Friday, June 28, 2013

Our Last Day of 1st and 4th grades


Yesterday was it - Day 180.  Our main focus for the day was to host a two-hour workshop for our local homeschooling group, using materials and lesson plans that educators can rent from a local natural history museum.  This was the Mammals of Washington State box, and we had a lot of fun with six other children and their moms going through the lessons and activities.

Today we are enjoying our summer break.  Monday will be Day 1 of 2nd and 5th grade. :)  Year-Round Homeschooling is Great.

Thursday, June 27, 2013



I simply have to rise early.  It is the foundation of our whole day, as a family, what I do in the early mornings.  Morning chores, morning spiritual practice, morning stretching and sipping of coffee, or today early morning blogging - it's very true that if you want to make sure something happens, do it first thing in the morning.

My morning routine begins immediately with putting the kettle on.  Then, after personal bio needs are met, I set about unloading the dishwasher and frequently start a load of laundry.  Yesterday's coffee grounds need to go in the worm bin, and frequently worm compost tea needs to be drained out.  Worm tea gets mixed with water and I go out to water my plants with it.  It's the same routine every morning.  I could almost do it in my sleep.  Maybe I am asleep. :)  Then the kids need to be roused, and they need to head out to do their morning chores: feed goats, chickens, and turkeys, collect eggs, dump kitchen compost in the bin.

Time allowing, I get a tiny bit of personal study or reflection or spiritual practice time then.

From that foundation, I can usually face the variable nature of each day.  If lunches need to be packed, I can do that.  If we are doing a big school day at home, we can begin.  If we are leaving the house, we can load the car.

But it's all a house of cards.  I need to rise early.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The home stretch


I'm not quite sure why, but I got very involved in counting out the 180 school days this year, and logging them all.  I've never much cared about it before, and we homeschool year round, but this year I bought a log book, and well ....

So I'm trying to get to 180 days by the end of this month, because I started the darn book in July of last year.

We're in the home stretch, having logged 177 days.  These last few days of the year have been a bit, well, more unconventional.  We've had a camping trip, a day of "trade skills" for the boy today as he helped me paint our rental house, and the girl is off in a naturalist summer camp on the beach this week.  But I'm still focused on logging these days!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Museum Field Trips


I love being part of a local homeschool group so that we can get the "school tours" at local museums.  Yesterday's Fossil Discovery tour was super fun!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Sometimes the Only Routine is "Stay Flexible"

Somedays we do our workbooks at home, somedays we have to do them at the dealership while the oil is being changed in the car.  These routine tasks that happen every now and then still feel disruptive to my work and homeschool flow.  Oil changes, dentist appointments, annual check-ups, propane fill ups, vet appointments, random weird errands, tasks, and appointments in general!

I like routines and rhythms.  Goodness, I even like a good bell system telling me when to be where.  I like structure, and neatness, and order.  I think it would be nice to go into a religious order that had a strong structure to life - like Benedict's Way.  How do Benedictine monks deal with dentist appointments and propane fill-ups - does this throw their whole rhythm off the way it does mine?

Life just doesn't seem to stay neat and tidy, and more and more I'm finding the only "normal" I can really give to our days is "stay flexible".  Of course, this is part of the transition from the predictable days of winter to the adventurous days of summer, and this throws me off every year.  But why does it look so lovely and manageable on other blogs?  Am I doing it all wrong?


Somedays the routine gets thrown off for what feels like a "good" or "fun" reason, like when we have a field trip to the beach, or we drive 45 minutes each way for a homeschool chess club but it's so much fun it makes it worth it.  Last minute invites to play dates and amusement parks and sleep overs call for flexibility, but the result is fun.


