Tag Archives: homeschooling

First Grade Flashback

The other day, Mushroom pulled out his first grade portfolio in search of something or other and we both got to flipping through it.

Things said by Mushroom included, “I was so young!” and, “My handwriting was terrible!” and, “Did I really write that?” and then, “I was so young!” over again.  Then, later when BalletBoy was home, they pulled them all out, pre-K to present and pored over them.  The table was a mess of old co-op yearbooks and Math Mammoth pages and art projects.  I’m telling you, nostalgia starts young.

I was especially struck by these two writing samples sitting side by side.  This was before we had discovered Brave Writer (though you’ll see we were basically doing it without realizing!), but sitting in the portfolio was this copywork from Charlotte’s Web, which was the book we were reading at the time, I’m sure.  My kids still occasionally do copywork (we do a lot more dictation now) but they almost never get anything wrong.  Seeing this one riddled with errors is like looking at another kid.  I can hardly remember teaching this stuff.

photo 2 (9)

And next to it was this “freewrite” type activity that comes from Games for Writing by Peggy Kaye.  I would write a boasting line and the kid would follow with a boasting line of his own.  He could copy my spelling and syntax and make it his own by changing the end, which he did.  I like the final line, which is, “I’m so strong I could crush the universe.”  Other Games for Writing exercises were in other sections of the portfolio, including the one where each person rolls the dice to see how many words to add to the story.

photo 1 (9)

I know at the time, I was worried.  I was worried that this wasn’t “enough” for writing (later that year I know we tried a couple of different workbook type writing programs, neither of which really worked for us).  I was worried about keeping this stuff up.  Yet somehow we managed and here we are.  I wish I could go back and pat myself on the back and say, “Hey, you did it.  They’re on their way.  It was enough!”

We just compiled the last bits of fourth grade’s portfolios this week.  Into those went a set of writings imagining they were characters in Mississippi during Freedom Summer in 1964, filled with rich words like “hollered” and “gaping” and all typed up with polished syntax and revised to add detail.  Just like the copywork that I can’t remember being so difficult, it’s miles and miles away from the joint boasting writing exercise from first grade.

 

How Things Have Changed

Back in the day, it seems like all we did was field trips.  I think this is first grade.  I think maybe it's the Baltimore Zoo the year we had a membership there.

Back in the day, it seems like all we did was field trips. I think this is first grade. I think maybe it’s the Baltimore Zoo the year we had a membership there.

This topic has come up for me several times in conversations in person and online recently so I thought I’d post a little bit about how our homeschool has changed for me as the parent.

When we started homeschooling, I don’t think I thought much about how things would change over time.  Of course, I thought about how content would change and evolve – how we’d cycle through different topics and how we would slowly find more depth with different topics.  I thought about how we would work on skills and how that would change.  I thought about academics and stages of learning and so forth.

What I didn’t think much about was how long it would take or what it would be like for me as the teacher.  I think, when I thought about it at all, that I envisioned that homeschooling would slowly get easier and easier as my kids grew older and more independent in this great, simple arc.

Ha!  Not quite.  There have been some surprises.

When the kids were preschool aged and into kindergarten, our whole lives revolved around one basic goal: keep busy.  If we didn’t keep busy, then boredom could set in for all of us, me included.  As such, we went out all the time, every day.  It felt like we knew every playground in the city.  We spent so much time at so many museums.  We would drive anywhere for anything since the drive took up time.  We had constant crafts and projects and books and routines going.  It was hard to be out and about all the time, but it was even harder to be home with two preschoolers.

By the end of kindergarten and into first and second grade, something had shifted.  It was no longer the case that we had to go or succumb to complete chaos.  Now, the kids were just so much more self-sufficient.  They got up on their own, they made their own cereal for breakfast, they could play nearly uninterrupted for hours, and even at the park I felt no guilt leaving them to play on their own.  Our days became lazy, happy times where we often spent all day outside or on a trip or hike with friends.  School was short and easy.  It was rarely more than a couple of hours unless we had a big project to do.  I made more projects by coaching Destination Imagination and directing Shakespeare plays.  Life was just easy.

But then something unexpected happened.  By the end of second grade and certainly all through third grade, school got harder.  There was more to do, more skills to work on, more work to be done.  It took longer.  There were still long, lazy days outside and field trips and fun projects, but they were fewer.  That wasn’t bad, since they were traded for something new, more serious work.  I saw so much growth and the kids entered a stage when they were more interesting and fun to talk to, where they asked more questions and just did more in general.  However, it surprised me.  School just took a lot of my time.  We routinely had three or four hours a day, which was so much more than those kindergarten and first grade single hours.  And the kids needed me so much more than ever before.  This wasn’t the progression to independent kids that I had expected.

