Thursday, December 18, 2014

Fresh Air and Exercise

signs of activity
One of the dangers of homeschooling for our family is the tendency to become stationary. When the boys were younger it was hard to make them hold still for more than a minute at a time. Now that they are 11 and nearly 14, it takes a little more effort to get them motivated.

I noticed a few weeks ago that JT seemed to be dragging around the house a bit more than usual. Both of the boys are sleeping later and picking at each other a little more. I know we need to come up with a plan to get more active. But when winter comes it's not easy to want to do that. EM still likes to play in the snow but JT isn't always as enthusiastic. Last week we had a surprise snow storm that dumped about nine inches on us. I sent the boys out that morning and was thrilled that they stayed out for almost two hours. We have a great sledding hill so that provides plenty of exercise on the hike back to the top. They ran around the yard throwing snowballs and were thoroughly exhausted when they came in the house. Unfortunately our snow melted after only a few days and now we are back to the cold days with little or no sunshine.

I always have good intentions to start some kind of workout program with them when we hit this point in the year. So far we've had six years of homeschooling without success on the exercise plan. I'm thinking this year that simple would be best. During our Christmas break I'm going to try to come up with an easy answer to get all of us out of our seats for the rest of the winter months. Leaving the house to go to a gym or the YMCA doesn't work for us, especially in the winter, since our road is not always kept clear when the weather is bad. We do have the Wii Fit and EM enjoys using it. JT always tells me that his drumming practice counts as exercise, which may be true, but since he doesn't practice every day, I'd like to see a little more movement.  Our treadmill needs a new belt, but will be fixed as soon as we get around to buying a replacement. JT doesn't like using it, but the rest of us do. We also own a few small weights, an exercise ball, and a collection of work out DVDs.

So now that you know what we have to work with I could use a few suggestions for my planning. Do you have any tips on easy effective exercise programs that keep you active but don't break the bank?

Saturday, December 6, 2014

When Technology Fails

Wanna know what happens when you start to rely too much on technology for your child's education? Absolutely nothing when your primary computer calls in a sick day!

This week the computer affectionately known as Gamer 1 started showing the blue screen of death on Tuesday morning. This happens to be the computer on which we installed Rosetta Stone and JT stores his composition work. Nothing could be done about the Rosetta Stone situation; it would just have to wait for the computer to be repaired. Fortunately we have other computers in our home available for everything else. JT was able to do some work on his composition for the week, he just couldn't access work he had already completed. As luck would have it, when he tried to do his algebra work on Thinkwell we discovered their videos were having some kind of technical issue that made them choppy and too slow to watch. By the time the computer was back up and running and Thinkwell seemed normal again, JT was three days behind in his work. He'll have to do a little German this weekend, but other than that he managed to get caught up by Friday evening. I'm not sure if there is a way to protect against something like this happening in the future but I'll certainly be looking for options.

not a big enough dictionary
Something funny happened today that I wanted to share. EM came in the kitchen wanting me to spell the word absolutely for him. Now don't be fooled, he wasn't writing a composition or using it for other noble purposes. He wanted to use it in a cheat code for a video game he was playing. I pointed out that we own a perfectly accessible dictionary that he could use. Usually I'm met with a frustrated reply like, "If I don't know how to spell it, how can I expect to find it in there?!" I asked if he knew what letters it started with and assured him if he did, he'd find it eventually. He ran off and I didn't hear any more about it until I found the dictionary, open to the A section, on the floor of the classroom. When they see a need for knowledge, they will do the work to get it!

If only I could motivate them to work hard for those answers when they are doing school work, not just cheating on video games...

Friday, November 28, 2014

Holiday Reprieve

bacon socks
JT's first 12 week fencing class has ended. Even though he has to wear incredibly uncomfortable gear, he is happy to go to practice, so I know this activity is a success. Classes will be offered again starting in February and he will definitely be taking part.

