Thoughts on home schooling now that we’re doing it (well, sort of)

Oh, hello 2011. Yes, yes, I realize we are now more than half-way through the first month of this year and I haven’t written one blog post yet. I can’t say I have any good reasons other than perhaps because I’ve been obsessively watching the first season of Veronica Mars (via Netflix On Demand) vegging out just a bit and life happens. OK, I confess. I watched the first season finale of Veronica Mars two nights ago – WOW! Now that was a season finale! And now that I know who killed Lily Kane, I feel like I can take a breather for a few days and even write on my blog. Yay! :) (The next time I disappear, it may be because I’m watching season two. Just sayin’.)

I could have sworn I wrote a blog post about deciding to start home schooling Ava this past fall, but wouldn’t you know it, I can’t find it. The way my brain works these days it’s hard to say if I wrote it and just can’t find it or if it’s one of those posts (among many) that I always had the best of intentions of writing and never did. I’m betting on the latter. (I did write “Is homeschooling right for us?” back in 2008, so that’s something, right? *wink*)

Anyway, yes, I am home schooling Ava this year for first grade. We started back in September. I’d seriously considered starting in kindergarten, but after I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and trying to get that under control, the timing didn’t seem to be right so off to public school she went. Little did I know I would be dealing with a tragedy this past fall proving the timing to be off once again, but I’m still happy with my decision to home school and we are forging ahead.

Although I don’t feel that we’d yet found our home schooling groove, we were starting to work in that direction when my sister Carrie died in October. After Oct. 25, 2010, very little formal home schooling took place in our home for the next two months. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. If I wasn’t busy planning a memorial service or two or traveling, I was grieving and trying to hold it together just enough to keep the kids clothed and fed. Admittedly there were plenty of days we stayed in our PJs all day. Hell, that still happens on occasion now! Ava continued to go to the part-time school she attends one day a week and continued with the Lego engineering class she was already signed up for, but that was about the extent of it. I don’t know if I would say that we were unschooling during that time or just taking a break. Yeah, I think it’s safer to say we were taking a break.

Fast forward to the past few weeks and now that the holidays are over we finally have been getting back into our groove again. I feel more equipped to take trips to the library, sit down with Ava and work on different subjects, go on “field trips,” sign up for different classes, attend home schooling functions, etc. We’re still far from finding exactly what our groove is, but we’re working on it. I’m working on it.

Quite honestly, I don’t think we fall into a specific “type” of home schooling family. Eclectic seems to be the best way to describe my “technique” so far. And that’s OK. I like that we/I have the freedom to explore what works best for us and to learn as we go. I like that we were able to take a break when we needed it, even if others might feel it was detrimental to Ava. I don’t think it was.

It’s true she’s not reading chapter books yet, but that’s OK too. We’ve been regularly reading to Ava her entire life. With Jody and I reading to her before bed, we’ve been through the seven novel series of The Chronicles of Narnia and the nine book series of the Little House books — twice — among many, many other books. Does it matter to me if she starts reading really well on her own at age 5, 6, 7 or 8? Nope. It just matters to me that she enjoys books and reading, and she does so far.

With the help of library books and the Internet, I think we have most subjects covered except for math. She knows her numbers and basic addition and subtraction, so I don’t feel she’s “behind” per se (and I try not to think of it like that anyway), but I’m still trying to find a good way to teach/learn math and welcome your suggestions. I don’t feel the need to sit down and drill her with addition and subtraction flashcards on a daily basis, but I do want her to have a good foundation in math — it’s just the figuring out how to best accomplish that where I could use a little help. It could be a curriculum you like, a web site with math games, or anything else really. I’m flexible.

That’s one thing I’ve learned is that it’s important to stay flexible when home schooling. I planned on using X, Y, and Z curricula and doing A, B, and C every day when we started out, only to decide those weren’t the best choices for us. Some days we use books. Some days we use the computer. Some days we do both. Some days we do neither. Some days we bake or explore nature or go to the library or do science experiments or dissect owl pellets or garden or do arts and crafts or play games or a number of other things or all of the above or none of the above. Some of the best learning experiences happen when we just go with the flow.

