My Homeschool Education: Teaching Piano At 16

Other than working in my parents’ craft business and doing odd jobs here and there, my first real job was teaching piano.  At the urging of my mom and piano-teacher sister, I began teaching on my own when I was a little older than sixteen.  The students I taught were mostly people that I knew from church, and many of them were referrals from my sister, whose own piano studio was full.

My piano studio grew to about ten students, and their ages ranged from kindergarten to junior high.  Most were homeschool students, but I had a couple of public school students as well.  My sister was my teaching mentor, and while I was teaching I had several opportunities to attend college classes and music teacher groups with her.

During my piano teaching stint, I learned a lot from my sister about teaching.  Rewards, incentives, deadlines, motivation, creativity, building relationships, letting relationships go, working with parents, enforcing policies…  The lessons I had the opportunity to learn at this time were huge for a high schooler.

Teaching piano was a fabulous opportunity for me, but it wasn’t a passion.  Perhaps the biggest lesson that I learned from teaching piano was this: in order to teach others, you have to have a passion for the subject yourself.  I enjoyed playing the piano, but didn’t have a passion for it.  There were parts about teaching piano that I enjoyed, but I didn’t have a burning desire to teach this particular subject.

After a year and a half, I held our final spring recital and quit teaching.  I had given my students a quality education, but couldn’t continue trying to motivate my students to do something that I wasn’t motivated to do.  I had learned a valuable lesson: in order to transfer passion, you must be passionate.  It’s something I’ve remembered for the rest of my life.

My Homeschool Education: Real-Life Business Experience

My parents have had their own “part-time” business for as long as I can remember.  In the 90s, handcrafted home decor items were really in, and my parents made everything from wooden display shelves to decor designed with antiques to floral arrangements.

(My parents still have this business and it’s grown dramatically, but it’s transitioned to much more of a “home decor” focused business rather than handcrafts.  My mother still designs amazing floral arrangements, though.)

At that time, the primary way my parents marked their goods was at arts and craft shows.  Late summer and fall were the busy times for these shows, and I often accompanied my parents to these events.  From an early age, I was learning how to run a business: setting up the displays, helping with customer service, creating marketing materials, attending the booth when my Mom needed to step away, and even running the cash drawer.

My mom insisted that I counted back people’s change to them: “Your total was $57.53 and you gave me $60, so here’s 57.54, .55, .65, .75, 58 dollars; 59, and 60 dollars.”  (This was a relatively easy skill to learn when you weren’t allowed to use a calculator for math.)  I was shocked that the cashiers at Walmart didn’t seem to know how to do the same thing.

I made and sold my own products at my parents’ booth, too.  At first it was simple things, like a fabric candy cane pin that my mom designed and I would cut out, sew, and stuff.  I remember making Christmas “wreaths” from old puzzle pieces that we spray painted green, glued together in a circle, and used the top end of a sewing pin to make little dots that looked like holly.

Amazingly, these items sold and I made some money!  People must have bought them because they thought I was cute, or else there were a lot of people that liked junky crafts in the 90s.

Eventually, my dad taught me how to use a band saw, and I would cut out simple shapes for my own crafts, as well as my parents’.  I remember designing a nativity set on my own – the first project that I remember being more than “little kid cute”.  We sold quite a few, at a price of around $10-12 each, I think.

I learned quickly that we priced everything at $x.95 because it appeared to be less to the consumer – so items were $9.95 instead of $10.  This gave me some awareness of this price tactic as I made my own purchases, too.

I used plenty of my mom’s supplies for making these crafts, but also had to purchase some of my own as I actually started making significant items.  That was a fabulous way to learn about using money to make money.

My parents’ willingness to let me (and my siblings) take part in their business was a huge boost to my education.  The opportunities to learn business principles, develop new skills, and be inspired to be creative were priceless, and it’s one of the things I value most about my education.

My Homeschool Education: A Love Of Reading, And Music Lessons

I loved to read.  If there was anything that would motivate me to get my schoolwork done faster, it was a new book to read.  I remember when one of my sisters finally let me read her Anne of Green Gables books.  I read the first one and she told me there was no way I could have read it that fast – “you didn’t read every word!”

