Tag Archives: home schooling

Living in Maycomb

For the past month or so my boys and I have been living in 1935.  In Maycomb, Alabama.  We have felt the berating accusations of Mrs. Lafayette Dubose as we walk outside, and my eldest has been mimicking Scout’s thoughtless exclamations, “What the sam hill are you doing?!….But Atticus, he has gone and drowned his dinner in syrup!”

Yes, we have been reading To Kill a Mockingbird, little knowing that this would be the book my boys would read as its author prepares to leave this world.  For me, that book was Cry the Beloved Country when Alan Paton died in 1988, my senior year of high school.  Both books teach us something about race relations and the innate dignity of humanity.  My boys finished the novel on Thursday, Ms. Lee passed away Friday morning, we watched Gregory Peck magnificently portray Atticus Finch that night in our basement, and then we attended our local repertory theater to see the play performed Saturday evening.  This week we will be involved in one final project to close out our time with Jem and Jean Louise Finch.  They will choose to construct the Radley home, create a storyboard of one of their favorite, meaningful scenes, or write an obituary for one of the book’s deceased characters.  I will leave it up to them.

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Here is S’s drawing of the Radley place.  Scout is peering into the knot hole of the tree, while Boo secretly peeps through the curtains.   “Atticus was right.  One time he said you never really knew a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.” chapter 31

There was occasional complaining this month around the amount of work related to this book, but I am proud of their efforts, especially as they struggled to think through issues. Typically, we would have enjoyed this book together as a read aloud, but five-year-old G presented a problem.  Due to the sensitive subject matter, and the fact that he soaks everything up that his brothers are involved in, I decided to have them read the book on their own, working through it at a similar pace.  They wrote out definitions to new vocabulary they encountered in the chapters.  They composed a few summaries or written narration of sections.  They answered comprehension questions either in written form (neat handwriting, complete sentences) or in a discussion forum. We often used the questions found here online.  Occasionally, I pulled a quote by Atticus to use as dictation.

We did some preliminary research on the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and Jim Crow laws.  We used the few sites where I provide the links here.  And we also used this one to learn a bit about the author herself, as well as her childhood friend Truman Capote. My guys had a good time examining the map we found online of fictional Maycomb. They traced the steps Jem would have taken to retrieve his torn overalls, and the route the children may have taken to sneak out after Atticus the night before the trial.

We created a word cloud together with wordle pulling character names, themes and events out of the novel.  We discussed and defined concepts like flashbacks, foreshadowing, and Bildungsroman.

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Graciously, a semi-retired judge of the Court of Appeals of Indiana, whom we met at our church, willingly ate lunch with my kids, and a couple of other homeschooling families, and talked with them about the law and the United States Constitution.  What made this a particularly meaningful meeting was that our friend happened to be African-American and he happened to be raised in the South during the 1940s and 1950s.  Not only were our kids able to ask him questions about his family members and personal experiences, but he also took the time and care to impart words of wisdom similar to Atticus Finch’s – always do what is right, there are other ways of handling things when you are angry, and there are proper ways of engaging with people who disagree with you.  I am elated our kids were able to take advantage of this opportunity to listen to a live person of this caliber speak of historical and meaningful things. And all I had to do was ask. I am constantly on the move to uncover ways people in our community can help me supplement my children’s education. I am so grateful our friend took the time to share with us.

As my family leaves Maycomb, Alabama, and as the world bids a grateful farewell to Nelle Harper Lee, I pray some of these memories and lessons remain with my children long after the vocabulary lists and written paragraphs are obsolete.

“First of all,” he said, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks.  You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view-” chapter 3

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Reading through Christmas: a list

If someone were to ask me what my favorite topics are during our homeschool day, I would have to include history, but the read alouds are by far my favorite.  Even before we began homeschooling, even before I began bandying about the term “read aloud,” well, really long before my boys were even crawling, we have read together.  While there are many wonderful academic and professional articles explaining the benefits of reading aloud to our children, the most profound reason for me is the shared vocabulary and language we acquire together.  By this I do not exactly mean that we learn new vocabulary words together, or write down definitions from a dictionary, but rather our hearts speak the same language because we have traveled together through the pages of historical fiction, biographies, fantasies, allegories and adventures.

There are times when a single word conveys more than if one of us had spent dozens of words describing a scene.  How powerful and fraught with meaning the following:

C A I R  P A R A V E L

the unbreakable vow               

churning butter with Ma

“All’s well that ends well.”                                                                  coxswain              landlubber

KEELHAULING

“no good, dirty rotten, pig-stealing great great grandfather.”

