Monday, August 29, 2011

FIAR: The Story About Ping

During our first week of homeschool, we "rowed" the book The Story About Ping by Marjorie Flack and Kurt Wiese.  I have loved this book for a long time and it was great to share it with the boys.  My oldest son had heard it before, but my youngest hadn't.  This book gave us a good chance to talk about the consequences of behavior since Ping decided to hide out to avoid a punishment.

On one of the days we did an art project and tried to draw Ping.  I found a great website with lots of easy step-by-step drawing instructions for drawing a variety of animals.  CLICK HERE to go check out that site.  My little guy was in a bad mood when we did the drawing project, but did a nice job.  He colored over the top of it, so it's hard to see his drawing.  I thought SC and I did a decent job with our little "Pings" as well. I think my Ping has been eating a LOT of fish!  haha

We also did a sink and float experiment to explore the concept of buoyancy, which is represented in the story.  I used a sink and float paper from Homeschoolshare.  Before we did the experiment I had each boy fill out their predictions about whether each object would sink or float, then we tested the objects to see if our predictions were correct.  They enjoyed this experiment very much.  I think we'll be doing a lot more of these in the future!!

Since the story of Ping is set in China, we also "traveled" to China in our Expedition Earth curriculum this week.  The boys were so excited to build the Great Wall of China as a special project.  To do this, we followed Erica's directions and it turned out great!  We used one whole box of Project Bricks plus a bit out of a second box.  We have plenty left over now to build a pyramid or castle.  I ordered the first box from Amazon, but found the second box at Hobby Lobby in the hobby section.

I wish I'd taken a photo of the Wall being mightily defended by an army of LEGO mini-figures.  One of the attackers was a LEGO gorilla wielding a banana for a weapon.......not much threat to security there!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Weekly Wrap-Up: What We/Mom Learned Our First Week

 I have been silently lurking around Kris' blog for several months now.  Her blog gave me lots of inspiration (and a few giggles) last winter after we made our final decision to homeschool.  At that time, we had not told many people about our decision so I was quietly spending hours every night surfing the web and absorbing everything I could about homeschooling.  Thanks, Kris, for giving bloggers the chance to link up here each week to share.  I'm excited to write my first wrap-up post.

We started homeschooling (for the first time ever) on Monday the 22nd.  We made the first morning special by going out to breakfast.  The boys were excited to get going and we had a great day.

Then Tuesday rolled around and the honeymoon abruptly and unexpectedly came to a HALT.  On this day, my youngest threw me a bunch of attitude about doing his schoolwork.  To my surprise, I burst into tears when talking to the Hubs about it.  He wisely reminded me that I could not declare our homeschool journey a disaster on the second day.  Although my feelings were raw, I needed the reality check.

I think I had built up homeschooling so much in my mind that it was destined to never be able to live up to my pie-in-the-sky visions of what it should look like.  The letdown I felt on Tuesday reminded me a bit of how I felt upon having my first child.  When you are expecting a baby, it is so exciting and as you anticipate the arrival of your little one, your focus is mainly on all the great and wonderful experiences that child will bring to your life.  And, of course, having a child IS an amazing and wonderful experience.  However, once the child is born, the reality of living with a newborn sets in quickly.  Late-night feedings, diaper blow-outs, and inconsolable crying can quickly bring a new parent to their knees.  Tuesday was a little like that for me.  I have wanted to homeschool the boys since my oldest was born 10 years ago.  It's kind of like a pregnancy that lasts for 10 years.  I have spent the past decade dreaming about finally having the opportunity to stay home.  During that time, my mind has engaged in multiple fantasies about those "perfect" homeschool days that would surely manifest themselves once I quit my job and stayed home to teach my sons.  The funny thing here is that I've been a professional teacher for 20 years.  I should have known better!

So............what I've learned this week is that homeschooling is going to be a transition for all of us.  It will take time and patience to adjust to a new routine.  As my cousin, Phyllis, (a veteran homeschooler) said, "Those perfect homeschool days will be few and far between.  You'll have mostly good days, some days will be just okay, and some will be just plain rotten."  I'm now feeling much less stressed and much more realistic about our homeschool journey.  I guess it's a blessing that this catharsis happened on the second day of school instead of the 102nd!

