Category Archives: education

Transitions

I’m not ready for summer to end. Nope, not at all. Winter here was cold and snowy and dragged on and on well into spring. My oldest didn’t get out of school until the last week of June. He starts up again tomorrow, and our youngest will be joining him, trying out kindergarten. I have all sorts of mixed feelings about this. My heart is in homeschooling and all the serendipitous connections and freedom it allows. Watching my kids learn is amazing. I am sad about the academic-looking daily schedule we received that has no block labeled “playtime,” the 20 minutes allotted for lunch, the increased demands placed upon younger and younger children. But my extroverted girl wants to try it, so I’m swallowing my tongue, practically, at times and giving it a go.

On the plus side, I’m hoping our middle child thrives with the focused parent time with no sibling distractions. He’ll still be home, and he’s most excited about our new microscope.

new microscope at amyhoodarts.com

After looking at a few choices for science curriculum, he decided upon R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Biology, and I’m super excited. I’m also impressed with the scope of what it covers, and how. (I have a degree in Wildlife Biology and took college courses in ecology, genetics, biology, and botany.) He’ll be using this microscope quite a bit.

at Beavertail State Park at amyhoodarts.com

He already knows a lot about ecology and habitats because of the things we like to do.

He also requested a curriculum to improve his spelling. He told me he’d enjoy writing better if he didn’t have to ask me to spell so many words for him. He had spelling lists in kindergarten and first and second grade while schooled, and predictably, he wasn’t at all interested in rote memorization of spelling words at that age. I don’t feel it’s developmentally appropriate, and felt that spelling would either come around as he gained mastery of reading, or he’d be motivated to improve it himself. And lo and behold, he is. After looking at several options, I chose Sequential Spelling.

We’ll be continuing to use Story of the World (we’re up to Volume 3) and A History of US for history, and Singapore Math for math. He reads voraciously, and writing happens organically. We’ll also be setting aside time for projects.

way up high at amyhoodarts.com

He loves to climb.

This spring and summer, we’ve been learning more about what makes our middle child tick and where he could use some extra support. Slowly, we’re building ourselves a village to help with this. It was suggested that I attend this seminar on executive functioning, and I have to say, I’m looking forward to it. Not the long drive or the long day, but getting useful information that I can implement at home, definitely. I’m glad we have the resources to send me to it.

So that’s where I’m at–sad that summer is ending, that it was so short, but trying to get in gear for a new season. I’m not happy about the shortening days, the crispness to the morning air, the signs of impending coldness and darkness. It feels like we only just emerged from winter! But I’m optimistic about what N and I can accomplish without distractions, and hopeful that my daughter enjoys kindergarten (because she is so excited about it) and that my oldest is finally challenged now that he’s in 7th grade. Transitions.

Raising Readers (Or, Why I Don’t Approve of Book Logs)

Why I Don't Approve of Book Logs at amyhoodarts.com

Last week I had a little twitterrant about book logs and similar assignments that extend a teacher’s reach into reading a child does for pleasure on his or her own time. I’ve made a lot of mistakes as a parent, but one of the things I’ve got right is raising kids who love to read. I’ve been at it for over a decade now, and my methods have been proven successful, so I really bristle when school reaches in and messes with it. My oldest and only schooled child is in sixth grade. None of his teachers have bothered him with a book log since he began school in second grade; he entered reading voraciously and well beyond grade level. Earlier this spring his teacher went on maternity leave, and the sub decided he needed to fill out a book log. At parent/teacher conferences several weeks ago, I brought it up and got him excused, pointing out that he’s often read the assigned 20 minutes per day before he even gets to school, because he reads on the bus. He also frequently reads entire books in one school day because he finishes his work early and they have nothing else to offer him. Last week, he came home and told me she’d now assigned him to write a weekly summary of a book he read on his own time for fun in place of the book log. This is beyond the reading-related assignments he does for school. She told him she wanted to make sure he understood what he was reading.

He takes standardized tests that measure reading comprehension. He writes summaries and does assignments for books assigned as class reading. I know he understands what he’s reading because I talk to him about what he’s reading. A book log is a tedious exercise in time wasting, and writing a summary of a book you chose to read for pleasure just so school can check a box is odious. Both of these activities attach a chore to reading for fun, which is exactly the opposite of what we should be doing if we want to raise kids who like to read.

