Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Our New "Kitty"

I am usually a stickler for being truly "wordless" on Wednesdays, but I wanted to explain that this guy really is as close as he looks. I used a normal lens and was sitting about two feet away from him on the opposite side of the sliding glass doors. He was much bigger than he appears in the photo--approximately the size of a small cat. He surprised us one night. My husband turned around and said, "Whoa! Look!" and he was sitting at our deck door, busily chewing something.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Week 13: Slow Burn

Every day this week I had the thought, "Wow, I do NOT feel like teaching the kids today." I did, but not with the vim and vigor that I have possessed at other times. Slumped in my desk chair I thought about the long list of things that I have not yet done this Christmas season (like bought any presents--well, now I have, God bless Amazon, but at that point I hadn't), hadn't decorated the tree, hadn't put up the advent calendar and it was two weeks in, hadn't made the Christmas card, hadn't bought outfits for the kids for get the idea. Feast of St. Nicholas blew by without so much as a blink from us. I thought, "what is wrong with me?" and the answer came quickly, "You're burning out..." oh. Burn out is NOT good. It inevitably takes longer to recover from burn out than you have time for, and you find yourself back at the routine again with a half-full tank.

In talking with Candace she suggested canceling our co-op the 19th and just having the party in the afternoon, which we had already planned. I felt myself breathe a big sigh of relief and decide right then that I was going to start our break on Tuesday afternoon after holding our little French class that I teach every week to our kids and four other students.

So week 13 was a foot-dragging experience, but we made it through. Matty has had a ton of reading this week, as we decided to combine weeks 13-14 of history and Molly is working on a lap book about Koalas for a report on Monday. It will be a good place to break and get ready for the holidays.

As a family, we have been reading Tabitha's Travels (a family story for Advent), which is the third book in a series by Arnold Ytreeide (figure out how to pronounce that!) I give it a thumbs-up, but I have to admit that I prefer the first two books. The kids are enjoying the story and want me to read ahead every night, but I don't unless I know I won't be able to read the next night. With horrified looks, they whine and complain, "You can't stop THERE!" Needles to say I love leaving them in suspense.

The other read-aloud that the children and I have been enjoying during our school days is In the Days of Queen Victoria, which is the assigned reading from Tapestry of Grace. We complemented that book this week with the movie The Young Victoria which was a beautiful telling of the story of the relationship between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. As soon as it ended Molly gave a big sigh and said, "Can we watch it again?" Somebody likes romance...could she be a girl?

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Week 12: Hanging in There...

Every year up until now we have taken off from Thanksgiving to Christmas. This year we are not doing that, largely because it is our goal to finish the curriculum before Memorial day, so we returned from vacation on Saturday last week, only to roll right into school the following week. For some reason I had a very hard time pulling it off! We are obviously ready for a break, but we are not taking one, and everyone is feeling a bit like the donkey who just can't be convinced to move forward.

Even so, Matty managed to get all of the upper grammar and dialectic reading for TOG done this week. On Monday he attended the D group's discussion and was able to fully participate in and enjoy it. It feels just a bit early, but if  he is ready, it would be silly for me to hold him back. Next week I am going to only have him reading the dialectic selections, since we seem to have made a decision.

We are thoroughly enjoying the read-aloud book, In the Days of Queen Victoria, and whenever I stop both kids beg me to keep reading. We will be sorry when that book ends, but thankfully we have a bit more to look forward to as this week we actually begin our discussion of the Victorian Era and read a bit more about her. We plan to watch Young Victoria together.

We are also discussing George Muller this week and I am really looking forward to digging into this book with the dialectic kids on Monday. When I asked Matty what he thought of the book (George Muller: Guardian of Bristol's Orphans), he said, "Oh it's good--really, really good."

Molly and Matty both enjoyed my reading of the LG selection Susanna of the Alamo, which was a very vivid account of the siege of the Alamo from the perspective of one of the few survivors. Molly was visibly sad through the whole story, but enjoyed it nonetheless. She is not one to shy away from the truth or things that are hard just because she doesn't like them. She meets them head-on.

So this week it was mostly TOG reading and discussion, math exercises for both kids, and continued Phonics Road instruction for Molly. I'll admit that I accomplished no grammar or writing with Matty this week. It's okay. I didn't do any of that during the month of December before, right?

This week it is my goal to get at least my on-line Christmas shopping started and the tree decorated. I normally have most of my shopping done this time of year and I have done none. I usually have the tree up and music playing constantly by now, but this year I have not played even one Christmas song! Tomorrow that will change.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Week 11: Stretched Out

Week 11 was a bit confused. No, the teacher / mom was a bit confused. Facing the prospect of heading out of town for a few days to visit family, I was wandering around the house wondering what I should tackle first. It would be better if I paid no attention whatsoever to the fact that we were leaving town, as I found myself horribly distracted and got nothing done in any category. As usual I found myself up late the night before our trip packing and cleaning.

