Wednesday, August 24, 2011

An earthquake and a field trip

K has a project for life science to create a scrapbook of sorts with pictures and scientific names of different life forms. When it was assigned last week, she asked if we could go to the zoo to get pictures rather than pulling everything off the internet. After a check of the calendar (and the weather forecast), we picked Tuesday as the perfect day. We even invited friends of the girls and had a sleepover Monday night before the big field trip! It was so exciting!

The zoo trip was one of our best ever. First off, the weather was nice for August - hot, but not oppressive, especially as the zoo is located north of us, on a "mountain", and is heavily wooded. Second, because for the very first time I took only my camera and a small wallet - no stroller, no wagon, no heavy backpack. Just me. It was so liberating! Third, the animals were weirdly, oddly, awesomely active. In spite of the warm August day which would normally mean everything was snoozing in a dark corner, everything was up and moving and coming close, to the point of making eye contact. Even the nocturnal animals.

All that strange behavior could be explained by the fact that we had an earthquake yesterday. The NC Zoo is about 230mi from the epicenter and I didn't even feel it, but it might have agitated the animals. I've certainly never seen that much activity from zoo animals.

First there was the ostrich that was hanging out just below us, looking up and watching us.

Then the elephant that wandered over.

The bison came as close as their electric fence would allow.

And the polar bear was not only awake, but moving around and playing with a bowling ball.

There were many other examples - the bears that paced the back of their enclosure, the cute nocturnal cacomistles that were racing around their exhibit, and the owl that followed us back and forth, pinning us with his intense stare. It was definitely weird behavior, but it made for an exciting zoo trip.

The girls had a great time hanging out together and they learned lots of new things. The zoo had a great beekeeper who showed us the queen bee and answered the girls many questions. We talked about geysers and forest fires and Yellowstone National Park. Did you know the scientific name of the bison is Bison bison? I didn't either, but I won't forget.

K and her camera were busy and the others were very patient as they waited for her.

There are many things I love about the NC Zoo - the trees, the large natural environment exhibits, the beautiful and well-kept grounds. Probably all of that contributes to the thing I like least about the zoo - it's HUGE! I think it's a 5 mile walk if you take all the trails (which we didn't) and it's on a "mountain" so it's all up and down. It's so bad that at the summit, there's a sign congratulating you.

We were tired, but it was worth it.

L and her friend played and raced and posed and exclaimed over the "tiny elephants".

K chatted with her friend (because they're far too mature for such childish games) and got pictures of the animals and plants as well as the plaques that gave the scientific names. Now to get the pictures printed and scrapbooked and one more project is checked off. I know she wishes that every school assignment involved so much friends and fun!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Our Homeschool This Year

It's my friend Fiddledeedee's curriculum round-up! It's where we talk about the curriculum and structure we're using this year to educate the young minds around our house. I've been meaning to write up a beginner's review of our new curriculum, so this is the perfect opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.

You know, if I wanted to kill birds. Which I don't.

My first step in deciding our curriculum for this year was an honest evaluation of last year. Last year was a slacker year. For the kids and for me. I tried a looser approach to homeschool and I had great aspirations at the beginning of the year for more interactive, unit-based learning. More projects, less worksheets. More student-led, less confined to what some book said we had to do next. The fun stuff other homeschool families talk about doing all the time.

It didn't go quite like I thought. We got through the year, we learned things, and everyone did very well on their tests, but it wasn't our best effort. All that looser structure means much more work on mom's part to plan and gather outside resources and keep everyone moving forward. I wasn't really into all that. For this year, I knew that I needed to go back to something more structured for everyone's sake.

We'd done A Beka in various forms in the past and it had worked well for us, but the kids had decided they didn't like it. I knew the heavily structured approach was what we needed, so I offered them the Bob Jones curriculum. Same idea, different format. They fought it, too, but I pulled out my secret weapon.

I took them with me to the curriculum presentation.

Bob Jones became a shiny new toy. They got to see the sample videos, flip through the books, click around on the site and see the calendar and blog functions. And they got free homeschool t-shirts when we ordered. They went from "No!" to "How soon can we start?!"

