Category Archives: Curriculum

You Are Your Child’s First Teacher–But If She’s Lucky, She’ll Have Lots More

Side note: wow, it’s been a while. So I guess that’s what a little walking pneumonia does to your hobbies.

Here we are in what would be the 7th- and 3rd-grade years of the girls homeschooled lives. Violet (the 7th grader) is at this point pretty fully a high schooler, academically, and our schedule shows it. Between her usual desire to do EVERYTHING and the higher level of both input and output expected, she’s having to step up her game. It’s not all unicorns and rainbows, but I’m pretty proud of how she’s making her best effort much of the time.

One thing newbie homeschoolers are frequently asked is: “What will you do when they need to study algebra/physics/some other thing you are obviously too stupid to understand yourself?” We heard this question first when our daughter was six; though she was indeed profoundly gifted, it was hard not to be insulted by the assumption behind the question. It seemed likely that we had a while to worry about that stuff.

The time has come, however: she’s surpassed what I can do without a few extra hours of study in my nonexistent spare time. Algebra is long behind her (she taught herself, and I was able to be reasonably useful through a good chunk of algebra II,.) She insisted on studying both chemistry *and* physics this year, largely because folks in our homeschool community have organized such fantastic opportunities that she couldn’t turn either one down.

I couldn’t be happier. Her chemistry class is run by a young man who supervises the labs at some local community colleges. He clearly loves what he is doing, and he also does a great job of getting the students to think about science as problem solving and not merely memorizing a lot of terminology and facts. Learning to do high quality lab reports may be some of the toughest writing she’s ever done, and from what I’ve heard the standards are pretty high.

Her physics teacher is a theoretical physicist who works in the research division of a multinational corporation; once a week, he meets with my daughter and two other kids to help them through Kinetic Books Principles of Physics, in addition to assigning and grading homework and coming up with some cool short- and long-term projects to try. For their chapter on vectors he brought them each a pirate map and assigned to figure out . . . well, a lot of stuff I am *not* too stupid to understand, but too busy. (Right? Right.)

Their teacher is having fun: he’s got three incredibly enthusiastic students who can’t wait to come talk physics with him. The kids are having fun: they get to learn at the high school level from someone who loves his field, and then they go out and play on the swingset for a while before we head home. Violet may never be a physicist, but she gets to have one for a mentor this year and understand that physics is not just a fixed body of knowledge you need to study to graduate, but a diverse and alive field populated by interesting real people.

Oh, and she’s taking an advertising class at our co-op taught by a former brand manager at another multinational, and a programming class taught by a software engineer for a major open source software company. (Of course that second one is her father.) And her former art teacher has offered her private lessons in oils.

Add to that another year of what I’ve started to consider her homeschool homeroom, Online G3, and she’s surrounded by amazing and generous adult mentors. I cannot believe how lucky we are. I know we could have put together other solutions for these classes if we had to, but I’m thrilled that

1) She’s in new surroundings where she has to push herself a little, not for a grade but to get what she came for, and

2) She’s learning that people–not just books and computers–are a great educational resource, and

3) I’m off the hook for motion in three dimensions, because two dimensions were already beyond me.

Will Victoria also homeschool for high school? The future’s unclear. But at least I don’t have to worry what I’ll do when she gets to algebra. Her interest in welding, on the other hand, worries me a little, but there’s time.

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What are the homeschoolers doing now?

We’re doing lots of things, but some get more enthusiasm than others. And a certain student seems strangely oblivious to our attempts to educate her.

Violet:
Programming and NaNoWriMo: “I know! I’ll write a last name generator!”

Algebra II: “I’m really into it. It’s challenging!”

Shakespeare’s Comedy and Sonnets: “Oooh, Midsummer Night’s Dream! That’s a good one!”

Chinese: “[unintelligible to mother]”

Victoria:
History: “Look at this great doll house I made!”

Math: “I’m going outside to keep hammering oars onto my boat!”

English: “Look at the Christmas decorations I made!”

