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.