After five years in school, will homeschooling be a fit for our family? Walk with us as we try to find out!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Scenes from a Piano Recital

Two weeks ago Saturday, we had our piano recital!  It was truly a wonderful event.  We are so, so blessed with our piano teacher- local friends if you are looking for one, call me :)  He is the kindest, most encouraging person I know- and I am not exaggerating.  He makes every kid feel like a maestro and every mom feel like she is doing a phenomenal job raising her children.  And if all that wasn't enough, he is also a great musician and piano teacher.  The boys have come so far in only one year at the piano and we are very proud of them.

Warning: I put this short video together using iMovie and video from my iPhone.  I have no idea why everything is so distorted and stretched out horizontally and I am too lazy to try again.  After all, I am almost two weeks late with this post already.  

So without further ado, I give you TS 1 & 2 on piano:

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Oh, the Piles!

I don't have any earthly idea what possessed me yesterday, but I decided to begin the process of switching out the books and materials from this year and organizing the stuff for next year.  Perhaps I simply got tired of tripping over the pile of boxes and bags from the convention.  After I cleared everything out from the bookshelves, boxes and bags, I got a little overwhelmed.  I had to walk away for a little while.  Once I got back to it, though, I was focused.  We went from this: 

to this.

It looks pretty good, yes?  But there is still this

and this
to deal with!

I want my mommy!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

10 Reasons for Our Classical Christian/Charlotte Mason Approach

I will start off by saying that I don't pretend to be anywhere near an expert on homeschooling styles.  After all, we only just completed our first year of homeschooling a mere three days ago!  We had a fairly clear mission for our homeschool from the start though for a variety of reasons.  That mission, coupled with wise counsel I received from seasoned homeschooling friends, helped form our homeschool approach.  I am certain our style will change a bit over time to fit our life circumstances, but for now we love how the mix of a Classical Christian/Charlotte Mason style is working for our family.  

Here are our Top 10 Reasons for using this approach in our homeschool:

1.  Learning Together
The Classical Model has allowed us to study the humanities, science and health together while continuing to challenge each of our test subjects at their own level in each of these subjects.  We study the same material, yet expect a different level of reading and/or writing from each test subject.  For example, using Tapestry of Grace this year, we studied many important figures in history together using read alouds and Story of the World.  In addition, TS 2, a lower grammar student, read picture books about each of these historical figures and completed a lap book about each on his own.  TS 1, an upper grammar student, read chapter books about these figures and completed a lap book with more detailed information about each historical figure.  Studying the same subject together minimizes prep work for mom and maximizes family bonding and shared interests.

2.  Living Books 
Using living books, a hallmark of the Charlotte Mason (CM) approach, has brought a love of learning back into the study of humanities and science for our boys.  I attribute the use of living books for history and science to be a major factor in the their enjoyment of these subjects this year.  

3.  Eliminating Busy Work
Through the use of Classical and CM materials, we have eliminated busy work in our home school.  Even in subjects like Math and Language Arts, we have been able to make each assignment count since it can be uniquely tailored to each test subjects' learning level.  Don't misunderstand me, the boys still complete worksheets and practice drills.  However, the amount of time spent on these activities can be minimized by the individual nature of homeschooling.

4.  The Gift of Time
CM believed that academic work was not the be all and end all of a solid education.  Instead she preferred that students focus on their fundamental skills in the morning, leaving the afternoon free for nature study and creative pursuits.  While we do work some in the afternoons to ensure that we meet our state's criteria for time spent in home school, the elimination of "homework" after school hours has given our boys the gift of time to explore their own interests and develop their gifts.

5.  Working with Their Natural Abilities
The Classical model purports that children in the grammar stage have a natural ability and affinity for memorization of facts.  While they are not yet ready for making connections between these facts on their own, we can begin to develop that process by discussing these connections with them.  We have tried to adhere to these ideas with our test subjects this year and working with their natural stages like this brought our their strengths and minimized their weaknesses.

Since TS 1 will be in the dialectic level next year, we brought up possible connections across facts and subjects more often with him than TS 2.  We saw that eventually he began to make some connections  on his own as well, signaling that he is ready to move out of the grammar stage into a more thoughtful stage.  

That being said, both boys memorized so much more information that I ever could have this year.  From poems, to history facts, to math facts, to science facts, I would love to have their ability to retain and recall information!

