Shaking it up: Poetry

Last week I took the girls out to a new coffee shop near us for tea and poetry.

Book - Zen Ties by Jon J Muth

Jon Muth’s Zen Ties is one of our favorite children’s books (a lovely, gentle story, beautiful paintings, and humor: what’s not to love?!) , and it happens that Stillwater’s young cousin, Koo, speaks in poetry. “Hi, Koo!” I brought it with us, and we read it over tea and croissants.

We spent half an hour writing our own haiku. First we each wrote one about the coffee shop. Then each of us wrote two words for the others which they had to use in their poems. (I got “candy” and “east” on the first round, and “San Pelligrino,” “Danger” and “Monkey” in the second. Hazards of being in a coffee shop, I guess.)

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I’m counting this for poetry, syllables (early grammar), and Lit.

Are you shaking things up during these last two months of school? If you’re not changing things around a little, do you need to?

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Growth v. Confidence

This has been a challenging year for us as a family, and as homeschoolers. I can’t share much of that here, but I want to reflect for a minute about one particular pitfall of homeschooling, and how I’m trying to work around it.

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My school experience as a kid was one of boredom. I spent years finishing my work before the rest of the class and having to sit quietly at my desk while other kids finished. When they “pioneered” a gifted-and-talented program at my school, it meant that after I finished the regular work, they would pull me out and give me more work. It didn’t seem to occur to anyone that maybe a few of us should have different work, or be able to work at our own pace.

That experience led me to design our homeschool to be a place where my kids could work at their own pace(s). When they master a concept, they move on to the next thing. The idea was not to “waste” any time sitting around being bored by repeating the same old information they’ve already mastered. On the other hand, if they need more time on a topic, we can spend as much time as they need before moving on.

We’ve been doing that for twirteen years now, and for the most part it has worked well. Most of our time is spent at the growing edge, or at the place where we’re all being stretched.  I have noticed one problem, though, and it’s this: living at the growing edge can be pretty uncomfortable. And tiring. Working at the growing edge doesn’t ever let you rest in a place of mastery, which builds confidence.

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There are several sources of confidence. One is internal, where the experience of repeated success causes us to trust our skills and our mastery of a subject or skill. The other is external, where we are able to see our mastery in comparison to others, or hear from others that we have mastered a subject. (Think: exams, teachers, certificates, races, performances, etc.)

While I hated the boredom of my own education, it was pretty great seeing that I was ahead of everyone else academically. That built my internal confidence. I had many teachers who gave me a lot of messages that built my confidence externally.

In our homeschool, my kids have very little opportunity to compare themselves academically to their peers. Instead, they compare themselves to one another, which leaves my younger children feeling lost as they compare themselves to a much-older, academically very gifted sibling. Our homeschool has effectively erased a major source of external confidence. On top of that, I have eliminated the sense of mastery that comes from lots of repetition by engineering a learning space in which we spend most of our time with new material.

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Where do I go from here?

We are trying to spend more time resting in mastery. As much as the repetition grates on me, I need my kids to see how much they know. This means different things for different kids- one needs more opportunities to perform. One needs opportunities to do things without an older sibling making suggestions over her shoulder. Another needs to spend more time reviewing material we’ve already done. They all need opportunities to compare their work to their own peers (instead of to their older siblings.)

What does the balance between growth and confidence look like for you? I’m looking for ideas here, friends, so please don’t be shy sharing in the comments.

7QT: Don’t you have something you’re supposed to be doing?

One: After two weeks of illness (one child on antibiotics, another on Tamiflu, me on nothing as I hacked up one or more of my lungs) we are finally clawing out way back into schooling at home. Sam is coming down with something now, too, but since he’s goes to work to be sick, I don’t really count him as one of the stricken.

Two: Man, getting back into this is rough. In the midst of that, Sam and I both traveled. I really should have stayed at home, but… I wanted to see my friend. I saw her, but I spent the whole time afraid I was going to give her the plague.

