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Day 180 – Last Day of School

I am really having a hard time comprehending the title of this blog post. Day 180. The last day of school. We have come a long way since that very first day when I didn’t even have the date straight! Okay, I still don’t have the date straight half the time…but after turning in our grades and archiving everything we have learned for the year, it is evident that the girls–all of us–really have come so far.

This year was difficult at times. This year tested my patience. This year left me overcommitted and stretched thin. But this year was also a gift. It was a year with no regrets. Which, really, in itself is a rare blessing.

To celebrate, we had a party. The girls wanted to invite other homeschoolers, but I really wanted to keep it just us girls–the way we started that first morning. I remember that day, and the next, and that whole first week. When I knew that I must, somehow, facilitate 180 days of learning for the girls to meet the legal requirement to homeschool. That was daunting.

Yet here we are, at the very end of this year’s journey.

We celebrated By painting our fingernails…

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Eating ice cream sundaes…

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Listening to audiobooks… (HAHAHA! You are still learning at your own party! SUCKAS!)

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And having a dance party.

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Yes, we are SUCH dorks.

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Yes, that IS a parakeet on the couch.

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And at the end of our day, I had a notebook full of thousands of moments, and also, tears of gratitude. This blog has forced me to record everything we have done… to distill every day until one moment stands out like gold. Something to write about. Something to remember. Something that would have been lost, but is now our treasure.

I wanted to document our year, but I also wanted to help. I wanted someone who was searching for homeschooling ideas to see that a newbie could do it. Well? Here we are. With all of our mistakes and all of our triumphs.

But, it is done. And…this blog has served its purpose. Although I will keep it alive, I will not post every single day next year. It took me (on average) 3-4 hours a day to maintain the blog. I look forward to putting those hours into these growing girls as I also try to finish strong in my last year of undergrad.

And speaking of growing girls, would ya look at these two?

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Rising 3rd and 5th graders. Legally graduated to the next grade. But more importantly, empathetic, persistent, strong, and kind. And, they are mine. Thank you for letting me share them with you. Thank you for letting me throw out every mundane moment of every day. THANK YOU for responding with encouragement. It has meant more than you will ever know.

See you next year!

-FPO

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Day 179 – Tutorial Tuesday: What about…GRADES?

So, do you remember, in the beginning…when I said we were schooling with NO tests, NO curriculum, and NO grades??

Welllllll. I might have been a little bit wrong about that. It turns out that in fact, yes, our umbrella school DOES require grades. I found out about this at Christmas, when they sent me an email asking for semester grades. WHOOPS. I kind of panicked.

First, let me back up and explain some of Tennessee’s homeschooling options. I might be missing some, but these were the options I knew about when we plunged in.

  1. You can sign your child up through the state and use public school curriculum at home. Your child still must be tested as every other public school child is tested.
  2. You can sign your child up under a homeschool umbrella program that acts as a liaison between you and the state. Many of these sill require testing.
  3. You can sign your child up with the Farm School, which makes YOUR HOUSE a “satellite campus,” and technically, NOT a homeschool. You can use any curriculum (or not curriculum) you want, because YOU are the teacher at this particular satellite campus. And, because The Farm School is a private school, it is exempt from state testing requirements and therefore, so are you.

Because I DID NOT WANT TO TEST, I chose option #3. But I also really, really didn’t want to give grades. And when I got that email it was a huge bummer.

But thenI realized something very important. The required grades do not actually have to be “letter” grades. All they want to know is that the girls were learning something.

The Farm School gives a “pass/fail” option, as well as the option to mark the child’s grade as “excellent,” “satisfactory,” etc. I didn’t like the sound of pass/fail. My girls worked hard all year and enjoyed learning. They did more than just “pass.” So I decided to use the excellent-to-poor scale as my system of measurement. For older students, or for people keeping more rigorous records, there is still the option to enter letter grades.

