Homeschooling: It's not what we do, it's how we live.

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Bridging the Gaps: Is Homeschooling Enough?

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bridging-the-gap-1aI’ve written about gaps in education before, but it’s been a while, so I thought I’d address it again; specifically the idea that public schools (or ‘brick and mortar’ schools, which include any style of schooling that involves a ‘school teacher’) provide a ‘better’ education, or a ‘more complete’ education than homeschooling can.

There are a couple of things wrong with this assumption – first and foremost is the idea that all b&m schools have the same educational goals and model and structure. It’s true that basically all b&m schools function very similarly, in that the children go to school and are taught by someone who (presumably) has extensive education in classroom management and state standards. But as far as the curriculum and even models of teaching and goals… those can be quite different, even within a single city or state. Even if the curriculum itself was standardized, the execution of the material is often left up to the individual teacher. What one teacher may consider ‘core’ might seem frivolous to another, and your opinion on the matter may still be different again. They may skip over things you consider to be vitally important in favor of information that you vaguely remember covering in school but ultimately had no use for at all as an adult and therefore consider useless.

Teachers are human and have their own areas of interest that may bias them; mine, for example, is ancient Egypt. I’m fascinated with the culture and religion of the time and we’ve spent a lot of time studying it! I could do a whole year of history/geography and social studies in Egypt alone. But while it’s extremely interesting (to me), it’s not the most practical thing to have a deep knowledge of unless your plan is to go into Egyptology (which neither of my children have expressed an interest in doing). This bias can play a positive role as well as a negative one. On the plus side, I’d rather my kids spend a year learning about a subject that their teacher is deeply interested in and knowledgeable about than just ‘cover’ a wider range of materials. There’s something engaging about learning from someone who is passionate about their topic that makes you more interested in it, too. And that interest could lead to various science and history related fields of further study…. but I digress.

Secondly is the mistaken idea that students in a b&m school are afforded more opportunities than homeschool students. When struggling with a lack of confidence in our teaching ability, homeschooling parents sometimes forget that a classroom teacher’s ability to teach is very often stifled by classroom management and school/state/federal policies that end up meaning that the lessons are taught to the weakest student’s ability. That means that if your child is among the more advanced in the class, or even if he or she is ‘at grade level’, she is more or less left to her own devices to advance her studies because the teacher is otherwise engaged with students who are struggling to get to ‘grade level’ and can’t work with your student individually. In fact, that’s a huge advantage that homeschooling has over any other type of schooling – personalized attention. If your student is at the other end of the spectrum, then all kinds of other issues start creeping in – from dealing with potential learning disabilities, potential behavioural issues to possible bullying and self-esteem issues. No one is inspired to learn when they ‘feel’ like they’re dumb. This is, in part, one of my major issues with the way schools are structured – students aren’t robots and they don’t all learn in the same way, at the same time or on the same level in each subject. Homeschooling addresses all of those issues, because you’re typically mastery-focused and not dependent on grades to get by.

My oldest starts high school this fall, and I admit I am struggling a bit with the idea. Well, that’s not entirely true; one minute, I struggle with doubt and anxiety, the next I can HOMESCHOOL FOREVER!!! I’m not sure if my wildly fluctuating confidence and lack thereof is a good thing, or a normal thing or what… but there you have it. On one hand, I know it’s a thing I can do. We’re mostly at ‘grade level’ except for spelling, and some things I feel like we’ve covered more than he would have gotten in b&m school. Still other things he’s gotten to do that ‘count’ are opportunities he never could have had stuck behind a desk for 9 months out of the year.

I think that for me, that’s the main goal: give my kids a good foundation and teach them HOW to learn. Teach them that learning is a lifestyle, and that ‘school’ isn’t the only way or place to learn. Another facet of my goal is to expose them to as many things as I can to prod their interest in learning more. They need the basics to understand the world around them and to know how to function within it, but that love of learning and being engaged in finding out more is something that will never be ‘taught’ from a textbook. Hands-on learning, getting out into the world and experiencing how the knowledge affects and enriches their day-to-day life – that’s what I want for them.

