Busy Body

That could mean so many things!  The older neighbor lady with the pointy nose who peeks over your backyard fence, sporting her curlers and robe……… or a body that is constantly in motion, one that never sits down!  Well, to clarify, I’m writing about a tool that you may find useful, perhaps even indispensable as you prepare for next year’s homeschooling adventure (which will probably get rolling in August or September, by the way…..which isn’t that far off).

For the last three years I have toted these around and have relied heavily upon them to keep me walking in a straight line, more or less.  They have been scribbled in to the point that some weeks at a mere glance looked completely nuts, so much so that they made me pause and wonder what I was doing with my life!  Funny how a bird’s-eye view can do that for you – those birds are on to something, I tell you.  I’m referring to the Busy Body Family Organizer/Family Calendar:

This is the one I just ordered because I liked this cover option best.  Here’s what these books look like on the inside:

I can tailor this perfectly to all things US.  Usually the categories go something like this:  Max, Me, Family, Animals, House, but they can be changed to suit any mood.  Some weeks can even say ‘Me, Me, Me, Me and Me’!  No, just teasing.  I love the lined sheet on the left side and constantly fill that with lists and other oddities that tumble forth when I want to remind myself to take care of some task of some sort.  This book has saved me more than a few times!  I save them and throw them into a plastic storage container in case someday I want to look back at all of those crazy, busy body days!  Which I will probably do someday.

Funny, too, how when the new one arrives I write ever-so-neatly in it.  After a month or so I’m scribbling madly in it just to get the words down.  Soon it becomes dog-eared, bent and dirty.  Some weeks go by without so much as a mark because it’s either way too quiet or I’ve given up and thrown in the towel and am lying on the floor somewhere, curled up in a fetal position because I can’t keep up.  At any rate, these calendars make life a bit easier to manage!

You can also grab a wall calendar, or they have a nifty pad that would lay on the top of a desk.

I find this system incredibly helpful, especially when homeschooling.   Check out their website!  These, of course, are also available on Amazon.

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Math Curriculum for Wigged out Moms

Math is a dark subject lurking in our home.  It follows Max around and pokes him just to annoy him and then skitters away, cackling.  Numbers are not his friends.  Try as we have, the multiplication facts remain elusive, shrouded in mystery and murkiness.  I have tried not to push or cajole, but I’m not perfect and have felt some silly anxiety about him not grasping these foundational numbers.  Stupid, really – not him – ME.  I’ve referred to this angst in previous posts and I’m sure it is rather common among newer homeschooling parents.

This past homeschooling year we read a lot ABOUT math, but didn’t DO much math.  We dallied with Key Curriculum Press’s booklets on fractions.  We let Penrose the cat entertain us with math speak and number patterns, we used some flash cards, we jumped on the trampoline and traded math facts, we played math catch.  We played math games.  I quizzed him in the car – hard to be casual about that, really……”say, Max, I was just thinking about those Navy Seals you wanted to learn about.  What’s 5 x 9?”  Like he didn’t see what I was up to.  The Great Number Rumble was a fun read.  Freerice.com was novel in that you could donate grains of rice to feed hungry people all over the world while practicing math facts.   Brown Paper School books held his attention for just a short time – those on math, anyway.  Near the end of the year I turned math over to my husband because I was far too wigged out about it.  He was much more casual about math and basically gave the reigns right back to Max, which I suppose is just fine.  Max will do with math what he needs to do and for crying out loud (note to self, here), he’s in the 4th grade.

SO – about to change tactics again.  If anything, I reserve the right to change my mind :).  Instead of all of this dancing around business, I am choosing to go with a more organized approach, one that can be doled out in small daily doses – like a curriculum – brilliant!  Up until this weekend I was planning to utilize the Math U See program starting next year, but met a wonderful homeschooling mom over the weekend who told me about another program, which of course I had to check into!   I did, I read reviews, I watched the videos, I scanned homeschooling forums, and I ordered the curriculum today.  Thank you, Jeannie, for the heads-up!

It’s called Teaching Textbooks (TT). Already I’m letting out a sigh of relief.  Is it windy where you are located?  That’s probably me releasing all of this math angst over here, affecting the global wind patterns.

