August 16, 2014

More Getting Ready

After paying a bunch of fines at the Weber County Library, I officially decided I was only using the Davis System.  I can't afford to use the Weber.  That decided, I ordered a bazillion books a few days ago.  Timothy is going to pick them up for me on Monday.  Then I can kick getting ready into high gear!

Although I am painfully slow in the "achieve something" department these days, I do feel quite good about a few to-dos being checked off my list.  The hardest job I finished was going through all the hand-me-down clothes and making every child try on all their clothes.  During the process I kept a scribbler handy to write down each child's needs going into the fall season.  At the end I felt all teary because of the tender mercies of the Lord.  We need almost nothing for the kids compared to what I thought we would need.  There were clothes in the hand-me-down boxes that I don't even remember obtaining but they fit the kids who need them.  It was miraculous.

We told the kids they were getting a new house and new sister for Christmas, but I had some creative present ideas come to me and today at DI I found one of the things I needed for only $6.00.  We're giving the kids dress-up clothes and I got most of them free, including a Matrix looking black coat for Cowen, but I needed something cool for Eli.  In the women's section I found a black leather coat that is perfect.  I expected it to be at least $25 and did an internal happy dance when I saw the sticker!  DI, thank you!!  No, my children have no idea what Matrix is.  Neither do I, but I think my kids will instantly think "spy" when they see the coats, so we're building on that concept.

The day after sorting clothes, I spent six hours (without chocolate!!!!!!!!!) organizing my bedroom/office.  It was brutal and I hated every minute of it but it had to be done and it looks so much better now!  I'm ready to stock my bookshelf with this year's library books and homeschool helps.

Yesterday we went through the kids' homeschool boxes (they no longer have cubbies so we improvised).  We made new cover sheets for their binders with the correct grade (I have a sixth grader this year--how did that happen????) and subjects being studied.  Then I built interest in chemistry and the Renaissance/early modern subjects by having the kids pick pictures about those topics to put on their cover sheets.  We go through this process every year and the kids love it.  We even made Harriet a a binder this year so she wouldn't feel left out.  After looking at the cool images that come up when you search for "chemistry" the children have been deciding what things they are going to learn to make during the coming year.  They feel pretty confident they can make a light-saber or two.  Hmm.

Although there is much left to be done, I feel like progress has been made.  Now my pears just need to be ready to bottle on Monday so I can thoroughly enjoy my two day break with my hubby that I'm taking.  We wanted to fit in a day or two away before the new baby arrived so when my SIL offered to watch the kids we jumped on it.  Two days without kids!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I can't wait.

Until then . . . I keep feeling my pears (I have three boxes) and praying that they ripen enough for me to bottle before the get-away.

How are your preparations coming along?

August 13, 2014

Getting Ready for the New Year

Getting ready for the new school year has been especially difficult this year for several reasons.  One) I hate the library system in Weber County and can't decide whether or not to order my books from Davis and plan on driving once a month to Clearfield, or toughen up and really transition to using a Weber County location.  This dilemma has resulted in my not requesting any books to prepare for the first few units of the new year and so I am much farther behind than normal at this stage.  

Two) I'm still trying to organize the new house.  While this is mostly done, it still feels like I can't cope with anything because I have stacks of books on my desk and boxes around my room, and my husband's piles of antiquated technology that he doesn't use but won't get rid of rounding out the disaster that is my bedroom/office.  I really can't handle clutter--it makes me feel like I am drowning.  

Three) I don't know how to tackle the Renaissance.  I know I want to do a lot with art (but I know nothing about art) and famous people like Leonardo (obviously) but I don't know much about anyone besides Leonardo.  I haven't found any good book lists to put together Miriam's, Cowen's, and Emeline's school reading lists, and I don't know about many good historical fiction books from my own personal collection or personal reading.  Because I'm not sure how to tackle the time period and because I don't have one hundred library books on the subject to browse through, I find it hard to progress to putting together an actual plan of study.

Four) I'm pregnant.  This is really the crux of the problem.  We found out we're having a girl (yay) and I'm thrilled about her and finishing our family and all that good stuff, but I really struggle when I'm pregnant.  I mostly just want to stay in bed and pretend I don't have children.  Accomplishing anything is a huge ordeal.  Thus, I'm waaaaaayyyyy behind.  

