Friday, August 28, 2009

Day One with Two

Let me back up a little bit. With all my turbo school planning, lining up of SEVERAL rows of ducks and filing everything just short of frozen pancakes for the “Tuesday breakfast”, I had to leave my lap top at Best Buy over the weekend. Silence, please.
Talk about horrible. Horrific. Tragic, maybe? I don’t know, but there is some perfect word out there that describes it. I just can't come up with it. Everything that used to be just a few clicks away from me is now in some big room in St. Louis. What ailment did my computer have that it had to be shipped off? The left click button would stick- everytime- and for those of you who still work on a PC, you know the potential for frustration. Just when I thought I had everything I could possibly need off the hard drive for the next 2 weeks, Sunday afternoon, I realized critical files were missing. As I lamented my case to a friend, she empathized and smiled. In her ever-sharpening way, she caught hold of the thread that had been sewn through my thoughts over the last few days except I had not let the knot take hold. My thoughts had been, “This is probably no coincidence that this has happened now, at the beginning of school. Is the Lord doing something else here?” Her words were, “Remind me of the name of your blog?” My words back were one thing but my thoughts were another. “I told Him I wanted to home school “not by might”, not “not without my computer”! Her words implied the spiritual and my thoughts revealed shallowness and practicality, leaving no room for maybe something special. This too shall pass and hopefully I can learn something significant in the passing. Susannah Wesley didn’t have a computer, right? Jeff had an early morning meeting today so here I am with the familiar heat and hum on my lap clicking away on his very unfamiliar keys, but clicking nonetheless. I like the sound.

Over the weekend before we began school on Monday, Brighton’s excitement about Kindergarten became very apparent. He really hadn’t said much about it but at bedtime Sunday night he kept saying, “Let’s keep talking about school, Mom.” In line with his personality, he wanted to know just how the day would play out and the details of what we would do. He has a thing for maps so he was most excited about “Explore Time” where we map out places or journeys we read about. The night before we started, I fell asleep wondering how his enthusiasm would decode Monday morning with a No.2 pencil in his hand and boundaries for the markings it would make.

As for my Laura Ingalls “wanna be”, Julia’s excitement focused on the new “chore” of making breakfast. (We are trying this out after a suggestion from a friend. I'll let you know.) Monday morning it felt strange putting on makeup to the sounds of someone else stirring in my kitchen. When I walked in, she had a smile on her face, an apron around her waist and everything under control. I found B sitting at a set table. He threw up his hands in greeting and said, “Welcome to Cracker Barrel!” Well, it sure smelled like it.

During our first day, I began to fizzle sooner than I had anticipated, but I found Brighton’s energy contagious. He was eager to do anything I whipped out, especially if he recognized it as something Julia had once done. Thankfully, Julia caught his bug too. She stepped up continuing to cheer him on and praising his work. “Those are the best 5’s I have ever seen, B!” This may have been my favorite part. The only frown I remember from the day was when I gave Brighton his Saxon 1 work to do and for a minute, Julia thought I had erased all her math work from two years ago so now he could do it. I AM frugal, but not crazy.

The most interesting observation of the day was the added dynamic of peer pressure—or rather, a little old-fashioned competition. Two and half years ago when I realized I was really going to do this school at home thing, I started searching ebay for all sorts of things. I secured a Geo Safari game with tons of cards for different ages. The kids have used it some but not near what I had hoped. I’ve tried all sorts of tricks and incentives trying to conjure up within Julia some interest in learning something new from the myriad of cards. When Brighton saw the familiar letters “Geo Safari” on the list for “extra credit” towards his Friday goal, he was all over it. He started working those cards and earning stars. Next thing I knew Julia was learning Indian artifacts, wonders of the world, and famous quotes by historical figures. For every card he completed with a perfect score (on his level), she had to master one too. His star chart would NOT be fuller than her heart chart. After looking up who in the world “Chief Joseph” and “Madame de Pompadour” were, I put their lunches together with a private grin on my face.

If I had to label the week with one word I would pick encouraging. I have been ready to try this out all summer- a day with two. After just a week, I think it is going to be fine. I know there may be days I consume an extra cup of caffeine, preferably hot and with whip. And there will be days my stash of dark chocolate will shrink. There will be weeks I wish my Tuesday time was a little longer. There may even be weeks I search for the journal that I wrote down this confirmation of homeschooling- just to make sure it is what I wrote down. But what I do know is that our relationships will benefit from our time together, I will learn a ton whether they do or not and with two, there is potential for twice the fun!
Above picture- J and B with their notebooks to hold all of their work. (B's first one and J's third one) Yes, Julia got a haircut and Brighton........well, that look is "detangler not yet dry".

