Thursday, May 29, 2014

Why We are Still Homeschooling

I can't wait to write a "planning for next school year" post (my favorite kind). And I would also like to write an update on how the summer reading challenge is panning out. But first I need to write a "why" post for this year. I missed last year...I was sort of floundering in changes back then. Thankfully things are much more stable this year.

Next school year (2014-15) I will have a 6-year-old and an 8-year-old, and my reasons for homeschooling have only multiplied over the last three years. My fears from the early days of deciding to homeschool have proven unwarranted. We have been unbelievably and providentially blessed in this endeavor. I am moved to tears when I think of the answers and opportunities God has presented at just the right times over the last three years.

Of course, the old reasons still apply. We like the freedom, flexibility, and ability to experience life outside a campus. We love the uncommon, individualized, customized academics. And most importantly, we appreciate the opportunity to concentrate on the ever important, perpetual character training. Those reasons are basic, and this year my reasons build on that foundation, but they are harder to verbalize.

This year was hard. Not hard in a hopeless way, but hard in a refining-through-the-fire way. My kids and I worked through some issues, and we are far from finished. (Caveat: Not finished. That phrase reminds me of our decision to keep Thing1 home from kindergarten. I kept him home mainly because I was not finished with him. I am still not finished. I fear I will never feel like I am finished until he becomes an adult, at which time I must be finished whether I feel like it or not.) I made some big investments this year, and I have seen some small joyful returns. Take our leap into Classical Conversations, for example. I don't care to remember how often I sounded like a drill sergeant for the first half of the year. Sergeant Carter would seem sweet. Yet, at the end of the year, Thing1 pushed himself to Memory Master. He took 8-year-old responsibility, worked hard, and earned the reward. That was a a very, very joyful return. To choose to do something that is hard and then follow through is a big deal, no matter your age. Now take Thing2's kindergarten accomplishments. He is not reading Ralph S. Mouse like Thing1 was at the end of kindergarten, but he is reading very well, and he has listened to (and can practically recite) more audio books than Thing1 ever thought about at his age. He also has a wonderful understanding of basic mathematics and memorized a large chunk of our CC material. I pray I do not recite these accomplishments in a prideful spirit but in a humble, grateful, "thus far the Lord has led me on" spirit. I want to dwell on the goodness of the year more than the hardness of it.

I feel more confident than ever that homeschooling is the way for us in 2014-15. Classical Conversations was a success, and I can't wait to do it again. Our new house with nine acres is perfect for a homeschool family. We are attached to several people in our support group here. We have found a pretty good balance between home-based and extracurricular activities (it's still hard to keep the extracurricular light enough for my taste, though). For what it's worth, our first standardized test affirmed our efforts and showed room for improvement. I trust I am learning more about how to keep calm and keep expectations realistic (my thorn). I trust the boys are learning more about diligence, respectfulness, and positive attitudes. But most of all, I want to keep investing.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Next Year

Here's what we have accumulated for next year so far. Now to organize, store, and make plans. I probably should clean up this year's mess first, though.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Summer Break

I am looking forward to summer break. Really. It's hard to keep from dancing when I think about it. The only time I have been more excited about summer break was the year I got married. Our wedding was the week after finals.

My kids are not doing math lessons this summer.  They will probably forget everything they know. I don't care. We will learn it again next year.

I want to paint walls and furniture, build shelves, organize bedrooms, clean out flower beds, have a yard sale, finish building the tree house, and do the obligatory summertime traveling.

I want the kids to explore every inch of our nine acres, break in the tree house, fish in the pond, ride bikes, help me clean out flower beds, build gigantic Lego projects, and read lots of books.

Since I can't ever seem to give up academics completely, I do plan to have the boys practice keyboarding (some sites I pinned ) and write some book reports. Thing2's reports will only be a sentence or two, but I want Thing1 to practice summarizing stories this summer. To keep it nice and simple, I think we will use some forms I found on Busy Teacher's Cafe. I created a spreadsheet (I know, I'm a nerd) of books I want them to read and assigned points to each book. For simplicity, I just used AR points and added a bonus if the book is considered more than one year above their levels. If they read the book and write a report on it, they get the points. They can use the points they accumulate to buy books of their own.

A snip from Thing2's list

23 out of 62 suggestions for Thing1. They range from half a point for Hill of Fire to 32 points for The Hobbit.
I am curious to see which books he chooses to tackle.
I showed the list to them tonight, and they begged to start it now. I told them to wait until May 16, then I downloaded a new Audible book to tide them over. Did I mention I am excited about May 16? Now the boys are, too.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

C.S. Lewis

In the less than eloquent, albeit sincere, words of Thing1,

"C.S. Lewis sure did write some good books."

Monday, April 7, 2014

Don't forget the audiobooks.

