Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Simplifying the Schedule

Our home learning year has been going really well in terms of rhythm and daily learning, but I found that the Charlotte Mason Method practice of breaking up the books through each term and the entire year wasn't working for us, so we aren't going to do it any longer.

We need things to be simple enough that we will keep up with them and not feel overwhelmed, but also interesting enough that we are not wasting our time. We also need the learning to feel natural, not forced.  Breaking a book into 12, 24, or 36 weeks just isn't how we work around here; we tend to dive deeply into each book and read them in every spare moment until we've finished.  Truthfully, in my own life I have found that any book that doesn't pull me in and make me want to keep reading is one that will probably never be finished.

I like block learning and find it simple to plan, even with all the daily subjects we are doing. We are able to devote 4 hours per week to our chosen block, plus extra time reading and watching film adaptions and documentaries.

(As a side note, Charlotte Mason Education skews toward British writers, especially for literature. I think we'll bring in more United States authors and world literature next year.)

2014 - 2015 Blocks

October: Emma, Pride and Prejudice
November: Little Dorrit, Hamlet
December: Miracle at Philadelphia
January: The Taming of the Shrew
February: Four Great Americans
March: Microbe Hunters
April: Character is Destiny
May: Arguing Slavery

June: The Count of Monte Cristo

Monday, October 27, 2014

An Update

We're more than a month in to this home learning year, and overall it's going well. I feel comfortable with the amount of time spent on the required subjects and I'm even starting to divide some of the subject work into mini-blocks.

For the first time, we have equal amounts of time spent on subjects (including music, but not PE nor biology) in the mornings and afternoons. We work from 10 -12 and again from 1 - 3, with me as a helper in the morning hours and a facilitator in the afternoon.  It looks like this:

10 - 11  Geometry (I do mine earlier so that I can help)
11 - 12  30 Minutes Music / 30 Minutes Spanish
1 - 2      Guided Lesson Work
2 - 3      30 Minutes Music / 30 Minutes Writing

PE happens in the mornings for now, along with some afternoons, but when weekday practice begin we'll drop some of the mornings.  I have no concerns regarding PE: the riders on the team who are high school are allowed to substitute regular PE with team practices so I know we are doing enough. More than enough actually as we'll add in another 3 hours of riding on top of practices each week. Right now, with practices not yet started, the boys are riding at least 10 hours per week.

Biology happens during guided lesson work and evening/weekend labs. It's another 8 - 10 hours weekly.

There are approximately 5 hours of Geometry weekly, along with 5 hours of music (plus J's weekly piano lesson). I don't count the time spent in the car listening to and discussing classical music, which is the only thing we listen to now while driving.

Spanish gets 2.5 hours weekly, plus informal practice.

We spend about 5 hours weekly on Language Arts, and about the same on Social Studies, but there is some overlap. We pull writing topics from Literature, Social Studies, and Biology.

On a day like today the boys will spend approximately 7 hours on required subjects, with a heavy emphasis on PE. Tomorrow they will spend 7.5 hours but it will be weighted toward biology as it is a lab day. Wednesday will be an easy day at 5.5 hours, Thursday 7.5 hours, and Friday 5.5 hours. I never imagined that we would spend so much time on focused learning, but that is because I keep hearing about how schools wasted so much learning time, etc. Now I'm not so sure I believe that; I find myself wishing we had more hours in the day to learn everything we want to learn.

About those mini blocks; Charlotte Mason education, at least as modeled by Ambleside Online, breaks books down into tiny chunks and the students are studying many of them at once. I'm finding that to be a good strategy for the books they don't love (although I don't think we need to be reading books they hate), but it falls apart when they do like a book. J read Pride and Prejudice in a little over a week once I assigned it even though I had planned it out over 10 weeks (T, on the other hand, is plodding through with it as assigned).

But what inspired me to experiment with mini blocks was Hamlet; the idea of stretching it out over the term (12 weeks) wasn't working for me. Instead we are giving it our full attention for the next two weeks, leaving all the other assigned reading for other mini blocks.

Blocks are what I loved about Enki and Waldorf education because I believe that we learn naturally by immersing ourselves in whatever we are interested in. I don't read the books I want to read a chapter a week - I dive in!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What Happened on Day 2?

We don't have a history of fantastic second days. Based on that, this year's day 2 was okay. At least our issues weren't concerning attitude or motivation.

