find me elsewhere

We’ve been doing a lot of painting & drawing this week! I’ll write about that soon.

I have neglected to update you on my posts over on the home/school/life blog these last few months, so I’ve got a lot here for you to read over the weekend. (If you want to!)😉

Citizen Science Project #2: The Great Backyard Bird Count

Citizen Science Project #3: Budburst

Citizen Science Projects #4 & #5: Project Noah & iNaturalist

Citizen Science Project #6: Citizen Science Soil Collection Program

Stuff We Like: 4.15.16

Stuff We Like: 7.15.16

At Home With the Editors: Shelli’s Kindergarten

At Home With the Editors: Shelli’s 3rd Grade

Don’t Cut the Screen Time — Just Make Sure It Counts

Getting the Education I Didn’t Know I Craved

The Music Gap That Filled Itself

Summer Has a Mind of Its Own

If you haven’t been to the home/school/life website in awhile, I urge you to take some time there. The Summer 2016 issue is out, and it’s full of great stuff! Besides a blog that Amy is updating every weekday, there is a store with some free stuff (and some stuff for sell and more stuff will be coming!), a podcast that I’m having a lot of fun listening to (it’s perfect for geeky homeschool moms!), and some online classes! That’s right. Amy has lined up some spectacular folks to teach some really interesting classes to homeschool students, and there will be more where that comes from. So please check it out!

Homeschooling 3rd Grade Language Arts

Some of this comes from my larger post about our 3rd grade schedule and curriculum, but it goes more in depth on how we did language arts this year. I’m going to try to do at least one post each year on math and language arts because I know focusing on one subject can be helpful to some people, and it helps me think about how I want to move ahead in these areas.

***

My eldest son began to read well when he was eight-years-old. I can’t tell you how happy I am that we are homeschooling. If he were in school, he would have been pressured to read much earlier, and to be honest, I was trying to teach him to read since he was five. He knew the alphabet and all the sounds before he turned two-years-old, so I thought learning to read would be easy for him. I was wrong.

I probably pushed him to read too early, but I didn’t put nearly as much pressure on him as traditional school would have. As I made my way through trying (and failing) to teach him to read and then discovering that voila! he just knew how to read one day, I learned that this is typical of many boys. Of course, it’s not typical of all boys, and it can happen to girls too, but in general, boys can be slower to learn to read. It has to do with how their brains develop.

So I was glad that even though I made a few mistakes, I didn’t make reading torture for him or make him hate reading. By homeschooling, I was able to make our reading lessons short and less stressful, and I spent more time reading to him. I believe if a child is read to often and in a loving way, then he’ll eventually see the beauty of books.

Even though my son is reading on his own now, my goal this year was to read a lot of literature to him. And I did. And I’m happy about this. Briefly, here is some of what we’ve read:

  • At the beginning of the year, we finished The Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie-the-Pooh, which was a big book and took up most of last year!
  • My Father’s Dragon
  • Charlotte’s Web
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
  • The Story of Dr. Doolittle
  • On the Shores of Silver Lake (part of the Little House books)
  • The Long Winter (part of the Little House books)
  • several books about the Lewis and Clark Expedition
  • Only the Names Remain (regarding the Cherokee Indians and Trail of Tears)
  • Alice in Wonderland (We read most of this but didn’t finish it, and that’s my fault. I hated it and just couldn’t swallow anymore.)

Right now I’m reading Little Town on the Prairie and Old Yeller to him.

(Note: My younger son listens along to some of these too, although they’re more at my nine-year-old’s level, so he can get bored. He still loves storybooks, so I read a lot of those to him.)

I know homeschoolers whose reading lists are so much longer than ours, but that’s okay. Neither I nor my boys are the kind of people who want to spend long periods of time reading. We’re too restless. (Maybe I’m a boy in an alternate universe? Come to think of it, I hate shopping too! Okay, I digress…) I still love reading, but I read very slowly, and I think that’s okay.

My goal was to bring back our morning read-a-louds this year, and I did that! Yay!  **Patting myself on the back**

My son doesn’t seek out books to read silently to himself on a regular basis (frankly, there’s not much time in our busy day for it), but he does love to read and re-read the three big volumes of Calvin and Hobbes that we own. They sit on the kitchen table with our newspapers, and he reads them throughout the day. Aside from this, he’s been reading the Battle Bugs series, which he seems to enjoy too, but when he reads those, it’s usually because I set time aside during lesson time and not because he felt like reading on his own.

