Friday, October 21, 2016

Sharing Homeschooling

The weather couldn't have been better for our trip to the shore. It was really just what I needed for a renewal of my energy.

We arrived right at sunset Friday night, so we didn't get to do much that evening. The next morning, we headed to the boardwalk to do a little walking. We discovered how gorgeous the weather was and decided after lunch we'd hit the beach.

There had been a beautiful sunset on Friday as we were arriving and I wanted to go back out to the visitor center on Saturday to take pictures at sunset. We were in luck to get some good pictures of the super moon over Ocean City too.

My husband had been doing some research on other things to do in the area and found the Cape May County Zoo that we had never visited before. We took a quick drive down the coast Sunday to check it out.

We were thrilled to find they had a great collection of animals and admission was free! We were especially impressed with the snow leopards and this amur leopard. It was a nice day to visit the zoo, not too crowded, not too hot. After another quick walk on the beach, we ate our dinner and hit the road. It was a quick but great trip.

JT had a big week ahead of him when we got home. He had a midterm Tuesday evening in his English Comp class and the PSATs on Wednesday. He took the PSAT at a local school district, not our own, but a closer one. While I was waiting in the guidance office, one of the secretaries asked me about unschooling. Her daughter is homebound this year dealing with a chronic illness. The daughter was asking her mom if she could homeschool instead of use the homebound instruction from the school. She felt she was getting behind since they expected her to do all the work the students in class were doing, instead of customizing it to her situation. We talked for a long time and the mom realized her daughter would have a better experience as a homeschooler. When I got home, I sent her a bunch of links to do some research. It's always nice to have the opportunity to help someone get their start in homeschooling. I know I am thankful for the friends and strangers who helped encourage me to pull my son from school and start this journey.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Can't Stay Home

Today was a crazy day on our schedule. Because we are going to the shore this weekend, it was extra crazy because I had to do laundry and pack for the trip. I know it will be all worth it when I step on the boardwalk and get my first look at the ocean, but until then things will be running at a high level of stress.

Our busy day started with getting the boys out the door for a 40 minute ride to our evaluator's home. EM had his 8th grade testing required by the state scheduled for today. He did well, scoring above grade level in everything except spelling. Because of his auditory processing disorder, he will probably continue to struggle with spelling. Thankfully this deficit is easy to make up for by using spell check.

JT went with us to the testing because his music theory class was scheduled for the same time frame. His teacher lives only a block away from the evaluator so he was able to have his lesson while EM did his testing. After both were finished, JT had a quick lunch in the car while I drove him to the library for his volunteer work.

By the time I was able to be home today, I felt like I had very little time to get everything together for the trip. Luckily my husband has offered to take EM to gym class tomorrow morning so I can finish my packing then. When they get home at noon, we will hit the road. This will be our last trip away from home until spring. JT's classes are starting to get more involved and I don't want to cause him more stress by pulling him away from home when he needs to be working. His spring semester will add an extra class to his schedule; but will still be just a three day week. As soon as his finals are finished in May, we will be hitting the road for another vacation. I know it may seem like we are always heading out for another trip, but I know our time with the boys at home is slipping away and I want to enjoy every minute we can.

Friday, October 7, 2016

60 Days

I think of our 180 required days of schooling in three 60 day chunks. This week we completed the first chunk. Sometimes it feels like we've already been at this year for a really long time and sometimes it feels like we've barely started.

JT's college classes are approaching their midterms. He has a midterm exam in his English comp class on Tuesday. He just completed a paper for his chemistry class. He seems to be doing very well in both subjects. It was a nerve-wracking time for me as we discovered whether or not I had properly prepared him for this challenge. When his first writing assignment was returned with an A, I felt like the success was mine as much as his. This week we were able to send in the paperwork to register for his spring classes. He's going to be taking music appreciation, World War II, and fundamentals of speech. The only work he will continue at home in the spring will be algebra 2 and his music composition work. The one downside of this schedule is that he will not be able to participate in fencing for the spring session since the history class runs the same night.

