Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Long time no post. Again. Yes, I'm terrible at this.

February has been a month of history blocks. Evil Genius is doing Norse mythology which is one of my favorite blocks ever, and Hufflepuff is working through Roman history. We're racing to meet the end of the month with the fall of Rome so that our final history block this year can be Medieval. (My Chaucer passion is driving this.)

Norse has been fun. He already knew most of the stories, has read Odd and the Frost Giants twice now (once listening to the book on cd when his sister was doing Norse), and we're reading Runemarks by Joanne Harris together. He's also reading the Time Warp Trio Viking-themed book, and still working through My Side of the Mountain. Up next on his reading list: Call of the Wild, which I think he's going to love. Every time discussion of Norse blocks come up in Waldorf circles, there always seems to be reference to how beautifully the conflict of it meets the needs of the child at that age, and with EG, I'm seeing this in spades. He is so in the midst of that butting heads stage, and these stories are stimulating and calming at once, I think.

Hufflepuff loves Roman History, and I'm loving the chance to finally delve into some serious Art History along with it. That was the subject of my little-used degree, so it's as if the student loans are finally worth something. Her writing has improved tremendously, and she's filling pages in her main lesson book this year. Last year it was a struggle to get her past the first few sentences.

Things I wish I had more time for: main lesson book drawings. Sadly, the kids are left to their own devices with these more often than I want to admit, as I need to run after the three year-old or prepare the next lesson, or deal with some volunteer responsibility. They're doing a fine job, but I long for enough time to sit down and really draw with them. Form drawing has also been pushed aside when we're running late or in a hurry, and I'm sad about this. I need to make more time for that. Also, you would think that with Roman history, I would have been able to work in Latin practice more often. But alas, I have not.

Homeschool science fair at the end of the month. Both projects are weather-related.

Up next month: Physics for grade 6, and Human Beings and the Animal World for grade 4.

Her Royal Highness is thriving in public school. It is totally her element. She lucked out this year with a fabulous teacher and a really great class. The only problem is that it tethers the rest of us to the school year schedule, which has been a bit of a challenge in terms of getting things done. If we start late in the day, the end of school comes before we're finished with lessons, and the chaos that ensues throws us right off course. As always, I suppose, our schedule is a work in progress.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Under a sky that's clear...

I apparently had no time over the course of our math lesson block to make any posts at all. So it goes, I guess.

November was an enlightening, challenging month of upheaval and new routine, but I think that we seem to be settling into December just fine.

The biggest and probably most important change is that HRH is back in public school. I figured that was an inevitability given her love for all things formal-classroom-related, and the school is at the head of our street so the convenience is lovely, but it happened so quickly that she literally went from being homeschooled to sitting in a classroom at a desk 24 hours later. It took all of us the last few weeks to adjust. She loves it for the most part, is excelling in almost every subject (after getting past the confusion of learning the same math she's known for years through a method that was counter-intuitive to her).

Being locked to the school schedule again? As little fun as I remember.

Evil Genius finished his first fractions block at breakneck speed even as I tried to go slowly. He's now working through The Life of Fred: Fractions because he needed more challenge. A lot of his math work is done backwards. He can do the very complex things in his head and is annoyed when I insist we back up and discover how he got there.

Hufflepuff is struggling with math a bit. It's mostly a focus issue, so we're trying new things out to fix that. I'm reading The Extra Lesson and hoping to pick up some tips on where to look for the root of her issues.

December is Saints for HRH. Since I only had a few picked out for her this month - Saint Nicholas and Saint Lucy, we're going to be doing their stories even though she's in school now. Evil Genius is starting my very favorite block of grade 4, Norse Myths. Can. Not. Wait. And Hufflepuff is doing Physics. We only do a two week block in December, so I'm feeling very at peace with where we're headed.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Oh, October

My favorite month. We entered it with a funeral and a birthday wrapped around the same weekend, and it all seemed apropos for the heart of autumn. My grandfather passed away in the final days of September, so we drove home for the funeral, and celebrated Evil Genius's birthday (post on that to come).

