School is OUT!

Kindergarten in our house ended much like it started–quietly and with little fanfare. There were no end of the year parties, no tiny processional of gowned children. And this was okay with us–JC is not the party type.

Instead, I mentioned to him that he had completed his first year of homeschool and that after the summer, he’d be starting first grade.

“No,” he said. “I don’t think so.”

A year ago, a comment like that would have thrown me off-kilter. Not this time.

“Well, everyone has some type of school. So what should we call it?”

“Super awesome dinosaur battle time.”

Alright, then.

Just because we’re not the last-day-of-school-party type doesn’t mean I’m not taking some time to reflect on out first year of homeschooling. I’m working on a yearbook for him, noting not only his academic achievements but his emotional and developmental ones, too.

I feel like this year went…differently than I thought it was going to be. I made a lot of tweaks and changes as we went. The phrase “unschooling” has always turned me off–but I have a suspicious feeling that we leaned a little to that side in the end. Some things that I thought went well:

  • JC continues to stay at the level of or excel the public school standards. I was concerned about his writing and word recognition/spelling earlier this year, but the moment I stopped pressuring him was the moment he started doing it. His strong subjects are still science and math.

  

  • He is finally warming up to hanging out with other kids. I think he still prefers the company of adults, but he’s learning there are perks to finding a crowd his size who like superheroes as much as he does.

  

  • We have found a co-op we really like and we’re looking forward to their summer sessions and joining them again in the fall.
  • Project based learning really works for JC. I love watching him getting excited about learning–especially when he doesn’t realize he’s learning. Favorite topics this year were the solar system, trains (of course), dinosaurs and World War One.

 

soldiers vs. jedi in an epic battle

 
It is a little bittersweet to see kindergarten come to a close. We had a lot of ups and downs as a family during the school year, and I’m excited to sink into summer. While there’s always things to work on, my singular goal for this summer is to have fun and play–because after all, that’s the way we all learn best.

Halfway Through Kindergarten

So here we are–the halfway point of our first year of homeschooling.

How is it going, you may ask. If you’re a random stranger on the street, I may answer, oh, it’s great! If you’re a casual acquaintance, I’d probably say, We have our challenges,  but it’s going well. But you, dear reader…well, you get the truth. It’s…going. 

I do not mean to make it sound like we’ve been having a bad time of it. We did a lot in the fall and the beginning of winter. We’ve spent a lot of time outside, examining nature and observing what happens to plants as the weather cools. We’ve studied dinosaurs, our community, dinosaurs, maps, and dinosaurs. We’ve built cities that have been attacked by Darth Vader and his army of storm troopers and set up a jungle with miniature figures in our front yard. We’ve dug holes and glued things. Oh, and we learned about dinosaurs.

Here are my three big takeaways from the first half of the year:

  • When JC becomes interested in something, he wants to learn IT ALL, age appropriate materials be damned. For example, he really enjoyed the Peanuts Movie that came out earlier this year, especially the part with Snoopy as the Flying Ace fighting the Red Baron. For a stretch, everything we did had to do with The Red Baron. We did research (and I edited as I read out loud). We built model planes, recreated battles, wrote our own chapter book continuing the story. Everyone who came in contact with JC got a lengthy lecture on WWI. We had similar obsessions with At-At Walkers (I managed to create a word family tree activity with that one I was pretty proud of) and of course, the aforementioned dinosaurs, as well as pilgrims. He still requests to read all the first Thanksgiving books we have  This is great–it’s what project based homeschooling is all about. Sometimes worlds collide and I walk into his playroom and find T Rex has gone over to the Dark Side and the brachiasaurus barely escaped Hoth because the Flying Ace comes to his rescue. Oh, and there’s a feast at the end.
  • In a similar vein, because that’s the way my kid functions, long term planning isn’t a reality right now. I do plan activities around a theme each week and JC enjoys them…but we often blow through them in a day or two and he goes back to focusing on whatever has his interest.
  • As he gets older, JC really needs a schedule. He was a super flexible, roll with the punches baby and toddler. He was the kid that took naps when he felt like it without too many late afternoon meltdowns, the kid who handled crazy long drives and late nights at Disney World like a champ. Then he turned five and, overnight, BANG. A different story. He needs his morning and nights to be the same, and he does way better when he knows what’s going on. Too much decision making sends him into a tailspin. This has been a really big–and evolving–change.

