Thursday, April 28, 2016

2015 Recap and 2016 Planning

Wow. The end of 2015-16 schoolyear is here. No posts about why we homeschooled this year. No posts on plans. No summer reading challenge reports from last year.

The fact is, we are so preoccupied with doing our thing that there's no time (or is it energy?) to write about it. Since I don't want to let a year go by undocumented, I will attempt a recap.

Summer, 2015:

Reading challenge was successful. The boys earned movie and Xbox bucks instead of books, which cranked up the enthusiasm.

Thing1 (9 years old) wised up to the benefits and chose the books with the highest points first (1. The Hobbit. 2. Johnny Tremain. 3. Jack Plank Tells Tales. 4. Woodrow Wilson) He used the same report form as last year.
The Hobbit
Thing2 (6 years old) was still dictating and copying, but his reading abilities were much better!
The Long Way to a New Land

2015-16 School Year:

Classical Conversations. I directed a new community. It consumed me, but we were blessed. I feel much more prepared to take on this second year. I completed my first year of Essentials, and loved it. I see now that the kids need much less prep than I gave Thing1. I have adjusted Thing2's schedule appropriately. Live and learn.

rock study at camper school
Simplify. I made a conscious effort all year to simplify our plans and concentrate on the important rather than the urgent. We will be completing math books through the summer because of this, but the peace and fulfillment we experienced this year are worth it.
  • We did no formal history or science. Every time we went to the library, the boys could pick books from four categories: History/Geography, Science/Math, Literature/Poetry, and Fun. They could check out as many books as they wanted as long as they followed the "rule of 4," meaning their selections were spread evenly over those categories. They read a lot of interesting material, none of it planned ahead. Sometimes they did a "report" on their library books, which could be a letter to a grandparent (Thing2's favorite), a copy of one of the illustrations (Thing1's favorite), or a traditional report. Interestingly, no one ever chose the traditional report. 
  • We set aside traditional school work when opportunities for learning experiences arose, such as camping trips and speech competitions.
  • I held a massive notebook purge, and I stopped keeping every paper. If, one day, I need proof that I actually educate my children, I hope their knowledge will suffice. There will also be standardized test results. In fact, we generate very few papers besides math now that we have simplified.
  • I tried to quit being stubborn about plans that were not working out. For example, I quit trying to do Spelling Power with Thing2 halfway through the year. He was not ready! We concentrated on copywork instead. (He hates copywork! Sit still and pay attention to tiny details? No thanks.) As a result, I see more improvement in his spelling than I was seeing before.
    John Henry and Pony Express Rider
    CHESCO Speech Competition
  • The boys kept "Question and Thankful Notebooks." They wrote something they were thankful for and a question on each page. The goals were
    • to improve attitudes with gratitude.
    • to develop a question-asking habit so that learning continues as a way of life.
  • Instead of me directing our Bible reading, they chose where they read each day. Each of them read a passage aloud, and this doubled as their reading/elocution practice. We listened to Thing1 read Revelations, Esther, Ruth, and Job. Thing2 read mainly Psalms and Proverbs, sometimes the same one day after day. During the second semester, Thing1 and I combined our sentence diagramming practice with Bible time. That was interesting! It was much more meaningful than diagramming random silly sentences out of the book.
  • Thing1 completed his third Memory Master. He has done all cycles, so it will not be on my to-do list any more; however, he is  welcome to do it on his own. Thing2 made it through three proofings with 54%, 74%, and 77% results. Those last two proofings were cause for celebration! He knows the material, but, understandably, he has a hard time concentrating on it for two hours at a time.
Ghengis Khan
CC Faces of History program
Failure. Will I ever finish reading a book out loud to them within a reasonable amount of time? It hasn't happened yet. We have not quit on The Wheel on the School even though it has sat beside the chair for a year and a half. The Phantom Tollbooth, On the Banks of Plum Creek, and The Castle in the Attic are also unfinished. The amazing thing is that the boys can pick up where we left off months after the last reading. They have to catch me up every time because I cannot remember. We will keep chipping away at The Wheel (we are all hooked), but the others are history. We will try again later.

