Thursday, August 28, 2014

Changing Dynamics

EM's books
I'm having a hard time falling back into my former routine of once a week posting here. I think I'm finally back on track, so things should be running smoothly from here on out. In my last post, I shared my plan for JT, now I'll share my plan for EM.

This year EM's work will be much more focused on his reading and writing skills. He does a great job in math and science, but has often had difficulty with language skills. Because JT will be doing much more independent work this year, I have more time to invest in EM. He will continue to have weekly spelling lists with a pretest on Monday, a workbook page each day, and a final test on Friday. He will be working his way through Calvert's Grammar & Usage workbook. He is also starting to use the Vocabulary from Classical Roots series that has been a foundation of JT's vocabulary and spelling studies since we began homeschooling. For now, EM will be using the first two books as enrichment vocabulary work. When he reaches the third book, I will start using them for his weekly spelling lists as I did with JT. He will also be working through the Critical Thinking Level E book. Many of those activities can be used for composition assignments. I also plan to generate writing work for him using a Creative Teaching Press book called Responding to Literature. I plan to have him use the reading text shown in the picture, as well as novels that he will help to choose, with study guides found online.

For science, he will work his way through Calvert's 6th grade science text. I plan to do many of the activities. I will also have him observe some of the lab work JT will do for his biology course. American history will continue to be a time line study following the lives of the presidents of the United States. For world history, we will be reading the second half Volume 3 of The Story of the World that we started last year.

I did find something I can use for JT and his literature study for this year. I went digging in my homeschooling loot I have accumulated over the years. It turns out I forgot that I have a nearly complete course from K-12 called Literary Analysis and Composition. We won't have access to their online instruction because I refuse to pay $425 a semester, but it is still good solid material that I can adapt without that tool. However, the adaptation takes time and planning. I also made one more adjustment to JT's plan for this year. I dropped the Concepts & Connections Biology text and bought a copy of the Apologia Biology textbook and manual. The conversational style of this text fits JT's learning style much better than the C&C text. I also bought an outline for the course developed by a parent that fits it all into 33 weeks of study. That will save me some time in the planning department.

Now that we are well into our third full week of schooling, I'm noticing a different dynamic developing. In previous years, the boys would sometimes work on their independent assignments in the morning, but could choose to save their work for later in the day. Immediately after lunch and chores, there would be this feeling of rushing to get everyone in the classroom for our 'school time'. Because so much of their work is now independent, they are actually working quite a bit before lunch so they can get to their free time sooner. Two days this week, we had no together work to do. I had a few activities to help EM get started, but most of the time, they worked quietly on their own, with no input from me. It took me a week to really see that I have more free time during the day than I have had in many years. That said, my planning time has probably tripled from last year. I will need to learn to do that planning during their schooling time to avoid late nights on the weekends drowning in prep work. It's nice to have more freedom during the day, but it's also a little sad to me. Even though it's a lot of work, I enjoy our time together. It's been a joy to see the boys learn new things and I have had many great conversations with them in our little classroom. We will still be reading history books aloud together a couple days a week, so I can hold on to that for now.

But change is coming... both good and bad.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Here We Go Again

JT's future
Even though I was in no way ready, we started our 2014-2015 school year on Monday. When I picked that day a few weeks back, my optimism got the better of me. I knew I still had far too many loose ends, but the desire to get our 180 days logged by the beginning of May pushed me to endure what turned into a frantic scramble of planning over the weekend. We certainly didn't start off with a bang, but 'slow and steady wins the race', right?

Part of the problem with my planning this year was  a few of the decisions were especially difficult. First there was the issue with JT's social studies requirement. I had an old copy of an American government textbook that I had wanted to use but I wasn't 100% happy with how old it was. I kept putting off finding an updated edition. I didn't want to pay for the most current one, but wanted something a little more recent than the one I had. I finally made that decision early last week and found a slightly newer edition that seems to be a good fit. Then there was biology. Again, I have an older textbook. However, I had found an instructor's guide to go with it and an outline that someone put together for a full biology course using that edition and the book The Way Life Works. Because I have a framework to use with that edition, I think I'm going to stick with it, even though it's a bit older. We also found this biology class on Coursera that starts soon. I think it will be a great introduction to biology. I don't know if JT will go for the distinction certificate that requires the peer assessments. That might be more work than he can handle as a 13 year old. We'll see how it goes during the first week of class. The biggest upset of all in my planning was that our literature and writing class that we had hoped JT could do fell through. I didn't find this out until just this week, so I'm scrambling to assemble something on my own. But as a homeschooling mom I've learned to be flexible. I'm guessing it will all work itself out. I just might not sleep a lot until it does.

The good news is that math is covered with Thinkwell Algebra 1 and German 1 requires no work from me since he's using Rosetta Stone. I'm still finalizing the syllabus for his game design project based class that we are creating. Part of it will include another Coursera class, Understanding Video Games, offered by The University of Alberta.  We will also include his drum lessons and composing for an arts and humanities credit this year. I talked with his instructor and he has agreed to work with me to give a letter grade for JT's work. So not everything is a mess.

Next week I'll share my plans for EM this year. I think what's making things so complicated for me this year is that for the first time the boys are on totally different paths for their learning. The only crossover we have will be reading Story of the World aloud and our time line of American history study that we've been doing for the last five years. All other subjects are completely separate. I guess I never thought about how my volume of work would increase when this happened.

The good news is that I'll only have to worry about it for the next four years until JT graduates. Then I can focus my energy on just EM. Until then, I'll be hopping!

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...