September 12, 2014

New School Year

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on September 10, 2014.

September always feels like the real new year to me. It’s a time to regroup, plan a new schedule, and there’s that refreshing feeling that comes with the anticipation of cooler weather. Now that I have kids, and by coincidence both their birthdays are in late August, this time of year definitely feels like a walk around a new corner.

My boys just turned five and eight, and I know I say this every year, but I can hardly believe how fast they are growing. They are at fantastic ages. They are interested in the world and learning new things. My older boy is slowly catching on to the fact that not all of life is a bowl of cherries, and we have to contend with his bad attitude about certain things, especially when he’s helping to clean the house, but none of that surprises me. I will not take for granted these easier days of rearing young children because I know it’ll only get more challenging the older they get.

One of the things I love about homeschooling is that we can start school whenever we want, and I choose to start after Labor Day. Since my eight-year-old is starting 2nd grade and my five-year-old pre-K, we have a lot more to do this year, but none of it is a drastic change. I had been doing reading lessons throughout the summer and a little math, and we already started working through a book of science experiments, which is a huge interest of my older son. Add to that a little more math, handwriting, a readaloud, art projects, and my son’s own projects, and you’ve 2nd grade.

So far my five-year-old has made school easy for me. He demands his “reading lessons,” which is only two pages in some workbooks while his brother works on the older version workbooks. I am sure his eagerness has a lot to do with sitting and watching his older brother do his lessons these past few years. I am glad I haven’t pushed him to start earlier, but instead I watched for clues that he was ready.

I also asked my eight-year-old to sit with his younger brother and take him through all the lessons on starfall.com. If you aren’t familiar with this website, it’s a wonderful tool for teaching younger kids to read, and a lot of it is free. The learn to read section has 15 rows of phonic lessons, and it uses little games, interactive books and videos to teach the letter sounds and decoding techniques.

I went through all these starfall lessons with my eight-year-old when he was four, and now I think his younger brother could learn from them, but my main purpose in asking him to teach his younger brother was to give him a little review. And it’s working. He even told me the other day that it’s been helping him. (Sneaky Mama.) And it’s been fun to watch him in the role of teacher. He’s a natural at it, and so patient!

My eight-year-old will be starting a new pottery class soon, and more play dates will be added to the calendar when the weather cools off. I want my five-year-old to take a class too, but I haven’t quite decided what yet. I am somewhat mourning the end of the more laid back days of summer while at the same time looking forward to seeing people and doing more intentional learning with the kids.

I always think to myself that we will have to take homeschooling year by year. We will have to assess what seems good for the kids each year. I’m glad that so far they seem to be thriving in this atmosphere. I’m grateful for the friends we’ve made, and I’m grateful for the chance to tailor my kid’s educations to their abilities and needs. As I watch their imaginations flourish, and they get a chance to do things we wouldn’t have time for if they were in school, I’m grateful we can do this another year. If we’re lucky, we can continue for many more years to come.

September 8, 2014

home / school / life free issue give-away

home-school-life promotion-3

I was very excited this past weekend to finally meet my “boss,” Amy Sharony, and her husband, Jason, at the National Alliance for Secular Homeschooler’s inaugural conference in Atlanta, Georgia. We met there to help promote the magazine, but I was more excited about meeting them in person for the first time!  They are the sweetest couple ever! It was nice to see how enthusiastic they are about the magazine (because I am too!) and how they plan to keep it going. It takes time to build up everything we envision for home / school / life, and it can be frustrating when it’s basically just three people working on the major parts of the operation, but hey — we’ll keep working slow but sure and get it all done somehow!

I wrote about our meeting and what we talked about, especially some of our plans for the future of the magazine on the home / school / life blog, and I hope you’ll read about that by clicking here.

THIS GIVE-AWAY HAS OFFICIALLY ENDED. THANK YOU TO ALL WHO TOOK ADVANTAGE!

But I saved something more fun for my blog readers! ;) Amy and Jason had these little coupons made up for people at the conference that allows them to download the summer issue for free. I grabbed 10 of them, and I thought I would share them with you. So, if you haven’t subscribed to the magazine yet – maybe you’re not sure about it and you’d like to check it out first – send me an e-mail at shelli@homeschoollifemag.com. I’ll give the code for the free issue to the first TEN people who e-mail me before midnight on Wednesday night. So send me that e-mail now! If you know someone who you’d like to give the magazine to, send me an e-mail and copy them, and I will send them the code too.

