Friday, December 18, 2009

Weeks 15 and 16! Christmas Break Begins!

Technically, we aren't quite halfway through the year, as we have a 34-week curriculum, but it still feels monumental to have made it this far in our first year of homeschooling. I remember back to this past spring when I let the principal of our local elementary school know about our decision, and his initial response was, "It's your choice, of course, but most of the people who try it send their kids back to us within a week." Well, we have made it past a week and now to nearly a semester of studying together. We've had our challenges, but one thing I can say for certain is that I've enjoyed the overall experiences much more than I was expecting!

Parenting, especially motherhood, is so full of the mundane experiences of life (cooking, cleaning, laundry, laundry, laundry!) and I am not one who particularly enjoys the drudgery of housekeeping. But homeschooling engages my mind and soul in ways that has previously been missing in my parenting experience. It has stretched me and my faith, as I have had to trust that God is in this process and is ultimately in control of the education of my children, even as he has asked me to participate. It has been humbling on so many levels, and it feels as though my flaws as a teacher and parent are even more pronounced, given that I'm surrounded by my kids all throughout the day. But yet, I feel as though the Lord has given much grace to us all, as we have stumbled together in getting used to this new lifestyle. So I'm quite thankful for all we've learned as a family through this experience.

OK, onto the summary of the past two weeks! Here are some highlights:
  • Harry finished his brief units on division and telling time; nearing the end of Singapore Math 1B! We are working on a brief unit on numbers within 100 and should be moving on to book 2A in January.
  • Ron started Singapore Earlybird, which we have begun to use in lieu of RightStart A. I felt as though RS was jumping quickly into operations without setting the a foundation of understanding numeracy, so I am glad to back up a little bit and use Earlybird. With its colorful books and more age-appropriate approach, I think Ron will be better off in the long run.
  • We continued our state studies and also touched upon Daniel Boone in history; I never quite understood this man's significance in American history until now, I'm ashamed to say! Never even heard about the Wilderness Road before, sadly, or if I did, I completely forgot about it. (I don't know that my kids will remember Daniel Boone's significance, but hopefully they will remember that I was excited to learn about him and one day reflect a similar passion for learning.)
  • We also did a unit on air in science; the boys enjoyed learning that warm air expands and rises, and cold air contracts. They did a couple of simple experiments demonstrating these concepts: 1) putting a dented plastic golf ball in warm water (the warmed air in the ball pushes the dent back out); 2) shaking a plastic bottle with ice in it and watching the sides contract, and 3) floating a feather in warmed air (like magic, they thought!)

  • Both boys have been working on their handwriting, with Harry having started cursive this fall. He is getting better at forming words and wanted to share a recent sample.
A challenge of homeschooling is that I don't have any experience in knowing what is appropriate for this age! But I am thankful to have a neighbor whose daughter was in 2nd grade last year and who has lent me her materials to help give me a point of reference. Her penmanship was quite lovely and gives Harry a measure to shoot for as well.
  • We also have continued to track birds at our feeder and see a good number of our summer and fall feathered friends still with us. One of our recent visitors, the downy woodpecker:

We've also had our share of musical celebrations this year, with both Harry and Ron performing in winter concerts. Unfortunately, our camera wasn't functioning for Sean's concert, but Harry poses here with his wonderful teacher, Cheryl Lim of the Betty Haag Academy and Wheaton Community School of the Arts:

And of course we continued with our usual subjects such as First Language Lessons, Classical Writing Primer, spelling, Latin, and Mandarin. Slow and steady progress on all fronts. =) Ron also has made great strides in his reading, and we are onto long-vowel E sounds in all their different forms. I never learned phonetic reading so I feel like I'm learning the basics alongside Ron!

Lastly, although this has nothing to do with school, we are trying to put less emphasis on receiving gifts this Christmas and putting more focus on giving to others. To that end, we took the boys to Toys 'R Us to select gifts for needy children, which was initially a little difficult for them--what child finds it easy to enter a toy store and not think about things they might want? But, they were troopers by the end and as we affirmed them for doing a wonderful thing for other kids this Christmas, their spirits lifted significantly. We hope to make an annual tradition of this activity in the future!

Thanks for visiting our blog; we'll be back to school in January! We wish you and yours a wonderful Christmastime! May it be full of love, laughter, and Glee!!!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Weeks 10-14! Has it been that long?

I cannot believe how the weeks have flown by. After our Toronto trip, it felt as though we were in catch-up mode and then preparations for Thanksgiving began! I feel like we've also hit a few bumps in our homeschooling journey, nothing too drastic, but it's required some flexibility on my part to manage. I assume this is all completely normal for veteran homeschoolers, but I'm still feeling my way around! But as a result, it's been harder to find time to do the weekly catch-ups. So here is a long overdue summary of the weeks past.

Math: We've made some changes all around. As the material began to become more challenging and unfamiliar, I discovered how hard it is to teach math with distractions. So as much as I like to get more done before lunch, I've decided that Harry's math has to be saved for after lunch, when the little brothers are napping. It's made a big difference to my sanity, and hopefully to Harry's understanding of the material. We're working through multiplication in Singapore Math 1B, and getting ready to start division. I do love how Singapore Math focuses on having the student understand the concepts; it's been eye-opening to see how they cover the basic math operations, very different from how I learned it. I just hope I'm doing the curriculum justice! I'm also finding myself dissatisfied with Right Start A, which I'd been using with Ron, so I'm looking to do a math curriculum switch for him, too, probably to Singapore Earlybird since we're having a good experience with Singapore thus far with Harry.

History/Geography: We've continued through our overview of American history; over the past few weeks we've covered subjects such as the the Revolutionary War, Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, and the Constitution (at a 2nd grade level, of course!). The boys enjoyed making berry ink and using feathers to approximate the quill pens of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, as well as their own versions of Liberty Bells. We also began our study of the fifty states, which began with the first four states to enter the union--Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Georgia--and continues chronologically from there. I thought the boys might start getting tired of the state studies, but they really enjoy learning what the state birds and flowers are, coloring the state sheets that My Father's World provides, and locating the states in the U.S. map. Harry also had a chance to try his hand at some baking in conjunction with our study of Georgia, and made his first peach cobbler.

Science: Speaking of birds, we finally officially began our study of birds and our boys' familiarity with all the backyard breeds we've attracted these past few months has really helped to make the material come to life. The ironic thing is that now that the cold has come, we've seen a dramatic decrease in the number and variety of feathered friends who visit. But the goldfinches (that are no longer bright yellow, but gray for the colder months) and chickadees still visit often--our goldfinch feeder often hosts several at a time! To continue attracting winter birds, the boys decorated pine cones with peanut butter, raisins and birdseed for any lucky fowl that discover them before the squirrels do! Our backyard now features two hanging feeders, a mesh bag filled with free beef suet from the local butcher, all those aforementioned peanut butter-pine cones, and even some orange halves affixed to one of our trees in hopes of attracting any orioles that might be around. I've been completely surprised at how much fun it is to watch for birds and learn about their behaviors. Birds are one of the most oft-mentioned animals in Scripture, and my fellow writing friend Anita Lustrea tells me that renowned theologian John Stott is a lifelong birdwatcher and has done some writing about the importance of birds, so that will be another book I will have to read...someday!

Other Topics: Harry continues to work through his daily lessons in language arts--spelling, handwriting, Classical Writing Primer, First Language Lessons--he can rattle off the list of "state of being" and helping verbs, the definitions of nouns and verbs , and the four types of sentences without much trouble. The contention that classical Christian advocates make, that the "grammar" stage is perfect for memorization, seems to be true for Harry. He is much better than I am at remembering everything from his Latin prayers to his Chinese characters to his growing list of poetry; this week, he finished "The Wind" by Robert Louis Stevenson. Meanwhile, Ron is continuing his work through Ordinary Parents' Guide to Teaching Reading and becoming better at printing his letters and numbers. He has already expressed his preference not to attend kindergarten at the local elementary school next year; we'll see if that ends up being the way we go! It's still hard to imagine that we may be homeschooling for years into the future, just as much as it now seems hard to imagine a lifestyle back in public school.

