Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Holidays, Merry New Year!

I'm back!  Two weeks of new puppy has brought me to the verge.  He's pretty darn wonderful, but boy - you forget how much 'watching' they require!  It's all a blur, really.  Up and down during the nights, sleeping a lot during the day with all that growing he has to do.  At six weeks he weighed in at 11 pounds; at eight weeks he's up to 16 pounds already.  He grows like bamboo.

We managed pretty well to get some school work done, too.  I am passing the buck more and more to Max as far as responsibility for his work.  That's my job, isn't it?  To teach him to take responsibility for his life.  So, here we go!  We still read a lot together, but much of his seat work is being handled by his ever-expanding brain.  I have more to say about this in another post and will - but right now sleep is beckoning.  That wonderful puppy is going to be up in a few hours and he'll need to visit the stars outside.  We get lots of fresh air lately!  Here's a pic of Max and Coby from the week.  Learning all about leash training!

Have a safe, extra fun, grateful holiday and we wish you well in the New Year, too! 

Coby, eight weeks of age.  Yes, he's on the carpet!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Great Dane Puppy

He's home!  He's loud.  He's cute.  He's got us all charmed.  Meet Cobus! 

Coby is six weeks old and weighs eleven pounds.  His little puppy brain is kind of overwhelmed - new house, new dogs, cats (gasp!), and a new schedule.  We were up most of the night last night........lots of screaming on his part.  He's pretty young to bring home, too.  Generally it's better to bring home a puppy at the seven or eight week mark.  He's the youngest guy we've ever had!  Today is already a step in the right direction because he's settling down in his pen and seems to be going with the flow more.  Whew.  Puppies are undeniably wonderful, but they come with some quirks, don't they?

I wonder how much homeschooling Max and I will be able to do next week! 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

More Fantastic Horrible Science

This book makes for a good overview of the big concepts in science.  We are halfway through this entertaining endeavor; Max sure enjoys making up different voices for each of the miniature scientists as they encounter various 'horrible' situations.  Crawling around in someone's bacteria-laden mouth filled with bits of food and protists is well, kind of gross.  But these little scientist guys are up to the task and they 'teach' in an engaging manner.

The concepts start out very tiny size-wise (big bang to elements to atoms to molecules to proteins, etc.), so it's a logically presented order of how everything around us is put together.  It's ooey, gooey, microbial, slimy, stinky, disgusting...........and laughter-inducing.  The concepts presented here form a very nice spine for an overview of basic chemistry, biology, human anatomy, physics - - basically the big overriding umbrella that is SCIENCE.

I'm enjoying reading this one aloud together; it's helping me to tick off the things we can cover as we continue to learn about science.  As we go I'm having a greater appreciation for the way something is presented - order is making a lot of sense (who'd have thunk?)  I learned much of this material in college, but it was not offered, or at least I didn't perceive it, in an orderly manner.  Thus sometimes I feel like the bits and pieces are still floating around my brain, but have yet to be laced together into a big picture.

Maybe I can do a favor for Max and help him to see the big picture that is science in all of its wonder.  He is simply flabbergasted that our bodily atoms 'float' over the atoms making up, say, a chair because at an atomic level, the electrons are repelling each other.  He can't get over that one!  I love to see him discover new things!  And every day I wish that every child would have the same opportunity to discover.  Homeschooling certainly isn't perfect and it's dependent on several variables, but overall (there's that big picture thing again) it can offer an entirely different way of being.  And that's something that's worth investing energy into.  

Friday, November 18, 2011

Math Idea for Kinesthetic Learners

Long division has taken over the dining room table, complete with those pesky remainders floating about. Max is very literal when learning math.  He wants to know the steps and that's about it, and he sure gets frustrated when he trips on the steps.

Sitting at the table doing problem after problem is about the worst thing he can imagine for a way to spend time.  Today he suffered through twelve problems and managed to eek them out, but he did tell me a few times that he was confused on what to do next as far as the 'steps'.

An idea!  Which I'll work on over the weekend to put in place on Monday.  "Steps".  Like learning dance steps, right?  Dance division!

