I know I always say this, but holy Toledo – I cannot believe how quickly this month has passed! We’re officially into #allthethings now, and somehow that makes time pass even faster. On the one hand, I guess it’s good that we’ve been busy living life, but blogging helps me focus on the positive and awesome stuff that happened, so I have missed not posting regularly. I see a lot of bloggers get accused of glossing over the bad stuff, and that’s fair. I tend to focus on the positive because I am prone to depression and having a place to ‘store’ the memory of what we’ve been doing fixes that in my mind instead of all the other, stressful and negative stuff that’s been going on. So if that’s been something you’ve wondered about, please know that it’s not that it’s not my intent to misrepresent what my life looks like, but more that I want to keep my brain occupied with things that make me happy, which at this point is still pretty focused on the kids and homeschooling and all the associated business of being a mom.
In the interests of ‘keeping it real’, the past month has been filled with stress related to my aging and infirm grandmother and parents (all of whom live next door to me); anxiety over work and finances and the direction of my career; existential anxiety over realizing that with the progression to ‘high school’, my days and identity as a ‘homeschooling mom’ are coming to an end in a mere 4 or 5 years, with the associated “what does that mean? What do I do? Who am I, if not that?” types of thought processes; frustration over getting the kids to do their freaking work and all the worry that goes with ‘am I doing enough to prepare them for the real world and life as an adult?’; and a host of other things, many of which involve negative thought-spirals that I’d rather not dwell on. Despite those issues, life moves on, and now that we’re (mostly) fully settled into this school year, I can breathe a bit and play a bit of catch-up here to remind myself that in between pockets of ‘bad’ are a hell of a lot of ‘good’.
The biggest new thing we were anticipating was the start of our homeschool group’s high school cooperative group. We’re now 4 weeks in, and it’s *so amazing*. Classes for this semester are: Life Skills, (which covers practical math skills like paying bills, balancing a bank account, planning for large purchases and managing credit, in addition to finding an apartment, buying a car, and things like that). Debate (Lincoln Douglas, which I freely admit I know nothing about and am thrilled to have someone offer this to my kids); Literature (Shakespeare; Romeo & Juliet and something else I haven’t decided yet, because I am teaching this one); and, of course, Orchestra. The boys are both playing violin, and I am playing cello. We have 10 students and 4 parents taking lessons along with the kids. Never too old to start a new hobby, right? The spring semester will have a couple of different classes, including a mental health for teen course that I am very excited about.
Overall, I am super happy with how co-op is organized and how things are progressing this time. The co-op we were part of last time had a wider age range of kids, and it was chaotic and stressful. Though this is tiring, it’s not ‘stressful’ in that way. I am really enjoying this smaller age group, and that it’s teens in particular. We’ve made a couple of changes to our original plan and moved some things around, but I really couldn’t ask for it to be better. The kids all seem to mesh well, and the class is small enough to feel intimate, but large enough for them to bounce idea off of each other and appreciate their classmate’s insights. Though it’s not ‘competitive’ in the way of classroom education, they do bring out the best in each other, and that healthy competition is really nice to see emerging.
For everyone freaking out over posture and form, worry not – we’ve since moved to proper seating and standing for the violins. These pictures were from our first day when everyone was just getting acquainted with their instruments. We’ve also moved to a different room, with cellos seated in front and violins and viola standing in the back. We’ve progressed from pizzicato to bowing now, and about a third of the class has moved up from ‘baby bow’ to ‘teen bow’ as of today. We still sound like cats dying when we play, but there’s definite progress! Exciting!
In addition to music instruction during co-op, their music teacher also offers a bumper lesson every Monday (see? Standing!). Currently, they’re practicing with a rolled up tee shirt under their arm and a shoulder rest to correct posture and hold. It’s been a long time since I took any sort of music lessons, but it’s amazing how quickly things come back, and how important PRACTICE is. When I was in school, I was a lackadaisical student – practice was definitely not a priority (but I also had band every school day, so many it balances out?)… however, because we’re only getting actual instruction time twice a week, an hour-long practice is part of the daily school plan, which means that I can actually see their improvement from week to week.
