Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Accidental Unschooling

After almost six weeks of silence here in the blog realm, I'm a little unsure of how to get back into posting again. Our homeschooling has been pretty different than usual over these weeks. For some time now, my general health had been deteriorating, but I couldn't quite figure out why. In November, my doctor (Why did I wait so long to go see her?!?) figured it out for me, and began ordering further tests and treatment. I'm now recovering from a simple surgical procedure with the assurance that within the next month, I should be back to my usual, high-energy self. I am more than ready for that!

With quite a few doctor visits, preparations for the holidays and my need for a ridiculous amount of rest, our regular schedule of fairly rigorous, but varied, learning for Cullen sort of fell apart. But one of the perks of homeschooling is the flexibility, right? I knew I could make up for time missed later, even through the summer, if needed. I was in for something of a surprise, though!

The philosophy of unschooling, which is almost completely child-directed, has been interesting in theory to me, but I never truly believed that it would work for my child or that I could tolerate not being in control, if I'm honest here. I was not at all expecting it, but Cullen stepped up on his own to cheerfully fill in the gaps when I let up on his regular schedule. I still required the very basics from him, but organized science disappeared altogether, along with most history and geography. Any formal writing instruction stopped, as well.

His recent fascination with drawing was in full force, so he worked a great deal on that, not just scribbling the same things, but actively working on foreground, background, perspective and dimensions. Then he wrote stories and illustrated them, creating four or five books. While his spelling is still that of a seven-year-old boy who thinks if you can figure it out, then it's good enough, his stories were very detailed with surprisingly dramatic elements, a clear beginning, middle and end, and strong characters. He is incredibly proud of the result of his efforts. He also wrote letters, made lists for me, planned out a few businesses that he wants to start with his cousin and a friend - things that would be great writing assignments, approached with so much enthusiasm because he thought of them himself!

We did the minimum from his math workbook, but he enjoys problems just for fun. Often he will ask if I'll "play math" with him, where we take turns making up problems for each other. This has been a prime opportunity for extra practice and more than once, a great way to fill time when waiting for the check at a restaurant!

Our birdfeeder right outside the back door has provided a constant source of fascination as we keep up with birds and squirrels that visit, learning names of the different species and noting how their behavior differs sometimes. A new type of bird gets both of us excited, and we have to look up what it might be right away. Breakfast and lunch usually look something like this in our kitchen:

Some of our favorite visitors were a surprise to me. I thought woodpeckers only ate insects, but three different species have frequented our feeder. The resident red-headed woodpecker tries to keep the others shooed away, but they manage to slip past him often enough. Here is one that I haven't identified yet. He is the only one of the woodpeckers that wasn't scared away by the sound of camera through the glass.

This coming week, I plan to steer Cullen back to a more structured day, but I am so relieved that the extensive make-up time I anticipated may not be required. He has kept his brain sharp on his own initiative and saved me a great deal of guilt! So to all of you unschoolers out there, I apologize for doubting you! Though I still prefer a little more structure, I have learned that it can actually work very well!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wordless Wednesday (well, there are some words, actually)

From our visit to my Dad's on the Mississippi coast this past weekend.

View from the roof of the boathouse:

A swing at the end of the dock is everyone's favorite place to sit:

Cullen pushing his little cousin, Scarlett:

A new fall hair-do:

Clowning around with Pop:

Note his unique paddling technique:

Much easier to get around with some extra man-power:

Sending an "air five" to Pop:

One of my favorite places:

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Wordless Wednesday

Sudden Obsession

I mentioned in an earlier post that Cullen has suddenly gone crazy for drawing and writing. The level of this new interest is almost frightening in its intensity! He begs for breaks between his usual work in order to draw his latest ideas. I have wondered if this is really the same child!

There are sixty or more drawings just from the past couple of weeks. Most of these are intricate and filled with a number of things happening. You can tell he rushed to get it all out onto the paper, including little speech bubbles with characters interacting with each other. Each of these has a story that takes him several minutes to get through! Then there are a few drawings which he obviously slowed down for, taking greater care in the way things look. This farm scene took him about half an hour earlier this week.

I sometimes - okay, frequently - get somewhat obsessed with a new interest or a revived old one. I know exactly what it feels like to have a thousand ideas frantically running around in your head and the terrible urgency of trying to capture them on paper before they frizzle out.

