Thursday, December 31, 2009

Almost back...

It's the last day of the year! We're almost back to school after the winter break... taking some much needed R&R so we're ready for 2010. My only question is how on earth will we focus on homeschooling when there are so many new board games to play (apparently word got out that we love games because we received them from everyone from Old Saint Nick to the old man down the street)?

Or is that considered homeschooling?

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

And again...

Today was supposed to be my household cleaning day. Again. Instead it was a run-a-bunch-of-boring-errands and help-kids-make-holiday-gifts kind of day. Again. Followed up with several hours at a Girl Scouts holdiay party that had lots of sugar, sugar, and, yes, more sugar. Kids went to bed late. Again. Zero - and I mean zero - cleaning happened. Again. Well, I guess that's a lie because four hours after my little one knocked a glass ornament to the ground I did manage to vacuum it up (I did ban them from the affected area until it was all-clear, no one was injured). But I did love watching the creativity pour out of the children. Again.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Winter Break

Today is the official start of winter break for the girls and I. No official "school" until 2010. This morning, the girls have been listening and reading along to audiobooks, crafting gifts (and fairies), practicing their respective musical instruments, and playing the board game Pay Day. All this before 9am. Sounds like a good day of "school" to me!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Strange and Strangers

I had the, uh, opportunity to spend last night at my husband's company holiday party. The evening was spent meeting various employees and making small talk. All of these people were strangers to me, and I to them, so naturally the question of "And what do you do?" was repeatedly directed at me. I wanted to give a fabulously exciting answer but time and time again I found myself replying that I was currently staying home with the children. Yawn. About half the time the fact that I homeschool came up. Typically this led to peculiar looks, questions of why anyone would ever want to do that, or, my favorite (strange) question, "Is that something you do when the kids come home from school?" Uh... no. All in all the night was quite wearisome despite the beautiful location, a strange evening surrounded by strangers (on more than one occasion I was reminded of The Doors lyrics "People are strange, when you're a stranger..."), and it's an experience I don't care to have again for at least another year.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Reading, reading and reading

Reading. In our homeschool this simple word has multiple meanings. It could mean that I will be reading a fun story to the girls. It might be that the girls will be reading aloud to me. There's also the chance that it means reading instruction with phonics and sight words. Or maybe it's reading history lessons, science lessons, etc. Possibly listening to the literature selection for the week as it is read, or reading (and re-reading) instructions very carefully. But my favorite definition is the one that happened last night while I was putting the finishing touches on dinner - all four girls, cuddled up on the sofas with blankets and books, reading.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Short Days of Late Fall

Today I decided that in honor of the upcoming shortest day of the year, we were going to have a shortened day of school. We're done for the day! Hurray!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Counterproductive?

This weekend was great. I did not accomplish anything on my to-do list. My list was filled with items like "clean all bathrooms" and "scrub kitchen floor." I am happy to report that the bathrooms still need cleaning and the kitchen floor looks worse today than it did Friday. Usually this state of affairs would make my head hurt, but instead I am thrilled. Why? Because instead of doing any of the mundane chores that usually take up hours of my weekend, my husband and I started to finish (yes, ironic words) the project I began back in July when I ripped my schoolroom out of the main floor study and shoved it upstairs into the playroom. The plan is to create an actual study out of the room. Between July and Friday afternoon, the room was without identity. The table merely collected unwanted items and piles of paper. The computer was stashed in the corner and the only way to sit at the computer was to balance awkwardly on a cheap plastic stool and type over piles of paper, bills, etc.

No longer. We finally cleared out the old furniture, put in the new goods, pulled down the ugly old curtains and put up new (well, they are old but they are new to that room) curtains, and put away about 90% of the items that will live in that room. What's left is to now relocate some of the old furniture up to the new school room and some down to the basement, install the new french doors, find a chair for the desk and two for reading, acquire a table and a few lamps, and do some decorating. I estimate that this room will not be "done" done any time soon, but certainly will look much better before the end of the year. So while all of the attention focused on this room was counterproductive to my weekend to-do list, I feel 10 lbs lighter at having made so much progress in this room. Unfinished, messy areas weigh me down. Plus, I got to spend lots of time with my husband, and since I enjoy his company, commentary and companionship, that was a really good thing.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Sensitivity

During our music lesson today, I was reading the girls a biography of Peter Tchaikovsky. It turns out Mr. Tchaikovsky was an extremely sensitive child and adult. The book described him as being hurt and wounded by things that most people probably wouldn't even notice or at the very least, wouldn't take personally. The author pointed out that although this was very hard on Tchaikovsky, it was this incredible sensitivity to feelings that allowed him to become a great Romantic composer. At this point, my eldest daughter turned to my (very sensitive) six-year-old and said, with sincerity and without malice, "Maybe you'll be a great Romantic composer!" to which the six-year-old began sobbing quietly and then removed herself to the corner. For thirty minutes.

Hmm. Maybe she will be a great Romantic composer.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Back to School. Again.

Well, yesterday was back-to-school after a lovely week off in honor of Thanksgiving (and, more importantly, having Daddy home). We're in our 13th week of schooling for the year. This week's highlights include a literature study on The Wingdingdilly by Bill Peet, building a paper arch bridge ala the Persian builders, baking a Swedish apple cake to commemorate the Swedish holiday Martin Day (okay, this actually took place on Nov. 10th, but better late than never), an art project using Rembrandt's pencil drawings as inspiration, and several chemistry experiments involving food (always a favorite).

In addition, the girls are preparing for their winter music recitals. My first and fourth graders will play Christmas songs on the piano. The girls are diligent pianists, practicing every day for at least the required amount of time and often longer, no complaining whatsoever, and both have attempted original compositions (the fourth grader's music is actually very good!). My second grader is preparing for her debut on the violin. Let me point out that this has been an extremely rocky road. She is finding the violin challenging, frustrating, and tedious and in the beginning her practice sessions sounded more like torture sessions based on the amount of whining and crying going on (and it wasn't all coming from the violin). Fine motor skills are not her thing, and the bow hold alone could take up her entire lesson every time, which of course leads to more frustration on her part. But she seems to have turned a corner. She even composed a short song entitled "Sweet Melody." I'm looking forward to both recitals.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thankfully A Week Off

We took this past week off from school work. My husband has been home and my sister was in town... it was a much needed break. While I'm pleased that during this time, each girl has read many books, worked in "fun" workbooks, learned about building and measuring from our home projects, crafted sculptures, jewelry and other works of art, researched Thanksgiving and discussed why or why not modern Americans should have a three-day feast like the Pilgrims, I am most grateful that they have enjoyed lots of play time with each other and with family. And, honestly, I'm thankful that I was able to catch up on several neglected projects while all of this was going on. This has been a truly wonderful week off.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Reflections

In eavesdropping on my daughters playing with their dolls, I learned that some of their dolls and animals have the following names. I asked where they came up with them, and here is what I learned:

Isabella (of Isabella and Ferdinand)
Elizabeth (as in Elizabeth I of England)
Mary (of Mary Queen of Scots)
Titania (from A Midsummer's Night's Dream)
Helena (from the above)
Joan (as in Joan of Arc)
Buttercup (from The Princess Pride)
Hamlet (from Shakespeare - by the way, this is the name of a stuffed pig; too funny since we're vegetarian)

At least the history lessons are being put to use somewhere! Well, I'll admit that The Princess Bride has nothing to do with history but I love that story despite the fact that Buttercup is a vapid, helpless damsel-in-distress. Oh well - at our house she was cast as the family dog.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Progress

"True progress quietly and persistently moves along without notice."
~St. Franciss of Assisi

It is incredibly rewarding to see and hear the progress of one's children when homeschooling. It happens subtly, without bells and whistles, without tests and report cards. But when, one morning, you step back and notice the difference it is like the warmth of the sun has entered your soul.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

One Down, Three to Go...

