Friday, December 30, 2011

We are Ready for 4th Grade!

Our school year runs from Jan-Dec, which means that we're starting our second year of homeschooling. Our first year (2011) was all over the place. Since the decision to homeschool happened from one day to the next, I had no time to prepare. This year will be very different. I've been working on our curriculum for several months now, printed up everything over the last month, and we're ready to go! Another big difference is that we're using quite a few store-bought books, which I know is kind of cheating on my only-free-stuff policy, but let me explain... We already had these books in the house. Most of them were given to us when our son was still too young to use them. I basically just went through all our books and fished out the ones that fit our 4th grade needs. I found much more than I expected right on our own bookshelves. Have you been through your books lately? You might find some useful forgotten treasures too.

Here's our schedule:

Chapter Books for Independent Reading:

We'll be working with this Dorling Kindersley Encyclopedia
that covers World Regions, People and Society, History of People, Living World,
Science and Technology, Planet Earth, Space and the Universe.

I made worksheets for each chapter,
so he reads through and then answers questions.

Here are our Read-Alouds -
Myths and Legends from around the World,
Shel Silverstein's A Light in the Attack (a 20+ year-old copy from my childhood),
and Aesop's Fables in Spanish (which we will also use for copywork/handwriting)

For math we're using several resources.
The Math Skills workbook is by Harcourt Family Learning (sent to us by a friend).
Glencoe Math - free downloadable 80 page workbook.
MEP Math in Spanish - free downloadable 175 page textbook.
And we'll also be using Khan Academy free online program.
If you don't know Khan Academy yet, you're missing out big time.

For Spelling, Vocabulary and Grammar,
I got 750 pages worth of free downloadable worksheets
from McGraw-Hill and Scott Foresman.
I also wrote up my own workbook on Homophones,
using a dictionary and
this site.

For Science in Spanish, we'll be using this Larousse book.
I printed out pages for him to come up with his own Q&A from what he reads.

For Science in English, we're using Mr. Q Science.
We're using the free Life Science textbook (the others are for sale).

And here's what it looks like all together!

I can't wait to start on Monday!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Our Tree

I think funky is the best way to describe our tree.
We put it together with cypress trimmings from the mountain.
Son and grandmother did the decorating while listening to The Doors.
This little bird is a traditional Guatemalan ornament.
The Macaroni Bell is 31 years old,
and almost completely intact.
- I made it in kindergarten -

Presents are wrapped, cookies are baked,
turkey and tamales are on their way.

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Greek Mythology Wrap-Up

A while back I wrote about the start of our Greek Mythology project.
We started in September, working on one story a week,
and just finished up a few days ago.

It was always the highlight of our week -
cuddling up together on the day bed to read,
drawing together, writing, editing, and typing.

Our first story -
He would write the summary, we'd edit together,
I'd dictate the final draft while he typed.

He did some of the drawings on his own,
but I'd usually help out with an initial pencil sketch.

I love how this one came out:

This one was my favorite story when I read the book at his age:

This was our last story.
We were both kind of sad for it to be over.

This was one of my favorites from the summaries:

And here they all are together:
19 stories in 16 weeks.
It was a great project for 3rd grade,
but I don't think we'll have as much time next year for quite so much drawing.
Each session (between reading, drawing, writing and typing) took around 3.5 hours.
A less time consuming alternative could be to do mini-drawings and/or skip the summaries.
We plan to bind them together in a book,
a treasure from our first year of homeschool.

I love that the stories are so obvious in how they are trying to explain nature and life.
This will help in understanding religions, when we start studying them.
For next year, we have a book of Myths and Legends from around the world!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Spiral Mobile

Birthday mobile for our favorite dad, made by mom and son.
A windy vine, beads, stones, and shells.
Attached with very fine wire, a must-have in our arts&crafts box.
Son very proud of successfully "perforating" the shells himself.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

First Pair of Glasses

He started complaining about headaches a year ago, but I was in denial. I would zoom in on the screen and find books with large font, but we finally went to the eye doctor, and sure enough...

Yesterday we made the hour long boat ride to the town where we ordered his first pair of glasses last week. On our way home he fell flat on his face and scratched one of the lenses, not too badly though, and his face was okay after some ice. But man, I hope they last a while, he's prone to leaving things in places where they'll be stepped on.

