Our First Day Back at School 9/5/12

I have decided to blog about we do for homeschool more often.  I hesitate to commit to every day, because I probably won’t keep up that pace. I just started teaching piano lessons this week and am also mentoring a youth LEMI scholar project for the first time in my life, not to mention keeping up with my other blogging, being a wife, mother, homemaker, visiting teacher, etc. so I know I will not be blogging about what we learn every day.  But the idea is to have a record of what we learn to “enlarge our memory.” In my studies this past summer I have learned so much about how important it is to write down what I learn and what my children learn, especially what is revealed to us through the Holy Ghost. I have struggled over the years to be consistent about recording what we learn and do each day. Sometimes simply getting through the day is we all can manage! I used to keep a notebook and for some time I recorded every day, but mostly it was every month or not at all!

But I love to blog because it’s fun to see the pictures of my kids on the screen so maybe that will motivate me to be consistent. Anyway, yesterday was our first official day “back to school,”  since we went to the Brigham City temple open house on Tuesday (most of these pictures are from that time). I think it’s highly immoral to have any sort of structured school for little kids before Labor Day. Even when we start after Labor Day, I like to hold back on a ton of real academic work until we get what Diane Hopkins calls “pencil weather.” That’s where it’s cold enough outside that kids want to be indoors, and you have them captive long enough to entice them to do some 3 Rs. But we did practice some reading with my 6 and 8 year olds yesterday.

For these Indian summer days, we will be using the first part of school time to complete our harvest. It totally relieves my stress to know that I can use school time to work with my little children on housework, bringing in the harvest from our garden, and preserving it all. I don’t have to do it all myself! They can and should work with me! Thank you Oliver DeMille for giving parents permission to count working with your children as school. He calls it “core phase.” He says the curriculum for homeschool for the early years is to work and play with your children, teaching them the difference between right and wrong, truth and falsehood, and good and bad. This is the way children learned before our modern industrial culture decided that preschool was a good thing because there was a ton of moms working outside the home.

I have one child who seems so contrary and rebellious that I wonder if he will be in core phase forever. Every day he complains about chores and says that when he gets big he won’t ever have to do any chores. Does anybody else  have a child like this? During our school time he usually says there’s nothing for him to do. So sometimes we start doing more chores, and do chores during school time every day for a long time, so he will be begging for some academic work for school.

My homeschooling time is far from being blissful. We had a lot of complaining and fighting yesterday as we went about our homeschool morning. I am the first to admit my kids are far from perfect and that I’m not a perfect mom.

On Labor Day, I was going through my files to dejunk and found all these cute papers I made with my two oldest kids to help them learn about good nutrition when they were 4 and 6 during our homeschool time. My husband, as husbands sometimes do, made the insensitive remark about how I don’t do things like with the little kids any more. I just unschool, he claims. He doesn’t realize how hard it is to homeschool for more than a decade with all the trials that accompany life even if you don’t homeschool. I am still figuring out how to homeschool at a sustainable pace and have the kids still like me and me like them. I have a friend who did the FACE curriculum with her 5 kids for a year in her homeschool, and after a year she was so burned out with preparing lesson plans the night before and getting her kids through the canned curriculum, that she put them all in public school the next year! Maybe I should remind dear husband of the time he watched the kids for three days while I staffed an event outside the home and he just let them play and didn’t even read to them during homeschool time!

For our homeschooling, it’s important for you to know that we follow the TJED philosophy for the for most part, although I do start requiring my kids to do math when they get to be around 8-10, somewhere in there. Some kids will never do math if you never make them. I want my kids to go to college, and to get into college, you have to know math. It’s that simple. I don’t want them to have to settle for a local community college, but to get into the college of their choice, and, on scholarship. To do that, one has to excel in math on the ACT or SAT. It’s really that simple. I have one friend who never required her daughter to do math because the daughter never wanted to do it in her homeschooling career. The daughter didn’t get to go to the college she wanted to and had to go to the local college, where they accept everyone, unless maybe you’re a convicted murderer. Her mother wishes she had “made” her daughter do math every day during their homeschooling years.

I also follow Mary Ann Johnson’s rules of engagement for homeschooling time you can find here if you subscribe to her site on the right hand side. Watch the video too. You will get her article about the rules if you subscribe. This is my closet and desk pictured above that I have set up for our homeschooling time. We also have a big table you can’t see across from the desk that we use to gather around. That’s a big necessity for any homeschooling mom, a table that is not the dining room table to use for homeschooling! That way you can leave things out. We are not, however, restricted to this area. Sometimes we go outside or to the kitchen or to the bedroom to dejunk or go on a field trip. The closet is really big and to the left of the desk. I got it at Shopko and my dear husband installed it when we first moved in almost 8 years ago. I really wanted a place to keep my homeschool stuff that wasn’t the kitchen table like I had in my old house! It’s really a wardrobe closet but of course I use it for school stuff and ignore the rods for hanging clothes. I got it even before I knew that “the closet” was an ingredient in a “Leadership Education.” (See the book below for a detailed description or Mary Ann’s site I linked above.)Mary Ann has great ideas on what to use for your “closet” even if you don’t have a real closet. Don’t let the lack of a real closet keep you from creating one. You can use shelves, cupboards, a suitcase, or even a pocket shoe organizer for the back of a door. Mary Ann is even calling the closet a “spark station” because that’s what it really is, a place to fan the sparks for learning that your children have. Fan the sparks and make the fire of love of learning burn!

