More homeschool fun

This weekend we had a bit of a field trip. Although I was mostly homeschooled growing up, I spent three years in public school. And for two of those years, I had wonderful English teachers I’m still in touch with today. One of those teachers works in children’s theatre now (I believe she’s the artistic director), and very kindly offered us tickets to a children’s performance of Robin Hood vs. The Potter. We can’t possibly turn down kid-friendly live theatre, especially since the cast is the same cast who appear at Sherwood Forest Faire, our local Renaissance(ish) festival!

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This theatre really is done with kids in mind. There’s a large carpeted area up front for kids to sit, and Alan-a-Dale up there is singing a rousing rendition of, “The Sheriff of Nottingham is Bad, Bad Bad” while we waited for the play to begin. There were more kids watching than this, but I didn’t take any photos once the actual play had started. The show lasted 45 minutes, which is about perfect for the kids. Audience participation is encouraged at several points, including throwing apples at the Sheriff of Nottingham toward the end (hands-down Nathan’s favorite part!). The tickets are a little expensive for us — by the time we covered all five of us, we’d be looking at about $50 — but I love what they do in making live theatre friendly to kids. If you’re in the Austin area and it fits your budget, I absolutely recommend it. They do a number of other shows throughout the year. I think up next is a bilingual play for Dia de los Muertes, and Pippi Longstocking is coming up sometime soon.

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After the show, the cast sticks around to sign autographs and talk with the kids. Here you see Robin Hood and Maid Marian. At the far end of the stage is the Potter. Little John was over there, but I think he got up to hoist someone up on his shoulder for a photo. After we talked to Robin and his fair lady, we spent quite a while chatting with the Sheriff of Nottingham, who’s actually a very pleasant sort when not on the job.

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After the play, we drove over to the Capitol and had a picnic lunch on the grounds. It was a little warm, but with a pleasant breeze and some nice shade it wasn’t unpleasant.

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After browsing the visitor’s information center and gift shop, we headed into the Capitol itself. Pardon the glare and the funny faces, but here are folks in the extension.

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And just for fun — this was on Friday, I think. While I was working with the boys, Margaret went upstairs for an outfit change. Isn’t it lovely?

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Homeschooling perks

One of the great things about homeschooling is all the downright fun stuff you get to do in the pursuit of education. Our family vacation this year will be doing double duty as an educational experience. We’re spending part of the time at Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas, where an old volcanic crater has resulted in diamonds (and a lot of other cool stuff) scattered near the surface of a large field. It seemed like a perfect fit for earth science. Aaron has been laying some groundwork in the past few weeks, teaching the boys about plate tectonics, earthquakes, and volcanoes. Meanwhile, I did some research and found that the park is willing to offer interpretive programs for homeschoolers. I gave them a call Wednesday, and after speaking with the park interpreter I think we’re all set. He’ll be working with his staff to develop a geology hike through the search area for us, talking about the volcanic history and discussing the characteristics of the various rocks and minerals that we may find. We’ll see how it all goes when we get there, but it sounds perfect. It’s scheduled for the morning of our first full day there, so we can spend some time on the day we arrive walking around the park and exploring the visitor’s center. Then we’ll get our hands-on information the next morning, then spend some time out in the search area seeing if we can find anything shiny. I’m really excited that they’re willing to do a program just for us. Never hurts to ask!

On the subject of fun in homeschooling, I’m trying to get better about working in artsy-craftsy projects because I’m pretty sure that’s Nathan’s “thing.” He spends half of his free time coloring, cutting, gluing, taping, folding and otherwise creating. This week our history subject has been the formal introduction of Christianity in Britain. One of the suggested projects is an illumination — an elaborately illustrated character of the alphabet such as might be seen on the manuscripts of the time. Our history book provided a template, which I printed onto cardstock. Aaron and I are carefully accenting parts of it with metallic sharpies (poor man’s gold foil?), and we’ll let the kids do the rest with markers or colored pencils. It sounded better than making a monk’s meal of lentil stew, anyhow.

