Sunday, July 10, 2011

Puttin' my teacher hat on.

School starts for us on August 29, 2011 and will run through mid-June 2012.  It will end no later than June 22nd, but we may finish up a little sooner than that.  This year, aside from a scheduled break around Christmas -- because, really, it's busy enough as it is -- we aren't doing formal school vacations.  I've found them pretty difficult to recover from this past school year.  Instead, a school week will have 3 - 5 days in it.  The 3 day weeks are around holidays that I know the hubby and I will more than likely be off work.  The rest of the weeks are either 4 or 5 days -- if we did it as I have roughly mapped out in my little planner calendar, 180-ish days hits the week of June 22nd.  If The Peanut decides to work ahead on a short week and do 5 days instead of 4, then I can shave time off the end.  I figure this system will give us tons of flexibility for impromptu field trips, sick days, and don't-wanna days.  This is an experiment -- we shall see how it works.  If after a month or two it is making me crazy, then we'll go back to school vacation weeks.

Stuff we'll be working on...

Language Arts:

We may end up finding another Grammar solution.  I'm already on the fence about whether I like FLL, but what's more important is how she responds to it.  The lessons are very short and to the point which is a big plus, but there is a ton of repetition -- when I reviewed the book to make plans for the year, I found several areas where I think we may end up skipping or combining lessons.  If she likes it, we'll stick with it this school year.  If not, I've got a couple of ideas which may work for us.  Regardless, I don't see us using this two years in a row - there is a program that I think she will really like, but I'm not sure she's quite ready for it this year.

Since The Peanut likes writing her stories and has recently taken a huge interest in poetry, the Spectrum book will be heavily supplemented with other materials.  I have a couple sourcebooks around making books with children.  I also have a list of resources (books and websites) for grade school poetry writing.  Each week, I'll sprinkle something in from one of these sources to keep her on her toes.  Also, since some of the Spectrum Grade 1 book is material we've covered this year in other sources, we'll be skipping some of it.  I anticipate getting into the Grade 2 book before the end of the school year.

As for what we'll read, some of it will be stuff I'll have her select either from her own personal library or from the public library.  I'll also find things that I think will interest her that she may not pick for herself.  Last school, I picked all the reading.  This year, I'm going to give her at least some of the responsibility.  There will also be plenty of reading to do for History and Science.  Honestly, it doesn't matter what I put in front of her (within reason) -- she absolutely loves to read and does so every chance she gets.

We're starting the school year with Saxon 3.  We started this a couple of months before the end of this school year.  With skips for repetition, we're about halfway through it.  I am not sure what we'll be doing when we finish up.  I am leaning towards moving over to Singapore Math and supplementing with Life of Fred "Before High School Mathematics" series.  This is something that I will explore further in the Fall once I get everything else squared away.  We may go to Saxon 4, but it kills me to pay for all the material and really only use half of it -- even used, Saxon isn't cheap.

We'll be learning about ancient cultures using Story of the World, Volume 1.  Using their teacher guide, I'm taking each chapter at least a little deeper than the high level overview each chapter provides.  I highly doubt we'll get through the entire book this year.  Instead, we'll finish it up at the beginning of the following school year.  We've got time and I think it will be fun exploring this time period.  Most everything for the school year has required only basic planning.  Since I want to go deep with this, I have been spending most of school prep time on this - a process that I've actually enjoyed doing.

I am taking the advice of a couple of moms who have science/math kids -- which The Peanut is -- and am starting with the basics.  This year will be all about Chemistry using two sources: Elemental Science and Real Science 4 Kids.  I like Real Science 4 Kids quite a bit, but with only 10 chapters, it isn't enough to use it by itself for an entire school year.  I toyed with supplementing each chapter and basically writing my own material -- at this level, it's fairly easy to do so, but I only have so much time.  Elemental Science is close to a full year's worth of material by itself, but doesn't do as good of a job (in my opinion) explaining the basics.  It does however do a good job of taking the basics to the next step.  The two programs combined make for a nice elementary school chemistry program.

