Monday, January 5, 2015

In Which We Hit the Books. In a Manner of Speaking.

Our return to our usual routine today began on a cold note. Really, really cold - and we all had to go out bright and early (for us) into it, to take Drew to science class and then to head to Target for a couple of things.

So cold.

But we survived, and came home ready to get open the books that had been tucked away all December.

Well, maybe we got out the new play-doh first and made some fun things for a long time. But while the boys were making monsters and eyeballs, I read aloud in Peter Pan and asked them some quizzing questions from Acts, and Aimee and Drew attacked their respective schedules with fervor. (They really did!) Later, Ryan and Chase did some reading and some math, and took care of their triops. (Is that singular or plural? I barely even know what they are..)

Below is one of the creatures. They are barely visible, and in this picture can hardly be distinguished from other specks in the water, but they really do swim around and appear to be thriving.

In the interest of full disclosure, the house took a hit.

But we got most of everything done, and in a mostly peaceful manner (except for that brief time of discord when one of my boys was likening his reading assignment to slavery), so all in all, it was a good start to our week and the new semester.

Tomorrow...we attempt a project I skipped over the first two times we studied Ancient History in The Story of the World (four and eight years ago - yikes!) as we will begin mummifying a chicken!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

In Which We Take a Break...and Learn Anyway

As per our usual, we took a break in December from our formal schooling. Also per our usual , as December aproached, it became increasingly clear that we needed a break, and the more we tried to wrap things up or "just get to lesson such-and-such in math", the less we are actually accomplishing. Some goals we reached before we tucked the books away for the holidays, while others we didn't, but close the books we did.

And as usual, we found that learning didn't stop, but in some cases flourished where it had been floundering in the course of our more formal efforts. Yes, this happens every time we take a break, and yes, I forget that it will happen. Ah well.

At any rate, Scarlett decided that she wanted to learn to write. So one when she asked us how to spell Coco, we told her, and she wrote it.

For three full weeks, Chase made no effort to attempt reading, the area an area in which he struggles. Then for Christmas , I bought books for everyone, and his were some sets of Bob Books. I had a moment or two of panic on Christmas Eve, worried that he would be underwhelmed by the lack of cool factor. As it turned out, he was excited that he could keep them in order and could read them whenever he needed to read something (such as when reading something is a requirement before playing any video games!) The day after Christmas he brought me a book from his set, and asked if I could help him. And he did the best reading he's ever done up until this point.

(And with this I'm outing myself. Is he "behind?" Yes, by many standards he is not even close to reading at a second grade level. But there are many layers to his reading status - one of which may be something we need to evaluate - and none of them mean anything that require fear or worry. In my calmest moments, I know that trust is the key here.)

On to Ryan, who is never, ever idle, bless him. If he can't be on the go, he's planning, plotting, crafting, building....He received an art set for Christmas, and got right to work with it. And then he bought himself a nice drawing book so that he could draw things like this:

(He handed this to me, though, and lamented, "I'm not any good!")

He and Chase also bought themselves some kits to hatch some kind of creatures called triops, which have indeed hatched under their care. So. Weird. But science, so it's all good.

Drew has been reading, reading, reading, of course, and doing some sketching as well (although I can't find a recent one to share). As our current walking encyclopedia, I never worry about him not learning, and in fact sometimes we have to ask him to STOP sharing his wealth of knowledge. For some reason, we found ourselves discussing squid the other day, and Drew was correcting our facts. I said at one point, "But I know I've heard about giant squid that size!" He said, "Only colossal squid reach that size. Giant squid are a different species." Aimee and I laughed/rolled our eyes, and reminded him that when we said "giant," we meant "large" in a general way. Unamused, he said, "But they're different species. You should say what you mean."

So anyway, all is well there. And Aimee - Aimee has been busy reading (there's always plenty of reading going on here, and literary discussions almost daily, which is one of the best things about the kids getting older), writing, editing her novels, and making a name for herself in the writing community. Her twitter account and her blog are gaining followers and getting recognition, and it's just amazing. Here's her blog post about the things she read in 2014 . She also has some great posts about writing in general, and her writing specifically, and it's all really terrific.

