Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Dreaming of Timelines

One of the biggest "gaps" in my own education is in my understanding of history. It was never presented to me in a way that I could wrap my brain around. I still struggle with seeing the big picture. So I've become obsessed with creating a big picture of history. Literally. I want to make a wall timeline.

At first I envisioned something like this:

Isn't that cool? I've been racking my brain for where in the world to put something like this in my house. I even found a lovely free printable timeline at a fellow homeschooler's site, Just the A.D. part of it is 70 pages. I did the math. I would need about 50 linear feet of wall space. I don't have that.

The Guest Hollow timeline is meant to be put in a notebook. It's awesome for that. Notebook timelines are great, but my brain needs to see the big picture. The whole picture. All at once.

So then I came across this:

It goes up one side for the years before Christ, and then comes back down the other side for the years Anno Domini. The one pictured above came from this squidoo page. It's published by Konos and comes with the printed pictures.

This is perfect. This gives the big picture. Of course, I'm not willing to shell out the cash for the premade timeline. And I'm not terribly interested in what someone else thinks I should put on the timeline. So I'm going to make my own. Other people have done it.

Here's one from Kindred Blessings.

Here's one from Homeschool in the Woods:

Here's a pretty amazing one from Peace Creek on the Prairie.

And a really neat one from Higher Up and Further In.

And here's a really great how to with specifics for spacing and such.

Lots of ideas. I'm still trying to figure out exactly how we'll do ours.

But I do know where we'll put it. The only wall in the house that can accommodate such a monstrosity is in our dining room. The wall has been blank for the two years since we moved into the house because I've been waiting to discover the perfect display for it. I was thinking of a brightly colored still life. A giant cluttered timeline wasn't really what I had in mind.

Which brings me to a whole new issue. When you put one of these bad boys in your home you are declaring, loud and proud, we are homeschooling geeks. Our house is for living and learning. It will never ever be featured in Better Homes and Gardens. I'm okay with that. Mostly. I can almost guarantee that through the years this timeline will provide much more fodder for dinner conversation than a depiction of flowers in a vase. No matter how lovely those flowers might be. But a fairly large part of me longs for a tastefully decorated house.

But, I think I'm willing to sacrifice that for what I think a timeline like this can do for our family. Living with this timeline will give my children the opportunity to document what they learn through the years. It will help them revisit what they've learned each time they add to the timeline, and see how things all fit together. They'll be able to see that while the United States was busy fighting the Civil War, Franz Shubert was premiering a new symphony.

They'll be able to see how the Saints and the history of the Church fit into the rest of world history. Their knowledge of history will build on itself and will be constantly reviewed so that they will really know history. It's something I've always wanted for myself. So this ugly timeline will be a gift to me and to my children.

I'll post pictures when I get it up.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Semester Book Plan

I did it. Last night I spent a few hours working out our semester long plan for Five in a Row. I have a hard time doing this. I have a hard time picking a book for one week, let alone several months. I want everything to be perfect. And then I get into this idea that everything we do that week has to tie into the book and that I need to tie it into the various Holy Days and Feast Days that are happening and I get overwhelmed and decide since it can't be perfect I'm not doing it at all. I push past that feeling and then comes the feeling that the whole exercise is futile because my kids aren't going to be interested in doing any of this anyway. And then I push past that feeling and try to clarify why it is I'm doing Five in a Row at all.

This is what I've come up with. I'm doing Five in a Row because I want some starting point for sharing the things I want to share with my children. I want something to motivate me to get off my butt and interact with my kids. Maybe it's the leftover "schooling" in me, but, what can I say, I loved school. I was a student for the first 25 years of my life and then I was a teacher. I have school in my blood. So, for better or worse, I haven't been completely deschooled and I feel I need some sort of something to organize stuff around. At least for now.

One of the tenets of unschooling is to introduce children to a wide variety of topics so that they can discover their own personal interests and passions. Five in a Row gives me a gentle but systematic way of doing this. It was through a Five in a Row study last year that I learned how fascinated I am by the history of flight. I'm hoping we'll discover more new interests and passions this year.

So here's my plan for the first part of the year. I'm putting this up here in case someone reading this wants to play along with us either on a regular basis or just occasionally. I plan to do a field trip on Thursdays that ties in with the book/unit for the week. It'd be fun to have other families join us who were working on the same thing.

We're starting the last week of August, the 29th, with Andy and the Lion. We'll also read St. Jerome and the Lion. After that:


  1. Mary the Mother of Jesus by Tomie dePaola. The Feast of the Nativity of Mary is on the 8th so we'll be taking a quick break from Five in a Row. However, it will still feel very FIAR as Tomie de Paola writes amazing children's literature.
  2. Down Down the Mountain
  3. Papa Piccolo
  4. Lentil
  1. Henry the Castaway
  2. The Tale of Peter Rabbit (with a field trip Monday to see the CSO perform a musical version of the story!)
  3. Madeline
  4. Halloween (That's not a book title, it's a holiday. And it's a big one around here, so we'll just read our favorite Halloween titles.)
  1. The Giraffe that Walked to Paris. This might get pre-empted as Halloween happens on Monday of this week and All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day are big around here as well. We may just give into the festivities.
  2. Another Celebrated Dancing Bear
  3. Babar to Duet or not to Duet. We'll be attending a special field trip this week to see a symphony. It's on a Tuesday. I'm trying to get our enrichment program to do it as a field trip since it's on our enrichment program day. But if not, we'll skip school and go anyway.
  4. Cranberry Thanksgiving
For December/Advent, we'll be doing Elizabeth Foss's Advent and Christmas with Tomie de Paola unit study. I'm very excited about this. The books we'll read will be:
  1. Merry Christmas Strega Nona
  2. Country Angel Christmas
  3. The Lady of Guadalupe
  4. The Legend of the Poinsettia
  5. The Clown of God
  6. Jingle the Christmas Clown
  7. The Story of the Three Wise Kings
  8. The Legend of Old Befana
So that I wouldn't lose steam after the holidays, I went ahead and planned through January. After we finish up the Epiphany celebrations (which around here includes making tamales, so Tomie dePaola will fit right in!), we'll continue as follows:
  1. Katy and the Big Snow
  2. Amber of the Mountain
  3. Salamander Room
So there you have it. I know it doesn't seem like a big deal to pick out a few books, but it always exhausts me. It's hard to know what the kids will find appealing. I'm hoping these titles work out well for us. If not, we'll just drop them and try again the following week!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

"Back to School" Anxiety

Not sure if it's the slight cooling of the days, the garden harvest, the back to school sales everywhere or the fact that Henry returns to his enrichment program in a couple of weeks, but I'm starting to feel some anxiety about this coming homeschool year.

I'm sure we'll find our rhythm. I know I will continue to see my children learn and grow. But I am at a point, once again, where I feel like I should be taking a more active role in the process. Part of this is because I want to. But then I start thinking of all of the cool things we could be doing and know that we can never do it all and then feel overwhelmed by everything and then I'm frozen by my anxiety and I just do nothing. It's such a lovely cycle.

So I've worked out a weekly routine. And I've set an intention of doing math and phonics every day. I am really resisting using the curriculum we have for these areas of learning, but I'm going to try to do it consistently for a month and see how it works for us. I resist "drill and kill" or any sort of scope and sequence type learning, but then I use the analogy of a musician practicing scales and it starts to make more sense to me. I think Henry needs the repeated practice provided by things like phonics flash cards to build his fluency for reading. Or maybe he doesn't, but I'll admit I'm uneasy waiting until he's 10 to see if he just becomes a good reader on his own.

Well, I allotted the kids one episode of Hello Kitty and that is over, so my time for thinking and writing is also over.

What anxieties, if any, are you facing as the rest of the world heads back to school?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

How my son became a writer

When Henry started kindergarten last year, he showed absolutely no interest in handwriting. None. He failed every fine motor screening at his well child checks from the time he was two. At 5, as far as I knew, as far as he would demonstrate to me, he could not even draw a straight, vertical line.

I alternated between freaking out and searching for occupational therapists that accept our insurance, and telling myself it would come in time. I considered not only purchasing Handwriting Without Tears, but taking the full training so I would really know how to implement it. I used all of the tricks in my bag to entice him to develop his writing skills. I listened to advice from people who know less than I do on the matter. I listened hard to the tiny little voice in me that said, "he's fine. He just needs time."

On his first day of classes at his homeschool enrichment program, he came home with a paper that he'd written his name on. Not a scribble. Much more than a straight, vertical line. Five letters, that I could read: H-E-N-R-Y. Huh. Little stinker. Apparently he was capable of much more than I even knew.

That fact tormented me for a while. What else does he know that I don't know he knows? Is he not showing his skills because he's a perfectionist? Is he bored? And, of course, what have I done wrong? Why will he write for these strangers at school and not for me?

But again, I managed to hear the tiny little voice that said, "he's fine. You're fine. Everything will be fine."

When I asked Henry who had written his name, he said, "I did." I asked him, "who taught you how to write your name?"He answered, "you did." Really? Huh.

So although it had been established that he could, in fact, write actual letters on paper, Henry was still loathe to put pen - or crayon, or pen, or paintbrush, or even a finger loaded with paint - to paper. I didn't push it. I just made materials available and left it be.

Throughout the year he experimented more and more, but it never became his favorite thing to do. And then, one day, it happened. We had a Very Bad Day. It was the kind of day that makes you hang your head as a mother and wonder 1) how could I have produced such a rotten kid and 2) how can I look at these events and bring some growth out of them.

I'll spare you the details of his transgressions. What's important to this story is that on this Very Bad Day, Henry had to give up his TV time to write three apology letters.

It was brutal. It was excruciating. It took him a whole hour to write three letters that averaged about 10 words each. And they were pretty much illegible. I was embarrassed as we presented these tortured writings to their recipients. I feared the judgment of my failure as a homeschooling mom to teach my son to write.

I was still in a funk from the events of the Very Bad Day when my husband returned from work. He cheerfully asked Henry, "how was your day?" Henry's response? "Great! I learned how to write all by myself!"

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

From that time, Henry has become quite the writer. He makes signs, labels pictures, and writes letters. He's also started drawing pictures, which he'd never really done before.

So there you have it. While no expert I know would ever recommend that the way to encourage a reluctant writer is to force him to write letters of apology, that is, in fact, what worked in our family. Your mileage may vary.