Everything’s Coming Up Yellow (Well, Almost)

daylily

This is my favorite time of year. Everything is fresh, and so many flowers are blooming. The leaves on the trees are bright green and lustrous, and the branches support the baby birds who just fledged from their nest. Seedlings are popping up in the garden, and they are strong. I know that in a couple of months it will be hot, the spring flowers will be gone, and the tree leaves will be big and dusty. Everything in the garden will be leaning over, needing support. Summer has its positive side too, but spring truly does feel like a rebirth of mind and spirit.

It’s an exciting time for me because I have family coming to visit this week. My three nephews will be here with their parents, so my house will have five little boys in it! I’m expecting it to be a little chaotic, but I also think it’ll be fun. I’m especially excited to be able to meet my youngest nephew for the first time. He’s three-years-old.

coreopsis

I have finished testing my nine-year-old, and I promise I’ll write about that when I can. It went well, and I’m so glad it’s over. We will be taking a break for awhile and then during the summer I’ll be doing some lessons with the boys, but mostly things they want to do. I’m very excited to dig into the science curriculum I bought for the nine-year-old. I think he’ll enjoy it.

My nine-year-old’s pitcher plant bloomed for the first time this year. The flowers are starting to wilt now, but they are still quite stunning.

I was really touched that my last blog post encouraged some long-time readers to introduce themselves for the first time. I thought I might get a few comments on that post, but I didn’t expect that! Thank you all for reading my blog and taking a moment to say hello.

The Venus flytrap is thriving and the biggest we’ve ever seen it.

I will close this going-nowhere-particular blog post and get back to my cleaning (oh man, the cleaning!) as I prepare to have guests this week, and I’ll leave you with some photos from my yard. I have nothing but yellow flowers growing in the front right now — if I were a more skilled gardener, I could probably figure out how to time it right to get an array of colors, but yellow is a pretty and happy color, so I’m not down on it. In the backyard, I have my pink roses and a lead plant that I bought at the botanical garden a few years ago. I’m so happy it’s surviving! And my boys’ carnivorous plants are always quite stunning.

My six-year-old wants to start a carnivorous plant collection, so I got him started with one Venus flytrap. Unfortunately, we had to put a cage around it because the squirrels keep digging in the pot. @#$%!

These flower photos are dedicated to Camie, a frequent reader, and she’ll know why.😉

From biggest to smallest: white-top pitcher plant, Venus flytrap and sundew.

I only planted green beans and tomatoes this year because I knew that’s probably all I could handle. Plus, we have too much shade over the garden now.😦

Only planted part of the garden this year.
These creeping roses grow along the fence by the garden and bloom every spring for a few weeks. They are glorious.
The lead plant. Someday it should get very big and fill in the corner of the yard where nothing else is growing.
The lead plant has these cool, purple flowers.

Don’t let these photos fool you into thinking we have an idyllic yard. Most of the yard has weeds needing pulled, uncultivated flower beds, and bare ground where no grass grows. There’s only so much we can do with the time and money we’ve got! I focus my lens on what makes me happy.

Have a happy spring.

Why Do I Blog?

I sometimes ask myself this question. There is no reward in blogging except for the infrequent but kind remarks left in the comments. There is even less reward in writing a newspaper column. (I will comment no further on that.)

Sometimes I get tired of writing about myself because I wonder who really cares? There are millions of mommy blogs, and only a few people land on my site. I don’t expect them to stay or leave comments, though I would love for them to. I rarely have time to read the blogs I enjoy, so how can I expect others to keep up with mine? Unless it’s a relative of mine, I don’t expect people to care. I’m not being callous or negative…honest! I’m just stating a fact.

Sometimes I think it’s kind of silly that I blog or write anything publicly, but it also seems a natural transition from those days I used to fill notebooks with my thoughts and daily activities. If the technology was available back then, I probably would have blogged.