Now, as fourth grade begins to draw to a close (we’ll finish at the end of the summer and turn the calendar over in the fall), I’m finding a new stage in our schooling.  I leave for yoga in the morning or to run to a doctor’s appointment and I leave a list of work to do.  When I return, it’s done!  So school still needs me, but the kids can do so much more on their own.  They read, they write, they do math practice and piano practice and so forth all independently.  I can see this is only going to grow over the next couple of years.  Just as I had started to settle into the idea that schooling older kids simply took more time, it changed again.

I think now that how much homeschooling takes in terms of my time and what it will feel like to me – the busy time, the lazy and free time, the teacher intensive time, the supervisory time, the waiting time – will just change over time.  I don’t know what will come next entirely.  I think, obviously, there will be more independent work, but I also see that there will be times where the kids need to take risks or integrate new skills and to do that, they’ll need me closer at hand.  It’s not a straight line.

Projects, Part Two… A Tale of Two Kids

So I wrote about how we’re moving to be more project based, but one of the major hitches in this plan has been two kids with radically different approaches to projects.  This is coming about especially for the projects they create for themselves.  Right now, we have a nice long chunk of time in the evening for them to work on projects that they’ve created.

BalletBoy immediately rolls down the hill.  Mushroom hangs back.
BalletBoy immediately rolls down the hill. Mushroom hangs back.

First, I’ve got BalletBoy.  Ever since BalletBoy became my little night owl (if he ever abandons the ballet, I may have redub him Night Owlet on the blog), he has been staying up late to do things.  He has written little books on his iPad, borrowing my keyboard and making illustrations for them on the Scribble Press app.  He has read books and drawn pictures and even sewn things on the sewing machines.  However, mostly he has programmed.  He has become a complete Scratch addict.  So much so that we all had to celebrate Scratch Day like a real holiday with a party.

Here’s a Scratch program he’s especially proud of.  The other night, the Husband came to tell me that BalletBoy fell asleep programming, his hands resting lightly on the keyboard and his head leaned back on the sofa.  The Husband had to remove the computer and carry him to bed.

Basically, when I set BalletBoy loose, he’ll come up with something to do and carry out most of his projects to completion.  He wants to share them with us and wants validation and support, but he doesn’t want us to do anything but play his games, read his stories, and generally praise his effort.  He might be the perfect project kid at the moment.  He wants to do projects, he’s open to some feedback, but he’s very set on doing his own vision.  He works diligently.  He turns out interesting things and doesn’t let himself get stuck in a rut.

Mushroom on the other hand…  Mushroom dreams big with great ideas for projects and ambitious plans.  He imagines elaborate Scratch games, writing screenplays, creating board games, drawing long series of comics, and more.  However, when it comes time to actually carry out his ideas past the initial exploration, it’s a flop.  He can spend hours imagining and planning, but when it’s time to do something, he always pulls back.  Even worse, the more he sees BalletBoy finish, the more he beats himself up and the less he does.  It had gotten to the point that he was wandering around every evening, complaining about being bored, refusing to work on anything, even refusing to dream big anymore.

The root of this is really his anxiety.  I’m not generally an anxious person, but I certainly recognize how anxiety keeps you from finishing things.  I don’t think I finished a single math assignment throughout high school.  If I just left the last problem or two unfinished, I knew it wasn’t really done, and therefore not really a reflection on my math abilities.  That was a pretty silly justification, but I know that’s how I felt.  For Mushroom, he is afraid to fail, which makes him afraid to commit to really doing anything.

If he was content to not finish things for awhile, that would be okay, but he’s clearly suffering and unfulfilled by this state of affairs.  He has always wanted time to himself to do things, but then struggled to figure out what to do with that time.  I worry that if I simply leave him to it and let him be that he will build up a bigger and bigger block about finishing things.  I see this when he doesn’t have an experience for awhile that’s in his anxiety provoking category.  If he doesn’t run across a dog for a couple of months or doesn’t get a chance to be outside on his own for a few weeks thanks to weather, those things become more and more difficult for him.  On the other hand, the more he does them, the easier and more routine they are, usually with minimal anxiety and fuss.

Mushroom and I have been in talks about all this.  He is, after all, an incredibly self-reflective kid.  He agrees that he’d like me to help him carry things out and finish things.  A couple of weeks ago, with him alone in the house for the afternoon, I suggested we finish a project together.  His enthusiasm for the completion of it was ecstatic.  Close your eyes and remember how good it feels to finish things, I told him.  Below is the little movie we made that afternoon (he did most of the camerawork and all the editing and had the vision, I helped with some of the art).

