Autumn Musings

Ft. Yargo State Park

Autumn is one of my favorite times of year, and this autumn has certainly been full of interesting happenings both in my home and in the world at large. I have gotten a little exhausted at following the news and social media, so I’m limiting my time on that. While I’m disappointed with the election results, unlike so many people, I wasn’t surprised by it. I respect the democratic process, and I’m going to hope that things will be well. This doesn’t mean I’m not concerned or wondering what I can do. I am charged with the duty to raise my boys to understand that we must act out of kindness and love first and foremost. We also need to learn how to walk a mile in another person’s shoes so to speak, which I think many people on both sides think they are capable of doing, but they really are not. This includes trying to understand why others make the decisions they make and even why they decided to vote the way they did and not assume the worst of everybody. Even if that’s very hard to do, we must try.

One of my favorite posts I’ve read lately is by Jennifer L. W. Fink, who writes about what I’m determined to do better than I could. If you get the chance, go read How to Raise a Decent Human Being.

On the home/school/life blog, Amy also listed a few ways you can get involved with the political process with your kids, if that’s something you feel you’d like to do.

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The best way to live daily life, in my humble opinion, is to pay more attention to nature. Nature can certainly be cruel, but it helps me understand the world, humans, and that we’re part of something much bigger. Nature is also beautiful and inspiring, and that gives me solace.

Ft. Yargo State Park

On that note, we have spent some time out in nature a few times this autumn. For the autumn equinox, we drove down to Dauset Trails in Jackson, Ga. One other day, we spent some time wandering around Ft. Yargo State Park, and most recently, we went to Unicoi State Park to walk a lovely little trail around Burton Lake. The last time we walked that trail, my youngest son was in a stroller.

Our outdoor excursions are rarely planned. We usually wake up, realize it’s a good day to go somewhere, and then I frantically gather our things and get ready to go.

Barred owls (my favorite) at the Dauset Trails Nature Center.
Barred owls (my favorite) at the Dauset Trails Nature Center.

We also spend time in our yard, which is a haven itself. It’s fun to inspect what insects hang out around my son’s carnivorous plants, and to see all the leaves change color, which is happening right now in Georgia. And just yesterday, a gorgeous red-tailed hawk landed in the leaf litter right outside my bedroom window, and she stayed there long enough for my boys to come get a good look at her. We think she was trying to get a mouse or a vole, but she finally gave up. The crows and squirrels were sending out frantic warning signals while she was here too. It was quite exciting for us to watch!

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I feel like this has been the most academic year we’ve had homeschooling so far. I’m really enjoying it. That part of my brain that likes to organize and plan is getting a good workout! We do our lessons most mornings, and then the day is full of piano playing. My youngest son started taking lessons this fall, and it’s such a joy to hear him remind me that it’s time for him to practice! He takes this very seriously! He also tells me he only wants to learn piano up through “level 2,” and I told him that’s fine. Any music education benefits one’s brain. (I highly recommend following that link to a very cool video that will explain exactly how it benefits the brain.)

Dauset Trails Nature Center
Dauset Trails Nature Center

My 10-year-old has started taking lessons with a new teacher – his third teacher. It’s been quite a job to find the right teacher for our son who is moving so quickly to a higher level of classical piano. And finding someone who communicates with us well and whose schedule works well with ours is important too. If you are a parent who has no music background, there can be a steep learning curve when it comes to helping your children get the proper tools and teachers for their needs. It all depends on your child’s goals too. We have learned a lot, and I’m very thankful that my husband has been hands-on and so supportive of my son’s musical endeavor. I think we’ve finally got him in the right place, so I’m very excited and looking forward to the future.

