Homeschooling High School

dscn0324

John is 8th grade this year. That means that we are right on the edge of a scary, yet exciting step in our family life. Yes, I mean high school. We’ve always said that beyond a certain age that the decision to homeschool (or not) is up to the each individual child. John has chosen to continue homeschooling through high school. I’m excited about that. And nervous. So, I’m doing a lot of research and thinking about curriculum. I’m also finding that the response from other people is similar to what I heard 9 years ago when we began this journey. I think a lot of people can imagine homeschooling a 1st grader but when it gets to high school they can’t imagine what that would be like. And in all honesty, since I haven’t done it yet, I can only guess what it will be like. But I thought I’d answer some of the many questions I’ve been getting recently.

How do “they” know that you’re doing all the required classes?
The answer to that depends on the state you live in. We happen to live in a state with very minimal requirements. So for us, the answer is really that there aren’t any required classes. I do have to notify the state at the beginning of the year about our plans to homeschool and tell them our basic curriculum. We also need to do some kind of end of year evaluation to show progress. But we don’t have to follow the same curriculum as the public schools.

That said, most homeschoolers I know do try and have their high schooled students meet the same rough requirements as public schooled kids for the sake of college. So if most students in your state take four years of history, it’s probably a good idea to not do only 1 or 2 years. But you don’t really have to study the same material that they do in public school.

What about PE?
This is sort of the same question as above but it seems to get asked separately. I think there are some states where homeschoolers do have to document PE as well as other specific requirements. We don’t have to do that so I don’t plan on doing any kind of formal PE. Being active and exercising are different. John is a year-round swimmer and active with Scouts. He bikes and hikes and is fairly active. So in my mind PE already has a nice checkmark by it.

What about socialization?
Ok, no one actually asks that question in those words. They did back when we were starting out in kindergarten. But now the question is asked in different ways: What about prom? What about hanging out with friends? What about sports?

I wrote a long time ago that socialization is not the non-issue that some homeschoolers might say it is. As my kids have gotten older I’ve also realized that their need for social interaction varies widely. John is an introvert, like me. He has a good small group of friends but he isn’t someone who needs (or wants) to be with people all day long. As he’s gotten older we’ve purposely invested more time in activities that enable him to deepen his relationships with his closest friends.

Also, it won’t come as a shock to other homeschoolers, but there is a homeschool version of just about every high school social activity. Our co-op has a student government, a yearbook, a graduation ceremony, a very active drama group, a high-level speech and debate club and multiple social events yearly. There are multiple homeschool proms in the area and multiple different organizations that offer varsity level homeschool sports.

How will you teach Math? And Science?
I get this question a LOT. Ironically, these are the two subjects I worry about the least. For me the question is more how to teach a foreign language. Or writing. Or music. But it’s the same idea. How do you teach a subject that you are not an expert in?

There are oodles of options for homeschoolers who don’t feel able to teach a particular subject themselves. There are co-ops. There are online classes meant for homeschoolers. There are also other online or non-traditional classes meant for anyone. There is dual enrollment at a community college. There are tutors.

Different families use outside options to a different extent. Some families outsource almost all of their high school classes. Others teach almost everything at home. We will likely use a mix. Next year, John will continue to do Latin online with the same provider that he did Latin I with this year. His Math program is AOPS which is meant to be done independently. He loves it and it’s a great fit for him so we will continue to use it. I plan on having him do science at our co-op even though I’m comfortable teaching it at home. We happen to have some excellent high-school science teachers at the co-op and it’s a good way to lighten my teaching load a bit. The other classes for next year are more up in the air. Right now the plan is to do them all at home (rather than outsourced) but I’m researching options.

And the implied question…Isn’t it weird for a teen to want to be home?
No one has exactly asked this. But even from other homeschoolers there is an assumption that teens in general and even more so boys don’t want to be home with their parents. And if they do, there is something slightly odd about them.

