• the learning arts

    Accensisque ignis

    (The four younger kids decided on an art project this summer- their goal is to fill this long living room wall full of drawings and paintings by the time Grandma and Grandpa visit in late August. Here they are hard at work and planning the next steps.)

    My social media feeds are full of back-to-school pictures and first day of homeschool pictures and everything in between. Is it just me, or is the school year seeming to start earlier and earlier? It used to start after Labor Day ‘back in the day’. Not that I have anything to say about it, really, as we went through the summer this year on a relaxed schedule. Ha!

    We usually don’t even begin to think about the new school year until after the Feast of Dormition, which is tomorrow, August 15. As it stands, I don’t think we’ll roll into true blue full school days until after Labor Day; we like to layer in a few subjects in at a time and have a gentle transition into full days. For us that will look like wrapping up our summer subjects by Labor Day and then adding in a few more activities that first week after Labor Day.

    This year is a bit different for us. One of our older children decided to return to a more formal school setting, so they started on August 8.

    This year we are only adding in two new curriculum choices. Both were more for my sanity than for any other reason. We are using Teaching Textbooks for all of the children’s Math this year after a successful roll-out with some of my older students last year. Teaching individual math lessons across six grades was really becoming difficult for me- it was such a HUGE chunk of our learning day and I am happy to be handing most of the heavy lifting off to the video lessons. They’ll still get individual tutoring from me as needed, of course, but I won’t have to teach so many lessons. Frankly, it made my brain hurt having to jump back and forth from Algebra and back to basic arithmetic and back again. Mathematics has never been my gifting anyways, so- fhew. Most of my kids also like to play on Prodigy, which is pretty hefty in mathematics, too.

    We are switching from Story of the World history, which we have used consistently for the last five or six years, to The Good and the Beautiful’s History, Year 1. Part of it is just that we’ve used SOTW for so long that I feel like we’ve explored all that is available in that vein. And, while I love SOTW’s global focus, you really almost need a separate US History curriculum or extensive supplementation to each US Chapter to stay abreast of testing requirements. More work and thinking it through that took time away from actually teaching them. As I looked into Good and Beautiful’s set-up, I was pleased with the mix of both Global and US History, and that the curriculum is more heartily broken down between each age/grade group (elementary/middle/high) for assignments- SOTW is heavy on Elementary assignments and very, very brief on higher grades, so I had to come up with my own assignments for my older kids, as well. It was just getting to be too much. One of our struggles as Orthodox Christians in finding history curriculums has been the tendency of ‘Christian’ history books to skew towards Western and Reformation history, leaving out, well, half the globe, and most of the development of our faith, which predates the Reformation. I’ve found that both SOTW and The Good and Beautiful do a good job of keeping a more global, holistic, and well-rounded focus without disparaging or ignoring many peoples and faiths’ contribution to the story of History.

    We have been somewhat light in the science department over the years, choosing primarily to focus on nature study in the younger grades. My older kids have enjoyed the Tiner Science that Memoria Press puts out for middle school and Apologia for High School, but my current spread of kids this year is sort of in-between the two options and a bit old for just nature study. We’ve chosen to do the Exploring Creation with Chemistry and Physics by Apologia this year. Two of my students will use the regular companion notebook and two will use the Junior notebook. Again, this is for my sanity. Trying to track across so many grades was getting very nutty for me and I like that we’ll be doing it together again, which is what we’ve always liked to do. My high school student will be doing Apologia Biology.

    We are keeping our Good and the Beautiful Language Arts and Handwriting programs, which we’ve really enjoyed this last year. Outside of math, this is where I spend the most time one on one with each child, and G&B makes it easy to hop tracks with each kid and keep track of where we are. I love how comprehensive it is. The kids like the mix of subjects within the program- it rarely gets boring and it is colorful and engaging without being overboard. I like how straightforward the handwriting program is without much extra fluff.

    Our morning basket will be a Read-Aloud (pulled from the Ambleside Online lists), Age of Fable/Bullfinch’s Mythology, Tending the Garden of Our Hearts and Saint of the Day, plus our history and science work. Their picture study is included in their individual Good and Beautiful Language lessons, so we will most likely only do Composer Study together. I haven’t quite decided on who we will study this year, but most likely I will pull from Ambleside Online suggestions. (Why re-invent the wheel when fabulous homeschool mamas have already done the work for you?) The kids also have individual Latin lessons, and we will begin German for two of the older students.

    We all want to be more physically active this year but have not decided what that will fully look like yet. Two of our kids are in ballet, and we are thinking about a kickboxing class for the other three. Our formal school kid has PE at school, so that is covered.