Unicoi State Park
Unicoi State Park

One thing we haven’t been this year is social. This was kind of bothering me, but I’ve come to terms with it. Playing piano does not seem very social because my boys aren’t going to a classroom with other kids to take lessons. It’s a one-on-one session with an adult, but though this is different than our past extracurricular activities, I think it’s a great experience too. They are each forming a relationship with their teachers, working toward goals, and getting all those other benefits of learning music. As my husband reminded me, if they stay with music, they will eventually participate in music camps and play in ensembles, which will connect them to other musicians. We’ve already begun to take our eldest son to classical concerts and live music in town, and we’re starting to recognize some of the same faces each time in the crowd. Perhaps if we keep going, we’ll eventually connect with those people who so obviously care about classical music as much as we do. So I feel this is a year of digging into academics and music, and other opportunities will arise in the future, as they always have.

Unicoi State Park
Unicoi State Park

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On another note, I’ve been working on a few projects of my own, and this blog has been (and will be) quieter as I continue to work on them. First, I will write my grammar curriculum review for the next issue of home/school/life magazine, which will come out in January. Second, I’ve finished a rough draft of a little book about homeschooling first grade, and I’ll continue to polish it in the coming months. (I will be looking for some discerning writers to read it and give me feedback too. If you’re interested, please e-mail me.) I also have a few other small projects to take care of too.

In addition to this, November is my annual “decluttering month.” Every year I ask the boys to go through their toys and pick out what they don’t want to play with anymore so that we can give it to charity. This year feels like the SUPER PURGE. My boys have finally reached a point when so many of the toys that we have are not interesting anymore. My youngest son mostly plays with dinosaur and animal figures and zoob pieces. Legos are still popular around here too. But so much stuff is GOING, and not only toys, but books and clothes and homeschool supplies too. I am quite in awe at how my boys are growing and changing and becoming more selective about their play and activities. And I’m proud of myself for LETTING GO.🙂

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If you have a question about how we homeschool or about our curriculum or anything else, please just ask. I am happy to chat by e-mail or perhaps write a blog post about it. I can always use ideas for what to write about, and I want to be as helpful to you as possible, so please let me know what you’d like to know. Besides this, your e-mails keep me going.🙂 Thanks for reading.

Homeschooling 1st Grade Curriculum

This is my second time homeschooling 1st grade, and it’s so much easier. Once you gain experience homeschooling, you realize how little you need to worry about first grade, and you’ll already have most of the resources you need!

It could be that my youngest child is a little easier to work with too. Since he has the advantage of watching his older brother do lessons, he accepts it as part of our day. (He still groans about them a little, though.)

I spend about an hour with my 1st grader approximately 3~4 days a week on lessons that are just for him. Our curriculum is very simple, and we usually do one lesson or two pages at a time.

Reading

We started Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons again. If you want more information about this book, click here. Last year I attempted it with him, but it got too hard, so we stopped, worked with Starfall.com & the Brainquest Star Wars workbooks, and now we’re back at it. I think it’ll go smoother this year.

He is working through Handwriting Without Tears’ My Printing Book.

As far as language arts, I read many books to him. I’m not going to go into that here since I’ve written about our “readalouds” many times before.

Math

We are using the U.S. Edition of Singapore Math. We are almost finished with level 1A, and we’ll be moving into 1B next. These levels do not necessarily correlate with grade level, so you’ll need to read their website to see where your child should start, if you want to try this program. You’ll need to purchase the teacher’s manual, textbook and workbook for each level.

I have enjoyed using Singapore, and I think it’s a thorough program. I go slow, making sure we do all the activities, textbook, workbook and games, but I could easily go faster, if I wanted to. There is some prep time involved, but it has been pretty easy once I got the hang of it.

That’s the core of his curriculum! In the first grade, I don’t think we need to do more.

But remember: He joins his older brother for some work too, such as listening to books, memorizing the times tables, or watching a 15-minute educational video. We also watch science and nature documentaries everyday as a family. When I do art projects, they are usually for him because he’s the one that likes doing art. He also has had a long-time interest in birds, which I just wrote about.

