Friday, February 20, 2015

Week of Feb. 16: In Which We Finally get a Snow Day

Finally. It snowed this week! I find winter to be a bleak experience in the absence of snow, and finally this week we got a sled-able amount. Is that a word? I don't care...

We even had plans to go skiing at one of the local ski resorts on Friday, but the temperatures plummeted into single digits and below-zero wind chills...We'll shoot for next week.









And isn't that the absolute joy of homeschooling? We can just decide what we do and when, and I don't have to write a note, check a schedule, make sure homework is made up--nuthin. We just go and when we do, we get the place to ourselves, practically. No lines, no crowds. It is this lifestyle that makes it very hard to choose another path. Sure, we talk about it sometimes, that maybe it would be better to go to school for x-reason or y-reason, but when we weigh the pros and the cons, the pros in  favor of homeschooling always win, and lifestyle is one of the heaviest factors on the list.

So with schools being cancelled and the government allowing Dad to be home to telework, we have had a very loosey-goosey school week. It has been week 7 of the winter / spring and it occurs to me that from past observation, we have the stamina to stay very focused on lessons for about six weeks at a time, and then we really need a lighter week or even a break. I have seen folks that schedule lessons for six weeks on, six weeks off, and work year round. I like this idea a lot and have considered it myself, but we have consistently been wildly unsuccessful at schooling through the summers, so I'd have to tweak that idea a bit.

All in all it has been a restful, snowy, very cold week. Next week we pick back up with our co-ops and goals. Happy snow day to all!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Our Family's List of Best Books for Boys

Finding books that boys can really love these days seems like a momentous task, what with video games and media distractions. Teaching a young man that reading is something to be valued is a delicate skill, it seems, but it can be done. Spending time together reading, both parents modeling a love of reading and books, limiting screen time, and allowing for boredom are all critical in developing a love of reading in a boy.



A friend posted this link of 40+ books for boys on Facebook today. I found the list interesting, and it causes me to worry that I've missed some great reads, but we also have a sizable list of our own that I would add. That said, it must not be that difficult to find books that boys love, after all! My 13-year old son has become a bibliophile. Both his dad and I have shared with him our favorite books, and these have become some of his as well. He has also forged a selection of his own favorites, mostly those that were not available when we were kids. I have asked his input on what he would include in a list of books that he couldn't put down, and he listed many of these. Others I have chosen based on my own observation, but he didn't think of them when he was naming books. A few would seem atypical for boys, but we listened to them together and there was no prejudice of them being books "for girls," namely books in the Little House series or The Secret Garden (which he added, not I). Because I have both a son and a daughter, if one wants to participate in a book being read aloud, they must accept the fact that it might not be their first choice. There have been some surprising likes along the way as a result. 

*I'm not providing you the links. You know how to use the internet and your local library. I will be here all day making links and you'll never get to read the list.

That said, here is the list of books my son has loved.

The Chronicles of Narnia (series): My "share" with my son. He has loved every volume except for The Magician's Nephew, which gave him nightmares. He has never wanted to go back and read it again. 

Alice in Wonderland: This is the book that launched my son into reading. Seems a strange choice to me, but I handed him a leather-bound volume that I said had belonged to my grandfather, and his eyes grew wide at the thought that I would let him hold such a thing. He read it cover-to-cover over the next week or so, and took very good care of the book.

Ralph S. Mouse (series): Another of my childhood favorites which has become a favorite of both of my kids. 

Henry Huggins (series): We love Henry. And Ribsy. And his bike. And his paper route. And his guppies. Ramona...ugh!

Ramona (series): Wait...we LOVE Ramona! All of our family loves Ramona. Even when she's pestering Henry.

The Wizard of Oz (series): Son read all of 14 books in this series front to back. Completely enjoyed them.

Frindle: A boy decides to change the name of a pen from "pen" to "frindle" and it catches on. Sounds innocent enough until the school is in an uproar and this new word spreads across the country...

Half-Magic: Laugh-out-loud funny (I know because my kids were cracking up) story about some children who find a magic coin that turns out only to be half-magic. The results of their adventures with this particular magical device are hilarious.

Little Britches (series): Another family read-aloud favorite. Especially good for boys to see what it means to be a young man in a time of need. 

Misty of Chincoteague: Local and true, another favorite for both son and daughter. "The only horse story I ever liked," he added.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane: Lands in the category of very different, thought provoking, and good material for discussion. A toy rabbit is separated from his owner and goes on a lifetime of adventures. Watch out, Mom, you may cry at the end.

The Tale of Despereaux: Like Edward Tulane in that it is thought provoking and very different. A mouse falls in love with a princess?? Yes, something like that...

