Sunday, December 4, 2016

Week Ending 4 December 2016

On Monday Miss 16 and I went birding again at the same section of the lake we visited last week. It was amazing how much it has changed in a week, with many of the ponds along the lake edge having evaporated. While the range of birds was similar, numbers were very different. Pacific Golden Plovers were nowhere to be found, but there were more than 50 Ruddy Turnstones. The week before there was only a handful. The bird of the day was a Cox's Sandpiper, a rare hybrid. We bumped into five other birders, all on the hunt for the same bird. Normally the lake is deserted, and I can only recall one other time when we've come across another birder there. The remainder of Monday was also filled with birdy things. In the afternoon we watched another episode of a marine documentary. As always the birds stole the show - at least as far as we're concerned! And in the evening we attended our birding group's last meeting of the year. The speakers shared photos and anecdotes from their visit to Botswana and Zimbabwe. Given that it was filled with birding, plus a couple of driving lessons, it's no surprise that Monday was the highlight of Miss 16's week.

Mr 19 and Mr 24 enjoyed a day walk together.

The rest of the week was filled with more driving, lots of reading, plenty of game playing and reading, and of course trampolining. As well as her regular coaching and training, she also helped assess some of the recreational athletes for their badges. We also started another movie - Arsenic and Old Lace, a dark screwball comedy starring Cary Grant. We watched it one night and she'll tackle the questions while rewatching it next week. Miss 16 also did a lot of the Christmas decorating. Pretty sure she missed her older sister since it is a job they've shared for the past few years.

As promised last week here is a video of Miss 16's new routine. It's not yet perfect but we're proud she completed it!

Miss 21 has now quit her job in Surrey and is busy travelling, which means we're looking forward to lots more virtual field trips! This week's offering include Dublin and a behind the scenes look at the Harry Potter studios.


Cliffs of Moher

Harry Potter Studio Tour

Linking to the Weekly Wrap-Up over at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Some Lesser Known Homeschool Resources

Recently I've been doing a lot of purging in preparation for the forthcoming repairs to our house which require us (and all our possessions) to vacate the premises for a month. As I've sorted through the homeschooling material - physical curriculum and work produced by my kids as well as digital material (hey, if you have to purge you might as well be thorough!) - I've come across some lesser known gems. These are things we've enjoyed and benefited from but don't seem to be widely known or commonly mentioned in homeschooling circles, at least not those I've frequented.

Here are a few of our favourites.

1. Journey North Mystery Class - A fabulous (and free)  online project that has students track changes in photoperiod (hours of daylight) to narrow down the latitude and longitude of ten mystery locations. You then receive four additional clues for each place - reference to a famous person who born there or a picture of a native animal for instance. After you've made your guesses and the mystery locations are revealed, one final post gives you a fuller introduction to the location and  the people (frequently a class of school children but sometimes homeschooling families or scientists) who live there. The next Mystery Class project begins on 27 January 2017. If you want to get more of a feel for how it works check out this old post of mine. This one includes a bit of detail about he times we were one of the Mystery Classes.

2. Once Upon a Masterpiece series by Anna Harwell Celenza - These are wonderful living books that provide a fictionalized account (based on known facts) about the creation of particular pieces of music Learn about Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, The Farewell Symphony by Haydn, or Duke Ellington's take on The Nutcracker Suite.  Great for kids, but also a fun, useful introduction for older people (like parents) too. Some editions include a CD of the music which is handy if you don't already have a copy but other editions don't.

3. Young Math series - A series mostly from the 1970s that does a fabulous job of introducing mathematical concepts, often seemingly advanced, to young children. Great fun to read aloud, pausing to try out activities as you go. Sadly these are long out of print but I found some second hand and was able to borrow more from our library. Worth keeping your eye out for any of these books.

4. Friendly Chemistry - Our then ten year old was science mad. His particular bent was chemistry and he was clearly ready for some advanced content. Thick, heavy duty high school or college texts with their small print and expectations of a heavy workload, especially with lots of writing, were not going to work. Luckily I stumbled across Friendly Chemistry. A review I read suggested it was great for the chemistry-phobic high schooler but I suspected the manipulatives, games and other hands-on elements would make it suitable for keen and interested younger students, like my son. And it was. It's many years since I bought it (that ten year old is now a 24 year old with a PhD in Chemistry) and the product has been redesigned significantly so I'm not sure how much resemblance what's sold now bears to what we loved. But if you are looking to introduce high school chemistry concepts to a younger child Friendly Chemistry is at least worth a look.

