Saturday, December 26, 2009

Winter Break Learning ~ Series and Parallel Circuits

I spent some time this afternoon organizing the laundry room. I dumped all the old paint jars, washed and dried them, and put them in our shoe boxes ready to be filled and used again in the next term. I also cleared out some old art supplies; I doubt we'll have any use for tempera paint. I discreetly moved some of the lesser quality supplies that we don't use into a donation box.

We have a counter in the laundry room that has mostly functioned as a horizontal catch-all, despite the presence of several baskets that are intended to contain specific items such as dog paraphernalia and bike gear. I cleared everything off the counter and designated it our science station, with strong admonitions to keep it clear.

This year J-Baby received several science-themed kits; Snap Circuits, a crystal growing kit, an underwater volcano kit, and an artificial snow kit. He also has several kits that we've acquired over the years and not worked with (there have been many that we have done). I put all the kits into the cabinet above the counter.

The boys were chomping at the bit to "do science" so we opened a simple traffic light kit designed to teach about circuits. The boys and Papa created a series and then a parallel circuit, drew diagrams, and recorded their observations in the boys' main lesson books. They had so much fun that they said the want to "do science" every night.

This kind of science generally falls outside of the Waldorf curriculum for the boys' grade level; however, I have learned not to interfere with Papa when he wants to bring something to the boys. He handles most of their history lessons and a lot of their science, two subjects that he enjoys and has expertise in. I wouldn't want to stop this kind of learning in the name of remaining "pure" Waldorf; the boys need to see Papa and I as a team with both of us contributing toward their education. I've met far too many mothers who feel burdened with homeschooling but either don't know how to ask for help or are afraid that their partners won't do it "right".

J-Baby has a strong interest in science; he would truly rather read a science book than a work of fiction. His passion for science may fade in the future, but for now it is something to marvel at and nourish.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Chomping at the Bit

We haven't even celebrated all of our holidays yet and I find myself thinking ahead to our next block. I am so pleased to have returned to Waldorf/Enki learning! We have a long multiplication/long division mathematics block next and my head is spinning with ideas. We'll mostly be working with the A Little Garden Flower Math e-book; I think my boys would enjoy a story so I am going to take the plunge and write my own.

I'm also really excited because I re-purchased The Christopherus Waldorf Curriculum Overview for Homeschoolers by Donna Simmons and have been getting some good ideas. One thing I've decided to drop is worksheet practice for skills work; we're going to work together more with manipulatives, oral problems, games, and our blackboard. J-Baby really struggles with his practice work as his hands get fatigued with small motor work and I would rather he spend time on his journal and form drawing (which will help him long-term). I am looking forward to rereading the entire book from cover-to-cover.

I feel so confident about the choice to embrace Waldorf fully once more that I took a leap of faith and purchased Live Education Grade 5 for next fall. Yes, I bought it 8 months early; I want to have a lot of time to prepare our grade 5 year.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Please Don't Give My Children Gift Cards

I just realized that we will see several people over the holidays who will feel compelled, for whatever reasons, to give my children gifts. The thing is, they don't know us well, don't know our family philosophy, and don't know what they boys might want, so they give gift cards. Need I remind anyone of the debacle this caused in the toy store last year?

I do understand why they give the gifts. Indeed, my dad told me the other night (last night?) that there will be another family at our Christmas celebration, one that he has unofficially adopted as his own. We see this family a couple of times a year but really don't know them. Still, I know that I must provide gifts for those children just as I do for all of the other children. I don't know them, nor what they are interested in or what they like, but I must come up with something. I won't resort to gift cards but I recognize that they are the default gift for many. When in doubt I try to give food gifts or art supplies, both of which are meant to be consumed. I've yet to meet many people who don't love receiving a tin of truly homemade chocolate chunk cookies.

The thing is, I'm starting to think it would be better to give cash if one doesn't have enough information to choose a thoughtful gift. Cash in hand can be applied to something the child already knows he or she wants, rather than needing to take them to a specific store in search of something they didn't know they wanted (and probably don't really want at all). I personally choose not to give cash to children under 13, but in this case I would rather my children receive cash than gift cards.

I need a plan, soon. I could buy the gift cards off the children; this works well if the cards are for a store such as Target where I can buy socks and tooth brushes, but is very costly to me if it is to a store such as Toys R Us (where I would be hard pressed to find anything we need or want). In that case I suppose I could regift the gift cards, perpetuating the whole gift card thing but at least avoiding it for my own children. I could gather all cards and cash and offer to replace them with an experience the boys have really been wanting.

What I don't want to do is take my children, gift cards in hand, to a big box toy store or other retailer. I remember all too well how badly that went last year; I think we all cried tears of frustration that day and I'm pretty sure I vowed never to go through the doors again.

Sometimes it is very difficult to be different. To not want to fill our home with too many toys (and too many of them plastic junk). To not expect a 9YO or 10YO to be able to go to a store and calmly choose their purchase without getting overwhelmed by the choices and worrying that all of the other choices were better. To not want our holiday to be about how much was spent and how many gifts were received.

Follow up: Each boy received $10 from their great-aunt, something that was expected. I am happy to say that they didn't receive a single gift card!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

And He's Knitting ...

Proof that waiting can work and that skills are so much easier to learn when the child is ready. I have introduced knitting twice before with frustrating results. Today T-Guy was bored, I suggested knitting, and he was making stitches on his own within 5 minutes! Not only are his fingers better able to move in a coordinated fashion, his brain understands the sequence and can repeat it reliably.

The verse, as best I could remember it:

In the front door, out through the back
Run right round and grab your sack
Back through the front door
and off jumps Jack.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Grade 4, Week 14 ~ Hits and Misses

Despite my love for Waldorf and Enki education, I still have a strong pull to the philosophy behind unschooling. I have never stopped believing that children learn best when it is their own choice. I believe that children are born with a natural desire to learn; humans wouldn't have gotten where we are now without the desire to learn, and later to mate.

It can be really hard to mesh an unschooling philosophy with any method that stems from a group education model, no matter how holistic the method. So sometimes we have hits and sometimes we have misses. One difference is that I rarely stick with the misses; if the material isn't speaking to my children it really doesn't matter how developmentally appropriate it is.

Last week we made and read maps, and reading maps was actually more interesting to my boys than making their own. I was able to observe that T-Guy has a far better sense of direction and of our neighborhood than J-Baby does, at least so far.

This week I really didn't know where to go with the local geography. If we are talking terrain and native plants, my boys are intimately familiar with our immediate area, so I branched out. We drew pictures of beaches, mountains, and deserts, but the boys weren't really into it. At some point T-Guy told me that he doesn't really like studying maps, local geography, or even social studies (although somehow history is not the same thing as social studies ~ he loves history). He expressed a desire to get back to language arts and math.

I shared an article with Papa entitled Schooling: The Hidden Agenda by Daniel Quinn. Here is a small excerpt (please go read the whole article, which is actually a talk that was given):

But there's another reason why people abhor the idea of children learning what they want to learn when they want to learn it. They won't all learn the same things! Some of them will never learn to analyze a poem! Some of them will never learn to parse a sentence or write a theme! Some of them will never read Julius Caesar! Some will never learn geometry! Some will never dissect a frog! Some will never learn how a bill passes Congress! Well, of course, this is too horrible to imagine. It doesn't matter that 90% of these students will never read another poem or another play by Shakespeare in their lives. It doesn't matter that 90% of them will never have occasion to parse another sentence or write another theme in their lives. It doesn't matter that 90% retain no functional knowledge of the geometry or algebra they studied. It doesn't matter that 90% never have any use for whatever knowledge they were supposed to gain from dissecting a frog. It doesn't matter that 90% graduate without having the vaguest idea how a bill passes Congress. All that matters is that they've gone through it!

The entire piece is just a Wow! Go read it now.

I have been in this place before, contemplating where to move with our homeschooling. I know that radical unschooling isn't the answer. My children need rhythm (I firmly believe that all human beings need rhythm) and Waldorf is one way to bring that rhythm to a child. Indeed, Waldorf education does bring to children things that they might not learn anyway, as well as a good method of bringing these subjects to the children.

But ...

What is the point of introducing things to my boys that they have no interest in (the misses)? Of requiring skills practice and mastery practice if they view it as torture, as J-Baby does? Is it possible to move to a place of more trust without sacrificing the rhythm J-Baby so desperately needs (children who have difficulty regulating themselves need rhythm more than those who naturally create it for themselves).

Our home learning has been going pretty well. T-Guy likes practice work and journalling. Our measurement main lesson was a solid hit, though not a home run. The boys love hearing A History of US as well as The Story of the World. They are enjoying their assigned reading.