Blogging is like keeping a journal except that it’s more focused and more well-written than the scribbles in a diary. It is a practice. It is a meditation. It’s how I process my thoughts. It’s how I unwind. It’s how I make sense of the world.

Because I focus this blog on homeschooling (mostly), that shows that this is my main work. As I write out what my kids are doing, what resources they use, and how we structure our days, I’m able to see the big picture more clearly and understand if it makes sense or if we need to change something. How many times have I gotten an idea while I’m planning my blog posts? Many.

I have gone long spells without writing anything, and I’ve noticed that my mind starts to get a little muddled, and I feel less organized. Do other writers experience this?

I have noticed that when I blog like this — simple reflections on my life — I have more mental energy to put into my freelance writing.

I also think that writing helps me remember things. Sorting photographs, putting words to them, and recounting experiences helps solidify them in my memory. I have a pretty bad memory in general, so maybe this is why I feel the need to write everything down. (Or maybe I have a bad memory because I write everything down, and my mind doesn’t need to remember it.)

Writing in general is a very lonely process, and being a stay-at-home mom can be very lonely too. I suppose I blog for those infrequent but kind comments that occasionally connect me with another human being, someone who is going through a similar situation, someone I can reach out to and say, “Hello. Do you see/feel/do this too?”

Thank you to those who take the time to read my blog, and double thanks to those who leave comments as well. I really appreciate you.

 

Project-based Homeschooling: Piano

If you told me a year ago that my son would be taking piano lessons now, and not only that, but he would be showing talent, dedication and a deep interest in classical music, you could have knocked me over with a feather. This has been the most surprising development in our homeschool for me, and I am not sure when I’ll ever get used to it. As I wrote on the home/school/life blog, I thought music would be one of those gaps in our boys’ education.

(Note: After writing this post, I remembered this post: Music Appreciation with Beethoven. How could I have forgotten the year and a half he was obsessed with Beethoven’s 9th symphony?! I suppose music has always been with him, but it remained quiet for a while.)

I have to hand it to my husband when it comes to fostering my son’s love of music and encouraging him to continue. While my husband doesn’t play an instrument, he loves listening to all kinds of music and has much more knowledge about it than I do.

A while back, I wrote a post titled The Power of Time and Materials, which is my plea to parents that in order to mentor your children and find their deep interests, you must first provide them with the time and the proper tools. I referred to a good space to work in that’s located in the heart of your home, good materials such as quality art supplies, a good stash of recyclables, and time spent creating with these items. I would, of course, extend this to other areas of learning, if it were in the family’s budget.

Little did I know that my husband would naturally go with this line of thinking when it came to my son’s piano practice. When my son expressed interest in taking piano lessons, my husband spent time researching what kind of keyboard my son would need to practice on. (Granted, “research” is my historian-husband’s middle name!) At that point, we bought a digital keyboard with weighted keys, and we found a piano teacher nearby to begin lessons. We told each other that we’d be happy if our son kept taking lessons for a full year because we both agreed that music education is a part of a well-rounded education.

But our son loved taking lessons, and he loved practicing. He also seemed to have a natural talent for knowing where to place his fingers….I mean, I would have to spend a year memorizing the notes, the letters, and where to put each finger! I have never been musically inclined. But my son seemed to get the piano easily, much like my mother did, though she didn’t play piano seriously. I guess the talent skipped a generation!

Meanwhile, my husband continued reading about the piano industry, proper piano playing technique, and what you need to do, if you’re a serious piano student. One of the best resources he has found are the videos created by Robert Estrin on YouTube.

(I should note that in project-based homeschooling, it’s more proper to let the child do the research, if they want to. If they are motivated, then they will continue to learn about what interests them, and they’ll do it at a pace and level appropriate to them. We don’t always go along with this line of thinking. To be a classical pianist, you have to start early and do it the right way, and there is no way that at nine-years-old, our son would even think about these things. In his other projects, it didn’t matter so much, but in this case, we need to be pro-active and guide him. We still, however, give him the option to stop playing piano, if he changes his mind about it. I would never push my child to do something unless he seemed pretty motivated to do it. There is a big difference, in my opinion, about pushing a child through a temporary lag and pushing a child who isn’t interested at all!)