Quarters that is. Yesterday marked the "official end" (I put that in quotes because there isn't an official anything; I just make things up to keep me honest) to our first quarter of homeschooling this year. Ten weeks in and I feel like we're just getting started. I mean that in a good way. It has been (for the most part) a very good school year. The girls are enjoying themselves, I'm enjoying the girls, there is lots of learning going on, we have a good balance with extra activities... enough said. Still feeling lost, however, when it comes to meaningful communities and friendships. Sigh. I guess you can't have everything.

To celebrate our progress, the girls and I went to lunch. Oh - and I let the older three skip oral reading for the day. I don't know which elicited a more excited response but they were a happy crew yesterday, and when I hinted that the celebrations for quarter ends would get better and better as the year goes on they about fainted from the anticipation. Now I have to come up something good in the next ten weeks for the end of the first half. Suggestions??

As we face the upcoming thirty weeks of school work, I only feel slightly nervous. For the most part, I feel confident that we will accomplish the goals I set out. However ... a little voice in the back of my head is reminding me that I haven't reached the midway point yet. Halfway through the school year (usually in January) I typically hit a wall. The wall consists of me being bored with the plans I made. I do finish things, but I get way off schedule and take too many breaks, etc., causing our school year to continue well into the summer OR for me to double up the workload each day leading to days that quickly become too long. Not fair to anyone involved. This year I'm determined to either (a) miss the wall completely; (b) climb over the wall; (c) punch my way through it and bypass the nonsense I've brought upon myself in previous years.

Here's to positive thinking!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Home Economics

I admit it. The food in our house is "weird." It's out there. It's definitely not part of the Standard American Diet. THANK GOODNESS. I am thrilled with that fact. I like that my kids (and I) don't have cereal out of a box for breakfast, unidentifiable animal products out of a can/box/package for lunch, and drive-thru for dinner. When I think about health and nutrition, I believe a big part of eating healthy is actually knowing what it is that you put in your mouth - whole, natural foods prepared in health-promoting ways. The following breakfast recipe is a break from that. While it's not "bad" for you it's certainly not up there on my list of healthy recipes due to the fact that it's mostly cornmeal and it's cooked with oil on a griddle. And once in a while I can live with that. Let me put it this way: I think that this recipe can be part of a healthy diet so long as you aren't eating this for breakfast every day and limit things like this to special mornings. Today was one of those days. Typically we reserve pancakes, skillets, etc., for the weekend but today I needed an extra kick to get me going. The following recipe evolved over time from several traditional recipes. For your eating pleasure, I present...

Cornmeal Pancakes

2 cups stoneground cornmeal
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1 tablespoon turbinado sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt (I actually only sprinkled in a dash)
1 1/2 cups soy milk + 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup canola oil
Ener-G egg replacer for 2 eggs (1 tablespoon + 4 tablespoons warm water)

Add apple cider vinegar to soy milk and let sit for 5 minutes (you're making vegan buttermilk). In a large bowl, combine the cornmeal, rice flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix well with a wire whisk. In a medium bowl, beat the soymilk mixture, water, oil, and prepared egg replacer with a whisk until well combined. Add to the cornmeal mixture and stir until smooth, but don't overmix. Heat your griddle over medium heat (300 - 350 degrees), and lightly oil (I use a Misto for this). Spoon about 1/4 cup of the batter for each pancake. Cook for about 3 minutes (until top begins to cook and bottoms are browned) and then flip. Cook for about 2 - 3 minutes more until second side is browned. Serve with vegan margarine, maple syrup, brown rice syrup ... whatever your fancy. And don't let the small size fool you - these boys are filling!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Not Home Schooling

Yesterday we packed our bags and took our school work to a book store. We spread our work over a large table in the cafe section of the store and set up camp for four hours. From home I brought sandwiches, carrots, nuts and raisins to sustain the children and over the course of our visit I purchased $5 worth of coffee and tea beverages to sustain me. The girls are used to curious eyes and didn't pay much attention, but I enjoyed the wondering glances and smiles. We were interrupted no less than five times by curious store patrons. Three assumed I was a homeschooler, one asked if school was out for the elections, and one asked if they were home sick (odd question since we weren't home and no one was sick). All asked me several questions about homeschooling, all of which genuine and not judgmental. The girls behaved perfectly and were wonderful homeschool ambassadors.

It was lovely.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Grammar laughter and tears

My second grader detests grammar. She detests it so much that she absolutely refuses to follow almost all of the rules of English grammar when she writes. She also refuses to remember grammatical definitions, examples, jokes, quips ... you get the point. I shouldn't say she refuses to remember them - she remember them just fine when she's playing Mad Libs, reading, or doing anything other than the subject "Grammar." For whatever reason she cannot get through a grammar lesson without causing a scene. Sometimes it's a minor scene and sometimes it's out of this world.

Now lest you think that I am a cruel homeschooler forcing my young child to perform hours of grammar work, diagramming sentences and labeling parts of speech, let me put your mind at ease: we use First Language Lessons. For anyone not familiar, this is an oral program, which means I read the incredibly short lesson, we have a brief diaglogue on the subject, occassionally there is copywork or poetry memorization, etc. Very, very little writing. No diagramming. It's designed for very young (first and second grade) children. My other children love this book. I love this book. The lessons average five minutes. Unless you have a daughter that likes to throw herself on the floor in a dramatic performance worthy of an Oscar. Here's an example.

Our Lesson Today (Lesson 125)

Me: Do you remember the definition of a verb? (I'm thinking of the stacks of Mad Libs this child does with her sisters - she knows what a verb is.)

Her: (clenches fists tight and brings them to her chest; begins trembling and shaking with scarcely contained fury ... but remains silent)

Me: None of that. We're just reviewing here. Please tell me the definition of a verb.

Her: (very loud) I can't!! I just CAN'T!!!!! (falls the ground in tears, sobbing) I don't know!! I CAN'T!!!

Me: (remaining very calm) Please get up. I don't want to her the words "I can't" from you one more time.

Her: (sobbing - stops performance to check my expression and see how serious I am; decides I mean business and stands up, but keeps puts on a pained expression) Okaaay.

Me: Pull yourself together now. We're not kneeling on a bed of nails. This is just the definition of a verb. Remember when you do Mad Libs and the paper asks for a verb - it's also called ...

Five-Year-Old Sibling: An action word! Also state of being. Or linking.

Six-Year-Old Sibling: Or a helping verb - it can help the action verb - like "is crying." (smiles to herself at her little joke - looks to the five-year-old but realizes her audience doesn't get it)

Her: (fists clenched, trembling, shaking) I KNOW ALL THAT!!!!! I JUST CAN'T SAY IT!!!! Why must they interrupt?!?!?!?!? (crying very dramatically, but secretly looking to see our reaction)

Five-Year-Old Sibling: So we don't have to listen to your boring old lesson anymore.

Six-Year-Old Sibling: Yeah!

Me: That's enough, girls (although secretly agreeing with the younger siblings). And that's enough of this. You're going to have to write the definition of a verb if you won't simply say it.

Her: No! Not writing!! (sounding desperate at the thought of writing, although she writes stories, keeps a journal and writes letters in her free time) ... Okay. FINE! (sigh - tears stop, she's suddenly FINE) A verb is a word that does an action, shows a state of being, links two words together or helps another verb.