Harry's Friday homeschooling co-op is done for the semester, so we'll fill in the time with learning some practical skills, such as typing and Powerpoint. From what I understand, his fellow classmates at his old school begin learning these skills this year, and I'd love for him to do the same. We try to do occasional summary reports for DH, during which Harry gives a presentation on what he has learned and shows his dad the evidence of his work. It's a good way for Jason to get some oral communication experience and keep DH in the loop about what we're doing. My hope is that by the end of the year, Harry will be able to create his own simple Powerpoint slides to accompany the presentations...stay tuned!

Lastly, we spent a number of days on the topic of water (in conjunction with the topic of Jesus, the Giver of Living Water); we've been getting familiar with Tchaikovsky and especially with The Nutcracker Suite, perfect timing for Christmas, and the boys have been continuing with their own music studies. I'll end with this little duet of "Silent Night" they created on their own initiative...a nice way to get into the Christmas spirit!

(The boys are really getting into Harry Potter and now even refer to one another as Harry and Ron. I'm still amazed at how quickly the Jedi have been displaced!)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Week 8, Toronto trip, Week 9!

It's been a while since my last post because we took a week off in mid-October for a road trip to visit my in-laws in Toronto, something we have never done in the fall due to conflicts with my kids' school schedules. No longer an issue! My husband usually has some sort of fall break period so we took advantage of it and of our flexible schedule. So our week 8 was split into two, with two days occurring before we left for Toronto and the remainder completed after we returned. Just a couple of photos with highlights of our trip which included an apple-picking outing (brr! chilly day! but yummy apples...can't beat that fresh-off-the-tree taste!) and a visit to the Ontario Science Center. Thanks to Uncle Mike and Auntie Esther for taking all the photos since our camera is currently in disrepair!

The downside of returning mid-week was t
hat I felt the need to jump back into school while trying to dig out of travel clutter, no easy task. As such, it was a somewhat disjointed week and probably not one of our better ones in terms of retention and creative activities. But we were back to normal by week 9. So I'll just combine our week 8 and week 9 updates!
  • Harry completed Singapore Math 1A and did well on the placement test I used to gauge his progress. He only had a little trouble with the ordinals and once I explained them to him, he was good to go. It feels great to have that foundation under our belts and now on to 1B! So far he is cruising through the new book, which I think is reflective of all the work we did starting this summer on firming up his math facts. He is still not perfect at them, but he's so much better than where he was at the end of 1st grade, which has been very gratifying to see.
  • We've kept up with our usual mix of Classical Writing Primer, First Language Lessons, handwriting and spelling...nothing particularly exciting to report here, except that I'm seeing much nicer printing from Harry when he tries his best. He has also started cursive and that's been going slowly but steadily.
  • In Adventures, we learned about Benjamin Franklin, including a number of facts that I never knew outside of his experiments with kites and lightning (he was the founder of the academy that became the University of Pennsylvania; he founded the first public library; he founded the first fire department, etc.) Quite the remarkable inventor, not to mention statesman and ambassador! Now I better understand why he is one of only two people depicted on U.S. currency who was not a sitting president (Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill being the other).
  • George Washington was our focus for week 9, and as I speak the older two boys are enjoying a Nest Entertainment video on Washington, who is crossing the Delaware at this very moment. I usually let the boys watch an educational history video on Fridays if the Adventures curriculum recommends one. It's a fun way for them to end the week after reading and hearing so much about the main characters. They also made their own version of tricorn hats to emulate those that were in style in Washington's day.
  • We also did a brief study of rocks and the composition of the earth. This was the topic that first introduced me to the complexities of talking about the age of the earth. I've discovered that there is a strong contingent of homeschoolers who believe the earth is only about 5,000 years old. I can't say that I agree, but this is not an area that I have done much research in to find out what those in the "Young Earth" camp have to say. I'm sure I'll write more about this in future posts. For now, I just explain to my kids that there is a wide range of beliefs about the age of the earth and none of really know for certain--aside from God, that is--how old the Earth really is. I know that will not be a sufficient explanation for very long so I better get reading up on this topic myself!
  • Lastly, this week we broke out the watercolors to paint trees and leaves, a perfect activity for the season, which is something we haven't done in quite a while. Even Dobby wanted to get into the act! This is Harry's depiction of our neighbor's tree, then Ron's depiction of I'm-not-sure-what! =)

Meanwhile, Dobby is just having fun being a part of it all!

As always, we continued in our other subjects as well--Bible, Latin, Mandarin--as well as getting acquainted with Tchaikovsky (Harry is captivated by the 1st piano concerto and says he wants to play it someday. Wouldn't that be wonderful?) and learning what that word "macaroni" in the song "Yankee Doodle Dandy" is all about ("macaroni"= fancy hat worn in England at that time). Who knew? As I have discovered, it's never too late to learn new facts! =)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Week 7: Details!

Usually I paint the picture of how the week went in fairly broad strokes. This week I'll try to put more details to what the boys are learning and doing on a daily basis. We are not a fast-moving family in the morning, so we are usually up and ready to eat breakfast by 8 a.m. The boys know that after they wake up and get ready for the day, they are to tidy their rooms and the basement/playroom/schoolroom for the day, and our aim is to have all this done by breakfast.

After breakfast, Harry starts his piano time while I clean up the kitchen and the younger boys play. After I'm done, I will attempt to fit Ron's violin time in. We aim for 45 minutes for Harry, sometimes a little more, and 30 minutes for Ron. If Harry is done before I'm finished with Ron, he'll start working on assignments that don't require much supervision from me, usually cursive handwriting practice or an online math drill to practice addition and subtraction within 20. He's really gotten much stronger in this area over the past 4-5 months, although his subtraction is the weaker of the two. My friends with children in 2nd grade in public school tell me that subtraction is definitely harder for kids than addition and Harry's classmates haven't yet mastered subtraction within 20 either, so I think we're in good shape!

Then we officially begin together with Bible, using the My Father's World curriculum; this year, we are studying the names of Jesus and last week as well as this week, the focus was on John 6:35, the "I am the bread of life" verse which also served as the memory verse for the past two weeks. MFW does a nice job of trying to align Bible topics with history and/or science, so last week we did a number of activities with yeast, and this week the focus was on bread. Yesterday for our Bible activity, we made two loaves of bread, one for ourselves and one to share with a neighbor. It had been a LONG time since I'd made bread from scratch at home. We used a very simple recipe that hardly took much time at all to prepare and the aroma of fresh-baked bread cannot be beat!

After Bible, Harry has the following subjects to work through in addition to the aforementioned cursive program, and we try to get as much done as we can before lunchtime:
  • Math: Harry is using Singapore Math 1A; although some of this was review, I wanted to start from the very beginning to make sure he had a good foundation of the content in this program. We are just about finished and will start 1B possibly next week or after our fall trip is over. Looking ahead, he will be introduced to addition and subtraction within 100, as well as multiplication and division as well. Fun, fun, fun!
  • Spelling: We use a book recommended by MFW called Spelling by Sound and Structure, published by Rod and Staff. The words are pretty simple for Harry to spell right now, but along the way he is also getting basic phonics instruction, which he has never had in any official capacity and which I think will hamper him in the future spelling efforts if he doesn't learn those basic rules now.
  • Classical Writing Primer: This book has been a lovely, gentle introduction to standard classical education activities for young children such as narration, copywork, and dictation. It also includes a weekly nature study, weekly picture study, and some basic grammar/spelling rules as well. Harry has been enjoying it!
  • First Language Lessons: Although this might be a little bit of overkill, I wanted to also do FLL along with CWP because I wanted to introduce more grammar at a young age with Harry because his language arts skills are generally strong so I thought he could handle it. Where FLL overlaps with CWP in activities such as copywork and narration, I usually just opt for CWP, and use FLL for the grammar lessons as well as the occasional poetry memorization activity. These lessons are usually short so it is easy to add it on with CWP.
  • History/Geography/Science from Adventures in My Father's World: We do whatever activities and readings are assigned in this curriculum. Most of the creative ideas and activities we do come from this curriculum, and I've very much appreciated not having to come up with these activities on my own! In addition to breadmaking, this week the kids also made their own version of canoes in conjuction with learning about the French pioneers who made their way up the Mississippi River and ultimately to Detroit.