The Secret Garden: Magical. Listened to this together and enjoyed it completely. You will feel a great need to plant things in the spring, and the beautiful story will remind you to never give up hope.

Around the World in 80 Days: Couldn't stop. Fantastic book. Leaves you with a book hangover. A man takes up the challenge to use all the modern means of travel at his disposal to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days or less. Wonderful character development.


Carry On, Mr. Bowditch: Another family favorite read-aloud that leaves you feeling more able to take on the world. The story of colonial-era navigator Nathaniel Bowditch who, despite being indentured and severely disadvantaged proves himself a math genius, educates himself by learning several languages and re-writes the books on navigation. His work set the standard for accuracy in navigation and is still used and studied today in modern times.

Johnny Tremaine: The story of the American revolution from a handicapped boy's perspective. A great way to experience the founding of our nation.

By the Great Horn Spoon: I can't say too much about this book, but my son gave it an excellent review. Takes place during the California gold rush.

The Sign of the Beaver: Another of my son's favorites. Asked for more like this when he finished reading it. It's the story of a solitary boy who befriends an Indian boy and his grandfather. He has to make a difficult choice when it appears that his family may not return to him and the Indian boy offers his family and friendship.

Farmer Boy (and other Little House Books, but especially this): Another family favorite read-aloud. We love the Little House books, but Farmer Boy had some especially funny moments that endeared it to all of us.

Swallows and Amazons: The story of some children's adventures sailing during their summer holiday. Kid-power all the way. This story was the kind that leaves kids wishing they could have a boat and an island of their own, and will inspire them to build forts and seek adventures, real or imagined. This is the first in a series, but we have only read the first one together.

The Great Brain (series): Dad's share. This was my husband's favorite book series when he was young, and he read them to my son. As a result, these are some of his most cherished books, and he reads them over and over.

Moccasin Trail: One of our family's all-time favorite read-alouds. I sat one day and read for three hours, pausing only to use the rest room. We could not put it down. It is the story of a boy who is separated from his family and is rescued by Indians, and that is all I will say because I refuse to spoil it. A great book for brothers to experience together.

Harry Potter (series): Harry, of course. No introduction necessary. Four Harry Potter fans live here. Yes, I cried at the end. I don't know if my son did or not.

Percy Jackson (series): Percy is a demigod but doesn't know it. He must save the world. How it happens in modern times is quite fun. Both kids have loved Percy.

Heroes of Olympus (series): More Percy

The Wanderings of Odysseus: The Odyssey told to young people with beautiful illustrations. 

Black Ships Before Troy: The Iliad told to young people with beautiful illustrations.

Stories from Shakespeare (various authors) and real Shakespeare productions: My son loves Shakespeare, especially Hamlet and Henry V, which is is favorite. We have never shied away from it, have approached the stories like any other, and have ventured into watching the actual productions together. Anything done by Kenneth Branagh is amazing, but I highly recommend Much Ado About Nothing and Henry V. Attention span required. 

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings: Bilbo, Frodo and all the gang. We are huge LOTR fans from the youngest to the oldest. If reading LOTR is a little too heavy for your kids, I highly recommend the unabridged audio version available on Audible. Even my daughter listened at the tiny age of 8, and amazingly she loved it. Both of my kids have gone through the series more than once, not to mention seen all the movies.

Mysterious Benedict Society (series): A somewhat dystopian series that challenges the mind of anyone, let alone a kid. Invokes the question of what it means to be intelligent, what it means to be human, and how do we prevent tyranny? A savant is solicited for his intelligence but finds himself up against another great mind that seeks unjust power.

Eregon (series): Dragons and fantasy. Son loves it. I have not read it, but can attest to his enthusiasm for this book and this genre.

Animal Farm: A story of barnyard animals. But not. Wicked political satire that had my son and some of his friends saying, "Wait, that's just like what is happening today with (insert political situation x)!" Read as a history assignment two years ago, but still discussed over dinner even now.

Joyful Noise, Poems for Two Voices: Poems written from the point of view of insects that are read together. We have had so much fun reading these together, and it conveys the notion that poetry is neither boring nor inaccessible. Even bugs can write it! Some are funny, some are beautiful, some are sad. My daughter and I began reading these together the other day, and she's hooked, too.

Where the Sidewalk Ends, Runny Babbit and anything by Shel Silverstein

Comics: Garfield, Calvin and Hobbes, Peanuts, The Far Side

Off with their Heads! and Remember, Remember the Fifth of November: British history in engaging  story forms, not unlike Horrible Histories. I purchased these in England but a quick search shows me that you can get them here.

Horrible Histories: "History with the nasty bits left in." This is a British series that is very engaging and quite funny with disgusting historical truths and amusing illustrations left right where they belong--on the pages of a boy's history books. 

