Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Next Year’s Homeschool Plans, Already?

I am thinking about next year and what we will do, because this year has been, eh!

Yeah, eh!

Not bad, that’s not what I mean.  The kids have definitely made academic progress.  Peter is fast becoming an independent reader.  Mary is flying through books and fast improving her spelling.  David is becoming more of an independent worker and beating back those math nuisances.

But there have been some growing pain, yes, definitely.

Some of that stems from my oldest getting ready to hit puberty.

Some of it stems from my second oldest who, at the tender age of 8, is probably jealous about her older brother getting ready to hit puberty.

Because when you are a middle child, it’s not fair that anyone gets to do anything without you.

Even puberty?  Yeah, even puberty.

And some of it stems from having a 6-year-old boy with some special needs that are more special than I thought they were at the beginning of the year.  I simply cannot imagine a world without Peter (or any of my kiddos), but sometimes life with him is hard.

It has not been the stellar year I envisioned (how often do our visions match the reality?).  But I’ve learned a lot.  We’ve all learned a lot.

One of the things I’ve learned is that I’ve held them back.  They can do more.  I don’t mean more workbook pages or more lessons.  We’ve definitely done as much or more than they would have done in a public school situation.

But I want more than that for them.  I mean these kids are really willing and able to claim more and more knowledge than what I have offered them this year.

I miss the “good ole days” in the beginning when I meticulously researched books and created epic…stuff…pardon me, but it’s late and my college vocab seems to have gone to bed already.

I’ve learned that with 4 kids, each of whom has their own very special needs, I don’t have the time or the mental energy to continue creating curricula from scratch that will challenge them in the way they need to be challenged. 

They can do it!  I despaired for a bit, thinking that my kiddos were not as smart or as motivated as I once thought…but then I came to realize that they were simply bored with the paltry stuff I was handing them.   I can see when they are engaged.  Actually, I can feel it.   It electrifies the air.  And when they are not, when they think something is stupid?  Wow, I feel like I’ve hit a brick wall.

My oldest is approaching 7th grade, he’s not a little kid any more.  There’s so much more that I can offer him.  This should be the fun time, when he and I can sit down together and talk about what he’s reading, rather than filling out worksheets or cutting out bits of paper to stick in a lapbook.

And it’s truly a challenge to keep all 3 of my “school-age” kiddos engaged all the day, plus mind the adventurous toddler, get dinner on the table, and have clean clothes to wear without losing my mind.  When is there time to plan?  I need someone else to do the planning for me for a change.

Because I am human.  But you know that if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time.

And so we are planning to change things up next year.  We’re looking at moving away from our totally eclectic way of doing things in our homeschool, scrapping Mom writing studies, and embracing Sonlight.  And, eeks, now I know I’ve lost my mind!  We’re looking at 2 cores!  One for David on his own and another for Mary and Peter.  Because I just can’t keep reinventing the wheel.  And they all need their own level stuff.  And David is completely looking forward to studying the Eastern Hemisphere.  And the younger kids will love studying the History of the World.

And now I’ve got to figure out how to afford it all.  ;0)

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Giveaway: A Child’s Geography by Ann Voskamp

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It’s the middle of the year and you’ve hit your hump. You’re beat. Not another mad dash to throw together an impromptu unit study, please. You just want something easy that you can open up and teach to the children.

How about a little geography?

I have a very gently used (nearly like-new) copy of Ann Voskamp’s A Child’s Geography: Explore His Earth right here in my hands, ready to give away to one of you. It’s a lovely book, but we’ve decided that it’s not a good fit for our family, so I’d like to bless someone with it. Retail value new: $32.95

Our can read an overview of A Child’s Geography here.

Briefly: 11 chapters, each including a read aloud, a book list for further study, hands-on activities, and suggestions for notebooking/narrations. In the book you will find a cd-rom full of printables to use with it. You can do a little or a lot, but the great thing is that it’s the perfect length to fit in between now and June. ;0)

Giveaway open to US residents in the 48 contiguous states (sorry folks, my shipping budget is limited). Ends midnight EST on 3/9/12

Update: my Rafflecopter widget has gone kaflooey, so I've removed it. ;0)

We'll make this easy peasy: just leave me a comment below telling me why you want the book. Make sure you leave me contact info. ;0)

Disclosure: This is an unsponsored giveaway, the book came off my own book shelf where is was sitting collecting dust.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

See Patterns and Finding Balance

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Around Christmas time, I found these shape sets by Melissa & Doug real cheap, and put them away thinking they might come in handy for a break on an overfull day.

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Shh, don’t tell the big ones they are supposed to be for “little” kids. ;0)

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They explored symmetry and balance.

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016Thinking outside of the box and into the wide world.013

 

 

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Several minutes of quiet enthrallment.  Can’t beat that.

What are some activities your kiddos do to break up the day?

You might also like:

The Art of Exploration

Building Imaginary Caves and Forts

A Funny Thing Happened…

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Monday, February 27, 2012

Letting Go of Un-useful Things

I admit that I’m a bit of a packrat.  It seems I’ve never come across a book, scrap of paper, or empty egg carton that I can’t imagine a future use for.

My book shelves are bowing.  There are boxes in the attic, full of books.  Not packed to the rafters or anything.  But stacked willy nilly.  I think the kids would prefer to have a play space there, rather than lumbering stacks of books.

Some of these are things that I bought for our homeschool thinking they would be perfect for us.  But they weren’t. 

