A homeschooling blog we created to share our stories and adventures as we live and learn as a family.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Helping Hands

One day, after church school, I asked my daugher, J what she had learned about in her church school class. "Helping hands", she replied. She then proceeded to spend the rest of the day showing me all of the things her helping hands can do, like setting the table, petting the dog, and most of all, helping her little sister K to do just about everything, whether K liked it or not. We are truly blessed to have found a wonderful spiritual community in our local UU church that is very much in line with our family's beliefs. So, although speaking about our religious community is a bit off-topic to homeschooling, I really wanted to take some time to blog about how our church inspires us to use our 'helping hands' to give back to our community and to communities beyond our own.

I love the quote, "much is expected of those to whom much has been given". I believe it is from the Bible, although I first heard it in an interview with Ted Kennedy. It is so simple, yet it truly speaks to me of the importance of service and of helping those who need our help. At the moment, our church is a place where my children find a community that embraces volunteerism and the belief that our own small actions can make the world a better place, ideals that I hope they always hold close to their heart. They've collected spare change for Heifer Project International and the Guest At Our Table program, which are both part of UUSC's social justice mission. D and I also enjoy helping out at Cradles to Crayons, a local organization that helps give donated clothing and basic necessties to families in need.

This week we spent part of a rainy, dreary Thursday baking four cheese macaroni and cheese casserole for a local soup kitchen, another project run through our church. After grating six cups of cheese, D dubbed himself the master cheese-grater, J the master cheese-sprinkler, and K the master cheese-taster. I first signed up for the soup kitchen project for myself, but cooking always draws my kids to the kitchen, and it wasn't long before they were clamoring to help. They now really look forward to these monthly cooking projects and they enjoy knowing that their work helps others.

I look forward to watching my children grow up, in our home, within our church, and beyond, and I hope that they will one day find their own causes - causes that will touch their hearts and inspire them to continue using their helping hands.

Monday, February 22, 2010

What the heck is this stuff?

D says: My mom, my sister, and I made two glow-in-the-dark gel balls. We used water, glue, glow powder (made from zinc sulfide), and borax solution. When we added the borax solution to the other substances it caused a chemical reaction that created a polymer. A polymer is a substance made up of a long strand of molecules. Some other polymers are silly putty, plastics, and rubber. The gel ball we made is not a liquid, solid, or a gas. So what is it? It is liquid trapped inside a solid - so it's both! This experiment was fun (especially when I pretended I had a giant booger).

Friday, February 19, 2010

All things Russian...

We use the Story of the World audio books, written by Jessie Wise and narrated by Jim Weiss, to learn about history. D loves the way she presents history as a series of interesting stories and is an avid fan of world history. We try to cover one volume per year, and this year we are using Volume 3, which covers history from the late Renaissance to Early Modern times. The great thing about stretching one volume out over the year is that it gives us lots of time to jump off, research, and explore the stories of different countries, religions, and cultures.

We've been learning about Russian history since last year and have loved learning about the 2 Ivans (the 'great' and the 'terrible', aka as Ivan the Awesome to us after watching Night at the Museum 2) and most recently about Catherine the Great and her achievments in modernizing and westernizing Russia. To explore Russian culture a bit more this week we read 'The tale of the Firebird', by Gennady Spirin, a beautifully illustrated book and lovely Russian folk tale. After reading the book, the kids made their own clay firebirds, and decorated/painted them while listening to the Firebird Suite by Stravinsky.

Next we made some yummy Russian food. I've decided that cooking something sweet is always a plus if you can add it into your unit study! D is turning into quite the chef and he made blini, which are Russian pancakes that taste a lot like crepes. (Also, it's really fun to say 'blini'!) We filled them with powdered sugar and cinammon, folded them up and ate them with our fingers. We all agreed that they were delicious. Then we moved on to borscht (another fun word), which is a Russian beet and vegetable soup. Our finished product looked a bit like pale pepto bismal with vegetables floating in it, but tasted pretty good despite it's pallid hue - although the kids might disagree with that statement! I think we probably didn't use enough beets, so it didn't have the vibrant red color one would would expect borscht to have. Borscht will forever be known as pink soup in our house.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

D's first post!

D says: I really love watching birds, drawing birds, and taking pictures of them. Some of my favorite birds are blue jays, chickadees, and tree swallows. These are all pictures of birds that I took in my backyard. Enjoy my slideshow!

What do we do all day?

One of the greatest things about homeschooling is the flexibility it allows you to have. I've had to stay on my toes and change our schedule quite a bit this year to adjust to K's nap/no-nap schedule, to avoid schoolwork dragging on into the dinner hours, and to keep things fresh and interesting. No two days look the same for us, but a typical day might look something like this:

We wake up to one or two kids bouncing on the bed, while K sings (loudly) in her crib and makes a big ruckus until we go in to get her up.