This year, I also signed him up for a once-a-month homeschool nature class at the botanical garden. (I’m the one who asked the garden to create a homeschool class!)

Do you have a first grader? Tell me how that first year is going.🙂

Project-based Homeschooling: It’s All for the Birds (in a good way)

A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song. ~ Chinese proverb

seven-year-old's bed
Guess whose bed this is?

In past years, I wrote a lot of posts with examples of project-based homeschooling in our home, mostly because my eldest son was always making things. This year I have written only two! This is because both boys have been pretty singular in their interests lately. My seven-year-old, while he still loves dinosaurs, and he loves playing digital games more than anything in the world (and I know I should write a post about that), has had one on-going interest since he was what? Four? Five maybe? I’m not sure, but it’s been a long time. I wrote about his interest in birds and several projects he did a year ago in Project-based Homeschooling: Birds & Feathers

But this year, I have less tangible projects to write about, and that’s okay. Sometimes PBH isn’t about making things. Sometimes, it’s about playing make-believe or talking about an interest. Sometimes the doing may not seem educational in the traditional sense. Sometimes it’s a small observation here, or a short burst of activity there. Sometimes it’s simply loving something and enjoying its presence. But there does seem to be a slow progression toward a deeper understanding of the subject.

This is what my son’s love of birds looks like this year:

My seven-year-old's bird collection and then some. The one he is holding is
My seven-year-old’s bird collection and then some. The one he is holding is “Chick.”

His constant companion is Chick, an Audubon black-capped chickadee made by Wild Republic. Chick is carried around the house, slept with, and travels with us in the car. The only time he’s not within reach of the seven-year-old is when he’s lost (3~4 times so far), but eventually he’s found and restored to his owner. This bird is so well-loved that the sound it made died a few months ago, and it’s been washed and sewed up twice. We tried buying another chickadee, but Wild Republic has changed their products, so the new chickadee looks different, and the sound died almost immediately! (Not an experience we usually have with these quality toys.)

While no new bird has been able to usurp “Chick” in my son’s heart, this doesn’t stop him from wanting more birds. He’s always asking for one, and since we can find these birds in most museum gift shops, he has amassed quite a collection of these birds. He even wrote Wild Republic to tell them they should make a golden-crowned kingletand they wrote back, sending him two, complimentary birds!  The boys recently put all of them together on our sofa for a group photo (above), but believe it or not, a few of them are missing! lol

We’ve been lucky to see some new birds in the wild this year, and it’s always exciting to come across them in our travels, on our hikes, or in our yards. Both my boys are very adept at using the iBird app on the iPad to look up information about the birds, and my seven-year-old will sometimes sit down and look at this app for a long time by himself.

Loons are one of my favorite birds.
Loons are one of my favorite birds.

But as the facilitator of my boys’ educations, I do keep an eye and ear open for opportunities to support them, if they have an idea to do something. Or, if a special opportunity comes up, I pounce on that too. This happened twice lately.

When we visited Chicago in September, we went to the Field Museum. (We never not go to the Field Museum when we are in Chicago.) I remembered their fabulous Hall of Birds, so I told my husband we had to make a point of going there again because the seven-year-old was too little on prior trips to remember it. So we went there first thing, and we all had such a wonderful time looking at the birds.

Standing in front of the chickadees.
Standing in front of the chickadees in the Field Museum’s Hall of Birds.

When you have a little person in your family who loves birds, everyone suddenly loves birds. Then again, who doesn’t love birds?

Later during the trip, we encountered some fabulous birds on our walk through the Chicago Botanic Garden. Most of these we had seen before, but we never had such long looks at them before. We saw Mallard ducks, Canadian geese, goldfinches eating the seeds from large sunflowers, and most exciting of all…the black-capped chickadee!

Chicago Botanic Garden
Chicago Botanic Garden

Note: The black-capped chickadee does not live in Georgia. The Carolina chickadee lives here. However, when I looked up the difference, I found out that they look exactly the same. The difference is in their songs and the ranges they live in.

