What’s New? From Our Point of View…

It is a beautifully sunny, 74-degree day here in coastal Texas, and with the oldest at college and our son at the dentist, the youngest decided to school outside.   Funny, this was my vision when we first began homeschooling—days outside on a picnic blanket, completing schoolwork and viewing exotic animals.   (You can stop laughing now).   The vision sounded wonderful, and the outdoor school day sounded delightful until it met with my own plans and realities.   I had a fairly simple morning plan to complete a few chores and write a blog entry while the youngest worked beside me at the table.   So, it shames me to say that when she initially approached me about going outside, I sent her out and continued with my plans.   I felt bad, so when she came back inside the first time, I said, “Let me just do ____ and I’ll come out with you.”     I got that pot of vegetarian chili to a point where it could just simmer, started that load of clothes, and then pulled up a chair alongside her in the backyard.   That’s when I realized that even 74 degrees—in full sun—is still just plain hot.    After reading for a spell, we both gave in to what became our heart’s deepest longing–air conditioning.

One of our struggles this year has been sustaining her with a deliberate diet of rich literature versus twaddle, in Charlotte Mason vernacular.   Our youngest, with all the extroversion that missed our older two, wanted to start a book club this past year.   She had almost completed all the planning, complete with convincing Mom that this was a good thing, when our local library announced its plans to have a book club.    I thought this was too much of a coincidence to be a coincidence, and we hurriedly signed up to be a part of their event.   Now I wish that I had stuck with the original plan to have our own club.   The selection of books that the librarians offer—yuck!!!      I would love to simply pull her from the club, but I’m torn by the fact that she likes being a part of the group, she enjoys the time and activities, and—here’s the kicker—she likes the books.  They are much easier reading, for sure, but based upon what I consider to be a “good” book, i.e., a story that engages the mind and pricks the heart, the book club’s selections are way past poor.   The longer I allow this, of course, the more difficult it is to interest the youngest in books that demand more of her.   Consequently, I’ve not pulled her yet from the club, but have been instead picking my teachable moments.   As an example, we are now reading The Whipping Boy, which is actually very easy to read—a short book with short chapters.   Upon reading chapter 1, she immediately stopped to whine empathetically when she realized what was the whipping boy’s  responsibility (to receive the punishment that should have been given to a spoiled brat excuse for a prince).    While she was sharing how badly she felt for the boy, I talked about the power of a good read and recalled that she’d never stopped to empathize with Vordak the Incomprehensible.   She still maintains that Vordak is the best book ever (heavy sigh).

While I ponder what to do about the book club, I am excited about the cursive handwriting curriculum from LightHome Publications I found on Currclick.  Can you say $6??!!   This looks awesome!!  A chance to share the Word of God, to practice cursive handwriting, and to create a lasting keepsake of the Word in Psalms!!  Can’t beat it with a stick!!

After years of, ahem, uncertainty, shall we say, about homeschooling my MIL blessed us with an entire high school biology curriculum—teacher’s guides, transparencies, DVDs, videos,… everything!   I have been thrilled with all the extra project ideas that have come with the text that really cater to how we like to learn.   The publisher of this not-so-dry text has actually partnered with Dinah Zike (foldables guru, author of The Big Book of Books) to include manipulatives to enhance the content!!  Given Dinah Zike’s popularity within the homeschool community, I couldn’t help but think this was pretty cool in an odd sort of way.

Our school this year is a gentle foreshadowing of the next 2-3 years to come as the oldest spends a significant amount of time away from us.   Her classes keep her away on Mondays and Wednesdays, but the extracurricular activities associated with the Honors Program, plus the time to complete her coursework actually occupy her throughout a good portion of her week.   My dh and I were just discussing today that even though she wasn’t the noisiest of our children, her presence, or lack thereof, is definitely felt if not heard.    Her high school courses this year include Algebra II, Physics, and World Geography.    Other than that, I’m the taxi cab driver!

