Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Homeschool Confessions

The greatest challenge for me as a newbie homeschooler is the pressure I put on myself for not doing “enough.”  Having never been a teacher prior to September, I struggle with feeling like we aren’t covering enough material.  In the very beginning of our year, I started a journal where I quickly jot down everything we cover in a day along with a record of all the books we’ve read, including ones that he’s read independently as well as the ones we’ve read together.  I also have a binder that stores all the paper work that we’ve covered so far this year.  Little by little, the journal, book list, and binder has been growing.  Our file folder for our lap books has less and less room as the year progresses.  I need to start a new binder, since the one we started with is more than full.  Our geography workbook suddenly has page numbers in the triple digits, and almost all of that work was done independently on his part.  Little by little, we’re much farther now than we were in September.

But it’s still hard not to compare our experiences at home to the experiences of my other boys in school.  They come home with way more tests and papers, but a lot of the learning done at home doesn’t come recorded.  It’s harder to quantify.  But I see the growth, the sparks of creativity, the expansion of knowledge, and the thirst to know more.  My little math-averse boy is now playing with his sharks and measuring them, adding their lengths, and comparing the differences.  All in his own play time.  This, my friends, is not only an accomplishment, but a radical change from the boy who started homeschool in September.  It’s what I had hoped for when going into this crazy adventure.  And yes, right now as I type, he’s upstairs arguing with me over the beeping timer that tells us his play break is over.  He’d rather be playing dinosaurs than doing story sequencing.  But seriously, what sounds more fun?  I kinda don’t blame him . . .

I try to make it as fun as possible, but certain things are just not as fun as others, and focus tends to be a pervasive challenge.  It often takes us more time than I expect to get through things, and though I want to push through material and cover as much as possible, I find myself needing to slow down a lot and focus on quality of work, and not quantity.  Little by little, we are moving ahead, making connections, and better than we were a few months ago.  And that, for me, should be enough.

Friday, January 15, 2016

180 Days of Homeschool: Viking Unit

After our winter break, we are officially back to work.  Over the past few months of homeschool, we seem to have found our groove and are keeping a steady pace of work flow.  Every day, we focus on what we call “morning work” where we get certain (hard) things out of the way.  There’s always some kind of quick form of fun (drawing/maps) squeezed in between math and handwriting.  What seems to be working best for us is to focus on a unit study that’s sort of all encompassing.  Yes, some units are more history based than science, and some science units make it hard to incorporate language arts and stories.  But, when you look at it as a whole rather than individual parts, we are covering a great deal of material by focusing on one particular subject.  The immersion factor seems to help with working memory, something that Carter has more trouble with in certain subjects (like math) that don’t keep his attention very long.  

We are wrapping up one of my favorite units so far, Vikings.  I’ve been able to pull from a lot of different subjects to weave together a great unit for him that has been exciting and captivated his attention (not always an easy task).  We’ve spent about three weeks on this unit (though we probably could have done it in 2, if not for the holidays!) and here’s what we’ve done:

Library.  We checked out a few books on Vikings, including You Wouldn’t Want to be a Viking and books about Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway.  We read the Iceland and Sweden books in their entirety, and they give a great picture of the Vikings and how their culture influenced these countries throughout history and into modern time.  We also read The Snow Queen  and The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen.

Amazon.  I’m a HUGE fan of the d’Aulaires’ books, beautifully written and illustrated.  I’ve wanted to add some special books to our home library, so this was a perfect opportunity to do so.  Carter loved these books!  Particularly Leif the Lucky and as he was playing Minecraft and Legos, I heard him talking about Erik the Red and Leif Erikson and building Viking long ships.  When I hear him incorporate our study in his play, I know we are accomplishing something great in homeschool.

Dress Up.  I think dressing up and acting out learning is just about the coolest thing we’ve been doing in homeschool.  When we’re doing cells, we’re obviously not dressing up like a mitochondria, so when we’ve had an opportunity for dress up play, I grab it with both hands.  We read in one of our stories about a Viking woman who scared off an invading tribe by sharpening her sword on her skin.  That’s how tough she was.  So when he dressed up, that’s what he pretended he was doing, sharpening a “sword” (actually a foam golf club) on his arm to prove his Viking status. 

