Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Learning Styles

As 2014 comes to a close, I've been reflecting on our school year and what has worked and what I'd like to do differently.  I've appreciated our time unschooling - it has helped me see how each of my kids learn and has helped them discover what they're really interested in.  We have talked about future plans and how to attain those goals.  Brendan has realized he does not like to watch lessons on video - he wants to see an example and get to work and then find me if he needs help.  Tori likes to see lessons on video. 

It may be that I haven't given unschooling enough time but we're ready to go back to working through a regular curriculum.  I've always tended to be more relaxed about our school work and I want to stay flexible but also want to plan a daily routine. 

Looking forward to 2015! 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Our unschooling journey so far

It's almost mid-October so we've been doing this for about 6 weeks.  We took a couple weeks off for a family vacation but really, that was tremendously educational in itself.  We drove through 5 states and spent a week at Disney.  We visited an aquarium and learned about marine animals and also spent an afternoon at the ocean.  We talked about geography, climate, weather, money and many other topics. 

Our days at home have settled into somewhat of a routine.  There is no video games or tv before 3.  The kids read or work on their homework for their Pioneers classes.  They play games on the ipad or DS, which is a video game but since it's not on the big tv, I'm okay with that.  And really, they get tired of that fairly quickly.  I have thought about saying that they can only play educational games on the ipad during the day but then I'd have to monitor that and also decide what constitutes an educational game.  There is logic and cause and effect in any game and those are good things to learn.  So I have decided to let them choose what they play for now.  They also play outside and play cars, legos, house, etc.  There have been very few times that someone said they were bored.  And if I offer to play a game with them, they always say yes. 

The first part of our school year was really about trying this out and seeing how we liked it and also getting ready for vacation.  Now we've tried this out and discovered it seems to work really well for us and now vacation is over.  I'm ready to add in some field trips and science experiments and see what we can discover together. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

An analogy

Today was somewhat frustrating for many reasons.  As I was thinking about those reasons and what was going on with my kids, I had an epiphany.  Of course, this was several hours ago and I didn't write it down so I will try to remember it as best I can.

Before, I was always telling the kids where they needed to go and all the specifics about how to get there - what to take, how to take it, etc.  I didn't really think through what they would do once they arrived, but I was going to make sure they got there.  Even if they weren't really sure how they got there.  The end goal was high school graduation and entrance to college.  After that, the rest was up to them. 

Last spring, I started rethinking this approach and decided to step back and try to figure out first where they wanted to go.  Instead of saying, "You need to take math so you can go to college", I ask, "What do you think you'll want to do?  Do you want to go to college?"  Tori has realized that she wants to learn math better and she is figuring out how to do that and asking for my help.  Instead of dragging her down the math road, with my arms and shoulders aching and my back sore, I am walking along beside her, sometimes slowing down and sometimes running a little.  But she's setting the pace. 

Today, I was frustrated because Brendan's pace is not matching my own.  I have to learn to let go of that control.  He has decided that yes, he wants to go to college and he is taking an active role in getting there.  He's new at being in control so sometimes he doesn't make the best decisions.  But if I just nag or scold all the time, he'll still rely on me to push and drag him there.  It will be so much better for both of us if I let him decide where he wants to go and then be ready to help him get there. I want him to arrive at his destination with a sense of accomplishment and purpose.  I don't want him to get there and say, "now what?"  He is my rule-following, obedient, responsible first-born.  And I really changed the rules this year.  It's going to take awhile to figure this out.  We'll get there.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Day 6

Today was more of a creative kind of day.  The girls were using the ipad to make a movie this morning.  Brendan was still sleeping and Owen couldn't think of anything to do because he was fixated on not being able to help the girls.  I asked if he wanted to fill out a math chart and his enthusiasm was quite humorous.  I gave him a blank multiplication chart and explained that it was counting by numbers.  He caught on very quickly and filled out half of it. 

I was gone for part of the day to run some errands so the kids had more of a break in the middle of the day.  When I was home, they worked on Pioneers homework and then the girls filled out a multiplication chart while Brendan did his science test.  Tori decided she wants me to give her math sheets to work on this year instead of using a book.  This is exciting stuff, people.  She is taking charge of her education and figuring out what she wants it to look like and what she needs to work on.  Remember, this girl hates math.  But she just asked me to give her math sheets to work on.  I have said nothing to her about needing to do math.  Nothing. 

