Adventure Story Class

February 16, 2012

I’m so excited about the class I’m teaching at our homeschool co-op this semester!

I was inspired by the collaborative storytelling my kids have been doing for years.   They create characters, a world for them to live in and share in dreaming up storylines for them.  The girls are both busy writing and drawing their own versions of the stories they create.

Several of the moms at co-op had mentioned that some of the kids had difficulty writing.  It was no surprise to hear that these same kids tended to avoid it whenever possible.  That got my gears turning and I hatched a plan for an adventure story class.

It wasn’t easy to explain my idea to the moms at the planning meeting.  It’s part collaborative story, part board game, part arts & crafts and a tiny bit creative writing class.  From the confused looks on their faces, I’m guessing my unbridled enthusiasm was the only reason they agreed to let me teach it.  😛

Each class I spend a couple of minutes talking about some aspect of creative writing.  The first week we talked about creating characters.   We discussed the difference between round and flat characters and when it was best to use each type.  We looked at all kinds of character traits and talked about how character flaws can drive the story.

Other topics we’ll cover during our 8 sessions include ways to describe the setting and physical environment, elements of plot, what makes an ending satisfying, how characters grow and develop in a story and how to publish a story.

The second part of class we work on an activity or craft project.   Last session they created a character on paper.  Today they made a physical representation of their character with little wooden peg people.  This will also double as their game piece when we get to that part.  Next week we’ll be building the 3D game board complete with scenery elements.

For the last part of each class we tell the story and play the game.  The first week I wrote a short fiction piece which allowed them to participate by saying what their character would do at various points in the story.  Sometimes I go around the room to ask each child what their character would do.  Other times, I use the traits they chose for their characters to decide who drives that part of the story.  I also throw in a bit of chance to mix things up.   Each child has a foam die they can roll to settle trait ties or  just decide who’ll get to speak first.

As the weeks go on I won’t need a fully written piece of fiction.  The kids will be free to make choices about what they’ll do within the confines of the world I’ve created.  The game part helps define these limitations and gives the characters extra challenges to work through to enrich the story.  The characters will have to work together to deal with those challenges and solve a mystery/puzzle/find a resolution/win the game/end the story.   (See?  Clear as mud!)

I’ve made a point of telling the kids that the point is to use their imaginations and have fun.  I don’t require them to write *anything*.    And what they do write is not collected, graded, corrected or shared unless they want to.

But guess what?  Most of the kids brought a whole page of writing to class today.  Even some those kids that avoid writing.  And the ones who didn’t have anything written?  They had simply forgotten and were genuinely disappointed about that.  I had moms tell me how their kids could not wait to get home and write about their characters.

Today in class I gave them a chance to jot down what their character would do at a particular point in the story.  I gave them 3 minutes.  I’ve never seen pens move so fast.

I can’t wait to see how this story ends 🙂



Literature has never been my thing.  Ever.

I clearly remember the fight I had with my 5th grade teacher over my lack of desire to take a book out on library day.  I explained I had no interest in fiction.  She was bent on proving me wrong.  If only I found the ‘right’ book(s), I would adore fiction.  Doesn’t everyone?

Well, no.

I’m sure I would have been more inclined to check out a book or two if we had been encouraged, or even allowed, to consider the non-fiction section.  But it seems that part was reserved for serious research… you know, that thing you’d do only when your teacher assigned you one of those serious reports.   No, both the librarian and teachers knew that kids like fiction and so they herded us into those rows with enthusiasm.

That particular misconception carried on straight through high school.   My English teacher had a cabinet full of books.  You picked one of his books and read a certain number pages each week.  You had to pick from his cabinet because those were the books he’d read… and how else could he quiz you on the book so he’d know if you’d actually read it?!

“Don’t you have any non-fiction books?”

He’d look at me with that little smirk.  I’ve no doubt he thought I was simply trying to get out of reading all together.  He suggested book after book from his collection.   If only I could find the ‘right’ book….

So I’ve been quite happy that my children will not suffer my fate.  The are ‘normal’.   They enjoy fiction, they read because they want to.   They choose their own books, they’ve read and enjoyed several classics among their many choices.  Yay!  I don’t have to torture my kids with literature!

But wait.  Here comes the principal (aka my dear husband) and his school-indoctrined ideas.

