Category Archives: Homeschooling

Warm weather

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Spring weather has finally come to the Northeast. Oh how we have waited for it! Everything seemed to stand still for a while, as if the late-winter season would last indefinitely. The ground thawed later than it has in recent years, the leaves on the trees were slow to form, the air temperature remained chilly… and then one day the switch flipped, and now spring is upon us. In earnest! The days are warm and sunny, and with the nice weather everything has come up from the ground. The dandelions went from dormant to fully grown in a few short days. As I wait for my perennials to come up I see the weeds are spreading out in the garden beds very quickly. I’ve been weeding and applying mulch on as much bare ground in the garden as possible, eager to greet the flowers that will bloom again this year. The vegetable garden is in, seeded and mulched, with more plants going in this month. The usual outdoor chores have started up again: repairing and replacing the fencing; setting up the watering hoses; and gathering rakes, shovels and gloves for handy access.

It feels like we’re rushing to get it all done. It’s necessary to stay on top of the garden projects because they do have the potential to get out of control quickly, but there is something else at work. It’s the shortness of the season that hangs over us and causes us to go outside and dig in the dirt with vigor, because in just a few months it will come to an end.

We have enjoyed our time outside immensely. We had several trees taken down and others pruned heavily. The work was much needed and long overdue. The overgrown trees that came down will be turned into firewood for our stove, and the apple trees that were pruned will (hopefully) produce better apples this year.

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Our days are very full right now, with schoolwork, field trips and house work all jockeying for the #1 position. Volunteer work is coming back in full swing too, as our UU congregation is set to welcome a potential minister to spend time with us for a week so that we may get to know one another. There is a host of work that comes with the excitement and activity. I am looking forward to it. Schoolwork comes in the form of spelling and writing lessons, math work, science and discovery lessons, music (piano and recorder), and so many more topics.

One school project we will be taking on this week is food allergies, specifically what ‘A’s body is doing when she reacts to a food, and what is happening in her body as she starts to outgrow her allergies. We are learning about it because on Thursday we will travel to Mount Sinai hospital in New York for a scrambled egg food challenge. She’ll eat eggs and if she doesn’t react, she will be able to say she’s not allergic to eggs anymore. Her first visit at Mount Sinai was last week. We have been going to Children’s Hospital Boston for a few years, but I decided to switch to Mount Sinai because their research direction is a bit different, and I thought it would be helpful to see someone there. Her new doctor thought she was ready for a scrambled egg challenge as she has been eating pancakes and cookies with egg without any reaction for about a year. I was so happy to hear that she was eligible for the challenge, because I have been thinking the same thing. Any doctors I asked about it didn’t know how to answer, so they replied with a cautious “No.” However, I do think ‘A’ will pass. We will find out on Thursday.

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The new chicks are growing just as fast as I remembered chicks to grow, which is fast. When you consider that they develop from egg to chick in only 21 days, it’s not surprising to watch how quickly they grow the first few months. I am not ready to say definitively who is rooster and who is pullet, but the telltale signs are emerging and it looks as though 50% are going to be female. I’ll know for sure in a few weeks. Some are clearly roo, with their tall, fighting stance, and their big, red combs. Some are clearly pullets, with their feather coloring and their docile nature. Some are up in the air still, as they look like hens but get tall around the roosters and go eye to eye. Peg, our injured pullet, is not healing well. She’s not in pain and she gets around on one leg all right, but the injured leg sticks out to the side and gets in her way. She was in a separate pen in the coop until yesterday, when I took her out and put her with the other chicks. I’m glad I had her separated the way I did – with only chicken wire between her and the other chicks. They were used to seeing and hearing her, and they accepted her right away. Time will tell what happens to her. If she can get around on her own, we might keep her, but if there is any doubt, she will go with the roosters when it is their time. The roosters are going to go to a friend who processes chickens on a small-scale farm. Time will tell. This hobby farm life isn’t always pretty.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of you! You all came from a mother, and some of you are mothers yourselves. Enjoy the day!

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Chicks in the brooder coop, laying hens on pasture, children playing outside

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The weather got warmer and we had a taste of spring fever here a few days ago. Then it cooled off and snowed. Thankfully the snow melted and I have faith the air will warm up over the weekend. The girls have enjoyed playing outside. The maple sap continues to trickle out of the trees, and I keep adding the new gallons to the pot on the stove in hopes of producing a small batch of syrup. With the warmer weather has come a host of new house projects: installing gutters; moving the woodpile and burning small brush; starting seeds under grow lights; enlarging the garden to move the blueberry bushes into the fenced area. And so on.

