Friday, August 30, 2013

Farewell, Summer...

We've had a long, restful vacation from the work of doing school at home.  I realized, during our second week of summer quarter, that I needed a "real" summer vacation this year--so I took one.  We've lazed about in our pajamas until lunch on some days, left the house for nature hikes shortly after the sun peeked over the mountains on other days, and mostly just threw the calendar out the window.  "We'll start school after Labor Day," I'd tell myself every time the Type-A part of me would start wringing her hands, "It's like an experiment in unschooling."

And now we find ourselves on the Friday before Labor Day.

We had a houseful of visitors last week, and only did what we felt like doing at the moment while they were here--there was shopping, lots of eating (smoked salmon, people...and fudge, and caramel corn, and the biggest Italian feast you can place upon the table in front of four adults and five children), and much time devoted to sitting and listening to each other speak while we watched the littlest member of our group gum LEGOs and practice his first steps.

L to R:  My aunt, my granny, my husband, my sister-in-law, my brother, my nephew.
Yes, all of them are MINE.  :)
In the days following their departures, I realized that I couldn't get into the "school" mindset before they visited because their visit marked the end of summer.  Now that they've returned to their homes, taking a little piece of my heart with them, my mind can focus on literature choices, flashcards, and science experiments.  It's like we gathered to grant summer its farewell before heading back into regular life with all its work and responsibilities.  The power of the end-of-summer vacation; or, more specifically, the interesting feeling of closure that accompanies the end-of-summer vacation.

The nerd in me loves a new school year.  I'm going to try to include more activities and field trips this year, mostly because we've finally reached a point in our family's "maturity level" where I feel like I can actually handle taking all my children on more field trips and that they cannot sabotage the house while I'm trying to have an activity for them.  (I'm looking at you, Monkeyboy...)

That being said, I've also noticed a bit of a "But I don't wanna..." attitude about starting school this year.  When I talk to other homeschoolers, I'm rather surprised at how many of them also had the Fourth Year Blues.  What is it about this fourth year that has so many of us feeling apprehensive about the decision to educate at home?  Maybe it's the real awakening of understanding about what this is going to entail for the many years hitting Mile 6 in a marathon and realizing that there are still twenty miles to go.  But that's no reason to stop, and no reason to doubt our abilities.  I've always believed in the power of "Finding a Project" when I come up against a moment of insecurity, recalcitrance, or boredom.  I'm going to hunker down and do the work, and pray for the joy to find me.  The joy always shows up, sooner or later.

Farewell, Summer 2013.  We enjoyed the popsicles on the back porch, the many different variations of grilled chicken that we came up with, the nature hikes, and the movie nights.  There was the busy, busy week at Grandma's with the slip 'n slide, fireworks, and bubbles.  There was all the music, all the choir rehearsals for the BIG song, all the time spent with friends, the "neighborhood" baseball game, and the many moments of service and love showered upon us.  We anticipated the visit from family, and basked in each other's company.  There was the reading aloud of The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring, and much laughter over Gollum impressions.  (Penguin has his walk honed to creepy perfection.)  There were successes in important arenas, and stresses that eventually worked out for the best.  It was life; imperfectly wonderful in all it gave us throughout these last three months.

Because it's true.  :)

Hello, Autumn 2013, we're pleased to meet you.  We're looking forward to delving into the American Civil War, studying physics, and teaching another Brookelet how to read.  We can't wait to walk through piles of fallen leaves, or for when the mornings start getting cold enough that there needs to be hot chocolate with breakfast.  We look forward to greeting Michael with a warm house filled with the aroma of a crock-pot roast and baked potatoes when he comes home at the end of a blustery day.  Here's to thick (handknit!) socks, sweaters, and curling up on the couch with a good book while it storms outside.

We've been waiting our whole lives for what you're planning on bringing to us, Autumn 2013.  We smile as we watch and see what will unfold, with hearts full of gratitude for our blessings, and for the lessons we have learned from our trials.

