Wednesday, June 04, 2014

And Just Like That The Year Is Almost Over

(Yes, I know I shouldn't begin a title with And, but I wanted to.)

It's June. It's hot. We're eating watermelon. It's time for the outbreath of summer. We are definitely in wrap it up mode.

This has been one of our oddest homeschool years ever. I learned to let go, to be flexible, and to relax; the boys learned without my planning and hovering.

To remind everyone of where we are, T-Guy (a moniker long ago discarded) is 15 and was in 9th grade for the 2013 - 2014 homeschool year.  J-Baby (oh how he hates that name now, but I'm not changing it on the blog) is 14 and was in 8th grade this past year.  Wait, didn't he do 8th grade last year? He did, but I still had him registered as a 7th grader in my little private school. We will decide when to graduate him based on when he finishes the courses he needs for university.

Our yearly summary:

Mathematics: The boys are using Teaching Textbooks Algebra I and it has gone better than I ever dreamed. They aren't quite finished; their true summer break will start once they get through the last few chapters.

Language Arts: Hmm, I don't keep track of eery book they read because it would be impossible. Together we read Oh Pioneers! by Willa Cather, and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. They have also read several books, fiction and non-fiction, with Papa. They did some spelling and vocabulary using SAT Vocabulary Lightning, but we relaxed on that when we learned that the SAT test would be changing and that the obscure vocabulary wouldn't be focused on any longer. Now I am working with spelling, vocabulary, and grammar in a more holistic manner, correcting it as needed. Writing is usually done in a subject journal format, which works well for them.

Science: We started with Elementary Chemistry. J-Baby loved it and went with it, T-Guy hated it and stalled. Still, they did a lot in the five months that they used it. Since then we've approached science with documentaries and discussion, along with some non-fiction reading. This spring we watched Cosmos (new version) together as a family and used it as a springboard for further discussion and exploration. We star-gazed, we traveled into nature and identified rocks, plants, and animals, and we explored lakes, rivers, creeks, and the ocean. We even went to fish hatchery to learn about that (which tied in with last year's reading of The Giver). Papa took the boys on a JPL tour, and I took them to tour both a high tech noodle factory and a low tech olive factory.

Social Studies: Short Lessons in World History was far more time consuming than the title would suggest. Still, the boys put in the work and gave it an hour a day until race season started.  We then switched to the documentary and discussion format that works so well for them, as well as assigned non-fiction reading. We went on a few field trips, including one that taught us about early settlers to the USA. This spring we spent considerable time discussing politics; J-Baby was fascinated by the incoming political mail and informally gathered opinions and ideas about politics from it. This has given me the idea to watch our fall general election closely and do more scientific gathering of data from the political mailers.

Foreign Language: I had almost given up hope that they would gain interest in Spanish, but they did, and they have been putting our Rosetta Stone program to good use. I don't even have to remind them - they do multiple lessons daily and it's 100% child directed.

Health: We focused a lot on puberty, sexuality, and social relationships this year. Along with physical hygiene, which now includes caring for skin with acne and how to prevent fungal infections (luckily, no one has gotten one yet).

Arts: Piano (J-Baby) and Guitar (T-Guy) have been their main instruments again this year, although J-Baby picks up a guitar fairly often and I imagine that a request for lessons is forthcoming (do you know that when your mother regularly uses words such as forthcoming that you end up with a great vocabulary organically?). Both boys also sing and have been working on harmonies. They also enjoy using Garage Band.

Physical Education: This has been the year of the bike! Both boys were on the mountain bike team, with T-Guy on the high school team and J-Baby on the middle school development team. This isn't just riding bikes, this is learning about being athletes. Learning new skills, improving existing skills, practicing good nutrition, learning about physiology - it's all there.

Vocational Arts: The boys are learning the ins and outs of both bike maintenance and repair and trailer maintenance and repair.

I'm starting to think about next year, and how I can bring back some Waldorf elements to our days while still keeping the responsibility for learning on the boys.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Year Is Slipping Away From Me.

I started this post last April!  I abandoned it, but it has a lot of good info so I will update and post it.

What we did/are doing:

Math: We did Oak Meadow 7th Grade Math and 8th Grade Math. We chose to do two years of math last year so that T-Guy could work at his true grade level. We (did) do math daily now rather than in blocks and it has made a difference in how well the boys retain their new skills.  Both of them really love math. This year we've switched to Teaching Textbooks for Algebra I and it is going really, really well. In the space of 14 months I went from having math reluctant children to having kids who count math among their favorite subjects.