We’re trying out making a list of projects he’d like to do.  It’s a short list.  When he finishes one, he has to take it off the list and also take at least one other project off the list, a project that will never be finished.  The idea is that there’s this list of options, but he knows that some of them will never be completed and some of them will.  So far, this is working and he’s been more productive than before when we’ve tried to list things he’d like to do and it seemed too open ended or too intimidating.  Right now, he’s working mostly on inventing his own candy and trying to finish an online Code Academy course on Javascript.

Coming up next…  Projects for “School”

 

May Books

Reading is trucking along at the Rowhouse.  Here’s some of what’s been on our shelves last month.

CountdownAudiobook
Countdown by Deborah Wiles
What a great audiobook rendition this was!  I’ve read both the book (when it first came out) and now listened to the audio with the kids and I’m not sure which one I like better.  The book takes place during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and follows Franny, a girl with a somewhat dysfunctional family in suburban Maryland.  Wiles crams every single corner of the story with 60’s details about everyday things like the newness of McDonald’s and the changing music that Franny listens to on her sister’s records, to cultural trends and historical connections.  Franny’s father is in the air force, her sister is at college training with SNCC, her little brother is obsessed with astronauts and nuclear power.  The story is good too – Franny must face her fears and repair a relationship with a friend – but the “documentary” aspect of the story is the real draw.  In the book this takes the form of images splashed with quotes and short mini-essays that intersperse the chapters.  In the audiobook, sound effects and voice actors doing imitations of Kennedy and other famous figures of the day take the place of the documentary images.  Overall, a perfect listen for us as the story was exactly the sort of “everyday kid” story that Mushroom and BalletBoy are drawn to, but set amid duck and cover drills and old fashioned details.  Added bonus: the second in Wiles’s 60’s trilogy just came out this month.

One Crazy Summer (Gaither Sisters, #1)Read Aloud
One Crazy Summer by Rita Garcia-Williams
You’re probably starting to sense a theme.  We are studying the 60’s at the moment, so this was another book I really wanted to use with my boys.  I just adore the strong language and the metaphors that abound in this book about three sisters who go visit their mother for the first time in 1968.  Their mother just happens to be a Black Panther and the book is filled with reflections on race that I hope will be illuminating for my privileged duo.  The opening scene, where the girls’ grandmother exhorts them to not be an embarrassment to their race certainly gave us a meaty conversation.  I spotted a history book at the library with photos of the Black Panthers, including some of the breakfast program and summer camp that the girls attend in the book.

379348School Read
10,000 Days of Thunder by Philip Caputo
We didn’t read all of this history of the Vietnam War, but it’s such a great book that it’s worth touting.  We’ve used the others in this nonfiction picture book style and the format is so terrific.  On one page, there’s detailed text about some aspect of the war and on the facing page there’s a full page image.  Shorter text boxes with facts and quotes line the edge of the narrative page.  This is just the sort of detailed history that the boys are on the cusp of really being ready for, so we have been using this one both for the history and for working on deciphering and understanding longer nonfiction texts.  Both the boys have really enjoyed studying the Cold War, but the Vietnam War has been one aspect that has left them asking a lot of good questions.  I’ve had to explain that hindsight is 20/20.

8230675Another School Read
I Feel Better with a Frog in my Throat by Carlyn Beccia
This hilarious and bizarre book of strange cures throughout history was at just the right level for the boys, who were both fascinated by the fact that, not only did people actually do this stuff, but some of it was stuff that actually worked.  The illustrations are colorful and interesting, and, of course, the subject is fun.  We used it to go along with our study of medicine, but it could easily be a good read with medieval history or just for fun.

The Return of Zita the SpacegirlGraphic Novel
The Return of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
Hey, lookie!  A new Zita!  I don’t know that this is our absolute favorite middle grades graphic novel series, but it’s really close to the top.  The boys were thrilled to get a third installment and devoured it faster than you could say spacegirl.  This one finds Zita again fighting for her life and for justice for others, her reputation again at stake.  However, a mysterious figure reappears to help and she may actually make it home this time.  If you haven’t given this series to your comic book readers yet, then please do.  It’s truly one of the sweetest, best drawn things out there for middle grades and chapter book readers.  Best of all, the boys got to meet the artist, Ben Hatke, at a local library event and have their books signed!

Choose Your Own Adventure Books 1- 6 : Box Set : The Abominable Snowman, Journey Under the Sea, Space and Beyond, Lost Jewels of Nabooti - R A MontgomeryPleasure Read
Choose Your Own Adventure Books
After a conversation with the Husband, a box of these were ordered and the boys have both been enamored with them.  They’re the same old, extremely cheesy books you remember from your childhood.  I think the ones we have include being a prisoner of giant ants, fighting evil aliens, racing across the African desert, and battling natural disasters.  The writing is beyond dreadful and the plots are bizarre at best, but there’s something so much fun about reading a book in second person where you can actually change the outcome.  Both the boys read a few of the books in the Choose Your Own Adventures chapter book level series, which I highly recommend for reluctant readers who are trying to make the leap from easy readers like Frog and Toad to longer things but seem too stuck to make it all the way.  This older, classic series is also good for reluctant readers.  My less than reluctant boys can finish multiple plot options in well under an hour, so they’re a very quickly consumed item.

