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

Posts tagged “curriculum

10 Months Post Harvey: Early Summer 2018

Well, spring has well and truly faded into summer. Even though the official start of Summer isn’t until July, in Texas, we all know that summer actually starts in late May. At a certain point, everything gets all melty, and that’s how you know that it’s actual summer, and that there will be no relief for the unbearable heat anytime within the next several months. When you live in Texas, you just have to learn to accept this as fact and move on. It means no more hikes; no more outside anything, really, unless you count the walk between the air conditioned ‘indoors’ to the air conditioned car or any time spent at the pool.

When last I posted, we found our intrepid heroes wrapping up homeschool co-op for the year, going to prom, and (as seems to be, forever) working on repairing our house post-Hurricane Harvey. That was back in April, so I have a couple of months to cover before you’re back up to speed, dear reader.

As ever, we’ve been busy, though not really with a lot of schoolwork of late. We took some time off because I was out of town, and there were a couple of weeks when Loverly Husband was also off work, so house-work became to priority. Although it doesn’t look it, we’ve gotten quite a lot accomplished; most of it is just behind the scenes. We’re about to start on the kitchen, completion of which will put us on the downhill slope towards being totally repaired. All that will be left post-kitchen is the master bedroom, bath and the office. Then we’ll tackle some outside projects, but that’s so not the focus right now. We did remove a wall; our house was built in the 1960’s, when open floor plans weren’t a thing. Our living room was an odd rectangle, but with a door on every wall, making furniture placement frustrating and entertaining impossible. We took the wall between the living room and kitchen out, making the whole center of the house one big room. I’m excited to see it finished. We have finished with texturing and painting, but still have the ceiling fan and vent covers to put back on, and trim work. We’re planning to do the living room and kitchen trim all at once. In any case, it’s definitely coming along.

School-wise, I found that trying to pretend like things were ‘normal’ when we really still aren’t solidly living a normal life in our house was not working. Despite trying to keep up and on a regular schedule, it was really hard to keep the kids on task and myself organized to help them. I have long been an advocate of ‘trying something new’ when whatever you’re currently doing isn’t working out, so I decided to enroll the boys in an online school. We’re using Acellus for the time being. I don’t know if this is permanent yet or not, but it’s going well for now, and lends a little more freedom to me and organization to them, plus they both have said that they like it (for now) and I am very grateful for that. Because our school year for 2017-2018 was so very interrupted, our schedule has been sketchy. In the Spring, we took a few weeks off to accommodate travel, illness, Loverly Husband’s vacation time and other productivity issues, but have been solidly in-session for the last couple of weeks now, and I feel like they’re making good progress.

That said, let’s recap! My last post was in April, so picking up where I left off…
Our homeschool group hosted an outdoor survival class at a local park. One of our families has an older daughter who lives in CA and works as a ranger-type for Girl Scouts or CampFire, I don’t remember which. She’s all about teaching though, and volunteered to take our students for a hike with an outdoor lesson. We had a great turnout, and the kids enjoyed having someone closer to their own age doing the teaching.

Afterwards, we spent some time with family. Spring is crawfish season in the South, and we’re nothing if not slaves to tradition. Unfortunately, my sister and I are allergic to shellfish, including crawfish, so our crawfish boils look a bit different than most people’s. The potatoes and corn and Zummo’s all go into the seasoned water first, then into a cooler once cooked, then the mudbugs go in all alone. My kids are, however, not allergic, and ate their fill. As per the usual, any time we get the kids together, we try to make them all stand still for 5 seconds to get a photo of them. This time, we even got my dad in the mix.

 

 

 

We’ve also logged a couple of teen socials with our homeschool group… the kids are a little older now, so I don’t always get pictures of them, but I do usually get a shot with our little mom’s group. We’ve hit the pool, a couple of local coffee shops with regularity, and our local froyo bar, OrangeLeaf, is another popular spot. We also hit up a burger joint for lunch one day instead of just coffee. They have an area that could generously be called an ‘arcade’, where many shenanigans were enjoyed.

 

We visited the Houston Health Museum in May, complete with Lab time for the kids. We’ve done this before, and it’s always fun. This time, the main exhibit was a series of kinetic sound machines/experiments/tech called BioRhythm… really interesting stuff. There was also a really weird film that was a trio of really bizarre looking people who had musical instruments borg-ed into their flesh. There were 3 separate videos that started off individually but eventually synced to make a ‘band’ of sorts… or st least a cohesive rhythmic noise. It was weird, but probably the thing that’s stuck with me the longest. True art, I’d say… something that someone creates that you just can’t forget about, and really creepy, which I totally dig. It was called BioMen, and was created by Chaja Hertog from the Netherlands. I think the videos are even on YouTube now.

It’s not been all work and no play; Loverly Husband and I slipped away to Houston with some friends for a weekend away. We went to the Death By Natural Causes exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural Science without the kids, and had dinner at an amazing steakhouse called Fogo de Chao, then stayed at a downtown Houston hotel for the evening. It was a lovely little mini-break!

 

In other news, our homeschool group organized a Marshmallow gun challenge using PVC pipes. We set up an obstacle course for them, then sent them off to play battle games while we watched. It’s gotten so hot out that I’m amazed they had as much energy as they did.

A couple of our lovely homeschool friends contributed to a local art show, which we absolutely couldn’t miss. The theme was floral related, and the art work was amazing. There’s a tendency to say that our town is ‘boring’, but there is so much to do and see, especially within the art community lately, if you just look for it. It’s always been that way, but more so in the last few years. The city launched a beautification project recently that invites local artists to paint traffic control boxes around town. I have several friends who’ve painted boxes, and a couple more in the works. The city has also opened up some park benches to get the same treatment, and we’re talking about having our homeschool group do one as a group project.

Our Mom’s Night out events are always fun; we’ve been joining a local mothering group for their Hoops & Wine nights lately. It’s been a lot of fun, with a little bonus exercise tossed in for good measure as well. It’s really nice to get to chat with some of the moms in our homeschool group without kids; we have a pretty diverse group of moms in our group, and I always really enjoy spending time with them in a grown-up environment.

For my BFF’s birthday, she wanted to take a road trip, so we did! It was really spur of the moment, and such a great time. I’m not usually a spontaneous person, but I’ve been giving being more laid back a try, and it was really relaxing. We drove through Texas to Colorado, and stayed in Air B’nBs, so we spent 3 nights and 4 days really inexpensively. Last time we made this drive, it was nighttime, and we missed a lot of the scenery across west Texas. This time, it was still light, and we passed Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo. I have seen this online before, but thought it was in Arizona or something; I had no idea it was in Texas! We stopped and got pictures. It was wet and muddy, and there was a ton of trash, but it was still pretty cool.

 

PeaGreen shares his birthday day with his BFF, TabasocBoi, so they had a joint pool party to celebrate. PeaGreen is officially 15 now, and TB is 16. They donned Birthday Dictator hats for the duration, and bossed everyone around. They seem to have enjoyed themselves, but this demonstration reminds me that it’s maybe a good thing that my kid doesn’t have any real power (because he might be a terrible person {wink}).

Somewhere in February, back when RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 3 was still on, my friend Michelle found out that Trixie Mattel was going to be coming to Houston, and tickets were pretty cheap, so we snagged a quad pack. Fast forward to the end of June, and Trixie had won All Stars 3, and was still coming to Houston, but now with a crown. We took a weekend trip, and had a great time, complete with breakfast crepes al fresco at CoCo’s in Midtown.

4th of July has always been a ton of fun for us, since PeaGreen’s birthday is the 5th. Since we’re still not finished with our house, we spent the evening with friends. Once it got dark, the kids took to the streets with Roman Candles and Harry Potter spells, or at least we tried to convince them to use HP spells… they were less enthusiastic about it, but did a couple just to make the moms happy (and we love them for that).

Loverly Husband was on call the week of PG’s actual birthday (and we like to make the celebration last…), so we took PG out for a birthday Dinner at a local Italian eatery. PG is all into pasta these days… making, cooking and eating, and requested that we each get a different pasta dish and share. LBB opted out, but we still ended up with 3 different pasta dishes and more than enough food to bring home.

‘ice cream for breakfast while we have the car serviced’ selfies.

This past weekend, we finally broke ground on the kitchen; we are moving our refrigerator to a recessed closet off to the side so that we have access to our back door again. Our kitchen was TINY, and when we bought our kitchen table set a few years ago, we realized too late that the table was a bit bigger than we’d thought. The configuration of the kitchen meant that the only place to put the refrigerator was in front of the back door, so we blocked it off and the fridge has been there ever since. When we took the wall out between the living room and kitchen post-Harvey, it opened up more possibilities, so we’re taking advantage of that now (and I’ll have a back porch accessible through the kitchen again – yay!). We have the closet framed and sheetrocked; next up is to built in the cabinet overhead, then we can start on pulling the ceiling tiles so we can insulate and do the new lighting, then sheetrock. It’s just the beginning stages of a massive project – probably THE main project since we’ve been doing recovery work, but we’re finally on it and I am so glad!

 

We also saw our friends perform in their summer workshop play with Orange Community Players in Heroes & Villains Too! The Quest for Shmeep.

In other news, July is Camp NaNoWrimo, and I am at 15.8K of 25K words, so I am pleased with myself. I’ve never been this close to hitting a target word-count within the time frame, so I am feeling confident that I will win (for the first time!). If you’re a writer-type, Camp (10K word count) is a good way to get your feet wet in prep for November, which is the big project: 50K words. I have no idea what I am going to write about in November, but I hope it works out as well as this month is going.

That’s pretty much everything for the last couple of months! Just trying to keep up so that I don’t fall completely off the face of the earth between posts.

How’s things with you?
Warmly,
~h


8 Months Post Harvey: Spring

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. I’ve been trying to write something at least once a month, but that didn’t happen in February (or March…or most of April). February is almost a week shorter than the rest of the months, which was my excuse for not posting then. I got nuthin’ for March, and it’s still technically April, so….  I have also been lax about posting because I haven’t been as enthusiastic about writing. Things are pretty much the same as they’ve been for the past few months: working on the house; having school in a construction zone; getting out of the house to go to co-op, music lessons, field trips – whatever – as much as possible… the usual. We’re in a weird sort of limbo with our space being… I don’t even know the words to use. It’s not exactly ‘in transition’; that implies a cute little DIY project that we chose to embark on. This was a completely different sort of thing; one that was forced on us that we’ve been in ‘reaction’ mode to ever since. We’re coming up on eight months post-hurricane Harvey, and though we have definitely made some progress, we’re far from being done, and the daily wear-and-tear on the soul gets overwhelming.

Since I last updated, we actually have made quite a bit of progress on the house. We’re a little over 1/3 finished with repairs, which feels good to say. We have some trim to finish in the hallway, but both of the kids’ rooms are done, and the hall bath is finished except for decor. We briefly had two functioning bathrooms again, but the toilet in our master went wonky right after we finished that hallway bath, so we’re back down to one for our family (which isn’t dire, but is annoying). I have learned that I deeply enjoy not sharing with the kids and am eager to have my own bathroom back again soon (hopefully).

The kids both have desks in their room, which means computers and schoolwork now have a permanent place to live. They’ve also been able to pull most of their personal things from storage. There wasn’t a lot left that was salvageable, but they’re super glad to have back what they do. I can’t say enough about how much of a relief it is to finally have their spaces done, at least. We also had AC people come in and install central air conditioning and heating. That’s a super-nice thing that we have been planning to do for a while; with the forced remodel, since we’re taking out the ceilings in most of the house anyway, this was the ideal time to get that done. Since we have started on the center part of the house (including taking out a wall between the living room and kitchen), my desk and Loverly Husband’s have been relocated to our (already cramped) bedroom. It’s… cozy.  Not having a permanent work-space is really hard, y’all, but we’re getting there! The kids have been a big help, being super tall and all.

It helps that they’re both over 6′ tall.

Early in February, we didn’t do much other than the usual school/co-op/music routine, with a couple of teen socials and other usual shenanigans thrown in for good measure.

Music Class at co-op

Teen Social

Moms at the teen social

LBB and our puppers, Max & Honey

Our group held a Valentine’s Day party, which was fun. We had a really good day, only to have it ruined by news of the Florida school shooting. I can’t imagine how those parents must feel, or how the teachers and students will find a new ‘normal’ after something like that. Not for the first time, it made me incredibly grateful to have circumstances that allow us to homeschool. The party was fun, though only one of my hooligans decided to attend. The little kids made string art crafts; my surly teenager mostly got reprimanded for instigating semi-dangerous tricks (like jumping off picnic tables) for the littles to imitate. There was food and cake and a card-exchange – the usual.

The Houston Aquarium held their homeschool day sometime back in late February, I think. We’ve been before, but it’s been a while; I got lost driving around downtown Houston. You’d think that in an age where GPS is available literally everywhere, getting lost would be a thing of the past, but it was overcast that day and my GPS kept blanking out. We made it barely in time to get registered, but we made it. The kids had classes in the morning and afternoon, and while they were in class, the parents got to do all the rides and stuff!

In other news, we had dinner with my grandmother, who came down from Longview. We haven’t had a family picture in a while, so that was nice.

The children (minus one of ours, and plus a friend)

In March, a couple of the moms in our homeschool group and I took off for a weekend trip to New Orleans. I’d never been as an adult, so getting to do #allthegrownupthings was super fun!. We got there just in time for our walking ghost tour to begin, had a late dinner, then walked down Bourbon Street, stopped at a couple of pubs along the way, and went for coffee and beignets at 3Am at Cafe Du Monde. We spent the next day shopping and sight-seeing, then came home. It was a perfect getaway!

When we got back from NOLA, my dad went into the hospital to have another stent placed, so we spent some time with him there. The kids both also had checkups; we’ll need to do glasses soon as well.

 

 

One of the moms in our homeschool group organized a tour of the Houston Port, which was super cool. It took about 2 hours, and we got to go on a cruise boat all around the port. It was like driving through a maze to find; the GPS was spotty and confusing, but once we got there, the dock and visitor’s area was really neat. There was an entire section with tiled mural art, as well as bathrooms, picnic tables and a great view.

It was also Pi Day; March 14th. The Houston Children’s Museum hosts a special event, including a Pi-throwing contest with shaving cream pies, so after our boat tour, we made our way there in time to get suited up. our kids were on Team Kickin’ Kiwi, I think it was. They were in green, against the Rockin’ Raspberries in pink. Our team was, sadly, not victorious, but we all got actual pie (donated by a local bakery) anyway. Nothing is so bad that pie can’t help!

We took the kids to the South Texas State Fair, as usual for spring in our area. We went on a Monday evening to avoid the crowds; without little kids, our main goal is to sample as many foods ‘on a stick’ and/or deep-fried as possible. I think we made a pretty good effort this year. I snapped this because I kept getting caught behind the boys; it’s unreal that my ‘babies’ are the size of full-grown, adult men now. That’s Loverly Husband in the center; I wouldn’t normally say that he’s ‘short’, but they make him appear so.


At the end of March, our homeschool group hosted a make-your-own puppet/write your own play Puppet Show. We had a great turn out, and the kids really had some… interesting scripts. Puppets came to life in sock form, with paper bags, wooden/plastic spoons and all kinds of fabrics, plastic bits and bobs, glitter and other craft supplies. They each had to create a backdrop from a roll of craft paper, and come up with their own script. It was an ambitious undertaking, but the kids rose to the challenge and had a great time!

Line ’em up!

The Teen Troupe

the Puppet Theater

My birthday is at the beginning of April, and this year, after trying for the past 3 years, I was able to go to a women’s retreat in North/Central Texas. A couple of my beautiful friends also had birthdays the same week, so we celebrated in high style (and by that, I mean in complete, unwashed camping glory for the entire weekend). We had SUCH a great time! There were structured events, as well as time to just good off; we meant to take a little walk and ended up on a 3 hour hike much, much farther than we planned or realized. We ended up snagging a ride from a couple of girls in a pickup truck to get back where we were supposed to be. It was a really fun weekend.