The Dangerous Book for Boys: A handbook on how to do boy stuff, be a gentleman, an adventurer, and a friend.

The Guinness Book of World Records: Every guy needs this book so he can one-up his pals with weird information. 

Week of Feb. 9: In Which The Stars Align Perfectly, or, Our System Works

Did you feel the effects of the strange astronomical anomaly this week? I didn't feel it directly, but I can prove that there was one for sure, because everything on our board managed to get checked off this week! What? That almost never happens! There always seems to be something that gets left dangling out there to be picked up for the next week or (worst case scenario) be finished over the weekend. So, if you are reading this wondering if you are the only one whose kids can never quite seem to get it all done, you are not alone. Guess What! They don't get everything done in school, either! Or they may, but there is this thing called the bell curve. Right...no one has the opportunity to really master their educational content except the students at the highest end of the spectrum. So don't worry, you (and I) are doing just fine. 
Everyone seems to work out their own system for what works for keeping track of assignments but it seems that they are always on the hunt for what might work better. For what it's worth, I have found that in spite of all the wonderful spreadsheets and assignment charts I have ever made, my kids will never, ever look at them and check things off unless I write it on the board in front of their faces every week, so that is what we do. I've been doing this for a couple of years now, and it is with this system that I have the greatest return on their work. I have a huge white board in my basement where we do most of our school work. I write their assignments up on the board, pull the necessary books for the week and fill a folder with any math, grammar, and writing exercises they need to accomplish for the week. They have a cubby with their books, a cubby for their notebooks, and and bookshelf for the "books on deck." I try to keep only the ones we are using in a particular school year on this shelf, to avoid confusion. Books from previous years are stored away, unless they are reference books. I have a special shelf for atlases, encyclopedias, and art books. 

Handy reference shelf
End of the week - time to clean up!
Mom, am I done???
In general the system has worked now for me for several years. This week it worked flawlessly. That is not the norm, but hey, it's getting done.

Happy Friday, and Happy Valentine's Day tomorrow. I'm more than ready for the weekend.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Monday at our House, For People who Wonder What Homeschoolers Do All Day

For so many who wonder what homeschoolers do all day...Wonder no more. Here it is. It ain't pretty, but it's real.

8:30 a.m. - CrossFit Kids class. Good workout. No workout for me because I decide to wait for afternoon class. Friend got stranded on I95 and couldn't make it to class, so I said I'd wait and work out in the afternoon.

10:00 - 12:00 - Visit with weekend boarder-friend as she prepares to leave, then grab instruments and begin playing guitar and mandolin until we tire of that. Work out the melody and harmony of Minuet in G by Bach. Matt practices piano. Molly walks neighbor's dog, does spelling and listens to "Black Beauty" on her iPod. Everyone grabs a bite to eat.

12:30 - Go downstairs. Time to get to work, except Matt finds new volumes of Shakespeare and begins reading Henry V out loud, dramatically, to his sister's dismay. She is trying to read Botany. Shakespeare is not on his list this week. Oh well.
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers...for he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother! 
1:30 - One has a meltdown. Won't say which one or over what, but it was absolutely not worth the emotion invested in it. Dad (who is teleworking today) goes upstairs to get the skinny on why school isn't being done. Got it...needs time alone to regroup. Cool. Always was the one to go to timeout without being told. Still does it.

1:45 - Apology is made by offending sibling and peace is made with a coveted candy from private stash. All is well.

2:00 - Math for Molly. Sandwich for Matt. He may or may not have said, "You got that London broil for me, right Mom? 'Cause I used most of it." Yup.

2:40 - Sandwich for Molly. It's going to be a late dinner.

3:00 - Go pick up car-less friend to go to CrossFit. I need to work out. My head is not my own...Everyone keeps talking to me, and I can't complete a thought of my own. About. to. Implode.

5:09 - Come in the door of the house complaining loudly at my husband because today's workout was the worst I've done in a very long time, despite hitting a personal record on my back squat. He did it this morning and said "it wasn't so bad." Closest I've come to puking during a WOD since I first started. 6 rounds of 10 thrusters, 12 burpees. Ugh. "But you did it Honey...you can't take it back." True that. Gotta be proud. Calories burnt.

Daughter informs me of all the school work she finished, proclaimed herself "dismissed" and I concur...not bad. She ended up working pretty hard this afternoon on her reading and assignments. Haven't heard from the son yet.

6:25 - Dinner is cooked. Chicken noodle soup with enough for leftovers tomorrow. Made the soup from my own gelled bone broth and all organic ingredients. Not boasting, just sayin'--real food is what's for dinner around here. Standing at the stove, sipping a glass of wine, tired and done...but completely content. By no means was this a textbook day--didn't keep the "schedule," kid had meltdown, nearly cried during my workout, exhausted as you-know-what. But happy. Completely happy with life.