We continue to simplify our home and our time, giving our children a life with less stress. We work with a strong daily, weekly, monthly, and seasonal rhythm. In all honestly, we have a lot going for us. We're happy together and we have a strong foundation; it would be hard for a child not the thrive in such a family.

We decided to take our holiday break a week early and thus to extend it for an extra week. The boys were dancing around the house singing "no school until the new year" and it was fun and silly. I didn't have to worry that they won't be learning anything ~ it's simply impossible.

I don't know exactly where we will be going in the new year. We're not embracing radical unschooling and we aren't abandoning Waldorf/Enki education. We're just fine tuning it. I actually think that I'll have a hit with every main lesson block through the end of the year with the exception of state history, and that may only require that I find many good books and approach it as story telling. But I need to figure out the rest of it, the practice and copy work and all the things that tend to fall flat with the boys.

I don't even know if I'll be blogging about it. I blog for myself, mainly (which is a good thing as I don't know that more than 2 people read this blog), and I don't know that I need the record. I'm thinking of focusing more on photographs and then having a photo book published at the end of the year.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Grade 4, Week 13 ~ A New Month, A New Block

(Okay, so the new month starts tomorrow; our blocks are following calendar months plus or minus a day or two here and there.)

We are feeling refreshed after a week off; it was long enough that the boys felt the freedom of the break without breaking down at the change in rhythm. Today they met the morning with enthusiasm and a total lack of complaint.

Our main lesson block this month is Local Geography. Measurement is in the sleep phase and we are reawakening division with remainders and Roman Numerals. Parts of speech have moved into continuing practice for mastery.

We began our block with drawing the compass rose. Reading maps is part of local geography and the compass rose can be a beautiful thing. As a plus, we finally used our (drafting) compasses to make circles; J-Baby has been wanting to know how they work for a couple of months now.

One thing I am enjoying about following the Waldorf curriculum is approaching subjects at a time when they make the most sense for the child. My boys love maps and have made their own for quite some time now. We never seem to come to a subject completely cold; the boys are eager for focused learning on subjects that they already have experience with.

Friday, November 27, 2009

What I Learned ...

It is unwise to load your children into the car the day after a stimulating Thanksgiving holiday and expect them to behave for 6 hours in the car (3 hours each way) in order to visit your grandmother at an assisted living facility, especially if she isn't feeling well and doesn't really feel up to interacting with them.

By the time we were in the car heading home I was alternating between deep anger and absolute despair. My grandma doesn't want to be there, I don't want her to be there, and right now I can't do anything about it. She needs far more care that we could give her at home; my dad even suggested that it was too soon for her to leave the skilled nursing facility where she has been since her stroke last August.

The anger ... I was embarrassed by J-Baby. He whined, he complained, he flopped his body around, he pouted, and pretty much did everything he could to show how unhappy he was with the situation. I am certain that in part he was picking up Grandma's unhappy energy and reflecting it back to all of us, but at that moment I was just angry that he would be so rude to someone that I know he loves.

It takes a very strong person to go against what everyone else expects, including yourself, in order to put the needs of your child first. At ages 9 and 10 I even expect my boys to at times submit their needs for the good of the family. On the right day this visit could have worked, but not on a day when J-Baby was so depleted. I remember the thrill of Thanksgiving and the gathering of family at our home; I worked myself to the point of vomiting each year before we ever sat down for the meal.

My goal for the next several months is to really work at making our home life and out-of-the home life match the developmental needs of the boys. As horrible as yesterday was it was a lesson that I needed to be taught; pushing children past their limits is unpleasant for everyone, children included.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

With Joyful Gratitude

Today we express our deepest gratitude ...

... for all of humankind, past and present, for sharing the journey of humanity with us.

... for the loved ones who share our lives.

... for the farmers and others who work to bring us the bounty of food we enjoy daily.

... for those who work to keep us safe.

... for those who bring us art, music, and craft.

... for nature and all it's beauty and bounty.

... for joy and sorrow, and the ability to feel them.

... for everything.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What I Am Trying to Teach Today

We have hosted Thanksgiving all of 3 times in our married/adult life. Once was as vegetarians in 1994 and I am pretty sure it doesn't count as we didn't roast a turkey (or serve any meat at all). We hosted a very big meal in 2007; my mother had recently died and family and friends gathered here. I did everything from scratch, from Grand Marnier orange-cranberry sauce to a gluten-free apple-bacon-cornbread dressing that was perhaps the peak of my holiday cooking career. We roasted our first turkey and we almost set the oven on fire because we used so much butter. I swore I would never cook Thanksgiving dinner again.

Of course, I did; last year we had my father, my mother-in-law, and my sister-in-law join us for a small feast. The turkey turned out perfectly; indeed the entire meal was delicious. But once again the stress in our home was palpable for days and I repeated my vow not to do it ever again, a vow that I was destined to break. It seems that not cooking simply isn't an option. We have become the anchor in an extended family adrift in brokenness and dysfunction.

I don't handle stress well. That is perhaps an understatement ~ I turn into a raging mess of emotions, fly off the handle repeatedly, get very angry, and contemplate deserting my family to live alone in a small apartment with a dog and a laptop. It's completely surreal; I don't feel or think or act like myself. I think I must be allergic to cortisol, that wonderful stress hormone. Every part of my temperament is magnified and I go from quirky to insane. Trying to hold it in just shifts the effects to my physical body.

If I can't keep my vow not to cook, perhaps I can make a new one: to not get stressed out and become a different person on Thanksgiving. To model the calm that I want my children to feel. To keep it simple (or as simple as I can in a house where one person prefers mashed potatoes and gravy and the other prefers a praline sweet-potato casserole and I have to make both), to do what I can ahead to limit the stress of cooking on the big day, and to forgive myself any imperfections that arise.

Everyday is a day that our children are learning, whether we are presenting main lesson material or not. Indeed, how we live our lives is the biggest main lesson of all. I want my children to see that having people into our home to share a meal with us is a gift, and I can't pass that message on if all they see is the stress that I let build up because I am trying to live up to someone else's idea of perfect. So every time I feel the stress building I am going to stop and remind myself that it can be simple, it doesn't have to be perfect, and that being calm and enjoying the process is as important as the product.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

This and That

It's been a rather uneventful day here at the Living Oak Academy (yes, that is our school name). The boys have enjoyed a game of Risk, went mountain biking with Papa and Big Dog, and have shot several rounds of hoops. They discovered that the local radio station has begun playing holiday music and I have heard Feliz Navidad at least twice, including upon waking. There has been lots of reading and Lego building, but all at an easy pace.

I was a bit slow myself, finalizing my Thanksgiving grocery list (we did most of it last night), checking over the finances, reading, and knitting, plus keeping up on housework and laundry. We had a couple of errands to do and I really didn't want to go out ~ I hate shopping on good days and the craziness that fills the stores in the days leading up to Thanksgiving are almost more than I can take. On the one hand I wanted to leave the boys home so that they could escape the chaos, and on the other I wanted to take them with me so that I didn't have to face it alone. I was very tempted to leave it all until Papa comes home, but needed to do a thrift store drop-off (me and a thousand other people, apparently).

The dread that fills me when I contemplate leaving the secure cocoon of my home for the traffic and noise of my errands makes me really stop and think what effect it has on my children. They held up well today, although they got squirrelly at the grocery store, which is par for the course with them when the store is crowded and we need to stay in a single file line.

T-Guy is very helpful when we run errands and truly enjoys going. J-Baby hates going and I can't say I blame him. When the boys were younger I made every effort to not take the boys into stores, and even now I do try to limit how often they go. Target and the like are the absolute worst stores for them, although I think J-Baby ranks Costco as his all-time least favorite store. I heartily agree with him; I wouldn't go to Costco if it wasn't saving me significant money on groceries right now.

We made it through today, and the plus was weighing our apples, onions, yams, and celery (it is priced by the unit but J-Baby wanted to weigh it anyway). The produce section wasn't nearly as crowded as the rest of the store and we weren't in anyone's way; very few people use the scales.

The boys are looking forward to watching NOVA this evening; it is going to be about dreams and J-Baby says he has wanted to know about dreams for a long time. I guess our PBS station decided not to carry it in the usual time slot, as it wasn't on.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Taking the Week Off ...

I still be posting, but we aren't doing focused lesson work this week. The boys are so excited, LOL!

Today we took three rocks that they found while hiking over the weekend, put them in individual glass bowls, and poured vinegar over them. J-Baby thought he had found limestone but T-Guy insisted it wasn't, hence putting it to the acid test. Limestone is so alkaline that it reacts with the acidic vinegar and bubbles away. Sure enough, we have one bubbling rock and two that aren't (quartz and granite).

We bought a new Lego book second hand, LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT: The Mayan Adventure (Technology in Action). Papa opened the package and left the book on the big desk in the family/learning room, and by the time I got up this morning T-Guy had read the first two chapters and was ready to start building.