I've had a hard time getting out of the return-from-unexpected-travel funk and back into the homeschooling mindset, though. I don't know why. I love what we're doing, on every level. But I just can't jump start myself into meeting the morning with enthusiasm. I'm trying to get to bed earlier, which is fabulous in theory, but in reality, when the Wild One doesn't wind down enough for bed until 11 pm, and I finally have my brain to myself and my to-do list in front of me, it's impossible to just sleep. Anyway, whining and excuses aside...

Her Royal Highness is entering a Saints and Heroes block this month. We're starting off with one of my favorites, St. Francis of Assisi. She's still doing some grammar, and math practice every day, and she wants to start cursive writing now. I think we'll do that as a group. Hufflepuff knows cursive but is far out of practice, and Evil Genius was never interested before, but he's writing more now and I think it would help him write faster.

Speaking of Evil Genius, he's started the Waldorf block that troubles me the most, Human Beings and the Animal World. It's one of those points where Steiner's worldview and my own are so entirely different that I've actively avoided it in the past. But I got some fantastic advice on approaching it at Taproot this summer, and I think we're going to do all right. I'm using a lot of nature documentaries for this block because, while not so Waldorf an approach, they can cover a whole lot of things that I cannot.

Hufflepuff has started Rome, and I'm trying to balance out my need to cover ALL OF ROMAN ART HISTORY with her need to discover the history and social significance of the Roman Empire. It's neat how her Latin studies have suddenly become more relevant. Still doing geometric drawing every Monday. I'm pretty sure by now she can use a compass to divide a circle into twelve equal parts in her sleep.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

I had this English teacher in high school, AP English, 12th grade, and he basically treated the class like we were taking freshman level Rhetoric at university. It was kind of fantastic. One of the things I remember most, though, is that every once in a while, he would come in to class with notes prepared, sit down, and strike up a conversation with a couple of students. On those days, a few more students would join in, and then a few more, until everyone in the class was involved in the conversation. Then our teacher would look around, toss his papers on the floor, and say, "We're blowing off today. I don't feel like doing this stuff."

Today, that was me. I slept later than usual, so we were going to do school in the afternoon. Then I got distracted by a few other things, and time just started slipping away from me. By the time lunch time rolled around, I knew it was going to be that kind of day. So we blew it off. This means working on Saturday, which will be tricky, because I already had a few schooly things planned for the weekend. And while the break was kind of nice, I'm feeling a little guilty, because it's awfully early in the year to start skipping school. I just couldn't bring myself to check in mentally today.

Tomorrow will be better.

Evil Genius has been continuing his Local Geography block with a couple of famous historical figures from the area. We started with the obvious: Henry Hudson. There was a really nice segue there to Washington Irving. We read Rip Van Winkle yesterday, and tomorrow we'll talk for a while about the life of the man who wrote it. It would be nice to figure out a way to take a field trip to Sunnyside. We're going to be reading Sleepy Hollow together over the next few days, too. A nice tie in that's also seasonally appropriate.

Hufflepuff is still working on her first research paper. She's doing well with Latin, especially since most of her work thus far has been nothing but note taking. I know she's dying to really get into it.

HRH's story tomorrow is going to be St George and the Dragon, so we'll all sit in on that one. The plan is to create a dragon mask and have a bit of a Michaelmas play. We'll see how well that pans out.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Sooooo, wet on wet watercolor painting is still my weak spot. It's so strange, because every time I get training or coaching on it, the pictures come out beautifully, but then when I try to put it into practice, everything is so very runny. I'm thinking that tonight's probably was paint that was too thin. Hufflepuff and Evil Genius painted Thursday. When HRH painted on Friday, I'd thickened the paint a little bit and tried to be more cautious about extra water and it seemed to work better. I'm probably too stingy with the paints because of the cost, but I also tended to have this problem when I was teaching at LCG, and the paints there were all mixed by people who knew what they were doing.

I started next week's lesson plans on Thursday. This is WAY ahead of my usual schedule. Didn't get as far as I wanted to tonight, but I have a few of the specifics sketched out. Tonight I'll finish the rest. (Because if I post it here, then it has to come true, right?)

Waiting until Thursday to have Evil Genius put his form in his book made some difference, but not as much as I'd hoped. There was still frustration boiling up, and expectations of perfection. We're going to keep following that rhythm, though, and seeing if we can make it work.