Language Arts: We read, discussed, and wrote about The Giver, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, A Wrinkle in TimeBridge to Terabithia, Johnny Tremain, and several other books that I can't think of right now. We enjoyed The Giver so much that we read the rest of the books in that series, and J-Baby also read all of the Hitchiker's books. We started and abandoned Lord of the Flies as it wasn't grabbing any of us. Many other books have been read for pleasure rather than by assignment.  This year I have chosen our literature based on common 9th grade reading lists; so far we have read and discussed My Antonia and are finishing up Great Expectations, with more classics to come throughout the year.

We used the spelling/vocabulary lists from Oak Meadow 8th Grade English; I input the words into Vocabulary Spelling City and the boys learned and tested on the words using the VSC iPad app.  This year we are combining a book called SAT Vocabulary Lightning with the VSC app.

I had high hopes for The Write Foundation but it didn't work for us; the content was too religious with a decidedly creationist slant. Instead, last year we focused on solid paragraph writing with the boys answering questions in their subject journals. The boys took a Brave Writer online course last spring and we got so much from it that I bought their program and that is what we are using this year, along with continuing with subject journals.

We're still using Daily Grammar off and on.

Social Studies: The main spine for this subject was the Oak Meadow 8th Grade Civics syllabus. I found it uninspired and too heavy on the written work, so we adapted it for home use. We also watched several PBS/BBC series that brought various historical time periods to life for the boys, including Colonial House, Frontier House, 1900 House, and 1940s House. We tried Manor House but gave it up as it wasn't nearly as good as the others (something I recall from when Papa and I watched them the first time around).  This year we are using Short Lessons in World History; our intention is to switch to the Big History Project next fall, so this is just a brush up.

Science: We started with Oak Meadow 8th Grade Physical Science, but switched to Classic Science Elementary Physical Science as Papa didn't really have time to work the Oak Meadow with the boys on a daily basis and he felt it was poorly written and difficult to understand. The Classic Science program is more student directed and I was able to manage the experiments. The boys liked it so well that we are using Classic Science Elementary Chemistry this year. Papa also took up teaching the boys electronics, which they have continued this year. J-Baby is still learning to program on both the Mac and the iPad.

Physical Education: We decided not to do the same program we did in 2011 - 2012. The boys enjoyed it but it was scheduled in the middle of the afternoon and I had tired of the interruption it caused in our day. We focused most of our joint PE work on mountain biking; there are always new skills to be learned. In addition the boys worked on strength training using body weight only, and T-Guy had baseball. This year the boys have joined the area high school and middle school mountain biking teams, which comprise a full physical education curriculum.

Health: We focused on healthy bodies last year and will continue this year. We have ongoing discussions and learning about the role of exercise on the body, plus healthy diet and other habits such as ample sleep, fluid intake, and stress reduction. We continue to address the topics of puberty, teen sexuality, substance abuse, anger management, and healthy relationships.

Foreign Language: The boys elected not to study a foreign language last year, although we offered Spanish. J-Baby did dabble in Spanish using various resources. They began focused foreign language lessons this fall with Rosetta Stone Latin American Spanish.

Fine Arts: Both boys made significant progress in their musical pursuits. J-Baby continued with piano lessons and T-Guy made a concentrated effort with guitar. This year J-Baby is again taking piano lessons and we found a great guitar teacher for T-Guy. Both boys work on music appreciation and have been learning the works of famous composers. In addition, J-Baby pursues drawing and other art endeavors, including modeling and mixed media work.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

The Plan (and Some Pre-First Day of Homeschool Excitement)

Since my last post I thought we had come to a decision regarding this coming homeschool year (we'll start the week of the fall equinox). T-Guy wanted to move into grade 8 and to use Oak Meadow, so we ordered that. J-Baby didn't want to use OM7 (we'd already covered the science and history), and while I had written that I would consider moving him into grade 8, once I looked at the OM8 assignments I thought maybe they were more work than he would be willing to do.  Not more than he was capable of, just more than I thought he'd be willing to do. I've tried to make children do more than they want to and I've never found it to work all that well. So I thought we'd piece together our own grade 7, with J-Baby joining T-Guy for the OM math and science.

Yesterday J-Baby brought up the idea of moving into grade 8 (I hadn't offered it as an option). We talked about the level of work required and I mentioned my concerns; he thinks he can do it. It's true that he is a different child than he was just a few months ago, more helpful and more willing to do work. I decided that we'll give it a month or two and if it isn't working out we'll come up with something else.

