School Enjoyment

Although I’ve personally had a rough summer, I’m taking a few moments to count some of my blessings. Our homeschool is really high on the blessings list. I love the challenge of teaching my children, I’m happy to be sharing the world of beauty and knowledge and wisdom to them, and I am convinced this type of home education is a benefit to them.

Three weeks into the school year… what have we done that merits so much praise from myself? Let me make a list.

  • Five in a Row Volume 4: FIAR continues to be a winning curriculum choice for my girls. When I pulled out the first book on our list, Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran, all three children gasped and said something like, “I love that book! That’s one of my absolute favorites!” Building their own Roxaboxen in the upstairs family room was a fun adventure which included blankets, legos, Monopoly money, a store of stuffed animals, play food, and empty Mountain Dew cans.
  • Doing an archaeological dig in our little flower garden. I buried some recyclables and let the kids dig them up. Not too difficult, a little wormy, but overall pretty enjoyable, and it was a project that coincided with our history topic.
  • Creating treasure maps with brown pencil and watercolor. We made this fun art project educational with a little info about cartographers. The kids hid some treasure in the house. I had to follow their maps (thank goodness for the obvious symbol of stairs, or I would have been lost!). I found a coin jar (quickly reclaimed by its owner) and two full cans of Mountain Dew. My youngest daughter even made the treasure hunt difficult by adding string-laser beams to the stairway and a teddy-bear rescue mission.
  • The Sassafras Twins Science Book: Anatomy. We enjoyed Zoology last year, and we are finding Anatomy to be even more exciting! It is definitely the most-asked-for subject. And mean Mom only schedules it twice a week.
  • Sneaky Geography. I don’t call it geography at all. My girls claim to despise geography. However, they willingly pull state and country books off the library shelves and beg to write a story about them. We sit on the couch together, paging through the books, and they dictate a vacation adventure story (starring ourselves, of course), which I write down faithfully. Today we went to Arizona and the Grand Canyon. I nearly sat on a patch of prickly pear cactus!
  • Spelling! Spellwell workbooks are simple, not too boring, and do the job of making my kids think when they write their words.
  • Homeschool Co-op. We’ve had one week, and already we love it. I am teaching a class about Beatrix Potter stories to a group of 16 four-and-a-half to six year olds. They were very well behaved, excited about Peter Rabbit, and willing to do the projects I created for them. Yay! I love my class!

There’s my list of a few good things that have happened in the last three weeks. I won’t spoil it by listing a few bad things. I may not be earning money, but I really am doing something important with my life.

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Beginning School Again

This was our first week of school, and as it is a week earlier than planned, I chose to begin easy with only our workbooks. It is going well. Workbook work doesn’t consume too much time, and the beginning of our math books are not too complicated.

Emotionally, I’m drained. Too much confusion. Too much personal drama. I pray for peace, but I’m also praying for God to send out His truth, and I imagine peace and truth don’t always come at the same time. Hopefully, the truth leads to peace eventually.

The beginning of the school season means the beginning of homeschool co-op, and I have a challenging class this year. I have begun to prepare, but I’m not a great classroom teacher, and I will be teaching 16 four-and-a-half to six year olds. Thankfully, I’ll also have the help of three adult aides. And also, my class is first hour, meaning they aren’t so tired yet.

And then there is Sunday School, which isn’t hard, but it is extra preparation.

I’m not exactly overwhelmed with the upcoming school work, but I am concerned how this is all going to work with my personal marriage problems. My counselor says to keep doing things I enjoy. I need to take care of myself. I enjoy writing. So I need to keep writing. That is how I hash things out so I can understand them.