Now, you sweet people will tell me that the baby is the lesson and it is fine if we don't do much school.  I agree with you.  However, it is also true that children are happier with a schedule and limited free time.  Another truth is that I feel crummy unless I'm accomplishing something.  Type A and all that.  So for everyone's emotional health, I really do need to force myself to continue moving forward with all my homeschooling, children, and church responsibilities.  

Some of the worst parts of my to-do list have been checked off.  Two days ago I went through every stitch of clothing in the house (excepting the adult sizes) including all the hand-me-down boxes and created a master list of what we need for children this fall.  I hate doing that job, but God is merciful and my list of what we need is much, much shorter than I anticipated.  

I also did all the laundry and made the kids do another deep cleaning of the downstairs.  (One huge drawback to a larger home is that the kids can spread out and wreak more havoc in more places without my noticing.)  I think I even made dinner . . . nope, camping leftovers, but it was tasty.

Yesterday I did make dinner, thank you very much.  I also created a new chore chart and school schedule.  That was important.  Last year I implemented an idea I got from Latter-day Homeschooling and assigned everyone the same chores for a year.  It worked beautifully for us.  It has been a year and a house change and a new chore chart was desperately needed.  Here's what our chart looks like:

2014-2015 School Year Chore Chart

Keep bedroom clean every day
Morning chore: make breakfast Monday-Wednesday and also Friday
Evening chore: Help Eli clean and tidy the downstairs, mop steps by side door
Dish night: Friday
Supper Prep night: Monday

Saturday: vacuum downstairs, mop downstairs, downstairs bathroom, kitchen cupboards up, lawn

Keep bedroom clean every day
Morning chore: tidy bathrooms
Evening chore: dog poo, feed dogs
Dish night: Tuesday
Supper Prep night: Wednesday

Saturday: upstairs bathroom, kitchen cupboards down, lawn

Keep bedroom clean every day
Morning chore: tidy and vacuum upstairs
Evening chore: tidy upstairs
Dish night: Wednesday
Supper Prep: Tuesday

Saturday: dust and vacuum upstairs, water plant, mop dining room

Keep bedroom clean every day
Morning chore: feed dogs, tidy downstairs
Evening chore: tidy downstairs
Supper Prep: Thursday

Saturday: dust and tidy downstairs, scrub kitchen sink

If you'll notice, Miriam was assigned cooking breakfast for the year.  That will hopefully solve a pressing school problem: my not taking time to help Cowen and Emeline with their piano practice as much as I should.  With this new schedule, I can help with piano practicing while breakfast is being made, then Miriam can practice while the rest of us do the breakfast dishes and our most important subject (piano) will be done by 10:00 am and I will feel like we accomplished great things and feel more motivated to keep going.  Awesome.

Harriet does do chores, but it is mostly helping pick up books and toys and keeping her room clean.  I might hang up a chore chart with pockets for her to help her remember to brush her teeth and make her bed--things like that.  She'd like that.

Our school schedule isn't very different from last year except for one major change--all three of my oldest kids will be working on language arts.  We've done a little spelling and handwriting in the past, but I don't start actual grammar/writing kinds of things until 3rd grade.  I didn't start Cowen in LA last year because I knew it would be easier to wait and teach him and Emeline at the same time.  So, the schedule needed a LA slot.  I'll tell you more about my LA plans in a different, less lengthy, post, but I'm pretty excited about it.

Here's Tuesday of our schedule.  If my hubby was here he could show me how to make an excel document look nice but I'm just going to cut and paste and hope for the best.

If any of you have any brilliant Renaissance ideas--lay them on me.  I hope your preparations are going much more smoothly than mine!!

Mom Miriam Cowen Emeline Eli
7:00 AM          
7:30 AM bath/dress/hair bath/dress/hair bath/dress/hair bath/dress/hair bath/dress/hair
8:00 AM :piano make breakfast :piano :computer work chores
8:30 AM :piano make breakfast :computer work :piano chores
9:00 AM breakfast breakfast breakfast breakfast breakfast
9:30 AM chores :piano chores chores chores
10:00 AM :Cowen read :piano :read :school reading play
10:30 AM :Eli read :computer work :Walk with Wilson :Walk with Wilson :read
11:00 AM :Eli piano :Spanish/French play play :piano/computer
11:30 AM :grammar/LA :LA :LA :LA play
12:00 PM :history/science :history/science :history/science :history/science :history/science
12:30 PM :history/science :history/science :history/science :history/science :history/science
1:00 PM lunch lunch lunch lunch lunch
1:30 PM devotional devotional devotional devotional devotional
2:00 PM :scriptures :scriptures :scriptures :scriptures :scriptures
2:30 PM :math :math :math play play
3:00 PM :math play play :math :math
3:30 PM   play play play play
4:00 PM   play play play play
4:30 PM   play Scouts play play
5:00 PM   Activity Days Scouts play play
5:30 PM dinner prep Activity Days play dinner prep play
6:00 PM dinner prep chores chore dinner prep chores
6:30 PM supper supper supper supper supper
7:00 PM   bed prep Dishes bed prep bed prep
7:30 PM bed prep :school reading bed bed bed
8:00 PM   read in bed bed bed bed
8:30 PM   bed bed bed bed