As for other language arts nitty-gritty:

We finished All About Spelling Level 1! Can’t say my son loved it, but I thought it was a great program, and it showed us both that he can spell, if he thinks about it.

For handwriting, we switched from Handwriting Without Tears to a calligraphy set. My son still loathes writing with a utensil, but it became a little more bearable with a calligraphy pen. I let him pick a sentence of his choice to write in calligraphy. Later in the year, he did less calligraphy, and we went back to writing with a good ‘ol pencil.

This summer, I stumbled on a wonderful app that combines both spelling and handwriting. It’s the 3rd grade 24×7 Digital Teach Me app. With this app, he is learning to spell 3rd grade level words, and he writes with his finger. And he doesn’t seem to mind this! In fact, he likes it! ***Jumping for joy!!*** He seems excited that he’s learning to spell words like “beautiful” and “almost.” The app is quite sophisticated and requires him to write the letters correctly in order to get it marked as a right answer. I can’t tell you how happy I am to have found this app! (My younger son uses the 1st grade version.)

Finally, I went over some grammar and parts of speech with my son this year with a test prep book and some posters I have because I knew these would be part of the test he had to take. I can’t imagine a worse way to foster a love of writing (unless a child likes it) than teaching kids the parts of speech at this age, and for the life of me, I don’t know why he needs to know this right now. (I am more in line with Patricia Zaballos’ method of teaching writing.) I really hated having to teach it, and I hated having to test him. (But grateful we are homeschooling considering the ridiculous testing they do in schools these days!) Anyway, we got through it, and I’m going to be doing some research on materials to teach this stuff in a more palatable way.

So, please tell me, what are your favorite resources for teaching language arts and parts of speech and all that fun stuff? (That is, fun for us English majors.)

I am not much of an activist

I am not much of an activist. You will not find me writing about politics and whom I think you should vote for or what I think you should believe in. I am not going to promote many causes on my blog except for treating your children respectfully and supporting their ideas, and I may also urge you to respect wildlife. This isn’t to say I’m not going to ever share any of my other beliefs and ideals, but at the same time, I usually remain neutral on the big issues. This is because I choose to let this blog focus on my family and our daily life. The simple things.

If you like it this way, then I invite you to stop reading this post. It’s probably going to be the closest I ever get to writing about current affairs that isn’t about education or nature. But I am thinking about what I keep reading in the news and how that affects my children. I wonder what I have to teach my children now to help them navigate such a complicated and sometimes tragic world.

On the morning that I started writing this post, I read headlines telling me about many people who died in bombings overseas, and this made me sad and fearful….I don’t take for granted that I live in a relatively safe place. Not long before that we had a tragic event happen in Orlando, and while I let this post brew inside a folder for a while, we had even more tragic events occur last week. You know what they are. And now there’s Nice, France….I need to post it before I have to add more to this awful list!

I have a hard time following the news when these things happen. I cannot wrap my mind around it, and I feel so horrible for the loved ones who are still living and dealing with these tragic events. While I don’t want to read the news, I make myself read and look at photographs. I’m not in a position right now where I can do much to help other people, but I can try to understand what is happening. I can send out a prayer and hope it touches someone.

There is part of me that cannot understand why it’s not easy for other people to see that we are all connected and that all humans have similar needs and desires. Why do any of us feel the need to kill any other person or group? No matter what you believe in, what ethnic group you belong to, what your sexuality is, or who you want to vote for, you have to get up every morning, use the bathroom, eat, drink, find shelter, and figure out how to make a living. No matter who you are, you need love and companionship. No matter who you are, you will experience happiness, love, disappointment, failure, and sadness. Why can’t we help each other instead of making things harder?

We all have the same needs, but, of course, there are people and groups who experience extreme hardship while others don’t. For example, I can’t begin to understand the racism that black people deal with. (Though I got a tiny dose while I lived as a foreigner in Japan. That was good for me.)

For some reason humans insist on separating themselves from each other. To feel different, better, other than them. Does it really make us feel all that better? None of us can control what circumstances we are born under.

I see the great divides of culture and beliefs, and I understand how deep those currents run and how emotionally connected we are to them. I see how we set ourselves apart. I see how disappointment, anger and fear can rule our judgments. I understand that it can be very hard to put ourselves into someone else’s shoes. I cannot always do it either. I’m sure I say and do insensitive things without meaning to because I haven’t experienced another person’s pain. For all our similarities, we have vast differences too.

Sometimes I get angry. I cannot understand for the life of me why anyone would vote for a racist and misogynist or hold beliefs that uphold ignorance. Or, worse, supports selfish actions. People do not see or think clearly. They think with their emotions and imaginations. They believe what they want to believe. This burns me up.

