posts tagged with 'homeschooling'
In early September we're always on the hunt for interesting, school-adjacent outdoor activities—so it's nice to have the pokeweed berries ripening just when we need them. Pokeweed, if you're not familiar with it, is a tremendous perennial weed that can grow to six feet high in one season. It produces clusters of dark purple berries, which apparently are mildly poisonous; no fear that we would ever eat them, because they smell pretty bad. What they are good for is making ink!
We play around with Pokeberry ink every couple years or so; I thought I'd written about it here before but I couldn't find anything. Even though the quill pens didn't really work (if anyone can show us how they're ever supposed to draw up liquid into the quill, I'd most appreciate it!) but there's still something amazing about the beautiful opaque purple ink. This year we just doodled and painted on some paper; good for 45 minutes of engagement. In the past we've dyed fabric, which looked fantastic at first but which then faded to a sort of purplish-brown. The color holds enough, though, that I was sure to keep this an outside project. And it's a good thing that both of the mashers were already wearing purple!
We celebrated Labor Day today by doing some work. School starts here in Bedford tomorrow, and even though that doesn't have to mean anything for us I figure we can kick off our not-school year at the same time. The main reason for that is, with the other kids around all the time over the summer the boys and I don't get any time to do projects together; now that I don't have any competition I want to make the most of my time with them. So today we cleaned up the room that we variously call the playroom or the school room, depending on mood and time of day. It was hard work. Our boys have a life that includes many comforts and even luxuries, but one thing they're missing in our smallish house is a place to store their own stuff. Lots of it ends up on their desks, to the point that none of them—nor me either!—would have been able to find room for even a single piece of paper, should we have wanted to do some work. But not any more! Now all four desk spaces are a clean sweep from end to end. Plus the shelves are organized too!
In the afternoon I went into work to put together the classroom spaces for my Kids Church program. We met over the summer and everything was beautiful, but while we had a couple weeks off the floor and the rugs got cleaned, so everything was entirely disarranged. Before I had a chance to put it right the charter school we share our space with started up for the year, so I wasn't able to get into the classrooms during the week. So I had to labor on Labor Day. Three hours of work brought all kinds of improvement; it's still not totally ready to go, but it's a lot closer! And the boys were with Grandma and Grandpa all afternoon while Leah and I worked, so that was kind of like a holiday anyhow... especially since they also fed us dinner!
I don't know if we'll make it to the bus stop tomorrow morning, but I certainly feel ready for the new school year in all the ways it touches my family. Happy Labor Day!
We haven't made it to the library this week, so Harvey was grumbling about not having any books to read. He checked out, I believe, five chapter books last Tuesday, and eight days later they were all finished. I told that we have books here—as an elementary educator, I love scouring used book sales for good stories. I guess he knows that, but he didn't trust the selection. So I picked out a few good options to present him, and he chose Dogs Don't Tell Jokes by Louis Sachar. That was at around 2:15; by 5:30 he had finished it. It's just as I predicted back when he started reading so I'm not surprised, but the sudden increase in his rate of consumption over the last month is a little startling.
Zion is getting into reading too. He's at the stage of mostly doing graphic novels. We have lots of them around, and they're good for private learners: he spent a lot of time looking at them back when he wasn't reading, so now he can put as much or as little energy into the words as he wants without me paying attention to what he's doing. Self-directed reading instruction is what we like around here. I actually tried to do some actual reading instruction with Zion back in the fall, on the theory that he's not quite as self-directed as his big brother—I had to make him learn to ride a bike, for example. And for a little bit he was interested in phonics lessons. But then he got over it. Which was fine, because I know he loves books and can ask for help when he needs it. Then he surprised me a month ago when I asked Harvey to do some writing about the chicks, and he did a page too. I had no idea he could write! I guess that means he can read too. He also read from a chapter book this afternoon during rest time.
We're in the stage of the homeschooling year called pre-reporting panic; don't worry Town of Bedford, at least I know they can read!
One of the good things about elementary school is recess. It's pretty great for kids to get to spend time running around outside with lots of peers—it can get their bodies and their imaginations going in ways that are hard to reproduce in other contexts. Certainly, our own homeschooled kids sometimes find themselves stuck in a low-energy rut without other kids to encourage them into active games. So I'm glad we have homeschool coop, and especially Thursday park days.