I need this week off to orchestrate Thanksgiving and to plan our next block, Local Geography. I feel quite prepared to do this in terms of knowing our local geography, but need to do some reading as to how to approach it artistically.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

What Do You Mean By Enki/Waldorf?

I get asked this question often; I was actually asked again last night. I'm never exactly sure how to answer it (I know I have tried on the blog in the past). I'm fairly certain that most people aren't interested in the philosophy, so I tend to explain the what and how and see if the questions progress into why.

I often just refer to us as Waldorf homeschoolers, although in reality we follow a more Enki model. I find that most people have never heard of Enki but may have some familiarity with Waldorf. However, we are not anthroposophists. Enki appealed to me from the beginning because it integrated several fantastic models into a new form of education with a different philosophy. Enki brings in developmental-immersion mastery, skills practice, multicultural studies, and a strong focus on sensory integration.

We're rogue Enki homeschoolers, as I chose not to continue with the Enki main group. I think that is one reason I shy away from referring to us as Enki. There weren't many materials available for grade 4 and I found that I wasn't utilizing the phone discussion group. As I have the Grade 1 - 6 Teaching Guide (no longer available) I felt confident that I had sufficient guidance to go it alone. Honestly, this year I just couldn't justify spending the funds on what was available for grade 4. I do at times feel a little lost without the support of a community of peers going through grade 4 with me.

The basics of how are different from mainstream educational practices; block teaching is something that most people haven't heard of, although many of them see the inherent benefit in it once it is explained. An art-based approach is also unusual outside of Waldorf schools. When I explain the three-fold cycle I often get blank stares; I know people can understand it but I'm not very good at explaining it.

For our grade 4 work (have I mentioned how peaceful and right it feels to have returned to our Enki/Waldorf roots?) our subject content is chosen to mirror the developmental stage of the grade 4 child. In grade 4 we study mythology (Norse and Egyptian are what we have chosen this year), fractions, long division, local geography and history, and animals, as well as continuing work in music, art, movement, etc.

When I say Enki/Waldorf I mean that we are following a block lesson model along with developmental-immersion mastery, an arts-approach, and curriculum content chosen for the developmental stage of the child (rather than their skill level). I mean that we are respecting the unfolding nature of the child and not pushing them forward nor holding them back. Our goal is far more than just academic education; it is life education.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Grade 4, Week 12, Day 5 ~ Friday Free Day

I am truly having a Friday Free Day today; the boys and Papa have headed out for an all-guys weekend camping trip with my father-in-law, brother-in-law, and his partner. They'll be at Anza Borrego State Park exploring the desert. One thing I love about where we live is our access to so many different ecological areas ~ desert, coastal, and mountain. Within an hour's drive we can be listening to the ocean, inhaling the scent of pine and fir, or spotting bighorn sheep (borregos) as they climb rocky hills.

Many homeschoolers I know, and parents in general, try to cram their children's lives with as many activities as they possibly can, as if the children must be completely filled by the time they reach adulthood. There are weekly field trips, museum visits, amusement park classes, art classes, music lessons, dance, sports, and more. Some homeschoolers spend so much time in the car going places that they call themselves carschoolers.

Papa and I have chosen to live more simply and allow our children the time and space they need to unfold themselves. It wasn't always like this; we crammed the days full when they were younger, camping at least once a month, going to Disneyland regularly, signing them up for Kindermusik classes and little kid baseball. It wasn't nurturing any of us; the boys were wound up and I was exhausted all the time. So now the camping trips and other activities are spaced out, punctuating rather than dominating our lives. Time after time a field trip opportunity or class is brought to my attention and I have to stop and say, no, that isn't something we need to do. Indeed, we probably need not to do it.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

grade 4, Week 12, Day 4 ~ Creating Their Own Soundtrack

We don't start our focused lessons at a specific time every morning; the morning unfolds and as I listen and observe I choose when to get started. Each morning the boys joyfully engage in play; I have always thought that they needed to reconnect after the separation that is sleep. At some point in their play the energy will change and the boys will sound less satisfied ~ the moment to grab them is when I hear the the very first, faint rumblings of discontent.

Today they spent a good hour in play, sunk deeply into it and obviously nourished by it. Usually their morning play is some sort of building ~ Lego and/or Keva. As I cast on for a knit hat I heard them singing Build, Build, Clap over and over again. Sometimes they would add a bit of verse about what they were doing. Singing while they play is something they have done since they were little. I like to think of it as them composing a soundtrack for their lives.

I feel ready to end the measurement block. We've introduced the concepts of measurement in terms of distance/size, volume (liquid and dry), and mass ~ now it is time for the concepts to sleep.

Free Reading
Concepts Awakened: Parts of Speech
Main Lesson: Measurement
Afternoon Lesson: Gardening (Soil Science)
Other Subjects: Social Studies (A History of US), Typing (Mavis Beacon), Multiplication Tables (Timez Attack), and P.E. (Wii Fit Plus)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Grade 4, Week 12, Day 3 ~ Ounces Are Oh So Confusing

Tons make sense; there are 2000 pounds in a ton. The boys are even perceptive enough to understand that the idiom That weighs a ton! means that something is heavy, not that it necessarily weighs 2000 pounds.

But ounces? Color the boys slightly confused. The train of thought goes like this: There are 16 ounces in a pound. A cup has 8 ounces. That means a cup weighs half a pound. Except it might not ~ fluid ounces and ounces as a measurement of weight are not the same thing.

8 fluid ounces of water will weigh 8 ounces, as will other liquids of the same density. 8 fluid ounces of honey weighs 12 ounces. Honey is sold by weight most of the time; I learned a long time ago that 24 ounces of honey by weight will fit into a container that holds 16 fluid ounces.

The word ounce comes from uncia, meaning 1/12, as an ounce was 1/12 of a Roman pound. But an ounce is only 1/16 of avoirdupois pound, which is the pound we use in the United States customary system.

I can't think of any way to teach this other than rote memorization. I didn't come up with a clever story and didn't find one in the various Waldorf materials I have.

Continuing Practice: Subtraction with Regrouping
Free Reading
Concepts Awakened: Adjectives
Main Lesson: Measurement
Afternoon Lesson: Gardening
Other Subjects: Social Studies (A History of US)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Grade 4, Week 12, Day 2 ~ Weight and Mass

I made the effort last night to organize the boys' practice work and to clean off our learning table. The family/living room is slowly coming back into order, but I am in no rush as I want to declutter, simplify, and organize as I go.

We're measuring weight this week. More accurately, we're measuring mass, a distinction that Papa wants me to point out. Unlike the other measurement work we've done the boys aren't familiar with much more than pounds as a unit of measurement. Since we've yet to explore very much in terms of the metric system we will only be reviewing pounds, ounces, and tons (specifically the short ton).

Continuing Practice: Addition with Regrouping
Free Reading
Concepts Awakened: Verb Tenses
Main Lesson: Measurement
Afternoon Lesson: Gardening
Other Subjects: Social Studies (A History of US), P.E. (mountain biking), and Science (Nova on PBS)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Grade 4, Week 12, Day 1 ~ Mellow Monday

We had a mostly unschooling day today, managing to fit in social studies, guitar practice, free reading, and drawing. Saturday morning I started tearing apart the family/learning room and it is still fairly messy. I hadn't filled the boys binders (Binders? More on those later!) or planned the main lesson work.

It is amazing how relaxed I feel about our home learning now, despite the fact that we have returned to rhythm and focused lessons. I'm not worried about anything; I trust that the boys will learn what they want and need to know when it is best for them. I bring them lessons and concepts but like the proverbial horse and its water, I can't make them learn, so I'm not actually trying. I know that seeds are being planted and that our home life is one that will nurture those seeds well.

The decluttering and simplification of the family/learning room will have long-reaching positive benefits and I believe it is worth the loss of a focused day here and there.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Grade 4, Week 11, Day 5 ~ Friday Free Day

One thing I love about Friday is that it has the potential to be a less stressful day. It would be even less stressful is we packed for our park day the night before; we should work on that.

This morning wasn't as stress-free as I would have liked; I was still trying to put the family/learning room back in order. I won't complain about having housecleaners but it does make it hard to tackle a really big decluttering and simplifying project.

It was cold at the park. It's going to get colder, and when it does I will take appropriate clothing! I did have a pocket hand warmer with me so I could warm my fingers and then knit.

There wasn't really anything special about park day today. We like hanging out with friends but the kids seemed a bit off kilter or disconnected. J-Baby was having a little spat with one of his friends and asked to go home early which is quite uncharacteristic for him. They worked it out though. T-Guy played some but mostly hung out with the adults ~ I took the opportunity to comb the tangles out of his hair.