July 29, 2014

I'm actively starting to hate the Weber County Library System

I know, I know--you should never hate libraries, but the policies are so punitive and make it so costly to use the library that I find my blood pressure rise every time I have to interact in any way with the library system.  Oh, Davis County Library System, I miss you so!

First--Davis lets you renew books after they are overdue, Weber does not

Davis renewal period is two weeks and Weber is one week from the day you renew.  If you are on top of things and renew early than you only get an extra few days.  If you wait until the day the books are due to get the full week, you run the risk of forgetting and not being able to renew at all (no renewals after the books are overdue).

Davis doesn't make you have a pin number.

Davis you can use your card until you have $14.00 in fines (at least, that is the amount I need to pay on the card that is locked).  Weber it is $4.00.  Are you kidding me?

Davis you can put books on hold even if you have outstanding fines.  Not so, Weber.

Davis still has librarians check your books out and have outside drop-off boxes at all their locations.  The two Weber locations I have tried you have to check out your own materials (which is fine if you are there by yourself but not if you are there with six children) and the outside drop off boxes are only available after hours.

At one location I tried in the Weber County system you have to check in your own books one at a time on a little conveyor belt.  What do you think my six children were doing while I checked in 30 books one at a time?  I don't know--I couldn't watch them, I was checking in books!

One Weber location has the children's nonfiction mixed in with the adult nonfiction.  I understand that space is limited in that location, but that's a pretty anti-boy thing to do.  Most boys prefer non-fiction, and you should encourage boys to read every single way possible.  Also, as a parent, how am I supposed to patrol my offspring if the children's materials are not all in one location?

Weber you can't renew books if you have any outstanding fines.  What????????????????

I've been getting more and more frustrated but today when I sat down to renew some books and put some others on hold and I couldn't, my pregnancy hormones exploded and I had a bit of a melt down.  I recognize that for most normal, childless people, these regulations and organization are not a big deal.  I usually have about 60 library books at my house at all times.  My kids get to pick out three each (theoretically, if they find something awesome I let them get more) so that is 20 right there.  Then I usually have science books for our science unit (20 + 20), and then the history books for my history unit (20 + 20 + 20).  I don't mind the occasional fine for legitimate things, but I'm finding it really discouraging trying to navigate the Weber County System.

I wanted to put some books on hold today and then make a big trip to the library in a few days, but I can't because I can't renew the books because of fines and I can't put any on hold.  So that means two trips to the library this week.  I can't afford the gas, I can't afford the time, I can't afford the assault to my sanity of taking my children to the library that often.  And thus, my hating rant.

Does anyone else have these issues or are you all going to tell me to be more responsible and not rack up $4.00 in fines in the first place?

July 28, 2014

Dissecting--Life Science at Its Most Hands-on

I had this really awesome post planned, all about dissecting a cow eye and the books we read and the youtube videos we watched.  It was going to be thorough and helpful and worth reading.

Sadly, due to our move we have to use a new library system and it feels very much like I can only have the books for approximately three minutes before the books are overdue.  Also sad is that you can't renew the books once they are overdue, like our last library system, and the renewals are for one week from the day you renew.  If you renew early then you only get the books an extra day or so.  If you try to wait and renew on the day they are due, you forget and can't renew them and have to make frantic trips to the library so the fees don't get too outrageous because if you owe more than $4.00 you can no longer check out books.  What???!!!  My frustration is high.

The point is that I had to return the books to the library in haste and I failed to write down what we read.  None of the books were so good that I'm willing to search through online catalogs trying to figure out what they were.  We read them, the children liked them.  

After showing you the books we read, I was going to post the youtube cow eye dissection tutorial that we watched.  I just spent 15 minutes on youtube and couldn't find it.  There are lots of options.  Youtube knows how to do everything.  

To review, we read three books about eyes and how they work.  Then we watched a youtube tutorial on how to do a cow eye dissection.  Then we dissected a cow eye.  Sweet.

