Thursday, October 28, 2010

Week 8 In Review: Autumn Getaway

School has been going very well this year.  We've had a couple less-than-stellar weeks, but for the most part, when I consider what we have accomplished so far, we're in really good the book-learnin' department.  But every good homeschooling mother knows this truth--that there is a delicate balance between books and life and work and play--not just for the children, but for the whole family.  Last week, I was starting to feel the scales tip in favor of the books. I realized that the leaves were changing and we had not made any time to get out of the house and soak up the colors that were appearing all around us.  So I jumped on my handy-dandy i mac and started poking around for mountain cabins in West Virginia.  We found a great place called Mountain Creek Cabins, in the middle of nowhere, complete with all the trees we could enjoy, a beautiful running creek, t.v. (which we don't have at home) a hot tub and shower!  (My idea of "camping!") It was just what we needed!  We went with a pot of chili, hot dogs, marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers, a few books to read, a new movie to watch, and board games.  We had planned to spend Monday hiking, but got rained out, so we spent the day in the hot tub, watching movies, playing board games.  Being the mother that I am I went with every intention of reading some books to the children and keeping up with the school work just a bit.  (Be quiet...I can hear you laughing.)

Okay so we didn't read about Shakespeare, but we did watch another master of the stage / silver screen (that being Johnny Depp) in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and we enjoyed How to Train Your Dragon, and watched two football games (which we haven't seen any of this season due to not having satellite or cable t.v.) and we played a very long game of Sorry! and Scrabble Slam! and the kids enjoyed playing in the "lava" of the hot tub with glow sticks that made the water glow with eerie florescent colors when the bubbles were on.  And we saw deer, and chipmunks and water striders, and many cats, big and small, and caught minnows...when it wasn't raining.  When it wasn't raining the kids enjoyed rock-jumping and exploring, chasing the proprietors' cats around, and poking in the creek for critters.
The owners of the cabins, Mark and Sheila, used to run a preserve for abused and neglected cougars, and still do some rehabilitation.  They had a cougar and a bobcat on the premises (in pens...don't worry), and he allowed us to go back and visit them.  I have never seen such a large cat so close up.  As soon as we walked up to the cage, the cougar jumped up and came over to us, purring!  According to Mark, they are the largest cat that purrs. It was beautiful, but it took me a second to be sure he wasn't growling.  He behaved just like a giant house cat!  I would have loved to get in there and snuggle up with that guy--he was amazing...except that given the opportunity he could have eaten my daughter, or me for that matter, but it was hard to see that in this very tame, gorgeous, overgrown house-cat.  The resident bobcat was shy and didn't come out to greet us, but we still got a good look at him--a very cool-looking cat!

We were gone only two nights, but we took our time getting there and getting back, taking the scenic route all the way.  While we were there, the lack of agenda made for a lovely sabbatical from the regular routine.  We all look forward to going back as soon as we possibly can!

The rest of the week has been light school with Classical Conversations on Friday.  Wednesday I introduced Molly to Math Mammoth, and she LOVED it, and can't wait to do more.  She also continues to soar with her Pathway Reader, and seems to be enjoying the Astronomy unit that we started.  Matty is doing well with his work, as well, but has enjoyed a more laid-back week.

Sometimes it takes getting away to remember how to rest.  Just as I said last week--I needed to not be focusing so much on the "shoulds" and just drink in what life has to offer in the here and now.   

This is my Father's World,
And to my listening ears,
All nature sings and round me rings 
The music of the spheres,
I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees and skies and seas
His hand, the wonders wrought

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

God's World

 God's World
by Edna St. Vincent Millay

O World, I cannot hold thee close enough!
   Thy winds, thy wide grey skies!
   Thy mists, that roll and rise!
Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag
And all but cry with colour!  That gaunt crag
To crush!  To lift the lean of that black bluff!
World, World, I cannot get thee close enough!

Long have I known a glory in it all,
          But never knew I this:
          Here such a passion is
As stretcheth me apart,--Lord I do fear 
Thou'st made the world too beautiful this year;
My soul is all but out of me,--let fall
No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Week 7 in Review

My kindergarten teacher used to say every day at the lunch table "meats before sweets!" I think that phrase impacted my life far more than it should'll understand why by the end of this post.

