Thursday, September 18, 2014

In and Out of the House

source of congestion
This week has been lacking in productivity. JT and I are both dealing with allergy flare-ups from ragweed pollen. He's having a hard time getting motivated to do his work each day. Tonight, as of  7:50pm he's still not finished with his list. I'm not a huge fan of winter, but an early frost guaranteeing death to the ragweed wouldn't upset me this year.

Tomorrow EM will be starting a new adventure. He is going for his first piano lesson. He's a little older than an average beginner student, nearly eleven, but I wanted to wait until he showed real interest in trying an instrument before we tried lessons. Due to his auditory processing disorder he's been a little slower coming to a desire to study music. Other than learning a song or two on his ukulele, he's never really played any instrument. Tonight he asked his dad to play Rock Band on the Wii with him. Usually he only wants to do the singing, but today he's on the drums. I hope this new interest in music will continue for him.

Despite the ragweed effects, we had a few out of the house activities this week. Our first Brown Bag Book Club of the school year happened on Tuesday. Local homeschool families get together at the library so the kids can share the books they have been reading and then we stay after the conversation to have lunch together. It's always a good place to get ideas for books the boys may want to read next. The other advantage is that the boys are learning to speak in front of a group when they share about their book. JT also went to his second fencing class on Monday. They were told they'll be able to start trying matches against each other in two more weeks. Then things should get really exciting!

In the next week, I'm hoping to do some work with JT on a project to create flashcards to supplement our Rosetta Stone German instruction. We are both having a hard time remembering the genders of the nouns we are learning. I decided that we could both benefit from some extra study. Flashcards seemed like a good idea. We'll be able to work together to make them and then quiz each other. I would have to say the one downside of Rosetta Stone is the fact that the program doesn't teach you grammar in a straightforward way. You are expected to pick it up through the lessons, but never given the rules on how things work. We are fortunate that my husband already has a basic knowledge of the language, so he is able to help us when we have questions.

EM is starting work on an independent project of his own. Later this year we will be studying Asia in our geography unit. Leading up to that unit study, he will be choosing a country of Asia each month to research and share with us. This month he has chosen Mongolia. He's doing a good job looking for information in our books and online. He is definitely doing more independent work this year with confidence. I can see him directing his own school plan by the time he reaches his high school years. It's always a good thing to see the boys taking their education into their own hands. I know when they do that they are getting far more out of it than I can ever give them no matter how much planning I put into it.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Something New

En garde!
We are not sports people. The boys have both played Upward basketball but we never did the soccer thing or T-ball or anything else that would count as an organized sport. I consider us to be a fairly active family.  We spend an ample amount of time outdoors. The boys run around the yard, often chasing each other with home-made weapons. Generally we don't go for activities that turn play into something with rules. That changed Monday night when JT attended his first fencing class.

A few years ago I played around with the idea of fencing classes for him, but couldn't find anything local, so I figured it was a lost cause. Two weeks ago our town had its first ever Renaissance Festival and we saw a group of fencers give a demonstration. The next day my mom told me about an ad in the paper for a local fencing club that was starting group lessons the following week. I contacted one of the instructors and he told me all about the club. For only $60 JT can be in a 12 week class that meets every Monday night for 1.5 hours. They provide all of the gear for no additional charge. I kept asking him to verify the price and length of the classes. I couldn't believe I would only be paying $5 per lesson. But it was true!

He told me that he is in his 80s and that fencing is a sport for any age. It's about speed and tactics, not necessarily strength. He said I should think of it as physical chess. In the years he has been involved in the sport, he has met many people. He told me that fencers are usually very interesting, sometimes a little kooky. I found that reassuring since we are definitely a LOT kooky.

and it's machine washable!
The night of the lesson, JT and I arrived 15 minutes early. He had to be fitted for his protective gear. The next student to arrive was also new to fencing. She was happy to chat with us about a huge range of topics. As the night continued, it was obvious that we had found 'our people'. One of the instructors is a retired professor of history. He told the students that he will give them a lecture on the history of swords at a subsequent lesson. For the first lesson, he split them into two groups; those who had any experience, and those who had none. They were each given a sword and spent time on footwork, technique, and safety. The instructor who taught the experienced students used to coach the fencing team at Duke University and later owned a fencing club in Chicago. He did a great job helping all of the students during the class.

It's funny how our school year started out looking so much different than what we are doing now... and it's only the fifth week of schooling. What other surprises are in store for us? If great opportunities like this one keep popping up, it's going to be an awesome year!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Uncertain Paths

play testing
For the longest time, probably since he was three years old, I've imagined JT having a career in the field of science. By the time he was five, he was telling strangers that he wanted to be an entomologist when he grew up. Later, he considered working at a zoo, or just getting a degree in biology, to see where it might take him. However, in the last year he has started to drift away from the sciences and into more creative pursuits. The problem is, I'm not sure how to help him follow these interests to find a career path.

