Thursday, October 22, 2015

1st grade quarter-end progress report: Handwriting

I thought I'd break down how various subjects are going around here, as we're roughly a little more than a quarter of the way done with 1st grade. I'll start with handwriting.

My son completed Handwriting Without Tears K a short while back, and we've moved on to copy work.

He just finished the last of the copy work selections from Simply Charlotte Mason's Delightful Handwriting. I knew it wouldn't take long, but I'm glad I purchased the pdf anyway, because I will likely use it with my girls.

I liked the poem, fable and bible verse within. I asked him to do a page per day in his best effort. At this font size, it's 10-15 words at most. I like that it's effortlessly adding punctuation, capitalization, spacing, and spelling. Also, copying real, quality sentences is so much better than meaningless word lists.

SCM offers a free mega copy work printable when you sign up for one of their email lists. I have that, and I might use that for more copy work while I figure out where to go from here.

Right now, I think he needs the copying model directly on the page so he can better gauge spacing and size. Eventually though, I hope to have him copying from some other source into a notebook of some kind.

Eventually, we'll add on cursive.

For his handwriting, I typically have been handing him his page for the day while I'm gathering our math or reading materials and looking through those to know the lesson of the day.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Some independent work while we were away; and thinking about spelling

My girls had a doctor check-up today, so I made a to-do list of school work for my son to do while we were gone. (My husband often works from home, and was home today in case J needed anything. Duh.)

I gave him a short list:

  1. His handwriting page for the day
  2. A drawing lesson on DVD
  3. Read a chapter of a book I selected from the library and narrate it to me when I returned
  4. His choice of playing a Wii game or something electronic as an incentive to see it to the end. He chose Wii Sports Resort.

It went well. His work was completed, except for the book. I wondered if the book I chose was too much, and I think it was. Full text, no illustrations. He just isn't quite there yet. He can read complex words, but when there are too many words on a page he gets overwhelmed. That's fine, it will come with time.

He was able to tell me about the 2 pages he did read, and I do think he gave it a good effort.

Next time, I will choose another type of solo reading assignment.

I know it's challenging to have much independent work at this age. I could have printed a page from our Math Mammoth since that is self-contained. I could have him listen to an audio book. Or, I could tell him to complete a project with his Snap Circuits or Gyrobot or something like that so he could follow instructions (or create something, I suppose) to show me later.

By the way, J and V? They are SO HELPFUL! SQUEEEE! First of all, Vivie was a model patient today at the doctor's. She was proud to show her sister how it worked, and held her hand while the doc was looking in her ear, whispering in her other ear that she was safe and she was fine. Be still, heart!!

Also, I asked if they would help me collect the bathroom trash. They did, and I got distracted by something and was shocked and happy to see they took all of the trash to the curb, including the 65-gallon recycling bin. WHAT! Awesome!

They are happy to help, and I am thrilled to have actual helpful helpers.

Johnny has been hinting that it's time to add spelling lessons to his daily work. Ugh, spelling. Whatever way I was taught spelling, it was ineffective. Usually just memorizing spelling lists with no reason behind them and a spelling test on Friday. Worksheets where I would fill in the letters according to their size in letter boxes.

I learned nothing. Spelling was my lowest score on all standardized tests, always. Pfft!

I want better for my kids. But oy, the spelling philosophies out there, and the curriculum choices!

I own the first level of All About Spelling. I'm a big fan of the All About Reading program, so I bought level 1 of AAS without even giving it further thought. All About Learning press advises to begin spelling shortly after completing level 1 of the reading program, and they have their reasons for suggesting that route.

J is more than a third through level 3 of AAR and we aren't yet doing spelling. Whoops. I tried AAS back when he finished level 1, but it just didn't seem to be the right time.

I ought to pull it out and just give it a shot, since we already have it.

Part of me is really NOT interested in using the letter tiles. J doesn't seem to need them that much (we don't use them for the reading program, but I might use them for another child if she needs it). If I have magnetic letter tiles out while my toddler tornado is on the loose...nopenopenope.

This stage is relatively short, but I do need to anticipate her actions.

So...part of me is wondering if I can modify it without the tiles, or if that really is a big part of the program. Part of me also does NOT want to spend 20 minutes/day on spelling. Not sure if it will actually take that long.

ANOTHER part of me is adding up the price to finish the 7 levels of AAS and I'm like ugghghg I will do it if I have to but what else is out there? AAR is such a solid program, I have been able to see that first-hand.

