Saturday, November 22, 2014

Elvis is in the House!!

Throughout this blogging adventure I've posted updates about our animal family, the big and little furry ones who prowl around the house with us.  Most days they are all sacked out on various pieces of furniture, waiting for something exciting to happen.  Sometimes exciting things do happen!  People come over!  A car drives by!  The Fed Ex guy comes a calling.  Our Dane LOVES the Fed Ex guy so when I see him creeping up the long driveway in his van, I open the door and let the Dane out.  He barrels full bore toward the poor man.  They wrestle for a bit and then commence with business.  Everybody leaves happy - I get my package, Coby gets butt scratches and the Fed Ex guy gets a good dose of big dog.

As of Thursday we have a new little guy in the family and I couldn't be more excited about him.  His name is Elvis.  He's approximately two years old and is a Chihuahua/Doxie mix adopted from Lap Dog Rescue of New Mexico, a group I have been working with of late.  They work to re-home the smaller dogs of the world whether they come from shelters, are owner surrendered, or are strays.  In October of this year they adopted out 33 dogs.  Their success is attributed to a hard-working team of volunteers and foster folks who rehab dogs and get them ready for their new families.  I have been very impressed with this group.

Elvis and Me!

I met Elvis about a month ago at an adoption event.  Two weeks ago I saw him at another event, but this time carried him around almost the whole time.  What a little gentleman.  All four pounds of him stole my heart. 

He's adjusting to his new digs very well and appears to even like the cat.  I'm so happy to have him with us.  He makes the teenager smile, too. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Great Books for High School Kids

Just wanted to quickly share a resource you might find useful for those teens lurking about your kitchen right now, eating their way through the fridge.  This resource has not much to do with eating or lurking, but it does target the ever-perplexing teenage thought process and how to perhaps propel it in a good direction.

I admire people who take the bull by the horns and make things happen.  Mr. Ayers and Ms. Crawford couldn't find what they were looking for on the market, so they consulted with colleagues and created what they wanted for kids.  I also straighten up when I see the words "against the grain".  

Here's the blurb from Amazon describing the book:

"Teachers Rick Ayers and Amy Crawford always wanted to find a guide to the vast world of great books for teenagers-one that didn't talk down or moralize. When they couldn't find one, they set out to create it. 

An early prototype offered at Cody's Bookstore in Berkeley, California, was an instant success. Great Books for High School Kids is the culmination of their efforts.

Collecting recommendations and essays from colleagues and advisers around the country, this is a rollicking, thoughtful, against-the-grain guide that challenges stodgy notions of what great books are and what kids are ready for.

The book starts with seven essays by high school teachers about exciting, exemplary experiences they have had reading books with students in the classroom-from Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina to Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon to Aeschylus's Oresteia trilogy.

Augmented by an index of more than seventy subjects, the book also has an annotated list of hundreds of Recommended Great Books. The recommendations are playful and irreverent, ambitious and entertaining, and they go way beyond traditional reading lists. From classics to the unexpected, from literary novels to nonfiction, some drama, and even a little poetry, these are all books that teenagers have read with pleasure and can read on their own.

Great Books for High School Kids is an invitation and a sourcebook for inspiring passionate, lifelong readers-a book that could seriously change the lives of teachers, of families, and of kids."

I just plunked it in the Amazon cart, used for a penny.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Ten Weeks of High School at Home

Into the 10th week of doing high school at home.  That would be a prepositional phrase, one not meant to stand on it's own as a complete sentence, but this is how I think and write.  The teenager is engaged in an 8 week Time4Writing class called Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics taught by Mrs. Barrett (good thing it's not me teaching since I am a choppy sentence writer). I have peeped over his shoulder a time or two to be reminded what clauses of the dependent and independent varieties are.  Mrs. Barrett is uber positive in her comments, which he appreciates.  She is good at correcting a student's line of thinking with encouragement.  Everyone needs a little encouragement.

Time4Writing offers short classes in paragraph writing, essay writing, tackling research papers, and coping with the writing portions on the SAT.  I felt a grammar review class this year was imperative since we will be gradually writing more and more as high school drones on.  Check them out if you haven't visited Time4Writing. They offer classes for elementary through high school.

I'd like him to read this, too, for fun:

Literature has been a favorite subject thus far.  Currently he is reading a book by Orson Scott Card.  His needle seems to be stuck on science fiction, even though I had imagined him taking great big gulps from the bread(th) of the literature shelf this semester.  We know when he likes a book because he chatters about it non-stop!  Orson has gained his respect.  I've been instructed to gather more books by said author.  Because this book was on the literature shelf, it seems he has gained more trust in my abilities to meet his reading needs.  Silly boy.

