Sunday, October 14, 2012

The journey of another school year is upon us. Yes, we're later than the public school systems, but the girls and I unanimously agreed not to cut our summer short. Sticky heat makes for grumpy students (and teachers), whereas crisp, chilly fall mornings make for simply perfect school days. I settled on the first of October and the girls firmly held me to that despite my urge to start mid September! One of the things that I love most about homeschooling is the ability to shape it around, and blend it into our life, in the ways that suit us best. I love the exquisite flexibility of that. Lately I've heard several people complaining about the state of Ct and what a terrible place it is to live. I respectfully, yet strongly, disagree. There are many reasons why I love my state, but one of the most important is the freedom that Ct ‘allows’ to its homeschooling families. No one is checking up on me, making sure I meet a set number of school days or cover subjects deemed important by someone, anyone else. No one is testing the girls to make sure they're 'smart enough' or that I've done my job well enough. I've discovered that doing it my way is pretty much the only way that consistently works for us, and I’m quite relieved not to have anyone breathing down my neck as we continue along on our homeschooling journey.

I realized after a week spent pulling this post together that it was going to be a long one. Perhaps a very long one. So pull up a chair, wrap your hands around a warm mug of tea and settle in for a bit. Welcome to our classroom...

My day starts at 5:00. I enjoy getting up early and having the house to myself for a time. It’s quiet and peaceful and allows me to come to life slowly and gently. Despite rising before the sun it still takes me several hours to make my way through all of the morning chores, so our school day begins promptly at eight. As you can see we're all dressed and ready to greet the day. I find that sitting around in our pajamas with morning breath and uncombed hair makes everyone feel lazy and sickly. Neither of which is conducive to easy learning. Over the years the 'school room' has changed location. When the girls were younger they each had desks, cast-offs from a local public school. Now, our collective desk is the kitchen table. We've also had specific rooms dedicated solely to school, but presently all of our rooms serve other purposes. The kitchen really is ideal. Tons of light and all the heat from the wood-stove travels right up the basement stairs, keeping us warm and toasty. It's especially lovely when the rain is falling or the snow is dancing down beyond the window panes. A delightful distraction.

From 8:00 until 10:00 are now the focused school hours, our work together time. Any questions? Need help? This is the time to ask. All prep-work, or homework, is now done before the start of school. The girls choose when and where as long as it's completely complete before we sit down together. I felt the need to instill some accountability this year, and have left more of the work as their responsibly. Looking ahead, if they decide to go to college (which isn't that far ahead for Tay), there are certain skills that will be helpful to sharpen and hone. Being responsible for your own work (without any reminders from me) is one of those little things.

I had hoped that this year we could be free from unfavorable behavior, but after day one I realized we weren't quite there yet. I can't tolerate any sniping, bickering or disrespect, so the behavior bucks came back out. They are allotted two per day. At the end of the morning they still need one of those bucks left in order to get their computer time for the day. Since they've been wee little babes my punishments/consequences have always been very specific. The secret? Find what currently appeals to them most... and take it away. Don't just threaten. Take. It. Away. Right now they spend quite a bit of time online, perusing Pinterest for ideas, skype chatting with friends, responding to emails, blogging... the list goes on and on. It's effectively painful to confiscate it for a whole 24 hours. No yelling, no fuss, no muss. Perfect.

Math. I love math. Specifically algebra. This is usually how we start the day, but it can and does vary. Whatever I happen to grab first. Taylor, Jordan and I are doing a thorough review of Algebra 1 and 2 to make sure it’s all cemented in there. For right now I’m using to keep me on track. I buy a yearly subscription ($40.00) and have unlimited access to their website and all of its worksheets. It has been indispensable to me through the years, most especially when it comes to math. As for Riley Mae, she's in the last year of the Spectrum workbooks, which I've loved for their repetition. Sometimes things do become redundant, but we have the simple option of skipping right over it all. The beginning of each year is a review of many different things, today she happens to be covering fractions, some of which she remembers, some of which… not so much. It is her self proclaimed favorite subject this year. That's my girl.

I'm finding that we're ending up with too much homework for my taste. I'd rather Jordan and Riley Mae had the free time to create a new music video, or that Taylor has the space to work on her novel instead of having to spend the day hunched over textbooks and workbooks. Life should be full of the things that make your heart sing, and this week hasn't left much spare time. So, instead of trying to cover World History, Science and U.S. History all at once, I'm going to tackle one at a time. If we move through steadily we can still cover it all, but without the madness of overwhelming homework.