And some of these are things that I reviewed and thought I’d definitely use them at a later date.  But I haven’t.

And perhaps I never will.

But it seems a shame to relegate so many things to boxes or the upper shelves to collect dust and perhaps never see the light of day in the hope that I might use them someday (maybe, possibly?)…when there are folks out there who could probably use them right now.

People trying to get past the midyear hump and coming up short on funds to buy replacements.

So, I’m reevaluating.  I’m taking a close, hard look at these treasures to see if they are really treasures for our family or would be better suited to someone else’s homeschool.

I will probably sell some things, but…and this is what will interest you…I also plan to give some things away.

So here’s to spring cleaning…I’m planning to post a giveaway later this week.  Here’s a hint on what it will be.

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K5 Learning, a review

k5logo

3-part-cartoonK5 Learning
a supplemental online reading, spelling, and math program for grades K-5
$25/month for 1st child or $199 annually
$15/month per additional child or $129 annually

Running a multi-level schoolhouse in your home can be challenging at times. Each kid is an individual with their own particular educational needs…I often wonder how school teachers do it all.

It can be helpful to have a supplemental program for one or more of your kiddos to work on while you are working with another child, and this is where K5 Learning comes in.

What K5 provides…

  • over 3000 leveled activities
  • assessment of current skills
  • an individualized program for your child (students are not boxed in by “grade” or age, but demonstrated mastery)
  • multimedia lessons (animated segments with spoken directions and sound effects)
  • spelling practice
  • reinforcement of phonics rules
  • reading comprehension practice through story sequencing and other activities
  • reinforcement of elementary math lessons
  • math facts practice
  • progress reports
  • automatic advancement through lessons when the child demonstrates mastery
  • lesson selection by the parent if the parent prefers

You can read a little more about K5 on the What is K5? page.

View 30 sample lessons from all areas of K5 here.

Get an assessment of your child’s skills and try K5 free for 14 days here.

I highly recommend checking out the samples to see how you and your children like the animation, voices, music, etc.

What did we think?

I received a free 5-week trial to use with two of my children, Mary (age 8, 2nd grade) and Peter (age 6, 1st grade).

Let me start by saying that although Mary and Peter are only one grade level apart, they are much further apart in maturity and reading ability. Peter is a beginning reader who is not ready for independent reading, whereas Mary is reading much higher than her current grade level (she’s read the entire Chronicles of Narnia on her own) and comprehends higher reading very well. However, they are both used to having much more difficult books read aloud to them and their listening comprehension is good.

The first day we tried K5, I had the program simply give them tasks based on grade level before having their skills assessed. I found that the programed 1st and 2nd grade work was simply too easy for either of them, so I had them assessed.

These were the results from their initial assessments:

Peter's placement is as follows: Mary's placement is as follows:
For reading, For reading,
Phonemic Awareness - Exempt Phonemic Awareness - Exempt
Phonics - High Grade 1 Phonics - High Grade 2
Sight Words - Early Grade 2 Sight Words - Early Grade 3
Vocabulary - Early Grade 2 Vocabulary - Early Grade 3
Reading Comprehension - Early Grade 2 Reading Comprehension - Early Grade 3
For math, For math,
Numbers & Operations - Early Grade 2 Numbers & Operations - Early Grade 3
Measurement - Early Grade 2 Measurement - Early Grade 3
Geometry - Early Grade 2

Geometry - High Grade 2

You will notice that they were assessed as being exactly a year apart, which really surprised me. I work with these kids on a daily basis, and while they are both strong in math and verbal skills, they are definitely more than a year apart in reading level.

And, while Peter is good at math, he has a lot of trouble with abstractions (he’s still much more comfortable using pictures than using numbers and equal signs and hundreds and thousands throw him for a loop). Mary is much more comfortable with computation, can tell time, count money, and more.

Perhaps my personal sense of Mary’s reading comprehension is flawed? Perhaps I think she’s a better reader than she is? Not judging by how well she reads aloud or by the discussions we’ve had about the books she has read on her own.

The results alone, caused me to question the assessment. But as I was present during both assessments, I can also point to at least one flaw in the assessment process: there’s no “I don’t know” option for any of the questions. When guessing is necessary to get through the test, it makes it difficult to determine what is actually known or only guessed at.

I would like to see more information in the assessment results. While it’s great that both kids tested at a grade above their current grade level, as a parent and a teacher, I want to know exactly which skills my child demonstrated mastery of. What exactly does early grade 3 or grade 2 mean, in practical terms? Keep in mind that every program is a little different in what it terms as “grade” level, and cut offs can be pretty arbitrary.

Of course, the true test is how they do with the lessons the program places them in, right?

Mary felt that all the lessons she was given by K5 were too easy.

Her constant refrain was: “I already know this!” And she did. She was getting spelling words that she’s already mastered in her current spelling program. Vocabulary she already knows. Math she has done to death.

Fortunately, K5 does not limit your child to whatever the program automatically assigns. As the parent, you can assign both reading and math lessons through your parent dashboard. Simply select the lessons you wish to assign (you can even view the actual lessons). Here’s a sneak peek at the 2nd grade reading lesson list:

k5 reading lesson list2

You’ll notice, though, that some of the lesson descriptions are not so descriptive. I can’t, for instance, see if the basic sight words in level 2, vol. 1 are words Peter already knows without actually watching the whole lesson…I very quickly became frustrated with this process.

