Summer

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It’s been a great summer !  At the end of July we took our semi-annual trip to visit the grandparents and extended family.   We went fishing at Grandpa Joe’s pond and caught several bullheads.  The boys had a chance to climb a fire tower that my mom climbed back when she was a kid.  It’s been moved and shortened since then, but it was neat to share the memory.  All the boys had a good time playing in a creek catching minnows and crawfish barehanded.

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This summer the boys are really old enough to enjoy mountain biking and we’ve managed to enjoy a few trips out to new trails.  We also enjoyed our old favorite of biking down the tow path to the ice cream store.   We checked out the BLUE exhibit at the Pittsburgh science center and decided it would be fun for a school day field trip.  AND we FINALLY  found some inflatable Hamster balls at a local fun center.

Hocking Hills Collage

So far we’ve met our goal of camping once a month (cottage camping that is).  My absolute favorite place we visited the summer was the Hocking Hills area of Ohio.  Last time we visited we went to Ash Cave and the Rock House.  This time we went to Old Man’s Cave as well as Ash Cave.  Old Man’s Cave was exceptionally beautiful and well worth the stairs.

It has been such a delight to be able to spend time with friends and enjoy the relaxed days of summer.   Hope you had a great summer too!

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Inspirations

Every so often I like to share some of the people and projects that are inspiring me.

This week the boys and I watched SHARK GIRL, an amazing documentary from the Smithsonian channel.  Madison Stewart is exceptional and inspirational.  It was great to see a young woman able to follow her passions, do research and change the world.  Right now the full episode is available via the link above.  If you have cable, SHARK GIRL will be airing on the Smithsonian channel at 8 pm and 11pm on Wednesday July 16.

 

IMG_0966I’ve read FIMBY by Renee Tougas for a few years now.  Renee and her family strive to live consciously and with purpose.  They are a homeschooling / unschooling / project based learning family living in Quebec.  Over the years they have chosen to hike and camp together as a family instead of having the kids in team sports.  Renee’s husband, Damien, had a dream to thru-hike the AT and this year the family is making that dream a reality together.  The Appalachian Trail is a 2,200 mile (3500 km)  foot path that stretches through the peaks of the Appalachian Mountains from Georgia to Maine.  The trail is quite remote which means the family is carrying tents, food and other supplies with them and stopping to resupply at approximately 5 day intervals.   Did I mention their kids are approximately 15, 13, and 11?   I am completely blown away by their ability to get up and walk with a heavy pack EVERY DAY.   The planning and organization that went into this trip is just incredible and now the physical and mental fortitude required to stick with it is astounding. You can find periodic updates by following FIMBY on Facebook OR even better you can subscribe to their video series on Toe Salad (Damien’s blog).

code doodles

Back in November a friend of mine shared a post about “The Hour of Code“.  The challenge was for kids across the country to spend one hour learning how to program a computer.  The boys really enjoyed the first hour and readily did the “Beyond One Hour“.  Recently I got a bug to do use the artist section of the “Beyond One Hour” to make some doodles.  It was sort of like spending the afternoon with a spirograph, but easier to make designs in multiple colors and shapes.  If you haven’t had the chance to visit code.org yet, I highly recommend it.  They also have lots of links to kid friendly sites that promote learning code in a fun way.

Scott and Boys At Yellowstone

Sometimes inspiration is personal.  I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to my husband.  He inspires me to stay fit so we can do fun active things as a family.   He doesn’t nag me to work out more (which I should), instead he sets a good example by staying incredibly fit himself and being disciplined about his food choices.

What stories and projects are inspiring you right now?

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Summer Fun

Ahhh!  Summer….

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 time for hiking,

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checking on vernal pools,

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observing insects,

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and visiting special places.

Hope you are having a wonderful summer full of exploration and relaxed learning!

What adventures are you on?

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The Value of a Homeschool Parent

A few things happened recently that prompted me to consider the economic value of homeschool parents.   First, I was chatting with the private tutor of a “homeschool” kid.  She also has two kids of her own, who attend traditional school.  In the course of the conversation, we were discussing some of the pros of her current job and homeschool, as well as past jobs and benefits of being able to have time with your kids.

