Thursday, December 22, 2016


JT's classes at the community college wrapped up last week. He had his finals and the grades are in; he received As in both English composition and chemistry. I must admit, we were both surprised that he ended up pulling off the As. Based on the grades he received on work that was returned, he averaged a B, but both instructors gave a lot of credit for attendance and participation, so he did better than expected. I'm not sure what kind of lesson this teaches. I felt he could have worked harder on the assignments and hoped he'd see the negative results of just getting by then adjust his work ethic to do better in the future. Instead, I feel that he learned he can do a minimal amount of work and still pull off good grades in the end. Maybe I've set a higher bar for work at home? Either way, As for the transcript are a good thing.

PSAT scores also arrived this week. He did better than he expected in the math portion, so we were pleased with his results. Now we can use Khan Academy's SAT prep program that will be based on the areas he needs to improve until he takes the test in the spring.

Overall, he has had a very successful first half of his junior year. In the spring semester he will have three classes, one more than fall. Although he is not looking forward to taking the speech class, he is happy about the WW2 class and music appreciation. At home he will continue his algebra 2 course and wrap up geography. He will also be working on recording some of his music for his credit in music composition.

EM will be adding a programming class after our break. He has an interest in electronics from the hardware end, but hasn't done much on the software yet. He is doing well in Algebra 1 and his earth science work. Right before our Christmas break began, I gave him a longer writing assignment. He had to write a report about a state. He chose Alaska. I let him work independently to see what he would come up with on his own. When we get back to work in January, I will be helping him work to improve what he wrote.

Our break will be a much needed three weeks of school free time. We had originally planned to take a full month off, but the boys both voted to start one week sooner so we could take a week off in March when the community college closes for their break. I have a few things to work on over the break, but mostly I'm going to relax and do some work around the house.

Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! See you in 2017!

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Struggle to Become a Hands Off Parent

JT has been out of the public brick and mortar school system for nine years now. The first two years at home we used a public cyber school, switching over to traditional homeschooling when he entered 5th grade. We are now about 1/3 of the way through his junior year in high school. Things have mostly gotten easier as the years have gone by. But now there is a new problem I am encountering; I have to learn to step back and let him take the lead.

All those years ago when JT first came home to learn, I needed to plan and arrange things to make it possible. Using the cyber school, we had curriculum we needed to follow and I was the one to make that happen. Switching over to homeschooling, I had even more control over the things we did for learning. I rarely used package curriculum, instead choosing to develop my own plans using a variety of materials. In all of this, I was the one always saying, "Get your work done." Not much different than moms of public school students, except in my case, I was also assigning the work. Now that JT is taking classes at the community college, my role is changing. The only subjects at home this year are geography and algebra 2. Everything else is being outsourced either to the community college or private lessons. Where do I fit in as homeschooling mom?

My number one role appears to be transportation. I've tried to work on helping JT with his time management skills as he learns to juggle his classwork. Unfortunately this is turning into more nagging than teaching. It's just so hard to stop telling him to do his work when it has been my primary role for nine years. Up until now, I was expected to lay out the daily plan and require things be finished before we moved on to fun things. I am no longer the one giving the assignments so I don't even know everything he needs to do at home. The fact that he is a chronic procrastinator makes it stressful for me to see him not working when I know there are things that need to be done.

My husband told me I need to let him do this on his own so that he can learn from his mistakes while he's still at home taking classes with relatively small risks. I'm trying, but it's been a difficult transition. This week JT and I had a bit of a blow up over his work and I finally decided to go completely hands off. He had his final in English comp on Tuesday and a quiz in music theory and I knew he was not doing much prep work. Tuesday night he came home from the final happy. He said, "I just sat down and started writing and out came a great essay." No prep. Once again, his procrastination and lack of preparation had not caused him to suffer any consequences. Granted, we don't have the results yet, but I know how this always goes. The music theory quiz was yesterday. After some cramming in the car on the way to the lesson, he pulled off a 100%.

So what have I learned? Nagging is not necessary because JT will somehow manage to pull success from nowhere? I guess that's not it... Nagging is not necessary because all it does is bring stress to all of us. If he works best with the deadline looming, maybe that's how he has to work. I just can't watch and everyone will be happy.

Friday, November 11, 2016

College Visit

On Saturday we made our first college visit with JT. He has been taking classes at a satellite location for this community college since August and wanted to check out the main campus. When we received the email inviting him to attend an open house, we decided to take advantage of the offer.

The main campus is about an hour and fifteen minutes from our home. We had a nice drive and arrived about twenty minutes before the event was to begin. There were tables set up from each department so we spoke with the people from Communication Arts and found out where we should go later to see the recording department.

We heard the mandatory talk by the president of the university first. The school seems to have a great focus on making the school affordable by skimping on the non-essentials so they can instead spend it on the technology needed to provide a meaningful education in the classroom. JT doesn't care if he goes to a school with a beautiful campus or other things that are just extra frills. He wants an education that will allow him to learn something that will help him grow as a person as well as provide a career path.

After the talk, we went to a short talk on financial aid, then waited our turn to take a campus tour. Most of the other tours had already left, so we ended up in the last tour of the day that happened to be a bilingual tour for Spanish speakers. I had a great time brushing up on my nearly dormant Spanish. Unfortunately the tour skipped a building - the one we wanted to see. When we returned from the tour we headed over to the technology building to talk with someone about what we really came there to see.