I must go through this cycle every year.  We have the week like I wrote about last time where everything kind of caves in, then make a course correction and find our groove again.  Except this week I made a couple simple changes that I have been wanting to make all along but for some reason, never have.  The first is that I got up two hours before the kids almost every day and spent a good hour in my own quiet time.  It made such a difference! The other change was that I decided to start every day by reading a book on a topic that we're studying, taking the Charlotte Mason approach.  I always try to read on topic as we go, but have never made it the priority, first thing in the morning after devotions.  Every morning this week, we all stayed parked on the sofa reading books after devotions,  and lo and was the best week we've had so far!  There was something about starting the morning with the calm, cozy blankets and warm snuggles, focusing on the beautiful illustrations in the books and talking about what we were learning, that made for a better start to the day.

I would like to think that I'm an effective educator--the math and writing and memory work goals are nearly always met each week, but I've always operated from a "save the best for last," or a "meats before sweets" mentality.  The stuff that we consider "fun" (i.e. history and science) gets done, but it always seems to be last on the list.  It is as if I am so concerned that the math and writing (meat) won't get done that everything else gets sacrificed (sorry, no time for dessert).  Looking back, this is such an upside-down, type-A personality way of thinking.  What is not "meat" about science and history?  And anyone who has seen the movie Chocolat can tell you that meats and sweets can certainly be served together!  The truth be known, as much math and spelling and writing got done this week as any other week, and all the fun stuff worked in as well!  The simple shift of having that time together served to bring everyone to a wonderful, calm and focused place where they were much more effective at getting the essentials done.  This week, the best got done first, and the other stuff got done as well! 

I am so thankful for the insight that I gained this week.  It is an answer to the cry of my heart that God would give us wisdom as to how we should best teach our children.  

Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
            Psalm 90:12

ETA:  I just watched this trailer and realized that perhaps I need watch Chocolat again...this preview may remind you to let go and taste the sweetness of life and forget about all the "shoulds."  

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Click!

So today, I heard a very satisfying "click" as my daughter sat beside me on the sofa and read page after page of her Pathway Reader.  She was crumbling under the weight of her other (unnamed) curriculum, so I borrowed some PRs from a friend and she seemed to take to it.  It was still a bit of a challenge, though, so I said, "how about just one page a day...that's all!" and she agreed.  So after a couple of weeks of just doing a page or two a day, today she read the new story from title to end all by herself, not sounding out words, and not stopping and asking if she could please be done.  At the end of each page I would ask her if she wanted to stop and she would say, "No way!  I want to keep going!"  Ahhh...the satisfaction of a child who finally gets it. 

At the end of every page she would stop and look up at me in amazement, as if she were congratulating ME, and then she would hug me and laugh, then quickly turn back to the next page and keep reading.  She is so excited.  I am thrilled.  Teaching a child the wonders of words on a page (as tedious as it can be) is so worth it when everything finally falls into place.  Congratulations, sweet're a reader now!

Wordless Wednesday: How it Feels Sometimes to Homeschool

Friday, October 15, 2010

Week 6 in Review: Reaping the Results of Poor Planning!

Picture this...I'm sitting here at the computer with black stubble for hair (due to it having caught fire at various points in the week), circles under my eyes, and a black bubble over my head that says "HEADACHE."  I don't even need to tell you what has befallen me.  If you are a woman you already know.  If you're a guy, you're thinking, "Wow, busy week."  Part of it is part of the natural cycle of life, and part of this stems from the fact that last weekend was a busy four-day weekend which did not permit me time to properly plan for the school week that was to come.  The result was that the week went exactly the way I planned.

It's week 6.  I haven't one of those weeks yet that cause me to think "I'll really be glad when this week is over," until now.  I need to follow the advice that I've been giving myself for a couple of years now.

Stress is like pain.  When there is pain it is the body telling the brain, "Something is wrong, please send help."  Stress is like that, as well.  "Something is wrong...please send help!"

So let me look at this critically--what is wrong?  Can it be helped?  Well, I have some commitments that fall on this weekend, so that can't really be helped.  In what time is not committed I will plan the following week strategically so that I can try to make up for some of the time lost this past week.  A little extra sleep this weekend could help the problem, which mostly feels like extreme disorganization and a fair amount of exhaustion.

