Friday, August 14, 2015

Our Flexible Homeschool

We have become very flexible over the years.  For instance, this year we had planned to continue with Life of Fred for Bee.  Now, he has loved Life of Fred for the past couple of years, but at some point in Fractions he seemed to become kind of lost, and he didn't want to go back and re-do what he had already done.  Plus, his book was lost. 

So, the first day of school we switched to Khan Academy, and that seems to be a good fit for him right now.  Even though I was attached to the Life of Fred series and liked the idea that he could continue to love it all the way through Calculus, it didn't work that way. 

He might go back to Life of Fred, and he might not, and that is okay.  He might continue with Khan Academy for a long time, or he might switch to something else next year, and that is okay too. 

The important thing is that he is learning math and feeling positive about it.  Years ago, I would have tried to make him stay with the Life of Fred series.  So, I think that is progress.  Sometimes I feel bad for my oldest because I learned so many lessons on him.  Of course, Bug has his own lessons to teach me.  And Dot will benefit from what her older brothers taught me and teach me even more. 

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Planning Spanish

As I wrote yesterday, my big focus for this year is Spanish.  I speak at a high intermediate level but have had great difficulty adding Spanish effectively into our homeschool and home, particularly with Bug.  

One thing I want to introduce into our homeschool this year is Spanish skits and short plays.  I am going to try and get my boys to memorize several throughout the year and perform them for their dad (or grandparents, etc).  I think this will be a good way to get them more comfortable speaking in sentences. 

I have some books of short plays by Teacher Created Materials that I hope to use, but they are a little bit long and complicated to start out with.  They are also not really designed for kids learning Spanish; they are intended as Spanish readers for Spanish speaking kids.  They look like a lot of fun though--I am just worried about overwhelming Bug, who is only 7 and can be insecure about speaking Spanish. 

I was delighted to find some great skits at Teachers pay Teachers.  I spent $18 to download 18.  I was nervous about spending that much without seeing any of the skits, but the bundle had really good reviews, and I am very pleased with them.  I think they will be a lot of fun and will surely be enough material for the semester. 

My daily plan will look like this (to be done 3 days a week):

1)  We will sing 3 Spanish songs, rotating songs each month. 
2)  I will read them a short Spanish book (on toddler level).
3) We will do a quick calendar time on the dry erase board. 
4)  We will work with vocabulary cards, rotating themes each month. 
5)  We will practice some Spanish questions, from my Risas and Sonrisas curriculum. 
6)  Journaling (they will illustrate a Spanish sentence in a journal). 
7)  We will work on a skit. 

On Friday we will skip everything but the singing, book, and skit and play a game.  We may possibly also watch a video in Spanish.  

I am not sure if this will be too much, but I want to spend at least an hour on Spanish, and most of the things won't take too long.  If it is too much, I will adjust as needed. 

In addition, we will be listening to Spanish songs in the car, which is something we have always done regularly in the past. 

All of this Spanish during the school day should get me in "Spanish mode" and speaking more to them during our daily life. 

I am really hopeful that this works out.  I'll try and write at the end of the semester about how it went. 

Literature for 2nd and 6th Grade

Most of our reading has been informal.  We read to both boys when they were younger, and now they read to themselves.  This year, however, I'd like to do a little more with them. 

For Bee, I will be assigning him one book a month.  I thought of having him choose from a list of books, but he tends to get overwhelmed by too many choices, so I thought it better just to pick for him.  I have tried to choose books that I think he will really enjoy and that are also a little different from his usual choices. 

I will have him read about a chapter a day until he finishes the book each month, depending on the length of the chapters.  After he finishes, I plan to take him to a coffee shop to get him a treat on a weekend, and bring a list of book discussion questions, like having our own little book club.  I am drawing the discussion questions from the web in advance.  He will also have a writing assignment each month based on the book he has read.  

