Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Yes, No, I don't know!

Saying yes or no seems simple.  When you have several opportunities to do things you enjoy, of course the answer seems simple, "yes!"  There are times that everything seems to be well-balanced, but then it turns out that everything you say yes to, lands about the same time.
Yes, being a homeschool family gives you freedom to start and end your school days when you can or want to.  It gives you freedom to have days off when other schools are in session, and hold school while area schools are in recess.  It doesn't mean that you have more time than other families, though.  Well, not in the same way at least.  And we still must meet several state requirements to be in compliance with the law.  I got so busy this last few weeks, I didn't review my lessons for this week and it makes a big impact! 
There are weeks that we are all less prepared than others, but I was convicted last year to make sure that I am as prepared for my own kids as I am when I teach a class at church or lead worship.  When I was working full-time, I studied before my meetings and when I was on committees, I gave my best.  My kids deserve no less!  I would be furious if I sent my kids to another style of school and the teachers were ill-prepared and yelled at my kids when communication failed.  Yeah, that happens here on occasion.
There was a time that I tried writing some of my own material to save on money or other reasons.  It was an ok thing and I do enjoy that, but it turns out that it is not for me!  I am more of one to adapt the material to fit my kids and their needs.  They somehow learn in spite of me at times, but I love the interaction of them learning because of me.  If I plan to adapt the material to fit the lesson theme and don't even know what we will be discussing, that is a problem!  Some weeks I can prepare during the school hours, but other weeks I can't. 
For me it takes a good 5 + hours to plan for a week of school for 2 kids.  I have already made a layout of what I want to accomplish through the year in each subject and that took some time as well.  I would say that I am at the point in preparation that people who get a boxed curriculum set are in.  The disadvantage is that I don't have a concise list of supplies laid out for me.  I choose not to make these lists in advance because it requires too much redundancy.  I just do it when I make my shopping list for the week.  I preview the language material so that I know that I can help with questions.  I preview the science experiments to make sure they are doable in our home.  I look through our history curriculum because I don't remember most of it and I like to learn with the kids!  We also have many activities to choose from in history and some of them that I chose when I laid out the year aren't going to work out at this point. 
Another part for my planning that takes plenty of time is my digital gradebook.  I have chosen the Homeschool Helper (HH) app for record keeping.  It is less paperwork and more paperwork all at the same time.  I use weekly planning pages from donnayoung.org so that I have a layout of what is happening with everyone all in one spot.  On the HH app, I have to click on each student individually and that is ok.  It is so interesting that because there is such a variety of styles of homeschooling parent as well as family size, curriculum choice and state requirements, that there can never be a one-size-fits-all solution to record keeping in a homeschool.  This is working for me, but takes a bit of effort.  I transfer daily assignments to my weekly planning page and then enter them into HH.  The beauty of it is that I don't have to rewrite the assignment to put a grade in.  I can alter things and make comments, but all-in-all, the entry at the beginning saves me time with grading in the end.
So I will let my yes be yes, and my no be no!  BUT I will keep in mind before giving a yes or no that I only have a short time left with my kids and open-ended dates will be considered differently than solid dates.  I need to be intentional about keeping a good universal calendar so that I don't over-plan!  Outside experiences and watching the good and bad parts of a parent juggling activities are an education in itself.  Oh the joys of figuring out balance! 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Spelling ..... Noooooooo!

