Thursday, September 27, 2012

Gotta Get Away

Camping Essentials
For the last four years, we have made it a tradition to take a camping trip to one of the beautiful Pennsylvania state parks at the end of September.  We stay in the fully furnished, modern cabins because we aren't very good at roughing it.  Nature + modern conveniences = Mom doesn't totally freak out during the vacation.

This year we are heading to Pymatuning State Park on the border of Ohio and Pennsylvania.  If it turns out to be half as gorgeous as the pictures make it seem, I will be thrilled.  Learning from past trips, I know that I should not plan any organized learning for the boys.  We will put them in places where learning can happen naturally.  They will be spending time hiking the trails and birdwatching near the lake.  We also have a day trip planned to Cleveland to visit the Great Lakes Science Center and meet up with friends who live nearby.  Another great benefit will be that we get to spend a day catching up with our homeschooling friends who live near Pittsburgh.

We all look forward to our little getaways.  We have put in six great weeks of schooling so far for this year.  In the past, when we were packing for this trip, I was already feeling the need for a break from the schooling.  This year, it doesn't feel that way.  I'm happy to be going...but I don't feel the same need to escape.  Things are becoming more seamless in our homeschooling life.

And I like it that way.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Speaking the Language of Music

When we first started homeschooling, I attempted to teach all subjects the state required to the boys year-round.  Every week I would spend one day on civics, music, health, and PA history.  This turned out not to work very well.  I never felt like we had the continuity I wanted.  I also felt like these subjects didn't really require an entire year to cover.  Last year, I started splitting them out into quarterly units.  We found that focusing on the same subject for five or six weeks worked much better.

The first of our units this year is music.  For once, I managed to throw together something a little more organized than my usual method of staring at my planner Saturday night thinking, "What am I going to do for music this time?"  Instead, each week we are learning about a past American musician using an old book I picked up free from the library discard pile.  Famous American Musicians by L. Edmond Leipold, Ph.D. contains biographies of ten of our nation's most popular musicians.  This book, published in 1972, has also brought up conversations outside of the realm of music.  Let's just say, political correctness was definitely not a priority in the writing of this book!  Those problems aside, I like the collection of musicians that the author put together, so we'll stick with it.  Each week we read the biography and then find samples of the artist's music online.  I am also using these flash cards to cover musical concepts and vocabulary.  We are also supplementing our studies with the videos in the BrainPOP arts and music category. 

Earlier this week, I stumbled upon the TED-Ed page and fell in love.  I spent some time poking around the site and discovered a lesson titled Music as a Language by Victor Wooten.  This was a great find, since it fit right in with our music unit AND we are huge Flecktones fans.  JT has even met and spoken with the members of the band when we saw them in concert last year.

In the video, Victor Wooten compares the way we learn to speak to how we learn music.  We don't learn all the rules of language before we are allowed to speak.  We start talking and making mistakes.  As babies, we spend our time practicing language by talking to 'experts', our parents.  He argues that we should learn music the same way.  Playing with those who know the language of music, making mistakes, and not being forced to learn the rules before we are ready.

After watching the video, we talked about it for a bit, and went on with our day.  But after the boys' evening snack time, something magical happened.  JT sat down at the piano and started playing some songs he hasn't attempted in a long time.  Then my husband picked up my violin and started playing along.  Then EM went to his room and pulled out his ukulele.  They had a great jam session.  Mistakes were abundant, but it didn't matter...

...the conversation was great.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Art at Home

Art instruction has been a weakness of mine ever since our homeschooling journey began. I usually have high hopes at the beginning of each year, but by the end of October I start to lose steam. Art can be messy. Art takes more planning. Art can be costly. It's easy to tell myself we'll get around to it later. And then we don't. Public schools are cutting art all over the place, so that makes it okay, right?

