In Homeschool This Week (take 3)

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Fiona making “potions”

I am loving the natural curiosity and love for learning that Fiona has. One of my main reasons for wanting to homeschool her was encouraging this! She had fun mixing up “potions” this week with water, food coloring, and salt. She created her own experiment where she tested the taste differences when she added the different ingredients. Plus, it’s just fun to play!

This week in Kindergarten, Fiona continued with her core subject studies, but I feel like she is learning the most by going out into the world and observing and participating in real life, and our discussions as a family. I’m very “unschooly” with Fiona, because she is so smart and I don’t want to put ANY pressure on her learning.

I LOVE this Native American model of education, The Circle of Courage:

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For Kali, Monday and Friday mornings are dedicated to horses! She is learning how to ride and take care of horses. This is a dream come true for her, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she owned a horse farm someday!

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Our time at the horse farm is also really great for Fiona. We are lucky that the farm is very accommodating, and I’m able to do school work with the other kids there as well.

But the main thing we have been doing while Kali is at horseback is to go to the YMCA!

We are having SO MUCH FUN at the Y. Especially Matthew. He is in 9th grade and I have mentioned before that it is hard to get him motivated to learn at times. He is taking “coaching connection” sessions and they are really helping him set goals, and he is really getting into fitness now. The best part is, going to the Y has motivated ME! I am working out several times a week now and loving it! So needless to say, we are getting a lot of Phy Ed in.

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For Social Studies this week, I had Matt and Kali choose articles out of National Geographic Magazine to read, and then we discussed. Ebola and Global Warming were two main topics.

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We found ourselves in Madison one day, so we stopped by Olbrich Botanical Gardens, which is a gem (and FREE). The kids loved the succulent kaleidoscope, and had fun observing monarchs and a TON of hummingbirds (not to mention the beautiful flowers). They also have an amazing (and authentic) Thai Temple, which was a wonderful experience, and we were able to discuss even more about our Buddhist studies.

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We also learned about Monarch Waystations at Olbrich. This is a program that creates, conserves, and protects monarch habitats. This inspired us to devise a plan to create a monarch waystation in our yard. We started by heading out to my dad’s land, where he has been doing prairie restoration for the past 20+ years, to collect seeds from many of the plants such as milkweed and other perennials that are beneficial to the monarchs. We were lucky that he could identify and teach us about many of the different plants. He has quite the habitat already (we will have to get him a Monarch Waystation sign, too)! We are drying out our seeds now and will be ready to plant them in the spring!

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On Friday, we had another horseback/YMCA morning, followed by a picnic lunch, and then we visited the Monroe Public Library for their “Homeschool Hub: Make It” series. This library is absolutely wonderful! The kids made flextangles (check out the free template here, they are really cool and fun geometry), paracord slings, played some new educational apps on the iPads, chatted with their friends, made some new friends, and best of all, experimented with Snap Circuits!! If you have never played with Snap Circuits, I would highly recommend them (and I’m not getting paid for the mention, either). They. Are. Amazing. There are not many things that both my 5 year old and my teens find interesting and challenging!

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Fiona did a great job looking at the diagram and figuring everything out, with a little bit of mom’s help! She was amazed to create a circuit that powered a fan!

Let’s see what else? Kali finished The Island of the Blue Dolphins and completed some worksheets on that. She started reading “Marie Curie: Pioneer Physicist”. Matt continued reading his Twilight book, and Fiona and I just read a TON of books.

The older kids did some reading, videos, and worksheets about chemical reactions for Science. Matt continued with his video editing course. Overall it was another amazing week. We got out into the real world, learned and experienced a lot, and had our challenges and triumphs, too.

14322552_1011745612277971_3379652539635327285_nJust a note that in my blogs I definitely focus on the positive, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have our hard times as well. It is REALLY HARD to homeschool (for so many reasons that I won’t get into right now). But it is soooooo worth it!

 

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In Homeschool This Week (take 2)

Last week I said that I would not “plan any short weeks that also included two field trips” but then this week we had a regular 5 day school week that included FOUR. What is wrong with me?! Clearly, I am a homeschool newbie haha. In my defense, we do live in Wisconsin, so I have to take advantage of the good weather while I can. I will not be driving so much in the snow.

