Monday, September 3, 2012

A new school year

So we started school last week. Hannah is starting middle school and Tristan is starting 4th grade. But lets back up...

At the end of the school year last year, Hannah decided to go to public school. She wanted more friends and she wanted a different teacher than me. So we went to the orientation for our disticts middle school and she seemed to like it. But then...she didn't want to take PE and she didn't want to go to school in portables (our local school is building but it isn't ready), and she thinks it might be too loud, and she doesn't want to be gone all day. So...she is home still (though she really wants to try it but she is scared and doesn't want to be stuck there if she doesn't like it---we told her she had to stay one full marking period) forward to now.
We have begun schooling at home. But to meet Hannah's want of more friends and to give her other teachers, we have joined two co ops (actually three, but two of the three meet on the same day so for now we will do one and in the spring the other to decide which we like more). One has very academic classes where the children will get things like History, Language Arts, Mythology, and Public Speaking. The other has fun classes like martial arts, scrapbooking, PE, and Drama. This should expose her, and my son, to different friends and teachers.

And to give Hannah a feeling of control, I have begun to give her a schedule with her weekly work written on it and let her decide what to do each day, with the idea that she must start to manage her time. Hopefully this will help her feel more in control of her education.

Other things that are changing are the eliminating of Scouts for the children. Hannah stopped just because it wasn't fun anymore. Tristan stopped in protest to the BSA's stand on homosexuals in their organization. He found out recently that they don't allow openly gay boys and men to participate and to him, this is ridiculous. He doesn't want to be a part of a group that discriminates against anyone. I am proud of him for taking a stand for what he believes. We are currently looking for Lego robotics for him. Hannah is happy not to have any other groups to join.

And piano...we are maybe allowing the children to stop piano. They have been asking for a while and it is harder and harder to get them to practice. My last effort is to take them to the music store and let them pick out music they WANT to learn and ask the teacher to teach it to them as opposed the the pieces she wants for them. If that doesn't spark them, then I think we are done.

So we begin a new year...with hope and promise, and joy

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Just when I thought it was safe to relax...

...I change my mind, my plans, my life!

First of all, for those of you wondering about the who No Poo thing. I tried it, my hair did fine. I had a few pony tail days, but "washing" it every 3 days with baking soda and water and conditioning with apple cider vinegar and water really did the trick. My hair was healthy, smelled fine (once the vinegar dried I would give it a spritz of Tea Rose perfume and felt wonderful), and really was healthy looking. The problem was that the second day, the tangles in my curly hair were horrible and when brushed out, it well, wasn't curly. With my shampoo (infusium) and conditioner, I could finger comb the second day and wet it and brush the 3rd day and still have my curls. So...I gave up that crunchy aspect and went back to Shampoo. But...if money is ever tight and I needed to do it, I now know what to use and that it would be fine!

Now, for my new change of plans....We are back in the schoolroom after our unschooling month. I am finding that the children and I are much more focused and even enjoying our free time more than when we just had weeks and weeks of it (no more choruses of "I'm bored..." ever day. Though my 10 yr old will beg to differ with me and tell you she was content just spending her days up in her room playing. And I do think that since we really forge ahead in the winter months when I don't want to go anywhere anyhow, that we ALL needed a long break. With that in mind, I am going to try the following schedule for next year: Mid August thru the first week of Dec (18 wks), take off 3-4 weeks for winter break, January thru March really buckle down (12 wks), take April off, and finish our year with the month of May (4 wks), finishing the last friday of May. Then we take June, July, and half of August for summer break. That should give us about 34-36 weeks of school with two major breaks. We used to do 6 wks of work, take a week off, but as they have gotten older, I think this will work better. The children seem to get extremely creative after a week of being sloths and I think it is good for them.