While we were walking around the botanical garden, the seven-year-old said to me, “We should read more about birds.” This excited me very much because so far, he hasn’t wanted to read much about them. I promptly reminded him that the storybooks I bought him for his birthday all featured birds, and in the back of those books, they had bird facts we could read about…..

***INSERT LOUD BUZZER***

Ahem. That was an example of me taking over my son’s project. This is not recommended in project-based homeschooling. And what did it do?

My son shut down. He said, “No! Never MIND.” And he wouldn’t talk about it again.

***Insert me shuffling away with my tail between my legs.***

What should I have said? I should have said, “Okay. What do you want to read?” And left it at that.

But I did redeem myself. Later at home, when we were getting back into our routine of doing lessons every morning, I said to my son, “You mentioned that you would like to read more about birds. Would you like to do that during lesson time?” I received an emphatic “Yes!” Then I asked, “What do you want to read?” At that, my son went and got a little, old bird guide that my dad had given to him. He was very clear that we would read the entries for one or two birds each day….birds he would pick out randomly. Then we’d move on to another, similar book.

This makes sense to me. At seven-years-old, my son isn’t ready to understand lengthy science texts about birds, but these short little descriptive paragraphs are perfect. He picked out what he’s ready for. So that’s what we’re doing, and even though it takes only five minutes, it’s a very exciting step in this long-term interest.

Please tell me what interests your kids today.

Homeschooling 4th Grade Curriculum

To celebrate the autumn equinox, we visited Dauset Trails and enjoyed exploring their trails and a small zoo.
To celebrate the autumn equinox, we visited Dauset Trails Nature Center and enjoyed exploring their trails and a small zoo.

This is the third post I’ve written about homeschooling the fourth grade. I wrote about our schedule and how I will decide what to work on each day in my last post.

Our Curriculum

Language Arts

My main priority is reading good literature to my boys. I think reading is the best way to learn how to write, and you can learn about almost everything through books. So I make a point to read to my sons, although we aren’t one of those families who spend all morning on the sofa reading. I usually read 1~2 chapters of a book I’ve picked in the morning, and in the evenings we read something they have picked. I also encourage my son to read books silently to himself, which he does sometimes. He likes to read comics.

I don’t follow a curriculum that tells me what books I should read to my son, at least yet. I guess one good thing about having a Bachelor’s degree in English is that I know how to pick good books. I don’t like being confined to someone else’s idea of what books young kids should read, or more particularly, in what order. Instead, I pick what I think will engage my son or what I want him to experience. I also want to read it for the simple pleasure of reading it — not because I’m teaching grammar or making him learn what “alliteration” means. There is a time for that, but I don’t think it needs to come early in a child’s education unless the child wants it. I’m currently researching several language arts programs for a review I’ll be writing in home/school/life magazine. I’ll write more about that later. But I will always want to make reading for pleasure one of my top priorities.

I wrote in my first post how my son doesn’t like to write, so I’ve been going slow with him on this. I’m going to try a few different things this year to get him writing. The first thing is letting him work through a free keyboarding program so that he’ll have more options when it comes to writing. I’m also dusting off an old Star Wars writing workbook, which is full of creative writing prompts. This was his choice out of several writing resources I have, and I’m adapting it to his needs. It’s going surprisingly well. He’s suddenly writing and spelling like he’s been doing it for years! I’m very happy I went slow with writing.

Dauset Trails, Jackson, GA
Dauset Trails Nature Center, Jackson, GA

Math

We are continuing math with the Life of Fred books because my son loves them. If you’ve been reading my blog for a long time, you’ll know we started from the beginning, and now we’re moving into Honey.  I hope to complete Ice Cream and Jelly Beans this year too. After that, I’ll assess if we need more math.

