Friday, December 26, 2014

Merry Christmas

JT's new poster
Another Christmas has come and gone. This year felt like more of a whirlwind than usual. I just couldn't get myself in gear to shop and plan and organize. I finally started to feel like I was getting my groove and then it was over.

There were many nerdy homeschooler gifts received. The boys spent a few hours today enjoying their presents. Octodad was a favorite. I usually don't pay much attention to the video game playing in our home, but that one is so funny to watch, I have a feeling I'll be spending more time than I plan to watching them play.  Also, JT almost polished off his copy of Randall Munroe's What If? before bedtime. I'm looking forward to reading it next. Being able to borrow their Christmas gifts is just one of the many benefits of having children with similar interests as yourself.

Merry Christmas
Next week I'll share some details on the plans I have for changes in EM's science studies for the remainder of this school year. I'll also be looking at the progress JT is making on his 2500 word composition required for the PHAA diploma program. Changes have also been made to the homeschooling regulations in PA and I want to discuss how they will affect my plans in the future. But for now I just want to wish you a Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Fresh Air and Exercise

signs of activity
One of the dangers of homeschooling for our family is the tendency to become stationary. When the boys were younger it was hard to make them hold still for more than a minute at a time. Now that they are 11 and nearly 14, it takes a little more effort to get them motivated.

I noticed a few weeks ago that JT seemed to be dragging around the house a bit more than usual. Both of the boys are sleeping later and picking at each other a little more. I know we need to come up with a plan to get more active. But when winter comes it's not easy to want to do that. EM still likes to play in the snow but JT isn't always as enthusiastic. Last week we had a surprise snow storm that dumped about nine inches on us. I sent the boys out that morning and was thrilled that they stayed out for almost two hours. We have a great sledding hill so that provides plenty of exercise on the hike back to the top. They ran around the yard throwing snowballs and were thoroughly exhausted when they came in the house. Unfortunately our snow melted after only a few days and now we are back to the cold days with little or no sunshine.

I always have good intentions to start some kind of workout program with them when we hit this point in the year. So far we've had six years of homeschooling without success on the exercise plan. I'm thinking this year that simple would be best. During our Christmas break I'm going to try to come up with an easy answer to get all of us out of our seats for the rest of the winter months. Leaving the house to go to a gym or the YMCA doesn't work for us, especially in the winter, since our road is not always kept clear when the weather is bad. We do have the Wii Fit and EM enjoys using it. JT always tells me that his drumming practice counts as exercise, which may be true, but since he doesn't practice every day, I'd like to see a little more movement.  Our treadmill needs a new belt, but will be fixed as soon as we get around to buying a replacement. JT doesn't like using it, but the rest of us do. We also own a few small weights, an exercise ball, and a collection of work out DVDs.

So now that you know what we have to work with I could use a few suggestions for my planning. Do you have any tips on easy effective exercise programs that keep you active but don't break the bank?

Saturday, December 6, 2014

When Technology Fails

Wanna know what happens when you start to rely too much on technology for your child's education? Absolutely nothing when your primary computer calls in a sick day!

This week the computer affectionately known as Gamer 1 started showing the blue screen of death on Tuesday morning. This happens to be the computer on which we installed Rosetta Stone and JT stores his composition work. Nothing could be done about the Rosetta Stone situation; it would just have to wait for the computer to be repaired. Fortunately we have other computers in our home available for everything else. JT was able to do some work on his composition for the week, he just couldn't access work he had already completed. As luck would have it, when he tried to do his algebra work on Thinkwell we discovered their videos were having some kind of technical issue that made them choppy and too slow to watch. By the time the computer was back up and running and Thinkwell seemed normal again, JT was three days behind in his work. He'll have to do a little German this weekend, but other than that he managed to get caught up by Friday evening. I'm not sure if there is a way to protect against something like this happening in the future but I'll certainly be looking for options.

not a big enough dictionary
Something funny happened today that I wanted to share. EM came in the kitchen wanting me to spell the word absolutely for him. Now don't be fooled, he wasn't writing a composition or using it for other noble purposes. He wanted to use it in a cheat code for a video game he was playing. I pointed out that we own a perfectly accessible dictionary that he could use. Usually I'm met with a frustrated reply like, "If I don't know how to spell it, how can I expect to find it in there?!" I asked if he knew what letters it started with and assured him if he did, he'd find it eventually. He ran off and I didn't hear any more about it until I found the dictionary, open to the A section, on the floor of the classroom. When they see a need for knowledge, they will do the work to get it!

If only I could motivate them to work hard for those answers when they are doing school work, not just cheating on video games...

Friday, November 28, 2014

Holiday Reprieve

bacon socks
JT's first 12 week fencing class has ended. Even though he has to wear incredibly uncomfortable gear, he is happy to go to practice, so I know this activity is a success. Classes will be offered again starting in February and he will definitely be taking part.

