Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Wherein I discover that I have only myself to blame

Yesterday we opened the box on a much-anticipated new program for our little homeschool:  The One Year Adventure Novel.

My kids like adventures, and novels, and writing stories.  They've "won" NaNoWriMo three years in a row now, though they have never done anything with their novels.  They would like to learn to write well.

Last year I tortured them by sending them to a very typical early high-school writing class, complete with literary analysis and the five-paragraph essay, and this year we needed something different. 

They aren't too hot on following a curriculum, though.  They just want to write, even though they know they have a lot to learn about writing. 

So I showed them OYAN and they were hooked, quickly.  Still, I was dubious; I've been burned by curriculum purchases before.  So I had them watch and read every available bit of information on the program before I clicked the purchase button.  They were ready, and we ordered.

We weren't all the way through lesson one before they started to rebel.  "No!  I don't want my character to be a kid!" "No!  I don't like this exercise."   There was moaning and eye-rolling. 

Oh boy.  I said a few things to try to make it better but of course only made it worse.  So I bit my tongue and we went on with our day.  As usual, I seethed and wondered how much I could sell the stuff for.  I was done already too. 

After a while we talked about it and decided that maybe it could still be good, and useful, and fun... but maybe, just maybe we didn't have to do everything exactly as the instructor said to.  Hmmm... still dubious.   But, I can't junk an entire (costly) program just because lesson one didn't click, right?

Today things looked better.  Ideas started to bubble.  We're on track to go on to lesson two tomorrow.

Still, it's frustrating.  Why do my kids have to have their own ideas, always?  Why can't they just follow the program the way it's written?  Why do they always have to think outside the curriculum box?

Oh wait.

I guess I trained them to do that.  Their dad did too.  From the day we decided not to send them to school at age 5, we've been doing things our own way.    We've modified curriculum, or skipped it altogether.   We've followed a nontraditional path with more than homeschooling: my kids saw their dad walk away from a 20-year career to go back to school to start a new one.   They've followed me (sometimes kicking and screaming) as I've gone from classical methods to Charlotte Mason to unschooling to school-at-home and back again.   (Just kidding on that last one.  We've never really done school at home.) 

It's my fault!  

So now I guess it's time to panic that they won't ever be able to manage in a classroom situation where there is no veering from the curriculum.   Right?  

Except... they did fine in that writing class last year. And the speech class the year before that.  And the art class they've taken for the past three years.  They didn't love every minute of every class.  Even in art!  They didn't enjoy every project.  But they understood the purpose of each class, and they did it.  They didn't complain and refuse to do work in the way the instructor told them to do it.  

So maybe, just maybe, they are learning when they can change things up, and when they can't.  I'm guessing by the time they start college classes (assuming they do), they'll have that figured out pretty well.  Reading about unschoolers going to college pretty much confirms that at least some kids can do that.   So maybe mine can too. 

So tomorrow we'll move on in OYAN and see what happens.   You can see the program by clicking the photo at the top, or by clicking here.  I'd love to hear from some families who are using it!

Friday, September 13, 2013

It's the little things

"Why can't anything ever work right?"

Do you ever ask that question?  I do, far more often than I should. 

Broken appliances, colds, allergies, learning disabilities, car troubles... sometimes it seems that nothing, and no one, works right.  

Like most people, I have some difficulties in my life.  I'd say mine are pretty light by first-world standards. (Of course by any other standard, I live the life of a queen.)   I do see people whose lives are (apparently) easy and stress-free:  their kids learn easily and conventionally;  illness rarely strikes; their cars never break down; they don't even ever seem to forget some needed item every time they go to the grocery store (to which they travel once per week, max, of course, not every other day like I do).   

But we don't know what's really going on.  Some people have problems they can't talk about, or prefer not to talk about. The ability to be organized and the blessing of healthy children doesn't mean a person has a perfect life.

But back to my (nonworking) life, as that's the example here.  I've got some things going that are out of my control, and sometimes I feel very alone as I wait for others to resolve them.  People aren't as responsive as they should be.  Documents I'm waiting for don't arrive as expected.