Spanish: “Mom, have you seen my safety goggles anywhere?”

Playgroup: “I’m going in the other room to work on my sewing project.”

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Handwriting Practice

Just a quick note about something my almost 7yo is enjoying.

She’s going to be moving up to the next level of science class in our co-op next year, which will involve more writing. She’s very cheered about handwriting practice. Rather than buy a handwriting book for practice, I’ve found a place to print them out with any words we choose.

http://www.handwritingworksheets.com/

Recent examples of handwriting sheets:

“Proton Neutron Electron”

“Chemistry is cool for kids”

“Chemistry Biology Physics”

She seems to find this incredibly motivating, both for her handwriting and for her interest in general science. Today she wanted me to make a page with terms about a particular kind of very special cell, though she couldn’t remember what it was called. Eventually she found it in a biology book, so she has a page with

“Embyronic stem cells”

Now I need to get the 11yo some handwriting materials — she has actually requested them! She has done little to no handwriting practice, and it kind of shows. 😦 We’ve always let her keyboard because it is so much faster, and she can keep up with her thoughts. (Also, you have to pick your battles.) Now that she’s interested, I need to jump on it. The girl can draw like nobody’s business, but her thank you notes look like she hired her younger sister to write them!

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Creating Space

Several years ago, when we moved from an apartment to a house, we had an extra dishwasher. It was a good dishwasher — better than the one that came installed in the house — but it was a freestanding dishwasher and we had no use for it.

I tried and tried to sell it, but I could get no takers. Finally, I listed it on freecycle — which was new to me then — and a very grateful person came and carried it away to a cousin who had lots of baby bottles to wash or something. Finally, no portable dishwasher in the dining room.

Later that day we were driving through the neighborhood when I saw a yard sale. Someone was selling two very cool chairs that would fit perfectly in our living room, where we had a definite furniture shortage. I was pleased — move something out, and suddenly there’s space for something better to come in.

We had a similar experience this week. We agonized and argued, but finally determined that Violet won’t take science at our co-op anymore. It’s in part a financial decision, but partly an acknowledgment that the class served more of a social purpose than an academic one. We have much cheaper ways of meeting our social needs.

Still, I want her to be studying science regularly, so I knew I would have to come up with some alternative by next fall. Lo and behold, one possibility has presented itself to me already — one that will be much better academically, and one that she is extremely excited about. I don’t know if it will work out, but I’m so pleased. We made a space, and something better came along.

To cap it off, we found some Teaching Company biology DVDs that I had purchased used and then forgotten about during the busy fall and winter — just what she needs to shore up her biology foundation before doing a new science activity. Yay! We settled in to watch the first one, and in the first few minutes she was saying, “I’m not sure I’m gonna like this . . . ” Soon afterwards, however, the professor was explaining various theories of how organic matter could have arisen in a totally inorganic environment, and she was talking back to the screen and saying “Yeah, that’s good question,” and “That’s so cool!”

And what really warmed my heart was that my little preteen girl was wearing a cape and sitting a giant box she called her boat throughout the video, sharing a bag of Cheerios with Victoria, who had packed the provisions for their sailing journey in her own laundry basket/vessel. Sweet!

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Spring Review

What are the homeschoolers of our home doing lately?

Way too much. And now we are all sick to prove it! Just bad colds, if not because we’ve run our immune system down, then because we’ve spent too much time running around swapping germs with the public this week rather than staying home now and then.

We’ve (re)learned our overscheduling lesson quickly this time, at least.

A smattering of stuff, by subject:

Math — Violet continues with Life of Fred, slowly. This is an easy thing to drop when the schedule gets too full. I try to make sure she does at lest 2-3 lessons a week, just to avoid losing the thread. She likes the graphing, and she finds Life of Fred hilarious, not so much the story but the math problems that turn out to be logic problems and thus are way simpler than they look. Victoria continues even more slowly with EPGY.