Me: Great! Perfect. ... Now, can you give me an example of a word that does an action?

Her: (Raises clenched fists to her chin, begins shaking and trembling) I CAN'T!!!!!!

Five-Year-Old Sibling: Here we go again....

Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday!!! Week Nine!!!!

I can hear bells ringing! It's the end of week nine AND we're only slightly behind the massive schedule I made! We might actually catch up before the end of the quarter next week... not that the world will stop turning if we don't, I realize, but still... we might catch up! We're only "behind" by one science experiment and one history project (both of which my husband was supposed to do with the girls but who's pointing fingers? other than me?). This week hasn't been my best, but it's almost over. Hurrah!

And the end of week nine means that Halloween is tomorrow. Naturally, three of my girls changed their minds about their costumes at the last minute. The eldest sister has decided it will be more fun to be a Fortune Teller. She has a deck of tarot cards and fancies she can use them correctly and accurately. Hey, maybe she can for all I know so, calling her by her fortune teller name I say, "Go Madame Magista!" Anne Boleyn has become Pippi Longstocking - I have to admit I was a tiny bit disappointed on this one and actually tried to change her mind (not something I do much of when it comes to Halloween costumes), but she stayed firm. She just finished reading Pippi Longstocking and I think she's quite inspired so what can you do? We already have the hair down - her little braids stick way up and out with modified metal hangers. Very cool. The third hasn't changed her mind - still going as a ghost (she wants the white sheet and everything). And the youngest has decided to be a dancer instead of a puppy, which actually makes my life easier because I had put off buying any puppy-costume items and we have drawers full of dance costumes.

So Happy End-of-Week-Nine to me and Happy Halloween to you!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Ironically...

Not 30 minutes after posting about our history lessons, I received a very detailed email regarding the inscription Laus Deo on the top of the Washington Monument, other Christian inscriptions found all around government buildings, and the role of the "true Father" of America, which, according to the writer of the email, clearly demonstrate the "true" and "accurate" purpose of our country: that it is obviously and divinely determined that "we" are a Christian nation and should educate people (here and abroad) on this truth.

I have been having a hard time finding sources that sell or give away this sort of information. It's so hard to find male-dominated, Christian-dominated, evangelical stuff these days! I appreciate the effort to get me back on track. Thanks for the email. Unfortunately, I'm a stubborn little heathen and won't listen.

History

I love that in homeschooling, our history lessons includes those pieces of history that are commonly left out. And I love that when we are at the library, my children actively look for books that include these untold stories.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Just Imagine

George Bernard Shaw is one of my favorite writers. Not only was he an amazing writer, thinker, philospoher, and humorist, but he was also a dedicated vegetarian, which earns you a few extra points in my book (not that anyone reads my book).

I read this again today and had to share...

"Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine, and at last you create what you will."
~George Bernard Shaw

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Queen Bee

My nickname in the internet world is, rather obviously, Queen Bee. This refers to my position in my personal "hive" at home. Well, I was in the bookstore yesterday and the title of a book caught my eye: Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence by Rosalind Wiseman. I looked up the book's definition of a "queen bee" and I was a tad emabarassed that I've been referring to myself as queen bee since the definition in that book isn't nearly as lovely as the one in my head (a mama bee working hard in her hive). Sheesh. I hadn't even thought of it like that. Then I wondered how I hadn't heard of this book. It turns out that this book was initially published back in 2002 when I was in the middle of the baby-bearing years and not thinking about girls in adolescence. It has since been updated and revised for the 2009 "girl world," as Wiseman calls it. It actually looks like an interesting book, and as I have four daughters I may well read it (though I'm hoping that because we homeschool my girls may be saved from some of the horrid nastiness Wiseman describes... or at least spared until they are older and better able to deal with it).

I thought about changing my virtual name, but have decided, "Nah - I don't care that much." Which is, of course, in keeping with the characteristics of Wiseman's queen bee who does what it is she wants to do.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Is it over YET?!?

Okay, so Week Eight has - for lack of a better word - sucked. It hasn't been the kids or the work, it was just a busy week, too many late nights, too much going on. I feel like the week simultaneously dragged on forever yet flew by so quickly that we couldn't fit everything in. And technically, we still haven't fit everything in. We have not completed our labs for chemistry this week - we will either get to it right before dinner or it will be done this weekend.

So even though we managed to get to 99.9% of our work so far (it's 4:45pm on Friday) and didn't have any major meltdowns, why do I feel like this week just plain sucked?!?! I thought about it this afternoon and came up with one possible answer - as much as I don't usually have much time for myself (and I detest that fact), this week I had NO time to myself. No time to unwind, no time to relax. No time to recharge my old batteries. And I didn't work out as regularly as I normally do and therefore I think there were less endorphins floating around in my head. I really do need that stress release or something because I was not in a happy frame of mind all week long.

On a more positive note, here are some things we did accomplish despite being extra busy...
  • The oldest girls designed and made their own Scottish kilts (we were learning about Mary, Queen of Scots and James VI of Scotland)
  • The oldest girls also baked and served everyone Parkin cake (a tradition British cake - 75% of the kids enjoyed it)
  • All of the girls captured (then released) several enormous praying mantids - and managed to see them eating beetles (apparently they ate the head first each time)
  • My youngest finished the first stage of the Hooked on Phonics program and could not be more excited about reading
  • My oldest took it upon herself to come up with a ceremony for her girl scout troop; she designed, researched and presented it this week in honor of the founder's birthday (Happy 109th Juliette Low)
  • My 1st grader is breezing through her literature work and I had to move her up another grade
  • I managed to fit in making all the bread for the next two weeks - yippee! I hate to smell the fresh bread because it's the only time I really want to eat bread (I have Celiac) so I'm happier when I get a break from it!

I could write many more positive things, and just writing the few above I feel better already. Hmmm. Maybe I need to start a Homeschool Gratitude Journal... I'll have to think about that.

But how will I fit it in?!?!

Farewell Week Eight - only two more to go and we're done with the first quarter of our academic year. Wow.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

SpellQuizzer, reviewed.

I received an email from Dan, the creator of SpellQuizzer, asking me to give the program a try and review it on my blog. According to the website, SpellQuizzer is a spelling program that helps kids learn their spelling and vocabulary words. For the past several weeks, I'm implemented the program into my second-grader's daily Language Arts. I was a little hesitant because I didn't want to add more into our day than is already in place, but I was pleasantly surprised.

The program is simple to implement and can either work in conjunction with an existing spelling program by helping the child learn the assigned words for the week, or can act as a stand-alone depending on how a homeschooler "does spelling." First you download the program. Once installed, simply click on the icon and begin! (Side note: directions as well as demo videos on how to use the program can be found at the SpellQuizzer website.) At first I tried the program myself with one of the preloaded sample lists. You click on the Quiz Me on a List! icon and select a list. You then hear a word from the list and type it into the box and hit enter (or click on Check Spelling). If the word in entered correctly, you move on to the next word on the list. If it is incorrect, a box appears with the correct spelling. At the end of the session you are given your score and an opportunity to re-try incorrect words.

There are several ready-made lists available for free on the SpellQuizzer website that can be imported for free and used as spelling lists. You can also create your own lists, which is wonderful because you can customize the program to improve and work on your child's current spelling and vocabulary lists, or, as we do in our home, create a list based on words the child has misspelled in regular work throughout the week. Creating your own list is straightforward, even for the techno-challenged, like me. You simply need a microphone (most computers come with one, but they are less than $10 to buy if you don't have one). Click on the Create a Spelling List icon and follow the simple instructions. You type the word you're adding, add the audio, and check the playback. The set-up in simple and intuitive. Once you're happy with the sound simply click Add Word. I liked to use different voices and accents to keep my daughter on her toes! You can always go back and make changes by selecting the Edit a List icon. You can also export your list if you'd like to share. The website has a community forum where SpellQuizzer users can share ideas, tips and lists.