Fencing classes are wrapping up, EM's pottery classes have finished until spring, and piano and drum lessons are falling into a nice routine; things are starting to take on a nice rhythm in preparation of the holiday madness that descends every December. I am a bit ahead of myself this year and have actually purchased a few gifts. This week I hope to sit down and make a game plan for the remaining holiday responsibilities. Of course, I'll forget  something vital that will cause potential disaster, but at least I'll have a fighting chance this time.

We are taking only two days of vacation for Thanksgiving which means I will have planning work to do tomorrow for next week. Both the boys and I want to push hard to have an early finish to the school year, so we aren't taking long breaks around the holidays. Even our Christmas break will be limited this year. Because of that I will probably go easy on them with their workload during the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I'm already starting to look at planning for the months following the new year to try and get an idea of where we are ahead and where we need to work a little harder to get back up to speed. The end of the school year is months away, but it already feels like it's just around the corner. Even with all of the busyness to come,  I hope we will get the opportunity to slow things down a little to enjoy the holiday season.

Friday, November 21, 2014

How Much Do I Have to Learn?

When the boys were younger I spent much more time doing traditional instruction in my role as teacher. If they were learning parts of speech, I would make cards with words that they could use to create sentences. When they learned about the water cycle, I drew diagrams on the white board. During our art projects, I was doing prep work the day before so they could create something in the morning. But things are getting harder for me now. They are starting to study things that are more challenging for all of us.

JT is learning German using Rosetta Stone this year. I am also going through the program. Right now I have fallen a little behind him with the schedule and when he completes a supplemental worksheet, I need to ask my husband to check his work. EM is working his way through a reading textbook with comprehension questions at the end of each story. If I don't read the story, it's impossible for me to know if he is answering the questions correctly. I am trying hard to stay one chapter ahead in the biology text but have let that one slide at times. Then I have to skim quickly to help when it's time for the module review. The American government textbook is interesting, but I don't always feel like reading a chapter or two to verify that JT's answers to end of chapter questions include all the details they should.His algebra worksheets from Thinkwell need corrected. I can look at the final answers to know if he has them right, but if there's a problem, I can't always determine where he is having difficulty so I call the husband in yet again.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoy learning many things. I take Coursera classes for fun when I can squeeze it into my schedule. It's just that I do not necessarily want to study German, algebra, biology, American government, or a 6th grade reading text. But when I don't stay ahead of the boys in their studies, I feel like I am not giving them the best shot at success. I'm starting to go a little bit crazy here trying to do all of this on top of prepping their work for each week, running them to activities, taking care of our house, feeding ravenous teen boys, and allowing myself a minute or two to do something I like each day. You know, things like showers or sleep.

Do I have an obligation to have a complete knowledge of the things I ask them to learn? If they were in a traditional education setting I would be aware of what they were studying, but probably have little involvement in the work beyond helping to study for tests. Because I have chosen homeschooling, have I by default chosen to learn all of these things as well? Can I just point them in the direction they need to go and hope they figure it out?

At the start of this year, I thought things were getting easier. I guess I was wrong about that one. That's the great thing about homeschooling; I'm always learning from my mistakes.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Expanding Creativity

pants and pottery
EM has traditionally been our most mathy, practical, child. He has a great imagination that often comes out in what we call "blowing things up." This involves some imaginary battle he has in his mind as he darts around the room making explosion noises. He has now found a friend who also enjoys this activity and they spend hours blowing things up together over the telephone. I can't understand the entertainment value. I guess it's a boy thing.

In the last few months EM has really started to show an interest in the arts. Up until recently, he had not wanted much to do with those kinds of activities. Last year EM took a few pottery classes at the local Y.M.C.A Arts Center. His classes focused on hand-building pottery. This year he expressed an interest in trying the more advanced pottery wheel classes. An opening just became available this month and he was finally able to try it out. He seems to be getting the hang of it although he says it is much more difficult than his other classes. He always comes home covered in clay. I guess that's a sign he's really getting into it.

music selection
We have also added music instruction to his schedule this year. After only seven lessons, he is playing some pretty tricky pieces. His teacher says he is one of the best students he's ever had. EM loves playing and practices every day, at least once, sometimes more. Many times I have to tell him to stop and get to work on other things he needs to do. He likes the challenge of learning new songs and will work until he can play each one from memory. I can only hope this trend continues!

fine art
He added another new pursuit this week. He decided he'd like to learn how to draw better. He was talking with his dad about how he thought he wasn't a very good artist. Dad suggested that he try using this Star Wars book to give it another try. Now that EM has been learning that patient hard work can lead to success through his piano lessons, he seemed more willing to sit down and make mistakes to get to where he wanted to be. Several times this week I have found him in his room or at the table in the classroom working on his art work.

