May 28, 2010

School's Out for Summer

Today is the last day of official school for us.  Most of our subjects will wrap up today and we begin summer vacation next week after their yearly standardized test.  My 9 year old son asked if he can play Guitar Hero today so he can sing "School's Out" which yes is by Alice Cooper.

I am looking forward to wrapping up this year and taking a break as much as the kids are.  We will not be completely "free" of school as my son constantly reminds me.  I make them do daily math reviews and read an hour a day.  Two of them are bringing a subject they did not finish yet into the summer with them until they are done but overall it will be nice to have a break.

We have some summer projects lined up and some vacations planned, some baseball to wrap up and plenty of free time at the pool and nature preserves calling out to us.  The early heat in Minnesota has made us a bit restless and ready to be done earlier this year but I am proud of all of us to making it through another school year and finishing out strong.  This last month has seen each of us having our days of "can't we just be done yet?"

We are finishing up our 6th year of homeschooling, sometimes it feels like it has been much longer and sometimes it seems it has flown by.  Next year I will have a middle schooler as we adjust to life with a 6th, 4th and 2nd grader. I am still glad we are homeschooling even with its challenges and ups and downs.  I am also really glad we take a summer vacation and relax just a little bit.  I am actually most looking forward to just being mom for a little while.

One of the hardest things for me to balance and my kids to understand is the difference between mom and teacher.  Mom is always on your side, mom always thinks you do great work, mom is always proud of your writing, your skills and your progress.  Your teacher wants to be but your teacher can not always appear to be.  Your teacher needs to teach and help grow you and offer constructive criticism, your teacher can not always seem to be your biggest fan.  It is very hard for my kids to understand how I play both roles in their lives and to see and feel just the supportive loving mom part.  Summer is an important part of that for us.  So here is to just being mom for a few months! Enjoy your summer, I know we will.

May 24, 2010

Creative Writing Story Starters

Here are some great creative writing assignments, we have been using them here on a weekly basis and the stories my kids are writing have been very interesting.

May 23, 2010

Summer Projects

"I'm bored"
"I have have nothing to do"
"There's nothing to play with"
"Entertain me"
"No one is home to play"

The list goes on and on of the many ways my children will soon be asking me to be their entertainment committee during the summer.  I used to have a list of ideas for them to choose from this summer though I think I will have a different strategy now that they are getting older and have each other.

I may be in a minority here but I think it is good for my kids to struggle through feeling bored and find a solution for themselves with the things we have on hand.  Just as necessity is the mother of creativity I believe boredom is also the mother of creativity.  Sometimes my kids very best ideas come when they just finished telling me they had nothing to do and no friends to play with.  We have a double decker hammock inside a tree fort they created as the most recent proof.

Lately I have taken to answering that question with the offer of chores and they almost immediately remember or discover something they could do.  It is actually a pretty effective strategy for my kids and it forces them to be creative.  If they come back again in a short amount of time I will make them do chores and after a few of those reminders and several times of  follow through on actual chores, they pretty much stopped expecting me to figure it out for them and suddenly found a way to not be bored.

In addition during the summer we assign certain projects for those down times and if they really are at loose ends we will encourage them to work on their independent projects.  This summer they are working on photography, nature sketching , leather working, sewing, knitting, and woodworking.  In addition they have their summer reading and math requirements.  My job is to make sure they have the supplies on hand for those projects and the initial direction and instruction they need then to set them to the tasks.  The "I'm bored" moments are a perfect opportunity for that.  Chores are my follow up.  It rarely gets beyond those.

Don't get me wrong we will do a lot together as a family during the summer days and they will have friends here often and be visiting their friends, beaches, pools, park etc plenty.  Still for children it never seems to be enough and inevitably the "I have nothing to do" moments hit with more regularity in the summer.  This year I am prepared to head that off right from the get go.  I am guessing it will be a fairly creative and inventive summer, otherwise I will have a very clean home.  Either way I will put their boredom to good use.

Last Week of School

The end is in sight.  We are going to finish school up this week one way or another.  The week may not be the most "fun" school week we have but it is time to be done so we don't have to worry about it anymore.  No field trips, only outside activities this week are piano recital, baseball and book club.

Hopefully everyone can see the light at the end of the tunnel and buckle down to finish their work.  Sometimes the end seems harder than the beginning.  This year our annual testing is scheduled on June 1st so I have made that our official last day of school and June 2nd the beginning of summer.  This is the longest we have continued school and I think next year the kids will be more motivated to stay on track in the winter to finish up a bit earlier in the spring in order to enjoy the beautiful relatively bug free month of May in Minnesota.  Here's to one more week.

May 20, 2010

Kids in Nature

Sometimes I think ahead and wonder what my kids are going to remember about their childhood with me.  I hope this picture comes to their mind because we certainly spend enough time doing things that look just like this.  One thing I am fairly consistent about is getting them out in nature: for hikes, exploration, nature study, art sketching, arboretum and nature center visits, geocaching, just being outside in creation.

