Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Learning Through Play- It Works for Older Kids too!

I'm loving our laid back week off!  We're not implementing any planned lessons and it's been nice having no set agenda each day.  I enjoy watching my kids engage themselves in learning; also known as unschooling.  

Here's how our typical unschooling day shaped up: 

  •  Alec had started a load of laundry (life skills).  
  •  We piled into the car, the boys played Kindles, and we listened to The Blood of Olympus while driving to do errands (reading).  
Once home:
  • The younger two made their own meals (life skills).  
  • Evan worked on putting together some more Lego guys and vehicles most of the morning though he did play with all his Tenkai Knights figures too.  (construction/ following directions/ imaginative play)
  • Alec started working on a watercolor painting kit. (art)   
  • Ian had a new truck magazine and was busy looking up toy websites from all the magazine ads. (reading/ technology)
     I tried to watch and participate without really interrupting their flow.  It's not always easy to keep a great balance between being involved and hovering over them making them feel like I'm watching and critiquing.  I want them to be independent but I do enjoy watching them all work too.

Reading the color guide and learning how to mix liquid
He was so proud of himself for putting his sets
together on his own 

  • Before long Ian was begging Alec to share his art kit.  Inside Alec's box of supplies there were three dolphin painting sheets and Ian really wanted to paint.  They finally agreed that Ian would buy the same set and replace whatever picture he used today.  Sitting side by side they worked on their paintings working together to mix colors and give each other compliments on their work.

Working side by side sharing tools and tips

Ian is a pretty quick painter 

All finished! 

All finished! 
We had lunch
  • The boys asked me to read the rest of the Harry Potter chapter we had started yesterday. (reading) 
  •  Ian and Evan wanted to go outside for a bit.   Ian and Evan didn't make it outside very long since it's pretty cold today but they were out long enough for them to try out Ian's new machete (or at least that's what Ian is calling it).  They had asked if they could take his new tool out to the woods and try to chop down a few trees to make another fort.  I was nervous but he is getting older and I didn't want to say no either so with a huge leap of faith I let them try it out.  I warned them to stay close enough that they could hear each other if help was needed but to stay far enough away so no one would get hurt.  Ian is pretty responsible and great with tools so I just reminded them to be aware of who and what was around them and that only Ian was allowed to use tools without an adult present.  Luckily they came home in one piece and I didn't have to worry or wonder about them long.  I find as they get older it's always a struggle to let them go, let them take on responsibilities, and to allow them to make their own mistakes.  I know they need to in order to become self- sufficient but it's still not easy! (Life skills/ Independence/ using real life tools) 
After warming up from playing outside the boys all went their own way:
  •  Ian came downstairs in the afternoon and handed me one of the library books I had put in his room earlier in the day.  I assumed he wasn't interested in reading I'm My Own Dog but he assured me that he had read the whole thing.  "Pretty good, hugh?  I read a book without you asking me to.  Are you surprised?"  Blown away was more like it!  My kid who loudly complains he hates to read decided to read a book?! For fun?!  On his week off?!  This is reason to celebrate!! (self- guided reading!) 
  • They slowly migrated back to screens as the afternoon wore on.  Alec and Evan are both playing the same Pokemon game on their DS's and they linked up to battle each other.  They played together and Alec was giving Evan tips on how to improve his Pokemon's performance.  They talked about the different types of Pokemon and what types beat other types.  It was a whole lot of discussion that went right over my head but it was adorable to see them playing screens side by side with their heads bent together. (technology/ cooperation)
  •  Ian settled down to watch Redwood Kings and watch them create a wonderful tree house for a veteran's housing development.  He also watched Tanked and learned about making fish tanks and different types of fish. (life skills/ learning about job opportunities.  

    After watching a few shows Ian decided to gear up and head outside.  He's trying to finish organizing his job site and "mining" before winter really comes and the ground freezes over completely.  I went out to see what he had been up to and I was surprised at all the work he had done:

  • He showed me a few things including what we believe is a hibernating bug/slug that he dug up and then I hightailed it inside.  BRR! Is it cold!  He asked about clearing out the leaves and branches in front of his trucks and the next thing I knew he was using my clippers to trim brush and the leaf blower to try and clear away the leaves.  I saw him using the metal rake to try and move some of the leaves too.  Unfortunately the cold weather won out and he ended up giving up to come inside.  Most of the leaves are frozen in place and I don't think the leaf blower liked running in this weather either. (life skills/ using real tools)

  • Ian and I cleaned out the wood stove, filled up the wood rack and got a fire going. (life skills)
  • He saw that I used a few small pieces of cardboard that had a few drops of paint on them (since we tend to use flattened boxes as drop cloths.  He started worrying and obsessing about burning paint.  I tried to reassure him and told him that yes you should not burn paint but the tiny amounts on the cardboard weren't really an issue.  He didn't believe me so he spent a few minutes on-line looking up what happens when you burn paint, what happens when you burn latex paint, and how much paint is too much paint if you burn it.  We talked about lead paint versus oil based paint versus latex paint.  We talked about credible sites and how to tell if the information is most likely correct or not.  (typing/spelling/ researching/science) 

 Meanwhile the younger boys broke up their co-operative Pokemon play to pursue their own intersts for a while.

