This was our first year of reporting for both Flora (grade 1) and Cinder (grade 3) and I wasn’t quite sure how to do it. As a result, there’s a bit of redundancy and overexplanation involved…
Overall, we have had another fun, interesting and intensive year. It has been our first year of formally reporting our homeschooling adventure for both children, and also the first year in which their interests have been this divergent. This has posed some challenges and opportunities, requiring Cinder and Flora to be more adaptive, flexible and patient than they have had to be in the past when pursuing their passions, a challenge further compounded by the age and stage of their youngest sibling, who entered into toddlerhood and all that entails over the course of this year.
Partly because of the toddler age and stage, and partly because of other family rhythms, this year has been much more introspective/home-focused for us than previous years. We have attended very few―two!―plays or city festivals, choosing to spend more time in less hectic and more whole-family friendly (toddler safe) settings such as parks, pools, our home and the homes of friends.
Both children have made notable progress along their learning adventure this year, and reached several important milestones. Most importantly, they both continue to love to learn, explore and challenge themselves. We close this homeschooling year full of appreciation for the past and excitement for the future.
Technical note: “We” in this report refers to either all of us as a family or the two parents, depending on context. “I” or “me” refers to Jane, the primary author of the report.
Overview: For Cinder, in may ways this has been a liminal year―a year of great developmental change and transition. He has struck me as spending much of this year searching, casting about for something. He’s shed some of his earlier obsessions: dinosaurs, pirates, deep sea exploration no longer thrill, and while science continues to attract, it’s not with the relentless focus it had in the past. What’s replacing these? It’s hard to tell yet. Building Lego and creating structures of all sorts has played a large role this past year. So has gardening. So have, intermittently, video games. Nothing’s filled the void fully yet, so we continue to assist by casting about with him, and throwing this activity, this theme, this idea across his path to help him find new passions.
Literacy: Cinder has made tremendous progress in this area. This is the first year in which he has expressed interest in, and received, formal instruction in reading. In October to January, we worked from Bob Books, covering sets one through three very quickly, and working very slowly through sets 4 and 5, stalling mid-set 5. After a prolonged break, Cinder revisited sets 1, 2 and 3 in February/March. We then stopped Bob Books and introduced Level 1 of the All About Spelling programme to provide him with some additional building blocks. We have finished the first 12 steps of Level 1, and continue to work through the remainder slowly. Reading practice does not come easily to Cinder, but he works extremely hard at it. Especially when it involves decoding video game commands and instructions.
Writing: Minimal interest. Some cartooning of zombies, some assisted journalling (see Nature Journal project).
Numeracy: Continues to come easily and naturally to Cinder. Not much in the way of formal instruction, bar intermittent reading of The Murderous Maths of Everything, everyday banking and money management―see “Bank Accounts” in the Project section―and intermittent memorization of the times tables.
Science:The UK Horrible Science series, both in book and in magazine format, continues to rule supreme. Over January-March, Cinder was also being read to from the Basher series: Periodic Table, Chemistry, Physics and Math. He also enjoyed working with several Science Foundation of Alberta crates, several through our participation in the Calgary Homeschool Association’s science classes in the fall of 2010, and some independently in the first half of 2011.
Arts: Cinder’s interest in arts has been minimal this year, and his portfolio reflects this. However, he has done some work in the Glenbow Museum Discovery Room, a day at the Leighton Centre, and is now participating willingly in a homeschool co-op art class.
Health: Cinder participated in (and loved) a Parkour class in the Fall of 2010. He continues to swim regularly, run, bike, climb and otherwise exert himself. In late May 2011, he started Tang Soo Do classes with a friend.
Overview: This has been a year of tremendous growth and progress for Flora, perhaps best traced through the evolution of her drawing, which started with smiley-faced unicorns and currently has her working hard at depicting all sorts of “realist” scenes―mostly featuring animals.
