Saturday, December 31, 2016

Ruminating On 2016

I sit here staring aimlessly at this blank screen and it's waiting, staring back at me. Anxiously waiting for my words to strike the keyboard, to run across the screen, to tell the story of my year.

Yet all I can do is sit and stare. Wonder how on earth I reflect on such a year. How does one do that? Look back and reflect on a year filled with so much loss, so much sadness, so much death, so much grief within me.

If I'm honest with myself I have been reflecting on this year every single day for the past four or so months but now that it comes time to actually write something, to put these reflections into words I'm at a loss. So I'll just let my fingers do the talking and see where it takes me.

I remember many years ago learning about pivotal moments in our lives. Those big times when things happen to us, times that change us. We are stretched, turned upside, poked and prodded and often wrung out to dry. Those moments, that when living through them, you wonder how you will ever come out the other side.

They're the pivotal moments, they're the ones that have made us who we are today. The moments of tremendous change, moments were we can never go back to the way we were before. Looking back this entire year has been one huge pivotal moment in time for my life. It will always remain that year that I was experiencing the 'worst year of my life'.

However now that I can sit here having come through the wringer and am out on the other side I can see glimpses of the positive that has come from this years experiences. Even the worst of them.

Don't get me wrong I am so utterly, deeply saddened with the loss that I've experienced this year but each day now does come a little easier. The fog is less thick, the tears are lighter. Although they still fall frequently, they are a more gentle, more peaceful release of grief that I know needs to flow for as long as it is inside me.

Thinking about my friend, my confidant, my homeschool partner in crime is still very painful. The participation of being there watching her little by little die before my eyes, and having absolutely zero control over any of it was an excruciating experience to say the least. Although one I was so honoured to be a part of. For quite some time during those moments in her last few months I was frantic, unknowingly at the time hoping that every little thing I did, every little thing I could control or at least tried to control would save her but in the end all I could do was surrender to the understanding that I had zero control over any of it.

None of us have any real control over the vast majority of things that happen to us and around us and yet we spend our lives as if we do.

The only thing we have control over is how we react to these situations, these completely out of control moments, where we feel the world and life itself is senseless.

And so as I reflect and search from the positives in the situation 'letting go of control' has to play the prominent role here.

Whilst I didn't write about my Father's sudden and unexpected passing that occurred the morning following my friends funeral, here on the blog, it literally turned my entire existence upside down. And in reality I'm still not in a place where I can articulate all that I am feeling from not only losing my dad, but losing him so suddenly and during a time that I was already experiencing so much grief.

I can only share the poem I wrote not long after he passed.

Punched in the face
Wound pouring with blood
Throbbing, writhing, pain

A machine spin cycle
Locked inside, no escape
Spinning, whirring, pain

Pounding waves
Flinging you from the cliff
Falling, screaming, pain

A raging giant
Angry at the world
Slamming, throwing, pain

Inferno’s heat
A never ending burning
Blistering, searing, pain

An unfathomable well
Crawling, but with no escape
Gloomy, weeping pain

No peace
No quiet
No stillness
Complicated overwhelming pain

That pretty much sums it all up and at times even four months on it is still where I am at. But that's ok, grief is a personal process with no timeline and no real ending. It is and always will be different for everyone.

Just three short months after the passing of my friend our family also lost my husbands Grandfather. To say that my children have experienced their fair share of life's blows this past year is an understatement. 

Three funerals for three people that they all loved and shared a great deal of time with, in the exact same funeral house within three months. They are certainly well and truly versed in the meaning of death, watching death, trying to cope with death and in the ins and outs of the events that occur following a death.

It's been tough for them but at the same time I do choose to see how resilient they are, how much they have all grown from the experiences of this year and the way in which they have handled themselves throughout all of this. Children certainly have this amazing ability to help us see that even through the darkest of times life really does go on. 

Life is a wonderful, precious gift and so many of us waste it. It is the rarest of gems and we must love it, we must nurture it and we must allow it flourish within us and in those that are around us.

I feel that I could and probably need to write more but I've been working on this post for over two weeks now and can never get through to the end without breaking down and so I'm going to finish this one off by saying that never in my life have I been happier for a new year to begin!!

See you on the other side! Wishing you all a very Happy New Year!
Kylie x
Homeschool Review Crew Reflecting on 2016

To see more 2016 year in review posts simply click on the image above.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Our Big History Project

We've decided to try our hand at The Big History Project with my son next year. He'll be completing his tenth grade and whilst we want to cover history, so far we are yet to find any one program that we have absolutely loved and have absolutely wanted to continue to work our way through.

I have begun working on the teacher training (9 hours in length) so that I am well prepared for the complexities of this course. So far I am extremely enthralled and can't wait to get started, but then I'm a history loving kinda gal! I am excited to know that we can make this as involved or as simple as we want to, but yet everything is still there for us, in an organised, well laid out fashion that is used daily by teachers all around the world.

Some of the points that have been raised in the teacher training so far are all of the reasons why I am drawn to using BHP next year and hopefully over the years to come.

Be sure to register for the school component of the program, so far what I can see it contains a great deal more than the the standard registration.

Big History Project utilises challenging texts, it is organised and highly structured and one of the key components of the program is to sharpen the students critical thinking skills. BHP includes claim testing activities which aim to teach students how to analyse claims and has a strong focus on evidence based writing.

The activities are many and varied and include research activities and project based activities. I think this would be a fabulous course to complete as part of a small group co-op, but we are already stretched quite thin with our current co-operative activities so we will be tackling this on our own.

