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 www.learner.org, 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!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Life Happens When You Least Expect It.

I really should have blogged through the last couple of months and events, but frankly, didn't have the gumption to do that.  My attention was most assuredly diverted to various complex and sundry projects like MOVING and SURGERY.  It happened all at once, too - as in simultaneous madness reaching a crescendo that you just can't quiet down until it's darn good and ready to hush itself.  You sometimes just have to strap in and wait patiently (PUN!) for it to wind down to a halt, even if you hadn't planned on spending a few months at the theme park on a thrill ride.

Slow down it has!  Life is GOOD right now.  We've moved to the mountains and I've healed well enough to feel almost up to speed.  An ultrasound in March revealed a large tumor on my left ovary.  I nicknamed it "the Dictator", sent in a team of surgeons with a DaVinci robot to extricate it, and am ever so glad it's all behind me.  Although large, the tumor was benign, a fact I learned after I awoke from the anesthesia.  The not knowing part sauteed my nerves a bit, but I really didn't have much choice other than to go in and see what it was.  I learned of the interloper after we were under contract to purchase this house and right or wrong, we elected to forge ahead.  Enough said!  This particular story has a happy ending, for which I will eternally be grateful.

Through it all we UNSCHOOLED!  See?  Moving, surgery and unschooling can absolutely co-mingle in a room together successfully.  I didn't even have time to introduce anybody, so instead chucked them all together and hoped they'd work it out on their own.  Since we were following an unschooling philosophy for most of the school year anyway, the teenager took the stressors in stride and carried on with learning the way he likes to.  On his own, with little interference from me.  Because of the surgery we, of course, spent a few weeks oblivious to any type of educating, but even then, in his own way, he found interesting subjects to pique his curiosity.  He also learned about mortgages, closing, packing, schlepping boxes, interest rates, paperwork, and stressed out parents.  He even got to see his mom on morphine the night after the surgery.  I remember trying to communicate with him, but I think my words were pretty slurred and I kept falling asleep mid-sentence.

We are almost settled in the new digs and are absolutely relishing the warm days, cool nights and the wild critters who run amok all over the property.  So far we've seen a giant wolf spider, two black widows, one rattlesnake, tons of birds, coyote, deer, and wild turkeys.  I keep waiting for the mountain lions and bears to join the party.  I am going to post a picture of the giant wolf spider.  If you don't like giant wolf spiders, I suggest you squeeze your eyes shut and scroll down a little further past the picture of the giant wolf spider because this one is a doozy.  She was on the wall of the house near one of the windows.  My husband refused to harm her, so he used a plastic box to move her away from the house.  I did not sleep well that night or the next, so had to figure out a way to come to terms with our new cohabitants.  I'm feeling pretty good about them - until I see the next one, that is.  BRACE YOURSELF:

Holy cats.

The teenager and I looked at all sorts of pictures of spiders online to figure out what this one was.  That's a good practice to help with a spider phobia of sorts, by the way:  immersion!  As near as we can figure, this is a wolf spider.  I'm told they do a good job of ridding the land of other unsavories; hopefully they don't lump humans into that category.

Onward, ho!  I've had energy to research options for ninth grade homeschooling.  We will be forging ahead into highschool, learning at home.  He's enrolled in an umbrella school which offers homeschooling families oodles of flexibility and options.  We'll likely do a mix of online classes, lots of reading, some computer programming, some writing, some guitar and drum playing, and some volunteer work for 9th grade.  Our advisor will help us assess the teenager's interests and learning styles and will offer suggestions for the year.  We can be as clever and as broad as we want to be and I am truly excited about what will take shape.

I ordered a series of Chalk Dust math videos and texts on eBay for the year.  That's the only item that is settled.  The rest is gradually forming as we brainstorm the endless possibilities.

On a much cuter note, after we moved we fostered two litters of kittens from the animal welfare department.  If you like kittens, you'll want to pause and linger over the next picture.  PDC.....pretty darn cute.  That's Ernie on the left and Tub on the right.  Yes, Ernie always sported that expression.  They just left today to get neutered and to move on to the adoption center.  We sure do wish them great families and long, healthy kitty lives.

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