Friday, September 21, 2007

Our New "Citizenship" System

This week I discovered an effective method for improving overall student attitude (if you’ve homeschooled more than half an hour, you know what I’m talking about—the perpetually lost pencil, slouching or disappearing under the table, tears accompanied by the “It’s not fair!” whine, the 45 minutes spent solving 15 math facts).

The system is just a continuation of what they did in private K. Each child has a stick (like a popsicle stick) with their name on it that they’ve placed in a “blue” cup (a plastic cup from their play dishes). At the first sign of poor attitude, inattention, time-wasting (mine!), they get a warning. Two warnings and the stick goes in a “yellow” cup. Persistent bad behavior, and the stick goes to the “red” cup. For each day they “stay blue” they earn 10 minutes of computer time (I would prefer educational computer time, but it appears Webkinz are actually plotting to take over the world). A “yellow day” and they earn 5 minutes; a “red day” loses 10 minutes. If they are “blue” all week, they get a bonus 10 minutes for a weekly behavior incentive of 1 hour of computer time. I’ve added “citizenship” to their weekly planner pages, so we now have a space to color in their “color” for the day.

This has worked like magic for us! It usually takes only one warning to straighten things out, and we have been so much more productive and relaxed! I’m thrilled!

Weekly Report--Week 4

Well, we’ve managed to finish Week 4. There was no bloodshed and we had surprisingly few tears, sighs and whines (could this be the beginning of something really good?). Actually, I think I’ve hit upon the secret to solving (or at least minimizing) our off and on “bad attitude” issues. I’ll explain that in my next post. But first, a quick update on our progress.

Thing 1 (3rd Grade): Math—blazing along in Saxon 5/4 with a little Singapore on the side. I do believe I see smoke coming out of Thing 1’s ears on some of the Challenging Word Problems (okay, admittedly, I’m no math genius, but there was one today I couldn’t figure out—and we’re talking 3rd-4th grade stuff here! We both went, "hmm," and then pressed on). Anyhoo, she was nodding off in her chair with heavy complaints all week about being BORED with math, so we skipped ahead a bit. Personally, I’d like to do just a quick review of the multiplication/division facts and long division that we finished up with last year and then move on to something new. I have a love/hate relationship with Saxon. It works great for Thing 1 because she does well with the slow approach and constant review, and I like how easy it is to teach, but come on, does the whole first half of the book need to be review!!?? Snooze!

Language Arts—Still waiting on our spelling book to arrive; kept a list of misspells from her writing and tested on those. Writing Tales is a great fit for Thing 1, although I think we could have started with W-T 2, because writing is definitely her thing. We combine a few of the W-T lessons and try not to overkill on the grammar (we’re doing GWG 3 also). For her retelling of the Town/Country Mouse fable, Thing 1’s story starred a free-range chicken named Mack and a farm chicken named Bob. It was a hoot! Vocabulary—ditched Wordly Wise A for WW C. Will save A and B for Thing 2. Reading has bogged us down. The Sonlight readers seem to be all over the place skill-wise. We've been cruising through most of our books just fine, but we started Misty of Chintoteague this week. Thing 1 has had to read out loud to me most of it because there are so many things she just doesn’t have the maturity or background to comprehend (vocabulary and metaphors can eat her lunch at times). We had the same problem with The Whipping Boy last year. I’m trying to come up with a way to make this less painful. I want her to stretch, but I don’t want to frustrate her, either.

Thing 2 (2nd Grade): Math—Using Horizons, not Saxon 3, this go-around. It’s working well. We’re on lesson 20, and so far it’s still review, which is fine for now. Thing 2 fell victim to math fact amnesia over the summer, so we’ve spent a lot of time re-learning and memorizing facts. She does a lesson a day to keep up her other skills (regrouping, counting by 3s, 6s, etc.), but will remain hindered until she commits those facts to memory!

Language Arts—Spelling—Okay, this one caused me untold agony and angst over the summer. I really wanted to go with a phonogram program (as that is what we did last year). But I can’t bring myself to do SWR. I was thrilled to discover All About Spelling, but truly bummed when I realized Level 1 and 2 were too easy and 3 wouldn’t be available until fall/winter. Thankfully, DH told me to “get over it” and just go with something that the Things won’t hate and that will be easier on me, given the teacher-intensive nature of much of our other work. So Spelling Workout it is (for now). First Language Lessons is going well, although much of it is review because Thing 2 heard Thing 1 do it last year. It’s pretty painless. For reading (after we ditched Shadrach—see Misty and The Whipping Boy above), we’re doing the Little House in the Big Woods study from Phonics Road that Thing 1 did last year. Once again, much of it has to be read out loud to me for explanation of things about which Thing 2 has no knowledge. Both Things do lots of “fun” reading outside of the Sonlight books (Thing 1 just finished Matilda, again, and Thing 2 finished another Ramona book).