Three: Speaking of plagues, we adopted a lovely cat. His name (spoiler alert) was Julian.
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Then his larynx swelled up, and despite high-dose steroids and a veterinary ICU and more steroids and another vet, he still died. After his necropsy, at which the vet couldn’t determine the cause of the allergy/infection/laryngeal edema NOS, she called me back to ask if I’d been able to get his shot records from his previous owner. No, I hadn’t. So she put us on Rabies Watch, had the county public health nurse call us to find out our travel plans and if any of us were acting strangely, and billed us $65 for rabies testing. Just like that, our family went from the infectious disease specialists to the possible source of an urban rabies outbreak. (Better spoiler: he didn’t have rabies, and neither do we.) Here is a gratuitous photo of the new cat, whose rabies vaccination I have documented on paper.

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Four: Anyway… now, two weeks later we have adopted a replacement cat, and everyone is trying to get back in the groove. To that end, everyone made it to the co-op for classes this week, all the adults went to their gainful employment, and I’ve been trying to teach things to the children with limited success.

Five: On Monday, I made it till one-thirty before I had to crawl into my bed for a nap. When I got up, I went to see where Phoebe one of the children was with her work.

Mom: Where are you with your school work today? Do you need help with math?

Anonymous Child: Why are you asking? Don’t you have some work you’re supposed to be doing?

Mom: I was under the impression that helping you with math was my work.

So that was really successful. I should have stayed in bed.

Six: Yesterday I finally made it outside for a run. I discovered three things:

  • two weeks without exercise turned me into a meatball, and I couldn’t breathe.
  • spring is coming, whether the bomb cyclone and Storm Emma realize it
  • exercise is my anchor activity.  Once I made the effort to exercise again, all sorts of other things became possible, like making dinner and putting bleach in the toilets and following up on my daughter’s math.

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The guardian of spring.

Seven: However, an anchor is not entirely sufficient to return everything to normal. In order get us back in the routine, I had to pull out the paints and insist everyone make some art while I read aloud to them. An hour later, the children wandered off to play Minecraft and left me with a huge arty mess to clean up. I think this means we’re back in the groove.

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Be sure to visit Kelly at This Ain’t the Lyceum for more Quick Takes.

Snow books

It’s finally snowing here for our first day of winter break, and we’re going to pull out all our favorite snow books today. They are (in no particular order):

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The charm in Uri Shulevitz’s Snow is that Boy with Dog knows better than everyone else who tells him it’s not going to snow. The illustrations are fantastic, and the sparse prose is exactly right.

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Virginia Lee Burton’s classic, Katie and the Big Snow, is chock full of details. The only thing I change when I read it aloud is “The doctor couldn’t get her patient…”

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Jane Yolen’s Owl Moon perfectly captures the haunting silence of a snowy night.

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Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day was Phoebe’s favorite when she was little (and I’m sure that had nothing to do with the fact that I substituted her name in for the main character’s.)

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Jaqueline Briggs Martin’s Snowflake Bentley is the true story of Wilson Bentley, the man whose passion for natural beauty led him to photograph snowflakes. His work was amazing, and this children’s book about him is beautiful.

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I loved Carolyn Haywood’s Snowbound with Betsy growing up and dug an ancient copy up a few years ago. I still love it.

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Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter haunts my dreams: the food running out, the Christmas box that couldn’t make it, the cutting for the train…

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Winter Holiday, the third book in Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series, takes place on a frozen lake and is full of all the fun you imagine you’d have with like-minded kids and utter freedom.

I don’t think we’re going to have enough snow to give me time to read all of them today… but I’m going to give it a shot. What snow books am I missing?

Daybook: late October

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Outside my window: Still dark. But once the sun comes up, there will be leaves to rake and a crisp morning. I’m hoping to make it out for a run today.

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This autumn has felt especially colorful and precious to me, and I think it’s because I missed much of autumn last year because of my injury. I couldn’t run, or even really walk around the neighborhood, because my foot hurt so badly. Now I am so grateful to be outside.

In the kitchen: my mental energy is elsewhere right now, so it’s going to be easy staples this week: simple soups (butternut squash, potato-dill, Jerusalem lentil) and eggs of various kinds. And maybe some pumpkin ribbon bread.

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In the school room: Phoebe had a breakthrough last week, seeing some progress in areas that have been challenging for her. I think it’s very hard to be the youngest- she spends a lot of time thinking she’s behind, when really, she’s just younger.

