Friday, January 31, 2014

Trudging On

what it looks like now
It's cold here. Going out in this weather takes a lot of effort on my part. The boys are showing signs of cabin fever, too many fights and no motivation. Schooling just feels... blah. We did make it to book club on Tuesday, so that got us out of the house. We also had a short visit with friends on Wednesday.  But I think all we really need is a day with lots of sun to set things right. Hurry up spring!

In the meantime, we have been having more fun with our chemistry studies. This week we did a few experiments with lime water. The boys also learned a little about balancing equations. While looking for examples of exothermic and endothermic reactions, I found some really great ideas to try. I plan to do the elephant toothpaste experiment next week. Although, I'm not sure I can get the 30% hydrogen peroxide soon enough. If I can't, we'll try the kid version found on Steve Spangler's site. Speaking of Steve Spangler, this guy is my new favorite science guy! He has been a guest on the Ellen DeGeneres show many times. I've been watching them on YouTube all day. My favorite is probably this episode where he toilet-papers the studio. I love how excited he gets when he is sharing science with people. I get like that when I'm telling people about our experiments. It's good to know I'm not the only one. We'll be trying a few of his tricks this week. I'll try to get a few videos so I can share them soon.

Next week I'll be at the PDE Special Education Conference in Hershey. I don't know if I'll get a chance to put a post together while I'm away. My husband is taking two days off from work so he can take over as teacher for me. Hopefully his students will behave. If not, at least I'll have some interesting stories to share in my next post.

                                                     Think spring!

Friday, January 24, 2014


So...earlier this week I read a blog post written by Matt Walsh titled, Thank God I Wasn't College Material! and decided to share it with my Facebook friends. Well, things got a little hot in the comments of my post until I pointed out that I just wanted to share Mr. Walsh's ideas with my friends, not tell them his educational path was the one and only way to go. After things calmed down I started to wonder when education decisions had moved into that category of things we don't talk about, things like religion and politics.

I've never really been the kind of person who tries to force my opinions down other people's throats. I think sometimes people misinterpret my motives because when something really makes an impact on me, I can get a little too excited in my sharing. In the last few years, homeschooling, organic eating, and running have all been high on my list of things I want to share with others. When I get interested in something new I spend a lot of time reading everything I can find on that topic. This results in my perceived need to talk through my new knowledge to help me better understand what I am learning. Just ask my husband. He has been the target of this out-loud organizing of thoughts.

My quick summary of the Matt Walsh post is that college may not be the answer for all kids. In fact, maybe it's not the answer for most kids. I agree with him that certain careers obviously need to start with a degree. But are we really doing our kids a service pushing college as the 'best' path? As someone who has already pulled her kids off the normal educational highway by homeschooling, I am familiar with the doubt that comes with such a choice. So far, that move has paid off for our family. Now don't get me wrong, I plan to continue to prepare both boys for the possibility of college. I will make sure their writing skills are up to par, I will sign them up for the PHAA diploma program, I will help them work on their organization and study skills. But I will not tell them college is the only option.

I look at JT and see a kid who has always excelled in everything academic until now when he's really starting to struggle with the application of some concepts he's learning in early Algebra. It's a foreign language to him. Of course, he can get through it. But I wonder how much of it is really making sense to him and how much is just him learning to imitate the examples shown in the videos. I was an excellent math example imitator, but after Algebra, that skill stopped working and I had no idea what was going on most days. I see him approaching math the same way I did. It's a completely different story for EM. He just takes one look at his math book and can apply what he's seeing and it makes perfect sense to him. But EM doesn't want to write a four sentence paragraph because writing is not natural for him. Yes, I know they both have time before the college years are here. I just don't want them to think when the time comes, they have only one option, even if that option doesn't fit them well. 

We've come this far off the beaten path. Who's to say they can't continue down the road less traveled?

Not me.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Measuring Up

Does mom measure up?
In order to be in compliance with the homeschooling regulations for the state of Pennsylvania, our children need to take standardized tests when they are in 3rd, 5th, and 8th grades. Some people might find this to be too much regulation but I like the idea of knowing how the boys are doing. Our evaluator does the testing for a small fee. I like the fact that she uses the Woodcock Johnson Achievement test because it is an out-of-level test and gives me a better picture of where they are in their education.

Even though I like the idea of having them tested, I usually do some worrying before we go. My mind starts throwing out possible issues...

"What if they haven't made any significant progress?"

"What if our evaluator tells me that I'm failing as their teacher?"

"What if they embarrass me by misbehaving instead of taking the test seriously?"

These questions get added to the multitude of mommy worries that have plagued me from day one of homeschooling.

"Am I crazy to pull these kids out of school?"

"Will they grow up to be weird unsocialized homeschoolers?"

"What if they can't get into a good college because we homeschooled?"

"Will they have any friends?"

As the years have gone by, and my confidence has grown, I can usually toss aside my concerns quickly. I look at the successful homeschoolers I have met on our journey and realize we are on a good path. The boys are happy, healthy, and have friends, even though they are homeschoolers. But for some reason, the testing puts more fear in my heart than any other worry. Test results are just so final. They take the test and then you have those results, in black and white, judging you.