September 4, 2014

Anniversary in Blairsville

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on August 13, 2014. Our anniversary was in July. Yep, I’m that far behind.

Somehow, my 10th wedding anniversary snuck up on me. My husband and I are both looking at each other and saying, “10 years?” It’s gone so fast, yet in other ways, it seems like it’s been much longer. Though we’ve had our ups and downs, I’m thankful I married him, and I feel lucky to say that.

My husband says our boys are getting older, and it’s time to make some memories. So at the last minute, we decided to go on a short trip to the mountains to celebrate our 10th year.

We found a sweet cabin near Blairsville, which is only two hours away, but neither of us had been to that town before. It’s small but big enough to have everything you need, and it’s a great central location for exploring the sites and trails of the mountains.

Our first stop was Brasstown Bald. If you have never been there, you have to go. It’s the highest mountain in Georgia at 4,784 feet above sea level. From the observation deck, you have a 360-degree stunning view of four states: Georgia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina. You can see part of the Smoky Mountains from there.

view from observation deck and Brasstown Bald

There’s a short .06 mile paved trail from the parking lot, but it feels much longer going up because it’s very steep. If you can do it, it’s a beautiful trail with lovely foliage. For those who can’t handle the trail, there’s a shuttle that will take people to the top, and there are elevators to the top of the observation deck. There’s also a very nice museum at the top. It’s a federal site, and the cost to enter is $5 per person 16 years and older.

Vogel State Park

We all wanted to see some waterfalls, so our first stop was at Vogel State Park to see Trahlyta Falls. While the park is located in a gorgeous setting with a small, pretty lake, we were not impressed with it. It was too crowded, and the infrastructure needs to be updated. It’s one of Georgia’s oldest and smallest state parks. It is a good base for those going on some of the longer hikes though.

Trahlyta Falls

I read online about a longer but easy trail I wanted to take with the boys, but once we got to the park, there were no signs pointing us to the trailhead, and the map didn’t help – at least for this impatient family. So we took a short trail around the lake and down a path to the falls. Trahlyta Falls, which you can actually see from the highway, was not a disappointment. Really, how could any waterfall be disappointing?

Helton Creek Falls

We also went hunting for Helton Creek Falls, and we finally found it, although we got a little worried along the way. There is one sign on Highway 129 directing you to turn onto Helton Creek Road, which will take you to the falls. This is a narrow road through a heavily wooded, residential area, and once the neighborhood ends, it becomes a windy dirt road that seems to have no end in sight. At one point, it forks, and there’s no sign, but if you go, stay on your right, and you’ll finally find a sign and parking area for the falls.

The first falls you come to at Helton Creek.

Counting tree rings.

There’s a short, easy trail down to the falls, and you’ll actually find two falls. Keep going after the first one because the second one is bigger – about a fifty-foot vertical drop. The trail and both falls are stunning and worth the hassle of finding the place. We found lots of salamanders here! This was my favorite place we went during our brief stay in the mountains.

Can you find the salamander?

Since we were so close to Track Rock Gap Petroglyph Site, we thought it would be fun checking it out too. Creek and Cherokee people from at least 1,000 years ago but possibly as far back as 3,600 years ago carved art and symbols into these boulders that you can view a short distance from the road.

There are over a 100 carvings in these rocks, but most of it was very difficult for us to see. Still, it was worth going because according to the Forest Service’s website, “It’s one of the most significant rock art sites in the Southeastern United States and the only such site located on public land in Georgia.” If you go, I suggest reading about it online first so that you’ll understand what you are looking at.

I thought we would do more hiking while we were in the mountains, but I learned quickly that the steep trails are much more difficult for my boys’ little legs than the flat trails at Ft. Yargo. Since it’s so close to home, however, we know we’ll be able to take many more trips back there and collect even more good memories.

We found this luna moth at Vogel State Park. A nice bonus.

August 25, 2014

How can he be 8 already?

Bursting heart again. Right here. Today. Happy Birthday, Sweetie.

