Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Interest Led Learning: Un-planning Reading

Last year I bought Drawn into the Heart of Reading.  I loved the way it so closely resembled how I “taught” reading when I was teaching third grade.  Do you know where the book is now?  On my bookshelf collecting dust, in the very same place it was this time last year!  I could not use this book for one very important Grace hated reading.  
It broke my heart that something happened along the way that took the joy out of the act of reading.  It was no longer pleasurable for her.  It was a chore, a task, an assignment.  This was the child that I rocked to sleep every night reading our favorite picture books of all time.  This was the child that I took to the library for story time and to Barnes & Nobel just to play.  This was the child that read every single Junie B. Jones to me.  This was the child who I started a book club full of 6 year olds for.  How could this have happened?
I don’t have a definitive answer how it happened, but I knew that by pushing worksheets, Venn Diagrams, and reading comprehension quizzes at her, I would only drive that repressed love further and further into the deepest parts of her soul.  
I took a very deep breath, and then another and said read when you want to read.  Read what you want to read.  For a long time nothing happened.  But then the interest returned.  She wanted to read but she had no desire to read for more than 5 or 10 minutes.  She joined another book club, this one run by her friend.  Together they strolled through the stacks at the library pulling out books by the dozen that they would like to read.  This was the turning point.
Suddenly there were more books that Grace wanted to read, than she had time to read them!  She read The Homework Machine and we listened to Loser.  She read The Magic Half and we listened to The Graveyard Book.  And so it went.  Little by little tv time was replaced by reading time.  Little by little, her passion returned.. for it was never really lost, just misplaced.
And so our adventure towards unschooling really began with reading.  I let Lilah and Grace choose their reading material.  But....I am careful to place good books in a variety of genres in their path.  Right now Lilah is reading a Liz Kessler book: Philippa Fisher’s Fairy Godsister (fantasy) but she is also reading her animal encyclopedia, her children’s Bible, she read a pamphlet on world religions and a choose your own adventure book.  I would say that covers numerous genres!
Grace is reading Seekers Book 1, Carl Haissen’s Scat and The Name of This Book is Secret.  She also independently studying weather, with a focus on extreme or severe weather, and reads every non-fiction book on this topic.  She is also working on a fabulous book we picked up at the Girl Scout Bookstore about social advocacy and the power of a young girl to change the world around her.  
In addition to their independent reading, both girls are working on Story of the World on their own this year.  I will pre-read the book so I am aware of the content.  I also ask them to stay together so that I can manage the process easier.  Each week they read a chapter, give me a summary, do the mapwork, and by choice, they take the online quiz.  To supplement the book, we will pick up many of the additional reading selections during our library trips.
And of course, we have our beloved audiobooks.  We just finished up Jeremy Thatcher Dragon Hatcher, one of our favorites of the Magic Shop Series by Bruce Coville.  These books are fantastic audiobooks.  They are not too long, they have wonderful narration, they use multiple character voices, and the stories each have a character that has a love of learning that extends past the classroom.  My all time favorite was Juliet Dove, Queen of Love.  My girls’ favorite was The Monster’s Ring.  Ironically, our next audiobook which we will begin next is titled Quake.  Sadly, we did not feel the earthquake that happened on the East Coast last week but Greg did in Manhattan!
And that is our unplan for reading.  Lots of books, lots of time, lots of audiobooks, lots of trips to the library, lots of trips to the bookstore, lots of nights snuggled in my bed reading, lots of movies comparing the book to the movie, lots of conversation, lots of trust, patience and understanding.  

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Homeschool Mother's Journal: August 26, 2011

The Homeschool Mother's Journal

Last year I did a weekly wrap up of what took place in each subject area.  This year I am doing something different.  I am joining up with the Homeschool’s Mother’s Journal!

