Wednesday, September 28, 2016

In Which I Answer a Question About Homeschool Boredom

We invited a group of friends over after church one afternoon in August.  The after-lunch conversation turned to kids and school and the question was asked, "Do you get tired of teaching the same things to all of your kids?" 

My simple answer is I don't teach everyone the same things. Obviously they all need to learn to add and they need American history, spelling, and basic science, but there is great variation in how we achieve that learning.  It sounds selfish, but I do it for me.  I choose to teach them things I want to learn about, too, with books that look interesting to me! When we circle back around to an era in history I covered years ago with the older kids, I choose different library books to read and new ways to explore the subject.  In this way, we've covered astronomy, composers, nature study, ancient history, poetry, geography, grammar, missionary stories, hygiene, drawing, fractions. cooking, typing, creative writing, sewing, and the list goes on.

If you've read this blog for any length of time, you know we read a lot. One of my favorite things we're doing this year is purposing to read 10 minutes a day for fun.  This doesn't include what we're reading for history,  Bible study or our own personal reading.  This special 10 minutes is my chance to share a book I want to read with my kids... just because.  I don't have to finish a chapter each session and I don't have to read seven days a week, but I can almost always eek out 10 minutes.  Right now we're working our way through Little House on the Prairie and plan to keep going until we finish the series.  Do you know I've never read past the third book with any of my kids?! 

Learning is a lifelong pursuit so why not make it a pleasure for everyone-- including, maybe especially, the teacher? 

Whether you homeschool or not, do you get tired of teaching your kids the same things over and over?

How do you choose what to teach?

What are some things you want to learn with your children?

Friday, September 23, 2016

Reading For Writing and 'Rithmetic

Some weeks are jam-packed with planned activities and you wonder how you will find time to breathe, let alone fit in a decent amount of school work.  This was supposed to be one of those weeks for us, but then one full afternoon of activities was cancelled, and the relentless rain drove Brian home from work for two-and-a-half days so our week was more peaceful than anticipated.  

Some weeks it is easier to lower expectations anyway and be unconventional.  Games of Monopoly, decorating for fall, baking, trying a new soup recipe, and sorting fall clothes count as practical learning, right?

Yes, we did keep up with algebra and science, but we also read these picture books and called it school!


Math Curse by Jon Scieszka I picked up especially for Gavin who loves to say that math is something he will never use again.  Okay.  Granted, he may never use some of the more abstract concepts of algebra or trigonometry, but this book was a fun way to emphasize how much we use math every day. 


Yaks Yak: Animal Word Pairs by Linda Sue Park was loads of fun for me, an person who loves words and grammar. It was fun to see my kids "get" the puns on each page.  For example, "kids kid"... as in, goats teasing each other and "slugs slug" in, slugs in a boxing match!  There are little notes on each page with definitions of words a child may not know. 


Camille and the Sunflowers by Laurence Anholt is  about a boy who meets Vincent Van Gogh.  It is fictional and told in story form, but biographical details are sprinkled throughout, and reflections of Van Gogh's paintings and style of work can be found in the illustrations.  


Six Dots by Jen Bryant focuses on the childhood of Louis Braille, recounting the injury that caused his blindness. It follows him through school and  how he was inspired to create the Braille alphabet. My children have always been especially fascinated by picture books that tell a true story!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

How to Get Out of a Reading Rut

A friend and I were discussing online how we had both fallen into a deep reading rut.  She was asking for book suggestions and I was telling her how I had nothing to offer because I had read very little lately and the books I had read were not thrilling me.  I was dragging through short books and returning books to the library unread. 

I turned to another (in-real-life) friend.  She is my go-to book friend.  We have similar taste, and she reads far more and more quickly than I do so she always has a book (or five!) to suggest. This is what she said: "My last rut, I just read a bunch of middle reader books, but it worked."  