During the summer, Knowledge Quest distributed what I assume was a preview of their Globalmania curriculum, but it was PERFECT (yes, I’m shouting) for what I wanted to do with World Geography.     There is enough of a guide-like feel to this .pdf file without it being too prescriptive.   I played the games that help with map memorization and, in completing them myself to get a feel on what the oldest would do, I determined that my geography needs serious work.  No wonder I almost failed this class in middle school ( LOL)!!  There is also a schedule that, again without being too prescriptive, suggests how to spend time learning a specific continental region.    What I have added (because without the additions the curriculum might be more elementary) is the idea of research of the continents to find out more about the history and culture, and the idea of understanding a major religion in that region and how you might evangelize with respect to what the people believe.    Finally, when I taught World Geography at our local homeschool store, that particular curriculum set a goal for a student to draw a world map from memory by the end of the course.   I so loved the students’ results that I incorporated this same goal for the oldest.   I’m enjoying watching her get started, and her illustrations of how much she is learning.

 

 

I am so glad, in spite of the fact that American Lit at the college level has her permanently attached to a Norton’s Anthology, that we made the decision to add in as many living books as we could to complement her studies.    She decided early on that audio books would best help her keep up with everything.    This was easily accomplished with Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days, but we’ve been reading aloud Homer Hickam’s October Sky together.   The latter book has been a welcomed accompaniment to her Physics studies, and I’m so glad that I didn’t place too much stock into the warning that this coming-of-age story had potentially inappropriate subject matter.  Yes, he’s a love-struck teenage boy who is learning, unsuccessfully, how to be suave with the ladies (picture Jerry Lewis in “The Ladies’ Man”), but what far overshadows those moments is this book’s ability to take you through Coalwood, WV with such imagery until you feel as if you stepped back 40 years and are standing alongside one of the “rocket boys.”    We even resisted the urge to watch the movie.  (Was it just a coincidence that it came on television while we were reading?   Hmmm….)   After Jules Verne, I’m on the hunt for what might our next great geography-related find: Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them.   If I could just find the audio book for something less than $27…

 

What’s new with your studies?   I’d love to “hear” about all those cool and creative homeschool  studies.

 

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Current Events:1st Crack

In my last post, I shared my youngest’s desire to add current events to her course work, and, to a larger extent, to emulate her brother and sister.   She’s completed her current events for 2 weeks now, and her results are well worth capturing.    Here is a sample of her summary.

“Stitches of Hope”

 

 

‘There is a 30-foot flag that represents the country of America.   When our American flag got badly torn with holes almost everywhere, but our flag survived.  Seven years later our flag was sent to Greenburg, Kansas.  After a terrible tornado, member[s] of Kansas used flags from around the world to repair a flag from 9/11.   Then, the flag took a vacation and had more Americans help the poor little flag.   Even the local navy sewed the flag.’  

 

Definitely some work to do, but I love a child’s way of figuring life out.   My personal favorite is the flag’s decision to take a vacation–too funny!!

Uncertainty

Uncertainty.

1. The condition of being uncertain; doubt.

2. Something uncertain: the uncertainties of modern life.

Synonyms: uncertainty, doubt, dubiety, skepticism, suspicion, mistrust

These nouns refer to the condition of being unsure about someone or something. Uncertainty, the least forceful, merely denotes a lack of assurance or conviction: I regarded my decision with growing uncertainty.
 
 
I don’t think that I’ve ever prepared for a year with this much uncertainty–not even during our first year.   Maybe it was naivete, but I prayed  ALOT, did my homework and began to execute, even in the midst of my sister and niece being here to help with a newborn baby.   So, this year, as I began to envision what the kids would do, my task was to quit agonizing about what might happen and instead function within what I know right now.   With that in mind, I developed our plans.     Here are the highlights.
 
 
Plans for the youngest were perhaps the easiest to make.   I’m much more comfortable with a plan for the fundamentals, even though admittedly, they are not my favorite to teach–too much redundancy.   What is most exciting to me is that we will use my curriculum to teach her American History next year.   A customer asked me about blog posts that feature the kids using A Blessed Heritage’s products, and it was then that I realized that the last time I taught the children using the elementary product, I had yet to start blogging.   Life pre-blogging seems like a long time ago!
 