Now, it's also true that we watched too much TV and played too many video games. It's time for some structure again, and that's good, too. We aren't completely unschoolers because I DO believe there is value in discipline and structure. But it's good to be reminded that their learning isn't dependent on my successes and failures at scheduling, planning, and teaching.

On to the second half of our school year!

Friday, November 21, 2014

A Reveal!

This is my dear friend Lisa Dunn. 

Her book is coming out in March, and the cover reveal was today!

Grit of Birth and Stone by Lisa Dunn
Surge, Anaiah Press
Banished for a foolish mistake, sixteen-year-old Grit of Berth and Stone scorns the loss of her home, her honor, and her only ally. Only the weak worry about such things.
But war is brewing all across Chasmaria, and as a group of rebels pull Grit into their ranks, she begins to question what strength, courage, and honor really look like. When faced with a horrible truth about herself, Grit must either fight her way back to Thresh or live with the blood of the innocent on her hands.
Release Date:
March 17, 2015

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Sweets for the ....Not-So Sweet

Also last night, I had the opportuntity to have some rare one-on-one time with Chase. I had a couple of errands to run, and then we went to get ice cream. Now, this kid did NOT deserve ice cream. He was difficult today, to put it mildly. He's been difficult all week. We're having a tough time with him in many areas lately, and so much of our ineractions with him are battles. We don't want to fight him, we don't know why he even does fight about some things, but whatever is the issue, he's been extra challenging, and on days like yesterday, spending extra time with him - and going to get a treat, no less - seems like the opposite of what should be done.

But grace.

When we get busy, it's sometimes easy to fall into the trap of offering kids rewards, or threatening to withhold good things, just to keep them going from one thing to the next. In principle, I hate this - I think it's like dangling carrots in front of donkeys, and children aren't donkeys. In practice, it happens sometimes, and yesterday, while trying to get everyone out the door, I almost made the ice cream trip conditional. "Look, if you won't give me any trouble while we get in the car, if you'll behave during quiz practice, if you'll be good...then we'll go get ice cream together when the older kids go to their activities." I think I even started to say it. But I thought better of it, knowing in my heart that what a friend and I talked about once was true - that often the kids we want to keep at an arm's length, are the kids we need to draw in and keep close.

So I didn't make the ice cream trip conditional on anything. We just went - this rough-and-tumble, dirt-dusted, full of fire and untamed energy boy and I.

He wasn't particularly less challenging afterwards or anything, but I believe that eventually grace will win here - not me, not him, but grace.

And Graeter's sorbet is just a win anytime, so there's that.

A Little Wednesday Night Action

Last night on the way to church, I asked the kids about anything new or interesting they had learned that day. Chase "didn't learn anything," so I reminded him that we had learned more about verbs (exciting, I know!)  I chanted the "being verb" list, and the other boys joined in enthusiastically, so that I wasn't entirely alone in my efforts, but Chase groaned, "Ugh, I have no idea what you're talking about." School, in its formal structure, is not his favorite.

But I persisted, "Sure you do! You like to talk about action verbs, anyway. What are some action verbs?"

Silence, but then Ryan offered for him, "Run!" Then, "Chop! Kill! Hunt! Fight!"

And finally Chase got caught up in the moment and exclaimed, "Demolish!"

So I guess he is learning, after all.

PS Even the older kids got into it. Among their offerings? ""Incinerate" and "Incarcerate." Well, then.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

What We're Reading

Here's a glimpse of what we're currently reading:

The picture book basket is always full, and the contents are somewhat different each week...

but these are a couple of Scarlett's favorites. I love introducing the Beatrix Potter book to each child, and I get a thrill every time I read about the "soporific effect" of lettuces on young rabbits. 

