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Entries in homeschooling (82)


Feeding the hungry

I don't know what it feels like to go hungry. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a family that had enough—more than enough—and have been fortunate enough as an adult to never have to wonder more about my next meal than what work I'd have to do to prepare it. The same then is true for Calvin. He knows his dad goes to work to pay for our family's expenses, and he knows that I plan meals carefully so as not to waste food, and that some foods are considered "splurges", expenses we won't incur very often. And I'm glad—very, very glad—that so far in life he has not had to worry about getting enough food, but I would like him to know more about the reality of our world—that his experience is not actually the norm, that many kids don't get to make "wish lists" as part of a weekly shopping list, that still others don't get to make lists at all, and that the least fortunate sometimes don't even know when their next meal will come.

We have a wonderful assistance program in our area that collects unused food from a variety of sources in order to redistribute it to areas of the greatest need. Food Gatherers is an award-winning program, and their logo is a familiar sight around the city. Our first more intimate understanding of the group came through my dad, who upon retiring started volunteering with them a few times a week. He rides out on the trucks to pick up pallets of unwanted foods from groceries and restaurants. The foods then go back to a warehouse where they are sorted to be delivered to food banks around the area, and sometimes he delivers those pallets as well. Thanks to my parents, we've also been able to attend their annual fundraising picnics. I'm so pleased that Calvin both knows that his grandpa volunteers there and that he gets to hear stories and details about the group.

Then last week we got the opportunity to go volunteer at the warehouse site with our homeschoolers field trip club. Kids eight years and older were welcome to attend, and our group assembled about twenty volunteers for the afternoon. A Food Gatherers representative (educator?) started us out with a brief info meeting in their conference room where a lot of numbers (pounds upon pounds of food!) were tossed at us, and we got a sort of foggy idea of what a large operation it really is. Then we got a tour of the warehouse, from the dry good shelves, to the freezer, to Princess Di (the "digester" that breaks down compost into fluids), before ending up in the "food rescue" room for the afternoon. There we were put to work going through cartons of donated produce, separating the good from the bad before it was to go back out for distribution. It was fascinating, and it felt good, wholesome even, to do something to help such a noble cause, though I think the kids' favorite part of the day was feeding Princess Di.

In the end, the few hours we put in that afternoon ultimately made very little difference for the hungry people living even in our small area. I struggle often with reconciling the prodigious stature of the world's problems compared with the tiny amount of help I'm able to give. But those few hours did do something else. They started a young boy, and probably myself, thinking more clearly about the reality—the actual physical nature—of food as a need, but not a given. And those few hours we spent might also have started him thinking about the physical reality of being able to do something—anything—to help. Plus now he knows that there are such things as digesters that can turn anything organic into sludge.


Grade 5, a new beginning 

It is that time of year again. The days are lengthening, the temperatures dropping (maybe a little? Soon, at least), and football is right around the corner. It is time for a new school year. Although Calvin does some school work year round (math, spanish, and music mainly), and though we live with a general atmosphere of learning, we do still celebrate the beginning of the tradiitonal school year the same way others do: with new books, new tools, and, now that he's older, a return to the pencils, papers, and desk.

Although our local schools didn't start until this week, the day after Labor Day, we went ahead and started a week earlier because we'll be taking a couple of extra vacation weeks during the year (shh! Don't tell). It was quiet around here, and plenty easy to settle down to business, so we're now well into our second week of fifth grade and it's sliding along pretty smoothly. I'm actually a little in awe of how much easier the work goes down this year, and of how much he loves his very first honest-to-goodness text book. It's a Spanish text, the only curriculum we could find to fit our needs, so I'm thankful for his enthusiasm.

Actually, it's going to be a year of many firsts for us. In a couple of weeks I'll be dropping Calvin off for his first ever public school class—fifth grade band. And he's taking tap and ballet dance lessons, both new to him. And I feel like this year especially he's growing right in front of my eyes, not only physically (as evidenced by my having to return the hiking shoes I got him for a larger size only two weeks later), but in confidence, poise, and occasionally ornery moodiness. There's a first for everything.

But with new beginnings come some closed doors. There will be no more cy365 this year: he's asked to have it taken off his school list and I'm barely keeping up with it anyway. And the bus stop play is different this year, because his two best friends, being different ages, now attend different schools and are picked up at different times. For Calvin this means getting up earlier if he wants to see his 5th grade friends off, then he gets a second go at bus stop play with the slightly younger crowd twenty minutes later. So far it hasn't been a problem, but we'll see how long the older kids want to get up in the cold and dark to play ball against the garage door before school.

I posted our Year 5 School Plan (a resource and goal list) here.

History: Story of the World Volume 4

Tech & Engin: Snap Circuits with Student Guide 

Geography: Draw the USA

Math: Math-U-See Geometry

Michael Clay Thompson's Level 4: Classic Literature Series, Sewing School, Javascript for Kids, Drawing With Children, Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding, Avancemos Spanish 1

Avancemos Spanish 1


Science in the park

Another summer activity with our fellow homeschoolers (and everyone thought when we said homeschooling that we meant schooling at home? hah). With storms threatening on the horizon, and the heat climbing to an almost unbearable high (when last did we see a week of temperatures over ninety degrees?), we gathered in small groups under the  picnic pavilion to play with air. Sound boring? Never.


