27 January 2017

The One Where I Complain About Everything

We spent last week at Walt Disney World, and as usual it proved to be both fun and exhausting. The Agents can now muddle through longer days, more waiting time, and generally less predictability without falling apart, but I feel like we still could have {and perhaps should have} reined ourselves in a bit more. 

While it makes sense logistically {and financially} to spend an entire week and make the most of every day when we are flying from over 1200 miles away and paying an exorbitant amount for tickets, in reality these trips are more enjoyable when we pace them more appropriately. Living close enough to visit more frequently—and justify the cost of an annual pass—somehow diffuses some of the “pressure” of wanting to “fit it all in.” 
Agents with chipmunk friends
This is also why I prefer to visit fewer places {museums, zoos, etc.} with a membership enabling us to show up randomly throughout the year as often as we choose, as opposed to trying out every possible nearby venue. I’d much rather invest in an annual pass for, say, a quality zoo or children’s museum, than try to corral the Agents through this and that minor attraction just because it’s there.

Which leads me to another thought: upstate New York is pretty damn boring. Granted, you can “get to” a lot of interesting places from here—both Boston and New York City are three-ish hours a way, for example—but there is not actually a whole lot here. Oh, there’s horse racing in Saratoga Springs {not a fan} and mountains and winter sports options in the Adirondacks {me and winter sports, ha . . . that’s funny} and some cultural/nightlife stuff down in Albany, but . . . nothing about any of that excites me. 

I’m always amused when I tell people I’m not a particular fan of my current living conditions and they offer sage advice like, “you just need to get used to the weather.” Um, hello. Spent the first couple decades of my life mostly living in the northeast. I know cold. I know snow. I know ice. Then I lived in various places with much milder climates for a dozen or so years. Once I acclimated to areas where 70 degrees Fahrenheit qualified as “a little chilly” there was no going back. 

My other favorite tip is, “you need to get yourself and your kids into {insert cold weather activity here}.” Typically this is suggested by someone who is a fan of skiing, sledding, snowboarding, ice skating, or the like, and cannot understand why someone might not be. Even when I lived in areas where those kinds of activities were feasible and common, I never cared for them. But, yes, of course. Let me go back in time and completely change my personality to that of someone who enjoys all the same things you enjoy. That will definitely make living here more tolerable.

I don’t know if people even pay attention to the words coming out of their mouths when they offer these nuggets, or if maybe they just can’t understand the desire to live anywhere other than where they currently do because it’s all they have ever known. 

I also don’t want to sound like I’m totally down on living in New York, as some aspects of it have been rather enjoyable. We’ve met some good friends. I think the Agents finally feel like they put down a few roots, and they will remember living here more clearly than any other place they’ve lived so far. Homeschooling as a lifestyle really solidified for us, especially now that all three Agents are of “school age” and we’ve been at it long enough to feel like it’s simply our Thing. We “discovered” the UU community while here, which gave the Agents a chance to bond with other adults and explore—judgment free—how they feel about myriad issues in a way they truly hadn’t before.

Since this was supposed to be a wrap-up of our homeschooling week, I guess I should get back on track now. We ended up having a three-day week due to some delayed and canceled return flights resulting in us not getting in until 3:00 a.m. Tuesday instead of 6:00 p.m. Sunday. I hoped this short week would be a bit of a review and/or time to finish up a few things in preparation for starting some new units next week, but when it decreased from four days {we had initially planned to use Monday to “recover”} down to three, some things had to be consolidated and others had to go. 

Topics we did address this week included {among others} the history of clocks and calendars, the Greek mythology story of the Calydonian Boar, evolution, the life of rhinos, Inca civilization, Andy Warhol, Duke Ellington, and First Aid. It seems like we are “doing” a lot more work {reading, written work, and just covering more subjects in general} than we have in previous years. I anticipate next year will be more of a “slower” paced academic adventure. I think part of it is that I got wrapped up in the paperwork jungle that is homeschooling in NY and felt a lot of misguided pressure to Do All the Things. I’m looking forward to a time when our learning can be a bit more free form and natural. I think the Agents are, too.