5. Trivium Mastery - I know many homeschoolers who like the idea of a Classical Education but find they and their kids get burnt out on The Well-Trained Mind approach. Diane Lockman's Trivium Mastery offers a very different approach, focusing on skills rather than subjects in the pre-high school years.  It encourages a more individualized approach which can appear to mean more work for the homeschooling parent  (develop lessons for each child individually rather than just open the recommended book and go). But since you will only be teaching the skills your child needs to learn rather than covering every subject, every year this isn't necessarily true.  I've got some reservations about recommending this one  but if you are happy to take what resonates while ignoring that which doesn't then it could be a welcome alternative to the near monopoly The Well-Trained Mind enjoys in the Classical homeschooling arena.

6. George vs George - Great picture book covering both sides of the American Revolution. Despite being a picture book it is more suited to older elementary and above. This books does a great job of highlighting the British as well as the American side of the conflict, avoiding the "goodies"  vs "baddies" oversimplification.

7. Garlic Press's Discovering Literature Series: Challenging Level - Literature study guides seem to be out-of-favour at the moment what with the abundance of free online resources and the move towards less formal discussions. However if you are after something more formalized that includes vocabulary, comprehension questions, essay and other writing assignments, strategy pages that deliberately teach various literary elements and techniques, background information on the author, a thorough summary of each chapter - perfect for when Mum can't keep pace with the reading and, perhaps most usefully, answers to the questions, then take a look at this series. These are the most comprehensive literature guides I've seen. In fact I advise picking and choosing  what you use from them, since trying to do it all will be too much,  likely to kill any love your child might have felt towards the relevant novel.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Back to the Classics 2016: Challenge Wrap-Up Post

To guide and focus my reading, to challenge myself a little, and to provide a model of lifelong learning to my kids I've participated in several reading challenges this year. One of those was the Back to the Classics Challenge 2016, hosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate.To complete this challenge I had to read one classic in at least six of the twelve categories provided, and then blog about each one. I opted to complete all twelve categories. While I finished reading some time ago, I have only now finally finished blogging about each title. All that's left to do is post this wrap-up post and then I'll be in the draw to win the prize Karen is generously offering.

Without further ado here's what I read for each category and my overall assessment. Just click on the category to go to the full review.

1.  A 19th Century Classic  - I ended up appreciating Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities but initially struggled with the fact it was less character focused than some of his novels I'd previously read.
2.  A 20th Century Classic - Mrs Dalloway by Victoria Wolf was a little confusing due to it's stream of consciousness style. And it's overall tone was bleak, but it did give me plenty to think about.
3.  A classic by a woman author  - I read The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson and recommend savouring the poems slowly rather than reading them in one concentrated go like I did.
4.  A classic in translation - I thought Aristophanes's Lysistrata was a fun and easy read but not suitable for those offended by bawdiness and sexual innuendo.
5.  A classic by a non-white author -  The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki was a real surprise, mainly because I had never heard of it before reading it. I'm glad I took the leap of faith. 
6.  An adventure classic - The prize for my least favourite  classic of the year went to Herman Melville's Moby Dick.
7.  A fantasy, science fiction, or dystopian classic - I found Jules Verne's  Journey to the Centre of the Earth to be quick and relatively engaging but overall I was somewhat ambivalent, perhaps underwhelmed.
8.  A classic detective novel - I really enjoyed The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins.The plot, characters, theme, structure and ending all worked for me.
9.  A classic which includes the name of a place in the title - Challenging in places, especially at the beginning, but worth the time and effort. That's my verdict on Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

10. A classic which has been banned or censored  I enjoyed John Steinbeck's East of Eden as a family saga, but thought it's allegorical aspect was heavy handed and over done.
11. Re-read a classic you read in school (high school or college) -  Despite having ambiguous feelings about the title character I still enjoyed rereading Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.
12. A volume of classic short stories  - The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury is a little dated but still has much to offer a range of readers, not just sci-fi fans.

Classics Club 36: The Martian Chronicles

Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles is a collection of interrelated short stories, relating to the exploration and colonisation of Mars by humans. The collection was first published in 1950 but many of the stories of were previously published individually during the late 1940s. The stories themselves were set in the period from 1999 to 2026 meaning that half of Bradbury's imagined future is part of my history.

