Summer bucket list

It's the first day of summer. We closed the books on 5th grade last week (or actually, Calvin did, I have a lot of record keeping yet to do) and kicked off our summer schedule with a week of choir day camp. Summer isn't necessarily different for homeschoolers, but summer weather in the lovely state of Michigan is a great equalizer: it only lasts while it lasts. So with the kid away all day this week I've been updating records, late-spring cleaning the house, getting a variety of appointments out of the way, and making summer plans following a "what do you want to do this year" interview with my boys that resulted in a summer that looks like this:

Rooftop fireworks in Chicago

Mini golf

The splash park

Visit our zoo

Rolling Sculptures Auto Show

Kayak the river

Finish the local bookstore reading challenge (Calvin)

History of Zelda course with game play

Watch all the Disney movies in order

Can some summer goodness

Stratford, and Jen and Larry's

More fires and S'mores with our home firepit

Take more pictures


Lego photosynthesis

6CO2 + 6H20 = C6H12O6 + 6O2

Hands on learning doesn't always have to mean getting your hands truly dirty. There is no easy way to put your hands on Photosynthesis. Our current science unit is about plant cells and their functions, and without a high tech lab, anything beyond viewing onion skin in a child's microscope is out of our league, but that doesn't mean we have to give up our usual hands-on approach, it just means we have to be a a little more creative in our lessons, or a little more loose in our definition of hands on.

Earlier in the week we took cuttings from plants around the yard and looked at their apical leaves through hand-held magnifiers to get a good feel for how they really grow. To cement that understanding we drew comics illustrating the process, and continued to watch our basil plants grow in the hot weather all week long. But photosynthesis is a bit trickier.

We have been using Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding for about six years now. We started with Volume I in the early years and this past year we finished Volume II while beginning Volume III. Aside from the fluidity of the books, one of the things I have loved about them without reserve is the focus on physical learning. Nearly every lesson provides a clearly explained project that gives kids a chance to literally feel their way through the topic. And I'm not talking about baking soda and vinegar volcanoes. The experiments and demonstrations included by Nebel are entirely topic appropriate and devoid of nonsensical gimmicks.

So while we couldn't actually witness the enzymatic process involved in Photosynthesis, the recommendation was that we use blocks, styrofoam, or any other physical product to symbolize the molecules involved and work the process ourselves as though we were the enzymes. With the caveat that it is clearly simplified, and that more than one enzyme is required in a real plant, we still got a good feel for how the greenery in our lives is constantly at work breaking down CO2 and providing us with O2. It's a little physical, a little mathematical, a lot scientific, and entirely, educationally, fun.  


10 things I will miss about you (or already do)

Birthday number 11 is in the books, and it's is really just starting to sink in how much time has gone by, and how little time there is left (hopefully) with my little one here at home. Parenting is a hard job. And I don't mean hard as in back breaking. Sure, it is that sometimes, too—The diapers, the sleepless nights, the endless preparation of meals and washing of laundry—but in the end, it's not those things that are hard. No, parenting is hard because if you're doing it right, what you're really doing is spending about eighteen years of your life making yourself dispensable.

When Calvin was little, just a tiny infant I wanted to lose my entire day in, my parents both imparted to me a wisdom that I have held close ever since: from the very first moment, parenting is about letting go. Letting go so they can take their first steps, letting go when you drop them off at their first class or for a first play date, letting go when they take the car out the first time, then when they go to college, and all the little moments between. And each time you let go a little more the space between your heart and theirs lengthens just a little more, pulling first uncomfortably taut, and then, hopefully, slackening again to a comfortable normal. And if you've done it right, in the end neither of you will need those strings at all to exist in a comfortable orbit. 

But the growing up and the letting go happen so gradually most of the time that it's easy to not notice the little changes, and there are many lasts that have already passed us by without my noticing or documenting them. That's life. It can't all be documented any more than it can be stopped or held onto. In the end we're left with memories, and sometimes not even those, but the ones we keep close help us through the letting go and the moving on.

(1) The way you said "squirlul" and "elephlant" until you were three or four.

(2) The crazy face. It was a really crazy face.  

(3) The way you cuddled when we read together. We still read together, but you're past cuddling now.

(4) You singing along with me when I sang you songs like "Leaving on a Jetplane" or "You are my Sunshine" before bed at night.

(5) The weight of your body curled against mine when I carried you. The last time I did this was five years ago. You'd fallen asleep in the car on the way home from somewhere, and you were already too heavy for me, but I knew it was a last chance and I took it.

(6) Your tiny voice. It's growing bigger ever year.