Treasure Hunters (Treasure Hunters, #1)Mushroom’s Reading
Treasure Hunters by James Patterson and Chris Grabbenstein
Mushroom started with Grabenstein’s sublimely fun Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library and was moved to write anything else by the author.  His other books were co-written for literary bigwig Patterson, so Mushroom next read and loved I, Funny then dug into this heavily illustrated novel about twins (twins!) who are homeschooled (homeschool!) and travel the world with their parents looking for treasure (if only!).  I didn’t read the whole thing, but the set up is cool and the illustrations are very cute.  At the start of the story, the parents go missing and the siblings embark on a series of exciting adventures to find them and treasure.  Mushroom says it’s “pretty good.”

The Lost Hero (The Heroes of Olympus, #1)BalletBoy’s Reading
The Lost Hero by Rick Riorden
We finally wrapped up all those Percy Jackson books, but I told the kids that if they wanted to dive into the other Riorden series, they were on their own.  Both the boys promptly demanded to read The Lost Hero and BalletBoy is currently in the middle of it.  They both give it thumbs up and have been talking about it together.  I admit that I really enjoyed Percy Jackson when it first came out, but reading other books by Riorden has spoiled their full charm for me as he seems to be sort of a one note writer, sort of like that actor who you think is brilliant in their first role, then by their third movie, you realize that no matter what part they’re playing, they play it the exact same.  I feel a bit like that about Riorden’s writing voice.  Still, he obviously knows how to craft an exciting tale and I’m not at all sorry to see that the kids have hooked on to this series that picks up right where the Percy Jackson books leave off.

The Place My Words are Looking For: What Poets Say About and Through Their WorkPoetry Tea Find
The Place My Words Are Looking For selected by Paul Janeczko
We continue to do poetry teas regularly and one of my favorite parts is looking for new books to strew on the table (or, more recently, on the picnic blanket) when we sit down with baked goods to read poetry.  This book is a nice find.  It’s an older book that features good poems by a good selection of poets who write for children, including big names like Naomi Shihab Nye, Cynthia Rylant, and Gwendolyn Brooks.  The poems are well selected, but most of the authors have short pieces about the process of writing included as well, which is what made the book a nice find.

Finnikin of the Rock (Lumatere Chronicles, #1)Farrar’s YA Read
Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta
I have always been a great fantasy lover, so it’s great when I find something new in fantasy that’s worth reading.  I think I may have said this before on this blog, but fantasy is really where it’s at in YA the last few years.  Publishers are still churning out dystopians, but in terms of quality storytelling and solid writing, high fantasy is really where it’s at in the imaginative YA literature category.  Finnikin of the Rock is about a young man whose kingdom is closed off by a curse while the inhabitants suffer inside and the refugees suffer in poverty outside.  A woman with the ability to see inside other’s dreams may be able to help, but first they have to rescue the kingdom’s missing prince.  The writing is solid and the details of the world and the characters are very well drawn.  I’m not in love with the fact that it’s a story of one woman, surrounded by men.  This is not a story that passes the Bechdel test.  However, it was still an enjoyable YA read.

Projects, Part One

leap

So I’ve started to write about the role of projects of various sorts in our homeschool a number of times and keep junking the posts because I have so much to say that keeps coming out as a jumbled mess.  However, “projects” and their role in our learning process have been very much on my mind lately so I’m coming back to try again. First, some background. When people say “project based” they may mean so many different things…

  • a Reggio Emilia like approach where teachers support and create projects based on student interest and inspiration
  • an almost business like approach where students (usually in groups) solve real world style problems (the curriculum Engineering is Elementary is a cool example of this approach)
  • a unit studies style approach to learning
  • an almost unschooling approach, taking special care to encourage and support children’s natural interests to create their own projects (this is the approach in the Camp Creek Blog and Lori Pickart’s Project Based Homeschooling, which I talked about awhile ago in this post)

Basically, “projects” in educational thinking can be very adult led or very child led.  They can be very free form or very specific.  They can be very process oriented or very product oriented, though most projects involve some product.  In other words, who knows what anyone means when they say “project based.”

