Homeschool Zoom Chats with Shelli

New! I’m offering Zoom chat sessions in my store for parents who are currently homeschooling or are considering homeschooling. There are three options:

One-on-one chat – Set up an appointment with me, and we can talk for one hour on any homeschooling related topic that you want to talk about.

Six-session Homeschool Series – I’ve created a series of six sessions where I will explain how we have homeschooled in a child-centered, eclectic, project-based way while also knowing we need to prepare our boys to apply for college. I’m hoping to create a support group for homeschooling parents, if participants are interested.

Getting Started with High School –  A one-hour session. We are completing my son’s first year of high school. I spent most of his middle school wondering how we’d do this, but it’s not that hard. I’ll share everything I know.

I don’t know if anyone will be interested in these Zoom chats, but I’m putting it out there because I have loved helping parents over the years with their questions about homeschooling. I have written long emails, enjoyed a lot of correspondence and made some good friends. I know many families are considering home education, so I want to be available to help in all ways. Unfortunately, I can’t offer the Zoom sessions for free, but I hope you will find them very reasonable.

Please help me spread this information. If you have enjoyed my blog posts and other resources, please share it on your social media platforms. I thank you from the bottom of my heart! ❤️

March 2022

“I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date!” 🐇

Actually, I’m just behind in writing a monthly blog post. I thought I’d at least be able to keep up with once a month, but life has a way of snowballing as kids grow and we venture more and more into meaningful projects, which is a good thing!

My eldest son is working harder than ever on his piano repertoire, although he’s not doing any competitions this year, and he hasn’t posted much to his YouTube channel lately. He has longer term goals now. All I’ll say is that he continues to take us on many adventures, and while it can be stressful, it’s also a pleasure.

My younger son has taken charge of his YouTube channel that is dedicated to our backyard birds. I still help him a bit, though. It’s really great to see him learning video editing skills as well as developing his interest in birds and the natural world. Recently we tried to rescue one of our favorite bird friends, and we made this tribute for him:

And finally, I have a project of my own that I hope I can get off the ground in the next couple of months, but I’m not quite ready to share it yet. However, I did open an Instagram account that will be dedicated to our homeschool journey. So if you’d like to follow me there, here’s the link. (I haven’t posted much on it yet.)

I love our projects not only because they are personally fulfilling but because they are putting good things into this world. We need more of that, and I wish everyone made it their goal to put beauty and love into the world. I’m glad my boys are learning the importance of that.

I hope you have a beautiful spring. Please tell me what you’ve been up to in your homeschool.

January 2022

My daffodils are blooming early, and they will always remind me of my dad who died in January 2021. He had given me these bulbs. They were growing on a back corner of his property, and they may have originally been planted by my great-grandmother! I have many more around the front of my yard.

It’s the last day of January, and whew — I’m glad it’s over. This has been a very busy month, and it has been cold outside with a few days of almost warm. It also has been a month of remembering….remembering loss from last year and remembering pre-covid times when everything was so much easier. I have been doing lots of random things like going to physical therapy, and I have been ordering specimens for my son’s biology labs. I also baked a loaf of bread for one of his science experiments. I haven’t baked in a long time, but I was pleased to have the skill when it was needed. I finished another James Herriot book, and I discovered that I absolutely love Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. I’m so lucky to have musicians in my house!

The project that has taken the most time, however, is my 12-year-old’s new YouTube channel! Yes, we have taken the bird project to new heights! This year my 12-year-old is in an online ornithology club, which has really inspired him to dig deeper into the world of birds, and then I wondered if he might enjoy recording the birds in our yard and starting a YouTube channel. I was right, and he’s so excited about this. Every few days he’ll put the camera outside, picking a new place or a different angle, and we’ll put the seeds out there. Then we go inside and hope the birds will show up. They usually do. (And we’re at the window with our binoculars.)

This project is teaching my son more than just how to record birds. We have sat together to edit the film, and I’m surprised that he has so much patience to go through the recordings! He picks out the best parts, and I’ve shown him how to trim them. We are also going to learn more about video editing together, and I can see that it won’t be long before I won’t need to help. You never know where this could lead.

