Archive | April, 2011

Homeschooling Lessons Learned for Next Year

7 Apr

Believe it or not
I’m already thinking about what our plans for homeschool next year.  I’ve been evaluating what worked and what didn’t work, and I’d like to get a jump start on things.  Last summer, I used a week of mornings while Mustard Seed was at Vacation Bible School to do my planning.  I got a lot done, but I’d like to get more in place before we begin this coming August. I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned.

In the next post, I’d like to lay out some organizational strategies I’ve been using (yes, I do have some) that utilized things I already had and you may, too.  Obviously, these won’t work for everyone’s style, but perhaps they’ll be useful to others.

1.  It’s very hard to cover a whole Year Plan of Tapestry of Grace in one Year, and it can get confusing if you’re not using all the programs they recommend.  It’s easy to pile on too much and not have assignments integrated enough.  I was warned about this in advance, but ToG just has so much great stuff to do, you really have to treat it as a buffet of possibilities, not requirements.  Trouble is, the buffet all looks so good!  The issue was really decided for me for Year 2 because such a long period of time is covered by ToG’s Year 2 Plan–from the fall of Rome all the way to the Colonial Period.  That’s a bit too much for me, and also doesn’t correspond to Well-Trained Mind, though, to tell the truth, I’m not so overly concerned as I once was with doing everything according to WTM.  I’ve heard Marcia Sommerville, the ToG author, say that the reason earlier historical periods receive a shorter amount of time in comparison to later periods is because she believes a lot more has taken place since 1850 or so and that it’s more important to understand those events.  Perhaps I’m distorting what she said; however, if I’m not, I don’t think I’m on board with the latter half  of that statement.  That’s why I’ve decided we will only do the first half of ToG’s Year 2 Plan this coming year, which will cover through the Reformation.  What I will do the following year about covering all of Year 3 and the second half of Year 2, I’m not sure.  I’m pretty sure we’ll survive somehow though.

2.  I’ve also decided to give the Fine Arts of ToG and the recommended texts for Writing a try. This year, we were going to use Drawing with Children and Baby Lamb’s Book of Art for our art program, along with an Usbourne book on art history that I picked up.  I think that’s been a bit too haphazard.  On the other hand, ToG has a plan for art study that dovetails perfectly with the history being studied, primarily using Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting, and of course, ToG has a whole slough of great crafts that double as both History and Art.  ToG recommends the Write Source materials.  I’m having trouble determining from their website whether I like them or not, so I’m going to go look at them at The Homeschool Store to determine whether we’ll actually use them.  ToG comes with writing topics as well.  I hope I’ll like them because I think it will make everything simpler–not to mention utilize what I already have better–if when I sit down to look at the weekly ToG assignment pages, I’m not always having to sub in some other program for what they have written down for these two subjects.

3.  Integrate! I think this will be my mantra for the coming year.  I want for Mustard Seed’s assignments in various subjects to either reinforce one another or kill two birds with one stone.  For example, I bought Writing with Ease for this year because I didn’t want to have to plan what I would give her for copywork.  I like WWE just fine; the selections are lovely.  The problem was that since we had not made plans to actually read those pieces of literature in their entirety, it turned out to be frustrating.  Mustard Seed wanted to read the whole selection.  I also felt like the narration from the limited passages was not very meaningful without having heard the whole stories.  In addition, I felt like there was too much overlap between the skills covered in Writing with Ease and First Language Lessons, which we also got, and too much repetition and not enough forward momentum in FFL.  It isn’t hard to select copywork.  This coming year, I plan to choose passages myself from literature or Bible selections or summarize history or science topics we’re learning about already.  I don’t think this even needs to be part of a separate subject; it can be incorporated into those subjects themselves as a weekly or bi-weekly task.  The same goes for dictation.