Literacy: Flora started the year as an emerging reader with a solid knowledge of phonics and an assortment of sight words; she has progressed by leaps and bounds, and can read early readers, road signs, instructions, comic books… and pretty much whatever book she picks up if she chooses to. She has been working through Level 1 of All About Spelling with her brother, and making good progress there as well.
Writing: Flora writes notes, letters and cards daily. At some point during the year, she has started paying attention to upper case and lower case letters, and she is starting to be interested in making her letters fit between lines―and in learning the proper strokes. We expect to focus more on that aspect in the coming year.
Numeracy: Flora has been working very had at mastering her basic addition and subtraction. She has also memorized the x0 and x1 times tables and is working on x2. She has a good understanding of basic geometry, basic understanding of fractions, and is quite baffled by division. She likes math work sheets very much.
Science: Flora’s interest in science continues to be animal and critter-based. She’s exposed to readings from The UK Horrible Science series as well as the Basher series: Periodic Table, Chemistry, Physics and Math, but she prefers The Magic School Bus series. She also enjoyed working with several Science Foundation of Alberta crates, several through our participation in the Calgary Homeschool Association’s science classes in the fall of 2010, and some independently in the first half of 2011.
Arts: Flora draws for hours every day, playing with colours, stencils, and themes. She has recently started working from “How to Draw” books. She has also done some work in the Glenbow Museum Discovery Room, a day at the Leighton Centre, and is now participating in a homeschool co-op art class.
Health: Flora participated in a gymnastics and circus arts class in the Fall of 2010, and enjoyed it. In April 2011, she learned to ride her two-wheeler and has been unstoppable since. She continues to enjoy swimming and spending lots of time outdoors.
MAJOR PROJECTS AND THEMES
This section outlines projects/themes that dominated Cinder and Flora’s learning at various points during the year.
Stories (Books & Films)
Bunnicula (July & August 2010, November 2010, January 2010): The vampire bunny created by James Howe in 1979 made it into our car CD player in early July 2010 and didn’t leave for weeks. In the car, Cinder and Flora listened to the original trilogy―Bunnicula, Howliday Inn and The Celery Stalks at Midnight, and at home, we read the original trilogy, and Howe’s subsequent Bunnicula titles, including an early readers series called Tales from the House of Bunnicula. The stories captured the children’s imagination to a huge extent, and they play-acted their own versions of Bunnicula, recited chunks of the stories to each other, discussed the books with each other, etc.
Hank the Cowdog (September 2010, October 2010, December 2010, March 2011, May 2011): We read a couple of books from this series by John Erickson last year; this year, when Hank came into the house, he didn’t want to leave. Cinder and Flora haven’t read/listened to all 50 of the books… but they’ve come close. As with the Bunnicula experience, Hank inspired some acting out, creation of new storylines, and some drawing―even on Cinder’s part. Also an interest in things cow ranch- and Texas-related (the setting for the stories is a Texas ranch).
Avatar: The Last Airbender (Summer 2010, February 2011): The children first watched this incredible Nickelodeon series in the summer; they have continued returning to it, going through a deep immersion in it again in particular in February. They watch the shows, dissect them, discuss them, imitate them, act them out, relate them to “real” cultures and events―it has been an absolutely seminal story experience for them.
Harry Potter (March and April 2011): We introduced Cinder and Flora to Harry Potter in a desperate attempt to get a break from Hank the Cowdog. The timing was perfect: we read the first book in three nights, then watched the movie―and re-listened to the book several times on CD. We then read the second book and watched the second movie; third book and third movie; fourth book and most of the fourth movie. We stopped here as the story got darker than the children were prepared for; we look forward to Part II of this journey when they are older. Flora strongly identified with Hagrid and the magical creatures in the story, and spun many sub-storylines involving Hedwig and Pigwidgeon. Cinder focused on the fight between good and evil and the tension between the Muggle/Magic worlds.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians (May 2011, June 2011): Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series came into our lives first via the movie The Lightening Thief, which captivated both children immensely. We then started reading/listening to the books. And reading about Greek and Roman mythology. Cinder loves the adventure. Flora’s processing the gods’ complicated family tree. Via discussion of Greek gods and their Roman names, we’ve returned to the solar system. It’s been wonderful.