I took her words to heart and got a few books from the library.  I started with Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper.  After reading that, my friend told me to try Wonder by R. J. Polacio, a book in a similar vein. Both books are the stories of children with physical difficulties who must navigate the social world of school and life and also what it means to be different than what everyone else calls normal.  I love books that are well-crafted stories but also appropriate to discuss and pass on my pre-teens.

What makes this even more fun is that Wonder is being made into movie (April 2017).  A local group of friends got together earlier this month to watch another book-to-movie adaptation and I'm hoping even more of us can watch this one, too, maybe with our kids.

Right now I need books that are easy to begin and continue, even if I can only read in short bursts. These are a few of my other middle grade favorites: 

The Wednesday Wars and its companion (not sequel) Okay For Now by Gary Schmidt take place in the late 60s during the Vietnam era. Each follow a different young boy as he lives through a year of school, friends, and the emotional heartbreak of growing up.  I absolutely loved both of these books, so much that I would list them among my favorite books of all time.  These are not just stories for children. 

A Long Way From Chicago and  A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck are a different sort of book. They each are written more like a series of short stories. Set during the Depression era, A Long Way From Chicago comes first and recounts a string of summers when Joey and his sister, Mary Alice, leave the city to spend the summer with their Grandmother Dowdel who is quite a colorful character. A Year Down Yondera Newbery winner, focuses on Mary Alice, now fifteen.  Joey is grown up, and is sent to spend an entire year by herself with her grandmother. 

Do you read middle grade fiction or do you leave that to your kids?

What are some good ones you (or they) have read lately? 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Art Class

{This post contains affiliate links.}

My yearly post, giving the run-down of our curriculum choices may not happen this time, but I do want to share a few snippets.  I gave my thoughts on high school science last week. and now I want to discuss art.  

Some years we've chosen to focus more on art than other years.  Some years we've done a picture study of fine art.  (Go here to see how we did that for free!)  Other years we did crafts and hands-on projects.  This year it is a little of both.

Gavin (9th grade) is studying art history.  We are using Short Lessons in Art History and the accompanying book of exercises and activities.  (I bought both books used on Amazon.)  Since we are studying the modern era in history this year, we decided it would be meaningful to study the more modern era of art, too, so we began midway through the book with Monet.  Our first weeks of art history were rocky as Gavin enjoys the art part far more than the history part, but we soldiered through and he is learning to make this course his own.  He can't skip the history part but once he finishes the reading which he finds dull, he can spend as much time as he likes on the art projects.  

Maddie (7th grade) and Owen (5th grade) are using Draw and Write Through History: The 20th Century.  The book is divided into chapters, each with topics that closely mirror what we had already planned to study in our study of modern history.  Tuesday is art day and they work on their drawings a little each week, turning in a final product on the last week of the month.

In August, they both drew the Titanic, and this month they are working on Antarctic animals that Shackleton may have seen on his expeditions. 

Ben (3rd grade) and Alaine (1st grade) are taking online art "lessons" at  The Art Club Online.  They just finished a series of lessons on drawing faces.   They have inspired their older siblings to get in on the action, too.  This week, four kids (instead of two) gathered around the coffee table for the week's lesson. Next up is drawing animals.

How do you teach art in your homeschool?
Are you more an art-appreciator or an art-doer?

Friday, September 9, 2016

Weekend Encouragement {a few thoughts and a pile of links}

We completed a full week of school on this first full week of September.  As in, we did our work on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday without taking a break for a summer activity. Things went smoothly, and one student admitted a subject that was hated last week was now "okay."  

Still I battled feelings of discouragement.  As she moves closer to a year old, Macie is needing less sleep in the afternoon.  Her morning nap is solid and falls during our busiest school hours which is a help, but I crave the quiet time in the afternoons, too.  It's all good, and I may grow to love this new routine, especially as several of our afternoon extracurriculars begin again this fall. I'll be happy that she doesn't get grumpy if she misses a long rest time.  Transitions are difficult, though, and my body and mind are weary.

 As   summer winds down and all our friends are back to school, too, we're home more which is also a good thing, but I miss the hubbub of activity and the conversation with other moms. For years, I thought I was an introvert, but this summer made me suspect I'm more extroverted than I realized.

