Friday, October 29, 2010

Happy Halloween!

For art this week, instead of an artist study we made Halloween decorations... Spooky Spiderwebs (as described on Art Projects for Kids).  It was a fun two-day project, and the idea could be used to make other pictures - Jack-o-Lanterns, Indian Corn, etc.

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Secular Thursday

I recently had a friend ask me - with true interest, not in a judging way - what sources we use for inspiration and guidance if we do not follow the teachings of religion. She was wondering where my children will turn for support and comfort if they do not have a religious leader or god.

There are so many ways to answer this question - it felt overwhelming. I took the easy way out and gave a generic answer about "many sources" - not that it's not a truthful answer. Just easy.

It made me wonder if other secular homeschoolers are faced with the same or similar question. And it made me even more curious to their answers - do they take the simple, easy way and give a short-and-sweet answer? Do they delve into it, siting examples and providing quotations? Or do they land somewhere in between? Is it situation dependent?

So humor me and share, if you will! =)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Can-do Kandinsky

The thing about the famous painting - Farbstudie Quadrate - is that it looks simple. You think, "What's all the fuss? That's so simple. I'll make my own."  And then you try and you realize, "Ah - simple can be deceiving."  This is especially true for children. Or at least mine. Last week, we sat around the table and took turns reading the biography page I prepared. Then we looked at some of Kandinsky's work, ending with the Farbstudie piece. "Simple! That's so easy!" they cried.  And then we began the project - a torn paper and oil pastel piece inspired by the Kandinsky work. They were quickly frustrated that it was not as easy as it looked. But they persisted.

It turns out, color plays a huge role in a successful piece (not surprising, since color was integral to Kandinsky as well), and it was quite challenging for my girls to select all the colors they wanted and to be happy with the finished product. Especially because after the paper dried, we needed to add additional color with oil pastels. I could relate - I found it challenging to choose pastels that would highlight and complement without being redundant.  After more time than I had planned on, the girls were pleased with their pieces and we put them up on our art line (hence the clothespins in the pictures).

As an aside... the art line is one of the best things I've done this year - I put fishing line all around the perimeter of the room so that we can display our art even though we are short on wall space. In the photo, you can see that the line is not taut enough, but this weekend I had my husband re-do the line with nails instead of the pushpins I used.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Life Lessons

During a phonics lesson with my daughter, we came upon this quote....

"Ideas are funny things... they don't work unless you do."

Sounds simple, but in my experience only a very small percentage of people ever realize the truth behind these words!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sousa Rocks!

If you're looking to do a composer study, may I recommend John Philip Sousa? This has to be one of the most fun studies we've done, and we're only on Day One.  Classics for Kids has lots of good information, including an audio show for the kids and a biography page with activities. Free samples of his music abound on the internet in case you don't have a CD of marching band music handy. Mike Venezia has a fun biography to read. And the best parts? Your children are already familiar with many of the tunes. They probably just didn't know they were composed by Sousa. And the tunes themselves ... make you want to get up and move. Or at least wave a flag of some sort. My girls want to listen to Sousa as they do the rest of their school work because the songs "make the day go faster."  And each is now determined to learn an instrument that can be played in a marching band (in addition to the violin and piano, which they claim would not make good marching instruments - wise kids).

I wonder if I can start playing Sousa at 6:30am as a replacement for the traditional alarms the girls have? 

Monday, October 18, 2010

Monday, Monday...

It is Monday and the start of our homeschool's Week Five. I have to admit, after having last week off it was a bit of a rough start. For me. The kids seemed to transition back without a problem. My alarm went off at 5am, but I did not. I missed my morning workout. On Sunday evening I was so tired from our busy weekend that I neglected to get the girls' papers for the week in order. So after I finally got myself up at 6:30, I had to spend a half an hour putting together weekly binders and gathering required books. I usually get the kids up (if they aren't already) at 6:30, but today I let them sleep in. We didn't go on our morning walk. We ate a late breakfast and didn't get started with school work until after 9am.