I’ve been assigning famous works of literature from the time periods we’re looking at in US History.  I usually ask the girls to read several chapters.  If they hate the book, they don’t have to finish.  Again, I don’t see the point of torturing them with literature.  Some they like, some they do not.  Let’s face it, there’s enough literature out there that you can find options in any time period that you find enjoyable (ok, except for someone like me, but then we’ve already been over that).

For our current time period, I put Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle on the listMy husband handles our virtual library, loaning ebooks from the library and putting them on the girls’ electronic readers.  Upon seeing this book listed, he commented that he hadn’t read that till he was older (by only a year or two at most) and, the kicker for me, that they could not read that book without an adult reviewing it with them, pointing out all the  appropriate themes and symbolism and political ramifications.  It’s a book that must be properly analyzed in order to be read at all.

Now understand, my distaste for this whole analysis of literature goes back a long, long way. And I feel that it’s not solely based on my underlying dislike of fiction pieces in general.  I just think that it’s the right of the reader to decide what, if any, messages, themes, symbolism or politics they wish to draw out of the text the author has presented.   What use is a piece of literature that *requires* a third-party to analyze and explain what they think is the author’s point or purpose?

I get that there are people who love literature.  There’s even a subset who love to study, analyze and discuss these works in-depth.  Heck, my own kids may very well turn out to be among them.   More power to them.

But the idea that a piece of literature is only as good as the guide that explains it to you?  I don’t think so.  Literature is just another art form which can and should be experienced for its own sake, with no obligation on the part of the one who experiences it to make more of it than they wish to.

Go ahead, tell me I’m wrong.  I’m sure my literature loving family and friends will. 😛

Writing with Grandma

January 12, 2012

I know it’s quite normal for teens to think that Mom and Dad have no clue what they’re talking about.  Now that the girls are officially teens, they’re strictly following the teen code of conduct.  😛

This can cause a bit of a problem when you’re homeschooling though. As I adjusted the workload and expectations to match their grade level this year, they reacted as though I was being totally unreasonable.  They would complain, turn in work that was given only a partial effort and they outright ignored my deadlines despite whatever consequences we put into place.

Enter Grandma with a healthy dose of perspective.

At first the girls were quite happy to have Grandma help them write the biography reports I’d assigned.  Then reality hit.  Grandma isn’t joking around.  She has high expectations and no problem putting a big fat ‘F’ on an assignment if it’s not right.

Grandma broke down the paper into smaller assignments for specific outlines, notes and written rough drafts.  The assignments are emailed  to her to be graded.  Late assignments are an automatic failure.  And yes, one girl actually tested this out!  They’ve spent whole days at Grandma’s kitchen table working under her watchful eye.  It’s a drastic change from the freedom I usually give them when they work here at home.

They’re nearly finished writing the reports now.  Not only has their writing improved but their attitudes as well.  I think they finally realize that my expectations are not out of line for their age and grade level.  I think they see that they really do need to step it up, stop being lazy and do the work!  Perhaps they even appreciate the freedom I give them to work where and how they choose.

I’ve seen the difference in attitude reflected in their other subjects.  They’re putting in a full effort, the complaining has stopped and they’re treating both me and my assignments with much more respect.  They’re also displaying more confidence in their ability to handle the hard stuff.  They’re smart, they can do it.  They just need to put the work in.

I’m  so grateful that Grandma is available to share her time, knowledge, talents and passions.  It’s definitely a perk of homeschooling that the girls can learn so much from someone they love and respect.

Made for Each Other

December 31, 2011

How do I know my husband and I were made for each other?

Because before I even mentioned that I needed a Boba Fett bobble head for my desk he’d already bought me one.

I’m pleased to say we’ve hit a nice groove in our schooling here.  What needs to get checked off the list, gets checked off most of the time.  The girls aren’t complaining about most of what they’re assigned.  Zee?   Well, Zee is Zee… and almost 8 years old.  I think that makes him legally bound to put up at least a little fight. 😛  Despite all that he’s still progressing in leaps and bounds.

Since we’re easily finishing all that work that makes that inner school teacher so happy, we’ve got time for all that other stuff. You know, the important stuff.

Gee’s been blowing through tutorials on programming apps using Corona.  Dad’s been heavily engaged in this also so the two are working together to share what they learn and show off their projects.  This girl has definite potential to be a computer programmer and I couldn’t be more thrilled. 😀

I sent Bee a link to on November 2nd.  She jumped at the chance to participate.  I helped her set up her account, showed her how to use the forums and let her loose.  We went with the default 50,000 word count, what the adults use.  Several times she’s come asking if maybe we should reduce it.  I encouraged her to keep it, that she could do it.  A week or so later, she’s glad we left her goal 50,000 because she really thinks she can do it! 