Monday started bright and early with a twenty minute drive to Kali’s first horseback riding lesson. She had taken some lessons before when she was younger, but she hadn’t ridden for a long time. She has always had a passion for horses and I am so excited that she is getting back into it. I highly recommend the Country View Equestrian Center if you are in the Monroe, WI area.

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As luck would have it, Kali was offered an opportunity to earn more riding time by working doing chores at the stable. So now, we will be heading there on Monday AND Friday mornings! It is such great work experience while also being FUN!

On Tuesday, we headed over to Janesville to attend a picnic for the Rock Valley Homeschool Group. It was a great occasion to meet up with yet another group in our area and meet new friends. We had a blast at Peace Park, and I am constantly amazed at how nice and welcoming all of the other homeschooling families are. This is truly a great community!

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We paused our Social Studies about the Sioux Nation to start a long-term study about Buddhism. We had the most amazing opportunity to see Tibetan monks creating a sand mandala at the Memorial Union in Madison. On Wednesday, we went to the Madison Public Library Central Branch (amazing) to read books about Buddhism and do a bit of Minecraft. I totally count Minecraft as school.

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Then we walked over to see the sand mandala creation. We were all mesmerized by the beauty of the work and the concentration of the monks! In addition, we talked with one of the monks who showed us how to use a prayer wheel, let each of the children use it, and taught us about the symbolism and language in Tibetan Buddhism. It was a really special experience.

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We bought a prayer flag from the monks, and we studied about that on Thursday and hung it up outside so the wind can carry our prayers and wishes for peace around the world. We also continued our mandala studies, and learned about the Eightfold Path. I found two wonderful PowerPoint presentations at TES.com. One was about the Eightfold Path and the other was about the prayer flags, so now we fully understand the significance and also made sure we hung it up the right way. I also found this great worksheet about the Eightfold Path, and the older kids did that Follow the link for more worksheets on Buddhism and other religions as well.

Here’s another link I found with great teaching resources about Buddhism (via PBS).

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Lunch with grandma at the iconic Memorial Union Terrace in Madison. We didn’t just eat chips and beer, btw…

 

So Thursday was our big at home day. The older kids finished their PowerPoint presentation about bees. All of the kids did their core studies on Time4Learning. We read books, did art, music, and more!

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Fiona said, “Am I concentrating as hard as the monks?”

 

On Friday, my 14 year old son communicated (which is nothing short of a miracle sometimes) that he did not like Time4Learning. So, we looked into some other ways of doing his core High School curriculum and we decided on using Khan Academy for math and science, along with other science projects and experiments, and that I would assign him English and Social Studies projects (those are my personal strong subjects, so I feel comfortable teaching those myself).

We absolutely love Khan Academy. Along with using it for math and science, he has also started learning about Drug Addiction in the Health and Medicine section, and is currently writing a research paper on the topic.

Below is a wonderful video about educating for mastery by the founder of Khan Academy:


In Kindergarten this week, Fiona and I made a “hundreds box”. We filled it with 100 pennies, 20 nickles (to practice counting by 5s), 10 dimes (to practice counting by 10s), 4 quarters (to start understanding fractions and coin recognition), a $1 bill (understanding the concept of what is equal to $1), and Fiona’s choice of 100 safety pins, 100 beads, 100 white buttons, and 100 smiley faces (which she drew herself).

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Then we added 100 stickers to the outside of the box and a 100 chart to help her count! Big brother was really sweet and helped Fiona count and taught her some tricks for working with the number chart. Fiona did a lot of work with math this week. She LOVES this box and carries it around everywhere using it for practice!

Overall, we had a great, yet very exhausting week!!!

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via eclectic homeschool

In Homeschool This Week…

At I.D.E.A.S. Academy this week….our very first week homeschooling, ever, I witnessed a profound change in my 14 year old son. He started to READ. It has been like pulling teeth to get this kid to read since he was 6 years old. Now, he’s reading. Not just reading. LOVING it. Asking, “When is reading time?” and saying things like, “I love reading”! WHAT? What have you done with my son?

The difference that homeschooling has made in my son’s life, in literally ONE WEEK, is astounding. He is engaging with me, and most importantly — he is engaging with what he is learning. He is taking responsibility for his own education. He is communicating more effectively, discussing issues and ideas in depth. He is SMILING more. And when asked to do a one page writing assignment, he quickly typed out FIVE pages that were funny, creative, and smart.

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Up close and personal at the Sanderling Nature Center in Kohler-Andre State Park. One of the awesome places we visited this week.