The magic came later. One of my favorite rituals that we started when the boys were little is lighting candles before Papa comes home; it's something we only do when it is dark early. The boys were playing out front; I lit the candles on the mantle and settled down with some shawl knitting. When they came in J-Baby asked if he could light the candles in the fireplace and he did a careful job of it! I decided not to hover or tell him what to do and he was fine; I'm rather proud of myself when I can step back and let him do something that I wasn't allowed to do as a child because it would be dangerous.

Candles lit I started singing nursery rhymes, Mary Thienes-Schunemann style. T-Guy joined in a bit but I know that at this point the songs are more for the mood and for myself than a chance for family singing ~ they'd rather sing the Beatles. The boys decided to weave while I knit and we had a cozy half hour before Papa arrived home. It was a little oasis of peace at the end of our Friday.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Grade 4, Week 11, Day 4 ~ Transitional Thursday

I have the family/learning room torn apart; it's part of an effort to simplify things but oh! it makes such a big mess in the process! I had to clear the desk so that the boys could do their lesson work today.

I was talking to a friend about how we approach teaching math at home. She said that she had tried several different math curricula but that she always comes back to teaching it in her own way. I told her that I follow the Waldorf guidelines for when to teach each subject, and that I try to bring in a math story and go from whole to parts, but that I too pretty much wing it. It makes sense to me; we can only teach what we know, so it would follow that we can only teach how we know it.

Anyway, it's working for us. Today we pulled out our Cuisinaire rods and our Miquon Math Lab materials and delved a little deeper into measurement. I would have never thought to use the rods to represent cups, pints, quarts, etc. but it was brilliant! It's far less wet messy than using water and measuring cups.

Continuing Practice: Subtraction with Regrouping
Assigned Reading: Indian Legends
Concepts Awakened: Punctuation
Main Lesson: Measurement
Afternoon Lesson: Gardening
Other Subjects: Independent (Free) Reading and Social Studies (A History of US)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Grade 4, Week 11, Day 3 ~ A Slow Start

Difficult mornings are so ... difficult. I slept in; I am having such a hard time getting a good night's sleep. When I did wander out to the kitchen (right after J-Baby) I immediately had to referee an argument over leftover muffins. The boys were pokey about doing their chores and T-Guy had obviously skipped combing his hair for a couple of days as it took 20 minutes to remove all of the tangles. I want to support his decision to have long hair but it is so hard when he won't care for it.

J-Baby didn't want to journal. After weeks of him writing one short sentence and doing a 30 second line drawing in his old journal I decided to transition the boys to writing more and not drawing pictures. Well, today J-Baby was very unhappy to not be drawing; I think in reality he just doesn't like writing the amount that is now required of him. J-Baby is so ... J-Baby. He will fight any changes for at least a month and even once he settles in he will occasionally have an outburst about how much he hates something. However, in true J-Baby fashion he forgot that he was unhappy about 30 seconds into his journaling.

We didn't do our main lesson in the morning; I wanted the boys to do more hands-on work and we were rather rushed because of the slow, difficult morning. We are mostly working liquid and dry measurement as the boys help me cook.

Continuing Practice: Addition with Regrouping (I am really seeing the results of consistent daily math practice)
Assigned Reading: Indian Legends
Concepts Awakened: Adjectives
Main Lesson: Measurement
Skills Practice: Typing Lesson and Multiplication Tables
Afternoon Lesson: Gardening (preparation for planting)
Other Subjects: Independent (Free) Reading and Social Studies (A History of US)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Grade 4, Week 11, Day 2 ~ Liquid Measurement

We are still getting into the swing of things over here; I am making certain that morning chores are done before we go on our walk and begin our lessons. This means that we are often not getting to our lesson work before 10 a.m., and the main lesson might not start until 11 a.m. as J-Baby is still quite slow at his journaling. T-Guy races ahead and finds himself with a lot of time to fill while he waits. It also means that we've not yet worked in all of the extra lessons but I do feel satisfied with what we are accomplishing. A lot of time less really is more.

Today we talked about liquid measurement, something the boys have a pretty good grip on already. Well, except for pints, but most people I know have to stop and think about what a pint is. This afternoon we put our lesson into practice while preparing maple baked beans for dinner and we'll make cornbread muffins when the beans are finished (they cook for 3 hours in the oven).

The boys were slightly disappointed that we couldn't plant today, but we had to add more soil and continue to water it. Indeed, the boys didn't water yesterday and they witnessed firsthand the drying out of the first inch or so of soil. Our daytime temperatures have been in the low 80s, but now we are expecting a drop into the upper 60s for several days which isn't exactly ideal for germination.

Continuing Practice: Subtraction with Regrouping
Assigned Reading: Indian Legends
Concepts Awakened: Verb Tenses
Main Lesson: Measurement
Afternoon Lesson: Gardening (adding yet more soil to the beds and watering in preparation for planting)
Other Subjects: Independent (Free) Reading, Social Studies (A History of US), and Science (Nova on PBS)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Grade 4, Week 11, Day 1 ~ A Spectacular Day

I'm still tweaking things around here; one thing I wanted to add back into our morning was a morning walk. It used to be a big part of our rhythm, but fell off when we were unschooling. This past spring we were walking the dogs every morning, but that had a different purpose.

This morning we headed out after our morning chores. The Big Dog was chomping at the bit; he settled down once he realized that this was going to be a leisurely walk. We just went around the block, but that takes about 15 minutes if we're strolling and stopping occasionally. We spotted a hawk overhead, then a Western Scrub Jay, and we could hear a crow. Careful listening helped us find it perched high at the top of a Coast Redwood (a little south for a redwood ~ these were planted here). We of course heard the tweets and chirps of many small birds.

Coming home we ran into a problem; J-Baby had decided to use one of the brand new pencils I ordered from Paper Scissors Stone and it was nowhere to be found. I only ordered 2, as I wanted to try them out, and well, I wasn't exactly the picture of a happy mom. I helped look for about 5 minutes and then decided to detach myself from it as the boys were going to have to sift through their room (note to self: they really need help decluttering and simplifying in there).

Pencil recovered, we embarked on our morning lessons. We really didn't get very far; after morning chores and the walk, then the pencil hunt, there wasn't time for much more than journalling. T-Guy did do his math practice and his parts of speech work.

For our afternoon lesson we headed to the local garden center, stopping by the library and pharmacy first. We needed more soil/compost and the boys picked out some started vegetables as well as some vegetable and flower seeds.

It is hard to describe how beautiful a day it was and I wish I had taken my camera out with me. We drove up into the mountains to Oak Glen for apple cider doughnuts (I packed gluten free doughnuts for J-Baby). In the morning I had noticed how very clear it was; the nearby mountains were crisp and we were seeing the distant hills and mountains in layer after layer. Up in apple country we added the beauty of trees turning vibrant oranges and reds, something we don't see in profusion down here in the valley.

There is no point listing what we did today formally. The biggest task was coming up with a journal entry longer than one sentence and that didn't begin with I like. We did a lot of nature observation and had our field trip to the garden center and Oak Glen.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Grade 4, Week 10, Day 5 ~ Friday Free Day

Our Friday free day is a day off from focused/rhythmic learning but it isn't a day off from life. The boys have simple chores to do each morning and on Fridays they must thoroughly tidy their room. They must fill their water bottles, gather together the things that they want to take to the park, and make sure the park blanket is in the car. While on the surface these things may not seem as important as arithmetic and reading they do serve a useful purpose. In the case of doing chores, the boys learn that they must pitch in and do their share so that our home environment is pleasant to be in and so that our Big Dog is cared for. Readying themselves to go to the park teaches them how to plan and prepare.

What our Friday held:

Park preparation
Lots of free play at the park!
An evening walk to listen to live music downtown
A History of US

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Grade 4, Week 10, Day 4 ~ Simplicity in Action

Have I mentioned how much I love the return to the method of teaching in blocks? My brain is no longer trying to juggle so many different things; there is the main lesson subject, the subject we are reawakening, and the subject they are practicing for mastery, as well as the skills they are practicing. Of course, there is the subject that is sleeping, but I don't have to think about it at all. There is art and music, but they also happen naturally so I don't fret if we don't get to something.

Continuing Practice: Subtraction with Regrouping
Assigned Reading: Indian Legends
Concepts Awakened: Singular and Plural Nouns
Main Lesson: Measurement
Skills Practice: Typing Lesson and Multiplication Tables
Afternoon Lesson: Gardening (watering the soil in preparation for planting)
Other Subjects: Independent (Free) Reading and Social Studies (A History of US)

Presence and Workboxes

One result of our return to a more traditional Enki/Waldorf format is that we don't really need the workboxes. They have been a great way to organize the daily learning materials, but Enki and Waldorf education are both based on the presence of the teacher, or in the case of homeschooling, parent. As I brought my full presence back to our home learning I found that the boxes seemed rather superfluous. It makes sense; I never needed them before when we were using Waldorf and Enki methods. Now that I am no longer trying to teach 4 - 5 different subjects each week I can hold the main lesson in my mind.