4.  Work the plan(s) you have. I spent good money on Tapestry of Grace, Math U See and Spelling Power, among others.  These programs recommend a way of doing things, and there is good sense in at least giving that plan the old college try.  Spelling Power, is one in particular that has a lot of great resources which we haven’t used, and we haven’t used the 5-Day routine outlined in the book.  As a result, I think Spelling could have been both more fun and better retained.  Part of why I didn’t is that I never got around to reading all the stuff in Spelling Power that’s addressed to the parent.  I think it will be vital for me to do that with all the programs, taking notes and incorporating those systems into my daily plans as I go along.  Why not make use of what I already have?

5.  Use a cohesive science program. I planned to follow Well-Trained Mind’s recommendations for Science this year.  We got the Kingfisher Encyclopedia of Animals, and fortunately, I got the Christian Liberty Science Readers to round that out and planned to use some of Jancie Van Cleave’s great kids’ science books.  We have learned about the different classes of vertebrates and invertebrates.  We have studied a variety of animals and done some nature study.  Yet somehow, I feel like we need to do more.  I don’t think we do as well with only self-made programs that require any planning once the school year is underway.  I need simply to be told what to do at that point.  I think a program like Apologia will be the kind of thing we need, along with its Notebooks, so I plan to get both the text and the Notebook for Earth Science/Astronomy.  The text does look a little boring, though there are pictures, but they already have experiments laid out for you, as well as questions on the text and stuff you can collect or illustrate for your notebook.  You do about half a chapter per week, and you’d probably still have time to supplement with some nature study, museum visits, videos, or other texts.

6.  Share learning goals for the year with Mustard Seed and make the progress through them visual and accessible. I think Mustard Seed will really benefit from knowing what exactly she’s expected to do in order to get to 3rd grade and what that means she has to do from day to day.  I think she needs both the big picture and the short-term picture.  The short-term so she can see why it is we can’t run off to the park right now but that it’s not an impossibility, if she gets a certain finite amount of work done.  (No, I do not plan to keep you chained up in the school room indefinitely!) The big picture so she can see her overall progress and hopefully  be motivated by it.  I thought of perhaps making some thermometers we could color in gradually as we do each week’s work, like they do for fundraisers.

7.  Also on the subject of teaching her to take ownership of her work, help Mustard Seed to keep a written schedule. I’m not the kind of person who likes to be overly rigid, but I do think it would be useful for Mustard Seed to see, side by side, what we have to do each week and how much time we have to do it.  I’m going to give her her own Weekly Assignment Sheet as well as a day minder of some kind that has REALLY WIDE LINES, and then we’ll sit down each week and talk about the week’s events (American Heritage Girls, doctor’s appointments, errand day, etc.) and block out time for them.  That way when she comes asking to do a big project like plan a major surprise party for someone in one afternoon (which happens OFTEN), we will be able to consult the schedule and plan a time do something like what she has in mind.  Or if there’s not time, hopefully she’ll be able to see why it’s not possible.  As with the thermometers, it’s about giving her a visual tool with which to manage her time and know where she stands.

Wherein I Give an Account of the Last 2 Months of My Life

6 Apr

The other morning I said, “If it doesn’t rain, I’ll eat my hat.”  (I don’t own any hats.) It was so gray outside, we were having to turn lights on in the house in the middle of the day, something I usually try to avoid.  It was hot inside, and I thought that it must be one of those sticky pre-storm days.  When I finally went outside in the afternoon, I felt cheated to find it was actually a cool 60 degrees.  By the time Mustard Seed’s dance class was over, the gray had cleared and the most delicious sun was shining from a blue sky, accompanied by a wind just the right temperature to make me want to ride around with my windows down.

The bluebonnets, pink primroses and other wildflowers are in bloom along all the highways. They followed on the heels of several weeks of prolific redbud and pear blossoms.  Everything is greening up, the new leaves at first simply adorning the naked slashes of branches and underbrush that make up the forest, then becoming the forest itself.  I get to take them in, along with the green expanses of farms as I drive Mustard Seed and her friend on the rural-ish route to and from the class every other week.  These are the days that make anyone think it might not be crazy to live in Texas.  Come some August day at 3:00 in the afternoon, when one should be napping like the sensible Bedouins but is actually toting groceries or children or some such nonsense, the only thing that will prevent me from setting up house on an iceberg in Alaska will be the memory of these spring days.