Then she asked, “Do you miss working?”  My response was an immediate no.  I find homeschooling the kids and maintaining a blog very rewarding.  I have the opportunity to research and learn things that are directly beneficial to my kids. I coach a FIRST Lego League team.  I’m investing not only in my own kids, but bringing science and robotics to their friends.  I have tons of flexibility and freedom in how we accomplish our goals.  Later, the irony of the question really sank in.  I don’t have any animosity about the way the question came across, it simply shows the mind set of our society.  The private tutor and I are doing nearly identical work, but she is performing the service for another family and receives a paycheck.  Therefore it is considered work with economic value – she isn’t a homeschool mom, but instead a private tutor.    On the other hand, homeschool parents don’t receive a paycheck, so many people don’t consider it work.  However, the value of the homeschool parent and the private tutor are roughly equivalent to the respective families.  The transfer of money from one account to another is not what gives value to work. 

I also came across the popular info graphic comparing the cost of educating each student at  $500 / year for homeschool students to $10,000 per student in a public district.  I’ve seen the graphic used numerous times, and it always bothers me because it isn’t comparing apples to apples.  That figure only considers the cost of materials and outside classes and completely ignores the contribution of the homeschooling parent. The homeschooling parent is dedicating at least 30 hours/wk to monitoring progress, making lesson plans, supervising field trips, reviewing curriculum and other activities related directly to the learning of the students.  Again, because there isn’t a transfer of money some people disregard the economic cost.

It’s hard to put a dollar value on the contributions of a homeschool or stay at home parent.  Maybe it should be compared to private school tuition times the number of children plus the additional cost of maid and laundry services and possibly aftercare. Maybe it should be considered the same as a classroom teacher – although the jobs are vastly different.   Maybe it should be compared to the amount the parent is giving up by either not participating in the work force or having a more limited schedule.  Whatever the amount is, it is not $0.  

I consider our homeschool choice the economic equivalent of choosing an expensive private school.  Given the choices on the market, I can’t find a private school that offers the level of customization our homeschool provides.  As a consumer,  I’m happy to pay the cost.  As “President of Student Affairs and Human Resources”,  I’m humbled and honored my services are so highly valued.

Maybe choosing a different job title would emphasize the fact the parent is doing work that has value for their family.  ” I’m the Individual Education Coordinator for a small private academy” or maybe “Director of Student Education.”  Imagine the Linked In profiles stating the job responsibilities –  “I ensure the integration of science, nature and technology into the daily life of students.”  “Using the latest research in project-based and experiential learning, I facilitate the semi-independent and independent learning process of students in a supportive atmosphere.” We could talk about the values of our respective schools – “The Core Values of the Academy include enabling students to become independent learners – self-motivated, self-confident, and prepared to contribute to the world both now and in the future.” “At the Academy we strive to develop the student as a whole person.  We value not only academic performance, but promote service to community and respect for self and others.”  It’s actually a good exercise to think through our goals and core values.  At the end of the day,  I still like the titles “homeschool mom” or “homeschool dad”, they imply a certain warmth and commitment.  My goal is not to impress others or elevate myself, rather my goal is to make contributions to my family and society that have lasting value.

We choose to homeschool because of the positive customized learning environment for our children.  For us homeschool also creates a more peaceful environment for the entire family by giving us more freedom to live our lives on our own schedule.  It isn’t the right choice for every family or in every season.  For some families the economic strain of having only one income would create stress. Perhaps schedules can be adapted so both parents are still working, but the stress of working and overseeing school might be too much.  Some kids may enjoy the social aspect of school so much they wouldn’t enjoy homeschool. These are all considerations for every family to make.

When a parent chooses to be a stay at home parent or a homeschool parent, that decision has value to the family and comes at a cost.  The parent’s time doesn’t suddenly become worth nothing just because there isn’t a paycheck.  The family has decided to do without $ x to obtain the benefit of having a stay at home parent.    Other families might decide they can’t afford or don’t want to give up $y  when they are reasonably satisfied with their current education choice and family situation.