I know that we are told over and over how making mistakes and having patience are the best ways to learn new things, but it's easy to forget when we watch our children struggle to master a new skill. We tend to want to make learning easy for them. We want them to be happy, not frustrated. But in all three of these activities EM has struggled and now he is thrilled that he has conquered those challenges. Hopefully I can keep that in mind as the boys take on more difficult things in their lives and allow them to grow through those struggles.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Finding Direction

Nearly two years ago I attended a conference where Jesse Schell was a keynote speaker. At the end of his presentation, I approached him to ask advice for JT since, at the time, he was interested in computer game design. Mr. Schell gave me his business card and directed me to encourage JT to become active in his game design community, GameSprout. JT has contributed a little bit on the site, but was more interested in making his own board games and card games at home.

A couple weeks ago, in a moment of Mom Worry - which happens on a regular basis, most recently in early September - I started to panic about JT's future. It is so clear to me that he loves coming up with ideas for games. But once again I was concerned that his difficulties with math and art would hinder his ability to move ahead in that field. So I decided to bother important people with questions about a career in game design.

I found a contact email for Jesse Schell on his site and sent him a message asking what kind of path a non-math, non-art, wanna-be game designer should take. I was very pleasantly surprised to receive an encouraging reply that basically said, game designers come from all kinds of backgrounds. While art and math are very helpful, they aren't 100% necessary for a career in a creative field. He even sent quite a few links to biographical information on game designers who have non-typical degrees. I had already purchased his book, The Art of Game Design, that I had been saving for JT for Christmas. However, after sharing what Mr. Schell had said with JT, I ended up giving it to him right away. He loves the book! He has been up late reading it, coming up with tons of ideas for new games, and taking another look at his old games with his new perspective. He also returned to GameSprout and started contributing more to the community.

We still don't know the exact path he will need to take, but now he knows that he can take a path that suits his personality and interests to reach the goal he has in mind.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Biology Stinks!

a mighty stench awaits
This year JT is doing a full high school level biology course. We were indecisive about our plan and changed curriculum at least two times before settling on Apologia's Exploring Creation with Biology. I know some people find Christian based science texts to be inferior in their scientific content, and I sometimes agree, but this book has been very thorough. In fact, I'm very impressed with the first three modules. The labs are well thought out and rigorous. And smelly.

why I never throw jars away
Module 2 is a study of kingdom Monera. The lab required JT to find a pond to obtain water samples. He needed to place the samples in four separate jars. Each one had its own type of nutrients available for the life forms; egg, hay, soil, and rice. After a few days, he had to open the jars and make slides for the microscope. The instructions warn, "When you open each jar, be prepared for a mighty stench!" They were not kidding! After doing the first slide in the house, I made him move outside to make the next three. We saw some pretty incredible things in those cultures. Let me just say, I won't be swimming in any ponds anytime soon.

This course is far more difficult than anything I remember taking in high school. For both modules two and three, JT has been required to construct his own biological keys to identify organisms. I would have a hard time with that assignment. He seemed well-equipped to do it once he had completed the work in the unit. I hope the remainder of the text continues at this level of instruction. If so, I believe he will be ready to handle college level courses with no difficulty. I will also be looking at purchasing Apologia's chemistry for his 10th grade science course.

The next module is going to cover fungi. Time to start growing some mold!

Friday, October 17, 2014


We are leaving in the morning for Ocean City, NJ. I know we just spent a week at the lake, but the deals are always good in October at our favorite hotel. And after the week I've had, I need a vacation. Our cat has been sick since last Wednesday and I have been taking care of him. If you've never seen any of the 'how to give a cat a pill' posts or videos, go ahead and Google it; you'll thank me.

I also had a deadline in my Chemicals and Health Coursera class that I had to meet before our trip. I had five essay questions to answer in a peer assessment assignment. Sometimes I'm not sure why I think taking classes will be a good idea. I guess it's good for the boys to see me actively learning, but maybe there's an easier way.

But now all of that is behind me because tomorrow afternoon I will be walking on the sand and feeling the salty air on my face.

Next week I'll tell you all about the surprise we found in our pond water cultures JT is using for his biology lab. I'll also tell you how I finally proved to him that algebra can be useful in real life. But that can wait. The beach is calling...

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Play Plus Focus

best toy store ever!
While we were on our trip last week, we stopped at a toy store recommended by a friend. Playthings Etc. is like no other toy store I've ever visited. When we walked through the door we were greeted by an employee, "Welcome to Playthings Etc., the world's coolest toy store!" with an invitation to 'play with anything that's out of the package'. They meant it! The employees actively played with the boys. At one point, EM and JT were riding around the store on scooters, shooting one another with rubber band guns, while employees offered helpful advice.

strangest building
The store is unique in other ways, too. The building is shaped like a stealth bomber. My picture doesn't do it justice. You really need an aerial view to get a feel for just how unusual it is. You can read about the architecture here

We probably spent two hours playing. They had a large model rocket/RC vehicle section in the store and we wanted to pick some things up for my dad. Unfortunately, we couldn't reach him to find out what he needed. Instead, we decided we could stop in again on our way home on Thursday.

