Friday, October 22, 2010

Four Things I Have Learned

To be fair, I have two other children besides SJ. I would be remiss if I did not wish my oldest a happy 21st birthday today. So, Happy Birthday Oldest Child!

As we put a wrap on the week, I ponder some things we have learned about homeschooling in the past six or seven months.
  1. Homeschooling is/can be flexible. Life happens. Late nights turn to grouchy mornings. Friends lay dying. Relatives move. Businesses fail. All of these affect our children/students. I am thankful we can postpone a lesson to a better day, regardless of the reason we do so. Just yesterday, SJ opted for his free day in math because, as he said, he "tried but just couldn't hold it together." He wasn't kidding. He cranked out that lesson in less than 25 minutes this morning. The take-away for him? Don't start your day with Frosted Flakes. Lookie there--math AND nutrition! Real life is a beautiful teacher.
  2. Life can be the best teacher. See Number one.
  3. My student IS learning. Despite how it looks on some days, stuff is happening to the matter between SJ's ears. As we made cookies yesterday, I wondered aloud whether we were observing a physical or a chemical change. SJ piped in with his opinion and supporting evidence. It made the cookies taste even better and reminded me that all is not naught. 
  4. We will inevitably miss something. Parenting is plate-spinning. Teaching just adds a few more to the circus. Just when we think we have them all spun, a plate crashes to the floor reminding us of our human frailty and shortcomings. I am learning to do the best I can do with the resources I have been given. Life will teach much. Others will add their two cents. And SJ, smart as he is, will figure out the rest. I am best served by prioritizing my goals for him and staying close to those. 
In all, it has been a relaxed week. We are falling into a groove (in a good way); I know the curriculum, know where to push and where to pare. Some days it feels like we aren't doing "enough" but sometimes, less is more. 

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up: A Free Day and Art

  • Free day. I had originally planned to travel to our out-of-town store (we own a retail business) on Tuesday but my DH gave me a pass. Since I had cleared the day of lessons and my own bible study group, we had an open slate. It turned out to be a total blessing. SJ and I loaded our bikes and headed out to our town's lovely river trail where we took our time exploring. Of course, as we neared the Skate Park, SJ's bike veered in that direction where he discovered what he might consider the best homeschool perk yet--not a soul in sight! He zoomed, jumped, hopped, and "manualed"--until he wiped out. (He was fine but his seat bolt snapped.) Next, we headed to Michael's crafts where he looked at options and priced a project he was considering. I think we both needed the break.
  • Art class. After attempting a few lessons in the Artistic Pursuits book, I realized SJ would be better served learning art from someone else. The program promises to be doable, even for the non-art-inclined types. I suppose if we just wanted to say we did art, we could have continued but I thought SJ's efforts kinda reflected my talent--which is nil, and he deserves better. Our homeschool charter offers a few classes so we signed him up and he had his second class on Friday. I see two three distinct benefits: he gets real art instruction, he gets to be with other kids, and I get 1-1/2 hours to myself. It's perfect!
  • Book Completions. This is a milestone. SJ finished Deathly Hallows, the seventh book in the Harry Potter series. At 749 pages, the book is a tome compared to the 100+ page novels he has barely finished in the past. It was a big moment. We also finished our oral reading of The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton. SJ practically begged me to read each day. He really loved the story and wrote some thought-provoking response to literature entries as a result. Both of these thrill me in that my reluctant reader is finding that books can be interesting. I think/hope it speaks to the fact that his comprehension is improving as well.
All the rest continues as usual: Easy Grammar Plus, history, science, and typing. (SJ reluctantly admitted that the Mavis Beacon program works.) Next week, we will begin a new historical novel to supplement our Discovering America unit and SJ will start volunteering in a friend's classroom. Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Unauthorized Review: Chem Kit 1000 Disappointment

If you want to mix some compounds and see some chemical reactions, this Chem 1000 kit by Thames & Kosmos is for you. If you want to understand why you mixed certain compounds and why  they reacted, you might be left a little perplexed, as we have been.

Let me just put this out there: This is my first foray into the world of chemistry.

The kit's marketing material promised the Chem 1000 is great for beginner chemists, ages 10 and up. I figured I fell into that category.

Here is an excerpt of yesterday's experiment. We were "On the Trail of Carbon Dioxide." Well, first, what is carbon dioxide? Am I making it? Will it be a byproduct? No explanation.

We continued, trusting, as good scientists do, that the process will answer our questions. We mixed calcium hydroxide with water to make "limewater." The instructions ask if the calcium hydroxide separated completely and tells us we will find out in the next experiment where we were instructed to prepare a "red, i.e. acid-reacting solution." We did. It was pink.

Next, the instructions told us to add an equal part of the clear limewater. We did. It was pinker.

The manual asks, "What do you see? What do you conclude?" Um. Pink....and...we conclude nothing because we have no idea what we just did. Professor Probenius, the kit's mascot, tells us to label the cup of solution with a Caution label. Okay.