Thank you, God, for each season, each day, that You grant me to spend with these beautiful, amazing people of all ages.  They are my life--my most precious gifts from You, always.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Portrait of a Homeschooling Mom: Year Four

I went to all the effort of taking the kids' NOT Back to School portraits, and while we were walking back into the house I had the thought that perhaps I should also take a picture of myself at the start of a new school year.  So here it is, a selfie taken in the garage as my kids pushed past my knees on their quest for juice pouches from the fridge.

I am 31 years old this school year, in the midst of my eleventh year of marriage, tenth year of parenting, and embarking on my fourth "official" year of homeschooling.  I am my ward's Sacrament Meeting Music Director, Choir Director, and newly-sustained Primary Chorister.

I've come to realize, over the last school year, that my big passion in life is teaching.  Directing the ward choir helped me realize that.  I like to do a good job when I sing a solo piece, and I push myself to do my best.  When the performance is over, I'm proud of myself for a job well done, but start looking for a new project immediately.  In contrast, when it comes to directing the choir, their success with a difficult song has me walking around in a euphoric stupor for days afterwards.  It wasn't until a few months ago that I realized this significant truth about myself, and I'm so grateful that God opened my eyes and allowed me to see myself in this light of His making--I've felt guilty for so long about not wanting to do "more" than teach...but I've realized that this is what I like to do, and that it's OK for others to think I'm not rising to my potential, or not "using my degree," or that I could do better good if I taught outside of my home.  I like what I do, where I'm doing it, right now.  I'm not interested in it being different, and I don't have to change what I'm doing to please a naysayer.

My passion is helping others reach their potential, and my heart is naturally more invested in the potential of my children, and I choose to invest my time and energy in my children.  I love what I do, even on the days when it is hard.  I was sent here to teach, and I count it as an enormous blessing that I get to mix my missions of mothering and educating because I live in a time and place where homeschooling is legal, and even, in some circles, encouraged.  I am a teacher, down to my bones, and I am so thankful that I get to spend this chapter of my life with my beautiful children, both during my "working" hours and my "home" hours.

Monday, August 19, 2013

2013-2014 School Pictures

The last time we had family portraits done, Junebug was one year old.  I'm not much of a frilly photo session person, and I figure that I take so many pictures of my kids throughout the course of a year that spending money on formal portraits would be a little unnecessary...until I catch a glimpse of our last family portrait, which gets placed further and further away from our main living rooms with each passing year, because we're only holding three kids in it.  Goal for this autumn:  Family Portrait session.

Part of the reason I like the NOT Back to School blog hop so much is because it has a "School Pictures" week, which serves as excellent outside motivation to take a decent shot of each child at the beginning-ish of each school year.  This year, inspired by the many variations of "First Day of School" photos popping up all over Pinterest, I decided to include signs.  I figure it will be fun to watch as they grow.

My oldest pupil this (and every) year.  Miss Bluebird will be entering the fourth grade this year, her last year of grammar level schooling!  She's a strong reader and has an intensifying interest in robotics and computer programming.  (The robots and programming things are totally due to my awesome husband working with her.  I take credit for the reading--I'm a book pusher.)  She's entering Junior Girl Scouts this year, which is the first year that she's allowed to start working on the high achievement awards--we've been brainstorming ideas for her Bronze Award project all summer; but, as you can see from her career considerations, she has a hard time narrowing down her choices because there's just too much good stuff out there to pick one focus!

This adorable girl is my Penguin, who enters the second grade this year.  She's developing into a great reader, and hopes, hopes, hopes that someday we'll be able to move to a house with lots of land so she can get some nanny goats and start her own animal hospital.  She enters Brownie Girl Scouts this year and is really looking forward to earning her "Pets" badge.

My little Junebug is officially a Kindergartener now!  She insisted that we start Kindergarten when she turned five in February, so her days won't be very different when school starts.  Our big goal is to have her reading by the end of the school year, and she is super excited to finally begin her Girl Scout journey as a Daisy Scout.