You may remember from a previous post that I tend to like to "play school" and have things go my way.  I've been working on letting go of the picture-perfect week but this was beyond that.  There is no blame to be placed for the circumstances really--we were tired, we were a bit busier than normal, and Dad was home (and we certainly aren't going to give up time with Dad when we have the chance to have him around!)  In fact, he was the best part of the week--he worked on math with Matty and got more accomplished with him in an hour than I felt like we did all week!  BUT...This is my lesson for the week:  Everything worked out according to plan.  That is, I didn't have one, so that's exactly what the week looked like.

So I spent some time with myself this evening re-working my plan sheets for myself and the kids.  In particular, I am trying to get Matty to be responsible for meeting the goals we set each week.  I've been a bit slack in having him do this the last couple of weeks, so I refreshed the goal sheet that goes in his "to do" folder, and here it is.  It's a landscape format page that can only be displayed this way on the screen.  Hope you don't strain your neck to read it!  The bottom three subjects are not divided into days because they are goal-based.  I allow him to finish when he has completed a certain number of pages, and he rarely does one subject in one sitting.  He will usually divide them up a little each day, but even so he has the option, and will just check them off when he is done.

I have learned from "winging it" that this does not work for me or my family.  Even so, I am not one of these people who can plan an entire school year and then just merrily work through the curriculum...I am a "tweaker," always changing things up a tad here and there, so such a plan wouldn't work for me.  I like to have a week-by-week plan. I have found that having something to fill out at the beginning of the week and refer to as we go helps me keep on track, even if I don't follow it to a tee.  It's more of an accountability for myself than anything.  Matty does extremely well if he can see a plan on paper and know when the work is done.  He experiences much less stress that way.

This basic plan has been working for me for a while, and this week I learned not to abandon it!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Week 5 In Review

Oliver, a.k.a. "The Exterminator"
Are we at week 5 already?  I can hardly believe it.  This week has flown by with its ups and downs, but it was a good week, and tomorrow is Classical Conversations.  Molly has had a cold, but aside from one rough night with a bit of croup and general stuffy-nose-ness, we fared okay.

What made the week so stellar was the fact that Matty knuckled down and did his independent work, well, INDEPENDENTLY.  Wow. What a difference that made. We also figured out that "Math With Dad" is way fun.  They made a line graph of silver prices over the course of 2010, which is an area of interest to both those guys. Glen and I decided that a weekly homework assignment with Dad is going to be an institution, and Matty is excited about it.  We'll revisit it in a few weeks and see if they still feel the same.  Another thing that was a major improvement was the deal I made with Molly to only require her to cover a page of her Pathway Reader per day.  She thought that she could handle that...Today she read three.  Matty has finished his "mini-book" (I feel like it's more than a tome) on famous kings of the middle ages.  He will begin working on "The Plague" and "Religion" and "The Feudal System" in the next week.  Hopefully now things will start moving a little faster.  So history was good this week, math was good, writing, and spelling was good, science was, well...interesting...

when the cat brought a freshly killed shrew up on the deck this morning and was tossing it around.  He tossed it over the edge down to the ground and the kids immediately left their cereal in their bowls to see what would happen.  Both fascinated and a bit horrified, they watched the feline completely (and I mean completely) consume the rodent.  Molly reported that there was "a lot of crunching when he ate the head" and that she "nearly threw up when he ate the eyeballs, Mom."  Yeah...well there's a reason I didn't participate in that lab.  Matty described the experience in less graphic terms to protect my squeamish sensibilities, I think, but reported that he felt like he had witnessed something amazing.  They both just chalked it up to the cycle of life.  That's great, but somehow they were grossed out when I severed the neck of the chicken that they ate for dinner last evening.  I don't get it.   "EWWW--Is that BONE there, Mom?  And Blood?  EWWW!"  (Give me a break.  That was one delicious chicken.)

Normally on the weekly report I try to summarize what it was that I learned even more than what the children did.  This week was peaceful...the kids were pleasant to be with and cheerful about their school work.  I made a point not to stress over time, but just worked with the kids until the goals were met, and miraculously we even finished up a bit early.  Intentionality is a word that keeps coming up, and when I am intentional about our goals and communicate clearly with them about what I have planned for the week, things seem to fall into place, even if it's not exactly the way I intend or expect.

In the cooking department,  I learned not to mess with Jamie Oliver's roasted chicken recipe.  Yum.  :-)  And that's all I have to say about this week.