 

Aidan Miles Pabis 062

 

5 months

 

Aidan 1 084

aidan 9 months (1)

aidan 9 months

aidan 2 yrs

aidan 2 yrs old

aidan 3 yrs old (1)

Halloween 2010: my dinosaur and pumpkin

5 years old

raking leaves-1

jr. ranger-1

7yo-1-2

7yo-1

8yo-1

August 18, 2014

My Baby Turns Five Today and My Heart Is Bursting

 

Ben

 

almost 2

 

August 16, 2014

Project-based Homeschooling: Angry Birds – You Never Know

I don’t know much about the Angry Birds game except that it used to be my son’s favorite game when he played on his dad’s Nexus, and when I sat down to watch him play, it seemed absolutely silly. But hey, it’s not for me. It’s for him, and I’m glad he’s having fun. I don’t have a problem with screen time, and while we do enforce some limits (it’s just part of our daily routine), our day’s overall screen time is definitely higher than what most conscientious parents prefer.

It’s really cool, however, when I see his interest in a game turning into a little project. All on his own one day, he made these angry birds and their raft. (Note: He already had access to all the materials he needed, and he knew how to use them, so he didn’t need anything from me.) How cool is that? Now the game doesn’t seem so silly, huh?

Never dismiss, restrict or belittle your child’s interest. Ask questions, nurture it, and it may blossom into something productive and cool! You never know!

August 12, 2014

What We Watch

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on July 30, 2014.

It seems like I’m in the minority when it comes to the amount of television I let my children watch. Most of the parents I meet will surprise me by making comments on how they’ll let their children watch “20 minutes of a movie” at a time or one “thirty minute show” while they are taking a shower. (I kind of think they’re crazy.)

I used to keep silent, but I finally wrote several detailed blog posts about how much T.V. we watch, and now more moms have been willing to tell me that they let their kids watch T.V. too, so I know I’m not alone. It’s not like we let them watch all day long, but when you homeschool, and your days are full of cool activities, field trips, play dates, lessons, reading and more, television compliments your busy schedule. It’s a time to relax as well as a time to learn.

I am amazed by the educational benefits of television these days. When I was young, I loved the occasional Marty Stouffer’s Wild America, but now we have Apple T.V. and Netflix, and beautiful, thought-provoking documentaries are available whenever we are ready to sit down and watch – and that’s the key to today’s technology. We can access it when we’re ready for it. We don’t have to wait a week to see our favorite show.

Recently Apple T.V. has acquired several channels that offer free programming. (We have to pay $8 a month to access Netflix, but that’s worth it to us.) One of the free stations is PBS. PBS offers most of their programming on Apple T.V. for a certain period of time, so you have to watch it while it’s available, but generally the shows are up there for several weeks or months, so we don’t have to worry about missing something.

We have watched every single PBS Nature program on there with the boys. We usually do this at lunchtime. Although I don’t consider watching T.V. a substitute to going out into nature, it makes a great compliment. We take our boys out into the woods as much as we can, but every single day they are learning something about nature and animals through those programs. I think it has been a great way to instill a respect for nature in our boys.

We were thrilled to see that the GPB show Georgia Outdoors is available through Apple T.V. (and it’s online), so we’ve been watching an episode everyday for a few weeks now. What a wonderful show! The narrator, Sharon Collins, has taken us on tours of the Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia’s waterfalls, its coastline, and there’s a great episode about fly-fishing in Georgia.

Collins talks about the history and ecology of each place she visits in Georgia. The show is introducing us to lots of places we’re hoping to take our boys, and we’re learning about places we weren’t aware of. I think we’re all so proud to live in such a beautiful state after watching this show, and that’s a great thing to instill in my little boys.

While my boys are young (they are seven and four now), nature programs seem to interest them the most, but we have watched some science programs and history programs, and there’s more waiting for us when they get old enough.

In the evenings, we watch other kinds of shows on Netflix. Stuff that’s family oriented, but more for fun. We’ve watched Everybody Loves Raymond, The Andy Griffith Show, Family Ties, and we have even watched a few episodes of Duck Dynasty on the A&E channel on Apple T.V. That may not suit everyone’s taste, but I think it’s hilarious.

Believe it or not, these shows have led to some great conversations and learning opportunities. It’s not that we have serious, adult-talk; we keep it on a seven- and four-year-old level, but I think it has been a good experience for my sons because we watch with them.

