Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Some Lesser Known Homeschool Resources

Recently I've been doing a lot of purging in preparation for the forthcoming repairs to our house which require us (and all our possessions) to vacate the premises for a month. As I've sorted through the homeschooling material - physical curriculum and work produced by my kids as well as digital material (hey, if you have to purge you might as well be thorough!) - I've come across some lesser known gems. These are things we've enjoyed and benefited from but don't seem to be widely known or commonly mentioned in homeschooling circles, at least not those I've frequented.

Here are a few of our favourites.

1. Journey North Mystery Class - A fabulous (and free)  online project that has students track changes in photoperiod (hours of daylight) to narrow down the latitude and longitude of ten mystery locations. You then receive four additional clues for each place - reference to a famous person who born there or a picture of a native animal for instance. After you've made your guesses and the mystery locations are revealed, one final post gives you a fuller introduction to the location and  the people (frequently a class of school children but sometimes homeschooling families or scientists) who live there. The next Mystery Class project begins on 27 January 2017. If you want to get more of a feel for how it works check out this old post of mine. This one includes a bit of detail about he times we were one of the Mystery Classes.

2. Once Upon a Masterpiece series by Anna Harwell Celenza - These are wonderful living books that provide a fictionalized account (based on known facts) about the creation of particular pieces of music Learn about Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, The Farewell Symphony by Haydn, or Duke Ellington's take on The Nutcracker Suite.  Great for kids, but also a fun, useful introduction for older people (like parents) too. Some editions include a CD of the music which is handy if you don't already have a copy but other editions don't.

3. Young Math series - A series mostly from the 1970s that does a fabulous job of introducing mathematical concepts, often seemingly advanced, to young children. Great fun to read aloud, pausing to try out activities as you go. Sadly these are long out of print but I found some second hand and was able to borrow more from our library. Worth keeping your eye out for any of these books.

4. Friendly Chemistry - Our then ten year old was science mad. His particular bent was chemistry and he was clearly ready for some advanced content. Thick, heavy duty high school or college texts with their small print and expectations of a heavy workload, especially with lots of writing, were not going to work. Luckily I stumbled across Friendly Chemistry. A review I read suggested it was great for the chemistry-phobic high schooler but I suspected the manipulatives, games and other hands-on elements would make it suitable for keen and interested younger students, like my son. And it was. It's many years since I bought it (that ten year old is now a 24 year old with a PhD in Chemistry) and the product has been redesigned significantly so I'm not sure how much resemblance what's sold now bears to what we loved. But if you are looking to introduce high school chemistry concepts to a younger child Friendly Chemistry is at least worth a look.

5. Trivium Mastery - I know many homeschoolers who like the idea of a Classical Education but find they and their kids get burnt out on The Well-Trained Mind approach. Diane Lockman's Trivium Mastery offers a very different approach, focusing on skills rather than subjects in the pre-high school years.  It encourages a more individualized approach which can appear to mean more work for the homeschooling parent  (develop lessons for each child individually rather than just open the recommended book and go). But since you will only be teaching the skills your child needs to learn rather than covering every subject, every year this isn't necessarily true.  I've got some reservations about recommending this one  but if you are happy to take what resonates while ignoring that which doesn't then it could be a welcome alternative to the near monopoly The Well-Trained Mind enjoys in the Classical homeschooling arena.

6. George vs George - Great picture book covering both sides of the American Revolution. Despite being a picture book it is more suited to older elementary and above. This books does a great job of highlighting the British as well as the American side of the conflict, avoiding the "goodies"  vs "baddies" oversimplification.

7. Garlic Press's Discovering Literature Series: Challenging Level - Literature study guides seem to be out-of-favour at the moment what with the abundance of free online resources and the move towards less formal discussions. However if you are after something more formalized that includes vocabulary, comprehension questions, essay and other writing assignments, strategy pages that deliberately teach various literary elements and techniques, background information on the author, a thorough summary of each chapter - perfect for when Mum can't keep pace with the reading and, perhaps most usefully, answers to the questions, then take a look at this series. These are the most comprehensive literature guides I've seen. In fact I advise picking and choosing  what you use from them, since trying to do it all will be too much,  likely to kill any love your child might have felt towards the relevant novel.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Back to the Classics 2016: Challenge Wrap-Up Post

To guide and focus my reading, to challenge myself a little, and to provide a model of lifelong learning to my kids I've participated in several reading challenges this year. One of those was the Back to the Classics Challenge 2016, hosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate.To complete this challenge I had to read one classic in at least six of the twelve categories provided, and then blog about each one. I opted to complete all twelve categories. While I finished reading some time ago, I have only now finally finished blogging about each title. All that's left to do is post this wrap-up post and then I'll be in the draw to win the prize Karen is generously offering.

Without further ado here's what I read for each category and my overall assessment. Just click on the category to go to the full review.

