I don’t know about you, but every year I find myself getting increasingly stressed as end-of-year reporting draws near. Although I keep a journal of our activities throughout the year, it’s cumbersome to compile it all into a report. Worse, I’m never happy with the end product. Being a former teacher, I have no trouble translating our endeavors into “teacher-speak”. The problem is that we lose too much in the translation. How does, “Thomas is reading above grade level and covered the following titles” begin to tap into the wonder of discovering Harry Potter for the first time, or the simple joy of falling asleep to an audio rendition of Diary of a Wimpy Kid? It doesn’t.
This year, I decided I was tired of taking our complex, magical, messy unschooling adventure and reducing it to a bland bunch of phrases that sound impressive but capture too little. Besides, I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that my several-page volumes don’t get a super-thorough reading by the powers that be, anyway. Why spend hours producing a document tailored to school administrators? Instead, I decided to devote my time to making something meaningful for my children…and for myself. I hope when we look back on this “report”, we’ll be transported back to those magical moments, able to remember this season in our lives that will pass all too quickly. And who knows? Maybe the superintendent will enjoy it, too!
Thomas, End of Year Report 2013-2014
This report is for you. It’s been such a joy to walk through this year with you. Like each year before, it has been a completely unique adventure. I hope you’ll enjoy taking this trip down memory lane. I know I have!
June – August
Although we had a fairly quiet summer, we did manage to fit in some fun outings. Medway is celebrating its 300th anniversary, and we enjoyed going to Medway Family Day and watching the two-hour long parade at the K.’s house. Of course, we traveled to New Hampshire for the annual Olson family reunion. You visited Capron Zoo with Nan and Grandma, participated in the church’s annual Vacation Bible School, and spent a week at Camp Sheehan. We discovered the Bass Pro Shop, and had a great day exploring the nature walk and the indoor exhibits. You truly enjoyed the week of painting classes you took with Mrs. V. through Community Education, and were proud to show your work at the end-of-week art exhibit. Some of the parents were shocked by the oil painting you made with Grampy; they thought an adult had painted it!
If you were in school, you would be entering the fifth grade this month. Over the summer you spent a lot of time with kids from our neighborhood who go to school. Gradually, you began to notice the many differences between our lifestyles and theirs. Sometimes, your friends told you that you weren’t smart or that you wouldn’t be popular if you went to school. They told you that without school, you wouldn’t learn what you needed to in order to succeed in the world.
We had many conversations about this, and in the end, you decided you wanted to explore a standard fifth grade curriculum. When school started in our town, we began more structured, formal learning times. This was a change for both of us! We’ve enjoyed the fact that we’re spending more 1-1 time together. You’ve found some of the curriculum uninteresting, but you have stuck to the commitment you made to yourself, and have slogged through the things you don’t love. You seem to find it reassuring that you are conversant about the same things as your peers.
For language arts, you have been studying spelling rules, taking a pretest and then practicing the words you’ve missed. You are quite a good speller! You’re also learning grammar, and have been watching the Schoolhouse Rock videos about nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, subject/predicate, and interjections. Your favorite is the song about nouns. You’ve been doing various kinds of writing. Far and away the most writing you do is on Roblox, as you message back and forth to other players, describe your games, or list the rules. You’ve also written letters to friends, a list of instructions for caring for your pets, short stories, and scripts (your favorite!). You’ve become an advanced reader, reading above grade level. Although you prefer to listen to stories, you get lots of practice reading through computer games such as Roblox and Moshi Monsters, reading directions, reading aloud to your sisters, and helping them when they get stuck.
You are an intuitive mathematician, and understanding our number system comes easily to you. For curriculum, you’ve been using the TERC Investigations units on multiplication and division. Your number sense really showed as you explored how remainders must be treated differently according to the situation (for example, if you’ve got 7 kids and cars that only carry 5 kids, you need 2 cars, not 1 remainder 2 cars). You’ve also completed the first of two units in Dragonbox, a computer game designed to teach algebra. You mastered this in less than a week!