Today I was thinking about this as I led a group of 8 kids, my kids and some of their friends through a nearby pond area we love and frequent.  My kids and their friends have named different areas of the pond.  Names like Devils Haunt, Witches Pass, Turtle Cove, Frog Swallow and others I can't think of.  They run around and and talk about where they want to go next.  They build forts, climb trees, big dirt piles they call mountains and run through deer trails.  They catch frogs, turtles and snakes and watch tadpoles grow into frogs they will later catch.  They alternate between being loud and quiet, so as to not scare away the animals, from running fast to walking super slow and taking it all in.  They negotiate with each other over where they will head next and how much time they will spend there.  They want to spend all day there and I believe my son would if he was allowed to.  One day I think I am just going to say we can spend as long as they want but I need to go ready to spend an entire day there, bringing provisions for us all.

This part of parenting comes easily to me.  I like being in nature myself and I love being in nature with other kids.  I love watching kids explore, learn and just have fun outdoors.  I like watching them gain independence and some freedom within boundaries, discover they can do things they did not think they could before and challenge one another to push just a bit harder.  I also love the quiet calm when they watch a turtle on a log, a bird in flight or take time to sketch a beautiful flower.  It makes me think this is what being a kid is about.  It is kid in fullness to me in some ways.

My kids don't really have a choice but to at least put up with being out in nature often as they have been forced to since they were infants really.  I think we took each of them camping before they were one.  Though I must admit it is much nicer to camp with older kids than it was with toddlers.  I think being outdoors so much has given them an appreciation for it and a desire to be there.  My son is hard wired to need it so his sisters would have to put up with it one way or another.  Thankful they like it as much and can be found holding the turtles, frogs and yes even snakes.  They still hold out from spiders and bugs though - there is some girly girl in them.

During the school year I remind myself every once in awhile to throw everyone in the car and just get outside and suddenly we are all a bit nicer to each other.  The great outdoors is a wonderful place to get a bit of space and breathing room from each other even if we are all still in the same general area and in view of each other, it still feels freeing and spacious in a way being in the house simply does not.

I know our nature walks, our nearby pond, arboretum and nature center will be a large part of my memories of their childhood when they grow up and move out.  I hope it leaves positive impressions in their minds as well.  Of course as I write this they are indoors playing Band Hero on Wii and singing together.  I can live with both of those things being part of their childhood memories.  Wii has its place in our home too.

May 12, 2010

Volume of Homeschooling

As I type this I am overwhelmed by the loud volume in my home school.  When we began our journey I envisioned reading quietly together on the couch or sitting around a table working on books.  I knew we would do field trips and hands on projects and I was all for non traditional school experiences which I expected to have varying volumes.  What I did not expect is the cacophony of sounds that would fill our day.

I did not expect the continual interruptions of each other and the delicate dance we do of who I teach when and working on independent subjects while I am working with another child.  I did not expect the kids to yell over each other to be heard.  I did not expect one to cover her eyes and yell "You are too loud, my ears are sensitive" and go running off into her room.  I did not expect that for mother's day I would ask for and actually want a pair of earplugs and one of my favorite possessions would be a pair of noise reducing headphones.  This gets filed in the unexpected moments of homeschooling.

It is not that I have no control over my kids or they can not observe silence, it is just that it is rare and nearly impossible to attain for any length of time while actually schooling my children.  We have found benefit at this time of year to splitting up into seperate rooms and enforced outdoor times.  Returning to the days of reminding my kids of the difference between an indoor voice and an outdoor one, like when they were toddlers.

At the end of the day I have found the sound of silence or of my favorite music to be what I crave the most.  As I sit down to read my book and not answer anyone's questions, teach anyone anything or just answer to the word mom one more moment of my day, I am thankful for the moments away from the loudness of school.

May 4, 2010

Ready to Be Done

It is now May and I am very ready to be done.  The kids are as well and this year for the first time ever in our homeschooling we will not be finished up during the first two weeks of May.  We simply took too much time in the beginning and middle off.  We have neighbors who decided to homeschool this year and we did year round sports for the first time as well as having three full time students for the first time.  So we will continue through the month of May.  We are down to half days so it is not so bad but we are all ready to be done, which makes focus a problem for everyone involved.  I think everyone is a bit crabby with each other too and ready to be outside more.

We have tried a few days of outdoor schooling but sometimes it is harder to focus and keep going as we are easily distracted by all the interesting things going on in nature all around us.  These next few weeks will be challenging for us all but the promise of freedom to come in just a few more weeks will keep us all on task.  I know there is a light at the end of the tunnel but right about now I am not feeling or seeing it.

In just a few months I will be longing for the order and structure that school brings our days and lives.  Today however I am longing for a day where I don't feel the desire to duct tape my kids to their seats so I might hold their attention for more than a few moments at a time and we could just buckle down and finish off these lessons and books.  Come on summer you are almost here.