It might help him if I set up a large-scale division problem out on the driveway with chalk.  Then we can step through the sequence literally (!) and write as we go.  This could also be done on a couple of big pieces of newsprint on your kitchen floor, too, if it's too cold to go outside when one happens to be tackling long division.  Or, bundle up and go out there anyway!  We are going to dance our way through division.  I'm sure this isn't an original idea in the slightest........but it does sound fun, doesn't it?

We learned a mnemonic that applies to long division, too, which is helping - it goes like this:

Dad says to divide
Mom says to multiply
Sister says to subtract
Brother says to bring it down
Dog says to do it again!

I'm not sure what cat, horse, donkey, hamster and fish are supposed to be doing, but at any rate, Dad, Mom, Sister, Brother and Dog are working - albeit they ARE a bit bossy.

I'm willing to bet that dance division is going to help him 'feel' it and he'll get a good grasp with his body and his brain.  Part of the challenge for me is paying attention to how he takes in information and I'm learning that I can't make many assumptions.  It's the coolest thing, really, because it's making me listen up and slow down. 

Here are some pictures from Monday's Driveway Division extravaganza.......

We 'walked through' each step 

Messing with him - alas, he doesn't love division 

Hey!  This is supposed to be math, not art!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Not for the Faint of Heart

I guess we both are 'faint of heart', then, because this book disappointed us.  I was looking forward to this particular read-aloud by Ernest Thompson Seton:

But was mainly left with a sad taste in my mouth.  Just a few posts ago I highlighted this book, saying we were anticipating its stories; I'm posting again to add a caveat, especially for parents of younger readers.  

This book, as much as it captures the real essence of wild animals in their native environments, also does a fine job of drawing attention to how horrible human beings can be to those animals in those native environments.  Namely to say that the humans in this book were mainly fixated on claiming the land strictly for themselves, for ridding the scape of all wolves, for torturing both domesticated and wild horses to death...... as much as the author took part in introducing us to stand-out representatives of various species (and they were a pleasure to meet), he also often played a significant role in bringing many of them to their eventual demise.  

Max picked up on this quickly and by the time we got through the chapter titled "The Pacing Mustang", he was spitting mad.  There were parts in several of the chapters that I did not want to read, especially out loud.  I was disappointed and saddened.  Needless to say, we won't be finishing this one.  Granted, the time period for this book was set in the late 1800's, but the "romance" of the Wild West did not seduce us into seeing past the cruelty that was inflicted.  We stopped right there and had enough.  

Harsh reality and much food for thought, so we're thinking about it.  What can WE do to help humans and animals live in more attuned harmony for the benefit of all species?  That's the question that seems almost too big to answer.  It's my job as a parent to try to raise an intelligent, caring, thoughtful and 'educated' youngster who is aware of a deeper reality, one that the world's future may depend on.  I guess Mr. Seton can be credited for getting us a little riled up then, huh?  Sigh.    

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Dane Update!

Well, he's three weeks old on Monday and as of yet is nameless.  We went to see him and hug him yesterday and took some pictures.  Their eyes are open and they are starting to explore their surroundings - and they are starting to get stinky!  The mama Dane sure has her work cut out for her.

So little, but not for long. 

Getting to know each other (one is clearly more smell motivated) 

Another type of 'homeschooling', eh?

He'll be home in about a month.  It would be nice to have a name picked out by then.........Tripp?  Dominick?  Tobin?  Merlin?  Atticus?

Copywork Has Intrinsic Value - Consider It.

Thanks to 'meeting' Charlotte Mason over the summer, copywork has become part of my homeschooling arsenal.  I expected much resistance from the troops, to have to fish him out of his room after he ran to hide, but not so.  Copywork time is peaceful time at the table and we both like it for different reasons.  We try to do some copywork twice a week and occasionally mix in some dictation, too.

Max says he doesn't want his handwriting to look like that of a first grader's.  He seems pleased to see a page filled up with neat writing that came from his hand.  I have more of a covert agenda in that I'm glad he's being exposed to great thinkers who really know how to string words together.  They also are pretty good at using correct grammar, spelling and punctuation!  It's probably a given that readers tend to have a better natural grasp of the elements of language just by the sheer number of encounters one experiences with phrases and words and such.