Oh, and if you are wondering what I’m doing with my 4-year-old with regard to school, he’s currently in a Waldorf-inspired preschool (though not the one Ava attended). I really like preschool for my kids and think it benefits them in a lot of ways. He will likely, however, start home schooling once he’s in kindergarten (which is still nearly 2 years away because of his late birthday). And he participates in some of the things Ava works on now so he’s really already home schooling. (Aren’t kids pretty much home schooling from the day they are born?)

I like that the world is our classroom and I like being with and learning alongside my kids. I don’t subscribe to a particular schooling philosophy. Instead, we do a little bit of this and a little bit of that and that is what works for us for now.

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.
– William Butler Yeats

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The Cost of Litter

I’ve written before about my mom’s habit of picking up trash and how it has rubbed off on me. I’m not as agro as she is (yet?), but I try to do my part. I find it’s especially hard to ignore garbage when it’s in the street or on the sidewalk in front of my house or when I’m out somewhere in nature surrounded by beauty and wildlife. I feel compelled to pick up trash in nature. I can’t stand it marring the scenery or the thought of it ending up in an animal’s stomach.

This weekend, the fam and I took a hike to St. Mary’s Glacier outside of Idaho Springs. It was so picturesque, but I ran into a stray piece of garbage here and there (mostly wrappers from “convenient” individually-wrapped foods), which I pocketed and threw into the trash when we returned to the parking lot.

It’s hard to ignore garbage when the view looks like this:

Or this:

Or this:

And especially when I look at these two and then see a piece of trash. It’s really hard to look the other way.

Over at One Million Acts of Green, one of the Acts (under Everyday Habits) is Pick Up Garbage. The carbon dioxide reduction of this particular Act is low, but it’s important for many other reasons.

The Cost of Litter

Garbage littering our neighborhoods, waterways, nature areas and more:

  • Creates an eyesore.
  • Creates potential environmental damage.
  • It can be a health hazard to humans and animals.
  • It’s killing marine life.
  • It’s killing animals in the wild and even in a zoo.
  • And it’s costly to humans in the dollars and cents sense of the word too.
  • In the United States, state governments spends millions of dollars (yes, millions) each year picking up garbage.
  • They also drive millions of miles each year to collect that trash. Think of all of the gas that is used to fuel their trucks!

If we all did our part and picked up after ourselves and others — including our DOGS — (and for the love of God, try to stay away from those “convenient” individually-wrapped foods in the first place) we could make a big impact.

If you complete the Pick Up Garbage Act, you’ll be well on your way to completing 3 Acts of Green which will earn you an entry into the 3 to Green Contest where one very lucky winner will receive a $5,000 spending spree at BuyGreen.com. To enter for your chance to win, just register and complete three acts of green! It’s that easy! And for every additional three acts of green you register, you’ll earn another entry. Not only will you get a chance to win some cool green stuff, you will be doing your part to clean up the Earth. Our children and our children’s children will thank you for it someday.

As we were on our hike, I paused by the lake to gaze out at the water where I saw ripples — first tiny, then bigger, and bigger, and bigger — which made me think of the ripple effect.

Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end. — Scott Adams

Let’s start our own little ripples and see how big they become. :)

Disclosure: Rockfish Interactive, in partnership with Cisco, is compensating me for my considerable time on this project. However, my ideas, words, and opinions are my own and are not influenced by this compensation.

Harvest time and the great outdoors

I think it should be an unwritten rule that at harvest time crunchy and/or green bloggers get a free pass from blogging because they are spending all of their time in the kitchen baking, canning, freezing, and otherwise preserving all of the yummy foods they’ve grown or purchased (hopefully locally) for the winter.

I’m sorry my blog is suffering lately, but the family and I have been a bit preoccupied doing things like this:


Climbing apple trees at Roger’s Grove


Picking and eating apples


Getting organic food from the co-op


Canning applesauce and dilly beans!