As a Christian who believes in a sovereign God, I should be more relaxed about this stuff.  I should know - indeed I do know, in my head - that God is working and I am not alone.  But it feels that way: that I am alone with no help. 

So today I picked up another small burden.  You might laugh at how small this burden is, but then again you may get it, because it's just one more stupid thing in a long list.  

I discovered that my oldest, who is taking the PSAT next month, hasn't used his calculator in a while (an embarrassingly long while) and probably doesn't know, or has forgotten, all the things he can do with it.  Things that might, you know, be useful to him on that test.  

And I wondered where the manual was.  Because I knew I hadn't seen it in a long, long time. 

A better mom would know where those things are.  Actually, a better mom would have made sure her teenager learned how to use the calculator right off, and would have given him the manual to store with his other school stuff so he could refer to it as needed. 

So this morning I thought about where it could be.  And with a bit of dread I went to one of the three likely places: the pile of appliance manuals that lives, rather haphazardly, in one of the cubbyholes of my IKEA bookcase/cubbyhole thing.  (I don't remember its cute IKEA name.)  I dug through the pile, and as I approached the bottom and was about to start crying, there it was:  the operations manual for the scientific calculator.  

Yes, it was a good place for it.  Yes, I'm the one who put it there.  

But still it lightened my heart a bit this morning, and made me feel just a little bit less alone.  A bit less disorganized and helpless and hopeless.  Some might laugh to read that I said a little prayer of thankfulness.  Because it felt like a little signal from God:  "Yes, I am here, and no, I haven't forgotten you."

It's a little thing.  But it was pretty big for me this morning.  

Nothing else has changed.  Except my attitude.

What is your small thing today? 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Faire excitement

It's Tuesday of week 4 in our little homeschool and we're already off our plan.  It's Renaissance Faire season.

I'm an old "Faire Junkie" from my days in California, when I went to the beloved Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Black Point Forest, just a bit north of San Francisco.  A friend and I drove up from the South Bay every Faire weekend for years. Somewhere around here I probably still have one of my "Fairever Cards" which is a quaint way of saying "season pass."  I have fond memories of those days and miss it.

Since we've lived in Pennsylvania I've been aware of the Faire here. It's a bit of a drive, and expensive for a family, so we've never gone.  One year we attended a small local faire, but... well, it was pitiful.  I knew going into it that it wouldn't be anything like my Faire, but it didn't even come close to measuring up.  Even my kids said "meh, don't need to go back."

So this year it's time for the big Faire.  We're studying Medieval history (still) and it's just time.  I need a Faire. You know what I mean? 

Though I had always dressed up for the Faire, we weren't planning to this time around.  Then, the kids got the the idea to make wooden swords to carry.  And then my girl decided to try on the dress she wore to the Reformation celebration we used to go to.  Well, she's grown a little since 2006 (!) but it got her thinking about dressing up.  I dug out what's left of my old Faire outfit... and away we go.

Now the kids are sanding and painting wooden swords and figuring out how to make a sheath and how to "peace-tie" their weapons.  We searched the fabric store for the best-looking, yet cheapest fake leather for sheaths.  We found a few items at the thrift store.  We're sewing capes and drawstring pouches and pulling buttons off an old shirt, to be replaced with lacing.  My girl doesn't need a dress after all - she and her brother are outlaws, so pants tucked into boots will work just fine.

We haven't given our days over completely to Faire prep, but close.  But there's still some regular academics going on. But did I mention that my math-fighting boy admitted (a bit grudgingly) that he found his geometry skills useful for measuring and marking the wood for his sword.  Right now he is measuring, cutting, and sewing.  

All my old (pre-digital) Faire photos are stashed in a box somewhere. I couldn't take the time to find some online to post without worrying about copyright.  But I did find this video of the opening ceremony at my old Faire, featuring Sir Francis Drake himself. It's a bit long, unless you miss the Black Point Renaissance Pleasure Faire, as I do. 

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Another reason to love homeschooling high school

Reading Canto V of The Inferno to my kids, with Tchaikovsky's Francesca da Rimini for the soundtrack. 

And check out these illustrations from a 14th century manuscript. They are copyright protected which is why you can't see them here.  

