homeschooling :: on we go

I'd had the best intentions of putting together a homeschool post every few weeks to keep track of our progress, our projects, our process, and then...... well.... there were things.  National event things, processing of national event things, holiday things (I much prefer the holiday things to the other things), and so on and so forth.  And here we are, a good bit on the other side of a few weeks since the last homeschool post.

We took our first break last week (the entire week), and that felt really good.  We are plugging along and I am realizing that we are not in fact going to cover every subject every day, and that is totally acceptable.  It's funny, we went from pretty solidly 'unschooling' last year (granted, it was kindergarten) to being quite a bit more organized and scheduled than I'd anticipated being this year.  I think somewhere along the way the part of me that really likes lists and organizing (it is a small and not often exercised part...) hitched a ride and starting steering the homeschool show a bit.  And mostly, it works.  Claire seems to need that, seems to thrive on it, so on we go.

So what have we actually been doing these last six weeks or so?

Well, what with the glory that is autumn, we did a lot with leaves.  We dipped them in beeswax, we did rubbings of them, we identified them both individually by species and into different categories by shape.  We read about why and how they change color.  She illustrated and labeled an oak tree life cycle, she observed and wrote about her garden spider friend until she spun and filled her beautiful egg sac and disappeared.  We signed up for Cornell Ornithology Lab's Project Feederwatch and have been having lots of fun with that, and it is allowing her to add to her bird species list (she is now up to 20 different species of birds that she has observed in and around our yard- well, 19 if you remove 'chickens' from her list, but I wouldn't dare).

She draws pictures with chalk onto felt and then embroiders the pictures.  She finger knits until the chains reach from the front door all the way out the back door.

We play games to help her get her mind around place value, and there's a bit of practicing looking at a number and knowing what is one less and one more, ten less and ten more.  She continues to love workbooks and we finished one today that mostly dealt with money, time, and fractions.  She is pretty accurate with reading a clock and she seems to have a thing for fractions.  I am reminded often that they are ready for things when they are ready for them.  Counting money was really tricky a few weeks ago and when we came back to it this week, it was quite a bit easier for her.  I remind myself to go slow, to put things away when it gets to be too much........ you'd think it'd be obvious to do so, but I don't automatically get there without that reminder.

Our continent studies seemed to have turned into US History ever since we got to the US.  We started with North America and worked our way through Greenland and Canada, and then once we got to our country (oh, about 6 or 8 weeks ago!) I guess I felt I needed to cover so much that we basically started reading about, researching, and discussing big events from the 1400s on.  Considering the beginnings of our country, there were some pretty grim things being discussed, though I think I kept it at a reasonable place.  We made it all the way to the end of the Revolutionary War, Washington's presidency, Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase, and Lewis and Clark before I realized that our continent studies had become something else altogether.  It only just occurred to me that I could and probably should separate the two, and so we are now going to highlight a few more things about our country more in line with what we focused on with the other countries (animals, food, music, demographics, landmarks, interesting geographical features, traditions, art and culture, etc) and take the US History bit in bits and pieces from here on out.

Sometimes I have to remind myself that she is in first grade, and it isn't really necessary or appropriate for me to focus in depth on everything.  With history this seems to be the case, as well as with science.  We read about and listened to our hearts the other day and I nearly printed out a somewhat detailed drawing of the heart for her to color and label and then I thought..... maybe the reading and listening and discussing is actually more age appropriate for right now.  Maybe, at six, you don't have to memorize the way the blood flows in and out and the heart and be able to name the different arteries and veins and chambers.

I think sometimes it's more that I get excited myself and I want to dive deeper.  Plus papa has been studying for his advanced EMT certification, so the anatomy discussions can easily get more in depth than need be.  There is, after all, a difference between 36 and 6.

Language continues to be, I think, her favorite (well maybe they are neck and neck with art and books on cd, but academically anyway, it's a favorite).  She has gotten a bit less enthused about working her way through the Explode the Code workbooks now that they have gotten more difficult and are more at her level.  She still enjoys them, she just isn't plowing through them.  Slow and steady seems to me a better pace than the racing through, so I am glad for that.  We are starting to work with all the different ways to make long vowel sounds, and I've just decided to introduce a somewhat regular 'spelling test', though somewhat covertly and casually.  One day a week her language work is to write a letter to a friend or family member, and that has been a hit.  She reads aloud to us often, and I continue to read to her at night (and often throughout the day).  We very much enjoy our chapter books at bedtime, and we're happily working our way through Anne of Green Gables now.

There have been other things of course~  discussions about migration and pollution and elections (back to those pesky national event things), art, plenty of playing and trips to the library.  We've had a couple homeschool mornings at the coffee shop and tea shop, which are novel and fun and we don't get much done but I'll count tasty treats and laughs with my girl as a win every time.

And oh!  We grew popcorn this year and we just today removed the kernels and popped some and it is delicious.  Delicious.  I think backyard popcorn is one of my new favorite things and it has won itself a place on the list of things to plant regularly in the garden.  So hurrah for that.

I think that is as tidy an account as I can give for our last several weeks at it.  Please feel free to ask and share and recommend as you see fit as part of this homeschooling conversation.