Science

This summer we began our very first science curriculum! If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you’ll know that my son has loved science since he was little. This house is all about science, and frankly, I have discovered a new love for the subject, which I’ll write about another time. Sadly, since we began this science curriculum, my son has told me he doesn’t like science anymore. Should I laugh or cry? That’s a great testimony for self-directed learning, but for the last year, he’s gotten very serious about playing the piano, so I’m not surprised he has less interest in science. I don’t think his love of science is entirely gone. He still loves the science documentaries we watch, and many questions he asks are science-related. And, when we read our science curriculum assignment, I think he likes it a little. It’s really cool to see how much he already knows, and how many of the experiments we’ve already done. But it’s more work. It’s more details than he’s used to having to learn, and there’s a lot he doesn’t know. To be honest, I think this is good for him.

We are using Biology for the Logic Stage by Elemental Science. This is a middle school program, but I picked it because he already has a strong background in science, and I thought the lower level would be too easy. In order to make Biology for the Logic Stage appropriate for him, I’m not requiring him to fill out any of the reports. I do make him label the sketches, and I’m considering that a win. We also do the experiments or activities, read the assignments, watch videos, and work on memorizing some terms.  I will write a more detailed review of this curriculum after we are finished with it, but so far, I like it.

Those are my priorities this year. Although I hope to incorporate art and a foreign language this year, and I have a few other things I throw in (see my last post for the details), I’m not stressing about these things because I want to stick to what is most important and the most doable while my son does his real work, i.e. that thing he’s most interested in right now: the piano.

We take the 10-year-old to many free faculty and student recitals and concerts at the nearby university. This was our view the other night.

As I mentioned before, my son is practicing piano two hours a day. We barely have to remind him anymore to practice. He seems to have hit a stride and a serious mindset about learning how to play classical music on the piano. He has developed his own taste and ear for music and sound. He notices how much more complicated classical music is to, say, pop music. He did not like the sound of the upright pianos in the practice rooms at the music store in Chicago. I think it is really cool to see my son develop into a musician and take this work seriously.

This work takes a lot of time and energy, and we also spend time working through a piano theory book and reading about the lives of famous composers. So I consider it my job to round out his music education with the fundamentals as well as preserve time for playing and getting creative in other ways. Fortunately, homeschooling gives us time to do all of that. Have I mentioned lately how glad I am that we’re homeschooling?

We were playing in the front yard the other day, and the 10-year-old decided to make this bug out of things he found in the yard.🙂

In the not too distant future, I’ll write about what my younger son’s 1st grade looks like this year.

Homeschooling 4th Grade: Our Schedule and “My Master List”

desktop-1
My desktop. I keep my daily attendance charts and my master list right in front of me so that I don’t forget to use them.

As I wrote in my last post, it’s hard to believe we are beginning to homeschool fourth grade. I’m slowly making my way to the harder stuff, but as I sit down to think about the priorities I have for my boys, I’m sticking mostly to the basics with a few exceptions. The great thing about homeschooling is that I can tailor my curriculum to their needs, so this post reflects not only what I need to teach my 10-year-old but what I feel he needs the most. It also reflects what he’s most interested in doing right now too.

Our Schedule

If you want to see a well drawn out schedule (and chart), then you’ll need to refer to my post about his 1st grade schedule and curriculum. That worked well that year. Now there’s more to teach, and our days are more full because my son practices piano 2 hours a day (1 hour after lunch and 1 hour after dinner), and he has one or two piano lessons per week (depending on his needs and our money situation), and my other son has two appointments per week plus a class at the botanical garden he will be attending once a month. We have appointments Monday-Thursday, but luckily most of them are not long, so I still have most of the morning to teach. However, it’s still a lot, and this makes me wonder how other homeschooling families get any lessons done when I hear about all their extracurricular activities!

