Monday, February 19, 2018

Hello & Goodbye

Hello, Family and Friends!

I know it's been awhile, but words have been hard lately.

You see, we are saying Goodbye to our home and relocating to a new state.

Sometimes home is less about the place where you are living, and more about the people who are close. That's why my husband and I are planning to load up our kids and belongings and relocate to the Sunshine State the first week of April.

This may seems surprising, considering that I have been pretty quiet on the blog since October. I know I mentioned that we were dealing with some family drama.

In order to explain the context, I really need to go back to August 2006 when my husband and I had just returned from a year living in Japan. We had very few possessions to our name and no children, so we felt like we could go anywhere. However, we did want to start a family and maybe even own a home at some point, so we kept those things in mind when we were choosing where to live. We settled on moving to Pennsylvania to be near my mother in law .

We have been in Pennsylvania for more than 11 years now. My husband has been working for the same company all this time, and I went to graduate school here. We have had three beautiful children. We bought a home.

My mother in law was the main pillar of our support system here. Our children have always had holidays and birthdays and sleepovers at Nana's house. So when she put her house up for sale last summer and moved back to Florida, it really shook us. We have incredible friends here and a community that we know and love. But we never really intended to raise our children without some extended family close by.

We knew when we took our vacation to Florida in October that it would be a pivotal moment for us as a family. Could we see ourselves moving back after all this time? Were we willing to risk our savings to make the move? Would the kids be comfortable with family they didn't know as well?

As it turned out, the kids were extremely comfortable. We all were. For the first time in months, I felt my panic attacks lift. I wasn't exactly enthusiastic about moving, but it was too hard to come back to Pennsylvania and leave all of our extended family behind.

We started looking at the logistics of a move as soon as we came back from vacation, but pretty soon the holidays were upon us. We ended up going to Florida (again) for Christmas with my extended family, and (again) it was incredibly hard to leave.

So we contacted a realtor and gave notice at work. We reserved a modest, 16' truck and made plans to stay with my brother and his fiancee while we get situated. It's imperfect and terrifying. But it's also easier than staying where we are.

I am so grateful to all of the people who have helped and supported us here. It's hard to say Goodbye, but it's a great opportunity to say Hello to a new adventure.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Ocean Unit Study: Weeks 4&5

Things are getting a little hectic these days. Family drama. Consulting work. Home school. Doctor appointments. Swim lessons. Preparing for vacation.

Basically, I just keep swimming.

Rather than write long, detailed posts each week, I am trying to stick to much more manageable goals. Honestly, I am really happy if I can manage a photo-intensive post every other week, and that's what you are getting today. However, if you want more detail, I encourage you to (re)visit my initial post describing the plans for our Ocean Unit Study.

In Week 4, we created our very own solar still to learn about the water cycle. We also explored why water that evaporates from the ocean isn't salty anymore.

Also in Week 4, we created some mixed-media artwork. Each of the sprouts chose an ocean animal from scrap magazines. Then they painted habitats for those animals with watercolor pencils. First Sprout chose to make a coral habitat for seahorses.

In Week 5, we continued exploring coral reef habitats by making observations about coral with the microscope and magnifying glass. I found this piece of coral washed upon a Florida beach when I was in college, and it's definitely coming in handy lately!

We also made (edible) model coral polyps. The crackers represent the hard exoskeleton that eventually forms the main structure of the reef.

In Week 5, we re-created the famous Cartesian Diver experiment. The (older) sprouts caught on to the relationship between pressure, density, and buoyancy pretty quickly. Third Sprout was a little meh though.

For art in Week 5, we are back to chalk pastel tutorials. This time, Second Sprout was inspired to make a seahorse in their habitat. I love re-visiting the same subjects with different media-- it builds a lot of experience!

Those are all of the photos I have to share for now. We are planning to condense Week 6 of our Ocean Unit Study so that we can get our family vacation started a few days early and take some extra time driving to Florida. Everyone is definitely ready for a break!

Until next time,

Just Keep Swimming!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Ocean Unit Study: Weeks 2 & 3

Sometimes life throws you a curve ball-- or in our case, a hurricane.

Even though my home is much MUCH further north, I grew up in Florida and still have lots of family and friends there. It's been a little hard to focus over the past week as it became increasingly clear that all of those people were going to be affected by Hurricane Irma no matter where she eventually made landfall. At one point, there was a very distinct possibility that the eye of the storm would pass directly over my mom's house as a Category 4 or Category 5 hurricane, and I was most definitely in a panic. However, the track shifted west, and the worst weather affected other folks instead. It's hard to be thankful for the shift-- somebody else's family is struggling now-- but I am honestly, selfishly relieved.

