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.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Nine Wishes for Your Ninth Birthday

It's been a few months since First Sprout turned 9 years old, but I am still loving this list that I wrote. I thought I would take a moment to share it here.

Nine Wishes for Your 9th Birthday

Use Your Voice Words are a powerful tool that you can use to connect with the world. Whether speaking or writing, let your voice shine through bright and clear. Use your voice to tell your truth, to share your feelings, and to protect others whenever you can.

But Don’t Forget to Listen You already know to treat others the way you would be treated. When you want someone to listen to you, you have to be prepared to listen too. Practice listening to really hear the person rather than listening to respond. This is the foundation of strong bonds.

Be Persistent From the beginning, you have had the ability to keep trying until you achieve your goal. Hold onto that persistence—it will serve you well for your entire life.

Embrace Mistakes Life is all about learning, and mistakes are some of the best learning tools available. As Miss Frizzle says: “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”

Feel Your Feelings Human beings have a whole variety of emotions for a reason. Big feelings teach us a lot about ourselves and each other. Know that it’s okay to feel sadness, or frustration, or doubt, or fear. It’s also okay to feel joy, or excitement, or peace, or connection. There is plenty of time to feel them all.

Find Your People Look for those who love you as you are. Cherish those who will listen to you, respect you, and challenge you to be a better person. They are your people to hold close.

Follow Your Bliss As you grow older, you will discover that you will gain greater freedom but also receive greater responsibility. Try to seek a balance between your responsibilities and taking care of your heart. Learn things that you love, do important work, and take care of your people—that will be your bliss.

Stay True to Yourself You are a bold, kind, and curious child. Hold on to your loving heart and brave spirit as you grow older. The world isn’t always kind to young women who take up space, but it’s important that you take your space anyway. You deserve to share the fullest version of yourself.

Know That You Are LOVED Always and always and always.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A Day in the Life of Homeschooling

In anticipation of Simple Homeschool's Day in the Life Community Link Up next week, I figured that it would be a good exercise for me to record what happens on a "typical" day of school with the sprouts. I took notes throughout our day yesterday, and this is what we did...

The day began with me getting up (before the kids!) to get dressed, make some coffee, feed the cat, and pack my husband's lunch before he left for work. By the time that was done, the kids were coming downstairs for the morning.

I put on "Here Comes the Science" radio from my Google Music account for everyone to listen to while I re-heated leftover biscuits and sausage gravy for breakfast.

After we ate and cleared the breakfast dishes off of the table, I brought out our Morning Basket that we formed at the start of the year. The sprouts pulled out their new sticker books that they'd gotten as gifts from Nana over the weekend. As they played with their books (engaging in lots of fine-motor practice), I paused the music and continued reading Hans Christian Andersen's version of "The Mermaid" that we had started last Friday as part of an ongoing exploration of traditional tales.

We made it through about 15 pages of the tale before the sprouts started getting restless, so I switched gears to helping First Sprout with practice on telling time as Second Sprout finished a design in her sticker book. Then, we piled up on the couch to read a chapter from Life of Fred-- we're just on the first book of the elementary math series, but we all love it! The two older sprouts each have a dry-erase board to doodle on while I read, and then they use the board to "play along" with Fred at the end of the chapter. During this time, Third Sprout is entertaining herself with her own dry-erase book on the floor nearby.

After Life of Fred, I helped Second Sprout with a math practice page on counting numbers to 10. I've found that the sprouts seem to prefer doing their practice pages in dry-erase books (like The Priddy Books) more than conventional worksheets. I'm not sure why it makes a difference, but I'll take it if it works!

Our Morning Basket routine is still pretty short and sweet, so at this point we switched gears into Project Time. The older sprouts have shown a renewed interest in Pokemon as a part of their project work, so they asked to play their Pokemon games on the 3DS. They began busily comparing their Pokemon rosters, so I took the opportunity to start a load of laundry and wash the breakfast dishes.

I had some overly ripe bananas, so I invited Third Sprout to join me in baking some yummy banana oatmeal muffins. She helped me count scoops, pour ingredients, and mix everything together in the bowl. She also helped portion the batter out into the muffin tins, and it was super nice to have that time working quietly alone with her.

Once the muffins were in the oven, the bigger sprouts asked to turn on a series of Disney animated short films on Netflix that include several wonderful folk tales, plus some original stories (most importantly, Frozen Fever). It includes a stunning versions of "John Henry" and Hans Christian Andersen's "Little Match Seller," so I felt like that was a good fit with our study of traditional tales.

With the sprouts absorbed in their movie, I decided to sneak in my own project work by listening to Podcast #2 on Read-Aloud Revival with Sarah Mackenzie while I cleaned up the dishes from baking. By then it was time for lunch, so the sprouts paused their movie to eat some freshly-baked muffins with yogurt and sliced apples.