Next week I’m getting even more ambitious. We’ll be talking about the Byzantine Empire, and one project idea was to make a mosaic out of broken pieces of tile. The tile store just down the street from us has enthusiastically offered to find broken pieces in a few different colors for us, and declined to accept payment because, “it’s for kids!” The original instructions suggested using plaster of paris, but then we’re stuck with pretty pieces of clutter I have to find homes for. Instead, we’re going to try to make cement stepping stones that we can use near the back gate, where it always gets muddy. I’m not very confident that I know what I’m doing, but Aaron and I will give it a test run first to try to work out any kinks before the kids do theirs. If it does work, we’ll have a very practical end product that will remind the kids of their history lesson every time they’re in the backyard. Win-win! Of course, if they do turn out well at all we’ll have to take the mosaics to show our new friends at the tile store before installing them in the backyard.

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Getting ready

We have a camping trip planned soon, and we’re starting to take care of some to-do’s to get ready. One of those was to buy a shelter to put up over a campsite picnic table in case of signficant sun or rain. On last year’s trip, we weaseled our way out of that by way of inviting Aaron’s parents to come with us and then sharing theirs. Since they aren’t coming this year, we figured we’d better get our own. It arrived on Monday, and we set it up in the backyard to make sure we knew what we were doing and that no pieces were missing or broken.

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Reason #1 to do a test run: we set it up backwards, and yes, it does have a front and a back. Lesson learned! It seems to be a very nice shelter. The footprint is 10’x10′, and it’s nice and tall inside, too. We’re a little nervous about the poles (they seem to be metal rather than fiberglass), but Kelty is a solid company — we’re betting that if we have trouble, they’ll take care of us.

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Here’s the front. I don’t really love the orange (how about a nice green, like our tent?) but I can live with it if it keeps me shaded and/or dry as necessary.

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Side view. Added bonus: it came in a BOX! Boxes are the best toys.

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See? Oh, the things you can do with a box. Nathan got himself into here and had to ask for help to get out. Being the loving mother I am, I stopped to take pictures first.

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Ice cream!

Aaron and I had some good conversations this weekend about our kids and our parenting and that sort of thing. One thing we discussed was that we have high expectations for the kids, and we think we tend to correct quickly for failure to meet those expectations but not to reward the successes much. We decided we’d try to be more aware of that, and that we’d try to add in more frequent spontaneous rewards. At the end of that conversation, we realized we had about 20 minutes to spare before we had to be at AWANA registration, so we told the kids to go get ready to go and we figured we’d swing by McDonald’s for ice cream cones and tell the kids we appreciated their overall good and obedient behavior recently. Immediately, one of them responded with, “Whyyyyy? I don’t waaaaant to get my shoooooooes on. Do we haaaaaave go?” and so on. Sigh. We jollied that child along and got everyone into the car, and decided that a little grace was in order.

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Everyone seemed to enjoy the ice cream. Since the boys at much faster than Margaret, they also got a few minutes in the playscape.

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And there goes the very last of Margaret’s ice cream cone, into her mouth. Unfortunately since we had somewhere to be we didn’t have time for Margaret to play on the playscape, and that was a disappointment. But we told the kids we hope we’ll be back!

After the ice cream we went to AWANA registration and got everyone signed up for this coming year — hooray! Margaret is torn between angst at no longer being a Puggle and excitement at being a Cubbie. When we got home she promptly found all of the coloring pages in her booklet and colored them thoroughly. We also started practicing her memory verse for the first night, which is two weeks from now. Nathan and Evan are excited that they’re going to be Sparks together. We’ll have our whole family in two clubs, as Aaron will be working with Sparks and me with Cubbies again. Can’t wait to get started!

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School, Week 2

I may or may not do this regularly, but I thought I’d share a little of what we did in school this week.

For literature, we read Leon Garfield’s adaptation of Merchant of Venice. Here’s Evan’s summary:
“Antonio had to pay money to Shylock before a pound of his flesh would be cut. Portia pretended to be a lawyer. She said it was against the law unless he could take the flesh without spilling blood. Shylock had to not take the pound of flesh.”

After reading that, we moved on to something I found at Half-Price Books. It has some nicely illustrated retellings of the folk stories that likely inspired several of Shakespeare’s plays. The one that goes with Merchant of Venice was called “A Bargain is a Bargain.” Here’s Evan’s summary of that:
“A man asked his sons, ‘Will you use my money wisely?’ The older son said, ‘I will use the money wisely.’ The younger son said, ‘I’ll use it wildly and have a fun time and nice clothes.’ They did what they said. The younger brother asked to borrow money from the older brother so he could marry the duke’s daughter. He promised to give his brother a pound of flesh because he didn’t think his brother was serious. He couldn’t pay back the money. His brother had him thrown in jail. The duke’s daughter pretended to be a lawyer and saved him. The lawyer made the brother pay with his ring. The duke’s daughter wouldn’t marry him because he did not have the ring.”

