Friday, June 24, 2016


game in the works
The boys have been keeping themselves busy for the last month. JT is working on making a new board game, EM has been chatting with friends on the phone and online, both have been continuing their music lessons.

I was able to sell quite a bit of my old curriculum on the homeschool email list I belong to and at our yard sale. Once I had some cash from those sales, I turned around and bought the things I need for the coming school year.

EM books
EM will be an 8th grader for 2016-2017. We decided to use a textbook for his science studies this year. We chose earth science because he was pretty young the last time we covered geology topics and he doesn't remember much of what he learned. I also bought a grammar and composition textbook because this year I plan to increase the time he spends writing in order to prepare him for the requirements of the PHAA diploma program in 9th grade. I also bought the next level of Lightning Literature for 8th grade. For math, he will be studying algebra 1 this year with my husband. We aren't sure what text we will be using yet. I'm still researching some options. I'm also considering returning to regular practice of cursive for EM. JT doesn't like to write in cursive, but can when necessary. EM did not work on it as much and probably couldn't write a full sentence if I asked. He will also continue his piano lessons for music, pottery and drawing classes for art, and possibly archery lessons for physical education.

JT books
I had very little to purchase for JT this year. Of course, the money I save on curriculum will be spent on community college credits. But hey, I don't have to teach it! He will be taking chemistry and English comp in the fall from the college. At home we will be completing a half credit course in geography. He will also be studying math with his dad again this year. We were considering algebra 2, but after seeing how he's been doing on practice tests for the SAT and the college placement tests, we are going to spend the year getting him up to speed with things he has forgotten. We are calling the course, SAT Prep Math, and it will include a review of major math concepts, a review of algebra 1, and probably an introduction to algebra 2 at the end of the year. I see no reason to push him ahead when he's still struggling with older concepts.

We will also continue his music studies. He will continue working on music composition and theory, taking piano lessons, and drum lessons. In addition, he will be watching The Great Courses' Understanding the Fundamentals of Music course and taking a music history course at the college in the spring semester. I'm not sure if this will end up being 2 credits or maybe even 2 1/2 credits of music this year. In the spring he will also be taking a WWII course and, if I can talk him into it, a speech course. If everything goes as planned, I will only be teaching him geography this year and his dad will be teaching the math. Everything else will be outsourced now. Hard to believe we are so near the end with him. For 2017-2018, his senior year, he will probably be taking all college classes and nothing at home.

I'm sure the next year is going to bring many new challenges to us. New experiences with college and activities. And the scariest new experience of all... training him to drive!

Friday, May 13, 2016

It's a Wrap!

final grades
The work is finished; portfolios are assembled, the classroom has been cleaned, a list of materials for next year has been created. We will meet with our evaluator next week to go over the boys' work and then my summer can officially begin.

Now that we are in the PHAA diploma program, I have been grading JT's work for the transcript. He ended up having almost all As with just one B in geometry. He will have six credits this year; English, geometry, American history, and German 2 are all worth a full credit. Health and fencing are each 1/2 credit courses. To graduate with a diploma from PHAA he will still need two more credits in English, and one each in social studies, math, and science. In the fall he will be taking a chemistry class at the community college with plans to take a history and art class in the spring. At home he will be taking algebra 2, English, geography, and a music credit using a combination of a Great Courses series, his private piano and drum lessons, the composition and theory class he takes, and possibly a class with Coursera.

EM did a lot of work this year as well. He has a large section of his portfolio dedicated to his literature and grammar studies. We used multiple materials this year, Calvert's grammar workbook, 7th grade Lightning Lit, two different writing and composition workbooks, and two of the Vocabulary from Classical Roots books. He also completed two of the Anatomy Academy books for science and spent the second half of the year working through the Make: Electronics book. For math, he used Thinkwell to study pre-algebra. He took two pottery classes, piano lessons, and learned some archery with his new bow. Next year he will study algebra, earth science, 8th grade Lightning Lit, and take archery and drawing lessons. I also plan to spend more time next year working on his writing ability. If he's going to sign up with PHAA's diploma program, he needs to be able to write a 2500 word essay for each year from 9th-12th grade. We will be trying to get a few longer reports together throughout the year.

Once I had the portfolios together, I decided to immediately clean the classroom. Some years I just want to get out of there and leave the mess until later in the summer. Instead, I cleaned all of this year's books off of the shelf and put the new ones I already have on there. I will still be ordering a few things, but some of it was already here. Of course, if this room is clean that means the mess moved somewhere else.

Next week I'll have some more work to do. Most of what is in this room will be sold on the homeschool list I follow. I'm finally accepting that most of the materials I've been stockpiling for the last eight years will not be needed. I will need very few new things for JT since I already have next year's books and his senior year will probably be spent taking almost all college classes. EM will need some of what I have but I pretty much know what I need to keep and what can go. It's crazy to think that I'm nearing the end of this journey. Two more years with JT and five with EM. But for now I'm just going to enjoy my summer!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

It Figures

Well, we started our summer vacation with a family-wide virus. We are on the mend now, but my portfolio prep has been on the back burner until I can stay on my feet for more than an hour. I will  have to postpone my sharing on that topic until next time. Our appointment for our evaluations isn't until May 18th, so I have time to spare. I just hate waiting too long after we finish working because I tend to forget what I had planned.

