Oct 132014
 
Heading outside for art lessons.

Heading outside for art lessons.

Each year that I homeschool, I learn a lot about being a good teacher. In these early years, I feel that I improve as a teacher by at least 30% each year over the previous year. Most of what I have to learn has to do with time management, setting the right expectations and child behavior patterns–all great organizing lessons. Each year, I try to learn from the mistakes of previous years and try something just a little bit different.

Last year, we focused in hard on the core subjects of math and language arts. We did well in these areas but I felt like we fell down on a couple of subjects, like art, music, and history. So, this year, I made the decision to start each school day with our weakest subjects and save language arts and math for last.

Below is a quick run-down of our typical school day this fall and our goals for the year.

Art

2014-10-13-artisticpursuits We start our days with an art lesson. While this sounds “fun,” this art curriculum is really quite serious. The ARTistic Pursuits Elementary 4-5 Book One focuses on the fundamentals of drawing. We are training ourselves to see like artists and learning the elements of art that make for more interesting compositions. So far, we are learning about looking for shapes, capturing details and learning about how and when to use shading. It is really a lot of hard mental work. It is kind of a struggle to get excited about teaching these lessons but we are all excited about how much we have learned so far.

 

Goal: Be able to draw with more detail and sophistication and identify simple drawing techniques in other artists’ work.

Still life with kitchen tools

Still life with kitchen tools

Drawing of Audobon owls

Drawing of Audobon owls

First drawing of an LPS toy

First drawing of an LPS toy

Drawing of the same toy about 3 weeks later in our lessons.

Drawing of the same toy about 3 weeks later in our lessons.

Still life of fruit and vegetables.

Still life of fruit and vegetables.



Music

Screenshot from simplymusiconline.com lesson.

Screenshot from simplymusiconline.com lesson.

Because last year, we kept “forgetting” to do our piano lessons, this year, I built it into the school curriculum. Over the summer, I received an email notice from the Homeschool Buyer’s Coop about an Australian piano lesson curriculum taught completely online. For a onetime fee of $60, you could buy a lifetime subscription to the website simplymusiconline.com. This method of learning emphasizes playing songs rather than learning music theory. You watch the videos online for a quick lesson and then spend the rest of your week practicing on your own. Rather than practice 30 minutes per day per child, we practice only about 10-15 minutes per child. So far, my children are enjoying these lessons and they have both learned two songs already and will spontaneously practice them when they pass by the piano.

Goal: Complete the Level 1 curriculum and learn approximately 11 songs. We hope to perform the songs in an end of year recital perhaps for one of our older neighbors.

2014-10-13-piano1 2014-10-13-piano2



History

Balloon globes

Balloon globes

2014-10-13-chartingtheworld

World geography is the theme for this year’s history lessons. We spent September learning about principles of geography and now are taking an around the world virtual tour. We will be visiting each of the continents and spending a few days in select countries. We created a “passport” that we complete for each country as well as an art project representing each country. We are making liberal use of our library card and our local library system has been amazing in terms of providing wonderful books for us to use.

Goal: Gain an appreciation that the world is a large and complex place as well as respect for different cultures and peoples.

One of our recent stacks of books from the library on Africa.  Our library has a terrific collection of both reference books and fiction from each country.

One of our recent stacks of books from the library on Africa. Our library has a terrific collection of both reference books and fiction from each country.

Example "passport" pages.

Example “passport” pages.

Our Congo art project: interpretations of Luba fertility sculptures.

Our Congo art project: interpretations of Luba fertility sculptures.

Our Ethiopian art project: paper mache interpretation of the guinea fowl found in their folk art.

Our Ethiopian art project: paper mache interpretation of the guinea fowl found in their folk art.



Science

2014-10-13-ancientcomputing 2014-10-13-eyewitnesscomputer 2014-10-13-nyscience

Computer science is our focus for science this year. We started off with some introductory books on computer science, including the history of “computing.” We have now progressed to the K-8 Into to Computer Science Course at learn.code.org. This is an amazing curriculum available to anyone completely free of charge. They provide all the lesson plans for the “offline” activities. My children, however, look forward to the “online” lessons where you get to practice coding through a series of interactive games. The first one we did was based on the games Angry Birds and Plants Versus Zombies. Each lesson is introduced by a video starring computer science greats like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, telling the children in simple terms what they are about to learn. This really is an amazing gift to U.S. schoolchildren and I hope that every school will someday take advantage of it. In addition to our computer science lessons, we are also doing a few pages per day from the study guide for the New York 4th grade science exam to prepare ourselves for end-of-year science testing.