We were some of the few people left on campus, since the open house was wrapping up at noon. Because of that, we were able to have a nice long talk with the chairman of the communication arts department about their music recording technology program. The school is in the process of building a brand new recording studio to update their program so we got to see the work in progress. It looks like it's going to be impressive when completed. We had the chance to ask questions about the things that we have been wondering ever since we learned about this program. We found out that the majority of students pursuing a music recording associates are musicians. We asked if commuting would be doable; if the schedule could be limited to classes two days a week. He said that many do commute from quite a long way away and they keep the schedule tight for that reason. We also found out that Bloomsburg University, a school closer to us, has a dual admission agreement with them and that JT could transfer into their 4 year program as a junior when he completes his associate degree with LCCC.

As we were leaving to come home, my husband asked JT if he was excited yet. He said he had already been thinking he would go to school there, but now he was certain. I'm guessing we'll do a few more visits to other schools, but JT is the kind of person who makes up his mind, and sticks with it. Maybe we'll visit Bloomsburg to talk about the dual admission and see if that would be the best path to pursue. Overall, I'm feeling good about the plan. Things are finally falling into place. And that's a great feeling.

Monday, October 31, 2016

My Nemesis

So... math. As I have pointed out in the past, math has never been my strongest skill. I can balance my checkbook, calculate interest, determine a discount on a sale item, figure out my gas mileage. All of these things are math, and are essential in my life, but the more challenging concepts in math escape me. This has led to many different methods of helping my boys learn the math they have needed over the years. This year it's a bit of a hodgepodge again.

JT's math has not started out as a defined course this year. We did a lot of prep work for the PSAT on Khan Academy. Now that he has taken the test, we are working with an algebra 2 text until the test results are accessible to link with Khan Academy to allow him to prep for the SAT in the spring. I am not equipped to teach algebra 2. JT has elected to work independently, using the textbook and online codes to learn the material. The codes include access to homework help videos, graded quizzes, and graded chapter tests. Nice for me so I don't have to grade any work. We'll see how this goes for the next month or so before I declare it a successful venture.

EM is working his way through the algebra 1 texts with dad instruction. EM and my husband share the same style of math thinking, so they work well together. He seems to catch on to most concepts fairly quickly. The only issue is that he hates doing repetitious work, but it's not always easy to determine what he knows without the practice. So, I get to listen to some whining about the number of problems he gets assigned.

This will be the last year JT will be doing any math at home. Next year he plans to take a budgeting math class through the community college. He thinks that will be more practical and fit his future plans better than continuing with a higher level math class. And if he changes his mind, he can always go back and take a course in the future if needed.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Sharing Homeschooling

The weather couldn't have been better for our trip to the shore. It was really just what I needed for a renewal of my energy.

We arrived right at sunset Friday night, so we didn't get to do much that evening. The next morning, we headed to the boardwalk to do a little walking. We discovered how gorgeous the weather was and decided after lunch we'd hit the beach.

There had been a beautiful sunset on Friday as we were arriving and I wanted to go back out to the visitor center on Saturday to take pictures at sunset. We were in luck to get some good pictures of the super moon over Ocean City too.

My husband had been doing some research on other things to do in the area and found the Cape May County Zoo that we had never visited before. We took a quick drive down the coast Sunday to check it out.

We were thrilled to find they had a great collection of animals and admission was free! We were especially impressed with the snow leopards and this amur leopard. It was a nice day to visit the zoo, not too crowded, not too hot. After another quick walk on the beach, we ate our dinner and hit the road. It was a quick but great trip.

JT had a big week ahead of him when we got home. He had a midterm Tuesday evening in his English Comp class and the PSATs on Wednesday. He took the PSAT at a local school district, not our own, but a closer one. While I was waiting in the guidance office, one of the secretaries asked me about unschooling. Her daughter is homebound this year dealing with a chronic illness. The daughter was asking her mom if she could homeschool instead of use the homebound instruction from the school. She felt she was getting behind since they expected her to do all the work the students in class were doing, instead of customizing it to her situation. We talked for a long time and the mom realized her daughter would have a better experience as a homeschooler. When I got home, I sent her a bunch of links to do some research. It's always nice to have the opportunity to help someone get their start in homeschooling. I know I am thankful for the friends and strangers who helped encourage me to pull my son from school and start this journey.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Can't Stay Home

Today was a crazy day on our schedule. Because we are going to the shore this weekend, it was extra crazy because I had to do laundry and pack for the trip. I know it will be all worth it when I step on the boardwalk and get my first look at the ocean, but until then things will be running at a high level of stress.

Our busy day started with getting the boys out the door for a 40 minute ride to our evaluator's home. EM had his 8th grade testing required by the state scheduled for today. He did well, scoring above grade level in everything except spelling. Because of his auditory processing disorder, he will probably continue to struggle with spelling. Thankfully this deficit is easy to make up for by using spell check.

JT went with us to the testing because his music theory class was scheduled for the same time frame. His teacher lives only a block away from the evaluator so he was able to have his lesson while EM did his testing. After both were finished, JT had a quick lunch in the car while I drove him to the library for his volunteer work.

By the time I was able to be home today, I felt like I had very little time to get everything together for the trip. Luckily my husband has offered to take EM to gym class tomorrow morning so I can finish my packing then. When they get home at noon, we will hit the road. This will be our last trip away from home until spring. JT's classes are starting to get more involved and I don't want to cause him more stress by pulling him away from home when he needs to be working. His spring semester will add an extra class to his schedule; but will still be just a three day week. As soon as his finals are finished in May, we will be hitting the road for another vacation. I know it may seem like we are always heading out for another trip, but I know our time with the boys at home is slipping away and I want to enjoy every minute we can.