We did the usual math, language arts, and will, over the first few days of the Thanksgiving holiday we will finish our week 11 TOG reading. Matty is working through Island of the Blue Dolphins and I am reading about the Cherokee to Molly. We have finished most of our other reading.

This week I resolved once again (resolutions get me no where) to not plan for a trip the night before we leave. Let's see if I hold to that next time we go somewhere...probably not, but it gives me comfort to think that I might do that.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Oh, Yum!

Here's the thing--we moms all need a super-fast-super-yummy crockpot recipe now and again, and we get really sick of the same-o, same-o stash of recipes that we do because we don't have time to think of anything new. I was wasting some of that time that I don't have on Facebook the other day and a friend had requested some food ideas for some-sorta-something, and one of her friends suggested a version of what I made tonight (Thank you Susan's friend!) I wish I had a picture but it was so good, there isn't a scrap left to show you!  I threw it together in about ten minutes at about 7:00 this morning. It really didn't do any damage to my "I am not a morning person" psyche to have to do this, and I was so comforted by the fact that I was going home to dinner already cooked. Here it is, in its ridiculous simplicity.

8 skinned, bone-in chicken thighs
2 cans black beans
1 bag frozen corn
1 bottle salsa verde
Cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 in crockpot. Serve over quinoa, rice, whatever you like, and sprinkle with shredded cheese.

My whole family devoured this. We served ours over quinoa, which is a healthier option than rice or flour-based couscous.

Enjoy! I hope I just made your day a little easier.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Week 10: Crossing a Threshold

This week we crossed into some new territory.  So far, I have enjoyed TOG for the "heft" of the content. There is no shortage of reading material for the interested student. However, at the end of unit 1, it seemed Matty was not quite getting enough reading from the upper grammar (UG) track. He even said, "Mom, can I have more to read?" Happily I obliged him, and decided to try doing the dialectic (D) track literature with him. He was already reading one of the dialectic history sources in addition to all the UG history and literature reading, plus any Story of the World  assignments (which are given as alternate history core) given in a week. So this week he started reading Island of the Blue Dolphins, and is truly enjoying it. He found the student activity page (SAP) to be more interesting for this as well, and previously the SAP for upper grammar seemed kind of pointless to him. He also read all of the UG assignments and some of the D history, as before. I heard a few groans near the end of the week for the sheer volume of reading, but no complaints. I believe he felt gratified for putting in the hard work. I'm pleased that he found all of the selections to be engaging and interesting.

We all enjoyed reading aloud a book called In the Days of Queen Victoria. Only chapter one was assigned but they begged for more, so I read ahead. When I am finished with this book I will show the children the movies Young Victoria, and Mrs. Brown. The latter may be a bit over Molly's head, but I expect that Matty will thoroughly enjoy both.

Math and Language are moving ahead nicely. Molly is enjoying Writing With Ease 1 (WWE 1) and is doing very well. She has heard Matty and I go through the process of narration and dictation so much that she is ready! When I ask her, "Can you tell me one thing you remember from the story?" She replies, "Can't I tell you two?" Matty is doing great with WWE 3 which is where we will stop before moving into Writing With Skill. We are enjoying meeting weekly with some friends for French class, which I am teaching. I am using Le Francais Facile which is working well so far, but we are only a couple of weeks into it. It is indeed "facile" and is helping me to brush up my French from oh, about a hundred years ago.

All in all, it was a full and productive week, and I am well satisfied with our progress. Let's see what happens here (i.e. will it all unravel?) as the holidays overtake life. I am hoping for a low-stress, peaceful season.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Lap Books and Things I said I'd Never Do

I like to post photos of the lap book projects that the kids do for a couple of reasons: first, they are so proud of their work and think it's very cool that Mom is proud enough to show the world on the blog, second, lots of people are looking for lap book ideas, and I hope to provide some inspiration.

I should begin with this disclaimer: I don't particularly enjoy doing crafts with my kids. I don't like big messes, I get irritated when I have to buy a long list of supplies of weird things that I may or may not use again for a project, I do not sew, and I don't like things sitting around collecting dust, just because the kids made it. When I first saw lap books at the annual convention in Richmond, they fell into that category of things that we would never do, along with sewing period costumes for my kids. I thought, "Oh right - overachieving, uber-crafty homeschoolers. That is SO not my style." Then I started reading about them and seeing other examples online, and I thought I'd try it with Matty, just for fun, to wrap up what he'd been learning about ancient Greece. I was probably feeling guilty because he loves crafts and and I thought I was depriving him. I figured I could handle some cutting of paper and pasting. He loved doing it, and for me of course, his desire and enjoyment for the project directly impacted my willingness to do another one, and so we did. Long story short, this past quarter, for our unit celebration with our Tapestry of Grace group, both kids prepared lap books to display and I (gasp) sewed a costume for my daughter. I thoroughly enjoyed the process of both of these things I thought I'd never do. And this, dear reader, is why I am called the "Accidental Homeschooler."

