From One to Three

h1 July 3rd, 2011

We’re about to make a big leap and while I’ve learned over my first few years of homeschooling that it all always works out in time, I cannot help but feel a touch overwhelmed and intimidated by the idea of now actively homeschooling three children instead of one. The twins are ready. Begging actually. So, this school year I will have the entire Triad of Chaos looking to me for a fabulous education. I can and will handle it. But first, I need to spend a couple of weeks freaking out about it.

Math has been where I’ve been the most unsettled about this transition. Athena continues to do well with Singapore and Apollo has unschooled his way into being almost ready for 1A himself. He was easy. I am starting him on the second half of Essential Math. We’ll take it at whatever pace happens and skip over what he’s clearly already mastered on his own. But Artemis has been trickier. For one thing, any pipe dreams I had about the twins moving at the same pace and only doing two separate math lessons has totally fallen apart. I’ve accepted the inevitability of three distinct math lessons, but was not completely happy with using Singapore for her too. I cannot put my finger precisely on what my concern is, but at some gut level, I just feel Singapore might not be the right way for Artemis to go. At the same time, I was not excited about the idea of proctoring two different curricula. But yesterday, the answer presented itself. The fantastically fabulous Stanley Schmidt of Life of Fred fame has now released elementary level materials. He has four elementary level books available for pre-order. (Shipping starting July 25th, I believe.) I think this will fill in the gaps I was concerned about for Artemis. And as an added bonus, I think the whole Triad will dig hanging with Fred. So it is something we can do altogether.

It will all work out. I just have to get through my freak out and keep breathing.

Not Back to School Fun

h1 August 23rd, 2010

Today was a good day. We started with the breakfast menu the Triad of Chaos designed yesterday. Family tradition dictates that the kids get to design the entire menu on the first day of the new school year. After that, we eased our way into school work. Athena started with logic, since she feels it helps her brain warm up. She also completed history, chemistry and math before lunch. Artemis checked out the Kumon Tracing book and did a couple of pages. She pronounced it officially “cute.” Apollo had no interest in cracking his copy open, but pounced on the opportunity for a math lesson. Both Artemis and Apollo really love Saxon K Math. This experience has taught me that sometimes what is the perfect curriculum for them may very well be something I think is significantly less than exciting. They went to town with the pattern block lesson today, extending it much further than the actual lesson entailed. Always a good sign. As usual, this Crunchy Mama was once again merely along for the ride.

After lunch, I sent Artemis and Apollo for a much needed nap and Athena and I launched into language arts. She’s excited about All About Spelling even though we’ve barely started it. I think all the color coded cards, neatly organized behind the appropriate dividers and moved sequentially once introduced, reviewed and mastered really speak straight to her heart. She is interested in Write Source, but really had to breathe deep and send the Beast we call Perfectionism for a long walk while she dug into her first experience with a writing prompt. I’m wondering if she will get much more out of this writing program than just basic writing skills. Literature went well and handwriting slid by without much comment from her.

We didn’t hit grammar today, so I’m looking to adjust our pace a little as the next few weeks pass by. Also, I didn’t fit a reading/phonics lesson in for Artemis and Apollo since they slept until dinner. But all in all, I’m rather pleased with all of us as we begin finding a more structured rhythm and get the hang of three actively homeschooling kids. Once our Latin curriculum arrives, I’ll be looking at where to add that in to the game plan, as well. The best part of our day? The fact that Athena never once complained of a headache!

I’m hopeful about starting Weekly Updates and Secular Thursday back up again. Weekly Updates, I’ll tackle this coming weekend. Secular Thursday will probably have to wait until next week. Hope all of you who are (not) back to school already are beginning to cruise and those of you who will be starting soon have smooth transitions.

Planning Hyperdrive

h1 August 6th, 2010

I am never able to pinpoint that exact thing that triggers it. Women are cyclical creatures by nature and eclectic homeschooling mothers are no exception to this phenomenon. The August heat rolls into southeast Texas, superstores set out four foot tall cardboard bins of pencils, crayons, glue sticks and composition books with tantalizing prices, museum after museum fills email inboxes with homeschool class schedules and registration details….

And somewhere amongst these myriad subtle shifts further and further away from summertime, we all suddenly, desperately clutch our planners (paper or electronic) and go absolutely crazy. I penciled in activities for June 2011 today. I might have gone as far as July except for the fact that my planner lacks pages past June 2011. July 2011 does not yet exist in my universe. June is bad enough. This recurring phase of a homeschooling mother’s annual cycle is a giant part of why I have this nasty habit of laughing maniacally in the face of the poor, sweetly ignorant individual who accidentally lets loose with, “But what about socialization?” What they ought to be asking me is “How do you decide which outside activities and group opportunities to pass by in order to be sure you get at least a little bit of actual school work done in a year?”