Needless to say, my anxiety definitely affected my ability to teach last week. We still checked the perfunctory boxes, but my mind and my heart were definitely elsewhere. That's also why I couldn't bring myself to post anything on the blog-- my mental energy was sapped. Even now that the worst is over and the impact to my family and friends was relatively minimal, I am still feeling extremely drained. I want to keep everyone updated though and at least get some photos posted. If you are interested in finding out more details about Weeks 2 &3 of our Oceans Unit Study, I encourage you to re-read my post from Week 1 and/or re-visit the Oceans Unit Study Plan that I shared through Google Drive.

(I do want to note that we have had lots of conversations about hurricanes this week and how they form over the ocean. I tried to balance using the "teachable moment" with not passing my anxiety along to the sprouts. As a result, we talked about the theory of hurricanes and how important accurate predictions can be for helping people prepare.)

Otherwise, onto the pictures!

During Week 2, the sprouts asked to change our art project to rock painting. We used acrylics (and pearlizer!) to paint some cleaned garden rocks. I decided to stick with the ocean theme, but the spouts took their inspiration from elesewhere.

In Week 3, we did an experiment to see how salinity of the water affects buoyancy. The sprouts made observations and recorded their findings.

Also in Week 3, we used modeling clay to make boats. We learned about displacement, buoyancy, and density here. This one was a little messy, but it was a lot of fun. The sprouts ended up making and testing multiple hypotheses about the sea-worthiness of their clay vessels.

Here's a sample of the copywork First Sprout completed during Week 3. I took the poem from the book Water Sings Blue by Kate Coombs. I really like tying our copywork into Poetry Teatime, and the poems are a great opportunity to discuss the basics of grammar-- including parts of speech.

Since we painted rocks in Week 2, we had the choice of two chalk pastel projects for Week 3: either jellyfish or sea turtle. Clockwise from the top left are: Mama's sea turtle, First Sprout's jellyfish, Second Sprout's jellyfish, and Third Sprout's jellyfish.

I have been trying to add some fun to our writing routine, so Mondays we have been playing writing-related games to practice grammar and flex our story-telling muscles. MadLibs Junior: Under the Sea has been perfect for our theme, and everyone is getting a great review of  the parts of speech. For once, everyone is really excited to start the school week!

That's all I have for now-- photo-wise and energy-wise. Florida still has a long way to go to get cleaned up from Irma, and I know that I will continue to worry for awhile. It certainly doesn't help that Hurricane Jose is circling the Atlantic with the potential of coming ashore somewhere in the Southeastern United States now, and there are more tropical systems forming already. Any more hurricanes could make recovery extra challenging-- and they could definitely force us to reschedule our Florida vacation in three weeks. On many many levels, I am hoping that Florida stays safe for the rest of hurricane season!

In the meantime, we'll be watching and waiting and sending help, as much as we can. (If you are also planning to donate money, please choose a local relief organization. Red Cross is already being investigated for fraud in Houston.)

Sending love to you, Florida.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Ocean Unit Study: Week 1

Sun catcher art by First Sprout inspired by the book Out of the Ocean by Debra Frasier.

We have an opportunity to visit Florida beaches this October, so our upcoming family vacation field trip seemed like a great reason to kick off the school year with a unit study on Oceans. We started last week by introducing the topic, sharing materials, and thinking about questions to explore. For an in-depth look my my entire 9-week plan, I thought it might be easiest to share my Oceans Unit Study Plan via Google Docs.

What can I say, except "You're Welcome!"

I think more than anything, I am really excited about the space that the sprouts helped me organize for our unit study. We have a fully-stocked bookshelf of ocean-related reading materials. We have a brand new science and discovery center. And we have a really nifty word chart that helps us link our writing, reading, and science together.

The sprouts are all really excited to learn more about oceans in this space. I am too!

I especially love how the oceans unit lends itself to hands-on exploration through the close study of shells, beach glass, driftwood, and other beach artifacts. There are also lots of neat ocean animal toys available for play and learning too.

Look at this stuff! Isn't it neat? Wouldn't you think my collection's complete?

Since we haven't had much chance to dive into this unit yet, I thought I would use this post to share some of my planning resources:

  • My Unit Study: Oceans board was not a resource all by itself, but it helped me keep track of ideas while I was looking for information.
  • had a lot of great ideas for science experiments, like this edible model of a coral polyp. Most of the science I have planned for this unit comes from them since it's free and covers a good range of elementary topics.
  • Natural Beach Living blog had lots of awesome ocean printables that I laminated for our science table. 
  • Pretty much all of our art plans came from these great beach-themed chalk pastel tutorials by Southern Hodge Podge.
  • Brave Writer has been a huge inspiration for our language arts program, so I will be using lots of ocean-themed copy work, Poetry Teatimes,  and writing games-- such as Mad Libs Junior: Under the Sea and Rory's Story Cubes: Voyages
  • There are tons of great children's books about oceans. I have many of them listed in my unit study plan, but if I had to pick my top 5, they would be: Hello Ocean by Pam Munoz Ryan, Out of the Ocean by Debra Frasier, Flotsam by David Wiesner, Shark Lady by Jess Keating, and Follow the Moon Home by Phillipe Cousteau. 
  • I must confess to using lots of Netflix in my planning, because there are fascinating documentaries (Blue Planet), television shows (The Magic School Bus),  and movies (Moana) available about oceans.
  • Last but not least, the sprouts gave me a great list of questions to consider.
When you aren't sure where to start, just write down their questions.