Mythbusters (September 2010-February 2011, June 2011): Adam Savage and Jamie Heineman delivered much of Cinder’s science curriculum via their Mythbusters series in the first part of this year. He watched and rewatched key episodes, discussed the experiments and processes, and dreamed up some other experiments and myths for them to try. Flora got into it all as well, although not to the same extent. By March, however, Cinder was mythbustered-out. Flora has recently returned to Mythbusters, so I expect Jamie and Adam to continue to inform and entertain us for many years to come.
Dragons: Flora adds that after watching How To Train Your Dragon and Dragon Hunters, she became really interested in dragons. She is currently listening to Cornelia Funke’s Dragon Rider, and when she is finished, she wants to read/listen to the How To Train Your Dragon series.
Tang Soo Do: Cinder adds that his new martial art, Tang Soo Do, is the new coolest and most interesting thing that he is doing.
Manitoba: We travelled twice to Manitoba in 2010, in July and then for most of September. The prolonged September visit, in a cabin at Whiteshell Provincial Park, featured a black bear siege―and education on cohabiting with wild animals, Cinder taking out the kayak himself for the first time, Flora swimming by herself all around the dock, and visits to interesting places in the area, notably the Whiteshell Petroglyph Site.
Mexico: We spent January 25-February 26 in Mexico, chiefly in the small fishing village of Los Ayala, 60 km north of Puerto Vallarta. While enjoying the fun in the sun, the children kept track of the various animals they saw in the area (iguanas were the biggest hit), visited the local goat herd, ate local food, explored tidal pools and rock outcroppings, and spent an awful lot of time in the ocean. I had been hoping for a bit of a language immersion experience for them, but there had not been a lot of children in this particular area, so beyond “Hola” and “Gracias,” not much was picked up. Cinder learned peso to dollar conversion. Much ice cream was eaten.
Additional trips: Lethbridge, Drumheller, Banff, Edmonton.
Bank: In March 2011, we opened bank accounts for the children, using as a basis the change jar they had had custody over for years. They were very excited by the visit to the bank and the process. Then, Cinder and Flora drew up a bar chart to track their savings and continue to explore ways of earning money, making plans how much they will spend on what what they reach certain milestones, and how much that will leave in their accounts, etc. Cinder was enchanted by the idea of compound interest.
Garden: We added another vegetable bed to the garden this year, and the children planted tomatoes, carrots, corn, pepper plants, pumpkins, zucchini and assorted herbs. They water and weed the garden and try to preserve it from the destructive tendencies of baby brother.
Nature Journal: On May 1, Cinder and Flora started a nature journal. It’s been a very enjoyable experience for everywhere, with a great deal of future potential. Most of the writing right now is done by me, but the children narrate what they want to note on a given day, and do some of the word writing or tracing, and all of the illustration and collection of specimens.
Flora’s Museum of Natural Mystery: The second year of this project, in which Flora collects and displays all sorts of treasures in her museum, of which she offers intermittent tours. Added this year an assortment of bones, an emu egg, lost teeth, etc. And a partially fossilized bison femur.
Puppy: On October 5, our 12 year old Doberman Anya died. Pictures of Anya that formed her mourning of the event are in Flora’s portfolio; Cinder was absolutely shattered. We talked and remembered Anya for months. Flora asked for a new pet―a puppy―for her sixth birthday, and after much research and discussion, we added a splash Boston Terrier named Maggie to our family on March 27. The involvement of the entire family in housebreaking, training and loving Maggie has been a wonderful (if often exhausting!) experience.
Times Table: We have been intermittently playing with memorizing the times table.
Raising Painted Ladies: Since May 27, we have been raising painted lady caterpillars, observing as they turn into chrysalises etc. and then releasing them after metamorphosis. The timeline is in the Nature Journal.