Our first week of school was really good!  We started into all of our subjects except spelling.  We use the curriculum Spelling Power for spelling.  My kids are using Learning Language Arts through Literature (LLATL) which has a good spelling approach, but I like Spelling Power even better than that.
When my kids started school at an excellent Christian school, they used a certain curriculum and it was decent enough that I continued using it for a while in our homeschool.  The more we worked with it, I discovered what I liked and what I definitely did NOT like.  I would say that by far, spelling was the worst portion of it (OK I disliked the math almost equally).  It reminded me of the spelling that I did in grade school and while it has been in effect for years and years, it doesn't help you understand spelling.  It makes you memorize a list of words and how to spell them.  If you are good at that, you're good at spelling, if not you have to rely on spell check.  Judging by Facebook and Twitter and other online resources, spell check doesn't even work for some people. 
The approach through LLATL is having the child write a sentence or paragraph that you read and whatever misspelled words are on their papers becomes the beginning of the spelling list.  I am not going into the details of their method, but it is a good plan.  We even tried it for a little while and I felt like it was more beneficial than a random list.  Then I came across Spelling Power through www.paperbackswap.com.
Here is this HUGE book that covers spelling from early grades through high school.  I opened the cover and after the table of contents and introduction there is 100 pages of teacher instructions!  They recommend that you read it before beginning the program and it is very important.  Part of the reason I didn't start it right away is because of that 100-page non-entertaining reading that I needed to do.  I think they have a video now to explain everything. 
I started my kids out on the placement test provided.  It was very accurate in placing the kids where they needed to be.  The next year I did the pre-test and it placed the kids nearly where they left off the year before.  This is our third year, so I opted to just start out with the lists that we left off on last year.  It is working out well and though my kids complained on Monday when we began spelling again, they really didn't have any complaints in doing it.  They are quick to go through the proper steps and it is like this is just part of their expectations now.
Spelling Power takes 15 minutes a day for the kids and just over 5 minutes of my time per child per day.  They are placed in a level by letter and not by grade.  They get groups of words that all follow the same rule.  Every few groups they get a review test without hearing the rules.  There is a midlevel test and end of level tests.  During the daily portions, I set the timer on my phone for 5 minutes.  I read a word, give a sentence and they write it down.  Once they've written it, we grade it right then.  If they missed the word, they cross it out and write the correct spelling in the space provided.  If they get it right or they've finished writing the correctly spelled word, we repeat the process with the next word on the list.  This continues until the timer goes off.  I mark in my book where we left off and they move on.  There is a 10-step method for the child to learn his or her missed words and then he or she has to make up a sentence using the missed word(s).  This takes about 5 minutes and then they do an activity to help them remember the rule which takes another 5 minutes.  I purchased the activity task cards that are optional.
When we're doing other writing projects, I can use the rules to help them with a difficult word because I know the rules now.  It has been quite beneficial.  I've always been a fairly good speller, so I desire to pass that down to my children as well.  I know that the curriculum gives strict instructions, but I do modify them as I do with most of what I teach.  I feel that if I use my own words that I can explain things better. 
Cost seems an issue, but really is not.  The initial might seem a little steep, especially if you want to buy the deluxe pack for $175 from their website.  The book alone is $65 and activity cards are $30 and student books are $8 each.  The deluxe pack includes a lot of cool things that I don't have and can't speak for.  The thing is, once you've made the initial investment, all you have left yearly is the Student Record Book to purchase for each child.  We generally have been using 2 per child per year and I get them from Amazon.com with my Amazon Prime subscription so that I can get free shipping.
I'm not compensated in any way for writing what I did.  This is just a product I believe in and will use until I'm done homeschooling.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Week One ... Success!


Sis doing Life of Fred math
So grateful to God for the opportunity to have a direct roll in the education of my children!  This week has a few rough spots, but all in all it has been wonderful!
We have completed book work at a decent time every day!  My house is not a disaster, but it isn't spectacular either.  I'm over that!  I refuse to try to be what I see others be.  We do not live in filth, but I don't even aspire to live in a spotless shining mansion!  Mostly because I don't want to clean one.




Crystal Palace
We are still loving Story of the World and I've decided to do one book over a 2 year period this time.  It is great to have the freedom to take a closer look at each culture and spend time getting a feel for what took place in that time period.  Today we made a primitive model of the Crystal Palace from Great Britain's "Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations."  It turned out alright!


I'm hoping this isn't something short-lived, but my kids are super excited about math.  Math has never EVER been something that the kids were begging to do.  We started Life of Fred this year and the kids love it!  Now I did start them at the beginning so that they would understand the methods used so that may change.  They are each doing several lessons a day and Bub has gone through the first book and a half.  I had to make him stop to do science so we could get done today.  I hope to write more positive about this curriculum later in the year.  I went through the first several books myself, too, and they are kind of fun!
Taping the sections of the Crystal Palace together.
Ready for a great weekend!  We are headed out to do physical education, which will be running today, so I'm signing off from the best first week of school for LSA to date!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Yes, It's that time of year again!

It is time for school!  Today was our first day of school for the 2015-2016 term.  We've done some school activities for this school year, but officially we are into the books!!
First day of 5th grade!  She was dressed, but cold so she wore her robe at the beginning of the day.
Momma's been exercising bright and early since May, so the kids are not getting that sleepy momma in the mornings and that is such a good thing.  We were up and ready and had chores done by our start time of 8:30 AM.  The kids got new journals and fun snacks!  New books and a new way of getting rewards are always a good starting point!

First Day of 7th Grade!  Sadie (puppy) is too young for school!
Since starting homeschool, I've always had a goal of having things in order so that we could have a real start day.  Then circumstances change or they crack the books before our true start or something.  This year I held off on the early start and we are actually starting when I said we would!  I had a plan, I decorated our classroom, I got little gifts and had all the supplies we needed purchased!
The only hitch this morning was when my son opened his language book and mentioned a book study on Black Beauty.  I had a slight panic because I didn't buy that book.  I opened my book and it is not one he has to read, but one that they use a few excerpts from.  Whew!  I'm sure the library has it and we actually found that we do have a copy of that book.  So my fun son who loves to read asked if it was okay for him to read it even if it isn't assigned.  UH, YES!
What Nutmeg thinks about school!
Not going to make any promises that I will keep this blog up this year because as the year rolls, I get busy living and not typing about it.  :)  Granted, a documented year is always fun to look back at!