For example, we talked about history while watching The Andy Griffith Show and how the roles of men and women have changed since then. My seven-year-old liked the character of Michael J. Fox in Family Ties so much that he wanted to learn about the actor, and that led to a mini-lesson about Parkinson’s disease.

My boys also have opportunities to watch children’s programming by themselves, and I’m grateful to have Netflix so that they don’t have to be bombarded with ads for toys while watching them. Not to mention all the shows they watch are very educational, and even some of their most recent favorites like Ninjago and Super Heroes teach good lessons.

I grew up with a lot of television shows, and I have nothing but good memories of watching them. As I look back on my childhood as an adult, I can see how I learned from my parents, my teachers, my friends, and those shows. As long as parents are monitoring what their children watch, and they use it as a compliment to a lot of other good activities, I think television is a phenomenal way to learn, relax and be entertained.

August 2, 2014

Homeschooling: Our 1st Grade End of Year Review and Progress Report

homeschool review-1{Homeschool Progress Report} {Free Printables}

Like everything in our homeschool, our end-of-year reviews are evolving. I know that eventually I’ll settle into a way of doing this that sticks. I think this year was a winner.

When my son was preschool age, I decided to go ahead and use grade levels despite the fact that I know they are arbitrary — yet not so arbitrary if I can pick a grade that I feel best suits my son’s level and then not be rigid about keeping him in that level for all subjects. I simply use it as a frame of reference for myself as I plan our few formal lessons, and I think there’s nothing wrong with letting him feel a sense of accomplishment as we close out one year and start another.

When he was little I did a Pre-K “graduation,” but afterwards, I felt that was overkill. I wanted to mark the end of our years, but I didn’t want to attach a heavy meaning to it like a graduation each year. That would detract from the real graduation when he’s 18 years old.

Last year I decided we would simply call it our end-of-the-year review. As project-based homeschoolers, I find this review to be another way of reminding my son about those things he has shown interest in. If he sees it and says, “Oh yeah! I want to do that again!” we can work on that project some more. If not, it’s a nice closure to the project.

Before the review, I prepared the legal stuff I’m supposed to do for the state of Georgia even though we are only required to keep it for our files. That’s an end-of-the-year progress report. I know that many people wonder how to write these progress reports, and really, you can do it any way that you want! But if it helps, I’ll let you view my son’s first grade report. (I’ve removed his name from it, and I’ve created links back to each topic that I’ve written about on this blog, if you want more detail about something.) There’s also a blank progress report on my free printables page for you to adapt to your needs, if you want to.

(For more details about the Georgia law on homeschooling, see this document I created: Georgia’s Kindergarten and Homeschooling Laws.)

For my own pleasure I also keep a book list, and I used a three-ring binder to keep my daily charts and any paperwork my son did for the year, including the progress report. In the binder I also put any receipts for classes or pamphlets of the places we’ve visited. The binder or portfolio does not document our whole year, however. I would say my blog is the best-detailed documentation of what we did, and the progress report is a nice summary.

Our end-of-the-year review is for fun, and the main thing we do for that is view a slideshow of the past year.

So far each year I have created a slideshow of everything my seven-year-old did over the year. It was so fun to review his projects and creativity as well as the hard work of formal lessons. I included our field trips, his classes, camps and everything that had to do with his “homeschool.”

This year I had a hard time getting started with the slideshow. I couldn’t figure out what format I wanted to use, and I kept thinking, “Why is this so hard?” Then it occurred to me that making a slideshow of the 7yo’s work wasn’t relevant anymore. My 4yo has been accomplishing quite a bit lately, and even though he’s not “officially” homeschooling, I needed to include him.

And then there were all the family snapshots and vacations pictures. When am I ever going to get around to putting those in something the family can view and enjoy?! To be honest, I’m the only one who has even seen all the pictures I’ve taken! …for many years! I am just too busy to do anything with the photos other than the few I use online.

It’s so silly I didn’t think of this sooner, but I decided to make a slideshow of our whole year. Badly exposed family snapshots, trips, projects, hiking, home life, the wildlife we found in our yard and elsewhere and the books my son has used for his homeschool. Because all of life is learning, right? It was a massive slideshow over 45 minutes long. I was worried it was too long, but my husband and the boys loved it, and they even reminded me of things I needed to add. So, I think this will continue to be my “summer project” each year.

