Browse and Seek

No thanks, we're good. Really.

I always feel a bit like a jerk for not signing the boys up for the library’s summer reading programs (the one for pre-readers is for the parents to read to them). I often take the forms home in June, but when I’m asked later if we’re doing it, I say no. I’m not rude, and I try to mention that we homeschool year round, so there’s plenty of reading taking place. In the end I feel like I’ve irked the librarians because I’m denying my children some reward for reading, and I’ve irked Seamus because there are treats! For him to have! Just for reading! This summer I decided Seamus could go to the children’s reference desk on his own while Tristan and I hunted down picture books.

I have no issue with the program, and if ice cream and stickers and baseball tickets entice kids to read, well, hey, great. But my kids love books already. Seamus was sick for most of last week, and still polished off all of his history, science, and language arts reading, on top of some library books. Tristan is only motionless when you read to him, and he will sit still for at least an hour if you keep it up. More importantly, they see the rewards within the books, and pursue those with as much excitement as they do trips to Tucker’s for ice cream.

Why would I mess with that?


Year Two, and One

Hello from the other side of a long, fallow stretch. I spent the last couple of months grinding along in our routine, not making much, doing much, cooking much, or going anywhere. Just getting the boys through their days and schedules was more than enough, and I’ve spent my evenings trying to find some quiet so I could regroup, and failing. And then The Sad came and hung around for a while, and I was too goddamn tired to fight it. It’s still here, and I’m still tired, but I have a home to make for my kids, and educations to plan and guide for them, and all that other stuff they need-food and clothing and loving attention and consistency. I sometimes go through my photos so I can remember the cool stuff I’ve done with them at certain ages and seasons, and I do those things with the boys. We’ve picked cherries, blackberries, and peaches, and they are getting out on their bikes. We go to the library and out for ice cream, and we walked through the July 4th parade line-up and looked at the floats. We grill and have movie nights. It helps, even when I don’t think it does and I feel upset at all I’m not doing anything well, or at all.

The new school year is coming soon, and like all good professional students and wanabes like myself, I pick up some momentum midsummer and start preparing. While we don’t have a long summer break, I do enjoy marking the first official day of school, which for 2015-2016 will be on September 21st. Should Tristan attend preschool, which is dependent entirely upon his using the toilet on his own, his first day will come earlier, as Montessori Option #1 (remember them?) follows the school district calendar. Whether it’s there or here at home, this is his preschool year, which is about as surreal as Seamus entering third grade. Where the hell are my babies?

Our schedule is up in the air, due the potty training and not-yet-selected extracurriculars, but most of our materials are in place. Here’s what’s on deck.


Practical Life- I would like Tristan to continue with his new job (feeding the pets), to start pooping in the toilet, and to dress himself with less assistance. I have dressing frames and a rice bin with scoopers, plus other works for other tasks, but those three are the big ones for this coming year.

Numeracy- This is entirely Tristan-led. Right now we play with puzzles, shape stencils, counting blocks, and some exercises from Family Math for Young Children.

Literacy- Lots and lots and lots of storytime,, alphabet cards. Tristan will sit in my lap for up to 90 minutes and listen to books.

Art and Music- The boys have open access to their art supplies, and I help facilitate whatever Tris wants to do, with occasional introductions to things. I’m hoping that he figures out his handedness, and stops cutting his hair while I’m in the bathroom. I still have the Hoffman Academy materials, and the music classes vis BBC School Radio, and we listen to them once in a while, as his interpretation of music class is to pound on all the instruments.

Physical Education- He’s in a swim class once a week, a tumbling class once a week, and he’s getting the hang of the balance bike.

If he goes to MO#1, I’ll “home-preschool” twice a week, if not, four times.


Practical Life- Laundry, dishes, and vacuuming. The big one will be the fourth task, putting away his toys and books.

Math- MEP Years 2 and 3, Miquon Books 3 and 4, Zaccarro’s Primary Grade Challenge Math, Logic Countdown, Family Math: Equals, puzzles and games.

Language Arts- Mosdos Opal and Ruby, All About Spelling 1 and 2, Brave Writer’s Jot It Down. I’m dropping grammar this year so we can focus on spelling and writing. He’ll read out loud to us and memorize a short poem every week, and we’ll read to him.

Social Studies- History Odyssey Middle Ages Level 1, altered to be more project-based. I’ve pulled the state objectives for social science for third grade, and we’ll incorporate them into a homemade approach. We’ll read the local papers, and start to travel more in-state, discussing state history as we go.