[Here is where I acknowledge that many non-school educating families, commonly known by that word that totally freaks people, especially ABC News anchors, out-- Unschoolers-- would laugh maniacally themselves at the delusional thought of needing to do any "school work" at all. I know oodles of very cool unschooling parents and children. They still love me despite my need to hang onto that very delusion they eschew. So you should to.]

It is truly a problem. This year I am standing strong. As I discussed previously we’re going to do this insane thing called “stay home” on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, starting in late August. I’ve had to give up a few things to make this happen. We shifted Girl Scouts to a different day, which thankfully seems to be better for all our troop’s families. We wont be seen much at all anymore at our previous Tuesday playgroup. Thankfully, we see a lot of those folks at our homeschool co-op on Thursdays. And we’re even going to skip signing up for the art museum’s fantastic homeschool workshops this year. That last one was hard for me. The museum puts on a really great program. But it’s a popular program as well and will most likely still be available in the years to come. Meanwhile, we need three days in a row to really work. Even with those three days blocked out, there is plenty on the calendar. As a matter of fact, if you haven’t spoken with me yet, don’t even think of trying to schedule anything with me in October. October is booked solid. You missed your window.

Our homeschool co-op just held our autumn planning session. We are now all working to polish September plans to explore Native American art, crafts, storytelling, history and culture via a unit study and two very different museum trips. We’re also plotting an October embrace of our Inner Pirates by using math, science and critical thinking skills to hunt for buried treasure, checking out a museum exhibit about real pirates, touring an actual nineteenth century ship and spending a day with Jim Hawkins and Captain Flint. We’ll top off the autumn session with a November study of Cycles in Nature which will include outdoor adventures at a nature sanctuary, a trip to a weather museum, clouds in a bottle and creatures eating other creatures.

History Club was already planned out through December because the woman who organizes it is a Super Genius Planner/Organizer. She also made sure the two of us got our Girl Scout troop’s schedule crafted from September to May and that we now possess a solid schedule between the two of us to manage produce co-op pick ups once a month through December. See? I wasn’t kidding about that Super Genius thing. I’d wager July 2011 already exists in her incredibly orderly and disciplined universe. She’s just plain cool like that. Art co-op is also almost completely locked in for at least the autumn semester.

Meanwhile, the dates keep coming and the pencil keeps flying and the autumn and winter weekends are even filling up. I’m pulling together this kooky idea I had to get together with just a handful of other families once a month in order to knock out a lot of physics experiments in one large chunk, followed by food. Because, if you know anything about homeschoolers- or at least my kind of homeschoolers- there is always food involved and usually lots of it. This little venture got almost immediate buy-in from those I solicited and will be oh, so creatively named…… Family Physics. The idea is that we read materials about that month’s four concepts at home. Each family is responsible for providing one to two experiments or hands-on activities to reinforce one concept. The kids can then rotate through the activities together, having a grand old time getting science-y. After which, we will use that most ancient of communal meal rituals, the pot luck, to accomplish assuaging their ferocious appetites for both knowledge and sustenance. And to socialize them. (Can you hear my maniacal laughter from there?) It should be fun. At least that’s the goal. Since we’re doing this on weekend dates, I’m excited for a few of the fathers to have an opportunity to roll up their sleeves and get into the mix themselves if they’d like.

Beyond that, there is no shortage of other adventures scribbled in various blocks of my no longer pristine planner pages. Birthday parties galore, since we somehow befriended lots and lots of folks who like to “snuggle” through the late winter months. A possible trip to Caddo Mounds for their 2010 Caddo Culture Day, Last Organic Outpost’s green festival, Texas A&M’s Chemistry Open House for families, a camping trip, the Trader’s Village Pow Wow, and maybe the Houston Symphony.

With the calendar almost totally complete, I’m hopeful that I’ll get my lesson planning done soon as well. My goal is to finish it before I head out to California for a week of blissful nurturing of one of my oldest friends, her fiance and her brand new son. This would be a good thing since I’ve hypothetically determined August 23rd to be the first day of the next school year. Whatever that means. (Can you hear the unschoolers’ maniacal laughter now?) My goal is also to return to both the Weekly Update posts and the Secular Thursday posts once that date comes to pass. Apparently, planning hyperdrive also extends into the blogosphere.


h1 August 3rd, 2010

When new people meet Athena, they are often taken aback by her. The way she speaks with them, the content of what she discusses, how physically tiny she is for her age all make for an admittedly striking (occasionally unsettling) package. This is commonly followed by one of a few predictable reactions, including giving me way too much credit for who she is. I find myself repeating that I’m really just along for the ride, although I’m not sure they believe me. For those who see her from the outside looking in, they have these images of sunshine and roses where everything comes easy. Some sort of intellectual child paradise or something. But there is a reason some parents and educators feel highly gifted children ought to be considered another category in the special needs spectrum. Their needs can be extremely intense.

