And We’re Off

The 2017-2018 school year at the Carruth Classical Conservatory has officially begun! We had a very fun weekend celebrating mine and my father’s birthdays then came home Sunday night and pulled out all our books for the first day of homeschooling today.

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When I told the girls which subjects we’d be doing; they were both disappointed that we weren’t doing more and whinned that they wanted to do *all* their subjects each day. Let’s see how long that lasts!!

I was delightfully surprised with both Evangeline and Felicity’s phonics skills. Evangeline is doing All About Spelling which begins with an understanding and mastery of all the phonemes — sounds each letter makes. I expected for her to get caught up on all the different sounds the vowels make and just the idea that letters make more than one sound depending on which word they are in. Nope. Out of 26 letters, we need to practice maybe 5 a few more times before she gets them.

Since Felicity hasn’t had a formal phonetic education yet, I started her off with the Pre-K Hooked on Phonics which is an introduction to the letters and the sounds. Yeah…she knows all her letter and their sounds. So I think we’ll be moving on to Kindergarten level very soon.

I asked the girls what subject they liked the best, what they are most excited for in homeschooling and what things do they want to learn this year. I also asked if we could go anywhere, what would they want do. Felicity said she likes handwriting and is most excited to get to do workbooks. She wants to learn how to do a flip and how spiders make webs. If we could do anything, she’d want to go out to lunch with all her cousins, or have a snack at the park. She couldn’t think of an idea that didn’t involve food. Maybe the movies? Only if they could get popcorn.

Evangeline likes grammar best and is most excited to learn how to spell correctly. She wants to learn how to add numbers and get the right answer; she also wants to learn how to dig up dinosaur bones. If we could go anywhere or do anything, she’d want to go to a gardening class where they teach you how to plant plants.

Some of these ideas I’ve already worked into our school plans but I may need to add spiders and paleontology. I’m excited for our year to start and have a lot of fun things planned. It’s the end of day one and I’m soooooo tired. That’s what coffee is for I suppose.

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Homeschooling in Baton Rouge

I was born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. With the exception of a few months living in a barn in Saint Gabriel, I’ve lived here my entire life. I love this city  in a sentimental way. If someone asked should they move here, however, I’d shrug and say “meh, probably not”. I’m not the only one. Anytime you hear someone say “we just moved here” they are always met with a confused face and a resounding “why!? Husband’s job?” 98% of the time, their response is a glum “yeah.”

God bless the chemical plants.

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Baton Rouge is a great city to live in if you love to shop, eat or sit in traffic listening to commercials about shopping and eating. Also, football. For anything else, however, you have to dig a little deeper.

Last year’s homeschooling was mostly about not giving up; any outings we took were just to get relief from the trailer. This year I want to enrich our school year more. Once a week, I want to get out of the house. Once a month, I want to take a break from our curriculum schedule and spend a day on one topic or holiday (i.e. make lots of crafts). Finding things to do, took a little bit of work. Part of my homeschool prep this past month has been finding fun, inexpensive things to do around town with the kids.

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We’ve joined a local, Catholic homeschool group that I am very excited about. We’ll have the opportunity to meet up with them on park days twice a month. The group also organizes field trips, clubs and parties. The two oldest girls have joined their chapter of  The Little Flowers Girls’ Club ; they’ll meet once a month, on a park day, with other homeschool girls age 5-10. The girls will get some extra catechesis and spend time in a group away from me. Me and the little two will get some relaxing social time playing at the park with the other homeschoolers. It’s a win-win and a guaranteed “outing” on one week each month.

For a few years now, we’ve maintained (through birthday monies) a family membership to our local Arts and Science Museum. In addition to the permanent displays, including a real mummy, the museum rotates art exhibits and boasts two hands-on science rooms: one for little tikes and a more science-heavy room for older kids. The little kid’s room is huge with all kinds of imaginative play things. There is a sectioned off part for toddlers and a fully stocked craft corner. They have suggestions of crafts to make, or  you can just go crazy and make up  your own. Oh and did I mention the planetarium and DINOSAUR HEAD?! If we time it right, we can see any of the IMAX shows too, included in our membership.  It’s a great place to spend a day and since we have the membership, even if we go for an hour and just play in the kid room, we are still coming out ahead. It also has the benefit of being right on the levee near a river walk. This plus the trek from the parking garage means kids are fully worn out by the time we leave. Score.