Day of the Dead

we had a really lovely Day of the Dead gathering here this past weekend.  we made an altar, decorated pretty heavily with marigolds, made about 80 tamales, lit a bonfire, and welcomed a couple dozen or so folks to our place to hang out, celebrate all the good things, and remember our loved ones.  the many children were kept happy by running around in costume, smashing open a jack-o-lantern piñata, and eating loads of tortellini and sweets.  hosting such a gathering is something that I've wanted to do for a long time now (I have long had a crush on this holiday and find it to be so very beautiful), and this year it just felt like the timing was right.  perhaps it is just where I am in my life right now (and perhaps therefore where a lot of my friends in my general age range are right now), but it seems like there is a lot of loss and a lot of saying goodbye to loved ones going on- I lost my grandfather in May, and just among the people gathered at our place a few days ago I can count brothers, a mother, fathers, and grandparents lost in just the last year or so.  whew.

it was a good night.  with, I think, the right balance of reverence and revelry.

the altar is still set up, and I'm in no rush to dismantle it.  it feels.......... good.  to have little reminders of lost loved ones front and center.  I've always been a collector of bits and pieces of our ancestors- mixing bowls and platters and Christmas cacti from our grandmothers and great grandmothers.  the things I requested that my dad bring to me of my grandfather's were a coffee cup and one of his short-sleeved button down shirts- the kind that are embroidered and have the pockets up high and down by the waist.  he brought them for me, along with a rhubarb plant he dug up from my grandfather's yard up in the Adirondacks.  I planted it tenderly and I hope it will thrive.  these sort of things- the kind that can become part of my day-to-day, these are the things that help me remember and honor and feel close to my loved ones who are no longer here in flesh.  I drink from the mug and imagine having tea with my grandfather, and I can hear his voice, his laugh.  his gentle, wise advice.  I miss him.  I still want to call him or send a letter from time to time and then I remember he's been gone for months.  I watch the cactus bloom (they are both just now starting) and think of my grandmother, and of Mike's, and I smile and recall a specific interaction or conversation.  my grandmother's pierogies and mushroom soup on Christmas Eve.  I leave dough to rise in a large cracked bowl that belonged to Mike's mother's grandmother.  I never knew her, but I invite her into my kitchen and like to think of her somehow, somewhere, using the occasion to get a tiny glimpse into our world and at her great-great-granddaughter.  I wonder what subtle bits of her may be in Claire.  I put fruit, or nuts, in a bowl that belonged to my great-grandmother, and I think of so many of us cramming into her tiny Memphis house for a meal on a hot and humid summer day, and of exploring the wilds of her small backyard garden.

all of these things, and so much more, make me pause and feel like maybe the distance between us isn't really so great, after all.


october things

marigold collecting, horseback lessons, backyard tea, seed saving, backyard harvest, bright fall-blue sky clear as can be, hanging at LEAF (Lake Eden Arts Festival), and dipping leaves in beeswax.

oh, october.


put 'em up!

strawberry jam, raspberry jam, blueberry-rhubarb jam, dilly beans, pickled okra (we will be eating pickled okra a LOT this winter and/or giving it to everyone as Christmas gifts!), pickled beets, salsa, tomato jam, ground cherry jam, pickled serranos, pickled jalapeños.  refrigerator pickles, kimchi, fermented carrots.  apple cider (both hard cider fermenting at the moment and several quarts canned fresh to enjoy later) and salsa verde.  these are the 2016 canned goods thus far.

lots of food in jars as of late.  still to come, more pickled hot peppers, possibly a last batch of tomatoes, some apple rings, and maybe a late batch of jam made with frozen berries.

we still have a jar or two of last year's salsa on the shelf, but it is going fast- especially now that we have more.  last year's dilly beans and okra were finished long ago.  there are still a handful of jars of last year's hot peppers, some pear chutney, a jar of blackberry jam, a jar of curried zucchini pickles, some roasted tomatoes....  one jar of lavender-peach jam and one jar of wild blueberry jam from our trip to Maine last year that I'm saving for a rainy day..... oh how I loved that trip (aside from papa getting quite sick, of course).

here's to the tedious, meditative, sweaty, fun, and sometimes overwhelming act of putting food in jars to be enjoyed at a later date.  there are 3 well-stocked grocery stores and 2 natural food stores within 5 miles of our house (and all but one of those are within a bit under 2 miles).  I do not need to stock my pantry shelf with colorful jars of sweet and spicy and jammy and briny foods each August and September.  but I kind of can't help it.  there's something in me that is made happy and safe and calm by doing so.  there is something to the process, to each deliberate step, that makes me feel like I am tapping into some expansive, solid, good thing that is bigger than me and spans centuries.  like I can reach into the windows of far away and long ago worlds and greet far away and long ago women (and maybe men, but probably mostly women) in some simple and important and satisfying and very elemental way.

and that is magic, for sure.


first grade homeschool :: weeks 4 through 6

She illustrated and wrote all of the parts of the seasons calendar herself, and was so proud.  I just made the circles and went over the words in sharpie.  It is now cut out and attached to a piece of cardboard with a brad so we can spin it.

