Explore:The Wolf Wore Shoes

We had another fun visit to Friedrich Wilderness Park for the Explore class this week. This month’s topic was “The Wolf Wore Shoes” – this was an exploration of animals in children’s literature.

The kids explored several book selections and discussed whether the animals in the books were 1) real animals doing real things, 2) real animals doing imaginary things (like wear cloths) or 3) imaginary animals doing imaginary things. Kyri had a blast!

After the classroom portion, everyone went for a nature walk at the park, exploring the plant and animal inhabitants there. I managed to keep up with Kyri even though I was wearing Julian the whole time and carrying Ender a fair amount too. He loved the nature walk!

If you haven’t checked out the classes offered through San Antonio Natural Areas, you are missing out!

 

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Learning About Mammals

Our co-op had our second zoo field trip this week. Last month we went at the end of our Bird unit.

This trip we focused on mammals, and we kept track of all the animals that we saw. As we observed the different animals and their names were recorded, we discussed if their names came from their looks, or where they were from.

Kyri and Ender had a fun time seeing all the animals. Kyri says her favorite was the elephant, though I know she was enthralled by all the different wild cats.

The ostriches put on quite a show! They were in a gated area and you could only see their necks and heads from behind the fence. They kept dropping below the fence line and then slowly raising their heads up to peep at the folks watching them. It was very funny!

Kyri really enjoyed our field trip. She loved seeing all the animals. Even though we do not usually go to zoos, I have been trying to use our visit(s) as an educational opportunity. Kyri thought the cheetahs were incredible and was amazed to find out how fast they run in the wild (70 MPH!). I asked her later if she thought they were able to run that fast in the zoo. I explained to her that while it is nice to be able to see the animals and have a chance to study them up close like this, a zoo enclosure is no substitute for their natural habitat.

I was honestly a little nervous to see the elephant exhibit. Captive elephants make me very sad, and I hate seeing how trainers hit them with metal hooks. The last time I saw that was at the renaissance fair in Maryland (had I known they were going to have an elephant there to give rides I would not have gone). Anyway, Lucky, the elephant at the San Antonio Zoo did show off some “tricks” for people, lifting her legs in response to her trainer. In the picture below, you can see the sticks he used to tap her legs – they were long bamboo poles with plastic covers on them. He would lightly tap her leg and she would lift it in response. 

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Why Homeschool?

I post a lot about homeschooling, because it is a large part of who we are as a family. But I got a comment earlier this week on Twitter that made me realize that I have never put into words all the reasons we chose to homeschool. I hope that by stating the reasons why we have chosen this path, others might reflect on their own family situation and perhaps choose to homeschool as well.

 

Academic Excellence

I have spent a good two-thirds of my life in school in some form or fashion. With more than a decade of post-secondary schooling under my belt, I know the value of education, and the hard work that is required. Note that I said education, not school. Going to school does not ensure getting an education. I think it is vital to encourage a love of learning, starting at a young age. When a young person gets that spark, they become motivated to pursue education in many forms. A child can sit in a room or building and “do school” for 8 hours a day, but if there isn’t a passion for learning and a self-motivation for pursuing education and personal excellence, going to school in a formal setting is a waste of time.

Home education gives families an opportunity to encourage this love of learning and continue to build on our kids’ natural curiosity. Homeschool allows us to pursue education for the purpose of education, not to fill a block of time during the day or meet some minimum attendance requirement our state has, or to be another checkmark on a roster to ensure funding for a school. I don’t want my kids to feel that learning “just enough” to get by according to school standards is okay. I want them to be driven to learn out of an inborn desire for personal knowledge and personal excellence.

The World Around Us

One of my (many) criticisms about our culture today is our tendency to glorify “rock stars” – and not just in a literal sense. We put sports stars, musicians, actors, and reality stars on some pedestal, and our young people see this and grow up wanting to be like them. Scientists, engineers, inventors, entrepreneurs don’t get this fame and we as a culture don’t make it “cool” to be smart.

It’s only recently that Nerd Culture has been seen as remotely cool, thanks in part to the very popular show The Big Bang Theory. There is still peer pressure among kids to not be the smart kid in class, or interested in something others see as uncool.