1.  A 19th Century Classic  - I ended up appreciating Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities but initially struggled with the fact it was less character focused than some of his novels I'd previously read.
2.  A 20th Century Classic - Mrs Dalloway by Victoria Wolf was a little confusing due to it's stream of consciousness style. And it's overall tone was bleak, but it did give me plenty to think about.
3.  A classic by a woman author  - I read The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson and recommend savouring the poems slowly rather than reading them in one concentrated go like I did.
4.  A classic in translation - I thought Aristophanes's Lysistrata was a fun and easy read but not suitable for those offended by bawdiness and sexual innuendo.
5.  A classic by a non-white author -  The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki was a real surprise, mainly because I had never heard of it before reading it. I'm glad I took the leap of faith. 
6.  An adventure classic - The prize for my least favourite  classic of the year went to Herman Melville's Moby Dick.
7.  A fantasy, science fiction, or dystopian classic - I found Jules Verne's  Journey to the Centre of the Earth to be quick and relatively engaging but overall I was somewhat ambivalent, perhaps underwhelmed.
8.  A classic detective novel - I really enjoyed The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins.The plot, characters, theme, structure and ending all worked for me.
9.  A classic which includes the name of a place in the title - Challenging in places, especially at the beginning, but worth the time and effort. That's my verdict on Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

10. A classic which has been banned or censored  I enjoyed John Steinbeck's East of Eden as a family saga, but thought it's allegorical aspect was heavy handed and over done.
11. Re-read a classic you read in school (high school or college) -  Despite having ambiguous feelings about the title character I still enjoyed rereading Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.
12. A volume of classic short stories  - The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury is a little dated but still has much to offer a range of readers, not just sci-fi fans.

Classics Club 36: The Martian Chronicles

Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles is a collection of interrelated short stories, relating to the exploration and colonisation of Mars by humans. The collection was first published in 1950 but many of the stories of were previously published individually during the late 1940s. The stories themselves were set in the period from 1999 to 2026 meaning that half of Bradbury's imagined future is part of my history.

At times the stories felt a little dated. Obviously our knowledge of Mars has advanced from when Bradbury wrote these stories and much of what he imagined simply cannot be. Sometimes the vocabulary gives the date of writing away such as the use of the word like rocket. And plenty of the plot lines reflect the realities and fears of the time. The story  "Way in the Middle of the Air" reads as if it was happening in the American South in the 1940s while the atomic war storyline which drives the latter stories obviously reflects the fears of a post atomic bomb world.

Despite this there is also a certain timelessness to The Martian Chronicles. Sadly xenophobia still exists today, racism has not disappeared, and the theme of humans doing what they want regardless is still all-too-prevalent as   many modern environmental issues demonstrate. The value most people place on family ties (something that crops up in several stories) also transcends time, as well as culture.

If you are looking for a realistic imagining of what a human colony on Mars may look like, this isn't the book for you. It really has more to say about life in America in the late 1940s, than life on Mars in 2020. If your reading preferences trend strongly towards intricate plots and detailed character development then this isn't a great pick either. Short stories generally aren't the strongest in these areas. However, if you are looking for an allegory on colonisation them this has much to offer. I found myself wondering what it would have been like to read when it was first released, a time when many colonial empires were breaking up. There was a definite Wild West flavour to the stories, so if you enjoy stories set during the westward expansion in America, you might also enjoy this. And finally, The Martian Chronicles is worth reading for Bradbury's poetic writing. It may be science fiction but it can also be enjoyed by those (like) me) who aren't fans of that genre.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Week Ending 27 November 2016

This week was quieter and less eventful than last week - which is probably a good thing! There were several highlights though.

* Another birthday in the family. The newly minted Mr 19 sure knows how to celebrate. First up he agreed to work an extra shift - one with an early start. Then, since they were short staffed, each shift ended up being longer than planned. He worked 4 am to 1:30 pm and then 3:45 pm to 7:45 pm. After that he had to head to a Scout camp (thankfully not too far from home) to do some equipment related things. He volunteers as Quartermaster for his old Scout troop.

* Miss 16 and I went birding. This in itself has been a rare occurrence recently and it has been months since we've ventured to more out of the way spots like the one we visited this week. And, after two false starts where we barely saw a bird, we finally chanced on a good section of the lake. The highlight for both of us was a group of more than 20 Pacific Golden Plovers. It was the first time I've ever seen them, and the first time she's seen them in our area. There were also a couple of Sharp-tailed Sandpipers plus a good mix of more common species.

* We had Basil over for a visit and we're pleased to see he's still his usual exuberant self, although he definitely tires more quickly than he used to.

Feeling sad because we stopped his favourite game before he wanted. The tumour on his leg means he is not supposed to overdo things, and exercise is meant to be sedate. I don't think he appreciates the restrictions!

* Miss 16 worked on a short article for a magazine for young birders. It was an introduction to parrot species in New Zealand. Her favourite bird is one of our native parrots.

* The final trampoline competition of the year was held over the weekend. She performed a new routine and, despite an injury which limited her range of movement (she had to use her arms to lift her leg to put on her shorts since it wouldn't lift by itself!), she nailed it. Check back next week when I hope to have the video one of her friends took of the routine. Just completing the routine was the goal of the competition. Doing it well, winning her event, earning the title of provincial champion and going undefeated for the season were nice bonuses. Next year will be a very different story though since she aims to move up a level and compete in the international section. So while the competition season is over the hard training continues!