So far, the thing he says he's most interested in doing in the future is designing games, more specifically, card games. He is very good at coming up with new ideas for games, creating the mechanics for the games, and developing the content. He needs work on his art skills, but is able to make testing versions for his games that give you an idea of what they would be like in a completed form. He has been making games like this for years as a hobby. This year, I have incorporated it into his schooling by creating a game design class for him. So what do you do about college when you want to design games, don't want to learn to program in order to make computer games, and aren't a fantastic artist? Maybe college isn't part of that path? I've been spending some time doing research, but knowing that he could change his mind again in a year or two makes me hesitate to invest too much effort. Of course, now that he's in high school, that deadline to find his path is compelling me to hurry, hurry, hurry! On the other hand, because of his grade skip in elementary school, he will finish high school when he is only 5 months into his 17th year. There will be time to take a breath before plunging into college if he needs to find that focus. But that would be, once again, not following the 'norm' by going straight from high school to college to career.

And you know how much I hate not following the 'normal' path.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Changing Dynamics

EM's books
I'm having a hard time falling back into my former routine of once a week posting here. I think I'm finally back on track, so things should be running smoothly from here on out. In my last post, I shared my plan for JT, now I'll share my plan for EM.

This year EM's work will be much more focused on his reading and writing skills. He does a great job in math and science, but has often had difficulty with language skills. Because JT will be doing much more independent work this year, I have more time to invest in EM. He will continue to have weekly spelling lists with a pretest on Monday, a workbook page each day, and a final test on Friday. He will be working his way through Calvert's Grammar & Usage workbook. He is also starting to use the Vocabulary from Classical Roots series that has been a foundation of JT's vocabulary and spelling studies since we began homeschooling. For now, EM will be using the first two books as enrichment vocabulary work. When he reaches the third book, I will start using them for his weekly spelling lists as I did with JT. He will also be working through the Critical Thinking Level E book. Many of those activities can be used for composition assignments. I also plan to generate writing work for him using a Creative Teaching Press book called Responding to Literature. I plan to have him use the reading text shown in the picture, as well as novels that he will help to choose, with study guides found online.

For science, he will work his way through Calvert's 6th grade science text. I plan to do many of the activities. I will also have him observe some of the lab work JT will do for his biology course. American history will continue to be a time line study following the lives of the presidents of the United States. For world history, we will be reading the second half Volume 3 of The Story of the World that we started last year.

I did find something I can use for JT and his literature study for this year. I went digging in my homeschooling loot I have accumulated over the years. It turns out I forgot that I have a nearly complete course from K-12 called Literary Analysis and Composition. We won't have access to their online instruction because I refuse to pay $425 a semester, but it is still good solid material that I can adapt without that tool. However, the adaptation takes time and planning. I also made one more adjustment to JT's plan for this year. I dropped the Concepts & Connections Biology text and bought a copy of the Apologia Biology textbook and manual. The conversational style of this text fits JT's learning style much better than the C&C text. I also bought an outline for the course developed by a parent that fits it all into 33 weeks of study. That will save me some time in the planning department.

Now that we are well into our third full week of schooling, I'm noticing a different dynamic developing. In previous years, the boys would sometimes work on their independent assignments in the morning, but could choose to save their work for later in the day. Immediately after lunch and chores, there would be this feeling of rushing to get everyone in the classroom for our 'school time'. Because so much of their work is now independent, they are actually working quite a bit before lunch so they can get to their free time sooner. Two days this week, we had no together work to do. I had a few activities to help EM get started, but most of the time, they worked quietly on their own, with no input from me. It took me a week to really see that I have more free time during the day than I have had in many years. That said, my planning time has probably tripled from last year. I will need to learn to do that planning during their schooling time to avoid late nights on the weekends drowning in prep work. It's nice to have more freedom during the day, but it's also a little sad to me. Even though it's a lot of work, I enjoy our time together. It's been a joy to see the boys learn new things and I have had many great conversations with them in our little classroom. We will still be reading history books aloud together a couple days a week, so I can hold on to that for now.

But change is coming... both good and bad.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Here We Go Again

JT's future
Even though I was in no way ready, we started our 2014-2015 school year on Monday. When I picked that day a few weeks back, my optimism got the better of me. I knew I still had far too many loose ends, but the desire to get our 180 days logged by the beginning of May pushed me to endure what turned into a frantic scramble of planning over the weekend. We certainly didn't start off with a bang, but 'slow and steady wins the race', right?