Today, I am letting Cullen write the book he so desperately wants to work on - something about a boy and his "Boat of Youth." It sounds like the beginning of a real adventure story! The only other formal work this afternoon will be pared down to the basics. It is so easy to double up on history or science another day.

This day, we follow inspiration!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wordless Wednesday

This little guy lives in the bushes beside our front porch and comes out to sit in the sun some mornings. He's becoming a little less fearful of me as long as I'm quiet.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Weekly Report - Taking It Easy

This past week was a break of sorts for Cullen. I had a few doctor appointments and wasn't feeling altogether all together, so we did no formal lessons. Not a single one. There were plenty of the impromptu discussions and life-lessons that are part of everyday life around here, however, and he was a great help with the laundry! Other than his chess and art classes and the weekly gymnastics class, he was able to play as he liked. (With the exception of video games this week.)

Of course, he spent a great deal of time with the usual action figures and in cartwheeling through the house, but I was really pleased that he decided to write two letters to his cousins. I was absolutely thrilled to see that they were composed of more than two sentences each! He edited for spelling and clarity with a little help, and the handwriting, though not neat by any stretch, was legible - mostly!

Friday evening, my husband left work early, my daughter joined us, and we drove across town to Medieval Times for dinner and the show. Cullen was so excited, he had a hard time keeping his feet on the ground!

I couldn't help but grin when his Dad said something about Cullen being a knight, and his response was, "I can't be a knight! I'm not even old enough to be a squire!"

The sword fights sent sparks flying, the jousting was impressive with lances splintering left and right, and the good guys won in the end. Of course, my own favorite part of the evening was seeing the horses show their stuff. Beautiful!

We were seated in the Green Knight's section and were told to cheer for him, which we did heartily, but Cullen was a little bit distressed when he figured out that the Green Knight was the bad guy! The knight was really good at being the bad guy, though, and he also flirted a little with Cullen's big sister, so we managed to get past any moral dilemma in a way that I hope never happens in real life!

Before the show began, we killed some time walking around the Discover Mills mall where Medieval Times is located and found a Lego store. If you've read many of our posts here recently, you can imagine Cullen's face when he saw it. To make the surprise even better, there was a life-sized Lego statue of Darth Vader right at the entry.

We almost didn't get him out of there!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wordless Wednesday

Cullen took plenty of photos entirely on his own during our recent trip to Florida. There were the usual dozens of nostril shots and photos of my Mom's dog with a plastic pirate gun, etc. These few surprised me a little.

Monday, October 19, 2009


My pencil-phobic child just asked me if I would teach him drawing lessons every day! Well, he actually asked for every day at 2:14 PM. He has always been a nut for a schedule!

This borders on the miraculous!

I do know that some boys take a little longer to really get into written expression, but my oldest was so into writing and drawing from such an early age, that I have not been entirely sure how to best handle Cullen. I kept reading to just allow him time. Apparently, that was good advice. In the past two weeks, he has produced at least 50 pages of drawings and lists all on his own.

Can you tell I'm excited?!?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Weekly Report

We are still enjoying the Middle Ages in our history reading. Here are a few of our favorite resources from the past week or so. The Minstrel in the Tower is only halfway done. We're reading this one together!

As far as reading on his own, Cullen finished up the Magic Treehouse book, Knight Before Dawn, as well as a couple of Star Wars titles - all pretty light reading, I know. I don't want to only and always have him read this type of book, but a few choices that are easier to read, yet still interesting, seem to help Cullen's reading speed and fluency. I try to challenge him most of the time, but also to toss some easy and fun things into the mix.

The basic subjects are all moving along pretty well. I am guilty of slacking in the area of writing instruction, mostly because he has a history of resisting in this. He will compose all day long if I am the one dictating, but he does not want to write. Seriously, there have been tears before over my request for a little drawing and two or three sentences in response to something we've read or learned. This past week, though, Cullen has been writing and drawing like crazy on his own. I'm not sure what triggered this, but I am so glad to see his enthusiasm! I've tried to just let him do whatever he's motivated to do in order to keep it fun. My challenge next week will be to gently pull some of that into an intentional exercise or practice.