I’m not just against book logs for established readers. My younger son, who was schooled from K through second grade, was not reading fluently when he began second grade. It hadn’t clicked for him yet, by which I mean he hadn’t crossed that magical bridge when you cease to think about reading and find yourself simply doing it. When his teacher assigned a book log, I explained that we wouldn’t be participating. I knew my child; he has a contrary streak and requires ownership of his learning and doing. I worried that if he got a whiff of an idea that reading was something he should do because school said so, he’d decide it wasn’t for him. Also, writing down everything you read is, as I’ve said, tedious; I’ve tried it. I wanted him to come to reading in his own time, without pressure, and develop into someone with a lifelong love of books. I wanted that much more than I wanted to not be the Difficult Parent.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both teachers with whom I’ve had to discuss book log requirements have said they didn’t like to read as children. Book logs begin with the assumption that kids won’t read unless we force them to and then hold them accountable. I don’t like this assumption. To me, the fact that schools require them as a matter of course demonstrates that schools have given up on the idea that kids will read for fun and they view it as one more thing that needs to be forced down kids’ throats like medicine. That’s not the attitude my kids have towards reading. So, how did we do it?

My husband and I both read, and the kids see us reading. But setting an example isn’t enough. We hope the kids love to read, but having that hope isn’t enough. We have a family culture that values books and reading, and I feel that’s why we’ve successfully passed on our love of reading. Our words and actions are all in line with the idea that we value books and time spent reading. I’ve been taking my kids to the library since they were infants, as much for my sake as for theirs. We remain heavy library users, and librarians at all three branches of the town system we use the most know all my kids by name. I can’t even begin to estimate how many hours of my mother-life I’ve spent reading aloud: it surely must be in the thousands. And not just stories before bed; we have shelves packed with books, and I will read aloud at any time of day. Some days it was all I did, reading entire chapter books to ill little boys. (Those are good memories!) While we ask the kids to save their own money for certain purchases, they know I’m a soft touch when it comes to books. Unless we decide it’s a book they’ll finish quickly and never re-read (in which case, it’s borrowed from the library), I will hand over money for just about any book purchase.

As a result of allowing the kids to learn to read at their own pace without external pressures, valuing reading and books, taking time to read aloud every day and almost whenever asked, providing the kids with books they ask for, talking about what we’re all reading, demonstrating in word and deed that my own reading time is just as important to me—as a result of all of this, I have kids who love to read, who won’t leave the house without a book in hand (and an extra, if they think they might finish the first one en route), who don’t understand why anyone would not want to read. Sometimes my boys and I, or the boys and my husband, will read the same books and discuss them. The boys pass series back and forth. My oldest has subscriptions to two adult science magazines and chooses his library books from all sections of the library: kids, YA, adult, fiction, nonfiction. My almost-10yo will still choose picture books even as he ranges up to the YA section for chapter books. He also loves nonfiction as well as fiction. My daughter can’t wait until she can read, too; she’s already planning to re-read favorite series that we’ve read aloud together. I have never once told any of my kids they had to read at least twenty minutes per evening and then hand me a list to prove they did.

I realize teachers don’t know what happens in every household, but I was and always will be my children’s first teacher. I expect any classroom teachers they have to be my partner in this; information goes back and forth so we can both do our best. If our goal as teachers and parents is to nurture children who love to read and freely choose reading as an enjoyable leisure activity, then when my kid is doing just that, we’ve met our goal. Back off with the book logs and busywork summaries; they’ll just undermine the idea that reading can and should be fun. As for kids who aren’t there yet, introducing the idea that you read because school says so leaves no room for the idea that reading can be intrinsically fun. Rating books by level, telling kids what sorts of books they should be reading, valuing one kind of book over another, requiring a certain number of pages read in a certain time period…none of this creates a culture of reading. It creates a culture of control, and that’s no way to nurture kids who choose to read for fun.

(I never forced my kids to eat vegetables, either, and you know what? They all love them.)

Drawing Dragons

dragon drawings at amyhoodarts.com

Artwork by N. Hood.