Literature — Violet finished Uncle Tom’s Cabin. This was a stretch for her, but the rest of Lightning Lit 9, I think, will be a little more to her liking. I give her credit — I don’t much like early American lit either. And I give Online G3 credit for keeping her interested! Victoria has picked up the Little House series again, and we are slowly reading The Moorchild together. Violet just took the National Mythology Exam and finished her Greek and Norse mythology class with Online G3. She prefers the Norse myths, for now.

Language — We’ve dropped our Magic Lens/Word Within the Word temporarily, as there are too many other things happening. We’ll pick it up when we can, because Magic Lens is one of Violet’s favorites. She just keeps begging to sign up for various activities (as many as we have, there are more than I say no too!). Victoria doesn’t do anything formal at this point, though we’re going to get back to working on penmanship, to help her do the kinds of science she wants to, with lab reports and all. (Yes, yes, I can write for her. Do you think she likes that, or do you think she finds it patronizing? Have you met her?) Oh right, and Chinese for Violet and Spanish for Victoria. Violet has also dropped German for now.

Science — In addition to our regular co-op, in which both girls are focusing on life science/human body, we’re doing an extra class at our newer co-op. Violet is doing rocket science, which I am very excited about. It has a lot of applied math and science, and a lot of geeky-mathy boys to keep her on her toes. Can’t just sit back and dominate through verbal ability. Plus, building rockets! Victoria is in a Lego engineering class at the same time, and can’t wait to start making things move.

Music — We’re enjoying Discovering Music with Professor Carol, with the help of Online G3. Victoria drifts in and out of the room during the videos, but she listens to the CDs with Violet and me. Don’t know if it is related, but Violet is really alert to the music around her recently — just got her a new Debussy CD she wanted, and a cool contemporary piece called Blackberry Winter. Violet is insisting that she wants to keep up with voice lessons, but I sense they are going to go on hiatus. Piano is ever present with both girls, and this year Violet is back in the running for the MMTA honors concert — finals coming up in a couple of weeks! Both girls have also started learning guitar.

History — another thing that pops up on days that we’re actually home for a couple of hours. Mostly reading together, and finding things on the map. We’re still stuck in the BCs, creeping towards Rome. Already discussed Romulus and Remus. Wondering if I should just save Rome till we’ve done with some of this other stuff that is taking up all our time. Victoria is also doing a parent-led geography class at co-op — in part just because Violet is doing a drama class at the same time.

Other fun stuff:
Chess for Victoria.
Knitting class at a local Waldorf store for two more weeks with Victoria.
Art at co-op for both girls — lately there have been Sumi Ink paintings and Native American sandpainting.

In truth, we’ve lost a little of the flow and heart of homeschooling in this mix. Too much busyness, not enough daydreaming. But its all Good Stuff, and the flow is still there, calmly waiting for us to return.

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Roller Coaster Days

Ah, just as we are settling into our home and getting used to some new routines — BOOM! — the holidays hit and those tender shoots draw back until sometime after the first of the year.

Still, learning happens, and it’s interesting to observe what sticks even when I don’t seem to have the energy or mental focus to keep the full schedule going.

Chinese Pod remains a winner. One of these days I will need to get Violet into a real Chinese class, but for the last year this has sustained her interest in Chinese and allowed her to practice a bit. The new writing feature is especially cool.

Life of Fred is going pretty well. I have let that be mainly unsupervised, which means that my child who prefers to live in one of the several storylines surging along in her mind sometimes skips 3 or 4 lessons, and then backtracks, and then jumps ahead, because she’s not sure where she’s supposed to be. On the upside, as I tried to figure out which of the skipped things she should go back and finish, she drew me a diagram to prove the distributive property, and explained the reflexive property, or law, or something like that. So Fred stays.

Our love of John McWhorter and linguistics continues via our Teaching Company DVDs. Violet came to me today and asked that we watch the next lecture sooner than usual, because it sounded really interesting. And it was. Thank you God for giving me a child who hears the phrase “modal particle” and wants to know more. I don’t have that many people in my life who can summon more than 10 minutes of interest for the weird things I find interesting. (And in this case, Violet is the one getting me interested in the subject.)