 

I’ve been hunting around for more options like the museum for semi-regular visits. The Zoo costs $32 just to walk through the door; the fact that it is the complete opposite side of the parish also means lunch out. They do offer a discounted time, just before rush hour picks up on Wednesday. Only $7 to get us all in for an hour followed by 2 hours in traffic to get home?  Not so inciting.

This spring, we finally went to The Bluebonnet Swamp. Two dollars a person to get in, 102 acres to tramp through plus a large indoor visitors center with reptiles galore to look at. They also offer different event days throughout the year.  Oh and best of all, one of the three or four trails you can take leads you right to the Bluebonnet Library. Do you know what they have at the Bluebonnet Library? Books! A trip to the swamp, hike to the library and back means happy, exhausted kids. You can bet a family membership ($45 for a family of 6) will be on Evangeline’s birthday wish list this October.

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The Bluebonnet Library is a good, every day library. But the Main Library on Goodwood is our fancy library. The wonderfully air conditioned library has one of, if not the, biggest children’s sections in the parish system. A lot of low stacks (and stacks and stacks) of books, plenty of computers and multiple comfortable reading areas. The “new” main library was finished a few years ago and now the BREC powers-that-be are focusing their attention to the surrounding acreage. Thankfully, they’ve left the Botanic Gardens alone with the calming Iris Pavillion and enchanting rose garden. The crepemyrtle prominade is also left in tact which now leads to a fully updated, up-to-code, mercifully shaded, playground. Again, spend a little time inside with books, a little time outside in nature and everyone goes home happy. Noticing a trend to what I look for when taking the kids out?

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Speaking of nature, I’ve found the biggest Baton Rouge gem of them all: The Burden Center, Botanic Gardens and Rural Life Museum. Tucked away behind what’s become medical-metropolis on Essen Lane, the Burden Center is over 400 acres of gardens open to the public. We’ve been to the Rural Life Museum hidden in the very back for Halloween and Christmas events and had a blast. It would only be $18 for us to go to the museum during regular hours, but for one reason or another, we’ve never gone then. Now that I know the gardens are open and free, I expect we’ll be there a lot, especially when we start studying local plants.

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Our homeschool will officially begin on September 4 and I’m hoping all this leg work I’ve done looking for fun outlets will pay off. If we can keep on the straight and narrow, this year can really be a lot of fun and very enriching. I can’t wait to start our routine at home and get out and do fun things around town.

What is it like homeschooling in  your town? Where is your favorite place to bring your kids in Baton Rouge?

Outlook on the New School Year

The 2017-2018 school year has started for East Baton Rouge Parish, but not quite yet for the Carruth Classical Conservatory. Do you like the name? I’m trying out different options for our homeschool to see how they fit.   Louisiana doesn’t require us to name our school, so it’s just for funsies. We moved back into our house a few weeks ago and have been hard at work getting the kitchen finished. It will be many more weeks until everything is finally, fully done but a half finished house is better than a too-small trailer.

I’ve been steadily prepping for school since we got back in the house; I’ve ordered all the books, written lesson plans for the first quarter and I’m working out which subjects I’ll teach jointly. This year I’ll teach not only Evangeline, but Felicity as well. Last week the girls’ and I started re-acclimating ourselves to a homeschool schedule. We start our day with a prayer, then calendar work, counting and learning a new vocabulary word. In September when we begin our full school schedule, this will remain our morning routine.

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I’ve spent two years teaching Evangeline and my instincts have been molded by my interactions with her. Teaching Felicity is a daunting proposition. Felicity is a spirit all of her own and functions on an entirely different wavelength than the rest of us.

Evangeline is structured and enjoys rules. She likes sitting down and being taught; she likes the sense of accomplishment a completed worksheet brings. She thrives in a school room setting and basks in the one on one attention of homeschool. She likes to jump rope with the line between daughter and student. She frustrates easily and is offended to find things she did not already know.

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Felicity just enjoys the world; she is oblivious to circumstances. She can be sitting in a classroom, walking through a grocery store or kneeling in mass, when a thought occurs to her, she acts on it. About 90% of the time, her thoughts have nothing to do with what’s going on around her; her internal life is very active. She enjoys having her own work to do and can really zero in on a worksheet or coloring page. The thought of teaching her a lesson however makes me twitch. Just going through this morning routine for a week, I know she’s not one who will sit still and listen: “Sit down Felicity. Take that out of your mouth. We’ll get water in a second. Where are your pants?!”

