Last time I posted, we were in the middle of our ‘soft start’ back to school. Since then, it’s been a struggle trying to figure out what our new ‘normal’ looks like. Before hurricane Harvey struck, we’d been experimenting with a block schedule, but without any impetus to really give it a good try, it’s just been a thing more in theory than in practice. But since we are still living with friends right now, and not in our own space where we can school as we normally do, we’ve revisited the idea of a block schedule in truth as a way to make the most of our time and energy (and limited space and resources).
Block scheduling, for those who aren’t familiar with the concept, is basically where you do only one or two subjects per day, but rather than spread the lessons out over the course of the week, you do several lessons in that subject all at once. Colleges usually have block scheduling. Here’s a sample of what our (ideal) block schedule looks like right now:
- Mondays: science, SAT practice and music (orchestra class)
- Tuesdays: history, civics, SAT practice & music
- Wednesdays: math, SAT practice & music
- Thursdays: co-op (including orchestra class)
- Fridays: grammar, literature, SAT practice & music (orchestra practice at home and private lessons on their second instrument)
I say ‘ideal’ because we are still displaced from Harvey, and keeping any kind of regular schedule is… difficult, at best. At this point, if we manage to get *any* schooling done, I am counting it as a success. We are eight weeks out, and I literally have no idea when our lives will return even to a glimpse of ‘normal’. But we’re working on establishing whatever good habits, school-wise, we can, and music practice is a big part of that.
LBB is still catching up to where the class is after switching to cello from violin over the summer, and PeaGreen (who is still playing violin for co-op) has experimented with several instruments including piano, guitar, ukulele, and coronet and has now decided that saxophone is the one for him. With a saxophone in hand now (thanks to a very generous friend), he’s confident that his future as a jazz musician is assured. We’ll see how that goes. LBB has tried guitar and piano, and is just focusing on cello for now.
Practice in ‘not our house’ has been difficult. I don’t know if our music stands were tossed in the cleanup, or if they’re very well-packed, but I couldn’t find them so we’ve had to make-do. Fortunately, that’s been resolved since these pictures were taken (thanks Amazon Prime 2-day free shipping*!!). LBB’s been using my cello book in class, so I also got him a new book, strings and a bow for PeaGreen (the one PG is using is his teacher’s) so we’re finally set for orchestra to resume. Co-op as well; we started up a couple of weeks ago, but the first class back ended up being a social thing with no classes since the kids hadn’t seen each other in a month. Hurricanes are hard to deal with in so many ways; I’ve been through them before with younger kids (Rita when they were 2/3, and Ike when they were 5/6 or so), and this experience has been harder in some ways and easier in some. When they were younger, being out of our house was an adventure. As long as I was cool, they were cool. Now, they have enough knowledge and interest in the situation to be stressed in their own right, independent of my feelings about the situation. Just another stop on the magical mystery tour of parenting teenagers, I guess.
We did get ‘official’ school pictures done though. Behold:
It’s been hard to decide what the priority thing is lately. Everything is a priority right now, therefore nothing is. It’s a weird place to be in, and stressful because there’s so much to do in every direction. Not only are we cleaning up our own house, but also my dad’s. He lives 2 houses down from us, and was also flooded/rescued during Harvey. He’s also been displaced and is staying with friends. He’s in a wheelchair, so my sister was really the one who did the initial cleanup and set-up of the fans to dry everything out. Along the way, she found a Starbucks gift card in some of my mom’s things (we lost so much of her personal things that we hadn’t gotten to yet – it’s pretty traumatizing), and since she doesn’t drink coffee, passed it along to me. Being without her has been hard; it was nice to have ‘coffee on Mom’ one last time with LBB. I do want to point out that though I did get the picture I wanted (below), LBB thought it was ‘disrespectful’ to make a big deal about having coffee with/on Grammie, which initiated a conversation about grief and processing and the ways and hows that make things okay or distasteful for different people, and how to support different choices and paths of grieving. I forget sometimes that he lost both of his grandmothers within 18 months of each other. It was a good conversation, and a good reminder for me.
Aside from school and life-lessons, the process of cleanup, demolition, and rebuilding continues. We have an old house, so there have been some repairs that we needed to make anyway that the flooding just exacerbated. Workdays at the house are hard, but it’s nice to see progress.
In the chaos, I am trying to remember to be a good mom. PG and I went to see a showing of The Nightmare Before Christmas (which is a traditional Halloween and Christmas Day movie in our house, but that we won’t get to do this year – at least for Halloween. Maybe for Christmas!!) date night. Then the next day, I woke LBB up early to go have breakfast with me, and of course, selfies in the car have become our ‘thing’.
In other news, our library’s homeschool book clubs have started up again. The teen book club was originally scheduled for sometime in September, but got moved for obvious reasons. I was afraid we’d miss it this year; we missed all of last year due to various reasons – the primary one being my mom’s illness and death (and coming to terms with that after the fact). But with the hurricane, it got pushed back to October, so we didn’t miss it after all.