Meanwhile, when Harry is working on an assignment, I work with Ron on either Right Start Math A or on Ordinary Parents' Guide to Teaching Reading. Now that Ron is no longer at preschool on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I have more time to work with him on these subjects, which I'm glad about! Having just gone through Singapore Math 1A with Harry, I knew that Ron was not quite ready to jump into those kinds of activities. Right Start A, though, seemed to fit both his personality and his age better; it's more tactile and eases him into mathematical operations more gently than Singapore does. I think after he does Right Start A, he will be much better prepared to move to Singapore 1A, so that is the current plan. As for OPGTR, we have slowly and systematically been working through the lessons, and we are currently on Lesson 60. This program has really helped Ron significantly improve his reading skills. And because there is a strong phonetic component to the curriculum, he actually understands short vowel sounds better than Harry! It takes about 15 minutes for each subject, which I can usually fit in while Ron is working. I also add in handwriting practice for Ron and he participates with us in the other activities if he is awake and interested. And if Harry and Ron are both working on schoolwork, Dobby has to be a part of the fun!

(Speaking of Dobby, the poor guy gets the short shrift right now...I don't do very many intentional activities with him aside from pointing out letters to him when I can. But, he does start Musikgarten this Saturday, as preparation for his future music lessons in cello! THAT will be quite an interesting addition to our daily routine!)

I used to have a mid-morning break, but I've found that just throws us off and makes it very difficult to get our work done in the morning, especially since we aren't starting our academic work until 9:30 a.m., typically. So now, we just work until about 11:45 a.m. or so, after which we take our break/lunch all together.

After lunch, the younger boys take their naps. I clean up from lunch while Harry does his reading time, a combination of books recommended by MFW that fit what we are studying, and good-quality children's literature--I don't let him read Star Wars books at this time although I know that would be his preference if he had the choice! He has been stuck in a bit of a rut of only reading Beverly Cleary books during his reading time, and as much as I love the fact that he is enjoying books I read voraciously as a child, I thought it would be good to expand his horizons a little bit more. So, this week I learned the power of hooking him onto a story and to get him past judging books by the cover. I had brought home all these recommended books from the library that he wasn't reading because the first glances at the books had not captured his interest. So, I picked one such book (A Lion to Guard Us by Clyde Bulla), a historical novel about a family of three children who made their way from England to Jamestown on their own, and read about ten minutes aloud to him. He was captivated by it enough at that point to choose to continue reading it on his own. I have a feeling this is technique I will be using many times in the future!

After reading time, Harry does either his Prima Latina (he has finished Lesson 5 and can now recite the Latin prayer The Sanctus by memory--"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts/Heaven and earth are filled with his glory...") or Chinese (we are on Lesson 9: "What Day Is It Today?") and we wrap up anything we haven't finished during the day. Although I generally like for us to be done by 2:30 p.m., if Harry is really enjoying his book or some other activity that we are in the middle of, I'll just let him keep going with it. I'm still learning where I can flex and where I need to hold firm with the school day; my tendency is generally to be too firm about the schedule and so I'm trying to loosen up to keep things fun while still getting what we need to get done, done!

Three days a week, the boys get to play with our wonderful sitter, a college student who spends a couple of hours playing with them; this is supposed to be my time to work on my upcoming book with Moody Publishers on being a missional mom. More details on this in the future, hopefully...once I make more progress on it!

So that was the week that was! Next week we will have a couple of days of school then go to visit family in Toronto--a nice homeschooling benefit, being able to align our schedule with my husband's teaching schedule for once! I will post Week 8 in a couple of weeks when we come back and finish. Thanks for visiting and reading our update!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Week 6: Chugging Along, but Questions Arising

Thursdays are my "breathe a sigh of relief" day. I don't have to plan for school tomorrow, as it is co-op day and perhaps we'll do a little bit of catch-up from the week, but typically it doesn't require any preparation. Thursdays are also a long day as DH works late, so I'm usually pretty spent by the time Thursday evening rolls around and the kids are in bed. It's the night I gather all the unfolded laundry that has been languishing around the house and fold away while indulging in some "Gray's Anatomy" and whatever else might be on. And, if I'm really motivated, or if I want to delay the laundry-folding for a bit, it's the day I can start posting about the week that was at Rowan Court. So here goes!

Topics and activities of the week: Jesus is the Bread of Life; the beginnings of New Amsterdam (which became New York City...yet another basic fact from my own history education that I forgot or never learned); science experiments with yeast, and making butter! I do enjoy how MFW/Adventures likes to group related topics and themes together. The yeast experiment--combining yeast, warm water, and some sugar in a glass bottle with a balloon stretched across the top-- was great fun for the boys, especially when they began to understand that what the yeast was doing was consuming the sugar and releasing gas. Boys and comments about "passing gas" go hand in hand and guarantee laughs.

And we had a great time making butter today, in an attempt to recreate the experience of the early pioneers of New Amsterdam, who had managed to transport farm animals across the ocean from Holland all the way to the New World. Our process was simple but made quite an impression on the boys: take whipping cream, put it into a container with a tight lid, and shake away! I took the advice of some fellow Adventurers and used an electric mixer for the first few seconds to get things started, then it was all manual labor from that point. We just used about a half a pint of whipping cream, poured into a clean Snapple bottle (yes, we do like our Snapple around here!), and Harry and Ron took turns shaking for two minutes each. Fourteen minutes later, we had a thick substance coating the sides of the bottle. I wasn't sure what this was; it was too loose to be butter so I shook the bottle for just another 20 seconds or so then became aware that suddenly the previously thick substance had turned into liquid again, which was utterly confusing at first. Then I realized that something was floating in that liquid, and there was our butter! (The remaining liquid, buttermilk. All things that perhaps other normal, educated people are aware of, but it all was wondrously new and fun for us all.) The kids were amazed to see what had emerged and excited to taste it. I added a little salt for taste and we all had some with bread as part of our lunch. The boys said that it was the best butter they'd ever had. =)

Lest I give the wrong impression that homeschooling is all fun and games, let me correct that erroneous impression. Along with the fun parts of homeschooling come, at least for me, tons of questions. I wonder constantly if we're working hard enough or too much. I wonder if my expectations of Harry in particular are too high or too low. I wonder if he is working to his fullest potential or if being home gives him the impression that he can do the opposite. I wonder if being away from other children will lessen his self-motivation to do his best and to excel. I wonder, I wonder, I wonder! These are the kinds of questions that his potential teacher in 2nd grade would likely not have asked; he or she would have the benefit of experience and perspective to know what is generally acceptable or excellent work by a 7 year old. Without that kind of experience and training, I just have to trust my instincts and hope they are good enough. This is the scary part of homeschooling, the knowledge that my son's education is in my hands! But then I correct and remind myself that my son's education is actually not in my hands, but in God's hands, and that I just have to be faithful to do what He has called me to do. Homeschooling has been one big of leap of faith and continues to be so. But so far, the benefits have far outweighed any negatives. We'll hope and see if this continues to be true!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Week 5: Stars and Wonders

I didn't take any photos this week, unfortunately, to document some of the things we did in Week 5. I can say that I think I learned as much as the kids did! Our topics of the week included: Jesus is the Light of the World; Stars and Constellations; Mayflower and the Pilgrims, and the usual assortment of math, spelling, Classical Writing Primer, First Language Lessons, Latin, Mandarin, and reading time. From our study of the Pilgrims, we created our own version of an oiled window to mimic what the Pilgrims did in their own log houses, and we planted two small pots of corn kernels; we added bits of raw fish to one pot just like Squanto instructed the Pilgrims to do, and over the next few days and weeks the kids will watch to see what happens. History and science all rolled into one!