In my life this week… I spent much time with my friends.  It was beyond pleasurable to relax, unwind, drink a cup of tea while the children played and enjoy their company before the business of our fall begins in a few weeks.  Our minds have also been drawn to Hurricane Irene barreling our way.  While the beginning of the week was spent playing, the end of the week was spent preparing.  There is so much work that goes into extreme weather preparations.  Just a partial list included: propane tank filling, pool draining, basement clearing, food shopping, pet food stocking, water stockpiling, baking, cooking, securing, yard cleaning, harvesting.  I was in high school when Hurricane Gloria hit Connecticut.  At the time I lived in Glastonbury, on the Connecticut River.  School was closed for a week as a result of major flooding.  Now that we live on the Connecticut coast, in the spot expected to take a direct hit, I would be lying if I said I am not a little bit nervous...
In our homeschool this week… Grace spent some time each day playing the piano.  Lilah passed hours playing with Legos.
Both girls are working on chapter 2 in Story of the World.  They are also both working on the badge project for Outdoor Creativity.  So far they have pressed flowers from our garden. They are sitting between newspaper under heavy cookbooks.  Lilah has already mounted one of hers onto cardstock and sealed it with ModgePodge.
Grace is very busy hurricane tracking.  Every night she uses weather underground at to plot the coordinates.  Unfortunately with her level of awareness about storm safety, she is very nervous to actually experience one.  Hopefully by the time she comes ashore in CT, Miss Irene will be just a tropical depression.
We began watching the Discovery Channel’s documentary about the rebuilding of the World Trade Center.  Our close proximity to New York coupled with my own experience of that day, having my mother and brother in Manhattan on 9/11 make this upcoming anniversary difficulty. However, this is a program you can watch as a family and celebrate your American Heritage.  Our strength as a people is in our determination to persevere.  I simply cannot wait to take my children to this site.
Helpful homeschooling tips or advice to share… This year the girls have begun to keep their own calendar.  Of course, I control the main calendar but they plug in their important dates for things like piano lessons, co-op, nature class, beach nights, etc.  There planners stay in their big Trapper Keeper-like binders in the dining room.  If I would like to suggest a task such as task #3 for Girl Scout badge, I can plug it in where I know I will have time to dedicate to this.  My goal is to help them learn time management and prioritization.  I love sitting with them talking about upcoming classes and events and watching their calendar fill up with things that matter to them.
I am inspired by… my Breville juicer!  I love it.  We did not research it or compare costs and reviews.  We walked into Williams Sonoma Outlet Store on our way home from Cape Cod and just bought it.  I love that I can make my juice which I then use to add to my green smoothie.  I have replaced one meal a day with a liquid meal.  In one green smoothie there can be: two carrots, two peaches, two stalks of celery all juiced plus at least one cup of spinach, half a cup of kale or romaine lettuce, the tops to the carrots, and some ice.  I would never ever eat this many fruits and vegitables in one day let alone one meal!  Every day is a new opportunity to try a new combination.
Places we’re going and people we’re seeing…  We enjoyed another dinner at the beach Tuesday night.  These have been some of my favorite times this summer.  We have made new friends, shared fun experiences and simply enjoyed the best that summer has to offer.  These nights will not stop just because August is ending. They will continue once a week, weather permitting, through September.
My favorite thing this week was… Lilah’s birthday.  Click HERE for pictures of her special day.
What’s working/not working for us… Lilah wants me to read Story of the World to her.  Secretly, I am so glad she asked!  Originally she wanted to read it to herself like Grace, but I enjoy this book so much, I did not want to lose the time learning with my children.  It amazes me that in each chapter a gap in my own knowledge is filled in.  For example, I did not know the origin of the word Anglo-Saxon and I did not know the story of Beowolf.  I am looking forward to picking up Celtic Fairy Tales next week at the library!  I am also taking the activity book to Staples to copy and hole punch it.  Each girl will have a pre-made binder this year.  No more copying the pages as needed.  Now I have to find a version of Beowolf to read aloud like I did with The Odyssey.  Any suggestions?
Questions/thoughts I have… How am I going to be able to get this family ready for another trip with the complexities that this trip will entail? (more details to follow....) and Will this trip be affected by the hurricane?  (hint...we are going somewhere on the East Coast) 