Lego: Cinder has become quite a masterbuilder with Lego; he has quite a collection of machines and models he has put together over the year to showcase. The speed with which he puts these things together is mind-blowing. We’ve been mentioning Lego building contests and events like Bricks for Kids workshops for him, but so far he is not interested. We recently added the robotic Mindstorms kit to his collection, and we look forward to seeing what he does with it. It’s quite challenging (for the parents!) and requires some programming ability, so his reading skills will need to improve so that he can navigate the instruction manuals and Wikis more independently.
Video games: We’ve loosened up our computer restrictions this past year, and both children have spent more time with games on our computers, the newly acquired X-box, and their i-Pads. It’s been a very interesting experience for all involved; I include it as a learning project here because it very much has been. Flora, for example, spends a great deal of time on the pbskids.org site, playing word and art games. Her favourite games include Martha Speaks!, Wild Kratts, and Electric Company. Cinder’s choices are less obviously educational: MineCraft, a series of Lego games for X-box (especially Lego Star Wars III right now), Angry Birds (I hope he demonstrates a game for you, because his sense of geometry on that thing is eerie), and Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. But even on the games in which I see no particular intrinsic value in the game itself… he works on reading, to memorize key commands―he needs to access Wikis, and is working on decoding them so he doesn’t need us for it, etc. Moreover, the games have proven a huge social bridge for Cinder and other boys his age in our neighbourhood. Minecraft is the current example: almost all the boys aged 6-12 in the Co-op are playing it. They talk about it, they share strategies and short-cuts, they play cooperatively in shared universes―it’s been such a positive experience.
CALENDAR – NOTABLE EXTERNAL EVENTS/CLASSES
[provided to school board facilitator, deleted here because… honestly, you don’t care on which days we went to the museum, park or other field trip, do you?]
LOOKING FORWARD TO THE SUMMER AND BEYOND
We plan to take it easy this summer, spending lots of time outside, in parks and in pools, in our little garden, on the trampoline, and on our bikes, exploring Calgary. Flora will participate in a week-long art summer camp with an artist. Cinder plans to continue Tang Soo Do through the summer, and may participate in a Parkour summer camp. We will continue working slowly through the All About Spelling Level 1 programme, and we plan to keep the Nature Journal throughout the spring and summer and into the fall as the seasons change. (I plan to gradually turn the journal into a bit more of a handwriting exercise for the children, but for now, that’s my little secret.) We’ve just started reading the Wow Canada! Book, and plan to read through it, and re-read it, over the summer weeks, perhaps bringing in other books in the series.
Our field trip plan for the summer is built around this fabulous book, Heritage Trees of Alberta, by the Heritage Tree Foundation of Canada. We plan to visit some of the heritage tree sites in Calgary and area:
Courthouse cherries (along 7th Avenuue by courthouse downtown)
The Stampede elm (Stampede Grounds)
The Bow Trail sentinel (NE corner of Bow Trail and Crowchild)
Rocky Mountain Douglas-Fir in The Bowness Forest
Colorado Blue Spruce in the Rock Reader Garden
Plains Cottonwood in Crescent Heights Community Centre
Russian Poplars along Burns Trail (west side of Macleod Trail, past 162 Avenue)
Trees in surrounding area:
Siberian Elm in Strathmore
Black Cottonwood in Millarville
Balderson Quarter Section Arboretum in Okotoks
St. James Willow in Okotoks
Black cottonwoods by railway in Okotoks
Poplar alley in High River
Remnants of giant cottonwood in High River
Denning Maple near Black Diamond
“Grande Dame” American Elm in Black Diamond
Boundary Pipe on Grass Land Trail, Kananaskis
We’re also planning to use Jim Foley’s Calgary’s Natural Parks: Yours to Explore as a source for additional outings.
In the fall, we are looking at “more of the same, but different” with some evolution as the ages and interests of the children dictate, mediated by family and life circumstances. On the more formal instruction side, we plan to continue to gently, but consistently, to assist Cinder’s reading journey, and to phase in some routine handwriting exercises for both children.
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