One of my fellow MFW Adventures moms on my Yahoo Groups list suggested the following site as a way to visualize the relative size of the Earth, the sun, and the largest star we can see without a telescope (Betelgeuse). Here is one of the photos from the site which is a great way to see the Earth and the sun in relation to one another.

We made constellation viewers out of Pringles cans and learned a few things I never knew, such as the fact that the Big Dipper is part of Ursa Major (Great Bear), and that the two end stars of the Big Dipper point straight towards the North Star, which is the last star on the end of the Little Dipper. Perhaps this is common knowledge to most folks, but it was completely new to me! (OK, true confessions, it shouldn't be new to me--I took Astronomy 101 in college! But, I cannot remember learning any of these basic facts and if I did, they never went into my long-term memory.) This is the part of homeschooling I enjoy--the chance to learn alongside the kids, and to be inspired alongside them with new ideas and concepts.

(Of course, sometimes it feels like the kids aren't nearly as excited as I am about the things we are learning! Not sure what I can do about that except trust that if they see that I am excited about learning new things, over time they will similarly embrace and adopt a similar attitude. That's the hope, anyway!)

Lastly, I mentioned last post or so about my unexpected struggles having Ron in preschool. The other thing that resulted when he started going back to school was that although I had one less child at home, 2 year old Dobby would become more fussy and needy because he wouldn't have another brother to play with or be around when I was working with Harry. That plus the fact that Ron's class is focusing tasks such as helping the kids learn to recognize their own name and learning the alphabet, when I could be using that time at home with him to help him continue developing his reading, math and writing skills, made the decision easy: we have withdrawn Ron from his Tuesday/Thursday preschool class. He'll still go once a week on Fridays to his "Learning Through Literature" class while Harry is at his weekly co-op, so he'll still have a chance to experience preschool life, but this seems the best of all options and also saves us some money (to help pay for the homeschooling expenses!) Tomorrow is his last day in his Tuesday/Thursday class, and he seems not one bit sad about that, thankfully!

We have begun week 6, and will post on that next week. New Netherland and bread!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Light Week and Week Four

Our aforementioned "light week" ended up being timed quite well, with our DS4 (Ron) going back to preschool that week. I thought things might be easier with one less child around to manage homeschooling, but it actually ended up being the opposite! Even with my DH taking Ron to school in the morning, and even though the school is close by, by the time I put my other two DSs in the car, arrived at the school, took everyone out, waited for the teacher report, waited for Ron to come out, walked back to the car, got everyone in, and came back home, that was 30 minutes of lost schooling time! So that added a wrinkle to our schedule twice a week that I'm still trying to negotiate.

Anyway, our schooling time during the "light week" was basically reviewing and continuing math facts (working on adding and subtracting within 20) and doing our Classical Writing Primer book. We also did a fun project that I found out about through my fellow MFW Adventurers (hooray for Yahoo Groups!), a mini-model of the Jamestown fort. It's amazing what you can find on the Internet! The model was a little time-intensive for me in terms of doing the prep work and assembly, but Harry (DS7) colored all the pieces and participated where he could, and the result was a nice three-dimensional representation of Jamestown that surpassed any pictures we saw in books (photo below).

This week was our Week 4. It felt like a helter-skelter week in some ways, with dealing with the new schedule of losing a half-hour on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and also with a doctor's appointment thrown in one morning. Homeschooling allows flexibility on one hand, but for someone like me who likes sticking to the schedule, it's not easy to manage the disruptions. We moved on from Jamestown and focused on the Native Americans this week, and here I began to experience one of the downsides of homeschooling, which is when you feel a certain lack of knowledge in an area that you are supposed to be teaching. We used a book about Native Americans to provide the main source of information, but even after reading through that book a couple of times, there's very little that I retained about all the different tribes we covered! But I know at this age, it's not necessarily that Harry should remember all the details, and I also know that the additional books he reads to supplement can often have even more impact (such as Naya Nuki, the amazing story of an 11-year-old Shoshoni girl who was captured by a rival Indian tribe and taken 1,000 miles away but somehow found her way back home. I stayed up late one night myself reading this book because I couldn't put it down!) It also goes to show how living history books can have such an impact on kids (and adults!), because who doesn't love a good story? Harry won't remember where the Iroquois lived, but I'm sure he will remember the story of Squanto for quite a while! And he may not remember all the different kinds of housing structures the Native Americans built, but he may remember the two simple representations we made, namely wigwams and tepees, pictured here with the aforementioned Jamestown model. All this is to say that even if I feel somewhat insecure about subjects where I'm less competent, I still think despite my inadequacies he will manage to learn a few things in those very areas!

We also did a couple of fun but very simple activities related to our introduction to stars. Right before bedtime one evening, I took Harry and Ron outside to look at the stars, and their excitement at seeing them was striking to me. I realized how few times they've actually been up late enough to see stars, how much of the universe we live in is still so new to them, and how fun it is to see something that I take for granted through their young eyes. The second activity I did with Harry on Friday afternoon was to illustrate how far away the sun is from the earth. We started on a section of sidewalk and called that "Earth", then walked two seconds to reach "the moon", and then took an 8-minute walk to reach "the sun". He kept wondering, "How long until we reach the sun?" and so I think the exercise did help him to better understand how far the sun is away from the Earth. We talked about how close the sun might seem due to the strength of the its light and heat, but that it is actually 93 million miles away!

Lastly, this week was Harry's second week at his homeschooling co-op. He played badminton and drew a lovely representation of a parrot in his art class, something much better than anything I have ever tried to draw! He was so proud to show it to me and I was really impressed with what he'd done, no matter how much his teacher had helped him! I'm sure he contributed enough to feel as though it was his creation, and I felt quite thankful that he was a part of a co-op that could give him experiences I would not be able to create for him here at home. For our first year of homeschooling thus far, we have really been blessed to live where we do and in a time when homeschooling curriculum options and support systems are so plentiful. Even though not many of my own friends homeschool, I have felt far from alone on this journey and every day that goes by (at least thus far!) I've been glad that we took this leap of faith. Not that I don't have my share of questions; I still often wonder, "Are we doing enough? Are we doing too much? What are we missing? What will the long term impact be on Jason?" But, I remind myself that we are on this journey at the Lord's leading and He will be the one who orchestrates the results. I'll just continue to try to be faithful to my part...and so the journey continues.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Another homeschooling benefit--you get to see Tiger Woods!

So just to cement the idea that my family is golf-crazy...I just needed to post some photos from our special outing today to the BMW Championship which is being held at a golf course in the Chicagoland area this week. As I mentioned last post, this week is a "light week", so it was no problem for us to take off in the middle of the week to do something like this! (I love the flexibility of homeschooling!)

Today was the last practice round of the tournament, and I thought our chance of seeing Tiger Woods would be higher if we went in the morning as he typically plays his practice rounds early versus late. I wasn't sure I could handle all three boys by myself, especially our youngest, who is prone to screaming when he doesn't get his way (and a screaming toddler is not exactly a welcome addition on a golf course!) But I decided, we'll give it a try, and the worst case scenario is that we don't see anything and we come back home early. I prepped the older boys accordingly, so that their expectations would remain in check, but all they wanted to do was to see Tiger despite everything I said.

