Friday, August 19, 2011

Ready, set...

Not quite ready to GO, but I'm so close!  A cold snap that brought our night temperature down into the fifties and an entire day at the lake have almost convinced me that summer vacation should be winding down.  I had been feeling as if I were being dragged kicking and screaming to the edge of fall and as if the world and Mother Nature were conspiring against me to snatch my summer away.  Like, because we had a fabulous trip to Florida in May, I didn't need or deserve any more fun in the sun this season.  A chilly beginning that lasted into June and enough thunderstorms to fool me into thinking I'd never moved from the lightening capital of the world made for a lackluster, short summer.

When I wasn't listening to other homeschool moms chatting away about curriculum purchases, while I resisted the urge to cover my ears and squeeze my eyes shut to block it out, I found myself staring forlornly out the window waiting for the clouds to clear while simultaneously being grateful that I haven't needed to take the precious ground water from our well to water the garden, thanks to Nature doing her thing.  Waiting, waiting, waiting for summer to "start".  An additional round of unexpected frustrations and a series of minor illnesses that we seem to be passing around among the four of us has convinced me to just let it go.  I hate that phrase, but I'm learning to adopt the concept and use it when I need to.  So this week, I let summer go and buried myself in my lesson planning.  The community pool in our town and the one in a nearby town that we always use have closed for the year, without even one visit from us, and public school has started, so letting go, though I resisted, was easier than I'd thought it would be.

The boys and I had never done a themed school year until the last which was a pirate theme.  We all learned a lot, and no we didn't just sit around watching Captain Jack Sparrow, as many people have asked.  Our pirate study led us to learn all about the Atlantic coast of Canada, the Caribbean, particularly Haiti and Jamaica, trade routes and government laws.  We studied manatees, earthquakes, construction, ospreys, trees, sea life, underground water systems...things I never knew we could tie into a pirate theme.  It was so much fun that the boys requested that we do a theme again.

It will be our ninth year as a homeschool family and I was sad to realize that after this year, we will only have four more with my older son and that's only if he doesn't graduate early or decide to school outside of our home.  Every year I ask them if they are sure they want to continue homeschooling.  This year our medieval themed lesson plan was already in the works before I asked.  I was happy to see how enthusiastic they were about our plans and both, even the older, independent boy said they couldn't wait to start.

We already had our math curriculum figured out and are continuing where we left off last year, but I was really overwhelmed by the prospect of pulling our lessons together.  So much is involved with the theme that we've chosen and while I know the boys would be content and probably expect to only learn about knights, castles, and medieval weaponry, I knew I had to build a good solid base of information as my curriculum "skeleton" and save the fun and exciting subjects for the rest.  During my denial period, that summer was going too quickly, I had messed around a little looking online for a place to start.  It was daunting to say the least, and for a while I didn't know how I was going to pull it off.  Then I discovered Medieval Ages for Kids.  My thirteen year old balked at the juvenile cartoon pictures at the top of each page when I showed him, but the information is fabulous and because it's outlined in such a simple format, we will be able to fit many subjects into one year and avoid those long, drawn out, less interesting medieval history subjects I remember from school.  Which is, for me, one of the main reasons for homeschooling at all.  I told my son not to worry and to trust his momma, that I would just use the site as my skeleton and make sure everything else was up to his maturity level.  He responded by reminding me that he tested at a college level for vocabulary.  He's right.  I'll have to keep that in mind.  He sure knows how to make me giggle.

So with a six coarse medieval feast planned, that my food blog followers will get to experience first-hand, an extensive Viking study, lessons on kings, queens, knights and jousts, heraldry, dragons (yes, I know they're not real), village life, geography, sea exploration, Black Death, castles, and the Inquisition lessons all printed, organized, and filed away I am just about ready.  It only took numerous packs of computer paper and almost an entire laser printer toner cartridge, but each boy's year of work is hanging neatly divided by subject in their own hanging file system. Getting it divided up into semesters, quarters, months, weeks, days and scheduled into the lesson plan is always the tricky part and I still have a few weeks left to do that and to buy our school supplies.  I haven't even thought about language arts yet, but a trip to Barnes & Noble always does a good job of taking care of that for me.  Science is going to be so much hands-on that, like last year, there will be models and experiments all over the lesson room. there's a problem...a real, ongoing problem.  It will be my fourth or fifth year teaching the boys German and because I'm not fluent (pretty clueless as a matter of fact) we really aren't getting anywhere.  It happens to be the one language that our library doesn't carry in a nice, high quality, "learn a language in 3 mos." type of program so I've really been winging it.  They learn vocabulary words, there's a fabulous chart on the lesson room wall that they do drills from, they ace the questions I put on their tests, but then it's gone...  right out the window and they nor I can speak it at all.  I know more than I think I know, I find out each year, but like the boys, it's not a part of my life so none of us are getting it.  I think I will just have to buy one of those very expensive programs and just get us speaking and quit worrying for now about vocabulary and grammar. 

Music.  I grew up in a family of musicians and my husband and boys are distant cousins of The King himself, so it's ridiculous that none of us play anything.  We bought a guitar from a friend's yard sale two summers ago and it sits in the corner of the lesson room under a guitar notes poster and music notes chart, but like German, I don't know how to teach the boys something I don't know myself.  I bring up the subject of finding an instructor, but my younger boy, who is as shy as I was at his age, flat-out refuses to go and my older son hasn't had enough interest to actually learn from one and practice every day.

Well, one day this summer, when my creativity level was at its peak, I literally woke up in the morning and decided that I wanted to play an instrument, that I HAD to play an instrument.  Music is such a necessary thing in my life, but the fact that I couldn't make it suddenly seemed unbearable.  I picked up the boys' guitar and thought, as I often do, about my dad pulling his out and playing sixties folk songs for my sister and me.  I could almost smell his red velvet lined guitar case that held the beautiful instrument and for the millionth time in my life I realized what a travesty it is that I never showed any interest in learning how to play and that I never even once asked him to teach me.  I started messing around with the boys' guitar case while I gave up looking at the guitar, wishing I could somehow know how to make it sing, when I found a beginner, basic instruction manual in the a zippered pocket.  I am happy to say that I have made it most of the way through the book.  An added bonus is that both boys were inspired enough by how quickly I learned a few tunes by using the book to pick the guitar up for themselves and learn too.  They are following right along behind me and very soon we will need to be buying the next book in the series of manuals. this very moment, my son is watching an item on Ebay, keeping up with the bidding, trying to decide when the best time will be for us to jump in and go for it.  The item for sale a violin.  It's never too late to get excited about playing an instrument, I guess.

So now that I am almost ready for school, I am torn between the desperate need to milk every last bit of fun from this summer and wanting to jump right into all of the interesting lessons we have ahead of us.  I think I'll compromise and just sit down with the boys on one of these rainy afternoons and watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  Yeah...that should do the trick. 

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