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Nuts and Bolts

Jeff and I were talking this morning and he made the comment that the nuts and bolts of events/ministry don't excite him- not even remotely. I knew that, of course. He is a visionary and a leader in every great sense of the word. I had to smile when he said it because I thought, once again, how different we are. For me, if the territory is even just a little bit familiar, the nuts and bolts of the scape might as well be guacamole and chips to me! Just let me dig in. I have found these last two years of having school at home certainly gives me a platform to plan the dickens out of my days, weeks and months. I basically begin thinking about the next school year before the current school year ends- how I could do it better, what materials might be more interesting, what books might bear more light on a particular subject, and how I might could be a little sweeter while I exercise this responsibility of instruction. I listen to my friends hearing what they loved, what they found at the home school book fair, which I have yet to attend (2010 may be THE year), what books they read, and what activities were their favorites. Whether you home school or not, just being an intentional mother causes you to plan incessantly. For me, when the July page is right side up on the wall, I am more than ready to place all of the information floating around in my head in one place. So here is where my whopping two years of experience has gotten me. This year’s nuts and bolts. My guac and chips. Let the fun begin.
Bible- We use the Building on the Rock curriculum from Summit Ministries. I am choosing to do it at my own pace. I wasn't able to keep up with the schedule. We also use the Catherine VosThe Child’s Story Bible. (I am finding you aren’t a real-live home schooler if you don’t read this Bible—“copy work” would fall into this category as well.) This is "where it's at"- I have to remember that. If this isn't done well, I might as well just sleep in every morning. Teaching spiritual truths from God's Word should not be boring or about checking it off the list. God's Word will change their hearts-- shaping and driving what overflows from it. Naturally, I am not just a boatload of fun so this requires a different type of energy from me.

Phonics- We will continue to use Spell to Write and Read by Wanda Sanseri. I love the simplicity of this curriculum and all the levels it teaches. It covers spelling, writing (manuscript and cursive) and reading.

Copywork/Writing- My friends found some beautiful resources by Queens Homeschooling at the book fair this year. It combines beautiful artwork with thought provoking questions or lovely sayings that will benefit the reader/writer.
Grammar- I am taking my time on this one, so basically I am counting on the amount of good literature we read to give them a good start on grammar. However, this year, I will be introducing Julia to Emma Serl’s Primary Language Lessons for some of her independent work.
History- For the last two years I have used a little booklet called “Turning Back the Pages of Time: An American History Library List” by Kathy Keller. This woman is my hero. She has categorized wonderful picture and chapter books that cover the early explorers through World War II for ALL ages. We have discovered many favorite books by learning history through great literature.
Math- Saxon. It has worked fine so far. We will see if it works for Brighton.
Science- Allow me to introduce the phenomenal Mrs. Juanelle Winsor at Science Etc.
Literature/Reading- So far, my favorite book list has come from Heart of Dakota Press’ Beyond Little Hearts for His Glory. The lists and reading plans in the back are well worth the used price on Amazon. I only use parts of the daily curriculum. We use the weekly poems in the back with accompanying questions in the daily lessons. I love this resource- not the cover so much but all the pages in between!
Music- We will be introduced to one great composer every four weeks by reading an Opal Wheeler children’s chapter book. We will continue our plan of listening to 3 or so classic pieces by this composer while reading about him/her. I also love the resource The Gift of Music by Smith and Carlson which will be put to better use as the kids get older.
Art- I will continue with Child-Sized Masterpieces by Aline D. Wolf. (I love this website.) I am basically using it to pick out art pieces from the time period we are studying in history. I try to find appropriate picture books about the artist, but many are not available. I usually just find out what I can on Wikipedia. (Hands-on art and Drawing- Mrs. Judy Mason at Science Etc. and Jessica Cheek)
Geography- This will be as simple as finding things on the map as we read about them- where things took place as we read about them in history, journeys different people took (explorers, ships, early settlers, frontiersmen, wagon trails, Underground Railroad), birthplaces of people we read about etc.
Habits/Manners/ Life Skills- a little booklet called Manners Please from Pumpkin Seed Press and a book called What Every Child Should Know Along the Way by Gail Martin.

My year is broken down into four week sections. We study one period of history (broken down in Kathy Keller's booklet) for four weeks and so goes everything else- art pieces, composers, music etc. One thing I have really enjoyed is making playlists on our Ipod of things we are learning in those four week periods like the hymns or classical pieces we are learning, a song that may help us memorize our Scripture, stories about American History (ordered from Jim Hodges), songs that go along with our Bible study, a part of the Westminster catechism, or anything that goes along with what we are learning. We listen to this in the car and I make CD’s for the kids to listen to during room time or at bedtime.
Obviously, there isn’t enough time in a day to do all of the subjects listed above. If we even attempted it, you would surely find me curled up in a little ball in the corner of my closet. This is what I would LIKE to do this year but if I have learned anything in two short years, it is not to push myself or the kids too hard. Pushing equals no fun for anyone. If it is too much, I need to choose to slate it for next year or for the summer or just scratch it altogether. Flexibility is not my strong suit so it is hard for me to give up on even just a small part of a plan, but last year I found out that it can be the wisest choice I make. I actually had a chance at practicing this week. I had set a FIRM start date of Monday, August 24th , that is until yesterday, I got an invitation to a kick-off pancake breakfast at my friend’s house! Who can say no to white flour and maple syrup? To click and drag that “All Day Event” of “School Starts” in Outlook from the 24th to the 25th wasn’t as hard as I thought it might be.