Our homeschool group hosts a public speaking class every 6 weeks. We started doing this last school year, and this year, we changed the format a bit so that it’s less ‘presentation only’ and more actual development and skill in presenting. During our most recent class, we focused on developing and delivering a persuasive speech, and the kids had to use an outline and note cards to help with delivery. They did fairly well, but there was a lot of room for improvement, so our next class will stay on persuasive speeches, but focus on Presidential candidates’ speeches and their considerable powers of persuasion. It’s been interesting listening to the kids talk with each other, especially after the Presidential Debates the other night – I never thought my kids would engage in thoughtful political dialogue, but I am both glad they are, and proud that they can do so somewhat intelligently. How this will translate to their speech class presentation remains to be seen, but at least they’re not as blind to the world as I was at their age.
We’re also still participating in our homeschool group’s Art Guild, which is based on the book Discovering Great Artists. We meet every 6 weeks, and both learn about an artist and create a work of our own in that style. This month was Georgia O’Keefe in watercolor. For those of you inexperienced at watercolor, let me just say that it’s a hard thing to master, especially with 15 kids in the room! They made a valiant attempt, but we may need to refine our technique a bit more.
Another addition to our schedule this year has been an Aquatic Science class, taught by one of the moms in our group who is a former science teacher. She’s using a really cool project-based approach which is giving the kids a lot of hands-on exposure that I am just in love with. This is the kids of thing that I have wanted to do as a homeschooling mom and always seemed to fall short of it. Their teacher is amazingly patient, and keeps them focused during class time and sends them home with follow-up work. This was from a couple of weeks ago – they were using an orange to map a globe, continent and island, and transfer the ‘globe’ onto a flat surface. Last week, they worked on land-forms, and made a contour map from construction paper and an elevation map from cardboard stacked and painted. We’ve been having classes every week, and in tomorrow’s class they’ll be using their models to work on ‘sounding’ the ocean floor.
With all of these additional classes and clubs, we’ve had to put actual field trips on the back burner this year! Our most recent was this week’s trip to Galveston to Seawolf Park. They have a battleship and a submarine open to tour, so we spent the afternoon on a lovely day trip. Ferry rides are always the highlight of our trip; there are dolphins in the bay and fat seagulls that follow the ferry looking for food offered by the passengers. You can see Seawolf from the ferry and it looks like it’s fairly close by, but it’s a 20 minute drive that I wasn’t expecting. Hurricane Ike destroyed the building that used to be the park’s eye-catching landmark; it’s still there, but disconnected from patrons by a huge fence. Apparently, there’s a proposal for renovation of the park, but it’s not underway yet. In any case, we still had a good time. LBB is somewhat afraid of heights, so he and I spent the majority of the time working on getting over that (without success this time), which was at times funny and others frustrating, for both of us. Afterwards, we spent the latter part of the evening on Crystal Beach, soaking up some sun before heading home (to practice our instruments, of course).
In other news, FALL IS HERE – finally! The weather is forecasting 60’s most mornings this week and I am over the moon about it. We left for co-op this morning and it was cooler outside than it was inside (with the AC on). I am so beyond ready for sweaters and boots! Speaking of ‘favorite things’, we have gotten some awesome mail this week – our PhysicsQuest science kit, and the kids’ homeschool yearbooks arrived! This is our first experience with both of these companies, and I am thrilled with both. I’m not an affiliate; these are resources we’re actually using by choice with my very own monies. The PhysicsQuest kit (which was free), I learned about in a homeschool group. They sent a kit for each kid, with the book and most of the materials (everything except household things like water and paper) to work through the problems presented in the story (comic book). We haven’t started on it yet, so I’ll get around to updating that when we do.
