Friday, October 2, 2015

Signs Not to Ignore

Sometimes I know that the task set before me may not be easy, but I feel the utter necessity of following through if my kids are going to grow up to be anything more than dissatisfied adults with unfulfilled lives full of tv, bad food and lite beer. We WILL get through this writing/story/French/math/______ today, this week, this month! We are working on stories from India now, what, you hate stories in archaic English that take a minute to understand? So what? Life is tough.

When my neck twinges on one side, I ignore it. Ten minutes later, halfway through lifting my mug of tea to my face, the other side twinges, harder. Dang, too much weight during the workout this morning. I know the signs by now of a pending disaster, I'll be careful for a couple of days; more water, heat, ice, rest.

With children, it can be harder.

It can work for awhile, the obedience and grindstone approach, but you have to open up your eyes to the moment when changing direction would mean greater efficiency, better learning...and more fun. This is homeschooling; you get to have fun. Exercise is meant to improve your health, not wreck it. Education is the same; starting it right can make you want to stay curious your whole life. 

Learning outside of school gives you options that you can't get with a big group of students. I have to remember, sometimes, to use them to my advantage. Diversifying is OK. Going to the hardware store and the thrift store during "school hours" is not a waste of time, it is an adventure and a chance to learn how to budget and create something out of not much. Besides...the Latin CD can be playing in the car on the drive.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Self-Directed Science Study

...and family support and supervision. While researching targets for knife-throwing, Charles came across a recipe for making a cork explosive. Between just these two activities, I believe that our lives would be more complicated in a less understanding, less compassionate neighborhood. So, here is the family, out to watch as, after a whole day of reading, diagramming and assembling, my son:

and we: (clearly expecting the worst)

And then:

We learn, first-hand, about failure, believing everything you see on Youtube, perseverance and the need for further study. No boom.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Latin, Stars, Sailing, Car Washes and Dance

What a vast richness fill our lives. My oldest, Cate, is sailing in Madison today with the U of I sailing club. The next oldest, Duncan, is busy writing music when he is not in his two high school classes or at work, washing cars. He's rediscovered his skate board and is even biking more. Nothing like not having a driver's license yet to motivate one to new levels of locomotion.

Latin is back in our school days, to my great pleasure. Charles expressed an interest in learning Latin and I, super-casually, exercising great restraint, armed with only 3 of my 4 Latin courses, jumped right on that. He is surprised to see that because of his knowledge of Spanish and French, many Latin words make sense right away to him. I am secretly thrilled that because he is learning Latin, the other two languages as well as many English words and grammar rules will be that much easier to integrate.

In science, I am greatly aided by a good friend who has taken Charles into her rigorous anatomy-for- grade-schoolers lesson block this year. He is thrilled to be with a friend who is very close to his level in writing, reading and a super-quick learner. I am reading to him selections from Kovacs' "Muscles and Bones." At home, Valentine and I are doing chemistry, we've begun with fire, and we are taking our time about illustrating and writing out observations and conclusions. The boys are allowed to look on silently as we conduct experiments. They love it.

Astronomy and Latin are two of my unfulfilled, personal ambitions. I spent the summer wishing we were doing more astronomy and reading the Charles Kovacs' "Geology and Astronomy." I also peruse online and print magazines for astronomy amateurs and listen for "StarDate" on the radio, Sadly, every night I planned on star-gazing ended up being either cloud-filled or hosting a raging storm. Tonight, though partial clouds are predicted, we will attend Popular Astronomy Club's free event to hopefully view three planets. I am also ordering the Great Course's "Our Night Sky," which I borrowed and had to give back too quickly to the library twice now.* On our way to Chicago in the dark last week, in the wee hours of the morning, the kids started searching for constellations out the car window. It was spontaneous and fun and I passed around my i-phone's sky chart and we talked about the myths behind the constellations until they all nodded off to sleep.

And little Gaël, already 8 and past the "small" stage, is enjoying learning about everything that comes his way. He is not yet a zealous reader, which seems to be par for the course for an active boy this age, but I can see him delight in reading to me the list of sentences that we add on to each day. I am careful to vary an element in each, so even though they are similar, he actually has to look at the words when reading. This is an exercise in confidence-boosting, as he mostly memorizes what he's read before, global word recognition, and phonetics, or actual sounding-out of letters and combinations of letters. What? How?
I write and read a sentence to him: "Gaël is in the garden." The next day he reads it to me. We add another sentence. Little by little, I ask him to sound out more words rather than just read them to him. We've done all the days of the week, rhyming word guessing games and he writes everything, either in his good book or on the chalk board.

Valentine is back in dance class and has added theatre this year, after the "most amazing, Mama, really!" experience she had this summer in theatre camp, 7 hours a day for three weeks. In past years, she has had the choice of one extra activity, but she has decided she cannot live without both of them. With such shining eyes, full of passion for something I understand all too well, it is hard to resist.**

*If learning more about the sky is on your agenda, here is a link to more resources for amateur astronomers: Sky and Telescope Resources. Our local club hosts events every month, for free! It is on our calendar now.

**For locals: here is the link to our favorite theatre for kids school: The Center

Monday, September 14, 2015

Lesson Plans: Grade 3, 5 and 8

I love this first week of school when everything is fresh and new, as well as the level of enthusiasm; it all seems possible. We will all speak fluent Spanish and read in Latin by the end of THIS school year. They will be performing at a 12th grade level in math and writing stories and reports that put a college freshman to shame. No, I guess I never was ambitious in that way...or not to that extent. I periodically rewrite my hopes and dreams for my kids/students anew in my mind; a love of learning that lasts all their lives, compassion for their fellow human beings, honesty with themselves and others, an honorable, good, a healthy life and happiness.