 
The most work I needed to complete for her was to develop a reading list.   Though we’ve read some great books over the years, I also wanted to incorporate some fresh reads for the sake of the older two, who often listen in from the adjacent room as they complete their work.   Several of her reading selections are Sonlight staples that we have enjoyed, partly because that’s what’s on our shelves.   Some of  Tanglewood Education‘s selections round out our list nicely with selections that don’t always appear on many homeschooling reading lists, especially in the genres of mystery and science fiction.
 
If there is one word that defines the time I spend with the older kids,that word would be ‘classics.’    I often talk to the kids about cultural literacy and understanding the context of language past just the words.   This is one of the many benefits of being a life-long reader.   When their Disney shows start with ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times…’  they should have some sense of where those words come from, and what is their significance to the rest of the episode.   Our son wrote a brief biography on William Shakespeare in his commonplace book and found out that even seemingly silly comedies like “She’s the Man” (Amanda Bynes, Channing Tatum) and  “Deliver Us from Eva” (Gabrielle Union, LL Cool J) are based upon Shakespearean works.   By the way, did you know that Shakespeare struggled to consistently spell his own name?   How ironically hilarious is that?!!
 
Our son will begin high school next year, although there are still a couple of areas where he’s at a middle school level.   Like the oldest, he will start a year of ancient history using a Great Books curriculum.   With our daughter, I definitely learned alongside of her as Homer helped us define the word drudgery together.  (Scroll down on this post to see my daughter’s take on Homer and ancient pasttime activities).   I am much more prepared for what these classics look like in terms of work schedule and actual “feel,” if that makes sense.
 
Of course the oldest and her part-time college career present the lion’s share of our uncertainty.    Her current summer schedule is such that she’s in school four days per week.   My plan would hinge upon her going to school twice per week and then completing work at home in the afternoons.    Our first fight regarding my plan was that she wants to be more involved with dance than what I had listed will allow.   I am hoping that she’ll recognize the accelerated pace of college and realize for herself that she cannot take on everything that she’s done in the past.    Of course, if not, I am prepared to play the spoiler in order to see her succeed in all things (rather than succeeding at dance to the detriment of her academic education).   She began class Monday, where she found out that her first paper was due on Wednesday; that was a rude awakening, to say the least.
 
I hate scratching pieces of  the plan that I had for her.   It is as much a lesson in pride for me as it is a lesson in letting go, as I discussed in my “Losing Control” post.    Before I looked into the Government class at the college, I was busily investigating early American history living books and thinking about reading schedules.     Now I am constantly reminded that she will have to learn some things from others with a very different perspective, i.e., worldview, than we have.     A friend suggested going over certain aspects at home, and I planned the reading list to do just that, but the reality is that our time will be limited.    Between the pace of college, letting her go to dance sometimes so that she has some physical outlet and place to express creativity in that way, and her pace (let’s just say she won’t be accused of not stopping to smell the roses), one-on-one reading is subject to happen more sporadically than I like.   I had too many of those experiences this year where we’d pick up a book, then put it down for days, and everyone, including me, would have to get reenergized about it.
 
Speaking of needing energy, right now we’re moving–slowly–through Don Quixote, the Man of La Mancha.    I’ve tried not to “force” school and make the summer boringly academic.   But this book is 600+ pages, and not at all the hilarious epic adventure that I remember as a kid.   Maybe because my husband once sold pharmaceuticals to psychiatrists, neurologists, etc., the kids have keyed in on poor Quixote’s mental state, and it almost reads like a tragedy to them.    I’m going to abridge this one myself so that we can move on.
 
Anyway, I look at this definition, and though uncertainty doesn’t, in and of itself, sound so bad, there are other words here: doubt and mistrust.    Yes, when I list my plans, there is much room for doubt, and I have good reason not to trust in my own abilities.    My will gets us limited reward, but I’m looking for more than mediocrity.   So I must choose to substitute different words for doubt and mistrust:   
 
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;  in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil.  This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.
 