Last weekend JT and I took a hike at the RB Winter State Park. We hiked about 4 miles in 2 hours, with a few stops to check things out. I feel like we made good time considering some of the trail conditions. The picture above was the start of the trail, easy hiking, wide path, some steep portions, but nothing serious. Then we came to a portion of the trail declared to be 'easiest hiking' in the trail guide for the park. The picture on the right shows JT above me on the trail. We had to come down that rocky path. I was wishing I had already ordered my hiking poles. I found a sturdy stick and suggested that JT come behind me so I didn't squash him if I fell.
I have been spending some time researching composition programs at various music schools. So far, the program that best fits JT's goals would be Berklee's online degree Music Composition for Film, TV, and Games. I'm looking into whether this program is worth the cost, because scholarship money isn't available. I'm also unsure if online schooling is the best choice for music education. A lot to think about. Luckily, we still have some time.

For now we just need to work on getting healthy so I can complete the portfolios and call this year a wrap!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Approaching the End, Again

lonely beach
Two weeks ago we took a quick weekend trip to Ocean City New Jersey. Even though the end is in sight for our school year, I needed a quick recharge for the final push. It was a chilly visit - temps were around 60 but the wind speeds were steady around 20mph with gusts of 50mph. At least we had the beach to ourselves to enjoy!

As of Monday, we will be seven days from the end of our 2015-2016 school year. As usual, I am surprised at how quickly the year has passed. EM is completing 7th grade, JT 10th. The last few days will be focused on a final test for JT in health, wrapping up Rosetta Stone's German 2 course, and working on a timeline of American presidents with both boys. We read our final presidential biography for the year last week. With Gerald Ford, we have come to presidents within my own lifetime, so next year we will be reading about history that I remember! I thought it would be a good idea to go back and review those we have covered up until now by making a timeline we can hang in the classroom. In the past, we made timelines for our Story of the World studies, but never for our American history.

 JT took another SAT practice test this week and improved his score in the math portions. He will be reviewing his incorrect answers and having some additional instruction on those problems with his dad. Then we will begin work on how to write a good SAT essay. He will be taking the PSAT in the fall and the SAT in May of 2017. College plans are starting to be formulated. We are not sure if his path will require SATs but we figure it can't hurt to take them just in case. As of right now, his college plans revolve around music and/or sound production. We had a long talk with his music theory instructor yesterday and she advised that he add piano lessons to his drum instruction and music theory studies. We are looking at some options for that, but know that it would be a good idea. JT writes music on the keyboard and finds that he doesn't have the technical skills to play the things he can imagine. Although he can play many things, he still struggles with sight reading and needs to work on his technique.

my feet hurt already
This summer we plan to work on our long term goal of hiking the portion of the Appalachian trail that passes through Shenandoah National Park. Our trail maps arrived this week so I'm starting to sit down with JT and look at the plan. We will be visiting a local state park on Saturday to do some trail hiking. Our goal is to plan our AT hike for the summer following JT's senior year. One thing I know is that I'm going to need to spend those two years getting myself in better shape! I'm happy that JT wants to take on this challenge. It will be a great experience for him to work towards independence. If this trip goes well, I hope he will continue to hike trails on his own and with friends in the future. When I was younger, I thought it would be cool to hike the whole Appalachian Trail. I'm not so sure I could handle that big of a challenge now, but it will be fun to do a portion of it with my son.

Next week I will post a summary of our complete school year. My summer planning will be a bit different this year. With JT planning to take some community college classes next year, I will have very little to do with him at home from now on. EM does a lot of his work independently, so my role will be changing for the 2016-2017 school year. That seems to be the nature of our homeschooling adventure. As soon as I get used to the way it is, it's time to make a change.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Science in Action

The boys are each working on different sciences this year. JT has been studying ecology. We used a variety of materials, starting the year off with a text that was more like a workbook, worked our way through the CrashCourse ecology videos on Youtube, used a teacher's guide from PBS American Experience to look at the history of Earth Day and study the life and work of Rachel Carson, finally we are using material we borrowed from our local school district to look at the topics covered in Pennsylvania's Envirothon. That material was split into five components. We decided to save the aquatic ecology portion for the end of the year when the weather would be more conducive to working outside in water. This week, the weather was perfect for measuring the velocity of a local stream. We used worn out drum sticks (Finally a use for those things!) to mark two spots along the shore then dropped floats in the stream and timed their progress. It was a fun experience and we discovered that our stream has some tricky currents that snag your floats and mess up your data. The book we are using for this portion of his study is Rivers and Streams by Patricia A. Fink Martin. I really like the way this book is put together. It has plenty of hands on activities that are easy to do, but also challenging.

