Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Day in the Life: In Which I Explain Our Hectic Schedule

Since reading a friend's recent “Day in the Life” post, I've wanted to write an updated one. I reposted our “Day in the Life” from 2006 a few weeks ago, but I've been waiting for a “normal” day around here for weeks! Blizzards, sickness, and a crazy schedule have interfered until now, but this Monday will be as normal as it gets around here, even if it is Saint Patrick's Day!

Warning! Extremely long post ahead!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Early Morning: In Which The Day Gets Underway
The night hasn't been very restful, as I awakened at 3 AM or so and then again at 5 AM or so for no good reason. But I woke up before the alarm, at 6:15. I did some stretching in bed, then laid back down until after my husband got up at 6:30. I finally roll out of bed at 6:50. The house feels toasty warm by now, but the temperature shows only about 6 degrees outside.

Between 7:00 and 8:00 AM, I spend some quiet time snuggled into my cozy robe in the recliner, my favorite coffee mug in one hand and my phone in the other, getting caught up on Facebook. I pray with Bob before he leaves for work and then sort the laundry from Saturday for the kids to fold when they get up. Next I power up the Kindle to do my devotional reading and also read a chapter of a book on e-book marketing.

Our fourteen-year-old son James gets up earlier than normal, probably around 7:15. Bob calls Emily down several times since she needs to catch up on her missed schoolwork from last week, but the seventeen-year-old does not emerge. Suzy, age 11, turns up MUCH earlier than normal, around 7:45. Finally Emily patters down the stairs. The kids make some headway on their chores and get their own breakfast, usually just cereal. Sun streams in the windows which makes it easier to be productive.

Around 8:00, I throw in a load of laundry, then I change into workout clothes. I hop on the treadmill at 8:20 and walk while watching Raising Hope on Netflix. I have been seeking shows that are 22 minutes long since that's how long I want to walk. I am attempting to get back to running someday soon. A quick shower follows the workout.

Morning: In Which We Begin Formal Learning
We are supposed to start lessons at 9, but no one is going to be ready right on the hour. We are close today though! So, I pour another cup of coffee with French vanilla creamer and gobble a bowl of yogurt and Kashi. Time to corral the kids for the beginning of lessons.

Only ten minutes late! We start our Bible lesson by singing two hymns a capella: Stand up Stand Up for Jesus and Rescue the Perishing. I read a devotional and short prayer from Powerful Prayers for Your Family by David and Heather Kopp, and then we move into our prayer time, round robin style. Next is a lesson from Character Building for Families (volume 1 by Lee Ann Rubsam). The topic is cheerfulness illustrated with examples of Joseph and Samuel. To round out the Bible time, I read aloud a short chapter from Don't Check Your Brain at the Door by Josh McDowell and Bob Hostetler which refutes myths many believe about Jesus and the Bible.

A short aside here to note that, today, attitudes are bad. We have a card system for discipline and a couple children have already lost the bulk of their cards. I am determined to stick to it for the long haul, though, knowing the rewards will be worthwhile. (Note: both Tuesday and Wednesday's attitudes have been MUCH improved.)

While I have the kids all at the table, we cover the subjects that concern all of them. So, first we review some Korean karate terms and information for their written black belt test. Another subject we do all together is penmanship. This year we have focused on handwriting. Today's cursive page bothers them because, for the first time, there is no cursive model on the page for them to follow. They have to look at printed text, remember the cursive letters, and write them. This challenges them and there is some initial opposition. (Yes, I know that all my kids really should know cursive by now, but I recently realized that none of them know it well – too much typing, I guess! So this year's study is intended to rectify that.)

Next on the agenda is to check over last week's work to see if there are any incomplete assignments. Usually we do this on Thursday or Friday, but we neglected it last week. I don't like starting a week with last week's work, but sometimes it happens. Suzy knows what she needs to work on from last week. James has Logic lessons to finish and Emily has research and some reading journal entries to write.

