Monday, April 28, 2014

Mama said there be days like this...

Ever had one of those days when you feel you got it all under control : the laundry, housework, homeschool, work?  Yeah, me either.
Just when I  start to think "I've got this", that nagging voice creeps into my head and it says "no you don't!.  You haven't (insert whatever I haven't done here).

Today was a state holiday so I didn't have to work.  I've been home playing catch up with the laundry all day.  I've lost count of how many loads I've managed to fold and put away.  The size of the mountain has finally been reduced to a molehill.  

A few months ago, I started reading about Charlotte Mason and her philosophy on educating the kids.  I hadn't implemented anything yet, because I've been preoccupied with "finishing" the year.  I'm not sure why I'm doing this to myself, when we have decided to do year round homeschooling.  Maybe because I'm trying to drive myself crazy.

Anyway, back to CM and her philosophies.  I've also been looking for a writing curriculum/program to get my oldest to write.  I looked into Brave Writer and have started reading The Writer's Jungle .  Today we started incorporating some of the things in the first chapters.  I really like this book, because it nurtures the kids' natural desire to tell their stories.
So we did copywork today.  Basically the kids get to copy paragraphs from real books, not textbooks.  One is copying form 2,000 leagues under the sea; the other is copying from Robinson Crusoe; and the oldest is doing copywork from my one of my favorite books To Kill a Mockingbird.  
It's a small step in the journey but it's a step.  I was glad there was no complaining about doing this work!  I'm going to assign reading from the same books; so they can start picking out the paragraph they want to copy.

We had plenty of whining when it was time for math.  Why can't they do math without complaining?  Must their torture their engineer mother like this?  We got thru that with a few more gray hairs (mine) and tears (theirs).

Then I sent them outside to observe nature and writer about it in their nature journal.  I was pleasantly surprised to see how much they wanted to write.  I think we will definitely do this as often as the weather permits.

In history we are learning about India and the beginning of Hinduism.  I have to admit, this really brings me back to my childhood.  My father had books about Hinduism around the house and I recall reading about it as a kid.  We discussed their main gods; watched a video and then talked about Ganesha (god of success, destroyer of obstacles) which I have tattooed on my leg; and also about Indra (king of the gods) because my youngest sister bears its name.  

Still need to finish the workboxes; still need to put together the boys' science lesson plans for next year; get the Spanish curriculum, etc, etc, etc.   
Thankful for a day at home to spend with the kids though; talking to them about some of the things I learned as kid.


Friday, April 25, 2014

Chopsticks, Geocaching, Smithsonian Exhibit. Our week in review

This was an unusual week for us.  By us, I mean me.

Husband just had a birthday last week.  His birthday wish was a fishing trip, so I took time off from work while he went fishing.  Or as we called it "teacher development days".

I had great plans for the two days I'd be home with the kids.  We would get up early, have a big breakfast, get our school work done.  You know, it all sounded possible and great.  In theory.  What I didn't anticipate was that I would be the one dragging herself out of bed at 8:30am.  Ooops. I guess my body was trying to tell me it is ok to sleep passed my normal 5am wake up time.

On day one, there was lots of whining because, instead of going outside to explore, they had to do English.  Oh the horror!  Are they always this whiny? Husband says yes.  I just don't know how he handles it daily, because, after 30 minutes, I had enough of the complaining.  I think we are going to get a timer and see how that works.  None of these assignments they are working on should take longer than 30 minutes.

But we did manage to do a lot of things in the two days we were home alone.  

Spent time watching my karate kid do his thing in class.  He is a natural.  I'm convinced he has some Korean blood in him (probably from my father's side of the family) because he has taken to Han Mu Do as a fish to water!
I made some fried rice one night and the kids decided they wanted to learn how to use chopsticks.  So they pulled them out and gave it a try.  I tried to tell them it would be easier to learn if they had something like veggies or meat to grab rather than rice but they wanted to try.  After a few minutes; everyone went back to the western utensils.  

We also started geocaching.  Until recently, I hadn't heard about it.  I asked the kids if they wanted to give it a try, and off we went.  I do think we need to involve dad in our adventures, because some of the caches may be in areas this city girl is hesitant to explore (ie any area where a snake may be). 

After piano lessons, we went to the Smithsonian Traveling exhibit The way we workedIt was very informative, and the kids were surprised to learn, once upon a time, kids their age actually had jobs! Talk about realizing how spoiled they truly are. 

I finally realized that creating my own homeschool planner probably wasn't going to work for me.  As much as I wanted to do it, I wasn't really sure where to start, not to mention all that printing!  So I order the Simple Plan by Mardel.  I'm excited to start using it and have one location to keep up with all the kids are doing.

I also started working on their "workboxes".  I didn't read the book.  I found several ideas on Pinterest and decided to try and implement my own version.  We really don't have room for individual boxes for each kid; so I just bought a big box with folders for each subject.  I'm sure there will be tweaking involved to get them working for us, but isn't that what homeschooling is about? Adjusting and changing to suit our needs?