Goal: Have at least a general idea of how one might write a computer program, including some of the language elements and logical constructs.

Screenshot from one of the online lessons at learn.code.org.

Screenshot from one of the online lessons at learn.code.org.



Spanish

2014-10-13-spanishnow I looked long and hard for a Spanish curriculum I wanted to use. There is a lack of intermediate and advanced language curricula for elementary school students. It is also hard to find affordable programs. I finally settled on the Barron’s Spanish Now! curriculum that includes a workbook and companion CDs. This year, we are trying to focus more on speaking Spanish. I liked that this curriculum seems to have a lot of repetition in the exercises. You use variations of the same phrases over and over and over. The curriculum is probably designed for at least a junior high – adult student. We adjust it by doing only one page per day. The curriculum is similar to what we used last year where there is a story and worksheet pages to follow. We repeat the story every day and do the worksheet page. The CDs are great because they allow us to hear the correct pronunciation of words and also provide oral exercises. The curriculum also teaches Spanish grammar, like masculine and feminine, plurals, etc. So far, my children are handling this curriculum beautifully.

Goal: Improve Spanish vocabulary and understanding. Be able to respond to simple questions in speech and writing with at least a few routine Spanish phrases like “Es posible . . . “ or “Es necesario . . . .”



Language Arts

2014-10-13-commoncorela-4 2014-10-13-commoncorela-2 2014-10-13-vocab-4 2014-10-13-spelling-4

2014-10-13-pshipwriting

We are continuing with the Brave Writer language arts curriculum, graduating to The Arrow curriculum. This curriculum uses longer chapter books and provides copywork passages and literary elements for each book. Ideally, you complete one book per month. There also is a companion Partnership Writing curriculum containing several creative writing projects which you would also complete roughly one per month. My only complaint with the Arrow and Partnership Writing curricula so far is that it does not come with any sort of daily schedule or monthly lesson plan as to when to do what. There is a general guide in the Partnership Writing curriculum but it doesn’t cover basics like how many chapters are you supposed to read in a week to make sure you finish the book by the end of the month. I am having to figure that out on my own. In addition to the Brave Writer curriculum, we are continuing with the Common Core Language Arts 4 Today test prep books as well as a vocabulary and spelling workbook. This is also our year to learn cursive writing, which my children have been waiting for!

Goals: Improve patience for longer chapter books. Improve reading comprehension and vocabulary. Continue progress in creative writing.



Math

2014-10-13-singmath-2a 2014-10-13-singmath-2b 2014-10-13-singmath-4a 2014-10-13-singmath-4b

We are continuing on with the Singapore Math curriculum, levels 2A/2B and 4A/4B. The only change I made this year was that I didn’t order the teacher’s manual for the books this year. In past years, I found that I hardly referred to it. There is so much to complete already between the daily assigned textbook and workbook pages that I didn’t need any other teaching activities to supplement. The only downside is that I don’t get an answer key without the teacher’s manual but the math is still simple enough at this age that we don’t really need it.

Goals: Complete each curriculum. The second grade curriculum requires addition with carrying and subtraction with borrowing as well as simple multiplying and dividing by 2, 3, 4, 5 and 10. The fourth grade curriculum requires multiplying by 2-digit numbers, adding and subtracting fractions, adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing decimals and calculating area and perimeter.



Preschool

Another twist this year is that I have one more student added to my homeschool, my preschool-age son! I am still trying to find a curriculum that works for him. I initially planned out a lot of fun crafts but after trying a few with him learned that his dexterity is still quite limited (although he loves painting with a brush) and that he has more enthusiasm for reading, games and playing outside. We are also doing some socialization learning for him through a sports class (more on this in a future post). Formal schooling isn’t necessary for him at this stage so I am not worried about doing a lot but am trying to keep him engaged in reading and learning in general. He always seems to end up in the middle of the girls lessons, whether “helping” them paint or accompanying them during their piano lessons so he is also learning quite a bit by osmosis as well.