Here is his list:
  • August: The Giver
  • September: Harriet the Spy
  • October: Hatchet
  • November: Cheaper by the Dozen
  • December: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

These are all books that I read as a child, with the exception of The Giver, which will be new to me.  I hope this will be a fun experience for both of us.

For Bug, I went to the Five in a Row site and chose most of the books from their unit on longer picture books.  I'm not using the curriculum, but it was a good start for getting ideas on good books to read out loud.  I'll be choosing some others in addition. I'll try and make an update at the end of the semester about how it all went. 

Finally, I'd like to read them a poem a week, maybe on Fridays. 

Test Results

I gave my boys the Iowa Test of Basic Skills back in April.  This was our first time to use that particular test, and I am thrilled to report that they both scored in the 99th percentile overall.  I know that tests are limited in what they can tell about a person, but it was still a huge confidence booster for me.  I let them know how well they did, and they were happy about it too. 

What is the point of this blog entry?  Shameless bragging.  That is all. 

Gearing up for the School Year

So, this is going to be my SIXTH year of homeschooling.  I'm surprised about how excited I am about this year.  I think we have a really nice and solid academic plan that is not going to overwhelm me (or Bee or Bug).  I'm thrilled about what we are going to be doing together at home, and I'm excited about the classes they are going to be taking. 

Baby Girl was born, and we are all madly in love with her.  I think I'm going to call her Dot on the blog.  It's going to be interesting homeschooling next year with a baby.  Because of that, I'm really focusing on my planning.  I know I'm not going to have much time at all during the school year to plan. 

It hurts my heart to think about how fast Bee is growing up, going into the sixth grade!  At the same time, I'm really proud of him.  I copied his finished writing assignments that he completed last year with his tutor from WriteGuide into a file, so that I can save them.  They are so precious and capture his unique perspective.

I am actually thinking about doing writing with him this year, now that he has got the hang of completing writing assignments, and I have a better idea of what to expect and how to work with him.   I will be using a book from which to select many of the assignments.  His WriteGuide tutor is no longer working there, so this is a good time for us to take a break.  I'm sure we'll use WG again at some point though, and I am incredibly grateful for his time with WG. 

I have made a flexible morning schedule made that includes Spanish, Math, Writing, and Spelling 4 days a week.  Science will be done mostly through outside classes, and history will get done on certain afternoons.  I don't teach "Reading" formally, but they read on their own each day, and Bee will have some assigned reading this year, and I'll be reading out loud some longer picture books to Bug (and hopefully Bee will join us too). 

The main thing I am needing to do is make lesson plans for Spanish for several weeks. Spanish is going to be our number one priority for a while, but I've never found a curriculum I could follow.  Bee will continue his wonderful lessons at Homeschool Spanish Academy, which I cannot recommend highly enough, but if we could spend more time on Spanish as a family, he would learn even more. 

I have a lot of copies to make, from expensive books that are intended to be reproducible.  I'd like to get all of that done this summer because I never feel like doing it on the weekends during the school year.  

I am planning for August through November.  December will be much more relaxed.  I plan to do mostly Spanish and crafts, and other subjects only as needed.  And, hopefully, find some time to plan the rest of the year. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Giving the Iowa Test of Basic Skills

For three days this week, I am giving Bee (5th grade) and Bug (1st grade) the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.  We do not actually have to do this to satisfy state requirements, but we had to show proof of progress in Virginia, and so I was used to having the end of year test.  However, in Virginia I always had someone give an individual test to Bee, and Bug was too young to test.  In Georgia, they only need to be tested once every three years, beginning in the 3rd grade. 