S T A Y   G O L D.

You may or may not recognize all these references.  I know my boys will certainly know the context and significance of each and every one.  And if we are having a bad day, or we need a quick reminder of our bond, if we want to explain a correlation, or illustrate a similarity, we have the common (literary) language with which to do so.

Like most years, I am finding this season hectic.  In looking for a balance between a manageable school load, and maintaining a home, it is difficult to determine what is necessary.  Although I refuse to give up read alouds, I wasn’t sure we would have the stamina to begin a fresh book at this time of year.  So, what follows is our list of seasonal short stories and excerpts, nearly all set at the Christmas season.

We have only read a few so far, and who knows in what order we will share them, but here is our Christmas 2015 read aloud list (not including our advent reading, of course).  These are stories hand picked in hopes of promoting a true spirit of generosity, goodness, kindness and compassion that may long carry my boys past the holiday season.  Admittedly, it is a challenge to find read alouds simple enough for the five year old, yet engaging enough for the 12 and 13 year olds.  The following list combines some tales with thought provoking stories with complex vocabulary for the older two, as well as simpler stories which should be nostalgic for them.  If someone barely in their teens can feel nostalgia.

As we recall these stories we might contrast Scrooge with Stefan Avdeyitch.  We may see similarities in Jo March and Anne Shirley.  Whatever may come out of our reading, I hope it will ignite dialog and bind us closer together.  I hope you enjoy this list, or create one of your own.  Please share if you do.

God bless us, everyone!

CHRISTMAS Reading list 2015:

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1.”Where Love Is, God is There Also” by Leo Tolstoy.  Technically, this is not a Christmas story, but it does take place in the winter.  It quotes so much from the Gospel of Luke and Matthew and concentrates on love for mankind that it exudes the spirit of Christmas without naming it.  This is not a children’s story, but one that older children should be able to appreciate.  I can hardly make it through the poor cobbler’s tale without my voice cracking at least a bit at the end.

 

G was in and out of the room during this longer tale, but afterward I discovered he had listened to much more of the story than I thought.  Later that day, he wanted to sit with me in our sun room and sip tea from our toy wooden samovar.
G was in and out of the room during this longer tale, but afterward I discovered he had listened to much more of the story than I thought. Later that day, he wanted to sit with me in our sun room and sip tea from our toy wooden samovar.

2.  Elves and the Shoemaker by Paul Galdone.  A classic.

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3.  from All of a Kind Family Downtown, “Christmas Stockings” by Sydney Taylor.  I adored this book series growing up and learned so much about the practices of Jewish holidays from them.  Henny and Charlotte were my favorites, but I also harbored a special love toward Guido, their Italian neighbor.

 

 

 

 

4.  “Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry.  When I was about A’s age I began saving birthday money and allowances to purchase leather bound books with gold pages.  Dickens.  Poe. R.L. Stevenson.  And finally O. Henry.  This Christmas classic is both sad and heart warming.  It’s the one where the poor, young couple both get what they want for Christmas…sort of.

5.  Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien.  I have written about this collection last year.  These letters, which the fantasy writer wrote to his children as they were growing up each Christmas, are poignant, in keeping with the times and laugh out loud funny.  Hints of his trilogy abound.  Goblins appear and make trouble.  Polar Bear inevitably saves the day…and the toys.

6.  A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.  No explanation needed.  No matter how many movie or play versions you have seen, the original is superb.

7. from Little House on the Prairie, “Mr. Edwards Meets Santa Claus” by  Laura Ingalls Wilder.  There are many wonderful Christmas stories from this entire pioneer series, but for some reason this one has always been my guys’ favorite.

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8.  “A Christmas Memory” by Truman Capote.  Sad , sweet, poignant and almost lyrical in his writing, Capote recounts for us a piece of his childhood long gone.  Largely neglected in a small town in Alabama, he and his elderly cousin set out to make fruitcakes for their acquaintances.  As a bonus I found this lovely illustrated edition at our library.  Even with the lengthy text, it held even G’s interest.

 

 

 

9.  from Anne of Green Gables,  “Matthew Insists on Puffed Sleeves” by L. M. Montgomery.  Because boys know what it is like to want something so badly, too.

10.  “The Burglar’s Christmas” by Willa Cather.  A surprising ending.  A family reunion.  The meaning of grace.

