posts tagged with 'homeschooling'

reading practice in math

Elijah mostly enjoys practicing math and mostly doesn't enjoy practicing reading. He can read, but he doesn't love pushing through books at the slow pace he can currently manage, so it's hard for him to put in the practice he needs to get better. That's the curse of a kid who's just naturally good at things, I suppose! Because he's not confident with reading I initially didn't get him started on Khan Academy math, which the other boys have been using since the last half of last year (when I decided I was completely overwhelmed with teaching 7th grade math). It has lots of instructions and things that I was afraid he would struggle with.

Well, as much as I wish we didn't have to use computers I also really appreciate the consistency that Khan Academy lets the boys have in their math learning. They don't have to rely on me to make lessons and check their work! And that applies to Lijah too, so this week I made him an account and sat down with him to try it out. So far he's loving it! He mostly already knows how to do the things he's working on—practice around understanding multiplication—so getting everything right so far has felt pretty rewarding. Which leads to another upside: I already notice him getting more confident about reading the directions! I have absolutely no fears that he'll be able to read as much and as well as he wants, when he wants to... but in the meantime I appreciate him getting some practice in when he doesn't even notice he's doing it!

beach school day

We had so much fun at the beach the Friday before last that I decided to make it a thing, and we went back again this past Friday. By ourselves this time; everyone else was either busy or resting. Which was maybe just as well, because when we got there it didn't really feel like a typical beach day.

the beach under gray clouds; Zion standing in the waves, Elijah drawing in the sand

chilling at the beach

It was even colder than we expected, but that was fine, because we had lots of non-swimming activities to do. Like schoolwork! I made the boys bring their journals and stuff to draw with, just in case. It turns out Wingaersheek is popular with homeschoolers. Last time we met some kids who must have been (they were collecting invasive species crabs and feeding them to seagulls), and Friday we arrived at the same time as another family of school-aged kids who I actually asked if they were doing a beach school day too. And they were!

But it couldn't be school right away. Our first order of business was to walk out onto the sandbar, the one that almost drowned Harvey last time. This time we arrived just about at low tide, so were able to wade out to the bar without even getting our shorts wet, and then walk way out into the ocean on (relatively) dry land. (That's where the picture up top was taken.) It was super fun, even if we were a little worried about getting cut off. As it happened, we survived.

Elijah standing at the end of a sand spit among waves

the end of the land

By the time we headed back the clouds were beginning to disperse. It still wasn't swimming hot, though, so after some lunch we took advantage of the expanse of low tide beach to walk around the corner, inland along the Annisquam River. We enjoyed the different consistencies of sand, the light on the channel, and the space to run around.

Elijah running, waving his shirt, along the beach

joy in the sunshine

With memories of too much sun the week before I also brought our little beach tent. As cool as it was the sun didn't feel like a threat even once it emerged, but it was also a great place to rest in out of the wind! And it let us organize our piles of spare clothes, food, and school materials. The boys did some journal writing, drawing, and reading.

Elijah reading in our beach tent, his brothers lying on a rock outside drawing

beach school room

To that point they would have been fine limiting themselves to a little wading, but I wasn't having that. As the tide began to creep up over the rocks I tried out the water myself, then invited—forced?—them to come and give it a try with me. It was too chilly for Elijah, but once the older boys got in they had to agree that it actually wasn't that bad. And as the tide flowed around the rocks there were lots of opportunities for fun!

Harvey in the water among rocks, Zion on one getting ready to slide

the best rock for sliding

Wingaersheek is a fairly sheltered spot, so it's not generally a place you'd go to for waves. But the wind was so high it was actually kind of choppy, and as we let the tide push us up the beach as it rose we found some spots where the waves were certainly big enough to be fun.

all three boys playing in the smallish waves

even Elijah got back in for a bit

As delightful as it was, though, a couple hours in the water left me, at least, feeling increasingly cold. And Elijah was getting bored, running out of things to do by himself up on the beach. Plus everybody wanted to go into town! So even though it was 25 minutes in the wrong direction for home we packed up and headed to downtown Rockport where we walked around, took in the sights, and bought candy and food for dinner. Among other stores we visited the Bearskin Neck Country Store, which I'd somehow never been in before. We admired the wide range of gummy candy items available—and the player piano!—but all we bought was a jar of spicy pickled beans.

