Monday, December 19, 2016

A Christmas Tree Puzzle

Round and around we went. Move the couch here, this chair there, take out the hand-built credenza, step back and survey ... and no. Switch chairs, reposition record player console, measure ... and no. Put the couch and credenza back. No. Shake head. Try not to despair. Move everything again. No. Hold back the impending meltdown. Realize that I'm not the only one about to have one ...

My living room has exactly one joy sparking arrangement, a perfect fusion of the upholstered pieces, the rugs, and the coffee table and other wood pieces. It took 15 years(!) to find the right pieces for this space and to learn where they should go. The house kept trying to tell us, but we weren't listening. Now the focus is on the fireplace and we've even carved out what feels like a small entry way in a California bungalow whose front door opens directly into the living room.

The feel of this room is highly important to me. The furniture placement needs to create a cozy space that is aesthetically pleasing, but more than than, a space the welcomes us in. I want it to be place that we want to be. Last November I breathed a huge sigh of contentment when we acquired the final piece of the furniture puzzle and added a rug to create a space within a space. Everything clicked!

Last Christmas we put up a small vintage aluminum tree with simple ball ornaments plus a color changing light and called it good. It was simple to set up and take down again, and it fit the space and was a fun throwback to the Christmas trees of my youth.

But several times this year I heard (from one child in particular) that a green tree would be preferred this year, one that could hold the many special ornaments we've collected over the years. I wanted to put my foot down and say that the simple aluminum tree would suffice, but underneath his request I could hear so much more.

I heard his longing for the tree to look like it had for the first 17 Christmases of his life (even if he didn't remember all of them).

I heard his trepidation about growing up and eventually leaving our home.

I heard his desire to revisit his childhood with the ornaments that represent part of our family story.

All the furniture moving was an attempt to make space for a large, decidedly artificial Christmas tree. We wrangled with space and chairs and the needs of our Christmas guests. It wasn't working. I was being quite rigid in what I wanted, which was for it to look and feel beautiful while also seating our expected guests. There was one chair that just wasn't working, no matter how we moved things, and I was loathe to let it go. We were both getting frustrated.

Finally, I told him to put the chair that was causing all of the problems in his room. His face turned to sunshine. We moved all of the furniture back where it had started, and decided that minus the chair and the record cabinet, a large tree would fit.

Come Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, we might not have enough seating, but we'll make do. We'll pull over the dining chairs, push back the couch, and a few of us may end up on the floor (not a problem). Until then, I'll try to remember that living in the house is the most important thing, and that one chair should never break us.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Plan For Our Grade 10/11 Year

I adore planning!

In May I planned the basics of our upcoming home learning year, and we hadn't even finished up grade 9/10.

I tweaked it in June.

I started over last week, and yesterday and today I completely revamped it. Like I mentioned, I adore planning -- so much so that my bed is unmade and their are bags of groceries that haven't been put away yet (don't worry -- they put the cold stuff away).

And ...

We are going back to Waldorf-style blocks, with a fair amount of Waldorf inspiration and method in the day to day lesson work.

I couldn't bear the thought of doing 9 months of chemistry every school day. I was certain that it would kill any interest the boys might have in the subject. I also think that the traditional school format for U.S. History would guarantee that the boys hate history for the rest of their lives.

We need time to explore things deeply. The average high school class is about 45 minutes long, and some of that time is spent on "housekeeping" tasks such as taking attendance, passing out papers, etc. In contrast, our main lesson blocks can be 1.5 - 2 hours per day.

This is kind of what it looks like for now:

We'll have 11 blocks; a few will be 4 weeks, but most will be 3 weeks.

Main Lessons:

Parzival (Since one boy is 16.5 and the other is 15 I need to choose something else)
Chemistry: Energy, The Periodic Table, and Compounds
U.S History: Post Constitution to The Civil War
Chemistry: Equations and Reactions
The American Novel: To Kill a Mockingbird
Chemistry: Gas Laws and Thermodynamics
U.S. History: Reconstruction to the Great Depression
Biology/Health: Genes, DNA, and Human Reproduction
U.S. History: WWII to Present
World Religions
Poetry and the Short Story

Yes, that's a lot of Chemistry. Since we didn't follow a Waldorf model for chemistry in the past two years we need to catch up. We'll actually be devoting two of our secondary lessons to chemistry as well.