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She’s 5 and we are working on sitting still during mass and at supper. I don’t think it’s necessary to beat the horse for homeschooling. In fact, while I have many concerns about teaching Felicity, my greatest worry is that I will crush her little spirit. She is so resilient and joyful. Happiness and affection simply beam out of her. But she can get underfoot and strike a nerve quicker than her siblings do. Maybe it’s because she and childhood-me are very similar; her flaws have been my flaws that I work hard to overcome. It isn’t fair and I have to remind myself often that she is a lovely 5 year old who is doing well on her journey to holiness.

This fear is the driving force as I make decisions for her school year. I want her Kindergarten year to be gentler than Evangeline’s was. She’s already ahead of where Evie started just because she’s had the benefit of an older sister in school.  I’m going to start with basics, but I expect her to make quick advances. I want her to accidentally learn rather than be taught directly. I want to help explain the world around her as she discovers it. My motto for Felicity this year is from Mr. Rogers

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”

-Fred Rogers

 

An approach like this would drive Evangeline crazy. She likes the structure. Her’s is the hardest head in the family…well maybe after mine. She is so quick to draw a line in the sand and hunker down. That spirit could do with a little crushing if you know what I mean. My mottos for her year are meant more as instruction and encouragement for myself.

“You will accomplish more by kind words and a courteous manner than by anger or sharp rebuke, which should never be used except in necessity”

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“Do not lose heart, even if you should discover that you lack qualities necessary for the work to which you are called.  He who called you will not desert you, but the moment you are in need He will stretch out His saving hand.”

-Saint Angela Merici

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Teaching the two of these girls will require so much grace and favor from God. I surround myself with inspiring stories of girls adding to the world in tremendous ways through their education (thanks A Mighty Girl and Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls.) I hope to grow quite a bit this year and learn a great deal about teaching little girls…just in time to start teaching Reuben.

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Good Bye Trailer, Hello New Start

It is fitting that this post comes at the one year anniversary of the flood. It’s been 12 months months but the effects are still visible. Houses are still empty, families are still evacuated and most infuriating of all, infrastructure issues like clearing drains and maintaining pumps are still not done. There is barely any mention any more about diverting canals or preventive measures that seemed all too important a year ago. We are still living under the band-aid, but it feels like not much has happened to keep this from happening again.

Our family, too, is not quite back to pre-flood status but we are a lot closer. Our house has walls, our mortgage company is eeking out money for our repairs. The biggest milestone is that we have turned in the keys and officially moved out of our FEMA trailer!

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FEMA’s paradox, the trailer was a refuge all of our own where we could live out our own psychological torture experiment. But I’ve complained enough about it; now it’s time to move on!  It was good and it’s good that it was.

During the month of July we worked through projects big and small to get our house live-able. My dad built in our bathroom cabinets and closet shelves, my mom painted everything. We installed the counters in the bathrooms and are working to get the sinks all hooked up. We had nailed down the design for our kitchen and painted our surviving upper cabinets. Our kitchen and bathrooms remain our last projects. We still need to have tile walls of our bathrooms replaced, order cabinet doors, build in lower cabinets in the kitchen and put in the floor. The house is functional enough to live in while we finish the rest. As projects and rooms are finished, I’ll share their updates, in the mean time here’s a reminder of where we’ve been this year.

 

 

Our time back in the house has been wonderful. The children, as a whole, are happier with all the outlets now available to them to spend their energy. They have two rooms and a yard with swings, trampoline and an inflatable pool. Ryan and I, as a whole, are happier. Our house doesn’t shake with everyone’s steps, there is room enough for everyone to sit at the dinner table at the same time. Jackie, our dog, is back with us and it feels like we are landing on our feet. I’ve given us this month of August to finish preparing and settling in before starting homeschool after Labor Day. Each night as I sink into my own bed in my own room, I let out a contented sigh and affirm that it is good to be home.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

One of the most unexpected effects of last summer’s flood is how many of our neighbors have moved away. Some sold their houses not wanting to go though the process of filing insurance claims and restoring their houses (can’t blame them for that!). These houses have only recently been bought and work is just now beginning. One gutted their house and is trying to sell it now. Others restored their houses but are selling and moving.