With this knowledge in hand, here are the three things I’m changing up for our winter and spring kindergarten:

  • We’ve established a “wake up” and “go to bed” routine, but I want to give JC a “morning” routine: updating the calendar, going over the day plans, maybe making a morning basket with a book and a short project that goes along with our theme.
  • We need to get out more. My child and I are both introverts–big crowds, flurries of activity and prolonged socialization wear us out, so we have a lot of solitary time. Which is perfectly okay. I’m not trying to change that about either of us, but I am still hunting for that perfect “tribe” that really suits us. I also think that regular routine will help with this–knowing we’re going to our co-op or kid book club in advance can prepare him (and me!) for the process.
  • I need to stop reading every book I come across on homeschooling theories and just do it. I like to research, I like to know what other people are doing so that I can assure myself I’m doing it right. Which is silly, because I have a smart and healthy kid. I’m doing it right. So my personal goal for the second half of the school year is to stay connected but not second guess myself (probably something I could carry to all aspects of my life!).

We’re “back to school” for the first time in 2016 tomorrow! Are your kids–homeschooled or not–back to reality? What’s new for them this year?

How Do You Vacation From Homeschool?

It’s Christmas week! It’s Christmas week! All over our town, school-aged kiddos slept in, got up and DID NOT put on their uniforms, and headed to the mall/museum/zoo to enjoy the first day of holiday break.

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I remember so well how special Christmas vacation was when I was little. It made the holidays feel real. It was my chance to watch bad day time TV and read FOR AS LONG AS I WANTED. My friends and I would go to the mall in the middle of the day, which felt decadent and a little bit naughty. You know the feeling, right?

So while this was going on all around us this morning, JC and I got up as usual. We had our morning routine (because holiday or no holiday, if you mess with my kid’s morning or night routine, our entire day falls apart). And then we…had a regular day. We read for as long as we wanted. He worked on his “novel” about Hoth, the ice planet from Star Wars (AKA he dictated to me and I typed as fast as I could). Nana came over and we went to the mall to finish up our shopping. We had lunch at our favorite Mexican restaurant. He’s currently drawing one AT-AT Walker after another in his “animation” notebook. It is essentially just another day for us. It was a fun, happy day, but it leaves me questioning: how do you have a vacation from project based homeschooling?

For the most part, we don’t follow a strict schedule. There are certainly parts our day that are more “school” than others, but the majority of the time we’re pretty free flowing. So how do I make “school breaks” special? Should I even have school breaks? I mean, for a 5-year-old, he has it pretty easy. And I’m certainly not going to stop him from working on something I would consider a homeschool project (even if it’s just considered “play” to him) while we’re technically on a break. But I find myself longing a little bit for that excited feeling of freedom, for both he and I. I don’t work a 9 to 5 job, so there’s no time off or Christmas party or holiday bonus. And he doesn’t school traditionally, so there’s nothing to break from.

This is one of these moments when I have to step back and think about the situation, long and hard. Why was it that I felt such freedom and happiness during Christmas break? It was the mental freedom from having to think and the physical freedom from being in school all day. When I look at it like that, I’m glad that JC doesn’t notice when we have a homeschool break. When I let go of something I have been conditioned to think (“school is out! I don’t have to learn anything!”) I realize that for my  kid, and my situation, I’m doing it right.

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I’m sure there will come a time when homeschool isn’t as fun as it is now. And we’ll take that break, and we’ll savor it. But for now, back to creating.

How I Wrote Our Homeschool Curriculum

I’ve done a lot of writing in my life, but I’ve never attempted an educational curriculum. I spent a good part of the summer researching home school curriculums, poring over standards and getting frustrated because I wasn’t finding exactly what I wanted. Since JC is in kindergarten, I decided that I would write my own for now. Here is how I tackled–and am still tackling–it.

I pulled from my favorite methods. I love the idea of project based learning, but know that at this age, JC would happily sit and build Legos for 8 hours a day if he got to direct how his time was spent. Great for a lot of things like pre-engineering and math skills, not so hot for writing skills. I love the Waldorf method for reading…but I’m not crazy about the zero tolerance screen rule they have. I love the freedom of unschooling and being able to pick up and travel, but I need more stability than that–and my kid does, too.  I went through all the methods I had researched and plucked my favorite bits out of them to apply in my own teaching.

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Making our “M is for Monster” craft was a hit.

I wrote out our school year goals, derived from various standards. I have plenty of issues with the Common Core Guidelines (that’s another post entirely) but I wanted to make sure JC was at least on par with his traditionally schooled counterparts, so I used those to set a starting point. I also looked at academic standards for private schools, and from other states that consistently ranked top in education. I combined that information and made academic goals for JC based on where he’s at now and how far I think he can go this year. For example, I had to pull from higher grades for math goals for him, but he HATES putting pen to paper so I know we have a long road ahead of us in the written word department.