So many thoughts.

IEW has a Phonetic Zoo program with an audio component. That is pricey. Like $300 for all of the levels. But. Is it then more self-directed? You can buy a budget option for $29 with no audio, and you'd need to read it to your child, have another child do it for the student, or heck record it yourself.

Part of me wonders if J would be able to assist the younger girls with their own spelling later. If Vivie then gains proficiency as a reader, perhaps she could assist J with his spelling. It's easier to read than to spell, imo.

I don't know! These are early thoughts. Brain dump over. Time for Gilmore Girls and a glass of wine.

One more thing -- it was rainy today, but warm enough and no thunder. I invited my kids to play outside. They loved it! There's usually thunder in the area. They found a giant worm, made some puddles and mud pies. Good stuff.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

September update and time for some tweakin'

Well, we've logged 32 days of 1st grade -- time for some updates! I started our count on July 1 to capture any field trips, test-the-waters-on-the-new-curriculum days, and some unschooling days where plenty of learning happened. We started with our more regular routine in early August.

My purpose was to bank some days early on because we are taking most of December off. Add in some sick days and the sort, and here we are. By the way, we are on cold #2 since July 1. Pfft! Not that bad. Just annoying.

I am using OneNote to organize my lesson plans and keep records. I LOVE IT. Sort of similar in some ways to Evernote, but OneNote seems better to me for creating notes. Evernote, I prefer for clipping items from the web. I ought to write more about OneNote in the near future.

For now, the subjects we're doing and how they're going:

Math: RightStart B 2nd. ed.: Today, we completed lesson #26 "adding 10 to a number." We're switching gears from a few lessons prior, where we worked with quadrilaterals, right triangles and parallel and perpendicular. I love the built-in review with the warm-up activities, the fairly infrequent worksheets (that actually are beneficial; not busywork!), the card games to drill and practice, and the varying nature of our days. I like changing it up vs. sticking with the same thing day in and day out. I feel that level B is certainly more meaty than level A (makes sense) and I think this is giving J a solid foundation. It is going really well!

A few weeks ago, J thought it would be fun to start with 1+2 = 2, then go 2+2 = 4, then 4+4=8 and so on. He got up to 512 (in his head!!) and then I suggested we move to the white board to keep track of it. I showed him how I was taught to carry the 1 when adding from the ones moving left, and he understood -- but whoops. That is not the RightStart way. They want to make sure the student understands what is actually happening and WHY we are doing that. Their approach is different and we haven't yet reached that lesson.

Phonics: All About Reading level 3: Midway through lesson 17. Just keepin' on our normal here. Not using the tiles, not using the worksheets, heh! They just don't seem necessary for this particular child, but I may use them for the girls later on. I *do* use the workbook's fluency pages, but we don't remove them from the book. I am fairly confident he will complete this level at some point during this school year, and I am unsure if I will purchase the final level, or if I will use my Phonics Pathways book to touch on the final phonograms, and have him just read aloud to me as fluency practice. Will decide later.

Recently, I gave him an option to read aloud from a story book to me or do a reading lesson. He read The Tale of Peter Rabbit to me on one occasion, and a Billy and Blaze book on another. I thought he would really enjoy the Billy and Blaze series. I think he sort of does, but didn't have interest really to read more. Shrug.

Read-alouds: Pulling from our nature study and history selections, library books and also some misc. lit. We are enjoying A Children's Book of Virtues and one crowd-pleaser within it was "St. George and the Dragon," a story about a brave princess AND a brave knight.

I am not satisfied with my own understanding and appreciation of Shakespeare, so I want to work on that for myself and my children. We read an illustrated children's book retelling A Midsummer Night's Dream, and the kids loved it. I know there are different approaches to Shakespeare, but personally I like the thought of getting familiar with the characters and stories before diving in to his original works. I also grabbed a K

Handwriting: J finished his Handwriting Without Tears K book and was thrilled to be done with that one. Me, too. The font isn't my favorite. We aren't continuing with their 1st grade level. Instead, I purchased Simply Charlotte Mason's ebook, Delightful Handwriting. We jumped ahead in that book to their first copywork selections -- "The Rain" by Robert Louis Stevenson; next is a very short fable; last is a Proverb. There's only around a dozen pages of this (we do one page per time in his very best handwriting, erasing mistakes). SCM offers some free copywork pages too, and I will likely put them to use. Whoa, 360 free pages!