He's been tackling community service hours via some volunteer stints with a couple of organizations, one involving the care and keeping of foster kittens.  It's a really tough road.  He has to pick them up, pet them, play with them and feed them when I need help.  I bring up the rear with litter box duty, laundry and washing food dishes.  Needless to say we get attached to each bunch that travels through, but it's such a good and rewarding service to provide for them.  We also know that another bunch waits at the shelter for a turn at home life, so there is never a shortage of kittens in need. It's sheer enjoyment for one thing, and the kittens benefit greatly from caring hands.  They arrive as hissy missies (not always) and leave as certified companions of the highest order.  I feel I have done remarkably well allowing only one kitten to remain on board permanently, especially since eight or so groups of kittens have moved through our house.  Good thing my husband is a limit setter.     

THIS one.  She arrived as a foster and stayed.  This is Pogo.  She's now a year old.

Math is going as well as it can be expected to as he cruises through pre-algebra for review.  We've figured out that math work should come early in the day before his energy tanks.  Tanked energy and math do not a happy couple make.

He has turned to Learn Python the Hard Way by Zed Shaw for programming and continues to enjoy it.  Three days a week.  Forgive me if I've mentioned these resources in previous posts!  He also started watching lectures on Cybersecurity via The Great Courses:

Professor Paul Rosenzweig teaches the course on cyber security.  

Let's just say Mr. Rosenzweig knows his stuff when it comes to understanding the Internet, cyber crime, cyber security and cyber warfare.  Each lecture is 30 minutes in length and there are eighteen of them.  Lots of topics for discussion here.  Professor Rosenzweig is an engaging and dynamic expert on the subject.

I cannot rave enough about Eugen Weber's (free) Western Tradition lectures online.  The teenager states that history is 'actually interesting', thanks to Mr. Weber.  The lectures are dated (1989) but full of valuable insight into how non-linear history really is and how events shaped themselves into what we recognize as everyday life as a Westerner.  I've mentioned that he wrote companion books to accompany this lecture series.  A quote from a 2007 New York Times article about Mr. Weber's death states:

"Mr. Weber was encyclopedic in his depiction of an era, a movement or a social trend, focusing more on the many facets of everyday life than on historical theories. History, he wrote in “Europe Since 1715,” was “not just the epic of collective deeds, but the tissue of the times; not just what happened, but to whom and how; not just wars and politics, the doings of a relatively restricted group, but the way people lived — humbler and middling people, and the rich as well — their food, their housing, the warp and woof of their existence.” 

Finally, rounding out each day is guitar practice.  And more practice.  And still more.  He's become passionate about learning new songs on this wonderful instrument.  I figured he might enjoy learning about some of the guitar gods, so picked up a copy of the 2013 documentary about Jimi Hendrix titled Hear My Train A Comin.

So far so good, for the most part.  He still would prefer to have much more freedom to explore his other interests, but I maintain that he has plenty of non-school time to follow his nose more intently.  This has been an ongoing struggle for me as a homeschooling parent - one of determining how much structure to provide for learning.  Ultimately, the built-in beauty of this homeschooling business is that we can continued to tweak and adjust until both of us are satisfied with the outcome.

Point blank, I love homeschooling.  Even high school!

Monday, September 29, 2014

This Homeschooling High School Thing is.........

.......working out!  Nearly six weeks in, it's taken us this long to settle into a nice daily rhythm.  I think it's important for families to expect and allow this adjustment time for any type of schooling.  The transition from Sunday nights to Monday mornings looms large in some people's lives on a weekly basis, so why wouldn't moving from the carefree days of summer into the more structured days of the school year pack a bit of a wallop?  Maybe that's the ultimate goal:  to keep those schooling days footloose and carefree!  I have yet to figure out how to do that, though.

In the meantime we've been housing a few interlopers as foster dogs from various rescue groups.  Speaking of transitioning, it always takes a few days for everyone to feel at ease with one another when a new dog arrives on the scene.  Our six-pounds-of-total-terror Chihuahua, Miley, is always the last one to wave the white flag.  She hasn't yet realized that all her fury and resistance is futile.  She's a bit of a handful.

