Saturday, April 24, 2010

Grade 4, Spring Term, Beowulf Week 3, Day 5 ~ Renewal, or at Least Perspective

Yesterday I wrote:

I don't see the benefit of homeschooling a child who isn't enjoying it when it brings discord to the home and conflict to the child-parent relationship. I think the only reason I am still homeschooling J-Baby is that I am concerned that he will be labeled if we put him in school and that they will be suggesting medication and that he won't ever have the chance to prove himself because he will be deemed a problem child.

That was rather harsh, wasn't it? I feel the impulse to go back and edit away the words. But you know, it was the truth of our yesterday. I felt like my toolbox was empty, that I had done everything I could and that it was simple too hard. And yet I was reminded of something Dale McGowan wrote in Raising Freethinkers:

Unless we are willing to act on our ideals when it's most challenging, they aren't worth pursuing even in the good times.

Would I really give up home education because it is hard? Because day in and day out the struggles appear to compromise our attached relationship? Am I really not able to make them work together, attachment parenting and home education?

I know that things have to change, but I also know that the change has to happen here, that sending J-Baby to school would steal from both of our ideals, attachment parenting and home education. Yes, some people can raise attached children and send them to school, but it sure is more natural when you don't.

I honestly don't see most of J-Baby's behavior as being the issue here. I think he pretty much acts in a developmentally normal manner. I don't see people who think differently as being abnormal, just different. What has to happen is that we need to evaluate what his needs are, identify how they are and are not being met, and go from there.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Grade 4, Spring Term, Beowulf Week 3, Day 4 ~ Meltdown

Not working doesn't begin to explain today.

I'd love to post each day, singing the praises of homeschooling and telling everyone how easy it is. Except that isn't honest. It's hard some days. Really hard.

J-Baby is not a quick child. I'm not talking about his mind, which is quite gifted and gathers up information like a super sponge; no, I mean he is s-l-o-w. It takes him an hour to do something that takes someone else (Papa, T-Guy, me) 10 minutes. This could be folding his clothing, doing the breakfast dishes, or his math practice work. He is easily distracted and lost in thoughts a lot of the time. He doesn't see the value in work for works sake. He says it out loud: I don't like work. At least he's honest.

But he is also of an age where he has little empathy. He isn't bothered by the fact that his slacking means his brother does more of the room cleaning. He doesn't care that not doing his chores means more work for me. He doesn't care that his slowness with lesson work means we don't get to the main lesson some days. He doesn't care that it upsets us. He's 10 and the world revolves around him.

Today was awful. There is no sugar-coating it. He didn't want to get dressed and reminders weren't helping. He took an hour to do the dishes once he finally got them started. Thinking of the issues with long multiplication practice Tuesday I cut his math practice problems to 16 and I wrote them on graph/grid paper for him. He spent 90 minutes on those problem (or sitting there not doing them) and didn't finish until after Papa came home for lunch, set a timer, and told him to get them done or face the loss of his weekend Wii playing.

When I took him through a single problem he could do it quickly and easily, so it wasn't about ability. I was allowing him to use a multiplication table chart so that he wasn't hung up by his lack of fact memorization.

Suddenly I am reminded of the toddler who screamed no jammies for a full hour and then, in an exhausted sleep, continued to murmur no jammies every few minutes. A child who screamed when it was bath time and screamed when it was time to get out of the bath tub. A child who screamed because he didn't want to get out of his pajamas in the morning. A child who made up his mind about not having his picture taken and stubbornly kept his hands over his face until the photographer gave up.

Rhythm has always been our most powerful tool, but it isn't working right now. He is digging in his heels once more and resisting the rhythm. He's happy only when he gets exactly what he wants, which is no chores, no lessons work, and his favorite foods served at every meal. I can't give him those things and he has to learn not to make life hell for the rest of us because of it.

I don't see the benefit of homeschooling a child who isn't enjoying it when it brings discord to the home and conflict to the child-parent relationship. I think the only reason I am still homeschooling J-Baby is that I am concerned that he will be labeled if we put him in school and that they will be suggesting medication and that he won't ever have the chance to prove himself because he will be deemed a problem child.

I know that gifted children are often bored. I was bored out of my skull in school, but I always did my work. I don't understand the under-achieving gifted student. I know they exist, but I wasn't one of them. It's scary; the under-achieving gifted students that I knew growing up are exactly leading successful lives right now, and I'm not talking about salaries. I'm talking about meaningful work and successful relationships.

