Friday, August 31, 2012

Art Day: Friend or foe?

When it comes to doing art (and music for that matter) it's not one of my favorite things. Sure it used to be fun back in elementary school when the teacher put out all the art supplies, explained the project, and cleaned up after you. As a matter of fact, at one time it might have been my favorite subject but there was always one problem with it. The masterpiece that I dreamed up in my mind never materialized into my creation.  I can have all the best intentions of what I want to do and how I want it to look but when I'm done I'm usually disappointed and often times incredibly frustrated in the process.  So the question then is how do you make art a part of homeschooling when the teacher clearly posses zero talent at art?

Yesterday Kat and I went to the library. In the display case were some of the most beautiful paintings all done on pieces of palm trees.  That got me thinking.  We have plenty of palms in the yard.  We have lots of paints and brushes.  Why not plan an art project using the supplies we already have?  It sounded so easy and potentially fun in my mind so on Friday, after our school work was completed, I explained the project to the kids.  The girls immediately lit-up eager to get started.  James said, "Don't you have to have some talent in order to paint something good?"  I could only answer honestly, "Yeah, you do.  But you can have fun trying."  He was not convinced and opted to go back to doing something he really enjoys and is good at, probably Minecraft.  I got out all the art supplies and covered the patio table while the girls collected palm branches. 


At first the project started out okay.  Emily had a good idea and began painting.  I wasn't surprised at all since she frequently jumps at the chance to do artistic things and quite obviously has enough raw talent to put her ideas into images.  Kat began full throttle painting her branch purple, then pink, then blue. By the time she was ten minutes into it, there was just as much paint on her and the table as there was on the branch.  I tried to keep my cool yet fumed inside knowing that I'd somehow be the one cleaning up.  I began my branch with a green color (I ended up not liking) and no clear design or concept in mind. I waited for it to dry and then painted over it again which did not go well because the kind of paint we were using wasn't ideal for tree material.  Never-the-less, I kept going and ended up making a palm tree which I know any kindergartner could have improved upon.  Kat got frustrated too and I ended up sending her outside with the garden hose. Emily kept on quietly and neatly painting clearly enjoying every minute of it.  When Kat saw my branch and Emily's branch she grew more and more frustrated not being able to achieve what she wanted.  She started over whining, crying, and complaining while I matched her mood realizing the ever increasing mess that I needed to clean.  "I hate art projects!" I declared in a temper tantrum kind of way.  "They're so messy and they never turn out right!".  I sounded like a spoiled brat instead of a calm and loving teacher.  Not my finest moment.

In the end Kat copied my idea of palm trees. Much to her and my surprise, her finished product looked much better than mine and quite different from what I had done.

 I was impressed with both of my girls.  Was it worth it?  I think Emily would say 'yes' as she enjoyed both the process and the finished product. 

Kat struggled throughout and didn't seem entirely satisfied with her work (until we told her how good it really was).

 I, as usual, loved the concept and the ideas in my head more than the reality of executing the art itself and the finished product.

This day leads me to ask the question, "Art:  friend or foe?".  I think I'll go see what James is up to.


Friday, August 24, 2012

Chemistry in the Kitchen

This semester Emily and James are studying chemistry.  James has a keen interest in the subject and Emily hasn't run across it yet so it made sense.  I managed to never take Chemistry is high school or college (except for a very watered-down version at St. Leo) so Dennis is the natural choice to facilitate the subject.  Everyday the kids read a few pages of the book and then Dennis goes over the material with them.  This is usually followed by a YouTube video, white board drawing, and sometimes TV lecture. Then the kids go back and re-read the material with hopefully a new and more complete understanding.  So far it's going well.  James has the Period Table memorized and Emily has the first 20 elements under her belt. 

This week Dennis and the kids conducted their first experiment in the kitchen.  They used ice and salt to create a "super cooling" environment for a glass of water.  After some time the water remained unfrozen until it was removed from the bowl of ice.  Then, right before our eyes, the water started freezing inside the glass.  "Ooos and Ahhhs" could be heard from everyone.  "Wow, that's so cool!" the kids agreed. 

I'm so glad the experiment worked as advertised and although the kids were impressed, I have a feeling that next time they'll want to do something with fire.  I better put a fire extinguisher on my next shopping list!

Friday, August 17, 2012

First Field Trip

Last week was not only our first week of school, it was also our first field trip of the year.  On Friday the kids and I hopped on a jetBlue flight up to Boston for a little adventure and family time.  First stop was Newburry Port, MA to catch up with my cousin Nikki, her kids, and my Aunt Frannie.  Nikki and her husband have a boat down at the docks so we spent the afternoon hanging out on the water while the kids jumped off the boat for a refreshing swim.

This water's not too cold after all!
The next day James and I left the girls behind to attend Rendezvous 13 in North Andover, MA.  This is really the reason we came up to Massachusetts.  James is an avid fingerboarder and this is the place to be to practice your tricks, purchase new gear, and meet with other professional fingerboard enthusiasts.  The event was well organized and well worth our while (at least that's how James felt about it!).  I was impressed with my son's skills and was very glad we were able to make this happen for him.  I think it might be the highlight of his year (second only to getting a Mac Book of course). 