Naturally, he is most excited about getting new subscribers on his YouTube channel. So if you feel inclined, I hope you’ll subscribe. You never know, I might be fostering a YouTube star. LOL. Or, maybe Mr. Cardinal will become the star. We’ll see. 🤣

Here’s one of my favorite videos. Please go to his channel and click on “videos” at the top to see them all. And then you’ll understand why I’ve been so busy. This kid likes recording!

 

How has 2022 begun for you? I hope it’s starting out well.

December 2021

Owl ornaments made by my eldest son.

Season’s Greetings! For everyone who celebrates it, Merry Christmas! Happy New Year to Everyone, and I hope whatever you celebrate, or however you are feeling about this time of year, you are at peace and healthy. I know some people get very sad and lonely around this time, and my heart goes out to them.

In the past, I used to go through my year’s blog posts, and I’d link to my favorites. It made me glad that I was keeping a blog with lots of details because it’s amazing what I’d forget a few months later as we dived into new projects and activities. I would happily remember all the field trips we had been on too. This year is different because I haven’t been writing as much. As the boys get older, I don’t feel like I should share details about their projects, hopes and dreams on the Internet, but I’m always happy to share those details with family and friends, if they ask. 😉

This year was also different because I suffered through a tragedy in January that has been with me all year. As time passes by, I have more perspective on it, but it’s something I will always have to live with. We are also living through a pandemic, so we weren’t on the move as much as we had been in the past. We did all our homeschooling and lessons at home and remotely, and, frankly, this opened doors for my boys that otherwise would not have been opened, and I’m so happy and thankful for that. Finally, we all got vaccinated, and this gave us more freedom, so we started taking some trips, albeit with precautions. We limit our social activities to people who are taking the pandemic as seriously as we are. Unfortunately, we don’t know many people like that here, but we’re thankful for those who do.

I have felt some ups and downs this year, but it is ending on an “up.” I’m feeling happy and excited for the future, and I think we’ve come to a point where we are managing this new normal in a way that works for us. I’m excited that my 9th grader is half-way through his first year of high school, and things are going well. I can’t even express how much he has on his plate. He has big dreams, and he’s working hard. I’m so thankful for his new piano teacher who truly believes in him. Likewise, my young birder is moving along in his lessons and learning more and more about birds on his own and through Outschool classes. Meeting other birders has really inspired him.

I have poured myself into making sure that both boys’ have what they need to progress in their lessons, so I haven’t been doing any particular project of my own lately. (Unless you count decluttering here and there…. But that’s a bottomless pit.) I never think that my homeschooling is perfect or that I have all the best resources for these kids. It’s a constant search and reevaluation, and there are times that I wish I had the money to hire tutors. But then I look at how far they have come and how well they are doing, and I think we will get through this, and we will smooth out any kinks one way or another. I’m very thankful for my husband who reminds me that I’ve taken on a herculean task.

I do take the time to take long walks and read, though. Currently I’m reading All Things Bright and Beautiful by James Herriot. I highly recommend all his books, if you need something beautiful, light, humorous, and heartfelt. It’s especially a must, if you love animals.

I also pulled my copy of the Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson from my shelf because I have promised myself to read a little poetry everyday, which was one of my first loves as a young girl. That is, I loved writing poetry, but I didn’t study poetry, and I was a very bad poet. But I have a vast collection of poetry books, and I’ve read about half of them. I need to correct that. Anyway, one of the first poems in this collection has become an instant favorite of mine. I will close this post by sharing it with you. It inspires me, and I hope it will for you too.

Before I do, I want to say again: May this Season Bring You Joy. Thank you for reading my blog, especially if you have kept it bookmarked despite my infrequent posts. I hope you’ll share something with me about your current holiday celebrations or your current homeschool projects or hopes for the future. May this next year be fair and better for everyone.

***

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

-Emily Dickinson

Our 5th Grade Homeschool Curriculum

Since my youngest son is an avid birder, I’ll share some bird photos I took on a trip to Franklin, North Carolina. This is a song sparrow.

Every year I have written a blog post about the curricula I’ve used for my boys in elementary school. (Once we get to middle school, I’ll share all the nitty gritty details in my PDF resources.) This post will cover what I used for 5th grade for my youngest son last year.

You might notice that it’s not an exact replica of what his older brother was doing when he was in the 5th grade. Younger brother is a completely different kid, and he’s going at a different pace. This is as it should be. However, it’s also partly because I had all these resources and didn’t have to search for them like I did when I was doing 5th grade with my eldest. All these factors make a big difference.

