posts tagged with 'homeschooling'

can I organize things?

I don't think of myself as a particularly organized person, much less one who can organize groups of other people. And yet that's what I find myself doing this week. This past Sunday I had to lead a workshop at church for folks who wanted to learn more about the elementary kids program and possibly—hopefully!—volunteer, and with admirable forethought (if I do say so myself) I prepared a sign-in sheet so I could remember who was there and track em down later. In the event only two people came—two people who I already know well—so it wasn't needed. But I would have been ready! Then on Wednesday we ran a Park Day at Varney Playground in Chelmsford, which I advertised on a homeschooling group on Facebook. We're planning to meet weekly through the first part of the fall at least, and since I don't like Facebook I wanted to get people's email and phone numbers. So another sign-up sheet! And this time it was well worth it, since of the eight families who showed up I only knew three ahead of time. Plus getting the kids' names written down helped me learn them all instantly, unlike the last couple homeschool gatherings we've attended where I wasn't even sure at the end who all had come for park day and who just happened to be at the playground. The afternoon was fun for all, and we're looking forward to doing it again next week! Unless it's pouring rain, in which case I'll be able to email folks to cancel. Organization!

the 2021-2022 school year gets under way

We had kind of a soft launch to school this year: On Wednesday Zion took an hour and a half out of his vacation to participate in the first meeting of his Zoom historical fiction book group, then on Friday we went to our friends' house so that Harvey could kick off his book group and while we were there we did a few other things together. But today was the real launch of our two-family, three-days-a-week school group, and we had a grand old time. Unfortunately I had to spend a good two and a half hours away from the learning excitement at an in-person work meeting; but no worries, my co-instructor had things well in hand for the morning! The kids talked about learning, and about apples. Then in the afternoon we started a construction project rehabilitating the collapsing sandbox roof. Now that's educational! The only thing missing from the day was the formerly-traditional first day of school pictures, with signs. Oh well. This post will have to go unillustrated, and I don't think we'll do the pictures this year. It's too late: school is well and truly launched!

crystalized expectations

School started today in Bedford for the public school kids, but not for us: we've got a vacation trip planned next week so we're in summer mode for a little while yet. But that doesn't mean we're not learning! In advance of our geology study this September I checked out a book of experiments for kids, and the photos of crystals were deeply attractive to Elijah. For days he asked me if I'd help him make one, but I put him off: my feeling is that those things never work. You do all that prep work and imagine a beautiful crystal growing before your eyes, only to have nothing happen at all for days, and then only a vague scattering of grains. I wanted to spare him the disappointment. But he persisted, so a couple days ago we followed the instructions for experiment one: we boiled a cup of water, added three-plus cups of sugar—slowly, stirring the whole time—and some food coloring. Then we poured it all in a jar, let it cool a little, and put in sticks coated with sugar (seed crystals) for the thing to grow on.

As I expected, it didn't work. But the failure mode was the opposite of what I though would happen. Rather than nothing happening at all, within 12 hours nine-tenths of the solution in the jar had crystalized solidly to the point where we couldn't even pull the sticks out. Maybe we used too much sugar? Boiled it too long? The recipe doesn't say anything about what might possibly go wrong, so I guess more experimentation is required. Which is really the point of science, I suppose! It's going to be a good year.

summer readings

We signed up for the summer reading program at the library this morning. Well, the boys signed up; there's a thing for adults too, but I have enough trouble helping them keep track of their reading to try and record my own too. I guess the purpose of the program is to keep kids reading over the non-school months, like reading is something that otherwise you'd only do if a teacher was making you. That's not the case at our house! All I had to do today to get the boys to spend hours engrossed in books was to let them pick up some new ones at the library. Although in our case it's not even something I wanted them to be doing: after we read for over an hour in the library and then another hour-plus at home after lunch, I thought everybody would do better to go outside and exercise brains and imagination. I did! And they tried, but the allure of the books—and of the couch—was too strong. It's too bad that the library program this summer is based on days that the kids read, rather than hours as was the case last time. So their five solid reading hours today isn't going to serve them any better in the race for badges than someone else's 15 minutes!

Unrelated to that program, Elijah asked towards the end of the school year if he could work on leaning to read. So we've been doing that. He did awesome with phonics, and fairly well with sight word flash cards. So I got him started on a real book: Go Dog Go, my absolute favorite early reader. What I love about it is that it starts super simple and introduces words with picture and context clues to begin with, so that by the end there's a little bit of story and like half of the kindergarten sight word list. As the back of the book says, it's great for self-directed reading learning. Well, Elijah may be motivated to read, but the way his brain works Go Dog Go wasn't the winner I hoped it would be. Reading it with him I had a hard time containing my frustration when he painstakingly sounded out "dogs" for like the fifteenth time in five minutes. He's also been having some trouble with "the". Maybe it's my fault for starting with phonics! Or for trying to teach him at all... the other two boys learned to read pretty much on their own. But Lijah is his own kind of person, and he's needed someone to teach him things in the past: riding a bike, sitting up (that one was a long time ago)... He's a hard worker, though, and if he wants to read he'll get it. In the meantime, while he did spend some of the afternoon with his nose in a book—a series of books—he had no trouble getting his body and brain moving too. So that's fine.

