Thursday, October 28, 2010

Loosening the Chains

We have one full week of afternoon schooling under our belts and it continues to be a successful transition. With the new schedule, I'm finding that the boys are working on their own passions in their free time. JT started writing a story on Sunday afternoon about slugs and bugs. It has many epic battle scenes. His favorite books include The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Guardians of Ga'Hoole series and The Redwall series. All of those are full of battles and desperate times. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that his writing is following the same path. Monday and Tuesday he SET HIS ALARM clock so he could wake up early and write. Did you hear what I said? He WANTED to write!

In case you have forgotten...this child dreads the physical act of writing. He is full of excellent ideas, but when it comes time to put them to paper...forget it. I have spent hours in vain trying to bribe, threaten and plead with him to write a simple composition. So far, his story is 17 pages long. Handwritten. This is nothing short of a miracle. Remember what I said about finding your passion? I made a deal with him that if he continues to write the story, I will count it as his writing 'class'. I will type up the rough draft just as he writes it, but he will have to do all of the proofreading and correction on the computer himself. He loves to use dialogue in his stories, so I reminded him he will need to brush up on use of quotations in order to do his corrections. Sneaky mom. :-)

EM has started spending much more of his free time reading. After he resigned to the fact that the mornings were not to be spent on computer games and non-educational movies, he realized reading wasn't as bad as he thought. He checked a huge volume of Curious George stories out of the library and read it in 2 days. This is also unprecedented. Typically he spends much more time looking at pictures in books than reading the stories. He usually wakes up an hour or two before the rest of the family. Most mornings, I find him sitting on his bed reading Calvin and Hobbes or some other favorite from his book shelf when I get up. What a joy this has been for me.

We are still having fairly structured classroom time in the afternoons. Everyday we have reading, spelling, grammar/writing, and math. Two days a week we cover history. Three days for science. Health, civics, art, geography and music each have one day. Right now we are covering these subjects in approximately 3 1/2 hours a day. But based on how the boys are using their free time I believe those hours may turn out to be more educational than any of the structured learning I will provide.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Schedule Flexibility

What time of day does schooling need to take place? Is there a best time of day? I think that answer is different for every family...maybe every individual child.

Last year I was playing with the idea of teaching EM in the mornings and JT in the afternoons. EM is definitely more of a morning person and I thought he might do his best work then. Unfortunately, it never seemed to come to fruition. I just couldn't work out a schedule that allowed me to teach at two different times every day.

A couple nights ago, I was telling a friend that I do my best planning late in the evening, usually between 8pm and midnight. The problem with this is that the next morning I never feel like teaching. I'm too tired. My friend said, "Why don't you just do school in the afternoon?"


Last year this idea probably would not have worked. We had piano and violin lessons in the afternoons. Now that we have eliminated some of our outside activities, we have a very open schedule in the afternoons. Most of our doctor appointments and library activities are in the mornings. All of a sudden, schooling later in the day makes perfect sense. I was worried that EM might not do as well as JT, but he seems to be adjusting well. Both of the boys enjoy starting the day out with free time. It was often a struggle to get going in the mornings if they had found something to do before schooling started. Now they have a few hours to play with Legos or go outside or work on drawing one of their endless battle games they invent. I did lay down the rule that there would be no computer games or movie watching during this free time. I want it to involve creative play.

I have found that I am much more enthusiastic about teaching in the afternoons. I have been able to get housework out of the way in the mornings this week. It is so much easier to conquer those kinds of tasks before schooling. By the end of the school day, I am worn out from being the cheerleader for my kids. All I want to do is relax...not fold laundry or clean the bathroom. I also feel like I'm accomplishing more every day, so that gives me more energy to spend on them. I no longer feel that they are 'wasting' my time when they aren't moving as quickly as I'd like.

So, why didn't it occur to me to move our school day to the afternoon? I believe it has to do with the assumption that I have to do what the schools are doing. Even after three years of non-conformity, I just can't stop comparing what we do with what THEY do. Am I afraid people who find out we let our kids sleep in until they are well rested will think we are somehow depriving them of needed skills? I know that no matter what we do, there will be critics out there who think we are ruining the lives of our children by our homeschooling choice. I didn't realize just how common that attitude was until I listened to a call in radio program called The Kojo Nnamdi Show episode entitled, "Homeschooling Goes Mainstream". I knew the naysayers were out there...I had just never really thought about the fact that people have a real disdain for what I do. Most of the callers seemed to think homeschoolers were all doing something harmful to their children.