I did my research with Max in mind.  He detests worksheets.  He does not enjoy the pressure from me when it comes to math, poor guy.  He likes humor.  He LOVES the computer.  He likes comics and clever.  I think he’ll like TT.

If you aren’t familiar with TT, take a look at their website (of course!)  You get a series of CD’s that contain daily lessons, each carefully and gently taught by a gentleman with a very nice voice.  You also get a student workbook wherein your child can practice problems.  If your child doesn’t understand something, he/she can refer back to the CD’s for an explanation of each problem, or can look at a written summary in the workbook about a lesson.  The lessons aren’t dry – the author uses humor and colorful drawings/word problems sprinkled throughout to hold interest.  It’s very much like having a kind tutor sitting at the table with you as you do your work and that tutor takes you through everything step-by-step.

Another great feature that is a boon to homeschooling parents everywhere is that as the child completes each lesson, the program does the grading and keeps track of progress.  I am attracted to this because I think Max is ready for more independent learning next year and I am ready for him to be a more independent learner, too.

I selected Math 4.  Max took the placement test that is offered on the website and this is the level he needs to start at since we didn’t follow a set order of math concepts this year.   He’s picked up a surprising amount of information, though, which I found when he took the placement test.  All of that worrying for nothing!

The other curriculum I took a look at is called Life of Fred (LOF) and it sounds genius!  This one is going on the back burner because the author made it clear that kids should have a solid hold on math facts prior to starting this program as it moves quickly right into pre-algebra.  It takes one all the way through calculus and linear algebra.   Maybe we’ll consider starting this one during middle school.  It was written by Stanley Schmidt, Ph.D. who is, of course, a retired math teacher.  When he taught he began messing around with a cartoon character he named Fred; Fred became a part of his lectures and subsequently Fred’s life story grew.  Dr. Schmidt eventually wrote Fred’s silly and quirky story down and in the process discovered a marvelous way to teach math.  Fred, as it turns out,  is a six-year-old math genius who is a math teacher at KITTENS University, and he has a pet llama he’s named Lambda.  Please refer to Cathy Duffy’s review of LOF – her review is thorough and more than sells the curriculum.  I’m drawn to Life of Fred for its humor and the fact that it strives to make math applicable to life.

The ending of the story, then, is that I am much less wigged out.  Thank goodness for all who know me!  That kind of thing has a ripple effect, you know.  Now watch – he’ll hate Teaching Textbooks!  I doubt it, though.  I’m genuinely excited about next year and the continuation of our homeschool adventure.  I am looking forward to encouraging him to be a bit more independent in his work.

Now it’s time to begin to apply the brakes in anticipation of that marvelous thing they call summer.  Yipee!

Giving

If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap.

If you want happiness for a day, go fishing.

If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.

~ Chinese proverb

Children learn a lot from the adults closest to them.  They watch, emulate, absorb ideals and values.  We carry so much responsibility when bringing a child into the world!  Sometimes I ponder on this and allow the seriousness of parenting to settle around me – we have so much to teach!  Manners, be kind to others, be kind to animals, bring your dishes to the sink and rinse them, apply your gifts, find your passions, take care of the world, put your shoes on before you go outside.  It is up to us to raise strong young men and women who can someday help to make the world a better place.  Our world needs all the help it can get some days!  Most days.  Sigh.  Our first step could be teaching how to spell ‘altruism’?

Here are a few guides to help us help our children learn how to help others:

Takes the child through some thoughtful exercises to get him thinking.

Gotta’ love the underdog with the heart of a hero.  Dex is special!  I am fond of this book.

Just a few ideas.  There are many books that specialize in this topic.

Hindsight is 20/60, Still a Little Blurry

It’s still a little blurry, because I’m so close to it, this year of homeschooling……but I think I have enough perspective to reflect on what has transpired.  Have you reached that point in your life yet when you have to hold objects away from your face just to see them?  Oy.  The fourth decade has its novelties, doesn’t it?  Brace yourself if you are not there yet -it’s coming!

