2017 was a year of homeschooling

Gazing at Tyuonyi Pueblo ruins in Frijoles Canyon at Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico, on our first trip out west in May 2017.

It’s always good to take a moment and look back at what I accomplished in the past year because, well, it helps to soften the regret of all the things I did not do. The year 2017 was not a year of new things or grand projects (at least by me). It contained minimal hiking, picture taking and writing on my part…those things always high on my list of “want to do.” I did less baking than I had hoped. However, I did read some great books, and it was a good, full year of homeschooling. That is what it was supposed to be because that’s my priority right now, and it will continue to be so. Though I’m always hoping to get more time to do this or that, I love being with my boys more than anything, and I know they are better off with my full attention. And I’m thrilled about the subjects I’m learning along with them. I’m glad I’m a person who has many varied interests and who struggles to find time to do all the things I’d like to do. Life would be boring otherwise.

With those thoughts in mind, I picked out the posts (out of the few I wrote đŸ˜„ ) that showcase what I’m most happy about from this past year. Those things we did, the stuff I learned along with my children, and the nitty gritty curriculum choices, which I spent a lot of time finding.

Our 2nd Grade Homeschool Schedule and Curriculum and 5th Grade Homeschool Schedule and Curriculum are exactly what they sound like.

Why Do We Homeschool? – Something I wrote a year ago to answer someone’s question. It says it all.

Our 4th Grade Piano Adventures – Oh yes. It was an adventure last year with a big learning curve for my husband and me, and it still is.

Trip West – It was the highlight of our year.

What My Kids Have Taught Me – I am the one who has learned the most from this homeschooling gig.

History Lesson Log #1 – I never liked history very much in school, but now I’m loving it, and I’m so pleased we dived into world history this year. Since writing Log #1, we’ve done the Hebrews, India, and now we’re in ancient China, so I need to start writing Log #2 soon!

My Year of Citizen Science – Technically, most of this project took place in 2016, but I finally topped it off with this post in 2017. It’s a project I’m very proud of completing, and I hope to continue participating in citizen science projects for the rest of my life.

Your Guide to Teaching 1st Grade – I did do some writing in 2017, and I’m very happy to have completed The Everyday Homeschooler’s Guide to Teaching the Early Years.

Raising Monarch Butterflies – Our grandest adventure of 2017 (besides our trip out west) was raising monarchs, and I think it will remain one of my favorite homeschooling memories of all time.

What were the highlights of 2017 for you?

And Happy New Year! I hope 2018 will be everything you hope it will be. I deeply appreciate your readership, and I hope you will connect with me by leaving a comment or sending an e-mail. I’m always happy to offer encouragement to homeschooling parents who need it.

Happy Winter Solstice

Despite a few cold, wintery days, I still have some blooms on what I believe is a winter-blooming Camellia japonica. It’s quite beautiful, though the flowers are quite bashful and point their petals down.

Today is the Winter Solstice, and for the past few years, I’ve tried to recognize this day, which has the shortest daylight hours of the year. You can read more about my decision to celebrate  “the return of light” here. And here are some quick ideas for celebrating too. Today the boys and I are planning on making some peanut butter and seed pinecones for the birds. As you know, we love birds.

This has been a busy autumn and winter. I was sick almost all of November, and we spent two weeks in Chicago visiting my husband’s relatives for Thanksgiving. Both he and I were sick the entire time we were there, except maybe the last 2~3 days. Sigh. But, it was nice to get away, and we managed to at least visit the Art Institute of Chicago. Since we weren’t feeling well, we made a point to see what we most wanted to see, which was the Impressionists and the Medieval armor. We also saw a wonderful temporary exhibit of Rodin’s work. We hope to go back someday.

Once we got back, it took me quite awhile to feel like I was back on track with daily life. I spent the first week concentrating on the boy’s lessons, and then the second week of December, I realized we needed to get ready for Christmas, which we celebrate too. So we decked the halls a little later than we usually do, but everything is ready to go now. We had a wonderful afternoon with some friends making Christmas ornaments at my house, and I even baked chocolate chip cookies for the occasion. I feel fortunate that we have quiet holidays at home with just the four of us. There isn’t too much hustle and bustle, and my husband is a big help with the shopping and turkey making on Christmas day.