Here's the latest little guy hanging about the house.  His name is Kermit.  It's been less than 24 hours and I can already proclaim that he's a delightful, dynamite little companion.  He is available for adoption through Lap Dog Rescue of New Mexico.  He's the kind of fellow who runs toward you full speed and jumps into your arms with much trust and gleeful abandon.   This guy would make for a fantastic agility dog.  He also likes to stare at himself in the mirror.


Most school days get started around 9 or 9:30 a.m.  The teenager usually tackles guitar practice first, since it's his favorite activity.  He's learning how to play Sultans of Swing by Dire Straights.  We are both admiring Mark Knopfler's prowess with the guitar and watch him on Youtube.

He generally saves math for last and hopes that it will just go away already.  Much to his surprise, he seems to be good at math this year.  He scored a 90% on the first chapter test and has been getting most of the problems correct in the text.  We are using Chalk Dust's Pre-Algebra program for review and to fill in those niggling gaps, like absolute value, something that had never crossed in front of him before.  

The math instructor (on DVD), Dana Mosely, is a very good teacher.  He's thorough, engaging, and boy, can he write well on a chalk board!  There is something so nostalgic about watching someone write on a crisp clean chalkboard with a big fat piece of chalk.  I find the sound rather soothing.  Is that weird?  His numbers are written so precisely and I think it's all very cool.  With the DVD lessons and the text, this is a program that is easy to take with you when traveling, too.  It's a self-sufficient way to learn math.  

After guitar practice he usually reads for an hour off of the literature shelf.  This week he is indulging in Isaac Asimov's Foundation.  I should have researched this series a little better and should have picked up the first book in the series, the prequel.  Oops.  The teenager remarks that some things are rather confusing in the book.  My bad.  He does concur, though, that Asimov was clever in his writing.  When he finishes a book from the shelf, he writes about it either sharing how the book impacted him, how it related to his life, how it made him think/feel, or how he would have written it differently.  Next semester he'll brush up with a grammar mechanics class; for now I am not at all concerned about the occasional misspelled word or run-on sentence.  I want him to be really comfortable in spilling his thoughts onto paper and thinking through conundrums while he writes.  All of the editing and parsing will be fine tuned later.  

Then it's on to history, either work out of his history detective work book or lectures from The Western Tradition by Eugen Weber, a history professor who taught at UCLA.  He is enjoying learning about the conquests of the Athenians, Spartans, and Persians and often shares tidbits of interesting information. 

Learn Python the Hard Way by Zed Shaw gets tackled 3-4 times a week for however long he wants to work on it.  Sometimes he's at the computer for several hours, others are briefer encounters.  It's clear he is enjoying this pursuit.  It might be a little premature to say so, but I think computers will play a large role in his future.  He was using Grok Learning to learn Python, but discovered that the leaps were too big to make from exercise to exercise.  It left him feeling very frustrated.  Zed, on the other hand, takes his students through step-by-step and expects you not to understand it all at first.  He believes that at some point your brain will have an 'ah-hah' moment and you'll get it!  The teenager is working toward that point with determination.

We removed Schmoop's Biology class from the curriculum about a week ago.  It is very heavy on text, not so much of a match for visual/tactile learners.  He was slogging through it and hated it, so I pulled the plug.  He is still watching some Neuroscience lectures from a Great Courses DVD and is pursuing other science interests, but we'll move a formal science class to next semester or next year.

I also picked up this book last week and he's started reading it:

That's all the good stuff.  We've only argued "vehemently" :) about three times, so not too bad.  Mostly over him getting lazy and trying to take short cuts.  Honestly, though, I have been super impressed with his stick-to-it attitude and his willingness to work through any problems he encounters.  He is definitely maturing, which is a good thing because driver education is about to commence!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Week One of 2014-2015 Highschool at Home Complete

I have more gray hair now than last week - swear it.  At the end of the week both the teenager and I were wiped out!  Adjusting to the new daily routine and work load rankled a bit, but we kept our chins up and muddled through.  Okay, to say we muddled isn't fair.  We worked very well through the rough patches that cropped up.

The best part of the week was the READING!  Every day for an hour from the literature shelf.  At first he said emphatically, "Mom, an hour of reading a day is too much.  How about 45 minutes?"  On the first day I set the timer on the iPhone for one hour on the nose and turned him loose.  When it alarmed, he didn't seem to register the noise and kept on reading.  For another half an hour.  An hour a day seems just about right for his tolerance level!