Brendan continues to do his work without me asking about it.  I *did* ask yesterday if he needed any help with anything from Pioneers.  I'm trying to figure out how I can stay involved and informed without taking over.  And also how to get him to think about his assignments without nagging.  He is supposed to take quite a few pictures for his photography class and hasn't taken any yet so we'll see how this goes. 

Rachel enjoyed working on the multiplication chart but was starting to get discouraged when she got into the higher numbers.  I had told her to only fill out what she knew and to stop when she didn't know it but she really wants to finish it. 

I am making an effort to be home more, which is slightly more difficult this week because we will be leaving for vacation soon and there are things that need to be done.  For the most part, my goal is to be home and to be present with them - making suggestions, asking if they want to play games, reading books with them, finding good videos on-line or good tv shows to watch to help us learn. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Day 5

Tori was gone most of the day.  She babysat from 7:30 until 3:30 and then went to a friend's house at 5:30 and is spending the night there.  She earned $25 and asked if she could take an extra horseback riding lesson next week.  Working a job and using the money to further her education on something she loves - lots of lessons right there.

Brendan did his science yesterday.  Today he was working on finishing up some lab reports and asked me to correct his study guide.  His study guide was the neatest writing I have ever seen from him.  He seems to really be making an effort this year.  You know how many times I have asked him about this class?  Not once. 

Owen and Rachel played the geography game today but with their made-up rules.  It resembled something more like Risk.  They rolled the dice and whoever rolled a higher number got to take over a country.  The game boards for this game are just pieces of the map with numbers on each country.  But Owen knows most of the countries and is showing Rachel when they play.  They also both worked on their sign language flash cards and then did some pages from their Michigan History worksheets from Pioneers.

We went to the library and checked out some books.  Rachel bought a diary at the store and started writing journal entries in it.  She is most excited that it has a lock so it's private.  :)  Owen knows that 48" is 4 ft.  Brendan came up with a haiku to describe my feelings about coffee:  "I love my coffee.  The creamer makes it better.  It wakes me each day."  And then he came up with another one later about popsicles. 

Tonight, Rachel read 3 books to me and we talked about the different words that she didn't understand.  She really makes an effort to understand what she is reading. 

I am still amazed that this is working. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Day 4

The girls have been having horseback riding lessons on Thursday mornings.  Thursday was always a hard day last year because we were all exhausted from Pioneers and Awana on Wednesdays.  So this seems to be working out okay - it's more of a low-key morning and the girls are riding horses and I run errands or have some quiet time while the boys stay home and have some quiet time.  They aren't allowed to play video games or watch tv so they can read or play regular games.  When we got home today, the boys were playing a geography game. 

I don't know if much actual "school" took place today.  Brendan might have done his science - I really don't know.  I ran on the treadmill after lunch and then took a shower and I know his books were on the couch at one point. 

Tori took Teaching Textbooks 6 to Pioneers to work on it in study hall and said she needs to practice multiplication.  This is huge.  This is her deciding that she wants to be better at math and identifying what is holding her back.  We're going to play some card and dice games and look at the multiplication chart.  She's reading Mockingjay (book 3 of the Hunger Games series) and discussing it with me occasionally.  She is loving her photography class.  Their assignment this week is to take action shots so she was going to go to the boys drop-in basketball game tonight until she was invited to a football game tomorrow night and decided to take pictures there instead. 

We started reading The Child's Story Bible at lunch every day.  I have been wanting to do a devotional with them but didn't want to make everyone get up at a certain time.  But we're usually all home for lunch so this should work out well. 

The neighbor kids only had a half day of school today and even though it was chilly, it was still nice out so I told the kids they could play. 

Tori talked to the other girl at horseback riding and she said that whenever she gets extra money, she pay for an extra lesson.  Now Tori has a goal and knows what she wants to do with her babysitting money. 

When I first sat down to write about today, I couldn't think of anything educational that had happened today.  There really is so much that just happens all around us, sometimes when we don't even realize it. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Day 3

I shared how our first couple days went on facebook and wanted to keep that trend going but felt like I wanted to add more.  And I remembered I had this blog that hadn't been getting used much.  This seems like a great spot to write down how our year is going.