Friday, October 7, 2016

60 Days

I think of our 180 required days of schooling in three 60 day chunks. This week we completed the first chunk. Sometimes it feels like we've already been at this year for a really long time and sometimes it feels like we've barely started.

JT's college classes are approaching their midterms. He has a midterm exam in his English comp class on Tuesday. He just completed a paper for his chemistry class. He seems to be doing very well in both subjects. It was a nerve-wracking time for me as we discovered whether or not I had properly prepared him for this challenge. When his first writing assignment was returned with an A, I felt like the success was mine as much as his. This week we were able to send in the paperwork to register for his spring classes. He's going to be taking music appreciation, World War II, and fundamentals of speech. The only work he will continue at home in the spring will be algebra 2 and his music composition work. The one downside of this schedule is that he will not be able to participate in fencing for the spring session since the history class runs the same night.

In September I had called our local school district guidance office to register JT to take the PSAT. Our high school is located about 40 minutes from our home because we live at the furthest end of the district. I was dreading the super early morning we would be doing to get him there on time the day of the test. Plus, the school is in a very rural location and I would have nothing to keep me busy while he was there. While talking with a friend, I realized he could test at another school instead. I called their guidance office yesterday and they still have room for him. Now we'll only have a 20 minute drive and the school is near stores and restaurants so I'll have something to do while I wait. Another bonus is that their school day starts later. Win for me!

One other thing happened this week that made me feel more confident about our homeschooling life. As I mentioned above, JT had a paper to write for chemistry. After struggling to put it together for two weeks, he took it into to class to turn in and found out it wasn't due until the next class. Instead of turning it in the way it was, he decided to bring it home and make improvements on his work. Now, it is important to understand that JT HATES revising his work and always argues with me when I want him to make changes on his writing at home. I was blown away by the obvious signs of maturity and care for the quality of his work for this class evident in his actions. Another win!

We've had a pretty stressful couple of weeks due to some other things in life. As a result, my husband and I decided we should all have a spontaneous beach trip next weekend. I found a great deal at our usual hotel in Ocean City so we'll be hitting the road next Friday. JT knows he will probably need to take school work on the trip, but he was okay with that plan. EM, who is a real homebody, is not thrilled, but willing to indulge us.

Have I said enough times how much I love this life of home schooling?

Friday, September 30, 2016

Teaching and Politics

Four years ago the boys and I watched all of the presidential debates, spent time discussing the issues, and followed the election closely. This time around things are a little different. JT is old enough now to really understand what is at stake and he is very good at arguing his opinion on the candidates.

Perhaps we are more open to thinking outside the box because we are homeschoolers, so we look at ALL candidates, not just the two mainstream parties. I think it's interesting that so many of my homeschooling friends fall into the Libertarian, Green, and Constitution parties. But what do I expect from those who already reject conformity for conformity's sake?

Our homeschool evaluator has a Facebook page where she shares educational materials. Last week she shared some links for things related to watching the debates. Here are two links I found helpful:

Debate Discussion Questions

Debate Question Record

I also had JT take this quiz to see who he lines up with as far as political beliefs go. There are loads of resources out there to help teach this topic. My biggest concern this time around is keeping the boys from getting too jaded about politics when they see the circus this election has become. Both have studied American government and every president up to Jimmy Carter (so far). They often compare the candidates to previous presidents. It's good to see them putting their knowledge into action to make informed decisions. I just hope the voting citizens will do the same.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Short Reprieve

Last fall we went on an extended vacation to Tennessee and Kentucky with the boys, knowing it was probably our last big trip for a few years. When JT decided he'd be taking community college classes this fall, we were pretty sure our weeks would be too full for any traveling. But once he scheduled his classes, we found we could squeeze in a short trip if we tried.

The last few times we have stayed in a state park cabin, we have visited Moraine State Park. This year, because we booked at the last minute (last minute for the modern cabins in state parks is about 3 months in advance) we couldn't get a cabin there so we chose Pymatuning State Park instead. We have stayed here once before, four years ago. It has a huge lake, but not very many good hiking trails, which is what we usually look for in a park. Today we hiked for about 2 hours and that covered more than half of the trails here. We're still having a good time, mostly just relaxing and getting away from our crazy schedule.

But learning is still happening! We saw a tree that we couldn't identify. Fortunately, we came upon a helpful sign telling us it was a Tamarack. The fact that the trail name was Tamarack Trail should have been a clue. JT wanted to look up more information about it, so when we got back to the cabin we found a website and discovered that the Tamarack is a deciduous conifer. That was a new one for me!

We'll be meeting up with friends for a visit tomorrow and heading back home Saturday morning. We had to turn this into a working vacation because JT had to bring a pile of chemistry homework with him to keep up with his class. When we get back home we'll have to get right back to work. I'll have school planning to do and JT has a chemistry report to research and write. EM's schedule is still not as full as his brother's and I hope we can keep it that way for as long as possible.

Friday, September 16, 2016

College Planning

JT is a junior in high school this year. Almost impossible to believe that we've reached this point! I found some information I had printed out several years ago about things a parent should be doing in their child's sophomore year to prepare for college. Oops! Too bad I found it a year too late. It turns out we're a little behind in some of the things the writer suggested, but I think we'll be fine with the schedule we have going.