 
Proverbs 3: 5-8 

Spring Break, with an Eye Looking Forward

We took our spring break with the area public schools this week.   As usual, I had far more planned to do than I could possibly get done—will I ever learn?    Not only was my list aggressive, but it became obvious to me by Wednesday that what I needed most was rest.   With that thought in mind, the highlights of much of my week went something like this:

Saturday—weeding

Sunday—church, grades

Monday—cleaning, hair (youngest daughter)

Tuesday—sewing, cleaning, hair (oldest daughter)

Wednesday—school planning, grades for college kids

Thursday—weeding, grades

Somewhere in there I had a birthday on Wednesday

Friday was a flurry of activities.    We took advantage of a field trip that was postponed during our winter storm, so we packed up and met a local homeschool group for a tour through a water treatment facility.   Afterward, because we were losing our weekend time with a brief out-of-town trip planned, I ran around town like a chicken with its head cut off, replacing car tires and replenishing dance supplies.

By Saturday, I needed a break from my break, and it came in the form of a trip to the beach.   Plan A was to stay two nights, but we’d forgotten what happens to hotel rates in the midst of spring break.    When we had our rude awakening, we chose to make a turnaround trip.   The beach was, nevertheless, very relaxing for me, and great fun for the kids once they got acclimated to the difference of terrain.   Our older two are so funny; it took them a long time to adjust to stepping through LOTS of seaweed to reach the water, then another long while before they actually allowed themselves to adjust to the water temperature.  (“It’s soooooo cold!” they complained.)   By the time they settled down to make sand castles and take walks, it was almost time to head home!

Sunday was a somewhat relaxing trip back home.   I say ‘somewhat’ because we planned to stop off at a mission in Goliad, TX, and the tour wound up being so much more than we expected.   The Alamo gets all the attention in these parts, but I’ve found that the “off -the-beaten-path” types of tours are the ones that pleasantly surprise you, and this mission, Presidio La Bahia, did not disappoint.   Our short stop-over took us almost two hours, and we still did not see the second mission, Espiritu Santu.  Next year, both our girls will cycle back around to early American history studies, and so this was a perfect opportunity to talk about the influence of Spain in the Southwestern United States.

Speaking of next year, it is about that time to consider what about our current plan will be continued/ revisited/ scrapped, etc.   I’m thankful that we’ve hit a groove where we are both comfortable and bearing fruit, so not too much has to be scrapped altogether, but there is always room for improvement.   With only nine weeks left until we begin summer, this is about the time of year that I begin to realize how much was left on the table (or in this case, in my planner), and how we can adjust for the following year to make their experience—and mine–more memorable.

I cannot believe that my baby will be a 3rd grader in the fall!   I worked hard this year to put more elementary school fun into her day, with some hits and misses.   The biggest “miss” is that I fell off the wagon, so to speak, with the plan of doing something special each month with her in mind as the year progressed.   Though we’ve definitely gotten out more, and have even taken a few days off, I still feel as if I could tighten up, or rather, loosen up some more in this area.   She was looking through old photos of the older two in the earliest days of homeschooling and wondering why she doesn’t get to cook as a part of her day.   I tell you, managing the seasons of homeschool has perhaps been my biggest challenge yet.   Anyhow, as I ponder those thoughts, here is what her academic year will probably look like in the fall.   You’ll see with all three children that I’m still contemplating reading lists.

3rd Grade:

English: Rod and Staff Christian English series

Handwriting: A Reason for Handwriting

History: Early American History with A Blessed Heritage Educational Resources

Math: Horizons Math 2/3

Science: Apologia Zoology 1/ 2

Latin: Prima Latina by Memoria Press

Read-Aloud/ Reading List (Sonlight 3 readers as a possibility)

Our son is the epitome of a homeschooler—chronologically, a public school system would place him in 8th grade in the fall.    Yet, because he’s studied with his sister as much as was possible, he has a couple of courses that he’ll actually take on as a high school freshman.   Of course, he is at 8th grade level in several courses, and because of the extensive Rod and Staff text, he is completing 7th grade English.    He’s our middle/ high schooler (smile).   I haven’t worried too much about it yet, but in the back of my mind, I know that if he keeps on track, he will probably graduate high school earlier than I personally would like him to leave home.   So much to think about and so little time, you know?   Anyway, this is his potential year beginning in the summer/ fall:

8th/9th Grade 

Apologetics: Know What You Believe by Paul Little/ The Deadliest Monster by J.F. Baldwin

Character: Ourselves by Charlotte Mason (second year)

Current Events: Student News Daily and/or World on the Web

Grammar: Rod and Staff Christian English series

History: The Great Books (http://www.thegreatbooks.com) (Year 1)

Latin: Henle by Memoria Press

Logic: How to Read a Book (second year)

Pre-Algebra/ Algebra: Teaching Textbooks

Physical Science: Apologia Science

Read-Aloud/ Reading List:

The  biggest question mark with him is how to take advantage of some of the elective opportunities that are available to him in our area, yet work with the girls as appropriate.   We have an area debate team that I’d love to get him more involved in based upon his interests, but I’ve heard that it is a tremendous workload, and I just don’t know where we’d fit in another item.