Though I never realized it at the time, reading introduced me to many different types of people and cultures, and made up some for boring history classes.  I read everything from books to newspapers to magazines.  My husband, who is good at history and geography, is sometimes amazed at the different historical figures that I can name, and the only thing I can attribute it to is reading.

My biggest extracurricular activity was music, by far.  My mom was a church pianist, and one of my older sisters was the keyboardist (she started when she was 14!).  My sister, who had also been homeschooled for middle and high school, taught piano at her own private piano studio and I took lessons from her for as long as I can remember.  (My mom tried teaching me at first but that didn’t work out so well.)

Every year, the students in my sister’s piano studio would study and prepare pieces not only for our two annual recitals, but also for Music Progressions, a sort of testing program at a local university.  We would be quizzed on music history, music theory, sight reading, and ear training; and then perform one or two pieces for the adjudicator, who was typically a professor at the university, at least for the more advanced levels.

This program had varying levels, but was in no way connected to the student’s age; a concept that I think we’d do well to think about applying to other educational opportunities.

In junior high and high school, I also took part in an annual piano performance event.  Each student would prepare one (or two, if they were short) piano piece and perform it in a concert hall before a judge, who would give a grade of one, two, or three and critique the piece on paper.

Once, I went to the state piano teachers’ convention and received an “honorable mention” in a similar type of competition.

Practicing the piano was part of my lesson plan for school, and I practiced for 30 minutes a day when I was younger, and an hour or so during junior high and high school, when I was more active in music and considering it as a college major.  I often accompanied our church’s youth and children’s choirs, and played for congregational music.

I liked music, but it wasn’t my passion.  I often wanted to quit, and my mother always threatened with “if you quit, you will not be allowed to touch the piano again”.  Well, I didn’t love music, but I did like playing, so that threat always kept me from quitting.

My Homeschool Education: The Weaker Subjects, And State Testing

Two of the weaker links in my homeschool education were social studies and science.  Hopefully they’ve improved it by now, but Bob Jones science and history were terribly boring in the 90s, and we didn’t do a lot to amplify them.

Once, my mom entered me into the homeschool geography bee.  I did not do well.  (My future husband won that bee twice and went onto the statewide geography bee once.)   Why wasn’t I entered in a spelling bee, or a show-your-work at math bee?  I could have aced those!

I remember taking the Iowa Test of Basic Skills a couple of times.  I don’t think it was required by our state, but my parents wanted us to do it to make sure we were learning everything we were supposed to be.  Those were easy, even if I didn’t know my history or geography very well.  Hello, multiple choice math problems?  Who could not get those right?

I vaguely remember taking extra schoolwork to work on in-between the different sections of the ITBS tests.  Goodness, homeschool parents were slave drivers!  I scored well on those tests, and my parents were probably relieved to know that they were giving me a satisfactory education according to state standards.

During my junior year in high school, I took the ACT.  I don’t remember my score (a 28, maybe?) but I know I did amazing in English, good in math, and guessed at everything else.  That was enough to get me a well-above-average score, so evidently everyone else has some holes in their education, too.

My Homeschool Education: Math Without Calculators

Sunday afternoons were the one big exception to my somewhat hands-off education.  My dad was my math teacher, and I wasn’t exactly an amazing student.  I do still feel that part of it can be attributed to the advanced-ness of Saxon math, and my dad’s strict grading scale: the lowest A I could get was a 94, the lowest B was an 88.  I was also never allowed to use a calculator.

On Sundays, my dad would go over the work I’d done in the previous week.  I was assigned one lesson per day, and all thirty or thirty-one problems.  (I always thought the kids whose parents let them skip some of the problems were the luckiest kids on earth.)  Math tests were an amazing treat, as there were only twenty problems!