Now is the time when Emily usually heads off for some independent work time. I review with her the manner in which she should be completing her reading journal and send her to the living room to finish it. While she is doing that, I read the next history lesson to James and Suzy from Mystery of History 3. The topic? John Knox and the Protestant Reformation in Scotland. While I do that, Suzy colors a page from her famous landmarks coloring book. She usually tries to find one with a corresponding location to our lesson, so today she colors the Highland mountains.
Doing independent work

After the history lesson, I tell Emily to stop journaling and get on with her research. She is writing a research paper on Michigan's role in the Underground Railroad, but she is clueless as to how to accomplish the research. This task requires a lot of abilities that she struggles with – time management, skimming and scanning, choosing information, higher level thinking skills. She is way behind on the research for this assignment, mostly because she really doesn't know how to manage it, or even how to know what information to locate. Something else she needs to learn is to ask for help when she doesn't understand. I can't help her right this minute though, so I tell her to find her thesis statement and review it.

James needs some help with his logic lesson from Introductory Logic from Mars Hill (Canon Press), so I sit with him and explain the concepts while he does his incomplete exercises. During this time, Suzy does her art lesson – watercolor on a wet outline design from The Usborne Book of Art Ideas.

After they are finished, I quiz first James then Suzy on their spelling words from Spelling Power. After the quiz, each one goes off to practice their words and write sentences.

Somewhere in there I ate a muffin with butter and raspberry jam and got the last half cup of coffee. Today might be a day where I wish I had more coffee.

Now I have a bit of time to work with Emily on her research question. We do a rough outline of her topics and I reiterate how she should take notes. Then I move her to the table with her materials and set her to taking notes.

While she is doing this, James is working on his German lesson. He is using the free service at Duolingo and he NEVER complains about doing it. He seems to be making satisfactory progress.

Suzy has disappeared upstairs. I wonder what she's doing up there. But I realize the kids might want clean uniforms for the karate promotion this afternoon so I move the wet load to the dryer and wash the doboks (Korean for uniform). I do my hair and makeup. Suzy comes back down and tells me my hair looks pretty. :-) Then she does 20 minutes of math on Khan Academy.

Afternoon: In Which We Work Independently
I get myself some leftovers for lunch and instruct the kids to feed themselves from Leftovers Only today. Usually they are allowed to make their own lunches, but the leftovers are taking over!

At 12:15 or so, I sit down to work on my paid work hours. We have to leave in a couple of hours, so I want to get as much done as I can before we leave. Suzy is doing the dishes. She knows it's her job and she whines about the amount of dishes (which truly is quite a lot) but she does them without any prompting.

After about half an hour, I think about the wet uniforms and go transfer them to the dryer, hoping it won't shut off unexpectedly as it has a tendency to do. When I sit back down, I have received an email about our possible roof loan, and so I look up some numbers to answer the email.

After a few minutes, I have to confiscate James' phone because he is playing a game instead of doing his schoolwork. He moves on to reading A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I set Emily another goal for her research note taking. Suzy is still doing dishes which seems like it's taking a long time though possibly she has done some other things in there too.

Suzy finishes the dishes at 1:13 and I hear her run upstairs. After a couple of minutes, I inquire as to her next activity and get her started on her Teaching Textbooks 6 math. I plug in headphones and attempt to do an hour of concentrated effort on my work. I am listening to Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.

After about half an hour, James brings me his answers for the first chapter in A Study in Scarlet. We discuss them briefly and then I go over the instructions for the paragraph I want him to write as a response to the reading. He heads off but returns shortly, complaining loudly about the IEW requirements of the paragraph I have assigned. I am firm and send him off with many admonitions for silence.

At 2:00 Suzy reminds her brother and sister to get their uniforms on. I am still attempting to work.

Mid-Afternoon: In Which We Leave The House
At 2:25, we leave for our 3:00 karate class. We recently bought a “new” van with a CD player. After a more than a year without one in the car, we are appreciating having that convenience again. Sometimes we listen to educational CDs, but lately we have been listening to the soundtrack of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which everyone enjoys.
Red 2 Gold:
less than a year to Black Belt!

We arrive at karate a few minutes early and my oldest child is already there. YAY! I love to see him. David is 19 and in his first year of college about 45 minutes away. He lives on campus, so we mainly see him at karate class. Today all my kids are being promoted to Red 2 Gold level. I dropped out of karate 3 months ago, so this is the first promotion I have not participated in. I don't feel sad though.