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Planning ... Already?

I'm so ready for summer break and so are my kids.  I feel more so when the temps are in the 80's.  Today you'd think that waking up to the 30's would put me back into school gear, but it really doesn't.  My husband warned me not to take a spring break because he knew that we'd all feel this way, but did we listen?  Noooooo.  Just a few more weeks.  Just a few more weeks.  I think I can.  I think I can.
Well our book work can be done more quickly than this, but it should be done in 3 weeks.  We did start earlier than other schools in the area and did half days last summer.  I start counting school in June with baseball and softball as PE. 
This homeschool mom is a little strange, because I love new curriculum and paper and planners and school supplies.  I could get lost in the school supply aisle in August!  Actually, I've heard that this is a common weakness of homeschool moms.  I am not alone!  This year, as most other years, the curriculum that I use is on sale right now.  YAY!  So, I ordered our curriculum last week and I got my first shipment yesterday.  I am so excited about that and I am ready to start planning for next year and I haven't even finished this year. 
I use the Homeschool Helper app on my iPad to keep attendance and grades, but I like to start with a paper planner.  This year, I have moved so much around because I like to plan way ahead and then we ended up with doctor's appointments, unexpected travel, and braces which require a whole day off of school for the 1 1/2 hour travel each direction.  Thankfully there are historical sites and museums we can do for field trips those days.  Soooo, I found this planner that is perfect for me.  It is the Term planner "class schedule" at donnayoung.org and I'm so glad I found it!
I was so against printable planners because of the ink they use compared to the price of a good planner.  I really like the Well Planned Day planner from Home Educating Family Association, but I'm really not organized enough to use it.  By the end of the year I paper-clipped all the stuff between the weekly planning pages and skipped it all.  There are inspiring things and menu planning things and grocery shopping lists to tear out.  I thought it was great, but I don't utilize everything.  I want to do something that I will use.  This year, I'm only printing what I know I will use.  All I will need is a little cheap planner from Walmart to make notes in and acclimate myself to what day it is.
There are plenty of other planning pages on DonnaYoung.  SchoolhouseTeachers.com also has printable planners, but I believe you have to have a membership to use them.  I have a lot of organizing things pinned on Pinterest as well.  So there are many ways to plan and organized.  I would like to think I'm finally settling on one, but time will tell.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Is it really Monday?

I can't say this often because Mondays are usually the worst days ever in our home and school.  We have had a great day!  The changes we made to our school day are phenomenal.  I think Dad being home this weekend and knowing that corn harvest is over has helped tremendously as well.  I have a lot more prep work for this new format, but if the result will be more days like this and less of me screaming half the day, I'll take it! 
Maybe what my kids needed was more of me!  More of Dad, too!  I am giving my kids more independence in extracurricular activities as they get older, but it is really important still that their entire days are not self-directed.  They need some order and direction or they truly cannot function.  I think this is why even as a homeschool parent, I still yearn for the school year to begin.  Some parents are anxious to get the kids out of their hair and into the schools, but maybe ... maybe the kids want/need to have some order.  Even as an adult, when I have nothing to occupy my time or nothing to do, I am chaos.  That wasn't a typo, I feel like I am the definition of chaos in those moments.  My husband was off work from Friday until Sunday - a rare thing - and he was very ready to go back to work.  He had to run errands on Friday and we met friends Friday evening and Church Saturday evening, and Sunday morning and Fellowship group Sunday evening, but there was a lot of idle time in there.  For certain, we need the Sabbath rest that God ordained for us, but idleness becomes mental chaos.
I think that was happening to an extent in our homeschool.  Yes, my kids had assignments, but all they were given was a list of tasks, a time to start, a time to have breaks and an expected end time.  For me, that would be great!  I'm an adult who's efficient with my time and has had to learn it over the years.  I might as well have been giving them a manual and some parts and asked them to build a car.  Face to face learning is where I wanted to be with our school, but felt incompetent or unable to do it.  I didn't know how to effectively educate my kids with my voice, my hands, my face...  Today has been a good day!
I think every family will have their curriculum choices, but beyond that choice, I feel that engaging my children with my voice, face and my own style in the midst of our curriculum for at least 15 minutes of every hour has been effective for the whole week last week and today.  They are responding well and today in an angry moment, I was looking at my son's face and saw the expression and we both melted and it ended in understanding of one another.  I still had time for personal Bible Study and lesson planning.  It was just mixed in with the encounter moments.  Hmmmm.  Why does it take so long to figure everything out? 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Changes

