Month: September 2014

Looking Back on September


I simply cannot believe how fast the first four weeks of school have tumbled by. There were times when it seemed that we had all grabbed a moving train with one arm and were dangling behind, hoping just to stay alive. Many of our days have been splendid, full of talking about new ideas, learning about the past, and combining the two in impromptu songs. I have never worked harder at planning out curriculum, and although I have spent a hefty number of late night hours scrambling for the next morning, this is by far my favorite school year ever.


For so long I have been saying, ‘I am not a teacher’, as if that gets me off the hook for doing a good job. Truly, who am I kidding? Teaching is simply imparting knowledge, helping others learn, sharing what I know. By choosing to educate my kids at home, there’s no escape from the responsibilities that go along with that. Every day, The Harmon Academy is like a full time job, on top of a full time job, on top of a full time job.

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I finally have a proper Inbox!


Some of you may be wondering what we actually did in September.

Here is a brief description of our days. We have a morning Bible class that has been quite fun, we are studying Genesis, as well as a Baptist Catechism. It has been great to talk through some of the basic doctrines that we often assume everyone knows about, or understands. We just finished question 15, dealing with God’s providence. Tim gave me a little book on prayer by John C. Ryle last year for Christmas, and we read through chapter one, a couple paragraphs per week over the course of the month. Chapter one talked about how prayer alone can not save you, but you cannot know God or be saved without it. Interesting stuff to discuss with a 7 and 12 year old! We have also learned a little bit about several countries all over the globe, using the Operation World calendar. So, bible/theology with some social studies on top. That is how we start the day.


Next up is Math, and there’s not much to say about Algebra 1 or Math 2, other than things are plugging along fairly well. This is the first year I have totally depended on the teachers manuals for Vegas’s work. I would be completely lost without them, particularly in Algebra and Grammar. Wow. I am thankful for Amazon.

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Right around 9:45 we begin History, and this year the boys are both using the same book. We are studying US history.  This book is pretty great because it interjects world history and events in each unit, giving some context for what was happening all over, not just in New England. We just made it to the point where Elizabeth I beheads her cousin Mary, Pope Gregory XIII finally figures out leap year, and the Roanoke settlement becomes the first X File.


In an effort to raise gentlemen {well mannered, considerate, hard working, intelligent}, we have been reading George Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation along with our history lessons. The language George used is a little different than what we are accustomed to these days, so we spend some time putting each rule into simpler terms. My favorite so far? ‘Put not off your clothes in the presence of others, nor go out your chamber half dressed.’…… translated: ‘Get dressed every day.’ I think we will end up with some sort of George Washington award that will be given out at the end of the year. In the mean time, we can expertly point out ‘uncivilized’ behavior in each other.


Science has proven to be equally interesting this year, with the aid of Amy Stewarts Wicked Plants and Wicked Bugs books. Entomology and Botany were never quite as gross…or fun. Today we learned that Bolivia has adopted a pro-coca government, advocating feeding schoolchildren coca leaves instead of milk since they are very high in calcium. Obviously, the first thing we will do tomorrow is make a ‘Got Coca?’ poster. Seriously, we have actual textbooks too. Vegas is in an 8th grade book Matter & Motion, covering everything from Astronomy to Physics, and Elvis is alternating between an Astronomy book and a Nature Reader that I absolutely love, Seaside and Wayside. September was mostly about Mr. and Mrs. Crab for Elvis, and now we are on to the Sun. In October we will take a field trip to an observatory near us to take a closer look at space. The boys have spent quite a bit of time harnessing the Sun’s power right in our own backyard, burning legos, leaves, twigs, straws and even their own fingers with a magnifying glass. {don’t worry Hannah, we had a bucket of water right next to them, and no one was injured!}

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Every month I am aiming for the boys to each read one challenging book and do some sort of report, literary analysis, project or essay on it. Vegas read The Ear, The Eye, and The Arm by Nancy Farmer in September, and is finishing up his essay this week. Next month we are taking it up a few notches by reading Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. After that we will be eating only vegetables. Elvis read The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleishman, and really enjoyed the story. He hasn’t done book reports before, so we broke his up into parts and worked on it bit by bit. He has already started My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett for his October reading.

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Both boys are doing great in their spelling, Elvis is learning some basic rules, and Vegas is plowing through a GRE vocabulary list.

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We started working on French {again}, but this time, I swear, we will gain some momentum! We have Teresa, and friends who speak French on our street, so help is available if we need it. Elvis is mostly just learning to speak simple phrases, we won’t get into spelling or reading until he can actually spell and read English without any difficulty. Vegas is doing well, and it has been  fun to hear them work on words together.

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Our musical endeavors are changing this year, Elvis is taking drum lessons as well as an orchestral percussion class taught by the Portland Youth Philharmonic. He is super excited! Vegas is taking an upright bass class also taught by the Portland Youth Philharmonic. We now have a rent-to-own double bass, which is GIGANTIC. We are all looking forward to hearing big deep notes emanating from Vegas’s room! Violin has not been abandoned, although we are taking a little detour to see what happens with these new instruments!


