“Love thy neighbor as thy self.” Matthew 22:39

Source: “Love thy neighbor as thy self.” Matthew 22:39

Happy Easter to All! The Lord is Risen Indeed!

Lord, open our lips, and our mouth shall proclaim your praises.

Easter sunriseEaster beach crossThis Easter began beautifully on the beach, where nature was as elegant as scripture in defining the moment.

Easter sing

Christ the Lord is risen today—Al-le-lu-ia!

Earth and Heaven in chorus say—Al-le-lu-ia!

Easter sand tomb and crossBounce was delighted to build in the sand throughout the service.  He proudly recreated Jesus’ tomb.  Children everywhere dug their toes into the sand and built crosses, tombs and raised small toys from the dead.

As Scooter later said, “That was the best church service ever!”

Easter Bounce the BunnyBut where was the Easter bunny?

Easter peep groupHiding eggs and spreading joy with the help of the Peep Patrol

Easter peep patrol

Easter hatScooter after eggs

And with the clang of the bell, they were off!

After singing, prayer and egg hunts, we all settled into our own pursuits.

Easter kids book

Scooter counted Bunnies

Easter christ bookAnd I counted my blessings.

Two quotes I particularly enjoyed today from this 14th century monastic work are,

If you consider what peace a good life will bring to yourself and what joy it will give to others, I think you will therefore be more concerned about your spiritual progress.

And, Keep an eye primarily upon yourself, and admonish yourself instead of your friends. 

Easter scooter and alliaLet Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is, As it was in the beginning, is now, and forever shall be..  Amen.

Destination Imagination State Champions!

Screen Shot 2013-03-26 at 12.19.25 PM

Last saturday, two teams competed in the Destination Imagination state competition.  In case you haven’t read my previous posts on the subject, Destination Imagination is an international problem-solving and teamwork competition.  Each year, thousands of teams (composed of seven members) can choose to solve one of six annual “challenges,” each one focusing on a different skill set: technical engineering, science, fine arts,  improvisation, structural engineering, or community service.  The teams work together to adress certain requirements and present their solutions in the form of eight-minute skits.  They cannot have adult help developing ideas, writing scripts, or creating props.  At a regional, state, or global tournament, teams present their skits (which count for 75% of their final score) and also compete in “Instant Challenges” which test their ability to think on their feet by requiring the completion of unexpected timed tasks (such as building a tower or writing a quick performance).  Instant Challenges make up the remaining 25% of their score.

Image

Wonderland Booksavers, about to compete in Instant Challenge

Our middle school level team, the Wonderland Booksavers, chose to complete in the community service-based challenge: “Project Outreach: Real to Reel.”  For this challenge, they had to work together to adress a community need.  They also had to create a short documentary film about their project.

In their performance, they were required to showcase their film, review their project, and participate in a simulated press conference, where they answered questions about the experience.  The team, which sprung out of an informal book club, chose to donate used books to those in need.  They donated over 5000 books to places within the US (such as Bridgeport, Connecticut and Appalachia) and to places across the globe (including Haiti and South Africa.)  They also donated teddy bears and new books to survivors of the Newtown shooting.

Image

The team packs books to be donated

The team won first place in their challenge and age level.

Image

Team I.C.E. in the launch area, prepared to set up their props.

Our high school-level team, Team I.C.E. (Imagine. Create. Empower.), competed in the science-based challenge, “Wind Visible.”  They were required to research wind energy, and incorporate this knowledge into a skit about an invisible visitor, who, like the wind, cannot be seen but sets something in motion.  They had to create kinetic art powered by the wind and designate two additional items that they did especially well on  (“Team Choice Elements”) for score.

Image

Team I.C.E. during their performance

Image

The team’s skit was about the inhabitants of a coral reef (two jellyfish, a sea serpent, a mermaid, and a school of fish) who, with the help of the Great Wind Spirit, build a wind-powered lighthouse to ensure that sailors will no longer crash into the surrounding coastline.  They are motivated by their invisible visitor, the ghost of a sailor who drowned there.  The team worked especially hard to build creative props and costumes, including a haunted shipwreck, an ocean backdrop and coral reef, jellyfish made from umbrellas, and a mermaid tail covered in scales that were really foil cupcake liners and gold and silver candy wrappers.

Both teams qualified to compete in the Global Finals, held every year at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.  Over 1200 teams, who qualified at state, province, or national finals, are expected to participate in this week-long celebration of creativity this year.  The Wonderland Booksavers and Team I.C.E. are very excited to be a part of the event.  Meanwhile, they’ll continue to meet to practice Instant Challenges, repair props, tweak their performance, and rehearse.

The Calm Before the Storm or Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire

The really and truly beginning of school has begun.  All the plans are behind us and now our efforts will be transformed into hard facts:  some successful, some not-so-successful.

I am awake at dawn so I can savor a few minutes of quiet.  At this exact minute everything is clean, organized and well, sort of perfect:  perfectly quiet.

Like stockings which are hung by the chimney with care, our books and our schoolwork are quietly waiting, the ensuing chaos as inevitable as Christmas morning.

This may be heaven but it is certainly not homeschooling.

Our homeschooling family, when it awakes, will be loud, boisterous, obstreperous, untidy, demanding and…most of all, excited to start the new school year.

 

 

Wait a minute, I think I hear them now!

In actuality, our first few days of school have been rewardingly peaceful, organized and productive.   Whew!

We are, so far successfully, using Debra Bell’s student planners.  I met with each student in my new “office.”  They loved having private time in a comfortable space.  We established individual goals, both personal and academic.  Then each student completed their planner with subjects and specific assignments due for each day of the next several weeks.  At first they felt that this was double work, writing down the assignments as well as completing them.  Imagine!  However, now they are gratefully ticking off their tasks and calling me to, “hurry up and come sign off on my assignment!” each time something is done.  This simple system provides me with plenty of checkpoints to both supervise and review their work.  Happily, it seems to be fostering independence and task completion as well.

Bounce is hard at work on Saxon Math 5/4 this year.   I recently discovered a great (free) program called Big Brainz, http://www.bigbrainz.com. This three-dimensional game reinforces multiplication and division facts while exploring castles and dungeons populated with monsters and dinosaurs.  Bounce elected to use his break to play this game.  It is the best one of its kind that I have seen.

Truth began by reading A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park.  He was suspicious of this book because others had already read it.  What made us think that he would like it?  He will now freely admit that he is really enjoying the book.

My first days also included attending a parent orientation to Stanford University’s Online High School.  This school represents true diversity (as opposed to “manufactured diversity”) in its student population.

Like many traditional families, we began school with a haircut, straight out of the 1950’s.  Here is Scooter, getting his haircut by the same barber who cut his father’s hair on his first day of school.

Scooter has now officially started Kindergarten, which he is attending at a local school.  I love teaching kindergarten, but I also appreciate the advantages of structure and discipline, especially the first few years.

Scooter feels like a big boy as he gets on the school bus (all by himself!) each morning, leaving all his big brothers behind.

Scooter waves Good-Bye!

And thus the adventure begins…

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is each of us doing what works best for ourselves, while maintaining our family and community centered lifestyle. 

The Well-Scheduled Life: An Exercise in Liberation

It is that time again, the time when structure yields freedom.  Or when freedom must yield to structure.

All through our long, wonderful and carefree summer, I have been planning and organizing.   I have cleaned our schoolroom, filed our papers and redistributed the books.  I have reviewed various programs, met with my fellow homeschool mothers and debated the merits and pitfalls of specific options.  Finally the choices were made, the new books ordered, the desks cleaned one last time.   Each week as I became more enamored with summer, I have found myself relentlessly marching toward fall.

This year I am using Debra Bell’s Ultimate Homeschool Planner as my personal support system.  I love the way this book encourages me to plan for the year, establishing academic and personal goals for every member of the family.  Each goal is then broken into bite-sized pieces and redistributed across the weeks.  Debra has built in discussion times (2x/week!) with each child to review goals and encourage progress.  This system really guides our family to work both together and independently to achieve our goals.

A favorite friend, visiting from Paris, helped to organize my best intentions into a scheduled reality.  With some input from myself, and the Happymess students, she came up with a schedule that seems to work.  The kids are happy to know exactly what is expected of them and I am glad to see all the key subjects making a permanent appearance on the daily schedule.

Miraculously, I have been given the most amazing gift:  a private study.  This previously unusable and cluttered space has been transformed with navy paint and donated furniture.  Happymess kids are as happy as I am that we will now have a quiet place for private discussions, goal setting and frustration resolution.