He definitely picked up more details in the shorter story. However, when we were reading the shorter story both boys interrupted several times to say, “Hey! That’s like Merchant of Venice!” or “Wait, that’s not how it went!”

Nathan declined to summarize Merchant of Venice (I think it was a little much for him, on the whole), but had this to offer for “A Bargain is a Bargain”:
“The father asked what his children would do with his money when he died. The older brother said that if his brother did not pay the money he would have to pay a pound of flesh.”

In history, we read about the Celts, Vortigern, and the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain. Here’s Evan’s version of it:
“The Celts lived in Britain. When they fought they wore blue paint. The Celts made the Romans leave Britain. The Celts repeated their stories over and over again instead of writing them down. The storytellers were called bards. The Angles and the Saxons came and took over the land. We call that part of Britain England, like Angle. One of the stories from the Angles and the Saxons is called Beowulf. Beowulf twisted off the arm of a monster named Grendel.”

Below is Evan’s picture of Beowulf.

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Nathan’s summary:
“The Celts lived in Britain. They painted themselves blue to look scary. The Angles and the Saxons came to Britain and fought the Celts. The Angles got to keep part of their land and we call it England. The Celts and the Angles and the Saxons did not write down the stories, but told them to people so they would remember. One of their stories was called Beowulf.”
Below is Nathan’s picture of Beowulf.

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On Friday we started reading an adaptation of Beowulf, which has the boys very excited. Nathan spent part of his quiet rest time drawing his own picture of the battle between Beowulf and Grendel.

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And for science, I think this week was mostly earthquakes. Here’s what Evan learned:
“This week we learned about earthquakes. There was a lucky baby who lived nine days under the rubble of the hospital until he was rescued. Earthquakes are caused when two plates shift. One goes under the other and it’s happening right now. There is an earthquake every 30 seconds that people cannot feel because the plates are constantly moving under us. Once every year there is an earthquake on the edge of the plate [we discussed that this is more of an average, not a schedule!]. If there was an earthquake here it would be safest in our closet under the stairs. It’s safe because the stairwell is strong. Or we could go under the dining room table. In California they put an alarm [actually a shut-off] on the gas thing so there will not be an explosion, they bolt the computers down, they put a special kind of tape on the windows so they won’t break, and when the teacher says ‘drop’ everyone gets under their desks. There are P waves and S waves. P waves are when things are going up and down.”

He supplemented his summary with a drawing, below. Along the top is a seismograph reading, fairly accurate to a real earthquake. To the bottom left you can see a subduction zone, with the one plate going under the other. On the right there’s a volcano, complete with melted rock coming up from the subduction zone. And there’s a lot of lightning going on, because if you have earthquakes and volcanoes you might as well have lightning too.

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Nathan didn’t stick around much for science, so most of his came secondhand from Evan later. Here’s what he picked up:
“In an earthquake there was a lucky baby who stayed alive under  a building for nine days. Earthquakes can cause volcanoes.”

And Nathan was disappointed that I didn’t take a picture of his barbarian from last week so here it is:

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What about socialization?

For almost a year and a half, the boys have been taking tae kwon do lessons at a place just down the street from us. The owners homeschooled their six boys, and a number of their now-grown children are part of the business. Being homeschoolers themselves, they offer a homeschool class twice a week. During the summer we get a lot of non-homeschoolers, but the class is during school hours so during the school year it’s all ours. It fits in really well with our schedule, and we love the class. It’s an all ages, all ranks class — something that fits the homeschool dynamic very well. The older and more advanced kids are very encouraging to the younger ones, and I’ve seen it really lift Evan’s spirits when one of the teenagers congratulates him on an achievement. There is a separate class for the 4- and 5-year-olds, which is where Nathan is. Nathan is one of the older ones in his class, and he has three little buddies who have been in there with him from the beginning.

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Here are Nathan and Gage exchanging nonsensical knock-knock jokes before class. Jeffrey is listening, and Luna moved just as I took the picture so you can only see the back of her head. She’s starting kindergarten in public school later this month, and I think the boys will really miss her. They have so much fun together that her mom sticks around after the 4/5 class is done until the older kids get out (an extra 15-20 minutes) so that they can play.

