Thursday, January 29

The Rest of our Year

We are going to spend most of the rest of the year walking through U.S. History (from 1865 on) through the lives of the Presidents. We had previously studied the first portion of our history and I suspect that it will come up time and again through the years. But the later part is something that I don't remember walking through very often...especially the 1960's through to current events. Personally, I'm excited to tell my kids all about the 70's, 80's and 90's. At least I can speak from experience at that point.

Here's what the plans look like so far:
Week 22: Lincoln (review), Johnson, Grant
Week 23: Hayes and several days on Electricity.
Week 24: Garfield, Arthur, Cleveland
Week 25: Harrison, McKinley, Roosevelt
Week 26: The Automobile
Week 27: Taft, Wilson and maybe some Harlem Jazz too.
Week 28: Harding, Coolidge, Hoover
Week 29: FDR
Week 30: Truman, Eisenhower and something to be determined.
Week 31 - 33: Space Exploration
Week 34: Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford
Week 35: Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton
Week 36: Bush, Obama and wrap up.

J wanted to study electricity and B wanted to study space so I put those in the appropriate places in the timeline of our study.

We'll continue the boys' Monday Classes in Art and Sports at least through March so those will be half days at home. We love that.

We'll make Fridays a Project Day from now through April so that we can park on some of the fun discoveries and inventions during these terms. I'm looking forward to how the boys respond to a reliable and free form day of the week.

I just worked on our attendance record (because I'm just THAT way) and listed our field trips for the year. Surprisingly, we haven't done very many. I'm hoping for a good road trip though on which we can get all of our field trips out of our system. We'll see.

It feels good to be back on my game.

This is Why

The day after J took for. ever to do his math I asked, "So, why do you think it took so long?"

He said, "Because I was thinking about what I would be doing if it was a vacation day and what kind of Legos I want to buy and my mind suddenly went 'snap.' "

Gotcha. I totally get it.

Tuesday, January 27


Why does it take 45 minutes to get four math problems completed?

I'm just wondering.

Thursday, January 22

Homeschooling When You're Distracted

Who among us doesn't have to deal with this?

Maybe you're waiting to hear about a medical test. Waiting for your oldest child to call you when they finish that road trip back to college. Worried about the stock market. Hoping to hear good news about your husband's job interview. Wishing you could just break away for the afternoon and work on a special project. Ever heard the phrase, "You're only as strong as your weakest link?" Well, getting the kids focused will only happen to the degree that you remain focused.

I think I've spent the past five years in a state of distraction. And over the next couple of months it will only increase. So what do we do? Here's my pattern:

1. Get something done. First move through the most important parts of the learning day (Math, reading and writing are my choices). If nothing else happens at least you covered the basic foundations.

2. Chunk it up more. If I think we need to accomplish 9 things today and I'm not in a productive state of mind then I will probably do all nine badly. If I think we need to accomplish two and then two and then two more, etc. then it feels possible. Taking breaks in between ideas or concepts or subject is fine.

3. Give in. If what's distracting me is going to keep me from being an effective teacher/parent, then I need to deal with the distraction as best as I can. I can work toward solving a problem that is distracting me or relieve some of anxiety by making a phone call to someone who will let me vent. Once I've given in to it a bit, I'll be able to focus more on what the children need to address for the day. It could mean not starting "school" until after lunch, but it is okay.

4. Put the kids first. There are certain things that weigh on our minds that we can't do a darn thing about. Kids are a perfect way to get your mind off something and they would love to have your complete attention. Let them do something out of the ordinary and call it school. Today I just might pull out the watercolors and we'll all paint. Yesterday we made Chinese food together for our dinner (because we're studying China) and it counted as part of our day. The fact that they were helping me made me more alert, took my mind of other things and made the experience of cooking a meal for the family much more enjoyable.

Homeschooling comes with a lot of freedoms, but it also comes with a lot of distractions. (You all know that you don't have to answer the phone when it rings, right?) Holding myself accountable is one of the greatest challenges I face. Some days more than others. Now, what do we have left to do today....?

Monday, January 19

Inauguration Plans

My kids and I watched the election results together and that was a good time of answering their questions and listening to them predict who would win based on their own opinions. I think that Inauguration day will be a fun day for us. Dad has the morning off. We are going to watch it and then we'll do some minimal school items like math and reading.

When I was growing up my mom kept my brother and I home from school to watch Inaugurations and Space Shuttle launches. It was the 70's and space exploration was still pretty fresh. We always had doughnuts for breakfast on those days. I remember going to school later in the morning and telling my friends why I was late and they thought it was the coolest thing ever. Me too.

I want to establish memories like this with my kids. So, I'm going to prep a couple things for tomorrow. Kaboose has some ideas to try. So does Crafty Crow.

And of course we'll include the doughnuts.