Jeff finished the outdoor brooder coop and we moved the chicks in to it. They love it. They finally have room to move around and play. I picked up six more chicks at the store yesterday – 2 silkie bantams and 4 dark brahmas. Supposedly they’re all pullets, but we will see as they grow. All but one of the older chicks have accepted them – Sunshine, the boss of the whole group, runs around and pecks at them. She’s pretty brutal. After she attacks them, the roosters attack her. So is the way of the chicken world, and this is a reminder of why I like having roosters in the flock when they’re little. Roosters keep the peace.

The older hens are out in the yard most every day and they are so happy. It gives me such a sense of pleasure to watch them scratch and peck in the grass.

Have a great weekend. Enjoy these quick shots from our daily life:

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Signs of spring

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The signs of spring are coming quickly now, one after the other. Little changes are rippling through our days. We’re noticing the usual things, such as the crocuses that are blooming (I planted them two autumns ago as early bee food, but alas there are no bees this year to enjoy them); the ground is mostly thawed and I spent time working the garden soil yesterday; the chickens are able to get out and about and forage on grass; ‘A’ and ‘H’ are enjoying playing outdoors without coats, hats and gloves; the Canada geese fly low overhead and honk, honk, honk.

There are other things too that come out of all these spring changes. The eggs from the chickens are a bit different this week – the shells are lumpy and thin. I think it’s the switch to foraging. I have no scientific proof of this, but it makes sense. I think their bodies are adjusting to the change in nutrition and it will take a little time for the egg shells to normalize. The cats are feeling the change in weather. Coco spends much of her day outdoors, and Grace, who is 14 now and looking more frail than ever, paces the house. She wants to stir, wants to go outside, but isn’t ready yet.

The end of the school year is in sight!

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The girls are rounding the final corner in the homeschooling year. My goal is be done with formal schoolwork by the end of May. Their studies are all over the map at this point in the year. They take classes with other teachers (piano, recorder, science and art to name a few). With me they learn French, writing, spelling, history, math, literature, computer programming, geography, social studies, typing, handwriting (printing) and cursive. I allocate a lot of time for quiet reading (Harry Potter, Nancy Drew, Lloyd Alexander’s books and anything that resembles historical fiction are popular choices in our house right now). Now that the weather is warmer, outside play time has increased. Our days are full, to say the least.

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The new chicks are happy in their brooder box, and when Jeff is finished building the new coop, they’ll love living there. I’ll be happy to have them out of the house at that point. They still need a warm environment and they cuddle under the heat lamp. The lamp will move outside to the new coop with them. The new coop has two primary purposes: 1. It’s a brooder for new chicks and a home for the young females who aren’t laying yet. When they begin to lay eggs, they can move to the main coop and join the older hens. 2. It will serve as an infirmary for sick chickens who need to be quarantined or isolated. When Laura got sick last fall, I realized that I didn’t have a good place to put sick chickens while they recovered. This new coop is smaller than the current one, with lower roosts (younger and ill chickens don’t have to jump very high to roost), and it will have an attached run, where the chicks/chickens can go outside but still be safe.

New chicks: male or female?

I took some of the chicks out to photograph them today and I noticed that some crouched down low, as if to hide, while others stood tall and proud and eyed the camera. I have heard you can spot the difference between males and females by observing their body language in situations like this. The males stand tall while the females crouch down. See how the chicks in the photos below are standing differently? If this method works, it looks like I have 7 females and 8 males.  Ultimately it doesn’t matter right now how many males and females I have, because I plan to raise them all until they are ready for their next stop on the chicken train. When the males start acting like roosters (crowing), I’ll give them to a friend who will process and eat them. The hens will stay with me, and if I have enough, a few will go to another friend who is looking to grow her chicken family.

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You learn something new every day, don’t you?

 

First day of Spring

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The first day of Spring doesn’t feel very “springy” this year. There’s still snow covering the ground, the air is cold, and we’ve even seen a few snow flurries today. However, there are spots of bare ground here and there, where the snow has melted. Time and patience are required now. We have had a couple of warmer days and the girls have enjoyed spending time outside without coats and hats.