On Monday and Tuesday I was a little uptight and a slave to my schedule.  By Wednesday, I decided to relax and go with the flow.  I reminded myself that a benefit of homeschooling is the flexibility it allows.  Why not take advantage of that!

Perhaps as a result of my new-found attitude, Wednesday and Thursday went well.  We went to a homeschool park day on Wednesday morning and got to know some other homeschooling families in our community.  I think we'll all look forward to this fellowship each week.

On Thursday, my little guy asked if we could start our day by building the Great Wall of China, a project to go with our Expedition Earth curriculum that we hadn't gotten to yet.  Although I had planned to have them wait until our core subjects for the day were completed, I decided to say, "Yes!  We can absolutely start with the Great Wall today."  After all, it's more important to me that he was excited about learning than that he does his tasks in the order that I deem best.

So we worked on the Great Wall throughout the day and fit our other learning around waiting for the layers of bricks to dry.  My little guy repeatedly said, "This is going to be our bestest building ever!"  He was so excited about it, although he also frequently commented that "I didn't know it was going to take this long."  I reminded him that it took hundreds of years to build the real one, so it's not unreasonable that it would take us a day or two to finish our model!

At lunchtime on Thursday, my oldest son suggested we have a picnic lunch outside.  So we threw a blanket under our big walnut tree (the one we named our school after!) and had a picnic lunch.  While most of my friends were missing their children who went back to school today in public school (or maybe they were doing the happy dance!), I was enjoying a picnic with my two favorite boys in the whole world and reflecting on how great it is to be a homeschooler!

You can see our picnic blanket under the tree in the photo above.

I'll be sure to do some more posts soon that describe what the boys have been up to with their work.  I wanted to make this wrap-up post about what Mommy learned.  I think self-reflection is absolutely vital to success.  So my wheels are definitely turning after this first week!  I can't wait to see what we'll be up to by the wrap-up next week!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

How we're using "workboxes"

When I was initially thinking about homeschooling I came across several blog posts about Sue Patrick's Workbox system.  I really fell in love with the idea of having school work organized this way; however, as I saw others' ideas and thought about how to do it without purchasing a lot of extra containers, I decided to utilize some plastic drawers I already had.

As described on my schoolroom page, each of my guys has a shelf with their drawers and materials.  I use adhesive velcro dots to place a label on each drawer and these may change from day to day since they only have 6 drawers each.  Also, I've decided to only do science twice a week and history twice a week, so those drawers flip flop each day.

As I write this we are only two days in and so far the boys aren't using these drawers very independently in terms of "working through" them.  However, at this stage I am wanting to sit with each of them, especially as they do their core subjects, so I can assess where they're at and then determine what might be most appropriate for them to begin to do on their own.

For now, I'm using some pieces of cardstock that I laminated to write their "assignments" on, and I place these in the corresponding drawer.  These can easily be wiped off each day and reused.

In the above photo you can see one set of my oldest son's drawers.  In the photo below, you can see his "assignment card" along with the necessary materials (in this case, his Reading A-Z book and science notebook).

I guess you could say that for now we are mostly using our "workboxes" to organize their work instead of as a system to increase their independence.  And for now I'm fine with that.  I really like having a designated spot to put all the materials they need for each day.  It seems a lot easier to break that all down by subject instead of having it all glopped together somewhere in our schoolroom.  The drawers are not wide enough for all my teaching manuals, but for the ones that fit, it's nice to be able to stick the manual in the drawer along with a paper-clipped assignment card.  So far, it hasn't been taking me a whole lot of time each night to get the drawers ready for the next day. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Our First Day!!!

Monday the 22nd (yesterday) was our first day of homeschool!  I was really ready to start our routine and the boys were game too.  (I don't think they actually know that the public school kids around here don't start until Wednesday and Thursday.  Shhhhhhhh!!)

