Saturday, August 29, 2015

Analytical Grammar - A Review

In my circle of friends I am pretty well-known to be a grammar-nazi. I grew up with a grammar-nazi-English-French-Latin teacher. That would have been my mother. I have distinct memories of sitting around the dinner table which is now in my own dining room, listening to my mom and sister (10 years older than I am) debate nuances of sentence structure over the evening meal.

Today over lunch a few of these friends were laughing about my insistence on using this particular grammar program for the kids and one of them said, "You know, Hitler's speech writer was a grammar-nazi." That's the funniest thing I've heard in a long time. A true grammar-Nazi!

The weird thing is I hate studying grammar--I don't understand it and I can't always explain it, but you'd better believe I know when something is wrong, and I know how to correct it, edit it, reword it, and make you feel stupid in the process (my bad).

One of my mother's truisms was, "Good manners never go out of style." I have used that so much with my kids, but in this world of texting, internet butchering, and basic linguistic idiocy, I have edited it to add,
"Good manners and good grammar never go out of style."

When I went to school diagramming sentences was falling out of fashion, so I missed out on it until I was studying for my M.A. in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and my friend Kendra basically dragged me through a course in Intensive English Grammar. It wasn't my favorite thing, but I determined then if I had been exposed to diagramming when I was much younger, I would have much better fluency with grammar and would be able to break things down better for my students.

When it came time to see that my son was well-versed in the grammar and usage of his own language, I came upon Analytical Grammar, and decided that it made sense to me. I liked the author's explanation that grammar is a finite subject. It need not be studied indefinitely--only practiced once the body of knowledge has been learned. 

It starts out simply enough, but do not be deceived--Analytical Grammar is not easy. By the end of the second season there were a few sentences to be parsed and diagrammed where my son, who has made consistent A's on the tests, would look at me and say, "Who says that?" We may have skipped a few sentences in the exercises because I'm not into hard for hard's sake, but 98% of the exercises have been relevant, thorough and challenging.

Today Matt said to me, "That is one of the most practical programs we've ever done. I really find myself thinking about where to place my commas and how things go together." This is from the 14 year old who started the program at the end of 6th grade and has been working very, very slowly through it. It is set up to be done quite easily in three "seasons" if you are a fast worker and do little else like eating or sleeping. We found that we had to break it up into very small chunks. If he worked for more than 30-40 minutes a day on grammar, frustration would build and tempers would flare. Once we figured out just how much of it he could take in a sitting, however, it moved along much better.

I will admit that I wondered at times if I was killing his love of language, writing, or learning in general by having him tackle such a program as this. On the contrary, he is proving to be an excellent writer, an articulate communicator, and capable of tackling advanced texts. It has boosted his confidence as a student, and the skills he has gained in studying English grammar is helping him to rock the very dead, but not so easy Latin. It is proving to me that rigor is not always the enemy of education, as so many of our modern educators seem to think. Learning is not always fun--sometimes it's just old-fashioned hard work, and this curriculum falls into that category at times.

My daughter (10) has worked through book three of First Language Lessons for The Well-Trained Mind by Jessie Wise. It has been a solid program as well, but I don't enjoy teaching the scripted lessons as well, so we are starting Jr. Analytical Grammar this year, and so far she loves it. Unlike her brother, she more than tolerates grammar study--she loves it. Perhaps she will be able to take AG in bigger chunks when the time comes!

Here's the other weird thing about this curriculum and that is, in spite of my background and my credentials, I have learned more grammar working through this with my son than in any other course of study I have taken. If and when I go back to teaching ESL when the kiddos are done with their educations, I will be a better instructor for having used Analytical Grammar to teach my kids.

BTW - apparently the term "Grammar Nazi" offends someone.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Week 1: Tired. Delusional. It's Fine...

I went out to lunch today with three of my favorite homeschooling friends to celebrate one of our birthdays--not mine. All but one of us had households who started back to school routines this week, and the fourth is easing in.