I gave ease of set-up and use an "A." But how would this program actually work with my second grader? I wondered if she would enjoy it or if she would prefer something with more "bells and whistles?" I had her work on her spelling list (one I created from her frequently misspelled words) once a day. On Friday I gave her a written quiz. Typically my daughter struggles with spelling. For the past two weeks she did not miss one word on the list! And she loved doing the program. She asked me if she could play SpellQuizzer quite frequently. I let her "play" with the lists I downloaded from the SpellQuizzer website. And I think the lack of "bells and whistles" is part of what makes the program work. It is simple and straightforward. My daughter enjoyed getting the words right, but when she got one wrong she simply looked at the correct spelling and tried again. No sirens went off, she didn't lose points, etc. I think the clean format made it easier for her to focus on learning to spell the words. It gets an "A" from the second-grade user for fun, and an "A" from mom on results.

I think this program has a lot of potential for future use in our homeschooling. Next, I would like to add my older daughter's Latin and Greek roots and vocabulary words to the program. There is not an age limit on the program and it could be used well into highschool and beyond. Younger students can benefit as well. I believe even my kindergartener could use it. And as an added bonus, children will get keyboarding practice while they type in their words.

The only thing missing for homeschool use, and something I would like to see included, would be an option to record the scores on quizzes and track progress. The program was designed to help practice for spelling tests given in a school setting, and in my opinion it clearly does that. And if you're a homeschooler implementing SpellQuizzer with another spelling program a tracking tool wouldn't be as important. But I think many homeschoolers would be interested in using this as a stand-alone product, and having the scores and progress tracked would be a beneficial tool for homeschool parents, especially if the software is used by older, more independent students.

Overall, I highly recommend checking out the SpellQuizzer website. You can download a free trial and if you like the program it is very reasonable to purchase ($29.95).

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Guilty Pleasures...

Phew - what a whirlwind the last few days have been! Busy, busy, busy. Busy with school, busy with housework, busy with meetings, swim team, lessons, practices, bills, etc., etc., etc. The list could probably fill an entire blog entry. Fortunately, I managed to squeeze in a few of my guilty pleasures to get me through the last few days.

Guilty Pleasure #1 - The Biggest Loser. I know, I know - it's a show on TV. And it's a "reality" show to boot. I am aware I just dropped several rungs, if not completely off, the ladder for most folks. I don't know why I like this show so much. It drives my husband nuts that I like it. Luckily for all involved, I don't usually get to watch it. Until the advent of ... trumpets sounding... Hulu.com. I did grab the initial two episodes but then missed all others. Until last night when I "hulu-ed" week three. Okay, it was a somewhat bum week to come back to the show because it was full of "game play" and other nonsense. Ugh. But, I have to say this about the show in general - it inspires me to keep working out when I feel tired because really, how can I complain when the contestants on that show keep it moving? What excuse could I possible come up that would work after seeing a 400+ pound person work harder than I've probably ever worked? And as a bonus, I am inspired to most definitely NOT overindulge in unhealthy foods. Not because of weight gain (though I don't enjoy that) but because I see what happens to these poor people when they get their medical reports. Ahhh! Please pass the carrot sticks...

Guilty Pleasure #2 - reading. I am that girl that always has her nose in a book. When I got in trouble in school it was typically for sneak-reading under my desk. I am still that way. So this week I worked some sneaky moves to grab a few extra pages. Love it. I finished three lovely little books since Monday. Go reading!

Guilty Pleasure #3 - framing. Yes, framing. After the incident with The Wind last week, I needed to reconfigure some art work. For the past two years I've had an unframed canvas precariously balancing on top of my cookbook bookcase in the kitchen. The thing has fallen countless times. I decided after the last time it wasn't going back up. At least not there. I took some other pieces in to be framed, and I moved another already framed piece to this location. The beauty of this artwork is that it can actually be secured to the wall. Hurray!

Guilty Pleasure #4 - taking a class. Tuesday night was the second in a series of five evenings in a class called Cakes for the Queen of Heaven offered through my fellowship (UU if you're wondering). The class aims to discuss the historical role of the female in religion and spirituality. I have enjoyed doing something for me, without any of my people. It's been interesting. I was an Anthropology major and I especially find the interactions between women in a group of women fascinating. Almost more so than the class itself.

Anyway, that's me getting through my beautiful but busy Week Seven!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Wrapping Up Week Six

The end of week six. More than halfway to the end of the first quarter. Fifteen percent of the year's work completed. Well, we're almost done. Another hour or two. Close enough.

Time to reflect on what is working and what is not working...

Going great:
  • Almost all homeschool subjects - can you believe I just wrote that????? I myself have a hard time believing it! But it's true - things are going very smoothly; I'm happy with what I've planned and the girls seem to be enjoying themselves.
  • Amount of time dedicated to school work - again, I somehow hit the nail on the head this year and found a good balance. Fingers crossed it keeps working!
  • Keeping extracurricular activities during traditional "after school" and evening hours - although this makes for some long days (e.g., we don't get home from swim team until 8pm) we can focus on things around the house that need to get done (e.g., school work, chores, free play, etc.).

Not going so great:

  • Connecting with other homeschoolers, a.k.a. community building - relatively nonexistent. I have one (yes ONE) homeschooling friend with kids about the same age. She has organized a fabulous poetry group that meets once a month, but other than that we don't have a local "gang" to hang with. We do attend some activities, but this is most definitely NOT the same thing as having a group with which you feel you really click.
  • Weekly Nature Study - hasn't happened one time. We do go on walks, we collect and observe things in the natural world, but I haven't done the official "Nature Study" with journals, etc., like I wanted to. I don't think I'll bother this year.
  • Finding time for myself - again, nonexistent. I do work out and I'm happy to report that I make time for that, but it's not enough. Exercise to me is the same as eating and sleeping, so while I'm grateful to be getting the basics I don't feel like it counts as "me time." It'd be the same as saying, "Gosh I'm glad I ate today!" Of course I am aware that I am fortunate and that there are others going without, but you get my meaning. Unlike my previous bullet, I think I will bother this year. I need to. I have four daughters and I need to keep telling myself that I will not set the example of putting myself last. This is very hard for me to accomplish in reality. It sounds good, but in practice I have let almost all of "me" go. Exactly what I vowed would not be my choice (because I do believe we make choices on this). I do not want my girls to continue this as women, so I need to figure something out. Maybe we can chip away at this unhealthy cycle.

That is enough reflection for today - we're about to get started on a fun art project, finish up a hands-on history project, and we still have some reading, poetry and vocabulary to complete before I can say good-bye to Week Six!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Our Morning Walk

I try to start most mornings with a "Morning Constitutional" (this should be said in a very deep, very serious voice - preferably with an uppercrust British accent). I take the girls on a short walk around our neighborhood. Sometimes we keep it very brief - just long enough to stretch our legs and say good morning to the birds. Other days we take the long route and may even venture into the woods. We love our walks, and the girls have told me that they don't feel right on the days we miss them.

And then there was our walk today. My youngest almost got hit by a car. Lovely way to start the day.