The decision takes a weight off me; I know what we will be doing academically for the first couple of months. That gives me more time to imagine and plan everything else we will be doing - the Waldorf-y parts of our days. Our festivals, crafts, handwork, cooking/baking, etc.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Post That Took Months to Write ...

... or, Is Waldorf (or Enki) Education Still What We Need?

When we started our home education journey T-Guy had just completed his second trip around the sun, while J-Baby was close to completing his first. In other words, the boys were young. Life Learning (aka unschooling) is what appealed to me most at that time; I liked the idea of children learning through living and delving into subjects as their own interests inspired them. I knew some successful life learners and it seemed to be working out well for everyone. Of course, that path didn't end up being 100% right for us as a family, and so we turned to Waldorf and Enki.

Our long foray into holistic education has been wonderful and was the right choice for the elementary years, but as I sit and contemplate planning another year of Waldorf-guided studies I find myself thinking that this really isn't how I envisioned our later home learning years. My goal has always been to raise children who could figure out how to learn what they want to know, not to continue to spoon-feed them information that I have chosen. Now, Waldorf doesn't have to equal spoon-feeding, certainly, but reading the various Live Education guides it sort of seems like it does, and there is no doubt that Waldorf education is teacher-driven. As I contemplate reading very long passages out loud to them I wonder why they learned to read (just kidding, but barely). Not that there aren't times that we enjoy reading out loud, but as a method of introducing material it gets old fast. I have never really wanted to recreate a Waldorf school here in our home. Okay, that might not exactly true: there have been moments where I wanted to recreate an Enki or Waldorf school in my home. With me as the teacher. And a handful of students. Not all of them my children. But that is fantasy, not reality.

We have attempted to give our boys a glorious childhood. They are everything I think children should be: healthy, curious, open, kind, loving, helpful, imaginative, connected to their bodies, and more. Just the other day (um, month) J-Baby (days away from being 12) happily joined in make-believe play with two younger friends, coming up with a makeshift oven for them to bake cookies in. Then the boys watched a couple episodes of their (current) favorite science program. Later in the afternoon they walked to the park and tossed a football around with a friend. That evening they helped Papa set up our new generator and practiced baseball skills. We ate dinner together, sitting around the table with not an electronic device in sight. They climbed into bed and sank into new books borrowed from the library. They have a really great life.

I can't help but feel now that a transition must happen, one where they take the responsibility for their learning. Already, their interests are quite different, with T-Guy focusing on the humanities while J-Baby concentrates on science and technology. Each time I teach a block I have one child far more interested than the other (at least it flip flops). Plus, it seems inevitable that the child who loves the block subject already knows most of what I am presenting, just from their own reading and researching.

How many times can this happen before I acknowledge the frying pan smacking me upside the head? I know their strengths and weaknesses and yet I continue to pour time and effort into introducing new material to them, except it often isn't new at all. They don't need an Introduction to Physics block (a subject they have tackled with Papa several times using multiple kits), they need to practice math skills. They don't need to revisit Medieval History, the need to expand their writing skills. They are really good at finding new information for themselves; they need me to help them with skills.

I am radically rethinking next Fall's grade 7 plan: I'd be lying if I said I wasn't considering ditching the Waldorf method altogether. We need a skills year more than we need anything else. I know that I can trust them to be curious and continue to learn about history and science on their own. I know that they will read literature, listen to classical music, explore the great outdoors, use their bodies, and more. What they can't do for themselves right now is figure out how to write a good five paragraph essay or put the Pythagorean Theorem into practical use (they've known what it is since they were little).

I think they are old enough that I can ask them: What do you want to learn this year? What are your goals for your education? What are your goals for your future? What skills do you think you need?

For example, I know that T-Guy has been contemplating trying to get into the local charter school for high school, in part because he thinks he may want to play sports and in part because several of his homeschooling friends will be there. I don't know if this is the best choice for him, but I do know that I should do my best to help him qualify to enter the school, which will require that he complete algebra in 8th grade. Since we've been working a year behind according to the public schools, we are only now completing grade 6. Math doesn't interest him and I haven't really pushed it. But he is going to have to push himself if the charter school is truly something he wants.

J-Baby doesn't think he wants to go to the charter school. He is highly interested in music, science, and technology and I think it is probably time to loosen some of our technology rules so that he has time to explore programming.  At his age Papa was building his first computer with his own father, and that early interest in computers led to a mostly satisfying, successful career that supports this family in a comfortable manner. I'm rather glad that my ILs didn't say No Computer For You! 