If you’re new to homeschooling, and struggling with a lot of these kinds of doubts – can I do this? will it be enough? am I depriving my child of a decent education? can he still go to college? what if this doesn’t work out? – and whatever other questions you have… remember: nothing is permanent. If you try homeschooling (or if you’re a homeschooler considering heading back to b&m school) and it doesn’t fit, you can change it. If you’re worried about doing it all yourself, take heart – you don’t have to! There’s a whole WORLD of support for homeschooling parents out there, from groups and forums online, to local tutors and programs your child can enroll in, homeschool co-ops, online high schools and more. It’s not always ‘all’ up to you.

Whether your child is college bound or not, and there’s a whole world out there that doesn’t depend on a 4 year college program to ‘make it’, if you strive to give your kids a good foundation, you’ll do fine even if there are gaps.

Warmly,
~h

 


It’s May!

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Well, it’s definitely summer now, and never you mind that the official start of summer is still another month away; this is Texas and Texas weather does not play by the standard rules. We had maybe two days of spring weather this year, and I think I was working on both of them, which is sad. But the good news is that and early summer means beach weather and I can’t wait to dig my toes into the sand! Our first  beach trip this year is coming up in a few weeks, and I am planning on digging out the beach bag this week in anticipation.

We started off this month with a vacation. I know – not super productive, but between work (which has gotten crazy) and just general stress and the blahs that were hard to shake, this mama needed a break, so I sent the kids to my brother’s for a week. Well, most of a week. My brother and sister-in-law live in Jasper, which is about an hour from us, so the boys for to go be country kids for a while. They have chickens, a pond, lots of room to roam, and best of all – no internet access. After a couple of days, I went up as well, which gave me a couple of days to unwind (for the most part).

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We came back home and, naturally, jumped right back into the swing of things. Our homeschool group hosts a Teen Social each month, and this month’s event was a field day with games and contests followed by ice cream and swimming. Each parent submitted a mental challenge and a physical challenge, and the kids split into two teams to compete for bragging rights. There were a lot of games – more than we had time for – including a relay race, a LARP sword fight, a yoga pose challenge and an improv exercise. They had a great time!

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We also finally got to go play D&D again – it’s been a while! The kids decided that we needed a picture that better illustrates the intensity and excitement of our campaign, so we staged this candid photo for you.

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We join KidsBowlFree every year – it’s an awesome deal if you like bowling; kids get a free game every day during the summer, and you can add the family pass on for a single low price. I don’t have an endorsement deal with them or anything; we’ve just signed up for the last few years and it’s been a great way to have a thing to do in the heat of the summer that’s indoors and inexpensive, and family friendly. We did our first bowling a couple of weeks ago, but I didn’t snag any pictures.

We also had the last book club meeting and I am so annoyed that I also failed to grab a picture from that! It was a great group of kids this year, and I am so glad the boys actually got to participate this year. We always have had grand plans ion the past, but the date ended up in conflict with something else in our schedule. This year, it worked out – I think we only missed one meeting.

Park Day this month got rained out – at least we thought it did, so we rescheduled to one of our mom’s homes. I didn’t know it, but the families in our group got together and created  ‘Heather Appreciation Day’. I was so surprised! They wrote me the loveliest cards and just said the nicest things. I don’t typically think of myself as craving approval, but it was really nice to have it from so many moms that I have gotten to know and admire. It’s been so great to be part of their lives, and to watch them grow to support and inspire both me and the other moms in our homeschool group. We have such a great group, and I am so glad that they’re there to cultivate the vibe we have that makes our group the best!

There was also cake… amazing, delicious cake from Nothing Bundt Cakes, which is a fairly new bakery in our area. Y’all… it was ah-maz-ing. Seriously. My favorite cake now is the chocolate chocolate chip. It was SO GOOD!

 

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We also spent that day prepping for WMC’s After School Playgroup Color War 2K16 (link below). We made holi powder with cornstarch and food dyes and water – so much mess fun! When you mix cornstarch and water, you get a non-Newtonian fluid, which is SUPER fun to play with. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make the best holi powder, so after some trial and error, we found that using only tiny bits of water and using gloved hands to mix the color in was the best way to get a good, bright mix.

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This week, we took the kids back out to Clifton Steamboat Museum, which isn’t really a steamboat museum at all – it’s more an eclectic history museum. It started out as a private collection that belonged to the owner’s grandfather. The theme is ‘Heroes Past, Present and Future’ and it’s such a neat place! A couple of years ago, on our last visit, the kids took a photo with this same statue, so they did a re-creation this time. It’s tradition now, so we’ll have to do it again next time!