This is the most ambitious homeschool schedule we have attempted yet! It has taken several weeks to feel comfortable with it but it is finally starting to settle into a groove.

 Posted by on October 13, 2014 General Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,
Sep 262014
 
The annual summer ritual of standardized testing in our household.

The annual summer ritual of standardized testing in our household.

My love of a bargain resulted in our standardized testing taking a different path this year.

In Virginia, homeschooled students must provide proof of progress each year to their local school district. The “proof” can be either satisfactory performance on a standardized test or an evaluation from a credentialed evaluator.

For the past two years, we used the California Achievement Test circa the 1980’s because it was the cheapest option. This year, that version of the test was being phased out and we had to upgrade to a newer version. It was about $5 cheaper to get the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills rather than the California Achievement Test so we figured we would try Iowa.

The main difference between the two tests is that you need to have at least a Bachelor’s degree to administer the Iowa test whereas there are no qualifications to administer the California Achievement Test. There are also many versions of the Iowa test by grade and you have to select which time of the academic year you are testing (beginning of the year, halfway through the year, end of year, etc.). There is also about a month wait once you register for the Iowa test until you receive the exam and you must administer the exam in the exact week you signed up for.

When the testing materials arrived, it was a bit overwhelming. With two children to test, I had to carefully sort through the 4 inch stack of books to figure out which were the instructions and which were the exams. Once I had read all the instructions, we were ready to test.

My youngest daughter went first and took the end of year first grade version of the Iowa test. I was surprised to see that there was little reading on the test. Most of the test consisted of pictures. “Choose the picture that rhymes with ___” or “Choose the picture that shows someone ______.” They were testing vocabulary, phonics, etc. just with a minimum of words. Since my daughter is a strong reader, it was almost more challenging trying to answer the questions with pictures. It seemed like she was answering the question in her head with a word and then had to find a picture that matched the word she was thinking of.

In general, the English questions were challenging. The vocabulary words were more unusual than I was expecting. The reading comprehension questions asked a lot of inferential questions that are quite hard for young children to answer. Questions like: “Guess how this character felt,” “Why did the character make certain choices?”, and “Predict what will happen next.” To answer these well, you need life experience more than anything else.

The math portion of the first grade exam was much more verbal than I was anticipating. There were almost no questions with straight math problems to answer. Instead there were picture questions where you might listen to a short story problem and then have to choose the picture that showed the right answer. Or there was a story problem to read and word choices for answers. This was very different from the California test where the math section was almost 100% equations to answer. It made me wonder if the diverse population of California influences how their tests are written. If you don’t speak English very well but you really know math, you can at least do very well on the math portion of the California test. In Iowa, you are sunk!

I was a little surprised at how verbal this test was in general. It required a solid understanding of the English language. As I was pondering this, I happened to read an article in The Atlantic about creativity and its link to mental illness and came across this interesting fact about Iowa:

“The University of Iowa is home to the Writers’ Workshop, the oldest and most famous creative-writing program in the United States (UNESCO has designated Iowa City as one of its seven ‘Cities of Literature,’ along with the likes of Dublin and Edinburgh).”

-Nancy C. Andreasen, “Secrets of the Creative Brain,” The Atlantic, June 25, 2014

Eureka! The answer. Since each state’s exam tends to reflect its own state values, it seems Iowa sets the bar high as a “City of Literature.”

The third grade exam was not picture oriented like the first grade test. The English test contained questions on spelling, punctuation, vocabulary and reading comprehension. The wording on this test was more difficult than in the practice books we used and the format of some questions was unfamiliar. The math examination had several sections. There were a lot of story problems to solve. One section was timed and only 5 minutes long. They were clearly testing for speed of calculations. Another section asked difficult questions like, “What else would you need to know in order to solve this problem?”

The third grade exam also had sections for social studies and science. Both of these tests had several detailed questions about agriculture. We were not anticipating these questions and they are probably easier to answer if you live in rural Iowa! The science test had questions about experimental design which were challenging. The last two sections of the test required reading and interpreting maps and using reference materials for research.

