Category Archives: Homeschooling

Local Geography and History Block

I wrote a little bit about my mid-summer homeschooling breakdown and about how I came really close to sending the kids to school. I however decided to soldier on in the homeschooling journey and am so glad I did. This year is off to a great start.

I spent more time than I ever have planning out the year. I now know that when I have good solid plans laid out our school days go so much better. In the past I have just sort of figured out what blocks we are doing and when we are doing them and left things pretty much open from there. This year I planned out which stories we would do, wrote out spelling lists, and came up with all of the activities for each block so I entered the school year feeling prepared and excited. Of course all my planning may change depending on how the kids respond and how things play out in real life. Plans on paper can look so lovely and tidy but our daily life is so different!

Ishaan started off the year with Maps and Mapping and Local Geography and History. The block is only 4 weeks long so we had a lot of material to fit into a short time. I found some really great books at our library. We started off the year learning about the history of map making and looking at ancient and old maps. I think I learned as much as Ishaan. He learned that the oldest map of the world was a clay tablet made in 500BC in Babylonia. It basically depicts Babylon, the Euphrates River, a mountain range, Babylonia’s nearest neighbors, and some islands in the ocean. Ishaan made a replica of this map from clay. It came out great and it was a fun project to start the year.

He learned about different kinds of maps and a bit about reading maps. He drew a few simple maps of our yard and the route from our house the town center. Since he was learning local geography and history I also had him free hand draw a map of New York State with. He major rivers, cities, and mountain ranges.

Ishaan has a hard time writing on unlined paper so traditional main lesson books can be a source of great frustration for him and I often end up drawing lines for him which is silly. I found these great small format main lesson books at here at Paper Scissors Stone which is a great Waldorf homeschooling supply store. The pages are lined on one side and blank on the other. A great way for Ishaan to write out what he needs to and still have a place for illustrations and diagrams.

We spend a week studying the Erie Canal. I don’t really remember learning about it so I learned a lot too. Ishaan read Desperate Journey by Jim Murphy. It is a novel but gives a fairly accurate account of what life was like during the early days of the Erie Canal. At the end of the block we were lucky enough to be able to take a wonderful two-day bike trip along the Erie Canal which I will post about separately.

We are having a wonderfully unusual warm November Day and it is going to be 70 degrees today so I am off to get some yard work done and do something fun with the kids. Have a great Monday!

The trouble with reading

It is the middle of August. That means it is time for me to freak out about school planning and get all anxious and crazy. The anxiety and craziness came way early this year.  At the beginning of July I had a complete and total homeschooling mom breakdown. From time to time I do second guess my homeschooling decision and wonder if the kids would be happier in school and then I remember why we are doing this and go back to being really happy with our choices. This time my melt down was far worse. Within 2 days I went from my typical second guessing to actually calling the school district to find out how to enroll my kids in school and calling the department of special ed to get Ulka evaluated. I was a mess and spent most of those two days in tears. Andy calmly looked on and let me go through my craziness without saying much. He knew that I would come around back to where my heart really lies.

The forms came from the school and I sat down to fill them out and got completely overwhelmed by that process. SO MANY FORMS. Wow. Who knew it was so complicated to enroll your child in school? Then, I saw my more sane and stable friend Sarah who so patiently listened and nodded and agreed. When I saw her two days later, she talked me off the ledge and reminded me of all the benefits and pluses of homeschooling and offered encouragement and support and suggestions.

So, the back story. Ulka has really been “struggling” with reading. By this I mean that she isn’t reading where she “should be” if she were in traditional school. As a homeschooling mom it is sometimes hard to gauge the children’s progress and I fall prey to all the school standards that I am so desperately trying to avoid. I looked up reading  by grade level, researched how to determine fluency, measured her reading in words per minute and basically made myself and Ulka crazy. I convinced myself that if there is a problem it would be best to find out sooner than later so I decided to have her evaluated by the board of ed. Every single homeschooler that I talked to said clearly “DO NOT DO THAT”.

