Thursday, August 12, 2010

Come Follow Me

My new blog is up and running...come find us here

Homegrown Minds

Isn't the name fantastic?! My husband thought that one up for me.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Plan Comes Together

As of yesterday, my classroom had objectives written all over the white board, books spread all over the floor and my filing cabinet looked like it had thrown up. Today is not much better.

In PA, you must file an affidavit to homeschool your children. This affidavit must include a list of your educational objectives. Everyone I have spoken with has strongly encouraged me to keep these as vague as possible. This was a challenge for me. I love details. I rewrote these stinking things about twenty times before I had something vague that made me feel satisfied to put my name on it.

Once that was finished, I realized the fun had only just begun! Now...what to teach these boys? I wrote out the list of subjects required to be taught in elementary when homeschooling on our whiteboard. (Pardon the lousy was late, but you get the idea.)

At the elementary school level, the following courses shall be taught: English, to include spelling, reading and writing; arithmetic; science; geography; history of the United States and Pennsylvania; civics; safety education, including regular and continuous instruction in the dangers and prevention of fires; health and physiology; physical education; music; and art."

Well...I didn't write it quite like that. I only said safety education, not "including regular and continuous instruction in the dangers and prevention of fires." I guess PA can thank Benjamin Franklin for that one...

Then I went to my enormous pile of books and materials I have always wanted to use and sorted them by subject. This left me with a floor covered in piles of books. Too many books. I spied the Calvert boxes that I had not yet unpacked and pulled out more books. This just made more piles.

I decided to change my approach.

"Let's do this by subject," I said to myself. (I had banished all other humans from the room.)

I chose science first. I pulled the Calvert 2nd and 5th grade science text books from the piles and checked what topics they would cover. They seemed to line up with each other fairly well. I sat down at the computer and outlined the units and chapters from each book, including vocabulary words. Two hours later, I had a plan. I chose three of those units to cover in this school year. I pulled all books I had related to those three topics and put everything else away for later.

One many more to go?!

I am looking at math next. Math and science are the two that give me the most difficulty because I'm always second guessing the best approach for the boys. I just learned of a cool math program today and think it might be the ticket for JT. Living Math! If I had to do it all over again, this looks like the kind of math I could have enjoyed in school. I printed out their suggested book lists and a sample lesson to check out.

I am feeling a bit stressed by all I need to do. But I'm also feeling a freedom I haven't felt so far in this process. I was telling a friend who cyberschools her children about our decision. She told me she had been considering making a change too. She said, "I always feel like I'm racing to meet some goal. Like there's a carrot dangling in front of me that I can never reach."

I'm so glad we've left the race. I never really liked carrots anyway.

Please note: This will be my last week posting at Adventures in Cyberschooling. We will be making the transition to a new blog shortly. I have a name...but I won't tell you until it's ready! I will provide the link here when the move is complete.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Forget Everything I Said

Summer has not been what I thought it would be.

Remember my list of summer goals? My list included 8 goals for the boys. We actively worked on two. Not exactly a good outcome. Here are the stories of success.

We have been swimming on a fairly regular basis. As of last summer, JT had little interest in getting his face wet, let alone swimming. I am proud to say he can now swim across the pool, jump off the ladder in the deep end, and doesn't mind the water in his face at all. EM is making some progress with comfort in the water, but still prefers to climb out of the pool and dry off on the towel every time he gets a drip of water on his face. Maybe next year?

We also continued our chess and science get-togethers with our friends. I have taught two science sessions, with two more planned before the end of summer. Our first was on electrical generation. The second focused on microscopes.

During the microscope lesson I discussed Anton Leeuwenhoek. I tried to emphasize that he was not a trained scientist. He sold drapes! Yet this man is considered by many to be the father of microbiology. How did this happen? He was curious. He acted on that curiosity. Then because he documented everything he learned he was able to share what he had discovered. The scientific method in action!

The next week I was having a very in depth discussion with a friend who also homeschools. She was questioning the best way to approach her family's education for this year. I asked, "Do we want our kids to learn to memorize what other people think they need to know or learn how to learn?" I brought up the story of Anton Leeuwenhoek and realized the backbone of what I want to teach them is to look and share.

Then yesterday I started to clean out my office and classroom....remember this from that other blog post?

"I will (remind me that I said this later, would you?) I WILL find ways to incorporate the ton of enrichment materials I have bought in the last 3 years into our daily classroom experiences."

I quickly became overwhelmed. How was I going to incorporate all of this great material into the substandard material I had to use?! How would I have time with all that tedious testing needing to be done?!

...and I started to formulate a plan.