As time went on, my son showed us that he could advance quickly through the material. His teacher told me that in her 20+ years of teaching piano, she never had a student move as quickly as my son.

I’m not saying he’s a genius at piano. Far from it. It doesn’t all come easy to him (of course). There are times when he’s tired and would rather not practice. As with anything a person pursues, there are ups and downs. But he continues to say he wants to play piano, and he’s striving to play the hard stuff. We realize he has the potential to take this very far, if he wants to, so we feel we need to give him the right tools and opportunities.

I think what also motivates him is our support. My husband or I (and many times both) sit with him while he practices twice a day. Each practice has been anywhere from 45 minutes to 1 hour (and now getting longer), so it’s a huge commitment on our part. We love doing it, but it takes a huge chunk of our day. We also help him find music to listen to online, listen with him, read about composers, etc. (Again, I credit my husband with doing most of this.) Basically, we’re as excited about music as he is. 

And not only that, but because he progressed much quicker than expected, we advanced to an upright piano, and it wasn’t long after that that we traded it in for a grand piano. When we were shopping for the grand piano, we also met a teacher whose knowledge and focus were in line with the goals my son has, and when this teacher offered to teach our son, we felt we couldn’t pass up the offer. I’m sure plenty of people think we’re crazy, but they don’t know our son like we do.

I told my son that DISCIPLINE is when you have a goal and you work to get that goal even when you don’t feel like it. I told him he has discipline, and I’m very proud of him for that!

Through my husband’s research, we’ve learned that if our son ever decides to pursue a career in music, it’s essential that he starts very young and does it right. He’ll be competing against the best pianists that started playing at much earlier ages. Some of them are already well ahead of him. So, we encourage him to keep going because we see a talent and potential, and because of that, we know he might pick this as his career when he gets older and more mature. We don’t want to think that we didn’t do everything we could to help him, if he does.

Of course, we’re fine if he doesn’t pick music as a career. After all, music is a difficult career path, and most musicians make little money. But there are many ways to use music in one’s life, and there are other careers that a musical training can lead to. If nothing else, it will enrich his life and connect him to other people. This makes me happy.

A big part of project-based homeschooling is observing your child to see where he puts his energy. This is because sometimes actions speak louder than words. So with this in mind, here are some other ways we know music has become a deep interest to our son:

  • He loves watching classical music on television. He’s watched countless classical music videos on YouTube. With his father, he is slowly watching the entire 2015 Tchaikovsky piano competition This is at his request.
  • He doesn’t seem to mind hearing about the tidbits his father learns in his research on music and piano playing. (Which is quite remarkable, if you ask me!)
  • Most of all, in the last few months, my husband and I have started taking turns taking him to the free classical concerts at two nearby universities. He’s been to 10 this year! Faculty and student recitals are always free and open to the public, and some of the other concerts put on by the university are very inexpensive. Watching my son’s eyes sparkle with excitement whenever we go to a concert is such a joy, and a great testament to his love of this music. I mean, how many kids would be patient enough to sit through classical concerts?!
A selfie we took at a concert.

This has been a long post, so thank you if you’ve taken the time to read the whole thing! I am always so happy to hear your thoughts and learn about the activities your children are doing. Please leave a comment, if you have a moment.

Thank you, Wild Republic

Something really neat happened to the six-year-old this week.

As I’ve mentioned before, he loves birds, and he has a huge collection of Audubon birds — those stuffed birds that make the real bird sound when you squeeze them. He was saying he wished he could get a golden-crowned kinglet because that’s his favorite bird, and they didn’t seem to make one.

My husband suggested that he write to the company and ask them if they could make a golden-crowned kinglet. Well, six-year-old liked that idea, so one day, he and I sat down, and I wrote out a letter for him. He told me what I should say, and then I had him sign the letter. We also included a photo of him with his bird collection and a picture of a golden-crowned kinglet.

