A Little Time….

When we started homeschooling, I had this vision of our days.  We would be engaged in all kinds of creative activities.  Mom and child, snuggled on the couch reading a story in front of the fire.  Planting in the garden, organically learning about plants instead of the kindergarten curriculum of coloring in pictures of plants.

Since homeschoolers all come with different stripes and spots, it is important for this post to understand we are the flavor that does do “curriculum” particularly in math and English.  The other subjects we cover and this kids are heavily engaged in how that happens, what they would like to learn about.

All three of my kids attended a Montessori preschool and when my daughter was in kindergarten, her teacher gave her a kindergarten folder.  Each week, she and the teacher sat down, reviewed her work,  and the teacher made suggestions about what learning goals for the week were in different subject areas.  My daughter was free to complete the work at her own pace, free to complete the work as she saw fit, all at once, in  little pieces, whatever.

This was my fantasy about how we would home school too…who says Math must start at 9:05 and last for exactly 20 minutes.  It seemed to me rigid and limiting.  So off we went, weekly lists for my 7 & 9-year-olds.  The 5-year-old was still in story book time, we read several a day for pleasure so no lists for the little guy.

Did I mention that none of my kids are easily put off, all want what they want now, and all still think the best thing about homeschooling is they get to see me everyday?  I don’t quite understand this last one as I am not the most laid back mom in the world but they are great kids, what can I say?

So back to the weekly schedule.  Little did we know that one of my kids had an LD and vision issue.  As parents who have been in the situation can tell you, planning and organizing is not a strong suit of these kids.  It was taking my child 3 times as long to do his work.  Add to that his difficulty with written output, I ended up typing most of his work while he dictated to me.  All three kids, demanding my time now.  If I was working on math with one, the other two would stand over us and pout until we finished.  Pleasant learning environment?  Not really. Mr. LD would start tapping his pencil or repeating the same sounds over and over as only a little boy can do.  And me, I am an introvert with undiagnosed auditory sensory issues.  It all drove me up a wall!  My mantra was, “I love my children and I will be calm!” over and over.

Finding the solution has been a journey with many changes and revisions.  The current system works pretty well.  The first thing we did was make a schedule…mainly for me.  I looked at the work I required each child to do and marked the subjects that they need me for.  For my now 10 & 8 year olds, there are many subjects where I just need to get them started or to check in on a project they are completing.  My little guy, now 7 needs much more direction so most of his work is with me.

I made a daily chart by time of day and child’s name.  I  plugged in the “Mom” subjects first so there would be no overlap.  I then plugged in the “alone” subjects so they have a time and don’t get forgotten.  The kids know that they can really do the alone subjects whenever they like and in any order.  The “Mom subjects” must be completed at their assigned times and no one may  interrupt.  Well, ok, maybe for blood or fire, but not to ask me if they can have an apple or to tell me that they just finished their work.  We talk a lot about how important it is that they each get their alone time with Mom when there are no interruptions.  The most recent change has been to make sure that little guy gets his time with me first.  He is not yet able to self start like the other two.

The finishing touch is putting the daily schedule in a plastic sheet protector.  Each day as they finish their work, they cross off the subject with a dry erase marker.  The next morning, they wipe it clean and start fresh.  Less waste and work rather than printing the same list out every day.

It took a little time to make it perfect, but it works for us.  Work is done much earlier in the day.  My kids didn’t like the schedule idea first, but when they saw how much more free time they had, all three were sold on the idea.  For both perfectionists and the dwadlers, I think it has helped to know it should take you about 1/2 hour to do this much work.  And for Mom, it has helped me feel that the flow of the day is much more pleasant!

I would love to know what others do to keep their days running smoothly!

A Day at the Bog

Picking Garlic Mustard Plants

The indoor, nothing better than a good book girl had a to have a nature boy for a son.  Somewhere, someone is laughing up there.  I love this boy…and so, armed with a pair of gardening gloves, we spent Sunday afternoon at the Volo Bog.  It was a habitat restoration day and we decided to go and work at the bog.

