Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Extreme Homeschool Makeover, Part 1

10 years in and homeschooling can get a little stale. It's largely become a matter of picking curriculum and then finding time in the day to do it with the kids. Or rather, with Harry, since Catherine works, by and large, independently.

But we departed from the norm this week when I chucked aside all of Harry's English stuff and started winging it. I had bought one last writing/grammar program, Story Grammar, a few weeks back and as I read it I realized there was nothing in it I couldn't do on my own now. If Story Grammar has kids chunking and rearranging model sentences, why couldn't I? And why couldn't I take it a bit further?

So on Monday, Harry and I talked about a sentence I had printed in his English binder.

"The Big Friendly Giant took out a book, very old and tattered."

We discussed it, rearranged it, parsed it. He copied it. Then he wrote an imitation sentence.

"The Huge Angry Troll took out a club, very large and bloody."

A little gory, yes, but not bad. And the troll was interesting. So we took the sentence and had an impromptu art lesson. He designed the monster, I drew the basics and he did the details.

Yesterday we had a sentence that, in his imitation, turned out to be excellent for introducing a troll-defeating hero. In the sentence the hero is carrying a dagger so in the afternoon Harry and I worked on designing and building a toy dagger. It's still in the process of being built but should be done tomorrow so I'll be sure to post pics.

I'm sort of wondering if we can't keep the theme going and slowly build a larger story.Or maybe fold more subjects into the Fantasy theme. Or maybe make the homeschooling itself a story or roleplaying game with his subjects as elements of that. I'm trying not to get ahead of myself with this because I tend to get carried away with an idea, go off the deep end and end up burning out. So I'm holding back and trying to take it a step at a time to see what evolves. 

Hopefully, it will be fun.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Homeschooling With a Toddler? By Jove, I Think I've Got it!

He looks so peaceful when he's asleep. You'd never suspect the chaos he's responsible for when he's awake.

It's been over two and a half years since he started affecting our homeschooling, first with the pregnancy, then with his wonderful self and it's been a battle to find our homeschooling groove. More so this year because he's more mobile then ever. Add in a Grade 10 student with the extra work that demands and a boy in Grade 6 that's prone to focus problems and I've been on the edge of crazy for far too long.

How to make it work?

Well, after some talking with the kids we think we've found a solution.

We dispensed with scheduling and replaced it with routine. I had been using Scholaric (an excellent planning site for homeschoolers) to schedule the kids' work. Once I started doing that I started micromanaging my daughter's workload. Where she used to just do the next thing, I was dividing up her work into specific blocks, adding videos and assignments to be done on specific days and taking away all her discretion. I also began to control subjects that had previously been led by her interest. She prefers days spent with school work but she does not like that work when it's dictated by someone else and turned into a joyless grind.

So although I still use Scholaric, it's much looser. Some subjects are back to being led by her interest and any assignments, like papers, flow out of the discussions we have about those subjects. What this has meant is that she has a little more time in the day that I can add into our larger daily routine.

Once that time was freed up we came up with the following plan:

7am to 8am - breakfast and chores.
8am to 9am - Harry plays with Lauchie. I do housework and prepare. Catherine practices fiddle and does her Latin.
9am to 10am - Catherine looks after Harry while I work with Harry.
10 am to 12pm - Catherine does her math, Harry does all his independent work and Lauchie has some time with me and then goes down for a nap. I get time to myself and am available if either child needs help.

The afternoon stills remains to be sorted but so far Catherine has retreated to her room after lunch to work until supper and Harry and I hold down the fort, maybe do the odd activity together when Lauchie is occupied with blocks or Mary Poppins.

I think this is probably a strategy that requires older kids but it's been wonderful for us. Hope it's helpful to someone else out there.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Obligatory Start-of-the-School Curriculum Lineup


Another school year and lots of stuff to plan and do and record. More then ever in fact because I have a high schooler in the house and university to think of. So without further ado, here's the run down.

Catherine, Grade 10

Planning for Catherine was a roller coaster ride this year. I posted some time ago about how we were going to send her off to school for science. Ha ha ha! Didn't happen. Putting a part-time student in an institution designed for full-timers is challenging to say the least.

Geometry 2nd edition, Harold Jacobs. I choose the second edition rather then the third because it's heavier on proofs.

CK-12 Chemistry - Second Edition. I know I had chosen Zumdahl's World of Chemistry and I do have the answer key on my bookshelf but the actual text never arrived so I just decided to cut my losses and go to CK-12.

A Brief History of the World. I've abandoned the 4 year history cycle. We're doing a survey course of history this year with supplemental readings.

English Composition I. 
Poetry. We'll use the Norton Anthology of Poetry with this.
Assigned readings.

Lingua Latina

Theory of Knowledge for the IB Diploma.

Study Skills
Study is Hard Work

Fiddle lessons, Home Ec. skills, Art.

