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.