For those that haven’t been the Volo Bog is an incredible place.  Any bog really.  When I worked at the College of Lake County, I remember a co-worker who used to say that if there was one place everyone should see in Illinois it was the Volo Bog.  Fast forward 10 years, to nature boy.  Still haven’t been to the Volo Bog despite the fact that I have lived my entire life less than an hour away.  Last year on a rare open Sunday we took the kids to the Bog.  It was fantastic and amazing, a truly magical place!

Garlic Mustard

So now we are having a truly wonderful day, pulling Garlic Mustard plants, an invasive species from Europe.  It was easy work for the kids, although overwhelming to say the least when they saw how much there was.  And hopeful too, when they heard the undergrowth of the woods had once been covered with Garlic Mustard and now it was mostly on the fringes.  The kids and I also spent time cutting willow branches to make fencing to protect the returning native species.  Simple things so often bring the most satisfaction!

Cutting Willow Branches

 

All week as we have been driving through the suburbs we have spotted garlic mustard.  I have the strangest desire to stop the car and begin weeding!

It was really wonderful to spend an afternoon in the peace of the woods, spending time looking at moths and watching the joy the kids had releasing turtles into the wetlands around the bog (they were found in the parking lot).

Turtles

All in all, a truly wonderful day.  One that I would like to repeat soon!

 

It’s Greek to Me!

On the roof of the National Hellenic Museum

This past week we had a great time visiting the National Hellenic Museum in Greektown.  This is a new museum, one we will definitely be back to visit.

The first floor is for children and allows the children to imagine life in ancient Greece.  A portion of the exhibit focuses on the Odyssey.  The kids had great fun inside of the Cyclops cave as well as spending time inside the Trojan Horse.

Inside the Trojan Horse

Inside the Trojan Horse

Making Mosaics

In the cyclops cave

 

We had a great class discussing Greek art, seeing examples of the black figure vases we had learned about and the kids were able learn about making mosaics.  As our tour closed, they had an opportunity to make their own mosaics.

The museum just opened in 2011, so the exhibit space is not yet finished.  I found this charming and a great way for the kids and I to see the thought process behind a museum exhibit.   I also liked seeing the history of Greektown in Chicago, the interactive nature of the exhibits allowing both children and adults to learn about the history of the Greek population in Chicago.

Add to the day, lunch in Greektown and a visit to the Sears Tower and we had a perfect day!

What Spring? Summer in March!

The past weeks have been an unusual way to end winter in the Midwest.  Weather in the 80’s, sunny, the kind of days that just make you want to be outside.  That is just what we have done.  The vegetable garden is well underway.  Seeds are planted, frost tolerant plants are in the ground and growing.  The kids have been outside for hours every day enjoying the weather, reading on the patio, playing in the local creek,  climbing trees and just doing not much of anything.

I have felt a kind of rebirth too.  This winter, it seems, I have done nothing.  But as I looked back, I realized that 4 sets of house guests, hosting family holidays, working for my hubby’s business have all taken their share of time and not left me much room to write.  The writing is important I think.  A chance to reflect on what we do everyday, to evaluate what works and what doesn’t.  So hopefully I will be writing.  More.

 

 

Sand Mandalas

Today the children and I spent an amazing morning.  We were able to be part of a small group of families to spending the morning with 8 monks from the Drepung Monastery.  This was part of a  goodwill tour to share Tibetan culture and raise funds for the monastery, exiled from Tibet and now located in south India.

 

The morning began with chanting and prayers.  Then for about two hours the children learned about sand mandalas, by creating them with the help of the monks.  The sand mandalas are traditionally created by the monks, chanting prayers to infuse the mandala with the spirit of peace.  After they are created, they are swept away to remind one of the impermanence in the world.  The sand is then taken to a river and lake as all water is connected.  Then the spirit of peace in the sand can spread everywhere.  It was amazing to see the concentration and focus the little ones showed when creating these mandalas.

We also spent time creating sculptures from playdoh.  Traditionally the monks create these beautiful little sculptures using flour and yak butter.  I guess playdoh will do!

I feel so honored and blessed to have been a part of this amazing opportunity!  I know the children do as well.

 

 

That’s A Lot of Bees!

This past week we went to the Heller Nature Center in Highland Park for a class on honeybees!  The kids were so excited as we know several families that have their own hives.  My kids would like to have hives, but I have nixed the idea, for now, as we still frequently have toddlers and preschoolers in our yard.

The class was informative and fun.  I was really impressed by the staff at the nature center.  Many times when organizations have classes offered to both school groups and home school groups they struggle with the multi-age format home school families need.  Not so here, the class was engaging for all  the children and the adults as well!

It was fun to suit up and go see a hive.  I had seen hives on film, but it was amazing to see one up close.  The organization and innate intelligence of these insects is really amazing.  It makes me aware of how much there is to learn!  And how much we don’t know.

After the class, we enjoyed the walking the trails a the Nature Center.   The highlight of the walk was a doe in the woods.  The kids and I loved that the doe did not start and seemed as curious about us as we were about her.  This is a little gem owned and operated by the Highland Park Park District and we will definitely be back both for classes and to enjoy.

Cantigny – A Hidden Chicago Gem

Last week, I visited Cantigny for the first time with my boys.  It is a wonderful park, hosting formal gardens, walking paths, golf course and two museums.  We had limited time and were unable to tour the entire park.  This affords us the opportunity to go back and visit another day.

Cantigny was the estate and experimental gardens of Colonel Robert McCormick, longtime editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune and WWI soldier.  Coming from a Tribune family (my grandfather and uncle were both Tribune photographers), I remember hearing about “the Colonel” as a child, even though he died before I was born.

Our day started in the gardens, with the boys exploring and finding fish in the ponds.

We met our friends and spent a lot of time with the kids in the Tank Park, a collection of tanks from different times of American History.  We then toured the First Division Museum, filled with amazing displays, chronicling the history of the First Division from WWI to present.  I was hesitant at first about bringing small children into the museum, but the displays are created in such a way that children can understand based upon their ability, without unnecessarily frightening them.  The first rooms were incredibly moving to me, conveying in a very concrete way a WWI bunker.  While far removed from the horrors of war, I felt I was able to process the my ideas of war in a new way.

We continued the afternoon exploring the varied gardens in the park.  We needed to leave before touring the McCormick Museum.  We will come back soon to see the house and spend more time in this magnificent setting.

For more information visit the Cantigny Park website.

Worms Under the Counter

Last May, my boys went to a short class on Vermicomposting (composting with worms, for those not in the know). They returned home with a few worms in a yogurt container and instructions for feeding, watering and caring for the worms.

We already composted, my boys love all things nature, so I suppose it was a matter of time. As any parent can tell you, the worms soon became my responsibility. They thrived. We improved their living conditions by providing them with a new and improved coffee can.  This past week, I noticed the worm castings (fancy word for poop) was looking really wet, I added more shredded newspaper to absorb the liquid, but the next time I opened the jar the worms were crawling to the top trying to escape. May I say, a big yuck!

Time for a quick trip to home depot for some plastic bins.  I made a two bin system. Notice the “I”.  My boys abandoned Project Worm for the UPS man who inconveniently showed up with birthday presents as we were about to start!

I found the following two websites helpful with their instructions regarding worm bins.

Washington State University Extension site

Vermicomposting and Home Gardening Store

My system is a two bin system, but I wanted the bottom bin closed to catch any excess water.  I liked the idea of having two bins that the worms could move between, but thought I shouldn’t put the cart before the horse and should make sure we can keep this going!

My husband is happy–he isn’t thrilled about worms in the house…I kind of agree with him.  This looks neat, clean and self-contained!  Hopefully in time we may have the 2,500 (yikes) worms that will inhabit a 10 gallon tub.  Now to deal with the guilt I feel that worms are happier in wood than in plastic!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Field to Jar

Jam making has been a tradition in our house. Every year for as long as I can remember, I have been making some time of jam and canning it. I love the idea of canning, the satisfaction I feel looking at the jars, lined up and ready to store and use throughout the year. A taste of summer waiting to warm up the cold winter’s days.