Thursday, January 15

Crazy Overachiever Mom

I think it's entirely possible to simply do tooo much of any one thing. Since we're studying China right now I'm scanning the internet for a few ideas based on what the boys said they wanted to learn. (See, I'm following through on what I said I'd do!) So, as I was looking for some ideas on Chinese weapons last night I found a web site with lots of ideas and I groaned. "Oh no! We're not doing Chinese proverbs or music!. " Fear swept over me and I thought about how to add these things into what's left of our four week study. Then the site reminded me of pandas and ping pong. Oh, those are fun too! What am I gonna do?


Seriously, the country is over 3,000 years old so there's a lot to cover. We aren't even touching the whole dynasty thing -- just mentioning their existence and moving along. It seems like an injustice, but when they're only 9 and 6 I think they still have time to recover.

So, today we read briefly about Chinese warriors and weapons, refrained from making our own kite (which were used in warfare in case you were wondering what that connection was), had them write just a scosh about the Terra Cotta warriors and then let them draw their own funny comics about them (which is a big hit with boys). J's was pretty funny actually! Then we learned how to write the Chinese character for "marry into, marry," talked about the difference between western marriages and arranged marriages and painted the characters with black tempura onto red poster board.

From there J read a Chinese legend, worked through his Latin (this child CAN handle two languages at once!), and wrote the third paragraph of his own Chinese legend all while B read aloud to me, worked through some mapwork and pushed through Math (B is tired today). After a break we finished up math, practiced saying the days of the week in Chinese (Friday is a fun day to say), read our Chapter in Eric Liddell and talked about John 13:34-35.

We're skipping Calligraphy today.
Because the paper we made yesterday is still drying.

And it is o.k.

Monday, January 12

Christmas Aftermath

I don't actually know if it's the time of year (rainy season), the let down from Christmas or the fact that we're strapped for cash and can't go out much, but keeping the negative energy at bay in our house has become my full-time job. We go through this just about every year. My oldest child in particular has a very difficult time with the holidays and as much as we try to make it special but very subdued coming out of it with grace is still a work in progress.

My oldest goes through these cycles every year of being highly frustratable, explosive and inflexible. I've talked about it before. I do recognize them as cycles so I now know that this will not be the tone of our family life forever. I have also noticed that these downward cycles are a lot shorter than they were several years ago. Though this year seems particularly hard. I also know the major triggers -- Christmas is one (and so is his brother's birthday which is coming up in a couple weeks). When he feels this way it usually is just a wait and see process. He needs to be the one to get himself out of it and when he does it's just a total transformation from one day to the next.

This week we have just a few social outings/classes/things but not many. I could pack the calandar full (read: swoop in and try to save my oldest from his burning discontent by drowning him in playdates), but in this particular state of mind extra interactions will likely end up being a disaster and then he'll feel worse. Been there done that.

So, we press on with the things that need to happen. We keep the schedule as regular as we can. School continues (I bite my tongue harder and more often). We talk to him more. We remind him what the next "right" step is when it's obvious he can't come up with it on his own. We assure him that he is loved no matter what. And we wait.

I wish Christmas really was a quiet day about a baby in a manger... the one who came to save us from ourselves.

Tuesday, January 6

Financial Dreaming

One assumption you can safely make about the majority of homeschoolers is that we live on one income. Sometimes I meet couples who both work and take turns to intentionally educate the kids, or one parent works outside of home and the other has a home-based business. Sometimes I even meet single moms who are homeschooling (and I haven't pryed enough to find out how that works). These stories inspire me. There is so much we can learn from one another. But for the most part, as in my case, one of us does not bring in an income.

In case you ever wondered -- and I have been asked from time to time -- there are no tax breaks for homeschoolers. We still pay the same property or income tax everyone pays to support the public schools. I dream of the day when all of our curriculum will be tax-deductible, but since all of life is "curriculum" that could get a little sticky for any accountant. On top of the regular tax, our utlilities are higher because we are home all day and use the heat, light and water. I'm not sure if our food bill is proportionately higher (because we tend not to buy more expensive pre-packaged foods like Lunchables and little bags of chips) but I feel like my kids are eating ALL the time. In addition, high speed internet for research and lesson ideas has become an essential expense and those library overdue fines tend to be pretty regular if we need to hang on to a book a little while longer.

Oh, the things I could do with the $8,510 per student spending in Oregon (according to here.).
  • 69.3% is for teaching and student resources. That's $5,897.43 I could put toward books, school supplies, craft supplies, the library, lab equipment, printer cartridges, paper and a very little something for me to expand my professional wardrobe.
  • 17.3% is for buses, building and food. That's $1,472.23 I could put back into our food budget, keep the van running smoothly and and maybe outfit our home with a proper worktable and cozier reading nooks.
  • 6.7% is for the principal's office. That's $570.17 for that cozy couch I've always wanted to have in my bedroom to retreat to while all the little people are quietly doing their work [note: sarcasm].
  • 4.0% is for business services and technology. That's $340.40 I could pay a computer tech to network both our computers at home and install a child-internet filter.
  • 2.7% is for the central administration. That's $229.77 for date nights and baby sitters -- during which we always end up discussing the direction of our kids' schooling (not).