    I like that we have a well defined spine this year. We will always plug in extra things as we get curious about something, but I am very grateful that all of the main subjects are already planned out for me. More time for floating in the pool!

  • the learning arts

    Mrs. Thistle’s Almanac

    My dear friend Christy Mandin sent me a prototype of her Mrs. Thistle’s Almanac early this year. I have been using it for our homeschool planning and tracking since, and it is by far my favorite one to use of all I have tried over the years. I hope that she will be producing one for this upcoming year. I have fallen deeply in love! Her brain works like mine in the way I group things and what I need where and when, and it is so beautiful while being entirely helpful and functional.  I also deeply appreciate the BIG spaces for each day in the weekly layout. I need space!

    One of my absolute favorite parts of her planner is the opening pages to each month, which has lists of flora and fauna that one might find each month. This alone has encouraged me to simply pay attention as we are out and about,  and makes nature study each month a rather easy prospect without a whole lot of forethought or preparation. We have done so much more in this area since and it is entirely due to this planner. I’ve wanted better outcomes in this area for years and now it happens naturally and organically each month, thanks to Christy.

    My other favorite part has to be the monthly at-a-glance she did. I had been meaning to make a similar sort of landing pad for years in my bullet journal and never got around it to it, and I love how hers is laid out. It has the relevant things I want to know as a homeschooling mom, with quick reminders as to what is needed when and goals we might have for the month. Christy is Catholic, and she includes all of the Catholic feast days and celebrations for each month, as well as the readings for each week and a Saint to focus on each month. I’ve found this easy to adapt for our Orthodox needs and I love the encouragement to keep a liturgical focus each month, too.  I can’t wait to see where this planner goes in future!

  • the learning arts

    Measuring time: Chronos and Kairos and learning…

    I could start this post off with some wise quote about homeschooling, but sometimes, it’s like putting lipstick on a pig. Sometimes, things just, well, stink.

    The 2017/2018 school year went upside down, sideways, and so far off center it still leaves me fighting back tears to reflect on it. We have managed to homeschool through some incredibly difficult situations (like the first year that Elliana and Josiah fell sick, for example). We’ve homeschooled through great, smooth years. As stress and all goes, this year was nowhere near as complicated or intense as that first year of illness was, and yet somehow, we managed to accomplish so little. We had a great start. We got through about a third of our Term 1, and then things just rapidly deteriorated. Elliana’s hospitalization happened early November; James’ car accident followed closely after, and then the holidays swept through.

    We started back in January with every good intention, and then the whole family promptly got sick, as families tend to do in the winter months. Each kid kept up with their individual work as they could, but our group studies, which had already taken a substantial hit late in the Fall, fell behind even further. Elliana began to deteriorate again towards the end of the month, and then Cincinnati Children’s happened- meaning we’d have to leave all of the other children home with a caregiver while we spent almost a week away. Our group studies fell even farther behind. I blinked, and it was suddenly early April before everything stabilized again.

    I was shocked to discover in mid-April that we had not come close to completing our Term 1 work- a term that usually ends the last week of November. It’s not that our Term 1 work was overly difficult or demanding (which can sometimes be the problem-expectations too high- but that’s another post altogether), but the sheer amount of time to actually sit and work was utterly lacking this year in ways that haven’t been true previously. And it really showed. A lot of our learning days together in late March and early April felt just awful. One student was taking ages and ages to read a short, short passage. Another child was crying over one math problem for half an hour. And read alouds? What read alouds? It’s not unusual for us to read somewhere around a hundred books (picture books, audio books, novels) each year together. This year? Three. We all felt miserable.

    With Easter/Pascha coming up, I decided to take a true break and reconnoiter. This was also a weird situation, too–the fact that it wasn’t until ‘Spring Break’ that we were actually taking a true, official, put it all away and breathe, break. Because things had been so off kilter we hadn’t been taking any Sabbath weeks, like we usually do. We just kept picking up where we left off prior to whatever appointment or crisis had occurred. I think this was my first mistake. As much as was possible, we should have tried to stay true to our original rhythm. It works well for us; it’s been honed over many years of learning together.

    The second mistake I made, truthfully? I forgot that the point of education is not to tick off some box or finish some book or what have you, but mastery. And mastery moves on a completely different time table. If you’re getting locked into plans and schedules and all, or (like me) you’re guilting yourself into finishing a whole bunch of lessons because ‘you’ve gotten so far behind’ due to illness, you will, as I learned to my sorrow this year, shove your kids forward into concepts they aren’t ready for or you will overwhelm them with too much to learn in too short a time. This is when a kids starts crying over one math problem, another kid struggles mightily for much longer than they should need to read aloud a short passage, and everyone is miserable. You lose the joy and the reason why you all wanted to do this in the first place!

