Thursday, October 10, 2013

We've made a good start this year. The kids are all doing homeschool classes at local learning center one day a week -- the 8th grader is getting a lab science that way. We do lots of history -- Ancient Rome this year -- and I'm happy with the books I'm using (Augustus Caesar's World and Story of the World Vol 1, and The Bronze Bow for fiction). For math we've switched from MEP and Khan Academy to Life of Fred. After years of trying, the 8th grader is now off and running independently as if a switch flipped. It's gratifying to watch. And he's busy with his own stuff -- books he reads, stories and D&D stuff he's writing. There are gaps in other areas, but I'm pleased with his transition to a teenaged learner.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Fun short supplements

Here are some supplemental resources we've enjoyed so far this year:

On maps and geography:

Nature studies:

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Cost of Education

Salman Khan, The One World Schoolhouse, on the cost of education: It may  not be working very well, but it certainly is expensive. . . . The average cost for a single year of secondary public education was $10,499. To put this number in perspective, consider that it is larger than the entire per capita gross domestic product of Russia or Brazil. In New York, the state with the highest education costs, the figure was $18,126 per student, more than the per capita GDP of such wealthy nations as South Korea and Saudi Arabia.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Writing Curriculum for a Reluctant Writer

Well today I finished off my paperwork for the 2011-12 school year, wrote my education plan for the next year, and started to plan next year. (My education plan letter is generic enough that I can plan after I write it. I include a list of the resources we used last year so that our Superintendent can get the gist of what we do here.)

My ten year old is a very reluctant writer, and I spent the afternoon looking for a curriculum that might work for him, and for me also. I want a program that will get him writing sentences and paragraphs, and, in short, not be inane. There are so many writing programs out there that have silly assignments, and those are not going to fly here. I also need a program that won't require too much of my time since I'm homeschooling three different kids and I have a paid project coming up this fall. I looked at many of the popular programs -- some I could describe with a pithy comment, but as I know they work for other families, I will skip that. I looked at Institute of Excellence in Writing, Writing Strands, Classical Writing, WriteShop, Learning Language Arts through Literature (LLATL), English for the Thoughtful Child, Six-Trait Writing, Writing With Ease (which we used a little last year), Michael Clay Thomas (MCT) Curriculum (Sentence Island, Paragraph Town, etc), Shurley English, Winning with Writing, Voyages in English Writing, BraveWriter, Wordsmith Apprentice (maybe next year).

Some are too difficult to implement, some too expensive, some have too much busywork, and some just don't appeal to me much. In the end I think I've settled on Writing Tales I -- it is similar to WWE and LLATL, I believe, but the lessons have variety. It's true that the lesson where the student has to rewrite the story will meet with resistance, but some lessons are significantly easier. It gets good reviews, and is said to be very easy to implement, and covers a variety of topics (grammar, copywork, spelling and vocabulary) using well written stories. (I'll use it with two kids).

In addition, we will continue with All About Spelling, which I find to be an easy to use and effective program. I'll accept the fact that it's dictation phrases and sentences lack depth, as long as our writing program balances it out on the silly-meaningful scale.

Many thanks to the Well Trained Mind board members, whose thoughtful comments have helped enormously with today's evaluation. Less thanks to the TOS Crew, who have apparently never met a curriculum they didn't like.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Margin for magic

I am currently in the midst of NaNoWriMo, an attempt to write 50,000 words of fiction in 30 days. For me it is all consuming, so why am I writing about margins? There is a magic that can come from placing myself in front of my novel, with my fingers on the keyboard. Sometimes it takes awhile, but in the course of this month my imagination will send more to my typing fingers than I ever thought possible -- but I have to give my imagination a margin -- I have to sit at the keyboard and do the work, even when it takes a long time.

Similar in my family life in the concept of quality family time. We do not always have quality time every time we are together, but the value in being together is that it can be wonderful. But if we never give it the time, it won't be. We are tempted to fill up our evenings with commitments and skip family dinners. It's true that sometimes our dinners are far from transcendent. Some one is mad at someone else, or the food isn't very good, or the conversation is boring. But sometimes we have a fabulous time together, we talk about interesting things, or learn something that we didn't know. Those are the dinners that I want to happen, but to experience them, we have to live through the other kind too. We have to provide a margin for the magic to happen.

"I am not responsible for your feelings"

I have recently been thinking a lot about this idea "I am not responsible for your feelings."

