Monday, January 28, 2008

More Planning 2008

In addition to deliberating the core subjects, a few days ago I asked the kids to consider a list of other work and activities available, both outside classes such as climbing and musical instrument lessons, and casual activities such as visits with friends and going for bike rides, and either order those activities from highest to lowest priority or group them into those they would like to do this year and those they are content to forego. The results of this exercise emphasise how hard it is going to be for me to achieve my New Years resolution to do less. Both kids came up with three activities they are currently happy to do without: music lessons at home, art lessons at home and learning a musical instrument. Everything else on the list, they hope to have time for.

Climbing is a high priority for both of them, as are visits with friends. Unschoolers group, technicraft classes, Boys Brigade and family excursions also placed highly. In addition, Josiah had "down time at home" fairly high on his list, which surprised me a little, and Tessa had bike rides rated highly. Josiah said he would have ranked bike rides higher but he knew he would get a weekly bike ride in the summer months - getting to Boys Brigade.

The children's outside commitments will be:

Climbing(2 lessons a week plus 2 training sessions)
Unschoolers group(fortnightly)
Tessa:Technicraft class(weekly for the first half of the year)
Josiah:Boys Brigade(weekly)

If the children want to, they will also be able to enrol in school holiday programmes during the autumn, winter or spring school holidays:

My preparation is going well ... in fact it's done! I have decluttered our shelves of resources and done the reading and practice for the first activities in each of our core subjects. School term doesn't start till 7 February; it's great to be ahead of things for once!

When we first started homeschooling, we tried to ignore the school terms, working, relaxing or holidaying when it suited us best. But these days, while we do take advantage to some extent of the flexibility homeschooling offers, we find it most convenient to follow a work routine during term time and a holiday routine during the school holidays, because of the various term-time classes the children attend. We will, though, be starting "work" early this year, either at the end of this week or Monday next week: Josiah has requested a gradual start to work rather than launching straight into it on day one of term.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Planning 2008

This week I have begun thinking about the coming school year, what topics we might cover and what resources we will use, and discussing the possibilities with the children.

I think our core subjects will be:

  • Maths, geometry

  • Language

  • Science

  • History, geography, people

  • Latin or German

  • Critical thinking

  • Cooking

At the end of last year I had the kids fill out a survey form to identify what they had enjoyed most about last year and what they would like to do this year. Josiah asked to do more algebra and identified grammar as what he enjoys most about our language work and Latin work. Tessa wants to do algebra too, wants to study animals, enjoyed language and Latin work and would like to learn German, loved our history work and is looking forward to reading more about the Middle Ages, and would like to do more critical thinking activities. With all this in mind, I've come up with a list of the preparation I need to do before "school" starts:



I'll have to look at what Tessa was doing at the end of the year - I can't remember! I have a feeling she was not quite at the end of a sequence of geometry activities and also that I had a couple of presentations planned on negative numbers following up on some introductory work she did. Unfortunate that we left off in the middle of things. It probably is worth finishing those sequences off - won't take long - before starting a new topic ... which will be algebra. I'll hunt out the sequence of activities I used to introduce Josiah to algebra.

Lately, we have practised times tables in the car. This seems to be an effective way to memorise the tables so we'll continue with this.


... wants to do algebra. I'll have a look at the Montessori Research and Development maths manual I am working through with him to see if and when algebra comes into it.

Last year, Josiah learned to perform large multiplication and division of decimal numbers. But not having practised that work since, he would probably struggle if asked to perform a complex calculation now. I need to work out a way to make sure both children practise large calculations from time to time. Tessa isn't working with decimal numbers yet but is in the same situation as Josiah in that she has learned to perform large multiplication, addition and subtraction problems, and division of large numbers by a single digit number, but doesn't practise these calculations often enough to be confident every time.



... hasn't decided yet whether or not she will do a project for the science fair. I've told her that she must decide before the start of term. We will do any science fair project right away at the start of the year. I'm determined to have the work for the science fair out of the way within a month or two of the start of the year, rather than the science fair dominating our science time for the whole first half of the year as it has in previous years.

Tessa wants to learn about animals this year after learning about plants last year, so we'll be working through the relevant sections in How Nature Works by David Burnie.


... is planning a follow up project to his entry in a previous science fair, further investigating how fast bananas ripen in different environments. When that is done, we will likely spend most of the year studying chemistry. I have purchased Real Science 4 Kids Chemistry Level II for Josiah and it looks great. I am a little nervous that Josiah would prefer to study some other area of science this year ... Josiah was deeply interested in chemistry about two years ago and thoroughly enjoyed exploring chemistry at that time. We moved on to other topics (physics and then onto phylogenetics or cladistics) but I think the interest in Chemistry is still there and that this is a good point to follow it up further.


There are two Montessori Research and Development manuals that we have yet to look at: Volume 4: Capitalisation and Punctuation and Volume 5, which looks to be grammar. But before we start on either of those, I think the kids would enjoy finishing the manual on Word Study. A couple of years ago, we did the activities on compound words, suffixes and prefixes but for some reason we stopped there. The manual also has activities on antonyms, synonyms, homophones, homonyms and homographs. I don't know what homophones or homographs are so it will be one of those cases of learning with the children email blacklist

I also plan to ask Josiah to come up with some language or writing goals for the year. He doesn't yet write easily and he would like to be able to - he recognises how useful that will be to him in the future. I think it could help to have some specific goals; we could then come up with a plan of activities that will enable the goals to be achieved.

