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.

Friday, June 24, 2016


game in the works
The boys have been keeping themselves busy for the last month. JT is working on making a new board game, EM has been chatting with friends on the phone and online, both have been continuing their music lessons.

I was able to sell quite a bit of my old curriculum on the homeschool email list I belong to and at our yard sale. Once I had some cash from those sales, I turned around and bought the things I need for the coming school year.

EM books
EM will be an 8th grader for 2016-2017. We decided to use a textbook for his science studies this year. We chose earth science because he was pretty young the last time we covered geology topics and he doesn't remember much of what he learned. I also bought a grammar and composition textbook because this year I plan to increase the time he spends writing in order to prepare him for the requirements of the PHAA diploma program in 9th grade. I also bought the next level of Lightning Literature for 8th grade. For math, he will be studying algebra 1 this year with my husband. We aren't sure what text we will be using yet. I'm still researching some options. I'm also considering returning to regular practice of cursive for EM. JT doesn't like to write in cursive, but can when necessary. EM did not work on it as much and probably couldn't write a full sentence if I asked. He will also continue his piano lessons for music, pottery and drawing classes for art, and possibly archery lessons for physical education.

JT books
I had very little to purchase for JT this year. Of course, the money I save on curriculum will be spent on community college credits. But hey, I don't have to teach it! He will be taking chemistry and English comp in the fall from the college. At home we will be completing a half credit course in geography. He will also be studying math with his dad again this year. We were considering algebra 2, but after seeing how he's been doing on practice tests for the SAT and the college placement tests, we are going to spend the year getting him up to speed with things he has forgotten. We are calling the course, SAT Prep Math, and it will include a review of major math concepts, a review of algebra 1, and probably an introduction to algebra 2 at the end of the year. I see no reason to push him ahead when he's still struggling with older concepts.

We will also continue his music studies. He will continue working on music composition and theory, taking piano lessons, and drum lessons. In addition, he will be watching The Great Courses' Understanding the Fundamentals of Music course and taking a music history course at the college in the spring semester. I'm not sure if this will end up being 2 credits or maybe even 2 1/2 credits of music this year. In the spring he will also be taking a WWII course and, if I can talk him into it, a speech course. If everything goes as planned, I will only be teaching him geography this year and his dad will be teaching the math. Everything else will be outsourced now. Hard to believe we are so near the end with him. For 2017-2018, his senior year, he will probably be taking all college classes and nothing at home.

I'm sure the next year is going to bring many new challenges to us. New experiences with college and activities. And the scariest new experience of all... training him to drive!

Friday, May 13, 2016

It's a Wrap!

final grades
The work is finished; portfolios are assembled, the classroom has been cleaned, a list of materials for next year has been created. We will meet with our evaluator next week to go over the boys' work and then my summer can officially begin.

Now that we are in the PHAA diploma program, I have been grading JT's work for the transcript. He ended up having almost all As with just one B in geometry. He will have six credits this year; English, geometry, American history, and German 2 are all worth a full credit. Health and fencing are each 1/2 credit courses. To graduate with a diploma from PHAA he will still need two more credits in English, and one each in social studies, math, and science. In the fall he will be taking a chemistry class at the community college with plans to take a history and art class in the spring. At home he will be taking algebra 2, English, geography, and a music credit using a combination of a Great Courses series, his private piano and drum lessons, the composition and theory class he takes, and possibly a class with Coursera.

EM did a lot of work this year as well. He has a large section of his portfolio dedicated to his literature and grammar studies. We used multiple materials this year, Calvert's grammar workbook, 7th grade Lightning Lit, two different writing and composition workbooks, and two of the Vocabulary from Classical Roots books. He also completed two of the Anatomy Academy books for science and spent the second half of the year working through the Make: Electronics book. For math, he used Thinkwell to study pre-algebra. He took two pottery classes, piano lessons, and learned some archery with his new bow. Next year he will study algebra, earth science, 8th grade Lightning Lit, and take archery and drawing lessons. I also plan to spend more time next year working on his writing ability. If he's going to sign up with PHAA's diploma program, he needs to be able to write a 2500 word essay for each year from 9th-12th grade. We will be trying to get a few longer reports together throughout the year.

Once I had the portfolios together, I decided to immediately clean the classroom. Some years I just want to get out of there and leave the mess until later in the summer. Instead, I cleaned all of this year's books off of the shelf and put the new ones I already have on there. I will still be ordering a few things, but some of it was already here. Of course, if this room is clean that means the mess moved somewhere else.