Summer Vacation has Begun

Now that summer has begun, here’s what I’m thinking about homeschool:

  • I refuse to regret anything in the past year; it went well enough, and the kids learned things.
  • I have a lot of research to do during the summer.
    • I have to get new history curriculum (or decide to do more unit studies).
    • I have to decide which math program to move my middle daughter into. She’s not thriving on Math-U-See.
    • I have to decide if this is the year we begin learning Spanish.
    • I want a more thorough language arts curriculum (in combination with the literature I choose to read aloud) because I don’t want it to be all on me to teach them the technicalities of writing and grammar. I’m a little vague on the technicalities.
    • I might want to purchase a different typing program because Keyboarding Without Tears is getting old and tiresome for the girls.
    • I need to find ways to keep my son busy doing things he loves. Thankfully, he does love some aspects of school.

And here’s what I’m thinking about summer vacation:

  • I want to be more creative with our time than I was last year. Go places, be brave, but not so brave that I get lost or in situations I can’t handle.
  • My son is now mowing lawn, so I’ll probably be clipping edges all summer. He doesn’t get as close as last year’s lawn mower. I need to convince myself that this is okay. The last time I clipped, my hand wouldn’t stop twitching for 24 hours. Hopefully that doesn’t continue.
  • I hope the pool is enjoyable for the kids and I this summer because it’s a great place to go when everything else is boring.
  • And I want to paint that picture I promised myself on New Years!! I just have to begin.

 

Oriental Poppies

Oriental Poppies by Georgia O’Keefe, 1927

I’m making an effort to think clearly tonight, being honest with myself. Certain things that bother me are bothering me again, and normally this causes a type of confused panic to begin. Lots of points and counterpoints going on in my thought processes, and I get lost and start wondering which point is “the most true.”

Well, here’s my attempt at removing myself emotionally from my own situation.

God loves His children. God can be trusted. God is in control. God’s plan is beautiful.

What do I like about this poppy painting? The heart of small things are monumentally important. Something traditionally beautiful (like flowers, or say, a marriage) can show unusual beauty and interest when examined closely. But see, I can’t even talk about a painting without trying to talk about my own problems. How about this: the painting is startlingly beautiful, kind of like seeing a flower in real truth after only seeing fake flowers.

I just realized how great school was for getting your mind off your own problems. You can bury yourself in the world of academia. Homeschooling doesn’t work so well because it’s studying in the environment of home. Home is vital and must not be buried.

And God’s plan is always the best plan, no matter what I think.

[Afterthought: I suppose choosing a Georgia O’Keefe painting to help me remove myself emotionally from something wasn’t very smart. I probably should’ve gone with something still clinging to the Middle Ages, like Giotto.]

Homeschool Update

Another homeschool year is winding down, and though I’m not ready to report on the entire year (because there’s more than a month left yet), I do want to inform myself of where I’m at right now.

Math: This may be the first year my kids don’t finish their Math-U-See lessons. No big deal. It just means we start with the old books next year. I attribute this to a slower, more deliberate pace and not doing math on Fridays. As far as progress goes, they’ve made huge strides!

Reading: Going well! Keep doing what I’m doing, and try not to get upset when the second child refuses to read while one of the others is on the couch with her. (She will eventually get over that!)

Phonics: The oldest is a few pages from finishing the entire Explode the Code series! He deserves a treat. The other two are plugging away at it. No complaints here.

Spelling: SpellWell is wonderful. Anyone who studies Charlotte Mason, listen up: my kids don’t learn how to spell through reading good literature. They really needed a workbook. It’s okay to admit that CM was wrong.

Bible: I like the devotional we’re doing by Max Lucado called Grace for the Moment. It explains biblical thought in an appropriate way for my kids’ ages. I think my kids (especially the girls) could benefit from more lessons that are similar to Sunday School lessons. We played Bible trivia tonight and one of them didn’t realize Solomon was David’s son. Hmm. I wonder what I can do about that?

Science: The Sassafras Twins Zoology book is a big hit! We love it, probably more for the exciting adventure story than for the science learned. I think it is pounding into their brains which animals are herbivores, omnivores, and carnivores. Plus, it teaches a lot of geography on the side.

