Friday, July 15, 2016

First Week of School Done

My first week of school is over, and I am on my 4th blog entry of the day!  I think I'm just trying to organize my mind. 

So, overall, it was a very good week.  I got so bored this summer.  We still haven't made a lot of friends in our area, and I spent a lot of time sitting on the floor being with baby.  And it was wonderful in its way, but it actually got pretty boring by the end.  So, I am thankful to be facilitating some formal work for my children once again. 

So, this week we did Spanish (already blogged it), Science (already blogged it), handwriting, and grammar.  These were all subjects that I felt I wanted to give more attention to this year.  We did a minimum of grammar last year, which showed on their test results, and we did NO handwriting at all.  With a newborn in the house, it definitely wasn't a priority, compared to more core subjects. 

So, Bee dutifully did his cursive practice on his LeapFrog dry erase board each day.  I let him pick what letters/pages to work on.  He is fairly motivated to learn cursive, and certainly wants to be able to write his name well.  I think it's important that he know cursive well enough to read the writing of others, as well as historical documents, and to sign his name.  I guess I am not one who laments the "lost art" of cursive writing or penmanship in general.  Manuscript is easier to read and not any slower to write, or so I have read.  And as adults, my children will do most of their writing digitally, as I do.  They may type, or they may use dictation or touch screen techniques.  I'm not going to cry that they don't spend hours scribbling in cursive. 

Bug was pretty good about doing his handwriting of lower case letters.  He eschewed the dry erase activity, so I printed him worksheets.  He can be very perfectionist, so I tried to find worksheets that were mostly tracing, so it would be less stressful for him.  He has been pretty insistent about writing in all caps, but I told him that this year he needs to become more comfortable with lower case.  As an adult, of course, he'll be able to write in all caps if he wants.  My dad and grandma do.  Bug complained about how hard it was, but once he got started on his page, he was able to complete it quickly. 

Both boys have been told that they will do handwriting each day until they have mastered their objective. 

The grammar workbooks we are using aren't really textbooks, just exercises that cover the sorts of things that kids their age do in schools.  I need to do a little teaching and explaining for each of them, but that's fine.  Languages are my thing. 

So,  a good week, and now I am hanging out at the B&N cafe for a while, drinking a sugar free decaf frappuccino, blogging, doing some lesson plans, and just decompressing for a while without the kids. 

Spanish for you! one week in

So, I am using Spanish for you! conversaciones this year with Bee (7th grade) and Bug (3rd grade).  I have bought a couple of other Spanish programs in the past that have not worked out for us.  Bee has done very well in previous years with online Spanish lessons via Skype using Homeschool Spanish Academy, but we are taking a temporary break from that, in the interests of not having too much stuff scheduled.  I highly recommend the program though.

So, we went through Week 1 of our Spanish for You! program.  It was wonderful.  It has 4 days written for each week, which is perfect.  If I am able to do Spanish all five days in a week, I can easily add a game or enrichment activity on Friday.

Each day, I read aloud a short toddler-level book in Spanish.  I have a small library of Spanish toddler books for our homeschool.  I tried to pick ones that contained vocabulary appropriate to our unit.  We also sang "the eensy weensy spider" in Spanish each day.  Bee already knows this song well, and Bug learned it.  Dot loved watching it each day.  We'll continue singing it and add another one next week.

In the past I have always gone overboard, wanting to read multiple books a day.  I tried last year doing 3 songs a month, but learning them all at once.  I think it's much easier to learn one song a week and then review ones learned in the past.  If we learn a longer song, we might take multiple weeks to learn all verses.

I made some adaptations to the worksheets.  Bee filled one out completely, but another we did orally.  This is better practice in some ways anyway.  For Bug, we mostly did it orally.  I had him do some journal work where he illustrated Spanish sentences from his worksheet.  We also adapted the vocabulary games as needed.

Bee was capable of going through his vocabulary cards on his own.  Bug needs me to do it with him, and to do it in such a way that he doesn't feel pressured.  He can be very perfectionist.  The "te gusta" activity suggested by the program worked well.

One thing I didn't like is that the way I received the files was rather cumbersome, and I have all these folders of extracted files.  They are a bit annoying to go through.  But it works.

The 3rd and 4th grade level of our unit has 30 activities, while the 7th and 8th grade level moves a little faster, with 24 activities.  I think I will just extend Bee's program a little, so that he stays on the same chapter as his brother.  I have plenty of games, books, and activities at the house that can provide some enrichment for him.  This is not a complaint about the program, just an observation that a little adaptation may be needed when doing 2 levels at once. 