Of course, college preparation has been the focus of our oldest daughter’s curriculum.   With the Lord’s help, she will actually get a taste of that season via the dual degree program at our local community church.    She’s actually going through several significant changes in the coming year.   She and I have different opinions about well she is juggling school and her many extracurricular activities.   Let me tell it, her grades are decent, but she’s losing sleep and having to study almost all of the time.   That is not the intention, but since it is the reality, she will cut back drastically on some of her current activities in order to focus on her academics, and on her overall health and well-being.   My prayer is that she’ll be able to complete her English courses at college, but this is what I envision for her during her time at home:

 11th grade

Chemistry: Apologia Science/ Meteorology with Connect the Thoughts (2nd semester)

Current Events: Student News Daily and/or World on the Web

Algebra 2: Teaching Textbooks

History: American Government and Civics

Latin: Henle by Memoria Press

Economics: Sonlight/ Thinkwell (?)

Read-Aloud/ Reading List:

I have in mind what I want to do, but I’m at a quandary as to how to do it with her.   We’ve been using The Great Books curriculum (see link above) to cover the past two years of history, but I thought to focus in more on American Government and Ethics.   Sonlight is normally my go-to curriculum when I don’t quite know how I might craft something myself, but Sonlight’s American Government course is a part of a core program that costs $600!    That is more than I spend on curriculum for all three of our children, and even if the Lord blessed me with a windfall, I wouldn’t spend it that way.    So I’m looking at options—is there a way to buy the IG for Sonlight without buying the whole packaged curriculum, could I modify the Great Books curriculum, and if so , what to use, what else is out there,…

How about you?   What plans/ changes/ anxieties are you facing regarding next year?

P.S.   I am thinking about a Civics program from Connecting the Thoughts, available through Currclick.    Has anyone else used this?

Reviews and Reflections on Math

I am always intrigued by studies that point to the one subject where many American children, homeschooled or not, struggle: mathematics.   I have read that, especially in the case of homeschoolers, the struggle is often not with math concepts, but  computation—in other words, speed.    

 Enter my children.   Funny, given my love for math, I assumed that I’d have at least one child who shared my excitement over solving for x, but as of now, all three seem to be in loathing rather than in love.   (Well, loathing might be strong, but they definitely don’t run for their math studies).

Take my youngest, as one example.   She’s just begun this week learning how to borrow, as in take-one-from-the-tens’-column-and-add-the-ten-to-whatever-is-in-the-ones’-column.

When she saw the page, she immediately noticed that she was being asked to do something that was different.   She is also currently preoccupied with multiplication, or “times,” as she calls it.   Thus, everything in math that is different to her, she thinks it’s “times.”    “They want me to do times,” she wails, then goes into a whine about it would be soooo hard, and woe is my life, etc.    We went through the concept a few times (the curriculum, Horizons, had introduced the concept in pieces for several days), and by the third problem, she had it.   That’s that quick grasp of a concept.   Now comes the part that disturbs me far more than slow understanding: she gets bored, or maybe just tired, and the distractions come.   I’m glad we’re using Horizons, where several concepts are introduced at once.    With most curriculums, children learn one concept to the point of mastery, then the next, then the next…

We once used Making Math Meaningful with the older two children.   It was word problem heavy, which I loved because, well, that makes math meaningful.    It wasn’t drill intensive; I had the revelation with my oldest that drills had taught her the mechanics of how to complete a math problem, but she had no clue of what she was doing or why.    Our first year of homeschool I spent re-teaching much of what she’d been “taught” in school.