So homeschool mom or dad:  Make sure you know the value of your work.  

Weekly Wrapup with Fun Facts

Fun Facts:

Male anglerfish are a fraction of the size of females and don’t have a light for catching prey.  They bite onto a female and permanently attach.  The front part of the male dissolves and the two share a circulatory system.

Lactose tolerance varies widely by country.  Here’s a map of lactose intolerance. It’s probably not a good idea to invest in a pizza chain in China.

Jumping Mice can jump 3-4 Meters!

Geckos don’t use suction.  It comes down to molecular adhesion.

Painted Lady Butterfly

We released our butterflies this week.   They were in a hurry to leave, so this is the only open wing picture I was able to take.

Science Center Collage

We took a field trip to the Science Center this week.  The kids all made wooden key chain fobs in a homeschool Fab Lab class.  Things went much smoother for the boys using Corel Draw program this time.  They made a Lego Mini-fig and a Curiosity Rover with the laser cutter.

Ledges Collage

“Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.”

Frank Lloyd Wright 

We enjoyed the wonderful weather this week.  The boys amazed me again with their powers of observation – from studying what was living in a small water hole in a log to enjoying the texture of young leaves.  Of course, there was plenty of jumping and climbing and running as well.

As always it was a delight to spend time with the boys this week – exploring nature, enjoying a good book together, and learning about fascinating animals.  When I look back at life, these are the memories I will always cherish.

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Thank You!

This month “Learning with Boys” turns 1 year old and it’s been 3 years since we made the decision to homeschool.

ThankYou

Today I want to say thank you!

First a huge thank you to my husband and boys for being willing to share our story!

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read even one post on this blog or make a comment.  It is such a delight for me to write and share.

Thank you to the pioneers of the homeschooling effort.  Thank you for having the convection and courage to follow a path less travelled.  I know it wasn’t easy.  I know you faced real difficulties.

Thank you to the families who invited us to dinner and showed us that homeschooling doesn’t produce weird unsocialized children.  Actually, thank you to all the families of children who had us to their homes back when we were a childless professional couple.

Thank you to all the bloggers out there who share encouragement, ideas, and humor.  You are an amazing community!    I really enjoy visiting the sites of large families, small families, un-schoolers and those who follow a classical approach.   I learn so much from all of you!

Thank you to all of you who visit the blogs and leave encouraging comments.  So many areas of the internet are full of strife and people needing to prove their points.  Among the homeschool community, I’ve found one of the most diverse AND encouraging groups of people around.  Thank you for every time you stick to the principle “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

I’m thankful for those of you who express what might be a minority viewpoint or share cultural or religious traditions that are unfamiliar to me.  It helps me learn and grow.

Thank you to all of you who aren’t homeschoolers, but stop by the blog anyway.  I hope you find inspiration.

10 Ways to add Fun back into your Homeschool

Sometimes we hit a patch of the doldrums or the grumps, or we just lose interest in our lessons.  Sometimes it would be nice to have a reset button for the day or maybe a “do-over”.

Walking a log @ Brandywine

Today I’m sharing ways to get the spark back in your homeschool.

1. Take a Hike.  Literally.  It’s no secret we love to take nature hikes.  Learning about animals and ecosystems is a core interest at our house.  Most of the time when we are out for a hike, it’s because we want to see what we might discover, but sometimes the reason we put on our boots and head out the door is because things just aren’t going well.  We might be grumpy or unable to focus and we need a change of scenery.  Once we are outside discovering and observing we are all in better spirits.

2. Play.  Give the kids a chance to play.  It could be free play, building LEGOS, playing a board game or whatever. The important part is for the kids to choose the activity.  For older kids it might be an art project, computer project, or playing a musical instrument or going to the driving range. Kids are naturals at learning when they are allowed to direct and make discoveries on their own.