The purpose of this post is to reflect on the last year of our homeschooling experience with a 10-year-old in the 4th grade and to decide what needs tweaking for next year. These are the questions running through my mind right now:

1.  Was it a successful year?  YES.

2.  Was it a stressful year?  Yes, but I can thank myself for that.

3.  Did I reach burn out?  Yes (ouch).

4.  Did Max thrive?  YES.

5.  Did our homeschooling lifestyle have a positive effect on our family?  A resounding yes!

6.  Are our relationships with one another better because of homeschooling?  Most certainly.

7.  Are we sticking with homeschooling next year and the years after that?  YES.

8.  Am I going to do things differently next year for 5th grade?  Yes, oh yes!

This year can be summed up as an experiment, an ‘in-house’ rigorously tested trial of eclectic eccentricity, laughter, wild historical rides, and very little predictability.  We were all over the place in our studies, trying this and that, now and then hitting upon a rhythm.  Most of the time we bumped along happily and Max grew in knowledge, experiences and maturity level.

Occasionally I tripped, lost my balance and didn’t know what to do next.  Like many newer homeschooling parents, I did pay homage to the WORRY monster and let him toy with me occasionally.  Were we covering ‘good’ material, whatever good means in this context?  Was I being inclusive in my choice for resources, again, whatever that means?  Was I helping or hindering him?  Was I missing important pieces to the giant puzzle of education?  More importantly, what was my definition of a great education (I’ve thought about this a lot)?  Was I putting too much pressure on him?  Was he keeping up with his peers, even though the very thought of just thinking that felt like rubbish, but I admit, I did pay a teensy bit of attention to that niggling question.  All of this was almost a constant low-grade buzz in the back of my head as we traveled through the year, but I plugged on and was gamely determined to find that happy middle ground where Max was growing and learning.  Overall I think we did great and we all have emerged with lessons learned and valuable information for the future as to how to continue to do this wonderful thing called homeschooling.

Okay, to explain myself,  I don’t take on something new lightly.  I attack that something with all of the vim and vigor I can muster (it’s my good German upbringing, I guess.)  I go full-bore for as long as I can hold it together, and then eventually collapse in a heap of dust, face down, after exhaustion has grabbed me by the shirt collar and yanked me roughly to the ground.  Skinned knees, the works.  This technique has always been my modus operandi, and it’s probably not going to change anytime soon, being that I’m in my fourth decade and all.  I plan like a madwoman, make lists, start files, ask questions, search and search for resources, turn things over in my mind and then subject everyone around me to the grand unleashing of the ‘GREAT ENDEAVOR’.  I’m currently immersed in a garden project and am clearly following this pattern which is so natural to me.  It will be a wonder if I manage to stay on top of it and the carrots survive.  I start out so strong and am pretty much a marvel (stated humbly, of course).

According to the laws of nature, this type of concentrated energy simply can’t be sustained; therefore I end up suffering for burning so much energy in such a short period of time.  I’m like an extremely inefficient furnace (hah – a forty-year old model!)  Classic maneuvers, very much me.  Absolutely, homeschooling has been subjected to this crazy way of operating, but I have learned much and have developed a slightly healthier perspective because I continually remind myself that this is not about me.  It is about Max.  I have had to learn how to reign in my raging inner beast to accommodate his needs, and believe me, that was by far my most challenging task of the year.  Max’s was math :).  I was wrestling with my inner self and he was wigging out over worksheets.  Plus, I wrote a post about the concept of ‘slow parenting‘ and that notion has provided much for me to chew on.  Max is certainly not a project.

Eclectic is the word that best describes our homeschool over the last school year.  If you’ve read any of my blog posts, you may note that I cast a broad net to find resources that are unusual, fun, clever and quirky.  That has been the whole purpose of this blog – to share these resources and to encourage families to inject some laughter into learning.  If you haven’t looked at some past posts, go ahead and browse a little.  You might find some treasures with which to line your bookshelves!  We hit upon so many terrific materials and enjoyed them immensely, both of us, and there are many still left for us to dig into.  I’m glad I put the time and energy into finding these gems because we can always pull the appropriate piece and fit it in to what Max is doing.  I did think it interesting that on several occasions we stumbled upon the perfect accompaniment to what we were studying, at just the right time, helping the information to gel quite nicely.  Some sort of cool homeschooling karma?