Or there are the times when it's not fun, like when we are in the hospital waiting room for hours while my sister is having her tonsils removed.  These are times that are decidedly not fun, but of course you need to make yourself available to help people in those times.  The times when you get a last minute call to rescue someone who's car has died on the highway, or to go feed someone's cat because they missed their flight home, or bring them soup and check their fever, or worse of all to meet them at the hospital because they think they have weird chest pain.  People will need you, and you'll have to drop everything to help - and that seriously messes up the routine!

We also get called on to help with things: move a piano, help tow a recreational vehicle for a friend, collect book donations for a future charity sale, etc.  All the many times that people need just a little bit of help, and of course you make time!  That's the kind of world I want to live in, where people show up to help each other, to do the good stuff that makes it all a bit of a better world.


And then there are the days when schoolwork is abandoned because there is other work I need to get done, like working on the yard of our rental house.




With two houses to care for, there are plenty of tasks to be done or to find someone else to do.  And I can't seem to get that work to always fit into the boxes of my routine that I wish it would.

So .... I wish this post was a lovely "the rhythm of our days" type of thing with beautiful pictures of tea time and reading time and a sweet nature table photo thrown in for extra aesthetic value.

But that's not my life.  This crazy, flexible, be there for people and do as much as I can life is the one I'm actually living.  Flexibly.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Weekly Book Post: Wonder, Scat, and Chomp


This week I'll highlight the wonderful audiobooks we've been listening to in the car.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio was mentioned in the resource section of Sticks and Stones, and so I put a hold on it from our library.  The audio version is mesmerizing, with different readers to voice each section of the book that is told from the point of view of a different character.  Ten year old Auggie is a "wonder" - he has a rare genetic disorder that has left his faced deformed.  Because of all the surgery he has had to undergo, he's been homeschooled until 5th grade, when he enters Middle School.  It's hard for Auggie to be accepted, but the problems Auggie faces are really just like those all the other kids (and it's told from their point of view also) face in this tender book that shows just how vulnerable, imperfect, but also loving and hopeful we all can be.  It's a truly lovely gem of a book.

Scat by Carl Hiaasen is another of the author's fun environmentalist adventures for kids, set in Florida's swamps.  A class-field trip to the Black Vine Swamp is interrupted by a wild-fire, and then the dreaded biology teacher, Mrs. Starch, disappears mysteriously after she goes back into the swamp to search for some dropped asthma medication.  The mystery of what happened takes several students on quite the adventure. Based on how much the whole family loved Chomp, I've been getting other books by the author for the kids.  However, while my husband loved Chomp as read by James Van Der Beek, he could not stand the reading of Scat by Edward Asner (Asner's voice is a bit phlemy).  The kids didn't mind Asner's voice, and are eager for more from Hiaasen.

And there you have the listening part of our reading life.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

My old favorite Tshirt


It was my favorite.  The kind of shirt that strangers said "cool shirt" while I was out and about.

But it was stained.  It wasn't really fit to be worn anymore.


So it was nice that I had a red tea towel stashed away in my embroidery supply box.  It was from Sublime Stitching, bought more than a decade ago and never used for an embroidery project.

I really wasn't ready to put that red rolling pin in the rag bin.  Now I don't have to!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Sunday Evenings




I feel so blessed by our Sunday evening tradition.  We have dinner at my in-law's, and this time of year that also involves enjoying the lake and lawn games.  Beautiful relaxing family times.  If something is important to you, stake out time for it.  Make it sacred.  Build a cathedral in time.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

A fun scavenger hunt idea


Yesterday the kids and I went to a fun scavenger hunt organized by a mom in our homeschool group.  Her really fun idea was to use egg cartons, and paint each well in the carton a different color.


Twelve different colors for the twelve wells in the carton.  Once the paint had dried, the kids all set out to find something that color on the beach.


For a few of the colors, my kids ended up picking up bits of trash.  A yellow straw bit for the yellow.  A bread bag tie for the white.  Others stuck with just rocks and were sifted carefully through the piles of rocks on the beach.