  • Alec and I put up his new window bird feeder today and he's been hanging out in his room this afternoon trying to see if any birds come to use it. (science)
  • He also started working on putting his marble maze together.  He got a set for Christmas and he was anxious to see how it would work.  I don't think he was prepared for just how many pieces there actually were in that box.  He did put a bit of it together following the step by step instructions and then decided to take a break for today when he ran into a snag. (logic/ math/ science)
All in all another awesome day!  I really think we might be starting to get the hang of this homeschooling thing!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

It's Always Time for Learning When You Unschool

 It's always a good time to learn in our house!

Before breakfast my boys spent their time between TV and video games:  

Ian has started watching a new show (or new to him anyway) called Prospectors.  He learned a lot about mining by hand as well as the many types of gems and minerals miners mine for. (self- guided science)

 As the boys were making breakfast:

 Evan decided to cook an entire bagel.  I reminded him that he NEVER eats the whole thing.  Ian told him Evan he was going to have to pay me $5 if he didn't eat the whole thing.  I piped up and told him that was a bit ridiculous since the entire package of bagels doesn't cost that much.  Not one to pass up a learning opportunity I asked the older boys if they could tell me how much a bagel would cost if there were 6 bagels in the bag and the bag cost $2.50.  They tried to find a solution on their own for a little bit.  Ian tried .50 cents each then he tried .25 cents each and knew the answer was somewhere in between with the answer being closer to .50.  I told them 2.50 was like 250 with a decimal in between so I then walked them through and asked what 25 divided by 6 would be.  We hadn't done much with division other than their facts but they told me they had a remainder of 1.  I told them we carry the 1 over to the remaining zero and then have 10 divided by 6.  We came up with .41 cents per bagel.  Since we had a remainder of 4 I told them it was probably a good idea to carry the 4 over to one last zero and then we'd know if it was .41 cents or if we had to round up to .42 cents.  They told me that 6 went into 40 6 times with a reminder of 4 so we had to round up.  I didn't force them to figure this out or tell them they had to but they enjoyed walking through the math problem and discovering how much a bagel costs. (real life math!)

  By the time we finished they were mostly done eating and the older boys quickly cleaned up and headed upstairs to get ready for the day.  Evan was slowing down dramatically on his eating and he finally admitted he was full.  He had only eaten half the bagel and he asked me if he had to pay me.  I assured him he didn't but asked him how much money he was throwing away.  I asked him what half of 42 was; he thought for a few minutes and shrugged so I asked him what half of 4 was and he told me 2.  I asked him what half of 2 was and he told me 1 so I explained that half of 42 is 21 so he was throwing away .21 cents.  He asked if that was a lot of money and I told him it was less than a quarter; some loose change so it wasn't a lot of money by itself but if he threw that much away every day it would really add up to a lot of money in a year.  It was another great life lesson in real life math and the kids were interested and engaged!

While we were out and about:

We went to their karate class and the boys had a great time kicking, throwing punches, and learning all about control.  They worked on improving their core strength and learned a few new moves today too.  They had a new student in their class today and the boys were thrilled to realize it was an old friend of theirs.   (physical eductaion/ socialization/self- defense)

We listened to our book on CD in the car and finished up another disk.  We stopped at the library on our way home and checked out a huge pile of books and some movies.  With our books all checked out we headed home. (reading and foster a love of books/ learning)

Once we were back home for the day:

The boys changed out of their uniforms and made lunch (life skills).  Alec asked if I could read some more of Harry Potter to them and we read a good half- chapter (reading).  The older boys were leaving to go to an art class with their grandmother.  I could tell Ian was a bit nervous about going to the class but I was happy that he was willing to try something new (facing fears).

When the older two boys were gone: 

The two or three hours flew by!  Evan and his friend played with Lego sets and a bunch of our building sets (construction/ math/ logic/ cooperation/problem solving).  They used our magnetic blocks to build a house with a swimming pool and a tent.  They used our structure blocks to build a diving board for the pool as well as a picnic table.  They used all the Ben 10 character toys to play out a whole scenario with what they had built.  It was great!

The older boys finished paintings:


Monday, December 29, 2014

Time Off Still Leads to Learning

 It's not often that we take a whole week off from school.

With life and schooling so intertwined I don't often consider our "off" time as being an off time either though.

 Even when we're not doing book work or a planned lesson we're still learning.  

Often we're busiest on those days we take off from school.

This week I hadn't planned on doing anything.  Knowing the local schools were all closed and that the kids had all sorts of wonderful new gifts to play with it seemed like a great time to take a break.

Even if I don't always feel like we need a break, I still try to make sure we take one.   So far we've spent our time after Christmas cleaning and organizing the house.  The kids helped organize their rooms and the playroom.  They took down their trees and cleaned up the holiday decorations with me too.  We've played and hung out as a family.