2016 Summer Plans:

First we will participate in the CTP4 standardized test. This is Thing1's second time and Thing2's first.

We will continue doing math lessons as a part of daily chores. Goal: Do an entire math lesson without getting distracted. Be a math ninja.

The reading challenge, which has blossomed into a favorite summer tradition, is on in three days! Again, they will earn movie bucks, which can also be used for Xbox games or books. They both have Kindles now, which makes it a lot cheaper to own all those hard-to-find books that libraries don't care about.

Let me talk about Thing2's reading! He has finally settled into reading as a hobby. He has finally realized that all those books on Thing1's Kindle are actually entertaining (and now the Kindle is his)! He has finally learned how to sit still and concentrate on written words! Truthfully, he has been learning this since he was an infant, but I can see the fruits now. My hunch that even an active, social person can appreciate literature is turning out to be correct. His list is adapted from Ambleside Online  with some additional fun novels thrown in. I thought I would just use Thing1's list from when he was 7, but it turns out Thing2 has already listened to most of them. He is a well read young man, thanks to audiobooks. I'm not sure if he is ready to read most of the AO titles independently since many of them are meant to be read aloud, but we will play it by ear. This summer he graduates to the Busy Teacher Cafe report form.

Thing1 is transitioning. That middle section of the Well Trained Mind, the one called The Logic Stage, is suddenly very relevant. I have not ignored it, but I have set it aside with the excuse, "It's not time." Well, now it is time. 5th-8th grades is what Ms. Bauer and Ms. Wise call the Logic Stage, and they put together a chronological reading list for these years. Since we have had tremendous success with their book recommendations from the beginning, I'm assigning this list to Thing1. This will be his summer reading challenge that will bleed over into his next two years of reading assignments. Since he has read copiously about ancients this year, I only selected a few titles that fill some gaps for that period, and I would like for him to read them all this summer so that he can start the full list of Medieval titles this Fall. And here's the big challenge: I need to read them, too, so we can discuss them. I have already started. It will take some re-prioritizing to actually get these volumes read...or at least he reads them. Another transition is that he will write me a formal critique, as he learned in IEW's Unit 9, for each book. I don't expect a perfectly polished product every time. How's that for alliteration? But I do want him to become so familiar with the process that it becomes a routine task.

2016-17 School Plans:

The lessons about simplifying and prioritizing came at the perfect time, right before a transition year for Thing1. That is evidence that it was of God because I was too wrapped up in starting a CC community (urgent and important) to realize the changes were imminent.
Thing2 (8 years old)

  • Keep reading, copying, and taking dictation. I have started dictating Dick and Jane to him. It is so simple that it seems silly, but he can take the dictation successfully, which means a lot. We can actually concentrate on periods and commas without worrying about the dreaded spelling aspect. 
  • Keep a relaxed schedule in 
  • Keep a more rigid schedule in 
    • Math-U-See Gamma
    • CC Memory Work
  • Visit the library using the "rule of 4."
Thing1 (10-11 years old)
From highest to lowest priority:
  • Math - I'm leaning toward making the switch to Saxon 65 with the DIVE download. The Husband votes we transition before pre-algebra, which means this year or next. If it does not work out, we can always go back to Math-U-See. See? I am learning about how stubbornness sabotages simplicity.
  • Essentials - Take a step towards independence in writing essays.
  • Read and report on books from The Well Trained Mind logic stage chronological reading list.
  • CC Memory Work
  • Start a keepsake timeline. This one is my favorite. 
  • Piano Lessons
  • Latin Christiana I in preparation for Henle Latin in two years. (What?!?)
  • Rosetta Stone Spanish. He and his dad want to learn, and we know a few people who can help them with conversation.
  • Read science-related topics such as the Aviation books a friend loaned us.
  • Typing Instructor - We love this program. He is getting faster! Hopefully by the time Essentials starts again, he can type his own papers semi-quickly.
  • Handwriting - Practice neat cursive.
Why am I homeschooling again next year? Because it is working and because I do not see any better options at this point. I am thankful to witness slow and steady growth in my children, especially after our "simple year." They can do their chores (the same 5 they have been doing for two years   -  rooms, beds, dogs, piano, and bathrooms) with less than three demerits half the time. Our afternoon "ten-minute pickup," which has been a daily hour-long ordeal in the past, only takes about ten minutes now. Thing1 has realized the satisfaction of having money in his pocket by doing additional commission jobs with the requirement that he "budget" the money he makes into save, spend, and give envelopes.  I watch both of them gradually tackle more difficult literature voluntarily and without dread. The day-to-day is hard, but looking at the big picture while writing a summary like this one convinces me that, by God's grace, we are making a good decision.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Friday, December 26, 2014