Creating.  Creating is the practice that takes educational concepts and grows them to limitless potential.  Think of it this way:  knowledge is a plant.  And bringing creativity to it is the sun that allows it to blossom and the water that grows its roots.  It’s an essential part of growth and depth in so many ways, for adults and children alike.  It’s the thing that solidifies understanding in our brain, and there are limitless ways to create around educational concepts in homeschool.  It’s the part I love the most about it, especially for this child, whose soul thrives on creating.  We made our own rune stones out of wooden coins from the craft store.  I lightly sketched the runic letter with pencil and he traced it with permanent marker.  On the back, we wrote the letter, the word, and the way it is pronounced.  As an activity, he took the runes and put them together to make stories, just like Vikings had many centuries ago.  Another creative activity we did was using this tutorial from Mr. Printables, which is my new obsession.  (It’s the kind of thing that makes my crafty side squeal with glee.)  Now, ours didn’t look nearly as amazing as the ones on the site, but we did pretty well, thanks to the abundance of packages/cardboard we had in the garage during the Christmas delivery season.  I cut and he painted large pieces of cardboard to make the Scandinavian countries (Iceland, Greenland, Norway/Sweden/Finland) so we could recreate Erik the Red and Leif Erikson’s adventures.  And one of our clothespin men had red hair, rather than blonde.  After reading Norse Mythology, we created some character portraits, and even Jackson and I got in on the fun.

"Rune stones" and the Runic Alphabet

Odin (me), Loki (Carter), and Thor (Jackson)

And now, the Viking long ship has sailed!  Thanks for stopping by!


Friday, January 8, 2016

Travel with Kids: Maine

Family travel.  It will either make you or break you.  Fortunately, we seem to be of the former, rather than the latter.  As crazy as it sounds, traveling as a family has been a sort of saving grace for us.  No matter how much stress comes before hand (insane holiday celebration + packing nearly did me in) or how many meltdowns occur along the way (adult + children alike), being away helps us to reconnect in ways that are hard to understand.  We get to be together, leaving behind most of our distractions and head out into an unknown adventure.  Two years ago, we were planning on traveling to Sugarloaf Mountain Ski Resort in Maine to celebrate winter break with the boys.  And one week before Christmas, I got the call every parent dreads.  This is how it went:  

School Nurse:  "Hello, Mrs. Gayeski?  We think Jackson broke his leg in gym class."  
Me:  "Are you sure?  I mean, you can't always tell without an x-ray, right?"
School Nurse:  "Well, the teacher heard his bone snap."

Yup.  It turned out to be a very sad Christmas for one second grade boy, one where he missed an entire ski season.  Very sad, indeed.  So, here we go for Sugarloaf, take 2!  Can I just tell you, I fell deeply in LOVE with this place, over every ski resort we've visited together as a family.  I truly wish it wasn't so far from home, otherwise we would have gone back for another visit asap.  The weather was cold enough for snow and the people were warm and lovely.  We stayed in a condo very close to the gym/pool and were able to ski in/out after the first night left us with some new snow, very convenient when you have 5 pairs of skis + poles + helmets + a snowboard (most of the time, Dave and I are sweating before the day even starts).  The kids' lift tickets were free (wahoo!) and we were given a resort activity card, which included a free group lesson every day, if we wanted to participate.  Dave and I did, and it was great.  While we were there, the lodge hosted a bunch of family events, including a bonfire/dance party and a NYE family party with a performance by a jester and complete with fireworks.  All were really fun and well organized.  The ski school was wonderful and they went to great lengths to take care of our kid with some sensory issues.  Even when he wasn't paying attention and skied away from his group (I thought his instructor was going to have a heart attack out of panic) they handled everything as well as one could possibly expect (he's a wild card, I tell you).  I seriously love this mountain and hope that our travels take us back one day.  And to anyone who visits, don't forget to hit up The Rack, a really fun bar/restaurant just at the bottom of the resort. 

My one regret?  I left my camera battery charger at home.  I've been having some issues lately with my battery, so I should have been better prepared :(.  So all I have are iPhone pics.  So, here they are, in all their grainy, noisy splendor.

To break up the ride home, we left late after a full day of skiing and traveled 2.5 hours south to Portland, ME.  Oh, how I loved this amazing city!  Restaurants, museums, and lighthouses.  What more could you ask for?  With 18 hours in Portland, we went to Nosh Kitchen for dinner, hit up the Portland Museum of Art in the morning (they have the BEST gift shop), and had brunch at Hot Suppa.  Seriously, this town knows how to do food.  (All amazing and highly recommended!)  From there, we drove out toward the water to see the amazing coastline as we traveled to Boston, and we made a few quick stops along the way before the sun went down.

In Boston, we took half the day to squeeze in a tour of Fenway Park and the Boston Tea Party Museum before heading home for the final 6 hour leg of the journey.  We loved every dang exhausting minute of the whole week.  And when school came Monday morning, there were tears.  I guess that's a sign of a good trip :)

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