It is two weeks after beginning this post, so it will be a mix of the planned and the experienced. I was too busy being a perfect homeschooler to take time to write a blog post about it. Now that we've relaxed a bit again, here's what is happening.

Grade Three

...or the last time I will be reading Bible stories aloud for a long time. I am surprised to be enjoying them this much. I know that with the first couple of children, many times I would hand them the book to read on their own, reading or telling some of them together, but not all. They were independent readers and I had toddlers and babies to keep up with. I cannot recall how we did them with number four, I must have been so busy that it's given me amnesia, but this time is fabulous. 

I see the delicate weaving of storytelling that builds up images of a simple world, one in black and white that is so well-suited to the 8-year-old's developmental needs. I would absolutely recommend taking the time to read these aloud, or retell them to each child as they hit third grade age. This morning I drew my own picture alongside my little guy, of the lights and fires meeting the water in the beginning of the world. I still lack basic artistic skill, but I make up for it with my coloring talents. (ha!) We are using Jakob Streit's "And Then There Was Light," again, even though I had vowed to trade it out for Walter de la  Mare. I did not, Streit is good, though I love the way de la Mare uses language and imagery. 

I am also finishing up the Miquon math books with him as a review, mixing them in with gnome stories and gem-counting to help it all make sense. And he really does get it. He will return to the stories to remember how place value works when he is given a problem with borrowing or carrying. I love to see this.

Grade Five/Six

Charles has a July birthday, so early on, I modified what we worked on accordingly. He is a young 6th grader, young enough that I keep him officially in 5th grade. This allows for a flexibility in subject matter, difficulty level and mentality. Should he go to high school, he will go as a 15-year-old, as many people do for boys with summer birthdays. Socially, boys are not always as ready for upper grades at barely 14. We have reviewed botany, read "Rama and Sita" and panned for gold. (There was an extreme interest in rocks, which led to diamonds and that led to gold, so gold-panning is hot right now.) He is writing full-page stories of his own invention, and reports on what we are studying. We take spelling lists from the ones he has trouble writing on his own.

For math, we are using a new method this year. It is called the Not-Waldorf-Because-I-Just-Want-a-Curriculum-Math, better known as Singapore. I will supplement with geometry and Making Math Meaningful when I feel it is appropriate, or we get bored, or I am feeling more ambitious and less pressed for time. For now, we are moving along in this and watching episodes of "The Joy of Mathematics" together. He is taking science with a friend, and listening in on chemistry lessons at home.

Grade Eight which we try out part-time homeschooling. Valentine goes to school each morning now. She takes math, choir and French. It is a great combination for her. I never promise to teach my kids math after 7th grade or so. The older two had a tutor, but not much extra help at home. It is not my forte. I do not want that to stop them from loving and learning math, though, and honestly, the older two are not into numbers. Would it have been different had they been in school? Who knows? I went to school...In any case, I am glad she has this opportunity. Her teacher is a huge fan of Dr.Who, and so is she. Instant connection on one level at least!

Choir is perfect; she loves all things theatre, dance and voice, and they allowed her to double-up on this. It is normally an every-other-day class, but she takes it every day. French; what bilingual child does not need both the ego-boost and reality check of going to a class where they understand everything and yet cannot always spell it?

In the afternoon, we have an experiment for chemistry and follow the Waldorf method of waiting 24 hours to analyze it. Drawing and making the results creative and colorful is a big part of it. I love the way she allows herself to be drawn back into art and beauty through it. All four of us are messing around with local history and world geography and reading a great book aloud in the afternoons. We have Spanish once a week with a friend. Then they play, and I study. I am back to serious learning for a few months, prepping like mad for a national exam for interpreters. Thoughts and prayers welcome!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Not in School: Poor Mom?

No, not "poor mom" and here's why: I keep hearing the joyful exclamations of parents about their children being back in school. I am joyful too; but because there is nowhere else I would rather be! Over the summer, I had a few misgivings about how things would feel in a house where the normal 4 or 5 children was suddenly reduced to 2 every morning. I even fleetingly thought they might be better off in school. Here are some of the things we are doing instead: (as well as yesterday's photos, all from my i-phone, of playing along the Mississippi. The first ones are of a walk we took after dropping off my son at high school Monday morning. Poor us.)

A wall of origami? The result of hours and hours of listening to audio books when Mama was busy or kids were sick...drawing and folding became passions this summer.  When I began to run out of ideas and room to keep all of these paper treasures, I offered the bulletin board as a display area; duly noted and used.

Hanging out together and talking...too rare now that the oldest spend more time out of the house than in.

Taking advantage of the beautiful summertime weather.

Working on special skills: Cate at her brown belt test in kung-fu, with the whole family there to cheer her on. (Just a few days before she left for college.)

With the wonderful Mr. Morrow of Morrow's Academy of Shao-Lin Chuan Kung-fu

Cooking; I have more time for cooking! And cooking surrounded by munchkins drawing and chatting with me is about as lovely as it gets.

Lesson planning...this was a selection of my favorite books for a new homeschooling family. I wish them much happiness.

And words needed for the initiated.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015