Victoria sat next to us today as we watched, feeling very impatient to watch Word Girl when we finished. As the video started she said, “I smell the scent of grammar. Or is that just your coffee?” That was a keeper.

Victoria is really liking EPGY. It is not perfect for me, but she really gets something out of feeling like she get some online “school” just like Violet. And I think it helps to involve a neutral 3rd party. 😉

We are still reading Child’s History of the World, somewhat on the Sonlight schedule, but I have been adding here and there. We have been in Greece — which fit well with our current reading of Linnets and Valerians, thanks to Melissa Wiley — and will do a little Eastern detour before getting to Rome. With any luck I will prime them for learning Latin! My hope is that Victoria will want to learn, and I will be able to sneak a little into Violet. You would think that with her love of grammar I could hook her that way!

In any case, our history reading is spotty and slow, but always enjoyable. I wish so much that I could show the “Babylon News” video the girls made, with Violet as Nebuchadnezzer acting like a bull in the backyard and Victoria dressed up in cloth napkins, pretending to cry and saying “What is wrong with our king?” But I am not allowed to post it. Such are the mood changes of preteens.

And I have gushed so much about Online G3 I feel I hardly need say what that has added to our days. I swear my personal affection for Headmistress Guinevere is not the reason I say this! Can’t wait to add mythology and music next semester — I think Victoria will watch these with us as well.

With all that going on, German has fallen by the wayside temporarily, handwriting doesn’t happen, and we rely entirely on our co-op for things related to science. Magic Lens/Word Within the Word is still enjoyable, just a week or 10 days may go by before we remember to pick it up. As we are between parishes, please do not ask about faith formation. Right now the main thing we need to learn is how to get to Mass–any Mass–on time.

I have high hopes for the return of all those things — plus karate and dance! — but not until after Christmas. There are cookies to make, friends to cook for, family to see, ballets to attend, and — what you can’t see through your computer screen — lots and lots of boxes still to unpack.

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Today’s Thoughts on Gifted Ed and Homeschooling

We closed on old house this morning — phew! — and we were chatting with the buyers, talking about how we liked the house. My husband talked about why we unexpectedly outgrew it — couldn’t just buy a bigger house without really good reason! — and mentioned the homeschooling.

We hadn’t planned to homeschool, he mentioned, but our oldest daughter turned out to be — well, I don’t remember what he said. I remember closing my eyes, cringing, and putting my hand on his arm once I figured out where he was going. Of course he said nothing overly dramatic, said it in a very offhand way, but I was mortified to have it said in a roomful of strangers.

Mainly this incident demonstrates, yet again, that while I am far more outgoing than my husband, I am also a lot more private.

But it was also another reminder of (one reason) why we homeschool — not the bare fact that she is “profoundly gifted” or whatever, but because it is so much simpler just to deal with that on our own than to deal with the myriad reactions she and we get from others about giftedness.

Also today, I read a report on the No Child Left Behind progress of area schools. The “achievement gap” shows no sign of diminishing, and schools are turning more and more of their resources towards working on it. The reality is, school resources — personnel, money, books — are an ever-smaller pie, and as more attention goes to the lowest achieving students, less goes to kids like mine. Maybe that’s morally fair, maybe that’s good public policy at a macro level, but from a day-to-day educational perspective, it’s not going to work for us.

Of course our homeschooling lately is pretty weak! Thank goodness for Online G3, Life of Fred, and Chinese Pod! This keeps Violet going when nothing else is going on. And Victoria has started doing EPGY math. I started her on the 1st grade, but we’ll see. I am hoping the early lessons are more about establishing comfort with the program, because they are bizarrely simple. It is really nice to be able to give her some computer learning, as her sister gets so much. And it is not easy to make early elementary math very interesting!

We are clearly not going according to our early fall plans. Are you?

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