Monday, August 5, 2013

Learning from Last Year

The big thing we did last year was a Spanish language immersion trip to Central America in the spring.  I will write more about that at a later date, but it was overall a really awesome experience.  So, all other academics took a backseat to our trip and its preparation.  

Our homeschool had to change drastically with Bug being out of preschool.  I had devised many ways to “keep him busy” while I worked with his brother.  However, he did not want to be “kept busy” while his brother received an education!  He wanted to interact constantly with us.  For this year, he should be able to participate in virtually everything that I do with his brother, and I have more things to work on just with him.  I hope he will enjoy listening to the history, language arts, and math texts that I will be reading to his brother and not feel left out.  

Bug also had to learn that he does have to wait sometimes.  I’ve had to physically remove him from the room that I do All About Spelling in because he would act up and try to get attention during his brother’s spelling lesson and not respond to redirection.  He’s matured and learned and can now play quietly during his brother’s brief spelling lesson.  It helped that I started him with AAS too, so that he doesn’t feel neglected.  (I would have preferred to wait on it a little longer, but he’s doing very well.)  

I’m learning to prioritize a little better.  For instance, it’s been nagging at me that we haven’t done much in the way of formal science.  Both boys know quite a bit of science for their age in spite of this.  Bug has watched hours of Nova and other science documentaries over the years.  They’ve visited many a science museum.  They’ve gotten the most science education, I think, from conversations with their mathematician father.  

This year, I decided that science has going to be a priority.  I chose something finishable, Real Science 4 Kids Chemistry.  It only has 10 chapters and 10 activities, all basic concepts that children can build upon.  We’ve had so much fun with it so far!  And we’re all learning a lot, me included.

In addition, I am not starting history, language arts, or art until we have finished that science curriculum, and I will stagger these in gradually, making each a priority in turn.  You would think that as a trained Montessori teacher and a nontraditional sort of learner/person, I would not struggle so much to break free of the school mentality of doing every subject 36 weeks out of the year, but I do struggle with it a lot.  Some things (math, Spanish, spelling) need to be done more consistently, but other subjects are best learned in chunks.  

I think that Bee learns best through stories, so the vast majority of his subjects with be based in narratives, including math.  We will be spending much more time snuggled on the couch, reading.  I just don’t see how that can go wrong.  

I am really going to limit our outside activities and driving time on weekday mornings.  We are going to save the mornings for school, unless it’s a really special sort of field trip.  In the afternoons, I will schedule our activities and time with friends.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Saving Time with Amazon Subscribe and Save

I have recently begun using Amazon Subscribe and Save to deliver some of the products that we consistently need. You can choose the frequency of shipping, between one and six months.  If you get 5 or more things in a month, you get 15% of the entire order for that month.  If you’re an Amazon Mom member, which I now am because it was quick and painless, you get 20% off.  I’m also a prime member.  I’m not sure how it all works, but I get free shipping and 20% off my S&S now.  The best thing about it is that it keeps me out of Target.  I need to stay out of Target because It is time consuming to go there, and it’s very tempting to buy other things I had not intended to buy once I am there.  It’s also keeping me out of the pet store.  I hate running out of pet food and having to go to the pet store before it closes at 9 PM.  

As a homeschooling mom, I have limited time to go shopping.  I prefer not to take my children to stores, and I prefer not to spend my limited free time shopping for household goods.  I’d rather hang out at a bookstore or coffee shop and relax, if I do get a chance to go out.  It is very convenient to have the products I would normally shop for all brought right to my door.  No lifting them in and out of the car.  No more going to the store and wondering if we’re low on something. If I notice we’re getting low, I just need to go to my computer and make sure they are coming in my next month’s shipment.  

My current subscriptions:  
cat food
cat litter
dog food
menstrual pads and pantiliners
deodorant (for me and my husband)
plastic food storage bags (in 2 sizes)
paper towels
toilet paper
nighttime pull ups
disinfecting wipes
swiffer refills
dishwasher detergent
batteries (AA and AAA)
kids’ toothpaste
trash bags

Things I would like to get but are not available in my desired brand/size/price:
toddler wipes
laundry detergent
toilet bowl cleaner
body wash
hand soap refill
dish soap
shampoo and conditioner
printer ink cartridges

I hope Amazon continues to expand and improve their Subscribe and Save program.  What do you buy through Subscribe and Save? 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Homeschool Plans for the 2013-2014 Year

My plans rarely work out as intended.  But this it it, at any rate, and I'm so excited about our upcoming school year!  I officially started it in June, but we will get into a more regular schedule after Labor Day, when the public schools in our area start and our pool closes.

