Just as in a classroom, the homeschool model can drag a bit right past the holidays as everyone looks toward the long months ahead until June. The long stretch can be a godsend with respect to making steady strides in curriculum, but it can also be…a long stretch. When I taught advanced placement courses, the May AP tests felt like a sprint starting in March, the quieter and subdued months of January and February behind us. I read an article (citations sorely needed here, I know) claiming that outside of the first month, February-ish is the second most popular time that families consider quitting the homeschool model. Although that is not currently a consideration at the McGaugh Academy, the January-February duo can be a dreary time in or out of the traditional classroom.

How do we take proactive measures to stay the course during this time at the McGaugh Academy?

1. Exercise, play, and study in as much outdoor daylight as possible.

2. Get involved. Katie and Eric started their wish list of extra-curricular activities after Christmas: horseback riding for Katie, gymnastics and art classes for both. I will explain more about why we found now a good time to pick back up with some of our passions, as opposed to the beginning of this year.

3. Schedule field trips/excursions.

4. Pick an external study location and commit to visiting it at least once a week if possible, as something to anticipate.

5. Keep to the structure established in the beginning of the year: exercise time, start time, snack time, recess, procedures. Structure is my friend. It’s not everyone’s friend, and that’s fine…but having a structure has saved our particular homeschool model so many times.

Here are some (okay, several) pictures from our past couple of months here at the McGaugh Academy. We work on math and language arts every day, and we alternate between science and history. We try for an art enrichment project once a week in our home (usually Fridays), though we did go through a bit of a dry patch around the holidays. Sometimes we  work on the weekends, or have “double days” when we know we’re going somewhere special during the week. We have grown better at working in the car, and the kiddos are now to the point of being able to work, read, and support each other at each other’s extra-curricular activities. Eric is old enough for one independent class and one mommy-helps class; Katie, of course, is entirely independent. Because we worked to establish protocols at the beginning of the year, and because we have a year under us already (plus all the unofficial preschool years), we feel seasoned enough to study and learn anywhere, which has been so freeing this semester. We were hesitant to schedule much in the beginning of the year, both for personal family reasons (wanting to keep our schedule free to visit ailing family members) and for wanting to play it cautiously as we made the leap from Kindergarten to the more substantial first grade material. We also wanted our kiddos to start becoming more vocal about which activities THEY wanted to do. The timing seemed to work out just about right here…

A snapshot of what we’ve been up to the past two months (by no means exhaustive, just some highlights):

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More science labs: making clouds and investigating aspects of the water cycle as we finished a unit on Earth science

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Art enrichment: decoupage

 

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Katie’s first drama class and drama performance in “Robin Hood”

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Katie started horseback riding lessons…

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…and she really loves riding!

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We try to take some math (usually a spiral review packet) to the local coffee shop once a week

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We spent several days augmenting our yearly study of Lunar New Year with literature, hands-on activities like bamboo arrangement, and a dumpling making party with a big group of best friends in Los Angeles

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We feel strongly that some of our best learning is done in the community, and our particular community has SO MANY resources just waiting to be tapped into. Both children are now old enough for Painted Earth, a pottery painting studio in town. We have gone on our own, and we also took a class in which the teacher taught them how to paint owl mugs. This particular class spanned both of their ages, so it really was perfect. Now that Eric is a bit older, we are hitting this golden time of finding activities they both can do. It’s wonderful, really, to watch them together, and I am fully enjoying them at this age.

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Finished owl mugs: hot chocolate and cuddles

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Eric started his gymnastics class! Katie and I work on math (typically) while Eric has his class nearby. When it is Katie’s turn in the afternoon, Eric and I spend time reading and working on his literacy and reading skills. What I have found at this stage with them is that having them in independent extracurriculars allows me sacred one-on-one time with each of them, while the other one still feels supported as we cheer and smile and wave from nearby.

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Katie loves her gymnastics class, too

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We moved on to physical science this month: studying states of matter. That has been a popular science topic with Katie and Eric! A fun one!

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Eric has made strides in his confidence in his weekly art class. In this first picture, Katie is hugging him and encouraging him to go up to present. She works on other work while Eric works on his project, but she joins us for circle time and she always goes up with him—-because the first week, he didn’t want to go up by himself. For all the flack that homeschoolers sometimes receive about this mythic “socialization” business (a criticism that really pushes all my buttons for a number of serious logical and philosophical reasons, and one day I am going to let loose and absolutely rant on my blog I’m afraid), I am so thankful to get to witness my older child mentoring my younger child to a position of self-strength in an academic and social setting. Mixed-aged groups are incredibly powerful tools, whether the children are related or not, and mixed-aged groups more realistically mirror actual workplace environments. But, let me stay on track here. 😉

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This picture was taken last week, and Eric ran up to share his project with the class. See his face? So proud and happy. What was even better? Watching him clap with all his big heart for all the other kids who presented after him. He’s getting the procedure here, and he loves his class.