Part of the problem with my planning this year was  a few of the decisions were especially difficult. First there was the issue with JT's social studies requirement. I had an old copy of an American government textbook that I had wanted to use but I wasn't 100% happy with how old it was. I kept putting off finding an updated edition. I didn't want to pay for the most current one, but wanted something a little more recent than the one I had. I finally made that decision early last week and found a slightly newer edition that seems to be a good fit. Then there was biology. Again, I have an older textbook. However, I had found an instructor's guide to go with it and an outline that someone put together for a full biology course using that edition and the book The Way Life Works. Because I have a framework to use with that edition, I think I'm going to stick with it, even though it's a bit older. We also found this biology class on Coursera that starts soon. I think it will be a great introduction to biology. I don't know if JT will go for the distinction certificate that requires the peer assessments. That might be more work than he can handle as a 13 year old. We'll see how it goes during the first week of class. The biggest upset of all in my planning was that our literature and writing class that we had hoped JT could do fell through. I didn't find this out until just this week, so I'm scrambling to assemble something on my own. But as a homeschooling mom I've learned to be flexible. I'm guessing it will all work itself out. I just might not sleep a lot until it does.

The good news is that math is covered with Thinkwell Algebra 1 and German 1 requires no work from me since he's using Rosetta Stone. I'm still finalizing the syllabus for his game design project based class that we are creating. Part of it will include another Coursera class, Understanding Video Games, offered by The University of Alberta.  We will also include his drum lessons and composing for an arts and humanities credit this year. I talked with his instructor and he has agreed to work with me to give a letter grade for JT's work. So not everything is a mess.

Next week I'll share my plans for EM this year. I think what's making things so complicated for me this year is that for the first time the boys are on totally different paths for their learning. The only crossover we have will be reading Story of the World aloud and our time line of American history study that we've been doing for the last five years. All other subjects are completely separate. I guess I never thought about how my volume of work would increase when this happened.

The good news is that I'll only have to worry about it for the next four years until JT graduates. Then I can focus my energy on just EM. Until then, I'll be hopping!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Dragging My Feet

time to sell
I've been working on my annual cleaning of the classroom. The last two days were spent tackling the disaster that is the storage room off of the classroom. As the year progresses, it slowly fills up with all those things that need a home and I close the door so I don't have to think about how to deal with it. Then the school year ends and I need to fight my way through the mess to get to my stash of curriculum for the next year. It's a vicious cycle.

In the process, I made quite a nice stack of materials that I can sell. I have a few things I'd still like to pick up for next year, as well. Hopefully I can find what I need second-hand to avoid spending too much this year. I'm getting much better at not going overboard with my school purchasing. I risked falling back into my book hoarding ways by going to the annual giant library book sale yesterday. Perhaps it was a good thing that they didn't have ANY textbooks available. We only found enough books to fill one bag. 

JT has been working his way through the first unit of his German course. So far, we are enjoying Rosetta Stone. I do a lesson most days too. I'm planning to get him started on his Thinkwell Algebra 1 course next week. We're slowly adding things to the schedule until we get up to full speed schooling around the middle of August.

With high school starting for JT, this summer feels like the last stop before serious schooling.  I'm hoping to keep things simple by not overbooking, but instead choosing depth of study over volume. I think that will be the best way to allow him to get the most out of his preparation for higher education and the road ahead. It's scary to think that I'll have only two more summer breaks before we will be preparing him to leave for college. It makes me think of Joni Mitchell's "Circle Game"

Sixteen springs and sixteen summers gone now
Cartwheels turn to car wheels thru the town
And they tell him take your time it won't be long now
Till you drag your feet to slow the circles down

I'm going to drag my feet a little this summer. Maybe it will help.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Decision Made

change of plans
We now interrupt this summer break to make an important announcement. A decision has been made concerning language learning for JT. Things rarely go the way we think they will in our homeschooling life. A few months ago, the idea of JT taking a Spanish class from one of the Christian schools in our area seemed like an excellent opportunity that we would be crazy to pass up. I guess we might be a little crazy...

I just couldn't get myself on board with the idea of a daily trek to the school for a short class, a class that he really wasn't all that interested in taking. In fact, foreign language study in general isn't really something he wants to do. Yes, we convinced him that it's a really good idea, as far as potential college admission goes, to study a foreign language. But the more we talked about the Spanish class, the more it became obvious it wasn't something he was excited to do. I turned to the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum email list for input. Many parents suggested Rosetta Stone as an acceptable alternative plan. And wouldn't you know? That very day I found an email in my inbox from the Homeschool Buyer's Co-Op advertising a sale on Rosetta Stone. Half price!

Now that he had more choice in which language he wanted to learn, he decided to go with German. The package we purchased is the homeschool version, levels 1-3. It can be used by up to five students on two computers. I'm thinking that I will also use the program, and my husband will refresh his knowledge of the language, so that we can allow JT to practice his conversation skills as part of his study.

We will be starting to log a day or so of schooling each week towards the middle of July. Next week, JT and I will be attending the annual PHAA conference in Carlisle.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled summer vacation.