Latin? What Latin?

In this previous post, I said I hoped our new addition of a Latin curriculum would be productive.

Update: We don't do it.

We do memorize our CC Latin, though. [Thunderous applause, please.]

The End.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Positives, Grace, and Advice

I would hate to focus on the negative happenings since my last post, such as chronic temper control problems, horrendous housekeeping, scanty suppers, fend-for-yourself breakfasts and lunches, lousy Latin, and tears because I can't do it all.

It's healthier to focus on the positive, such as:

  •  62 days of school completed (it seems silly to count days of homeschool where we learn every day, but we do our best to abide by the law).
  • One kid who knows the better part of 12 weeks of CC memory work (Latin is lousy) and another who is close behind.
  • Ever-so-slowly improving attitudes.
  • An increasing number of friendships here in Oklahoma.
  • Two days in a row of reading from our Story of the World book.
  • The ability to sit at this computer at 2:58 p.m. and stay awake (!!) along with a few other results of teeny, tiny baby steps toward better health.

The biggest positive of all is a little epiphany I had recently. I realized that, like a good Primitive Baptist, I am fully confident in God's grace as it applies to my eternal salvation. I realize my weakness, and I rest in His strength. However, when it comes to raising my children, my actions (frustration, anger, hopelessness, perfectionism, imagining the worst possible outcome for every situation) show that I do not believe God's mercy and grace is sufficient for me in the area of motherhood. I conclude that my kids don't have a chance because of me when I should be thanking the Lord that my kids do have a chance in spite of me. I worry that they will "turn out bad" because of my lack of diligence when I should realize that I have never been chastised to the point that I actually deserved. God has been merciful, so I have to believe that he will continue to be. "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life." Ps. 23:6.

Paul, after asking God to get rid of his thorn in the flesh, wrote that God's reply was, "My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness." II Cor. 12:9. Oh, man, has my weakness been made clear to me in the last year! It has been ugly, but it has been necessary. I believe it has been providential. Never, until now, have I been able to understand why in the world Paul would glory in his infirmities! Only when I acknowledge my infirmity in a humble way can I recognize God's strength that carries me through one more attitude problem, his mercy in, I trust, allowing my children to "turn out okay," and his grace to cover my motherhood sins every day.

Advice to myself: Thank God for his grace. Repent and accept forgiveness. Be thankful for the positives and stop dwelling on the negatives. Realize that God didn't make a mistake when he gave you your particular children (Thanks for that, Mom's Night Out).

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Summer Book Reports

I am happy to report that our summer book list project was a success! By success, I mean three things.

1. Thing1, who would have been reading all summer anyway, read some higher quality material than Boxcar Children and Super Hero books.

2. The boys had some hard but not-too-time-consuming academic work to add to their summer chore lists.

3. They both practiced writing at their own levels.

I got 12 reports out of Thing1. He read considerably more than that, but reading and writing are on opposite ends of his difficulty spectrum. I am pleased with 12.
Three Swords for Granada. I helped with the adjective, "clandestine." He liked it. :)
Thing2 produced eight reports. Reading the books was still a challenge in self discipline for him.
The Berenstain Bears and the Case of the Missing Dinosaur Bone
I used my Pinterest board and Sonlight's reading lists for most of my selections, roughly keeping the historical books in the times we have already studied. Again, the book report template was from Busy Teacher's Cafe.