I know that every child learns at her own pace and I knew that in my heart I was not convinced that Ulka had a “problem”, but that she is just taking her own time. I didn’t get her evaluated and am so thankful that I didn’t.  She has been practicing a lot recently and has made some good progress. I know that schools have to have standards to measure students progress. There are certainly kids who really have a need for intervention and it is great that those resources are available to them. But some kids are just ‘late bloomers’.

Some kids potty train at 2 and some at 4 . Everyone tells the frustrated mother not to worry, that she will do it when she is ready and that she won’t be in diapers when she goes to school. Some kids learn to ride without training wheels when they are 3 and some not until they are 8. If a child is still riding with training  wheels at 7 nobody freaks out and says that there must be some sort of problem and that the kid should be evaluated for a physical problem. It is similar with reading. Ishaan read Tom Sawyer in the summer between 2nd and 3rd grade and Ulka is still sounding out words. But she will get there, I know she will.

So now onto the fun of planning the school year. I have lots of fun ideas, trips and projects in the works and am looking forward to this year. More on school planning later. Now I have to go and do it!

Healing Herb Garden

Ishaan is, at the moment, very interested in learning about medicinal and edible herbs and plants. The other day he went out into the small woods behind our house and came back with a bag of what looked to me like grass, weeds, and dirt. He told me he had collected edible plants and asked if he could cook them up for his breakfast. Now, I must admit that I was a little bit distracted and just said sure. I realize that I probably should have investigated a little bit more, but really what do I know about edible plants. He has learned a lot in his wilderness class so I trusted him. He sautéed them in butter and sat down to a plate of who knows what for breakfast.

One of the things I love about homeschooling is that we can take these interests and ideas that the kids have and totally run with them.  It also works out very nicely because we are currently in the middle of his Farming and Gardening Block. I love it when things work out like that!

In our back yard we had a row of huge peonies. I love peonies, but we have them in the front of the house too and I’ve been wanting to do something else with that space in the back so we decided to turn it into a healing herb garden. I checked out a few books from the library and we did a little bit of research. The book I ended up liking most and getting the bulk of our information is called The Medicinal Herb Garden: How to Grow and Use your Own Medicinal Herbs by Anne McIntyre.  We looked through it for ideas and then decided to narrow it down to about 6 types of plants. We thought about what ailments we wanted to make remedies for and chose plants based on that. We are going to grow Echinacea, Feverfew, Marshmallow, Lemon Balm, Stinging Nettle, Calendula and a whole bunch of cooking herbs. We’ve got plenty of Plantain growing in the grass in the summer.

I had Ishaan look up each plant and write down what it is used for and draw a picture of it in his garden journal. We dug out the peonies and gave them away to several different friends. We certainly didn’t want to throw them out, so it is nice to know that they will be making other people’s gardens beautiful.

We weeded that area and sectioned it off using bricks from our chimney that were removed when it was rebuilt after the trees landed on the house. Now we have to spread some compost and natural fertilizer on it and it will be ready for planting.We ordered seeds from Bountiful Gardens and High Mowing.

The Bountiful Garden seeds came a couple of days ago and today we will plant them in small pots inside and them transplant them once they are a couple of inches tall.  Some of them we can sow directly in the ground, but I don’t like doing that because when they first come up they all look the same to me and look just like the weeds, so I’m afraid I will pull them out while on one of my weeding rampages.

While they are starting to grow we will research how to use them properly. Some, like plantain and nettle, you just mash up and apply directly to the skin. Some, like lemon balm are used to make tea, and others require more of a process to extract the good stuff so I’ve got a lot of learning to do.

Mondays revisited

You might remember my post a few weeks ago with a desperate plea for suggestions on how to make our Monday school days less painful, and even a little bit fun! Thank you to all of you who responded with great ideas. My hope is that this blog isn’t simply a way for me to post pictures of my kids and “our perfect life”, but to be part of a supportive community that shares ideas, so thank you!

Last Monday I was sort of off the hook because it was Ila’s birthday and we had a day off school.  Yesterday was my first Monday with my new approach. I have decided to not even attempt to sit down at the table for school first thing.  I asked that the kids be completely ready: dressed, breakfasted, beds made and rooms tidied, and chores done by the time I got home at 8:30.  To my surprise they were actually ready so I took them out to Five Rivers Nature Center. We go there often so it is a place they are all very familiar with.