It really was lots of fun!  I'm going to copy this idea for a scavenger hunt at church, I think.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Weekly Book Post (Zero Waste Home and Blessing of a Skinned Knee)


This week I've read Zero Waste Home and The Blessing of a Skinned Knee.  (Also Models of Teaching but I won't bother to review that).

Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste by Bea Johnson tells the personal story of how Johnson's family went from the typical American Dream lifestyle to a massive downsizing and as close to Zero Waste (and they get pretty close!) as they can get.  Johnson then goes through area by area of your life and gives practical tips on how to bring that area down to Zero Waste.  This begins with her general Five Steps: Refuse (what you do not need or want), Reduce (what you do need), Reuse (everything you can), Recycle (what you just couldn't reduce or reuse), and Rot (everything else).  It's a good book, and a compelling challenge.  I'll be posting more about my efforts to reduce my waste soon!

The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children by Wendy Mogel, Ph.D. is a breath of fresh air for me in the pile of parenting books out there.  Mogel is a clinical psychologist and teaches parenting classes, rooting her philosophy in Jewish Teachings.  This isn't a How-To for getting your kids to sleep through the night, or research on how to increase test scores.  Rather, Mogel focuses on reframing our view of the world, our lives, and our families.

A quote from the book:

"Unsure how to find grace and security in the complex world we've inherited, we try to fill up the spaces in our children's lives with stuff: birthday entertainments, lessons, rooms full of toys and equipment, tutors and therapists.  But material pleasures can't buy peace of mind, and all the excess leads to more anxiety - parents fear that their children will not be able to sustain this rarefied lifestyle and will fall off the mountain parents have built for them."

Mogel lays out "Blessings" that can counter this problem:

The Blessing of Acceptance

The Blessing of Having Someone to Look Up To

The Blessing of a Skinned Knee

The Blessing of Longing

The Blessing of Work

The Blessing of Food

The Blessing of Self-Control

The Blessing of Time

The Blessing of Faith and Tradition

I like the book very much, and am adding it to my "Must Have Parenting Books" shelf!

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Consumption Cycle

I decided to do a "Buy Nothing New" year (just personally; my husband and kids didn't want to join me) in 2013 (confession time: I have "cheated" and bought a new pair of shorts and a new sundress for my vacation, and half-cheated by giving my husband such strong hints about my desire for new slippers that he bought me a pair), and I've also been very moved by the Bangladeshi factory collapse to look more closely at where our stuff comes from.  Consumption and "stuff" just seems to happen in our culture, far too easily.

But what to do when your daughter's favorite pair of shoes looks like this?  I really wanted to throw these out and get her some new shoes (that she would actually wear).  Finding fair trade or Made in the USA shoes for kids (that she would like and wear) turned out to be very difficult.


Trips to the local thrift shops turned up nothing.  Research into shoe companies that at least tried to be ethical in some way led me to lean toward Keens or Toms as being slightly better options (although not perfect).  I finally ended up getting her a pair of used Toms on ebay, and then she was willing to throw away these old purple shoes.  Although I hate to add things to the land fill, these were beyond repair or repurposing that I could think of.

We also sorted through her clothing, and filled two large bags for donation with stuff she has outgrown.  Some of that was replaced when I went to the 50% off sale at the Value Village, and came home with three bags of clothing for the four of us.  I feel pretty good about the thrift store cycling of clothing.

But sometimes things can't just keep going around and around forever.  I had a sweater that I bought from the thrift store for myself two or three years ago, and it has seen pretty heavy wear in the last few years because I liked it a lot.  Now it is just worn out, too misshapen and thread bare in places to go back to the thrift store for another go-around.


But before I threw it away I snipped off the buttons and added them to my button box, and I salvaged two hats out of it.

I used another hat as a pattern (another hat I made a few years ago also from an old sweater).


And just cut around it, then stitch right-sides together.  Easy as can be.


"Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Do, or Do Without".  I'm trying.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

What in the World Are We Studying Now?