Things I’m working on… finishing up purchasing things we will need shortly.  I still need to order the girls’ math (Charlotte Mason Your Business Math: sports store and pet store).  Since this is an e-book there will be no wait time.  I also have to pick up new art supplies and I am still trying to find the perfect stainless steel bento box for our lunches.  Again...any recommendations?
I’m reading… 

Grace is  reading:


Lilah is reading:

I’m cooking… food that will not perish in case we are without power.  I stocked up on canned soup, broth, and canned chicken at Trader Joe’s today.  I am going to bake loaves of banana bread, granola bars, and perhaps a batch of spaghetti sauce.  I have almond milk, juice boxes and gallons of water ready.  Our grill has propane and we have fresh bread to go nicely with pb&j.  In the even that we do lose power for an extended period of time, I have the peace of mind knowing that my parents are just 2 miles away with a generator powerful enough to run their entire house.  I hope they have room in the freezer for all my tomatoes!
I’m grateful for… the fact that we do not have to go back to school shopping.  Today in Target we were picking up some packs of crayons at 19 cents a pack not for our own use but to give as party favors.  The section was filled with children who looked none to pleased to be there and their equally unhappy parents.   I overheard their displeasure was not from sending their children to school for 7 hours a day, but rather that this nasty hurricane would most likely disrupt the first day of school.  Not for us!
I’m praying for… my daughter to experience the wonder of mother nature with a healthy dose of appreciation for her power without the numbing fear it brings.
A photo, video, link, or quote to share…


Friday, August 26, 2011


This magical, fantastical* girl turned nine yesterday.  She chose to spend her day with equally magical and fantastical friends at Frog Creek.  
*per Ramona, fantastical is indeed a word.  We have adopted it into our daily vocabulary!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Interest-Led Learning: Our Unplan for Writing

Writing is a skill that one must have to be successful in life.  Period.  No exceptions.  But how we teach a child the skills to be a good writer is open for debate.  
I have given much thought to writing.  I have contemplated purchasing a curriculum but I know that I will not stick to the prescribed lessons and my children will become frustrated if they are not allowed to express their creativity.  I have been searching for something that interests them and gives them many opportunities to write across a variety of genres.
For us...that something is our Girl Scout Junior Badge Book!  I went through this book page by page searching for badges that met certain criteria:

  • pertain to an interest my girls already have
  • contain a rich writing experience
  • are challenging
I asked the girls to sit and thumb through those that interested them. Their desire to begin was so strong, they copied the pages they wanted to do and began.  For the Outdoor Creativity badge the girls must: write and publish a Haiku, press flowers and turn them into something like a bookmark or a journal, chose a famous artist/writer/musician who is inspired by nature and write a biography of them and share it in some way, participate in a night-watch and write about the experience, find two different spots in nature and express your feelings about each in a creative way.  
The goal for us is not about earning the patch.  The patch is secondary to learning more about what interests us.  But, the beauty is that through this one badge project, the girls will be writing across a multiple of genres (biographical writing, poetry, creative writing).
I have told the girls that however they choose to compile their work, we can make it beautiful.  They can make a video or a vlog.  They can bring their work to Staples and have it spiral bound into a book.  They can share it at their Girl Scout meetings.  They can email it to friends and family.  The possibilities are plentiful.
Through their writing, I advise them on topics as if we were using a traditional curriculum like:
  • sentence structure,
  • strong verbs
  • beautiful language
  • proper grammar
  • topic sentences
  • paragraph structure
  • run on sentences...
Their learning will be relevant to their needs day by day.  
    In addition to this, the girls will be blogging at their personal blogs:
    They will be encouraged to journal as often as they would like.  My goal is to get to a point where tv viewing is truly minimal.  When we cut out television, our evenings are usually spent upstairs with the dogs, snuggled in our beds, writing and reading.  When we watch tv, one of these two things is usually forsaken.  Now that we will be back on a schedule with requires getting up at 7:00am several days during the week (do you feel me shuddering), bedtime can no longer be a casual 10:00pm.  
    I will also encourage creative writing.  I love reading the girls stories.  The progression of the complexity in their storytelling proves to me that you do not need a formal curriculum to teach writing.  You just need a pen, paper, or a computer + the desire to express your thoughts and feelings + someone to guide you.  Hopefully this year we will build on our success with the art show and have several more occasions to share our work.  One idea I have is a wintertime story share with hot coco and a fireplace.....
    Lastly, I will be leading a class called Artist/Writer’s Workshop that will meet at my house every Monday for the five weeks in October.  I will use various art lessons that the children will work on in a sketchbook.  Each piece of art will be embellished with the children’s words.  I am very excited about this, as are my girls.  Having a group of 8 girls who are all friends and who range in age from 7 to 11, creating art and writing together should be a memorable experience!
    Writing.  I just love it.

