Wednesday, June 29, 2011

School, School, and School

We are taking a break from our home school this week. We do plan to continue through the summer, but this week I am sending my 2 girls to Vacation Bible School. It's not actually the one at my own church (which is in late July), but at the church across the street from ours. I did feel a little guilty at first, sending them to another church and taking advantage of their workers and supplies, but I've been hearing more and more about other people doing the same thing. I figured it's a good chance for my girls to socialize with some new people (our church only has one other girl in the same grade as my oldest).  Plus, to help finalize my decision, it turned out that my husband was going on a business trip this week to Japan! So I figured I could use the help.

It's been nice, though short (tomorrow's the last day, and 3 hours a day goes by really fast!). The girls have been loving it. My youngest girl is just barely old enough for it, at 3 years old. My son isn't old enough this year, so I've still had him with me full-time, but he is so much more manageable without the girls around. In any case, it has allowed me to go to the grocery store this week without dragging all 3 kids along.

It's funny, though - all 3 kids have been asking me this week when we're going to do school again. They may complain (at least, the oldest does) when we're doing it, but she misses it now. In fact, this evening, she dragged her sister to the playroom with her to have their own school. I could hear her making her little sister count to 100, do an alphabet worksheet (for the letter "U"), and sing songs for music time. It actually was very sweet. It makes up a little bit for all the hair-pulling they've put me through this week without Daddy home.

Home school, Vacation Bible School, play school - my kids have "school" on the brain!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Do I Really Need to Teach Latin?

Choosing curriculum can be so difficult. There are so many choices, and while a few I can mark off fairly quickly as being not for us, many are ones that I could see would be useful, effective, wonderful, etc. How do you really choose? And what if you keep going back and forth between several choices?

They all sound good when you read about them. The companies make their products sound so good. They sometimes even say that using their products is the only way your child will become an intelligent, scholarly, logical, compassionate, productive, Godly, intellectual, and/or promising member of society. And reading other people's reviews only tells you so much. Their experience may not be your experience, since their children are not your children. And their teaching abilities are not the same as your own teaching abilities and/or inclinations.

How do I make the right choice, and what if I'm wrong? Will I mess up my children forever? Public school isn't perfect, obviously, and no single (or even combination) homeschool curriculum is either. I have to keep telling myself that. I didn't have a perfect education (probably far from it, given that I attended 8 different public school systems all over the country and abroad), and I still ended up fairly scholarly, logical, intelligent, compassionate, etc. At least, I think so. Even if I make a few mistakes teaching my children, they'll probably be able to overcome any shortcomings, given a decent enough base. (Teaching character is probably more important than any other subject - determination, hard work, love of learning, etc.) They'll learn even more once they pass the age of 18. I am, after all. I am realizing how much I didn't learn myself in my first 13 years of school, now that I am researching what to teach my own children. Some are things I learned later, in college and in life, while others are things that I want to make sure to learn with my children this time around!

What about Latin, for example? "You must study Latin to understand logic and even English grammar," some people say. Well, I never studied Latin, and I think I'm fairly logical and grammatical. I spent many years writing computer software and programming robots, and that requires quite a bit of logic.

In fact, now that I think about it, maybe computer programming should be the new Latin. Studying computer science may be just as effective as Latin in producing logical adults. And it's probably quite a bit more useful, too.

Anyway, I think the only way to really know what curriculum you should choose is to try out different things. It might cost a bit more that way, but you can try and resell the ones that didn't work out, and it might be the only way to really know what you need.

Your children's learning styles may be useful to know, but not crucial. They can pretty much learn enough from any style, though they may not like it as much. They're not going to love everything about every subject, no matter what you choose. It's school, after all. You have to learn some things you don't like, no matter what.

I'm beginning to understand that the teacher may be the most important part. If you don't have a good teacher, the best material isn't going to help too much. Some kids really can learn some subjects all by themselves, but probably not every subject, and the younger they are, the more help they need in every subject. So you need to pick curriculum that you can teach with - one that has whatever helps you need, and is in a style that you can relate to and enjoy using, because not only is it true that "if Momma's not happy, nobody's happy," it's also true that "if the teacher's not happy, nobody's happy!"

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Intro to Science

We are currently on week 3 of our new science course: Intro to Science, from ElementalScience. All 3 kids have been enjoying it so far, though I don't think my 2-year-old really understands much other than he gets to see some neat things and roam around outside with Mommy once a week.  My 3-year-old may understand a bit more, but it's hard to tell how much "science" she's getting out of it. However, my 5-year-old (almost 6) has been repeating some of what she's learned to Daddy in the evenings, and sometimes bringing up related topics with me a week or so later. Science is definitely one subject she never complains about doing!