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Friday, we finally got all the holi powder off the kitchen table! We picked up my niece and joined quite a few of our friends at a local park for WMC’s After School Playgroup Color War 2K16.

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Afterwards, we met some friends for dinner, and went to see a showing of The Goonies in one of Beaumont’s historic downtown theaters.

We’re coming up on the end of May, and since we school year-round, it won’t be a long break, but we do have a week coming up soon without class planned, so (even though we just had a week off) I’m ready for it. I will have a high school lesson planning post coming up in a few weeks – high school for LBB is only 3 months away! I can NOT believe that we’re there already. I did some preliminary planning already, but there are still some decisions to be made that I am stressing over. Too much; not enough; too rigorous; not rigorous enough… it’s a hard thing to decide on. Plus, our homeschool group is planning a co-op for high schoolers in the fall, so that’ll be on our plate as well.

Hope your last few weeks of school are passing quickly!

Warmly,
~h

 

 


Homeschooling Despite April Showers

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HS despite april showersSome years, I wonder where old sayings come from. This is not one of those years! We’ve had SO. MUCH. RAIN. Luckily, we’re not in a low lying area and haven’t been flooded out, but with the incredible rainfall this month I do start to worry anytime the yard starts looking more like a lake.

Despite the rain, homeschooling continues! We’ve been indoors quite a bit, and even some of our homeschool group’s activities have been either cancelled or rescheduled due to the weather. I thought that I would have time to work on planning for next school year (high school for LBB – eek!!), but so far, nada. Work has me completely busy with event planning and organization. That’s good; I like it when work is steady even if I don’t get paid, but the time it takes away from other things is a double-edged sword. On the one had, I love being busy and having lots to do (especially with the slump I’ve been in since my dental surgery – I’ve needed the distraction), but being a busy bee also makes it suuuuper easy to put off things that aren’t as exciting (like math… and history).

So the last week or so has necessitated a lot of soul-searching and figuring out where I need to spend my energy. One thing that helped get me motivated to work on school stuff was the acquisition of a new giant cabinet for the school room. My storage solutions were less than solution-y, so getting rid of the junky looking mess and having a nice, clean, white cabinet to put things into made a world of difference. The taller storage means that I can fit some of the overflow from the other cabinet, too – it’s just a much nicer space now. In addition to ‘surroundings’, I am also working on self-care – things like hydration, making sure I eat when I need to (because I don’t do that), and trying to get up earlier so I can have some time to myself in the mornings. I’m not a ‘morning person’ by nature, but I am giving it a shot. I am a fan of planner stickers (little stickers made specifically to track lifestyle and habits that go into your daily planner/organizer). I make my own either by finding inspiration from things I see elsewhere, or creating my own based on what I want to track. Being able to tie feelings with practical habits is helping me manage my anxiety and depression. Doing the things that I know make me feel better is always difficult; this makes it a tiny bit easier because I refer to my planner so often, and it’s constantly in my face.

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It’s helping in our school-ish world, too. One of the things I found when I was cleaning up was an old binder with the kids’ work from a couple of years ago. In it was our daily routine. I’d forgotten about it, because it seems like we went to workboxes or something like that and stopped using that schedule. But I like the concept, so I re-worked it for what we’re doing now, and re-did the boys’ current binders. I love the word ‘accountability’ for the kids (and for myself). I found Thirty Handmade Days’ printable accountability and school binder covers a while back and I LOVE them. I made new covers using her templates and made my own additions and customizations to simple things up a bit – I’m a fan of ‘all in one and done’. They look great, especially when compared to their ragged old ones.

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We’ve had a lot going on over the last few weeks – National Siblings Day was April 10th, and we planned a family dinner with my brother and sister and our families. We try to get together every other month or so; this time just happened to fall on NSD.

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Top Left: My brother, doing what brothers do to their older sisters. Top Right: Brothers who don’t appreciate the joy of the sibling relationship yet. Bottom: My brother-in-law, sister, sister-in-law and all our noisy heathen children.