The yearbooks are from Picaboo, and I am ENTIRELY pleased with. If you’re in the market for either a personal yearbook for your kids’ school year, or an option that works for your homeschool group, I HIGHLY recommend Picaboo. The quality and options for the price are incredible. After some tinkering to figure out their site, it’s super user-friendly to create the books, and the free customization option is really cool. My boys both got their names and pictures on the back/flip cover, with pictures of ‘just them’ in the flip section, in addition to the main book. I am really considering creating a book to cover our entire homeschool journey as part of the boys’ graduation gifts. We’re still a few years away from having to think about that, but wouldn’t that be something?
To sum up… we’re busier than ever this year. With just math, music and literature, the boys have a minimum of 3 hours of school work per day, not including the rest of their subjects. With clubs, lessons and classes, plus co-op, their time and mine are extremely limited this year. I enjoy being busy for sure, but I am maxed out by the end of the week. To combat that, I’m focused on self-care in a big way. Music practice is part of that for me – learning something new that has to potential for creative expression in such a beautiful way is extremely satisfying. I recently went to a weekend retreat with some very close friends, and spent a lot of time just focusing on my connection to life and nature and it was glorious. I have another retreat in a couple of weeks, and I am so looking forward to it as well. At home, I am nurturing my creativity with art. I always forget how much I need art in my life when I get stressed out. Our homeschool group is hosting a ‘mom’s night in’ every month, and this month, we decided to do a paint-along with The Art Sherpa on Youtube. We did the dragonflies with the Kevin modification, and it was so much fun! I also created my own version of Paint with Jane’s ‘A Walk in the Rain‘ that I am pretty happy with. I didn’t know that painting along with someone was a thing, but I am making it part of my routine now that I do!
This is a pretty long post, so if you stuck with me through to the end, thanks for reading! My plan is to get back into updating weekly, so hopefully there won’t be so much to cover at once. So now that we’re all caught up on me, how about you – how’s your year going so far? Doing anything new?
Happy Fall, y’all!
Here it is, folks – the long-awaited high school lesson planning post! And hey – it syncs up with iHomeschool Network’s annual Not Back to School Blog Hop for this year, which makes me happy. I don’t know why, exactly; I don’t actually participate the NBTS Blog Hop (as in, adding my link and everything). I just like that there’s a ‘plan’ and being on-task with it, I guess*. I’m weird; what can I say? Moving on then…
As you may know, my boys are technically a year grade apart, but I plan most of their work together. Since they’re so close in age, it’s just easier for me. That means that this year, since LBB is in 9th grade, and PeaGreen is in 8th, PeaGreen will actually start accumulating high school credits this year because he’s doing high school level work. Luckily, we live in Texas, a state with little to no state/government
interference, regulations… oh, I mean assistance <wink,wink, nudge, nudge> so this work out quite nicely for us.
This is an interesting dilemma for me; on one hand, PeaGreen is perfectly capable of doing the same work his older brother is doing. Holding him back wouldn’t make sense to me. But at the same time, he is younger, and there’s a part of me that wants to make sure to keep that separation because as an ‘oldest child’ myself, I know how important that extra bit of privilege/responsibility is to identity. Then again, there’s a wider gap between me and my younger siblings, so maybe it’s less of a concern with closely spaced siblings? If you have input here, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. In any case, LBB will turn 15 in January and he’ll start Driver’s Ed, which will, at least for a while, give him a little bit of ‘extra’ that comes with age for a while.
Our school year was really easy to plan this year. When we started homeschooling, I decided to go with a 6-week on, 1 week off schedule, and school all year long. That got switched up and changed during the first few years for various reasons, but that’s always been my ‘ideal’. Last year, and most of this year, we’ve managed to maintain that, so I just stuck with that plan and mapped out the school year accordingly. That gives us 195 school days (we have some weekend days that we’re counting as ‘school days’ because of clubs or other projects planned for those days), spread out over 39 weeks, from September 2016-August 2017. This includes a month-long break in December, and a couple of weeks in July. In truth, there will be missed days here and there; our ‘normal’ school year runs somewhere in the neighborhood of 170-185 school days per year. I build a little padding in so that we necessary, I can take a break or call a ‘movie day’… or just skive off school entirely and go to the beach.