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Our Street Flooded

This is happening all over the city. There is such a strange buying\selling situation where somehow everyone is coming out ahead. Contractors are buying flooded houses with cash and then restoring them and selling at market value. Minus the amount of time this is all taking (we are coming up on one year from the flood), ultimately this process should help stabilize our neighborhood. It’s fun seeing everyone getting new doors and windows, like we’re all getting face lifts.

Driving around the block now is disorienting, though. Some houses were quickly restored, have families living in them with beautifully landscaped yards. Others are sitting, gutted and abandoned, yards killed by piles of debris. Houses like ours fall somewhere in between. This past week, when we went to get our mail from the house, the kids and I noticed a neighbor’s FEMA trailer was taken out of their back yard. We all cheered for these neighbors we didn’t know but long to imitate — moving back into their house and getting out of sight of FEMA.

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Contractor and Real Estate Signs

We bought our house almost five years ago. Only recently did we stick our heads out and meet any neighbors, however. It didn’t take long to learn to always wear a bra (you just never know). Checking your mail on our street was a social occasion; a quick trip down the driveway to put the trash at the curb could become an unexpected, delightful 15 minute conversation with a neighbor.  Our girls found friends up and down the street to play with, which is really a gift for everyone, and they ran back and forth across the street. We knew which dogs to pet and which to leave be. From a cantankerous engine revving bright and early on a Saturday morning to the buzz of a drone in the evening after supper, we could hear the neighbors out and about, their lives overlapping our own in these small ways.  Our little block struck a comfortable balance of being both quiet and unimposing but also comforting and safe. Some of our neighbors were in their houses since they were built in the late 70’s, some not as long, but all of them had been there longer than us. Our neighbors were established and knew the history.  This was especially valuable last August when a neighbor from across the street knocked on our door, umbrella in hand, and asked “y’all know we’re going to flood?”

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Our House Waiting For the Water to Recede.

And now our little section on the street is dispersing. New cars come and go, new pets in and out. We are nervous, excited and anxious. Who will our neighbors be? Will they have kids? Will they take four years to say hello? Already there are new faces around when we go to work on the house. We haven’t stopped to introduce ourselves yet. I’m not sure I’ve seen the same new face twice; it’s unclear if they are the new homeowners or contractors. As the inside of our house becomes more familiar and inviting, outside the street feels foreign and deserted.

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Our Ever-More Inviting House

Our kids love to play outside, we don’t make a lot of noise, and, when we get chickens again, we can lend you eggs. Will you be our neighbor?

Quarterly Reading Report June 2017 Edition

This year’s motivation has become about goals: short, annual and life-long. Maybe being out of control of fixing our house has made me over-eager to feel a sense of accomplishment. Maybe I just like lists. Either way, goals are being set and met!

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I’ve been ticking away at the Better World Books reading challenge.  Since March, I’ve crossed off these 6 categories:

I have 6 out of 25 left: Based on a Fairy Tale, National Book Award Winner, Travel Romance, Banned Book, Book of Poetry, About Immigrants and Translated. I am currently knee deep in The Brother’s Karamazov (more on that later!) which is, obviously, a translation. I have C.S. Lewis’s Narrative Poems and The World According to Garp by John Irving which will fulfill poetry and National Book Award respectively.  I have nothing in mind for the others. Any suggestions?

As for life-long goals I have new and old ones. I am currently 350 pages away from meeting a long-standing reading goal: read and understand a famous Russian novel. I have been chipping away at The Brother’s Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky since the middle of May. I’m trying to strike a balance between taking my time and not losing momentum. The book is broken into 7 parts, each roughly 100 pages. Between each part I allow myself a “treat” book. Nothing too long, I don’t want to break my interest, but I also want to give my brain a little break. This tome takes more energy and concentration that most books I’ve read recently. So far this system is working; I’m halfway through the third part and I am still interested and understanding!! Midsummer’s Night Dream was my last brain-break book and now I’m committed to another 130 Russian pages before my next break.

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I dreamed up a new life-long reading goal this year : read a book set in each country in the world. I am focusing on Europe this year and so far I’ve crossed off France, Greece, Montenegro, Spain, England and Scotland. I have also added Pakistan and China. I would really love to read a book *from* each country but I vacillate between what’s ideal and what’s practical. Certainly, I stand to learn a great deal more reading a book from each country but I’m limited by only knowing English. This presents some translation concerns. Not to mention, there are a whole lot of countries, even just in Europe, that I’ve never heard of much less have a working knowledge of their notable literature. Which is more probable: finding books *set* in Slovakia or finding books *from* Slovakia translated into English? Which goal would you set?