But what tempers my anger and humbles me is that I know I’m human too. If any other person is capable of those things, I am too. Whatever another person is capable of doing, I am capable of doing that too. Sometimes it’s best to sit with that thought for a while.

As I navigate the headlines and realize that someday, somehow a tragic event may directly touch my family, I wonder what I want to teach my boys. I cannot control outside forces, but I hope, through my example, that my boys will never play a role in bigotry, terror, or wrong-doing. I hope that they will grow up to be kind, loving and gentle, yet I hope they can stand up to injustice, if they ever find themselves in a position where they can do something.

It may sound trite, but I will tell them that sometimes all you can do is the most loving action. Love needs to be their guide. What is the kindest thing you can do?

Understand that movements like Black Lives Matter does not mean anyone thinks any other life doesn’t matter. It just means that these people need to stand up for themselves, and we need to listen and try to understand why.

It means that if someone is different from you, or lives a different lifestyle, you can still be kind. You can still treat them like humans and understand that they want the right to form families and loving communities for themselves. Everyone deserves that.

It means if someone wants to vote for someone I can’t stand, then I need to understand that they have had life experiences that brought them to that decision. What do I not understand?

If another person is willing to live in peace, then live in peace with him. I truly believe that most people want to live in peace. Otherwise, the headlines hitting the news lately wouldn’t be so heart wrenching for us. It’s when people begin to hurt other people – physically or mentally – that we have to take action and stop them from hurting more people. How? I wish I knew the answer to that.

I am not much of an activist because right now my priority is raising my boys and creating a loving and safe home for them, and this takes all my time and energy. I want to give them opportunities in life so that they don’t have to struggle, and perhaps, by doing that, they will grow up to help others not have to struggle.

Perhaps, after all, that is my act.

Time to Say Good-bye (to the newspaper)

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A photo I took of my very first column in the newspaper seven years ago this month.

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on July 6, 2016. 

It is bittersweet for me, but after writing this column for seven years, I find it’s time to say good-bye.

I started this column when I was pregnant with my youngest son, who will turn seven-years-old this August. Unlike his older brother, he was a much more active baby and toddler. We had to build a cage around our television and speakers to keep him from knocking them over. Somehow I found time to write while he was taking a nap and his brother watched Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and Word World.

Both boys have come a long way since then, and neither of them could bear to watch such childish shows as Mickey Mouse or Word World anymore. Changes happen so quickly that I can’t keep up with them. Luckily I have some of it recorded in my columns. Otherwise, I might only have photographs and a few sloppily written journal entries.

While writing these columns, my husband and I decided we wanted to homeschool our children, and I’ve shared our decision making process and the highlights of our experiences. My eldest son has gone from wanting to be a “snake scientist” to a roboticist and now that he’s almost ten-years-old, he’s considering the life of a classical pianist. (God help us!) It’s been a wonderful journey learning about these subjects with him and teaching other important subjects too.

My six-year-old has had only one interest for the last year and a half, and that’s birds. What fun we’ve had with that! I’m sure this will continue on, and I’m sure other interests will come and go. Though graduation is a long ways off, whatever qualms I had about homeschooling in the beginning have died. Keeping the family together and exploring the world together has been the best decision we ever made. Any other issues are minor and can be worked out over time.

For five of my seven years at the Barrow Journal, I wrote every single week (save one or two), and this proved to be a great learning experience for me. I know writers who sit on their work for years, never quite satisfied with it, and fear keeps them from sharing it with others. When you are forced to write something quickly and get it in on time, you let go of perfectionism. You learn to be happy with things that aren’t quite right because everyone will have forgotten about it the following week anyway.

Sitting down to write or create anything on a regular basis is a great discipline to acquire, and just by doing that, you will get better over time. Not everyone will like your work, but that’s not important. What is important is that you have created something of your own. You have used your time wisely instead of wasting it in front of the T.V. or on Facebook.

If it weren’t for writing this column, Amy Sharony, the owner and editor of home/school/life magazine would not have found me. I’ve been working part-time for her for the past few years, changing my role as my life’s needs have demanded.

I helped her launch the magazine, wrote countless articles, managed the social media, and now I’m pleased to see she’s creating so much more than a magazine. There are online classes for homeschoolers, a store, a blog, a podcast, and most of all, a community of like-minded people who offer support to new and seasoned homeschoolers. (homeschoollifemag.com) Because of the work I’m doing there, I have to prioritize my time, so I’m letting go of some things, including this column.