Our coop is just a little over a year old, and we're still kind of struggling to get launched and to discover what all of us really want in a group. Sometimes just three—or even two—families show up on Thursdays. We're always glad to hang out, but at that size it doesn't manage to hit that recess vibe. With today's fine weather, though, the group was out in force: thirteen kids between the ages of two and eleven, plus four parents who did their share of playing too! There was frisbee, tag, cycling, wrestling, and just hanging out. And while park day is just once a week, we were there for almost two and a half hours... how many recesses is that? And best of all, nobody got yelled at! That's something you can never say about any elementary school recess I ever saw. I'm already looking forward to doing it again next week.
Monday is generally the one day of the week when I go in to the "office" at the church where I work, so it tends to be a day full of sitting (well, aside from the bike ride there and back). This past Monday saw more sitting then ever: after supper I went to a meeting for our homeschool coop, then dashed directly from there to Bedford's Annual Town Meeting. So three meetings on the day, all pretty different—but all positive and rewarding.
I started off with a department meeting at church. I love working with the kids there, and I get to collaborate with great people, so that meeting was entirely fun and relaxing. I was a little nervous going into the coop gathering, since we're kicking off a new semester and I wasn't sure if we were even going to have anyone in the group this spring. I'm a little more in charge than last year too, so I was paying attention. I needen't have worried: we had a fine crowd, and all of us were excited to share our ideas for the things we can do together over the next couple months. The calendar's already filling up—in fact, we have our first outing together tomorrow morning.
Town Meeting is a completely different feel. Where the coop group is looking to work together and came into the meeting ready to find common ground, there's lots more dissension in the high school auditorium when the politically active members of Bedford's citizenry gather to deliberate. It can be stressful sometimes, hearing people's strong views (especially when said views are completely wrong!). But again, I came out of the meeting feeling really positive. All the people there were passionate about wanting the best for our town, even if they disagreed about what that was, and while their arguments were occasionally passionate (or even sarcastic) there was also a sense of shared responsibility and camaraderie that was fun to be a part of. And I'm really glad that there are these folks going to every town meeting and holding the Selectmen to account; I'm the least fiscally conservative person you'll ever meet, so I'm there to vote for all the spending, so it's good that there are some grumpy old folks ready to make sure we really need a handicap ramp to the front of Old Town Hall (I hope we don't; that one didn't pass).
Still, as interesting as it all was it may have been a little much for one day. Today we went hiking. That's more my speed.
We don't really do "curriculum" here at the squibix home education shop, but when there are seasonal events that I care about you can bet that the kids are going to hear about them. Like the solstice, election day, and, most of all, Martin Luther King Day. We spent four days concentrating, to the extent that we ever concentrate on anything at all, on Dr. King's life and legacy, and on the broader struggle for integration and equality from the '50s to today. Then we made posters.
The unit got off to a bad start on Thursday when we arrived at the library, blank non-fiction book record sheets in hand, to find that all the biographies of Dr. King had already been checked out from the children's section. Oh well, I suppose that's a good thing overall. We actually ended up with the more interesting books related to the topic—on the Birmingham children's marches, integration in Selma, and the cart that carried Dr. King's coffin at his funeral—but weren't able to find much in the way of biographical information. Then when we got home I thought of checking the Levar Burton's Skybrary ap on the iPad, and lo and behold it had two fantastic biographies (and one bad one). The littler boys listened to all of them a couple times.
The poster project had two goals. We're talking about posters generally, as an example of information design and organizing our thoughts to share knowledge, so it was good to practice that. Plus, I wanted to have a tangible goal to our studies to concentrate minds a little bit. Harvey's poster, above, contains images from the famous "I Have a Dream" speech; see how many you can identify. Of course, I'm not really strict about content: Zion's been very taken with the Reflecting Pool in Washington DC, so his poster contains only a large blue rectangle. And Lijah illustrated a dispute he'd had with his friends the week before.
Never mind; the important work of the week was our conversation around what we read and what we thought. That's most of our learning, actually: conversation over lunch or in the car or sitting on the couch after we finish a book. Conversation about whatever takes someone's interest. This morning we talked about the space program and watched Youtube videos of rockets exploding. It may not be organized, but these children are learning many things. Including, especially, the importance of active anti-racism. Happy Martin Luther King Day; let's make it a Martin Luther King Year.
We're lucky enough to be able to spend the second half of every Thursday afternoon with Harvey's friend from around the corner. He's one of Harvey's favorite people, and someone Harvey seeks out assiduously on weekends—the only other time they have to hang out during the school year. So why does our sweet sociable boy sometimes seem less than enthusiastic by the prospect of three hours with his friend? I think it might be because he's not totally ready for his energy level.