Here’s what a year’s worth of work looks like for my kids. It’s not quite accurate, because this doesn’t include their notebooks from this school year. They have one for CNN Student News/Current Events; Literature; Spelling/Grammar; Math; History and Science. But this is what goes into their binders each week over the course of a school year, and includes any worksheets or handouts that I give them or that they get from classes or clubs or events that they do during the year, arranged by week. I don’t know if that’s ‘a lot’ or if it’s ‘not very much’. I try to avoid the trap of comparing what we do to what others do, but I thought I’d put this out there. The stacks are about 2.5 inches high in the center (when smashed down), if you’re wondering. I am about to file it all away, so I thought I’d snap a picture of it for posterity!
So… what I am sure you’re wondering is how I actually went about planning this school year, and what we’re using, right? Let’s get down to it!
As I mentioned before, LBB starts high school this year. We’re also in Texas, which means that although the TEA has regulations in place that govern how public schools may place and graduate students, private schools (which is what homeschools fall under in terms of designation) don’t have to follow those recommendations in any way. Shocking, right? I know… it scares the bejezus out of me, too, sometimes. Luckily, Annie & Everything is a blogger who apparently has my brain bugged, because every time I start freaking out over something high school related, she posts a blog that pretty much addresses my exact fears.
When there are no rules, what do you do (other than ‘pretty much whatever you want’)? I’ll admit it; started by looking at the TEA’s guidelines. As much as I fancy myself a bad-ass free-spirit who don’t need no fancy-schmancy ‘rulez’, the truth is that those guidelines are familiar and comfortable, and they’re just an easy place to start. We’re tweaking some of it, and have discussed with LBB his options as far as dual credit course and CLEPing courses that he covers well during his high school years, which means that he’ll be at least as prepared as his public school peers when it comes tome for secondary education. We’re starting with the basics, and letting him determine what direction he wants to go. While we’ve set University before him, that may not be his path (which is cool, man…), but we do want him prepared if that’s a direction he chooses to go in.
All that said, here’s what their actual schedule looks like this school year:
- Math (D) (currently recapping middle school; will being Algebra I when finished)/Coding (1xW)
- History – Ancients (2xW)/Geography (1xW)/Current World Events (3xW)/Community Service (1xM)
- Science – Biology (3xW)/Science – Aquatic (2-3xM)
- English I (3xW)/Literature I (D)/Grammar (D)/Speech 101 (1xM)/Writing (D)/Spelling (D)
- Logic (1xW)/Debate (1xW)
- Art History (1xW), Art Club (1xM), Art (practical)(2xM)
- Music (orchestra – first year violin) Class (1xW)/practice (D = 1 hour)
- Health (D) /Mental Health for Teens (spring semester 1xW)/Physical Education (D)/Home Economics (1xW)
- plus notebooking for most subjects (D), field trips each week and driver’s ed in 2017
KEY: (D = daily) (#xW = 2 time per week, or 3 times per week, etc./ M=month)
They average between 4-5 hours of school work 3 days per week, with a lighter day of desk-work/book work on Wednesday (2-3 hours) to accommodate our homeschool group’s field trip or class, and this year we will have a full day at co-op on Thursdays. Like i said earlier, I don’t know if that’s a lot or only a little. Some days I feel like it’s a super lot; other days they get it done quickly and I wonder if I am being rigorous enough. Sometimes, homeschooling mommy-brain just won’t cut you any slack. Le sigh…
So here’s the grand finale – the part you may have been waiting for: What are we using this year? Here’s a list of most of the resources we’re pulling from this year. I don’t like ‘textbooks’, so you won’t see a lot of those on the list. Some of their classes are being taught by other homeschooling parents through either clubs, classes or our co-op. Having a strong support network/homeschooling community/village is so key to opening more options for both the homeschooled student and the homeschooling parent. We’ve worked so hard to build our group, and I cannot tell you how thankful I am to be part of such an amazing group, and how grateful I am to each and every one of the parents who are willing to put their time and effort into teaching and sharing and helping this community thrive. This year is going to be an amazing school year!