L's first day of school was the last Thursday in July. K was off at camp, L had numerous dance commitments the next week, and I wanted a chance to focus on one kid at a time while we all learned this new curriculum. It was the best decision ever. L and I watched all her classes together and figured out the best way to organize all the books and manipulatives as Bob Jones 2nd grade has a ton of both.

K joined us on Monday and I could focus on her work. K is 10. Most kids her age are in 5th grade, K started under a late cut-off and is technically in 6th grade, but she complained so much about how easy all her work was that we gave her 7th grade work this year. It's all very confusing. In practicality, it means that her work this year is hard and takes a long time. There's a big jump from elementary to middle school and she's really not happy that school has suddenly gotten a lot more difficult.

Do you want to see what our school looks like?

Of course you do.

We do school up in the loft and I'm "school" enough that I make the kids sit at desks. My biggest concern was having 2 kids watching school videos just a few feet from each other. Mr. at Home solved the problem with big, puffy headphones which K uses most of the time and L uses only when I make her. I warned the girls that I was taking pictures and if they didn't want the whole internet to see their usual mess then they needed to clean off (and around) their desks. So yes, these photos are a bit staged, but at least it was good motivation to clean their desks!

Here's K in her corner. Her desk is generally pretty clean and she has been known to lean so far forward in her chair that she slides off.

On the other side of the TV is L's desk. Her desk took lots of cleaning (and her hair took lots of brushing) before she was ready for her picture.

While K is trying to get closer to her work, L spends a lot of her time trying to get away from hers. Like yesterday. L spent several minutes laughing at K for sliding out of her chair only to somehow step into the trashcan and send herself and all the crumpled papers flying across the room. It's like a circus full of clowns around here some days.

In a couple of weeks, all of our other activities will be going strong. K is in band and Science Olympiad, both the girls are doing dance, and all three of us are doing Community Bible Study. We're back in a local homeschool support group and we've got a number of field trips already lined up for the next few months. It's going to be a busy, full, and fun year.

After 3+ weeks of the BJU Press online, here's what I see.

- It takes a looong time to do everyday. We used to be done by lunch and now the girls are working into the afternoon most days.
- There's lots of papers to check.
- L learned cursive in kindy with A Beka and has beautiful thin, slanted handwriting. BJU teaches a very simple, round pre-cursive handwriting that morphs into a babyish cursive later in the year. The curriculum demands so much more in every other subject and L was frustrated at first, but it is improving her printing, so we're sticking with it.
- The daily "What do I need for each lesson" is organized by course rather that by lesson and some courses number lessons from 1 - 170 and some list it by chapter and section, such as 02-08. The student log-in has checkmarks to show which lessons you've completed, but you can't see those with the parent log-in, so it's harder to figure out which lesson they're on.
- Did I mention all the papers I have to check?

- Teaching. Time spent giving explanations and examples and great stories and fun puppets and cute skits and actor-portrayals. We didn't spend as much time on that last year and it's making a difference. Yes, it makes school longer, but they are understanding and retaining the information much better.
- Lots of practice. All those worksheets and papers that I complain about grading means they are trying out their learning and I can make sure they're getting it. They also learn how to stick to something until it's done right even if they don't necessarily enjoy it.
- Higher expectations. BJU moves quick and expects more of the girls than I would doing it myself.
- Plenty of parent involvement without being completely parent-driven.
- It's on-line. It's easy to see log in what they're doing and everything I need is right there. There's the answer documents and little videos just for mom explaining what the teacher is covering each day and all kinds of extras.
- It's more college prep than most of the other stuff I've seen.

So far, Bob Jones is working for us. I'm really liking it and I think the girls like it more than they'll admit. It's not as "fun" as other options, but they're learning much more with this one. It's been a steep learning curve with figuring out how everything works, but I think we've got it down and running smoothly now. I am glad we started in plenty of time to work out the kinks *before* all our other school activities start. I wouldn't recommend Bob Jones for everyone. It's a demanding, time-consuming curriculum for both parent and child. My kids are both smart and self-motivated which is perfect for this curriculum. If your child works slowly and whines every time he is required to put pencil to paper, this curriculum will drive you both batty. If he takes longer to grasp concepts, you will want a curriculum that allows more flexibility of timing. If you need something portable or you're on the go a lot, you'll find this confining. However, if you and your kids need structure and accountability and challenge, this is a great option.

