It’s always a dicey thing for me to look back on those optimistic first day posts or this-is-what-we’re-doing-this-year posts and either sigh over plans left unfulfilled or laugh ruefully over how things went awry. This year’s end I’m counting our successes more than our disappointments, so if this post seems a bit too rainbows-and-unicorns, rest assured that we had equally as many (if not more!) rough spots. 🙂 Here are the high points, at least in my mind, in no particular order:
U.S. History has been an unmitigated pleasure for me (and I think the girls, too) to wander through this year (and last). We didn’t have a curriculum per se; instead we relied heavily upon Joy Hakim’s A History of US, miscellaneous nonfiction titles and novels, a few documentaries, a few projects, and a few field trips. Here are a few of the highlights:
- A Little Women party to celebrate our Civil War studies
- A trip to Shiloh National Military Park
- A visit to Pope’s Tavern, a local site that was a Civil War hospital, among other things (this was excellent–the docent there really knows his stuff and was delighted to talk with my interested girls)
- A trip to the Jesse Owens home and museum (as yet unblogged, but I have hope that I’ll get to it soon!)
- Lots of novel read-alouds that went along with our history studies:
- Watching the movie Mrs. Miniver and talking a bit about the fact that the movie was made while World War II was still raging
We’re continuing our history studies through the summer with more reading and field tripping, but I can say with a full heart that we’ve had a wonderful two years of history studies.
I feel like this is the first year that Latin actually stuck for us after making attempts at it for two or three years. I credit Latin for Children by Classical Academic Press for this success. We’re continuing our Latin over the summer to finish Primer A, and for next year I’m buying my own student book for Primer B. I think I’ll drop the student activity book (which we barely used) and hit the translation book harder. Clash Cards are a must! Latin is definitely one of this year’s bright spots.
I feel a little funny picking this next one as one of my highlights of the year because, well, we still haven’t finished it. I learned about Mystery Class by Journey North through some of my Brave Writer online connections, and I think it might’ve saved my sanity this winter. We worked on it on Fun Fridays, and it was the most highly-anticipated part of our week. One thing it showed me is how much fun and how effective authentic learning is (even if it’s a contrived “mystery”–the searching out of the clues and the graphing of the photoperiod was still real). Another thing is how important it is to mix it up a bit every now and then. A little math, a little science, a little geography, a little world cultures, a little history–what’s not to love? I’m already making a mental note for next year to try to pull in some friends to make it a group activity (and end with a party, of course). If you’d like more information about it, check out my friend Alexandra’s posts at Life on Island Studio (that’s PEI!) as well as Melissa Wiley’s posts.
The DLM can read. The DLM can read! I’ve “done” kindergarten with him this year, more or less, and while we’ve only averaged maybe three or four day’s worth of formal lessons (which usually last about thirty minutes or less daily, I’d guess) each week, they’ve been mostly painless. (Well, getting him to sit down, how ever briefly, isn’t always painless, but. . . .) Many days I just let him decide what he wanted to do, especially as my resolve to be hard-nosed was deconstructed as the year progressed: reading? math? play a game? tell me a story? draw a picture? We used All About Reading level one this year and almost finished it. One poetry tea time mid-April, he read a twimerick (a tongue-twister limerick) entitled “Flapjack Jack” alone, and I was completely surprised. This month he’s been reading aloud for fifteen minutes daily for the Read Aloud Revival challenge, and I’ve been amazed at what he’s been able to read more-or-less on his own. I was aghast the night he read a story from The Jesus Storybook Bible aloud to Steady Eddie. Granted, he’s really familiar with the stories, but he doesn’t have them memorized. Honestly, it feels like I had a little bit to do with his reading, but the blossoming from someone who painstakingly sounds out words to someone who can read a word without figuring it out has been (of course!) the work of his own brain. His going from a pre-reader to a READER is definitely a mark in the victory column. Three down (or almost down). . . one more to go. 🙂
Nature study isn’t something I’ve planned for several years now, but we have been doing it this year purely because I’m interested in it. We’ve lived in our new home for a year now, and I have been amazed by how simply moving about five miles from where we used to live has opened up the natural world to us a bit more. Our new neighborhood is much more wooded and close to a nice-sized creek, so we just have more nature to observe. Steady Eddie built me a bluebird box for Valentine’s Day, and he hung a bird feeder right outside our dining room window (which is basically on the second story of our home, so it’s no small feat–to hang or to frequently refill–and reminds me daily of his love). We observe our feathered friends daily, sometimes hourly. About a month ago I finally got around to working with the DLM to make a chart to keep up with the species of birds we observe, and now our chart is full of tally marks. I can’t really say how much I’ve enjoyed birdwatching this spring, or how much this has rubbed off on my kids. It’s not unusual for us to whip out my phone and search for any bird we see using the Merlin Bird ID app and usually successfully identify it.