That same weekend was the Homeschool Prom. LBB elected to spend the weekend at home with his dad while PG stayed with friends so he could go. They had a pre-prom party, and then took off for a night of dancing and fun at a local hotel in the grand ballroom. They looked great, and all the smiles say that they had fun. The theme was old Hollywood glam, and yes, that’s my kiddo with the pipe. There’s a walking stick somewhere as well. He found one of my dad’s canes that was damaged in Harvey and spent the week or so before the prom sanding, repairing, staining and finishing it for a dignified, refined, gentleman-about-town look.

The ‘official’ at-the-Prom photo

A couple of weeks ago, we went to the Houston Museum of Natural Science for a guided tour of the Hall of Ancient Egypt. We haven’t been since they opened this permanent exhibition, so I was completely stoked to get to go through with a curator. We also got to tour the Weiss Energy Hall (which is mostly just a fancy way to repackage fracking as a fun, alternative way to drill for oil since it covers all the pros and absolutely none of the dangers or controversy), and the Message in a Bottle exhibit, which was super fascinating.

 

Our co-op is still doing drama; they’ve taken a break from the play they’re working on to do some improv exercises. Last week, it was live-action puppets; one student was the ‘voice’ and the other stood behind the voice to create movement. Some height incompatibilities made it a super fun (and funny) thing to watch them work through. We also switched (temporarily) from our essay class to philosophy 101, which was a nice change of pace.

Philosophy 101

Our homeschool group hosts a Mom’s Night Out once a month or so, and lately, we’ve been joining a local resource group called Welcome Earthside for their Hoops & Wine MNO events. I can’t hula hoop well, but it’s fun anyway! We’ve had a couple of them so far, and it seems to be gaining popularity. If you can find something like that in your area, I highly recommend giving it a shot.

March Hoops & Wine

April Hoops & Wine

April H&W – we ended up in the parking lot!

We’ve also continued playing D&D; sometimes the same game we started way back a couple of years ago, and just recently, a one-off game to introduce a few newbies to the game. I’ve also been playing D&D with my local NaNoWriMo group (when I can go), and have started playing Vampire with some friends. PG also has a new game with some of his friends… I have always been fascinated by the concept of D&D and have enjoyed learning to play very much!

That pretty much brings you up to speed! Hope your spring is…. spring-y! (Sorry; that was lame. It’s been a long day.)

 

Warmly,
~h


NBTS Blog Hop 2016: Curriculum Week – High School Lesson Planning

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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.
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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:

 

If you have resources that you love, or that you think I would, please comment and share them!
Happy homeschooling!

Warmly,
~h

*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.


Mid-January Update

It’s crazy how fast time passes by, especially when you’re busy, not that being busy is anything outside of the norm for us. We’ve hit 2016 running, and (as usual) have had one activity after another. I am honestly looking forward already to our break, which is planned for mid-February. After a month with no school responsibilities, getting back to the daily grind has been rough! Don’t get me wrong; it’s been fun, and nice to have the routine again, but still… I think I’m just a lazybones at heart.

One thing I can say that’s been absolutely perfect is the weather! You may have heard the jokes about Texas weather or seen memes that allude to the insane unpredictability: ‘don’t like it? Give it an hour and it will change’; ‘the four seasons of Texas: Summer, Summerer, SummererER, Christmas Day’; etc…. While those aren’t far off, January is always fairly mild, and this year exemplifies that perfectly. Mornings range from 40’s to 50’s, and the highs are in the 60’s and 70’s – this is what I imagine other parts of the US enjoy for Spring or Fall weather. February and March might be cold, but for now, we’re outside as much as possible, soaking up the cool(er) weather.

Our homeschool group went out to the Big Thicket National Preserve for a hike last week. Their Visitor’s Center is really nice; it’s one of our favorite stops when we’re in Kountze. We hiked the Sundew Trail, which is famous for its carnivorous plants (sundews and pitcher plants). I think it was a little early in the season though; mostly we saw pines and yaupon underbrush. Last year (or maybe two years ago), we went out there right after they had a prescribed burn. It was really interesting to see the burns on the pines, and to see how quickly the forest bounced back. Most of the new growth was as high as I am tall (5’4ish). It was cool to see how the trees recovered as well.

 

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January is the beginning of our group’s art classes. We’re working from Discovering Great Artists, and our first lesson is on Pablo Picasso. The kids were instructed to paint a self-portrait for use in the project for the class. I wish I’d noticed that the boys were both using such similar colors, but it probably won’t matter in the end since the pictures will be cut up and reassembled, and added to with other supplies to make a collage.

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Here’s the obligatory group shot, and our ‘after’ pictures, Picasso-style!

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This was such a fun project – the kids did a great job on their original portraits, and their after creations ran the gamut from basic cubism to truly eclectic creations. I love art, and as a homeschooling teacher, that’s probably one of the things I regret most – that we don’t spend as much time on actually ‘making’ art as I’d like. It’s been on my mind for a while; I got the kids a ‘wreck it’ style journal, and one for myself for us to go through this year. I did Keri Smith’s ‘Wreck this Journal’ a couple of years ago and found it to be a lot of fun; hopefully the boys will find some inspiration in this journal, too. Rip It, Write It, Draw It is on sale at B&N right now for $3.99 – a great buy if you’ve been wanting to try WTJ but not wanting to spend the dough for a book you’re just going to tear up! (Disclosure – I am not affiliated with B&N nor do I receive kickbacks from them or anyone else – I just have this book and appreciate a good deal.) I’ve already re-covered mine with a quote from this little gem of a book, which I’ve found helpful for everything from personal reminders to boosting notes to the kids and friends.

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We’re wrapping up this week with some advice from the Homeschool Snark Shark… and calling it a half-day today.

 

Hope you have a great weekend!

Warmly,
~h


Planning Your Homeschool Year

plan your year

We follow a non-traditional school year. When I originally withdrew my boys from public school, it was just after the winter break. They were mid-semester, so we finished out that 6-week grading period, and then started homeschooling. Ever since then, we’ve started our ‘year’ in January.

Way back when I was a newbie homeschooler, I was anxious to get started. I knew what I wanted, and I was ready to go after it. We jumped in, both feet first and never looked back. The older, wiser, more experienced homeschooling mom in me now looks back on that eager, idealistic mom and thinks, ‘Aww… you sweet, summer child.’ As with so many, many things, I wish I’d known then even half of what I know now. All in all, I don’t think we had that bad of a start. There are things I’d do differently; de-schooling for a while, for one thing, but we didn’t hit the books hard and heavy right off the bat; we got started soon, but we did take it easy, so I don’t have too many regrets. But the pressure I put on myself was enormous. At the time, I had yet to be diagnosed or started treatment for anxiety disorder, and looking back I know that my internal stress-o-rama was partially due to that. Even so, I had no direction, no real clue as to what I really needed to do, so I did all the things. I’d never planned for homeschooling before, so I was making it up as I went along, and like many newbies, got way to ambitious and idealistic. Luckily, I had some really kind and caring guides along the way who helped me reign in my tendencies. Even though some of them no longer blog, Jana, Julie, SmrtMama, Farrar, and many other helped me find my way.

Now, I know better, but still browse homeschooling blogs to make sure I’m not missing out on anything I haven’t seen before. I do still plan the year, and I do still usually start in January. We take the month of December off – at least we try to. There’s almost always something that interferes with the plan (this year, it was illness) that forces us to play catch-up, but that’s okay – that’s partly why I plan that break. The time off gives me a couple of weeks to catch up anything we were lagging behind on, consider what’s working, what needs to change and come up with a new plan or figure out new material to replace it. I know that we’ll complete this ‘grade’ in the spring/summer and start the next ‘grade’ in the fall, so I plan to do another planning session in the fall, to refine and add new materials I come across during the course of the next six months. There are always new materials coming out, which makes planning difficult sometimes. Throughout the year, I keep notes and use Pinterest to keep track of things I want to look into later in the year. If you use it that way, don’t forget to go back through it and pull resources from your boards when you’re planning!

I usually have a pretty good idea of what we’re going to do for the year before I start, but I’ve also learned to value flexibility. If something isn’t working, I don’t waste time trying to force it. There are always other materials out there.

This year, we’re starting the One Year Adventure Novel for grammar. We’re doing other things as well, but that’s a new addition. Most of our plans from the fall remain the same, which is nice. Back when we started, I had grand ideas that didn’t work in our life, so things got switched up a lot. I don’t regret it, exactly; it was a huge learning curve and part of the journey that I think helped make this part run more smoothly. It also let me accept that flexibility is okay, and normal, and probably for the best, considering the many options and changes that happen during the year.

When I start planning, I look at several things. Take history, for example. This year, we need to work through the last half of Story of the World IV. We’re on schedule; my plan was to finish that in May-ish, and we’ll make that target. After that, we’ll be either between books, or can start with SOTW I again immediately. At this point, I think I want to take a couple of months and focus on geography, but I know that will play more of a role in our overall journey through the SOTW books this go-round, so we’ll have to see what happens when the time comes. In addition to the regular curriculum, we keep track of a timeline, we have our homeschool group’s social studies club each month, and will hopefully be adding actual travel to the kids’ experiences this coming year. Even though I can’t put those things on the books in exact dates, I know that’s what I want to accomplish this coming year.

I treat the other subjects similarly; I know if we’ve started, where we’re at and what needs to be done. If it’s new, and we’re starting in January, then we have the year to divide the lessons up. The One Year Adventure Novel curriculum is designed to be completed in 9 months, so by the time we break for the year at the end of November, we should be done. That’s about right, counting the various breaks we take through the year.

That brings me to another point – planning the actual school dates. I usually plan for 6 weeks of school, then a one-week break. That’s what we did originally, when we started, but it didn’t work. The kids were too young, I think, and I was too new and stressed. We amended it to 4 weeks of school and one week off, and that worked a lot better. As we’ve progressed, we’ve gone longer and had fewer breaks (or took 2 instead of one week)… depending on what we needed at the time. Regardless of how the actual breakdown of the year happens, I still always plan for a block of school, followed by a mini-break. This year, we’re on a 6-week on, one week off schedule. I also planned for a 2-week break in July, and for school to ‘end’ December 2, 2016. That’s roughly 190 days of school, not accounting for birthdays (which are holidays) or sick days (which we rarely have). That’s comparable to our local ISD’s school calendar, just spread a little differently.

The last part of my planning regimen is my planner, itself. You might say that’s the first part, even. I usually start working on designing my new planning ion November and try to have it completed and printed by mid-December at the latest. Because I also plan events for our homeschool group, I need to be able to see what’s going on months ahead of time. I also get the luxury of planning my kids’ lessons around whatever we have scheduled for the group, if I want to. For comparison sake, I took a couple of pictures of 2015’s planner (end of year) and 2016’s planner (brand new and *so* crisp!!):

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I’ve made changes to my planner every year; last year, I discovered Passion Planner and so I added a page to every week. My weekly layout is 4 pages and I love it! I also added a pocket folder and tabs for the months so I can quickly and easily find my current week. I use both the monthly layout and the weekly/daily formats; this really is the center of my world. Whereas I used to keep my personal planner and my lesson planner separate, I’ve since learned the value in integrating them – everything is in one place and it’s lovely. I have blank, printable versions of my current planner, and every previous version of it, available for free, here. There are also a few other printable pages, including a student planner I designed, but the kids don’t use right now. Every year, I find little tweaks and things that work better, and that’s pretty neat to see. I keep all of my old planners, and it’s fun to look back through them.

If you’re at a loss, even a calendar from the dollar store can be effective; I found a video that a woman with small kiddos did on how she plans – not for homeschooling, but the idea was the same. With only a few supplies, she created a color-coded layout that worked for her family. Whatever you use, even a plain spiral notebook, can work! I know a few homeschooling families who don’t pre-plan; instead they write down what they accomplished at the end of the day or week.

Since this is the beginning of the year, I thought I’d share a progress picture – this was our first day of homeschooling way back in 2010, and a shot from this week:

 

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Homeschooling, Day 1 – January 2010

 

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Homeschooling, Beginning of our 6th year – January 2016

How do you plan?
Warmly,
~h

 


Homeschool Regulation

I question I am seeing a lot of lately is along the lines of, ‘If there’s no regulatory body for homeschooling in Texas, then who makes sure that you’re doing it/that the kids are being properly educated?’.

For one thing, the question implies that there should be some sort of regulation. I understand where that particular flaw in logic comes from; after all, we’re used to our lives being ‘regulated’, even for the most trivial things. Most of us rely more on what we’ve been told than on what we inherently know (or could know). For example, we’re told what we should eat, and how often, rather than told to listen to our bodies. I’m not immune to that pressure; to this day I don’t know if eggs are good for me or bad for me, or if I can eat a whole one or only the whites (or yolks)… There are other examples, but the point is the same; without being told when or how much, we’ll learn through trial and error to listen to our bodies and figure out what the appropriate course of action is. The problem is that we’re comfortable with being told what to do and how to do it. We don’t even think about how many of our choices and decisions we routinely turn over to ‘the Experts’ and just have faith that ‘they know best‘.

We’re also very used to the traditional model of school, to the point that we (as a culture) honestly don’t even comprehend why or how going outside of that model is even possible, let alone desirable. The familiar model, which is to cover material, test for understanding, move on, rinse, repeat for 13+ years, must have some sort of regulatory process. For a state-funded, or even privately funded organization, effectiveness is a key component to sustainability, and so there must be some sort of regulation to facilitate that process. I don’t dispute that, and I am not fighting to change that model (today). But when you take what is familiar away, we basically have no idea what education would look like. We’ve eroded our instinct and confidence to educate our children in even rudimentary skills (like reading and writing and basic arithmetic) to the point that our default position is to look outside for instruction.

Another facet to the issue of regulation is the idea that without it, parents won’t teach their children, or they won’t teach them the Right Things, or the kids won’t be motivated to learn. This assumes that, one: parents don’t have their children’s best interests at heart; two: that there are Right Things that Should Be Taught; and three: that children are not instinctively inquisitive and eager to learn. Those are all incorrect assumptions.

If there is anything that parents are invested in, it’s their kids’ education and general well-being. In most cases, parents will work harder and more tirelessly on behalf of their children than anyone on the planet. For most of us in the working class our future relies, to some degree, on our kids ‘making it’ in life/ the real world because they’re going to have to take care of us one day! If that’s not incentive enough, then I don’t know what is. I jest… but truly, you don’t have to convince or coerce or bully or supervise parents making sure that their children are prepared for life. It’s innate, this desire to create successful offspring.

The second point is the idea that there are Right Things that Should Be Taught. Just… no. There are MANY ways to go about education. There are many models, many philosophies, concepts – you can make yourself go completely bananas trying to learn about every method, ever. For the parent trying to find The Right Way, or even the Best Way for Our Family, this process is one of the hardest steps in preparing to homeschool. There are so many options that it’s overwhelming and easy to get frustrated and lost. Clearly, with the varying requirements of different public education systems, even their experts and advisers can’t agree on what ‘should’ be taught and when. So what usually ends up happening is that the parents draw upon their own education as a guide. They pick things out that have been most helpful to them in the course of their life, or that they wish they’d understood better and make sure their kids are taught those things. They’ll cross-reference what they think is important with any number of resources, including the TEA’s scope and sequence (for Texas parents), to come up with a comprehensive educational plan for their kids – because they are invested. Add to that basic internet access, and a local support group and they’re pretty darn set.

Then there’s the bit about the kids. Honestly, when I hear things like that, the mental image I get is of a crotchety old man, griping about how ‘kids these days’ blah, blah, blah. I was one of those kids who liked school so much that I would play ‘school’ when I got home. But not all kids – most kids, I’d bet, hate the way school makes you learn. It’s definitely not for everyone; in fact few children learn best the way that most public schools teach. Even the way we think of as ‘normal’ has become less and less so over the years. Where children once had hours of free play and recess and PE built into the day, our children have restrictions, hours of homework and structured playdates on weekends. Play is a child’s work, and they need that activity – it’s how they learn. Even older kids, when deprived of screen time, will figure out things to do and learn the whole time they’re doing it. We go screen-free for several weeks during the summer, and as an experiment, we’ve given the boys Snap Circuits, The Dangerous Book for Boys (The Daring Book for Girls), The Boys Survival Book, and several versions of the Cub Scouts Handbooks, along with sheets, rope, pulleys, carabiner clips, and other assorted supplies’ and told them not to come home until sunset. They inevitably come home with tales of their adventures and newly acquired skills (involving math, science, reading comprehension, and good ol’ common sense). Given the option, I’d MUCH rather learn about physics and math by building a playhouse or erecting a tent than reading a textbook. So would they.

