Recess. A homeschool mom's sanity-saver.

Our pool is taken down now, but I wanted to share what we do for recess when the weather is warm :)  We take an hour and a half break...from 11:30-1:00 for lunch, some kind of physical activity, and free time (which means rounds of Little Big Planet).  I can't tell you what a difference this has made in our day.  The kids work from 8:30-ish straight thru 11:30, so they're ready for a nice break.  When we get back at it, they work hard for another couple hours.  It makes the day go fast, but there's a lot less cranky whining. :)  Here's what I do while they swam....

It really helps to have an extended period of time with no schooling responsibilities.  I can check email, blog, take a quick rest, finish projects, or shower (yes, I school the kids in jammies or stinky sweats most days).....it's great motivation to finish morning work knowing we have a decent chunk of time to chill out.

In other news, my daughter who was beginning her junior year at the local public school has decided to come back home.  So we're scrambling to get curriculum together for her.  She's basically focusing on SAT prep using Grueber's, but I'm also having her do English Comp and Lit, American History, and Algebra 2.  It's been quite a change to go from just one last year to four....but it keeps my life exciting.

I've also tweaked our curriculum a bit more, and our daily schedule is now a comfortable routine.  And since we've added another kiddo to the homeschool mix, we've retrofitted (neato word, eh) our dining room into another school room/office.  It looks more like a computer lab, but we're still finishing it up.  When the makeover is finished, I'll share more about it.  I'll leave you with a bit of footage....


Well, I kinda left you hangin' with that last one, eh?

We've completed our first week since Jason joined us, and believe it not, I lived to tell the tale.  I ended up using The Alpha Omega Lifepacs for Spanish and Science.  The L.Arts and History Geography are currently for sale :)  So here's what he's doing, for those interested in a 10th grade curriculum:
~Life of Fred Geometry
~Key to Algebra (for review)
~Fallacy Detective
~SAT Words in Pictures
~AO Science (Physical Science)
~AO Spanish 1
~History of the Medieval World (also used for outlining and summary writing)
~National Geographic Family Atlas, Kingfisher Illustrated History of the World, and the DK History of the World
~Well-Trained Mind Literature selections and discussion/writing (currently Beowulf, listening to the audio and following along in the translation by Seamus Heaney)
~Voyage Level language arts from Michael Clay Thompson: includes grammar, poetics, writing, and vocabulary study
~PE once a week
~60 minutes of free reading in a book of his choice daily

We're still finding a routine that works, but I'm pretty confident will get our groove on by the end of the week.  Basically, I check with Jason first thing on what he did the day before, get him set with morning independent work, then head to the school room with the boys.  We take an 90 minute lunch, free time, exercise break at 11:30.  Then I do a bit of history with the boys, while Jason does history independently.  Lastly I do Lit and Language Arts with Jason before he leaves for the day.

None of our work is taking longer than I expected, so time-wise we're good.  I'll get links and some pictures up later in the week, but now I gotta get back to school!


The Panic sets in.

My high school student, Jason, will arrive next Monday for his first day of school.  You'll remember that I've been doing bits of school with my own 2 this summer, but next week I'll be juggling all three.

I received my Rainbow order last week, but due to the crazy stuff happening around here (moving 2nd dd into her new apartment), I'd not had time to really dig into it.  Well, last night I did.  It was bad.  Very bad....

I had decided most of Jason's curriculum should be self-teaching since he'll only be with me 3 days a week.  I'd looked into several programs, but decided on Alpha Omega Lifepacs for LA, History/Geography, Spanish, and Science.  I poked my nose into them last night, all ready with sharpened pencil and planbook in hand, and had a panic attack.  These will. not. work.  Not for him, not for me.  FAIL.  I just am not mean enough to make him sit and do these worktexts.  Back to Rainbow they go, leaving me scrambling for ideas on what to use with him.