And so, as we march inexorably toward September, we have cleaned, planned, arranged and scheduled.  We are up to the challenge and excited to begin anew.  A well-organized homeschool liberates our minds and souls to pursue higher learning and personal dreams.

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is finding that structure can set us free.

So Long Sweet Summer, So Long…

Summer is our favorite season.  The weather is warm and wild and thus prohibitive of difficult endeavors.  Freedom reigns.

Each person is free, like the wildflowers, to grow in any direction and to follow the sunshine of their dreams.

Happymess kids begin the summer with a trip to the zoo and a greenhouse.

The plastic gorilla is even more fun!

The Fourth of July was shared with friends and family.  Watching shards of light sparkle and reflect across the ocean waves is spectacular.

This summer Scooter got his first set of wheels.  He is finally able to ride to the library, church, candy store and beach with his brothers!  This is surely the high point of Scooter’s summer.

For the first time, Truth and Quantum left home to spend a week living in the woods.  We missed them, but loved coming up for the closing bonfire.

Athena traveled most of this summer.  We did manage to catch up with her long enough to enjoy kayaking on the lake together.

Oddly, perhaps, most of our summer was spent reading.

We read long, complicated historical novels like Anna Karenina by Tolstoy and fun, short books like Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown.  We read intriguing children’s books like A Single Shard by Sue Parks and we read Bob Books as we struggled to teach Scooter some basic reading skills.

One of our favorite activities is the Library Summer Reading Program.  Bounce and Scooter race to the library everyday to record the new number of hours they read.  They average 2-3 hours per day.

We allow Scooter to count his pre-reading activities towards his reading total.

One of the fun aspects of summer is that everyone enjoys the whimsy.  Here is the ceiling of our favorite summer diner.

Bounce loves art.  I am not a big fan of scraping paint off the floor so summer and art and I are best friends.  Bounce created an outdoor studio where he can paint whenever he likes.

 

As summer comes to its inevitable end, I begin organizing, arranging and planning for the unsentimental months ahead.  Here we have all the un-owned shoes looking for new feet so they can attend school next month.  I managed to find several pairs each for Bounce and Scooter.

And so the month of August draws to a close and we must finally say, “So long sweet summer.”  What a wonderful interlude it has been.

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is the freedom to dream, create and cherish the unscheduled and the free.

“It’s My Cooking Day!”

Here, as everywhere, we have some very hungry kids.  They are learning to cook and they love it.  They love being able to choose the food, cook it themselves and then serve their “creation” to the family.  We find that when the kids choose the meal they are concerned about preparing something healthy and balanced.  They take responsibility for choosing foods that are both delicious and healthy.

Scooter is so excited today.  He screamed, “It’s my cooking day and I am cooking Chinese!”  He studied the Chinese New Year in nursery school, wore a dragon costume and practiced eating with chopsticks.  Since then he wants every meal to be Chinese.  I sliced the beef but Scooter marinated the beef and is stir frying it himself in the wok.  He also has rice boiling in a separate pot.

Cooking in a wok is the perfect choice for a young child.  It is safe, easy and allows the child to create a sophisticated meal for the family.  I bought the vegetables pre-sliced and chopped at the grocery store.  These are a little more expensive but enable Scooter to do all the “cooking” himself.

Scooter just needs to add the vegetables, one at a time, and stir.  He feels like the worlds best chef.

A beautiful family meal prepared by Scooter, age 5.

And yes, he loves his vegetables.

The competition is fierce and Bounce is eager to have his turn.  First words of the day, “It’s my cooking day today!”  He is making another kid-easy meal.  He is sautéing sliced chicken (pre-cut) in butter.  He will add all his own spices.  He is also cooking spinach cheese tortellini and corn-on-the-cob.  These are easy as all you need to do is boil water.  He will later add pesto sauce to the tortellini.  Delicious.

Bounce is particularly concerned about dessert.  He knows that a good dinner should include a great dessert and he is determined to bake and decorate his own cake.  He tries to keep it a surprise from his older brothers and sisters but they can smell the wonderful warm sugary smell of cake throughout the house.

Bounce’s dinner is a great success, and so is his cake!

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is teaching all of life’s skills and teaching the joy of serving others.