Math has focused on mental calculations and shortcuts in addition and subtraction. Cullen considers this more fun than work, so no problems here this week. In science, we've read about and watched videos on reptiles and birds. The session of clay classes came to an end, but he begins a multi-media art class next week.

At the awards day for this session of chess classes, Cullen's coach told me that he has definitely been improving and learning as far as chess skills go, but that the most remarkable progress has been in his sportsmanship. This was terrific news! His extreme competitiveness and intensity makes being a good sport something that Cullen has had to intentionally cultivate. It's the primary reason I signed him up for these classes to begin with.

We've had Cullen go with no video games this week (for reasons I will not detail to protect his feelings) and very limited TV time. He has been surprised at the number of things he has enjoyed instead! We've agreed that it is a very good idea to limit screen time more than we've done in the past. Cullen's response was surprisingly positive - Good! I can make more drawings!

He also dug out the playmobil castle, knights and pirates. You can tell by listening that he knows a great deal more about the era than he used to, especially when he moans about not having a proper seige tower. Maybe we can make one with cardboard this week.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

End of Summer in St. Augustine

It's been crazy busy the past few weeks! I'm hoping very much to settle down and stay that way a while.

Toward the end of September, Cullen and I, along with my Mom and her little doggy, too, went to Jacksonville, FL, for my cousin's wedding. This was Cullen's first wedding, and he was very taken with the whole idea. His cousin Kathryn, who was beautiful as a flower girl, taught him a little of how to dance with a girl at the reception. Her mom, (another of my cousins) Jamie, and her husband, Ken, did the photography. If you love weddings or photography, check out their blog here: There are some gorgeous photos, including a session of bride and groom in full wedding attire in the ocean at sunrise the next morning! Scroll down enough and you can see Cullen and Kathryn dancing like crazy!

After the wedding, we stayed a few extra days visiting with my aunt and uncle and enjoying South Ponte Vedre Beach. Here is Cullen with his grandmother, Ma (my Mom!) I just realized that they both have their eyes closed in this pic!

This area of beach was unlike anything I've ever seen! There was very little sand, but there were millions of shells. Most were crushed, but quite a number whole and intact. Cullen collected pocketfuls and bucketfuls, and he had a blast doing it.

We took two days to explore nearby St. Augustine, which wasn't really enough time to see everything. I let Cullen choose the places he wanted most to see. Of course, first on the list was the Castillo de San Marcos, the old fort. There were re-enacters working on cleaning muskets that were very patient in answering Cullen's questions and in posing for photos.

The structure is constructed of coquina, which is a natural limestone composite of crushed shells, sand and calcite. Cullen got a kick out of finding coquina in buildings and walls throughout St. Augustine.

Our visit was on a Monday and the fort was not at all crowded. Cullen had plenty of room to pretend, and I just sat back and let him have fun.

Looking at this photo, I can't believe I let him sit on the wall like that! It was quite a drop to the ground!

A little train tour was fun and informative, if a terribly bumpy ride. Maybe that made it more fun for the little guy, though. He wanted to see the Old Jail from the 1800's, so we took the tour and learned quite a bit - most of it more gory and morbid than I really would've chosen for him if I'd thought about it more ahead of time. Nothing seemed to upset him, so I guess it's all right. He is all boy, after all!

Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth Archaeology Park was another highlight for us. We both drank a little of the sulfer-smelling water. I'm hoping to look younger any day now!

The talks and presentations here were outstanding - very informative, yet engaging even to a 7 year-old boy! The planetarium showed us how the Spanish explorers navigated by the night skies. Cullen was fascinated. (He took plenty of pictures, but I really need to give him a lesson how to let the camera's auto-focus do its job.) He wanted specifically to get a photo of this little wall made of "tabby" - a mixture of lime, water, oyster shells and ash. Think of it as man-made coquina. Who knew a he would be so enamored with building materials?

Within the park's 15 acres, there are quite a few ducks, peacocks, squirrels and other assorted creatures. Cullen learned the hard way to never let a peacock take food right out of your hand. Their beaks are sharp! He tossed cracker crumbs out on the ground after that, but this way the squirrels had chance to get in on the munchies.

We spent time just enjoying the beauty of the place and talking about what life must have been like for the Spanish settlers and the Native Americans that had once lived there.