Our focused work has a rhythmic flow: journaling, practice work, assigned reading, reawakening concepts, main lesson, skills practice and/or physical education. We then break for lunch and quiet time before beginning our afternoon lesson.

I am choosing to be present with the boys even when they are doing practice work than could be done without me. I am in the room, writing in my own journal or doing handwork, available to answer any questions. I am making a conscious choice not to be cooking, baking, or doing other chores in another part of the house. Writing, reading, drawing, or knitting are all things that I can do in the family room and can put down easily when there is a question or when it is time to reawaken concepts or present the main lesson.

There must be balance, of course. One of my goals this year is to give the boys more independence and responsibility when it comes to their learning, and I certainly do not want to take all of that back onto myself. I want to participate in their learning with them, and to guide them, but I don't want to pull the train by myself. The workboxes have served to organize the work that the boys are responsible for on their own, such as assigned reading and practice work. They are working beautifully for this, but it may be that we can move to a weekly binder system and reclaim some of our bookshelf space.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Grade 4, Week 10, Day 3 ~ Hands On Measuring

Today the boys gathered 10 items from around the house, measured them, and wrote the results in their ML books. This was the practical application of measurement rather than the arithmetic involved, but it was a fun activity.

We had a playdate this afternoon which was very fun; it also gave the boys the necessary motivation to get going on their lesson work before 10 a.m.

Main Lesson: Measurement
Afternoon Lesson: Gardening (watering the soil in preparation for planting)
Physical Education: Wii Fit Plus
Skills Practice: Typing Lesson and Multiplication Tables
Continuing Practice: Addition with Regrouping
Concepts Awakened: Singular and Plural Nouns
Other Subjects: Reading and Social Studies (A History of US)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Grade 4, Week 10, Day 2 ~ Linear Measurement

Once again I am finding it very easy to bring the vocabulary of a subject to the boys when they have already been solidly grounded in the concepts. In this case, it is the basics of linear measurement. In grade 4 we are learning about inches, feet, and yards; to my surprise (and delight) the boys already know how many inches are in a foot, and how many feet are in a yard. Knowing these, they could easily tell me how many inches are in half a foot, or a foot and a half, as well as how many inches are in a yard.

I didn't have a container story for our main lesson today; A Little Garden Flower suggests basing the linear measurement lesson on the building of Noah's ark, which didn't appeal to me. Instead, I decided to relate the linear measurement to our garden plots. I had the boys measure the garden boxes and then make drawings using a scale of 1:12. There was room for creativity as they designed boxes the way they might want them to be and drew in their plantings.

Main Lesson: Measurement
Afternoon Lesson: Gardening
Physical Education: Wii Fit Plus
Continuing Practice: Subtraction with Regrouping
Concepts Awakened: Adjectives
Other Subjects: Reading and Social Studies (A History of US)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Grade 4, Week 10, Day 1 ~ Commence Measurement Block

Measurement is a block that is traditionally done in grade 3; however, since we haven't studied it formally I decided to bring it into our grade 4 year.

We began our main lesson this morning with what I call a brainstorm board. I took a large 18" X 24" sheet of paper and attached it to a slightly larger clip board and wrote Measurement across the top. I then asked the boys to come up with various things we measure; they offered length, width, height, weight, volume, speed/velocity (something we won't get into during this block), and time. Together we came up with money, distance, mass (a better term than weight), and temperature. This poster is put up on the family room wall for reference during the block.

I did the brainstorm board because we unschooled most of grade 3 and because the boys have already gone through the developmental phase of being very interested in measurement. It helps me see how much they already know and thus gives me a starting place for the block rather than assuming that all of the material is brand new.

I also asked the boys to tell me various units of measurement (inches, cups, miles, hours, etc.) and sent them to find several instruments of measurement in the house. They brought me measuring cups and spoons, a ruler and yardstick, a scale, a clock, and a tape measure. They really enjoyed finding these items; it gave them an opportunity to think creatively and to move around.

Our afternoon lesson for this block is gardening. Eventually the plan is to bring in measurement as hands-on learning, but for today we did some weeding and added compost to our garden beds. (It occurs to me that most people probably don't live where they can garden year round.)

Main Lesson: Measurement
Afternoon Lesson: Gardening
Skills Practice: Typing and Multiplication Tables
Continuing Practice: Addition with Regrouping
Concepts Awakened: Adjectives
Other Subjects: Reading and Social Studies (A History of US)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Grade 4, Week 9, Day 5 ~ Friday Free Day

Anyone who doubts the value of play in a child's life should spend some time really observing children at play, deeply absorbed in what they are doing, unfettered by time limits or adult influence.

The boys actually started the day with reading, a typing lesson, and their multiplication game. We tidied the house, ate an early lunch, and headed to the park to spend the afternoon with our friends. T-Guy wore his costume, but as J-Baby's was as of yet (and still as of yet) unfinished he pulled together a cowboy outfit from the dress-up clothing drawer. I didn't bother to tell him that cowboys don't usually wear rugby-striped polo shirts; it wasn't my place to ruin his fun.

We had a small group at the park, all long-time friends, and it worked out beautifully. As much as I enjoy hanging out with all of my mama friends I must admit that these two are the mamas I miss the most when they don't make it. I think it may be that we have been meeting at the park for nearly five years now, or perhaps it is because we used to have play dates at my house, but whatever it is we all get along well.

The kids mostly stayed off the playground, preferring to gather under the trees, playing imaginative games. At one point they built a fairy house of sticks, grass, rocks, and pine cones. With this particular configuration of children we rarely have any division based on gender, which is very nice.

I truly believe that having the opportunity to sink into play is just as important as learning the multiplication tables or how to spell. I am really glad that we've relaxed our Fridays ~ we all need the break and we all benefit from seeing what comes our way.

A Firm Foundation

Carrie has a great post over at The Parenting Passageway about moving forward with Waldorf when one has an imbalanced child. While the post didn't connect with me in terms of my own return to holistic education (see here for why I don't identify us as Waldorf homeschoolers), I loved the questions she poses in asking the parent if they can bring what is needed to the table. It made me see what a firm foundation my family has already built.

We learned early on that our children need fewer choices, not more. We learned that they need us to make the big decisions and most of the small ones too. They don't need to give input on bed times or what to have for dinner. We did make the mistake of thinking that they needed to start making the choices earlier than they did, but we fixed that when we saw that it didn't work.

We have always been fans of early bedtimes for children; even now at 9YO and 10YO they have a 9 p.m. summer bedtime which is surprisingly much earlier than their peers. It is recommended that children at this age sleep 10 hours, and mine do sleep 10 - 11 hours every night. I am part of an attachment parenting community and early bedtimes just aren't popular, but I have seen how well they work for us. Indeed, 9 p.m. is brand new this month; over the years we started at 7 p.m. and very slowly have moved the bedtime as the boys get older. We'll likely hold here at 9 p.m. for several years. (Update in 2014: We still have a 9PM bedtime, year round, and it is still working for us.)

We have always focused on eating healthy, whole foods and on sharing our meals together as a family. We are fortunate enough to be able to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner together nearly everyday. Sharing meals is important to us and we place a priority on making it happen. We rarely have evening activities but when we do we shift the meal time rather than miss eating together.

Early on holistic parenting taught me to talk less and show more. This has been invaluable as I have boys and they just don't seem to connect to their emotions verbally the same way I see girls of their age do, or the way I did as a child. When they were little many power struggles were averted because we didn't let words get in the way. Even now I believe that actions speak louder than words and I strive to be an example for my children and also to show them how I feel.

We love to be outside as a family and make a point of walking nearly everyday. We also find time to hike/walk away from the sidewalk at least once a week. We hang out at parks. We've grown our own food and flowers and we've been to small gardens and farms where food is grown. We experience nature, we don't feel the need to document it on a continual basis. We don't need to because it isn't a one time thing.

We work with our hands. Although knitting still escapes my boys (I do set the example!) they have done loom knitting as well as weaving (both on peg looms and pot holder looms). They've made yards and yards of spool knitted cords. They love embroidery, something that even the youngest child can do with a wooden needle and a piece of burlap. Hand sewing is on the horizon. Making things is something that I do, so naturally it has spilled over to the boys. Indeed, I can admit that the emphasis on handwork and making crafts is one of the things that initially drew me to holistic educational methods.

