What We Learned

 

The first day of school, and the last. Of course I took pictures, it is what I do, I record memories and save them. Print them, frame them, turn them into books to flip through. I compared the pictures, side by side, two little girls, gamely holding up signs and smiling for me. Or really, smiling for the bribe of candy I promised.

We have come so far. Some days I lead, and they follow, like ducklings at my feet. But I realize now that they have led as much, leaving me to follow. If I just shut up, and trust in myself; to teach, in them to learn, in us to come together, I learn just as much.

I’ve learned that I do not have girls who learn through play. Well they do, but I came into homeschooling thinking we would have a play-based, Montessori-style education.

Instead Sprout will watch documentaries on Egypt, come to me with questions, and we will stumble down a rabbit hole, learning obscure facts.

I’ve learned that Pudge will stack blocks, just so, over and over, until they are aligned perfectly. She sits patiently with a box of rainbow counting bears, carefully sorting them and matching them, standing them facing the same way.

Where Sprout is all instinct and rushing into things, Pudge is calculating, technical, taking her time to finish something. She still eats paint though.

I discovered a huge secular homeschooling group, and my sanity when I did so. Through them I found a history curriculum, a science, a math. I am better armed for the formal years of schooling, now that I’ve seen so many of them do it, than I was before. And I am better prepared for how the girls need to learn. They need to be challenged and nudged, led to discoveries and realizations.

Halfway through the year, I realized that many of the questions I was getting, about homeschooling, about what we do, were not questions, but were thinly veiled criticisms. How do you do it, really means can I do it. I don’t see how you can teach that, you didn’t take it in school, really means, are you smart enough to teach it. I’ve learned to see the genuine questions, and the criticisms. Questions I answer, and criticisms I ignore. For the most part.

Along with that, I’ve learned that some people are not going to respect my decision to homeschool. (Our decision really.) I’ve whittled most of those people out of my life. Homeschooling will be a huge part of our lives for the foreseeable future, and I do not have the time and patience to deal with the nay sayers. I do not want to create an echo chamber, but I do not want to waste my time defending my decisions either.

I’ve learned to write lesson plans, to stay organized. A few minutes at the start of the week, and everything goes smoother. It’s easier to fill those little brains and keep them learning.

On the other hand, I’ve learned when to throw those plans out and get creative. The weather will ruin a perfectly planned outdoor experiment. I will run out of supplies the night before a big project. One of us will get sick. Those days, we put our best laid plans to one side, and just relax.

Most importantly, I’ve learned to relax. Although my end goal is to keep the girls on roughly their age level in public school, it is ok that Sprout has atrocious handwriting and doesn’t like to work on it. Or that she is ahead in math and science. I can teach them at their speed, subject by subject, until things even out. But they are learning, soaking in everything I point out, talk about, whatever they read about. More of it is sticking than I ever dreamed would.

We do things differently. We’ve become more classical in style than unschool. We have more of a routine than many homeschoolers do, especially with young kids. But it is working for us. That’s what is important.

For the rest of the summer, I have plans to do summer school. A few projects and things to do every day, nothing like the rest of the year. Maybe some handwriting work, lots of science lessons and math, lots of art and coloring.

And then?? We’ll see how much we all learn this next year.

~Jennifer

 

Best Laid Lesson Plans

I am prone to tweaking lesson plans. I write them, plan weeks and occasionally months in ahead, and in the moment, that week or that day, I tend to change them. There have been moments where the girls were working on one activity, and I was re-arranging plans for the next.

Hubs challenged me to do 5 days, following my lesson plans to the letter. No substituting, no changing, do the plans as I wrote them. A brand-new camera bag/purse was on the line, if we met those days. I wanted that bag. And I wanted to see if we could actually get through those days, if with the promise of a treat, I would lead and teach the girls, and not find an excuse to spend the day in my yoga pants.

We set off the first day, and I was full of ambition. And caffeine. I have new curriculum for science, history and math, and I was eager to get into it. The night before I had printed off a lab, read ahead in the history book, printed off a map, and dug through my endless supply of math manipulatives. The girls sailed through that day. And the next. And the next.