He is reading this:

I read this and giggled all the way through.  The Queen accidentally discovers the public library and all heck breaks out in the Monarchy:

And started this.  Still laughing: 

Guess I subconsciously picked books from the humor section because I had a feeling the week was going to have its challenges, huh?

With math, biology, world history, programming, literature and grammar, the days got a little long.  I am so PROUD of him for his willingness to jump in.  Most days we started between 10 and 11 a.m. and worked through with breaks until 3 or 4 p.m.  

He is pumped about programming, less excited about math, but he's been attacking math problems every day.  World history is terribly interesting for both of us (I'm watching the lectures and taking notes for a refresher course).  Biology is ramping up so we've had to broach the subject of taking notes.  

Now, note-taking does not rank high on his list of life priorities.  In fact, he rather blossoms with an insanely itchy rash over most of his body when I hand him a pen or pencil, poor guy.  His fingers were bred for the keyboard!  I am of the firm belief, though, that something magical happens between the hand that is writing and the brain that commands the hand to write.  Taking notes in my opinion is an important skill to learn; you need to be able to synthesize information so you can access it later, especially for those pesky quizzes and tests that appear at the end of units.

So, we practiced taking notes.  I posed a question on a homeschooling forum today asking for ideas for note taking that might fit his style.  Yay for other homeschooling parents!  They are a deep well of knowledge when it comes to figuring stuff out.  These are the suggestions we got - thank you, ladies!

OneNote  - nice, but it doesn't involve putting finely sharpened pencil to crisp paper

Popplet - an app for the iPad or Web that lets you brain map to your heart's content

Color-coded index cards - he could spread them out like a brain map on a wall or table  


Overall, it was a good and productive first week.  I want to introduce him to the workload over the first few weeks and then let him take over and create his own schedule.  We will keep working on note taking to find the right method for him.  

Friday, August 22, 2014

Homeschooling First Semester of Ninth Grade

It's common practice to snap a photo of your child on his or her first day of school.  Here's the teenager, three days before his ninth grade year 'officially' starts on Monday.  I'm going to consider this his start-of-the-school-year photo.  The blue hair is a new accoutrement that was garnered yesterday, just because.  He's practicing one of the pentatonic scales on the guitar.  Even though I play the guitar, too, up until a few weeks ago I hadn't a clue as to what a pentatonic scale was.  Thank you awesome guitar teacher for teaching us some music theory!  Straighten us out already, jeeps.

I am excited about next week's 'school' adventures!!  I have invested hours into researching options for homeschooling ninth grade, trying to find activities he will enjoy.  Below I will detail the schedule for you; it's always nice to see what others are up to, especially when it involves homeschooling high school.

Full disclosure - we opted to work with an umbrella school in high school mainly for my peace of mind.  They will help us stay on track, pay attention to his learning style and offer resources that he might find intriguing, keep track of his transcript, and provide him with a diploma once he meets all the credit requirements.  I feel really good having them in our corner as we start this process.  The school is in another state, so we will meet with his advisor virtually the week after next for the first time.  The umbrella school helps me to be accountable to his education, too.   It was important to me that the umbrella school be exceedingly open to and flexible about how we elected to create his classes based on his interests.  They are providing a framework with which we can work in yet we still maintain as much autonomy as we wish to have.  

Note that an umbrella school is different from an online school.  Umbrella schools are designed to assist homeschooling families, particularly during the high school years when transcripts come into play.  They offer all kinds of helpful services and depending on the options you choose, provide you with a full catalog of online course offerings if you want to utilize them.  We are not using any of their online classes this year, but I like knowing those exist as we plan classes for later grades.  An umbrella school feels like a warm wing that you can climb under when you might be feeling lost and alone in a big world of homeschooling high school.

On to the schedule for first semester!


I've mentioned in a recent post about setting up a literature shelf full of classics, novels, short stories, nonfiction and essays that overlap with your child's interests and favorite genres.  Dena Luchsinger's The Reader's Odyssey helped me with this task tremendously.  It's an ongoing effort, but so far the shelves are shaping up nicely with 120 books collected so far.  I intend to have several hundred for him to choose from by twelfth grade.  From these shelves the teenager will choose books that interest him and will read for an hour a day.  I am joining in on the fun and will read the same amount of time daily.   