We three who had started back into it sang the praises of our kids--how hard they worked, how they proved themselves, how they checked off all the assignments we gave them and kept a good attitude all the while. It was stellar--delusional, even. Then Candace said, "Wait a minute--can we just stop here and remember this moment for a few months down the road when we AREN'T having a week like this?"


Truth. 

We did have a great week if you count success in terms of things done, but life is not always about that, and I will have to remind myself of that again and again, I'm quite sure. I mean, we are not exactly novices at this, but every year we seem to go through through the same ceremony of planning, reworking, setting the bar, making the schedule. It always ends up sort of the same in the end--never exactly according to our original plan, but somehow, we always manage to get it done.

We had to make a couple of major lifestyle adjustments with this new-fangled plan due to the fact that we have not had a school routine for quite some time. Both kids (who are night-owls) wanted to get their work done earlier in the day and have more afternoon time free, so I made sure that they were up by 7:30 every day and working by 8:30. This Friday evening as I write, we are all completely knackered, but the productivity that resulted was very rewarding. They both completed all of their assigned work, finished early today and had the whole afternoon free to play and cut grass or do whatever else life called upon them (and me) to do. In my case it was to go out to lunch at a fantastic restaurant and have some laughs with friends. I realized once I was out I really did need some time out and away.

All her practice paid off and she had a great lesson this week!
reading for Tapestry of Grace
Biology...classification of stuff... 
Got their C-cards! It's official!
Let's see if we can keep this pace next week. I'm looking forward to tackling some of the new challenges with the older kids at our first co-op--Discussing Don Quixote, digging into the history of the world, Old and New, unraveling some government documents, and having fun doing it.

But let me keep in mind that we are off to an amazing start and things don't always stay this way--I've been doing this long enough to know that one virus or too many phone calls in a day can really throw us of a game-plan. Hopefully...after 15 years of this...I won't sweat it too much.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Week 1: Settling into Routine


Last night I was so tired I went to bed before 9:30. Getting my head around this routine without feeling overwhelmed has been tiring. To help work it out, I went to the gym yesterday afternoon and PR'ed a lift and worked out really hard. I felt much better after that. I actually felt just a little bad-a**.

Note to self--Never skip your workouts. Never, ever. Unless you are at death's door or in traction. 

So I woke this morning and made muffins with my daughter and cooked bacon in a cast-iron skillet, boiled eggs and made everyone feel like they had a mother that cared about them. I felt like I was in the kitchen way too much today so tonight we're ordering Chipotle. So domestic.

In case you're wondering what it is that we are diving into this week,

Here are the curricula choices that we have settled on for this year:

Matt, age 14 grade 9

Tapestry of Grace, Beginning Rhetoric level
      This includes history, literature, writing, government and worldview studies
Apologia Biology
Analytical Grammar (finishing the last season)
Think Outside the Border Lingua Latina 1
Math U See Algebra 1 (finishing) and Geometry
Music - Mandolin

Molly, age 10 grade 5

Tapestry of Grace, Upper Grammar level
     includes: history, literature, and worldview
Apologia Flying Creatures
Jr. Analytical Grammar
Phonetic Zoo level A spelling
Writing With Ease Level 3
Beautiful Feet Geography using Paddle to the SeaSeabird and Minn of the Mississippi
Music - Violin

On Wednesdays we will have co-op. In the morning we cover science and art (for the younger kids) and Biology lab for the older kids. In the afternoon we cover the writing, history, literature and government portions of TOG.

When I look this over it seems like a lot, however, we are trying something new this year, and that is a trimester system. We will cover three units (27 weeks) of Tapestry of Grace this year instead of four full units (36 weeks), and will have longer breaks in winter and spring. We are hoping that by building in rigor balanced with extended rest periods that even include travel and adventures for our family (read SCUBA diving!), we will maximize the time we spend on academics.



Wait for it. You can watch along with me and see if this little experiment unravels or not. Anyway, the plan is made. I can't unmake it. Well, yes I can but I don't want to have to.

Week 1: Getting Back to Routine, Starting High School!!!

Wow...I'm pooped! It was a good, but full day! I'm so proud of how both kids jumped right in and got to work on their academics.

