Friday, March 9, 2018

Nearly There

The countdown is on! Only 35 days remain in our 2017-2018 school year. When we reach that point, I will have successfully (?) completed the schooling of one child. I can hardly believe it is possible. I am generally not a nostalgic person but as I have been going back through photos of our homeschooling years preparing to put together a program for JT's graduation party I have found myself dreading the end of this journey.

Speaking of pictures, I made an appointment to have JT's senior pictures taken. I have the most adorable grandson and my daughter entered him in a contest to be a child model for a local photographer. Of course he was chosen since he's the cutest toddler on the planet. She will get a free photo shoot and package. When I asked her for the name of the photographer to get prices for JT, I found out the photographer is someone I know. She was JT's scout leader for a couple years! We haven't seen her in about 10 years and she was thrilled to hear from me. We will be going to a local state park in April to take pics of JT on the trail with his pack. Hiking pics seemed essential to the whole process. I wish there was a way to get a piano to the woods to add his other primary activity. Of course, it would probably be more appropriate to take a computer and have him playing video games. One more thing off the checklist for graduation!

This week I also sat down with JT and reviewed the things he needs to complete by April in order to meet his graduation requirements with PHAA. It amounts to two more writing assignments and a bit of grammar. Of course he also needs to complete his last community college class. I also sat down with EM and made a game plan for his final three years of homeschooling. We talked about what he will do for math, sciences, and social studies. There will be some use of Thinkwell, Coursera, and the community college. We will also purchase Rosetta Stone Spanish to add a little foreign language to the mix. The program he's looking into at the community college will not require a foreign language, but I want to cover all the bases in case he changes plans later.

After we finished our planning, I went to the bookcases and started pulling books I would not need for our remaining homeschooling years. I listed some for sale and made a little money that I will probably put towards camping gear. I still have a stack of books to get out of the house. I'll probably try listing some again, but some will also go to the library for their April book sale. Once I finish the cleaning, I'm hoping to be down to one bookcase of homeschooling material. I still have my library full of many, many, many books, but textbooks and workbooks will be greatly reduced.


Friday, February 23, 2018

Graduation Plans

We are in the final countdown to our first homeschooling graduation. 43 days to our last day of schooling at home, one more week until JT's last community college class ends, evaluations on May 8th, graduation party planned for June 9th. How is this possible?! Isn't he still just a baby?

There is still quite a bit to do before we can cross the finish line. A month or so ago, I was at a planning meeting of the youth group committee at our church and realized I needed to pick a date for JT's graduation party to avoid scheduling conflicts. I decided June 9th seemed like a good day because it was early enough in the summer and would hopefully avoid vacations for our friends and family. Once I picked the date, I started to wonder if we'd have the diploma from PHAA in time. I am planning to have a short diploma ceremony at the party and it wouldn't be quite the same if we didn't have the physical diploma yet. Guess I should have thought of that before picking the date. I'll keep that in mind for EM's senior year.

I sent an email to our evaluator to ask about time frames for diplomas. She said we'd need to give them two weeks to a month from the date of the evaluation. Our last day of schooling will be April 27th, but JT won't have his final in his sociology class until May 2nd. Not long after that we will be leaving for a week at the beach. Before I picked the random date for the party, I was planning to schedule our evaluation toward the end of May. Now I needed to move that meeting much sooner. With vacation in the way, and the time crunch for diploma delivery, our evaluator suggested coming in May 8th. I told her we wouldn't have JT's final grade for his college class by then, but she said she can submit the diploma request without the grade, adding that to his transcript later. But now I will have a serious time crunch for portfolio prep during the last week of April and first week of May. Yes, I know I can get most of it ready in advance, it's just not the way I'm used to doing it. Oh, and I'll also need to be packing for a trip at the same time. Shouldn't be much potential for stress...

At least I'll be able to sit on the beach and do nothing for a week in the middle of the insanity.