Nature study: I want to strongly recommend the book "Outdoor Secrets" by Margaret P. Boyle. Oh, what a gem. We've only read the first four stories, and have enjoyed them so much! Fictional stories about say, a century plant, but plenty of factual info woven in. Or in "The Uninvited Guest," we learn more about the earthworm. I bought the ebook from Simply Charlotte Mason, but it looks to be available in the public domain here. I also have their companion guide -- simple activities, poetry and such to go along with the stories as we choose. When we were discussing earthworms, we also read about them in A Handbook of Nature, and went out in our yard to find some (Vivie helped us with that task; she knew right where to go. Atta girl!).

Ancient history: Hmm. This one is being modified somewhat. I'm using SCM's Genesis-Deut. & Ancient Egypt guide and we are about 24 lessons in. I *thought* I would find the guide very open-and-go, but something about it just was a huge stall point for me. I ended up creating a simple table showing which resources would be needed for which lessons and that has helped me a lot.

The format right now is 3 days of bible reading, 1 day of geography (focus on Africa), 1 day from a history spine/library book/stuff they left behind pictures.

Last week, I started adding in the devotional book Long Story Short and jumped to where we are with the SCM guide (Abraham & Isaac at the moment). Too soon to tell with that, but I like it so far, anyway.

The spine they are using is interesting so far, but we are only 2 chapters in. I like the "stuff they left behind" resource for a visual and extra info. Next term, we will read Boy of the Pyramids and I am looking forward to that, as the reviews seem promising.

Map work is going well -- J can identify something like 10 countries now on a blank map.

Final verdict on the history resource is out for now.

American history: I wanted to start our study of American history, since our study of the ancients is really really light on age-appropriate literature. Books on ancient Egypt and the pyramids and such abound, but lit? Not so much. That's part of why I'm excited about Boy of the Pyramids.

Anyway, I think starting a 2nd stream of history should be doable right now. If not, I can make adjustments. I've selected TruthQuest History: American history for Young Students vol. 1 (exploration through 1800). The guide will help us work our way through the time period, using good books. Read + discuss. Enjoy.

We are only just getting started. Haven't even finished our first book, Leif the Lucky by D'Aulaire yet, but so far so good. At this time, I don't think I will reach for a spine. Right now, J isn't super interested in history, so I want to spark his interest in the people and stories by using living books.

Viv was randomly browsing Google Maps to see what she could see, and I was stunned when she zoomed in on Greenland, and more specifically a statue of Leif in the town of Qassiarsuk. Not sure the odds of that, but oh how I love Google Maps. I don't think I'll be getting to Qassiarsuk anytime soon.

Spanish: Nada. Lo siento.

Fine arts: We're enjoying picture study. I'm using a cobbled-together collection of art cards from Memoria Press. I was hoping artists would have more than 2-3 works, but so far that's the most I'm noticing. Oh well, brief intro to various works from various artists. We can linger with an artist a la Charlotte Mason more properly later, I guess.

We enjoyed two works from Henri Matisse (well...I should say we looked at them. J liked his goldfish painting, but the Red Room, he was like..."why did he make the tablecloth look exactly like the wall? I would have done it differently. Also, why is that chair pointing away from the table? It is supposed to be pushed in.") Not impressed, Henri.

I'm adding on library books about the artist for extra works to look at, plus some bio. Fun. Easy.

The orchestra book is helpful and serving my purposes well. The CD-ROM component is useful.

We've finished 3 lessons of the Art Class drawing DVDs and so far, so good. I'm a leeetle annoyed at the instructor talking to the audience all "hi, boys and girls! welcome back to the art class club" or whatever she is calling it. Just get to it! Maybe some kids go for it, idk. Whatever, it is mostly serious and J is enjoying it.

Incidentally, I came across a "I can't pass this up" deal on Home Art Studio DVDs. Um. It might have been a mistake. I previewed the first lesson of the K level, and the project was not appealing, and the "you can do this like a real artist!" sort of talk was Not our thing. J did not want to do the project and Vivie sorta did, but we didn't end up doing it. I'm going to browse through the pdf file that came with the DVD and maybe preview some more on my own. We might pick and choose which projects to do instead of doing them all. J looked at the pdf with me and thinks the projects look babyish. Uh-oh. Might need to do just a select few then and see what the next level has in store. I'm hopeful the higher levels look less babyish to him.