This week we’ve been back to doing lessons in earnest, and I’m really happy with the rhythm we’ve got ourselves into. I wake my eldest son rather early so that we can get a few things done before I wake his brother. We doing writing, grammar, math, cursive, etc. (Not all on the same days.) My younger son is enjoying cello practice every morning after breakfast, and my husband and I usually sit with him. We’ve found making music practice family time is key in motivating our children to practice regularly. (Though our older son doesn’t need motivating as much.) After this, we have been studying Spanish, and I’ve also just started some lessons in the Chinese language too, and we’re all having fun — I hope it continues to go well. Playing a lot of games help. We’re also diving into China’s ancient history too, which I love, and to my delight, my eleven-year-old is enjoying our history lessons too. I’m not always sure my eight-year-old is listening, but hey, whatever he absorbs right now is fine.

And all that is before lunch! Our homeschool day continues until about 2 or 3pm, so it’s a long day. This week, most of our afternoon appointments have ended for a couple of weeks, and some for longer. It’s always nice to get a break from those, but I know I’ll start to miss them by the time the break is over too.

I hope all my readers have wonderful holidays! Whatever you celebrate, I hope it’s a warm, peaceful day (or days). I hope to find time over our break to write some more posts and connect with you again in the new year.

Please let me know what and how you’re celebrating this season.

 

Happy New Year

20161107_122728_hdrHappy New Year!

Though 2016 was coined as a bad year by many people, and it wasn’t the best year for us either, I like to focus on the positive, especially when I realize that in the big scheme of things, I have a very good life. I am so very grateful for my family and the lifestyle we’re living even if it has its challenges. And for me, 2016 will always be the year when my eldest son blossomed as a pianist. I know from previous life experience that these will be the memories I carry with me and everything else will fade in memory.

I also found this wonderful thread written by Commander Chris Hadfield on Twitter about the positive things that happened in 2016. If you click on it, I think you can scroll down and read all 46 points!

Click here to read the entire thread.

Let’s hope that 2017 will be a great year!

 

Holiday Prep and Cheer

This is the first year we put our tree in the activity room.

December has been a whirlwind of activity, though I don’t think we experience the busy-ness that many families experience. We don’t spend a lot of time with extended family. Relatives either live too far away; or they have their own lives, commitments and interests; or both. The adults in my family don’t exchange presents either. But we still hustle and bustle to figure out what to buy for our own kids, each other, and a few others. So it’s never completely exempt from stress!

Although doing Christmas cards is not my favorite thing to do, I try to write out a few notes and letters because I much prefer getting real mail than an impersonal card without even a real signature on it. As such, I keep my card recipient list to a minimum, and sometimes I send out e-mails instead. Every year, I tend to do things a little differently, and this includes decorating too. (See below to see how we decorated this year.)

The 10-year-old sewed a Santa's hat for his little brother's favorite toy bird,
The 10-year-old sewed a Santa’s hat for his little brother’s favorite toy bird, “Chick.”

I’m grateful that the holidays for us mostly means the four of us relaxing at home, making ornaments and decorating leisurely. It means watching more documentaries and movies too. It means pulling out the Christmas storybooks, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll bake something too.

Unfortunately, this week brought illness to our house. My husband and 10-year-old are feeling very poorly, but somehow my youngest son and I have stayed healthy. I’m keeping my fingers crossed! I’m sad for them because for my husband, it’s not how he wanted to spend his vacation, and my son was also sick on his birthday this year. I’m hopeful that he’ll be feeling much better on Christmas Day.

black-capped chickadee
black-capped chickadee

At least, we have the next week and a half without any appointments or any commitments, and that feels pretty awesome to me. Our busy time was the first half of this month, and it was pretty special too because the 10-year-old performed in two recitals. The first recital was here at our house — I invited my dad, step-mom, two aunts and uncle to hear him play his latest piano pieces. (He played 13 pieces of classical music.) I made two kinds of soup, three loaves of bread, homemade fudge and a homemade apple pie. It was all delicious, and everyone enjoyed themselves, and I was so very happy to do this. But my son was the star of the show, and he wowed my family with his piano playing. Better yet, we’re going to try to do a family recital twice a year, and this experience reminded me how music can really bring people together, and I’m so grateful to my son for bringing music into the house. It was a day to celebrate for sure.