While the kids are in class, I work for about 35 minutes. (Thankfully the karate studio, or dojang, has wi-fi.) David leaves a bit early, giving me a hug and a kiss before he goes. This is exam week for him – the last week of term 2 - so he will be home on Friday for a couple weeks of break.

After class, we run next door to the shoe store. Suzy is in need of some new athletic shoes since she has none that fit that are also suitable for volleyball. She finds some she likes very quickly which is a miracle, made even more miraculous by the fact that I can afford them.

We head out to meet my husband. He is off 1 hour early today to go to a 5:00 doctor appointment. The timing worked out well for him to take the older two kids home on his way. Otherwise they would have to stay in town with me because Suzy has her first volleyball practice tonight.

Evening: In Which One of Us Plays Volleyball
Sitting in McD
Suzy and I head back to town to sit at McDonald's to eat dinner and finish the last 90 minutes of my work hours. The internet is SO SLOW at McDonald's that it's driving me nuts and ruining my rate per hour. Some teenage girls giggle madly for a long time in the corner booth. V. distracting. (At home, James heats up some more leftovers for dinner.)

While I work, Suzy does a few of her assignments. She writes 6 sentences about the chapter she read in Stuart Little. She types them on my phone since she forgot to bring any paper. She also does 10 minutes on the DragonBox algebra app. Last she completes a speed reading exercise from an A Beka speed and comprehension book. (One of the few things I like from A Beka)

Suzy (pink shirt, NEW blue shoes)
with her gr 4-6 team
After my work hours are complete, we head over to the school where practice is being held. We are a few minutes early. Suzy has been here before, but I have not. This attractive middle school has a roomy pleasant gym with a glossy floor, currently occupied with lots of kids working on volleyball skills. Suzy's practice isn't until 7, so we go back out in the hall. She bounces the ball around while I play on my phone. After a while, Suzy's best friend and teammate arrives. Her mom is my good friend and she and I chat for a while before she heads out. I settle in to watch practice and to read on the Kindle app on my phone.

Practice ends at 8:00. A couple of my friends have arrived with their older girls for their 8:00 practice. I chat with them for a few minutes then head out with Suzy. On the drive home, with Joseph on the CD player, Suzy falls asleep. Long long day for her!
Volleyball drills

A quick stop at the post office is the last thing for us before we arrive home. We don't have mail delivery in our small village, so a stop at the post office is nearly a daily occurrence.

When we get home, I gently poke Suzy awake. Inside, Emily is working on her research and James is napping on my bed. They both have accomplished some of their lessons while they were home alone. The internet is out again, which is annoying. These outages have become more and more frequent over the last few days. I fiddle with the modem and after a while it comes on, but it is intermittent all evening. Hopefully when our new modem arrives, the problems will be resolved.

Nighttime: In Which We Begin to Fall Asleep
Suzy's bedtime is 9:30, so I send her off, then realize Emily is not accomplishing much in the way of research. I redirect her to do her free reading for 30 minutes and then journal writing for 5 minutes, so at least she can mark SOMETHING off her list.
Being Silly with James

At around 10:00, I tell Emily to shower and go to bed. James is supposed to go to bed too, but he bribes me by rubbing my neck, which has been bothering me all day. The internet has come back on so I watch Merlin on Netflix. The internet cuts out several times during the show. Annoying. After the show, I send James to bed and watch one more show by myself – Last Man Standing. By this time, it's 11:15 and I am exhausted, so I go to bed.

The Overview: In Which I Analyze the Day
Yes, this really is an average “good day” in our home education. We started fairly close to 'on time'. I spent the morning working with the kids and got my work hours done by early evening. We often have afternoon or evening activities, so that part is normal. The attitudes were a bit worse today than average. I know this can be solved with consistency.

One thing I really need to work on with these kids is QUIET WORK TIME. Each one feels perfectly entitled to talk aloud or make noise at any time of the day. James really has been loud since the day he was born. When he was a baby, I had to change my style of homeschooling because his noises were such an disruption. I could not read aloud. He continues to be a loud kid. Now that he's 14, I think we can reasonably expect him to know when it is okay to be loud and when it is unacceptable. I don't mean to single James out. All of us, including me, can work on this.