Something else that occurred to me in the last month was the fact that it might be a good idea to get some senior pictures taken. It slipped my mind up until now, possibly because the last time JT had school pictures taken was in 2nd grade. Now I'm trying to decide if I want to make the attempt myself, or pay someone else to do it. One of my friends did her daughter's senior pictures herself and they turned out very nice. In fact, when she tried to get them printed at Walmart, the clerk was asking for proof that she had permission to print them, assuming they were professional pictures. Unfortunately this friend lives four hours away or I'd be asking her to take them for me. As soon as we have some nice weather, I'll take JT out and try a photo shoot. If things don't go well, I have a few local photographers I can try instead. I'd really like to get a picture or two in the woods since our time together has been focused on hiking so much lately.

There will also be the need to make graduation announcements, find a graduation gift, and plan the actual party. I'm thinking the next few months are going to be on the busy side.






Friday, February 16, 2018

Things to Come

Our September Hike Route
Recently, JT and I were talking about blood types and compatibility for transfusions. This topic came up because he is currently reading Dracula. I have never managed to read the whole book; I found it incredibly dry. He is really enjoying it and keeps telling me how every vampire idea came from this book. Yes, JT, that's because it IS the classic vampire story. The original. The Internet did not invent vampires.

So, back to the blood types... during our discussion I told him he should know this stuff. We covered it in biology. Three years ago. He told me he didn't remember any of it. Then he said he "should have taken biology from the college, not because I need it for school, just because it would be good stuff to study."
Wow.
I know he's a kid who likes learning, but I always thought he was just tolerating the college classes, not enjoying them. It's good to know he sees value in these classes we have funded. We talked about the fact that if he wants to, he could take a biology class before he starts full time at the main campus in the fall of 2019. Of course, that would all depend on the rest of his schedule.

He is working on finding a part time job to make some cash to put towards living expenses when he goes to school next year. So far, no luck on the job front. He's being a bit picky about where he applies - no fast food, which kind of limits things for someone his age. Unfortunately as a 17 year old, he's not able to apply for many jobs in our area. We have put his driver's test on hold until he finds a job. In Pennsylvania, we don't pay any extra on our car insurance for a driver with a permit, but when he gets his license, they'll make up for it by slamming us with a huge bill. Since we are requiring he pay half of that bill the first year he drives, he will need some income before he can do that. Since he really does not need the license until he has a job, it seems sensible to wait.

We are continuing to make our plans for summer hiking. JT and I have been slowing buying our gear that we will use for our 100 mile hike in Shenandoah National Park planned for September. This week we booked the house that EM and my husband will stay in while we hike. It's getting real! Starting in April, we plan to do some two day hikes, learning to use our new gear, getting an idea of our pace when carrying a full load in our packs. Sometime in June we will be doing a section hike of the entire Maryland portion of the Appalachian trail - about 40 miles. I'm just hoping my old feet can hold up for our adventures. I'm pretty good at pushing myself through pain, but I would prefer the no-pain option if possible.

So many exciting things coming soon. The beginning of the school year, I felt overwhelmed and uninspired. Now I'm enjoying every day and every new challenge. Hoping the rest of the year is just as fun!

Friday, February 2, 2018

Apples From the Trees

just a touch of shadow on the moon
You may have seen the news about the super blue blood moon on January 31. Living where we do, I knew we wouldn't have a view during the totality because the moon was going to set before it was time. I thought I'd probably get up to take a look, but figured the boys wouldn't be that interested. At bedtime on Tuesday night, I mentioned it. JT said he should probably get up to see it. I was kind of surprised since he's not a morning person and previous attempts to drag him out of bed for eclipses and meteor showers weren't always received with thankfulness.

When I asked him about it he said, "I guess I should get up to see something that hasn't happened since 1866." Can I just say how happy I am that he is making decisions that show he thinks like me? I'm confident that if he has children someday he'll drag them out of bed at all hours to stare at the sky.

Thinking about this now brings to mind a conversation I had this week. We go to Bible study at our church on Wednesday nights. The boys are both in the teen class. This week they had a visitor in their class who has met our family, but hasn't spent a lot of time with us yet.

After class she said to me, "Listening to both of your boys, I can really see which parent each of them takes after."

She told me she thought EM was more like me because of how much he was talking in class. This may be true today, but when JT was younger, he could talk the ear off of any person he met. As he grew older, he became quieter, spending more of his time in public observing others. EM is definitely more of an extrovert. I'm one of those rare introverts who really likes being with people, but needs time alone after to recover from too much people-time. My husband is more of a true introvert; he'll almost always choose alone time over time with others. In those ways, EM is like me, and JT is like him.