Sidenote: I think grades are SO ABSOLUTELY arbitrary. Who is anyone really measured against anyway? What do any of our “grades” actually mean? If a teacher gives a super easy test, and the student gets an “A,” how is that the same as a student who receives an “A,” on a very difficult test?

I know they are trying to fix this with the Common Core…but what about college? There is no Common Core in college that I know of.

So back to our grades.

You might be wondering how this works. First, the Farm School instructed us to register at a website called Homeschool Reporting. Here I was able to register classes for each of the girls, record their attendance (180 days, y’all!), and enter their grades.

You might be thinking, “But how did you decide what classes to enter grades for? Don’t you count almost everything as learning??”

Well, yes. But nearly everything we are learning can be classified in broader terms. For example, planting rain gardens falls under Community Service, baking cupcakes counts toward Home Economics, and reading thousands of pages together this year counts toward English and Literature. On the website, there are a bunch of preset class options in a drop-down menu, and I just chose a few broad subjects keeping a mental note of what we did that would fit that category.

Then I gave the girls and “E” for every.single.thing. Because you know what? They didn’t learn about anything they didn’t WANT to learn about, so they pretty much excelled at whatever they tried to learn. Follow me? Unschooling is a beautiful thing:)

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Attendance and Grades

This is just a very quick overview of what we wound up submitting, and what a finished transcript looks like. This website was NOT user friendly. So if you ever decide to homeschool, and you ever decide to go this route, please call me/contact me/FIND ME and I will absolutely help you.

You do not need to panic. Everything will be fine. I actually never entered grades at the end of Christmas, and no one came knocking on my door accusing us of truancy. But today I entered them all, for both semesters.

I’m glad I waited until the end of the year to enter grades for ALL of the subjects, and this is why:

At the beginning of the school year I bought a planner. I only used the FIRST page of that planner, and now I cannot return it because it is used, and I cannot sell it because it is not 1997, and no one (except for me, apparently) buys paper planners. But my homeschool journal? Filled nearly to the end with everything we did this year.

As I flipped through my journal and remembered all of the many ways the girls have been learning this year, it hit me anew. This retroactive indexing of what we have already learned is what unschooling is all about. I couldn’t have planned out a better year or stuck to it if I had tried. We followed our curiosity, and we made enough discoveries to fill a notebook–and as far as the State of Tennessee is concerned, it is all legit!

And now we have arrived at my favorite part of this blog post. This is something I’ve been thinking about ever since I entered our grades. This is just a sampling of our year:

See? Isn’t that so much better than grades?

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Day 178 – Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day, but we did school anyway. Partly because I really want to finish in a timely manner, and partly because I thought studying Memorial Day would be a great opportunity for learning–so why not do “school?”

I asked the girls if they had any idea why we celebrate “Memorial Day” in the first place, and neither of them really knew. When I explained that it had to do with soldiers, and war, they began to understand. Amelie asked me if it was the day they celebrated at public school, where they would bring in information about a veteran in the family. I told her that she was thinking of Veteran’s Day, and that it is a separate holiday with a different purpose.

Josh and I explained that while Veteran’s Day celebrates all veteran’s, Memorial Day is actually set apart to honor those who died in action. I read to them about the origins of Memorial Day, about how it began shortly after the Civil War, and that it was first called Decoration Day because people would decorate the graves of the Union soldiers.

Although it is a day set aside to remember those who have died, we wanted to share with the girls some of their own family history, and so we talked about Josh’s grandad and my two grandfathers and their roles in War World II.

Josh’s grandad, Howard Galusha, was an aircraft mechanic, and worked on the very famous (or maybe infamous) Enola Gay. My dad’s dad, Edward Paris Sr., served as an auto mechanic.

My mom’s dad, Martin Alfano, was an Italian American sent to fight IN Italy, where he would meet (and inadvertently terrify) my Italian grandmother as she collected apples in an orchard. When he tried to speak to her, she ran away, spilling all of the apples she onto the ground. He won her family and their trust by sneaking cigarettes and gum to their apartment. And eventually, he won my grandmother, married her in Italy, and my mother was born there in Napoli in 1945.