I want my kids to be around peers who value being smart, and for whom being nerdy is more likely a badge of honor. I may be painting homeschool kids here with a wide brush, but in all our interactions with various homeschool groups and co-ops, I haven’t seen the negative peer pressure and negative ideals (or nearly as much) that I see in many of the kids going through the public (and even private) school system.

Now I know that some people view (incorrectly, in my opinion) that by homeschooling, we are “sheltering” our kids from the real world, and ultimately doing them a disservice. I disagree. I think our schools are a vortex of suspended reality, with no resemblance to the way the world really works. In the real world, we aren’t lumped together with peers based on age or even intellectual ability. We don’t get ahead in the real world by towing the line, doing the bare minimum, not being driven to succeed, not thinking critically or outside the box.

And honestly, if we are “sheltering” our kids, so what?! Isn’t that our jobs as parents? Up to a certain age, we shelter our kids from violence on television, images of smoking and drug use and sex in the media, profanity and explicit lyrics in music. We are criticized if we don’t shelter them from these things. So why is it, if we choose to shelter our kids from a culture of narcissism, bloated consumerism and personal inadequacy, we are somehow bad parents.

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Just The Facts, Please

Producing textbooks for public schools is a big business, and is driven by the needs and desires of the school districts. There is a huge market for textbooks that are used in the public schools, and they are written to meet standards that are set by state boards of education, and now of course the federal Common Core standards will have a major impact on textbook content. I don’t want to have my kids taught using textbooks that are biased, whether that bias is liberal or conservative. I want to use actual books, living books, primary sources – free from bias dictated from school boards and departments of education and common core standards. I want to be able to choose the material we are using in our homeschool so that I am confident that the content is accurate and well written.

Less Stress, More Learning

I remember the stress of taking standardized testing when I was going through public school. I always got test anxiety and struggled to stay focused. When I was going through school we had standardized testing every couple of years, and there wasn’t a huge build up during the year as testing approached. There was some preparation closer to the testing dates, but there wasn’t this feeling of anxiety, pressure and fear. Now it seems the focus of schools is to prepare for this ever-looming test that will determine whether your student, teacher, administrator, school, even district fails. That’s a lot of pressure! This pressure ends up on the shoulders of the students ultimately. And so what if your student does well on the standardized test? Does that mean he or she really mastered the content, or rather learned how to be a successful test-taker?

I would rather evaluate my child’s progress throughout the year, using a variety of methods to determine if they are retaining and fully understanding the material. Writing assignments, quizzes perhaps, narration, presentations and demonstrations– there are so many ways we can track our student’s progress without the stress of standardized testing.

Student-directed Learning

When I was going through middle and high school, I hated Shakespeare. Hated him. I resented the fact that every year my teachers found a way to make me read his works. For the record, I do actually enjoy Shakespeare’s writings, having read many of his works in college. My resentment came from him being forced on me at every turn. It wasn’t like I didn’t read. I have always been a voracious reader. But I prefer to choose what I am going to read. I didn’t enjoy reading Shakespeare in secondary school because I was being forced to, in addition to having the teachers tell me how I was supposed to read it. Had they backed off or given me a choice, I may have felt better about it.

Anyway, what I have learned from my own experiences, as well as with my kids is that we learn better when we are self-motivated. When our kids take ownership of their own schooling and get to pursue their own interests, that is where real learning happens. We call Kyri our little entomologist, because she is really interested in bugs. She loves to explore and find insects and collect them in jars (don’t worry… it’s catch and release around here) for observing. She remembers interesting facts about the bugs she finds and is motivated to look up information, draw sketches, and build small habitats for her “friends.” This is what she is interested in and her passion motivates her to learn more. If she wasn’t interested in bugs, I couldn’t force her to go bug hunting, or pick up beetles to examine the different features.
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Square Peg, Round Hole

Kids have different learning styles – some are visual learners, some are auditory learners, some are tactile learners. Some kids have trouble sitting in one place for too long and need to pace while doing school. Unfortunately, in a class of 20+ other students, there really isn’t much room to accommodate every student’s individual needs. It’s just not realistic. I wonder sometimes how Kyri would fare in a formal classroom setting. She struggles with staying on task and likes to wander around as she does her schoolwork. But at home, the teacher-to-student ratio is MUCH smaller, so as I figure out what schedule works best for us, and what learning styles she favors, I can modify my teaching method to suit her needs best.