6.  Christ-Centered Education
We intentionally chose many Christian resources for our homeschool, such as Tapestry of Grace for history and Apologia for science, so that faith and learning are interwoven in a natural way.  These resources are in no way preachy, but instead assume that the user has accepted the Word of God as truth and they endeavor to build on that worldview.  We love that "religion" or "Bible" is not a separate subject to complete, but instead God is at the center of all aspects of our lives, including our academic pursuits.

7.  Room for Interest Led Learning
I love the term "interest led learning" that I first heard on Mary's blog.  As I think about what I have loved about our homeschool style this year, the room it has allowed for interest led learning definitely makes the top 10 list.  Many believe that a classical curriculum leaves no room for flexibility or delving deeper into the student's interests, but we have found the opposite to be true.  We have had the freedom, for example, to move more quickly through certain history or science units by reading and completing only the core assignments when the content is not riveting or enriching.  This gave us time to camp out on the units that fascinated us, devouring all the in depth resources and even finding more on our own.

8.  Tutorial Model
Both the Classical and CM models assume that children are able to work independently for some period of time each day. In fact, they should be working on their own, developing their own "relationships" as CM would call them to what they are learning without the influence of or interference from the teacher.  Using this tutorial model has helped me keep my sanity during this experiment of ours.  I can count on each test subject working independently for part of each day, which allows me time to work one on one with the other.

9.  Comfort and Stretching
Combining the Classical and CM approaches in our homeschool has provided opportunities for comfort and stretching for me as a teacher.  The Classical model is certainly more comfortable for me as I am generally a structured and organized person, which has made this first year of homeschooling doable.  The CM model has caused me to think more deeply about our educational goals and how to meet them while instilling a love of learning in the test subjects.  It has stretched me out of my comfort zone, pulled me away from the checklists and perfectly planned schedules to see educational opportunities outside of the homeschool classroom.

10.  Wise Counsel
I know I've said this before, but it bears repeating. We could not have had such a successful first year of homeschooling without the counsel and encouragement of seasoned homeschooling friends.  They spent lots of time with me, my friend Jen in particular, going over different curricula and how they might mesh with our homeschool mission.  Without this kind of guidance, I would imagine the vast number and variety of options out there could be overwhelming and disheartening.  

Next year, I hope to include even more of CM's wonderful ideas into our homeschool while maintaing all of the gifts we have received from our Classical Christian curricula.  

What is your homeschool style?  Leave a comment or link to your blog post.  I'd love to read about it!

Two weeks ago, I wrote the top 10 reasons we love homeschooling and many of those reasons could have fit here today as well.  Check out that post in you are interested learning more about how our homeschool works.

Top Ten Tuesday at Many Little Blessings

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Summer's Here and Here's the Plan!

Summer break started just yesterday for us here at the lab, and in an effort to ward off the "I'm boreds" that are sure to arrive by Monday, I've come up with a little plan :)  Our summer is shaping up to be a mix of pool and playdates, time to veg out at home and a few mini-vacations and one week of summer day camp for all three test subjects- all with a little bit of math and reading sprinkled in. 

I know we all want a break from the more regimented days of the school year.  And, yes, we do need a change!  However, I have discovered, for our family anyway, that it is best to have a loose routine even during the summer.  An hour or two at home in the morning for chores and some "school" work and then the rest of the day for fun in the sun is how we have managed a balance here for the past three summers.

For two summers consecutively, when the test subjects were 3, 5 and 8 and then 4, 6 and 9, we worked through the wonderful books and activities found in Five in a Row (FIAR).  We were all enchanted by the rich stories and vivid illustrations in these classic picture books.  We often did a few corresponding activities for each book, as well as watched the DVDs that were available for some of the books. I highly recommend FIAR for families with small children!

Last summer, in preparation for our great homeschool experiment, we worked through Volume One of The Story of the World.  We wanted to join friends who were embarking on Year Two of world history this fall with Tapestry of Grace, so we read a chapter a day from The Story of the World: Ancient History.  This gave the test subjects an overview of world history from creation up to the Fall of Rome.  TS 1 & 2 each completed the map work for each chapter, while TS 3 worked on the chapter's corresponding coloring page.  Over the course of the summer we did a few enrichment activities and additional reading from the Activity Guide, but usually only if we had a slow week.

For this summer, I'd like each of the test subjects to begin their day with a devotional time.  TS 1 & 2 will continue working a few minutes a day in the Bible curriculum they used all year.  (You can find the links for them here, if you're interested.)  TS 2 will probably finish his curriculum sometime in the summer, while I expect TS 1 will continue with his into the fall.  While the boys have their devotional time independently, I will spend a few minutes with TS 3 in her new Explorer's Bible Study.  