RESOURCES for this school year:
- Khan Academy
- Ask Dr. Math
- Cool Math Guy
- Code Combat
- Story of the World I (Timeline/Geography included – NOTE: if you’re iffy about SOTW for older students, check out this blog that talks about using it as a spine for basing your history program on. This is similar to our approach.)
- World History for Us All
- CNN Student News
- Atheists Helping the Homeless (this is the volunteer page for the Austin chapter, but there are AHH groups ALL OVER the US. Look on Facebook for a chapter near you, or start one!)
- The Biology Project
- Science Teacher Program – Biology Lesson Plans
- Texas Aquatic Science (the AquaSci course the boys are taking is a private class taught by a science teacher/fellow homeschooling mom in our local group, however she recommended the TXAquaSci site, and I have gone through the training for the FREE Project WILD courses, including their Aqua offshoot. Contact TX Parks & Wildlife to set up a free training session with them and get a copy of the curriculum at no cost.)
- Project WILD – Aquatic
- No Fear Shakespeare
- College Board Reading List
- Daily Grammar
- One Year Adventure Novel
- All About Spelling
- Discovering Great Artists
- Violin lessons online: with The Online Violin & Piano Tutor (obviously, online lessons are not a replacement for an actual teacher and IRL lessons, but if you can’t access that as a resource, this will at least get you pointed in the right direction)
- Cello lessons online: with Hans “Enke” Zentgraf
- Teen Mental Health
If you have resources that you love, or that you think I would, please comment and share them!
*upon further reflection, the NBTS Blog Hop is one of the first things I joined in on when we started homeschooling – I think it was the 2nd year they were doing it when we started – so it’s always been something that helped me feel connected to the homeschooling world, I suppose.
Every year, I am surprised at how quickly January flies by. Here we are mid-February, and I am still honestly surprised at how quickly this month has flown by. We’ve been slightly busier than usual (and that’s really saying something). Since I last checked in, we’ve managed to wrap up our first 6 weeks of school and are currently enjoying the last few days of our first official break. If you’re new, we follow a 6-on/1-off schedule. It’s true what they say about ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’; the first time I ever heard about this kind of schedule for school was when our local ISD did a trial of it for a single school year. The original idea was that with a year-round schedule, the kids don’t get bored and burned out during the year, and don’t have a months-long break during the summer to lose half of what they’d learning, and the first 6 weeks of the new school year isn’t wasted on catching up. It was a great idea -so much so that it’s stuck with me and I knew that’s what I wanted to try when we started homeschooling. We started out with 6-on/1-off, and have gone through various revisions of it over the years, but we’re back there now and it’s working beautifully.
As I said, this is our off week, and I have to admit that as much as I love the busy schedule we keep, I have absolutely reveled in the last few days of being just home, home, home with few responsibilities (other than the bare minimum required to keep the children alive and basic hygiene requirements met). I even opted out of our homeschool group’s classes this week, which was actually a tiny bit painful, but I really needed the break. Next week, we’ll be back into the swing of things, full stop.
Over the last few weeks, it seems like we’ve been everywhere, seen all the people and done all the things! For the last few months, we’ve been volunteering with our local Atheists Helping the Homeless group, SETX AHH. This month was the largest turnout of volunteers since the group got started back in October 2015, and we were happy to be there to help. My boys, and some of the other kids in our homeschool group manned one of the tables, helping assist mean and women filing up their bags, and directing them to some of the organizers if they had questions the kids couldn’t answer. If your local area has an AHH group, we’ve found our group to be very kid-friendly (with a few FAQs that you might want to consider), and it’s a great opportunity to have the kids involved and actively working with the community.
We try to mix our field trips up each year, and honor local and global culture when possible. Southeast Texas has a thriving Vietnamese community, and Chinese New Year is one of the holidays that the Vietnamese community celebrates each year. We celebrated the Year of the Monkey with a big picnic and craft day, followed by a dragon parade at the Tyrell Park Botanical Gardens.
