Saturday, August 29, 2015

Reconnecting with my Local Homeschool Community

A few years ago I had been actively involved in a Meetup group for local homeschoolers but when the leadership in the group changed and they started charging dues, I decided to drop out. I really hadn't been very involved in the community; I would look at the upcoming events parents were posting and sometimes we would attend. Not all of the events were sponsored by members of the group, sometimes it worked more as a central location to learn about things happening in the community where homeschoolers could participate. When the leadership changed there seemed to be more focus on the local homeschool co-op that I had no interest in joining. The structure of co-ops really doesn't fit our style.

My boys attend a few regular activities with other homeschoolers, our monthly book club and bi-weekly game nights at the library. At the last game night a mom was talking about an ecology day that had been planned and posted in the Meetup. I realized we were missing out on events because I had quit the group. So I reluctantly paid my dues and started checking out the site.

I spent some time reading the schedule for their weekly co-op and I started to think, "Wouldn't it be great to take advantage of these classes?!" But then I thought about the time commitment we'd have to make; even though it's only one day a week, we'd be unable to travel during the months co-op was in session. I'd have to agree to teach or help in some way. We'd have to be there early in the morning and spend a whole day doing classes. This was starting to sound more and more like 'regular' school, except in this case, we'd have to pay a fee! One way it wouldn't be like regular school was that these classes are only held one day a week. I couldn't really see how a once a week class could really do much to improve the boys' math, science, or history learning. So even though some outsourcing may be appealing, I decided it was not worth it.

But then I found something we would be interested in trying. One father was putting together a three on three basketball program. Last year was our final year with Upward because EM has reached the maximum age. This would be a great opportunity for us. The group will meet one day a week for some instruction and then games. It looks like the rules will be very similar to Upward which will make it easy for them to adapt. The cost will only be a $20 participation fee. Overall, it looks like a great fit for us. The only problem is that the first week will be when we are traveling, but the coordinator said it wouldn't be a problem for us to miss one week. So I signed them up and we'll be playing basketball later this fall.

I found myself checking and re-checking the conversation about this event. Hopefully Meetup doesn't turn into another time waster like Facebook for me. Believe me, I don't need any more distractions from what I am supposed to be doing around here! It's hard enough to stay focused and get these kids a little education when there are so many other things that can suck up my time.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Admitting my Weaknesses

For years I have been struggling with the problem of math instruction; I even took an algebra class on Coursera to try and help myself get back up to speed. I quickly found that this wasn't going to turn me into a good math teacher. All it did was remind me how little I really remember. EM seems to naturally pick up math with little or no instruction, so he hasn't needed much from me. But JT has the same struggles I do with math and that hasn't been a good thing. 

For the last two years, JT had been using Thinkwell for his math learning. I only needed to jump in to correct the worksheets and <Hooray!> the answer keys were provided. This year he did not want to continue with Thinkwell so I had to find a Geometry text book that he could use. We found a good fit with an old Harold Jacobs book published in 1974. But guess what? Only selected answers in the back of the book! After a week or so I realized I was out of my league. It was time to pass the torch to someone who knows what they are doing. Hooray for former math major husbands!

I'm not sure if it will continue to be true throughout the year, but for now, I think JT is doing better in math than usual. Part of the reason is that he is finally receiving appropriate math instruction. For years I've fallen victim to the fallacy that all gifted kids are naturally good at math. Even though I knew he was struggling, it just felt like he should be able to do this by reading the book and working harder. I still believe working harder would help him, but now I know he needs more direct instruction. My husband is a good teacher. He isn't a teacher in the professional sense, but he does teach classes at our church, both to adults and children, and he's very good at helping people understand the material he is presenting. When I asked him to take over math instruction this year, he agreed to do it with the caveat that he might not be able to do it at the time JT was used to, but it would get done by the end of the day. So far, things are working very well and I am far less stressed out because kids are not coming to me with math questions that I can not answer. Instead, I got to do some art with EM today.

When I'm feeling overwhelmed by schooling, the fun things tend to get pushed aside. This week we made time for a little watercolor work. We printed out templates from the Woo!Jr site, cut them out, traced them on to our watercolor paper in pencil, then went over the pencil with a Sharpie marker. We added the veins and then started painting. EM chose an oak leaf and I did an elm.

EM is using Thinkwell this year for his prealgebra course. This is his first year away from Singapore math so it's a little different for him. When he used Singapore, I'd do a little instruction if he needed it, but that was rare. If he ends up having any questions this year, I'll just send him off to talk to his Dad and I can get on with the things I am good at like art projects, history, science experiments, and literature.

Friday, August 7, 2015

School and Fun

Foil Hat!
Things are moving along pretty well for our start of the year. We are finding our groove and things are going smoothly. This week we took a break from the new routine to go to a concert given by the king of the non-conformists. My husband and I have been fans of Weird Al since we first heard him on Dr. Demento so of course we have raised our children on a steady diet of musical parody. When we saw that the Mandatory Fun tour was coming within easy driving distance, tickets had to be purchased for the whole family, including my adult daughter and her husband. This was EM's first concert experience and he had a great time.

As far as schooling goes, I made a decision to buy a few more books for our literature study this year. I had already purchased Lightning Literature's Mid to Late 19th Century American Lit book for JT from a friend a few years ago. When I started looking through it, I decided to go ahead and buy the Early to Mid 19th Century Student Guide and the teacher's guides for both books. Then I started looking at their 7th Grade Literature program for EM and decided it would be a great fit for him. I bought the student guide directly from Hewitt Homeschooling but found a copy of the student workbook on Amazon for a little less. I'm still hoping to buy the teacher's guide without paying full price, but don't know for sure if I need it until I see the student books after they arrive. Sometimes I find the teacher's guides don't offer much more and I can figure out answers on my own. When I buy math and science books, I like to have the teacher guides so I don't have to figure out all the answers on my own. I don't always want to have to read all of the textbook to check their work. One nice thing about the Lightning Lit teacher's guides is that they give you a nice schedule for your student. I found that the 7th grade schedule is available as a free PDF download so as long as I can figure out answers on my own, I shouldn't need to buy that one.

Next week the boys are going to the annual Fire Safety Camp for three days so we will once again have a shortened classroom schedule. The following week we should be up to full speed and be able to continue with that until we take our two week vacation in October. There will be a few days of schooling during the trip, but mostly it will be a true vacation for all of us.