If you made it to the end of our very long day, I congratulate you! Any questions?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

She knows I like blue....

Suzy (age 11) painted watercolors on wet paper yesterday as part of her art lesson. She and I both selected some lessons from The Usborne Book of Art Ideas and she has been completing one per week.

This lovely piece of art was waiting on my desk after she had gone to bed last night.

In case you can't read it, the words say: for Mom Because of the Blue. I ♥ U.

I ♥ her too!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Margin: I'm working on it.

Our pastor preached on this a few weeks ago. BIG impact on me. See, I have no margin. Or had none, anyway. I've been trying to create some.
What is this concept of margin anyway? 
To me, it's having downtime. The space to be me. The time needed to take care of urgent matters that come up. Having time to invest in the people who are important. Not having so much to do that there's never a free minute to pause and enjoy life.
As I said, I didn't have much. I'm quite good at scheduling every moment full of interesting and important activities. But when something comes up, like a roof replacement, not a single moment exists to try to handle the details.
I am in the midst of making some difficult decisions about what's essential and what's not. One of the things I let go was my study of karate. Was it good? Yes. Was it essential? No. Was it stressful? Yes. That helped me decide. I will be making more of those decisions and hopefully creating more margin in my life. (The kids are still studying karate, by the way.)
Chris Davis, former owner of the Elijah Company and noted homeschool author and speaker, recently spoke at a homeschool convention in my state. I didn't get to attend, but I've heard him speak before. He has been influential in many of my homeschool choices over the years. Because I needed a quick and easy blog entry, I browsed for a quote from his book, I Saw the Angel in the Marble, thinking I'd find something educationally inspiring to enlighten you all. 
Instead, I found this.
Our culture encourages us to live beyond our means financially, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Many of us are under-rested and overwhelmed, feeling constant stress and time pressure. What we need is margin, a term used by author Richard Swenson to describe the space that should exist between where we are and our limits. Margin is having time, energy, and money to spare. It is having physical, emotional and spiritual reserves. Margin is living within our limits.
Yeah. Limits. We all have them. We need to live inside our limits and not beyond our means.

I'm working on it.

Monday, March 3, 2014

A Different Approach to High School Chemistry and Biology

Someone recently wrote to my homeschool group's email list asking about high school chemistry. She said, "I’m not sure that I can teach high school chemistry at home, it wasn’t my favorite subject.  How did you handle this subject at home and can you recommend an avenue of support for a class like this?  I can probably do it, but not without some outside support."

Many people suggested our local co-op's classes which use a series of popular Christian textbooks. Since I am on the leadership team of the co-op, I do realize that many people love these textbooks, but they haven't been right for our family. I wanted to give her a different perspective. This is what I wrote to her:

We have not used science textbooks for high school or junior high in our homeschool. I personally feel that they are too much like "school" and that is one of the things I want to avoid - doing a subject a certain way, just because that's how it's done in school. My own personal (and apparently unpopular) opinion is that most high school science textbooks do a poor job of actually teaching science concepts, as they are bogged down in detail and overly complex. Since none of my kids (so far) has shown an interest in science careers, I feel comfortable giving them a basic grounding in the topics. If I had a child that wanted to enter a science field, I would ensure that they received a thorough education to prepare them for college level courses.
My daughter in 11th grade is currently using Chemistry 101 from Timberdoodle - She likes it. It is a DVD-based curriculum with a printable "guidebook" (textbook). A suggested schedule with additional activities is included, which we follow quite closely. She is also using the Quality Science Labs MicroChem kit - - to provide the lab portion of this course. My daughter is currently working through this kit as well. I highly recommend it as it contains EVERYTHING you need other than common household items like granulated sugar or a black marker.

She also used the Biology 101 DVD course, along with a dissection lab taught by a friend of mine.

My oldest son used Switched-on Schoolhouse for Chemistry - He liked it well enough, but I wanted something different. He also used the Quality Science Labs MicroChem kit since I didn't think the SOS lab simulations online were thorough enough. He is taking Chemistry in college right now and says his high school course was adequate for preparation. For his Biology, we muddled through a course I put together myself after we realized how much we did not like the traditional textbook approach.

I hope this helps some of you figure out your options for high school science courses.