It was chilly and I wanted all the kids, including Kairav to walk the whole time, so we chose the short 1/2 mile Beaver Trail, which is loop around a pond, and then headed into the education center to watch the birds and look at the owl and the turtles.

We headed home around 10:00 to start the “school” day. I had laid out all of their materials before we left so the transition would be smooth. They had a quick snack  and got down to work with no complaining.

I think the fresh air and running around was a great way for everyone, myself included, to start the week.  We had a great Monday which I think will set us up for a good school week. The kids are excited to have a good week and keep reminding each other about staying focused so that I don’t yell. Even the little ones amused themselves and stayed (mostly) out of trouble.

In addition to starting the morning differently, I also spent about 1.5 hours at the library on Sunday afternoon laying out the whole week. If I start the week off with a solid, yet flexible, plan everything goes much better. I know exactly what I want to cover and have realistic expectations of the kids.  I decided to have a week of some inside reading and writing work, but a lot of outside hands on stuff.  The kids haven’t had a break week since Christmas, and I think we are all feeling a little bit burned out and ready for a break- which comes next week!

So this week we started the farming and gardening block with both Ishaan and Ulka. Ishaan will do a more detailed study of seed development, plant and flower structures, and pollination and both kids will keep a gardening journal and help with the planning and preparing of the garden. We started some seeds inside yesterday. Today we will turn the compost and start getting the garden ready for planting the greens and peas.

I am hopeful that this new way of entering into the school week will continue to work well for us. I feel bad that it took me so long to recognize that Monday mornings were a problem, but at least now I know and we can try to fix it.

Happy Spring to all of you.  Go plant a garden- in your yard, on your fire escape, on your window sill- where ever you can!

The trouble with Monday

Today was a rough school day. It was a very rough school day. It started badly, with me frustrated and yelling and only got worse.

Ila was being difficult and annoying, Kairav was being clingy and annoying, Ulka was being obstinate and annoying, and Ishaan was completely unmotivated and annoying. I was incredibly mean and annoying.  A rough day.

By 1:15  we had barely accomplished much more than a bit of reading and a bit of writing and a lot of yelling. I gave up and told everyone to pack up their stuff, the school day was over.  It is not unusual to be finished with lessons and work by 1:00, but we normally have a whole lot more to show for it. Today we just had a lot of hurt feelings.

I complained to Andy that I was cranky and that the kids were uninterested. I was feeling like no matter what I do I can’t seem to make school fun and exciting these days. It feels like we are plodding through work just to get it done. I was feeling like I might as well buy a pile of workbooks, circle “to do” pages everyday and leave it at that. But I know that is NOT the way I want to homeschool. One of the reasons we are homeschooling is because we want the kids to enjoy it and we want it to be fun and interesting. So when I feel like I am failing at that it all falls apart.

Then Andy calmly said “it’s Monday”. Every Monday is just like this. You need to change the way school happens on Mondays. And it suddenly dawned on me. It’s true, every Monday is like this, especially if it’s been a busy weekend and I haven’t done enough planning for the week.

Now my challenge is to re-think Monday morning school. Do any of you have this same Monday re-entry issue? How do you handle it? How are your Mondays different?

With the warmer spring weather quickly approaching I am considering starting the day outside, giving us all some space to get our heads in gear for the week. There is plenty of yard work to do and gardening to get started. We could also head out to the local nature preserve and take a hike. I’ve thought about walking to the library and looking at books, but I think that might be too controlled for what we need.

I’d love to hear your suggestions! Now, Monday is finally over. On to Tuesday which is bound to be better.

Anticipating Spring

I know I’ve said before that I don’t like winter, but I know that I have also talked about how I like the change of seasons- that I need each season to prepare for the next. This year we kept waiting for winter to arrive.

Normally the snowdrops start poking their little heads out of the ground while still covered with a blanket of snow. When the snow melts, exposing the snowdrops, the end of winter is in sight and spring is just around the corner. Since there was no snow this year, the snowdrops seemed to emerge in the middle of winter. I didn’t know if it was me or the flowers that were confused about the seasons!