This morning I called our IS and withdrew both of the boys from the cyber school.

I felt some panic, but it only lasted a few minutes because one of my traditional homeschooling friends was available to chat and tell me how much happier we'd be and how easy it really is to put a portfolio together, etc.

So here I am. No longer a cyberschooler. I need to put together our educational objectives that need to be submitted with an affidavit stating my intent to homeschool. There's a wonderful site all about PA homeschooling law called It is full of useful links to regulations, requirements and examples of all the documentation you need. I think it's my new home away from home.

I will have to box up all the technology equipment the school provided. Bye, bye my beloved Bamboo. However, we can keep all of the books and school supplies. Some we will use and some can be sold off to buy a new computer for the classroom since ours has to ship out.

I am excited, scared, hopeful...I'm still not sure that this is the best possible option. It feels right. We can always go back. I'm ready to give it a go.

One more thing...I'm going to have to get a new blog name! :-)

Thursday, June 3, 2010


Today was our last classroom day for this school year. I made it through another year...only 11 more to go. !!!

Tomorrow we are taking part in a field trip to Longwood Gardens with our cyber school. I found out yesterday that the kids will be chaperoned by PACyber teachers only. Parents are not invited to stay with the groups. This unnerves me a bit. I have grown used to having my kids with me all the time. Yes, I send them to scouts and various other activities where I am not present...but this feels different. Maybe because it's in a strange place. My husband and I will still be in the gardens. The teachers will have our phone numbers. I'm not turning into an over-protective parent, am I? That will be something new to explore as the days go by.

As I did last year, I will be taking the month of June and part of July off from blogging. Mid-way through July, I'll check back in to let you know the progress I have made on my planning goals for next year. I'll also let you know if we are sticking to our summer plans for the boys.

It has been a year of great adventures. Tomorrow will be yet another...bring it on!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Wrap Up

Our 2009-2010 school year is nearly over. The next week will be three days of schooling (mostly fun stuff) and a field trip on Friday. It's hard to believe that I already have two years of experience under my belt. When I look back at our progress, I know this year probably won't be recorded as one of our best years homeschooling. We made it through, but I felt like we really didn't take advantage of the opportunities we had in front of us. Here are some of our highs and lows:


EM made solid progress in his reading. He is now working his way through chapter books, reading level N. At the start of the year, he didn't want to spend any free time reading. Now I find him reading alone without my encouragement.

EM has moved quickly through the first and almost all of the second grade math material from Calvert. We used those textbooks in more of a review fashion, while he also did work with Singapore Math 1B, Key Curriculum Press Introduction to Fractions, and various other math workbooks. He probably could have been more challenged than he was, but I had a hard time finding just the right fit for him. I plan to continue with Key Curriculum Press since he really liked the way the material was presented.

JT did an excellent job with spelling this year. We used the English Root Card set to develop our lists. I felt that he is finding it easier to decipher the meanings of strange words he encounters now that we are looking at the origins of the words on his list.

JT enjoyed his social studies material through Calvert. He learned a lot about the geography of the United States. He also had to write the research paper on California. This was a challenging assignment for him. It really made him have to think about organizing information. We also discussed the need to be able to communicate things you have learned in order to share that knowledge with others.


JT's math was not what it should have been this year. He raced through the Calvert material and then we floundered around for a bit. I hadn't planned well for what to do with the second half of the year. He worked his way through Life of Fred, Fractions. I feel that I should have had more supplemental material ready to go along with that book. I plan to have him do Singapore Math's placement test and start him in that series in the Fall.

EM spent far too much time waiting for me to be able to work on things with him. Many times I just assigned worksheets to keep him busy while I got JT pointed in the right direction. I had hoped JT would be more self-directed this year, but soon found EM was the one who can self-direct. Next year I plan to give EM his own notebook of assignments, like I already do for JT, and see if he can work independently.

Once again, I dropped the ball in science. We covered all that Calvert offered...but not much more. That said, the boys still manage to learn about science through their own explorations and reading. If I follow through with my summer plans, I'm hoping to be ready to dive deeper into science next year.

I also found that I waited too long to really get started on a few things. JT's German class through the cyber has been working out fairly well. I wish I had looked into that earlier in the school year. He has completed 1 out of 4 units. I hate to try to continue it through the summer, but don't want him to lose any ground, so we probably will. Also, I picked up an old high school poetry text book in the library discard pile earlier in the year. I just started having JT work through it a week ago. He has really enjoyed the depth of the study. I avoided pulling that out sooner because of the need to finish the Calvert test assignments.

