Goals and The Dread Flu

In addition to Christmas, we were invaded last week by a vicious flu. A vicious, vicious flu that slowly made the rounds through us all; myself, EG, and the Spousal Unit were first and hardest hit, but FB had a milder case that left him in bed all of Thursday and part of Christmas Eve, and PC had a middlin’ case that really only served to make her both more energetic than the rest of us combined and whiny. This, by the way, is not recommended – having the youngest member of the household feeling the best.

Now that I’m finally emerging from the haze, I’ve been working on finalizing my goals for 2011. I started working on them fairly early in the month of December, which has given me appropriate time to tweak and modify. In the end, I have goals in fifteen distinct categories. Granted, I break things down considerably, and others would likely group some of my categories into a single category, so it’s not quite as gruesome as it sounds. My categories, though, are the following: health; weight; exercise; running; knitting; food (as it relates to money); food (as it relates to nutrition); spending & budgeting; moving; homeschooling; parenting; birthdays; holidays; online life; and books. Some of the goals aren’t really the type that I would share online, but there are a few for which accountability is a positive thing, so I thought I’d share them here.

Running: My goal here is to complete twelve races (5K) in the year, for an average of one per month.

Knitting: My main goal is to finish at least two projects per month. I have a lot of subgoals, mostly related to specific projects. That may become a separate post.

Food (as it relates to nutrition): A late, dark horse entry made itself known for this category just over a week ago. I think we’re going to have to do a trial of gluten-free, at least for the girls. This is going to be a significant hardship, and one to which I am not looking forward.

Books: One of my main goals here is to read any unread books in the house, or to take them to the happy place in Chattanooga, McKay’s. Additionally, I want to maintain a backlog of no more than 4 unread books at a time. As it stands now, I have one book I’m reading, two books that are waiting, one book I’ve decided not to read (McKay’s for it), and a couple of books that I have borrowed. I’m feeling pretty good about this one.

I’m pleased with the way my goals look; I’ve been able to break a number of them down into easily measurable monthly and weekly goals. I’ve also convinced Spousal Unit to join me in working towards some of them. Now the new year just has to show up so I can get started. That, and I have to get rid of this cough that’s still lingering.


A Book Gushing

I wish I could remember where I saw The House of Intellect recommended. I thought perhaps it was on the WTM boards, but a search has not yielded a result when I enclose “House of Intellect” in the necessary quotation marks. So, then, maybe it was on a blog that I follow. If it was one of you reading this, I must say – thank you.

I needed to read this book. It was written in 1959, and yet so much of what Barzun has to say is still topical. In fact, there were times I felt it was eerily prescient.

I appreciated many things about this book, and I felt it gave me much with which to grapple. I want to pick it up and reread it. For those of you who read the recent threads about traditional grammar and structural grammar on the WTM boards, there are a few pages where he takes up the cause of traditional grammar for students in face of linguistic objections. He mentions several times the importance of what he terms the “traditional” curriculum – Latin, of course, and logic, as well as mathematics, memorization, and ancient Greek.

I don’t feel quite adequate of giving the book a proper review, so instead I’ll include a few of the quotes I noted for myself.

“To effect these changes is not a superhuman task if the firmness and rigor that are being preached to the schools exist also in our individual souls. The discipline of hard work in reading, writing, and counting must be matched at home by attention to speech, manners, and thought.” (p253)

“Meanwhile, the simple but difficult arts of paying attention, copying accurately, following an argument, detecting an ambiguity or a false inference, testing guesses by summoning up contrary instances, organizing one’s time and one’s thoughts for study – all these arts, which cannot be taught in the air but only through the difficulties of a defined subject, which cannot be taught in one course or one year, but must be acquired gradually, in dozens of connections. . . ” (p113-114)

"This is the corruption of the pedagogic advice of Montaigne and Rousseau. 'Teach the very young with aid of real things,' they said (like Aristotle earlier), 'let children learn by doing.' They thought of the curriculum and Latin declensions and figures of logic, and wanted a little open-air life and bodily activity to relieve it." (p106)

And, finally, perhaps my favorite quote, especially in light of the post I wrote last week.