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He balks at worksheets, but loved writing notes to Dad. If it gets him writing, I’ll take it!

I thought about how I wanted our day to go. In our house, we have a pattern but not a schedule. I would do the same things at the same time and eat the same foods every day if I could (I like my stability, people) but my husband is the complete opposite. JC falls somewhere in the middle. I love our sleepy snuggle time in the morning, so our official home school day starts around 9. That’s when we do our calendar, days of the week, letters and whatever else “desk oriented” I have planned for the day. After a few weeks, JC knows home school happens in our little learning nook and usually beats me there.

Of course, not all learning happens like that. I’m a big proponent of play and nature based education, so we spend a lot of time outside and active in other parts of the house. Home school happens all day, even if my kid doesn’t realize he’s learning. I just know JC tends to get a little obstinate and fall apart around 3:00, so we save the afternoon for reading, playing, quiet time, invitations to create, etc, and use the mornings for the focused activities.

I go a month at a time. When I first started to plan out our weeks, I got overwhelmed. Fast. So I plan in detail a month at a time, stashing activities aside for other months as I come across them. Three weeks in, I know I need an organizational system, but I’m still figuring out what is going to work best.

We get social. JC started going to a nature-based co-op last year that we adore, so I bumped it up to twice a week this year. We are lucky that we found a group so in tune with how we think! We also try to make it to some other home school group field trips in our area, but I’m discovering that a lot of the groups don’t really pick up until mid-elementary school.

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We love our co-op.

I ask for help. To be a homeschooler, you have to be a control freak who can let go. You have to be able to take responsibility for the education your child is getting–but be able to realize that you can’t do it all yourself. I have a friend who used to be a literacy teacher and curriculum coordinator, and I send her questions daily. I find out what other parents are doing, where they’re going for field trips, and if they ever feel like burying their head in the sand (the answer is yes).

What I’m really learning is that homeschooling, like the rest of life, requires balance. It’s very time-intensive right now that JC can’t do much “self-study”, and sometimes both of us need a break to go back to just being mom and kid. And one of the beautiful things about homeschooling is that we have time to do just that.

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Sometimes you just need to snuggle and read.

Every parent is a teacher, whether you homeschool or not. What kind of educational things do you like to do with your kids?

Just Imagine How Much Cooler I’ll be in SUMMER!

Memorial Day has come and gone and summer has officially arrived.

We traditionally kick off our summer with a trip out-of-town–this year we went to Atlantic Beach in North Carolina, with a last-minute surprise trip to Disney World tacked on to the end. We had a blast and I can’t wait to share more with you about it next week.

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We will be wrapping up our home school year this week. This was our pre-k year, and it was really about trying things out and considering the different options. JC didn’t even really know he was doing “school” things this year, which is something I think I would like to carry over into our kindergarten year. He is definitely into math, science and engineering, which means I will be spending a good portion of the summer learning myself, so that when we hit the fall I’ll be ready! He isn’t reading by himself yet, but he still loves to sit and pore over his books.

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He’s got a lot of sight words in his arsenal–granted, they are words like The Lone Ranger, volcano and the various types of steams trains he loves–but I did manage to get some core words in there, too.

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This is what happens when Disney fans do sight words.

We won’t be completely lazy this summer. Our preschool playgroup has summer activities we’ll be going to once a week, and I’m working on a camp theme for JC to earn “badges” by completing challenges. He really rebels when we sit down and “learn”, so I’m hoping he’ll enjoy it. I also want to do a summer reading program with him.

The biggest event this summer is our move. Being the type A personality I am, I really had to fight myself not to start obsessing and packing earlier this month, but now that we’re back from vacation and June is looming, it’s time to get started. We think we have the location all nailed down, but there are still a few things that are up in the air. So, not stressful at all. Nope.

On that note, my goal is really to relax. Our family has a lot of transition and stress so far this year, and there is still a lot ahead of us. I want to spend a lot of time outside, I want to read a lot, and I want to write a lot. Oh, and there is an ice cream maker sitting in my storage unit that is calling my name. Homemade peach ice cream, anyone?

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I know you’re singing the song now. You’re welcome.

What are your summer plans?

Kids, Kindergarten and Controversy

Even though we are a home school family–or maybe because of it–I spend a good deal of time keeping my finger on the trends in public education. There is so much to think about when you consider how to educate your child and many factors go into deciding where and when your child will learn.

