Tuesday, March 17, 2015

East Texas Orchards :: Strawberries, Peaches, and Produce, Oh My!

It's that time of year again! The sweet berries are ripening and the farms are beginning to open their fields for picking. I can't wait to take the boys and pick fresh strawberries!

Last year, we picked thirty pounds of strawberries. I made several delicious cobblers and tarts.Over the next few months, I hope to fill the freezer with berries of all kinds, peaches, plums, and more.

Here are some of the local favorites! If you know of any other farms in your area, please let me know, I'd love to post them.

McPeaks Orchards ~ Opening around April 17th this year. Be sure to call! You may pick them or purchase pre-picked. Also available are cabbages, broccoli, potatoes, and other produce. They will have peaches, plums, black & raspberries, onions, and honey later this season. McPeaks is located on US 271 between Gilmer and Pittsburgh. They are open from 8am to 5pm Monday through Friday and from 10am to 3 pm on Saturday. (903) 856-2833

Efurds Orchards ~ While not currently open, they will be soon. You can find a variety of items at Efurds, like pecans, veggies, watermelons, figs, peaches, and strawberries. Their website is a wealth of information with their updated calendar, family recipes, and an online store. Efurds is located on US Hwy 271 three miles South of Pittsburgh. They are the first shed on the left. (866) 770-7936 or (903) 856-2253

Greer Farm ~ This working farm offers more than just produce for sale. Cabins rentals, cooking classes, and fine dining compliment Greer Farm nicely. I highly recommend visiting their website to discover the unique opportunities Greer Farm offers. Blackberries and blueberries should be ready in May. Located in Daingerfield, click here for directions from your locale. (903) 645-3232

Before you set out with children in tow, please call each farm or double check their calendar to ensure you can pick produce or to see if they have certain produce available. Let me know what you find!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Homeschooling :: Yes, you can!!!

School room at Millard's Crossing

I meet people everyday who tell me, "The public schools are getting bad; we are looking at our options: private school or homeschool. Private school is expensive, but I don't think I can homeschool." And, I'm here to tell you that YOU CAN!

There isn't a magical formula or a specific curriculum that is a one size fits all when it comes to homeschooling. There isn't a need to be well versed in English literature or know every element by heart. There isn't even a need to do traditional schooling in the sense of classroom desks, a blackboard and books in every hand.

Homeschooling is more than just an education; it is a way of life. And, with homeschooling everything you do - from reading novels, reciting quotes, traveling to see history in person, cooking crêpes, budgeting for expenses, getting muddy with friends at park - is laying the foundation for a child to become an adult whom can make their own decisions, possess critical thinking skills, develop manners and have a life long love of learning, as well as many other wonderful characteristics.

I can only tell you about our personal homeschool journey. I don't like to say, "My curriculum choice is better because....," however, I do feel it is better for my students, then other options that are available. Does that make my way teaching better than yours? Absolutely not! I would hope that you would say the same thing with whichever curriculum or homeschooling techniques you follow.

If you are willing to take your children's education on there is no better time to homeschool than now! If you aren't comfortable creating your own lessons, there are companies who will create those lessons for you. If you prefer books or online only or a combination, they are all readily available. The homeschooling curriculum market is huge and you will be able to locate just about any type of educational material you desire. Just have faith in yourself and know that as a parent, you know your child best!

So, how does Norris Academy of the Arts & Sciences homeschool? Many different ways - we've been homeschooling since 2003 and every year we tweak and change things up to see what works best. We toss items that didn't work at all and even create our own classes depending on the interests my boys hold at the time.

I prefer a combination of curriculum and technique. I partially use the Classical approach as laid out by Susan Wise Bauer in her book, The Well Trained Mind and I pair it with Charlotte Mason's approach to education through the use of Ambleside Online. In addition, I add items used by a homeschool/private school consortium, VEritas Press, and I write some of the curriculum myself.

My boys both learn completely different, meaning they retain the maximum information from class in different ways and I make sure that I engage them in a manner that is more conducive to their learning styles. I find that some children do better when you read aloud, whereas others do better if they read on their own. For example, I myself prefer to study in a noisy room as it helps me to focus on what I am learning rather than in a quiet room where I am easily distracted.

At the end of every year, I begin creating book lists for both boys and also ask them about any specific interests they may currently hold. My youngest has a 3D printer which he uses to design objects his imagination creates. Since he enjoys 3D printing, I allow him to set aside a brief period of time each week for this during his school day. Sometimes, he creates things he's recently learned about, such as a bust of Alexander the Great following a history lesson.

During the year, we may find books that I've purchased that just don't click with my children, so we set them aside and find replacements. I've been known to scrap an entire lesson if it wasn't really relevant or if I can find a better way to show the boys in person how something worked rather than simply reading about it. When we lived in Virginia, we didn't read about Yorktown, Jamestown, or Williamsburg - we went there. We discovered the pub where George Washington met with other Revolutionists, we learned how to properly load a cannon, make a bucket, and clean a deer skin.

As my boys have gotten older, we also seek outside classes to accompany our homeschooling. They both take classes at our local children's theatre. My oldest is currently involved in a group science lab and speech class. I feel classes with other teachers help prepare students for later learning in college; and  exposes them to a whole new set of concepts from a professional or teacher in the field of study.

What about scheduling? Our schedule is broken down into 3 terms. After every sixth week of school we take a week off. This has really helped us to stay on schedule and not get the burn-out most homeschoolers feel in early April. We also take all of December and June off. The month of December is always filled with activities, parties, volunteer opportunities, family gatherings, Christmas plays and more. We decided it was easier to school during the hotter parts of the year, than in December. A month of summer break in June is plenty of time to enjoy the outdoors before it gets too warm and we get to see all of our friends who are public schooled before they go on family trips in July and August. This schedule works really well for our family.

I also schedule out our assignments 12 weeks at a time. This helps me to stay organized and allows the boys to "see" where they are headed. Our scheduled assignments may change from time to time, but for the most part, I try to stay the course.

As far as the dreaded "socialization" word goes, both of my boys are highly socialized in a positive way. They participate in soccer with students from all backgrounds, they perform in plays or work as crew members, they are members of the local Anchor Club, and they have many different friends of all ages. In fact, they are sometimes too socialized with all that we are involved with! And, it's not the negative socialization that is oftentimes seen in the school settings. Don't get me wrong, we deal with negative people, bullies and the usual suspects, but it is not everyday and there always life lessons to be learned along the way.

The homeschooling process in Texas is very relaxed. You are not required to submit paperwork to any school district. Occasionally, those who remove children from public school do opt in to fill out the district's form letting them know their intent to homeschool as to avoid any truancy issues. You don't have to submit your curriculum, test scores (should you choose to test), or anything else to any school district or educational entity. The Homeschool Legal Defense Association and the Texas Homeschool Coalition offer great legal and general advice when it comes to homeschooling and I highly recommend visiting those sites.

I also find it very helpful to be a member in your local homeschooling groups. You will find support, view curriculum before you purchase it, have access to field trips, share resources with other homeschoolers and give your children the opportunity to make lifelong friends. Our homeschooling experience wouldn't be the same without our homeschool group!

If you're looking to start homeschooling or if you have any homeschool questions, please feel free to comment below. I'll do my best to answer them and give you my honest thoughts. Again, please remember what I tell you only applies to what our family has experienced so some things may work great for you, while others may be the complete opposite of what your students need.