We did solids/liquids the first week, with an experiment to melt crayon pieces into crayon "cakes" in a muffin tin. We'd done that before about a year or so ago, but they all loved seeing it again. We also searched for and found some pine trees oozing rosin. Last week was solutions & dilutions, and we made Koolaid of varying strengths (tasted nasty to me), painted with diluted paint, and made mud with varying ratios of water to dirt (that was the outside part). This week is density, and so far we've experimented with oil floating on water, and testing an assortment of objects to see if they will float on oil, water, or molasses, or not at all. The nature walk this week will be finding more objects to test how well they float.  These first 6 weeks are one unit all about chemistry, but then we'll go into 5 more units, covering physics, geology, meteorology, botany, and zoology.

Looking ahead to week #23, which is on tornadoes, I'm hoping our nature walk doesn't get too wild that week....

We started out using the 2-day-a-week schedule, but this week, I'm trying out the 5-day-a-week schedule. It makes each session shorter and seems to be working better for us. Probably because my kids still have very short attention spans. It spreads out the experiments too, so we're not get too messy too many times in one day. So I think we will stick with that, and probably spread out our history (study of the states) a bit more too, and do less each day, but more days a week. As I gain a little more experience homeschooling, I'm beginning to modify things a bit more, and not be so particular about having a strict schedule. That seems to be a necessity with 2 preschoolers roaming around.

Next week we're taking a break from school. My husband will be on a business trip out of the country, and I'm sending the girls to Vacation Bible School. I figured that might help me cope a bit better during my week of "single" parenting. We'll see how it goes!

Saturday, June 18, 2011


I am being tempted. I happened to be browsing the website of a local Christian private school (I don't really remember why - I had researched them quite a bit before deciding to homeschool), when I noticed the link for "Employment Opportunities." I clicked it, and found a job which has the potential to be really perfect for me - the school librarian. I have a masters in librarianship, though I did not focus on school library tasks, nor do I have a teaching certificate. But for a private school, I wouldn't need any teaching credentials - just 24 credit hours in library science. So I would be quite well qualified. And I love working in libraries. And from my previous visit to their school, I had learned that employees can send their children to this private school for a greatly reduced rate.

The reason this is tempting to me is that I don't always enjoy the "teaching" part of homeschooling, especially when my daughter is being stubborn, grumpy, and extremely slow to do her work, which was quite a bit this past week. I love researching curriculum, and learning things myself, but teaching is difficult at times. I like reading to them, doing experiments (when they're not too messy), and teaching them things which are exciting to them, especially when they make discoveries and link things together. I love having them all home together, and how much closer they've become to each other. But it's frustrating when I feel like I'm just force-feeding them facts. I think I'll enjoy it more as they get older, and more logical. But these early years will be trying at times, I know. It is tempting to hand them off to a more skilled teacher, especially when I'd be right there on the same campus with them. Plus, I really like all the other activities the school offers - music, sports, drama, etc. The class sizes are small, the teachers are all Christians, and the school is just down the street from my parents' house.

But there are too many cons to taking the librarian job. For one thing, my 2 younger children are too young for the school, so I'd have to put them in full-time daycare/preschool for 2-3 more years, which I definitely don't want to do. Plus, I'd have to go to work every day, at least during the school year, and get the kids ready early, and be gone all day, and still have to do all the housework and cooking when I returned in the evening. The kids would still have homework in the evenings. I'd have to wear more formal clothes, force the kids to wear more formal clothes, fix lunches for us all, etc. We wouldn't be able to take a vacation whenever we wanted, I'd have to make arrangements somehow if one of the kids got sick. I also don't totally like the curriculum they use (A Beka in the earlier years, adding in Bob Jones in the upper levels, plus some other things which they don't specify). Some of these things aren't big deals, but the need for preschool and the curriculum choices are the two biggies for me.

So I'm not going to apply for now. Maybe when all 3 kids are school age, if they have other appropriate job openings, I might reconsider. But maybe by then, they'll all be old enough to not drive me crazy while homeschooling. (I'll just be glad when my 2-year-old is a bit more controllable.)

So I went one last time to check the school's website, and saw they had added another job opening - a pre-calc/calculus/physics teacher! Another job that looks perfect for me, given my degree in physics and lots of upper-level math. Ahh!!! I think I better not look at their website again for a long time!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

I Won a Door Prize!

I have never in my life won a door prize before. Until yesterday. And now I am the proud owner of a Time Travelers History Study CD from Home School in the Woods, entitled "Colonial Life!"