“All private and public affairs, moreover, must have unremittingly applied to them to criterion of work. The business of learning must above all others be represented in its true guise as difficult, as demanding effort.” (p254)

The House of Intellect, Jacques Barzun. Still alive today, I would love to sit down and discuss the world with this author.


Weekly Report: Week Twenty-One (days 098-102)

I liked my big/small weekly report this week, so let's try it again!

• EG took a video of herself performing an "ad" for her critical thinking class. Her father vetoed posting it on youtube, so you won't be able to watch her performance, but it was pretty funny. She created a "product" – a ever-tied hair ribbon.

• The best discussion we had all week was probably about the nature of conclusions and their importance in writing a paper. We talked about how, with a good outline, you may want to do your rough draft of your conclusion before you write your body sentences/paragraphs.

• FB has been zooming through the McGuffey Primer, now that I know he can read. :P It's really the perfect practice for him right now. Once we get to where it's more difficult, we'll do fewer sections per day. This is in addition to OPGTR, btw.

• FB is gobbling up Miquon at the moment. We're going to start on Right Start B after our holiday break, but continue doing Miquon as well.

• PC had her belated two year old well visit. She's a tiny peanut, weighing just 22.8 lbs, which is the 5th percentile. She's a full 34" tall, though, putting her at the 50th percentile. It's a big discrepancy, especially given that she's fallen several percentiles since she started eating solid foods. Since she eats plenty, it's either that she's burning it all off, or there's an absorption issue. I think this is where the stagehands gives me the card that says "Stay Tuned."

• PC went to run errands with me after her well visit, just her and I, no siblings. She's hilarious when she doesn't have her siblings to entertain and gets to be the sole focus of parental attention. It doesn't happen often for her!

• I made sausage balls. And cheese ball. And cookie bar. And then more sausage balls. Really, who could ask for anything more?

• I finished all of my Christmas knitting! I made a hat each for PC and FB, but the piece de resistance was EG's scarf.

The scarf pattern shares a name with EG's first name, written by the same company that dyed the yarn. The colorway on the yarn shares a name with EG's middle name. This scarf is literally her name.


Secular Thursday: A Little Hard Work

I think too many homeschooling parents are afraid of hard work, with regards to what they require of their children. I see it in several areas. It seems at time like many are afraid of requiring "too much" work for a child. Others are afraid of being seen as "too rigid." Still others are afraid of accusations of being "elitist."

Let's address the question of being "elitist" first. I'll quote Aaron Sorkin's piece about if Obama met Bartlet: "And by the way, if you do nothing else, take that word back. Elite is a good word, it means well above average. I’d ask them what their problem is with excellence."

Who wants to argue with President Bartlet? I certainly don't. I'll accept him as the final word on being elite. Let's be well above average. Let's be excellent.

When it comes to "too much" work, the oft-cited schedules and guidelines in The Well-Trained Mind come under fire. For first grade, for example, daily work is suggested that should, according to the guidelines, take between one hour forty-five minutes and two hours thirty minutes. Additionally, thirty minutes should be spent on fun reading during another portion of the day. Non-daily subjects add up to 7 to 8 hours per week, or an additional 84 to 96 minutes per day. Please keep in mind that this non-daily work includes art projects, picture study, and an hour of listening to classical music. Not all work that we as adults categorize as school is considered onerous, work, or "school" by our children.

Still, then. Our minimum total for first grade work, as laid out in WTM, is three hours nine minutes, and the maximum total is four hours six minutes.

In practice, the suggested approach does not take, for many homeschoolers, as long as the guidelines say!

On average, children between the ages of five and twelve years are suggested to get ten to eleven hours of sleep. This leaves thirteen hours in a day. The suggested schoolwork, at maximum, would compromise 30% of a child's waking hours. This is hardly onerous. (By comparison, a child in my school district in first grade would be officially in school for six and a half hours per day, not including time spent there before the official start of day and time after dismissal, and travel time, which is 50% of a child's waking hours.)

For fifth grade, schoolwork does become an increasingly large portion of the child's day, taking (according to those pesky guidelines) between six hours and six hours forty minutes. Notice that this just now reaches that 50% mark that kids in elementary school have had since first grade!