Feel free to ask me any questions in the comments. I write detailed email responses, if I get good questions. Also, if I’ve written a review of these resources, I’ll link to it.

Tree swallow

Language Arts

He finished Fix It! Book 1 (IEW) and Michael Clay Thompson’s Grammar Town and Practice Island. 

I created Type 1 and Type 2 writing prompts for him as explained in Twelve Writing Assignments Every Middle School Student Should Complete.

He worked off and on in Language Smarts Level E from the Critical Thinking Co. It’s extra practice.

He began the Michael Clay Thompson vocabulary program with Caesar’s English I. 

This kid is an avid reader, and it’s a challenge to keep enough books on hand for him. (Getting him a Kindle really helped.) He’s flown through series such as The Secret Zoo, The Familiars, Wrinkle in Time, Seekers, Guardians of the Ga’Hoole, Harry Potter, and The Land of Stories as well as single books that aren’t in a series. Right now he’s waiting for another Redwall book from the library.

Mourning dove

Math

He finished four Life of Fred math books last year, including all of the intermediate series. After trying to go further in that series, however, it didn’t seem like a good fit for him anymore (my eldest son did stick with Life of Fred for a while longer but eventually switched as well), so he switched to Khan Academy for the remainder of the year. For 6th grade, we’ve got a new curriculum, which I’ll share in another post someday.

Science

I took a real shift in science this year. Learning about science had always been part of our natural, weekly routine when my eldest son was younger, but due to a lot of factors — shifting interests, the pandemic, and how my younger son learns differently — I decided to begin outsourcing science. By this I mean online classes, and for my youngest son, Outschool.com has been an incredible resource. He enjoys the live Zoom classes. I’m also grateful for these classes because he continues to be very interested in studying birds, and if this keeps up, he may go into the sciences for a career. I want to make sure he has a good foundation in science.

So, in the 5th grade, he took the following classes on Outschool:

      • Zoology Semester Course (10 weeks) by Marc Cuda*
      • Wild Animal Wonders: Introduction to Bird Biology, Ornithology Just for Kids! (8 weeks) by Teacher Carmen
      • Wacky World of Science Summer Camp for Middle School Learners (6 weeks) by Patch Kulp
      • Extraordinary Birds Part 2 by Marc Cuda (He had already taken Part 1)

Aside from this, we also read How to Think Like a Scientist by Stephen P. Kramer, and we continued to watch science and nature documentaries on an almost daily basis, which we’ve done since our kids were babies. (So they enjoy them!)

* If you want a review of the teachers on Outschool, send me an email. You can also read teacher reviews on the site.

Carolina wren

History

History lessons were informal. My husband is a history professor, so both my boys benefit from his insights from time to time. In the 5th grade, my 5th grader read a bunch of books:

He read Story of the World, Vol. 1: Ancient World by Susan Wise Bauer by himself. He liked this book more than my older son did.

Together we read Everything You Need to Ace American History In One Big Fat Notebook, and we both liked it. As we went along, I also read history related storybooks and middle grade books that I had picked up at library book sales. We continue to do this in the 6th grade.

Foreign Language

He continued to take weekly Mandarin Chinese lessons with a tutor online last year. Hiring a tutor was the best thing I could have done to make sure we stuck with a foreign language study. We still don’t keep up with it as well as we should, but we make progress because of the weekly lessons, and my youngest son is pretty good at reviewing the vocabulary a few times each week.

Tree swallow

Music Education

My 5th grader completed four years of cello lessons in August 2021! I can’t believe how time flies. 

Last year was really weird because we were stuck at home due to the pandemic, and we continue to be mostly at home now, although that’s slowly changing. There were outside activities I had hoped to get my 5th grader involved in, but it hasn’t been possible. It’s extremely frustrating, and I don’t know how this will affect him in the long-run, but I’ll always be grateful that we were already homeschooling when the pandemic started, we have each other, and we started using Outschool!  What a lifesaver that has been! 

The Future Holds Promise

Just a quick thank you to those of you who reached out to me after my last blog post. I want to reiterate that while I do have many worries, I am generally positive and happy. Though we never found that ideal “village” to raise our kids in, we have made the best of what we got, and I’m so thankful that my husband and I can work together at home and give the boys our daily attention. Though the past two years have thrown many sad events in my path, I knew I needed to ride the waves instead of fighting them. But I don’t like writing blog posts and giving the impression that everything is perfect because that doesn’t help anyone. I hope I strike the right balance when it comes to that question of “what is too much to share online?”