I wasn’t ready for spring, we hadn’t had winter yet! The thought of preparing the garden and spring cleaning overwhelmed me. I wasn’t ready for all that. I hadn’t had  my time of winter dormancy. I feel like I need that  sleepy time of cold, snow, long nights, and cuddling down by the fire to fully appreciate the excitement of the coming of spring. Winter is a time of planning, and wondering, and pondering before the flurry of activity that the change of seasons brings.

I had just about given up on winter and was starting to wrap my head around the idea of spring when old mother nature finally delivered us the winter weather I needed. Leap day brought us 15 inches of snow. We immediately commenced all winter activities- snow day, sledding, snowball fights, shoveling, and hot chocolate with whipped cream.

We managed to squeeze in a whole season’s worth of winter into 24 hours. Then it rained and warmed up.

A week later we were out in the mud in 60 degree weather. But I got my winter, and now I am ready and eagerly anticipating the arrival of spring.

I’ll end here for I’m  off to order my garden seeds!

Oh, cram!

We try to live as simply as we can in our hectic world. We really do. However, like everything else, our ability to accomplish this simplicity living seems to be seasonal. We are currently in a season of failing miserably at living simply.

 

I feel like everyday is a rush of school, running around, cleaning, cooking and working and we are missing the simple joys of the day.  By evening I am exhausted and just glad the day is finally over and hopeful that the next day will be easier, but the next day hasn’t been turning out that way.  Lately I have been overwhelmed by the number of tutoring students that I have. With the hours I spend with the students, prepping, and getting to and from the library I have had to carve out about 15 hours a week.  I just don’t have 15 hours a week to spare, so something has had to give. There must be something I am letting slide or not getting done.  At first it wasn’t obvious, but then I realized that what I am not doing is pausing for a moment to look around me and actually see things. Really seeing what my kids are doing, learning, and making. Seeing how Kairav is changing every day. Seeing how much Andy has been pitching in around the house to make it possible for me and pausing to say thanks to him. Pausing to have a quiet moment to thank God for all that is good in my life. I’ve been cramming every moment of every day full of doing doing doing that I’m missing all of it.

On top of it all, I just realized that Ishaan has to take the NYS 4th grade tests this year. I was under the delusion that he had to take them in 5th grade. So now, we are cramming for that too. I always promised myself that I wouldn’t stress out about these tests and that I would never  “teach to the tests”. But here I am stressing out and teaching to the tests. We are doing this test prep on top of all his other, more interesting school work, so the school days have become significantly longer.

I am confident that Ishaan is learning as much as he should be and that school is going well for us, but I feel all this pressure for him to do well on these pointless tests. Pressure from people in my life who question our decision to homeschool, pressure from the school district, and pressure from myself to prove to all of those others that we are doing a good job and that Ishaan is a bright kid and a good student. I wish so much that I wasn’t this way, but I am.

Lent starts today and it seems like the perfect opportunity to give up some of this rushing around to pause and be thankful. I know that is not going to happen right now though and I’m not going to pretend that it is. Last year Andy and I gave up Netflix for Lent. We don’t have a TV but watch our fair share of Netflix nonsense.  Giving it up “forced” us to spend that hour in the evening with each other- talking, playing Sequence, and just being together in a more meaningful way than staring at the computer screen together. When Andy first proposed that we do it again this year I was annoyed. My days are crazy and having a beer or a glass of wine, knitting, and turning off my brain is what I think I need at the end of the day. I realized though, that right now in this crazy season of cramming what I really need to do at the end of the day is pause, give thanks, and just be.

 

Fibers Wrap Up

A couple of weeks ago we finished up our Third Grade Clothing and Fibers Block. It was one of our best blocks so far. Both Ishaan and I enjoyed it and maintained our momentum for the whole 6 weeks. I find that too often I am super gung-ho and organized at the beginning  of the block and we dive right in and get a lot done everyday. As the weeks go by my enthusiasm wanes a bit and sometimes it becomes just about getting through the material.  It can be disheartening because I really want all of our school days to be fun and exciting and full of learning. I realize that is completely unrealistic however.