So, if you have read this far and resonated with any of the above sentiments, indulge me while I display for you their most recent lap book accomplishments. My son, who is 10, used his to summarize the content of the first unit of year three of Tapestry of Grace. My daughter, who is 6, did a lap book specifically highlighting the Lewis and Clark expedition. I used a couple of elements from a prepared lap book for her this time, but for the most part I have them choose their mini-book designs from a folder / pouch of templates that I have collected, and then we glue the content into the mini-books, which we print out on colored paper. We do research on the internet to get interesting pictures for collages, cut out pictures, write sentences, narrations, and timelines and figure out ways to display them creatively.

Molly's Indian mini-book

Map and timeline of the journey

Front cover of Matty's

Main section, map fold-out of Louisiana purchase not shown

Conflict between Hamilton and Burr

Timeline of Jefferson's times

In my opinion, the process of planning and designing a lap book synthesizes so many valuable skills. First there is the process of visualizing a finished product and planning the various elements that will be included. Often this changes along the way, but it is an important first step--that of learning to set a manageable goal. Along with this is the accountability aspect--if you don't finish the project, you have the ugly reminders of half-finished lap-book pieces lying around reminding you that you did not follow through on a valuable learning opportunity. Second, there is the visual / graphic layout process. The ability to choose coordinating colors, arrange an aesthetically pleasing layout, with appealing visual elements is an important skill in today's graphic-intense world. Third, The ability to navigate the internet for both information and visual elements is another important skill. For each mini-book that is included, there is the content that must be researched and summarized. For Matty, this is an opportunity to write, developing skills of  summarizing and narrative writing. For Molly, this includes making collages of things that display what she has learned and narrating to me content that she would like written down. Matty is becoming a better writer all the time, but in the lap books I do not correct every mistake or insist on perfectly constructed paragraphs. Rather, I look for accuracy of content and flow of thought, so that it reflects what he learned about a topic. As he develops writing skills I will be more attentive to style in the mini-books. He is also just developing his typing skills, so not every spelling or capitalization mistake is caught, and that is fine. He will look back on these books and see his progress over time. In this particular lap book, he dictated everything in the timeline mini-book to me because he was tired, and he wanted to ensure that the handwriting was nice. Normally I would not write for him, but in this case for the sake of time and fatigue, he dictated to me everything he wanted me to put down. Altogether his book included three maps, one timeline, and eight biographical summaries. It doesn't look like much when it is all folded up, but when I consider the amount of time and writing that he put into this project and begin folding out those little reports, I am very proud of the job he did! It was proportionate to his age and ability, and he has something to show for his work. He loves to go back over his old lap books, which is a natural review, whether that is his intention or not.

Now that you are feeling inspired, stay tuned for part 2 of my best advice for getting started with the projects.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The Best Idea I've had

I suggested to my co-op friend that since we were having the unit celebration and ending the quarter, we do what public school teachers do and have a "work day," so we did. What a great idea! We got the kids together to play and sat at her dining table with stacks of books and planned out the next quarter. We got so much accomplished, and when we called the kids in, they were filthy and happy. They had played in the woods all day--what a blast! 

The unit celebration was such fun, but when we tucked Molly in to her bed last night, she said, "It wasn't really how I was expecting..." To which I replied, "Well, what were you expecting?" She said, "I thought it was going to be more party-like." Everyone sort of blinked at her and I said, "Seemed like a party to me--did you dress up? Did you eat hot dogs? Did you have a root beer float? Did you roast marshmallows? Did you do a skit? Did you play with your friends? Jump on the trampoline?" She agreed with us, then, but I still would love to be inside her head and get to "see" exactly what she was imagining. Anyway, it was a party, and the kids were able to enjoy the accomplishments of the last quarter and the moms and dads were able to fellowship. Lovely.

Here are some photos from the evening. I always find it difficult to take indoor photos in the evening and at night and have them turn out half way well, but at least I have a record of the fun.

Meriwether Lewis and his Newfoundland, Seaman

The TOG crew!

Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery...and Ewan!

Flat-bottom boats and barges inspired by the Swiss Family Robinson
Isaac, one of our dialectic students showing his timeline display

Salt dough maps and president books from this quarter

Cumulative map of South America

Various lap books and displays

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Week 9: Unit One Down, Three to Go!

Our TOG kids with Jim Weiss
Today our Tapestry of Grace group wrapped up our first unit of Year three. We have been working on lap books all week that sum up what we've been covering this unit, and when I look back over the past two months, I am stunned at how much we've covered! I have never been able to work this efficiently, and I am sure that it is a combination of several things: 1. the little boxes that lay out for me each week how much of what is to be read, knowing full well that if my kids don't get it done, it's double the work next week, 2. the accountability of knowing that four other families are really counting on us coming to co-op prepared, and 3. a desire and hunger on the part of my kids not to miss anything, because they love the material being covered. On Thursday we went to hear Jim Weiss (the narrator of Story of the World) perform his stories from American history. He started with Thomas Jefferson and ended with stories of "Women in Blue and Gray." In essence he summed up our entire unit 1 and introduced an upcoming one! What great timing. The kids sat for about 2.5 hours, completely captivated by the stories and his voice. It was great to see him in person.
This week we primarily covered the basics of math and phonics and worked on finishing any remaining reading and putting together the lap-books. Molly (6) completed one on the Lewis and Clark expedition and Matty (10) completed one on "Thomas Jefferson's World." Both turned out very well. At co-op we had an in-depth discussion of The Swiss Family Robinson. For craft, Every mom arrived equipped with hot glue guns and craft sticks, and the kids created boats and rafts that we will test at the unit celebration to see if they are seaworthy.