 

One of the cool new things we’re doing with our homeschool group is LARP (live action role playing) PE. We have park day once a month, and the kids plan a game/battle scenario to play out while we’re there. To help with that, one of our families hosted a sword-making day and we all brought supplies to make LARP-safe swords from PVC pipe, foam pool noodles, soft-foam (for the sword tips), hot glue, electrical tape and duct tape. The guidelines we used can be found in the NERO Rule Book.

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Another project we started with our group is this year’s Triangle Homeschoolers’ Yearbook. At Park Day, we got student pictures of some of the kids, with plans to get pictures of the rest next month, or have their parents send in headshots to be included. We’re using Picaboo online yearbook building, and it’s a REALLY cool program! We’re setting it up so that the kids can edit and create the yearbook, and we’re doing a cover contest as well, so the cover will feature kids’ art – so excited about that!

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Here’s a sneak peek – this may change; I was playing around with the program to see how easy it was to use; I have no idea what the final, kid-approved project will look like. Every part of the page is editable, from the backgrounds to the layout and the numbers (which are stickers that can be moved, re-sized, turned – whatever). I can’t wait for the kids to dig into it!

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Our activity this week was a STEM Day; we brought craft supplies and had an egg drop challenge. The goal was to create a capsule that would protect an egg from a ten-foot drop. LBB created a very cushioned container with lots of spikes to help diffuse the impact. He put a lot of work into his capsule! PeaGreen made several different style capsules; one with sponges, one with spokes. I made a couple too, just for funsises.

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Unfortunately, of the 5 that we made, the only one that protected the egg was the simplest one – I cut an egg carton so that there were 2 sections with 4 cups each. I put the egg in the divot in the center, then put the top on and used masking tape to secure it. It worked! Simple is sometimes better, I guess. We were surprised that PeaGreen’s sponge-capsule didn’t work; you’d think that sponges all around would have protected the egg – too ‘squishy’, maybe? And LBB’s capsule, we think ended up being too dense to disperse the impact. This was a really fun project though!

Stay dry!!
Warmly,
~h

 

 

 


Stepping Back into the Flow

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flowI’ve heard stories about people having wisdom teeth extracted, and eating steak a couple of days later. Myth? I think so… I had no idea that my recovery was going to be such an ordeal. First of all, I got sick from the medications that I got for pain relief, so for the first 2 days, I was throwing up. Not. Fun. I figured it was the meds, so I stopped taking all of them, which meant I was just in pain… so I started taking only one at a time so I could figure out which on was the troublemaker – and I did! Tramadol… nasty business, that. So I am overjoyed to report that despite all initial indicatives to the contrary, I am now fully on the road to recovery with Rx-strength ibuprofen and Tylenol-3 at my side, fighting the good fight on my behalf. Thank goodness!

Recovery means back to normal though, or so I thought… only to figure out that I wasn’t quite up to the task of getting back to normal so quickly. I am the world’s worst patient, so of course I tried to rush through recovery with a couple of over-active days. I paid for them both with the next day barely able to get out of bed. Hoping I’ve learned my lesson, I am gingerly stepping back into a semi-normal flow of activity.

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been doing the bare minimum. We took the weeks of March 21 and 28th off completely. I didn’t assign the kids anything new, so there wasn’t really anything to catch up on when we started back with assigned work on April 4th. But even though we didn’t have assigned work while we were off, there was still stuff to do. The main thing was our group’s  science fair. Yes, you read that right – we did science fair projects only days before the presentation. I suck as a mom right now – shut up.

Luckily, there are a zillion websites out there for crappy moms like me who wait until the very last second to pull something together. Here’s a list (not that you would ever need it, being the super-star stellar mom that you are):

PeaGreen chose a combination of two projects having to do with vision, Now you See it, Now You Don’t, and Does Eye Color affect Peripheral Vision. LBB chose Measuring the Speed of ‘Light’ with a Microwave Oven – mostly, I think because he got to play around with eggs.

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picabooIn other news, we met with our homeschool group  a couple of weeks ago to formally put together our first yearbook committee. That was a lot of fun, and really exciting. I have yearbooks from middle school, and that’s something I thought my kids were just going to miss out on, so I am really excited for them to both have  a yearbook at all, and to get to be part of the creative process. We looked at a couple of options, and decided to go with Picaboo, which is an online yearbook-making site. One of the things that swayed us was that for each book order, you also get a digital yearbook to share, and they archive books, so you can order another one at any time.