They've kept busy and looking back over our last week or so we've done so much and learned a lot!
 We've been doing lots of real- life math and problem solving: 

  •  Evan has been adding up his gift cards to see how much money he had to spend. 
  •  He had a gift or two to return and asked me to look up how much they were worth and then asked me to look up the cost of what he wanted to buy so he could make sure that he would have enough money to buy what he wanted. 
  • We had him trying to figure out the price difference between the two toys by adding on to the smaller one and seeing how many fingers he had up by the time he reached the higher price. 
  • Ian too has added up all his monetary gifts and started researching the price of toys he'd like. He's debating the value of saving his money versus the one toy he'd really like to own. 
  •  Since he's older I reminded him to add in shipping and handling and tax too. 
  •  Ian has been measuring things like milk and butter while working in the kitchen (as well as reading directions).  
  • He also figured out how to put two very difficult Lego Technic sets together all by himself and even attached motor components to them.  
  • The younger two boys have been hard at work on Lego sets too.  Evan usually tries to find a way to get his brothers to make them for him but has been staying up in his room after "bedtime" working on his sets while his brothers read.

 Spelling and reading have been thrown into the mix as well: 

  • Evan got a new Pokemon video game and he's trying so hard to read all the instructions and the conversations between the people he meets in the world.  
  • Ian played a fierce game of Scrabble with my husband and I one night. 
  •  Alec has been reading his new books as well as a few of his library books. 
  •  Evan tried to play Santa a few times during our Christmas break and read all the labels on the gifts, making sure he was handing them out to the right people.  
  • Ian has been reading his Diary of a Wimpy kid book every night at bedtime.  
  • We've listened to several more CD's in our Heroes of Olympus book too.
 The boys all got new bows and arrows from Santa and have been eager to try them out.

  •  They're practicing so often and trying to perfect their aim, their technique and their skills.  They've had competitions and tried out different sized bows, arrows, and targets.  They've moved closer and farther away from the targets trying to see what feels right for them.  

I love watching them trying to master a new skill!  Have you ever watched your kids doing that?  It's amazing how you can practically see the wheels turning in their heads!

We've been exploring nature for science:  

  •  We went on a family nature hike/ walk the other day.  The boys found many things to marvel at as we walked.  
  • The path in the woods was all grown over with lots of greenery (lots of mini pine tree saplings just starting out) and it was neat to see that greenery mixed in with all the brown.  
  • Evan pointed out a tree that had been hit by lightening.  
  • Alec found some unusually formed ice in the mud.  
  • We had a great time checking out the prism shape the crystals formed into as well as noticing the mottled "snowflake" looking background it created.  
  • The younger two tried to make an experiment out of it and see if the ice would make it home in their hands without melting.  Alec also wanted to try and wash off the dirt then see if he could somehow save the ice.  
  • While hiking the boys got dirty in the mud and slid down hills along the way.  
  • They found a "root cave" and explored the hills, valley's and woods.  
  • They found prints on the beach and shore and Alec tried to determine what kind of animal made them.  

A side view to try and show off the shards or ice crystals 

One large piece of ice

Inside the root cave 

 They've had lots of opportunities to work on their social skills too:

  • We hosted Christmas Eve and Christmas day and between the two the boys had a good dozen cousins to play with.  
  • They've had friends over to play.  
  • They also played with some family friends today and have plans to meet up with even more cousins tomorrow for a fun family painting event.  
I try not to supervise them too closely when they have friends over and let them work out all disagreements themselves.  I hear "than I'm not playing with you" or "then I'm going home" a lot but think that it's good for the kids to work out a compromise on their own. 

 The best way for kids to learn social skills is not for parents to intervene and work it out for them but for them to learn a little give and take.  My boys are becoming quite adept at this.

We've talked a lot about nutrition, healthy eating, and exercise too.  

With all the added holiday food my boys have taken great joy in gorging themselves on cookies, pastries, and lots of extra food.  They know that they can eat to their hearts content at parties and around the holidays.  I don't love it that they chose the fattiest, sugariest, unhealthiest choices of all but they are kids and I remember doing the same thing.

 I know a huge part of their joy in the season is all the food (let's face it; it's mine too!) but that doesn't stop me from lecturing them on healthy eating.

I try to model it as best I can choosing salad all the time, picking just one dessert choice to try or sneaking just a bite from my husband's plate.
  • Now that the holidays are over I'm reminding them to choose one snack a day, eat lots of fruits and veggies, and move more!  
  • They have been getting lots of exercise by riding bikes, running around, hiking, shooting hoops and even playing the Wii (my kids jump around until they're sweaty playing Wii).  
It's great to see them being kids and learning on their own terms.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Teaching Children to Be Thankful

I've started writing this post several times in my head throughout the past week or so.  I'm having a hard time coming up with a concise way to get my point across.

I'm struggling to come up with answers and suggestions.

 I don't know about any of you but we're having a real hard time this holiday as we try to pair down our celebrations without having a lot of meltdowns (from our children anyway-- OK our two younger children... well, mostly just our youngest).

I'm trying to teach them to be Thankful.

I'm perfectly content to pair our holidays down and would like to do even less next year.  I don't mean seeing less family or going to less parties or even having fewer holiday traditions (though I keep threatening to pull a Krank's Christmas and skip it altogether); I mean less stuff!

I mean:
  • Less gift giving
  • Less giving receiving
  • Less focus on "things" and more focus on family, love and experiences.  
I think, for the most part, I find a really good balance for our family.