EM is furthering his electronics studies this year using Make: Electronics by Charles Platt. My husband is leading the study of this subject. They ordered some kits online that were designed specifically for this book. The last few weeks they have been building things around the house. The day I took this picture, we had some lemon batteries running on the kitchen table. EM has a good grasp of technical concepts so this is a great way for him to really get into a topic he enjoys. As I did this year, next year I will have EM focus on a different scientific subject for the first half of the year, and return to his electronics again after Christmas. He's not a fan of the life sciences, but we managed to get some of that out of the way with a study of anatomy this year. Next year I think we will look at Earth Science.

JT and I have been starting to work on his application for the community college where he hopes to take a class in the fall. He will most likely register for an introduction to chemistry class. Based on the course description, I don't think the material will be too challenging for him, but instead I hope to use this experience to help him learn how to take a class. The credits at this school are relatively inexpensive and I think it will be a great investment to let him learn when the stakes are low compared to later when he's paying much more per credit at his chosen university. Baby steps towards adulthood and independence are happening every day.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Sorry, Life Got in the Way

I now have a grandson and therefore a valid excuse when I skip blogging for a month or so! Our little boy, let's call him Peanut, was born on February 6th. Since then things have been a little out of sorts around here, but hopefully they will start settling down soon. While I've been out helping my daughter with Peanut, the boys have been working fairly independently. Dad has stepped in to take on EM's science and JT's math, so I mostly organize the schedule and make a list they can complete on their own. We still do our history reading together, I help both boys with their writing work, and I work as a part-time chauffeur getting them to their various lessons. The rest of their subjects they can handle with little help from me.

JT took a practice SAT book using the latest edition of the College Board's practice book. His score in the reading portion was above average, in the math section he was close to average, for the essay, let's just say, he needs more practice. We plan to do the other three practice tests and use Khan Academy's SAT material to help him prepare to take the test next year. We also need to take the time to sit down and fill out the application for the community college where he plans to take a few classes next year as a dually enrolled high school student.

JT and I are also discussing plans to do some hiking. We both recently read the book, A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, and have become enthralled with the idea of hiking a portion of the Appalachian Trail. We are working on a plan to begin some training hikes this summer and look at doing a longer overnight hike to prepare for an eventual 10 day hike on the Shenandoah National Park portion of the trail. EM and my husband are not as interested in this endeavour so they would follow along as support staff and stay in more comfortable facilities. All of these plans will depend on what the podiatrist says when I go for an appointment in April to see why I am having foot pain.

The rest of our schooling seems to be going quite well. EM is enjoying his pottery wheel class this month, JT continues to enjoy fencing and drumming. Both are doing plenty of reading in their free time. I'm thinking once things settle down with the new baby, we might need to take a short vacation. I'm feeling the call of the road again! And why bother homeschooling with a flexible schedule if you aren't going to use it to enjoy life and get out to see the world?

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Zeroing in on a Life Path

JT has always been a creative kid. When he received his first set of Crayola markers at age four, he probably felled a small forest with the volume of paper he used. He has taken lessons for four different instruments, he writes stories, designs card games, creates animation on the computer, and writes music on both the drums and piano. I guess to most people it would be obvious that his path should follow the arts. But as Mom, I spent too long being blind to that fact, hoping he would stick with science because I was afraid he could not afford to feed himself with an art career. This week, I finally saw something that made me know this was going to be his path and I should get behind it to support him.

From time to time, JT will get totally absorbed composing a song on the piano. He will spend hours finding just the right sound, avoiding all of his 'official' school work to do so. I try to resist the urge to push him back to what he's 'supposed to be doing' because I know he enjoys the music, is good at it, and won't focus on the work even if he is doing it if a song is in his head. After he spent something like two hours at the keyboard one day, I pointed out that he is really good at composing songs and if he would take the time to learn to write them down and record them, he could probably publish them. The music he writes is always instrumental and sounds like it could be great video game or movie music. He told me that he has thought he would like to write music for movies and that it would be awesome to write music like John Williams. After a long discussion about what kinds of things he would need to do to make that happen he told me he was more than willing to get the instruction necessary to pursue that path. I pointed out that it would be hard work. He wasn't bothered by that saying it wouldn't matter because it would be fun and worth it in the end.

So I went to work helping him to find ways to learn. I found a few links about careers in music for movies and video games and had him read the stories of successful musicians in those fields. Then I contacted my friend who teaches music classes at a local university. JT will start private classes with her next week. She told me she will go through the material in the first year college theory courses, but with a focus on approaches to composition. 

I believe on a whole we think of art and music careers as hobbies instead of serious work. But when I look at how much of American culture is focused on entertainment, how can we not see that as a good choice for a career path? Maybe he wouldn't have the typical 9-5 work day and a guaranteed weekly pay check, but he also might have the opportunity to do something he loves every day and get paid to do it. Ultimately, I think he would thrive on a non-traditional work schedule, in exactly the same way he has thrived on a non-traditional school setting.