You can also find me on my personal blog, mamaofletters.com. I will continue to document our homeschooling journey there as well as all the different parks, towns and venues in Georgia we try to visit each year.

I am very grateful to the Barrow Journal, especially Chris Bridges, for allowing me to babble on for all these years. Chris is a kind person, and he has been great to work for, and it’s been a pleasure to be part of his team.

If you are one of the few readers who have enjoyed my column over the years, thank you so much. I hope you will reach out and find me in other places. I am not gone, just moving on. Have a wonderful summer.

 

Homeschooling 3rd Grade Math

Some of this comes from my larger post about our 3rd grade schedule and curriculum, but it goes more in depth on how we did math this year. I’m going to try to do at least one post each year on math and language arts because I know focusing on one subject can be helpful to some people, and it helps me think about how I want to move ahead in these areas.

***

I am happy about how far we’ve come in math this year, but if you read my post over on the home/school/life blog, you’ll know it was my academic priority. In previous years, I was concentrating on helping my son learn how to read, and of course, that’s still important to keep up with, but this year, I wanted to ramp up on math.

I have tried various resources for math. With my younger son, I’m using Singapore math, and I really like it. But my nine-year-old son just isn’t into math. He can do it, but he isn’t eager about it. But he loves the Life of Fred math books. He’s told me it’s the only way he wants to learn math. So, okay, I decided that’s what we’d use as our main curriculum, and I’d find other ways of supplementing it.

This year we completed four Life of Fred books. (Yes, four! Which puts us at completing seven total.) This year we worked through Dogs, Edgewood, Farming and Goldfish. I have the next three books, which is suppose to take us through 4th grade, and I plan to start them in the fall.

{I should note that the author of the Life of Fred books suggests that you repeat the books 2~3 times until your child has a solid understanding of the material. But Life of Fred books, if you read all of them, does a good job of reviewing material from previous books, which I like, and my son would be bored, if we were to repeat anything he has done before. Second, he did have a good understanding of the math concepts after reading the books. What he needs practice with is memorizing the addition and subtraction facts and multiplication tables, so we continue to do that with games and apps. Also, I think it’s important to teach him how to take tests, and we would do those things in addition to any curriculum we used.}

I had him do some additional practice in a test prep book because this year I had to test him. You can read about our testing experience in My experience with the PASS standardized test for homeschoolers.

I have also begun to require that my son memorize the times tables, and we started with the three times tables. I put a little chart of “the threes” up on the wall, and I covered the answers. We go over it every time we do lessons. To make it fun, I began timing my son on how fast he could recite the 3 times table, and then he tries to beat his time. To my delight, my six-year-old wanted to join in on the fun. (Let me be clear: It’s fun for the six-year-old because he’s obsessed with numbers. Not so much for the nine-year-old, but he’s willing.)

Now that it’s summer and the testing is over, I’m taking a break from our curriculum, and I’m just having the boys practice their times tables. I’ve found some apps to help with this:

  • The first one I found on google play, and I use it on my android phone, but I think it’s also available on Apple products. It’s called DK Times Tables. It’s a very simple car race game where the player needs to answer the equations correctly to get their car to move forward. Players begin with the ones times table & progress through to the twelves and then a mix of numbers. (But you can pick any number to start with.) The game has the player do the times table in order, then randomly & then filling in a missing number, so it’s quite thorough.
  • The second app is on our iPad, and someday I’ll write a separate post about these apps because they are wonderful. It is 24×7 Digital Teach Me apps. Practicing math is just one component. In the 3rd grade edition, I have it set for my son to practice only the multiplication tables and spelling. He really likes it and even asks to play with it! (I had signed him up for Time4Learning, thinking it would make a nice review this summer, but we have been using this app more, so I cancelled Time4Learning.)

That’s the gist of how we’ve done math during my eldest son’s third grade year. If you have any questions for me, I’d be happy to answer them, and if you have some 3rd math materials that you love and want to share with others, please leave a comment!

The Story of Sophie

This last week was difficult for me. I made the decision to put my 15-year-old cat to sleep, and this wasn’t easy. She was the last “premarital” pet we owned. She was very social and liked being around the family, often positioning herself so that it was easy for us to pet her. My husband knew her for 13 years, and he loved her too. At the very end, he was running to the pet store (30 minutes away), trying to find food that she would like to eat. I appreciate that more than he’ll ever know.