After the devotional time, I'd like the boys to do a page or two in their math books.  TS 2 will continue to work through his Math Made Easy workbook, which we used this as a supplement to Math-U-See Beta this year.  TS 1 will continue to work through the second half of the Math-U-See Epsilon book.  

While the boys work on math, TS 3 and I will review the sight words and phonograms she learned in Kindergarten.  She is also doing a lesson here and there on Reading Eggs, which we both love, so she will continue that over the summer.  

Finally, as I mentioned in this post, inspired by my reading in A Charlotte Mason Companion and Honey for a Child's Heart, I've compiled a list of read alouds for the summer.  If you'd like to see my complete list, along with some of my thoughts about each book, check out this post.  I will definitely add some picture books to the mix, but here is what I am planning so far:

  • Charlotte's Web by E.B. White 
  • Homer Price by Robert Mc Closkey
  • The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett
  • Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne
  • Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia by C.S. Lewis
  • The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
  • Treasures of the Snow by Patricia St. John
  • The Light Princess by George Mac Donald
  • Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
  • Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
What are you planning for summer?  Feel free to post your plans in the comments or a link to your blog post there.  
Sharing a slice of summer with Heart of the Matter Online!
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Friday, June 15, 2012

Weekly Wrap Up: School's Out for Summer!

We started and ended our last week of homeschool the same way- with field trips!  On Monday, we went to an outdoor education center with our local homeschool support group.  Once there, the children broke into groups based on age.  The younger group, which included TS 2, went on two hikes and participated in activities using their senses to learn more about the natural world.  He really enjoyed all the activities.  

The older group was divided into two teams, who worked their way through challenges that required team work, problem solving and physical agility.  TS 1 loved it!

If you know me in real life, you know we are not really an outdoorsy family.  We spend plenty of time at baseball fields, beaches and pools, but nature walks and hikes are not really our thing.  With that said, I thought it was a great experience and even had the passing thought that we should try hiking as a family.

On Monday evening, we all headed to RA's school for Kindergarten Awards Night.  It was so sweet and I was choked up on more than one occasion during the ceremony.  Not only because our baby girl is not such a baby anymore, but also because the night represented the last special event we may celebrate at this wonderful school with the beautiful community we were blessed with there.

The test subjects spent Tuesday through Thursday  finishing up their final assignments for the year.  They completed all their academics on Thursday morning, just in time to pick up RA (soon to be TS 3) from her last day of school!

We then headed out to my sister's neck of the woods to watch my niece graduate from Pre-K.  

My beautiful sister and my nephew to be- soon and very soon!
We finished the first book on our summer wish list this morning, Charlotte's Web?  How does one get through the last two chapters of this book without struggling to read through the lump in the throat and shedding a few tears?  We are looking forward to watching the movie soon!

Later on this afternoon, we will tour replicas of two of Columbus's ships, the Nina and the Pinta with our local homeschool group!  Since we studied Columbus this year, this last minute field trip opportunity meshed perfectly with our history work.  Pictures to come next week :)

And that, my friends, wraps up our first year of homeschooling!  

I'd love to have you stop by here tomorrow, if you can spare a moment.  I will have a post up detailing our summer plans.  And, if you missed it, check out the Top 10 Read Alouds on Our Summer Wish List.

What are you planning for summer?  Feel free to post your plans in the comments or a link to your blog post there.  

Homegrown Learners

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Top 10 Read Alouds on Our Summer Wish List

As I mentioned in my last Weekly Wrap Up post, I've been having a blast devouring A Charlotte Mason Companion and Honey for a Child's Heart these last few weeks.  As part of our summer plan (more to come soon, I promise!), I've compiled the following Top 10 Read Alouds on Our Summer Wish List:

1.  Charlotte's Web by E.B. White 
We are currently reading this wonderful classic together.  The boys had it read aloud to them at school in first grade, but neither remember the story line very much.  It's TS 3's first time entering the world on Zuckerman's farm.  We are truly enjoying this gem so far and each time I close the book until next time, it is usually met with pleas for just one more chapter.  I love it!

2.  Homer Price by Robert Mc Closkey
I chose this book based on the recommendation in Honey for a Child's Heart.  Sandwiched between two poignant books, I'm hoping Homer Price will bring some light-hearted comic relief!