We started out stressed, as Papa and I were still trying to pull together our biology resources and figure out what the boys needed to do before the evening's laboratory. The boys were a little pokey eating their breakfast and getting their morning chores completed. We needed to take the dogs to their grooming appointment. All in all, the early morning was more rushed than I like.

Out academics went fine, however. The boys dug into their reading, and while they didn't enjoy Swift's Battle of the Books they made a good effort with it, along with How to Read a Book and the character descriptions from Hamlet. We did geometry, discussed our reading, and planned out the written narrations (at this age I am asking what they would like to narrate, and because they are new to it - but not really because Waldorf incorporates summarization - I help them work through it orally by asking questions). They also worked in a biology workbook (together since T still can't write). Workbooks aren't Waldorf or Charlotte Mason or even very holistic, but working with lab science is very different from the science we have done previously.

Things went downhill after that, however. After picking up the dogs I managed to turn my ankle and fall in the street. Ouch to my ankle, shoulder, hip, and wrist. It was a minor injury but caused problems just a little later, because while chopping potatoes for our main meal soup I was a little off-balance (favoring the ankle) and managed to cut myself with the sharp chef's knife.

I grabbed a cloth to apply pressure. I suppose it is true that injuries don't hurt as much at first because I then finished chopping potatoes with one hand and started the pressure cooker. The cut appeared to be deep, but I couldn't tell for certain because every time I took the cloth off it would bleed. I texted Papa and asked if he could come home to take a look at it for me. By then it was really hurting so I got in the car and went to get him.

His opinion was that the cut was deep and that we needed to go to urgent care. Ugh. I set the boys to doing their Spanish lessons and their written narrations and we headed out. (It is very nice to have teens who don't require a babysitter.)

Luckily the wait wasn't too bad; I was triaged quickly, seen by another nurse and the PA, and then had to wait for the PA to see attend to several patients before she could sew me up (most suture cases are not high priority and I understood this). I ended up with four stitches in the tip of my left index finger, along with an admonition not to bathe or shower for 24 hours and a request that I not do dishes or other wet cleaning for the duration of the stitches.

We had to pick up lunch so that Papa could get back to work, but before he left Papa helped me finish the soup that I had been working on when I cut myself. It made a nice supper and it was nice not to have to cook because my finger was in significant pain.

Papa and the boys did their biology lab after Papa got home, but before we ate our late supper. They learned about keeping scientific notebooks and also learned the basics of using a microscope. The notebook work is going to be difficult for them, at least at first, but we consider it an important part of doing scientific experiments accurately.

Monday, September 22, 2014

We Changed the Plan ...

... because this is our homeschool and we can do what we want, right?

I loved the idea of Big History, but I hated the implementation.  The main site for educators is clearly designed for classroom. The Kahn Academy adaptation was a little better, but not much. The site (and series) for the general public barely skims the surface and does so in a frenetic manner.

I don't know what made me think that all of a sudden short little videos and classroom style activities would work for us. I suppose I wanted it to work because I loved the idea of telling the history of the universe. But I don't think a holistic home learner can easily get on board with quick and slick videos for learning. Where it the depth? Maybe it works with students who have never been taught to pay attention to anything for more than five minutes. The BHP seems to try to cram as much information as they can into the students as quickly as possible.

Deciding to toss the BHP led me to rethink what we were doing in every area, even though we had just started our home learning year. I had wanted to bring in literature that would tie to the BHP, but no longer needed to do that. Papa expressed a desire that the boys continue with classic literature and that we make an effort to weed out the less-than-stellar books that they love to read over and over again.

I didn't want to do Waldorf style main lessons; now that we are in the high school years I want less spoon feeding and more discussion. And then it hit me ... Charlotte Mason.

Charlotte Mason education has appealed to me all along, but in the younger years I preferred Enki and Waldorf. In the light of our changes, however, I decided to take a look at CM high school and liked what I was finding. It includes many subjects so that the student has the opportunity to be well-rounded. The studies are gentle, but in-depth.

We also decided, last minute, to do lab biology this year. We had thought to put it off one year, thinking that T might be fine with two years of lab science before he graduates, but moving it to this year keep alive the possibly that J can graduate early and still have three years of lab science.

(By the end of J's junior year he will have completed algebra, geometry, algebra 2, trigonometry and either precalculus or calculus, as well as biology, chemistry, and physics, and all his other subject learning will far surpass anything he would learn in high school so will we decide at that point if his maturity is such that he would benefit from moving on the college.)