Fencing classes are wrapping up, EM's pottery classes have finished until spring, and piano and drum lessons are falling into a nice routine; things are starting to take on a nice rhythm in preparation of the holiday madness that descends every December. I am a bit ahead of myself this year and have actually purchased a few gifts. This week I hope to sit down and make a game plan for the remaining holiday responsibilities. Of course, I'll forget  something vital that will cause potential disaster, but at least I'll have a fighting chance this time.

We are taking only two days of vacation for Thanksgiving which means I will have planning work to do tomorrow for next week. Both the boys and I want to push hard to have an early finish to the school year, so we aren't taking long breaks around the holidays. Even our Christmas break will be limited this year. Because of that I will probably go easy on them with their workload during the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I'm already starting to look at planning for the months following the new year to try and get an idea of where we are ahead and where we need to work a little harder to get back up to speed. The end of the school year is months away, but it already feels like it's just around the corner. Even with all of the busyness to come,  I hope we will get the opportunity to slow things down a little to enjoy the holiday season.

Friday, November 21, 2014

How Much Do I Have to Learn?

When the boys were younger I spent much more time doing traditional instruction in my role as teacher. If they were learning parts of speech, I would make cards with words that they could use to create sentences. When they learned about the water cycle, I drew diagrams on the white board. During our art projects, I was doing prep work the day before so they could create something in the morning. But things are getting harder for me now. They are starting to study things that are more challenging for all of us.

JT is learning German using Rosetta Stone this year. I am also going through the program. Right now I have fallen a little behind him with the schedule and when he completes a supplemental worksheet, I need to ask my husband to check his work. EM is working his way through a reading textbook with comprehension questions at the end of each story. If I don't read the story, it's impossible for me to know if he is answering the questions correctly. I am trying hard to stay one chapter ahead in the biology text but have let that one slide at times. Then I have to skim quickly to help when it's time for the module review. The American government textbook is interesting, but I don't always feel like reading a chapter or two to verify that JT's answers to end of chapter questions include all the details they should.His algebra worksheets from Thinkwell need corrected. I can look at the final answers to know if he has them right, but if there's a problem, I can't always determine where he is having difficulty so I call the husband in yet again.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoy learning many things. I take Coursera classes for fun when I can squeeze it into my schedule. It's just that I do not necessarily want to study German, algebra, biology, American government, or a 6th grade reading text. But when I don't stay ahead of the boys in their studies, I feel like I am not giving them the best shot at success. I'm starting to go a little bit crazy here trying to do all of this on top of prepping their work for each week, running them to activities, taking care of our house, feeding ravenous teen boys, and allowing myself a minute or two to do something I like each day. You know, things like showers or sleep.

Do I have an obligation to have a complete knowledge of the things I ask them to learn? If they were in a traditional education setting I would be aware of what they were studying, but probably have little involvement in the work beyond helping to study for tests. Because I have chosen homeschooling, have I by default chosen to learn all of these things as well? Can I just point them in the direction they need to go and hope they figure it out?

At the start of this year, I thought things were getting easier. I guess I was wrong about that one. That's the great thing about homeschooling; I'm always learning from my mistakes.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Expanding Creativity

pants and pottery
EM has traditionally been our most mathy, practical, child. He has a great imagination that often comes out in what we call "blowing things up." This involves some imaginary battle he has in his mind as he darts around the room making explosion noises. He has now found a friend who also enjoys this activity and they spend hours blowing things up together over the telephone. I can't understand the entertainment value. I guess it's a boy thing.

