Thursday, October 3, 2013

In which our heroine tries heartily to adjust to a schedule

When Moose was a baby, I worked full time at the Rocket Factory.  I had a fancy title, could spout enough acronyms to make myself sound insanely smart to anyone who didn't know better, and a pretty tight schedule. Then I was laid off in May 2010.

I haven't worked on a schedule since.

Our days just sort of ebbed and flowed.  We woke when we wanted, ate when we were hungry, and rarely had anywhere to go.  When filling out our foster care homestudy, we were asked for a description of our daily routine.  I had to admit that we didn't really have one, but rather a weekly routine that included crochet class on Tuesdays, Story Time at the library on Thursdays, and generally a walk after dinner in the evenings.

Beginning this month, I've had to start running a tighter ship.  Calendar blocks are cramped with times and locations, and most days we have several places to go, generally spread around the tri-state area.  That means that, many days, we're in the cars for hours.  I'm sure many families are used to this.  I'm not.

The end result was the September was pretty much a bust in terms of school.  We've cut a significant number of new obligations out of our plans, but we're still trying to figure out how to cope.  Part of that has been simply to wake up earlier...not typically our style.  Unfortunately, Sprite isn't consistently sleeping through the night these days, and we still don't get to bed until late.

Moose did learn about weather, but mostly we learned about scheduling.  Scheduling and organization.

Scheduling, organization, and the importance of sleep.


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

In which our heroine has finished with animals

Labor Day has come and gone, and with it was the end of our month studying animals.  I think we're finally falling into a groove, which is good, as September brings several new activities to fit into our calendar.  He will be starting gymnastics again next week, though with a new teacher, and Story Time at the library starts back up tomorrow.  Next week will be our first time attending the homeschool group at the library, and several families are also starting a preschool co-op that will meet on Tuesday mornings.  I'll be teaching the first class, focusing on weather, in large part because we'll be focusing on weather at home this month and I already have the materials.

Last week, we drove out to one of our local state parks to walk one of the trails around the lake and look for animals.  Our eventual tally:  deer, squirrels, a chipmunk, various birds (including a woodpecker), countless spiders, dragonflies, butterflies, fish, a newt, ants, flies, bees, a fence lizard, and humans.  Moose was very interested in drawing his discoveries in his book, but he was too busy making perfect spiders and their webs to make it to anything else.  We also spent time sailing on flat rock "boats" and tramping over small bridges and pretending we were the three billy goats Gruff.

Along with our animal studies, Moose has continued with his Bible stories and coloring pages and has learned his second memory verse, John 3:16.  I've been surprised at how well he's able to memorize verses.  Our next verse will be Genesis 1:1, which also corresponds well to our Creation studies in Sunday School.

Our animal cards are put away for the time being, or at least not brought out on a daily basis.  My inflatable globe finally arrived, so we are spending a little time pulling animals from the deck and finding where on earth they live.  They'll be used again when we talk about the weather different animals need (climate, which we touched on already), hibernation, and much later when we study baby animals in the spring.  The globe is also nice to have on hand for our Bible lessons and for discussing various weather topics.

My goal of going week by week and not worrying if we don't do something "for school" every day is working well.  We're being more intentional about our learning, but there's less stress this way.  Especially with so many new activities coming up, less stress seems to be the way to go.  On the bright side, our weekly activities are finally helping us find a real routine, and they're giving me a reason to get out of the bed in the morning instead of wanting to sleep as late as possible.  I enjoyed my time this morning before anyone else woke up--baking muffins, sipping tea, taking out scraps from last night's dinner for the chickens.  It made for a much less frantic morning than we usually have.

You'd still better not expect me to get anywhere before 10 or 11, though, because that's just not going to happen.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

In which our heroine wonders how much is enough

I've just spent the better part of an episode of Doctor Who trying to find printables or otherwise put together a plan for an animal book.  Moose has been learning about animals for the last three weeks, and physically speaking, we have nothing to show for it.  "Regular" preschools seem to have buckets of paperwork to send home.  We've been easing into this school thing, mostly talking and exploring, then doing deskwork when he feels like it.