My other changes include our curriculum. My daughter has been using Life Of Fred math for the last year and a half. I chose it because of her love of reading. There is an underlying story that is told along with the math teachings and I thought she would respond well. WRONG! She has complained and fought with me over this math style the whole time and I couldn't figure out why. Well last week, the light bulb FINALLY lit up and I realized that DUH!, she isn't very good at word problems,and this whole underlying story is making the math lesson like one giant word problem! What I thought was pre teen moodiness and rebelliousness was just my darling daughter trying to unravel the math from the words. Whew! Glad I finally caught a clue there! So...we have started looking at other forms of teaching math and I think we have found a good match in Saxon Math. The way it builds upon itself, one lesson to the next, seems to work better for her. There are more problems for each lesson, which she complained about at first, but when she saw that as she mastered the concepts, I cut down how many she need to complete, she found it tolerable LOL

Also, we have been in the market for a new Language Art/Grammar/Writing, spelling curriculum for both children. We had been using Learning Language Arts Through Literature and although both seemed agreeable to their lessons, it wasn't quite what any of us were happy with. So when I stumbled on the Barron, Painless...series and found a Painless Junior series also (good for 3-4 grade), we tried a few lessons and found them a good match for my children's learning styles. My son, who is 8 is working through the Painless Junior Grammar now and will use the writing book next year. My daughter is finishing her vocabulary curriculum and will do the Painless Grammar book at the beginning of 6th grade, working through it at her pace (so we should be done by our winter break). Both children are going to do copy work and cursive work next year and both will take a writing course in the fall as well as studying poetry in depth and revisiting Myths of all time periods and cultural settings.

I also found the coolest book called Artist to Artist, which covers 23 illustrators. Usually we study the old world masters or famous artists corresponding with the time periods we are studying in history. But I have decided that we will use this for our art curriculum and culminate with the children writing their own story and illustrating it and having it printed and bound. (and yes, of course we will learn about the history of printing and book binding and make some of our own at home. After all, we are homeschoolers and everything relates to everything, now doesn't it?)

So now that I have changed my mind on several curriculum and things, I have ordered all the books and supplies needed for next year so I can't change my mind anymore. It is done...

....I think!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Unschooling Makes Me Crunchy!

So all this free time I have when we are not schooling has led me to reading up on being more green in lots of areas of our life. In the garden, we are using more compost (which I found needs more "brown" (leaves mainly) than I was giving it. That remedied I really hope for more black gold later in the season. We are also using cardboard in the bottoms of our raised beds as weed deterents. And of course, I have found several sprays and solutions to use on plants to keep the pests at bay.

For in the home, I have found fabulous recipes for homemade laundry soap and dishwasher detergent. Mostly they are made from Borax and Washing Soda. I recently made these and they work beautifully. The laundry soap costs approximately 70-95 CENTS for a batch that will wash 64 loads of laundry! Hows that for economic!?! It calls for you to grate a bar of soap of your choosing into the batch and I used the soaps we brought home from Disney World this past fall. This way my laundry smell will bring back great memories for me. I used 2 1 gallon milk jugs, well washed, to hold the laundry soap.

The dishwasher detergent was about $1.00 per batch and it makes about 16 loads. The added bonus to this recipe is that there is lemon juice and white vinegar in it and in using it, I have eliminated the film my hard water leaves on the dishes. Also, I had found in the past that I really needed to rinse ALL the food stuffs off the plates and dishes before loading the dishwasher. I did a trial run and didn't rinse all the dishes before adding this homemade detergent. The results were amazing! All dishes were squeaky clean, even the unrinsed ones! I am sold on this recipe too.

I decided that I wanted to find a recipe for shampoo and conditioner. So in searching I stumbled on  . This blog gave tons of great advice and recipes for going more natural and green. I found a great hair care recipe using just castile soap and coconut milk. Sounded simple enough. And conditioners with just apple cider vinegar and water (which I knew already made a great conditioner from when we had the lice issue in our house...but that is a WHOLE other blog story LOL)

Then as I continued to read Crunchy Betty, I found a whole blog on using NO POO. Seems if you use a 1 to 3 part ratio of baking soda to water and massage it in your scalp every 3-4 days and rinse it well and then use a 1 to 3 part ratio of apple cider vinegar and water to condition and then rinse out (or not) you can get away with no commericial shampoo and conditioner at all.
Well, now I am intrigued and of course have to try this. If it works for me, I will start doing this with my kids and hopefully my honey as well. The results are supposed to be healthier, thicker, sometimes even darker hair. All that I have read says you have to get past the 9th -12th day before your hair and head stops panicking and overproducing oils, but you can take care of that also by brushing in a little cornstarch to absorb the oils. They recommend wearing ponytails and/or hats to avoid the whole greasy hair look. I think I will just stay home LOL.