    Don’t confuse kairos and chronos time. If you’ve only got ten minutes, make sure it’s ten minutes of kairos with that kid! Love on them. Listen. Read. Talk. Don’t let those precious minutes get stolen away in a pile of ‘things needing done’. Ten minutes of kairos will add up to hundreds of chronos minutes, trust me. That’s the juicy, lovely, wonderful, best-kept secret of homeschooling- that God’s grace and your little loaves, lovingly given, will multiply. And how!

    I am grateful to report that we returned from Spring Break with fresh perspective (and I stepped off the guilt train), things rapidly improved. I went back to what I knew to be true: spend time with your kids, play games, read books. Really listen to what’s going on. The kid that was struggling with math needed to play some math games with me for a few weeks to reinforce the missing link that was causing so much terror with that math problem- after that, not only that problem but whole pages of math disappeared under the student’s pencil, done with a smile and a laugh and “hey, mama, did you notice that when you do this to this it can make this happen” aha moments of mastery. Same with the kid that was slogging through their Reader. Has it been perfect since? No. But we’re all wanting to come to the table each morning, and that’s the difference.

    As it stands, we really just needed literal time to invest where we want to go, so we’re working through the summer, which is new to us. We are getting together on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with the rest of the the week left to more typical summer pursuits. I’ve been surprised at how much gets accomplished in a few short hours, and also, at the one on one tutoring time that is somehow happening again. It wasn’t exactly ideal to work through the summer at first, but I do feel like it has been a wise investment: a kairos investment, the way I want to spend my time.

  • the learning arts,  wonder and inquiry

    Digging deep…

    pumpkinwindow newstrategies solarium rocketboys

    We have settled into the new school year in earnest the last few weeks, settled down to a strong, gentle rhythm of days. It really feels lovely. The children seem to calm and settle and dig in deeper with each passing week in a way I would not have imagined possible when we began homeschooling again last year. Yet it is here, a blessing giving dividends. I see their trust in themselves and their own innate learning grow as they realize that the world is truly at their door and they have only to explore it. We have a set course of study, of course, but already in a short month’s time they have covered vast swaths of things borne out of their own questions that I could neither have imagined or foreseen when I sat down to plan out the fall term a month ago. The best sort of explorations.

    I have seen the fruit of my focus on mastery come to fruition as we began to dig in this year. Such immense improvements in reading and writing across the board with all of my students. Three, almost four students (another month or so!) can work independently and easily now across their subjects, which means I return to my desired role with my older students- guide, companion, tutor.

    Our curriculum across the board consists of a mix of Memoria Press (Latin, Composition: Fable, and Ellianna’s kindergarten curriculum), Ambleside Online (all of our literature selections this year), Story of the World, Modern Era (Well Trained Mind Press), and an eclectic mix of math depending on the child (Math U See, Rod and Staff, and Math Mammoth- Ben is using the Prentice Hall Classics as recommended by Memoria Press) and Institute for Excellence in Writing.

    Grammar lessons are pulled either from our Shakespeare memorization for the month or from Ambleside Online copywork. The younger children copy whatever it is for the day; the older children work with me to diagram the sentence and copy it into their notebook. (All told, about a 10 or 15 minute lesson in sum). I had barely begun to do this exercise before attending the Circe workshop last year, but was encouraged by all that was said to continue it, and it is this short grammar lesson each day that I do solidly believe has made the largest difference in their reading and writing mastery. We use Maria Montessori’s approach for grammar- we label each word with the appropriate symbol, and borrowing from IEW, we underline any tell-tale endings that suggest a verb (-ing), adjective (-ly, -ness) and so on. Even Ellianna can quickly identify such things as pronouns and articles now, and it has been painless for all. To them it is a game- they race each other to pick the correct symbol first.

    Lorelei and I have been trying something new with her spelling words, which she laughingly refers to as her “one weakness” (ala Dorcas Lane in Lark Rise to Candleford, although when Dorcas says it, she’s usually referring to things like chocolate or match-making). Lorelei’s reading has vastly improved in a year’s time but her dyslexia most makes itself known when it comes to spelling. What a struggle it is. Anyways, though we have been using All About Spelling for quite some time, we added some new tweaks this year and so far, we are both impressed with the results. First, I have her write her spelling words three times using colored pencils. Blue for beginning sounds, purple for consonant teams, red for vowels, orange for vowel teams, green for ending sounds.  The next day she finds all the bannanagram letters for her words. The third day, she pulls out those same letters and marks them with little plastic game markers that correspond to the same letters. The fourth day, she writes a sentence with each word. The fifth, we review. So far we’ve had a hundred percent retention, which is a vast improvement. Prior to this, she’d retain about a third of ten words. As she enjoys it and it seems to be working well, we’ll continue to do it until (and if) we need to change it up. I can see her confidence growing in her other writing, too, which is the most important thing for me. She no longer thinks “I can’t do this”. She is getting quite courageous in her written narrations, and tears no longer come when she can’t spell a word she wants- I watch her use all sorts of strategies now to guess, (often getting it right!), and she will come to me when she needs help instead of getting discouraged.