Our older daughter, Kali, is in 7th grade and has always “performed” well academically. What she has always needed to work on is critical thinking. Instead of being told what to do and how to do it, she is now put in a position where she is having to ask herself tough questions and come up with solutions on her own, which is going to be so beneficial to her especially as she enters teenage-hood.

Some of the things we did this week:

For Math, Science, and English, the older two kids did mostly Time4Learning. They also collaborated to start a PowerPoint presentation about bees, and completed two creative writing assignments in their Field Trip Journals.

For Social Studies, I find the Common Core curriculum to be severely lacking and narrow-minded, so I will be creating my own assignments. This week, we started a multidisciplinary, long-term study of the Sioux Indian Tribe. To begin, we researched and discussed the current events happening with the Dakota Access Pipeline issue. We also bought supplies that we will be sending out to help the people at the Sacred Stone Camp. A list of needed supplies can be found here. 

For Social Studies, we also read the book, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: An Adaptation for Children by Ruth Rocha and Otavio Roth, as a precursor to our upcoming studies about the United Nations. This is a great book for all ages.

Reading: Both of the older children have a book assignment each week. Matt is starting to read the Twilight series and Kali started “Island of the Blue Dolphins” which is one of my personal favorites. And for the little one we just read as many books together as possible.

Art: Kali and I collaborated to draw a “Fall Bucket List” poster. Kali also made a cat bed and stuffed cat toys (and did lots of other drawings – she’s always drawing).

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Fiona creates a lot of artwork as well. My personal favorite of hers this week is below:

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“Rosemere with a flower in her hair, crying because people were being mean to her” (paper and fabric collage with marker)

Matt has a strong interest in video editing, and we found a free online course at Alison.com to learn how to use Windows Movie Maker (which is also free) to edit and publish videos. So he just started that and spends a lot of “after school” time working on his videos as well.

Arts education is extremely important to me, as an artist and art major in college myself. That is why one of our first field trips was to the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheybogan, WI to see the Supernatural exhibition. This exhibition highlighted prominent Magic Realism works by Wisconsin artists.

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Of course, while we were up in Sheboygan, we had to stop at one of our favorite state parks, Kohler-Andre! We were so lucky that it was a gorgeous, hot day. Lake Michigan was warm and we got nice and sandy and wet. Not the best thing to do before the art museum but it worked out. Kohler-Andre boasts the amazing Sanderling Nature Center, and we spent a lot of time in there as well, making new discoveries about snakes, fish, turtles, birds, and more!

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Gym class is way better at the beach!

As if one field trip wasn’t enough, we also went to the HEART Homeschool group picnic in Madison on Thursday. It was located at the beautiful Hoyt park, and it was so nice to meet a whole bunch of other homeschooling families, and learn about the many group opportunities coming up for homeschoolers. We all had a blast!

Our youngest, Fiona, is in Kindergarten and already at a high level, so my goal for her this year is to continue supporting her ideas, creativity, and nurture her natural love of learning. We will read lots of books and do tons of projects and fun activities. In order to save paper and ink, because I like to have handy reports on hand, and because Fiona enjoys online learning, I’ve decided to do Time4Learning with Fiona as well. I’ve already discovered that she is definitely at a First Grade level in both Math and Language Arts, and it’s fun to do the activities along with her and understand her level of comprehension! She also did a cut and paste worksheet about wants versus needs (you can find it here, over at Lesson Pathways which is a great resource!).

All of the kids are learning and sharpening their typing skills over at Typing Club (free!) Even the 5 year old can do it (I was shocked at how fast she is picking it up), and it still challenges the teenagers!

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At the end of the week, I had the older kids complete a “Weekly Recap” (a two page worksheet where they write in the specifics of what they learned in each subject, along with some personal questions about what they liked and did not, what they want to learn more about, what their most successful accomplishment of the week was, etc), and we were all very impressed (if we do say so ourselves) in what we did this week. And we had Monday off for Labor Day! WHEW, our first week was exhausting but wonderful. I will not plan many short weeks that also include two field trips, but I’m relishing the excitement of starting our new homeschooling adventure. Happy weekend!

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First Day (Ever) of Homeschool!

Wow, wowza, wow, wow, WOW!