Harry, Grade 6

Knowing Mathematics, Singapore Primary Math.

Classic Science, Elementary Chemistry

Story of the World 2

Grammar Voyage, World of Poetry, assigned readings.

Philosophy for Kids

Piano Lessons, Art, Home ec.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

On To High School

Well, in the space of a weekend our homeschool has changed radically.

In June, Catherine attended a science retreat put on by WISE, Women In Science and Engineering. Despite her usual introvert misgivings about spending the day with a bunch of public school kids she didn't know, she had a great time and came home talking about possible careers in molecular biology or computer science. Eep. My plan for grade ten science had been Zumdahl`s World of Chemistry with labs from a book by Robert Bruce Thompson. The lab bit was doing my head in in regards to planning and cost but no big worry, right? After all, she wanted to be a writer or linguist so science wasn't a huge deal.


Now science had to be rigorous. Not just that but Catherine wanted more structure then I generally provide and wanted to be taught by someone who, "knew what they were talking about." The nerve of that child. We talked and high school was an option we were both willing to explore.

Fast forward a bit and now my little girl is registered for two courses in the fall semester at the small local high school. One is an integrated General Science course (foundational for the next five semesters of science) and the other is a visual arts course that she thought might be fun.

She'll be fine. She's got the kind of confidence and self assurance you don't often see in teenagers today. And she was adamant that she still wanted to do the rest of her subjects on her own or with me. I think she'll have fun and hopefully meet more of the local teenagers. It's just me that has to adjust. I need to remember that she's capable of this and that choosing to homeschool is not a choice that means always schooling at home but rather centering the decisions about education in the home.

Besides, is only one semester.

So far.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Best Laid Plans...

I went shopping for Zumdahl's Introductory Chemistry Tuesday night and ended up with his World of Chemistry. The difference? IC is apparently more of an Honours high school book while WoC is regular chemistry. Also, many tens of dollars. I've seen syllibi online for Honours Chemistry courses that use WoC so I'm not too concerned that I've chosen something with less rigor so the money became the deciding factor.

Besides, the cover is prettier, don't you agree?

Also...*sigh*...Robert Bruce Thompson is no longer selling his most excellent lab kits to those of us in the Great White North. It is an understandable considering shipping costs and cross-border paperwork but Istill want to cry.  I will now have to put together my supplies all by my lonesome and the prospect is NOT thrilling.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Housework With Lauchie

Today's discovery: when stocking toilet paper with a toddler there is no such thing as moderation.

Monday, May 13, 2013

And So I Find Myself Planning For Grade 10

Here it is, high school. Here in Nova Scotia, high school officially starts in grade 10. Universities don't generally look at anything earlier then that so next year is the big one for me. Thankfully, it doesn't seem that difficult and much of what we've done this year is leading nicely into our selections for next year.

Geometry by Harold Jacobs.
This is the second edition rather then the current third. I choose the older book because the third gave up some of the work with proofs in favour of some discovery activities. Discovery math is not Catherine's great joy in life. Logical proofs, that's Catherine to a tee. I had some worries about finding an answer key but Alibris came to the rescue and I got the text and answer key for under $60. Score!

Lingua Latina
Why yes, that is Catherine's Latin text from this year. Thing is, as wonderful as it is to have a text that's focused on fluency rather then translation, LL really demands a knowledgeable tutor or a student willing to read, review and review again in order to really get to know the grammar otherwise a person could finish the text with only a superficial understanding. Catherine is that disciplined, review obsessed student but as a result it is going rather slow. It's a text that often gets broken up over two year anyway but I think Catherine might go three. That means Latin costs me nothing this year. Fine with me!

Catherine will be reading Medieval and Early Modern literature. She may continue with vocabulary as well but that will be because of her interest in it, not my insistence. Formal grammar and writing instruction are both finished. I'll buy her a good grammar guide and she'll be writing papers on her reading, history and science but other then that it's now all spit and polish. My one hope is that I can find a mentor who can critque her writing as she needs someone with a lot more knowledge then me.

 I am thinking we'll do Chemistry next year. Catherine's eyes lit up when she was telling me about a chapter from Natalie Angier's Canon on molecular biology but I think Chemistry is the foundation we'll build the other sciences on. CK12's Chemistry Flexbook was the top runner. It is free and, I've been told, of good quality. But then I saw this site where a homeschool mom has planned out a whole year of Chemistry using Zumdahl's Introductory Chemistry. Jeepers! How can I pass up on the opportunity to have everything planned out for me? Especially when she's even using the lab book,IIllustrated Guide to Home chemistry Experiments, that I'd been intending to use? And I'd been intending to use that lab book because the author sells affordable lab kits to go with his books! How much better can it get? This will be the expensive course. Just the kit will cost me over $200 and I haven't even started researching the price of the textbook.

