Taproot Teacher Training

2016/2017 marks with sixth year that we have been homeschooling.  I had no idea six years ago how much one simple (ok-it definitely was a not simple or easy) decision would change my life or my children’s lives.  I also had no idea what I was doing!  All I knew was what I did in school as a child.

Over the past five years, we have finally found a style of homeschooling that fits our family.  I cannot give it a name because it is a mix of a multitude of philosophies including Waldorf, Montessori, Charlotte Mason and unschooling.  With that when I read about the Taproot Teacher Training, I was hesitant.

I contacted a fellow blogger and now friend, Sheila from Sure as the World,  about her thoughts on the training.  She said that the training is something that she looks forward to each year even though she does not follow a 100% Waldorf style homeschooling.  Lucky for me, she also was one of the presenters this year.

With Sheila’s recommendation, I headed north to Ohio in route to the Taproot Teacher Training  on August 11th.  My only experience with homeschool conferences was a huge venue with a ton of speakers and a curriculum fair that made my head spin.  Taproot took place in Cuyahoga Valley National Park-a much different scene and feel.  The surroundings were an amazing feature of the program.

With only 25 of us at the program, I got a chance to speak with everyone and learn from so many other people.  The classes that were offered taught me about myself, reminded me of why I enjoy teaching at home, and inspired me to continue on this journey.  My major take-aways from the training included working on our rhythm (we have a terrific morning routine but I need to make some sacred school hours and stick to them), less is more when it comes to curriculum (and to life in general), laughter is vital, music helps with learning and is fun, creativity in learning makes it stick, plan time to plan throughout the year, life is learning, and to show up everyday no matter what (meaning to always come together for school).

I cannot think of another retreat, conference or continuing education event that I have been to that even comes close to the amazing experience I had at Taproot.  It was LIFE CHANGING.  I felt at home with all of the people there and with the environment.  I came home recharged and ready to go.

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Block 2

Believe it or not, we have actually schooled throughout the fall.  Unfortunately, I have not updated my blog on our progress!  Well so far, we have completed 4 blocks.  I plan to get up to date as soon as possible.  Let’s start with block 2!

Block two included shelters, botany and alchemy.  All fun blocks!  Parks worked through his first block on shelters.  For this block, he memorized the poem Here is the House.  He also used this poem as his copy work for the the month.  He learned about the different types of houses around the world and used the different types of house names to practice alphabetical order.  The second week, Parks looked at the different ways that we protect ourselves from the environment. Then he wanted to learn about animal shelters and Native American shelters, so we researched both of these for the remainder of the block.

Sawyer began her education on botany during this block.  We began botany by discussing all of the essential nutrients and life giving elements of the soil and the air.  We discussed the importance of dark and light for plants.  We then went into the parts of a flower and plant nomenclature  Overall, we followed the Charles Kovacs Botany book and followed plant life from the simplest up to the most complex.  Thus, we started by discussing mushrooms/fungi progressed to mosses and ferns and finished with flowering trees.  We watched tulips open and close with the light.  We examined moss under magnifying glasses.  We went to the local nursery and looked at all types of plants.  Overall, we both are looking forward to delve more into the topic of botany in the spring!

Sims’ second block was a favorite.  We ALL enjoyed it.  He studied the history of alchemy and chemistry.  Beginning with the book Alchemy and Chemistry by Stefoff, he learned some important definitions and the journey of field.  From alchemy, we discussed the elements of earth, fire, water and air and some of the most natural chemical reactions-photosynthesis and respiration.  He also used the book Photosynthesis by Silverstein throughout this week. The last two weeks of the block were filled with lab experiments using fire.  We all gathered around candles and the fire pit as Sims worked through his experiments. In preparation for next month, Sims also read “The Alchemist.”

In addition to their main lessons, everyone continued to work through their math-u-see work, spelling, Latin and reading.