At times the stories felt a little dated. Obviously our knowledge of Mars has advanced from when Bradbury wrote these stories and much of what he imagined simply cannot be. Sometimes the vocabulary gives the date of writing away such as the use of the word like rocket. And plenty of the plot lines reflect the realities and fears of the time. The story  "Way in the Middle of the Air" reads as if it was happening in the American South in the 1940s while the atomic war storyline which drives the latter stories obviously reflects the fears of a post atomic bomb world.

Despite this there is also a certain timelessness to The Martian Chronicles. Sadly xenophobia still exists today, racism has not disappeared, and the theme of humans doing what they want regardless is still all-too-prevalent as   many modern environmental issues demonstrate. The value most people place on family ties (something that crops up in several stories) also transcends time, as well as culture.

If you are looking for a realistic imagining of what a human colony on Mars may look like, this isn't the book for you. It really has more to say about life in America in the late 1940s, than life on Mars in 2020. If your reading preferences trend strongly towards intricate plots and detailed character development then this isn't a great pick either. Short stories generally aren't the strongest in these areas. However, if you are looking for an allegory on colonisation them this has much to offer. I found myself wondering what it would have been like to read when it was first released, a time when many colonial empires were breaking up. There was a definite Wild West flavour to the stories, so if you enjoy stories set during the westward expansion in America, you might also enjoy this. And finally, The Martian Chronicles is worth reading for Bradbury's poetic writing. It may be science fiction but it can also be enjoyed by those (like) me) who aren't fans of that genre.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Week Ending 27 November 2016

This week was quieter and less eventful than last week - which is probably a good thing! There were several highlights though.

* Another birthday in the family. The newly minted Mr 19 sure knows how to celebrate. First up he agreed to work an extra shift - one with an early start. Then, since they were short staffed, each shift ended up being longer than planned. He worked 4 am to 1:30 pm and then 3:45 pm to 7:45 pm. After that he had to head to a Scout camp (thankfully not too far from home) to do some equipment related things. He volunteers as Quartermaster for his old Scout troop.

* Miss 16 and I went birding. This in itself has been a rare occurrence recently and it has been months since we've ventured to more out of the way spots like the one we visited this week. And, after two false starts where we barely saw a bird, we finally chanced on a good section of the lake. The highlight for both of us was a group of more than 20 Pacific Golden Plovers. It was the first time I've ever seen them, and the first time she's seen them in our area. There were also a couple of Sharp-tailed Sandpipers plus a good mix of more common species.

* We had Basil over for a visit and we're pleased to see he's still his usual exuberant self, although he definitely tires more quickly than he used to.

Feeling sad because we stopped his favourite game before he wanted. The tumour on his leg means he is not supposed to overdo things, and exercise is meant to be sedate. I don't think he appreciates the restrictions!

* Miss 16 worked on a short article for a magazine for young birders. It was an introduction to parrot species in New Zealand. Her favourite bird is one of our native parrots.

* The final trampoline competition of the year was held over the weekend. She performed a new routine and, despite an injury which limited her range of movement (she had to use her arms to lift her leg to put on her shorts since it wouldn't lift by itself!), she nailed it. Check back next week when I hope to have the video one of her friends took of the routine. Just completing the routine was the goal of the competition. Doing it well, winning her event, earning the title of provincial champion and going undefeated for the season were nice bonuses. Next year will be a very different story though since she aims to move up a level and compete in the international section. So while the competition season is over the hard training continues!

* We watched Henry V for the second time, pausing to discuss the questions from our curriculum as we went.

* There have also been plenty of on-road driving lessons. She's somewhat obsessed, more so than I expected. My life is beginning to resemble this cartoon. I guess she's looking forward to the freedom that being able to drive herself will bring, since my health woes have limited her opportunities a little.

* Miss 16 and I had a productive discussion on what she'd like to do homeschooling wise next year. So far we've settled on a general English course (it'll probably involve vocabulary and grammar as well as literary analysis of short stories, poetry and novels and I'll pull it together using stuff that's on our shelf that various older siblings used previously), Statistics (more one that she sees the need to do rather than really wants to do) and Animal Behaviour. We'll probably go the textbook route for both of these (anyone know of a great beginning statistics text for budding ornithologists/ zoologists?) and I'll spend the next couple of weeks researching options before letting her make the final decision. That will leave us with one more course to settle on. I've got lots of social science suggestions but I don't think Miss 16 is totally enamoured with any of them. So I'm toying with the idea of waiting until she returns from her university summer school course in January before we make a decision. I'm pretty sure that university isn't as homeschool friendly as the one her siblings have attended and they may be looking for particular things on her transcript. Waiting would probably mean the fourth course won't be ready to go at the start of our academic year (which I think is just a week after the summer course ends) but there's nothing wrong with easing back into academic work.