Making  Math Meaningful didn’t prepare our kids well for higher level mathematics, however, and I hated the way that particular curriculum taught multiplication.   I learned all of my facts by memorization, up to 12×12; MMM suggested learning the facts of 0-5 and then using those to expand upon all the other facts.    Thus, 7×8 becomes 5×8 + 2×8—not a bad method, but different (read uncomfortable) for me, and seemingly more time-consuming.   Our son still doesn’t have the command of his higher facts that I would like; he adds extremely fast at the higher levels.    We drill on these occasionally, but it occurs to me that he might not ever “get” them as I’d like.   As a bit of an aside, one of the homeschooling groups we participated in would often joke about the “math police,” as we called them—an imaginary phantom that would come to the door and punish us for being poor math teachers.

When we switched the older two to Teaching Textbooks, we had much better success in terms of understanding, and especially in the area of independent learning.   I think, though, that part of the dilemma with building speed is that homeschooling, by its very nature, doesn’t rush a child to complete anything in a given time.    We must create those artificial deadlines.    In our home, we’ve used Calcu-ladder to allow the kids an opportunity to build speed in computation.    But recently, Calcu-ladder went to a CD format, meaning that I have to think ahead of time of when I want the kids to complete drills, determine which drill (a somewhat time-consuming search through the CD), then print the materials so that they’re ready in time.    Another digression, but bear with me: does anyone else think we lost something significant as home educators in all of the e-text information that is now available?   The other day, I needed to print out lapbook materials for my oldest, but I needed a color cartridge.   By the time I bought the cartridge, she’d moved to a new chapter.   So now, do I make her go back so that the lapbook is complete, or do I live with the gap and move forward?    I’ll contemplate that one over our break. 

So we move forward.    I love to think that slow and steady wins the race, but as the oldest takes more of the pre-college exams, I know better.   At least, I should say, slow and steady won’t win that particular race.   I’m curious, though: how are your kids doing with math concepts?   How about speed?

Finally, this is a recent shot of my youngest learning to tie her shoes. 

 

 I love two things about this picture.   The first is the way she looks over her glasses, like a much older woman.  In truth, she’s not learned to keep her fingers off the lens, so her glasses are often smudged such that she sees better not looking through them.    The second thing I love about this picture is her intensity.   She is determined to master tying shoes.   One day I may see that same look with math, or if not, I’ll be okay with the reason why.

1st Semester Progress Report (pt. 2)

Picking up where I left off, I think the gap filler between where I am with the youngest and where I want to be is a planner.   Lisa(?) Hobar of Mystery of History once described the inverse relationship between time spent with your child and the amount of planning needed.   If you imagine an X with ending arrows pointing in opposite directions, planning would be on one axis, and one-on-one time with your child is on the other.    In other words, the more time you spend with your child, the less you need to plan.   I am almost constantly with our youngest, so I keep my “schedule” in my head.   I’m sure you’re there already, but yes, it makes it real easy to fall off track.    I always justify it by thinking, well, she’s not headed to college on tomorrow, which is true, but it doesn’t help my frustration when we get off track.   So, during the holidays, I’m going to work to get myself more on a real schedule, with everything in my head written down.   I have to admit that it’s funny to be so relaxed with her education; when my older two were her age, I would plan out the entire school year (before I learned better–smile).

Our son continues to perform well, but I pray continuously over heart issues.   Being wildly successful can be as problematic as being a constant failure.   So, we’ve had to work on not procrastinating just because you know that you can finish quickly, not gloating when you finish early, and not complaining or shying away when work becomes challenging.   Truth be told, those are lessons many adults have yet to learn.

He is at the season where we can begin to focus in more on his interests, and, at least for right now, one of his interests seems to be in the area of history and law.   I had the bright idea of enrolling him on a junior debate team at a local homeschool partnership.   Then I recalled another parent’s recollection about debate and the research that is required to do it well—the work for debate took up enough time and energy until she allowed it to replace her daughter’s history and English studies.   Then I thought about the weekly travel for class.   Is this a necessary part of our journey, or a disruption to an otherwise effective curriculum plan?