I'm lost. I'm tired. It's hard right now. He needs something else. We need something else. I just don't know what that is just yet. One thing I do know is that he is really seeking the company of friends and I have plans to talk to some friends about the community homeschooling they are doing.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Grade 4, Spring Term, Beowulf Week 3, Day 3 ~ When It's Not Working

I'm starting this post in the morning, which should tell you (or me) something right there.

We are off course. Now, in general I don't mind being slightly off course; I know where we want to go and I trust that we will get there. But today? Today is the perfect of example of what happens when a rhythm falls apart and the parent isn't holding the space and leading by example.

It's nearly 10:30. The boys are playing ~ I can hear them. I've stopped at their door several times this morning, reminding them to get started on their chores. They reluctantly stop what they are doing and start on my directives, only to lose focus within minutes and return to their world of make-believe.

I've had a stop/start/stop morning myself. I am in my pajamas and my bed isn't made. I've fed everyone breakfast. I've tidied the kitchen, putting away the clean dishes and preparing the breakfast dishes so that T-Guy can wash them. I scrubbed the exterior of the Vitamix base. I've also looked at every blog I find inspiring and have looked at several news websites. I've checked in with facebook more than once.

I know that the situation today is my responsibility. I didn't cause the environment to fall apart on us, but things are less tidy than usual especially in the family/learning room. I didn't follow through on making sure that it was ready for us, whether that meant tidying it myself or having the boys clean up after themselves. I told them to clean their room several times yesterday and yet I still allowed them to watch basketball last night and go to bed with a messy room.

Plenty of homeschoolers (and other parents) would tell me to loosen up and not worry about the mess, especially in the bedroom. All I can say is, you're not me and you don't live my life with my children. We need the calm that comes from a tidy, uncluttered space. We need the discipline that comes from caring for our home spaces. As soon as we see mess we feel chaotic and unmoored. Now, I'm not talking epic mess and clutter; after all, the entire house was perfectly clean and tidy just last Friday. Just enough chaos to throw us off our rhythm.

I hide from clutter and chaos. I retreat to my chair in the living room, which I can count on to be relatively tidy at all times. I retreat and I get absorbed in other things (the computer, a book) and I stop leading.


So we gathered ourselves, spent some time restoring our environment, and did our homeschooling. I feel better; I don't know about the boys.

Lessons today: long division, pronouns, multiplication tables, American history, Beowulf.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Grade 4, Spring Term, Beowulf Week 3, Day 2 ~ Frustration

Sometimes the hardest thing about homeschooling is remembering that when the boys are having difficulty it means that we need to fix something. It is so easy for me to get into the mindset of I already taught you that. More than once. What's the problem?

Of course, there is a problem, or more than one. Sometimes the problem is that I forget that there is a long road between practice and mastery. Sometimes I have changed the format of the lesson slightly. Sometimes I over-estimate how much the boys can do at one sitting.

Sometimes it is all of these things.

Not quite recalling the order of steps in long multiplication. Switching from working on graph/grid paper to a more traditional worksheet. One that had too many problems and not enough room to work the problems.


We homeschool to be together, to learn in a relaxed manner, and to tailor the philosophy and methods to the child. We homeschool for freedom and for fun. We homeschool so that our children are not subjected to a one-size fits all education.

Sometimes I forget that. I focus on the little goals and fight little battles and start losing perspective and the war.

All I can say is, problems noted. Steps are being taken to remedy the situation. I'm sorry.

Lesson work today: long multiplication, pronouns, multiplication table drill, Beowulf, drawing, free reading, assigned reading, American history, science. Oh, and a hefty lesson on why we do this and how I can be the one who gets in the way of it.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Grade 4, Spring Term, Beowulf Week 3, Day 1 ~ The Best Laid Plans

Listening to Beowulf with Papa simply didn't work, and the boys and I lost most of a week of main lesson work because of it. Our evenings are just a little too tight to fit in another time commitment.

So this week we start again with our regular routine of doing all of our main lesson work in the mornings. I'm a little disappointed that Papa won't be sharing this with us, but actually planning when we will get the main lesson work done is more effective than hoping that we'll have time for it.

I worked very hard yesterday, planning our practice work for the next (and final!) six weeks of our school year and gathering the necessary materials for math skills practice, grammar practice, and multiplication table practice/drills. I now have everything I need to fill the boys' lesson binders each week through the end of our school year.