We arrived at Cog Hill golf course a little after 9 a.m., and the parking lot was already full! We had to park at the far end of the lot and started the long trek to the tournament site, a good 200 yards away. I was able to bring in my backpack due to it being full of kid necessities (water cups, diaper changing supplies, etc.) and we entered the gates, greeted by a huge sign featuring Woods, Camilo Villegas, and Vijay Singh. We were wanting to find Tiger Woods immediately, but then we noticed a small crowd gathering around the 10th green. We waited with the crowd and discovered that none other than Spanish golfing star Sergio Garcia was about to come to the 10th tee and hit.

Right after he teed off, he came right over to the boys and offered to sign autographs. I had luckily grabbed some Sharpies and some Post-It Note pads right before I left the house, and had armed the boys with them while they were waiting for Sergio to hit. They came in handy!

Then we were off to find Tiger. I was hoping against hope that the boys would be able to just get a quick glimpse of him somehow, but also trying to be realistic that it might not happen. We kept asking course marshals along the way, "Where is Tiger" Some didn't know, but then one person with a walkie-talkie asked around for us and told us to head for the 14th green. I put our 4 year old in the double stroller along with our toddler, and then my 7 year old and I ran as fast as we could through the course to reach the 14th green. Soon, we were at an intersection of the course where you could see parts of the 14th-17th holes, and it was here we discovered the playing group just ahead of Tiger's, featuring Korean golfer Y.E. Yang, the recent Tiger-defeater and winner of the 2009 PGA Championship. He also stopped to sign autographs for the boys, which we appreciated. Tiger's group came next, and the boys were able to get wonderful views of Tiger from pretty close range. He did not, unfortunately, stop to sign autographs, but we did get some good photos of him
passing by.

We saw a number of other pros, but our toddler was at the end of his small little rope so we headed home after about two hours on the course. But we were able to create many amazing memories in that short span of time and I'm pretty sure this will become an annual tradition for us! Again, this is something that homeschooling makes easier to do, and I'm glad we had the flexibility and freedom to go and hang out with Tiger and the other PGA tour players for a morning!

And as an aside, I let my 7 yr. old son watch Obama's speech to children on Tuesday morning. One thing he said was, "Obama was homeschooled!" in reference to Obama's description of the time when he lived in Indonesia and his mom woke him up at 4:30 every morning to do schoolwork with him because they couldn't afford the local school for English speakers. Whatever your political persuasion, if the sitting president of the U.S. can speak positively about the educational experience that he had at home with his mother, that can only help us all in our own efforts with our kids!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Week 3, Still Enjoying It!

It is unbelievable how fast the time is flying. We've finished our third week of homeschooling; since we only officially school four days a week, we're done by Thursday afternoon. Fridays will typically be a combination of a co-op morning with other homeschooling kids, speech therapy at our local elementary school in the afternoon, and a more relaxed schedule overall (translation: work time for me, hopefully!); this Friday, however, DH will take the older boys to their current favorite place, a local par 3 golf course. Our co-op starts tomorrow but with the weather so beautiful here right now, and with the beginning of preschool next week for our 4-year-old, this Friday is the only day for the foreseeable future for the three of them to do this. I love that we have the freedom and flexibility to be able to take off and do something fun like this! One of the wonderful blessings of homeschooling.

This week, we studied a variety of topics...Jesus, Jamestown, Pocahontas, the Science of Air...we started Latin, which was lovely and fun and with Prima Latina, not at all intimidating; even Ron (DS 4) now says "Oremus!" before we say grace or do our bedtime prayers. ("Oremus" = Let us pray.) Our Bible/history/geography/science curriculum, Adventures from My Father's World, incorporates craft activities each week, but not so many that I'm overwhelmed by them. Today, the boys made Jesus window posters, which turned out pretty well overall.

We've been working through Singapore Math 1A, some of which is review and some of which is brand new, switching from our summer use of Math-U-See. MUS was great at helping solidify basic math addition facts up to 20, but I was really curious about Singapore Math after having read so many great things about it, so I decided not to complete MUS Alpha right at the point where we would have finished subtraction, because I didn't want to have to change to a different way of thinking about subtraction when we switched to Singapore. So far, I like Singapore Math; it requires preparation on my part to be able to understand their conceptual method before I can present it to Harry, and it's totally different from how I learned math, but I think it's definitely better than how I learned it and for now we'll keep sticking with it. We are definitely beefing up math compared with Harry's experience in school last year; we do drills 2-3 times/week, and we bought a Leapster for both the older boys to play with as a way to solidify their math facts, so Harry likes to use the Jedi Math program there as well. In my mind, you can't do too much math!

For this first year of homeschooling, I have scheduled in frequent "light weeks", and next week is one of those. We'll do some math and some Classical Writing Primer, perhaps, but otherwise we'll just try to reinforce things we've talked about these past few weeks through fun activities like lapbooks, something I'm eager to start trying out over here. Stay tuned! =)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Week Two: Getting the Hang of It

Week 2 was definitely easier than week 1, and now I feel a little more in the groove about how a day should go, but I'm still amazed at how fast the time flies and whether it's realistic that we're done by 2 or 2:30 p.m., but that's still my goal. So far, we haven't gone past 2:30 p.m. yet, to the delight of our eldest!

This week, one of the highlights was our "sailing ships" activity, meant to illustrate the challenges Columbus had in navigating ocean waters with nothing but wind power to propel his three vessels. I shaped aluminum foil into boat shapes, and Harry and Ron labeled the sails, then we put them in our bathtub for their maiden voyage:

The boys had fun creating their own gusts of wind and sending the boats from Spain (the right side of the tub) to the New World (left side of the tub). And of course littlest brother Dobby had to get into the action as well:

Harry is getting the hang of the kinds of activities we'll be doing often and regularly this year, including the hallmarks of neoclassical education, such as narration (listening to a story/text and retelling what he heard to demonstrate comprehension), copywork (reading a selected piece of text then copying the text as a way to learn spelling, usage, and grammar), and nature/picture study. I'm sure it's very different from the kinds of things he regularly did in school--we don't do word searches, for example, and we do math every day, with drills several times a week. We memorize poetry, we read living history books together with the little brothers, and we have started cursive. I am still stressed out during the day but much calmer once we have finished school, which is delightful to experience. It's still hard to tell how much of what we're doing Harry will truly internalize and remember, but thus far this new path has been both challenging and rewarding. We'll see how long the positive feelings last! Hopefully they will remain all year.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Week One: We Survived!

I'm happy to report that we've made it through the first official week of homeschooling! Here is a photo of the munchkins enjoying their "first day of school" supply bins that awaited them on the kitchen table the first day:

It hasn't been ideal timing-wise, with DH out of the country last week (he arrived on Sunday and then we were set to start on Monday!)...I've been up late each night past 2 a.m. and am exhausted...but nonetheless, we began!

Our kids were excited from the get-go. They burst into our room around 7 on Monday morning and announced with great excitement, "It's the first day of school!" The schedule is still a work in progress, but generally speaking, we do something like this:

7-8:30 a.m. Get ready for the day, morning chores for kids, breakfast
8:30-9:15 a.m. Music practice time for older boys
9:15 a.m.-9:30 a.m. Bible
9:30-10:15 a.m. Math
10:15-10:45 a.m. Break
10:45-11:30 a.m. Language Arts (Spelling, Classical Writing Primer, First Language Lessons, New American Cursive)
11:30 a.m.-12 p.m. History/Geography/Science
12 p.m.-12:30 p.m. Break/Lunch
12:30-1:30 p.m. Quiet Reading Time
1:30 p.m.-2:00 p.m. Language Time (Latin or Chinese)
2 p.m. Done!!!

