Saturday, November 20, 2010

Nanowrimo 2010

After skipping last year, I am back in the game again this year. Week 1 was was barely adequate, and week 2 was even worse. I have considered giving up or reducing my personal word goal, but that didn't sit right, so I have a plan to make it to 50,000 words by midnight on November 30.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Homeschool Planning

I thought hard about our homeschool plan for this year, and explored many options. I ended up not far from where I had begun though.

I felt in some ways that I was starting over this year, although it's my sixth year homeschooling. I think I felt that way because with the third entering first grade it feels like my first year juggling three students, and with my oldest in fifth grade I feel like I need to be sure that I'm giving him the education I want him to have. Also, as I outlined in my last post, I our family's values to be well represented in our homeschool.

My middle son, who is eight, is perhaps the one I think about most, and the one I looked at the most options for. He enjoys language and books, but his own language arts skills (reading and writing) are at nearly the same level as his six-year old brother's. He is also the one who hates school work the most, and who most drives me to consider quitting homeschooling. However, he would likely hate school even more, and that's not what I want for him. For him I looked at mainly two curricula: Moving Beyond the Page and Global Village. My goal was to find meaningful books that he would enjoy. I did purchase the Global Village curriculum guide for 3rd grade, and I'll review that in a separate post.

I spent a lot of time wondering how I could combine kids so that I don't go crazy trying to direct the three of them in their different work. As of last year the oldest still liked me to read to him, and I thought I would still be doing that this year. As it turns out, he is happy enough reading selections like George Washington's World, Treasure Island, and a biography of Isaac Newton by himself this year. In the end they will all have their own work, and we will try to do many subjects together.

I did come up with a long term plan for history so that in two years all three boys will be studying the ancients and proceeding through a six year history cycle together.

Some of what I had to do was (clearly) relax a bit. In order to do that I've changed my record keeping a bit. In previous years I've used spreadsheet versions of the Ambleside Online schedules. However, when I'm always behind, I'm always stressed! This year I'm trying to be a little looser without doing less. I'm open to two or three kids listening to what I'm reading, and I'll record it that way so I have plenty to report at the end of the year. I have a monthly grid for each kid (a row is a week) with all the main subjects across the top so that I make sure we cover a variety of subjects each week. I'll use it for both planning and recording. In short, I'm trying to keep track of what we accomplish, not what we fail to get to. I think that's very CM, since CM tests ask you to explain what you know rather than trying to trip you up and discover what you don't know.

Each boy does have his own rough plan, but we'll do more together than we have before. I'll use the Global Village book choices, and ones like them to expand our world view and try to get a glimpse of cultures and lives around the world. Otherwise, I continue to use AO book choices as our spines, and as a guide to topics and numbers of books when I decide to substitute. I want to be more open to following rabbit trails and doing rough units. For instance, right now we have an ocean theme going, middle ages (for the youngest), and monarch butterflies (from one of the Global Village selections).

So a little run down of our plan:

5th grade:
History: Constitution through the 19th Century, using Foster "World" books and historical fiction
Language Arts: Typing Tutor, Dictation Day by Day, written narration, Easy Grammar 5. We're saving Write with the Best for next year -- getting him ready to take advantage of that is a priority this year.
Math: MEP 5 (actually, first we're finishing up the data and probability sections in 4B)
Science: Biographies of scientists, library books and videos on various topics
Literature: some AO5 selections, and others we both agree on. He reads a lot and I want to use this year to work on writing and let literature take a back seat. (Currently reading Treasure Island)
Ideally he will also learn recorder

3rd grade:
Social Studies:Global Village around the world book choices
History: Age of Explorers -- Marco Polo and ocean explorers
Science: library books and DVDs, at least one nature story
Literature: good books we select together (currently A Door in the Wall, planning on Wind in the Willows)
Reading: easy readers on level, Phonics Pathways
Writing: Getty-Dubay workbook and some simple dictation

1st Grade:
Ambleside 1 secular selections, fable-like books (such as those by Janell Cannon) and whatever he listens to when I read to his brothers. He is a great unschooler and has a great attitude, and I don't want to mess to much with that.

