Monday, April 15, 2013

Our first day with "project time"

I know every day won't be like today, but oh if it could be...

We got our feet wet with this new concept of "project time" today. I had talked with the boys about the idea yesterday and their enthusiasm was so heartwarming. I did have to insist that we get our regular lessons done first, but they were happy enough with that (and even got all their work done before lunch!). After a short break, it was the much anticipated "project time" and they jumped into their work with gusto.

David, who is 8, is working on investigating the Loch Ness Monster. I think he's hoping to make some new discoveries, and maybe prove that it is real. I'm leaving it to him to decide whether that will be possible or not. Today he read some information online, did some sketches of the more famous photographs, discussed criteria to be used in determining whether a photo is real or fake, learned a bit about the capacities of photo editing software, explored maps of Scotland and attempted to make a sculpture of Nessie out of tin foil.

Grayson, who is nearly 6, chose the solar system as his first project. He glanced at a few books we already have, and then spent most of his time making cutouts of each planet with craft foam sheets. He already knows most of what is knowable at a young elementary level when it comes to the solar system, but it is what he is excited about and I was so amazed at his focus and determination as he worked. He wants to hang his planets all over the house, since as he says, the planets aren't all in a line next to each other, they are "all over the place in orbit."

I know part of their excitement today is from the newness of the idea. But it was so fulfilling to see how enthusiastic they were. They loved being able to spend time on their own interests and I think they are realizing this isn't going to be directed by Mommy. They get to call the shots, make decisions, ask for resources and get them. I had requests today for spiral notebooks, tape, air dry clay and more craft foam. David ran into trouble with his attempts at making a model with foil, so he's exploring other ways of creating a mock-up. Grayson proudly showed Daddy his sun and planets and has plans to make the remaining ones tomorrow.

I'm really glad I read Project Based Homeschooling and I think this concept is going to be such a wonderful addition to our little homeschool. I can't wait to see what my little monkeys come up with next.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Incorporating "Project Based Homeschooling"

I've come to realize that my life as a homeschool mom will never reach some sort of "finished" status. I'm never going to make a year's worth of plans that we live out and don't alter. This homeschooling thing is like a living organism or maybe it is just becoming such a part of our living, it moves and changes and grows as we do.

My newest alteration? Project Based Homeschooling. I'd been eyeing that book for some time, alternately adding and removing it from my Amazon shopping cart. I was concerned it would be too overwhelming, and require that I scrap everything we are already doing for a totally new approach. That, I do not need. But on the advice of a few homeschooling friends, I decided to go ahead and read it anyway. Boy, am I glad I did!

Right off the bat, the author tells you that changing everything you're doing is not the point of the book. This is not a purist approach that requires you to do everything in a specific way, right this minute, or you're doing it all wrong. Book like that stress me out (there is one very popular homeschooling book that really made me feel that way). This concept is something you can implement in small ways, a little bit at a time. You don't have to throw out all your curriculum and become a "project homeschool."

The idea is to give your kids time, space, materials and support to pursue their own interests - at their pace, with the materials and resources that they want, and the outcomes are directed by them. So instead of me assigning a project for science or history or what have you, they might decide to do a project on tigers. What form that takes is up to them. They might read about tigers, get books from the library, ask to visit the zoo, watch a documentary or YouTube videos. Then they might sketch tigers, make tiger puppets, paint or paper mache tigers. What they do with it is up to them - the parent is there to assist, get materials, support, encourage, remind them of their questions and ideas, take notes and photographs, etc.

The amazing thing about this is that my kids already do this stuff, to a certain extent. They are constantly coming up with random things to make. This simply gives them some deeper focus to something they did naturally.

My biggest take away, at least to start, is that I can give my kids a space to work, open access to a variety of materials, and work "project time" into our regular routine - and let them take it from there. And I really think they will - I think they're going to take off like a couple little rockets.

I get the security blanket of still doing reading and handwriting and math and even history and science, as part of our "lesson time." And they get project time to pursue their own interests, in their time, with the resources they want, with me there simply to support and help when they need it. It sounds like a great big WIN-WIN to me.

I told my boys about the concept and they were THRILLED. We were all so excited we wound up rearranging the furniture in our "school area" upstairs (which is a bedroom-sized loft area). We moved the small tables so they have their own desks, magnet boards will be hung later so they can have space to display their notes, sketches and pictures. I cleared a couple of shelves that will soon house more art supplies. And in the afternoon, we will have "project time" as a regular part of our day.

