Thursday, May 21, 2015

Reflecting back on my firstborn's kindergarten year

We are wrapping up my firstborn's kindergarten year, and I thought I'd process some thoughts on how our year went.

Last July, I wrote about my thoughts and goals for kindergarten, with a follow-up on how I planned to meet those goals with various curriculum and such.

This was a fun year. Johnny agrees, but he would also find some things to gripe about. I encountered some attitude and resistance for math for awhile, and there were definitely periods of just crabby attitude in general whenever I asked him to do something school-related. We are still working on this, and I also think it is just a maturity thing.

To recap, my overall goals for his kindergarten year:

  • Keeping learning fun. Not stressful. Kindergarten! Went well for the most part
  • Reading instruction/build confidence with reading YES! READING IS GOING SO WELL!
  • Build a mathematical-thinking foundation Yep, coming along
  • Learn how to properly form lowercase letters In progress
  • Be exposed to a variety of good literature through read-alouds, audio books, and reading to himself. Yes! And we are using some audio books though he doesn't like them as much as me reading to him, or him reading to himself. Still, I like this for when we are driving.

Bible study: We kept it simple with reading from Bible storybooks, reading through Matthew straight from the Bible, some verse and hymn memorization.

Phonics: We completed level 1 of All About Reading awhile ago and are nearly done with level 2. We decided to scrap the worksheets with level 2. He didn't want to do them; he just wanted to read. Fine by me. I like the stories in the reader and how they progressively get more complex. 

We don't use the letter titles or flashcards. I plan to finish up level 2 and keep doing what we're doing with level 3. Johnny reads very well, but there are still plenty of phonics combos he hasn't mastered yet, and I think AAR does an excellent job of bringing us through in a fun and doable way. 

Also, I appreciate how the stories in the readers get progressively longer and more complex. All in all, I'm a huge fan of AAR and I realize the price tag is a bit steep, but if you can use it for more than one child (or sell later or both) it really is an excellent value. You can't really put a price tag on the value of learning to read in a painless way.

Math: RightStart math level A, 2nd edition. Started out strong, ended with kind of a fizzle. We are still using it, and are adding in more of the games from their game book. I am going through the level A objectives and ticking off what he has down solid, looking to see what still needs attention, and will keep plugging ahead. Level B will revisit these topics and more, and go deeper so we can just move on, I think.

Handwriting: His writing is improving, as he continues making cards, comics and other projects. Possibly a result of comics, but he favors writing in all caps. We are working on lowercase formation now. 

Science/crafts/poetry/music/nature/etc.: We used My Father's World K for parts of this and ended quietly. 

Didn't end up using Five in a Row, except we have read and enjoyed many of the books. 

Poetry -- I am reading poetry from various books. It has gone from total resistance ("I don't like poetry!") to enjoyment. Recently, we started adding poetry memorization. He has memorized 3 poems ("The Purple Cow"; "What Can I Give Him?" by Christina Rosetti"; and "Who Has Seen the Wind?" by Rosetti).

Science -- MFWK ideas as they came up, plus J is super into astronomy so we have been running with that. Observing, reading books, checking out NASA videos, visiting the NASA web site and more. We were able to make a stop at the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland and check out their NASA exhibit. Very cool.

For read-alouds, I used the MFWK booklist, FIAR titles, titles from the Read-Aloud Handbook, Honey for a Child's Heart, Sonlight lists...anywhere I could find a list, I pulled from it for our library holds and some purchases.

I know some parents are eager to dive right in to chapter books. I had that same temptation, but I realized a few things. This is a wonderful time to keep reading great picture books and I don't want to miss those. Also, listening to longer books with fewer illustrations is a skill and we have to work our way there.

Johnny enjoys listening to chapter books and Viv sometimes does, but she still prefers picture books by far and I will continue to invite all 3 to enjoy picture books with me.

Some favorite recent read-alouds:

  • My Father's Dragon (a great first chapter book to read aloud!)
  • Mr. Popper's Penguins (we started this last week on vacation and J can't get enough)
  • Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective
Picture books:
  • Roxaboxen; Miss Rumphius (Barbara Cooney -- love her work)
  • Mr. Pine's Purple House; Mr. Pine's Mixed-Up Signs and more
  • Big Susan
  • (anything carried by Purple House Press that we've borrowed or bought has been worthwhile!)
  • ...I'm drawing a blank, maybe I can revisit my notes and come up with a read-aloud list more properly later.

Music -- various classical music CDs and YouTube videos.

Crafts -- just ad hoc stuff. I try to keep supplies well-stocked and let them have at it.

Developing the Early Learner: Haven't done much more with this. Would like to. J says he doesn't like workbooks. D'oh.

Field trips: Nailed it! We field tripped all over the place, and at least 2x a month like I had hoped. Our field trip group has been a lot of fun, plus some things just as a family. Various science/nature programs, an apple orchard, a dairy farm,  the art museum, the zoo, fire station, history museum, fine arts performances (Sleeping Beauty at Beef & Boards; Disney on Ice (ok not fine arts, but hey hey; an orchestra performance for kids), a Valentine's Day party....and more. A lot of variety, too.

