An Eclectic, Academic Approach to a High School Course of Study

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What does an eclectic, academic course of study look like for homeschoolers in the high school years? It can take a variety of different forms depending on the teen and their strengths and weaknesses. It can also develop differently based on their interests and the resources available to them. Regardless of these differences, a rich eclectic, academic study will be one in which the student learns at a meaningful level through a variety of resources and opportunities.

At the beginning of my son’s high school years he became very interested in astronomy, and his natural curiosity about the subject matter gave me the idea of incorporating it into his school year as a science credit. Building upon and nurturing a high school student’s interests in an educational capacity is very important at this phase, as intuitive curiosity leads a student to want to pursue an area of knowledge at a deeper level. As a concrete example, here is what I did with my son for his study of astronomy.

Astronomy first caught the attention of my son when he discovered Black Holes Explained, a short series from the Great Courses. Because of his interest I decided to order a longer title from the Great Courses titled An Introduction to Astronomy which included 96 half-hour lectures. The guidebook to this series included several reading recommendations which we purchased and he eagerly worked through. It also came with questions which he answered as he watched the lectures. In addition to this I picked up a standard astronomy college textbook and he worked through parts of it.

After going through all of these my son’s passion for the subject of astronomy had not diminished and he applied to attend an Astronomy Camp at the University of Arizona. Upon being accepted he and other camp mates spent seven sleepless nights on top of an isolated mountain in the desert of Arizona learning about astronomy hands-on. He also had the opportunity to partake in a radio broadcast talking to the crew of the International Space Station, where he posed the question of how fast could the crew evacuate in an emergency. Through these hands-on experiences his love of astronomy grew.

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My son returned from camp with a truly enriched understanding of the subject and a desire to delve even deeper into his studies, so I turned to other online options and found a Coursera class on Astrobiology from the University of Edinburgh, and then he and his sister joined our local astronomy club where he attended monthly lectures by experts in the field from local universities including Cal Tech, UC Irvine, and Chapman. He also rented a telescope from the club and used it to study the stars, planets, and the moon on clear nights. Along with his sister he attended a few “star parties” or large-scale stargazing events attended by experts and enthusiasts with a wide array of telescopes.

One thing that’s important at this level is that your teenager has an output of work which at the high school level should include essays, labs, and essential assignments and projects which engage them fully and challenge them to broaden their horizons. When you homeschool not everything has to be done traditionally but there should be enough work done to earn a credit. This course of study began in the spring of what would have been his eighth grade year, went on through the summer, and ended in the winter of what was his freshman year and for it he earned one full science credit and a half lab credit.

Although this study was rich and eclectic the cost was actually quite manageable which is important to point out as I know cost is a factor for many of us. We got the Great Courses used on Ebay for a very affordable price, and all of his books were used copies that we found on Amazon. The Coursera class was free and my son was lucky enough to receive a scholarship for the astronomy camp which is what made it possible for him to participate. Participation in the local astronomy club was very affordable, and they lent us a telescope for six months free of charge. My point here is that even if you are on a tight budget like I am there are resources out there for you to create a meaningful academic experience for your child.

This is just one example whereby a student-led course can lead to a gratifying pursuit in the high school years. Not every class is going to be like this; not every credit earned will be earned like this. Still, it is a wonderful thing that we have the opportunity, as homeschool parents, to craft at least a few high school courses in this way, and it is wonderful that our teens have the opportunity to learn through an engaging and memorable process.

Follow Up to What to do with a Gifted Writer

I received some wonderful feedback on my last post about my youngest son and his writing plans. Most of the feedback was suggestions for books to read this semester that are biographies or autobiographies of writers, specifically books about their childhood.

Here is what we have so far.

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1. Brown Girl Dreaming – This book was released last year, and I have had it on my shelf for a while. I have a feeling this may end up being a favorite as the boy seems to enjoy books that use poems to tell their story.

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2. Dead End in Norvelt – This book (and a few others) was recommended to me by another homeschool mom who always recommends the best books. The author of this story mixes autobiographical accounts with fiction, and this book won the 2012 Newbery Medal for the year’s best contribution to children’s literature and the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction. We are both looking forward to this one.