But the 4th day, our Thursday, was a slog. No one wanted to work that day, especially me. I found myself accepting work I would normally ask for a redo on. Rushing through our science time just to get it over with. I didn’t stop to make sure Sprout has grasped the math concepts we were working on, and we had to go back to it the next day, and slow down. Our Friday was better, but everybody needed a break.

When we finished up that last day, Sprout looked up at me and asked if homeschool was always going to be this hard. Pudge had refused to let go of me for nearly an hour, desperate for some attention and some hugs. I had an epiphany in that moment, this is not why I homeschool.

I did learn some things though, and I have the feeling these lessons will stick with me through my homeschooling years:

  • It is so easy to fall into the trap of Drill Sergeant. Getting all those activities done, doing spelling words and math problems, became more important than what the girls were leaning.
  • In the moment, likes and dislikes change. Things that Sprout liked, that I could incorporate into lessons, were dislikes by the end of the week, and she did not want anything to do with them.
  • The ability to change lesson plans on the fly is a strength of homeschooling not a weakness. I can easily adjust to a new like, or skip ahead when something is mastered quicker than I anticipated.
  • I got into homeschooling for the creativity it afforded. The ability to teach on the fly, to change things up was a huge draw for me.
  • We have homeschooled for long enough now that going to a more structured schedule, more than what we do now, isn’t going to happen, at least overnight.

I hope to take this knowledge with me, to remember this when I start to feel bad about how often we don’t get everything accomplished, that the girls are still learning. Even when we do nothing more than stay in our jammies and build block towers and intricate marble runs, they are learning.

~Jennifer

The Girls of Summer

I had just enough time to meditate this morning. Just a few minutes to calm the cyclone that beats a never ending path through my head. I have lists of mantras pulled up, things to chant. But today my mantra was simple, “I will not wallow.” I will not wallow in my grief. I will live today as best as I can, because I do not know what tomorrow will hold.

I repeated that mantra, over and over again during the day.

I didn’t grasp it; it didn’t settle until this afternoon. I spent most of the day faking it, hoping neither of the girls saw the cracks in my armor. But after Pudge and I took a nap, we all went outside. The weather is warm; it was hot this afternoon. Summer is here, at least in my corner of the world.

I am a sun worshipper. Not in the sense that I tan, I burn and then peel. But when the sun is out more, when the weather warms up, I feel more… alive. More me. I packed away my vitamin D lamp in March. I have enjoyed the spring, watching the sun spend more and more time in the sky, watching the grass green up again, the plants start to grow. There was something different about today.

Maybe because I forced myself to notice the warmth, and the sunlight streaming through my fingers. The hummingbirds are out now, buzzing around and chirping and fighting over the feeders. Maybe that is it. Maybe it is the sight of my girls, growing and thriving, maybe watching all the hard work of parenting slowly come to fruition.

The girls played in the sandbox, in their playhouse, with the neighbor’s dogs. I found my center again, with a camera in my hand. When I stood in front of my camera case, I picked up a lens I have rarely used, I didn’t shoot that many pics this afternoon. I didn’t take that many pictures, I put my camera down to play with them instead, to build castles and eat play food brought to me with dirty fingers.

When it was bath time, and the toys were put up and the playhouse closed, they smelled sweaty. Dirty little toes pit patted across my kitchen floor, and I ignored the sandy footprints. A bubble bath, clean pajamas, and our day was done.

I will not wallow in my grief. I will live for today. I will live for the hope of tomorrow. I will enjoy every moment in the sunshine and in the rain and in between. I will take pictures, build sand castles, color on the sidewalk, paint with bright colors, made bead necklaces. I will pick up homeschooling, and guide my lion cubs through lessons and play time. I will rock a baby to sleep and let a big girl sleep on my shoulder when she has a nightmare. I will put together a summer camp for my girls, and sign up for soccer lessons and eat too much candy. I will drink lots of coffee.