11.  from Little Women, “Playing Pilgrims” and “A Merry Christmas” by Louisa May Alcott.  Jo and Marmee.  Because we may all have presents at Christmas, but there is always something more.

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A Few Alterations

Wow.  This has been a tough academic year.  I admit it.  I recall a few years ago how I suspected home schooling would be difficult.  But it has been difficult in ways I did not particularly expect.  Fundamentally, the most difficult aspect of it all has been sheer parenting.  It’s just that I am parenting more hours in my day now.

This year, however, has been especially trying.  We have changed some things up, namely adding in an afternoon of co-op classes once a week.  Whereas I originally thought a few extra hours of Mommy-G time would be great, instead it has become one more reason to get in the car, and that much more of a work load to keep up with their classes.  Increasingly, I have been bothered by the difficulty in creating a free-flowing feel to our week.  We struggle to focus on what is important.

Which leads me to the second , and weightier, reason this has been such a trying school year.  Daily we are confronted with my oldest’s bouts with tantrums, defeatist attitudes and generally poor behavior.  Daily we all feel battered by complaints and his lack of motivation.  It pervades our household and drags both the smallest and sturdiest of us down.  In all of this I am confessing as a parent that I am concentrating too much on my own suffering, and not as much on the root of it all.  I need to look with a kinder eye in the midst of all the noise toward the frustration of my inflexible Aspie.  The turmoil that has often taken over our house, primarily during math time, is significantly due to an Asperger’s diagnosis, but possibly, who knows to what extent, also due to raging preteen hormones.

Enter the Christmas holidays which began with a great deal of whining and sibling bickering, but ended with a lovely mixture of construction play, board games and movie viewing.  The transition back to the school routine would be a hard one if we didn’t make some changes.  While I recognize we still have  concentrated and purposeful work to do to help A, I remain hopeful that the 2014-2015 academic year is yet salvageable.

So, what are we changing in 2015?

1.  Namely, we are quitting our co-op.  As harsh as it sounds, the amount of work and effort it demanded from our week was not worth the  time spent there.  Our days felt choppy, unfocused and stressful.  It just wasn’t a good fit.  Not everything is holy.  Although not an easy decision, it was the first thing to go.  Apparently, our decision to quit has not been a popular one with others, however, but it is truly going to be the best for our family.  My guys are already breathing easier.  We have retained our gym and art classes in the community, and will likewise not be abandoning the subjects previously covered in the co-op.  Writing will be incorporated through the good, quality books we read, or through history or letter writing.  Spanish will be continued largely through duolingo.  I have come to adore this free tutorial website.  It is positively addictive.

2.  More specific schedules.  This may fly in the face of my earlier educational philosophy that my children deserve the freedom to explore their own interests and studies, but you know what else flies in that face?  An ineffectual system.  Instead of writing a loose daily schedule on our whiteboard, we now have slots of time allocated for specific subjects.  Now, A and S know when I expect them to read history or get on the computer for math.  I know each of my children well, and I know when my own energy levels tend to lag.  So, for instance, I schedule A’s math time first thing in the morning, but S’s reading later in the afternoon when he is more relaxed.

3.  Grades.  This one I never expected.  Truth be told, even when my children were in public school, I never looked at their report cards.  I never wanted them stressing out because of a “bad” grade.  I wanted them to love learning for its own sake.  And yet, there comes a time when we, as parents,  need some collateral. We need to hold A in particular to a higher standard.  He needs slapped upside the head… a kick in the pants.  Perhaps literally.  But for now A and S will receive daily or weekly grades based on the following:

a.  Attitude (willingness to work, giving it their all; no complaining)

b.  Organization/study skills (time management, tidiness, etc.)

c.  Academic /quality of work

Attitude is to comprise 50% of the grade.

Perhaps these are not exactly new year’s resolutions, but we are constantly grappling with what will provide our family (especially A) a stronger foundation, and a greater likelihood for success.  It’s been a tough year, but we are hoping in a complete renewal with just a few alterations.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  

Ezekiel 36:26

 

Blessings to you all in the new year.