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3. Boy and Going Solo – You can’t really go wrong with Roald Dahl, and what’s even better is that he has two books dealing with his earlier life. Boy will be a re-read, but it has been a long time, and Flying Solo is new to us.

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4. When I Was a Boy Neruda Called Me Policarpo: A Memoir – This is a memoir of the childhood of the Chilean poet Poli Délano, and his memories of growing up in Mexico around another author, Chilean Nobel Prize Laureate Pablo Neruda. Each chapter includes one of Neruda’s poems which I know the boy will love. I have plans to read the poems together and to discuss them with him to give him an opportunity to share his thoughts with me.

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5. Nevermore: A Photobiography of  Edgar Allan Poe – This will interest the boy because it sheds some light on why Poe became a master of Gothic writing. The photographs only add to this wonderful biography.

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6. Virginia Lee Burton: A Life in Art – The boy loves to draw almost as much as he loves to write, so I wanted to find a few books on authors who were also illustrators. This book is about an author whom he enjoyed very much when he was a pre-schooler, and I hope he enjoys reading about her life.

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7. In the same vein I am thinking about also picking up Bemelmans: The Life and Art of Madeline’s CreatorThese books are more straight forward biographies with art showcased throughout, but I still hope he will get something out of them.

This is by no way my completed list. Instead this is my jumping off point, and I hope the list grows with more feedback and research.  In the meantime this should keep the boy happy and interested for at least a few months.

An Amazing Year

Tired after a day of homeschooling.

Tired after a day of homeschooling.

After homeschooling for over ten years I have come to the harsh conclusion that every year is not always going to be great. Sometimes the curriculum is a bad match or a child is going through a hard time. Whatever the reason, some years are definitely better than others.

The twins and I still talk about their third grade year. It was an incredibly rewarding year. Decca and I look back fondly on his second grade year when he worked through a whole level of Moving Beyond the Page. He loved every book we read and enjoyed all the projects. Here at TADTown we haven’t had a wonderful year like that for a few years now. We haven’t had horrible years, but they weren’t amazing by any means.

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This year though is going to be remembered as the Great Homeschooling Year of 2014. It has turned out better than I expected, and I am so happy that everything is going so smoothly for everyone. The twins and I have figured out this high school thing, and they are loving all of their classes. They are doing well in them all, and I don’t have to hold their hands anymore. Last year they were transitioning to independent workers who took control of their education, and this year they are managing their classes on their own and are clearly in the driver’s seat. I still teach them British Literature (and I enjoy it so much as it is our only time that we are actively learning together), but for everything else they are learning in online classes independently of me.

The youngest boy is also having a wonderful year. He even remarked to me the other day that this is his favorite year ever. Some of this is due to the curriculum I choose for him, some of this has to do with his maturity, and some of this has to do to the fact that he underwent more testing at the beginning of the year. This testing helped me see a more complete picture of him which in turn aided my choices for the year. Because of his testing I decided to go back to a charter school for him. In addition to financial support for homeschooling, we have been matched with a wonderful ES who is credentialed in Special Education which is incredibly helpful to both of us.

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The curriculum that is working for my 2E kid is a mix of different resources. For language arts we are working through Bravewriter, and this year we added in our first Bravewriter class, Just So Stories. This was a great success for the boy, and we both are looking forward to more classes with Bravewriter. We will probably do two more this school year and alternate them with issues of the Arrow. In addition to Bravewriter, he continues to write his own stories every day. He is a writer and needs hours a day to write in order to feel successful.

For math I had to re-think my plans after his testing. Everything I thought we would do went out the window and was instead replaced with Math Works, a program I found for kids who are behind their peers in math. It is not overwhelming to the boy and is getting done everyday. To me that makes it a success.

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For science he started out watching all the BrainPop videos (again!) and then we started Ferret Ecology from Royal Fireworks Press. This is another winner here, so much so that we ordered Plague! too. I believe the boy enjoys working through this because it is problem-based learning which allows him to research, which he loves to do, to find answers. There is also a good deal of writing required in the program and because this is his strength he is happy to do it.

