12 January 2017

Why I Will Never Get the Hang of Homeschooling

So we’ve been rocking this homeschooling thing for almost six years now, and even though it’s early I’m already thinking ahead to year seven. The Agents are pretty smart and generally have it together academically and can hold {semi-reasonable} conversations with other humans and have not deteriorated into social misfits. This might lead one to {incorrectly} assume we have a least a little bit of a clue as to what we are doing and how we’re going to keep moving forward.

The reality is, however, I don’t ever feel like oh, now I know what I’m doing, full stop. Why? Because the bar keeps moving. I come up with new ideas that are just so much better than what we were doing before. The Agents won’t stop growing despite my best efforts. New books come out. Schedules become routines which become approximations which become mere suggestions which become laughable. The Agents {or Momma} need more or less sleep than they did last year, last month, last week. The weather changes and we want to either live outdoors or paste ourselves to the couch. 

Agents on the first day of this school year
{June 2016}
I’ll never be able to say this is how we homeschool, now and forever, the end because how we homeschool is a moving target. Right now, we have a pretty sweet system. We like the way we do a lot of the Things. But, soon we’ll be moving to a new state with new rules and a new plan. And the Agents will all be a year older and a grade ahead. And we won’t have to submit quarterly reports anymore, so we might get more creative with our plan and less stringent about our record keeping. Or not. 

Some things that seem like the cat’s meow to us currently {spine booksmorning and afternoon schoolGoodreadsworkbooks} could very well be tossed and replaced by an entirely new agenda. We might go back to unit studies. We might give up on organizing our days by subjects altogether. We might replace some of our day at home with classes or co-ops. We might try a four-day week again.

Basically, I have no idea how things are going to look in our educational future, and that’s okay. A popular question I'm frequently asked is are you going to homeschool through high school? and I honestly have no idea. The Agents could very well decide to give public school a try at some point. Or, maybe I’ll be reliving organic chemistry and calculus class alongside them. Either way, we are fine with the uncertainty that this lifestyle {yes, I consider it more of a lifestyle than an education choice} brings.

06 January 2017

Planning Our Next Homeschool Year {Yes, Already}

Once we pass the halfway point in any given school year, my future-oriented planner self cannot resist considering the possibilities for the following year.

When we move this summer, we will have completed three full years of homeschooling in New York: 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade for Agent E; 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade for Agent J; and kindergarten and 1st grade for Agent A. {I don’t count “preschool” as a Thing.} Because our current home state has a lot of “interesting” guidelines and paperwork requirements, we’ve planned our school year {and our record keeping, and our subjects, and our weekly schedules} a bit differently than we had in the past.
My favorite first grader
Truthfully, while I’ve enjoyed some parts our new structure and will continue to utilize the components that have worked out well {such as the ones outlined in this post}, I’m looking forward to having more planning freedom in the next few years.

My initial thought is that I’d like to go back to how we approached things when we only had to submit a letter of intent and keep a portfolio {which I would do anyway, because, hello, it’s me}. We still covered all the usual “subjects” but were able to do so in a more integrated way. So instead of thinking in terms of for geography we will do x and for history we will do y and for art we will do z, we will brainstorm a list of interesting things we’d like to learn about and not worry ourselves so much with how to categorize them.

For example, we might include something like "famous landmarks.” We could break this down country by country {or state by state} and go more or less in-depth with each one depending on interest. In our study of each landmark we might touch on geography, history, art, biographies, physics {depending on the structure discussed}, writing, or mythology.

Another thing I’d like to do is focus on fewer, more detailed books. I feel like we read a lot, which is great, but that we’ve lost focus over the last year or two. In addition to keeping our system of using spine books for certain areas, which has worked out better than expected, I’d like to expand our reading list to include some longer texts the Agents might not read on their own, but would be fascinating nonetheless.

A few of the books I’m considering include A Young People’s History of the United StatesThe Magic of Reality {which Agent E and I have already read, but the younger Agents have not}, and On the Origin of Species

I’m also evaluating the kinds of topics we’ve covered recently versus the ones which sort of got “missed” in the last few years. For example, we’ve done many animal studies, but have almost exclusively focused on mammals. Maybe we’re due for a study on birds, or dinosaurs. Also, we haven’t done a detailed study of the United States since Agent E was essentially my only student. {It was the year she was in 2nd and Agent J was “doing” kindergarten in her own way.} We bought a cool United States Encyclopedia intending to use it as a spine this year, but haven’t even cracked it open yet. In our science studies, we’ve spent a lot of time on evolution and climate and ecosystems but almost no time on botany or microbiology.

In any case, I’m excited to begin thinking about the direction our homeschool might be headed when we have a 6th grader, 4th grader, and 2nd grader. I believe our routine will naturally evolve such that the two younger Agents will be working together on more subjects, while my {gulp} middle schooler will be transitioning into more independent work. 