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school's out for the summer

We celebrated the end of our school year today with a trip to Berry Pond, the gem of Harold Parker State Forest. The plan was to meet our friends there at 10:30, but we were ferociously late getting going. Never mind, so were they! We pulled into the parking lot at 10:50 only a little after them, and after that everything was pure relaxation.

the kids playing in the water at Berry Pond

summer

The best part of Berry Pond is that you can be on the beach and in the shade. You can even swim in the shade! Though it wasn't that warm a day, so we parents were happy to stay out of the water completely. Not the kids though: they were in it all day.

Or not quite all day: there were two exceptions. First was for food—befitting our celebratory gathering we had quite a spread, including chips, popcorn, crackers, veggies and dip, strawberries, brownies, cupcakes, and two kinds of lemonade. And then everybody had their own packed lunch, too, not that those lunches got much attention.

the kids at a picnic table loaded with treats

treats

The kids also took some time off from swimming to walk halfway around the pond to a beautiful rocky spot opposite the maintained beach. It's a perfect place for getting in the water, except for one thing: it's absolutely covered with "no swimming" signs. That's so unfair that I did have to let the kids go in for a little bit, but couldn't hold out against the pressure of the rules for as long as they wanted to swim. So sad.

the kids swimming off the forbidden rocks at Berry Pond

how can such a beautiful spot be forbidden?!

But never mind, the beach was good too—good for well over two hours of swimming and relaxing and being together to mark the end of this strangest of school years. Not that too much will change: our same group is getting together next Monday. Call it summer camp?

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not much of a holiday

In the past, Patriots Day has a been a big deal for us. Parades! Battles! Last year, of course, all the observances were cancelled, but we were still excited to follow along online. Then along came the second Patriots Day of the pandemic, and we put our trash out like it was any other Monday. What holiday?

Actually, while that is technically true, we didn't forget about the day completely. We watched the reenactment in the morning—the same reenactment we watched last year, since they haven't filmed any newer ones (does that make it a re-reenactment?). And Elijah wore a tricorn and carried a gun all morning. But it was hard to feel like it was any kind of a holiday. We even did school! Of course, in keeping with the day it was solidly Patriotic. Our poem for the day was Longfellow's "Paul Revere's Ride" and we started an overview unit on the American Revolution. The boys have research projects they're working on on Revolutionary topics of their choosing. Which is fun and all, but it can't really compete with a parade. Next year back to normal?

how we support life-long learners

We had a busy day in school yesterday: besides celebrating Elijah, we had to do some actual school work! After a fashion. See, sometimes when homeschoolers do school it's not totally clear what the learning objectives are. But looking back on the day, I think I can recreate them...

As part of their Narnia book study the bigger kids made tissue-paper stained glass art, an assignment which was actually quite a challenge. For two reasons, actually: because they had to follow exacting directions, and because the work involved cutting little details out of card stock with an exacto knife. There were some moments of extreme frustration, but in the end they all finished. They learned perseverance.

While that was going on I was reading with the smaller kids about how people make maple syrup. We talked about plant circulation, and about evaporation, and about pancakes. Then we boiled some syrup until it reached 240°F, at which point we poured it onto bowls of snow to make maple taffy. We learned that boiled syrup is very sticky, and also delicious—except to Elijah, who continues to not like it. Oh well, he still had fun anyway. How can you not, at a school like ours?!

all kinds of learning

This past Sunday I titled one of our "moment" photos "playing with fire", because that's what the Bubble School kids are into these days. Both school days at our house last week they spent all their outside time making campfires and boiling water, and yesterday in Acton they were excited to do the same thing, with the additional fun of building a shelter by their fire pit (since our friends' yard isn't blessed, like ours, with a playhouse). Some of us parents were slightly worried about the possibility of conflagration—they were doing their fire-building in a corner of woods thickly carpeted with fallen leaves—but when I went out to check I saw that everything was so wet they could barely keep their kindling burning without constant effort from the lighter. So probably no conflagrations were likely, and we could rest easy with an occasional check-in glance out the kitchen window. Or so we thought!

No, the kids didn't set anything on fire (though they did succeed in getting the fire in their ring to be self-sustaining after a half-hour of sustained work!). But a neighbor was even more concerned than we were, and she came over and, after staring for a while, asked the kids if their parents knew what they were doing. Well of course we did! And as we heard the story afterwards, the oldest of our wonderful gang of kids—not Harvey, he's the second-oldest by a month and a half—had the presence of mind to answer. "Yes, they do, thank you," she said. "Goodbye!" (She emphasized afterwards that she said "goodbye").