Grandpa Alfano fought in the battles of Normandy, North Africa, Sicily, Corsica, and France. He received the Purple Heart and FIVE Bronze Stars for wounds received in enemy action in 1943. Bronze Stars “may be awarded for acts of heroism, acts of merit, or meritorious service in a combat zone.” One of Grandpa Alfano’s duties was to carry deceased soldiers off of the battle ground. We told the girls, that these were most likely his friends and people that he knew–just like they have friends that they know and love.

As is the case for all parents, it is difficult for Josh and I to discuss war with the girls. Nevertheless, we talked about how horrific war is, about how people do not come back the same, and about how sometimes, even seemingly “good” countries fight “bad” wars for very, very wrong reasons. We talked about how any war is an awful thing, but how tyranny and killing people based on ethnicity is absolutely evil, and that our grandfathers were brave and honorable to serve and fight for justice.

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From L to R: Howard Galusha, Edward Paris Sr., and Martin Alfano

Later that day, we went to visit our friends who have recently moved to the Whites Creek area. They have two very precious little boys. The morning was kind of heavy as we discussed war and sin and pain, so it was a relief to be able to see friends and to enjoy a beautiful spot on the creek.

When the oldest brother was just a wee baby, we used to watch him at our house once a week. I’m not sure if he really remembers that, but I certainly do, and he will always have a special place in our hearts! Look at Amelie feeding him–she isn’t much bigger herself!

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Now he is almost FIVE!

Look at him and Amelie now (and the papas in the background)…she’s bigger, but not big enough for those flippers!

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We had fun getting to know little brother too, who was content to stand in the creek for a long, long time. Those teeny tiny specks are Sera and Amelie, WAY upstream!

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Thank you so much for having us, and for sharing the holiday with our family!

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Day 177 -ENHA Party at Open Play

Today was our last Open Play of the year with the East Nashville Homeschool Association. Of course, we had a party. Now that the girls are so adept at baking, I deemed all potluck contributions to be their responsibility. They chose to bake cupcakes and to use our strawberries.

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I told Sera to write down “what’s in the cupcakes” so that people with allergies or food restrictions would be aware of the ingredients. She took my suggestion very literally, and made this sign that included every single ingredient.

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She is so sweet. And so were the cupcakes!

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Day 176 – Farm Chores and the Agrarian Life

Today was Josh’s first morning back, so he went outside to check on all of the garden beds, the chickens, the fruit trees, and the berry bushes. We needed to do a lot of weeding and harvesting, so we had the girls help us. IMG_8530 IMG_8529 IMG_8536 Not long ago, families lived like this. Farming together, working together. I know that as a society we place an enormous amount of value on education. I too value education, but I also don’t believe that education is limited to a classroom. As a family, we are considering small scale farming. Josh has been studying independently and gardening for years now (despite having a college degree in a totally different area), and we are thinking about acquiring the necessary land to take it to the next level. We want the girls to prepare now for the level of involvement that would be required of them. This means that we expect them to help with the outside chores. While Josh was gone I had them collect eggs, feed chickens, pick strawberries, and water the garden. They are capable. And they are learning so much in the process. I think it’s sad that we are churning out highly “educated” kids with college degrees who are having trouble getting hired anywhere anyway. Meanwhile, we have stopped encouraging trade professions like plumbing or mechanic work. And as for farming? Well, “200 years ago, 90% of the population farmed; today it is less than 2%.” What if we encouraged our sons and daughters to farm? Maybe, just maybe we could take agriculture out of the hands of the corporation, and put it back into the hands of the farmer. The farmer who knows the ecology of his place, the health of his soil, and needs of each of his animals. I’m not sure what field the girls will want to go into. Right now, we are training them in the family business that we are building, and that is farming. Perhaps they will want to do something else–and that will be fine. But I think that the foundation they are building by working together with our family–that is, learning about the land, the business side of whatever we decide to sell (we are still researching and working that out), and what it takes to run a small business will be invaluable for them, whatever they choose to do. They are already tasting (literally) some of the sweet rewards of farming. IMG_8516 IMG_8520 Later that day, I asked the girls to process the mulberries we had picked so that Josh could make jam. This was very tedious and involved picking the stems off of each individual mulberry…but they stuck with it. IMG_8563 IMG_8558 IMG_8548 And the result was delicious! IMG_8709

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Today was a double whammy for field trips.

