Friday, September 23, 2016

Short Reprieve

Last fall we went on an extended vacation to Tennessee and Kentucky with the boys, knowing it was probably our last big trip for a few years. When JT decided he'd be taking community college classes this fall, we were pretty sure our weeks would be too full for any traveling. But once he scheduled his classes, we found we could squeeze in a short trip if we tried.

The last few times we have stayed in a state park cabin, we have visited Moraine State Park. This year, because we booked at the last minute (last minute for the modern cabins in state parks is about 3 months in advance) we couldn't get a cabin there so we chose Pymatuning State Park instead. We have stayed here once before, four years ago. It has a huge lake, but not very many good hiking trails, which is what we usually look for in a park. Today we hiked for about 2 hours and that covered more than half of the trails here. We're still having a good time, mostly just relaxing and getting away from our crazy schedule.

But learning is still happening! We saw a tree that we couldn't identify. Fortunately, we came upon a helpful sign telling us it was a Tamarack. The fact that the trail name was Tamarack Trail should have been a clue. JT wanted to look up more information about it, so when we got back to the cabin we found a website and discovered that the Tamarack is a deciduous conifer. That was a new one for me!

We'll be meeting up with friends for a visit tomorrow and heading back home Saturday morning. We had to turn this into a working vacation because JT had to bring a pile of chemistry homework with him to keep up with his class. When we get back home we'll have to get right back to work. I'll have school planning to do and JT has a chemistry report to research and write. EM's schedule is still not as full as his brother's and I hope we can keep it that way for as long as possible.

Friday, September 16, 2016

College Planning

JT is a junior in high school this year. Almost impossible to believe that we've reached this point! I found some information I had printed out several years ago about things a parent should be doing in their child's sophomore year to prepare for college. Oops! Too bad I found it a year too late. It turns out we're a little behind in some of the things the writer suggested, but I think we'll be fine with the schedule we have going.

According to the article, JT should have taken the PSATs last year. Well, he was no where near ready to take the math portion last year, so that wouldn't have turned out well anyway. In fact, it's still going to be a challenge this year. I think he'll ace the reading portion; he's good with anything to do with words. But the math, not so much. He starting working on Khan Academy's SAT prep this month. First you take their diagnostic tests, then they customize your learning to help fill any gaps. After he takes the PSAT, we can link to the College Board test results and Khan will customize a study plan based on his test score to prepare for the SAT in the spring. We're not getting too bent out of shape though because JT's current plan for college doesn't even require him to take the SAT.

He had been throwing around the idea of going to school for music for a year or so. But the more he looked into programs, the less he wanted to pursue that path. He enjoys writing music and playing his own compositions, but he doesn't like to perform and he doesn't want to teach music. Most programs focus either on performance or teaching. He started to look for another possible path and found something offered by the community college where he is currently dually-enrolled. They offer an associate degree in music recording technology. This is a very focused two year program that would set him up to be ready to enter the work force straight out of school. He would still be writing his music, but would now gain skills to work for others in production as well as record his own work.

Right after he made this decision, he ran across a blog post written by one of his favorite video game music composers, Ben Prunty. In the post, Prunty discusses the question, "How useful is my degree?" JT found that the article reinforced his thoughts on his proposed plan. Now that things are in motion, we signed up to go visit the main campus of the community college in November. We would like to talk with the head of the department about job prospects. Another concern would be whether he could compact the program into less than the two years. By the time JT graduates from high school he should have completed all of the general classes required for this degree. Since he takes classes at a satellite location, none of the recording related courses will be available to him before he graduates from high school. We're hoping something can be worked out to help shorten the program. The biggest problem will be the cost of housing. Because it's a community college, they have no student housing. The school is about 1 1/2 hours from our home, so commuting would be a challenge.

None of this plan is set in stone. We will still make visits to other schools. Maybe he will come across a program that fits his career plan at another school. All I know is that this college thing is getting real now. How did my babies get so old?