I need to find a writing program, with a bit of grammar review.  I need to find a history program, though I'm leaning towards using SWB's history stuff with him.  I need to plan literature study.  I have no clue what to use for science.  Not a freaking clue.

So, we're in panic mode.  Here's what I'm considering:
Meaningful Composition: straightforward, hand-holding writing instruction.  Cheap.  Downside for us, it's extremely Christian. 
MCT Essay Voyage and Grammar/Practice Voyage.  Not sure he can do much of this alone....
The Lost Tools of Writing: would love to get my hands on this, but the cost is prohibitive. 

History....just having him plug away in SWB's The History of the Medieval World, using 8th grade logic recs for studying history in TWTM until he's comfy with outlining, summary writing, and timelining. 

Literature...same as above, using period literature and the questions from TWTM. 

Science....I give.  No direction whatsoever.  After having fits with Apologia Biology last year, I dread handing him another Wile book.  Oh help.

I've been stalking the forums, trying to devise a new plan, but I'm just overwhelmed at this point. 

At least the other stuff seems to be ok: Fallacy Detective, Life of Fred Geometry and Keys to Algebra, and Picture This SAT Word.  All seem doable.  I suppose I can start him with those at least.



A bit o' my philosophy. Such a big word.

I get emails quite a bit from readers or friends who want to pick my brain about how I homeschool.  I recently had a couple gals just starting out (one with little ones and one with kids coming back from public school) and I thought I'd make my replies a post here for others. Expanded even.  Oh joy.
Basically, my approach to curriculum and teaching is  

Less is more.

I enjoy doing school stuff with the boys, but I don't want to spend the entire day with our nose in school books.  I start with the minimum I think it will take, and see how the kids respond to it.  If I can't clarify or extend what a book is trying to teach (if it needs it), I look for a quick supplement.  This doesn't happen very often. Most of the time it's simply a case of the student's brain not ready to grasp the concept.  In other words, try again later.  Months later. 

There are so many great materials out there, but none of them will work if you don't have the time to teach them, kids who don't want to learn them, or are READY to learn them.  It's sooooo hard not to want to buy everything out there that gets raves, but my mantra thru the years has been:

Don't let the good crowd out the best.

....and my best is the book that gets used. Even if it's a Walmart summer math workbook. (BTW, this mantra applies to all areas of my life). Some kids really dig workbooks or science encyclopedias or brain puzzlers....make sure they have time to explore what they're into.  Our family uses the Classical model as a framework, but I'm telling you right now, we won't be spending an hour on grammar in 5th grade.  And no Latin declensions.  Now, if one of my sons got it into their head they wanted to learn said declensions, then boy howdy I'm all over it.  I'm just not counting on it. 

And I'm sure we all know this, but it bears repeating because we homeschool moms are thickheaded:

There is no such thing as 'the' perfect curriculum.

The best we can do is plan our goals for the kids (in pencil), watch for where they struggle, teach to their learning style, and be patient. Don't push....encourage. Try stuff and be willing to put it aside for awhile.  Don't go buy something else.  I know we all know these things, but it's hard to just trust our kids' brain development.  I mean, I have an 11 year old doing WWE 2!  He's JUST learning not to holler at me when I encourage him to copy 4 sentences.  But he's creative and verbally articulate.  I trust the tortoise will win in the end. :)  So he plays LEGOs for hours a day while listening thru the Harry Potter audios for the 3rd time.  Big fat hairy deal.  We get in our 90 minutes of 'school', then the day is his within some set boundaries (30 minutes only on video games, for example). 

Enjoy this journey.  Let your kids show you how they learn, and find materials that fit that.  For instance, WWE and MCT have been great, but with my olders, Rod and Staff, LLATL and Easy Grammar also worked.  They all work.....you just find the ones that make sense to you and your kids and go for it.  No one needs 4 writing or math or science curricula unless they WANT them.  BTW, this isn't a popular view on some forums.  I just know what has worked and what didn't work with my own.