According to the article, JT should have taken the PSATs last year. Well, he was no where near ready to take the math portion last year, so that wouldn't have turned out well anyway. In fact, it's still going to be a challenge this year. I think he'll ace the reading portion; he's good with anything to do with words. But the math, not so much. He starting working on Khan Academy's SAT prep this month. First you take their diagnostic tests, then they customize your learning to help fill any gaps. After he takes the PSAT, we can link to the College Board test results and Khan will customize a study plan based on his test score to prepare for the SAT in the spring. We're not getting too bent out of shape though because JT's current plan for college doesn't even require him to take the SAT.

He had been throwing around the idea of going to school for music for a year or so. But the more he looked into programs, the less he wanted to pursue that path. He enjoys writing music and playing his own compositions, but he doesn't like to perform and he doesn't want to teach music. Most programs focus either on performance or teaching. He started to look for another possible path and found something offered by the community college where he is currently dually-enrolled. They offer an associate degree in music recording technology. This is a very focused two year program that would set him up to be ready to enter the work force straight out of school. He would still be writing his music, but would now gain skills to work for others in production as well as record his own work.

Right after he made this decision, he ran across a blog post written by one of his favorite video game music composers, Ben Prunty. In the post, Prunty discusses the question, "How useful is my degree?" JT found that the article reinforced his thoughts on his proposed plan. Now that things are in motion, we signed up to go visit the main campus of the community college in November. We would like to talk with the head of the department about job prospects. Another concern would be whether he could compact the program into less than the two years. By the time JT graduates from high school he should have completed all of the general classes required for this degree. Since he takes classes at a satellite location, none of the recording related courses will be available to him before he graduates from high school. We're hoping something can be worked out to help shorten the program. The biggest problem will be the cost of housing. Because it's a community college, they have no student housing. The school is about 1 1/2 hours from our home, so commuting would be a challenge.

None of this plan is set in stone. We will still make visits to other schools. Maybe he will come across a program that fits his career plan at another school. All I know is that this college thing is getting real now. How did my babies get so old?

Friday, September 9, 2016

New Normal

We have been schooling at home for nine years now. Most of those years we did some away from home activities, but mostly revelled in our hermit ways. The boys like their alone time, but we were also always active in church events, so it really has never been an issue for us.  This is the first year that I am spending so much time on the road. Here is a taste of my new schedule.
  • Monday:  JT has chemistry class from 9:45-11:10. We drive 25 minutes to reach the school. During his class I walk in a nearby cemetery then wait in the car until he is finished. Piano lessons on the way home. Some schooling at home until dinner. Starting next week, Monday evening fencing at 7pm.
  • Tuesday: Schooling at home during the day. Leaving the house at 5:15 for his English comp class from 6-8:30pm
  • Wednesday: Chemistry class again. Home by noon for some school work. Bible class at our church at 7pm.
  • Thursday: Every two weeks music theory and composition private lessons for 1 1/2 hours. We drive 45 minutes to the instructor's home. Drive to library following lesson for JT's 3 hours of volunteer work. On the weeks we don't go to lessons, we have a nearly full day at home to get work done!
  • Friday: EM's gym class at 10am. 30 minute drive from home. The class lasts 1 1/2 hours and, as I mentioned before, has a coffee shop for me. 
I am starting to adjust to the new normal, but I'm pretty exhausted most days. I am enjoying the time I get to spend walking during JT's classes. I like the fact that I can blog while I'm waiting for EM's gym class to end. I see that JT is doing well adjusting to his classes. He is starting to really think about college plans now that he's getting a feel for higher education. All of these things are good. My only complaint is that I miss our laid back life where we rarely had to rush around to be somewhere. I know JT is feeling that too. Luckily for us, we are taking a short camping trip later this month. Getting away from the new schedule will be a nice reprieve. Until then, I'll be spending a lot of my time driving and waiting. 

Friday, September 2, 2016

Firsts and Lasts

Today I am blogging while waiting for EM to finish his homeschool gym class. This is a new experience for him that I think he's going to really enjoy. He's always been the most athletic of our family but has had few opportunities to take part in those kinds of activities. The class is sponsored by a local church with a sports complex and the best part, a coffee shop with free wi-fi!

Another first this week was the beginning of JT's college classes. He is taking Fundamentals of Chemistry and English Comp 101 at a satellite campus of a  local community college. The first day of chemistry class had a few bits of drama. I dropped him off near the door we had entered for the orientation. As it turns out, that door is usually locked. He yelled after me as I was driving away and we figured out which door he should try instead. When he finally made it to the classroom, a few other students were there, but no instructor was in the room. After a few minutes of waiting, one of the other students went to the office and found out the classroom had been changed. They were all a few minutes late, but at least he wasn't the only one.

Tuesday evening he had his first English Comp class. The instructor had them all write a short essay on something about themselves so she could check on their writing ability. I asked JT what he had written, hoping it would be about homeschooling, or music, or maybe volunteering at the library. But no, what does he write about? His Mech Warrior Online gaming team. He said that was the first thing that came to mind.

This week we had to make a tough decision. For some time, JT has been thinking about dropping his drum lessons. Even though he really enjoys playing, likes his teacher, and is good at it, the time and effort involved are much more than the benefit he is receiving. He plays piano a few hours most days, but only plays drums when required to practice. Part of this comes from the fact that the drums are located in my husband's office, so JT can only practice when his dad is not working. That makes spontaneous playing less likely. Ultimately though, he realizes that he just doesn't have the time to commit to both instruments when piano will have a larger role in his likely career path. So, we said goodbye to our drum teacher. I think it might have been harder for me than it was for JT. We plan to start incorporating a once a week jam session with JT and his dad to keep his drumming skills intact.