We may pick this up again.  We had to stop working on Spanish this past year because it was turning into an exercise in frustration for The Peanut.  I think she likes the idea of learning a foreign language, but doesn't like that it's a lot of drill work and practice to actually do anything with it.  We were using a program put out by Hooked on Phonics on her computer and I was supplementing with activities, songs, and worksheets from a couple of different sources.  The last level on the HOP program was challenging and required concentration.  The Peanut gets frustrated if she doesn't get something on the first or second try -- and this level required several more than a couple tries in many instances.  I may wait and start Spanish a month or two into school (or even after the holidays).  Learning Spanish was The Peanut's idea so I'm happy to support her efforts to learn it and provide resources, but I do not consider this a priority at the moment.  Since many of the materials for other subjects will be new and the routine is new, I'd rather get her settled into these before figuring out how to fit Spanish in.

We will probably continue taking classes at the Worcester Art Museum.  If we cannot fit one of their classes in our schedule, I may ask the teacher to come work with us one-on-one (or organize something for area homeschoolers with her).  Since I am friends with the teacher, I don't see this as being a big deal to do.  History also gives us a chance to do some art appreciation as well, though I think she prefers to make masterpieces over viewing them. 

Time permitting, I'll give her piano lessons to teach her the basics.  I have a fantastic teacher lined up for her when she gets a little older.  He has asked that I get her going with the basics and he will take over when she reaches a certain point.

Physical Education:
Although I am questioning how interested she really is in it, she has asked to take gymnastics again this year.  I personally believe that she enjoys just getting out of the house and doing something.  We will probably explore other options through a neighboring town's recreation department as well as a local health club that has a great kids fitness and swimming program.  Since one of her grandparents has generously offered to pay for gymnastics next year, we'll sign up for a half year and see how it's going around the holidays.

Other stuff:
A local homeschool group loosely organizes a girl scout group.  It's not a troop, but instead, a bunch of Juliettes (independently registered girl scouts who aren't affiliated with a troop) who get together once or twice a month for field trips, craft projects, etc.  The Peanut has expressed an interest in participating as a Daisy.  Since it's low-cost and fairly low-commitment and a great social opportunity, we will do that.

The Peanut will also continue to participate  in our church's Cherub Choir -- our choir for 4 - 7 year olds. 

It looks like it will be another busy year for The Peanut -- lots for us to look forward to! 

Monday, July 4, 2011

Start-ups, Politics, and Crazy Ideas

Several months ago, my boss, Malcolm, and I had a crazy idea to start a music school.  It seemed like a perfectly reasonable idea at the time: Shrewsbury loves the arts and they love their kids participating in them.  Shrewsbury, like most school districts, don't offer as much in the way of arts education as they once did.  Granted, they're still better than some.  And Shrewsbury doesn't have a full-service performing arts school -- lots of places to take lessons and some one-off programs here and there, but by and large, nothing on-going.

Malcolm and I put together a great package that included group music classes on a variety of topics, a theater program, and even some visual arts classes. I had several top-notch teachers lined up who were excited about the program.  While we certainly planned on starting with the youngsters, we had a vision of expanding our classes to include adults as well in all three areas.  Our plan was to include it under the existing music ministry at the church.  The school itself would be secular, but he and I saw plenty of opportunity to expand upon church offerings and programs using the resources that the school would have in place.

Our church loves politics.  And here's where our grand idea gets squished.  After several months of back-and-forth, the church decided that this school was too risky.  Despite having seed money squared away, a built-in student base from several sources, and tons of excitement from younger families -- families that already participate in our church as well as others outside the church -- the school was killed in committee.  Our timing was off.  Those that were most excited about the school were not around for the vote given that it finally happened early last week.   Also, true to form, as one sub-committee asked for one thing, another one was unhappy with the answer/result.  Sadly, the school could have benefited everyone -- even if they did not directly participate in it -- because it meant an additional income for the church as well as new offerings for church programming.  Nevermind that it would be a great marketing tool for the church.