Geography: Other than the geography that gets taught through other subjects, this subject in itself has become a non-subject. The oldest is almost finished with his big geography workbook, but he’s struggling with accuracy when it comes to latitude and longitude lines and time zones.

Literature: Well, this is off and on (other than the Five in a Row curriculum we do). But I’m not stressed out because we do literature year round, and sometimes we read intensely!

Writing: I’ve been doing weekly writing projects (things like free writes, writing a poem, making some dialogue, etc.). This is a good idea. They struggle with it somewhat, but that’s good. As long as I can keep myself from getting down about their attitudes, we can get through it. I’d like to do more fun writing projects, maybe a week or two that are writing intensive.

Grammar: They hate grammar. But I see a need for knowing the basics. So we do it together once a week, like it or not.

Five in a Row: Still awesome! We are now two-thirds finished with Volume 1 (we didn’t do them in order, and that has been fine). These books are more familiar to us, but we have found a few new ones to love. (Night of the Moonjellies by Mark Shasha!) I love how low-key this is, and yet we are learning new things.

History: Almost finished with our very long Revolutionary War unit study. My kids know tons about the Revolutionary War. Way more than I did as a student. The key was not in the unit study material itself. I bought them a series of Liberty’s Kids DVDs, and the animated shows made history alive for them. We have learned so much about history, and this is the last of the unit studies I bought at the beginning of the school year. I think I might poke around in Ambleside Online and find a couple good history read alouds to finish up the year.

Art: Well, nothing specific to say. Complete cooperation between all three children is almost non-existent these days, so usually the girls do art projects on a whim, and the boy just mopes around and acts bored. But he can draw! I’d like to do something more consistent with art… maybe during the summer, when we have lots of time!

Music: Nothing. They are so opinionated about music, and how am I supposed to get them to listen to music when putting in a CD causes loud arguments? The oldest has been motivated to learn from my old piano lesson books, so I try to be available to teach him sometimes. The youngest could benefit from real lessons by a real teacher, but they are so expensive! The free online lessons have been too intimidating for her. The other girl doesn’t like music much, and that’s fine.

Phy Ed: I don’t care about Phy Ed. They learn stuff at homeschool co-op, and that’s good enough for me. The middle girl takes gymnastics classes because she is obsessed with gymnastics. Good for her. I guess I don’t mind sitting in the bleachers for an hour and a half and reading a book.

I think that’s all. Sometimes I wish for more structure, but I know I wouldn’t like a boxed curriculum. I’ll be researching some language arts and history curriculum over summer break. I’m looking forward to the break, but also remembering how awful the beginning of last summer was… the girls can keep themselves occupied, but the oldest has to go through a whole system of teasing people, bugging me to play computer games, and acting really bored before he gets down to being creative and self-sufficient. I honestly wished last summer that I was brave enough to school year round. I doubt that I ever will be. Seems like it would be hard to stop schooling year round if we ever started it.

