Friday, March 18, 2016

A week of "low tide" and it was so fun!

This was our first week of intentional "low tide" and it was restorative. Not a week off, not a break, but a bit relaxed and unschoolish.

For more on the tidal homeschooling concept, see Melissa Wiley's site here. I also appreciated listening to her interview on the Ed Snapshots podcast episode 24.

We have been plugging away at our normal to-dos since the beginning of 2016, and while we had a week totally off in February due to a nasty flu bug, that wasn't a restful break. That was just getting through the bug and recovering.

I could sense that our family needed a little something different for the week, and it felt low-tidey to me. I facilitated some of our goings-on, but stepped back a bit and watched to see what would happen.

Bird study: Last weekend, I restocked seed and added a new bird feeder to our yard. I placed some bird guides and binoculars on a nearby window. We had many visitors this week, and observed, looked them up, and used a bird app to hear some bird calls. I wasn't leading the ship on this; it was kid-driven with me making just a few contributions as a facilitator.

Lego: My son's Lego Contraptions set arrived on Monday, and he holed himself up in his room for most of the day building. He used some of the instructions, but also made some of his own creations. For $13, the set was money well spent since we didn't have Lego gears, those types of axels or other do-dads like that.

Audio books: We had a few outings this week, and all listened to parts of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz during those drives. I started it last week as a read-aloud to just my son while we were spending time in a waiting room, but switched over to the Audible version performed by Anne Hathaway ($0.99 on Audible when you already own the free Kindle version. Be sure to buy from Audible if you want that specific performance, and it is a performance -- who knew she could do so many voices?!).

They also listened to more of House at Pooh Corner (for the 2nd or 3rd time? Viv is currently obsessed) at bedtime.

Nature study: Hoo-ahh! Went to two nature parks with two groups of friends this week. The weather was starting to warm up a bit, and time outside felt great.

The second park we visited had a creek. When we got home, we were curious what it was called. We looked it up, saw where it fed into, and what THAT fed into, and so on and how you could in theory follow it all the way to the Gulf. Cool!

THAT led to a discussion on the water cycle, but also weather patterns. Johnny already understood how the water cycle functioned, but he was less clear on how rain and storm systems got to our state. What put that in motion? Did it have anything to do with the earth's rotation and seasonal tilts? he wondered. Oh. Let's go down that path, then.

Science discussion: Discussed warm fronts/cold fronts, the impact of Earth's rotation on weather patterns, the Coriolis Effect, video clip demonstration of water draining at the Equator and at points slightly to the north and south. Wondered if the rapid rotation of Jupiter and Neptune helped contribute to the violent storms there (likely).

Saw that rocket launches and airplanes need to factor in the Coriolis Effect when planning their flight paths.

He liked seeing the connections between meteorology, astronomy, physics, and rocketry. They're all related!!

These discussions between my son and I are rapid, and they are often me asking questions to him to clarify something, because I am unclear but HE knows and will explain it to me. I look it up to confirm and he's right. This kid! I need to really, really brush up on my science understanding so to have better discussions with him.

I think this time of year is a good time to study weather a little more closely, so I thought we might take the opportunity to segue into a little weather unit. I am going to read aloud Everyday Weather and How it Works by Herman Schneider and illustrated by Jeanne Bendick.

This book came highly recommended on Nicole's weather book list at Sabbath Mood Homeschool (her book selections are really good. Check out what she has to say about Charllote Mason living science).

We already enjoyed Follow the Water from Brook to Ocean, and Pitter & Patter. Pitter & Patter is a simple picture book that I saw on the library shelf and grabbed it.

Daily Word Ladders: I saw samples of this book on Amazon and did a few on the screen with J to see how he liked it. Word puzzles and games are so fun to me, and if it is a way to sneak in spelling, vocab, and handwriting, then yes send it to my house. We did a few ladders together using a dry erase cover and marker so that he could do them again sometime, or I could use them with his sisters later. So far, so good! There are several levels in this series and I started with the first.

Read-alouds: Besides the science books I read aloud this week, I also read a few chapters of our current just-for-fun, Indian in the Cupboard. Not quite PC, but opportunities for discussion on certain topics presented themselves.