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Meanwhile, Jonah is working hard on college and scholarship applications. This process has shown me where lie some gaping holes in my educational plans. It’s hard to be the oldest- he’s the guinea pig for all my theories.

Today is the end of our first quarter. We need to get to the library for new books (and return all ones that are overdue…)  I think it’s time to schedule a reading day.

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We collected a bunch of leaves two weeks ago before the snow, and last week I got around to ironing them in waxed paper.  The kids couldn’t remember the word for ironing board and were very puzzled as to why I had it out. We certainly never use it for ironing clothes.

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Grateful for: second (and third and fourth) chances. The medical miracle I witnessed last week. Friends.

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While Jonah and I look at colleges this weekend, Owen’s going to visit his godparents. I am so grateful for our children’s godparents and their investment in our kids.

Sam and I had a chance to get away this weekend. It was a trip we’d scheduled and then had to cancel last year. We slept in, read books, ran long, and ate delicious meals we didn’t have to prepare or clean up afterwards. So many gifts.

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Praying for: New life, both literal and metaphorical. Mandy. Luke. Upcoming college visits. Discipline. Our group of four young confirmands at church as they prepare for confirmation.

 

Of invisible growth and winter blooms

As my oldest child is applying to colleges, I’m doing some heavy reflecting. Our time, which once stretched seemingly forever (I’m just talking about between dinner and bedtime, here) is now short. No matter how many times he comes home after he graduates, I will no longer be his primary educator. I wonder what I neglected to cover and what we spent too much time on and should have breezed over.

Many years ago, my friend Erin gave me a Christmas cactus. It was beautiful, covered in trailing red flowers. It was just the thing for my dull, hard winter. And then its blooms faded and fell.  I’ve been waiting for it to bloom ever since. We’ve moved homes twice in the intervening years. I’ve moved it around our houses, searching for the best light. Watering it faithfully. But nothing. Nary a bloom to be seen.

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There are lots of websites with instructions for how to force a Christmas cactus to flower. They recommend cool darkness and drought. For whatever reason, I never tried any of the tricks. I’ve just been watering it faithfully once a week for seven years and moving it from house to house.

There have been many seasons in our homeschooling where it seemed that there was nothing happening. Despite our faithful daily math and daily reading, progress was invisible, maybe even non-existent. I looked for short-cuts and magic curricula. Perhaps I needed to put the kids in a local school, where they would flourish. (Especially in February. Every February, the grass always looks greener at our local school.) My lofty goals and ideals crumbled into shards of I-wish and what-if.  What if he never gets this? I wish our days/school room/crafts/history lessons looked like the ones I saw on fb/pinterest/instagram.

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Last February, something looked different on my cactus. Almost imperceptibly, the tips of its fronds (leaves? arms?) turned red and then opened. It was blooming. I hadn’t done anything different: same windowsill, same weekly water ration, same morning sun. But all the invisible, internal work it had been doing burst forth in blossoms.

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I’m seeing the same phenomenon happening in my older children this year. Habits I used to have to enforce daily now happen without my reminding them (most of the time). Where I used to hear, “I’m bored,” now they say, “I need more time to finish what I’m working on.” It’s amazing, especially since I haven’t done anything different. It’s just their own invisible process finally producing fruit I can see.

Please help me remember this come February.

2017-8 School Year Plans

These are our plans for school this year, with a 12th-grader, 9th-grader, 8th-grader and 4th-grader. A copy of this will remain under my pages (found in the sidebar and in the tabs under the header photo) for future reference, though I will update it at the end of the year to take out what we didn’t like/do or what we added.

History: US History. In the past I have wrapped US history into our world history by period, but I recently discovered that didn’t count for Colorado’s high school graduation requirements. This year, we will study US History and add in what’s happening around the world at the same time for context.

Our 12th-grader is taking US History at the community college. Depending on where he decides to go to college next year, we will either take the in-state guaranteed transfer credit, or have him take the AP exam next spring.

For 4th, 8th and 9th grades I’m shaking things up. Instead of reading the spines we’ve used in the past (The Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer, and Genevieve Foster’s The World of George Washington, etc.), I’m using investigative strategies I learned from Yohuru R. Williams’s excellent book, Teaching US History Beyond the Textbook.