We live in a rural-style neighborhood. Aside from the obvious reasons (like the fact that the house behind us is a farm), I call it rural-style because (a) the houses are situated on larger lots (usually 1+ acre) and (b) there are no sidewalks. "B" causes me great anxiety on a good day. My children are not allowed to wander the neighborhood or walk to friends' houses without an adult. On our constitutionals, I make the girls walk in a line right along the edge of the road. If a car or truck comes along I ask them to step off of the road unless it is terribly muddy. I do this even though we sometimes go for a 30-minute walk and never see a moving vehicle. Today, as we rounded a curve in the road I spied two cars approaching, some distance apart. The first slowed down and gave us wide berth. Thank you, Considerate Driver. The second car did not slow down. And instead of heading away from us, the car actually seemed to angle closer to where we were walking. As I gave a warning to my children to step off the road, my youngest tripped - straight into the path of the oncoming vehicle. The car did not slow down. It continued to drive straight at us (and, I might add, not at all in keeping with the curve of the road). I literally yelled "STOP" and stepped out into the path of the car. The driver LOOKED UP FROM HER LAP (text-messaging? dialing a phone? searching in her bag?) and was obviously shocked to see us there. She braked and swerved, avoding us completely.

Disaster avoided.

I think we'll skip our walk tomorrow morning and let mom catch her breath...

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Anvil

Among my favorite books of all time are Deep Thoughts and Deeper Thoughts by Jack Handey. As I flipped through Deeper Thoughts this evening, I read the following and it reminded me of eager kindergarteners on the first day of school, lining up for the bus...

"If you're a blacksmith, probably the proudest day of your life is when you get your first anvil.

How innocent you are, little blacksmith."

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Thankfully Thursday

I don't know what it is, but this week is kicking my behind. Or maybe it's just that I feel behind. Not so much with homeschooling - somehow we're actually staying on track, so far - but rather with housework. UGH. Dreaded, dreaded housework.

Now, I am by no means a five-star domestic goddess. Not even close. But I do tend to stay on top of the little things and our home stays relatively neat and orderly (as neat and orderly as a house with four hooligans can). I have a laundry system that works pretty well (no piles of laundry), our dishes make it into the dishwasher and cabinets, the floors and furniture stay as dust-free as dark wood can, and I typically feel confident that our home is presentable and comfortable...

This week? Yikes! I have four loads of clean laundry hiding in my closet, sometime earlier in the week our dishwashing cycle got thrown off and now no matter what I do there are dirty dishes in the sink because the washer is either full or running, I can see nasty footprints and smudges-of-unknown-origin on the wood floors, there are piles of paper and books all over the kitchen and playroom, and the kitchen floor... I can't even begin with the kitchen floor; suffice it say that a large gust of wind met with a large, ornate jar filled with decorative oil and vinegar (and peppers, seeds, flower bits, etc.) and the latter plummeted from the top of a bookshelf to the tile floor below and shattered. I did clean it up despite my wish that someone else would magically appear and take over the task for me. But this took away from my usual floor-cleaning time so I have only one very clean spot in my kitchen while the rest has gone to hell.

And the dust. Oh, the dust. I know it's my fault. I'm a sucker for the wind. It's my favorite element. I could stand in the wind for hours. I love it, absolutely and unconditionally. So like the insane person that I am, I kept our windows WIDE open earlier this week because we had very windy weather (see above paragraph regarding large jars toppling) and I am now seeing the ramifications to all floors and furniture surfaces. But I'm not complaining too loudly about that because, after all, we did get to enjoy the wind.

I won't even get into the rest of the disaster. I have decided that there's nothing to be done at this point except clean it all up. So I've designated a good part of Saturday to the task. The girls will help me and I am confident our usual order can be restore. Okay, maybe I'm not confident but I'm really, really hopeful. Maybe desperate is a better word?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

It's almost October!


In our house that means finalizing our Halloween costume ideas...
Here's what we have so far:
  • A scary vampire - she's trying to work out from which time period the vampire hails so she can decide on clothing (the 9-year-old)

  • A beheaded Anne Boleyn - she has visions of covering her real head and carrying a paper mache head in her arms... (the 7-year-old)

  • A ghost - totally set on a white sheet with eye holes (most excellent!!!) (the 6-year-old)

  • A cuddly puppy - she wants to match her well-loved stuffed animal, which is white with black spots (the 5-year-old)

Monday, September 28, 2009

From the Bookshelves




Don't forget - this week is Banned Book Week!
Here is what's on our reading lists this week...

Wild Girls' Reading List:
Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes
Stuart Little by E.B. White
Nate the Great and the Monster Mess by Sharmat and Weston
The Starry Messenger by Peter Sis
Once Upon a Starry Night by Mitton and Balit
The Golden Sandal by Rebecca Hickox
Elizabeth I by Stephanie Turnbull
Shakespeare & the Globe by Aliki
A Midsummer's Night's Dream by Bruce Coville & William Shakespeare
Junior Great Books, The Sailing Ship series, vol. 1
Fablehaven by Mull and Dorman - our read-aloud

Wild Mamma's Reading List:
All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren
The Curse of the Good Girl by Rachael Simmons
The Boy in Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
As Hot As It Was You Ought to Thank Me by Nanci Kincaid



Monday, Monday...

We had a rocky start - everyone was tired and emotionally drained from my husband's homescoming yesterday. It was so wonderful to have him walk through the front door. I felt a huge sensation of relief come over me - I hadn't realized I was so worried about his safe return! But he's back, brought us fabulous goodies from India, and lots of love. He missed us, too, and it showed. I felt this warm sensation in my soul when he looked at me all day yesterday - it felt good to know that he missed me. So after lots of quality family time yesterday, this morning was a bit slow in getting off the ground; once we started moving we rolled through a fair amount of "school."

One exciting tidbit to share: my youngest is starting to really read. She has a tough row to hoe being the youngest of four. She tends to compare herself to her sisters and gets easily frustrated when she doesn't remember a word, so I need to be extra careful about keeping things light and fun. And it's working! She had a blast today and read quite a bit. I feel confident that moving slow was the right thing for her and that waiting until now was the exact right time to start.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

At Week's End

Week Four ended yesterday. Went off without a hitch. Sometimes it can be hard to get rollin' in the morning. I don't always want to do the basics. I almost always want to do all the fun bits - creating wacky art, listening to great music, playing in and enjoying the world outside our four walls. Those things come easy. But teaching math? Not so much. I feel a mental sigh sometimes when I see a math book or a phonics book.

This week, however, I felt rewarded. It was a week where I could actually "see" the progress my girls are making. Not just in the drier things, but all around. In their journaling, in their play. And I realized that all of these things are interconnected, even when it doesn't appear that way. Like life. You can't separate bits of your life, bits of yourself. You are whole. Learning is whole. And it was a wonderful feeling. It helps make the prospect of week five okay.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Shred for Phys. Ed?

I have an addiction. It's call 30-Day Shred. I love this DVD. Like any good addict, I don't follow the "prescription" as set forth by the program designers. No, I have made it my own and I am hooked. I don't know if it's the condensed format or the fact that I find most of it really challenging, but boy I love it. I used to call myself a "gluten-free veg-head" but now I'm actually tempted to change that to a "gluten-free shred-head."

It has gone so far that I'm curious as to whether or not the state reviewer will accept Shred as my childrens' physical education. This way I'd have another excuse to fit it in each day.

Shred on!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Words of Wisdom

I read this today and I just love it. I believe it is a universal truth...