Athena is suffering from daily headaches right now and we are struggling to find both cause and remedy. We have a wicked family history of migraine and cluster headaches. My dad, my sister and myself all suffer from different flavors of the same bone crushing phenomenon. I get the total package- auras that set in with loss of vision, numbness in my face and hand and slight dizziness- followed by the pain that leaves me horizontal for hours as it starts on one side of my head and stalks with ferocious intensity through my skull. About seven years old seemed early to me for migraines to be setting in until we spoke with Athena’s pediatrician and she explained they can set in as early as five years old for some children. (Mine roared into my life for the first time when I was around eleven years old.) Her basic neurological screening in the pediatrician’s office was great. No issues. as far as we can see But our doctor is still recommending a neurology referral to be thorough. As she said when we were in her office, we’re not dealing with a typical seven year old brain here. So she’d like to be sure we’re not missing anything. We are also taking her in for a thorough vision screening this week to rule out that as a cause of both headaches and reading fluency challenges.

In addition to the headaches, her anxiety and stress are building scarily. We’ve worked on coping mechanisms at home a lot. I feel like I’ve tried a lot with her. I have a strong meditation practice as part of my life and spiritual path which I am trying to share with her. She seems to enjoy it, but in a very cerebral, analytic manner. She resists though, when I suggest she take a break when she’s feeling overwhelmed and connect with that meditative space. We’ve used a few guided relaxations with limited success. We’ve encouraged her to run off some of with outside play and time at the pool, now that she’s swimming. We have a standard punch-a-pillow style attitude towards working out or blowing off negativity. I have always tried to be open to her and available to her when she needs to talk about what’s on her mind- whether that’s wanting to get together and play with a friend she hasn’t seen in a while or wanting to dictate a letter to BP sharing her disappointment with them for their general disregard of the earth’s oceans in favor of profit margins. Patris Maximus and I have taken to having hushed, after-dark conversations about household affairs so that she doesn’t take on adult stresses. Otherwise, she will weep over how expensive replacing the alternator in the minivan might be once the estimate comes in. I’m not entirely happy with that as I believe in modeling a healthy, strong relationship where two parents work out how to handle life’s challenges as partners for our children. However, right now the risks of modeling that to Athena seem to outweigh the benefits. She has also become physically aggressive with Artemis and Apollo, which is unprecedented in their four years of sibling-hood. We are making an appointment for her to see a child therapist (or three) as soon as possible. I am hopeful that she might gain something from the experience and that we might gain more tools to help her at home. Perhaps the headaches are solely stress and anxiety related. Perhaps they are physical. Or a mix of the two. Either way, we’re using any and every resource we can find to try to help her.

Yesterday, at the dinner table, Athena burst into tears. I offered her a hug (which I was grateful she took) and asked her if she wanted to talk about what was wrong. Between sobs, she told me she feels she’s not doing enough school work. I was honestly at a loss. I just held her tight and told her we could do as much school work as she wants. We’ve been taking a very fluid approach for a long time now. We do bunches and I like to plan to the point that I make lists of what I have prepared for her. Then we see what we can fit in that day that she wants to dive into and engage. At this point, I’m ready to try structure– the kind of structure that is really hard for me as it’s not naturally part of my being. I’ve cleared our schedule Monday through Wednesday with the exception of one Wednesday a month when I do the produce co-op pick up, so we can do three straight full days of school. This is something we haven’t ever had the inclination to do, so I actually find it all a bit scary. Thursdays will be the day we meet with our homeschooling cooperative and most likely also her Odyssey of the Mind team, since Athena finally decided she would like to return to OM this year. Fridays will be History Club, Girl Scouts and art. We’re also looking at a once a month Family Physics gathering on a weekend and I’m hoping to help her embrace the idea and ritual of a day of rest somewhere in there.

I’m hopeful we will find our way with Athena sooner rather than later. But right now I am also stressed. Her mind works so quickly and so intensely that it is difficult to keep up; to support her with what she needs when what she needs shifts so fast. It is difficult as her mother, to see her in pain and to see her so anxious and stressed. I want her to be a little girl; to be happy and carefree. To be joyful and live with the reckless abandon of youth. Not to fret about oil slicks and war and auto repairs and how to become an environmental chemist without going to college. I want the sunshine for her. Not tears. I want to give her roses. Not a day planner. What I need right now, though, is not to give her what I want for her, but to give her what she needs. Whatever the heck that turns out to be.

