Thursday, March 14, 2013

Questions and Answers



Again, I want to tell you all how much I appreciated your lovely comments on my anniversary post. They meant a great deal to me! I want to give honorable mention to Kim’s poem, which put a huge smile on my face. Seriously, I have fantabulous readers who compose nice poems about Mt. Hope Chronicles. Am I blessed, or what?!

A Rhyme for Heidi:
You're my top resource
for homeschool ideas... and books of course!
Your online curriculum discourse
I heartily endorse.
So I'll say till I'm hoarse
"Make Mt. Hope Chronicles your source!"
Said with force,
Visiting your blog almost daily for 4 years

Several readers had questions that I want to address, as well. I’ll do my best to answer them! 


Katie said: “I really really want to learn how to diagram a sentence!”

(Okay, that isn’t really a question, but I can’t resist a sentence diagramming plea!)


I think I’ll have to start a new sentence diagramming series on my blog, because I want to share the joy! But maybe this will help you get started. (I added a more complicated diagram at the bottom in case anyone needs something more challenging. A prepositional phrase can be either adjectival or adverbial, so place the preposition diagonally below the word it modifies. Interjections and nouns of direct address float on a line above the subject.):




Erica asked: “Are there required reading books for your boys? Do they absolutely have to read a certain number or certain titles? Do you have any kind of incentive program for them to read difficult books? Or, can they just choose whatever is available of the general subject matter?”


I’m not sure how to answer that one, honestly. I do have a few books I would require for the two older boys, but it has never really come down to an “I know you don’t want to read this book, but you must” sort of thing because they generally read whatever I give them. Some of the major history-based literature would be at the top of the list (such as retellings of the Iliad and Odyssey). But I work hard to find appealing versions, and often several different versions of the important books. If they struggled with any particular title that I considered a “must read,” I would try reading it aloud (which, I confess, is not something I get around to nearly often enough) or getting an audio version. I’d have no trouble requiring them to listen (while playing quietly) whether or not they enjoy the book.

Most often, I have a feast of books spread on a large ottoman in our front room at any given time. The books include current selections from various subjects such as science, math, history, geography, and literature. The boys usually pick up books on their own, but sometimes I’ll hand them one and say “read this.” I go through the books every week or so and ask the boys what they’ve read and what they haven’t. They catch up on the books they’ve missed, and then I refresh the stacks. Sounds super organized, right? (Not.)

To be clear, I definitely have different expectations for each of the boys. I don’t expect Luke to read the more difficult chapter books (but I may encourage it—he is more likely to comply if I only suggest one chapter at a time). Leif pretty much reads whatever he wants, and skips what doesn’t interest him (though I should be expecting more from him). I figure that they read so much in general that it is unreasonable for me to expect them to finish a book that they truly dislike or simply can’t get into, especially for Levi who will read almost anything. I’d feel differently if I had a child who turned up his nose at many of the books I selected or struggled with confidence.

Incentive programs aren’t really our thing simply because it takes too much to keep track of them. Ha! I do think that the two younger boys are motivated by incentives (especially my middle son), and I wouldn’t be against them if we needed a little nudge at some point. Leif in particular is stubborn about reading new books (he re-reads familiar titles or series). I find that requiring him to read a couple pages aloud to me works well. He enjoys the one-on-one time with me, and it helps him get into a new book. I also know parents who read aloud just until a book gets exciting and then leave it lying about to tempt reluctant readers.

I’m not sure that helps much, because I understand I’m in a different position from many parents. My main approach is to spread a large feast of captivating quality books along a wide range of subjects (though usually integrated with our current studies) and not worry about it too much as long as they are reading.


Jaime asked: i've always wondered what russ does for a living. you might've told us, but i forget. what do you love most about your life? what is your favorite strength? you least favorite weakness?



When my husband and I first got together (almost eighteen years ago!), he was a teacher and a swim coach/pool director. He was teaching at an alternative school when we got married, and it was miserable. Then he taught one year of middle school math and science, and it was even more miserable (which I didn’t think possible). He changed careers and went to school for computer networking. It was a great choice for him (although technology can often be as testy as a hormonal adolescent).

Currently he is a computer systems engineer. He conducts technical demonstrations for mobile and end-point (desktops, laptops, and servers) management software. (Do you understand that? I don’t, which is why I don’t talk about his job much. Ha!!) The company he works for specializes in antivirus and client management software. He commutes to a near-by city three days a week and works from home two days. He occasionally has week-long business trips out of state.

Over the years, he has also done a large amount of independent consulting for all sorts of businesses (trucking companies, dentists, furniture stores, charter schools, fast food restaurants, lawyers, retirement homes, meat distributors, you-name-it). Whatever they need done, if it has something to do with technology, he does it. He also comes to the rescue of countless private individuals. He could work 24 hours a day and still never run out of computer projects.

And, he helps coach for the boys’ swim club a few afternoons a week (year-round). He swims during the first hour while Levi is swimming and then coaches during the second hour while Luke is swimming. Right now Leif is taking swim lessons during the first hour two days a week as well, so swimming is a big father-son activity.