History—The Things are liking K12 history soooo much better than Story of the World that we did last year. As the two programs aren’t precisely aligned chronologically, we’ve been doing a lot of review. But that’s ok; we liked the Middle Ages. Thing 1 did a fabulous job on her narration the day I was too busy to read with them (she read the lesson to Thing 2). Independence is her thing, and we butt heads much less often when she can take the reins and ask for guidance as she needs it.

Science—Finished up weather--finally! (Tracking the weather in Texas is pretty dull—Yep, hot and sunny again.) Threw out the hygrometer we made in Week 2, skipped making the paper plate Beaufort Wind Scale, and passed on the construction of a barometer (K12 science, while fun for the Things, can feel pretty McGyver-esque. Every lesson starts with a list of materials that makes many homeschool moms cringe in craft-ing terror: drinking straw, clay, pencil eraser, straight pin, construction paper, hot glue, paper plate and a toothpick—ack!). We’ve moved on to vertebrates. After a lovely lesson on fish, I asked the Things if they’d like to get a real fish from the market and dissect it. The high-pitched squeals and faux barfing noises convinced me this would not be time well spent. Visited the San Diego Zoo online instead.

Art—I have tears in my eyes (sniff, sniff). One of the nice things about K12 is the coordination of the art lessons with the history lessons. After spending the last week of our history lessons discussing the various reasons why life was “unfun” in the Middle Ages, we moved on to the Middle Ages in our art lessons as well (what they painted, why they did it that way, the importance of the architecture, etc.). Thing 2 casually mentioned, “This seems a lot like history.” I wanted to cry, I was so happy! I then spent the next five minutes explaining how all the subjects (i.e., art, literature, math, science) are like pieces of a puzzle that fit together, and history is our jumping-off point, our glue, our framework for understanding culture and the reasons why people did, and wrote, and created the things that they did. I’m sure I used more age-appropriate language to explain this to them, but I was just thrilled to have the opportunity to do so!

Music—K12. Worked on beat and rhythm lessons. Spent all week singing the “earworm” songs on their music CD!

Spanish—La Clase Divertida Level 2. Worked on Lesson 3. Am trying to make sure the workbook gets done consistently. The Things made me replay the practice CD over and over on this one part they think is uproariously funny. Whatever.

So that’s about it for Week 4. It was a fairly productive week, I must say (for us, anyway). I’ll include my new “citizenship” system in my next post. I’m very pleased with our results!

Questions I Get Asked Most Often About Homeschooling

I thought it might be fun (okay, the real term I want is “productive” or “efficient,” but that’s no way to start a juicy post!) to toss out some answers to a few of the homeschooling questions that I get asked most frequently. For those of you who “knew us when,” I know it must seem an odd choice we’ve made, like this whole homeschooling thing just sort of materialized out of nowhere. Well, it kind of did. So let me attempt to explain myself a little, if I may . . .

“What Made You Decide To Homeschool?”

Back in the day when the Things were (really) little and DH was home every night, daily life was going along swimmingly. I was looking forward to the time when the Things would head off to school and I would finally have a little more “me” time (spent at the gym? Ha! We’ll never know!); maybe I’d go back to work. DH and I never really talked about homeschooling seriously—that was something only those “odd” people did, you know? Well, DH then got his new job, we moved away from all our friends, and the Things hardly saw Daddy that summer. It was a tough time for our family.

When it came time to send Thing 1 off to kindergarten (about three months after the move to our new town), something about the large public elementary school just didn’t feel right. It’s a very nice school, filled with very nice teachers and students, but for me, the choice felt completely wrong. So, Thing 1 joined Thing 2 (who was preschool age) at a private preschool/kindergarten that year. It was lovely.

Then it came time for Thing 1 to go to first grade. We registered at the local public school, bought school supplies—I even wrote an essay for the principal explaining why I thought Thing 1 deserved a particular teacher. But then came The First Day of Real Elementary School, and I just had the same gut feeling that it wasn’t the right decision for us. God talking? Could be, not sure. Anyhoo, we withdrew that same day and, after a flurry of phone calls to my trusted friend in Florida (the only other person I knew personally who had any homeschooling experience), we started first grade at home while Thing 2 attended the private K.

When we first got started, a sweet mom in our town, who is homeschooling her teenage daughter, took me under her wing. She loaned me her copy of The Well-Trained Mind. Well, let me tell you, that book is amazing (at least to me)! Everything I thought about education was right there in that book! Of course I have my own copy now and have read the whole thing at least a couple of times, but I read and reread sections regularly—for guidance, inspiration, reassurance. It’s a very “empowering” book.

So, to sum it up, for us homeschooling still feels right. DH gets to see the kids much more often this way, and we have flexibility that we wouldn’t otherwise have. It’s a nice arrangement.

“How Long Do You Plan To Do This?”