I am happy and excited about the unit we are doing "conversaciones."  I have even learned some playground words that I did not know.  Both Bee and Bug are retaining their new words, and I'm overall very impressed with the program.  I am a high-intermediate Spanish speaker, and it is working well for me.  I really like the structure and all of the ideas for fun activities. 

First Three Days

I thought I would do a little report on how our first few days of "school" went.  Or maybe I should say "first days of formal work for the school year."

Getting to this first day required a lot of flexibility.

First of all, our first day was actually supposed to be July 5 of last week.  However, the first week of July was messed up because we found out that a dear friend (age 35, father of 2) died suddenly and tragically.   So we decided drive many miles up the east coast to attend his memorial.  And then we visited friends in Virginia on the way back.

This week I was actually supposed to visit family in Texas.  However, Dot got sick with a fever, and we had to cancel our reservations.  

So, we decided to go ahead with school this week, which involved a bit of frantic planning last night.  The shock of our friend's death, the travel, as well as a bad cold going through our family, had messed up all of my preparations.  But I do well at the last minute.

I don't think I've ever been as happy to start school as I was on Monday.  I needed a distraction from the grief and sadness.  Taking care of a 1-year-old is very demanding, but it is not mentally distracting.

So, Monday was interesting.  And I think the fact that I was so grateful to have something different to do helped to keep me calm. There was a lot of complaining and grumpiness from the boys.  Bee was mad about the grammar book.  Bug was mad about Spanish.

Bug also hated his dry erase handwriting book and insisted that he do handwriting with a paper and pencil.  I thought that was strange and very amusing.  Apparently, the Leap Frog K-1 print handwriting dry erase activity was so abhorrent to him that he will now do handwriting with paper and pencil.  I could care less--I'll save the dry erase activity for Dot.  I will just print him handwriting pages from this website:  http://www.activityvillage.co.uk.  Bee doesn't mind his cursive dry erase, even though he is in 7th grade, and his Leap Frog board is marked for grades 2-3. 

 We started our TOPS Radishes project on Monday.  I wasn't sure how it would go.  I haven't done a ton of hands-on science with Bee because the two of us typically can't work up enough enthusiasm to get motivated.  He has a very good general knowledge of science, though.  Bug LOVES science activities, however, so his enthusiasm carried us through.  This is good because Bee needs to do more science labs.  

Then on Tuesday we had to be out of the house for our monthly house cleaners to come (something that is extremely important to our family's well being!), so I took them to a water playground as a PE field trip.  I had originally hoped to do some schoolwork at a park before the water place opened, but Dot was napping, so it was just a field trip day.

Today (Wednesday) went pretty well.  We got off to a very late start.  Dot usually gets up at 7, but she slept until 9.  My husband got up at 7 and then collapsed asleep on the couch for 2 hours until Dot and I woke him up.  And Bee and Bug slept even longer.  It took my husband and I a while before we had enough energy to drag them out of bed.

We got through all that I had planned.  We did science, handwriting, grammar, Spanish, and they each practiced a little piano.  Then, they have PE (climbing) this evening.

Next week, they both have art camp for 3 hours a day, so that will be most of their school.  But we will also do Spanish and science in the afternoons, as well as PE (swimming or climbing).

We are working right now to prioritize those subjects which I feel I tend to neglect.  We will gradually add in the others (like math, which I have always been consistent about), taking care not to try to do too much on any one day. 

What I'm Spending Money On

I've always been of the opinion that a person does not have to spend money in order to homeschool well.  It can be done on a relatively low budget using a library card, computer, Internet access, printer and ink, and basic office supplies. 

I feel fortunate that we do have money that we can spend on our children's education, and I try to use it to reduce our family's stress level.  I spend very little on curriculum and spend the bulk of it on outside classes and activities.  This saves me time, and Bee and Bug have really come to enjoy their outside classes, which are very high quality and fun, one advantage to moving to the large metro area where we now live.  They were not happy when our coop ended for the school year. 

So, here is a list of what I spend money on: 

Classes:  Bee will be taking Lego robotics (FLL), stock market game, Diplomacy (the game with real world scenarios), philosophy, drama, math enrichment, and writing.  Bug will be taking Lego robotics (pre-FLL), drama, history, puppets, sewing, math enrichment, and a craft class. 

Activities:  Piano lessons and climbing class at the climbing gym.  (These count towards their "school," but I would obviously pay for activities if they went to traditional school as well). 

Workbooks:  I have bought 6 workbooks, math, grammar, and a writing prompt book, about $10 each.  I also bought the dry erase handwriting books, one of which is already shelved, and being saved for the 13-month-old. 