(7) The way you blow me kisses when I drop you off somewhere, not once, but several times, as you walk away from the car to whatever activity awaits.

(8) Our prolonged goodnight exchanges between floors. It started with the simple "goodnight, I love you", repeated by us both, but grew to include air kisses and a variety of other phrases called out after I was already downstairs from putting you to bed. It might be a stalling tactic, but then again, it might just be sweet.

(9) The way you carry(ied) your blanket everywhere. Literally everywhere a number of years ago, now just everywhere in the house.

(10) The way you read: in just about every position (rightside up, upside down, sideways, on the floor, on top of the couch...) but not any one of them for long.


Celebrating 11, a photo essay


To Calvin, on your eleventh birthday

Last Friday we were at a local park with our homeschooling friends. It’s a large park, mostly mown grass over low, rolling hills. The moms sit in the shade and visit, and you and I have an agreement that as long as you are with other kids from our group, you can go anywhere in the park. I trust you, and you have always been worthy of it. I hadn’t seen you in a while, and mentioned to another mom how great it was that I didn’t need to know exactly where you were anymore, but that I still would have liked to put eyes on you once in a while.

 “Isn’t that him right there?” she asked “Is he wearing a blue hat?”

And yes, there you were, not far away and completely in sight. I hadn’t seen you, because I was looking for a smaller child.

When does this growing occur? Surreptitiously over night? But it’s not that I didn’t know you had grown. I’ve watched your pants slowly rise up over you ankles through the year, and scrambled to find new shoes before the warm weather. I know you are growing, so when is it that the discord between my memories and reality set in? That I don’t know. I’ve always thought myself in touch with your maturing, and only occasionally felt nostalgic or scared. But as your level of independence has skyrocketed over the past year, while I won’t say I wasn’t ready, I will admit I wasn’t quite expecting it. 

This newfound independence has been a really wonderful thing. Your homeschool studies have been far more self-directed this year, your focus increasingly self-controlled. We have continued our march through the subjects, taking on some really challenging matter, and your curiosity and deep way of thinking continues to awe me. We tackled some literary “great books” this year, and your commentary on Moby Dick and All Quiet on the Western Front especially left me wowed. You are really getting it. You really understand. Your love of science and the natural world increases, and your respect for our one and only earth brings me great joy. Twentieth century history has you filled with a level of indignation fit for the pre-teen that you are, and the vicarious shame you feel for the ridiculous actors in your Spanish videos is right on point. Fun note: you can draw a map of the United States from memory, and are almost finished learning the same for Europe. But your favorite topic lately is math. It was geometry this year, and though the whole year wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows, you are nearly acing the course, and have asked to continue with math through the summer so that you can move on to the next level sooner.

And just as you continue to thrive in your academic life, you are also moving along well in your arts life. You have always had a fondness for the arts. You inherited your father’s talent at the piano, if not always his practice integrity, and this year you graduated from lesson books into repertoire. It is lovely to hear you play on the days that you are not arguing about it. You are less bored with choir, I think, and this year that has really been a place for you to shine. You had two small solos that you really nailed earlier in the year, and just this week you auditioned for a difficult part and earned it with your ready ability and vibrant performance. You also took tap and ballet this year and we were delighted to see how much you learned in that time. Enough, as it turned out, to earn a chorus (dancing and singing) roll in the the Young People’s Theater production of Beauty and the Beast this spring. You amazed us on that stage, and behind it. Your integrity and maturity really showed.

Learning and performing aside, though, you are growing into a sensitive, kind, funny young man. Your friends and family enjoy you and your teachers appreciate you. Not every moment is perfect. You fight about studying things you find unimportant, and become frustrated to the point of tears sometimes at making mistakes or failing to understand something new, but far and wide your most defining trait is being easy going and happy. I know we are approaching the traditional age of malcontent, but you still find joy in so many things that I think we have some time yet. The other things you are doing are so age appropriate, though, that they bring back memories from our own childhoods. You are discovering music, developing what will probably be your life-long sound track, and if I remember correctly that is beginning of the creation of a true self. A unique other. That, and you are developing your own brand of humor, which we find hilariously, and often shockingly, witty. Your parents will take some credit for that, thank you.

What it all means is that you are really becoming yourself. You spend even more time with friends—as much as possible with the neighbors, and also time with our homeschooling families. You like to spend time alone. And even though you still sleep with your blanket and know all the names of your stuffed animals, that is really just like me all through…well, really continuing now, except maybe the blanket part. The truth is, you are growing up and becoming the individual that only you, regardless of your parents, will become all on your own. 

You are becoming you. And we couldn’t be more proud, and we couldn’t love you more.