My boys play! I wish that more children had the opportunity to explore the world of imagination and play. At this very moment my 9YO is dressed-up as a cowboy. When the boys were younger we had a small wooden kitchen, and when they outgrew that we turned another piece of furniture into a makeshift kitchen (even better than the little one that had been purposely built as a kitchen). There are baskets of handwork scattered throughout the house so that anyone can pick up some yarn or do some embroidery. Our deck has an art easel and a big craft table set up for all sorts of projects.

We love to have fun. I can thank Papa for this, as he never lost the playful, fun energy of childhood and he was able to connect with it as the boys moved into toddlerhood. We skate, fly kites, ride bikes, play games, go to beach, and so much more. I can remember being a child and bemoaning the fact that my parents just didn't know how to have fun; how fortunate that I married a man who does and who brings that to our family.

Another gift that Papa has brought to our family is the gift of music. Not that I'm not musical; I played instruments growing up and I enjoy singing. Music is one of Papa's passions and he often starts impromptu singing sessions by bringing out his guitar and strumming some family songs.

A big part of our foundation is the relationship I share with Papa. I think that the stability we bring to the family creates a sense of peace and safety to the boys. We have nearly 21 years of marriage behind us and we've learned to talk things through and work together as partners. We're also best friends. We work together in raising our boys and I never feel as though my role as an at-home mother is a burden because I am never taken for granted and I don't shoulder all of the work alone. Likewise I recognize that leaving our home each day in order to work and provide for us is a gift from Papa; his dedication and hard work make it possible for me to stay home with our boys.

So when we struggle with parts of our home learning I need to take a step back and look at the overall picture and the strong foundation we stand on. So many of the parts of holistic education already exist effortlessly in our home, which means I can focus on the parts that need work.

What I Take From Waldorf, and What I Leave Behind

First off, Waldorf purists should probably stop reading right now. I don't need anyone telling me that I have to take Waldorf as a whole or leave it completely. However, I know that people bristle when others claim a label title but aren't following the rules, so I do understand the rules ~ I'm just choosing to break them.

First off, a few things I take from Waldorf:

~ The importance of environment on the individual. I think we all do better in calm, peaceful, uncluttered environments.
~ The importance of natural materials. For me the connection is with nature and not some spiritual essence of an object, but whatever. I like how wood and stone look and feel, and I don't like plastic, but I'm not anti-Lego.
~ The block teaching method. I've seen the power of letting something sleep for awhile.
~ The three-fold cycle of input, sleep (digestion), and output. As a method it works.
~ The importance of daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly rhythms; marking time is very human and I can connect with how I felt observing the rhythms of the seasons in my own childhood.
~ The importance of boundaries.
~ The focus on no screen time for children under 7 and limited screen time for older children; again, this is something I have practiced and I have seen work.
~ The importance of involving children in the work of the home; we all need to contribute and working together is a great teaching tool for people of all ages.
~ The basic curriculum through the years, because it is helpful to have a road map and because much of Steiner's observations on child development are in line with what others have found.
~ The importance of the integration of hands, heart, and head (more on this later).

Things I leave behind:

~ Anthroposophy, or spiritual science. It's hogwash in my opinion. For those who say I can't have Waldorf without anthroposophy, please remember that everything changes and evolves. Perhaps some would prefer that I say Waldorf or Enki-inspired, but Waldorf is a term that most of our home learning friends understand. Many of the people I know who have been involved with Waldorf don't know anything about anthroposophy but do think it has some religious connections, so in real life I sometimes use the phrase Secular Waldorf.

~ Any belief that I can damage my children by exposing them to the wrong subject matter at the wrong time. I believe that children are more resilient than that. No, I'm not going to show them photographs from Nazi concentration camps at age 9, but at the same time I'm not worried that they learned Greel mythology at at age 7.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Acceptance and Peace

I feel such peace right now. I have to laugh at myself just a little ~ after all, learning in traditional Waldorf blocks is exactly what my boys have said they like best. Not in those words, of course, but grade 1 has been their favorite year so far, and it is the year that we followed Waldorf/Enki learning the most closely.

I am reminded how often we need to stop and trust our children. In some ways embracing Waldorf or Enki education is as radical as choosing unschooling; we have to break free of everyone else's expectations. We have to let go of state standards and what everyone else thinks our children should be learning and even what we learned as children.

I can choose what to bring to my children and when, but they will ultimately be the ones who take that information and run with it, store it away for later, or just let it fall flat. They trust me and come along with me, but they are also individuals with their own needs and wants, and I must be mindful of that.

I am so very weary with trying to get it right, whatever it is. How to unschool the right way or even do Waldorf the right way. And now I am done. We're just going to do what we do and I am choosing to accept the outcome, whatever it may be. I choose rhythm and focused lessons over unschooling because J-Baby needs the rhythm.

Grade 4, Week 9, Day 4 ~ Patchwork

Morning: Reading, Typing Skills, Multiplication Tables

Afternoon: Game Playing, Story Telling, Reading

Evening: A History of US

J-Baby picked up a children's novel and got absorbed in it! Not a simple chapter book such as Magic Tree House or The Boxcar Children; no, it was Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods. It's the third book in the series but who am I to be picky? Honestly, I'm actually not that concerned that J-Baby prefers reading non-fiction titles aimed at adults, but Papa has the reading-for-pleasure worry bug and he was the one who noticed J-Baby curled up on the couch absorbed in the novel.

In For a Penny ...

... well, you know the rest.

I have been seriously reconsidering my decision to modify the Oak Meadow 4th Grade Syllabus into blocks. Not that I don't want to teach in blocks ~ I most certainly do! I'm just, well, not sure that I can do it with Oak Meadow ~ at least not with Oak Meadow alone. I'm finding it hard to find the time to do 100% of the OM syllabus and to put in some of the traditional grade 4 Waldorf blocks.

So now there is a new chart:I'm not even sure how the OM materials will work into my plan ~ I suppose they will be resources just as everything else I buy/borrow/find.

It must appear that I have been very wishy-washy over the past several months (years?). Unchooling? Enki? Waldorf? If Waldorf, which program? Live Education? Christopherus? A Little Garden Flower? Something else?

Whenever I make the decision to change what we are doing I consider it a success, not a failure. I am fine tuning our learning in a way that is nourishing to my children and I am acknowledging that their needs change. I approached this year knowing that we needed rhythm and focused lessons, and Oak Meadow seemed like a good way to get that. I didn't know that it would drive me crazy, LOL! Just two weeks of focused math work showed me that I was on the right track; we were able to go much deeper into our learning.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Course Correction

Our vacation was just the kind of break I had envisioned. We connected with each other and with nature (ocean, sand, sky, sun, shells, dolphins!). We relaxed into a new rhythm based on togetherness. Already I miss it and know that it is my role to bring it back to us here at home.

There is something about the ocean that brings me back to center when I have become unbalanced; the connection with nature clears my mind and helps me remember the life I want to be living. The connection is so important to me that when we were assigned to a room without an ocean view (but close to the pool) we requested to be moved. I didn't mind climbing up 50 steps each time I went to the pool; I needed the ocean view.

I wasn't without tasks; I tidied daily, made the bed, cooked most of our meals, and did laundry. There was, however, a simplicity to it ~ my attention wasn't fragmented the way it is when I am at home. There is no way to make home as simple as a week away at a resort, but certainly home can be made simpler.

Coming down ill after returning home was not fun, especially as the house looked like it had been hit by a tornado Sunday night. I had planned to put everything to rights Monday but woke up feeling as though I might die, so that plan was scrapped and I did pretty much nothing all day. Since then I am feeling a little better (no fever) but I know not to push things too fast so I have been making lists and plans on the computer.

I am very glad that I chose not to take the laptop with me on this trip; I was able to see that a) I spend too much time on the computer, and b) I don't really miss it when I don't have it. Tuesday I worked on decluttering my inboxes and I also made the decision to remove two websites from my bookmarks bar, including facebook; it is so easy to get sucked into seeing what everyone is up to. One trick that helps me is hiding the status of people I don't know personally; my news feed updates far less frequently when I'm limit the updates to people I have actually met in the flesh.

I will be returning to the Down-to-Earth Forums just as soon as I feel a little better and figure out exactly how to work the computer into my routine. I think I will need a solid hour there each day as a moderator. Right now I am still rather depleted and not very excited about any of the topics, but I am trying to pop in daily and add my voice to the conversations.

Course Correction

Our vacation was just the kind of break I had envisioned. We connected with each other and with nature (ocean, sand, sky, sun, shells, dolphins!). We relaxed into a new rhythm based on togetherness. Already I miss it and know that it is my role to bring it back to us here at home.

There is something about the ocean that brings me back to center when I have become unbalanced; the connection with nature clears my mind and helps me remember the life I want to be living. The connection is so important to me that when we were assigned to a room without an ocean view (but close to the pool) we requested to be moved. I didn't mind climbing up 50 steps each time I went to the pool; I needed the ocean view.