The oldest, for a variety of reasons, is almost always the last one finished with school.   At this point, I think she accepts it as ‘just the way it is.’   When her brother finishes before her, she stops to double-check that he really is through.   In the motherly tone that only an oldest daughter can deliver, she completes a mental checklist:

“Okay.   You’re done with Pre-Algebra?” Check.

 

“You finished your science?” Check.

 

“You finished your grammar?” Check.

 

“You read to Mom?   Did she read to you?” Check.

Her year is going well, and I believe the days off—whether with field trips or the recent addition of our “reading days”—are paying huge benefits in terms of giving her a space to relax and regroup in the midst of a difficult school year.    She has always had to work harder in math, and I didn’t realize until I watched her persevere how much math is a part of chemistry.    Chemistry was my favorite subject in high school—it’s why I majored in chemical engineering.   Our daughter had a slow start with chemistry, but thankfully she has picked up.  I know that we will not finish the text in one school year, so my thoughts right now are to take 1-1/2 years to complete it, then fill the last semester with one of her favorite sciences, meteorology.  

I have to think much more strategically rather than tactically with her, and I’m also making a point of documenting my work as our son is not far behind her.    She will begin a new season in her education on next school year—college.    Many Texas homeschoolers take advantage of the dual degree programs available through our community college system, and I aim to be no exception.   With college costs rising higher than the rate of inflation, getting an inexpensive head start will benefit us all.   Yet, the questions of what to take, how to position her to succeed and not fail, is she really ready, am I really ready, and so on, weigh heavily on my mind.   It all requires so much prayer, and then quite of bit of shoe leather and patience—patience with administrators, patience with processes, and patience with yourself.   Getting back to the sciences, physics is out there waiting as well, but I’m not sure if we want to do that here, or let her take the physics for non-math majors as a college options.   Decisions, decisions.   I’m so glad the holidays, with the associated break, are approaching; there’ll be more time to fast, to pray, and to get organized.

Great Reading, Good Times

Several years ago, I read a post from one of the most inspirational bloggers I know, Linda Fay, who writes so practically about how to “do” a homeschool with a Charlotte Mason approach.    In this particular pearl of wisdom, she used a food metaphor to illustrate the difference between a Charlotte Mason homeschool full of living books versus an environment with workbooks aplenty.    The living books approach, in her analogy, was like serving a bowl of rich stew with fresh baked bread; the workbooks, then, were the equivalent of starvation-like rations and water.     I remember confessing that, at the time, I was somewhere in the middle—fish and a salad was my position on this culinary continuum.       

I’m curious: how much time do you spend reading to your children?   I’ve seen so many guidelines as to how much time is ideal, but I also know that many homeschooling parents have to operate within what is practical.    Earlier in our homeschooling years, I can remember hearing an “expert” state, with a confidence that was intimidating for us mere mortals, what she felt was appropriate in terms of reading to children.   “I want you reading to your children for at least one hour,” she says.    I thought this was totally unrealistic for a mom with my responsibilities.    In fact, as an aside, I’ll confess that when our oldest was entering school (pre-homeschooling), I was so fascinated by her mastery of the computer until I all but forgot the value of a good book!      Fast-forwarding a few years, this same question surfaced in a homeschool group to which I belong that focuses in on high school-aged children who are college-bound.    The responses were similarly intimidating.    One mom stated that she gives her child a list of 100 books going into freshman year with the expectation that they will be finished by the time of graduation.  

Experience has taught me that there are sometimes very valid reasons for workbooks, so I certainly don’t knock anyone’s choice to use them.   In truth, the oldest would probably love the opportunity to fill in blanks and insert whatever is appropriate to create a page that is flawless in appearance; she’s my “perfect Paula,” in Cathy Duffy terms.    And yes, I’m still in fish and salad position, or maybe a fish (soup) stew, but largely by choice, not by ignorance.     I’ve found that, as the years go on, there is no better opportunity to learn than with the seeds planted by rich, living books.   So each day, I make a point to sit down with each of the kids one-on-one and read a few pages together.   TwaddleMeNot, with her beautiful little girls (and brand-new son) speaks of having snuggle time with her preschoolers.    I’ve found that bigger ones need time, too, even if it looks a bit different.    (It’s hard to snuggle with people that are even bigger than you).   We also have one or two books that we read as a group; this becomes the fodder for narration Over the last couple of months, in the midst of all the peaks and valleys that make homeschool what it is, we’ve had some experiences worth capturing, and I thought I’d post them here.