Silent reading: J read plenty to himself this week, as usual. Pretty sure it was all science non-fiction, but he also did read a Star Wars Lego library book to his sister. Twaddle? Yup. Building read-aloud practice and building a relationship with his sister? YES. WORTH IT.

Play: Lots of playing. Time outside in the yard or at the nature parks, building Lego together, just playing. My 3 kids bicker and fight. This week, they got along pretty well and that is so wonderful!

So, while we didn't do formal math, handwriting, a phonics lesson, history, fine arts stuff, I would still call this week educational and a total success. Yay for low tide!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Lots of nature study happening here!

I knew we could do better with nature study, and I'm glad that we are making progress. My main goal is to get us all outdoors, observing nature, and just being out in creation. The sketching and nature notebooks can come later.

We are having a warm burst of weather and took advantage today by meeting up with other homeschoolers at a nature park. It was new to us, and we will be back. It has a pond, trails, and wooded areas to explore and we saw two little snakes, some flowers starting to bud, rotting logs, and a lot of wild onion grass.

The sunshine and warm weather did wonders for my well-being. The weather looks good for tomorrow, so we're going to try and do the same thing, only this time at a different nature park.

One of my kids isn't super thrilled about being out in nature (this is boring! I want to go to a playground!) sigh. I hope more outings with friends at fun places will help on that front. Once we got going with things, the attitude improved.

At home, we have enjoyed observing a lot of birds. This weekend I restocked our bird feeders and added a suet feeder (no takers on that one yet, that we've seen). So many visitors! At least a dozen varieties. We also saw Mr. and Mrs. Mallard, right on schedule, waddling through our yard and finding a place for the nest.

I had a child's pair of binoculars and a bird field guide laying on the window sill and we used that to get a little more out of our watching. All of the kids were really into it, and I love how naturally it all came together.

Looking forward to getting to know more of these creatures.

Last, we are the proud owners of 3 hermit crabs. In our experience, hermit crabs are easy to care for and also entertaining to watch. One decided to molt immediately after settling into its new home, so who knows. We added some playmobil toys to see how they like climbing on them.

We will read Holling's Pagoo coming up.


Thursday, February 25, 2016

Progress report and review: RightStart Math

I am so pleased with RightStart Math. We are using the 2nd ed. of level B and are on lesson #63/140.

I do get why some moms are a little intimidated by the teacher-intensive aspect of it. You are doing a lesson one-on-one with the child, and they may have a worksheet here and there to do independently but for the most part it involves the teacher's direct attention.

I get that some would prefer math to be more independent. Hand the child a worktext or DVD course, let them do the work and then check/review with them later.

For some situations, that model makes plenty of sense. For me and my purposes right now, I absolutely want math to be one-on-one. More intense, yes. More work on my part, well sure. As we get on down the road and I'm adding more independent work for my eldest, I think I'd rather have other subject areas be more independent, vs. make changes to what we're doing with math (as I see it from this point). I trust RightStart and I'm going to make it work.

If you're juggling multiple levels of RightStart at once, spread across a few children, this is a helpful post on ideas on how to get it done.

A typical RightStart day starts with a "warmup" which is a very quick review and verbal mental math to get the child in math mode. It also helps review concepts and see if there are areas that need more work. It's quick. My son sometimes complains: "I know this already!" "I know. It's just a few problems. Do them with a good attitude so we can move on to what's new for today."

The warmups are so helpful, as they are fairly quick and painless reviews on topics. I do not recommend skipping them in level B. Maybe level A, if it is so very clear that the child knows it forwards and backwards.

The lesson begins, and we might use the abacus, square plastic tiles, a geoboard, whatever. The RightStart manipulatives kit has a wide variety of items, and all that we've used so far have been well-made and effective.

There might be a worksheet, and sometimes I'm instructed to let my child do it independently. Sometimes I'm instructed with various prompts as he does it. The worksheets are concise. You aren't doing pages of the same thing.

Often, the TM will include a game to use as additional learning and practice. RightStart says 15 minutes of playing a math game is roughly equivilent to doing a worksheet. Except, they aren't doing a worksheet, they are doing a game! YAY!