Previously, projects haven’t been huge for our homeschool.  When we started out learning, one of the things that made Mushroom and BalletBoy great to teach was their ability to be interested in nearly anything.  Sure, some things were more fun than others, but when I said, hey, let’s learn about the Mongols or Roman roads or plant life or how forces work or nearly anything else, they were always up for it.  If I said, let’s do it by trying this experiment, or making this piece of art, or reading this book, again, they were fine with that.

I called them my little Renaissance men.  Let other kids have one track minds for their passions.  My boys were amenable to nearly anything.  So we crammed it all in.  A full cycle of history from the dawn of mankind up to the present (almost, we’re to the Cold War technically).  Piles of historical fiction to support it.  A look at pretty much every science topic you can imagine in biology, physical science, earth science, astronomy, and so forth.  Plenty of art history.  Lots of geography.  And I’m happy with all that.  We used the grammar stage, in classical education thinking, just as it was meant to be used.  We went all through time and space and introduced everything we could.

Well, they’re still pretty amenable, but I can see how they’re changing gears.  I’ve written about how they want ownership and new challenges recently.  As such, I’m changing my thinking about projects and I’m now envisioning projects as one potential solution to our needs.  I’m thinking of these as all of the above.  Child led projects, teacher led projects, projects for contests, projects for the joy of learning, projects for content and for fun.

I’m feeling like this may be a good way to come at the logic stage for us.  I come from teaching middle school for many years and have a vision of it as a time of great growth, but also a need for flexibility and new kinds of learning.  One of the things I want my kids to discover the most is the ability to pursue their own interests and a love of learning.  I think they’ve been too young to fully find their way to those things yet, but they won’t be for long.  I want to turn the reins over a little bit for a little while and loosen up our content structure.

I still see us returning to a more classical approach in a few years when the kids are really ready for high school level science and a primary source based history.  And I don’t want to drop the ball on skills in the next few years either.  I’m hoping to get both kids through algebra within the next three years (or so) and to keep honing their growing writing voices.  However, I’m also excited to let them play with 3D design or robotics for school time.  I’m excited to let them choose things to study about for history and do their own research.  I’m excited to see them design a real science project and carry it out themselves.  I’m hoping to do more things that get us thinking like Destination Imagination does and to enter essay contests and take better advantage of things like traveling exhibits and shows that we see.

So we’re slowly moving toward projects as one of the bases of what we do.  We’re always tweaking and realigning our homeschool, but this feels like a big one even for us.

Up next…  What projects?  Anxiety and projects…

Recreational Maths

I’m pretty sure most homeschoolers know Vi Hart’s videos, but just in case there’s anyone left who doesn’t, they’re really fun math videos.  We watch once occasionally just for fun and then get our doodles on or just go, “Hey, wow!” and leave it at that because we know we don’t have it in ourselves to make that many cookie tessellations.

But the other day, we got onto the hexaflexagons and got quite inspired.

hexaflexagon

Elementary math has to involve a good bit of drudgery practice for most kids to get fluent, but we’re always trying to balance that with tricky problems that make you really think, games instead of just drills for the practice, real world practice like cooking and measurement, and math whimsy, like the hexaflexagons.

April Books

If it seems like a slightly supersized edition of our monthly book round up, that’s because the kids have been reading more.  In a fit of annoyance at the upteenth reread of half a graphic novel, I changed our required reading system completely to become a required hour of reading before bed with anything they wanted, as long as it was new and it wasn’t literally all graphic novels.  Good things ensued.  We are still doing short required reading books for things I want us to discuss together.

The True Meaning of SmekdayAudiobook
The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex
I read this book on my own awhile ago, and had completely forgotten how hilarious it is.  It tells the story of Gratuity “Tip” Tuchi, an average eleven year old faced with an alien invasion after her mother is abducted.  Humans are supposed to report to a new human preserve and Tip decides to drive, but meets up with an alien on the run named J. Lo. and the plot only gets crazier from there as Tip’s road trip becomes an epic cross country drive in a hover car, being shot at by new aliens, and finding out the truth about Roswell.  There are not enough middle grade science fiction novels out there in my opinion (fantasy abounds, obviously) and this one is a fun one for older elementary and middle school.  The narration on the audiobook is excellent, with a really great choice of narrator for Tip’s voice.

Sadako and the Thousand Paper CranesRequired Reading
Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr
This is such a short little gem of a book.  Most people will know the story of Sadako, a young Japanese girl, who like so many after the dropping of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, developed cancer and died young.  We read this one together and discussed it as a sort of counterpoint to the nonfiction book Bomb by Steve Sheinkin, which we read aloud.  Both the boys felt the story was sad but touching and wanted to immediately make paper cranes for Sadako after finishing the book.

