Browse and Seek

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.



Small miracles

Most homeschoolers agree, no matter what approach they take to home education, that the first year is the trying year, the year to you try everything you read or heard about, spend the most money, and spend the most amount of time researching curricula, activities, groups. You spend the year trying to engage your kids, to suss out their strengths and weaknesses, learn their learning styles, all in order to cook up a big batch of knowledge that tempts them to pick up their utensil of choice and eat. 

Halfway through, and I think we’re halfway there. I’ve a pretty good grasp of the weak spots, the places where we’re solid, and the work-arounds for the days when Seamus digs in around his preferred aversions. There’s a lot of slogging, but a lot more bright spots than there were a few months ago. Two weeks ago while reading Persian myths, he looks up at me and says, “this sounds just like Noah and the Ark,” which led to discussion about the layering of stories and cultures in the Near East. He’s slowly moving through language mechanics and maths like he’s assembling a Lego kit. Our last big struggle has been writing, and writing turns up in Classical-inspired educations in quatities that can be measured in fucktons.

Getting him to engage in reading comprehension works has been tough; verbally he’s all over it, but producing written work has been a nightmare. We scaled everything back to one picture for a reading, with a caption that I transcribed. Then we moved on to lengthier narrations, then four-panel comics pages. A while ago I ordered a call-out stencil and some blank comics from Bare Books. I thought we’d use them on longer works, history projects, and for his creative writing work. This week is all short creation myths from Oceania, so I asked him to make a comic describing the story. He chose it as his first work, announced that he had LOTS of ideas, and pounced on his work after our morning walk. Then he pulled out the four-panel sheet.

“Do I have to use this?”

“Um…what’s wrong with it?”

“I was hoping I could use one of the new books. Can I?”

Did he just give himself a more complex project? “Sure! I’ll get you one.”

“How much writing do I have to do?”

“Well, you have to tell what happens.”

“I thought I’d do that with pictures and dialogue. Is that okay?”

“…Let’s try it.”

He worked for two hours on this book, using one of his drawing books to get things to look the way he wanted them to look, asking for help without melting down and demanding I draw it for him. And when he was done, there was a Micronesian creation myth comic on our kitchen table. It is soundly seven year-old work, but he took control of a project, planned out what he wanted to do, and executed it. During the process he acknowledged that he could use some help in doing something better, and reached for a resource that helped him do it. It was like he grew up a few years between breakfast and lunch. 

Maybe he’ll do it again tomorrow.



Yet another “I wrote this when” post. My computer and my squarespace account need updates, so things have saved in draft form but refused to post. This is from ten weeks ago, as we’re now at the end of our second quarter, and start our break next week.

Our second quarter just started, and it looks like Seamus has remembered how to multiply and read and write, that sound moves in waves like energy and earthquakes, and that history is a constantly happening story of humans. These are all good things, and I try really hard to hold onto them when he tearfully tells me he can’t copy three sentences out of a book because it’s too hard, or he can’t match 4+4+4+4 with 4x4. Neither of those things is true, but he tries to convince us both that they are facts. 

In response, I’ve had to change my strategy a bit. I’m thinking less about the amount of knowledge going into his head, and thinking more about the learning skills he needs to acquire, how to convert them into habits he can use all his life. As much as I’d like to increase his work time, right now we do four hours of seat work a day, and that’s going to be our upper limit for a good long time, plus I need him to retain that independent work ability, if only for Tristan’s sake, as our finances do not make preschool much of a possibility. I think we got into a fairly good rhythm for the second half of the fall quarter, so for the winter I’d like to continue that rhythm, and start to go a bit deeper. My lesson planning notebook (the one where I scribble and sketch and generally work things out before transferring everything to my calendar) holds a lot of ideas like “living math supp. building playgrounds?”, “bw proj-based wrtg + letters”, and “spelling break this summer?”, but fleshed out, it looks like this, by subject:

Math - We’re still using Miquon Math, and are making fairly good progress through the first year’s materials, a.k.a. the red and orange books. By the end of the year, he’ll have been exposed to the four basic operations, fractions, clock arithmetic, number lines and functions, equalities and inequalities, and factoring. Skill-wise, seamus loves math and does it really well. He has a hard time with word problems and thinks they’re hard/boring/whatever he wants to throw at me to avoid extra anything. So I’ve pulled Family Math down from the shelf for ideas for incorporating living math into our days, and will look for some project-based math or game-based math to encourage his development of what the old CTBS tests called “Applied Mathematics”. Right now he does one or two pages from Miquon each day, plus some extension of the work that I’ve rustled up. I’m also looking at Khan Academy or IXL for basic practice work, maybe once a week.