I am sooooo happy with our decision to homeschool! Today was our first official day ever of homeschooling. Well, it wasn’t my first day, as I was homeschooled Kindergarten through 5th grade, but it was a first for my kids. I wasn’t sure that my son, Matt, was into it. He is 14 and was getting ready to head into High School after being in public school his whole life. When my husband, Brandon, was driving him to his Freshman orientation, he exclaimed, “I don’t want to go. I would rather be home schooled with the girls”. Well, we thought we had talked about this many times before and figured it out, but it takes Matt time to process things, and he is not the best at communication. We discussed it, in depth, again, ONE MORE TIME, and we told him we were on board. So that meant I was scrambling last minute to get a NINTH grade curriculum planned out!

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I am beyond happy, though. Do you see that smile up there, on that young man’s face? That is not normally there (haha)!

Today was our first full day, and it was AMAZING! I saw my teens HAPPY! And I got to witness it, because I was right there running the show. They were engaged in learning, interacting with each other, myself, and their little sister. I could already see after ONE DAY that Matt’s confidence in his own abiliiies were starting to bolster. Last year, and this happened all the way though middle school, he would say negative things about himself like, “I’m not smart”. Today, he was beaming when he go 100% on an English quiz via Time4Learning.

Yesterday, we went to a picnic with other homeschool families. I was very excited and nervous to attend, because I really didn’t know anyone. I had met a couple of the moms once or twice, and they were there, and another mom greeted me warmly the moment I arrived. It turns out there is a great network of other homeschool families in our area. It seems like a very diverse mix of people who are all educating their children at home, and there are a TON of activities planned throughout the year that we can participate in. And that is only one group out of 4 in the area that I would like to be involved in.

On a side note, I just bought a total mom-mobile. Field trips are a big priority for me, and our other vehicle would be too crowded for our growing family (and dogs, etc.) so I thought to myself, you know I really need one of those big, old conversion vans like my Uncle Dewey used to have, and I looked it up on Craigslist and Voila…!
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I may be a little too excited about this van but I LOVE IT! Photo by Matt at our trip to Wyalusing State Park last weekend. 

So, our first couple days were wonderful, and I am so GRATEFUL that I have the opportunity to be able to go on this journey with my kids. I kept pinching myself the entire day, I felt like I was living in a dream. Wow that is hokey, but I’m not even kidding.

The little one, my sweet and sassy Kindergartner, Fiona, well she’s as bright as a button. Light years “ahead” academically, I’m not worried about her education one bit. I just want to hold on to that natural love of learning that she possesses, and encourage her endeavors and creativity as much as I possibly can.

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Fiona is really happy that she is able to have more (healthy) SNACKS!

Last year at this time, I thought I would have a kid in each school – Elementary, Middle, and High schools. Now, I feel so much closer to them, especially the older two, having them at home. It means so much to me on so many levels, and I can tell even after one day that it means a lot to them as well. I could go on and on, but I won’t. I’ll just keep posting on this blog so we can let this journey unfold and see the magic.

Until next time, happy learning!

 

 

Dalai Lama and Buddhism

“Modern education with its focus on material goals and a disregard for inner values is incomplete. There is a need to know about the workings of our minds and emotions. If we start today and make an effort to educate those who are young now in inner values, they will see a different, peaceful, more compassionate world in the future”

-Dalai Lama

DALAI

Irregardless if you are Buddhist, the current Dalai Lama is a truly remarkable person. I find his messages very intelligent, sensitive, and relevant to our times and the current problems in this world. I would highly recommend checking out his website for a wealth of interesting, mind-opening information. 

If anyone has any book recommendations or other links about Buddhism, I would love to hear them in the comments. Thanks!

Why homeschool? More accurately, why are WE?

Why are we homeschooling? I would never try to convince anyone that this is the right path for them, but we are choosing this as the right path for us. Every family is different, and every family also faces constant changes as children grow and go through their various phases. I’m planning on homeschooling my 5 year old daughter, Fiona — which has been a very long and difficult decision for us. Being a former home-schooled person myself (Kinder through 5th grade), I have always considered homeschooling my daughter and seriously started thinking about it when she was 3. I was dreading sending her to preschool. During this time, we did “preschool at home” with some semblance of structure. I would ask Fiona questions about what she was interested in learning about and write it out on a whiteboard like this:

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These were daily goals but I didn’t push it. I let her lead the way and if we didn’t get to a subject or idea, it was totally fine. I was amazed at what she was interested in learning — one of her favorite things was asking questions about how the human body works, and she loved watching middle-school level videos on YouTube about the digestive and circulatory systems (definitely something I would not have thought of myself).