It would be wonderful if these lessons were labeled with the actual words introduced. A teacher in a school would want this info, and so does a parent.

You can also fine tune the spelling portions by changing the spelling settings

k5 spelling preferencesand/or adding your own spelling list:

k5 spelling list

K5 is truly a customizable program.

You will have to put some real time and effort into customizing it to your child’s full advantage. I recommend watching as she takes the assessment so you can make a note of areas of difficulty, keeping a list of words she has difficulty spelling to add to the spelling portion, and possibly previewing upcoming lessons.

The interface is easy for the child to use.

Activities are carefully explained, complete with an example and a “?” button is available if your child needs to hear the instructions again.

k5 example 1A progress bar shows your child how many more they need to do in a particular segment.

k5 example 2

Mistakes are gently corrected. Correct answers are warmly rewarded with a little animation.

After completing a segment, the student is given the opportunity to continue or stop.

k5 stop go

When a lesson group is completed, your child gets a little game to play as a reward. The games are short (just a couple of minutes), so not a time drain.

Peter thought the program was too slow, but I think this is a good thing.

The segment lengths are very carefully controlled, as your student cannot answer the question until the instructions are completely given, the example done, etc. He cannot jump the gun. Personally, I think this is a good thing, as my kids have a tendency to think they know the right answer, and impulsively click it, only to find out that it is wrong because it’s not what was being ask for. Having to wait helps to train him in patience.

If your child has vision difficulties, font size is inconsistent within the same grade.

Peter had some difficulty with font size on some of the activities. Here’s an example:

This one he had no problem reading.

k5 font size

This one was a problem.

k5 font size2You’ll notice the extreme difference in font size for the sentence? Peter wears thick glasses, so this may not be a problem for most children with normal vision and we only ran into this issue a few times during our trial, but I would like to see more consistency in the font size.

I didn’t always agree with K5’s method.

K5 teaches phonemic awareness, phonics, and sight words, all things that I teach in my homeschool. But I was surprised by some of the words categorized as sight words. “Man” for one. Some others were “best,” “fast,” and “sit”. These are high frequency words, so perhaps the idea is automatic recognition of high frequency words, but it seems like a waste to memorize a bunch of decodable words when there are so many weird high frequency words out there. This is not necessarily a minus, just a difference of opinion.

One of the first math lessons K5 had Peter doing was “text and numbers.” Basically they were teaching him to match up number words with the numbers themselves, starting with 1-10 and eventually working up 120. More sight words, essentially, because they were not teaching him to read the number words or to spell them, just to recognize them and match them up with the numbers. Again, I have my doubts about how beneficial this method is, and he spent so much time on this that he got bored with it. This is one situation where it would be best to assign a different lesson.

We found one mistake.

It was in the math portion, a double dominoes activity where the double 2 + 2 = 4 was transferred to the blackboard as 2 + 2 =8. Oops! Fortunately, Peter answered the question correctly and the program recognized the correct answer, so it was just a “typo.” A button for reporting a mistake or a problem within the program itself would be a nice touch.

The progress reports are nice, but I’d like more detail.

They tell you what grade level your child is working at and the percentage correct they got on each lesson. You won’t know exactly what they are getting wrong or why unless you sit next to them and watch what they are doing. K5 was kind enough to provide me access to a dummy account so I could give you a more thorough look at how the reports look with lots of lessons covered.

Here’s the overview:samantha report

samantha report2You’ll notice it shows you the grade level the student is working at and the amount of time spent in each area.

The detailed reports give you the actual lessons covered, the percentage mastered, and dates accomplished:

samantha reading skills

samantha reading skills2

Again, it would be nice if those lessons had more descriptive titles, instead of things like “vocabulary, level 4, vol. 1.” I’d like to see more detail, like number of times attempted, actual parts mastered (what vocab words did she get wrong?), etc., but if you live in a state that requires a lot of documentation, this would be a helpful report to print and add to your child’s portfolio.

Overall, K5 shows some real promise for a supplemental program.

I like the fact that it’s customizable, the segments are relatively short (good for kiddos with attention difficulties), and that it supplements both language arts and math (both areas that many young kiddos have difficulty with). I like the monthly option: makes it easy to use just for a summer or for a couple of months when you have a new baby in the house (or are experiencing another one of life’s interesting turns). Worth taking a look at if you need something extra, or need a change of pace.

The free 2-week trial to K5 is a great way to check it out (no credit card necessary) and have your kids assessed at the same time.

Disclosure: I received a free 5-week trial to K5 to try in my homeschool for review purposes. I received no compensation, all opinions expressed here are my own, all pics are from the K5 website.

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Being Silly Because We Can

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Grandpa Attack!

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Peter being almost serious.

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And not so serious.

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Emma is almost never serious.106

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How do you like her “cast”?

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More pictures of the kids:

Christmas Portraits

Emma Serious

Sunshine and Apples

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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Is it really just over 6 years until graduation?

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There’s that picture, again, lol!

This kid is going to be 12 in a month and moving into 7th grade in the fall…and it just finally dawned on me that this means he only has 6 years left until he’s done with grade school…yikes!

Ok, 6 years, is still a way off, but we’re looking at high school in 2 short years.  High school! 

My husband and I sat down and had a talk the other night about what we would like David to get from his education before he goes off to college (or an apprenticeship, or whatever he choses to do after graduating).

Because it’s so easy to lose sight of the big picture when you’re doing the day-to-day stuff or even planning from one year to the next.