There is certainly something to be said for structure, crossing t's and dotting i's.....just don't let someone else's timeline (be they an 'expert' or just a mouthy poster on a homeschool forum) supercede your mothering intuition.  In classical circles, it's easy to feel like your kid will forever be scarred in life because they can't seem to tell the difference between a noun and verb before 3rd grade.....or that they haven't read Shakespeare by 6th grade.  Pshaw.  One of my complaints about our culture is that we assume kids need to experience everything before they're 18....and yes, it's fine to expose our kids to stuff like classical music or fine art or karate or soccer or Little Debbie Oatmeal Cakes....but to become proficients in all that stuff before 18 is well, dumb.  Give them a taste, encourage maybe a second try, then let it lie.

Know thyself and thy limits.  

And quick kicking yourself.  You already win just for choosing to homeschool. 

I must pause here to tell you I've been reading quite a bit on unschooling forums due to my Ben's right-brained learning style.  I find there is much to be gleaned from such a learning environment.  I'll be incorporating some ideas into our homeschool lifestyle...still within the framework of a classical model.  Should be interesting....might need to stock up on some transfat.

Well, that was rambly.  Let me know if I need to clarify something....after 12 years at this, I'm still finding my footing as each kid presents new challenges to my status quo.


And speaking of handwriting....

I thought I'd show you some comparisons.  Take note that the reason for this comparison exercise is not what you think.

Exhibit A:
Exhibit B:
Let me just say that every homeschool forum I've ever participated in has a plethora of posts that come round cyclically about handwriting woes.  I used to post them myself years ago.  'Til I realized I really didn't give a hoot.

Can you guess which son did which handwriting?  In looking at the samples above, do you automatically make a judgement about what a good student the owner of Exhibit A is?  Were you already shaking your head in pity at the thought that I have to teach the child of Exhibit B with handwriting 'as big as a circus tent' (his words)?

Let me fill you in on something.  Good or bad handwriting do indicate ANYTHING.  Nada, zip, zero.  Let me say it again.....handwriting determines NOTHING.  Lovely penmanship has zilch to do with smarts, laziness, rebellion, or Little Debbie Oatmeal Cakes.  Seriously.  Of my 6 offspring, exactly ONE has beautiful penmanship (see exhibit A) and one other has fairly nice writing.  The others all write in some form of chicken-scratch, and I'm just okie-dokie with it.  They are all smart, doing well in college/high school, and are cute to boot.

Having said that, let me tell you that in reality, really messy handwriting from a child who gets easily frustrated and tearful CAN clue you into his learning style.  Exhibit B above belongs to my 11 year old son Ben who is a Visual Spatial Learner.  He has enormous difficulty with handwriting, which is not only nearly impossible to read, but takes him a super long time to do.  VSL's are notorious for atrocious handwriting.  So I don't sweat it. As we get more and more into our school routine, I hope to write about some techniques I'll use to teach him skills in non-traditional ways. Typical auditory-sequential (ie: traditional public school methods) don't work for VSLs because they are whole-to-parts, right brained, picture thinkers.  Because they have messy writing, they are sometimes labeled in negative ways in school and by parents.  Don't do it!

Then why do I make him do cursive practice, you ask?  Well, first of all he's doing a 1st grade level handwriting book. This means he only needs to copy 2 short sentences a day.  Secondly, it gives him practice in copywork a la WTM...seeing proper sentence structure and learning to focus on the details of commas, spelling, grammar, etc.  Thirdly, as I mentioned in the linked post, it's a mini-art appreciation lesson.  Lastly, I want to continue to train his hand muscles because like it or not, he will need to do some handwriting as an adult.  Even if it's to sign his name on a credit slip.  Also, had I known way back when that he was a VSL as he started kindergarten, I would've used Handwriting without Tears.  Would've saved us many, well, tears.