We chose Sunday as our travel day back to Florida. Looking back, this was unwise as it is still summer up North and Orlando is a very popular destination.  The first flight we waited for was full, as was the second and third. We got the hint after that and decided to get a hotel in Boston and try again the next day.  Being the homeschoolers that we are, this inconvenience turned into an opportunity to see the city.  We took the train into the center of town and began to walk around.  We had seen a video on early Boston the day before we left; however, it was brief and did not include much detail. We wondered around looking at the beautiful old buildings not really knowing or understanding what we were seeing.  Being a Sunday evening, most things were closed and we were on our own.  We did manage to find Boston Commons and checked out at least one old cemetery.  Pretty cool stuff. 

Monday morning we checked in for our first flight to JFK which was supposed to allow us more flights down to Orlando.  After a minor snafu at security (James had an unknown water bottle in his bag and I got stopped for a random screening) we made it onto the flight with seconds to spare.  The next flight did not go as well. Everything from JFK to Orlando (or any other city in Florida was full).  A friendly gate agent suggested we try LaGuardia so off we went to find a cab.  I was nervous doing this all alone with the kids but I also knew that every experience is a learning opportunity.  We got to LGA in time for a flight taking us to Sarasota, FL.  Not the city we were hoping for, but at least we'd be in the right state.  Once in Florida, we rented a car and headed to Orlando. 

Whew!  What an adventure!  The kids took it all in stride and I think their ability to cope with change, disappointment, discomfort, etc. is good thing in the long run. What's most important is that God was in the details and delivered us safely back home. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

First Week

"It seems quite early to start school," at least that's what I've been saying to the all the parents of those kids going back to public school on Wednesday.  Yet when I took a look at what we were doing at home for the past few weeks (namely TV watching, video game playing, and just about nothing else) I thought maybe it was time we added a little structure to our day too.  Truth be told, I was raring to go!

So on Monday (after we had slept in of course) the kids and I met in our homeschool room to discuss our new homeschool contract (expectations, goals, etc).  We checked out the new planners, new notebooks, new curriculum, new supplies and then got down to business.

Each day begins with devotions for Kat and reading the Bible (Romans) for Emily and James. This time with God sets the tone for the rest of the day.  Next we move on to math, science, reading, spelling, or html class depending on which student it is. So far we've managed to avoid my biggest fear - everyone wanting me at the same time. We've also been able to keep some flexibility as to when we tackle each subject... another concern of mine.  On the not so perfect side, we've had a few tears during math because Dennis spent a little longer on the subject than his two pupils would have liked.  After a quick chat about taking advantage of a good learning opportunity (i.e, any time Dennis is home from work and available to teach) all was resolved and positive attitudes reappeared. 

As for Kat, most of my time is spent with her.  I've done more reading out loud in the past few days than I have in months, but it's time well-spent, and I already see her curiosity reemerging. She's asking questions like, "What does that word mean?", and "How do you spell that?", and "How come?"  I love that she is reengaging with the learning process.  I don't know what happens in school to stifle all those questions (yes, I do know, it's called 'classroom control') but I'm glad she asks when she wants to know about something.

Tomorrow is our first field trip. The kids and I are going to Boston to check out a large gathering called Rendezvous which is for people who enjoy fingerboarding. It's a sport that includes a tiny skateboard and your fingers. Not my thing, but James is ultra excited about it and I'm so glad that we can make this experience happen for him.  Of course a little American History will be thrown in along with a visit to some family to round out the experience.  Not a bad first week I'd say!


Sunday, August 5, 2012

Designated Space

A few years ago when we homeschooled Emily and James, we had a designated room to homeschool.   The room served as a guest bedroom/office/homeschool room. It contained the usual things such as a table, computer, bookcase, map of the world, etc.  This space served it's purpose well as we were teaching two children basically the same material.  This time around we will have all three kids home and each of them has their own set of materials they will be working on.  I didn't think having a designated space was really necessary.  I had imagined each of the kids in their own rooms while Dennis and I moved between them.  It wasn't until I read Clay Clarkson's Educating the WholeHearted Child, this summer that I started to revisit the idea of having a designated space.  In their opinion, a home ought to have a space set aside that cultivates a positive attitude towards learning.  I thought about our home, which we have only been in for a year, and whether it would fit that description.  To be quite honest, it does not.  Some of our rooms say formal, like our dining room and front room.  Some of our rooms say relaxed, like our family room and porch. Our kid's bedrooms are all designed and decorated to their tastes, but no where in our home could I imagine us gathering with the purposes of 'cultivating an attitude towards learning'.  There was no where to be messy, to do a craft, to browse through books, spread out on the floor, get supplies conveniently, draw on a chalkboard, check out a world map, hang up projects, etc.  Granted my kids are getting older and hopefully Elmer's glue won't need to be purchased by the gallon anymore, but still, a place that says, "we homeschool" all of sudden sounded really important. 

Thankfully, we had the space to make this happen. We have a bonus room over our garage that serves as a guest bedroom and TV room with plenty of space left over to make a designated homeschool room.  We added a bookcase and filled it with what we needed. We used our old table adding a few larger chairs for our two that have grown significantly since their last homeschool experience.  We put some inspirational things on the wall (still need to find the Periodic Table for James) and a large white board and cork board.  It doesn't sound like much but already when the kids go up there I can see a change in their demeanor.  It's the place for them that's different from any other space in our home.  It's meant to be used and enjoyed for the specific purposes of learning.  Tomorrow we start that journey together and I'm so grateful God has blessed us with a place to do that.