3.  The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett
Oh, how I loved this book as a little girl!  Such a beautiful and captivating story.  I only hope the test subjects will love it like I did!

4.  Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne
Can you believe we have never read this classic?  I hope the boys do not think it too babyish for them.  I just know TS 3 will adore Pooh and his adventures!

5.  Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia by C.S. Lewis
We listened to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe audiobook this spring and fell in love with the characters and magic of Narnia.  TS 1 and I enjoyed the Christian symbolism that is all at once obvious yet beautifully subtle in the tale.  We are tackling Prince Caspian next in the series, following the reading order recommended by many and found here.

6.  The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham
I chose this book simply because it was recommended so often and so enthusiastically in the pages of Honey for a Child's Heart.  I did not read this book as a child, so I am looking forward to experiencing it for the first time with my children.

7.  Treasures of the Snow by Patricia St. John
Another new book for us heartily endorsed in Honey for a Child's Heart.  

8.  The Light Princess by George Mac Donald
When I learned that the George Mac Donald profoundly influenced C.S. Lewis, I could not pass up this tale of a princess rescued by one who loved her enough to die for her.

9.  Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
Another Honey for a Child's Heart recommendation for a fun and humorous read.

10.  Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
An adventure story set in pioneer Wisconsin in the 1860's filled with excitement, humor and fun?  Count us in!

Top Ten Tuesday at Many Little Blessings

Friday, June 8, 2012

Weekly Wrap Up: The One with Recognition Night

On Saturday, we attended our first Homeschool Recognition Night sponsored by our local homeschool support group.  It was a very special night.  All the children were called up by name to receive a certificate of promotion and/or achievement.  Some of the children chose to perform as well, either playing a musical instrument or giving a speech or skit.  Most families also brought a few pieces of art work that were displayed in the fellowship room after the event.  

We kicked off our second to last week of homeschool with a fantastic field trip on Monday.  We took a cruise offered through the local aquarium to learn about the creatures living in the sound.  The guides used three different methods of pulling up creatures from the sound for the kids to see, touch and hear about.  It was very educational as well as entertaining.

Tuesday through Friday were productive days at home.  TS 2 completed First Language Lessons this week, so his work load has really dwindled to a few academics each day plus reading and piano practice.  It looks like we are on track to end our school year next week as we hoped!

Wednesday was the highlight of the week for TS 2 and RA who both started swimming lessons!

Our Tapestry of Grace books arrived and along with all the other curricula from the convention, it was getting a bit tight in our little homeschool room.  I started boxing up the materials we are finished using and shelving some of the new books.

As I mentioned last week, I am reading A Charlotte Mason Companion and loving it.  I am learning a few new things, but primarily I am getting validation for the choices we made this year as far as our homeschool style goes as well as encouragement as I plan for next year.  

I also started reading this gem this week:

And wow, it is the perfect book to be reading alongside A Charlotte Mason Companion!  I am busily compiling a list of read alouds for the summer using this book, my memories of cherished childhood books and suggestions from my Facebook friends.  I couldn't wait for summer, though, so we started reading this wonderful book together in the evenings this week.

If you're wondering what the final results of Our Great Homeschool Experiment are, well you will have to wait for our official findings to be published!  You can get a sneak peek here, though, if you're dying of curiosity :)

Homegrown Learners

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Top 10 Reasons We Love Homeschooling

I thought it would be fun to chime in with all the other bloggers who are writing today about their Top 10 Reasons for Homeschooling.  

Top Ten Tuesday at Many Little Blessings

Here are the Top Ten Reasons We LOVE Homeschooling:
10.  Work at Your Own Level
Since we do not need to keep up or hold back for a class full of other students, the test subjects move at their own pace in each academic area.  If one is great at math, he can move more quickly through the lessons or skip them all together in favor of more challenging math material.  If language arts is tripping one up, we can put the curriculum aside and spend some time developing concepts or basic skills.

9.  Work at Your Own Pace
There is very little fluff or down time in a typical homeschool day.  After dropping RA off at school, the test subjects work until about 10:30 a.m.  Unless one is particularly unmotivated on a given day, a good bulk of the core academics can get accomplished in that two hour block of time.  After snack and a short break, another 90 minutes of work will often cover all the core academics leaving the afternoon for lighter activities such as read-alouds, piano practice, leisure reading, etc.  