Thing1 used his points to get a couple new Kindle books and a Lego Brickmaster book. Thing2 saved all his points and redeemed them on a Squishy Human Anatomy book he had been eyeing at Hobby Lobby for months.

It's a must-do for next summer!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Plans for 3rd and 1st

Rebekah brought it to my attention that Thing1 is no longer a beginner. At the end of third grade, he will be halfway to junior high! And Thing2 is a 1st grader. It's gonna get real for him this year.

Here's the plan for both of them:
Classical Conversations Memory Work from the Foundations Guide along with printables from CC Connected.
Foundations Guide 4th Ed
If we don't do anything else in a day, we do this. My favorite way to keep track of practicing the memory work is to use a Charlotte Mason memory box. Here's a link to an instructional video.
Story of the World Volume 3: Early Modern Times
The Story of the World, Vol. 3 (Early Modern Times) - Hardback
Of course, this book contains wonderfully told stories. But the activity book provides enough corresponding literature suggestions to keep us busy for the next three years. The maps and coloring pages are great, too, but not as useful to us this year. Unless it an epic battle scene, the boys really don't care to color, and we get enough geography from CC that we can usually picture the general location we are reading about. Our routine is to read a chapter while coloring from the activity book then type up a narration page with a picture cut and pasted from the Internet. The narration pages go into their history notebooks. We try to have library books from the activity book's corresponding literature list on hand always.
Apologia's Exploring Creation with Anatomy and Physiology
Exploring Creation with Human Anatomy and Physiology
Apologia's Exploring Creation books are just plain fun. The pre-made Notebooking Journals are an unbelievably simple way to compile a super cute science notebook. Thing2 is excited that he has his own notebooking journal this year.
Song School Latin
Song School Latin Book 1 w/ CD
I add one new thing each year. This year it's Latin. Hopefully it will be profitable.
Here's what we've got planned for the third grader:
Slow and steady is the name of the game for Thing1 and mathematics, and Math-U-See fits the bill. Plus, Mr. Demme's short lessons on the DVD are much more effective than my blundering.
Growing With Grammar, Level 3

Levels 1 and 2 served us well. Considering that this is our last year before Essentials of the English Language through Classical Conversations, why quit now? Level 3 introduces diagramming sentences. (I am excited! Nerd.) I considered buying Digging into Diagramming for extra practice, but then I realized that it doesn't take a $15 book to practice diagramming.
Writing With Ease, Year 3
The Complete Writer: Writing with Ease Instructor Text
Agenda for our third and final year of WWE: Reading, narration, copywork, dictation; repeat.

I have decided not to buy the workbook this year. Instead, I am going to use McGuffey's Eclectic Readers (John Wiley and Sons, 1879) for the exercises. If it doesn't work (i.e. we skip it because it takes too much time to prep), I will just download the workbook. I'm also toying with the idea of using the McGuffey's for spelling as well. More on this endeavor later.
Prescripts Cursive Words and Drawing: Math Terms
PreScripts Cursive Words and Drawing: Math Terms
Normally handwriting books are the first thing to be dropped when we are short on time, but these books have them writing things they should be memorizing anyway, so it seems more productive.

The plan for our first grader:
Alpha Math-U-See

I already had everything but the student workbook from when Thing1 did it two years ago. After buying the workbook, I decided to make copies of the consumable pages this year. These books get expensive!

Thing2 did well in the Primer math book last year, and I don't regret my decision to do the kindergarten math program. I think he will be well prepared for Alpha this year, but I am still bracing myself for the task of making him memorize all the addition facts.
Growing with Grammar, Level 1

I discussed here my decision to use GWG and Writing with Ease in first grade for Thing1. I was satisfied, so we are doing it again. My worries about it not being enough for a well rounded language arts are obsolete. With Classical Conversations memory work, GWG, WWE, Prescripts, and all the reading we do in Story of the World, I believe we cover language arts sufficiently.
Writing With Ease, Level 1
The Complete Writer: Writing with Ease Workbook 1
This was easy because I already own the Level 1 workbook in PDF format. I like being able to print of the pages as I need them.

