Project-based Homeschooling in the Later Years

Recently I gave a Zoom presentation on project-based homeschooling (you can sign up here for the next one), and a question I received made me think about how I have never stopped using project-based homeschooling (PBH) techniques, but PBH looks very different in our home than it did ten years ago. I don’t think about the techniques anymore. My sons each have a project that has become more of a life goal, and my role is to support them on a higher level. In other words, our lives revolve around these activities. My own projects have evolved over the years, overlapping with the boys’ activities, so we learn and grow alongside each other.

Here are the current state of our projects:

My eldest son is a classical pianist, and at 16, it’s clear that he has his heart set on a career in music. I’m not sure what that will look like yet, but we’re sacrificing a lot to help him. As we do more research, we know what we can offer him may not be enough to catapult him to the place he dreams of, but he works hard, and I have no doubt he’ll carve out a life full of music making. Besides taking the time he needs to practice and work on his technique, he has started a Patreon account where he will share short, weekly practice videos, and I’ll help him chronicle our research into his next steps, including college applications, scholarship applications, auditions and more. I hope someone will show their support for him there. 🙏

He got to hold his favorite bird!

My younger son has been interested in birds since he was four-years-old, and it’s interesting for me to look back at how this interest has always been there, though there have been long periods when he hasn’t done much with it. Now that he’s 13, this is changing, and that’s largely because he’s old enough to join certain classes related to birds on Outschool and get something out of them. He also has an active YouTube channel where he shares his videos of birds. Recently he also got to visit a bird banding station in a program run by Georgia Audubon for teens. Now that he’s getting a chance to meet people with similar interests, I hope it’ll introduce him to many possible paths that will most likely include birds.

As for me, I’m thinking about what I can do to support the boys in these later years, yet I also know they are going to go by fast. So I’m wondering what life has in store for me when they don’t need me as a teacher/facilitator/coordinator anymore. With that in mind, I’m slowly building a store and some other opportunities for families to connect with me in video chats so that I can share more of what I’ve learned. (Watch this space for updates on that.) I don’t know how much interest I can stir up, but if nothing happens, I’ll lose nothing….except a little pride, maybe. 😉

If there is one thing about project-based homeschooling, it’s that the learning never stops, the creating never stops, and the striving never stops. It’s a life-long endeavor. You have to find joy in the journey. Ultimately, the big project is creating a life that is worth living that also puts some good into the world. With the proper support, you can’t go wrong with that.

Time for a Change

Here it is October, and I’m relieved by the cooler, beautiful weather. Yet the boys are full swing into their new homeschool year, and I’m already feeling the crunch of time. Sometimes I sit and breathe and remember that all will be well. No matter what we get done or don’t get done, the boys are growing into intelligent, caring people, and what more can I ask for?

Whether I like it or not, life is always changing. By that I mean people change and circumstances change, and I can’t control it. I’m getting older, and my body doesn’t agree with what my mind wants it to do. I can’t get society to act in ways that I wish it would, so instead I accept what is, and I do what little I can to help my family and make the world a better place.

One thing I have always loved to do is offer encouragement to other homeschooling parents. I don’t do this because I’m an expert at it. I’m carefully considering my every move on this unsure journey. However, I feel confident I have found some things that work well for the boys and me, and as they get older, I find it’s the boys themselves who are validating the overall choice to homeschool, go at their pace, and focus on their interests. Because like I said, they are growing into intelligent and caring people, and they have such interesting pursuits. (This doesn’t mean I think everything is perfect or that I don’t wish I had more resources at my fingertips!)

I hope we can help them in this later stage of homeschooling as they take what they’ve gained here and make their way into more independent lives and, most likely, higher education. I can’t wait to see what happens, but I’m humbled by knowing anything could happen, and nothing is certain.

I also think about myself and what I will do when I finish homeschooling. There are things I’d like to try, but I have less interest in the things I used to do. Will that interest come back when I’m less exhausted and have more time? Maybe. For now, I hope I can continue to be a source for homeschooling parents.

I have always been available by email, but I need to change that. I’m getting busier, and I have less energy for typing long emails. So I’m going to try out Zoom so that I can talk to parents. Unfortunately, I can’t do this for free, but I don’t need much to sustain it.