I find it easy to gloss past the games and not do them, and that is a practice I need to remedy. The games do provide practice in important areas. It is a part of the program and it isn't considered optional. I think the main hangup, is sometimes it takes us a little bit to figure out the rules of the game. It can take awhile to play, and sometimes the setup (usually a card game) is suddenly very enticing to my 2nado.

Some RightStart families handle this by doing regular RS lessons 4 days a week, and doing all the suggested games on the 5th. Or, having dad play the games with the kids. OR, siblings playing games with each other. OR, popping on a video/giving the 2nado a usually off-limits toy and playing the game out of her reach.

We had to slow waaay down a few lessons back, when we were doing place value to the thousands. RightStart did a great job of making the child understand what was going on with the base 10 system. I had no problem slowing it down, because I think it helped my child ruminate on what was going on. By the end of that cluster of lessons, he totally got it and was adding 4-digit numbers with ease. Hoo-ah!

Now, we're back to one lesson per day. I've noticed that these lessons are quick and seem simple to him, which is a nice mental break.

He really enjoys this program and I am so thrilled.

We will continue onward at his pace, whether that's one lesson per day, or one per week, doing just a portion at a time. And yes, I need to find a way to make sure the games happen more or less as scheduled.

Areas where we are doing the Charlotte Mason method well, and where we can improve

Some of Charlotte Mason's methods are being implemented here quite well. Others are falling short. I'm taking a look at how things are going in our home school and areas where we can improve. This will help guide my personal reading list ahead of planning, but it will also help me be more intentional with our day-to-day.

Here are some of Mason's methods, boiled down to a bullet point (and that's not fair, but for the sake of brevity!) and how it's looking at our house:

Things going well:

Short lessons: Yes! That's easy to manage. At this age, 15-20 minutes tops per subject is plenty. The goal is to have focused attention during that time.

Living books: I'll call it a "yay!" We read some great books together -- books full of ideas, books that aren't talking down to the children, books that use interesting language. I do allow them to check out "twaddle" from the library, however. I want them to know they have that freedom in choice.

My 5yo isn't yet reading, so she looks at the pictures and if she requests, I will read a particular book to her. I do not go out of my way to read one of those fluffier LEGO Friends (or whatever) books. Instead, when I read to her I give her a choice between two living books. My son really enjoys non-fiction, and will often choose an encyclopedia of "dry facts" for himself. Ok!

Math: Our program (RightStart) focuses on understanding, uses good manipulatives. I think Mason would approve. We are almost to the halfway point of level B, and I am such a fan. So is my son.

Things going so-so:

Narration: J will narrate chapters or other readings for me upon request and usually does so cheerfully. I'm not consistent about requiring narrations after every reading. (Need to read my copy of SCM's guide on narration).

Picture study: When we do it, it goes well and is roughly CM. Roughly, because we aren't spending a term on one artist at the moment, but are doing a more general overview of a variety of artists. We spend time looking at 2-3 of their works, since that's all I typically have of a particular artist in my set. I can see how CM is wise in focusing on one artist and really getting to know him or her for a time is better.

Slow readings: Rather than tear through a book as quickly as possible, if we spread out the readings and take time to absorb it, I find that we have better retention and enjoyment. I think it's ok to binge-read a book that we can't put down, but I also think it's worthwhile to take some time with it. Sometimes I read more than I probably should aloud (but really, when they beg for just one more chapter, it is HARD to say no!).

The goal isn't getting through a set quantity of books; the goal is to experience and absorb quality literature and allow time for making connections. After learning more about the importance of slower readings and trying the practice myself, I am seeing just how our interaction with a book is different when we read fast vs. read over time. I retain more, I make more connections, and I remember more long-term.

Areas where significant improvement is needed:

Nature study: We just aren't doing it! LAME. While we are reading from living nature books, we also need to ahem, get out there and be outside, observing, drawing and being. Plan for improvement: We are doing some outdoor meet-ups with friends coming up and will dress for the weather. Spring is also coming, which ought to help. We are going to some parks that do not have playground structures. This will help us focus on the great outdoors. Playgrounds are fun, but it can be harder to accomplish nature study when swings and slides are beckoning.

Memorization and recitation: This has fallen by the wayside.

I am reading "Consider This" by Karen Glass and would HIGHLY recommend it to anyone interested in Charlotte Mason education, but classical education as well.