Thursday, June 29, 2006

Thanks for all the years, Mr. Fixit

"Today is like no other day before, And you and I will never be the same. I give you all my love this day and every day, Forever and forever, in our joys and in our pains."--Tony Melendez

Donna-Jean has been posting about her daughter's wedding this month.

Kim has been posting (yes, it's here!) about the latest Life in a Shoe baby. So has Meredith at Like Merchant Ships. (About her baby, not Kim's!)

And others have been posting about their babies getting bigger. And bigger.

The years go by too fast...even fifteen of them with Mr. Fixit. Catch the memories fast before they slip away!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Equuschick's Alphabet

,Equuschick at The Common Room posted her version of this ABC meme. Athena wrote one too. Here's Mama Squirrel's.

A - Accent: Southern Ontario
B - Breakfast Item: I love granola (I guess that makes me one of those Crunchy people)
C - Chore you hate: Figuring out whose socks are whose
D - Dad's Name: Grandpa Squirrel.
E - Essential everyday item: The Equuschick said “Losing your glasses is distressing.” I haven’t lost my glasses for a long time (or sat on them), but yeah, that would probably be the most distressing here too.
F - Flavor ice cream: Chocolate ripple.
G - Gold or Silver?: Silver
H - Happy Place: Up in the treehouse.
I - Insomnia: Occasionally. Usually I would rather sleep.
J - Job - Love or want to leave: Mostly love, all except the socks.
K - Kids: Yes.
L - Living arrangements: 3 bedroom raised bungalow.
M - Mom's birthplace: in a hospital.
N - Number of houses you've lived in (there, I changed it from the original): Counting university living arrangements, I make it 16.
O - Overnight hospital stays: Not since 1969.
P - Phobia: Driving
Q - Question: Who makes these things up, anyway?
R - Religious Affiliation: United Church of Canada Presbyterian Church of Canada United Church of Canada Presbyterian Church of America Brethren in Christ Presbyterian Church of America Funky NonDenominational Lutheran Church Canada Fellowship Baptist Mennonite Brethren. You sort it out.
S - Siblings: One. Call her FarAwaySis.
T - Time you wake up: About 15 minutes after Mr. Fixit.
U - Unnatural hair colors you've had: Orange, when FarAwaySis and Mama Squirrel experimented with Sun In one summer a very long time ago.
V - Vegetable you refuse to eat: Turnip, beets. (sorry, Common Room)
W - Worst habit: Why would anybody want to know that?
X - X-rays you've had: Don’t remember exactly. Lots of dental, one big toe.
Y - Yummy: Lasagna. Pasta with sundried tomatoes and olives. Really dark chocolate.
Z - Zodiac sign: Doesn’t matter.

Homeschooling carnival

You can travel down to Mississippi this week as the HomeSchoolCafe hosts this week's homeschooling carnival. One post I noticed: a list of Miquon Math hints by the always-helpful Denise.

Update: The Carnival of Education is up too, hosted by Melissa at The Lilting House.

Friday, June 23, 2006

A mama t-shirt

Male squirrels, avert your eyes.

While checking in on the Life in a Shoe blog (no, the baby still hasn't come!), I saw this ad that made me laugh.

Hang in there, Kim.

Finishings

The last day of Treehouse classes (we still have exams next week). This week is full of finishings.

The Apprentice finished Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, Whatever Happened to Justice?, and part 2 of How to Read a Book (the part that was assigned for this year). We're still working on The Betrothed, but that's all right.

Ponytails finished Pilgrim's Progress Book II (I think she would have liked a Book III to go on to next year). We also finished the geography story about mountains we were reading. We are one chapter away from finishing the last Narnia book, but she won't let me read it to her because then we'd be done.

And I'm trying to finish typing the last Plutarch study for this year. Almost there...

And when exams are done, we will celebrate the year's achievements in school, the beans climbing up the wall, Crayons' graduation to a two-wheeler (with training wheels), our wedding anniversary, the pink roses blooming, Canada Day, and the arrival of Coffeemamma's family.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

We have a site meter

We finally installed a site meter at the Treehouse, just to see how many people climb up here every day.

Already we've had one strange visit: somebody googling "recipe for captains table that uses ketchup." And they ended up here? Laughing...

Carnival of Homeschooling is up in the air

The carnival has a bird theme this week at Homeschoolbuzz.com .

Monday, June 19, 2006

Dads, Daughters and Cars

I thought Mr. Fixit and the Squirrelings might identify with this post on Ask Patty ("Automotive advice on car buying, selling, maintenance, repair, car care and car safety").

Treehouse blog photo awards

No, you can't enter: I just decided five minutes ago to have a contest and the winners have already been decided.

This week's Prettiest Blog Photos Award goes to Storybook Woods.

Best Travel Photos goes to U Krakovianki for A Visit to Zakopane.

And Best Nature Mystery Photo goes to The Common Room for their Unknown Pupa.

Congratulations to all the winners--and you didn't even know you'd entered.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The logic of yard sales

We stopped at a yard sale this morning and I saw a small set of Sculpey coloured clay in a container of miscellaneous craft junk. I took it up to the seller to ask the price, and she said, "Oh, you're about the third person who's asked about that clay. It's really part of that container of craft supplies." OK, I get it--you're only interested in selling the boxful. How much? "I was thinking $3, but you can have it for $2." So I got the Sculpey kit plus a bunch of other useful stuff (Boondoggle cord, a glue stick, fancy beads, three paintable mini picture frames, dowels, stickers and so on) for $2, in a plastic lunchbox-type container.

And oh yes--like the old joke about the guy who's stealing wheelbarrows--the container itself still had an original price tag on it. $14.98.

And two other people passed up the clay because they had to take the whole works too?...beats me.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Crayons' map of the universe

Crayons stuck some stickers all over a piece of construction paper, and told me that each sticker was one place on the map: Russia, Australia, Niagara Falls, New York, the kitchen, heaven, where the devil lives, and where the treasure is.

Photos added to Lion Safari post

Just an update: I added two photos to our Lion Safari story.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Hey, that's a pretty cute idea

This week's Education Carnival is an end-of-the-year Staff Party. Pull up some (scavenged?) classroom furniture and get yourself a drink.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Jean Kerr and the DHM

Deputy Headmistress, you do have a way of picking out great passages from books. I loved this post with the wonderful passage from Jean Kerr. I think you're right--you should keep the book. And here's something else for you about Jean Kerr: a post about her from the Rage Diaries blog.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Carnival of Homeschooling--Father's Day

Beverly Hernandez from Homeschooling.about.com is hosting this week's Carnival of Homeschooling, with a Father's Day theme.

New Graphics Site is a virus

If you're on any Yahoo lists, watch out for messages with the subject line New Graphics Site. Just don't open them, even if they're addressed from someone you know. This seems to have affected Yahoo posting in general today--I've noticed that a lot of messages aren't getting through.

Class Field Trips. Family Field Trips.

Last week our family had the chance to visit the African Lion Safari--a sort of zoo near here where animals roam pretty much free. (Note of caution: stay away from the monkey area unless you want the trim ripped off your car.) Our homeschool support group went together to get a group rate, so I guess you could call it a group field trip; but really every family was on its own once we'd gone through the gates.

One of the attractions of the Lion Safari is the Elephant Swim. Every day at noon, the elephants walk down to the water near the picnic area for a swim. They walk lined up, holding each others' tails, and they have a sort of sheep dog that keeps them in line. We've been there before and knew what to expect, so we had our lunch at a picnic table fairly close to the water and brought along a couple of lawnchairs. However, this was also a big day for school field trips. As soon as the parade of elephants appeared, what seemed like hundreds of children and parents and teachers (all carrying heavy backpacks and smelling of sunblock) scurried down to the water to watch. Well, scurried isn't the word exactly. Do you remember the Flintstones episode where they're all sitting on the quiet beach and they suddenly remember that this is the place where there's a big surfing competition--and at the same second they get stampeded by hundreds of teenagers carrying surfboards?

They all crowded in there, pushing to see the elephants swim across the lake, and the parents were yelling things like "Mrs. Vanderboggles, come over here so I can get a picture of you and the kids." The kids who weren't really watching the elephants were all yelling and playing tag around the trees.

And then--this is the funny part--within five minutes, they all disappeared again. I don't know whether it was that the kids had a very short attention span, or whether their itinerary didn't allow them to watch elephants playing for more than five minutes, but anyway, suddenly they were gone.

And we sat in our lawnchairs, and our kids went down to the water's edge, and we got a peaceful and clear view of the elephants for as long as we wanted.

Retro Recipe Challenge

Now this is a recipe carnival like you've never seen before. Put on your high heels and enjoy the Retro Roundup (including a mystery meat casserole)--Mrs. MacGrady would be so proud.

Friday, June 09, 2006

The Common Room on frugalities

Our friend the Deputy Headmistress has posted some good advice on living within your means, as well as several links to her previous posts on frugal living. (The comments are worthwhile reading too.) The DHM mentions the idea of entitlement--feeling that you just deserve whatever it is, you've gone long enough without it, so you're entitled to have it. If you're Polly Pepper stuffing the leaks in your woodstove with paper, that's one thing; but most of us (now) in North America, except maybe those who remember the Depression, have never been that badly off, no matter how tough we think we have it. Mary Ann Cahill's book The Heart Has its Own Reasons has a story in it by someone who remembered her own mother, in post-war England, selling her wedding ring to buy food for her children. That sounds pretty extreme in itself, and then you realize there are still people in some parts of the world even more desperate than that for food, housing and clean water. We really have so much here.

(I've posted previously about the Treehouse approach to frugality (the last time was here).)

Where I'm From

There is a kind of meme going around based on a poem by George Ella Lyons, "Where I'm From." The poem has become so widely imitated that you can now print out a template to help you write your own version. (The template seems to have been around for at least a couple of years, but I only heard about it recently.)

This is my attempt. I didn't do very well trying to use the template, so I just did it my own way. (I realize that for many of these things you'd need an annotated version or at least hyperlinks to know what I'm talking about (unless you came from the same place), but for now it's going to have to stand on its own.)

Where I'm From

I am from glass baby bottles, Buffalo markers in a tin, snowboots with buckles, Jelly Tots, and Brownie scarves with orange maple leaves.

I am from the hard red swings in Soper Park, bike rides down McNaughton Street hill, Galt Arena skating races, and sunburnt afternoons on the sand of Georgian Bay.

I am from long voyages in creaking ships and Conestoga wagons. I am from weavers and blacksmiths and small-town storekeepers, from Branchton and Glen Morris and Killean, and other places gone from the map. From been-here-forever and make-the-best-of-it.

I am from the United Church of Canada, from Messengers and strawberry socials and stewardship and the Threefold Amen. I’m from the shakeup time and if you’re thirsty and dry lift your hands to the sky. And I’m from the after time too.

I am from Aunt Alma’s pastels and tubes of paint, and her shelves of old school books. I’m from Aunt Katie’s funny poems and card tricks. I’m from Grandma McKellar’s paperback mysteries and her backyard-plum jam—-bottled and sealed like the things we kept inside ourselves.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

How to fool smart people

The EduWonks host this week's Carnival of Education. I didn't see much I wanted to check out until right at the end: Paul's Tips offers The Easiest Way to Fool Smart People. (Hint: make them feel they're smart.) Apprentice, you need to read this, after all the discussions we've had about logic and reading critically.

Paul's Tips also has a discussion of why high-school style popularity isn't all it's cracked up to be--especially after you graduate. He says:
In the adult world what clothes you wear, what music you listen to, how cool your friends are, and so on are of almost no consequence. Things like ability and maturity are much more important.

Even the ultimate status-symbol in teenage life - beauty - isn't worth that much in the adult world. There are plenty of beautiful people out there working in poorly-paid, degrading jobs. And there are plenty of ugly people at the top of the status tree.
Hmmm...that may be true, but how many adults do you know who are actually living in the "adult world"? (Can you say Brangelina?)

Oh, okay (I read further down)--Paul caught that one too.
Of course, some people never really manage to escape high-school. The keep up the petty rivalries and irresponsibility and look to celebrity culture to replace the cool-kids they used to admire. They long to return to the simple world of teenage life. Such people rarely succeed in the adult world.
Well, maybe. (Can you say Brangelina?)

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The best cartoon we've seen this week

Ponytails pointed out this Adam at Home cartoon to me in the newspaper.

The wisdom of Richard Mitchell

The Deputy Headmistress at The Common Room has posted a long and thoughtful quote by Richard Mitchell, author of The Graves of Academe, The Gift of Fire, and other books.

It provides a good answer to the question "why?" Why do we have to read this? Why bother? This is the 21st century! Well, that's exactly why--because it is the 21st century.
He who has no reliable way of telling rubbish from Reason can have no knowledge of the self that he is to judge and control, by which judgment, and only by which judgment, he is able to choose the better over the worse. It will not only be the voice of the world that deceives him; his own voice will deceive him. As to his own beliefs and propositions, which may not even be his own, but only his recitations of what the world says, he will not be able to tell rubbish from Reason.
--Richard Mitchell
True education will equip us to make this sort of unflinching, genuine self-examination, which will be the opposite of self-admiration. In making that self-examination, the truly educated will be able to discern rubbish from reason, and then do something about it.

One of the things we teach our children is that if that will not govern themselves, others must do it for them, and that the ability to govern, or rule, oneself, one's passions, desires, and will, is part of maturity.
--The Deputy Headmistress

23rd Carnival of Homeschooling

I always look forward to the weeks when Palm Tree Pundit hosts a carnival--her blog makes me think of tropical fish and coconuts. And wow, there are a lot of things to read on there this week (including our own Planning Process post). Have a look also at Life in a Shoe's Approach to Math, and The Thinking Mother's post about her Charlotte Mason support group meeting.

Aloha!

Monday, June 05, 2006

Crayons' Treehouse

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(Photo credit to Mr. Fixit)

Blogspotting (and poetry)

Meredith at Like Merchant Ships has been busy posting before-and-after pictures of her house, and tips on organizing. Some people caulk the sink just before a baby arrives, some start waxing the floors...some blog. Best wishes to the Merchant Ships family. [Update: Baby's here! ]

Mother Hen has written her version of the "Where I'm From" poem. Ann at Holy Experience posted her "Where I'm From" awhile ago too. I'm with Mother Hen--choosing those images is more difficult than you'd think. (I know, I tried!) Muse on their poems and maybe you'll want to try your own version.

Another beautiful poem is included in Kim Anderson's post Weaving. It's about moms, daughters, spinning wheels, and graduation shawls.

And at the Dominion Family blog, the whole month of June is poetry month. Here's are some they'ved posted to begin with, on "Opportunity." And check back for more.

The way of the dodo

Homeschoolbuzz.com posted a link to this article about the rather posh homeschooling option of hiring a professional teacher or tutor. ("Another variant of school at home very different from the homeschooling most know," comments Homeschoolbuzz.)

What struck me most was this comment by Bob Harraka, president of Professional Tutors of America:
[he] cannot meet a third of the requests for in-home education that come in, he said, because they are so specialized or extravagant: a family wants a teacher to instruct in the art of Frisbee throwing, button sewing or Latin grammar.
My goodness, Latin grammar? What will they think of next? I guess one would really have to hunt far and wide to find a teacher versed in something so specialized and extravagant.

I could recommend a few homeschooled teenagers, though...

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Funny post of the weekend

MerryK's Book Lover's Odyssey gives us a peek at the truly grinding work involved in going to used book sales (and coming home).

Thank goodness for line breaks.

From a volunteer signup sheet at church this morning:

Snacks
(Prepare and serve
two people per day)

Saturday, June 03, 2006

"And don't forget the Dewey Decimal System is your friend"

(Virtual Canadian Smarties if you know where that's from. Give up? Click here.)

Some library sales are organized in strange ways. Especially large, over-organized ones. Our public library has about one sale a year, and it's divided into three rooms: adult fiction, childrens' books, and non-fiction (which might or might not include some childrens' non-fiction). You pay by the box in the non-fiction room (if you can cram it in and carry it out without getting a hernia, it's yours). But if you wander into the childrens' room and pick up something there, you have to pay extra (you can't count that with your boxful).

So I usually stay out of the childrens' room, which may sound funny, considering I'm a parent and a homeschooler. But really, I'm not missing out on much. I've noticed that a lot of the stuff in there--at least the fiction--is dreck. Paperback stuff we wouldn't read anyway, and tired 1970's attempts at realism. And picture books we already have.

But here's where the Dewey Decimal System comes in handy. Because this library sale is so by-the-book (pun intended) and all the non-fiction is nicely organized by table, I head for the 300's: fairy tales! And the 800's: poems! Last year I brought home a whole slew (well okay, half a dozen) of Paul Galdone's illustrated folk tales, as well as several other large illustrated Mother Goose and fairy tale collections. I let the other people fight it out over the picture book table (and pay the extra per book) while I happily walked out with my haul of...childrens' books.

Go figure.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Javamom's Meme

Javamom invited me to play along with her meme, and since this one doesn't have 40 questions I managed to finish it, more or less.

Where were you, what were you doing...

20 Years Ago: June 2 1986

1. I was living in a cockroachy summer sublet on Spadina Avenue in Toronto, after my first year of university. My parents were planning a trip to England in July for Prince Andrew's wedding. (No, they weren't invited, but they got to stand outside and cheer.)
2. I was about to start a summer job running kids' music programs in the Toronto library system.

15 years ago: June 2 1991

1. That's easy: I was getting ready for our wedding at the end of the month, and we had our first shower right about then.
2. I was working full time in a university office.
3. I was signed up to take a 3-week crash credit right after we came back from our honeymoon, so I could graduate. (And I did. The course was called Marriage and the Family, which seemed appropriate.)

10 Years Ago: June 2 1996

1. We had only one squirreling, who was about to have her fourth birthday and who had just had her one-and-only-ever-real-costumes-required ballet recital. (The tutu still gets worn for dressup--not by the Apprentice, though.)

5 Years Ago June 2 2001

1. We had just had our third squirreling, and we were planning The Apprentice's hat-decorating birthday party on the patio.

3 Years Ago June 2 2003

1. The Ambleside Advisory was working overtime trying to finish Year 9.
2. The elderly next-door neighbour kept asking me to come over and cut more of his rhubarb. We ate more rhubarb than we knew what to do with that year.

1 Year Ago June 2 2005

1. "Mama Squirrel has discovered this scientific truth: The fastest way to get young squirrels interested in reading is to start packing or opening boxes intended for a homeschoolers' book sale."
2. We were looking for rhubarb since the elderly neighbour was gone and the new people had taken his plants out. We found two little plants that stayed puny all summer, so we ate no rhubarb at all.
3. Crayons was just starting to learn to read.
4. We were planning The Apprentice's Grade 8 graduation celebration.

So Far This Year

1. We've been nest-hunting but haven't found anything.
2. We've read all the Narnia books except The Last Battle; Ponytails isn't sure she wants me to read it because then we'd be done.
3. Our garden is coming up and the rhubarb is recovering from my earlier over-enthusiasm.

Yesterday

1. Mr. Fixit and our neighbour (not the rhubarb one) started a petition to keep a sidewalk from being built in front of our houses. We like sidewalks fine, but this one is going to be too close to the busy road, and it means that some good trees have to come down.
2. Ponytails and I read about Governor Frontenac and watched his Canadian Heritage Minute online. (Click on Governor Frontenac on the sidebar.)

Today

1. We finished off the school week, and now I have to try to figure out how we're going to fit what we haven't finished into the next three weeks before exams. Ponytails and I read about Marconi and watched his Canadian Heritage Minute (those are handy!). The Apprentice and I read about irredentism (in Whatever Happened to Justice). (The Apprentice says you can remember the word "irridentist" by thinking about an eerie dentist.) Mr. Fixit brought subs for lunch and took the older two Squirrelings back to work with him so that they could go to the library. Crayons helped me vacuum the downstairs room where the books are. It's very muggy and feels like it might storm again.

Tomorrow

1. Yard sale and grocery day.
2. The Apprentice is going to Canada's Wonderland with a church group. (She won a free admission pass.)

Next Week

1. We're going to the African Lion Safari with our homeschool group. We haven't been there for about seven years, and they're supposed to have some new elephants.

In the Next Year

1. ???

In the Next Minute

1. I'm going to take Crayons upstairs for a snack.

Who to invite next? How about Elinor Dashwood and Tim's Mom? (Updated to fix the link to Tim's Mom's blog.)

Thursday, June 01, 2006

A narration about Theseus, by Ponytails

(Note from Mama Squirrel: Ponytails dictated this to me recently. It's from the middle of the story of Theseus in Charles Kingsley's The Heroes. Some background: Theseus has been on a quest to find his father, King Aegeus (who doesn't know him), and on the way he has had to kill various monsters and so has gained a reputation for himself; one of these slayings turned out to be some kind of a kinsman, so he had to go and get purified for that (forgiven, as Ponytails says here). When he finally arrives at the palace, he finds it has been taken over by his partying cousins.)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Theseus went and got forgiven, and then he went on to the palace. He looked around for his father, but he wasn't there. He said, "Where is the master Aegeus?" "We are all masters here! You can ask one of us instead. Come and eat and drink with us (hic!)! Heh heh heh!" Theseus looked around, but he did not see Aegeus. Then he said, "Go and tell him Theseus is here!" "Yes, your majesty--Mr. Theseus--I will go and summon him!"

So he went, and next to him [Aegeus] was Medea, and she was a snake woman. So Aegeus turned pale, red and then white. He went out because he knew this was going to be important.

Theseus said in his mind, "I'm going to test him first before I say I am his son." So he said, "I have come for a reward." Aegeus said, "I cannot afford it." But Theseus said, "All I want is dinner." "Okay, I can give you that."

Medea was watching. She went back into her room, and she came back out. She said, "This is a troublemaker." She saw him [Aegeus] go red and white when he heard the word Troezene. So she was going to get rid of him, Ah ha ha ha! She dressed in jewels and got a golden bottle full of magic wine and a golden cup. And she came out to Theseus and said in a soft voice, "Theseus! Please drink from this cup! It
will give you strength and heal your wounds, it will give you fresh blood in your veins, so please drink." But Theseus saw the look in her eyes, the black smoky evil look with a tint of red, it turned up at the corners to make her look evil. He said, "You drink first." But she said, "I can't, I'm ill, I'm very ill. So I cannot drink." (But it's supposed to HEAL wounds!) He said, "Drink from it or you die!", swinging his club. She dropped the cup and ran. She called for her dragon carriage and went off, far away from the kingdom.

The stones bubbled from the wine she had spilled, and they just kind of disappeared.

Aegeus said, "What did you do? That was sort of my wife!"

But then he pulled out the sword and the sandals, and he said the words his mother bade him to say. And they hugged and wept until they could weep no more. The end!

The planning process

Melissa Wiley at the Bonny Glen (actually this is on her other blog), and others (linked from Melissa's post), have been posting in answer to some non-homeschoolers' questions about why we’d want to homeschool, or how we have the nerve to do this without courses in pedagogy etc., etc.

An analogy I used last year was that of a professional chef vs. cooking for your own family. I made supper tonight (in the middle of a heat wave) and we ate it (in the middle of a thunderstorm). Aside from the freaky weather, how did I know how to do that? How did I manage to get it all on the table, in the right amount, at the right time? We had chicken breasts baked in canned pasta sauce (in the toaster oven), whole wheat fusilli, spaghetti squash (cooked on top of the stove), raw broccoli and carrots (cut up yesterday), and a frozen ricotta dessert topped with leftover canned pineapple. And it wasn't a complicated meal to make; it was just experience, knowing how much chicken to thaw, how to thicken the sauce at the end, remembering that we had leftover veggies, figuring that the pineapple would go nicely on top of the dessert. At home, you learn to cook (see #s 18 and 19 there) based on experience, reading, watching, asking other people how they do things. Family meals aren't like restaurant cooking, and they're not meant to be (unless you're Anne Tyler). Homeschooling compares better to home cooking than it does to the surgery-on-the-kitchen-table analogy. If the math lesson doesn’t connect, you can try it another way tomorrow, or wait awhile and then try it again. Surgeons don’t have that option; homeschoolers do.

But back to the pedagogy, qualifications question that keeps coming up: somebody out there has an idea that I (or any homeschool parent) must have a little schoolroom in my house with a blackboard and a pointer, or at least a kitchen table with chains to keep the students there; plus a piece of paper from the government that says I took a course in how to teach and what to teach; and that if I don't, then I don't know what I'm doing and shouldn't be teaching.

So this post is meant to show anybody who's interested how the process of planning a school year works, after ten years at this. These are some of my real-life thoughts and experiences as I plan for Ponytails' grade 4.

1. Mathematics: I order Making Math Meaningful Level 4, since we'll be done Miquon Math and I need to find something that has a good dose of word problems in it--something Ponytails is still weak on. When I get the books, I realize there’s some repetition of what she's already done, so I figure we can complete it in 3 days a week next year, and that leaves 2 days for activities in geometry, and other topics that MMM doesn't cover. How did I get the general idea of grade 4 math topics? I compared a couple of scope and sequences and made a list of goals for next year. I checked those that aren't included in our main book against a list of good library math books (not textbooks--there are a lot of other books on the 500's shelf) and a couple of our other resources like Family Math--for instance, I want to work on using a calculator, and Family Math includes several calculator games.