I feel like mostly this post served as a means for me to complain about how much I dislike winter in the northeast, but maybe that’s just what needed to happen today. Snow flurries flutter from the sky as I type this. Again. All three Agents cough in the background. Again. Maybe it’s post-Disney letdown, or maybe it’s mid-winter funk, but every once in a while I dream of greener pastures, and today is apparently one of those days.

Kris at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers graciously hosts a place for us to link up each week. Be sure to stop by and say hello to some other homeschooling bloggers and read about their weeks as well.

12 January 2017

Why I Will Never Get the Hang of Homeschooling

So we’ve been rocking this homeschooling thing for almost six years now, and even though it’s early I’m already thinking ahead to year seven. The Agents are pretty smart and generally have it together academically and can hold {semi-reasonable} conversations with other humans and have not deteriorated into social misfits. This might lead one to {incorrectly} assume we have a least a little bit of a clue as to what we are doing and how we’re going to keep moving forward.

The reality is, however, I don’t ever feel like oh, now I know what I’m doing, full stop. Why? Because the bar keeps moving. I come up with new ideas that are just so much better than what we were doing before. The Agents won’t stop growing despite my best efforts. New books come out. Schedules become routines which become approximations which become mere suggestions which become laughable. The Agents {or Momma} need more or less sleep than they did last year, last month, last week. The weather changes and we want to either live outdoors or paste ourselves to the couch. 

Agents on the first day of this school year
{June 2016}
I’ll never be able to say this is how we homeschool, now and forever, the end because how we homeschool is a moving target. Right now, we have a pretty sweet system. We like the way we do a lot of the Things. But, soon we’ll be moving to a new state with new rules and a new plan. And the Agents will all be a year older and a grade ahead. And we won’t have to submit quarterly reports anymore, so we might get more creative with our plan and less stringent about our record keeping. Or not. 

Some things that seem like the cat’s meow to us currently {spine booksmorning and afternoon schoolGoodreadsworkbooks} could very well be tossed and replaced by an entirely new agenda. We might go back to unit studies. We might give up on organizing our days by subjects altogether. We might replace some of our day at home with classes or co-ops. We might try a four-day week again.

Basically, I have no idea how things are going to look in our educational future, and that’s okay. A popular question I'm frequently asked is are you going to homeschool through high school? and I honestly have no idea. The Agents could very well decide to give public school a try at some point. Or, maybe I’ll be reliving organic chemistry and calculus class alongside them. Either way, we are fine with the uncertainty that this lifestyle {yes, I consider it more of a lifestyle than an education choice} brings.

06 January 2017

Planning Our Next Homeschool Year {Yes, Already}

Once we pass the halfway point in any given school year, my future-oriented planner self cannot resist considering the possibilities for the following year.

When we move this summer, we will have completed three full years of homeschooling in New York: 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade for Agent E; 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade for Agent J; and kindergarten and 1st grade for Agent A. {I don’t count “preschool” as a Thing.} Because our current home state has a lot of “interesting” guidelines and paperwork requirements, we’ve planned our school year {and our record keeping, and our subjects, and our weekly schedules} a bit differently than we had in the past.
My favorite first grader
Truthfully, while I’ve enjoyed some parts our new structure and will continue to utilize the components that have worked out well {such as the ones outlined in this post}, I’m looking forward to having more planning freedom in the next few years.

My initial thought is that I’d like to go back to how we approached things when we only had to submit a letter of intent and keep a portfolio {which I would do anyway, because, hello, it’s me}. We still covered all the usual “subjects” but were able to do so in a more integrated way. So instead of thinking in terms of for geography we will do x and for history we will do y and for art we will do z, we will brainstorm a list of interesting things we’d like to learn about and not worry ourselves so much with how to categorize them.

For example, we might include something like "famous landmarks.” We could break this down country by country {or state by state} and go more or less in-depth with each one depending on interest. In our study of each landmark we might touch on geography, history, art, biographies, physics {depending on the structure discussed}, writing, or mythology.

Another thing I’d like to do is focus on fewer, more detailed books. I feel like we read a lot, which is great, but that we’ve lost focus over the last year or two. In addition to keeping our system of using spine books for certain areas, which has worked out better than expected, I’d like to expand our reading list to include some longer texts the Agents might not read on their own, but would be fascinating nonetheless.