Taking a tractor ride to pick oodles of strawberries at Berry Patch Farms


Exploring the great outdoors at Boulder Creek


Trying to decide what I’m going to do with 60 pounds of Colorado peaches, pears and nectarines! (I still haven’t figured it all out!)


Visiting a honey harvest at Sandstone Ranch

OK, so I haven’t been completely locked in the kitchen. ;) We’ve also been spending quite a bit of time out in nature. The weather’s been gorgeous and its hard to stay indoors. Plus, the kids have so much fun exploring and honestly, I do too. :)

How’s your harvest season going this year? What are you putting up for the winter?

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The highs & lows of nature and my Earth Day Challenge

Last night the kids, Jody and I enjoyed a show put on by Mother Nature. A rain storm complete with lightning streaking across the sky and rattling thunder was our pre-bedtime entertainment. Thunderstorms are somewhat of a rarity here (or at least it feels like it lately), and I love sitting in the upstairs window seats watching them with the kids. Lightning is nature’s perfect fireworks.


Image credit: Flickr – PeWu

Seeing my kids get excited about the storm – “Oooh, that was a big one!” – made me enjoy the experience all the more. I love it when they appreciate nature, and after being cooped up inside all winter, I’m so glad that spring is here and more nature discovery is on its way.

Earlier this week I read on Mama Milkers Facebook page that her daughter’s class took an impromptu field trip to see the dead gray whale on a beach in West Seattle. What a great opportunity for those children to see a whale up close like that, but also so sad that it died.


Image credit: West Seattle Blog

While the cause of death of the 37-foot near-adult male whale is still unknown, it turns out that he had quite a bit of trash in his stomach, including a pair of sweat pants, a golf ball, 20 plastic bags, small towels, plastic pieces, surgical gloves and duct tape.

How are these two things – the storm and the whale – related? Well, they aren’t directly, but they are both part of nature, part of this planet Earth that we are celebrating today with Earth Day. There’s so much beauty in nature, but there is also so much pollution that is, literally, trashing and killing it. The whale’s death may have had nothing to do with the garbage in his stomach, but many animals’ deaths *are* a direct result of the trash they ingest.

Today on Earth Day, let’s set our differences aside. Regardless of how you feel about climate change, politics or President Obama, perhaps we can all come together to do something positive that makes us feel good about ourselves. We humans have a lot of power. Let’s use it for good.

“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” – Native American Proverb

I challenge you to give some thought to your daily habits and routines and find one positive change you will make (no matter how small). Do it not to save the Earth – because the Earth is going to be just fine regardless of what we do – but to save ourselves, our children, our grandchildren and all of the animals that have no control over the way humans treat their environment.

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated… I hold that, the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of human kind.” – Gandhi

Will you accept my challenge? What will *you* do?

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My new two-wheeled baby

After more than 11 years of my feet or my car being my primary modes of transportation, I am pleased to announce I finally have another option – a lovely new Schwin bicycle! And oh, do I ever LOVE it. :)

I’ve been riding my new bike probably 4 or 5 days out of every week since I got it a few weeks ago. With the help of our Burley bike trailer (that we got used off of Craigslist last summer), I’m taking the kids to and from summer “camp” (which is at the same place where Ava went to Waldorf preschool) a few blocks from our house. I ride it for fun and exercise to a nearby lake (pictured below) and started early enough Saturday night to go around the whole lake before dark. I’ve taken Ava up to the hair salon to get her hair cut. And Jody and I took the kids to the fireworks on the fourth of July using our bikes. I have plans to bike to the grocery store, the bank and more.

I love the freedom I feel when riding my bike. I love that I’m not polluting the air. I love that I’m getting some exercise. I love that it’s good for my mental health as well as my physical health. I love that I can run errands without piling everyone into the car. I love that time slows down and I notice things (rabbits, a fox, prairie dogs, flowers, birds) that I wouldn’t see if I were speeding by in a car.

Jody bought me my first bike “stuff” yesterday at REI – a headlight and taillight so I don’t have to worry about getting home before dark. I have a list of other “stuff” I’d like to get for it too, but I’m trying not to get too bike-crazed too fast. For now I am just enjoying the ride. :)