Once we had a date for the testing, I starting thinking about the boys' areas of weakness. JT has been struggling with his math work this year. EM is especially challenged by grammar and composition. I spent a day or two helping them brush up on their writing technique so they would be ready for that portion of the testing. Other than that, there was little I could do. Cramming wasn't going to work for this kind of a test.

When it was all over and our evaluator sat down with me to go over their results, it turned out I had no cause for worry. Both boys did extremely well in all areas of testing. JT and EM both made progress since the last time they took their tests. EM made the most dramatic improvement in the passage comprehension portion of the test. He has become a voracious reader in the last two years and it definitely showed in his results.

I know it's easy to worry when you step outside the traditional way of doing things. You can't always see where you stand because there aren't as many standards to see. This week I learned that we're doing just fine.

We passed the test.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Back to the Grindstone

box o' fun

Monday was our first day back to schooling after our extended Christmas holiday. As usual, I didn't start any serious planning until Sunday night. We still managed to pull off a pretty exciting week thanks to chemistry. I bought this chemistry set over the summer and we've slowly been working on some of the experiments. This week we made our way through the rest of the experiment manual and even added a few ideas of our own. Chemistry is not my first love in science so I had a lot to learn too.

be prepared
When JT walked into the classroom today and spotted the fire extinguisher I had brought in from the kitchen, he said, "You know it's going to be a fun day of school when Mom brings a fire extinguisher to class!" I was pretty sure I was only being extra cautious, but I thought it just might be a good idea to have it on hand. We forgot to take it in the garage the day we cooked up a little iron sulfide, so I wanted to do things right this time.

tools of the trade
We spread our chemistry lessons out over three days this week. Each day we did a few of the experiments in the booklet, finishing today with electrochemical experiments. I've enjoyed using this kit because it came with almost everything we needed. Even though we are finished with this particular booklet, we will continue our chemistry using another book I found at a used book sale, as well as experiments we have found online.

When I was originally planning our science for this school year, I had hoped to complete the chemistry unit before Christmas break and start botany when we returned to our studies. Now it looks like we might just spend most of the year on chemistry. The boys both enjoy the experimenting and they seem to be getting a lot out of the unit. This week JT was making good application of the knowledge he picked up from earlier in the week to predict the results in yesterday's experiments. I think he has a deeper understanding of some of what we have been doing than I do. Maybe I should let him start teaching me...

...but I might still keep that extinguisher handy.

Thursday, January 2, 2014


our lucky number
Last night we had a special ceremony in our home. Earlier in the day, JT celebrated his 13th birthday with our entire family. When the extended family had gone home, my husband presented a special gift to him, a replica of Orcrist, Thorin Oakenshield's sword. This event had been planned for the last few years, ever since my husband read John Eldredge's book, The Way of the Wild Heart.

in the box
In his book, Eldredge discusses the challenges of the six stages in a man's life that he calls: beloved son, ranger, warrior, lover, king, and sage. He also explores the role of a father in a boy's transition to manhood. He places the beginning of the ranger stage around age 12 or 13, early adolescence. The question that becomes the drive for this stage is, "Do I have what it takes?" On the way to manhood, boys need to know that they can make it on their own. They need to know that their parents, especially their fathers, believe they have what it takes to be a man.

beautifully crafted hilt
Now that JT is entering the ranger stage, we wanted to acknowledge this transition. My husband spent a few days thinking through what he wanted to say when he gave the sword to JT. We made it into a solemn event and he addressed JT with these words:

Your father gave you this gift believing in your ability to take it seriously.
It is not the toy of a child.
It is the symbol of a man.
This sword means your father's confidence in your strength and character.

You are no longer a child, but you are still my beloved son.
I will still take care of you until you can take care of yourself, because it is the responsibility of the stronger to help the weaker,
whether literally or figuratively. I expect you to do the same for those younger and weaker than you.
This sword means your father's confidence in your ability to serve others and grow stronger in that ability.

This sword should make you think of Thorin Oakenshield, for obvious reasons.
Thorin had a big dream, and was committed to his plan.
Though a dwarf, his size was never a factor in his success or failure.
To accomplish it, he did whatever it took to see it through.
He gained the help of family and friends.
Thorin used his strengths and talents.
He had many flaws as well, but one very important strength he shows towards the end of the story, is his ability to admit his mistakes.

As a young man, you will learn to make manly decisions. Some decisions can not be undone, much like the actions of a sword.
This sword is a symbol of commitment to your Creator's plan and your accountability for your mistakes. 

sword in hand
When some think of the measure of manhood, they may think of physical strength or worldly success. While those things may make a man's life more rewarding in some ways, I think the defining characteristic of a man is found in his confidence in himself through his faith in God. No matter what we do, JT is on his way down the pathway that leads to adulthood. He will make mistakes on the way, but with the proper guidance, I'm hoping he can use those mistakes to build his confidence in his own ability to succeed.

And more than anything, I'm very thankful that he has a father of excellent character to show him the way.