First, we headed to the downtown library with a couple of friends. We started out in the cafe for a treat and coffee for mama.

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Then we headed for the library theater.

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Amelie sat in story time with the rest of us, but Sera (feeling a little too old for puppets and rainbow songs) just sat in the children’s section and read.

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Eventually we all came out of the theater, and the littles read together while my friend Alison and I perused the books.

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Alison had found the audio book of Winnie the Pooh, and since one of the narrators was Judy Dench (amazing!) I decided to check out a copy. The narration of these stories is EXCELLENT. And I never knew that Winnie the Pooh wasn’t just a story for babies. Josh was laughing as we listened to it together after I brought it home. In typical british fashion, it is sweet for the children, but clever enough for adults, too.

We are also listening to Around the World in 80 Days, narrated by Jim Dale (my absolute favorite narrator), and the Redwall series. We LOVE audio books!

Later in the afternoon, we headed to the big kick off for our East Nashville Farmer’s Market. It is at a new location this year, and I LOVE it. The old location was a little bit small (or maybe that’s just the Californian talking–I’m used to big farmer’s markets) but the new location reminds me a LOT of the Templeton farmer’s market. Plus it is closer to our house.

The girls wanted to see the petting zoo animals first. This was the softest bunny ever.

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The girls were excited to see an alpaca after we were just reading about carding their wool.

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Sera really liked the alpaca.

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Okay, Sera LOVED the alpaca.

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But they also loved the ice cream, the peaches, and the handmade corn tortillas that we scored from the market this afternoon. You can see pictures of the day we were at the market on the ENFM website!

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Day 174 – Mulberry Picking

This morning I tried to get something off of my messy pantry shelf and couldn’t handle it one second longer. It MUST be rearranged. So while Amelie folded clothes and listened to Harry Potter on audio, I got to work.

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Meanwhile, Sera sat outside and wrote a play.

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I got my shelf in working order, and I was really happy with how it turned out.

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But suddenly (it seemed) the day was almost over and I had to bring a letter to the Post Office before it closed. I was disappointed that we hadn’t done anything really meaningful, or gone on a field trip when that is what I had meant to do.

However, the Post Office proved to be more of an event than we had anticipated. When we got in the car to leave the P.O., we noticed these ALL over the parking lot next to our car:

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The tree I had parked beneath for shade was a MULBERRY! The girls were so excited, as mulberry picking is one of their favorite activities. We didn’t have a basket or a bag or anything. We did, however, have the lid to Amelie’s Kaboodle-type rainbow loom storage container. Eh. It worked.

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We picked FIVE cups of mulberries in 20 minutes. An older gentleman asked me what we were picking, and when I told him, he got so excited remembering a mulberry tree that grew nearby him when he was a child. He said he didn’t realize you could just “pick and eat” the ones right there at the Post Office, and then said, “You’re never too old to learn something new.”  I’m also homeschooling the elderly now;)

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Yes, we could have arranged to drive 30 minutes to go berry picking at a farm. Or we could get them five minutes away, where they would have otherwise gone to waste on the ground. Thanks, East Nashville Post Office, for the unplanned field trip that saved the day!

 

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Day 173 – Girl Time and a Field Trip to McKay

The second I got back from my retreat (well, nearly the second) Josh left to go on a 4-day trip to the beach with a couple of his friends.

