Monday, September 8, 2014

First Day of (Un)School 2014

School started for us this past week, on September 1st.

Yes, I know we're unschoolers, and we should be learning year round, not be beholden to any schedule, and all that goodness. But I crave structure, so for my mental well-being, we are still going by a loose interpretation of the school calendar. I plan to use the same school schedule we've been using thus far, which is to school from Sept through November, take off the month of December, and then school January through May. 

This past summer we had a lot of fun. But for me, the fun is more fun when I know there is some structure just round the corner. Actually, not much is changing- I'm just adding in a bit of math and handwriting and the boys are continuing with piano and taekwondo. The difference between this year and the past years is that now I'm prepared to throw out even that little bit of schoolwork if I see it's interfering with the boys' free time or with our relationship. I don't see that happening though.

In their back-to-school gift boxes they each received a Mad Libs Junior book. It has been the best thing ever! They spent the rest of the day filling in all the spaces and reading their stories out loud to each other. In just a few days they filled up the books, so we got some more in time for a long road-trip they'll be taking soon.

We only "do school" three days a week, and this is their checklist. They practice piano and taekwondo every day, but three days a week they have a single sheet of math, handwriting, and cursive to do. They are free to do their work whenever they want, as long as it's done before dinnertime (around 5:30). Tommy is the first to wake up and he generally chooses to do it during breakfast. He's done with his work by 8am! Ben wakes up much later, usually after Tommy has already finished his schoolwork, his breakfast, and his chores. But when he finally does sit down to do his work, he likes to work several days ahead so he can get more days off later. 

For history we listen to Story of the World audio CD when we're in the car and sometimes during meals at home. These books below is what I'll be reading aloud for US history. The books are from the Beautiful Feet Early American History Read-Aloud list, with some extra biographies added in based on what I know the boys will be interested in.

Check out their previous first days:

(2nd grade + K)

(1st grade + Pre-K)


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Lucy is 2!

You seem to have gotten so much older in the last six months since your last update. You are speaking in sentences now, like "Mom, where blankie is?" and "Cow! He eat grass!" and "No, baby, that my water!" At first your sentences were garbled and mashed together (as in "nodonwannit!"), but in the last few weeks they have become very clear.  You say 'please' and 'thank you' which sound like "peas" and "wink you much!". You love to sing and will make up songs and sing them for up to ten minutes at a time. 

You just started to become attached to your blanket (which you call "binky"). Every morning you drag it out of bed and all over the house and demand "binky" when you're tired. 

You're not picky about food, you'll eat pretty much anything I put on your plate. You love cheese, watermelon, blueberries, mac 'n cheese, sweet potatoes and hot dogs (which you call "gok-gok"), and anything that resembles a hot dog.

A new foster baby came to live with us recently. You've been such a great big sister to her. You'll find her pacifier when she's fussy, give her toys to play with, and tickle her to make her laugh. 

You love to sing and dance.
You love pointing out the cows on the hills next to the freeway. ("Cow, mom!")
You love your daddy.
You love jumping on the couch.
You love shoes.
You love playing in water.
You love babies.
You love your big brothers.
You love to help me with whatever I'm doing.
You are such a joy to our family!

Friday, June 20, 2014

10th Anniversary Trip

Our Anniversary is on August 14. Since this year is our 10th anniversary, we decided to take a 4-day trip to celebrate. We ended up going in June instead of August for childcare reasons. God must have been orchestrating everything all along, because a few weeks before our trip we were matched with a baby girl for adoption. We will pick her up two days after we get home.

This trip wasn't about escaping from our kids, or having a wild time. It was about getting to know each other again and reminding ourselves why we fell in love in the first place. By the end of the trip, we had both decided that it was better than our honeymoon had been.

We stayed in Monterey at a hotel right on the water. That was pretty much my only request for this trip - I didn't care where it was so much as I wanted ocean right outside my window! 

We either walked or rode our bikes everywhere we went. We explored all over Monterey and Pacific Grove, found new (to us) coffee shops and book stores, farmers' markets. We went to a few movies, read books on the beach, had long conversations, and ate great food.  It was wonderful to spend such a long time alone together, with the love and familiarity that 10 years brings with it. We felt refreshed and ready to return home to be loving spouses and parents.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Weekend at Point Reyes

We so enjoyed our time at Point Reyes a few months ago that we made plans to come back again. We arrived Friday afternoon and headed straight to the beach. The next day, we hit the beach again and stayed all day long (and we have the sunburns to prove it!) The kids played by themselves. The parents read books and napped. We all played together. Then read our books and napped again. It was a pretty relaxing time.

But more than what we did, is what we didn't do. We didn't have a plan. We didn't have a schedule to keep. There weren't any chores, or nap times or quiet times. At home, life runs well when we have a plan and a schedule. But it's also nice to get away from it once in a while.