This child who writes like a 3 year old, is actually extremely intelligent, thinks easily 'outside the box', and has a quick wit.  Though he's easily distractable, he can hyper-focus on something he's really into...like LEGOs.
So, whether he ever nails down a fluid, fabulous hand just isn't a concern.  His brilliancy shows up in other ways....ways that are sometimes (or oftentimes) disregarded or misjudged as 'problems'.  Pshaw.

For those of you with kids who struggle with penmanship, don't hyperventilate over it.  Some kids just won't be great at handwriting.  And you might just have a VSL....if you do, see my resources tab for info sites about this kind of learning style. I also have books listed over yonder in the side bar that have helped me tremendously in leaning methods of teaching to this learning style.  They also work with kinesthetic kids and can be good for the regular 'school-y' types too...everyone needs practice in visual-spatial methods, regardless of brain-dominance due to our highly visual culture....the global job market is leaning heavily to those with spatial skills.

Another time I may introduce you to another personality-typing program I use to help teach to each of my kids' strengths based on their natures.  My VSL son Ben  is also a 'Type 1', which is represented as airy and light, random, fun, and bouncy.  He's never gonna sit for a long time doing rote memorywork.  Ain't gonna happen. Not even going there.


The Week.

One of the things I'd like to do on this blog is incorporate a weekly round up of stuff that we did or interesting stuff that happened to us. After all, the tag line around here is 'stuff we do'. This is, of course,  for the purpose of keeping family up to speed (and for sheer bragging.... duh).  If that kinda thing weirds you out, just avoid Sundays at the harvey files.  Actually, I will prolly need to do some venting and complaining and scratching where it itches too....so if *that* kinda thing weirds you out, just move along to the next blog in the webring.  No harm, no foul.  See ya on Monday.

This past week was full of ups and downs due to my hubs and 16 yo DD Gracie being outta town.  They were on a youth service trip in Chicago.

One day they sorted clothes for a clothing bank.

Another day they filled huge bags of dry cereal for the food bank.

Another couple days they handed out pop ice and cold water in some neighborhoods and a vacant lot used by the homeless.

Met some very interesting folks....for instance, one fella who sold single cigarettes for .50 with his bouncer side kick holding a tire iron.

They also had an opportunity to visit Willow Creek and hear Rob Bell speak on 'The Third Way'.

The kids were really taken with his message, but not with the church.  No offense.  I'm sure it's a lovely church, but it was quite a paradigm shift for them coming from working with the poor in the inner-city, showering at the Y, sleeping in pews or on the church floor, eating homecooked meals by local church members (fried chicken, collards and cornbread biscuits....don't get not better than that!)...
.....to the sanitized auditorium of Willow Creek in the 'burbs.  They definitely caught the difference.  Which is awesomeness because they all live in the 'burbs themselves here in NE Indiana.  With the corn and soy beans.

On the home front, I was doing my part serving God by attempting not to sell my boys to the circus in 90 degree muggy heat as they picked at each other over Every. Stinkin'. Thing.  That was a joke.  Kinda.  I also worked on revamping our screened in porch with paint, refurbished furniture and fabric.  Little Debbie Oatmeal Cakes played a supporting role, as did our plastic, snap-together pool.  Don't hate. 

I also did some more cooking and photo-snapping of the finished recipes for the online family cookbook.


We did a touch of school each day.  Sam the Younger polished off Percy Jackson and The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, and Ben the Older picked up an Artemis Fowl and a Charlie Bone.  Since dad came home, we got the next Percy Jackson and Sam began devouring that as well, whilst Ben started the first.  They wantto go see the movie, but I told them they had to read the book first.  That's 'cause I'm a mean mom. Most days.

Ben built a game board with his LEGO's including rules.  It was pretty incredible.  I mean, Parker Bros can start working on signing him on.  Seriously.