"Nothing gives one person so much advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances."
~ Thomas Jefferson

Monday, September 21, 2009

Recommended Reading for All Ages




Amidst our busy Monday schedule, I decided to read this book to the girls. Although written as a letter to children, I recommend it for all ages; from the youngest students to members of the oldest generation, this book has a message for everyone.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Weekend Whirlwind

Phew - what a weekend. I feel like I've been going 24/7 ... and I have. Ugh. At least we had fun this weekend. The highlight was major apple picking at a local orchard (we brought home over 80 pounds of apples). It was the perfect late summer day - clear skies, warm but not hot. In the orchard you could hear the bees buzzing and smell the overripe apples that had already fallen to the orchard floor. Once we got home we started peeling and slicing, simmering and baking and the house was full of warm, delicious, homey smells. By nightfall the air was crisp and cold and clear - I longed for a bonfire and blankets and wonderful stories.

Hmmm. Fall is so close, I can taste it. Quite literally.

I managed to eat an entire dish of (gluten-free, vegan) Apple Crisp (can you hear the buttons popping off my jeans?). I also had a major baking accomplishment - I was able to turn our old family recipe for Apple Cake into a gluten-free, vegan Apple Cake and not lose taste and texture. (Now I just have to be able to do it again.) But with my cake in hand, I'm ready for autumn!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Precious Moments

I love when something happens with your child that brings a huge grin to your face. My 6-year old daughter was reading in bed and I went to tuck her in, turn out the light, etc. Normally when I come in she immediately starts talking to me in her quiet way, puts aside whatever she is doing, and reaches for a hug. But this time, she glanced up at me and quickly looked back at her book (Grasshopper Goes for a Walk by Arnold Lobel). I could see her eyes were shining and she was smiling to herself.

I decided to let her read for a minute more so I turned to leave the room. She then looked back up at me and said in the most excited voice imaginable, "Mommy, this is absolutely the BEST book I have ever read!! Have you READ this? You've GOT to read this!! It's amazing!" Her little feet were kicking excitedly under the covers and she was just overflowing with happiness.

Naturally, I took her advice and sat down to read the book (for the fifth time) immediately. With a review like that, how could I not?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Today, a question

Okay, maybe it's half-question, half-whining...

How do you know when it's time to move?

I thought I could handle rural - and in many ways I do like it. The kids can play outside and ride their bikes. We know all of our neighbors. Our physical house is wonderful - more house than we could dream of in an urban setting. It's quiet - I can hear crickets and frogs, ducks and geese. There is space enough to breathe deeply and no smog to worry about breathing in.

On the other hand, I am wondering how much I can let roll off my back. I guess it's one thing when you know there are others like you nearby and you can vent it out over tea. I can take quite a bit under those circumstances. It's another when you realize you're the only one who's not nodding your head, that you're the pariah, the heathen, the "crazy liberal" because I think that not saying the Pledge of Allegiance in school is okay or that global warming is real, not a scheme cooked up by the Left.

And most importantly, that by default, by association with you, your kids are also going to be pariahs.

Does this mean it's time to move? Or is it time to breathe deeply the smog-free air and find a way to make it work...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Officially back in the game

And just like that, we're back. Back from the beach; back from a break; back to school work (come tomorrow morning). And perhaps most importantly... ahhh... back to my own bed. I love coming home almost more than I like getting away.

The girls read so many wonderful books at the beach. And they discussed and compared different selections (which was precious). I read several good books and a couple that were simply so-so. And most amazingly, my husband read a novel. This truly is amazing because the last time he read a novel I think it took him one year to go cover to cover. It could have been two years. He typically reads one of the three of his computer screens, repair manuals, and banking documents. This was a real moment for him - he read the entire book in just a few days. And significant because it means he wasn't working during those hours! Yes - relaxing on vacation can happen!

Sadly, our homecoming was bittersweet because we no sooner arrived than we had to take my husband to the train station. He left on a business trip to India and will be gone for two weeks.

I guess that means only some of us are officially back.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Makes me think...

We're on vacation, but naturally my husband still had to work.
On our vacation.
On Labor Day.

The upside is that I'm using his computer because I read something today and the words have made me think. They've got me to the point where I have to write something down to remember them by and the notebook where I usually jot down my rambling thoughts is apparently also on vacation as I cannot find it anywhere.

The words I read are thought-provoking words. They've sunk into my stubborn brain and are nesting there, keeping the fragile beginnings of a new thought warm so that is can hatch into something bigger. Perhaps a change is coming to my life.

"Stress is like fire: When controlled and used for a purpose, it serves us well. Left unbridled, it can consume us."
-Brendan Brazier

Perhaps it'd be better if my husband read them and allowed them to sink into his even more stubborn brain...

Friday, September 4, 2009

And we're off!

Naturally, after two weeks of homeschooling we need a break! So we're taking off to the beach for a week and will be (happily) out of contact with the digital world until mid-September.

Wish us luck - it's a ten hour drive (each way) to get where we're going....

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Brain Games

I watched an interesting DVD last night on the brain. Specifically children's brains. While much of what I saw was not new to me, there were bits and pieces in the program that made me think. In fact, they worked their way into my slumber and filled my dreams with confusing yet interesting images. The bottom line is that I learned something. Something that stuck with me and forced me to think of things in a new way, with a new framework even in my sleep.

The feeling that my mind was being pushed and stretched reminded me of something I'd read once so this morning I looked it up...

"Man's mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions."
-Oliver Wendell Holmes

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

From the Bookshelves

For the kids ...

... and mom's bookshelf ...

Monday, August 31, 2009

Beginning Week Two

Today we started Week Two of the academic year. Our day began later than usual because everyone slept in (myself included). Thank goodness! It was a very busy weekend with late nights, and the lack of sleep was/is apparent in both the kids and myself. Despite the late start and extra crankiness we ended up having a good day.

There is much to look forward to this week... I'm most excited for the art project of the week (we will be making an impressionist-style painting on muslin using pastel chalks). We are also learning about Mercury and Venus and their respective atmospheres by creating mini-atmospheres in jars. In history, the younger girls are exploring Ancient Egypt while the older two are working on projects to learn about the various sea voyages and "discoveries" of the late 15th/early 16th centuries. We are reading a wide variety of books and poems, and will have our first poetry recitation at the "Poetry Jam" on Friday.

On our daily walk through the neighborhood, the girls and I were excited to see some signs that autumn is not too far away. The most obvious sign is the first wave of Canadian geese arriving at the pond behind our house. They sounded like relatives catching up as they flew in this morning - as if it were a family reunion and they were the first to arrive, all talking over each other in their excitement. I estimate between 50 and 60 geese arrived today, but by the end we will have hundreds of chatty, noisy geese back there. They seem to argue over the best places to eat and sleep, which part of the pond belongs to what unit, and so on. But, like any good family, despite their squabbles they stay close to each other and work together to keep their enemies at a distance. I am so happy they are back - I miss them and their drama when they're gone.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

From the Bookshelves

I thought it might be interesting (though I could be wrong!) to post the books we are reading each week. I plan to include only our "school books" because we, as a group, are always reading many, many books and the list would quickly grow too long. However, I reserve the right to include any books that we find so absolutely wonderful that we simply must share.


From the Bookshelves, Week One:


Monday, August 24, 2009

One Down, How Many to Go???




Today was the official "first day of school" at our house. What a tremendous sense of relief I feel - all the planning and arranging finally put into action, and I have to say things went off without a hitch. Better than I'd anticipated, in fact. My girls were all VERY, VERY excited, which made me feel great. My oldest was so excited she had a hard time falling asleep (I'm not sure what she thought was going to happen, but I'll take it!). That being said, I already see things in my plan that are going to work wonderfully and things that will not, which is all to be expected. In fact, I actually enjoy figuring out what doesn't work because I can cross it off my list!