I made a decision to stop copy work for the rest of the school year; the grammar practice involves a good amount of writing and I know that J-Baby will balk at it if he is already tired from having done his copywork.

In addition to our main lesson work on Beowulf the boys and I will be preparing for our town's annual Shakespeare Festival by familiarizing the boys with the three plays that will be presented this year: Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Hamlet. Can you imagine a better line-up? This isn't meant to be an in-depth study; the goal is for the boys to be able to follow the plot lines as they watch the plays. T-Guy is familiar with some of Shakespeare's works via the Lamb collection, however J-Baby really hasn't had any interest as of yet. I'm on the hunt for good picture books and will probably get the Jim Weiss Shakespeare For Children and Romeo and Juliet CDs.

Today's lesson work: long division practice, pronouns, timed multiplication drill, Beowulf, assigned reading (The Earth Dragon Awakes), free reading, and American history, with a long lunchtime discussion of binary and decimal (base 10) number systems.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Grade 4, Spring Term, Beowulf Week 2, Day 5 ~ Friday Free Day

Calling our Friday free is really a misnomer. Certainly it is still a learning day and a day that counts as an instructional day with the state; it is just free of written practice and main lesson work if we're caught up for the week. We still might do some American history and science, and we're almost guaranteed to do some nature study. Free reading always happens, and assigned reading sneaks in as well.

Today we did American history in the morning, along with drawing. In the afternoon we went to the park and the boys played baseball with some friends and later built a nature fort, plus J-Baby taught a friend to toss a Frisbee. To me, these are all very important "subjects" to tackle. Learning to play in a group is important; group harmony is a cornerstone of community, whether that is the family community, college community, home community, or work community. Learning to play as a team is important; none of us can ever do it all alone. Sharing a skill that you have with someone else is important; it takes tact to do so in a way that doesn't make the other person feel that they can't do it or that there is something lacking in them because it is hard.

There is also the simple joy of watching children at a park, so absorbed in nature that they ignore the playground equipment. Oh, I'm not against equipment; it is a useful tool for building sensory integration, balance skills, etc. I just love watching the children under the canopy of trees, using all of the loose parts that they find: pine needles, sticks and twigs, leaves, pine cones, rocks, etc. They connect with nature in an organic, effortless manner.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Grade 4, Spring Term, Beowulf Week 2, Day 4 ~ Why Planning Matters

I am still ill. Realistically I know that this is an illness for which I should have sought medical treatment; I am only this ill every few years and generally it means that I need antibiotics. But antibiotics are so hard on my body that it takes me months, if not longer, to undo their negative effects. So I am struggling on, ill, trying to remind myself that a few weeks of being really ill is better than dealing with long-term issues that come from antibiotic usage.

The problem is, I came down ill 4 days before the start of our current block. The day before we were to start I read the LE4 guide for Beowulf and saw that the first two weeks of the block are mainly about intake, and I heaved a sigh of relief and went back to bed.

We're managing, but I didn't get the boys lesson binders filled for that week, or for this week. Usually I print a weekly syllabus and then under each daily tab I put that day's copywork, written math practice, written language arts practice, and timed multiplication drill. The weekly syllabus indicates which book the boys are to read for their assigned reading and which pages/chapters are to be completed.

This means that the past two weeks have been rather freeform around here as I scramble to give the boys practice work, often late in the morning because I have slept in after having spent half the night not sleeping due to my cough/asthma.

It's working, but not as well as it would be if I had done the planning and preparation. This weekend I intend to put together next week's syllabus and papers so that we can get back into rhythm Monday.

Today's lesson work: free reading, Beowulf, math practice.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Grade 4, Spring Term, Beowulf Week 2, Day 3 ~ Musing on Math

Sometimes I wonder where we are going with math. J-Baby has always been math gifted, understanding concepts and excelling at mental math, and yet math skills seem to stump him. Specifically, he gets all tangled up with multiplication facts. I'll admit that I just don't understand; multiplication table memorization came easy to me as a child and I haven't lost it as I've gotten older.

Part of me thinks that he needs to persevere and learn his multiplication facts. Part of me sees that it is undermining his confidence in math and making it a C-H-O-R-E, something I know is wrong.