Anyway, I am going NO POO as of April 1st. I should have lovely, healthy hair by the end of the month! We shall see!Oh and by the way, all of these links can be found on my pinterest boards as well!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Unschooling week three

As I suspected, we have fallen into a fun, ambling along routine in our unschooling venture. We awaken and do chores and get breakfast. Then we play and read, or hit the road to a class, or a visit with Grandma. When we return home, there is piano practice and journaling of what we did that day. The children are happy and unstressed....but the Mama is not! This is becoming just an early summer vacation, which is exactly what I was afraid of. I did insist on a math day on Tuesday this week, and the children took to it fine, doing their problems, struggling but in the end learning a concept, etc. But it is so relaxed that my brain is starting to slip. LOL

I need the structure of our school days. It keeps me focused on what day it is, what I have to accomplish, etc. Lately, I struggle with that. On Wednesday evening for example, my husband came to me and said "so, does anybody have to be anywhere?" and I leaped up in a panic and scrambled to get the baby out the door to riding. I doubled back to get her helmet and was about 10 minutes up the road when I realized that today was Wednesday and she rides on Thursday! Sigh...but this is what I do in the summer months too. I just slip into this time warp.

And....I don't see the kids finding interests and wanting to learn more. They play legos and dolls and occasionally race through the house playing chase. We all play board games, they play on the computer and watch family movies. We garden and play catch and family baseball. But I don't see the learning happening...though it probably is and I am just not catching the nuances of it.

So I can say with confidence that unschooling is not for ME! Whether or not it is for my kids....I am still not sure. But since I am the Mama and teacher, I think we will be returning to the workbooks and mornings of learning that we had set in motion from the beginning of the year. This has been fun...I can even say that this is what we NEEDED right now...a break to get outdoors and get the winter cobwebs blown away. A time to plan and begin the garden and a time for me to just relax a bit. With Spring break being next week, I think we will wrap up this experiment early. I tried, I really did, but my anxiety levels are up and I don't think I can do the last two weeks of this. Summer will be here soon enough and they can laze about and spend much time doing what they wish...but the school year belongs to me and my schedule.

To my unschooling friends out there! Wow! I give you credit. To trust the process and truly embrace it, that is momentous to me. I couldn't even last 3 weeks before feeling the panic of "what if..?." "how will they...?", "what about their future?". I wish I could, I really do...but it takes all kinds to make the world go round, and apparently I am not the unschooling kind. I come close...I give my kids the lead in a lot of how they learn and give them guided choices in what they learn. And I try to make it fun! But in the end, I need the structure to make it all click for me.

I do not consider this experiment a failure, even though we are ending early. I think I learned a lot about myself and our family and my kids. I think it was a joyous adventure, however short it was. And now I am ready to move onward.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Week two of unschooling

So we are finishing our second week of unschooling. This week we planned and completed the laying out of our garden. The children really worked hard hauling the bricks to create their raised beds and lay out walkways to walk upon. Then I helped them haul loads of straw, leaves, and composted earth and they created layers of organic matter and planted their early spring crops. Next week we will fill the remaining beds with layers and get them ready for their other seeds that need to wait  a bit to make sure the ground doesn't get too cold again. They planted onions, chives, parsley, marigolds, and cilantro.


We also dissected cows eyes this week. It was a great review of the parts of the human eye as well. At first we were all squeamish but once the cutting began, it was fascinating for all three of us. We used the lens as magnifying glasses and read words on some mail. We also thought that the tapetum was beautiful with its bluish silver iridescence. This is the part that reflects light back through the retina and allows cows, like cats and other creatures to see well at night.

Other than these two projects, we continued to learn about kites, hiked and collected water from a local lake (which we will examine under a microscope next week). The kids finished reading Alice in Wonderland, and Half Magic, as well as starting new independent reading books. My oldest is creating space in her room for a new baby doll she has saved and bought. It does my heart good to see her playing at dolls and not spending so much time with her Ipod touch and other electronics.

The children started baseball this week and though they both say they are not having much fun, I hope after a few practices they find their joy in the sport again.

So that is our second week. We have abandoned the whole "learning hour" model of unschooling and we are just embracing the day, each and every morning. I have no delusions of continuing unschooling once this 6 week period is over, but while we are in it, I am embracing the joy and ease of how our days are going along. I have had time to finish projects that had gotten away from me while in our winter term. And we have been able to visit the children's grandmother with more regularity, which in itself is a plus of this experiment, as we were so busy before that we just didn't go.

Next week the children begin at a Farm School which will run all through the spring. There they will learn about green building and sustainable living as well as learn more tips on gardening that they can then use here at home with their own gardens. It should be a very fun set of classes.