Experiencing the World

I’ve mentioned in the past the abundance of educational opportunities around here. We love library classes, field trips with fellow homeschoolers, co-op classes. The dynamic learning environment keeps things fresh and excited, and this keeps Kyri engaged and wanting to participate. She remembers things she learns from some of these outside-the-home opportunities a lot more readily than when she just does a worksheet.

Educating at home gives us the freedom to take advantage of opportunities in our community, without fear of repercussion from the school for days missed, and without having to ask permission to take my daughter to an event.

Learning happens all around us, and the world really is our classroom. I don’t want Kyri to be so beaten down with her head stuck in a textbook or a test-prep guide, that she misses out.

Lifestyle Considerations

Raising my kids the best way that I know is my number one priority. I have strong feelings on what I should be teaching them (and not just academically) – I am sure this is true for most parents. I want to teach my kids about what I think is most important. I don’t want to have to weed through what indoctrination is occurring at the public school and try to counter it. The truth is, indoctrination is going to occur – if we raise our kids vegan or as meat eaters, we are indoctrinating them in what we think is right. If we are Christian or some other faith and raise our kids to follow the same faith, we are indoctrinating. If we teach our kids about politics from our particular viewpoint, we are indoctrinating. If a child goes to public school and is told or shown through example time and time again that this particular “something” is the truth, that is indoctrinating.

So you see, indoctrination is going to occur, it is only natural I suppose. But as parents, we need to decide what we think is right for our family. That’s our responsibility.

The Family Unit

Call me odd, but I’m one of those folks who actually likes to be with my kids. When I was working full time and Kyri was in daycare/preschool, I missed her terribly during the day. I was missing out on most of her new experiences and the highs and lows of each day. We would come home in the evening after picking her up, and have maybe an hour before it was time to start our bedtime routine. She wasn’t getting quality time with either of us, and her behavior reflected this. One of the big pushes in the beginning, when deciding whether I would stay home, was her behavior. While we still have our struggles, as most parents do, being home with Kyri (as well as the boys) has been the best decision for us.

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I get to spend my days with my kids, and have an active role in raising them, educating them, helping shape their development. I am grateful that I can do this.

 

***In case it sounds like I am bashing public school teachers, please know I have the utmost respect for educators in all forms. I think most teachers enter the field with a desire to teach and make a difference, but the education system itself and the way our schools are organized and run make this very difficult.

More Butterflies!

This week we finished up the Butterfly lesson we started several weeks ago when we all got our caterpillars in the mail. Most of the lesson happened at home, as we watched our caterpillars grow larger, form their crysalis and eventually emerge as butterflies.

The kids loved watching them in our habitat. It was so exciting to release them, and watch them explore the flowers in the front yard.

For our formal lesson, I spent a little time going over the body parts of both caterpillars and butterflies. We labeled our diagrams and talked about the lifecycles of butterflies.

Finally, the kids did a simple craft – coloring butterflies to hang as a butterfly chain.

This has been a great learning experience for us, and I know we will order more larvae. This may end up being a spring tradition for us, since it was such a hit around here!

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Planning Ahead

It’s that time already. Time to evaluate what has worked for us (or not) over the course of the school year, and decide what to change up for the upcoming one.

My initial assessment of our school year is that we did not get as much done as I initially planned out on paper in August. While we have kept up with our core subjects – Math, Language Arts, Science and History – I have found our other subjects dragging behind. I know that this year has been hectic due to the new baby, but I am trying to plan for a better schedule to get more accomplished each day.

Our Calendar

We homeschool year round.

Our Science and History co-op follows the traditional school year calendar that runs Fall and Spring. As a result, I do a lot of my planning for the school year with this traditional 36-week schedule in mind. I even view late May as “end of the year” in terms of graduating to the next “grade.”

But I also plan for the Summer session, which typically gives me a ten-week block to cover things that I can’t fit into our schedule during the Fall or Spring.