The Spring Chipmunk comes to our house the night before the first day of spring. It’s our version of the Easter Bunny. It came last night and hid eggs filled with jelly beans around the house. It left a few gifts for the girls and – surprise! – a bowl of jelly beans for Jeff and me. Yum. The girls each got a copy of the book Don’t Eat This Book and they love it. It is a book that encourages the reader to be interactive with the book. It makes you stretch your imagination and test your boundaries. It’s a good way to read and write. I’m glad they like the book!

We have a number of ongoing projects here at the Village Homestead. I have 23 chicken eggs in an incubator and the target hatch date is March 29 and 30 (Saturday and Sunday). I will post about the incubation process another time, after I candle the eggs one more time to see which are viable.

I wrapped up a knitting project and finally got it blocked – yay for me! The Honey Cowl I started in the fall has been put into use and I’m so happy with it. Now I’m starting work on my first knitted hat, with cables too. Two big firsts for me. Stay tuned.

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‘A’ had a baby tooth extracted to make room for her adult teeth – she did a great job at the dentist’s office. Schoolwork is moving along nicely. I started teaching the girls French this week. I’m not fluent, but I know enough to get them started. The girls are involved with a lot of different school projects. Their favorite subjects right now are WW2, Harry Potter, nature journaling, and they LOVE learning French.

Those are some quick updates.

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New Project!

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We have a new project underway here at the Village Homestead! Photography class! Woohoo!!!

You can read more about it here. Every time I post photos from our outings, I’ll put a link on this site to let you know.

Happy Autumn!

Happy first day of fall! I haven’t been around much, have I? Things here have been good, and are moving along at a good clip. One of the dominant themes in our household this month is time management. All of us have so much going on (both individually and as a family) and we need to get a better handle on how we each manage our time. The girls are still young, but at 6 and 8 years old, they are capable of learning about completing tasks, assessing priorities, and about delayed gratification. As for me, with several years of parenting experience behind me, I am finding that the next step in my personal development involves sharpening my time management skills.

My weekly calendar includes homeschooling, house stuff (chickens, bees, garden, orchard), church volunteer work and fun stuff. There is a lot to do and to keep myself on track, to stave off the guilt of not getting everything done, and to keep a smile on my face, I am now allocating specific days and times for specific tasks. Everything has a time slot now. If it doesn’t fit on the calendar, it can’t happen. Deep down I’m not someone who enjoys keeping to a schedule, but I can see how it’s helpful for me and my family at this point in our lives.

Schoolwork the first thing that goes on the calendar, and subjects are addressed a few times each week. Cursive instruction occurs on Mondays and Wednesdays and we all are reminded of this because it’s written out on the calendar. This helps ‘A’ the most because she loves to practice her cursive handwriting and if she knows there are two days every week devoted to it, she is happy. Freewriting is something we incorporated into our routine this year and I just love it. The girls were not so sure at first, but now they like it too. I picked up the idea after reading the Writer’s Jungle materials written by Julie Bogart. I like her approach to reading and writing quite a bit and am finding that it works very well with both my reluctant writer and my eager writer. The idea behind freewriting is that the girls each write about a subject (or whatever pops into their minds) for 10 minutes. Then they have the option of reading it aloud to me. Regardless of their choice, the written piece is placed in an envelope (I don’t look at it) and after several written pieces are amassed the girls choose one piece to revise and expand. What I love most about the freewriting exercises is that my reluctant writer is comfortable opening up within those 10 minutes and is able to put words on the paper. Seeing the transformation in her attitude and willingness to write is heartwarming.

It’s the end of summer and the garden is still producing, the apple trees are full of apples ready to be picked and processed, and the chickens and bees still need attention. I have a lot of homesteading maintenance to take care of, and when that is done I have homesteading planning and preparation to address. The garden will need to be tilled, the chicken coop will need to be winterized, the bees will need to be treated for mites and fed some sugar syrup.

We’re busy. I miss photographing my days and I miss writing here. This has to come back into my routine. See you soon!

Getting Organized for the School Year

I’ve been spending a considerable amount of time this week getting organized for the upcoming year, and all I have to show you are photos of our new cat, Coco. She’s little isn’t she? The vet estimates her age at 13-14 weeks. I wouldn’t say she’s cute, as I think she looks like a bat (and I don’t think bats are cute), but she does have big ears and strong legs, she’s fearless and frisky, and I think she’ll make a fantastic mouser.