We are relaxed, eclectic homeschoolers, and so it feels strange to me to willingly test my children.  However, I have several reasons for doing so:
  • To see how my children are doing in comparison to children who attend traditional schools.  I need to know if there are any major holes that I might need to address.
  • To give the children practice and confidence taking tests.  We don't really do tests in our homeschool, so I feel like it's probably not a bad idea to take one once per year.  I know that one day they will probably be in some sort of class situation that requires them to take tests, so I want them to feel familiar with it.  
  • To see how they take "bubble tests."  I have been particularly interested to see how Bee (who has ADHD) does with the bubble test.  I was worried that he might have trouble filling in bubbles in the right row.  I feel like it is important to know if he has trouble with this type of test.  He does not seem to, so that is good.  I was also concerned about the test being timed, but that has not been a problem for him. 
  • To force myself to go over things I might have let slide a little bit, mainly English grammar.  Having the test coming up forces me to get to things that never seem quite so important. 
  • To have proof of progress, should our homeschool ever be "investigated."  The majority of our learning comes through natural life experiences, and it is a challenge for me to maintain documenting it, day after day, week after week, month after month.  It just seems to me the simplest way to demonstrate that I'm doing my job.  
  • Similar to above, when family members or others ask me how I know that my children are learning, I can just casually say that they take a standardized test each year.  For some reason, this satisfies them and ends the discussion.   
  • They have to be tested every three years.  I feel like they will do better if they get some practice tests on the other years.  
  • We never know what life has in store for us.  In case of some sort of illness or tragedy where I could not continue homeschooling, I like to know that my children could place into their correct grade level should they have to go to school.  

So far, I think the Iowa is an okay but flawed test.  I'm not overwhelmingly impressed with it.  The drawings in the first grade level have been confusing for Bug, who can't always tell what they pictures represent.  Some of the items in them are old-fashioned enough as to be barely recognizable to a homeschooled child in 2015 who is not used to doing worksheets.  They are more what I remember from worksheets and tests when I was in school. I found the "listening" portion to test a lot more than listening. 

It has made me realize how glad I am that my children basically spend 100% of their school time learning rather than taking tests.  It's kind of a vacation for me, because giving the test is easy.  All I have to do is set the time and answer any questions they have about the test (I am very careful not to help them with any content).  We did a bare minimum of test prep for Bee and basically none for Bug. 

For Bee, I had him take some the practice tests for language and math in the Spectrum Test Prep book.  He did very well on those.  I also had him do some paragraph editing and some pages from his 6th Grade Math Minutes book in the couple of weeks leading up to the test.  I didn't mind having him do these things because I felt they were beneficial anyway.  We didn't work specifically on any test taking strategies. 

I don't see myself giving this test at home next year, and next year is a year that Bee will have to be tested.  I wouldn't mind giving it again, although I might consider trying the TerraNova test, but we will have a year-old baby in the house, and I'm not sure how it would work.  I could always give it on the weekends when my husband can take care of the baby.  I'm also curious about the PASS test, which was designed for homeschoolers, 3rd grade and up. 

Our coop gives the Iowa to 3rd and up, so I could use them for Bee, which would give him an experience of testing in a group setting, and do something else for Bug, who won't be able to test there for another year. 

Other options for testing might be having the tester we used in Virginia come to my house to test both boys, since she has family to visit in our state.  However, I'm not sure that option would be cost effective unless I could get other people to sign up as well to cover the travel fee.  I could look harder for a local individual tester (the only one I have found here gives the Stanford, which is expensive). 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Tentative Planning for 2015-2016

I guess I'm a little early, but we are really wrapping up our year.  With a baby coming in May (scheduled c-section), we will be ending the school year the week before she arrives.  I'll have to think up a name for her to use on the blog, but I think I need to get to know her first.  For now, she'll just be "Baby."

Anyway, I feel the need to plan for next year now before I'm back in the newborn stage!  