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Nathan isn’t the only one with an active social life at tae kwon do. Margaret is still too young for classes, so she spends the time in the lobby making friends with whoever she can. There are a number of the adult ladies she visits with regularly, and she plays with several other kids during class time. Some are the kids close to her age who aren’t old enough for classes, and others are older who just aren’t interested in tae kwon do themselves but have to come along for a sibling’s lesson. That little blonde guy has been one of her good buddies this summer. He’s always excited to see her when we arrive, and usually has some sort of game figured out for them to play. Margaret loves it, especially in the absence of her older brothers. See that bag of goldfish she has in her hand? Those are courtesy of Grammie. Grammie actually belongs to Gage, but she and Margaret are good friends. Margaret looks for her first thing every day, and Grammie always has a little snack for her to share with her friends.

I don’t have any pictures of Evan and his buddies, because they were all in class. But there’s a real sense of camaraderie in that group, and he also has a couple of particular friends he enjoys talking to before class. One of them is Gage’s older brother, Gavin. When we come for the younger boys’ testing, when there’s nothing for the older ones to do, Evan and Gavin each bring a few toys they think the other will enjoy (usually cars and Lego) and for half an hour or more they’re in their own little world and we don’t hear a peep from them. I don’t know about Gavin, but Evan actually looks forward to Nathan’s testing days because he knows he’ll get to play with Gavin.

Tae kwon do has been great for my socialization, too! We have a handful of us moms who sit and chat, and I really missed the ones who took a break over the summer. They’re starting to come back now that school has almost started again. When we first started tae kwon do I just wanted something to direct excess energy and aggression. I’m grateful for all the friends we’ve made as a result!

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If it works, it works

I’m expecting this first six weeks or so of school to be a lot of troubleshooting and attitude adjustment as we get back into routine. The first week did not disappoint: we had some pretty spectacular showdowns, and we seriously considered making Evan wake up at 5:30 every morning to do his math with Aaron before Aaron left for work. After a helpful conversation with a friend and some thought on the matter, we decided to try some other adjustments first.

One of those adjustments, which makes no particular sense to me, is that I’ve written up our official daily schedule and made it available to Evan. Tuesday was the first day since I did that, so the results are far from conclusive, but it did seem to help.

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Evan started consulting the schedule over breakfast. “8:30 — Go for walk. It’s 8:15, so it’s almost time!” After our walk, there was some excitement: “It’s only 9:15, so we’re ahead of schedule!” Ahead of schedule meant we had enough time to read a little longer for literature, and that the morning break might come early. We were still a little ahead of schedule after that first block of academic work, so we moved into math and handwriting with some real momentum. Evan worked carefully on both because if he had to re-do his work, it would delay break time. Score! Often it’s a game to see how he can simultaneously obey my instructions and defy the intent of them. I’ll give him this: he’s very creative. And to be fair, I think my mom might recognize that particular form of creativity. Once handwriting was done, the boys put away their school materials and started their 15-minute break. About halfway through I served up apple slices and string cheese: another tactical move. I’m not sure if low blood-sugar is a factor in the issues we had last week, but we might as well rule it out.

When the break was over, everyone hurried back to work in hopes that diligent application would earn them some extra free time before lunch. Math drills and spelling went quickly, and we had no complaints over grammar or composition (this was a narration day rather than a copywork day, which I’m sure helped). For geography we started on something simple: the British Isles. We started early British history this week (the arrival of the Angles and the Saxons), so it seems worth knowing the lay of the land. By 11:30, they were enjoying some free time before lunch.

We’ll see if this was a one-time thing or if it continues, but I’m hopeful. I think it helps Evan to know that I’m not arbitrarily choosing subjects he dislikes. It’s not me who says it’s time for math; it’s the schedule (never mind that I made the schedule!). It also gives him motivation to do his work well and quickly, because if he can “beat” the schedule he sees that the resulting free time is extra, not in the schedule. Work done poorly has to be redone, which can actually eat into free time. (Work that is challenging and therefore not perfect is different from work done poorly.) The boys also realized yesterday that mommies who aren’t busy with school all day have more time free for other things… like making special lunches. One of these days when they finish early, I may have to make some cookies to drive that point home. I’d say the motivations are starting to add up. Let’s hope they remain motivating! I’d like to have things running pretty smoothly by the time we get into our second six weeks, so that I can focus my troubleshooting on academic concerns more than logistical ones.

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