Tea Time

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We have incorporated tea time into our homeschool routine since the twins were five and the boy one. It is not something we do consistently, but it is something we do enough for it to feel like part of our homeschool life. Lately though everyone has been so busy with their own academics that we have not had time to sit together and enjoy an afternoon break with good books and treats.

Luckily a few weeks ago the boy decided he wanted to start baking (thanks to The Great British Bake Off), and he made his first cake.

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We all decided that if we had cake, we might as well have tea. Actually some of us had tea, and some of us had coffee (that is a sure sign that they are growing up). Because it had been a while since we took the time to sit together with an afternoon treat, a warm drink, and some good books, some of us were very excited. Others were a little put out (another sign that they are growing up).

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The girl decided to share some haikus to everyone. Haiku is a passion of her’s right now. She loves to read it and write it, and she enjoys learning about some of the early haiku poets. She recited some from her favorite book, The Art of Haiku.

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The youngest boy read everyone some poems that he wrote while our dog Kingsley tried to eat the cake. He couldn’t understand why he was not invited to tea time.

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And by the end of it, after all the cake and tea, the oldest boy was even having a good time. He recited The Jabberwocky, an old favorite of his, and even smiled for the camera.

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One day I will probably look back on this time with joy and a little sadness. For one day soon they will be gone, living their own lives, doing their own thing, and I will wish them back. If only for a day, if only for a moment, I will want them around the table, laughing together, sharing poems together, and eating cake together, for it was a perfect moment in time.

Demystifying Homeschooling Methods

Here is a great talk hosted by N.A.S.H. from last week that I had the privilege to be a part of. It is worth a listen if you are wanting to learn more about homeschooling and the various methods.

N.A.S.H. - National Alliance of Secular Homeschoolers

Did you know there are many different ways to homeschool? Do you ever wonder what homeschooling style would work best for your family? In the Methods of Homeschooling Teleconference, recorded on January 28, 2015, for National School Choice Week, our panel of homeschoolers discussed how their unique homeschooling styles works for their families. The panel included unschooling father, Dennis Wolf, eclectic homeschooling mom, Beth Suitt, curricula­-based homeschooling mom, Jill Harper, and roadschooling mom, Larah Ritchie. These speakers along with the moderator, Jai Cook, the Programs and Services Senior Director for N.A.S.H., will help you demystify the various methods of homeschooling.

(Our apologizes ~ there were technical difficulties recording this session. Some of the beginning introductions are missing.)

Questions addressed in this session include:

●  Can you use a different method for each child?
●  Has your chosen method changed since you started homeschooling?
●  What homeschooling philosophy have you followed?

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School Choice Week with National Alliance of Secular Homeschoolers

Some days in our homeschool look like this:

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Other days will find us doing this:

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And other days we might be working on this:

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Our homeschooling looks different from day to day and from year to year. Some years we were more strict using an all-in-the-box curriculum, other years we were very loose. My homeschool also varies from my friend’s homeschool which is one of the great benefits to homeschooling. There are so many ways to run a homeschool and so many different resources that one can use.

Are you thinking about homeschooling and wish you had a little more information? Or are you new to homeschooling and want to hear from veteran homeschoolers? If so then N.A.S.H. has something for you.

N.A.S.H. is hosting a week of online roundtables from Monday, January 26, 2015 through Friday, January 30, 2015 in honor of National School Choice Week. These online discussions with veteran homeschoolers will cover topics such as how to start homeschooling, different homeschooling methods and curricula (secular of course!), homeschooling high school, and how to deal with the subject (that ALWAYS seems to come up) of socialization.

I will be part of the roundtable during The Methods of Homeschooling discussion. If you are thinking about homeschooling or you want more information on one of the topics please stop.

You can find more information on the N.A.S.H. website. If you would like to register for this event please click here.

India Ink and Rice Paper – Art with Grandma

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The twins do art every week with their Grandma at her studio. They love this time of coffee drinking, art talking, and art making. This week they and a few other students had fun working on rice paper. I was going to write a blog post on the topic, but I wasn’t sure exactly what they did, so I decided to have my mom write up a short post. She was happy to oblige.

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This week in my teen art class I taught the kids how to let go of control and introduced them to moderately uncontrolled drawing! I had the students pick a a few long sticks from their yard or park or wherever the gardeners haven’t been over zealous and cleaned the yard of fallen branches. They brought them to my studio and I supplied india ink and rice paper. Traditional rice paper is an absorbent, white paper that feels almost like fabric. It happens to be very responsive to ink which is why I choose it. Although other papers do some of the same things but I have always liked the way rice paper feels.

I cut long sheets of it and put it on the floor and showed the kids what to do. Here’s what happened: they stood and dipped their long sticks in a tub of ink and without getting too close to the paper proceeded to create an image that reacted in a way they weren’t expecting. Some of them were very abstract and resembled to me, Joan Miro’s work, some resembled the artist Cy Twombly and others looked like self-portraits but in a whimsical way. They had fun and used up almost all of the roll of rice paper! Some of the surprises:

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A New Year

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This last year my blog was severely neglected. Many factors led to my neglected blog, but I was never too happy about it. Although I had very little time to spend here, I seemed to spend a great deal of time lamenting the fact that I wasn’t posting. Obviously I missed writing here, and I knew I needed to get back to it.