Looking at various curricula and state standards I see that a lot of children J-Baby's age don't have them down yet. A year ago T-Guy didn't know them in the rock solid way he has them now. Maybe J-Baby has difficulty organizing information in his brain, but maybe he just needs more time.

I talked to Papa, and we decided to approach the situation in this way: when J-Baby is doing concept work, such as multi-digit long multiplication, we will allow him to use a printed multiplication table. Our reasoning for this is that he needs to have the steps down solidly and getting lost because of his lack of memorization skills doesn't help him with the concepts. Everyday he will continue multiplication table review via oral recitation, timed drills, and multiplication games. We're separating this practice from the rest of his math work so that his lack of memorization doesn't hinder his progress with math concepts.

Lesson work today: American Revolutionary history, review of column addition with regrouping, written multiplication practice, silent reading, library book club, Beowulf recall and discussion.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Grade 4, Spring Term, Beowulf Week 2, Day 2 ~ Out of Sorts

Okay, I'll just admit that this is an odd block for me. Not the content ~ I'm loving Beowulf. But listening to it in the evenings feels weird and out of place; actually listening to main lesson content on audio is new for us. Not bad, just different, and it has changed the dynamic of the morning main lesson.

Our morning are now full of practice work. At dinner we do our recall and discussion, and after our evening walk we do our listening. I almost feel like I'm not working hard enough as the boys' teacher.

I'm sure we'll settle into it.

Today we did oral multiplication work, oral grammar, silent reading, reading science and grammar books, and our Beowulf recall and discussion.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Grade 4, Spring Term, Beowulf Week 2, Day 1 ~ Papa Jumps On Board

Monday is our library day; T-Guy read 2 big novels and several other books last week and checked out 2 more big novels. These are the last in the Pendragon series of books that he has been reading. J-Baby read many, many shorter books over the past week: Magic Treehouse books, picture books, Dr. Seuss books, and of course his stand-by, science books.

Sunday night we were sitting around the table eating our once-a-week dessert (mango sorbet this week) and talking about our next installment of Beowulf when Papa mentioned that he would have liked to listen with us had we not started already. I quickly decided that the boys and I could listen again to the parts we'd already heard, and starting the mental reorganization process, as clearly we couldn't listen during our usual time.

Today's lesson work: grammar via words games and several new grammar picture books from the library, oral spelling work, oral math practice, listening to Beowulf.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Grade 4, Spring Term, Beowulf Week 1, Day 5 ~ Um, Yeah, Still Sick

I admit I must sound like a broken record at this point. Let me just say that homeschooling can be really hard when the homeschooling parent is ill. Luckily, we usually have an easy day on Fridays, catching up on unfinished work, viewing educational programs, and doing a bit of practice work.

The boys watched three episodes of Liberty's Kids today, a series that they are really enjoying. The series is behind where the boys are in American history, and it is really cool to see them recognize characters and events. I refrained from bring educational TV into our home for quite some time, and even now it is very limited, but I must admit that it is a format that J-Baby learns from easily. He loves shows like NOVA.

We also did silent reading, oral word games, and oral multiplication practice.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Grade 4, Spring Term, Beowulf Week 1, Day 4 ~ Still Sick

I would have expected to be feeling better one week into this illness, not worse. Papa is still not well and stayed home again this morning.

I was at a loss as to what to do today. We wanted to listen to more Beowulf, but Papa was trying to work from home, and that happens in the family/learning room, which is also where we have it set up to listen to audio.

I decided that we would review column addition and subtraction, and wow, am I glad we did. I find myself wondering how we ever reviewed every math concept in public school. The boys definitely needed a refresher on regrouping.

We also played more verbal word games and did oral multiplication tables, and the boys did silent reading.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Grade 4, Spring Term, Beowulf Week 1, Day 3 ~ Sick

We were so far off our rhythm today. Papa and I are both quite ill; T-Guy and J-Baby seem to be at the tail end of it. Papa anchors our morning rhythm as he is the one in the family who must wake up and be somewhere around the same time each day. When Papa doesn't get up the boys and I tend to flounder a bit.

We made an easy day of it. We took in so much of Beowulf Tuesday that I decided to give us an extra day of "sleep" before starting the recall process. Instead, the boys worked with The Lightning Thief in order to be ready for book club this afternoon.