We don't follow a grand, preplanned scope and sequence here in our homeschool.  As I explained last August, child-led interests caused us to abandon the chronological approach to history, for instance.

And now that my daughter is also off on her own explorations that sometimes converge, sometimes run parallel, and sometimes conflict with those of her older brother, we end up with some very interesting combinations going at once around here.  I'll admit that it can overwhelm me a bit at times, to juggle all these subject areas, two very different learners, and all the resources to organize and schedules to keep straight.

Currently we are:


1.  Feeding a new found interest in classical music in both kids.  In addition to their piano and violin lessons, they are enjoying learning more about the life of some famous composers and listening to classical music on Pandora.

2.  Exploring the Colonial history of North America.  After my daughter watched the Disney movie Pocahontas from the library and I was reminded how inaccurate that movie is, I started by checking out some good children's biographies of Pocahontas.  Interest in Jamestown led us to the PBS reality show Colonial House, which was a huge hit with the kids.  Now we are reading a stack of library books about Colonial times and contemplating some craft projects to go with it.


3.  The boy has just finished reading a whole chapter book by himself - a new achievement for him!  The book is Alanna, the first in a series of four books I had just read out loud to both kids, so he decided to go back to the beginning of the story and read it again.  The sight of him curled up reading a book is a welcome one for me!

4.  He is also finishing his study of WWII.  We're wrapping it up with a few old classic John Wayne movies, and then we'll be done.  Since we broke with our old chronological approach to jump straight to WWI, we had to decide what to do next: keep going through the 20th century history or go back to something earlier?  He chose the latter option, and we're going back to Medieval history where we had left off before.

5.  Getting our second go-around with Ancient Greece.  My daughter was interested enough to sit in and listen when her older brother studied Ancient Greece years ago, and we did Greek Myths all together last year.  So now she is ready to study Ancient Greece in her own right, but he's interested enough to listen in (this is a great advantage of multi-grade settings, that children get multiple exposures and plenty of chances to review and even be tutors to younger children).  Because we did the myths so much already, we're reading children's versions of the Homeric epics now.


6.  Earth Science for Hypatia using Real Science Odyssey, and Physics for Carbon using Exploration Education.  We've got crystals growing right now, and we've been messing about with a rock collection, identifying rocks.  Carbon has built an electrical circuit and is messing about a lot with his snap circuits (I can't praise snap circuits enough).

7.  Still practicing Spanish with Rosetta Stone and Hooked on Spanish.

8.  Choosing not to move on from the Alpha level of Math U See right away for the girl, but doing some Kumon addition and subtraction workbooks first.  Meanwhile, the boy is cruising again and moving quickly through the Gamma level.  Sometimes math comprehension comes quickly, sometimes it doesn't, and we try to follow the flow and stay with a level until it's truly been mastered.

9.  Doing Language Lessons with both kids, and then we've been doing Explode the Code (on paper, not the online version) with both as well, but I think it's no longer useful for my son.  He's finished Level 3, and now I'm wanting to do a different program with him - something like a word roots program.  If you have one to recommend, please tell me!

10.  With the boy we are using Writing Strands.  I have mixed feelings about the program, and would like to explore some other writing programs.  Once again, recommendations are most welcome!

11.  With the girl we are still focused on getting her reading.  We have a lot of beginning readers, and just read one a day.  They are of extremely variable quality, but have the virtue of being short even if they are awful.  I try to pay attention to her zone of proximal development and avoid frustrating her too much but still challenging her as we read together.

12.  And of course there is: nature study as it occurs naturally (pun intended), "Outdoor Hour", gardening, baking, animal husbandry, chores, Minecraft, imaginative play, movie-making, "Project Time" and "Making Time", yoga, and field trips.

What we're not doing: we've fallen off with our art program.  Mostly we ran out of supplies, and I haven't had the money to spend to go the art supply store.