Right Along Here

When I was young and traveling somewhere by car with my dad — and I think my Aunt Carolyn said this once too — I would ask, “Where are we?” and he would answer, “Right along here.”

When I thought about writing something today this seemed like the perfect title for this post because quite frankly, I don’t have any focus for this blog post. We have finished up our homeschool year, and we’ll be getting to the new one in due time. We just had birthday week, but we all got sick, so it wasn’t quite what anyone was expecting (and that’s okay), but it has driven me off the course I was expecting to go. I am not ready for anything. I have nothing checked off my to do list. And now I need to get ready for an upcoming adventure that I will tell you about another day, but none of that has anything to do with planning lessons, keeping house or getting work done. But that’s okay.

We’re right along here.

When I think about our daily life as homeschoolers, I realize that Life can interrupt us quite a bit. We get sick once or twice a year, or if we’re unlucky, more times than that. Some major house repair or a cleaning spree suddenly needs to happen. I realize we need to go shopping for clothes because everything is getting too small!  (Did I mention I have a seven-year-old and a ten-year-old now?! Wow. Just wow.) Or, I get tired, and I need to take a few days off. I need to watch Poldark on Amazon Prime. Life can toss you a wrench in many ways.

In short, Life is our routine with a series of bumps and interruptions that we navigate around and climb over constantly. And while sometimes that can be a little frustrating, it’s also good. It’s Life. Those bumps and interruptions make it more interesting, and we must embrace them.

We’re right along here.

So despite being sick, the boys had pretty good birthdays. My seven-year-old decided to first come down with the virus on his birthday and then give his brother and me the gift of illness. But he wasn’t that sick yet on his birthday, so he enjoyed a day of visitors and spending his birthday money, homemade cake and going out to dinner, etc.

My 10-year-old, however, was just about as sick as he could be on the morning of his birthday, so I did hear him said, “This is the worst birthday ever,” which I had to agree with, but by the evening, things improved. Now we are all recuperating and slowly getting back to normal.

Luckily I wasn’t as sick as I was in June. (Yes, this was my second summer cold. Hmfp.) You know, there are illnesses that make you go flat on your back, and then there are illnesses where you can walk around and do simple things, but please no thinking involved. This is how I felt. So on the first day when I just had a bad sore throat, I was able to at least walk around the yard, and I visited the praying mantis that lives on my son’s carnivorous plants (he’s a smart praying mantis, I think), and I found those beautiful little mushrooms, and I sketched a Carolina Chickadee. I haven’t been very good about sketching every week, but I do try to get the sketchbook out now and then. These down days are perfect for that.

Before we ever got sick and before the birthday week, I happily helped my son begin a new building project. He hasn’t wanted to build anything in a long time, and I think that’s because he’s so focused on piano. But I’m glad to see that when he has time, that urge creeps back up. Unfortunately, he never went back to finish this project, and I doubt he will. But, still, yay for the creative morning.

As I mentioned before, this summer didn’t quite feel like a summer. It was so hot that we didn’t get to venture into nature as much as I would have liked. But we did make it one day to Zoo Atlanta when we were pining to get out of the house. It was deadly hot, but the zoo has a lot of shade, and we were delighted to see that the flamingoes had babies!

It’s time for me to think about some posts describing plans for our 4th grade year and 1st grade year, and I’m sure somewhere on my to do list I have plans for other posts, but like I said…

We’re right along here.

Where are you?

Birthday Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

find me elsewhere

We’ve been doing a lot of painting & drawing this week! I’ll write about that soon.

I have neglected to update you on my posts over on the home/school/life blog these last few months, so I’ve got a lot here for you to read over the weekend. (If you want to!)😉

Citizen Science Project #2: The Great Backyard Bird Count

Citizen Science Project #3: Budburst

Citizen Science Projects #4 & #5: Project Noah & iNaturalist

Citizen Science Project #6: Citizen Science Soil Collection Program

Stuff We Like: 4.15.16

Stuff We Like: 7.15.16

At Home With the Editors: Shelli’s Kindergarten

At Home With the Editors: Shelli’s 3rd Grade

Don’t Cut the Screen Time — Just Make Sure It Counts

Getting the Education I Didn’t Know I Craved

The Music Gap That Filled Itself

Summer Has a Mind of Its Own

If you haven’t been to the home/school/life website in awhile, I urge you to take some time there. The Summer 2016 issue is out, and it’s full of great stuff! Besides a blog that Amy is updating every weekday, there is a store with some free stuff (and some stuff for sell and more stuff will be coming!), a podcast that I’m having a lot of fun listening to (it’s perfect for geeky homeschool moms!), and some online classes! That’s right. Amy has lined up some spectacular folks to teach some really interesting classes to homeschool students, and there will be more where that comes from. So please check it out!