In WTM: "It's still hard work. We don't deny it. We'll give you a clear view of the demands and requirements of this academic project. But a classical education is worth every drop of sweat – I can testify to that. I am constantly grateful to my mother for my education. It gave me an immeasurable head start, the independence to innovate and work on my own, confidence in my ability to compete in the job market, and the mental tools to build a satisfying career."

I think a large part of the objection to "too much work" has come from an interesting source. Millions, it seems, has been made in the last decade by writers and others decrying American children's overscheduled lives. Kids need time to play, to be outdoors, and time to simply be with themselves. I don't argue with that. I do argue with the idea that a preschooler with two or three outside the house activities is fundamentally the same as an eleven year old with two or three outside the house activities. In the rush not to overschedule children, anecdotes about four and six year olds that do four sports a year, that go from class to playdates to swim lessons to art – these stories are rampant.

I have a confession, here. According to the definition of overscheduling given in many resources, I was an overscheduled child. For example, when I was in third grade, I took piano lessons, I played softball, and I did ballet. I also participated in Girl Scouts. These are the activities that stand out from that year in retrospect; there may have been others. I don't remember feeling rushed or hurried. I had plenty of time to run around outside, to make up stories, to read for pleasure, and to spend time with my family. I even lived twenty-five minutes from my elementary school!

I think the overscheduling hype might just be exactly that – hype. I especially want to question its applicability to homeschooling families. I made a list of my daughter's obligations and what I would like for her to have time to do, including music practice, time with her siblings, time to read, and down time. I included a good amount of sleep, and an adequate amount of time for meals. In a twenty-four day, after all of those? There was a surplus of five hours. Granted, travel time to activities needs to be considered in that five hours, but travel time does not have to be wasted time. In the car, we do memory work, we listen to music for music appreciation, we sing, we talk, and, when the car sickness isn't too bad, reading takes place. It's not wasted time, and could be argued to substitute nicely for some of the other time involved.

Is it possible to do too much, or to overschedule, even as a homeschooler? Yes. Absolutely. What I am arguing, however, is that the saturation point is much higher than most assume it to be.

Finally, there’s the objection of being “too rigid.” I’m sure there are better defenses of rigidity, not to mention better refutations of the charge of being rigid. What comes to my mind, though, is a quote from Bones. The titular character is explaining why she likes free form jazz. “No, I love it. The artist has to live within a set tonal structure and trust his own instincts to find his way out of a infinite maze of musical possibilities, and the great ones do.” Sometimes, the rigidity of a system can set us free. By learning the basic facts and laws of math, a mathematician can create brilliant proofs; by learning grammar, the writer has a framework for creative output. This is true across disciplines.

Ultimately, the objections to hard work can be answered and shown not to be the problems they are thought to be. The perception remains with homeschooling, though, as it does in many institutional school settings, that learning should be fun. Edutainment, not education. Others mistake industry for work, and while appropriately shunning empty showings of industry, forget the value inherent in work. Whatever the reason, the homeschool community has begun to embrace the view that requiring hard academic work is not a positive thing – and I think it’s a foolishly negative turn of events.


The Constant Challenge: Challenge

The most common, most recurring challenge in our homeschool is challenge itself. There’s a sweet spot in which I want my kids to be working. Neither too easy, nor too hard, ideally they’d be always working just on the edge of their zone of competence, to borrow a term from a book I read recently.

If I err towards something that is easy, I risk boredom. In our house, boredom with schoolwork often results in dawdling, a poor attitude, and, somewhat paradoxically, taking too much time to complete assigned work.

If, on the other hand, I err towards something that is too challenging, I risk frustration. I risk tears, exclamations of an inability to complete the work, and possibly a cessation of all effort.

To complicate matters further, a tired, hungry, or thirsty child often looks similar to a child who is being asked to do something too challenging. On occasion, the tired child will look like the bored child.

I admit, even after all this time, I sometimes miss the signs of something being too easy. This time of year, it’s all too frequent that my kids are tired or working their immune systems hard to keep illness at bay. I know that EG usually takes a cognitive leap between mid-December and the end of February, and things that were just right only weeks previous become far too easy in a matter of days. I know this, and still I can miss it.