The great thing about putting my plan here, is that if I forget what I had planned, I can easily find it on my blog!  My plans are subject to change, depending on how well they are working.  Too many times I have clung to something I really wanted to work, or that had worked in the past, and I am vowing to let go more easily if something isn't working.  Of course, so much of learning isn't planned, can't be planned--it just happens on its own!  I hope to revisit this list at the end of the year and explore what worked, what didn't, and what took place instead. 

For Bee, age 9-10, 4th grade:

English Language:
  • Reading books of his own choosing for pleasure (chapter books, graphic novels, and picture books)
  • Bedtime chapter books with mom or dad
  • All About Spelling, levels 3 and 4
  • Michael Clay Thompson Language Arts:  Grammar Island, Sentence Island, Music of the Hemispheres, and Building Language (all read with me)
  • Weekly journal/free writing
  • Formal writing assignments (11 polished written papers for a writing portfolio, with different types of writing, including a research paper.  He will also be making videos out of several of these).  
  • Handwriting Practice and Keyboarding
  • Real Science for Kids, Chemistry.  Middle school textbook, but a mixture of the middle school labs and elementary labs, since I am doing it with him and his brother together. 
  • 2 summer science camps
  • Graphic Science Series relating to chemistry
  • Participation in family garden
  • Nature walks and camping
  • Additional science to be determined, but we are considering Fizz, Bubble, & Flash and/or Janice Van Cleave's Chemistry.  
Spanish Language:
  • Private lessons with Homeschool Spanish Academy
  • Felt Board activities (I read a story in Spanish; boys act it out with feltboard)
  • Vocabulary flashcards on computer (using Anki)
  • Spanish TV (El Chavo, Garfield dubbed in Spanish, other TV and movies dubbed in Spanish or originally recorded in Spanish)
  • Spanish conversation with mom (I AM going to start talking Spanish to them part of each day, perhaps in the morning during our walks!) 
Physical Education:
  • Family walk with dog (hope to make this part of our morning routine)
  • Biking and scootering
  • Homeschool park days!
  • Summer swimming
  • Possible gymnastics or tennis lessons, depending on his interest 
Music and Art: 
  • Artistic Pursuits Early Elementary
  • music listening in car 
  • private piano lessons (hoping I can find a teacher who is a good fit)
Social Activities
  • Park days, field trips, parties with our homeschool group
  • 2 Activities each month with our Navigator Scout group
  • Playdates

For Bug, age 5-6, Kingergarten 

English Language:
  • Bedtime books with mom or dad
  • All About Spelling, level 1 and possibly 2
  • continue BOB books
  • reading and writing games, such as labelling objects in the house 
  • additional reading will be based on his interest/readiness 
  • Handwriting practice
  • TOPS Lentil Math
  • Big Brainz Addition and Subtraction
  • Montessori golden bead material and stamp game
  • math games, picture books, and conversations
  • Real Science for Kids, Chemistry.  Elementary school textbook, but a mixture of the middle school labs and elementary labs, since I am doing it with him and his brother together. 
  • 2 summer science camps
  • Participation in family garden
  • Nature walks and camping
  • Additional science to be determined, but we are considering Fizz, Bubble, & Flash and/or Janice Van Cleave's Chemistry.  Bug LOVES science experiments.  He gets very upset when they are over.  I had intended to be finished with science experiments after RS4K, but he enjoys them so much that we will have to continue them.  
Spanish Language:
  • Private lessons with Homeschool Spanish Academy (we will just try a few and see how it works out--he may be too young)
  • Felt Board activities (I read a story in Spanish; boys act it out with feltboard)
  • Vocabulary flashcards on computer (using Anki)
  • Spanish TV (El Chavo, Garfield dubbed in Spanish, other TV and movies dubbed in Spanish or originally recorded in Spanish)
  • Spanish conversation with mom (I AM going to start talking Spanish to them part of each day, perhaps in the morning during our walks!) 
  • Speekee Spanish
Physical Education:
  • Family walk with dog (hope to make this part of our morning routine)
  • Biking and scootering
  • Homeschool park days!
  • Summer swimming
  • Possible gymnastics, soccer clinic, or martial arts, depending on his interest
Music and Art: 
 Social Activities
  • Park days, field trips, parties with our homeschool group
  • 2 Activities each month with our Navigator Scout group
  • Playdates