Another ‘after working on the house’ outing – to Orange Leaf for some much needed froyo with Dad.
Somehow, I only have the one picture of PG playing his new pink violin. I’ll have to rectify that soon.
Though it’s very slow-going, we are definitely making some progress on the house. Now that all of the damaged sheet rock is out, we’re making plans for repairs. On my end, that means choosing new paint colors. I’ve decided to go with the same color for all of the rooms except the bedrooms, and gray is the direction I am leaning. I picked up a few paint swatches and put them on the walls to check the color in the house (because it never looks like it does in the store under the fluorescent lights). Most of them were too ‘blue’, and a few too dark or with a green cast to them. I was able to narrow it down a bit, and will get down to three or so and then move the samples to the other walls.
I know that I want my bedroom the same color it was before, but the paint cans are all gone now, so I was really glad I am my same obsessive self, because I was able to go back through blog posts to when we re-did our bedroom to find the paint color – Daring Indigo by Behr. I now have justification for almost a decade of blogging!
At this point, we are just trying to figure out funding. Between FEMA and SBA, hopefully we will be able to make the repairs we need to so that our home is livable again soon. Anyway. That’s pretty much all that’s happening in our world right now. Hope your world is functioning within normal parameters 😉
*disclaimer: this isn’t a sponsored post and I am not an Amazon affiliate. I just appreciate the hell out of a company that can get me things I want/need in 2 days for free. 😉
Every year, I am surprised at how quickly January flies by. Here we are mid-February, and I am still honestly surprised at how quickly this month has flown by. We’ve been slightly busier than usual (and that’s really saying something). Since I last checked in, we’ve managed to wrap up our first 6 weeks of school and are currently enjoying the last few days of our first official break. If you’re new, we follow a 6-on/1-off schedule. It’s true what they say about ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’; the first time I ever heard about this kind of schedule for school was when our local ISD did a trial of it for a single school year. The original idea was that with a year-round schedule, the kids don’t get bored and burned out during the year, and don’t have a months-long break during the summer to lose half of what they’d learning, and the first 6 weeks of the new school year isn’t wasted on catching up. It was a great idea -so much so that it’s stuck with me and I knew that’s what I wanted to try when we started homeschooling. We started out with 6-on/1-off, and have gone through various revisions of it over the years, but we’re back there now and it’s working beautifully.
As I said, this is our off week, and I have to admit that as much as I love the busy schedule we keep, I have absolutely reveled in the last few days of being just home, home, home with few responsibilities (other than the bare minimum required to keep the children alive and basic hygiene requirements met). I even opted out of our homeschool group’s classes this week, which was actually a tiny bit painful, but I really needed the break. Next week, we’ll be back into the swing of things, full stop.
Over the last few weeks, it seems like we’ve been everywhere, seen all the people and done all the things! For the last few months, we’ve been volunteering with our local Atheists Helping the Homeless group, SETX AHH. This month was the largest turnout of volunteers since the group got started back in October 2015, and we were happy to be there to help. My boys, and some of the other kids in our homeschool group manned one of the tables, helping assist mean and women filing up their bags, and directing them to some of the organizers if they had questions the kids couldn’t answer. If your local area has an AHH group, we’ve found our group to be very kid-friendly (with a few FAQs that you might want to consider), and it’s a great opportunity to have the kids involved and actively working with the community.
We try to mix our field trips up each year, and honor local and global culture when possible. Southeast Texas has a thriving Vietnamese community, and Chinese New Year is one of the holidays that the Vietnamese community celebrates each year. We celebrated the Year of the Monkey with a big picnic and craft day, followed by a dragon parade at the Tyrell Park Botanical Gardens.
Afterwards, the boys and I met at the library for the Teen Homeschool Book Club that our amazing librarian, Ms. Robin, hosts each month. The boys read Call of the Wild by Jack London, for this month’s selection. One of the moms is absolutely always on point with refreshments, and brought cupcakes for the kids to decorate, both for Valentine’s Day, and with an eye towards something from their book. LBB’s cupcake is meant to represent Francois from Call of the Wild; PeaGreen seems to have ignored that directive and opted for an inside joke reference with the other kids. I don’t know what the joke is, but they all got a kick out of it.
The boys also got to finish and present their Hawaii projects for our homeschool group’s social studies club. LBB talked about the Hawaiian Hoary Bat, with a drawn and painted diagram, and PG made a model of the Hawaiian Islands, and talked about island formation, and the volcanoes of Hawaii.
In other news, one of the dads in our group offered to host a Dungeons & Dragons Tutorial for the teens in our group, so we spent a Saturday learning how role-playing works. It was really fun, and we’re planning to give it another go soon. I always thought that D&D and other games like that (that were non-electronic and social) were good for developing creativity and I am pleased to see the kids taking an interest. Valentine’s Day was pretty low-key, as usual; we’re not big on a lot of the holidays, other than a nod of acknowledgement, but we did head out to my brother’s for dinner that evening. PeaGreen has spent the last few days there, so LBB and I got to spend some QT together. Today’s festivities included lunch, a coffee date and a long drive to pick up my other kidlet.