As I am evaluating our school year and what we managed to cover and what got put to the side, I am realizing that I need to be more realistic in what I think we can cover during the Fall and Spring sessions. I planned the year in August with the idea that we would cover all of our core and secondary subjects (more on this below) during the Fall and Spring, and Summer would be a lighter schedule but still much of the same.

Realistically, though, I need to use Fall and Spring primarily for our core subjects and use Summer for most of the secondary topics I want us to cover. Planning with this schedule in mind will do a lot for my sanity. I found myself getting so stressed out this year when we wouldn’t get to all the stuff I had on our school schedule for the day or week.

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Our Core Subjects

Our Core Subjects are Math, Language Arts, Critical ThinkingScience and History.

With our co-op we cover Science and History during the Fall and Spring, following the traditional 36-week school, for the most part.  We have one day a week where we do group activities – interactive lesson, crafts, etc. We also have a fair amount of reading during the week for these Subjects. Because we follow the traditional school year schedule for co-op, we don’t have Science or History planned for the Summer.

Language Arts encompasses a lot of things. Spelling, Phonics, Reading Comprehension, Grammar, Writing, and Handwriting – all these things fall under Language Arts. I have to take the long view for something so expansive. I don’t plan our Language Arts studies with just Fall and Spring in mind. This is one of our year-round subjects. We cover Language Arts topics four days a week, and this has been working well for us.

Math is another year-round subject for us. This year we focused on First Grade skills – Addition, Subtraction, Place Value, Fact Families, Geometry and Measurement, Time and Money, and Word Problems. Like Language Arts, we strive for four days a week for our Math work, and will continue this schedule through the summer. We will start Second grade material in the Fall.

Under the umbrella term Critical Thinking, I include Logic exercises, brain teasers, inference activities, puzzles, tanagrams, things like that. We have been using different resources for this, and I think these “brain warmups” as I refer to them are an important part of our schooling. This is definitely one of Kyri’s favorite subjects ! These activities are easy to fit in during a typical school week, so we will be continuing these year round.

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Our Secondary Subjects

Subjects that I would consider secondary include Nature Studies, Five in a Row, Art and Music Appreciation, Foreign Language, Computer Science, Good Citizenship and Bible. Note, this isn’t a reflection on their importance, but rather how and when they are scheduled.

Nature Studies are an important part of our schooling – we participate in different outdoor programs offered by the San Antonio Parks and Rec throughout the year. These classes are offered monthly and Kyri really enjoys them. Kyri also spends a lot of free time outdoors exploring and collecting bugs. While I really want to incorporate a Nature Journal into our routine (Handbook of Nature Study is a wonderful resource for this!), it just hasn’t happened yet. One of the upcoming classes Kyri is signed up for actually involves making and using a Nature Journal. I am also hoping to put together a recurring Nature activity through our local homeschool group.

We use Five in a Row (FIAR) as a supplement, rather than as our main curriculum. We take a couple of weeks to row the reading selection, and then discuss topics from the manual. In addition, this year we started putting together lapbooks that go along with our reading selections. Kyri has really enjoyed this part of our FIAR work and we will continue doing it this way. Since this isn’t our main curriculum, we only row a book once or twice a week, taking two or three weeks to work through our reading and topics. Even though adding the lapbook component has made for more work (rather than just discussing as we go) I think it has been worth it. My plan is to continue rowing once or twice a week, and spending three weeks on one book selection.

This year we starting using Harmony Fine Arts for our Art and Music Appreciation. This is a wonderful curriculum and we have enjoyed it. It is layed out in a 32-week schedule and follows a classical schedule. This year we have been using Grammar Stage Year 1. The way the program is planned out, you spend four weeks at a time on one artist and one composer. We fell behind around Christmas and have only started to get caught up. My plan at this point is to follow the typical schedule as written during the summer months and relax it a little during the Fall and Spring, taking eight weeks to cover each artist/composer combo. This will spread the 32-week plan out to cover the entire year and take the pressure off to get everything done.