Rather than relying on external regulation to enforce education, it makes infinitely more sense to first of all have faith in parents and children, but also to leave education to the individual parent, who has been teaching their particular child(ren) since the day they were born. Most parents, with children in the public education sector and private/homeschooled/alternative schooling, do honestly and genuinely want what’s best for their kids, and they’ll work hard to make sure their kids get it. But if you want to educate your kids outside of the traditional model, here’s a newsflash: You don’t need to be told by the government, or state, or local school system, or experts how/when/how much/what to teach. Yes, really.

To answer the questions I know are coming:

  • Yes, some parents will be lazy.
  • Yes, there are some fundamentally crazy parents who will selectively educate their kids in religious nonsense to their detriment.
  • Yes, there will be some students who ‘graduate’ homeschool without fully mastering even basic concepts like arithmetic or reading.

But if you think that this never happens in mass education, then you’re either naive, or hopelessly under-educated on the subject (in which case, your opinion is less than invalid on this issue). Even within the public education system, you will have bad parents. In this equation, it’s not education that is at fault, it’s the parents. Period. You can’t take those few examples and blame homeschooling when the parents are at fault, because those children would be neglected and abused no matter where or how they were educated – because they have shitty parents.

So where does the idea that regulation is required come from? I’m sure it comes from many different places, but I think that some of it is based in personal bias. Maybe the person whoclaims that there ‘should be’ regulation either doesn’t have kids and is parroting what they’re familiar with, or maybe they do have children and have never stepped out side of the box. Maybe they have children, and can’t imagine taking on the additional task of homeschooling (or don’t want to) and honestly don’t see or understand why anyone would want to take on the burden of educating at home when there’s a perfectly adequate (and free) system set up to do that for you. Maybe the person you’re talking to lives in a state or area where the school system is beyond excellent (I know they exist; I’ve heard tales!!) and has no concept of how truly deplorable the public education system is where you live (*cough*BISD*cough*). Maybe the person is a teacher or college professor, and since academia is their bread and water, they truly feel that only someone as similarly educated as his or her august self is capable of imparting knowledge to the youth of the nation. Maybe the only ‘examples’ of homeschooling they’ve seen are sensationalized news stories about horrible parents that happened to ‘homeschool’ (but, of course, that was the click-bait), or the only children they’d come into contact with who were homeschooled were ‘under-educated’ according to the school’s intake testing (which is, by the way, not necessarily demonstrative of the child’s education – maybe they hadn’t covered fractions yet, but the child had an in-depth knowledge of Ancient Egypt and can play 2 instruments. Just sayin’.) Who knows why people think the funny things they do. If you have time to address their particular bias, feel free; otherwise just smile and nod and do your own thing.

What I am saying is that the entire idea that there should be regulation for homeschoolers is generally flawed, and even more-so when we consider the very individualized approach to education that homeschooling celebrates. On a small scale, education is truly mastery-focused. Where a child excels, progress is rapid. Where a student struggles, progress is slower, but thorough. In the end, the student’s education is more completely assimilated, and there is less of the ‘retain for test, then forget it’ model that is often found in mass education. Is there a place for testing and regulation in homeschool? Maybe. For re-entry into a traditional school, or entry into college, it may be necessary, though more and more colleges are allowing homeschoolers to be assessed differently than traditionally educated students. For specific career goals, testing may be necessary, to assure a good foundation for cumulative lessons, or review might be required to reaffirm foundation concepts. But even that is more for older kids, not pre-schoolers and elementary aged kids. If a parent isn’t capable of educating, without input from outside sources, a child through elementary school, then that’s not a good testimonial for the traditional model.

What do you think?

Warmly,
~h


Secular Culture’s Attack on Christian Homeschooling

Homeschool World/Practical Homeschooling has an image with a quote, ‘Secular culture is trying to remake homeschooling in its own image. Time to get back to Christian homeschooling!’ I have to admit that it caught me unawares; I recognize that some factions of the Christian sphere like to project the notion that they’re constantly under attack and being persecuted by silly little things like ‘equality’ and ‘civil liberty’, but I hadn’t realized that secular homeschoolers were trying to oust Christian homeschoolers from the scene entirely. I was under the (apparently, grossly mistaken) impression that secular homeschoolers were attempting, with best foot forward, to eek out a small place for themselves within the predominantly faith-based homeschooling world – and not even a separate, ‘atheists only’ (or whatever equally ridiculous segregated dynamic) space, but just to be allowed on the homeschool scene at all.

I’ll admit that much of my commentary on this topic is sarcastic, partially because it baffles me that anyone actually feels this way. I fail to see how this is even a legitimate complaint, but I digress. If you’re offended by my sarcasm, please feel free to refer to the author’s notes in my sidebar for available options for remedying that. The article goes on to state:

In some of the new “secular” homeschooling titles that are beginning to show up, the immense influence of Christianity on the modern homeschool movement is largely ignored. It would be fine if these books were honest enough to challenge the Christian influence in homeschooling, or even attempt to discredit it, but they simply ignore it. No one should be surprised by this – it’s certainly a publisher’s or author’s prerogative to include or
exclude whatever they want. However, we should be concerned.secular

I’m confused about what sort of challenge these people want. Most homeschool material is curriculum and doesn’t cover the history of education and how homeschooling really got its groove on. If you want to look into the history of home education, specifically, then yes, I’d probably agree that Christian homeschoolers had a lot to do with either challenging state laws that made homeschooling illegal or helping to clarify where the law was vague or didn’t address it at all. I just don’t understand what obligation anyone could possibly have to the original (Christian?) political activists from years ago, or what challenge they’re after. No one, to my knowledge, is denying that Christian activists paved the way for homeschooling to become more mainstream. But I don’t go around thanking the descendants of the Revolutionary War for establishing American’s independence (although I could – <looks in mirror> Thank you, Heather, for your ancestor’s service. Why, you’re most welcome, Heather! Cheers!!)  And just who is it sitting around wanting acknowledgement – those who fought those battles likely have grand or great-grandchildren by now – haven’t they moved on to bigger and better things?? I just don’t get it.

And what does that even mean, ‘remake homeschooling in its own image’. Do they mean ‘secular’? Because that doesn’t mean ‘anti-Christian’. Literally, the definition of secular is: denoting attitudes, activities, or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis. You know, like school/education… which can have a spiritual or religious component, but is not, in and of itself, a religious activity. I would love for one of these alarmist articles to use the word ‘secular’ correctly just once! Lots of things are secular – baths…baths are secular. So is mowing the lawn and feeding the cat. Secular doesn’t mean ‘bad’, nor does it mean that you are in any way prohibited from bathing in Holy Water, or asking the Lord’s blessings upon your lawnmower or praying over your cat’s Tuna Delight. It just means that they’re mundane things; not inherently spiritual. And that’s perfectly fine.

But to say that they are an ignored population or imply that they are in any way under attack, is baffling. In my city and surrounding area, for example, at one point there were thirteen homeschooling groups/co-ops. Of those only ONE was secular/inclusive. I also am part of a Texas-wide secular homeschooling group, and there are places where there is an active homeschooling community but only one family that isn’t faith-based for a hundred miles or more. I hardly think that by any stretch of the imagination, the Christian population of homeschoolers is in any way under-served. Not to mention that it’s pretty presumptuous to assume that all homeschoolers are Christian (or white, or mom is the primary teacher, or that the students are her own children – assumptions are bad, m’kay?). Homeschooling has attracted so many more types of people and families since the early days.

The article continues:

Potential or new homeschoolers who pick up the latest secular tome claiming to be the greatest ever guide to homeschooling will receive a distorted picture of the movement that overlooks the enormous impact and influence of Christian culture on homeschooling. Many new and veteran homeschoolers will pick up these books because they have “homeschooling” in the title, and may undiscerningly recommend them to others, tacitly endorsing the secularized viewpoint of these publications. Large bookstore chains will carry these books, often to the exclusion of books published by Christian publishers and authors, throwing the weight of their reputation behind this new and more “PC” brand of homeschooling. This could, potentially, influence public opinion, and even legislation.

The reality, of course, is that this is business as usual in our culture. But the net effect of this in a decade could be the co-opting of the national homeschool movement by secularists. Christian homeschooling would not go away, but in the new institutionalized, culturally acceptable form, it would likely be marginalized.

Again, unless you’re specifically looking into the history of homeschooling, most ‘homeschooling 101’ manuals don’t cover the start of the homeschooling movement. Even if they did, homeschooling has changed so much since the ’70s and ’80s – even the ’90s for that matter. It’s hard enough keeping up with the legal requirements year to year – who has time, and it it even necessary to read up on how homeschooling became a thing? If you’re interested in it – sure; but I’d be willing to bet most people don’t care. Even when I started homeschooling my own kids, researcher that I am, I don’t recall ever feeling like I needed to delve into the history of homeschooling; all I really needed to know about homeschooling was: is it legal? what do I have to do? how do we get started? Short of knowing that the case that made it legal in Texas was TEA v. Leeper 1991, I have literally not looked any deeper into the history of homeschooling than that.

Do Christian homeschoolers get a nod of thanks for the work they did to legalize homeschooling? Sure; maybe. But Christian homeschoolers, despite making up the majority of the homeschooling population overall, aren’t the only ones out there. Their presence is obvious; their impact and influence over the materials isn’t likely to go away anytime soon. Take a trip to any homeschool store or convention, and the stacks are overflowing with Christian-based materials – I can’t even say ‘faith-based’ because the overwhelming majority of the material out there is Christian-influenced. So color me very confused when I ask what in the name of Merlin these people are even talking about. Most of us who prefer a secular curriculum have to look long and hard to find resources; and if you’re looking for resources within a particular style of homeschooling (like Charlotte Mason), essentially your only option is to ‘secularize’ a Christian resource.

Of course companies have started capitalizing on homeschool culture, and thank goodness they did or we’d all be trying to adapt other resources still (which sucks). My siblings and I were homeschooled in the early/mid ’90s, and my cousins were homeschooled throughout (so from roughly 1982-1998-ish). I remember my aunt sharing resources with my mom, but most were classroom-designed materials that were adapted for homeschool use. Nowadays, there are myriad resources that start out for homeschool use.  Most are Christian-based, but more and more come out every year that are secular, which is awesome! That doesn’t mean that Christian resources will go away. I dare say that most secular homeschoolers look at some of the models of Christian homeschooling and shudder – their goal being to move in as far opposite a direction from that model as possible. Even some mainstream curriculum options are often shunned by some Christian homeschoolers because it’s based on a 6,000 year old Earth model rather than based in fact. While I disagree with that, personally, I recognize that it is your right to use those materials if you choose to, and I’m not out campaigning for laws to restrict their use. I think it’s a fair application of ‘live and let live’.

Obvious disclaimer is obvious… there are a great many – the majority, even – Christian homeschoolers out there who want nothing to do with this kind of crazy-pants fanaticism. I recognize that the worldview perpetuated by the image that set this post off is a small, but unfortunately vocal, population of faith-based homeschoolers, and that this stereotype is just as damaging to the overall perception of Christianity as terrorists are to Islam and Muslim people and culture. I think most people get that. It certainly isn’t the responsibility of the normal/average Christian to dispel these kinds of perceptions, and I don’t expect the average/normal Christian homeschooler to do that. I can only ever speak from my own experience, and over the last decade, I feel like homeschoolers that aren’t faith-based have finally started to make themselves known. Homeschooling is SO MUCH MORE ACCESSIBLE now, and that is amazing. There are all kinds of people homeschooling – working moms, stay at home dads, single parents, parents who work/school cooperatively with other families, virtual-schoolers, unschoolers, straight parents, queer parents, non-traditional families, faith-based homeschoolers, Christians who use secular resources, and literally every other niche dynamic I can think of… it’s incredible and wonderful and diverse and I am happy to be part of it… and it bothers me that there are still people who want to take that away because it’s not exactly ‘their’ perception of Right™.

Y’all go out and play nice! Follow Jesus’ example of ‘How to be a Compassionate Adult in 1 Easy Step’ (spoiler: Step 1: Don’t be a dick.).

Just food for thought.
Warmly,
~h


Science Fair 2015

Once again, it’s science fair season in the homeschool world! It’s odd to me that in our area, the public schools all have their science fairs in the fall, but the homeschooling ones  here are all in the spring. Personally, I prefer that time frame; it seems like the fall is all about getting back into routines and then stalling out for the holidays, but in the spring, there’s tons of time and everything is running smoothly. Maybe that’s just my perception, but I’m glad we get to wait until spring!

This year, our local homeschool group is hosting a non-competitive science fair. We have done competitions in the past, but they’re not really ‘fair’ considering the wide age gap among our students. A non-competitive fair lets everyone participate, with different levels of participation. Some students do the traditional results board outlining their projects, others do their projects and experiments at home and just do a presentation, while others do a family project instead of individual ones. We like the variety and options that this model allows us. We always try to plan our group science fair early so that those who want to go on to compete can participate in the Texas Regional Science Fair in Tomball.

This year, the boys are both doing individual projects, with display boards.

PeaGreen: Hydrophobic Sand

PeaGreen’s project is answering the question, ‘Can you use household products to make hydrophobic sand?’. We saw some on TV and he decided he could make some.

I was pretty happy with his choice, and his enthusiasm for this project. We had some decorative sand from a previous project, so it truly was a ‘household product’ experiment. He chose 6 products to test, and a seventh portion of the sand as the control, including hairspray, WD40, and cooking spray. We made a chart for him to use to test his results, and took lots of pictures.

 

 

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LBB: Do Dogs Understand English?

LBB loves his dog, so he’s always on the lookout for something he can do that involves our Max. We came across an interesting premise – that dogs don’t actually understand the words you use, rather, they’re conditioned to tone of voice. So he was all over deciding to test that theory.

My brother and his family recently moved next door to us, bringing their fantastic boxer, June, who has become Max’s very best friend, so LBB had two dogs to test his theory on. He used words that sound similar to commands the dogs already knew, like ‘sit’ and ‘lay’, instead saying ‘spit’ and ‘hit’ and ‘play’ and ‘fray’.  He also tested other words that didn’t sound the same, but said them in the same tone of voice. He was supposed to get pictures, but he had his hands full and it’s been cold out, so this mommy was lazy and didn’t venture out for photography duty (bad mommy).

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Our science fair was at a local state park, and we had a really great turn out from our homeschool group!

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In other news, my sister has been playing with face-paint quite a bit lately, and convinced the kids to let her do them up, comic-book style. Don’t they look great?! I love that Fred’s tee shirt is in a similar theme.

 

 

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Trying to stay warm,

~h


We Read Banned Books Here

 

Banned Books Week is coming up fast!! To celebrate, we’re reading banned books (and watching films based on banned books). We’re talking about censorship – what that means, what potential good vs. harm it does to society, and more. I made ‘Banned Books stickers to wear and gave some to the kids to pass out when we are about town. (I just printed the pictures and ran them through a sticker maker. – I don’t get paid to hawk their product; I’ve just had it for years and I love it!)

So why do I like banned books week? Well, part of it is rebellion, pure and simple. Tell kids that something is banned, and it immediately piques their interest. They want to know ‘why’, and so they read. I think that banned books week is probably one of the most ingenious ways to get those ideas out there, into the hands and minds of the young – tell them they can’t have it, and they’ll be all over it. This concept is so effective that I wonder sometimes if the banned books thing was created for that exact reason. Either way, I enjoy the concept and am happy to promote it!