I’m not foolish enough to think that John is choosing to homeschool in order to be with me. He’s choosing it for a lot of reasons. The main one is most likely that it’s what he already knows. It’s easy to continue doing the same thing. He also knows that the amount of free time he has is far greater as a homeschooler than in a traditional school. I joke that he’s the perfect homeschooler: he works hard but likes to do it in his own way and time. But in many ways that’s true. He gets up later than most kids his age, drinks coffee, reads the paper, and then gets to work.  I briefly check in on him several times a day and then we meet for longer times during the week for deeper discussions.

I do think that John doesn’t see being home with me as a bad thing. We get along well. We have similar personalities and like a lot of the same things. That isn’t to say that things are all sunshine and happiness. He’s a 13 year old boy and nowhere near perfect. He annoys me at times and I know I annoy him. However, overall we have fun together. And he (mostly) enjoys being with his brother and sister during the day. It’s not the main reason we are choosing to homeschool but it is a nice bonus.

Stay tuned. We’ll see what I’m saying four years from now when we’re coming to the end of his time at home. I can’t say for sure what high school will bring but if it’s anything like what we’ve done so far it will be a mix of the good and the bad. Regardless, I’m looking forward to this next part of our homeschool adventure.

 

 

Marbled Paper

I am not a particularly arts and crafty person. But I have kids who love art. Ruth, in particular, loves crafts. She makes things all the time: scarves out of T-shirts, bracelets for her stuffed bunny, a  monogrammed sign for her door out of cardboard and patterned duct tape, etc. Her favorite part of the week is any kind of art project that we do. So, I’m always happy to find a project that is a new technique for us to try.

img_2394

Last week we tried this very cool marbled paper project from The Artful Parent. Like the best projects it was fairly simple and turned out beautiful results. Full instructions are at the link above but basically you put shaving foam in a pie plate or small baking dish and then drip liquid watercolor on it. You then swirl the drops together (we used a chopstick). Then you dip a piece of paper on the top and scrape the shaving cream off the paper. The result is really cool marbled paper.

img_2396We used posterboard for the paper cut into smaller squares. The edges curled quite a bit but then flattened out nicely after a few days under some books. If we did it again I might go with stiffer paper (like cardstock). We found that we could get one or two dips before it worked better to add a new color. I thought the process worked best to start with one or two colors and then add more as we went. My kids liked just to add a bunch to begin so there paper got more and more solid as they went. We then just got fresh shaving cream when it got too muddy looking. We also found it hard to scrape off the shaving cream with cardboard as in the original link. Instead I used a chopstick and then wiped off the excess with paper towels. It was a somewhat messy project for us, but since the materials were easily washable it cleaned up easily.

Afterwards, we used the paper to make Valentines for Ruth’s class at co-op. We just cut hearts out of the paper and she wrote a message on each. Then we tied the heart to a lollipop with some ribbon. It looked really cute and she was so excited to give them to her friends.

Scenes from a Wetlands Walk

img_2306

img_2304

img_2296

img_2311

Seen: Two Great Blue Herons, Five or Six different kinds of turtles and too numerous to count Canada Geese. We also think we saw some Red Headed Woodpeckers but they were high in the trees and we didn’t really see the distinctive heads very well. We wouldn’t have even known to look but a very nice birder on the trail stopped us to point out the distinctive sound and to tell us that they had been spotted.

We’re still technically on break and not “doing” school until next week. However, on our walk in addition to looking at the birds we discussed prime numbers, Charles Lee and the duel in Hamilton, the nature of heaven (with Ruth after she asked me what I thought I would do the first time I saw God) and hibernation. There was also a lot of Narnia and Harry Potter discussion due to our recent and current read-alouds. When I got home this morning the boys were replicating Galileo’s famous gravity experiments by dropping objects off the stairs to see which landed first. This was because David had been reading about gravity in his Science Encyclopedia. Over break we’ve also had spontaneous discussions about iambic pentameter (thank you Incorrigible Children), mythology and even grammar.