Summertime for Us Weirdo Homeschoolers

h1 June 30th, 2010

Reason number 3,472 that I’m glad we engage in this insanity– Athena’s natural academic rhythms. Her what, you say? Well, I’ll explain. Her ebb and flow, so to speak. The small and large rhythms she exhibits in waxing and waning intensity when it comes to how much she wants to engage, at what depth and for how long.

I think I’ve mentioned before that Athena has a penchant for sunset mathematics. Seriously not my best hour for for it, but I have eventually become accustom to relentless demands for assistance between dinner and teeth-brushing. This is just one example of how her natural rhythms run counter to conventional learning schedules. Athena (and the other two tiny educational renegades) also move at different speeds between subjects of study. She moves rapidly through history and science materials, but more methodically through formal language arts study. The latest observation I’ve made is that Athena has an annual rhythm, as well. For the second year in a row, she’s eased off in April and May, but then returned with a fervor come June.

This year, she throttled back more than I’ve seen her do so since she burst onto the academic learning scene around three and a half or four. I took advantage of the down time, myself and read several books in a row off my own reading list. Plus, Artemis and Apollo were happy to pick up the slack, so to speak. Apollo has developed a passion for calculators, for one thing. But now it’s almost July and we’re back to the books. It’s currently all things radioactive and Feudal Europe.

I also returned with focus to planning for the 2010-2011 year. Patris Maximus and I spent months trying to decide whether to budget out the expense for a formal educational assessment for Athena. We researched and discussed what might be gained from the information it might provide and whether it was worth the money. We finally decided we had a list of solid reasons to do it, the ability to carve the cash out the household budget and were in the right window with Athena’s age and social maturity. Athena had a ball with the process. It was completely stress free for her, which is exactly what I had hoped we would help make it for her. The bottom line of the assessment is that she tested even more statistically intelligent than I had thought she’d test and that she’s also dealing with dyslexia.

The first piece of information is nice to have simply because the piece of paper it’s printed on can open doors for her that she might like to cross through at some point in her academic career and because it gives me a bit more confidence in presenting further advanced material in her specific fields of interest. But no matter what, she’s still Athena. The same spunky, wonderful, young, amazing, kind-hearted, justice-obsessed, tiny, beautiful Athena. And not the number printed on the paper. Which Patris Maximus and I have decided is none of anyone else’s business until we give it to Athena to share if she chooses, once she’s much older. Luckily, we’re blessed with a circle of loved ones, friends and family alike, who love and support us and who could care less about test scores when it comes to how they care for our children.

The second piece of information is downright crucial and what made me feel very satisfied with having done the assessment in the first place. Athena’s language arts progress plateaued several months ago. She was beginning to struggle and the frustration level was rising. When she throttled back in April, we dropped formal language arts instruction completely and I sat back to ponder what was going on.

I keep a finger on the pulse of a wide swath of homeschooling styles, philosophies, trends and what not. I have friends, acquaintances and mentors who implement a variety of styles and materials. I even keep an eye and an ear out for best practices in classroom education (which, I’ve noticed, sadly often struggle to be implemented in a system that is ferociously resistant to change of any kind.) For the most part, I find this helpful in creating customized educations for three dynamic little people. But sometimes, it becomes overwhelming as several different voices argue their case in my head. The unschool-leaning voices said to just let it all go. Let it ride and eventually the reading, writing and spelling will just click into place for her with little to now effort. The structured voices wondered aloud if there was a possibility that there was an issue here for her. The eclectic voices suggested maybe it was the material and/or the presentation. I was actually grateful for the two months of downtime to sort through it all, followed by the assessment and the results.

She struggles for a reason and remediation will help. Athena and I have had several discussions about dyslexia at this point- what it is, how it applies to her, ways we can work with it. The first discussion led to her being visibly relieved. She’s been frustrated because she feels like it ought to be easy. Given how easily her comprehension of history, science, logic and mathematics come to her, she wasn’t understanding why reading and expressing herself on paper was so challenging. After the first one, subsequent discussions focused on satiating her appetite for more technical and scientific information about dyslexia. Not that I had any concerns about homeschooling as the best way to go for our children, but the official report from our enthusiastic diagnostician included the remark that home education is a fantastic way for Athena to go, considering how difficult it would be for us to get the acceleration/differentiation she would need on one hand combined with the remediation she requires on the other.