History. We’re still making our way through the Joy Hakim series, A History of US. I continue to love these books. I'm fascinated by how our country was shaped, and Hakim does a fair job of showing the good, the bad and the ugly. Although these books have great student guides that go along with each volume I chose a different route this year. I decided it was time to teach the girls to take notes. Once again, if they intend to move on to college, this will be another one of those "important things". Daily, they're each responsible for reading a chapter and taking pertinent notes. The following morning I give them a short quiz to see if they've done a thorough job and in this way I am able to gauge their (hopefully improving) skills. So far, so good. This process also includes my tips on test taking, which they have had the joy of avoiding for many a year. Ugh, test stress. That, we can all do without.

World History. We’re also still using the The Story of theWorld series. Although written for much younger children I find it covers the basics and is easier to understand. We’re finally approaching a time period we are familiar with, and so can soon tie our ancient world history to our current American history. Riley Mae loves this subject, whereas Jordan is ready to leave the ancient history where it belongs… far, far behind us. Admit it Jord, invading barbarians and gladiators were pretty cool.

Science. Not thrilled with the science. I'm using Natural Science Mysteries and I guess it will do... for now. It’s covering what I’d like it to cover and the book isn't as dry and tedious as last year’s installment which is a very good thing. When my eyes glaze over? Yeah, I'm pretty sure I'm not learning much. Or retaining anything. So far we've dug into sound and light, both super interesting. I love learning about the things you wouldn't want to do without, yet are taken for granted every single day. We have an awesome sound experiment to try out if only I can find a large stereo speaker somewhere…

Spanish. I bought a computer program this year, Berlitz. It’s hundreds of dollars cheaper than Rosetta stone, so I thought I’d give it a try. We've just scratched the surface, but so far we’re all enjoying it. We haven’t done enough to know if it will really improve our language skills or not, time will tell, but we’re having fun so that’s a good start. Here we are repeating phrases which the program records and then rates our pronunciation. Most days we share a good laugh. This is Jordan’s favorite subject this year.

Geography. This is one subject that was sorely lacking in my education. Until I started teaching the girls I couldn't even tell you where most of the states were, it really was pathetic. And then I discovered an awesome (and free) website that turned it all around for me ~ It has games for a ton of subjects, but I mainly use it for geography. In escalating degrees of difficulty you must identify each state named, some maps have outlines, others don’t. Sometimes the girls and I will race each other which is always great fun. Wanna give it a try? This link will bring you to our current challenge. Jordan is the uncontested winner, she got 50 out of 50 correct in 64 seconds. Can you beat that? I sure can't, my top score is a sad 109. Right now we’re still refreshing ourselves on the Unites States, but next we move on to world geography. By the end of our school year I hope to feel much more competent in identifying the countries in the world around me. Wish me luck, I'll need it.

Writing. Inspire! Motivation Lessons for Teen Writers. I initially bought this book for Taylor, as I try and tailor bits and pieces of our day to each girl's interests and strengths. Once the book arrived I discovered to my joy that it's really well written and have decided to include everyone in the exercises. Last week I chose a specific audience for their assignment, their 3 year old cousin Ellamae. They have been given the challenge of writing a short children’s book with her in mind. What decides their ‘grade’? Whether or not they can fully entertain  and engage their young cousin, keeping her attention throughout the story. Jordan and Riley Mae have run wild with it, and all three have created small works of art, as they tend to do. I don't often meet with resistance when I assign a creative project although they aren't always Taylor's "thing". I did have her begging me the other day to "let" her write a report, yeah... to each her own. 

Riley Mae's creation ~ The Golden Peach

  Jordan's creation ~ Waldo's New Home

 Taylor's creation ~ The Princess's New Friends

Poetry. Oh my. My love of the  year. I found a great little book, 101 Great American Poems. I thought it would broaden our minds a bit to read some timeless poetry, little did I know how much I would be enjoying myself! I’m embarrassed to admit that often when I’m confronted by a poem I give it a quick skim. A really quick skim. If it’s challenging at all to my picky (lazy?) little neurons I kick it to the curb and move on. I mean, really, who has time to decipher cryptic words and metaphors? I have enough trouble translating my own thoughts, let alone the ramblings of a long dead poet from another time. However, as with most other subjects I've come to realize that once I give it my full attention it becomes a triumphant joy instead of a tedious chore. Given the proper consideration and time most poems spring to life like magic, and I’m not satisfied to give them a single run through. Oh no, most demand a third or a fourth read, simply because they’re so astoundingly, breathtakingly beautiful and each time around reveals more and more of the mystery. And it isn't only me; all three of the girls agree that poetry is one of our favorite subjects this year. I have come to believe that poems will mean something different to most everyone who takes the time to savor and digest them. They seem to reflect back to us the current and meaningful aspects of our lives. They feed my spirit in a most unexpected and wonderful way.  This year Taylor claims poetry as her most favorite subject and I may be inclined to second that. {Interested in our favorite poetry picks so far? Taylor, Jordan, Riley Mae, Melinda}