The girls of summer are here. And I have to play in the sunshine with them.

~Jennifer

 

Specs:

Nikon D7100

Focal length: 35mm

Aperature: 3.5

Shutter Speed: 1/250

ISO:100

 

First Day of School

No matter how maudlin I might have been about Sprout started Pre-K, the sun rose on her first day. I found myself looking down at a bouncing, eager, excited little girl, and her yawning, chubby little sister, coffee in my hand, Monsters in the fridge.

Of course we had to take pictures. I found the My First Day posters on Teachers Pay Teachers. I did pay for this one (normally I try to stick with freebies), but it has a first and last day starting with preschool and going up to senior year. It was worth it.

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Hubs walked in from work just as we were settling down to start, and Sprout insisted he take first day pictures with her. I felt bad leaving Pudge out, so the night before I printed off a first day poster for her too.

After that, I traced her body out on a big sheet of paper, she colored it, we worked on the rules for our classroom (which also helps her work on new words for reading) read a few books, sorted some rocks, and worked on some letter tracing and writing. It was a fairly easy day, most of them are.

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The aim of the game right now is to just get her curious about school and learning, not have her memorizing Shakespeare. I’ve set up a themed week about twice a month, this weeks was Back to School. We’ve covered rules and expectations, she’s gotten used to her new routines and activities.

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Also, I did wear waterproof mascara. And I did cry. I’m a sap.

~Jennifer

The Night Before School

When you have a baby, when that monumental moment in time comes, and you literally bring your child into the world, the doctors, nurses, your family and friends, they all forget to tell you one thing. That you are taking a piece of your heart, and putting it into a being separate from you, and that with each nap, with each play date, with each breath they take, they are pushing further from you.

All those firsts you look forward to, first smile, first time baby rolls over, first steps, they are firsts that will separate your child from you. From the moment you give birth, you are separating, the act of giving birth is the first step in letting your child go.

Tomorrow, Sprout starts Pre-K. Like everything we have done so far, and everything we will do for the foreseeable future, she’ll be at home. The school corner has been cleaned and organized, I put together a new Circle Time board, and she has new crayons and colored pencils. When the store did not have the color glitter glue she wanted, I bought clear and added glitter to make her preferred color. I bought her a new backpack, even though we use that more for trips than school, she has a lunch box and a thermos, and I had to promise her tonight, during bath time, that I would pack her lunch in it. So we’ll have school in the living room, and she’ll eat lunch at the kitchen table, out of her lunch box. Or maybe we’ll sit outside.

But she’s starting Pre-K. And all those First Day pictures, and the cupcakes, and the certificate (of course she has a First Day Certificate), and all the projects. They’re other ways of letting go. When she mastered holding her scissors the right way, and told me she was a big girl, I was in the middle of feeding Pudge. It didn’t hit me until later, when I was picking minute pieces of paper out of my carpet, cut neatly, that I realized she had done it again. Taken another step away.

Those fingers that are holding safety scissors will one day hold real ones. She’ll put together college projects, work projects. Those fingers might sign laws into effect, might write legal briefs, might guide a rocket to Mars. Might dig holes for flowers, or cut silk for a designer dress. But she gained another step on the road to independence, when she remembered Thumb Up Top, Pointy End Out.

Your children are not really yours, they belong to themselves. Sprout has belonged to herself since she made her entrance into the world, serene and calm, watching the world through foggy eyes. The face that echoes my own at that age, the eyes that are duplicates of mine, they are hers. She belongs to herself, and she is slowly but steadily learning that.

I can hear her now, “Slow and steady wins the race Mama. Just like the tortoise in the story.” She still calls me Mama, and I dread the day that turns to Mom. I’ve liked being Mama, even when I get tired of hearing that name. Mama is the world of littles, of little fingers and toes, of nursery rhymes and rock me to sleep and I’m scared let me come sleep with you. I like this place. I know this place, of little girls, of toes barely big enough to put paint on, of untangling hair first thing in the morning, of frilly dresses and bare feet on a warm day. This place of Sesame Street and You Are My Sunshine is the place I have been the happiest.