This year for Computer Science we started off with Scratch and Python Turtle. We have struggled to keep this as a regular part of our weekly schedule though. Kyri gets plenty of computer time during the week and so I know she is quite computer savvy. However, I think dedicated lessons on Computer language are going to have to be part of our Summer schedule. One thing  I do plan on introducing is Minecraft. She loves video games and I think she would really take to it. I am hoping that if we spend our Summer working on Computer language skills she can be more self-directed during the Fall and Summer and it won’t need to be a dedicated topic in our school schedule.

I initially started off this Fall planning to do Bible stories as part of our weekly schedule. However, Kyri started participating in AWANA through a local church this year, so we have used our AWANA reading and memory verses instead as our lessons. She has really enjoyed the experience and we will continue in the Fall (AWANA only runs through early May). I also plan on signing the kids up for Vacation Bible School this summer. I am happy with this setup for Bible lessons and don’t plan to add anything else to our school schedule at this time.

Foreign Language has been tough to keep up with. I started this Fall planning on covering basic Spanish with Kyri and it has always gotten pushed to the side when our schedule has gotten hectic. As a result, we have gotten very little done. I’m still trying to figure out how best to schedule this for us. I am considering scheduling it like our Art and Music – schedule it regularly during the Summer and keep it light during the Fall and Spring.

Here in Texas, we are required to cover Good Citizenship – it’s one of the few requirements we have here and also pretty vague in what is expected. Last summer we covered basic Civics – Symbols of America to meet this requirement. This is definitely one subject that will be done in the Summer months. I am working on my lesson plans now for the upcoming summer. We will cover basic Civics and characteristics of Good Citizenship. I am putting together a 10-week schedule of topics and will post a more detailed write-up of the coursework as we get closer to summer.

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Supplemental

Kyri is very much a self-directed learner. She gets interested in something and follows up on it on her own. I try to encourage and foster this as much as possible. I mentioned her being very computer savvy. We have put a large selection of apps on the iPad for her use – educational apps that she loves to play, but we know she is learning at the same time. She has her favorites and I’m working on writing up reviews currently to share our experiences with everyone.

We spend a lot of time exploring the many wonderful opportunities for homeschoolers in San Antonio. She gets a lot out of our library classes, nature classes, museum trips and Botanical Garden visits. I think they are more impactive than sitting around doing worksheets or reading, and I try to remind myself of this whenever I find us falling behind our “schedule.”

As we wrap up our second year as homeschoolers (already!) I am feeling pretty good about where we are at. Kyri is learning and having a great time. She is a motivated learner and I just love being her teacher. I think as we continue to evolve as homeschoolers, we will find our groove; we will find the schedule and routine that works best for all of us.

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*** I’ll be reviewing in detail some of the curriculum we have used, or are planning to use this coming year. Look for these reviews in upcoming posts.

 

 

 

Growing Up Wild: Backbone Bonanza

We participated in this month’s Growing Up Wild class offered through San Antonio Parks and Rec. This month’s topic was Backbone Bonanza. There were educational crafts and a nature walk as a group to try and spot different vertebrates in the park. Rabbits, birds, squirrels, even a gentleman’s very large dog! A small trail was observed crossing our walking path, and we saw footprints in the soft dirt. Off in a clearing the group could clearly see two large deer. It was wonderful!

I’ve talked about Growing Up Wild in the past.  I went to a workshop with several other homeschoolers and took home the curriculum guide. We have been participating up until recently with a small co-op working through the guide. Now that the Parks and Rec folks are offering monthly programs, we are taking advantage of their knowledge and expertise.

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Big Bugs, Little Bugs

This month Kyri has participated in one of the wonderful Science courses offered through SREIT, a local educational resource that provides Science enrichment activities for students of all ages. If you haven’t checked out their course offerings, you are missing out!

Kyri participated in a two-part class called Big Bugs, Little Bugs. She learned many different facts about insects, and got to observe and handle some live specimens as well.  She had such a blast handling the mealworms – she insisted on bringing one over to me. I made sure to check her pockets so that we didn’t end up with any new insect pets at home. At the second class, she  got to observe an Emperor Scorpion and a Tarantula during the class. She was so excited! I’ve got a junior entomologist on my hands!

 

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