The math and language arts are mostly for my eldest, Harry, (DS, 7 yrs old) although I try to fit in more informal time with brother Ron (DS, 4 yrs, old) as well. I include all the boys when we do Adventures in My Father's World for our basis in Bible/History/Geography/Science; otherwise, with Harry we have started using Singapore Math 1A and a combination of Classical Writing Primer, First Language Lessons, New American Cursive, and Spelling by Sound and Structure for our Language Arts time.
More specifically, this week we learned about the Vikings, a topic I haven't thought about for decades if at all, as well as having fun with learning about the origins of the kids' names and doing our first science experiment ("Yes, eggs float in salty water!!")

Not that it's all been smooth sailing...I find it stressful to manage several different needs at once, particularly when I'm trying to balance teaching Harry with handling an urgent issue from one of the other brothers. I also sometimes find it hard to relax the schedule, such as when a topic takes more time than I expected or when I feel the weight of trying to get through a particular assignment I had planned for the day. I keep trying to tell myself to be flexible with the schedule and hopefully I'll be able to take my own advice!

The things I find enjoyable: I like learning alongside my kids, although I wish I had more time to be prepared to a deeper extent, particular in the area I consider my weakest subject, which would be history. I would love to spend the time to read everything I can on a subject before I introduce it, but it doesn't usually work out that way. Still, I have a feeling that the person who will end up learning the most in the end will be me! And that's not a bad thing...hopefully the kids are learning something as well!

Another thing I've discovered is that homeschooling makes the day FLY by. We are constantly busy and it doesn't feel like any time is wasted! And yet, I still think I can say that we've begun to achieve one of our goals for doing this switch in the first place, which was to be done with school earlier than Harry's peers, leaving more time for play and resulting in a more relaxed pace. Although it's still a little early to say this for certain, and there is definitely a modicum of stress for me throughout the day, I'm hopeful that by the end of the year we will be able to say that homeschooling has resulted in our year being much more relaxing than our previous year. It's wonderful for Harry that he is usually done with schoolwork by 2 p.m.!

I do think Harry misses his friends from school somewhat, and we were hoping to catch them on the playground one day this week, but by the time we arrived after Dobby's nap, everyone had already left the school playground except for one friend. But at least Harry had the chance to talk with that one friend and make general plans to have a playdate one day. I will have to work hard to make sure he continues those social connections, because I would like him to not feel too separated from his school friends if at all possible.

We school for four days of the week, then Harry will start his Friday co-op classes in drawing, gym and computers on Sept. 4th. So this Friday, we made it a fun day--a day to go and do activities that we normally wouldn't during school. DH took Harry and Ron to the local par 3 golf course, which has become one of their favorite activities this summer, then I took them to another of their favorite jaunts, Chuck E. Cheese. We continued our weekend of fun with a trip to Sugar Grove, IL, to see the U.S. women take on the Europeans at the Solheim Cup. We tried in vain to get near the pairing of Michelle Wie and Christina Kim (fellow Korean-Americans! see below) but the crowds were just too much--but then their golf cart drove right by us twice through the course of the rest of the afternoon, and that was a big bonus for the boys who were getting very patriotic with their "U.S.A." cheers.

Lastly, this week I was able to get some confirmation that our efforts at home haven't been in vain; we have been working on math this summer, trying to solidify Harry's basic math facts, and on his latest drill, he was able to hit perfect 100 %s on all of his exercises, which was a first for him. The practice is paying off, and I'm extremely encouraged by that.

So now it's on to week 2. We will be covering Christopher Columbus and begin our study of the names of Jesus, in addition to math (subtraction facts), spelling, handwriting (more cursive!), and the beginning of Latin! Should all be very very interesting!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Creating a Homeschooling Space

Originally, I was planning to make our dining room the center of our homeschooling. We had recently purchased a good-sized table from, and I had cleared out our antique cabinets of their previous contents of plates and dining linens and replaced them with all our curriculum and school supplies. It was all nicely hidden away and seemed in theory to be an ideal solution.

That is, until I actually tried doing some school activities this summer as a test run. The dining room has ended up not being a practical space, at least not at this stage of life. The younger boys would always want in on the action and would be a pretty big distraction. It was hard to keep them occupied in such a way at the table that I could spend concentrated time with our eldest when needed. So, I started to brainstorm ideas for how to create another homeschooling space in our house that would work better for us. My handyman came down with me to our basement and asked me about one of the walls in that room, whether I could transform that wall into a homeschooling space. I had never thought of it before but decided to try it out. I also realized we had a perfect little niche in our basement for a narrow bookcase that could hold our curriculum and other items.

Four late nights and one IKEA run later, in addition to repurposing some existing furniture we already had, I was able to create the following area. We tried it out for the first time today and it has been a much better solution for us. We also have a futon in the basement that is a great place to read together and talk about whatever we're learning, plus since most of our toys are in the basement, the younger boys have plenty to occupy themselves when we're in school mode. I love how it has all turned out and am getting very excited for our first day of school in TWO WEEKS!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Secret Lives of Squirrels (and Birds!)

For our upcoming year using Adventures in My Father's World, one of the subjects we'll cover is a section on birds. As part of the curriculum, we were encouraged to purchase a bottle cap bird feeder, very inexpensive, which would attach on to a regular 2-liter empty soda bottle that would be filled with birdseed and hung up. I decided to do this during the summer to give the birds a chance to find our feeder in advance of our studying them. I had no idea what an adventure it would be to do so.

Within 24 hours of hanging the feeder, I saw no birds. But squirrels found the feeder in no time. It was hanging from a tree limb, and the squirrels had no problem scaling down the tree to the feeder, then hanging onto the feeder and grabbing the seeds by the fistfuls. Before long, they had eaten half of the bottle, with nary a bird to be seen anywhere near the feeder. The next day, the feeder was no longer even hanging. I found it discarded in our backyard, all the food gone, a big hole chewed out of the bottle. The squirrels had had quite a party in the middle of the night, apparently.

To make a long story short, I bought another feeder, outfitted it with a "squirrel baffle" to prevent the critters from climbing onto the feeder from above and stealing the food, then I hung it in a different location, but it was still too close to the tree trunks and the squirrels attacked that feeder as well. Again I found the feeder in the morning some distance away from its original location with parts definitively gnawed on by the squirrels. It was salvageable, but I needed a new solution. Finally, I strung a thin but sturdy length of picture wire between two trees and suspended the feeder that way. So far, it has worked out, although there are times when multiple squirrels are beneath the feeder, circling below it like a brood of vultures, waiting for the scraps that the birds drop when they come to eat. And they have started coming--at least black-capped chickadees, in frequent numbers! We are looking forward to seeing other feathered friends visit in the near future now that we've solved the squirrel problem. Who knew that I'd be spending so much energy in homeschooling prep on squirrel deterrents?

One last comment...I never understood why people would get into bird watching until now. It's a little addictive to keep checking outside to see which birds might be there if at all, and trying to catch a glimpse of a new visitor to identify. And when you do find a bird sitting happily at the feeder, munching away, you feel a little bit like you've made a new friend, albeit one that flies away whenever you get too close!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Testing the Waters

This summer, I decided to start to dabble in homeschooling, in part to get an idea of how it would go in the fall, and also to help Harry catch up in some of the areas where I felt as though he were a little weaker--math, most notably. I'm not sure how I expected it would all go, but suffice it to say that things have NOT gone as I had imagined. I did not imagine that there would be so much challenge to being able to teach and help Harry with what he needs while keeping the other two from melting down or getting into life-threatening situations. As soon as I start doing schoolwork with Harry at our dining room table, which will serve as our school home base, the other two are instantly nearby. They want to participate and similarly do activities at the table, which is both cute and also utterly distracting. It's nearly impossible to be able to explain what I need to with all the ruckus around us. Our toddler in particular has become extremely vocal and LOUD. I have no idea how to manage all the chaos and noise so that Harry is able to learn and practice what he needs, not to mention the time I try to spend with Ron in learning how to read and starting basic math. I have put a post up on some message boards at The Well Trained Mind forums and hope the online community of homeschoolers will be able to provide some good suggestions. I don't want to start the year off with big doubts about whether or not I can do this going forward! But right now, I confess that I'm asking myself more often than I'd like, "What have I gotten myself into????"

