How I Spent My Saturday Afternoon

My EG and FB are spending the weekend at my parents' house, leaving the Spousal Unit and PC as my only company. While I should have been doing a few administrative tasks, I spent a good portion of the afternoon reading.

It is, as you can tell from the subtitle, couched as an approach to competitive college admissions. In reality, though, I would call it a manifesto, describing a particular approach to life.

The book never once mentions homeschooling or how homeschooled high schoolers are admitted to college. Despite this, I think it describes a way to tackle the high school years that is uniquely suited to homeschoolers. To oversimplify greatly, high schoolers should study smart, have time to explore their interests once their academic obligations are met, and then pursue one or two of those options into a large project or series of projects in an innovative manner.

The difference from other books that celebrate interest exploration and rabbit trails is that it does not denigrate the academic learning, which for most of his readers takes place in a private or public school's building(s). Rather, he suggests ways to streamline the time spent on homework and studying, so that academic obligations can be met and the student can have that free time to run down the rabbit trails.

It was exactly this desire for my children that led me to neoclassical homeschooling. I wanted them to experience a high level of challenge and achievement, yet be able to take time to read for fun, to volunteer, or do other interesting things. I want this for them at all points in their education, of course, not just at the high school level, but students in their mid to late teens are more likely to have found their interest(s), not to mention are capable of a higher level of effort and commitment.

This book carries an additional bonus for the homeschooled student. As I've discussed in the past, most of the material about competitive college admissions (or competitive scholarship awarding) discusses the importance of activities that inherently based in the structure of institutional schooling. It would be very difficult for a homeschool to replicate the activities list of a student at, for example, my alma mater. The time involved in getting to each activity alone would preclude a deep level of involvement! How To Be a High School Superstar, though, largely rejects the value of many, if not most, school-based activities. Editorship of the school paper or yearbook, student body president, Key Club - these are all, frankly, dismissed.

While not the main focus on the book (the author has two additional books, one specifically about doing well in college, and one about being a straight-A student), he also shares various study techniques. I note this because I have read a number of "study strategies" over the years. I have always thought that the skills and strategies seemed somehow contrived, and I could not understand how or why they would work. These skills in this book make sense to me.

In the end, an excellent argument could be made for reviewing this book, requiring your rising eighth or ninth grader to read it, and keeping its precepts in mind when planning out a homeschooler's high school years.


Weekly Report: Week ONE! (days 001-005)

I did it! I survived my first week with two students! ;)

Fabulous Boy had a great first week of kindergarten! He finished eight lessons in Right Start A, since I realized he was quite capable of moving faster than the pace written. That makes sense, as originally I had thought we'd do all of Right Start A during his pre-kindergarten year. His math memory work for now is limited, but we're starting to work on parallel versus perpendicular.

In history, FB listened to both sections of chapter one. He answered the review questions and gave an oral narration for the first section, and then I wrote his narration for the second section. He also did the mapwork and the coloring page from the activity guide. Some of his books this week were based on his history work, as well - The First Dog, One Small Blue Bead, and You Wouldn't Want to Be a Mammoth Hunter. He's working on memorizing the seven continents as well as the periods of early history.

Other books we read together this week included My Visit to the Dinosaurs, Amazing World of Dinosaurs, Oil Spill!, Eat Healthy Feel Great, and Suzette and the Puppy. He also read three Bob books to me.

FB has a lot of language arts work! He covered five lessons in OPGTR, and we started on both FFL and WWE this week, too. He did the first four lessons from FLL and the first week plus the first day of the second week in WWE. He also started his new handwriting book, My Printing Book. He reviewed "Frog Jump Capitals," as well as some copywork. He's memorized the first ten poems of Level 1 of IEW's poetry memorization program, and I'm also making sure he knows a few other essentials in their correct order - the seasons, the days of the week, the numbers of our home telephone number. ;)

FB did a few science experiments on Sunday from his Stepping Into Science kit, so I didn't worry about fitting one in during this first week. He's memorizing the colors of the rainbow in order, so I may pull out the "Colors" Little Lab for this coming week!

My "returning student" had a good first week, also!

EG started on Life of Fred: Advanced Algebra, completing the first five lessons, which means she's finished all of the material in Chapter One, and just has a few more Cities to work. She also worked through a page of drill each day (levels eighteen and thirty-six, alternating), and is working on memorizing various formulae for finding perimeter.