It’s the “when” that I’m thinking about today. A few days ago, a House Bill was introduced here in Georgia that would change the cut off date for children entering kindergarten. As it stands right now, a child has to be 5 years old by September 1st of the year they wish to enroll in kindergarten (in our area, school usually starts the first or second week in August). The bill proposes that for the 2015-16 year, children must be 5 by August the 1st. The date would be moved up to June 30th for the years after that.

The concept behind the bill is that children are not mature enough to enter kindergarten as an early 5-year-old or an older 4-year-old. State supporters point out that for some children, kindergarten is their first school experience and they’re just not emotionally or mentally prepared.

JC’s birthday is at the end of July, so we started thinking about his early education, my husband and I took this into consideration. As the rule stands right now, JC would have entered kindergarten a month after his 5th birthday and always be one of the oldest children in his class. Under the new rule, late summer babies would have what equates to two years in pre-k and not enter kindergarten until they are 6 years old. It’s a pretty big change, and parents are up in arms about it here in Georgia.

Before I was married and had a little one of my own, I taught pre-k at a private school. We followed the Creative Curriculum, which I liked a lot. Then, when the weather started to turn warm in the spring, everything got crazy because it was time to “prepare for kindergarten”. We were given a list of the things that our students would be expected to do when they got to kindergarten in the fall and had to have meetings with the parents to discuss their child’s kindergarten readiness.

I remember two meetings in particular, both with parents I felt had students that would not be able to handle kindergarten as they stood then. One mother of a little girl cried but said she wasn’t surprised, and that she wanted her daughter to be emotionally prepared and knew she wasn’t. The other mother was furious.

“I just don’t understand why he can’t write his name,” she said to me when I showed her his printing. “His older brother could write his name just fine, and his name is longer!”

I thought back to the day the child had written his name, knowing his mother would see it and wanting to do a good job for her. He had brought his paper over to my desk to work, away from his buddies who were done and distracting him. I remembered his concentration. I thought about how he didn’t write or read as well as the other boys in the class–but he was a kinder, gentler kid. He noticed things the other kids missed, and he was very artistic. In many ways, he was smarter than the rest of his class.

But he couldn’t write his name well, and that meant he wasn’t ready for kindergarten. And  his mom was ticked off.

Part of me couldn’t blame her. And part of me was annoyed with her. It was the hardest part of being a teacher.

I think of that conversation a lot when I think of JC’s education. It’s one of the reasons I so fervently believe in homeschooling and letting kids learn at their own pace. Public school kindergarten is hard–even for kids that are in a pre-k program. There’s major structure, a lot of sitting still, and even homework. Some kids are ready for it–and some aren’t.

Will changing the age fix this? Or will it just make kindergarten even more hardcore than it is now? I think it’s good that lawmakers in our state are clearly seeing that the system that’s in place isn’t working–but I feel like this bill might just be slapping a band-aid on our state’s education problems.

What do you think about pushing back the kindergarten age? Would you “redshirt” your kid if you felt they weren’t ready for kindergarten?

Books in Real Life: ‘All You Need for a Snowman’

Even though we don’t get much snow in Atlanta, we can dream about it, right?

This month I chose Alice Schertle’s All You Need for a Snowman to highlight for my Books in Real Life post. It’s a great book, especially for groups, but a lot of the activities that go along with it can be applied to other winter books.

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One of my favorite ideas to go along with this book is a build-a-snowman station.This is a great activity to do with a handful of kids or to leave you kids to their own devices. I was surprised at how long this kept JC occupied.

I made a batch of our favorite play dough:

1 cup flour
1/3 cup salt
1 cup water
1 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoons cream of tartar
Food Coloring (if so desired)

I put it all in a pan, turn on low heat, and mix until it stiffens up. Let it cool for a few minutes, and then knead the color in. I always think it isn’t going to work because it starts out so runny…but it always does!

Then I set up a little box of “snowman fixings”…little twigs, buttons, fabric scraps, etc. 

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And the finished results:

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Here is a quick and healthy snack idea for when you read the book. Decorate clear cups with snowman faces, tie a little scarf around them, and fill with freshly popped popcorn. Perfect to snuggle up and read the book!

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Leslie over at Teach Junkie has a free download that goes along with the books that includes some great descriptive writing sheets. If you have younger kids, they can also be used as coloring pages. You can find the download here.


What are your kids reading this month? These are some of our current top requests.

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