I want to like book club. I mean, I like the idea of book club, but so far this one has fallen far short. The kids have met twice and at both meetings the majority of the time was spent reading the book out loud. Um, they've already read the book. They've done a few activities: writing their names in Greek, a Percy Jackson word search, and coloring a Greek vase. There have been 2 - 3 questions about the book each week; however, the fall under the lame category as they were the most basic of comprehension questions. What kind of school does Percy Jackson attend? What is a boarding school?

We have one more week of this. I didn't want to pull out on the librarian after one meeting; I'm glad I didn't because another parent did and the group is really small. I'd like to offer ideas or even to help, but I realize that most children probably don't discuss books the way mine do. Oral recall and meaningful discussion is how we approach literature on a daily basis.

We rounded out the day with more mental word games and Papa read the boys their history lesson.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Grade 4, Spring Term, Beowulf Week 1, Day 2 ~ Carschooling

Something unexpected came up today, so the boys and I spent 3 hours in the car today driving to and from Redondo Beach. I didn't want to miss a day of learning or shift it to the afternoon when I knew we'd be wiped out from the drive, so we had a carschooling day.

Last night I looked at the two verse translations of Beowulf I had checked out from the library and decided that we would go with the Seamus Heaney translation even though Live Ed recommended the Michael Alexander version. As an English geek I was quite aware when the Heaney translation came out that it was considered the definitive version. Reading the first lines of each I just felt the Heaney more.

In the car we did oral math practice (multiplication tables) and grammar, consisting of playing fun words games with synonyms, antonyms, interjections, homonyms, and homophones. The boys did some silent reading and we listened to the first CD from the Heaney Beowulf. Wow. I sampled it last night but listening today it was so accessible, gripping, and well, alliterative.

Back home J-Baby pulled out his Snap Circuits and also worked with an Inventions kit, while T-Guy spent more time reading. There are in their pajamas now and getting ready to play Uno, as Papa has a very sore throat and can't read them their history lesson tonight.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Grade 4, Spring Term, Beowulf Week 1, Day 1 ~ I Love My Local Library!

(Okay, I have decided that I have to stop writing posts and then leaving them to edit later. I seriously have at least half a dozen unfinished, unpublished posts. Seeing them sitting there I feel guilty and end up not writing about anything new. My new strategy is to keep current as best I can and then go back and fill in the gaps by finishing those other posts.)

We were all set to do a Man and Animal block this month, only reading the LE4 Man and Animal book I found that I couldn't connect to it. There are definitely times that Waldorf and I don't agree, especially when anthroposophy comes into play. I know that I can't teach anything that I can't connect to, so I decided that the animal block that we did with Oak Meadow during the fall term will have to suffice.

I had set aside two literature blocks for summer: Beowulf and The Kalevala. I figured we'd read them and do a few projects but not give them the full treatment, as it would technically be our summer break. I just wanted the boys to be exposed to both of them. After deciding not to do Man and Animal I thought we would do The Kalevala in April as it seemed to tie in closely with Norse mythology, only I couldn't find any of the source books recommended by Live Ed, not unless I wanted to spend $50. Hence we will be studying Beowulf, something this English major geek doesn't mind.

Last week I sat down at my computer and started looking for resources. Using the search database at the county library system and the search and reviews at Amazon I was able to place holds on 7 items and have them transferred to my local branch. I picked them up today. Here is what I got:

Beowulf, A Verse Translation by Michael Alexander (recommended by LE)
Beowulf, A New Prose Translation by E. Talbot Donaldson (recommended by LE)
Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney, An Illustrated Edition (considered the definitive translation)
Beowulf translated by Seamus Heany, audio CD version
Beowulf by Michael Morpurgo (children's picture book)
Beowulf, A Hero's Tale Retold, by James Rumford (children's picture book)
The Hero Beowulf, by Eric A. Kimmel (children's picture book)

Because I couldn't get my source materials until today we actually started our block minus Beowulf. Instead, we spent the morning with grammar, reviewing synonyms and interjections and exploring homonyms and homophones. Once again I found several books at the library that brought the concepts to the boys in a fun manner, and then we played games with the words. The books we used today were:

If You Were a Synonym by Dahl, et al

We didn't manage any practice work today as 3 of the 4 of us are ill and I wasn't able to get things fully planned. So it was grammar and free reading today, with a little science exploration via a handheld microscope my MIL gave to J-Baby for his birthday. T-Guy is off playing baseball and J-Baby is exploring the world of String Games for the very first time. So very fun!