Sunday, June 9, 2013

XtraMath: Review

My Initial Review of IXL Math:

I have been using XtraMath with Bug partly to help him learn his addition facts, but mostly because it's just something to occupy him for a few minutes.  He is so needy, and so different from his older brother, and I do find it really hard to find things for him to do all day, if his brother is busy reading.  Bug is welcome to play with his toys at any time, but he really does not like to play by himself.  At 5 years old, he is a beginning reader and has no interest in reading to himself.  He has a desire? need? to interact with someone for 99% of his waking hours. 

Anyway, the greatest thing about XtraMath is that it is free.  It is a "nonprofit organization dedicated to math acheivement for all."  Basically, it is a program that helps children memorize their math facts.  Right now, the computer has Bug working on his addition facts, adding 0, 1, and 2 to numbers 0 through 9.  He does well with the program, not getting upset if he doesn't get the answer in the allotted time.  His older brother hated these types of times programs, but I think they can be very valuable in the chore that is memorizing arithmetic facts.  I just hope Bug continues to enjoy the program. 

I do recommend this program, but it is not for every child.  Some children get anxious when they are put up against a timer, and in this case, I don't think the benefits outweigh the risk of forcing the child to hate math. 

I also believe that no one should ever use a math fact memorization program, unless their child has demonstrated conceptual understanding.  Before a child memorizes addition facts, he or she must fully understand that addition means putting together.  Bug is comfortable with the concepts of addition and subtraction.  I'm not sure he fully gets multiplication and division, but I will be sure that he does before it is time to memorize those tables. 

I'll update again after we've used the program for a while.  

My Final Review of IXL Math:

Bug got really bored of this.  I'm still looking for something to help him with his math facts.  I'd like something that will track his learning but be more games-based. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Petra Lingua: A Review

We tried out a program called Petra Lingua for six months.  I got both Spanish and German.  (In addition, they offer Chinese, Russian, and French.) Both boys study Spanish, and Bee was interested in German, but we have put that on hold for a while, mostly because it was very difficult to find German materials to work with. 

I found that Petra Lingua is a decent vocabulary builder, and Bug, my younger child, found it fairly entertaining.  One thing I did not like is that the exercises include a lot of written words.  I believe that for proper pronunciation, language study should be completely oral in the beginning stages.  I also didn't feel that the exercises promoted learning.  My children did not have to remember anything--they could click to hear the correct answer before selecting it. 

So, the pros are:
  • Good company to work with.  When my package expired, it was not automatically renewed.  
  • Native speakers and solid content. Words are pronounced correctly with correct grammar. 
  • They offer German and Russian, 2 languages where it is difficult to find materials for teaching young children. 
  • It's inexpensive, as little as $3.99 a month, if you pay for a year of access.  It's $7.99 to get one month at a time. 

The cons are:
  • I do not think this material can stand on its own.  The parent would need to reinforce, so it's more of a supplement.  
  • Exercises are boring, and I did not think that my children learned anything from doing them.  
  • Too much writing.  I don't see why they can't have children click on a picture after hearing the spoken word. 
In conclusion, I think it's worth trying, but I think it's more of a supplement rather than a complete program.  

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Real Science 4 Kids Chemistry: An Initial Review

After three years of homeschooling, I am reevaluating a lot of things.  I decided I wanted to do a little bit more formal science with both boys this year.  I don't feel secure in my own knowledge of science, so that's made choosing curriculum and fitting science into our daily life a challenge.  My husband is a scientist, so fortunately they boys have picked up things from interacting with their dad.  Bee has watched hundreds of science documentaries, and both boys have visited science museums many times in their lives. 

Science is fun and interesting to both of them, and I'm concerned that my own hangups about it have prevented us from enjoying it like we could. 