Audio books:

I deviate some from Charlotte Mason (I would think...) in that I allow plenty of audio books and maybe even some audio twaddle on occasion. Heh.

I allow audio books as they are laying in bed and also in the car. I offer audio books during the day just while playing, but so far, no takers. I've been playing an audio book while I'm cleaning up the kitchen, and if I have any listeners join me, ok. I've tried some selections from Edith Nesbit's Stories from Shakespeare and Fifty Famous Stories Retold by James Baldwin. I'm trying to train my ear to listen to stories instead of just being able to read with my eyeballs. I can do non-fiction on audio, but stories are harder for me. I find that sometimes, I like to slow down and savor a well-written passage or read it again and that is harder on audio.

Recently, J and V have enjoyed:

  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (get the free book on Kindle and then the Audible is only a few bucks)
  • The Quite Remarkable Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat (from the Monty Python guy, lolz) library
  • Pippi Longstocking, library
  • Amber Brown is Not a Crayon, library
  • Jim Weiss Just So Stories, free with Freegal while our library had it

Mother culture:

I finished Watership Down by Richard Adams for my own enjoyment. Loved it! Would like to read it again someday, maybe to my older kids, or invite them to read it to themselves and then discuss.

I read "Desperate: Hope for the Mom who Needs to Breathe" by Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson. Some encouragement within. I grabbed it from the library and the font was a little faint which made it harder to read. Would recommend a library copy vs. buying.

Listened to some podcasts from Read-Aloud Revival and Power of Moms. I didn't care for the RAR episode featuring SWB. Something about it just rubbed me wrong but then again, I'm not a SWB fangirl.

Watched some documentaries on ancient Egypt, some ancient math. Oh, and Gilmore Girls. Hah. I'm mid-season 7 now. Almost done with Stars Hollow :(

What could be going better:

Hmm. Too much screen time for all, myself included. Computer, movies/Netflix, tablets. Some of the use could be described as educational, but yah. Way too much screen time.

We don't have a consistent start time for our day, and that probably in theory should be more predictable.

While my organization and day-to-day planning is going a little better, it isn't quite as smooth as I would like. I think I'm making good progress though.

I am putting a lot of focus on my 1st grader right now for school work, and not doing one-on-one time with my toddler like I would prefer. My 4-year-old is getting some one-on-one "school" work with our All About Reading pre-reading level. I am reading aloud to all of them, and age-appropriate books to each kid when I need to pull out the board books or younger-ear books. But yeah. I have three kids. I need to step it up.

Ok how many words am I at? A LOT. BYE! <3

Thursday, July 23, 2015

A year of pre-kindergarten for my 2nd child

This year, my daughter Vivie is 4.5 and we are calling her a pre-kindergartner. She has expressed some interest in learning how to read and having some one-on-one learning time with me.

She is invited to join us for any and all read-alouds, hands-on projects, and the sort, but she isn't required. I will require her to join us and listen in on the habits/character and Bible lessons.

  • Phonics: All About Reading pre-reading. This level (on its way to me) will include some hands-on activities and I suspect some will help improve fine-motor skills while we're at it.
  • A scissors skills activity book and others of that nature for fine-motor work
  • Letter formation practice with a chalkboard slate and paper as desired
  • Math: Mathematical Reasoning pre-k (since I already have it) as I'm not quite ready to start RightStart A with her. Is she ready? Yeah, probably. She has picked up a bit from listening in on Johnny's math. But I'm not.
  • My Father's World preschool activity cards and associated toys (I purchased an earlier version of this set awhile back). Also, being more deliberate with pulling our our assortment of educational toys and games.
  • Read-alouds on her level. She will sometimes listen in on a chapter book, but most of the time she is solidly in the picture book camp (and I am 100% cool with that!). What's interesting to me is that while she doesn't like to listen to longer read-alouds when read by me, she loves listening to audio books. 
  • Speech articulation: There are a few sounds she has trouble making properly, and it is causing her a little bit of embarrassment. She has expressed she would like me to work with her on it, and I found a resource that I think will work well: Super Star Speech. I did the initial assessment with her and found that some of her articulation problems are age-appropriate and some are not. I'm already seeing improvement and at this time I don't think we will need outside intervention (though I am open to that if it comes down to it).
I chose All About Reading pre-reading for Viv because after reminding myself of the pace of AAR level 1, I just don't think she is ready for that. The earlier level will meet her more of where she's at, and I think it will provide a firm foundation for her. I am not of the opinion that a 4-year-old needs to learn how to read, even if they are starting to sound out words on their own. Be little!