I wanted to record a few details about our first day, mostly for my own sake.  First off, a week or so ago I came up with the idea of taking them out for breakfast on the first day to make it special.  So we did that this morning.  They were both really excited about this, exclaiming over and over again that we NEVER go out for breakfast (which is their young lives we've only ever gone out for breakfast when on vacation).  We got a bit of a late start because of an insanely long and drawn-out thunder/hailstorm that lasted most of the night!  Enough already!  Anyway, the four of us enjoyed a special breakfast out.  My oldest (SC) claims that I also promised that we'd go out for breakfast at the beginning of each quarter of school.  I have no memory of saying this, but I'm pretty sure it will be hard to make HIM forget it.  And having breakfast out four times a year versus zero DOES sound pretty fun!

By the time we got home from breakfast it was about 9:30.  I gathered the boys on the couch and read them a book I'd picked up especially for this first day.   If you haven't read it, it's a must-read.  So uplifting and encouraging.  And true!  It's called The Boy Who Changed the World  by Andy Andrews. I had the privilege of hearing Andy speak at the Women of Faith conference about a week ago and that's when I bought the book.  Without giving you a full book review, I'll just say that the gist of it is that everything we do makes a difference and any single one of us can make choices and take actions that can ultimately change the world for good!  After I read this to my precious boys, I told them that Daddy and I believe in them and love them so much and that one reason we've decided to school them at home is so we can do our best to help them develop into men that can change the world.  It was an empowering way to start the day and I know they both enjoyed the book. 

After reading this book, we went into our schoolroom and got started learning about China in our Expedition Earth binders.  One of the things that tickled me most this morning was when I told them I was going to read some "fun facts" about China that they could try to learn and remember.  My little one (LG) in all seriousness stated that he thought he'd better "write this down so he doesn't forget".  He then proceeded to get a piece of paper from the printer and wrote a few notes about what I was saying.  I was not expecting such industriousness on the first day, especially from him!  Hopefully it isn't just part of the "homeschool honeymoon period"!!

My biggest concern for our first day was the balance between work together and working with the boys individually.  My youngest is CRAZY for LEGOs (thus his nickname on the blog "Lego Guy"  aka LG) and always has various constructions nearby.  When I was working with his brother he wanted to play with his Legos while he waited.  I decided this might be a good way for him to be occupied, but told him that when I was ready to work with him he had to put the Legos away without arguing or they would be off limits until school work was done.  He was very agreeable to this and it ended up working out well.  As we go along he'll have more independent assignments that he can work on that are "school" related, but it was nice to know that I might be able to allow this when needed.  After all, we're schooling at home.  And playing with his Legos more is one of the advantages that we pointed out when helping him see the "benefits" of homeschool versus traditional school.

Another moment I really loved was when my boys got into a discussion about the land size and population of various countries while looking at our big world map.  This conversation came about during our study of China.  I was getting a little anxious because I wanted to show them something on the laptop and Hubs was using it at the time.  It was a good reminder to me to go with the flow and allow learning in the moment to evolve between the boys.  If we hadn't had the delay in using the computer, they might not have had such a good conversation.  

One other memory from today is how hard they both giggled when we put their names into Google Translate and listened to the digital voice say their names (and mommy and daddy's and all our pet's names) in Mandarin.  It was really fun to see them get so tickled.  I did use it as a chance to point out that there might be some little Chinese boys on the other side of the world using Google Translate to listen to their names in English and that they might be falling down laughing too about how different it sounds.

I feel great about our first day.  I am going to love this special time with my boys.  Being a homeschooler is awesome!!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Planning our year

 I decided to write a post about how I'm organizing my planning for our first year of homeschool.  I'm sure as time goes on, I'll tweak this a bunch, but this is what I'm using to start.

I've made a binder that holds several forms and planning sheets.  It will be my "bible" for everything important in one place.  In it I have an attendance sheet for each boy.  I found these at Homeschool Launch.  Next is a section with monthly calendar sheets.  This is where I can write extracurricular activities such as piano lessons, soccer, etc.  Following the calendar sheets are weekly planning lists.  I have a separate lesson plan book that my cousin gave me for free that I am using to write our day to day plans.  These planning sheets will serve as a to-do list for things I need to copy, prepare, and gather for each homeschool week.  I tend to write to-do lists on little scraps of paper, anything I can find, and leave them all over the place.  So I know I will benefit from having these sheets in the binder where I can always find them!!  The monthly calendar sheets and weekly planning lists are both from Mama-Jenn

Next, I have a Books I've Read sheet for each boy, also found at Homeschool Launch.  (Note:  You'll have to scroll down quite a bit; it's under the "Organization" heading.) This will be a nice place to keep track of what they read independently throughout the year.