One week later, my son performed in his new piano teacher’s performance group, which is basically a recital. She does this four times a year, and what a pleasure it was to hear her other students and give our son a chance to perform in a supportive, relaxing atmosphere. And he played his four pieces perfectly! He was so proud of himself, and we were on Cloud 9 all day.

The 10-year-old painted this black-capped chickadee.
The 10-year-old painted this black-capped chickadee.

My youngest son is still fond of birds, so together with his brother and I, we decided to do something different this year. We kept most of Christmas tree ornaments in storage except for the beautiful balls. Then we decided to make the rest of the ornaments — mostly birds! So our tree is full of birds this year, and it’s so pretty and delightful. My eldest son and I did most of the work. He is very good at drawing and painting, so he made some pretty ornaments. My younger son gets frustrated with his handiwork and gives up quickly, but I think he had fun trying.

Birdhouse painted by the 7-year-old.
Birdhouse painted by the 7-year-old.
From left to right: cardinal sewed by 10-year-old, blue jay painted by me, starling painted by 10-year-old, and an American goldfinch I made last year for the 7-year-old.

And how can I forget — before we even came up with the bird ornament idea, the 7-year-old decided we needed more outdoor decorations. (All we have is a wreath on the door, but several of our neighbors have lots of lights and decorations outside.) He didn’t know the name for it, but he described it to me, and I realized he wanted to make an evergreen garland for our porch. He was determined to make it and not buy it, so I said that we could walk around our yard and see what we could find to use. I told him that we might have a problem though — we couldn’t cut too many evergreen branches from the trees or we might hurt the trees. So he was very conservative, and we picked just a few pretty pine needles, sprigs of cedar and a couple sprigs of holly too. This, of course, was not enough material to make a garland that would stretch across our porch.

I tried to work with his ideas as much as I could, but once he “got tired” and said he didn’t want to do it anymore, I made some big suggestions. (I have realized that when he gets “tired” that means he doesn’t know how to proceed and needs help.) My suggestions revived his enthusiasm for the activity, and he finished off the decorations with his very own ideas — to hang an ornament from them and to hang them from the hooks on the front porch. I think they turned out quite pretty, don’t you?


I hope wherever you are and whatever you celebrate (and even if you don’t celebrate this season), you are warm, healthy and at peace. I hope you’re with people you love, and I hope you’re engaged in activities that make your heart sing. I know many people struggle this time of year and throughout the year, but this is my wish for everyone. I would like for us all to live in peace with one another and share our unique gifts with each other. I hope everyone has someone else to support them in this.

Much love and thanks for reading. Happy New Year too!
Shelli

Birthday Week

20160818_092049I’m writing this post on the morning of my youngest’s 7th birthday. He’s still sleeping, and his brother is at a piano lesson, and I just finished mopping the kitchen floor. I’m waiting for it to dry so that I can go start making yeast rolls, which is one of things he requested I make for him. Yesterday, we made a chocolate cake together, and I made tomato soup which I’m going to serve for lunch when my dad and step-mother come over to help celebrate his birthday.

We aren’t doing big parties this year. I had a party for this little guy last year, and it was a big success, but he’s a happy little fellow whether or not I have a party for him. As are most kids, he’s pretty excited about getting presents as well as the simple fact that he’s turning seven.

Exactly one week from today, my eldest son will turn 10, and I’m marveling at that two-digit number. I remember the year I turned 10, my mother had a slumber party for me. I invited a bunch of girls from school. At least one of them I didn’t know as well as the others, but I guess I thought she was cool. I have very few memories of the party now, but I do remember all us girls sleeping on my basement floor, and I let every girl pick out one of my stuffed animals to sleep with. It was a fun party, but I ate too many sweets, and I got sick after it was over. I also remember some kind of squabble between two of the girls. My mom said she’d never give me a slumber party again after that, and I don’t blame her. I’m sure it was a lot of work.