Now of course, if they were hardened juvenile delinquents they would have scoffed at a question like that—or worse!—but our homeschool children are sensitive! There were some tears when they came in to report to us, and it took some work to reassure them that no, they hadn't actually done anything wrong. Some people just like to... involve themselves in other people's lives. It was too bad, but even as some kids were upset it was awesome to see how they supported and comforted each other. And even better, they went back out and relit the fire that they had stamped out after the neighbor's visit. And this time they set a guard to make sure they'd be ready if she came back!

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happy birthday Dr King

Today is Martin Luther King Jr's birthday. We studied his life this week, and today in Bubble School the kids each gave their reports. (I freely acknowledge the potential pitfalls in doing Black history with a bunch of white kids, but I think trying is still better than the alternative—and anyways, at this point 1/3 of our school population is 1/2 non-white, so there!) Our discussion was sensitive and nuanced. We talked about the considerable role Dr King played in the Civil Rights movement and also about the fact that there were others, less famous, who played roles that were just as significant. We talked about the importance of non-violent protest, and also thought about situations where violence is necessary for tactical or emotional reasons. And we celebrated that there is a Martin Luther King Day holiday, while also all agreeing that we have a ways to go, both as a country and as individuals, before Dr King's dream can come true.

Without libraries the research was more challenging than it might have been—like everything in this pandemic. But our group found a way to make it happen, using a combination of web sites (mainly Wikipedia), audio books from Audible and LeVar Burton's Skybrary, documentary films, and audio of Dr King's speeches. Plus the diversity of sources gave us a chance to talk about historiography, and why you might want to seek out a variety of accounts about any one person or event.

Martin Luther King Day is Monday, of course. We're not taking school off that day, though; we're honoring Dr King's memory by meeting, talking about his legacy and the road ahead, and eating a cake to celebrate his birthday. We're looking forward to it!

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wet weather? let's go to the ocean!

It's been sunny and beautiful for at least parts of the last couple days, so of course when it turned gray and rainy we headed out to visit the ocean!

the boys by the shore at Good Harbor beach under gray skies

perfect beach weather

Actually, the timing wasn't really deliberate like that. It's just that we have a lot on our schedule, actually, and it's been a couple months since we've been any distance from home; so when last weekend I saw that Thursday was free I put a trip out to Cape Ann on the calendar. In my defense, the forecast at that point called for sun! Not that we minded the light drizzle—we're that hardcore, and we'd actually much rather have rain than crowds.

Our first stop of the day was the rocks along Atlantic Ave, where, before we did anything else, we had lunch (we got a late start because there was lots of school work to do first—like I said, busy schedule!). It turns out it's cold at the ocean; at least two of us wished for warmer clothes (not me! nobody dresses warmer that I do). But as soon as we finished lunch, an hour of climbing around the amazing rocks warmed us right up. Nobody died, either. When Elijah fell on his face it wasn't from 25 feet above jagged rocks, which had been my fear.

Zion and Elijah looking down at white water from orange rocks

looks perfectly safe, right?

Then just as we were about done with the rocks, Harvey found a piece of sea glass, and then another one. I don't know if you're aware, but sea glass is rare in New England these days—maybe the only downside of people no longer routinely throwing their garbage into the ocean. So his find touched off a sea glass gold rush, and each of us got at least a dozen pieces. Lijah and I are going to combine our hoards and display them in a jar.

Next we went to Good Harbor beach. The tide was rushing out beautifully under the bridge and it wasn't at all crowded, but the boys were getting a little tired—and it turns out that without a full tank of physical and emotional energy the water's a little too cold mid-January to do much wading. We did find—and walk through—some very interesting sandy mud: it was almost fluffy, with a consistency like slush to a depth of three or four inches. It's lucky there was something harder underneath, or we would have sunk to our deaths!

We ended the outing with a visit to Rockport. We walked around town and out to the tip of Bearskin Neck, admiring all the closed stores and their range of varied and clever please-wear-a-mask signs. Then on the way back to the car we stopped at the candy store where we bought some fudge...eventually. It was actually kind of hard to come to a decision about what to get. It may be that she felt sorry for us or just that she's a wonderful human being, but the woman running the store also gave us—for free, gratis!—a bag of chocolate-covered swedish fish. I had no idea such a thing had ever been even contemplated, but they actually aren't bad! It helps that Tuck's Candy has, as well as wonderful generosity, really good milk chocolate. Tuck's Candy—check em out if you're in the area!

Then we went home. On the drive, both ways, we listened to an audiobook about Martin Luther King Jr. Because, you know us, that's how serious we are about school work!

Oh, I almost forgot the best part of going to the ocean in the winter! Even better than the empty roads and beaches: we found ice among the rocks! It may have been small, but our rink by the water was, for fifteen minutes at least, just about the best thing ever.

Zion and Elijah sliding on a patch of ice among rocks by the ocean

our two favorite things, together at last!

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