    Tuesday, August 23, 2011

    Interest-Led Learning: Our Unplan for Science

    “Catching frogs, building forts, exploring wild places.  We allow children’s passions to guide the learning process.  Through weaving games and stories into learning, we create an “invisible school.”  Our students are having so much fun, they often don’t realize how much they’ve learned through the day..  We allow children’s passions to guide the learning process.  Through weaving games and stories into learning, we create an “invisible school.”  Our students are having so much fun, they often don’t realize how much they’ve learned through the day.”
                                                                      Philosophy Statement @
    Lilah is going on her third year at home.  This is #2 for Grace.  All this time we have been moving towards understanding how homeschooling will work for our family.  We have come to a very exciting place in our journey.  The place where we diverge from a plan and let the children lead their own way.  
    Grace 2010 at The Audubon
    We consider the world our classroom.  Learning cannot possibly be confined to something as small as a school building.  This summer I think we truly embraced the fact that we are explorers, searching out information on what we love and what we are interested in.  Once we identified our own unique interests, the information seems to find us.   
    When I began blogging about our homeschooling experience it was to help my friends and family understand why we made this choice and how we would execute it on a daily basis.  I think when we tried the school-at-home route, it was very easy to understand.  But now that we no longer do that, that we learn year round, that we seek out learning opportunities on vacation, that we don’t have a set schedule or a core curriculum it is harder for those who do not homeschool to understand.  I get that.  So here it is.  Our unplan subject by subject for the beginning of this year.
    First you have to understand our guiding interests or passions.  All things flow from them.
    Grace: science, with a focus on Meteorology, music
    Lilah: science, with a focus on Nature Studies, art
    Me: Natural living, with a focus on nutrition
    Our our botany walk Spring 2011
    I am including myself in this list because I am no longer the “teacher”.  These are not “my” plans.  I choose to learn alongside my children in the areas that interest me the most.  I would like to think that my interests inspire my children as well.
    It seems natural that much of our lives will revolve around the SCIENCES.  Grace and Lilah will be taking a Nature Study class once a week.  The class is six hours long and lasts 12 weeks.  That is 72 hours of science! Lilah has taken this class before.  Here are some of her highlights from the spring of 2010:
    • Was inspired by her guide, an artist who used the map of the Nature Center as a living canvas, continually painting on it as they explored each area.
    • Caught a frog, gave thanks to it, build a fire and cooked the frog. (Lilah did not eat the frog).
    • Learned about local plants and animal habitats.
    • Learned to identify edible plants.
    • Experienced a guest - an herbalist who shared her passions with the children.
    • Listened to storytellers weave tales of long ago, participated in the activities that accompanied these tales.
    • Learned how to construct shelters.
    • Deepened her love of insects.
    • Kept a beautiful journal of her memories and experiences.