We primarily used a unit study approach with a dash of unschooling and a smidge of structured curriculum.  Whatever felt right, I went with.  The unit study way of homeschooling is fabulous, albeit a huge amount of front work for the homeschooling parent.  For this reason we have been homeschooling six weeks on, one week off throughout the year.  These mini breaks gave me a clear space in which to prepare the next unit study.  I vaguely had subjects in mind for the unit studies, but did ask Max for his input on what he wanted to learn about.  Once we settled on a topic, I hit the ground running and brought in tractor loads of information to choose from, which was total overkill.  I learned to tone it down as we went…….  We did units on Ancient Greece, Prehistoric Man, Ancient Egypt, Whales and Dolphins (Cetacea), a short unit on Anne Frank and the Holocaust, the beginnings of a unit on Outer Space (this is where the burnout started rearing its ugly, hairy head), a short unit on honey bees, and now are finishing up with a unit on the human body.  Incidentally, all of the materials utilized in these units are detailed in this blog – click on ‘unit studies’ to find them.  I started assembling the Outer Space unit, but just couldn’t muster the willpower to make it complete, so we tackled an introduction so-to-speak.  Stephen Hawking to the rescue, here.  He and his daughter wrote some insanely terrific books about the solar system that whet our appetites for more space adventure.  I was very happy that we got those read – great adventure stories perfect for kids.

Grammar was a bit more structured.  Max did daily worksheets out of the Daily Grams curriculum and I used the Internet to supplement and clarify.  Short and sweet.  We are almost to the end of the workbook and it has been an adequate tool.  I would have liked for him to have had more instruction, so probably should have purchased the teacher’s manual.  I signed him up for an online live grammar webclass in May for a week to pull it all together.  Max likes grammar and has a knack for it.

Science was kind of all over the place.  We got much covered within our unit studies and ventured outside those boundaries to whatever we thought was interesting.  We goofed around with various experiments and setups.  We enjoyed several physics classes with Science Jim online.  Brown Paper School books made us think and laugh.  Jay Hosler tickled our funny bone as well with his graphic novels about honey bees and human eyes.  Many documentaries were watched via Netflix.  We played the Totally Gross game, enjoyed software like Clue Finders and went to see Slim GoodbodyStephen Hawking wowed us with the wonders of outer space.  The current unit on the human body is ripe with science!  I considered signing up for a science co-op, but wanted to curtail the amount of running around we did each week.

Max learned some geography by visiting the huge world map and U.S. map taped up in the hallway.  We did some blackline maps, not a favorite, while studying Ancient Greece and Egypt.  We played The Amazing Mammoth Hunt to learn country locations and names.  Brown Paper School has a great book called The Book of Where that is foundational.   We dug into it, but did not finish it.  We also used www.freerice.com to quiz ourselves on the name of countries and locations and Carmen Sandiego lended a hand, too.

Literature – this was a strong element during the year.  I am a fan of reading aloud to your child, well into his teens if he’ll stand for it.  Max and I read oodles of books together, most of them novel length.  From August until now I think we have logged about 36 books.  Books like Moby Dick, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Mysterious Benedict Society, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Hatchet, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, George’s Secret Key to the Universe, The BFG, The Curse of the Titans, etc.  I started a list of interesting books a long time ago, so there is plenty to choose from depending on our mood.

Writing.  Sore spot!  Max is a reluctant writer.  I tried all kinds of tricks from creating zany book report sheets to starting silly stories and asking him to add to them to starting a blog for him to write in (it’s about his hamster), to dictating his stories.  He sputtered with all of this.  I decided to give him space and time to grow into this side of himself.  The curriculum I have chosen for next year incorporates more writing.  Hopefully he’ll be more open to it, but it’s fine if he’s not.  He has plenty of time to discover that inner expressive part of himself.  Maybe he’s just not a writer.

Art.  We fiddled with painting, an art treasury book of projects, cultural art as part of the unit studies, a little sewing and whatever else he wanted to create with his hands.  I did not pursue a structured art program.  Max likes to draw, so we got him a drafting table where he can work.  I purchased a few drawing technique books for him to peruse at his leisure.

Music.  Fun!  Max started drum lessons in the fall and has taken off with it.  His ability to hear a rhythm and memorize it is kind of scary.  He bangs away on his drum set as he sees fit.  I don’t put any practice pressure on him.  Drumming for him is an outlet and he is drawn to his drums whenever he feels the need.  I grew up playing the violin and was made to practice and I disliked that.