For this semester his goal will be to read the following:

2 works of classic fiction by two different authors
2 works of modern classic fiction by at least two different authors
4 works representing four different fiction genres
2 works representing at least two different types of nonfiction
2 shorter works (short story, novella or essay)

He'll keep a reading log to document what's been read and will rate each book.  Upon completion of a book I've asked him to write a paragraph about the book - not a summary per say, but a thoughtful and short foray into how the book impacted him.  He doesn't need to delve into much literary analysis just yet; that will come later.  The goal for ninth grade is to encourage him to read WIDELY and WILDLY in areas he hasn't read before and begin to become aware of 'the great conversation' between authors across the ages of the written word.

Grammar will be tackled in small bites twice a week using Connie Schenkelberg's Grammar Made Easy:  Writing a Step Above.  Connie starts out with instruction in sentence diagramming, a valuable tool in one's toolbox.  On Fridays he's going to teach me what he learned so I can get a grammar refresher, too.  He has already developed an eye for grammar due to ample reading;  this course will help cinch everything together in preparation for more concentration in writing later on.  

Writing will gradually be tackled more in depth as the year progresses and into future grades.  For now he'll be engaging in free writing and getting adept at shaping his thoughts on paper. 


Daily work using Chalk Dust's Pre-Algebra curriculum and DVD set.  The first several weeks will serve as review.  The goal to complete this program this year is one chapter per three weeks.  He may be able to work at a faster clip, especially at the beginning, but he can go at his own pace as long as he's covering material.    


A lesson of biology a day.  He's going to be a 'Schmooper' for the year!  Really, head over to and partake of their humorous and zany teaching style.  I LOVE it.  He'll be covering cell biology, biochemical pathways, Mendelian genetics, and molecular genetics this first semester.  It is a great introductory class with lots of fun thrown in.  It's clever.  

We are also watching lectures from The Great Courses:  The Neuroscience of Everyday Life and What Science Knows About Cancer.  Yes, I totally bought these courses on sale at 70% off.  Watch for their sales!


We are using Eugen Weber's lecture series called The Western Tradition on for a foundation.  Eugen Weber was a professor at UCLA and was renowned as a world historian.  His teaching style was engaging and charismatic.  To fit in all fifty two lectures, he'll need to watch two lectures each week.  He is supplementing the series with a World History Detective workbook from the Critical Thinking Company, 2-4 lessons per week.  

The literature component of language arts will cross over into the World History realm, too.  I suspect that we'll be applying literature to most of his courses.


He wants to learn how to program in Python. is a terrific resource for doing just that.  I put this on the schedule three days a week to see how it feels.  He is also partaking of a Minecraft Homeschool Upper Core class for the first six weeks of the semester; this class requires 4-8 hours per week on projects and assignments.    

He really wants to get his hands involved with building computers, so we are seeking resources to fulfill this desire.  

Once a week lessons plus practice.  He'll be diving into learning about famous guitarists like Jimi Hendrix, BB King, Stevie Ray Vaughn, etc. using documentaries and Youtube.  His teacher is a very accomplished guitarist and a bit of a comedian; he's teaching the teenager the ropes. 

We're planning on meeting twice a week, Mondays and Fridays to check in, check work, make sure he's on track, and problem solve any issues.  I'll be documenting everything that is credit worthy, turning in credit request forms, looking for great literature, and thinking about tenth grade.

Oh.  Driver's education will come into play at some point this year.  All of the above should keep him stimulated!  We'll start crafting and tweaking second semester after he's had a chance to test the waters.  

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Captured History

The hint of a trip to Costco is a dangerous proposition for me.  For a few years I intentionally did not renew our membership because of all that storage needed to accommodate bulk items.  Since we've recently moved to a more rural area, the bulk option now seems more appealing, especially when it comes to buying big bags of frozen fruits and veggies.

I clearly need a chaperone while shopping there, someone who is not afraid to sternly yell, "for crying out loud, STICK TO THE LIST" and slap my hand when I reach for an item not on the list.  The book section gets me every time.  I usually make note of books that look intriguing on my trusty phone and eventually bag a used, library or borrowed copy down the road.  It would be fun to meet the person or persons responsible for book buying at Costco; somebody has a good eye for just the right variety.

Over the years we've scored some great wall maps of the world/USA/solar system/animals of the world, etc.  in the Costco book section.  I was just staring at the U.S. map last night, mentally tracing roads of places we've been.  For some reason I like to see the whole world on a big sheet of paper laminated with plastic, too.  It stirs my curiosity and sets me to dreaming of far off lands.  I've been hanging out with Rick Steves in his travel books lately, perusing pages, planning possibilites.

Today's run to Costco for food resulted in this acquisition, kind of like going to the store for romaine lettuce and coming home with a Dachshund puppy.  Ok, not really, but in principle, maybe?