Still, it would be nice to have something for him to look at and to help him recall what he's learned.  I made a set of cards with photographs of animals on them, and among other things, they've been great for sorting games.  We've sorted by classifications (mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian, fish, insect), and for that we can simply put the cards into piles.  For learning about habitats this week, however, I'd hoped to have full page backgrounds of each habitat for us to sort onto.  I also wanted to put together an animal book, but I'm having trouble deciding what to do with it since Moose can't read yet.

What to do, what to do?  Is there a point?  I'll still likely to a weather book for next month, since there's more I can do with pictures alone as well as keeping track of our little weather station.   I'm trying very hard, however, to not get pulled into doing things with him simply because I feel I ought to.

Repeat after me:  We weren't planning on doing any schooling until kindergarten anyway.  This year is all for fun and to get our feet wet.

I just hope that's good enough for everyone else.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

In which our heroine records her first two weeks of homeschooling

Two weeks have already flown by!  We've been easing in slowly, but I'm been impressed with what Moose has acquired even without any rigorous study.  First of all, we've been emphasizing that school is a bit different, particularly with his tools and books.  He needs to listen carefully and do as instructed, then put his things back where they belong when he's finished.  He may only color the pages I tell him to color, and he needs to do so carefully and neatly.  That is the hardest part for him, but it only applies to his school books.  He's welcome to use his other coloring books as he pleases.  The "A" book of the ABC series covers this, and we're working through it slowly, whenever he wants a bit more.  I figure we'll do more of it during the winter, when spending endless hours outdoors isn't quite as appealing.

He has learned his first Bible verse perfectly, without us even asking him to memorize it (Ephesians 6:1, to go with our first habit, obedience).  He has not only loved the first two stories in his Rod and Staff Bible Storybook, but has begged for more.  He also enjoys looking through one of the Engineer's Bible's, which has pictures and maps.  His ability to learn a simple story, well told, or a song, nicely sung, is beautiful.  Although a different song was scheduled, he's been learning This Train Is Bound for Glory.  After all, it has a train in it.

The habit training?  Well...not so much.  Obedience is hard for a three-year-old, especially when you don't want to break the child's will, which I certainly don't.  It's a work in progress.

Last but certainly not least, our theme for the month, animals.  We haven't been doing anything systematic, but instead have simply been more intentional in our observations and discussions.  Off the top of my head, I can recall talking about animal's homes, their feet (padded feet with claws, talons, hooves, and so on), and their habitats.  We've been classifying them as mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, or fish and discussing what features differentiate each of those groups.  We've talked about what makes an animal an animal, as opposed to a plant or a fungus.  I've been leaving out bacteria and other microscopic organisms for now, since they're harder to explain to a preschooler.  He's been particularly taken with learning about bees.

We did have our first "field trip," to the zoo.  Hopefully we'll be taking another trip to one down in West Virginia later this month, because due to way of our Pittsburgh trip worked out, we didn't really get a chance to discuss much or apply any of our lessons.  At least there are always plenty of animals around home to observe.

Off to prepare dinner and take Moose out to feed the chickens.  There's plenty to learn in that, too, don't you think?

Monday, August 5, 2013

In which our heroine feels oddly at peace

It's quarter after three in the morning.  (Actually, it's 3:14, but if I was having a hard time avoiding pi jokes when I tried saying that.)  I woke to feed and change the baby, and now here I am, trying to finish last-minute things for the morning.

What's in the morning, you might ask?  School.  Moose begged and pleaded not to make him wait until September, so school is in the morning.  His first day...sort of, if you don't count the couple of weeks we tried just after Easter.  I wanted to have the house clean, to have my hanging organizer finished and filled, and generally to make a bit of a deal about it.  None of that is going to happen.  I'm okay with that, strangely enough.  At this age, especially, learning is play, and play is learning.  We are being very informal about his education this year--a bit more planned than I might have had he not wanted school so badly, but still very relaxed.  Years from now, he'll remember that a dolphin is a mammal and that he got to go to the zoo with his cousins.  He won't remember that I had to move a pile of junk mail and some extra flower pots off the table before he could do his work.  Really, most of our days and weeks will be spent roaming the outdoors or curled up on the couch with a book.