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In addition to reading the six books listed above this past quarter, I went on a Hemingway rant and read A Moveable Feast and The Sun Also Rises. Added to For Whom the Bell Tolls which I read earlier this year, these books have given me a favorable impression of Hemingway and now I want to jump over to F. Scott Fitzgerald. I’ve read The Great Gatsby but I wonder if I’d enjoy a biography better. Who is a Fitzgerald fan? What would you recommend?

It is rare these days (read: when J.K. Rowling doesn’t publish anything) that I read a book the year it comes out. When I noticed Paula Hawkins, of Girl on the Train, fame published a new book, however, I put a hold for it at the library (sorry Paula) and practically inhaled it. I enjoyed Girl on the Train a great deal. While this second book, Into the Water, may not be quite as profound as it’s predecessor, it is a great read. I was a little disappointed with the ultimate reveal, but the story itself was certainly compelling and exciting.

Do you have any auspicious summer reading goals, or are you looking for anything that can be read on a beach? Do you like to keep reading lists or set new goals or do you like to go wherever your whim may take you? Hopefully I’ll have more to update on after the summer than just Karamazov. Even if that’s all I accomplish,though, I’ll be proud of it!

 

 

 

Evacuation Academy Floats on Alright

We did it! It is done! We finished our first year of homeschooling.  Evangeline finished Kindergarten and is ready to be a first grader!

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To say I am proud of this accomplishment would be a huge understatement. Homeschooling for the first year in and of itself is challenging. Everything is theory until you jump in and try to actually teach your child something. Sure it’s fun to read about different theories and curriculum but when the rubber meets the road it means routine lesson plans and making school time in every busy keep-the-kids-alive day. Add to that being displaced by the flood, juggling the physical and mental needs of 4 kids and 2 adults in new and traumatic surroundings and the task seemed near impossible. Evangeline’s desire to learn and my refusal to fail saw us through the year.

(Minus December which we totally took off because holidays are distracting.)

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When we first started seriously considering homeschooling two years ago, I harbored a secret fear that I would not be able to teach my children to read. How could I? Obviously I learned how to read somehow but I have no training in teaching. People make entire careers out of teaching kids to read. I prepared myself for the possibility that Evangeline would go to first grade not knowing how to read and needing traditional education.

Then she learned to spell her name, and I was on cloud nine.

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We’d done it! I taught her, and she learned one of those big milestone things! She could spell her name. There was no stopping us after that.

I have our full curriculum listed out on our homeschooling tab. Hooked on Phonics definitely worked for us. I plan to use it again with Felicity. We both loved our history lessons. We went through Bede first to get an understanding of time and history, then the History Pockets to learn specifically about Ancient Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. I worked in some geography with this too.

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We’ve used the science book for two years, repeating some lessons. They are fun each time. For Christmas, Evangeline racked up on National Geographic and Smithsonian project kits. This took the place of the science book for the rest of the year 😉 . She also got an Encyclopedia for her birthday in October which we used to look up more about the experiments she was doing.

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We stuck with Saxon math, and Evangeline did well with it. However she moved faster than the lessons did. She’s a quick study and the lessons became short and unfulfilling. I’m planning to stay with Saxon next year but I hope second grade math will be more on the right level.

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I am so pleased with our accomplishments this year. I am proud of both of us for sticking with it and getting through as much material as we did. Evangeline gets frustrated so easily when she encounters something she does not already know. The week she learned “doubles” she couldn’t remember 8+8 and refused to do a math lesson for almost two weeks. As a mother this is frustrating to deal with. It took a lot of discipline to keep on the teacher hat and help her work through her frustration. That is no easy task but such a rewarding one. Seeing her work through a math concept she struggled with is a victory for both of us!

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Mostly I am proud to see my daughter love learning. Her encyclopedia is her favorite book, she walks through the library looking for new things to read and she is constantly identifying things in the world around her. Any question she has, she knows how to go about finding an answer.

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It also makes my reader’s heart proud to hear her say she’s most looking forward to summer because she can read whatever she wants now. We’ve already read through two Magic Treehouse books and she’s set a goal to read all the Fancy Nancy’s at the library. You go girl.