The kids didn't seem to mind any of it (except missing the morning walk). But I have felt "off" all day. I can't believe the day is gone and it's almost time to leave for swim team. I wanted to start the biography for our new composer (Sousa, in case you're interested) but we ran out of time. I also wanted to start our art project for the week, but that didn't happen.

I feel so behind and it's only Monday.

I guess this means tomorrow will be a better day. Or at least... it means I will not hit "snooze" - I will get up when my alarm sounds (maybe if I write it I will feel obligated to make sure I actually follow through). I firmly believe that very rarely does any good come from sleeping in on a busy day. Rarely, not never - today one good thing did come of it - although I felt behind, the kids were oblivious to this, did their work, had fun, and overall  had a good day. Would this have happened if I woke them up at 6:30? Maybe, but I'm telling myself, "No way."

Friday, October 15, 2010

Farewell Furlough

It's the last day of our planned furlough (I just love that word - it sounds so much better than "week off"). I am so pleased that I planned our year differently. After four weeks of going strong with homeschooling a break was just what we all needed. I suppose this is the homeschooling version of the working person's "mental health day."

My husband and I took advantage of Monday's bank holiday to go backpacking, which means that the kids had some quality time with Nana and Grandpa. They went to the state boat show and had a brief sailing lesson, they were still able to attend their regular classes and activities, but had the rest of the time off to play in the woods next to my parents' house and enjoy the warm October weather.

As the week comes to an end, I can't help but wish that another furlough week were around the corner. Technically, our next break is the week of Thanksgiving, but as anyone with children and house guests knows - that week definitely does NOT qualify as a break!  So farewell, Furlough! You've been great! 

Friday, October 8, 2010

Window to the Soul

This week we are re-visiting an artist we learned about last year - Rene Magritte. I created a new biography page for their art portfolios and this time around, we talked more about the meaning behind surrealist works and discussed possible interpretations of certain of Magritte's painting. We had a similar discussion last year as well,  but I felt that we could have spent the entire year on the topic rather than an hour. I knew that by looking at the same artist again they would draw upon what they already knew to grow and develop new ideas. They didn't let me down. The level of insight, creativity and acumen children possess - however evanescent it may seem at times - never ceases to amaze me.

After our discussion and perusal of Magritte's work, we settled down to create our own Magritte-inspired pieces. Last year we completed the Magritte project found in Discovering Great Artists. This year, I turned once more to the fantastic blog Art Projects for Kids. What I enjoy most about this project is that although each child begins with the same blank circle, her unique vision and style is reflected in the end piece.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Secular Thursday

Recently, I was in the check-out line at a local grocery store when the presence of my obviously school-age kids sparked questions by the lady in front of us. She asked me with which church are we affiliated, so I said, "Actually, we're secular homeschoolers." The conversation that followed was extremely confusing - both to her and to me - as we obviously were had different definitions of the word "secular" and specifically as it applies to homeschooling, apparently education in general, and parenting philosophy.

She believes - and believes quite strongly - that secular = religious (don't laugh, I've had this happen several times, the most awkward being at a meeting for secular homeschoolers - those poor women that thought it was an evangelical-based meeting).   She was so adamant in voicing her opinion that I felt compelled to explain what secular homeschooling is and is not. In doing so, it was clear that she felt I was inflicting harm upon myself and my children (her kids are in public school, so I'm not sure how that works - aren't public schools secular?!). After this, I quickly gave up trying to explain/defend myself and wished her a good day.

First, the definition of secular. The list is quite long, but I am satisfied that the first three entries are sufficient to demonstrate the meaning.