I have no way of knowing if other families find themselves discussing math and grammar and gravity over breakfast. It seems normal to us. I suspect that homeschooling makes this more common because we are used to school and life all being one rather than in separate spheres. It’s one of the many advantages to learning as a family.

 

Tickled Pink about Writing

We’ve been back from our vacation for just under two weeks. It took us about a week to get over jet-lag (worsened by illness). This past week we got back into the groove of school and activities and it felt good to return to a routine.

Overall, the school year is going well. The subject that I consistently agonize over the most is writing. I’m never completely happy with what we are doing. I have about four different writing “curriculums” and we’ve used parts and pieces of all of them at different points. I’ve flirted with Bravewriter for so long that I finally broke down this year and bought The Writer’s Jungle. I haven’t actually read it yet, mind you, but it’s sitting on my desk.

However, one of the projects we’ve done this year that I’ve been the happiest about was an extra writing/language project working with idioms. I made a list of 50 different common idioms. (There are tons of these lists online; I picked from one that was geared towards middle schoolers and that I thought had a good amount of expressions that my boys didn’t know.) The first week I gave the list to my boys (5th and 8th grade) and had them come up with definitions to see how many they already knew. Then we went over the real definitions together and discussed them.

The second week I put slips of paper with the idioms on them in a jar. I had them each pick five pieces of paper and write a paragraph using those five idioms. All three kids (2nd, 5th and 8th grades) joined in. The stories were hilarious. My 8th grader (who claims to hate writing) wrote a particularly funny story using the five idioms he picked correctly and also as many idioms as he could remember literally. There was a character who literally walked on eggshells, for example.

The third and fourth weeks we kept the slips of paper in the jar and played two different games. One was a game where everyone took turns drawing an idiom and then restating it in literal terms without using any of the words in the idiom. For example: “If you live in a house made of breakable material you shouldn’t throw hard spherical objects.” The other game was idiom charades. Both were a lot of fun and a huge hit with the kids.

When we do fun things like this I end up being glad and feeling like we should do more of this kind of activity in our homeschool. But then I start to worry about things like spelling and grammar and punctuation and the FIVE PARAGRAPH ESSAY. Right now, we are still using somewhat of a mish-mash of formal and informal writing approaches and it’s working ok. I have another writing project (on codes) planned, but got thrown off a bit by our travel. I plan on beginning that this coming week to add a little fun into our weekly routine.

 

 

 

Africa with Kids

550120This year we are doing a world cultures/geography study as part of our homeschool. For each area of the world we study the geography, talk a little about the history and a bit about the different cultures. This isn’t by any measure a comprehensive study of any one area but instead it’s a survey course where I want the kids to get a taste and feeling for different areas in the world and appreciate just a bit the diversity of the world we live in.

One thing I’ve emphasized with each area is that we are looking at that part of the world with broad brushstrokes. We can’t learn everything about Australia or Canada in three weeks. I also want the kids to realize that when we talk about “South American art” or “Australian food” we are usually talking about something that is a stereotype and not something that is representative of every single person or even most people in that country or continent. I have felt like no where is this more true than our current area of the world, Africa. Too often in the west our view of Africa is one of the savannah with a few nomadic tribesmen roaming the wilderness. When I was planning this unit I realized that if my kids come away with an appreciation for how diverse Africa is then our study will be a success. Maybe the best way to think of it is that I want them to know what they don’t know.

Africa is Not a Country by Margy Burns Knight is an excellent book for beginning a study of Africa with kids. Knight begins by explaining that Africa is not one country but instead 53 (now 54 with the addition of South Sudan). She uses the illustration of a pie cut into slices to explain how much of the land is different ecosystems (savannah, desert, rainforest). She then goes on to describe a “typical African day” by highlighting a child from a different country on each page. Some of the kids are in villages, some in cities. There is snow and desert. There are kids playing soccer and kids gathering water and kids going to school. There are dark skinned kids and light skinned kids. It’s a long book to read-aloud but kept the interest of my first grader.