HRH is really enjoying grammar right now. We're highlighting nouns and verbs in her main lesson book stories. She's finally reading independently again. It took a full year after she left public school for her to want to pick up a book or write something on her own. It amazes me, because she burned out after kindergarten, and this is a kid who would happily do book work eight hours a day if I let her. I could go on and on about that, but I won't.

Hufflepuff is learning how to outline and cite sources for a research paper. I discovered that I have to brush up on how to cite websites, since the internets were a very different place in the mid-nineties when I was in college. Her handwriting has improved so much in the past year. I think her discovery of creative writing has a lot to do with that. She can type very fast, but there isn't always a computer available when she gets ideas, so she's been keeping notebooks. I need to get her writing cursive, though. That's one of those smaller lessons that falls by the wayside when Wild Thing starts getting restless and we have to bring everything to a quick end.

I guess that goes on the list of wrinkles to be ironed out.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Me and my rampant abuse of italics

Well, last week went better than expected considering our sudden trip out of town to help a dear friend out as her family welcomed their beautiful new baby.

We ended up working through the weekend to compensate. I didn't follow our entire daily rhythm then (more on that in a minute), but we did have work in some math and reading every day.

So our daily rhythm is definitely in need of a bit tweaking and rearranging, I think. We're trying to center circle time around the Wild One for now, since that's pretty much the only part of our day that allows him to participate fully. This morning he seemed to enjoy the songs and verses, though. More than he has before, anyway. But I also realized this morning that we've been forgetting our candle-lighting verses all week. I use the traditional Steiner school verses when we light our candles, because I think the memorization and the ritual of it all is so good for the kids. Wild One gets to snuff the candle just before main lesson time (we like to conserve our candles a bit). So I have to take sometime, sit down with some new verses, and really work to create a circle time that's going to speak to everyone.

Another addition to circle time this year (last year we did it at a different time) is the math facts flash cards from Making Math Meaningful. This year all three of the grades age kids can participate, so it's been a lot of fun. I'm not a huge fan of flash cards, but the kids decorated these themselves last year and they really love doing them every day.

HRH's main lesson stories have been surprisingly well-received so far. I was worried about transitioning from fairy tales to fables, but she loves the fables, and the pictures she's been putting in her main lesson book are quite beautiful. I'm definitely seeing the effect of public school art class on her, though, and it's been a bit of a struggle to convince her that our pictures don't start with an outline. I think I'm actually going to bite the bullet and purchase Coloring with Block Crayons by Sieglinde de Francesca. I've wanted it for a long time but never really could justify the expense. I've heard really great things about it, though, and I'm thinking it's going to be worth it.

Evil Genius is working on a local geography block right now. He's mapped our apartment, the state, and the Erie Canal, and we've learned about the Hudson River a bit. We've also talked a little bit about the Dutch immigrants that settled this area. Yesterday we walked down to the NYS Museum ("I love being able to walk to everything, Mom!") and took note of the date plaques on downtown buildings. At the museum, we spent some extra time at the Ellis Island exhibit to talk about immigration, and then longer still in the Discovery area where the mapping of the Erie Canal took place. We're going to spend the rest of the week focusing on the Hudson River and early settlements in New York. I think next week, per Evil Genius's request, we're moving on to the Adirondacks. (He was appalled and devastated to see how many species had been wiped out from the Adirondacks completely by the early part of the last century.)

I took some advice from Taproot teacher training this summer and Evil Genius is now getting is form for form drawing on Monday, practicing it all week, then committing it to his form drawing book on Thursday. That seems to have taken a lot of the stress of perfectionism off him.

Hufflepuff is absolutely enamored with her geology/mineralogy lesson block. She's decided that her research paper is going to be on Chrome Tremolite, and she sketched it and took notes at the museum yesterday. Today she learned how to properly cite books and articles as sources, and how to start an outline. We're also talking about the layers of the Earth and tonight she's going to start needle felting a model.

Latin is coming along very well, I think. We're using Wheelock's Latin right now, and just getting started, but she's really grasping everything she's read so far and is ready to just jump right in. We're going to see how this goes. I'd love to get Rosetta Stone Latin (our old library had it and we fell in love with it), but there has also been talk of getting Rosetta Stone German next year, and getting two different programs is definitely cost prohibitive.