See, Harvey hasn't been in school all day. He's just been bicycling, wrestling with his brothers, and being forced by his cruel father to spend hours outside in the yard (and also doing lots of reading when he wants, but that doesn't fit the narrative here). His friend has been working hard doing fifth grade things, which from my personal recollection involve a lot of sitting in chairs and talking quietly. When he gets off the bus, he's got energy to burn and it shows!
I've thought of trying to resolve this mismatch by keeping Harvey more sedentary on Thursdays, but that doesn't really seem fair. So instead I've just tried to talk about it and manage expectations. It's not a big deal: in general, Harvey is still delighted—thrilled!—to spend time with his friend. Even after some tired moments this afternoon, this evening at bedtime he was full of excitement about the sleepover the two of them are having tomorrow night. But it is interesting.
Zion revived enough this morning for us to feel able to head out to a homeschool gathering at a playground in Lexington. It's a weekly meetup that's been going on for maybe a month or two now, and I've been wanting to go but never managed to make it happen. Today was the day!
I hear from other parents that it's sometimes a challenge getting their kids going for a "park day", as we call them in the homeschool world, but there's never any problem in our household. We're always game for a visit to a playground! The morning sun had vanished behind clouds and the damp air was intermittently enhanced by windblown drizzle and snow, but that was fine too: it just meant we had to run around in order to stay warm. And run we did, especially when the other kids got there.
We do try and get good exercise by ourselves, and we certainly walk and bike plenty (along with a little ball playing now and again). But when it's just us Archibalds we really don't have the same motivation for, say, a good game of tag. But add just one more 9-year-old, and suddenly things are a lot more interesting. Tag with five people lasted a good half hour. There was also lots of climbing and jumping challenges, and we finished things off with some soccer on the giant artificial turf field. Speaking only for myself, it was more running than I did the whole week prior. Good times. We'll do it again next Wednesday.
After a week of lovely mild weather that had us feeling like fall, it turned hot again. Terrible hot. I don't know if yesterday and today were really the hottest days of the year, or if they just felt that way after a little while of getting used to cool evenings. Anyway, it's back to summer for now. We're trying to make the best of it: yesterday we went tot he pond in the morning for two-three hours, then came home for lunch before heading over to Lexington tp visit the farmers market and play giant checkers at the giant checker board. That last part was where I succumbed to heat exhaustion, so I had to drag the children away before they could finish their third game. I was restored a little later by dinner in air-conditioned comfort at our friends' house; fair exchange for bringing their son along with us on all the day's adventures.
The only problem with our day yesterday is that we went everywhere by car. Harvey rightly pointed out that we should have biked to Lexington; as the eldest, he has dutifully absorbed my prejudice against the automobile. But it was so hot, and I was already feeling weak. Today we made it right by not driving anywhere at all. We took a long walk in the morning before it was too blazing, then Lijah and I had a few quiet hours to ourselves while the bigger boys played with friends. Then after lunch we spent four hours in the cool convivial comfort of the library, reading books, playing on the iPad, and—Harvey and I—practicing Pokemon.
Pokemon is one of our focuses for this fall. On a shorter time scale, so are monarch butterflies. We have at least one—or rather, one caterpillar well on its way to becoming a butterfly. To get us some school credit I thought to academize our informal study a little bit, so we picked up four or five butterfly books to look at over the next couple weeks. I thinking about academic rigor, see, because I'm rushing to finish up the home education plans for the year. It's not that I want to impress the superintendent.. just that I have lots of good ideas for fun things I could do with the kids if only I could manage a little more organization. My thought is if I write them down now they'll have more chance of coming to fruition. We'll see soon enough; because never mid the heat, fall is just around the corner!
We don't celebrate the summer solstice as much as we do some other astronomical moments, because Harvey's birthday is at the same time. But we're totally enjoying this midsummer thing nevertheless. The best part is of course all the evening light—so much to play outside for a couple hours after supper. The strawberries are good too. I'm hoping to get the jam done tomorrow. One disappointing thing though: today was the first weekday of summer vacation for the schoolkids here in town, and our boys were really looking forward to playing with their friends all day. But none of them were around—two families on vacation already, and one all jammed up with activities. We didn't do any activities; just read books, rode bikes, weeded, and went to the library.
No, that's not quite true... there was a little more than that. Last summer our complete formlessness was a little trying at times, so I'm trying to hold on to a bit of a schedule even as the weather calls us to wild outdoor adventures (and to lying around on the hammock...). After breakfast we spent some time thinking about how stories are structured, and then Harvey and Zion did some writing/dictating of their own accounts of playing in the rain yesterday. It was fun, and it made the rest of the delightfully relaxing day all the sweeter. A good start to the season; let's keep it going tomorrow!