With the workbook, there is virtually no preparation for these lessons, and the book excerpts are always interesting: Little House, Peter Rabbit, Caddie Woodlawn, and The Railway Children to name a few. Both Level 1 and 2 workbooks stretched Thing1's reading repertoire because he almost always wanted to read the whole book after he heard an excerpt from it.
Prescripts Cursive Letters and Coloring: World History
Prescripts Cursive Letters and Coloring: World History
Why not start cursive in the first grade like they did in the olden days? After this year, I will know. Each opening has a page of cursive letter practice and a picture from the Timeline Cards that he can color.
Finally, to pull it all together, I bought a Well Planned Day planner.
2014-2015 Family Homeschool Planner
I decided to go with a premade paper planner this year for the first time. I am not convinced I really need it, but I want to try it out.

Again, a good school day does not have to include everything I have listed here. CC memory work, math, and language arts are the core. The rest is extra. These plans, like all plans, are a guide and always a work in progress. They are as flexible as we are. We use them to be productive, but we will not let them run our lives.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Why We are Still Homeschooling

I can't wait to write a "planning for next school year" post (my favorite kind). And I would also like to write an update on how the summer reading challenge is panning out. But first I need to write a "why" post for this year. I missed last year...I was sort of floundering in changes back then. Thankfully things are much more stable this year.

Next school year (2014-15) I will have a 6-year-old and an 8-year-old, and my reasons for homeschooling have only multiplied over the last three years. My fears from the early days of deciding to homeschool have proven unwarranted. We have been unbelievably and providentially blessed in this endeavor. I am moved to tears when I think of the answers and opportunities God has presented at just the right times over the last three years.

Of course, the old reasons still apply. We like the freedom, flexibility, and ability to experience life outside a campus. We love the uncommon, individualized, customized academics. And most importantly, we appreciate the opportunity to concentrate on the ever important, perpetual character training. Those reasons are basic, and this year my reasons build on that foundation, but they are harder to verbalize.

This year was hard. Not hard in a hopeless way, but hard in a refining-through-the-fire way. My kids and I worked through some issues, and we are far from finished. (Caveat: Not finished. That phrase reminds me of our decision to keep Thing1 home from kindergarten. I kept him home mainly because I was not finished with him. I am still not finished. I fear I will never feel like I am finished until he becomes an adult, at which time I must be finished whether I feel like it or not.) I made some big investments this year, and I have seen some small joyful returns. Take our leap into Classical Conversations, for example. I don't care to remember how often I sounded like a drill sergeant for the first half of the year. Sergeant Carter would seem sweet. Yet, at the end of the year, Thing1 pushed himself to Memory Master. He took 8-year-old responsibility, worked hard, and earned the reward. That was a a very, very joyful return. To choose to do something that is hard and then follow through is a big deal, no matter your age. Now take Thing2's kindergarten accomplishments. He is not reading Ralph S. Mouse like Thing1 was at the end of kindergarten, but he is reading very well, and he has listened to (and can practically recite) more audio books than Thing1 ever thought about at his age. He also has a wonderful understanding of basic mathematics and memorized a large chunk of our CC material. I pray I do not recite these accomplishments in a prideful spirit but in a humble, grateful, "thus far the Lord has led me on" spirit. I want to dwell on the goodness of the year more than the hardness of it.

I feel more confident than ever that homeschooling is the way for us in 2014-15. Classical Conversations was a success, and I can't wait to do it again. Our new house with nine acres is perfect for a homeschool family. We are attached to several people in our support group here. We have found a pretty good balance between home-based and extracurricular activities (it's still hard to keep the extracurricular light enough for my taste, though). For what it's worth, our first standardized test affirmed our efforts and showed room for improvement. I trust I am learning more about how to keep calm and keep expectations realistic (my thorn). I trust the boys are learning more about diligence, respectfulness, and positive attitudes. But most of all, I want to keep investing.