This doesn't have to equal the end of Waldorf Living, if there truly is such a thing. In many ways to me it is living simply, in tune with our children, honoring who and where they are. It seeks connection - to each other, to nature, to our community. It is living lightly, with fewer things. It is growing food and/or sourcing it locally, choosing the most humane food options we can afford, and not wasting the food we do grow and buy. It is sitting down for real meals we cooked from real food, not boxes and packages full of unpronounceable ingredients. It is using less, buying less, buying used, recycling, choosing not to buy bottled water, choosing to wash dishes rather than buying disposable, choosing cloth napkins and cleaning rags over paper, and doing everything we can to be good stewards of the earth.

As time passed after I started this post T-Guy came to me and told me that he doesn't want to work a grade behind any longer; he is of an age where the kids define themselves by their grade and he wants to be in the correct grade for his age. I have no problem with this and we looked at some of the options and he decided that he would like to use Oak Meadow for 8th grade. Now, I don't have the best track record with OM because I was forever trying to make it more Waldorf, but I am willing to give it another try, especially as the plan is for T-Guy to take on the responsibility for choosing and completing his assignments.

The other thing I am willing to try is allowing J-Baby to work up a grade now that he is more mature and developmentally able to stretch himself a bit. He looked at OM7 and didn't think it would be very challenging plus he hated the book list. So effectively we are skipping 7th grade, although we've already covered the history and science and we're actually going to do 7th grade math as that isn't something we think they are capable of skipping.

Thursday, March 15, 2012


I kind of fell off the face of the blogosphere this past month.

We got busy. Good busy.  Hey, let's buy a camping trailer busy.

It takes time.  I'd been researching since January, and by mid-February we were ready to actually look at trailers. Except the kind of trailer we wanted didn't exist at your run-of-the-mill RV dealership. Nope, we wanted a fiberglass "egg" trailer along the likes of a Scamp, Casita, Trillium, or Escape. Or one of the many vintage brands of fiberglass trailers no longer made.

Escape said I couldn't tow the trailer I wanted from them, not with my minivan. So when all of a sudden that same trailer popped up used just an hour from me (seriously ~ these trailers are built in Canada and there are fewer than 150 of this particular model in existence) I did what any sane person would do. I said we should look at it, and if we liked it we'd buy a truck. So we looked. We liked it. We bought it and a truck. Bye-bye Corolla.

Then there was getting the trailer home, having it inspected and registered, and finding a place to store it. We had to move into too, so we went through the house to find extra housewares and linens.

We've missed camping, and the learning that comes with camping. Some of our best learning comes when we travel to new places (or find new things to explore in some of our favorite vacation spots). Camping puts us at the ocean more often, and in all sorts of beautiful state and national parks. And lesson work can always come along, ready to be done when the boys are looking for something to do.

We've already had our little trailer out for a weekend and we are looking to head out again as soon as we can.

But, well, we didn't start that Physics block, and we haven't been reading our Isaac Newton book. The boys kept up with fractions, history, science, reading, and PE, and probably lots of other stuff that I don't know about.  I'm starting to think we'll just go with life learning for the rest of grade 6, with the addition of math skills work and maybe some new math learning.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Please Join Me ...

... today at the Homespun Waldorf Winter Carnival. I am so honored to have been chosen to write a guest post for this weeks Nourish series. The carnival has been fantastic so far, so be sure to take a look at the previous posts, and know that there are 8 posts to come after mine.  Plus there are weekly giveaways!

If holistic and natural living appeals and you haven't joined the Homespun Waldorf forums yet, please do come on over. Membership is free and it is an amazing community! It isn't only for homeschoolers, either, but all those interested in Waldorf in the home.

And now, a completely gratuitous cute children photo:

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Whirlwind Wednesday

Today was busy! We had PE and T-Guy had his first baseball practice of the season, so there was a lot of sitting in the fresh air and sunshine for me, which is always good. Of course, temperatures in the mid 70s, in February, are very good. Well, maybe except for the whole global warming issue. To be fair, it was cold and rainy just yesterday.


Today the boys:

Did two lessons in their Kumon Grade 6 Fractions workbooks.

Had PE (Volleyball, which the parents find hysterical.  The homeschooled kids love it.)

T-Guy had baseball practice, which counts as an extra session of PE.  A long session.

J-Baby did fractions games on the iPad while T-Guy had baseball practice, then he played Yahtzee, which is kind of math.

Spent some time with Papa exploring Garage Band on the iPad.

Did more fractions work, or rather, prime factoring in their other fractions workbooks.

Made the waste books from Isaac Newton and Physics For Kids.