How’s your school year going so far?
This year is the first year that we’ve been able to really participate in our local library’s homeschool book club. Over the past few years, we’ve had good intentions, but the day of the week they met was always in conflict with our schedule, or I’d forget about it, or we’d end up with other plans the day of the meeting. So I was excited this year to make the planning meeting, and discover that the stars have finally aligned and that we can participate this year.
The first book that we read was for the month of September. Lois Lowry’s ‘The Giver’ was the selection. I read this book a couple of years ago when my friend PBJMom was going through it with her class (she is a former homeschool expert, now amazing public school teacher). With the movie version that came out this year (which my oldest has seen), I figured that was a pretty good choice, especially if/since some of the kids had probably seen it, and would be more familiar with the story. It’s age-appropriate (middle school, which is my kids’ age, and the age that their book club is designed for), and provocative in that it deals with subjects that I feel are important for kids to consider.
In no way did I think that this was a ‘controversial’ choice, but apparently I was so wrong about that! When we went to discuss the book, I learned that the suitability for this book for this age qroup had been questioned – to the point that rather than selecting a single book to be read and discussed for the month, there is a list of 5 books that the kids can choose from, with a few questions at the discussion that pertain to how the book the student chose affected them, personally. While I don’t think that’s an entirely unworthy pursuit, it’s definitely not what I expected.
In books clubs I’ve previously been part of, the book is chosen and the discussion pertains to that particular book and how it impacts the discussion group members. Ideally, a ‘good’ selection offers something challenging – an idea or viewpoint that the reader hadn’t previously been confronted with, or a situation that broadens the reader’s experience in some way. That’s what I was looking for in a book club for my kids, and I feel like the approach that is being taken in this case is ‘safe’. And by safe, I mean boring, and not challenging, and wrong.
I can’t help but feel like the choice is based on pressures from the conservative and/or religious set in this area. I may be totally off base on that, but I really think that has a lot to do with it. The only ‘objections’ that I’ve been able to find for The Giver come from a conservative and/or ‘fearful’ viewpoint, with questions and concerns about the topics of sexuality, suicide, and rebellion.
Given that the main character is 11/12 years old, I think it’s entirely appropriate for children who are that are to be reading about what a child of a similar age might be seeing, thinking, feeling and dealing with, including the awakening of sexual feelings. A pre-teen is likely dealing with some of those same issues, and struggling to find his or her own identity. Books – especially those that bring new ideas to the table – are essential to their developing sense of morality and individuality. Far better, in my opinion, to read books that a parent finds objectionable with your child than to try to hide it from him. Reading with your child does several things. It enhances the bond you have with your child. It provides opportunities for discussion and exploration of the ideas presented in the book. Talking about those points can help a parent know their child’s mind, and re-direct his or her thinking if necessary.
Reading books together also provides opportunities to talk with your children about topics that you may find uncomfortable, or hard to bring up. Some things just don’t come up in everyday conversation, and trying to segue into them can be difficult without a catalyst. The Giver has a couple of openings that provide an in-road to a discussion about euthanasia, suicide, end of life decisions, eugenics and selective breeding, and a host of governmental and societal topics that we simply don’t have to deal with in our lives. I think those are valuable discussions to have with your kids!
Moving on, the discussion, itself was great! Our librarian is just amazing, and she does a great job at getting the kids engaged in the discussion, even when they’re reluctant to participate, or feel they may not have much to add. She brought popcorn and drinks, and used the game ‘Apples to Apples’ as an ice-breaker to get the kids (and parents) comfortable with talking to each other before she opened the book discussion up. It was a great strategy!
In any case, I don’t think that book clubs should be all about deep discussions, and despite all evidence to the contrary, I really am looking forward to next month’s discussion. The books the kids got to choose from were: Treasure Island, The View from Saturday, Anne of Green Gables, The Book Thief and The Pet War. The boys chose different books originally; PeaGreen was keen to read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, while LBB chose The Pet War by Allan Woodrow. After some discussion, PeaGreen decided to switch to The Pet War as well, so we’re working on that at the moment. We’re in chapter 6, and it’s clever, funny and engaging.
We’re notebooking our way through it, using ‘graphic’ note-taking. PeaGreen has really gotten into it, with pictures and charts, while LBB tends to prefer a more linear style of note-taking. It’s odd to me that they’ve ended up taking notes the way they have; I’d have thought they’d be opposite in their styles. Just goes to show that there’s always something to surprise you!
I’ve read The Book Thief already, and I think when we finish this book, we’re going to read that one, too. It can’t hurt them to be prepared with more than one book!
What are your thoughts on book clubs and ‘controversial’ topics in literature for kids?