posts tagged with 'homeschool'

on Wednesday

The best thing about homeschooling is that, by Wednesday, when you're ready for a change of scenery... it's yours to go find!

the boys crossing the bridge to Good Harbor Beach

to the beach!

After just a little bit of work this morning, we headed up towards Gloucester and Rockport for an adventure. I had no firm plans beyond wanting an outing, and knowing we needed a bit more lumber for the new deck we're working on—and there's a Home Depot that direction too, so why not?! It's been a while since we visited the ocean in the northern part of Massachusetts.

There was some temptation to head to the same spot we spent so much time at on that last trip, since our memories of it were so positive. But I thought I'd check out the street parking situation at Good Harbor beach; and when I saw that it had opened up on September 15th we just had to stay. Our first try at exploring the beach was cut short by everyone needing to use the bathroom. On our second attempt we got down to the water, which was warm enough that we all had to go back to the car one more time to change into swimsuits. It was a lot of walking... but totally worth it!

Harvey and Zion playing in the waves

yay ocean!

For three of us, at least. Unfortunately, Lijah somehow got a nasty cut on his big toe yesterday, and crossing the bridge for the fifth time he stubbed it and it started bleeding again pretty good. So he wasn't as excited about getting wet. Instead he rested on our giant pile of gear.

Lijah lying on towels and backpacks

relatively comfy

While the water was warm—for the ocean in New England—the air most certainly was not. I don't think it got much above 60°F today, and at the shore there was a stiff breeze blowing the whole time. After a little while I headed back to cuddle with Lijah, so I was ready when the bigger boys were finally done in the water and needed some warming and drying (Lijah's towel was for warming purposes only, but he didn't want to be left out!).

the boys in towels and coats, looking cold

brrr!

We had lunches packed, but we couldn't eat on the beach: besides threatening to blow away all our food and containers, the wind also kept a constant spray of sand in the air to a height of about a foot. So we instead we went into Rockport to explore the rocks opposite the harbor from the breakwater, where we'd never been. It was just as windy there but there was no sand to blow around, and we were able to find a sheltered spot for lunch. Then we climbed all over the rocks and tried to take pictures of the breaking waves, which were quite impressive. Neither Zion or I—the two main photographers—managed anything especially good... but you get the idea.

Zion and Lijah on the rocks looking at the rough sea

on the rocks

Then it was time to go home. We were back by 2:30, with plenty of time to do the rest of the day's work and play with friends. Not a bad schedule!

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cooperating

There's always so much going on in our lives that it's hard to feel like we're living with any kind of schedule. This week it's planning for the church retreat that we're headed out on tomorrow afternoon (preparation needed because I'm running the kids program..). But some school year activities are getting going without needing any help from us, and one of those is our homeschool coop's weekly Park Day. And boy were we excited to get out there today!

kids playing on a big dirt pile

dirt pile fun

Well, maybe it actually needed a little help from us. With rain in the forecast, I made the call that we were going for it regardless of weather. There's a pavilion at the playground; I figured if it was raining we could still meet there and hang out together, and if was absolutely bucketing down we could talk about somewhere else to go. Much easier than figuring out contingencies ahead of time. As it was, it was just drizzling when we got there and even the drizzle quickly trailed off, so the kids were free to have a great time running around together (and also sitting and listening to the adults talk, in the case of the older ones). With a couple new faces it felt like a strong start to our fall semester, and I was glad to get it going. We're looking forward to lots more fun Thursdays this fall!

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school at home

These days I try not to talk about "homeschooling"... more "home learning" or "home education". Because, truth be told, whether from ideology or from lack of organization we don't always do that much schooling around here. Historically our more traditional educational time has been concentrated around the first couple weeks of September, then we lose focus. This year we're laying the groundwork for a little more deliberate practice, while at the same time not trying to come out of the gates too fast. In one area, though, it feels a lot like school here—and that's the noise at the lunch table.

I don't know if you've ever experienced lunch in an elementary school cafeteria, but it's really something. Those kids are loud. And we've got three elementary school kids living in our house right now—for this year only!—so they're doing their best to approximate the environment. And not just at lunchtime either... I get them for three meals a day! Besides the volume I also get to enjoy all the repetition and deliberate stupidity of the best of elementary school humor. So fun!

In their defense, they're also capable of quite sophisticated humor, as well as lots of hard work and generally pleasant company. Except not always at mealtimes.

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pokeweed ink

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!

the boys writing with feathers dipped in pokeweed berry juice

history in action

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!

Zion smushing pokeweed berries with a potato masher

first you get the berries and you mash em, you mash em..

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hard labor

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!

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our readers

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!

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our weekly recess

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.

two new forests

Harvey and Zion fording a spring creek

adventuring

Even though we live in the suburbs, there are lots of wild places around to explore (wild enough for us, at least, despite the ubiquitousness of road noise and old stone walls), and the last two days we visited two new-to-us woods. Yesterday we went out to Concord to visit the south end of the Estabrook Forest, which I learned about at the coop meeting on Monday. We climbed Punkatasset Hill, which may be only 290 feet high but is steep enough to be exciting—especially when Zion and I took, oh, a 20-foot sliding fall down a portion of trail called the "ski hill". On the other side of the hill we found brooks, marshes, a deep pond, and a lovely meadow where we had lunch and played in the grass. The woods are much bigger, and paths reach all the way up across into Carlisle to reach Rt 225; I want to go back later and explore much further!

This morning we met up with some of our coop partners for a presentation at the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge. I enjoyed hearing the ranger talk to the group about signs of spring in the woods, and specifically vernal pools; Harvey and Zion report that they didn't, but both of them raised their hands to offer answers or comments several times so it couldn't have been too horrible (Lijah just called out without raising his hand, especially after he got a big laugh from the crowd for his first comment). Following the lesson we were directed outside to look at a real vernal pool. Amusingly, the ranger had us drive the half mile—if that!—to the pool, which he told us was too far to walk. It's not entirely spring yet so the pool life wasn't in full swing, but we were able to net a few macro-invertebrates (a new term I learned!) and watch them swim around in tubs. The adults were interested at least.

the boys watching a ranger talk at a vernal pool

listening from the back

All that took just an hour and a half, so when everyone else left we took to the trails to get some walking in. Unfortunately I hadn't prepared by reading that Wikipedia page I linked above, so I didn't know what the reserve had to offer and the trail we picked at random was pretty dull. By the time we realized where the pond was we were about done—tired out from all the direct instruction—so we didn't even get to check it out up close. If only we had headed straight there—and if only I had realized there were WWII bunkers hidden in the woods!—we may have had a longer and more adventurous visit. Oh well, next time.

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well met

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.

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Martin Luther King Jr. and home education

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.

Harvey's

note the subtle use of color..

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.

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