Wednesday, October 28, 2015

homeschooling update

I thought I would give a little update now that we are about eight weeks into our homeschooling experience. All in all, I would say it's been a very smooth transition for both of us. Elizabeth largely keeps to herself while she's working, which allows me to get my own work done around the house and kitchen.

The way that've we chosen to set our schoolwork schedule for the week is a list organized by subject. She mostly picks and chooses what she wants to work on at any given time, although she's getting good at spreading out things like math, that are more effective when studied daily. We've tried to spread out extracurricular activities so she's only really home all day on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

On Mondays, she's been taking a metal working class our local art school. On Wednesdays, she volunteers at her old elementary school and has violin lessons. And most Fridays she visits some of her middle school friends at their high schools for lunch. She still misses being around her friends on a regular basis, but she enjoys the schoolwork that she's doing. Most weeks she's done with her work by Thursday afternoon, which leaves Fridays to take field trips or watch movies relating to her studies. She has more time for personal reading, she's been teaching herself to play various songs on the keyboard, and she has more time to spend on painting.

The photos above are from our excursion to the Reynolda House Museum of Art last Friday. Their new exhibit, The Artist's Garden, was a wonderful treat, full of American Impressionist paintings. After we had our fill of the museum, we wandered the gardens. Well, I wandered; Elizabeth mostly read. And somewhere in there she talked me into an Art-o-mat purchase of "modern cave art".

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

autumn hiking

I think I forgot that I was back to blogging. Oops! It's been a month since I was in this space, and it just occurred to me yesterday, "hey, we're doing stuff around here, and I've not thought once to blog about it!" Mostly, we're taking advantage of the gorgeous fall weather and getting outside. Two weekends ago, Paul's aunt and uncle came down from NY for a visit, and we spent Sunday afternoon hiking at Hanging Rock State Park, which is only about 45 minutes from our house. The day was practically perfect in every way, and exactly what we needed after nearly 2 weeks of rain.

This past weekend was much cooler than the weekend before, but we braved the freezing temperatures and met friends at Crowders Mountain State Park. Crowders Mountain is about a 2 hour drive from our house, but between us and our friends' house. A great day trip for both of us. We chose the shortest trails since we had little ones in tow. They were troopers and hung in there for both of the short trails near the lake. We also played by the lake, skipping rocks and muddying sneakers, and picnicked near the lake, even cooking hot chocolate on the little camp stove. The best way to spend such a lovely autumn day!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Giving back

I've mentioned on many occasions the fantastic experiences Elizabeth enjoyed at the arts-based charter school that she attended from kindergarten through 8th grade. She still holds a great deal of fondness for that place and appreciation for her time there. Back in the summer, when I mentioned that she should find somewhere in the community to volunteer once she started homeschooling, her thoughts naturally turned to her beloved school. After considering the opportunities there, she asked her former 2nd grade teacher if she could assist in reading time once a week. 

Now, every Wednesday afternoon, while I otherwise engage myself, often photographing for the school yearbook,  Elizabeth returns to her old classroom and listens to burgeoning 2nd grade readers. They get to know a "big kid" who encourages their developing skills, and my teenager learns to slow down and listen to and care for younger students. When people ask what we're doing for "socialization", the age-old homeschooling concern, this is one of the activities I list. Socialization isn't limited to same-age interaction. (In fact, an argument can be made that socialization with only same-age individuals isn't generally the most positive socialization.) This year has been about stepping outside of our comfort zone and embracing new experiences. And although she won't get a high school credit for this, she will become a more well-rounded individual, which is ultimately the goal of high school, right?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

a National Park obsession

Over the last couple of weeks, Finn's 3rd grade class studied various parks that are part of the National Park Service. What a timely study since we were already planning to spend the weekend in between in Shenandoah National Park! Shenandoah wasn't the particular park that Finn studied and made a poster advertising, but he was thrilled nonetheless. (He actually studied Colonial National Historic Park, a mere 4 hour drive from us. We might have something up our sleeve concerning that park.) As part of their studies, Finn's teacher brought in her National Park Passport to show the students and then the students made their own passport books to stamp as they heard about each classmate's national park. Of course, when we visited Shenandoah, Finn needed to acquire an "official" National Park Passport, complete with requisite stamp. As he devour each page and map, he made a plan to visit every park in our state and surrounding states in the coming months. I'm not sure that we'll be able to follow his plan quite to the letter, but since one of the national military parks is right down the road from us, we spent a few hours touring it this past Sunday afternoon. Finn has actually visited Guilford Courthouse National Military Park (locally known as Battleground Park) many, many times in the past. It's a common walking area, and we often stumble upon reenactments here. Needless to say, he saw this familiar park with fresh eyes and his passport book in hand. We'll be visiting other parks as we can, including a few that were already on our travel docket before this providential class study. I'm looking forward to see how many we are able to explore! I'll tag them as National Park Service as I share them here. What are your favorite National Parks, Military sights, or National Monuments that we should add to our list?