I also give my son a certificate of completion for the year, and this year I felt the four-year-old might feel left out if I didn’t do something for him, so I made him up a little certificate too. I also like to give my boys a small present, but I want it to be something to encourage their interests and learning:

  • For the seven-year-old, who is still slowly learning to read, I bought him the books he seems the most interested in reading, which are some comic-style Lego books about various super heroes as well as some Ninjago books. (I’m happy to see he really loves them, and he’s even looking at them when we’re not doing our lessons!)
  • For my four-year-old, who loves to cook with me, I bought him some wooden spoons that would be just for him to use, and I promised him we would cook together more this year. (That’s something I still need help getting motivated to do!)

So, here’s a summary of how we mark the end of our years. I put in bold what the family sees. Everything else is what I do behind the scenes!

  • I have no particular date we do this. “Sometime in the summer” is the best I can do.
  • I prepare the end of year progress report required by the state of Georgia. To see a blank example of how I do our report, which you are free to download and adapt to your needs, and all these other print-outs I use, see my free printables page. To see this year’s report, click here.
  • I print out the progress report and book lists, and I put them into a 3-ring binder that I’ve kept for the year along with the daily charts I keep, loose paperwork my son has done, pamphlets for field trips, receipts for classes, etc. (None of that is required by Georgia law. I do it because I’m an organization freak because I want to.)
  • I prepare a slideshow of our past year for the family to view and enjoy one afternoon. 
  • I prepare a certificate of completion for my son’s year and give him a small gift to encourage his interests.
  • I put the past year’s portfolio in storage, and I prepare a new binder for the new school year. (I’ll probably keep binders for about three years since Georgia requires we keep our records for the past three years.)

I’m not doing anything special to mark the beginning of my son’s 2nd grade year. We simply continued with the light summer routine consisting mostly of reading lessons. I will add a few other lessons in early September, but other than that, I consider our end-of-year review a nice occasion to review and remember all the fun we had this year, clear off my desk, put away the binder, and continue on with the next year.

What do you do to mark the end of your school years?

August 1, 2014

Nature Watch: Botany Bay Plantation, Edisto Island, SC

Botany Bay Plantation was private land until 2008 when it was acquired by the South Carolina Budget and Control Board.  They have a cooperative partnership with The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, who manages this property. Now it’s a preserve and wildlife management area, so no one is allowed to remove anything from the land, including shells. As a result, the beach area is full of large, beautiful shells that people have collected and placed on all the beautiful dead trees. It’s really amazing to see. Botany Bay has 3,363 acres, and there’s a beautiful driving tour that will take you by the ruins of some old plantations.

The pelicans flew so close to the tips of the trees.

The road in and out of Botany Bay Plantation.

July 29, 2014

Nature Watch: Wildlife on Edisto Island

In May we took a trip to Edisto Island, SC, and I’m just now getting around to sharing some of my wildlife photos with you from that trip. I have so many, I will be dividing them into two posts. I don’t have a long lens, so some of my photos are not very good, but you can see the fun we had viewing these amazing creatures!

horseshoe crab

We saw several pairs of horseshoe crabs mating.

This one had lots of barnacles on it.

We adored these tiny fiddler crabs with their one big arm. I spent a long time hunched over waiting for this little fellow to pop out of his hole!

I love the sea birds, but I don’t know all their names.

What ever kind of bird that is, it’s hunting the fiddler crabs.

It was always exciting to see the dolphins pop up out of the water!

There was also a pretty exciting lagoon right outside our condo.

This guy would just glide back and forth across that lagoon looking so cool and calm. He owned the place.

There were hundreds of turtles in the lagoon.

I almost stepped on this beautiful, glass lizard. Nope, it’s not a snake! We saw two while we were there.

I couldn’t get enough of the baby egret nests. There were three or four nests. We also saw green heron babies almost ready to fledge their nests.

We took the seven-year-old’s microscope, and on the last day I pulled it out! We looked at drops of water from the lagoon, and we saw lots of cool microscopic animals! How I wish I could take photos of them for you!

 

 

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