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Survival Story: First Week of Homeschool

1st week of home school

Clan Donaldson

Cari Donaldson - published on 09/15/14

Mutiny, vermicompost, and chewing gum patch work.

Last week was the first week of school for my kids. They attend Our Lady’s First School for Children Who Love Dinosaurs (OLFSFCWLD for short), an extremely exclusive private school that is conveniently located right in our own dining room. The academic year doesn’t start at OLFSFCWLD until Our Lady’s birthday (or the weekday thereafter. Or whenever I finally get my act together and order books. And make lesson plans. And wait for the weather to turn because I live in New England and it should be illegal to start school during our precious 5 weeks of summer).

I have to be honest—the sudden transition from lazy as possible summer vacation mode to full on school was a bit jarring. I’m pretty sure I went through an entire Costco box of K-cups in a five-day span, which may account for some of the perpetual motion of last week, but surely not all. It seemed that all the extracurriculars in the world followed OLFSFCWLD’s schedule and chose last week as their startup week.

My oldest child, now officially old enough to take part in our parish’s youth group, attended her first meeting. Very much an extrovert, she was giddily excited about going. But very much a middle schooler, she was suddenly gripped with nervousness about walking into a group of people she didn’t know. She wanted me to come in with her. Then she wanted me to just drop her off and go. Back and forth. She couldn’t decide if the comfort my presence would give her was worth the obvious social stigma of showing up with The Mother. Finally, we devised a complicated procedure that involved me coming in, but only to the lobby, then hanging around discretely reading informational pamphlets while she went into the meeting hall alone. If things were ok, she would flash me a surreptitious thumbs up.

Instead, she came bounding out with a big smile, told me there would be pizza, and that I could go home now and stop pretending to read informational pamphlets. Whew. One child taken care of.

Then there was Cub Scouts that started up last week. This year marks three Donaldson boys in the same pack, and you would think that four years of scouting would mean I’ve got it down pat. You’d think. Someday, I fervently hope to be that mom who has her stuff together and does not, in fact, find herself trying to get ready for the first Cub Scout meeting of the year by frantically gluing on last year’s patches onto three sets of uniforms.

Also, I used Mod Podge because that’s all I had and it seemed slightly classier than sticking them on with chewed gum.

By midweek, science classes were in full swing at OLFSFCWLD, when the younger students were to learn about seed parts by dissecting lima beans. Things started off well, observing seed coats and cotyledons, but then I made the mistake of referring to “the baby plant,” and  chaos immediately erupted as three boys became hysterical that we were dissecting baby anythings. The seven-year-old put down his seed, crossed his arms, and scowled at the table. The six- year-old tried putting the plant embryo back into its spot in the endosperm, while whispering, “I’m so sorry, baby plant,” and the four-year-old burst into tears and told me that this was the meanest science lesson ever.

The science department at OLFSFCWLD will have to re-think future dissection lessons.

Meanwhile, the big kids were setting up a vermicompost bin. “Vermicompost” is a fancy word for “worms in a box.” You get some boxes, chuck in your kitchen scraps, and the worms are supposed to fulfill their life’s work by turning the garbage into worm castings. “Castings” is a fancy word for “poop,” which delighted the not-too-cultured OLFSFCWLD students to no end.  

But it turns out that you can’t just stick a shovel in the ground and get the worms that already live in your yard. Oh no. You have to have a specific type of worm eat your garbage and poop out- excuse me, cast out- soil. So you actually order worms off Amazon. And you gag a little bit as you do it. Then when your nice mail lady hand delivers 1000 worms, you feel like you need to apologize.

The big kids had no such issues, though, and they gleefully dumped all one thousand worms into the prepared bin. Then, the next morning they scooped up handfuls of worms off the deck and chucked them back into the bins because it turns out that worms will sometimes try to escape their lovely new homes so you have to shine a bright light on them for 24 hours to encourage them to burrow down and eat your garbage.

The science department at OLFSFCWLD will have to re-think future vermicompost lessons.

By Friday, I was done. School somehow got shortened down to math and religion, as we had to prep for a Cub Scout camping trip. Camping. With eight children who would be so hopped up on s’mores and campfire stories that they wouldn’t sleep for the next three days. My husband sent me this picture at some point during the week, and it’s spot on. Disturbingly spot on.

But hey, only eight months until summer break!

Cari Donaldsonis the author of Pope Awesome and Other Stories: How I Found God, Had Kids, and Lived to Tell the Tale. She married her high school sweetheart, had six children with him, and now spends her days homeschooling, writing, and figuring out how to stay one step ahead of her child army. She blogs about faith and family life at

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