Art appreciation (currently Monet)
Music appreciation (currently Beethoven)
Nature Study (with help from Katie's Homeschool Cottage)
Bible (using Penny Gardner's suggested readings)
Shakespeare (using Leon Garfield)
Family Read Alouds (we recently finished Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)
Geography (I purchased Map Trek and hope to make good use of it)

I looked at a great many science curricula, because I'm afraid I may be weak on science. But in the end I didn't find anything I liked enough to spend money on (other than the Nature Study ebook). I rely heavily on David Atenborough videos, and I'll try to be better about finding science books at the library. I think the ToC of Nebel's Elementary Education (which I own) may be useful. In fact, I should add a list of science topics to my homeschool notebook right now!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Defining Family Values

I am realizing more and more that time is limited, and that to get done the things that are important to me, I need to first focus on my values, and on our family values, and then choose my tasks accordingly. I am happier when my actions reflect my values. For instance, I can stand the dents and dull spots in my living room floor because my choices about the floor reflected my values of using local, affordable,recyclable, and nontoxic materials. When through circumstances I feel forced to choose actions that do not align with my values, I feel a lot of stress.

I've found that, without thought, finding what aligns with my values is a kind of "I'll know it when I see it" experience. But with thought, I can do a better job of articulating what I want to find, and perhaps get help from others in finding it. That is a journey I am taking now with my homeschooling, but more on that later.

The values that we think are important for our family include the following:
  • Gratitude: although we can certainly complain with the best of them, we try not to, and we try to find things to be grateful for. We are blessed, and this is not difficult. We try to express gratitude out loud, too, so our children can hear it. "Yes, it is very sad that Uncle sold his house, but we were so lucky to have the chance to visit it."
  • Responsibility to make the world a better place: I see this one from micro to macro, and all our actions are small. At home, I try to use this with sibling issues. If a comment isn't likely to make the situation better, it doesn't need to be said. In speech I like the suggestion to first consider "is it necessary? is it kind? is it true?"
  • Kindness: in a similar vein, being kind is important. We point out that being funny at someone's expense is unkind and that with kindness we can make a difference in the world, as we make someone feel a little better through kindness that may multiply as all the people we interact with may interact just a little better with other people, and so on.
  • Take care of the earth: We struggle with this one, but it is nonetheless a family value. We drive a gas minivan and heat with oil, but recycle, talk about how there is no "away" to throw trash to, try to limit our consumption, and think about ways that we can preserve nature.
  • Appreciate beauty: I try to point out natural beauty as I see it (and even man-made beauty). I think noticing it helps with the previous value, and it also sharpens observation and takes one out of oneself for a moment at least.
These are all ideals, of course that we strive toward and don't necessarily achieve, but I think failing to recognize them overtly will most certainly lead to failure to strive toward them at all!

My youngest son recently finished his first year of Spirit Play at our church, and I very much like their Rainbow Promises, and find that they are a good model for our family values also:
  • Respect each person.
  • Offer fair & kind treatment to ourselves & others.
  • Yearn to learn about ourselves , each other, and the mystery.
  • Grow by searching for what is right and true.
  • Believe in your ideas, share them, and listen as others share their ideas.
  • Insist on a fair and peaceful world.
  • Value the earth, our home.
Written as part of Steady Mom's 30 Minute Blog Challenge.

Monday, March 29, 2010


Today my youngest turns six. He was born at home, in the bed and bedroom I still sleep in. He was born fond of snuggling - I carried him in a sling a lot as a baby, and loved him to sleep. As a toddler he would good naturedly find his snuggling, sneaking into a lap when it was convenient to him.

He is very deliberate and independent now. He goes to bed on his own schedule, and doesn't need any help doing it- he may stay up later than we'd like sometimes, but then suddenly he's gone-taken himself off to bed. He's very deliberate in his answers to questions, which in this house often means his answers are provided for him. But if they are provided incorrectly you can be sure we'll hear about it! He is hard to interrupt because he will steadfastly continue on his course. I have found it quicker and easier to work with that and let him finish what he is doing before having him do the task I need from him. I've also found that more than one or two directions or questions at a time is a waste of my breath! He is endlessly energetic and always has something goiing on in his head (and is often engaged in visible, imaginative play). His good nature and happiness are nearly always apparent, and he continues to be an excellent smuggler.

He is quite picky about food, and has been known to leave the table in a huff if green vegetables are put on his plate. His good nature and position as third child have somehow helped him get away with this. Exhibit 1 is the fact that he somehow got three bought meals for his birthday, which has never before happened here! And he's a terrible sugar addict. The other two boys will eat their Halloween candy slowly, over days and week. Not Evan -- he eats his right away and then steals his brothers' if he thinks he can get away with it! When he was one or two we found him ensconced on the couch with a pile of foil wrapped eggs, deliberately unwrapping and eating each one with no end in sight.

