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.