Day 3 - Tuesday.  We missed a couple days because the kids were camping with their grandpa and grandma.  I wasn't with them so I can't say what they learned during that time but I do know that yahtzee was played and they were able to be out in nature.  So today, they all had work to do for Pioneers. 

Last year, Brendan and Tori both had a writing class, science class, history or geography and then a fun class.  It was overwhelming at times.  This year I told them they could pick their own classes.  Tori chose sign language, sewing/hand crafts, and digital photography.  Brendan chose physical science, intro to computers, and digital photography.  It feels like a good balance for them.  There is some homework but nothing too intense. 

All 4 kids have requested math this year.  I had been hoping to not use any set curriculum so I'm not exactly sure how to handle this.  I've realized that Brendan needs a curriculum for geometry so I'm looking into the best one for him.  He tried an on-line one today and that was frustrating - for both of us.  He didn't understand some of the questions and when I tried to help, it was hard to go back through the pages he had read on-line.  I think we'd both feel more comfortable with a book.  This is good to know. 

Tori liked the math she was doing last year - Teaching Textbooks 6.  She stopped at lesson 36 because I told her she could - it was in May and I was tired of forcing it.  I had been encouraging her to do 2 lessons a day so she could finish the whole book by the middle of July.  I know that pressure frustrated her.  I'm going to pull it back out and let her work on it on her own pace.  Math is not her strongest area right now but I want to focus on her attitude about it first.  I think if she feels more confident, she'll become more sure of herself and it will come easier and make more sense.  Her brain just closes right up whenever there is any uncertainty.  Teaching Textbooks doesn't always have the best reviews and this has caused me some concern.  I've wondered if I should switch to Saxon or Christian Light.  But then I remember that this isn't a race and I need to think about her and what's best for her.  I think I will look for worksheets to supplement the Teaching Textbooks so she has more practice but this is a good start.

Rachel and Owen - I have debated about a math curriculum for them and keep going back and forth.  I could do Christian Light - I know it's a good quality math program.  But again, I don't want to feel like we "should" do a lesson every day.  So for now, I think I will play math games with them and do math exercises on the white board.  I'll start out by asking them during the day if they want to play and maybe they'll start asking me after awhile. 

If it wasn't for the constant 2nd-guessing myself, this would be a piece of cake. 

Day 2

Day 2 of our schooling adventure this year. Horseback riding lessons for the girls, recycling with Owen (and doing some math lessons while we're doing it - placement values were on his brain today), Brendan doing science for Pioneers (on his own - didn't say a word), Rachel and Owen doing sign language flash cards for Pioneers (again, on their own), Tori practicing her sign language for Pioneers ...(yup, on her own), Tori and Brendan both requesting a regular math class for the year (even tho they complain, they still want it!), Owen and Brendan playing a geography game and asking if they can take it with them this weekend when they visit their grandparents. None of this was my idea - none. I am here to help and provide boundaries and ideas when needed. This is going spectacularly well.
This was another facebook post.  We had Pioneers on Wednesday and this was Thursday.  The thing that's throwing me is the whole math thing.  All the kids have said they want to do math.  I am torn.  I want them to know math, obviously, but don't want to become a slave to a curriculum and feel like we "should" do a lesson every day.  (There's that darn "should" syndrome).  The day went really well and I can see where learning just naturally occurs in so many areas.  Just not sure what to do about math. 

Day 1 of our school year

It's the first day of school for many and I'm *finally* figuring out our plan for our school year. Thanks to all who have prayed and encouraged me! We will be doing a mix of unschooling and relaxed schooling. I want more free time and less sit down paperwork. More field trip and more talking "with" my kids instead of "at" my kids. We'll get there. We might follow a math curriculum but we might not. Still working out some details. A weight has been lifted. I may not know exactly what this year will look like but I'm looking forward to spending it with my kids.

This was my facebook post a few days ago.  After trying to decide all summer how much freedom I wanted to give my kids, I woke up that Tuesday and knew there would not be video games and tv shows on all day.  And I knew that would be my kids preferences, especially with friends in school.  I know myself and I know that I am not the type of person who will constantly suggest things for them to do either.  Occasionally, I do but it's not the norm.  And I didn't want that pressure.  I already struggle too much with the "should" syndrome. 