I think this week has been a good start to a new chapter of our lives, a little less hands-on for me and lots of new experiences for the boys.

Friday, August 26, 2016


JT will begin his college classes on Monday. When we made our goal to hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail the summer he graduates from high school, we made the plan to spend time hiking this summer. Today felt like the last day of our summer, so we thought we'd better get busy with that goal. I took him hiking at Rickett's Glen State Park where we hiked the shorter version of the Falls Trail.

The trail follows two different creeks as they drop through the park. There are 18 waterfalls on this trail, ranging from 11 feet to the tallest, Ganoga at 94 feet . There were a LOT of steps on this 3.5 mile trail, up and down. Luckily, I had just bought myself a collapsable hiking pole. JT made fun of me when I bought it. Then he wished he had one for this hike.

It took us about one and a half hours to drive to the park, we ate lunch, then hit the trail. We made it around the loop in a little less than 3 hours, with quite a bit of stopping to take pictures. We had time to talk about college classes and things he would need to work on to be successful.

We are planning to do some more hiking on the weekends through the fall. We are also taking our annual camping trip to another one of the state parks in September, so we'll get some hiking in then. I'm not sure how many weekends he'll want to commit to physical activity. I think there will be some adjusting to do until he gets used to his new schedule. 

The views of the waterfalls were worth the work to get to them. It wasn't too hot under the trees and at the bottom of some of the falls, there was a nice breeze.

When we reached the end of the trail, JT said, "Is it a sign of a good hike when you are glad it's over?"

I said, "As long as you are glad you did it, then yes."

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Getting Things in Order

Last week, EM participated in the local fire safety camp. The boys have been going to this camp for the last seven years, however, JT was too old to go this year. Every time one of the boys reaches the age limit for an activity they love, there's a little bit of mourning on my part. It's not that I don't want them to grow up; I just don't want things to change. Our little plan has been the same for so long and I hate change.

Fire safety camp runs for three afternoons. Temperatures were in the 90s all week with humidity that made the real feel temp over 100. It was pretty hot for the kids putting on all the gear and pulling around heavy equipment. The instructors allowed them to do many of the activities without their gear so they wouldn't drop over from heat exhaustion. The last day of camp they did an obstacle course outside followed by the fire fighters shooting them with the water cannon. That was a nice way to cool everyone off. I had been warned in advance so I kept my distance for picture taking.

Yesterday JT and I went to his community college orientation. We were able to talk to his chemistry instructor and get some insight into what to expect. I also learned about their tutoring service that allows a student to send their writing assignments in for review and suggestions for improvement. Hooray! I don't have to do all of that anymore!

Classes start August 29th and we still haven't managed to find a cheaper copy of the English comp text he needs. The student advisor at the orientation suggested waiting until the first day of class to find out if the book is absolutely necessary. We might do that, but I hate not having everything all in order when he starts. I guess I need to learn to go with the flow a little more.

Next week will be our first week off after our six weeks on with our new schedule. We will be trying to get in a day of hiking at a state park, go to the farmer's market, and do a little PSAT prep. I'm hoping to get through a pile of papers I need to file or discard and put together my new scheduling template incorporating JT's new classes into the plan. Mostly, I'll just be preparing myself for new beginnings.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Early Start

School year 2016-2017 got off to a slow start about one month ago. Because JT will be taking classes at the community college this fall, we decided we should get a head start on some of the subjects he'd need to do at home. We have no idea what kind of work load he should expect for his college classes and I didn't want things to be too overloaded when he's first starting out. Of course, all of that logic was lost on the poor victims that needed to get back into a routine.

I tried to keep things simple for the first few weeks - a little grammar, a little history, math, some reading assignments, and geography. JT already has many things to do for his various music lessons each week so those assignments continued for him. EM also did some writing, science, math, and spelling.

The second week into our schooling, JT volunteered as a student helper for Kids' College. He's now too old to attend the program but was given the opportunity to play a different role and continue to enjoy the environment. The kids that attend the camp are definitely part of his tribe. One of the friends he made there in the past was also a volunteer so they were able to spend the week together talking about a video game idea they want to develop.

I'm looking into a few things for the fall. EM will probably be participating in a homeschool gym class once a week. He enjoys most sports and being our only extrovert, needs that time with other kids that JT does not want. Since I'll be taking JT to his college classes Monday and Wednesday morning and Tuesday evenings, plus music lessons on Thursdays, adding a Friday gym class for EM will mean I need to leave the house every day. The hermit in me really dislikes this plan but I know all of these opportunities are good ones for the boys.

Our plan for this year is a little different from others. We are going for the six weeks on, one week off schedule. Thanksgiving and Christmas will confuse things a bit. We'll only have twelve days of school between the two holidays. But will enter Christmas break with only 80 days of school left to meet our 180 days required. JT is planning to take as many as three classes from the community college in the spring, so he will be busier than ever after our month long Christmas break.

Looking at my schedule for this year feels a little overwhelming but I have a feeling it's really going to fly. We're two years from JT's graduation and EM is nearly a highschool student. My job here will soon be done.

Friday, June 24, 2016


game in the works
The boys have been keeping themselves busy for the last month. JT is working on making a new board game, EM has been chatting with friends on the phone and online, both have been continuing their music lessons.

I was able to sell quite a bit of my old curriculum on the homeschool email list I belong to and at our yard sale. Once I had some cash from those sales, I turned around and bought the things I need for the coming school year.

