We had a house full yesterday with five additional children running around. Luckily my sister was on hand to help me wrangle all 8 of them up for things like snack, lunch, and dinner. It was a crazy hectic day and all the kids had lots of fun. Really, when you're a child, is there anything better than a houseful of cousins who are around your age that love to play with you? I don't think so and judging from the fact that no one really wanted to say good- bye I'm pretty sure all the kiddos would agree with me. I was totally wiped out by the end of the day but was a good kind of tired. We may end up with another houseful tomorrow so I figured we'd better get out today and hit the grocery store!
The boys were up early and got ready remarkably fast when asked, so that we were able to get out to the store before it got too crowded. I wanted to make up a bunch of foods to have on hand since we've started running out of such staples like pancakes, waffles, granola bars, etc. I've always made the waffles and pancakes but have really wanted to start making granola bars and one day even pita bread and crackers. Partly I hope it will be cheaper since our grocery bill seems to grow by leaps and bounds every week. I'm at the point where I'll really need to sit down and revamp our family budget if groceries keep costing us this much every week. I also like the idea of knowing the ingredients in my food. I see all these great recipes on the web and like the idea of making my own stuff but just never seem to find the time. Today I decided to just start with granola bars. But then, while the boys did help me make the granola bars, I kept thinking we should be doing more school work. I love that my boys are getting so handy around the house but I keep thinking of how Ian has asked me to start teaching them again and yet I never seem to get around to it anymore. It's the mom guilt. Isn't it awful?! I love that it always pushes me to do better and try harder but sometimes I think it just might kill me. It's so hard to find the perfect balance between housework, school work, fun & learning (to say nothing of "me" time!).
My husband has been asking me lately what we do all day or what the boys are really learning if I'm not teaching them (and still telling me to just send them back to school) and so I've started talking about finding a curriculum series to use with them next year. He's upset we didn't use this year's curriculum and asked why I'm buying another one. I explained that I only bought a math curriculum this year and the boys don't like it. Yet, in thinking about planning a curriculum I realized I don't want a reading curriculum as I like having the boys pick out books they love (either from home or from the library) and just reading those. In my book any engaging story is a good one! We also love just hearing about or finding science experiments on- line and doing those that we find interesting so I guess I don't want a science curriculum either. Perhaps we're just not the curriculum type of family. Now, don't get me wrong, my husband supports our endeavor 100%; he really does! He just thinks it would be easier for me to send them to school. As I've become more confident in what we're doing and have watched them grow and learn over the past year I'm easily able to turn back around and ask my husband what would they learn at school that they aren't learning here? How much do you remember from when you were in school? Do they really need to learn everything that the school teaches? Will they not be able to function in society as an adult if they don't know (fill in the blank)? And my best question of all "do you really think it would be better for them to be in school?" (Which he wholeheartedly says NO to and then smiles and drops the subject). It's not a criticism on his part but it's like a system of checks and balances. When I panic and bring up all these topics he points out what is working and how wonderfully homeschooling is going. When he brings up these topics I defend our decision. Because while it was OUR decision to do this we constantly try to evaluate if it's still the right choice. The longer we homeschool the more determined I become that it definitely is the right choice for us. But, I have been asking myself; "what are they learning?" I thought I'd be observing more advanced play going on. Honestly, if you read all the books about unschooling you hear about all these stories from other unschoolers where their kids decided they wanted to learn geometry and pulled an adult book out of the library and taught themselves, or else they turned the entire dining room into a nature museum and labeled every specimen they found by looking them up in books or on the computer, or perhaps about a 10 year old boy who designed his own computer program; really advanced stuff like that. I'm beginning to realize that's just not my kids. Their play is Lego's, monkey in the middle, jump rope, action figures, and toys. And that's fine but I guess I want to be able to point to something they're doing and say "wow! Look at that, they're learning all about_____ because they're interested in it."