My goal is to see where each day takes us and see what they end up wanting to do.  I want to say yes when they ask about doing things and plan to take more field trips.  I want to play more games - some obviously educational but some that aren't so obvious. 

That day was the day before our homeschool co-op, Pioneers, started.  So the kids got their stuff organized.  We went for a haircut and shopping and made copies.  We talked about the history of the world while we were in the car.  I'd like to read The Mystery of History together and create a time line.  I played a yahtzee-style game with Owen and helped him add his score, making piles of 100.  It was a good start to the year.  Brendan requested to watch the USA basketball team play in Spain against New Zeeland.  That led to a discussion on where those countries were, which led to another discussion on the countries my father-in-law had been stationed at when he was in the war. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Thoughts on unschooling

This post is going to jump around a lot.  Because that's how my brain is working right now.  Have you heard about this idea called "unschooling"?  It's basically what it sounds like - the opposite of school.  Some think that means kids watch tv all day and never leave the house.  And maybe that's how some parents do it.  This idea alarms many people.  I'm not sure why.  Some think that these "uneducated" kids will be the ones on government assistance when they're older because there is no way they can be contributing members of society.   I tend to think most people on government assistance are public school graduates, not homeschool kids who were "unschooled" so it doesn't bother me.  In fact, I'd love to see some data on this.  I'm okay with parents choosing how to raise and educate their children, even if it looks completely different than my choices. 

But I digress.  I told you, lots of jumping around.

The idea of unschooling isn't new to me.  I read about it when we first started and I liked some parts of it but didn't know if I could handle being that "different".  At least if we were going to homeschool, we could do school at home and have some things in common with my friends.  My kids could complain about math or about doing school when they didn't feel like it or about looking forward to summer break.  Wait a minute, maybe we have too much in common.  Maybe learning shouldn't feel so much like school.

I keep reading more and more about unschooling and even though it still scares me (that whole idea of being different), it also calls to me.  I hate forcing my kids to write when they don't want to write.  I hate making my daughter do math problems that don't mean anything to her and I can tell she has turned her brain off because she does not want to do them.  I hate that Brendan doesn't read for fun anymore because he has to read so much in his other classes.

I love when Tori grabs a notebook and starts writing her own chapter book.  I love when Brendan gets out the circuit kit and puts them together to make some contraption that can turn on and off.  I love when Owen copies the map because he wants to draw the countries.  I love when Rachel decides to copy a book she's reading because she likes writing her letters.

I have witnessed first hand that my children love learning when I provide the materials and don't force it.  I have also witnessed the frustration and tears when I try to make learning happen at a specific time.  So, why am I even questioning it still?  Worry, fear, and comparison.  So I am praying for wisdom and courage.  Courage to take the path less taken, to do what others will say is "easy" even though it is the complete opposite.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

No More Monkeys!

A few days ago, Rachel came downstairs, very excited.  "Mom!  You have to come up to our room and see this!"  She was smiling and I thought maybe they cleaned their room as a surprise or found something that had been missing.  Surely it was something great.  I walked into their room and it was still a mess, so option A was out.  Then I noticed Tori's bed was looking a bit odd.  Rachel then says, "Tori and me were jumping on the bed and IT BROKE!"  Hmm, yes, it did.  And that is exactly why we do NOT JUMP ON BEDS!

What were they thinking?  They have been told this before.  Josh looked at it when he came home and said he could fix it but he wouldn't trust it as a bunk bed again.  So instead of fixing it, we are throwing that frame away and Tori is currently sleeping on her mattress on the floor while we look at other options.  I am loving some white bed frames with drawers underneath.  But they don't have white dressers.  And I'm not sure I want to get a whole new bedroom set for both.  Tori might be on the floor for awhile.  And now, ironically, she can jump on her bed all she wants.  But I'm not telling her that.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Real Food

I have been going back and forth about this idea for awhile now.  This idea of only eating real food.  There are some differences of opinion about what that means exactly but the rules I've read say anything in it's pure form and nothing with more than 5 ingredients.  It is also supposed to be whole grain.  I know that processed food isn't good for me.  But it felt like a big jump - to stop eating all processed food and only eat real food?  So I made up my own rules and decided to just slowly ease into it.