Meals are generally a great time for generating discussion, and this particular lunch was no exception! As we were making plans for the afternoon, the topic of weather came up. Second Sprout wanted to know what would happen if the temperature reached 199 million degrees, and we discovered that would be much hotter than even the temperature of the sun. We also talked about the temperature where we live compared to places like Florida or the desert. The older sprouts then launched into a metaphysical discussion of whether people could actually live in the desert or whether they would simply die and "live" as spirits instead. We linked the talk about spirits back into our discussion of "The Mermaid" from that morning since one of her motivations in the story is to gain an immortal soul. That led to questions about sea foam, a Google images search, and speculation as to whether you could stack enough seafoam to reach outer space. First Sprout was adamant that stacking seafoam was unrealistic, and wanted to know more about rockets that actually go into space. We ended up watching this compilation video of rocket launches for the remainder of lunch.

Let me just stop here and say that I don't know how we'd manage this eclectic, delight-led learning without my smart phone or Google. So, thank you Google (and my tech-oriented husband who helps me make sure all of this stuff is working!).

After cleaning up lunch, the sprouts all got dressed while I threw some things into the Crock-Pot for dinner. We decided to take some of our banana oatmeal muffins to a friend with a 3-week-old baby (don't worry, she knew we were coming). Thankfully the weather was lovely, and we were able to make the 20-minute walk without too much trouble. We enjoyed the sunshine while the older sprouts filled me in on the ballet version of Rapunzel they had seen over the weekend with their Nana. First Sprout talked through a really detailed analysis of the similarities and differences between the ballet, the Tangled movie, and the folktale.

Most of the afternoon was spent visiting our friend, snuggling the new baby, and playing with her bigger kids when they returned home from school. We didn't make back it home until nearly 5 o'clock, which gave me just enough time to put the finishing touches on dinner while the sprouts finished watching their Disney animated shorts from earlier. By 6 o'clock, my husband was home and we had family dinner.

It wouldn't necessarily be true to call this a "typical" day of homeschooling because all of our days end up looking so differently. We do lean toward project-based homeschooling and even to unschooling, so the only really structured time is first thing after breakfast when we go through our Morning Basket. Otherwise, we practice research and discussion habits that we carry with us through everything we do during the day. I hope you've enjoyed taking a little peek into what "A Day in the Life of Homeschooling" looks like for us.

Until next time,

Happy Learning!

Monday, January 4, 2016

A New-ish Year

'Tis the season for setting goals and making resolutions. Personally, I prefer a more year-round approach to personal growth and learning through change, but sometimes that return from a nice, long holiday break provides a great opportunity to experiment.

This year, I am planning to try some new things in our homeschooling life and in my mama life (as if those two things could ever really be separate) and continuing other things that we started to experiment with last year. Here are a few highlights:

Morning Basket

I have been mulling over the idea of a Morning Basket for awhile after listening to some of these amazing podcasts from Ed Snapshots; however, our actual Morning Basket will be brand new to our homeschool routine in 2016. Previously, I did a more traditional, school-like morning meeting with calendar time, counting days of school, graphing the weather, and so on. As it turns outs, that really was not working for the sprouts, and they were tuning me out before the day even started. I like the idea of the Morning Basket as gentler and more connected way to start the day. A lot of ideas for the basket include religious texts, but as secular homeschoolers, I prefer some of the ideas presented in this blog post from Choosing Our Own Adventures. Our basket is not nearly so extensive-- at least not yet. Right now, we are using Mother Goose rhymes for memory work and the Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang as the source for our read-alouds. I plan on mostly ambushing the sprouts with the read-aloud at breakfast time (a captive audience!) but I also plan to include a fine-motor activity during read-aloud time for the days when things don't go according to plan.

I have also decided to include a math manipulative in our basket each week as a way to reconnect with hands-on mathematics and to bring some playfulness back into our math routine. This week, I included pattern blocks on our basket, which are always a hit. That brings us to a grand total for four things in the basket (memory work, read aloud, fine-motor manipulative, and math manipulative). It's not much at the moment, as I'm a big believer in starting small and working our way up from there. The basket was well-received this morning-- knock on wood!-- but we shall see how the sprouts respond in a day, a month, or even next year.

Project-Based Homeschool

We started Project-Based Homeschooling last year, and we loved it so much that we will definitely be continuing in 2016. I already wrote about getting started and setting goals for PBH. I'm looking forward to writing more about our experience this year, as it will likely be the majority of our schooling for the time being. The sprouts really enjoyed the experiment in December when Project Time was their only school work. They were focused, motivated, and fairly productive. I do want to keep introducing some skills that I think are important, so that's why I feel like the Morning Basket will make a nice complement to the PBH approach.

