Thursday, November 24, 2011

Top Ten Benefits of Homeschooling

In a blog post three weeks ago, I mentioned that flexibility is on my Top Ten Benefits of Homeschooling list. I decided that Thanksgiving is the perfect time to list the reasons I am thankful for our homeschooling lifestyle.

No early morning bus stops! This is of course the most important reason of all. :-)

As I have already said, schedule flexibility is on my list. More specifically, that we can move our school days and content around when we have a crisis or just need a day off for mental health.

Plenty of time for the boys to be outside. One of the things that makes me sad for kids in traditional classrooms is the lack of time they get to be outdoors.

Time for play. All children learn through unstructured play. When you have 8 hours or more away from home everyday, it makes it hard to find time for enough play.

No need to worry about bullying. I know that there is always the chance that the boys may encounter a bully at one of their many away from home activities. However, most times these events are likely to have an adult there who can stop things before they escalate.

Vacationing during the off season. This is one of my favorites. I detest crowded museums, parks and beaches. Being able to travel while the majority of families can not, allows us to avoid the crowds and learn at the same time.

Family time. I love that we are all at home together most days. Recently an acquaintance expressed surprise at how much time our entire family spends together. I don't often think about how unusual that is for most families. I am thankful that we have that benefit AND that we are all happy about it!

The ability to find the best fit for curriculum, or even the lack thereof, for each subject for each of the boys. We have found that no one math curriculum works for both, so we use two. We also know that while JT can learn anything by reading about it, EM needs more of a hands-on approach for most subjects. Even though more and more schools seem to be attempting to teach to different learning styles, they can't cater individually to each student in every subject.

Freedom to work at a pace that suits our own personal rhythms. I know at some point in their lives our boys will probably need to work on someone else's time schedule. Right now we can enjoy that flexibility. If we are having fun finishing an art project, we don't need to put it aside to get to math. Math can always wait until we are ready.

Finally, I love that we get to learn together. We are exploring our world and loving every minute of it. I am usually just as excited about the new things we discover as the boys fact, sometimes more. (Just ask any one who has visited our house recently and been forced to look at my sand samples with the microscope.)

So that's my list. Some days it is hard work to guide these boys. Some days it feels like I'm cheating the system by having so much fun with them. All I know is that they are happy, they are learning and I am thankful for the opportunity to be a part of their journey.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ocean View

We had a short educational journey over the weekend. In celebration of our second science unit this year, marine biology, we decided a trip to the shore was in order. Our boys had never seen the ocean (I know, I'm a horrible mom!) and JT has been asking for years to visit an aquarium.

I was not sure what to expect from Ocean City, NJ in mid-November. I knew we certainly wouldn't be doing any swimming, but I thought it would be warm enough for playing on the beach and possibly even walking along the edge of the water. The weather prediction called for 60 degrees and sunny. It turns out, 60 degrees and sunny with a substantial breeze, is a bit on the chilly side. We managed to spend an hour or so on the beach, but in heavy coats and hoods. The boys had a good time anyway. We came home with a collection of shells, seaweed and a possible shark tooth.

After two days at the shore, we moved inland to the Adventure Aquarium in Camden, NJ. We really enjoyed this hands-on aquarium. The boys were able to touch sharks, stingrays, starfish, sea cucumbers and anemones. How awesome is that?! They had a diverse collection of animals. We were disappointed to find that all of their shows were in the mornings and we didn't arrive until after lunch. If we plan another trip in the future, we will be sure to go in the morning hours.

Back at home on Tuesday, we made a microscope slide of the seaweed from the shore and another from some mint from our garden. We compared the structure of terrestrial plants to marine plant life. We also looked at our sand samples we brought home with my hand-held Carson microscope. This awesome tool may be one of my favorites for our classroom. If you have never looked at sand up are really missing something amazing. The book, A Grain of Sand by Dr. Gary Greenberg, is currently somewhere in the postal system on its way to my home.

Our marine science unit will probably be the shortest of our four science units this year, but I think it might end up being my favorite!

Thursday, November 10, 2011


A couple years ago, I was looking into opportunities for our boys to improve their chess skills by taking classes or joining a club. After a bit of searching, I found there wasn't much available in our immediate area. Having no desire to make a two hour round-trip for them to play chess, I took matters into my own hands and attempted to organize our own little chess club.