Monkeyboy is a big three years old now, and demands to know what grade he's in during school.  He's proud to be a preschooler!  Bluebird likes to work with him on his letters and numbers, which I appreciate immensely.  Penguin likes to race trucks with him and build him elaborate train track set-ups, and Junebug prefers to play video games for him to watch.  Just like all mothers of active preschoolers out there, I hope to spend lots of time getting stains out of his clothes, wrestling him to the ground so I can wipe his face, and snuggling together while reading bedtime stories.

So that's my crew, growing up so fast!  My original plan was to start our school year at the beginning of July, but my homeschooling mojo just would not kick into gear, so we're taking a longer summer vacation and will crack open the books at the beginning of September.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Nature Hike: Red Ledges

It's been four years since we've been to the Red Ledges hiking area; back when we were just starting out with this whole "nature study" idea, Bluebird and Penguin toting backpacks full of stuffed animals, and me carrying barely-walking Junebug on my back in the baby carrier.  They've talked about the hike many times since, and have asked to go back on multiple occasions.

Remembering the steepness of the hiking trail, I've pushed it back until I thought they could handle the terrain a little better.  Finding ourselves with a completely empty day, I threw out the suggestion that we give it a go again.

Plains Prickly Pear Cactus
Opuntia polyacantha

I'm having a hard time deciding whether or not this plant is "Hummingbird Trumpet" (Zauschneria californicaor "Trompetilla" (Bouvardia ternifolia).I'm leaning towards Hummingbird Trumpet because of the stigma.

As for animal life, we happened across a yellow and black-striped lizard that I've been unable to identify, a big fat squirrel (the same one as four years ago?), and a black and white butterfly, which I think was a Weidemeyers Admiral Butterfly (Limenitis weidemeyerii).  All three moved too quickly for photos.

The floor of the van is now covered in fine, red sand...such is the price of nature observation.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Penguin's 7th Birthday!

 Birthdays begin the moment you open your eyes!  I let everyone open their presents as soon as they can stumble out into the kitchen; that way they can play with their new treasures all day long, rather than opening up an awesome gift at night and having to wait for a free day to finally play with it.

She received her very own "big girl" backpack, a handful of other cute items, and a veterinarian costume (which she has worn over and over ever since):

 We baked her red velvet birthday cake during naptime, and she relished the monopoly of licking the beater, spoons, AND bowl:

Penguin is our quiet child.  She'll usually go without something rather than ask for it--we've been trying to help her be OK with voicing her needs and wants for the past little while.  She loves animals.  She has a soul-mate connection with our cat, and it's eery to watch her approach animals that are acting wild, and watch them flop over onto their backs when she starts murmuring to them and gently patting them.  Penguin Brooke, Animal Whisperer.

Church twins!
She's developing an interest in clothes and jewelry.  I try to take her shopping every once in a while and let her pick out an outfit for herself since she's been wearing Bluebird's hand-me-downs since birth.  She's amassing quite the earring collection, and likes it when her clothes match mine for the day.

My dear girl, I love you so much.  We had to try so hard to get you here, and you had a bit of a rough go in your early years with the skull thing and then the eyes thing.  You were quietly persistent through all those situations, and you continue on today with your calm determination in the face of a challenge.  (You must get it from your dad...)

Here's to more talks about "animal talents," more painting, more watermelon-flavored anything, and the fulfillment of my promise that we will indeed bake a carrot cake sometime soon.  Happy Birthday, my sweet, sweet girl.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Curriculum Conversation, and Why I Wish It Would Quiet Down

Hey there all, and welcome to Brooketopia if this is your first time visiting.  I love the Not Back-to-School Blog Hop; I look forward to it every year because it's just so great for me to troll around the internet and find new homeschooling "bosom friends" and to just see the enthusiasm to start a new school year at home.

That being said, I've been dreading Curriculum Week.

I'm just going to say it:  I am tired of the Curriculum Conversation.  I am tired of reading posts from parents who are freaking out about what curriculum to use with their five year old, and I am tired of reading posts about how someone has switched curriculums for the third, fourth, or fifth time because nothing is working for them.  I am tired of the pervasive (and completely false) belief that one should switch curriculum if their children aren't hopping out of bed every morning and clapping their hands in anticipation of starting school.