While it seems pricey to me, having something all laid out and prepared for me is worth it, as I have more money than free time at this point in my life.

Jumping back in time for a minute and reflecting on 2 years ago when Johnny was this age, I was roughly doing the same sort of things with him. Baby #3 was born in September 2 years ago though, so we were very low-key for the entire fall semester.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Goals for 1st grade, and curriculum involved

First grade is upon us! In my state, we need to count 180 days of school. Kindergarten wasn't required, but this year starts the really real stuff. For real.

We can choose when to start the count. I am choosing to go from July 1-June 30 for counting purposes, but we won't necessarily be running full tilt in July (in fact, I guarantee we won't). Still, getting started and having some summer days of cushion makes me feel better.

I enjoy reading about curricula used, and I like sharing my choices. I am influenced by Charlotte Mason's ideas (but I am not a purist).

I want to do focused work, and leave plenty of time for play, exploration and following his interests.

Here is where I'm aiming, and I will make adjustments as necessary.

Morning meeting:

  • Day's agenda discussion (brief)
  • Bible reading (pulling from our Genesis-Deut. readings)
  • Memory work (poetry, hymns, scripture)
  • Habits: Laying Down the Rails from Simply Charlotte Mason
  • Prayer

  • Math: Rightstart Level B, 2nd ed.
  • Phonics: All About Reading finishing level 2 and starting level 3
  • Handwriting: Finishing Handwriting Without Tears level K and starting Simply Charlotte Mason's Delightful Handwriting
  • History/Bible/Geography: Simply Charlotte Mason's Genesis-Deuteronomy and Ancient Egypt guide. Ancient Egypt and other locations and events in ancient times are the historical focus, and Africa is the focus for geography. Also using SCM's The Stuff They Left Behind e-portfolio (Ancient Egypt) and their Visits to Africa geography e-book. Planning to buy Boy of the Pyramids and possibly the Ancient Egypt and Her Neighbors book, but will read the sample chapters aloud to J first, and then decide whether to purchase and which format might be best.
  • Read-alouds!
  • Play outside!
  • Create something (crafts, art projects, building with blocks/Lego/misc. materials...whatever! Create!)
Fine arts loop: (more info on loop scheduling here)
Another loop:

I thought about adding poetry to the fine arts loop, perhaps focusing on one poet for a term. But lately, the kids have enjoyed listening to poetry as an element of read-aloud time, so I have been reading from books we have and adding a few titles from the poetry section at the library for each visit. I may loop this one at a later time, we'll see.

Read-alouds will of course include topics pertaining to our study of Africa, ancient Egypt, living nature books, books on our science topics, etc.

Also, I will work our way through a booklist of titles on our shelves, titles pulled from books such as The Read-Aloud Handbook, Honey for a Child's Heart, Books Children Love, the Sonlight catalog, etc. 

Most recently, we enjoyed Mr. Popper's Penguins as a longer read-aloud. Oh, the silliness! Next is The Story of Doctor Dolittle. We are two chapters in and J is looking forward to more.

Audio books

I have one child who enjoys audio books, and one who doesn't. I still hope to have audio books to listen to while we drive around, and perhaps during lunch. For now, familiar books and short stories are working well here. For example, we recently finished Charlotte's Web in the car. I read it to them maybe a year ago? Not sure. So they are familiar with the story already and I think that helps them to keep interest.

Right now, I have Stuart Little (also by E.B. White) playing in the car. We have about 30 mins to go, I think. They are hooked. J says he likes listening to books in the car, but nowhere else. I'm working on it.


I know some families prefer to not have a TV. I think it can be a wonderful tool. We don't have cable, but we have over-the-air stations, and subscriptions to Netflix streaming and Amazon Instant. 

I also will often borrow some DVDs from the library if they have some relevance to something we're studying, or just otherwise seem interesting. 

As I mentioned above, I plan to add Spanish DVDs, but also science-related topics, geography-focused, etc.

Outside activities:

Still sorting this one out. I don't want to have a lot of time commitments right now. We will likely do one-off programs at the library, field trips and park days. Oh, and the gym & swim 8-week class and/or private swim lessons.


I like flexibility to change things up from day to day, month to month. I think I would like to view the school year in 6 terms. Perhaps July-August; Sept-Oct.; Nov.-Dec.; Jan.-Feb.; Mar.- April; May-June.