* We watched Henry V for the second time, pausing to discuss the questions from our curriculum as we went.

* There have also been plenty of on-road driving lessons. She's somewhat obsessed, more so than I expected. My life is beginning to resemble this cartoon. I guess she's looking forward to the freedom that being able to drive herself will bring, since my health woes have limited her opportunities a little.

* Miss 16 and I had a productive discussion on what she'd like to do homeschooling wise next year. So far we've settled on a general English course (it'll probably involve vocabulary and grammar as well as literary analysis of short stories, poetry and novels and I'll pull it together using stuff that's on our shelf that various older siblings used previously), Statistics (more one that she sees the need to do rather than really wants to do) and Animal Behaviour. We'll probably go the textbook route for both of these (anyone know of a great beginning statistics text for budding ornithologists/ zoologists?) and I'll spend the next couple of weeks researching options before letting her make the final decision. That will leave us with one more course to settle on. I've got lots of social science suggestions but I don't think Miss 16 is totally enamoured with any of them. So I'm toying with the idea of waiting until she returns from her university summer school course in January before we make a decision. I'm pretty sure that university isn't as homeschool friendly as the one her siblings have attended and they may be looking for particular things on her transcript. Waiting would probably mean the fourth course won't be ready to go at the start of our academic year (which I think is just a week after the summer course ends) but there's nothing wrong with easing back into academic work.

You can never have too many dog photos! And I don't have any others this week.

Linking to Homeschool Coffee Break's Homeschool Highlights.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

My Organiser

As the end of the current year approaches it is time to think about getting next year's diary/journal/planner/organiser purchased and set up. For years I struggled to find exactly what I was looking for. And failed! The layout of most purchased products annoyed me. For me the week begins on Monday and ends on Sunday - I take the term weekend to literally mean the end of the week. And that's where I expect it to be in an organiser. Plus I often treat the weekend as one unit. Except far too many purchased products split it and have a week run from Sunday to Saturday.  Further I like seeing my whole week at a glance. But I don't just want space for Monday to Sunday. I also want some space to jot down things that pertain to the week as a whole, not necessarily a particular day. That dental appointment maybe Wednesday at 10:15am but I don't yet know which day we'll buy a birthday gift for a cousin - just that it needs to be purchased this week. And on top of that I like having a few spare pages to keep track of random information - like the brilliant idea I had for my husband's birthday and don't want to forget when his birthday actually rolls around in eight month's time! And trying to find all that in one bought product was pretty difficult, especially if I tried to find something that didn't have pages I didn't want - like a monthly accounts section. And if by some miracle I managed to find something that had all or most of what I wanted content wise, then the size was all wrong or the colour was ugly. Shallow I know, but also true!

So when I first stumbled across the concept of bullet journals a couple of years ago I was excited. But as I read more I started to become less excited and more intimidated (all those gorgeous, well designed layouts with beautiful hand lettering) and frustrated (why all the rules and tricky symbols?) So I forgot about it for a while.

And then I had my brainwave. Simply buy a blank book of the right size and colour and then create the sort of organiser I want. So that's exactly what I've done for the past two years, refining and fine tuning as I go.

I love the old fashioned look of the book I bought this year - the embossed cover, the metal clasps and the watermarked page edges.

The front half of my organiser looks a little like your traditional diary. I like seeing my year at a glace so I found a printout which fits nicely on a double page. I use it to keep track of the official school year since extra-curriculars, most significantly trampoline, follow that. I also mark the local university year, since Dh works there, Mr 18 studies there and Miss 21 may be returning next year. Its also a handy spot to birthdays, anniversaries and the like.

Then I have an index (first thing I do with my organiser is number all the pages) so I don't have trouble finding any pages at the back. More on those later.

Next up is a double page spread per month. One page has a calendar print out from The Organised Housewife . It was one of the only one I could find that runs Monday to Sunday  - and it looks nice. I really hope she does a 2017 version. I just trimmed the To- do list off the side since I don't really need it and it didn't fit in this year's book!. Sometimes I rule up a grid underneath to track various habits that I want to develop. Bizarrely colouring in little square to show that I exercised is sometimes more motivating than doing the actual exercise, even though it is good for me. And I also list all the monthly bills and cross them off after I've paid them. This came about after we didn't receive one in the mail and nearly incurred penalty fees as a result. I leave the facing page blank to and use it to keep track of stuff before we reach the relevant week , events that we might like to attend etc.

The bulk of the organiser is weekly double spreads. I set these up at the start of the week  rather than in advance, all in one go at the start of the year. This was to let me experiment with different layouts. I could try one for a week and then try another the following week. By now I'm pretty settled on my preference and just divide the opening into 8 even sized boxes - one for each day and one for stuff that needs to happen at some stage during the week.

No fancy layouts or pretty handwriting for me.