MATH.  Math was the most tricky, treacherous territory to maneuver through the entire year.  I spouted out several times in this blog about the joys of a living math approach, one where you create a strong math foundation by reading all kinds of books about math and play games about math concepts.  Penrose taught us math through the eyes of a cat, The Great Number Rumble was a fab read about how math is everywhere and we can’t live without it.  The I Hate Mathematics and Math for Smarty Pants books by Brown Paper School were entertaining.  We used http://www.freerice.com to practice addition and multiplication facts and used Key Curriculum Press products to learn about fractions.  Family Math was pulled out occasionally, too.  Alas, this is where the WORRY MONSTER tackled me and I couldn’t get away, no matter how hard I bit him.  I am in the process of purchasing a structured curriculum called Math U See for Max for next year – it’s one he used during his charter school days.  Our current state of affairs is just too piecemeal for me and my reasoning is this – if for some reason Max has to go back to ‘regular’ school, he is going to be mighty embarrassed to have to do remedial studies in third grade math, because that’s pretty much where he is sitting right now.  Maybe even carrying more weight is my growing belief that math facts serve a person well if they are learned well – by that I mean our brains store information after a certain amount of repetition.  This is a different kind of math foundation, but one that is equally important as a conceptual foundation (as in the living math approach).  If the basic math facts are readily accessible inside a child’s brain……..well, that just makes learning the rest of math less stressful down the road.  Our brains are so complex, we don’t even understand exactly how things happen up in that gray matter; but scientists who study how information is sorted and stored in the brain do know a few tricks for encouraging long-term retention.  Much like we need to exercise our muscles to keep them in working order, we need to exercise our brains in different ways, too.  Some contend a child can use a calculator when needed for math facts – I think this does the child a great disservice down the road just for the sake of laying down effective brain pathways.  There, I said it.  I am buying a math curriculum!!  I’m not abandoning the premise of living math because I still like it and admire it very much.  We will combine that approach with a structured, orderly curriculum.  I am certainly not structured and orderly and I think Max needs that balance in his life.  So it is to Math U See that I am turning.  I am SO relieved about this, I can’t even put it into words.

History.  Huge part of our unit studies.  We used some of Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World.  We giggled over Larry Gonick’s Cartoon History of the Universe.  The units on Ancient Greece and Ancient Egypt were fascinating and probably our most thorough studies.  Anne Frank and the Holocaust definitely turned Max’s head.  I still cannot answer his question of ‘why’ and will never be able to.

PE.  Karate lessons twice a week and plenty of sword play while I read aloud, bike riding, walks and hikes with dogs and wrestling/karate with Dad.

These are the things I absolutely love and cherish about homeschooling:

1.  I have had the pleasure of being re-introduced to my child

2.  I get to see him have his light bulb moments when he makes a connection

3.  I get to laugh with him often

4.  I get to play catch with him in the middle of the day

5.  We get to stay in our jams until noon or later

6.  We avoid that horrible morning rush

7.  We wake up rested and refreshed, not harried and stressed

8.  We get to tell Dad about what we did when he gets home

9.  I can share some of my passions with Max and he can witness me enjoying my hobbies

10.  I can feed him good food throughout the day

11.  We can take breaks whenever we need to.

12.  We can switch gears and tailor our materials as needed

13.  We can take whatever we are learning and travel with it to different locations.

14.  We take field trips, enjoy the zoo, and other city sites when they are not crowded.  Grocery shopping is less stressful, too.

15.  He has many close friends in the neighborhood and from his old school who he sees frequently

16.  I can drag him to Lowe’s with me when I need some wood or a welder.

17.  We can hang out with our animals all day long and enjoy them.  He can read with a cat on his lap or his pet rat on his shoulder.

18.  We can take a nap if needed.

19.  We can navigate the mom-son relationship and learn to communicate well and this extends nicely to his relationship with his dad, and to everyone else for that matter.

20.  He doesn’t cry over homework anymore (that broke my heart, honestly.  They weren’t manipulative tears but tears of real stress and angst).

21.  He gets to MOVE his body all around the room when we are working.  He’s an active 10-year-old who needs an outlet to develop his  gross motor skills!

