Saturday, January 25, 2014

Week Ending 26 January 2014

 She's been in a low-tide phase for several months now (lots of learning but of the unstructured variety, and we do a mix of both structured and unstructured here) and the weather this week was meant to be cool and wet. So Miss 13 decided the time was right to ease back into some more structured learning. She began with Latin, Math and Literature this week. So far all is going smoothly. Well, except for the beginning of literature. I happened across this little animated video series on the BBC School Radio site and thought it would be a good introduction to The Tempest. And it was. Except for the fact that the site and our computer experienced communication difficulties so it took several attempts and more than couple of hours before we completed the series of clips that should have only taken 30 minutes! Argh. Still, once we (meaning Mr 16) sorted the technical issues it was a  fun little watch .We followed it up by reading a story version aloud - from Charles and Mary Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare.  I actually prefer Leon Garfield's Shakespeare Stories, but couldn't get my hands on the right volume (it used to be in our library system but sadly no longer seems to be). We now have a great overview of the characters, basic plots etc and we're ready to tackle the original. I've ordered a copy from the Oxford School Shakespeare Series and I'm hoping it arrives really soon.

There was still lots of time left for unstructured/interest led- learning. We spent some time in the garden on one of the drier days pulling out the plants that had failed to grow (hasn't been a good summer gardening wise - not enough consecutive warm days), then drove to the garden centre for some more seedlings to plants in their stead. Very little was available but we did get some more basil, lettuce, spinach, bok choy  and coriander - not to mention extra swan plants to keep the Monarch caterpillars going. The one thing that has been growing well in  the garden is zucchini. This week's menu has included zucchini and pea risotto, zucchini mint salad, zucchini and mussel fritters, grilled zucchini, zucchini luncheon slice, a zucchini and corn toss, and savoury tomato and zucchini stir-fry. I think the family are about to ban me from going outside to harvest any more of it!
Scrabble is Miss 13's game of choice at the moment and we've played several games each day, often experimenting with different rules including allowing French and Latin words. We also revived a  project we started last year then sort of forgot about. Nothing like an approaching deadline to focus the attention! The  Christmas special for Downton Abbey aired here this week . It provided  plenty of scope for interesting discussions on class, history, foreshadowing, scriptwriting reading and character development among other topics. Miss 13 spent some time in the kitchen. The resulting lemon meringue ice cream  was delicious but not exactly healthy! We  spent a day at the World Busker's Festival . The street performers were mainly on stages in the park since we have a shortage of street venues that aren't affected by demolition and/or construction at the moment! Miss 13 especially enjoyed acrobatic acts like this  (this segment was actually filmed right here last year) and this. There's also been plenty of reading. Somehow Miss 13 has finished Mine For Keeps, Ties that Bind, Ties that Break, The Devil's Arithmetic and Letters from Rifka this week, as well as reading more sections from a couple of bird books she is plugging away at. I finally finished A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki which was challenging in places - and I'm still not sure I got all the quantum physics that was referenced!

And of course there's been birding. One day we explored a river mouth we'd never visited before.The drizzle didn't exactly help with visibility but we did see plenty of Spotted Shags - first time for them this year. We also took part in a national survey of the Australasian Crested Grebe, counting numbers of adults, juveniles and chicks and mapping nesting sites. It was really windy at the lake we were surveying and Miss 13 struggled to hold her scope steady enough to see through. At one stage I thought she was in danger of blowing into the lake, the wind was so strong! Still we saw a dozen Grebe - not bad when there are thought to be only 600 or so in the country and we are on the edge of their range. We also got our first ever sighting of a Gull-Billed Tern. Glad we had some expert birders with us since we wouldn't have been sure of the identification by ourselves.
A Crested Grebe from last year - too windy for photos this time!
As for Mr 16,  he spent a day as an abseiling instructor (it would have been two but weather intervened) , had a 24 computer gaming session (as part of a publicity drive for his scouting unit),  got in plenty of driving practice, has been busy with lots of administrative stuff for scouting including arranging his six-month service project, and attended an open day at the local polytechnic, hopefully getting some inspiration for the future. While he might be happy to stay in the low-tide forever I've decided he needs a little push into more structured pursuits as well starting this coming week.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Week ending 19 January 2014

Miss 13 and I decided to begin compiling a year list for our birding this year - basically a list of each species we spot during the year. To kick start the project we made three trips to different locations to give ourselves the best chance of spotting most of the common species we're likely to see around these parts. As is typical there were some highlights (seven Royal Spoonbills roosting on the tops of some tall trees- we've only seen them on the ground before, long close up views of both California Quail and Fantails going about their lives, a nest of large Welcome Swallow chicks being constantly fed by their parents) and some frustrations (the herons not being in their usual areas, and thinking we'd seen a Whimbrel, a bird we've spent all spring and summer trying to hunt down, but not being able to get a good enough view to confirm it). Still I always enjoy getting out and we've got at least one trip lined up this week which will hopefully let us to add to our yearly tally.