As I write this, it is Saturday evening. My kids are downstairs with Dad pitching a tent in the basement for a "camp-in" because it is too cold to camp outside. We will all watch the movie Rio together, then the guys are going to have some "guy time" tonight, watching Spiderman and then sleeping in the tent together. The girls are going to have some girl time snuggling down in Mom and Dad's room, turning on the fireplace, and chatting.

(Sunday morning) The down time was well-earned. Matty pushed through the fact that he needed to complete his lap book for our unit celebration on a Saturday, and I worked all day on a dog costume for Molly. She is going to the unit celebration dressed as Meriwether Lewis's dog, "Seaman," a Newfoundland. Both kids were absolutely captivated by his story. Matty is going dressed as Lewis, and he has commissioned his buddy to go as Clark. In all honesty I have not touched a sewing machine since I was about 15 or 16, but it all came back to me and I stitched together a very cute furry vest, tail and ears for my girl.

I wasn't quite sure how we would get it all done because at times the to-do list of things was quite steep, but in all honesty, I think I have found yet another strength of the TOG curriculum--the quarterly assessment and celebration factor. I had always worked on more of a semester-basis in years passed, and while it was effective, and I enjoyed that finishing process and wrapping things up for the holidays, I believe this way will afford us the opportunity to get more done, simply by keeping us "wrapping things up" on a more regular basis. The list of "pros" keeps growing for Tapestry of Grace!

On a personal level I am finding myself very challenged by the book I am currently reading: Folks, This Ain't Normal by Joel Salatin. I will write a more in-depth review of this when I finish, but for now I will just say that I cannot recommend this book enough. Stay tuned for more...

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Week 8: Colds, Curriculum and Cutting

The students were much improved this week. The teacher, however, succumbed to being sneezed and coughed on one too many times, so as I write this, I am in the process of recovering from having "bit the dust." We proceeded with the basics and Matty did his Tapestry of Grace (TOG) reading that was assigned. Year 3 Week 8 is the second of three weeks of study on South America, so we watched a lovely nature video called Eden at the End of the Earth by National Geographic, to complement our study. The kids really liked it, but there were some "survival of the fittest" moments for which Molly (tough as she is) preferred to hide her eyes. We also watched an IMAX movie about the Amazon, which was okay. The story line was underdeveloped and the IMAX photography obviously doesn't come through as nicely on a t.v., but my kids really did not like the completely naked tribe who wore only a decorative bone or reed-thing pierced through their bottom lips. I personally have no problem with showing my kids things like this, but some people don't want to see any naked bodies, so if that is you, don't watch that video.

As a periodic assessment of how TOG is going for him, I ask Matty what he likes about it and what he would change. He says he LOVES the reading, LOVES the subject matter, LOVES getting together with friends each week for co-op--he doesn't want to change a thing. Well, he could do without the student activity page each week, but even that isn't so bad. This speaks volumes to me. When a kid voluntarily goes to his week's assignments and finishes them ahead of schedule, then asks if he can read the unabridged, or "are there more like this?" something is really going right. I am so glad we made the choice to do TOG this year.
Spending time with friends after co-op on a Friday afternoon
I will not say that we are without any kinks, however. I am still working out how to get all the lower grammar reading done with Molly, as she is not quite an independent reader (although she is making very good progress.) I still have a hard time sticking to the schedule I set for us each week. I have never been good at this, but this year we seem to be doing better accepting the fact that school for us just isn't done until late in the afternoon, thus getting more done. Not always everything, but more. I am approaching school more as a list of things to get done than a certain amount of time we need to spend. This helps cut down on the dilly-dallying. Brilliant. Mostly. Some whining still occurs when the belief that school should be over must give way to the realization that something is still left on the list.

This unit has been a back and forth experiment with how to approach writing with the kids, as well. I have always used Writing With Ease (WWE) by Susan Wise Bauer, and I have seen fantastic results. I thought I would venture to use the Writing Aids (WA) that came with TOG to cut down on the number of things we needed to do--try to streamline, but it is hard to go from WWE, which I absolutely love to use because of its philosophy, thoroughness and ease of use, to something that I am not as sure about. I'd give Writing Aids an "okay" rating. If you are a TOG purist and do everything she describes in the text, then you will cover your grammar and writing pretty well over the course of your school career. I just find it cumbersome. In my opinion, WWE, in combination with First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind (FLL) is a tough act to follow. So this week I made the decision to go back to WWE 3 for Matty, to be followed by Writing With Skill (the new writing program for middle grade students by Susan Wise Bauer) next year.