I've been waiting to share Dante with my kids for a long time.  Rather than just hand the book off to them to go through alone, I'm reading it aloud.  We spend a good bit of time talking about it.  I suppose I should make them do some sort of writing on it, or at least give them a quiz.   Talk of putting a grade on "work" like this requires another post, another time. For now...

This is what makes my homeschooling heart sing.

Friday, August 30, 2013

A reasonable start - but aren't they all?

It's the end of Homeschool week 2.  It's 9pm on Friday night, and I'm tired out!  In a few minutes, though, we're going to start watching the Jeeves & Wooster tv series.  I plan to knit the latest in a long line of dish/washcloths while we watch.  Mindless entertainment at its finest.

The first two weeks went pretty well.  We haven't found our groove yet but I'm optimistic.  We're all optimistic in  August, aren't we?

The boy who is sick is still sick, but maybe coming out of it a little.  Everyone is tired; no one seems to be getting enough sleep.  The mornings don't start quite when I'd like them to and we just aren't in sync yet.  When I'm ready to discuss the history reading, the boy wonders if it's a good time to ride the exercise bike.  And he's right; it is. So we work around that till he finishes, and then, whoa, it's almost lunch time!

But we are moving along in pretty much everything.  Science and math are still problematic for us; they always have been, so I'm not sure why I thought it might be different now.  Optimism!

One surprise is my girl's sudden change of attitude toward the history book.  We are using a regular ol' high school textbook as part of our  history this year.  One of the features of the book is the "reading check" - short questions every few pages, just to, well, check the reading.  I have my kids keep a notebook in which they write their answers, and we talk about them at the end of each section of the book.  Before summer break, she hated that book.  Now, she has decided it's not so bad after all.  Is it because we are moving into a more interesting time for her, or did she turn a corner over the summer and decide that maybe history is pretty interesting?  It doesn't matter, does it?   

Another cause for optimism is the purchase of the microscope. We waited a little too late, maybe, to finally get a good microscope, but it's exciting to have it.  The day it arrived, we found a dead yet perfect cicada on our front steps.  It is still in the fridge in a baggy, but next week it's going under the lens! 

I guess I should make a page for our studies this year.  But now it's time to Jeeves & Wooster!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Week Zero

Tomorrow begins Week Zero of our 2013/2014 school year.   Why Zero?

In a sudden, late burst of enthusiasm for the new school year, I typed up 2 weeks worth of work plans.  Then I realized that after the summer we've had, there's no way we're jumping right into all the work we have planned.   So, Week Zero.

It begins tomorrow, at the pool at a local-ish state park.  This is the last week the pool is open, and the first time we'll get there, despite plans to swim there oh, three or four times over the summer.  It's been a weird summer, in terms of both weather and ability to get out to the pool.  On the days we were free, it rained. Is there a message for me there? 

On the way there or back, we'll listen to a Great Courses lecture, from the series "The World was Never the Same."  The lecture is called "Dante Sees Beatrice" and we're listening in preparation for reading The Inferno together this year.   The speaker is very engaging, so I don't expect listening will be a burden. 

I'll finish reading The Giver aloud, and we'll talk about it a bit. We're reading that because we needed a family read-aloud that is fairly short.  But also, it's on a lot of lists so I thought I should read it.  There are sequels but my kids can decide to read those if they want.  I think my 16-year-old will be taking on 1984 and Brave New World next, though.

We'll also clean out the school crates, recycle the old science and test-prep workbooks we never finished, and generally clean up.

The 16-year-old will do a practice CLEP test (Humanities or Western Civ I, we're not sure yet) to see how he does and if testing like that is a viable option for us.  This isn't an official test, just at the kitchen table with the practice test book.  Should be fun!

It's been almost three months since my last post, and this is only my fifth post for 2013!   I don't have any illusions that I'm going to be a regular blogger again anytime soon.  I don't know if I'm going to go back to my 2013 reading page and update it.  Goodreads seems to have taken the place of that.  Whenever I make a blogging commitment to myself, I almost immediately have cause to break it.  I do miss it, though.