 The kids take the gloves very, very seriously.
 Eli has to have a buddy because I draw the line at giving a five year old a scalpel.
 First they cut away the excess fat.
 Eyes were cool.  Brains . . . a little boring.

 Miriam keeps pretending that she can't possibly dissect because it makes her "feel sick."  I say, "Fine" and the rest of the kids and I proceed.  Then Miriam wanders by about 50 times before giving in to her insatiable curiosity and joins us.
 Emeline loves dissecting.  She is very serious and methodical.

So far we've dissected a sheep heart, a cow brain, a cow eye, a crayfish, and a grasshopper.  After we started dissections all my children announced they were going to be scientists (except Miriam who stated, quite rightly, that private investigators have to use a lot of science so she will still be an actress and private investigator).

We watched a Bill Nye episode on hearts and another on brains on youtube.  The kids always think that is awesome.  TV for school!

Here is one of the youtube videos we watched about dissecting a heart.  I am sharing it because it was by far the most memorable dissection video of the several we watched.

We ordered all of our dissecting apparatus online at Home Science Tools.

We are wrapping up life science this next week and finishing up medieval history in August.  Then we'll be ready to jump into chemistry and the Renaissance/Early Modern time period in September when we officially start the next school year.  Any ideas are welcome.  I ordered Ellen McHenry's The Elements book as our chemistry spine since it was recommended on so many blogs.  I don't know enough about chemistry to write my own curriculum.  We'll see whether or not I can actually follow a curriculum--it has been so long since I tried!

Come September, I'll have four children officially enrolled in Frolic and Farce Homeschool.  Where is the time going?

Speaking of time flying by--I have my 20 week ultrasound on August 7th.  I'm halfway to having my 7th (and last) baby.  Remember when Miriam started kindergarten and I started this blog?? I don't remember it either!  Maybe the formaldehyde is affecting my brain.  :)

July 22, 2014

Book Review for Parents: Free to Learn by Peter Gray

I just finished reading Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and better Students for Life by Peter Gray and I have some thoughts.

First, everyone should read this--and I mean everyone.  Not so much because everyone should homeschool or unschool or even send their children to a "unschool-school" but because it helps provide a different vision of our schools than the media currently espouses wherein our children need to go to school younger and work more intensely to be more competitive.  While I am still on the fence about a lot of things Gray said, I am adamantly opposed to the politician/media model that is ruining our education system currently and stressing out our children.

Second, I think Gray's overall premise is correct: children learn better when they are having fun.  I disagree with Gray's conclusion that school inhibits all fun and learning.  I had a lot of fun in public school.  I read a lot of great books, assigned and unassigned. I had a lot of great friends and some excellent teachers.  I had three recesses, gym, art, and music.  I was good at school so I rarely felt much stress or pressure.  I may be the exception, but I think public school works just fine for a lot of kids.

Gray spends a lot of time in this book examining hunter-gather societies and how children are reared within those communities.  He then then takes certain characteristics of those child-rearing approaches and tries to apply them to our current first world society.  I didn't think it worked very well.

Then Gray moves on to talking about the importance of self-directed, adult-free play.  This is the section of the book that is easiest to buy into.  Gray defines play as: 1) self-chosen and self-directed, 2) motivated by means more than ends, 3) guided by mental rules, 4) imaginative, 5) conducted in an alert, active, but non-stressed frame of mind.  Gray then proceeds to explain how many people play while working because their work meets all the criteria of play.  I think my husband feels this way about his work as a computer programmer.  My hubby has often described his work as "spending all day solving really cool puzzles."  When my hubby was an accountant he dreaded going to work every day and he was not happy.  Accounting was never play for him.

I saw a lot of myself as a homeschool mom in this section of the book.  My favorite part of the day is when we are working on school.  I chose to homeschool my children and continue to choose to do so every day.  It is very much a creative outlet for me.  I love picking the books to read, reading to my children, putting together curriculum, enjoying my children's enjoyment of everything we do for school.  Sometimes my kids get annoyed about practicing piano, or computation practice, but overall the school part of our days are pretty awesome.  I wouldn't hesitate to call it play.  (Getting my children to do the chores around the house is another matter entirely.)  I sometimes worry a little bit that the reason I don't want to put my children in school is because I get so much out of homeschooling.  On the other hand, all of my children adamantly refuse to attend public school so I can't feel too guilty about it.