That has been the nuts-and-bolts learning this week. I love the nuts and bolts, but mostly because they cannot be done in isolation. I have to be in a place emotionally and spiritually to manage them. Having had every member of the family down with this cold over these last three (yes, three!) weeks has reminded me that I have a delicately balanced stack on my plate. I have had to cancel things and stay home when I would otherwise be out. The time has come--I need to release a few things. There are two things in my life which continuously beckon me. The first and most important of course, is my family's needs. The joy of putting a well-prepared, healthy meal on the table, tucking kids into a freshly changed bed, and teaching them from organized lessons is a job to which none other can compare. The routine of baking fresh bread on Sundays and being available to help the kids memorize their verses for AWANA are the things that keep me alive inside. The second thing is a ministry with which I have been involved for the past three years (this being my fourth). In this place we pray for and minister to people who are seeking emotional healing. It is a joy and a privilege to serve with this team of amazing people and to help "feed His sheep" in such a precious way. While the second thing is definitely something I could set aside, I feel that I would be losing out more than I would be gaining were I to do so. My whole family participates by releasing me to this work each Thursday evening, and they recognize it as a service we give to God. The other things--too many and too personal to name here, will just have to go, though. It is time. I know that some pruning of the vines must happen, no matter how uncomfortable, in order to pour strength into the branches that are producing fruit.

We have a busy week coming up--a lot of wrapping up of our first unit / marking period. I look forward to finishing well and an even more successful unit 2.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Week 7: Colds and Exhaustion and Falling Behind

A woman I know always used to tell me "There is no cure for the common cold because the cold is the cure." So true.

I am convinced that we catch colds when our bodies are fed up with us for some reason. Usually that involves not having our proper sabbath rest. My family has been occupied every weekend lately--church events, traveling, something here, something there. I can't remember a weekend lately when there was just nothing on the calendar. This week we all ended up with colds, so this weekend we are calling everything off and recovering, resting, catching up on what it means to be us.

Because of the colds we fell just a tad short on things I would have liked to cover, but we still did a fair amount of work. We are covering week 7 of unit 1 of year three of Tapestry of Grace--Simon Bolivar and South America. It has been a fair week of study. I hope to dig in a bit deeper next week on the South America study.

Math has been great for Matty this week. He has really grasped the fractions concepts and is truly achieving mastery. Molly did addition of 8 and did pretty well, also. We still continue to work on skip counting with her, and she is now working on sixes.

I am working on remembering balance. I am currently reading Joel Salatin's book Folks, This Ain't Normal. I doubt that I will ever be a farmer and live completely off of my own land and eat food that I have put up in my larder for the winter. I don't especially have the desire to be that. Nevertheless, I am once again inspired to invest in my children the concept of work, responsibility, earning potential (at a young age), minimal screen time, respect for the land and possibly the idea of being the kind of person who does live off the land when I am older. I have this love-hate relationship with my computer, with facebook, with Netflix. The potential of all of these things for good is phenomenal, but it seems the majority of time spent is being wasted. I want to see something grow as a result of my own time and effort, but at the moment I feel like a consumer, raising consumers. How can I raise my kids in suburbia to be real and not tied to a device? It feels like The Matrix...

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Please Read This Article!

I have had no time for posting, taking pictures, thinking and reading lately. I will try to catch up with it all this weekend, but in the meantime, I found this article, and it struck a chord. Here is a link to my article on "sheltering," but this kind of sheltering is not what is meant by that. I am speaking specifically of the early years. Mr. Reb Bradley is more focused on the teen years.
An over-dependence on control is often accompanied by an over-reliance on sheltering. It is not uncommon for homeschool parents to feel that by filtering whatever their children see and hear, they will control the results in their lives. However, fruitful parenting is more about what we put into our children than what we protect them from.
I hope you enjoy the article. I welcome your thoughts and comments on the subject!

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Week 4: Thomas Jefferson and More!

Listening to violin music of Jefferson's era.
Week three lasted for two weeks. Last week, we sorta' just recovered. We had been dealing with many life-induced stresses, not the least of which was a dead car that needed to be replaced, so we dialed down and took school a little slower. This week, we jumped back into our regular routine and really finished digging in to Tapestry of Grace, Year 2, week 4. It was the week to discuss Thomas Jefferson, the Louisiana Purchase, and the Lewis and Clark expedition. We read books about the expedition from the perspective of Lewis's dog, Seaman, and began a writing assignment incorporating that perspective. Molly read "A Prairie Dog for the President" aloud to me, and proved that her reading skills really are taking off!

Both of the kids began lap books on Thomas Jefferson, his life, and his times. We learned that one of his hobbies was playing the violin. He practiced several hours a day! One of our moms who is an accomplished violinist was gracious enough to play music that Jefferson may have been familiar with and played himself. The children were captivated and listened with rapt attention.

Making baby turtles.
We also did a bit of nature study this week, both inadvertent and intentional. Glen found a black widow spider in our yard as he was raking out a portion of ground in which to plant grass seed. He managed to capture the spider in a jar, which we allowed to die an oxygen-starved death. Ugh! I hate to think those things are hanging around our house! The bug-man came two days later and sprayed.