We have bluebird babies in our box, and we’ve found nests in unexpected places (including our grill!) We have an armadillo that visits us frequently. (Insert grimace here.) We have chickens. We have chickens! The chickens are a 4h project. Currently they’re in what I call our “chicken condo” in our basement, but they’ll be moved to an outdoor coop and run soon. Right now we also have about eight tadpoles in our mudroom sink, and if I don’t forget about them, we’ll try to learn a bit about the frog life cycle. We still like to go places for nature study, and in fact this year we’ve had a few good nature-related trips—Oak Mountain State Park and the Alabama Wildlife Center (with a side of whooping cranes) and our favorite, the Huntsville Botanical Garden. A highlight of our year this year, though, has been nature study at home.
In my mind, the real successes are the ones that come from the child’s own interests or passions. I’ve seen this happen for my girls this year, and while much of it is in its infancy, I want to note it here. I’m afraid that this will seem a little one-sided, too, because one girl’s passions and interests are easier for me to document because they happen mostly at home. Louise has discovered or delved deeper into a few things this year that really make her happy. For one thing, we committed to giving swimming another try right after Christmas, and she counts our three or four times a week swim practices as one of her favorite things ever. She is likely going to compete with the team for the first time in June. I had a feeling this might be her thing, and I was right. 🙂 Second, this girl is very, very interested in all things science, especially the life sciences. She goes through phases with it. One of her latest phases has been human anatomy and physiology. She borrowed some of Steady Eddie’s old college texts and has undoubtedly surpassed her mother in her knowledge of the human body.
Louise’s drawing of the human heart
Last, this year she has blossomed in her interest in writing. I’ve tried my best to follow the Brave Writer philosophy of writing instruction this year, using projects and copywork and dictation and free writing and lots of reading (always!) and discussion and what to many people wouldn’t look like “real” school. Louise has been writing letters and emails to friends this year, and she has written quite a bit of poetry–all on her own. Both girls are always-and-forever reading, and she was inspired to write Cynthia Lord a letter after reading Lord’s Newbery-winning Rules. No one was more surprised when she got a letter back from Lord the very next week! This felt like such a validation! Lord’s letter is just so wonderful. Here it is–
Louise keeps this in her treasure box. <3
Another confirmation of Louise’s new-found writing prowess came through another letter-to-the author she wrote. After we had the privilege of renewing our acquaintance with Irene Latham a few weeks ago, Louise wrote her a letter and sent along a poem she had written that was inspired by Irene’s latest poetry collection. Lo and behold, I got an email from Irene asking if she could publish Louise’s poem on her blog! She also asked if Louise wanted to send along any art, so she did. Irene included both her poem and art in this fabulous blog post, and we’ve been basking in the glow of this unexpected gift ever since.
Lulu is also finding her niche, though hers mostly shows up in her involvement in our co-op’s robotics team. This past fall she got to participate as a full-fledged member, and she was the team’s notetaker. She LOVED it. They’ve been meeting biweekly this spring doing some preliminary skill work, and she has been in hog heaven (as we say here in the South). She also loves math and finished her elementary math studies this spring and has moved on to pre-algebra for the summer. She’s resolved to work through Jousting Armadillos this summer and move on to Algebra I in the fall. She and Louise have gone with Mamaw weekly this winter and spring to work on crocheting and knitting with one of Mamaw’s friends, and Lulu has taken to both. (She crocheted me a throw rug for Mother’s Day!) Cooking and baking are her other interests, and she keeps us in yummy baked goods. She advanced to the state level in our state music teacher’s association’s juried piano auditions, and this required a good bit of dedicated and determined practice. She is growing up!
I guess I’d consider this seventh year of home educating at the House of Hope a success. I hope I’ve given a picture of organic learning–that’s what I want most of all. Most influential in all of this has been Julie Bogart and her Brave Writer philosophy of writing and home-based learning. I can see her fingerprints on so much of what I say and don’t say about this year, and I can’t help but stop and give her a bit of credit. It has definitely made me relax a bit, which is huge for me. Check her out on YouTube if you want to be inspired.