The back of my organiser is where I keep track of all sorts of other things. Effectively it is a collection of lists. I read a lot so I keep one list of books I want to read and another of books I've actually completed, plus a couple of lists related to the various reading challenges I'm currently completing. I take a guess at how many pages these will need but if I run out of space part way through the year I can simply continue the list on the next spare page. Since Miss 16 and I go birding I keep a list of all the bird species I've seen throughout the year. I have quite a collection of cookbooks but am guilty of not using them as much as I should. So this year I challenged myself to make at least one new recipe per week. So of course I'm keeping a list of what I've made as well as rating each one. On another opening I'm jotting down any ideas I've got for future homeschooling - courses Miss 16 might like, book titles we could explore etc. I've got a list of things to do next year, a list of my favourite yoga routines and where I found them and a list of things I want to remember for next year. I've tried keeping a one sentence journal - quickly jotting down one highlight per day. Turns out I'm not great at maintaining that so I don't know whether or not I'll  continue next year or try something new. If I come up with something else I want to remember, record or keep track of I simply start a new page. I don't have to know at the start of the year exactly how I want my organiser to function. It evolves as needed throughout the year.

My organiser is functional rather than pretty (although you'll note I use a pink pen sometimes to match the cover!) but it works for me. So far I've only discovered two potential problems . The first is difficulty finding what I'm looking for at the back of the book. This wouldn't be an issue if I remembered to record pages in the index at the front! The second is that it is theoretically possible to have the back of the book run into the front of the book and thus run out of space before the year is up. This hasn't happened to me yet. Partly this is because I made a rough calculation as to how many pages I was likely to need before I bought the book. I then added a few more just to be safe. Partly it's just luck. But - just in case - this year's planner has a handy pocket in the back, which could store extra pages in an emergency!

I've prettied up this year's planner by randomly gluing in some favourite art prints. Such a nice surprise to turn the page and discover a much loved painting.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Classics Club 35: Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre is the 35th title in my Classics Club Challenge. It's also a perfect choice for the "Classic you read for School" section of the Back to the Classics Challenge 2016. Not only do I remember reading and enjoying it in 6th form English many years ago, but Miss 16 had recently read it and was looking forward to watching the movie with me. It also gave me  something to work with for another reading challenge - a book and its prequel or sequel.Sadly, I did not enjoy Wide Sargasso Sea.

While my memory of the basic plot and characters was accurate I  hadn't remembered all the fine details and had clearly mis-remembered some details. I wonder which novel had the butterfly imagery I strongly remember studying since it wasn't Jane Eyre!

Apart from this my main surprise on this reading was that my reaction to the character of Jane herself was more diffident and ambiguous than I recall from my previous reading. I cheered for the young plucky Jane who stayed strong and true to herself despite being mistreated by her aunt (who was raising her after the death of her parents) and cousins, and then facing harsh and spartan conditions at the boarding school to which she was sent. I especially cheered for her striking back against her bullying cousin even though I knew (and I'm sure she knew too) that any punishment would be meted out to her alone. This Jane is also seen the latter part of the novel after she is taken in by St John Rivers and his family. She is eager to find any work she can, determined to support herself and not rely on their charity. And she refuses to marry St John, despite him being in many ways a suitable match, because she does not love him and knows he does not love her.

However, the Jane in the middle of the novel, the governess who falls in love with her enigmatic and aloof master at Thornfield, is a somewhat different character. Her tolerance of his rudeness (forcing her to attend a party with his wealthy friends and then ignoring her), lack of trust (he does not divulge the secrets of himself and the house even after she has saves his life and later nurses his badly injured friend), and especially the fact that he put her life in danger (by leaving her in the attic without telling her the truth of the situation) is hard to fathom. I guess love conquers all but I found her level of acceptance and lack of questioning to be inexplicable.

Mr Rochester goes on to commit the ultimate betrayal by trying to marry Jane, despite already being married. His deception is only revealed at the altar. She refuses his request to become his mistress and flees, only to nearly lose her life as a result of cold and hunger. Eventually , after much time and a significant reversal of both their fortunes, she finds her way back to him and they apparently live happily ever after.

Thankfully  ambiguous feelings about a title character do not have to prevent enjoyment of a novel and I did enjoy and can recommend Jane Eyre. It was beautifully written and the descriptions enhanced, rather than detracted from the novel as a whole. There was plenty of excitement which kept the plot moving along and the conflict - both within and between characters  -felt believable and gripping. Even though I had read the novel before I was still able to get caught up in the intrigue surrounding the attic. In many ways the romance between Jane and Rochester had a fresh feeling about it, largely due to Jane not being a stereotypical demure female. Plenty to think about as well - love, trust, forgiveness, reason vs emotion , the care of the mentally ill, and the importance of class status among other things.  And everyone likes a happy ending!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Week Ending 20 November 2016

Monday was certainly eventful. We were awoken just after midnight by an earthquake that went on for ever. Thankfully it didn't develop into a strong jolting quake but things just kept rolling and wobbling, rolling and wobbling. Turns out it was a 7.8 quake centered just over an hour's drive away and it has caused major damage in other parts of the country. Even though things were fine where we are getting back to sleep was a bit of an issue what with adrenaline and aftershocks. I feel like enough is enough Mother Nature. I've felt more earthquakes in the past six years than anyone should feel in a lifetime.