My least favorite things about today: (1) constant interruptions (ahhh - the dream of more peaceful one-on-one time with each child); (2) Hooked on Phonics - my five-year-old really wants to do this... not sure how long I'll last (I'm hoping she loses interest quickly); (3) lack of preparation on my part regarding down time for my youngest - I really need to have a good supply of games/activities/projects/etc. to keep her busy while her sisters are finishing their work and my current supply is lacking.



My favorite things about today: (1) my two eldest daughters' genuine excitement and interest in our history topic and the fabulous discussion that ensued; (2) the creative works of Dada art that my girls made - especially my five-year-old's "Landscape Habitat" sculpture (see photo); (3) reading a French fairytale to my little ones and my six-year-old later looking up France in her children's atlas to learn more about the country.
Ahhh... one down and... uh, let's not list how many to go. I'm just going to enjoy today.






Friday, August 21, 2009

Amusement Park Homeschool

Yesterday my family took a trip to a local-ish amusement park. After hours of riding on roller coasters, my youngest daughter pointed out that people don't fall off of the roller coasters because of gravity and because "they are moving so fast!" She then added, "Oh yeah, plus you're all strapped in and stuff." Her observations prompted my other daughters to begin asking more questions - mostly physics questions, but some related to the different types of harnesses and straps. So many questions, in fact, that today we hit the library and checked out several books plus a video on the history of and science behind roller coasters.

And I was afraid that the only remnant from yesterday's trip would be my roller-coaster-hangover-headache...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

When I Grow Up...

Our local newspaper is holding an essay contest. The directions are as follows: "In 200 words or less tell us about what you want to do with your life." My oldest had no interest in the contest despite the lure of a $50 Walmart gift card. But my younger three excitedly set to work writing their pieces. Here they are, from youngest to oldest. These made me laugh, and I hope you get a smile out of them as well.

Dictated by DD, age 5:
When I grow up I want to be a veterinarian. I want to help animals be happy. If an animal is sick I will help him. If there are animals that don't have a home I want to give them a home. I want to teach people to take care of their animals so they can be healthy. I like cats and dogs and beavers, but I can help all the animals.

Written by DD, age 6:
When I grow up I want to be an adventurer. It will be fun! I will be able to see the world and find great things. I will be able to camp out a lot. I will get to see lots of animals and lots of plants, and to kayak on lakes. Maybe I will be able to see plants and animals that people have never seen before, and to discover lots of birds and trees. These could help scientists learn more about our world. I cannot wait to start my adventure!

Written by DD, age 7:
When I grow up I want to be a dentist. I'm going to work in a shop in California. I will not let cavities get into someone's teeth. When I have a break, I'm going to go around the world to help kids who do not have dentists near their home. I'm going to show them how to clean their teeth and teach them how to fix a problem. I will give them toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss for a year. By doing this I hope they have a long, healthy life with clean teeth!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Activity Hustle and Bustle

I cannot bear to feel that my days are void of down time. Yet I always feel busy. This is probably due to the four children who are always with me rather than scheduled activities, but nonetheless, I crave more free time. As such, I try to limit our activity schedule. At the same time, I want the girls to have the opportunity to try new things and make friends. Here is what we have on our plate for the fall:

  • Music Lessons - DD9 (piano), DD7 (violin) & DD6 (piano), 1 x week
  • Swim Team - all DDs, 3 x week
  • Girl Scouts - all DDs, 2 x month
  • Various library programs - all DDs, 2-3 x month
  • Lego Club - all DDs, 1 x month
  • Homeschool Rollerskating - all DDs, 1 x month
  • Poetry Jam - all DDs, 1 x month
  • Various operas, plays, ballets, etc. - all DDs, ~1 x month (typically weekends as a family)

(Hmmm.... it looks busier when written in list form than on the calendar! Probably because most of these are only 1 or 2 times per month...)

Monday, August 17, 2009

"No, we are not Moonies!"

While out running errands today, my children were asked "Are you ready to go back to school?" and "What school do you go to?" about 400 times. Okay, that may be a hyperbole, but it definitely felt that way. The girls even asked me why people kept asking them the same questions. These inquiries don't bother me - why should they? Most kids go to school and it's that time of year. No, what gets to me is the follow-up question I get 90% of the time after the asker finds out we homeschool (and that's not a hyperbole):

"You homeschool? What church do you go to?"

I am always at a loss when this is asked. Depending on (a) my mood and (b) who's asking, I either skirt the question completely or answer with extreme reluctance because my answer usually leads to major confusion and a lengthy discussion - we attend a UU fellowship and most people I run into do not know what Unitarian Universalist means or confuse it with the Unification Church and think we're Moonies. I sometimes wish to give a really flip answer and play up the Moonie bit, but I don't. I just sigh.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A New Outlook

I've decided to move our homeschool home base from our main-level study to the bonus room upstairs. I call it our "home base" because while I like to store my supplies and books in one room, and while I do like to start the day together in the same space, we often take our studies to different rooms, the outdoors, coffee or book shops, etc. But I find it helpful at the beginning and the end of the day to have everything in a central location. I also know that when the weather gets colder we tend to stay home more often, and the girls are still young enough that they like to stay together for long stretches at a time. There were days when we spent several hours in the study, and because it is a small room to start with it felt smaller and smaller with five people and every book, game, project, craft, toy, lego - you get the idea - that came off the shelf.

So we're getting a fresh outlook on things by moving upstairs to the playroom. The playroom will still remain a playroom to some extent with games, puzzles, the doll house, and so on, but it's had a minor facelift with the removal of the couch and end tables and the addition of several bookshelves, cork and dry erase boards, work tables and storage units. I'm still in the process of setting up and already I feel like I have a sunny, new perspective on the year. Call me crazy, but I think it's the yellow walls and light-colored furniture coupled with the extra space working on my senses. I can't wait to post pictures of the finished (or as finished as a play/school room can ever possible be) product.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Short and Sweet

My good friend and fellow-homeschooler sent this to me, and I find it encouraging as there are days when one may wonder if anything is sinking in...

"In teaching you cannot see the fruit of a day's work. It is invisible and remains so, maybe for twenty years." ~Jacques Barzun

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

General Plans

In responding to a post on Secular Homeschool, I wrote out my general plans for the upcoming year. These are subject-to-change! I'm hoping to post the more detailed plans after I'm done making them, but here is the general plan.

Input & feedback very welcome!!!