I spent a week scrambling to create a lesson plan for the year.  Since I have one child in grade 9 and one in grade 10 (although J child did grade 9 coursework last year) I leaned heavily on the Ambleside Online curriculum plan for completing grades 9 - 11 in two years. I took out the books that didn't fit in with our worldview (I see no reason to fear teaching secular history and science) and added in more US history, taking out the British history (it will get incorporated into world history). We ordered books (both paper and kindle) as well as a great microscope and a lab kit to go with the biology text we chose (CK12).

It is amazing to me how well CM education fits in with what I want for my boys in their high school years. I want them to read high quality books, both fiction and nonfiction, and to be able to discuss them orally and on paper. I want them to be well-grounded in Shakespeare just as much as I want them to have a firm grasp on mathematics and science. I want to continue with subjects such as nature study, music appreciation, and the like (those subjects that have been pushed out of public schools).

Today was our first day, and we traditionally have great first days, but today felt different; it was better than great. Compared to last year I felt more engaged as the boys' teacher.  Our day looked like this:

  • Wake up, care for dogs, eat breakfast, do chores.
  • Have second breakfast (my boys always have their breakfast in two parts, a fruit smoothie early and then a whole grain based food an hour or two later) and discuss together how our day will look.
  • First hour: assigned reading in biology, geography, and government
  • Second hour: geometry. We are also supposed to do a short penmanship/copywork lesson during this time, but with a child in a cast it will be postponed for another month.
  • Third hour: This was supposed to be our time for current events, map work, and time line work; however, I had forgotten about an orthodontist appointment so we'll get it started next week. I didn't have a newspaper or map at hand anyway.
  • Fourth Hour: Spanish and written narrations (switching off between rooms/computers)
  • Lunch
  • Music practice for 45 minutes
  • Free time
  • PE: weekly recovery road ride for 90 minutes
  • Late dinner
  • Reading and bedtime

Amazingly, that is 6 hours and 15 minutes of homeschool work, but it didn't feel like it. The boys will have between 5.25 - 6.25 hours of homeschool work on weekdays and an additional long PE session on Sundays. It seems like a lot, but this is high school. They work the first hour independently while I accomplish morning chores (baking bread, laundry, etc.) and then I spend the next two hours actively engaged with them. For the final morning hour I prepare our main meal while providing support as necessary.

I am taking the geometry with the boys as I feel that I didn't learn it as well as I could have when I was in high school. I am also doing their readings with them, excepting biology; Papa is teaching them biology and I only assign the reading and any narrations I want to pull from it. I plan to catch up to where they are in Spanish and continue forward with them; it should be easy as I did take three years of Spanish and did rather well in it. I could simply say that I have already learned these things and to step away, but I think that being engaged in what they are doing is the key to them enjoying it.

I'll check back in soon with an update on how it is going!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Plans For the Next Homeschool Year ... Everyone is in High School Edition

You read that right: this coming fall I have two high schoolers learning here at home at the Living Oak Academy!

I know so many people who stop homeschool at or before high school; only one other family in our homeschool circle is planning to give it a go. I think it is because of clashing parent/adolescent personalities as well as fear that the harder subjects can't be effectively taught.

I try very hard not to parent from fear, and that especially extends to home learning. I believe that anyone who wants to learn will learn and that we don't have to take traditional paths to make that happen.

I was never afraid of teaching math; my own schooling only went as far as college algebra, but Papa minored in math so I knew we'd be okay. Except Papa doesn't really have time to teach the boys math in the evenings. So last year we tried Teaching Textbooks for algebra, and it worked fantastically. I was able to give support when needed, and Papa stepped in when even I was stumped, but overall the boys learned from the program. It was so cool to hear them throwing around words like coordinate and slope. So this year we are definitely moving forward with Teaching Textbooks!

The plan:

Texting Textbooks Geometry
Big History Project as our spine for history and science
A block on US Government incorporating our November election
A Greek history block to tie in with geometry
Literature to tie in with BHP
Time 4 Writing
Rosetta Stone Spanish
Piano for J
Guitar for T
Competitive mountain biking team for PE (also brings in some health and vocational arts work)

I've decided to give the Time 4 Writing high school courses a try; a friend had good success with the middle school courses. Although Brave Writer was fantastic, I think the boys need something that focuses more on the basics rather than the creative process. They are going back to the basics and taking one course in the fall semester and one in spring, with a plan to be finished well before we move into So Cal League finals and the state championships.