Planning and choosing curriculum is quite challenging.  I thought laying it all out for my husband was the hardest part of homeschooling.  I now realize, after staying home for a couple of days, how difficult it can be to implement it.  

So, hats off to my husband, who stays home and tries to get the kids motivated every day to learn and do their work.  Thank you!


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

What I've learned this first year of homeschooling

Our first official "year" of homeschooling is fast approaching.  I'm happy to report we have all survived; both C and I are still fairly sane (most of the time) and the kids are thriving and learning.

What have I learn during this year of homeschooling?

1)  No two homeschooling families are alike
We all have different reasons why we chose this path.  There is no "one size fits all"; and that's the best part about it.

2)  Even when the boys are hanging upside down on the couch, they are listening
I used to believe, in order for learning to happen, kids needed to be sitting at a desk, attentively looking at the person teaching the lesson.  A few months into our journey, I discovered this would never be the case at our house.  Making them sit at the table for every single lesson was torture for them.  Eventually we discovered they are actually listening when they are hanging upside, or playing with their cars on the floor.  Their brains are like sponges and they are absorbing everything.  And yes, I do ask questions just to make sure their brains haven't wander off into the land of gigantic spiders and Captain America. 

3) My house will never be clean again
At least not while all three of the kids are still under my roof.  There will always be books out of place, pencils will mysteriously disappear (only to be found in the craziest of places); and  the laundry will multiply in a matter of seconds.

4) Learning just happens
While at the playground, one of the boys asked me if one of the ladders was shaped like the DNA strand.  Did I mention this is the kid who likes to stand on his head?  I was quite proud that my 7 year old announced to all the other parents he knew what DNA was and what it looked like.   

5) Kids want to learn
We have been talking about the Greeks and the Romans in our history lessons.  They were so eager to hear more about the Spartans, and the Gladiators.  Even more so when I found a documentary about ancient Rome.  Who knew kids would watch educational television without being forced?

6) Everyone has an opinion.  Pay no attention
Everyone has an opinion about homeschooling; specially those closest to you.  Listen to no one.  You are doing what's best for you and your family.  You have to please no one.  Yes, their comments (no matter how well intended) will sting but keep reminding yourself you are responsible for your kids; and you know what's best for them.  

7) There is no need to socialize the kids
This was the #1 question we received: what about socialization.  Unless you are a hermit, you will encounter more people than just those under your roof.  My kids make friends at the playground, at church, at the grocery store; anywhere they encounter another human.  Their social calendar is busier than mine.

8) No curriculum will ever completely satisfy me
Don't get me wrong, there are some great resources out there.  But even the best ones are going to require some adaptation.  My kids are unique (as are everyone else's) so I may have to get creative in order to get the information to them in a manner they can process it and absorb it.

9)  There are days you will wonder if your kids would be better served at school
Those days will come and will take you by surprise.  I have doubted my decision, stayed up at night feeling like the worst mother in the world.  But after the clouds have passed, the sky is always brighter.  The kids will sit on the couch happily reading an encyclopedia; or they will be outside looking for bugs they can later match with the pictures in their bug book, or my daughter will be in the kitchen happily cooking.  Then I realize they are fine; and this is where we need to be.  Right in this moment.  

10) My kids are amazing human beings
I watched my kids smile at the homeless man we encountered last weekend.  They were worried he had no food; and that no one was stopping.  We gave him some money; and they asked that we put together more "care bags" so next time we could give more.  Their hearts are big and filled with love and compassion for other humans, regardless of their stage in life.  I have been able to see their caring hearts at work more often now that our life has slowed down some and we can spend more time doing the things that count.  

Linked to weirdunsocializedhomeschoolers

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Living to tell about it, our week in review

This was one busy week at our house.  Actually it was close to a typical week.  I guess all our weeks these days are busy.

Hubby had a birthday at the beginning of the week.  We went out to eat at a local steakhouse.  This is a fairly new restaurant and we had no idea there was karaoke there; and on the night we decided to visit.  
Towards the end of our meal, my daughter decided to serenade her dad by singing Happy Birthday to him in front of everyone!  He was quite touched (I may have cried a little too ;-) ).  It was the perfect ending to a birthday, if you asked me.

My favorite author died this week.  Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  I discovered his most famous book One Hundred Years of Solitude as a teenager.  My sister had to read it for school and I decided I wanted to read it too.  I was immediately drawn into the life of the Buendias and the town of Macondo.  I was captivated by the sounds and hardships of the jungle, and the melancholy of the protagonists in the story.  I was hooked for life. 
I've read many more of his books; both in our native tongue; and also in English.  I'm pretty certain I've read One Hundred Years at least five times in the span of my life in both languages.  I am not sure what drew me to his work; but I know the world has lost a literary giant.  

We had a chance to visit with some of our homeschool group.  So thankful for these families!  They have been so supportive of our journey; and they may not know how grateful I am for this group.

I have narrowed down the curriculum we are using for my oldest who will be starting 7th grade.  The more I research, the more confused I get with the multiple choices.  I have finally decided to use R.E.A.L Science Odyssey Biology 2.  I like the lab components; science without labs is just reading, in my opinion.