This Saturday, I’m giving a presentation on project-based homeschooling with plenty of time for a Q&A. (I can also make it available at a time that’s good for you.) These simple but powerful techniques helped me shift from thinking of myself as a parent-teacher to more of a mentor. It helped me identify my kids’ interests and not just the ones I thought were education-worthy.

I think it’s important to say that this is not about helping kids get into the best schools or putting them on a certain career path (unless that helps them with their goals). It’s more about supporting kids where they are at and creating a relationship of trust so that they know you are their advocate. Every kid should have an advocate that truly cares about what they care about! I think it’s these relationships that create a path of success for kids, and by success, I don’t mean just financial success. I mean a path that will be meaningful to them and the community they live in. When you respect kids and their interests, they will turn around and respect others. And that makes the world a little bit better.

Okay, I’ll get off my soap box now. I hope you’ll sign up for my presentation. Click here to do that.

If there’s an interest, I may create an on-going homeschooling support group for a nominal fee. So let me know, if you would be interested in that.

Why I changed my mind about standardized tests for homeschoolers

Cover of the IOWA Assessments that my eldest is taking.

We are almost finished taking our standardized tests this year, and for my 15-year-old, it’s the last year that I’m required to test him by law. Yay! But I’ll probably test him every year now because he wants to prepare to take the SAT. When he was in the 3rd grade, I thought testing him was a waste of time. (I still don’t think that age should be tested.) As he got older, I found it useful, and it’s a good tool for a homeschool parent. There’s a difference between the testing that goes on in the public schools and the testing I do here at home, although my son takes the same kind of test, and he does it all on his own. (Someone actually accused me of cheating since we could cheat, if we wanted to, and that’s extremely insulting to me. I would NEVER cheat, and my husband and I teach our kids to not cheat and ALWAYS be honest.) The difference is that I can create a relaxed atmosphere around the test taking.

Here is why I like administering standardized tests in my homeschool:

1. We can schedule the test whenever it works in our schedule. I always test my boys around May/June, and I test for the academic year they are in even if they haven’t finished all the coursework for that year. (We homeschool lessons year-round, if we find time during the summer.) But I can pick the week and make sure we’re free of other obligations.

2. We test over a few days, which is recommended by the manufacturers of the tests, so the boys only take one or two tests on any given day.

3. On the days we do the tests, I don’t require the boys to do any other lessons that day, although my 15-year-old did do more math homework in the afternoon this year.

4. Since all we have to do is take the test on those days, it gives us time to go for more walks and relax or do whatever those days. So it’s actually a less stressful day for us!

5. I always tell the boys to not worry about how they perform on the tests. It’s truly a tool for me to see which subject areas they may need a little more instruction in. But so far, it’s given me huge peace of mind that we’re doing okay.

6. For my eldest son, and also my younger, testing them every year starting at the end of middle school will give them practice for if/when they take the SAT/ACT. (By state law, I’m required to test them every three years starting in the 3rd grade and ending in 9th.) They already seem more relaxed about taking the tests. They like to tell me about the test and what they found easy or what they had to guess at. (The tests are written in a way that they couldn’t possibly know the answer to every question.)

Who else is giving their kids a standardized test this year?

If you have any questions about standardized testing or homeschooling general, I’d love to help. Check out the resources I offer, and if you can’t find something helpful, send me an email.

March 2022

“I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date!” 🐇

Actually, I’m just behind in writing a monthly blog post. I thought I’d at least be able to keep up with once a month, but life has a way of snowballing as kids grow and we venture more and more into meaningful projects, which is a good thing!

My eldest son is working harder than ever on his piano repertoire, although he’s not doing any competitions this year, and he hasn’t posted much to his YouTube channel lately. He has longer term goals now. All I’ll say is that he continues to take us on many adventures, and while it can be stressful, it’s also a pleasure.

My younger son has taken charge of his YouTube channel that is dedicated to our backyard birds. I still help him a bit, though. It’s really great to see him learning video editing skills as well as developing his interest in birds and the natural world. Recently we tried to rescue one of our favorite bird friends, and we made this tribute for him:

And finally, I have a project of my own that I hope I can get off the ground in the next couple of months, but I’m not quite ready to share it yet. However, I did open an Instagram account that will be dedicated to our homeschool journey. So if you’d like to follow me there, here’s the link. (I haven’t posted much on it yet.)