The clever and fun part comes in when I climb outside of the box and try to surprise him with various pieces he can copy.  He is a huge fan of Calvin and Hobbes; dialogues between the free-thinking six year old and his stuffed tiger were among the first bits of copywork we did.  Musical lyrics work very well, too - especially if I pay attention to what he's listening to - that's poetry he can appreciate and relate to.  We finished Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book a few weeks ago and I could not resist the great battle between Rikki Tikki Tavi and Nag the cobra; one of Rudyard's best stories ever!  Pulling material from something your child is reading or has recently read gives him/her almost a sense of ownership over the words.  "Hey - I know those words!"  J.R.R. Tolkein's Bilbo Baggins has offered up some great text, too.

I expect him to take his time and pay attention to word placement on the paper; he has a tendency to want to conjure up never-before-seen hyphenations when he runs out of room at the end of a line.  Already there have been significant improvements in his confidence in not only penmanship, but in all other things composition-related.  It's getting him accustomed, too, to sitting for longer periods and writing longer pieces - something he didn't think he was capable of at the end of fifth grade.  Copywork is a valuable endeavor!  At first glance it appears to look exactly like busywork, but it's got so much more intrinsic value embedded in it.  Don't resist it - try it and see what happens.

Reach far and wide for copywork sources - use that wonderful imagination of yours.  Good stuff might be lurking on the backs of your cereal boxes......use thoughts from Mother Theresa, family stories written up by a senior member of the family, parts of great speeches, pieces of technical writing, scientific papers, newsletters from your favorite non-profits (might wish to double check the grammar and spelling!), non-fiction adventure stories, Winnie the Pooh, other philosophers.  It's wide open!  Plays and other manuscripts can take part nicely, too, and so can some comic books.  I started a file of ideas; some things fit better at different times depending on what we are doing.

I downloaded some quotations from Shakespeare's mind HERE.  I kind of like having him tucked in my idea folder!

Monday, November 7, 2011

By George I Think He's Got It!

It's time to celebrate around these parts.  Two major accomplishments and both deserve some recognition - hence a blog post to mark the moments!  First, my kiddo has officially memorized the multiplication tables!  Second, he completed reading The Hobbit on his own, all 504 pages of that puppy.  AND HE LIKED IT.  Time to pop the cork and have some root beer.

Teaching multiplication has been an arduous undertaking which, believe it or not, we started in fourth grade - two whole years ago.  Repetition, games, practical application, flashcards, worksheets, stories about people who actually use multiplication..........I sure have those facts down for the rest of my life, too!  Quick - ask me what 12 x 9 is.

Much more than the details of basic multiplication was learned and honored in this grand process - stuff that is worth passing along.  I have learned, and from now on will remember, that sometimes he is primed and ready to receive information, other times he is not.  I'm betting that all children are just the same to some degree.  When their brain synapses are aligned correctly and when Saturn's third moon is hurtling toward Vega and pink pigs with wings are flittering around your hummingbird feeders, only then will kids open doors to genuine learning - when they are darn good and ready!  Not a moment before, either.

What I really want to know at this juncture is had I not put an emphasis on learning his facts, would he have eventually grabbed them when he was darn good and ready?  Unschoolers offer a hearty 'yes' to this puzzler.  I can't rewind the tape or Photoshop in a mom with a different anxiety meter, so I'll never know for sure, but I do have a hankering that he would have been much better off without large doses of my worrying mixed in.  This has been a valuable lesson for me as a homeschooling parent.  I need to back off and wait patiently for my charge to take flight.  I didn't exhibit any of these worries when it came to reading and reading is something he has taken a genuine liking to without prodding.

Yesterday Max and I stood in front of the bookshelf that holds our homeschooling materials and he picked out what he wants to learn about this week.  Everything from how muscles work, Grossology, Picasso, more on Leonardo, Ancient warfare and finishing our current literature pick, to how the HSUS moves large prairie dog colonies successfully.  I noticed that he didn't pick any math worksheets, clever boy.  He did a few practice problems on double-digit multiplication today to increase his speed, but then we were on to something he wanted to learn about.

