Saturday, July 11, 2009

Plan Next Year's Homeschooling - Check!

After weeks of research and contemplation, I think it's finally done! I put in my last orders this morning. I'm a bit taken aback by all the money I have spent, but as an old friend in California once said to me, "sometimes you have more time than money and other times you have more money than time". Not that I have so much money...but since I am now working a job, I can squeeze a little more out of the budget to get materials that my son can use a little more independently...which is good for both my schedule and his development. And since he's going into his junior year of high school, his development is becoming more and more important.

"What to do for U.S. History?" has been on my mind a lot these weeks. This past year, his primary resource for what I call "World History and Culture" was movies (from Netflix). I used the book, Learning with the Movies, by Beth Holland to get ideas, along with doing a bit of research for myself. We discussed the movies, discussed time lines, discussed world events...and he wrote essays. I'm really pretty pleased with our "program"; however, for U.S. History, I wanted to be a little more comprehensive and cohesive in presentation of material. Because my son is legally blind, it isn't easy for him to read very much at a time...and I didn't really see anything in auditory format. So I was delighted to discover the Graphic U.S. History series. Somewhat like comic books in appearance, they are written at the level of a newspaper (easy to read but interesting for all ages), and it looks like they provide lots of great history knowledge...and in timeline order. We will continue to use movies and essays, as well.

Most difficult to decide was what curriculum to use for Spanish, simply because I had a hard time bringing myself to pay the cost. However, we finally decided to get what I hear and hope is "the best"...Rosetta Stone. There is even a homeschool edition with tracking capabilities. I ordered ours through Timberdoodle, a homeschool supplier in Washington State (the same company where I discovered the Graphic U.S. History). Why did I go through Timberdoodle for the Spanish? ...because their catalogs have helped me find such great materials over the years...over the decades...and, of course, it doesn't hurt any that they're from my home state, either. :)

For Algebra 2, we will continue to use Teaching Textbooks, which we already possess from the next older son having used it. As I have watched newer and more homeschool-friendly materials develop, this has been my very favorite. The kids just pop a CD-Rom into the computer, watch the problems as the authors discuss the lesson, and then work the problems in the book. Peter has used this for Algebra 1 and Geometry, and done beautifully (it might not hurt, either, that math is his "thing").

For English, I went the "spend time rather than money" route. I don't know if there's any other way to go for composition, anyway, than to spend time with the student and their work. Well, you might think I can easily teach writing, since I'm a writer, but the one doesn't necessarily follow from the other (especially since I pretty much "play by ear" when I write). What I have been wanting, I think, for teaching writing, are the right materials. I hope I have found just that in Jensen's Format Writing, which I ordered from Catholic Heritage Curricula. This book can be used in one high school year or two, and covers single paragraph formats, five paragraph essays, business writing, major papers, and etc.

This past year for science, we used Biology 101 by Wes Olson and I was very pleased with the program, which provides hours of interesting, basic instruction on DVDs, accompanied by a guidebook for adding reading, field trips and labs to accomplish enough learning and hours for an accredited course.

Chemistry was my son's next choice for science and I did a lot of research to try to find the right program for us. This might be another subject where I will have to put in a little time - and I'm not a "science person", but Friendly Chemistry looks very...well, friendly. I emailed the authors some questions about our special needs and they emailed me back promptly. Also, I liked that there are experiments which use materials that are readily available.

Last night I finally decided what to do for religion. I ordered the Catechism of the Catholic Church on CD-Rom as reference material. He also has the New Testament on tapes. For the meat and potatoes (and dessert), I plan to join Pius Media, online Catholic DVD Rental Club...which appears to work a lot like Netflix. I had fun last night browsing the selections, where it looks like we should be able to get talks on apologetics and doctrine, as well as both instructional and devotional Bible presentations, along with stories of great people and what they have done.

I'm not sure where in the world he will find the time for this last item, but I know it's important. We have a CD-Rom for preparation for the S.A.T. pre-college exam, which we obtained for the cost of shipping as members of Homeschool Legal Defense Association.

If you have read this far, I am guessing you either have a high school student or you are a family member or friend interested in how I do it (including a cyber-friend? ). If you reading this simply because you are my friend or relative, thank you for your interest! :)

If you are reading this because you yourself are trying to plan your own homeschool curriculum, and if you happen to be a Catholic homeschooler, I'd like to recommend one more resource for you. You can listen to a Homeschool Connections webinar given by Alicia VanHecke on June 10th about "Choosing Worthwhile Homeschool Materials". Homeschool Connections, founded by Walter Crawford and my friend and homeschooling colleague Maureen Wittmann, presents free webinars for homeschool parents, as well an interesting offering of webinar classes for teens.

And now, please excuse me while I go work toward finishing up this past year's schoolwork...