Anyway, I think they suit him well, and he can finally jump into all the small-print books he's been so looking forward to reading.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Coffee Pickin'

December is coffee harvest time where we live, so we went picking. Dad left a trail of sawdust leading up the mountain for us to follow. We went to a piece of land that he's developing as a food forest. It turned into quite an adventure, as 3/4 of the way there, Dad ran out of sawdust, so our trail disappeared and we had to find our own way (with some help from our mountain-loving dogs). We finally got there, tied sacks around our waists and picked away.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

End-of-Year Show

My son participates in our twice weekly afternoon art program. He's been part of this group since he was 2yo. Now, he's one of the big kids. Here's a little piece of our end-of-year show.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Our Project

A few magical things happened this year to make homeschooling possible for us. I haven't written much here about bullying, but it was a major factor. Although it was a difficult experience for my son, we wouldn't have made the jump without it, so it was a blessing in disguise. I'd been wanting to homeschool for years, and my son was interested, but he always pushed it back another year. "We'll homeschool next year..." Even if he had wanted to, I didn't have enough time. I was always running around managing project activities and volunteers.

In the nine years of the project, I have watched hundreds of kids grow up. Some are married now, with kids of their own who will start coming to project activities themselves in a couple of years, and I will watch them grow too. My son and my project were born at the same time. He's grown up in it. He's been part of it his whole life. Since he can remember, people have been dancing, juggling, painting and performing all around him every day. He has always shared his mother (and her attention) with thousands of children.

As I mentioned in my last post, my son just turned 9 and he's changing. He's growing up, becoming more independent, not needing me as much for the little things, taking initiative... At the same time, all of these things are happening with the project too. My eldest student has taken on the coordination of the project, and with it, the main chunk of my job. This happened three months before I pulled my son out of school, so that by the time we started to homeschool, my student had proved his competence as coordinator, and I could focus on this new thing we were going to do - just my son and me.

This Friday, the project will be celebrating its 9th annual show for parents and community members. I won't be running around like a crazy person, screaming my head off until I'm left with no voice, and directing all the millions of details that go into putting on a show with 70 kids. I'll be sitting in the audience, watching the most beautiful show on the planet - my project, operating independently of me.

They say that the ultimate success of a social project is exactly that - to function without the founding director. So I feel proud, but I also feel a lot of other things. This project has been who I am for the last decade. It's nice to answer the
"So what do you do?" question with "I run a free arts center for 3,000 kids." Now, I homeschool my son full-time. Since the project runs from our house, I am available for applying band-aids to scraped knees when needed, and I still do most of the external communication for the project (it's minimal), but other than that, the project runs without me.

Homeschooling my son might not sound as heroic, but it is. I'm taking responsibility for his education, and in 9 more years, when our homeschool project is done, our success will be measured by his ability to direct himself in the world, and to function without me.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Very Different Nine Than Mine

My boy is 9!
The birthday was actually a couple of weeks ago, but this post is more about the changes I've seen since the big day.

I remember being 9. My mom's boyfriend bought me Prince's Purple Rain album (mostly because he was sick of hearing the Thriller album played over and over again). It became the soundtrack for what would be a year of deep introspection, and probably my first complex philosophical ponderings.

I was a weird little kid who liked writing in her journal, taking long walks alone on the railroad tracks, and nursing baby birds fallen from their nests. On Saturday mornings, I would take a big trash bag and pick up all the trash (including cigarette butts) from an alley on my way to the park. I had my own business - washing cars ($3) and pick-ups ($5). I was a loner when I was 9.

I was living in a very different country, had survived my parents' divorce, and was being raised very free-range. By the time I was my son's age, I had made an international flight (with stop-overs in Miami and Colombia) and several domestic flights by myself, already had two years of experience as a latch-key, made my own breakfasts and packed lunches, and was very independent.

My son's life is different. He has two parents at home, has never gone to a sleep-over or stayed with a babysitter, and I wouldn't dream of sending him off on an airplane by himself. We live in an extremely dangerous country - social and political violence, and natural disasters every year. He has not experienced early freedom as I did.

There are some similarities though - he also runs his own business making and selling jewelry (he's already saved $75 this year), but I go with him and watch from a distance. He's really listening to - and understanding - lyrics in the new music he likes (pretty grown-up protest rap). He's starting to question me, and not just accepting my opinions as facts. I can see in his eyes that he's looking at the world in a whole new way.

This is the half-way mark to legal adulthood. He's growing up so fast and I'm so, so, so happy that we're homeschooling and I can enjoy every second of this amazing and beautiful part of life that is childhood, with him.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


It's been pretty relaxed around here lately.
We've mostly been finishing up projects
and all 3rd grade stuff.

We're done with several subjects,
which has freed up plenty of time
to catch up on the others.

It's nice to not have to rush,
and just flow through the day,
doing a bit of this and a bit of that.