I wasn't without tasks; I tidied daily, made the bed, cooked most of our meals, and did laundry. There was, however, a simplicity to it ~ my attention wasn't fragmented the way it is when I am at home. There is no way to make home as simple as a week away at a resort, but certainly home can be made simpler.

Grade 4, Week 9, Day 3 ~ Robots, Cooking, and Art

I'm still not feeling 100%; actually, today it is more like 50%. On top of that I am reworking some of what we are doing. This week simply isn't going to be about workboxes and main lessons.

I decided that it is a great week for practice work (multiplication tables and typing) and lots of Lego Mindstorms fun. The boys have a new book, LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT One Kit Wonders: Ten Inventions to Spark Your Imagination. I had them choose a project and they are building the robot model and programming it. Mindstorms is something that the boys always wish we had more time for; it isn't the kind of thing that is easily done in small increments.

Our project this week will be making J-Baby's mummy costume; luckily T-Guy chose to be Star Trek's James T. Kirk and we were able to get a costume for $16 (Papa, Star Trek fan that he is, already had a phaser). But I am not quite up to costume making just yet, so today we did a variety of easy things.

One thing the boys did was paint. They enjoy the freedom of painting without it relating to a particular story and without me requiring that it be wet-on-wet. It's windy today, so they painted inside and used pan watercolors.

We did more art late in the afternoon; J-Baby painted with the watercolors again while T-Guy and I used Lyra Aquacolor/Aquarelle Crayons and then went over the drawings with wet paint brushes. Mine turned out well so J-Baby decided he wanted to do one too.

After dinner we sent Papa off to his train club meeting and I decided we'd make dessert. Last night at Trader Joe's I picked up a package of instant vanilla pudding. I remember instant pudding from my childhood but when I went to buy some for J-Baby to make it had artificial flavors and colors, so I had to pass. But now TJs has chocolate and vanilla instant pudding mixes without the artificial colors and flavors. J-Baby was able to read the directions and make the pudding all by himself and he felt very proud. He also loved the pudding, and he really isn't much of a pudding fan.

T-Guy's project was baking a batch of break-and-bake cookies leftover from our trip. Not something we usually have on hand, but an easy project and he was very careful when moving the cookies to the cooling rack.

These are both the kinds of cooking/baking projects I remember from my own childhood ~ the kind you could do all by yourself without an adult in the kitchen. We didn't have break-and-bake cookies and my dad didn't care for the kind you sliced, but he did like the Betty Crocker Big Batch Cookie Mix (check out the ad here, complete with the "flavor packets" pictured). By the time I hit junior high I could mix and bake a batch of Tollhouse Cookies.

I must admit that I don't involve my boys in the kitchen as much as I probably should, at least not on a regular basis. J-Baby can grate cheese and make his own quesadilla and can also make a grilled cheese sandwich on GF bread. T-Guy makes his own cold sandwiches, and he will rinse carrots and fruit for snacks. Off and on they have cut fruits and veggies; helped measure and mix muffins, brownies, cakes, and cookies; churned butter; and many other things, but not often enough to become proficient on their own.

We're about to light a fire and play a few hands of Hello Kitty Uno. Papa isn't home to read A History of Us but we'll have fun anyway.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Grade 4, Week 9, Day 2 ~ Improvising

Boy, am I glad to have a few things to fall back on when I am sick. Today the boys did a Mavis Beacon typing lesson, practiced their multiplication tables using Timez Attack, and spent more than an hour building and programming a Mindstorms Robot. Now they are listening to an audio book; later this evening we'll watch more Oliver Twist and Papa will read to them from A History of US. Add in their typical daily activities such as drawing, reading, and playing board games and we have a full day of learning even when Mama is incapacitated.

We are a day behind where I wanted to be this week, but I think I'll be up to filling the workboxes tonight and we'll get started on our fraction block tomorrow.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Grade 4, Week 9, Day 1 ~ Back, But Barely

We're home, and learning, but I am rather ill and won't be blogging anything for a few days. I think it is time for a mostly child-led unit study, assisted by Papa. I do feel very badly for suggesting to T-Guy that he stop acting like he was dying when he came down with this, as I understand now more fully that he truly did feel that way. Cold or flu, I don't know, but it doesn't really matter.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Grade 4, Week 8, Day 5 ~ Friday Free Day

It is Friday Free Day and the beginning of a blog hiatus. We'll be at the beach having our annual vacation/fall field study. I'm choosing to take a computer break so there will be no updates even though I am sure we'll be learning plenty. I'll plan a recap to be posted in Week 9, which will start 10/27/09. (I always give us some time back home before we resume lesson work ~ the rhythm needs to be re-established first.)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Grade 4, Week 8, Day 4 ~ Ready For a Break

We chose to take it easy this morning as we are knee deep in preparations for our upcoming vacation. I am ready for a break; outside of home learning we have had a few very trying/emotional weeks. I believe that a week away from the pressures of, well, everything will help us connect and bring us back to our learning (and our lives) refreshed and renewed.

Workboxes: journaling, math practice (addition and subtraction with regrouping), reading (Indian Legends), language arts practice (parts of speech), and the math main lesson, which consisted of a review of Roman numerals.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Grade 4, Week 8, Day 3 ~ What Motivation Can Do

Today we were expecting friends for a play date. When we woke up this morning I reminded the boys that they needed to complete their workboxes by 11, meaning that this wasn't the best day to wait until 10 to get started. T-Guy was finished before 10, J-Baby by 10:30. Sure, I decided not to do Draw Write Now because the lessons take a long time, but still, they were fast.

For our main lesson work in math we worked Roman numerals again. I've decided against having them do arithmetic problems with Roman numerals; there just isn't any real world need for that. Instead I am focusing on being able to read and write Roman numerals. Today they wrote the numbers 1 - 50 in Roman numerals and did it perfectly, so it is time to move on.

Workboxes today: journaling, math practice (addition and subtraction with regrouping), reading (Indian Legends), language arts practice (parts of speech), and the math main lesson. During the play date they built with Keva Planks and also played Wii Fit. After the play date they listened to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (the Jim Weiss version).

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Grade 4, Week 8, Day 2 ~ Digging Deeper

I love the aha moment. That moment when a child (or anyone) understands a concept at a level that allows them to apply it to other problems. For instance, figuring out that 12 X 30 is the same as 12 X 3 X 10 and then being able to extrapolate that to any multiplication problem in involving 10s. Knowing how to multiply is far more important that memorizing answers (although we are still working on multiplication tables).

Yes, we're digging deeper into our math block. Papa and I sat together last night and looked at this block's material and decided that some of the Roman numeral work isn't necessary. So today we worked multiplication with 10s and 100s and the boys got it! J-Baby even decided that the trick for multiplying 9s is pretty cool and not cheating.

Workboxes today: journaling; math practice (addition and subtraction with regrouping); reading; language arts practice (parts of speech); main lesson, and Draw Write Now. We've put guitar on hiatus until the next block. This evening we watched more Oliver Twist and Papa read the next chapter in A History of US.

Getting Organized

I make things harder for myself than I need to. I feel great about the decision to go back to working in main lesson blocks, but short of buying a new curriculum I had to make Oak Meadow work with the new format, which of course it was not designed to do.

For review: I bought Oak Meadow to make things easier this year; I hated the lesson format; I organized the lessons into block format; and now I have to see if it works. Next year I need to remember to buy a curriculum that is already in blocks or to put together my own!

I had insomnia lat night so I worked on the conversion, and this is what I came up with. Again, I apologize for the size. There are columns for the week of school we are in, the focus of our main lesson block, the week of the block, the dates of the block, the subject we are studying, and the weeks of the corresponding Oak Meadow lessons.

We're not covering everything in the Oak Meadow syllabus, nor are we covering it in exactly the same order. We have studied some of the topics previously, plus we bring in much that isn't part of the syllabus. But it is an excellent springboard and we will have covered most of the syllabus by the time week 36 rolls around.

I am excited about is bring back the secondary, or afternoon lesson. This concept came from the Christopherus First Grade Syllabus and is one that we really enjoyed. Rather than approaching handwork, craft, and art as one-off projects we focus on one for a period of 2 - 4 weeks; this allows in-depth exploration. Some of our planned secondary lessons are quilting and baking (to coincide with fractions), modeling (using Arthur Auer's excellent book Learning About the World Through Modeling), weaving, painting, and book making (something we'll do during our creative writing block).

Monday, October 12, 2009

Grade 4, Week 8, Day 1 ~ Relaxed

(My apologies to anyone who was looking for this post earlier. I was so relaxed I posted it to the wrong blog, LOL!)