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Practicing pointillism in art class

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Putting her recent language arts skills to use without being asked or prompted, Katie wrote a letter to her grand-aunt, my Aunt Donna, who is currently in the hospital for a serious (but recoverable) condition. Katie and Eric were not allowed in the ICU, but I went with my parents the night before our trip to San Francisco last week. When Katie found out she was not going to be able to visit, she went into our backyard, picked a bunch of flowers, wrote this card, drew pictures, and told me to give Aunt Donna a kiss for her. My big-hearted girl. Her letter writing is also coming along! I have also had her practice writing to favorite fictional characters.

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And Eric’s phonemic awareness and sight word recognition is coming along, too. He is on pace to start reading around the age that Katie did (4.5 years), but every child has variations. I can tell he wants to read, though, and is manifesting pre-reading cues almost daily. We’re working on getting you there, little buddy. Anyway, he spelled all of these words and can read them. He needed an assist with sounding out a couple of them, but did the rest on his own.

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When Katie is taking her riding lessons, Eric and I hang out in the car. Sometimes we draw, or read, or look at the car manual. Looking at the car manual is one of his favorite things to do. We played a fun scavenger hunt game with the idiot lights this week. I would show him a light in the manual and he would have to find it (car was on in battery mode).  He loved that game! It’s fun to see what we can come up with in a small environment to learn and to entertain ourselves…

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Katie started an art class, and they are studying Matisse. The teacher is a Google-able artist herself, and I think Katie is going to grow in this class. She even has homework, and like a true child of mine, is thrilled about that fact. Yay, nerdy genes, yay!

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At home, we included Eric in the conversation about Matisse, looking up more of his work and then working on a Matisse-inspired project. We studied positive and negative space, and we tried to use typical Matisse shapes. It was also a way to connect our symmetry studies in math to artwork.

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Near Valentine’s Day, Katie worked on her own little project, using her handprint and footprints as part of her spelling of “LOVE.”

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Eric’s yearlong project of an alphabet book is coming along. We finished “Pp for pumpkin” this week. Ten more to go! I am going to bind them all up when we’re done. We like to set them out and have Eric practice all of their sounds.

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Math is Katie’s favorite subject, and we consequently do quite a bit of it. We have been working on skip counting, coin counting, input-output boxes, symmetry…all kinds of really fun topics, actually. Eric received a neat-o cash register from Santa for Christmas. It counts real money and plays other math games, as well. We’ve been using real coins with some of our math worksheets and the cash register to check for accuracy after calculating in our heads. In the car, we play the classic Math Field Day game of “mental gymnastics”: I give Katie a sequence of addition and subtraction steps and she has to tell me what number she lands on. The car is GREAT for all kinds of mental/verbal academic games.

I do not have much language arts or history represented in pictures here, but we are constantly reading, and working on main idea/supporting evidence, phonics, cause/effect, ordering, reading comp, reading aloud, pleasure reading, and more. She is handling chapter books well, and she often reads if she has down time or before bed. In history, we are learning about famous leaders and are pulling in enrichment from various American Girl series and, occasionally, Five in a Row. We are mostly finished with her history textbook for this year, so we are casting about a bit to deepen some concepts for her.

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We are often up early in the morning. I get up at 5:30 to quickly skim news and run/lift weights/bike. The kiddos are usually up by the time I return, and we all wave goodbye to Bill and then read and get started. Our days are busy, full, and productive, and I cannot believe we’re on the home stretch of first grade! We have some field trips and school events coming up—Katie and I are SUPER excited about the Math Extravaganza at the Springs campus this week because we love to play math games. We are also in discussions with a younger friend of mine who is doing graduate work and taking education classes. She has asked to come observe our language arts teaching/lessons/methodology and to implement four lessons of her own with Katie: her program allows her to use a homeschool model for her project as long as I am a certificated teacher, which I am. It feels good to be able still to mentor the next gen of teachers coming down the pike and, most of all, to give back to the teaching profession. I think of the time and care my mentors and some colleagues gave to me and I have no hesitation in giving it right back. I remember, too, being at the new stage of my career and trying to find teachers willing to let me observe and work with their students. I talked with Katie about it, and she is eager.

A fun week ahead!

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