Capstone's Captured History series.  Their caption reads, "books in the award winning Captured History series view history through the lens of groundbreaking photos".  Bite-sized curated photo collections that catapult you to a different time and place and make the emotional impact of events more palpable.  So cool, I could not resist.  If the imaginary chaperone had been with me today and adroitly whispered, "PUT THEM DOWN", I would have punched him hard in the arm, hissed and said, "NO".  So much for sticking to the list or appreciating the services of a chaperone.  My resolve dissolves around books.  And puppies.

You may spy these in sets of three for around $10 at Costco.  On Capstone's website, each title is listed at $25.49.  I have only briefly thumbed through one of these this afternoon, but already paused on some remarkable photographs that I had never seen before and jumped quickly to the accompanying text describing the time and event.  These books deserve some quiet, concentrated time with which to study them.  They are targeted to the 10-12 year old and would make a terrific addition to any homeschool library.    

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Reader's Odyssey

Welcome to our high school library.  The bookshelves from Target haven't arrived yet, so we are in stacking mode.  The books above represent just the beginning.  Over the last several weeks I've been scouring used book stores and hunting the Internet for used volumes.  We had a pretty good selection to start out with, but dare I say it?  Adding more books is FUN!  I love books.  I want the teenager to love books, too.  Heck, I want everyone to love books.  The world's best ideas are found in books.

My guide in this adventure has been Dena Luchsinger in her book below:

Now that I have had to type or write "odyssey" on a few occasions, I think I may be able to spell it correctly from here on out!  It's one of those words.  Do you experience those?  Try Albuquerque.  Or intermittent.  Or awesome sauce.  I swear, "television" once looked strange to me.  

I have read this guide cover to cover twice and still go back to reference it when needed.  She has presented a terrific literary program for the middle and high school years that is easy to tailor to your child's favorite genres, interests, and reading abilities, all with a hefty dose of classics and modern classics sprinkled in.  I highly recommend this guide if you are hovering in the middle/high school years of homeschooling.   

Why classics?  Because they have withstood the test of time and they harbor the great ideas of the deep thinkers, the flowing conversation over time that builds upon itself and in turn makes us better thinkers and problem solvers, if not at least more attuned to the human condition.  I wasn't exposed to many classics while growing up and wish I had been.  I really do believe they lead to a better understanding of life.

After assessing the teenager's favorite genres (science fiction, mystery, action/adventure, fantasy, humor, how-to, coming of age, dystopia, and psychological thriller), I asked him about his interests.  Those are animals, outdoor adventure, music, friends, reading, writing, food, movies, military, technology, engineering, construction, politics.  It is not much of a challenge to blend the genres and interests into a giant Venn diagram and figure out which books past muster.  Ms. Luchsinger stresses building a large library over time containing the the genres and interests that suit your child, but also to reach out beyond those parameters and cover more territory. 

The idea is to ask your child to read from the library at least an hour each day.  You can set up expectations such that they will read a certain number of classics, short stories, essays, dramas, nonfiction, etc. over the semester.  Perhaps this has been the most challenging part so far, determining a reasonable expectation over a semester for number of books to read.  The beauty of this program is that the child can choose books he or she likes, often trying on a few for size before hopefully finding one that sparks some zeal.  He or she can re-read books to a heart's content, as long as the baseline expectations for number of books is met. 

For the first semester of ninth grade I'll ask him to write a short, paragraph-long summary of each book and keep a log and rating of what has been read.  Gradually over his high school career, we will move into more literary analyses and writing.  I appreciate the author's take on literary criticism; she feels that criticism for the sake of criticism is nonsense.  What IS important is how the book impacts the reader and on what level.  That's plenty of fodder for some deeper exploration as the books get absorbed and we'll have a lot of material to play with.

She does provide helpful tips and worksheets on analyzing literary terms and themes toward the end of the book.  She also has catalogued many classics as to their genre and difficulty level, which helped me tremendously in selecting books.  