The intentional nature study was much more fun--a partially guided hike in Prince William Forest National Park led by a park ranger who showed us the flora and fauna of the forest. The kids were incurably curious and wanted to know what the smallest things were. She was very patient and answered all the questions as best she could. We found the variety of mosses and mushrooms to be particularly interesting, and one of the group spotted a turtle--actually two turtles, doing what turtles do to make baby turtles. The first question was, "WHAT ARE THEY DOING?!!" She looked carefully at the faces of the moms before proceeding.  No one in our group was the slightest bit ruffled by this bit of nature, so she said, "They're mating--making baby turtles." And so we observed them for a bit more and then got back to our discussion of the historic grave site that we had hiked off the trail to visit. That was certainly interesting too, but in a different sort of way.

Our Tapestry of Grace co-op is proving to be the highlight of our week. We have had some scheduling and location challenges, but for some reason this has not derailed the actual content that has been covered each week, nor has it impacted the level of fun and interactivity experienced by each kid! We are thoroughly enjoying the time we spend together as a group. I am not a traditional "co-op" type of person. This group however is small, personal, and is the heart of our weekly studies. If you are a TOG family and have not discovered the joy of getting together with other families to enhance that experience, I would encourage you to look for an opportunity to do so!

Each week in the update I try to reflect not only on what the kids learned, but what I learned. It's hard for me to do that right now--the week is a bit of a blur and I have been very tired. Even so, I have been very much at peace. I know that what we do here in this place, educating our children as we do, is answering the call that God has placed on us. It brings me such joy to see my children growing in their faith and becoming more and more who God has made them to be. Don't get me wrong, they're not perfect, but they have teachable hearts. I hope that I do, as well. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Update on my "Orchard"

It is sad to say, but we did a bit of research and discovered that the lovely little trees that we are growing are not going to grow into "pink lady" apple trees. Granted, I am not much of a horticulturist, farmer or gardener, so I wouldn't have known this, but your favorite brand of apple does not grow your favorite apples on the trees grown from their seeds. Boo, hiss! This is the way the GMO people make money, I guess. The seeds will grow into apple trees, but the apples turn out rather inedible. The tasty-flavored apples are cultivated by grafting. I still don't exactly get how they turn out such great-tasting fruit, and the seeds from that fruit turns out to be squirrel food, but I suppose we have a real topic to look into for our science experiment here. As it is we have a Fuji apple tree and a pink lady tree growing in our back yard. To date we have harvested a total of 2 apples. One last year, and one this year. Turns out they flower on opposite years, so they don't cross-pollinate, so it looks like we must plant at least two more trees in our yard to actually get them flowering and cross-pollinating on the same schedule. 

Like I said, I'm not much of a gardener...but our little woods out back has some places that need filling in and we have deer and squirrels in abundance, so I'll plant the little trees back there and help to feed the wildlife and give the honeybees something to do.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Week 3: Again...or still

Wow, has it been a crazy week! Over the weekend I went away on a day-long retreat, leaving the family home to enjoy our church's all-member picnic celebrating the move to our brand-new building. After driving an hour and a half home, as I was pulling into town off the freeway, less than five miles from home (thank God!) the transmission in my husband's car died. It didn't just die. It died. Time to shop for a new vehicle. Under pressure. No fun. To complicate matters further it was supposed to be our first week in our new, permanent meeting place for the TOG group, and it just didn't work out. Time to reshuffle our location and our calendars again. I had that feeling that my head was about to explode because of the amount of unsolicited junk swirling and knocking  around in my brain. So since we didn't really get any rest that weekend, I took Tuesday and Wednesday off from school. It works out well that we had to shift our meeting days to Friday, because it essentially gives me an extra week to get through the material with the kiddos. Today Glen was off so we spent the day dealing with car issues...Long story short we had a great school week...on Thursday!

Sincerely, it was a great day. We really started delving into our Year 2, Unit 1, Week 4 of TOG. It covers Thomas Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase, and the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The kids were finally well-rested and had great attitudes and enjoyed their work. I'm really looking forward to finishing that topic next week, when we plan to take a "Lewis and Clark Expedition" hike in the local national park after our meeting. The weather forecast looks like it may even cooperate with us.

Our little apple trees continue to grow, and we have a small orchard on our windowsill of 10 apple seedlings in various pots. I am in question about whether they can ever produce apples, however, because I do not know if the seeds are genetically modified. Hmmm. I plan to look into that.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Banner Issues

Sorry readers--I keep changing my banner. I know it's annoying when your favorite blog keeps changing its looks, but I've been playing with it and figuring out how to make new ones. I like this one best and will stick with it for a while now. I think I've worked it out!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Change of Seasons: Part 2

In my previous post I laid out the reasons that our family decided to leave Classical Conversations as our core curriculum. In this post I will explain why I find Tapestry of Grace (TOG) to be such a great fit for us at this time.