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My history plans went out the window within our first week of school. First I thought I would let him study whatever he wanted, following his interests and see where that leads us. That did not work at all. Then I decided we would use History Odyssey and study medieval history. This also did not work, at all. Finally we moved on to American History. I have created my own study for him based on all the previous years that I have taught this to the kids. It is a nice, laid back study which for whatever reason he really likes. We found a timeline app, and he works on it everyday. We read through an encyclopedia and visit various websites for topics related to whatever we are studying. He also reads a book or two a week on various topics.

In addition to the academic work he does, the boy has a good deal of free time everyday to work on his own projects and to listen to audiobooks. He needs this time, for when he has it he does better in the academic work. We probably spend two hours at the most on formal work, the rest of the time is his own. This works for him, and it works for me. It also makes for a great school year. One of the best years we have ever had.

Updates and the youngest boy

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It has been quite a while since I have posted here. As most of you know we had a difficult summer, and I found it hard to come here and write. The good news is we found out that the eldest boy does not have a connective tissue disorder. We found out two weeks ago and have been getting our lives back on track ever since. It is amazing how a medical issue can take over everything so quickly, but I am happy to be back to our old life and routine.

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The twins are hard at work on their school year. We had a few changes from the original plan I posted earlier. One major change was that I enrolled the boy in a pre-calculus class as it was too hard a subject to work on independtly. The twins also switched their science from physics to chemistry as the physics curriculum was a bust, and they both realized they would rather work on chemistry this year. Besides these few changes everything seems to be working out great, and we are especially enjoying our British Literature course (I say we because I am reading the books along with them). The twins have read Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, The Canterbury Tales, and the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. They have also been writing a number of essays this year, and I am both amazed and thankful at how quickly they are getting through them now and how mature their writing has become.

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I realize that I never shared my year plan for the youngest boy. The reason behind this is that I don’t have a concrete plan for him. My approach to his schooling is very different to the twins because he is a very unique learner. He is a 2e kid, and because of this I have to approach his schooling in a very different way. Too much work or structure has him frustrated, too little also leads to frustration. Therefore I strive for a balance. He needs a good deal of time for his own projects, but he needs some formal curriculum and a schedule to keep him happy.

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Currently he is working on Scratch games and animations, writing books, and creating his own languages. I add to this by having him work on his basic math skills using this great little book from Rod and Staff, and I have him work on his language arts with Bravewriter. This year he is not only working through issues of the Arrow, but he is also taking some of their classes which we are both very happy with.

As far as science and math the boy primarily watches Brainpop movies and then works through some of their worksheets they have online. We add documentaries and books to this and call it a day. He is studying American history and astronomy right now, and these resources seem to work best for him.

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In addition to everything else the boy discovered that he actually likes audiobooks. He has been listening to them around the clock while he works on other projects. His favorite series so far this year has been The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, and now that he has finished that series we are looking for another one.

Hopefully I will be updating the blog more now that I have time. I actually missed being here, missed thinking about homeschooling, and missed reading other blogs. I am appreciative to have the time to be back here again.

2014-2015 Education Plan for the Girl

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Today I want to highlight the girl’s plan for the coming year. Some classes she will share with her twin brother, and others will be unique to her and her talents and interests. 

English – She will be joining her brother and I in our study of British Literature. She will also be self-studying, with my help, for the English AP which I have no doubt at all that she can do. She is an amazing writer, especially academically, and I hope she enjoys the challenge of working hard in this area this year. 

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Someone asked me for a list of the twin’s books that we will be reading this year. I do not have it all put together yet, but here is a link to our Goodreads shelf if you are interested in what we have planned so far. 

Math – The one subject that does not interest her at all is math. Last year she worked independently through Teaching Textbooks, and that was a disaster. This year I decided an online class would be much better for her, so  I signed her up at MyHomeschoolMathClass. I have heard nothing but praise for these classes, and the girl is actually somewhat excited about math this year. Honestly I couldn’t ask for more than that. 

Science – She will be working through physics with her brother. If you missed the post on his plan, they will be using  Kinetic Physics and several courses from The Great Courses. This course they will be primarily doing on their own.

History – History is one of the twin’s favorite subjects, and they especially love European History. This year they will both be taking AP European History through Harari College. This class will be challenging, but I think she will enjoy the challenge. 