Like I said, I’ve been getting organized. Now that I’ve got 8+ years of parenting under my belt, a few years of homeschooling complete, and I’ve been living in this house for a year and a half, I decided it was high time I reorganize our stuff. No more looking for the music bag or the art smock and notebook as we’re running out of the house: the bags will be hung on designated hooks by the door. No more wondering where to put this or that; where to find this or that… things now have a home. Every room in our house is being overhauled. It’s a big job but I’ll tell you, it feels good!

I started by thinking about my roadblocks & bottlenecks. The big ones are laundry (it gets washed and dried but after that it piles up. Literally.); holiday decorations (they are always so hard to drag out and so hard to put away); and my desk. I started with those three bottlenecks. As I dealt with them, a number of other smaller organization projects popped up and were handled along the way.

Laundry: I used to take clean, dry laundry out of the dryer and pile it into a laundry basket. Everyone’s laundry was in there, all mixed together. I would bring the laundry basket to my bedroom and expect the laundry fairy to fold and sort, then put it all away. I don’t have to tell you what happened. Piles. Piles all over.

If I can stop the laundry pile from forming in the first place, I’m in good shape. So I purchased four milk crates in different colors and set them in the laundry room. One for each of us. As I take laundry out of the dryer I immediately fold it and put it in the owner’s crate. Each of us is responsible for bringing our crate to our bedroom and putting the folded clothes away. My girls are old enough that they can do this. So far, so good!

Holiday Decorations: I do like to decorate, but the decorations are so hard to pull out and hang up when they are stored deep in a closet on the third floor of the house. I asked myself why I keep decorations in the attic when I don’t use them up there. Why? It’s hard to lug the bins up and down the narrow, steep staircase. No wonder I’m so slow to decorate and put them back where they belong. It’s because they don’t want to belong there.

I want the decorations to be stored on the main floor of the house. They are going in a closet and will be easy to access. To make room for them in the closet, I had to clear out boxes and boxes of old files that we had moved from our former home. After going through all those files I tossed about 90% of what was there and kept only a few important papers. That felt great!

My Desk: My desk is a catch-all for me. Anything that needs to be handled or filed goes in a pile on my desk. After a while, my desk becomes one big pile. To deal with this I set up a few places near my desk where things that have habitually gotten thrown in a pile will now have a permanent home. My camera; artwork; 4H projects; craft supplies; library books. I cleaned out the desk drawers and purged everything that was old or not used anymore. I labeled the closet shelves and assigned places for everything.

In the kitchen I have our family wall calendar and I added a place for active papers, such as current class schedule sheets and paperwork that needs to be dealt with before it can be submitted or filed. Now those papers are off my desk and on the wall for easy viewing!

To help me get organized I have been re-purposing a few things and I will show you when they are up and ready! I am so happy that I’m streamlining things around the house. It’s about time!

One more of Coco:

 

 

 

Over the rainbow

It is mid-June. We are almost over the rainbow. Working on finishing up everything school & extra-curricular related. Inching our way toward summer vacation. I can’t wait.

Today the girls had their recorder concert and they did a great job. Of course I say that, I’m their mother. Over the weekend they had their dance recital and of course they danced beautifully there. They did, really. I was particularly impressed that they both were able to dance on stage in front of hundreds of people and not flinch.

I am limping toward the finish line. I’m out of energy and am so looking forward to a few days to relax and recharge. It’s that time of the year when I announce that I’m going to pre-make all crafts and gifts that will be given over the next year. I don’t see myself actually sitting down this summer to put together Valentine bags or Mother’s Day crafts, but I really want to. That way they’ll all be done.

Overall I would say that this school year went very well. Busy, but well. Without incident. As a parent, the mere fact that the year passed without incident is significant. Despite my current state of exhaustion, I’m looking foward to another homeschooling year.

There are two questions/statements I hear quite a bit about homeschooling. I heard both of them yesterday as a matter of fact. To both I give short evasive answers and a half smile. This is what I really want to say though:

Popular Statement About Homeschooling #1: “I could never be with my children all day, I don’t know how you do it.”

