Monday, September 18, 2017

Total Eclipse, 2017

We kicked off our second week of our homeschool with a Total Solar Eclipse. Unless you live under a rock, you probably know that August 21, 2017 was a big deal as far as solar eclipses go in the USA. The eclipse reached totality in 14 states as it crossed from the west to east coast over the course of the day.

Chattanooga and the surrounding area where we live was supposed to experience a 99% eclipse. Up until the morning of the eclipse, Daniel and I continued to debate whether or not it would be worth it to drive a little bit north to experience complete totality. In the end we agreed that it would be worth the effort, and it totally was.

We received our NASA-approved solar eclipse glasses in time for the event (many had trouble getting approved ones in time), and the kids and I spent the morning decorating paper plates to make a mask for an extra level of eye protection.

We also listened to a couple of different podcasts about what to expect during the eclipse (Brains On! and Wow in the World), and I read the kids an excerpt from an essay by Annie Dillard about her 1982 total eclipse experience.

The podcasts and essay gave us an idea about what to expect, but experiencing totality in person was next level. I'm not even sure how to describe what it felt like to see the sun fully eclipsed by the moon. And to share this experience with our kids was amazing. If you ever have the chance to experience totality, do it!

The podcasts let us know that the shadows during the eclipse would be strange. And they were. Leaves in trees acted like pinhole cameras making little crescents of the sun all over the ground.

As the eclipse neared totality, birds quieted, crickets took up their night songs, and the colors around us became incredibly muted.

As the moon completely covered the sun we experienced a hushed silence and then people around us began yelling and honking their car horns. Isaac excitedly shouted "MOON! MOON!" and kept pointing at the sky.

We removed our glasses from our faces and stared at awe at the sun, and noticed the twinkling of stars joining the "night" sky. We watched for two-and-a-half minutes as the sun rays peeked around the edge of the moon. It felt like there was a hole in the sky and we were awestruck as we experienced the Diamond Ring effect and Bailey's Beads.

Watching our children's reaction was my favorite part. I was surprised at the way the world turned dark, but not black. Colors were muted and my eyes felt like I was seeing everything through a haze. Annie Dillard described it this way:
I turned back to the sun. It was going. The sun was going, and the world was wrong. The grasses were wrong; they were platinum. Their every detail of stem, head, and blade shone lightless and artificially distinct as an art photographer’s platinum print. This color has never been seen on Earth. The hues were metallic; their finish was matte. The hillside was a 19th-century tinted photograph from which the tints had faded. All the people you see in the photograph, distinct and detailed as their faces look, are now dead...

All of our local public schools let out for the day, so many of our friends were able to experience this awesome natural event as well. I am thankful Daniel was able to leave work early to join us for this part of our homeschool day. Afterward we celebrated with Sun Chips and Moon Pies. 

Info about our Eclipse Experience:
Date of Eclipse: 8/21/17
Time of Eclipse: 2:31pm
Duration of Totality: 2min 21sec
Type of Eclipse: Total Solar Eclipse
The weather was: Hot and Sunny (90*F)
Where: We viewed the eclipse as a family from the Cotton Port Wildlife Management Area outside of Dayton, Tennessee.
What surprised Jack the most: "It was pretty dark. The moon did NOT cover the whole sun... The sides were sticking out where we could see it."
Jack's favorite part: "Looking at the sun without glasses. Also wearing glasses... they were pretty cool to wear."

Friday, September 15, 2017

Mohaus School House

We are five weeks into our school year and I wanted to share a bit about how it is going. I had originally meant to post about my plans for the coming year, but life happened and blogging did not.

Since about March of this year I had been heavily researching what schooling option would be best for our family. Back in April I wrote a bit about why we are choosing our current path but I hadn't really gotten into the mechanics of it.

In my research phase, I quickly realized how overwhelming the homeschooling path can be....
There was not just home-schooling to consider but also hack-schooling, boy-schooling, world-schooling, road-schooling, field-schooling, game-schooling, and any other schooling you might want to dream up.

And there were various teaching methods: should we follow the Charlotte Mason methodology, or Montessori, Thomas Jefferson, Classical Conversations, Waldorf (Forest Kindergarten), Unschooling, or be Eclectic and blend all of these methods to fit us?

And once you have a method that you feel fits your family, there are companies that sell boxed curriculum to help you along in your teaching endeavor: Sonlight, My Father's World, Brave Writer, Five in A Row, and many others, AND oh yeah, what math should we choose? Singapore, Math-U-See, Saxon, Horizons, Life of Fred, Let's Play Math, Smartick, and so many others.