All that being said, I have had one instance where a chosen (and highly recommended) curriculum did not work for us.  So I changed--to something more teacher-intensive, mind you--because it was obvious that my kids needed more rigorous schooling in that subject.

The homeschool curriculum market is so bloated right now, and it irritates me because the market mostly plays off of homeschoolers' fears and doubts in order to make money off of us.  We are much better teachers than we give ourselves credit for, and we need to trust more in our abilities as parents and mentors, rather than in the colorful packaging of a new curriculum that promises to solve all our problems.  Less curriculum is more, and more time spent with our children is even better.  More time reading, more time talking, more time discussing, more time preparing.

Kids do not enjoy learning all the time.  They don't awake with smiles on their faces simply because they get to stay home for their schooling.  As a homeschooling parent, I feel like I get to provide a few extra perks to my students, but they still have to work just as hard as their friends who go to a brick and mortar school.  When the work is hard, the public school kids don't get to sit around for two weeks while their teacher finds a curriculum better suited to their needs--they're expected to buck up and do the work anyway, and most kids do fine once they realize they're not getting out of it.  Parents are integral in this situation--spending the time to help their children better understand the subject outside of school.

In my conversations with various public school teachers that I know, they've lamented over each time a child ran up into a mental wall in a subject and how heart-wrenching it was to watch them get left behind because the lesson plan dictated that no breaks could be taken.  I've seen this happen with my own children, and I am thankful for homeschooling in these specific instances.

Our most recent experience was just a few months ago:  my first grader, Penguin, had been flying along in spelling, and then it seemed like the spelling part of her brain just locked up.  Rules she had known before were forgotten, and she struggled to spell words that she hadn't had problems with only a few weeks before.  I knew in my heart that the curriculum wasn't the problem.  So I decided to let her sit and stew for a few weeks.  We didn't stop having spelling lessons, but rather spent the time scheduled for spelling in doing review work--I made up (lame) games on the spot, we went over the previously-learned spelling rules, and I had her spend time writing her recent spelling words from dictation (so I could see if she was hesitating as she spelled them out).  It took two weeks, but then everything sort of gelled and she was good to head off again, with no curriculum change needed.

No one can perform at superman levels all the time.  Professional athletes don't compete all year long--there's an off-season, a training season, and then competitive season.  We have to extend the same wisdom to ourselves and our children.  Our kids' brains, sponges that they are, can only take so much in before needing a period to organize it all and practice their new skills until they become automatic.  Once that much-needed off-season has taken place, then training for the next level can begin.  (And keep in mind that those professional athletes don't head home during the off-season to sit on the couch--they keep themselves in shape and engage in recreational play from time-to-time to keep their skills functioning.)

Homeschooling isn't perfect, and I think a lot of homeschoolers could have a better experience if they could accept the fact that educating a child is not a pain-free experience; and realize that just because it's hard, doesn't mean it's the wrong choice.  When parenting is hard, it doesn't mean you received the wrong kids.  When marriage is hard, it doesn't necessarily mean you married the wrong person.  When faith is hard, it doesn't mean you picked the wrong religion.  Life just has its hard moments, and those hard moments are needed to strengthen us into better versions of ourselves.  Tweak if it helps, or weather the storm with patience and know that it works out eventually.

Now, with all that being said, here's what we're using this next year:

Bluebird:  4th Grade

  • Saxon Math 54  (Yes, we use Saxon Math.), and
  • Zaner-Bloser Handwriting 4
  • All About Spelling Level 2 (she's almost finished, and then she'll move up to Level 3)
  • First Language Lessons 4
  • Dictation as laid out in Writing With Ease teacher manual
  • Latina Christiana I (hopefully we'll move into LC II or First Form Latin during the year)
  • Modern era reading list based off of recommendations in The Well-Trained Mind
  • Civil War Literature Unit for Autumn Quarter, based off of recommendations in The Well-Trained Mind
  • Story of the World 4 for Winter & Spring Quarters (mostly just listening to the audio CDs in the car) coupled with in-depth readings on certain subjects
  • Various science kits about different physics topics, coupled with dictation
  • ARTistic Expressions K-3 Book 2
Penguin:  2nd Grade
  • Saxon Math 2,
  • Zaner-Bloser Handwriting 2C
  • All About Spelling 2
  • First Language Lessons 2
  • Beginning dictation
  • Modern era reading list based off of recommendations in The Well-Trained Mind
  • Civil War Literature Unit for Autumn Quarter, based off of recommendations in The Well-Trained Mind
  • Story of the World 4 for Winter & Spring Quarters (mostly just listening to the audio CDs in the car) coupled with in-depth readings on certain subjects
  • Various science kits about different physics topics, coupled with dictation
  • ARTistic Expressions K-3 Book 2
Junebug:  Kindergarten
  • Saxon Math K
  • Zaner-Bloser Handwriting K
  • Phonics Pathways
  • Library book read alouds on various subjects
  • ARTistic Expressions K-3 Book 2
Monkeyboy:  Preschool
  • Lots of free play:  LEGOs, Play-doh, Trains, etc.
  • Basic counting, colors, shapes
  • Library book read alouds
  • Tag along with art projects
We also strive to go on nature walks, which have no concrete lesson plan or direction at this time.  The children enjoy finding out the names of trees and animals, so that's mostly what I focus on with these outings, if I focus on anything at all.  I'd be pretty proud of myself for having them write down more in their nature journals.

Bluebird and Penguin also take piano lessons, and they're expected to choose some form of physical activity to participate in.  I'm going to guess that Bluebird will pick tennis again, and Penguin is trying to narrow her choice down from softball, swimming, tennis, and gymnastics.  I insist that we walk the dog during recess so they can get some movement during the school day.  Ideally, we'd take the dog on two walks during school hours, and again after's a goal of mine.

As for religious instruction, we attend our weekly church meetings on Sunday, and I have a goal to be loads better at having Family Home Evening each Monday.  Bluebird is working through her Faith in God program requirements, and we'll be reading through Gospel Principles each morning, with Bluebird and Penguin each choosing one of the additional scriptures at the end of each chapter to look up and read out loud to our family.  We also have various memorization goals that we work on after our morning devotional.

There you have it--curriculum choices for the 2013-2014 school year!  I'm excited to see what others are planning, and just want to remind everyone that we're all doing the best we can, and that God doesn't call a person to an assignment without qualifying that person for the work.  If you've felt the call, go after it like your hair is on fire because you are endowed with the power to make it work.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Weekly Report: Taking the Rest of the Summer Off

I'm just not feeling it this summer.  We've started up in the summer in previous years and it's been great, but I just cannot get into "school mode" this time around.

So, I made the decision to extend our summer vacation through Labor Day--we'll hit the books again on September 3rd.

Maybe I need to be hit in the face with shelves of pencils and crayon boxes, or maybe I'm just still healing from all my back problems and need a little extra time to get our home patched-up and organized enough to support homeschooling.

Until then, I'll check in with news of our summer adventures!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Nature Hike: The Grotto (again)

Mandatory "pre-hike" photo at the trail head:

Monkeyboy had so much fun wading in the waterfall pool!  He was "fighting bad guys," and would pick up sticks and rocks and throw them at imaginary enemies:

My dear little Penguin, who is growing up too fast:

Sassy Junebug.  This picture just makes me laugh--she was talking to herself as she scaled a big rock, and when she got to the top of it, she struck a pose:

We saw a group of three of these little guys scurrying about.  A look in our wilderness guide says that they are "Least Chipmunks." (Tamias minimus)  So glad I had my zoom lens on the camera:

I love feet pictures!  Who do you think these belong to?

We love this hike.  That's why we go on it every year.  It's heart-warming to notice that we're starting to be able to watch the kids grow up through the nature walk photos.  Here's pictures from last year's hike to the Grotto, and pictures from the year before that.  And who can forget Bluebird's School Sweater photo shoot at the Grotto from two years ago?  My heart is full...