I smile and say, “Oh, you get used to it.” And that is actually true, you do get used to it. The same way you get used to being with your newborn baby all day (and night) when you first become a parent. I don’t get tired of my children, but I do get tired of being a parent sometimes. A lot. I think it’s human nature to want to play more than one role in life. What I want to also point out, but don’t, is this:

  • I’m with my children all day, so I have a very good read on their development, their moods, their way of thinking, their desires and impulses, their preferences, their fears, their ways of coping and reacting. Because I know so much about them, I don’t spend a lot of time wondering what they’re thinking or feeling. It frees up some of my thinking space.
  • When my girls play with other children, I’m usually present, so I have a good handle on the social dynamics and can step in and act as an informed sounding board. We are generally not affected by stressful social situations.
  • Being together so much means we all have to treat each other with respect or things will go downhill quickly. I like being treated with respect.
  • Since we spend a fair amount of time at home, my girls have more time to help out around the house by keeping their bedrooms clean, unloading the dishwasher, helping with the laundry, vacuuming, dusting and so forth. I like having helpers.
  • My kids spend a fair amount of time playing on their own, either together or alone, and they don’t want me to interact with them while they play. They like knowing I’m in the next room, but they don’t want me to be part of their games. I use that time to unwind and get things done.
  • Given all the benefits of being with my children so much, I look at people who are not with their children all day and wonder how they do it. I imagine I would spend more time wondering how they’re doing (emotionally) and more time hearing about the “she said/she said” social situations. Right now I don’t give any of that much thought.

Popular Statement About Homeschooling #2: “What will you do when they get older and you can’t provide all the instruction they need?”

I get this question all the time. I smile and say, “We’ll see what happens when the time comes.” What I really want to say is this:

I took honors classes in high school, graduated magna cum laude from college, then went to graduate school and was offered a coveted teaching assistantship that paid all my bills. Given my own successful academic foundation, I am not worried that I won’t be able to educate my children. When the time comes to find teachers to supplement my instruction, I’m sure I’ll be able to do that just fine.

I then want to follow up by noting that there are many good teachers who are now leaving the public school system because they are looking for other ways to connect with and inspire good students. The pool of creative, qualified teachers who will be able to help my children understand concepts I cannot teach is going to continue to grow larger in the coming years.

Homeschooling is a wonderful option for families who are able and willing to make it work!

And just like the families who are involved in public school life, we are happy that the year is almost over and are looking forward to a fun summer!

Clear skies ahead

This is great – it’s May. April flew by and I will swear to you that it seemed so short this year. It doesn’t help that I tried to lop a day off at the end. It was short and cold and presented a test of my patience. May is here with her warmth, her flowers, her bright green baby leaves. Sunshine, sounds of spring, smells of summer. Ahh! I am so happy!

To celebrate, I was extra productive today. I did all good things that I love to do (except the load of laundry this morning, I could have done without that). I played teacher to my girls who enjoyed their lesson time outdoors today; I planted seeds; finished carving out the kitchen herb garden bed (right outside the kitchen door! I am so excited to have cooking herbs at my fingertips.). I listened to ‘A’ and ‘H’ play their recorder beautifully in class. After dinner I’m looking forward to starting a new read-aloud book with them: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. They don’t know it yet but this book comes with daily dictées and discussion topics.

It is so nice to see the natural world waking up, and with it I am coming alive too.

How scrapbooking relates to homeschooling

This post could also be called, “How I am trying to justify spending money on paper crafting tools for my 8 year old.”

*A quick aside: it’s not May 1st today! I wrote yesterday that it was – this is what I get for listening to my children sing about the warm weather and the excitement they feel when turning the page on their calendars.*

Scrapbooking. Paper crafting. Those terms give me a little bit of angst. I love paper and on occasion I have tried my hand at paper crafting, but it never stuck. It’s an expensive, time consuming hobby. And while some of my hobbies can be described the same way, I was never really drawn to the world of scrapbooking. My little ‘A’ though is another story. She’s been crafting with paper since I can remember. Take a look at this photo I took when she was 2 years old. Lately she’s been doing a little more paper crafting (and I’ve been investing in some tools to help make it happen). She’s in heaven. She told me today that she’s adding “scrapbooking” to her list of talents. And true to the scrapbooker’s soul, she has an actual list she keeps in a book. She adds more talents to it as she discovers them.

What does all of this have to do with homeschooling? From time to time I wonder what she might like to “be” when she grows up. What skills will she polish and hone? How will she contribute to the world around us? One of her strengths is that she is a record keeper. She records events in her head and on paper, and keeps memories alive. One of the professions that is wide open for her is that of archivist. She also loves history. Paper crafting involves learning to handle paper respectfully, sorting, organizing, planning ahead, and looking at the whole picture even when you’re working on a small part. It gives her hands on experience with some of the tactile parts of an archivist’s job. The process of creating new paper projects involves looking and observing wherever she goes to pick up new ideas, even when she’s not actively working with her hands.

So, with that said, I think we are embarking on a new journey over here.