I also administered the CogAT test to my third grader. This test is generally used to either identify gifted and talented students or to determine whether a student’s test scores don’t reflect their actual intelligence. The questions are more like logic puzzles of sorts. They want you to identify number and picture patterns and complete word analogies. The timing on this test is also quite short. You have to answer both accurately and fast.

We sent the test in for scoring and the results came back a little over a week later. The detail in the report is quite helpful. It shows you by concept where your child is weak or strong and how they performed on a grade equivalent basis. My third grader scored a composite equivalent to a child just starting in the 4th grade which is right exactly where we wanted her to be. We might have broken the test’s scoring ability for my kindergartner. By age, she should have taken the kindergarten test but since she had completed a first grade curriculum, we tested her at first grade level. She scored very well in every area except for that tricky inferential reading comprehension (which, given her age, was not surprising.) Her composite score was equivalent to a student almost halfway through the second grade.

In general, the Iowa test was a bigger challenge than what we were used to but I appreciate how the concepts being tested are good preparation for college-level thinking. Also, apparently the Iowa scores can be evaluated over time so that if you use the test every year you can get some additional data in your report about how your child has improved year to year. I am not sure what we will use for our testing this year but I would not be opposed to trying the Iowa test again.

 Posted by on September 26, 2014 General Tagged with: , ,
Sep 242014
 
Sometimes little brother joins the homeschool action . . . especially if it involves Danny and the Dinosaur!

Sometimes little brother joins the homeschool action . . . especially if it involves Danny and the Dinosaur!

Last fall, I gave a peek inside our homeschool classroom, showing a little about what we were learning. It was my first year homeschooling two children at the same time, one in kindergarten and the other in third grade.

I am pleased to report that in general, our year was a success! Teaching two at a time didn’t pose as many challenges as I anticipated. With the exception of math, I generally taught all subjects concurrently to both children. I generally taught at the third grade level and assumed that my younger daughter would probably not pick up all of it and we would adjust as needed. To my surprise, she generally kept right on pace with her older sister!

While I went into teaching third grade completely oblivious to its importance, I learned later on that third grade is a high stakes year for most kids. Time magazine calls it “the single most important year of an individual’s academic career.” Researchers can predict the likelihood of high school graduation based on how well a child reads in third grade. As a result, many states will hold children back if they are not reading on level by third grade. The common maxim is that before third grade, you are “learning to read” but that once you hit third grade you must “read to learn.”

Reading ability was not a concern for us but I must say that in general, our homeschool ramped up for third grade. We tried to teach more material and more complex material. It was challenging at times but we stuck with it.

With apologies for length, here is the subject-by-subject breakdown of our homeschool year:

Math

2014-09-24-singaporemath1a 2014-09-24-singaporemath3a 2014-09-24-commoncoremath1 2014-09-24-commoncoremath3

We continued using the Singapore Math curriculum we have been using for the past several years. This was the first year we completed the full curriculum on time by the end of the year and I was thrilled with that progress.

My kindergartner blew through the kindergarten math books and then proceeded to blow through the first grade math books ahead of schedule.

My third grader had a bigger challenge ahead of her. Third grade is the year to learn the multiplication tables. Memorization of math facts is not something that comes easily to her but she is very good at adding numbers in her head. So, for example, rather than memorizing 8 x 4 = 32, she often had to count, 8, 16, 24, 32. I did not feel it necessary to emphasize speed at this stage so we just made it through the year with the counting method. On the plus side, with the concept of multiplication firmly in her head, she could calculate answers to questions beyond the scope of the course, such as 20 x 5. She also gradually began to memorize the facts after calculating them so many times.

We learned that there are many ways to teach third grade math. In our local public school, it appears they require students to memorize up through the 12 times tables and the corresponding division facts and then answer story problems based on these facts.

Other math curricula have different approaches. With Singapore Math, after we had learned the 2, 3, 4 and 5 times tables, we then had to learn how to multiply ANY number by 2, 3, 4 or 5, such as 55 x 5 or 555 x 5, by learning how to carry numbers in multiplication. Next, we had to learn long division so that we could divide any number by 2, 3, 4, or 5, including remainders. After we had learned all of that, then we progressed to learning the 6 times and higher times tables up through 10. Singapore Math (and it seems more commonly in Asian math curricula) emphasizes breadth of concepts whereas U.S. math seems to emphasize memorization of facts first and then teaches concepts like long division later on.