Grandma and Grandpa visited last week and brought him an old Casio calculator - the kind that has the paper roll attached so that you can print out your totals.  Max checked his work using this calculator and was immediately enamored with it.  I remember my mom's fingers flying over that number pad whenever she brought work home.  The hum of the paper feeding through the mechanism brought me right back to childhood, too.  He quickly figured out how to get more bang for his buck with the paper and fed it through differently so the paper could be used four times  - on both the right and left sides, front and back.  It might be fun to take that calculator apart someday - to figure out how that printing and feeding mechanism works.

If you are a new homeschooling parent, learn from the mistakes of those who have gone before you (like,!)  I'm here to tell you that worrying is wasted energy, that you have plenty of time to prepare your child for adulthood, that you can take time to have fun together and still learn a bunch.  This is the most relaxed I have been as a homeschool mom since I started three years ago.  And bonus, as of today, we know how prairie dog colonies get moved in humane fashion!   Here's the link so you can go see for yourself!:  Prairie Pups.  The Humane Society of the United States also publishes a worthwhile magazine called All Animals and their magazine written specifically for kids is called Kind News.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Stopping to Catch the View at All Those Turnoffs

Hubby and I just returned home from a trip to Northern California for a conference.  Grandma and Grandpa stayed with Max for the week and kept him on task with his school work and extracurricular activities.  They all did very well together!  It was really nice for Gary and me to be able to spend some good quality time together, not to mention the fact that Grandma and Grandpa got their grandson all to themselves for a whole week.

On Thursday after he finished attending his lectures, my thoughtful husband asked me to be ready to go when he got home.  He surprised me with a drive up the coast and a stop at a scrumptious vegan restaurant in Sebastopol called the Slice of Life.  I'm not a hard and fast vegan, but don't tend to eat meat or much in the way of animal products anyway; that's been a natural transition over the last five years.  The food was divine and I felt the day was as near a perfect day as a day could get (not quite perfect because by then I was missing Max!)

We continued on up the coast to a beach called Goat Rock State Beach where we kicked off our shoes and spent some luscious time dawdling in the sand.  I love to dawdle and take things in.  My best mate looked up and out at the Pacific, I looked down at the sand and rock patterns.  That's how we are; he's a big picture guy, I revel in the details.  It was lovely.

On the way back we followed Highway 1 south and noticed numerous turnoffs here and there that beckoned for attention.  Had I been driving, we would have pulled off at every single one to see new things, take in the view.  I thought about the yearning to know what's there and realize I have a tendency for pulling off the road as a homeschooling mom.  We stop and follow tangents whenever needed to broaden the scope of a subject we are focusing on.  Sometimes Max says, "why do I need to know this?"  Not in a complainy sort of way, but in an honest wondering way of what he would possibly do in the future with the information that might be in front of him at the moment.

Thank you, Norton Juster, for addressing this very puzzling thing in your book, The Phantom Tollbooth!  Here's the quote which now hangs on the fridge to remind us:

"And remember, also", added the Princess of Sweet Rhyme, "that many places you would like to see are just off the map and many things you want to know are just out of sight or a little beyond your reach.  But someday you'll reach them all, for what you learn today, for no reason at all, will help you discover all the wonderful secrets of tomorrow".

~ Norton Juster

Sigh.  Isn't that exciting?  I admire this sentiment and think it bears some attention.  Go ahead and take those turnoffs while homeschooling - you never know how it will all come together in the future!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Peas in a Pod: Books that Compliment One Another

Seems to be the week of observations!  Here's a quick observation about a few books that go very well together, like just the right flavors served up on a plate.  We just finished reading Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book; one of the author's last stories in that book is about a young elephant handler in India in the late 1800's.  It is called "Toomai of the Elephants".  It's quite wonderful, really.  A glimpse back in time of a relationship with a boy and his mighty friend, Kala Nag.  We found all of Kipling's stories to be delicious, especially the adventures of Rikki Tikki Tavi, brave mongoose that he was!

You'll find a nice short summary of the Toomai's story HERE; You can read the entire story online HERE.

At the end of the book, the Puffin Classic version of The Jungle Book offers some information about Kipling's life, about wild animals, about the time period.  Makes for good discussion and a nice wrap up.

While browsing through a shop today I again ran into the book titled Modoc:  The True Story of the Greatest Elephant That Ever Lived, a book which has been on my reading list for awhile now. 