Until next week then...

Monday, March 19, 2012

Hiking and goofing about

Ok, week 2 and what do the kids think. Well, my oldest loves that she sleeps in and that she gets to play American Girl most of the day, indoors and out. My boy likes that he gets to have computer time throughout the day and not just late afternoon (though we still have a 2 hour screen time limit), but I just don't see the least not the on paper type learning (which is probably just me having to change the way I see learning) But I am willing to keep can't give up after only a week.

Today we spent a good portion of the day hiking. We covered about 3 miles of woods and trails, stopping along the way to eat lunch and making homemade "fishing rods" which we used to try and lure the minnows. They definitely do NOT like beef jerky as bait. That is what we learned there HaHa! Along the trails we played the game where you go through the alphabet one at a time, saying for example "A, my name is Alex, I like to eat Apples, and my favorite animal is an Aardvark". Then the next person is B, then the next C, etc. The kids really got in the spirit and tried to come up with obscure food and animals and only used the obvious ones when they got stumped. It was fun, just the three of us. We talked, and laughed and sang and held hands. It was a beautiful spring hike.
The highlight for the kids I think was the two snakes we saw. One was a blacksnake and one was a garter snake. Both let the kids get quite close before slowly slithering on their way. We also collected water for our Sacred Well. This is something we do every February on St. Brigid's Day, or Candlemas. We spend the year collecting water from every place we go and then putting it all together in a communal bowl, creating a Sacred Well surrounded by candles that represent Brigid's Sacred Flame.
"Holy Water,
Sacred Flame.
Brigid we invoke your name
Bless my hands, my head, my heart,
Source of healing, song, and art"

 When we returned home the children practiced piano, half an hour each, and then we continued with our Kite learning. Today was Kite Geography. We got out the globe and some blank political maps of the world and found out what kites are called in other countries. It is interesting what they are called. In English speaking countries, they are Kites, which is also the name of a graceful bird. In Japan, where they use long bridles and tails on their kites, they are called Tako, which means Octopus. In Korea, they are called Wau, which comes from the sound the kite makes in a strong wind. After telling the children several, they then had to choose 3 from a list and look up what that word meant in that language and where in the world the country was. This mapping page they added to their kite folders. Then they had free time where my son played with a friend on the internet and my daughter went out in full costume, in the rain, and threw the baseball up in the air and caught it, over and over and over, till she wasn't scared of the descending ball any longer. When she came in, chilly but flushed with pride, I hugged her wet self and then sent her up for a hot bath to warm up. Only later did I find out that her game didn't end there. She changed costumes into a sort of shift dress and pretended to be a child in a 1940's orphanage in France and bathed IN THE DRESS. "After all, Ma-Ma, we are not animals that go about naked and vulgar" Oh the imagination there. I LOVE IT!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Week 1...Welll....

okay so we have finished up our first week of unschooling. The kids loved it and it was nice not having to worry about getting all the workbooks finished. We had a few great outings including the Kennedy Center, The Zoo, Rollerskating, and a morning out with Grandmommie. Tristan stumbled across a science experiment he wants to do in a magazine he was reading...disecting an eyeball. So I will call around to the butchershops and see if I can find one. If not, I will see if I can order one from somewhere. Hannah spent a good portion of the week rearranging her room to fit her american girl dolls. She created a school area and a home area for them, sewed them school uniforms for three of them that didn't have them and created some fashions out of dinner napkins for several as well. We visited the library and took out several fun looking books, even one for me, The Bronze Horseman.

I am trying hard not to worry about the schoolwork that was on my schedule that we are not doing, but to embrace all we are doing. We planned and bought seeds for the gardens and are going to start our seeding indoors this week. We also did a little math on Brain Pop and watched some personal accounts from WWII on video.

So all in all, it was a productive week I think. It doesn't feel like we did much but when I see it on "paper" here, it certainly sounds like a lot.