Relaxed is a wonderful word. It is fantastic to approach the world in a relaxed manner, avoiding stress as much as possible, and it is the healthiest state for our bodies. Stress = cortisol = health issues. Our new block format is returning a feeling of relaxation to me and to our home learning.

This week we are wrapping up some math work in preparation for a week off. Each fall we vacation at the beach; I often refer to it as our fall field study. This year we will not be taking any academic work with us and will instead focus on relaxing, exploring, and connecting.

I already feel so much calmer sticking with one subject for our main lesson block; it feels like a huge out-breath. I don't have to be prepared to teach language arts tomorrow, as we will continue with Roman numerals and division with remainders. Today we added and subtracted Roman Numerals. I need to work on being better prepared for the blocks ~ I'm not exactly sure what we will be working on tomorrow. This is what happens when I jump in with both feet but I am sure I will get the kinks worked out.

I find that a block format gives us more flexibility with our days; if we don't quite finish everything planned for one day it is easily shifted to the next, and if we are grooving on a topic we can move ahead. If someone is feeling unwell it is easier to take a sick day as we aren't behind on the entire week's learning for that subject.

The block format puts the relaxed back into relaxed homeschooler. The focus is on having fun and learning in a relaxed manner rather than completing items on a list. I am able to see the learning as a whole rather than as fragmented bits; up until now I found myself wondering where each weekly lesson was going to go, but I was always scrambling and didn't have time to read ahead several weeks to see how it would fit together.

Workboxes today: journaling, math practice (addition and subtraction with regrouping), reading, language arts practice (parts of speech), and the math main lesson. We also took Big Dog to the dog park and the boys played Wii Fit. In the evening Papa read A History of US and we played Star Wars Trivial Pursuit and Uno.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Grade 4, Lesson 7, Day 5 ~ Friday Free Day

(I imagine that it isn't going to make a lot of sense if I keep this post title format when I will be skipping all over the OM4 syllabus. Starting next week I will label the posts as Grade 4, Week _ , Day _ .)

My declaration of no busy work last Friday, plus our day off from lessons Tuesday and our light day Wednesday gave the boys a chance to spend most of their time playing, imagining, and creating and gave me the opportunity to listen and observe. I was reminded of all of the good things that come with unschooling. It isn't a place we could go back and be nourished, but I do see that it has its place in our home learning, and not just in the evenings and on the weekends. There is something about having hours and hours of unscheduled time to really set yourself free.

So, while I was working on the return to a block format I decided that we will also go back to 4 days of structured learning with the 5th day free (assuming we have had cooperation and done good work on the other 4 days). Friday mornings have always been problematic for us as I must prepare the house for the weekly cleaning and must pack what we will need to be out of the house in the afternoon.

I plan to continue to post on Fridays, just as I did last week, loosely keeping track of the activities that would fall under the "educational" banner. Of course, I think it is all learning.

T-Guy spent about an hour reading this morning, and J-Baby drew a couple of pictures.
Then they did their chores, got their laundry ready for washing, helped me put away clean dishes, and got started with our new Wii Fit Plus. I was uncertain when we first bought our Wii, but the boys were getting older and Papa thought it could be played with in a limited and positive manner. So far the boys have played it for an hour or two on the weekends (sometimes with Papa) and also with the babysitter when she comes.
I decided that the Wii Fit Plus could be a positive addition to our physical education learning, and so far it is proving to be true. The boys are working on their balance and coordination while having a blast playing games. It's a lot harder than it looks ~ I finally got the hang of moving my body to virtually head a soccer ball, only to get hit in the face with a shoe!

This afternoon we have park day for lots of fresh air, sunshine, and hanging out with friends. When we do our errands we'll be practicing consumer math as well as the life skill of grocery shopping. The boys will have their laundry to fold, and will help me prepare their dinner.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Grade 4, Lesson 7, Day 4 ~ Shake It Up Baby

Okay, I couldn't stand the lack of main lesson blocks any longer; I spent all afternoon devising a new homeschool calendar with main lessons instead of the Oak Meadow model. It was just too disjointed to work on Roman numerals one day, paragraph creation the next day, and then to start a study of Native Americans.

Math practice work was exceedingly hard as the material had only been introduced the day before; no sleep, no reawakening. Everyone was frustrated. Language arts lessons were forgotten one week to the next. The model was simply too school-like, and public school-like at that.

Here is what I came up with:

I apologize for the small image ~ I hope you can read it. Basically it shows the blocks we will be doing: we're finishing Roman Numerals, taking a week off, then doing blocks on Fractions; Native Americans; Grammar; Two Digit Multiplication and Long Division; Nutrition and Cells; Paragraphs/Essays and Creative Writing; Measurement and Money; California Geography and History; and finally Astronomy, Latitude, and Longitude. This is a simplified chart; it doesn't show art, music, physical education, health, or practical life skills.

I stayed with the content from Oak Meadow rather than switching to a more traditional Waldorf 4th grade because I want to be able to use the materials I have and because some of these subjects are areas we haven't covered in-depth before. I really like the idea of studying the Native American of our local area the same year that we study our state. It is possible that we will switch out the science blocks for more traditional Waldorf fare.

I don't think that it was bad to experiment with daily subjects; it certainly showed me what works best for us. We go in-depth and then we let the materials rest, awakening it once there has been time for the concepts to digest fully. Likewise I will be bringing in the 2 - 3 day process with in the main lessons.

We're going to continue with the Oak Meadow assigned reading for grade 4 so that we can continue to do projects with our friends.

I guess we'll see how this experiment goes. I feel less scattered and better able to prepare for each subject, and I think returning to main lesson blocks will serve the boys well.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Grade 4, Lesson 7, Day 3 ~ Taking It Easy

I spent all afternoon doing a homeschool makeover, which I will post about tomorrow. In the meantime, we were back at our lesson work, minus a main lesson.

Workboxes: journaling, math practice (Roman numerals and division with remainders), Indian Legends, adverb practice, typing lesson, practice multiplication tables. Papa read A History of US. The boys listened to Prince Caspian on audio book and played a long game of Colosseum. Oh, and I suppose playing Garage Band for 30 minutes counts as something.


Summer move forward and stitch me the fabric of fall
Wrap life in the brilliance of death to humble us all
How sweet is the day
I'm craving a darkness
As I sit tucked away with my back to the wall
~ Vienna Teng, Drought

Fall has finally arrived in Southern California. Truly, I think it might have been waiting for me, as the weather turned just as soon as I decorated the mantle and added a few other autumnal touches to our home. We are experiencing cold nights and beautiful days, and Monday night we had our first fire of the season. It was so nice to gather in the living room and play a game of Yahtzee with a Java Log burning in the fireplace.

T-Guy remarked that it truly feels like fall, with the crisp chill that descends each evening and the quickly shortening days. I have to agree; I feel the pull inward, the in-breath after the expansion of spring and summer.

We are all fragile this week; my heart hurts and the tears come too easily. We lost our Girl Dog Tuesday, our faithful canine companion of 12 years. It is heartbreaking, and yet it grounds us in the reality of life. We are born, we live, we die. To die at home, in the arms of those we love, is peaceful, and I am glad that we were able to bring that to her. T-Guy, at 10.5, chose to be with us, and J-Baby, at 9.5, chose to stay in another room with the Big Dog. Afterward we had Big Dog come out and say goodbye.

I am naturally introverted and melancholic, and fall suits me well. As much as I love being in nature (and nature is gorgeous in fall) I love being home even more, and fall is a time to enjoy the comforts of home. I love to snuggle into my chair under a quilt and read a good book or magazine, or to knit for hours, sipping steaming mugs of sweet milky tea or hot frothy maple vanilla milk. I love to bake ~ fresh breads, cakes, cookies, muffins, scones, cinnamon rolls, and more. Homemade soups are a specialty of mine and in winter some of the heartier soups come from my pot ~ yellow split pea; bean and bacon; thick, creamy potato; delicious sweet-potato fennel, and chicken soups of all varieties. Plus stews made with grassfed beef and my homemade beef stock.

I tend to give up salads once the cold weather arrives; they simply hold no appeal and I transition to eating more roasted and sauteed vegetables. I really look forward to eating creamed kale. Likewise, I no longer enjoy cold sandwiches and find myself fixing grilled cheese on delicious homemade bread or quesadillas, the Mexican melted cheese sandwich that is so much a part of Californian cuisine. I love to put sliced Haas avocado into mine ~ it is incredible warm. A sort-of hot sandwich I also love is a BLA ~ bacon, lettuce, and avocado on toasted bread. I am allergic to tomatoes so I leave those off. When asked what my favorite lunch meat is I unabashedly answer bacon; sometimes it's hard to believe I was a vegetarian for 18 years.

So welcome fall; it is I who has been waiting for you.