Comparison of public school and Singapore Math teaching methods for third grade.

Comparison of public school and Singapore Math teaching methods for third grade.

The only challenge for us with this mismatch in strategies is that U.S. standardized testing frequently has questions requiring rote memorization of the 11 and 12 times tables, which we didn’t properly learn. My daughter had to work a little harder to answer those questions but generally did fine using her counting method.

We also used the Common Core Math workbooks to prepare for standardized testing. In general, the math in these books was easier than the Singapore Math curriculum but helped us prepare for the format of many test questions. We found the Common Core Math to be a fairly accurate guide for each grade level of testing.

Language Arts

Brave Writer: The Writer's Jungle and The Wand.

Brave Writer: The Writer’s Jungle and The Wand.

We used Julie Bogart’s Language Arts program called The Wand. The curriculum was developed in conjunction with Rita Cevasco, an expert on childhood language learning. There were 10 months in the curriculum. Each month we read 2 books. Each book was read 10 times before moving on to the next selection. Daily lessons included learning of complex phonics such as c’s that sound like s’s, the –tch letter team and unusual vowel combinations. A brief history of the English language was also included. We learned about Latin, Greek and other language roots. We copied quotes out of the assigned book and did dictation. At first, I couldn’t imagine teaching some of this to a kindergartner and third grader but I pressed on. This curriculum took me a lot of time to plan in advance and to create my own worksheets to go with the material. I was not a big fan of it at first due to the time commitment.

However, about mid-way through the year an amazing transformation happened in my children. I started getting spontaneous writing! My girls would write me notes or comic strips or all kinds of things without being asked! I realized that some of the more tedious parts of this program, like the spelling practice, were very important in building their confidence in writing. Now that they knew how to spell many words properly, they were happy to write things. They also were more willing to take chances on guessing at spelling, since they had a background in the different phonics and an understanding of when certain spellings are used. So, this curriculum was an amazing success and I would recommend it to anyone willing to put in the time.

One quirk about this language program for us, however, was that it appeared that Rita Cevasco might be a Brit. A few of the phonics lessons ended up requiring some modification because they didn’t make sense to an American speaker of English. Brits pronounce certain vowels differently than Americans. For example, the word “aunt” has a short “a” sound in American English but a short “o” sound in British English. The adjustments were minor, however, and as avid PBS watchers we found the differences more amusing than frustrating.

2014-09-24-commoncorelangarts1 2014-09-24-commoncorelangarts3 To prepare for standardized testing, we also used the Daily Language Review books for first and third grade. These books ask questions about grammar, punctuation, reading comprehension and other common testing subjects. The third grade edition also required several short writing projects, which was a good supplement to The Wand curriculum.

 

Science

2014-09-24-giantscience For our science curriculum, we used the School Zone Giant Science book. I liked it because it was colorful and included fun activities such as word searches and simple experiments in addition to reading the text and answering questions. Hands down, the experiments were my children’s favorite. The book covered a wide variety of topics from weather to plants but the main focus was on animals. We learned about insects and ocean life, lizards, snakes and mammals. Animals are a natural hook to science for most children and this book understood that well. I was surprised at how many animal facts were new to me!

 

Spanish

2014-09-24-readandunderstandspanish Our goal for Spanish last year was to find some way to move beyond the stereotypical memorization of numbers, colors, days of the week and a few vocabulary words that is the default elementary foreign language curriculum. We found the Read and Understand Spanish series which is designed primarily for bilingual classrooms. We started off doing once a week Spanish lessons reading the story of the week and completing the 4 worksheet pages. That was not giving us good results as the children were exhausted with Spanish by the end of the lesson and weren’t retaining much.

We switched to shorter daily Spanish lessons with repetition of the story each day and completion of 1 worksheet per day. The worksheets required a combination of writing, cut and paste exercises, word searches and drawings. Coincidentally, many of the stories complemented our other learning in other subjects. Story topics included Jane Goodall, spiders, and fictional stories about children having birthday parties.