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Fourth of July in the Baltimore Inner Harbor 2009

We so appreciate the Baltimore Police who - by their presence everywhere - helped to make the Fourth of July Fireworks at the Inner Harbor a safe event. This morning I visited a Baltimore news website to read about the fireworks I attended last I was curious as to whether anyone had estimated how many people were there. But all I saw was the bad news of the day, no mention of last night's fireworks so far. So I decided I would blog some good news about last night, however few people may read it.

By 9:30 p.m., the sidewalks were so crowded, you could hardly move. Crowds scare me for a lot of reasons...the din, the uncomfortable possibilities, my being a bit claustrophobic. Were it only up to me, I might have just stayed in my comfort zone at home. But for my family, I went. And I was glad I did!

We arrived around 6:30 p.m. and parked in a garage that was labeled (gasp) "$20 all night". We decided to eat the cost rather than have to walk the distance to the garage my husband's company uses...and especially to have to walk back there again, late at night and tired.

As we walked along the harbor, we discussed where to eat. Five Guys, Cheesecake Factory, Subway? Our quietest son, who usually defers to the rest of us, spoke up that he would prefer to eat at Subway. So we all decided that Subway it would be, and we headed to the appropriate mall. I was secretly happy that Subway would be the best for our budget too.

As we entered the thronged food court, we found a plethora of policemen and policewomen eating their Subway dinners. But they had already ordered and we were able to order our food right away...however, finding a place to eat was another matter. We walked all around the food court, circling the interior of the mall. People were seated everywhere, and people were walking and standing just about everywhere, too. I was glad we had food in bags rather than on trays. We finally found ourselves back at the Subway area, where the policemen had just finished eating - standing up to an empty counter. We ate there as they had, standing. At least it gave us a place to put our food, and space to breathe.

While we ate, and while - since I don't eat as much at a time as my guys do - I waited for them to finish theirs, I watched the people...and I soaked in the atmosphere. It was a happy, family-party type atmosphere. Not everyone there was with family but - crazy as it sounds - I felt like we were all one big, of course, we really know?

Outside, we found a place on the grass to sit, wishing we had brought a blanket. I usually say that I "don't do" sitting on the ground, but I found out that I do. It's funny what you do when you have certain choices (like stand for two hours? No thanks.). I just needed to keep changing position, and occasionally standing up to stretch, and it worked just fine.

Watching the crowds walk by was better than watching a movie. The diversity particularly fascinated me. Not only was it racially diverse: black, white, Hispanic, Jewish, Asian, Middle Eastern...sorry if I left anyone out. But the diversity seemed to be of local origin as well as national and international. There seemed to be city people and country people, rich people and poor people...and, of course, everyone in between. There were dreadlocks and there were mohawks, and there were tattoos, and there were designer clothing and semi-professional garb. There was even the occasional evening gown (on their way to the cruise on the bay?). There was a woman in the poorest of clothing, with a black garbage bag slung over her shoulder (all her earthly belongings?), and I saw a few other men and women who looked similarly. I prayed for them, but I also rejoiced with them that they could enjoy not only this great entertainment, but also this big "family" gathering.

I saw a little girl, maybe two years old, riding on her father's shoulders, bouncing and dancing joyfully to the rhythm of the live band, as he danced to the rhythm while he walked. I saw a woman with a white cane and numerous people in wheel chairs. We saw two little girls in blond ponytails, looking identical from the back except that one looked taller than the other - until you realized it was because one was on the shoulders of someone taller than the person carrying the other girl.

And everywhere, we saw the policemen and women, mingling, walking in twos, sometimes gathering in small groups and then splitting up and walking on again, sometimes even text-messaging as they walked along, it seemed. Whatever they were doing, wherever they were, they were there, just quietly present.

The crowds had milled by endlessly, like a river; the band had played its lively, upbeat music for a long time; and the clouds had looked down on us and thought awhile and dropped a tear of longing to be with us, and then decided to keep their moisture in the sky. We had touched bases with each of our long-distance kids by cell phone. We had wiggled and stretched, and chatted and laughed. And finally it came time for the fireworks. The band continued to play, mingled with the happy sounds of the crowd. The only song I really heard after that was "Proud to be an American" - and I was.

Out in the bay, but off at some distance to our right, the show began. Very pretty. But I was a little disappointed at how far away the display was. Weren't they going to have them in the bay in front of us? And then - all of a sudden! - fireworks shot up high and bright and loud, right across from us, and there was a collective gasp of appreciation. After that it was a three ring circus of entertainment, as the ones off to the right would go up...very pretty...and as far away as they were, they yet reflected on the glass sides of the tall office buildings in the harbor, adding another dimension of beauty. Before a set of fireworks from the right had finished, the ones in front of us would shoot up...astoundingly forming fountains and flowers in sustained beauty and depth. Truly moved, I thanked God for the wonders He has given to man to use, for the beauty that He allows us to create. And thank you, God, for the love and joy that I felt there, that so many of your people could come together in peace.