I sat down at my computer and I made a rough sketch of our week, plugging in appointments, and then I tried to add the lessons according to what I felt I could accomplish on each day. We do all our lessons before lunch so that after lunch we’re free to pursue other things, and now that I’ve been homeschooling a while, I have a pretty good idea how long it’ll take to get through a lesson. In general, it always takes longer than I think it will. I began to realize that there’s not enough time to do everything in a week. Is this something new? No, no it’s not. Sigh.

Not having enough time is the way of Life. But I still need to teach the basics, so as I stared at my list of priorities and those extra things I’d like to teach, I decided that instead of having a daily schedule, I’m going to rotate the lessons or either use my own judgement as to what is important to work on that day. (See below for more detail.) This means it may take me a week and a half or more to get through all the lessons I want to teach. It’s an experiment. I’m going to try it, and I’ll let you know how it goes. 

My List

Before I share our curriculum, I’ll share the “Master List” I keep in front of me at my computer. I wrote a list like this in the summer, and it worked well as a simple reminder of what we are working on and what I’d like to work on when we get some free time or need a change. I refer to it each morning when I decide what we’ll tackle that day.

There is always something that jumps out at me on that list, and it will say, “You haven’t worked on this in awhile.” That’s pretty much how I decide what to work on. As I mentioned above, it’s basically a rotation of sorts. But sometimes it might say, “You really need to keep working on this.” If so, we’ll do that. I will also jot down ideas that the boys want to do, and I’ll also rotate in time spent outdoors, baking together, or anything else that seems important.

First, I wrote my priorities.

Priorities for the 10-year-old

piano & piano theory & music history
math
science
writing/spelling/keyboarding

Work on everyday or rotate, if possible

read aloud
times tables

Extras

News-O-Matic & election news
Amazon prime shows
citizen science projects
art
foreign language

I will probably take turns starting the day with a read aloud or the times tables. Then, I will rotate working on our math curriculum, science curriculum, and my son’s effort to write, spell and learn keyboarding. He will practice piano everyday because this is his thing (a.k.a. he wants to!), but I also have to make time during our lessons for him to fill out his piano theory book. I’ll try to do that once a week. He also loves to read about the lives of the great composers, so we’ll throw that in frequently.

The “extras” are just that – extras. I will throw them in when we need a change. My son enjoys looking at News-O-Matic, and the Amazon prime shows are short (15 minute) educational shows that I have them watch when I’m not quite ready in the morning, and I need 15 more minutes to throw in some laundry or what-have-you. The citizen science is a big, personal project of mine, and I try to include the boys in it as much as I can. It’s usually a good excuse to get out into nature.

After I feel like we’ve got a good hold on our schedule and curriculum, I will probably begin “Art Fridays” again or something similar to it. It’s always been my intention to teach a foreign language, but that’s been tremendously hard to do since I don’t speak another language. I’m going to be spending some time researching curriculums and coming up with a plan for this, but it remains low on my priority list this year. Still, we might throw in an episode of Salsa now and then.

I think this post is long enough, so I’ll write about the curriculum resources we’re using in my next post….

 

How did we get to the 4th grade? And my new definition of child-led learning.

I can’t believe I’m here: homeschooling fourth grade. Although I’ve always planned to homeschool for the long-term, I’m not sure that when I started this blog I thought I would see the words “fourth grade” on it. At that point, anything beyond 1st grade seemed so far in the future. For that matter, “age 10” seemed light years away, but here we are. It comes fast.

It’s not just fun science experiments and readalouds anymore, although we still do those things too. But I’m at a point where our homeschool looks much less child-led even though in so many ways, it is. (I think this post will explain how, but in a big general sense, our whole lives are centered around our boys’ interests and unique abilities.) I also want to make sure my kids get a solid education, and I’ve decided that unschooling is not for us (I never thought it was). It’s all very hard to balance.

There are only so many hours in the week, so only part of our time is spent doing exactly what my boys want to do, but I do try to make sure they know we can stop and focus on a project, if they have an idea they want to pursue. Their biggest interests, however, have weaved themselves into our daily lives, so I sometimes feel like I’m not doing enough to make room for new stuff, but I think if there’s something they really want to do, it’ll happen.