We eat breakfast, clean up the morning mess, and try to wake up while drinking extremely strong coffee (the adults, anyway).

We usually begin our school day with language arts first. I go over a new grammar lesson with D and then he does some independent spelling work and writes in his journal or works on his handwriting. While he works independently, J reads to me and we do some phonics together.

The kids take a break for snacks and play time and I run around like a mad woman, trying to tackle the laundry, dishes, and general clutter and mess that threatens to take over the house.

Then we move on to math. Again, I work on a new concept with D and we drill some math facts while J works with manipulatives or does a math-related project.

We eat lunch together and listen to the music of the composer we are learning about at the moment (right now, J.S Bach). Again I run around like a mad woman, trying to tackle the laundry, dishes, and general clutter and mess that threatens to take over the house.

After lunch the kids play together, then practice their instruments, read, or listen to books on tape.

In the afternoon we focus on hands-on learning or do a science-experiment. Last week we experimented with cold and warm temperatures and their effects on certain polymers. This week we learned about Russia, made Russian food and art, read a Russian folk-tale and listened to the music of Stravinsky.

We finish up by 2 - 2:30 and are off and running to art, violin, percussion, ballet, soccer, or gymboree, depending on the day. Any schoolwork that isn't finished is put on hold until tomorrow.

After dinner, baths, and books, the kids are all snuggled up in bed and I am thoroughly exhausted, like most parents I know! But again, I run around like a madwoman, tackling the last of the days chores, and organizing the schoolroom for the next day's work.

So, that's a typical day at home. But there are so many days when we are on the go and are hardly home at all. We typically take a field trip at least once a week and also meet with our homeschool co-op once a week. This week we braved the mayhem of the MOS during school vacation week and had a great time, despite the crowds and the chaos. It is, hands down, our favorite place to go at the moment. Today I took the girls to the South Shore Natural Science Center, where we learned about owls and had a great time watching the frogs and turtles, and checked out the exhibit on fossils found in Massachusetts. The kids take all sorts of fun classes through our co-op - everything from theater to nature science to cooking to botany to rocket science (I know! rocket science, how cool is that?!). We're lucky to have a group of smart, energetic, and creative parents in our group who share their talents with other homeschoolers in our community.

So that's our schedule for now. However, I'm sure that the weeks and months to come will bring more changes and we'll have to improvise once again!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

So, why did you decide to do that?

This is, by far, the most common question I get when I tell people that we homeschool. So why did we decide to homeschool our three children? It was not a decision we made easily, quickly, or took lightly. Here's how it unraveled:

I met a homeschooler for the first time when I was in college. She had been homeschooled her entire life and started college at age sixteen. I had never met someone who had homeschooled before and was fascinated by her description of her childhood. It was so very different than what I had experienced growing up. While she was able to fully explore her interests and talents, and have input in her own education, I was trapped in the mass-produced, one-size-fits-all factory of public school, where I was told what to study, when to do it, and for how long. This former homeschooler had a different outlook on life. She was smart, talented, ever optimistic, and wasn't afraid to take risks when pursuing her passions.

Don't get me wrong - I ended up getting a very well-rounded education in public school. I read Dickens and Dostoevsky, learned how to create a thesis and write a coherent paper, speak Spanish, understand the basics of math and science, and participate in a good music program. I'm certainly not anti-public school and I have tremendous respect for the many dedicated teachers who work there, but I realize that like any system it has it's limits. There is a different, more meaningful way to learn and I guess that is why we homeschool. We're able to focus on the process of learning, to find the joy and wonder in discovery, and to let go of the product - the grades, the gold stars, and the rewards.

Still, it took many years for us to finally make the decision to homeschool. My oldest child went to preschool, kindergarten, and first grade. Though I was seriously interested in homeschooling him, I was extremely nervous about even trying it. Would he like it? Would he be lonely? Would he be bored? Would I be patient enough? Would I go completely insane being home with three young children full time? When we seriously started looking into homeschooling after D's first grade year it felt like we were jumping off a cliff. Despite all the research and soul searching it still felt like we were taking a risk. And ultimately for me, the most difficult decision lay in whether or not I should put my career on hold for a time in order to be home with my family. That was a very difficult decision to make, but I'm so glad that I did make it!

I asked my nine year old, who has been homeschooling for a year and a half and took to it like a fish to water, why he enjoys homeschooling. Here are his top five reasons:

1. It is fun.
2. At our homeschool co-op I get to play with my friends and take fun classes like cooking, theater, and rocket science.
3. I can sleep in and eat whenever I want!
4. I get to choose what I study.
5. I get to choose when I do my work.

So there you have it - from the mouth of a nine year old homeschooler.

At a recent field trip I met a lovely homeschooling mom from California who said, of teaching our own children, that "we teach their hearts". This statement is so simple but it means so much to me. As homeschoolers we teach so much more than the 3 R's. My children are learning so much, all the time, and I am lucky enough to be a part of it.