Friday, April 10, 2015

Slacking Off

When I first started blogging about homeschooling, I made a commitment to myself to write a post every Friday. For the most part, I have kept to that goal, until this year. I'm not sure if it's because I have gotten lazy, have gotten busier, or if I just have less to say.

It has been busy around here lately, so that has contributed to my slacking off on the blog. I am starting to put our end of year portfolios together. This year I have the added task of compiling JT's grades for the evaluator so she can begin creating his high school transcript. I have a lot of questions about JT's future and how best to help him find his path. That has also contributed to my lack of posts. Many of my recent entries have focused on the fact that I have no idea what I am doing anymore. When he was looking at studying biology in college, the path seemed well-defined. Now that he wants to design board games or write music for video games or just about any other creative job that doesn't have an obvious step-by-step path that leads from high school graduation to career... I'm spending hours looking at college programs and art schools and biographies of people who didn't follow the beaten path and still managed to feed themselves.

Something else I have been doing is reading for pleasure more than I have in the last few years. I joined a Facebook group doing this 2015 Reading Challenge. Because of it, I've been picking up books I probably never would have read before. And since the list has 52 entries, I'm reading at least one book per week to try and finish by the end of the year. This has been taking up a lot of my free time. It's a good thing, and I'm enjoying it immensely, but I don't get much done outside of absolute necessities of life. JT is also doing the challenge, so I can count it as school related, right?

So these are my excuses. I tell myself I will do better from now on. We shall see...


Friday, March 20, 2015

Choices

hope
I am getting anxious for spring weather. It has been a ridiculously cold, snowy, disease-laden winter here. A few days this week were nice enough for walks, but tomorrow we are expected to get another round of snow. Will it ever end?!

When spring is on the horizon, I start feeling worn thin by our schooling routine. The boys are less likely to be cooperative and I am less likely to pleasantly motivate them to work. I started recognizing the onset of this spring fever last week and I know I will need to work hard to get us back on track. Once this round of snowy weather comes and goes I plan to take the boys on a few outings to improve morale. I'm thinking a hiking trip at one of the state parks in our area and maybe we'll sign up for a program or two in the next month. Or maybe just the chance to get out in the yard more often will be enough to end the cabin fever.

Another project I have going is choosing our curriculum for next year. As usual, my original plan had to be amended so I need to do a lot of research before purchasing can begin. EM finished Singapore math 6 this year so we need to decide where he's going next. I'm sure he's ready for some algebra; I'm just not sure if we should do a full year of pre-algebra or just go straight into algebra. I'm going to be pulling a few placement tests off the web to help make that decision. Then there is JT. He is a math enigma that I need to crack before we move on for next year. Algebra has been a struggle with Thinkwell this year, so we will not continue using that platform for his next math course. Whether we go online or with a text, geometry is the traditional choice, but I just can't see that as a good fit. I know he needs some in order to take the SATs, but I'm leaning more towards Art of Problem Solving's Introduction to Number Theory for his next step. It seems like a better fit for someone interested in game design. We can always do geometry for his junior year, or just do some SAT prep math in addition to the number theory.

I also need to look at science for next year. JT will have biology under his belt at the end of this year. In a usual setting, chemistry would be next. I'm thinking it would be better to look for a community college opportunity for chemistry later in his high school career. So, again, what's the next logical choice? Maybe environmental science, ecology, human anatomy? EM will likely continue his study of electronics or move on to study machines and physics. Or we could just pull a seventh grade science textbook and go with that.

If they were in public school we'd have such limited choices for their course work. It would be a drawback in some ways, but in others, I can see how it would be a blessing. With so many options in front of us, it's so hard to choose the best path.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Are All Opportunities Equal?

Last week at the end of his lesson, JT's drum teacher asked if he could give me a call to talk about something. I must have looked worried because he immediately said, "It's nothing bad." It turns out he wanted to tell me that he thinks JT is making excellent progress and that he feels more frequent lessons would be a good idea. I told him we'd discuss it and let him know.

JT started taking lessons from this instructor September of 2013. He had his first exposure to drums playing Rock Band. We realized immediately that he had a bit of natural talent. My husband had bought a drum set for himself not long before that and we moved Jacob to the real drums to see what he could do. In no time he was playing with his dad and even composing his own songs.

We decided to send him for lessons to make sure he learned the rudiments and didn't develop any bad habits learning independently. The instructor is a well-known drummer and his prices are on the more expensive end. We wanted to give it a try so we set him up for an hour lesson every other week. After the phone call, we were looking at doubling our expenses for the drum lessons.

So, would it be worth it?

My husband and I both agreed that even though JT has great natural talent and ability, he doesn't have the passion for drumming that we would want to see if we were going to spend that kind of money. Sure he 'likes' to play but does he 'love' it? I don't see him running to the drums to play on his own. He practices what he has been assigned, usually for the minimum number of hours expected each week. He goes to the lesson and plays well. But the passion just isn't there. In all honesty, we had started to wonder if the every other week lessons were going to continue much longer.