Also going to use Brave Writer to get her writing jump started again this year. I like what I've read so far, and I think it will work for both of us.

Spelling Power will be our spelling curriculum; gotta get those kids spelling right!

Still making decisions on other curriculum but we are getting there! 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Of plants and worms?

Why are weekends never long enough?  It seems time speeds up during the weekends and creeps along during the week.  

Saturday the kids had a chance to help their uncle K build a swing set.  They love visiting because he lets them help out in whatever project he is working on around the house.  They had shovels, and drills and  left numerous holes in my sister's yard, much to their delight (and her horror!).  They dug for worms, they made mud; and learn how to build something.  Who said learning only happens inside?

They now have a new project at home.  Mimi has given each of them a potted plant to take care of.  I guess I should confess I do not have a green thumb.  Many of the women in my family (abuela, mom, sisters) have been blessed with the ability to grow anything.  A plant may be brown and almost dead and these women will resuscitate it and bring it back to life!  I, on the other hand, have been known for killing a cactus (or two) in my life.  

So the kids have to depend on my mom to learn all about taking care of plants.  She gave each of them plant they are to take care of from now on.  Let's hope their thumbs are greener than mine!  They are so excited to watch these plants grow and I'm excited for them.  What better way to learn about plants, photosynthesis, etc?  I can't think of one.

We have set the plants by the window, on a bench my uncle built for me when I was 3 years old.  This bench has traveled thousand miles or more to be here today.  For many years, Abuelo (my mom's dad) kept it at his house, while my family moved to two different countries.  A few years back, before he passed, he sent it to me.  He said I should have it so one day I could pass it on the kids.  It holds such a special place in my heart.  It ties me to my childhood, to my roots back in Panama, to my grandfather, and my uncle and all those who had such an important place in my life as a kid.

Now the kids get to use to watch their plants grown.  I am sure Abuelo is smiling down on them.  

Friday, April 11, 2014

A week of planning and learning

The end of our very first year of homeschooling is fast approaching.  This has been quite the ride!  I have learned a lot about the kids, not to mention about myself.  

I've learned that old habits die hard.  I've had to let go of the "do school at home" idea I had in my head and learn to be FLEXIBLE.  If you know me, you are probably laughing.  Engineers don't do flexible well; at least this one doesn't.  

I've found myself thinking outside the box; finding new ways to engage the kids in learning without them actually knowing that's what I'm doing.  I am a "stay in the box" person; but making sure the kids don't get discouraged when they don't grasp something has catapulted me outside the box and into a realm I am not very familiar with.   
With our first year coming to an end it is time to plan for the upcoming year.  Planning is something I do well.  As my poor husband will tell you (and my friends will attest) I can research anything ad nauseum.  I have been evaluating what we used this year, determining what worked, what didn't and looking at new curriculum for the upcoming year.

Instead of paper/pen; I have a spreadsheet with a tab for each of the kids; with all the subjects I want to cover in the upcoming year and the materials that can possibly work for us; where to purchase it, how much it will cost.  Have I mentioned I'm a planner?
During the endless hours I've spent researching while the laundry tumbles in the dryer; I've come to realize there is no curriculum that will ever fully satisfy me.  Even the ones we bought that I was certain I could just pull out of the box and implement, I have tweaked to fit us.  I'm guessing most homeschool families do the tweaking because that's the whole point of homeschooling.  Being able to customize the material to fit your needs is one of the reasons we do this.

I have narrowed down math, language arts and history and found materials I'm happy with.  I'm sure there will be tweaking; and adding other sources to make it more complete.  Art and Music is one I'm going to venture out and plan on my own.  Shouldn't be that hard, right?  I'm going to try and follow our history curriculum and discuss art/music from that period; so at least I have a road map.
However, when it comes to science; the engineer in me simply isn't satisfied with what I've found.  Either it is outrageously expensive; too simplistic in its approach, too boring.  I want the kids to be excited about science as I was when I was their age.  Science has to be experienced.  Yes, there are terms to learn, and plenty of reading; but it has to be fun!  That is the only way they will want to stick with it (and I'm secretly hoping to be raising future scientists but that's a post for another day).
So I think I will be putting together this year's curriculum for the boys at least.  They want to learn about animals/bugs (I'm guessing this is universal for boys?).  I've found a few books to help me piece together something fun and still complete for them.  

As for my girl, 7th grade is tough (in all possible ways).  I have found a few resources I'm still researching.  I want to build a foundation for the high school science and still make it fun.  This is my artsy child (dance and piano are her passions) so I have a bigger challenge selling her to science and math. 

So that's what's been happening in my world.  We have been schooling at home, schooling on the road, going to the movies, attending concerts, breathing tons of pollen while enjoying some time at the park.  It seems we are endlessly on the road, even more so now that when the kids were in regular school!  They have been making new friends, spending time with old ones; and adjusting beautifully to this homeschooling adventure.