Our boys are usually thankful for what they get on Christmas morning and they don't think of Santa as some guy who brings them anything and everything they could ever ask for (though they do try to ask him for some outrageous gifts).  I've always been pretty firm on the fact that Santa brings a few toys each and that's it.  My kids are OK with that.

 As they get older they are getting less OK with the fact that everybody else is bringing them less gifts too.

 When my oldest was born he was one of the only grandchildren any of our parents had.  Both my husband's parents and my own are divorced and re-married so our kids grew up with 4 sets of grandparents and had most of their great grand parent around too.  They have a total of 8 sets of Aunts and Uncles too.  The holidays were HUGE!  

People we never even exchange gifts with wanted to buy them gifts; who doesn't love spoiling babies, right?

Little did I realize how much I was setting my kids up for future expectations and disappointments.

We used to drive two separate vehicles to one family party because between the three boys we'd literally have a truck full of toys to bring home.  A WHOLE pickup truck!

Extreme??  YES! Absolutely!

Something we could refuse??  Not really (and believe me we tried!).

We left gifts behind for the kids to play with when visiting.
We'd drop off  new toys at Toys for Tots the next day.
We tried our darnedest to pair things down and keep it reasonable.... and we failed miserably.

 I knew that then, and looking back it, I know that now.

By now with the boys ranging in age from 7- 10 and lots more grandchildren on all sides of the family Christmas is much less:
  • There are several Aunts and Uncles that we no longer exchange gifts with.  
  • Many more we have the kids pick names and that way they each only get one gift from one cousin.  
  • Some give family gifts for all the boys to share.  
  • Some make inexpensive gifts from the heart.  
I love this shift away from the madness of opening gifts but am starting to think we may have gone from one extreme to the other too quickly for the kids to adjust to.

I tried preparing them;
  • I kept reminding them that they'd only get a gift or two each at each of the different holiday parties we went to.  
  • I reminded them we had picked names. 
  • I reminded them that some family members were making gifts.
  • I reminded them that some of the great grandparents were getting older and were unable to buy and exchange gifts like they used to.   
I thought I had prepared them well.

We read book after book about the true meaning of Christmas.  We talked about less being more and focusing on love, family and giving.  But I don't think it was enough.

That same party we used to bring a truck home of gifts from??  My kids got two maybe three gifts each.  A perfect number as far as I'm concerned but they (especially my youngest who really isn't understanding this whole less is more philosophy) was upset. 

At first I got angry with him as he pitched a fit two parties in a row for not getting to open enough gifts and for not getting the one or two things on his list that he REALLY wanted.

I was embarrassed at what I saw as his commercial greed.

He's 7 and wanted everything he saw on TV, in a catalog, or put on his list.  He knew he wouldn't get it and I thought he'd be happy with just about anything (since he wanted everything) but I was wrong.  He was miserable and I had no idea how to handle it.

I wanted him to be happy and grateful for everything he got and basically told him he shouldn't be disappointed.

After all, that is what we teach.  Gifts don't have to be given and you should be grateful for what you get.

I do believe that.

 But, I'm also honest enough to admit that there's always a gift or two that I'm disappointed in.  We may be grateful the giver thought of us and got (and/or made us) something but that doesn't mean we have to love the gift itself.  As an adult I can cover up that disappointment and smile and genuinely thank the giver for thinking of me, but at 7, Evan just can't do that.

But we'll keep trying, we'll keep reminding the boys, modeling the behavior we'd like to see, reading about the meaning of the season and just keep working at it.  It takes time for kids to understand, to adjust to changes and to realize the true meaning of Christmas.

Christmas morning all the boys woke early and eager to see what Santa had left.  They were happy with whatever they opened; perfect gift or not.  They were content and feeling thankful.  They got a few toys and video games they really wanted mixed in with some educational science kits and toys. They were looking forward to trying out all their new things and they were smiling big, contented, smiles.

Then I made the mistake of turning on the computer during breakfast and scrolling through Facebook.  I wished everyone a Merry Christmas and scrolled through their wishes of a Merry Christmas to us.   After looking over my shoulder at their friends gifts and hearing about other people's Christmas gifts their joy seemed to be just a tiny bit diminished.

They saw all the tons of gifts under all the other trees and compared it to the 9 gifts under our own tree Christmas morning. They had smaller gifts that barely even stuck out from under the tree this year and, with their agreement over the WiiU a few months ago, they didn't even have gifts from mom and dad to open. They were OK with it but puzzled as to why they got so much less than all the other kids they knew.  

Ian, who's struggling to hold onto his belief in Santa this year, asked why Santa brings so much to other people's houses.  I reminded him that other kids might have had gifts from grandparents and parents mixed in under the tree along with Santa gifts... but mostly, I faltered.  It's hard to explain why we don't buy into the commercialization of Christmas anymore than we buy into the hoopla of all the other holidays too.  I know that we're fortunate and even three gifts each probably seems excessive to some.  I know that.  But my kids don't.

See their gifts.... just poking out of the tree...  
It's hard raising kids to be thankful while raising them in such a commercialized world.  It's hard to be different.