Children Like Me by Barnabas Kindersley looks at kids around the world. Photographic 835178spreads with a little text highlight what kids in different countries eat, how they go to school, what activites they like to do, what their homes are like, what their clothes are like and what their families look like. We read the pages on kids in African countries to again highlight the diversity of the continent. Both Children Like Me (published in 1995) and Africa is Not a Country (published in 2002) are slightly out of date. However, I felt like they were good introductions to the people of Africa, especially for a younger elementary student.

We also enjoyed Africa by Mel Friedman, part of the True Book series and Introducing Africa by Chris Oxlade. Both were good basic surveys that covered physical geography, animals and well-known landmarks.

 

Thanksgiving Adventures

IMG_2547 IMG_2558 IMG_2551 IMG_2549

Thanksgiving break gave us two very different but equally fun adventures. The kids and I spent “Black Friday” at Huntley Meadows, our favorite local nature spot. It wasn’t so much a protest of consumerism as it was just a beautiful day and I hate to shop so the day after Thanksgiving typically finds me anywhere but a shopping mall or store. We saw an owl, a great blue heron, a few frogs, and a bunch of minnows. We had fun trying to identify birds by their songs, something really only David is able to do in any small way. The kids were perhaps most intruiged by the numerous tracks we spotted in the muddy areas of the wetlands. We had fun trying to identify them with the aid of a guidebook and a park employee in the visitor center. In the end we decided that they were most likely muskrat.

IMG_2654 IMG_2663 IMG_2671IMG_2675

IMG_2677 IMG_2662

Yesterday, after helping with annual Advent decorating at church, we headed downtown to the Renwick Gallery. This is H.’s favorite museum downtown and it reopened this fall after a two year major renovation. Nine artists created works for the reopening exhibit, titled Wonder. If you are in the area, I would highly recommend going. The works are truly amazing and unlike anything you’ve ever seen. For one thing, the scale is awesome: each work takes up a full room. The materials used to make the art are mostly everyday materials (glass marbles, tires, string, index cards) but are used in ways that are truly mind-blowing. I would highly recommend it if you are in the area.

Our kids were fascinated by the exhibit. Spontaneously, they decided to each come up with one word to describe each piece. It was the kind of cool moment as a homeschooling parent where you think about all the different educational things that are happening but keep quiet and just let them happen.

We also played a few games (Carcassone, Qwirkle, Clue), took a lot of walks, ran a 5K on Thanksgiving (David and John), watched two movies (Free Birds and Miracle on 34th Street), decorated the house for Christmas, had friends over for dinner, completed one decluttering project (cleaning out the shoe and coat closet) and, of course, ate a lot of food. All in all, lots to be thankful for.

Tomorrow we get back to school for the three week stretch before Christmas break. I think of Thanksgiving as like a mini-breather before the sprint to the finish time before the longer Christmas holiday. I feel reasonably rested and ready to go. And that’s definitely something to be thankful for.

Musings on Homeschooling

DSCN1575a

Six weeks into the school year and I find myself once again reflecting on what is going well and what needs to change. This is now my eighth year homeschooling, which makes me sort of a veteran. But it’s my first year with a seventh grader which makes me sort of a newbie. I think the biggest thing that has changed for me as a homeschooler over the years is that I spend less time reflecting and worrying about particular curriculum and more time musing on the bigger lessons and issues.

This year I have three main lessons I’ve been musing on:

1)Remember why we are homeschooling.
I‘ve written about this before but this year I’m thinking about it more in terms of what homeschooling offers that school elsewhere doesn’t. There are definitely things that my kids miss out on because they are homeschooled. So I’ve been thinking about what is it that we do better than school elsewhere and maximizing those areas. That might mean that we need to take a day off to hang out with friends who are moving overseas for a year. Because we can. Or it means that we get sidetracked when doing a paper chromatography experiment and never get to the next thing. It means taking more field trips. Doing more art and science. It means letting kids who need it have a little extra free time.