When I left for my retreat, I left zero instructions regarding the children, food, or the house. When Josh left, he left me a page-long instructional sheet with bullet points about the garden. I hope I don’t kill anything.

With Josh gone, and our routine a bit disrupted, I thought it would be fun to try to do a field trip every day.

Today we wanted to go to McKay to trade in some of our old books for some new (used) books. But before we left, I had the girls help out with some of the house chores–including picking strawberries:

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And making fresh mayonnaise:

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Once we were done, we went to McKay. We only had a couple of old books to trade in, but we still got $10 dollars in store credit, which was enough for all of us to get a book or two!

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I’ve been slowly building our Audubon Society Field Guide library. Today I found the Amphibian and Reptile field guide! I don’t think I’ve ever come away from McKay empty-handed. And it was a nice way to make the time go by while Josh is away.

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I was out of town for the weekend, so Josh took over the homeschooling duties. I have written before about how Josh “taking over” parenting duties doesn’t make him a super dad, it just makes him a dad. We are both parents. The duties are 100% equally both of ours. If I go out at night, or even for days at a time for work, it’s not any different than if Josh goes out, or if Josh goes to work. So while I was gone, Josh conducted regular lessons. And he and Amelie also made jam with the strawberries that he grew: photo IMG_8706 And kale chips with the kale that he grew: IMG_8717 IMG_8722 So basically, Josh is ready for his own mom blog now. Just kidding. See above. ;) Meanwhile, Sera was riding the excursion train out of Donelson with a friend. train Between the lessons, the cooking, and the train field trip, I’d say they had a pretty great unschool-y weekend. And I’d also say that dad is showing me up, just a wee bit. *If you are interested in making your own jam, it is an easy refrigerator jam recipe from the book, Put ‘Em Upthat I gave Josh for Christmas. Unknown The basic recipe is very easy:

  • 8 cups of berries
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 1/4 cup of lemon juice.

Directions:

  1. Mix the berries and the sugar and let them soak overnight together in the fridge
  2. Boil the berries down with the lemon juice
  3. Refrigerate

Enjoy! I sure did:)

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Day 171 – Tutorial Tuesday: Field Day

Ah, Field Day.

The elementary school tradition that has kids tying their ankles together with rope, throwing burlap sacks over their bare legs, and hula-hooping in a never ending standoff. Seriously though, do not underestimate a tween girl with a hula hoop. I have seen this myself. They had to call a tie because those girls would have hula-ed FOREVER. While also staring each other down. It was intense.

Personally, Field Day brings up feelings of anxiety and inadequacy for the artsy and awkward child that I was trying to compete in an Ag-town full of athletes. In dusty Atascadero. In 1,000 degree weather.

But somehow, I have found myself volunteering at every one of the girls’ field day celebrations for the last several years. And THEY LOVE IT, so I guess that is all that matters.

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This was our first tutorial Field Day, and while it felt mostly the same as every other Field Day (the games, the blazing sun, the incredible amount of child sweat), there were a couple of differences.

First of all, between rotation on the field, a few classes at a time were allowed to come into the gym to enjoy popcorn, popsicles, face paint, and a bounce house. This was AWESOME. I helped with the popcorn. This was also awesome because the gym was air-conditioned. I picked the absolute right place to volunteer.

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Second, there were still 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place ribbons.

This made it infinitely more fun for Sera (who won several) and infinitely more sad for Amelie (who won one ribbon). At their old school, there were just participatory ribbons. I’m not really entrenched in the “children these days don’t know what competition is” camp, but I think competition does have its place. And personally, I felt that the place ribbons made Field Day more exciting and enjoyable.

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Sera proudly displayed her ribbons on her bulletin board as soon as we got home. The top row displays her tutorial ribbons from this year. It was really sweet because the station leaders wrote their names and the activity on the back of each ribbon. The bottom row shows her participation ribbons for her previous field days.

All in all, Field Day felt fun and exciting with a healthy dose of competition. It was one of the first that I’ve enjoyed in years, and look forward to it again next year!

 

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