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.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Summer and Beyond

Just try and get my berries critters!
Since we came home from Maine, we've been trying to catch up on the little things and started a few bigger projects. I put in a new raised bed with some protection from the berry eating deer and chipmunks. We also had to dig a drainage ditch to take care of some issues in our driveway. All of which has led to me slipping on my blog posting and office work. I plan to take the month of June off from blogging so I can get caught up.

Last week we met with our evaluator for our portfolio review. JT and EM both had a good year, making progress in many areas. JT started learning to organize his own study time better. He also made some improvement in his writing skills. EM made progress in spelling, continues to excel in math, and read tons of books. When we finished going over this year, we also discussed the high school diploma program. Our evaluator showed me how I need to fill out the yearly checklist in order for her to be able to create JT's transcript. We went over various requirements and she shared ideas on how to meet some of the trickier ones.

The diploma program requires a minimum of 4 English, 3 science, 3 math, 3 social studies, and 2 arts/humanities credits in order to graduate. I'm sure JT will have more than that by the time he reaches his senior year. Our current plan for next year looks like this:

English will be split between two teachers. I will cover part of the literature requirements, vocabulary and word roots, and the speech component. His tutor will assign the three required classics and the bulk of the composition assignments.

Biology taught by mom using this text + the teacher guide I ordered.

Thinkwell's Algebra 1

American Government using a text we picked up a few years ago.

I am looking into having his drum instructor grade his work to use it as one of the arts/humanities credits.

JT will also have a project based class in which he will create a new card/board game from design to completion. At the end of the year, he will present the game to a group of peers to meet his speech requirement. This project will probably end up counting for 1/2 credit in technology and 1/2 credit in art.

I still haven't committed to the Spanish classes at the Christian school. I keep weighing the benefits and the inconvenience of driving there every day. I have a couple more months before I need to know for sure. Hopefully the answer will become obvious soon.

In addition to the graduation requirements, JT will still participate in our American history and Story of the World reading. I will probably log the hours to see if they add up to enough to count somewhere else, but even if they don't, we enjoy this part of our schooling so it will continue.

I'm still working on my plan for EM. I know he will continue with Singapore math 6a and 6b. I have a 6th grade science text I plan to use for him. His spelling, reading, and geography will all be continuing the same as previous years. Next year I hope to spend considerably more time working with him on his grammar and writing skills. With JT working more independently most of the time, it will free me up to be able to focus on that with EM.

building character
As far as summer plans go, EM and JT will both attend Kids' College and JT will continue with his drum lessons. Other than that, I hope to avoid any serious commitments. JT is getting much closer to employment age and similar adult responsibilities. I want him to be able to have as many care free summers as possible until then. I may expect some work around the house, even a little ditch-digging. Maybe they'll be as glad as John Adams was to return to the classroom when summer is over.

I'll be back in July with my completed plan for our 2014-2015 school year.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Away From It All

Tonight I am blogging from our vacation cottage on the seashore. I can hear the waves through our open window. Tonight the boys both told me they couldn't believe our trip was already at an end. Needless to say, it's been a good week. I need to get to bed soon because we have a long drive home tomorrow. Here's a quick look at our week in Maine.

Yes, that is a real atlas.
It took us about 9 hours to get from Central PA to Ogunquit, Maine. Connecticut felt like an endless state, mostly because we had to travel around a few major cities that all seemed to have a healthy dose of road construction.

Thankfully, our cottage was only 20 minutes from the state line. I don't know if we could have made it much further up the coast. We were definitely reaching the end of our endurance.

cottage by the sea
But, oh, was it ever worth it! We stayed at the Dunes on the Waterfront. We beat the regular season by a few weeks, so we got a great deal on our stay. Of course, that means not all the attractions are open, but we found plenty to keep us busy.

Marginal Way
We took a walk on the Marginal Way on our first full day in Maine. I can understand now why the name Ogunquit means beautiful place by the sea.

The boys really enjoyed getting a chance to explore a rocky shore line. We have always visited sand beaches, so this was something totally new for them... and me!

Ogunquit Beach

The great thing about Ogunquit is they have both kinds of beaches. We spent a few hours on the sand. It was chilly, but that didn't stop the boys from playing in the water.

lots of seaweed
This beach was interesting because the difference in the high tide and low tide was crazy. My first picture was from low tide. Today we returned a few hours after high tide and you can see how much smaller the beach is. I have never seen a beach that changed that much from one tide to the next. Plus, this beach was absolutely covered with seaweed as the tide went out.

Stop the car!
We were driving through town and spotted this sign. I new we needed to check it out. And then I saw something even more exciting...

Be still my beating heart.
Stepping inside this library was like taking a trip in a time machine. The library was built in the late 1800s. It was beautiful inside. We were thrilled to see they still have a card catalog, so I took the opportunity to show the boys how to use it. Of course we also bought a bag of books.