2)Remember that it’s HOMEschool.
We live in an area with a lot of homeschoolers. There are co-ops that vary from a few families getting together to do nature study to places that offer full-day drop off options multiple times a week. There are constant emails about park days and field trips. There is a whole city full of museums that offer free classes (not to mention just the option for field trips on our own). And add to that all the many businesses that offer homeschooling classes or options (parkour, swimming, survival skills, painting, orchestra, botany) and we could easily be booked all day every day outside the house. When I see an offering that one of my kids would enjoy part of me wants to sign up right away. I tell myself “hey, this is why we homeschool”. And a little bit of that is true. But it’s also true that if we are so booked that we are never home or never find time to get to Math that we have lost what is essential about this lifestyle we have chosen. It’s all about picking and choosing. As much as field trips and outside opportunities are great, it’s also essential to have the time to just be.

3)Remember that my primary job is teacher.
Homeschooling can be tough because “school hours” creep into all hours of the day. When we’re reading aloud before bed, am I “teacher” or “Mom”? When we’re talking about something we learned in history during dinner is that “school”? The good thing about homeschooling is that it integrates into the rest of our life. The flip side is that the rest of life can start to creep into homeschooling. “Just one quick email” can turn into 20 minutes on the computer. The laundry does need to get folded and the house does need to be vacuumed but school has to happen first. I’ve also really been reminded this year that my kids like me.They like spending time with me. Sometimes this means that I sit with someone who doesn’t really need me while they practice piano. Or I read a history lesson out loud even though the student can read perfectly well on their own. Two of my kids are extroverts and they especially do better when school is done with more discussion and collaboration and just plain company. And even the introverted seventh grader who lately seems to feel too big to snuggle up in bed for nightly read-alouds uses time on the couch reading a Latin lesson together as an excuse for a little closeness.

My final thought is sort of more about why I still blog. I’ve been blogging for about seven years. I don’t have that many followers and my posts have gotten more and more infrequent. Just like I periodically reexamine my reasons for homeschooling, I periodically reexamine my reasons for blogging. The one that seems the most important right now is to provide myself with a record of these kinds of musings. Every now and then I’ll scroll back through my own old posts and find that I was struggling with the same things four years ago. In some ways that is depressing. In others it’s helpful, because of the most part I find my own advice helpful.

IMG_3971a

It also reminds me of the passage of time. The seventh grader that is now taller than me wasn’t so long ago just getting his training wheels off his first bike and memorizing The End by A. A. Milne. And his sister who wasn’t even born when I started this blog is now memorizing the same poem in celebration of her sixth birthday.

DSCN0485a

When I posted six years ago about John turning six I said something to the effect of how it would be nice if he could “stay six forever and ever” (to quote the Milne poem). Now, I’m glad he didn’t. As much as I enjoyed him then, I find who is becoming even more exciting. There is something in us as parents that wants to capture moments in time, perhaps that is why we take so many photos. But really, it’s the journey that is the real joy. More than anything, homeschooling for me has been a wonderful way to be on this journey together. And for that I am very grateful.

Fun Friday

Even after 7 years of homeschooling there are things I “always” want to get to but somehow never seem to get done on a regular basis. Last year, I was intrigued by the idea of Fun Fridays on Amy’s blog. I was intrigued but still didn’t really implement it in our homeschool. The main issue for me is that we have a schedule that really allows for only two full days of school with me home. Two other days I work part of the day. The other day  of the week we do a co-op. Friday happens to be one of our full days at home and so is usually one of our longer and fuller school days.

However, this year I would really like to have Friday be a little bit different. I’m not sure exactly what this will look like but my plan right now is to have Fridays be a mix of Science, Art,  Poetry Teatime, and other special activities.

IMG_2176Today, I had the boys do some work on their current unit study (architecture with H.) and do a little bit of math. Then we all got together to do art. We are traveling to Chicago in a few weeks (hence the architecture unit study) and plan on going to the Art Institute. There are many things we could have studied but I decided to focus on George Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte because it was relatively easy to come up with a last minute art project. (Just being honest) I decided to do a project from MaryAnn Kohl’ s Discovering Great Artists. First, we used Q-tips and acrylic paint (tempera would work fine but we didn’t have any) to make dots on index cards. We first did only dots of one color on each index card. 

