Thursday, August 25, 2011

And They're Off!

Year number four in our journey has begun. We started the week off with a field trip to Millbrook Marsh Nature Center in State College. Considering my plan to make this our most unstructured year yet, an afternoon of casual traipsing in nature seemed like a perfect beginning.

JT has enthusiastically jumped into his new English program. I picked up copies of K12's Level 8 Literary Analysis and Composition Teacher Guide and Student Pages at a library book sale this summer. At first, I didn't think I could use them for much more than an outline for a reading course. I quickly realized I would only need to purchase copies of the reader, English skills book and the vocabulary book the course uses and I could do everything except the online portion of the course. I picked up two of the books, second hand, for pennies. The vocabulary book used in the course is the Level C Vocabulary from Classical Roots, which I already own! This course is a perfect fit for JT. There is a great deal of depth in the lessons. The reading assignments are right on target for his level of comprehension. The composition portion of the work will be challenging. Even though he has resisted composition assignments in the past, he says he is excited by the way it is presented in this method.

EM will be spending more time this year developing his writing style. When it comes to writing, he only believes in giving the vital information. He is a math-man all the way. Today we had a good discussion about expression in writing. Together we wrote up several possible topic sentences for a paragraph he was composing. I tried to show him how changing the order of the words, adding more detail and imagery would make someone want to read the rest of the paragraph. I don't know if writing in this way will ever come naturally for him, but he will at least understand why he should try.

Both of the boys are really enjoying our new way of studying science. We currently have two Monarchs in their chrysalides and one white-lined sphinx moth pupa in our classroom. Both of the links for those insects come from the website Bug Life Cycles. This site is an excellent resource for our entomology study. The vivid photographs have helped us identify more than one of our specimens. I am getting a lot out of this study...maybe more than the boys. It has been a great refresher for my rusty taxonomy skills.

The highlight of the week came early. While we were walking around the marsh, EM came up to me and said, "Mom, I'm so happy you brought us here today. I love school!"

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Fire Safety

"safety education, including regular and continuous instruction in the dangers and prevention of fires"
~24 P.S. § 13-1327.1 Home education program

In PA, homeschoolers are required to teach fire safety every year. My favorite reference site for homeschooling in Pennsylvania,, has a great page that gives many creative ideas for teaching fire safety. We had an opportunity this week to move beyond the worksheets and participate in Fire Safety Day Camp. For two hours a day, three days this week, they are learning all about emergency services.

The first day of camp a local police chief talked with them about crime prevention. He showed the students how handcuffs and leg irons are used to keep criminals from harming others. The kids really enjoyed learning about how a taser works. Next they learned about the jobs of EMTs and ambulance drivers. They were able to tour two different types of ambulances. The grand finale of the day came when the local hospital helicopter landed on the field and the kids were able to get inside and talk with the pilot.

Day two involved discussion of fire prevention and fire safety. They learned how to escape a burning building and how to make a 911 call. The volunteer fire fighters put on their equipment and showed how each part of the uniform helped to keep them safe. Then the instructors demonstrated rope rescue. The kids split into teams and had a hand in pulling a 'victim' to safety.

Tomorrow they are going to use fire extinguishers, man the hoses on the fire trucks and end the week with a giant water battle. (I'm guessing the fire hose will play a part in this.)

Overall, it has been an excellent NO COST program for my children.

When we originally signed up, I was told that parents were free to stay or leave their children. The camp was split into two time frames for two different age groups. My boys both fell into the morning group, ages 7-10. I decided I would stay because I thought it would be interesting and I also didn't really know anyone involved with this program.

On the first morning, I found another homeschooling mom to chat with during the program. She said to me, "I can't believe how many parents just left their kids here." I hadn't really thought about it too much, but when she mentioned it, I realized how most parents are used to leaving their kids with strangers on a daily basis. I know that school teachers aren't really 'strangers' because they are employed by the school and have been thoroughly investigated to a point that we need not worry about our children's safety. However, it is a practice that may not be second nature to those of us in the homeschooling world. When given the option, I often stay to see what is going on with the boys. Not necessarily because I think that I can't leave them, but more out of curiosity. I want to know what they are learning so we can talk about it later. Some might think that is being over-protective or smothering. At this point, my boys don't seem to mind my almost ever-present self. So as long as they let me...I'll be there learning with them.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Odds and Ends

Even though our insect collecting supplies are in transit (last time I checked, they were in Bismark, ND) my boys have decided to dive headfirst into the entomology study. JT brought me a handful of molted cicada skins he found under our apple tree. Later, when I said, "Get those dead things out of my house!" He quite correctly answered, "Mom, they aren't dead. They were never alive."