I Funny: A Middle School Story (I Funny, #1)Mushroom’s Reading
I, Funny by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein
While the name on the author line of this book is Patterson, Mushroom found it when he asked had Chris Grabenstein, the author of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, written anything else.  Turns out he co-wrote several books with bigger name authors, including this two book series about a kid who wants to become a stand up comedian but can’t stand up because he’s in a wheelchair.  I didn’t read it, but Mushroom had a very favorable report and is halfway through the sequel and convinced BalletBoy to read it as well.  He says the jokes were funny but that the book is actually very sad as you learn about the accident that put the main character ended up in a wheelchair and killed his parents.

CosmicBalletBoy’s Reading
Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce
This is another book I’ve never read that BalletBoy picked off a shelf after seeing a positive review.  The story is a strange one, but I can see why he picked it because it’s exactly the mix of reality and weird that both my boys enjoy in a book.  BalletBoy says that it’s really a book about dads and being a dad.  This is because the main character, who is just a kid, but a kid who happens to look like a middle aged man, poses as the father of his friends in order to enter a contest to go into outer space.  But when they actually win the contest and go, he has to be the one in charge.  BalletBoy liked it enough that he kept talking it up to all the grown ups he met and even reading them passages from it.

A Tangle of KnotsMushroom’s Also Reading
A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff
This one I read alongside Mushroom so I can review it too!  After reading The Thing About Georgie, also by Graff, Mushroom asked to read another of her books and we choose this one, which takes place in a just one degree away from reality world where everyone has a Talent.  A large cast of characters, including a girl who bakes perfect cakes, an orphanage director who’s too good for her job, a sinister shopkeeper looking for the perfect peanut butter recipe, and a boy with a Talent for getting himself lost, alternate chapters.  Their stories all intertwine and meet at a final cake bake off.  Cake recipes intersperse some of the chapters.  I liked the book, but I didn’t love it.  I really enjoyed the magical realistic feel, but there were places where I didn’t think the story fit as well as it wanted.  Mushroom also liked it, but found it hard to keep track of some of the plot lines and didn’t think the ending was satisfying enough.

Lone Wolf (Wolves of the Beyond, #1)BalletBoy’s Also Reading
Wolves of the Beyond: Lone Wolf by Kathryn Lasky
This series takes place in the same world as The Guardians of Ga’Hoole, a series BalletBoy refused to read when he was on his “only animal books” kick.  But he found this one at the book store and decided it was better (based on the cover, I presume).   It’s not necessary to have read that series to appreciate this one.  It follows Faolan, a wolf cub who is born with a twisted foot and therefore an outcast from the pack.  Raised by a bear and then helped by an owl, he has to figure out who he is and find his way back to a pack.  BalletBoy said he liked it but is debating reading the next one.

Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World's Most Dangerous WeaponRead Aloud
Bomb: The Quest to Build and Steal the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin
This nonfiction book was an excellent stretch read aloud for the boys and a great way to finish our World War II unit and lead us into the Cold War.  The book focuses on the personalities who built the bomb and the spies who fought over the information.  It’s a really complex tale, filled with all kinds old time spy craft and bits of information about how atomic chain reactions work.  It took the boys a little while to get into it, but by the end of the book they were definitely hooked.

battlingboycover.tiffGraphic Novel
Battling Boy by Paul Pope
This graphic novel was a Christmas gift that sat on the shelf for a little while before being rediscovered and read by both the boys last month.  It’s set in a world that looks like a sort of gritty mix of the present, the old west, and the future.  An old hero has died and the main character must rise to become the new hero.  After reading most of the way through, Mushroom suddenly looked up from it and said, “Hey, this is a hero origin story!”  The art is slightly rough and the story ends on a cliffhanger, but it looks like a sequel is already scheduled to come out later this year.

The Lost Art of Keeping SecretsFarrar’s YA Read
The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice
This book wasn’t technically a YA novel, but it may as well have been since the protagonists were all in their late teens and very early 20’s.  It fits into this emerging genre of books about college aged characters but since it’s a few years old, I suppose it couldn’t qualify for such new marketing.  I picked up this one because it was a recommended book for people who liked I Capture the Castle (this blog’s name inspiration) on Goodreads.  It takes place in postwar England, where the main character, Penelope, lives in a decrepit old manor house with her beautiful but lonely widowed mother and aspiring rock star brother.  When Penelope meets a new friend, Charlotte, she is swept up into Charlotte’s family and more interesting world.  Of course, she also has her first romance.  While the book didn’t reach anywhere near the quality of the book that led to its recommendation, I really enjoyed the setting and the classic coming of age feel to the story.

 

Focus, Farrar

I was having a conversation the other day about how hard it is lately for me to focus.  It’s like my brain is pulled in a million directions at once.  Sometimes I think doing anything for more than fifteen minutes is a chore.