I was preparing for this week, and this post and found the top ten most challenged list for last year – I had no idea that Captain Underpants books were the most challenged in 2013. That seems a little absurd to me. Captain Underpants isn’t my personal favorite, but harmful? Probably in the same way that watching Wile E. Coyote repeatedly attempt to murder the Roadrunner was for us. Aren’t we all scarred from that?

For a list of ‘frequently challenged books’, click here.

Hunger Games also came up in the top ten. I kinda-sorta can see why that one might come up, but overall, I think it opens much more of an opportunity for discussion than anything else. I sort of equate a lot of the YA books that have come out (or gotten popular) lately on the same lines – The Giver, Divergence, Hunger Games… they’re all about a dystopian society somewhere in the future. They’re about coming of age in a world where your decisions determine your future in a way that we don’t have to deal with in our reality.

I actually really like these types of books. I know there’s a big deal about adults and YA fiction, but I think those detractors are annoying. YA has come out with some pretty interesting stuff in the last few years! I like storylines, especially as a parent/teacher, that give kids more credit that they get in real life for being intelligent, brave, and capable. Their energy and enthusiasm is an asset that our society doesn’t seem to have a place for very often. It’s really no wonder that the most popular books feature situations where the choice(s) of a few young people affect the whole of their societies.

Scenarios like that, especially in book form where you immerse yourself in the story, that help you get into your child’s brain and see what they’re thinking, how they’re feeling. I think that’s important, especially with the constant discussion and worry over the parent/child generation gap that the media is constantly warning us of. I experienced a sense of disconnect from my parents in my teen years, and it makes me wonder how much of it is normal; the pulling away from family to establish a personal identity, and how much of it was truly a lack of communication/understanding. I don’t know how much of it is avoidable, but I want to give it my best to lessen the impact.

So what are your favorite banned books? Are you planning on doing anything with your kids for BBW?

Warmly,
~h

 


Homeschooling in Middle School: Lesson Planning

Well, we made it! Both of my boys are officially in Middle School. When we started our homeschooling journey back in 2010, I had a 2nd grader and a 1st grader, and now I have two pre-teens. I can scarcely believe how quickly time has passed.

Things have definitely changed over the years. If you’re new to homeschooling, then please be assured that we all started out right where you are – overwhelmed, questioning if we made the right choice, and wondering how we were going to make this work. And, like you will no doubt find, things just have a way of working out. We’ve tried lots of different things over our course of homeschooling, and some have gotten tossed right out the window while others have become a much-relied-upon staple of our learning day. The continuous theme has been ‘learning’, for me just as much as it has been for the boys.

When we started, I was really drawn to a more classical approach; more structure, more parent-directed. I wanted to make sure that they had a good foundation so that when they started looking into career focused education, they’d have a solid base to work from. Now that the boys are older, we’re moving past the basics and into a more interest-led dynamic, I am really glad that we chose to do things that way.

We recently celebrated our 5th ‘Not Back to School Day’, both at home (in our jammies) and with our homeschool group:

 

 

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Once again, we’re trying some new things this year. We’re already a couple of weeks into the fall semester of our school year (we school January – November, on a 4-weeks on, 1-week off schedule). We ended up taking a month-long break during the summer, so we’ll be doing continuous schooling for the next couple of months with a few days off here and there. One big change is that I am working again. I stopped working when we started homeschooling in 2010. Now that the boys are older and they can work more independently, my schedule is a little more flexible. I work with our local produce co-op once a week, and am taking doula clients again, which means that I am on-call when I have a client who is due to deliver.

One thing that’s helped me keep the kids on-track when I can’t be there is Discovery K-12. DK12 is an online homeschool program that is free. If you know anything about me, then you know that I am all about the free! DK12 is designed to be a stand-alone curriculum for homeschooling students. The student logs in, and there are are daily assignments in all of the basic subjects (including PE and Art/Music). We’re using this as a supplement for days when I am not available to teach our regular curriculum, and it’s been working nicely to fill that void. It’s almost a review of sorts, because it’s different from what we normally do, both in scope and method. For example, we use Story of the World for history, and work chronologically, from ancients to modern. DK12 uses a more traditional, grade-based history program. While we’re in book 3 of SotW (Early Modern Times), LBB (7th grade) is studying Medieval times at the moment and PeaGreen is studying Early Civilizations – both of which we’ve covered before. I like that it revisits those eras; it gives them a different perspective than what we’ve learned in the past. I think the boys like it because they’re learning different things. Since my two are so close in age, I school them together for the most part. DK12 is grade-based, so they both get something different, and I think they like learning about something the other one isn’t privy to. That sounds odd to say, considering that if they were in a different school setting that would be the norm, but homeschooled kids have their own quirks, I guess!

English, which I use as a broad term to encompass Grammar, Language Arts, Writing, Handwriting, Spelling, Reading, Literature, etc…, is always a complicated think to explain, because I do group those subjects together. Right now, we’re working from Wilder’s ‘Little House’ books for reading & lit, and even grammar (using the mentor sentences method). We’re covering some geography as well, mapping out the lives of the Ingalls family as they travel. I would link to specifics, but there are literally hundreds (if not thousands) of resources for that series if you Google it. The boys are also reading Tom Sawyer in their DK12 lessons, so we’re working on that as well. We still lapbook, so we’re working on those for both books also.

Other grammar-related work includes sentence diagramming, and various writing assignments. I found a great idea for collecting topics for personal narratives, which we’re adding to our thoughtful journals (which we still make use of, and I LOVE!). Writing,, journaling and note-taking/notebooking are also staples for basically everything. We watch CNN Student News 2-3 times per week, and I have the kids take notes (traditional style or mind-maps). They also take notes for history and for several subjects when they work on DK12 assignments. Essays have gotten longer and more detailed, and research projects are more ‘on your own’ than in class time.

For math, we’re using Khan Academy’s student program. It’s gotten to the point that I am no longer comfortable ‘teaching’ them, so that’s a really good way for them to have expert examples and explanations for complex maths. I created my account, then added the kids. They do the practice and skills assessment assignments (mastery-based) for their grade level and earn badges, awards and energy points. I have my own account and am brushing up on my skills as well. We’re keeping tabs on each other and competing for energy points (and seeing who can upgrade their avatar fastest), which makes it competitive and fun.

We’re also working through Life of Fred this year. It’s more of a supplement at this point, but I am sure it will get more challenging as the kids work through the series. We’ve worked through The Number Devil in the past and are tacking it again this year as a supplement as well, and maybe some tasks in The Book of Perfectly Perilous Math if we need it.

For history, we’re in book 3 of Story of the World, soon to be in book 4. Science this year is focusing on biology. We’re using a text book and working from Khan Academy’s Biology section as well.

Because I am a slacker mom, I missed out on the NBTS Blog Hop this year, so I am playing catch-up with this all-in-one post. I updated my lesson planner in December last year, but never posted it. I kept some of the same elements, but re-designed the whole thing, and I am really happy with it! Here’s mine:

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And here are downloadable blank versions for you to use if you like:

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As always, we snagged school pictures for this year, although I may re-take them. We normally take pics outside, and it was sunnier that day than in previous years, so both boys have squinty eyes.

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How’s your new homeschool year going? What are your kids using/learning about? What grades are you teaching this year? Share!!
Warmly,
~h


Teach Them to do for Themselves

I’ve been seeing a lot of posts in the homeschool community about not measuring up. There was a time when homeschooling was fairly synonymous with genius-level intelligence. Even though that stereotype still gets lip-service, as homeschooling becomes more and more popular, it’s just us normal folks, with normal kids schooling in the kitchen these days (or maybe that shows my own perceptions…).

Not only that, but as my kids get older, we’re coming up on the point in time where we’re moving past the basics and into more future career and interest driven learning – meaning that the boys will have more say in what they learn about.*

One of the mantras that I use is ‘Education isn’t about teaching them everything. It’s about exposing them to as much as possible, and teaching them HOW to find the things they need to know, when they need to know it’.

It’s about teaching them to read directions. I didn’t teach my kids how to cook; I taught them how to read, what measurements are and how to properly read/decipher fractions, fire/heat safety and where the dishes go. Nowadays, they can cook anything they have a recipe for (and clean up the kitchen afterwards, too).

That’s kind of how I approach their education. My main goal is to expose them to as much as possible. We do all of the regular subjects – reading, writing, math, science, history, etc.; and I also cover the arts, health, physical education, and other ‘normal’ things that you’d find in any school. But I also glaze over things that may not hold their attention as well as other things. For example: when we covered Vikings, the kids were crazy into it, so we lingered there. Did a lapbook, build a forge in the backyard so the kids could play at being blacksmiths, read a couple of Viking-centered stories, watched How to Train Your Dragon 3 times, and other fun Viking-related stuff. But now, we’re in 1600’s England, with Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots and King James and the kids are all ‘ Ho-hum… can get skip this and get to the Black Death already??’ In a word, yes. Glazing… it can be a wonderful thing!

Even though this is one of my personal favorite times in history (reformation of the church, splitting off of the Puritans, the reign of Elizabeth I and the powerhouse that was England… so exciting!), the kids aren’t feeling it right now. But, the beauty of history is that it repeats, so in a few years, we can cover this again, and maybe they’ll be more interested in the same parts I am. And, their lack of interest doesn’t keep me from re-reading the things that I enjoy.

Back to how this applies to homeschooling, though… education is meant to be the foundation upon which your life is built. Helping ensure that my kids have a solid knowledge of the basics means that from there, they have the keys to unlock everything set before them. They can then learn about any subject or field that they choose to; their options are limited only by what they believe they can do.

To sum up, I don’t have to be a perfect, rigorous, every-day-8a-3p, scheduled homeschooling mom in order to be successful, and have successful kids, and neither do you. We just have to teach them the basics, and empower them to do for themselves. Because they can. And they will.

Warmly,
~h

*We are eclectic homeschoolers. I like traditional/classical education for the younger years, moving more towards interest/career path learning as they get older.

 


Embarking on Year 5 of Homeschooling

Wow – I can’t believe that we’re about to start our 5th year of homeschooling. It’s mind-blowing! It definitely doesn’t seem like that long, but neither I, nor the kids are planning to stop or go back to more traditional school anytime soon. Homeschooling has really become more than ‘something we do’; more than ever, it’s how we live.

I was looking back over some of the first blog posts I made, and it surprises me how much we’ve changed over the years – and what remains the same. Some of the traditions we started observing way back then are still part of our routine today. Tea time stands out as a big one (though admittedly, tea happens more than once during the day now, but we still gather in the kitchen for a cuppa). Field trips are still on Tuesdays, and we still mostly have school in our jammies.

Other things have changed. We have dramatically increased the amount of work assigned over the years. Back when we first started, I only focused on math, reading, handwriting and grammar. We did a bit of history (mostly pre-history – dinos and hunter-gatherer societies) and some literature (which Mommy read). But as we finished our first year, I added more – spelling, history (formally; Story of the World I) and science, along with lapbooking and notebooking, to what was already on our plate. By the next year (year 3), I added even more – research projects, science fair, public speaking, community service,  individualized science, and geography. This past year (year 4) brought journaling (notebooking’s larger, more intimidating cousin), pre-algebra and even more critical thinking work into the mix. I bring this up because I see some of my friends and other newbies playing the comparison game. I get called ‘rigorous’ all the time, but I’m not, really – just really focused with the kids on college. They’re comparing where they are (just beginning to homeschool – some not even a full 6 months in) to where we are, four years past that. It’s not a fair comparison! If you’re one of those people, I say to you, “Don’t be so hard on yourselves, newbies!! Chillax for a minute. There’s plenty of time yet.”

LBB is in middle school now. In the fall, both of my boys will be in jr. high. I’m shocked at how very grown up my babies are now. They’re coming out with full-on developed concepts now; theories about *things* that they’ve learned about independently. It’s lovely to see, and to hear that their thinking process is balanced with a healthy dose of freethinking and skepticism, along with wise-eyed wonder, creativity and pure child-like fantasy. 

We have big plans for this year, including LBB’s introduction to the Civil Air Patrol. We looked into it a few years ago, bt you have to be 12 to participate, and with LBB’s recent birthday, he’s finally old enough. Loverly Husband expressed interest in joining their adult program, so maybe this will be something they can do together. We’ve kinda slacked off on karate. I keep dabbling with the thought of getting back into it, but the motivation remains to be seen. LBB expressed interest in taking tennis lessons (continued interest from this past summer), so we may be looking into that instead. PeaGreen is still taking karate lessons, but only occasionally.

Curric-wise, much of what we’re using will remain the same as when we started ‘seat work’ back in August.

  • Math – Everyday Math 5 & 6 plus workbooks & journaling
  • Spelling – Dr. Spello, word bank, workbook lessons
  • Grammar – DOL/ HM English & Thoughtful Journals
  • History – Story of the World III & Activity Guide & Lapbook; composer/artist study
  • Science – Journaling/Nature Study/ text for 5th & 6th grade / gardening
  • Current Events – Morning Board/ CNN student news / community service
  • Weekly research project
  • Writing – creative writing/narrative/non-fiction/ picture-prompts
  • handwriting practice
  • reading/literature
  • PE/Health – FLASH
  • Spiral Scouts

Our homeschool group is planning to begin a co-op in mid-January that will offer classes in art, science labs and some electives. If not, then we’ll have to add all that stuff in as well.

On the homefront, we got a puppy a few months ago. He’s a chi-weenie (half chihuahua, half dachshund) and he’s adorable!

That’s about it for now. I plan to update more regularly this year – it’s one of my NYR’s, which will be posted in the next week or so. Until then, enjoy the rest of your holiday time!

Warmly,
~h

 

 


Lesson Planning – Fall 2013

I am always so excited at this time of the year. It’s LESSON PLANNING TIME!! I have been reading and researching my little heart our and now I am ready to start putting it all together.

It’s been a long time since I have detailed exactly how I got about my lesson planning for the year, and watching a friend of mine who is new to homeschooling trying to find her way has reminded me how difficult lesson planning can be for your first year of homeschooling. There is literally an information overload when you start looking at resources. It gets completely overwhelming, and it’s easy to get stuck.

I will say that for first-years, I really do still stand by what I have always said – don’t buy much (if anything); sample everything you can get your hands on to see what you and your student like best – but most of all, learn to find the FUN in learning again. If that means that for your first year, you only do the 3 r’s, that’s cool. The rest will come. De-school if you need to, but if not, that’s cool, too! Don’t get locked into one mindset or curriculum – and open mind on your first year will help you find your way to what is right for your family.

But if you’re looking for more intense lesson planning, here’s how I got about it (which is in no way saying that mine is the only/best way; this is just how I, personally, do it. There are hundreds of other blogging homeschool moms who are more than willing to share their methods as well).

Fist, I decide what subjects I want to tackle, and how many times I want to cover them each week. For us this year, it’s:

  • Handwriting (Daily)
  • Math (D)
  • Spelling (D)
  • Writing (D)
  • Literature (2)
  • English (3)
  • Latin (3)
  • Weekly Research Project (D)
  • History (2)
  • Science (2)
  • Geography (1)
  • Art / Music (2)
  • an hour of reading (to self/to someone) (D)

Then, go about refining the weekly classes:

  • Handwriting (Daily)
  • Math (D)
  • Spelling (D)
  • Writing (D)
  • Literature (2), English (3)
  • Latin (3), Art / Music (2)
  • Weekly Research Project (D)
  • History (2), Science (2), Geography (1)
  • an hour of reading (to self/to someone) (D)

That is a much shorter list, because some of my subjects alternate days. Since I am only doing 2 days of Literature, then I can focus more on English the other three, etc…

Next, I can start looking at multi-disciplinary lessons. For example, I taught the boys more individual lessons (a set time for Spelling work, then a set time for English (parts of speech, sentence structure, etc.), then a set time for History, and so on. Now that they’re older, I can lump all of the reading/writing centered lessons into one.