When the teacher called, my husband told him we'd keep things the way they are for now. He explained that even though JT is a good drummer we can't see his drumming ever being more than a hobby. If he were considering a career in drumming it might be worth the cost but as a hobby it's not.

Maybe that sounds harsh... or cheap... But as parents I think we are encouraged far too often to push our kids to have the absolute best opportunities even when they aren't a good fit. I see parents spending loads of money on elite sports teams, fancy summer camps, high-end music lessons, and every experience you can think of under the sun. What happens when they seem to be naturally good at everything they try? Do we have an obligation to keep pushing that pursuit if they are only mildly interested? If it's your child's passion and you have the means to do it, then go for it! But when it's just something we do just because we can, I think there's absolutely nothing wrong with saying no.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Answering Questions with Style

Yes, I am a slob.
Last week, I attended the annual PDE conference in Hershey. Every year I come home with a bit of knowledge that I always plan to employ with the boys. Most of the time, I quickly forget what great new thing I learned or I try it out and they are less than inspired with my new methods. This year I have finally found something that seems to excite both me and my students.



I went to a session titled, Short Writing Often, Not Just Long Writing Seldom by Dr. Anita Archer. I was hoping to get some ideas to use with EM since he is a resistant writer. What I came away with was a whole collection of resources to use with both of the boys. I realized I have been spending too much time trying to push them to write lengthy compositions when what they really need to do is step back and learn the basics so they can build a better foundation. Just last week, JT was asking me about the writing component of the SAT. He knows his best chance at a decent score on that test will require him to ace the vocab and writing portions so he can make up for any issues he has in the math section. We started looking at examples on the College Board website and he decided he was going to need to do some work if he wanted a good score on his writing. I was thrilled that he was being realistic and wanted to work to improve. Now I just needed to find the best way to help him with that goal. Enter Anita Archer...

Today we tried an exercise I learned in the session. I wrote a question on the white board related to our American history reading from yesterday.

What action during Coolidge's term as governor brought him national attention?

Then I gave this answer.

He stopped a strike.

While we all agreed this was a correct answer, we knew it wasn't a good answer. The next step involved using a tool from the session. This sentence expansion worksheet originally came from a book by Judith Hochman, Teaching Basic Writing Skills, which sadly, appears to be out of print.

question words
The student will look at the question asked and then use question words like, who, what, where, when, how, and why to expand the details they will use to answer. Once they write out the answers to the question words, they write their expanded sentence. We worked together to come up with answers for our question words on the board. Once we had the information needed to write a better answer, I had each of the boys write their own improved sentence. JT wrote:

While Calvin Coolidge was governor of Massachusetts, he came to national attention when he resolved a policemen strike in Boston by calling in the national guard and ordering the commissioner to replace the strikers.

Much more detailed than, he stopped the strike, yes? I plan to use this new exercise every week to reinforce our American history study. After our reading aloud, I will give the boys a question to answer. We will gradually move away from working together on the white board until they can complete the question word outline alone to come up with their own answer. There were many more great writing frames Dr. Archer shared in her presentation that I plan to put into action in the next few months. As of right now, you can still access the handouts from the session here on the PaTTAN site. Please note that there is a drop down on the page to get both of the PDFs.

The greatest part of the whole experience was when JT told me today, "You know, I think I'm starting to like writing. I really enjoyed writing that answer." It turns out he was having a hard time choosing what bits of information to use. Too many things are in his head and instead of picking the appropriate details, he tends to answer with as little as possible to avoid the decisions. Now that he has a good way to identify the important details, he feels more in control and able to give the best answer.

I could get mad at myself for not thinking of this sooner, but I've learned that the right tool seems to come along at the right time in our schooling. Maybe if I had picked this up a few years ago, JT and EM wouldn't have been ready to use it. Maybe I wouldn't have been ready to implement it in a way that would have made sense. I'm just happy that this knowledge has come to me at a time when JT is thinking about his need to improve his writing and that he is interested in putting new tools to work. We will be employing the short writing often method as often as we can!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Community

As a homeschooling family, we sometimes find our boys have unique opportunities that other kids their age may not experience. Sometimes it's fun things, like vacationing during the school year or playing outside during school hours. Other times these opportunities are a little different, but very valuable to their growth as part of the community.

In recent months our church congregation has lost a few members. Because our schedule is flexible we are often able to attend funerals when other children would need to be in school. This has allowed our boys to experience memorial services for people other than immediate family members. I find this to be good to help them see grief in a less threatening way. The services we attended were for older men and women that had lived rich, full lives. We heard many family members tell stories of the hardships their loved ones had endured, the challenges they had met, and the love they had shared with the people they knew. We were also able to hear of the hope they have to see them again when they come to the end of their own lives. Sharing in these moments will help our children start to feel the bonds of our community. I hope it will also help them deal with grief in the future when it hits closer to home.

Sometimes homeschooling presents opportunities that I would never have thought of as educational before we started this journey. But I'm finding there is much to learn when we open our eyes to life as a teacher.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Influenza

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

addicted
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.