Foreign language is one of the most difficult subjects to teach in my experience. While we made progress in terms of learning to understand Spanish phrases and sentences (as opposed to just one random word here and there), my children do not “speak” Spanish to any measurable extent. The lack of immediate progress can be frustrating. However, I do notice subtle progress, particularly in my third grader. She seems to understand more and more and occasionally will write Spanish words herself before I have the chance to spell them out for her. Both girls made good progress learning to write down spelled words in the Spanish alphabet, which is particularly confusing because the Spanish “e” sounds like the English “a” and the Spanish “i” sounds like the English “e.”

In general, I liked this curriculum and would consider using it again.

Handwriting

2014-09-24-smartkidswhohatetowrite 2014-09-24-handwritingwithouttears One of the areas that needed attention last year was handwriting. One of my children had a dysgraphia resulting in frequent letter reversals. We began the year with Dianne Craft’s figure 8 handwriting program and did that daily for the recommended 6 months. I used the program for both my girls. I wouldn’t say that the program was an immediate magic bullet for dysgraphia but it did seem to help. After using the program, the reversals seemed far less frequent.

After 6 months, we moved on to worksheets from the Handwriting Without Tears program that I had picked up used at a homeschool conference. The biggest benefit I received from this text was learning from their suggestions about how to format a handwriting practice page for maximum results.

About three quarters of the way through the year, I realized that I was wasting a lot of time using pre-printed handwriting practice worksheets. I was missing out on the opportunity to use handwriting as a reinforcement for our other learning. So, I began to create my own handwriting practice worksheets using our spelling words. This approach worked very well and I have continued the practice.

Both girls made significant strides in handwriting. Today, the dysgraphia issues are almost non-existent and all the hard work we put in seems to be paying off.

Art

2014-09-24-artisticpursuits I thought I was going to love my art curriculum but I found myself struggling to want to use it. I found it hard to get excited about many of the art projects we were doing and my children did too. After a while, we found ourselves not using it. For me, it was the extra effort required to look ahead and gather all the needed supplies (on top of all the other learning we were doing) and also the lack of excitement from the children when they were doing the assignments. These weren’t like craft projects. They required focus, attention to detail and appreciation of art history. My children seemed to rush through them in 5 minutes, although they did enjoy them and were proud of their work. I am disappointed that I didn’t do more with art and wish I had finished the curriculum. Fundamentally, I think it is a good curriculum but you need to approach it with some of the same seriousness you would use when teaching a subject like math or science.

 

History

2014-09-24-littlehistory 2014-09-24-earth-lifeofplanet 2014-09-24-earlypeople

History was another area where we didn’t quite meet the expectations we had for ourselves. Our goal was to give the children a broad concept of what history is, how old the earth is and how old people are.  My husband did most of the history reading to the children. The year started out well but gradually as we all got busier and busier history just seemed to slip through the cracks. It was also a hard lesson for both me and my husband to learn that it is quite difficult for young children to listen to the non-fiction books we had selected. Many teachers prefer historical fiction for this age group and I can see why. With history at this age, it seems to be an “exposure” subject where children may not absorb it fully the first or second time but with each exposure they start to appreciate more and more. As a teacher, it is hard to stay motivated when your students are staring at you blankly or fidgeting and hoping you will finish soon!

Overall, I think we can call our school year a success.  We attempted more subjects than ever before and learned a lot about teaching strategies for this young age group.  Repetition is key for these young learners.  Going over and over and over a concept seems to really drive comprehension.

In my next post, how we fared with standardized testing this year.

 Posted by on September 24, 2014 General Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,
Jul 292014
 
We drove past this "laser eyes" mural every day on our way to camp.  I am not sure what it represents.

We drove past this “laser eyes” mural every day on our way to camp. I am not sure what it represents.

It was the last day of camp and we were all glad to have made it the full week and to be celebrating artistic accomplishments!

We dropped off the girls and my son and I spent the morning looking at Richmond architecture. I was specifically looking for ideas that would help us with the pending exterior renovation of our home. We are due for a paint job and a new roof and I wanted to see if there were some real life examples of what we were considering.