I never planned for my boys’ birthdays to be one week apart in August, but it’s been convenient and fun. We have “birthday week,” and it’s at the perfect time of year right after I finish up our homeschool year and before we start the new one. Both boys are equally excited since they both get to have birthdays. We always do separate celebrations for them, so they don’t feel like they have to share a birthday. However, they do share the decorations. It’s a tradition to decorate our house for the birthdays a day before my youngest’s birthday and take them down after my eldest’s birthday. They love having a whole week to savor the decorations!

I finally finished our end-of-year slideshow. We watched it last weekend, and I gave the boys a certificate of completion for the 3rd grade and Kindergarten. So now I have a 4th grader and 1st grader! How exciting! We will begin our “new” school year in September, and when I have time, I’ll write about what curriculum we’ll be using, etc.

I have already written about how I wrap up the end-of-year and do our record-keeping on this blog, but you can also read about My End of the Year Record-Keeping on the home/schoo/life blog, if you’re interested in that.

If you have a minute, tell me what’s happening in your world this week. 🙂

Happy Father’s Day

father's day-1

Note: I meant to post this on my blog on Father’s Day, but I was sick over the weekend and nothing got done. It was published in the Barrow Journal on June 15, 2016, before father’s day. 🙂

Father’s Day is this weekend, and I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that my kids have a great father. No one else on earth wants my boys to succeed in their heart’s desire more than their father. This is why he spends countless hours researching whatever it is my boys express an interest in so that he can make sure they are doing it right.

He doesn’t think any age is too young to do something right. In fact, he would argue, it’s crucial to start young. When they become adults and enter the workforce, they will be competing against peers who have apprenticed, volunteered or had wealthy parents enough to send them to all the best schools. We don’t have that kind of money, but we can start them early on the right path.

As a college professor, he’s in a unique position to see that homeschooling is beneficial to kids. He uses his knowledge as an advisor when thinking about how he wants to support his own kids. I’m lucky I have his support because I know not all couples agree on whether or not to homeschool. Sometimes he and I will squabble over how to homeschool, but we rarely question the decision to homeschool in the first place.

A few years ago, my husband had a chance to work from home full-time, and he took it. For a while, we weren’t sure how this would work out, but he doesn’t regret it and neither do I. Even though he has to spend the greater part of the day in his upstairs office, he can come greet his boys in the morning and also eat lunch with us
.We always watch a documentary on Netflix or PBS at lunch. (You would be surprised at how much conversation and interaction can happen between family members while watching T.V.)

My husband can also take the time to be my son’s audience while he practices piano for an hour after lunch and dinner. My son loves playing the piano. He also loves learning about composers and listening to classical music performances on YouTube. I’ve been reading an introduction to the great composers with him, but my husband is the one who helps my son look up performances online and reads about them further on the Internet and Greene’s Biographical Encyclopedia of Composers.

My husband always wants to give the boys anything they want, and sometimes I have to slap my head at this. Whether we run out of a snack food or entrée they like, he runs to the store often to keep the house overstocked on everything everybody likes to eat. He does almost all the grocery shopping.

When we visit a museum, he usually lets the boys pick out a little something from the gift shop, and if one of the boys goes shopping with daddy, they usually get to pick out something special on the trip as well.

My six-year-old has had a special interest in birds for the last year or more, and my husband has promised him that someday we’ll buy him a real bird as a pet. The only thing keeping him from running to the pet store right now is that my cat is still alive.

My nine-year-old is also interested in robotics, so my husband found the best robots on the market for him to learn from and play with, and this year he also guided my nine-year-old in building a computer from scratch. His thinking is that if our son is going to work a lot on computers, he wants him to understand the hardware as well as the software. Someday he plans to help our younger son build a computer too.

Every day my husband talks to his kids and interacts with them, which I think is wonderful, as I didn’t grow up with a father that was as available as that. Some days he might inquire about their progress on their favorite digital games, getting just as excited as the boys about Hungry Shark World. He laughs with them over Calvin and Hobbes comics. Other days he might go outside and push the boys on the swings, and he’s been making up dinosaur stories to tell to my youngest son at night for several years now too.