Despite our lack of swimming, it wasn't a terribly bad summer, but not a terrifically good one, either.  I was seriously burned out on homeschooling, even parenting in general.  I read a few fluff books. I did some cleaning and organizing.  We did manage some field trips, though not the trip-per-week I had planned.I stopped reading blogs altogether, even my favorite homeschool blogs.   But I seem to be coming out of it. 

A good session of homeschool planning, with books and papers piled all around me, will do it every time.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Cultural Homeschoolers

A couple of weeks ago I was at a medical appointment with one of my kids (the sick one) and the nurse asked him about school, specifically, if he was missing much school because of being sick.  He said he was not exactly, because he is homeschooled.  So she turned to me and asked "are you homeschooling because he is too sick to go to school, or are you..."  I could tell she didn't how to finish the sentence.

So I said no, we are not homeschooling because he's sick, but we are... (pause, because I couldn't think of the word either)... cultural homeschoolers.  Yes, that's it!  Cultural homeschoolers.  It's part of our culture.

She got that. She smiled and said "that makes sense."  It was nice to see that she got that.  If you are a homeschooler who has tried to explain yourself to people who don't get it, you might understand what I mean.

So now I know what we are.  We are cultural homeschoolers.

Having a definition doesn't change a thing, but it's still nice to have one.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Life in the Schoolhouse

If I was to examine my blog archives (which go back to 2005, so I won't), I wonder if there would be a blogging break every year around late winter and early spring.

So the schoolhouse still has two kids.  And a mom and a dad.  And the dog! The sick kid is still sick, but things are looking up.  A little, maybe.  Spirits are up, anyway.

We are still homeschooling.  I saw a great quote on Bravewriter's Facebook page the other day:

In the fall, it's classical education.
In the winter, Charlotte Mason.
By spring, it's all unschooling.


As usual around this time of year, I'm panicking about the homeschool evaluation and portfolio.  As usual, we haven't produced much this year.  We didn't even do a project, like our Voyager's Stone map or the Leafcutter Ant display.   But we'll manage; we always do.

In other news, I finally got semi-mobile by getting a Kindle Fire for my birthday.  I still don't have a smartphone but that will be coming.  My old phone, which is my husband's old phone, was once a hot commodity:  a Motorola RAZR.  Yeah.  Some guy standing in line behind me at a doctor's office the other day expressed his amazement that I was still using such an old phone.  Well, it works! Every time I use it!

I'm really itching to start blogging with photos.  There are technical reasons I don't, and they go beyond "middle-aged mom can't figure out this new-fangled gadget."    My daughter is taking some great photos lately; she is following a talented aunt in this way.   And dreaming of a DSLR camera which is way out of everyone's budget right now.   But her babysitting business is picking up!   

Spring is here, and though that means the hot, humid, hated summer is coming, it's hard not to be optimistic, content, and even happy. 

Doesn't it seem like a photo of just-about-to-bloom daffodils should go here? Hm... I think we have some in the back yard....

Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Day in the Life (with 14- and 15-year-old)

The folks at Simple Homeschool have invited us to post about a day in our homeschooling lives.  I have enjoyed writing these sorts of posts in the past.  It's fun to follow a day and document it.  It might be a typical day, or it might not.  It's also fun to read about other homeschooling families' days.  Well, OK, sometimes it can be a little distressing, if we start comparing (negatively) our day to some other family's day, so we should remember it's just one day out of many.  Maybe that Mom isn't always so creative, fun, organized...

Much of the past two years haven't been such fun for me to document.  My son (the 15-year-old) is chronically sick with, as far as we can tell, a non-life-threatening, nonspecific illness. In other words, tests don't show anything and none of the many doctors we've seen can figure it out.  And since no one can figure out what's wrong, no one can figure out how to make him feel better.  So we deal with nausea, coughing, sleep disturbances, fuzzy thinking, and other symptoms we'd rather not talk about, all day, every day, while trying to homeschool at a high school level. (By the way, my boy gave me permission to tell you about this.)