Dud. SJ and I looked at each other, shrugged, and collectively stated, "Wow. That was ... fun." We put the box away and moved back to our textbook where, while flawed, concepts are at least explained.

Call me optimistic, but I was hoping to gain a wee bit more understanding as we worked through the experiments. The kit promises a punch in that it is well-packaged with cool vials and substances. It looks super science-y, but in my book, fails to deliver in any way except making the student feel like a chemist.

I am not going to scrap the kit--the experiments are nice diversions but, in my opinion, that's about all they are.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

TaDa...Our new workspace!

I have been waiting oh so long for this moment.

I have suffered through card tables, garage sale castoffs, and poor substitutes.

I like space. Clean space. Organized space. And now, I have it. Thank you, my DH, for building my dream.

The absolute best part, besides the space is that he tamed the flippin' cord zoo. (I realize you can see a few. Rest assured I will fix that.)

Kids computer on the left, my space on the right. It has enough room that I can leave my sewing machines out if I want. Right now, I am enjoying the nothingness. Just need a few stackers and pencil corrals and I'll be set. Well, an office chair would be nice...

Friday, October 8, 2010

How Much is Enough Progress?

My Man-Son's high school first end-of-quarter period was today. Since SJ and I started homeschooling on his first day, I'm declaring a quarter's worth of work, too. But it got me thinking. And not necessarily in a good way.

What? We're only on Chapter Two of the science text? We're still on the Native American unit of U.S. History? How can that be considering the amount of work we seem to be doing each day? I felt that creeping vine of despair that so many homeschooling parents know all too well tighten its grip. He'll never be ready for high school!

Just last week I blogged about progress. This week determined to check my confidence.

I look at the volume of text and units still to cover and shudder. How in the world? My Handler tells me that she has this same conversation with nearly every homeschool parent. She reminded me, bless her heart, that textbook producers design their curriculum assuming that is the only thing you will choose to do each day, that even in the classroom, she was lucky to get two-thirds through any given textbook. She essentially gave me permission to skip units *gasp* and to offer alternatives (such as a well-done documentary) for others.

Deep breath.

It's time to remind myself of my goals for SJ.

I want him to know how to learn, to look at a text and know how to get what he needs from it.

I want him to remember what is important and know what sources to access for what he doesn't. I am not interested in having him recite memorized blather for the sake of memorizing or to burn through workbook pages for the sake of progress. 

I want him to feel success in a job well done, not satisfaction in a job turned in.

When I put these goals in front of me, I am still not convinced we have made enough progress but I can be positive it is more than he would have gotten in public school, especially if his class had fast-tracked to Chapter Seven by now. I know what I have invested...I just have to wait and trust for the results. It's a long wait.

On a side note: All this concern over progress makes me really understand and be saddened by the plight of teachers measured by progress and student results. I am all for accountability but if I can barely do it for one child (whom I love), how can they do it for 30+ students with wildly varying learning styles? That may be a post for another day.


Friday, October 1, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up: Progress and Flexibility



As we settle into our routine it is easy to get complacent in the drudgery of daily work. It crossed my mind the other night as I washed dishes that I am supposed to be schooling a struggling learner, that my blog was to be devoted to the unique challenges of reaching one with comprehension deficiencies.

Strange that I hadn’t thought of my son’s struggles in weeks. Sure, he balks at work that interrupts his play, that pushes him beyond easy. He makes mistakes on his assignments. He avoids the harder work. But is that a struggling learner? Or is he simply a learner?

Before homeschooling, I read a number of opinions that noted learning difficulties often disappear with personal instruction.  It is probably too early to make a declaration, but it sure seems that might be the case. We spend the bulk of our time together tearing apart text—examining titles and subheadings, noting structure and key points.

At the start of the year, SJ stared blankly at a page of text and appeared overwhelmed by the volume of characters and graphics. In school, this was called a deficiency in reading comprehension. Now, I see him engage, with help still, diving into the text and recognizing it as blocks of information that could be useful. Could it be that he just didn’t have the tools to comprehend? It can be hard to tell in this one-on-one environment but just as I knew when he was struggling, I think I can trust my instinct that tells me he is beginning to thrive.


It’s always disconcerting to receive a call for immediate help, especially so when you have kids to pick up from school and homework to rearrange.

I had to say a quick ‘thank you’ to our homeschool schedule on Tuesday when my mother-in-law called in the morning to tell me they were moving in two days and could use our help…like now. They live one and a half hours away.

We have fallen into a nice rhythm during the week and I didn’t want to interrupt it, but recognized that some things are more important than others. Grammar can be done on Wednesdays. Science lessons wait.  Grandparents won’t be here forever.

We ditched our lesson plan and trekked up to their home. While I packed up the kitchen, SJ worked alongside his papa in the garage. When I had a chance to peek out at their progress, there was SJ atop a ladder, disassembling racks, or doing some heavy lifting all the while bantering with his grandpa—my fears of him standing idly by put to rest. I’m pretty sure the lessons he learned on Tuesday trumped any schoolwork I could have thrown his way.