Meanwhile, I’ve revamped a few plans for the coming autumn in our little corner of the homeschooling world. I was wavering on investing in All About Spelling, but no longer. At this point, I feel the multi-sensory Orton-Gillingham based program is actually one on the most affordable (and more importantly, effective) avenues for us to approach remediation. I’m also grudgingly abandoning my Mead, grocery store purchased, handwriting resources for a stab at the famed and highly lauded Handwriting Without Tears program. Based on feedback from our diagnostician, we’re fearlessly (okay, almost fearlessly) increasing the grade level content of her history and science study, with lots and lots of audio resources/read alouds, video resources, dictated written work and hands-on projects and experiments, as well as, real world based opportunities through area museums, historic sites and other relevant avenues. And I’ll be putting a larger emphasis on formal language arts. Not in a “just pile on more work” way, but in a “let’s take this step by step with the right resources” way. The first order for new materials has been placed and the second will go out in a few weeks. This will hopefully give me enough time to review it all before we start working it in to our daily round in a few months.

As far as Artemis and Apollo are concerned, I’m getting to reap the rewards of being a curriculum junkie at long last. I started them on Saxon Math K a few weeks ago, which I snatched up at a used curriculum sale about three years ago. They are gobbling that up and as much as I might no particularly care for the program at this point, they think it’s riotous good fun, so who am I to argue? They’re also totally enjoying dinking around with both Hooked on Phonics and a borrowed copy of Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. Beyond that, they occasionally eavesdrop on whatever Athena and I are discussing for history and science and that’s about their school program for now. They’re satisfied, entertained and learning a few things, by gosh. So that’s all going along swimmingly.

In addition to a fervent return to studious tendencies, summertime for us still includes barbecues, trips to the as-yet, un-oiled Texas coast, sidewalk chalk, bubbles, sleepovers and other fun. Come to think of it though, so does every other season for us weirdo homeschoolers.

March? Really!? Yikes!!

h1 June 27th, 2010

Did life get away from me or what??

We’ve been up to plenty, just haven’t been blogging. But I’m looking to get back in the bloggy swing again, so if you haven’t all abandoned this as yet another lost blog cause, hang in there just a touch longer and I’ll get the DDE fired up and running again.

The spring and summer have been hopping here. Plus we’ve got new curricula in store for us this autumn, some changes in approach and new data to assimilate, so I promise to keep it interesting.

Secular Thursday: Notable Quotables

h1 March 26th, 2010

In keeping with my theme of inspiration from last week and in consideration of a very busy week and weekend, Secular Thursday this week at the DDE will be a collection of ten of my favorite education related quotes.  Enjoy!

Don’t teach all our children exactly the same thing. If you teach them everything all the same, they will learn that they don’t need one another, and the world will split apart. ~Bruce Miller~

The object of education is to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives. ~Robert Maynard Hutchins~

Education would be much more effective if its purpose was to ensure that by the time they leave school every boy and girl should know how much they do not know, and be imbued with a lifelong desire to know it. ~William Haley~

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education. ~Mark Twain~

Much education today is monumentally ineffective. All too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants. ~John W. Gardner~

How is it that little children are so intelligent and men so stupid? It must be education that does it. ~Alexandre Dumas~

I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think. ~Socrates~

The supreme end of education is expert discernment in all things–the power to tell the good from the bad, the genuine from the counterfeit, and to prefer the good and the genuine to the bad and the counterfeit. ~Thomas Jefferson~

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. ~Nelson Mandela~

That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn. ~from The Once and Future King by T.H. White~

Secular Thursday: Inspire Thyself

h1 March 19th, 2010

There are weeks where I survey my various sources of home education support and information and observe common themes threading through them or ideas that are technically different but become woven together in the warp and weft of my always spinning mind. I found myself craving an uplifting Secular Thursday topic this week. In a quiet space within, the selvage rippled and the tapestry of thought shimmered, coming brilliantly into focus. At last! Inspiration!

Inspiration. Quite a word. To inspire, to be inspired, to take or observe an inspired action, or to find something inspiring is all well and good, but what does it actually mean? Well, there’s nothing like a classic dip into the dictionary to jump start a little epistemological pick-apart of a concept. After dictionary diving, guess what I came up with? You guessed it! Even more inspiration. Outstanding material that brought forth a stirring of my intellect and emotions that left me animated and enlivened; that spurred me on.

So what exactly does this have to do with home education and more specifically, secular home education? Well, since it’s Secular Thursday, I’ll do my best to weave it all together for you. Inspiration is absolutely vital to education. In any form. This is where perhaps secular homeschoolers could take a page from the religiously inspired (there’s that word again) homeschoolers. Many of them never lack for inspiration and neither should sizable number that makes up the rest of us. While they may consistently seek inspiration in specific sources, inspiration for the secular home educating parent also abounds in this new age of homeschooling. As educators, we should seek wisdom and knowledge that stirs our intellect and emotions. This can come from different approaches, different philosophies, and even different formats. A common thread that runs through many homeschooling parents, secular or religious, is a desire to raise children who love learning and who see learning as a life-long process. How best can we achieve these lofty goals?