Of course, there is a time and a place for “boring” work. We must review math facts. We must continue to analyze the grammar of a sentence, no matter how many sentences we’ve analyzed previously. We must recite the poetry we’ve already memorized, lest we forget it. Books that seem easy need to be read, to increase speed and fluency. The problem comes when nearly everything begins to fall under the category of “easy” and “boring.”

I would argue there is even a place for the thing that is just slightly “too” challenging. To work at a problem or text, to grapple with it, and to emerge victorious – this, of course, is the stuff from which self-esteem is truly made. Still, that’s the place for a challenge problem at the end of a chapter of math, for instance. The bulk of a day’s work needs to hit that sweet spot, even as a small fraction of it is spent grappling, and another small fraction is spent on the “boring” and the review.

Hitting the sweet spot, of course, is not exactly easy. Even in one subject, it can be difficult, but multiply the problem across multiple children and multiple subject, and it’s no wonder I occasionally have dreams about magical new curricula, and more diligent children.

What do you do to hit the sweet spot with your child or children? How do you balance the need for all three types of material, albeit in varying proportions? And, let’s admit it – how often do you think “I coulda had a V8!” because you’ve been ignoring the evidence staring you in the face (again)?


Weekly Report: Week Twenty (days 093-097)

I am, frankly, too tired to write a full weekly report. Therefore, we have one BIG thing and one little thing for everyone.

• One of my good friends had her baby on Tuesday night, which happened to be her actual due date. She had a quick, intense homebirth-turned-unplanned-UC. Mama & baby are healthy, happy, and gorgeous!

• I updated my Ravelry account with actual pictures of my stashed yarn and my projects.

• PC has added several words to her vocabulary lately. This week, however, we have added the all-important "Why?"

• PC also moves ever closer to be potty trained. We had to resort to getting her the non-preferred Publix training pants. Target's have a kitty on them and therefore she likes them too much.

• I had suspected for a bit that perhaps FB could read more than he was letting on. Over the weekend, he exposed the depths of his knowledge. The little stinker can read! When queried about hiding it, he said, "I didn't want you to realize until I was eight or ten." Thanks, kid.

• FB finds the whole compost process fascinating to observe. We also finally finished reading a couple of the Greek myths books that we'd been slowly working through with him.

• EG has been working diligently to wrap up the computer portion of PLATO Earth & Space Science before we break for Christmas. She's got just four mastery tests, three applications, and two lessons left!

• EG had her piano recital on Monday! She performed two pieces. Her pubic speaking class also performed a short skit.

Monday was their "Colonial Feast" at Master's Academy, as you can see…


The Other Planning

Okay, the easy planning.

For language arts next year, FB will continue in his curriculum from this year, for the most part. He'll use Printing Power for penmanship, and Spelling Workout for spelling – probably Level B, but he could get into Level C before the end of 2011-2012. He'll also keep using First Language Lessons, and we'll continue his writing with Writing With Ease Level 2. Literature will continue to be a mix of him listening to great picture books and history-related fiction and reading books on his level.

Mathematics will be what he has left of Right Start B after this year, followed by Right Start C. He'll also keep working in Miquon – I anticipate him working in the Red book and possibly the Blue. Drill will continue, using Calculadders, and we'll throw in some other resources as well: MathStart picture books, the Kitchen Table Math books, and possibly Primary Challenge Math.

For history, FB will be continuing with The Story of the World, moving into Volume Two, which covers the time period from 400 CE through 1600 CE. We'll use the Activity Guide again, and add supplemental non-fiction, which I anticipate pulling primarily from the You Wouldn't Want To Be… series.

Science next year will be biology. We'll probably start that a little early, doing some botany in late spring and throughout the summer, using Incredible Plants and perhaps Green Thumbs. I'm going to use The Natural World as a primary spine, alongside the Kingfisher First Human Body Encyclopedia and the DK First Animal Encyclopedia. The Natural World does touch on cells and evolution, which otherwise would go neglected. Supplemental books will be pulled heavily from National Geographic, Let's Read and Find Out, and Rookie Read-About Science.

German… I want to start all the kids on German. As with EG, this may involve tutoring, or Saturday school, or who knows.