Secondary Lessons:

Introduction to Chemistry: Scientific Notation and the Basics of Atoms
Shakespeare's Macbeth
19th Century Art and Music
Research Skills
Perfecting the Paragraph
Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington
Chemistry: Reactions and Dangerous Atoms
The Art of the Essay
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
The Research Paper: The Topic Funnel, Notes, and Outlines
Religion: Quaker Testimonies

Our major skills focus this year will be writing, because -- wait for it -- the boys have finally shown an interest in learning how to write beyond the subject journals and critical thinking pieces they did last year! In the first half of the year I have carved out 2 hours per week for writing instruction, in addition to the writing we do during Language Arts focused main and secondary lessons. I'm planning to make the lessons very fun at first! We'll also do Daily Grammar and a workbook for The Elements of Style.

"Said is Dead" and Using Descriptive Words
This Sentence Has Five Words, Crafting Power Sentences, Showing Emotions and Feelings
Tricky Words, Plurals, and Idioms
All About Punctuation
Analyze, Revise, and Edit
Expository Writing: Sequence

None of these topics are entirely new, but I think it is time to reawaken them in the context of high school writing.

You might have noticed that I did not plan any main or secondary lessons in mathematics. The boys have done so well with Teaching Textbooks that we will use it again this year for Algebra II on a daily basis. Their other daily subjects include Music, Spanish, and Physical Education.

This is a very focused and "planned" year, yet I still fully expect some organic and self-directed learning. T-Guy is going to finish up an elective in The History of American Baseball (probably this summer), while J-Baby will continue his studies in coding and electronics so that he can earn elective credit in those. T-Guy is pursuing vocational education credit it bicycle repair and mechanics (for which we hope to augment his book and hands-on learning with an internship at a local bicycle shop). He will also take driver's education this year -- yikes!

Another part of our summer learning is music and performance appreciation via attending concerts, plays, musicals, and other artistic performances, which we extend into the home learning year and add to by studying the music and composers. By the time their high school career is over they will each have enough hours for a full year's credit of music appreciation.

That's it so far!

Because You Like to Know

These are the resources we used for Grade 9/10:

Teaching Textbooks Geometry

CK-12 Biology and Illustrated Guide to Home Biology Experiments
J-Baby studied coding and electronics
Both boys continued to explore science through documentary films and natural exploration.

Literature/Language Arts:
We chose many classic works of literature and read and discussed them.  Writing, spelling, and grammar came along organically. Some of the works we read and discussed included The Grapes of Wrath, The Count of Monte Cristo, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, and Hamlet. J-Baby explored the works of Edgar Allen Poe.

History/Social Studies:
This year we focused most of our time on early American History, including colonization, the Revolutionary War, and the Constitution, and then peppered in history from many other places and time periods. Some of the books we used included Four Great Americans, Miracle at Philadelphia, A History of US, Common Sense, and several key speeches.  We also read The Royal Road to Romance, which focused mostly on geography.

Foreign Language:
Rosetta Stone Latin American Spanish (into level 2)

We continue with piano, guitar, and voice. This year we added in more composer studies and music appreciation as well.  We also studied several artists and their major works.

Physical Education:
Mountain biking and more mountain biking. There are always skills to learn and more ways to improve.

Fare Thee Well Homespun Waldorf

I am knee-deep in planning right now. Who am I kidding? I'm really up to my eyeballs, caught between loving the process and being overwhelmed with the desire to finish planning the year, plan out the first block, and prepare for our annual nature pilgrimage, all before an anniversary trip near the end of summer.

I went to consult with the Homespun Waldorf forum, which rarely has new posts, hoping to find something archived about high school chemistry ... and the forum and blog were not there!

I felt sad. They had been there perhaps just last month, and today there were gone. The message says that the account has been suspended.

My first thought was that all of our collective ideas were gone. It is an idea that saddens me tremendously. Then I remembered that this is not the first time that I have been part of a sharing of ideas and experiences that disappeared, and so I looked for the lesson.

Things are temporary, ephemeral even. This is as true of shared ideas as it is of physical things. However, the experience remains; I can still tap into how I felt when Homespun Waldorf was active. It is still a loss, but I see that it is one that came in stages. First we lost the active community, then we lost the collective wisdom of that community.

Perhaps it will come back. I don't think so; however. Why should someone pay to maintain forums that are no longer active? It may be that we lost the forum way back when people stopped coming.

Farewell, and hopefully I will see someone of the Homespun Waldorf community somewhere else.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Simplifying the Schedule

Our home learning year has been going really well in terms of rhythm and daily learning, but I found that the Charlotte Mason Method practice of breaking up the books through each term and the entire year wasn't working for us, so we aren't going to do it any longer.

We need things to be simple enough that we will keep up with them and not feel overwhelmed, but also interesting enough that we are not wasting our time. We also need the learning to feel natural, not forced.  Breaking a book into 12, 24, or 36 weeks just isn't how we work around here; we tend to dive deeply into each book and read them in every spare moment until we've finished.  Truthfully, in my own life I have found that any book that doesn't pull me in and make me want to keep reading is one that will probably never be finished.

I like block learning and find it simple to plan, even with all the daily subjects we are doing. We are able to devote 4 hours per week to our chosen block, plus extra time reading and watching film adaptions and documentaries.

(As a side note, Charlotte Mason Education skews toward British writers, especially for literature. I think we'll bring in more United States authors and world literature next year.)

2014 - 2015 Blocks

October: Emma, Pride and Prejudice
November: Little Dorrit, Hamlet
December: Miracle at Philadelphia
January: The Taming of the Shrew
February: Four Great Americans
March: Microbe Hunters
April: Character is Destiny
May: Arguing Slavery

June: The Count of Monte Cristo

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Tweaking the Path Yet Again

I wrote that while we were enjoying the content of Charlotte Mason education (which really is just living books), the idea of stretching it out over the term was bogging us down. I set the boys free with their independent reading and lo and behold both of them are finished with Pride and Prejudice and are ready to move on to The Count of Monte Cristo, which was supposed to be our book for the next term, but why hold back?

They finished reading Hamlet and this week we discussed what a soliloquy is and the function it serves, and now they are memorizing part of Hamlet's famous To be or not to be soliloquy.

Papa asked about Shakespeare and the significance still placed on him today. It was a fair question; not everyone enjoys Shakespeare and I did get far more from studying him in an upper division university course than I did studying his plays in high school (we tried to do the math and we think we read 6 - 8 Shakespearean plays in high school, being honor students).

But spending just a few weeks with Hamlet this term shows me how very influential Shakespeare was on our culture and language. How often do we hear someone spout the advice of Polonius to Laertes? Neither a borrower not a lender be, clothes make the man, to thine own self be true ... these have become tenants of our culture (although we often ignore the advice on borrowing and lending).

To me, Shakespeare serves the function in the high school years that fairy tales served in grade 1, trickster tales served in grade 2, and origin stories served in grade 3. These are stories of humanity, interesting stories about characters, to be sure, but in each character there is something that is also in all of us. We have all of us the potential to share Hamlet's indecision, Romeo and Juliet's passion, Lady Macbeth's scheming for power, or Lear's pride and deterioration.

The question remains as to how to bring Shakespeare to young people. The language is difficult to understand, whether we are reading it or hearing it performed. Modern translations lose the beauty of the language in an attempt to convey meaning. In and of themselves, plays are meant to be performed and watched, not read.

We also imbue Shakespeare with the status of Very Important Person in the English literature.

Monday, October 27, 2014

An Update

We're more than a month in to this home learning year, and overall it's going well. I feel comfortable with the amount of time spent on the required subjects and I'm even starting to divide some of the subject work into mini-blocks.

For the first time, we have equal amounts of time spent on subjects (including music, but not PE nor biology) in the mornings and afternoons. We work from 10 -12 and again from 1 - 3, with me as a helper in the morning hours and a facilitator in the afternoon.  It looks like this:

10 - 11  Geometry (I do mine earlier so that I can help)
11 - 12  30 Minutes Music / 30 Minutes Spanish
1 - 2      Guided Lesson Work
2 - 3      30 Minutes Music / 30 Minutes Writing

PE happens in the mornings for now, along with some afternoons, but when weekday practice begin we'll drop some of the mornings.  I have no concerns regarding PE: the riders on the team who are high school are allowed to substitute regular PE with team practices so I know we are doing enough. More than enough actually as we'll add in another 3 hours of riding on top of practices each week. Right now, with practices not yet started, the boys are riding at least 10 hours per week.

Biology happens during guided lesson work and evening/weekend labs. It's another 8 - 10 hours weekly.

There are approximately 5 hours of Geometry weekly, along with 5 hours of music (plus J's weekly piano lesson). I don't count the time spent in the car listening to and discussing classical music, which is the only thing we listen to now while driving.

Spanish gets 2.5 hours weekly, plus informal practice.

We spend about 5 hours weekly on Language Arts, and about the same on Social Studies, but there is some overlap. We pull writing topics from Literature, Social Studies, and Biology.

On a day like today the boys will spend approximately 7 hours on required subjects, with a heavy emphasis on PE. Tomorrow they will spend 7.5 hours but it will be weighted toward biology as it is a lab day. Wednesday will be an easy day at 5.5 hours, Thursday 7.5 hours, and Friday 5.5 hours. I never imagined that we would spend so much time on focused learning, but that is because I keep hearing about how schools wasted so much learning time, etc. Now I'm not so sure I believe that; I find myself wishing we had more hours in the day to learn everything we want to learn.

About those mini blocks; Charlotte Mason education, at least as modeled by Ambleside Online, breaks books down into tiny chunks and the students are studying many of them at once. I'm finding that to be a good strategy for the books they don't love (although I don't think we need to be reading books they hate), but it falls apart when they do like a book. J read Pride and Prejudice in a little over a week once I assigned it even though I had planned it out over 10 weeks (T, on the other hand, is plodding through with it as assigned).

But what inspired me to experiment with mini blocks was Hamlet; the idea of stretching it out over the term (12 weeks) wasn't working for me. Instead we are giving it our full attention for the next two weeks, leaving all the other assigned reading for other mini blocks.

Blocks are what I loved about Enki and Waldorf education because I believe that we learn naturally by immersing ourselves in whatever we are interested in. I don't read the books I want to read a chapter a week - I dive in!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What Happened on Day 2?

We don't have a history of fantastic second days. Based on that, this year's day 2 was okay. At least our issues weren't concerning attitude or motivation.

We started out stressed, as Papa and I were still trying to pull together our biology resources and figure out what the boys needed to do before the evening's laboratory. The boys were a little pokey eating their breakfast and getting their morning chores completed. We needed to take the dogs to their grooming appointment. All in all, the early morning was more rushed than I like.

Out academics went fine, however. The boys dug into their reading, and while they didn't enjoy Swift's Battle of the Books they made a good effort with it, along with How to Read a Book and the character descriptions from Hamlet. We did geometry, discussed our reading, and planned out the written narrations (at this age I am asking what they would like to narrate, and because they are new to it - but not really because Waldorf incorporates summarization - I help them work through it orally by asking questions). They also worked in a biology workbook (together since T still can't write). Workbooks aren't Waldorf or Charlotte Mason or even very holistic, but working with lab science is very different from the science we have done previously.

Things went downhill after that, however. After picking up the dogs I managed to turn my ankle and fall in the street. Ouch to my ankle, shoulder, hip, and wrist. It was a minor injury but caused problems just a little later, because while chopping potatoes for our main meal soup I was a little off-balance (favoring the ankle) and managed to cut myself with the sharp chef's knife.

I grabbed a cloth to apply pressure. I suppose it is true that injuries don't hurt as much at first because I then finished chopping potatoes with one hand and started the pressure cooker. The cut appeared to be deep, but I couldn't tell for certain because every time I took the cloth off it would bleed. I texted Papa and asked if he could come home to take a look at it for me. By then it was really hurting so I got in the car and went to get him.

His opinion was that the cut was deep and that we needed to go to urgent care. Ugh. I set the boys to doing their Spanish lessons and their written narrations and we headed out. (It is very nice to have teens who don't require a babysitter.)

Luckily the wait wasn't too bad; I was triaged quickly, seen by another nurse and the PA, and then had to wait for the PA to see attend to several patients before she could sew me up (most suture cases are not high priority and I understood this). I ended up with four stitches in the tip of my left index finger, along with an admonition not to bathe or shower for 24 hours and a request that I not do dishes or other wet cleaning for the duration of the stitches.

We had to pick up lunch so that Papa could get back to work, but before he left Papa helped me finish the soup that I had been working on when I cut myself. It made a nice supper and it was nice not to have to cook because my finger was in significant pain.

Papa and the boys did their biology lab after Papa got home, but before we ate our late supper. They learned about keeping scientific notebooks and also learned the basics of using a microscope. The notebook work is going to be difficult for them, at least at first, but we consider it an important part of doing scientific experiments accurately.

Monday, September 22, 2014

We Changed the Plan ...

... because this is our homeschool and we can do what we want, right?

I loved the idea of Big History, but I hated the implementation.  The main site for educators is clearly designed for classroom. The Kahn Academy adaptation was a little better, but not much. The site (and series) for the general public barely skims the surface and does so in a frenetic manner.