22.  He does not get sick nearly as much as he did while in school.

23.  He seems content and happy.  Much of the stress in his life has dissolved.  He is fun to be around.

24.  We no longer have to run all over the place, back and forth to school, to afterschool activities…..it’s blessedly CALM around here!  And we’re going down to having just one car.  Good for the earth, good for the pocketbook.

Oh, I could go on and on and on.  Homeschooling has terrific perks and often does wonders for family health and well-being.  Admittedly, next year will have a different tone to it, but I remain incredibly excited about this journey we are on.  This last year has been pivotal.  It was a dramatic lifestyle change that has had positive reverberations which continue to sing in our ears.  Simply put, I love homeschooling, even when my internal furnace has conked out due to burning too much fuel too quickly and I have to find a way to repair myself.  All I really need to do is look at my kiddo and see how he is coming into his own person, how he carries that smile on his face, how he enjoys many moments during his day.

Next year will be different, yes.  He won’t have to rely on me so much for his materials, and that’s a good thing (for me and him).  He needs to work more independently and I think he’s ready.  Plus, I’ll be less likely to implode, which is also a very good thing.  I can’t wait!  No more implosions, or at least they will be fewer and farther between one another and maybe I can cut down on the amount of dark chocolate in the house.  It’s gotten me through many a moment, let me tell you.  I am looking forward to his school work being a bit more orderly, but we’ll still sprinkle it with fun.  Innately, I think humans crave at least a little structure – having some boundaries like that can be a relief!  Babies like it.  Dogs need it.  I don’t think that changes as we grow up.   Fourth grade was a massive undertaking from which we both learned vital information – some of it educational, some of it emotional, some of it logical.  All of it necessary.  This is a long journey we are on and I fully expect that we will have to continually adjust as we go.

In summary, I would not change much about this last year of homeschooling, maybe just my approach to certain things as we would have benefited from a little more structure.  At one time I toyed with the idea of unschooling and researched it.  I peered across the abyss and couldn’t summon the courage to jump.  I admire people who can.  Get too far from structure, chaos steps to the plate, and as we’ve learned, my mental status gets compromised.  I’m proud of what we accomplished and so very happy that Max is happy, that he has room to revel in his childhood.  There – I think that statement just nailed it.  Kids should have time to revel in childhood.  Homeschooling makes plenty of room for that to happen!

Am I Unsure About Unschooling? I’m Not Sure. Yet.

Over Christmas break I read Allison Mckee’s book Homeschooling Our Children, Unschooling Ourselves and pondered over my feelings about unschooling.  Here’s her book:

I am neither pro nor anti-unschooling at this point, but am rather peaked about some of my gut reactions to this unique and uncommon approach.  Meaning, I, just like millions of other parents, have a deep-rooted belief that children must learn certain things in order to succeed.  It is this core belief of mine that was thoroughly challenged during the reading of Ms. Mckee’s book.  She, too, suffered from the same malady going into her homeschooling experience and it took her years (YEARS) of concerted effort to shatter that belief and learn to trust in her children, that THEY would choose their own paths of enlightenment.

Here I am, a relatively new homeschooling mom wrestling with preconceived ideas, notions, rights and wrongs, dreams and ideals – faced with a ten-year old with his own preconceived ideas, notions, rights and wrongs, dreams and ideals.  I humbly realize that I should try hard to stay out of his way much of the time.  I humbly acknowledge that I am going to do many things right by him and that I am going to also royally screw up now and then.  In the past few months I already have screwed up – many times.  We’ve had countless successes – by that I mean that I have seen Max happy and engaged, loving his learning.  Likewise we’ve had some miserable moments involving workbooks or worksheets  wherein he has felt pressured to do school my way.