Since our school year officially ended before the trip, we didn't include any educational activities in our plans. We considered a few museums, but most were closed until Memorial Day. It was nice to have a trip that didn't feel like it had to be all about schooling. It was good to just relax and enjoy our time together.

tidal river outside our door

Friday, May 9, 2014

Ready to Relax

Take time to smell the flowers.
Our official school year has ended. The weather here has been gorgeous for most of the week and we have been taking advantage of the warm breezes and sunny days. I think the boys were only in the house about two hours yesterday. They spent much of the morning designing and constructing a cardboard quiver for their Air Hunter Z-Curve Bows. I worked on the final stages of their homeschool portfolios. Just when I thought I could finish them in record time, I ran out of paper for my Dymo label maker. After a quick trip to Target this morning, I should be able to check portfolios off of my to-do list.

I'm also in the middle of a packing frenzy for our trip to Maine. Because we are staying in a cottage with a full kitchen, I plan to cook most of our meals instead of eating out. I want to take as much food as we can from home and only buy the foods that won't travel well when we get there. All of this planning and organizing is adding a bit more stress to my life than I really want. It made me wonder if the relaxation I hope to enjoy while at the cottage is worth the stress caused by pulling off the trip in the first place.

I have been reading a fantastic book this month, Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte. I know my schedule is not nearly as hectic as many of my friends; I do not work outside the home, my kids are involved in almost no sports, I guard my time very jealously. But I still feel the stress brought on by the time crunch we all feel living in such an always-on world. I am looking at changing the way I use technology in my daily life. I want to cut back on my online time this summer, maybe setting up specific times of day for checking in, then disconnecting and spending time doing more tangible work around the house. Or better yet, taking time to just relax and do nothing. I wonder if I can still remember how to just sit and not do anything.

That should make for a very interesting summer...

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Carefree Kids

newest child designed game
We've been enjoying a very laid-back final school week in order to cope with a hectic life schedule. Luckily I knew it was coming, so I didn't over plan and everyone could work with less stress. JT finished his math course with Thinkwell and pulled off a 95% on the final exam. I was a bit worried that he would have a hard time because we've never really done a final exam for any other subject. He took a practice final at the end of last week, then he reviewed the lessons that went with the four questions he missed on Monday and Tuesday. After a little more review of the most common formulas for area and volume he would need, he took the final today. I was very happy that he was able to identify the areas he needed to work on, and then implement a plan that allowed him to do well on the final. It's good to see those study skills developing.

I plan to complete my work on the portfolios over the weekend. Then on Monday I will sit down with each of the boys, discuss their work for the year, and get their input on the plan for their next year of schooling. Monday night we will be seeing a performance by a local theater group about Ben Franklin. Bloomsburg Theater Ensemble puts on a Theater in the Classroom show every year at one of the local libraries. They are always excellent both in presentation and content. After that show, our school year is a wrap!

I'd also like to share one more thing tonight. This week Matt Walsh had a great post on his blog titled, Here are 13 things for kids to worry about instead of college and test preparation.  Every time I read a story about kids that are struggling in a bad school situation, it feels so good to look at my boys and see how carefree they are. They are creative, happy, and seem to really enjoy learning. Maybe that would be the case even if they were still in public school, but knowing how things were going when we pulled JT out, I'm guessing not. I hope improvements can be made to the system so that all schools can be places full of learning, happy kids. Until then, homeschooling remains the best option for our family, and many others like us. I'm thankful to live in a country that allows me that freedom of choice.

Thursday, April 24, 2014


It begins.
The last two weeks of schooling have been about as uneventful as it gets. Both of the boys are wrapping up their math work for the year, JT on Thinkwell, EM with Singapore 5B. We did our last Story of the World lesson last week, our last American History reading yesterday, last spelling test tomorrow. We have two more science lessons remaining, one is an experiment with some potential for excitement involving production of gases. I love it when the instructions include a step that says, "...bring the burning splint to the mouth of the jar. Be prepared for a reaction." After that experiment, there's really not much left to do except finish recording our work and close up the classroom.

Once we picked up the replacement printer, I started production for the portfolios. I'm not very original. We just keep using the same format year after year. Thanks to that, I had most of the documents ready to go with just a few alterations before printing. The most time-consuming portion of the project is taking pictures of their art so I can print a page of examples of their work. I'll probably tackle that project next week. I really want to wrap this whole thing up within a few days of our last day, May 2nd. Usually, I'll let it drag out until the day before we meet with the evaluator, but this year we planned a vacation to celebrate the end of the school year. We will be spending a week in Ogunquit, Maine!

We are all pretty excited about this trip. None of us have ever been to Maine. The closest I have been was on a ten year anniversary trip to Vermont with my husband, twelve years ago. Not many of the usual attractions will be open yet, since we will be staying pre-season, but we got a great deal on a cottage right on the shore. I want this trip to be about relaxation, not planned events. I recently read a blog post about the under-appreciation of rest in our society at Becoming Minimalist, that really made me change the plan for our vacation. I wanted to try to work a day trip into Boston into the week. We may still do it, but only if we can do it without much added planning and stress. Really, all I want to do is sit on the beach and stare at the ocean.

Before I can do that, I need to wrap up year six of our journey. Summer will probably have more planning time than usual since I have high school looming for JT. In the meantime, we'll just glide through these last few days of schooling with our eyes on the rest ahead.