After he defines play, Gray explains why play is so valuable for children.  The man was clearly preaching to the choir (me).  He said everything I've ever thought about children needing more time away from adults to make their own decisions and take their own risks.  He also talked about the value of multi-age play and the value of "dangerous" play.  I liked that he has the science degrees to make what he says sound more legitimate than my ravings on these topics.  :)

Where are you on the free-range parenting vs. tiger mom parenting scale??  I'm so curious about other homeschoolers' perspectives on these topics.

So, overall, I thought his ideas were pretty awesome and inspiring.  The drawback, as I see it, is his absolute conviction that learning should be entirely self-led.  He is a huge fan of unschooling. His son attended Sudbury--a school model that is very like unschooling, only with lots of kids together in the same building.

I've thought about unschooling a lot over my five years of homeschooling.  When I first started homeschooling, I tended to worry a lot more about getting things done.  However, I've never thought children should be studying academics in the early grades so my approach to homeschool was a tad more flexible than many newbie homeschoolers.  As Gray correctly pointed out on his blog, most homeschoolers start out fairly rigid and then relax as the years go by and they realize that their children learn all the time, with or without much effort on the part of the parent.  I am far more trusting of my children's basic curiosity then I was at the beginning.

However, I am not an unschooler and am not entirely convinced that unschooling is a good model of schooling in the younger grades.  As a child gets older--say early teens and upwards--they develop more pointed interests.  An unschooling approach, at that point, makes a lot of sense to me.  The older child can create a plan of action to develop those interests and he is old enough to understand why a broad base of knowledge (we'll call it a classical approach or cultural literacy approach) can be helpful. He can also cut out the unhelpful parts of a traditional education (like high school gym) and streamline his learning to best work with other areas of his life.

A younger child doesn't have the life experience and knowledge to know what his interests are.  I know unschoolers would adamantly disagree, and I understand their point of view and freely admit that I might be wrong.  However, I see a lot of value in exposing my children to a more typical classical approach in the younger years to help make therm aware of all the possibilities out there.  Also, I think they should have a familiarity with some general concepts like WWII and atoms.  Sure, if my 16 year old had no interest in history I could see myself not being too worried about it, but only because I'd already have covered history during the elementary and middle school years.  Teenager has been exposed to ideas, is not interested in said ideas at this time, does not have to pursue those ideas.  This works for me.

The child-directed model from birth does not.  How does a seven year old know if he's interested in history or not?  How does a seven year old know if he's interested in chemistry or not?  How does a seven year old even know what chemistry is unless an adult introduces him to the idea?    

Maybe I still don't trust my kids enough, but I feel strongly that my purpose as a homeschooler of young children is to expose my children to a variety of ideas in all subject areas.  When my children have been exposed to many subjects and ideas then they can start to specialize.

Where are you on the unschooling scale?  I would love to know.

Regardless of my disagreeing or, at least, questioning some of Gray's conclusions, I really think the book is a must-read.

Now really, tell me where you are on the unschooling scale.

July 2, 2014

Clay Castles

We're still working on history in fits and starts.  One day we read a bunch of books about castles (none of them were so fantastic that I felt they needed to be mentioned on the blog) and then tried to make castles out of clay.

It was pretty much a flop.

The kids had a lot of fun, however.  I even baked their creations and let them paint the next day.  Yes, you read that right.  I let my children paint.  I'm basically a rock star.

June 30, 2014

Viking Era Historical Fiction Reviews from Miriam

Argh, I am behind AGAIN!  I forgot to post this way back when we finished the Viking Era (800-1000 AD).  Miriam was unwilling to go into great detail about these books, but she did give them star rankings, which I hope is helpful.  

Miriam turned 11 this month (wowsers) and she enjoys books at grade level and significantly higher.

Viking Quest books, including Raiders from the Sea, by Lois Walfrid Johnson.  Miriam: I loved them.  I would give them 10 stars.

(That's a crazy high recommendation.  These were by far her favorite "assigned" books she's read so far this year.)

The Namesake: A Story of King Alfred by C. Walter Hodges.  Miriam: 3 stars; I liked it. 

Black Fox of Lorne by Marguerite de Angeli.  Miriam: I loved it, 5 stars.

Beorn the Proud by Madeleine Polland.  Miriam: I liked it, 4 stars.

The Shipwreck by Jorn Riel.  Miriam: I liked it, 4 stars.

There you have it.  Miriam might be getting the Raiders From the Sea series for Christmas.  Shhhh, don't tell.  :)