I had purposely reserved some of the Town-level materials for review after the summer, so EG completed Lesson 20 from Paragraph Town and ten sentences in Practice Town. She also began Grammar Voyage! Her memory work here consists of reviewing stems & words from Caesar's English I, plus various lists of parts of speech. She also continues to memorize poetry using IEW's poetry memorization program, and is currently mastering poem fourteen of level two. Finally, this week she added learning the Egyptian gods and goddesses and their domains. She is reading Mythology as an assigned book, and during her free reading time finished Alanna: The First Adventure and began My Side of the Mountain. Confession: I let her count an episode of Star Trek: The Original Series instead of free reading one evening.

In history, EG covered the first three or four double-page spreads in History: The Definitive Visual Guide. She wrote summaries about "Marriage & Family Life in Mesopotamia" as well as "The Pyramids of Egypt," and used some of her secondary resources in those summaries. She has taken to one point outlining like a duck to water, so far, and finished two outlines in history, as well. She also watched lecture one from The Teaching Company's high school world history course.

The first chapter of Science Matters was assigned, and she wrote a brief summary of the reasons to have scientific literacy. She'll watch the corresponding lectures of the Teaching Company's Joy of Science course as time allows. She also began work on her PLATO Life Science course, finishing two... sections? I guess they are sections - and starting on a third.

In Latin Prep, EG read about the dative and did four workbook exercises in addition to the textbook exercises. This is where she has to begin putting together the different parts she's been mastering, but she's doing well with it, so far.

She read two sections about "Looking At Art" and took notes on them for art appreciation, and began reading and listening to the Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra for music appreciation. She hasn't yet started her drawing skills. She did get a new mouthpiece for her trumpet this week, as the old mouthpiece (which came with the trumpet) was apparently much too large. Immediately she was able to go higher, note-wise, so we expect some rapid improvement over the next few weeks. We also got her next band book and her next level of books in piano, though she won't need either one for a few more weeks.

EG's logic class doesn't begin until September 3, so no logic this week. After these first two weeks, I will probably assign a Mind Bender or two, just to get that logic side of her brain clicking even more.

PC is in the midst of that fun language explosion. Her favorite book right now is Jamberry, and FB has taken it upon himself to teach her to sing the alphabet. I expect EG to attempt to teach her nursery rhymes and the multiplication tables any day now!

The plan was to take some pictures, but prep for next week look longer than I expected, so that will have to wait until tomorrow or Sunday!


My "In-Service" Week

I designated the week from Monday, July 19 through Sunday, July 25 as my "in-service" week. EG was at an all-day science camp, and FB attended a half-day sports camp, which meant I had a few quiet hours each day. I used the time to renew myself a bit and get ready for this upcoming year.

What did I do?

I listened to several talks on my iPhone. One was a new talk, a download about teaching Latin. The others were talks I had previously listened to, and I attempted to glean new insights and remember old ones. They were all from Susan Wise Bauer: Elementary Grades Plan for Teaching Writing, Middle Grades Plan for Teaching Writing, Teaching Students to Work Independently, and What Is Literary Analysis. That, then, was was one component of my "in-service."

I also read Lighting Their Fires, which I had seen recommended several times. It's a good read for all parents and all educators, but that makes it doubly important for parent-educators. ;) It's nothing earth-shattering, but it is concise, easy to read, and would be easy to pick up to focus on just one part. Along with that reading, I re-read some portions of The Well-Trained Mind, focusing only on those most pertinent to what subjects I would be teaching to what ages.

I did a few "housekeeping" tasks - copying all the cumulative quizzes from Caesar's English II, printing the first week's worth of drill, setting up the kids' memory work binders, and moving materials into the school area, which included setting up EG's new Desk Apprentice. The verdict on it is already one of excitement. I plan to get FB one, and myself two - one for knitting books & supplies, one for teacher books & supplies.

I did a bit of "reflection." I wrote out basic goals for the school year: eight objectives for FB, and eleven for EG. I also reflected on summer activities in which the kids had participated, looked ahead to next summer, and thought about the amount of work I require from the kids over the summer.

Two items were on my list to complete during "in-service" but I haven't yet completed them. I'm still working on developing our plan for memory work this year. I have lists, but I need to compile them and then arrange them in some sort of order within each subject. I also need to go over EG's planner with her. Since its calendar doesn't start until August 1, though, I realized we could go over different portions of it at leisure during this week.