Ever since Matty was in the first or second grade I have looked at TOG online, downloaded the free samples, puzzled over whether this would work for us. The one thing that really held me back was that it seemed a bit overwhelming and I did not have a desire to take on such a hefty program all on my own. I was very much a fan of the weekly meeting that we had with CC. I did not want to separate myself from the group again (I had taken a year off from CC in Matty's 3rd grade year). One day my friend and I and were mulling over our options for the next couple of years over cups of coffee while the kids played downstairs. She gave her kids the characteristic 10-minute warning, then drew her leg up into the recliner, pulled her cup closer and said, "Let me ask you a question..." An hour later we were still sitting there. We looked up when my husband walked in from work, said hello, and kept right on talking. We talked through all our doubts and reservations about the future with CC, laid out what an ideal curriculum would look like to us, and expressed our deep desire to stick together both with each other and with others who were like-minded, and who shared the same goals in educating their kids. I told her that I had been looking at Tapestry of Grace again, and she was immediately interested, especially since another mom we knew had recently made that very move for the following school year. We ordered our curriculum and picked through it, talked through it, and chose the books and threads we preferred.

There are multiple reasons why I love this curriculum so far. First and foremost it finally satisfies my son's appetite for history! Since my son was very young, he has loved history, and has always questioned us ad nauseum about history facts, often stretching us beyond our knowledge and our ability to answer. For him there was no waiting for the logic stage, but when that stage did kick in, hoo boy! It has been a challenge to keep up with his desire for answers to the "whys." He also enjoys literature and poetry, has a knack for writing (though he has hated the physical act of doing so until about the end of last year), and loves looking at the relationships between all of these things. TOG begins with history as its core. From there it brings in geography, literature, writing, church history, and government, all of which relate to the central history theme of the week. The reading selections are excellent quality, full of engaging information and include the classics all along the way. So far he has thoroughly enjoyed every selection.

While meeting his needs for history, TOG satisfies my desire for both a Charlotte Mason style of instruction with classical roots, and the logical and organized 4-year history cycle. We love the "living books" approach to learning. There is no busy-work. It all has purpose and it all relates to the history theme. Facts are learned within the schemata of history, not in isolation. Both of my kids are studying the same time period and learning about the same things on levels that are appropriate for their developmental stage.

Finally, the thematic construction of the curriculum lends itself very well to group activities and instruction. Each week in our group we do a hands-on activity, discuss the student activity pages, review the geography, discuss the history points, and reinforce any writing instruction that was assigned for the week. We divide the students into three groups of Lower Grammar, Upper Grammar and Dialectic to gear the activities in an appropriate manner.

At this point it is too early to state any drawbacks to the TOG curriculum. So far it has not revealed any of its flaws. The beauty of TOG lies in its flexibility. I can pick and choose what most appeals to us, what is more available at my library, etc. There are options within every thread. Furthermore, the simple fact that the threads are spelled out as they are pushes me to set the bar a little higher for my students, and they do not seem to mind reaching high to grasp it.

I have made another observation about TOG, as well, and that is its longevity. I have read on message boards and yahoo groups of people who have used this curriculum for many years. Because of the way it increases in its depth and intensity as the students progress through the years, it is systematically building on a foundation already laid in the earlier years. I hope the same is true of our experience, and that this is the last curriculum I need to buy.

I will continue to post our progress both in the weekly reports and in any other items of interest that arise along the way. Suffice it to say that for now we are very glad we chose TOG.

This video is very helpful in understanding the author's intent in writing TOG.

Link to A Change of Seasons: Part 3 (Four Years Later)

A Change of Seasons: From CC to Tapestry of Grace

Updated March 7, 2012: This post is in no way meant to be critical of CC--on the contrary, I hope to give a fair assessment of why it did and didn't work for our family, and why we have chosen not to continue. We had a great CC season. It was a valuable part of our educational journey. The season, however has shifted, and so we must move on, taking what we have learned and putting it to good use in the next.

Many people have stopped by the Accidental Homeschooler searching for information about Classical Conversations (CC). Last year I wrote about what I called "coming full circle" with CC, and in this and future posts, I want to expand on that information and write about why we decided this year to make the switch to Tapestry of Grace. I have said before that "the right tool for the job gets it done." For three years of our home school experience, CC did help tremendously in "getting the job done." Nevertheless, there were a few drawbacks to using the CC method which I will delineate in this post, which is Part 1 of "Why the Switch."

First, let me identify the ways in which CC has helped us. First and foremost, meeting together with other moms was a very important part of our week. It provided a venue for fellowship and community, support, and even friendly competition. Secondly, it helped me figure out how to best organize and carry out our day-to-day lesson plans. Because there was a weekly framework of material to be covered, I could pull together resources which would support what was being presented each week. I learned in CC that my two kids are crazy about history and geography. We squeezed everything we could out of the weekly material. CC also kept me from completely dropping the ball on studying science, which I am prone to do since we all share such a love for the other subjects. Also, it was very convenient to have both of my children studying exactly the same material, allowing me to adjust the presentation of it according to their ability.