At about 3 or 4 on Sunday afternoon, my dad would call me to the kitchen table and we’d go over the problems I’d missed.  Oh, I hated this, but looking back, I love that my dad invested that time into me.  Now, I find myself teaching my first grader the same things my dad taught me: Show all your work.  Keep your rows straight.  Don’t rush.  The simplest mistakes will kill you.

I never was an amazing math student, but thankfully, haven’t chosen a career path that requires a lick of algebra (though I suppose if I had be interested in a field that required advanced math, I would probably have enjoyed it a bit more).  Then again, I could probably figure it out now that I’m allowed to use a calculator.

I’ll write more about this later in the series, but during my senior year of high school I took College Algebra with Review at a local community college.  I had started, but not finished Saxon’s Algebra 2, but my parents had agreed that I could consider my high school math complete if I did well in the College Algebra course.

I passed College Algebra with flying colors and received a complement that I was one of the best students in class.  I felt a little gypped that I struggled so much with math in high school only to find out that I didn’t really have to know all that stuff in order to do well in basic college algebra, but I’m grateful for those Sunday afternoons with my dad and all the effort he put into making sure that College Algebra class was one of the easiest things I’d ever do.

My Homeschool Education: Taught To Teach Myself

I don’t actually remember a lot of school that looked at all like classroom time.  Though I’m sure much of my education in the early grades was more hands-on, I mostly remember working through my textbooks and the lesson plans my parents scheduled on my own, heading upstairs to consult with my mom if I needed help.  It seems like we would meet at the kitchen table around 10 AM every morning and go over the day’s work, and she would check what I’d done and we’d discuss how I did.

In thinking back, this style of education very much shaped what I am today.  When I need or want to learn how to do something, I figure out how to do it on my own.  I’ve taught myself how to start a blog; code CSS, HTML, and PHP; cook gourmet food; and design and sell a digital product.  The fear of learning something new is rarely present in my life; if I just have the desire to learn something, I’ll figure out a way to learn it.

Until I started thinking about my own education, I didn’t realize that this part of me was due to my education – I thought it was just part of my personality.  Now, I’m realizing that although I may lean that way naturally a bit, it is due in great part to the fact that I was taught how to learn things on my own.

Perhaps you would say that’s being “self-taught”, but it’s possible to teach someone how to teach themselves, and I think that’s what my parents did.

My Homeschool Education: The Early Years

I was educated at home from kindergarten through high school, but I don’t have any specific memories about the first few years.

I know that homeschooling was a relatively new thing, or it seemed to be, anyway.  My parents seemed to be worried a lot about being reported to the school district.  We weren’t allowed to play outside by ourselves until mid-afternoon, when the public schools were out.  When we went to Wal-Mart during the day, we usually said we were on a field trip if asked why we weren’t in school.  Replying with I’m homeschooled was an answer that would raise more eyebrows, much more so than it would today.

We used a combination of Abeka, Bob Jones, and Saxon curriculum, at least from what I can remember.  I have many mental pictures of Abeka’s Grammar and Composition books.  Oh, how I hated diagramming those sentences, and I always struggled with identifying adverbs that didn’t end in -ly.

I distinctly remember our lesson plan book.  It was always green, with the days laid out in horizontal rows of six squares each.  From left to right, there was Spelling, Math, Grammer, Literature, and the final two squares were always divided in half: History/Science and Music/PE or Home Ec.  The second square for Math always stood out because it was the only one that was in my dad’s distinctive writing.

For a time, our whole family got up at 6 AM and read three or four Psalms out loud before my dad left for work.  I sometimes wonder if any of us were awake enough to comprehend what we were reading.  I chuckle now as I remember that we kids would usually go back to bed after Dad had left for work.  If I was really motivated, I’d pull out my schoolwork and start working on it so I could get done early.

Our church had a large population of homeschooling families, and a very active organization that held many field trips and activities.  A lack of “socialization” was never an issue for us; we were always going and doing this and that thing, both with the homeschool group and on our own.


7 Things You Must Do To Sell Private Advertising

1. Have an page about advertising on your site.  Make it prominent – in your main menu bar (next to Home, About, and Contact – it’s that important).  Also, link to it on your About and Contact page for the people that don’t see the word Advertise.