But somehow we do this thing and manage to spend about $400 a year on curriculum materials on top of our living expenses. And I feel like they are getting a customized, intensive and thoughtful educational experience while blowing all the benchmarks out of the water. So, we're doing okay. A little on the poor side, but okay nevertheless.

And then he prayed, “God, I’m asking for two things before I die; don’t refuse me— Banish lies from my lips and liars from my presence. Give me enough food to live on, neither too much nor too little. If I’m too full, I might get independent, saying, ‘God? Who needs him?’ If I’m poor, I might steal and dishonor the name of my God.” -- the words of Agur in Psalm 30

Monday, January 5

Monday Classes

My older two boys are signed up to take two classes for homeschoolers on Mondays at the local community center. The classes begin at 11:15 so we have from 9 - 11 at home to get some basics done. This morning part of our time was spent learning how to paint the Chinese character for "love."

We also made their notebook covers, worked through their math and began reading about Eric Liddell. Then we quickly packed their lunches and left for their classes.

They have art, a little lunch break, and then sports. Today was their first day. It turns out that the "art" class was a little lighter than I anticipated and they spent their time free-painting with black tempura -- which we had sort of just done at home so guess what they chose to paint in class too... I guess they did some art interpretation for a little while too ("What do you see in J's painting?") . I'm a bit disappointed, but I'll give the teacher (a Reed College grad) the benefit of the doubt since she was spitting a crown out of her mouth into the sink when we arrived. It could have just been a day for her.

The sports class was fun for them and luckily a good mix of boys/girls of various ages. They played field hockey in the gym and their coach was the same one they had this summer during basketball camp.

So, for two hours on Monday I have just S to myself. I gotta say, it makes for a nice day. I ran a few errands and cleaned the kitchen while they were in class. Tempting to think about how much I could get done if they were in .... nevermind. I won't go there because it's really not about me.

Sunday, January 4

China Unit Study

We have about an inch of snow falling tonight again. (I LOVE that) As we worked together to take the trash to the curb, we lingered a little longer to enjoy the falling snow. Then it was inside to put the kids in warm baths and play some Snakes and Ladders with hot chocolate and leftover birthday cake (mine, from yesterday).

They are just now going off to sleep and I'm prepping for the week. Our two weeks of fun and play are over, but I think we're excited about where we're headed with our learning this month.

  • Read the YWAM biography of Eric Liddell and focus on China. Write a four line poem each day about what happened in the chapter.
  • Study Proverbs 22:1, John 13:35, Hebrews 12:1-2, and 1 Timothy 4:8 (word studies, translation comparisons and memory work).
  • Begin a new notebook and think about what we already know about China.
  • Paint a Chinese character/word daily. We'll begin with "love."
  • Map work for all of China in week one.
  • Ancient China study for weeks two and three -- they get to pick the daily theme.
  • View videos of Shanghai, Hong Kong and Beijing and think about Modern China in week four.
  • Replace basic penmanship practice with Calligraphy lessons.
  • Read some traditional Chinese folktales.
  • Spend two weeks getting our feet wet learning to speak and sing Mandarin Chinese.
  • Continue in both of their Math studies.
  • Continue in J's Latin studies (maybe not... maybe two languages at once is too much?)
  • Get back to J's work in his IEW program.
  • B will be working on some map skills for the whole month.
  • B will be reading some books to me that we picked out of the early reader section at the library. We're going with the Arthur series from Lillian Hoban.
  • Give S plenty of play dough and paper and scissors to keep him happy. He's already got a leg up during this unit. We think he speaks Chinese pretty well already. :-)
We have some other fun stuff happening this week too. I just might post every day.

Thursday, January 1

New Year's Interview

While we don't have many strict traditions for Christmas, our New Year's Eve is very predictable. I look forward to the day when we can actually watch movies that we all want to watch. Right now the kids get to pick it and I had to endure the Rubber Dubbers two years in a row... this year it was Clone Wars.

One ritual we have is the New Year's Eve Interview. I don't know where I found this idea or where the questions came from, but I ask the kids the same questions every year and record their responses. Then I store them in some unknown place and lose them. But as soon as I find them all I can put them together and see how the kids' responses have changed (or not!) over the years.

Here are the questions I ask them every year:
1. I am lucky because...
2. If I could have three wishes they would be...
3. I'm a little afraid of...
4. I would describe myself as...
5. My favorite time this year was...
6. If I could change one thing it would be...
7. My favorite things are...
8. This year I hope I...

There's still time today to start this tradition with your own kids. I think it's one of those things that I'll be really glad I did as the years go by (provided I do a better job of keeping their answers in a more memorable spot).

Here's a few tips:
  • Interview the kids separately. One will assuredly just repeat his brother's answers if they are in the same room.
  • Write down everything they say. Don't edit or correct them.
  • Young kids have a hard time coming up with adjectives for themselves. Give them a few suggestions.
  • Favorite things can be as big of a list as they want. Include toys, activities, people and places.
  • Store the answers in the same spot/journal/photo box every year. ;-)