Really that’s it, I don’t want them to grow on me for purely selfish reasons. I am happy.

I am tired. I am exhausted. I want a hot shower and a days’ worth of sleep and someone to cook all the meals for a year. But I am happy here, in the land of littles.

And my girls are determined to lead me out of this place, where I am happy. I am sure the next stage in motherhood will be happy too. But this stage was where I met happy, where I learned that I could meditate with a baby in my belly, or in my lap. That in the moment meant coloring in a princess themed coloring book with my pajamas still on, and coffee growing cold on the counter. This stage taught me the healing powers of a baby asleep on your chest, on the peace and contentment a child could bring. I like this stage because it has healed me, as much as I have raised my children through it.

So this is why, as I pulled together what we’ll need for the week, I found myself crying. We are ready, we have everything we need. I am not ready.

My littles are leaving this stage, and I would happily stay here for a lifetime.

~Jennifer

Weather Week and Summer Break

Right now, we’re on summer break. After a year of schooling, Sprout was tired, I was tired, and my vacuum was tired. Everyone was tired. I had never really planned out whether I would take an official summer break or not, last year we moved cross-country over the summer and the planning and prepping for that took up most of the summer. Spur of the moment, I decided we’re going to take the summer off of formal lessons, planned activities, the works. If Sprout wants to do something randomly, then we’ll do that, but I’m not writing lesson plans until September. We need some time to soak up the sun, play in the pool, and visit a certain mouse with large round ears and a squeaky voice.

But before we ended for the year, we had weather week. I set out to get pictures every day that week, I had a ton of activities and ideas and things to try, but I could only do so much. Juggling a baby, a camera, and still teaching is an art I haven’t quite mastered.

These are from Monday, the first day of our week.

DSC_0288  Sprout starting Circle Time. I just recently incorporated Circle Time into our day. We sing some songs, work on sight words, do a little activity or two, and do our board. When I get around to doing a blog on my homeschool supplies and schedule, I’ll include some pictures of both times of the Circle Time board.

DSC_0289 We’ve been working on the days of the week and the calendar off and on since New Year’s. In the fall she was hit or miss with days of the week, since doing the Today Is, Tomorrow Is, Yesterday Was, in conjunction with going over the calendar (I bought a pocket calendar off Amazon, you can just see the corner of it in the picture), she has gotten much better with the days of the week.

Circle Time!! The board has the weather on one side, in addition a clock I cut out and laminated. She’s very interested in the weather all year long, so I have tried my best to play into her interests.
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The back side of the board is math skills. We have a problem of the day, which I have teddy bear counters to help her with, we go over place value. she’s reading numbers up to the thousands now, and the new addition, which is money. I downloaded a site of look-a-like coins, cut them out, laminated them, and put magnetic circles on them. She can put those on the magnetic squares on the board. Originally I started her out with just sorting the money by type, but she’s now got the value of change up to a dollar worked out.

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More for sensory play than for art, we mixed shaving cream with various colors. Originally I used just blue, to make clouds, but we ended up mixing in yellow and red for this batch. She painted with it onto card stock, once she was done mixing and squishing it. Mixing tempera paint with it instead of food coloring resulted in less staining, everything washed off fingers, clothes, and her table.

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Pudge joined us for Reading Time and Fine Motor Skills. I try to have Pudge with us as much as I can, she naps during part of our school day the majority of the time, and that’s when I focus on anything Sprout needs close help with, math skills, reading games and her science experiments. But for Reading Time or Sensory Play, she’s usually with us. The lacing card was left over from Insect Week, Sprout loves those cards.

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And finally we have our science experiment for the day. She’s making it “rain”. I fill a glass, I find a wide mouthed jar like a mason jar works best, with water, and put a layer of shaving cream on top. Then using an eye dropper or pipette, she drips blue colored water over the shaving cream clouds, and it rains inside the jar. I have a print out of the water cycle, and one on different clouds laminated back to back, we talk about the weather cycle and I attempt to make different types of clouds in the jar (that almost never works). And finally, she has a science journal, where she colors and draws the experiment she just did. When we first started journaling her experiments, it was mostly scribbles all over the page. Now she’s getting much better with drawing what she’s done, and I am all for anything that works on writing skills.