To read about more homeschools and the way they do things, go to and follow the linky!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Homeschool T-shirt giveaway

When we ordered our curriculum for school this year, the curriculum specialist gave each of the girls a homeschool t-shirt. K was immediately in love with the idea of t-shirts! for homeschool! She wears that new shirt often.

Today in my email, I got a notice about a contest for a company that makes homeschool t-shirts of all kinds and I knew I had to enter. And will probably be ordering some shirts from them in the future. If you're a homeschooler and would like to enter, too, you can go to and enter for yourself. We can all show our support for homeschooling!

And, you know, explain why our school-age kids are running all over town during school hours.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Our anniversary cruise

After years of talking about it, we finally did it. We finally went on a cruise. Our very first one. We decided that we didn't want to spend our whole vacation driving to the port, so we picked one that left from Charleston - 7 night eastern caribbean, Nassau, Lookout Cay, and Grand Turk. We even happened to book during a sale and got a great room for a great price. Then we spent the next several months counting down the days.

Grandma and Grandad drove out to see some championship softball and dance recitals and stayed to take the girls on their own vacation to Tennessee while we left a day early and headed down to Charleston. We spent our evening wandering around town and looking for the port, just to make sure we'd know where to go for departure. We finally decided this dinky, tiny, building might actually be the port and headed back to our terrible, minimally adequate hotel to wait until it was time to GO ALREADY!

We drove up to that tiny, dinky port with a great big boat parked next to it and joined a long line of cars waiting to get on, even though it was still really early. All I gotta say is that the security wasn't as intense as an airport, but there were a gazillion checkpoints. A terrorist would give up in frustration and go home. We breezed through and finally, actually stepped onboard the boat.

Only to find that we weren't allowed in the room yet, so we took our carry-ons and made our way up to the Lido deck for a free lunch.

I know you're thinking that lunch wasn't *free* as we had already paid for the cruise. BUT. There's all kinds of food and entertainment and stuff going on all the time. We were gone from Saturday to Saturday and there's no way what we paid for the cruise covered all the stuff we got. We're not the customers they make their money on, though. Before you step on the boat, they issue everyone a card linked to an account linked to your credit card. Anytime you want to buy something on the ship, you just swipe your card. So people are swiping that thing morning to night for everything from overpriced drinks to bingo cards to diamond jewelry. That last night, the oh-so-helpful stewards slip your purchase list under your door for your review. Our sheet was maybe half a page, all small purchases. Some people were walking around with reams of paper. For us, the cruise was an incredibly affordable vacation where we spent far less than we could have on any other trip.

We spent the next 7 days doing a whole lot of nothing. Due to a medical emergency with a staff member, we had to detour to Canaveral to meet an ambulance and missed our day at Nassau. No biggie for us as we hadn't planned any excursions there, and it was heartening to see the ship make a hard right turn and shoot across the ocean at almost 20 knots to save a man's life.

So Mr. at Home and I read books and watched the ocean roll by. We wandered the decks and played corn hole. We saw comedians and musicals. We marveled at the white sand beaches and snorkeled through clear water with sting rays. We made new friends, but mostly we just spent a whole lot of time hanging out together.

We will definitely be taking another cruise. We want to take the girls, my parents, our friends, anyone we can drag along with us, and we'll definitely be going back alone. It was truly the *perfect* vacation.

And....we're back!

Did you know I was taking the summer off from blogging?

Neither did I!

As I told someone this summer, if it doesn't have to do with right this minute, I can't even think about it. We went on the cruise (it was heavenly), came back and directed VBS (it was a HUGE fabulous undertaking), took off for a week of sun and dance in Orlando (rather more work than play), came back and sent K off to camp (she loved it) while I had a fun-filled few days with Lydia (she also loved it), then we started school. Now I finally have a few minutes to breeeeeeeeeathe.

Have I mentioned that I like the school schedule? The routine and (mostly) knowing what to expect each day mean that our lives run a little more smoothly. My goal is to get a few blog posts knocked out, write about our crazy summer, include some pictures for those who care, and just enjoy the act of writing again.