Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Seasonal challenges in the home school

When I wrote that over-long post about our mini-farm the other day I meant for it to be this post, but I thought I’d better give some background information and it just grew into a post of its own.

So this is the post I meant to write.

When the weather is fine we like to have school outside.

[Our outdoor school room, under two pecan trees and one black walnut, between the house and garage-cum-barn. This is another picture from years ago—all the jungle beyond the yard and smoke house has been fenced in and eaten by the goats. Beyond that is the woods.]

On other fine days I might cancel school so we can be outside playing, but in the spring we often have to be out working. Monday is our regular yard work day. Normally my oldest son takes care of most of it, but it’s work I like doing so I’ll spend a couple of hours mowing each week, and I take care of nearly all of the seasonal pruning. But this year is much harder for two reasons. Life has been so messy the last year and a half that I haven’t pruned anything in all that time, and my oldest son has been with my mom in Arkansas since February.

Even letting the other children share the mowing, we still aren’t able to get it all done in one day, so I’ve only been mowing the acre or so that surrounds the house. You’d think we could get it all done, but that acre-or-so requires that we mow around various flower beds, shrubs, and fruit trees, so it’s a slow job. Much of it can be done on the riding mower, but there’s a lot that has to be done with the push mower and some that can only be done with the weed-eater.

Unfortunately, my missing son is also my mechanic and I’ve been having more trouble with the machines than usual. Mike works on them as he has time, but then most of his work-at-home time is taken up with infrastructure—mending fences, building a new chicken coop, and so forth—and taking care of the animals. My sixteen year old son does most of the milking on weekdays, but Mike does most of it on the weekends, plus he trims hooves, kills and processes poultry, and all of that sort of thing.

Last week I spent nearly the whole Monday and Wednesday pruning things and pulling honeysuckle out of trees and shrubs I don’t want it to kill. My twelve year old daughter and ten year old son mowed but they weren’t able to finish it all. I’d hoped to get back on top of it this week, but Monday was… Well, Eldest Daughter called it “three Mondays rolled into one,” but that’s a story for another time.

Until Number One Son returns late in June it looks like I’m going to have to devote at least two days a week, maybe three, just to maintaining this yard. By the time he gets home the heavy rains and rapid growth will have stopped, so I’m making a note to myself never to let him leave home during the spring again. He’s simply going to have to stay home until he gets his youngest brother trained to take his place. ;-)

In the meantime, when we do have time for academic work, I’m having to shift around what we do. I’ve been using Ambleside Online’s reading lists, with a few modifications, since the summer of 2007, but it takes me a year and a half to two years to get through one year of their recommended reading, so that means that we’re currently on Week 14 of Year 3, having begun last fall.

Every school day we have our prayers, memory work, and poem of the day, so we’re accomplishing more than that confession makes it seem. We’re just moving through the books slowly. But since we’re moving even slower than usual lately I’ve decided to change something about the way this works.

We’re reading a biography of Marco Polo, and instead of reading one chapter a “week,” and by “week” I mean “Ambleside reading list week” not “calendar week,” I’m going to read a chapter each time we have lessons. The same for Children of the New Forest, and I’m going to try to finish a book on ancient China by the end of the month, and when we start the story of Jason and the Argonauts from The Heroes I’m going to try to finish it within a couple of weeks, instead of timing the readings to fit the Ambleside schedule.

Most of the other books don’t lose anything by being strung out—Our Island Story, This Country of Ours, Stories of the Old Dominion—but I’m trying to keep the whole thing from feeling so sporadic, and then when this yard work season is over and we can spend more time at the books, hopefully the schedule won’t seem so daunting.

The good news is that we’ve already finished all the poetry that was planned for Year 3, so I’m reading poems by Edgar Allan Poe, interspersed with poets we’ve already read but love to reread, like Robert Louis Stevenson and A.A. Milne.

My next big challenge will be to figure out how to make consistent time for “drill” work, like math and reading and Latin, which is my great weakness.

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