We’ve always had a set of overall goals, but it helps to talk them over periodically to see if you are meeting those goals or need to change them.  Turns out our overall goals are still about the same and hubby and I are still on the same page.

Another thing that we talk about every year is whether or not we will continue to homeschool all of our kids the next year.

We aren’t rabid, spit-in-the-eye-of-mainstream education types, nor do we plan to hide our children from professional educators until we die.  Ok, ok, I do have some issues with mainstream education in this country, yes.  But I recognize that for all its warts and imperfections, public school has an important place in our society and maybe works more than it doesn’t work.  Nothing in the realm of human life is perfect, after all. 

We just want what is best for each of our kids and that can (and does) change over time.  There may come a time when we decide to enroll one or more of them in public or private school (depending upon finances).

For now, we will continue to educate our children ourselves and start to look for other educational opportunities for the high school years.  Perhaps art or science classes with a co-op or a private instructor, for instance.

David is making progress towards becoming more and more independent in his education, so we’ll be encouraging that.  In some ways I think his work has been a little too light this year, so we will be adding difficulty and slowly working on increasing our expectations for him.

And we are looking at a significant curriculum change for next year, because something else we are looking at is the drain on Mom.

Don’t let anyone lie to you.  Educating your children yourself is hard work.  It costs money and time and energy.  You can’t just hand a workbook over to them and expect them to do it all themselves.

Sometimes I eat, sleep, and dream my kids’ education.  Sometimes I lose sight of the Susan in there.  And that’s not good, because as much as I believe that God has made me a steward of these kids, I also believe that he made me for being me.   Being a mother is good thing.  Being a wife is a good thing.  But being me is also a gift from God and sometimes that gets lost in the day-to-day parenting/teaching struggle.

I don’t say this to discourage anyone, but only to remind you that we invest in our children with our lifeblood.  It is worth it, yes.  But sometimes Mom gets stretched too thin and needs to change things a little so she can be more present for her family and explore her mission in life.

There are times when I wish I could just be the mom and not the teacher, too.  But then I reflect a little more and realize that we all teach our children all the time.  Being a teacher is an integral part of being a parent, and while not every parent will teach their kiddos grammar rules or how to outline a research paper, every moment we spend with them is a teaching moment in some sense. 

My teaching moments are little more intense than usual at the moment, so we are moving towards a curriculum that is more planned out for me---much as I do like to make plans for our homeschool and research books and invent unit studies (I know, I’m a weirdo), I’m really looking forward to this.  More on that in a bit.

Are you making changes in your homeschool?

You might also like:

Adjusting Our Language Arts

Learning Unintended Lessons

Hammerhead Sharks Study

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

#1 Lesson from the Computer Fast: Setting Limits

The world will not implode without 24/7 access to the constant stream of information we call the worldwide web.

Whitney Houston died and I still found out about it.

The weather report was wrong anyway. They said snow, and we had clear skies.

Nothing urgent came through my inbox.

I lost nothing, but I gained a lot of insight. And time.

It’s amazing how much time can be frittered away in from of a computer screen with little to show for it.

Oh, I know, I make important connections when I read all those excellent blogs posts and chat away on FB. A mama who spends most of her days surrounded by 4 kiddos under 12 can use some adult conversation.

But, and this is a big but, there are limits.

I could very easily spend the entire day reading edifying articles on the web, but it wouldn’t get my kids fed or educated. There’s simply too much. One post sparks an idea, which leads to some research and then writing an article on a totally different idea born from that…and on it goes.

If I were a single person, or even married but with no kids, or even married with kids, but the kids were in school and I was free to spend my time freelancing my ideas and might actually be able to earn some money at it…maybe then it would make sense.

But that’s not who I am.

Then there’s the simple truth that using the computer changes my brain. You see, I can deal with eating just one potato chip, but reading just one thing on the internet?

Can’t. Do. It.

My OCD contributes to that. I have compulsions. Not hand-washing compulsions. But a desire for information. Ideas. Solutions. I get stuck. And those clickable links keep me stuck.

As much as I wanted the kids to cut back on their computer and video time this past week, I really really needed a break from it myself and it was a positive experience for all of us.

Peter only asked me if it had been 7 days yet once every single day.

We are working on creating specific limits regards our computer/video game/video use.

Ideas that are floating around:

  • limiting computer/video games to weekends (or non-school days) only, with a 1/2 hour limit per gaming child
  • 1/2 hour per weekday computer limit for me, with a longer period on weekends so I can get my school planning and blogging done (excluding school activities done on the computer)
  • having one or two family movie nights and limiting movie watching to those times or possibly only on the weekend

We’ve always had limits, but they’ve been pretty flexible, and the kids were pretty good at wheedling me into giving in (because I really am a pushover).

What do you think? What kind of limits do you impose on electronics use in your own home? Or do you?

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Friday, February 17, 2012

Friday Freebies: Literature-Based Science and History, Plus Printables!

Just one for you this week, but it’s a biggie!

GuestHollow.com is simply full of all kinds of goodness for homeschoolers. You’ll find complete schedules and book lists for doing literature-based year-long studies in elementary science, high school science, chemistry, ancient history, and American history. And it’s all free (you do have to buy the books or borrow from your library, of course). I’m really thinking about using the elementary science on the human body next year…just have to figure out what I’d cut out, because there’s so much great stuff suggested. ;0)

Click on the printables tab at GuestHollow.com for math, science, language arts, copywork, schedules, and more.