Last week, my 9yo picked out a book on drawing dragons, Dragonart Evolution: How to Draw Everything Dragon, at the craft store. We got home and he began drawing. He’s barely stopped since.

dragon drawings at amyhoodarts.com

His new book and his stack of drawings–and he’s using both sides of the paper.

He began by attempting some of the drawing guidelines from the book, but he’s mainly using it for inspiration.

dragon drawings at amyhoodarts.com

artwork by N. Hood

Sometimes he focuses on a specific area, such as eyes or texture.

dragon drawings at amyhoodarts.com

artwork by N. Hood

His drawings have stories attached. Sometimes they contain text.

dragon drawings at amyhoodarts.com

artwork by N. Hood

If there’s a battle going on, he’s partial to the dragon’s side of the story.

dragon drawings at amyhoodarts.com

artwork by N. Hood

I asked if I could share some, and he said yes, but he had a hard time narrowing down the choices. In the end, I chose five out of his pile and he slipped in a couple more.

dragon drawings at amyhoodarts.com

artwork by N. Hood

I promised him we’d document all of them with photographs.

dragon drawings at amyhoodarts.com

artwork by N. Hood

He has said repeatedly that he loves the book. The book was just the starting point. He has drawn dragons before, many of them, but this book, I think, gave him some new things to think about. He’s going deeper, and he has spent hours drawing, every day, utterly absorbed and content–which makes me happy, too.

Fairy House Festival

You may recall that 5yo G has an interest in fairies. Yesterday we visited the Botanical Gardens at Roger Williams Park in Providence, on the last day of their “fairy house garden days.” This was something that came across my computer screen via a local homeschool email group, so it’s not a field trip planned by G (which is really how PBL field trips should go). I’m the one who heard about it, but G was in charge of the experience. We left the boys at home and went for a mama-daughter date with fairy gardens.

I didn’t tell G that the website invited visitors to dress as fairies–who needs to tell a 5yo to wear wings? She independently chose her outfit. Obviously one visits a fairy house garden wearing wings, a flower barrette, a poufy skirt, and sparkly shoes. Once there, she asked if she could take photos of her favorite houses. YES. I handed over the camera, and she took more than 70 pictures.

documenting fairy houses (PBL) at amyhoodarts.com

We weren’t just viewing, you see. This is also research, because she plans to continue building her own fairy houses (more on that in a minute). All the photos of fairy houses in this post were taken by G. This was one of her favorites, a seaside getaway for fairies who need a vacation.

seaside fairy house at amyhoodarts.com

fairy house at Roger Williams Park Botanical Gardens, Providence, RI.

She wanted to take a photo of this twisty ladder because it “looks like DNA, Mama!!”

fairy house ladder at amyhoodarts.com

Part of a fairy house at Roger Williams Park Botanical Gardens, Providence, RI.

A scavenger hunt had been set up, and while usually I’m not a fan of those at museums because they tend to cause visitors to focus just on the items on the list, that wasn’t the outcome here. It was quite well done–some fairy house displays had explanatory signs, which were clever or interesting, along with an item to look for in the display. G was looking very closely at all the displays anyway, whether it was a scavenger hunt stop or not. So this particular activity added to the experience. She took this photo at the display of hanging fairy house spheres because she was asked to find a bench and she did! (I didn’t spot it at all.)

hanging fairy house at amyhoodarts.com

Part of a fairy house display at Roger Williams Park Botanical Gardens, Providence, RI.

Part of the special activities for Sunday was making a fairy house. She picked up a bag of collected nature items and some dirt.

fairy house-making supplies at amyhoodarts.com

However, she was having a hard time figuring out how to construct walls, so I asked if she’d like to bring the items home and use them to build a house in the yard–where we have trees and rocks and shells to add to the materials. She said yes. On the way out, we were asked if we’d like to take another bag (they must have had extras), so she picked out more supplies. There are wonderful things in there, things we wouldn’t necessarily be able to easily collect on their own. The URI Master Gardeners were a big part of this event, and the Master Gardeners themselves all collected items (legally and carefully, I’ve no doubt, as the back of the scavenger hunt list had cautions on being careful collectors). I suspect that most of the effort to create this event was by volunteers.