3. Make their day.  I bet you know a few things that are almost guaranteed to put a smile on your kid’s face.  It might be a chocolate chip bagel or specially shaped pancakes.   Maybe it’s time at the park or going for a bike ride or mom joining the tag game.  Maybe it’s having a play date scheduled with a particular friend.  Take a break and just do it.

4. Take lessons outside.  Some kids might like to read a book or do the normal lesson outside.  Consider working math problems or spelling words with sidewalk chalk.  Figure out some outdoor science experiments or work on estimating distances.

5. Go on a field trip.  Pick something your family enjoys whether it’s the art museum, science center, going to a farm or going to the city.  Just get out of routine but keep learning.  What if you live far away from anything?  Consider a virtual field trip.  Many famous museums have on-line collections or you could watch a travel documentary.

6. Declare a pajama day, read-aloud day, art day, or engineering week.  

7. Design something.  Do an art project or build something from instructables.  Take a glass blowing class or create a new dish for dinner.

8. Give kids more influence over their schedule.  I enjoy my responsibilities as mom, teacher, cook, and keeper of the house.  I love the opportunity to bless my family and spend time with them.  It’s a great job. But if someone else set up my schedule and forced me to stick to it, I would be a complete grump.  I would probably become resentful about fixing meals and keeping laundry clean.  Study after study shows the amount of variety and autonomy a person has at their job is positively correlated with job satisfaction.  So figure out ways to create autonomy for your kids.  It might mean setting their own schedule or modifying some assignments.

9. Go out of town – A short weekend trip is a great way to create family memories and focus on spending time together.  It doesn’t matter if you are camping in the woods or exploring a nearby city.  One of the best parts is coming home again.  After 2 or 3 days of being away, I find myself thankful to cook a simple meal and enjoy the spaciousness of our home.

10. Take care of yourself – It’s super easy for moms to feel like we can’t take time for ourselves or to take shortcuts when it comes to our own health and well being.  I’m at my best and most cheerful with the kids when I make the time to exercise in the morning and eat a healthy breakfast.  I almost never feel like exercising, but when I do I have so much more energy.  When I exercise regularly,  I make better food choices and feel more confident about just about everything.

What about you?  How do you re-establish the spark in your homeschool?

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Yeah for Spring!

Crocus breaking thru snow

This picture is from March 30.  The last couple weeks were delightful here at the Boys’ house.  We went sledding (I hope for the last time this year).

The weather has finally warmed up!

Vernal Pool @ Brandywine - Reflecting

Warm weather means LOTS of hikes.  We even had sunshine for a few days!

Brandywine Falls - March 31

This is such a great time of year.  The spring peepers are peeping and the wood frogs are quacking.  Not only is nature waking up but our studies are moving outside and our zest for learning returns.  Yeah! Spring!!!!

 

5 Lessons from the Business World

Years ago when I was fresh out of college, I had the privilege of working with a really great group of people.  My bosses were great and I learned SO much in those few short years. Many of those lessons are still helping me today, probably even more than they did back then.

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1. It’s All About Relationships

When you have strong relationships with your customers, they will tell you when you do something wrong.  They will share with you what your competition is doing that is creating temptation for your customer to buy elsewhere.  Strong relationships alert you early to quality problems, price competition, and a myriad of other issues.

Mom Version:  When we build strong relationships with our kids, they will alert us to problems sooner rather than later.  Families are designed to have strong relationships.  As a parent I’m responsible to make sure my actions and attitudes build up my family.

2. It Takes Time and Shared Experiences to Build Relationships

The expectation when we were out of town was that we would ride with the sales rep to the customer site, go out to dinner with various sales reps in the area, and participate in social outings.  When the sales reps came to town we were expected to do the same.  It wasn’t so much about a need to entertain as it was about creating shared experiences.  “Windshield” time was not wasted time but valuable time to listen to the opportunities, problems, and pressures the territory was facing.

Mom Version:  I have lots of favorite things about homeschool,  but having extra time to spend with my kids is one of the absolute best things.  We have loads of times together and we are able to go on lots of outings.  “Windshield” time is still powerful time.  Sometimes the kids share really deep thoughts while riding in the car.