However, when it comes to interests, I would say that JT and I have more in common. We are the hikers, the readers, the documentary watchers, Malcolm Gladwell podcast fans. EM and his dad are the mathy, interested in how things work, public speaking, computer guys. We cross over in a few places. JT and his dad are the musicians. EM and I are the noticing what other people need, list maker, control freaks. Their sister, my oldest, has many of my character traits, and many people say they knew she had to be my daughter when they met her, even though they had not been told.

As a parent it's so interesting watching them turn into mashed up versions of us, with some of their own qualities thrown in to make something totally different. It's like an extended science experiment we get to observe. What will the final product look like? Only time will tell.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Teaching Methods

Back when he was very young, EM was diagnosed with an auditory processing disorder. This past year, he went for a re-evaluation at the university clinic, and they determined he has more than likely outgrown that deficiency. I'm still not sure I agree with their interpretation of the results of his testing. Since there isn't another place to have him tested in our area, for now it is what it is.

Because he had been diagnosed with this disorder, I had structured his learning in recommended ways to help him compensate. I assumed the best learning styles for him would not involve lectures of any kind. When we worked together, if I read things aloud, we would stop regularly and discuss what had been covered to be sure he was absorbing the information. He doesn't really like reading non-fiction, so I would give very short reading assignments when textbook learning was a necessity. The best results for his learning usually came when we did hands on activities.

Then we had to figure out what to do about the fact that this year EM is completing a half credit in music to meet the requirements for both the PHAA diploma program and the PA homeschool regs. While JT has always excelled in anything music related, EM was not very interested. He did take piano lessons for a bit, but dropped the lessons after a year. Because he seemed to not want much to do with it, I was trying to come up with a good plan that would make this year's music instruction as painless as possible for all of us. Just checking off the boxes we need to fill.

I remembered I still had the Great Courses Fundamentals of Music series of DVDs. Realizing that video lectures were probably the worst idea, but not wanting to spend a ton of effort preparing something for someone who seemed uninterested, I figured we'd watch a little at a time, then discuss. I didn't have high expectations for him to learn much, just thought I'd do what I could to help him pick something up along the way. What a surprise it was when after the first lecture he could recall almost everything from the lesson.

I am breaking the lessons down this way:
Day 1: watch half of a lecture together
Day 2: review contents together
Day 3: watch second half of the lecture
Day 4: review contents together
Day 5: quiz on contents; supplemental activity
repeat until all 16 lectures completed

Each lecture is about 45 minutes long. Breaking it down into two 20 minute chunks seems to be just enough to hold his interest. The first lecture is titled The Language of Music. The first half focused on music appreciation, gave some vocabulary, and covered types of instruments and instrument groupings. The second half goes into great detail about the string instruments. During the second day of viewing, we pulled out my violin and tried some of the different methods of playing he discussed; pizzicato, sul ponticello, sul tasto, and col legno battuto. The day after, when we reviewed these terms, I was very surprised that he remembered all of these foreign terms and even came up with an example of col legno battuto in music he knew! He said, "The Piano Guys use that at the beginning of Cello Wars." Sure enough, we looked it up and he was right!

So what have I learned from all of this? I may be completely wrong about his  best method of learning. He hasn't been getting the best opportunity to learn. I knew that he wasn't picking much up when I'd give him those reading assignments, but when I took the time to review what he read, he'd do better. What I realize now is that he probably picked nothing up from the reading, instead only learning the things I was reviewing with him. The 'lecture' I gave after the reading was where the learning was really happening. When I was too busy to take the time to do that with him, he was getting almost nothing from it.

I could spend a long time beating myself up over this lack of insight. I could also make many excuses; 

"The testers told me he would not learn well from auditory methods."

"They wouldn't have customized his education in public school."

"I'm not an expert; it's not my fault I didn't recognize this."

After a couple days of guilt, I'm ready to move forward and correct the problem. I can comfort myself with the fact that I still have 3 1/2 years of time left to work with him. I also know that he has consistently tested above grade level, so even with my mistake, he is doing better than his peers. Most importantly, as homeschoolers, we have the flexibility to change the way he is receiving his learning. I am going to start searching for DVD courses to fill his subject requirements for next year. For the subjects that need textbook learning, I will be working to create my own lectures for him. A friend suggested seeing if he comprehends more of the material he must read if he reads it aloud. She also suggested that just moving his lips while reading may do the trick. We will be testing those ideas out as well.

