Friday, September 27, 2013

Our first week of homeschool

 Noah and Avery on their first morning of school, eagerly anticipating...

 The kids and I just had a wonderful first week of home-school. This is my third year of planning and leading lessons. Noah is in second grade and Avery is in Kindergarten. Avery has been sitting at the table for lessons with us since she turned three, coloring, painting, stringing beads and playing with play dough. She is very excited to be five and "in school" this year. 

I have put an enormous amount of time into reading curriculum and planning and preparing for this year. As a result we had a smooth transition into a much more structured schedule and everything went really well and I think it will continue to do so. This year we are using the Enki second grade curriculum, mostly for their wonderful language arts program, but also for music, movement, art and some science. We had started with Oak Meadow for Noah's kindergarten year. Then last year we used Christopherus until half way through the year until switching and using Enki for language arts. Noah and I are on our third year of using Right Start Math, which is very different from Enki math, but it has served him well.

Thinking about this school year, my main challenge was how to balance two students, both of them needing my undivided attention for the majority of their main lesson time. Also, I really wanted Noah's stories to just be for him. I didn't want to have to pick them out thinking of younger sister also hearing them. I also wanted Avery's stories to be special for her without her brother groaning and complaining about how boring they were. Both of my kids thrive on having my undivided attention and they behave mostly wonderfully when we are one on one. So by setting time aside for each of them I am hoping to meet their attention needs and simultaneously make their stories, songs and learning more special and meaningful. 

In order to make this balance work I have work planned for each of them that they can do on their own without my help for twenty to thirty minutes of the morning. Noah is doing a weekly form drawing on the chalkboard each morning followed by either Handwriting without Tears, Explode the Code (language arts) or math worksheets from the previous day's lesson. Avery in painting, coloring, playing with playdough, form drawing or working with large wood pieces that make letters, or just playing as long as she does so quietly in the next room. 

In order for the day to flow smoothly, I made schedules. I was just going to make one, but I messed up on one and ended up with two that are a little repetitive, but one is more general and the other more detailed. I may just keep the detailed one. I also made a calendar that I'm excited about. I still need to make the weather cards that show what the weather outside is like for each day.

Our school days flow something like this: After our wake up time and simple breakfast we are heading outside to do farm chores by nine a.m. We have songs we sing at different times, one for heading outside, some we sing while milking goats and others for our walk up to the chicken coop and then one for coming inside. When I was first reading the Starting Up book for Enki, I was reading about the different forms of circle; song and moment time. After reading about all the different types of circles and walks, at the end there was a passage that explained that all of these song and movement activities are trying to re-create what one would experience if they had to go out and do farm chores in the morning, milk animals, chop wood, haul water etc., get the heart pumping and the body loosened up and limber, build strength and flexibility etc. As you can imagine I had an "Ah Ha" moment. And for the first time I really felt like I could embrace our morning farm chore routine as a significant part of our home-school routine. Whereas in the past we have rushed through our chores to get to the "important stuff".

Both kids each milked out one side of Zuri this week while I hovered nearby. The milk into four ounce jars which I dump into the pail, and that way we don't worry about a hoof in the pail. After milking we start a fire and Noah and I carry in a few armloads of wood. Avery and Noah take turns adding scoops of grain to our bucket along with kelp and water. When we finish with the goats we let the geese out and they follow us up to feed and water the chickens. This week we were back at the house within forty five minutes. We wash up, I filter milk, and we have a very quick snack if needed. I lay out Noah's work and we look through and discuss any questions he has. If he has any questions mid way through he just skips it and waits. Avery and I have five to ten minutes of songs and finger plays together followed by her story.

 Above are my cheat sheets. One for Noah's circle songs, one for Avery's and one for farm chores. I often just write the first line of the song as it helps me remember how to start.

For Kindergarten, Enki has you tell the same story each day for the week, with a parent led recall towards the end of the week. For our time together we have a silk that is on the table from the night before along with the candles and my cheat sheets. I light Avery's candle only and we sit back on the couch to read her story. This sets a very peaceful mood, and I've noticed that both kids get really deep breathing and sink deeply into their stories. When the story is out we blow out her candle and have a transition verse to our table work space. Because I'm still new to Enki, it is challenging to not work with the story right away as we've done in the past. The first day I have Avery doing painting or playing with play dough, in somewhat of an attempt to keep her from drawing the story. The second day we re-read the story and then she colors a picture. Our third day we are telling the same story again and writing a letter in her main lesson book that was inspired by the story. On our fourth and final day we recall the story together without reading it, and then continue to work with the letter by making it with dough or playdough or more coloring. We are deviating from Enki by doing any letter work in Kindergarten. If we were following Enki strictly we would just be reading and coloring and trying not to get into letters. I have put a lot of thought and debate into this decision and only time will tell whether I've made the right one or not. I do find that much if not most of what I read in Enki strikes a chord within myself. At the same time I don't always feel that what is best for most five year old's in necessarily what is best or right at the time for mine.

 Avery, waiting for her story.

Hopefully, If I've connected enough with Avery during her circle and story time, she is ready to go off and play while subconsciously digesting what she has just taken in. Noah and I have a more invigorating circle. He enjoys more challenging movements to accompany our songs and verses, in addition to riddles, clapping games and bean bag tossing. Enki has Second graders listening to and working with a balance of Trickster and Sage tales. I could go on and on about why and how, but for now, I'll just say that we are starting off with Native American Trickster tales followed by the Sage Stalking Wolf. To accompany this theme several of our songs are Native American in theme, and we will be doing some related crafts with bark and leather here soon. 