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Grade 3 Planning

I am still in the middle of planning but I have finished Grade 3!  Parks, the youngest kiddo, will begin third grade in September.  The themes for third grade that I plan to cover include cooperation and confidence.  Here are his goals (I make the initial goals and he will add more at the beginning of the year):

  1. Find a method for getting thoughts onto paper.
  2. Work independently for 30 minutes.
  3. Understand the concept of multiplication and division and apply to practical life.
  4. Find and utilize effective strategies to reduce anxiety and increase self confidence.
  5. Work in groups effectively.
  6. Investigate how the environment effects the choices made on shelter, food and clothing.

4 weeks Mr. Popper’s Penguins to focus on writing and dictation using Brave Writer.

4 weeks Shelters focusing on how we protect ourselves, different types of human shelters, animal shelters, and Native American shelters

4 weeks on Farmer Boy by Wilder focusing on writing nature studies and dialog using Brave Writer

3 weeks on Giving focusing o being selfless and giving.

4 weeks on creation stories

4 weeks on Where the Mountain Meets the Moon focusing on heroes and writing a journey using Brave Writer

4 weeks on building with a final building project

4 weeks on cooking to focus on practical math and writing commands (recipes)

2-3 weeks on farming with a focus on field trips and hands-on farming

In addition to the blocks, Parks will be working through Daily Math problems, Spell Well spelling, copy work and memory work.  I also plan to have each child present something they are working on every week or every other week to our family or homeschool group (I am still working on this concept).

Getting Out the Planner!

Well, there is no better time than the present to begin planning for next year.  Actually, I have been planning for the past 6 weeks.  Now, I am working on the specifics.  I use ideas from many people on how to plan including: Waldorf Essentials, Waldorf-Inspired Learning, and various other blogs (do a web search on homeschool planning and you will be amazed!).  I am basically using the same method that I used last year.  Overall, I think the method worked well.

First, I decide on my themes for each child.  The themes guide which blocks that I want to cover.  Second, I make goals for each child for the year.  (I also have the kids make up goals for the year but we do that at the beginning of the school year.)

In the next step, I take the themes, goals and typical grade-appropriate Waldorf blocks to decide what blocks to consider.  I decide on 9 themes/blocks.  Then I get to work looking for books, activities, poems, copywork, etc that will support each block.  Last year, we focused on grammar in our language arts.  This year, we plan to focus on writing using the grammar learned last year.  Once I develop the blocks and the monthly plans, I break everything up into weeks.  I do not make daily plans because our weeks change each month.

I plan to make weekly work plans in my final step.  I am not there yet, but I am close.  I think that I have all of my curriculum planned out and purchased except for one.  I will write on the specifics for each child in the next couple of weeks.  For now, I am still planning.  If you see me, then you will probably see this:

How is your planning going?

Main Lessons

I recently had a question about main lessons-what are they/what does that mean? We are eclectic homeschoolers.  I would not call us unschoolers because my kiddos definitely follow “a plan,” but the plan is fairly open with some requirements.  Daily math, spelling and reading are requirements.  In addition to these subjects, we work through other interests and subjects in blocks.  Insert main lessons!

I use Melisa Nielsen’s Waldorf Essential’s program loosely.  I read the curriculum for each grade and each year.  Then I divide the subjects into blocks.  I really love the way Waldorf works with the developmental stage of the child.  Every child delves into age-appropriate worlds filled with history, lessons, science and folklore.

Each child has a main lesson book.  In the past, we used nice sketch books.  This year, we tried actual Waldorf main lesson books with one blank page and one lined page.  The books are very nice, but we all decided that we like the sketch books more.

So the steps we take are:

1. Read a story.

2. Discuss a creative avenue to depict the story

3. Draw a border around the page (this makes it less intimidating than having a blank page.  the border is also a terrific place to practice form drawings)

4. Create with either paints, pencils, crayons, sculpt or cook (if we do something that cannot be “put” into the book, then we take a picture of it and paste it into the book)

5. After at least 24 hours(this allows the story/information to sit with the child), we write out a summary of the story on the same page as the picture.  The summary also includes a good bit of discussion and how the story relates to each of us.  This is by far, my favorite part of Waldorf lessons.

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At the end of the year, the main lesson book serves as a terrific portfolio of the lessons.  I must say that I really cherish these books.  The kids love looking through their old books as well.  The main lessons comprise the majority of our homeschool time and energy besides being outside!