Haha.  We did that for a couple months and then, instead of easing into real food, we were easing back into processed food.  Why?  Because it's easy and it's what I know.  When I'm stumped with what to cook for dinner, I can think of many recipes using processed food because it's what I've always done.  And then because we were still eating some processed food, it was harder to say no to the doritos or candy.

I'd like to make more of an effort this time.  There is a 10-day challenge and I'm thinking about it.  It would mean no coffee creamer, no mt dew and no candy.  It would mean some special trips to the store.  But it would also mean a break from some bad habits - like cereal or pop-tarts for breakfast.  And my kids do love smoothies.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The saga continues

Tori is in 6th grade this year.  I started the year trying Analytical Grammar for her and Brendan.  It has been great for Brendan but it was a bit too far ahead for her.  So I ordered Christian Light for her.  We had used that in the past and there were some things I didn't love about it but overall I thought it was good.   We used it for a couple months and I noticed she was having trouble with some basic skills.  So I got out Winston Grammar and went back to the basics.  We started with nouns and verbs.  Then we added adjectives and then adverbs.  Then we found what they modified.  Now we're finding prepositions and then we'll go back and figure out what all those prepositions are modifying.

I feel like she's really getting it this time and it's making sense to her.  When we've finished these worksheets, we'll go through and diagram them.  Then I want to go through sentences in a book and have her label the parts of speech and diagram those.  I think by 7th grade, definitely 8th grade, she'll be ready to use the Analytical Grammar curriculum.

For math, we were using Math-U-See Epsilon.  It is the fraction book.  Lots and lots of fractions.  She was getting pretty tired of fractions and so was I.  I decided to try Teaching Textbooks.  I had looked at their Geometry book and thought it looked great for Brendan next year and then looked at their 5th and 6th grade books.  Tori has been about a year behind in math but after looking at their programs, I realized she could start the 6th grade book.  There are a couple things she hasn't had yet so I will spend extra time with her on those but for the most part, she'll do fine.  I know it has bothered her to be behind in math and knew she'd be excited to feel like she was "caught" up.  We started that today and it went really well.  She likes doing it on the computer and I love that the program grades it automatically and tells me what she got right and what she missed.  I also love the automatic feedback she gets when she answers a question.

Just when I was thinking I found the curriculum to use for the rest of our school days, I found out that the Teaching Textbooks high school math is a bit lacking if you want to test well on the ACT.  So now I'm wondering what curriculum will prepare them for the ACT and feeling like we're back to square one.  No, that's not entirely true.  I think this math will be great for Tori for the next few years.  Now to figure out what to use next for Brendan.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Same curriculum, different kids

I know I've realized this before (and probably wrote it before) but just because one curriculum works for one child doesn't mean it will work for the next child.  Or maybe it will work but not in the same way.  Maybe I liked one curriculum for one child because he was more independent and he would read through each lesson and then do the exercises and occasionally ask for help.  But when a different child uses that same curriculum, she has a different learning style and wants me to actually teach the lesson or go over it with her.  That's great but when I have to go through the curriculum, suddenly I don't like that curriculum as much.  It's not as teacher-friendly.  And then I'm searching on-line, asking friends, looking for something else that will both our styles better.

It's not that I get bored or am wanting to find the best one - it's that each year is different with different learning styles.  I'm even a different teacher, depending on the child.  Brendan prefers to figure things out on his own with little input from me - but he does need a schedule and he does need to know what I expect him to do every day because he won't do extra.

Tori learns best if someone explains it to her or if she can manipulate objects to see the answer.  She will quickly put up road blocks if she feels something is too difficult so I have to be patient and not get frustrated.  This is not a strong suit of mine but I am working on it.

Rachel and Owen are a whole new ball game.  They are more of a "class" and I have to make sure they're both learning things and not just copying each other.  They're also very competitive with each other and I have to be careful of that, too.  One will try to finish faster but then be sloppier or make a silly mistake.

