Thursday, April 24, 2014


It begins.
The last two weeks of schooling have been about as uneventful as it gets. Both of the boys are wrapping up their math work for the year, JT on Thinkwell, EM with Singapore 5B. We did our last Story of the World lesson last week, our last American History reading yesterday, last spelling test tomorrow. We have two more science lessons remaining, one is an experiment with some potential for excitement involving production of gases. I love it when the instructions include a step that says, "...bring the burning splint to the mouth of the jar. Be prepared for a reaction." After that experiment, there's really not much left to do except finish recording our work and close up the classroom.

Once we picked up the replacement printer, I started production for the portfolios. I'm not very original. We just keep using the same format year after year. Thanks to that, I had most of the documents ready to go with just a few alterations before printing. The most time-consuming portion of the project is taking pictures of their art so I can print a page of examples of their work. I'll probably tackle that project next week. I really want to wrap this whole thing up within a few days of our last day, May 2nd. Usually, I'll let it drag out until the day before we meet with the evaluator, but this year we planned a vacation to celebrate the end of the school year. We will be spending a week in Ogunquit, Maine!

We are all pretty excited about this trip. None of us have ever been to Maine. The closest I have been was on a ten year anniversary trip to Vermont with my husband, twelve years ago. Not many of the usual attractions will be open yet, since we will be staying pre-season, but we got a great deal on a cottage right on the shore. I want this trip to be about relaxation, not planned events. I recently read a blog post about the under-appreciation of rest in our society at Becoming Minimalist, that really made me change the plan for our vacation. I wanted to try to work a day trip into Boston into the week. We may still do it, but only if we can do it without much added planning and stress. Really, all I want to do is sit on the beach and stare at the ocean.

Before I can do that, I need to wrap up year six of our journey. Summer will probably have more planning time than usual since I have high school looming for JT. In the meantime, we'll just glide through these last few days of schooling with our eyes on the rest ahead.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Tools of the Trade

old friend
You never realize how much you use something until it decides to break. On Saturday, the black ink stopped flowing. At first, I thought I had a bad cartridge. Even though the display claimed it was half-full, I made a trip to Target, and $20 later, it still wouldn't print anything with black ink. Fortunately, I only had one more thing to print that night to complete my school planning, so I changed the font color to light red, and moved on.

As the week progressed, my plans kept getting thrown off because of the nearly useless printer. JT couldn't print out his latest draft of his persuasive report. I couldn't print the worksheet he needed to do for Thinkwell math. EM wanted a picture of our cat to give to his favorite art teacher that is moving away. A printer may be a luxury item to some, but in our house, it seems to be a necessity. With portfolio preparation looming, I am on the search for a perfect replacement. But this little frustration made me start thinking about the other indispensable tools I keep in my homeschooling toolbox.

confetti maker
Paper keeping is essential to our homeschooling life. We need to produce a portfolio of each of the boys' work at the end of every school year. My chosen method of presentation is a three ring binder with their work divided by subject. At the end of each week, I use my three hole punch on every paper the boys have produced and add them to the holding binder. Three times during the school year, I pull my favorite samples and move them to the keeping binder. All the remaining papers are stored in a box until the portfolios have been approved. It may seem like a small tool, but it is key to our organization and documentation of our progress.

artsy stuff
Over the years, our art projects have taken a smaller role in our homeschooling days. But when the boys were younger, I was pulling stuff from this cupboard on a daily basis. I still keep an ample supply of many kinds of paper. I also like to have good quality colored pencils, paints, and pastels available for the boys to work with. I try to have them complete one art project each month. They also like to hit up my supply closet when they are creating new board games.

Where in the world?
We have maps in several rooms of our home. The boys both had world maps on their walls until recently. JT took his down when we painted his room, but EM still has his. There is another world map on the wall in the library, and a United States map in the classroom. We also own a large collection of atlases and road maps. When we read history, I like to have the boys go to a map to get an idea of the geography of the areas we are studying. I think it's important to see our place in the global picture.

must haves
I was never a hoarder until I became a homeschooler. In the bottom of my art cupboard, I keep a good supply of glass containers that we can use for our science studies. You never know when you might want to mix up some chemicals in the classroom. I like to keep small containers, especially the ones used for spices. They work well for water and soil samples. My collection was also very helpful when we did our entomology unit a few years ago.

These are just a few of the things that make our homeschooling journey a little easier. Nothing very expensive, but all important to our daily activities. As our years of homeschooling add up, I find that I buy less and less for the classroom. It's not necessarily that we have everything we could use, it's just that I have found we don't need much to get by. Learning doesn't have to be about the fancy educational products out there. It just takes curiosity and a few handy tools you pick up along the way.

Thursday, April 3, 2014


bee hangout
Spring has finally come! At least, mostly. We did have a crazy, not-in-the-forecast, snow storm Sunday afternoon into evening. Monday morning, the inch or two that accumulated quickly melted, and my crocuses popped open to welcome the bees.

On our classroom calendar, we are down to 18 days of school remaining to reach our required 180. I've been encouraging the boys to spend as many hours outside as they can, even taking some of their work out to them, so they could work in the fresh air.

This week we started our last unit study for the year, health. We will be focusing on chapter one, "Your Health and Wellness," of the Glencoe book, Teen Health, Course 1.  This unit will last the five remaining weeks of our study this year. Each week we will cover a separate lesson from the book, supplementing with online activities tied to the textbook on the Glencoe site, as well as BrainPOP videos and quizzes on related subjects. The study focuses on the idea that your total health is influenced by three different aspects; physical, emotional, and social health. 

This week I also had a great conversation with JT's future Spanish teacher. I called her to discuss whether he should start with the school's Intro to Spanish course or move right into Spanish 1. After I gave her some background about JT's schooling, she decided he'd do just fine starting with Spanish 1. It turns out she homeschooled her three children until they reached high school. She is very excited to have a homeschooler coming to her classroom next year. I am so thrilled to know JT's first classroom experience after six years of learning at home will be with a woman who understands homeschooling from the inside! We talked for about half an hour, sharing our experiences. She shared a few good websites to get JT up to speed with the students who took the Intro to Spanish class; and quizlet. She uses both in her classroom regularly. The quizlet site has the complete list of vocabulary words found in the textbook, Descubre, used by her Spanish 1 class.

I also spent a little time this week doing preliminary work on organizing the portfolios. This may be the earliest I have ever started that project. I want to get as much of the work out of the way before our last day of school because May will be a busy month. Our last day of school will be at the beginning of the month. Our meeting with our evaluator is on the 21st. That sounds like plenty of time to get things together until you throw in a trip to Maine. I would rather not have portfolios on my mind while I am relaxing along the shore. This could finally be a good enough reason to keep me from procrastinating.