Here’s where more structured home educators could look towards the unschooling community for an example to draw from. Within that particular educational philosophy, modeling becomes extremely important and from that example one begins to see why keeping oneself inspired is vital to maintain a dynamic approach to education in any form. Modeling life long learning with passion and letting that honest passion infuse your work with your children becomes a powerful tool of education. Something (here it comes again) inspirational comes from undertaking this sort of self education, though. The method becomes much more than a means to an end, but a process that reminds the educator of what it is to be the learner, kindles or rekindles passions in a variety of disciplines and fosters deep connections between them as the entire family begins to weave the threads of education into a stunning and superbly strong creation.

The vital nature of inspiration via self education has been an in-depth topic of discussion on Julie Brennan’s Living Math Forum this week. Julie, herself, is one of my forms of educational inspiration. Not only do my children and I enjoy putting Living Math into play under our own roof, but also I draw thoughtful meditation from many of this veteran mom’s non-math specific musings. This week, Julie shared with the over three thousand members of that Forum the evolution of her approach to home education when she shared the following:

In the beginning I thought our family’s goal was to educate a kid on how to read, write and do arithmetic, learn history and science, master subjects. But that’s changed over the years. If our goal all along was to raise a kid who thinks for himself, who has a broad based education that he owns for himself to be able to process what the world sends his way through his developed filters, to have the tools he needs to make decisions in his life, and to have a healthy love of learning survive and thrive after graduating from high school, then our goals have been achieved. Life is the real test.

Life is the real test. After reading those words it occurred to me– who’s the one taking that test right now? Oh wait?! That would be me! Am I passing? Has my healthy love of learning survived and thrived? Do I model that to our children as passionately as I would like to think I do? Julie also reminded me that the people we reveal ourselves to be has far more influence on our children than any specific action we may take while educating them when she suggested:

if you have a desire for your child to be educated, you need to be educated yourself. On the flip side, if we are educated, learning all the time, we can relax that even with all the mistakes we might make, our kids will turn out all right, because of who we are.

How best can we accomplish this self education, this modeling of inspired life-long learning? Julie even had some thoughts to share on this as well. She shared three tenants she’s put into practice for herself that have proved rewarding in her own efforts. First, she suggests learning to study original sources. It occurred to me after reading some specific examples of how she’s undertaken that task, that most of us are probably products of a textbook based education for the most part. While I was encouraged to read primary source material in a few college classes, much of my educational experience and absolutely most of my pre-college education was spent gathering information through the filter of predigested sources. Yet, here I am practicing an educational philosophy that largely shuns the standard textbook, and with good reason especially as we seem to live in the age of spin. The primacy of the primary source to the inspired education of our children and ourselves is a concept well worth internalizing. Next, Julie speaks highly of the rewards of developing mentor relationships for yourself. A similar thread popped up on a homeschooing discussion board about who parents consider their homeschooling mentors. Answers ranged from home education pioneers like John Holt or Charlotte Mason, to characters like Jane Eyre and Caroline “Ma” Ingalls, to neighbors in a homeschooler’s community; often fellow homeschooling parents. Luckily, I think finding and establishing mentor relationships is fairly easily done in the modern homeschooling era. Listservs, discussion boards, and blog rings make it easy to reach out into the global home educating community to take advantage of the experience of those with different approaches or anywhere from a few to a great deal more years on this epic adventure. Colleges and their educators are much less freaked out by the home educating parent or child than they use to be and are often refreshed by coming into contact with inspired, passionate learners. Online education creates even more access points to develop these mentor relationships. As one grows in confidence, self-education and maturity, the cycle continues and the opportunity to mentor others yourself unfolds. Julie’s last suggestion was to seek out classes for yourself, as well as your children. I can see many advantages to this concept. Diving into a subject you’re interested in learning more about as an adult is only one of them. Seeking out experiences like that helps us experience the role of the learner again and see education from our children’s perspectives. It also exposes us to different styles of teaching, different approaches to education that may one day prove to be useful tools in our own homes. To her list, I would add one more. In addition to seeking our primary source material, I would also encourage anyone engaging in self education to seek to approach a topic from as interdisciplinary an approach as possible. No discipline ever arose in a vacuum. No discipline continues to evolve without being influenced far and wide by the parallel developments occurring in other fields of study. One of my biggest objections to how institutional models go about education is that each subject is studied in isolation without the opportunity to analyze the deep connections between them that create the rich tapestry of knowledge available to us for study.

