaching certification program. I know how much standards, grades, and tests are stressed, and I’ve seen what negative effects schooling can have on children. Despite my professional aspirations, it seems to me that school is primarily a method to create conforming citizens who tend to go along with the masses. Not what I want for my child.

On the other hand, I went through public schooling, and I came out with a very open and questioning mind, probably because of my parents’ influence. So it’s likely that my daughter will be similar too.

This week will be the beginning of a new adventure. I’m sure I’ll be a regular volunteer at her school (gotta keep an eye on things), and maybe kindergarten won’t suck the fun out of learning (like I imagine it might).

The important thing is that I’m following my daughter’s lead. I’m letting her have a say so in how she wants to be educated (within reason), which is still in the spirit of unschooling. As long as she’s happy and safe, I’ll let her chart her own path. It’s tough being a parent!

Fitting it all in

Fairyland

Today I took my daughter to storytime at a local library, and we finally got her a library card of her own. Now I have to find the time and energy to fit in some more quality unschooling activities. Luckily, at her age all we really need to do is spend time together, and I can just introduce life to her as it happens.

She’s not “behind” academically either…she knows her letters, numbers, colors, shapes, some words, and some phonics, and some basic math. And with a biologist for a mother, she knows quite a bit about science and nature.

The rest of the day we’ll probably do some pretending, and I might even break out the Chutes and Ladders or Candyland. And if we ever get around to straightening up the house, she can help me fold clothes and vacuum.

As for me, when she’s finally in bed I’ll drag out my school book and start working on some assignments (due on Sunday).

What do you do for your unschooling preschool days?

Single homeschooling writer-for-hire

Playground

As I mentioned last time, I decided to go back to school to get my teaching certification. When I enrolled, my plan was to eventually become a classroom teacher. My thought process was that my daughter would soon be starting school, and by being a teacher I would have the same vacations and similar hours.

What I didn’t count on was that the more I learned about the field of education, the more I’d want to homeschool my daughter.

But that’s what happened! So now I’m really and truly on the path to homeschooling my daughter. My method as a preschool homeschooler will be “unschooling.” Lots of time at parks, libraries, grocery stores, museums, and other unstructured activities. There’s plenty for her to learn while just living.

Just to be on the safe side, I recently enrolled her in the neighborhood school’s kindergarten class. But when I interviewed the principal of this “excelling” school, he went on and on about how much the children learn, how well they’re able to read and write, and just gushed about their academic program.

My response? When do they play??

Turns out there isn’t much play in most kindergarten anymore, even though it’s what 5-year-olds need. I dis-enrolled her shortly after.

My plan as a single homeschooling parent? For kindergarten I’m going to enroll her in a play-based preschool that accepts older kids, so when she needs to play with other kids she has a place to go. I’ll take care of the academics.  I will be investigating a play-based kindergarten program I found in town (a charter school), but I have a feeling it won’t fit the bill (besides, they want her to go to school every day). After that, we’ll see.

Am I still a writer? Definitely, though it’ll take a backseat to my studies and homeschooling. At the same time, I’ll need more than just student loans to pay the bills. So stay tuned for my single homeschooling saga.

Are you homeschooling? Have you considered it?