My goals for this year are for Seamus to get better at basic mental math, to get over his phobia of word problems, to tell time on an analog clock reliably, and to understand basic fractions. If that sounds like first grade math, well. It is. But the only work I heard about all last year was addition facts to about 20, so I’m working with the assumption that he didn’t get much more. He’ll do other things, but those are the skills that I hope really stick.

Spelling - The nadir of Seamus’ school experience. We use the Spelling Workout series, but only the workbook, as the reading is fairly simple and he nails it. He is a terrible speller, however, so I make him do a lot of work outside of the workbook to give him passive spelling practice, to teach him how to use words in proper context, and for him to do a little discovery-based vocabulary building. My goals for him here are to learn how to use a dictionary to determine the spelling, meaning and usage of a word, and for him to look at his own writing and recognize when he has spelled a word wrong. And maybe even correct it.

Grammar - After printing out about a hundred pages of the excellent and free KISS Grammar, I started feeling frustrated with chasing down the teaching portions of the book all over the website so I could compile them with the workbook, and Seamus was feeling confused. It’s now a supplement to the straightforward Growing with Grammar, which offers a couple of different approaches to the lessons. Right now this is all about seeing the lego-like aspects of language.

Reading - Seamus is solidly reading two years ahead and trying harder things. He still loves picture books, and since this is our Ancient History year, I have found picture book adaptations for The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Iliad, The Odyssey, The Aeneid, and selections from the Bible, among others. I’m adding historical fiction and more poetry to our reading this quarter, and beginning to incorporate more structure to his work, based on the curriculum offered up in Classical House of Learning Literature. Ability-wise, he straddles the lower elementary (K-2) and upper elementary (3-5) comprehension works provided in that curriculum. My goal is to get him comfortable doing lower elementary reading responses and copywork on his own, and more complex comprehension work orally with me. This is part of my WRITING IS NOT SCARY program.

Handwriting - We use Handwriting Without Tear’s Printing Power, and will finish it this quarter. I’d like to start him on cursive, but he still has some crappy habits I’d like him to break, so I may add copywork to his daily works once we finish this workbook. Copywork appears in several programs as a way to give kids passive practice in expository writing, so this option appeals to me more than trying to start cursive work.

History - I’m continuing to incorporate geography and generally treating this subject as a survey-style sort of a class. How else do you cover 40,000 years of human history with a writing-averse child? We’re still tracing maps and making a timeline as our primary work, but I’m using some of the tools I’ve been using for our reading work to plug into the history reading a bit more. My goals for this year are for Seamus to understand what comprises history, the diversity of human developments and how geography influences them, and the cyclical nature of history. If he remembers details of events and people, great, but right now I’m focused on the underlayment. Our core books are Kingfisher Illustrated World History, Kingfisher Atlas of World History, and Usbourne’s Encyclopedia of World History. Our reading curriculum supplements these.

Science - Instead of adhering to the suggested life sciences study that comes with the classical curriculum, I bought Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding, K-2. I LOVE this book! Instead of laying out each discipline separately or being a random collection of experiments, there are four tracks: properties of matter, life science, earth science, and physical science, and forty-one lessons that progressively teach scientific principles. The lessons are designed to be taught in tandem, so you move from track to track, but each lesson becomes increasingly more interdisciplinary as well as you teach them. So learning about energy and the different types of energy, for example, becomes part of explaining photosynthesis, which becomes part of explaining the food chain, etc.