The boys decided to blow a good chunk of their savings on rubber band guns. They each bought one the first day we were there. After hours of shooting one another back at the cabin, they each decided to buy one more. The guns take different gauge rubber bands and most can be loaded with more than one at a time, some as many as twelve. And, yes, they do hurt when you get hit by one... or twelve.

tally sheet
At home again on Friday, they set up a game in our library involving EM's clone trooper collection and the guns. They even took the time to make rules for playing and keep score.

This week we have moved back into our usual work routine. EM had his third piano lesson and continues to make good progress. He's already playing songs that involve both hands and complex rhythms. JT had a drum lesson today and has been obsessed with a song he is trying to learn since then. Of course, that completely destroyed his focus for all other subjects the remainder of the day. I regularly have to deal with his total concentration as a hindrance to other learning. Some days it drives me nuts. Other days I chalk it up to the 'absent-minded professor' syndrome. I try to keep in mind that the freedom we have as homeschoolers allows this deep reflection time that he wouldn't get in a more typical setting for school. I can see that in a regular classroom he would either be in trouble or never have a clue what's going on when he turns inward to work out a problem. For me, it's just something to work around. Hopefully, as an adult, he'll find a career that requires intense concentration with no regard for any outside input.

I can dream, can't I?

Friday, October 3, 2014

From the Shores of Lake Arthur

We are home from our annual trip to a PA state park cabin. This year was a return trip to our favorite park, Moraine, on the shores of Lake Arthur. The weather was perfect, mid-70s, and the leaves had just started to turn.

As usual, we did a little trail hiking. We generally stick to the easier trails since my husband has some knee problems when hills are involved. The Sunken Garden Trail was a nice level hike that followed the  southern shore of the lake for a mile, then wrapped back around through more heavily wooded areas. Unfortunately, the rain started about halfway around the 2 mile trail. We rushed the second half a bit, but it was still a nice hike.

This notice was on the sign at the trail head. We were sure to use the boot brush on the way out, even though we were getting soaked at the time. I didn't want any aliens in our van.

I like to take pictures of any fungus we stumble upon during our treks in the woods. The boys usually don't share my fascination. I just love the colors and textures.

I liked this part of the trail. You don't often find such a nicely mowed pathway through the woods. It was a nice change after the rather muddy path along the shoreline.

Yet another fungus. I found this one along the paved bike trail on the north shore of the lake.

The boys sat along the edge of the water for a long time watching this guy. We were hoping to see him (or her) catch a small fish. Instead, he slipped under a log and we headed down the trail.

More invasive species issues at the park. We saw quite a bit of these weeds along the shore.

We took the boys down to the beach so they could build a little in the sand. JT is getting to the point where he'll join in to keep EM occupied, but I have a feeling now that he's entered his teen years, this might have been the last year he'll want to take part. I spent some time looking back through pictures from our previous vacations to the parks and couldn't believe the changes in the boys since our first trip when JT was just 8.

Our week had just a little organized homeschooling, but as usual, they did plenty of learning while we were at the park. EM decided to write journal entries for each day of the trip every night. He's not a writer by choice so that was good to see him taking initiative. We also took our electronic keyboard along so he could practice his piano pieces for his lesson and he did that each day. JT worked on some German and biology. He also brought his drum pad to work on his lessons.

The final morning arrived and I got up early to enjoy a few quiet moments alone. Those are hard to come by during the rest of the year at home with the boys. Recharging complete... I'm ready to return to our homeschooling routine.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Beyond the Three Rs

flash card production
JT and I have been learning German using Rosetta Stone's Homeschool version. We both completed the first unit of level one this week. Although I am starting to get a feel for the language, as I mentioned before, we are struggling to figure out the rules because they are not specifically taught in the program. This week we started making flash cards for all the nouns we have learned in the first unit. I was having an especially difficult time remembering their definite articles, so the cards are going to be a big help.

conjugating verbs
JT's difficulty centered around knowing the proper form of a verb. We made a list of the verbs we learned on the white board and my husband gave us basic instructions on how to conjugate a weak verb. German has weak and strong verbs where we would call them regular and irregular in English. Most of the verbs we know so far are weak, so that made it easier. Once he could see the pattern on the board, JT did a much better job picking the right word when needed.
Bronies play piano too.
EM had his first piano lesson on Friday and LOVED it! His new teacher is a perfect fit for him. Just the right amount of encouragement and fun. EM is very excited to go to his lesson tomorrow. He practiced every day this week with no need for me to remind him. Hopefully that pattern lasts for a long time! We went out and bought a new folder to carry his music. EM and JT are both My Little Pony fans, so the Rainbow Dash folder was a winner. If you are unfamiliar with the Brony demographic, be sure to check this out. We aren't the only weirdos out there.