I have to say that winning the door prize sticks out as the most memorable part of my first homeschool conference this past Friday and Saturday. I was one of two winners in the workshop talk I went to on Saturday afternoon, about teaching multiple grades together. I kinda wish I had gotten the other door prize, which was a History Pocket book, since I already am planning on buying more of those to use in the near future (we just finished the Native Americans History Pocket ebook last week). But maybe it's good to get something different, which I probably wouldn't have bought on my own, since I will have a chance to try out something the kids might really love, even though I wouldn't choose it myself. It's a set of 25 lesson plans covering the American Colonial period, with lots of hands-on activities dealing with history and science and even handwriting. It's geared toward 3rd-8th grade, so I probably won't use it yet, but I think my oldest, at least, will really enjoy many of the projects. It has a lot of notebooking and lapbooking projects, which I am not really into doing, but again, I'm not the one being taught. In my "master plan" (which may or may not stay in place), I should be doing this part of history in about 6 years, when the kids will be in 6th, 4th, and 3rd grades, so it should be a really good fit, age-wise, to do then.

As for the rest of the conference, I went to 4 talks, and spent a lot of time in the exhibit hall. Some of the talks were really good. My favorite was Carol Barnier, who actually sang some of her "ditties" to us.  Others were so-so. But I still learned something in each talk. I also re-learned that everyone has a different idea about the best way to teach. I think this is one thing that bothers me, coming from a science and engineering background, where there are definite right answers to most every problem. In teaching, there isn't a "right" answer. It depends on the child, the teacher, the subject, the current age of the child, the current mood of the child, the mood of the teacher, the day's weather, the color shirt you're wearing, etc. And the very next day, the answer might be different!

Of course, I'm exaggerating a bit. There are some things that are always better to do than others. Like being encouraging to your children instead of pointing out everything they're doing wrong. But everyone has different ideas about most everything else. I think out of the 4 talks I went to, each speaker said something that contradicted one or more of the others. For example, concerning grammar, one speaker said that diagramming isn't necessary unless your child plans to major in English in college, and another speaker said that diagramming is essential for everyone in order to help explain how best to write proper sentences. Personally, I plan to teach diagramming, because I think it's pretty cool, and my own mom is a English teacher and I think passed on some sort of gene that makes me want to teach it.  But it's probably not essential for everyone in every situation.

As for the exhibit hall, I am extremely glad that I didn't attend a conference until after spending months and months researching curriculum on my own. I can easily see how new homeschoolers would be completely overwhelmed by all the options available. Even I picked up tons of handouts and catalogs that I'm sure I will be wasting hours looking through in the next few weeks - even curriculum that I've already decided I don't plan to ever use. But it's fun to look.

I wish Sonlight had been at the convention, or CLE, but they did have a Rod & Staff distributor, which was the only one I bought actual curriculum from this weekend. I don't really need anything for this coming year, but I went ahead and got some stuff (just a little bit - it was 5% off, after all) for the next year, since I like planning ahead. I also bought a book and kit from Accountable Kids. I had seen their stuff online before and really liked it, so I got one kit at the conference, where it was on sale. I'll let you know later how it works, after I manage to read through the book....

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Trip to the Used Book Sale

I went to a used book sale today, put on by 2 local homeschool groups, including the one of which I'm a member. I don't have anything to sell yet, but I was ready to buy! I pretty much have everything I need for 2011-2012 already, but I printed out a list of all the books that I'm planning on using the following year. Plus, I've been perusing the reading lists for various history and literature and science curricula for so long now, that I was pretty sure I'd recognize any books that I might want.

There were so many books!  People had boxes full of them spread on top of and under their tables, packed tightly with those thin children's readers that don't have enough room for the titles on the spines, so I had to flip through all of them one by one, while still keeping one eye out for other browsing customers so I wouldn't get stepped on. (It was a good thing I could leave the kids with their grandparents for the morning.)

I wonder if I will be one of these people one day, with boxes and boxes of books to sell....

I did find quite a bit on my list. I found 12 books from the Sonlight Core A package, ranging from $0.25 to $1.00 each. I had already decided not to buy the whole package new, since I already have several books from that core, and buying things separately, mostly from Amazon, was going to be at least $50-$60 cheaper for me. Now it will be even cheaper, after getting all these books so cheap. I found a few books from other Sonlight cores, plus a few other books from different history lists which I just liked. I got the Usborne Internet-Linked Encyclopedia of World History for $10. I got a Melissa & Doug abacus still in the original packaging for $10, and a plastic Judy clock with movable gears for $1.

I also got the complete NOEO Physics 1 kit! I was looking for the Chemistry 1 material, and wasn't planning on doing physics until a few years later, but for more than half off, I think I'll just do physics first! The lady who was selling it hadn't even opened everything - she had bought it and then decided not to do it (her child went to a co-op science class instead).

So today was a pretty productive day. Friday and Saturday of this week, I'm going to the SETHSA homeschool conference too, so I'll report on that later.