Thursday, January 29, 2015


Still Life of Influenza

Not a great week in our homeschooling household. Monday night my husband, EM, and I all started coughing. By Tuesday morning we knew we were really sick. As the week went on, we heard stories of many members of our church being diagnosed with the flu, so we knew what we were up against. JT stayed healthy up until today, when he started coughing. Earlier in the week he shoveled the driveway, made us dinner, and avoided breathing our air as much as possible. My older daughter stopped by twice to deliver supplies, but never came in the sick house. As you would guess, there has been little schooling happening, but plenty of coughing, sniffling, and sleeping. We had to skip piano lessons, drum lessons, basketball practice, and Bible class. Maybe by Saturday EM will be well enough to play in his basketball game, but if not, we'll continue in hermit mode until all of the germs have been vanquished. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Volunteering Brings Opportunity

A few months ago, while visiting one of our local libraries, JT and I noticed a sign advertising the need for library volunteers. We talked about it on the ride home and after I contacted the librarian to check age requirements, JT filled out an application to volunteer. Monday was his first day on the job.

As a student volunteer he will be putting in about three hours most weeks, hopefully all on one day to avoid driving there too often. We decided not to do more hours than that to start to avoid overloading his schedule with too many away-from-home activities during the school year. He may add a few hours in the summer months if he is needed.

In the days leading up to this experience, we started reviewing the way the library is organized. A discussion on the Dewey Decimal system and the specific layout of our library helped him feel more comfortable with his new environment. He really shouldn't need much help for that since he has been a weekly library visitor from his birth until now. In fact, if you want to count my visits while pregnant, it goes back a little further. Even though we own a houseful of books, we can't stop ourselves from borrowing more every week.

In spite of the preparation, he was still quite nervous his first day. I dropped him off at 1pm and returned to pick him up at 4. As I got out of my car, a librarian and the therapy dog were coming out to go home. She called over to me to tell me what a wonderful job he had done on his first day. Proud mom moment! Inside the library, the woman in charge of the volunteer program told me that JT had helped her with some ideas for activities for teen boys and that she wanted to implement one of them in the future.

JT told me all about his day. He had worked to shelve movies, children's fiction and non-fiction, restock the tax preparation forms, and his favorite job, taping the covers of the new books. He said he liked working in the back room because it was so quiet and the work was a good fit for his perfectionist traits. He thought it was cool that he got to see the newest books being added to the library collection.

Later he told me how at one point in the day he was asked if he was tired of working yet. He told me that being there had not felt like work because he enjoyed it so much. With that revelation we are adding library careers to his list of potential employment to pursue as an adult. This experience has made me realize that getting him out into the world to try new things will help him find where he will fit as an adult. For years I have wondered how he would make the decision about his eventual career. I worried that without a school guidance counselor he might not have the college and career planning available to him that most students experience. After Monday I realized that as a homeschooler he may have more real-world experiences and time to investigate job options than traditional students might have. I hope to provide as many opportunities as possible for that exploration in the years to come.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Breaking Things Down

second try
About a year ago I wrote a post about grammar and how I was starting to work with JT on sentence diagramming. Well that only lasted a few weeks before I abandoned the idea. The book I was using wasn't really appropriate for his level. Also, he found it tedious. So I tossed it aside and went back to our usual routine. Now he's using the free version of English Grammar 101 for his instruction and that works just fine for him.

At the start of this year, I realized I needed something new for EM. Language, especially written, has always been his weakest subject. I planned to use a combination of Calvert's 5th grade grammar workbook and the diagramming workbook as a supplement to see how it worked for him. As the weeks went on, it became obvious that Calvert's traditional approach of breaking down sentences by underlining and circling various components wasn't making sentence construction clear to him. However, he was flying through the diagramming book with no problems. I was telling a friend how much difficulty he was having with the Calvert book and she said, "Get rid of it! Why not just use the diagramming?" Sometimes I just can't put two and two together.

too many directions
The diagramming workbook does start each lesson with a long set of directions to identify the parts of a few example sentences. I discovered two things in this process. EM can not handle multiple instructions being given in one set of written directions. Once I realized that, we would circle or underline each of the separate requirements in those instructions. Then he would mark them off, one at a time, as he completed them. This simple change made things so much easier for him. But the real difference came in being able to SEE those sentence parts and their relationships to each other by doing the actual diagramming. He could finally understand how the adjectives were related to the nouns they modified because it became obvious when diagrammed. I knew he was a visual learner, but I had never really thought about how much easier grammar would be if he could see it in that way.

spiral bound books are the best
Since the little diagramming book I had on my shelf only has a few months worth of lessons in it, I went ahead and invested in a weightier volume that should last us well into his high school years. I read good reviews of Drawing Sentences by Eugene R. Moutoux and I'm hoping it lives up to them. Thankfully it has a complete answer key in the back. I didn't do much diagramming in my own school years, so I'm learning right there with him.