EM continued his research on Mongolia. Today we watched a National Geographic Live! program about Tim Cope's horseback journey across Mongolia. EM will do a little more traditional research in the next two weeks and then put together a presentation.

staging area
But first we will be spending a few days in a cabin at Moraine State Park. I started the preliminary packing this week. I begin by dumping piles of stuff into the living room and will eventually transfer it all to the back of our van before we head out next week. We have put in a solid six weeks of work already this school year and we are ready for a nice break with nature. I believe keeping a good balance of work and relaxation has been a key component to the success of our homeschooling lifestyle. We always have more energy to tackle what lays ahead when we take the time to recharge. I'll leave you with my favorite picture from our last trip to Moraine. Hopefully I'll have many more to share from Lake Arthur next time.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

In and Out of the House

source of congestion
This week has been lacking in productivity. JT and I are both dealing with allergy flare-ups from ragweed pollen. He's having a hard time getting motivated to do his work each day. Tonight, as of  7:50pm he's still not finished with his list. I'm not a huge fan of winter, but an early frost guaranteeing death to the ragweed wouldn't upset me this year.

Tomorrow EM will be starting a new adventure. He is going for his first piano lesson. He's a little older than an average beginner student, nearly eleven, but I wanted to wait until he showed real interest in trying an instrument before we tried lessons. Due to his auditory processing disorder he's been a little slower coming to a desire to study music. Other than learning a song or two on his ukulele, he's never really played any instrument. Tonight he asked his dad to play Rock Band on the Wii with him. Usually he only wants to do the singing, but today he's on the drums. I hope this new interest in music will continue for him.

Despite the ragweed effects, we had a few out of the house activities this week. Our first Brown Bag Book Club of the school year happened on Tuesday. Local homeschool families get together at the library so the kids can share the books they have been reading and then we stay after the conversation to have lunch together. It's always a good place to get ideas for books the boys may want to read next. The other advantage is that the boys are learning to speak in front of a group when they share about their book. JT also went to his second fencing class on Monday. They were told they'll be able to start trying matches against each other in two more weeks. Then things should get really exciting!

In the next week, I'm hoping to do some work with JT on a project to create flashcards to supplement our Rosetta Stone German instruction. We are both having a hard time remembering the genders of the nouns we are learning. I decided that we could both benefit from some extra study. Flashcards seemed like a good idea. We'll be able to work together to make them and then quiz each other. I would have to say the one downside of Rosetta Stone is the fact that the program doesn't teach you grammar in a straightforward way. You are expected to pick it up through the lessons, but never given the rules on how things work. We are fortunate that my husband already has a basic knowledge of the language, so he is able to help us when we have questions.

EM is starting work on an independent project of his own. Later this year we will be studying Asia in our geography unit. Leading up to that unit study, he will be choosing a country of Asia each month to research and share with us. This month he has chosen Mongolia. He's doing a good job looking for information in our books and online. He is definitely doing more independent work this year with confidence. I can see him directing his own school plan by the time he reaches his high school years. It's always a good thing to see the boys taking their education into their own hands. I know when they do that they are getting far more out of it than I can ever give them no matter how much planning I put into it.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Something New

En garde!
We are not sports people. The boys have both played Upward basketball but we never did the soccer thing or T-ball or anything else that would count as an organized sport. I consider us to be a fairly active family.  We spend an ample amount of time outdoors. The boys run around the yard, often chasing each other with home-made weapons. Generally we don't go for activities that turn play into something with rules. That changed Monday night when JT attended his first fencing class.

A few years ago I played around with the idea of fencing classes for him, but couldn't find anything local, so I figured it was a lost cause. Two weeks ago our town had its first ever Renaissance Festival and we saw a group of fencers give a demonstration. The next day my mom told me about an ad in the paper for a local fencing club that was starting group lessons the following week. I contacted one of the instructors and he told me all about the club. For only $60 JT can be in a 12 week class that meets every Monday night for 1.5 hours. They provide all of the gear for no additional charge. I kept asking him to verify the price and length of the classes. I couldn't believe I would only be paying $5 per lesson. But it was true!

He told me that he is in his 80s and that fencing is a sport for any age. It's about speed and tactics, not necessarily strength. He said I should think of it as physical chess. In the years he has been involved in the sport, he has met many people. He told me that fencers are usually very interesting, sometimes a little kooky. I found that reassuring since we are definitely a LOT kooky.

and it's machine washable!
The night of the lesson, JT and I arrived 15 minutes early. He had to be fitted for his protective gear. The next student to arrive was also new to fencing. She was happy to chat with us about a huge range of topics. As the night continued, it was obvious that we had found 'our people'. One of the instructors is a retired professor of history. He told the students that he will give them a lecture on the history of swords at a subsequent lesson. For the first lesson, he split them into two groups; those who had any experience, and those who had none. They were each given a sword and spent time on footwork, technique, and safety. The instructor who taught the experienced students used to coach the fencing team at Duke University and later owned a fencing club in Chicago. He did a great job helping all of the students during the class.

It's funny how our school year started out looking so much different than what we are doing now... and it's only the fifth week of schooling. What other surprises are in store for us? If great opportunities like this one keep popping up, it's going to be an awesome year!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Uncertain Paths

play testing
For the longest time, probably since he was three years old, I've imagined JT having a career in the field of science. By the time he was five, he was telling strangers that he wanted to be an entomologist when he grew up. Later, he considered working at a zoo, or just getting a degree in biology, to see where it might take him. However, in the last year he has started to drift away from the sciences and into more creative pursuits. The problem is, I'm not sure how to help him follow these interests to find a career path.

