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. 


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Plans for Next Year (7th grade, 3rd grade, plus a toddler)

It really helps me to write out my plan for the year.  I know from experience that some of them will work out, and some of them won't, so I'm not terribly attached to it.  I would think that this might be helpful to a homeschooler interested in an eclectic plan.  I just piece together things based on what has worked for me and my children in the past.  Much of their learning is unplanned, of course.  


Overall:
  • I'm continuing to aim for efficiency and low stress for me.  My main job has to be taking care of my busy 1-year-old.   The boys are both taking 8 hours per week of classes at a coop.  
  • I'm considering trying Homeschool Planet or Scholaric for lesson planning and record keeping.  That way I can set it up in advance, and the boys can log in and see what they need to do.  I think that will make it easier for me to hold them accountable.  And less for me to remember.  I just have to take care that I choose their assignments carefully and don't assign too much. 
  • We are going to enjoy this year!  I am going to save one day per week for a fun outing, preferably somewhere outside.  My precious Bee only has 2 more school years until high school.  
  • I want to keep most of our school supplies in a big tote bag.  I'd love to do more school at the park, and then enjoy the day there.  That is something I've always wanted to do but haven't yet. 
  • For the formal work we do at home, we will be starting our year in July and taking May and June off, as well as November and December.  (The boys will continue coop classes for part of May, all of November, and part of December, and we will do fun outings and field trips too).  I think this will give me the rest I need, as well as the time to plan. 


For Bee (7th Grade): 

  • Reading:  We will listen to audiobooks in the car.  I will also keep a large ziplock bag with books that I think he might like to read, to pull out at times that he is bored.  This is in addition to the reading that he does on his own. 
  • Writing:  Bee will be taking a writing class at our coop with a teacher that I think does an excellent job!  It is very student centered, and there is a presentation at the end of each 8-week session, so there is a purpose to their writing.  
  • Spelling:  We will continue All About Spelling.  I made the difficult decision today to discontinue the sentence dictation, even though I think it is so valuable.  It just has to do with my time and energy and the fact that we will have a crazy toddler running around.  But I would like to continue aspects of the program.  
  • Language Mechanics:  We are going to try a different workbook, one from the Basic Not Boring series.  
  • Math:  We'll continue with Khan Academy.  Bee will be taking an enrichment class at his coop, as well.  
  • Science:  We have plans to do the TOPS Radishes kit, and we'll see how that goes.  Maybe we'll do more kits.  Bee is doing FLL (lego robotics) again.  
  • Social Studies:  Bee will be doing stock market team again through our coop.  He'll also be taking a class that centers around the game Diplomacy.  I hope to listen to more of Joy Hakim's US History series in the car.  And I'd like to do something on American government, with the election coming up--I just don't know exactly what.  I think we may try Crash Course Government, for one thing.
  • Spanish:  We are going to try Spanish for You! and see how it goes.  I would love to continue with Homeschool Spanish Academy, but I also want to keep our schedule more open. 
  • Music:  Bee will continue piano lessons.  
  • Art:  Bee will take pottery camps this summer.  
  • Drama:  Bee will participate in a drama class this fall.  
  • PE:  Bee will continue class at the climbing gym.  And we'll do our normal family stuff of hiking, biking, park days, skate park, etc.  
Bug (3rd grade):  

  • Reading:  We will listen to audiobooks in the car.  I will also keep a large ziplock bag with books that I think he might like to read, to pull out at times that he is bored.  This is in addition to the reading that he does on his own. 
  • Writing:  Bug will be doing writing with me this year.  I haven't decided exactly how it will go, but we'll be doing lots of funny, silly prompts together.  I got some dry erase handwriting boards for Bug to practice his handwriting on. 
  • Spelling:  We will continue All About Spelling.  I made the difficult decision today to discontinue the sentence dictation, even though I think it is so valuable.  It just has to do with my time and energy and the fact that we will have a crazy toddler running around.  But I would like to continue aspects of the program.  
  • Language Mechanics:  We are going to try a different workbook this year. 
  • Math:  We'll continue with Khan Academy and a workbook called Math for the Gifted Student.  Bug will be taking an enrichment class at his coop, as well.  
  • Science:  We have plans to do the TOPS Radishes kit, and we'll see how that goes.  Maybe we'll do more kits.  Bug loves science.  He is also taking a class on lego robotics at our coop.
  • Social Studies:  Bug will be taking a class on both ancient and US history through our coop.  That is just how it worked out this year.  I hope to listen to more of Joy Hakim's US History series in the car.  And I'd like to do something on American government, with the election coming up--I just don't know exactly what.  
  • Spanish:  We are going to try Spanish for You! and see how it goes.  I would love to start Bug with Homeschool Spanish Academy, but I also want to keep our schedule more open.  
  • Music:  Bug will continue piano lessons.  
  • Art:  Bug will take an art camp this summer.  He will also continue with sewing. 
  • Drama:  Bug will participate in a drama class this fall, as well as a puppet class.  
  • PE:  Bug will continue class at the climbing gym.  And we'll do our normal family stuff of hiking, biking, park days, skate park, etc.  

Dot (toddler):  Board books, snuggles, songs, kisses, hugs, cuddles, playtime outdoors and indoors, funny toddler jokes, and more kisses.  

Monday, May 9, 2016

A Year of Homeschooling with a New Baby

So, I last posted in August.  It's been quite a year.  Adding a baby to the mix (right after an interstate move) was not easy in any way.  What got us through was our resources that involved a minimum of effort from me.  My boys took multiple outside classes.  Bee went back to taking writing from WriteGuide.  He kept up with Homeschool Spanish Academy for much of the year.  We used Khan Academy.  They took piano lessons.  Bee did robot team.  They read many books on their own and listened to hours of audiobooks.  They joined a rock climbing class.  They performed in a play.  Bug took two science classes, a writing class, a sewing class, and a puppet class. 

We did a weekly park day that I organized.  It helped us to make some new friends.  I'm not going to continue that park day, but I have networked enough to figure out what groups I want to be involved in.  Some of them are secret, invitation-only type things, which I find frustrating but understandable.  I have met dozens and dozens of people and networked my butt off.

My boys learned a lot this year, even if it wasn't exactly how I planned in the way I planned it.  In addition to their academics, they learned a lot about babies, which I think will help them immensely one day when they become fathers.

I held my baby, I snuggled my baby, I nursed my baby, and I gave her a million kisses each day.  My baby took her naps on my body. 

And my boys missed some things they might have done.  I would have liked to take them to more places.  Bug really needs to work on his handwriting, and Bee really needs to work on his language mechanics.  But we'll do that next school year. 

Now, baby Dot is about to turn one. She is much easier to take places, and we are able to be outside more, which is how I like it.  We're taking May and June off from any formal school that we do at home (although they are still taking some classes that end next week). 

What I would recommend to any homeschooling mom adding a baby to the mix: 
  • Outside classes, if you can afford them.  Get your kids out of the house and with a friendly homeschool teacher.   
  • Online classes, if you can afford them.  
  • Free online resources, like Khan Academy.  
  • Audio books.  See what you can borrow electronically from the library and consider an Audible subscription. (I wish we'd done more of this for the car). 
  • Documentaries.  Get some playlists ready for your kids.  (I wish I'd done this.)  
  • Buy some books ahead of time to read to your children.  Keeping up with library books ahead of time may be stressful (and expensive if they get lost!)
  • Friends.  Take advantage of any offers of help.  And don't move far away.  : (  
  • Generally find resources that will not require much planning and effort on your part.  Try to enjoy your children and minimize stress. 

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.