The Difficulty With Homeschooling

This morning I had planned some lessons to do with the boys, and at breakfast, they reminded me of some things they wanted to learn, so we spent some time on the computer looking up videos to answer their questions.

My six-year-old’s question was: “What is bacteria, and how does it cause disease?”

My nine-year-old’s question was: “How do they turn trees into lumber?”

After watching a video for kids about bacteria and germs and also doing my best to explain it in easy terms, my six-year-old still wasn’t sure he understood what bacteria is or how it causes disease, but he was tired of trying to find out and didn’t want to explore the topic further. (Of course, I will at some point find a learning opportunity when I can help him understand this better. That always happens.) My nine-year-old enjoyed the videos though.

My nine-year-old also enjoyed the video about how lumber is made, but the six-year-old looked bored.

Then I had them watch a 15 minute video about the U.S. Constitution, which is in a series of videos on Amazon Prime. The nine-year-old said he liked it. The six-year-old was bored, and to tell the truth, I didn’t blame him. The video was more suited to my nine-year-old’s age, so I probably won’t make him watch these again. We’ll be going over U.S. History in many ways over the next several years.

Then I wanted to read them some books I got from the library which would hopefully show them the fun side of math. (We usually read fiction.) They were both stone-faced, sighing, and half falling asleep on the sofa while I read, so I fought the urge to get irritated and didn’t spend much time on those books. Then I told the six-year-old he could play while the nine-year-old and I worked on his science.

Unfortunately, in the science curriculum, we have finished the “experiment” (extracting DNA) in this week’s lesson, which my son enjoyed. Today we needed to finish filling out the experiment results sheet (I just required one sentence that I let him dictate to me), he needed to copy some definitions of vocabulary words (three words/one sentence each), and we were going to  go over the memory work again (verbally). (The five kingdoms, which he hasn’t been able to remember, although we’ve gone over it several times already.)

My nine-year-old (who his entire life has loved science) isn’t as attracted to science when he has to actually write something. But it’s not just science. It’s any subject that requires writing. (Sob….since that’s all subjects!)  It was a painful experience getting him to copy one sentence. It’s not that he can’t write…his handwriting is pretty good. He just hates doing it.

However, he willingly practices piano 2+ hours a day and memorizes the music fairly easy. And if you’ve been reading my blog all these years, you’ll know he’s quite an amazing kid who has accomplished many things. He’s smart and creative. But he hates writing. Obviously, this is a great argument for that whole issue of “Kids learn when they are interested in a subject. We shouldn’t make them learn things they aren’t interested in.” I am always wondering when to let go and when to push him forward.

While I want to homeschool my children so that they can spend more time on the things they are interested in, and I don’t like pointless busy work or excessive testing, I don’t think it’s wise to not cover certain areas of learning. I am not convinced that this will benefit every child once they are ready to move into the adult world. (Although, I’m sure there are examples of unschooled kids who go on to do great things because there’s always good examples in every educational option. Unfortunately, there are always bad examples too, which in my mind proves the point that every child is different, and every child needs an individualized educational path. Sometimes determining what that path is can be difficult though.)

The difficultly of homeschooling is that when I have these issues, it’s really only my husband and me who have to figure out the answer (not that we haven’t consulted with so-called “experts” on some matters). When kids go to school, you have lots of teachers and different people to ask their opinions about this or that. (This may be good or bad.) Sometimes there are extra services. You can opt out of them, if you don’t like them, but you can use them, if you want to use them.

You also have different people influencing your child. Again, this can be good or bad. Unfortunately, I think most of the influences children get in public school are not so good, but there are, of course, good influences. A child might perform better for his teacher than he would for his mother, etc. This is not a reason to not homeschool, but it is something to point out.

We usually have good homeschool days when I feel like we’ve covered a good variety of work and the boys benefitted from it. This wasn’t one of those days. That’s partly because I was trying out some new resources, and there’s nothing wrong with that…..I have to try things to see if they will work! Sometimes they don’t. But sometimes they do.

I feel confident that my nine-year-old will learn how to write well, though it may take him longer than some other kids. And I’m not even sure it’s correct to say “learn how to write.” He knows how to write; he just needs more practice.

I’m not sure how we’ll get over this hurdle, but I will keep doing what I’ve always done….take it slow, try different things, occasionally take breaks, occasionally push forward. I will ask other homeschoolers and the occasional “expert” what they think, but when it comes down to it, it’ll be up to my husband and me to figure out what is best for our son. Together we will ask our son, talk to him, encourage him, probably annoy him too, and eventually, I am sure, he’ll get it. He may never love writing, but I know he’ll be able to do it.