In September I had called our local school district guidance office to register JT to take the PSAT. Our high school is located about 40 minutes from our home because we live at the furthest end of the district. I was dreading the super early morning we would be doing to get him there on time the day of the test. Plus, the school is in a very rural location and I would have nothing to keep me busy while he was there. While talking with a friend, I realized he could test at another school instead. I called their guidance office yesterday and they still have room for him. Now we'll only have a 20 minute drive and the school is near stores and restaurants so I'll have something to do while I wait. Another bonus is that their school day starts later. Win for me!

One other thing happened this week that made me feel more confident about our homeschooling life. As I mentioned above, JT had a paper to write for chemistry. After struggling to put it together for two weeks, he took it into to class to turn in and found out it wasn't due until the next class. Instead of turning it in the way it was, he decided to bring it home and make improvements on his work. Now, it is important to understand that JT HATES revising his work and always argues with me when I want him to make changes on his writing at home. I was blown away by the obvious signs of maturity and care for the quality of his work for this class evident in his actions. Another win!

We've had a pretty stressful couple of weeks due to some other things in life. As a result, my husband and I decided we should all have a spontaneous beach trip next weekend. I found a great deal at our usual hotel in Ocean City so we'll be hitting the road next Friday. JT knows he will probably need to take school work on the trip, but he was okay with that plan. EM, who is a real homebody, is not thrilled, but willing to indulge us.

Have I said enough times how much I love this life of home schooling?

Friday, September 30, 2016

Teaching and Politics

Four years ago the boys and I watched all of the presidential debates, spent time discussing the issues, and followed the election closely. This time around things are a little different. JT is old enough now to really understand what is at stake and he is very good at arguing his opinion on the candidates.

Perhaps we are more open to thinking outside the box because we are homeschoolers, so we look at ALL candidates, not just the two mainstream parties. I think it's interesting that so many of my homeschooling friends fall into the Libertarian, Green, and Constitution parties. But what do I expect from those who already reject conformity for conformity's sake?

Our homeschool evaluator has a Facebook page where she shares educational materials. Last week she shared some links for things related to watching the debates. Here are two links I found helpful:

Debate Discussion Questions

Debate Question Record

I also had JT take this quiz to see who he lines up with as far as political beliefs go. There are loads of resources out there to help teach this topic. My biggest concern this time around is keeping the boys from getting too jaded about politics when they see the circus this election has become. Both have studied American government and every president up to Jimmy Carter (so far). They often compare the candidates to previous presidents. It's good to see them putting their knowledge into action to make informed decisions. I just hope the voting citizens will do the same.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Short Reprieve

Last fall we went on an extended vacation to Tennessee and Kentucky with the boys, knowing it was probably our last big trip for a few years. When JT decided he'd be taking community college classes this fall, we were pretty sure our weeks would be too full for any traveling. But once he scheduled his classes, we found we could squeeze in a short trip if we tried.

The last few times we have stayed in a state park cabin, we have visited Moraine State Park. This year, because we booked at the last minute (last minute for the modern cabins in state parks is about 3 months in advance) we couldn't get a cabin there so we chose Pymatuning State Park instead. We have stayed here once before, four years ago. It has a huge lake, but not very many good hiking trails, which is what we usually look for in a park. Today we hiked for about 2 hours and that covered more than half of the trails here. We're still having a good time, mostly just relaxing and getting away from our crazy schedule.

But learning is still happening! We saw a tree that we couldn't identify. Fortunately, we came upon a helpful sign telling us it was a Tamarack. The fact that the trail name was Tamarack Trail should have been a clue. JT wanted to look up more information about it, so when we got back to the cabin we found a website and discovered that the Tamarack is a deciduous conifer. That was a new one for me!

We'll be meeting up with friends for a visit tomorrow and heading back home Saturday morning. We had to turn this into a working vacation because JT had to bring a pile of chemistry homework with him to keep up with his class. When we get back home we'll have to get right back to work. I'll have school planning to do and JT has a chemistry report to research and write. EM's schedule is still not as full as his brother's and I hope we can keep it that way for as long as possible.