A couple of days before Easter, G decided it was time to build a fairy house in the yard. She’d been waiting patiently all winter for spring. Easter was in two days; we were into the second part of April. Surely it was time, never mind that the temperature was in the 30s. Spring may be wavery about committing, but G was not.

5yo's fairy house at amyhoodarts.com

5yo’s G first fairy house in our backyard.

The table! Set with acorn cap bowls! With her 70-odd photos of inspiration, and her memories of all we looked at and talked about, G has lots of ideas for building more fairy houses. (She also has a new fairy wand. It goes fetchingly with the wings and sparkly shoes.)

G the Kid Scientist

I’ve been watching Cosmos with the kids every Tuesday because it’s on past bedtimes on Sundays and we can all watch it together after school using the “on demand” replay. They all look forward to it and it leads to some great discussion. After the first show, G, age 5, declared she wanted to be a “kid scientist.” During our next trip to the library, she picked out books on space and the human body, but really, space is winning out. She told me she wanted to do experiments, so on the next trip to the library, we took out Astronomy for Every Kid: 101 Easy Experiments That Really Work, by Janice VanCleave. Now I will admit I think many of the experiments are a stretch, and many aren’t even experiments in the true sense of the word, BUT G picked out a few to try and she is pleased about feeling like a kid scientist.

experimenting

Here she is seeing how water affects the weight of a rock…which is supposed to relate to the moon’s gravity versus earth’s…which is kind of a stretch. But what’s more interesting is what the kid scientist did next. She told me she had her own “experiment” to do, and she requested a piece of black paper and two balloons. I blew up the balloons and she covered one with brown marks representing craters. Then she made silver marks all over the piece of black poster board I found. Then she set it all up.

earth moon sun model

The sun is in the center, obviously. She had me walk the globe pillow (representing earth, of course) around the sun, while she walked with me, moving her moon balloon (the one with the craters–impossible to see in this action shot) around the earth.

And this is why I love tagging along behind kids following their own interests. If I’d decided it was time to do an “astronomy unit” and had her create a model of the solar system, really, I’d have no idea if she was getting it. But a child who asks for materials to complete a vision in her head that demonstrates the motion of the earth around the sun, and the moon around the earth? That kid understands what she’s doing. It’s so darn cool, every single time.

Give-away: Home/School/Life Magazine Subscription

Thanks to everyone for your supportive comments, and congratulations to Heather, whose number came up on random.org. She commented, “Our family has been seeking a publication like the one you are creating that delves into all aspects of a homeschooling life. We are excited to have the opportunity to be a part of this enriching, inspiring, supportive community. Thank you for creating this magazine. Yay!”

I was very excited when Shelli announced she’d been asked to be the editor of a new homeschooling magazine, Home/School/Life Magazine. Firstly, because I’ve been reading Shelli for a while and I’m truly happy when good things happen for people I know. (I don’t know if I have just found a good corner of the internet or what, but I know of so many creative, generous, hardworking people putting fantastic things into the world.) Secondly, because I don’t read any homeschooling magazines or websites regularly. I read blogs and connect with other homeschoolers online, but I haven’t subscribed to a homeschool magazine in quite a long time. Shelli’s description of the new magazine sounded like it would fill a niche in my mailbox.

And this was before she asked if I’d be interested in writing an art column…

So yes, I now have a personal interest in the success of this magazine, beyond my desire that it succeed because Shelli is the editor and because it will be really nice to have a homeschooling magazine to read. I was really excited to be asked to be a part of it. (So excited I emailed my husband: “I know you’re on a plane right now and won’t read this for hours, but I can’t wait to tell you this!!”) I admit it’s challenging to write a post about something that isn’t, actually, complete yet. The first issue is due this spring, so I can’t review it yet and tell you it’s awesome. But I can tell you I’ve seen the planned contents, and I’m really, really looking forward to it.

HSL flier jpeg

Besides my column, the magazine will include Shelli’s on hands-on science, a curriculum column, and one on books—in every issue. Other regular features include “One Subject, Four Ways,” “Balancing Act,” (something I think we’re all trying to do), and a profile of a homeschooling family. Each issue will also look at a different career path, and have sections devoted to varying grade levels: early grades, middle grades, and high school. And each issue will also include three feature articles. This is an ambitious, exciting-sounding outline for the sort of magazine I’ve been wishing existed.