Today marks the beginning of my son's high school journey, my daughter is starting 5th grade (whatever that means) and my hubby is attending his first graduate class for his MBA! It's going to be a busy year!


Looking ahead at the year, I am feeling slightly daunted, knowing that my son has chosen to pursue a fairly rigorous course of study, which includes Tapestry of Grace's rhetoric level work. My daughter constantly challenges me with her unconventional learning style which is both the greatest delight to me and a source of frustration at times.

It has been a while since we have been in our "normal" (haha) routine. When my mom passed away last fall it was difficult for me to keep up with things at the same level that I had done in the past, and the kids did a great job of keeping up with things that they could do on their own. I was much less present than usual. Now, however, I feel both ready and eager to help steer them through this year, and rediscover the joy that has been our experience up to this point.

I am hoping to "live-blog high school" so to speak. Looking back, I've had this blog since 2006, and while it doesn't reach many people, I do find that some seek me out and express that it has in fact encouraged them. Hopefully, our high school journey will be a way to continue encouraging parents who truly want to see this thing through.

So, it's a journey of firsts for all of us--and I begin a new blogging adventure, as well!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

They Did It!

Ready to swim...

That's my BABY!!

Getting ready for Dive #2


Awesome instructors!

He looks like a superhero.

Signal...dive.

Now our whole family is SCUBA certified! Adventures await!

I was not really prepared for how tough this was going to be. I thought since the kids were to be "Jr." certified that the information would be presented on a "junior" level, but it was not. Rather, it was presented just as it would be for adults. If I were not feeling motivation to cover science this year, I could conceivably skip science for my 10-year old because the class covered some chemistry, physics, physiology, biology, and environmental science! There were even some pretty complex word problems involving tables and time conversion. Except for the reading, which I did with her to be sure that she understood, she HAD to complete all the work herself. No one else can dive for her--she has to understand how to be responsible for herself underwater, how to keep her head in an emergency, and how to help someone else if they have a problem. It is a huge responsibility, and I won't lie--I wasn't entirely sure if she was fully ready for it or not.

There were approximately 6 hours of online instruction, 8 hours of classroom instruction, 8 hours of pool instruction (normally there is six but we needed a little more), and two days of open water diving, logging over three hours of bottom time. It was challenging and strenuous. It is not for a kid who is in any way timid in the water. I'm pretty impressed with SSI as an organization and especially with our lovely dive shop, Woodbridge Scuba, and its instructors who went above and beyond the call of duty to instruct our kids and help them be the best divers they can be. 

My son excelled at every point along the way, which didn't surprise me. I can't wait to dive with him, because it is fun to dive with a confident, competent diver. What thrills me, however, is that I can dive with my little girl with the same assurance that she has not only passed, but mastered these skills. The instructors are not giving away these certs. They are primarily concerned with the safety of their divers, and I was fully prepared to have to do more than the required time in order to have Molly completely ready. Turns out, she didn't need more than an extra pool session. 

On Monday we begin our school year with our "regularly scheduled programming." I feel lighter and more excited than ever now that this is finished. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

SCUBA, Baby!

When my husband and I first embarked on this journey 17.5 years ago, it should have been apparent from the git-go that we would do things a little differently than most.

My husband's job had him stationed in Puerto Rico and when we tied the knot he had six months remaining at that post. We talked about honeymoon options. We were in the Caribbean, after all, and so the typical cruise / resort / beach honeymoon seemed the logical option, but that is not what we did. Instead of a traditional vacation honeymoon, we opted to learn  how to SCUBA dive, and on every weekend that he did not have to be on call, we dove. 

Life. Water. Creation. Beauty. The sensation of flying. It is all magical to me. 

So basically since I gave birth I have been waiting to introduce my kids to the amazing world beneath the surface of the water, and now that my dear little daughter is 10, the time has come. 



Oh, this parenting thing--it's getting fun. Real fun. The kiddos have nearly completed their Jr. open water certification, and Dad and Mom are in fits of delight planning the next time we can log water time. What did we do on our summer vacation???

SCUBA, baby! 

(insert happy dance here)