I wish I could say we've been taking naps,
but we're not really nap people.
(Our kittens sure nap lots though!

working on our Greek Mythology Unit
we read a story together, he summarizes,
I dictate his summary, and he types it.
We still have a lot of work to do on his handwriting,
but typing in Word has really helped his spelling.

catching and studying incredible creatures


making and eating Sushi

working on the last chapter of 3rd grade Science
I'm especially proud of our Science notebook.
All year, I prepared questions, we would read together,
and then he would answer the questions.

For this last chapter, we're doing it the other way around.
He pre-reads and prepares questions, we read together,
and then I answer the questions.
He loves being the teacher!

Today, one of the assignments was:
Here, do something creative with this
used toiled paper roll.

And 73 minutes later, voilá,
Man on Swing!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Lean On Me

We've been starting our mornings by singing "Lean On Me".

I've loved this song since I was a child in the 80's, when Club Nouveau made a remix of the original Bill Withers version.

The lyrics are nice and simple, with such a wonderful message.
They also give for some great discussion on friendship, community, solidarity and being a good neighbor.

We also do some movement with it - just a basic side-to-side-clap for the main verses and chorus, and then pick it up by snapping on the offbeat for "Just call on me brother, when you need a hand...". It helps
release tension and gets our blood flowing.

It's a warm, gooey, cuddly start to our day that helps us avoid early morning grumpiness.
This is my favorite verse:
If there is a load you have to bear
That you can't carry
I'm right up the road
I'll share your load
If you just call me

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Standardized Testing

I printed out some standardized tests - free CAT released tests for 3rd grade.
Just want to make sure that we're getting the basics covered.
Since my son is ESL, I thought he'd have a hard time with the Lang. Arts Test.
He scored 80%. Of course I didn't have a curve to consider.
Our confidence was high, and I was sure that we were on track.

I thought he'd do great on the Math test, our next test.
He spent 2hrs on the standard 90+ questions,
and didn't even get half way through.
I think it was a mistake to do it in the afternoon,
so today he's trying in the morning.

Apparently he's like me in that if we learn content in one format
(a yellow workbook with the problems numbered from top to bottom),
and the format changes
(to a pink workbook with the problems numbered from left to right),
we panic.

I checked his answers from the half of the test he did yesterday.
66%. He was so frustrated. I was so frustrated.
Testing sucks.
I hope today goes better.

We were both on the verge of tears about twenty minutes ago.
I apologized for getting frustrated. I know he knows how to do this.
He just needs to look at it with a clear mind, and try not to panic.
I know how he feels.
So much information in an unfamiliar format is overwhelming.

Take a deep breath together.
Leave him to it.
We're both calmer.

10 minutes later, he yells out "Woo-hoo, only 35 more to go!"

So, yes, testing is painful. I question its worth. Mostly I do it because I think test-taking in itself is a skill that needs to be developed, in the case that my son ever choose an academic path. But I tread with caution, as I don't want to break his motivation or hurt his love for learning. So we talk a lot about why we take tests, who writes the tests, what they mean and what their objective is. I explained that they are standards of a system that we don't believe in, and that we use them (like spies), just to make sure that we can make our way around the system, but can also jump in when we want or need.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Things We Take For Granted

I work with a group of teenagers three mornings a week in an arts program for community youth leaders. If I tried to explain the kind of education they receive at their public schools, this would be a very long post: rote learning, brain-dead teachers, perilous infrastructure... It's a very economically challenged community, so most of the kids don't have much more than the family T.V. for indoor entertainment. Most of them graduate high school without ever having read a book.

I've always loved board games and my son
has been playing them since he was 2yo.

But most of my 16yo students
don't know board games, so I decided to use our games in class today.

My son helped me by teaching UNO and pick-up sticks in small groups of four. I taught Jenga and Memory.

It was painful to see how much the kids struggled with Memory and the seemingly simple skills involved (like knowing not to pick up the same first card every time), skills that one would assume the average young adult has. I realized how easy it is to take the development of logic and strategy in such simple games for granted.

On the other hand, in Jenga and pick-up sticks, the skills learned naturally by being raised around weavers and builders were clear. The patience and precision with which they proceeded was, I'm pretty sure, way beyond what could be expected from the average western teen (given that the western teen had never played before either).

So don't forget to play lots of games!
They might be teaching your kids much more than you realize.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

RSA Animate - Changing Education Paradigms

"This animate was adapted from a talk given at the RSA by Sir Ken Robinson,
world-renowned education and creativity expert and recipient of the RSA's Benjamin Franklin award."