Sunday, September 13, 2015


{Robert Beatty, author of Serafina and the Black Cloak}

This past weekend, the Bookmarks Festival of Books and Authors arrived downtown. The weather appeared threatening, but ultimately held off for the day. Paul, Finn, and I went down there for a few hours to buy a few books, participate in some children's activities, support Finn's teacher (who illustrated a book that was in one of the exhibition tents), and listen to a couple of author lectures. I was able to get a few books as Christmas presents, and Finn had a fantastic time visiting the children's activities and winning a free book. He was also thrilled to see his teacher, buy the book she illustrated, and have it signed by both her and the author. What a great connection for him to have as a kid. We are so fortunate to live in an area that hosts such an amazing event each year!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Shenandoah in September

We spent Labor Day weekend up in Shenandoah National Park seeking relief from the heat and connection with the mountains before the intensity of the school year sets in. As we suspected, Shenandoah was just what we needed. Big Meadows Campground is one of my favorite places to camp, and despite the Labor Day crowds, we had a marvelous time. We scrambled over the rocks at Bearfence Mountain, wandered through the Big Meadow, lounged around camp, watched the sunset from Blackrock, communed with dozens of friendly deer, and generally had a marvelous weekend. As we did last time, we camped with Cindy of Zach Aboard and her sweet family. I'm always grateful for other sweet kids who enjoy our kids so much. Every time we see them, our kids immediately fall back into their easy way of being together. The time of course went too quickly, as it ever does in Shenandoah; we clearly need to find a way to visit more frequently.

On a side note, I've started dabbling in video. The video of our weekend in Shenandoah can be found here: 

Friday, August 28, 2015

movie and mittens

One of my homeschooling goals is that Elizabeth finish her work in roughly 4 days each week which will enable us to reserve one day per week for field trips or other enrichment. In our first week of homeschooling, Elizabeth finished her week’s work by noon on Thursday. When I asked about her thoughts for Friday, she responded that she’d like to watch Boy in the Striped Pajamas since she’d recently finished the book.

When I read Boy in the Striped Pajamas over the summer, I wasn’t overly impressed. The notion that a boy in the midst of Hitler youth would be that na├»ve and innocent in his surroundings didn’t ring true for me. In addition, the use of Out-With (a combination of English words) as a pronunciation substitution for Auchwitz (a German name) drove me to distraction. I finished the book, gave it 2 stars on Goodreads, placed my copy in the Little Free Library outside, then moved on to greener pastures. I don’t think I even mentioned it to my kids.

Elizabeth discovered it in the LFL, and I found her reading it one afternoon. She seemed engrossed so I didn’t share my opinion. Of course, she became enraptured with it, finished it, and placed it on her “permanent collection” bookshelf. She wasn’t thrilled with the vagueness of the ending, but she found the child’s perspective of the Holocaust intriguing. She also recognized Bruno’s natural love and friendship toward others, regardless of heritage, as endearing. I think despite her fondness for Bruno, she appreciated the karmic payback received by his father.

Isn’t it fascinating how an adult reader and a child reader can see such different sides of the same book?

As for the movie, I found it more tolerable, without the insufferable “Out-With” references, and the mother’s and grandmother’s disapproval translating into Bruno’s naivety seemed more believable. Rarely do I appreciate a movie more than a book, but this was one of those cases.

As for the mittens, they don’t particularly tie into this post except that I finished them while we watched Boy in the Striped Pajamas today. I’m more than ready for cooler weather to allow me to test them. The pattern is Detour Mittens, available for free on Ravelry. I knit them in City Tweed, Tahitian Pearl. At first I wasn’t sure about the pointy tips on the mittens, but the elvish look has rather grown on me. I might be in love with these tweedy mitts!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

a new year

A new school year is upon us. Paulie, Philip, and Finn are back in their respective high, middle, and elementary schools in 10th, 7th, and 3rd grades this year. School is now underway, and we are settling into familiar routines. Except Elizabeth. She's feeling her way through a new routine this year as she homeschools for 9th grade.

The feedback when you decide to homeschool a highschooler is interesting. "Really?! Why?!" "What about math?" "Won't she miss the socialization?" Ok, maybe those responses aren't so different as when you announce that you intend to homeschool at other ages, but the underlying question that many seem to hedge is, "aren't you afraid of spending THAT much time with your teen?" The basic answer to all of those questions is this: I not only love her because she's my daughter; I like her too. She's witty, curious, and engaging. She's had a great educational foundation and enjoys learning. She's a motivated kid who likes to check things off lists, which means no nagging from me. She already has deep connections to many friends. She will volunteer, take art classes, take violin lessons, and find other ways to "socialize" if we find that lacking over the year. As for math...thank goodness for Sal Khan.

Since the ever-burning question from other homeschooling parents is generally curriculum related, I'll post a list of our resources below:

English: I'm making my own literature curriculum supplementing with resources online. We started with Tom SawyerBrave Writer will stand in the gap for writing.
Math II: Khan Academy (following the basic Common Core Integrated Math II)
Earth Science: CK12 Earth Science for High School, supplementing with YouTube, online activities, and projects
PE: 4-6 week units as Elizabeth chooses, right now she's doing yoga and stretches
Art: assignments that tie into her other classes as well as classes through our local art school

A few other things worth noting, I'm trying to keep a week or two ahead on planning, which will allow me to adjust as needed. Teachers Pay Teachers has fantastic resources, some free, for nearly every subject. I've already downloaded many of their resources to tie into other curricula we're using. YouTube is your friend. There are videos on EVERYTHING out there! Netflix too. I'm sure as we continue I'll find things that work better and not as well. I'll try to keep you posted as we go along!