The kids also got to go swimming for the first time this year at our group’s monthly Teen Social. It was tool cold for me, but they look like they had a great time. There were more kids there, but the girls were already inside one we thought about snagging a picture.

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CNW_Participant_2016April is the beginning of Camp NaNoWriMo, and our local group hosts a writing date every Monday evening at a local coffee shop. The first Monday was April 4th, which also happens to be my birthday. To celebrate ‘camp’ we had a pajama party and made crafts. Coffee, conversation and no requirement to wear real pants… I have found my people, LOL! As I write, I am a bit behind on my word-count, but I plan to catch up this weekend.

 
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Last week was a little more ‘back to normal’.  I gave the kids a regular schedule, and they pretty much got their work done, which was nice. Our field trip was in Lufkin to visit the Ellen Trout Zoo, and we got in some car-schooling on the way there. It was a nice drive; I haven’t been up North in a while and the drive through Texas Hill Country is always so pretty. There was a lot of construction on single-lane highways with long delays where we were sitting still, so we had lots of opportunities for pictures on the way.

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Something I was really looking forward to is a re-take of a picture I took of the boys in 2004. PeaGreen was about a year and a half old, and LBB was 3ish. Too bad back then picture files were so small! But still – mission accomplished.

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We got in another D&D campaign as well. Our DM keeps saying ominous things, so I fear for the safety and longevity of my character (who is a 14-year-old girl who’s too smart for her own safety). PeaGreen plays a thief who is also a coward, and LBB’s character is an Elf who likes to help from afar. It’s been a really fun experience playing!

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This week, we have been pretty much totally back to normal. We’re off-schedule according to my year-calendar, so rather than this week being week 1 of 6, it’s actually week 2 of 7 to make up for our extra week off. As much as that doesn’t really ‘matter’ I will feel better when my books match up again.

Our field trip this week was Art Guild, and we worked on art prints a la Mary Cassatt. She was a truly interesting woman and this was one of the more interesting artist studies that we’ve done. The kids have more work do do on her life this week, but the actual prints were fun to make. We etched in Styrofoam and then used a brayer to put paint over the and pressed the paper to them to make the print.

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Not too shabby for being on the mend, if I do say so myself😉
Warmly,
~h

 

 


Mid-March Update

I thought that it was April that was supposed to bring spring showers, but this year, March is taking all the credit for rainfall. I’m sure you’ve probably seen it on the news; eastern Texas and western Louisiana are pretty much submerged at the moment. Interstate 10 was closed for several days at the Texas/Louisiana border due to severe flooding – in fact, I think at the time of this writing, it’s still closed. I’ve gotten quite a few messages and emails from concerned friends wondering about our safety. I appreciate your love and concern, but we’re well out of the flood zone. Luckily, everyone in our local group is also safely out of the flooded areas as well. Unfortunately, many families in our area have been affected though, and it’s nice to see the communities around Orange rallying to support those who lost everything. If you’re interested in helping, The Orange Leader has a couple of options, or you can donate to the Red Cross for the Texas Gulf Coast Region. Our local Humane Society also recently had a fire, and is accepting donations through their GoFundMe page.

This month hasn’t been all doom-and-gloom, though. Even though there’s been quite a bit of rain, it hasn’t had that much of an impact on our activities. Even so, we’ve missed a couple of things this month. It seems like the first of the year was a constant host of activities, but things seem to have leveled out just a bit lately. It’s been nice having a bit of a break. We needed the ‘catch-up’ time. I’m happy to report that we’ll start fresh this coming week with no make-up work! It’s been about 3 weeks since we’ve been able to say that. Unfortunately, I am having dental surgery next week, so we’re probably going to have to take an unexpected break to deal with that… but we’ll see what happens.