Next week I'll have some more work to do. Most of what is in this room will be sold on the homeschool list I follow. I'm finally accepting that most of the materials I've been stockpiling for the last eight years will not be needed. I will need very few new things for JT since I already have next year's books and his senior year will probably be spent taking almost all college classes. EM will need some of what I have but I pretty much know what I need to keep and what can go. It's crazy to think that I'm nearing the end of this journey. Two more years with JT and five with EM. But for now I'm just going to enjoy my summer!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

It Figures

Well, we started our summer vacation with a family-wide virus. We are on the mend now, but my portfolio prep has been on the back burner until I can stay on my feet for more than an hour. I will  have to postpone my sharing on that topic until next time. Our appointment for our evaluations isn't until May 18th, so I have time to spare. I just hate waiting too long after we finish working because I tend to forget what I had planned.

Last weekend JT and I took a hike at the RB Winter State Park. We hiked about 4 miles in 2 hours, with a few stops to check things out. I feel like we made good time considering some of the trail conditions. The picture above was the start of the trail, easy hiking, wide path, some steep portions, but nothing serious. Then we came to a portion of the trail declared to be 'easiest hiking' in the trail guide for the park. The picture on the right shows JT above me on the trail. We had to come down that rocky path. I was wishing I had already ordered my hiking poles. I found a sturdy stick and suggested that JT come behind me so I didn't squash him if I fell.
I have been spending some time researching composition programs at various music schools. So far, the program that best fits JT's goals would be Berklee's online degree Music Composition for Film, TV, and Games. I'm looking into whether this program is worth the cost, because scholarship money isn't available. I'm also unsure if online schooling is the best choice for music education. A lot to think about. Luckily, we still have some time.

For now we just need to work on getting healthy so I can complete the portfolios and call this year a wrap!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Approaching the End, Again

lonely beach
Two weeks ago we took a quick weekend trip to Ocean City New Jersey. Even though the end is in sight for our school year, I needed a quick recharge for the final push. It was a chilly visit - temps were around 60 but the wind speeds were steady around 20mph with gusts of 50mph. At least we had the beach to ourselves to enjoy!

As of Monday, we will be seven days from the end of our 2015-2016 school year. As usual, I am surprised at how quickly the year has passed. EM is completing 7th grade, JT 10th. The last few days will be focused on a final test for JT in health, wrapping up Rosetta Stone's German 2 course, and working on a timeline of American presidents with both boys. We read our final presidential biography for the year last week. With Gerald Ford, we have come to presidents within my own lifetime, so next year we will be reading about history that I remember! I thought it would be a good idea to go back and review those we have covered up until now by making a timeline we can hang in the classroom. In the past, we made timelines for our Story of the World studies, but never for our American history.

 JT took another SAT practice test this week and improved his score in the math portions. He will be reviewing his incorrect answers and having some additional instruction on those problems with his dad. Then we will begin work on how to write a good SAT essay. He will be taking the PSAT in the fall and the SAT in May of 2017. College plans are starting to be formulated. We are not sure if his path will require SATs but we figure it can't hurt to take them just in case. As of right now, his college plans revolve around music and/or sound production. We had a long talk with his music theory instructor yesterday and she advised that he add piano lessons to his drum instruction and music theory studies. We are looking at some options for that, but know that it would be a good idea. JT writes music on the keyboard and finds that he doesn't have the technical skills to play the things he can imagine. Although he can play many things, he still struggles with sight reading and needs to work on his technique.

my feet hurt already
This summer we plan to work on our long term goal of hiking the portion of the Appalachian trail that passes through Shenandoah National Park. Our trail maps arrived this week so I'm starting to sit down with JT and look at the plan. We will be visiting a local state park on Saturday to do some trail hiking. Our goal is to plan our AT hike for the summer following JT's senior year. One thing I know is that I'm going to need to spend those two years getting myself in better shape! I'm happy that JT wants to take on this challenge. It will be a great experience for him to work towards independence. If this trip goes well, I hope he will continue to hike trails on his own and with friends in the future. When I was younger, I thought it would be cool to hike the whole Appalachian Trail. I'm not so sure I could handle that big of a challenge now, but it will be fun to do a portion of it with my son.

Next week I will post a summary of our complete school year. My summer planning will be a bit different this year. With JT planning to take some community college classes next year, I will have very little to do with him at home from now on. EM does a lot of his work independently, so my role will be changing for the 2016-2017 school year. That seems to be the nature of our homeschooling adventure. As soon as I get used to the way it is, it's time to make a change.