Once again I'm looking very closely at the boys and what they do trying to find what they have learned. Well, imagine my surprise when Ian helped me make our granola bars and figured out how to double the recipe and measure it all out. We needed 1 cup of oats but my 1 cup measure was dirty so he said "well if I double the recipe we need 2 cups of oats so I can just use 4 of the 1/2 cup measures right?" He did this for every measurement; first doubled the amount and then checked to see which measuring tool to use; two 1/4 cups would equal 1/2 cup and so on (though confusingly enough he calls it 1 1/2 cups so we'll keep working on that!). We only dirtied 2 measuring cups and 2 measuring spoons so he did great with converting measures. The granola bars came out looking and smelling delicious! If you'd like to try your hand at making your own bars we used a variation of the recipe found on chocolatecoveredkatie.com or else check out my girlfriend's tried and true recipe at impermanentthoughts. You'll find the recipes are remarkably similar (one uses butter the other used a combo of oil and applesauce). I say we used a variation of the recipe because we didn't have oat flour (I used whole wheat flour), I used the honey, and brown sugar in place of Stevia. Next time we're going to try cutting back on the honey and adding peanut butter since all my guys LOVE peanut butter granola bars.
While the bars were cooking Alec was quizzing the boys on all their sea animal facts (and learning new ones himself) using his interactive sea life. The boys had played with all of their toys most of the morning while I made a salad, pounded and cut chicken breasts, prepared all the fruit for the week, hard boiled eggs, and all the other food prep I try to get done once a week in order to save time later on (see how I can feel guilty that I'm ignoring my children; times flies when my "to do" list is so long!). Luckily I kept reminding myself all morning long that we had a homeschool game day planned for today and the boys would be playing all sorts of games; most of which require math, reading and other assorted school skills. I think my boys have learned some of the most valuable skills they know playing board games. They can add money and make change, they can money add up to (and even over) $1 million!, they read and problem solve, they multiply, they learn sportsmanship, and even about life.
Today the boys played Amazon; a new puzzle/game I got Alec for his geography fair that he was just dying to play. They also played memory, Star Wars Trouble, and Apples to Apples. They played fun games like ring around the Rosy and Trainwreck. It was great. They had so much fun playing with their friends and Alec swears he learned that bats live in the Amazon since he never knew that.
Once game day was over we went to return some books and pick up ones we had ordered. By the time we finally left the library I had a bag bursting with books! They listened to a new Magic Treehouse book on the car ride home called A Good Night for Ghosts. We're learning about New Orleans and the birth of Jazz. It's funny, but at playgroup today I was talking to a mom who loves teaching literature and history and I was telling her how we focus on math and science and that I just never seem to get around to teaching about history at all but in listening to the book it dawned on me just how many historical fiction books we read and how much we ARE learning about history!
Alec read his whole piranha book on the way home. He wants to read about each of the animals in the rain forest before the geography fair but he's finding it hard to find books dedicated to each animal (he feels he learns more about each animal if he can read an entire book about just that one animal). This one was called 20 Fun Facts about Piranhas. Since he read most of it out loud to me I learned many new facts too! Ian was reading a book called 20 Fun Facts about Sting Rays in which he became confused when the book said sting rays can be found in every ocean and then said that they live in warm water. Off we went to look at our map. I pointed out all the oceans labeled on the map and how they connect. I then pointed out the Equator, the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. We talked about warm waters and where they can extend to and I agreed that the book might have been wrong since sting rays probably aren't found in the arctic ocean. We talked about why the tropics are so warm and how the sun rays shine on a round object/ globe. We compared the flat map to the globe when Ian noticed the line drawn between Alaska and Russia. He then challenged himself to find Connecticut on the globe and starting pointing out various states. We pulled out the United States map and checked out the shape of some of the states. They started pointing out and reading various names on the world map with Alec filling in trivia that he knew. "The state bird of New Zealand is the Kiwi bird!" It was great!
Ian went out to play in the snow (yes, it's snowing again!) while Alec and Evan played with all the toys that were still out. They pretended they were squids with tentacles (pool noodle arms) and they were catching their prey. They pretended they were captains sailing boats on a journey across the sea (the kitchen) as they pushed out toy boats around. Just listening to them play I hear them applying science, math and other "learned" concepts. "Evan I'll give you as many chances as you want below 5" "Below 5? How about 4 that's below 5!" "I need 5 tentacles though and we only have 3 so I need to cut one more pool noodle in half and that will give me 5, even though squid have 8 I'll pretend adult squid only have 5." I could sit and quote all day long if I really paid attention to their playing but I'll admit I often don't! I don't want to interfere and sometimes it's hard to just watch and listen without making suggestions or letting them reason out a problem on their own when something crops up.