So far I've amassed the following books, short stories, novellas and essays, typed in rather cryptic form:

Essays of E.B. White
Mila 18
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
Tarzan of the Apes
Murder on the Orient Express
The Uncommon Reader
Heart of Darkness
Short stories of Mark Twain
The Outsiders
Omnivore's Dilemma (young reader's edition)
Three Musketeers
Apollo 13
Biography of Malcolm X
The Time Machine
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
The Education of Little Tree
Where the Red Fern Grows (tissues ready!)
Brave New World
Animal Farm
Watership Down
Enter Jeeves
Cheaper by the Dozen
The Hunt for Red October
Speaker for the Dead
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Ghandi's autobiography
Autobiography of Ben Franklin
Starship Troopers
Strong Poison
Catch Me if You Can
Pudd'nhead Wilson
As I Lay Dying
Packing for Mars
Lots of Isaac Asimov
A Tale of Two Cities
The Oxbow Incident
Flowers for Algernon
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Healthy Eating Healthy World
Personal Best by George Sheehan
The Jungle Book
Johnny Tremain
The Incredible Journey
Death Comes for the Archbishop
A Passage to India
Criminal Poverty (plight of the homeless in America)
The Count of Monte Cristo
The Princess Bride
The Animal Dialogues
All Creatures Great and Small
Life of Pi
Gorillas in the Mist
A Farwell to Arms
The Book Thief (one of my favorite books ever)
Man's Search for Meaning
Dune (series)
The Stand
The Good Earth
All Quiet on the Western Front
Wizard of Oz
Alice in Wonderland
The Naked Ape
I Capture the Castle
To Kill a Mockingbird
Winterdance by Gary Paulsen (hilarious)
Winnie the Pooh
Out of the Silent Planet
Midsummer Night's Dream
White Fang
The Dark is Rising
Of Mice and Men
Martian Chronicles
Boy by Roald Dahl
The Little Prince
Old Yeller (more tissues)
The Secret Garden
What the Dog Saw

There are many more on the wishlist, so the hunt will continue at yard sales, used book stores, etc.  The reason I am not using the library for this undertaking is one of having access to all of these at once so he can choose what he wants to read by handling them, flipping through them, reading the first few pages.  Managing books on this scale at the library seems like a daunting task for me, so I decided to make the investment of time and dollars, although if you plan for this ahead of time, you can keep a running list with you and choose gently used books at much cheaper prices, or borrow from friends and family. 

Another level of wonderful here is that we can apply these books toward credit for other subjects.  Pretty much all the subjects!  Lots of history, social science, science present and accounted for!  To say I am stoked is a mild understatement.  I am looking forward to joining him on this reading adventure.

If you have any great book suggestions, please comment!  Share this list with others, too.  Spread the book love far and wide! 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Student-Directed Learning

It's late in the evening, feeling sleepy, so won't write up a long post.  This video jarred me into a more awake state, though!  It's an enlightening look at what education could be if turned over to the student(s).  I get excited to see such activity!  Please watch:

If Students Designed Their Own Schools

I am struck that the "administration" views this method of learning as novel.  The teachers seem surprised at the engagement of the students and the outcome of the experience.  A very loud message is not-so-hidden in there.

The tricky part for unschoolers/homeschoolers is arranging group activities like that which is demonstrated in the video.  It's awesome.

It is my fervent wish that every single child could experience learning in a similar fashion.  Our world would sincerely benefit from such interest and passion.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

So It Begins

Spot-on perfect quote discovery this morning:

At least two basic requirements were met:  quiet, and an uninterrupted stretch of time for the mind to dwell on, and bend to its own variations, any event, catastrophe, or idea presented to it.

~ Sheila Ballantyne

Thank you, Sheila; I needed to read this.  I crave such time and yesterday I indulged for 8-10 hours!  Really.  I did.  Time spent in this manner lets you sink deep into a project so it swallows you up whole.  The reason for the cloistered existence yesterday?  HOMESCHOOLING HIGH SCHOOL, the three little words that can strike fear into the hearts of many.

I decided to pay some serious attention to the task at hand with uninterrupted time off.  Funny how much a mom is 'needed' in the daily running of a household.  Everyone survived and somehow managed to get nutrients into their bodies without me.  Pretty sure teeth didn't get brushed or any clothes got changed, though.  If anyone came near me, I growled :).  

As much as I've tried to wrap my head around the big picture of what homeschooling high school CAN look like, I've so far just succeeded in a bunch of random writings and ideas scattered all over notebooks and sticky notes.  The day arrived when something had to be done to conceptualize the entire plot of the story, or I was going to "lose the plot" as my friend, Caity, is fond of saying.

The above picture represents a technique that works for some people when conceptualizing or planning.  It sure works for me.  I am a huge fan of project boards wherein you can see everything in front of you, everything is at your fingertips, and you can move items around as you change your mind (which happens frequently).  The blue painting tape saved the day in this respect!