We happened to move back to my hometown last summer (2015). In light of this and other changes, I decided to send her into school for 4K. My hometown (Brodhead, WI — south of Madison near the Illinois border) has great schools. Since it was only three hours a day, four days per week, I thought it would be a great experience for her. And it has been! She enjoys it, although she does complain that she keeps “learning the same thing over and over” and I know she is on the advanced end (she is already reading) which is not getting noticed or worked with. The experience has been fun for her on a social level but has not challenged her intellectually.

The school year is now coming to an end. It wasn’t always easy having Fiona go to school, even for the relatively short period of time she was gone each week.

Most days, we would be just getting in the middle of a great learning experience (such as a violin lesson, art project, reading, experiment, etc) and we would have to put whatever we were doing on hold so she could go get on the bus. It was honestly heartbreaking at times.

So the thought of sending her to school ALL DAY EVERY DAY was just too much for me. If there was an option where I could send her for 3 hours a day though High School I would do it. But the entire day is just too much.

I know this, because I have two older children who have been in the public school system their entire lives, and are now in 6th and 8th grades.

Now, I’m not going to start bashing teachers or the system. Yes, there are flaws. Yes there is too much testing and too much homework. Yes, sometimes you have to deal with a teacher you don’t see eye-to-eye with. However, overall, we have had a good experience with public schools. Good, but not great. Certainly not an amazing, fun, student-centered, highly individualized learning experience. My older kids get deflated by testing, testing, testing, homework, and are honestly outright bored most of the day. As they get older (especially my son who is in 8th grade), I see them getting more uninterested in learning or creating anything at all. It breaks my heart. And I know there is another way.

What I want for my children is this:

  1. To develop a LOVE for learning. To realize that learning does not stop at a certain point during the day (like, say, 3:00 pm). Learning does not stop when you graduate from high school or college. Learning is a fulfilling part of life, your entire life!
  2. To develop CRITICAL THINKING SKILLS. I don’t want my kids to be robots. I want them to question everything. I want them to THINK about the world and their place in it. How can they help, what type of person do they want to be, how can they contribute, what is happening and what can I do about it, what do I really want out of my life, what are the next steps toward my goals?
  3. Knowledge Retention. I want my kids to not only be excited about what they are learning, but I want them to remember it. The typical system of learning and testing doesn’t do much for retention. Many times, kids (including college students) only learn enough to do well on the test, and then it’s gone. I got almost straight As in college myself, and can’t tell you much about what I learned except for the classes that I was INTERESTED in. Good grades does not equal learning.
  4. OPPORTUNITIES. Being homeschooled means freedom. The freedom to create, imagine, work with your hands, travel, connect with different types of people, visit more museums, spend more time in nature, read more, play music more, work on more projects, apply skills to real world living — the list of opportunities are endless. Simply because you have more TIME.
  5.  To have an amazing childhood and develop their own unique perspectives and intelligence that will continue to guide them as they enter adulthood and during the rest of their lives. I want my children to know, down to their core, that life is what you make of it and you are capable of anything you set your mind to.

I have talked with my older two kids many times over the years about homeschooling. I have always said that it is their choice if they want to make the change. I did not start them homeschooling because at the time I was not in a place where I could do it. Now that I am older and more established, I am able to do this for my youngest daughter and hoping that my older two might like to join us in this grand adventure as well. My middle child, Kali, is on board for now but we will see after the summer what she thinks.

Speaking of summer, I am planning on doing year-round school. I should call it life-round school. I don’t think it is beneficial to distinguish between periods of learning and periods of breaks. Learning is not a factory job. It shouldn’t be mind-numbing drudgery. It should be something you are looking forward to doing at every opportunity, without even realizing it, because it is inherent and natural and your mind is open to it.

I organize my thoughts best when I am writing. So I knew that if I were to embark on this homeschooling journey that I would definitely need to start a blog. Not only to organize my thoughts, but also to hold myself accountable, and to create a lasting documentation of our journey.

Kali (my 6th grader) and I came up with this acronym the other day, when we were discussing what home school would look like to us:

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At any rate, that’s a brief overview of why I am homeschooling some, maybe all, of my children. Whatever works for your own family, that’s what I say. We have more choices in this life than we tend to consider.

Until next time, cheers!