The work product suggested matches what we’re already doing for reading and history- charts, books, drawings - so it’s all pretty familiar. I plan to offer a follow-up activity that extends the lesson starting this quarter. I want Seamus to grasp the understanding that our universe functions according to a set of principles, and learn how science is devoted to figuring out those principles and applying them to different situations.

Expository Writing - Writing Strands was a bust. The first three lessons went well, you could see the concrete skills being offered up, even while the content was goofy. Then it went all over the place. We’re trying the Brave Writer curriculum this quarter, using the Jot It Down book. The plan is to break down Seamus’ blocks regarding writing, and hopefully have some fun, as WRITING IS NOT SCARY.

Extracurriculars - Seamus played soccer this fall and loved it, so he’ll play again this spring, and he expressed interest in theater classes, so he will also begin a youth theater class in February. He’ll continue swimming classes as well. We’d like him to start going to work with Patrick one day a week, which would give him some exposure to video production, and he’ll work on house projects with Patrick on Sundays. I’d love for him to do an art class or a music class, but we’ll have to see what’s available. He’ll start Spanish and coding later this quarter.

Soft Skills - We’re still working on task initiation and time management. He’s asked me to start giving him a weekly work plan instead of a daily plan, and I have told him that he needs to earn twenty stars on the calendar in a row in order for him to have that happen. To get stars, he has to make his best effort with his work without tantrums or other excessive attention getting behavior. To get twenty means he has to make that effort for five weeks, hopefully introducing a new good work habit. I plan to include him in more chores and house projects to get him to understand that he is of this family and not just in it, and I will be forcing the running program. I really think running is key for developing his work ethic and getting him to challenge himself and his issues with boredom.

And of course, since Patrick’s only working at 60% (but still won’t be home enough for me to work), it’s time to make more preschool-like efforts with Tristan. More on that soon. I have to read about the Levant around 1200 BCE and the origins of the Jews. New thing I learned: Abraham was Babylonian. This makes me want to compare and contrast The Code of Hammurabi, The Epic of Gilgamesh, and The Penteteuch SO BADLY. For my own amusement.


Fall updates

We’re getting our Christmas tree tomorrow. Where did the time go?

It went mostly into homeschooling. I rewound a chunk of the summer curriculum because I wasn’t happy with how we covered it, and declared the week of the Fall Equinox our first official day of school. Don’t ask Seamus how he feels about that summer of first-and-half-grade, I’m sure he’s still pissed. I filed a Private School Affidavit (aka the PSA in CA homeschooling cirlces) in October during the filing period, which makes me Head of School here at The North Island School of Poetry and Power Tools. North Island is a play on both our town and last names. That was the easy part. the rest has been trying to get Seamus to engage in the material, and oh, hey, challenge himself a little. There are days he freaks out due to anxiety, and days he freaks out because he feels out of control with regards to his schooling. Underlying both are executive function deficits and the ability to socially engineer his way out of things to compensate. I’m working on the former and ignoring the latter for now, and hopefully during our quarter break I can start sketching out a long-term plan. When he engages with his work, he does kick some ass. 

Tristan is flirting with potty training. By “flirting” I mean if you leave him bottomless long enough, he’ll use the potty or the toliet EVENTUALLY, but I worry that’s he’s holding his pee deliberately. He’ll pee through underpants and leave them on, so I’m sticking to naked bottom time for now, and we’ll probably move onto underpants and sitting on a potty at timed intervals closer to his birthday should this stasis continue. He loves to climb and splash in puddles and paint right now.

Patrick was laid off last month, and immediately began planning the production of his own shows, while being offered work from a few different folks. That second part astounds me. Patrick gives so much of himself to his working life and he’s mentored so many people along the way, and at times I’ve felt very cynical about it. But so many people have been excited for him, interested in working with him, or both.

I’m hanging in there. Last night I spent three hours in ER with chest/back pain, nausea,  and shortness of breath. My EKG, X-ray, and labs came back normal, so it was either a)an intercostal rib injury from cleaning out a closet, or b)an anxiety attack. Neither is great, but they both beat a heart attack.