Can't wait to see what next week brings! Stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

My Perspective On Our Unschooling Experiment

Hi, I am Bella. I am giving my opinion on the unschooling experiment we are doing. I will give it an 8 out of 10. I think it is fun, but it's definitely not what I expected. My mom said that we could just learn at our own pace and decide what we wanted to learn. But then, she decided that we were not going to do that. I was a bit upset. At first when we started I thought that we would get a "break", but no. I thought that we would not have to get up as early as we did and maybe we would be able to go on "fun" field trips. But I was wrong. It's still up at 6:45am. We have been able to go to more fun places though! So it is mostly really fun. I am glad we don't have to do any more work books. We do watch history movies about the different world wars and stuff, but that's not so bad. I use a website called "BrainPop". It's kinda cool,I guess. We (my younger brother and I) keep school journals. We write a small passage about what we learned that day. I do my journal in a notebook and I write my passages. My younger brother has an online journal. He types his. Sometimes all I do for my learning time is lay in my bed and curl up with a good book (and my cat, youyou). I love reading my books and writing in my journal the most. The best part about unschooling is that I feel relieved of the pressure of having to get school done so I can call my friends on the phone or playing on my iPod. This way, I can do those things and still do school without having any pressure! And my perspective on the "Homeschool Mama plus 3 unschooling experiment".    

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Day One...and Two

So we began our unschooling experiment this week. The kids are free to learn as they wish, how they wish, and must only report what they want to me in the form of journaling at the end of each day. We have some "learning hours", but they don't have to stick to those, for example, if they want to go to the library and look stuff up in books, etc. The idea is to see if they will come up with their own ways to learn and help spark their interest in other topics.

The first day we actually went on a field trip. Well, two trips actually. The first trip was to a program about Operas. We met some friends and enjoyed an hour long show that explained different aspects of opera, from the characters, to the costuming, the lighting, the different backstage jobs, the different voices that there are for men and for women, and even a few scenes from an opera. The children found it interesting enough that they want to see the rest of the opera. We were only shown some scenes from Act I. This particular opera was modernized and set in Washington DC. It was very interesting to me as well. The Kennedy Center has such wonderful programs for children.

After the Opera program, we headed uptown to the Zoo. It was such a nice day we thought we would see if we could spot the animals enjoying spring too. We walked through exhibits featuring Lions, Tigers, loads of Birds, Red Foxes, Apes, and my personal favorite, The Elephant Shrew. He is sooooo cute! We didn't have too much time, so we are planning another trip back, when all the spring construction is done and the closed pathes are open agian. Due to the construction, we had to do A LOT of extra walking and unfortunately I didn't have my walking shoes on. Boy were my feet sore by the time we got back to the car.

When we got home, the children journaled about all they had seen and what they had learned. My son, by journalling on the computer is learning typing and word processing, which is a win win to me.

Day 2 found us at Piano lessons in the morning as well as "learning hour" where my daughter read and my son and I played Take Off, a fun geography game where you have to fly a fleet of jets across the country by jumping from city to city. Later, we went to my daughters American Girl Club at the library. There she spent time with friends learning about pioneer foods and activities, including quilting. She made a small doll quilt and tried homemade applesauce. My son read up on starfish and made a few new friends while playing on the computers. Another super nice day out, we decided to stop at the playground and swing on the way home. It felt so good to go flying up in the air on the swings. It reminded me of one of my favorite childhood poems:
How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!

Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide,
River and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside--

Till I look down on the garden green,
Down on the roof so brown--
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down!

Robert Louis Stevenson
So far, so good...the children are enjoying themselves and I am enjoying watching them have fun and learning at the same time.  Tomorrow we head out to the garden and start planning out what we will grow this year. I am giving each child a garden plot to grow whatever they wish. They will have to take care of their plants and harvest their food. We are also going to see how our flower beds are doing and clean out the chicken coop while we are out there. We are also going to turn over the compost bin and see if we can get some of the "black gold" spread out on the gardens. Ah well, off to snuggle with the children and read some books. Tonights selections include a a few picture books dealing with WWII, a child's biography of the Kennedies, a Dr Suess book, and two fun books, one on kites, and one on the beach.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Twas the night before unschooling...

So tomorrow we start unschooling. My daughter has high hopes to just do whatever she wants and sleep all day. Unfortunately , that is not on the agenda. Though they can choose what to learn about and how to do that, this is not just an excuse to start summer vacation early. It is killing me not to start our next unit of worksheets and teachings, but...I am willing to be flexible and try new things too.This should be a learning experience whatever we do.
First up on the unschooling agenda is a trip to the Kennedy Center to see a show about opera. And then perhaps an excursion somewhere before coming home.