Shelli and Amy, the editor-in-chief, have generously offered me the chance to give away a one-year digital subscription to the magazine to one of my readers. If you’re interested, leave a comment telling me why you’re excited for a new homeschooling magazine, and make sure to include your name and email address in the proper boxes. (If you’re chosen, I’ll also need your city/state and/or country, but this giveaway is open to everyone, worldwide.) As for me, I am most excited for the tangible connection to a larger community that I think this magazine will represent.

Comments will be open until next Tuesday, February 25, at 6 pm EST, and I’ll contact the winner (and update this post) on February 26.

{PBL} The Fairy Project

It began late last fall. Gradually, a list of questions grew.

list of questions for fairy project at amyhoodarts.com

We went to the library to look up books in their computer, as you do, and came home with some that day and requested many, many others. Shortly after Christmas we were excited to find this book in a used book store, because we’d kept renewing our library copy:

fairyopolis

I need to compile a list of books my girl has found so far for this project so I can share them in another post. Our library search led us to The Fairy Ring, which I read aloud to both my homeschooled kids. My 9yo is just as interested in the magical and mythical, and fairies and their cousins the elves, goblins, etc, qualify, so he’s interested to listen along. The Fairy Ring is a nonfiction book that reads like a novel and tells the story of two cousins in early 20th-century England who posed a photograph with fairies. The younger cousin maintained all through her life that she did see fairies, but at the time, they were simply trying to get their parents to stop teasing them when they claimed they saw them. Word of their photographs gets around, and the situation becomes larger than they expected.

A Midsummer’s Nights Dream was mentioned in the book, so it’s been added to the reading list. That’s the way things go with projects.

G has lots of ideas relating to this project. She’s making a fairy comic, would like to plan a butterfly garden (in hopes that fairies are also attracted, since they favor the same habitat as butterflies), and she’s been looking through a book of fairy houses. She tells anyone who will listen about her project, and when she tells librarians, they often have books to suggest or, in one case, a friend who builds fairy houses on her front porch. That librarian said she’d see if her friend would mind if we visited.

G has also been taking notes. Sometimes, if she wants to record a lot of information at once, I write it. But mostly, she does.

taking notes for the fairy project at amyhoodarts.com

(toes!!)

I’ll keep you updated on this project, definitely. Just as I thought with my son’s monster project, this project is proof that project topics don’t have to be “real” or close by in order to provide huge opportunity for learning. She’s writing and researching, we’re reading, she’s drawing. She’s planning a garden and wants to build fairy houses in the spring (nature). We’ll be reading Shakespeare again soon. If a child is interested and curious, a topic is rich and can lead anywhere.

The Christmas Project

My daughter, who just turned five, really gets Christmas this year, by which I mean, she is into it. By nature, she is a Planner. She likes to plan birthdays–her own, and, if allowed, other people’s as well. She plans birthday celebrations for her stuffed animals that go on for days, complete with presents wrapped up in pieces of printer paper. So last week, after a morning of listening to her ideas about Christmas, a combination of things we’ve done in the past that she remembers (“We need to drive around and look at lights, Mama! And go around the big lit-up tree!”) and things she’s not quite sure we do but would like to (“Do you make the cookies shaped like men? Will you?”), I suggested we make a notebook for all her ideas, and planning Christmas can be her project. Planning Christmas starting on Veteran’s Day is not necessarily my thing, but my daughter is All Over This.

Christmas project notebook at amyhoodarts.com

We made a simple notebook with printer paper, a card stock cover, and the awesome long-arm stapler, and she chose stamps for the front and back covers. Then she got to work listing her ideas. She began with decorations.

decorations from the Christmas Project notebook at amyhoodarts.com

My favorite is “Santa’s sleigh, reindeer and all.” I’m not sure where she envisions this, or how large it’s supposed to be…but I’ve agreed to give her small budgets for her planning. She will have to winnow her list herself…and therein lies one of the bonuses of putting her in charge of her own project, even if it’s Christmas. We won’t be arguing or negotiating; I’ll be helping her prioritize within her budget.