Then, I start going through the books I have on hand, and through my links and Pinterest boards (by subject) to see what I wanted to use. Pinterest can be both a blessing and a curse. It’s awesome for archiving things, but unless you are very conscious about properly categorizing your pins, it can be a big mess when it comes to finding things. I separate my pins by subject. All grades are under the same subject, but I can wade through to find the right grade (or adapt and idea up or down for my kids’ needs). There are so many amazing links on Pinterest; even searching (i.e.: Math 6th grade) pulls up a ton of links that you can use.

This year, we’re trying something I’ve only just read about (on Pinterest), called ‘Thoughtful Journals’. The concept is fairly simple; a composition notebook divided into 5 sections (or 5-subject spiral). Each section is named. The sections are: My Strategies, My Thoughts, Powerful Words and Phrases, Author’s Craft & Genre Learning. As you go through your lessons, the student uses the journal to record notes and other useful tools to help them learn to be better readers and writers. I am paraphrasing, badly, in describing this technique, so I will link you to Life in 4B, which is the awesome blog I found the idea at. In any case, the Thoughtful Journal is where most of our work related to Grammar and Writing will find a home this year.

History, Science and Geography are another area where I smooshed subjects together. We are still going through Story of the World II at the moment; I plan to be finished by December. We are still lapbooking it, thanks to CarrotTopX3. When Alia from ‘Chronicle of the Earth’ was unable to finish the lapbook template for SOTWII, awesome bloggin’ mom Brenda stepped in to fill the gaps (for which homeschooling moms all over the WORLD are eternally grateful!!) – Team Work, yo!! SOTW makes History easy, especially with lapbooking. We try to coordinate our artist and composer study with History, so even though they’re not ‘on the list’, we still work that in. As we finish up SOTWII, I have SOTWIII waiting in the wings. I have already started lapbooking it; hopefully I’ll be able to post it in full when we start on III. We have the activity guide as well, and I am looking forward to digging into that.

Science fills the other two weekdays when we’re not focusing on History. We usually switch them up, but I am considering doing History M/T and Science W/Th so they have two days in succession to focus on one subject this year – dig a little deeper. Then Friday, of course, leaves us time for Geography as it’s own subject. We also tie in Geo. with History, but this gives us extra time to work on land forms or other interesting components of the earth (which is kind of History AND Science).

Math is another one that’s easy to plan; I don’t go off-road much which Math, so I get a grade-level curriculum and go from there. We’re working with Math Advantage this year. Latin is another one that I don’t experiment much with. I don’t know Latin any better than my kids at this point (though I am learning), so I can’t rightly ‘teach’ it to them – we’re learning together. We are still in Book I, but will be moving to Book II later this year.

Once I decide how I am going to plan my lessons, I start looking at the actual curriculum. For the most part, I stick with what I can find that’s grade-level. But, as is wont to happen with homeschoolers, I have found that they naturally fall into their own strengths and weaknesses as they progress. I found a great article discussing Homeschool Misconceptions that touches on this a bit, and is worth reading. For us, it means that this year their curriculum may fall anywhere from 4th to 7th grade. Spelling is a weakness, but Grammar is something they’re both strong in. It balances out! I found that even the school system uses different books for different grades, depending on the school district. I have a copy of the Science book that I used in school in the 6th grade that the manufacturer says is 5th grade level. I’d rather have my kids spelling ‘below’ than keeping up and failing in the classroom. Their spelling skills can be improved. Self-esteem takes longer. Whatever sources or grade levels you choose for your kids, you get the most out of it in whatever way works best for your family.

Once you find your curriculum, it’s time to look back at your schedule. You may want to flip through the books you’ll be using and make some rough outlines of how much material you want to cover each week, or how long you want to spend in one unit before moving on. I usually map out the schedule on notebook paper (Week 1 = Unit 1, Chapter 1; Week 2 =Unit 1 Chapter 2; etc.). This may change during the year, and that’s okay. But having a guide makes it easy to see the pacing of the year a bit better. You can always make adjustments later on.

This year, I am using a binder in addition to my usual lesson planner (homeschool bossy book). We aren’t doing workboxes this year, so I have been using the workbox plans in my planner for scheduling. It works well for that. The binder is a more in-depth, day by day type of lesson planner. I have it divided by subject, and the year’s activities per subject mapped out in each tab. This is also where I am storing printed materials, and unit study/lapbook plans. Having both planners will help make the day’s activity easier to follow, I hope.

We have in the past clocked about 25-30 hours of school per week. That averages out to some longer days and some shorter days. This year, however, I am pushing for more of a set schedule – about 30 per week. That’s on the high end of what we normally do, but I think it’s reasonable for my kids. Mine still need to be led quite a bit, or they lose focus. Not all days will take as long, but some will go over, so again – balance.

The only things left after this point are gathering school supplies and waiting on the first day of school!

… and the second-guessing, and worrying, and reading a blog at 3AM that tells to do do something totally different than what you have newly finished and ready to go… relax. That’s totally normal! Know that you can change any aspect of what you have planned at any time. It’s not a big deal – just go with the flow. The hardest part is getting it all laid out in the first place. There are SO MANY cool things to try, to implement, to experiment with – and each and every bit sounds more exciting and fun than the next.

I read a great blog yesterday that was talking about being ‘inspired’ by someone without re-making yourself in her image. I take that to heart when I read about SuperMoms in the homeschool world who have their crap together far better than I do. Go have a read. It’s at Living Well, Spending Less.

Happy planning!
Warmly,
~h


Summer 2013 – Week 2

Summer on a beachWeek 2 began nice and slow. Loverly Husband had jury duty, so we were stuck home without a car. Luckily, my mom let us take car, so we went to tennis camp, then came back home for lunch. I had every intention of making the kids do some schoolwork, but other than reading and chores, but that’s pretty much all they got accomplished.

Tuesday was tons of fun though. We went to tennis (again), then picked up Bridey and her boys and met SmurfMom and went to Louisiana to SPAR, which is a local waterpark that was built by their Parks and Recreation department. It’s really fun! I’ve known about this place ever sine the boys were very small, but we didn’t make it out there until last summer. Now, it’s one of our favorite places!  Because of the traffic and just plain organizing that many people, we didn’t make it to karate that evening. PeaGreen was quite disappointed, but we had to bring Bridey and the boys home, too. RedRanger spent the night with LBB. They were up plenty early the next morning, so I imagine they got very little sleep the night before.

Wednesday, we went to … Tennis Camp! in the morning.It was a pretty easy day. Bridey and the boys came over for the afternoon/evening and we grown-ups got some time in the pool sans children, which was niiiiiice while the kids played inside. So, SO relaxing!

Thursday was a bit chaotic. During the night, my phone switched off, so my alarm didn’t go off. I woke up late… LATE. We made it to tennis camp about 15 minutes late. Miss Eileen, one of the kids’ tennis instructors, wanted to work with LBB for a private lesson for a bit, so I didn’t want him to miss that. It’s funny how you look at your kids and see their various differences. Thankfully, the boys can admit their brothers’ strengths and congratulate the on accomplishments and skills without being upset. LBB’s talent really seems to lie in tennis. He’s really showing a lot of interest and picking it up very well. PeaGreen’s strength is definitely in karate!

After tennis, I was supposed to drop PG off with Bridey, and go to ‘work’, but by the time I got to Bridey’s house, it was too late for ‘work’, so we just went back home for lunch and a bit of schooling (and laundry), and then off to karate. We made it on time, and Loverly Husband met us there. This was my first class back in a while. I’ve either been busy or just plain slacking for a while, and it felt good to get back in the dojo.

Friday was another really good day. No tennis camp on Fridays, so we got to sleep in just a tiny bit. But we were still up and at ’em by 10 and ready for company by 11. PBJMom brought her kids and crew, and another mom from our homeschool group came with her husband and 3 kiddos, so we had 11 kids in the pool. Rather than have the kids at each other’s throats fighting for space in the pool, I had them play some games… racing, Goofy, red rover, and some free swimming. By that point, everyone was getting tired and hungry.

So we dried off, cleaned up and went to the library to see The Bard of the South.

Ricky Pittman is a storyteller: singer, songwriter and author. He roams the south telling stories of the Civil War and the people who lived then; often the lost stories, bringing once again to life the lives and experiences of people long forgotten. He brought a lot of things with him: a candle lantern (complete with ‘Lucifers’ – candles!, a courting candle, a parasol and fan (and talked a bit and demonstrated the ‘language of the fan‘). He also had a few of the boys (PeaGreen and RedRanger included) to talk about some of the uniforms of Confederate soldiers. Specifically, he compared Texas Confederate uniforms and Louisiana Confederate uniforms to Union uniforms. He talked about what the colors of the trim meant, the equipment a soldier would carry, the artillery that soldiers were issued and the shoes.

He also showed a blow gun (child sized) and talked about the various parts and the making of a blow gun, and talked about the uses for them as well. He said that the boy would use a piece of coal to hollow the inside of the cane. I am thinking that this might be a cool project for the boys to try soon. He talked some about Sam ‘The Raven’ Houston, and about orphan Jim Limber Davis and his relationship with President of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis and First LadyVarina Davis and their family, about which he wrote a book entitled Jim Limber Davis: A Black Orphan in the Confederate White House

Now we’re winding down into the weekend. My boys went to spend the night with Bridey and her crew, and Loverly Husband and I went out for a ‘date night’. Overall, I’d say this has been a pretty productive week!

Hope your summer is going along swimmingly! Next week, my niece Appleberry will be with us, and a long-lost friend of mine will (finally) be moving back to Texas. I can’t wait!!

Before I go, I’d like to dedicate this video to my BFF, Amy:

Warmly,

~h


Secular Homeschool Conference

Today, our homeschool group sponsored a mini-conference for people who are, and who are thinking about, or planning on homeschooling their kids in this area. The closest homeschool conference or ‘open event’ is in Houston. I’d go, but the only issue I have with it is that they tend to be heavy on the faith-based thing. That’s cool and all, but really not my bag. We’re secular homeschoolers, so I thought that hosting an ‘informational’ mini-con might work. I created a public event on Facebook, and sent out invitations to all of the homeschoolers I knew, and invited them to share the event and invite their friends. I was expecting only 1 mom outside of our group.

Color me speechless to find out that more people came than I was expecting! We had 3 soon-to-be homeschoolers, one who wasn’t able to make it, and four who are already in our group and are actively homeschooling. For our first event of this kind, I think it went pretty well, especially considering that we didn’t really advertise or anything. I’m fine with that, and having this one finished opens up a lot of possibility and ideas for future events.

So, I wanted to talk about organizing one, and make some notes and share some thoughts if you might like to put on a homeschooling mini-con of sorts for your community. Here are somethings I learned and wish I’d had on-hand:

1. an identifying banner of some sort – I didn’t realize that some of the ladies who were there waiting were there for us and if we’d had a sign of some sort, we would have been easy to identify. I priced a 1′ x 3′ banner at the UPS store and it was less than $30 for a vinyl sign with grommets at each corner. There are lots of times that may be a good thing to have, so I am considering getting one.  www.VistaPrint.com carries banners similar in size for $16.00.

2. name tags – helpful! Since it was a small group, I think I remember everyone’s name, but I am SO BAD at names! So having name tags would be good. Also, being able to address everyone by name creates a sense of intimacy that most people respond well to.

3. a sign-in sheet – also helpful! – since there was only one woman that had not already contacted me, and she was friends with another mom in our group already, I can pretty easily get in touch with them. Had we had a bigger turnout, then I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to talk to each of them individually (which is a perk of having only a small group).

5. Handouts – I really should have written up a hand-out or something for everyone to take home – a welcome kit… something. I’ve done them before by calling different companies and asking for samples (things pencils from office-supply stores, other swag from school supply stores, coupons for local kid’s places (jump zone, OrangeLeaf, bowling or skating, etc.), a list of resources, a pamphlet about our group, etc. If I’d thought about it a month ago, I’d have had time to pull that together. Maybe even a gift certificate for dinner or something and do a ‘just for fun’ raffle. A lot of places are wiling to donate stuff like that if only you ask.

4. I think next time, if we do this again, I’d like to do a bit more promotion. Our group is already on our local Library resource list, and is on several ‘group databases’ online, but local advertisement for local homeschoolers would make more sense and probably be more helpful at attracting locals.

5. Explain to my homeschool group members better what kinds of audience we’re targeting with this project, and break it down into small, specific jobs so that my group moms have a better idea of what’s happening and how they can help. I asked for help a couple of times, but, only to find out today that I wasn’t explaining myself very well. I’d love to make this a yearly thing, and many hands make light work, so I’ll need to work on that for next year (if we do this again).

The feedback was good – that what was presented was helpful, and the experiences shared by the more seasoned homeschooling moms (especially about their ‘getting started’ experience) was reassuring and worth hearing. Our group has been growing by leaps and bounds since January, and from what I’ve heard lately, we can expect more.

For our topics today, we covered:

*Homeschooling and Texas Law*

Homeschooling Law in TX  (synopsis)

HSLDA website

  • In Texas, homeschool families are considered private school and as such, are are not subject to regulation by the school district or state (this includes standardized testing and compulsory attendance edicts), and are exempt from school-time curfews (with identification).
  • Since homeschooling is legal in Texas and operate independently from a school district, you do not have to allow the school district representatives to ‘review’ or ‘approve’ your child’s curriculum.
  • The only the requirement for legal homeschooling in Texas is to homeschool in a bona fide manner, with a written curriculum consisting of reading, spelling, grammar, mathematics, and good citizenship. This can be as simple as a sheet of paper with these subjects written on it.

*Methods and Philosophy*

The method an philosophy has to do with how you think that children (your children) learn best, and what you think school should be. We all start out with preconceived notions about these things, and sometimes, we find that we were right all along. Other times, we may need to choose a new direction. Reading about the various styles of homeschooling that are out there gives you a ‘niche’ for what you are already thinking. For the most part, why re-invent the wheel? Homeschooling has been around for generations. Though each new generation adds a new twist on an old idea, when you’re just starting out, knowing where you fall in the ‘structured…. unstructured’ scale can help find resources that will be closer to what you’re looking for and makes a good place to begin your research. Here are overviews of some of the more well-known methods and philosophies out there:


*Learning Styles and What they Mean to You*

Everyone gathers information about the world through three sensory receivers: visual (sight), auditory (sound), and kinesthetic (movement). Some people rely most on visual cues, others prefer auditory input, and still others learn best through movement. Educators refer to these differences as learning styles. How does knowing your child’s learning style help? By identifying your child’s dominant learning style you can tailor their education to lean heavily in that direction so that they learn best. Public schools tend to be ‘one-size-fits-all’ in their approach. Homeschooling with an eye toward your child’s learning style will help make schooling more enjoyable for you and the, and maximize their learning potential.

Learning Styles

  • Auditory – listeners: They may learn to talk early on, and may enjoy listening to tapes and playing musical instruments. Auditory learners are often talkative. They may like to read aloud, recall commercials word for word, or do tongue twisters. In school, they may memorize math facts much more easily in a song or poem than from flash cards.
  • Kinesthetic – hands-on: Kids who love taking things apart to see how they work, or who are obsessed with building toys may be kinesthetic learners. Kinesthetic kids are often in constant motion, their movements are well coordinated, and they are anxious to crawl and walk as quickly as possible. In a classroom, kinesthetic learners can be fidgety. They’ll often be the first to volunteer to do something —anything—active. They want to do an experiment not watch it or read about it.
  • Visual – watchers: As babies, they are often drawn to lights, colors, and movement. They revel in colorful toys and piles of picture books. Visual learners enjoy and learn easily from pictures, handouts, videos, and films. In school, they can learn science principles by watching a science experiment rather than having to conduct the experiment themselves.

Not leaving the teacher out, there are different teaching styles, too. One of the great benefits of homeschooling is the ability to tailor-make your education program. Everything is yours to try, tinker with or discard in favor of a new or changing idea or need. As a teacher, you’re interacting with your child in a different way than as a parent. The two are closely related, of course,  but what you want for your child may be different at an age, o what they need from you may call for more or less structure. So learning your teaching style is also helpful. I am sure there are more, but the way I like it explained best is Directive, Guide and Facilitator. All of these can work with basically any schooling philosophy or method, though it might take some finagling.