She is also starting her reading about Elton John and his contribution to the history of music. I found a great comic book on the history of music that she is devouring. She is telling me all about the sex pistols and Iggy Pop and all sorts of people. My son is starting to read about starfish. He is going to use them to work on his eight table he says. We'll see. I love that they are excited about learning this way. And though I have tons of ideas for what they could and should do with it all, I am going to let them firgure out how to present their learning to me whether it is a project, or just orally telling me about it or whatever. I am exited and nervous about this whole thing. Ah well, in the big picture, 6 weeks will be a blink of the eye. Check back and see how we are as we go along.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

To Test or Not To Test...sometimes that is the question

Sigh...I remember school and the pressure of oral tests, quizes and exams. Sure, the Teachers needed to see if we had retained what they had taught. Sure they made us jam all those facts in our brains, if only to make a good grade on the test. But at what cost? I also remember stomach aches, anxiety, headaches, lack of sleep in elementary and high school...and for some I knew in college, popping "energy pills" so they wouldn't need to sleep and could cram some more, over consumption of caffeine, etc. I was one of the lucky ones in college. I remembered most of what the lectures contained and studied a bit to remember the rest. And without the personal relationship with teachers, since class sizes in college are huge, I didn't feel the pressure to please them which kept my anxiety levels low.  I made high grades without all the negatives that went along with testing for some.

But...that is part of why I homeschool. I want to give my children a fun wonderful learning experience without all the stress of tests and bullies, and who's friends with whom today, and whether a teacher likes them (because let's face it, some teachers just don't like some students and they don't all hide it well). I have one child who is a perfectionist and one child who frustrates quite easily. I remember when I was teaching Kindergarten, the first time I put a red X on a math problem done wrong, the tears, the "sorry"s, the trauma. At the time, I chalked it up to melodrama but quickly realized that for my daughter, those X's were actually wounds on her ego. I know that sounds silly to some and others will say, "Well, that's life, sometimes we get things wrong and have to deal with it" and from an adults stand point you are right. But I asked myself  Why it needed to be the way it was, why she needed to grow a thicker skin AT FIVE YEARS OLD, and why can't learning be done without the X's?

So we stopped marking things wrong. I started to just erase the answer and have her correct it, and give her a red star when the page was all done correctly. My perfectionist rose to the challenge! When I would erase things, there were no tears as she knew she got as many chances as were needed to master something and there would be no red mark to mar the work when it was done right. We didn't test her either. There was no need. When a worksheet got done correctly with no need to erase any problems, I knew she had mastered the concept and that was enough.

When my son came home to school with us in Kindergarten (I am a firm believer in Preschool for children, but bring my kids home for their formal education), I wondered what his reaction would be to making corrections and X's. When I first tried the erase and correct method, he would sigh and say "I have to do it AGAIN?"  and when I put the X's on, he didn't care that he had gotten something wrong, he was just relieved to not have to keep working. The more we erased and corrected, or if he got the correction wrong and was asked to do it over again, the more frustration he experienced and the less he tried and madder he became and more shutting down he did.

So I thought about it and came up with this method for him. I will erase and ask him to correct the first time, with a little help from me. If he really doesn't get the concept, or that particular problem, I put it on the board and we leave it there till tomorrow. Then we work it out on the board together and when he is given the workbook again, later in the morning, he remembers working on it and can do it himself. Then I make a mental note to revisit this subject matter again with him next week sometime in the form of a worksheet or even just an oral problem. This has helped instill confidence in him and helps keep his frustration levels down. And I also taught him that it was OK to ask for help BEFORE getting the problem wrong, that if he didn't get something, it was fine.  Part of his issue was also watching his sister. In his eyes everything came easy to her and hard to him. In our years of homeschooling, he realizes that is not true and in fact I find him helping her with her history and science and she helping him with his Language Arts.

Zoom ahead...they are now in 5th and 3rd grade. Both children are doing above grade level work and thriving. I am noticing however that my oldest in her perfectionism, gets stumped easily on work when she has, for example a list of definitions that she must match to the words they mean. I tried to show her how to skip the ones you don't know and when you have done all you know, it helps to narrow down your choices. She HATES skipping anything. I tried to get her to explain it to me, but all she will say is "No, I don't want to skip and come back, it's like twice the work! and that one I skipped is then blank. I don't like that at all!" Mostly this is not a problem. If she wants to spend 20 minutes staring at one problem until she wills herself to remember the answer or until she has mentally gone through them all, figured them all out and  then finally writes them in, in order, fine. We are in no hurry. But..this year I decided to have the kids do the state testing with our local public school. They would go into a 5th and 3rd grade class and take the test with all the other students and then come home. I called to arrange the tests and was told I would be contacted in the spring. In the meantime, I bought some Test Prep workbooks in their grade level so they could get used to what testing was like. They hated being timed and despised getting problems they didn't know and OH THE PAIN, when my oldest had to skip over something so that she wouldn't end up getting them all wrong because she spent too much time starring at one problem that she had no idea the answer.