This was a perfect close to summer.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Wordless Wednesday

Cullen and his cousin, Walker, on Stone Mountain's Sky Hike. Conquering this was a huge confidence-builder!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Reading and Cooking with Dad

One of Cullen's favorite pastimes (of the more quiet sort) to share with his Dad is watching the cooking television network. This afternoon, he discovered that I have a couple of Alton Brown cookbooks, and he brought them out to show his Dad, all excited! They sat on the sofa together to look through the books, Cullen stopping to read the entire set of instructions for baking the perfect pie crust. I couldn't help but laugh!

The reading must have inspired him a bit, because he and Dad made mashed potatoes together to go along with a roast in the oven. Cullen can sometimes be ridiculously picky about trying new foods, and I don't think he's ever eaten mashed potatoes before. (Hard to believe, I know!) Since he helped make them, he was pretty eager to try some. I think I'll have him help with the cooking more often!

First on the list of dishes to prepare... some kind of pie!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

No Acting Lessons Required

I had to share a typical reading session from our house:

This is new material for him, as you can tell by the couple of words that I help with, but the overly-dramatic presentation is actually his favorite, silly way to read aloud. Sometimes I have to insist that he just read it straight or we'd triple or quadruple the time it takes to read a chapter.

Dull moments around here are a rare commodity!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Weekly Report

This was a really good week at our house! We kicked it off with a bang at The Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History. (See Monday's post here.) Overall, Cullen was cooperative and fun to be with, which as you can imagine, does help quite a bit!

Basics rolled along smoothly. Spelling, Bible, D'Nealian Cursive, Explode the Code 4 phonics - all without a hitch. Cullen memorized a few Bible verses and should tackle a poem next week. He finished reading The Sword in the Tree and is excited about beginning Adventures of King Arthur tomorrow.

Rounding out language arts, he read and wrote a response to one of Aesop's Fables and learned about synonyms and pronouns. After we read The Hero Beowulf together, he narrated a super short summary back to me. (I hope that these narrations grow a little longer as time goes on!) I jotted his sentences down, then wrote out two of them for him to copy. He added a gory illustration of Beowulf with sword in hand and a green, bloody monster arm at his feet. Typical little boy, yes, but don't get the wrong idea. He also wrote a couple of sentences with pronouns for me which read, "I have some butterflies. They are beautiful." There is a sweet side, too!

Math was pretty relaxed. He's been working hard on some fairly new concepts, so we mostly just did review work and word problems this week. On the top of the stack for this weekend's read aloud books is The History of Money from Weekly Reader Library series. Cullen saw this earlier and can barely wait to get into it. He finds money VERY interesting!

Due to time constraints last week, which means "we didn't get it all done," this week we combined some of Tapestry of Grace Yr2 week 3 with week 4 to catch up with the schedule, covering the rise of Islam, Charlemagne, an introduction to the Feudal System and what life would have been like in a Medieval village. This is such a fun period to learn about!

Crustaceans were the focus of our science, with a little reading and making a page for Cullen's notebook. Tomorrow, we plan to hunt down a pill bug, sow bug, or roly-poly as I've always called it, to get an up-close look at a land-dwelling crustacean. Now that I think of it, I guess we could spend a few minutes at the lobster tank in the seafood section of the grocery store, too.

Cullen created these clay pieces at his weekly art class - a castle and a goblet. (Perfect for our Middle Ages theme!) I was a little puzzled (silently, of course) at the castle until it suddenly hit me. It's a giant inflatable bouncy castle!

Most of Cullen's free time over the past several days has been spent hunched over a pile of legos and an instruction manual. He has made small things on his own before, but this week was a milestone. After three days, he completed this giant Coast Guard ship with all the bells and whistles - all on his own! The only assistance I provided was to help him backtrack a few steps to find a mistake, then he forged ahead to finish.

He's quite proud of this accomplishment! I am, too!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Study of Legos

Shouldn't following an intricately detailed Lego instruction manual count as school work?!?

I actually shortened math time to allow him to work on these. One of my goals for Cullen this year is for him to get a little better at continuing to work through when something is not easy, without throwing his hands up and quitting (or throwing whatever's in his hands up and quitting!) Plus it gave him the motivation to clean off his play table!

Wordless Wednesday

Early morning backyard visitor
Two little ones wandered a little farther back in the trees, but I couldn't manage to catch them with my camera.