About half an hour after the quake Mr 18 announced he was going out. Some friends of his who live several suburbs away were pretty upset by the quake so he thought he'd go over and help take their minds off things. But because he'd had a beer earlier that night he couldn't legally drive, so he ended up biking there and back! He's good in a crisis, likes to help and is obviously a good friend. Of course I was a little worried about his safety - "He's biking! At 2am! With earthquakes!" -  which also contributed to my lack of sleep.

Given the interrupted sleep I figured Miss 15 and I wouldn't do much on Monday. Once day broke I was busy with phone calls and emails from friends and family checking we were okay. Thanks to my online friends for checking in - it really wasn't as bad where we are as media reports may have led you to believe. Turns out Miss 15 was busy on Facebook Messenger doing much the same as me. And then she got called in to work for a couple of hours since another coach couldn't make it. Got the call at 9:15 and the class started at 9:30, plus she was still in her pyjamas and the gym is about 10 minutes drive away. Amazingly she was only a couple of  minutes late.

Ironically Dh and I had a meeting later that morning regarding the re-repairs to our house following the 2010/2011 quakes. The first repairs weren't properly done. Work will start at the end of February and we'll have to be out of the house for four weeks. So my task over the next few weeks will be trying to find alternative accommodation - and trying to decide on colour schemes since several rooms will be repainted. Sadly, I have no talent for interior decorating.

In the afternoon Miss 15 and I  reverted to our familiar routine of game playing, reading and taking quizzes on the road code. We also watched an episode from a documentary series on our marine environment. Of course, we were especially interested in the segments that related to birds. In the evening Miss 15, Dh and Mr 18 watched an episode or two of a political satire show they enjoy. I was busy doing yoga, trying to get back into the habit of practicing every day.

On Tuesday morning Mr 18 kindly drove Miss 15 out of town so that she could go birding with our birding group. Although there were fewer birds around than expected I know she loved getting out in the field again. The birds may have been scared off by all the helicopter activity. A tourist town north of here has been totally cut off by the quake - no road or rail access at all. So critical supplies were being choppered in and people with medical needs were being choppered out and the helicopters were landing not too far from the wetland they were birding at. She was home for a couple of hours in the afternoon. The time was filled with - surprise, surprise - reading, game playing and studying the road code. Then it was off to the gym for five and a half hours - coaching first, then training with a brief break in between. Sadly, the day ended on a sour note with issues related to the gym - a reminder of all that I dislike about her involvement in the sport.

Wednesday morning Miss 15 went to the mall to choose some of her birthday gifts. Not very exciting and no element of surprise but it was the sort of stuff she really needed to choose herself. The middle of the day was filled with more reading, game playing and driver's education before she headed back to the gym for another five and a half hours of coaching and training. The other excitement of the day was receiving the photos we ordered of Miss 15 at Nationals. Photos don't really capture what's involved in trampolining or what she can do - you really need video for that and I'm really looking forward to the video compilation being available since I've not yet had the chance to see her routine. But I'm grateful for some good photos. Last years were terrible and we didn't order a single one.

While I was at the physio on Thursday morning the kids went to the supermarket and took care of the weekly shop for me. I hate shopping and Miss 15 loves it, so a win, win situation. Apart from our usual routine we also read a story version of Henry V in the afternoon. Sadly neither my favourite Leon Garfield's Shakespeare Stories nor Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare include this play. I wasn't really impressed with either of the books we found at the library but they served their purpose of quickly refreshing our memories of the play. Miss 15 only had a short session at the gym today and was home just after 7pm which gave us plenty of time to watch Kenneth Branagh's version of Henry V.  Mr 18 spent a chunk of the day organizing camping equipment. He is Quarter Master at his old Scout group and the triennial national jamboree is next month so organizing the equipment for that is keeping him busy.

Friday was a big day as Miss 15 that was had a birthday and became Miss 16. First order of the day was obtaining her driving licence. What better way to turn 16 than standing in a queue for an hour! The actual test only took her 10 minutes and she aced it. Once we got home she Skyped Miss 21 in England, opened the gift Miss 21 had sent her and spent ages chatting. Then we made a ridiculously delicious raspberry fudge brownie for her birthday cake and made time for a quick initial driving lesson before she headed to the gym for two hours of coaching and then three hours of training.

Saturday was a birding day for Miss 16 - the annual summer wader count at a nearby lake. The count is part of a nationwide effort monitoring wading birds. She also managed to fit in plenty of driving practise, plus there was a little trampolining  - a short practice for her squad's prizegiving display. Mr 18 was also out for most of the day. He did a short extra shift at work starting at 4 am (the perils of bakery employment) and then went out of town to volunteer at a Scouting event. The day also featured a brief visit from my parents plus Mr 24 joined us for dinner.

Two events dominated Sunday. It was end-of-year prizegiving  and displays at the gym. Miss 16 and her friend won the prize for junior synchronized trampoline pair of the year. And then there were several short driving lessons. I've found with all my kids little and often is best when they first get behind the wheel. I'll also confess that teaching driving is probably my least favourite parenting role . Even though she is doing fine I'm looking forward to the day when I can hang up my driving instructor's hat for good!