Richmond is a goldmine of architectural inspiration for Colonial style. We looked at many different types of paint schemes. One of the newer trends that gives a European look to a traditional Colonial home is to paint the trim and the house in shades of the same color. Shades of taupe and beige were particularly striking in this combination.

It was also helpful to see how certain colors and architectural features weather over time. If something still looks good with a little age on it, then it is likely a great choice.

Richmond has lovely rowhouses with classic style.

Richmond has lovely rowhouses with classic style.

As I looked at house and roof colors, I found that I liked it best when the house color and roof color had a bit of contrast, such as a dark house color with a lighter roof and a lighter house color with a darker roof.

As I looked at house and roof colors, I found that I liked it best when the house color and roof color had a bit of contrast, such as a dark house color with a lighter roof and a lighter house color with a darker roof.

The double porches on many homes looked so inviting and seemed like the perfect people watching spot.

The double porches on many homes looked so inviting and seemed like the perfect people watching spot.

We grabbed the girls from camp and had a few shopping errands to run first. We were surprised to find that back-to-school shopping is in full force with store aisles transformed into school supply meccas.

School supplies so neatly organized in bins.  Heaven!

School supplies so neatly organized in bins. Heaven!

There is something so satisfying to me about school supply shopping. I love to browse all the new products and deals. It is also a wake-up call that the cash hemorrage is about to begin. Between summer vacation expenses, school clothing and school supply expenses, August can be as expensive as Christmas!

After our shopping trip, we grabbed lunch to go and made our way to our last Richmond attraction. I saved the best for last. We managed to parallel park the minivan into the last available parking spot and made our way across the bridge.

Crossing the Belle Isle suspension bridge

Crossing the Belle Isle suspension bridge

The Bridge to Belle Isle is a relatively recent Richmond tourism and recreation investment. A suspension bridge was created below the existing highway bridge allowing people to walk or bike across the bridge to Belle Isle. Belle Isle was a former prisoner of war camp for Union Soldiers during the Civil War and was then the site of a hydroelectric power plant. Now it is used solely for recreation with hiking trails and the main attraction, a rocky, urban “beach.”

View from the bridge.

View from the bridge.

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On Belle Isle.

On Belle Isle.

Lots of green, open space.

Lots of green, open space.

Picnic lunch on the beach.

Picnic lunch on the beach.

2014-07-29-rockybeach

There is only one hazard to be aware of on this beach and that is that the rocks near the water are very slippery! There is some sort of slippery moss or algae that grows on them that you can’t see. Three of us were caught in this trap. My daughter first discovered this as she gently stepped into the water, then suddenly lost her footing and slid right in to a shallow pool. I ran to fish her out and many kind people nearby also started to help. Fortunately, she was able to climb out herself and other than being wetter than she would like, was fine. The next person to discover this trap was me! I was walking quickly over what I thought were dry rocks. One had just a bit of water on it and sure enough it was mossy and slippery and down I went! The last victim was my son. He was sitting on the rocks dangling his feet in the water, slid just an inch toward that slippery moss and slid right into the water! I was right there to fish him out but it taught us all to be VERY careful.

Celebrating the end of our week of adventures!

Celebrating the end of our week of adventures!

The children could have stayed on the beach all afternoon and were sad when it was time to leave. We could not miss the children’s art exhibit that afternoon, however, and hustled toward the car.

The camp does a wonderful art exhibition of all of the children's work at the end of camp. It looks just like an art gallery and it is all put up very quickly with little more than masking tape.

An exuberant self-portrait

An exuberant self-portrait.

Another terrific self portrait.

Another terrific self portrait.

A diamondback rattlesnake made from clay, used in a claymation project.

A diamondback rattlesnake made from clay, used in a claymation project.

Another claymation detail of a flying squirrel and a tree.

Another claymation detail of a flying squirrel and a tree.

We admired the projects done by children of all ages. In the older classes, the children were asked to work in teams to create installation art. This project done by three girls was fantastic.

2014-07-29-house-installation

The best part for me was the artists’ statement.

A wonderful artist statement.

A wonderful artist statement.