On the way home from Point Reyes on Sunday afternoon, we stopped by Berkeley. We had lunch in downtown (and had the most amazing mint chocolate chip ice cream I've ever tasted!). Then we went on to Adventure Playground, which is about an acre full of junk that kids can build with and make their own creations. The boys spent two hours there, and didn't want to leave. While the boys played, Lucy and I hung out at the Marina. 
It was really a wonderful weekend. :)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Homeschooling Wrap-Up, or How I Learned That I'm a Lousy Homeschooler

I just put the finishing touches on our photo book for the 2013-2014 school year. This will be the second book I've made. As I was assembling the photos of the boys on field trips, doing projects, or doing their schoolwork, I was struck by how many of the photos included Lucy. She's right there alongside them in almost everything they did. I love that my children are able to be together all day long and learn beside each other. I hope their relationship with continues to grow strong through the years.

The kids learned a lot this year. They learned about the life cycle of several insects and animals. They learned a lot about ancient history and early American history. Both Tommy & Ben's reading improved greatly. Ben learned how to add and subtract and Tommy learned how to multiply. But I think I'm the one that learned the most. As I look back on the year, I can see how much I grew as a homeschooling mom. In fact, I realized that I'm a lousy homeschooler.

In the beginning of the year, I had great plans for how much the kids would learn. We started off with a very full schedule that included Spanish, typing, geography, art study, crafts, in addition to good 'ol reading, writing, and math. The schedule looked great on paper, but it left very little space for joy and freedom in learning. Instead, I found myself acting more like a drill sergeant than like a loving mother. Some of our struggles were due to the behavioral issues of our oldest. But the strict schedule certainly didn't help. And my attitude when I kept my little people on schedule really didn't help.

So a few months into the school year, I pared down the schedule down to the essential subjects. It helped a bit by giving the boys more time and a bit more freedom. But it still didn't change my dictatorial attitude and my need to rule school time with an iron fist. My relationship with them was suffering and I didn't know how to fix it.

Additionally, I didn't seem to be able to fit in to our schedule basic things like reading aloud. The boys were always so eager to get outside or to get to their Legos that sitting and listening to me read was the last thing they wanted to do. And for me, after a full morning of emotional wrestling, sitting down and reading was the last thing I wanted to do. We didn't have time for nature. We didn't have time for field trips. And if we did, it was always squeezed in after a full morning of lessons. This was definitely not the homeschool experience I envisioned.

Then I picked up a copy of Free to Learn by Peter Gray (via Last Child in the Woods). It was about giving children plenty of freedom and space to pursue their passions, trusting them to make decisions for themselves, and showing interest in and respect for what they want to learn about. This type of homeschooling is sometimes called unschooling, or relaxed homeschooling. I became very intrigued about it and so I read everything I could on the topic. I liked what I read. No, I loved what I read. I knew that this was what my children needed. But also it was what I needed. 

And so in early April, with just two months of school left, I threw away our schedule and cleared out most of our workbooks. I only left math and handwriting on the table, which they only had to do 3-4 times a week. (They didn't have to do a formal reading lesson because they are both at the point of reading independently, which they do throughout the day). It took them all of 15 minutes to complete their assignments in a given day. The rest of the day they were free to do what interested them. Tommy usually used the time to bake something or build something, while Ben usually played with Legos. They spent a lot of time outside. We went for walks. I started reading aloud a lot more often.

It's been almost two months and I can see a big change in our home. I am no longer chained to my schedule of what I feel needs to get done. I have more emotional energy to focus on my relationship with my boys. I'm able to feed their interests and enjoy their passions alongside them. I feel closer to my boys than I have in a very long time. 

I know that there are many other homeschoolers who are able to do 'normal' homeschooling and have a great relationship with their kids. They don't turn into a drill sergeant. They are somehow able to have the patience and energy necessary to keep kids focused and on track. But this past year I've learned that I am not one of those people. 

And so we are on this journey of relaxed homeschooling (or unschooling) for as long as it continues to work for me and my children. You can read about our continuing adventures in unschooling here:

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Monster Jam!

Last Sunday we went to a monster truck rally. That's something in the realm of things I never considered part of my future. But Tommy has been interested in monster trucks ever since he was a baby. He's read every book our library system owns on the topic of monster trucks. So when we found out that a monster truck rally was happening in a nearby town, we figured it was the perfect time to go. 

He was over-the-moon excited. He practically trembled with excitement and happiness at seeing the monster trucks drive around, do jumps, crash cars, and smash into things. It was well worth it to see him so happy!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Last Day of School!

Thursday was our last day of school. We celebrated by going to Jamba Juice. We sipped our smoothies and talked about what fun things we'd like to do during the summer. This is the list the boys came up with: 
- water park
- beach
- point Lobos
- Carmel
- get ice cream
- go see a movie
- Jamba Juice
- Take pictures
- family adventures
- buy a monster truck wheel (???)
- plant a tree
- playdates

Afterwards we went to Target to pick up some summer goodies, like a Slip 'n Slide, some water balloons, and bubbles for the tot.

I'm really looking forward to the summer. I hope we go on lots of family adventures and have a lot of fun together. It's so hard to believe I have a couple of 1st and 3rd graders now!