While it is true that no one can enter my mind and fiddle with my feelings, we certainly learn to push the buttons of our loved ones. I have noticed, particularity with my children, that upsetting siblings (or other loved ones) is in some way rewarding, and people learn quickly how to do it. It seems to me to then teach them that they are not responsible for the feelings that arise from their words or actions is somewhat immoral. It allows them to commit egregious deeds and then respond without compassion to the feelings that arose in the other person as a result.

But let me take a step back and look at two extremes. The first is the case where someone, in fact, truly did nothing and their friend or relative is having strong feelings about them. I will risk my reputation when I say this has happened to me, that I have become angry or unhappy about a person when, in fact, nothing has actually happened. I expect that I am not alone.

At the other extreme, a person has willfully been hurtful, has spread rumors or spoken cruelly, been physically or emotionally abusive, or stolen from or cheated someone in someway that most of us would see as justifiable reasons for negative feelings.

Having laid out what I think are self-explanatory examples from which you will draw your own conclusions I want to return to the idea of being responsible for feelings. I am going to venture the opinion that no one is responsible for anyone's feelings, even our own. There are a few enlightened beings among us who can control their thoughts and feelings. There are others among us who are at the complete mercy of our thoughts and feelings. The rest of us ride a middle course: attempting to turn our thoughts and feelings to the positive, but certainly not always succeeding. My understanding of Buddhist belief is that thoughts and feelings happen, but it is up to us whether we chose to believe them. This comes close to my own opinion.

My experience is that I can only be somewhat successful in controlling my thoughts and feelings, and that some responsibility for triggering negative thoughts and feelings may sometimes be reasonably applied to an outside source.

As a parent this is an interesting question to me. Take the case where one of my children gets upset and tell me "He made me mad." Sometimes I agree -- one brother may have set up another brother in a way that made him mad in the past and is likely to do the same today. The mad brother, though, has a history of over-reacting -- again this is our subjective opinion. I personally do not see this as a case of not being responsible for the angry brother's feelings. I see it as more like the case where one car rear-ends the car in front of it without much force, but the driver, who was predisposed to injury through pre-existing conditions, suffers traumatic neck injury. In this case the driver of the car causing the accident is legally liable for the injury.

With my kids I want them to look at the upset person, acknowledge that they have acted in a way that contributed to the out of control feelings, and make appropriate amends and, hopefully, refrain from acting the same way again. The angry child has a job too -- to try to tone it down, to recognize that they are very sensitive to getting angry and to begin to get a handle on that. We live in a family, a community, and we cannot live alone. These are the steps I think the involved persons need to take to live in harmony with each other.

I recently had the experience of two people making a decision that negatively impacted my life. One was able to listen to my upset, and validate that she could see why I might feel that way. The other told me that she was not responsible for my feelings. Guess which one I'm now happy to be in community with? The first didn't change what she had done, but she did help me to deal with my own feelings about the event. She didn't "Gaslight" me by telling me in any way that my feelings were invalid, and because of that I was able, on my own, to recognize the ways in which my feelings were out of proportion to the event and it's actual effects on me and my family.

If empathy is foremost then we can in fact say (but only in our heads and never aloud to the upset person) "I am not responsible for your feelings." It may be true, but it is a way of saying "I don't have to care what I did, and I don't have to care about you and your feelings." If we can be with the person, hear them, empathize with their feelings and make reasonable accommodation not to repeat the result will a better community/family.

These are some other interesting discussions of this same topic:

I am not responsible for your feelings


Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Monday, August 29, 2011

"Self Learning" in our Homeschool

I'm working on a self-learning model for my oldest, who is turning twelve in November (although I'm not a fan of the term). I'm motivated by the fact that I'm feeling a bit burnt out and we haven't even started the year yet! But just as importantly, the self-learning option has a lot to recommend it. My current plan is to give him a loose list of topics and books to work from, but not so much he can't add his own, or find more resources on a topic that interest him, or go lightly on something that doesn't spark his interest. I'm also making him a planner to keep track of it all. He has a composition book sectioned into topics for notes and narrations. I'm not willing to give him completely free rein, but I do think that giving him choices over books and when to study each subject can have positive effects. I'm not willing to put aside books and methods that I have researched, but I will be flexible.

My hope is that I will have far less to do -- I have never yet been very successful at giving him a list of things to do. I tend to watch the clock and decide if there is time for one more thing. My hope is that with this plan, he takes over much of that work, to his benefit and mine. I need time to work with my other two. Last year my youngest mostly tagged along and didn't get much work targeted to his own level. I don't think much harm was done, but I want to be able to work with him individually. And my nine-year old needs some help to learn to set thoughts on paper. He has a way to go.

These are some of the best resources I've seen on self-learning for homeschoolers: