A Few Thoughts on Reading Difficulties

Reading is so important to learning. Once a person can read, a whole world of information becomes available to him. For this reason, we strive to teach our kids to read when they are five or six years old. And most of the time this works. But sometimes, sometimes, the child is just not ready or has a hard time learning how to read.

I have a late reader. A couple actually. One of them started reading around her eighth birthday, and reads fairly proficiently now. She is a hands on learner and does not love reading. None the less, she reads. She reads story books, comics, and non-fiction books. Her favorite ones are craft books.

My second late reader is ten now and is a beginning reader still. Some days I get discouraged. I mean, reading at eight is one thing. But ten? Yikes, I’m feeling it! Alas, there is hope.

Don’t give up. Learning to read takes time. Be patient.

Take a break. Sometimes the child is just not ready.

Try different approaches. Different learning styles may require other ways to get to the end goal. My first two kids read books of any kind after only minimal and very informal phonics instruction. My third child required rereading a short text many times to memorize those words and then started reading chapter books of movies she liked so that she would already know what she was reading about. And my last child needs phonics readers that are organized and slowly growing in difficulty.

Make it fun. Make reading a time to look forward to. Sometimes this means I read to her more than she reads to me. It also means letting her choose the books. She needs the phonics readers, but they are not interesting. We use those for instruction, but we make sure to read more books of interest. It is important that she has a good opinion of the act of reading.

Look for progress. The skill of reading is not just A and Z. There are lots of little steps in between. Celebrate those little victories. They add up. I still see her as a beginning reader. But when I look at the little books we started with a year ago (with a new approach) compared to the books she is reading now, there has been great progress. She isn’t reading where the “average” ten year old reads, but she has made a year of progress.

Notice other successes. Reading is important, but it is not everything. Find out what the child is good at. Is she a good builder? Athletic? A story teller? A cook? Knowledgeable about science? A good friend? Make sure that you value those things about her. Build her up. Encourage her in what she is naturally good at. I guarantee she already knows where she stands in reading when it is difficult for her. She knows other kids are ahead of her. Work on those reading skills, but don’t forget to focus on all of the good things too!

On Finishing

For twelve years now, we have homeschooled. Most of it has been delight directed because I believe with all that I am that God created each of us with certain aptitudes and passions to be used for His glory. My oldest girl is one year away from graduating from this journey and moving onto the next phase. Of course it is not one day this and the next day that. It’s really a gradual process that has been happening for a while now. Several years ago, it was on my heart that I wanted her senior year to be a year of independent study. A year when she could dig deeply into her passions. That dream of mine slowly led me to more and more relaxed schooling with her and essentially allowing much of her junior and senior years to be independent study. It has been scary on one hand, but thrilling on the other.

We have talked regularly about what she wants to do with this next part of her life and then catered to what is necessary for those dreams. She could have spent the past year vegging out on Netflix or the internet, but she hasn’t. She knows she is working for her own goals. They matter to her a lot.

She spends countless hours researching types of fabric, methods for making various types of clothing, creating her own patterns, and making several dresses and costumes. She works jobs that she had to learn how to do in order to make the money she needs for her materials for those projects. She has even been able to make a few party appearances in one of her costumes.

She is taking several dance classes and works at home on her own to improve her skills. She is interning at her studio for some younger student classes and learning much about relating to the kids, keeping a balance between business and fun times, being consistently responsible in a job setting. Life skills.

She watches classical ballets. She draws using online tutorials. She takes photographs of nature all the time. She goes online to learn about color and shape and other art concepts. She reads a couple of large books a week. She writes fiction when she gets good ideas. She keeps a little blog. She watches documentaries about life in different parts of the world. She tinkers with foreign languages on the DuoLingo app. She studies math on Khan Academy in preparation for the ACT. She sings and plays guitar. She listens to lots of music. She looks up anatomy pictures and descriptions to understand her sore muscles and other ailments. She watches movies and analyzes every little part of them. She shops for groceries and babysits her sisters for me. She reads her Bible and thinks about the big questions in life. She helps her friends.

What will next year look like? A lot of the same with more independence. She will start driving herself places and will get a part time job. She has a few subjects of school work to finish. Most are of her own choosing. She doesn’t quite know what she will do with her life. Not many of us do at 17. But she is following her passions, gradually learning to be a young woman with good character and life skills.

There are two ways to measure high school success in this world in which we live. One is with a neatly organized transcript recording all of the courses she has taken, and the other is with a student who loves life, lives fully, and has worked me out of a job. As we approach our final year and the finish line is in sight, this is where I stand. Her transcript is partly normal and partly unique. It is full, but more full with her aptitudes than with extra math and science courses. She has scored well on her practice ACT, and we believe she will do the same on the real one next month. She has learned life skills that will bring her into the next stage of her life. She has passion and drive for good things.

And still, it is really scary. It has been a step of faith from the beginning to step off of the traditional route. This is where my faith has to stand strong. I’ve prayed over our methods and for God’s direction often. This has always been the heart that God has given to me, and I trust that in being obedient to His call, He will bring success. I can see the light. I am so glad I have followed my heart and my girl’s passions. She is so much more than another student. I cannot wait to see what this last year brings and where she goes from there.

Grades

As a general rule in our homeschool, I don’t issue grades. I do keep a record of what we are learning, and I write progress reports when I see big jumps in skill. I just don’t see the need to keep formal grades. The truth is that grades do two things for students.  They define whether a student is learning the information at a passing level, and they develop a ranking system among the students in a school. Neither of these apply to my kids.

Pass or fail? Well, in homeschooling, we can stay on a lesson until they get it. Or we can move on and come back if it is fitting. The point is, there is never a “fail”. There is a “not yet”. Since we are not learning with a class of students all doing the same lessons, we don’t need to keep moving forward if we are not ready.

What about rank? There is no rank when you are the only student in that grade level. Sure, rank could be used in college admissions, but where we live, only an ACT or SAT score counts when applying for college. Anyway, when I graduated from a public high school with a 3.9 GPA and ranked 11th in my class, what did that mean? Did it mean that I was super duper smart or learned a whole lot? Nope. It meant I’d learned how to work the system and do well on tests.  I’m still amazed at the stuff I am reading with my kids in middle school that I’m sure I never really learned or understood when I was in high school. So what exactly did that GPA mean long term? Right. Nothing.

So I don’t usually give grades. But I do occasionally have the kids grade themselves. On effort. I ask them how much effort the have been putting into growing in specific subject areas, and they chose a grade. We do negotiate. Sometimes I can point out where I think they are doing more than they realize, and sometimes I have to remind them of how they often don’t get around to a task or don’t really pay attention. For the most part though, they are incredibly honest. They of course give great big As in the subject areas where they are passionate and naturally work harder. They also give themselves C’s in the subjects that they know they are not giving their best. Why give these grades? The are mostly a form of self evaluation. They really enjoy talking about what the are doing well, and they don’t mind admitting areas that need work. The benefit here is that once we talk constructively, they are more motivated and focused on what they ought to be doing. Self checks are good for all of us, and even young students benefit.

These grades are not for skill level. They are not for rank. The are not for pass or fail. They are for effort, because the big picture question is Am I putting forth my very best effort each day?  If the answer to this question is yes the rest will take care of itself.  We are life learners. We have our whole lives to learn, and we each will learn at a pace that works for us.

How Unit Studies are Helping Me

This year I am using Weaver unit studies in my planning. I’m mostly using them for ideas and direction and not for the actually specific lessons. I usually like to make my own plans depending on where we as a family are at a given time, but this year, I felt like some loose direction would give me a mental break in that area. I struggled over the decision partly because I am cheap and I don’t like the idea of buying curriculum that I probably won’t use anyway, but I am ever so glad that I did. I don’t use it fully enough to justify the full cost of a new set, but definitely enough for the old used set I picked up for $60

We use natural learning here, mostly of the Charlotte Mason method. So how does a unit study fit? Loosely for sure. Charlotte Mason methods use a chronological world history basis for much of their studies, and this unit study uses a Biblical chronology and compares each Bible theme to other studies. When we studied David, a man of war, we studied the Civil War. When we studied Solomon’s wisdom, we learned about various topics in biology. When we cover the grand and glorious temple that Solomon built, we will learn about architecture, stewardship, trade, and budgeting.

While I love love love reading books with my kids, some of them don’t learn best by reading or listening, and I needed some new ideas. Unit studies have the capability of fitting a variety of learning styles, which is another reason I wanted to use this one this year. While many of the lessons are paper and pencil style, there are plenty of ideas for hands on learning as well. This current unit offers ideas like playing the game of Life, working out an actual family budget, writing checks, researching, drawing and building different styles of architecture. Of course these are my starting ideas. From them, I can add videos, living books, poetry, art, narrations, writing opportunities, etc. I’m not sure yet where the unit will take us. I only have a list of topics to cover, some starting ideas (take what you need, leave the rest), and the interests of my kids to guide where we will go. Delight directed, Charlotte Mason inspired, unit studies all in one   : )

I’m not married to my curriculum. I use what I need. We take weeks off of it to pursue our own delights, and when we need to get back to a structured track, we go back to the next unit in the book. Amazingly, it always seems to fit right when we need it. I just started planning our current unit that we will start near the end of this week.  I was undecided on which of the many topics to jump into first, and today my husband’s job hours took a cut. That’s going to make a notable change in our income, but we are prepared for it. As a bonus, since it will affect us all, I can use this as an opportunity to teach my kids stewardship and budgeting in a real life situation. That’s real learning. That’s God’s perfect timing for this given unit. That’s another confirmation that I am doing what I need to be doing school wise this year.

What Exactly Is Delight Directed Learning?

So what exactly is delight directed learning? I’m sure it looks different in each of its applications, but a good definition helps to make sure that we are on target.

In its simplest form, It is learning about that which is interesting to you. Does this mean you (the student) are doing whatever you want to do all day? No. There is still a discipline to it. After all, it is called delight directed learning. There should be forward progress toward a new skill or further knowledge attained from a topic of research most days.

Are there days when just resting is sufficient? Occasionally, Yes. Think about this. As an adult learner, I pour deeply into my topic of interest for several days or weeks. When I surface I am usually mentally exhausted, and a day or two of brain break is in order. Some people call this the weekend. I don’t because our delights don’t often care what day it is. My children and I follow said delights when we find them on a Monday just as equally as a Saturday. When we have had enough and need to come up for air, we take a day or more off. Are these lost or wasted days? No.  Well, okay, sometimes they can be. But for the most part, those days are for two very good things: refreshing the mind and body and digesting the information consumed in order to create new questions, new directions, new challenges, even new delights that will move us forward in the next phase.

Are delight directed learning topics chosen exclusively by the student? Not always. I see myself as a learning guide. It is my job to encourage my kids to pursue new things, to find their passions and abilities, to draw out of them what is hidden from even themselves at the time, and to challenge themselves at a higher level than they might feel brave enough to try. I am finding though, that the older the kids get, the more self directed they are in pursuing difficult tasks and new knowledge. This is the fruit of delight directed learning.

Is delight directed learning a hands off approach to homeschooling? Not even close. In fact, I think I have my hands in their work more so this way. I spend hours a day talking to kids about the project they are working on, helping them check their math or spelling before completing a project, showing them how to look up information, watching them demonstrate what they have learned or created. I’m learning along side them this way. I’m learning about writing and dancing, sewing and music, mythology and physics. It is a family affair.

Does delight directed learning include learning reading, writing, and math? I can only answer that for my family. I do require language lessons until each child can read and write well. These are most important skills in becoming a self educator. I also require math in seasons for the older children where we plow through several chapters over a period of six weeks, and a few times a week consistently for my youngest.  We also have six week sessions as a family where we focus on an area of history or science. There are lots of ways to coordinate the necessary skills with delight directed learning. This is just how we do ours.  🙂

Finding Delight When Days Don’t Go As Planned

Planning our days is important, but sometimes things happen that mess up our plans. Someone gets sick. You have a long weekend and you are all exhausted. You are burned out and need a break. The house is out of control and you just need to clean up before you can focus. These are all real reasons for our days getting off track.

Days that don’t go as planned are not wasted days. I want to talk about some ways to resurrect those days and also about some good things that may be happening in those times that you may not recognize. My hope is that you would not be totally discouraged on these days, and that you would find joy and progress even without your pre-planned lessons.

Ideas to resurrect your day:

  • Write and post a list on a chalkboard or paper with several activity options. Have each child choose activities and then report at the end of the day. Sometimes I just watch, but most of the time I have them record what they do for me. I like to list things like board games, building or art projects, music practice, sewing, gardening,  reading books, make-believe games, puzzles, documentaries, nature studies, and exercise. I do not allow video games and television unless they can justify to me what educational benefit there is to that activity (And they have gotten very good at finding value in activities that they enjoy). But I do allow slow and enjoyably paced activities as these are typically days needed to refresh.
  • Take a field trip. Sometimes we just need to get out of the house for matters that are not business. We like to go to the pet store to look at all of the animals, McDonald’s to eat and visit with each other without all of the distractions of home, the library for fun books and movies (not the ones I pick for school).
  • Read quality books and watch movies together. I always have a book or two that we are working through, and on a tired day, we very much enjoy listening to read alouds. We also keep a list of good movies in our Netflix queue to watch together. These are good for days when I need to clean or get some other work done or when we are all completely toast.
  • Go outside for some fresh air and a break from the constant bombardment of technology.

There is definitely value in these days.  In fact, these are often my favorite days. It is in these days that I see my kids’ delights come out the clearest. I make mental notes and encourage them to keep pursuing those things. It is also in these days that sweet conversations between two siblings or between parent and child take place. The relaxed pace allows time to listen to each other and for me to learn more about their heart needs. Better relationships make for better teaching opportunities, and I’m learning that especially in the teen years, relationships take much work!

Occasionally these days are completely child led, and when that happens, I am free to work on a project of my own. As a life learner myself, I need this time to pursue things that I delight in.  In addition to delight driven projects, I will take time to evaluate what we are doing in our formal school time and decide what is and is not working. This, too, is a valuable use of my time.

Sometimes you start lessons and quickly realize that they are going nowhere fast, and other days you decide the night before that you just need a day. I did that today. I knew last night that I might call today a rest day. Once I got up and assessed the situation, I decided it was a wise decision. We cleaned all morning and played games afterward. We are refreshed and ready for tomorrow, and it was not at all a wasted day.

Teaching my Passions

This morning I was thinking about the fact that I don’t really like to teach… Unless it is a subject area that I love.

Like math. Oh, I love math, and it delights my soul on the days we do math. Spending 2+ hours in a row teaching new math concepts to individual kids? Yes please.

Tumbling and gymnastics? Again, Yes please. I love sharing my passion for gymnastics with kids and could do it all day every day.

But social studies and science? Blah. I do my best to facilitate these lessons instead of teaching them. I’m not passionate about them, so I find resources that can meet that need. People we know, living books, videos, articles, ideas to consider, and permission to pursue experiments and the like.

Why do I say this? It’s because I was reminded that Charlotte Mason’s ideal books were living books that were interesting, conversational, and written by an author that was passionate about that subject area. Putting in our children’s hands the passionate voice of a subject ought to make it come to life (at least some). If it is your passion, run with it. Teach and share your passion. It is often contagious. If it is not your passion, find someone or some resource to help. To watch my older kids develop their own passions and share them with those around them…

Oh sweet success. A life of learning and sharing that came from living books and living ideas around them. Teach and facilitate. Share your passions today. Look for your kids passions. Love learning.

2014-2015 Plans for Andrew, Emily, and Lily

Here we are again at the beginning of a school year. We are all the time learning through so many different experiences. For the sake of making a formal list, here is a peek into what we expect to be doing this year.

While we don’t focus on grade levels in our schooling, Andrew is approximately at 8th grade, Emily is at 6th, and Lily is at 3rd.

Bible— Daily reading through the Old Testament following Weaver Volume 4 plans

Science and Social Studies— Weaver Unit Studies Volume 4 and corresponding library books, nature studies, hands on projects, Netflix documentaries, and opportunities to learn through everyday experiences

Reading— Library books of their choosing, Phonics Plus Five reading lessons for Lily
Writing— Weekly free writes, cursive handwriting practice, daily writing opportunities

Math— Zeta math and possibly some of Algebra 1 for Andrew

Epsilon math for Emily

Spectrum 3 math for Lily with plenty hands on practice

In addition to these academics, each child will participate in at least one 6 week co-op session.

Delight directed studies will include:

Andrew will participate in boy scouts, play strategy games, and pursue his own passions.

Emily will pursue saxophone and piano, tumbling, tap and ballet, art, and any other passions that she discovers.

Lily will learn much through play and hands on activities.

2 Timothy 1:7

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

Let’s break this down in how it fits a lifestyle of homeschooling.

Fear. That’s where I’ve lately been residing. Driven by fear like a dear in headlights. Afraid to move forward. Afraid to try. What if the kids don’t listen? What if they don’t respond? What if they think my hard planned lessons are stupid? What if they still don’t learn it? What if I’m failing them? What if other moms think I’m too relaxed and not teaching enough? What if I don’t fit in to the group?

Timidity. Yep. That too. Blinded by fear and unwilling to step up and share what I know What if my words are all jumbled when I speak? What if I’m doing this all wrong? Blinded by fear and unwilling to step up and share what I know.

This is not what God wants. For God has not given me a spirit of fear and timidity.
Instead, power, love, and self control.

Power. God empowers me to do what he called me to.

Love. God’s love shows in my actions when I keep my eyes on Him. This love should drive my interactions with my children and other moms.

Self control. It is a fruit of the spirit that enables me to be about the business that God has set before me. That business is primarily raising, educating, mentoring, and loving my children. It is also to mentor younger moms who are now walking the path I’ve walked for the past 11 years.

This is where I need to live daily. I’ll admit I struggle with it. I’m so incredibly glad God’s mercies are new every morning. So today, I get up and try again.

I encourage you to do the same.

Natural Learning Happens

Last week I was in need of a break from formal lessons.

“Do you think I could watch a movie with the kids and find a way to call it school?” I jokingly asked my husband.

He’s a bit more relaxed than I am. I have more focus than he does. We balance each other in our ideas. I was tired. Kids were tired. I don’t like to take days off, but I do like to have delight directed days – with purpose and and a list of accomplishments included because I need to see it. 

So I asked again. “Do you think I could watch a movie with them?”

“Sure.”

“But I need a reason. What could we watch and what could I teach from it?” Translate this as traditional school teacher trying to ooze out.

“Because it’s fun. That is a reason. Your job is to make our home a pleasant place to be. The learning happens naturally,” he says.

God must have opened my eyes here, because I normally would have been a bit uptight about just having fun without a “worthy” cause. I’m not good at just having fun. It is something I need to work on 😉  Okay, that was punny.

Being the planner that I am, I had to do something. So I planned a week without formal lessons. I kept a notebook in my room and wrote down all the things the kids did. I spent the time doing things with them, listening more, reading books that they wanted to hear, investing in their interests. I hadn’t told them of my plan. Sometimes on weeks like this I tell them, and they’ll choose some activities that will satisfy my requirements, but this week I wanted to see them naturally. Near the end, E came to me and asked why I wasn’t doing school with them this week. She was concerned that she would be behind. (Yes, I still struggle with this pressure off and on, and unfortunately pass it on to my kids.) I answered her with a list of all of the things they’d done all week on their own: spelling puzzles, phonics games, great stories, science activities, dancing, Scouts, baking, and so on. We talked that night over dinner about the concept of getting out of learning what one puts into it.

This weekend, B, L, and A brought me lists of projects and to do’s of their own choices. So we will be starting off the week with their projects again. We will see where they bring us, and for as long as they are motivated to keep learning, I won’t take over. This is life learning.

I’m focusing on making our home pleasant, respecting each person as a person with unique interests and abilities, and gently guiding them where necessary. The learning is happening naturally.

I’m reminding myself of this quote from Charlotte Mason:

“The question is not, — how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education — but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?”

Keep Going

Today is one of those days that I am ever so thankful that I have kept writing this blog even though I’ve wanted to quit and delete many times over the years.  It is, to me, a treasure box of reminders of where we have been and how far we have come. And on days like this, I need to be reminded that what we are doing is indeed enough. I need to remember that I have seen the process of relaxed, delight directed learning produce kids that are smart, educated, and the closer they get to the end of our home journey, able to handle the real world out there.  It is days like this that I want to scrub everything we are doing and accept it all as failure. But I won’t. I only need to look here at the accounts I’ve recorded and be reminded again that even though it feels today like we are not making the progress I want to make, the long run a whole different story.

Today, I’m discouraged when L is not reading yet. When I look back and the long road we’ve been on, I see 3 other kids that were once in the same boat and did indeed learn to read. I’m discouraged that she doesn’t have the attention span to sit for even an hour of lessons of any kind. I don’t remember the others being so distracted, but there’s proof here in the blog that they were.

Today I’m discouraged that, as a whole, nobody wants to progress right now. Everybody’s content to stay right were they are. I’m stressing over this, because it just isn’t how I think. But as I look back, I am reminded of all of the things they’ve learned. They haven’t been stagnant all their lives. They are progressing, even when I don’t see it.

Today I’m discouraged that they didn’t want to sit down for lessons and I got upset with them. I’m disappointed with myself for forgetting that they often learn best with hands on lessons and activity. I’m sorry that today was not a good day, but I am reminded that there have been many more good days than bad.

Today I’m thankful for this blog. It often seems like a jumble of words, but on days like this it is a reminder that better days will come, that we are indeed making the necessary progress, that while what we are doing needs tweaking from time to time, it is working. I must press on.

List Maker

There are days when I wonder why we can’t get to all that we need to do. This could be a two fold problem: My expectations  and my view of what is effectively accomplishing our goals.

I am a product of the school system and lots of after school sports. All I remember is schooling all day and sports and homework till bedtime. I have to be reminded often that we homeschool our kids partly so that they don’t have to do that. I don’t have to keep their schedules busy from waking to bed every day. Down time is good. More than that. It is necessary. I’m still working on grasping this fully. My husband is a gem in reminding me to stay the course that we know is best without giving in to those stresses that I fall into every so often.

I know deep within me that learning happens in many ways and at many speeds. I still get nervous from time to time and want to throw some workbooks on the table for the kids to complete.  I want to have them mark off all of the boxes of a long checklist. But that’s not really how my kids learn best. If I were honest, that isn’t how I learn best either. If only there were not so much security in those little check marks.

So what is a girl in this struggle to do? Make a list, of course! Did I mention I love lists? I made a list of all of the extra curricular lessons that my kids were doing and all of the self directed activities that they were spending time digging into each day. That way I could see what they were learning and what I still wanted to supplement with so called formal school lessons. I was pretty surprised by how much they were already doing.  Here is a sample of the lists:

B-  She is taking ballet, jazz, and contemporary dance lessons, assisting in teaching a toddler dance class, taking a theater production class, studying make up and various cosmetology topics, watching professional ballets online, reading lots of books, watching historical movies and documentaries, writing stories, visiting the library often for new resources to study on her own, practicing life skills like cooking, babysitting, grocery shopping, etc, participating in youth group activities at church and singing and playing guitar for the Sunday morning worship time at church. She dreams of being a librarian one day.

A-  He is taking a hip hop dance class, participating in a Boy Scout troup, attending youth group at church, dreaming up new ideas and building models with any tools he can get his hands on, learning household skills and how to take care of himself, playing chess and other strategy games, figuring out statistics and physics in his play time, watching science documentaries, and reading library books on a variety of topics. He dreams of being an engineer.

E-  She has chosen to take the year off of formal lessons of any kind, but while she is at home, she is teaching herself piano, painting  pictures, experiencing history through movies and novels, learning to love reading, playing school with her dolls, copying her favorite parts of books for saving, reading ingredients in everything she eats to check for gluten content, attending and doing memory work for her Sunday school class, discovering great things in nature, and training her mice. She  is physically very talented, but loves art and animals more than anything.

L-  She is young still, and approaches life much like a super bounce ball in an enclosed room. She is full of life and spends her time seeing where she can join the older kids. She watches science shows and memorizes information from them, She plays video games with her brother and figures out the stats and strategies and sportsmanship needed  for them. She colors pictures, tells stories for me to write down, and writes tidbits for herself, She helps me cook, plays lots of make believe, spends time outside, attends ballet, tap, and jazz dance class, attends Sunday school, takes care of her fish, enjoys read alouds with the family, and watches historical television programs with her sisters. Her favorite activity right now is probably cooking.

Yes,. A list! And better than that, a list of success! Look at all that they are doing before we do formal lessons! I’m not quite content to leave it right there, so I do require some math lessons and writing practice for each of them along with daily read alouds that I choose, and on occasion add a focus lesson  for a few weeks. This way, the kids pretty much decide what they will learn, and I can add in what I feel they need. Instead of making lessons first and extracurricular second, I have reversed it. It works because they kids are learning so much and so fast when they are interested in the lessons. All that I have to do is guide them toward the next steps and let them dig in. When they need resources, I help them find what they need.

When I look over this list along with the growth I see in each of them, I’m convinced that we are doing enough. It just looks different. And that is not a bad thing.

Outside of Books

I’m thinking today about what learning looks like outside of the books. Of course, I love books, but there is much to be explored hands on as well. In this blog, I’ll track through some of today and the educational opportunities that I saw.

For breakfast, we are typically cereal eaters, but we were out of the kids’ preferred cereals and decided it was a good day for bacon and waffles. We were out of mix. Opportunity number one. Two kids got together to make batter from scratch. They measured ingredients, followed directions, and helped cook the waffles. We talked about the job of baking powder.

Another child was busy playing with her mice. We talked about their toes and sleep habits. This seems to be an unending topic lately.

Next we went to the library. I’m not cheating. I know the library is full of books. But the books we bring home are of the kids’ choices. We leave full of new treasures some of which will be explored on the way home.

It is our tradition to stop at McDonald’s after the library. We ordered some lunch and ice cream. After the order was complete, we were informed that the ice cream machine was being washed and we would have to change our order. We made the quick changes, and then my son figured out how much more the bill was with the changes. We also discussed calories and fat and why the smaller fries were a better choice (Not like we needed fries in the first place…)

After our trip, we got a few chores done, and my son got to building robots with his Knex. He got a robot book from the library and had some new ideas. Then the younger kids got to building swords and shields with Knex, gathering spy gear, and playing a long game of make believe. My oldest and I got together in the kitchen to fry some eggplant and dream up delicious ways to eat it. It turns out that it is quite good over mashed potatoes! Cooking with kids always gives opportunities to talk about what’s going on in their hearts while we work.

We cooked dinner, ate, and rushed the older two to practice for a play that they are preparing for. The little girls went outside in the cold air with a chair and blanket to watch the moon. It was a pretty full moon, and they wanted to get out the telescope. I was too cold to oblige, but another day we will  🙂

I’m not saying we learned deep things today, but we did learn. I’m looking forward to tonight when the great books and movies that we got from the library will be opened and dug into. I’ll save that for another post.

Traditions and Schooling

We’re going to the library in a bit. We shoot to go anywhere we have to go at 10:00am. The reason is sort of funny. When the kids were younger and we needed to go somewhere, I would schedule the outing between morning and afternoon naps. Then I discovered that I loved listening to the Family Life Today radio program that came on at 10am, and the tradition was set.  We still try to go places at 10am. As far as the kids know, it’s so that they can take their mornings slowly. For me, it’s so that I can sit down and listen to the radio program while I drive. I don’t often  listen to that program now. I still like it, but I’m busy chatting with the kids on the drive. Yet, we still leave at 10am. That seems to be how a lot of traditions are set.

And for me, traditions become expectations. And those expectations that have lost their purpose or have come about for silly reasons can become burdens. Today, I choose to question traditions. The ones that have purpose will stay. They benefit me, give me structure, help me remember important things.
Those traditions that don’t really matter, though? I’ve chosen to let them go. I want room to make new traditions, but more than that, to live in the moment, to stop rushing so much and allow time to laugh with my family. I have goals still, and of course I will move toward them. I will not, however, let unnecessary expectations control my days.

As we get back to school next week, I want our goals to be realistic and fitting to where we are. I don’t care where most seventh graders (pick your grade here) are academically. That is tradition. For example, my seventh grader is probably behind in some areas but ahead in others. He is right where he needs to be. Our goals will be for progress toward the ultimate goal.

“Life Academy exists to promote a life long love for learning, a complete education in the basics, and an atmosphere in which deeper passions may be explored in the ways each child learns best.”