I love our projects not only because they are personally fulfilling but because they are putting good things into this world. We need more of that, and I wish everyone made it their goal to put beauty and love into the world. I’m glad my boys are learning the importance of that.

I hope you have a beautiful spring. Please tell me what you’ve been up to in your homeschool.

March

Today the weather finally feels like spring. We’ve had other spring-like days this winter, but I think we were too busy to notice. But today it’s Sunday, and we took advantage of this warmer, cloudy day to go bird watching at Ft. Yargo State Park. There were very few people there since the forecast predicted rain, but as I write this, it’s late afternoon, and we haven’t had any rain yet, so our instincts were right. 🙂

We had a very successful bird watching expedition this morning. I believe birds are beginning to migrate back up north, so we were able to add some new species to our “life lists.” This included lesser scaups, a pied-billed grebe, and hooded mergansers. We also saw Canada geese, mallards, and wood ducks. As for songbirds, we saw the ever-present cardinals, Carolina wrens and white-throated sparrows. I also saw a red-bellied woodpecker, though I wasn’t able to identify it until I cropped the photo I took on my computer. In fact, cropping photos helped us identify the pied-billed grebe and hooded mergansers too.

lesser scaups

You may be thinking that my blog is turning into a birding blog, and maybe it is. LOL But as I have written many times, birds are a favorite interest of my youngest son, and my eldest son loves birds too. In fact, I think my eldest son helps keep the interest alive in his younger brother as he’s more adept at identifying the birds and looking them up in the bird app. But now that the nine-year-old is growing more capable, I hear a lot of fussing over who gets to do the “looking up.” (And who gets the binoculars too.) But it’s all good. I love to see them work together and get each other interested in something.

mallard

Other than this, we are still in the middle of what I call “piano season.” Along with the state piano competition, my son has other events he’s attending, so he’s been busy preparing for those, and with the temperamental weather, we’ve mostly been inside….another reason why today was so special. We finally got outside for awhile!

One good thing about being stuck at home for awhile is that we get a lot of lessons done. I feel like we’re making very good progress this year, though I have ditched a few things and changed resources on a couple of subjects. But this is the best part of homeschooling — getting to change it when it seems for the best. I will try to write about that in more detail at some point.

signs of spring

We are especially having fun with our subscription to the Great Courses Plus. The boys have even found courses that they are willing to watch on their own free time! (How to Play Chess and Robotics)  We are also watching The Rise of Rome for history and an Intro to Geology for science. I have also discovered that the course How to be a Superstar Student is great for my boys, and it’s introducing them a lot of skills that we’ll be going over again as they get older. It is targeted for high school age students, but the silly parts are probably more funny to kids that are my boys’ age instead. We have also watched a course on mathematics that we’ll slowly continue as my eldest son reaches each concept in his math curriculum. (Most of the courses, however, are college-level, so I am not recommending that homeschoolers with young kids subscribe. What until you get to junior high or high school.)

Do you see me? great blue heron

Also exciting to me is that I have started reading Chickadee by Louise Erdrich, the fourth book in the Birchbark series, out loud to the boys. This series has to be my favorite young adult series that I’ve read so far. I’m not extremely well-read when it comes to young adult novels, but I’ve been adding several titles to my list as I read books to prepare for my rising 7th grader’s literature study next year. I have decided to do a theme-based literature unit on books about “survival.” It’s been a lot of fun to read the books and think about all the ways humans “survive” this world.

Well, now it’s Monday morning, and I am trying to wake myself up after the dreadful time change. I will finish up this post with a few photos from our birding expedition yesterday. And please tell me–how are you doing this early spring? 

January

A little visitor to our front porch. I like to think of the squirrels in our yard as friends, but I’m not sure she feels the same way about me.

January has been a quiet month around here. It has offered some very cold days — at least cold to us Southerners — so it’s been a good time to stay inside and get some work done.

The boys and I have been doing a lot of birdwatching out our windows, and we finally started some official Life Lists. (I love it when the boys get excited to write a bird’s name on their life list!) In Georgia, we have some birds who live here year-round, but it’s great fun to watch the winter visitors such as the golden-crowned kinglet, which is one of our our favorites (and comes in close second to my nine-year-old’s all-time favorite chickadee.)