And what does my inquisitive little 8 year old want to dive into for his first project? The Loch Ness Monster. He wants to sift through the evidence and see if he can figure out if the creature is real or not. I refrained from telling him that if scientists can't come to a clear conclusion, he probably won't either. He'll get there on his own. In the meantime, based on tonight's flurry of ideas, I think I see a giant Nessie hanging from the ceiling in our future.

I'm excited for this new direction. I feel like it is the best of both worlds that I want our learning to inhabit - more structured academic learning, and self-directed learning. I think dedicating time and energy to both will give us a pretty well rounded learning environment.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Musing on preschool

I'm in such a quandary over what to do for my 3 1/2 year old daughter in terms of preschool. I am firmly of the mind that little children don't need a lot of academics and that pushing them too early is probably not a good idea. I don't want a formal preschool curriculum. But I also have a little girl who climbs up in my lap every day and asks to "do school." I find myself scrambling to come up with something that, to her, feels like we are doing school, that she wants to do right at that moment.

I have "Peak With Books," loaned to my by a friend, which has a lot of great ideas. But it requires a lot of planning ahead, and my poor third child is not getting the bulk of my planning time for her benefit. I also have a tub of random preschoolish activities that were passed on to me, and sometimes we're able to pull something out of that, but it isn't really enough.

I read to her often, and she's the little tag along on lots of outings and field trips and other activities. We have a little preschool group that meets twice a month at our house, and we do stories and games and art projects and such. She loves that time and it makes me sad that her "preschool friends," as she calls it, will be lost when we move.

What I need is something that isn't too structured, but already laid out for me to use. Something I can open up, pull something out, and go. I've looked and looked, and I don't think what I want actually exists.

I should probably do something organization wise, rather than trying to find the perfect curriculum. Maybe if I had a little preschool basket that was hers - I could put in special books, maybe with a theme, as well as other little supplies and a few worksheets she can scribble on. When I come up with other ideas for activities for her to do, I can place them in the basket and she can choose what she wants to do during our school time.

That's a good thought. Of course, it means I have to actually, you know, PREPARE stuff, which I'm awful at. I should say, I'm inconsistent. Sometimes I have all kinds of things prepped and ready to go. But eventually I fall behind, get overwhelmed and subsequently ignore everything in favor of Facebook, blog reading and pinterest, and fall into bed at the end of the night with a running list of things I didn't get done and the knowledge that I did it all to myself.


I need to think more on how to make some special time and resources for my littlest nugget.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

My little boy and his bedtime worries

My oldest son has serious issues when he is overtired. He always has, from the time he was a newborn baby. He would stay awake too long and have a terrible time falling asleep again. That trait hasn't left him, it has just taken different forms as he's gotten a little older. Now that he is eight, it has turned into bedtime fears. The poor little guy is a bit of a worrier anyway, but when he is extra tired, he invents the strangest things to be afraid of. Sure, he's had the typical fear of monsters or of the house burning down - things that seem to be pretty normal for some kids. But in addition to those, he's amassed quite the list of irrational fears.

He went through a phase of being afraid of touching two separate substances, mysteriously found on everyday objects, that, when combined, would turn into poison.

He's been afraid of things like monsters, but also of randomly turning into a zombie.

He was afraid of "bad guys" breaking in through his room, despite the fact that the window is locked and his room is on the second story.

He was afraid of various things in his room coming alive in the night.

For a while he was afraid that his brain didn't work properly and he would stop breathing if he didn't think about breathing.

They've gotten more elaborate as time has gone on. Tonight he was afraid that his brother was going to somehow rip out his own rib, and that he might be randomly compelled to do the same thing. This was after Grayson, the little brother, showed him how he could stick his fingers under his lowest rib (skinny little dude that he is). This completely freaked him out and he jumped to the conclusion that not only would it be possible to rip your own rib out, but that Grayson was going to rip out a rib and then he just might do it too.

The hard thing is that when he gets overtired (a few too many late bedtimes is all it takes), he gets completely irrational at bedtime and no matter how many times we tell him, "It is physically impossible to rip a rib out of your own body," he doesn't believe you. He'll look you in the eye and whimper and wring his little hands and say, "Ok." Then when you try to leave, he starts in again with the, "But I'm scared!" and insist he's still afraid of the same thing.