He is very verbal, and describes and explains in detail. He knows how to take advantage of finding an available adult ear! He spends a lot of time on weekends at our neighbors house, either talking to her or playing on her computer. Sometimes he comes home with treats they've baked. He plays with ideas and absorbs at his own speed, sometimes surprising me with what he knows. He's an excellent unschooler.

All in all, he is nearly always a joy and causes us very little worry. We're glad he lives here!

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Journey North Mystery Class

We started the Mystery Class this week, and I thought I'd give a summary of our first get together. I found it difficult to figure out what to do, so maybe this will help someone else, or simply be a reminder to myself next year. I'm feeling my way through it, but I think the class offers a great opportunity to use data as clues, draw conclusions from graphs, discuss how seasons happen in an astronomical sense, and look at the geography of the world. I homeschool in part to be able to take advantage of integrated learning opportunities like this one!

We printed out data sheets and graphs -- a data sheet for each location (10 in all, and an additional one for each student to record their home data), and one graph for each student. I cut off the bottom inch of the top page of the graph and then taped the two pages together from the back. All the action happens around the 12-hour mark, so make sure the graph can be written on where the two pages join!

We introduced the class as simply taking time clues such as sunrise and sunset to find locations in the world, and that we will be doing this over time.

For the first week we had each student record the sunrise and sunset times for their home location, and calculate the photoperiod -- that is, how long it was light. By our first meeting we had two weeks of data for the home location. We split up the rest of the locations between the students and recorded sunrise and sunset times and calculated photoperiods. Each student then graphed the photoperiod for all eleven locations on their graph, using a separate color for each location (color a box of that color on the top of the data sheet), and noting the number of the site next to the first data point. Data can be graphed as a dot or an X, and as time goes on the data for each location can be connected in a line. So on our first week we had two points for Home and one point each for the other 10 locations.

We used a globe to discuss some of the simpler concepts, such as where it's light all day and when, and vice versa (the poles). (This would probably work better at night with a flashlight -- we did it in the daytime with sunlight -- or by using these pictures which I just found.) We looked at the line dividing day from night and talked about how it slants and what that means for the length of the days and nights in north and south hemispheres. With a flashlight I could have taken the globe around to the other side (retaining the same slant) and discussed the opposite season.

We talked about latitude and longitude in very general terms (latitude being measured by the lines parallel to the equator, and longitude being measured by the lines that go through the poles.) We read the Latitude Rap, which might be more interesting later -- right now it had too many new ideas. We mentioned the Prime Meridian as the base (or Universal) time used in the world (which lead to a brief discussion of the extent of the British Empire).

We looked at the completed chart included in the teachers pack on Latitude and used what we know to make some guesses about the locations on that graph.

We also viewed the video included in the clues for Location #6 and made some guesses on where it might be based on our data for the first week, their data for the first week, and a guess on the nationality (or native language) of the students.

Our students picked a pet location and filled out one sentence about it on the weekly worksheet. There will be more to write later, I think.

I think that's it! Next week I may have new students, so we may review. I may get a better grasp of the materials available on the Journey North site, also, and make use of more of them.

Check out my friend Kris's preparations too, at At Home Science.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Temper, temper

I have a bit of a temper. My mother will tell you all about it. Lately, my kids have been mentioning it too. So, with my wonderful new ipod Touch, I'm on a mission to improve it. I'm using (free) Daily Tracker -- I added a "Temper?" question, and every day I can answer yes or no. If I don't answer, it puts in a grayed out No for me, but doesn't count it in the statistics it compiles. Day one, before I decided to start, I lost it when our oldest broke a pretty wedding gift, but that, with the yelling a couple days before were what propelled me to this new effort, so they had a purpose.

It's day 2 that's worth talking about. It was a Sunday, which means I didn't have to direct the kids too much, and I didn't do any yelling. We just needed to get to church and home again, and keep the boys out of too much trouble. M (7) and I went to Family Yoga together. He went reluctantly, but he loved it. I wish it was more than once a month. The day is already fading into memory, but it was joyful, a really lovely day, and I have to think that my new resolution was part of that.

The days since have not been as good. One of them I yelled -- it bubbled out of me (with some cause that I don't know remember) so quickly that I didn't have a chance to quell it. The next day I didn't yell, but I was trying to get the boys to do some schoolwork, and they didn't appreciate it. In fact, the oldest ran away from home for about 45 minutes over math homework.

But I will hold the glow of that one day and hope that if I continue to work, it will be repeated.