Part of it, inevitably, is the shallows of the internets.  I’ve been cutting back for Lent and thinking of detethering myself from parts of it.  But it’s still a great tool.  And a source of happiness and enjoyment much of the time.  Like everyone else, I know I’m looking for the right balance.

But another part of it is the nature of this stage of homeschooling, at least the way we’re doing it here.  I spend a huge chunk of my day sitting at a table with my kids running around doing, doing, doing.  I have to be there.  If I’m not there, a huge amount of the school work that needs to be done can’t be done.  While the boys have slowly gotten more independent with much of their work, we still read aloud, watch videos and discuss them together, do poetry teas, and have me doing direct instruction for spelling.  I still sit next to them to help walk them through math lessons and check their work as they go.  And even though they’re often doing things like piano practice and math drills on their own, I’m always working with one kid.

I don’t regret that a bit.  I think really being with the kids, one on one, is one of the benefits of homeschooling.  I don’t think workbooks and fill in the blanks are the best way to learn.  I think interaction is key for most kids.  That’s a huge part of why we do what we do.  Especially for things like writing and math, I think you get out of it what you put into it.

The thing is, the vast majority of the time, I don’t need to put my complete focus on the kids.  If I try to read a book or even a long, involved article, there’s no way I’ll get very far without my concentration being broken.  I can’t organize things or write more than a few sentences.  I can’t get up and sweep the floor or do the dishes.  I can’t start sewing or painting something.  I suppose if I knew how to knit, that might be useful.  Mostly, I can browse social media, play 2048, do sudoku or crossword puzzles, and just…  wait.  I wait to be needed, wait to be asked a question, wait for my moment to walk someone through a tricky math problem or work on revising a piece of writing.  And huge swaths of my time are spent this way.  I don’t wait long, but it adds up.

It’s not just in schooling either.  I wait at soccer and ballet because it’s not long enough to go anywhere.  I wait at art class.  I wait at the park while they play in the creek in the middle of a nature walk.

When we’re home, not doing school, the kids are pretty much self-sufficient.  But they still come interrupt me.  It’s still hard to know that I’ll have that whole hour without someone coming to ask for something.

Part of it is just the stage, but I’m finding it frustrating.  I’ve always been a person who needs to waste time in order to give my brain room to be creative or focused.  I’ve always been someone who needed to veg with TV or play Tetris on Gameboy before diving in to write that paper or finish that thesis or prepare all my lessons.  But this feels different.  I’m out of practice with determination and focus.  I don’t have a job to go off to or a project that has to be done by a certain time.

Having plenty of time that is all in tiny little chunks isn’t really helping me value when I have longer chunks.  It’s killing my focus.

I’m not sure what the conclusion of this rambling post is.  Mostly I suppose, just a recognition of how oddly difficult and disjointing my life is at this moment, even though I don’t have the excuse of a baby or a crisis or being overly “busy” that having kids, even big kids, still takes a lot out of us and I need to learn to shut the door to them more, and fight to find the space I need.  And the focus!

“If you would shut your door against the children for an hour a day and say; ‘Mother is working on her five-act tragedy in blank verse!’ you would be surprised how they would respect you. They would probably all become playwrights.” – Brenda Ueland

Just reminding myself with one of my favorite quotes.

Monster Science: Simple Machines

I’m still working on my monster sized science project.  To keep myself on track, here’s another section, this one from the physics unit.  It’s been eons since we studied any of these physics topics, so input is extra appreciated!

Again, this is just a tiny piece of a larger unit so some concepts are explored elsewhere.  Stars next to books and resources mean they’re extra awesome.  One of the pieces of feedback about the first section was a need for illustrations about a few of the activities.  I’ve put in a few with my meager art skills, so feel free to tell me that it’s fine without them or that I should really hire an illustrator or that they’re okay, though, honestly, I’m not holding my breath for that last one.

simplemachinesbutton

 

March Books

Another round up of reading for you to enjoy.  We’ve recently moved to doing more independent reading at bedtime.  It’s a challenge to find the right balance in reading for my boys.  They like to read and don’t hate it.  On the other hand, if given a choice, they’d usually rather do something else.  And if given complete choices about what to read, they’d usually rather read a graphic novel they’ve already read.  That’s so important to do, but I also want to expand their reading time.  Doing it with snuggles on the bed and asking them to rotate between new and old, challenging and less challenging books, seems to be working right now.