I joined up at a couple new homeschooling forums.  Check out Secular Homeschool and The Homeschool Lounge.  Don't get whiplash.  *grin*  I haven't left my beloved Well Trained Mind Forums, though, have no fear.  Anyone know if there's a button/gadget/widget for WTM  I can snag to add to my bar over thar----> ?

Well, if you've made it this far, I have a wee request:  there are a million and one homeschooling blogs, and just one less than a zillion online resources for homeschoolers, but I'm wondering if there's anything I can add to my spot on the web to add to the fray?  Anything you're wondering about me or my homeschool or Little Debbie Cakes?  Leave a comment.  I'm all about listening to myself type, but I'd like this to be an interactive place too.  I'm not *that* self-centered.  I turn the me-meter down sometimes.  I only have 5 blogs, ya know.


Queen Homeschool Pictures in Cursive.

I love to kill 2 birds with one stone.  I know.  Gruesome.  How 'bout, I love to take care of two subjects with one activity?  Just right, says Baby Bear.

Sam the 3rd grader has really nice cursive, but is such a perfectionist that it takes like a thousand hours to copy 1 line.  Benj struggles a bit with handwriting, so it takes like a thousand hours to copy 1 line.  You get my drift.  Enter Pictures in Cursive....we're going to rush thru 3 levels this year: A,B, and you guessed it C.
 Basically the books are laid out such that the kiddo looks at a work of art on one side, then copies sentences about the work of art on the other side:

I have Sam the Younger just copy right into the book.  Benj the Older uses wide lined paper.  Since the other bird I wanted to kill was art appreciation, I actually tear out the picture and stick it in a cheap frame that sits on their school table, so it gets noticed day after day.

I also copied out the first two sentences on the white board....though I'm not sure that really needs to happen.  I just wanted to use my shiney new dry erase markers. 
Today was the first day we actually did this, and it went well.  It will be something the boys do during their independent seat work time.  We're doing 2 sentences a day until we get into longer sentences for copying.  I hope to find a place where we can display all the pictures in our schoolroom, but I'm quickly running out of room....and my chippy shutter simply will not be moved.  It makes me just too ding dang happy to look at each day.
I also need to find a place for our timeline.....still deciding whether to take over the hallway or put it on a tri-fold thingamabob that can be tucked away....which would defeat my purpose of having a perpetual visual display for the boys about the on-going-ness of history.  I make up words.  Regularly.

So far we're doing Writing With Ease 2 (into week 7 now, doing 2 lessons a day and already seeing improvement in dictation and summarizing/narrating), Math Mammoth review worksheets, 30 minutes reading, and now copywork.  I also added Grammar Island today and will post about that next week.  They seemed to enjoy it, at least the first several pages.


Mackinac Island.

We had a vacation of sorts a couple weeks ago....which is what we homeschoolers refer to as field trips. 

Hubs had a trip for work, so we all headed up for a few days to take in the beauty and history of this wee island off the tippy top of Michigan's lower part.  Here's some pictures from some of our favorite parts:

The ferry ride over to the island:

The green in front of Fort Mackinac:

Horse-drawn carriages:

Arriving at the Grand Hotel:

Made it's movie debut in '79:

Our room:

The view from our window:

The fountain:

Getting dressed for dinner:

Hanging out on the porch:

'Old fashioned' phone booths:

Our menu:


Turn-down service with bedtime chocolate:

The Esther Williams Swimming Pool:

Arch Rock from above:

Arch Rock from below:


Giant Chess on the porch:

The rocking chairs:

Old pictures of the Grand Hotel porch at the turn of the century:

The cannons at Fort Mackinac:

The beauty that surrounded us:

'Twas a fabulous time....so thankful we had the opportunity to stay at the Grand Hotel again.  Now that we're home, we've been working on WWE and Math Mammoth.  Tomorrow we add in cursive/copywork practice and typing.  Slowly, but surely we're getting into the routine of school.  But there's still lots of time for swimming in the back yard....it's not the Grand's Esther Williams pool, but it does the trick for these hot, muggy days!