Saturday, June 6, 2009

My First Homeschooling Conference...and Curriculum Plans Shaping Up!

I have just spent a decent portion of the last three days in the company of about 500-700 homeschooling parents, at the annual convention of the Illinois Christian Home Educators (ICHE). The organization was established in 1983, more than 25 years ago, which was evident in how well the convention was run. I was impressed by their attentiveness to many small details, and it was a treat to have the convention so close to home, just a ten minute drive away. My goal was to go for inspiration, encouragement, and to finalize my remaining curriculum questions; I'm happy to report that all three of my goals were met. I didn't necessarily make many new friends, but I chit-chatted with numerous attendees and exhibitors, and once they learned I was just starting out on this journey, they poured out their support, their phone numbers if I ever needed them, their soundbites of advice, and their numerous exhortations to "stick it with, even when it gets tough...and it will get tough!"

Never having gone to any sort of parenting conference before, I found myself enjoying the talks that went beyond homeschooling issues to include general parenting topics, such as helping your children develop their talents and gifts, which is a worthwhile subject to mull over whether you're homeschooling or not. I spent long hours in the exhibit hall, where a bevy of homeschooling products awaited my perusal. (OK, I confess, I brought home more books than were absolutely necessary...but I do think I managed to show some restraint, such as buying only 7 books from the used book vendor when I could have easily bought 20!)

I had specific goals--choosing a math curriculum at long last, finalizing some sort of plan for the holes in my curriculum plan (geography, science, history). I had read The Well Trained Mind and Latin-Centered Curriculum over and over, and I thought I had largely settled on some combination of one or both approaches. But, although the typical neoclassical educational approach favors a chronological approach to history, I was swayed by Cheryl Lowe's article about teaching chronologically after K-2, and so I needed to find some other way to structure the content about history as a result.

To make a long story short, I have ended up with the following plan for J.'s 2nd grade curriculum:

Math: Math-U-See (Alpha), supplemented by Singapore Math, Right Start games, and Calculadders

Language Arts: Classical Writing Primer, supplemented by First Language Lessons

History, Geography, Science, Bible: My Father's World, Adventures series

Handwriting: New American Cursive

Foreign Language: Prima Latina; weekly Chinese school

Music: continue piano lessons and supplement with occasional composer studies

Art, Computer, Gym: weekly co-op classes in Naperville

As for why we are learning Latin...this is a key component in a classical education and the reasons why can be better explained by others. I was not enthused by this part of the classical approach at first, but now I've become a convert and am thrilled to delve into this language with Harry. The first time I browsed through the Prima Latina curriculum, I fell in love with it. We'll see how I feel by year's end!

Time will tell how well these plans hold up but if we need to tweak, we will tweak. If I had to identify my "spine", I would say that language arts is our main focal point, but I'm putting together a somewhat eclectic mix of this and that and hoping it will all gel at some point. So, there is our plan! I think we'll actually begin some aspects this summer--Math, definitely, and getting through as much of FLL as we can. Looking forward to starting the adventure!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Why Are We Homeschooling?

As mentioned in the previous post, I wanted to provide a more detailed explanation for why we are planning to homeschool. Here are the reasons:
  • Improve Harry's math and language arts: he has not progressed much this year in either area. He entered 1st grade with a strong reading ability, but much of the year, his class time was spent learning basic words. He has had very little phonics and he is not encouraged to learn correct spelling at this age, a philosophy that we are finding that we disagree with. Also, he hasn't done nearly as much math as we were expecting. Harry has not even quite mastered addition and subtraction, and we're already near the end of 1st grade. We feel that in the two areas of math and language arts, we can do better than the public school setting. We don't fault Harry's teacher for this; she has no choice but to teach to a group of 25 and there is no way to provide individual attention to every child. We've learned that the average public school student receives 3-5 minutes of individual attention a day. Even though I am not a teacher by training, if I can even provide Harry with direct one-on-one teaching in math and language arts every day, he should be able to progress at a faster pace than he has this year. We're not trying to create a super-genius, but we do want what he studies to match what he is capable of, and to this point, his public school experience has not been able to do this.
  • Control over subjects: I admit that I am a bit of a control freak, and once I began learning more about different homeschooling educational philosophies, I loved the idea that I could choose a path for Harry that would be of our own preference, not restricted by what the public school deems appropriate. I'll explain more about this in another post, but we'll be adopting a largely classical-based education, which means an emphasis on great literature, a focus on the development of the mind in a systematic way, with the end result being that the children growing up learning how to learn, loving what they learn, and being able to communicate in the written and spoken word effectively and persuasively. It feels like a children's version of a liberal-arts college education, something I'm very familiar with myself.
  • Concurrently, homeschooling allows us to let the kids focus on areas of interest and design experiences to help them deepen those interests. We took a day off school this year to take Harry and Ron to the Chicago Auto Show, since cars are such a passion of J. in particular, and homeschooling would allow us to continue to do activities such as that with more frequency and without the guilt of missing school.
  • More time to enjoy childhood: This year has felt extremely stressful for us all. Every day of the week feels stretched and rushed, and we think that moving to homeschooling could actually ease the pressures for us all. Right now, Harry comes home around 3 p.m., and sometimes even later than that. By the time he comes home, has a snack, and has a little downtime, he has something to do homework-wise, plus piano time, with the end result that he barely has much time to play before dinner--and I highly value the benefit of play in young children. Our hope for our homeschooling schedule is that we would be largely done with our schoolwork and 30 minutes of piano time by the time or before school typically gets out for his peers (2:30 p.m.) After the younger brothers are awake, we will have more flexibility for outings and field trips before dinner, or for more unstructured play time than we have had this year. We just think this will result in a lot more joy for us all.
  • Family focus: Earlier this year, I was wrestling with the question of, what is our family's purpose? Instead of trying to do so many things and not do them all particularly well, I wanted to gain a sense of mission so that we could pare down those things that don't fit with the mission and put more emphasis on the things that do. Homeschooling will absolutely force us to do this. There is no way around the fact that to do this well will require time, energy, creativity, and effort. I'm committed putting in that time, because I do feel we are being called to do this, and so for me, being "missional" in this season of life is to focus on my kids' educational development. But it means that we will be paring down and/or letting go of other time commitments that were, frankly, wearing us thin this past year in particular. Homeschooling will help me say "no" to many wonderful opportunities that are just not right for us at this stage in life. This will be a big switch for me because I'm used to being super-involved, especially in my church context. But I just sense that right now, we need to have a simpler life. Homeschooling itself may not be that simple, but it provides us a focal point for our energies that makes sense to me right now.
  • Strengthen family bonds: I like the idea that should we continue with homeschooling, sibling and family bonds will become even more important for our kids, as opposed to being replaced by peer relationships. Not that peer relationships aren't important, and at some point that shift has to happen, but especially when the kids are young, I see the value in building a foundation of family relationships that will stay with them as they move into later childhood/adolescence/adulthood.
Why we are NOT homeschooling:
  • To create a pristine, bubble-like environment for Harry and the other boys. No, this is not our desire, although we do confess that if Harry learns fewer slightly offensive, 1st-grade level jokes as a result of homeschooling, we will not protest! We know that we will need to be extra attentive to make sure that Harry has enough opportunities to connect socially with other children. We also know that we are not to retreat from the world, and that we must find ways to engage and enter into the lives of others. Of course, knowing this in our heads and making sure we take the right steps in reality are two different things! But we don't necessarily believe that the only way to become socially adept is to spend most of one's time primarily with one's own age group, and we'll be looking for ways to help Harry engage with other children without being necessarily restricted by the idea that being in a class with 25 other children is the only way to do so.
  • Because we think that homeschooling is the only right way to educate children. No, this is absolutely not where we are. We have come to the place ourselves that we want to at least try this out for a year and see how it goes, but we certainly do not believe that this is the only right way. We don't even know at this point if all three boys will be homeschooled entirely or in part, or for how long. All these questions will be answered in time, but right now we'll just take it a year at a time. And by no means as we embark on this journey do we mean to communicate that others should be joining us. But, that having been said, if anyone reads our story and feels led to investigate the option themselves, we'd be happy to chat more about our decision!
Next post: more about the classical education philosophy that we are leaning towards adopting. Does this mean our boys may learn Latin??? Find out next time. =)

Monday, April 27, 2009

On the Road to Homeschooling!