Friday, September 9, 2016

New Normal

We have been schooling at home for nine years now. Most of those years we did some away from home activities, but mostly revelled in our hermit ways. The boys like their alone time, but we were also always active in church events, so it really has never been an issue for us.  This is the first year that I am spending so much time on the road. Here is a taste of my new schedule.
  • Monday:  JT has chemistry class from 9:45-11:10. We drive 25 minutes to reach the school. During his class I walk in a nearby cemetery then wait in the car until he is finished. Piano lessons on the way home. Some schooling at home until dinner. Starting next week, Monday evening fencing at 7pm.
  • Tuesday: Schooling at home during the day. Leaving the house at 5:15 for his English comp class from 6-8:30pm
  • Wednesday: Chemistry class again. Home by noon for some school work. Bible class at our church at 7pm.
  • Thursday: Every two weeks music theory and composition private lessons for 1 1/2 hours. We drive 45 minutes to the instructor's home. Drive to library following lesson for JT's 3 hours of volunteer work. On the weeks we don't go to lessons, we have a nearly full day at home to get work done!
  • Friday: EM's gym class at 10am. 30 minute drive from home. The class lasts 1 1/2 hours and, as I mentioned before, has a coffee shop for me. 
I am starting to adjust to the new normal, but I'm pretty exhausted most days. I am enjoying the time I get to spend walking during JT's classes. I like the fact that I can blog while I'm waiting for EM's gym class to end. I see that JT is doing well adjusting to his classes. He is starting to really think about college plans now that he's getting a feel for higher education. All of these things are good. My only complaint is that I miss our laid back life where we rarely had to rush around to be somewhere. I know JT is feeling that too. Luckily for us, we are taking a short camping trip later this month. Getting away from the new schedule will be a nice reprieve. Until then, I'll be spending a lot of my time driving and waiting. 

Friday, September 2, 2016

Firsts and Lasts

Today I am blogging while waiting for EM to finish his homeschool gym class. This is a new experience for him that I think he's going to really enjoy. He's always been the most athletic of our family but has had few opportunities to take part in those kinds of activities. The class is sponsored by a local church with a sports complex and the best part, a coffee shop with free wi-fi!

Another first this week was the beginning of JT's college classes. He is taking Fundamentals of Chemistry and English Comp 101 at a satellite campus of a  local community college. The first day of chemistry class had a few bits of drama. I dropped him off near the door we had entered for the orientation. As it turns out, that door is usually locked. He yelled after me as I was driving away and we figured out which door he should try instead. When he finally made it to the classroom, a few other students were there, but no instructor was in the room. After a few minutes of waiting, one of the other students went to the office and found out the classroom had been changed. They were all a few minutes late, but at least he wasn't the only one.

Tuesday evening he had his first English Comp class. The instructor had them all write a short essay on something about themselves so she could check on their writing ability. I asked JT what he had written, hoping it would be about homeschooling, or music, or maybe volunteering at the library. But no, what does he write about? His Mech Warrior Online gaming team. He said that was the first thing that came to mind.

This week we had to make a tough decision. For some time, JT has been thinking about dropping his drum lessons. Even though he really enjoys playing, likes his teacher, and is good at it, the time and effort involved are much more than the benefit he is receiving. He plays piano a few hours most days, but only plays drums when required to practice. Part of this comes from the fact that the drums are located in my husband's office, so JT can only practice when his dad is not working. That makes spontaneous playing less likely. Ultimately though, he realizes that he just doesn't have the time to commit to both instruments when piano will have a larger role in his likely career path. So, we said goodbye to our drum teacher. I think it might have been harder for me than it was for JT. We plan to start incorporating a once a week jam session with JT and his dad to keep his drumming skills intact.

I think this week has been a good start to a new chapter of our lives, a little less hands-on for me and lots of new experiences for the boys.

Friday, August 26, 2016


JT will begin his college classes on Monday. When we made our goal to hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail the summer he graduates from high school, we made the plan to spend time hiking this summer. Today felt like the last day of our summer, so we thought we'd better get busy with that goal. I took him hiking at Rickett's Glen State Park where we hiked the shorter version of the Falls Trail.

The trail follows two different creeks as they drop through the park. There are 18 waterfalls on this trail, ranging from 11 feet to the tallest, Ganoga at 94 feet . There were a LOT of steps on this 3.5 mile trail, up and down. Luckily, I had just bought myself a collapsable hiking pole. JT made fun of me when I bought it. Then he wished he had one for this hike.