29 December 2016

So Long, 2016

I know this probably isn’t true for most folks, but we continue to “do” school during the relaxed if not confusing {what day is it again?} week between Christmas and New Year’s. We did take Monday off because Hubby didn’t work that day and let’s just say the Agents find his presence a bit . . . distracting. {We’re skipping this coming Monday, 2 January, for the same reason.}

Mostly, though, it was business as usual this week. Since we just passed our halfway point {we’re currently on week two of the third quarter} I’ve been feeling a tad reflective and thinking about the kinds of things we might like to do going forward. I’m also getting a better grasp on how much we will feasibly be able to finish this school year, keeping in mind that we’ll be wrapping up a bit early than usual because we’ll be moving around that time. 

What "recess" looks like these days

A few random thoughts I’ve had about our homeschool year so far:

We will likely carry our study of Greek mythology until the end of the school year. I originally thought, hey, maybe we’ll just do this for a quarter or a semester and then move on to something else, but the Agents had other ideas. It looks like Norse and Egyptian mythologies {the next two in our mental queue} will have to wait until next year. We have also started reading The Children’s Book of Mythical Beasts and Magical Monsters, which has given us even more ideas for where we might like to go with this fascinating topic.

I finally had to admit that I’m just not crazy about Mango Spanish. In theory it sounds great, and it’s free, which is a bonus. But . . . Agents J and A are just not that into it. {Agent E has preferred Duolingo all along.} A while back I started listening to Coffee Break Spanish, and this week I introduced Agents J and A to that instead. I think they are enjoying it so far, and we will likely try that method going forward.

Last year we had this grandiose idea to study “animals” as part of science. It didn’t take long before we narrowed that down to “mammals” and further shortened our list to “mammals specifically mentioned in our spine book.” {We're using The Animal Book, published by DK and Smithsonian.} We just started covering rhinos and tapirs. Once we finish those, we have seven more groups to go: horses and zebras; cows, antelope, and sheep; hippos; pigs and deer; camels, llamas, and giraffes; dolphins and porpoises; and whales. We usually spend 2-4 weeks on each grouping, so we may not finish this year after all. 

As far as other science, we’ve tended to concentrate on physical science so far this year {matter, materials, force, machines}. We have also, of course, carried on with our seemingly never-ending obsession with the early universe and evolution. I’m hoping to finish up our dwindling list of books we intend to read and videos we intend to watch on these topics sometime in the next few months. Maybe we might even {gasp!} take a break from it and not add it to our homeschool schedule for next year. {I anticipate there would be protesting, though.}

We’ve completed a lot of workbooks and written work  this year compared to previous ones. I used to be pretty on top of free resources and do much of my own {double-sided} printing, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s just easier and more efficient to keep a running list of favorites and order them on Amazon when the price drops. The Agents are especially fond of Brain Quest, School Zone math, Brighter Child language arts, and DK geography.

There’s always lots more I can contemplate about what’s working and what’s not for our homeschool, and I will probably be churning out a stream-of-consciousness evaluation and planning post before too long. In the meantime, we’ll be here chugging along into 2017 and beyond.

22 December 2016

Dinner Party Game With a Homeschool Twist

If you are a friend of mine IRL you might have seen this on my personal Facebook page a few months back, but I thought it would make a good blog post, so I’m rewriting it here.

Trying to minimize any prompting on my end, I asked the Senior Agents the “what famous people would you invite to a dinner party” question, limiting them to living people. {Although introvert Agent E suggested maybe inviting them all over individually, at different times, ha. She is so my kid.} I stopped them at 15; they could have gone on. 

Here’s who they came up with {in alphabetical order by first name}:
  1. Bill Nye
  2. Daniel Radcliffe
  3. David Attenborough
  4. Emma Watson
  5. George Lucas
  6. Ginnifer Goodwin
  7. Hillary Clinton
  8. Jane Goodall
  9. Jennifer Morrison
  10. JK Rowling
  11. Malala Yousifazi
  12. Neil DeGrasse Tyson
  13. Rick Riordan
  14. Richard Dawkins
  15. Taylor Swift
Then I had another idea, being the Brilliant Homeschool Mom that I am. Ahem.

We should totally write letters to all these people, telling them why we admire them. They already enjoy letter-writing {they have a pen pal in Australia} so it will be easy to get them on board. If I were really on top of planning {which I’m not} I might suggest we cut the list down to 12 and add it to the calendar to finish one per month. {We school year round, so we could make that work.}

It will be a neat little exercise and allow the Agents to practice their writing skills. They will have so much fun coming up with what to say and revising their letters, they won’t even care that the chance of them hearing back will be practically nonexistent. Language arts homeschooling win.