Linking with the Weekly Wrap-Up over at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Week Ending 13 November 2016

This week was very much like the last - lots of time spent at home reading and playing games, plenty of driver's education so Miss 15's 100% ready to take the theory test, plus time in kitchen baking. Of course we also watched the US election unfold. Intersting to observe and to compare the US electoral and political system with our own.

One of Miss 15's current reads.

There was also movie watching. We rewatched and discussed questions for The Maltese Falcon. The rewatching and questions for The Philadelphia Story  a week or two ago didn't go as well as I'd have liked so I tried a slightly different approach this time. I gave her the questions in advance and told her to pause the DVD to answer and discuss them when she was ready. Last time I had the questions and decided when to pause the DVD.  This worked much better - always pleasing when a small tweak delivers good rewards! I'm impressed with the Movies as Literature curriculum so far. Watching movies doesn't really feel like school, yet there is lots of literary analysis happening with the discussion questions and there'll be more next year when we delve into the essay questions as well. Writing essays does feel like school so we're avoiding them until the summer break is done!

We also resumed some much needed purging this week. Apparently a work order has finally been issued for our house and it seems likely we'll have to pack everything up and move out for several weeks. No sense moving boxes and boxes of stuff we don't actually use or want anymore. Today we sorted through a cupboard full of puzzles, art supplies and science kits. Most of it we've outgrown so I'm happy to pass it all on. Although some stuff was surprisingly difficult to part with. Like the felt board and all the pieces that Dh and I lovingly made for Mr 24 when he was a toddler. I know they won't last for any theoretical  future grandchildren and sadly I don't know any mums with littlies but I still considered keeping them. I've also started rigorously purging my recipe book collection. If I don't regularly make at least 5 recipes from it then the book goes. Miss 15 has been copying out any recipes I want to keep from the unwanted books - her handwriting is lot neater than mine!

One of the highlights of the week  for Miss 15 was attending a talk about Fairy Terns, yet another of our endangered bird species. The woman who spoke had been closely involved in observing and monitoring them last breeding season. I think that's the sort of work Miss 15 would like to do so she found the talk especially interesting.

I struggled a bit this week with the feeling that we aren't doing enough - even though  we have actually finished our formal academics for the year and even though I fully believe in the importance of "margin" and plenty of downtime and not being overscheduled. I suspect part of what I'm struggling with is that much of this quiet period is a result of my health restrictions, not purely by choice. I do worry it unfairly limits Miss 15 - not that I can actually do  much about it. Still it is worth considering what I can offer her within the current constraints, either getting her out more or finding something else that we can do together at home. And I'm really grateful that she has trampolining. Between training and coaching it takes up close to 20 hours per week - much needed social time for her if nothing else!

Linking to Kris's Weekly Wrap- Up.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Classics Club 34: East of Eden

Author John Steinbeck considered East of Eden his magnus opus. Critics were not so enamoured finding it heavy-handed, lacking unity, unconvincing and unrealistic among other faults. The book buying public, on the other hand, loved it and it became an instant best seller. This love has not been constant and universal though. During the 1980s and 1990s the novel's use of profanity and depiction of prostitution led to calls to ban it from schools in Alabama, South Carolina and Manitoba. Some citizens in Kern County, California further objected that the book misrepresented that county. Some of these bans were successful, at least for a time.

At it's heart East of Eden is a sprawling family saga covering the intertwined lives of the Trask and Hamilton families. Although some of it is set in New England as early as the Civil War, most of the action takes place in California's Salinas Valley in the early twentieth century. When I read it as a family saga I found much to enjoy . The plot rollicks along  with fathers who don't seem to love their sons equally, sons desperate to earn their fathers' approval, brothers who try to get on (sometimes) but deliberately betray each other, a young girl who is responsible for the incarceration of some young boys and the suicide of a teacher as well as the deaths of her own parents, a man who was betrayed by his wife and struggled to recover, families struggling to live off the land, not to mention blackmail in a brothel. East of Eden's 500+ pages flew by! Cathy must be the most evil and manipulative female character I have read this year. I loved Lee, the Chinese servant with the philosophical bent, even if he was a little too stereotypical. And I found myself rooting for Cal as he attempted to do the right thing and tried to earn Adam's love.  Knowing that the Hamiltons (who seem like minor players in the main story arc) were Steinbeck's maternal family added a little extra interest to the reading but left me frustrated that their story didn't get more space, 

East Of Eden can also be read as an allegory of the Book of Genesis though, and when I read it this way I enjoyed it a whole lot less. Basically I felt the parallels were too heavy-handed and overdone. Each "good" character had a name beginning with A - Adam, Aron, Abra. Each "bad" character a name beginning with C - Charles, Caleb, Cathy. I really wanted to yell at Steinbeck - "Your readers are intelligent. We'd still get it - even if you used different initials!" Obviously I would have preferred a little more subtlety.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Week Ending 6 November 2016

Mr 18 has been really busy this week with three of his four university exams. He's been happy with how they've gone which is good.