Brian's work season is slowing slightly, and we have been intentional about our evening walk.  Those, and an invitation from a friend to hang out and talk while our kids played yesterday after school, buoyed the end of my week.

I've also been encouraged by exchanging scriptures with various friends via text message. "A word spoken at the right time is like gold apples on a silver tray." (Proverbs 25:11 HCSB)  On Thursday, I asked if any reader on the blog's Facebook page would leave a comment with a scripture that brought encouragement to them. I was blessed all day by the responses.  Click here to find encouragement, too, and click below on the links to read other articles (by other people) that I loved this week.

Do It Afraid  by Sarah Mackenzie @ Amongst the Lovely Things 
About starting something hard: "So here we are, starting our calendar square in the face and running out of excuses to put off starting. I say just leap in. It isn't going to be perfect-- it won't even if you try to make it so, so just do your best and let God feed the 5,000 with your measly basket of loaves and  fish."   

Timely for our family as in the last year as each of us has made new friendships, renewed some old ones, and explored "what it means to do life with others in Christ."

This has nothing to do with ego, selfishness, or pushing God out of the picture but simply leaving behind the comparison game and teaching your children the way that works best for your family.

Monday, September 5, 2016

When Plans Fall Flat Before They Begin

That title sounds more dramatic than I intended, but it describes our experience with high school science so far.  This just may be the homeschool year that kicks my butt.  

There have been a few baby issues.  First it was a cold, then teething, then realizing she had insomnia caused by her continuing dairy insensitivity.  Good-bye again, cheese and butter! All that makes for a mama who is tired, distracted, and not her best self. 

Our primary stumbling block, though, has been high school.  More than the increase in work or the difficulty of the work itself, it is navigating new expectations.  I'm putting pressure on myself.  I'm putting pressure on Gavin.  He's putting pressure on himself.  We both need to take a deep breath and realize it's not as hard as we're making it. 

I mentioned in another post that we shelved what I had planned for science.   One of the joys of homeschooling is tailoring the work to our children's interests, but it doesn't mean they must love everything they do.  Algebra is not going away just because some of my kids hate math!  We're teaching them that sometimes in life you have to do something just because it has been given you to do. 

That being said, in the first weeks of school as we slowly began each subject, we avoided Gavin's science day after day until finally it was the only subject left to begin so we cracked open the book, The black and white pages with very little color, the experiment supply lists, and the lack of insight on what was important and what aspects could be skimmed was too overwhelming.  Two weeks into school and we put the book back on the shelf and started a search for new science curriculum. 

At the same time, I was pondering where to plug in the 3-D printing class Gavin took over the summer.  I wanted to give him credit for the 15 hours of classroom time, but wasn't sure what it could "count" towards.  My mom sent me this link, telling me she thought it sounded like Gavin, and the pieces all clicked for me.

The traditional sciences (biology, chemistry, etc.) will wait as Gavin dives into The Way Things Work Now by David Macaulay.  The subtitle says it all: From Lasers to Levers, Windmills to Wi-Fi,  a Visual Guide to the World of Machines.

I almost ordered a used copy of The New Way Things Work  at an incredible price, I might add, but I decided to pre-order (at full price) the new edition that comes out in October because the topics and technology covered are more up-to-date and include a section on 3-D printers. 

While we wait, we checked  How Machines Work: Zoo Break by the same author out of the library.  It is an incredibly fun, hands-on look at simple machines, and I had Gavin teach it to the younger kids. It was his idea to build an example of each simple machine with Duplo blocks as they read the book. They each (Gavin included) also illustrated a chart for their school portfolios. 

I'm sure there will be more bumps in our journey this school year, but this has put us on a more confident path.  Fellow mamas, don't be afraid to insist that your kids do hard things, but don't be afraid to change course if it's the better choice.

Bonus points if you can give us a name for this science course.  It goes beyond general science and I don't think it quite fits the description of physical science.  Help! 

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