EM books
EM will be an 8th grader for 2016-2017. We decided to use a textbook for his science studies this year. We chose earth science because he was pretty young the last time we covered geology topics and he doesn't remember much of what he learned. I also bought a grammar and composition textbook because this year I plan to increase the time he spends writing in order to prepare him for the requirements of the PHAA diploma program in 9th grade. I also bought the next level of Lightning Literature for 8th grade. For math, he will be studying algebra 1 this year with my husband. We aren't sure what text we will be using yet. I'm still researching some options. I'm also considering returning to regular practice of cursive for EM. JT doesn't like to write in cursive, but can when necessary. EM did not work on it as much and probably couldn't write a full sentence if I asked. He will also continue his piano lessons for music, pottery and drawing classes for art, and possibly archery lessons for physical education.

JT books
I had very little to purchase for JT this year. Of course, the money I save on curriculum will be spent on community college credits. But hey, I don't have to teach it! He will be taking chemistry and English comp in the fall from the college. At home we will be completing a half credit course in geography. He will also be studying math with his dad again this year. We were considering algebra 2, but after seeing how he's been doing on practice tests for the SAT and the college placement tests, we are going to spend the year getting him up to speed with things he has forgotten. We are calling the course, SAT Prep Math, and it will include a review of major math concepts, a review of algebra 1, and probably an introduction to algebra 2 at the end of the year. I see no reason to push him ahead when he's still struggling with older concepts.

We will also continue his music studies. He will continue working on music composition and theory, taking piano lessons, and drum lessons. In addition, he will be watching The Great Courses' Understanding the Fundamentals of Music course and taking a music history course at the college in the spring semester. I'm not sure if this will end up being 2 credits or maybe even 2 1/2 credits of music this year. In the spring he will also be taking a WWII course and, if I can talk him into it, a speech course. If everything goes as planned, I will only be teaching him geography this year and his dad will be teaching the math. Everything else will be outsourced now. Hard to believe we are so near the end with him. For 2017-2018, his senior year, he will probably be taking all college classes and nothing at home.

I'm sure the next year is going to bring many new challenges to us. New experiences with college and activities. And the scariest new experience of all... training him to drive!

Friday, May 13, 2016

It's a Wrap!

final grades
The work is finished; portfolios are assembled, the classroom has been cleaned, a list of materials for next year has been created. We will meet with our evaluator next week to go over the boys' work and then my summer can officially begin.

Now that we are in the PHAA diploma program, I have been grading JT's work for the transcript. He ended up having almost all As with just one B in geometry. He will have six credits this year; English, geometry, American history, and German 2 are all worth a full credit. Health and fencing are each 1/2 credit courses. To graduate with a diploma from PHAA he will still need two more credits in English, and one each in social studies, math, and science. In the fall he will be taking a chemistry class at the community college with plans to take a history and art class in the spring. At home he will be taking algebra 2, English, geography, and a music credit using a combination of a Great Courses series, his private piano and drum lessons, the composition and theory class he takes, and possibly a class with Coursera.

EM did a lot of work this year as well. He has a large section of his portfolio dedicated to his literature and grammar studies. We used multiple materials this year, Calvert's grammar workbook, 7th grade Lightning Lit, two different writing and composition workbooks, and two of the Vocabulary from Classical Roots books. He also completed two of the Anatomy Academy books for science and spent the second half of the year working through the Make: Electronics book. For math, he used Thinkwell to study pre-algebra. He took two pottery classes, piano lessons, and learned some archery with his new bow. Next year he will study algebra, earth science, 8th grade Lightning Lit, and take archery and drawing lessons. I also plan to spend more time next year working on his writing ability. If he's going to sign up with PHAA's diploma program, he needs to be able to write a 2500 word essay for each year from 9th-12th grade. We will be trying to get a few longer reports together throughout the year.

Once I had the portfolios together, I decided to immediately clean the classroom. Some years I just want to get out of there and leave the mess until later in the summer. Instead, I cleaned all of this year's books off of the shelf and put the new ones I already have on there. I will still be ordering a few things, but some of it was already here. Of course, if this room is clean that means the mess moved somewhere else.

Next week I'll have some more work to do. Most of what is in this room will be sold on the homeschool list I follow. I'm finally accepting that most of the materials I've been stockpiling for the last eight years will not be needed. I will need very few new things for JT since I already have next year's books and his senior year will probably be spent taking almost all college classes. EM will need some of what I have but I pretty much know what I need to keep and what can go. It's crazy to think that I'm nearing the end of this journey. Two more years with JT and five with EM. But for now I'm just going to enjoy my summer!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

It Figures

Well, we started our summer vacation with a family-wide virus. We are on the mend now, but my portfolio prep has been on the back burner until I can stay on my feet for more than an hour. I will  have to postpone my sharing on that topic until next time. Our appointment for our evaluations isn't until May 18th, so I have time to spare. I just hate waiting too long after we finish working because I tend to forget what I had planned.

Last weekend JT and I took a hike at the RB Winter State Park. We hiked about 4 miles in 2 hours, with a few stops to check things out. I feel like we made good time considering some of the trail conditions. The picture above was the start of the trail, easy hiking, wide path, some steep portions, but nothing serious. Then we came to a portion of the trail declared to be 'easiest hiking' in the trail guide for the park. The picture on the right shows JT above me on the trail. We had to come down that rocky path. I was wishing I had already ordered my hiking poles. I found a sturdy stick and suggested that JT come behind me so I didn't squash him if I fell.
I have been spending some time researching composition programs at various music schools. So far, the program that best fits JT's goals would be Berklee's online degree Music Composition for Film, TV, and Games. I'm looking into whether this program is worth the cost, because scholarship money isn't available. I'm also unsure if online schooling is the best choice for music education. A lot to think about. Luckily, we still have some time.