Aimee's stack on the left, although after I took this picture, she announced that she had no patience for the book on the top (I liked it, but that's okay!), and that she wouldn't recommend the second. The stack on the right are books we have both read, and which we both highly recomend -  with a disclaimer for some. Cinder, and the rest of the Lunar Chronicles books, we recommend without hesitaton. Drew is currently reading the series, earning him cool points from his older sister. As for the others...Aimee's review of Red Rising sums it up quite well. The Unwind series (the last book of which is on the top of the stack) is interesting and has led to some great discussions, but it does have some language, as well as some unsettling concepts. We don't enjoy books with gratuitous violence or language, but we don't forbid books simply because of those elements, either. Context and maturity levels of the reader matter to us, and so we probably allow some books that some friends would prefer to avoid, and that's fine! 

These, though, are pretty fun, and I thought they were interesting. The kids haven't even gotten to them yet!

As for books for school....those are found everywhere. Yesterday, there were some serious art projects going on, along with some research on World Wars. I think Drew got most of the way through this WWII book yesterday alone...

And here are some more of our library books for school. The notecards are Drew's - he asked me yesterday if it was okay to use them to take notes while he was reading the WWII books. Um..yes, that's fine!

I don't mind having books and papers all over, but here's a shameless plea...all I want for Christmas...and my birthday, and Valentine's, and Mother's Day, and any other day ....are desks and shelves (and maybe some more shelves) for my school room. I don't need anything else. The end. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Getting Nothing Done

We hardly got anything at all done yesterday.

Everyone did some math I had planned, but other than that, we accomplished nothing. Well, they studied, and in some cases, quoted from memory, entire chapters of a great classical book known as the Bible, but that was just for quizzing, the extra-curricular activity that's not really "school." And I think Drew spent some time on his Rosestta Stone French. He also played on his violin. But the boys and Scarlett - since we spent a large chunk of their day at the gym where they take gymnastics and dance, all they really did was run and stretch and tumble and interact with other kids. They were entirely too happy for that to be a school day. And does it really count when Chase learned about consonant blends on the go, as I snuck papers in front of him now and then and asked him a few questions before he had time to object? Probably not.

For heaven's sake, I barely saw anything Aimee was doing. I mean, I think I saw some grammar pages, and she told me about a bunch of reading and some studying of vocabularly from classical languages. I know she spent lots of time writing, writing, writing. Why do I have such a hard time tearing her away from all that writing? Ugh. Fail. Much later, after dinner, we talked at length about current events like the Ebola crisis, and then about pleasanter things like literature. We probably should have busied ourselves with looking over her Algebra work. 

Or, I could have used some of that evening time to catch the boys up on some of their missed school work, but instead, I just sat by and watched as they put together Lego stop-motion videos, baked cookies from a new recipe, listened to books on CD, and then carved up pumpkins. By that time, they had to go to their respective baseball practices, and then it was dinner, and then they played happily together before bed. 

Yesterday's wasted day means we're now further behind on things like on spelling books. And I think I'll have to tack on other week or so of study of our History, because I meant to be finished with this particular time period by the end of October, and now because I didn't sit them down to do their mapwork, I'll have to rework my mental schedule. If we hadn't spent so much time previously on reading and talking about World War I, we wouldn't be in a rush now, anyway. We'll probably have the same problem with the next World War war - there's no way I'll be able to get them to wrap it up in just a couple days. They'll keep wanting to read about it, and I'll never get finished with modern history so I can start back up with the Ancients! 

And then! An entire morning of nothing but spending time with other kids, learning about nature, dissecting fish, doing art - argh! 

Obviously...I jest to some degree. But I would be lying if I said that this doesn't represent my actual thought process sometimes. Much of the time. I try to not say it out loud, or to convey non-verbally my feelings of frustration and doubt, but it must come across sometimes, because occasionally one of the older kids will ask me "how far behind" they are, or what they need to do to "catch up." And I have to remind myself as well as them that there's nothing about all the reading, writing, conversing, interacting, stretching, playing, discovering, LEARNING they do...that's anything like "falling behind." 

We'll catch up on the spelling books - if that's even necessary - when the snow comes.