Earlier this month was our group’s art class. The book we’re using for the basis of the class is Discovering Great Artists by Kohl and Solga, which is a hands-on approach that we’ve been testing for the last few months. During the 6 weeks between classes, we study the artist, and at the group class, we watch a video or have a presentation on the artist and then the kids (and some of the moms too, if I am honest), attempt to create a work of art in that style. This month, our artist was Henri Toulouse Lautrec, and the project was an Event Poster. The lesson was great! I had no idea that he was responsible for the kind of advertising that was so popular in that time. It was also quite an interesting experience to cover an artist who featured prostitutes so often in his work with a group of kids. Le sigh…

 

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It was a super fun project – I get frustrated with the kids because they don’t put as much effort into it as I’d like to see, but what’cha gonna do? Art’s my ‘thing’, but I know it’s not theirs, so I try to rein it in. I’m actually not all that displeased with what they did (I just know they could’ve done better). LBB’s been on a Bob Ross kick lately, so it was nice to see that represented in his project.

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March’s Teen Homeschool Book Club was a lot of fun. The kids were supposed to read either a fiction or non-fiction book about Texas, in honor of Texas Independence Day, which is March 2nd. We visited the San Jacinto Monument earlier this month, which was fantastic, and bought a couple of books from the gift shop: Mirabeau B. Lamar, Second President of Texas by Judy Alter, and Davy Crockett: His Own Story by David Crockett. After hearing the boys flounder on their recitations for the book club, I am not sure if they actually did the reading they were assigned, so we’ll be going over those again, but afterwards, they got involved in the LONGEST game of Uno, ever… and loudest, too – at the library, no less!

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We went back for our second game of D&D, and our mission is going well! We’re getting the hang of it. It’s slow-going though (as I am sure it always is with newbies), and I so appreciate our DM’s patience and understanding with us as we learn/play. I have also discovered that playing any game with kids that is as involved as Dungeons & Dragons is can make for a very long evening. Between distractions, side conversations, snack breaks and bathroom breaks, even though we’re playing for several hours at a time, not much gets accomplished ‘in-game’. Even so, we’re making progress – slow- but measurable. We added a new player to this round, too – an orc!

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My very dear friend, The Hauswife, had her 30th birthday last week, Her husband contacted me about creating a custom planner for her, which was so much fun to work on! I had it printed and wrapped, and we threw her a surprise dinner party. I also made her a set of custom planner stickers so she can keep track of her life in style.

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We also had our third D&D game night. LBB ended up with a set of magical keys (that somehow disappeared when no one was looking), and PeaGreen was less than thrilled with my photo-documentation of his game-playing. We did manage to make it through a third battle, with our merry band in tact (barely). I think our DM is taking it easy on us! We added a new player this round as well, The Hauswife.

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I wanted to show off my newly-made dice box, too! I started with a small wooded box from the craft store. I used ‘ArtMinds square wood box (4.13″ x 3.942″)’ item# 10308297 at Michael’s. (I am not affiliated with them; that’s just what I used – I don’t get any kickbacks from them for linking to them or anything.) I found a picture of a mermaid that I liked, and re-drew it, then burned it into the wood with a wood-burning tool. I also found an art-deco pattern for the sides and front, and then burned those sections as well. Then I painted parts of the box with watercolor, and painted her tail with a glitter glaze to make it stand out. It holds a set of Chessex dice, as well as several loose dice and miniature figures inside quite nicely. It’s bigger inside than I’d have thought, and is perfect for storage as well as carrying things back and forth.

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The last thing on our list was our group’s Social Studies Club. Our country of discussion was Turkey this month, but we weren’t able to go to class. I did find this lovely little drawing though, and still wanted to use it, so I am adding it anyway. Istanbul-travel-illustration

Hope your spring is off to a lovely start!
Warmly,
~h


March Into Spring 2016

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Spring has well and truly sprung in our little corner of Texas. It’s warm; the trees are blooming (which means pollen absolutely everywhere) and I’m sneezing my head off. Good times! Despite the respiratory distress, the weather has been incredible. We don’t get many days that make you savor being outside, so when they come, we try to take full advantage. This month has been no exception to that goal.

We wrapped up February with a trip out to the Big Thicket. That’s a pretty big place, if you’re not familiar with it. The Big Thicket National Preserve covers over a hundred thousand acres, and features nine different ecosystems, making it one of the most diverse national parks in the US. Currently, they’re on a mission to restore some of the native flora to the forests, and one of the big projects they’re working on is Centennial Forest. The long-leaf pine is a slow-growing pine tree that once dominated the Big Thicket, and forests from Texas all the way to Virginia. Over the years, the logging industry has decimated the population on long-leaf pines. The effects on the forests here have been interesting. Something I’ve always noticed is that in SETX, we don’t really have ‘forests’ – we have ‘woods’ – densely packed trees, with tons of underbrush – you can’t just wander through the woods like you see people do through forests in the movies. I always wondered why that is, and one of the park rangers explained it in a way I’d never heard.