And then what about co-ops? And socialization? Should we sign up for music? A foreign language? Do we still do sports? How will there be time for it all? It can all be rather overwhelming.

I listened to podcasts, talked to dear friends, read books, scribbled notes, visited a curriculum fair, and went down way too many rabbit holes before I just hit the brakes and decided to make some decisions. You can't do it all. You can't teach (or learn) it all. I decided we needed to focus on what homeschool meant to us and go from there.

Once I did that, I let go of a lot of the "shoulds" and just tried to figure out the best approach for us. I believe in curiosity and learning as much as you can, all the time, for the length of your life. That's it. Some of the reasons we weren't sending Jack to school included the desire for more time for unstructured play, more time to be outside every day, more time as a family, and less time doing boring worksheets that stifle curiosity.

You (I) might just see a huge mess, he sees a civilization he's constructing (his exact words were: I'm building a civilization). Now that schools are all in session here, I'm starting to have interactions with people regarding our choice of homeschool. Sometimes the conversations make me a bit uncomfortable and may put me on the defensive (like when we chose not to find out the sex of baby #2 or when we used cloth diapers exclusively with #1)... Today I had the best conversation though. We were at a local grocery store and the young woman checking us out asked where Jack went to school. He told her he was homeschooling and she said, "so you are learning all the time then." Yes! Yes we are! Anyways that is my approach to homeschool in a nutshell - learning all the time. #firsttimehomeschooler #homeschool #kindergarten #learningallthetime #learningwell #wegotthis #evenwhenwedont #mohausschoolhouse #mohaus2017

With those things in mind, we decided to kick off our year reading The Swiss Family Robinson. It would be a unit study of sorts (I was going to wing it) and we would build a tree house as a family. That was it, the original concept of our homeschool.

But all of the things I had been researching kept nagging at me, so I made a list of books I thought would be useful in our schooling and narrowed it down to a general guide for our year:
  • The Dangerous Book for Boys
  • Treehouses and other Cool Stuff: 50 Projects You Can Build
  • Elementary Geography by Charlotte Mason 
  • Master Books Living Book for Math (book 1/K) and Singapore Math (grade 1)
  • The Egermeier's Bible Story Book
  • Bearnstain Bears Big Book of Nature
  • Some kind of Nature Journal??
  • Literature to include: The Swiss Family Robinson, Life of Frog and Toad, Beatrix Potter, Winnie the Pooh collection, and Charlotte's Web
  • Early Readers
  • Hooked on Phonics (app)
  • Journal writing?
  • Story of the World for history
  • Art??
  • Music??
  • Homeschool PE (co-op at the YMCA)

We ended up with all of these plus a few more. I love books and I want to share that love with my boys. I also love school and all of the things that you learn in school and I didn't want to leave anything out. I didn't have a real plan, just a set of books and a start date.

So, what happened on our start of school you might ask? Well, we spent the whole day doing book work. It was busy work that made me feel like we were accomplishing something – schooling at home instead of just enjoying our homeschool. And Jack called me on it. He told me that homeschool was boring and he didn't like it.

Now, I don't believe you have to like everything you are required to do in life. But I do believe that learning should be fun and a spark that should not be extinguished at a young age. So after our first week, I began to think how I could be the change that was needed.

We still get the things done (I want him to be able to read and write), but we are currently following a more relaxed loop schedule, while we chase as many rabbit holes as we wish. 

If I was going to label our approach, it would bet Charlotte Mason/Unschoolish: we have books (mostly living books) that we are working through, but much of our learning is on the fly as we push to discover more about whatever we are discussing.

We try to do writing, phonics and reading, and math on a daily basis. But the everything else? We just do it on a loop. We incorporate other books while also listening to podcasts and sometimes watching TV shows or playing games.

Jack loves our large dry-erase map of the world. We talk about how long the journey the Swiss Family Robinson must have made compared to our 1,000 mile drive to Canada this summer. And also where all of those animals live in the real world. Everything is learning. All the time.

We cook. We hike. We visit museums. We do fun field trips with friends. We have craft projects based on things Jack is interested in. We are evolving into a school that fits our family. The hardest part – the piece I am still figuring out – is Isaac. Having a two-year-old in the mix of trying to learn has proven very challenging. We are working through that and this week (week 5) has been our best week yet.