For our Oceans Unit Study: Week 2, we will be looking at some of the physical properties of ocean water such as the composition of seawater and the role of the ocean in climate and weather. I am looking forward to doing more science experiments, more writing, and more exploring.

Until Next Time, 

Happy Learning!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Happy Back to School

Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh!

It's our FOURTH year of homeschooling, and I'm still in a little bit of shock. All three sprouts are officially school age this year, which is both amazing and frightening. On one hand, I get to spend everyday with these fascinating little people who I love. On the other hand, I am also almost entirely responsible for making sure they grow up into decent human beings. Talk about pressure!

Our back to school photo may or may not have required bribery.

Yesterday was officially our first day back to school. We are starting a week ahead of our local school district because we are planning a family vacation in October, and you can do that when you homeschool. The sprouts were actually pretty excited about starting school again, and I tried to capitalize on that excitement by taking a back-to-school photo. Unfortunately, the photo backfired spectacularly, and we ended up needing bribery (aka donuts) to get everyone looking at the camera with a not-angry face.

When all else fails, add treats.

Our walk to Tim Horton's and subsequent sugary breakfasting was just what we needed to get the day back on track. On the way home, we were lucky enough to run into some friends. The unexpected playdate involved some boisterous trampoline jumping, and by the time we walked home, everyone was bright pink and pouring sweat. I had the sprouts jump into the bath and rinse off. Then we were finally ready for school Nana stopped by to pick up her puppy who we had been watching over the weekend.

Lure them in with games and make them stay for the learning.

By this time it was about 11:30am, and I had not even cracked a book. I made the executive decision to ease into working at the table by starting our school day off with a game of Rory's Story Cubes. The game went over well, which allowed us to proceed with a read aloud, draft a list of questions about oceans, and work through some Bedtime Math. We took a break for lunch, after which, it was time for the solar eclipse.

Turn around, bright eyes.

Our area had about 77% coverage at peak, so we went ahead and prepared pinhole viewers out of cereal boxes. We watched a video about what was actually happening and revisited modeling we did in an astronomy unit study last year. About a half hour before peak, we went outside to check out the eclipse, and it was incredibly cool to watch. I was really impressed with our pinhole viewers, but of course, I also had to play around with taking some photos.

Fun fact: this did not destroy my phone.

First sprout hung in there for nearly an hour watching the eclipse with me. Second sprout and Third sprout were interested for about 10 minutes and wanted to go play on our swing set. I decided to prioritize my own enjoyment rather than worry about whether they were getting the full educational value out of this celestial alignment. It all worked out!

I took this photo right around peak coverage for us.

Our first day back to school was busy, bumpy, and overall pretty brilliant. I have a feeling that the rest of the year will be more of the same, and I couldn't be more excited!

Until Next Time,

Happy Learning

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Do You Know What I Did This Summer?

Pop Quiz: What did this homeschool mama spent all summer doing?

a) Shuffling children to and from the pool;
b) Planning all the things;
c) Buying too many books;
d) Professional development; or
e) All of the above.

If you guessed "e) All of the above," then you are CORRECT!

In between shuffling kids to and from the pool, I planned all the things, bought too many books, and finished up some professional development. I am pretty sure this will sound very familiar to other homeschooling families and most teachers. However, I know that there is a decent chunk of the population who still does not quite understand what teachers do all summer long.

It would be a really long post if I went into detail about everything I did, but I would like to share what the part about "planning all the things" looked like for me.

1) Making Sure We Have a Basic School Schedule 

Our state requires that we complete 180 days of school each year, so I like to sit down with the school calendar and our family calendar to plan a rough outline for the year. I try to account for things like family vacation, holidays, birthdays, and planning time for me. If necessary, I will make adjustments or notes on the fly, but I like having the basic plan laid out for me ahead of time so that I am not surprised if we fall behind. Last year, we alternated quarters (roughly nine weeks each) between unit studies and project-based homeschooling. That way I have two stretches of the year when I am doing heavy planning and teaching and two stretches of the year when the sprouts choose their own areas of interest to explore. It balanced out nicely, so I am following the same alternating schedule this year. For unit studies, I requested ideas from the sprouts, and we agreed to study oceans in the first quarter and anatomy in the third quarter.

