Saturday, November 28, 2009

Belated Happy Thanksgiving

We made some really cute turkey themed crafts this year, ate a ton of turkey, and are on holiday from school work.
This season is our most spotty for consistency- after this week Advent starts, then Christmas, and then it seems like Lent is there almost instantly, as well!
I'll update as we accomplish more then phonics and playing. :)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Daily Report

As much fun as last week was, I'm glad to be back home and back to the regularly scheduled program.

Grammar- we combined two lessons today. We are still a few weeks behind where I thought we'd be by this point in the semester, but some of that is that we came in slightly behind in our phonics program, so we have been taking it easy. It's going really well, and I hope that we are almost done with family nouns.

Cursive- we are on the second go through of Cursive First, and almost finished again. Sweet Pea's handwriting has greatly improved from the first round, and it's not even comparable to how it was before we started the program. It does leave me with a dilemma, though. What do I do when we finish it this time? Do I repeat the program again, look for something else, or just correct mistakes as they occur in her writing in other programs? I'm not sure.

Writing- I'm glad I stuck with Writing with Ease. I wish I could buy it with the examples written in cursive, but it's otherwise a great fit.

Math- We did more from the Earlybird books today. They've recently introduced subtraction and Sweet Pea seems to get it easily. It helps that there's pictures and the numbers are under 10, but I gave her some on paper and she did them without pictures, as well. Yay, Sweet Pea!

Science- we started a book based natural world study, since my idealistic Charlotte Mason outdoor nature studies doesn't mesh well with the reality of living in northern Minnesota. So we're using Rod and Staff's second grade Patterns in Nature book. So far (we've done one lesson) it looks good. It's gentle, has coloring, and general facts about the seasons, plants and animals. Not for a secular family- it's not even adaptable.

Also today we made fun snacks- eggs baked into the middle of a piece of bread, in a star shape. We also made homemade play dough and the kids spent over an hour mashing and creating with it. A big plus with dough like that this time of the year- all the oil is great for their skin. :)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Trip schooling

This last week we had a pretty nontraditional week, especially for us. We took a quick trip down south to Omaha (nine + hours south of us) to see some family.
While there we visited the Henry Doorly Zoo. I have to say- I've been to a lot of zoos but this really blew me away. It's clean, well organized- and almost all the exhibits were indoors! What a neat treat for those of us in colder, northern areas. The indoor desert was awesome- it took well over ninety minutes to get through and that was with us rushing at the end. The kids loved the huge aquarium, especially the jelly fish. I highly suggest this zoo if you are ever in the Omaha region. I don't think you will be disappointed if there is a zoo lover with you.
We also made it to the Omaha Children's Museum. In my experience with children's museums there are two main types- older elementary ones with complicated experiments, lots of information, and lots of stuff to see; and the second- the younger geared ones with tons of hands on activities, things to climb on, and experimental play opportunities. The Omaha Children's Museum is of the second set. This made it perfect for both the five year old and the two year old, and the parents and grandparents seemed to have a pretty good time, too. Highlights were a room full of plastic balls that you put through different machines and then they would rain from the ceiling and a large water table. Also of interest in this flu season for the germ-concious among us- lots of sinks and hand sanitizer stations. Perfect!
I make the choice that when there is something else big going on like a trip to let most bookwork go to the side. I know some people are really good at still doing school in a hotel room and that may be necessary at some (hopefully distant) future point. We did practice skip counting in the car- it's the first time that I've really gone over that with Sweet Pea so I was pleasantly surprised to see that she's really good with 10s and 2s, and after some work with her father seemed to also get 5s pretty well. So that's good to know!
Today we also took it pretty easy. Sweet Pea did a phonics review and then a lesson. We also read a Little Bear book together.
She also did a lesson in Earlybird 2B. It was the first one on subtraction, and after a brief explanation she was able to complete all the pages by herself. Also good!
We've had a great week and had fun things that we don't normally- now back to the grind this next week!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Reading Instruction and Reviews

Pretty formal title, right?