So we spent a portion of our day again today talking about why we don't spend as much on the holidays as other families. We talked about some of the sacrifices we make so I can stay home.  We talked about the importance of spending what we can afford and the importance of working hard for those things we want.

It's hard to fight against all the millions of dollars spent on the commercialization of the holiday season.

But I didn't become a parent because it was easy.  I don't want to raise spoiled kids who expect the world to be handed to them (who does?).

I just keep trying to remind them, educate them, and work on pairing down the holiday hoopla while keeping them from melting down.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Last Minute Madness

It's the Monday before Christmas and we're in full- on "company's coming!" mode.  Preparing for the holidays has become a bit harder now that we homeschool.  I don't have those hours that they are in school to accomplish anything on my own and so the boys have to pitch in and help.  

We used to take the week off before and after Christmas but it was so hard to get back into a routine after the holidays that this year we decided to try doing things a bit differently.  This year we're going to attempt to homeschool right up until Christmas Eve.  However with Christmas coming up this week and having a houseful of guests coming.... 

That meant it was time to:
  1. Do all of our grocery shopping
  2. Finish all of our cleaning
  3. Bring toys up to their rooms from the playroom (that they don't want to share with all their cousins)
  4. Rearrange any furniture so we can all fit in the house
  5. Partake in some last minute gift making or wrapping
  6. Finish up our last day of school before the holiday hoopla begins
I had warned the boys over the weekend that we'd be busy and heading out to the grocery store first thing in the morning on Monday.  Repeatedly reminded them.

Focusing on Errands: 

With everyone ready to go we went to the grocery store.  Ian grabbed a second carriage and I handed Evan my list and a pencil.  He grumbled and complained a lot but I reminded him that we all help out and it was his turn to help.  He continued to grumble and I reminded him that he had some new video games that they all really wanted to play today and he was in danger of having that reward taken away.  His attitude improved and he did really well telling me what letter each of the items on my list started with and crossing them off for me.  Ian estimated our bill to within $7 of what we spent and Alec happily read his book. (covering reading, math, and life skills at the grocery store).

We stopped at the library on the way home and gave all the librarians a little gift and card.  They were thrilled and apparently our timing was just perfect.  They are having a Christmas party today and planned to use our arrangement for their centerpiece.  We checked out a whole bag of books on the Lewis and Clark expedition and on Vikings (two topics we plan to cover in January).  We wished everyone a Merry Christmas and headed home listening to the Blood of Olympus. (reading)

Starting (and finishing) Our Schoolwork: 

The boys helped me unload all the groceries and Ian sat right down to work on his math sheet.  We had one last divide and color sheet.  It was a picture of Mickey Mouse holding a pile of Christmas gifts and I focused on only 5 division facts-- the 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9's.  Once finished he read a chapter in his book and went to play outside. (math/ reading)

Alec finished up his Ga' hoole book and started the next book in the series; reading all the way up to chapter 10 before deciding to take a break and eat lunch.  (reading)

 Evan and I worked on half of his math page that dealt with 1 more, 1 less, 10 more, and 10 less than a given number.  It was a new concept and he caught on quite quickly.  He had 10 problems on the page and asked if he could do 1/2 now and 1/2 after lunch.  I asked him how many 1/2 was and he quickly told me 5.  We did 5 problems, he went to play with Legos and then did 5 more problems while he was cooking his lunch. (math)

During lunch we read our Christmas books-- A New Coat for Anna  and Santa's Favorite Story. Ian had finished his lunch before his brothers sat down to eat and offered to read A New Coat for Anna to us all.  He did a great job reading out loud and even remembered to show his brothers the pictures.  When I was done reading Santa's Favorite Story we finished up our second chapter in our Harry Potter book too. (reading)

Ian asked if he could play video games for a bit while his brothers finished up their school work.  He set the timer and regulated his own playing time.

Evan read Biscuit And the Baby to me while Alec worked on his math sheet.

With school done we moved onto preparing the house:

We worked together to rearrange the playroom and decide what other toys we wanted to toss, move out of the playroom, or even move into the playroom.  Ian used his tools to take down an old dress up mirror we no longer use and the boys all pitched in helping me move the bookcase and all the books.  Ian helped me carry down the air hockey table from his bedroom so the older kids would having something fun to play with on Christmas Eve and we even rearranged the living room furniture to make room for more gifts and more bodies.  We vacuumed a bit and I warned them all that they'll be helping to really clean tonight after dinner when their dad gets home.

A much deserved reward:

They worked really hard and it was already past three by the time we finished so I told them they could have an afternoon of screen time.  The younger two boys chose to play Mario Kart 8 while Ian watched several TV shows on the DVR--  Epic American Castles, Epic Yahts, Ax Men, etc.  

And that's how we're balancing our to do list with a shortened day of school.  We mix and match and pitch in together to get our list done.  

Friday, December 19, 2014

It's always a balancing act!

Homeschooling often feels like a balancing act.

Well, OK, let's be honest; parenting often feels like a balancing act.

We're all trying to juggle the kids needs with our own personal needs, the housework, possibly a job... it's not easy.  Then we throw homeschooling into the mix and we have even more to juggle and balance.