Taking all that into account, what follows are the reasons I decided that our CC season had come to an end. From the beginning I could really connect with the Well-Trained Mind approach to framing our school years with a four-year plan, using history and geography as a spine from which to generate our studies. CC uses a 3-year cycle, and this is just a bit too fast for our family, who really enjoys digging into history and taking a bit more time with it. The first year cycle takes a geography-centered approach to world history, and a very brief overview of the history of every continent is touched upon. The second year cycle begins with the Middle Ages and moves quickly through history to the modern times, and geography studies are focused on Europe. The third year emphasizes U.S. History and geography. All of these cycles have their strengths, and one of the things we enjoyed the most about them was learning the history sentences set to music. I find the kids still singing them from time to time, especially when something we are talking about or studying stimulates their memory. Even so, I prefer a more linear 4-year approach beginning with the ancients and ending with modern times.

Another aspect of CC became a challenge for us to manage, and that is the emphasis placed on the "Memory Master" achievement. You can read about what a Memory Master is here. We found at the beginning that the memorization of the material combined with our supplemental studies was done easily. However, as the school year progressed and we were reviewing and drilling more and more material, there was less and less time to dig in to our reading, writing and hands-on projects which were intended to give life and dimension to the very facts that we were memorizing. When it came time to test for Memory Master (MM), we spent two weeks primarily preparing for the examination, not getting much of anything else done. I will say that the value in this exercise was that my boy learned how to push himself beyond what he would normally do and to challenge himself. It was rather exhilarating in the moment, and I am not sorry at all that we did it, but I learned that a more evenly distributed pace of learning throughout the year is preferable for us.

 Lastly, because of the pace at which we moved through history, it was impossible to dig in to all of the areas that the history sentences touched on. This may work well for someone who has little to moderate interest in history, but for my history-ravenous son, I felt I had to keep moving him through the material before he was ready. Knowing just a little about something was not enough to satisfy him. In science, it was fine--the science questions were sufficient since that is not where he gravitates. He enjoys science, but he is not hungry for it.

I was also beginning to look ahead and study the Challenge program. I had friends who had kids in Challenge A and B, and I was observing their experiences closely, not to mention studying the curricula that the students used. Again, the four-year history cycle is not present. This is not to say there is no "method to their madness" because I believe that there is, and it clearly works well for many people. But as I looked ahead at the program, I could not see our family flowing with that approach. Again, I would like to see a 4-year history cycle, and out of that study related literature, geography, church history, fine arts, and even science. Furthermore, the Challenge program is different from Foundations in that it ceases to follow the cyclical nature of Foundations. With the age span of my children, I recognize that it will be difficult to keep them "on the same page" through their whole school careers, however, middle school was a little too soon (to my mind) to have one child studying an entirely different course from my younger child. I wanted to be able to study the same topics with them, at different levels.

In Part 2 of "A Change of Seasons" I will discuss the ways in which Tapestry of Grace has satisfied the very things that I found to be either lacking or challenging in the CC method, as well as a review of the curriculum up to this point.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Week 3: Lessons in Flexibility

On Wednesday my neighbor needed help. I mean really. needed. help. The kind that involves taking a sick kid to the e.r. and could you watch the baby and the 3-year-old for me? Husband is away and won't be home for several days. Again on Thursday, too...but this time it was she who really needed to go to the e.r...I pulled some strings and found a babysitter for her (thank GOD for that dear woman!) and she and I went to the e.r. to get her some help.

I was so happy to help, but needless to say, Thursday I was just a little tired and the best-laid plans for school were a bit disheveled. We did get a lot done, just not in the way I would have expected. But that is life, isn't it? God is faithful when we are faithful, and the next morning when my son came in to greet me I told him I missed him and was sorry I was out so late the previous night, and his response was, "But you were helping someone else, Mom--that's more important." Right. Sometimes as homeschoolers we get so focused on the fact that we are doing this so that we can keep our families close-knit, etc., that we forget that the time we choose to spend away also teaches. Where do we focus our energy? Do we serve others, pray for others, build up the church? Do we feed the poor, care for the sick, and practice the "pure religion" that the Bible talks about?

James 1:27
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

So yes, I suppose I'm tired in body, but the lessons that came from helping and serving will not soon be forgotten. They are life lessons--lessons in flexibility.

In lessons this week we covered quite a bit. I am excited for the things we are getting done, in spite of the hiccups along the way.

On Monday we had a wonderful Tapestry of Grace meeting with our group. We painted salt dough maps that we had formed the previous week, had lively discussions about the week's readings and had a Napoleonic relay, which involved loading kids down with gear and making them "cross the Alps" (sorry no photos!) as a relay race. They loved it, and it was quite hilarious to watch! I am finding that the group experience along with the Tapestry of Grace curriculum is exactly what I have been looking for. The accountability to keep up with the work combined with the relationships that we have with these families make it a rich and wonderful experience.

At home we covered math, science, a read-aloud, grammar, phonics, and writing. All in all it was a busy, productive week, and flexibility was the primary lesson!