In my seemingly never ending quest to be the perfect homeschooling mother I tend to over-research and over think nearly everything. Reading has been no different.
Fortunately for the sanity of everyone around me and the ease of use for myself and Sweet Pea we were able to work together to weed through the options and settle on things that worked for us, and things that in general just seemed silly.

First on phonics vs. whole language vs. sight words vs. whatever else is out there- I am a firm and staunch supporter of phonics with a few, select sight words thrown in. I do not like "pure" phonics that waits to introduce every single word until you have discussed the applicable rules and the child can sound it out. It's not a horrible idea, but it really limits the available reading material for the child and keeps them only in the phonics program, and in my experience it gets exasperating for the child. Who wants to be limited to, "A rat sat" longer then needed?

Whole language and the thankfully no longer widely used sight word only methods are too far in the other direction. Some children DO learn to read just by being immersed in a language and print rich environment and pick up the rules rather instinctively. Some of these children learn to read very early and without their parents knowing exactly how it happened, and some learn later. For these children as long as they don't run into future problems a spelling program when appropriate seems to be enough.

Most kids need methodical reading instruction in my experience, and in the experience of most moms I know. So if you don't have a self taught reader and you are facing down the scary prospect of welcoming your child into the wonderful world of literacy- this is for you.

Sweet Pea learned to read simple words at 4.5 and now at 5.5 is between a late 2nd and early 3rd grade reading level. For a free and simple reading test I really like : which is by no means exhaustive, but provides an excellent starting place- especially if you click the samples at the bottom when your child is at the top level to see if they can read the page as well as the list of words. Words in a vacuum is not the same as comprehending a sentence!

How did we get there? Did my hair go white in the process? (It did not.)

The very first, earliest foray into reading in this home was through Starfall, and I really like it. It's phonics based, mildly interactive and keeps the attention of older toddlers and young preschoolers. We used it mostly to pique Sweet Pea's interest and to cement the names of letters in her mind. There's a big jump between knowing letters, knowing letter sounds, and being able to blend letters together. For us this was perfect way to learn letter names and letter sounds. It does not really help with letter order since the alphabet is so often taken one letter at a time on the site. And that was fine with me.

After we were solid and Sweet Pea was showing readiness to being the blending journey we introduced new things and left Starfall behind. First thing that I tried with her was How to Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons by Siegfried Engelmann. I had read a lot of reviews on reading programs- pages and pages and talked to many mothers online and in real life. I heard some really great things about this book, and I was fully prepared to love it.

We HATED it. Sweet Pea cried when it would come out. I disliked the special markings around the text. I found it condescending, too scripted, and loathed that it included writing as an important part. Sweet Pea was ready to read, but not to write. It was a really poor fit, and after we realised that I came across a swarm of other people that had the same complaints. I know some people have great luck with it, and it's not an unsound approach- it just didn't work for a child not ready to write and who didn't like all the extra markings. And I was a poor teacher of it.

I cast my net around a little desperately, feeling mostly like a failure. Reading is so basic, so needed- so intergal to schooling that I had to teach it well or I'd feel like a failure and despair. See the drama?

I came across the Hooked on Phonics kits by chance at this point, and latched on. The exact kits we used are the ones linked- I believe that they have retooled and I am not familiar with what is in the new packages. I had no experience with the program outside the commercials I had seen on TV, but I was willing to try. And it was a perfect fit. Relief. It blended sounds, introduced short stories for interest right away, and had some flash cards with sight words that really opened up our available options. We didn't use the computer program, and didn't use the audio CD. Some pages we rushed through and some we were stuck on for quite a while. We completed the whole Kindergarten package and then the 1st grade package, and although we also had the 2nd grade kit I began tentatively looking around for other options.

It was becoming a little tedious- Sweet Pea was ready to move forward at a more brisque pace and I was looking for something that didn't just introduce sounds but also told the rules- and explained them.