The other part of our homeschool life is like “I see you’re interested in this, so I’m going to make sure you have a solid foundation in these things that will help you with that,” and then sometimes our homeschool looks like “I feel this is an important thing for you to learn. How can I teach it so that you will enjoy it? Or at least do it without crying?”

I have been getting some e-mails from moms thinking about homeschooling or just beginning to homeschool. (Thank you! I love hearing from you.) One thing I’ve tried to impart is that when you homeschool, you can spread out the learning over years. That is, unless you are planning to put your child into a more traditional school setting in the near future, there is no timeline for when you need to teach X, Y and Z: those specific subjects and details you might see listed in a “What Your 2nd Grader Needs to Know” book.

I’m not saying to not teach anything. (Or, if you’re unschooling, to not follow your child’s interests and help facilitate the learning.) What I’m saying is that you can focus on the things that comes easier to your child, and you can wait on the things that might torture him. This is because as your child gets older, he will 1) be more mature and easier to reason with, 2) may be more ready to learn the material without difficulty, and 3) may be able to tell you why the material is so difficult and perhaps help find a new way of approaching it. This is, in my opinion, part of the reason why schools fail. They do not (and cannot) tailor education to the needs of the individual child, and I do believe every child (in an ideal world) should have an individualized education.

I have followed this approach for the most part because in the beginning I made the mistake of trying to teach reading too early, and then there have been things I’d really love to incorporate into our homeschooling day, but as I enthusiastically began my lesson the boys began to look as lively as the dried up, wilted tomato plants in my garden right now, and I realized that they would learn nothing, if I proceeded. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. There is no point in teaching something when a child has absolute no interest in it. A child at the very least needs to understand the reason why it’s a good idea to learn it. Otherwise, I don’t think they will retain much of the information, so I’ve concluded that it’s a waste of my time and theirs to try to teach it.

Now that my son is ten-years-old, I’m going to dust off some of those “I’d really love for you to learn this” subjects, and we’re going to start anew. The challenge I have with him is writing. He can write, but he doesn’t like it, and he thinks he can’t spell, so I’m going to be experimenting with a number of ideas I have to get him more comfortable with writing and spelling this year. I will tell you some of those ideas in an upcoming post, but I’m also going to be willing to ditch any of them, if they just don’t work. And I don’t mean I’m going to let him not work. There is a difference in my opinion between how a child acts when he’s just being stubborn and when the task is seriously going to wreck his self-esteem. I’m going to have to figure out what will work for him even if he doesn’t love it, but I’m not going to torture him either. I would love for him to love writing, but if he doesn’t love it, I want him to at least feel confident that he can do it. We will move forward slow but steady.

I spent a couple of days after we returned from Chicago to think about my priorities for this year, and how we’ll spend our time to get the work done. It’s a constant work in progress to find the right balance in our days. But I’ll tell you what I’ve come up with in my next post…that is, the compass I’ll use to get me started. We may change course throughout the year, but it’s always good to have a compass in case we get totally lost.🙂

Are you starting a new challenge this year? Please tell me about it.

What the Summer is Boiling Down to

Photo taken from Brasstown Bald, the highest mountain in Georgia. You can see all the way to the Smoky Mountains.

I am sitting here wondering where the summer is going. It’s already late July, and here in my county, children will start back to school on August 1st. Luckily, we’re homeschoolers, so I can start our new “school year” any time I want. On the official paperwork, I pick September 1st. But in reality it’ll be sometime in the beginning half of September.

Both my boys were born in late August, exactly one week apart. I didn’t plan it that way, but it’s turned out to be convenient. It’s at the end of our school year, so we take time off, and when the celebrations are over, it’s time to start a new year. There is a catch, however. Since the local schools start school August 1st, some of our outside appointments begin again in August. So we will be getting busier just as I’m planning birthdays, winding down one year and thinking about a new one. Oi.