You might also enjoy:

Friday Freebies: Geography

Friday Freebies: A Hodgepodge

Friday Freebies: Art Resources

Friday Freebies for Learning

Friday Freebies: Funtastic Science Unit Studies

Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post, just sharing some of my favorite free homeschooling resources from around the web.

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Week-Long Computer and Electronics Fast

My oldest got back from a Scout camping trip and was just champing at the bit to play his favorite computer game.

But first he broke down because he felt that his brother and sisters didn’t give him a heart-felt welcome home.

What could have been a happy home-coming for my son and my husband was a never-ending stress-fest.

I watched all afternoon as every single family member rubbed another one the wrong way.

We’ve been feeling a bit disconnected as a family. 

We haven’t been the picture of the close-knit supportive family I’ve always dreamed about.

We seem to float around in our own spheres and snap when we touch around the edges.

My husband and I had a little talk and decided to take steps.

Starting tomorrow, we will be taking a break from all things computer and video related. 

No internet. 

No movies. 

No Wii games. 

No computer games.

No nothing on the computer at all, not even “educational” stuff.

I won’t be allowed to even putter around in my thousands of homeschool pdfs or family pictures.  Wah!

I’ve already scheduled my Friday Freebies post for this week, so that will appear (no cheating).

And in a week, I’ll come back and let you know how it went, whether we survived, and whether we learned anything.

Your prayers are welcome. ;0)

Have you ever felt a need to drastically cut back on electronics in your home?

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10 Things I Muffed Up Today (er Yesterday? What time is it, anyway?)

Nothing like a difficult day to make you wake up and smell what you are doing wrong.

Yep, I’ve been doing it wrong.  I do that a lot. 

So, what went wrong?

  1. I didn’t get enough sleep last night because I was zoning out in front of the computer and babbling like a freak on FB.  And so now I am staying up late babbling like a freak on my blog.  Lack of sleep makes Mama cranky
  2. When I did go to bed I wasted at least a half hour ruminating on some stupid article someone posted to FB, depriving me of even more sleep.
  3. This morning I woke Mary up before she was ready, because I wanted to make breakfast one time today.  Never wake up a girl before she’s good and ready.  Seriously.
  4. I sat blithely typing an email at the computer while Emma (age 2-3/4) disappeared into the kitchen.  It seems she thought she would do some “cooking” on the stove.  It’s ok, it just involved rattling mixing spoons in the dirty pans still sitting there.
  5. I let it get out that there were still some Nerds in the cabinet.  Next time I decorate a cake with candy, I’m throwing out the rest of the candy.  Then maybe I won’t be skating on it a month later and my kids won’t be hopped up on sugar and artificial food dyes.
  6. I promised that I would make donuts for “tea”.  Never promise anything unless you are absolutely certain you can fulfill said promise (read:  don’t promise to do it unless you are already doing it.)  I didn’t get it done because of the Walmart mistake (see #8-10), so now I have to make them tomorrow.
  7. Again I didn’t pay close enough attention to Emma, and she decided to help herself to a drink of water.  Did I ever tell you about the time she filled every single cup in the kitchen with water? 
  8. I promised I would take the kiddos to Walmart on a SATURDAY (have I lost my mind entirely?) to spend their Valentine’s money their Grandma sent them.  I planned to take them right after lunch (so everyone would still be energetic and not at all hungry and hopefully in a good mood), but somehow no matter how well I think I’ve got things in hand, it always takes at least an hour to get everyone finally strapped into their carseats, and by 2pm I wasn’t so sure I wanted to go anymore, but see #6.
  9. I took them to Walmart anyway, and, after driving through a brief snowstorm, found a parking space at least a mile from the door, braved the artic wind across the lot, and then spent 1-1/2 hours in that store.  And half of that time was in the toy department. 
  10. And then I did the worst thing I did all day…I pointed out 2 different toys that Peter could afford to buy with his money and he simply could not decide.  By this time, of course, he was tired, his blood sugar had crashed, and his senses were totally overstimulated by all the people and the artificial lighting.  And he had a total melt-down.

My only shining moment today was not losing it when Peter lost it in the Walmart.

Although a kind lady did stop to ask if I was ok.  Maybe it wasn’t such a shining moment after all.  Smile

I just held him.  Loved him.  Tickled him a little (sometimes the extra stimulation helps him to change tracks).

The rest of the world wasn’t there.  For once I wasn’t rushing him.

Until he came back to himself. 

Maybe by the time they are grown and off on their own I’ll have this motherhood thing figured out.

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Friday, February 10, 2012

Friday Freebies: Geography

Studying geography in your homeschool? Check out National Geographic’s Maps: Tools for Adventure. This site includes interactive map games, links for outline maps, and lesson plans, including a Unit Study on maps (their history, using them, and creating them) for grades 3-5 (can be modified to use with younger or older children).

Map Adventures is another Unit on Maps for the elementary ages from USGS.gov (U.S. Geological Survey).

Home Geography for Primary Grades by C.C. Long is available free for from archive.org in various formats (kindle, EPUB, pdf, etc.). This neat little “living” book is a gentle introduction to geography for K-3. Includes telling direction by the sun, estimating distance, land forms, the water cycle, rivers, and much more.