Teaching stylesTeaching Styles

  • Director – had total control over all aspects of the child’s education. Parent sets mood, tone, lessons, materials, and every aspect of what the child learns. I see this as more of an elementary level style of teaching, though some children who tend to be easily distracted may work better having everything laid out for them.
  • Guidance – Parent still sets most tone, but has slightly more input from the child. Parent helps guide the child to subjects, activities and research that are in-line with his/her interests and goals. I see this as more of a middle-school style of teaching, though may work for independent children who work well alone.
  • Facilitator – Parent is solely there to facilitate – to learn about and promote learning through the child’s interests. And/Or the parent is there to help, but the child’s education is largely self-directed. I see this more of a high-school age style of teaching, but also works well for children who are very self-motivated and who need little by way of encouragement.

Obviously, this list is not complete, but may help you determine what your style is, and what your child may need from you. Often, if you have more than one child, each of your children may need something different from you.

*Curricula – Finding What Works*

Finding the exact right curricula can be absolutely overwhelming. There are literally hundreds of options, and often many options associated with different methods. Finding what fits your family can be challenging at best. First, knowing what fits in line with your personal philosophy and what method you want to use is important. That will eliminate may curriculum options right off the bat. Identifying your student’s learning style and your teaching style will further narrow the options. Once you have those things out of the way, there are several places you can begin.

Grade level (or age/peer group) can be a good place to start. If your child is being pulled from school, unless you know they were behind, you should be able to pick up with that grade level work. If your child was consistently getting lower scores, it might be worth it to drop down a grade and work on cementing the previous foundations before moving on. Don’t feel bad if you need to do that; your student will soon catch up and even surpass his peers.

Many parents feel that it’s a good idea to have a ‘spine’ – a framework that tells you what your child ‘should be’ learning. This is often found in the scope & sequence. What is ‘scope & sequence’? A couple of options are:

Core Knowledge K-8th Grade Sequence 

Texas Education Agency Scope & Sequence

You also want to figure out your schedule. Many homeschoolers take more frequent, shorter breaks than public schools. We school for 4 weeks, then have a week break, then pick up again. Others have different schedules; you’ll find out your own. That may be closely aligned to the ISD, or may be totally different. Do what works for your family.

*Getting Started – Homeschooling, Year One*

Tip #1: Don’t buy anything ‘big’ the first year – no curricula, don’t re-model your house. There are PLENTY of free homeschooling resources that you can use the first year. The last thing you want to be is locked into an expensive curriculum that both/either you and/or your child hate(s).

Tip #2: Look at your first year as an ‘exploratory’ year. Try different styles, experiment with times and days, try out different methods. See what works and what doesn’t. After a fully year, you’ll have a much better idea of your teaching style, and of your child(ren)’s learning style. You’ll be able to spend that whole year trying new things and ideas and will have a much better idea of how YOUR homeschool will work when you start planning for Year 2.

For me, setting up our space helped get me in the frame of mind. Having our school space separate from the ‘home’ seems to help us all focus a little better. That’s not to say that we’re trapped in here during school. We’re just as likely to work on the living room floor, retreat to their own bedrooms, have school on mom’s bed, have school outside, pack up and head to the park… all totally valid options. But just having that space helps me out a lot.  Of course, that’s not practical for every family, and many families just don’t want that. Again, do what works for you! There are so many options – if you don’t know what you want right off the bat, start with one thing, then change it if it doesn’t work. Flexibility is one of your greatest ‘teaching tools’.

Another tip is to join a homeschooling group. If there’s not one in your area, start one and you can learn together with the other newbies. If there is absolutely nothing in your area, find a good forum or group to join online. Having someone you can talk to to vent, praise your children bounce ideas off of, share resources, talk about your latest field trip, gripe about your non-supportive family or in-laws… whatever – having that support is absolutely essential in my opinion.

The blogosphere is awesome, too. I have learned so much from reading other blogs! Moms that inspire, Moms that I am in awe of, Moms that make me laugh, Moms that really make me think… there are SO MANY homeschooling moms of every variety, of every style and method – it’s truly amazing how much these bloggin’ mamas share. Feel free to check out my sidebar – there are tons of links!

***

If you were able to be with us today, THANK YOU for coming out! If you’re planning a mini-con for your community, I’d love to hear about it! I’d also love to hear what kinds of things that you, as homeschooling parents, would want to get out of a small-scale conference.

Warmly,

~h


April Update

I suck at blogging this year. I know it’s not an excuse, but (like most of you) I’ve had too much on my plate lately. I used to make time for blogging, but I haven’t been motivated to do so lately. I tend to work in cycles, so this isn’t entirely unexpected  from my end. Things have been kinda topsy-turvey for the last couple of months, but we are settling into a routine again, so hopefully updates will come a little more frequently now.

Let’s see…

February was pretty busy. For field trips, we saw a play (The Real Story of the 3 Little Pigs, which is based on this book – one of my kids’ favorites when they were small), visited the symphony, went to Moody Gardens, celebrated Imbolc and Valentine’s Day, met with our newly-forming Spiral Scouts group to finalize our charter paperwork, had a ‘s’mores and movie day’ with our local homeschool group and had our monthly community service day volunteering with our local Humane Society.

picture by Amanda Horn

picture by Amanda Horn

Aidan - HumaneSoc January26_2013

picture by Jean Bennett

I also tested for my orange belt in karate, re-visited my doc for an update and medication switch to handle my depression and anxiety (because I am a good mother who does not want to end up on the evening news for freaking out and taking off my clothes and running down the street starkers), and got new contacts (because vision is of the good).

Orange belt!

March was full of school-y goodness, with a visit to the ballet to see Snow White, the NOAA Sea Turtle Research Facility in Galveston, celebrated Ostara & observed Easter, went hiking in the Big Thicket (I’m Mayor of the Kirby Trail on FourSquare!!), the Exotic Cat Refuge in Kirbyville, TX, a hike in Village Creek, and another successful volunteer date with the Humane Society.

Shambola

April has been equally exciting in some ways, but less ‘school-ish’. Due to inclement weather, we’ve ended up seeing movies (OZ and The Croods) instead of educational stuff, but those links are to lesson plan fun, so even strictly social/leisure outings can be built into school). I was also sick for a couple of weeks, so we missed out on some pretty awesome field trips (like NANO Days at the Houston Children’s Museum). I was bummed. I also missed our Humane Society date. Boo to that.

I’m on the mend though, and on a personal level, April rang in both the celebration of my 36th birthday and marked the occasion of my first ever 5K event. Loverly Husband and I went with my sister and some friends to the Mud Farm in Sour Lake, TX to do a ‘mud run’ obstacle course. It was so dirty and so much fun! #213 Heather Thomas 1:19:56 – 111 of 121 runners <— that’s me! He came in 38th with a time of 0:43:50.

Mud Run 5K - April 6, 2013

picture OF me, BY someone who is NOT me…
Carrie, maybe?

In homeschool news, we’ve been working our literature unit pretty consistently. It’s been a long time since I’ve worked with the kids on a unit study; I’ve forgotten how ‘big’ this type of schooling can be. Even though this is ‘just’ Beyond Five In A Row, and ‘just’ The Boxcar Children #1, which is way below the boys’ reading/grade level, it’s still lent itself to some surprisingly in-depth lessons. We don’t necessarily have anything to show for it (other than the lapbook components), but it’s steady progress, which is a good thing. One of the more memorable lessons was on the construction of the Hoover Dam. The boys watched a half hour documentary about it and were pretty riveted. Another lesson was on planting blueberry bushes, which led to growing zones and was a nice tie-in to starting our garden this year. We’ll be planting more, but this was a nice start.

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We’ve also been hitting math and Latin pretty hard, which has been surprisingly fun. I found a Cambridge Yahoo group that and has been helpful in finding add-on lessons to go with book I. They also have a files section with worksheets and practice lessons and games.

I’ve been working with the boys on timed multiplication drills using Math-Drills.com worksheets. 5 minutes to do as much as they can. We’re working on adding one number each week and it’s going really well. We started with 1’s and that was a real confidence builder for them both. I am also using a workbook that I found called Multiplication Puzzle Practice by Bob Hugel/Scholastic. It’s divided into riddles and puzzles and the lessons are cumulative, each one adding another number. With this and the drill sheets, they’re doing quite well. I’ve also found that they are motivating each other (in between snarky comments and death-threats whispered under their breath to each other). Sorry… it’s been one of those days, LOL.

I’m also going to start using Lesson Pathways again, I think – at least for Language Arts and Science. I need something more… guided, I think. I tend to flit about from subject to subject in science and I really want something a little more cohesive. Their 5th grade Language Arts is using Dear Mr. Henshaw – a book I remember doing in 5th grade and I loved it. I think the boys will like it when we’re done with Boxcar.

In personal news, we had another Journalistas ‘dinner & coffee’ event, I picked up two of the other Keri Smith journals (Mess and This Is Not A Book). I’m more or less done with WTJ, but am having a really hard time getting into the other two books. I think I am going to start Mess first; TINAB makes me cringe for some reason. I’m not ready to explore that feeling just yet. Somewhat recently, I also went to see Beautiful Creatures and to a Happy Birthday dinner with PBJMom, and spent a Saturday morning cooking quiche and toffee crackers for a friend’s Blessingway. Loverly Husband and I had 2 date nights with our ‘best couple friends’ (to see Evil Dead and IHOP, and out for dinner and coffee), had my picture taken by a real professional for the BBC’s new website (coming soon), and am almost done with Leader Training for our Spiral Scouts group.

photo by Sarah Lynne Photography (click picture for link)

photo by Sarah Lynne Photography
(click picture for link)

Sprinkled between all this has been regular school days, pool preparation for the summer, board meetings an peer counseling with the Beaumont Breastfeeding Coalition, complete and utter enjoyment of the new seasons of Game of Thrones & The Borgias, taking care of taxes, visiting family, and cooking dinner, amid other things. I’ve been in a funky place lately, but I am coming out of it now. My life is full, and I am grateful.

We’re getting ready for the summer, which means summer reading club, summer movie clubs, hiking every week, my niece, Appleberry, will be back with us, and lots of time spent lazing about on the beach (if things go well). Hopefully, you’ll hear from me again very soon!

Warmly,
~h

 

 


Back in the Groove

 And so we embark on our fourth year of homeschooling. Looking back, I just can’t believe that we’ve been at this for three solid years. Time has just FLOWN by. It’s amazing to me how much we’ve accomplished over the last three years.

We took off the month of December, as is our normal schedule. We use a four weeks on/one week off schedule throughout the whole year; that gives us roughly the same number of school days that your average public or private school has (following a traditional schedule) – we just get our breaks spread out through the year instead of clumped together during the summer.

I spent our first day ‘back to school’ doing some assessment testing with the boys, mainly in reading, and was impressed with their progress. I don’t do much testing as we go; we’re mastery focused, so we don’t move on until the concept is learned, so there’s not a need for testing in the same way that educational institutions use testing. If you’re interested, I use a couple of reading assessments; there are several listed here that are free and easy to use. It may not be totally comprehensive, but it’s good enough to get an idea; plus, they read all the time, so I hear them reading aloud and already have an idea of their ability; this just gives me a quantifiable number for my records.

I thought that I posted a ‘lesson planning’ post for this year, but I must have overlooked it. I know that I updated our ‘curriculum’ page, but I’ll reference some of that here for good measure, rather than posting a lesson planning post. We’re pretty much set at this point; we’re not making a lot of changes the way that we were in the beginning. I’ve kind of found the things that work for us, so we don’t need as much trial and error!

One of the things that i kinda wanna brag about for a minute is ‘grade level’. I have said over and over again that we don’t really do ‘grade level’ – it’s somewhat of an arbitrary concept, in my opinion. However… even though I’d love to get rid of the concept entirely, we can’t really escape it. The boys have friends in school, my niece is in school – so the topic comes up whether I like it or not. Since we pulled the boys out of school mid-year, and started our school year in January, we’ve been in the middle of a grade for homeschool. My goal has been to get the boys and the school year’s start on the same page – without letting the boys lag behind their schooled peers – and it’s taken three years, but we’re finally there! That’s a silly thing to be proud of, but I am!

That said, we’re actually not starting the next grade. Technically, they’re both done with this grade level’s work (4th for PeaGreen, and 5th for LBB), but one of the benefits of not having to jump into the next grade is that we have time to play around with unit studies and some of the other things that I’ve been wanting to do that we just haven’t had time for because we were busy getting the basics out of the way. I’ve really been wanting to get back to Mason style, literature-based lessons, and with the boys having their grade-level work completed, I finally feel like we can delve into those things.

When the boys were small, we pre-homeschooled with Before Five in A Row and Five In A Row. Then, when the boys started school-school, I sold our copies of those guides and books – but when we had them, we loved them. So, I bought Beyond five In A Row, Volume I to work on over the next few months. I had forgotten how multi-disciplinary the lessons were. I don’t feel that they’re necessarily complete, but using them as a base and supplementing with other materials will work quite well, I think.

The first book in BYFIAR I is The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner. We do lapbooks, so I decided to lapbook the lessons. I posted them a few weeks ago here: The Boxcar Children Lapbook for Beyond Five In A Row Vol I, and we got started on them yesterday. So far, so good! This is a different ‘style’ lapbook than we’ve done previously; usually the mini-books are all on the same theme. In this case, because the lesson plan pulls so many different aspects into it, I’ve had to re-think lapbook organization. Truthfully, the lapbook probably won’t make much sense without the lesson guide, but feel free to use them if you like.

On the schedule for this year are:

  • continuing with karate – Loverly Husband and PeaGreen are both orange belts; LBB and I are both yellow belts. We’re completed a year of training, and participated in our dojo’s New Year’s Day tradition of Hatsu Geiko, or 1,000 Kicks, to re-commit ourselves to our training for the coming year.

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  • Spanish Lessons – our local library has organized a children’s conversational Spanish course to be held once a month with a group of volunteer teachers. We went to the first class this evening, and it sounds like they’re going to have a lot of hands-on type things. It sounded interesting and can’t wait to get started! The theme for the next class is ‘food’, so we can interpret that how we like, I suppose. 
  • Spiral Scouts – we’re starting a new Spiral Scouts group in our area. I have issues with Boy Scouts, so that was out, but scouting always sounded like so much fun! There’s just nothing like that in this area; we’ve been in need of a more inclusive scouting program here for years. I’ve known about SS for a while, and am glad to be getting started with it.
  • I don’t have a main curriculum for math right now; we’re going to work on solidifying some of the core concepts before picking up again and moving forward. LBB is working on division with decimals, and PeaGreen is working on division with remainders at the moment; I’m content to work on that and multiplication tables for a few weeks. We used Timez Attack for a while last year so I think we’re going to use that a bit more for a while.
  • The boys both got tablets for Christmas and already, two days int the new year, they’re getting quite a bit of actual school-use from them. We’ve been working on research projects each week, so that laid a good foundation for them to be able to do independent research. Already, they’ve been asked to and successfully located information about Gertrude Chandler Warner for a research paper on her, and several bits of information for their Viking Adventure lapbook, and definitions for vocabulary. I am loving that I don’t have to give up my computer for them to do their work!
  • Something new I want to try this year is visual writing prompts. I found an article by Rosina Lippi  a while back on Pinterest where she was talking about using them, and it made me start a pin board for interesting  pictures that we might use for writing prompts. We haven’t started that yet (only 2 days in), but I am looking forward to using them.
  • Science is another area that I am not set on yet. I am thinking that we may go ahead and do REAL Science Odyssey. I am thinking Level I Chemistry and then Level 2 Biology in a few months… we’ll see. I have science textbooks for days, so we may stick with those.
  • We’re doing Story of the World III this year, but aren’t starting it just yet. We’re in the middle of II, and are taking a break to pursue Vikings at the moment; I found a lapbook that corresponds with Viking Adventure by Clyde Robert Bulla, so we just got started in that. We were/are doing the SoTW lapbook from Chronicle of the Earth at RunOfTheMillFamily’s blog, but she’s on hold for now; we may or may not be ready to start SoTWIII by the time she has started posting new minibooks… that’s a  ‘wait and see’ game. In the mean time, I have started working on lapbooking components for III just in case.
  • We are still doing Latin; still Cambridge I. Hopefully we will get into II sometime this year.
  • Science Fair is coming up in the spring, with the Texas Regional Homeschool Science Fair in March/April. We’re going to go this year, I think – maybe not compete in the TRHSF, but at least go to get the kids excited about next year.
  • And, of course, our local homeschool group is active, as ever. We just updated our calendar for the group’s activities through June and we have a ton of fun stuff planned.