In social studies you’ve been learning about Native Americans. You searched for images of Anasazi artwork, and watched two videos about the Anasazi peoples. You made a KWL about the native peoples of the southwest, and read textbooks to answer your questions. You also read some Native American literature, including Baby Rattlesnake. You have begun learning about the plains tribes, beginning with watching Dances with Wolves about the Lakota Sioux, and the Northeast tribes, watching The Education of Little Tree (Cherokee). You’ve begun to grapple with the implications of the Europeans settling the Americas, and how that impacted the Native Americans already living here.
Even with the added curriculum, you’ve also found time to pursue the things you love. You and your sisters have researched and closely observed several types of insects, including crickets, spiders, and praying mantises. We were lucky enough to discover a male and female praying mantis in our yard (you dubbed them Annie and Mannie). After observing them for several days, we found the male decapitated – a sign that mating had taken place! We continued to observe the female and were privileged to witness her actually laying her egg case in our garden! We also observed two orb-weaving spiders (Camilla and Lucy) and got to see them capture and wrap their victims. You and Faith also cared for Henry the Cricket until his untimely demise, at which point we held a touching funeral.
We’ve explored a lot of literature this month. Over lunch times, our family has enjoyed many read-alouds together. We familiarized ourselves with a bunch of fairy tales, and had fun comparing different versions of the same story. You particularly enjoyed some of the fairy tales you hadn’t heard before, including Vasillissa and the Magic Doll, and The Little Dutch Boy. At night, you and I love to read the Harry Potter books. We’re up to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire! You’ve been keeping a journal of all the spells we find in the books. Who has more power than whom is an idea that fascinates you, and we spend a lot of time discussing this as we meet new wizards. After reading each book, we watch the movie version. It’s been interesting to compare and contrast the two. Listening to audio books is another way you enjoy literature. You’ve spent hours listening to the Diary of a Wimpy Kid and the Secrets of a Lab Rat series.
You are a gifted artist, and enjoy drawing, painting, and working with clay. You’ve discovered acrylic paints, and are enjoying painting on small canvases. You’ve begun taking art lessons with Miss J., and in addition to making autumn leaf paintings, you’re learning about the concepts of drawing still life, shading, and the gray scale. You worked hard to illustrate Hurricane Ippie and are now ready to use Adobe Illustrator to add color to your digitized artwork. You’ve also become interested in the anime style of art, and have watched instructional videos to improve in this form.
You are very technologically savvy, and spend a good deal of time creating computer games and working on coding. You and Daddy have a created controversialcat.com, and you’re learning how to upload pictures and write posts on this website. You’ve been exploring Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator programs to prepare for publishing Hurricane Ippie. You’ve developed great confidence in your ability to access information when you need it, and have become proficient at using technology to this end. You routinely use Google to look up facts and statistics whenever you’ve got a question, whether it’s how a bird flies or why beans make a person gassy.
Lately, we’ve been researching foods. You’ve known about gluten free foods for several years, but are now examining different types of diets, focusing on why the Standard American Diet is coming under criticism. You are learning about organic vs. conventionally grown foods, GMO’s, and the health benefits of the different colors of fruits and vegetables. We’ve been tracking our fruit and vegetable intake each day to see if we can find patterns.
You continue to deepen your friendships with both schooled and homeschooled children. You love to play with T. and the B. boys. They are kind, thoughtful and fun, and playdates with them are stress-free. You’ve also gotten to know G. a bit better, and even had a sleep over with him. You and your cousin M. are still two peas in a pod, and you loved spending time together during sleepovers and at our family reunion. You enjoy our neighborhood friends, too, including B., D., S., and M. Sometimes you need breaks or help sorting through problems, but usually you have a blast together. You’ve also reconnected with some of the Village homeschoolers, and had a great time at the Village tween movie night. You have a lovely relationship with Mrs. J., Miss J., and Miss C. from next door. This summer, you and Mrs. J. had a lot of fun collecting the state quarters.
This month, you participated in a trip to Tougas Apple Farm and a trip to MIT for a class on building circuits. You were especially proud of the flashlight you made.
Now that you’re ten, you’ve begun taking on new responsibilities. You enjoy feeding the cat, helping to clean the fish bowls, and caring for our guinea pig. Over the summer, you helped in the garden, picking ripe tomatoes, basil and lettuce. You enjoy cooking with me, making meals and special treats. You especially enjoyed peeling and chopping the apples we’d picked at Tougas to make apple crisp. The “routine” hangar you made with clothespins has helped you stay on track in the morning and evening.