For the second year in a row, we’ve had juncos visit the yard. Sometimes in pairs or sometimes twenty at a time! Also for the very first time, we saw two northern flickers! (They are so beautiful!) And we’ve been so excited to see a pileated woodpecker hanging out in the yard for a while. In the past, these big, gorgeous woodpeckers would only give us a brief glimpse before they moved on. We also had a young hawk hang out for a short time too.

(Yes, we’re going to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count this year!)

The pileated woodpecker. Gorgeous fellow.

Other than this, we’ve been keeping a good homeschooling routine — six days a week. Yes, that’s right. This morning (Saturday), my eldest son did science because it’s hard to fit it in during the weekdays, but I was thrilled to see he was enjoying it. He may be a pianist, but he still loves science, and I love that because I love it too. I love learning with him.

I don’t have much time for myself, and when I do have time, I usually end up lesson planning, cleaning, cooking (but not much — I still fail at this), or exercising (stupid hip thing), or planning the next six years. But to tell the truth, that’s kind of what I want to do right now. As I mentioned in my December post, I’m obsessing about planning for the next six years — junior high and high school. I’ve learned so much, and we’re already starting to implement some ideas in order to see if they will work and if I can fit them in. We’re going to try to fit more and more in as my son works through the rest of the 6th and 7th grade. The scheduling and how we do things is a sort of an experiment right now.

I keep thinking of topics and ideas to blog about, but when to actually blog? I’m writing this off-the-top-of-my-head, rambling post on a Saturday afternoon in about thirty minutes. (Saturdays and Sundays offer a little more free time.) Writing about specific curricula or other topics takes much longer because I have to think through what I want to say. Sigh.

I will tell you that we just signed up for a free trial of The Great Courses, and so far, we’re loving them. If we continue to like the courses, I can use some of them for our junior high and high school curriculum, and I’m so excited about this.

Now that January is almost over, I’m looking ahead to a very busy February when some important piano events and opportunities are starting. We will continue to lay low so my son can prepare and hopefully not get sick, and I’ll continue with my big planning. But right now I have thirty minutes until I need to start dinner, so I think I’ll take a nap. Thanks for reading!

Please leave me a message and tell me how YOU are doing this January.

Atlanta Botanical Garden

The strings you see hanging down are roots.

This post concludes my series of day trips that we took this summer, which also concludes our 2017-2018 school year. Day trips are some of our most educational and fun activities we can do as homeschoolers. I will try to write about some of the places we go this year too.

The photo does not do it justice, but I loved this statue of a toddler holding onto some frogs, and he’s extremely proud of his capture.
I had to take this photo of a nepenthes pitcher plant for my son who grows carnivorous plants.

My son picked the Atlanta Botanical Garden as his “birthday day trip.” I won’t lie — I wasn’t disappointed about this at all. I have been wanting to go there for a long time. My twelve-year-old has always been into plants, and lately, there’s been a kind of resurgence in this interest. Since I love plants and gardening too, it’s such a pleasure for me to witness this, and what a surprise that he’d pick the botanical garden on his birthday. I thought he might pick a science museum or aquarium like his brother.

We had never been to the Atlanta Botanical Garden before, and we were not disappointed. It was more beautiful than we were expecting. We have been to our state botanical garden, and we’ve been to the Chicago Botanical Garden, and both those places are lovely. (How can gardens not be?) But the Atlanta Botanical Garden was truly special. The boys loved all the plant sculptures in the garden, which was whimsical and made it fun for kids.

The greenhouses, which you see in the background of his photo, were fabulous.
A bloom among the plants of the desert.

It was so big, we didn’t even get to see it all, so we’re planning to go back. I will highlight our favorite spots in the photos. I hope you enjoy them. (And by the way, I was dismayed that I forgot to bring my Nikon with me. If there’s anything I love to photograph, it’s flowers. So there’s another reason to go back. These photos were taken on my phone camera.)

The orchid house was perhaps our favorite place.

Something I’ve never seen before — flowers growing on the bottom of the roots!

 

North Georgia Zoo & Petting Farm

One of the day trips we made this summer was to the North Georgia Zoo & Petting Farm. We had been aware of this zoo for a long time, and we’d always wanted to check it out. My boys had a great time at this zoo.