My main energies will be focused on the Big History Project as well as the two other social studies blocks. Everything else is pretty much taught for me, either with the programs or other teachers.

Last year competitive mountain biking threw us for a loop and we ended up scaling back our lessons until we settled into the routine of practices and races (which include travel). That was fine; home learning is all about flexibility, but it meant that the boys didn't finish up all their lesson work until late July, giving us only one full month off before we start up again. Hopefully we have a handle on things now and can start our year the day after Labor Day and end the Friday before Memorial Day, giving the boys a full three months off next summer.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

We Lived It

The homeschool year is over and I didn't blog about it at all - we lived it instead! I have to say that this was one of the best homeschool years that we have ever had.

First off, Teaching Textbooks Algebra I was a huge hit! I know that I laid the foundation for making math lovers with all of the creative, holistic math we did, but I certainly felt unnecessary this year as the boys took their math learning into their own hands. Oh, I helped with a problem here and there, but mostly they just got it.

Language Arts got easier; the boys read a variety of assigned and self-chosen literature, and we discussed everything that we had all read. The second semester took a turn toward science fiction as the boys read all of the Robert A. Heinlein juveniles, which was really fun.  Grammar, spelling, and vocabulary all got easier too; I think the boys are at an age where it all just clicks. I pulled off the archaic vocabulary study after they announced that it will no longer be part of the SAT. The boys knew most of it anyway, they're smart like that.

We made extensive use of video and discussion while studying history/social studies, and made our first real foray into World War I and World War II. J-Baby got very interested in our spring election and has given me some great ideas to incorporate into our learning coming into the November election.

We used the new COSMOS TV series as a springboard for our second semester of science. So much fun!

Music lessons continued and I was really blown away by the progress both boys made. I love that J-Baby really explores music with the piano, and how much time they both spend at their instruments other than required practice time.

Mountain biking has been the best PE ever! They work on so much related to fitness, nutrition, health, stress management, and more, plus they learn new skills continually and have a weekly class that focuses on core strength. In addition to all that they've been learning bike maintenance and repair, which would fall under vocational/applied arts, I suppose.

Rosetta Stone Spanish was the other surprise hit of the year; they are really enjoying learning a new language. J-Baby in particular has begun asking a lot of questions relating to grammar and vocabulary, outside of his regular lessons.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Catching Up

I've been doing a great job of meeting my daily goals; I just haven't been blogging about it. I walk just about daily now, mostly on errands. To the library and post office, to the movie theater, downtown to restaurants, to the farmers market, to outdoor concerts (at this point checking out rehearsals, mostly). Sometimes I get my walking in by going around the block a couple of times, or walking around window shopping and reminiscing. I haven't been on my bike, but that is something we can work on.

This week I did day camp driving everyday, so the tunes were cranked up. We're also listening to a lot of vinyl at home. I love putting on a record and sitting to listen, maybe knitting, but not using the music as background for activities like cooking and cleaning. There's a purpose to it, and a stronger appreciation, I think.

I sit outside daily, along with walking. My front porch is a beautiful place to be. I made it to the pool Tuesday; we don't usually go during day camp week as the kids are wiped out by the time they get home.

As for creating, I knit almost daily. I say almost because I might have missed a day, but I don't think so. I even knit up in the mountains at a race. Since 6/16 I've completed three waffle weave dishcloths (I went back to the pattern for another one, in cotton hemp this time), a "grandma" dishcloth, and I've added several rows (maybe 20?) to my shawl in progress. I also made deodorant last week, and made sunscreen today.

The kiddos have summer colds right now :( I made them chamomile/lemon/ginger/honey "tea" and they've been sucking on zinc lozenges. Papa wanted to give T an antihistamine last night, but I resisted since I believe that a runny nose is one way the body eliminates the virus, and also, drying things up can give bacteria a better medium to multiply in. Yuck! I'm weird, but I really think it's best to get through minor illnesses without allopathic medications, especially for a child who doesn't have work obligations that require him to be somewhere.

I can't say I know why the boys got sick, but I have my suspicions. Being around 75 other kids at day camp meant being exposed to germs.  But day camp also changed how the boys eat; they had far less fresh fruit each day (not much other than their morning smoothies) and neither of them ate a green salad all week. Plus they relied on bread for sandwiches everyday. In our family, lowering gluten consumption helps everyone have fewer colds. We didn't even eat beans and rice this week; we kind of had a vacation mentality and ate take out most evenings.