Then I have a section with sight words lists for my first grader.  I have both the kindergarten and first grade lists from our local school district.  Next up are some spreadsheets I made to keep track of the Right Start math lessons for each boy.  When we complete a lesson, I'll check it off and add the date we finished with any additional notes.

At the end of the binder I have a list of "independent choices" for each of my sons.  I think this will be useful for me to refer to either when planning for the week or to pull out during the week as needed to remind me what I can give one to do while I help the other one.  I am planning to write a separate post listing some of the choices on this list.  Many of the ideas are ones I've found on Pinterest this summer.

In the front pocket of the binder I have a menu-planning list to help keep me on-track with planning healthy meals each week.  I'll probably share about that in a future post too.

I'd love to hear from the rest of you about how you organize everything.  Leave me a comment if you have a great planning resource. 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Food for Thought

I recently ordered (and very recently finished reading) The Book Whisperer:  Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child by Donalyn Miller.  I first became aware of this book when Nicole from Journey to Excellence blogged about it over the summer.   My youngest son (6 years old) is an emerging reader, and my oldest son (almost 10 years old) is a very gifted reader.  However, my oldest generally prefers to read only non-fiction.  While I'm happy that he is so eager to devour any and all information he can glean from non-fiction texts, as a book-lover, I really want to try to nurture his love for literature during our homeschool time together. 

Although this book is written by a classroom teacher and is intended primarily (I assume) for a classroom teacher audience, I really found it full of food for thought as I plan for our reading together this year.  A few points that hit home with me as a homeschool mama are:

1.)  Requiring children to only read books that we adults choose for them can kill their love of reading.  Miller requires her sixth grade language art students to read 40 books each year and also has genre requirements; however, her students have a great deal of freedom to choose which books they will read.  This makes me determined to find a genre that my oldest son can connect with and (hopefully) grow to love.  I was the girl who nearly always had her nose in a book all the way from late elementary on.

2.)  Requiring children to do a lot of "busywork" or to complete a lot of assigned activities for each book they read can kill their love of reading.  I completely get Miller's point about this.  It's a bit of a hard one for me because as a former public school teacher, I love the idea of doing a bunch of fun little "projects" to go along with the books we read.  However, if I look at it from my own perspective as a reader, I would be much less inclined to read on my own if I had to complete a bunch of work for each book.  So it totally makes sense.

3.)  More than anything our goal should be to instill a life-long love of reading in our children.  This is more important than skills or tests.  I can completely embrace this.  I do want my children to love books as much as I do.

I really recommend this book whether you are a classroom teacher, a homeschool mama, or just a lover of books.  It gives a lot of great insight and (for those of you who love data) the philosophy put forth by Ms. Miller is supported by decades of research in best practices for reading instruction. 

Have any of you read this book?  If so, what did you think? 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A great math resource

If you've read my curriculum link above, you already know that we'll be using Right Start Levels B and E this year.  I am really excited about the Right Start program for both my guys.  I dove into it a little bit this summer and used many of the activities during some remedial and enrichment tutoring that I did.  I really like the emphasis on teaching beginning number concepts in combinations of 5 and 10 as well as the way the program uses games to reinforce the concepts.  It is very hands-on, and without having actually used it with my sons, I already feel that I can say it was well worth the price.

Another great book that I used during tutoring this summer is Mega-Fun Math Games:  70 Quick-and-Easy Games to Build Math Skills by Dr. Michael Schiro.  I picked this up at a used curriculum sale this summer and it has lots of really great math games to reinforce learning for children in grades 2-5.  I am very excited to play these games with my oldest son this year.  If you have a middle to upper grades child, I really recommend this resource.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Expedition Earth!!

I am excited about a wonderful geography curriculum that I'm planning to use with both boys this year.  It was created by Erica at Confessions of a Homeschooler and is only $15 to download.  That is a bargain!!