This year I am hoping to make more time for my musings about homeschooling and other topics. Already I seem to be back in a place where this is possible, and I am feeling quite excited about it. I do find it harder to figure out what to write about though. One reason is that all the kids are getting so much older. How easy it is to write about your preschooler or elementary aged child and their going ons. It is so much harder to write about the tween or teen child because there is a level of privacy and respect that needs to be followed. Obviously I am not the first blogger to come across this problem, and I am sure I will find a way around it. After all there is so much I would love to share about this stage in our homeschooling as it is an exciting and rewarding stage.

For today I want to share what the kids are doing on our first day back to school after a long Christmas break. It is a perfect morning here. The kids are all content and working both independently and together on various subjects. I am sitting back and taking it all in. I am aware these days that our time together is numbered. In a few years the twins will be off on their own, and the boy and I will have a couple years left together before he too is off in the world. I am so aware of this now as the kids inch ever closer to adulthood, and I find myself sitting back often and looking at them, listening to them, enjoying every laugh and word and movement that they make.

Today the girl woke up and had an online class for two hours. I made her a latte and took it to her while she was hard at work. The boys listened to Writer to Writer together, and then we all discussed what books we are going to write this year. Autry joined us at this point, and it was so satisfying to hear them all share their ideas with each other. Silently I watched them and thought to myself that writing books together as a family has to be one of the best bonding experiences there is.

Later in the morning the oldest boy started his online class, and the younger boy and I worked on math and handwriting. Then the younger boy read five chapters of Lauren Ipsum: A Story About Computer Science and Other Improbable Things. He is now listening to a Neil Gaiman book which he loves. I know he loves it because he comes out of his room every five minutes or so and excitedly tells me what is happening in the book.

Presently the twins are studying in their rooms. Autry is writing an essay, and Tru is working on computer science. So much of their work is independent now that they are older which is both wonderful and a little sad. Mostly wonderful though as it frees up so much of my time.

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As for me I am getting ready to take our ever faithful companion for a walk. For although the kids may be older and more independent, Kingsley will always need me. Sometimes I complain about this fact, but really dogs are wonderful companions and a perfect remedy to the parent who is transitioning from being a mom to young children to a mom of young adults.

Book Clubs and their importance in the Middle School Years

Cake is also makes for a great book club! Here is a Frankenstein cake that one of our members made for the month we all studied the book.

Cake also makes for a great book club! Here is a Frankenstein cake that one of our members made for the month we all studied the book.

There has been a good deal of debate on one of the homeschool forums I visit about how to best prep a child for their high school years. Many of the ideas that pop up are, to my mind, over-rigorous and not age appropriate. A middle-school aged child does not need to learn everything a high school aged student will. That is not preparing for high school, that is doing high school work in middle school. That may work for some students, but for many students it will only stress them out or be lost on them.

I understand the pull to do more and more at a younger age. Parents are under so much pressure to create smarter and smarter kids earlier and earlier in the game. But is it really necessary and does it benefit anyone? Many of the skills that parents want to teach their young student can be learned in the first half of ninth grade at a fairly quick pace because the student is ready to learn the skills. The amount of maturity that happens between eleven and fourteen is amazing. If your middle schooler is struggling with writing a good thesis, creating a killer outline, and coming up with amazing essays don’t worry. They will get there eventually.

So what then should your middle schooler be working on? Looking back on the twins time at this stage I believe the biggest help to their high school English studies was being involved in a book club with their peers. A book club that read a variety of books from the classics to non-fiction. A book club that created a safe place were all members could respond to the book with their opinions without being criticized. A book club that asked questions and allowed the kids to debate the answers. A book club that fostered a love for books and for thinking and discussing the books.

Most importantly, a book club that did not ask the participants to do any busy work. In fact besides actually reading the book (or listening to the audio version) there was no pre-assigned work at all. No worksheets to fill out, no questions to answer. Instead the kids were asked to think about what they read, form an opinion on what they read, and then share (and sometimes defend) that opinion with others.

How easy is that? And yet, after being in a book club for a few years, I saw the difference it made. The twins would actively be thinking about what they read. They would figure out their opinion on what they read. They would argue that opinion with examples from what they read.

Today they do much of the same thing except with more maturity and sophistication. Also they now share their opinions in essay form which, in many ways, built upon the skills they learned in their book club.

So if you are looking for something to get your middle-school aged students involved in, something that will help them in their high school years, I recommend a book club. If there is not one around you, form one. It is not hard to lead a book club, and you do not need that many students. A few kids that meet once a month discussing the classics is all it takes.

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.

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. 

Checking In…

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I have been missing in action here at TadTown for a little while now, but I am going to try to make an effort and get back on track with my posts. Life has thrown us a few curve balls lately, and the kids and I have been trying to stay on top of everything which hasn’t left much time for anything else.

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Through it all the kids have been plugging along with their school work. The twins are nearing the end of their studies this year and overall they have had a positive experience with their first year of high school. I believe the kids had the right balance of online classes and at-home classes. Next year they will have a similar balance of classes because I strongly believe that if something works don’t mess with it.

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The twins have also begun fencing, and I am so surprised at how much they love it. It has been such a positive addition to their routine and they are both so psyched about fencing. It is wonderful to see them both so excited about something new, and it is wonderful that they have a shared passion.

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Decca has also been plugging along with everything although most of his studies are now interest led. He reads often, works on his Scratch projects (his newest is ScratchTopia), writes, and animates. In between all this I try to sneak in a few math lessons here and there. Math is not a favorite subject for him, but I encourage him to keep working at it. Slow and steady is our math motto and I believe it will be that way throughout his school years.