This story is also set in about the same time period and plays out for the reader a strong bond between a boy and an elephant.  In one adventure, Modoc has an experience with the Mahout elephant trainers of India.  Click!  Toomai in Kipling's imagination was also a boy growing up among the Mahouts.  That's when my brain made the connection.  The Mahouts are legendary in their abilities to handle elephants, although some of their 'handling' methods are painful to read about, if you ask me.  But I've never worked with an elephant........

Looks like there might be some controversy regarding whether or not Modoc is a true story, but nonetheless it is written by a gentleman who believes in using kind training methods when he works with animals, so if THAT'S true, then the guy deserves some respect.  Would read well right after a trip through Rudyard Kipling's stories. 

And then for some adult reading, you can head on over to the Life of Pi by Yann Martel.  Another connection with India and wild animals, only this time two unlikely species end up in a small boat afloat for 200 plus days out at sea; one of them is a Bengal Tiger, the other a human boy.  If you haven't read it, I won't spoil it for you.This story is a little heavier on the scale of weighty reading - it is pretty fantastical - so maybe more suitable for older teens or young adults.  It also deals with a boy searching for himself admidst three different religions, which might make for several interesting discussions were you to share it with your older child.  It's somewhat slow to get started; I remember kind of glazing over at first.  Sounds like a great read, doesn't it?  The boy's ability to understand and work with the tiger psyche is worth reading about. 
For whatever reason, my brain says that these books go together.  If you happen to be learning about India or elephants or handling animals, you might try tucking these into your curriculum, two for your child, one for you!  Good stuff.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Art is Great, Especially if There's a Scandal!

Art has become a good fit in our curriculum; both Max and I enjoy learning about artists and their work.  He declared yesterday that he likes Jackson Pollock's paintings - wouldn't it be fun to get out some tarps and canvases and paint Pollock style?  Nobody says you can't.  That's what I find most likeable about homeschooling!

We have been slowly working through this book and in the process get to appreciate some modern art.  Plus we have had to hone our eagle eyes to spot similarities in details and figure out which artist painted which painting.  It's not that easy!  So far we've sat with this book in short bursts over three days; there is a lot of detail to discriminate.  The best part for Max has been trying to find the rogue painting.  What I like about this mystery is that the child needs to construct a table or come up with something similar to keep track of all of the information in a logical format, otherwise it's just too complicated to try and do in your head. 

Same concept, same fun.  Identify 16 of 36 paintings that are forgeries and solve the mystery before the auction takes place.  Author and art historian Anna Nilsen has another similar book in her repertoire for children called Art Fraud Detective.  Any of these titles will keep you occupied with fine art for several hours.

Art pieces from 22,000 B.C. to 1964 A.D. with summarized backgrounds and historical importance.  This book is perfect for the overstuffed chair and a blanket to snuggle up in together.

My favorite take-away from this book is learning that Picasso had a pet goat who used to follow him in and out of his house.  That's charming!  This book helped to capture Picasso's personality as an artist, from his grumpy mornings (Picasso was not a morning person!) to his affection for his children and the animals he surrounded himself with.  The cover does a good job of laying the groundwork for Picasso's playful side.

On the shelf, waiting to be read.

"The name on the painting isn't the artist's only signature. Recognizing an artist's work may seem a mystery at first, but it can be as easy as spotting a friend's handwriting. Containing full-color photos of 12 masterpieces by Leonardo da Vinci, this book gives clues to identifying his paintings through color, line, shape, composition, and more."  Author Richard Muhlberger has published other books which concentrate on Van Gogh, Degas, Monet, Rembrandt, Raphael, Cassatt and Goya, and more, too.

I picked up an inexpensive table easel ($5-$6)  at Hobby Lobby and some canvases at 40% off last week.  Drawing with pencils, pens and Sharpies crops up weekly, too.  Just having some materials handy is a pleasant reminder that art can become an important aspect of life.