 practice, practice, practice

 we have a tendency to really spread out!

 she is working hard on compiling a species list of birds that she can continue to add to and illustrate

I finally stopped procrastinating and spent approximately 2 minutes filling out an online form in order to register our homeschool with the state.  I'm not sure why it took me so long, but now it's done.  We are now officially White Oaks Schoolhouse.  There are three large white oaks in our front yard (they are big players all around the neighborhood) and I knew I wanted to go with a plant/tree name, so it seemed a natural choice.  We got a little hung up on Academy vs. School vs. Schoolhouse, and I admit in the end I just filled out the form with the one I personally most preferred.  Academy seemed a bit much, school seemed not enough, and I found schoolhouse quite charming in a simple and old-fashioned kind of way.  Plus, well...... it's a school in a house, so it seems fitting.

Our last few weeks have continued along in much the same fashion as the first few.  We are finding our groove, learning how to go with the flow, and working to create an overall balance.  And truly, I think we've just about got it.

We are continuing with our routine of meeting at the dining table not long after she rises, and we get started on a bit of schoolwork before breakfast (or while I am making breakfast) and then continue afterwards, typically for a total of 1.5-2.5 hours (though that is flexible, naturally, in the event of horseback riding lessons, walks to the library, hikes, visits with nana, etc).

Recently she has done a lot of practicing her lowercase letter formation and practicing letter blends. We are also just getting started with cursive.  She thinks it is fancy, of course, and even asked me how to 'speak in cursive', which I thought was pretty cute.  She continues to love the Explode the Code workbooks and has worked through books 1 and 1 1/2 and is now a few lessons into book 2.  We have been reading chapter books at bedtime for a couple years now, and last night we finished the second book of the Birchbark House series (oh she is loving that Omakayas!) and tonight we started The Little Prince (which I've never read before and I kept finding myself wondering if it was totally bizarre to her but she seemed really into it).

Math lately has been a lot of addition/math facts worksheets, (>, <, =), figuring out the missing addend, playing shut-the-box, and reviewing geometric solids.  We also do some counting of coins and place value work, and I remain on the fence as to whether or not I will order a math curriculum at this point.  I'm thinking maybe next year, but we'll see.  I both don't want to miss some-big-something she'll need to know and also don't want to forget that she is but 6 years old.  Balance.

Our geography/history focus has been on North America lately and will be for a while.  We've read lots about the crossing of the land bridge and about the first people of our continent.  We focused on Greenland for a week (and I learned way more about the country than I ever knew before), and are finishing up some reading on Canada before moving on to the United States (which I imagine we will stay focused on for some time) later this week.

Aside from some fun, dynamic discussions (globe in hand, pretending the table was the sun, etc.) about day/night and seasons, and some more talk about food chains and the difference between being endangered and being extinct, our science and nature study lately has been largely focused on observations and identification of butterflies, spiders, and birds. We successfully raised and released 4 monarchs, have been watching all the butterflies in the yard, and happily found that a garden spider has spun her beautiful web in a place that is easy for us to observe her, which we have been doing several times a day.  The thing I'm loving most about homeschooling is the way we can so easily and naturally move in whatever direction we are called to move in.  Our monarch raising led to other butterfly observations, which led us to spy the spider, which led to learning about the parts of a spider, and so on.  I keep being so pleasantly surprised by the way things just lead into one another so effortlessly, but I suppose I ought not to be since that is, after all, the beauty of it and perhaps the very nature of learning when it is allowed some flexibility.

Another thing we are really enjoying is memorizing seasonal verses.  We are particularly loving the ones pictured above (my favorite is the one by Robert Louis Stevenson, hers the one by F.D. Sheeman) as well as this one, which we'd memorized last fall and came back to:
Yellow the bracken,
Golden the sheaves,
Rosy the apples,
Crimson the leaves;
Mist on the hillside,
Clouds grey and white.
Autumn, good morning!
Summer, good night!

-Florence Hoatson
All in all, this is what our days are looking like.  I'd like to do some more home-ec stuff like baking and cooking and handwork, etc. and so I plan to work that in a bit more (though no doubt our cider pressing last week would have filled that category nicely- I suppose we really are doing that I'm just not looking at it as 'school' now that we have gotten so much more organized regarding lessons, etc).  I'd also like to focus a bit more on music (maybe get her signed up for lessons with some instrument of her choosing- something aside from our fiddling together on the ukuleles- which is totally fun but I know it'd be good for her to have another non-parent mentor and teacher). 
We get quite a bit of schoolwork done in not a terribly long amount of time, and then we have our late morning-early afternoon somewhat free before heading to work to do art with kids.  It's working, I love it, I am beyond grateful that we are able to make it work, and really, I am learning so much myself.  What fun.  If you are homeschooling your kids (or if you are not) I'd love to hear about the routines, rhythms, etc. that you are most enjoying with your own kiddos.  Are there resources and references that you love most and find yourself going back to more than others?  Favorite children's literature magazines?  Favorite educational games or tools?  Favorite online subscriptions/'clubs'?  Let's inspire one another and keep the support and encouragement flowing!  I would love to have an ongoing discussion, if anyone is interested.