7:45 - Looked at the white board downstairs. Realized that there were all kinds of examples of fractions written, but not by me. Brother was teaching sister about how division and fractions work, just for fun. Said that she understood. Great. I've heard it said you only have to teach the first one. Maybe it's true after all.

8:00 - More practice with son on Minuet in G just for giggles. Both of us are tired so not as successful as we were this morning.

8:25 - Downton Abbey recorded from yesterday. Haven't heard any spoilers. Happy.

Early bed night. Husband has to commute in tomorrow at Oh' Dark Thirty. Glad for the van pool. Glad for telecommuting. Tomorrow we'll be home all day digging deep in our weekly assignments.

And that is a "regular" school day. In case you were wondering.


Thursday, February 05, 2015

Planting Seeds, Making Music, Moving Heavy Stuff

It is often said that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Last semester, indeed my heart was absent from our school experience and the step back gave me time to really miss what we do. I wonder if in fact we should be more cognizant of the fact that maybe we need more time than we give ourselves to contemplate, regroup, and remember. The past month of lessons have been so rich and the fun seems to be back in our studies. Setting goals and meeting them is not the drudgery that it has been at other times in the past, when burnout was settling into our winter bones. 

This week we began our new science series in botany, and the cats thought it might be fun to observe the lessons. They can never stay awake through the whole class though, and they tend to fight over who sits / lies where.

Winnie can't stay awake
Planting seeds to place in a light hut
This is my notebook, find another one.

Our friend joins us on Wednesday for science, literature, sign language and art. The kids are thoroughly enjoying learning how to communicate under mom's nose while I have no idea what they are saying. (my friend is teaching the ASL and science.) 

Abi practicing
Sign language vocabulary challenge

Molly has been wanting to learn violin for a long time, and finally I gave in and said she could take lessons, but I wasn't ready for her to give up piano. She agreed and will do both for a while. She had her first lesson this week, and we are so excited for her! I am so grateful for her wonderful teacher who instills not only knowledge about the instrument and music that is assigned, but an overall love for music that is simply a rare gift. Her enthusiasm for all things musical is contagious. I hope she never moves away! 

Molly had her first violin lesson this week!
Learning how to hold the bow properly
Learning how to bow, her first notes!

Matt continues his study of Mandolin

video

Matt competed in his third Olympic weightlifting competition, and achieved a personal best.
Busy week. I'm satisfied. and tired. 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Returning to Our Normal

I wish I had pictures of the beautiful ski day that my family had yesterday, but I don't. I was just. too. busy. flying down hills and taking in the sunshine to bother pulling out my phone. I must be better about this in the future. But that happened, and it felt right and wonderful to be doing something crazy together again.

It is now the fourth week in January. We chose to take lessons very easy last semester after my mother's passing to give me the mental space to grieve, which was one of the best decisions I've ever made. The kids kept up with some math, science and history reading, but we did nothing that would require planning on my part or lots of mom-intensive teaching. By January 1, we were all ready to get back to more rigor and a more normal lesson schedule. We are now four weeks in and things are going quite well.

When grief strikes no one can prepare you for it, warn you about it, or explain to you what it might be like. It is a vast, unknown wilderness for everyone who experiences it. On the other side of this are many who have already passed through, and I have found these special people to be dear companions and friends in this season, as they are the only ones who can give sound advice about how to traverse this mysterious place. I am thankful for everyone who gave loving and knowing guidance and support, and am so thankful that I listened to them along the way.

There is not a day that passes that I do not consider my mother--her voice, the memories of her, who she was as a mom and a friend is with me more constantly and more clearly than ever, and I miss her horribly. There are still tears, and often. Even so, the time has come to learn to live again without the shadow of Alzheimer's that lingered for so long.

I will pull out the camera, dust off my writing hat, and return to the things that I love so much. At the very least I want to return to weekly reports of schooling efforts, and continue writing thoughts and contemplations as time allows.

Meanwhile, here are some things that have been happening here in the last month!

   
 PJ school returned to normal
Have enjoyed teaching my little artist...

Been cooking quite a bit, and introducing new veggies to the family, with good results.
Went with good friends to see a theater version of C. S. Lewis's The Great Divorce--a perfect evening out, and a fantastic production
Watched my beloved Green Bay Packers win against the Cowboys in the playoffs with my big bro!

Made peace with my Cowboys-loving neighbor after the game.

Have enjoyed doing lessons with Molly's BFF once a week.
Here they are with their finished spider webs, their final project of the science unit on arachnids.
January is almost passed and February is full. Check back for updates--the one who said she would never homeschool is suddenly faced with decisions about homeschooling through high school--it will be a wild ride, I have no doubt!