This summer has not turned out to be exactly as I imagined it would, but that’s not all bad. I always think of summertime as a time to be outdoors, but we’ve been having the hottest summer that I ever remember living through in Georgia. (I’ve lived here for twenty years.) Starting in early June, temperatures soared to the high 90s and it’s stayed there. Most afternoons it’s between 95-99 degrees F. That’s way too hot for the boys to play outside. So we’ve been inside almost everyday, all day long.

Except for one day last week. We drove up to Brasstown Bald, the highest point in Georgia. It was very cool on top of the mountain! Hopefully we’ll take some other day trips soon too.

It’s a very steep .6 mile climb from the parking lot to the top of Brasstown Bald.

I have tried getting the boys outside to play early in the morning, but 1) they like to sleep late, and 2) if they have to do lessons, they want to get them over with in the morning. Sometimes I just skip lessons and make them go outside, but would you believe it, my six-year-old is going through a phase where he really doesn’t want to be outside. So he’ll pout on the porch for a long time and then finally start playing just as it’s time to come back inside.:/

Despite being inside most days, I am actually enjoying the summer. (At least, after I finished the terrible cold I had in June and the heart-breaking task of euthanizing my cat.) I get up early in the mornings before the boys, and I either take a walk (nice and cool then!) or I do some yoga and write.

I water the garden by myself on most mornings and evenings. There was a time my boys fought over who got to water the garden, and it makes me sad they aren’t interested anymore, but it’s also quite peaceful standing outside watering all by myself. We’ve been having some good rain this year too, which has made growing flowers and vegetables much easier.

I feel good when I can keep my early morning schedule up. I am finally digging my heels into a medium-long writing project, but I will tell you about that another time.

I’m also enjoying the light lessons. We either do some science or practice multiplication tables, or the boys work in their apps. I have some workbooks I do some days with the six-year-old, but I’ve been lenient on this. It’s nice to not worry about accomplishing anything and just move along through our lessons like a meandering river.

I’m reading Old Yeller to my nine-year-old, and the six-year-old sometimes listens too. We also read about the great composers, and this week, my boys have been wanting to paint and draw again! I had noticed their enthusiasm for my “Art Fridays” was waning (to say the least), but one episode of Bob Ross on Netflix and I have little artists again! **Yay! Thanks, Bob Ross!**

One day this week we all drew/painted while listening to classical music. Another day, I read Old Yeller while the boys drew. I would love for every homeschool day to be just like that!

The nine-year-old is pushing ahead in his piano lessons as well. He is doing solid intermediate work now, so our days are filled with music. I can’t express how good it feels to walk around doing chores as I listen to my own son play so beautifully on the piano! His dedication awes me.

This summer we had the opportunity to try a new piano teacher because our current teacher received a scholarship to study in Europe for a few weeks. (Yay, him!) The summer teacher came highly recommended, and her experience and expertise were impressive. She was very impressed with the nine-year-old, saying it was remarkable how far he’s come in such a short time. We liked her so much that we seriously considered switching to her permanently. But ultimately, the nine-year-old said he wanted to stick with our current teacher. We are not sure whether this is the right decision, but we felt it was important to honor his request, especially when we haven’t been with the current teacher that long. After all, piano is his thing. We want him to own it.

So summer is boiling down to art and music and literature. How can I complain about that?

We’ve also had a couple of great play dates with friends, and the six-year-old and I are playing Uno and Yahtzee together a lot when my nine-year-old practices piano. We also baked chocolate chip cookies one day, and I’m still trying my hand at baking bread from scratch. (More about that soon.)

As I move into fall, I hope I can somehow retain this feeling of easy days. I know our appointments will build up, and I’ll get harried and worried about making progress, so when that happens, please, Someone, whisper in my ear, “Be a meandering river. You are a meandering river.”

May your homeschool days be like a meandering river too.