So let's get started and document this day.  I don't know what will happen!  It could be a good day, meaning we will get some things done.  Or, maybe not.   We are doing things a little differently today.  Usually our day starts slowly, and late, at least compared to most homeschool families I know.  But today my boy has a "playdate" at 2pm. Since he is a teenager, this is not what you're thinking. He and a friend want to play a new game together via X-Box Live, and that's the time the friend is available.  Since there is a general ban on X-Box after 9 am and before 4pm, this gets special consideration.  A promise was made to get up early and get started on his work right away. His usual practice is to get up anytime between 9 and 10, depending on how many times he woke up in the night.  Sometimes, despite the general ban, he does play a little X-Box in the morning to help himself wake up if he's had a bad night.  

And yes, he does get up early: 8:30.  Yes, that's early for him.  First off, he takes his meds, has a drink, then hits the exercise bike. Since sleep disturbances can be caused by a lack of physical tiredness, exercise is important, though it is usually not done first thing. 

While he is exercising, my girl, the 14-year-old - who just had an orthodontist appointment and is still in a little pain - gets up and starts puttering around the kitchen, talking to the dog and looking for sympathy and something soft to eat. (I gave up on a family breakfast a long time ago; it's every man for himself around here.) 

I take this chance to get my shower.  The Dad of the house is long gone to work.

Because we didn't follow our usual routine, I missed our morning Bible reading.  Bad Mom!  We'll do it tomorrow.

Usually the morning (after the Bible reading I forgot today) is the time for independent work. (Morning is a relative term.  Sometimes that means 11!)   I try to supervise as needed, bouncing from one child to the other while trying to clean the kitchen and do laundry in between.  In theory, we get together to do work together after lunch.  This is the rare day when that might work; we don't have anyplace to go!   The kids have a checklist to work off every day so they can't forget anything, though things do get skipped.   I'm working toward a weekly, then a monthly, then maybe a quarterly checklist, then - complete independence! 

After his exercise, my boy does some reading in The Middle Ages, a nice non-scholarly history book on the time period we're studying this year.  We are all reading it, together but separately; from time to time we talk about it and everyone has to write a short paragraph for each chapter.  I am behind everyone else in my reading.   When he's done with that, he goes to the computer to read a chapter in CK-12's Biology 1 course and watch the associated videos.  He's doing pretty well today; he hasn't gotten tired and he hasn't thrown up!  Maybe he's pushing himself because he wants to get a lot done before 2.  But it's pretty hard to hold back vomiting, so we'll just call it a good day.

My girl goes off to read Animal Farm; she's using a study guide from Glencoe Literature Library along with it.  After that, she does some grammar, some reading in our history text, and then practices piano.  When she's finished with that, she does a little math; she's working in Key To Percents and an 8th grade Spectrum math book.  She has to take standardized tests this year, so I need to be sure she is at least familiar with 8th grade math concepts.  No, this is not ideal - we don't like "teaching to the test" but, you know, we do what works at the time, right?  

One thing about having a sick kid:  the other kid(s) in the family are often affected.  If I'm at the Children's Hospital with him having some sort of test, she's not getting help with math.  So no one is really working at grade level in math right now.

Now it's about time for lunch.  We make some refried bean nachos (hey, it's pretty healthy) and use that time to listen to a history lecture (The Early Middle Ages from The Great Courses).  We look at some examples of Carolingian Miniscule print online and briefly peruse a web page about Alcuin of York.  Next, it's time for Latin.  We use Visual Latin, and we're going through it very slowly.  But we get part of a lesson done!  Then both kids check their homework for tomorrow's writing class to be sure it's all set to go. 

Now it's time for the playdate.  My girl finishes up her history reading, then goes outside to take some photos.  She's trying to find the perfect entry for an upcoming contest.  I notice she didn't do any science work, but I don't want to stop her photo shoot.  We'll get it done tomorrow.

I start making dinner and do some paperwork. I spend a minute worrying about high school transcripts and grades, then set it aside for another time. 

4pm, and the game is over. My boy thanks me for letting him do it and tells me he feels better today than he has in a while.  He goes to his room to ride the exercise bike again.  My girl gets ready for a babysitting job she has later, then downloads photos and studies them.  I don't think she got that perfect shot yet.