A few of the books I’m considering include A Young People’s History of the United StatesThe Magic of Reality {which Agent E and I have already read, but the younger Agents have not}, and On the Origin of Species

I’m also evaluating the kinds of topics we’ve covered recently versus the ones which sort of got “missed” in the last few years. For example, we’ve done many animal studies, but have almost exclusively focused on mammals. Maybe we’re due for a study on birds, or dinosaurs. Also, we haven’t done a detailed study of the United States since Agent E was essentially my only student. {It was the year she was in 2nd and Agent J was “doing” kindergarten in her own way.} We bought a cool United States Encyclopedia intending to use it as a spine this year, but haven’t even cracked it open yet. In our science studies, we’ve spent a lot of time on evolution and climate and ecosystems but almost no time on botany or microbiology.

In any case, I’m excited to begin thinking about the direction our homeschool might be headed when we have a 6th grader, 4th grader, and 2nd grader. I believe our routine will naturally evolve such that the two younger Agents will be working together on more subjects, while my {gulp} middle schooler will be transitioning into more independent work. 

29 December 2016

So Long, 2016

I know this probably isn’t true for most folks, but we continue to “do” school during the relaxed if not confusing {what day is it again?} week between Christmas and New Year’s. We did take Monday off because Hubby didn’t work that day and let’s just say the Agents find his presence a bit . . . distracting. {We’re skipping this coming Monday, 2 January, for the same reason.}

Mostly, though, it was business as usual this week. Since we just passed our halfway point {we’re currently on week two of the third quarter} I’ve been feeling a tad reflective and thinking about the kinds of things we might like to do going forward. I’m also getting a better grasp on how much we will feasibly be able to finish this school year, keeping in mind that we’ll be wrapping up a bit early than usual because we’ll be moving around that time. 

What "recess" looks like these days

A few random thoughts I’ve had about our homeschool year so far:

We will likely carry our study of Greek mythology until the end of the school year. I originally thought, hey, maybe we’ll just do this for a quarter or a semester and then move on to something else, but the Agents had other ideas. It looks like Norse and Egyptian mythologies {the next two in our mental queue} will have to wait until next year. We have also started reading The Children’s Book of Mythical Beasts and Magical Monsters, which has given us even more ideas for where we might like to go with this fascinating topic.

I finally had to admit that I’m just not crazy about Mango Spanish. In theory it sounds great, and it’s free, which is a bonus. But . . . Agents J and A are just not that into it. {Agent E has preferred Duolingo all along.} A while back I started listening to Coffee Break Spanish, and this week I introduced Agents J and A to that instead. I think they are enjoying it so far, and we will likely try that method going forward.

Last year we had this grandiose idea to study “animals” as part of science. It didn’t take long before we narrowed that down to “mammals” and further shortened our list to “mammals specifically mentioned in our spine book.” {We're using The Animal Book, published by DK and Smithsonian.} We just started covering rhinos and tapirs. Once we finish those, we have seven more groups to go: horses and zebras; cows, antelope, and sheep; hippos; pigs and deer; camels, llamas, and giraffes; dolphins and porpoises; and whales. We usually spend 2-4 weeks on each grouping, so we may not finish this year after all. 

As far as other science, we’ve tended to concentrate on physical science so far this year {matter, materials, force, machines}. We have also, of course, carried on with our seemingly never-ending obsession with the early universe and evolution. I’m hoping to finish up our dwindling list of books we intend to read and videos we intend to watch on these topics sometime in the next few months. Maybe we might even {gasp!} take a break from it and not add it to our homeschool schedule for next year. {I anticipate there would be protesting, though.}

We’ve completed a lot of workbooks and written work  this year compared to previous ones. I used to be pretty on top of free resources and do much of my own {double-sided} printing, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s just easier and more efficient to keep a running list of favorites and order them on Amazon when the price drops. The Agents are especially fond of Brain Quest, School Zone math, Brighter Child language arts, and DK geography.

There’s always lots more I can contemplate about what’s working and what’s not for our homeschool, and I will probably be churning out a stream-of-consciousness evaluation and planning post before too long. In the meantime, we’ll be here chugging along into 2017 and beyond.