You might also enjoy:

Friday Freebies: A Hodgepodge

Friday Freebies: Art Resources

Friday Freebies for Learning

Friday Freebies: Funtastic Science Unit Studies

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Thursday, February 9, 2012

When Math Manipulatives are too Abstract

Peter was rolling slowly (but successfully) through Right Start book B. 

011016Patterns are easy, Ma.

Then he hit a brick wall and it had zeros written all over it.

It was the thousands wall.

I started thinking about this and I realized that I shouldn’t have been at all surprised.

Did you get thousands when you were 6?

I have a feeling I didn’t either.  I think mastery-based math has its limits.

Peter is my super concrete kid.  It was only a few months ago that he started being able to add numbers together on paper instead of just pictures of objects or actual objects.

Now he realizes that 3+3, 2+2+2, 2+4, and 4+2 all equal 6.

Making that abstract jump from adding together 2 pictures of 3 balls to adding together 3 and 3 is an amazing feat.

It’s a developmental milestone.

So, yeah, he’s doing great.

But I saw the wheels start to come off when RS introduced hundreds.  And not just the idea of hundreds, but counting by hundreds.  And adding hundreds.

Of course, RS uses a lot of manipulatives, so kids can see the math, right.

One hundred in RS is represented by a complete abacus (which has 100 beads) or by one of these abacus tiles (there are other cards and place value cards we use, too):

069

 

There’s 100 beads on each tile, but you can see at a glance that there are 10 groups of 10 (100).  Easy, right?  Um, maybe.  But let’s look at that a little more closely. 

I’ll add that RS discourages counting.  So, when your child figures a math problem on the abacus, for instance, he wouldn’t count 4 beads and then count on 2 more beads to get 4+2, he would move over 4 beads as a group and then move over 2 more as a group and come to recognize it as the same as 5+1 which is self-evidently 6 since it’s one more than 5 (it’s actually not self-evident, but I’m not going to get into a philosophical discussion at this point, but I think that you can start to see what I’m getting at).

The point being that the child becomes accustomed to recognizing numbers on sight, including 10s and eventually 100s.  Once it’s been demonstrated that all the beads on the abacus equal 100, he’s supposed to come to know it.  And accept it.

Even if we accept that, how is one thousand represented?  With 10 of those abacus tiles.  Or as 10x100.

And it’s self evident, right, if we count by 100s?

But let’s step back a minute.  What if the whole concept of 1000s and even 100s is too abstract in and of itself.  Sure, we adults used to adding and subtracting big numbers when we balance our checkbooks (or faint at the country’s debt), but do we really have a firm grasp of what 100 or 1000 means?

When was the last time you counted 100 of anything?  And how often are you right when you try to estimate the number of candies in a jar for one of those guessing games (you know the kind I’m talking about, don’t you?)? 

The fact is, beyond about 10 or so of anything, it gets hard (really hard) for the average person to estimate at a glance how much of something there is, especially if they aren’t lined up nice and neat in a row.

Can you imagine what 100 M&Ms would look like?  How many do you think you get in a single serve bag?

Now, imagine that you are in 1st grade and can’t quite count all the way to 100 without making a mistake.

But you’re using abacus tiles to add hundreds and even thousands together?

010

What does it all mean?

The fact is that, to Peter, adding 2000+5000 is just adding 2+5 and putting 3 zeros at the end.  He doesn’t get the concept of 1000s.

And that shouldn’t really be surprising.  It’s simply too abstract.  The manipulatives are abstract (no one’s going to count all the beads on those tiles, are they?). 

And so, we put aside Right Start.  Again.  Perhaps I will be selling the curriculum in the near future.

For now, Peter will be working with smaller numbers, skip counting, adding multiple numbers, and so on.  There will be time enough for 1000s in the future.

Ever have to scrap your math program?

You might also enjoy:

1st, 2nd, 6th Grade Math in Our Homeschool: How We Got HERE
From the Edge of Order to the Pit of Chaos?
Raising Boys:  A Look at Our Past
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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Understanding the Whys of My Own Limitations

Why am I wired the way I am?  Why am I not “normal” (or perhaps “typical” is a better word)?

Why have I gone through life, plagued by my own obsessions, confused by my own attention deficits?

Overwhelmed by unwanted stimuli?

Crushed by not being accepted, by bullies, and even by well-meaning adults who simply don’t get me?

For years, this was my experience in life. 

I once spent a month of my life in an intense out-patient mental health program trying to understand.

I wasted a couple of years with a therapist trying to puzzle it out.

Trying to figure out how to be content to be me.

It didn’t work. 

I did gain an intellectual understanding of the chemical and personal basis for it all.

But let’s be totally honest here…while knowing the scientific reasons for your limitations might make it easier to accept them, it doesn’t necessarily make it easier to live with them

Because we are not simply physical beings.  We are not simply intellectual beings.

Coping skills are good, but they lie on the surface, giving the appearance of order, but not actually organizing the self.

Because we are much deeper than what we appear to be and my limitations are part of who I am, not simply outward appearances.

Lest you think that this is a personal pity-party, the reason I’m writing this is because this morning I had a revelation.

God often reveals Himself when we are quiet and listening.  And the timing is right.  The timing is really important.

I was in kitchen.  ALONE.  I’m never physically alone these days, it seems.

And in the quiet of the morning, I started to write and it came to me.  I think I’m beginning to understand.

The past few weeks have been difficult, so many difficult realizations about my children and their “atypical” selves

When my husband asked me if I wanted to take the kiddos to a Super Bowl party last weekend, I thought about being overwhelmed by all the people and the noise.  And not caring much about football.