For the Trickster section, I read a short Trickster Tale on Monday, then we take a lunch break, followed by math. Tuesday we recall the story and do a short story summary accompanied with a picture. Tuesday afternoon we read a new Trickster tale, which we work with on Wednesday and so on. Noah is not a fan of the story summaries - and we've only done two. He did seem to get the hang of it quickly, and after doing the first one together he was able to summarize our second Trickster tale on his own, in about four short sentences - I was able to fit it on the blackboard while writing big enough that he could see it from his seat across the room.

We are doing wet on wet water color painting at least one afternoon a week. They are supposed to be standing to allow room to move, but they both prefer to sit. 

 Avery and her close friend and fortunately our within walking distance neighbor, Ingrid

On Thursdays we are supposed to finish by lunch time. We spend the afternoon with our Children of The Boreal home-school cooperative. We meet at Creamer's Field in the summers. It is a migratory bird refuge and old farmhouse. This Thursday was our last week outdoors. I have a hard time moving in for the winter. This week we peeled and cored apples for snack, and ground grain with a hand crank mill, that didn't quite work, but the kids didn't realize it.

 Avery and Aviva

 The kids put on a clown act, followed by a fairy/sprite show, followed by a lengthy and impressive  Snow White play - all child led and accomplished without my input.

What would I do without my big helper. When a job needs to be done, my son is ready to lend a hand. We finished digging potatoes in a mild panic. The top of the ground was crusty and as we dug the snow begin to fall.

Tomorrow we celebrate Michaelmas with Children of the Boreal. We helped make the most beautiful Birch bark medallions to give to the kids. I think it is going to be a spectacular sunny blue and gold day.  

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

September Harvest

Harvest time is winding down. Here are some pictures from the past few weeks. We picked enough crab apples to make 12 quarts of applesauce, several sheets of applesauce fruit leather,one fabulous but labor intensive crab apple pie, about a gallon of dried crab apples and as of today, I juiced the last of them to make myself one bottle of experimental cider.

 I love both these pictures. Noah did ALL of the food mill cranking. And as you can see he took his job pretty seriously.

It took me all summer, because I never made the time to just get the job done - I'm sure most knitters would have busted these out in a couple sittings, but I finally got these cute little booties in the mail. I hope to have more time for knitting projects this winter.

My brother dropped off a front and hind leg of Moose for us. I was pretty proud of myself as it was the first time I've cut up a bunch of meat without my brother around to guide me. It was simpler than I thought and considerably easier than the goats, a lot more meat and way less bones. I had a lovely time. I escaped from the house for a couple hours in the evening, turned up Rising Appalachia, cracked a cider, wielded a sharp knife with confidence and at the end of the night packed a lot of Moose into the freezer. I kept some of the most tender meat to cook fresh all week long and it was like eating tender beef steak without the marbling. Then I packed my canning pot full of bones and cooked them throughout the days for a few days in a row, resulting in some nourishing bone broth. After straining and chilling the broth it was a mound of very stiff jello. I froze several quarts of it and have been using it to make Moose Harvest soup; a cross between Minestrone and garden vegetable. Thanks to my brother we should have enough Moose to get us through at least a year from now, and that would be if we ate a package a week - which is more than we'll eat unless I start keeping us stocked on jerky.

Tomatoes that ripened indoors. Better late than never. This is just the start. I'm cooking them down to a thick paste and freezing them to pull out for sauce later this winter. I'll probably dry some and make some fresh chutneys as well. I made one of the last batches of fresh salsa tonight, unless I suck it up and buy some cilantro, as I've only a little left. I have been using my own jalapenos and green cayenne peppers. Tonight I made the best fish tacos (with salmon) that I've probably ever had and I think it was because I sprinkled extra green cayenne pepper in my taco. Other than that I pan fried a salmon fillet that I'd generously coated in cumin and lightly sprinkled with salt, pepper and chili powder. Served it with lightly fried sprouted wheat tortillas, salsa, tartar sauce with homemade pickles, scallions, cilantro, lettuce and salsa. I think other than all the good ingredients, not cooking the salmon until it is well done or dry is key.

 Digging the first potatoes. I can't believe this was just a week ago, as our weather has turned cold now and I can't imagine being outside in a t-shirt right now.

 Dustin working on building a more permanent outside coop for the lower chicken coop. He and Noah stayed up late last night finishing it and moving twenty seven young chickens into their newly finished home.

 When I'm looking for garden chores for Noah, anything that involves a knife is usually something he'll do with enthusiasm, here he is cutting all the cabbages.

 Bringing grains down to the house to dry out. We have had so much rain lately that the grains and soup peas were sprouting. Craziness!

Avery turned five last weekend. We celebrated with friends at our local playground. On her birthday she wanted to dress up and go out to eat. So we had a fun day primping then we went out to eat at our favorite Sushi restaurant with family.

The kids and I hiked and picked late blueberries with friends at Wickersham Dome this week. It was cool and windy, but at least the sun was shining. This is our last week before we start up our school routine, so we've been enjoying being spontaneous and having a relaxed schedule.

Today we woke up to snow. It was in the forecast, but I didn't want to believe it and was still surprised when I woke up to a good inch on the ground today. This is early even for us. Most of the trees still have their leaves and we are in peak gold season. Usually our first snow doesn't come until October and doesn't really start sticking around right away. I usually think by mid October we'll have snow. I think this snow may melt, but not for a while. Fortunately I've harvested everything but the potatoes, some kale and some greens under row cover. This has been a good harvest for me. I started earlier and have been less stressed out as a result. I've been able to go back over some of the empty beds and weed them and add compost. I think by the end of this weekend I'll be done with the garden completely and done cleaning up outside; ready to turn inwards and have more time for family, crafts, lessons and cooking.