So far, the thing he says he's most interested in doing in the future is designing games, more specifically, card games. He is very good at coming up with new ideas for games, creating the mechanics for the games, and developing the content. He needs work on his art skills, but is able to make testing versions for his games that give you an idea of what they would be like in a completed form. He has been making games like this for years as a hobby. This year, I have incorporated it into his schooling by creating a game design class for him. So what do you do about college when you want to design games, don't want to learn to program in order to make computer games, and aren't a fantastic artist? Maybe college isn't part of that path? I've been spending some time doing research, but knowing that he could change his mind again in a year or two makes me hesitate to invest too much effort. Of course, now that he's in high school, that deadline to find his path is compelling me to hurry, hurry, hurry! On the other hand, because of his grade skip in elementary school, he will finish high school when he is only 5 months into his 17th year. There will be time to take a breath before plunging into college if he needs to find that focus. But that would be, once again, not following the 'norm' by going straight from high school to college to career.

And you know how much I hate not following the 'normal' path.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Changing Dynamics

EM's books
I'm having a hard time falling back into my former routine of once a week posting here. I think I'm finally back on track, so things should be running smoothly from here on out. In my last post, I shared my plan for JT, now I'll share my plan for EM.

This year EM's work will be much more focused on his reading and writing skills. He does a great job in math and science, but has often had difficulty with language skills. Because JT will be doing much more independent work this year, I have more time to invest in EM. He will continue to have weekly spelling lists with a pretest on Monday, a workbook page each day, and a final test on Friday. He will be working his way through Calvert's Grammar & Usage workbook. He is also starting to use the Vocabulary from Classical Roots series that has been a foundation of JT's vocabulary and spelling studies since we began homeschooling. For now, EM will be using the first two books as enrichment vocabulary work. When he reaches the third book, I will start using them for his weekly spelling lists as I did with JT. He will also be working through the Critical Thinking Level E book. Many of those activities can be used for composition assignments. I also plan to generate writing work for him using a Creative Teaching Press book called Responding to Literature. I plan to have him use the reading text shown in the picture, as well as novels that he will help to choose, with study guides found online.

For science, he will work his way through Calvert's 6th grade science text. I plan to do many of the activities. I will also have him observe some of the lab work JT will do for his biology course. American history will continue to be a time line study following the lives of the presidents of the United States. For world history, we will be reading the second half Volume 3 of The Story of the World that we started last year.

I did find something I can use for JT and his literature study for this year. I went digging in my homeschooling loot I have accumulated over the years. It turns out I forgot that I have a nearly complete course from K-12 called Literary Analysis and Composition. We won't have access to their online instruction because I refuse to pay $425 a semester, but it is still good solid material that I can adapt without that tool. However, the adaptation takes time and planning. I also made one more adjustment to JT's plan for this year. I dropped the Concepts & Connections Biology text and bought a copy of the Apologia Biology textbook and manual. The conversational style of this text fits JT's learning style much better than the C&C text. I also bought an outline for the course developed by a parent that fits it all into 33 weeks of study. That will save me some time in the planning department.

Now that we are well into our third full week of schooling, I'm noticing a different dynamic developing. In previous years, the boys would sometimes work on their independent assignments in the morning, but could choose to save their work for later in the day. Immediately after lunch and chores, there would be this feeling of rushing to get everyone in the classroom for our 'school time'. Because so much of their work is now independent, they are actually working quite a bit before lunch so they can get to their free time sooner. Two days this week, we had no together work to do. I had a few activities to help EM get started, but most of the time, they worked quietly on their own, with no input from me. It took me a week to really see that I have more free time during the day than I have had in many years. That said, my planning time has probably tripled from last year. I will need to learn to do that planning during their schooling time to avoid late nights on the weekends drowning in prep work. It's nice to have more freedom during the day, but it's also a little sad to me. Even though it's a lot of work, I enjoy our time together. It's been a joy to see the boys learn new things and I have had many great conversations with them in our little classroom. We will still be reading history books aloud together a couple days a week, so I can hold on to that for now.

But change is coming... both good and bad.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Here We Go Again

JT's future
Even though I was in no way ready, we started our 2014-2015 school year on Monday. When I picked that day a few weeks back, my optimism got the better of me. I knew I still had far too many loose ends, but the desire to get our 180 days logged by the beginning of May pushed me to endure what turned into a frantic scramble of planning over the weekend. We certainly didn't start off with a bang, but 'slow and steady wins the race', right?