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And that was it. This took us, counting a snack and trips to clean up, just under 2 hours.

~Jennifer

Valentine’s Week!!

I have been home schooling my oldest, Sprout, for a year. Before that it was more of a turn the tv off and play type thing, but this time last year we made the decision to home school, and I started lesson planning, working on creating a space to teach in, and getting serious about things.

The one area I am horrible with is themes. I do them as little as possible; they are difficult to pull together, and I hate having to buy something I am going to use just one only to either toss it or pack it away and never use it again. But I got serious about organizing my teacher stuff, and found I had just enough space to pull together themed units. Especially if I use more printed materials for the theme than anything else.

To test run my new-found love of all things themes, I pulled together Valentine’s Week. Hubs has a solid week off every other months, and this week was it for us, so I knew in advance we would be doing some family outings as well. In general I keep school fairly light, Sprout is not quite 4 and does not need a heavy day of lessons, but especially with Hubs home this week, I did not turn myself into knots to plan a big huge themed week.

Today was the first day we have done everything I had planned on, if Sprout does not want to do something, or wants to skip an activity, we skip it. I never force her to sit through a lesson or activity, she’s not old enough, and it is just not fair to do that to her. This morning everything came together though, and I grabbed my camera just in time.

First we did Happy Heart People. I do a version of these at every holiday, it’s very easy. For this one I cut out hearts on construction paper, let Sprout decorate them however she wished; then we added eyes and pipe cleaner arms and legs. For Halloween and Christmas, I used a circle template, and we made Happy Pumpkin People, and then Happy Christmas Ornament People, respectively. I did use purple construction paper, and different colors/lengths of pipe cleaners for the arms and legs. While she was putting them together, we talked about how everyone is different colors, and not just like red paper hearts, and how some of us have different shaped arms and legs.

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Adding googly eyes.

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Working on those glue bottle skills. She is finally at the point where she does not use half the bottle for each project.

The next two projects include printables I found at prekinders.com. Everything on that site is free to download and print off; it has become one of my favorite websites for resources.

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We also got a visit from Pudge this morning, who was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. For a few minutes at least.

Since Sprout is working on her reading skills, I thought she would like the heart match game. Each page has pictures, she had to match the starting letting of the word represented by the picture to a heart with a letter on it. The hearts are colored in groups, to give her a little boost, if she needed it. After doing a couple she was off and running.

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I colored these with markers after printing off a blank template. The blue ones (you can not see them here), were dark enough I needed to go over the letters with black marker.

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The original directions called for using small wooden hearts, instead of the paper hearts. However, I just colored in the heart template, matching to the picture pages, and used those. The hearts are small enough to work on fine motor skills too, and I love any activity where I can get two or more things out of it.

We also did candy heart patterns. I’ve used these pattern pages with buttons, rhinestones, unifix cubes, Skittles and M&Ms. Today we used conversation hearts; we did have to substitute the pink hearts for the red dots on the pattern pages.

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Getting some fine motor skills in too.

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This is the first time she has used the double pattern cards, which include two spots she has to fill in, I was very happy to see she caught onto it quickly.

Our newest toy for school is Brain Flakes. I found them on sale at Amazon, and they came last night. Sprout loves these, and in addition to working on spatial awareness and her building skills, they fit tighter than her Duplo blocks, so her little fingers got a work out. The best part about these, they’re flat, no pain if you step on one.

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When it was all said and done, she checked on her baby sister, who had fallen asleep by this time.

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Nobody loves you like your sister does.

All in all, we had a good morning, and it took us maybe 2 hours to do everything, including a break for juice and a snack. Tomorrow, of course, nothing will go right, and I will be pulling my hair out by noon.

~Jennifer