So he burns the candle at both ends, works weekends, and spends all spare moments with the kids (he often takes them when he is running errands or even when visiting personal consulting clients, and they love to watch shows together like Mythbusters, How It’s Made, and How Things Work). He loves to read when he gets a chance. He likes science fiction. He fixes everything—if he doesn’t know how, he researches online and then digs in. He replaces the brakes on the cars, tackles transmissions, tears apart the washing machine to find out what’s wrong…nothing intimidates him. He is a non-sequential, non-traditional, really smart, hard-working, out-of-the-box sort of guy.

Ohmygoodness, I’m only on question #2 out of 4. I’d better speed this up. What I love most about my life? Family. Absolutely. I love my husband and kids. I love having the most awesome extended family on the planet—and living close to them. My parents. My sisters and brothers-in-law. My nieces and nephew. I love our spontaneous get-togethers and our traditional holidays. My husband has a little different background, but he has parents that sort of adopted him when he was in high school. They live close by and are some of my favorite people. They are wonderfully supportive of us and treat us so well. I love spending time with them! My best friend of more than twenty years (who married Russ’s best friend) lives just down the road, has two kids the same ages as my oldest two, and we do a bunch together. They are like family. Beyond that, I have a really fantastic community of friends. The two major (and overlapping) close communities are my book club (which I started with some long-time family friends and we have been going for nine years!!) and Classical Conversations (which includes family, close friends, and really special new friends). I am so blessed!

My attempt at speeding this up didn’t work. Let’s try again. What is my favorite strength? That is so much harder to answer than weakness, but I would say my favorite strength is that I am kind. And loyal. And dependable. My least favorite weakness is much easier to answer. I HATE that I struggle so much with self-discipline because it causes problems in every area of my life!! I also hate that I have a tendency to interrupt people when talking one-on-one or in small groups where I’m comfortable. I talk about myself waaaay too much. I also wish I were more adventurous and willing to get outside my comfort zone more often.


Jessica Stock asked: I have a question I wonder if you could blog about sometime: first, how/when do you prepare the materials you will need for each week? Do you know ahead of time what books you want to use, or do you pick them off the shelf at the library? Do you take the kids along when you go to the library? And then, how/ where do you keep your materials so they are available? I am only homeschooling one first grader and I can't imagine when we get to three how I will keep track of all of the books, cds, papers, etc!


Well, this is one area that is a struggle for me. I am great at planning the bigger-picture details, but not at weekly planning and prep. Luckily, most of our curricula is either open-and-go or snuggle-on-the-couch-and-read-together style. I do look ahead in our history book and pick corresponding books off of our shelf or put books on hold at the library. This isn’t a formal process, though, and it’s one I enjoy. I do try to get some specific books from Amazon or the library, but I also just grab what is available on a subject. When something catches my eye at the library (I always scan the new books), I grab it—even if it isn’t exactly what I had planned or is on a topic we aren’t studying. I prefer to search the library online and put books on hold when I’m looking for something specific. I usually have the kids with me, so it is much easier to take a stack of books off of the hold shelf and then quickly scan the new books display. Library visits aren’t very productive when Lola is along.

Right now we haven’t been working down in our studio as much (my husband has been working from home and is using the space), so I keep most of our work handy in our main living space. I have a crate behind the couch that holds most of our main curricula. The books I want the boys to choose from for independent reading are stacked on a large ottoman by the couch. I have a bookshelf under the bar in our kitchen with bins of school supplies. Another crate holds our books for CC Essentials so that it can be transported back and forth. BUT, I am still drowning in piles of books and paper mess everywhere. Dealing with that, and coming up with systems, is one of my main goals for the next couple weeks. I’ll let you know how it goes!

I’d like to say that my approach to weekly or daily planning, organization, and implementation is very organic in style, but the reality is that I’m just lazy.




I just re-read my answers and I rambled all over the place. I wish I had magical systems of planning and organizing (or getting children to read) to share with you, but I don’t.


Does anyone have any other questions or curiosities? Maybe I’ll do a video interview next time to push myself out of my comfort zone. GASP!


jeana said...

I could've answered the strengths and weakness question exactly the same. I am in awe of your family/friend relationships. I really wish we had that in our lives. I have such a hard time pulling myself together and getting things done! I appreciate your honesty and your blog. It helps me know I'm not alone, and helps me make decisions with school, which can be so overwhelming!

Karen said...

I am wanting to make the leap from Jump Math (Canadian) to TT. I don't like math and my little guy who is in grade three but just finished his grade 5 math book is now in math that is stumping me(or at least taking waay to much time to figure out)
When I did research on TT I have read it is behind and that the kids don't test well in higher grades so TT doesn't prepare them. I have always respected your reviews and choices-thoughts??

Jessica Stock said...

I really enjoyed reading these! And thank-you for answering my questions! Very helpful.

Katie said...

My daughters and I are diving into the wonderful world of diagramming this week, and along came your answer to my "question"! I think you are succeeding quite well at your mission. I find your blog inspiring and encouraging. Thank you!