Foreign Languages – Also through Harari the girl is taking Italian. She has been in the class all summer, and she is already speaking and writing at a high level. She loves her teacher and the format of the class. Because there are only two students, she learns at a very fast pace. Her and I are both so grateful for Harari and her Italian class. 

She will also be continuing with French with her brother. She has an ear for languages, and she and her brother love their French class. Also she is hoping to go to University in Europe. The more languages she knows the better it will be for her, so I feel this is an important part of her studies. 

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Art – She, like her brother, works with her grandmother on art once a week. She also spends most of her free time drawing and sketching. She will continue working on art this year at a more serious level then her brother in hopes of taking the AP next year in studio art. She hasn’t decided whether she wants to pursue art at the AP level, but I want her prepared in case she does. 

Music – She will continue with piano for the year, and depending on what level she gets to, she may begin organ. The girl is hoping to begin her organ studies this year, perhaps around January. The organ requires a more attuned level of skill because it is truly a multi-task instrument hence the need to be prepared. 

In addition to all of this she will most likely be in a bookclub with her brother and I. She is also a member of the OC Astronomer’s Group which she and her brother have been part of for nearly a year now. The group holds monthly lectures, which the twins always find engaging. The group also has star parties and other activities that they can take part in. 

Her year looks challenging, but I know it will work out for her. She is the type of person who needs to keep busy and who needs to be challenged. This schedule meets both of those needs. 

High School Plans – A little of this, a little of that, with a good deal of flexibility thrown in

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Flexibility is the key this year to the older boy’s school plans. Because we are not sure yet if it will be a year of doctor appointments or not, I am trying to formulate a plan for him that will allow for changes as needed. We have a strong year planned, and he and I are both happy with the choices we have made. What we have is a variety of classes, some online, some parent taught, and some in person. A few of the classes are AP classes, but we are not sure he is going to take the APs. If he has a good deal of time this year to study he will take them. If not he will do the classes but not stress about the AP tests. In addition there is one class he is signed up for (AP Computer Science) that we may drop if he is too overwhelmed. He can easily take that class his junior or senior year if necessary. 

2014 Plans – 

English – He will be taking a writing course from the Well Trained Mind Academy, and he will spend the year reading and studying British Literature with his sister and me. We have an amazing book list planned, and we are all looking forward to discussing the books together. In addition I am hoping to lead a teenage book club again this year which he will be part of. 

Math – He is moving on to pre-calculus this year and is working with Thinkwell math. Along with this I am hoping he will be able to work with a tutor. I know he will do better if he has someone to correct his work and someone willing to discuss math theory with him to his heart’s content. I haven’t found anyone yet as we are on such a tight budget, but I am fairly confident that I can find some young college student who would be willing to help out for less as we live in a college town. 

History – The boy is signed up for AP European History through Harari College. The twins were signed up with Harari this summer, but they had to drop most of their classes due to all the doctor appointments we had. We thought we would have all the time in the world for summer school, but it just didn’t work out that way. From their short time in the school though we were all impressed with it, and I knew the kids would want to go back to it. This fall the twins will take AP European History, and they are both looking forward to it. If you are on a budget and looking for some great classes I highly recommend you look into Harari.

Science – He is working on physics this year with Kinetic Physics and several courses from The Great Courses. This course he will be primarily doing on his own. He is planning to take the AP, but if it is too much he won’t. Either way he is looking forward to science. 

Foreign language – He is studying French again this year. He may take this through Harari if it is offered, otherwise we have another online class lined up. Languages aren’t his strong point, but my goal for him this year is to get him to a place where he is comfortable with the language and enjoying learning it. 

Electives – AP computer science which he is taking through an online class that is being offered for free. In addition he will be working with my step-dad on this as needed. This is the first class he will drop if he is unable to do all we have planned. 

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Guitar – He started guitar last year, and he has discovered that he loves it. He has an amazing teacher and practicing brings him so much joy. I imagine he will always play guitar, and I am so happy that he discovered something that makes him so happy. 

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Art – The twins go to their grandmother’s studio once a week to work on art with her. I am not sure what they enjoy more, the art or the coffee shop they stop at. Either way it is a fun time for all three of them. 