Alison McKee lived through similar experiences and learned to let go of her indoctrinated methods of education – and her children soared naturally to their own heights of accomplishment.  Her children became integrally involved in their community through the very subjects which fascinated them.  At the age of 13 her son had learned enough about the workings of a radio studio that he worked in a small radio station and handled the engineering aspects quite capably.  He taught himself all he wanted to know because he was interested in the subject matter and developed a passion in that area.  He became an expert fly fisherman and worked summers in Montana teaching others to love fly fishing as well.  He also developed a love of German and worked to become fluent, eventually teaching others as a camp counselor at the Concordia language camps.  Her daughter took her own road into learning about small businesses, animal husbandry and other subjects – and along the way learned math, science and the other subjects we deem so very important.  I think what was most important was that these two children knew what they needed when they needed it.  They were allowed the freedom to learn unencumbered – and this type of freedom fostered the flames of enthusiasm.  What generally happens in a traditional school setting is quite different, not to mention alarming.  Many children die a slow death of boredom through forced learning, so much so that many throw in the towel and turn their switches off.  Learning for them becomes an agonizing chore.  The delight is gone, passion dies, perhaps for good.  How SAD.

What I walked away with from this book is a feeling that I should try to surrender to Max’s delights and interests.  To work to balance them and allow him to take them where he needs them to go.  For me to GET OUT OF THE WAY.  For me to realize that I, too, have been indoctrinated with the belief that there is only one true way to educate children – the very same way I was educated.

I must not tell him.  I must show him.  I must involve him.  He will show me how to do this.  He will in turn show me what is best for him.

I appreciate Alison McKee’s insights and the sharing of her tale.  I have much to learn about all of this and imagine that it will take years, too, for me to ferret out my feelings.  But how fortunate to have run into her story and to have the opportunity to think about it.

The thought of letting go completely and not have any structured curriculum  materials makes me go pale.  See??  It’s not easy to trust that your child can do this on his own.  Right now I embrace an eclectic approach to homeschooling and it will likely remain that way, taking twists and turns as we need to.  Perhaps I can go to the courage store and get a shot of courage and take steps in an unschooling direction.  Perhaps.

I’m still not sure.

Intellego Unit Studies

NOTE:  I have moved the entire High on Homeschool blog over to Blogger.  C’mon over and have a look – it’s redesigned and much better in my humble opinion.  Http://www.highonhomeschool.blogspot.com.

Okay, as much as I love to pull a unit study together, to search for just the right mix of materials while keeping Max’s personality in mind……..it’s a lot of work!  Not complaining, mind you.  Just making an observation and wondering how long I can keep this up with respect to my energy level.  Plus, there are always the nagging questions in the back of my mind – are we covering the subject adequately?  Are we just skimming the surface?  Can I pull some more science into this to make it even more fun and engaging?  What might be missing?

Granted, trial and error is a big component of homeschooling.  I admire the moms and dads and grandparents who have fifteen plus years of homeschooling in their back pockets!  Wow – what an adventure and what a learning curve they have experienced.  And I bet some of them can whip up a unit study in a blink of an eye or off the top of their heads.

Today, someone tipped me off to the Intellego Unit Studies.  Naturally I skipped right over to their website to take a gander.  When I saw them I realized that I had run into them once before on the Currclick website, but this time I took a more careful look.  The unit on whales was the one I looked at with the most scrutiny, since that’s what we are tackling right now.

Taken directly from their site their mission statement reads as such:

“At Intellego Unit Studies, our mission is to deliver comprehensive, web-linked, multi-sensory unit studies that are grounded in research based on learning style theory and Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences.

Fair enough.  I watched the video demonstration about the whale unit and liked what they had to offer.  It is quite broad in scope and you can get as detailed as you wish about different topics.  It is geared to late elementary or middle school children, so good fit there.  I won’t lay out the unit study here because you can easily see for yourself whether these would work for your situation.  The best part is that it is all layed out for you.  For those times when you are just too weary to move your fingers about the keyboard for research, or to make the trip to the library and lug home 120 books on said subject.

I see the Intellego Unit Studies as a possibility and will probably try one, going with that old ‘trial and error’ thing.  Currently they have about six studies available for K-2 and twenty-four studies for older elementary/middle schoolers.

You can get to their website here:  www.intellegounitstudies.com.

Slow Parenting

NOTE:  I’ve moved the entire High on Homeschool blog over to Blogger.  Here’s the link:  http://www.highonhomeschool.blogspot.com.  C’mon over and visit – lots of new material!

