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.

 

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.)

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!

Homeschooling: Summer Planning

Even after these last few years of homeschooling, I’m still not sure whether it’s better to take the summer off from doing lessons or homeschool all the way through. There was that summer that had a mind of its own, and we didn’t do any homeschooling. However, we took a trip to Chicago where we went to all the awesome museums and places we could go there, and the boys were in two or three summer camps…I would count that in my attendance sheet of homeschool days!

Last year, we took some time off and also did some lessons, and that’s kind of what I have in mind for this summer. There is a balance to strike between having free time and too much free time. I have noticed that having some structure to our days helps me, and it prevents the boys from getting too aimless and bored. But unlike last year, which (I think) I filled with math, this year I’m (mostly) letting the boys pick the lessons they want to do. This is great fun because I don’t get a lot of complaints, and they still learn a lot!

So I came up with a big list of what we could do, and I showed it to them, and they made their picks:

Nine-year-old’s picks:

Science — He loves science, and I would wager that he’s way ahead of his peers in his subject, but we’ve never used a curriculum in science. My husband and I thought it would be a good time to start, and we picked out Elemental Science Biology for the Logic Stage. This is a middle school secular science curriculum for homeschoolers, and we’ve just started it, but so far, my son likes it. And it’s actually going to give him some reading and writing practice (Shhh! Don’t tell him!), although I’m not making him do as much writing as the curriculum requires. (After all, he’s only in the 3rd grade.)

Music history — We’re going to keep reading about famous composers. We’re finishing up Meet the Great Composers Book 1 and about to move into Book 2. After we finish this, I’d like to find some more in-depth biographies of his favorite composers.

News/current affairs — We both love reading the news from the News-O-Matic app, which you can download onto an Apple or Android device. It’s definitely for kids, so I wouldn’t read it on my own, but I enjoy the stories too.

Piano — My nine-year-old will also be practicing piano everyday and having a lesson at least once a week.

**On top of this, both my boys will be attending a week-long day camp at the Botanical Garden this summer. **🙂

Six-year-old picks:

Star Wars 1st grade Workbooks — Math, Reading and Writing Skills Can you believe it?! He wants to do workbooks! He might change his mind after he realizes that they are harder than the kindergarten workbooks he finished earlier this year, but I’m still super impressed that he picked these.

(What he didn’t pick was the Singapore Math, Handwriting Without Tears workbook, and reading lessons on Starfall.com and in the Starfall workbook. I guess since I picked those, they aren’t as fun as these workbooks which cover almost the same stuff. ;))

The six-year-old is also working on a project right now: a model of a barn owl. If it gets finished, I’ll blog about it.

Mama’s picks:

There are a few things I feel it’s important to continue with the boys throughout the summer, and that’s…

Readalouds — I’ll be picking some good literature and maybe history books to read to the boys this summer.😉

Memorizing the multiplication tables — We didn’t get very far yet, and I’m afraid after our short break, the boys have already forgotten the 3s and 4s! So we’ll continue to work on this a few minutes each day.

Art — I plan to continue Art Fridays this summer, and I’m hoping since we’re going light on lessons, I’ll have more time to plan art projects and art history lessons!

General Practice for the nine-year-old — We signed the nine-year-old up for Time4Learning so that he can review and get general practice in math and language arts. UPDATE: We ditched this because we just weren’t using it, and I found an app on the iPad I love and the boys like, so we’re using it instead. It’s the 24×7 Digital TeachMe Apps.

What are your homeschooling plans for the summer?

Project-based Homeschooling: Piano

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kindergarten is the Easiest Grade to Homeschool

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

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

Schedule

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

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

A little composer? Hmmm.

Curriculum

Language Arts

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

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

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

Math

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

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

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

Not like math? I don’t think so!

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

Science, Social Studies & Art

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

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

Projects

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please tell me how your year has been shaping up!

Everybody Needs a Mentor

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on April 27, 2016.

This bread-baking mission I’m on is full of frustrations, but since I’m doing it for fun, that’s okay. It’s like a puzzle I’m determined to figure out, and I’m relieved I have no deadline for it.

I bought a book, Classic Sourdoughs: A Home Baker’s Handbook, and I read it carefully, followed the directions, and the results were so-so. I have watched YouTube videos, read blog posts, and I’ve posed questions to my Twitter followers. (I really appreciate those who are helping.)

But I have realized that EVERYBODY BAKES BREAD DIFFERENTLY. I try this, I try that, and still, I’m not happy with my results. How do I get that beautiful sourdough bread with all the holes and good taste?!

I would love to have a bread-baking expert by my side to help me. This person could look at my sourdough starter and tell me if something is wrong with it. She could watch me mix and knead the dough. He could note the temperature of my house or other conditions that might affect the bread baking.

When it comes down to it, you can only teach yourself so much. Sure, someday I may figure this out, but how long will that take? Will it happen before I waste a barrel full of flour? Will it happen before I get so frustrated I give up? Or maybe I’ll finally produce a loaf I can live with, but I’ll never know what I could have produced, if someone had shown me a better way to do it.

I hope you see where I’m going with this. Everybody needs a mentor, but most importantly, children need mentors. I don’t believe the way most kids are educated these days is enough. Kids are graduating from college and many of them are struggling to find decent paying jobs, let alone jobs in their chosen field.

Sure, learning through the school of hard knocks can build character, but most of the time, the school of hard knocks just knocks people down, and they can’t get back up again. Or if they do get up, they are too far behind to catch up in this life’s rat race.

I would rather a child build character earlier in life, and I would rather them have a step ahead in these basic areas like “what am I going to do with my life?” Don’t the people who believe in the “school of hard knocks” realize that the people getting ahead and accomplishing amazing things usually had help? Sometimes you hear a great story of how some person raised himself out of a difficult life and accomplished something great, and we love those stories because they are RARE.

Most of the young people who are accomplishing great things had a great education and great mentors, or “connections,” if you’d rather call it that. Sure, money helps. But I feel certain behind every success story there was someone who recognized a talent, fostered it and told that child exactly what he needed to do to get ahead. They put him in touch with the right people, and this by itself can be very motivating to a child. Doing these things for a child costs nothing.

When children don’t have anyone who is interested in their unique talents, they start to see these talents as something negative instead of positive. So they go down another path, and many of them end up in a less than desirable situation.

Whenever I meet a child, I am struck by how that child has a special talent or interest that is unique to him or her. Whether she has achieved a billion points on her favorite video game, or he loves collecting rocks, it makes me believe that we’re all born with an innate curiosity and drive to do things.

It depends on what happens to us in childhood whether we use our potential or not. Did someone tell us to “stop acting like that” when we let our imaginations go wild, or did someone take an interest in our wild notions?

A mentor can be any person, but for a child, the parent is the person who knows him best, and as an adult, a parent has the ability to give a child a helping hand, lend a tool, do a little research, or find another adult who can help. Don’t let kids waste their potential and then struggle to compete with peers who are well ahead of them. Kids need our help and guidance. Be a mentor.