Extras. I've added in a lot of fun extras this year, reminiscent of our beginning school days. Some are more scholarly, for example analogies, but still fun. Origami, kirigami, drawing, logic puzzles, mysteries… last week we worked on a logic puzzle for quite some time... and failed miserably. I spent another hour or more on it that night and still had no success. Sad, but true, I couldn't solve a children's puzzle. Sigh. I’m still deciding whether or not to go back and try it again. The girls also want to make a terrarium this year, that's always a fun project. We're stepping back into a bimonthly newspaper which we did on and off when the girls were younger. It's a project that they have always enjoyed and I think that their readers enjoy it also. It will now be an online newsletter with contributions from all: recipes, photos and some of those random facts that we all love. Our first issue has yet to be released, those children's books took longer much than anticipated!

Piano. Taylor and Jordan have been taking lessons since they were young, but the piano has sat mournfully quiet for the last couple of years now. In fact I tried to sell it this summer… before I decided not to. I had to actually hire a moving company to get it back into the house, but for the past couple of weeks it has been singing again. Taylor, Riley and I practice each day, but Jordandecided to try her hand at the guitar instead. Calluses are forming and today she proudly announced that she can manage Kumbaya. Yay.

Review. In my last homeschool posts I let you in on one of my main secrets of success… review. Review, review, review!!! Go over it once and it’ll most likely be gone forever. But go over it again and again? Then it has time to grow deep roots, and we find we're able to access those facts and that info with ease. I especially love random and little known facts. Each day the girls have a crossword puzzle that I pulled together which reviews a past subject. It’s a fun and easy way to refresh yourself. EclipseCrossword is a downloadable program that I've been using for many years now. It’s free and very simple to us. I've got crosswords in every subject imaginable ~ honeybees, dinosaurs, early American explorers, Jamestown, Lewis and Clark, arthropods, Abe Lincoln, Knights, Space, The Nervous System… almost 100 in all. I'm determined to get through them all this year ... but I say that every year and rarely succeed.

Clubs. The girls belong to two clubs this year, both of which they're thoroughly enjoying. Over the summer Taylor was lamenting the lack of a book club in her life, so I suggested she start her own. It has been one of the highlights of their month. They meet at a cute and eclectic little coffee shop in town, all fellow homeschoolers except for their cousin (Hi Maddie! :). They've made a new friend, as have I {Beauty that Moves}, and once their book is delightfully discussed and dissected they spend another hour chatting, laughing and sipping on a hot mug of organic tea. Also, at the suggestion of a friend, Jordan and Taylor also recently joined Interact, a younger version of the Rotary Club. Its focus seems to be mainly on community service and they're already signed up to help out at a local town event next weekend. They're also both looking forward to ringing the Salvation Army bell near Christmastime. ;)

And so, there you have it. A typical day in our classroom. Not so very strange and unusual after all. I know that our year has just begun but so far I feel pretty great about it. We're learning a lot and we're laughing a lot, a perfect recipe for success. We'll probably be burnt out right around April, when the warm weather returns and calls us away. But until then you'll find us scribbling, scribbling away.

And now, much as I reward the girls for sticking with it, I'd like to do the same for you. You definitely deserve a pat on the back if you have made it to the end of this long and jam-packed post! I recently realized that it has been quite some time since I have hosted a giveaway and that really is a shame because they make me feel so darn good. It's simple really, all I ask is that if you're not already signed up to receive my posts directly to your inbox please do so at the top of this page (please don't forget to verify!). Then, leave me a comment telling me what your favorite school subject is/was. What's in it for you? I'll be giving away one of my favorite things, a handcrafted pouch chock full of my green cleaning and beauty recipes! It includes most all of the tried and true recipes that I use on a daily basis, all in a handy little purse. I had recently contemplated selling these again in Backyard Dreams, but for now the mere thought of it completely overwhelms me. Instead, I'm just going to give them away! For anyone who already owns one, this is a new and updated version, with many, many new concoctions! I'll name the winner in next week's post. Good luck! (Pouch fabric will vary)

And so, I'm off to enjoy my Sunday. It's rainy and cozy, perfect for an afternoon spent curled up reading. :)

Happy, happy day Friends.