This morning over breakfast I read an article in this week’s Time Magazine titled ‘Can These Parents Be Saved?’  It’s a riveting romp through the past generation’s parenting habits and how some moms and dads have turned into anxious helicopters buzzing a continuous circle just over their children’s heads lest they fall down or make a mistake, or worse, eat something with partially hydrogenated soybean oil in it!  The author, Nancy Gibbs, did an outstanding job of compiling seemingly harmless events such as a school auctioning off the right to cut in front in line with the car and drop a child off directly in front of the school building, or the development of the leash and harness systems you’ve seen some toddlers wear, or groups of parents lobbying to get jungle gyms off of playgrounds, or worse yet, schools cutting out recess to use that time to improve test scores with parent approval, or some preschools offering Mandarin Chinese lessons – she compiled these into a much bigger picture of what is going on with us crazy parents.  Alone, these events seem rather benign, but put them together and they paint a rather startling picture.  She’s right!  She states, “we were so obsessed with our kids’ success that parenting turned into a form of product development”.  A child was something we could truly sink our teeth into – like a project!  She is also pointing out how our worries are sometimes getting the best of us and rendering us ridiculous.  She stitches words together more precisely than I can to convey the message and she’s good at it – read the article if you can here because I don’t feel like I’m doing a good job getting to the heart of her premise:

http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1940395,00.html

It got me to thinking about those of us who homeschool and how we might or might not lean in this direction of over-parenting.  Of course we want our children to be successful in life, but what does that really mean?  Are we secretly aiming for CEO positions with multi-million dollar a year salaries for our kids?  Is that success?  In whose eyes?  Why are we homeschooling anyway?  Why are we pouring so much of ourselves into our kids and their educations at home?  Is this about them, or……could it possibly be about us?? 

Please don’t misinterpret what I’m saying.  I’m not trying to be accusatory.  I’m just trying to encourage some thought about all of it, to help us all stay balanced and therefore raise balanced kids, because I think the slope is slippery and we can easily tumble down it and hit a rock at the bottom.  Ouch.  I’ve been thinking about it all morning – it’s a rather eye-opening subject.

She brings up the idea of s….l….o…..w……p….a….r….e…n….t….i….n…..g; some call it free-range parenting.  Loosening the grip, letting kids be.  Letting kids have ample time to play so they can tap their natural imaginations and learn to problem-solve.  How about dropping some of your children’s activities?  Slowing down the pace.  She points out that due to our national economic situation, many families have had to scale back all of the running around and much to their surprise, they are learning that they like it!  Their relationships with their children have even improved.  Less car time, more face-to-face time. 

We homeschoolers can benefit from some self-examination in this arena, too.  We are in a very unique situation, one where we spend an awful lot of time with our children (not time spent awfully, just a lot of it!)  Of course we want the best for our kids.  We pulled them out of school or we decided to homeschool them from birth, for deeply personally reasons.  We need to be aware, though, of how much of ourselves we are asking our kids to become in our hopes and dreams for them.  How much pressure are we applying on a daily basis for them to pull ahead, for them to learn everything about a subject we can possibly get our hands on?  I would wager that some parents might use the level to which their children excel as a direct measure of their success as parents – an affirmation of sorts.  Then it becomes an issue about us, and not the children and their best interests. 

I struggle with this concept internally as I put together materials for Max to learn from.  I have to be very, very careful that I stop to think about life from his perspective, not mine.  The last thing he needs is pressure from me, whether it’s real or imagined, for him to learn something or worse, my expectation that he needs to excel at it.  There is a fine line between a genuine interest in a subject on his part, and my excitement to teach him said subject. My excitement could easily overpower his desire to learn – and then I’ve blown it.   As a relatively new homeschooling mom, I am concerned about this for Max’s sake. 

We purposely opted to not sign up for classes or co-op events for a while so that we could feel our way through homeschooling.  I am so glad I resisted the urge to jump at the science class, the art class, the web-based opportunity that meets every Tuesday and Thursday at such and such a time, etc.  Our days have taken on a peaceful rhythm, one that I am reluctant to trade in for more activities.  We have lots of breathing room, many casual hours in which to read, draw or just hang out.  The only threat to Max’s well-being I would wager, is well……me!  And my desires for him.  I am so glad I picked up Ms. Gibbs’s article this morning and read it through.  Maybe it was just good timing – sometimes that happens.  You’ll be mulling over an issue in your head at various levels and then along comes a book or article that helps you sort it out.  This appears to be one of those times.  Please post your thoughts, even if you disagree.