In some ways, I wish I had gone ahead and ordered a prepackaged curriculum.  It would be nice to be able to look at a chart and know what I needed to do each day.  It would be nice not to be up in the wee hours of morning pulling together resources.  At the same time, I'm loving the freedom that comes with not following anyone else's plans.  I think we need that flexibility right now, especially as we figure out what works best for Moose as a student and for us as a family.

I'm wondering how much he'll grow this year.  It will be interesting to look back, 365 days from now, and see how much he's changed.  In some ways, I'm sad already about losing my little boy, bit by bit.  At the same time, I'm eager to meet the person he'll become.

This feels a little anticlimactic.  I feel like I ought to be buying him a special outfit, making a special breakfast, taking tons of pictures.  Maybe I'll do two of those three.  Maybe we'll even throw streamers around and make a banner, if I can get the house tidied up enough to be worth it.  Really, though, nothing is changing.  As of tomorrow, telling him that dolphins are mammals is "school."  Today, it was just part of life.  Remembering that helps me to be at peace about all of it.

I have a hard time making choices.  I fret and over analyze every little detail.  Once I've made my choice, though...I'm good.  We're good.  This is the right choice for us.

Just remind me of that tomorrow when I'm tired, Sprite is fussing, and the laundry is piling up.

Monday, July 29, 2013

In which our heroine gives up and does it her own way

Since I first contemplated homeschooling our children, when Moose was just a tiny thing and I was still working at the Rocket Factory, I've been drawn to the Charlotte Mason method.  The primary characteristics of Miss Mason's method that most people would recognize are nature study, narrations, and living books.  Now that I'm settling down to read her books (which can be read for free at Ambleside Online), I'm realizing that there is so much more.

So much more, indeed, that it's making my head hurt.  So much more that it's making me wonder if my plans are potentially detrimental, and certainly to think that I'm better off coming up with my own lessons for Moose this year.

In all honesty, do I think that I'm going to damage my son by not following the CM method to the letter?  Nah.  Despite the dire warnings about the world around us, there are plenty of people who do just fine with other teaching methods.  Not everyone, not by a long shot, but plenty.  I'm living proof of that.  I'm at least reasonably intelligent, I hunger for knowledge, I enjoy both reading and exploring nature, and (wait for it) I was educated in public and religious private schools.  There wasn't a drop of nature study or learning from "great books" in sight when I was in school.

That said, much of what I learned seems to be despite school rather than because of it.  My love of learning led me to seek out knew information whenever possible, and my constant reading brought me much of that information.  Most of what I remember I learned on my own, not at school.  Without a doubt, being taught to read, write, and do math has allowed me to learn on my own.  However, I would be surprised if I wouldn't have done better had I been taught at one of Miss Mason's schools.

After chatting with more experienced homeschooling parents on a Charlotte Mason Facebook page, I've decided to scrap my curriculum plans for the year and just hold off until at least next year.  That would have been a simple enough decision, since it's what I'd planned on doing all along, but I'm a stubborn creature and am having trouble admitting that we might not really be "doing school" this year after all.  I told our families that we would be, and I'm hesitant to back down.  Besides, Moose really does want to begin school, and I believe that following his lead is the best plan at this point.  I think we'll be doing basically the same things we'd have done anyway, but I'll be drawing up a basic schedule to give us some order to how we do them.  I'm going to be focusing on habit training, and we'll do a monthly theme (ponds and streams, weather, dinosaurs, and so on), Bible stories, some basic Scripture memorization, more songs, and plenty of art and science projects.  Oh, and books, but like music, books are such a part of the tapestry of our lives that it's hard even to remember that they need mentioned.  We have Rod and Staff's ABC series on its way for some desk work, but that's largely just because he enjoys it and considers it part of school.