After giving it some thought, I selected Real Science for Kids.  I watched the video of the author, Dr. Keller, on her website, and I really like her philosophy of science education.  She says that many children do not learn science adequately because they do not learn chemistry and physics early enough.  Instead, they are taught biology and earth science, but the problem is that these subjects do not make sense without a background in chemistry and physics, making it nearly impossible to retain knowledge.  Something about this rang true for me.  I also appreciated that when I signed up for the email list, I was not emailed every single day.  (I had this problem with another science curriculum.) 

I decided to order the Chemistry elementary book for Bug (rising kindergartener) and the Chemistry middle school for Bee (rising gifted 4th grader).  I've received the books already.  I ordered the package of student manual, teacher manual, and lab book.  The books are attractive with colorful pictures on each page.  I read each boy his first chapter, and I liked the way they were written, age appropriate and not too wordy.  It will be easy to do the books simultaneously, as many of the experiments are the same, just more in depth at the middle school level. 

The textbook and lab books are very short, with only 10 lessons in the textbook and ten activities/experiments in the lab book.  To me, this is awesome because I feel that I can teach them a few important concepts that they can build upon. One of the most difficult aspects of homeschooling for me is deciding which information a child needs to know, especially when working outside my level of expertise.  However, amongst the other reviews I've read of the product, many people think it's too short.  They want more information and more activities.  So, if you want a program with 180 days of lessons, this would be a poor choice. 

I would rather work with a small amount of essential information and supplement it with videos, books, and additional experiments, depending on our time and level of interest in the various topics.  What I absolutely don't want is a huge curriculum that I can't finish.  I actually hope to be finished with our books by September.  For the rest of the school year, we can informally reinforce and expand upon the concepts presented in the books. 

After ordering the books, I researched the curriculum a little further and discovered that its author, Dr. Keller, is a proponent of intelligent design, although her curriculum is designed to be neutral on the subject of creation versus evolution.  Therefore, in some of the books, the age of the universe, etc. and evolution are omitted.  This appears to be a deal breaker for many secular homeschooler.  Interestingly, it's also a deal breaker for many creationist Christians, who want a science curriculum that mentions the Bible.  

Honestly, I do appreciate Dr. Keller trying to make something that every kind of homeschooler can use.  Not many people are willing to do that.  It makes me suspect that quality science education is more important to her than passing on an ideology.  The lack of dates doesn't bother me very much, as it's fairly easy to print out timelines.  If we decide to use her program for biology, however, it will take some effort to pick up some books on evolution.  I'm willing to do that if we really enjoy the chemistry. 

I'll post an update at the end of the summer and let everyone know how it went.  Right now, I'm excited about my boys' enthusiasm for chemistry.  We talked about atoms and molecules at dinner, and Bee has been poring over the periodic table on his own. 

All About Spelling, Continued

We've been using All About Spelling for several months now.  I posted an initial review when I got it.  Bee is nearly through Level 2, and has really not been challenged too much by the spelling words, but he has learned a lot of spelling rules that neither of knew before and filled in gaps in his spelling that were causing him frustration.  This program has been immensely helpful in identifying exactly where he is confused so that I can review those concepts only and not bore him by reviewing things he has already mastered.  Neither he nor I are frustrated anymore with spelling.  A bonus to the program is the sentence dictation, which helps his spelling, handwriting, and punctuation.  So far, I only give him about 3 sentences with each level.  I am really happy with the program, and I only wish I had started this with him a year or two sooner. 

Bug is using it too.  He is a little young for it as far his ability to focus goes, being not yet 5 1/2.  But it has been really good practice for him.  He seems to prefer the skill of encoding right now to decoding (reading), so the program is a good fit, as long as I don't try and push him.  I do modify the program.  I don't worry if he wries letters in upper case, whereas I make his brother write his words in lower case.  We're taking it very slowly. 

The only flaw I have noticed in this program is that both of my children have gotten confused between the segmenting of sounds and the clapping of syllables.  The result is that they clap extra syllables.  I have decided to drop the segmenting with the tokens, since Bee doesn't need it, and Bug can do it without the tokens.  I am curious to know if anyone else has had this problem, and I wonder if I did something to confuse both my children.

I continue to recommend this program!