2) Choosing Curricular Materials

Whether we are doing unit studies or project-based homeschooling, I set time aside everyday for the sprouts to practice reading, writing, and mathematics. This year I am continuing with a few things that have worked for us in the past and expanding their role. Science, social studies, and the arts will largely be incorporated into our unit studies. For math, we are continuing with Bedtime Math on Mondays and "Game-day Fridays" from last year. I also had a lot of success with Marilyn Burns' Math By All Means when I tried a unit last year, so I am going to ditch our district text and use those units year round this time. They are not aligned to Common Core; however, they are cross-curricular and very hands-on, which is an absolute must for First Sprout. She ran into major trouble with math last year when it suddenly was not hands-on anymore. For language arts, we are looking to Bravewriter for copywork, Poetry Teatime, Big Juicy Conversations, and Friday Freewrite-- plus lots and lots of awesome read alouds.

3) Planning Our First Nine Weeks

This involves looking through all of our books for the oceans unit study, planning video playlists, tracking down science experiments, and finding art projects. I use Pinterest to keep track of unit study ideas ahead of time so that I have a repository of goodies when I sit down to plan. I start by sketching everything out in my bullet journal, and I have been known to solicit ideas from friends and family too. I like to type everything out so that I look organized, but the truth is that my plans are always subject to change. This at least provides the illusion that I have all of my bases covered!

4) Organizing Our School Space

We homeschool in our dining room at the same table where everyone eats, plays with LEGO, and creates artwork. I have posted in the past about how I label and organized all of our learning materials, so not much changes with that from year to year. Mostly I try to inventory materials over the summer to see what needs pitched, donated, or replaced. Then I get our theme book shelf organized to support our unit study. As it turns out, I, um, have a few books pertaining to oceans.

5) Updating Our Morning Basket

While the idea of having a Morning Basket is kind of a specific thing, our morning basket is basically where I keep all of the materials for our structured school time. For some reason the words "it's time for morning basket" generate fewer arguments than "it's time for school!" I am not sure why it makes a difference, but I am going to roll with it. I started with a small(er) basket about a year and a half ago, but with all three sprouts officially school age, I knew I needed an update. This year we have pouches for copywork, our writing notebooks, math books, weekly read-alouds, my morning binder (aka the plans), and a few odds and ends for warming up our brains in the morning. Looking at my updated morning basket really gets me excited to start the year!

6) Preparing Portfolios

Last but not least, I took time this summer to prepare a portfolio for each sprout. Every year, I start create a three-ring binder with a learner profile that includes their name, age, overview, strengths, challenges, and goals for the year. Then I add a self-portrait that they create at the start of the year. The next page is for health records, and other documentation I want to track. I also like to splurge on pocket dividers so that I can keep hold of scrap papers, brochures, maps, tickets, etc. I include tabs for Art, Literacy, Math, Science, and Social Studies so that I can easily store papers by subject as needed. With the portfolios setup and ready to go, I don't have to worry about falling behind (as much) during the busy school year. As a certified Pennsylvania teacher homeschooling under the "private tutor" option, I do not have to maintain a portfolio or have it evaluated. However, I am a big fan of covering my butt, so I keep them anyway. Plus, I know that one day when the sprouts are moving away on their own, I will cherish these memories.

Now that you know what my summer has looked like, tell me about your summer!

Until Next Time,

Happy Learning!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Still Here, Still Homeschooling

It seems hard to believe that it's been three years since our family's decision to homeschool. I started off with First Sprout in first grade that first year, and now I am looking at "officially" educating all three sprouts in the fall.

One of the most common questions I am asked: "How long do you plan on homeschooling?"

The short answer: "I don't know."

The long answer is that we homeschool on a year-to-year basis, checking in regularly to see if it is the best option for our children and our family. So far, we haven't found any reason to change gears. We might send the kids to public school for middle school or maybe high school. We might send them back all at one time, or we might let them go one at a time on their own terms. We aren't really sure.

What we do know is that, right now, homeschooling works for us. All three sprouts are radiant and engaged.

They focus.

They persist.

They ask questions.

They solve problems.

They motivate themselves.

We have been wildly successful at achieving these goals for ourselves, and we love having so much time as a family. Learning is a lifestyle for us. Sure there are gaps and setbacks. We certainly don't move at the pace of most public schools. Heck, we don't even change out of our pajamas most days. And yet, First Sprout already had her first art show at the public library. Second Sprout has constructed cities from cardboard boxes and recycled materials. Third Sprout has an entire catalog of songs memorized that she shares with us throughout the day.

I love that magnifying glasses are considered "mandatory beach toys" in our home.

I love that going to a bookstore evokes squeals of excitement.

I love to see the joy that the sprouts express in learning.

For at least another year, we are still here, and we are still homeschooling.