Thanks for being interested in my “nuts and bolts” but here is something else you should check out. .There are several more links for you to check out at this favorite site of mine. In the comment section, please post any other links you find to other school plans that have been helpful to you!

And to the sweet people who asked for this-- or something like it- I can do nothing succinctly, not even a message on someone's answering machine. Now, let's hear YOUR plan!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Where's My Trapper Keeper?

I should have seen it coming.

For years, I declared on numerous occasions that I would never home school my children. I cited all the reasons for my rational (and uneducated) decision that people now recite to me when I reveal that, for now, I am educating my children this way. Just a few days ago during the “be a pharmacist” slice of my week, one of my regular customers asked me where Julia and Brighton went to school. When I told him, I got the “look” and then the question I knew before he asked it , “What about socialization? How will they know how to interact with other children?” Now, if this 70 plus year old man wasn’t one of my Wednesday favorites, I would have been tempted to say something like, “Puh- lease. You can’t be serious.” Or maybe, “Yeah, Mr. So and So, I don’t know. We are pretty much in lockdown. No one in and no one out.” Or maybe, “You got me. Private sewing classes, private swim lessons, private baseball and soccer- which gets a little tricky, and private ballet lessons are getting kind of expensive, not to mention the musicians we hire for our house church of four when we convene on Sunday mornings in our den.” But, no. My sweet Momma’s training kicked in. I smiled, straightened my itchy white coat and said, “Oh, I think they will get it somewhere along the way.”

I never have been one to choose something that might rock the boat in my little lake. I like smooth water—the kind that no one really notices and if one does, finds little to criticize. Two years ago when we made the decision to teach Julia (and later, Brighton) at home, I dreaded the waves so much, I think I emailed my Mom instead of calling her. To her credit, she has done nothing but cheer me on in my unusual endeavor. Thankfully, today, home schooling isn’t nearly as “weird” as it used to be………still a little, but not as much. My boat has rocked hardly at all and that has surprised me.

There has been another little surprise that I hadn’t expected—only because I hadn’t thought of it. If I had, I may have succumbed to the idea of school at home much more quickly. I remember sitting in the movie theatre about ten years ago watching Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan email back and forth. At some point in the movie he said he would send a bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils to her every fall. See, I am the one whose heart flip flopped at that line and also had the urge to head to the nearest Walgreens to buy a 12 pack of No. 2’s. Many years before, when I was in elementary school, I thought those first couple weeks of school were the best—everything was brand new from the pencil I held in my hand to the cute little sneakers covering my feet. I was that third grader who, the night before school started, placed all the clothes my Mom had purchased for me on my bed- in outfits, mind you- then hung them up in the order I would wear them. However, as much I as liked the matching clothes fresh with folding wrinkles and tags, the new school supplies were really my prized purchases. My binder was slick and unscathed by scratches, stickers, stray marks or shoe prints from leaving it on the floor board of carpool one too many times. It was full of fresh, smooth paper. My pencils were long and smooth with complete erasers and no teeth marks....yet. My folders had nice sharp corners. The zipper pocket in my 3 ring binder zipped without a hitch and was stuffed with everything on the “list”- my favorite being my very own pair of mini-scissors. And who doesn’t love a box of brand new Crayons with their pointy tips??? My wooden ruler was free of pen and pencil marks down the edges where my hand would soon slip. The spirals of my notebooks were nice and round (not squashed) so the pages turned perfectly. And the best? My lunch box wasn’t rusted or bent and it didn’t smell bad.... yet. New, new, new!
A couple of weekends ago, a friend of mine and I loaded up the car with everything remotely related to school scattered about our homes, computers, a printer and some food and left town to plan for school. I loved every minute of it—looking at all the book lists, deciding on which books, art and music we'd cover, mapping out the year, getting to see all of Jessica’s stuff and of course, just being with her. A few days later, I got online and ordered all the new materials that I had spent time researching. By the next day, I was wishing I had sprung for Next Day Air! I could hardly stand it that I had to wait possibly a WEEK for it to make its way to Texas! Every day we left the house, I would hope that “TODAY” would be the day I would see the large cardboard boxes resting by our front door when we made our way into our cul de sac. Well, yesterday Christmas came. As I lugged two large boxes in, I was debating on when to open them—like right then or later when the house was quiet and no one would be snatching the plunder out of my hands. Definitely, later. After bedtime, when things were still, I had to grin as I opened up brand new spirals enjoying the sound of paper separating for the very first time. It made me happy to see booklets with no creases and with nice pokey corners. I loved the feel and the smell of the unwrinkled, crisp paper. Pitiful, I know, but I can’t deny it.
I try to recreate this for Julia and Brighton to a degree, but I know it is not the same. Their memory will be something else and that’s okay. I have my “back to school” memory and every year I get to teach at home, I will enjoy opening up the boxes left at my front door, perusing the great new materials, smelling the freshly sharpened No. 2 pencils, filling their desks with reams of white virgin paper and folders without tear or crease, unpacking new glue sticks, tape, erasers, scissors, Crayons etc. and all the while resisting the urge to click around on ebay looking for a white Trapper Keeper and a Holly Hobbie lunchbox with matching thermos.