For now we just need to work on getting healthy so I can complete the portfolios and call this year a wrap!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Approaching the End, Again

lonely beach
Two weeks ago we took a quick weekend trip to Ocean City New Jersey. Even though the end is in sight for our school year, I needed a quick recharge for the final push. It was a chilly visit - temps were around 60 but the wind speeds were steady around 20mph with gusts of 50mph. At least we had the beach to ourselves to enjoy!

As of Monday, we will be seven days from the end of our 2015-2016 school year. As usual, I am surprised at how quickly the year has passed. EM is completing 7th grade, JT 10th. The last few days will be focused on a final test for JT in health, wrapping up Rosetta Stone's German 2 course, and working on a timeline of American presidents with both boys. We read our final presidential biography for the year last week. With Gerald Ford, we have come to presidents within my own lifetime, so next year we will be reading about history that I remember! I thought it would be a good idea to go back and review those we have covered up until now by making a timeline we can hang in the classroom. In the past, we made timelines for our Story of the World studies, but never for our American history.

 JT took another SAT practice test this week and improved his score in the math portions. He will be reviewing his incorrect answers and having some additional instruction on those problems with his dad. Then we will begin work on how to write a good SAT essay. He will be taking the PSAT in the fall and the SAT in May of 2017. College plans are starting to be formulated. We are not sure if his path will require SATs but we figure it can't hurt to take them just in case. As of right now, his college plans revolve around music and/or sound production. We had a long talk with his music theory instructor yesterday and she advised that he add piano lessons to his drum instruction and music theory studies. We are looking at some options for that, but know that it would be a good idea. JT writes music on the keyboard and finds that he doesn't have the technical skills to play the things he can imagine. Although he can play many things, he still struggles with sight reading and needs to work on his technique.

my feet hurt already
This summer we plan to work on our long term goal of hiking the portion of the Appalachian trail that passes through Shenandoah National Park. Our trail maps arrived this week so I'm starting to sit down with JT and look at the plan. We will be visiting a local state park on Saturday to do some trail hiking. Our goal is to plan our AT hike for the summer following JT's senior year. One thing I know is that I'm going to need to spend those two years getting myself in better shape! I'm happy that JT wants to take on this challenge. It will be a great experience for him to work towards independence. If this trip goes well, I hope he will continue to hike trails on his own and with friends in the future. When I was younger, I thought it would be cool to hike the whole Appalachian Trail. I'm not so sure I could handle that big of a challenge now, but it will be fun to do a portion of it with my son.

Next week I will post a summary of our complete school year. My summer planning will be a bit different this year. With JT planning to take some community college classes next year, I will have very little to do with him at home from now on. EM does a lot of his work independently, so my role will be changing for the 2016-2017 school year. That seems to be the nature of our homeschooling adventure. As soon as I get used to the way it is, it's time to make a change.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Science in Action

The boys are each working on different sciences this year. JT has been studying ecology. We used a variety of materials, starting the year off with a text that was more like a workbook, worked our way through the CrashCourse ecology videos on Youtube, used a teacher's guide from PBS American Experience to look at the history of Earth Day and study the life and work of Rachel Carson, finally we are using material we borrowed from our local school district to look at the topics covered in Pennsylvania's Envirothon. That material was split into five components. We decided to save the aquatic ecology portion for the end of the year when the weather would be more conducive to working outside in water. This week, the weather was perfect for measuring the velocity of a local stream. We used worn out drum sticks (Finally a use for those things!) to mark two spots along the shore then dropped floats in the stream and timed their progress. It was a fun experience and we discovered that our stream has some tricky currents that snag your floats and mess up your data. The book we are using for this portion of his study is Rivers and Streams by Patricia A. Fink Martin. I really like the way this book is put together. It has plenty of hands on activities that are easy to do, but also challenging.

EM is furthering his electronics studies this year using Make: Electronics by Charles Platt. My husband is leading the study of this subject. They ordered some kits online that were designed specifically for this book. The last few weeks they have been building things around the house. The day I took this picture, we had some lemon batteries running on the kitchen table. EM has a good grasp of technical concepts so this is a great way for him to really get into a topic he enjoys. As I did this year, next year I will have EM focus on a different scientific subject for the first half of the year, and return to his electronics again after Christmas. He's not a fan of the life sciences, but we managed to get some of that out of the way with a study of anatomy this year. Next year I think we will look at Earth Science.

JT and I have been starting to work on his application for the community college where he hopes to take a class in the fall. He will most likely register for an introduction to chemistry class. Based on the course description, I don't think the material will be too challenging for him, but instead I hope to use this experience to help him learn how to take a class. The credits at this school are relatively inexpensive and I think it will be a great investment to let him learn when the stakes are low compared to later when he's paying much more per credit at his chosen university. Baby steps towards adulthood and independence are happening every day.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Sorry, Life Got in the Way

I now have a grandson and therefore a valid excuse when I skip blogging for a month or so! Our little boy, let's call him Peanut, was born on February 6th. Since then things have been a little out of sorts around here, but hopefully they will start settling down soon. While I've been out helping my daughter with Peanut, the boys have been working fairly independently. Dad has stepped in to take on EM's science and JT's math, so I mostly organize the schedule and make a list they can complete on their own. We still do our history reading together, I help both boys with their writing work, and I work as a part-time chauffeur getting them to their various lessons. The rest of their subjects they can handle with little help from me.