We were told, instead, that we would need to form a separate entity - most likely a 501(c)3 non-profit - and then apply for space usage (and pay a fee for that space).  So the church would still get its income with none of the "risk" or side-benefits.  The problem is that in making this decision, the church overstepped what it could decide for us -- entity type, governance, etc.  While we can certainly ignore some of the church's decision, Malcolm is rightfully hesitant to move forward.  He's busy enough for three people - another board, another organization, etc would probably tip the scales for him.  I'm right there with him -- as it was, this was going to be a challenge for me to juggle next year.  The added stress of putting together a separate non-profit would probably be too much unless he and I draw in more help from the get-go..

I have a few options to explore for this, but I fear that our great idea is dead in the water unless people show a ton of enthusiasm and push for it.   As of right now, I'm tired and more than a little burnt out from the process.  The lack of vision and possibility continually astounds me but it is what it is.  The next month will be spent regrouping and figuring out options (if any).


When something doesn't fit into your reality, you have a coping mechanism.  Some people are open-minded and want to learn about it.  Some people block the offending item out of their mind.  Other people try to force it to be what they think it should be.  And this is where we pick up the story.

This week, I have heard more times than I can count, "Well.  I've never seen a 5-year-old act like that."  This being said as if the person saying it has had experience with many 5-year-olds in life.  The one she had the most experience with was me.  Since I am an only child, all my cousins are older, and my mother doesn't have a bunch of friends with kids near my age (then or now), I can't say that she has a wealth of experience to draw upon in this department.  While I do not particularly want to get into the details of my childhood, I will say this:  aside from looking like me, my daughter is almost nothing like I was at that age.  While I was relatively compliant, she is strong-willed and stubborn.  While I was happy to go with the flow and learn at an age-appropriate pace (and push myself behind the scenes), she pushes for more information every chance she gets.  And when she's bored, look out!  While I could read simple picture books, she reads chapter books.  While I probably could only do real basic math, she knows a good portion of her multiplication facts.

I have never had my daughter formally tested, but my research and reading tells me that she's probably on the high end of "exceptionally gifted" if not "profoundly gifted".  This basically means that her IQ is high.  Possibly really high.  Having spent a lot of time around smart people -- including The Peanut -- I'm finding that often times when the IQ is high, it's made up for some other way.  The brain is just too darn busy to care about social graces and/or the personal comfort of it's human.  (Or in more extreme cases, the gifted kid has a learning disability or something cognitive that mucks up the thinking process).  Anyways, not having had The Peanut tested, I cannot tell you her IQ nor can I tell you exactly what her other "issues" are in a clinical sense. My mommy sense will describe her tantrums as epic, some of her sensitivities as strange, and her obsessiveness as frustrating.  For an outsider looking in -- especially when a tantrum is in full-swing or one of those sensitivities is rearing it's ugly head -- The Peanut probably looks like a strange little character.

Is she really five or is she a two-year-old?  Because let's face it, most five years can hold it together a little better than that.  Right?  And thus has been the mantra of my mother this week.  Right along with associated guilt aimed towards me because obviously, since she's acting this way, my earthy-crunchy parenting style has allowed her to turn into his terribly behaved child.  Nevermind that this our "normal" and that no shaming, belittling, or yelling at her when she goes into orbit over the latest crisis is going to get her to calm down any faster.  In fact, it just adds to the noise.  And my headache.

I have less than 36 hours here.  I am so very ready to go home.  At the same time, I'd like to fix this just a little.  My mother will probably never change her reaction entirely, but to somehow help her better understand her granddaughter just a little bit would be huge.  She is proud of The Peanut (and encouraging) when she displays the "good" side of being gifted.  She thinks the reading and the math and all the other cool stuff she does is great.  But to only accept one side of a someone's personality is not accepting the person.  And like it or not, our brilliant little Peanut can also be a screaming, irrational little monster of a kid.  Some weeks, the little monster stays away.  Some weeks -- like this one where we're having a growth spurt and we're away from home with a screwed up schedule - the little monster comes out to play frequently.

I've come to accept and love the little monster side of The Peanut.  I've even learned several tricks along the way to help her through the rough patches.  If Grandma could get to know her just a little bit, she might actually be able to truly help the next time The Peanut aims herself at the nearest passing satellite instead of helping to launch her into it.