So… that’s a look at what we’re doing/thinking about for the coming year. We’re off to a really good start, and I look forward to sharing our continued journey with you!

Warmly,
~h


The Boxcar Children BYFIAR Lapbook

 Beginning in January, we will be working on literature-based unit studies for our spring semester. When my kids were younger, we worked through the Five in A Row series, and we loved it. We’ve gotten away from it, so I thought that with the plan to go back to literature units, it might be a good time to revisit FIAR.

We’re using Beyond Five in A Row, which uses chapter books instead of picture books. Volume I starts with Gertrude Chandler Warner’s The Boxcar Children. Though we have the activity guide, I thought it would be fun to work the activities lapbook-style, and so have created lapbook templates for each chapter, based on the activities in Beyond Five in A Row, Volume I. You can likely do the lapbook without the activity guide, but it is my recommendation that you have BYFIAR I as these templates are intended to complement, not replace the BYFIAR activities. Also, there are some activities that would not have translated into a mini-book.

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If you enjoy these templates, please feel free to link back to this page! I’d love to see pictures of your lapbooks.

Warmly,
~h

(disclaimer: no copyright infringement is intended in any way; these templates are for personal use only.)


Fall is in the air!

This week marks our second week back since our break, which was so very nice; Loverly Husband was able to take the latter half of the week off as well, so we went with some friends down to Galveston for a day spent on the beach – so much fun!

Last week was pretty easy-going – just a normal school week, but the weather… oh, the weather! We had our first cool front of the season come through on Oct. 1st, which has been so amazing! I have been ready for sweater-weather since, oh… May… and so far the weather is holding in the 60’s-80’s range and I am in heaven.

I am peppering this post with lovely fall foliage because here down South, we don’t get the kinds of color changes that the Northern states get. Even though I have lived in the South my whole life, I miss fall foliage. I feel like it’s something that I had once and have lost – it’s such a weird feeling! So this is as close as I am going to get.

Like I mentioned above, we spent a lot of time on the beach when we were out of school. The weather is perfect to beachy-time fun – not blisteringly hot, and the water is right on the cusp of cold. It makes for such a great day. The place that we’ve been going is nice, too. It’s a city-kept park, so the sand is clean (well, as clean as sand can be, I suppose) and swept – only bad thing about that is the lack of collectibles – they all get swept away. But the water is nice, too – no seaweed touching me under the waves – I actually went out chest-deep in the water with the kids to play.

We took a field trip to Lutcher Theater in Orange to see ‘The Man Who Planted Trees’, a story about a man who lived in  a barren area of France and spent his time herding sheep and planting acorns. Eventually, the acorns grew, and turned the desolate plain into a lush forest. This particular performance was by the Edinburgh-based Puppet State Theatre Company, which is known for  its clever combination of puppetry, storytelling, choreography as a multi-sensory experience. I have to say that this is one of my favorite performances we’ve been to in a while. Since it was a small play; just the two gentlemen pictured and a small set with a handful of puppets and props, the theater opted to hold the performance backstage – so the kids got to see how ‘behind the scenes’ works. It was such a nice, intimate feeling.

The artists, themselves were amazing. Very calm and they just made it such a great experience! They sprinkled lavender essential oil on a huge fan and wafted the scent through the theater, spritzed the kids with water-guns, waved birds on strings right over our heads and wrapped up with the scent of fresh mint. It was really a wonderful performance!

If you’re interested in seeing the story, there’s an animated version of the book on Vimeo here. A slight content warnings from 7:00 to 7:40; 14:00 to 14:15,  if you have sensitive littles, but other than that, it’s very similar to the performance. There’s a study guide for the performance at Lutcher Theater’s website here, if you’re interested in using this as a unit study.

From a secular viewpoint, there are a couple of mentions of God and creation, but depending on your viewpoint, this could be simply a figure of speech shaped by culture, especially in light of a comment made about ‘man being as effective at God in something other than destruction’, and about Elzéard Bouffier’s accomplishments ‘being worthy of God’. There are references to Lazarus emerging from the tomb, and to the land of Canaan – again, this could be a literary reference rather than a religious one.

In other news, Loverly Husband and I also both had belt tests this past week – I’m a yellow belt and he is an orange belt now. That makes everyone in our family officially a ‘colored’ belt! The kids will both (hopefully) test in December.

This week, we went with our homeschool group to the Fire Museum of Texas in celebration of Fire Safety Week. Their theme this year is ‘have 2 ways out’, so we talked about the door as our primary escape route, and how to safely exit a window – our house is old and the windows are hard to open, so just open and exit wouldn’t work. They’d need to break the glass safely (eyes away from the window), and to lay a towel or blanket over the sill and shoes or another blanket to cover the ground below the window in order to avoid cut feet. We reviewed all of our fire safety plan for our house and checked the alarms and batteries; between this and the recent 911 Operations Center field trip, the kids are well-rehearsed in what to do in case of an emergency!

One of the things I really wanted to work on this year was community service oriented projects. So far, we’ve participated in the Adopt-A-Beach program at Sea Rim State Park, and spent an afternoon making get well cards to Houston veterans; up next is part of the kids’ environmental science curriculum. I’m really proud of how the boys have stepped up and made these projects fun to do.

They’ve chosen the Save A Manatee Club as their beneficiary and are raising funds to adopt a manatee through their program. They need a total of $70 to meet their goal; with fundraising season being in full swing in the public school system (we’ve bought cookie dough from several kids in our dojo, and contributed to Jump Rope for Heart), I figure now is a s good a time as any for the boys to work on their campaign. All of the funds raised, both in person and online will go to the Save A Manatee Club in Florida.

The boys have each chosen a manatee that they’d like to adopt this year. PeaGreen chose NICK, who is a small adult male who was first identified in 1977. His movements have been tracked by radio telemetry, producing information on behavior such as going north, rather than south, in midwinter — hence his nickname, “Crazy Nick.” http://www.savethemanatee.org/adopt_blue_spring.htm; and LBB chose BAMA, a manatee who made history in September 2009 when she became the first manatee ever captured and tagged in Alabama waters by Dauphin Island Sea Lab’s Manatee Sighting Network. Now a local attraction in Mobile Bay in the spring and summer, Bama has migrated from Alabama to Crystal River, Florida each winter. http://www.savethemanatee.org/adopt_alabama.html

Looking at the age ranges of some of these animals, I am surprised at how old they are, and at how long they’ve been being tracked. Some of them are travelers, too! We’re starting a lapbook on manatees as well, to go with this project (so look for that to be posted soon)!

Click the picture to be taken to our GoFundMe page if you’d like to donate to help the boys meet their goal!

Unfortunately, my computer in the school room (where I normally compose my blog posts) is acting up, or I’d have more pictures for this post – I’ll either update this post or just make a new one when I get that computer up (hopefully this evening).

This coming week is full of fun stuff – Vampire Diaries premiere  … and a bunch of other stuff. The main thing is the VampDiaries season premiere though. {wink} I’m hosting a silly fangirl party for all of my thirty-something girlfriends to come squee like 15 year olds, lol. Silly, indulgent fun, that. Looking forward to it!

Hope your week is busy being awesome!
Warmly,
~h


NBTSBH Curriculum Week: Planning 4th and 5th grade

So as of today, we’re officially ‘back to school’ – yay!!

That means that it’s time to play ‘Not Back to School Blog Hop‘! Yay!! I love this time of year – it’s so… exciting. Everything is all hustle and bustle and getting ready for doing things! This past summer was the first time since we started homeschooling that we’ve taken a lengthy break (not that we’ve been idle), and even the kids are actually looking forward to school starting up again.

Rather than be frustrated with the school year not working out the way I’d envisioned, with a few changes to the fall programme I am quite happy with the way that she summer has worked out. We’ve had a full 8 weeks of summery-time fun, and spent tons of quality time with friends. The kids have gotten to attend some pretty awesome classes and even though it wasn’t structured, got plenty of learning in as well. Now that all that is past, it’s time to drag out the books, clean out the files and start fresh.

Some ideas that I’ve played with over the last few years that I want to put fully into practice again:

  • workboxes – I am a fan of workboxes. We’ve struggled to find the exact right method of ‘box’, and are trying out one more . Eventually, I think I’d like to have this style:

This isn’t my picture, but this is the style I want to use. Everything is open and visible at a glance – I can see what’s inside the boxes at any time without having to mess with them. But for now, we’re using the file box system. I did print out some workbox tags from HeartofWisdom (and some from HomeschoolCreations as well) to help the kids see ‘at a glance’ what they have in their files for the day.

We have 12 boxes; we’ve been talking about this already for a while now. We started preparing for the ‘first day of school’ about 3 weeks out; I wanted them well-prepared with what to expect this year. I am putting the onus on them to get their work and chores done – with everything spelled out and in their boxes, as long as they follow the next box, they shouldn’t have any trouble – or get into trouble – for not fullfilling their responsibilities.

With middle school on the horizon in the fall of next year, I need to see more than a little independent work from them, especially LittleBoyBlue (who will be 11 in December). He has ADHD and SPD – but he also has a large repertoire of coping strategies to help him stay focused; there’s no reason I cannot expect him to handle this level of responsibility. After all, this is what we’ve been working towards! And I will still be there to offer reminders.

  • meditation/quiet time/reflection time – some sort of similar idea Mind jar

W"I Am In Charge Of How I Feel And Today I Am Choosing Happiness."e’ve been using our mind jars for quite some time now, though probably not as often as we could, and I have noticed that the boys are more easily able to contain themselves when we make meditation practice a more regular part of their days.

I have also been attending group meditation at the local Buddhist temple and Unity church, and find that in addition to my own formal private meditation practice, these group meditations are useful. I think that we’re going to start incorporating some sort of mindful meditation as part of our school schedule this year, even if it’s only 15 minutes or so a couple of times each week, with an eye towards having the kids attend in the near future. We’re not ‘religious’, but this sort of consideration for the needs of the spirit/soul/inner self/mind – whatever you want to call it, are helpful, I think.

Another area we’ve been slacking in is organized group charity work. AT one point, we had a HEARTS group, but that kind of fizzled out.  Coyote Communications has a lot of great suggestions for community service work, and we’re planning our homeschool group’s calendar tomorrow at our weekly meet-up, so I am bringing a list and getting some plans on the books. 

In addition to the regular subjects, math, grammar, handwriting (yes, still), spelling, geography, science, history and the like, I want to work on extra-curriculars. We’ve talked for a while about doing ‘adventure scouts’ with our local homeschool group – a scouting group that is completely secular and utterly non-discriminatory – for our kids to participate in, but we’ve never gotten it off the ground. I’d like to work on that this year. The kids’ hiking vests have gotten too small, so it looks like we’ll be getting new ones in the near future, too! (Oy… do I move all the patches, or just start getting new ones??)

As for some of the resources we’ll be using this year, I decided to go with a different big workbook than we have been using. I decided on American Education Publishing’s 4th and 5th grade Comprehensive Curriculum books to try out. There are actually 2 versions of these books; one is older and one is newer. I think I like the older version better, but both seem a little more challenging than the Harcourt books. The 5th grade books has a section called ‘citizenship’ that I am using as a guide for both boys, and there’s an ‘environmental science’ section as well with projects and activities that they can both do. These workbooks are pretty much our guide for covering basic skills in reading comprehension, math, grammar and phonics. I supplement that with activities like journaling, copywork, narration, dictation and reading aloud. We’re implementing a ‘student teacher’ section on Fridays where instead of the boys doing their reading lesson, they can teach it to me and their brother (the idea being that when you can teach it, then you know it).

I haven’t gotten the 5th grade Core Knowledge book yet, but I do have the standards for 4th and 5th grade printed out. (It’s the ‘download the sequence’ tab in the menu here. Although I like the ‘What Your X Grader Needs to Know’ books, we don’t use them for much past the checklist of skills. I may get it later, but I don’t need it right now. This is one reason why I like the big workbooks – it’s covering the basic skills for each grade level without much fuss.

For History, we’re still using Story of the World II and the lapbook from Run of the Mill Family (which is *awesome*). There isn’t a lapbook for Volume III, so I may be writing one! I am loosely using Mosaic’s activity guide for year II, but in January we will have to find a new activity resource. I may end up getting the actual SotW III book and guide. So far, between our timeline, the lapbook and additional reading and video watching, history has been pretty well-rounded, though I would like to add some more hands-on activities this year.

We’re doing a composer study each month; starting this month, our composer is Ludwig Von Beethoven. Miss Music has a great page with some basic info for different composers, and notebooking pages from Practical Pages (and their composer of the month wall chart as well). We’re only hitting composer study once or twice each week, so a month-long lesson on each composer (and possibly a lapbook) seems much more doable than one each week. I’d like to do an artist study as well… but one thing at a time, I think.

We’re using Seterra for geography, as well as some Practical Pages geography lapbooking. I am considering making just one big geography lapbook instead of breaking each thing up into smaller sections, but I am not decided just yet. Seterra has some nifty little flash games that help with identifying geographical features; the boys like games, so  that worked out well.

Great way to get the kids to evaluate themselves and their learning.Another idea I came across (on Pinterest) was to give the kids self-assesment tools, such as this poster, rather than rely on my interpretation of how they’re doing. We’re going to play with this a bit and see how we can incorporate it into their space. I am thinking that maybe we’ll talk about some of the assignments before they get started and see where they think they are, then afterwards, review again and see if they feel like they learned it. Not on everything, obviously – that would take a LONG time! – but when they seem to get ‘stuck’, maybe… idaknow… I’m still working on that.

So there you have it… a pretty good look at what we’re going to be doing and using over the next few months. To see more homeschool planning goodness, check out Heart of the Matter Online for their Not Back to School Blog Hop!

Warmly,

~h


MLK Day Festivities and Notebooking

In celebration of Dr. King’s birthday, we’ve been working on expanding last year’s lapbook into this year’s notebooking. I came across a nifty ‘how to make notebooking pages‘ from Squidoo via Jimmie’s Collage (which has tons of really great notebooking info, and Jimmie also does The Notebooking Fairy blog) and whipped up a few for the kids to use instead of the dreaded handwriting workbook.

I’ve been meaning to get the kids into something other than a workbook for handwriting for a while now, and I think notebooking will fit the bill nicely. We’re taking it slow and easy – just working on forming letters and small passages – but I think that they need the practice and that writing real words instead of just practicing letters will help their writing become more fluid. I already notice that their cursive writing is significantly neater than their print, so we’re going to be stepping up the cursive writing portion quite a bit this year.

I know, I know – the debate about cursive is endless, but that’s a topic for another post! Moving on…

As our first real foray into honest-to-goodness ‘notebooking’, the boys have actually gotten off to a pretty good start. We’re going to be working on the Dr. King theme all this week; there’s a lot of information to cover and just one day won’t be enough time (and too much writing in one sitting makes fo grouchy boys).  I am using much of the info from the unit study I posted yesterday from The Homeschool Mom’s site, the kids are researching online, and they’re using the information we compiled in our MLK lapbook to complete their notebooking pages. We’ve been doing weekly research projects for the past few months, so this is a step in a useful direction – not only locating the information, but presenting it in a more polished form – still fairly simple, but more story-structured (with complete sentences and everything!).