Science- Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding, grades 3-5. Once we’ve finished this book, Seamus should have a solid foundation of scientific laws and theories, and be familiar with the scientific method. At which point we’ll discuss his taking a class elsewhere.

Interest-led Subjects- I’m keeping a runing list of all the things Seamus says he wants to try, and the things he has tried. This quarter we started letting him pick a few and then run with them with just some guidance and a lot of support. Right now it’s visual art, industrial art, computer science, and sewing.

Physical Education- Swimming and riding his bike and scooter right now, with the possibility of more physical extracurriculars to come.

Extracurriculars- He will resume theater in the fall, and we’ll discuss the rest soon.


Looking at the final lap

So now that I know Squarespace works better in Safari, I can update more frequently (yay!). I have no idea how bring this sad little blog of mine up to date any more than I know how I’ll tackle the eight inches of non-junk mail sitting on our family room coffee table in the twenty minutes left to me before Patrick and the lads all come bombing home from Costco, so I’ll try to hit most of the highlights of the past few months.

Tonight, Seamus is in a play! He enrolled in a class through Bay Area Children’s Theater back in February, and tonight and tomorrow afternoon they perform the Disney version of The Jungle Book. Seamus is playing Baloo, which he’s worked really hard at doing well. Parent’s aren’t allowed to lurk about during rehearsals, so tonight is the first night we’ll see him perform. We’ve also started to support some of his friends’ pursuits by attending one friend’s play two weeks ago, and another’s baseball game in another week, as part of his desire to keep in touch with them. I like this a lot better than trying to coordinate mutual enrollment in camps and activities, since it lets the kids maintain their own interests. I also think it’s good for kids to see their friends do other things It gives context for those stretches between playdates, and maybe helps with the early awkward moments when they reunite. I hope.

School has really evolved for us. Patrick’s folks visited in late March and noticed that Seamus was having trouble with mental/verbal math. I spent some time putting together some of the resources I have here and poking through Ronit Bird’s website, and came up with a plan. We play games involving math (black jack, dominoes, and Yahtzee) a few times a week, and during our walks in the morning I ask him to either do simple algorithms (addition and subtraction), or we work on number sequences. Doing the work orally slows him down enough to think about it, and this seems to help his working memory, which can use the workout. We began working through the first year MEP materials, and the multiple approaches toward learning a math fact have been fantastic for a kid who loves variety and novelty, but still needed practice. We’re halfway through the book now, and we’ll finish it by the end of this quarter/beginning of summer. We’ll begin the second year materials over the summer and slow the pace down. Since we still use Miquon, he’s currently being exposed to math materials spanning first through fourth grade, so we can take our time with MEP. I love MEP. It’s our primary math material now, and it complements Miquon and GEMS Family Math nicely. Seamus still loves reading Life of Fred, but has no love of doing the exercises, so I’m contemplating selling the books and looking at Beast Academy once we complete Miquon.

Putting together all of this math made me realize I needed to devote less mental bandwidth to our humanities works, so I asked around and looked at three different language arts curricula. I had been borrowing heavily from one called Classical House of Learning Literature, which was okay, but not quite challenging enough, plus I had to customize it to the books I found in the library. Since Seamus is still writing averse, I went with Mosdos, which is structured around reading really good short stories, poems, plays, and novellas and teaching kids to analyze the work. It’s a lot of incremental learning in units with mostly workbook work and a couple of paragraphs per reading assignment. This lets me shift the lit he was reading into his history units, and then incorporate art as well into more projects and cutural study. This should serve us pretty well as we discuss some pretty big civilizations next quarter (Mayans, Han Empire Chinese, Romans) as well as next year, when we cover a mere thousand years. 

Tristan is three now! He is our bright chatterbox and deeply in love with all vehicles, much more so than Seamus was at this age. I took him to his first preschooler naturalist class this week and he could not stop exclaiming about the school buses next to the education center, where we were planting wlidflowers. He climbs EVERYTHING, so we’ve enrolled him in a tumbling class. Like Seamus, he’s been memorizing his favorite books for a while now, so we’ve begun letting him play with Starfall, and I’m more conciously introducing phonograms whenever we read one of his ABC books. It’s not yet time to teach him how to read, but IT’S COMING, FOLKS.