Latin / German

Tessa would like to learn German but I don't think we have time for two foreign languages. So my plan is to finish Latina Christiana Book I, which we started last year. That will probably take till the middle of the year, then we'll switch to German. Much as we are enjoying discovering the connections between English and Latin, I think completing Latina Christiana I will be taking Latin as far as any of us want to take it at this stage.

So then, come the middle of the year, I will be faced with the same problem I've faced every other time I've looked into teaching the kids a foreign language: the most recommended language curriculum I know of, Power Glide, is very expensive. Although most of the teach-yourself-a-foreign-language books available are aimed at tourists and don't have strong writing and grammar components, the Hugo books look pretty thorough to me, and are a lot cheaper than Power Glide but they are aimed at adults and I'm not sure how much fun Tessa would have with it.

Critical thinking

Time to start the book I bought last year: Critical Thinking Book I by Anita Harnadek.

History, Geography, People

Kingfisher History Encyclopedia plus library books and activities.

Starting with the Middle Ages.


One evening a week, kids to alternate.

Friday, January 25, 2008

New Years Resolution: Do Less

My chief New Years resolution for this year is to do less. It might sound a bit odd but I really feel that we did too much last year. Too much of my time with my children was spent helping them get ready for climbing, Boys Brigade, technicraft class, guitar lessons, unschoolers group and visits with friends, at the expense of time available for us to do things together: walks, bike rides, reading, talking.

This resolution won't be easy to achieve. Josiah is one weekly activity down this year because his technicraft classes have finished, but Tessa has the same number of outside activities as she had last year. She has decided not to continue with guitar lessons at present, but begins technicraft classes this year. What I am tentatively thinking is that I will try to keep every second weekend, on average, free of outside commitments, for us to do something together as a family, and that during the week I will try to limit each child (and myself) to one outside activity on top of the regular commitments of climbing, Boys Brigade, technicraft and unschoolers group. We'll just have to see how that goes. Unschoolers group is such a big outing (most of the day) that it might be best not to have an extra mid week activity on the weeks when we attend unschoolers group.

Progress on my other New Years resolution is not going well. I'm sure planning ahead is the key, but I don't like cooking and therefore the temptation to procrastinate is high.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

New Year's resolution: cook proper meals

One of my two New Year's resolutions this year is to cook more proper meals. Last year, our routine of having a main meal in the evening went out the window because we were out three or four evenings a week, climbing, during our usual dinner hour. We tended not to feel like eating anything substantial early before going out. Sometimes we would prepare something that could be easily reheated when we got home, but often we just had a makeshift meal when we got home - toast with hummus and tomatoes (or the kids preference: peanut butter) or weetbix with fruit and nuts. This year, I would like to make sure the kids get proper meals most evenings. I think the trick is to plan ahead. If it gets to evening before Geoff or I think about what to do for dinner, chances are it won't be much. So my goal is to decide in the morning, or possibly after dinner the evening before, what to cook for dinner. And to do some of the preparation early in the day especially on those evenings when dinner has to be put together quickly when we get home late in the evening after climbing.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Parenting on holiday

We are back from three weeks touring the South Island. We had a fantastic time but its nice to be home. Our 100sqm house seems spacious and peaceful after living out of a car and two small tents for three weeks and sharing bathrooms and kitchens with a whole lot of strangers.

I found parenting on holiday a challenge. The usual consequences for inconsiderate behaviour were not applicable. I think we did reasonably well at finding ways to give each other space and time alone to refresh: Josiah would often disappear to the camp TV room (I think he viewed as much TV on this holiday as he did in the entire previous year), Tessa would go for a wander around the campground and Geoff and I would read our books. A couple of times, Geoff and Josiah went climbing while Tessa and I stayed behind for a rest. But it was a busy holiday - lots of climbing and sightseeing and socialising. In hindsight, we didn't always get as much down time as we needed. Tessa lost it a couple of times. That's challenging enough to handle at home where we can all go off to different rooms for a while then deal with the problem after a break.

I think what happens when Tessa loses it is a difference in perception. On the holiday, for example, there were days when we went climbing or sightseeing when Tessa would rather have been catching up with friends or relaxing back at the campsite. When we made the decisions about how to spend each day, I considered how the previous days had been spent and how the following days would be spent: my perception was that over a period of days we were balancing the interests of the four of us (and sometimes also the interests of others). Tessa, on the other hand, saw each day, each event, in isolation. Her perception on any day when we didn't do what she wanted to do was that her preferences were being ignored. However unreasonable that seemed when viewed from a wider perspective, Tessa's feeling of not being heard in that moment was genuine.

One thing that helped a little was when, about half way through the holiday, I wrote an itinerary, slotting in our commitments and listing the possibilities for how we could spend each day. I think it helped Tessa to see that although, for example, there would be more days bouldering at Spittle Hill than she wanted, there were other activities to look forward to.

As Tessa feels unheard, I'm determined next time she is displeased to listen carefully to her objections, without interrupting, attempting to identify her points and truly consider them. The other thing I need to do is think of ways to help Tessa work on her self control, and on her ability to tolerate delayed gratification so that she can comfortably go along with the choices of others knowing that she will get to choose on other occasions.