Sunday, February 27, 2011

Homeschool Must-Haves

March is just around the corner. March and April in the land of many homeschoolers marks the time to evaluate the curent year and make decisions about year to come. Many of us make constant revision throughout the year. That is one of the advantages of focusing on our children individually. But we still need to make decisions about curriculum purchases and goals for the future.

As I have indicated in several recent posts, I have not been satisfied with the level of engagement in our studies this year. So, I have been spending some time thinking through the "must-haves" for next year.

Our list of subjects.  I am happy with this list and feel that we cover a wide variety of essentials, with room to explore special interests. Note: this does not include preschool for the youngest, as I am committed to unschooling him until the first grade to really allow him time to just explore his world.

History - World & US
Reading - Classics related to World History
Science & Nature Study
Next year we'll add Beginning Engineering and Latin.

Looking at  how we are approaching these subjects this year, I see the problem. Do you?

Math Curriculum/Workbook
Grammar Curriculum/Workbook
Spelling Curriculum/Workbook
History Curriculum/Workbook
Writing Curriculum/Workbook
Science Curriculum/Workbook
Readers/End of chapter questions

How to bring wonder into our lessons?
How to guide us toward mastery and engagement?
What has been successful in the past?
nature study in the field

live experiences

getting our hands dirty

bringing lessons to life outside of a workbook

sensory activities

reading, reading, reading

child-led projects
 So, I am looking long and hard at this workbook situation. It's easy, yes. All I have to do list page numbers and prod them along until they finish. But  if that's the way it's going to be, why are we homeschooling? Why are we wasting these precious years, these opportunities?

The plan next year will be different:

Great Books and Living Books for History, Reading, Science with writing/spelling/grammar lessons in relevant, living work ala The Well Trained Mind and Charlotte Mason and Thomas Jefferson Education.
Math and Latin - we'll keep the workbooks here.
Hands on Engineering projects
Art supplies, concerts, cds, guitar and piano lessons, and
Nature Study in NATURE (gasp!)
Supplies for science experiments
Pet care
Field Trips

We will all be busier, but this plan will save money and force us to all, especially the kids, to actively participate in learning. Our focus will shift once again from workbooks to working together. They are ready and that's my job!


Sunday, February 20, 2011

To field trip or not to field trip?

I may not have a regular washing day or even remember to wash until we are all out of underwear. I don't force my children to keep their rooms spotless, usually requiring full clean-ups only when there's no path to the bed. I have my own piles of clothes and books in my own far-from-pristine bedroom. I am not a routine-oriented person in general. But when it comes to our homeschool schedule, I am a stickler. I know that there will be days when things come up and we must postpone a lesson or rearrange my expectations, so on a day-to-day basis, I am adamant that we stick to our lists. 

Within that schedule, I have a block of time on Friday afternoons that we schedule field trips. Our homeschool group likes to plan local excursions in the afternoon at the end of a long week. Sometimes they are for play; sometimes more structured. This past week, we attended an Art in Motion workshop at a small museum in Paris, KY. The topic was not related to anything we are studying right now, but it fit within our weekly schedule so we went just for fun. 

There are times, especially when the weather begins to change to sunnier days and balmier temperatures, that filed trips are suggested for times other than the convenient Friday afternoons, or when the kids and I just want to be anywhere but our school room. While I am all for excursions related to our studies, I find it difficult, at times, to justify purely social outings. It is counter to my years of training as a classroom teacher. As much as I would love to be one of those unschooling parents who can go with the flow, I think I am afraid of allowing my own unrestrained nature take over with something as serious as my children's education. 

On our trip last week, I took lots of pictures in hopes of just getting some good shots of the kids. As I viewed them, I realized that it doesn't matter that the kids probably don't remember the topic of Friday's lesson. There were other lessons to be learned that day. And, I am happy to say, I am coming around to the notion that these trips areas much a learning opportunity as ones about which I can make anecdotal references to the current history topic. 

I am not rationalizing field trips to ease my misgivings. I am not  giving myself permission to ignore the books. I am OK with the occasional pangs of guilt for not making everything in our routine "fun." No, I am truly encouraged by the life and learning experiences we all get from venturing out into the world with our friends. Take a look at some of the things we practiced just this week in one two-hour block...

So the answer, then, is TO FIELD TRIP! I don't have all the answers. Todd and I, together, can't offer the kids all they will need in life. Field trips offer the ultimate in social experiences and practice of life-long learning skills. Let's hit the road!

Monday, February 14, 2011

We Love Mountains Day!

It's been brought to my attention that I haven't posted in a good bit. I have been bored with my postings; bored and discouraged with the direction (or lack of direction) our days have taken. I am not complaining. Nothing to write about also means everything is running along smoothly. Besides a round of colds for us all, we have been pretty calm since the beginning of the year. But I have been wondering lately what I can do offer the kids more meaningful experiences in our studies.

Then one of my heroes, the esteemed Wendell Berry, and a dozen or so others went to see KY Governor Beshear on Friday. The group was made up of representatives from Kentuckians for the Commonwealth. They went to meet with the Governor about the devastation caused to the Appalachians by the mining practice of mountaintop removal (MTR), to encourage him to drop a state lawsuit against the EPA for its enforcement of the Clean Water Act as it relates to MTR, and to support clean energy and the Stream Saver Bill.

After a brief, unsatisfactory conversation with the governor the group staged a sit-in in the Governors outer office which lasted three days. Governor Beshear allowed the group to remain in the capital all weekend. They did so until the scheduled I Love Mountains Day today. (Read more interviews with Mr. Berry and others on The Huffington Post).

That's when we joined in...what better way to teach about civil disobedience and peaceful activism than to take part in the march and rally for I Love Mountains Day? They kids have really connected to the activism we've discussed in our studies of the Civil Rights Movement. We've participated in mock marches on MLK  Day, but, really, they had no idea what a real protest or march was any of us unless we participate? So, that's what we did.

Here are some highlights from our day:
We all had to have photo id (in case we got separated or if I got arrested...yes arrested) and
we wrote my cell # in sharpie on everyone's arm

We gathered about 1/2 mile from the capital.

Everyone got a sign.

Everyone got a button.

We all wore red for Valentine's Day and the love of mountains.

Many were there for the mountains.

Some were there for the trees.

We marched, as a group, down to the capitol steps.

We gathered on the steps and the listened to speeches made by many of those who had been in the Governor's office since Friday, including Wendell Berry, Silas House, Congressman Yarmuth, and many others.

Embree, who wasn't so sure she wanted to be seen with a sign, chanted longer and louder than any of us once she understood what she was protesting. "Kentucky is more compromising." "Show me what democracy is....this is what democracy is." "MTR has got to go." "What do we want...clean water...when do we want"

We enjoyed the day with some friends from our homeschool group.

Finally, all participants left valentines for Gov. Beshear asking for consideration in this matter.

On this Valentine’s Day, Governor Beshear, I hope you
will share the love I feel for the mountains and people of
Kentucky by supporting The Stream-Saver bill.
Sincerely, The Gambills

I can't think of a better living history lesson.