Zion and Elijah looking at the player piano

more than just a piano!

Even in town, though, we couldn't escape the fact that the true lure of Cape Ann is the ocean! And I feel so lucky to be able to visit it regularly.

Harvey walking out on the breakwater in Rockport

blue

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first day of... school?

I was talking to a friend today and she mentioned how unfair it seems that the school year starts so soon after the County Fair. Sure, there was a full week in between but the fair was pretty intense, and we're definitely still recovering. But recovering or not today was the day the calendar said, so we got down to work. It actually went pretty well in our house: the boys even made first day of school signs, though I didn't get a chance to take their pictures. Tomorrow maybe? We worked through the morning, and then after lunch we went grocery shopping (with a stop for a 45-minute hike on the way). When we got home we had to get the house cleaned up and make food to be ready to host six adults and five kids—that's besides the five of us—for dinner. And I had to try and stay awake: Leah wasn't feeling well in the morning so I was the one up before 5:00 with the dogs. Then just now I had to continue to stay awake to do the dishes. I'd love to continue to build routine with another great school morning tomorrow, but I have an in-person meeting at work from 10:00 to 3:00. Oh well, there's always next week, right?

connecting with literature

As the "school year" winds to a close I'm leading a book group for the smallest kids in our bubble school. It's mainly because all their older siblings are doing book groups, so one of them at least requested that the first- and second-graders get one too. We're happy to oblige! Other adults led them through Dragons and Marshmallows and Catwings earlier this year; now I'm taking a turn with Betsy and Tacy. Of course, the main feature of a book group is that the kids do activities related to the text, so I need to satisfy that requirement. I think I'm doing ok: last week we cut out and colored paper dolls, which was super fun, and this week we went even bigger with a project to make colored sand.

jars filled with stripes of colored sand sitting in front of ferns

the finshed product

In the story Betsy and Tacy are playing with leftover builders' sand, and realize that they can color it with the dyes that Betsy saved after dying Easter eggs. Then they sell the jars they filled with colored sand. That sounded like something the kids could do and enjoy! Naturally, I didn't try it ahead of time to make sure it worked, but I did supply food coloring and play sand and a number of jars. And it came together pretty well! We mixed the colors in a jar, added sand til there was so extra liquid, stirred it up, then poured it out onto pieces of cardboard to dry in the sun. Betsy and Tacy made their sand in early May and it took hours to dry; with a little bit of stirring under the mid-June sun ours was ready in about an hour, and we poured each color into a cup of its own. Then with a funnel the kids laid in stripes into the vessels of their choice.

Elijah and friends sitting on a driveway making colored sand

hard at work

They were very excited about the selling part of the project until they saw how nice their jars came out. Despite all the work and starting with plenty of sand we only ended up with enough good colors for each kid to make one jar, and they couldn't bear to part with them. But they were inspired by another bit in the story to make calling cards and drop them in all the neighbors' mailboxes, so they were able to scratch their awkward-interactions-with-unfamiliar-adults itch another way. Though actually, they didn't see anyone as they dropped off their cards. I wonder what people will think next time they check their mail? Maybe the kids could have left flyers for a colored sand sale... we could make more next time!

my hand spotted with different splotches of food coloring

we colored skin too!

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Backyard Farm Club

This past Monday we started a new thing: Backyard Farm Club. Well, not just us; there are five families interested in getting together from time to time to share experiences of trying to do something different in our suburban yards. And also put our kids to work! That's what it's all about for me.

Zion, Elijah, and some friends removing grass with spade forks

whips not pictured

The idea germinated at Park Day when a couple of us were talking about our mixed feelings about the 4H clubs we're part of. There's definitely things we enjoy and appreciate about 4H, but it's not all that we expected. So one parent wondered about creating a homeschool-oriented club, which reminded another parent and I that we'd been talking before the pandemic about collaborating to share work in our gardens. Maybe those two ideas could go together?