Mark Kistler offers up some engaging art instruction via his website called Imagination Station; three summers ago Max attended a week-long art camp with Mark and enjoyed his humorous and encouraging approach.  The Homeschool Buyer's Co-Op offers discounts on subscriptions to Kistler's online programs, so watch for those if you are interested.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Something BIG is Coming

If you've spent any time on my blog, you might have noticed that we are a bit over-the-top with animals.  Maybe that's me and it just trickles down into the family, but I haven't seen anybody picketing in the backyard against the numbers.  Most of the time I am the impetus behind a new critter and having an uber-tolerant husband has been nothing short of wonderful.  The deal is, I bring someone new into the family, I take care of the new someone.  Sometimes I get kinda' tired!  But to me, the animals provide a level of connection that you often just can't find with most humans.  Max would agree.  He's nuts about the goats, dogs, cats and chickens.

After almost sixteen years of marriage, my husband has decided that it's time.  Time for a GREAT DANE!  Meet Noel and her babies:

Gary has always gone "soft" around Great Danes.  The Dane seems to be his dog.  Pups should be ready for their new families in December.  I think we'll be bringing home a female - get ready for the lovin'!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we are seeking out Cesar's wisdom, looking at puppy classes and are reading about how to wrangle multiple dogs, one in particular who will likely weigh 120 pounds or so.  Here is what's on my reading list:

Started this last night.  Puts dogs in a whole new realm of their very own, as it should be.  I always suspected that we over-anthropomorphize our furry friends!

This is available as a free download HERE - yay!

Hope the library has it!

Patricia McConnell has several good offerings in dog training books, too.  
Also reviewing basic house training and crate training protocol as it's been about four years since we last did that stuff.  We're all on board for helping her grow up to the best of our abilities.  And what a terrific opportunity for Max to help me with all this reading!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Current Reads with Retells

Retells, or narrations, are trending in our house lately.  Charlotte Mason, through her writings from the late 1800's, has convinced me of the value of asking a child to retell something in his own words.  These narrations are sprinkled throughout the week now and the fit seems to be a good one for Max.  It's his natural inclination to explain things anyway (in great detail sometimes) - many children like to do this!  Is your child one of them?  So why not open up that door and let him or her happily explain something to the nth degree as you listen attentively in bursts of focused attention?

Retells come in many shapes and sizes.  Some kids practically write their own novel on paper as they narrate a chapter or two from a good book.  Others fill sketch books with drawings from their imaginings about what the story told them.  Children like to speak into a microphone to narrate and then hear their voices played back to them, too.  What better way to record their precious voices before, during and after the maelstrom of hormones hits?  Max prefers to speak his narrations, but encouraging him to draw it out or put it on paper in words is worthwhile for him, too.  Sometimes he dictates and I type.  Other times he will transfer this flow of words that tumble so forthrightly out of his mouth onto paper, but it is frustrating for him since his hand does not transfer to paper nearly quick enough what he is thinking.  In an instance like this, listening to a dictated recording of his retell might prove useful because he can stop the recording as needed.

The main objective is to help him organize his thought process and learn to focus on a story line from an author worth focusing upon.  Ms. Mason championed this task in helping the child to own the information, to really take it in, to KNOW it.  I really do resonate with many of her philosophies and it will be fun applying them to our current world in a secular fashion.

Here are some books we are using for retells at the moment.  I don't ask Max for a narration every time we read or he reads; it is more random than that and after awhile you'll get a feel for the flow of it.

Beautifully written.  We are deep in the jungle with Mowgli, Baloo and Bagheera, too.  

This particular edition contains the many drawings of Mr. Seton's that are so cherished by readers of his work.  Not for the faint-of-heart.  This is Mother Nature in raw form at times.  Warning: please see a more recent post that may nix this book from your list or possibly give you some potent material to work with discussion-wise.  Remember, my opinion.  Others see this book differently than I do.

Stumbled upon this in the library and it was the orangutan that got my attention, truth be told.  Turned out to be a quirky book written with humor and weirdness and accurate history, too.  Max ate it up, but he won't do a narration on it because he thinks I should read it first.  To avoid spoilers, I guess.

Began this one today with a retell of the first chapter about Thales, the Greek mathematician who figured out how tall the Great Pyramid is in Egypt.  I'm assigning chapters and asking for retells now and then.  Today he drew a stick figure Thales next to the pyramid and explained to me how to determine the height of the pyramid with the information that was available.  Smart guy, that Thales.