I got Sophie in 2001, shortly after I moved into a rental house in Athens. It was the first time I was independent enough to rent a place by myself (aside from when I lived out of the country). It was a little mill house that had been built in the 1920s and renovated beautifully. I loved the hardwood floors and built-in bookshelves. I can’t think of that house without thinking about Sophie because she was such a part of it.

When I picked her out at the shelter, it wasn’t just because she was so beautiful. It was because she had the best personality of all the cats I met there. She was clearly affectionate and loyal, marking me as her territory right away. All the other cats seemed frantic and stressed. Later I learned that Siamese cats can become very attached to their owners. (Sophie was a Siamese mix.)

Every other cat I had in my life would always disappear if you brought them to a new home. They would have to explore the whole place, sniff every nook and cranny before you saw them again. But when I brought Sophie home for the first time, she stepped out of the cage, took a brief look around and then came right up to me, giving me a full body rub on the leg as if to say, “Thank you! Thank you!”

When I lived in that little mill house, I worked full-time at the university, and I would come home every day around 5:30pm. I left Sophie outside all day long, and everyday, she would run up to my car door as I got out, meowing a greeting. Some people say that cats only care about humans because we feed them, but I know this wasn’t true of Sophie. There were times she’d greet me, but she didn’t want to be fed. She just stopped by to say hello and then continue exploring the world outside.

My neighbors at that house was a young couple with two little girls, and they had two dogs and cat too. One time the mother told me that Sophie had been hanging out in their backyard with them and their dog, but suddenly Sophie swirled around and darted over the fence toward home. My neighbor said she looked in the direction of my house and saw that my car was pulling up in the driveway.

Sophie was with me during a time of my life that was sometimes lonely because a couple of dear friends moved away from town, and I had not met my husband yet. Although I liked my job okay, I was beginning to realize that working in an office was stifling, and it wasn’t what I was suited for. I would be so tired in the evenings and on the weekends, I couldn’t go out or do much else. But Sophie was my friend. I would sit outside with her and drag a stick through the dirt for her to chase, or I’d watch her climb the big pecan tree in front of the house. She slept with me every evening and greeted me with meows and purring every morning.

When she was little, she refused to leave the boundary of her territory, which comprised of the lot my house sat on plus our neighbor’s lot. So when I went for a walk, she would sit on the edge of that boundary and wait for me. She would howl her head off, if she could see me. Later, in the house where we now live, she began to follow my husband and me on our walks. If we were walking away from the house, she would continue to howl. If we were walking back toward it, she wouldn’t howl, content that we were going in the right direction.

Once she was frightened by some dogs that lived at a house on the other side of the subdivision. They couldn’t get to her, but they barked at her, so she decided to wait across the street from that house on the edge of some woods and wait for us. When we came back by, she was gone, and our neighbors with the dogs (who had been sitting out on their front porch) said that a huge deer stepped out of the woods behind Sophie and scared her, so she ran into the woods. I had to go find her. She had climbed a tree, and when she heard me calling, she ran toward me. I had to laugh, wondering what a little cat would think of a big deer.

Unfortunately, after I moved here with my husband, away from that little mill house and friendly neighborhood of people and animals, we didn’t know we’d move next to a very controlling person who wanted a perfect yard and absolutely no cats walking on his precious lawn. If I had known that, I’m not sure I would have moved here. But such is life, and Sophie had to become an indoor cat. He insisted she’d get used to it, but, of course, she didn’t. Until the day she died, she was trying to escape the house. She loved being outside.

Now that I have a new-found love of science, nature and especially birds, I understand why some people insist on keeping cats indoors. But I still think it’s cruel to keep a cat inside unless you keep her inside from the time she was born so she won’t know any better. That’s my 2 cents anyway.

Sophie was able to roam outside again earlier this year because our neighbor moved away. But because of her health, I later decided to keep her indoors again. I am so thankful for those few months when I could be outside with her again. Since I knew she had failing health, I spent a lot of time with her, loving her, appreciating her presence and how she’s been a great family pet. I couldn’t ask for a better cat, and I’m glad I was able to give her a long life.

Goodbye, Sophie. You’ll be missed.

Nature Watch: Canada Geese

One other Nature Watch from our day at Smithgall Woods State Park.

They wouldn’t let us get too close, but you can imagine our delight when we happened upon these beautiful Canada Geese swimming in a boggy area at the park.

As you may know if you read my blog, my six-year-old loves birds, but he doesn’t always like to go hiking or even outdoors. (Sigh.) It’s at these rare sightings that I get to tell him, “See?! You never would have seen those Canada geese, if we hadn’t gone hiking and exploring!”😉

What happy nature discovery have you made recently?