Bullet Journal

This is a new practice for me, but so far I am completely in love. If you haven't heard of it before, it's basically a list-based journal that is indexed--and later, archived-- for quick reference. Personally, it appeals to me as a homeschooling mom because I finally feel like I have something to show for all of my work. Rather than wadding up my Post-It note  at the end of each day, I can preserve my list as a record of what I accomplished. I have also decided to include a one-sentence summary of the day in each entry so that I can preserve my memories efficiently. I have done long-form journaling off-and-on throughout the years, but this feels like something I can stick with in spite of-- or rather, because of-- my busy schedule.

Capsule Wardrobe

I actually started building my capsule wardrobe in November after reading this post on mom uniforms from Quill and Camera and this post on capsule wardrobes over at Dallas Moms Blog. As a homeschooling mom, it's easy to fall into the pattern of wearing a sweatpants and a t-shirt most days or spending the whole day in a nightgown during hot summers. Even when we left the house, I was never super motivated to dress up since I would be toting kids around. However, I started to feel like maybe that was having a detrimental impact on my psyche. I wasn't taking myself seriously, and I wasn't taking care of myself as a result. Now, I haven't turned to a style maven by any stretch of the imagination, but I am dressing more like a grown up. Paring down my wardrobe and making sure I only kept (or bought) mix-and-match neutrals that I loved, has made getting dressed much more enjoyable for me. It helps me feel more put-together, more confident, and happier as a result; I'll definitely be keeping up the capsule wardrobe for 2016.

These are kind of the highlights right now. I feel like we're in a messy exciting transitional stage with homeschooling, so I am looking forward to posting more updates on how things are going as the year continues. I sincerely hope that everyone reading this is off to a good start for the New Year, but if not, please remember that change can start any time of the year. Until next time,

Happy Learning!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Setting Goals in Project-Based Homeschooling

A few weeks ago, I shared a little bit about my new role as a teacher-mentor under Project-Based Homeschooling. This week, I wanted to share how we have started incorporating basic goal-setting skills into our PBH journey.

Ideally, I would like to get to the point where the sprouts are able to set Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely goals-- usually abbreviated to SMART goals-- and be able to make a plan to reach them. However, I think that some of those concepts would be pretty abstract for my learners at their ages and experience levels. So, I have been trying approach their goal setting a little bit differently.

We have started discussing project goals at each of our monthly conferences. Once the sprouts give me a goal, such as building or sewing, we then talk about the steps we need to accomplish the goal. Usually, we generate a list of 3-5 specific actions that will help accomplish the goal. For example, when Second Sprout set her building goal, we felt that looking at library books, saving recyclable materials, and buying some new tools would help her reach that goal. At first, I would offer suggestions on possible steps, but I am gradually trying to step back from that and let the sprouts plan the steps themselves.

By the time we had our second round of conferences in November, the sprouts had a better idea of what to expect. Both of the older sprouts had a goal and some of their steps ready to go for our discussion. Second Sprout was interested in building with milk jugs, while First Sprout wanted to switch gears and study cats instead. However, I added a new component to their goal setting for these conferences-- they had to come up with an idea for sharing what they are learning. Second Sprout immediately suggested making a book of her creations, while First Sprout took much more conversation and thought to reach an idea. She eventually decided that she was interested in planning and hosting an art show of cat-themed works.

Now, I have to say that these goals sound incredibly awesome, but neither of the sprouts have followed through as of yet. Most of their Project Time has been spent on other pursuits, which is really crucial to their process of becoming self-directed learners. It's entirely possible that they will end up switching goals again at our next round of conferences. Practice is the key here.

And goodness knows that I haven't reached (or even started) all of the goals I ever set for myself.

I don't want everyone to think that we have perfected anything here. Rather, I want to share what we're doing and how it's going in case our experience might be useful to others. So, I'm okay if they don't start hitting their goals right off the bat. For me, it's all part of the process.

One thing I CAN do as they practice is model my own goal-setting skills. Currently, I have two projects going. One is Project-Based Homeschooling itself, as I try to navigate this new routine, conduct my research, and practice new skills. While I do (try to) make a habit of sharing this journey on the blog, it's maybe still a bit abstract for demonstrating the whole goal-setting process to the sprouts. So I created a second project for myself-- learning to crochet-- and set goals as well as steps I needed to get there. The sprouts got to see me skimming books and watching videos and creating samplers. They got to see my pull out stitches and puzzle over patterns and get impatient over interruptions. To be honest, I think they have been prouder of my accomplishments than even I am. They are rather fond of telling everyone they meet that "Mom is learning how to crochet-- she made that scarf all by herself!" I plan to keep working on my crochet and setting new goals for myself to keep this momentum going.