You can never have too many dog photos! And I don't have any others this week.

Linking to Homeschool Coffee Break's Homeschool Highlights.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

My Organiser

As the end of the current year approaches it is time to think about getting next year's diary/journal/planner/organiser purchased and set up. For years I struggled to find exactly what I was looking for. And failed! The layout of most purchased products annoyed me. For me the week begins on Monday and ends on Sunday - I take the term weekend to literally mean the end of the week. And that's where I expect it to be in an organiser. Plus I often treat the weekend as one unit. Except far too many purchased products split it and have a week run from Sunday to Saturday.  Further I like seeing my whole week at a glance. But I don't just want space for Monday to Sunday. I also want some space to jot down things that pertain to the week as a whole, not necessarily a particular day. That dental appointment maybe Wednesday at 10:15am but I don't yet know which day we'll buy a birthday gift for a cousin - just that it needs to be purchased this week. And on top of that I like having a few spare pages to keep track of random information - like the brilliant idea I had for my husband's birthday and don't want to forget when his birthday actually rolls around in eight month's time! And trying to find all that in one bought product was pretty difficult, especially if I tried to find something that didn't have pages I didn't want - like a monthly accounts section. And if by some miracle I managed to find something that had all or most of what I wanted content wise, then the size was all wrong or the colour was ugly. Shallow I know, but also true!

So when I first stumbled across the concept of bullet journals a couple of years ago I was excited. But as I read more I started to become less excited and more intimidated (all those gorgeous, well designed layouts with beautiful hand lettering) and frustrated (why all the rules and tricky symbols?) So I forgot about it for a while.

And then I had my brainwave. Simply buy a blank book of the right size and colour and then create the sort of organiser I want. So that's exactly what I've done for the past two years, refining and fine tuning as I go.

I love the old fashioned look of the book I bought this year - the embossed cover, the metal clasps and the watermarked page edges.

The front half of my organiser looks a little like your traditional diary. I like seeing my year at a glace so I found a printout which fits nicely on a double page. I use it to keep track of the official school year since extra-curriculars, most significantly trampoline, follow that. I also mark the local university year, since Dh works there, Mr 18 studies there and Miss 21 may be returning next year. Its also a handy spot to birthdays, anniversaries and the like.

Then I have an index (first thing I do with my organiser is number all the pages) so I don't have trouble finding any pages at the back. More on those later.

Next up is a double page spread per month. One page has a calendar print out from The Organised Housewife . It was one of the only one I could find that runs Monday to Sunday  - and it looks nice. I really hope she does a 2017 version. I just trimmed the To- do list off the side since I don't really need it and it didn't fit in this year's book!. Sometimes I rule up a grid underneath to track various habits that I want to develop. Bizarrely colouring in little square to show that I exercised is sometimes more motivating than doing the actual exercise, even though it is good for me. And I also list all the monthly bills and cross them off after I've paid them. This came about after we didn't receive one in the mail and nearly incurred penalty fees as a result. I leave the facing page blank to and use it to keep track of stuff before we reach the relevant week , events that we might like to attend etc.

The bulk of the organiser is weekly double spreads. I set these up at the start of the week  rather than in advance, all in one go at the start of the year. This was to let me experiment with different layouts. I could try one for a week and then try another the following week. By now I'm pretty settled on my preference and just divide the opening into 8 even sized boxes - one for each day and one for stuff that needs to happen at some stage during the week.

No fancy layouts or pretty handwriting for me.