I don't know what made me think that all of a sudden short little videos and classroom style activities would work for us. I suppose I wanted it to work because I loved the idea of telling the history of the universe. But I don't think a holistic home learner can easily get on board with quick and slick videos for learning. Where it the depth? Maybe it works with students who have never been taught to pay attention to anything for more than five minutes. The BHP seems to try to cram as much information as they can into the students as quickly as possible.

Deciding to toss the BHP led me to rethink what we were doing in every area, even though we had just started our home learning year. I had wanted to bring in literature that would tie to the BHP, but no longer needed to do that. Papa expressed a desire that the boys continue with classic literature and that we make an effort to weed out the less-than-stellar books that they love to read over and over again.

I didn't want to do Waldorf style main lessons; now that we are in the high school years I want less spoon feeding and more discussion. And then it hit me ... Charlotte Mason.

Charlotte Mason education has appealed to me all along, but in the younger years I preferred Enki and Waldorf. In the light of our changes, however, I decided to take a look at CM high school and liked what I was finding. It includes many subjects so that the student has the opportunity to be well-rounded. The studies are gentle, but in-depth.

We also decided, last minute, to do lab biology this year. We had thought to put it off one year, thinking that T might be fine with two years of lab science before he graduates, but moving it to this year keep alive the possibly that J can graduate early and still have three years of lab science.

(By the end of J's junior year he will have completed algebra, geometry, algebra 2, trigonometry and either precalculus or calculus, as well as biology, chemistry, and physics, and all his other subject learning will far surpass anything he would learn in high school so will we decide at that point if his maturity is such that he would benefit from moving on the college.)

I spent a week scrambling to create a lesson plan for the year.  Since I have one child in grade 9 and one in grade 10 (although J child did grade 9 coursework last year) I leaned heavily on the Ambleside Online curriculum plan for completing grades 9 - 11 in two years. I took out the books that didn't fit in with our worldview (I see no reason to fear teaching secular history and science) and added in more US history, taking out the British history (it will get incorporated into world history). We ordered books (both paper and kindle) as well as a great microscope and a lab kit to go with the biology text we chose (CK12).

It is amazing to me how well CM education fits in with what I want for my boys in their high school years. I want them to read high quality books, both fiction and nonfiction, and to be able to discuss them orally and on paper. I want them to be well-grounded in Shakespeare just as much as I want them to have a firm grasp on mathematics and science. I want to continue with subjects such as nature study, music appreciation, and the like (those subjects that have been pushed out of public schools).

Today was our first day, and we traditionally have great first days, but today felt different; it was better than great. Compared to last year I felt more engaged as the boys' teacher.  Our day looked like this:

  • Wake up, care for dogs, eat breakfast, do chores.
  • Have second breakfast (my boys always have their breakfast in two parts, a fruit smoothie early and then a whole grain based food an hour or two later) and discuss together how our day will look.
  • First hour: assigned reading in biology, geography, and government
  • Second hour: geometry. We are also supposed to do a short penmanship/copywork lesson during this time, but with a child in a cast it will be postponed for another month.
  • Third hour: This was supposed to be our time for current events, map work, and time line work; however, I had forgotten about an orthodontist appointment so we'll get it started next week. I didn't have a newspaper or map at hand anyway.
  • Fourth Hour: Spanish and written narrations (switching off between rooms/computers)
  • Lunch
  • Music practice for 45 minutes
  • Free time
  • PE: weekly recovery road ride for 90 minutes
  • Late dinner
  • Reading and bedtime

Amazingly, that is 6 hours and 15 minutes of homeschool work, but it didn't feel like it. The boys will have between 5.25 - 6.25 hours of homeschool work on weekdays and an additional long PE session on Sundays. It seems like a lot, but this is high school. They work the first hour independently while I accomplish morning chores (baking bread, laundry, etc.) and then I spend the next two hours actively engaged with them. For the final morning hour I prepare our main meal while providing support as necessary.

I am taking the geometry with the boys as I feel that I didn't learn it as well as I could have when I was in high school. I am also doing their readings with them, excepting biology; Papa is teaching them biology and I only assign the reading and any narrations I want to pull from it. I plan to catch up to where they are in Spanish and continue forward with them; it should be easy as I did take three years of Spanish and did rather well in it. I could simply say that I have already learned these things and to step away, but I think that being engaged in what they are doing is the key to them enjoying it.

I'll check back in soon with an update on how it is going!