3. Know your talking points

You should always know the key points you want to talk about during an interaction.  Have an actually answer to the “What’s going on in ….?” question.  Keep it positive and tailored to the audience.

Mom Version:   It’s still important to know our talking points.  Some of mine/ours are:  The power of perseverance, Choose a positive attitude, Every person (including you) is created for a purpose,  Be respectful of other people even when you don’t agree with them or understand them, Friends may come and go but 30 years from now I expect you and your brother to be at Christmas dinner together,  No matter what Mom and Dad will always love you because you are our son.

4. Respond in a timely manner / Don’t commit if you can’t deliver. / Find ways to say “yes”

Different requests have different time lines – figure out what the time line is and respond appropriately.  Give it your absolute best to meet all requests, but don’t commit to things you can’t deliver on.

Mom Version:  I need to be extremely prompt about checking over assignments to make the most of learning opportunities.  Some of the kids requests don’t have to be answered right away and I should take time to really think it over before I answer.   With kids it’s also good to find ways to say “yes” instead of “no”.  I’m not talking about buying the kids everything they could ever want or letting them do anything they ask.

5. Believe in ABUNDANCE (Grow the Pie)

This idea was radical to me at first, especially coming out of the educational system where I had always strived to outperform my peers.  It’s really all about creating goodwill and win/win situations.

In business we can gain customers by taking business away from our competitors, creating new markets/products, or helping our customers grow their business.  When we create new markets or products or help our customers grow their business we grow the pie.

The desire to learn and grow as an individual will take you new places and keep things interesting.    Your growth will benefit your business and when your business grows it will provide opportunities for personal growth.

Mom Version:  For me believing in abundance means contentment, gratitude, and confidence.  Instead of comparing my kids to others, I can see a large variety of strengths in my kids, their friends, and other people.  We can cheer for others and learn from them when we aren’t threatened by the success of others.   Believing in abundance allows individuals to develop on their own timeline.  When we believe in abundance it frees us to be lifelong learners – we can spend more time studying something we are passionate about now, because there will be time to learn about different things later.

What about you?  What lessons from a different time of life are you still using today in a completely different situation?

 

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Vernal Pools in Winter

It’s still winter here.  It’s was warm for a few days and melted some of the snow.  Then it snowed several inches again.  Ah well, spring will be here soon.  Maybe you live somewhere warmer and spring has already settled in. Icy vernal pool in early March

This week we took a walk to check out some of our favorite vernal pools.  We learned about these cool ecosystems last year and have been observing them off and on through the changing of the seasons.

If you aren’t familiar with vernal pools, they are seasonal ponds.  Over the course of a year they fill and dry out.  The fact they dry up at times is essential to these unique systems.  Fish and other predators can’t survive when these pools dry out, so the vernal pools become the perfect place for frogs, salamanders, fairy shrimp, caddis flies, and dragonflies.

Winter vernal pool as seen from walking path

We started studying the pools last spring to find salamanders, wood frogs and spring peepers.   Now we make sure to take an occasional trip by our favorite spots to check the water levels and notice which animals are hanging around.

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Despite a couple of days of temperatures in the 50s, we found the pools were still filled with ice, but the ice was starting to get slushy on top.  All around us, the squirrels and chipmunks were busy, and the birds were singing.

Pointing to the deer along the trail

In the distance, the boys spotted some deer.

Deer along the trail - early March

At least a few of the deer spotted us as well.  We watched them for several minutes, and were surprised to realize there weren’t 3 or 4 deer, as we had counted, but 8 tails running down the hill.Early March on the Spring Peeper Trail Time to head home and wait for a few more warm spring days!

If you want to learn more about vernal pools, I highly recommend Frog Heaven by Doug Wechsler.   The book follows the yearly cycle of a vernal pool in Delaware. The pictures are vivid and helpful for identifying the different creatures found in vernal pools. We checked it out from the library last year to learn about spring peepers.  We ended up buying a copy to keep as a reference.

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