Well, I got the call two days ago that testing is next week, Wed and Thurs and the following Tues and Wed. I checked the calendar and ...WAIT....we have rollerskating the first week, and bowling the next week. How can we go to testing? We've been waiting all month for skating and bowling? Laughing I took a deep breath and thought about what was more important, knowing where the children stood amongst their peers in academics, or going to have fun with friends. Well, we all know the answer to that don't we? Academics should always come first shouldn't they? So I called up the school, registered my kids and found out pleasantly that the testing is only done in the mornings so we would be free to have our fun too. I told my kids when the testing was and I thought my daughter would cry right then and there. She knew we were doing this, but when faced with the actual event, the stress kicked in. When I talked to her about it, she asked Why we needed to find out where they were? Did it really matter?And why did she have to go into a class where she wouldn't know anyone with a teacher that didn't know her?  And what if she didn't know some of the material? How could I expect her to do well, if  I didn't know what was on it? What if I hadn't taught all that was on it? And if it didn't matter whether she did well or not, what was the point of taking the test anyway? I assured her that she would do fine and let it go.

But her questions kept nagging at me. I was the parent, I knew what was best, but here was my child asking very wise questions. I then remembered someone asking me why it was so important for me to know where my children scored among their peers. This was a standardized test for a standardized education and my children we not getting a standardized eduction. A great education, a well rounded eduction, but not a standardized one. I thought about why it seemed so important to me that they go to this strange place, with strangers in charge and a room of children they didn't know, all to find out if I was teaching them enough. This wasn't about them and how smart they were, it was about me. Somehow, this would validate me that homeschooling was working and I was a good teacher. And if this was about me, then it was not worth the stress that I was putting my children through. And my oldest was right with each of her questions. We DON'T need to see where they stand, we know they are smart capable kids. I DON'T need to put her through the shame and worry if she came upon a problem or concept that we didn't cover, or have here wrack her brain for something that isn't in there as we have been learning other things and haven't hit on this concept yet. And if it didn't matter whether she did well or not, then what was the point of stressing her out just to validate my feelings. That's cruel, that is not the Mom or teacher I want to be. That is not the type of Mother and Teacher I AM!

So I called the school and told them I was sorry to have inconvenienced them (because they sure made it feel that way when I called to register the children) but that we were not coming for testing after all. I am sure they have my name on some list as a crazy homeschooling mom. This is the same school that my oldest begged to go to for first grade, but after three days there, came home and said "The teacher is nice, the kids are great, and the work is easy....but Mom...this school thing is not for me." and so I un-enrolled her, and welcomed her home. I have always lived my life as a Mom giving my children a voice in what they take part in, I am glad I listened to their voice in this matter.

And if down the road, I need to be validated in this method...I will buy the tests myself (which you can do) and administer them at home. But I don't think I will need that any time soon. To both my children's relief.

Now...on with preparing to Unschool. That starts next week...but that is a blog for another time.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Planning, planning

So in preparation for our big unschooling trial, I have been reading a few books on the whole subject and am understanding that we had been doing some of this all along. We had been picking ideas that the kids came up with to incorporate into our studies. One year I let the children pick all the topics we covered in science and then created a curriculum about each topic. I have found lapbooks based on their interests in book series and allowed them to tour museums and find pieces that spoke to them and used those artists for whom we studied that year.

My favorite story that I have read so far is a family who have "scheduled unschool" The children still rise at a decent hour, do chores and have breakfast, and then have 2 hours of learning time before lunch and 2 hours of learning time in the afternoon. During these learning times, the children chose whatever they want to learn about. The Mom gives them access to the internet, takes them to the library, etc to gather what information they want. Once a week each child chooses an experiment in science to do and writes up a lab page on what they did. Sometimes this sparks a child to investigate further on that topic or on a particular scientist. A couple times a week, the kids do some math work at various sites. And in the last hour of their learning time, they are required to journal about what they learned about that day. Mom says the kids, given this freedom to choose topics, have come up with projects to do, written plays about a time in history, etc, all on their own. She facilitates getting them supplies for things, helps them if they get stuck, etc, but only gives them the structured time, not content of their schooling.