A List of Things That Went Well

Because it’s good to remember that things do go well…

  • My Sunday afternoon walk with my son. It’s not often we do something just the two of us, and the girls were both willing to be left at Grandpa and Grandma’s house. On our walk we talked about lots of things, from toads to rivers to Tolkien.
  • Calico Captive. A new chapter book is always a bit of a risk, especially if I haven’t read it before. This one is exciting! We are enjoying it. Excellent way to learn about the French and Indian War.
  • Dinner. Sometimes I really stress out about how to please everyone. We don’t like the same foods. Today Dean had a bowl of leftover casserole and a sandwich-spread sandwich (not sure what else to call that). Eddie had a whole pile of leftover mashed potatoes doused in applesauce. The girls and I ate cheesy bread (bread, butter and parmesan cheese toasted under the broiler), reheated roast beef, carrot sticks, and apple slices. Sounds like a lot, looks like a lot on the table, but it was really just right. No leftovers except a little beef and carrots.
  • The Sassafras Twins Zoology book. A new science curriculum I bought a few weeks ago. Very fun! A storybook of zoology with workbooks to fill in as we go. The writing gets to be stressful for the youngest one, so then I go ahead and write what she dictates.
  • Spelling for the middle girl. All of a sudden she’s spelling words correctly. How did that happen?
  • Long division for my son. He hated it until he got to the pages of word problems. Go figure. He likes word problems.
  • Reading improvement on all levels. Very noticeable improvement in out-loud reading for all three children. Now if I could only get the middle one to read to anyone except myself…
  • Not drinking Mt. Dew. I’m doing well on that one. I crave it, but not to the extent that I’m making excuses to go grocery shopping. I do eat more, though. Pretzels just disappear.
  • My devotion book which involves reading from four different places in the Bible each day, a short devotional, and a prayer in which I can insert names of family members. That’s going well. The prayers are especially valuable as I don’t normally think the same things that are written. It’s nice to pray a different, challenging sort of prayer.
  • Homeschool co-op. It has only just begun, but so far, so good.
  • Ideas for myself. I’m not going to say my own stability has gone well, but I do occasionally have ideas that seem like winners. This post, for example. I may start that painting that I promised myself this year; I went so far as to clean off the painting table. Now that I have WiFi in the house, I can more easily use my Kindle ereader, which may just inspire me to exercise (and read) on the treadmill more often. I notice if I’m alone and not stressed out by people talking loudly and arguing and talking nonsense and requiring correction, I can coax myself into doing something positive. I can’t avoid the above problems in my family, though. So I wonder how to best deal with that. It’s good that I notice these things now. I will not notice them later.

The conclusion: most of the things that went well are about school. Yay! School is going well. In fact, the only part of school that does not seem to be going well is geography for the girls. I’m not crazy about the book I bought last summer, but my son does use it and enjoys it. With the girls I have resorted to sneaking geography into their Five in a Row curriculum.

The other conclusion: There are big black areas in my life that have to do with relationships and home life. I’m tempted to ignore them right now. They’ll be there, though. Here’s hoping I can cope better than I have been.

Escape in the Homeschool

Escape… from everyday life, from drudgery, from normal days of school, from people we spend too much time with, from our own minds… This sounds a little on the scandalous side, as if I might be talking about drugs or some other addictive habit. But really, I’m talking about stories, imagination, and art.

Life can feel constricting sometimes. Long division problems creep up to get you. Copywork stretches endlessly down the page, no matter how much you write. Your mother keeps turning the pages while you’re reading out loud, and you don’t think it’ll ever end. And then there are the boring moments when nothing you could play with seems interesting. For homeschool mothers, there are those loud confrontations you wish you could run away from (except you can’t, because you’re supposed to stop them, train your kids not to argue without being argumentative yourself).

Escape is necessary for sanity. Some days require more of it than others. Lately, our read-alouds have been excellent for escapism. We’ve enjoyed The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien. We escaped into colonial times, into a yummy fantasy, and into the underground world of super-intelligent rats. Much better than staring out the window at melting snow!

Sometimes I wonder if escape is somehow unchristian. You know, we’re supposed to live in this world though we are set apart by God. But isn’t death the ultimate escape? And aren’t we called to fix our eyes on the goal of eternal life? We are not to fix our eyes on the things of this world. True, the above books I listed are things of this world, just not things of our particular household. I don’t think any of this makes escapism bad. As in all things, we need to keep our motives in check. I think it’s a good idea for me to balance out my fiction escapism with Bible reading and devotional-type reading.

I learned that some books are the opposite of escape: books that cause me to examine my life closely. I really have to balance those out with escapism, or I get too upset with my failures. I wonder if that’s a key to healthy homeschooling: balance out the close examination of schoolwork with plenty of leaps into imaginative work. Sounds good to me.