Hufflepuff is also still working through Life of Fred: Decimals and Percents and still just loving the series. She's having so much fun with it, and I love the amount of review that she gets with each new chapter.

So that's our first week and a half of homeschooling this year.

Oh, and lots of Oregon Trail was played.

Friday, September 9, 2011

I am just not very consistent with the whole blogging thing, I guess. But looking back through old posts, and coming across things I don't remember until I read about them, I'm realizing that I need to work on that. New Year's resolution, perhaps? The thing with me and journaling is this: In retrospect, I have a lot of difficulty tolerating personal things that I write. I've never kept a diary. I've written in diaries for years at a time, but it always ends the same way. I tear out the pages and rip them to shreds, or burn them cathartically. They never last. Blogging was sort of an antidote for that. I've had many blogs, and they're still all floating out there in the interwebs where I don't have to reread them, or even look at them, unless I seek them out. But I think my pattern is the same. I blog for a while, then feel terribly self-conscious, and fade into the wallpaper. Anyway, my point is, I'm trying again. So, updates. New city, new digs (upstairs, even, and oh, is that an adventure with four), and a slightly more structured homeschooling year ahead of us. And the children (I'll be using clever little nicknames from here on out, as they get older an less inclined to be okay with me sharing too much). The little Wild Thing is two-and-a-half now. And is he ever. It's become clear to me now that I've never had that typical two year-old. The boy is utterly and completely fearless. He's an independent, "Mama, let go of me!" in the pool kind of fearless, but still so very, very attached. He's been a real challenge to my convictions surrounding extended nursing. He is wonderful and clever and intense and loud. He loves to shout out lines from Sendak books. (Honestly? That kind of makes me feel like my work here is done.)

Her Royal Highness is seven-and-a-half. Second grade. I'm hoping that the transition from those dreamy fairy tales that she loved so very much to fables and hero/saints stories will be a smooth one. She's writing and reading on her own again, after a year of refusing to do either in her post-public kindergarten burn out. I am an incredibly relieved mama on that account. This morning there was even talk of "if I ever go back to school", which gives me hope that her experience wasn't entirely negative.

The Evil Genius will be ten in less than a month. Fourth grade. The year of bravery. And he's embraced it whole-heartedly. Walking out into Lake Ontario up to his neck, climbing, stretching himself socially. I'm immensely impressed by him. We're starting the year with a local geography and mapping lesson block, and looking forward to the Norse myths. We need to work on handwriting, and the list of assigned reading for this boy keeps expanding (he's started with My Father's Dragon). He's met a group of local kids who share his interest in Magic and are open to helping him learn D&D and is thrilled to death about it. As am I.

Hufflepuff is nearing twelve and in sixth grade this year. What a lot of work this will be. We're moving on from Greek (Ancient, which I had a bit of background in) to Latin (which I have no background in) and the study of the Roman Empire through Medieval times. The goal is to end the year with Chaucer (my favorite, favorite, favorite). We're starting the year with a Geology and Mineralogy block. I had originally planned on an Astronomy block here, but after going to teacher training at Taproot again this summer, I decided to swap with this block, that I'd intended for seventh grade. For math, I'm using Life of Fred again (we've had great success so far), Biology and Pre-Algebra, and a couple of lesson blocks drawn from the Making Math Meaningful series. And we've started geometric drawing. Our science blocks this year in addition to Geology, will be Physics-based. I'd be lying to say I'm not a little intimidated by that. But setting up the experiments should be lots of fun.

And then there's the Art History. That's my area of expertise and we're really getting into it now as we move through Roman history. I can't wait. I've been a bit excessive with the texts I've ordered, but man, this is what I know.

We're still (after an entire year) looking for a ukulele teacher here, but in the meantime, she's learning what she can on her own. I think we're going to make some time for her to sit down and peruse youtube for lessons.

So that's our fairly parenthetical update. Our curriculum is very strictly Waldorf-based. The more trainings I go to, and the more reading I do, I realize that Waldorf just fits our family so well in most regards (although I do diverge on the standard Waldorf stance on media, but that's a topic for another post). I've started listening to Steiner's lectures to teachers online. It's a great wind-down at the end of the day, and helps me get my focus on for the following day's lessons. Heh, I just said "lessons". My former radical unschooling self is boggling right now.