Meanwhile Miss 15 and I have been mostly relaxing, although she did write her column for the national birding magazine. We enjoyed watching the movie Suffragette. I did find lots of lessony things on line but in the end ditched them in favour of trying to instigate a Big Juicy Conversation since the movie provided lots of good material. Turns out Miss 15 and I aren't great at BJC's - something to work on.  We were going to rewatch The Maltese Falcon and discuss some of the questions from our Movies as Literature programme but, due to a miscommunication, the movie had already been returned. So we'll have to get it out and try again this week.

Apart from movie watching (I know Miss 15 has watched a couple of others in the evening with Dh) there has been plenty of reading and lots of game-playing. We've even got daring and added in some Scrabble and Carcassone to vary our Bohnanza heavy diet! We had a quick unplanned lesson on the American election system since Miss 15 wasn't aware of the Electoral College and how it worked. She got the idea pretty quickly but thought our system was far simpler - although not as straight forward as it was before we adopted MMP. And of course there has been trampolining. Always trampolining. At least her schedule of coaching and training is back to normal. The past couple of weeks have not been normal and it has really thrown me since I've never been sure what day it is (clearly I use the trampoline schedule to help me discern Monday from Wednesday) or what time I'm meant to be collecting her from the gym.

The week ended with two pieces of good news. Miss 15 has been accepted into a summer programme at the university she currently thinks she would like to attend - my alma mater as it happens. The week-long programme is for students about to enter either of the last two years of high school. She's been accepted into the zoology section, which should be a perfect fit for her. The only problem Miss 15 has is that it clashes with the first week of the summer trampoline programme.

And my MRI results are back. No abnormalities detected which is great. Of course the bad news is we are then back to square on with no diagnosis - or a GP who is convinced it is one thing and a specialist who is convinced it isn't.

Linking to the Weekly Wrap-Up over at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Eclectic Homeschooling

According to the Pocket Oxford Dictionary which I just grabbed from the nearest shelf eclectic means selecting ideas or beliefs from various sources. And that's exactly the type of homeschooler I am. I'm constantly reading  about homeschooling and education in general - although not as much as in earlier years. As I read I decide whether or not ideas resonate with me and  if, when and how I can incorporate them into my homeschooling repertoire. Some ideas and approaches remain for many years, but others last for only a season - either because they've served their purpose or because it turned out they weren't a good fit for us anyways. Below - in  random order - is a far from comprehensive list of of some of the approaches that I've incorporated into our homeschool over the years.

1. School-at-Home - When I started out I knew no other homeschoolers - and we didn't have the Internet. However, I read a lot and always had an interest in educational matters. Somewhere I came across a  reading programme that seemed comprehensive and was based on real literature. Academic standards were a concern and this programme was reportedly getting good results. It sounded like what we wanted and even though it was marketed to school districts I managed to purchase copies. It's what all four of my kids used in their early reading days.

2. Montessori - I'd been heavily involved in my kids preschool education. They all attended a part-time preschool where parents were expected to train and run sessions. Through that I was familiar with the work of Maria Montessori. When I discovered a book on Montessori ideas in the early school years I quickly checked it out from the library. I made my own versions of many of the materials and utilized the ideas especially for teaching phonics and early maths concepts.

3. The Well-Trained Mind - A friend heard of of this, bought the first edition and passed it on to me. My first-born was especially academically inclined  and I'd already discovered some of the resources recommended in the book. It seemed a good idea to try more. The chronological approach to history really appealed to me, and served all of my children well. Latin was added  to our homeschool after I read The Well-Trained Mind. Some of kids were more enamoured of it than others though. Those who weren't keen only  did it for a year; the Latin lovers did three or more years. Even though it's hard to discern much of a Well-Trained Mind influence in my homeschool today it's still one of my go-tos for resource recommendations.

4. Charlotte Mason - The Well-Trained Mind led me to Classical education and from there I ventured into the ideas of Charlotte Mason. Living books, picture study, and composer studies were the biggest gains to my homeschool. I also picked up on the concept of short lessons, at least for some of my children.  I wouldn't want to interrupt those with long attention spans who remained engrossed in their work, but with one child short lessons helped to keep us both relatively sane.

5. Unschooling - I would never describe us as unschoolers but I've always been attracted to the philosophy. Possibly I'm aware my type A personality isn't always beneficial to our homeschool and frequently reading unschooling material helps to balance that somewhat. The concept of strewing has been very useful. One son unschooled science for years. Every now and again I'd panic, think I should be doing something with him, check a few scope and sequences, realize he had covered everything he "should" have and more , relax and leave him to it. In the high school years he requested a more formal, systematic approach  but it was solely his choice so still unschooling in my eyes at least. He now has a PhD in Chemistry so this approach clearly worked for him. With all my kids I noted (and tried to feed) what they were learning on their own. And if they'd already covered something then I skipped it when it popped up in our curriculum of choice.

6. Thomas Jefferson Education/Leadership Education - I feel a bit strange admitting to this one in public since I'm basically the polar opposite of the typical proponent of this philosophy and I don't like so don't utilize all of it. And yet, many of their 7 keys really resonated with me, and we were already implementing several of them, before I read the book. I'm pretty sure my take on it looks nothing like the De Milles though. However, when homeschooling hit a rough patch with one of my kids, this helped us through it. Particularly "Structure Time, not Content".