8.  Flexibility
As homeschoolers, we have the freedom to decide what is important each day and what can wait.  Our schedule of work and activities can and does vary depending on our goals for each day or for the week.  If an impromptu but fun and enriching field trip arises, we are often able to seize the opportunity by simply rearranging our schedule and workload for the day.  

If my parents call to see if they can stop by for a quick visit, we can switch up our breaks and meals to take advantage of their time.  And yes, there are times we have to say no to something else in favor of hitting the books, but that is a choice not a mandate for us.   

7.  More Free Time
Minimizing down time maximizes free time.  Assuming the test subjects are focused, formal school work is usually done by the time we pick up RA from school.  That means they have all afternoon free to pursue their interests.  (We make sure they are engaged in healthy activities by limiting screen time.)  Play dates have become the norm not the exception, as we have time for socializing with friends now.  TS 1 is able to play baseball and attend all the practices and clinics he wants as he has the time in his schedule.  My children have time to be children and we all love this aspect of homeschooling.

6.  No Homework
This was the bane of our existence in previous years.  Homework was at least an hour each afternoon (factoring in the whining and dawdling) and could reach upwards of two hours depending on the work load and attitudes.  It was a misery for all involved and the elimination of homework has surely made this home a happier place!

5.  Fostering a Love of Learning
Not two days ago, TS 1 spontaneously told me how he loves history and science this year.  On numerous occasions last year, he told me how he hated these two subjects.  I am convinced that forgoing uninspiring textbooks and workbooks for living books, maps and journaling has brought joy back into the process of learning.

4.  Delving Deeper
As a result of having more time and using living books in our curriculum, we often have the opportunity to delve deeper into areas of interest in subjects like history and science.  Recently, for example, we have all enjoyed learning about and reading Shakespeare.  We have read together about him in The Story of the World.  We have read his famous works in Children's Shakespeare.  Both test subjects are reading their own in depth history and literature books about him as part of their TOG studies.  TS 2 even decided to read Who Was Shakespeare? on his own.  
History and science are interesting, engaging, alive and applicable to our lives because we can delve deeper into each.  

3.  Being Together
I'll be honest here, one of the main reasons I never seriously considered homeschooling before is that I didn't think I could handle being on duty 24/7/365.  Don't get me wrong, I love my kids.  I enjoy my kids.  However, truth  be told, I'm a bit lacking in the patience department.  Not to mention the fact that I am sure I have sensory integration disorder, which means I crave peace, quiet and alone time each day.  So, I have been excited to see how God has equipped me to do this homeschooling thing!  Am I still lacking in patience and craving quiet at times?  Yes!  But I am also truly enjoying our time together as a family and looking forward to bringing RA into the mix.  On the really bad days, when I am worn out and the test subjects seem to have added whining and bickering to their daily assignment sheet, I fantasize about dropping them off on carline.  But those days have been few and far between and I am truly grateful for the gift of time together we have now as a homeschooling family!

2.  The Comforts of Home
There is just something so appealing about pulling a tray table up to your comfy couch and getting to work.  
Snack and lunch become a natural part of the day, taking place just a few steps from where we work.  "Recess" is right outside our back door.  If someone is unusually tired or under the weather, a short flight of stairs and a quick rest or nap will often do the trick.  We don't have to lose an entire day of learning as we would if one had to stay home from school.   

1.  Discipleship and Character
Because we are together 24/7/365 I have more opportunities to teach the test subjects what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  They each have Bible curriculum they are working through and most mornings before we get RA off to school, we read a short selection from a children's Bible together.  Even more important that those things though, I believe, is that we chose their entire curriculum based on how each subject fit into a Biblical world view.  We don't want God to be something they think about on Sundays.  We want Him to be a living, active person in their lives.  We want our children to make decisions as adults based on God's will for their lives and out of a desire to please Him.  

Of course being together so much also means there will be more opportunities to rub one another the wrong way.  This can be a drain on my own attitude and energy at times.  This process is not always fun, but is certainly most important.  I am seeing some changes and growth in the test subjects, especially recently since we instituted the practice of a peacemaking couch, and I am expecting more fruit over time.

How about you?  What are your Top 10 Reasons for Homeschooling?  Feel free to share them or a link to your own post in the comments!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Homeschool Showcase!

Kris at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers is featuring my Convention Wrap Up and Tips post in her Homeschool Showcase today.  There are several other great posts being featured there today, so head on over and check out today's Homeschool Schowcase!