Using this curriculum, we will explore a different country each week.  There are different levels of activities, so I feel that both my first grader and fourth grader will be adequately challenged.  The most fun of all will be learning together about our world.  We went to a "big" library in a town about 20 miles away the other day and came home with a load of books.  In addition to getting books about the countries we'll study the first three weeks, we got books about deserts and ancient Egypt to supplement our World of Adventure curriculum.  This photo shows our living books all ready to be explored.  Can't wait!!

For the Expedition Earth curriculum, I've made up a binder for each boy where they'll keep their work related to the countries we study.  Their binders look the same on the outside, but are a bit different inside.

Each binder has a passport in the front pocket.  We'll "stamp" each country into our passport as we move around the world.  In the photo below you can see the passport sticking out.  Erica suggests using dividers and tabs for each country, but I felt that was a bit cost-prohibitive for us given that I'd need 62 dividers between the 2 boys.  So......I am going to print a colored map of each continent (included in the curriculum) on white cardstock to use as dividers.  I'll probably add tabs to just those sturdy pages for each continent.  Then all the papers for that continent will be filed behind the map.  You can see the Asia map in the photo below.

Erica has included a details page for each country as well as a black and white flag to color.  Below you can see the info page for China in my youngest son's book.  I forgot to take a photo of it, but my older son's binder has a more detailed "report" type of info page for each country instead of the one shown here.  I won't make him write a detailed report for each country, but I will have him use his more detailed note page to occasionally write a report, maybe I'll let him choose one country per continent to write up as a report.  I want the focus of our geography study to be on the joy of learning, without bogging them down too much with "busywork".  My youngest son has a flag coloring page behind each country page.  He likes to color flags, so I don't think requiring this for each country will be a problem for him.

In the back pocket of each binder is a full-size sticker page that I printed (from the curriculum) with the flags for each country.  The boys will attach these flags to their passports at the end of our "trip" to each country.  These could easily be printed on regular paper and glued into the passports.  I just happened to have sticker paper on hand.

Finally, I am going to try (as much as possible) to choose a picture book read-aloud each week to go with the country we're studying.  I'm planning to use a FIAR format, reading the book aloud each day and doing an accompanying activity (which might just be a brief discussion about the theme or illustrations).  I'll post my book selections as we go along. 

Is anyone else using Expedition Earth this year?  I'd love to hear your take on this wonderful curriculum.  I forgot to mention that Erica has a ton of suggested resources to use as well as internet links for each country so you can really provide your children a rich experience without a lot of preparation on your part!  I also like how she has included prayer cards to allow your family to pray for the people in each country during your "travels".  It's just a really well done curriculum and I highly recommend that you check it out!!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

It's been a while..........

............and boy, have I been busy!  I finally got ready to post again last night and discovered that Blogger was all goofed up.  Apparently, Blogger no longer works with Internet Explorer as a browser, so in the wee hours of the morning, I tried to download Firefox.  Stupidly, I tried to move some things into the recycle bin while Firefox was trying to install and bogged down the whole computer.  So........I went to bed frustrated and without a post.  Dear Hubby got up this morning and got everything going again, and this afternoon I was able to successfully install Firefox.  To my great joy, as soon as I tried to open Blogger to write this post, everything looked "right" again.  Yay! 

I am super excited to start documenting our first year of homeschooling.  I've been busy, busy, busy this week planning and preparing for our first several weeks.  I cannot tell you how great it is to be spending all these hours planning rich educational experiences for my own two children.  In the past decade, I would be spending this time of year preparing things in my classroom for the upcoming year, and dragging my kids along with me while I put in countless hours getting things ready to go.

This morning I spent about 2 1/2 hours meeting with Miss Janet, who is replacing me in my previous Montessori classroom.  It was fun to go up and see how she has everything set up.  She is going to do an AWESOME job and the families are so lucky to have her!!  As I drove down the hill when I left, I paused to ask myself if going there today made me feel at all nostalgic about not going back this year.  I immediately realized that I am completely at peace with my decision to stay home.  I have no regrets!!