Actually, homeschooling regulations for PA require art instruction at both the elementary and secondary levels. Interesting, considering the fact that in my high school years I didn't take a single art class because they weren't required. I took plenty of creative electives, especially the cooking classes, but no art classes.

This year I am trying hard to stick with a plan. In the past, I have used ideas I found at Art Projects for Kids many times. Our first major project for this year is the glue and foil drawing. This was a nice complement to our weekly art reading. Once a week, we read a chapter from A Child's History of Art: Sculpture. Chapter one covers different kinds of sculpture, including low relief or bas-relief. Our glue and foil drawings can fall into that category. That made it a nice choice for this week.

We spread the project out over two different days. On the first day, the boys decided what they wanted to draw. JT made a space battle. EM made a pig/cat mutation. ? I made a duck. No mutations for me. We needed to draw our simple line drawing and then trace over it with a thick bead of glue. This was more difficult than I you might think. I ended up having to do some of the work for each of the boys. The glue needed to dry for a few days. Next we added our foil and details using a dull pencil point. Finally, we added the black shoe polish to give it the antiqued look.

The project may have been a bit on the messy side, but it didn't take much planning or expense. The most expensive component was the shoe polish for about two dollars. My excuses have been blown away. I guess art can seem daunting to me because it is a subject in which I never excelled. Taking advantage of the knowledge of others through sites like Art Projects for Kids, makes it more doable and fun, even for amateurs like myself.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

¿Usted habla español?

Last year we started looking for a way to incorporate foreign language learning into our homeschooling journey. We went to an introductory Spanish lesson that was taught using the TPRS method. Unfortunately, the class would only be offered if we could get more students to sign up. No one else was interested at the time, so I put language learning on the back-burner.

Over the summer, I found out that our local library now offers free access to Mango language lessons online through their website to all card holders. There are over forty languages to choose from, including everything from Spanish to Pirate(?). We went with Spanish(Latin American) because there are many Spanish speakers in our area and because it is a language with which I have reasonable familiarity thanks to five years of Spanish classes in school.

I opened up three separate accounts, one for each boy and one for myself, and we started learning. I really like the way the lessons are presented. Each lesson has conversational and grammar goals. There are ten chapters covered in the free 2.o language class. Each of those chapters has several lessons. Some of the chapters have titles like, Do You Speak English? and Shopping and Payments. An example of a grammar goal from one of the lessons in Do You Speak English? is to 'understand the basic structure of questions'.

The lessons are fairly interactive with helpful repetition that can easily be skipped through when unnecessary. As you begin a lesson, the screen shows a stack of cards, like flashcards. The narrator either introduces a new word to try or asks you to recall how to say a word or phrase you have already learned. Sometimes you need to use what you have learned to put together a new phrase. Grammar tips are introduced occasionally, as well. All words can be moused over for pronunciation help, both written and auditory. At any time in the lesson, you can skip forward or backward in the cards. An especially helpful feature is the interactive pronunciation comparison. The student records a sample of a word or phrase. Then you are able to playback your sample simultaneously with the narrator sample in order to carefully compare the two. This has been wonderful for EM. Due to his auditory processing disorder, recognizing the subtle differences in the pronunciation of words can be difficult for him. I'm realizing that this comparison tool can be a good supplement for the therapy program he already uses.

When we have completed all ten chapters that we can do for free, we may decide to purchase the next step through Mango's website. The free instruction is comparable to their first Passport Journey product. There are two more levels beyond it, both of which cost $79.

For now, I have started making flashcards for us to use together to supplement what we are learning online. I want to be sure we are retaining what we are picking up by using our new skills in situations other than on the computer. We will also use a set of vocabulary workbooks I picked up a few years ago. They are geared for grades 1-3 but I think they will work well for our early studies.

I was pleasantly surprised early in our lessons when EM was making attempts at dinner one night to start a conversation in Spanish. It's nice to see him getting excited about a style of learning that is not necessarily his greatest strength...

...and having fun in the process.