Zzzzzz zoo

We really enjoy going to the zoo. I know it's a controversial thing, zoos, and I can see both sides of that argument, but since they're here, and while they're here, we like to take advantage of seeing animals we would never otherwise have the good fortune to see. Still, while I love going to zoos, I'm not fond of the crowds, the heat if it's summer, or the crowds, or definitely, definitely the crowds. There's something about zoo going that brings out the worst in people. I swear the idea of calmly and patiently waiting in lines, a thing we all supposedly learned about in kindergarten, goes out the proverbial window faster than the proverbial baby in bath water. And since the jostling, pushing, constant people in the way, and overall monotony of voices drives me batty after a time, I can only imagine what it's like for the animals, who from their small spaces must put up with, day in and day out, the human cacophony that accompanies any crowd.

But the work day is blessedly short for your average zoo animal, and although I never put much thought into zoo after hours before this week, I can now say with utmost certainty that happy hour is a thing at the zoo. Think of it this way: once all that cacophony, all that humanness, walks out the front gate, all panda-monium breaks loose.

They're gone! the animals are thinking, Let's get our party hats on!

The minute the after hours hush falls over the zoo, the animals come alive. Whatever animal you couldn't find because it was hiding behind the rock is now out cavorting with whatever enrichment device was just now placed in their enclosure by the equally relieved keeper. It's better than happy hour beer, it's happy hour frozen fish, or crackers in a box, or grubs in a ball. This is the life.

And you know what else? All the animals that don't officially live at the zoo, all the free-loading rabbits, ground hogs, geese, and ducks also come out for the fun. And everyone's in such a good mood, the rabbits don't even think of taunting the wolves, who are too busy galloping all over the enclosure now that nobody can see them to give a hoot anyway.

Yes, zoo closing time is just like closing time anywhere else, and I know this because now I've seen it thanks to a summer time homeschooling field trip. Just as everyone else was skipping out the front gate, about twenty of us were sneaking in (not really, because we were there by invitation) to take part in the happy hour festivities. We toured the grounds, we made enrichment activities, we saw (as best we could) animals playing after dark, and we slept with the fishes in the zoo aquarium, the sharks, rays, and sea turtles slowly floating by all night long. Then the next morning, functioning on only as much sleep as we'd been able to muster, we were given another tour of the zoo before the front gates opened and we were set loose with all the other zoo goers.

Of course, by then we'd been privilege to the zoo as it is in its off time, and the open hours were less impressive, but we did get to feed the giraffes.


4H Youth Show 2016

Before homeschooling I knew one thing about 4H: that it was a club for kids who raised adorable baby animals so that they could later sell them off for slaughter. It was indelibly linked in my mind to the story of Charlotte's Web and the fate that awaited poor Wilbur. I've never been a vegitarian, nor have I ever been deluded about where my food comes from, but I'm far too much of a softy to have ever met any of my meals in the spring of their lives.

None of that has really changed for me, my son is equally soft hearted, and we live in a suburban area that doesn't even allow the rearing of backyard chickens, and yet we have been 4H members for several years now because, as it turns out, 4H is about more—way more—than farming. We were introduced to the 4H program when we joined our homeschooling group. I turned in my paperwork and was handed a bonafide 4H membership card that entitled me to a discount at the local Tractor Supply Co. I was also handed an information sheet about all the activities the program had to offer, from summer craft camps to weekly archery classes, all with the main goal of helping kids grow to their full potential.

Each summer the 4H year culminates in a county-wide Youth Show where the animals so dutifully raised and, in some cases, trained, are shown and put up for auction. But the show isn't only for the farmers in the group. In addition to barns upon barns full of animals, there is a building dedicated solely to "still" projects, or projects other than animals that are presented for judging. These projects are meant to demonstrate any level of beginnership on up through mastery of any hobby or skill imaginable worked on over the previous year. Kids present finished projects to judges to earn grades of A, B, or C. Some projects will also be given a ranking of Honors, and from those Honors projects will be chosen a single Best in Show per category by age. It's a system that rewards individual effort as well as overall.

Calvin has presented projects in the Youth Show for three years now, but for those first three years he received only participation ribbons, as do all the youngest participants. This, then, was the first year he was old enough to be elligible for grading, and he took that challenge very seriously. When he registered to submit ten projects in six different project areas, I was concerned—about him completing them on time, about the quality of the finished work, about what he could possibly learn from so many different projects—but I was wrong to worry. I wasn't really surprised that he tackled some of the same projects (wildlife and wildflower info pages and photography) with the same skill and attention he'd afforded them in previous years, but I was completely blown away by his attention to detail in new project areas, like rock collecting, container plants, and especially sewing, which he had never before tackled in all his life.

Ten projects, ten A grades, eight Honors rankings, four Best in Shows, and lots and lots of fun.