Sometimes I feel like I'm just looking for the easy way out when I keep trying different curriculums.  It helps to realize there is a reason behind what I'm feeling and it's more than a whim.  I have to learn to trust my instincts more with my kids - that's one of the benefits of homeschooling.  Who knows these kids and how they learn better than me?  Another benefit - I can pray for wisdom.  I don't always think about it but I know God cares about our homeschooling and their education.  That should be the first thing I do before I open a curriculum catalog or attend a homeschool convention.  It's somewhat discouraging that Brendan is in 8th grade and I'm still figuring this out.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Still figuring out what homeschooling looks like for us

I said before that I've been reading through old posts.  The ones that I've been most interested in have been the ones about our homeschooling days.  It's been interesting to read about what I liked doing and what worked and what was frustrating.  I often look at our curriculum (especially in November, February and May) and wonder what I should do differently next year.  I want our learning experience to not be boring or frustrating and if the curriculum can help with that, I'm all for trying new things.

One website that seemed really interesting is called Easy Peasy homeschool.  A homeschool mom decided to create her own curriculum for her kids using free on-line resources and then wrote out each assignment.  Everything is included and you just need a few basic supplies, besides a computer with internet and a printer.  I decided to try it after Christmas break with Rachel and Owen.  I didn't want to stop our language arts or math but we weren't doing a structured science or history course so I started with that.  It's been good and I'm very impressed with the website but I don't know that it's one I want to use next year.  I don't like having to have a laptop in front of me all the time when we're doing school.  I like turning pages, not scrolling.  I did start having all the kids practice their math facts on XtraMath, a web site that is used with her curriculum.  I've realized I need to utilize technology more but I don't want to rely on it entirely.

Another question that came up for me when I was looking at this website was the idea of our Pioneers co-op.  The curriculum on this website was for 180 days.  If we do Pioneers, we meet about 27 days during the school year so we would either have to go longer in the summer to finish this curriculum or double up on some days or not do Pioneers.  There have also been some classes that have been difficult for Brendan and Tori at Pioneers for various reasons.  I started contemplating what it would like if we didn't do Pioneers.

We started school this Monday after Christmas break and everything went great.  Honestly, it was such a good day of learning.  Tuesday was the same.  Then Tuesday night we found out that Pioneers was canceled and I was relieved and thought, yup, maybe I need to rethink being a part of a co-op.  Then today dragged on.  We did our normal school work and then took the afternoon off.  Instead of feeling like a break, it felt like a prison.  I know part of that is because we've already been off for 2 1/2 weeks.  But I think the co-op is good for us - it gets us around people, gives us a day off from our normal routine, and I think it's good for the kids to figure out what other teacher's expectations.

So, after reading through past blogs and trying out a few different things the past couple days, I am getting ideas about next year.  I want to look for a structured science book for Rachel and Owen.  We are definitely planning to do Pioneers again.  And I want to look for ways to incorporate technology more.

Now to set some goals for my kids for this year . . .

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Looking back

This past week, I read through all my old posts on here.  It was such a great experience!  I had written so many funny stories about the kids that I had forgotten about.  I loved looking back at the old pictures.    I hadn't realized before how much I would treasure my previous posts.  I'm disappointed that I haven't kept up with this the last few years.  I found a website that would create a book with all my posts for just $90.  This becomes a journal of our life that I can share with our kids.  It was good for me to look back and remember how I felt at different times of our homeschooling journey and different things I was going through.

Josh and I celebrated our 17th anniversary yesterday.  We had the kids with us this year so we didn't have any big plans.  Because they're getting older, we were going to leave them at home while we went out for dinner and a movie.  A big snowstorm was coming our way and I started to wonder if maybe we should go out earlier in the day.  There were also some things I wanted to get at the store.  And the movie I wanted to see was only playing at 9 pm.  So, we changed our plans a bit and went out for lunch and then got a few groceries, wandered through the used bookstore and came home.  We ordered pizza for supper and then I made Rice Krispy houses (using a mold) and let the kids decorate that with candy.

At one point, I started thinking about how it wasn't really a typical way to spend an anniversary.  But you know what?  I loved it.  Because it was relaxed and we were all home safe and these 4 kids have brought so much joy and happiness to our marriage.  I thought about what life was like for us 17 years ago and I'm so happy to be where I am right now.

And I am also planning our next kid-free weekend.  :)  But that will have to wait until after basketball season.