Dad blows in and we eat dinner.  Usually we talk about the day's history learning, and today is no exception. Then he runs out to a meeting.  My boy showers, then sits down to do his math.   This is new for us; I can't remember the last time anyone did work after dinner.  He's tired now, and would rather not do it, but that was part of the deal.  He's working his way through Mastering the Fundamentals of Math; he had been doing Algebra 1 but with his fuzzy thinking problem, math has gotten harder and some things have been lost.  So we're reviewing the basics.  Sometimes he needs me to sit with him and help him through some of the problems, but not today. He's determined to soldier on.  (When I checked it later, he got 75% of the problems right, so we have to go back tomorrow and work on those.)

While I take my girl to her babysitting job, he does some more history reading.  It sounds like we do a lot of history around here, doesn't it?  I have a post about history that's been in draft status for a long time; maybe I'll get that done soon!  After he finishes, we talk for a bit about the fate of Europe and thus the US if the Germanic tribes had not invaded the Roman Empire.  We have talks like that a lot.  He loves to speculate. 

Now, he's watching a creepy-sounding tv show, my girl is still babysitting, Dad is still at his meeting, and I'm here.  Our day is done.

This was not a typical day.  I don't know what a typical day is right now!  But it was a good day. It might not seem like much of a high school day.  We didn't really produce anything except some math work (which can be a bit problematic here in Pennsylvania where portfolios are required).  But we're doing what works for us right now, not unschooling (which hasn't worked for us), but sometimes close. Some days it is very unschoolish around here!   But they are learning, every day.

Thanks to Simple Homeschool for the opportunity to do this.  I hope this is helpful to others who have chronically-ill children or who otherwise have homeschools that don't look like everyone else's.

You can do your own A Day in the Life post and link up too, at Simple Homeschool.  If you don't have a blog, you can share your day in the comments there, so go ahead and do it!

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

New Year's Eve at the Schoolhouse

The kitchen is a mess. The dishwasher is full of clean dishes but the sink and counter are littered with dirty ones. There's a small table in the family room covered with coffee cups, a wine glass, and plates with pumpkin pie crumbs.  Pillows are scattered on the floor between the couch and the television.

The remains of a wild New Year's Eve party?

Yes!  My little family spent yesterday and evening watching two of the three movies in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  We'll watch the third movie today. 

If you knew us, you'd know how wild a party that was.

We like movies.  We'd like to watch more than we do.  But it's so hard to fit a movie in to our day or evening.  On a typical evening we're sitting down to relax about an hour before everyone should be getting ready for bed.   So we will content ourselves with watching a 40- or 50-minute tv show, or we'll plan to watch a movie over two nights.  For some reason, even though we can sit for two or more hours in a movie theater without getting up, when we watch a movie at home we rarely can go an hour without someone needing to get up: to get more water, coffee, or something to eat; to use the bathroom; to get the barking dog into the house.  

So when we started talking about watching the Lord of the Rings again after seeing The Hobbit, I wondered how long would it take us to watch 10+ (12?) hours of movie. At our rate, it could take over a week!  But the adults conferred and we decided to surprise and thrill the children by announcing the New Year's LotR Film Fest:  all three movies over two days.   We began about 1:00 Monday afternoon, and wrapped up our day just before midnight.

No, we didn't make it through all three films. We didn't even attempt that. We took breaks for a couple of dog walks, some room cleanup, a little laundry, and dinner after completing The Fellowship of the Ring.  We started The Two Towers around 7:30 and planned to watch half of it. (Some of us didn't feel the need or desire to stay up till midnight.)  But though that is not a movie I truly enjoy, even I had to admit it:  there's not a good place to stop.  If you've seen it, and disagree, tell me where you'd take an overnight intermission.  In the middle of Helm's Deep?  During the Ent walk?  I think not. 

This morning everyone is still sleeping.  As always, I'm the first one up. I'm tired, and feel a little sluggish from the lack of activity yesterday.  This morning we'll clean up the debris from last night, restart the dishwasher, take the dog for a good long walk, and sit back down again.  I hope to finish before dinner, so we can have a calm and early night. 

I'm glad it won't be such a long day of movie-watching.  I'm happy that we're doing this, but I wouldn't want to do it too often.  I hope my kids feel the same way.

Wild parties like this shouldn't happen too often.

How do you spend New Year's Eve and Day?