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I purchased an assortment of collections of US history primary sources called Researching American History (found at Rainbow Resource Center) for the kids to use in their research.  I don’t expect my 4th grader to pull from multiple sources, but for the older kids, I have asked for at least 4 sources per project.

I’ve assigned US history books (biographies, autobiographies, novels and picture books) for them to read independently, and they will present their findings (travel brochures, PowerPoint presentations, reports, posters, comic books, movie trailers, plays) to each other every 2-3 weeks.  We will also play Timeline regularly to help us cement a mental timeline. We have a list of US history movies to watch. My older two will participate in National History Day in the spring.

Geography:

For 12th-grade, Jonah will be reading Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography and Woodard’s American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures in North America. Then, with the idea in mind that the natural resources and paucities of a region help determine the political struggles of that nation/region, he will do a series of case studies of different regions in the world.

For 8th and 9th grades, we are studying US geography in the context of history, incorporating historical maps and states’ geography.  For my 4th grader, we will work through 36 states week by week, hopefully incorporating some out-of-state travel. We like these coloring books and games for geography.

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English (Composition/Grammar/Spelling/Punctuation):

My 12th grader will be doing an essay-writing intensive (aka, writing tons of college and scholarship essays).  His US history class also has weekly writing clinics and lots of assigned papers.

For 4th, 8th and 9th grades, we will use Spelling Power for the first time. Additionally, they each have a daily grammar review with a one-page grammar exercise. I’ve tried lots of Charlotte Mason-esque “gentle” or “natural” grammar reviews, and they don’t seem to work for us. I think the problem is me. Anyway, this year we’re trying something less oral and more written (and formal).  The Spectrum series of test prep books works well for us to teach writing concepts in small chunks, which we then try to reinforce with writing assignments.

English Literature:

Shakespeare: This year we will read The Winter’s Tale. It’s one of my favorite Shakespeare plays and seems to flirt the line between tragedy and comedy. It covers serious ideas of betrayal, suspicion and grudge-holding, but it has a happy ending. Something for everyone.

Poetry: We will read Emily Dickinson, Claude McKay, Walt Whitman, T.S. Eliot, Edna St Vincent Millay, and Langston Hughes. My older son will read some Gwendolyn Brooks, Bob Dylan and Tupac Shakur.

Read-alouds: We have a limited time all together as a family for reading now that my oldest has two days each week on campus, and the kids are still attending their once-a-week school.  We began by rereading Because of Winn-Dixie, but I haven’t entirely decided what our other read-alouds will be.

Independent Reading: A significant portion of my younger kids’ literature will be historical reading, including Phoebe the Spy, Little Britches, Steve Sheinkin’s The Notorious Benedict Arnold, The Port Chicago 50, King George: What was his problem, Lincoln’s Grave Robbers, and Most Dangerous; the Little House on the Prairie series, Elswyth Thane’s Williamsburg series, Elijah of Buxton and The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis, and Gary D. Schmidt’s The Wednesday Wars and Okay for Now. I also have a collection of other MG and YA literature on the list.  More booklists to come.

Picture (Art) Study:

Our picture study will focus on Normal Rockwell and Edward Hopper. But I’m also planning a unit on Native American textiles and pottery, and a unit on the quilter Harriet Powers.

Math:

12th grade: AP Statistics. 9th grade: Singapore NEM Level 2 (continuing). 8th grade: Singapore NEM Level 1 and the Life of Fred: Geometry. 4th Grade: Singapore Primary 4A and 4B.

Bible: Everyone is doing some Old Testament reading to improve our Bible literacy, and we will finish the Gospel of Mark (again) and some epistles (yet to be determined).

Science:

12th grade: Chemistry with Lab

9th grade: Veritas Academy’s online Chemistry and Biology through the enrichment school.

8th grade: We’ll be using biology modules from Science Fusion, including Cells and Heredity and Diversity of Living Things.

4th grade: We are planning weekly nature study with a focus on plants, although we started with the total eclipse.

Foreign Language:

12th grade: he is taking a year off FL.

4th, 8th and 9th grade all are taking Spanish through our enrichment school. Hooray!

If you have any resources you think I should include to make this a better year, please shoot me an email. Thanks!