For more information on Sir Ken's work visit:

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Independent October, final week

This was the third and last week of independent projects.
He choreographed a whole 3 minute routine, did a 3 page illustrated report on the Saber Tooth Tiger and finished all the lessons in his "How to Draw Cartoons" book.

The initial reasons for Independent October were to give ourselves a bit of a break from each other, to give me some time to catch up on my work, and to get a taste of some unschooling.

The most important findings have been: full-time unschooling is not for us right now, but we do need to try to keep a few hours a week for self-directed learning so that he can continue to practice coming up with his own ideas, learning to do independent research, and developing confidence in doing things by himself (without mom).

We had some great breakthroughs getting through the stuck points. Several times, when he got frustrated and came to me with lines like "tell me what to do, I don't know how to continue, I don't have any more ideas...", I really had to stick to my guns and just say "Do it yourself, or drop it and find something else to do, but I am not going to tell you how to do your own project." He would leave in a huff, but return to his project and find a solution. A few times he even mentioned how proud he felt of his work, and what a good feeling it is. For this alone, the experiment was totally worthwhile. It was also a great exercise in letting go for me - slightly ControlFreak mom.

I was able to take some time to really think about how we're going to do this. We were thrown into homeschooling so suddenly that I never really had time to get organized. Now I have a much clearer picture of the amount of time we have, what we need to get done and the resources we need to do it.

Next week he'll have a bit of finishing-up of the projects, and it's his birthday week (9!), so we'll probably be taking it easy and eating the last jocotes from our trees (picture above).

Friday, October 14, 2011

10 Books

Here's something I shared today on a fun thread at SHS

If I were asked to write a list of books that I would want all of my descendants to read, these would be the ones:

The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State - Friedrich Engels
Thus Spoke Zarathustra - Friedrich Nietzsche
The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho
The Prophet - Khalil Gibran
The Metamorphosis - Franz Kafka
The Witch, The Lion and the Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis
Oh! The Places You'll Go - Dr. Seuss
Horton Hears a Who - Dr. Seuss
A Zeitgeist Movement book, if they ever publish one
A Complete World History Book - from the Big Bang through WWII

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Independent October, Week 2

It's been an exciting couple of days with hurricanes in the vicinity and back-packs ready in case we need to evacuate. Nevertheless, we have been on top of our schoolwork!

Independent October hasn't been quite as independent as I had hoped. So, I figure we'll probably need to practice more self-directed learning throughout the year. He dropped the music project completely when he got frustrated. The same thing was about to happen with the choreography project, but I insisted he stick with it. He got through his "I'm stuck" point and is feeling quite proud of his routine now. The Saber-Tooth Tiger research project proved to be more than he could handle, so it's become a project that we're doing together. The drawing project has been the most successful and completely independent.

Here are some snippets from the works in progress:

In Guatemala, school ends in October and starts back up in January. We were considering switching over to the US school year, which would have meant doing 18 months of 3rd grade, but we're almost done with our 3rd grade stuff and feeling like we'll be ready to start 4th in January. We'll keep working through November and do some testing in December, just to make sure we have all our bases covered. It's been fun going back over everything we've learned and writing up the tests. He really likes tests and I think it's a good exercise in studying, being tested and analyzing the results. I've also printed out some standardized tests - they look dreadful! We'll give them a stress-free try, just to see how we do. I much prefer writing them myself, purely based on what I know he's learned and can handle.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Independent October

We've been working really hard for the last six months,
so we decided to take October as Independent Projects Month.
He chose three projects to work on alone - zero mom interference.
This was our first week and it's gone great.

He chose a drawing project using a "How to draw cartoons" book.
Here are some of my favorites:

He also chose to work on choreographing his own dance piece.His third project is a research report on the Saber Tooth Tiger,
inspired by this Saber Tooth fossil given to him by an uncle.
I found some sites for him to get information.
He'll be putting a book together with his findings.

This week, we also:
found a scary spider in our kitchenpicked lots of jocotes - a fruit specific to Central America (I think)
There are Jocote Trees everywhere here, and the kids go crazy for them in October.First, you gotta get your pole ready.
You need to smooth it with a machete and fix the end to catch the jocote.
You stick the pole way up in the tree and try to get the fruit into the catch.
It takes patience and aim to manage this, but he's a pro.

With the extra time that Independent Projects Month is giving me,
I get to spend more time with my other kids -
This is the youth group that trains at our art center in the mornings.
They haven't seen much of me since we started homeschooling,
even though they're just downstairs.

This is a project that I started 10yrs ago and have been full-time directing since.
This year, the project is being run by one of our graduated students.
It's been hard to let go and delegate, but it's allowed me to homeschool,
and he's doing a great job as junior director.