2. Language arts: again, I have a list of typical grade 4 skills, which I’ve gone over with Ponytails in mind, eliminating what she already knows and adding in a couple of other things I would like her to work on. I have two main goals for the year—-increased independent reading skills (especially in non-fiction) and improved ability in writing—-not her ability to express herself so much (see Theseus here) as her level of comfort with written work—-mechanics, handwriting, spelling, all the boring but important stuff. Also she'll be working on skills in finding things out—-choosing resources (a dictionary? A thesaurus?) and using them.

And how will we be working towards those goals? By checking off pages in a language textbook? Am I ordering a creative writing program, a speller, and basal readers? No, we've never done things that way. At our house it's more like this:

Reading skills: This will be the year I ask her to read more school books on her own—-not setting her adrift, but giving her 15 minutes to read a section and then following up. We will start with short sections and see if she can work up to reading a whole chapter and then telling back what she's read. It means working on habits like attentiveness, not getting distracted. (Do we need readers with chapter-end questions? No, we have books, magazines, newspapers, emails...)
Writing: again, beginning short written narrations—-or writing some and then dictating the rest. Knowing Ponytails, she will probably initiate some of her own writing projects as well.

Mechanics: we will use copywork and dictation, from books across the curriculum, as a place to work on mechanics and very basic grammar (just parts of speech, not diagramming); on noticing story details and picking out homonyms; on experimenting with synonyms or changing tense. Will I have all those lessons prepared ahead of time? No, it’s not practical. If something needs extra work, we spend extra time on it. It’s a waste of time for me to write out 36 weeks of language lessons for Ponytails, just like I don’t buy her new shoes until she needs them. (We do have a couple of yard-sale grammar workbooks to fall back on too.)

Handwriting: besides copywork, we will use Ruth Beechick’s 3-week cursive improvement course (from You CAN Teach Your Child Successfully Grades 4 to 8). (That's less involved than it sounds; it just means having her write sentences and then looking at specific things that need improvement.)

Spelling: I don’t know yet how much extra time Ponytails will need on this next year, so we'll just keep working on it along with her other language activities.

3. Latin (the thinking continues here): I look at the Latin program a friend loaned us, and decide this is not the year to be adding another language. We’ll include some Latin roots when we talk about prefixes and suffixes.

4. Nature studies: I look at the fat handbook we’ve had forever but hardly use,and realize we can use it next year for some book lessons about ladybugs, spiders, ants, worms, and other wiggly crawly things we have close at hand. I was going to add to our collection of magnifiers and bug-lookers anyway, and this will give us some things to examine and maybe draw.

5. Music: At a rummage sale, I find a book & record set of Leonard Bernstein’s 1960’s young peoples’ concerts. There’s a whole kid-size music appreciation course in there, and I know our library has some of the videos too. At our support group's annual conference I buy 2 new Music Maker packs for our lap harp, including a basic music theory pack.

6. I list books we own and can use for history, Bible, science, poetry and more. I write down a couple of others to ask for on a swap board or to look for at the library. Something with legs crawls out of Five Little Peppers, so I toss the book in case the little thing is thinking about multiplying (it was an old tattered copy anyway) and make a note to replace it (the book, not the bug). (No, I do not want to do nature study on a silverfish.) I plan to use one book of Greek myths, but then pick up something I like even better at a library sale and cross out the first one. I decide to order an audio book of Robinson Crusoe, because it's probably the hardest book we’ll be doing this year. An online friend has written her own geography e-text, so I decide to use that for both of our elementary-aged students. I also plan for each of them to make a scrapbook about Canada.

Interlude: I re-read some of my favourite Charlotte Mason chapters and Parents' Review articles and underline key points about why we do what we do. Call it inspiration.

7. I write down the plans in a binder, print out ideas for memory work, favourite songs, and a few other Internet printouts. I divide them up into terms, then roughly by weeks. I collect the books, find CDs, save cardboard and pop bottles for science experiments. We’re ready to begin again.

And did you remember the point of all this? Does this sound like homeschoolers are competent to make curriculum choices, to find resources, to teach lessons, to modify and supplement when needed, to set goals and evaluate progress?

I hope so.
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