2014-2015 Year End Wrap up: Fourth Grade

The 2014-2015 school year proved to be a fun year FILLED with activities.  The three kiddos finished up grades 2, 4, and 6.  I reviewed our grade 2 plans in my last post.  Today, I will look back at fourth grade.  I have to admit that I love teaching fourth grade (which is even funnier because my mom was a fourth grade teacher).  Now I made excellent and achievable goals for my second grader but I didn’t do as well with my fourth grader.  Below are the goals that I set for her for fourth grade.

Sawyer (fourth grade): 1) Independent with writing a well-thought out and planned paragraph 2) increase in critical thinking  3) increase awareness of cause and effect 4) time management skills 5)Begin vocabulary 6) Learn organization skills essential to learning

Sawyer rocked the first goal and wrote not just a well thought out paragraph, but she wrote a fascinating, fun-filled paper on wolves.  Unfortunately when she went to write the final draft, she couldn’t find the rough draft-goal number 6.  I am thrilled that my dad and I both were able to proof read her paper. She “taught” about wolf behaviors, habitats, and life through a narrative that was fun to read and kept me engaged through the whole paper.  We tried using clip boards, our travel bags, folders……nothing has worked yet for her.  We will keep trying! Sawyer also did demonstrate critical thinking skills and increased awareness of cause and effect. She also started learning vocabulary.  Time management definitely improved but is far from mastered.

Onto the fun parts-curriculum:

Spelling: Sawyer is a strong speller.  Thus, I did not focus a lot of time on a spelling curriculum but more on spelling in her main lessons.  She worked through book C of Apples and Pears.  Her favorite part of the series is the sentence writing (which is the exact opposite of the boys).

Grammar:  We chose Growing with Grammar this year for grammar practice.  The fourth grade book is slightly different from the second grade books.  Sawyer had a lesson book and a workbook.  The lessons were short and could be read in a few minutes.  The workbook did an excellent job mixing up the type of practice.  After each lesson, the student completes two pages in the workbook.  You know that I am not a big workbook lover, but in this case-everyone was content.  No one really complained about grammar.  It was very straight forward and well explained.

Math:  Sawyer loathes math.  I am not sure why because she is fairly good at it.  She does not feel confident on her math skills but she  does well.  For her main math lessons, she used Teaching Textbooks level 4. She also did a couple of the Life Of Fred books.  She does love Life of Fred.  I am hoping to help increase her confidence in her math skills over the summer.

Main Lessons: We followed the Waldorf Essentials fourth grade curriculum for the most part pulling in the appropriate resources as needed.  She learned geography terms, NC geography and history, man/animal studies, the Norse myths, geology and multiplication.  All of the main lessons were fun and thought-provoking.  Together, Sawyer and I found amazing literature to read about each main lesson.  We also really lucked out with a few local class offerings that taught about the Catawba Indians (a Native American tribe who inhabited our area) and about NC history.

Enrichment: As with Parks, Sawyer took a lot of classes this year.  She took classes in wildlife biology, adventure journaling (following the methods of Lewis and Clark), gymnastics, violin, African drumming, horse back riding, archery, fencing, and art.  She also worked on knitting, sewing and whittling  throughout the year.

Sawyer grew up a lot this year.  I love watching her develop into a beautiful (on the inside and out) young lady.  I look forward to next year and to seeing what she  accomplishes!

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No Curriculum Required

No Curriculum Required

Around here it is the time to look at curriculums, schools and plans for next year.  This time of year always gets me thinking.  Are we in a good spot?

Are the kids learning new information? how to learn?

Are the kids happy?

Are they engaged?

For the first time ever since I became the parent of school aged kids, I am content.  Yes, we are in a terrific spot.  We are not stuck on curriculum.  Life is learning.  When the kids are interested in something, they go with it.  They delve into the subject finding out all that they need.  They laugh daily. They argue daily.  They are learning so much more than information in books.  They are learning about being a good neighbor and citizen, nature, being a good friend, being a loving sibling, emotions, cooking, health, money, reading, math, and being a teacher.  They are engaged in life.  They plan.  They make goals.  All of the important information that they are learning comes from life.  No curriculum can teach all of this.

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