This is a small and rustic zoo. Don’t expect paved walkways or cool buildings to walk into occasionally. The petting farm (and you can pay just to walk through the petting farm only) is fun. There were sheep, goats, alpacas and a cow to pet. Exotic chickens roamed the area too.

To see the exotic animals, you have to go on a tour, which is included in your admission price. Someone will walk you through this area, and there you’ll find all kinds of interesting animals from different parts of the world. We had a very friendly and knowledgeable guide. I do not remember seeing every animal on their full animal list, but there were plenty of animals to see. I know they have areas of the zoo that we were not permitted to go to because some animals were under special care. You can also purchase tickets for “animal encounters,” which we didn’t do.

At the end of the tour, our guide let us meet three small animals and get a chance to pet them: a small python, armadillo and chinchilla. That was pretty cool.

My husband and I were disappointed to see that some of the animals were in cages that seemed too small, such as the cougar and the New Guinea singing dogs. I realize this is an issue with many zoos, and I also know it takes a tremendous amount of money to care for these animals, which is why we didn’t mind paying the admission fee. However, the admission price is similar to the admission for Zoo Atlanta, which surprised us, considering how much smaller this one was. Perhaps Zoo Atlanta gets more donations, which allows them to keep their prices down?

If you are in the North Georgia mountains and you have children, I would say go visit this zoo. However, I wouldn’t make a special trip again just to see this zoo. The area around the zoo, however, was gorgeous. There are a lot of vineyards in the area. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to combine a trip to the zoo with a visit to a vineyard. 😉

P.S. Sorry there are no photos here of the petting farm. I was too busy petting the animals!

Tellus Science Museum

Several years ago I wrote an informative newspaper column about the Tellus Museum that you can still read, but it’s worth writing about briefly again. Since that first visit, we have been to the Tellus many times, and one year, we had a family membership. But we hadn’t been there in a very long time when we went this summer. That’s the day we also went to the Booth Western Art Museum.

It’s great going back to museums as our kids get older.  Not only do we get to see new additions to the museum, it’s fun to see what our kids are attracted to at different ages. When they were younger, we spent more time in the dinosaur exhibit and with the hands-on kids stuff, especially digging for fossils and panning for gems. We looked through the whole museum back then too, but we couldn’t linger as long in my favorite area, which is the Weinman Mineral Gallery.

But this time we did. In fact, we spent the most time there, and it was great. The boys were much more interested in scrutinizing the beautiful rocks and minerals, and I even read a few of the signs to them. This is why most of my photos are of rocks and minerals this time. I hope you enjoy them, and if you get the chance, I highly recommend that you visit this museum to see them for yourself.

Booth Western Art Museum

The Booth Western Art Museum is located in Cartersville, Georgia. We have been to Cartersville many times to visit the Tellus Science Museum, but we didn’t visit the Booth Museum until this summer because we thought the boys might be too young to appreciate the art. Now that they are a little older, they appreciate art more, and my eldest especially enjoys the museums. My youngest tolerates them well. 😉

We were expecting a much smaller “hole-in-the-wall” museum, but the Booth Museum is in a beautiful, modern building, and it was too big for us to see it all in one visit. Well, at least on the same day we promised the boys we’d go to the Tellus Museum too. In addition, we ate lunch and found a great ice cream place in the quaint downtown area of Cartersville. It made a fun day trip, and we are planning to go again sometime. I think the Booth Museum is going to become one of my favorite art museums, and it’s not just because I lived in the West for twelve years. There were beautiful works of art in this museum that I wanted to gaze at and savor longer than my young boys would let me.

If you go, I recommend watching the 15 minute introductory film and then make your way to the sculpture area. The sculptures (both indoor and outdoor) were breathtaking. There is also a Civil War room where you can follow the story of the Civil War through paintings in chronological order. Looking at their website, I see we missed the Sagebrush Ranch, an interactive gallery for kids too. (A good excuse to go back!)

If you live in Georgia, are interested in the West, or you are homeschooling and studying the American expansion, I highly recommend a visit to this museum. You won’t be disappointed. There is also a fun gift shop with many books and educational toys for kids regarding the West.