FB will continue attending Master's Academy, which does a good deal of art and music appreciation. We're doing those very informally at home this year, which I'll probably continue next year. We have the Classical Kids series, The Story of Classical Music, and we do listen to Classics for Kids as well. I'd like to get more of the Venezia books on composers. I'd also like to get the Venezia books on artists. We have a few books on art and artists. Again, we'll keep this informal for the most part, though I do have Art in Story that we'll use periodically, correlated to history. I'd like FB to attend a ballet performance, a theatre performance, and a musical performance next year.

In terms of skills in fine arts, FB has expressed interest in starting piano next year. I think we'll use something like Music for Little Mozarts at home. They use the classroom program at Master's Academy and he's always talking about it. We may even start this by mid-spring of this year. He also is learning recorder at Master's Academy, and they do art projects there as well. In either first or second grade, I'll have him work through Drawing With Children.

This is really all even easier than it looks. I'm fine with music appreciation being decided as we go, as well as most art. Art in Story takes a little bit of prep, but no more than an hour or two total. I do have to finalize supplemental books for history and science, as well as create a schedule, and make literature selections. That's it, though, for FB. Easy peasy! All the major decisions are already made.


After December Comes 2011.

And, of course, 2011 means that after 2010-2011 is over, there will be 2011-2012. How'd that happen, again?

When it comes to next year and my two students, there's one for whom it's easy to list what we'll be doing. Then there's my darling EG.

Thank goodness for Michael Clay Thompson's language arts. We'll be using the entirety of the level four package - grammar, poetics, vocabulary, and composition. We'll also be continuing to use All About Spelling through the planned seventh level (no, we haven't started the sixth level; that will happen after Christmas, hopefully).

Everything else? Is vague.

Literature… I am taking a serious look at Literary Lessons from Lord of the Rings, possibly done through the onlineg3 class. That would cover September, October, November, December, and January, leaving me with a month at the beginning of our school year, as well as the remainder of the school year after January. I need to look at what we're going to do in history through the end of this school year, and restructure that literature accordingly. Then, I'll have a better sense of what other works I want her to read next year.

Mathematics… EG loves Fred, so I won't take her from her beloved Life of Fred for Geometry, even though I think the idea of putting "algebra" in a proof for any algebraic property is bunk. I've looked through the text, though, and anticipate it taking only 108 days, leaving plenty of room in the schedule for her to work through the proofs and end of chapter problems, if not the entire book, from Art of Problem Solving's Introduction to Geometry. All of that said, if next year is like every other year with math, she'll accomplish more than I suspect possible at the outset, so I'd better buy up Life of Fred Trigonometry. (I half-think she'll start Geometry before the end of 2010/2011.)

Social Sciences… I have to reconfigure my expectations for this year. Once I make sure she can finish the middle ages and the Renaissance, then I can begin to move forward. Tentatively, though, I'm looking at Ellen McHenry's Excavating English, as well as her Mapping the World with Art. I also have plans to pull together an economics study, and United States government, plus a world history course focused through the lens of food. All of this is for sixth and seventh grade (and possibly part of the remainder of fifth grade, to be honest), so here's another area where things are totally up in the air.

Science… I'm seriously considering having her tackle chemistry next year, as opposed to biology. Why? For starters, this year, we've spent and will spend a lot of time on biological topics. PLATO Life Science, yes, but also a human body study, a prehistoric life study, and a focused study of evolution and genetics. I love biology, but I do not want to burn her out on biology! Chemistry also fits more neatly into my Hogwarts school plans. We'll probably supplement science in other areas, thanks to Hogwarts, but I can find a chemistry program designed for homeschooling so much more easily. I'm actually seriously considering Spectrum Chemistry, even though I've sworn for years that I wouldn't buy any science materials from an obviously sectarian or creationist company. As far as I can tell, though, from all my reading and investigating, there's nothing in it to which I would object. It seems to be a 32 week course, with only three days of work expected in a week. Since we do core subjects four days a week, that gives us the flexibility to add enrichment (Caveman Chemistry, anyone?) as well as the other Hogwarts sciences (astronomy and herbology/botany).

German… I am considering enrolling the kids in a German Saturday school. I'm also making doe eyes at a friend who knows German to teach the kids. We may do both. Who knows? Not me!