Today was one of those days where I woke up feeling very overwhelmed with everything on my "to do" list today.  Here's a sampling of the thoughts I had running through my head....

  • I had tons of laundry to wash, dry and fold.  
  • I had piles of dishes in the sink and, since my dishwasher has been acting up a lot lately, a dishwasher full of should be cleaned dishes that also needed to be washed.  
  • I had several more desserts that I wanted to make for Christmas.  
  • We had a few more last minute crafting things we wanted to try out for this year. 
  • The boys and I wanted to make some sort of Christmas gift for the librarians, who feel more like family at this point.  
  • We have two family Christmas parties tomorrow and I need to go through the gifts under the tree and start pulling out those that we need to bring with us.  
  • I wanted to make a casserole for dinner using last night's leftover chicken. 
  • I really wanted to scrapbook a few pages-- a goal of mine to just work on two pages a day that has only happened twice this week.  
  • Oh and school, we should probably do something for school-- right?!
This constant push and pull of what needs to be done and what I want to do is always a balancing act and homeschooling/ schoolwork falls somewhere in the middle.  

Sometimes I want to do school with the boys and other days I feel like I should do schoolwork with them.

We've been at this long enough now that I know the days I don't necessarily want to do school with the boys but just pull our work out and go through the motions don't always go so well.  

With everything circling through my mind and trying to figure out how and when to get everything done I decided, like any good mom, that I would ignore it all for as long as I could.

I painted my nails, exercised and sat in front of my computer much longer than I should.

I started thinking take out was sounding pretty good for dinner and that our crafting items could wait 'til next Christmas.  Perhaps we'd buy a floral bouquet for all the librarians to share.

I'm trying real hard this year to prioritize and not get overwhelmed with Christmas and all the thing I feel I should do.  I'm usually very excited for Christmas to come until the few days before Christmas and my enjoyment gets sucked up, thrown around, and lost.

Like I told my husband last night if I could ignore all the usual household stuff around Christmastime and just focus on Christmas and my family it would be the most wonderful time of the year but when you add in the cooking, cleaning, and chores I normally do along with the Christmas stuff that's when it gets overwhelming.

I do it to myself, I know.

We're home and we have the whole month and each year I think I can do it all.  Heck, some years we add in more!  Looking back we've done so much this past month.

We've had 19 days of Christmas.

I shouldn't feel guilty throwing in the towel and saying I've done enough, but I do.

Luckily, the boys don't always need me around hovering over them reminding them to keep busy.

They just do that naturally and in watching them I can see the learning taking place on it's own.  The boys spent the morning watching River Monsters episodes.  I was surprised to find both Alec and Ian quite riveted by the program and Alec assured me it was very educational learning about all these species of fish and all the places he travels to.  They learned we had free Animal Planet and went through the guide setting up some recordings to take advantage of the free shows while they could.  I couldn't argue with any of their logic, but did ask if we could eat breakfast altogether and read a few more Christmas stories.

Once everyone was settled at the table with something to eat we began to read.  We've had some really great books to read this Christmas that have helped me keep sight of the real meaning of Christmas.  Today's books were no different.  We read Thank You, Santa and The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey.  They were fantastic.

Thank You, Santa is a lighthearted book about a girl who becomes pen pals with Santa.  The entire story is letters written between the two. It's very cute.

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey is about a woodcarver back in the old west who is quite grumpy because he has lost his wife and family to illness.  Slowly, through the holiday season he begins to forge an unlikely friendship with a young boy and his widowed mom.  The boy and his mom have hired the woodcarver to make them a new nativity scene and through their persistence and friendship they help him to heal.

I finally started pulling gifts out from under the tree and double checking my list.  I finished up some last minute wrapping and the boys decided to wrap some of their crafts to give as gifts too.

We were interrupted by Evan's first tooth falling out.  

He was so excited to show us all; though he did have to wash it off since he had spit it out in the sink when he was brushing his teeth.  He marveled at how small it was and how little blood there was.  He told me it hadn't hurt at all and he asked if he could call his dad and tell him all about it.  Once we had his tooth cleaned, bagged up and under his pillow, we got back to wrapping.

Alec showed Evan how to wrap gifts and I helped them spell any names they needed help with.  Evan did a great job writing the names to everyone on his gifts; even writing small enough to fit it all on the tags.

I love the addition of the Wolverine gloves when wrapping! 

All three boys did quite a bit of reading on their own today too. Ian read two chapters in Roscoe Riley, Alec finished book 2 of the Owls of Ga' Hoole series and is about 1/2 way through the third book already too.  Evan read another Biscuit book to me called Biscuit's Day at The Farm.  He did pretty good once we got started and I again marveled at how well he's doing with his reading.  He's come so far in just a short amount of time.  I'm so glad I didn't have to force reading him on him last year when he just wasn't ready or interested because he genuinely enjoys reading and listening to stories.
 Evan asked me to finish reading Mrs. Lane is a Pain to him.  Alec has listened to most of this book with us and I know he was listening today too since he laughed in all the appropriate places.  When I finished with that they asked if we could read bit more in our Harry Potter book too.  I had to pack up my stuff so I asked Ian to help out and read the first page in chapter 2 out loud to us all.  He agreed, even though he'd rather not read out loud and I appreciated his help.  I took over as soon as I could and we read a few pages before it was time to go.
We listened to the Blood of Olympus in the car on our way to gym and while running errands after gym.  The boys had a great time at our gym class.  They began by playing gaga ball, then they broke into two teams to play soccer and finally they played field hockey with a tennis ball. Evan soon tired of the team games and pouted for quite a bit of the class.  He finally asked if I would play gaga with him and it ended up being the best gym class for him yet.  All the boys had a great time exercising and playing and learning new sports and skills.  The hour flew by!