I talked a while ago about my perspective on The Wheel on the School, a book that the youngest and I shared.     Without totally spoiling the ending, I’ll just say that it took approximately 250 pages of a slightly-over-300-page book to actually get the wheel on the school.    I won’t even talk about the task of getting the storks on the wheel.    BUT, in the end, it truly was a delightful tale of the power of a community coming together to reach a common goal.   The moral?   Everyone adds value, and a body of wisdom—even the smallest children—and the task cannot be completed without each person’s willingness to connect or to hold back, and to be sensitive as to when to do either.

Now we’re on to The Secret Garden, a classic that moves quite a bit faster.    I couldn’t get my oldest to get interested in this one, although she and her brother enjoyed the movie.    The youngest, however, wants to punch the main character for her impertinence, and almost waits to see how contrary Mary will be on a given day.    I, on the other hand, recognize as a parent that noooooobody took the time to raise Mary, much less love and nurture her ; she is the product of what those around her have failed to do.   I have to wonder, though, are mistreatment and neglect of children the theme of every English classic deemed worthy of a place on a child’s reading list?   Classic or not, I would no more expose my child to a wealth of these books than I would expose them to a wealth of what’s currently considered appropriate children’s television—broken homes, immature dads, exhausted moms, obnoxious kids.    And that’s only the sitcoms that promote “traditional family values.”      From The Water Babies, to The Secret Garden, The Tale of Despereaux, Oliver TwistUnderstood Betsy—geesh!

Speaking of movies, I was thrilled that the older two watched LOTR: The Fellowship of the Rings for the first time, and actually confessed that they liked the book much better.   They refuse to watch The Two Towers (and won’t let me watch it, either!) until we finish the book we’re reading now.   We’re getting there, but I’m in no hurry; I suspect the movie might be a little bit scary for me with the increased presence of Gollum.    My own “Gollum voice” is creepy enough—I cannot imagine staring at that face for more than two hours.   Of course, just when I was so pleased and proud of my ability to make my voice slither like a creature sliding down the wall, Gollum becomes Smeagol, more mousy and high-pitched.     With my deeper tones (I’ve been told often that I sound like a female DJ), I’m struggling with making my voice squeaky.

Our son is loving Treasure Island, and my treasure is that I get to watch him enjoy a true “boy’s book,” (at least in my mind).    At the Heart of the Matter Online’s recent conference, Susan Wise Bauer suggested to never give a child an assignment based upon a book that the child truly enjoyed, and her thoughts are making more sense to me as I listen to him; a project at this point would squelch his enthusiasm.     Incidentally, she also spoke of book reports having little value for a child’s long-term educational process.   So, was my whole elementary school experience a wash?   I’m just saying.

My oldest is quirky.   As much as she gets on my nerves, I’m sure I’ll miss her terribly when she moves on.   Today she was away from us taking the PSAT—for practice this time.  She spent the morning at a public school for the first time ever.    I prayed much of the morning in order to combat my anxiety; what will I do when she leaves?   The time with her grows more precious to me as the days go by.     Just tonight—at 9 p.m., mind you, while we’re finishing the day’s reading, she was telling me what books her other high school/ homeschool friends are reading.     We talked about different classics, or the lack thereof, after we finished the Aeneid.    Thank God that Virgil writes in a much more straightforward manner than Homer, with far fewer extended metaphors that detract from the main story.   What I’m most pleased about, however, after a dubious beginning of the higher grade studies, is that she is finally buying into her education, and getting excited about what she is learning.   You know something else?   She might not read 100 books in four years, but when I actually backed up like David and took a census, her four-year count will be between 70-80.    Quality counts for so much more than quality, but you could do a lot worse on a high school reading list than 80 classics.

Is every day a walk through literature heaven?   Certainly not.   In fact, this post is a composite of the year this far—it’s been too long since I’ve participated in the weekly homeschool meme.   We may not have rich stew and warm, fresh-baked bread, but there’s thick fish soup here.     Great things are happening over good books, and I’m so thankful.  May God continue to bless you with good times, too.