7. BraveWriter - This one was such a breath of fresh air when I first discovered it many years ago. While it is regarded as a language arts curriculum it is so  much more than that. To me BraveWriter is all about nurturing the parent-child relationship in a language rich environment. Poetry teatimes were a delightful addition to our homeschool week, one that added immeasurably to our family culture. Many years on we can still recite our favourite poems and laugh as we recall the stories associated with out reading and reciting them. The concept of freewriting was a life saver when it came to writing. BraveWriter also helped me look at narration, copywork and dictation with fresh eyes. More recently I've grasped the concept of Big Juicy Conversations, although implementing them is still a work in progress.  Positive and encouraging, BraveWriter is  my go-to resource if I need a homeschool pick-me-up. So much good stuff  (for free) via the blog, YouTube, in the BraveWriter Lifestyle section (it's in the drop-down menu of the BraveWriter Programme button)  and Facebook Live. Allow plenty of time for digging into the website - there is gold to be found!

In amongst the different philosophies there's also been a mixture of worksheets, lapbooks, online games, MOOCs, real life classes, magazine subscriptions, field trips, board games....

You name it. If I think it can contribute positively to our homeschool then I'm going to give it a try! 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016


Since Miss 15 is on a break from formal academics she has a lot of spare time. Normally we'd be out birding, but that's not really possible until my health issues are resolved. So we're spending a lot of time at home, connecting and having fun together playing games instead. And the game currently getting the most use is Bohnanza.

Bohnanza doesn't seem to be as well known as some of our other favourite games. It is a card game in which players plant, harvest and sell beans as profitably as possible. The player with the most gold coins at the end of the game wins.

The game consists of 154 bean cards. The front of each card  includes the name of each bean and an illustration, a number telling you how many of that particular type of bean, plus a strip telling you how much the beans are worth once you sell and harvest them. For instance there are 24 coffee bean cards(pictured below) in the deck. At harvest time you can earn 1 gold coin for 4-6 beans, 2 coins for 7-9 beans, 3 coins for 10 or 11 beans and 4 coins for 12 beans. You must harvest your field of coffee beans once you have 12 beans and if you harvest fewer than 4 beans you earn no coins. Each card features a gold coin on the reverse.

Each player starts with 5 cards in their hand and two blank fields (each player may buy one additional field during the course of the game). Player 1 starts and must plant the first bean in their hand and they may also choose to plant the next bean as well. Then they turn over 2 cards from the deck. These beans must be planted. If the person who turned them over doesn't want to plant them they can offer them to the other players - either by attempting a trade or making a donation.

I have a one field with 4 stink beans and another with 2 blue beans and have just turned over a blue bean and a soy bean. I'll plant the blue bean and then try to trade or donate the soy bean - unless I have one at the front of my hand of course! If I'm not successful I'll have to plant it. And since I only have two field at this stage I'll have to harvest one of them. If I harvest the stink beans I'll earn one coin; if I harvest the blues I won't earn anything. My decision will be partly influenced by what I have coming up in my hand. If I have more stink beans coming I'm probably better to harvest the blue beans now even though I won't earn anything for them.
Once the two turned over beans have been planted Player 1 can try to trade cards in their hand with other players. Any traded beans have to be planted immediately. Finally Player 1 takes three cards from the pile and adds them to the back of their hand before Player 2 starts their turn. Players can harvest and sell beans at any time, even if is not their turn. You simply remove the bean cards from the field, check to see how many coins you have earned. If you've earned two coins keep two cards (remember to reverse them to reveal the coin and add them to your coin pile) and discard the rest.

The trading of beans has a couple of advantages. First it means all players can potentially be involved even if it isn't officially their turn, which reduces boring wait time. It also adds an element of strategy and bargaining. Sometimes the strategy can look like being generous to an opponent. If I have a coffee bean coming to the front of my hand which I don't want to plant since I would have to harvest a field before I wanted to, my first call would be to try to trade for a bean I did want. If nobody wanted to trade and one of my opponents already had a field of coffee beans I would see if they would just accept it as a donation. On the other hand if two of my opponents both wanted that coffee bean I might be able to negotiate a very favourable deal as they attempted to outbid each other!

Odds and probability may come into play as you decide which bean field to harvest. Imagine that you have a field of coffee beans and a field of soy beans. Both need one more bean to reach the maximum number of gold coins yet you must harvest one.There are 24 coffee beans in the deck but only 12 soybeans. So a coffee bean is theoretically more likely to turn up. But if lots of coffee beans cards have already been played you might be better to harvest your coffee bean field and pin your hopes on the soy beans instead.

Bohnanza can be played by between 2 and  players. The makers claim a game lasts for about 45 minutes and is best suited to players aged 12+. While I have never timed our games I suspect they last closer to 30 minutes, but these days we mainly play with just two players. Adding more players may increase the playing time. My oldest kids were aged around 8 when we bought the game and they picked it up with no difficulty. Even though it is old hat to Miss 15 and she's long since gained any educational benefits  it is still a fun game that we can both enjoy playing together..