We’re off to a pretty good start with our weekly field trips – it was wet and rainy so the rest of our group (who were all coming from 20+ minutes away) opted to stay out of the weather, but we had an… educational experience with just our own company. It’s not really a ‘fun’ park; there’s no play gym or anything like that – it’s just more or less a lovely rest area with concrete walls along one side that have information on Dr. King’s life and work, and quotes from various letters, speeches and papers. It’s a somber experience, reading about what he accomplished and endured, and how he was persecuted for standing up for something we pretty much take for granted in such a ‘big’ way. The concrete plaques that are engraved are as tall as I am and there are 12 of them.

It was interesting listening to the kids talk about Dr. King’s words. They’ve never experienced anything like the kind of atmosphere that Dr. King lived in; I don’t know if they really understand (for that matter, I don’t know that *I* really understand) what it must have been like for the average person (white or black) to live in such a climate. For what it’s worth, I am thankful that the kids don’t live in that type of limited environment, and for Dr. King’s efforts towards both a non-violent approach and the end of racial segregation.

Some pictures from our trip today:

We’ll be wrapping our week up with completing our notebooking pages on Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement, and continuing to adjust to our suddenly very busy schedule now that we’ve added the Couch to 5K program and karate. We had a nice long break and are finally getting back into the groove… at least until our first break, which is still a couple of weeks off.

What about you – any new and interesting MLK links for this year?

Warmly,
~h


Project WILD

I just finished the Project WILD – Wildlife in Learning Design courses! Well, almost. My kids aren’t old enough to worry about going through the Science and Civics course that’s offered for high school students, so eventually I will go back and do that one, but I am done with all of the one that my kids can use right now. Yay!!

If you haven’t heard about this group of programs, then it’s definitely something to look into. They have a short video and a longer one that tells all about the program. We’ve used the activity guides so many times – both in our classroom and in group activities with our homeschool group. They’re fun, fast and easy to put together – definitely worth the time it takes to go through the training course.

Project Wild’s mission is to provide wildlife-based conservation and environmental education that fosters responsible actions toward wildlife and related natural resources. Project WILD accomplishes its goal of developing awareness, knowledge, skills and commitment by linking students and wildlife through hands-on activities brought to life through creative use of the activity guides available through program workshops. These activity guides are available to teachers, parents and youth leaders through professional training workshops. They are balanced and aligned with state standards of education and are designed to be easy to incorporate into current classroom activities. Getting the students intimately familiar with wildlife and conservation results in the making of informed decisions, responsible behavior, and constructive action concerning wildlife and the environment.

I’ll be honest – my first exposure to Project WILD was when a mom in our group showed us her activity guide. I wanted one, and if that meant enduring a 6 hour training course to get one, then so be it. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how informative and entertaining the classes have been. Just going through the workshops, I realized how much we tend to take for granted – resources that we don’t think twice about today are going to be major players on the environmental front as our children get older. As much talk as there is about environmental awareness, I think that wildlife education and conservation is an under-served area. Having these materials on-hand, with a good run-through during the training workshops has made it easier and more likely that I think about how to bring wildlife conservation into the running theme of environmental awareness.

The classes themselves were quite similar. We learned about Project Wild (or the specific category) and then did several of the activities. Afterwards, we chatted about how we might tweak or change the activity to suit older or younger kids, or how we might use the activity concept in another lesson. Towards the end of the class, we had a crash-course in learning how to use the book – how to look up an activity that fits the needs of your specific lesson. Most of the activities are organized in several ways; alphabetically, by topic or category, by age group, by time frame and whether it is an indoor or outdoor activity. So you can look up an activity that is specific to your current topic, or just as a quickie if you want a group activity that’s outside that takes 30 minutes – easy to find. It may sound odd, but I left with a very good understanding and ideas of how to use these books the next day with my kids. You’re more likely to use the materials you’re familiar with and I felt that the training courses I went through prepared me very well. Special thanks to Amanda Adair, Mary Kay Manning and Mary Anne Weber for putting on wonderful classes!

Practically speaking, we’re using these books quite a bit. I’ve been able to incorporate the activities in the guide with our science, literature, geography, math and art lessons seamlessly. Some of the activities work well in lapbooks and unit studies, as well as just add-ons to whatever else we’re doing. The books are kinda bulky, and since they’re bound, it makes handling them and copying pages a pain, so I sliced off the binding and put my books into binders. I put the Project Wild, Aquatic and Growing Up into one binder (since they’re all in a similar format) and the Flying Wild book into a binder of its own.

The Growing Up Wild book is huge – it’s a spiral pad that’s around 24″ x 11′. It was extremely difficult to store, so I folded the pages almost in half and put them in the binder. Then I just fold the page I want out to use it, or take it out of the binder completely.

Having the pages loose also makes it easier to pull an activity out when we’re going somewhere. For example, I tend to write posts at night and schedule them for the next day. So as you’re probably reading this, the kids and I are meeting up with some friends and frolicking along the Texas coast. Since we’ll have several kids there, and we’re going to be near the water, I know I am going to want something from either the Aquatic or Flying books – maybe both.  Having an activity available on-hand makes it easy to incorporate something educational into our play.

Project Wild is a national program, so check here to find your state’s info. The other programs are part of Project Wild, but also have their own web pages or sites: Project Wild Aquatic, Flying Wild and Growing Up Wild (early childhood, ages 3-7 – however I am finding enough activities that my 9 year old ADHD/SPD child enjoys that I am glad I went through the training course. Growing Up Wild is the only book that is available to purchase without the training course.). Project WILD is not the only program like this, I also found information on Project WETProject WetCity and Project Learning Tree, which is through the Forestry Service.

Another perk to these types of classes is TEEAC certification. I am not entirely sure just yet what all those lovely stickers mean for me yet, but since I have a handful, I am motivated to collect more – enough to make up the 45 hours required to get TEEAC certified. I am thinking that when the kids are older, I might like to go into EE work – through one of the state or national parks, so I am sure that this will help with that. Learn more about the Texas Association for Environmental Education here.

Are you using Project Wild materials? Or other similar EE materials?

Warmly,

~h


Homeschooling and Worksheets

Worksheets get a bum rap.

There, I said it. Even though it is universally known that ‘proper’ homeschoolers all loathe and despise them and that they are not featured in ‘real’ homeschooling…. I kinda like them. So that’s what this post is about. It may alternately be titled, “In Defense of Worksheets in Homeschooling: A Perspective”.

To make things easier, I am going to use the term ‘worksheet’ to mean either worksheets or workbooks (which are essentially bound volumes of worksheets). Before you get your nose out of joint, I need to explain to you what I mean when I say ‘use worksheets’. You may have noticed that when I talk about worksheets, I say that we don’t ‘do’ them. In fact, I say that fairly often – not necessarily here, but certainly in forums and such. I should clarify – we don’t ‘do’ them, but we do use them. Often. That may seem to be a contradiction, but it’s quite a difference in definition in my book.  The word ‘do’ is almost always in quotations when I say that; that’s because my version of ‘do’ is not the same as what ‘do’ means in the classroom.

For starters, I’ll agree with those who say that worksheets are just repetition, or that they’re disengaging, or that they’re boring and so on and so forth… yeah, yeah, yeah, I get all that. But the information contained on or in the worksheet is (sometimes) useful. I say sometimes because I’m not talking about just any ol’ worksheet; I’m talking about well-planned, leveled worksheets; worksheets that go along with lessons as a review or to solidify concepts through practice – not busy work. When I say ‘use’, I don’t mean handing your kids a worksheet, sending them to their desk and expecting them to do 30 of the same thing over and over again. I mean using the worksheet the same way that you might use any other tool – to help with a task; in this case, cementing information or concepts in the mind.

Many of the worksheets that my kids ‘do’ come from a workbook (though I do print them from different places online; SuperTeacherWorksheets is a favorite but we use it primarily when I am looking for something specific). Even though we utilize the pages, our use of them comes mainly in the form of discussing what is on the page and then using the actual page to record anything they want to remember about the information. They may actually work some of the problems or answer the questions as repetition, but rarely do they just go ‘do a worksheet’.  Much of the material is covered on the chalkboard (yes, we have an old-school style chalkboard in our school room. Two, actually. {wink}) or orally. Many times, the worksheet is in front of ME and the kids are bouncing around answering questions that I toss at them. We also use videos to kick off new concepts (like homophones). Simple, but effective for my kids (YMMV).

So, you may ask, ‘why use worksheets? Aren’t there other ways of doing that?’ Well yes, of course there are other ways of accomplishing this same thing, and I am not dismissing those methods at all. In fact, one method that we will be using quite a bit in coming years is notebooking – essentially writing everything instead of going over the material on the workbook pages. We don’t use it right now because my boys are not yet strong writers or strong spellers. I suppose I could answer, “Mom, how do you spell” 6,000 times a day, or I could allow each lesson to take 2 hours because they need to look each work up in the dictionary… but I’d rather not do that. So we’re taking baby steps to get to the point where tons of writing is feasible (having said that, whether that style will work for my kids remains to be seen and is another matter entirely) – mainly, starting with copywork* and a word bank. We’re working on an index card style version, which is basically a dictionary that they write on index cards and file at their desks that is made up of words they have learned or are learning to spell.

This year we used an all-in-one curriculum workbook as a guide for the kids work. Since we don’t use a boxed curriculum, I found that this is a really good way to keep us moving through the lessons. I have a tendency to get bogged down in the lessons – where one thing can be learned, there are 7 more that can enhance it! Using the workbooks as a guide keeps me on-track and moving so we’re not lost in one thing for weeks on end (like our US Constitution lapbook – we spent 4 weeks on that almost a year ago and didn’t finish it, but I am STILL burned out on it). Some things, like grammar concepts, they’ll cover over and over every year, so even though they may not have mastered homophones just yet, we can safely move on because we’ll cover it again in a few months.

And then there are some worksheets that I do give them with the expectation that they will take to their desks and work independently. You may have noted our struggles with working independently in the past and this summer, much of the math work they’ll be doing will be a review of already-known concepts. Since this is a review, I do expect them to know it and to work independently. But that doesn’t mean that they are required to do exactly as the worksheet directs. I often give alternate directions, or allow them to come up with their own version of what to do. I sometimes wonder if that’s not doing them a disservice – teaching them, or allowing them to think that things are negotiable, but I tend to feel that most things are negotiable, so maybe it’s not such a bad thing after all.

This is really all I have to say about it; I just wanted to offer a different perspective to that of the vocal majority of worksheet-hating homeschoolers. Carry on!

Warmly,

~h

*copywork: this article is on the value of copying a painting and is directed at student artists, but I think it’s an excellent article and can be extended, for many of the same reasons, to the printed word. Copying sentences, phrases, paragraphs, quotes, poems – all of this and more can be used to reinforce ideals, expose new ideas, improve penmanship, reinforce grammar and spelling, teach prose… the benefits are myriad. For more on copywork, check out:

Counter Cultural School,  Homeschool Jungle and this thread from the Well Trained Mind forums.


Lesson Planning: Summer 2011

 If you’re a long-time reader at This Adventure Life, you may have noticed that I am not doing lesson planning posts for each mod the way that I did last year. One of the reasons that I haven’t been doing them is because we’re not switching materials with the same frequency that we did last year.

2010 was our first year homeschooling with school-age kids (we’d gotten in a couple of years of home-pre-school before LBB started K), and as a newbie, I was experimenting with different styles, different methods, different schedules – basically trying out as much as we could to find what works and what doesn’t. I’m glad we did it that way; we got a look at a ton of different materials and tried on quite a few ‘homeschooling hats’ and got a feel for what we liked and didn’t, what worked and what we should change. If you’re new to homeschooling, I’d definitely recommend approaching your first year in that manner – as an experiment of sorts, to find your groove. The benefit was that going into this, our second year, I felt like a I had a much better grasp on the mechanics of homeschooling, and a better idea of the kinds of materials and lesson styles suited my kids best. For the most part, we’ve stayed pretty consistent with our materials and methods – we’re still using what we started with in January (though we’re finished with some of it already) and our 4 weeks on/1 week off schedule works well.

If you want ‘categorization’, I’m really not sure where we fall in the homeschool styles spectrum (though I did find this nifty teaching style quiz. I’m a 56 – combined parent/child directed. I think that’s pretty accurate, though I see a lot of what’s described as ‘traditional’ in my style as well). I see us as fairly easy-going, but by no means do we fall into the ‘relaxed’ homeschooler category. We’re also not ‘rigorous’, though we do have a lovely schedule and manage to stick to it a goodly portion of the time – at least for the months that fall within the traditional school year. For the summer months though, since we school year-round, we’re making some adjustments to the schedule to accommodate the goings-on in our community.

I have divided our school year into ‘sessions’ to accommodate what feels like a good pattern for us. The Winter Session is January – May. Summer Session is May-August, and the Fall Session is September – December. Our heaviest session, work-wise is the Winter Session. It’s the longest (5 months), and is the beginning of the new school year, so everything is all shiny and new. During the summer, my niece Fred (y’all remember Fred, don’t you?) spends a significant amount of time with us, so it’s somewhat impossible to hold a ‘regular’ school day with a sometimes-guest. This year we’ll be coordinating her visits with our activity days, so we’ll have a bit of a better routine this year, I hope.

We’re fortunate to live in an area where there are many summer offerings to take advantage of in the community, on both a city-wide and state-wide level. With gas prices being so high, that will curb our comings and goings on longer trips, but around town, there is still plenty to keep us occupied.

Our local libraries (in our county and two neighboring ones) all offer a summer reading club. In addition to the book/reading part, each of them host different kids’ events for several weeks; puppet shows, magic shows, local Parks & Wildlife and Rangers give presentations, our local art museum has a mobile program, the Houston Zoo’s Mobile Zoo comes, Gator Country does presentations… it’s a pretty extensive list of ‘things to do’ that offers plenty of material for a homeschooling family to use as a jumping-off point for unit studies and lessons – and that’s just from the library.

Texas Nature Challenge 2011We also have the Texas Nature Challenge, with missions from all over the bayou region (all over the state, really), we have the chance to explore state parks and other educational attractions with an eye towards education and conservation. This year’s missions include destinations such as Matagorda Bay Nature Park and Natural Science Center, Sheldon Lake State Park & Environmental Learning Center, Sea Center Texas and Habitat March at Nature Discovery Center’s Russ Pitman Park, among others.

And then there are the museum programs, visits to friends’ homes and Spindletop Rollergirls games, community service projects, 4H, and whatever else piques our interest. We like to stay busy!

HomeschoolShare.com‘s extensive list of unit studies and lapbooks will come in handy, I’m sure. We’ll cater more to the boys’ interests (ages 8 and 9; in 3rd and 4th grade-ish) this summer and focus less on ‘curriculum’, though we will continue with some basics, just not as rigorously. I did buy a couple of workbooks for the summer, Math Minutes and Summer Activities for the Gifted Student (just to clarify on that one; no, I don’t think my children are ‘gifted’ – well, they’re both exceedingly bright, but we’re not talking savant-level genius or anything. That’s just the name of the workbook. Don’t get your panties in a twist over it. {wink}).

We’ve used the Math Minutes workbook before; it’s 100 lessons with 10 problems on each page, designed to be done in 1 minute. LBB took more like 10, and often did 2 pages at a time, but then we used that as a bridge between ‘OMG, we’re homeschooling!!’ and ‘proper math curriculum for properly homeschooled child’. We’re >thisclose< to being done with this ‘grade’, so the two new books will be used here and there where needed to supplement our more regular, though considerably lighter than during the Winter Session. (On a side note, when I was looking for the Amazon link to the Math Minutes workbooks, I came across this: Math Minutes by Sadlier-Oxford Publishing. It’s a website that you can use to practice math concepts. You choose the category and set the time and then go. We haven’t used it yet, but it looks interesting. Just thought I’d share…)

In addition to the already full summer plan, two of our local movie theaters also do a kids’ program; one previously-released kids movie each week for $1 per ticket. You can’t beat that and since we don’t often go to the movies, we’re planning on taking advantage of that this summer as well.

I can’t wait to get started! What’s on your calendar for the summer?

Warmly,

~h