It’s loaded with fun things. The kids uncle gave us a pencil sharpener one year for Christmas (not the only gift, he gave fun things too, don’t worry) and we mounted it on the closet. I love that it’s so handy. We also have an electric pencil sharpener that I like to keep hidden so little eyes don’t see it and investigate but someone had it out in plain view just the other day…

Anyway, here’s what we did for our first day of being together all morning at home, focusing on school. All summer I have had the kids work in the garden or weed with me after breakfast or fold clothes, and then they have been free to play (except for the 10 year old and ups, they have had math to do every day, as we don’t take a summer break for math, and their own projects). They’ve had a glorious summer playing indoors and out!

After the morning chores were done (breakfast cleanup and dishes which my 11 year old and younger do) we went out to the garden to see what was ripe. We found  a few cherry tomatoes, a pointy tomato that has a funny shape, and a bell pepper that is a pretty purplish chocolate color.  Then we put the basil leaves in the dehydrator to dry. Then we will store them in glass jars when they are nice and crispy. Whenever I want basil I will whiz some in my blender to have ground, organic, heirloom seed basil. Thank you to my friend Kimberly for giving me these basil plants!

Then we went downstairs to do more school. I opened up the homeschool closet. We did not have school with it all summer so I wondered what reactions I would get. Cowboy complained that there was nothing to do. But Princessa asked to play with the Inchimals, a math manipulative pictured above, and that engaged her for a good ten minutes, except for when she complained that the 3 year old, Bugsy, wanted the dry erase marker that she uses to write the answers in the book that comes with the set. So then we had to find something for him to do. I found him a wipe-off book pictured below to “practice writing” with a different marker and he did that for maybe 30 seconds. All my memories of frustration about what to do with the baby during homeschool time came flooding back to me. Except he’s not a baby any more but I am still getting used to not calling him that.

I wanted to find our copy of Make Way for Ducklings to test out the Google Lit Trips site but could not find it. So I grabbed our copy of the Usborne Microscope book and I sat down and oohed and aahed over the pictures just to get Cowboy’s attention. We looked at gross pages of what dust, bugs, and tastebuds look like magnified a million times. It worked. He came and looked at the pictures. I decided to just do a few pages to whet his appetite and maybe we will return to it another day.

Meanwhile Venture got out Trucky, which is another math manipulative/puzzle/game that teaches spatial arrangement. He was grumpy for some reason and refused to smile for me so I just took a picture of his head. I kept asking Cowboy what he would like me to read aloud to him but he couldn’t think of anything. So I decided we would practice his reading skills. I got out my trusty beginning reader that has a Godly focus, published by the Mennonites. First I practiced with Princessa and then Cowboy. I taught them to read last year. They know basic phonics decoding skills but they need a lot of practice to get fluent at it.

Cowboy insisted on refusing to use anything in the closet. I have lots of cool stuff: books, a puzzle atlas book, a science kit, Lego contraptions, art supplies, origami, erector set, play doh, moon dough, moon sand, and on and on, but he likes to be contrary.

We were having extreme grumpiness so I decided to do something to bring the Holy Ghost into the room. The Book of Mormon on Trial was handy on my desk so I grabbed it and started reading where we left off last spring. This book always puts in a great mood because of the truth it tells. I always feel a lot more cheerful and light when I read it.  It tells a story with fun cartoon characters about putting the Book of Mormon trial with all the objections people have come up with through the years, and how the Book of Mormon withstands all of those objections. It is based on a true story which involves my girlfriend’s grandfather Jack West. During law school he was asked to come up with a mock trial. He decided to put the Book of Mormon on trial. His law professor said that in all his years of law he had never seen a case as nearly perfect as this one.  See his story here.

We read almost a chapter and it worked. I felt the Spirit come into the room, softening our hearts. It helped me to focus more clearly on how I could meet my rebellious son’s desires to learn something he’s interested in and my desire to help him learn something meaningful without forcing him.

So I decided to ask him if he just wanted me to read Lord of the Rings to him aloud. But dear husband is reading that to the younger kids at night so we decided we didn’t want to infringe on his reading time. So then I decided to capitalize on the fact that J.R.R. Tolkien was Christian and influenced C.S. Lewis to be Christian by proposing to Cowboy that we learn about Tolkien’s life. We found and watched these two cool videos about Tolkien’s life.

We talked about the story of the god who dies and comes back to life and how cool that is and that it’s really true and that it is Jesus Christ.

Then we watched this video and I read the commentaries aloud to Cowboy. I explained to him about how Catholics believe in Jesus like we do, but we believe differently about what happened to the priesthood power after Jesus died. Cowboy knew almost all of the character’s names, even though he has not watched these movies, just from being read aloud the Hobbit and osmosis from his older brothers I guess.

So it does help to follow what you child is interested in, as they say in the TJED world, but I do believe in requiring math as the kids get older. That was our homeschool morning, then it was time for lunch and the rest of our busy day! I taught a piano lesson, then we went to Jerald Simon’s house to pick up piano books for my own budding pianist. He is a really nice guy and has a site here. My new student brought this book pictured below to her lesson and I decided I wanted it to study too so I could teach it to her and my kids so I asked for it and he gave me a discount. You can’t see it very well, but it’s Variations on Mary Had a Little Lamb. It teaches you to how to change a melody so it sounds like jazz, a swinging dance club, a western version, a funeral, and more. Fun!

Later that night we got a used guitar for the same child for his guitar class this year for only $40. We found it on ksl.com, one of my trusted sources for great deals. I am soooo excited about our new homeschooling year!

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