Trampolining started back for the year. With one extra sessions and all new days and times I'm struggling to get my head around things. At least I haven't forgotten to collect her ...yet! I'm hoping Mr 16's cricket stays the same as last year, which will mean their practices won't clash. I'll be chauffeuring every day but I think that's better than trying to be in two different places at the same time!

We've spent plenty of time observing Monarch butterflies. We think we've noticed a lot more than normal and our swan plants, that the caterpillars feed on, were covered with caterpillars. They've totally stripped all the plants bare now. The larger caterpillars have turned into chrysalises and the smaller ones are trying to feed on the alternative food we've put our or have crawled off, no doubt looking for other swan plants in the neighbourhood.

Mr 16 spent the weekend tramping - something he enjoys and plans to do more of this year. His group had planned to stop in at the  hot pools on their way was not to be attractive after all!

Before he left he finally made a decision about which physics programme to work with this year so we've been able to flesh out his year a little. He'll continue with Saxon for maths (Saxon 2 this year). He likes their approach - straightforward, no frills, and it allows him to teach himself- just coming to me on the odd occasion when he strikes a problem. For physics he's gone with Louis Bloomfield's How Things Work. I think he'll enjoy the real world focus of this programme and I was delighted to discover a six-week Coursera course based on the first couple of chapters of this book has just started. I wanted to introduce Mr 16 to Coursera this year so the timing of this course is perfect. He's keen to continue with Economics, at this stage  via a book written by one of dh's colleagues. It's got a practical New Zealand focus. Later in the year he may pick up a Coursera course on game theory, one area of Economics he seems to especially enjoy. He's opted to pick up German again, a language he dabbled with a few years ago. We'll quickly review the video course that we used earlier, add in Memirse and Duolingo then raid the local College of Education library for textbooks and teacher's guides if he wants to go there. Dh did some German in school so I'm hoping he can help out if needed. Mr 16 be doing Big History along with Miss 13 - not sure how much will be together and how much will be individual work but I'm hoping they can find some benefits in working together. At least for some of the time he'll be doing some literature - probably just picking and choosing from a list of suggested works and then discussing them with me and maybe writing a paper or two. He wants to do another year of Grammar using Stewart English ( it was a big surprise to me when I saw this on the list of things he wanted to do this year but I'm not about to say no). Finally, our local polytechnic offers various computing courses (for free!) and he plans to enrol in some of those. I'm sure there will be some interesting time management challenges in here as he juggles this workload with his Scouting commitments, cricket games and practices plus work if he can find a suitable part-time job.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Week ending 12 January 2014

This week has been dominated by post- Scout Jamboree recovery. On Monday night Miss 13 and dh arrived home looking totally exhausted. Mr 16 arrived back the following day looking tired but not as exhausted as the other two. The next two days were spent quietly as I caught upon laundry and they caught up on sleep. We were also treated to plenty of Jamboree tales and photos, plus there were the results of badge trading to share and compare.

White water rafting was the favourite activity by far. Sadly no photos of them on the actual rapids though!

Other activities involved the traditional - erecting the gateway to the campsite, dishes and team building, plus some more unusual - demolishing old cars with sledgehammers!

Shooting, axe work (Miss 13 even won an award for her axe wielding skills!), campfires with a flint, pioneer skills and more team building.

Some of the 100+ badges Miss 13 has to sew on her blanket. Funnily enough many of the ones she traded for feature birds!

Sadly Miss 13 then came down with the vomiting bug her two tent mates had during Jamboree. Luckily she wasn't badly affected but it did mean another couple of quiet days while she recovered. On the positive side it gave me plenty of free time to read. I enjoyed Ann Patchett's State of Wonder but really enjoyed Wiley Cash's Land More Kind than Home and am looking forward to the release of his next novel, This Dark Road to Mercy, at the end of the month.

Once Miss 13 was feeling better we talked about plans for this year's homeschooling. I've tried to keep things simple and just focus on the basics so there is plenty of time left for interest-led learning as it arises. We'll continue with Saxon (Algebra 1/2) for maths - she hasn't found anything she prefers and we have this already. We've accepted the fact that not everybody is going to love everything but that some subjects need to be got through regardless. Sadly maths seems to fall into that category for Miss 13. Right now she's hoping to pursue ornithology as a career so we're leaving plenty of time to pursue interest-led learning in this area. We've also decided to  complete R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Biology (Level 2) to give her a thorough grounding at late middle/early high school level, while still allowing time for three more years of science at the high school level, which will be important if she decides to study science at university level. She's willing to give Big History a try (it is hard to get a feel for it just by browsing the site so we'll  give it a go and see how we find it) and wants to continue with Latin (Latin Primer 3 this  year) and French (we'll continue with So You Really Want to Learn French level 1, supplemented by Duolingo and Memrise). We'll fit in a few literature units during the year starting with Shakespeare's The Tempest, since a local theatre company will put on an outdoor production  next month. I managed to resist the lure of a new writing programme and a grammar programme since Miss 13 doesn't actually need either of them. We'll do plenty of writing via science, history and literature and I'll just provide instruction and guidance as needed. I'm also sure we'll do some artist studies (Modigliani and Audubon will probably be first up) and hopefully some Composer studies or other type of music appreciation as well. I'm hoping this plan will provide us with the right mix of structure and freedom - if not we'll adjust as we go. Miss 13 was pretty happy (not as happy as she would have been had maths not been included on the plan mind you) and spent a few happy hours gathering her books and supplies, decorating and organising her binders etc. Mr 16 hasn't finalised his curriculum decisions yet; hopefully this coming week.

