Thursday, August 10, 2017

A Fun Day with WriteShop

I promise that I am not being paid by WriteShop, nor am I affiliated with them in any way!  I am just an enthusiastic customer.  In my 8th year of homeschooling, I have finally found a program that works for our family! 

Today, we were working on the second writing project for each boy.  (Each project has multiple steps).  For both, their was laughter and enjoyment.  Bug and I did a fun activity where we went from the general to the specific.  I had not expected him to like it, but he really got into it.  Bee had fun on his thesaurus activity, coming up bizarre answers. 

This program is very low stress but somehow manages to be effective.  It is also far cheaper than a class or online tutor.  I do not regret using those options in the past, but it is nice that I don't feel like I have to use an outside teacher and have the option of offering writing in-house. 

A Day Homeschooling a 4th Grader and an 8th Grader

I am pretty happy with our daily routine.  We are in a weird situation with few outside activities right now.  I am hoping that we'll add in more park days, that the boys will each get to do a robotics team, and we need to start piano again.  But all of those are pending for various reasons.  If the robotics teams do not work out, we will have to add in a science activity of some sort.

I am putting more responsibility on the boys for finishing their own work.  They have to finish in order to get screen time.  If they do not finish the interactive portions of their day by late afternoon, it is too late, because I am not going to work with them at that point. 

Of course, I count anything they do that is academic as "school!"  For instance, Bug gave a spontaneous oral report on the eating habits of archer fish, and I wrote that down!  

Right now, here is Bug's checklist:

  • Bible (listen to me read from the Golden Children's Bible, for religious reasons as well as cultural literacy)
  • Geography (listen to a chapter from a beautiful book called Minn on the Mississippi).  
  • Writing (an activity from Write Shop level D)
  • Spanish (we are burning through the Speekee videos and plan to try another program)
  • Math (could be Khan Academy, a chapter from Life of Fred, a game, problems I write for him, a workbook page--I give him a lot of choice in this area)  
  • Spelling (we do a much abbreviated version of All About Spelling, Level 4).
  • Handwriting (a very short sentence).  
All of his lessons are very short.  We don't do any formal reading.  He chooses to spend hours a day listening to audiobooks. 

Here is Bee's checklist:

  • Bible (Even though Bee is 13 years old, has good Biblical literacy from 2 years of Sunday school, as well as a wonderful homeschool Biblical Literacy course, I have asked him to join us for this.  For the first 11 years of his life, I was an atheist-agnostic, and I feel sad that I never read Bible stories to him.  So, it is special for me now to read them to all three children.)  
  • Write Shop
  • Social Studies (this may be reading his literature selection, watching his documentary, or working on a paper)
  •  Algebra
  • Spanish (online lesson or watch an episode of Mi Vida Loca on the BBC website)

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Review of Online CAT Test at Christian Liberty Academy (Part I)

As a habit leftover from homeschooling in Virginia, I give my children a standardized test every year.  My current state only requires every three years, but I like to have a test for my records, since we have a tendency school in a nontraditional way.  I think it's good for my children to have practice taking tests.  It gives me a sense of completion for the year. 

This year, I did something a little different:  I had Bug take online CAT test at Christian Liberty Academy.  I had intended to have him take the ITBS at our (now dissolved) co-op.  I normally like to test in May, but the test was to be offered in August, and then with the coop dissolved, I had to come up with something different to do. 

Giving the ITBS myself at home is not a great option with a toddler in the house.  I would have to do it on the weekends when my husband could watch Dot, and that is a pretty big drag on our weekend.  At least this year, I could have given both tests at the same time, since grades 3-8 can be given together.  Still, I just felt it was too much on top of starting a new school year.  Besides, if I want them to take the ITBS in the spring, I thought it would be better to do a different test; I don't want them taking the same test with just a few months in between. 

The online CAT test was easy to sign up for and easy to give to Bug.  I had him take it while Dot was napping or occupied, and we did it over a couple of weeks.  Most of the sections were very short, under 15 minutes.  The best thing about it was that his score was sent to me instantly after he finished the final test.  I was able to immediately email the results to my husband and print them for my records book. 

The disadvantage is that it is only a language and math test.  I like the science and social studies sections of the Iowa because they show that my children have a good level of literacy in those subjects. 

Bug did quite well.  His best score was for vocabulary (99th percentile) and lowest in language mechanics (75th percentile).  Haha; I am hoping WriteShop will help us with those skills.  As is the pattern for both of my boys, Bug did better on math concepts than he did on computation.  I'm very pleased with how he did.  I intended to give him a little bit of test prep, such as some arithmetic and grammar practice worksheets, but, as usual, I didn't get around to it, so his scores represent what he can do with absolutely no specific test practice at all. (Sorry for the shameless bragging--I can't stop it!)

Overall, I am happy with the test and will be giving the CAT to Bee in a couple of weeks.  I really want my kids, particularly Bee, to get practice taking a test in a group setting, so I may not use it again, but I will keep it in mind as a solid back-up plan for the boys in the future. 

Review of WriteShop, Part II

So, we have had WriteShop for about 3 weeks now, although we have not worked on it as many days as I might have liked.  Next month, I am going to have a daily checklist posted, so that we are clear on expectations.  Both boys have finished their first assignments. 

Bee, working in WriteShop I, has completed a carefully written description of an object.  Bug, working in WriteShop Junior, Level D, has a short letter of invitation finished. 

I will put both finished assignments into a writing portfolio for the year that they can show to their dad and possibly their grandparents, and so that they can feel like they have made progress. 

I am happy because we actually completed writing assignments together with a minimum of pain. 