About two weeks later, he received a package in the mail. I thought the company might write back, but we weren’t expecting two new complimentary birds — a great blue heron and downy woodpecker! They also wrote and said they would keep his suggestion in mind as they are always expanding their collection.

It really made our day! The six-year-old was so thrilled to have two new, beautiful birds to add to his collection, and I greatly appreciate Wild Republic for their generosity.

Here’s the letter we sent:

Kindergarten is the Easiest Grade to Homeschool

I just read my last post about Kindergarten: Homeschooling Kindergarten for the Second Time. I’m glad to see I’m still on track with what I wanted to accomplish with my six-year-old, though there have been a few tweaks.

I wrote that this boy was growing – in body, intellect and creativity – by leaps and bounds. That remains true! He’s come so far in just a few months. He is talking all the time, playing by himself in the most creative ways, and he’s the sweetest, most adorable child. He’s very affectionate, and he’s a caretaker – he reminds his older brother to pick up his plate and return it to the kitchen or wash his hands when he comes in from outside! I remember when my eldest was seven I thought that was the best age ever. I think this kid will prove that true as well. (Not that nine isn’t wonderful too! But it’s different.)

Schedule

At the beginning of the year, as I mentioned in that first post, I was working with my six-year-old on his lessons right after lunch for about an hour. This worked well for a time, but soon it became clear that it conflicted with the optimal time for my older son’s piano practice. (He likes to practice right after lunch and dinner.) So, I switched this to an hour right before lunch. (If you read my post about 3rd grade, you’ll see this is why I cut out Spanish.) I also try to wake the boys up a little earlier in the morning too. (You don’t have to feel sorry for them, though. I’m waking them up at 8:30ish.)

My six-year-old is also able to join the nine-year-old in the mornings for readalouds, practicing the multiplication tables, and sometimes I give him a math or handwriting worksheet that he completes by himself. See below for more details.

A little composer? Hmmm.

Curriculum

Language Arts

My six-year-old enjoyed listening to My Father’s Dragon and Charlotte’s Web. He also listened to Only the Names Remain and several other books about the Cherokee Indians, though I’m not sure he enjoyed those as much. In the evenings, we often read from various storybooks of his choice. Right now he has me reading Calvin and Hobbes to him.

As I said I might in that first post, I quit using Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons for now. It got too hard for him. I went back to the Kindergarten Brain Quest Star Wars workbooks, and he completed all of them! Now we’re working with Starfall.com and using a Starfall Level 1 Reading and Writing Journal, which I received from my sister who is a teacher. (Thanks, Terri!) He loves the computer portion of Starfall.

Also, he has no problem using the Handwriting Without Tears “My Printing Book.”  However, since the Starfall workbook requires plenty of writing practice, I don’t always make him do both workbooks at the same time. (I’m extremely grateful this kid doesn’t mind writing, which I attribute to his love of drawing. Though for the life of me I can’t get him to hold the pencil right! Complete opposite of his older brother in every way!)

Math

I’m still using Singapore’s Primary Math Texbook 1A with Home Instructor’s Guide (U.S. Edition) with great success. I really like this program. I’m slowly going through it, and I’m not trying to finish Level 1 in one year. I just want to make sure we do every exercise, worksheet and most of the games. My six-year-old doesn’t love the worksheets, but he likes the games and activities. And really, he doesn’t give me any problem doing any of the work except for a little groaning before lesson time.

It’s funny because if you ask my six-year-old if he likes math, he’ll say no. However, his actions speak louder than words. This kid has always loved numbers, and ever since he could count out loud, he’s been counting things obsessively. This year, I have seen a marked increase in his interest in numbers. A week doesn’t go by when he doesn’t ask me questions like “What’s 120 + 120?” or “What’s 30 + 30?” He also will count things and let us know how many there are. When we watch Netflix, he’ll announce the length of the show. “This show is 54 minutes and 22 seconds.” “We have watched 23 minutes and 6 seconds and there is 13 minutes and 2 seconds left!”