Tonight we managed to help him calm himself down fairly quickly, although not without a lot of frustration on all sides. I feel bad that I'm not more sympathetic to his anxieties, but the tough part is, once he gets past a certain point of hysterical, he usually has to just wear himself out crying for a while before we can get through to him. Fortunately tonight wasn't so bad, he calmed down relatively quickly and we prayed together and he was able to go to bed.

One thing I really want for him is to be able to handle his emotions on his own. Obviously he's still a little guy, so we're here to help him wade through the tide of his fears. But over time, he needs to develop some ability to cope. He's very sensitive, emotionally, and does have a lot of worries. We're working on some ways for him to express those feelings and work them out, so I hope that will help him in the long run. I just don't want him to grow up without the deep realization that he is in charge of himself - he can make choices as to how he reacts and how he handles any situation.

He's a wonderful little guy, so smart and sensitive and caring. I'm sure glad God is in charge, because I never could have dreamed up a kid so awesome. I sure hope I'm worthy of the incredible honor of being his mother - and not screwing him up too badly.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

My Crossfit-iversary

Today is my one year Crossfit-iversary. A year ago, I got my butt up at the crack of dawn (well, almost), and despite the butterflies in my stomach, walked into a crossfit gym. And by butterflies, I mean something a little more akin to a flock of raging birds in a windstorm. I was nervous and intimidated, but I did my best to put that aside and take the plunge.

I'm not terribly athletic, but I have worked out (on and off to some degree) since I was a teenager. Dating a weightlifting football player does that to you. My comfy place in high school was less the gym or the field and more the library and the leadership room. I was active in school, but definitely more on the academic side of things (except for a stint as a cheerleader, which I now find hilarious). In any case, I've always valued fitness and belonged to a gym, and even sometimes used it. I did a few triathlons a while back, and that made me feel like a badass. But still - I've always viewed myself as a nonathletic, slightly uncoordinated, nerdy bookish type. So Crossfit, as much as I loved the concept, was quite frankly, freaking terrifying.

I walked in the door of that gym and have never looked back. Am I a super fit, lean and muscular chick now? No, not really. I think when I started, I did have this idea that I was going to work my butt off and in six months I'd be lean and fitting into my smallest jeans again. That hasn't happened (and I know exactly why - more on that in a sec), but what has happened is that I have gained a ton of muscle, and I'm strong as heck - for me, at least. I mean, I can deadlift 215lbs! Dude! I feel awesome about the strength and fitness I have gained.

What I love about Crossfit is that I don't have to think about it. I walk in, the WOD (workout of the day) is on the board, and I just do it. It will probably suck and be really hard and I'd never in a million years put myself through it without someone else telling me to do it - but I do. And the support and community at a good Crossfit gym is priceless. I've met some great people and everyone, from the out of shape newbies to the freakish uber athletes, are amazingly supportive and encouraging. I LOVE that. My gym is one of the biggest things I'm going to miss when we move later this year.

At this point, I'm really focusing on my diet. I am a case study in the importance of nutrition when it comes to body composition, weight loss, etc. I've been doing Crossfit for a year, and I haven't really lost any fat. I've gained about 10lbs, which I know is muscle and I'm fine with that. I won't ever be 120lbs, but I don't want to be. I'd rather be able to squat and deadlift and do pullups. But I still need to lean down, and that has not magically happened as I'd secretly hoped. I have to eat better, and I have to do it consistently.

I started cleaning up my diet and keeping a food log almost 2 weeks ago, and I'm hoping this will get me where I want to be. I don't want to be skinny, I don't need six-pack abs. I just want to feel comfortable in my skin again. I want my hard work to show. I weathered the storm of Easter candy and various other temptations the last couple of weeks and have done well, and although the scale is stubbornly not moving (I need to take my own advice about not worrying about the scale), I feel better and my husband says he can see a difference.

All in all, Crossfit has been amazing and I hope I'll be able to keep it up. It isn't exactly cheap, but for me, it is worth every penny. If I can be consistent with my diet for the next several months, I should start to lean down a bit and maybe those jeans I've been saving will finally fit again (just in time to find out they've gone out of style, most likely).