The amount of work/type of work/intensity of it might vary from term to term, and that's ok and desired (by me). I loved having a Christmas-y December last year, for instance. It's a good opportunity to take a break from the routine and infuse the time with a different style of learning.

The actual nitty-gritty scheduling of a term's contents and how that might translate to a week or a day still has me a bit perplexed. I think for now, I will map out the frequency of the subject areas I want to hit, throw it in a spreadsheet and "do the next thing" when it comes time. For example, rather than scheduling which lessons to do in math on which days, just write in "RightStart" and then add the lesson number completed/worked on in the appropriate day. Like so:

This chart is a work in progress, but I thought it would be helpful to show you what I mean. This is in landscape mode and I think, after printing it, that I might prefer portrait mode and perhaps 2 pages for 1 week instead of it all on one page. I will need to fiddle with it.

Ok, this post has been in draft mode long enough. Time to hit publish and just get on with things!

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.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Some of what we're actually doing right now

In my last post, I wrote that we are only doing bare-bones of My Father's World kindergarten at this point, pulling in the literature, science topics/projects, arts & crafts, and Bible discussions.

This semester, we are doing:

All About Reading level 2 -- this phonics program has been wonderful for my son. I omit some of the activities, as they are overkill for him, but he does all of the fluency pages and stories in his readers. We don't use the magnet tiles, though I suspect I will use them when we start spelling. We also skip the activity pages. We did them for level 1, but J would rather just read the words instead of doing some sort of workbook page. The activities are fun, but eh. The goal is reading fluently. Workbook not necessary for that.

I did a quick online reading level assessment to see where his reading level might stack up. He placed between 4-6th grade reading level, depending on the test. Cool.

Today, he finished lesson #29/51. We'll wrap this level up at some point soon. I'm not putting the date on the calendar, in case we hit a wall or something. I own AAR level 3 already and I expect we'll just keep trotting along with that.

RightStart math level A -- we took a huge break with RightStart awhile back, and resumed in January. J has completed lesson 51/132ish. So. Hmm. I refuse to say that we are "behind." Behind WHAT? Nothin', that's what. We will keep moving at a comfortable pace, and we'll finish when we finish. I know that level B will cover a lot of the same concepts early in that level.

Handwriting -- Handwriting Without Tears K -- oh, handwriting. Somehow it is the subject of most resistance at the moment. We are still in capitals. Johnny enjoys writing on his own, but his letter formation is off, he doesn't do lowercase, and the sizing and spacing isn't so great. I know a lot of this will come with time and continued practice, plus other fine-motor activities to help those little hand muscles do their work.

I liked that I could sneak some handwriting practice in the other day, when they were signing Valentine's cards for their friends! We are going to a Valentine's Day party next week with some other homeschoolers. I'm bringing some books to read-aloud. So excited.

Bible -- we start our day off with something Bible. Sometimes I'll pull it from the MFWK materials, or I'll grab a devotional, or the Bible coloring book and accompanying storybook we have. It's nice.

My goal is to hit the 3Rs plus Bible at minimum for a school day. You might be surprised at how quickly we can accomplish it. It's focused work. Everything else, the frequency varies.

History -- I'm slowly starting some history. We've read the first 7 chapters of History for Little Pilgrims, which gives a very quick overview sweep of history. I have added some library books to go along, pulled from my All Through the Ages book guide. I'll probably stick with that approach for a few months. Perhaps I'll start adding titles from our TruthQuest History guide, or maybe I'll wait until the fall.

Poetry -- I love Charlotte Mason's ideas, and as part of "spreading a feast before my children," I want to add these elements to my children's education. I've read poetry to them before of course, but now I'm being more deliberate with the frequency. Even a few minutes of reading poetry can be beneficial. I am using "Favorite Poems of Childhood." So far, so good. After that, "Favorite Poems, Old and New."

Mason advocated sticking with one poet for a time, lingering with that poet. Read a biography about him or her, soak up the poems, maybe do some narration. (More on poetry the Simply Charlotte Mason way, which is a leeetle different than Charlotte Mason, I think).

Music -- We had a blast playing Christmas music from late November through oh, now, slowly tapering. An added bonus, the kids really learned a lot of songs. It helped that they were part of the Christmas program at church, but I think playing Christmas music on Pandora helped them know the songs. I would like to keep that going with hymns and other songs.