It's interesting how it worked out.  Bee seemed to dislike the initial work but worked diligently on his actual planning and paragraph.  Bug had more fun with the prep work and was absolutely sick of the idea of a letter of invitation by the end!  So definitely time to move on to a new assignment. 

I am not stressed by this program at all and am looking forward to the future assignments.  I feel more confident and excited about teaching writing to young children, and I think that the children will feel more confident as writers by the end of the year. 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

One week with Speekee Accelarate

Bug was so resistant to taking online Spanish lessons via Skype that I agreed that he would not have to do so, even though I think it is the best way to learn.  We decided to try Speekee.  We used that program briefly years ago, but he was so little, and we had trouble sticking with it.  It turns out, they have something called Speekee Accelerate for kids his age.  Bug is 9. 

I eagerly signed up for it, as it promised to do all the Spanish prep for me. 

There are four videos a week.  The first was pretty good, although only 4 minutes long.  The other videos turned out to last only a few seconds each!  I am really not happy about it. 

Obviously, Bug has prior experience with Spanish, but it's just not enough material in my opinion, even for a beginner. Each week seems more like part of one day's material to me.  So, I guess that's how we will use it, and then we will have to figure out something else to try. 

It did spark interest though, and after he watched the videos for days 2-4, he was trying to figure out how to say that his brother is dumb in Spanish.  

I will update, if my opinion changes.  

Friday, July 14, 2017

Trying out The Ultimate Homeschool Planner

I've written about this before, but keeping records of our homeschool activities can be very stress reducing for me.  I do have trouble keeping up with systems like that.  For the past couple of weeks, I have been using The Ultimate Homeschool Planner by Debra Bell. 

This is totally not the kind of thing I would have bought when I first began homeschooling.  For one thing, while I am now a devout Christian, I was an atheist-agnostic at the time, and this is very much a Christian planner.  While it can be used by anyone, there are many sections that a person who is not Christian would need to ignore or alter. 

Here is what I like about the planner: 
  • It is colorful and fun to use.  
  • It makes me feel professional.  
  • The weekly grids are easy to customize, based on number of children and personal preference.
  • If there are pages I don't want to use, I can simply paste other pages over them.  
I have made yearly and monthly plans.  Unfortunately, weekly and daily plans don't work for my children, especially for Bee.  He tends to binge on certain subjects and is difficult to predict.  For instance, today he was binge watching his Cold War documentary series.  I'd rather he spend a lot of time doing something he is intensely interested in than begrudgingly do a little bit of each subject each day. 

My goal is to get done with certain things each month.  So, each day, I can look at our progress so far, think about where we are in the month, and what we most need to get done that day. 

One week with WriteShop

 I started using WriteShop with our boys this week, and I'm happy with my purchase so far.  Teaching writing to them has always been a huge struggle for me, and I've been saved by online writing tutors and co-op classes.  This has actually been a big disappointment to me, because I enjoy writing and have tutored it at the college level. 

At any rate, I had already decided to do writing with Bug at home because he was really burnt out on taking classes, and with us buying a house and moving locally, I wanted to save the money.  And then Bee's writing class was cancelled, and the entire co-op disintegrated shortly after.  Given the problems I have had in the past, I decided to look for a curriculum that would help us to be more successful.

So, the main issue that I've had in the past with both boys is that I give them something to write, and they claim it is too hard and refuse to do anything.  Part of this is perhaps a relationship issue, but I think the main problem was my own failure to break down the assignments into small parts.

So, in my googling, I came upon WriteShop, a fairly popular program, originally written to be used with homeschool co-ops.  The main complaints about the program is that the assignments are short with too many steps.  This sounded perfect for us!  Both the positive and the negative reviews pointed to this being exactly what our family needs.

Bug is in the fourth grade, and I ordered WriteShop Junior, Level D for him.  I received the teacher's manual, student workbook, grammar pack, and timesaver pack (highly recommended!).  They offer a digital version, but my printer is annoying, and ink is expensive, so I prefer to buy hard copies whenever possible.  I must admit not being thrilled at having to assemble these Fold and Go grammar packs, but they weren't too hard.  I am still making the bookmarks because I didn't have a good adhesive last weekend.  Still, it only takes about an hour or two of preparation for the entire year.

This week, we began our program, and Bug responded really well to it!  He seemed to enjoy his first grammar pack and the initial activities.  I like how colorful and child-friendly the grammar packs are.  Today, we did a mix-and-match exercise on the invitation letters, and that was fun, and it did the job of helping Bug to develop an awareness of the different parts of a letter.

With Bug, there are 10 writing assignments to be completed in this level.  If we do one assignment most months and two in one month, we can be finished in time to take off November and December, as I hope to do.  The program does require parent interaction, but it's very clear and easy.  

Bee in in the eight grade, and I ordered WriteShop I for him, to complete this year, and the teacher's manual for me.  If it works out well for him, I'll probably do WriteShop II with him next year.  We've been working through the initial exercises, and Bee did his first "sloppy copy" today.  He didn't seem to be radiating happiness during the skill builders, but he seemed relatively content doing the brainstorming and "sloppy copy" for his first assignment.  This is in contrast to tears, screaming, and the dreaded blank page/screen that we have dealt with in the past.

For Bee, he has 16 assignments to complete this year (with multiple steps to an assignment), so we will do 8 in the first semester and 8 in the second semester, 2 a month.  I think it's both a child and parent friendly program.  The parent has to do some modeling and explaining and helping with revisions, but there is a lot of independent work as well.  I like that it is very clear on what is expected for each assignment. 

It's hard to tell if a program will continue to work for an entire school year, but I'm happy after a week.  I'll try and report back later this semester and school year about if the program continued to be useful to us.