Recently I began to teach my older son the multiplication tables, and I started with the 3 times tables. Every time we do lessons, we’ll take a few minutes to go over them, and I time him to see how fast he can recite them. My six-year-old asked if he could try this too, so he’s learning the multiplication tables already!

Not like math? I don’t think so!

These are his favorite birds: “Chick,” a black-capped chickadee and “Chirp,” an American goldfinch.

Science, Social Studies & Art

 I’m lumping these together because (except for art), we’re not doing any formal lessons in these areas yet. My six-year-old follows along with any science project or documentary-watching that my older son does. He listens to the articles on News-O-Matic, and he participates when we do some art. I doubt he’s behind in these areas!

His drawing has decreased a little bit in the last few weeks (he used to draw everyday!), but he just started coloring again in his bird-coloring book. Also, he has benefitted greatly from his older brother’s piano playing because he’s been learning about music through listening and observing.

Projects

His bird collection + 2. And I think a few are missing!

He has not done any kind of project lately that warrants a blog post of its own, but I should note that he still loves birds, and we continue to observe them through our windows – he knows the names of the most of the birds who visit our yard. His trusted friend “Chick,” the black-capped chickadee, is by his side throughout most of the day and night. He occasionally draws birds, makes a nest out of clay, or I read a book about them to him. I can definitely call this a long-term interest, and I try to feed it however and whenever I can! But I also don’t force him to do anything with it. You can read about some of the projects he did on birds in Project-based Homeschooling: Birds & Feathers.

As mentioned above, drawing and coloring was always a keen interest of his, though he took a break from it for a while. Just recently he started coloring again, though, in (of course) his bird-coloring book.

Last but not least, his favorite pastime is playing on his tablet. He particularly loves the games Minecraft, Hungry Shark, and Jurassic World Lego.

I would say that dinosaurs remain a huge interest of his as well, and small projects pop up now and then having to do with them. Most recently, he began dictating a story to me about some dinosaurs. I’m looking forward to seeing if he keeps that up!

We visited the Cherokee basketry exhibit at the Georgia Museum of Art after reading about the Cherokee Indians and Trail of Tears.

So that’s the nitty-gritty on how kindergarten (and third grade) has been going this year. I’m planning to wrap up the year very soon. Although we’ll do some work during the summer, I plan to make it lighter and more interest-driven.

Please tell me how your year has been shaping up!

Nature Watch: Carolina Chickadee fledges

I think this is what I love about homeschooling the most: my boys are very connected to the wildlife outside our windows because they are home all day, and we are always looking out our windows.

Not the best photography today. I took this photo and short videos with my phone through the window.

This morning I was sitting at the kitchen table when something fluttered by outside the window. “Boys!” I called. “I think the chickadees are fledging!”

My boys came, and we carefully stepped toward the window. Sure enough, a tiny little chickadee was on our back porch. Then my husband noticed another one in the yard. Later still, another fledged, and then another! (I caught the last one on video, which you can see below.) There were at least four (maybe five) chicks in that one small birdhouse!

We knew there were chickadees nesting in the birdhouse on our back deck, but we didn’t know if we’d be lucky enough to be present at just the right moment when the babies would decide to leave the nest. Last year, we had Carolina wrens nesting in this box, and we saw one of them fledge. However, we missed the bluebirds fledging on our front porch. They suddenly were gone one day!

So this was such a special morning! We spent a long time watching the chickadees (from a safe distance). The parents were still feeding them, and they couldn’t fly very well. They managed to flutter down to the ground, and they eventually got up into the trees. We could hear their calls for a long time, and we could see a couple of them up in the branches.

This is the last one who took a long time to get up enough courage to leave the nest!

I know they are still out in the trees tonight, and I hope they will be safe and warm. I am glad we were able to give them a safe place to start their journey.