And, yes, part of me would love to just “unschool” him in this area. Let it happen when it happens. Or not. But for various reasons, I can’t and won’t do that. But we can, at least, go slow and look for ways to make it less painful for him.

{One thing I will be doing this fall is starting him on a keyboarding program. He might like typing better than handwriting, but we’ll continue to work on handwriting too.}

My experience with the PASS standardized test for homeschoolers

Here’s my son a week after taking the test, super proud of a fish he just caught!

This year my nine-year-old is in the third grade, and according to the law in Georgia, I’m required to have him tested every three years, starting in the 3rd grade. Fortunately, we do not have to show the results to anyone, so it seemed like a good way to assess how he’s doing. But as I started thinking about having to administer the test, and I went over a test prep book with him, I started to realize why teachers in our public schools are frustrated with all the testing going on. This was taking valuable time away from real learning!

And, frankly, I already know where he’s strong and where he’s weak. I am the closest person to him, teaching him all the fundamentals that he would be taught in traditional school. I know what he gets, and I know what he needs more work on, or what we haven’t gone over yet, and the test didn’t tell me anything new. So, it felt like a waste of our time to have to do this, but then again, it’s not a bad idea to occasionally assess how things are going, and unlike the public schools, we only have to do it every three years. I’m grateful for that!

I spent some time trying to research the different test options, and I mostly came up empty. At best, I found brief anecdotes by parents who had used a particular test and liked it or didn’t like it for whatever reason. There were no details about how to order and what testing my child would really look like, so that’s why I’m writing this post.

Because it seemed like the easiest to order and administer, I picked the Personalized Achievement Summary System (PASS test), which is produced by Hewitt Homeschooling. This test is similar to other standardized tests, but it’s made for homeschoolers so that it is easy to administer in their homes. Unfortunately, it’s not approved in every state, but the state of Georgia (and some others) has approved it, and I’m glad because it was easy to order and administer at home.

The first thing I liked about ordering the test, besides the simple online order form, was that I could pick the date I wanted the company to ship the test. So, if you’d like to get the ordering out of the way, but you know you won’t administer the test for another month or two, you can have them ship it a week before you want to use it. You have four weeks to use the test and then return it to Hewitt Homeschooling to have it scored. (You have to do this with every standardized test. You also have to pay for them in case you didn’t know that, which I didn’t know either when I started homeschooling. The PASS test was $36 for one student.)

The test has three sections in reading, language arts and math. When you get the test, you’ll need to carefully read the instructions (but they aren’t complicated) and administer a pre-test to determine what level of test to give to your child. (If you’ve used the test before, you won’t have to do this.) This is because each test booklet (reading, language arts and math) each contains all the levels, and they are numbered from approximately 1-25. (Or something like that — I don’t have the booklets anymore to refer to.) The levels DO NOT equal grade level.

The pre-test is simply 12 questions in each section. It took my son less than an hour to take the pre-test, and then I scored it, and there were instructions to tell me which level to give him for each subject. The instructions also tell you that you can read over the recommended level, and if you think it’s too hard or too easy, you can pick another level that you think is more appropriate for your child. It said a child should be able to answer at least 50%-90% of the questions correctly.

What I also like about the PASS test is that I didn’t have to time my son. He’s never taken a test before, so I really wasn’t sure how he’d feel about sitting there for a long time taking a test. But I took three days to administer the test, giving one section on each day. I let him take a 5-minute break half-way through each test. It took him about an hour to complete each section of the test. (I’m grateful he didn’t have to take all three sections on one day! Three hours would have been a long time.) But he had no problem taking the tests, especially since all it requires is shading in those little bubbles. He kept focused the whole time, and he told me he didn’t think they were too hard.

Once you’re finished, you have to return the bubble sheet with your child’s answers and another form to Hewitt Homeschooling. You need to use a cardboard mailer so that the answer sheet won’t get bent, and you’ll have to pay the postage. You sign a form stating that you will destroy the test booklets because they are under copyright law, and you should not show them to anyone else.

In a few weeks, Hewitt Homeschooling will send you your child’s scores, and not only do they give you your child’s raw score, they’ll give you a percentile of how your child did compared to other homeschoolers who took the same test, and on top of that, they’ll  give you a percentile of how your child did compared to a national standardized test. I have heard that other tests do not give you this much information, so it was helpful to see.

If you’re looking at the PASS test, I hope this was helpful to you. I’m happy to answer any other questions too.

Click here for a list of tests that Georgia homeschoolers can use.

 

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?