I’ll leave you this fine Secular Thursday with a final thought from Julie Brennan that seems to me to highlight not only what inspirational opportunities are available to homeschoolers as we proceed on the cutting edge of education, but also possibly the crux of a vital piece of what is missing in the traditional institutional classroom:

I wanted to somehow express how important OUR education as homeschooling parents is in modeling and inspiring our kids to learn… If we are bored or uninspired, we certainly can’t be very inspiring to our kids. Sometimes our children’s enthusiasm in learning something new can carry us through learning times, but what about when they don’t have enthusiasm or interest in learning? Or when stepping up to another level requires more hard work than before? Inspiration is what makes hard work fun! It’s what I’m always looking for in our homeschooling because it provides motivation and momentum that makes learning more efficient, effective and productive.

Now go forth and inspire thyself!

Secular Thursday (A Tad Late): Science Daybooks & Sciencesaurus

h1 March 13th, 2010

It’s Secular Thursday!

(Okay. So it’s actually Saturday as I’m sure you are aware, but I’m still getting in this Secular Thursday rhythm, so bear with me here. I’m also trying to work up some sort of witty Secular Thursday intro to use regularly, but the coughing spasms are interfering with my creativity for the moment.)

Anyway, those who pop by here regularly or are stuck with our company out and about in the big, bad real world will recall that Athena has expressed interest in adding physics to the agenda for next school year. This means Crunchy Mama has been back on the secular science hunt. And contrary to the Associated Press’ recent lame assertion, I feel that there is a fair amount of material to check out. This year, it is looking like by the time we wrap things up, we will have torn through solidly two and maybe three chemistry spines. So when I say I’m looking for physics material, I mean I need several different options. We use just oodles of supplementary materials, living books, documentaries, web resources and such, but Athena and I both like to use curricula as a tool to sort of outline our study and keep us on track during the year.

I already have one or two curricular options on hand, but I was still in the market for another as crazy as that sounds. Athena has really enjoyed Mr. Q’s Classic Science, which has been one of our primary chemistry spines this year. So I fully intend to use his physics edition next year as one resource; possibly in a group setting. I’m also looking over the Thames & Kosmos kits and since Athena also wants to continue further with chemistry, maybe Ellen J. McHenry’s Carbon Chemistry which I already have on hand. But I wanted one more spine to have available and utilize depending on how the year unfolds. I refuse to use Real Science 4 Kids for a few different reasons (hence no linky love for them) so I was mostly considering the other main options I knew about for the level she needs right now: REAL Science Odyssey vs. Prentice Hall’s Science Explorer vs. the fairly new, homeschool mom written Science Logic. Unfortunately, REAL Science Odyssey and Science Logic do not yet contain any physics specific material and probably wont for some time if ever. I’m still following Makita’s posts on her Science Logic blog though to see how her program develops. If I run out of chemistry materials to keep Athena happy any time soon, I might try out Cool Chemistry since it’s relatively inexpensive and the sample pages look intriguing. Science Explorer has gotten great reviews from those I know who use it, but I really intend to wait and hang onto that as a possibility for a few years from now. There’s nothing like curricular discontent to make a homeschooling mom go a’hunting. And a’hunting I did go. I found what I was looking for on the shelves of a local homeschool center and store that regularly seeks out secular materials from a variety of publishers that homeschoolers sometimes overlook. I love that, by the way.

The program is from Great Source. It’s available directly from the publisher and through Rainbow Resource Center and I’m sure other places, but since I already have mine in hand, I didn’t bother tracking that information down. The first part of the program is the Sciencesaurus Handbook. It is the book that contains the bulk of the reading material. I have the Grade 6-8 book (grade level assigned by the publisher,) but there are two other volumes available for Grades 2-3 and 4-5. It’s colorful without being distractingly so and has hefty amount of high quality science material in it on the various topics grouped roughly by Life, Earth and Physical Science. Then there are the Science Daybooks that come with it. There are no Daybooks at the Grade 2-3 level, only one Daybook at the Grade 4-5 level, but three at the Grade 6-8 level. The Grade 6-8 level books are broken down by Life, Earth and Physical Science Daybooks. In the Daybooks, the student can read supplementary material on a topic often tied into “real world” issues or history topics, references the right sections of the Sciencesaurus book for further information, log onto the web and use a keyword and access code from the book for more information on the topic and answer comprehension and critical thinking questions related to the material. The Teacher Guides for the Daybooks include information for further discussion and scripted extension activities, enrichment ideas and easy hands-on experiments. Each Daybook at the Grade 6-8 level has about sixty lessons in it give or take, so I can see that you could use the one Sciencesaurus book and the three Daybooks for about three years worth of science easily.