This sounds sooooooo wonderful to me. I think this is the model for our Unschooling experiment. I have a unit study in kiting in process so we will be working on that a little bit, and I have pulled out my science experiment books and set them on our library table for the kids to peruse over the next week. I have asked them to browse through "1000 children's books you should read before you grown up" and pick a half dozen to have on hand for independent reading and as we go along, I will chose read aloud books to coordinate with what they are studying at the time. We are also in the middle of an artist lapbook that I am going to work on this week and then put aside until after the unschooling experiment. We will finish it up before the end of our school year so we can show our reviewer, but unless the children ask to work on it over the next 6 weeks, we will go back to it later.

I am really hoping this helps my daughter conquer her blocks about Math. She has been learning decimals all year and has not liked the curriculum she has been working with. I am going to give her 3 topics that she must master by the end of the 6 weeks and see if she can teach herself, with the help of a bunch of great websites, including and several others. Again, guided unschooling, allowing the children to work on what they want and topics they choose, with a bit of math thrown in for good measure.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Cabin Fever of a sorts and the Great Homeschool Unschool Experiment

So every winter I get Homeschool Mom's Cabin Fever. It's when I start looking at what we are doing in school and start to nit pick and second guess all that we are doing.  Well...this year we are doing very wonderful. The kids cover Math, Vocabulary, Language Arts, Science, History, Geography, and Greek and Latin Roots, everyday. We do this using a lot of workbooks that cover small amounts of information each day as opposed to teaching larger lessons a couple times a week. My two children thrive  and learn and enjoy this style of learning. So why am I looking for something more?

When we started homeschooling, we used Oak Meadow curriculum. My oldest and I colored and drew wonderfully colorful pictures based on stories we had read, math concepts we were studying, history lessons, etc. We spent hours playing and exploring the local nature centers and the woods. We sang and recited verses. We had so much fun. All the while, our second child was busy playing and creating in pre school. Then when he started Kindergarten, I brought him home with us. However, now my oldest was busy with concepts like multiplication and we couldn't just run off to the nature center all the time. My oldest loved writing so we were slowly turning more towards schooling in our schoolroom rather than embracing all there was to learn in the world around us.

So this winter, I started realizing that we were doing a lot of work, but it was just that, work. No longer did we do all the fun stuff, the creative stuff, the "this is why we do this " sort of stuff. Last year, I ran the kids ragged (and myself too) with field trips  and classes that I just knew they would find fun and exciting and in the end, they were always complaining about never being home and about how much they did NOT want to be doing all the stuff that was supposed to be fun. So this year I made the commitment to tell them all the options that were out there but giving them the decision making power of what fun things to participate in and which to skip.

Now I was seeing that the way we were schooling was not the what we started out to do with our kids. I asked them about each of their subjects; what they liked and what they didn't. My oldest didn't like her math curriculum (this was the third we had tried) and my middle child didn't like his Language Arts curriculum so I sat down and looked at why they didn't enjoy them and rewrote these subjects from scratch for them. I reinstated what we called "Picture and Paragraph" where the children would create a picture from what they read the previous night and then wrote a few sentences describing the picture. I allotted large amounts of time for creating these, stressing that it was the process and not the finished project we were concerned with. The children began to smile again in school and to seem very relaxed while drawing

I took homeschooling books from the library looking for fresh ideas for our lessons and started finding myself reading more and more about Unschooling and what it entailed. As I read about families whose children took control of their learning, and the joy they found, I started wondering what it would be like if we embraced this method of learning. I talked to the kids and asked what they thought about it and at first glance, they were taken by it. My oldest is very independent and thought that this sounded like it might be fun to be able to decide what to learn about. My middle child thought it sounded like he would get to hang out and do nothing. He was disappointed when I told him that he would have 3 hours of learning time plus would have to keep a journal of all he learned. But he thought it still might be fun to try. So...we are going to do a Homeschool Unschool Experiment. For the next seven weeks, we are going to unschool, and document it as we go. The children will each keep a journal, either written or on the computer, and I will blog about our adventures here.
So come along with us and see what fun we will have!