IMG_2178

Next, after letting the first set of dots dry, we used a Q-tip to put dots of a different color in between the original dots. We used only red, blue, yellow, black and white paint. The idea was to see if the card began to look more like two colors mixed together from far away. It’s important not to let the paint mix together on the paper if you do this. It would also probably work better with smaller dots. Our cards still mostly looked like dots from across the room. But when we went outside, we were able to walk far enough away where the dots disappeared and we saw orange instead of red and yellow dots. We had a brief discussion about the technique and also about how with computers and TV screens, basically everything uses the concept of pointillism. Next week, we’ll do a larger painting but this was enough for today.

IMG_2183

After art, I surprised the kids by asking if they wanted to ride bikes to lunch. They were all excited about the idea. Ruth has recently “graduated” to using John’s old bike that has gears and hand brakes and she is very excited about her new skills. Note that John is wearing a backpack. IMG_2187

The backpack was to carry his books so that he could read during lunch. We enjoyed a delicious pizza picnic lunch at our favorite local pizza place. Sadly, I was the only member of the family even mildly challenged by the mostly uphill ride home. 

Once home, we gathered for science. We’re going to focus on chemistry this year. We did a few experiments out of Adventures with Atoms and Molecules. This is more at the level of Ruth and David than John but he likes science so was happy to join in. The experiments are all very simple and the book includes some brief explanation/discussion that you can use for slightly older kids. I am also going to have John and David go through Ellen McHenry’s The Elements and we did a few pages in that as well.

IMG_2193

I had then planned to do a poetry teatime but the kids all really wanted to finish playing Elemento, a new board game I picked up for this year, that they had started yesterday. So, I decided to scrap poetry and let them play.

All in all, a good day. It felt pretty fun and we still got some good work done. And I managed to include at least one thing that each of them had put down that they wanted more of on the first day of school (art, books, bike rides, time outside, doing things with siblings).

.

 

Snow Day Musings

IMG_7330Do you do school on snow days? That seems to be the question of the season in homeschooling circles. As we dig our way out from a snowfall of about 7 inches today (if you’re in Boston and reading this, you can stop laughing now), we had another day to consider this question. My approach is to really have no set approach. I carefully consider all the factors: time of year, amount of snow, how much other free time they have had lately, how much work needs to be done that week, how much I really want to just curl up on the couch with my own book. Just kidding on that last one. Sort of.

In all seriousness, it’s fairly situation dependent.

First snowfall of the winter? Probably mostly off for the day.
Just went on a field trip earlier in the week? Need to do work.
Great packing snow? Have fun kids.
Icy and not that much fun to play in? We’ll get more done because everything else is canceled!

What usually happens is that at least the basics get done. That’s math, some kind of reading depending on the kid and age level, piano and ideally Latin. Usually some kind of other learning happens too: videos, read-alouds. Often we do actually have more time because other things are canceled so we can get our normal amount of school done and still have plenty of time for play in the snow. The last two weeks we’ve had snow days on our normal co-op day, when we typically don’t do school. I plan by the week so they all know what they have to do for the week. I said we wouldn’t do extra school but gave them the option of working more one day and having a completely free day or spreading it out and having two lightish days.

The public schools here have had a lot of snow days recently, 10 since the beginning of January. Some of those have been days where it was icy and not really fun to be outside or where school was canceled for “extreme cold” (Go ahead and chuckle, Boston.) Those were certainly normal days of school for us. This time of year is one where I’m always extremely glad to be homeschooling. I like that snow doesn’t really have the power to disrupt our lives as much as if we went to school elsewhere. I like that we have the flexibility to take off if we want to (and we can take off for “extreme pretty weather” in April or October if we want) but also the ability to keep going if we want.