    Overall, our school day is much shorter than it was last year, and the afternoons are almost solely devoted to their own explorations. The older children have been very fascinated by this election cycle, so they have been researching the processes as to how the President gets elected, how the electoral college works, how political parties are formed, conventions run, delegates chosen. They have demanded to watch all of the Presidential and Vice Presidential debates so far. With my degree in History, I must say it is fascinating to be a listening bystander as they explore and watch this election. I have been careful not to make my own views known, and have watched all the goings on silently. Because they are currently studying World War II and its aftermath, so much of their running commentary on the election proceedings relates back to that era, as well as Ancient Greece and Rome (as Ben is studying the Illiad). Watching them make connections that I hadn’t even begun to think of prior to this is the best part! It is a case study of watching learning in action: watching them hang new learning on the rungs of what they already know- making connections, scaffolding knowledge. Such a beautiful thing.

    I’ve had this quote of Laura’s pinned on my desk for a while now. It seems to sum up what I’m aiming for lately.

    “This is why I believe that the most important thing you can do as a homeschooler is to ask yourself the hardest question of all: who do you want your children to be as people when they leave your home, and what benchmarks will you use to measure your progress on the way? It is simple to hope your children are kind, loving, inquisitive…it is harder to imagine what you can do to help them on the path of kindness, love, curiosity. I want my children to be confident, to believe in their worth as humans and as contributors to this world, to feel connected to place and people, to be interested both in learning new things and the connection between ideas, to feel capable. I want them to recognize and appreciate beauty, to be able to participate in wonder. I want them to be equipped to live a simple life of peaceful joy.”- @lbkrause

    This a post in the continuing series, Wonder and Inquiry.

    wonderandenquiry

  • the learning arts

    That time of year…

    plansheets schoolwall iconanddrawingwall

    Don’t look yet, but it’s that time of year again. I know! It can’t be, right? But it is.

    I can’t help but compare this year’s beginning to all the years before. It’s such a sea change. The majority of my planning and purchasing were done very early in the summer (actually, before last school year ended). I had only to sit down for a day or so, mid-August, and tuck in specific plans to each child’s sheet. I’m using the wonderful editable printables provided by Jen Mackintosh.

    The planning itself was simple and straightforward. Pulled mostly from Ambleside Online and from Memoria Press suggestions, I had only to decide on which literature choices for which child. The rest of the spine was already present from our work last year, and it was simply selecting the best supports for what we’d like to do this year. It is miles and miles from the frantic start of last year (which was probably a bit warranted, given the circumstances), and if I was honest, every homeschooling year previous to this one.

    It’s a heart-level thing.

    I was homeschooling for all the wrong reasons prior to them attending the public elementary school here. I can see that now, clear as day. I’m not even sure I can articulate why my reasons were wrong. In my heart, I meant right. But in the working out of it in the day to day, it all fell flat. The kids knew it, I knew it. My heart wasn’t properly in it at the time. It was, but it wasn’t. It’s hard to explain. I was striving under a heavy load without really stopping to consider if I was yoked up properly, does that make sense? A tremendous amount of spinning wheels and getting stuck in muddy, thick, ruts.

    It made me dread the beginning of the year.

    It’s the delight that tells me the yoke is placed properly now.

    It is the delight that makes it light. We enjoy our work, we enjoy our explorations, and even when we are stretched with new concepts, we lean into the work instead of feeling like rubber bands pulled past their limits. And there is a tremendous amount of laughter and joy. Lots of Mama, come quick! See what I’ve found! Awe and wonder are our daily companions now. Sure, there is still the rough patches, still days that everything seems to go all pie-shaped, days when two kids just can’t leave each other alone…but even on those days, we are finding ways to pull together. It’s like night and day.

    I have dearly loved Kyrie’s series on Homeschool (Un)planning, which articulates much of what I’ve learned since my last foray into homeschooling, and Kort’s article on Sustainable Homeschooling was just tremendous. We’ve been using the timer idea ever since!