Homeschooling these boys has taught me that mistakes are going to happen. But it has also taught me that when we find the mistakes, we can make the changes, and move on to success. 

 

Friday, January 12, 2018

Burned Out

Some of the Hiking Loot
We're nearing the end of our Christmas break. My plan going into the holiday was that I would take a break until after Christmas, then I would organize portfolio materials from the first half of the year, and do a large amount of planning for the rest of the year. I did manage to get portfolios organized, but then things changed.

JT and I have been planning our 100 mile Appalachian Trip for a couple years now, never doing more than occasionally taking a day hike and talking about our plan. That changed in the last few weeks when I discovered three things, an AT section hikers Facebook group, the REI website, and the Homemade Wanderlust blog and videos. I started reading about other people's adventures, spending money on equipment, even taking a trip to the closest REI, 2 1/2 hours from our home to try on a pack. As I was doing research on things related to hiking, I realized that my old obsession with homeschool curriculum research has been replaced with my new love of all things hiking related. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how burned out I have become when it comes to anything homeschool related and how much that was contributing to my procrastination.

Now that I have recognized what was going on, I feel I can use the hiking planning to give me a break and allow me to get the energy I need for the rest of this year. I don't have much to do for EM's school plan to get him to the end of the year. A lot of what he's doing now is structured enough to allow me to just look ahead a bit for each subject and make a game plan for the week. The one place I need to invest a little more time will be his half credit of music instruction we will be starting on Monday. He will be using a Great Courses series Understanding the Fundamentals of Music as a framework for his study with additional instruction and activities for each video lecture. I will need to plan the supplemental material for him, but that shouldn't be too time consuming. Other than music, he will be continuing his Earth science, algebra 2, health, world geography, literature, and writing instruction for the remainder of the school year.

Once JT graduates this May, I feel like I will need to buckle down and really focus on EM for his last three years of his schooling. For now, we are going to get the work done, but spend more time doing the things that will recharge our batteries for that final push.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Considering Options

As EM approaches the half-way point of his first high school year, I'm feeling like something new might be in order. A few weeks ago, we received an advertisement for a local cyber school in the mail. My usual response to such mailings is to toss it in the trash as soon as I get in the house. This time, I read through the information and later checked their website for more.

When we began homeschooling, all those years ago, we started the journey with JT enrolled in a cyberschool. It quickly became apparent that it wasn't the best fit for JT. EM spent one year in a private Kindergarten, one year in that cyber, then the rest of the time as a traditional homeschooler. It was always obvious that the homeschooling path has been the perfect method for JT, but not necessarily for EM. While he is still testing at or above grade level, I often feel like he could be getting more out of his schooling if we tried something different.

When considering the other options, I am certain that traditional public schooling would not be a good fit. EM is a very unique kid with the kinds of quirks that could easily be targeted by bullies. Knowing that so many parents are turning to homescooling and cybers to get out of that kind of environment, I am not ready to put my kid into a potentially harmful situation just to see if it would work. I have also considered private schools, even the one he attended for his year of Kindergarten. However, being a boy who has a difficult time with sitting still do his work, preferring to bounce around the room while learning, I think that such a rigid environment would result in its own list of problems.

This leaves cyber as our only real other option. I hesitate to sign up with any school that has requirements for live lessons that mean we need to log in at very specific times. Our life is reaching a point where we can travel and have new experiences while schooling and we don't want to lose that option. Talking with a friend who has knowledge of most of the cybers in Pennsylvania, I have a list of those that have limited requirements for live lessons; allowing their students to work at their own pace. I plan to spend some time looking into these schools, talking with EM about the possibility, and really exploring if it would be a good fit for him and our family.

I know even if we do decide to sign up with a school, there would be no reason we couldn't pull him back out if it doesn't work. Hopefully we can find the best fit for him. If we find that none of the cybers are a good fit, we will know that our homeschooling is the best option for him. Nothing will be lost in the exploration of other possibilities.