Friday, September 16, 2016

College Planning

JT is a junior in high school this year. Almost impossible to believe that we've reached this point! I found some information I had printed out several years ago about things a parent should be doing in their child's sophomore year to prepare for college. Oops! Too bad I found it a year too late. It turns out we're a little behind in some of the things the writer suggested, but I think we'll be fine with the schedule we have going.

According to the article, JT should have taken the PSATs last year. Well, he was no where near ready to take the math portion last year, so that wouldn't have turned out well anyway. In fact, it's still going to be a challenge this year. I think he'll ace the reading portion; he's good with anything to do with words. But the math, not so much. He starting working on Khan Academy's SAT prep this month. First you take their diagnostic tests, then they customize your learning to help fill any gaps. After he takes the PSAT, we can link to the College Board test results and Khan will customize a study plan based on his test score to prepare for the SAT in the spring. We're not getting too bent out of shape though because JT's current plan for college doesn't even require him to take the SAT.

He had been throwing around the idea of going to school for music for a year or so. But the more he looked into programs, the less he wanted to pursue that path. He enjoys writing music and playing his own compositions, but he doesn't like to perform and he doesn't want to teach music. Most programs focus either on performance or teaching. He started to look for another possible path and found something offered by the community college where he is currently dually-enrolled. They offer an associate degree in music recording technology. This is a very focused two year program that would set him up to be ready to enter the work force straight out of school. He would still be writing his music, but would now gain skills to work for others in production as well as record his own work.

Right after he made this decision, he ran across a blog post written by one of his favorite video game music composers, Ben Prunty. In the post, Prunty discusses the question, "How useful is my degree?" JT found that the article reinforced his thoughts on his proposed plan. Now that things are in motion, we signed up to go visit the main campus of the community college in November. We would like to talk with the head of the department about job prospects. Another concern would be whether he could compact the program into less than the two years. By the time JT graduates from high school he should have completed all of the general classes required for this degree. Since he takes classes at a satellite location, none of the recording related courses will be available to him before he graduates from high school. We're hoping something can be worked out to help shorten the program. The biggest problem will be the cost of housing. Because it's a community college, they have no student housing. The school is about 1 1/2 hours from our home, so commuting would be a challenge.

None of this plan is set in stone. We will still make visits to other schools. Maybe he will come across a program that fits his career plan at another school. All I know is that this college thing is getting real now. How did my babies get so old?

Friday, September 9, 2016

New Normal

We have been schooling at home for nine years now. Most of those years we did some away from home activities, but mostly revelled in our hermit ways. The boys like their alone time, but we were also always active in church events, so it really has never been an issue for us.  This is the first year that I am spending so much time on the road. Here is a taste of my new schedule.
  • Monday:  JT has chemistry class from 9:45-11:10. We drive 25 minutes to reach the school. During his class I walk in a nearby cemetery then wait in the car until he is finished. Piano lessons on the way home. Some schooling at home until dinner. Starting next week, Monday evening fencing at 7pm.
  • Tuesday: Schooling at home during the day. Leaving the house at 5:15 for his English comp class from 6-8:30pm
  • Wednesday: Chemistry class again. Home by noon for some school work. Bible class at our church at 7pm.
  • Thursday: Every two weeks music theory and composition private lessons for 1 1/2 hours. We drive 45 minutes to the instructor's home. Drive to library following lesson for JT's 3 hours of volunteer work. On the weeks we don't go to lessons, we have a nearly full day at home to get work done!
  • Friday: EM's gym class at 10am. 30 minute drive from home. The class lasts 1 1/2 hours and, as I mentioned before, has a coffee shop for me. 
I am starting to adjust to the new normal, but I'm pretty exhausted most days. I am enjoying the time I get to spend walking during JT's classes. I like the fact that I can blog while I'm waiting for EM's gym class to end. I see that JT is doing well adjusting to his classes. He is starting to really think about college plans now that he's getting a feel for higher education. All of these things are good. My only complaint is that I miss our laid back life where we rarely had to rush around to be somewhere. I know JT is feeling that too. Luckily for us, we are taking a short camping trip later this month. Getting away from the new schedule will be a nice reprieve. Until then, I'll be spending a lot of my time driving and waiting.