Regardless of the disgust of the masses, I know what I am doing for my children is the right choice for them. They are happy. They are learning. They are developing into fine examples of people who can think for themselves. They aren't being told they are 'bad' because they can't sit still to listen to something they may or may not need to learn. They aren't being stuffed into a mold of what 'all 5th graders' should be. They are being allowed to grow and think and learn that even if every one else has done it this way for as long as anyone can remember...they can do it their own way and succeed.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


This week started out poorly. The boys were less than inspired to learn, which made me less than inspired to teach them. I know they are not always going to want to apply themselves...but this week...yikes!

By Wednesday things improved a bit. We made a barometer from Janice VanCleave's Weather book. JT was excited by his writing assignment. I asked him to compare and contrast two Pokemon. Sneaky, aren't I? Both of the boys are having more success with our current math plan. JT is back to Calvert(more on that shift later) and EM is being introduced to concepts of multiplication. The commutative, zero and identity properties are our friends!

After our rough start this week, I have been thinking a lot about focus. Then today I watched a video on YouTube about an 8 year old artist named Autumn de Forest. Her style of communicating reminded me of JT, except she had a control of herself that I rarely see in him. You could tell she was focused and intent on sharing her passion with others. The more I thought about her, I realized she had found her passion in her art and perhaps that is what took all of that talent and harnessed it into something productive. I see mostly counter-productivity in my home. I would love to find the passion my children have inside of them. Occasionally I will see a glimmer of the possibilities when one of the boys is working on something they love. The more I think about this, the more I believe the next logical step in our homeschooling journey will involve more project based learning and the exploration of their own personal interests.

The boys watched the video with me. When it was over, we worked with some new watercolor paints we had purchased last week. They were both more interested in the painting after seeing the amazing art Autumn could create. Maybe they just need to see more passion in others to push them to find their own inner drive. I plan to start exposing them to more success stories through reading and other media in the near future. Maybe if I can focus some of that energy, they can be motivated internally by their own desires, instead of being externally driven by me.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Smooth Sailing

A couple weeks ago, we found two swallowtail caterpillars in our patch of dill. We put them in jars and fed them until they made their cocoons. We were sure, due to the lateness of the season, that they would over-winter in their cocoons. Yesterday we were surprised to see a butterfly in our jar! Apparently, it had other plans. We quickly moved the stick with the butterfly to our flower bed to allow it to prepare for its first flight. Later in the day, he (we are fairly certain this one was a male, based on coloration of wings) was gone.

In other news...we made a discovery. Not all experiment books are created equally. We have been working our way through a unit on weather and atmosphere. We generally plan to 'do' science three days a week. I also try to include at least one demonstration or experiment every week. Last week we were discussing cloud formation. I found a demonstration in one of our science books for a 'cloud in a jar' and thought, "Perfect!". was anything but perfect. This particular book recommended putting an inch of water in a jar, putting a lid on, placing it in a saucepan of water on the stove. When the water in the pot starts boiling, place a plastic bag of ice cubes on the lid of the jar and wait for a cloud to form. NO cloud. Sad kids. Grumpy mom.

So, over the weekend I searched for a better version of this demo. I knew I had one some book...(not that I have a lot of books lying around here...perish the thought!) Then I found it, Janice VanCleave's Spectacular Science Projects: Weather. Have I ever told you about my love for Janice VanCleave? My husband laughs at me when I start talking about her books because I get so caught up in my joy over the elegance of her experiments and her ability to teach science, that I literally tear up. Some women cry for sappy commercials...I cry for good science.

When I read her version of this demonstration I knew right away it would work. Put a small amount of water in a glass jar, swish it around a bit, dump most of the water out. Have an adult (important!) light a match, blow it out and hold it inside the jar for a few seconds. Immediately have a helper stretch a square piece of latex, cut from a rubber glove, over the top of the jar and seal it with a rubber band. Push down in the center of the latex. Then pull the center of the latex back up. The change in pressure, plus the presence of the smoke in the air, allows the water to condense and form a cloud in a jar! Happy kids. Happy mom. Concept grasped. Education acquired.