These are the books I found most useful for this block. All were available at our local library.

Unraveling Fibers  by Paticia A. Keeler and Francis X. McCall, Jr.

Warm As Wool, Cool as Cotton: Natural Fibers and Fabrics and How to Work with Them by Carter Houck

Fibers by Irving and Ruth Adler

For each different fabric/fiber I had Ishaan read about the history and the process of making the fiber. He then had to write it out in his own words. This is still something he struggles with because he doesn’t like writing, but he is improving all the time. Once the tedious part of writing it all out was done, he got to do a hands on fun project.

We started with leather and I did a long post about our leather moccasin project. 

Next we learned about wool. We borrowed a drop spindle from a friend and Ishaan had a go at spinning pre-made wool roving into yarn. We have a sheep fleece that we skirted and washed, but it isn’t carded yet. I wanted to get some carders and make our own rolags, but carders are not in the budget right now so that will have to wait. It’s ok though because then we will have something new to do with Ulka in a couple of years.

After wool we went onto linen. Coming up with a linen project was a little more difficult. My friend suggested a simple embroidery project. I found white linen napkin so he is embroidering a little heart design on it to give away as a gift.

Finally we learned all about silk. I knew the least about how silk is made so it was really interesting for me. Last October I got a silkworm cocoon at the Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck. We boiled it to see how the fibers unravel. The silk fibers are so very thin and delicate that we didn’t have a lot of success unraveling a very long length, but it was still pretty neat. Once we got sick of pulling apart the fibers we cut open the cocoon to see the dead silk worm inside. Ishaan wanted to eat it, but I convinced him that was probably not a great idea.

dead silkworm

After a week of block crayon drawing as a little breather we are starting our much-anticipated Native American History and Folktales Block. Ishaan is very much looking forward to it and I have some fun ideas planned so hopefully it will go well.

A Week in the Life – Day Seven

I wish we could sleep in or at least laze around in our pajamas drinking  coffee on Sunday mornings but that is not the case in our house. We have to be up, dressed, breakfasted, and ready to be out the door by 8am for church. We could go to the 11:15 service but then we don’t get home until 1:30 and we feel like it’s a waste of our day. We are late for church about 100% of the time, but hey, at least we make it.

When we get home we get some lunch on the table, put Kairav down for a nap and proceed with a relaxing but hopefully productive Sunday afternoon.

It’s blood orange season!

Lately with my increase in students I’ve had to go out in the afternoon to tutor for an hour or two which I don’t usually mind. Today I really really really did not want to go, but I just kept reminding myself that every hour of tutoring is a cello lesson for Ulka, or a month of YMCA membership, or part of an iPad. A little motivation goes a long way.

I did get to squeeze in some cuddle time with my favorite 4 year old before I left.

Ulka, my own little live-in mother’s helper, got Kairav ready  and put him down for his nap.

Ulka does not have any idea how to relax and be still. For her doing gymnastics is relaxing.

On her beam that Andy made her for Christmas.

Ishaan could literally read all day if we let him.

While I was out at the library Andy and Ishaan made a shelf for Ishaan’s bedroom wall.  Ishaan is a collector of treasures and he needs a place to keep them where they are not in my way and out of the reach of curious little hands. It came out super great and he is thrilled with it.

Sunday night is pizza night. No pizza here even approaches real Brooklyn pizza and frankly it’s just not worth buying.Andy has become an expert dough maker, though he hasn’t yet mastered throwing it up the the air and catching it to stretch it out! Although our homemade pizza doesn’t really come close to Brooklyn pizza either, it is it’s own thing and we quite like it. It’s fun to experiment with toppings. Today we made a leek, mushroom, and garlic with herbs and feta (no red sauce) and a spinach, garlic and tomato for our family. We also made a pie for our neighbors who just had a baby and delivered it piping hot.

After dinner the kids watched the 1950s version of Cheaper by the Dozen on the computer. Movies for them are a real treat so they were super excited.

I spent some time working on those blasted colored pencil rolls. Ulka’s is almost done and Ishaan’s is well on it’s way. And now after I’ve finished this post I think a glass of wine and an early night is in order.