I have the composer study CDs from Simply Charlotte Mason (Bach, Beethoven and Chopin). Really cool series. I haven't read the bios to the kids yet. So far, I've just played a CD here and there and told them who the composer was and left it at that.

I would like to get a book/CD combo to help them learn and recognize the various instruments of the orchestra. Something like this book, perhaps. My library carries another title, and I'm going to borrow it to see how that goes over. This all may be a little beyond them right now, and that's fine. Just playing beautiful music is nice. It takes no extra effort to play something while they are coloring, Lego-ing, play-dohing, whatever.

Phys. Ed. -- Squee! J and V are participating in a class put on by the park's department of a nearby town. There's a preschool group and a homeschooler group, and they meet at the same time. The first part is in the gym where they were doing various running around activities. The preschool group even got out the awesome parachute. I hope the other group gets a chance with it at some point. Then, they were in the pool. J and V are in the same swimming group with 2 other kids. I'm cautiously optimistic. They are having an absolute blast so far. They need this outlet so much, especially in the cold winter.

Roughly, that's it. There are a few other things that might make an appearance in our day. I have a walk-in closet full of educational toys, games and manipulatives + craft supplies. We keep our library crate full of books and make regular visits. Some audio books thrown in (and I like to grab a paper version for Johnny to follow along with). Oh, and some Netflix. Heh. So nice, especially in winter.

We have days that go really, really well. I try to remember so many details about those days. We also have days where it's like everyone (me included) just is having a rotten day and nothing is going right. Total disasters. Just roll with it, I figure. The good outweighs the bad, and thankfully, by far.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Some thoughts with My Father's World Kindergarten, where we're at, and where we're going from here

This part was written awhile ago:

We've been going slowly through some of the My Father's World Kindergarten units lately. The farm animals units were fun, and I was glad we could go to a dairy farm for a group field trip roughly when we were learning about cows. Did I mention we made our own butter? We put heavy cream in a jar and shook it. For like 20 minutes.

All 5 of us took turns shaking it, and it turned into butter. I added a little salt and we spread it on zucchini bread. Nomnomnom.

Anyway, today I started unit 15/26 which is on elephants. It's the first of four units discussing various wild animals.

I read all five of the Bible lessons today, as they were so brief and I had attentive kids. We read a few books from the library on elephants, and Johnny read one to me. He was like, "wow! Did you know...?" and sharing fun facts with us.

I found some video clips with elephants and shared them with the kids. I especially enjoy watching elephants swim. There's just a certain grace about it. Plus, they look like they're having fun.

We'd go to the zoo to see them, except it's sub-zero right now and. I. just. cannot.

So, MFWK as a whole:

We aren't doing the phonics, math, or handwriting. Also not doing the Cuisenaire Rods alphabet book or classical music activities (but I do like the CD and play it from time to time). I do the Bible lessons, do the book themes, activities that sound like fun. We do a field trip if we can work it in.

What we're actually doing with MFWK is fun, but it's brief. It seems like the activities and are getting fewer as we go.

Written on 1/26/15:

We're now on unit 19, Rock. Johnny was a bit over learning about animals. He is more into physical science. He is interested in weather, astronomy and I wasn't surprised when he took to our rock unit.

I think we'll keep on using the MFWK teacher's manual to help with library book selection, projects and activities, and I still do like the Bible discussion that we have with it. After all, we're almost to the end, and in that slightly OCD way of finishing a program I think we'll keep with it.

But oh man. It is a really stripped-down version from where we began with it.

In a way, I knew this would happen. I drafted a post two years ago about why My Father's World Kindergarten wouldn't be a good fit for us. I never published it. I'm reading through it now, and yup. I was right. All of the potential negatives I pin-pointed ended up being true for us.

Also, I think we would have used the program more as-written if I began him on it sooner.

Ultimately, MFWK was overall a good thing for me and my firstborn, because it was our first year of being more intentional with structured learning, and it helped me to see the possibilities. It held my hand in some ways, and it left it open-ended in other areas.

I'm not sure if I'll use it in any form with my 2nd or 3rd children. It might prove beneficial to pull out some of the worksheets for the girls. I know my 3rd child will have no memory of any of it, heh. Maybe my 2nd child will remember some of the units, but I don't think there would be harm in me starting over with her in say, the fall when she's 4.5. I may end up doing that.

I may also scrap it and keep the 3Rs separate, as that proved to be a BIG DEAL to me.