Once home Ian set to work making peanut butter cookies from scratch.  Once again he read, followed the instructions, measured all the ingredients and made them himself!

As soon as he was done with the cookies he settled down to watch some more Animal Planet.  He watched Tanked and learned about fish, building fish tanks, supports, the weight of water, etc.  Alec went to read and Evan decided to re-watch the Lego Movie.

Everything sure ended up working out just fine today.

I gave up my guilt, got done what I could and re-prioritized my day.

The boys had a relaxed, self- guided learning day and we ended our week happy and healthy.

There isn't much more that I could ask for... maybe just a second pair of hands!


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Unschooling Through the Holiday Season With Baking and Games

Knowing we had a full list of things to complete before the holidays we decided to start our holiday baking today.  We often gift out tins of cookies making sure to have a good assortment of desserts in each.  The boys help too.

The boys and I started our day by baking up some Rice Krispie treats.  We made a whole 13 x 9 pan of treats, let them cool for a bit and then cut them into fun Christmas shapes using our cookie cutters.

We went to decorate them with frosting and realized we needed red food coloring.

 Pretty soon we had a whole list going and so I offered to take a trip to the store if we could stop and hike/nature walk somewhere along the way.

While brisk, these daily walks we've started taking have been wonderful.  It's a great way to unwind from the  Christmas rush, get in some fresh air and exercise, and really connect with one another and nature.  The boys all agreed and we headed upstairs to get ready.

We piled into the car and stopped at the grocery store and went for a walk along the river.  It was cold so we kept our walk brief but we did spy geese, ducks, and seagulls.  The boys climbed on rocks, planned a picnic for the spring, watched the waterfalls, and noticed Ian's name carved into the sidewalk.

We stopped and read about the Quinebaug River and the varieties of fish that are found in it.  We talked about where the river flows and the path it takes, whether it was salt or fresh water and how to tell, why it smells "funny" and is slightly yellow in color.   I think my favorite part of the day had to be when Alec and Evan took off running holding hands.  They had a great time using their imagination to play in the park and it was great to see them being best friends.

   We quickly did our grocery shopping and headed home to decorate the Rice Krispie treat snacks we had made earlier in the morning.  Ian helped me make some Oatmeal Scotchie cookies.

 Once done the younger boys headed to play ABCya on the computer and do some reading.

Ian decided to make another batch of chocolate chip cookies from scratch.  He read the directions and assembled the cookies all by himself!  They came out wonderfully and smelled so good.

Evan went up to his room to play Word Monkey on his Kindle for a bit and then asked if he had to read.  Rather than answer his question I asked if he'd like to read another Biscuit book with me.  All excited like it was Christmas morning he ran downstairs shouting "YES!"  I love that we've found something he's so excited to read.  He did awesome again!

When Ian was done making his cookies he set up Scrabble and asked if I'd play a game with him.  Alec wanted to play too but he was busy making some more eggnog cookies.  We offered to wait for him and the boys were pretty patient with the fact that I had to get up to repeatedly change out cookies from the oven while we played.  Our game lasted at least an hour and the boys worked really hard to spell and add up their scores; often trying out multiple words to see which one was worth more.

It was a day full of reading, math, nature, spelling and fun.

We baked so much food and got most of our tins packed up and ready to go.   What can I say it was another idyllic homeschooling day!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What Unschooling Means to Us

Unschooling means different things to different people.  For us, unschooling means giving my boys a chance to study what they are interested in in ways that interest them.  We do occasionally have "real" schoolwork and lessons.  We do read book, and write, and do math.

But there are days when I just sit back and let learning unfold.  It allows me to see where the boys interest lie and it gives me a chance to see what areas my boys might need help in.  Times like this allow me to see when and where the boys are applying lessons too.

The boys spent their morning watching The Curse of Oak Island and playing Kindles.  I was feeling so guilty that we hadn't done anything school- like and I didn't have any plans to do anything school- like when I overheard Ian and Evan talking about math while playing Minecraft together.  They were trying to divvy up all the supplies they had gathered together and Ian was helping Evan divide by two and showing him that "20 divided by 2 is 10 because 10 plus 10 is twenty."  Evan knew he needed an even number to divide them into two equal piles and they talked about leftover pieces too (self guided math!).  
Alec informed me that he had read a chapter or two in his Guardians of Ga' hoole book while he was getting dressed.  We listened to our book on CD the Blood of Olympus in the car.   We're only on the second disk but we're already so immersed in the story (reading and language arts).
Coming out of the store we saw a car with a Minnesota license plate.  We stopped to look at the loon, trees and mountains shown in the picture.  The boys talked about where Minnesota was and Alec informed us all it's his favorite state because the capital is St. Paul (I guess he likes that name).  Later in the day we also colored North Dakota in on our 50 states map that we're using to keep track of our postcards.  We had received North Dakota last night and after examining the card we added it t our pile.  While the map was out the boys also pointed out Minnesota to me.  They definitely have got their United States geography down (geography).