You’re growing so quickly! Recently, we discovered that your feet are now bigger than mine! Soon you’ll be towering over me. You are physically active, running, biking, and spending time outdoors. When day is done, you love to relax with a nice shower. Sometimes I think you’d stay in there all night if you could!
The months are racing by, and now it’s nearly Thanksgiving! You’ve been busy, but are doing less curriculum and are mainly pursuing your interests. Partway through October, you decided that following someone else’s learning agenda wasn’t enjoyable anymore. For a couple of weeks, you asked me to keep giving you some formal schoolwork, but less. By November, you’d decided to ditch the curriculum, but keep the 1-1 time we’d been enjoying so much. Now we spend that time reading (you’re loving Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and the first volume of the Percy Jackson series), playing games such as Clue, Guess Who, and Mastermind, or doing projects and experiments.
You’ve always been especially appreciative of different sensory experiences, so we’ve been including more of those in our projects. You, Maggie and Nana had a blast making and exploring Ooblek, which you dyed VERY red with food coloring. Your hands were red, too, for about a week! You also explored salt painting, using glue, salt and paint. Your creation was vibrant in color, and a very cool texture. The Ivory soap souffle was another hit. You loved watching the soap expand in the microwave! It was a great way to learn about what happens to molecules as the temperature increases. It smelled so good, too! By the time you were done playing with the different textures, your hands were squeaky clean.
Lately, you’ve become very aware of the state of our home, and have expressed a strong desire to improve it. You and Daddy made a list of the many home improvement projects you’d like to undertake. In November, you helped Daddy repair the kitchen ceiling.
Taking good care of Misty and treating him kindly has become a priority for you. It’s sometimes hard for you to resist picking him up or touching him when he’s sleeping. Wisely, you sought out Miss L. from church and asked her for advice. After a good conversation, she prayed with you, and promised to touch base from time to time to see how you’re doing. Just recently, you received a lovely note of encouragement from her. You immediately wrote her back with an update!
You have discovered an interest in the Bible and have been learning its books, reading the stories in it, and memorizing some verses. You have a heart for God, and it’s exciting to see where He’ll lead you. One of the things He’s working on with you is rediscovering your tenderheartedness. Feeling your feelings can be hard, and sometimes you find it easier to skip right to being angry. Daddy and I know that as you learn to sit with your feelings, you’ll discover a wonderful gift.
The weather has been unseasonably warm, and you’ve spent plenty of time outdoors. You, Daddy and the other kids have made several trips to your “secret spot” in the woods. One time you found two garter snakes along the way. You were fascinated!
Deepening your friendships is a new priority with you, and you’ve been initiating play dates more often with our homeschool friends. You are especially enjoying the B. Family, and had a wonderful day at their house playing Roblox, finger knitting, measuring yarn out the bedroom window, and tasting “Bubble & Squeak” for the first time.
Halloween was a major highlight. In the summer, we found an unexpected pumpkin patch in our back yard from last year’s left over jack-o’lanterns. It was so fun to watch the pumpkins grow and ripen!
By October, we were able to harvest them (almost 20!) and use them to decorate our front porch. You made some adorable faces on them with permanent marker and a few well-placed Mr. Potato Head pieces.
You decided to dress up as a dementor, and had fun finding just the right costume. On Halloween, we trick-or-treated with P. and T. This year was P.’s very first experience trick-or-treating, and she loved it! Afterwards, everybody had a great time trading candy. You were the most organized, stacking your candy in neat piles by type before making any trades. By the end of the night, you had about 30 Reeses Peanut Butter Cups!
To help prepare us for Thanksgiving, we’ve made a list of people for whom we’re thankful, and each day we make a card to send one of the people on that list. You’ve enjoyed using stampers, bingo markers and the tracing projector to create unique artwork for this project. Soon, we’ll be enjoying the holiday with family and friends, and then it will be time to prepare for Christmas!
Well, that’s as far as we’ve gotten. I’m hoping to add to this every couple of months while it’s all still fresh in my mind. Hopefully, come June, rather than that old familiar sense of dread, I’ll be able to turn my attention to other, happier things…like the beach!