    In addition to this, Grace will attend a Meteorology Class at a local University that is designed for 7th and 8th grade public school students.  She was granted permission to join this class based on her independent study.  I do not have a syllabus for this class yet but she is super excited for it to begin.
    Lilah chose Astronomy as one of her classes at co-op.  This class meets for one hour each week for 12 weeks.  To supplement her learning, we will be taking out many books on this subject from the library.  I am also searching CurrClick for mini-studies she can do independently.  
    That’s our unplan for least until the end of November. 

    Monday, August 22, 2011

    Harvest Time!

    We are back from vacation but not for long.  Just long enough to enjoy my new favorite time of the year...harvest time.
    Those of you who have known me forever might be laughing right now.  Gardening is not and never has been a love of mine for the simple reason that I cannot stand the feeling of dirt on my hands.  I want to enjoy it but it drives me bonkers.  But I am moving past this.  This year I can actually say I helped in our garden with the planting, the weeding, the organic pest management researching, the watering and the harvesting.
    This is what my counter top looked like this morning.  I did not clean it up for you.  This is the real messy deal.  This mess I can handle.  All the tomatoes are from our gardens.  As is the yellow squash, green onion, and the cucumbers.  The other veggies, like the potatoes are from our CSA.  

    On our way home from the Cape we stopped at the outlets in Wrentham, MA and bought a new my whole family is very excited about.  Ta Da!

    So this is how apple juice is supposed to taste!  So far we have made carrot/apple/celery, which might be my favorite, tomato/celery and apple.  The best thing is that juice then becomes our base for the green smoothie.  Yesterday we made the carrot juice blend, then dumped it in the Vitamix with kale, romaine, carrot greens, and frozen grapes.  Can you say delish????  
    Not having my Vitamix for a week was much harder than I expected.  My body has come to rely on my smoothies.  Without them I actually feel out of balance.  Never again.  Next time we travel we will smoothie with our own blender whether it is in a hotel room (like we did in PA) or our family’s house (like we did in TN) or out of the back of our car (like in Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead).  
    If you have Netflix, watch this movie.  It is so inspirational....the power we all have to change the way our body functions all by choosing what we put into it.  This is one I will watch again with my girls.  I will file it under the category of Health and call it a lesson worth learning.

    Friday, August 19, 2011

    We Joined a Co-Op!

    When my girls were coming out of school, the thing they wanted to do the most was join a coop.   But Grace was having a hard time adjusting to being home, the coop I wanted to join is an hour away and our schedule was already so packed that I was afraid it would tip the balance and work to  our detriment, rather than our advantage.  I politely declined the invitation and crossed my fingers that we would be welcome again, when the time was right.
    Grace can explore her passion for science.
    This topic came up just a few weeks ago and my girls decided that the time was right.  We were accepted into the coop and classes begin September 21st.  After much  deliberation and debate, they finally settled on:

    Digital Photography
    Geometric Constructions

    To continue, click on over to Three Thinking Mothers!

    Thursday, August 18, 2011

    Harbor Seals in Chatham

    Have you heard the buzz about Great Whites in Chatham?
    We went today.
    Not to see the Great Whites.
    But to see what they have come to eat.

    A seal tour was not the best choice for us, just in case we happened upon a seal in distress.

    Instead we went to where the seals know they have it made.

    The seals cruise in behind the fishing boats to catch a scrap or two...

    While this one small strip of sand keeps them from what lurks just beneath the surface....

    We could have stayed all night.

    It just never gets old.  

    I could watch them frolic and play for hours.

    Good night our seal friends.  We will be back to see you tomorrow!

    A Twilight Musical Stroll

    Harwichport puts on the best Main Street Musical Stroll four times a summer.  
    We were lucky enough to be here for one of them.

    Bands played from every parking lot, their unique sounds filling the air.

    Families strolled hand in hand.

    The girls savored free scoops of ice cream while we perused my favorite childhood haunts.

    We window shopped.

    We strolled.
    We watched the sun fade to darkness with nothing short of breathtaking splendor.

    Don't You Just Stay Home All Day?

    It’s funny because last night at youth group some of the kids friends were discussing homeschooling and really truly felt that we stay home...