Archive | Homeschooling

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!

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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:

 

 

 

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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!

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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.

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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.

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lessons to learn

Lessons – there are always lessons to be learned, aren’t there? No matter how old I get, I am always learning my lessons.

*  I took too much honey from my hives this year. Next year I’ll leave them with more. Without enough, they will likely die this winter. I know I took too much because they are clustering at the top of the hive, meaning they have already eaten all of the honey they had stored. So, to compensate I’m feeding them dry sugar. Today I put an empty shallow super on top of the hive, under the inner cover. I placed newsprint on top of the frames, in the empty super, and poured white sugar on the newspaper. The inner and outer covers went back on. Doing this allows the bees to eat through the newsprint and find the sugar when they need it. Fingers crossed that they survive.

I might add here that I tend to be a bit overprotective of my hives and I do assume the worst when in fact it’s not true. So they may or may not be out of honey stores now. However the dry sugar won’t hurt them a bit and offers another layer of protection. It’s cheap insurance, the old beekeepers say.

Other lessons:

*  Simplicity Parenting is an ongoing process. I’m reading Kim John Payne’s book on the topic. Even as I take conscious steps to keep our home life simple, I find myself responding to a little voice in my head. Get more involved in social causes. Show the girls how to work toward change. What are you doing to make a positive difference in the world? Do more.

Now, it’s not as if I am wanting for something else to fill my time. I have plenty to do everyday. And I am doing something to make positive change in the world – raising my children to appreciate a quiet, focused lifestyle. One where they feel safe, competent and valued. There is a part of me that wants to be on the busy-ness train and do more. The process of simplifying goes on and on.

*  To help me learn my lessons more clearly, I started reading Sara Stover’s book The Way of the Happy Woman: Living the Best Year of Your Life. It’s full of reminders that all the wisdom I seek is already within me, and that living a healthy, authentic life is a priority for me. Yes, I need this book! It’s time to focus, to get clear about what I am doing and why I am doing it. To get healthy. To be radiant with happiness.

As I write this I am not radiant with happiness at all – I got stung today by a bee on my stomach and immediately took a big dose of Benadryl to reverse any allergic reaction. So now I am practically asleep from Benadryl stupor.

 

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here and there

The week before Christmas finds us here and there. Dance classes, where today I found out that my not-so-natural dancer is really very good about remembering the steps and snapping her arms and hips to the beat, while my natural dancer girl is busy twirling to the music, lost in the beat, unconcerned about the routine.

 Waking up to a coat of ice all over everything tells us that winter is right around the corner. And indeed, it is.

Would you believe that 490 million years ago our little village was located south of the equator and rested at the bottom of the ocean floor? It’s true, and we found evidence of that fact not far away from our home. This photo is of stromatolites, a type of fossil. The ring shapes are made by algae-type plants that grew in the warm water. As the water filled with sediment the plants became fossilized. When the glacier came through it cut through the fossils, removing the tops of the plant fossils. The exposed rings are a cross section of the plant. The rest is still in the rock under the ground.

 

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Adirondack Afternoon

The Adirondacks today were beautiful. Cold and beautiful. We all saw friends. I only want to fall asleep, as I am still getting over my cold. I had a good time in spite of myself. The girls had a great time.

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Lapbooks & gods and goddesses

We sometimes use lapbooks as part of our homeschooling practice. They’re great for helping kids (and adults!) remember details about a story, a historical era or a scientific process. Recently the girls have been learning about Ancient Greece and I noticed we all had trouble keeping our facts about the gods and goddesses straight. So we started making lapbooks about each one. It is fun and creative, in addition to being a handy way to remember facts.

There are tons of lapbooking resources for homeschoolers on the internet. This site gives a good overview. You can find templates here. For our gods and goddesses lapbooks I did not use a template – I folded the file folder so that it opens in the front (like a door, or like a triptych, for all you art lovers out there). We typed the facts we knew about each god and goddess and printed them out. Then the girls cut out the facts and made drawings to illustrate each fact, and glued everything onto the folder.

The nice thing about the whole process is that it truly engages the girls as they learn about the subject, and long after the scissors and glue are put away I find them retelling the stories about the gods and goddesses and incorporating them into free play. It’s a glimpse of how education should work. In my ideal world it is fun and meaningful all the time.

 

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Voluntary Simplicity

Jeff and I are participating in a discussion class about Voluntary Simplicity. We organized it through our church to give us something to do & think about while our children are taking the OWL classes this fall. We meet every Sunday afternoon for an hour. I love the format of the discussion courses – they are a few weeks long; there are short, meaningful readings each week; and there are relevant questions for us to ponder and discuss.

Voluntary Simplicity is the name of the course. I think of it more as Voluntary Intentional Living. Nothing is simple. Some things are intentional.

In a lot of ways, we are living a simple/intentional life. By opting out of certain things such as public schooling, the Standard American Diet and traditional religion, it becomes easy for us to opt out of other things too, such as traditional medicine, technology & media consumption, and what I like to call “kid activities”.  My girls have schooling at home, supplemental classes and field trips during the week, and they participate in Girls Scouts, 4-H and dance class. That’s it. They ask about taking gymnastics classes and participating in soccer lessons. Sure, I think those are great activities. But not this year, because they’re already doing other things. I am well aware that I am going against the mainstream by not enrolling them in additional activities.

Fingerless gloves for my farmers market work

We live a simpler life because I make much of our own food, we create much of our own entertainment, and we make a deliberate effort to infuse meaning into our every day lives. The chickens are admired and thanked every day for the eggs they give us; cleaning their coop is never a chore for me – I do it because I love being outside with them in the morning and I respect the “work” they do. The toys the girls play with are incorporated into larger story lines that they act out day after day. Sometime it is a recreation of “Laura and Mary” – more recently they recreate the Rainbow Fairies. TV is turned on here a few times a week, mostly for me and Jeff, as we watch a bit in the evening after the girls go to bed. I would not say that we watch TV every day, and the girls might watch one show once a week or so.

All things considered, we do live a simple life. But there is always more to be done, isn’t there? I have a few things to do in the kitchen to simplify a bit more. I need to do a better job of re-purposing containers, re-purposing left overs, and choosing ingredients that have a smaller footprint, both carbon and egotistical. I got out of practice during our move, and I haven’t gotten back into the habit since. Less plastic hitting the recycling bin, more reusable cloth bags for the bulk bins. Less tea from the store, more tea from our garden. Less wine with dinner, more water from our well. Less coffee and oil from places far away. More vegetables from close to home.

I grew up with a simpler lifestyle, and I know other people who did, too. We agree that there came a point in our lives when we went out into the world and felt a bit alienated. I still do feel that way sometimes. I don’t know much about the TV shows, movies or technology that so many of my peers have incorporated into their personal histories. I think about my children and wonder when that moment of alienation will come. It will come, there is no doubt about it. I don’t know how they will react or what the rest of their life will look like. I do know that by providing a simpler lifestyle I am giving my children a healthy, solid foundation upon which they can build their own lives.

That said, it is not easy. We live by conscious choice. We know that we are different. We are not hip, we are not fashionable, we are not on the cutting edge of anything. We are rusty, we are out of touch, we are… a little bit dowdy…? But, by and large, we are happy and satisfied. We are living life the way we want. We make our own rules. Our own schedule. Our own To Do List. Our own priorities. We are truly living.

 

 

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