And with that mission in mind, here are some plans for where we will be going over the next few months.

B: Work toward finishing Geometry book. ACT practice test will be in a few months, and this is an area that she needs to improve. Continue working through the One Year Adventure Novel course, Read more books. Explore basic US government concepts and compare and contrast them with the types of government in the books she is reading. Practice writing non fiction essays. Continue dance classes, Theater production class, youth group activities, guitar, violin, life skills health classes. Watch movies set in historical settings. Look into career choices and what is needed for those of interest.

A: Continue Math U See Epsilon once or twice a week. Build with Erector set, Knex, Lego’s. Watch videos of such built structures to learn science behind them. Email friends and family daily. Practice Typing with copywork a few times a week. Writing is very difficult for him. I’m assuming typing will allow him to bypass the handwriting and focus on the spelling and punctuation. Read orally to slow down enough to practice spelling. Participate in Boy Scouts, dance class, youth activities, life skills health class, Practice sportsmanship by playing games. Read a chapter a week of Child’s History of the World.

E: Move back to the fourth grade School Zone math workbook for review work. She needs more time for the abstract thinking to kick in before moving forward in math. Read Orally to improve reading and spelling ability. Practice Mavis Beacon Typing practice. Set up an email account to email grandparents. Listen to a chapter of Child’s History each week. Continue learning about nutrition and gluten free eating. Care for and learn about her new pet mice. Create a nature notebook. She loves all things nature, but this will be written and drawn. Put together a Bible notebook from her weekly Sunday School papers. This was her idea, and I love it.

L: Read library books. She likes to be read to, but her opinion of reading for herself is not so great. Improving her attitude in this is the biggest goal I have for her right now. Practice handwriting and math in workbooks and in playing. Listen to books that we read as a family. Spend time outside or with toys playing. Continue in dance class. Cook with Mom. Practice life skills.

Holiday Break Update

November and December are so full of birthdays, holidays, special occasions, and extra curricular activities, that we have scheduled a two month break in our normal schooling. We are halfway through. I call it a break because we’re breaking from the normal math, writing, etc, but you know that learning is always happening. Right?

I have one “academic” goal for these two months. I want to read with the kids three novels: The Giver, Tuck Everlasting, and Doctor Dolittle. We are working through them at the same time to allow for different areas of interest to be enjoyed. The Giver seems to be the favorite for the olders and Doctor Dolittle for the youngers.

Is this enough to be doing for two entire months? Yes. It’s enough because we aren’t just reading the books. We are savoring them. And we are discussing the ideas we read about as we go about our days. It’s like a crash course in good literature and the introduction of new ideas to discover and build upon. Why not enjoy books all year instead? Well, we do. We read a lot. But I wanted to give special time to The Giver since it is such an intriguing story, and while we were busy with the holidays, I thought it the perfect time to read it along with a couple others.

Of course we are doing more than just reading together. That only takes an hour or so a day.  We’re also doing a lot of shopping and wrapping, baking cookies and learning new eating habits, (since we’ve found that at least two of us benefit from a gluten free diet). We are playing. A lot. And the ideas we’ve read about or talk about or that they’ve seen on TV shows get played out. It’s great fun watching my comedians kids act out these crazy ideas. It also gives me insight into what they know and where to go from there. I bought each kid a new calendar, and we are working on related skills from memorizing the months to scheduling one’s days. There’s also library trips, visiting people, church activities, theater, dance classes, music practices, Boy Scouts, playing school, emailing friends and family, and even learning to read. Yes. My kids tend to learn big things like reading when we take time off of school. They’re special like that. 😉  Not really. It’s just another proof that learning is happening all the time, and for my family, it happens best when there’s no pressure. That’s one reason I love these breaks and take at least two a year.

I planned this season to be one of really enjoying the holidays. We’re doing that, and we are still learning through life and through sharing of ideas.  I imagine unschooling looks something like this. I dont consider us to be unschoolers in the purest sense because we don’t follow this pattern year round, but during these breaks I suppose we could be. We still have a few more weeks before we pick back up with our regular work. I wonder where these weeks will take us? What adventures and new lessons will we encounter? Who will surprise me with some new skill or understanding? I’m looking forward to good things. Oh this journey called education…