I am sure that over the last seven days you have noticed a pattern to our little life here. Homeschooling, making stuff, cello, gymnastics, reading, and cooking. That is how we spend most of our time- at least in the winter. I am planning to make this a seasonal project so watch for the spring edition!

Well friends thanks for tuning into my little experiment here. I appreciate every one of you and all your kind and encouraging comments. It’s been a little bit exhausting documenting everything  and blogging every day for a week and I’ll be glad to have a little break!

Good night!

A Week in the Life – Day Five

As I might have mentioned, I love Fridays. Today, did not disappoint.  When my alarm went off at 6:20 I thought there was no way I could get ready and go to the gym. I made myself do it, and my welcome home was worth the effort of going. Ishaan and Kairav met me at the door.  Ishaan took my coat and Kairav brought me my slippers. I was then escorted to the dining room where a bowl of yogurt and molasses and a cup of hot coffee awaited me. The house was spotless and the kids were all dressed. Not a bad way to start the day!

At 9:45 Sarah arrived to take Ishaan and Ulka, along with her two children, to their homeschool bowling group. Sarah, my sweet friend, takes my two so that Ila and I can have some special time together while Kairav naps.  Not only did she take my kids for me, she brought us dinner for tonight. She has some great bowling shots here.

Today Ila and I got lunch ready and then went to the bowling alley to watch the kids. Sometimes we go out for a walk, or paint, or bake, but today we thought it would be fun to go and watch for a little while.


When we got home Ulka and Lucy  immediately put on their leotards and did about an hour of gymnastics. They are both about the same level, incredibly strong and determined, and neither of them want to be outdone by the other so they are a good match.

I love our Friday lunches together. I love that our kids will eat just about anything we put in front of them- with the exception of Kairav today who broke down sobbing because I told him he couldn’t have any more pita chips until he ate his spinach and lentils.

After lunch we sent the kids outside. The Ishaan and Jack wanted to make a fire in the fire pit so we said sure. They couldn’t get it to light with their flint and steels, so they asked if they could bike to the store to buy some matches. That sounded reasonable to us so again we said sure.

A little while later Ulka came in and offered us mints. When asked where she got them, she said that Ishaan bought them at the Marketplace because the matches were free. Sarah and I looked at each other with looks of combined hilarity and horror. We sent our two 9-year-old boys out on bikes in the middle of February to the store to buy matches in the middle of a school day. But the craziest part is that the people in the store said “matches are free”, so they used their money to but a tin of Altoids.

We burst into hysterical laughter tears streaming down our cheeks. Ila looked at us so confused and Sarah said “it’s ok, it’s just laugh-crying”. I’m not sure that cleared anything up for Ila.

Ulka and Lucy were not allowed to go with Ishaan and Jack and wanted to do something by themselves too, so they took their dolls out for a walk around the block.

Anyway, the boys got the fire going and the 5 ‘big’ kids spent the rest of the afternoon out by the fire sipping “tea . I later found out that they were just heating up water in a pan on the fire and dropping Altoids into it. Apparently they did try boiling grass, but I don’t think that worked out.

Last week I saw this really sweet crochet heart garland online and I got it in my head that even though I don’t like to crochet and I’m not very good at it,  I wanted to make one. I struggled through and taught myself (using the pattern that I can’t find right now to link to) how to make these hearts. I made lots of them but they just kept coming out looking awful. Sarah, also a non-crocheter, also gave it a go and hers were so lovely.  She shared her pattern with me and I still couldn’t do it. Finally after playing around with the two patterns I made some sort of pattern mash-up and got them to work. yay! I love them. I’m hooked and spent the entire 2 hours of Ulka’s gymnastics class making them.

A pile of rejects:

And now that I finally figured them out:

Dinner was already made for us and the kids were exhausted which made for an easy, tear free (mostly) evening. Jack brought the next installments of the Mysterious Benedict Society for Ish to borrow, so he is set for the weekend!

 

 

Now off to have left over birthday cake and make more hearts.

Two more days of this project. I hope you, my friends, are not getting tired of it!