She is, in case you’re wondering, incorporating other family member’s wishes, too. I told her to put everything on the lists, so nothing is forgotten–we’ll sort it out. Her categories so far also include “Activities,” “Foods,” and “Things to Do.” I’m not sure how “Things to Do” differs from “Activities,” but she is, and that’s what counts.

"Foods" in Christmas Project notebook at amyhoodarts.com

There is a lot going on with the Foods list, as you can see. She’ll have to factor cookie cutters into that budget, looks like.

"What to do" list in Christmas Project Notebook at amyhoodarts.com

Her handwriting, my goodness. It just slays me. She asks how to spell everything, and I either spell it out loud or write it down for her to copy. (In a pinch, her oldest brother helps out with spelling things as well.) Creating this notebook has been great for both of us–she has a place to record all of her ideas, which means I’m not feeling pressured to remember them all. And have I mentioned, she loves to plan? She is telling anyone who will listen that SHE is planning Christmas this year.

As far as I can see, this is a win-win!

Snapshots

gold

October has been a beauty, with mild days for most of the month and gorgeous colors. When I saw these leaves one morning this past week while waiting for the bus with my oldest, I was immediately reminded of Robert Frost’s poem, Nothing Gold Can Stay. Unfortunately, just a few days later, we were waiting in weather more like this:

frost

Also pretty in its own way, but much colder. I’ve been feeling the effects of the decreasing amount of daylight, I think, because most evenings find me dozing on the couch. Frustrating, because evenings are my work and blogging time, and I feel behind in just about all of my projects at the moment. Hence this catch-up post of snapshots of our days.

running shoes

My sanctuary + my lifeline.

On Mondays Amanda posts writing prompts on the Kindred site, and on Thursday, she shared my photo and words in response to the idea of “sanctuary.” I am terrible at sitting meditation, but I’ve found that running helps bring me out of my mind and into my body in a way that is sanctuary indeed. Another thing that has helped me this past year is the writing of Pema Chodron. I’m currently slowly reading Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion. I read one or two teachings at a time, every now and then, and let the words sit.

at the beach

On one of the last milder days last week, we headed to the beach to collect items for Mudpuddles to Meteors‘ nature exchange. We just heard our match partners live in Alaska. Fun!

making cheese

Checking the temperature of milk that will become ricotta cheese.

My 9yo wanted to know how cheese was made, so we looked it up at the library and he placed a book of recipes on hold. This past week, he made ricotta cheese–twice, actually, because the first time (using the book’s recipe) didn’t yield much cheese. Perfect! More opportunity for learning, as he Googled recipes to see how they were different from the one in the book. We used his ricotta cheese in baked pasta, but he wasn’t impressed with it. (I was! I thought it was yummy.) He would like to make Monterrey Jack next–”an orderly cheese,” in his words. I think the gloppiness of ricotta displeased him. I’m not sure he’s seen it in its natural state before; he’s always just eaten things made with it. However, he also said, “I love math–when it’s used for cheese-making!” This is self-directed learning, folks, and it’s a wonderful thing.

goat note

We are a little later with wrapping up her goat project than I’d hoped, but G’s enthusiasm for printing goat cards waned a bit, and then I waned a bit, but we’re back on track now. We changed in all her coins for dollars, and we’re heading to the bank on Monday to deposit it all so I can write a check. I interviewed her and typed up a letter to Heifer International explaining her project, and she is including this note–on one of her note cards, of course. I can barely stand it. Biased mama, yes, but I think she’s pretty amazing and awfully sweet. I am also extremely thankful for the family and friends, both near and far, who supported her project and helped her raise $120. She never thought it wasn’t possible, and so many of you helped make sure she was right.

I’m hoping to get my evening energy back so I can get back to making progress with Issue Two of Art Together, and a tutorial I’ve agreed to create, and more embroidery, and that sweater I’m knitting… I’ve no time for hibernation! I hope you’re enjoying nature’s “hardest hue to hold” before we slip thoroughly into the starker colors of winter.

Schooling Update

9yo using Cuisenaire rods to help with Singapore Math.