For now, we're not worrying about the 4H part. We're going to try things out and see if we can figure out a schedule and a routine that works. Then maybe in September we can get more official. So far, our idea is to rotate between houses and at each gathering have a selection of chores and projects that the kids (and the parents!) can take part in. For our first meeting at our friends' house, we cleaned out the chicken coop, weeded the garden, fixed some broken fencing, and pulled out grass from a piece of ground that is transitioning from lawn to food forest. Or, some people did. I was on grass removal duty the whole time. There was also a nature drawing scavenger hunt. At the end we had snack: we brought cookies and rice-crispie treats and someone else had some delicious egg tart things, but the best of all was the "apple nachos" made right on the premises. Not all the kids loved being made to do things, rather than just playing with their friends, but hopefully the snacks will keep them coming back.

apple slices covered with melted chocolate and peanut butter and chocolate chips

this is what apple nachos is

And hopefully we can host the next meeting. There's a lot of work that needs to get done around here!

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history schooling

Doing this Park Day thing has gotten us more plugged into the homeschooling community than we have tended to be otherwise, so we're able to learn about some opportunities that otherwise we'd never be aware of. Like a field trip to the Garrison House historical site in Chelmsford. I'd never heard of the place: spending as much time as we do in Lexington and Concord we have no need of additional historical houses. But when we were invited I saw no reason not to go. Doing things is better than not doing them! And what do you know, we learned some things.

kids and adults standing watching an instructor in colonial dress

direct instruction

Not that the visit was a complete success. The Garrison House is where all the Chelmsford elementary school kids go once in their social studies career, and it's also open to 4th grade groups from other towns. So the experience was pretty schooly, which put our kids off. The first part of the program was an hour in the craft building, where they got to churn butter, make soap, dip candles, and sew quilt squares. Which sounds awesome! But liability issues meant that they could only do a little bit of each project under careful direction, and the number of kids there ensured that there was a lot of waiting around between turns. Standing up. Plus with all the history we do anyways no one in our family was surprised to hear that, in the olden days, people couldn't go to the store and just buy what they needed. Like, duh.

The second hour, a tour of the Garrison House itself, was better. The house was continuously occupied from 1690 to 1954 before becoming a museum, and its different rooms show what it was like in the 1690s, 1750s, 1870s, and 1900s. Pretty cool! We don't have anything like that in Lexington. I could write lots about that, but the boys already did. Here's what Zion learned:

Yesterday we went to the garrison house. The garrison house was made in 1690 and a half and people lived in it til 1954. It was made as a garrison a fort. In 1690 to 1750 the house only had like 1 room and that 1 room was the kitchen the dining room the living room and the bedroom. Later in the 1700 they had better technology like beehive ovens and a crane. AND they had bricks for their fire places. Then in the late 1800s they got facterey rugs and curtains they also had time for a piano. Then in the 1900 sumbody put a wood stove in then changed it to kerosene. They also had a ice box and a pump. Later it became a mousem.

Then after the program we got to picnic and play on the grounds. That was the best part. And the benefit of doing big schooly things is that you can meet some new friends!

lots of kids up in a tree

mine are up there somewhere...

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our school is music and outdoor education

Years ago, as I looked forward towards a time when I had older children—children who could read and divide and make responsible choices for themselves at least some of the time—I imagined that managing this project of home education would get easier. Wasn't that stupid! As it turns out, even though Harvey and Zion can do all those things, it's actually kind of a challenge to manage learning plans for boys who, were they in school, would be in 7th and 5th grade. It takes up a fair amount of my time. Not that I mean to complain: it's all pretty good fun. I like coming up with word problems and art projects and trying to get the boys to care about writing (well, that last one is a little stressful). But when it comes down to it, what has seemed the most important this winter has been music and spending time outside.

You've heard plenty about the outside part, so here's a music update. Zion has started trumpet; he's in the early stages of his study, so he's making noises that only a brass player trained in early education could enjoy (hey, that's me!). I wrote out a few exercises for him, then remembered I hated writing music and bought an elementary method book. Since the fall he's been doing great at learning to read music on recorder, so he was able to jump right into learning fingerings and building up his face muscles and breath control. He's having fun with it, too; long may it last.