2. Create a jaw-dropping media kit.  Make it compelling – tell them why your site is different, who your audience is, and what your advertising options are.  Make it look like you had it professionally done even if you did it yourself, and if you can’t make it look professional, hire someone to do it.

3. Follow up on every advertising request.  Once you have an advertising page where advertisers can learn a bit about your site and request your media kit, you actually need to respond to their requests – promptly.  And, if you want to get advertising orders from those information requests, you’ll want to follow up with each potential advertiser after they’ve had time to view your media kit.

4. Have advertising options beyond banner ads.  You’ll definitely want to offer banner ads, but since you should be charging more than you can make with Google Adsense or another ad network in the same spot, some companies will think they’re pricey.  Think outside the 300×250 box and figure out unique ways to integrate advertising in a way that’s relevant and useful to your readers.

5. Work with advertising departments and business owners, not PR firms.  Yes, you can work with PR firms enough to eventually get paid something in cash for advertising.  But it’s likely going to mean an awful lot of work done for free t-shirts and $50 gift cards, when you could be investing in relationships with people that can write you a check.  It may be harder to get the leads, but they’ll pay off more in the long run.

6. Clean up your site.  The more advertising space you have on your site, the less valuable each site is.  Figure out which positions and options convert into the most money for you, and get rid of the others.  Potential advertisers are turned off by sidebars filled with banner ads – they don’t want their ad to be lost in a sea of ads, so make the spots you have stand out and they’ll sell for more, and you’ll keep them filled.

7. Have a well-defined niche.  Yes: the more defined your niche is, the harder it will be to gain an audience.  But, that audience will be tuned in to what you’re saying because they can’t get what you’re offering many other places.  In turn, advertisers like highly targeted audiences because they are able to more highly target their campaigns.  Their advertising dollars will go farther, and they’ll probably be willing to pay more when you can demonstrate that you have exactly the type of person that will be interested in their product.

When URL Tracking Doesn’t Work

When I see a URL like this, shared on a blog or Facebook, I always wonder if the company realizes that their campaign statistics are likely going to be vastly skewed:

If you’re familiar with Google’s URL Builder, you know that you can use their tool to tag your links and then track the results in Google Analytics.  For instance, from the above URL I can deduce that they’re running a banner ad (medium=bannerAd), sized at 300×250 (content=RON_300x250), somewhere on a Food Network website (source=foodNetwork).  (And it’s some sort of behavioral targeting campaign.)

But, when I landed on that URL, it wasn’t from clicking a banner ad from Food Network – it was from a blog, who had likely clicked on the banner and wanted to share the page, so they copied and pasted the link as-is.  If a few other bloggers shared the same link and several thousand people clicked on it, that would be probably be more than enough to skew the statistics that Johnsonville or their marketing company is looking at in Google Analytics based on that campaign.

I also frequently see the same issue when I click over on a post title from a blog’s RSS feed if they’re using the Google Analytics tracking for their Feedburner (or other) feed.

To be clear, it’s not a problem on the part of the blogger who copied the link – it’s just a downfall of the way the URL tracking system works.

For now, Google’s URL builder seems to be the most accurate way to determine exactly where traffic is coming from, but as you can see, it can also be easily skewed.

For more on how to tag your links using Google’s URL Builder, read my post on Savvy Blogging.

And, if you would like to make sure that you aren’t messing up someone else’s campaign stats, you can simply delete everything following the question mark (?) in links like above.

Homeschoolers Charged More Due To Stronger Worth Ethic

I had to chuckle when I read this note on Mile High Mamas regarding why homeschoolers and Scouts don’t get the same discount rate as public school students at Miller Farms’ annual fall festival (homeschoolers and Scouts pay $10 instead of $8 as for public school groups):

I had to ask the question, why is the rate higher for home schoolers and scouts compared to public school students? Miller Farms has found over the years that the home school and scout kids tend to work harder and fill their harvest bags to capacity!

In that case, I’m proud to pay $2 more!