Part of the problem with my planning this year was  a few of the decisions were especially difficult. First there was the issue with JT's social studies requirement. I had an old copy of an American government textbook that I had wanted to use but I wasn't 100% happy with how old it was. I kept putting off finding an updated edition. I didn't want to pay for the most current one, but wanted something a little more recent than the one I had. I finally made that decision early last week and found a slightly newer edition that seems to be a good fit. Then there was biology. Again, I have an older textbook. However, I had found an instructor's guide to go with it and an outline that someone put together for a full biology course using that edition and the book The Way Life Works. Because I have a framework to use with that edition, I think I'm going to stick with it, even though it's a bit older. We also found this biology class on Coursera that starts soon. I think it will be a great introduction to biology. I don't know if JT will go for the distinction certificate that requires the peer assessments. That might be more work than he can handle as a 13 year old. We'll see how it goes during the first week of class. The biggest upset of all in my planning was that our literature and writing class that we had hoped JT could do fell through. I didn't find this out until just this week, so I'm scrambling to assemble something on my own. But as a homeschooling mom I've learned to be flexible. I'm guessing it will all work itself out. I just might not sleep a lot until it does.

The good news is that math is covered with Thinkwell Algebra 1 and German 1 requires no work from me since he's using Rosetta Stone. I'm still finalizing the syllabus for his game design project based class that we are creating. Part of it will include another Coursera class, Understanding Video Games, offered by The University of Alberta.  We will also include his drum lessons and composing for an arts and humanities credit this year. I talked with his instructor and he has agreed to work with me to give a letter grade for JT's work. So not everything is a mess.

Next week I'll share my plans for EM this year. I think what's making things so complicated for me this year is that for the first time the boys are on totally different paths for their learning. The only crossover we have will be reading Story of the World aloud and our time line of American history study that we've been doing for the last five years. All other subjects are completely separate. I guess I never thought about how my volume of work would increase when this happened.

The good news is that I'll only have to worry about it for the next four years until JT graduates. Then I can focus my energy on just EM. Until then, I'll be hopping!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Dragging My Feet

time to sell
I've been working on my annual cleaning of the classroom. The last two days were spent tackling the disaster that is the storage room off of the classroom. As the year progresses, it slowly fills up with all those things that need a home and I close the door so I don't have to think about how to deal with it. Then the school year ends and I need to fight my way through the mess to get to my stash of curriculum for the next year. It's a vicious cycle.

In the process, I made quite a nice stack of materials that I can sell. I have a few things I'd still like to pick up for next year, as well. Hopefully I can find what I need second-hand to avoid spending too much this year. I'm getting much better at not going overboard with my school purchasing. I risked falling back into my book hoarding ways by going to the annual giant library book sale yesterday. Perhaps it was a good thing that they didn't have ANY textbooks available. We only found enough books to fill one bag. 

JT has been working his way through the first unit of his German course. So far, we are enjoying Rosetta Stone. I do a lesson most days too. I'm planning to get him started on his Thinkwell Algebra 1 course next week. We're slowly adding things to the schedule until we get up to full speed schooling around the middle of August.

With high school starting for JT, this summer feels like the last stop before serious schooling.  I'm hoping to keep things simple by not overbooking, but instead choosing depth of study over volume. I think that will be the best way to allow him to get the most out of his preparation for higher education and the road ahead. It's scary to think that I'll have only two more summer breaks before we will be preparing him to leave for college. It makes me think of Joni Mitchell's "Circle Game"

Sixteen springs and sixteen summers gone now
Cartwheels turn to car wheels thru the town
And they tell him take your time it won't be long now
Till you drag your feet to slow the circles down

I'm going to drag my feet a little this summer. Maybe it will help.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Decision Made

change of plans
We now interrupt this summer break to make an important announcement. A decision has been made concerning language learning for JT. Things rarely go the way we think they will in our homeschooling life. A few months ago, the idea of JT taking a Spanish class from one of the Christian schools in our area seemed like an excellent opportunity that we would be crazy to pass up. I guess we might be a little crazy...

I just couldn't get myself on board with the idea of a daily trek to the school for a short class, a class that he really wasn't all that interested in taking. In fact, foreign language study in general isn't really something he wants to do. Yes, we convinced him that it's a really good idea, as far as potential college admission goes, to study a foreign language. But the more we talked about the Spanish class, the more it became obvious it wasn't something he was excited to do. I turned to the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum email list for input. Many parents suggested Rosetta Stone as an acceptable alternative plan. And wouldn't you know? That very day I found an email in my inbox from the Homeschool Buyer's Co-Op advertising a sale on Rosetta Stone. Half price!

Now that he had more choice in which language he wanted to learn, he decided to go with German. The package we purchased is the homeschool version, levels 1-3. It can be used by up to five students on two computers. I'm thinking that I will also use the program, and my husband will refresh his knowledge of the language, so that we can allow JT to practice his conversation skills as part of his study.

We will be starting to log a day or so of schooling each week towards the middle of July. Next week, JT and I will be attending the annual PHAA conference in Carlisle.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled summer vacation.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Summer and Beyond

Just try and get my berries critters!
Since we came home from Maine, we've been trying to catch up on the little things and started a few bigger projects. I put in a new raised bed with some protection from the berry eating deer and chipmunks. We also had to dig a drainage ditch to take care of some issues in our driveway. All of which has led to me slipping on my blog posting and office work. I plan to take the month of June off from blogging so I can get caught up.