That's what you get for teaching your kids.

I finally received a letter from our home school district declaring my homeschool portfolios for last year acceptable. I was fairly certain we had done everything required, but I still felt like I was holding my breath until I got the news.

Our last week of summer vacation is going to be a full one. We will be going to VBS at our church from Sunday through Wednesday, so our evenings will be busy. Wednesday through Friday the boys will be taking part in a Fire Safety Day Camp in the mornings sponsored by a local fire company. It sounds like a good program, but whenever I have to sign a waiver warning me of potential injury or death for my children, I get a bit worried. We'll see how that turns out!

Sometime during all of that craziness, I will need to finalize lesson plans for the first week or two. Because I am going for a less structured method this year, I'm wondering exactly how much planning I will be doing on a weekly basis. I guess I'll have some tweaking to do as I try different methods.

After much avoidance, I did iron out my plan for music instruction earlier this week. That was one subject I had been avoiding like the plague. Although we listen to music most days, have instruments all over the house and attend a number of musical performances most years, I just dread trying to teach music to the boys. I found a slightly dated book called Music Skills for Classroom Teachers published in 1979 at a library book sale. We will cover just five chapters from this book and supplement with a study of several famous composers. Also, because I'm a glutton for punishment, we will be buying recorders that they will be learning to play.

Tonight a cool breeze is blowing in my classroom window. The summer has slipped away and before I know it the snow will be swirling against those windows. Even so, I no longer feel the same anxiety I used to when fall would sneak up on us. There used to be such a rush to get everything ready for school: shopping trips, back to school night, the need to get the kids to bed earlier so the race to the bus wouldn't be so traumatic. They are all behind us. Our life has such a steady rhythm now. I can't imagine ever going back.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Science Planning

My planning for this coming school year is nearly complete. The subject that I both enjoy and dread when it comes to planning is definitely science. Don't get me wrong...I love science. It has always been my favorite subject. At one point in my life I was registered as a biology major, but life doesn't always follow the path you expect and that's another story. The biggest challenge here is narrowing down what we are going to study for the year. There are just too many choices!

At the beginning of last year, I had set a goal to spend more time focusing on specific topics of interest in science and less time jumping around from topic to topic the way most elementary science text books tend to do. I also tried to incorporate as much hands-on learning and experimentation as possible. As the year went on, I started to worry that the boys wouldn't be on target for what they should know in science if I didn't use a grade appropriate text book as a guide. So I pulled one for each boy from my supply and started the tedious process of reading from a text book.

This year, there will be little need for text books in science! My overall plan currently looks something like this:

I will have a grade appropriate text book on hand for each of the boys. I will give them free rein with those books. They can read them, page through them, or completely ignore them.

We chose four major topics we want to cover for the year. Entomology, marine biology, cells and their structures (definitely spending considerable time on microscope use) and finally, geology with a dose of paleontology. As you can see, this year leans heavily on the biology side of the science spectrum.

At this point, I am working hard to outline what I really want to cover in our first unit. JT has been after me for 4 years to have an 'entomology course'. He will finally get his wish. I am using the book The Practical Entomologist as the backbone of our study. We certainly have a large selection of reading material covering the insect world. I hope to tie our study of word roots with the scientific names of the insects. I am shopping on the Home Science Tools website for all of the fun accessories we may need to create a spectacular collection of insect specimens. Also, we will be going to The Great Insect Fair held in State College on the Penn State University campus. We have wanted to attend the last two years, but our schedule prevented it. They also sponsor a Build-A-Bug contest that both boys are planning to enter. When I look at everything we could possibly do with this unit, 45 days (1/4 of the required 180 school days in PA), will never be enough!

One last thing I am planning for our science studies this year, involves nature journaling. I am buying a copy of The Nature Connection by Clare Walker Leslie for each of the boys AND one for myself. This book comes highly recommended and when I looked through it, I could certainly see why. After two introductory chapters titled, "How to Be a Naturalist" and "Learning the Sky" Leslie launches into Part Three, "Exploring Nature: A Month-by-Month Guide". The book is designed so that you can record your observations directly on the pages. Readers are encouraged to add drawings and photos to the journal. Each section covers a different month and discusses different plants and animals that you might encounter at that time of the year. It also has a place to record temperature, weather and astronomical data. I plan to hold these books in reserve until December. We will begin our data gathering at the start of the calendar year. I'm hoping that will encourage us to get outside when we might prefer to stay indoors and hibernate.

The more time I spend planning this year, the more excited I am about our prospects. My expectations are not always accurate. But I know that's part of the learning process...and I'll accept whatever comes my way.