The other highlight of our week was birding. It's ages since we've gone and Miss 13 hadn't yet tried out her new binoculars. So we spent this afternoon at a couple of wetlands and a small part of the estuary. While we didn't spot as many species as we'd  hoped we had a great walk, enjoyed what we did see, especially the Welcome Swallow chicks and the juvenile Pukekos, and gave the binoculars a thorough workout. Sadly no photos, since Mr 16's camera which we normally borrow is currently in for repairs.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Week Ending 5 January 2014

It's been a strange week. With half the family away  and the older kids that were here being totally self-sufficient and busy with their own stuff  I got a glimpse of what my post-homeschooling future (as little four years away - gulp) might be like. I'll certainly need to find find something meaningful to fill up the big hole in my life that's for sure. The freedom of this week has been great but in the long term I know I'd get totally bored.

I've spent plenty of time reading (finished Marisa de los Santos's Love Walked In and Elizabeth Gilbert's The Signature of All Things plus read plenty of magazines and all the posts on a new-to-me blog) and gardening (once the rain stopped there was a lot of weeding to be done!). I deep cleaned my bedroom and also purged all my old recipe magazines (I have a bad habit of collecting them so it was past time to rip out those recipes I might realistically make and recycle the magazines - it was also time to resolve to try at least one new recipe per week so my box of "recipes to try"doesn't burst at the seams!). I spent a lot of time in the kitchen  preparing for the hot summer temperatures I hope are coming ( ginger beer, redcurrant cordial, mango-orange ice-blocks and  raspberry lemonade ice-blocks are all ready to go), not to mention making several homemade cleaners.I walked every day - something I used to do but for reason I got out of the habit. I also spent a lot of time of time thinking (much easier to do when it is quiet!), especially about how our family needs to change to accommodate the fact that we no longer have any children - they're all teens or young adults now. Mr 21 is even hoping to move out in the next couple of months - assuming he can find something which given our post-earthquake housing shortage will be very difficult. That'll be another big change for us to adapt to.

I also spent a lot of productive time planning for the coming homeschooling year. I spent one morning digging into the Big History Project and the associated course. I've got a PhD in history myself and this approach really appeals to me. I'm pretty sure Mr 16 will enjoy it since he's big picture kind of guy. It will also have him writing fewer essays than last year's history course. One of his comments in our year end chat was that he felt he could have produced better quality if he hadn't had to churn out so much quantity when it came to written work, especially essays.It'll be interesting to see if he is right.  I'm not sure how Miss 13 will feel about Big History. I think she will regard the first sections as too "sciency" and I know she'd prefer more of a focus on how people lived their lives. However, I'd like them to work on this at the same time, if not necessarily together, so I'm still mulling over how to get her on board. If she's not keen I've got other ideas for Plan B.

I also narrowed down a list of possibilities for Mr 16 for science next year. For some reason science has always been the subject that has caused us most difficulty and I've never found anything that I've been 100% happy with, let alone anything that would also work for the next kid in line. Still I've got three or four possibilities that I think will work for Mr 16 so once he's home he can have a look and make his pick. Hopefully it works out better than last year's choice which he ended up hating and apparently not learning anything from - but he didn't tell me this until the year was over. Argh!

I gave our printer a good workout, printing out many of the bird ideas I have pinned, bookmarked and filed away for Miss 13. Although she knew about them I think it was a case of out of sight, out of mind. My thinking is that if she has a hard copy of everything in one place it'll be easier for her to develop her birding knowledge and to work more independently.

Speaking of birds I decided to recognise Miss 13's work this past year on her high school transcript. Here it is really only the final three years of high school (generally ages 15+) that "count" in terms of university admission and the like. With my three older kids I began keeping a transcript the year they would have entered high school  (Year 9) but only recorded the work that I felt was equivalent to that which would be done in school Years 11, 12 and 13. Mr 21 was a science/maths whizz so in Year 9 his maths and science was recorded but not his language arts. Miss 13 would only be entering  high school this month so I haven't yet started a transcript for her. But when I was updating Mr 16's  I got to thinking, possibly inspired by this post by Jessica over at Teachable Moments, which has been rattling around in my brain ever since I first read it. Miss 13 has  put plenty of hours into birding both in the field and through more traditional reading, writing and research activities. And I feel the level of work she's produced meets or exceeds that required in Year 11 Science. So her transcript now includes a credit for Ornithology 1. If her interest in birds continues, I've bookmarked Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Home Study Course in Bird Biology for 2015 or 2016. That will count as Ornithology 2. Certainly not typical courses for high school here - but  one of the things I love about home schooling is the chance to craft a unique education.

Luckily this week has been full of down time for me. With Dh and Miss 13 arriving on Monday and Mr 16 coming back on Tuesday next week is going to be full of airport pickups and laundry!.