Here are my tentative plans for 2015-2016:

Bee (6th grade!!!!):

  • Continue All About Spelling, Level 5 and hopefully complete Level 6.  This will put us on track to graduate from AAS in the 7th grade.  However, I've decided not to stress about it.  If Bee has to finish up AAS in the 8th grade, does it really matter?  [He would be farther in the program, but we started it late in the 3rd grade, and long trips and an interstate move have slowed us down a bit.]
  • Tutoring:  Continue working with his tutor at WriteGuide. This takes so much pressure off of me! 
  • Booklist:  Consider having him pick a book from a list of classic age-appropriate books to read or listen to each month, in addition to books he selects on his own.  
  • Paragraph editing:  Edit 2-3 paragraphs per week from a 6th grade book called Daily Paragraph Editing. 
  • Handwriting:  He has progressed so much in this area; I am really pleased about it.  I will be getting him another book, and he can continue his work on cursive.  My only concern with print at this point is that he reverses his "z's."  He may need some extra "z" practice. 
  • Word Ladders:  We may do some puzzle from our Word Ladders book.  I need to get these printed in advance.  
  • Try doing some work from a book called Grammar Minutes? 
  • Life of Fred:  He will be doing Decimals and Percents, which I technically planned to do this past school year, but it did not work out. We will also plan on doing Pre-Algebra with Physics.  That should be enough, and he can do the other pre-algebras next year.  A part of me wants to push him ahead, but honestly, unless he badly wants to (which he does not), I don't see any reason for him to start algebra before the 8th grade.  I did algebra in the 8th grade; my mathematician husband did algebra in 8th grade--why do I get this urge to push Bee ahead sometimes? 
  • Additional Arithmetic Practice:   He may need to do some extra long division and multiplication work.  I need to get organized with that either this spring or summer, so that I have a little binder all set up for him to work in. 
  • Seventh Grade Math Minutes:  We have worked in this series of books a little each year.  I think each year Bee has completed around 25% of the book.  I think they are excellent test prep.  They also show me any obvious areas of weakness and expose him to problems maybe written in a different way than he is used to (like dots and parentheses for multiplication).   Mostly, they reassure me that he is progressing and that he can do problems similar to what kids in schools are doing.  He generally finds them pretty easy, which is good for his confidence, and because each worksheet is so short with a lot of variety, he does not mind doing them.  Last year, we mixed them in throughout the year, but this year we are just using them for the month of April.  
  • Stock Market Game:  Bee has asked to sign up for a class where he will be on a team that participates in this event.  He is very excited about it, and I think and hope it will be a good experience for him and a chance to learn about finance. 
  • FLL Team:  Assuming he is invited to join, this will be one aspect of his science education.  
  • Life of Fred Physics:  This will be another building block.  
  • Crash Course Chemistry?  Bee really liked the Crash Course World History, so I think this might be a good supplement.  
  • Science Graphic Novels:  I have been meaning to buy a bunch of these to have around the house anyway.  
  • Science Kit:  Have Bee pick out a science kit, based on what sounds interesting to him, so that he's doing something hands on. 
  • Finishing up his Minecraft Mod course, if he doesn't finish it this summer.   
Social Studies:
  • Crash Course US History on Youtube. 
  • Continue our comparative history study of biased history.   This will work well in combination with the Crash Course. 
  • Novels:  Maybe have him pick out a historical novel each month, or perhaps just one or two a semester.  
  • Graphic Novels:  Provide him with graphic novels on US history.  
  • Find a geography game where he can memorize states and capitals? 
  • Biking, scootering, skateboarding, hiking, playing at the park.  
  • I want something structured too, like swim team or tennis lessons or even homeschool PE at the Y.  

The Arts:
  • Woodworking:  He is signed up for a class and is very excited about it.  
  • Piano lessons: Continue.   
  • Art Class: Plan to do a homeschool art class at the local museum.  

  • Continue lessons with Homeschool Spanish Academy 3-4 times per week.  Worth every penny. 
  • Add more Spanish to our home.  Speak more Spanish to the boys, read more Spanish, play more Spanish games. 
Bug (2nd Grade--my soon-to-be middle baby is so big!):