We've made our decision. We've informed the principal. Our eldest son (Harry, 6 1/2 yrs old) will be doing his second grade at home, with younger brother (Ron, 4 yrs old) in preschool part of the week and homeschooled the rest. (Youngest brother Dobby, 19 mos, will likely run around and cause trouble for both!) If you'd like to find out more about how we came to this fairly radical decision, feel free to read on.

About seven weeks ago, I was interviewing Sue Ferguson, a leader at Community Christian Church and wife of lead pastor Dave Ferguson, for a book I'm writing on missional moms. During the course of our conversation, Sue mentioned almost in passing that she was a homeschooler to her three kids, although it was not something she had planned to do before they started. Not even quite understanding why, I asked her to elaborate, and so Sue told me about how one of her kids was quite gifted but not really receiving the support he needed in public school, then about her own journey towards accepting homeschooling as a call, and then about how she feels looking back on it now, how glad she is that she did it. She felt that homeschooling gave her kids the chance to just enjoy being kids, due to its flexible scheduling and reduced school time, since in homeschooling you can often finish the work way before the public school kids end. She also mentioned something her mother told her, which was "you can always go back," if she tried homeschooling and didn't like it. So Sue made the jump, but then never looked back.

Afterwards, I went back home, and then in the days and weeks that followed, I just could not shake what we talked about regarding homeschooling. I could hardly believe that I was even thinking about this topic, as someone who has never never never, not even once, ever given homeschooling a moment of thought. Once years ago, my DH asked if I would ever consider it, but I shot that idea down in a flash. I had multiple plans for my life, many many plans, plans for as soon as Dobby is in kindergarten and then 1st grade, plans for those scant 6 1/2 hours that the boys would all be in school.

But what I can only describe as God's still, small voice pushed back at all my (frankly) self-absorbed plans. "Just look into it," is what I heard him saying. So, in a feeble attempt to be faithful, I started doing so. I wasn't even sure where to start, but typing "homeschooling" into a Google search box was my first step. There were so many links I didn't even know where to begin, but slowly, I started working my way through website after website of people or organizations talking about homeschooling. I felt as though I were wandering through some foreign country, the topic was much more complex than I imagined, everyone talked in acronyms, and it still felt like a world I could never inhabit. But, every so often, I'd stumble across a nugget of thought about the benefits of homeschooling, and they'd all sound good: your child can work at his own pace and you can tailor their education to their interests and passions and you have the opportunity to build close family ties all resonated with me.

Next step: library time. I went to our public branch and took out a huge stack of homeschool-related books, titles like Help for the Harried Homeschooler and The Idiot's Guide to Homeschooling. I thought reading about the reality of homeschooling might turn me off the idea. But the opposite happened: the more I read, the more I wanted to know, and the more I felt myself growing in openness to this crazy idea. Not that I think homeschoolers are crazy, of course! But for me, it was such a foreign concept that it felt insane to even be thinking about it.

The thing is, this past year, if I'm truly honest with myself, I don't think Harry has really learned much. He came into first grade with a strong ability to read, while in school they have been learning basic words. He has hardly had much math in school, so little that I now understand why all those other countries fly by the U.S. in math abilities. He has also had a few social issues, not quite bullying but enough to make me always wonder when recess time comes around every day how he is doing. And our days feel stressful whenever he comes home, because by the time he has a snack and winds down a little bit, there is always something to do--homework, piano, etc.--and when all that is over with, his time to relax and play is very limited. And I do believe that for kids, playtime is extremely important, but the reality is that there is just not enough time for it these days. So I always feel like a taskmaster, pushing J. to do this or that before the dinner prep rush begins. It just makes for a daily stress that frankly, I'm not enjoying too much right now. The idea that homeschooling could help us achieve a less stressful, more enjoyable lifestyle began to take hold of me.

I still couldn't believe where my mind was going, and so I began to talk with people. I have just one friend who homeschools, my former roommate and work colleague Mary L. She lives in San Francisco and has homeschooled her 9-year-old daughter for about 4 years, and I sent her an email asking if she could spare time to talk. She wrote back immediately, and glowed as much as a person can glow in her email about her homeschooling experience. When we spoke on the phone, the first thing she said was, "You have to know that everyone who talks to me about homeschooling decides to try it!" And so it was with me; we had a great conversation in which I raised many of my concerns and she addressed every one.

Subsequent conversations that I had with others--Patty K., an old friend from my Christianity Today days, who successfully homeschooled her three boys and gave me great reassurance that it could be done; Kathryn, a friend of a friend who willingly met me and spoke with me for 4+ hours at a local pancake house and who pointed me towards all kinds of local resources that I didn't know about--only served to increase my sense that this was the way we wanted to go.

When I told DH that I was feeling led to consider this approach to schooling J.; he was surprised but not opposed to it, as he has always felt more open to doing this. But, knowing that the task would largely fall on my shoulders, he has never advocated or pushed for us to try it out. The decision was largely mine to make, and each piece of information I gained only added to the increasing sense I had that we were to try it out for a year. But I still might have remained on the fence until just last week, we received an email bulletin from our local school district which made clear that anyone desiring to attend classes in public schools part-time, including homeschoolers, needed to make this clear to their local school by no later than May 1st. So, the time had come for me to make a choice, and I hesitated no longer. Yesterday, I sent Harry to school with a letter addressed to his principal, to let him know that as of this fall, Harry would be homeschooled.

The funny thing is that just last week, while I attended an Open House for Harry's school, I saw this principal, chatting up the parents in his genial manner. He saw us, said hi to J. by name, and greeted me and Harry's younger brothers. "These are the younger brothers? Two more? Terrific!" he said. "The more, the better for my job security!" I laughed outwardly at his joke but inside I felt badly knowing where we were leaning, as though I were hiding something. But it just didn't seem the right time to let him know our news. You just don't know how people are going to take it, especially the principal of your child's elementary school, since the total number of children enrolled will affect how much money the school is given by the district. I am sure the news, when he reads our letter, will not be a welcome one.

In the meantime, Harry had his own ideas about letting the cat out of the bag. We were chatting with his teacher, a wonderful woman who has been the perfect nurturing presence for Harry this year. Whatever issues we may have had with Harry's educational progress, we do not attribute to Mrs. E.; we know there is only so much she can do while trying to oversee a class full of 25 first graders. She said to him, "You are going to love second grade!" to which he replied, "My mom is going to be my teacher!" Mrs. E. did not know what to do with that, and I was forced to reveal to her our situation. She responded graciously, although hesitantly, but I explained the reasons why we chose this path, largely emphasizing the academic issues, and she seemed to understand our rationale, although I could still see the doubt on her face. I understand where she is coming from; I know I'm biased, but if I were a school or a teacher, I certainly wouldn't want to lose a kid like Harry, either!

Now that you've heard the overall story, more soon to come. Next post: why, exactly, are we doing this?? What are the benefits? What are the potential downsides and did we consider them. All that and more, next time!