Harvey, for his part, is a multi-instrumentalist. He hasn't picked up reading music as quickly as Zion (or maybe he's working on it at a higher level), but he's great at playing by ear and remembering the songs he's figured out. He's using the recorder as his melody instrument, and has advanced to being able to play in both octaves in several keys. He plays banjo with my guitar for fun, and is reading chord sheets and expanding the range of chords he can play. And on bass he's moving beyond memorizing songs to reading chords and tabs. Up next, learning to read bass clef! (well, maybe in a couple months). All that and he also composes tunes electronically on Garage Band! While he still gets frustrated sometimes when things are hard—because that's his personality—he's starting to reach the point where, instead of just learning his instruments, he can actually play music. That's where the fun is! And it's super fun for me too, so I wholeheartedly approve.

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Black history

It's Black History Month. Black history is American history, so we talk about it all year round (those times when we're talking about history, anyways). But it's still nice to have a moment to focus on it even more specifically. I did always wonder why February, though. This year I found out! Here's the story I wrote for the boys this morning:

———

Black History month began as Negro History Week in 1926. It was promoted by Black historian Carter G. Woodson, who was one of the first people to study the history of Black Americans and the wider African Diaspora (people taken from Africa as slaves, and their descendants). Dr. Woodson wanted more people to think about Black history, and he wanted to counter the romantic stories that white people were writing about how charming life was in the South before the Civil War. He picked the second week in February for Negro History Week because that week has the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Abraham Lincoln wasn't Black, but he was celebrated in Black communities for issuing the Emancipation Proclamation which ended slavery in the South. Frederick Douglass was the first nationally known Black anti-slavery advocate in the 1800s. By 1929 Negro History Week was being taught across the country.

In 1969 Black educators and students at Kent State University proposed expanding Negro History Week to a whole month called Black History Month. The first one was observed in 1970. In 1976, as part of the celebration of 200 years of United States history, President Gerald Ford encouraged all Americans to honor Black History Month and the contributions of Black Americans their country.

Dr. Woodson himself is someone who needs to be recognized as an amazing Black American. He was only the second Black man to get a PhD from Harvard, and is the only person whose parents were slaves to ever get a doctorate there. His achievements were even more amazing because his family was very poor and before he could go to school he needed to work in a coal mine to make money.

———

After I read it to the boys Elijah asked, "you can make money in a coal mine?" Last week he learned about Mother Jones so he thinks of coal mines as purely exploitative. I think that means Dr. Woodson's story is even more amazing! I look forward to learning, and teaching, more all this month.

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what about schooling?

It's not all skating and outdoor adventures over here. In fact, in January we've been refocusing on academic time—the ever swinging pendulum of my home education desires has moved away from unschooling towards a desire for some organization. And so far everyone is surviving! Surviving, and even some of the time enjoying themselves. Besides the regular things, the older two boys are working on learning all the states and capitals and are having a fine time looking them up in our giant atlas (it doesn't matter that it features the Soviet Union and two Germanies, though I guess we'll have to think about alternatives if we want to learn about current European geography...).

Harvey and Zion looking at an atlas on the rug

US borders haven't changed much since the 80s

We're also working on writing, which is probably the area where all three boys are the farthest off where the expectation would be if they were in school. Not that that's particularly concerning; they're all fine storytellers and they're all enthusiastic consumers of all kinds of different writing, so I have no doubt that when they find something they want to write about they'll do fine at it. Still, I do want to give them the opportunity to do that sooner rather than later if they want to, so we're doing some practicing. This being homeschooling, though, we do try and keep the writing time cozy!

Elijah writing under the end table with a light

Lijah works in his warm space

Zion writing while cuddling Blue on the couch

dogs are important to the writing process too

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experiment a success

When I conceptualized this park day thing I scheduled four meetings, thinking that was a sweet spot for encouraging people to commit: they would know the meetup was something that would definitely happen for a period of time, and they knew that they had an automatic out after that period. I don't know if that was the key factor, or if there was just a big demand for connection among homeschoolers in the greater Lowell area, but Varney Park Day has a been a huge success. So much so that it's still going strong into November. There's always a good-sized, diverse group of folks, and there's always something different going on. Last week it was "hammock town," with one real hammock and a bunch of other ones improvised out of big pieces of fabric one of the parents was genius enough to bring along; this week we were trying to catch falling leaves. Best of all, as the weeks pass we can see kids starting to play in more different groupings and arrangements—not just by who they knew coming in and played with before, but by age and interest as they get to know each other. That's something that happens in a good community. I think we can call this experiment a success!