One test question at the very end of the book has a sentence that fills an entire page. It is an excerpt from a speech by Thomas Jefferson.

I think I have some work cut out for me in the future.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

About Face!

Christmas robot
Changes are coming. After four years in which the boys learned science using  three or four large unit studies designed by me each school year, I made the choice to leave that pattern behind. Since JT is now working to add up credits for his high school transcript, he is completing a full year course in biology. I decided to use a standard 6th grade textbook for EM.

This was a bad decision.

EM enjoys reading fiction but has little interest in non-fiction, especially if that non-fiction comes in the form of textbooks. I started off the year assigning a short section of reading each week, supplementing with BrainPOP videos and activities. When he would reach the end of a chapter I would go over the review questions with him. As the months went on, I realized he wasn't really retaining what he was reading. I also started to suspect he wasn't actually reading his assignments. I began to sit with him while he was reading each section and we would read some aloud and discuss what he had read. Finally, a few weeks before Christmas, he was doing a unit review and his answers were so off I knew this learning method was going to have to change.

DVDs for the win!
Around the same time, a Great Courses catalog came in the mail. We already own a few courses that we have used for supplemental work, but they have never watched a complete series. When I saw the modern electronics class, I was fairly certain it would be a perfect fit for EM. I showed him the syllabus and he was in favor of giving it a try. After the poor results of our textbook use, I've decided to switch EM to a unit study on electronics for the remainder of this school year. He will use the Great Courses material, build some of his own projects, and do some work with his dad. My husband has been dabbling in electronics repair for years and just received a new book for Christmas, How to Diagnose and Fix Everything Electronic that will fit right into my plan for EM. I had also bought a Robo Link deluxe kit for EM from Home Science Tools for Christmas. He built one of the robots yesterday. And I must say, it's a pretty cool set. The motor assemblies can be altered to different gear ratios depending on how much power you need for a particular model. I think this new plan for science will probably take more work on my part but should be much more rewarding for EM than what we have been doing so far this year.

The other DVD set in the picture is for JT's game design course. As part of this course, he is writing a 2500 minimum word paper on the topic of game design. He completed his first rough draft right before our holiday break. I started my initial proof reading but couldn't stay focused with all of the Christmas chaos. Tomorrow I will be sequestering myself so I can finish and make some comments to help him start on his revision process. Another goal for the class is to design a game from idea to completion by the end of the school year.  He took the card game he has been working on to a New Year's Eve party at our church and played it with two friends. The cards are still in their primitive forms but game play seems to be working pretty well. Now that he's completed some play testing, I'd like to see him looking at creating more professional looking game components. We may need to purchase new software to do that if we can't find something available either in Open Source or perhaps a program we already have. But I'm happy to say it looks like he's well on his way to meeting his goals for this course.

I spent some time this week looking ahead at the calendar and calculating the remaining lessons JT needs to cover in German, algebra, and biology to complete those subjects. It looks like he may need to work into the second week of May. This will run us a week later than our usual end time for our school year. Part of this is my fault for being indecisive about his science text at the start of the year. We also had to slow down a bit on algebra when JT came to a concept that needed more intense focus. But considering this was our first year working with a more structured schedule for his diploma program, I think we did a good job meeting deadlines. We're learning for our next year so we can make adjustments and plan a little better.

Am I the only homeschooler out there that completely changes gear mid-year on a fairly regular basis? If you have found yourself in the same situation, have you been happy with the about faces you have made in your plans? I think most of our reconfiguring proves beneficial. What about you?

Friday, December 26, 2014

Merry Christmas

JT's new poster
Another Christmas has come and gone. This year felt like more of a whirlwind than usual. I just couldn't get myself in gear to shop and plan and organize. I finally started to feel like I was getting my groove and then it was over.

There were many nerdy homeschooler gifts received. The boys spent a few hours today enjoying their presents. Octodad was a favorite. I usually don't pay much attention to the video game playing in our home, but that one is so funny to watch, I have a feeling I'll be spending more time than I plan to watching them play.  Also, JT almost polished off his copy of Randall Munroe's What If? before bedtime. I'm looking forward to reading it next. Being able to borrow their Christmas gifts is just one of the many benefits of having children with similar interests as yourself.

Merry Christmas
Next week I'll share some details on the plans I have for changes in EM's science studies for the remainder of this school year. I'll also be looking at the progress JT is making on his 2500 word composition required for the PHAA diploma program. Changes have also been made to the homeschooling regulations in PA and I want to discuss how they will affect my plans in the future. But for now I just want to wish you a Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year!

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...