At this point I tried the Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading by Jessie Wise and Sara Buffington. Jessie Wise is the co-author of the Well Trained Mind, along with her daughter Susan Wise Bauer. It was exactly what I was looking for at that point. It would have been too dry and to the point when Sweet Pea was just starting, but at the point where she could get her fun from easy readers, it was perfect. It was pretty easy to figure out where in the book we needed to start and surprising there wasn't too much we'd missed.

This book is what we are currently meandering through. Our daily intense phonics instruction has fallen a little since Sweet Pea is reading so well, but we're still addressing the lessons and will probably until we dnish the book. It goes through about a 4th grade level from what I've read.

So that's what I know at this point. I have successfully taken one child from pre-reading to reading confidently and happily, and will soon begin gently introducing the pieces to a second. My way works for my family- we have enough programs that I think we can address differently learning styles, but it doesn't mean it would be exactly the right way with your family. My point is more that with reading programs- don't feel tied at all to one program or approach. If it's not working or you are spending a lot of time tweaking and changing and altering, it may be the sign that it's time to switch. Throw it overboard and cast the net on for the right fit.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Daily report

We did another page in Math Mammoth today- working on addition up to 5 and zeros. It continues to be easy but good practice- the only time that Sweet Pea misses a question is when she's being silly and makes a mistake, not a comprehension problem. So that's good.

Grammar- Today we talked about the proper/common names for states, and where we live. Sweet Pea practiced writing Indiana, Texas, Minnesota, and her name.

We are having good luck going through Cursive first- we're up to page 31 again, and I've seen a lot of improvement in her handwriting.

Writing is going well- Sweet Pea really enjoys when it's her turn to dictate and then copy her thoughts- and I really see why doing it this way is a good idea.

I've been trying to find online how long each Math Mammoth pack is supposed to last. Not because I'm tied to the schedule- more out of curiosity. If there are 64 pages and in just over a week we have completed page 18- I don't think it will last too long. Are they meant to just be short, quick reviews? Do people use them as a full curriculum? I don't know- but I'm interested in looking to find out.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Report- and why year 'round school works for us

We school all year. It seemed like a good logical choice when we were talking about what education means to us, for us, and what we want it to look like for our family. I have a few teachers in the family and I'm used to the complaints (the very valid complaints) that kids forget a lot of material over the summer and the first weeks of school and spent in review and reteaching. I think that seems like a waste of time and effort- why teach things and let them fall away? Why get into a schedule and then let it drop?
Now, we do take it easy at different points. I think that we are pretty structured and that Sweet Pea has some pretty high expectations on her for a five year old. Over the summer we went very easy on most things- just kept up with math and really focused on phonics. This ended up being a really wonderful choice for us. Lessons were still short, but we covered a lot of ground and it brought Sweet Pea's reading abilities up to the point where she can confidently handle the daily assignments we are working on.
I don't follow a specific period of off and on times. Some of it is built around seasons, and some is built around family activity. I'm expecting a baby a little while after Christmas and I expect that school will slide for a little while. And that's OK- because we have all the time in the world to pick back up.

Latin: We did the first page of questions on the lesson today. Sweet Pea needed some help spelling things like, "consonants" but did really well!

Math: I have been annoying recently in my belief that Sweet Pea does not know her math facts (whatever that means for someone her age) and that it will hold her back. Today she did 4 worksheets of math- and knew them fine. Truly, math is going well!

Grammar- I am fast approaching the point that many people start to reach in First Language Lessons- the point of, yes, we do know nouns! Let's move on! And then skipping and consolidating lessons. We'll see.

Writing went well today- except an annoying issue with the connector off the letter o. I'm not sure what the issue was, but it's been resolved.

Phonics: I confess that I am astounded by how many ways there are to make the vowel sound, "oo". Sweet Pea is assimilating them well, and I added Hooked on Phonics back in just to break the monotony and cement ideas.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Why blog?