Catherine has enjoyed Susan Wise Bauer's History of the Ancient World so we will likely continue with History of the Medieval World. We'll also add in some primary sources and Stanford's Reading Like A Historian lessons. I either have the stuff or it's free. Easy.

Theory of Knowledge
Aha! A new course! When a retired educator heard I was homeschooling a girl that wanted to be a writer he recommended some epistemology and pointed me towards texts for the IB Theory of Knowledge course. After some poking around I think I've decided on the Cambridge University Press text (it was that or Oxford. Who knew I'd ever have to decide between the two?). It's cheaper then the Oxford book, has some recommendations from a few fellow homeschoolers, and there are resources available for free online. 

I think that's pretty much the meat of her year. She'll continue with programming Python on her own time as well as violin lessons. She also wants to learn how to sew and I intend to teach her more cooking skills but I think I've got the core figured out. 

Now I just have to go spend all that money.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

It's Tadpole Season

Several weeks ago I finally got my hands on a QX3 digital microscope. It's a hard thing to buy in Canada but thankfully, someone local had one listed on Kijiji and after years of lust, I picked it up.

So what to do? Get a good look at the brine shrimp for one.

Now that the tadpoles are out we had to examine them as well. We scooped a bunch of eggs out of the ditch in front of our property and deposited them in an aquarium. Then we took out a couple and examined them before returning them to the water.
Now there are two local amphibians that are laying eggs right now, Wood Frogs and Spotted Salamanders. Since frog tadpoles don't have external gills, we're guessing we have the salamander tadpoles. Both kids did some drawings and took notes on their observations. We later looked up egg identification, went back to the ditch and realized that most, if not all, the eggs were salamander eggs.

This was an especially nifty discovery because just a week before, while doing some spring cleaning in the yard, we found a Spotted Salamander under a bit of debris. I previously mentioned the find here.
In a month or two we should have Leopard Frog and Green Frog eggs from our pond but in the meantime we'll enjoy watching the salamanders develop.

Activities: Observation, drawing, setting up aquarium.

Resources: How to Hatch Frog Eggs at eHow
                 Egg Mass ID at Field Herp Forum

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Switching Up Science

   What homeschooler doesn't switch approaches and programs midstream on a regular basis? Seems to come with the territory. So it shouldn't be surprising that despite the fact that we're now halfway through our school year I've gone and taken a new approach to Harry and Catherine's science.

   I was browsing the Well Trained Mind forums when I found a reference to Aha! Science. I went to the website, took a look around and decided that it looked interesting. Harry really likes Creativity Express Online, his art program and another online subject, so I thought it might be good to try him with Aha! Well, it's only $15 for a year and turns out it's right up his alley. He enjoys it, retains what he's learned and I have the added bonus of having a website that tracks his progress and grades so I have something to stick in his records. Wonderful!

   But that wasn't the only change I made. We own a little over 2 acres on the edge of a forest. We have laying hens and raise meat chickens and turkeys in the summer. We have a large pond that hosts everything from toads to a muskrat. Certainly we can do a fair bit of science just by walking out our front door, no?

   So the kids are starting a blog where they'll record observations, pictures, experiments, etc. that have to do with our property. We have some microscopes, a water test kit, fertilized chicken eggs, an old aquarium and other tools to help in that. Over the next 12 years they'll record a year in the life of and on our land. I'll post the blog as soon as they get it up and running, hopefully by next week.

   Meanwhile we got a start last week taking some pictures of the pond and today we were outside again playing around with some of the remnants of yesterday's work and enjoying the beautiful weather.

The burn pile yielded lots of charcoal that Catherine and Harry (yes, he is in his pajamas and housecoat) used to draw with. 

Catherine spent some time writing at the edge of the pond.

Lauchie and I chased, and were chased by chickens. No pictures of that though!

Spring Cleaning

Yesterday was brilliant. Not too cold and lots of sun. We decided it would be the day, after we finally got the yard cleaned up.

First order of business when cleaning up rural property is the burn pile.
Old cardboard, christmas trees, old pallets and branches get chucked in the pile and set alight. The wood in the foreground doesn't. It's firewood for next winter and it will be stacked when we get some new pallets to stack it on.

Lauchie had a great time, although he never cracked a smile. It was up and down and up and down and up and down the back stairs for him.

Much of the work was picking up garbage that had tumbled out of the car or been dropped by the kids or picked out of garbage bags by crows. We got a fantastic surprise when we picked up a small pile of stuff on the lawn.
Its a Yellow Spotted Salamander. I hadn't seen one in years and was a little taken aback by how big it was (hence my fingers for reference). They hide under logs and such during the day so to make sure he was okay we put a few things back on top of him that we'll clean up today if he's moved. 

Resources I'll be using: Harry - Salamander printout from Enchanted Learning
                                      Spotted Salamander Facts

              Catherine - Yellow Spotted Salamander

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


It's springtime. I have a new smart phone and a Blogger app. Wheeee!!!