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Astronomy – He is a member of the OC Astronomer’s Group which he and his sister have been part of for nearly a year now. The group holds monthly lectures, which the twins always find engaging. The group also has star parties and other activities that they can take part of. 

This is his year, and I am very satisfied with it. The boy will be in a few online classes, a few mom-lead and grandparent-led classes, and a few teacher/tutor-led classes. He will be taking classes that both meet high school requirements and follow his passions. It would not be possible to have an education like this if we weren’t homeschooling, and it wouldn’t be possible to have so much flexibility if we weren’t homeschooling. I have always been so grateful that I can and do homeschool, but this year, our eleventh year, I am appreciating it more than ever. 

Looking Ahead to the Next School Year

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To be honest this last school year did not quite go how I envisioned it. My time was taken up by several health issues and therefore I was unable to be as involved in homeschooling as I would have liked. Even though the kids are older and are very independent homeschoolers they do need some structure and someone leading them along through their days. This is especially true for the girl who craves interaction and feedback from me while doing school work.

Looking back though I do realize that we finished all the work we set out to even though it didn’t feel like we did. The twins had several online classes and those went great, and they learned that they love online, live classes. Tru finished all his math early and had time to go down several rabbit trails on his own. Their first year of high school English went great as did science. They fulfilled all the credits we set out to at the beginning of the year, and their love of learning is still there. I worried that the pressure of doing high school right might have taken away from the joy, but it didn’t.

The younger boy worked through Bravewriter’s Arrow again this year. I cannot say enough about this program. For an advanced child in writing it has been a perfect match. He enjoys the books and feels like the instruction does not talk down to him. There has been a few times that we needed to skip sections because he already knew what was being discussed, but for the most part he was happy to read the weekly notes and to work on the passage. Because he is a writer, this program speaks to him. It is the highlight of his day.

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The boy worked on math here and there, but this was a real struggle this year. I feel that his very low processing speed had something to do with this and I am debating whether we should seek out further testing. History went great towards the end of the school year. He discovered The Kane Chronicles and then moved on to the Percy Jackson books. Along the way we studied ancient history and myths to go along with it. Overall I was very excited about his sudden interest in history.

Next year I am buying very little curriculum, and I feel so good about that. The twins are enrolled in an online private school that is free. They are in five classes each, and I couldn’t be happier. In addition to these classes they need to keep up with math, and they need to take chemistry. I am still looking for a chemistry class for them, but I feel good about their upcoming school year. My goal is to be more involved in the oversight of their learning and to have daily feedback for them. I know this will be appreciated by them both.

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For the boy we are going to go through the Arrow one more time (this will be his third year) and then we will move on to the Boomerang the following year. He also will be working through Thinkwell math at the recommendation of his older brother. This is all the formal school he will be doing. One aspect of him that I had re-affirmed this year is that he fills up his days quite nicely. He works on Scratch, he writes, he reads, he listens to audio books, he draws, and along the way he learns quite a bit. I don’t want to get in the way of his self-learning as he goes through the middle school years.

 

 

Homeschool Monday – Drab

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The boy is reading The People of Sparks with his Moving Beyond The Page work, and today he had to define the word drab and then illustrate it in a small box. I decided to turn this into a bigger project, and I had him draw a drab picture and then a bright picture. He had to choose the colors to work with and he was allowed to draw whatever he wanted. There were no rules except for one had to be drab and dull, and the other had to be bright and vibrant.

He didn’t spend very long on his pictures, but he seemed to enjoy drawing them. Of course, being who he is, the pictures were of monsters.

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Autry got in on the act too. She loves to draw, and if someone is working on something creative, she is never far behind.

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Where was Tru while these two were drawing? Why he was in his room doing Algebra 2 for the second time today.

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And he was happy about it.

Decca’s Fifth Grade Plan

Decca is a very creative learner who needs to be constantly challenged or he will tune out. Knowing this I have picked out materials that I think will keep him engaged and interested in the work. Most of these choices he used last year or the year before, so I know they fit his learning style.