Part of our school year will be spent on ‘Domestic Economy and Manual Competency’, learning how to make things, fix things, and have necessary skills. {I always spell that ‘skillz’, but the spellcheck hates it.} Elvis has just flown through his sampler stitches, and is currently mastering the chain stitch. America colored her sampler first, then told me what to stitch on it, and finally today she started using a needle and thread herself. She figured it out much quicker than I expected her to at two years old!

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Later on we will include a little woodshop, a little plumbing, some electronics, and programming in our schedule. {because replacing a hard drive is definitely on the #necessaryskills list!}

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Visual Arts is pretty simple this year, we are learning elements of design and basic principles of art. In addition, we learning about an individual artist each month, studying techniques, themes and learning about their lives. So far, Elvis has studied Paul Cezanne, and Vegas has studied Berthe Morisot.


There have never been less hours in the day.

We are not bored.

Reading up on Bedbugs, Shelley


Administrative Notes

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One of the things that has really been hard for me in the past, has been keeping a good record of what we do here at the Harmon Academy. Last year’s system received a few changes, and so far they seem to be working out well! The boys each have a three-ring binder that holds their completed work, and I have an administrative binder. This holds lesson plans for each week, completed daily work checklists {which provide an accurate account of what actually happens each day, not what I planned would happen}, and any handouts or reference materials that I collect for future lessons. The admin binder has thirty sections in it, ten for subjects, ten for students and records, and one for each month of the school year {10}. The boys binders are simply divided up into subjects that they are taking. Whew. I bet you all were just itching to hear about my binders.

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Guess what is more exciting than that? Report cards. Automated grading spreadsheets. Classroom expectation contracts. Syllabuses. {this makes me think of Shirley Temple singing about hippopotamuses}

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It has been eight years since I first pulled Vegas out of public school, and I finally think I’ve figured some of this stuff out. The end of this school year will show how well all my attempts organization worked. The goal for me as ‘administrator’ is to be keeping a close eye on student progress, meeting curriculum mileposts, matching or exceeding state standards, and having a work record to prove it.

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Going to bed BEFORE 2am, Shelley

The First Day

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We survived the first day. Everyone was dressed, ate breakfast, and at their desks before the first bell rang. That’s right, people, we have bells. It sort of started on a whim, a silly idea to make the day more like a school day, and now I can’t do without them. They keep us moving forward, and keep us motivated to get classes done on time. There are breaks, but they no longer take 37.5 minutes each. For the most part, all of the boys schoolwork is finished before the last bell rings. My only regret is that there is no physical bell that rings, its just my phone. {science project? Yes!}

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Vegas’s desk system works beautifully, both he and Elvis have space to spread out, plus there  is room for me, and the occasional guest. It is amazing to me how much we use this room now, where for the first year and a half we just sort of ignored it.

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At 3:00, when the bell rang for free time, we were all excited. I was exhausted. I don’t remember ever feeling so wiped out after a day of school before, and the thought of 179 more days seemed horribly overwhelming. By Friday night I was a hot mess, and nobody dared to talk to me.  The weekend worked wonders, being able to catch up on sleep, having some space and time to myself was very helpful when facing Monday morning.

The good news? The kids did better than I did. They still do. The bad news? I have so much to learn, which I suppose is good news too. At least I have a brain that works, and a schoolroom to use it in!

Planning my teacher uniform, Shelley

Remember that time when…

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We drove the employees at ‘Really Good Stuff’ nearly mad by using their mechanical horse outside….over and over? Until the whites of their eyes were showing, and it took incredible restraint to not demand that we leave? I do. It was awesome. One of my dear friends was in town and we were walking by…and spotted this amazing bookcase from Grand Rapids, MI. {somehow that makes it so much more romantic, don’t you think?} While I was inspecting and measuring the bookcase, the boys took turns rodeo riding this poor horse. It was wild.

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There was even a sign on it saying that the horse worked, and for a mere $.25, children could ride. I think it was a lie. The guy working there looked like he was about to have a heart attack, and he wouldn’t even budge on the price of the bookcase for a nice cash offer. I was not pleased. I considered telling him that we would continue riding the mechanical horse until he gave in, but honestly, we would have probably broken something. The best course of action was to return another time, and hope nobody else snatched up my Grand Rapids bookcase. Sure enough, a week later, it was still there! The owner cut me a deal, even without a three ring circus on the sidewalk. Success! Now all our school books have a wonderful home,   hidden behind a glass door that makes even the cheapest workbooks look fancy.

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Covering every available inch of our walls with maps, posters, and glue dots, Shelley

The End of Summer

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The Beach.  All summer we had determined to go, only to find that we could never make the trek on a day that wasn’t drizzly and 55˚. Even if it is hot here in Portland, the beach is usually windy and wretched. But on our last weekend before school was officially in session, we drove out to Seaside, despite the questionable weather report. The coast was beautiful, the wind was just right for kites, and not knives in our ears.

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Backing up all my photos,  Shelley