Last week we met with our evaluator for our portfolio review. JT and EM both had a good year, making progress in many areas. JT started learning to organize his own study time better. He also made some improvement in his writing skills. EM made progress in spelling, continues to excel in math, and read tons of books. When we finished going over this year, we also discussed the high school diploma program. Our evaluator showed me how I need to fill out the yearly checklist in order for her to be able to create JT's transcript. We went over various requirements and she shared ideas on how to meet some of the trickier ones.

The diploma program requires a minimum of 4 English, 3 science, 3 math, 3 social studies, and 2 arts/humanities credits in order to graduate. I'm sure JT will have more than that by the time he reaches his senior year. Our current plan for next year looks like this:

English will be split between two teachers. I will cover part of the literature requirements, vocabulary and word roots, and the speech component. His tutor will assign the three required classics and the bulk of the composition assignments.

Biology taught by mom using this text + the teacher guide I ordered.

Thinkwell's Algebra 1

American Government using a text we picked up a few years ago.

I am looking into having his drum instructor grade his work to use it as one of the arts/humanities credits.

JT will also have a project based class in which he will create a new card/board game from design to completion. At the end of the year, he will present the game to a group of peers to meet his speech requirement. This project will probably end up counting for 1/2 credit in technology and 1/2 credit in art.

I still haven't committed to the Spanish classes at the Christian school. I keep weighing the benefits and the inconvenience of driving there every day. I have a couple more months before I need to know for sure. Hopefully the answer will become obvious soon.

In addition to the graduation requirements, JT will still participate in our American history and Story of the World reading. I will probably log the hours to see if they add up to enough to count somewhere else, but even if they don't, we enjoy this part of our schooling so it will continue.

I'm still working on my plan for EM. I know he will continue with Singapore math 6a and 6b. I have a 6th grade science text I plan to use for him. His spelling, reading, and geography will all be continuing the same as previous years. Next year I hope to spend considerably more time working with him on his grammar and writing skills. With JT working more independently most of the time, it will free me up to be able to focus on that with EM.

building character
As far as summer plans go, EM and JT will both attend Kids' College and JT will continue with his drum lessons. Other than that, I hope to avoid any serious commitments. JT is getting much closer to employment age and similar adult responsibilities. I want him to be able to have as many care free summers as possible until then. I may expect some work around the house, even a little ditch-digging. Maybe they'll be as glad as John Adams was to return to the classroom when summer is over.

I'll be back in July with my completed plan for our 2014-2015 school year.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Away From It All

Tonight I am blogging from our vacation cottage on the seashore. I can hear the waves through our open window. Tonight the boys both told me they couldn't believe our trip was already at an end. Needless to say, it's been a good week. I need to get to bed soon because we have a long drive home tomorrow. Here's a quick look at our week in Maine.

Yes, that is a real atlas.
It took us about 9 hours to get from Central PA to Ogunquit, Maine. Connecticut felt like an endless state, mostly because we had to travel around a few major cities that all seemed to have a healthy dose of road construction.

Thankfully, our cottage was only 20 minutes from the state line. I don't know if we could have made it much further up the coast. We were definitely reaching the end of our endurance.

cottage by the sea
But, oh, was it ever worth it! We stayed at the Dunes on the Waterfront. We beat the regular season by a few weeks, so we got a great deal on our stay. Of course, that means not all the attractions are open, but we found plenty to keep us busy.

Marginal Way
We took a walk on the Marginal Way on our first full day in Maine. I can understand now why the name Ogunquit means beautiful place by the sea.

The boys really enjoyed getting a chance to explore a rocky shore line. We have always visited sand beaches, so this was something totally new for them... and me!

Ogunquit Beach

The great thing about Ogunquit is they have both kinds of beaches. We spent a few hours on the sand. It was chilly, but that didn't stop the boys from playing in the water.

lots of seaweed
This beach was interesting because the difference in the high tide and low tide was crazy. My first picture was from low tide. Today we returned a few hours after high tide and you can see how much smaller the beach is. I have never seen a beach that changed that much from one tide to the next. Plus, this beach was absolutely covered with seaweed as the tide went out.

Stop the car!
We were driving through town and spotted this sign. I knew we needed to check it out. And then I saw something even more exciting...

Be still my beating heart.
Stepping inside this library was like taking a trip in a time machine. The library was built in the late 1800s. It was beautiful inside. We were thrilled to see they still have a card catalog, so I took the opportunity to show the boys how to use it. Of course we also bought a bag of books.

Since our school year officially ended before the trip, we didn't include any educational activities in our plans. We considered a few museums, but most were closed until Memorial Day. It was nice to have a trip that didn't feel like it had to be all about schooling. It was good to just relax and enjoy our time together.

tidal river outside our door