This will likely be a continued theme for us.  Max seems to be taking to it naturally; it's my job to continue to provide him with good, if not grand, reading material and to encourage him to know the information and decide for himself if it works in Max's world.

If you are curious about Charlotte Mason's philosophies, please Google her.  Keep in mind that the words straight from her pen are the most helpful, albeit a bit archaic as you have to slog through some Victorian writings; there are many people who seem to put their own agenda stamp over her ideas and thus a myriad of websites and blogs have sprung up which attempt to harness her voice. Her ideas speak for themselves - if you can get your hands on some good and fair summations of her ideas and then work your way over to her original words and slowly digest them, you'll be off to a good start.  Hers is a gentle, kind and wonderful approach that can be tailored to fit your needs.

Keep in mind, too, that Charlotte had time to sit and think.  She did not have children of her own and she  probably had help with tasks like cleaning and cooking, so her expectations of mothers in her writing can be daunting. If you're a mom who doesn't have a governess, a cook and a gardener and who is homeschooling - be kind to yourself!!  Put her words in context.   

If you are interested in viewing her philosophies through a secular lens, it will take some work on your part; you can begin by accessing this blog for help:  I also read Penny Gardner's secular handbook about the Charlotte Mason method of schooling.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Summer of Big Decisions

No, I didn't decide to get a Llama.......although was severely tempted at one point because we found a funny boy available on Craigslist and he sounded like a complete charmer.  He was only $50!!  I mustered whatever it is that you must muster at times like that and turned my attention to other matters as quickly as possible - no telling what can happen when there's a big furry critter out there in need of a new place to call home.

But it was a summer of decisions.  Not much posting to this blog happened over the summer kind of on purpose.  I needed time to just be and to reflect on our homeschooling journey to date.  The fall of 2011 would be our third year of schooling at home and I was at a crossroads of sorts.  Truth be told last spring we applied to a local charter school for admission, knowing we wouldn't find out if Max had a spot until after school started in September.  It was a means just to have a different option.  I ended last year more than a little burned out and was reaching for relief outside of myself.  Isn't it easier to look at everything around you instead of everything inside you?  And hey, that school over yonder was looking pretty good to me then!  Here's what I was thinking at the time:

  • I wouldn't be utterly and entirely responsible for Max's education!  Someone else could shoulder it for awhile.
  • I could stop fretting about math demons, those little devils that they are.
  • My time would be more balanced wherein I could pay some attention to all the projects that have been tabled.
  • More time to keep up with the house and yard.
  • A rested mom would make for a happier mom for all concerned parties.
  • Middle school - could I teach middle school curricula?!  Was I up for it?  Some doubts were dancing.
  • Frankly, structure set up by someone else is sometimes just what I need to function best.
  • Perhaps the dogs would get brushed regularly, the cat box would be cleaned more often and good food might occasionally appear on the table.
  • And the BIGEE.........high school.  Probably the crux of what was really reeling about in my noggin of angst.  Committing to stay at home during the middle school years kind of meant that we were signing on the dotted line for high school, too.  

Before you suck in your breath and say, "NO.  SHE DIDN'T!" rest assured that I most certainly DID NOT.  Good thing one can sleep on a pending decision for oh, say, thirty six nights in a row!  I decided to try and take the summer to mull over things quietly in the background.  There were several days when the issue never even surfaced.  There were days when it was at the forefront of most thoughts.  I highly recommend such an approach and applaud you if you are able to actually sit and wait for the answer to work itself out.  My sitting tactics are a little restless.    

It wasn't until the end of August when I felt settled down enough to confirm what was right for our little family of three; and of course, it was exactly what we had begun, what we were already doing.  Homeschooling!  All signs pointed in that direction and I realized all those bulleted points above were coming from a place of fatigue and improper balance of the mommy figure.  A place of selfishness in some ways, fear in others.  It was probably one of the best summers to date since much was ferreted out and learned through it.  