 secular (adjective):
  1. of or pertaining to worldly things or to things that are not regarded as religious, spiritual, or sacred; temporal: e.g., secular interests
  2. not pertaining to or connected with religion ( opposed to sacred): e.g., secular music
  3. (of education, a school, etc.) concerned with nonreligious subjects.  
Okay, this seems pretty clear to me. But maybe it's not enough. Maybe we need to come up with a list of what secular homeschooling does not mean...
  1. secular homeschooling equals unschooling ... eh, there are secular unschoolers, but there are also secular everything-else homeschoolers
  2. secular homeschooling equals atheist, nonspiritual, anti-religious - it means with respect to education, the parents keep things secular (see #3 above); I know many secular homeschoolers that are spiritual people - Christian, pagan, humanist, Jewish... the list goes on. I also know atheist secular homeschoolers, but secular definitely equals atheist. 
  3. secular homeschooling equals liberal, leftist political views ... I promise, I know and know of conservative secular homeschoolers. Granted, I don't know many, but that's probably more of a reflection on me (as I attend a UU fellowship and we UUs are known for conservative politics) than on secular homeschoolers in general.
  4. secular homeschoolers equals loose parenting with no rules and wild children ... seriously, the woman at the store asked me how on God's earth do I keep my children respectful without God. There probably are secular homeschool parents with no rules for their kids, but that doesn't necessarily mean that (a) their kids are any more wild than mine are with rules and (b) that all secular parents suscribe to a free-range philosophy. I'm willing to bet that the parenting philosophies of secular homeschool parents is as varied (if not more varied) than that of parents in general.
I am sure this list could go on and on, but I have to get breakfast on the table before my wild children overtake my house. Maybe I'll add to this post as things come to mind. But the bottom line is, what all secular homeschoolers have in common is that we are in fact schooling (or unschooling as the case may be) in a secular fashion. But everything outside of schooling? That's like a box of chocolates... (see overused Forrest Gump movie quotes)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Loving Literature

All of my girls love to read, which is great because I also love to read and it's something we can share together, whether it's snuggling up and reading a book aloud, or finding a quiet space where we can each read our own thing . This week was an overall hit with the different reading materials everyone's been working through.

I actually managed to read two books this week (hurray!). The first was The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan. It's been a long time since I've read another book by Amy Tan and it was time. While I wouldn't call this book my favorite of all time, it was definitely an interesting read and different enough from the last several novels I've read to hold my interest and draw me in.  The second book was Outcasts United by Warren St. John.  I read this for a discussion group, and while it isn't a book I'd normally pick up and read for fun I'm glad I read it. It reminded me somewhat of Three Cups of Tea but I liked it better. It tells the story of a small town in America which is made home to many refugees, the struggles that ensue between the town and the refugees, and the story of the woman who works to get through to kids that have been through more than any child should ever have to go through. It is set upon a backdrop of soccer (the international sport and therefore the international language in this book) and is quite compelling. Overall, I'd recommend both books to anyone looking for easy, enjoyable reads.

Here's a glimpse at what the kids were reading this week...

From the nightstand of my ten-year-old comes Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech (my daughter could not have loved this book more - she told me that she wants all of her friends to read this book, too, so they can talk about it); Magic and Other Misdemeanors (The Sisters Grimm, Book 5)- another one she can't put down; and Journey by Patricia Maclachlan, which she also thoroughly enjoyed. She also read Love That Dog by Sharon Creech and said that while she liked it, she doesn't think it's for everyone.

My eight-year-old read Zucchini by Barbara Dana, a book I remember reading when I was her age; The Secret Soldier: The Story Of Deborah Sampson - a book she literally talked about for days (this kid is my nonfiction lover); and Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl in preparation for a book discussion group at our local library - she told me she loved the book and that it's one of the funniest books she's read in a long time.

My seven-year-old is re-reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for the second time. No explanation needed on that one. She also read Crackle Creek, a sweet story about a competition between two newspaper printing mice; and The Dragon's Child by Jenny Nimmo - this book she couldn't put down. She also read Tornado by Betsy Byars and says she would recommend it to a friend.

Lastly, my six-year-old independently read If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff, The Little Houseby Virginia Burton, and Sara's Secret Hiding Place Paperback (one she did not enjoy). We read many books together, but her favorites this week were The Legend of the Bluebonnet by Tomie dePaola, The Wolf's Story: What Really Happened to Little Red Riding Hood by Toby Forward (a book she enjoyed, but not one of my favorites though the illustrations are interesting and offer a great discussion of perspective among other things), and The Amazing Bone by William Steig, a long-time favorite.

Happy Reading and Happy Weekend!