4th Grader

Math Mammoth (Multiplication 1, Division 1 & 4th complete)
Writing Tales (when finished we'll do Igniting Your Writing)
Journal writing - although they write in their journals whenever they want, once a week I do a structured write
Exercises in English (grammar) - notebook the rules
Spelling - notebook any mistakes from own work
Vocabulary - notebook words from reading that are new (required to do 3 per week)
English from the Roots Up (**after much research, I've decided to drop Latin as a language until about 7th grade and use this in the meantime)
McGuffey's 4 (even though she's a great reader, I think a daily dose of oral reading is helpful) - narration if wanted
Literature and Reading - I pull most of her lit. books from the time period we're studying, but not all; some are from other reading lists - I try to get a variety; she then notebooks her assigned book (additional books don't have to be notebooked) and we discuss; I also read a variety of books to the girls and this is part of the literature study

I combine this child with the next in history & science:
Story of the World 3 & Usborne IL Encyclopedia
- we do narration & drawing, mapwork, a hands-on project, extra reading
REAL Science
Structured nature study once per week

I combine all four girls in Art and Music (at their own levels):
Art
- Great Artists (project and notebook page for each artist - we'll cover 20 -30 this year) plus we sketch a ton for the notebooking pages
Music - Monthly composer study that I pull together (I try to keep it simple - read the bio one week, listen to the music, draw/write a reaction to a piece, learn about a key instrument from the time, etc.) & Piano lessons

2nd/3rd Grader

Math Mammoth
Explode the Code (this year will be books 6, 7 and 8)
finish Phonics Pathways (with occassional copywork)
Daily oral reading from McGuffey's and Aesop's Fables (I alternate) - notebook narration 1- 2 times per week
Spelling - from her own mistakes (same as above) - no formal vocabulary
First Language Lessons
Handwriting Without Tears - cursive
Writing program - undecided - still not sure if we'll do formal writing this year or hold off; leaning towards holding off
Journal writing - same as above
Literature / reading - same as above but on her own reading level

History -Story of the World 3 - same as above
Science - REAL Science - same as above
Art - same as above
Music - same as above except violin lessons

1st Grader


Math Mammoth
Explode the Code (books 3, 4, 5)
Phonics Pathways (with copywork)
Daily oral reading from McGuffey's and Aesop's Fables (same as above - though the older child is farther along)
Handwriting Without Tears - continue printing
First Language Lessons
Spelling - same as above
no formal writing program
Journal writing - same as above
Reading & Literature - books she can read from history, easy chapter books, and the books I read aloud as part of our literature study - she can notebook 1 - 2 books per week (1 is required) at her own level

I combine the younger two for History and Science:
History
- Story of the World 1 & Usborne encyclopedia - do narration/drawing, mapwork, coloring and hands-on project
Science - living books, I have several books of easy experiments - we will try to do a notebook page or two a week
Nature study as above

Art- as above
Music - as above with piano lessons

Kinder

No formal math - work with real life math - notebook key ideas
Explode the Code (1, 2, 2 1/2 - as far as she gets - she's not a seatwork kinda gal but she likes to 'do school, too')
Oral Reading from McGuffey's and lots and lots and LOTS of readers - she loves this
Hooked on Phonics (she wants this; it's not my 'usual' - it was a gift so we'll give it a go)
Handwriting without Tears
Literature & Reading - basically the same as the 1st grader, but at her own level and participate in literature studies as she can/wants
History - as above
Science - as above
Art - as above
Music - as above, no formal lessons - I will teach her the basics of the recorder if she wants/has interest

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

All in the Family




One often reads about the amazing creativity displayed by homeschooled children. My own four daughters frequently demonstrate outside-the-box thinking in art, writing, play, and so on.
The following statement, made by the oldest of the four girls to her younger sisters, is not an example.

"Okay, now let's pretend. We'll pretend... that we're a family. Pretend we're all sisters."

Hmmm - that will be a stretch of the imagination. =D




Monday, August 10, 2009

Chronological History of the World

Does studying this topic sound daunting? It should! We're only talking a few years of history... But here is a site that will make it easy to take on THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD (does anyone else hear "Monty Python, History of the World Part I" when you read this, or is that just me?). The best thing about this unit study? It's free!

This unit study was created by a homeschooling mom of two. Just when I thought I was busy sorting through everything for next year, I see something like this that puts things in perspective.

I'm grateful for resourceful moms like Sam ... with people like her around I can still get some sleep.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Biting the Bullet

Okay, I'm doing it.

I'm actually beginning to plan for the upcoming year. Don't get me wrong - I'm far from done "organizing" (if you can call it that). I'll probably be doing that for the next fifteen years. But I've actually taken the plunge... I've started writing out our academic plans. I've even created a fancy little grid to help me sort things out. Granted, it's blank. But it's there. It's waiting for me to start pencilling in books and projects.

I feel so much better.

The feeling is similar to running on a dull and boring road. The scenery doesn't seem to change much and the sky is endless. You feel like you've been running for miles but going nowhere. And then, there it is - all of a sudden you can see the end. It's not close. You've still got a ways to go. But it's there.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Think big, lose weight

The past few days have been instructive. Going through so many homeschool items, books, websites, etc., I began to feel (a) overwhelmed and (b) like somewhat of a failure since I'm not fitting in all these wonderful resources. Nevermind the piles of projects, worksheets, narrations, drawings, books, art creations, etc., that we have done this year - it's the things that we either didn't get to, didn't finish, or didn't even know about until I accidentally found them online yesterday that get to me.

I realize it's because I easily lose sight of the "big picture" when I'm surrounded by the "weight" of hundreds of papers, books, projects, etc. If I return to the big picture - why I homeschool in the first place, my long term hopes and goals for my children, myself, and my family - I feel much calmer, more accomplished, and definitely have a more posistive, happy outlook. (I should probably write them down and post them on the fridge.)

When I do this, I don't feel so lost.

So my goal for the next week (and really life): repeat my new mantra of 'Think big, lose weight" over and over and over and over and over.... until it sticks.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Getting Started

When approaching the new school year, I sometimes feel like a squirrel that's darted out into traffic - running quickly in many different directions, but ultimately getting no where and running the risk of getting hit by a car (or in my case, being taken to the mental institution for crazed and dazed homeschoolers).

To at least keep myself moving in one direction, I decided to go through all educational materials and resources I currently own and take stock. I figured that from here, I could see if what I have will work for me for next year, or if I should try something new all together.

Sounds simple, right?

Ha! I started this process back in June when the kids were enrolled at day camp, figuring that with the four girls gone I'd have ample time to go through everything and come up with a plan.

That didn't happen.

But I had at least started the process. Then, a day or so before we had a tag sale, I quickly went through things taking anything I hadn't and wouldn't use off the shelves. Given the venue, I didn't sell much, but at least those items are crated and I refuse to take any of it out of the crates (I will eventually either sell it at a local homeschool sale/swap or donate it/give it away).

Two days ago I started really going through what was left. To help keep me organized and moving in the right direction with this very daunting process, I started tab with links to most of the resources I've found: Our Homeschool Resources At Your Fingertips (see sidebar; I would make a separate page, but I don't know how). I've limited the list to items that we actually use or will use. We don't use every resource on this list every day, but we have used them and found them helpful. My goal is that after going through all of this I will be one step closer to formulating a plan for next year (no laughing - I only said I'd be one step closer, not there!).

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Lost?

You may be wondering how there can be lost persons in a homeschool. Have I lost my own children? Do I take in wandering, stray homeschool kids? Am I failing my children so much that they are truly lost with no idea as to what's going on around them? Or is that me?

Not quite...

As I enter my fifth year as a homeschool mom, I realize that while I may not be quite as lost as I once was, I am still struggling to find my way. It seems that every fall, after having spent weeks preparing for the upcoming year, I vow that I will not fall prey to second-guessing myself next time. I will not jump, with both feet, into the next latest-and-greatest. I will ignore what the homeschooler next door (okay, not next door - several miles away) is using even though it sounds so fabulous. And before the start of each new school year, I'm right back where I was the year before: researching, soul-searching, discussing options for hours with other homeschoolers, friends, and perfect strangers, making piles of old and new books all over the house. Wondering if I should stick with being a classically-eclectic, (somewhat) relaxed homeschooler, or if I should switch to a new approach. (School-in-a-box? Unschooler?) And in recent years, the sheer volume of options has become overwhelming and definitely contributes to my "lost factor."

And perhaps most importantly, every fall I hope to find a true sense of community. Living in a rural area means less people, less homeschoolers, less options. I have yet to find a place that feels comfortable. We're still searching - we're still lost... hence, Lost Persons Homeschool.