Once home the boys played gaga in the playroom for a bit and then the two older boys decided to play On A Roll! again.  Evan asked if he could play computer games.  I pulled up for him and he played several first grade math games.

I was floored by all three boys.

I was busy crocheting and they all, not only played math games, but did amazing work.  Typically Ian and Alec ask me step by step as they reduce and make mixed numbers from their fractions but because I was busy they did it on their own.  They got them all right too since they showed me their papers when they were done.

Evan's computer games had him adding numbers to 10 (like 10 plus 15), using less than, greater than and equal adding numbers higher than 50.  I'm sure if I had asked him to do math like that he would have balked but he loved the games he was playing and he seemed to catch on right away.  If I didn't know any better I would have assumed these games were not challenging enough for him the way he flew right through them.  Of course he claims he was just guessing but if he can "guess" and get them all correct than he can go right on guessing the rest of his life! (math)

Evan asked if I could come sit on the couch with him so he could read to me while I worked.  We ran out of Elephant and Piggie books and we've read all the Cat the Cat books at our library so I had picked up some Biscuit readers.  Today Evan chose to read Biscuit Wants to Play.  I warned him that the book might be to hard for him but that I just wasn't sure.  He agreed to try but thought it was to long of a book.  I told him he could read just half of it if he'd rather.  Well, he not only read the whole thing he read the whole thing without making any mistakes!  I had to help him sound out a few words that the pictures didn't prompt (like Daisy and cricket) but other than that he did fantastic!

My hands were busy so he had to be in charge of everything and self- correct when I wasn't quick enough to look at the page.  It worked out beautifully!  While Evan was reading to me, Ian went to read his Roscoe Riley book and Alec asked to play the math games Evan had just finished with on the computer.
The boys all decided to make lunch and take a break from school.  I offered to read a few Christmas stories to them and take a break from making the scarf I had been working on.  Ian picked out today's books and we read The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree and The Gift of the Christmas Cookie.

Alec pointed out that all the stories we've read this year have to do with history, hard times, giving and Jesus/ Church.  We stopped mid-way through reading one of the books and talked about why that was.  The real meaning of Christmas, the true story of St. Nicholas and that Christmas is a religious holiday.  That morphed into a discussion of Easter and why that is celebrated by Christians also.  We finished up our heart-wrenching stories and had a very brief discussion of the world wars that were referenced fleetingly in the Perfect Christmas Tree book.
After we were done lunch and reading Alec settled down in front of the computer to work on a butterfly loom band bracelet while Ian went to play outside.

Evan reminded me that he hadn't done any phonics, sight word or spelling work for school and asked if he could play sight word bingo with me.  Of course I said yes.  I was still working away at my scarf but Evan assured me he didn't mind setting up the game or reading all the card out to me.  He did a good job with most of the sight words and he told me that he knew the word up because it was in his Pokemon game; power- up punch. "I see that word a lot."  He then went on to tell me what the power- up punch was and how it was used but I was only half listening.  I was marveling over the fact that my boys had inadvertently showed me twice today that they were learning important concepts like math and reading through their video game playing.

After we were done playing our game (which Evan won), Evan and Alec took off through the house playing a game with their toy swords, a few outdated non-working phones and their animals and blankets.

Ian came in and started a loom band bracelet on his fingers.  Evan saw Ian working on a bracelet and asked if I could look up how to make a simple infinity bracelet for him.  Like usual, once he had it all loomed on he really wanted someone else to take over and hook it for him. I refused to this time but promised to help him and hold the loom steady.  He grumbled a bit but finished the bracelet on his own.  He was then very proud of himself.  He added his new bracelet to his whole collection and showed them off.  Ian completed two simple fish tale bracelets and then headed back outside.

Using the loom 

his completed bracelet 
Alec settled down to read a few more chapters in his book while Evan played with his mini flashlight and all the loom bands.  My boys were busy crafting, reading, and learning all day even though I didn't guide them.  They're getting quite good at guided themselves and I couldn't be prouder!
The sun made an appearance late in the day and we headed out for some fresh air and sunshine with a walk.   They didn't want to go for a walk and asked if we could just walk up to the mailbox. Next thing I knew we had turned our walk into a science and nature walk.  We saw lots of trees and stumps left by beavers.  We found a den/ hole at the base of a tree that was quite large and speculated about what animal might have lived there.  We saw a belted Kingfisher diving to the lake for some fish.  We ended up taking most of our walk in the woods.  We talked about road safety and keeping ourselves visible when walking on the road.  Alec and Evan kept weaving in and out of the woods over logs and across rock walls. They even found a small stream that they crossed.

Ian found this small tree with two different teeth marks

This is just one example of how one unschooling day looks for us.  My boys and I naturally weave traditional school subjects and personal interests into a full day of learning.