As I fill in the remaining blanks on our schedule, I'll post it, but for now, suffice it to say that this is a huge weight off my shoulders.  On one hand, I now worry that Moose isn't spending enough time outside (though he spends significantly more time there than most children) and that I "connect the dots" for him too much instead of letting him do it himself.  On the other, I no longer have to agonize about what curriculum to order and how to find the components used or save up enough money to buy them new.

Of course, this might all change yet again in another few days.  I'm finally feeling at peace about it, though, so I doubt it.  In the long run, he's learning every moment he's awake, so I'm not too concerned.  He's come this far without formal instruction, so while there will come a time when he needs to begin a more rigorous education, I'm trying to be satisfied with letting him learn through play and not push him before he's ready both emotionally and academically.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

In which our heroine has second thoughts about FIAR

It's late, so don't expect me to be elegant.  But...I'm having second thoughts about using FIAR.

I know, I know, I thought it was for the best.  I could do as much or as little as I wanted and tailor it to Moose's needs.  It was literature based, and the boy loves to read!  It's that tailoring that gets me, though.  I know anything worth doing is going to involve work, but FIAR is seeming like a LOT of work.  The parent's book gives suggestions, but what I keep hearing over and over is that there's so much you can find for each piece of literature if you look around online.  Pinterest and blogs are great, but I'm tired.  I don't know if I want to have to hunt around the web to come up with ideas for every single little thing.  I have ideas of my own, sure, but I just don't know.

I was attracted for a while to Sonlight P4/5.  There were only two drawbacks:  the cost and the way the stories were divided into little chunks to be spread across many days.  I prefer reading a whole story, or at least a coherent chapter of a story, instead of a snippet that many reviews say doesn't necessarily end at a sensible place.  I do, however, think we will be using Sonlight Core A in a year or two.

Moose is only 3.   He'll be turning 4 in October.  (Forgive me if I'm repeating myself.  As I said, it's late, and I'm pretty wiped out.)  I hesitate to say he's bright; so many parents do that, and it's become almost meaningless.  However, he does learn concepts quickly and easily.  He knows his colors, shapes, numbers, letters, most of his letter sounds, and many of the other concepts that seem to be introduced in preschool or kindergarten.  He learned all of those through play and daily life.  He has great spatial awareness.  He's fascinated by clocks and loves calendars.  He can do very basic addition and subtraction.  He is, dare I say it...bright.

A lady on a Charlotte Mason FB group suggested using My Father's World, specifically the kindergarten curriculum.  After reading the sample pages and various reviews online...I love it.  I want it.  I am as excited by the possibility of using this as I am about using Sonlight Core A for kindergarten.  I think Moose would love it, too.

Only two things give me pause:  the cost (currently $129 for the basic package or $214 for the deluxe package) and the kindergarten label.  How caught up should I be in a label?  I hate to push Moose, but I think it would be perfect for him.  One possibility would be to begin with MFW this fall, taking it extra slowly--3 days a week, maybe?--for now, and beginning with Sonlight Core A with Grade 1 readers when we finish.  Again, going slowly, we would finish both programs over the course of 3 years.  This would put him on track to begin first grade coursework "on time," when he would be supposed to enter first grade if he were in public school.

Alternatively, I could try to devise our own plan for this year and begin Core A next year.  I have a feeling that I'd be trying to come up with something that looks much like MFW kindergarten on my own, though.  Why reinvent the wheel?  Just for the sake of not starting with something labelled "kindergarten"?  With one infant already and another likely to be joining us in the fall when we open our home for foster care placements, I would really prefer a prepackaged curriculum.

Now if only My Father's World were as inexpensive as Five in a Row.  At least I had no problem with ordering the latter, reading through it, and deciding it might not be for us.  I hate making these sorts of decisions.  I think The Engineer needs to give me a schooling budget for the year, like we have budgets in place for every other category of our spending.  That would go a long way toward making me less nervous about ordering something.  Maybe I should bring that up to him tomorrow, after his guitar students leave.  For now, I'm off to bed.  Maybe tonight will be the night Sprite goes back to sleeping for more than 4 hours in a row.