Having said all that, I am indeed looking forward with much anticipation. I’m pleased with our school year so far. Sometimes I look at the calendar and wonder if we’re getting too behind, but then I wonder if I am pushing forward too hard? If both those things cross my mind at intervals, then we’re probably right on track! But we have never and will never look like a traditional school. We are goal-oriented and not “follow the public school calendar” oriented. My boys thrive with being goal-oriented because they both have goals, so they are motivated to work even if they don’t always love the work.

We recently reached a point where we felt we could take a trip because my youngest son became eligible and was vaccinated with the COVID vaccine. (Can you guess where?) We also took a lot of other precautions so that we could keep ourselves and others safe while we traveled. The main purpose of our trip was so that our eldest son could meet his new piano teacher face-to-face. What a joy that was! Most of his lessons will be done remotely, but we hope to go again sometime. We also decided to extend the trip a few days so we could spend a few days in the mountains and do some hiking. I will share a few photos from that trip in this blog post.

Both boys are taking more online classes this year, and so far I’m pleased with how it’s going, but I’m not sure it’s saving me time. It’s a different kind of busy. But it feels good to be the support person and not the plan-all-the-lessons person. I’m hoping to pull together a blog post about my younger son’s 5th and 6th grade curriculum because I’m way behind in that. Eventually I’ll create another PDF resource about 9th grade, but that won’t come until the year is complete.

October 2021

The past two years have been some of the most difficult of my life, although I see how things could be much worse, so I remain positive. I see life as a miracle no matter what it dishes out. But I won’t lie. While I appreciate the good things in life, there’s a lot of sadness, and there’s a lot I worry about too. In the spirit of being real, I’ll share some of those worries in this post.

I worry about the next few years and how we’ll get through the boys’ high school years, both practically and financially. I worry about elderly parents that I’m not in a position to help because of other obligations and especially during a pandemic. I worry about how much longer the pandemic will have an impact on our decision-making, travel plans, and the boys’ opportunities to join summer programs, which could be important for their future endeavors. I worry about the state of the world and how that will affect my sons’ futures. Sometimes I walk around with a lump in my throat, wondering how we’ll work everything out. Will it work out? Or will we have to give up on things we feel are important?

It’s not easy having a kid with musical talent who dreams of entering a field that needs very specialized training early in life, especially when we are not musicians ourselves. We have made so many mistakes. We are still learning, and we’ve been knocked down more than once, realizing we went down one path when we should have been on another. It would be a lot easier if we lived somewhere with better resources, or if we were wealthy. We are not poor enough for the significant need-based scholarships, but we’re not rich enough to pay for the right stuff. We’re stuck in between, and, well, it stinks.

I think what’s worse is not having anyone to talk to who can understand.* No one wants to hear about our problems because we’ve got it good, so what’s there to worry about? It’s hard to meet moms with kids who have special talents and needs. Other homeschoolers aren’t always helpful because every homeschool family does things differently (and rightly so), but it can leave one feeling rather lonely too.

I imagine every mom feels this way to some extent. You or your family member has some pressing need that’s unusual, so there aren’t many people around who understand it. You feel strongly about something that’s not popular, or you feel pulled in many directions because so many people need you, including friends, extended relatives, or a wider community. The guilt is there, but you can only do what’s in front of you at any given time.

There’s more I could say, but that’s the gist of my worries. This isn’t an easy path, but I wouldn’t trade it. And I know this too shall pass.  I’ll get back to the positive stuff real soon. I promise.

*I do want to thank the people I have met through this blog and on social media who are very supportive, especially my one email buddy. Without you guys, this would be an extra lonely journey.

September 2021

During the summer, I got up early to take my walks because it’s too hot here to take them any other time of day. Above is a photograph of a sunrise I happened to capture on one of my walks. It’s also symbolic of the path I’m on right now. I have to retrace my steps over and over in daily life. Sometimes this can feel like a grind, but if I pay attention, every day offers something new.

August 2021

This long year at home has given me a new appreciation for hostas.