Although this isn't homeschool-related, those of you who have been hanging out with me for a while might enjoy a glimpse of my newly redecorated craft room.  I spent much of the last week sewing and reorganizing that space.  I am really pleased with the results.  To give you the backstory, I am blessed to have a room all for myself in our basement.  It has always served as my craft room, and also as a guest bedroom as it has a pull-out couch.  All these years (8 to be exact) that we've lived here, I had never done anything to "spruce up" this space.  It was organized, but not "cute".  This summer the craft area has been in disarray as we've had two garage sales and it has been the necessary "holding zone" for all those items.  With great joy, I made a trip to Goodwill last week to haul the remnants away.  Then I looked at my craft area with new eyes and decided to sew up some pretties for it.  It makes me so happy to make things, and I think it will be more important than ever for me to have a place to "get away" this year as I transition to being home with the boys full time.  Without further wordiness, please come along on a little tour........

 This is the view looking in from the doorway.  I was pregnant 10 years ago when we picked out the red pull-out couch.  I now wish I'd gone with a neutral.  But.......since this is what I've got (and I do like red) I found some fun fabrics and pulled in lime green and pink to go with the red and make it a bit more "peppy".  I already had the shelves up, but I added some red wooden crates we had elsewhere and a few other red accents to make them have a little pop of color.  They are still quite utilitarian-looking, but not quite as bad as before.  We also added the rug which was rolled up in the rafters of our garage.  A quick vacuuming and steam-vac-ing and it was good to go.


Close-ups of my purty pillows.  I already had 4 pillows on the couch, so I just used the quilting cottons to make slipcovers for each of them.  They have an envelope opening on the back so I can just slip them off to wash.  Like if a cat barfs on them, not that that's ever happened.......... :-(

I love this area the most.  First of all, I sewed a little skirt for the table to hide all the crap craft items stored under it.  They were a real eye-sore in the room and the skirt makes it look so cute.  I also used a pillow that had Silly Putty permanently adhered to it and made it into a little seat cushion for the chair.  I love repurposing!  (And I was so ticked about the Silly Putty!)  

Then, I wanted to add something fun to the boring and bare wall above the table.  A LONG time ago I'd picked up a big embroidery hoop while thrifting and I've been saving it to use as wall art.  I just added a circle of one of my fabrics and Done!  It's hard to tell in this photo, but for the CREATE pennants, I Mod-Podged the different fabrics from the space onto scrap cardboard and used some pre-cut letters I found in my stash to spell CREATE.  I then tied the pennants together with little scraps of black and white ribbon, then hung them with thumbtacks.  I hot-glued little teeny white clothespins on the end of the tacks to hold the ends of the ribbon.  I love this so much.  It's such an improvement!

In the corner just to the left of the craft table is a shelf with more craft supplies.  I whipped up a little curtain on a tension rod to hide everything on that shelf.  Then I hot-glued some pink-checked fabric over the top of the circa-1950s lamp from my childhood home that graces the shelf.  It looks pretty decent from a distance, just don't look too closely at the back, 'kay?  Also in that corner is a little TV and DVD player.  I have my exercise DVDs, weights and step stored down here so when I start getting up early (ahem) next week to work out, I'll be able to do so in my own little space without disturbing the household.

There's also a treadmill right here that I will also use (ahem) regularly.

Here's a close-up of my wall art.  I have a few more wall decor things to add, but for now I'm so happy to go hang out down here.  I've been dragging all my homeschool planning stuff and my laptop down there at night and watching HGTV with my popcorn and glass of wine close by.  Heaven!!

PS:  I know the ribbon end on the left is longer than the one on the right.  Trust me, it's been buggin' me too.  I need to even that out!!

Well, thanks for joining me on my little tour.  I'm going to write some homeschool-related posts tonight that I'll publish real soon so I can share some of the planning I've been doing.  I'm planning to start next Monday the 23rd.  I'm really ready to get back into a routine after the summer and I think the boys are too!  I'd love to hear from you over here, so leave me a comment if you're so inclined.  (Apparently few people wanted to talk about cleaning.   haha...........see previous post)

PS:  I love Firefox now that I can post again.  Blogger was only doing one weird thing while I typed this.  Every time I hit return to start a new paragraph, the cursor thingie jumped to the paragraph above, then I had to manually click to get it where I wanted it.  Kind of a pain, but I'm so happy it was so easy to post photos and that I could actually post without a bunch of incomprehensible gibberish!