I have some birds setting up house in the portico by my front door. I think they may be swifts.  I would have thought it impossible for a bird to build a nest there, since the only surface is about a half-inch wide, but they have been working very hard on bringing mud to stick onto the wall.  By the end of the week, they may have completed a home that will appear to be completely suspended in air.  This arrangement will not come without the risk of needing dry cleaning after walking out the front door and will generate cleaning chores for the human residents here, but what it may make in mess will be more than made up for in bird-watching opportunities, since they’ve managed to position themselves right in front of a large window.

Some other noteworthy events:

The next two weeks my sister-in-law is visiting us. This was, of course, preceded by a massive, week-long cleaning session.  If you are reading this and are related to me by marriage, please ignore what I just said and continue to think that my house is always a sparkling beacon of cleanliness! 😉  I used to think that one had to achieve a clean house and then invite people over, but I think I’ve had the wrong idea all along.  What really works is to invite people over; then you will be shamed into cleaning up before company arrives.  I think this works with all commitment to a certain extent, provided that you don’t overextend yourself to begin with.

I’m getting closer to having a vegetable garden. I bought myself concrete blocks with my birthday money and hauled them to the backyard—all 30 or so of them—in 30 minutes before I had to go to a meeting.  As night fell quickly afterward, the Headmaster did not have the opportunity to see what I had done until two days later, at which time he scolded me soundly for allegedly not having planned or leveled my new garden.  If it grows food, I personally don’t care, but when you’re married to a man who missed his calling as an engineer, you have to pay attention things like leveling and squaring and planning to the nth degree any construction you might dream up in your pretty little head.  The good news is that said leveling and squaring has now been achieved, and I am cleared to fill my little rectangle with soil and plant seeds.  (In the clay soil of our area, most vegetables have to be planted in raised beds.)  I’m very excited about this.

Also, my fig tree is not quite dead yet.  I did absolutely nothing to protect it when it froze several times earlier this year, but it doesn’t seem mad at me for that.  My lemon tree sulked and turned yellowy-brown, but it seems to have gotten over that.  Now if only it would grow, not just stay alive.

School is coming along. We are up to speed in math and have finished our reading goal for first grade.  We are almost done with the handwriting book.  Tapestry of Grace (history, geography, and literature) is another matter.  We’re not missing out on literature because we do lots of reading books, but I think we may have History catch-up this summer.  It may actually be more fun that way, since we’ll be better able to do some of the crafts and projects.

I’ve been reading one of the books on my list, Pilgrim’s Regress by C.S. Lewis. It’s a bit more dense than I thought.  It’s not that it’s hard to read, although I just kind of skip over all the Latin and assume I will go back and look it up later. Sigh.  This book is an allegory, so it’s more that I’m not entirely sure what all the different characters are supposed to represent and what the nuances are between them.  I’m looking forward to having some sort of classic literature discussion group this summer.  Keeping it strictly Shakespeare has been proposed, but reading some other authors might be nice, too.

After stumbling on Kitchen Stewardship a few months ago, I’ve been going around telling all my friends about it and reading it regularly.  This blog’s author could be described as a “real foodist.”  She’s not vegan or grain-free or anything like that, but she is opposed to processed foods.  She’s also awesome at meal planning and stretching the food you have.  I’ve been trying to implement some of what she has on the site.  I made homemade deodorant a month or two ago because I think it’s a simple way to eliminate some toxins I was putting on my body every day (and chemicals that were being produced).  I HATE health food store deodorants because they’ve never worked for me.  Katie’s recipe was really simple, smells nice and works just fine.  I also finally got some raw milk, and from that, I made some homemade butter.  I felt just like Laura Ingalls Wilder—except with a blender.  Up next on the list are homemade yogurt, bone broth and homemade snacks.