And I had a glimpse into Peter’s day-to-day challenges.  I said no, that would not be a fun time, not for me and not for him.

A year ago, we might have gone, because I would have discounted my own discomfort.  It would have seemed unreasonable to not do something just because of my limitations.

But now I’m beginning to see that my own limitations can be windows into my children’s needs.

I can’t ever be my kids.

Much to my chagrin, every time I try to find shoes for them that are truly comfortable or try to figure out how sick they really are before calling the doctor, I can’t actually experience what they are experiencing

I will never fully understand, for instance, Peter’s experience of life.  I’ll never know what it feels like to have his skin.  I don’t even know what it is to be a boy.  ;0)

But some of the other processing issues he’s dealing with, somehow they make some sense to me.

I can’t ever feel the anxiety that Mary feels when they test the tornado siren in town.  Or experience the frustration of being a middle child.

But I can recognize in her many of my own childhood issues.

I can’t step into my children’s shoes.  Each of us is an individual with an entirely unique experience of the world.

I can’t know what they know or feel exactly what they feel, much as I want to.

But, I can catch little glimpses.  I can draw parallels between their experiences and my own.  I can relate.

I can use my own experiences to try new things with them that might help.

I can remember my own struggles and have a better appreciation of their struggles.

And I can grow beyond my own experience,

…because it’s not about me.

And if my own suffering past can help these beautiful children in their future, then it was all worth it. 

And somehow I feel a little less broken and a lot less alone.

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Narration Solution for My Narration Phobic Kid?

039Do narrations lead to freak outs in your homeschool?

For some reason I hear Psycho music in my head when I see this picture. Smile

David has an issue with narrations. He’d rather not do them at all. Or just draw them rather than write out his thoughts.

But at nearly 12, he needs to work on sharing what’s going on in his noggin. Fiction he has no trouble writing, but reporting on what he’s read…oh, dear.

David has memory issues and difficulties putting together what is in his head and talking about it.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending upon how you look at it), I have similar learning issues, so I have a pretty good understanding of what he’s going through.

It’s funny how we get to know ourselves better by helping our kids with their problems, isn’t it?

One of David’s independent studies this year is Mapping the World with Art. He loves the mapping part of it, but the readings have been an unpleasant chore.

It seemed simple. Read a 2 page reading on Monday and write a one-paragraph narration…how hard could that be?

But consider…what if at the end of your reading all you had was a dim impression of what you had read. And the details seemed to be on the tip of your brain, but every time you tried to call them to mind or speak the words it just all got confused?

You might end up writing a paragraph along the lines of…

Vasco da Gama was evil. He solved problems with guns and swords. He robbed tons of Arab ships. He sailed around Africa. The end.

I knew he was capable of a more complete understanding than this and that his true writing ability was not showing through.

So, I tried discussing the reading with him. And it didn’t really help.

You see, it was simply too much for him digest and process. He can read a Harry Potter book in a couple of days, but synthesizing a dozen paragraphs on a topic that may or may not interest him (and that happened hundreds of years ago)…well, it was too much.

To be fair, he would probably have similar issues writing a book report on Harry Potter. The information is locked in there, but getting it out and doing something with it, ah that is the challenge.

The solution: Instead of reading the entire reading for that lesson in one day and summarizing or narrating it, we divide the reading up into shorter passages. On each day, Monday thru Thursday, he reads a short passage (about 2-3 longish paragraphs) and writes a one sentence narration of that passage. At the end of the week, he has a good paragraph for a summary. He also adds important dates to his Book of Centuries. For review, he draws a picture that covers the entire reading. Last week was his first week trying this method, and I had him reread about da Gama. Here is his new paragraph:

Vasco da Gama sailed around Africa to help Portugal win the spice trade. Upon getting to India, he found that the sultan wanted more than glass beads, so he decided to give him bloody cannon balls instead. And so the Portuguese explorer turned pirate, looting and burning Arab ships. Finally, da Gama caught Malaria off the coast of India and died on Christmas Eve.

Notice the complexity of the sentences and the linking of ideas? Not just a vague impression, but an understanding that he can convey. He was also able to talk about what he had read, whereas before, he was kinda stumped.

This is a beginning and it’s a step in the right direction. The key, I think, is to remember that quality is more important than quantity. What’s the point of reading hundreds of pages if you can’t synthesize what you read? But as he learns to narrate as he goes, he should be able to work up to outlining whole books, and he’ll definitely have a leg up on students who are relying on their memory of what they read.

And what does David think? He says he loves it. Getting him to do the short readings and write was not a battle at all. Definitely a win-win solution.

You might also enjoy:

Committing Words to Memory

When Mama Has a Learning Disability, Too

On Learning to Spell

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Monday, February 6, 2012

Adjusting our Language Arts

Last week I admitted that we had a hard time getting back on track in the New Year in our homeschool, but that I was finally getting a grip on things.

And overall, it was a productive week with some little revelations.

We are tweaking a bit here and there to make some needed changes, starting with language arts.

A couple of weeks ago, Mary finished Level 2 of All About Spelling (AAS) and we moved on to the next level. While AAS has been a very good spelling program for her and she’s spelling above her grade level, the gap between her vocabulary (or the things she really wants to spell) and her spelling ability continues to widen. And she likes to write, so this is frustrating for her.