For the foreseeable future, I plan to continue working on our goal-setting skills in our conferences and through modeling the process. While we are not at the point of following through on independently-created SMART goals, we are practicing and learning a lot in the process.

Until next time,

Happy Learning!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Getting Started with Project-Based Homeschooling

At the beginning of our school year, I decided that I wanted to set some clear goals for learning. After a lot of thought,  I finally settled on: focus, persistence, asking questions, solving problems, and self-motivation. A few weeks into the year, we realized that the way we had been schooling wasn't working. The sprouts were distracted, bored, and annoyed with any sort of paperwork that I assigned. Even the projects I planned were often hit-or-miss. Anything that I gave them to do with a specific end product in mind resulted in disappointment and frustration.

So, I decided to step back. I retreated to stacks of books and internet forums. I chatted a lot with my husband and other homeschooling friends. I finally settled into reading Lori Pickert's Project-Based Homeschooling, and I had an epiphany. Workbooks, guided writing, and parent-led projects were not going to meet ANY of our learning goals for this year.

But Project-Based Homeschooling hits ALL of them.

I wasn't in a good space at the time to drop everything and switch to PBH, but I did start incorporating some open-ended Project Time into our day. Once I tied up some loose ends, we were able to incorporate still more Project Time. I tried to hang on to some of our routine school work those first few weeks, but it quickly became apparent that the more my sprouts directed their own learning, the less they wanted anything to do with what I was planning.

It's been hard for me to take, especially as a trained teacher. But I believe in my kids, and if they need a few weeks to immerse themselves in projects, then I can support that. Honestly, the holidays are huge distraction anyway, so I know they will learn a lot more by doing their own thing that they can fully focus on. Once the holidays are over, we can re-evaluate our school day and see what needs to be done.

A glimpse at our project space (formerly known as the dining room).

In the meantime, I will probably be just as busy as the sprouts. One of the great things about Project-Based Homeschooling is that I'm not entirely out of the picture; my job just looks a lot different. Here are a few things I have been working on to facilitate the sprouts' project work:

1) Provide an organized, well-stocked work space

This "job" came pretty easily, since I have always worked to make art supplies, craft materials, and learning tools accessible to the sprouts. It's a bit tricky to fit everything in our dining room where we have our project space, However, I really like having our work space centrally located and integrated heavily with our regular life.

2) Document their learning

This one is a little trickier since I don't have the patience to write long, detailed records each day, but I'm not entirely sure that's necessary. Instead, I have continued my habit of taking anecdotal notes and photographing the sprouts' work into a dedicated "project notebook" that I make visible to them. I also keep a book list, quotes, and other snippets of ideas in my notebook for later reference.

3) Practice what I preach

Modeling is a powerful yet under-utilized tool in education. I once read that "children will do as you do before they do as you say," and this is especially true with PBH. In this spirit, I have actually started my own project-- learning to crochet. I have tried to make my learning steps (goal-setting, research, practice, mistakes, more practice, more goal setting) visible to the sprouts. I like to think that the more I learn and self-motivate in their presence, the more they will pick up on those habits as well.

4) Be a good listener

One of the practices I wanted to implement when we started PBH is conferencing. I was used to having conferences with parents and conferences with students in the classroom, but it never really occurred to me to have conferences with my own kids. I think I just kind of assumed that I was present enough to already know what they would say. To some extent that was true, but I was really taking away their agency by making that assumption. We have had two sets of conferences now (one at a time, at the local bakery, just for fun) and the sprouts are thriving on the undivided attention and opportunity to communicate their needs. We get to talk about what is and is not working, how they want me (if they want me) to assist with projects, and set goals for what they want to do. Knowing that I'm listening, focused, and taking notes has been really meaningful to the sprouts.

5) Give them time

We are still working to make Project Time a part of our everyday life, but it's not always going to happen on my schedule. Even though we didn't plan Project Time specifically over the Thanksgiving holiday, we often found the sprouts working on their projects anyway. My husband remarked on how First Sprout was up and working on her projects first thing in the morning a few times. As a planner, this can be challenging for me. I want to be present during their projects, but I know that it's really important for them to be independent and work on their own time tables. So, I am working on finding a balance of setting aside specific Project Time for me to be present and available to help. Then the sprouts always have the opportunity to work on their projects independently and spontaneously, knowing that I maybe be busy doing something else and unable to help. The important thing is that they have the time to think their own thoughts, to dream their own dreams, to plan their own plans.

Overall, I have really been enjoying Project-Based Homeschooling, even if it has meant changing the way we do things. In some ways, it feels a lot more like summer when the sprouts were much more self-directed. It will be interesting to see how it goes as we gain more experience and more learning into the process. It's important to me that they know it is a process, and we will make mistakes. But we can learn just as much (if not more) from the mistakes as we will from the successes.

Until next time,

Happy Learning!