I'm glad I did the "in-service" week, though I think that in the future, I'd like to be more deliberate in planning ahead for it (this was more or less planned a day ahead of time). Ideally, I'd like to plan two separate times, one for the planning and housekeeping, the other for my reading, listening, and reflecting. Finally, in the latter one, I'd like to reserve a longer portion of time at least one day of the week.


Maybe the last time, I don't know

We start school in the morning. I'm less prepared than I had anticipated. I lost steam around the beginning of June and never really found my motivation after that. I've managed passably well, though, and I've done most of the work that needs to be done. In a little while, the Spousal Unit is going to help me move a few more things into the school area so that we're set up for tomorrow. While we'll be accomplishing school and counting the days towards our required total, I'm viewing this week as a transitional week. EG's planner doesn't start until August, and this week and next, none of their school year activities will have begun.

Summer has felt both long and short. The only difficulty with ending our school year relatively early in May is that we have two to three weeks of "summer break" before it truly feels like summer. I'm contemplating, in the future, having us celebrate reaching 180 days, and then continue with at least some work throughout the remainder of May or until Memorial Day weekend. Then we'd go to our summer pattern: review math daily, read daily, and do something educational daily. The latter might include games, educational viewing, or typing practice, mind, so that's not exactly strenuous!

We love summer camps, though. EG attended resident camp for one week, as well as four weeks of day camp. FB attended four weeks of day camp as well. Next year, they'll be able to attend a few weeks of day camp together! I'm excited for them. I try to schedule it so that I have one week where I have time with just PC (which means that one day of that week, I get time just for ME!), and at least one week each where I have only PC & one older child (again, one day of that week, it's just me & EG or me & FB). I actually don't feel as strongly about having a week with just PC this coming year; she'll appreciate it more as she gets older, and right now, she just misses her siblings when they're gone!

My in-service week went relatively well, and I'll write about it sometime this week. I think tomorrow will go well. FB is really excited about "starting kindergarten," and EG is looking forward to the structure, I think. I'm looking forward to the structure a bit, myself.

Finally, I'm starting a new blogging project. If you're a structured homeschooler that would label yourself "evolutionary," and you think you might want to participate, comment and let me know. I am defining evolutionary as "homeschooling using nonsectarian and/or secular materials whenever possible; giving evolution its due."



Someone asked on the WTM board what changes for the new school year about which everyone is the most excited. Here are mine...

• Our new schedule! We're going to a rotating schedule where each core subject is done four days a week, for my fifth grader. (My kindergarten boy still has a five-day-a-week schedule for his core subjects, but he has a lot fewer core subjects!) I stole the idea from my alma mater, and then tweaked it. I talked a bit about this back in January or February, but I've tweaked it considerably since then. I modified it, also, so that mathematics is covered five days and not just four.

• I feel like I've streamlined our outside classes & activities so that they're more efficient and more focused on the things WE want to focus upon. It's so easy to get swayed in various directions. EG is going to take a public speaking class and participate in math club. She's also going to be able to have her piano lessons at the same location as public speaking and Master's Academy. Less driving for me is definitely a win!

• We're going to concentrate even more on memory work this year. I set up our binders yesterday, and I have a good list of goals of what to memorize this year for each child.

• The biggest change, of course, is formally having two students. Ack!



I'm officially declaring July 19-23 as my "in-service" week.

EG will be at a science camp all day, every day (drop off is 7:30-8:00, pick up is 5:00-5:30!), and FB will be at a sport camp for a good portion of the day (drop off is 8:30-9:00, pick up is 1:00-1:30). I have this week to 'reset,' move all of our materials, and finish all the necessary printing and photocopying. I'm also taking this week to take myself to the dermatologist and my general practitioner. I usually feel like it's just not possible to attend to these things during the school year. I wish I had gotten all of us in for a dental appointment before we restarted school, but maybe we'll manage before the end of August, at least.

Tomorrow I'm driving to the nearest Staples (which is not very near at all) to get EG a Desk Apprentice, which I'm hoping will alleviate some of the bookcase storage space issues that we're facing. If it seems to be helpful, I may get FB one as well, since he thinks he should do everything his big sister does, as it is.

We're starting our new year on July 26. While on principle I feel that public schools should operate on a calendar approaching September through June, I also recognize that since the local schools don't, there is pretty much nothing in August - no camps, no White Water, no pools. Everything goes to weekends only! Since we don't have our own pool, and since it's so horribly hot, I decided that we might as well have the ability to take a few days or weeks during the much nicer autumn and spring.