AAS is so teacher intensive and involved (even if you drop using the letter tiles, which she has because they simply annoy her), that it simply takes a lot of time to add more and more words to your spelling arsenal.

Plus, once you get beyond Level 2, you are encountering more and more words that are “exceptions” or follow a different rule for the same sound, and so there is a lot of studying of “word banks” (lists of words) to become familiar with which words follow which patterns.

Mary was dreading spelling.

We’ve decided to put aside AAS for the moment and try something else, something a little less teacher intensive. We’ll be using Queen Homeschool’s Learning to Spell Through Copywork Book B. What I plan to do is having her write the week’s copywork page on Monday, and then use the sentences for dictation for a day or two until I’m sure she knows the words. Writing sentences every day is important because Mary is still working on remembering things like capitalization and punctuation.

We’ll move on to the next lesson when she’s ready. If we move at the same rate as with AAS, she should be finished with the book by the end May (or sooner).

David will be doing Book C, because while I still don’t think he really needs a formal spelling program, he’s getting a little sloppy about some things like capitalization and does make a few spelling mistakes. I think that doing some regular copywork will help. We’ll see.

Peter has begun All About Spelling Level 1. Right now we are working on some phonograms. Now here’s a good example of how boys are different from girls.

When Mary was learning the phonograms (all the different sounds represented by each letter or letter combo), she was pretty serious about it and she knows them all well now.

Peter turns it into a sound effects event. Really. His favorite is “ch.” /ch/-/k/-/sh/ in rapid staccato sounds just like gunfire.

Somehow even the vowels come out sounding like explosions and tires screeching.

One of the joys of home education.

For David, we are also putting aside Grammar Made Easy and Editor in Chief.

A word on grammar---I have a degree in English and yet I will freely admit that my grammar training is poor. My knowledge of grammar is primarily intuitive. It comes from reading lots and lots of books, as opposed to having a good understanding of grammar rules.

Don’t ask me about things like dangling participles, please.

It might not be fair to blame my public school education for that, but the fact does remain that I didn’t really learn grammar very well in public school.

Now, truth be told, I believe that an intuitive knowledge of grammar is probably more important than a formal understanding, in the sense that writing properly should be second-nature to be done effectively. It’s a lot harder to write well if you have to constantly think about the rules of writing.

I’m usually spot on when it comes to spotting a grammar mistake. I just can’t always tell you what it’s called. And so, hubby and I feel that having a more formal understanding of grammar (in addition to an intuitive understanding) would be a good thing.

Think of it as being able to both think clearly and have an understanding of how those thoughts fit together.

Which brings me back to why I’m putting aside Grammar Made Easy. It sounded like a good idea, a simple course to teach sentence diagramming so David could get a more formal understanding of how sentences fit together (because, like me, he already has a strong intuitive understanding of grammar). But it left me confused because there were too many things that either were not addressed fully (unless they will be addressed in later lessons?) or were presented in an order that didn’t make sense.

I felt myself floundering. Sad, really, because I was looking forward to learning sentence diagramming myself. But I felt myself screwing my eyeballs up trying to come up with explanations on my own for certain things.

Yeah, not really a good feeling. I hate a curriculum that makes me feel dumb.

David is now using the free 6th grade Grammar and Writing Handbook from Scott Foresman Reading, but just the grammar exercises. Mary is using the 2nd grade book. I don’t normally go for the worksheet method of teaching, but this is a free resource and one thing I like about it is that it often has them writing out sentences instead of just filling in a blank or choosing an answer from a list. The grammar exercises teach basic grammar (subject, predicate, clauses, etc.) and are easy to understand. I don’t care for the writing exercises (too vague and pointless), so we skip those. This is a good start, but I don’t know what we’ll use next year.

I thought David would enjoy Editor in Chief because he does like to point out typos and mistakes in magazines and books. And my blog posts. But he got frustrated, mainly because some of the mistakes are not grammar mistakes but mistakes about details---you are told that the picture and caption are correct, and there are often discrepancies between the text and the picture, sometimes nit-picky discrepancies.

Having a critical eye is a good thing. But, he’s not training to be a newspaper editor, and he felt that this was unnecessarily distracting. So we dropped it. We can still laugh at mistakes in magazine ads.

Are you making changes in your curriculum?

You might also enjoy:

Delighting in Their Industry

What Happened to Our Week in Review?

10 Life Lessons from My 2-year-old

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Friday, February 3, 2012

Friday Freebies: A Hodgepodge!

Currclick has their Winter Whisper Sale going on, which includes 10 freebies and 50% off discounts on 20 of their most popular publishers.  The freebies are pretty good, too (Hands of a Child, Knowledge Box Central, Intellego Unit Studies, and others), but you can only access the Winter Whisper Sale through this special link, there’s no sign of it on Currclick’s home page.  Ends in 2 weeks.

Funnix is offering their computer-based reading program FREE for a limited time (currently sells for $25, but they are raising the price soon).  Includes the Beginning Reader program, Funnix 2, and pdf workbooks.  Ends Feb. 16, 2012.

Scrapbooking freebie from My Memory Suite just in time for Valentine’s Day (click on the image):

STMFreebie_30Jan3

Can be used with any graphics software.  Ends in about 1-1/2 weeks.

Find more free kits from My Memories here and a free trial of My Memories Suite (the software) here (link is on the right side of the page).  

Not exactly a freebie, but an incredible resource:  Honey at Sunflower Schoolhouse has compiled a list of over 1000 homeschool blogs!

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