JT took a practice SAT book using the latest edition of the College Board's practice book. His score in the reading portion was above average, in the math section he was close to average, for the essay, let's just say, he needs more practice. We plan to do the other three practice tests and use Khan Academy's SAT material to help him prepare to take the test next year. We also need to take the time to sit down and fill out the application for the community college where he plans to take a few classes next year as a dually enrolled high school student.

JT and I are also discussing plans to do some hiking. We both recently read the book, A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, and have become enthralled with the idea of hiking a portion of the Appalachian Trail. We are working on a plan to begin some training hikes this summer and look at doing a longer overnight hike to prepare for an eventual 10 day hike on the Shenandoah National Park portion of the trail. EM and my husband are not as interested in this endeavour so they would follow along as support staff and stay in more comfortable facilities. All of these plans will depend on what the podiatrist says when I go for an appointment in April to see why I am having foot pain.

The rest of our schooling seems to be going quite well. EM is enjoying his pottery wheel class this month, JT continues to enjoy fencing and drumming. Both are doing plenty of reading in their free time. I'm thinking once things settle down with the new baby, we might need to take a short vacation. I'm feeling the call of the road again! And why bother homeschooling with a flexible schedule if you aren't going to use it to enjoy life and get out to see the world?

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Zeroing in on a Life Path

JT has always been a creative kid. When he received his first set of Crayola markers at age four, he probably felled a small forest with the volume of paper he used. He has taken lessons for four different instruments, he writes stories, designs card games, creates animation on the computer, and writes music on both the drums and piano. I guess to most people it would be obvious that his path should follow the arts. But as Mom, I spent too long being blind to that fact, hoping he would stick with science because I was afraid he could not afford to feed himself with an art career. This week, I finally saw something that made me know this was going to be his path and I should get behind it to support him.

From time to time, JT will get totally absorbed composing a song on the piano. He will spend hours finding just the right sound, avoiding all of his 'official' school work to do so. I try to resist the urge to push him back to what he's 'supposed to be doing' because I know he enjoys the music, is good at it, and won't focus on the work even if he is doing it if a song is in his head. After he spent something like two hours at the keyboard one day, I pointed out that he is really good at composing songs and if he would take the time to learn to write them down and record them, he could probably publish them. The music he writes is always instrumental and sounds like it could be great video game or movie music. He told me that he has thought he would like to write music for movies and that it would be awesome to write music like John Williams. After a long discussion about what kinds of things he would need to do to make that happen he told me he was more than willing to get the instruction necessary to pursue that path. I pointed out that it would be hard work. He wasn't bothered by that saying it wouldn't matter because it would be fun and worth it in the end.

So I went to work helping him to find ways to learn. I found a few links about careers in music for movies and video games and had him read the stories of successful musicians in those fields. Then I contacted my friend who teaches music classes at a local university. JT will start private classes with her next week. She told me she will go through the material in the first year college theory courses, but with a focus on approaches to composition. 

I believe on a whole we think of art and music careers as hobbies instead of serious work. But when I look at how much of American culture is focused on entertainment, how can we not see that as a good choice for a career path? Maybe he wouldn't have the typical 9-5 work day and a guaranteed weekly pay check, but he also might have the opportunity to do something he loves every day and get paid to do it. Ultimately, I think he would thrive on a non-traditional work schedule, in exactly the same way he has thrived on a non-traditional school setting.

Friday, January 8, 2016

What's in Store for 2016?

The boys will start back to full-time school work on Monday. Today I finally sat down to dig in and get things organized. I knew I'd need the extra week of vacation because I am really bad at using time wisely. I had a great holiday, but that didn't get much done in the classroom.

We have 76 days remaining of our required 180. I did the math today to figure out how many days each week JT needs to spend on each of his subjects. Literature, composition, German, and math will continue to be five days. He's starting chapter 9 of Harold Jacob's Geometry on Monday. For his credit for math this year, he needs to complete 2/3 of that textbook. As long as he finishes chapter 11, we'll be good. At that point, I'm not sure if he will continue through the rest of the text or start using Khan Academy's SAT prep course for the remaining school days. Science and computer programming each need to be three days a week. I am outlining the rest of his ecology course tomorrow and Saturday using the Envirothon materials provided by our local school district. I want to have that out of the way so I can just work from a list and not have to do so much planning each weekend. He will begin his 1/2 credit health course on Monday. That will be a five day a week subject using a Hewitt Homeschooling text and syllabus. I am also adding home practice for fencing twice a week because he got an épée sword for his birthday. Before now, he could only practice at his weekly lessons where the equipment was available to use for free. Now he can do the exercises at home and work on his technique.

EM will continue with all of his regular courses with only one change. For the first half of the year, his science was taken from the Anatomy Academy books. Now he will move back to his study of electronics with his dad using a new book, Make: Electronics: Learning Through Discovery. I know he's looking forward to getting back to the science he enjoys the most. For his current reading assignment in Lightning Literature, he will be continuing Helen Keller's auto-biography and doing the activities that go along with the text. He's also going to be taking two pottery classes, a wheel class in February and a hand-building class in April.

Another change coming to our lives this year is that my daughter and her husband are having their first child. So now I will be a grandmother and the boys get to be uncles. JT claims he doesn't want to be around any babies because 'they drool'. EM seems to be more excited about the idea. I am looking at this as a great learning experience for them. Their sister was 11 when JT was born so she was able to change diapers and help with child care. I told them this would be a great chance for them to learn to take care of a baby so they would have great skills when looking for a wife in the future. I don't think I've quite sold them on that idea yet.