Curriculum:  I bought Spanish for You!  conversaciones, as well as TOPS Radishes.  I'm really happy with both of these programs.  Maybe I have finally figured out what I like in curriculums.  I may need to buy some additional All About Spelling supplies too, and I may buy more from TOPS.  I try to only buy these things when I need them and not buy too far in advance, since plans can change. 

Supplies:  I didn't have to get much, just some random things for the TOPS Radishes, like extra foil and plastic wrap, masking tape.  I bought a magnifying glass on Amazon.  I bought some slap bracelet rulers, which Bug is obsessed with, from Target.  I got a big pack of mechanical pencils, dry erase markers, a new small dry erase board, and some cardstock. 

I am going to buy the extra large tote bag from Land's End, as the large one (that I've had since my college days) isn't quite going to fit all of our stuff when I add in the spelling.  It has been very convenient having a big bag to put everything inside.  I like it a lot better than keeping things on the shelf. 

Cleaning Service:  This is worth absolutely every penny.  My wonderful husband set us up with a monthly cleaning service.  We have had three cleanings so far, and I cannot express how much stress this has taken off of both of us.  We feel comfortable having people over again.  Once a month, we do a major declutter, and then the cleaners take care of the rest.  We just have to do light cleaning in between.  So, I can focus on being a mom and a teacher, and he can focus on being a dad after work.  And we don't have to feel bad about failing at keeping up with the house.  I am very happy to admit that I cannot do it all. 

TOPS Radishes: 1 week


So we have finished week 1 of TOPS Radishes, and I've been very pleased.  It is for grades 3-8, and I am using it with a 3rd grader (Bug) and a 7th grader (Bee), while looking after a 13-month-old (Dot).  

The great thing about it is that it lasts 4 weeks, and you have to do it every weekday, or your experiments may get a little messed up.  So I have to keep it going, good structure for me.  We missed Tuesday, and I'm going to have to sprout another batch of seeds to do Monday's graph.  

I like that Bee can do the projects independently.  Bug needs a fair bit of assistance from me or Bee.  I don't think I would do this module with a 3rd grader alone, but it's awesome for a younger sibling to do with an older one.  I feel like it's really good experience for Bee, following the instructions.  In 2 years he will be in high school (still home schooled), and he'll need to do a lot of labs.  

I bought TOPS Radishes as a download, and I really like being able to print the activity sheets, much less annoying than making copies. The materials have been easy to find.  

I hopefully will review this again, as we get further into the module, but we've had such a good time with it, I was excited to write and share my cute picture.  We're doing science and having fun!  I'm so proud!  

Friday, June 17, 2016

I won't be giving the Iowa again...

So, last year, I took a week and gave the kids the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.  I blogged about it.  It went very smoothly.  They were happy and comfortable and got lots of breaks.  It was hard not to help them with anything, but I followed the rules.  I was pleased with how it went.  I used Seton Testing Company, and they were great to work with, and I was able to view the boys' results online soon after returning the test. 

This year, we still had a good experience with Seton, but administering the test was a nightmare.  It was totally different with a baby in the house.  It took a very long time to give all sections to both children, especially because Bug was taking the 2nd grade version, so I couldn't test them at the same time. 

Next year, they will be testing at our coop, which will cost slightly more, but I think it will be worth it.  This will give them practice testing in a group setting.  And I won't have to work around a busy toddler's schedule.

Looking for Planning System

So, I am in the process of searching for a homeschool planning system for this year.  There are certain things that I want us to stay accountable for. 

I've read lots of homeschool blog entries about how many great options there are out there.  Well, I consider myself to be a pretty tech-savvy person, and I have to say, that I don't think the options out there are that great.  My only theory about the good reviews is that a lot of people receive free software in exchange for writing positive product reviews and positive blog posts.  

I've tried two of the more expensive programs: Homeschool Planet and Homeschool Tracker, and I have to say that I found them both to be clunky, dated, and nonintuitive.  I'm just not impressed and not willing to invest my time or money in either of these. 

I've tried a number of free planners out there and other free trials for paid software and have not been especially impressed either. 

The best thing I've found so far, I think, is not a software.  It is the free planner available at The Homeschool Mom.   It has PDF's that you print out.  There are a lot of good pages there to print.  I can make it "digital" by taking a picture of each week and sending it electronically to my kids.  I am interested in both the weekly assignments for the 8 months of the year that I plan to give them, as well as the unschooling record, for the 4 months of the year where I don't plan to give assignments.