Friday was conference day at my oldest child’s school, when we sit down together with his teacher to check in and set goals. The pre-conference paperwork asked us, as his parents, to list our goals for him for the upcoming year; we wrote that we wanted him to set his own goals, as our goal is for him to be a self-directed learner. Honestly, I can’t think of any other answer to that question. It seems absurd to state what I think my son’s goals for himself should be.

At the same time, it’s been about a month since we began our non-summer homeschooling schedule. While learning happens all year round, we do add in more required work in the fall. Because I have one child in school, it makes the most sense to stick to the same sort of schedule, although that has its frustrations–I don’t enjoy being beholden to an outwardly imposed schedule. However, it’s a good point at which to check in with how we’re doing.

I began using Singapore Math with my 9yo this year, and I’m happy to say it’s going well. He knows more than he thinks he does; the main thing is overcoming his own self-doubt. A year ago, he’d have fought me on using a workbook and textbook; this year, he sometimes complains and needs reminders to focus, but he gets the work done. I’ve noticed that he does best with word problems (even though he says he doesn’t like them). He also took really well to Life of Fred last year, which is story based. I noted this and pointed it out to him—he seems to comprehend the numbers better when they are presented in a verbal way.

Another great help for explaining some of the concepts are Cuisenaire rods. We’ve had these for quite a long time and they have been useful many, many times. Most recently, I used them to demonstrate the concept of borrowing in subtraction. He needed a visual in order to understand that I wasn’t telling him to get rid of any numbers; we were just regrouping. After seeing it with the rods, it clicked in about a minute. Now he understands what’s going on when he borrows to subtract, rather than just doing it because he’s been told to but without any comprehension.

My 4yo, of course, wanted her own math to do. She was making up her own rather baffling worksheets, so I picked up a workbook for her. She’s happy, and I get a little bit of time to teach the day’s concept to my 9yo without her chatting our ears off.

The other area that has me really excited is language arts. We’re transitioning into using Brave Writer; we read August’s book, The Lemonade War, in September, using the copywork assignments and discussing grammar and a bit about writing style. We haven’t begun October’s book yet because we moved right into the sequel, The Lemonade Crime. This is my main logistical problem with using Arrow; we read aloud as a regular part of our homeschool, and trying to make one chapter book stretch out all month is limiting; there are other books we want to read too. I haven’t quite figured out how to handle that. We’ve also done some free-writing exercises and list-making; gentle ways to get my 9yo writing more often.

But then! I saw the book Guy-Write on the library shelf and asked him if he’d like to read it. He said yes, read it in about a day, and then…began writing a book. Something in that book hit him just the right way, and his writing is alive and exciting. He reads each chapter to me when he’s done. He told me the spelling is all wrong, but I told him when he was done writing, we could type it into the computer and worry about the spelling then. He declared I could be his editor. I’m a bit dumbfounded; he has “hated” writing for a few years now. I am cautiously optimistic, hoping this new-found love of writing will stick around.

My daughter is also writing—asking how to spell words and either writing as we tell her the letters or copying the words she’s dictated to me from another piece of paper. She’s been reciting letters off of signs, asking me what they spell. Just recently she began doing that in reverse, saying words and trying to sound out the letters they contain. Her brain is working constantly, it seems, on the puzzle of reading. It’s really cool to watch.

One area I’m not totally up on is project time. I’ve failed thus far to carve out predictable blocks of time for project work. I keep waiting for our weeks to settle down into a routine, but I think our routine is that there isn’t one. As much as I try to contain the errands, things like doctor’s appointments go where they fit, and we seem to have lots of those. So I’ve begun just claiming the time where I see it. I need to do a better job of reminding the kids what they wanted to accomplish, though. So project time is still a work in progress this year.

Of course we’re continuing our studies of history and science, supported with library books and so on, but math and language arts have taken such a huge leap lately, so that’s where I chose to focus on this recap. It seems like overstating the obvious, but a huge advantage of homeschooling is the ability to work with my child right where he is, to take advantage of leaps of understanding, and to take the time to work on trouble areas…as well as having the time to be patient and wait for the progression of things without feeling pushed and rushed to meet an artificially imposed standard. I’m thankful we can do this right now.