The statement said a lot to me. Some efforts are hard for others to appreciate. Simple things can be deceptively complicated. Artistic mess is as difficult as artistic order. It takes time to learn to create good art.

The art show was a great lift to the end of a energy-filled week. While we weren’t expecting to have Richmond in our summer plans, we are glad there was space in our lives to allow for this last-minute change. Rather than being exhausted with all the early-morning wake-up calls and the driving and touring, I left energized with new ideas and perspective. My children took a lot out of the experience too. I will remember most the times spent outside, watching them run joyfully in the sunshine. It’s what summer is all about.

 Posted by on July 29, 2014 General Tagged with: , , ,
Jun 032014
 
A new project underway in our garden.

A new project underway in our garden.

My mom called the other day in alarm that there had not been a Ruly post in over a week! She wanted to make sure I was OK. Yes, all is well! We have just been extremely busy with a ballet recital last week. Between our homeschooling efforts, the extra practices and rehearsals and the performance itself, it just got a bit much to add blogging to the mix as well.

So, it’s June! We are now halfway through the year and everyone is transitioning into summer schedules. It seems that this is a stressful time for many. Just as you have just about nailed your schoolyear schedule and activities, it all changes up for the summer and you start again finding a new rhythm to your life—only to change it back again in a few months for the fall.

In general, I don’t mind changing around my daily routines but I have to say that once several children enter the picture, the prospect gets more and more overwhelming. There is just so much more to manage when you have more people in the mix.

My biggest (literally) organizational challenge of late is how to manage all the watermelon we want to eat.

My biggest (literally) organizational challenge of late is how to manage all the watermelon we want to eat.

Solution: Clear a bit spot in the fridge for watermelon, cut it up and keep it ready for snacks.  Yum!  Cold watermelon is the best.

Solution: Clear a bit spot in the fridge for watermelon, cut it up and keep it ready for snacks. Yum! Cold watermelon is the best.

It also doesn’t help when all your best plans seem to fall through. I thought I had my summer plan in place but when I went to register my children for their intended activities, we learned they were all full! While I could have scrambled around to find other activities, we instead decided to take this as a sign that maybe this summer is the one to take things a bit easier. I already had plenty of fun homeschool activities planned in subjects like art and music as well as some exercise activities with the kids and reading lots of great books from the library. We are going to be self-taught learners this summer. We will go on our own field trips and local excursions and we have another epic road trip planned as well.

I came across this chart in my summer reading and loved it!

I came across this chart in my summer reading and loved it!

For me, it was important to take a moment to visualize what I wanted to have done by the end of the summer. I realized that it was important that there were activities in there that constituted a “rest” or a treat for me. I didn’t want to go into fall feeling exhausted. Summer should be a time of rejuvenation and enjoyment.

Summer is a busy time for everyone.  I came across this busy spider in my garden toting its egg sac.

Summer is a busy time for everyone. I came across this busy spider in my garden toting its egg sac.

One of my treats to myself was reviving one of my favorite childhood summer reading memories. Every summer our local library had great summer reading programs. My favorite was the year you registered at the beginning of summer for a sort of reading board game/treasure map. Each square had a suggestion for something to read. It wasn’t a mandated book but rather a general category, like “Read a book about animals.” or “Read a biography.” You had to know how to research to find the book you needed, know where to go to find it in the library and then you had the great pleasure of choosing which book on the subject you want. If you completed all the assignments, you received some sort of prize (a free book, I think). It gave you the satisfaction that you had “earned” it.

Our local library does great summer reading programs too but I have never seen the board game style that I so fondly remembered. So, I created my own version. For my children, my husband and I came up with a list of topics for them to read. For myself, I just left it blank. I fill it in as I read through the huge list of books I have waiting to be read on my bookshelf at home. I have read two books already! In case you want your own summer reading adventure, you can download my blank form here.

For summer on my blog, I have decided to let things get a bit random. I have a few more posts for you in mind about homeschooling. I have a few updates on my diet and exercise program and there will be another road trip series as well. In between, perhaps I will share gems from my summer reading with you.

I hope you also have some grand (or restful) summer plans and that you take a moment to treat yourself. You’ve earned it!

 Posted by on June 3, 2014 General Tagged with: , ,