I recently had someone comment to me about how she would never be able to get her kids to focus on schoolwork if they were home. I tried to explain that for us, school is just part of life. I think that’s never more apparent than on snow days or sick days.

Astronomy Adventures

 We’ve spent the fall studying Astronomy as a family. Both boys read and enjoyed David Aguilar’s 11 Planets: A New View of the Solar System. Put out by National Geographic after the new definition of “planet” that demoted Pluto, this book offers a fantastic introduction to our solar system. Each planet including the three dwarf planets (Pluto, Ceres and Eris), has a two page spread. The information is simple enough that my third grader understood it, yet comprehensive enough that my sixth grader (and his mother) learned some new facts about our solar system.

The back pages of 11 Planets include an activity to make a scale model of the solar system. This was similar to an activity we did three years ago when John was in 3rd grade. I remembered it being fun and a good visual representation of the vastness of the solar system so we decided to do it again.

It’s a fairly simple activity. You find items to represent the sun and the 8 planets (plus the three dwarf planets) IMG_1283. I didn’t get a photo this year of the things used, you can look back at my old post if you are interested. 11 Planets  has ideas for items to use; the first time we used the suggested items from this website. This time we used a small pumpkin as the sun. Earth was a mustard seed. The biggest planet, Jupiter, was a cherry tomato. Pluto was supposed to be a single speck of baking soda but I’d like to ask David Aguilar exactly how he managed to do that. I just drew a miniscule dot on an index card to represent the dwarf planets.

Once you have the items, head out somewhere where you can lay them down.  11 Planets and the website linked above both have directions for how far to walk each time. You will need a fair amount of distance. We walked about half a mile or more and we opted not to walk all the way to represent Pluto as the kindergartener in our group was getting grumpy. We are lucky to live very close to a bike trail which is ideal for this, providing a long straight path.

The wow factor is in how far you have to walk between the planets once you get to the gas giants. It’s also pretty interesting how close the four rocky planets are. The other wow item in the 11 Planets version was to include a comet, represented by 70 feet of ribbon. This was the almost the same distance as between Mars and Earth. That was mind-boggling. The other mind-blowing addition was to include an orange to represent the next closest star to our solar system, Proxima Centauri. The idea was to get to the end and then tell them we would now walk to the next closest star, but to have it be the correct-to-scale-distance they had to walk 2400 miles. However, we did this activity pre-lunch and to appease the grumpy kindergartener we had to eat Proxima Centauri midway through the solar system.

IMG_1286We joked that only in a homeschool could you combine snacktime, science, PE, nature study and pet care. And include three grades together. I’m not sure how much Ruth got out of this except to think the Sun is a pumpkin. But since I wrote last time that David thought that planets are peanuts I doubt it will cause her any lasting harm or confusion. It was a perfect activity for David’s age and a great review for John.

John has enjoyed several other Astronomy related books in the past couple of weeks. Primarily two by Ellen Jackson from the Scientists in the Field series: Looking for Life in the Universe: The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence and The Mysterious Universe: Supernovae, Dark Energy and Black Holes. I also purchased Solar System: A Visual Exploration of All the Planets, Moons and Other Heavenly Bodies that Orbit our Sun before this school year and it’s been a great resource for research. For experiments we’ve been using some Science in a Nutshell kits by Delta Education. Both boys are Scouts and are working on earning various Astronomy badges and pins and things.

DSCN2786However, you can’t really study astronomy only during the day. We were quite lucky recently to be able to see a lunar eclipse. I actually had to go to work so had to do my viewing from the car but H. woke up the kids early and they went our for an early morning walk to catch the eclipse. On Friday we woke John up early so he could see a particularly clear sky where several constellations were visible. We plan on going to a planetarium and observatory and perhaps doing some more night viewing together. A generous friend lent us a very good telescope to use to enhance our studies. But the lunar eclipse reminded me that the best learning often happens when we seize an opportunity to do something together. This didn’t require anything other than waking the kids up and walking down the block to where there was opening in the trees. Learning can be fairly simple and at home and still be extraordinary.

DSCN2815