Fine Arts, Skills… EG will continue with trumpet instruction and participation in band. She will audition for the "Advanced Band" and may apply to join Beginning Jazz (admission based on qualifying for Advanced). I think she'd like to continue piano lessons, even though my requirement of two years piano instruction will be met at that time. If she doesn't do any formal drawing instruction this year, it will definitely be on the list for next year. I'm going to outsource it, though, either by getting my mother to do it (with Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain) or by paying for outside instruction.

Fine Arts, Appreciation… Performances will continue to be important. I'd like her to attend two ballet performances, at least one musical performance in addition to the band concerts, and one to three theatre performances. I really would like to take her to an opera if there's an accessible one being performed nearby. She'll continue working through The Complete Idiot's Guide to Music History for, well, music history and world music appreciation, and Art for art history. I hope to renew our membership to the art museum, as well.

Logic… Unless something drastically changes, EG will be using The Snake and The Fox. I anticipate it taking one-half to two-thirds of the year. I also have Nonsense about fallacies, and a list of possibilities saved on amazon, to round out the year. Thanks to onlineg3, she'll have done both Critical Thinking 1 & Critical Thinking 2 this year, which should be a good basis for all of this. I also have some books on mathematical logic by Suppes, though I have no answer key for either. I think that's the point where I outsource, right?

Computers & Technology… I want EG to take some of the free classes and workshops offered at the Apple store. Ideally, I'd like her to take Art of Problem Solving's introduction to Python in seventh grade, so our main goals for sixth grade are to improve typing speed and to get comfortable with basic software usage.

I really want to have everything finalized by March, which means I will have a busy two or three months ahead of me. Why March? We're going to Greenville! (I'm so excited. Susan Wise Bauer, Jessie Wise, Jim Weiss, Michael Clay Thompson, Ed Zaccaro, plus Tim Hawkins. Yay!)


Weekly Report: Week Nineteen (days 088-092)

As much as I appreciate that the kids have extracurricular activities, I admit to enjoying this time of the year, when they slowly drop away for a nice holiday break. Band finished before Thanksgiving, and Monday will mark the last day of Master's Academy until 2011!

Even better news is that we passed our halfway point for the year!

EG moved into studying ancient Rome this week. She did not write an essay but did work on a biography paragraph for Julius Caesar. She also read Coolidge's Caesar's Gallic War. She completed four sentences in Practice Voyage and a lesson in Caesar's English II. Together we read through chapter seven, on quotations, in Essay Voyage.

Math & science both continue apace. She beat one level of drill (hooray!) and worked in both Life of Fred Advanced Algebra and Real World Algebra. I had a minor freak-out over where to go next with her with regards to math. She did three worksheets from PLATO Earth & Space Science, as well as finishing up the Atmosphere unit.

Logic, typing, music appreciation, and art appreciation continue to go well. We found out from her trumpet instructor that we need to plan to buy a new trumpet in the next six months or so. She has a performance on piano on Monday, as well as a skit with the other members of her public speaking course. Finally, we went to see The Nutcracker. EG enjoys watching ballet, which is something I hope she'll continue to enjoy as she gets older.

FB is voluntarily reading a few things to us outside of school time. Hooray! He learned about alternate spellings of the long a sound in OPGTR, and is almost finished with ETC 2. He's finished up week twenty in WWE 1, lesson 9 in SWO A, and lesson 62 in FLL. Yay! For literature, he's been listening to various retellings of Greek myths and Homer. History, as you may have guessed, continues to be about ancient Greek. This week's chapter focused on life in Sparta as well as in Athens. FB did four pages in Miquon and played with the rods extensively. I really need to get Right Start B out and get it going.

Over Thanksgiving, FB set up an experiment on composting from his MSB "Go Green" experiment kit, so he's been observing that periodically this week. He also listened to Sounds All Around. His music appreciation is temporarily superseded by listening to vast amounts of Christmas music, including the new Glee Christmas CD.

Speaking of Glee, that segues nicely into my update. I'm so thrilled with Glee. I can't wait to see next week's episode. I am trying to finish knitting a scarf for EG (which I have to do only while she's asleep) as well as a hat for PC (which, luckily, I can do while she's awake). I need to go buy one more skein of yarn to make into a hat for FB before Christmas. Other than a calendar for PC, I am nearly done with Christmas shopping!
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