So how is the Big History Project structured? This is a secular program and does begin way back with the big bang. The entire program is broken into what BHP calls thresholds, where each of these represents a moment in time where the universe got more complex. It is made up of 10 units covering 8 thresholds, with the thresholds comprising of:

1/. Big Bang
2/. Stars
3/. Elements
4/. Planets
5/. Life
6/. Collective Learning (humans)
7/. Agriculture
8/. Modern Revolution

All of the materials provided throughout the course are designed to be downloaded, thus allowing for flexibility, especially in cases where there may be none or limited internet access. So essentially I could head to the library, download what we are wanting and head home to use it without needing to access my internet.

Each unit also includes a guide, lesson plans and assessments, so what I am most intrigued by is that we can choose how we do this. We can work through it simply as is or decide on our own structure. That of course, we will not know until we actually delve into the program.

The other reason that I am most drawn to this is the interdisciplinary approach they have taken when creating the curriculum. The students will look at disciplines such as chemistry, biology, archaeology, anthropology, cosmology, economics and of course history. The Big History project will show them how these disciplines are all connected, unlike many other courses of study that are disjointed and the student often misses the point and doesn't see how it all fits together into one big picture.

Let's hope that Big History Project delivers what they set out to achieve.

Given that I have only just recently begun the teacher training I don't really have a solid plan as yet as to how we will tackle this program. My gut feeling is that if we are both engaged we will take longer than the course suggests of up to one year. That way we can add in documentaries, living books and our History Odyssey series we have here.

I hope to share more of how this goes for us throughout the year. But for the first time in a long while we are actually feeling some excitement about history!

Have you utilised the resources over at The Big History Project in your homeschool? Please let me know if you have, I'd love to hear from you.

Happy Homeschooling,

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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Introducing A New Reader

I sometimes get asked about readers and those children that are in their prime learning to read stage. One question that often arises is that of, 'how do I introduce a new reader to my child'. This is by no means intended to be the only way, it is simply what I have found that works for us here.

I am now onto our third and final child that is just about at the stage of reading early chapter books and my time as a homeschool mum introducing early readers to my kids will be over.

Step 1

So you have brand new beginning reader on your hands. Maybe they know all of their alphabet sounds and possibly can sound out a few simple words and so you feel it is time to make a start on introducing readers to your child.

"Readers are most often a set of books that children (and their reading mentors) utilise to work their way through the sounding out of simple words and letter combinations, slowly and systematically progressing them into more detailed texts."

Most readers at this stage will have a focus, it may be a short vowel sound in the middle of what is known as a CVC word (vowel consanant vowel). So could be something like 'dig' where the focus of the book is to practice words with the short vowel sound 'i'.

This step in the process is to introduce the new sound, in the lower level readers it is most always a single letter sound but will progress into letter combinations, such as blends, like ch, ck, sh and then onto longer combinations of letters that make a single sound.

For example here in this particular reader titled 'Mark and Mars' the new sound is made up of the letter combination 'ar'.

We will read the title together, talk about the sound combination and try and come up with some other words that might use that sound all before we even open the book.

Step 2

I read the story. Yes, I read it from cover to cover, not my child. Let's face it the whole point of introducing a reader like this to a child is because they don't know the new sounds that are going to be presented. If they could already read the words why would we bother even introducing the reader. However, because they don't know the sounds it can make for an anxiety driven time trying to focus on what they've recently learned in earlier readers, sounding out words that may be familiar to them and then also trying to add in the brand new sound in a series of words that they most likely have never come across before. Let's not forget that at the same time they are trying to read for comprehension. Put all of this together and many young children simply do not cope.

So together we cuddle on the couch and I read. That way we both to get to enjoy the story (the stories generally get better as the readers progress in levels), we get to know the story and we understand the premise behind the text. We will have a brief chat to check for comprehension at the end of the story.

Step 3

We go back through the story looking for the words that contain our new sound, which in this book is 'ar'. We spend time sounding out those words and saying them out loud to ensure we have the correct sounds coming out. This is often a time for lots of giggles, especially with letter/sound combinations that may be a little different.

That's basically all we do on the first days introduction of a new reader. We always have a couple of books that are at a lower reading level which we use to help build fluency and practice recently learned sounds. So now is the time the child reads those out loud.

Step 4

This step happens the following day. We remind ourselves of the story and the new sound that we are on the lookout for.

Then it's time to begin reading. As you can see from this particular reader we are at the stage of having several short sentences on each page. So that my new reader is not overwhelmed we take turns. Sentence by sentence. That way he can focus on what he needs to focus on, he hears me reading and modelling with every new sentence and he isn't overwhelmed with the length of each page and in turn the entire book. We continue in this turn taking fashion for the remainder of the book. Then it's time for fluency reading with some lower level readers.

Step 5

This step happens the next day. Step 5 in essence is exactly the same as step 4, however we swap. If I went first in step 4, then he goes first in step 5.

Step 6

Step 6 happens the following day. By now we are on our fourth day of reading with this new book so the story line and the new words are mostly becoming quite familiar. Sometimes this is a slower process depending on the particular sound combinations.

Here we read an entire page each, but still taking turns until we've come to the end of the book.

Step 7

Day five into our new reader. This particular step is when I need to assess how things are going with the book and the new sounds. If he has picked things up with relative ease today will be the day that he reads the entire reader out loud and it will then get added to the fluency pile. If it was a little tricky we will complete step 6 again, but swapping with who goes first, so we are reading different pages.

Depending on the book, the sounds that were introduced and the child we spend somewhere around a full week on a new reader. This can be easily shortened or lengthened in time depending on how much progress is being made.

Step 8

It's time to start all over again with a new reader. And really, it is as simple as that.

I am not a qualified reading instructor. I am simply a mum in her eleventh year of educating her kids at home and this is a process that, through trial and error, I have found, works for us.

If you are struggling with introducing new readers to your child, I encourage you to give something like this a try. Be sure to let me know please if it helps in anyway.

Happy Homeschooling,

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