 

 

“Travel schooling” : learning to relax

Many home school families have been amused by the term HOME schooling or HOME education, because, well frankly, we are not quite home as much as others may think.  We drive to co-ops and extra classes, drive to the parks, to social groups, and drive to countless field trips.  Perhaps we ought to call it car schooling?  But that concept might be for a different post.  Once or twice during the school year our family embarks on a major trip across country or states to visit family.  As we are out of our routine for one to three weeks, I never like to just take off all that time from academic work.  I am still quite caught up in counting the number of “school” days and making the most of every learning opportunity, besides the fact that it becomes increasingly difficult for my boys to jump back into books and studies when they have had a lengthy hiatus.  As I type these words in to my iPad, we are munching pretzels and sipping cranberry juice on the airplane while on our way back from family and friends in Arizona.  It was a successful visit in many ways.  Here are a few of the simple ways we maintained our learning while still having a fun vacation.

Make use of local museums-

While this may not always be possible depending on your budget and the affordability of your destination, museums are a wonderful way to experience new places while learning.  Although not necessary, if you can tie them in to your curriculum, even better.  This trip our family hit the art museum and science center.  On previous visits, we have explored children’s museums, geology centers and history or state museums.

Appreciate relationships as their own education-

Here is where the tired and trite socialization argument dies.  Before we officially began our home schooling adventure we comprised a concise list of all the reasons we wanted to keep our kids at home.  The freedom to travel and family closeness topped the list.  I love seeing A’s and S’s brotherly relationship solidify the longer we do this thing.  G adores being a part of his big brothers’ daily routines, and has learned an indescribable amount. Traveling only enhances this.  It is not only the relationships in our immediate family, however, that benefit us when we travel, but the relationships with everyone we meet.  This is particularly crucial for my guy with Asperger’s.  All three of my guys need to know their grandparents.  We live in a time when the value of family may be fading.  Unconditional love can be the greatest educational tool, not to mention all those extra life skills they may learn from being around different people from different generations.  Utilize them in your travels, or if you have the grandparents next door, be appreciative, and allow them to serve your family well.

Notice nature and take advantage of the outdoors-

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Regardless where your journeys take you, there will be something new to see and explore.  Taking advantage of nature centers, hiking trails and parks only makes sense.  It can be as simple as photographing and observing the diversity in our world to something more intentional.  One year we spent two weeks walking about my parents’ neighborhood identifying various cactuses – saguaro, ocotillo, prickly pear, organ pipe, cholla, etc.  One of S’s favorite memories is chasing (and catching) lizards around the Sonoran desert.

Travel lightly-

Packing textbooks and heavy curriculum is not what you want to do.  Traveling with kids can be stressful enough. Simplify.  On this trip we packed The Story of the World, volume 3 by Susan Wise Bauer, and our read aloud, which currently happens to be Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  That’s it.  We read the Bible together, we practiced our copy work, we watched a couple of science videos, and did some random math practice.  Supplemented by our museum trips, it felt like just the right amount without providing too many stressful expectations.

Let go.  Come to terms with taking days off.

Honestly, I only “counted” two-thirds of our travel days toward schooling.  The rest of the time I let the guys just be.  They laid around and watched far more t.v. than is usually permitted.  They played in parks, and threw rocks at each other in the backyard.  They ate far more desserts than was typical.  They relaxed.

Now, we are back in the Midwest buckling down once more to studies and winter.  Though leaves are sparse, we love them.  “Travel schooling” allowed us to go from summery hikes to craving peppermint mochas in a single day.  It was a wonderful break.

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Lift up your eyes

These have been days that have tried my patience and virtually exhausted my goodwill toward my children.  I have attempted to teach perseverance when I have been on the verge of giving up,  myself.  I have longed to model strong character and kindness while my head felt like it was going to explode.  My soul feels tapped out while I attempt to fill my boys with hard work and integrity.  Or maybe just math equations and a turkey sandwich.

I particularly feel the pressure of all this as I just returned from the 2014 Hearts at Home event, a Christian conference for mothers, with authors and speakers providing sessions on parenting, faith and family issues.   I shared this time with some amazing women from my church family, so it seems a significant blow to return to poor attitudes and complaining among my own children.  What did I expect?  My children would be miraculously perfected upon my return from Illinois?  I would be transformed into such a gracious parent that my children would want to obey my every request…even before I verbalize it?

My children still have the same weaknesses.  And so do I.

I am tired.  Physically sometimes.  Often emotionally.  Home schooling is difficult, and I am frequently perplexed why I am surprised by this.  Not every day is draining, but these lately have been.  Thank goodness He sees me and gives me grace, and the energy I never thought I could muster.

“To whom will you compare me?  Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.

Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these?  He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name…

Why do you complain…Why do you say, Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God”?

Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;

but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.  Isaiah 40:25-31