Once I was truly at peace with moving forward on the arc that we had started, I buckled down for two weeks solid and pulled together a philosophy and a plan for 6th grade.  And wouldn't you know it, a week into our 6th grade homeschool adventure which started after Labor Day, the school we had applied to called and offered us a spot.  I turned down the spot with confidence and only a twinge of "what if"!  The summer's mullings showed me once again the whys of homeschooling - why the endeavor is worth it.  So, here's a newly minted bulleted list of a different attitude and perspective:

  • I like who Max is turning out to be.  He's a great kid!  He's kind, has empathy for others, can converse with most anyone, has an eagle eye for detail and he's fun to hang out with.  The ability to stay home probably has contributed to his person hood quite a lot.
  • As one of his biggest fans I am grateful that he can learn differently, that we have the breathing room to experiment on his behalf.
  • Overall our family life has been nothing but graced by the homeschooling gig; it has helped us learn to be better communicators.  It has shown us how to know and appreciate one another.
  • I like being unconventional and bristle at having to follow certain rules.  Freedom is a very big construct for all humans; it is one of my core values and it's dear.  I wish all could experience it on many levels.
  • We can visit the chickens and goats during the day and watch their quirky behavior.
  • Max has a good mix of good friends whom he interacts with frequently.
  • Tailoring the learning to him is becoming more intuitive as I figure us out.
  • He is older now, so I can expect him to be more of an independent learner as we continue.
  • Middle school could quite possibly be the very worst time to throw a kid back into the system!  What was I thinking??
  • What is better than sitting together in the big chair either independently reading or reading together?
  • He is content, has plenty of free time to explore, build or manipulate things.
  • He is free to go pound on his drum set when he feels the need to unleash some music.
  • The rhythm of the day is satisfying; each day is somewhat different, but they all have the same underlying feel to them.
  • I am learning to high tail it out of his way!
  • And the BIGEE for this list:  throwing him into the land of standardized testing, rote memorization, rules and regs just kind of left me nauseous, cold and disheartened.
And oh so much more.  Thank goodness for relatively quiet summers steeped in sun and plenty of think.

Okay, I didn't exactly sit still and let the answer find me lounged in the adirondack chair with an iced tea and plate of chocolate chip cookies,  I went looking for it in a variety of books and ideas, by writing and talking it out some, and by visualizing the alternative.  Along the way many of Charlotte Mason's philosophies found their way to our front door and I soaked them up like a sponge.  More on that later as we are trying on some of her techniques in a secular and modern fashion and are finding them quite likable.

I'm curious to know why YOU homeschool.  What does it mean to you?  Why do you do it?  Do you have days/weeks/years (!) when you just want to toss in the towel?  What keeps you going?  Homeschooling parents are amazing, flexible people! 

With some newly acquired perspective we are starting the year off well.  Things are different in a good and gentler way.  I'll continue to share materials and resources we use and will keep the flavor of the blog focused on keeping the learning fun.

Here's to a terrific year of learning, not to mention the little episodes of wobble that sometimes help to clarify our paths.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

It Doesn't Get Much Better Than Worst Case

At first glance I thought these books were fluffy around the edges; until I sat down and read one almost cover-to-cover.  There is learning potential embedded between the front and back covers!  It's funny stuff, too.  Max has read some of these and re-read them and read them again.  There is bona fide, genuine useful information on the pages.

This is probably his favorite, just because the gross factor is high.  From pimple management to gas leaks, humor reigns.  But those clever authors stuck in some honest-to-goodness useful information that may prompt your child to dig a little deeper.  I'm pleased with the personal hygiene theme that permeates the pages; especially appropriate for the newly blossomed middleschooler!

Not so much useful as just plain fun.  I've never been abducted by aliens or have had to wrestle a werewolf, but what do I know?  If such things existed, then this would be the manual to carry around in your backpack at all times.  (Psst..........aliens and werewolves and vampires aren't real!!)  This book wouldn't be a good fit for a kiddo who worries about paranormal activity when the lights go out!

Summer's drawing to a close, all the neighborhood kids have headed back to the brick and mortar buildings to begin their educational year. One of our fifth grade neighbor boys has 28 kids in his class as of yesterday.  Goodness!  I can do fairly well by one child - how do teachers of large classes manage?  That's got to be a very challenging daily task and they may wish the system worked a bit differently at times.  I sincerely wish it could, too.  Hats off to those teachers who think outside the box and find ways to engage the kids! 
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