Afterwards, the boys and I met at the library for the Teen Homeschool Book Club that our amazing librarian, Ms. Robin, hosts each month. The boys read Call of the Wild by Jack London, for this month’s selection. One of the moms is absolutely always on point with refreshments, and brought cupcakes for the kids to decorate, both for Valentine’s Day, and with an eye towards something from their book. LBB’s cupcake is meant to represent Francois from Call of the Wild; PeaGreen seems to have ignored that directive and opted for an inside joke reference with the other kids. I don’t know what the joke is, but they all got a kick out of it.
The boys also got to finish and present their Hawaii projects for our homeschool group’s social studies club. LBB talked about the Hawaiian Hoary Bat, with a drawn and painted diagram, and PG made a model of the Hawaiian Islands, and talked about island formation, and the volcanoes of Hawaii.
In other news, one of the dads in our group offered to host a Dungeons & Dragons Tutorial for the teens in our group, so we spent a Saturday learning how role-playing works. It was really fun, and we’re planning to give it another go soon. I always thought that D&D and other games like that (that were non-electronic and social) were good for developing creativity and I am pleased to see the kids taking an interest. Valentine’s Day was pretty low-key, as usual; we’re not big on a lot of the holidays, other than a nod of acknowledgement, but we did head out to my brother’s for dinner that evening. PeaGreen has spent the last few days there, so LBB and I got to spend some QT together. Today’s festivities included lunch, a coffee date and a long drive to pick up my other kidlet.
How’s your school year going so far?
One of the fun things that many homeschoolers do in conjunction with learning history is to create a timeline of events as the kids learn. There are a hundred different methods for creating a timeline, from a notebook or binder system, to a wall-based system, to a scroll system (which is what we’ve been using for the last few years).
Last year, we started keeping a history notebook. The kids worked on that together with their lapbook. We are using Story of the World, and several bloggers have made coordinating lapbooks that cover books 1-3. We’ll start book 4 later this year, and I’d like to transition fully to notebooking, rather than lapbooking for this last book. If you’ve never worked on a lapbook or a notebook, the concepts are pretty similar. I like to think of lapbooking as a little more ‘directed’, while notebooking is a little more student-led, but lapbooking can be student-led as well. It’s really up to you as to how you use and/or combine the two methods.
We’ve been working on taking notes in various subjects, and I’ve been requiring that the boys write more from their own perspective, rather than being told what to write. With our new school year on the horizon, I’ve been searching through my history & geography pins on Pinterest and seeing what I’ve pinned that will help me help the boys make notebooks that they will want to read through later.
One pin on Interactive Notebooks has several really good tips for creating lasting work. The site is geared towards younger students, but even with boys in middle school, the tips are just as relevant. As I mentioned before in my middle school lesson planning post, we’ve been using ‘mind-mapping’ to take notes, which combines color and pictures with words and related ‘branches’ arcing out from a center, or main, point. I have one child that likes this method of note-taking, and one that prefers a linear (traditional) style – but both ways have merit.
I also am a big (BIG – HUGE) fan of art journals, and art notebooks. I’ve been toying with the idea of helping the kids work on art notebooks for history. Combining maps (geography) and art in this way would make a great project. Printed pictures, colored pencils layered with notebooking (journaling and notes) would make a keepsake that can be referred to in later years as both an art piece and an educational review.
Something like this (pictured – not ours!!) would be ideal. That’s not history (art history, maybe??), but that’s similar to what I envision the kids’ notebooks looking like in this process. It probably will require more preparation on my part, as far as printing pictures and graphics to use, but I think it will be worth it in the long run.
Currently, we’re in Russia, with Peter the Great. There are several battles and movements of the army that would make for great visual aids in a notebook like this.
This would be another way to mark your timeline if you work through history chronologically. Keeping up the notebooks will keep your timeline in order. I am looking forward to getting started with this idea with my kids!
If you art/notebook, I’d love to hear from you, and see how it works and looks for your students.