Travel: We did two family get-aways during the kindergarten year: a long weekend to Holiday World and Spring Mill State Park in southern Indiana in September, and then in mid-May we went on a week-long trip to the Detroit area, Toronto, a cottage near Algonquin Park in Ontario, Niagara Falls and Great Wolf Lodge, and finally the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland. Woosh! Good time, plus some educational aspects and good ol' family time.

Other activities: J and V did a gym & swim class with other homeschoolers and it was a great experience. We will do it again.

We joined up with a new Charlotte Mason-style co-op starting in April and we attended for 3 weeks. It was fun and we learned some things, but I decided against continuing for the upcoming school year. I think it might work better for us when they are all a little older.

I'm going to call J a kindergartener until Memorial Day, then I will promote him to 1st. Haven't decided when we will start his 1st grade officially -- still hashing it out. Aww...this year has gone quickly! So fun.

Overall, we love homeschooling. Johnny told me on several occasions how he was so glad we were together, and how he didn't have to be away all day at a school. We enjoy the freedom and flexibility to pursue specific interests.

We appreciate being able to take our time with something. Why stop to put away an art project because "time is up" and we need to move on to the next thing? Oh wait. WE DON'T. If we need to move forward faster or slower in a subject, we have and we will continue. If we want to bunny trail and read a ton of books about a topic of interest, we will. If I find an interesting documentary, we can watch it. If it's a beautiful day and we want to play outside, we can. If grandma wants to have us over for lunch, we can do it.

We can do whatever we want. It is awesome! Plus, we can do things together as a family in a way that we couldn't if he was in a public, private or day-long co-op type of thing. Week-long road trip in mid-May when prices are lower? Don't mind if I do!

In my state, kindergarten isn't required. This year was a freebie. When I consider his reading and math, I believe he is well above grade-level. Handwriting is perhaps at or maybe a little below -- but he is making steady gains and I'm not worried.

I'm still finalizing our plans for 1st grade and a rough calendar. That's another post.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Some fine arts stuff


We borrowed the "Beethoven's Wig" cd from our library awhile back and the kids loved it. I returned it when it was due and they missed it, so I borrowed that and a few others. They would like me to purchase it to keep.

The format of these is such: the first half of the cd are tracks from various composers of classical music. The twist? They've added lyrics, often about the song itself or the composer. Really silly, too. The second half of the cd are the songs without words.

Vivienne is currently obsessed with Grieg's Hall of the Mountain King. She likes to pretend she's hunting for treasure in a temple, finds it, and then needs to "run for her life" when found by the guards. Oh my.

I just bought a book/cd combo to help the kids learn about the individual instruments in an orchestra and how they work together.

Yesterday, we attended a free performance put on by 5 members of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. It was part of their Teddy Bear series designed for young kids. The performance helped acquaint the kids with the violin, viola, cello and bass and at the end the kids could try a violin themselves. Fun!

It is hilarious to hear J and V request a particular composer's music and talk about their favorites. Johnny's current fave is Bach's Minuet in G. He heard it a few months ago around Christmastime and thought it was a Christmas song. He couldn't remember what it was or how it went, and it was driving him crazy for months. He heard it again on Beethoven's Wig #4 and was like !!! We have the full version and he is listening to that one on repeat. Also? They love the Star Wars theme song and they all do their interpretive dances -- even the baby.


For visual arts...oy. I am not an artist. I can't sketch, either. I would like my kids to learn how to sketch at the very least, so that when we are doing our nature study and recording what we're seeing, the kids (and myself) can have better confidence in our sketching skills.

I'm interested in a few DVD courses. Not sure if I'll get some or all at some point ;).

First, I recently placed an order for a cartooning DVD and an Easter DVD. Johnny loves creating his own comic books and he has used the cartooning DVD twice now. My two gripes with the DVD are: no chapter divisions so it makes navigating to a certain section a pain, and the web URL is displayed at the bottom the whole time. Huh?

For the Easter DVD, we did one project of the 3 so far. Whoops, I didn't have chalk pastels so we used oil with different results, but it was still a nice creation.

The set includes a black light (!) which will be used with some (or all? I dunno) of the projects. Fun!

See the Light Art also has a 9-volume (36 lesson) DVD set with lessons in drawing, color blending and so on. It says grades 1+ and I think it will be something Johnny and myself will enjoy. Plus, the lessons include some art history and scripture woven in.

I haven't picked up this set yet, but it's on my wishlist. Especially now that I see how Pat the artist does her lessons, I think we will like them.

After Art Class vol. 1, we can follow up with Art Projects -- 9 different projects on DVD. You learn about a particular artist and then create a piece in that artist's style. Looks fun.


I considered a DVD series called Home Art Studio. These seem totally different from the above -- more of an artsy craftsy elementary art class kinda thing vs. more of a fine arts approach. There are 6 DVDs available, K-5th grade.