My personal knowledge of chess is rather limited. I know how each piece can move, how to set up the board and I even know that the proper name for the 'horse-thingy' is actually the knight. Oh! I also know that Bobby Fischer was an incredible chess player because I saw the movie, Searching for Bobby Fischer. Needless to say, I was not equipped to teach a group of children how to be experts at chess.

Using my feminine charms, I was able to convince my husband that he would make a great chess instructor. I asked a few friends if their children would like to play and our chess nights were born! We usually average around 6 kids, but if everyone showed up at once, we would have 14. The kids range from age 12 down to our youngest player, age 4. My husband begins each session with instruction. He often links the laptop to the television and uses the website chessKIDSAcademy to explain new concepts to the group. Once instruction has ended, he pairs the kids up and they play a few games. He usually tries to have them apply whatever new tactics they have learned in that lesson.

Dealing with a group of kids involved in many activities creates scheduling challenges. After a few months of spotty attendance and shuffling dates, we were ready to go last week. Friday morning, my husband announced that something had come up for work and he would be tied up on the computer at the exact time the kids would be arriving. I knew that I was not capable of pulling off the instruction. I also did NOT want to be the one to have to cancel again. My husband came up with his own alternative. JT could be the teacher.

I must say, I viewed this plan with much trepidation. Could a ten year old really pull this off? I sent out a few emails asking the moms to plan to be more hands-on than usual. (Most of the time, the moms, including me, hide out upstairs and chat while my husband and any other dads are sent to the battle front.) Everyone was very positive about the last minute change. JT spent some time working out a plan with my husband. He would review some of the previous tactics and have a question and answer session for the instruction portion of the evening. He wrote out a sheet with notes to follow and seemed at ease with his leadership role.

The night went well. JT led the group in the review. He asked questions and encouraged those who answered. When games were played, he went to the different tables to help the younger kids. After the first round of games had been played, he had a chance to play a couple games himself. All in all, he did a fantastic job.

JT is a natural when it comes to teaching. He has such excitement about sharing knowledge; it's hard not to be interested when he speaks. I think with a few more years of maturity, he will be able to lead groups like this with little problem. For now, I know that I have a teacher-in-reserve, if the need arises again.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Schooling Amid Crisis

Flexibility has always been in my 'Top Ten Benefits of Homeschooling' list. This week it became abundantly clear why that is.

Friday my father was taken to the emergency room with what turned out to be multiple strokes. I spent most of the next week going to the hospital, updating family and friends via phone and Facebook and trying to keep things relatively normal at home. The freak October snowstorm that brought us nine inches of wet, heavy snow did little to make that an easy task.

On Saturday, while I was trapped at home watching the snow come down, I put together a plan for the next week. I knew I would probably need to be leaving the boys at home from time to time with my husband as an indirect supervisor of their work. They are old enough to be able to do a great deal of their work on their own, as long as an adult is in the house. My husband's working from home allows him to physically be in the house, but not necessarily able to fully supervise everything they are doing. With that in mind, I tried to work out a plan that was mostly independent work this week.

One of the educational tools I have come to rely on in times like these is our home and public library documentary supply. This week we borrowed the first DVD of the History Channel's 2005 series, The Presidents. We counted that time towards our American history studies. This week was also the kick-off for our marine biology unit in science. I pulled our Planet Earth DVDs from the shelf and the boys watched the portion called Shallow Seas. The backbone of our unit is based on the book Marine Science, Book 2, put out by Dandy Lion Publications. It focuses on the kelp forest ecosystem which is nicely covered in that Planet Earth DVD. We will also watch another episode of The States series for geography tomorrow.

In a good week, when life cooperates, we rarely use the television as instructor. But having this back-up material ready to go made a bad week much more manageable. I know I could have just scrapped the whole week of schooling and had the time I needed to take care of family matters. However, I think keeping the boys busy gave me one less thing to add to my worries.

For now, my dad is stable and in an excellent rehabilitation facility. Knowing I have flexibility to make our schedule work when I need to help, makes dealing with the future much less daunting.