The back of my organiser is where I keep track of all sorts of other things. Effectively it is a collection of lists. I read a lot so I keep one list of books I want to read and another of books I've actually completed, plus a couple of lists related to the various reading challenges I'm currently completing. I take a guess at how many pages these will need but if I run out of space part way through the year I can simply continue the list on the next spare page. Since Miss 16 and I go birding I keep a list of all the bird species I've seen throughout the year. I have quite a collection of cookbooks but am guilty of not using them as much as I should. So this year I challenged myself to make at least one new recipe per week. So of course I'm keeping a list of what I've made as well as rating each one. On another opening I'm jotting down any ideas I've got for future homeschooling - courses Miss 16 might like, book titles we could explore etc. I've got a list of things to do next year, a list of my favourite yoga routines and where I found them and a list of things I want to remember for next year. I've tried keeping a one sentence journal - quickly jotting down one highlight per day. Turns out I'm not great at maintaining that so I don't know whether or not I'll  continue next year or try something new. If I come up with something else I want to remember, record or keep track of I simply start a new page. I don't have to know at the start of the year exactly how I want my organiser to function. It evolves as needed throughout the year.

My organiser is functional rather than pretty (although you'll note I use a pink pen sometimes to match the cover!) but it works for me. So far I've only discovered two potential problems . The first is difficulty finding what I'm looking for at the back of the book. This wouldn't be an issue if I remembered to record pages in the index at the front! The second is that it is theoretically possible to have the back of the book run into the front of the book and thus run out of space before the year is up. This hasn't happened to me yet. Partly this is because I made a rough calculation as to how many pages I was likely to need before I bought the book. I then added a few more just to be safe. Partly it's just luck. But - just in case - this year's planner has a handy pocket in the back, which could store extra pages in an emergency!

I've prettied up this year's planner by randomly gluing in some favourite art prints. Such a nice surprise to turn the page and discover a much loved painting.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Classics Club 35: Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre is the 35th title in my Classics Club Challenge. It's also a perfect choice for the "Classic you read for School" section of the Back to the Classics Challenge 2016. Not only do I remember reading and enjoying it in 6th form English many years ago, but Miss 16 had recently read it and was looking forward to watching the movie with me. It also gave me  something to work with for another reading challenge - a book and its prequel or sequel.Sadly, I did not enjoy Wide Sargasso Sea.

While my memory of the basic plot and characters was accurate I  hadn't remembered all the fine details and had clearly mis-remembered some details. I wonder which novel had the butterfly imagery I strongly remember studying since it wasn't Jane Eyre!

Apart from this my main surprise on this reading was that my reaction to the character of Jane herself was more diffident and ambiguous than I recall from my previous reading. I cheered for the young plucky Jane who stayed strong and true to herself despite being mistreated by her aunt (who was raising her after the death of her parents) and cousins, and then facing harsh and spartan conditions at the boarding school to which she was sent. I especially cheered for her striking back against her bullying cousin even though I knew (and I'm sure she knew too) that any punishment would be meted out to her alone. This Jane is also seen the latter part of the novel after she is taken in by St John Rivers and his family. She is eager to find any work she can, determined to support herself and not rely on their charity. And she refuses to marry St John, despite him being in many ways a suitable match, because she does not love him and knows he does not love her.

However, the Jane in the middle of the novel, the governess who falls in love with her enigmatic and aloof master at Thornfield, is a somewhat different character. Her tolerance of his rudeness (forcing her to attend a party with his wealthy friends and then ignoring her), lack of trust (he does not divulge the secrets of himself and the house even after she has saves his life and later nurses his badly injured friend), and especially the fact that he put her life in danger (by leaving her in the attic without telling her the truth of the situation) is hard to fathom. I guess love conquers all but I found her level of acceptance and lack of questioning to be inexplicable.

Mr Rochester goes on to commit the ultimate betrayal by trying to marry Jane, despite already being married. His deception is only revealed at the altar. She refuses his request to become his mistress and flees, only to nearly lose her life as a result of cold and hunger. Eventually , after much time and a significant reversal of both their fortunes, she finds her way back to him and they apparently live happily ever after.

Thankfully  ambiguous feelings about a title character do not have to prevent enjoyment of a novel and I did enjoy and can recommend Jane Eyre. It was beautifully written and the descriptions enhanced, rather than detracted from the novel as a whole. There was plenty of excitement which kept the plot moving along and the conflict - both within and between characters  -felt believable and gripping. Even though I had read the novel before I was still able to get caught up in the intrigue surrounding the attic. In many ways the romance between Jane and Rochester had a fresh feeling about it, largely due to Jane not being a stereotypical demure female. Plenty to think about as well - love, trust, forgiveness, reason vs emotion , the care of the mentally ill, and the importance of class status among other things.  And everyone likes a happy ending!