I am hoping to share more of our journey on a more regular basis on my blog. What works. What doesn't. What I wish I had done differently. That kind of thing. I think we are going to have a great year!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

2017 Canadian Vacation in Cottage Country

I am working to embrace the fact that my blog posts seem to be running a month behind. I am trying to get back in the habit of writing again because there is so much I want to remember for later, but I am making an effort to give myself some grace for right now.

We hadn't planned to go to Canada for vacation two years in a row, but with my nana's declining health it felt like the right thing to do – even if it meant driving 1,000 miles with two kids and a dog. And so we did. It took 20 hours of driving to get there and 18.5 hours to get home.

We do not often visit the same place twice, but last year we had such a lovely time at our rental cottage on Lake Simcoe that we knew going back would provide another great experience for our family. 

Like last year, we kicked off our vacation with my family reunion. We actually arrived in the middle of the night and slept in a tent in my aunt and uncle's yard since our cottage wouldn't be available until the next day. We enjoyed two days of visiting with relatives before getting down to the business of doing nothing.

Though "doing nothing" is not exactly accurate. Again, this year we spent lots of time biking, kayaking, and swimming, but there was no specific agenda. There were naps to be had, playgrounds to explore, and new (and old) restaurants to try.

Located on the north tip of Lake Simcoe on Shingle Bay, the cottage we rented again is right on the water with its own dock. It is an ideal location for us because we could run out the door to swim, or launch our kayaks whenever we felt like it.

Jack really impressed us with his ability to maneuver his own kayak across the bay and Isaac is finally comfortable hanging out in the boat with us. Being out on the water was probably our family's favorite activity this summer.

We were also able to test the canoe that came with the cottage. We own a canoe, but it is heavy and cumbersome and tips more easily than our kayak. While the kids are little, kayaks seem to be a better fit for us.

The canoe was long enough for Daniel to comfortably take the boys and Sophie out for a spin. I tagged along in the kayak, which was a good thing because I ended up having to tow them back!

As for biking, we didn't end up riding our bikes as much as we did last year. The mosquitoes seemed extra fierce this summer, and after biking to-and-from dinner one night on the Oro-Medonte Rail Trail, we realized that biking next to a marsh on the way home was really just sacrificing our blood to the mosquito gods. No one enjoyed that part of the experience!

Daniel and I have talked about coming back to this area in winter because the Oro-Medonte Rail Trail is also used for snow mobiles and cross country skiing. One day!

So instead of the rail trail that linked us to town, we chose instead to drive our bikes into town where we could park and bike around the south shore of Lake Couchiching on the Trans Canada Trail.

This portion of the trail connects Couchiching Beach Park and J.B. Tudhope Memorial Park. The kids were thrilled with such good places to stop and play along the way.

About halfway between the two parks is a small skate park which Jack was dying to try. We acquiesced and he attempted to ride his bike over the ramps and down the half pipe. His first attempt on the half pipe ended in a fall, but he hopped right back up and tried again. He did fine on the second and subsequent attempts. As a parent, it's hard to watch your child fall (especially on concrete), but it was worth it to see him accomplish something so intimidating.

On this trip, we were able to spend one rainy afternoon visiting the OPP Museum, located at the OPP Headquarters in Orillia. Our boys loved dressing up like little policeman and playing with all of the toys that were available in the kids area.

On another day, Jack had the opportunity to ride a few rides at a local fair while Isaac napped. Jack tried his first roller coaster for little kids, but didn't love it. He actually asked them to stop it early! I pretty sure he preferred learning how to swing across the monkey bars and playing on the fantastic playgrounds we found.

We also spent an afternoon on a double date with one of my cousin's and his wife. We left all of our kids in the capable hands of my aunt and uncle. The kids got to swim and have fun with Uncle Mike and Aunt Barb while the four of us enjoyed a kid-free lunch, a stroll on the pier with ice cream and a little shopping before the rains came.

On our very last night at the cottage, the storms knocked out our power. We didn't realize it until pretty late at night since we had been outside enjoying s'mores and a last campfire. I ended up putting the kids to bed in the dark while Daniel loaded our car so we could make an early start the next morning.

I'm pretty sure we will be back to Cottage Country as they call it in Ontario. Campfires every night in the summer, biking, kayaking and swimming every day, this is our favorite kind of vacation.

Total Eclipse, 2017

We kicked off our second week of our homeschool with a Total Solar Eclipse . Unless you live under a rock, you probably know that August ...