My kids like the days too. I would love to say, we created made the jam as a family. Much to my dismay, my kids view the day as, “If we leave Mom alone in the kitchen, we will have something yummy day.” What can I say, you take what you can get.

This year we had the honor of picking our berries for our strawberry jam, courtesy of our CSA, Tomato Mountain Farm. The kids all helped stem the strawberries and then quickly lost interest. The strawberries were so sweet, I only added about a 1/4 of the sugar recommended. In my experience, strawberry jam tends to be really runny, I have added pectin. This year, I tried of suggestion of the Barefoot Contessa that a couple of Granny Smith apples, diced will add enough pectin to thicken the jam. It does a nice job, however it slightly changes the appearance of the jam to a less glossy, thicker jam, almost like a butter. Flavorwise, the jams are the same, I would recommend either pectin or apples, both are a fine choice.

My kids are excited now,  happy with their jam. I am pleased with the statement, “There is no jam better than yours, Mommy.” And secure in the knowledge that we have a shelf of summer waiting for us on those cold winter days!

Learning Passion

As I have mentioned, this year is our first one homeschooling.  Needless to say, it has been a year of many changes for us.  My husband and I both have graduate degrees, two finished, two not.  We love to learn and both are passionate about our chosen professions.  As our children progressed through school, both of us were saddened by our children’s loss of passion about learning.

Toddlers and preschoolers love to learn about anything, sponges they absorb everything.  In my mind, I think about latency as  an age where children were able to start structured, organized learning–learning in a way different from preschoolers and toddlers.  My children were bright, they wanted to learn, they came home with additional questions about what they had learned in school.

Vijay and I were parents who would say “Well, let’s find out more about it.”  By the time the spelling assignment was done, dinner over, the kids just wanted to veg and who could blame them?  The questions went unanswered.  Weekends would come and they would want to play with friends, my eldest son would spend hours in the backyard looking at the field behind our house, finding frogs, butterflies etc.  How could I interfere and cart them off to the library to complete more formalized learning?  As it was, their door to door time for school was 8:15 to 4. Free time is important for kids too, they can’t be scheduled every minute. They were coming home with good grades, they must be learning.  Yet, they dreaded school, they didn’t want to give up free time to learn about things that interested them.  And isn’t that normal in our culture?  Everyday, don’t we hear of parents discussing how their kids don’t want to go to school.  How we have to coerce them to do their homework.  So my kids found no joy in learning.  And now I know how wrong that is.

We are eclectic homeschoolers, we follow curriculums in a few subjects, other areas we learn about as inspiration hits.  Our days have more free time than when we were traditional schooling.  Most days, the kids finish their work by lunchtime.  Afternoons we take walks, play games, watch a movie, read aloud, do errands, have sports practice and some days just hang out.

In February, we went to the Art Institute and walked by the exhibit on ancient Egypt.  “Mom, can we stop?” my daughter asks.  She calls her younger brother over and says, “Look at this sarcophagus, do you see this?  Let me tell you what that means.”  She proceeds to talk for about 20 minutes, giving us incredible detail about the burial rituals in ancient Egypt, how they make the sarcophagus, etc.  I asked her where she learned all this and she mentioned the library books, documentaries, a tour at the Field Museum we had taken a couple of months earlier.  We had never formally studied any of this in her prior school years or in our home school curriculum.  She had learned this just because she had time, time to read, explore her interests.
As I write this, my kids are at a camp at the botanic gardens.  On Wednesday, we took a walk through the prairie section of the gardens.  “Mom,”  my daughter says, “can we stop at the library and get some books on prairie plants?”  So, yesterday afternoon off they go to the library.  We find the books, add a couple about food chains in the prairie for good measure.  Her brother wants to read too.  So I set them down at the table and ask them to skim the books for reading level and interest as we have about 20 books.
I wander off to help their younger brother, and when I return about 15 minutes later, the table is covered with books about the prairie and the desert.  “The desert?” I ask.  Apparently, she and her brother have decided to compare and contrast prairie and desert habitats.  They have already found some websites to help them with their research.  It is summer, they are pursuing this from their interests, not mine, not their teachers…and they are finding a love of learning!