There are many different ways to be a good father, and I know there are many great fathers out there. I’m lucky to be married to one of them. Happy Father’s Day to all you awesome dads.

What is a True Friend?

Playing a story starter game at our homeschool Valentine’s party.

Note: This column was reprinted in the Barrow Journal on February 10, 2016. It was first published in February 2013. But we had another Valentine’s party with our same friends this year as you can see in the photo above.

On Valentine’s Day I will take my boys to a small party where they will exchange valentines with their friends. Watching them form their very first friendships, I reflect on what I have learned about friendship these past forty years.

A wise person once told me that she would not know whom her best friend was until she became an old woman. Only at that time, she asserted, could she look back on her life and say, “You have been my best friend.”

Young people throw the terms “best friend,” “best friend forever,” “BFF,” or “bestie” around like balls, hoping the person they throw it to will toss it back at them.  I have no doubt that for some people, the friends they make in their youth stick with them for a lifetime.  But as we grow older, we realize that true friends are rare.

Some friends are here for only an era of our life – school days, college, married with children, a summer vacation – and then when the ties that bind them loosen, they slowly (or quickly) exit our lives. I don’t think this lessens the value of the relationship.  We need various people to learn from and lean on during the different seasons of our lives.

What can weaken a friendship? Two friends may mature at a different pace, or sometimes interests change.  Distance can have a huge impact, if someone moves, or perhaps there’s a complete change in lifestyle. Are there friendships that can withstand any or all of these conditions?

True friendships withstand the test of time and the changes that can put obstacles in the way of a stress-free relationship. That is, it’s easy to be friends with someone who is available, who you have much in common with, and who you agree with on most issues.

I’ve learned that true friendship does not have much to do with what you have in common, though, of course, commonalities are needed, especially since they bring you together. What holds your friendship together is a deep love and concern for the other person’s well being. You care, so you continue to be there for that person.

  • Friends show up in times of trouble. When I lived in Japan, I had a friend at home who died of cancer, and I’ll never forget the e-mails she wrote to me before she died. In one of them she said that once she was bound to a wheelchair, she learned who her true friends were. I wonder if I had been at home, would I have been one of them?
  • True friends give each other space to grow and change though maybe not in the way you would choose for them. As long as your friend is happy, healthy, and living in harmony with the people around them, you cheer them on.
  • True friends are honest with each other, and they accept the other person’s honesty. They don’t let petty arguments come between them. They forgive each other. They realize that they don’t always have to agree.
  • True friends give you the freedom to have other friends. They are secure enough to know that if you are a worthy friend, they don’t have to do anything to persuade you to spend time with them. They know you have enough love in your heart for all your friendships.
  • True friends aren’t difficult to meet up with, and they aren’t hard to keep in touch with, if they live far away. While we all get busy at times, true friends inform each other that their friendship is still important, and both of them make an effort.

In the past I had a friend who pulled out a calendar and listed a handful of dates over the next three months that she could schedule a time to see me. Hmm, I thought, I’m busy too, but it shouldn’t be that difficult to find time to spend together (this was before we were married with children, of course). In contrast, I have a friend in Australia who I have been e-mailing for sixteen years. Our correspondence has ebbed and flowed depending on the demands of our lives, but both of us keep it up and neither of us wait for the other to write first.

  • True friendships are those that bring out the best in you. Your friend should give you energy – not drain it.  How many times have we stayed in relationships simply because the person was present, but deep down we know they aren’t good for us? When possible we should clear our lives of people who drain us and leave space to foster relationships that fill our wells.

A friend of mine told me she believed the mark of a true friendship was intimacy – your friend knows and wants to know what is happening in your life. On some level, they stay involved in your life. Indeed, that’s the mark of a true friend.

It goes without saying that to have true friends, we must work at being a good friend.  Even after forty years, I’m still learning how to be a better friend. I hope that I can guide my boys at fostering meaningful relationships that can last or at least serve a good purpose in their lives.

What do you think? What would you add to this list? And by the way, Happy Valentine’s Day!