In the last few months EM has really started to show an interest in the arts. Up until recently, he had not wanted much to do with those kinds of activities. Last year EM took a few pottery classes at the local Y.M.C.A Arts Center. His classes focused on hand-building pottery. This year he expressed an interest in trying the more advanced pottery wheel classes. An opening just became available this month and he was finally able to try it out. He seems to be getting the hang of it although he says it is much more difficult than his other classes. He always comes home covered in clay. I guess that's a sign he's really getting into it.

music selection
We have also added music instruction to his schedule this year. After only seven lessons, he is playing some pretty tricky pieces. His teacher says he is one of the best students he's ever had. EM loves playing and practices every day, at least once, sometimes more. Many times I have to tell him to stop and get to work on other things he needs to do. He likes the challenge of learning new songs and will work until he can play each one from memory. I can only hope this trend continues!

fine art
He added another new pursuit this week. He decided he'd like to learn how to draw better. He was talking with his dad about how he thought he wasn't a very good artist. Dad suggested that he try using this Star Wars book to give it another try. Now that EM has been learning that patient hard work can lead to success through his piano lessons, he seemed more willing to sit down and make mistakes to get to where he wanted to be. Several times this week I have found him in his room or at the table in the classroom working on his art work.

I know that we are told over and over how making mistakes and having patience are the best ways to learn new things, but it's easy to forget when we watch our children struggle to master a new skill. We tend to want to make learning easy for them. We want them to be happy, not frustrated. But in all three of these activities EM has struggled and now he is thrilled that he has conquered those challenges. Hopefully I can keep that in mind as the boys take on more difficult things in their lives and allow them to grow through those struggles.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Finding Direction

Nearly two years ago I attended a conference where Jesse Schell was a keynote speaker. At the end of his presentation, I approached him to ask advice for JT since, at the time, he was interested in computer game design. Mr. Schell gave me his business card and directed me to encourage JT to become active in his game design community, GameSprout. JT has contributed a little bit on the site, but was more interested in making his own board games and card games at home.

A couple weeks ago, in a moment of Mom Worry - which happens on a regular basis, most recently in early September - I started to panic about JT's future. It is so clear to me that he loves coming up with ideas for games. But once again I was concerned that his difficulties with math and art would hinder his ability to move ahead in that field. So I decided to bother important people with questions about a career in game design.

I found a contact email for Jesse Schell on his site and sent him a message asking what kind of path a non-math, non-art, wanna-be game designer should take. I was very pleasantly surprised to receive an encouraging reply that basically said, game designers come from all kinds of backgrounds. While art and math are very helpful, they aren't 100% necessary for a career in a creative field. He even sent quite a few links to biographical information on game designers who have non-typical degrees. I had already purchased his book, The Art of Game Design, that I had been saving for JT for Christmas. However, after sharing what Mr. Schell had said with JT, I ended up giving it to him right away. He loves the book! He has been up late reading it, coming up with tons of ideas for new games, and taking another look at his old games with his new perspective. He also returned to GameSprout and started contributing more to the community.

We still don't know the exact path he will need to take, but now he knows that he can take a path that suits his personality and interests to reach the goal he has in mind.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Biology Stinks!

a mighty stench awaits
This year JT is doing a full high school level biology course. We were indecisive about our plan and changed curriculum at least two times before settling on Apologia's Exploring Creation with Biology. I know some people find Christian based science texts to be inferior in their scientific content, and I sometimes agree, but this book has been very thorough. In fact, I'm very impressed with the first three modules. The labs are well thought out and rigorous. And smelly.

why I never throw jars away
Module 2 is a study of kingdom Monera. The lab required JT to find a pond to obtain water samples. He needed to place the samples in four separate jars. Each one had its own type of nutrients available for the life forms; egg, hay, soil, and rice. After a few days, he had to open the jars and make slides for the microscope. The instructions warn, "When you open each jar, be prepared for a mighty stench!" They were not kidding! After doing the first slide in the house, I made him move outside to make the next three. We saw some pretty incredible things in those cultures. Let me just say, I won't be swimming in any ponds anytime soon.

This course is far more difficult than anything I remember taking in high school. For both modules two and three, JT has been required to construct his own biological keys to identify organisms. I would have a hard time with that assignment. He seemed well-equipped to do it once he had completed the work in the unit. I hope the remainder of the text continues at this level of instruction. If so, I believe he will be ready to handle college level courses with no difficulty. I will also be looking at purchasing Apologia's chemistry for his 10th grade science course.

The next module is going to cover fungi. Time to start growing some mold!