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 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.

Nature Watch: Oakworm Moth

One morning I went out to water our garden, and I found this beauty on the green bean leaves. Curiously, I had also seen this moth on our porch one evening, but the colors were much more muted. I don’t know if this is a slightly different species or the sunlight was making it shine, but I couldn’t get over the colors in it. And it wasn’t until I viewed my photos later that I noticed the wings are translucent!

This is an oakworm moth, and I think it’s the pink-striped oakworm moth, but it’s very hard to tell it apart from the orange-tipped oakworm moth, so I’m not sure. (If you know, please tell me.)

My son became fascinated with moths a while back, and while it’s not what I’d call an active project (that is, he’s not researching information about them or creating any representations anymore), we still get quite excited when we find a moth we’ve never seen before in the yard. We have been lucky enough to find the Polyphemus Moth, Luna Moth, and the Tulip-tree Silkmoth, and I think we’ve seen the Imperial Moth too, but I don’t have a photo of one. We still haven’t seen a Cecropia Moth in the wild, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed!

As a little bonus, I want to share this photograph I took on one of my summer morning walks. It was a wet and foggy morning because it had stormed the previous day, and the dew made hundreds, maybe thousands, of spider webs visible in the trees. I marveled at how many there were, and luckily I had my phone with me, so I took a photo of this one, which hung on a branch by the road. Spider webs are amazing.

I hope you’ve enjoyed making some nature discoveries lately too, and I hope you’re staying cool throughout this brutal summer!

 

Nature Watch: Canada Geese

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

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

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

What happy nature discovery have you made recently?

Nature Watch: Black Rat Snake

A month or so ago, we visited Smithgall Woods State Park, and while we were walking back to the parking lot, we came across this beautiful, medium-sized black rat snake. Black rat snakes are the most common snake in Georgia, so we’ve seen a few of them.

Snakes were my eldest son’s first love. When he was about four-years-old, he learned a lot about them by attending the knee-high naturalist program at the local nature center, and later I bought him a poster of Georgia snakes, which still hangs in his room. We started making a book about snakes too. Even though he’s decided he does not want to study snakes when he grows up anymore, he still loves snakes, and his younger brother thinks they are pretty cool too.

By studying snakes with my son, I learned quite a bit about them, and I know which ones are venomous and which ones are not. Black rat snakes are harmless, but, of course, any snake can bite, if you bother them, so you need to be respectful of them.

Snakes are very beneficial to the environment especially in that they help keep the rodent population in check, so you never want to harm one, if you find one. You might remember that many years ago, we watched a black rat snake eat a squirrel in our backyard, and I caught it on film! (So consider yourself warned, if you click on that link!)

My family has a deep appreciation for snakes, so finding this one was quite a treat!

Summer Day Camps

One morning late in the week I brought my laptop to the garden to get some writing done. I snapped this photo when the kids walked by. My eldest son is in the center, in the red shirt.

Last week my boys participated in a summer day camp at the botanical garden! It was so much fun!

My eldest son has participated in local summer and winter day camps since he was five-years-old. Last year, my six-year-old was five and could finally enroll in one of the summer camps at the botanical garden, which was a week-long half-day camp. He was very nervous about it,  but he ended up loving it. Then he got to attend the three-day spring camp there with his brother this year too.

When my eldest son was five, there were several mini-camps available at the nature center, and I’m sad those don’t seem to be available anymore. He participated in a lot of those, and I feel a little bad that my younger son doesn’t get to participate in as many programs as his older brother did, but I guess it all evens out when you consider all the extra things he does get to do because he has an older brother, and his older brother didn’t have those opportunities.

Getting ready to leave for camp in the a.m.

I think camps are especially useful for homeschoolers because the kids get to interact with regular school kids. There are tons of different summer day camps. Whatever your child is interested in, there is probably a camp for it. You just have to try them out and see what you like best.

My son is a big nature boy, so we tried a week-long camp at the nature center two years ago (which they still offer), but it was not a good fit after all. My son didn’t like it and said he’d never go back. We’ve also done pottery camps (very good!) and a robotics camp (mediocre), but we love the botanical garden camps the best. Usually we let him do two camps each year, but this year we needed to save money, so we let each boy pick one camp each. They wanted to go back to the botanical garden, and they also picked the same week, which helped cut down on driving for us.

My six-year-old performed in a skit with his group at the end of the week for the parents. He’s sitting down in the orange and white striped shirt.

Even though they took the camp together, they were separated into different groups by age, which I’m glad about. Sometimes the boys can use some time away from each other!

This year’s camp was titled Forest Explorers and Early Civilizations. The kids learned about ancient cultures and how they used the forests for survival. I also love the botanical garden camps because my boys get a good dose of nature while they attend, and since the garden limits how many kids can attend, it’s not an overwhelming experience. Plus, I think the garden staff takes care of the kids better than in other programs they’ve attended.

I love the orchids and always take photos of them whenever I’m at the garden.

This was the first time I was going to have a whole week without both boys to take care of, so I was planning to get so. much. done. I was so excited. Unfortunately, I got sick right before the camp, and all I wanted after that was for both boys to stay healthy so that they could complete the camp. So I took great pains to not expose my germs to them. It paid off because they made it through the whole camp. Yay!

But I got very little done.😦 Oh well. At least I was able to rest, and I can always look forward to next year.

Nature Watch: Cope’s Tree Frog

You’ll never guess where we found this beautiful little frog!

It was in our upstairs bathroom! We have no idea how it got there. This is actually the second time we’ve found a frog inside our house. Both times, we thought perhaps our dog had brought it in and dropped it, but now I’m wondering if somehow they came up through the toilets. That’s the only pipe large enough for them to fit through, and somewhere I heard that can happen. But who knows?

He appeared quite healthy and undamaged but also a little bewildered. We caught him, put him in a little bowl with some water to hydrate him and then released him immediately in our front yard.

I was able to identify this little guy as a Cope’s Tree Frog. The inner thigh is bright yellow or orange, and if you look closely at my photo, you can see a spot of yellow under his hind leg. This frog is small and still growing. Hopefully he found his way up to the top of a tree where they like to live.