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.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Considering elementary science options

My 7-year-old son loves science. He wants to be an engineer at NASA, and his favorite types of science are astronomy, meteorology, physics, and engineering. He's such a science nut that he likes to ask people, "What's your favorite type of science?!" as a conversation starter. Haha!

Right now, I have been pretty low-key with our science studies. Library books on various topics, book purchases, documentaries and online videos, reading stuff on the NASA website -- stuff like that.
If you have Amazon Instant, I recommend Popular Mechanics for Kids seasons 1-4, which is available for free right now. It's a crowd-pleaser for my 7yo and 5yo. I learned some things too, when I paid attention.

We don't do much in the way of hands-on demos or experiments, though I have attempted it on random occasions.

I like Charlotte Mason methodologies, which at this age would have science solely as nature study. Lots of time outdoors observing, nature notebooks to sketch observations and add notations, living books on the topic.

This is to help the child familiarize himself with what he can sense in the world around him and get a deeper understanding of how the world works. Why read about the life cycle of a plant in a dry textbook when you can observe it first-hand? Why read dry facts about types of birds when you can observe them in their natural environment, color/sketch, learn about them from an engaging book? It should hone their observation skills and help them make connections.

I love CM's nature study in principle and I intend to do it. Possibly use SCM's bird study this year, or maybe next?

It's just, my young scientist would like much more. Part of the privilege in a custom home education is that I can provide that for him.

But how?

Some of the elementary science curriculum I have seen on the market just...ugh. Either too much busy work, too textbooky, talking down to the child, lame experiments or demos, complicated pieces ... all of this can contribute to science just plain not getting done.

Not cool.

I'm evaluating a few curricula that I hope will help save me time vs. doing something myself, have a sense of order, teach science, use living books, use interesting experiments and demos, be fun and worth our time. I don't have my choice finalized.

For the time period coming up, I am going to focus on my son's interests. My next child is 5 and isn't all that interested in science at the moment. She can participate in the read-alouds and experiments, but I think as she gets older I will choose our science more with her interests in mind. We'll see.

Here is what I'm considering so far. More options may come on the scene.

  • Noeo Science Physics I. Leaning strongly toward the Physics option coming up because of my son's preferences, but I think the chem looks interesting, too. Uses books, hands-on experiments (and includes a kit I can get). Uses Young Scientist Club kits, which I've heard are iffy in execution, so we'll see. Noeo also has a biology option but my son doesn't have a strong interest (we will get to bio eventually, but I think for now nature study ought to be enough).
  • Elemental Science Classic: Either the Earth Science & Astronomy for grammar stage, or their Physics for grammar stage. Leaning more toward Earth Sci for this offering, as their physics looks a little more advanced and the sequence might make more sense to do earth & space. I suspect my son already understands a lot of these concepts, but maybe we can go in more depth here. Uses some living books (I think?) and hands-on experiments. I can buy a supply kit. The author references the WTM methodology, and it seems that if I want to do the WTM way, this curriculum would help me achieve that with less work on my part.
  • Earth Science & Astronomy as suggested by The Well-Trained Mind. I would need to outline a plan here and make sure it gets done. Eep. From the book (3rd ed.): "...pick and choose your topics; don't expect to cover everything in these books. Follow the student's interest. Your aim is simply to introduce the study of earth sience and astronomy (and to enjoy it)." (p. 167). I guess grab some of the recommended books (many are Usborne encyclopedias, some are more specific and from other publishers. Map out a plan, read and narrate, choose an experiment? Seems too broad and DIY for what I can handle. Might not get done.
  • History of Science by Beautiful Feet. Takes a biography approach and some hands-on experiments, and a timeline for these people. I suspect it is more literature-based than hands-on. We've read 1.5 of the books used in the program, and they were excellent. I might not do the guide as-is, but I can see using the books in some form. Maybe combining it with another program?
I don't know! What do you do for science?