And Zee?  Well, yeah, he’s still reading like a madman.  I wasn’t able to get the 3rd Harry Potter book from the library ( can you believe they don’t have copies which aren’t out or lost?!) so that’s on hold. Meanwhile he’s whipping through every other book we own. 

Many of the earlier chapter books he sorta skipped over.  He wanted to get to the ‘good’ stuff already!  So now that’s he’s a proficient reader, he’s going back  to check them all out.  He’s read every Junie B. Jones book we own and several more from the library.  He’s read each and every picture book we own.  He’s working his way through the chapter book shelf right now. 

His birthday is in a couple of weeks.  What does he want?  His very own Kindle so he can read even more! 

I know for a fact that if my kids were in school, they wouldn’t have this much time to devote to all these important things.   I’m soooo glad I can give them this opportunity to explore, perfect and enjoy their favorite things.  🙂

He Won’t Stop Reading

November 11, 2011

Zee is nearly 8.  He and I are constantly in a tug of war over his school work and chores.  The kid can debate you to death. 

So it’s really nothing new that it’s Friday night and his work for this week isn’t finished.  But this week, it’s not because he’s spent all his time arguing about whether measurement belongs in a math book or when in his life he’ll find a use for poetry. 

This week he’s addicted to reading.

Reading has always been one of the first things he finishes on his to-do list each week.  These past 2 months, he’d been hooked by the Harry Potter books. He took them in the car, read them on the couch and begged to stay up to get a few more pages in.  I can’t seem to get the next book in the series ordered from the library before he finishes the one he’s on.

But this past week, it’s gone over the top.  He’s devouring whole bookshelves.  Every hour I seem to find him somewhere else, reading book after book.  Everywhere I go I see him walking around with arms full of books.  Every time I pass the main hall, there he is, on the floor in front of the bookshelf  reading one after another. 

Each time I see him I can’t help but inquire if he means to finish his school work this week. 

“But I like reading, Mom.”

It’s hard to argue with that.

Quarter One Done

October 28, 2011

As hard as it is to believe, our first quarter just came to an end. 

It wasn’t a bad quarter.  We’re just about where we should be according to that silly plan that makes my inner school teacher squeal with glee.  Leaving the last 2 weeks of a quarter free for catch-up and review still works beautifully for us.  No idea where I first picked up that tip but so glad I did!  🙂

Integrated Algebra continues to be the most difficult thing to keep up with.  The girls don’t pick it up as quickly as I did as a kid and I admit, I often find that frustrating.  My brain works differently and it’s a challenge to find new and different ways of explaining it all.  I just ‘see’ how it works.  They need clear steps to follow, formulas to use, ….  and lots and lots of practice problems!

I’m soooo glad I bought a large whiteboard.  At the time it seemed like a bit of a splurge but now I can’t imagine how we’d get through this math without it.  Besides being able to clearly show both girls how to solve a problem, I make full use of the different color markers to highlight each individual step on the way to a solution.  They’ve found this helpful and the girls have begun to use colored pencils in their own work as well.

We’ve added a US History trivia contest to help review many of the different topics we’re touching on.  I ask the questions and Dad plays along to keep them motivated.  We’re pulling questions from this book.  They’re challenging but the multiple choice keeps it from being overwhelming.  I hand pick 3-5 questions that relate to the time period we’re studying.  I love that the book has explanations for the answers and an extensive review section so we can easily look up additional information right then and there.  The kids (and Dad too) love the opportunity to win a candy bar. 😛

Zee’s working through second grade.  I still occasionally find myself getting nervous about deficits here and there.  Handwriting is a great example.  Two months ago his hand writing was pretty atrocious.  We didn’t do much writing practice last year at all.  Yikes!  But I kept calm and reminded myself that we’ve got time.  I’m so glad I did.

His handwriting has improved by leaps and bounds these past couple of months with very little effort.  He’s also learning and enjoying cursive writing.   Slowly but surely his fine motor skills are progressing and his hand strength allows for longer and longer periods of writing without getting pooped out.  It’s all worked out.

So we’ll move right into the next quarter plugging along in algebra, picking up history here and there, writing and reading ….and checking off things on the list along the way.  Gotta keep that inner school teacher happy ;).