The instructor teaches some art theory and concepts, talks about some artists and demonstrates various techniques. Each project is different (with like 15-18 projects per level). These seem sort of fun and cute. We don't do many of these types of projects at home -- I'm just not wired to come up with different ideas, I think.

I might have my kids try a sample lesson online to see how we like it. If it's a hit, I'll pick up a DVD or several. The sample projects though -- I'm just not really excited about the end product. They seem more like something to stick on the fridge until the next project comes along, vs. art instruction. Dunno.

Right now, Homeschool Buyer's Co-Op has these for 45-50% off (reg. price $29.99), but they are also available through a few other sources for $24.99 each. Perhaps I can find a coupon code to bring the price down.


The last art DVD series I'm considering is Creating a Masterpiece. This is the program recommended by Simply Charlotte Mason, and the SCM store is the only place where you can buy the DVDs now. Otherwise, you'll need to buy a subscription for video streaming from Creating a Masterpiece.

I love how the end products are supposed to turn out, and there are young children who can create impressive works.

I kind of am tempted to get some of these DVDs for myself! Part of me wants to grab some DVDs from SCM now, because apparently these aren't going to be available anymore? For one DVD it is $35, or 6 for $179. Or, it is $39/month or $299/12m on the subscription site. Pricey.

With the subscription site, I'd have access to more projects, but will I do enough to get my money's worth? Nope.

I think for now, I will wait with this one.


Art as part of our co-op:

We are joining a new Charlotte Mason-y co-op coming up! We are starting out with Spanish, poetry recitation, physical movement, and art creation. Luckily, one of the moms is a trained artist and art teacher! EEE! Excited!

Monday, March 9, 2015

I have to gush about Scribd -- unlimited ebooks AND audiobooks what!

It started with the Read-Aloud Revival podcast, getting me to think about audio books again. They have been hit-or-miss with my children, and it was fairly infrequent.

We have had a really good week with audio books, and I wanted to share why I think it's working, and gush about Scribd.

What is working:

  • Letting them listen to books they are familiar with (either I've read it to them before, or they are familiar with the characters, etc.)
  • Letting them listen at bedtime
  • Listening in the van 
  • Short books/short listening times
I have borrowed CD books from the library, downloaded some for free from the library, bought some cheap ones from Audible, and I now subscribe to Scribd. Scribd is my favorite thing right now! I wish there was a referral program. Bummer.

I also signed up for a promotional price deal from Audible, but I won't likely continue with it. The deal is 3 months at $7.49/month, and 1 credit per month. One credit = one book. With membership, you can also purchase titles at at least 30% off regular price.

If you own a Kindle ebook version, you can sometimes get a discounted audio book of that title.

So, I can buy 3 books or collections of books (whatever they are selling for 1 credit) for $22.47 during my promo time. After that, it is $14.95/m for 1 credit. 

Or. I can spend $8.99/month with Scribd and have unlimited access to tons of audio books and plenty of ebooks. Yep, the Netflix for audio and ebooks is an appropriate description. From what I've seen so far, there are many duplicate ebooks from Audible to Scribd.

The downside of Scribd, for some, is you need to use either your computer, smart phone, tablet or Kindle Fire to access the Scribd app. You cannot transfer files to a more basic MP3 player. You CAN save files for offline listening.

I don't care for the search feature, in that there is no filter. I don't want to search for a children's book and have some steamy romance novel cover show up. My kids don't need to see that. So, I save books ahead of time in their own "collection." 

For what we get for the price, you can't beat it. You can't buy an Audible credit for that price aside from promos, and public libraries typically have digital limitations. My own allows us only 5 digital titles at once, and I'm unable to return the downloaded audio book ahead of time to free up space for another book. I can return ebooks, though. Of course, if your library has a good selection of physical audio books, that's something to keep in mind. Mine is lacking.

Soo....if you enjoy digital books in any form and have a capable smart player, go get your free month trial. Let me know what you think!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

How I am looking forward to the laundry mountain and dishes

I'm the kind of person who usually needs to let an idea marinate for awhile before I do anything with it. Here's one example: podcasts.

I love to READ. Eyeballs looking at words on a page. That kind of reading. I like to read blogs, though admittedly my blog reading today looks very different from how it looked a few years ago.

Podcasts have been around for a decade or more. I've listened to some on occasion but it wasn't really a habit.

Awhile back, my friend Laura mentioned how she is really into podcasts these days. I thought, hmm, interesting. And that's as far as it got.

Then a week or so ago, I discovered some free MP3s from a previous homeschool convention. I listened to a few sessions while doing some laundry and dishes, and really appreciated having something interesting to do while I was doing something so mundane.

I told my friend C. about it, and she pointed me to a wonderful podcast (Laura listens to it, too!) called Read Aloud Revival. Oh, it is just so good. The topic, guests, editing...I love it!

I am working my way through it and I'm hooked.

It's just so simple to subscribe to a podcast and choose an episode while I'm a'scrubbin' or a'foldin'. It is helping me look forward to those chores and other organizing that I'm trying to do.

Do you listen to podcasts or MP3s of something? Let me know what you'r into lately.