Basically, when the old growth is cut down, it allows faster growing trees and shrubs room and sunlight to flourish. The addition of houses, settlements and roads has also changed the way that natural fires helped clear the forest floor, and let slower-growing trees mature properly. Once those slow-growers matured, the canopy they create prevents the underbrush from choking out the forest. By using controlled burns, herbicides and volunteers to come in and plant long leaf pines and other slow-growing native trees, they’re helping to restore what will eventually become a more balanced natural forest here. I won’t live to see it, but my grandchildren and great-grandchildren might. It’s neat to think that we will have had a hand in that.

Our homeschool group went out with 19 people (kids and adults), and joined a group of Park Rangers and other volunteers to plant 800 trees. Afterwards, we had lunch, then went for a short hike through an area of the forest where they are testing different methods of underbrush control, from fire clearing, to herbicides and clear-cutting. It was interesting to see how much work and actual science is involved in the restoration process.

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We collect badges and patches from all over the place, and we got a special one for participating in the Centennial Forest replanting effort:
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One of the things we look forward to each year is Texas Independence Day. I know other states don’t take the whole ‘state pride’ thing to the level that Texans do, and it’s funny to hear about it from non-natives; when you’re born here, it’s just a thing you do, I guess. Because we live so close, we usually head out to La Porte to visit the San Jacinto Monument, which stands on the battleground where the Texas Army fought General Santa Anna and won the battle for Texas Independence. It’s interesting to hear the story every year – I always pick up new details (even though I’ve heard the story many times).

After the monument, we lunch at the park grounds in front of Battleship TEXAS, which is where the Texas Army encampment is memorialized. There are stone markers all over the battlegrounds, with key positions or events marked. One day, we’ll get around to attending a re-enactment of the battle.

The Battleship wasn’t part of the fight for independence; rather, it is retired from service after both World Wars. Since it’s on the grounds though, that makes it a logical second half of the day’s trip. The kids always get a blast out of messing with the ship’s guns – they’re massive, and surprisingly easy to maneuver. The gears and cranks are all exposed, so it makes the physics of movement a highlight of the conversation. After climbing the insanely steep ladders and steps to get to the higher decks, we went below, and below, and below – they’ve opened up several of the lower decks since we were here last time, so we got to see a lot of the engines and piping down in the belly of the ship that we’d never seen before. There are some really tight spaces – I don’t think I’d like to actually be a sailor if I had to be down there all the time.

 

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In other news, LBB got glasses! Since both Loverly Husband and I both wear them (and have for basically ever), it was surprising to me that neither of the boys needed them. He’s been complaining about things being blurry for a few weeks though, so we got him checked out and sure enough, he’s joining the club. PeaGreen decided to make a drastic change to his look, too, with bleaching and dyeing his hair. The bleaching process was pretty dramatic, but once we dyed it (purple), it’s pretty subtle until he goes in the sun; then it’s really bright!

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We’re wrapping up this week with our homeschool group’s Teen Social, which we affectionately called, ‘Mix Tape and Chill’. We had each of the kids send in a list of 5 songs, and one of the moms made a playlist on YouTube to play during the event. She made a list of all the songs, and gave a paper to each of the kids so they could guess which kid picked which songs. They competed for a GameStop gift card. Both my boys opted out of the contest; I have no idea why – that’s one of their favorite stores. Kids?

The theme for the day was ‘games people play’, and they spent the afternoon doing just that, from video games, to ‘lines and blobs‘, to the pantyhose bowling game, and wrapping up with LARP style sword-fighting, which ended up paving the way to planning a LARP-based homeschool PE discussion in our group’s discussion list for later this month.

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How’s your spring going?
Warmly,
~h


Mid-February Update

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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.

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photo by: Yvette Michelle Portraits

photo by: Yvette Michelle Portraits

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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How’s your school year going so far?
Warmly,
~h

 


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