One of my blog's purposes is to remind me of the "every day" of our homeschool experience. It's amazing the details I forget over the course of a year. Today I want to make sure I remember the hours we've spent in audiobooks.

Why did we learn so much more when we experienced it in a story?

Jim Weiss said (in an interview with Leigh Bortins on the 11/20/2013 edition of Leigh at Lunch) that it is because "Story hits you simultaneously in the head and the heart."

Why did we choose to experience the stories through audio books instead of movies or dramatized audio versions?

Mr. Weiss nailed it again. "I don't think we are doing our kids any favor to assume that they are unable to love and listen to something unless all the bells and whistles are there."

What if I could not find a book on my kids' levels?

Kids can appreciate (with practice) a much more complicated story than they can read by themselves. To me, the purpose of reading aloud (or audiobooks) is to expose our kids (and ourselves) to material that is beyond their levels. Say one of the boys heard a big, unfamiliar word while he was listening. Next time he heard the word, it was a familiar word. The third time time he heard it, he probably figured out exactly what it meant.

What if my kids would not pay attention to a long story?

I didn't expect them to at first. It took a lot of exposure before they were hooked. I found that a perfect time for exposing the kids to stories was in the car. They were captive! They may not have paid perfect attention, but it was there, and they eventually grew to appreciate them, then request them every time we got into the car.

Wouldn't it have been better if I read them the story myself rather than listening to a recording?

Yes, and I've tried to read to them as much as possible. But when what I read to them is all they got, it was not enough for their listening appetites. It just does not seem feasible for me to sit and read for hours a day. Plus, it's just plain fun to hear a professional read a story.

What books have we listened to?

Most of the memory on my phone is taken up by audio books.  The boys each have a cheap mp3 player loaded with audio books.  When we go to the library, we usually take away at least one audio book.

Our book selections usually go through phases. Thank goodness our Hank the Cowdog phase has died. It was fun for the first dozen books. Now the phase is Homer Price. Every single night.

Our first audiobooks were the Winnie The Pooh books. Remember about the captive audience? That's what I think of when I remember the Pooh CD's.

Thing1 listened to The Hobbit when he was 5. We should do that again. I think it was the voice of the narrator and the language that captivated him. I know he remembers nothing about it now. Thing2's 4- to 5-year-old favorites were Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, Little House in the Big Woods and Farmer Boy.

Trumpet of the Swan was good because E.B. White read it. I am anxious to listen to him read Charlotte's Web. Anything narrated by the author fascinates me.

The Railway Children was good. It stretched Thing1 when he was about 6.

The whole family listened to Where the Red Fern Grows on a road trip recently. If we didn't all cry, we all almost cried. Everybody was paying attention, captive or not.  101 Dalmations stands out as another great road trip story because of its fun factor for the whole family.

In addition to serving as incredible learning tools that have stretched our minds and imaginations, audiobooks have entertained us together and occupied us separately. They have shortened car rides and made bedtime a little more tolerable. They have been a huge part of our homeschool's "every day."

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


Yesterday was unusual because Thing1 and I had a day to ourselves at home.

Instead of regular schoolwork (you know, where he checks off his predictable, everyday tasks as he does them), we did real life. I was chill. Chill is usually not my strong suit.

He recently discovered he could make cookies by himself, so he decided to use that for his weekly presentation. (Every Tuesday the kids have to give a presentation in front of other homeschoolers.)

First, he typed out the recipe to hand out to his classmates. Honestly, he typed the ingredients, and I typed the directions. It was quite a task for a hunt-and-peck 8-year-old. We discussed margins, page layout and setup, and the function of the shift key. I am determined that next year he will learn to type for real.

Next, he made the cookies. He learned that brown sugar is difficult to measure when it gets hard. He pointed out that the package says to store it in an airtight container. Yes, sir. I will try to do better in the future. The cookies were good. Too good. Much better than the last time he made them.

He listed three things he learned about cookie making, packed up the recipe cards and cookies, and the presentation prep was done.

Later, we reviewed some memory work. He and I both aspire to be Memory Masters this year, so we took turns asking each other questions. (Have you ever noticed how much more seriously a kid takes something when the parent asks for his help? Interesting.) We had fun using dry erase markers on our new, huge, European blackline map. The kid loves maps.

We never cracked a workbook all day long, but we were busy learning all day.

Before he went to bed last night, he hugged me and told me spontaneously that he had a great day and that he loved me. A little affirmation goes a long way with this Mama.

Monday, February 3, 2014


The more I learn, the less I know.

Before studying or experiencing a subject (blue), my perception of my knowledge (red) might look like this:

I used to think that after studying and experiencing the subject, the subject:knowledge ratio would change to this:
I have learned that as I gather knowledge about something, the subject seems to get larger, and the amount of knowledge smaller in comparison.
This convinces me that knowledge alone is not enough. Instead of an end in itself, knowledge should be a stepping stone toward understanding and wisdom.