Our calendar for the year includes two days off around EG's birthday, three days of the beach in September (but not Destin :(( ), a week for Disney in February, spring break with the local schools, and of course time off around Thanksgiving & Christmas both. We'll finish our required 180 days sometime in early May 2011. The exception to this schedule is EG's online logic course, which follows the above-referenced September-June schedule. She'll have her first class on September 3, and will wrap up the second semester on June 10. We also will have several weeks before all of the outside activities begin, which gives us additional "wiggle room."

I think the kids have had an excellent summer. We started with a trip mid-May to Washington, DC, and we also took a weekend to go the Great Smoky Mountains. EG has gone to Girl Scout day camp, Girl Scout resident camp, Camp Gold Dust (show choir/musical theatre), and this week, science camp. FB has gone to two mini-camps at the Y and, this week, sports camp. We've also gone swimming, to White Water several times, to two state historic sites, to an amusement park, miniature golfing, the zoo, and Fernbank natural history museum, amongst the usual things.

Needless to say, I'm exhausted after this summer, so I'm looking at July 26 with increasing eagerness.In


Checking In, and Gearing Up

After a full year of school combined with all of my planning for next year, I was so ready for time off. I was so ready, I didn't even blog the entire month of June. Between finishing the school year and preparing to enter a new phase of our homeschool, I was nearly drained of any and all energy concerning school. I read the WTM boards, most of the time, but I haven't been very social online in weeks.

We've had a busy, full summer so far. EG has been to several camps, and has one week of science camp remaining. FB had two weeks of mini-camp at the Y, too, though he's excited that next year, as a rising first grader, he can attend far more camps. We went to the Great Smoky Mountains one weekend, celebrated Independence Day, and took a trip to the zoo, not to mention trips to the water park. One of those trips involved burns to the bottoms of my feet, complete with blisters, but let's not talk too much about that.

For my part, I've been reading quite a bit, as well as working on finalizing memory work for the year. I realized belatedly that I was going to have to be more deliberate than "do more memory work in 2010-2011." I have a good deal of the work laid out, and Living Memory should be here in a week or so, which will help me fill in the remaining blanks. I'm even getting PC in on the action. She turns two in November, so it's not out of the realm of possibility for her to have memorized her full name and some nursery rhymes by the end of the school year.

I spent today getting our calendars and planning materials. While I'll have my usual binder of spreadsheet-plans for each subject, I wanted a separate plan book for myself that would give me the layout of each week. I found one at the local school supply store that has room for eight subjects and happily lists the days of the week down the side rather than across the top (my preference). I'll keep my detailed plans for MCT LA in there, all of FB's plans, and whatever other plans for EG that I feel I need to have in front of me. I also received EG's planner from amazon today. Two years ago, I introduced the assignment book, and it's worked well for two years. Increasingly, though, her assignments are either simple (Lesson X in Life of Fred, Exercise 2.2 in Latin Prep, etc.), or far too detailed to list in the book other than "see page," such as for history, music appreciation, and art appreciation. Last year, I purchased a planner for her, so she could keep track of non-academic endeavors. Having two books, though, didn't work out well, and in the end, she didn't keep up with the planner at all. So, this year, we're going to try integrating the two. I purchased her the Aspire planner from Action Publishing. I like that it encourages goal setting and a daily slot for assignments and other activities. When a subject has a quick entry, the information will go in that slot for the day - "Lesson 10 in LoF Adv Alg." If it's history, it will say "see history page." I'll be responsible for adding in her assignments, she'll be responsible for marking them complete. We'll work together, at least this first year, to add other commitments and activities. I'm hopeful this will work - and if it doesn't, I have one of our standby assignment books on hand, just in case.

I realized a few days ago, though, that I'm ready for the new school year to begin. As nice as the break has been, all of us need the structure. FB has started asking when it will be time for school start again, because he misses his friends at Master's Academy. Even though I had hoped we would have been moved and settled into our new house by the time that we began this 2010-2011 school year, I'm nevertheless ready to start it anyway. (Hopefully things will fall into place on that front!)

And now I need to find another way to avoid going to the freezer to get the meat I need in order to cook dinner. I'd be fine if I hadn't seen a mouse scurry across my carport into my freezer-containing utility room last week. I knew, intellectually, that it was likely small animals found their way into the utility room, but I was unconcerned, since utility room ≠ my house. Knowing there is a mouse around, though, makes me trepidatious about entering said utility room. Ugh!
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"A little rebellion every now and then is a good thing." - Thomas Jefferson