posts tagged with 'homeschooling,'

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!

more

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!

more

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...

more

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.

more

outdoor learning in the suburbs

One of my favorite things about learning at home is how much time we get to spend outside. Tons of playing, of course, and educational play opportunities like when the kids spent an hour last week picking wild grapes and then made grape lemonade. But also the chance to do more traditional schooling stuff out of doors amidst the beauty and decay of the early fall garden. All the fresh air makes those math brains work better! The only problem with outdoor learning in the suburbs is that you have a good chance it's going to be hard to hear each other. Because pretty much, as long as it's nice out someone's going to be busy with loud gas-powered lawn care.

Elijah and a friend using math manipulatives at the picnic table with a riding mower working behind them

the joys of garden school

I don't keep records, but it seems to me that the same thing happened last week at the same time. At least the lawn-service guys know their business and get in and out pretty quickly so we only had to deal with the obnoxious drone of the mowers, trimmers, and blowers for about 20 minutes—and it was only too loud to hear each other talk for about half that time. Then they left, and we were able to converse easily again... at least when there weren't airplanes buzzing overhead on their way to land at the airport a mile away.

As for our own lawn care, I'm proud to report I haven't contributed one bit to the noise pollution of the neighborhood in the past couple months. I'm so impressive, using the push reel mower exclusively ever since my gas mower stopped working!

more

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.

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?

more

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!

more

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!

more