The way I foresee us using this is starting in the Daybook with the initial short readings there. Then we can follow the referenced pages in Sciencesaurus and the SciLinks (Athena loves internet linked stuff.) After that we can return to the Daybook to do the critical thinking exercises and cap the lesson off with the enrichment activity/experiment from the Teacher Guide. Given the asynchronicity between Athena’s reading and writing abilities and her science comprehension level, I anticipate a fair amount of reading aloud on my part (what else is new?) and lots more discussion than independent reading and writing. But I think that might work to my advantage as using the material that way may allow me to purchase only one of each of the Daybooks, yet revisit them with more than one child over our family’s entire homeschooling career. And what homeschooler doesn’t like stretching his or her curriculum dollar? As I mentioned before, I do like how it ties science concepts into “real life.” Force and motion? Let’s talk rollercoasters and segways then. Magnetism? How about those maglev trains, eh? And it ties into history well. For example, a lesson on simple machines visits Leonardo DaVinci’s legacy and one on electricity naturally addresses the work of Thomas Edison.

I purchased the Sciencesaurus book, the Physical Science Daybook and the Physical Science Teacher Guide for use next year, so after we’ve taken it out for a spin, I’ll be happy to share how it’s gone. If Athena takes to it, then I’ll invest in the Earth and Life Science Daybooks as well.

I’m always all ears for any other secular science spines other homeschoolers have really dug into and enjoyed, so please feel free to let me know if you’ve got a suggestion for me to take a look at. Go on and enable a curricula junkie. You know you wanna!

Also, as a quick science aside– in response to the AP article, there is a new Facebook group for homeschoolers who teach and discuss the accurate science of evolution in their homes. If you’re the Facebook type, click here to check it out and consider joining the fun. It’s worth the click just for the link to the creator, Cara’s, blog post with several useful evolution teaching resources.

I’m Late, I’m Late, I’m Late

h1 March 12th, 2010

So I’m going to whip up an update post here for those of you who wait for and enjoy these. (I’ve convinced myself there are bajillions of you, but mostly know this is to keep family updated on our adventures.) Why the super quick update?

Well- every member of the Maximus household has the sniffles and the juciy spring cough that’s going around not helped by the quickly rising tree pollen. So we haven’t actually been up to much except keeping tissue manufacturers in business the past week or so.

Plus- the Texas State Board of Education is losing the last of the rare marbles it had left and my congested head is obsessed with the issue. More to come at the Muddlehood hopefully later today or tomorrow. Also, I know owe the blogosphere and Smrt Mama a Secular Thursday post, as well. I’m going to try to get that done today as well. I’ve got a secular science curriculum/resource recommendation to share, so I want to do that one justice.

Now, back to the matter at hand and our update. Let’s see. We enjoyed another stellar History Club get together complete with a discussion about the Ancient/Medieval Chinese and their invention of wood block printing followed by the opportunity for the kids to create linoleum block prints. They used the proper tool for the job and carved their blocks with lino cutters. Then they printed with black ink and red ink. The prints from the whole History Club, ages 3 to 15 were absolutely breathtaking. Artemis and Apollo’s blocks were really reminiscent of a bamboo forest. Apollo’s growing more and more self confident as an artist, I think. He printed in both colors with overlapping prints on the same paper and a mix of both black and red very confidently and deliberately. The result is gorgeous. Athena even carved print backwards. It was a fantastic project all the way around! We’ve spent large chunks of time with the Byzantines and then the Medieval Islamic Empire, so while we are normally running ahead of History Club, we’re now dead even. In light of that, it will hopefully be onto the Franks, Clovis and Karl (you probably know him by a different name) next week if we’re all less phlegmy.

We also got together with our co-op to begin our venture into physics. At home, Athena and I have been discussing some very general physics concepts and she’s expressed interest in getting deeper next year but doesn’t want to let go of chemistry either so I’m looking to expand her chemistry work and also parallel some physics study too. Last night she watched part of a History channel documentary about Einstein, so I’d say her curiosity is primed for more physics study. Having our theme of the month at co-op fit into these discussions is a great homeschooling synchronicity. We had a sort of physics themed play day with eight stations to explore a few basic physics concepts in a low key hands on sort of way. The kids made paper airplanes, built marshmallow and toothpick structures, toyed with magnets, crafted pinwheels, assembled homemade lava lamps, created funky marble runs, raced various vehicles down assorted ramps and engineered shell protecting egg drop containers. And generally had a smashing good time! I’m looking forward to taking the entire Triad of Chaos to Texas A&M’s Physics Festival at the end of the month.

Outside of that we read lots together, cooked together, watched a lot of television while laying on various pieces of furniture or the floor and coughing. Hopefully, we’re all on the mend since we have a Girl Scout camping trip and other assorted fun on the calendar for next week.