I brought everything into the office yesterday, jumped on the Internet and got down to the task at hand.  I plan to hang out in there today, too.  The poor teenager was on his own with respect to food yesterday, but that's good for him.  He can take care of himself pretty well when he has to.  

What you see on the wall is ideas for 9th grade.  English, social studies, science, history, electives, and math.  I am working off of state graduation requirements as a guideline and working backwards, but am also keeping in mind his learning styles and preferences.  I hope we can nail a balance of unschooled subjects alongside the exposure that I feel will broaden his worldview (like, um, math).  

Here's how it's looking so far, but I reserve the right to change it all up when I get back in there today ;):


This is the year to fine tune some basic writing and grammar skills.  He's an avid reader, so I'm not concerned about vocabulary; that and grammar seem to fall into place if you read a lot.  Reading will be a cornerstone for the year.  

We're going to do an online basic paragraph/essay class (BORING) for some structure.  He'll probably hate it, but he can tough it out.  This will be spread out during first and second semester.

I hope that we can read WIDELY and WILDLY all year long and incorporate his readings into other subjects like history and science.  My heroine, Grace Llewellyn, gave me a lot to think about along these lines, so a good part of yesterday was spent researching literature options based on the teenager's interests and favorite genres.  I also referenced The Reader's Odyssey by Dena Luchsinger as a guide (which is excellent, by the way.) 

He's going to hit grammar a few times a week using Grammar Made Easy by Connie Schenkelberg, just to solidify all those participles and dangling things.  I may jump in for a review since I have a habit of writing using incomplete sentences.  Probably because I can't be bothered and that's the way I think - short and sweet, to the point.

I found a science fiction literature class for high schoolers through Brigham Young University which will last one semester.  He will really enjoy this class.

Textword Press and Excellence in Literature both offer some cool literature courses, but in the end, I think they will not be a good fit for us.  


We'll be utilizing Chalk Dust Math to finish up pre-algebra and move into the algebra realm.  You can find the used curricula on eBay for much cheaper.


Schmoop has an online biology class I thought he would find interesting.  It's a great overview of cells, chemistry, genetics, evolution, ecology, microbiology, plants and animals.  The intent here is to expose him to different disciplines to see if he sparks on them.  When the spark catches, watch out!  That's the way it is with many unschooled kids.

I also grabbed a copy of Neil deGrasse Tyson's Cosmos on DVD.  We'll watch those for fun and see where they take us.  Many other resources will likely pop up over the year.


Still working out the details for history, but want to take a look at a world history perspective as an overview and see how everything fits together over time.  I find that stuff fascinating and am hoping he will, too.  Dr. Eugen Weber offers fifty two free lectures on world history called The Western Tradition at, and they are fantastic!  

Here is where literature comes into play, again.  We can read broadly and deeply within history.  I will encourage him to keep a running timeline on index cards so he can get the big picture.  Books like Eyewitness to History by John Carey are fantastic to have on your shelf.  Listening to great speeches or reading the works of Studs Terkel are stimulating activities, too.  I listened to a speech given by Senator Nixon yesterday and tried to put myself in the teenager's shoes to see what he might think about it. 

Some lit picks might include:  Up From Slavery, Night, Hiroshima, The Education of Little Tree, The Jungle, Apollo 13, Across Five Aprils, The Scarlet Letter, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, The Great Gatsby, Death Comes for the Archbishop (one of my favorites), My Brother Sam is Dead, etc.  

Movies can be a nice adjunct, too.  There are innumerable history resources that could intrigue him.  Even The Concord Review could be a fabulous find (compilation of essays written by high schoolers about history).

 My job will be figuring out how to assign credit to such activities and encourage further use of resources or study on/write about the subject matter.


He can go hog wild here.  A study of music and musicians using free Coursera courses, documentaries and biographies might happen. The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix come to mind since he is obsessed with the guitar right now.  

He wants to pick up some computer programming, so will work through the tutorials on Khan Academy for Java Scripting. 

I found some speech resources, too, if he wishes to go there.  Speech is a requirement in our state for graduation.  It's an online class wherein you send in audio recordings of your speeches.  We'll try to assemble some folks from the neighborhood so he can get some public speaking practice.

That's where I am at as of today.  Our calendar will be a six week on/ one week off revolving calendar; six week bites have worked for us in the past.  We will start at the end of August.

If you have any questions about these resources, send me an email or leave a comment.  I am still on the high of the quiet of yesterday!

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