This school year began with changes in our curriculum.  We decided certainly that we wanted to continue with Story of the World, Spelling Power, and Apologia Science.  We struggled with liking the other subjects, and I had been exploring Easy Peasy All-In-One Homeschool since last school year and decided to go with it.  It is a great program and it is free!  We used it for every subject except the 3 I first mentioned.  It was the perfect choice for us to begin with.  The kids learned about self-motivation and I got a break from planning.
The longer we did Easy Peasy, the more disconnected I began to feel as a parent-teacher.  My passion for homeschool is partly a passion to teach my kids.  It was turning into the computer teaching my kids.  Let me clarify.  I think Easy Peasy is awesome and the work that Lee put into it is incredible.  I do believe that if you are not called to be a teacher, but called to homeschool, this might be a great option of curriculum for you.
The literature choices that my kids were reading are great pieces, but I did not grow up with literature because our small town didn't have a library.  If you have a local library, you are blessed!  I had never read Gulliver's Travels or Swiss Family Robinson and the further my kids got into the books, the more disconnected I felt from their work.  We were headed into Penrod and The Peterkin Papers which not only had I not read, but I had never heard of these books.  At the conclusion of one child's book and in the middle of another, I made the decision to drop Easy Peasy from our curriculum.  I still use it as a guide for our daily Bible reading and it helped me organize my education planning.  I just purchased a grammar program and a writing program that I can use with both of my children at the same time and I have chosen 4 books at each of their levels to read for the rest of the school year.  I'm going to have us read the books and have discussion with them, but we are going to enjoy reading for school.
Well that's just language arts, what about other important subjects?  Because this is my children's 3rd math program, they quickly got overwhelmed by math.  They started in Everyday Mathematics and as I went to homeschooling from Private school, I chose not to continue it because the teacher's manuals were too expensive.  I didn't care for the fact that they don't teach long division at all and really lack in math facts.  I just about went into a rant about Common Core, but I will stop with that.  I took my kids to Horizons Math with a false presumption that they were advanced in math because of the previous curriculum and didn't want to dumb it down.  Horizons may have been perfect if we had started with it, but it assumes that you've had a foundation in that style of math so there were areas that my children felt lost in.  Easy Peasy math came with many games which they liked, but there were concepts that frustrated or confused them.  BUT she, the author of Easy Peasy, recommends Xtramath to those struggling with math facts.  WE DO THIS every day.  I've seen so much growth and we haven't even gotten past addition facts yet.  For middle school, she recommends a few programs including Khan Academy.  I had heard of this before, and played with it a bit last school year as well.  I completely put my 6th grader on Khan academy about a month ago and assigned 6th grade math to him.  He works on it for 30 minutes a day and at the end of the year, he should have complete mastery of 6th grade concepts.  Currently he's mastered about 40%.  Last week I did the same for my 4th grader and she is already flying through mastering 4th grade concepts.  This is at their pace and if they cannot understand something, there are a series of videos to help.  When they are really stuck, I go through things with them.  Another fun thing with Khan is that I am doing it too so that I can know what they are working with.  I have currently mastered 100% of Early Math and about 80% of 3rd grade math.  I have chosen to start at the beginning so that there will be nothing that I can't help my kids with when they're stuck.  Yes, I love to learn as much as I love to teach.
Computer skills.  I know that these are imperative to teach and I know enough about computers to be dangerous.  I have computer common sense, and a little more, but I want my kids to know more.  It just so happens that Khan Academy has a computer programing tract as well, so I have them do a lesson and practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Easy Peasy also recommended a free typing program called Good Typing that we began to use early on.  They have to practice typing every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.  How are they going to be good at computers if they can't type?
Finally, because of the author of Easy Peasy's fantastic organization, I have decided to do music on Mondays, PE/Health on Wednesdays and Art on Fridays.  We get a little of those things mixed in with other curricula, but I wanted to have a specific pattern of these things with intentional time dedicated to these subjects.  I am teaching my daughter to play the piano with some books I got on Amazon.com and my son is learning guitar through tutorials and I am learning it with him because I was hoping to do so anyhow. 
It was recommended to me not to keep changing things, but I am seeing my children thrive with each step of change that we do.  I appreciate the perspective of other seasoned homeschool moms, too, so I'm praying about each step.  This week as I wait for my new language curriculum to arrive, I've cut out Language arts except that I'm doing a read-aloud every day for them and we read the Bible together every day now.  Our classroom schooling has been done in record time this week.  My kids are happier and I'm happier.  They are excited as they are going to start A Wrinkle In Time and Meet Addy this weekend to prepare for next week's lessons.  And I'm excited because I have a great excuse to use Pinterest now!