I have finally completed the paperwork and put together the portfolios for my boys’ 8th and 5th grade years. This is something I do every summer. I save their loose papers in a 3-ring binder along with anything else from the year, such as brochures from field trips and programs from classical music concerts (sadly not included this time because of the pandemic). I also have daily charts I check off, which is how I keep track of attendance. Most importantly, I write up progress reports (as in accordance with the law in my state), which lists all of their work, including curricula, books read, test scores, and my comments, etc. These are several pages long. This year my 14-year-old had a resume I included too. (I did not have a resume at 14. This kid is something.)

This year feels really special to me because my 14-year-old has completed the 8th grade, and now he’s entering high school. And I got him here! I had help from his dad, of course, but I can safely say I did most of facilitating and all of the organizing. When my boys were younger, I also did all the teaching, but in the past couple of years, my eldest son is mostly self-taught. I find curriculum for him, and he does the work. I make sure he stays on task, and I help him when he gets stuck.

When kids get to a certain age, they can tell you when they need more help. They also tell you what they’re most interested in and what they want to spend their time doing, although they may not say it in so many words. You’ll figure out, if you’ve been observing them with an open mind. They’re mature enough to realize that they will need to spend some time on stuff they don’t like, but as long as they see the purpose for it, they are okay with that.

My younger son has completed the lower elementary grades, which is another milestone. Wow. Sixth grade will be more challenging, and my job will be to keep him on task so that he’ll be ready for high school in three years. I tell him he is lucky that I’ve already homeschooled his older brother, but in truth, he offers me plenty of challenges because he’s different than his brother. His education is not a repeat of his older brother’s education.

Starting next year I will be doing less teaching than I ever have because we’re going to be using Outschool and other online classes more. I know the boys will enjoy this change, and it feels like a relief to me too. They are getting to a higher level of learning, and I just can’t do it all. The online classes are fun for them, and I love how they’re interacting with other teachers and kids even if it’s all virtual. But the year may still be my busiest yet. I can’t wait to see how it goes.

Besides wrapping up last year and planning next year, I’ve been enjoying watching highlights from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with my boys, and even more close to our hearts is the 18th Chopin Competition. It’s an olympics of sorts for piano players. You can already watch the entire preliminary round on YouTube, and the 1st round will begin in October. You can read about the competitors here.

What are you looking forward to this coming year, and what’s keeping you busy now?

July 2021

“Summer has a mind of its own.” I read that somewhere long ago when my kids were little, and I think about it every summer because it remains true. Every summer is different, and it never quite turns out how I plan it. For example, I thought I might have more down time this summer. Ha ha…No.

Currently my 14-year-old is in a virtual music summer program, and it’s fantastic but intense. On the weekdays the program goes from 9:00a.m.–9:30p.m. with breaks and four hours of practice time built into the schedule. There are some activities on the weekends too, but less, and the weekend mornings are free. It might sound like a rigorous schedule, but it’s pretty typical for a music conservatory or summer program. And my 14-year-old loves it. He’s in his element and interacting with other pianists. (Yes, I wish it could be face-to-face. Hopefully next year.)

I’m happy to see him engaged, and I’m always pleasantly surprised by how much can be done on Zoom. (I’m sure it helps that most of the kids want to be there.) I have enjoyed watching some of the faculty recitals, “interactives” (i.e. studio classes) and master classes with my son too. If my son is performing, I am always there for that.

It’s not easy being in a house with a piano playing over four hours a day, making sure lunch and dinner is right on time because the day is very regimented, and helping in other ways too. I’m also spending extra time with my 11-year-old because his brother is busy, and I’ve got my regular chores too. I love it, but I’m a tired mama.

My husband is also being put to the test as he has given himself a crash course in sound engineering and microphones. He helps my son set up all the equipment, and we both help make recordings of his performances. Simply put, it’s a lot of work to be the parents of a serious musician. I could probably write a book about it, and maybe someday I will.

My plan this summer was to plan my 14-year-old’s 9th grade literature class, but I’m not making very much progress with that. Oh well. Somehow it will get done, though maybe it won’t be everything I imagined it would be. Summer has a mind of its own, and homeschooling in general has a mind of its own. We can plan and plan, but ultimately, our kids will lead us down the path they are meant to go. Every day and every experience opens new avenues, and sometimes the detours end up being the road we were looking for all along.