It took us about one and a half hours to drive to the park, we ate lunch, then hit the trail. We made it around the loop in a little less than 3 hours, with quite a bit of stopping to take pictures. We had time to talk about college classes and things he would need to work on to be successful.

We are planning to do some more hiking on the weekends through the fall. We are also taking our annual camping trip to another one of the state parks in September, so we'll get some hiking in then. I'm not sure how many weekends he'll want to commit to physical activity. I think there will be some adjusting to do until he gets used to his new schedule. 

The views of the waterfalls were worth the work to get to them. It wasn't too hot under the trees and at the bottom of some of the falls, there was a nice breeze.

When we reached the end of the trail, JT said, "Is it a sign of a good hike when you are glad it's over?"

I said, "As long as you are glad you did it, then yes."

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Getting Things in Order

Last week, EM participated in the local fire safety camp. The boys have been going to this camp for the last seven years, however, JT was too old to go this year. Every time one of the boys reaches the age limit for an activity they love, there's a little bit of mourning on my part. It's not that I don't want them to grow up; I just don't want things to change. Our little plan has been the same for so long and I hate change.

Fire safety camp runs for three afternoons. Temperatures were in the 90s all week with humidity that made the real feel temp over 100. It was pretty hot for the kids putting on all the gear and pulling around heavy equipment. The instructors allowed them to do many of the activities without their gear so they wouldn't drop over from heat exhaustion. The last day of camp they did an obstacle course outside followed by the fire fighters shooting them with the water cannon. That was a nice way to cool everyone off. I had been warned in advance so I kept my distance for picture taking.

Yesterday JT and I went to his community college orientation. We were able to talk to his chemistry instructor and get some insight into what to expect. I also learned about their tutoring service that allows a student to send their writing assignments in for review and suggestions for improvement. Hooray! I don't have to do all of that anymore!

Classes start August 29th and we still haven't managed to find a cheaper copy of the English comp text he needs. The student advisor at the orientation suggested waiting until the first day of class to find out if the book is absolutely necessary. We might do that, but I hate not having everything all in order when he starts. I guess I need to learn to go with the flow a little more.

Next week will be our first week off after our six weeks on with our new schedule. We will be trying to get in a day of hiking at a state park, go to the farmer's market, and do a little PSAT prep. I'm hoping to get through a pile of papers I need to file or discard and put together my new scheduling template incorporating JT's new classes into the plan. Mostly, I'll just be preparing myself for new beginnings.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Early Start

School year 2016-2017 got off to a slow start about one month ago. Because JT will be taking classes at the community college this fall, we decided we should get a head start on some of the subjects he'd need to do at home. We have no idea what kind of work load he should expect for his college classes and I didn't want things to be too overloaded when he's first starting out. Of course, all of that logic was lost on the poor victims that needed to get back into a routine.

I tried to keep things simple for the first few weeks - a little grammar, a little history, math, some reading assignments, and geography. JT already has many things to do for his various music lessons each week so those assignments continued for him. EM also did some writing, science, math, and spelling.

The second week into our schooling, JT volunteered as a student helper for Kids' College. He's now too old to attend the program but was given the opportunity to play a different role and continue to enjoy the environment. The kids that attend the camp are definitely part of his tribe. One of the friends he made there in the past was also a volunteer so they were able to spend the week together talking about a video game idea they want to develop.

I'm looking into a few things for the fall. EM will probably be participating in a homeschool gym class once a week. He enjoys most sports and being our only extrovert, needs that time with other kids that JT does not want. Since I'll be taking JT to his college classes Monday and Wednesday morning and Tuesday evenings, plus music lessons on Thursdays, adding a Friday gym class for EM will mean I need to leave the house every day. The hermit in me really dislikes this plan but I know all of these opportunities are good ones for the boys.

Our plan for this year is a little different from others. We are going for the six weeks on, one week off schedule. Thanksgiving and Christmas will confuse things a bit. We'll only have twelve days of school between the two holidays. But will enter Christmas break with only 80 days of school left to meet our 180 days required. JT is planning to take as many as three classes from the community college in the spring, so he will be busier than ever after our month long Christmas break.

Looking at my schedule for this year feels a little overwhelming but I have a feeling it's really going to fly. We're two years from JT's graduation and EM is nearly a highschool student. My job here will soon be done.