After reading a blog post about why homeschoolers should blog I've been thinking about why I blog.
Initially it was a simple way to keep the grandparents (hi, guys!) updated on what schooly stuff and our plans. I didn't really think that it would be of any interest to anyone else, or that I would have that much to say. After all- how much is there to write about on a homeschool blog?
Apparently a lot. And apparently quite varied material ends up mixed in.
I do tend to mostly post daily report or weekly report type posts. I like to talk about what we do in our days for school- the meat and potatoes of homeschooling, as it were. How interesting is that? I guess that depends. I love looking at blogs like that- where people talk about what they do and what works, and what flops. I really love seeing how much people manage to squeeze into a day and compare. I'm big on measuring myself against others, even though I know that's a poor measuring stick and likely a sign of some deficit on my part. I digress.

Most of my record keeping is on paper still. I have a binder that I mark in daily. I track attendance and what we actually do daily, as well as all of my planning worksheets. I also have schedules. The records that I have on my blog are much more cursory and incomplete.

I like to talk about the various types of curricula that I'm using. When I'm deciding on a new program or thinking about switching it's far more useful to read other people's reviews then look at the publisher's little blurb. Especially helpful is pictures of kids' work in the books and programs, and if it needs supplementing. I've talked a lot about our phonics meandering through this year- and a huge percent of people who arrive here via google are coming looking for phonics advice! I'm not the only one. And I hope that my musing and trial and errors have helped someone as much as other people's reviews have helped me.

Something that I can do on a blog that I can't do in my color coded binder is link list. I also have a blogroll that I only somewhat understand how to use, but I do know that it shows me when someone updates a blog so I don't have to obsessively check.

Is blogging a social exercize? I don't know. I don't think that I have a lot of dialogue going on here with my readers. I'd love to start more, but first I need to post things that are more discussion points, less hasty lists of things done. Mea culpa.

Musing/ranting is something that I do have a tab for, but I tend not to do. I try to focus on the good, not the hairy bad days. It's unrealistic. It's not helpful. A prospective homeschooler needs to be aware that it's not all rainbows and good days with compliant children and lessons that come together perfectly. I tend to save that fun for my husband, though.

So why do I blog? There's the part of me that is looking for (and loves to get) validation. I blog for that. I blog to keep connected with family that spans the country. I blog to put my experience out there in case it helps someone else (isn't that vain?). Why do you blog?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Week 11

Hard to believe that it's already week 11! Although, I then look back and what we've accomplished and what Sweet Pea has learned, and it seems more reasonable.

Latin: Continued review of Chapter 1 vocab. I think that Sweet Pea has all the vocab down, so perhaps tomorrow we will work on the questions in the workbook. I'm very glad for now that we decided to do lessons over two weeks. It's very low key this way and allows my continued focus to be on the core subjects.

Math: Today we did a page from Earlybird 2B (Lesson 4) and then two pages from Math Mammoth: Addition 1. I had picked this up months ago from CurrClick, and then did nothing with it. Sweet Pea is continuing her rapid pace through our Earlybird books, and I'm wrestling with whether or not we should be jumping right into Primary Mathematics 1A. So, on the suggestions of a few homeschoolers with older kids I brought Math Mammoth back out to solidify math facts and give myself time to figure out how to proceed. So far, Sweet Pea really likes it. She told me this morning that, "I love math. It's fun!" Obviously this should be a sign to me that I'm doing something right and to settle down, but that's easier said then done for me.

Grammar: More proper nouns. Sweet Pea did a great job writing the enrichment activity- but no picture today- it includes her first, middle, and last name- as well as our town and state!

Writing: Week 11 in this. Today was copywork which is something that I'm now having her do independantly and then I check it. She also did review in Cursive First today- the letters h and k, both lower case.

Later today will be another phonics lesson, then catechism and memory work.


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