He is potty training and will use the potty if he’s bottomless, but has not made the transition to pulling his pants down. I’m not sure how to tackle that yet. but it needs doing, to be sure. Right now I’m working on other aspects of self-reliance, and just letting him be half-naked at home.

I need to help Shay get ready, more soon.



May Day Updates

I get Fridays off now! At some point I’ll rejoin my family on occasion and build in the field trips and long weekends doing stuff, but for now I’m trying to catch up on my overwhelming to-do list. I have a garden to put in and things to sew and knit. And water to haul, since I’m experimenting with growing our food with greywater from our dishwasher and baths.

Seamus just started a third-grade language arts curriculum, and I’m retooling our history work to better incorporate the myths and folktales that come from the periods we study. We’re doing this so we can go back math and bolster some of his mental math skills. We’re three weeks into our intensive review work, and we’ll keep going through the end of the school year in early September. In addition to the extra addition, we’re continuing with our regular math program, so he’s staying engaged.

Tristan is learning to swim, and knows how to use the potty, but is working through his control issues about the potty. We’ll get there. He is very much in love with vehicles, more so than Seamus at this age.

Patrick’s new work is…working! His new shows are attracting sponsors, and he has a writing gig. So we’re not ready to apply for jobs at Costco yet.



Mapping from the middle

We’re halfway through the quarter break, and I’ve begun mapping out the rest of the year. How it’s looking thus far:


Math: We’re continuing with the excellent discovery-based Miquon, finishing the Level 1 book and moving on to Level 2. I’ve also chosen the excellent (and free!) MEP program as our supplement. MEP is a research-based program developed in the United Kingdom. It runs from their version of Kindergarten (the Reception Year) through the end of secondary school (the O/A-levels), so if it clicks, I plan to use it as our core program once we complete Miquon. Patrick brought home a box of educational materials from storage, so I have a bunch of math games that I can pull out twice a week to help retention.

Language Arts: After tearful negotiation on all sides, formal spelling instruction has been scrapped. Instead we have an uptick in copywork and other writing, some vocabulary work rolled into Reading and History, and all requests for spelling/definition assistance get referred to a dictionary. It’s made for a calmer mood around here. I’m buying one of these reference charts to help him along. I do get it. Much like his constant mistakes in addition, I think the spelling work bored the hell out of him. He’s reading fourth through seventh grade material, depending on what interests him, so learning to spell “beach” correctly was not a large concern on his part. For grammar, we’re continuing with Growing With Grammar, supplemented by exercises based on the superior (and also free) KISS Grammar. This is so I can move us back to KISS exclusively next year. The third grade books are MUCH better organized than the second grade book.

Reading: We’ll continue to use graphic materials to engage him in comprehension and analysis work, copywork, and I’ll introduce vocabulary building from the harder materials. We’ve read a TON of mythology so far this year, at this point we’re ready to branch out into historical fiction and non-fiction. I’m using the program put together by Classical House of Learning Literature as a rough study guide and book list, with other activities mixed in.

Writing: Continuing with Jot It Down, but shortening the project process to two weeks at most.

History: Much like CHoLL, I’m using History Odyssey as a rough guide. HO is more prescriptive about the reading lists and activities, but I like they way they organize units, and it’s not terribly difficult to mimic much of what they do in each unit: vocabulary, mapwork, comprehension work, timelines, and a craft. I don’t want to buy anything else to pull that off. The pace of our history work determines all of the reading, so once I set the unit schedule, I start looking at books for both history work and lit work.

Science: We’re plugging away at Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding. No complaints aside from wishing I had more time to do activities. Ideally, I’d like to do a lesson a week, with us doing an activity that reinforces the lesson in our second session. I’m hoping to organize that this weekend.

Art: Lots of reference books, making drawing part of our regular schoolwork, and art time once a week.

Spanish: On Tuesdays, we’re working with Duolingo, To see if it’s of interest, if not, we’ll keep playing with things till we find something he likes. I play Spanish music when I can, we’re checking out picture books in Spanish, and I’ve ordered a Spanish dictionary from Usborne.

PE: Morning walks, midday runs. Soccer season starts in two weeks, swimming is once a week, and we try to go for a hike and a bike ride once a week each. He loves swimming, and is almost ready for the pre-competitive level at his swim school. When he’s ready, I’ll let him try out for the local club team.

Music: Several other homeschoolers referred me to Hoffman Academy. We’re taking out the keyboard and learning together, the boys and I. 


 Plenty of stuff lying about when he’s ready, playing and storytime and field trips and art in the interim.