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His main curriculum is Moving Beyond the Page for ages 10-12. Decca had previously used the 7-9 and 8-10 levels, and he loved both the books and the work. Last year I decided to try something different, but this year we are back. There is nothing else I have found that has matched my creative, gifted learner as perfectly as Moving Beyond the Page. He has already started the first unit, and he is happy to be working through it again.

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Moving Beyond the Page covers language arts, science, and social studies, so it is a very complete curriculum.  Decca is a language arts nut though, so I have decided to add more studies to his year. We used Bravewriter’s Arrow last year, and we are using it again this year. A subscription to the Arrow is for the whole year, and it comes with ten issues for ten books. I like the selection of the books this year, as many of them are books Decca would not have read on his own. He finished the first book, The Lemonade War,
in two days and is now working through the work in the Arrow. I find these issues to be a nice supplement to his MBTP studies.

I have also decided to add in Latin this year. Decca will be using Latin for Children through Thinker’s Cap Academy. He has only just begun this, and although it is not his favorite part of the day, he does do the work without complaints.

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For math we are sticking with the same materials as last year, Life of Fred and Beast Academy. Life of Fred and Beast Academy are the only math programs I have found that keep him interested and engaged in the work. Math will never be his passion, but with these programs he almost forgets that. I will also have him work through some apps on the iPad, as he always has fun doing that.

In addition to his formal work, he is going to continue working on his writing, his scratch projects (click here to see his latest game Life of a Gumball),  and his graphic design work. He is also taking piano.

I have to admit that I spent all summer worrying about the twins and their high school year. I spent very little time thinking about Decca’s year, and I didn’t order any curriculum for him until last week (and some this week). I am pleasantly surprised at how well this has turned out though. I may just leave planning to the last-minute again next year!

Young Indiana Jones and a Picasso Lesson

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This year I had to change things up with Decca. He was not engaged in our history lessons, and it was painfully obvious. He is so different from the twins that it has taken me a while to realize that he finds most history lessons and readings uninteresting and pointless. I want him to enjoy history though, so I knew I needed to take another approach with him.

I was thinking about all of this over the holidays when I went to a friend’s house who also homeschools. She mentioned that she was going to use the Young Indiana Jones curriculum with her daughter next year, and that I might want to look into it for Decca.

I was instantly interested in the idea, and when I got home I began to research. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there was a whole curriculum put together around The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones. It is called Adventures in Learning with Indiana Jones, and it is a wonderful resource for educators. I decided this would be great for Decca, so I bought the DVDs, and we started watching them a few weeks back. It didn’t go quite as I expected at first.

The problem is that the shows (which I had never seen before) had been re-edited in order to present a more educational experience. The drawback to this is that the editing does not always work and is sometimes laughable. For instance the first episode just ends without being resolved. It was very strange until I read that it was only the first half of the original episode, and that it was cut there in the new release. Another strange occurrence is the young boy who plays Indiana Jones ages  and then gets younger in the middle of an episode. For instance in the Paris episode that we recently watched he starts out older, then gets noticeably younger, then gets older again all over the course of a few days.

This made the episodes hard to watch at first, especially for me, but once I researched the shows and understood it was just George Lucas being crazy, the kids and I stopped caring . The shows are fun and interesting, and they do lead to some great learning opportunities.

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In the latest episode we watched young Indiana Jones goes to Paris with his parents and tutor. While there he meets a young Norman Rockwell who introduces Indy to the Paris art scene. With Norman the boys end up getting to know Picasso, Degas, Rousseau, and a host of other artists from this time. Indy also gets a lesson on old art versus new art and different art movements.

It was a wonderful little episode that introduced many different people and topics. In addition to the episodes, the DVDs include documentaries to watch. After watching some of the documentaries (we don’t watch them all) I then have Decca do some reading, watch a BrainPop, and then I try to incorporate a project. This week we studied Picasso more in-depth, and we made our own cubism drawing. The twins reluctantly participated (ahh teenagers), but I was happy with the project, and I believe it was a good learning experience for all.

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I would recommend this curriculum to anyone looking for an alternative history program. It actually covers more than just history, and it is very easy to use. Although I didn’t like it at first, I find myself warming up to it as we watch more episodes. It has Decca’s attention, and for that I am grateful.