School ReALWAYS REMEMBER ME: How One Family Survived World War IIading
 Always Remember Me: How One Family Survived the Holocaust by Marisabina Russo
We read a number of books about World War II and the Holocaust this month, but I really liked this very gentle introduction to the Holocaust that was one of the first we read about the topic.  This true story begins with a little girl asking her grandmother to talk about her photo album at a family dinner.  The grandmother keeps going where she usually breaks off and tells the story of how she and her three daughters all separately survived the Ho
locaust and managed to meet up again in the United States after the war.   The family’s good times in Germany before the war are the main focus and while the book doesn’t shy away from a difficult topic, it introduces it in a very child appropriate way, explaining the tragedy without focusing on the details.   The grandmother focuses on her good luck to have survived with so much of her family and to have the delights of a granddaughter to enjoy.  We did go on to read some slightly more difficult Holocaust stories, but I really liked this short picture book’s hopeful tone as a first stop.

Read Aloud
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
I chose this to be our second World War II read aloud after last month’s The Winged Watchman.  This one takes places in Denmark and tells just a tiny piece of the inspiring story of how the Danes smuggled more than seven thousands Jews out of the country just before they were scheduled to be rounded up for relocation by the Nazis.  The book focuses on one fictional family’s role.  Annemarie and her family must hide her best friend Ellen and get her to her uncle’s fishing boat to be taken away with her family to Sweden.  It’s a short book and like everything by Lowry, excellently written.

Absolutely Normal Chaos  RB/SBAnother Read Aloud
Absolutely Normal Chaos by Sharon Creech
As you’ll see from their required reading choices, both the boys have been keen to do “average kid” stories lately.  For the car, they want light fantasy (we’re still wrapping up Percy Jackson on audiobook), but for bedtime they want real kids.  I pulled this one off my shelf, remembering how great an “average kid” storyteller Creech is, but I admit I had forgotten how much the book focuses on main character Mary Lou’s first romance and kiss.  I remembered more about the book’s other main plot, involving Mary Lou’s cousin and the death of a neighbor, as well as the everyday trials of living in a very large family.  The boys both adored the book, especially Mary Lou’s slightly snarky voice and her ramblings about reading The Odyssey.  And they didn’t mind the romance a bit, interestingly.

The Thing About GeorgieMushroom’s Required Reading
The Thing About Georgie by Lisa Graff
This contemporary middle grades novel is about a boy facing a lot of everyday kid problems: his parents are about to have a baby, a new kid seems to be luring away his best friend, and a girl at school seems to really dislike him.  However, there’s a twist.  Main character Georgie is a dwarf and will never grow much taller than his current short height.  The book challenges the reader to see into Georgie’s world by asking them to do things that are very simple and realize that Georgie will never be able to do those things.  Mushroom found it to be a quick read and while it didn’t get raves, he said he enjoyed it very much.

The Landry NewsBalletBoy’s Required Reading
The Landry News by Andrew Clements
Yet another contemporary, “regular” kid book was needed for this month, so I pulled out this title from Andrew Clements.  We’ve read many of Clements’ books over the years and the boys always enjoy his characters and learning about the topics the characters learn about.  I think they also really enjoy reading about the dynamics of everyday classrooms.  In this book, the main character Cara learns about newspapers as she publishes her own, one that criticizes the teacher of her class.  BalletBoy finished it with new ideas for our co-op newspaper.  Good thing we’re editing it next.

The Beginning of EverythingFarrar’s Good YA Read
The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider
I really enjoyed this contemporary YA novel about a former sports star named Ezra who suffers an injury that leads to a life changing senior year with new friends and a new romance. The opening part, about a gruesome accident the main characters witness as children, is a little much, and a series of coincidences informs the neatly tied up ending, but overall the writing style was great, and I have to admit that even the gruesome accident made me sit up and pay attention.  I also really appreciated the end message of the story.  While Ezra wants to pin changes on the world around him, he has to realize that he’s really the master of his destiny.

Shatter Me (Shatter Me Series #1)Farrar’s Bad YA Read
Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
Why am I such a glutton for punishment?  I think it’s because I like a light series sometimes that I keep going back for more with these crummy dystopians and mediocre YA fantasy series out of the hope that I’ll find one that is actually fun (to be fair, sometimes I do find one, but not often enough).  I had a few mediocre YA reads this month, but this was the worst by far.  The book opens with an intriguing and promising beginning about a girl imprisoned in solitary for a mysterious but terrible crime.  A new person tossed in the cell adds tension, so I kept going.  Turns out no one can touch Juliette or she may kill them with a mysterious power she doesn’t understand.  Soon Juliette is out, there’s two guys interested in her (it’s like a formula with these things), there’s an oppressive military dictatorship with sinister goals (did I mention the formula?) trying to use her, and everything is just overemotional why can’t we be together nonsense with her true love (did I mention she’s named Juliette?).  I just skimmed the second half, but very little about it made much sense in terms of decent world building.  I guess there’s a resistance and she’s going to become a superhero.  Or something.  Not recommended for anyone with a brain.