All in all, the year was still a success. The boys were able to learn at their own pace. They could go off on tangents when the whim hit them. We were able to maintain a schedule (most days) that allowed us to finish school work and have time for outside activities. I still believe that this is the perfect fit for our family. I worried at the beginning of this year that EM would miss his friends from his year of schooling. He mentioned them from time to time in the Fall, but since then has decided being home is far better than being in a 'regular' school environment. I am still having fun. Things could change...the boys could decide they want to try something new. Either way, it will continue to be an adventure!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Summer Plans

I finally sat down and outlined what I would like to accomplish this summer. I have some goals for myself and some for the boys. Let's start with me...

Because the cyber school misunderstood a request I made for them to order 5th grade "MATH ONLY" for JT in December, I have the advantage of having ALL of the 2nd and 5th grade Calvert curriculum in my home at the START of summer break. Remember last year? I have promised myself that I will spend no less than 5 hours a week working my way through that material this summer. I have definitely felt a lack of organized planning on my part this year. Part of that may have been having to coordinate both boys' education for the first time. I really believe if I had invested more time immersed in what they would be working on in advance, I could have done a better job.

Along with that goal, I will (remind me that I said this later, would you?) I WILL find ways to incorporate the ton of enrichment materials I have bought in the last 3 years into our daily classroom experiences.

I will also clean out the old books that are no longer needed for the boys.

Now for the goals for the kids.

JT expressed a need to continue with some form of routine throughout the summer. We worked out a very simple schedule to keep us in a learning state of mind:

1. We plan to do some form of math twice a week. Whether it is through games, websites or workbooks, we need to keep up with the math facts.

2. We will have a new spelling list every two weeks. For the summer, we will introduce the words on Monday in week one, use Spelling city and other fun learning tools with a final test the following Friday. (JT specifically requested the continuing spelling lists)

3. We are creating journals now that the boys will use to record insects they observe this summer. We are also keeping a journal for the birds we see in the yard.

4. We will be working on one art project a week. Art has definitely been something we don't do enough. I'm hoping if we really get in the habit this summer it will carry through in the fall.

5. Our group of friends that participated in the chess classes we had in our home last year seem interested in starting up again. We plan to try to coordinate times once school lets out. We also want to start up our Summer Science group again. I hope to meet at least 4 times this summer.

6. My parents have a swimming pool and only live about 5 minutes away from us. Last year, the weather was not the best for swimming. I hope to get the boys over there 3 times a week if possible. Neither of them can swim at this point. I want to remedy that this summer. They also enjoy riding their bikes on my parents' long driveway.

7. I absolutely MUST set time limits for computer exposure this summer. We just purchased Lego Rock Band for the Wii. I can see all of us (especially me) spending too much time with that new toy.

8. Finally, having a planned reading time daily. JT reads in his free time without the need for encouragement. I want to start moving EM in the same direction. Plus, I want reading time for ME!

Today I took EM for an appointment for his teeth. He was telling our dentist about his adventures in the backyard. The doctor said, "I am so glad to hear that you play the way a little boy should...outside in the yard, climbing trees and getting dirty!" I had noticed in the last couple years, that my children seem to be some of the only kids that really spend a large amount of time just playing. So many kids are tied up in sports and other activities...they never have time to just go out and explore. I am hoping my goals for this summer will not get in the way of their most important little boys should.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Fun Science

Now that we have made it through all of our required work for the year...we have time for the FUN stuff!
I picked up a book last summer that I kept hoping we'd have time to use. We finally have time. It's A Guide for Using "The Magic School Bus, On the Ocean Floor"in the classroom . The boys have been having fun with the hands on experiments. Always a big hit at our house. Nothing like a table full of cups of dyed water and eye droppers to make little boys happy...and messy. We looked at the density of different temperature water samples. We also compared salt and fresh water. JT was speculating on some other possibilities for experiments along the same line of thinking. I'm hoping to have him lay out a plan and set up his own experiments next week...outside. :-)

We started to make plans for our summer work. Maybe one or two days a week...just a couple hours. We want to try to keep the kids up to speed without over-doing it. I'll have more on that in next week's blog.

Finally, JT is now taking a German class through PACyber. I had been wanting to work with him on foreign language for some time, but never seemed to get motivated. I decided to give the school's program a try. So far, it has been pretty good. JT works his way through each lesson independently. Each lesson has a podcast by the teacher, several online activities and an assignment he needs to complete and upload. This has given both of us a chance to learn how to use some of the technology we have avoided with the cyber school up until now.

TWO WEEKS LEFT TO GO! Can you tell I'm ready for a break?