  • All About Spelling, Level 3
  • Writing Class:  Bug is going to be trying out a class at our coop.  I am hoping this will be a good experience for him and take some pressure off of me.  He is not impressed with me for signing him up for this. 
  • Let Bug continue reading whatever he likes.  Right now that is mostly comic books.  
  • Look for some complex picture books that he would enjoy me reading to him. 
  • Paragraph editing:  Edit 2-3 paragraphs per week from a 2nd grade book called Daily Paragraph Editing. 
  • Handwriting:  I think we are going to try Handwriting without Tears (for grade 1).  Handwriting has not been a strength for either of my boys.  I feel like I have not done enough to make it fun, but it is kind of inherently boring.  It's just not been a huge priority. 
  • Word Ladders: Print lots of these in advance.  Bug enjoys them. 
  • Try doing some work from a book called Grammar Minutes? 
  • Life of Fred:  I would tentatively like to get through the first 4-5 books.  
  • Multiplication practice.  This may be in the form of Timez Attack, or we may do worksheets.  Probably try Timez Attack, and if he doesn't want to do it, look into other computer programs or just print worksheets.  Bug knows a lot of his facts already, and I just want to keep solidifying them.  
  • Fun workbook pages and logic problems.  Bug likes his book called Math for the Gifted Child.  I buy it at B&N or Amazon, and it has a lot of fun problems.  We just skip around in it.  
  • Math Minutes, Grade 3.  Just like for Bee, doing some of these pages helps me to see that he is learning the same sorts of things that children in schools are learning. 

  • Bug is signed up for two weekly science courses that last the entire year, one on earth science and one on biology.  He is not happy with me over this and said something about how I was making him go to medical school.  However, my experience with him has been that he really enjoys classes once he gets into them. 
  •  Magic School Bus science kits.  Honestly, the classes he is taking should be "enough" science, but I think we will do some of the kits too because Bug is so curious about the world, enjoys science activities so much, and they are a fun thing that we can do together.  He is still at the age when he just wants to spend as much time with mom as possible.  I really like these kits because he can do them almost independently (so I just have to sit there and interact with him), and nearly all supplies are provided (except for a few really common household or food items).  This seems like a good thing to do with the baby in hand. 

Social Studies:
  • Continue reading to him from the "If you Lived" series.  
  • Look into some geography activities good for his age related to US History. 
  • See if I can find some fun US History crafts that are easy to prepare and that I can get ready before the school year starts. 

  • Biking, scootering, skateboarding, hiking, playing at the park.  
  • I want something structured too, like swim team or tennis lessons or even homeschool PE at the Y.  

The Arts:
  • Art Class: Plan to do a homeschool art class at the local museum.   
  • Increase our music listening and music history.  

  • Add more Spanish to our home.  Speak more Spanish to the boys, read more Spanish, play more Spanish games.  
  • I would like for Bug to take lessons on Skype through Homeschool Spanish Academy, but he is really shy about the idea. 

Shopping List:
  • Handwriting without Tears for Bug.  
  • D'Nelian workbook for Bee.  
  • Science Graphic Novels.  
  • Life of Fred Pre-Algebra Physics, Biology, and Economics (I already have Decimals & Percents)
  • Grammar Minutes, Grades 2 and 6
  • Paragraph Editing, Grades 2 and 6
  • More Spanish books to read to the children. 

To-Do List:  
  • Create binders for each boy with worksheets and other handout/types of things.  Or perhaps create one binder for me and give them their worksheets on clipboards. 
  • Copy Word ladders for each boy.  
  • Print long multiplication and long division worksheets for Bee.  
  • Come up with booklists for Bee in the areas of classic literature and US history.  
  • Figure out an organized physical activity for the boys to join.  
  • Make a binder for my records that I'm supposed to keep "on file" in my home, including test results and annual progress reports.  I think I will organize these by school year. I will also have a separate section for copies of vaccine records for each child, just because I think it's something that should be required. 
  • Really do some soul searching and preparation for Spanish this spring and summer, so that I can add more Spanish to our daily life as well as include some formal lessons.  I really want to do better with this.  Maybe I need to make Spanish our top priority for a while. 
Our baby will be only a little over 2 months old when school starts!   I am going to have to figure out how to homeschool with a tiny one in the home!