As long as it still feels right. We’ve looked into public school (the curriculum is not what I want) and private school, even private classical schools. The private schools fare better, but I still find it difficult to trade our flexibility and freedom for high tuition costs and curriculum I can teach, at least at this level, by myself. Maybe I’ll feel different in the coming years.

“What About Socialization?”

Ugh! Every homeschooling parent hates this one. Kids need to be around other kids—playing, compromising, or just doing things that kids enjoy. No rule says this has to be done in a school building with same-age peers between the hours of 8:00 and 3:15. Believe me (even with my previous rant about scheduled playdates), we’ve got this one covered. When you realize school isn’t getting done because you’re too busy playing, then you gotta learn to rein yourself in! Would my kids love recess and school lunches and being around friends all day? Of course!! Who wouldn’t? But I’d say, for the most part, homeschoolers do a decent job of getting out and about with other kiddos, so “socialization” usually isn’t a concern.

“I Could Never Do That—We’d Kill Each Other”

***Soapbox Warning!*** This is probably the statement that I hear most often, and the one I like the least, frankly. My first response (which is perhaps a little cheeky, although I would never say it to someone this way, or say it at all for that matter) is, “What makes you think we don’t feel the same way?” Of course we have those days! Lots of them! Sometimes more than once in the same day! But just to be clear: There is nothing magical or special about my children or their behavior that makes them any more angelic or tolerable than any other person’s children. If we are able to spend our days learning together and coexisting, then it’s because DH and I have worked really, really hard to create children who are responsible, respectful, tolerant and kind. And we, ourselves, have learned to practice (an inordinate amount of) patience, to forgive, to guide and to nurture. It’s not magic—it’s work! It’s not that other parents don’t teach their kids these things, too; I know they do. But it’s that immediate assumption, after I tell them I homeschool, that they “could never do that—we’d kill each other” that somehow makes me feel like they’ve degraded or dismissed all we’ve worked so hard to create. (Hmm, I didn’t say that very well. In short, I feel dissed.)

Regardless of a family’s schooling situation, it’s a parent’s job to provide discipline, order, structure and love for their child. It’s a child’s job to test those boundaries and push for independence. Yes, you will butt heads. As a parent, you deal with this quite a bit. But as a homeschooling parent, you deal with this IN EVERYTHING! It’s not just the battle of the veggies, the clean room, the chores, the piano practice, the homework, and the soccer schedule. For a homeschooling parent, it’s all that plus the constant give and take (and yes, sometimes battle) over language lessons and math facts and reading assignments and history narrations and Latin declensions, and on and on. Many days, yes, you will want to kill each other. You will want to run down the driveway in your bathrobe, screaming at the top of your lungs, while simultaneously waving your arms like a maniac in an attempt to flag down the school bus driver. But after the school bus has rumbled away and the kids are snickering at your attire, you remember why it is you do what you do. You realize that your child is a one-and-only. And your chance to mold him is a once-in-a-lifetime. So you retrieve the coffee cup that you flung into the yard during your little fit, blot the coffee stains running down your bathrobe, take a long, slow deep breath in, and head back to the table to tackle those declensions. Some days are golden; some days are not. But every day is another opportunity for you to help your child become someone he is proud of. And that is why, “I can do this!”

Friday, September 14, 2007

Why Does Thing 3 Attend "Real" School?

A few of you have asked me on occasion, "If you homeschool, why do you send your kids to preschool and kindergarten?" Well, there are a couple of reasons.

First of all, I think attending school in a group setting can be a very valuable experience for a child. It's one thing to learn to share with your siblings; it's quite another to learn to share with 15 other kids. I think they learn tolerance--every class seems to have "that kid." You know the one--he's the kid running around the circle slapping heads and yelling, "duck! duck! goose!" while the others are trying, very quietly, to position themselves on the carpet in prime storybook-viewing territory. Instances like these offer wonderful opportunities for "teachable moments" with your child.

I also think preschool and kindergarten are an ideal time for kids to meet someone who can become an extra special friend. Yes, the "best friend" status may change from week to week, but early schooling provides kiddos with a chance to learn how to make friends. Yes, one can argue, the same thing can happen in a homeschool group, and I suppose it's true. But, depending on the homeschool group (particularly if it's a co-op), there may be little downtime for the kids just to play and hang out. Just like other families, we're busy with school during the day and kid and family activities in the evening. There's no formal daily "recess" where the kids get to play with other kids, siblings excluded (that being said, they do get lots of weekend/evening outdoor play with the PS neighbor kids). So somewhere in midst of daily life, in the middle of everyone's busy schedule, you have to pencil in "playdate." With today's busy-ness, it can be tiring and time consuming. For our family, preschool/kindergarten class time and recess provide a welcome break from having to schedule playtime with other children.

And last, but not least, in the case of Thing 3, sometimes a boy just needs other boys to play with! Thing 1 and Thing 2 are girls; they have lots of girl friends; most of my friends have girls. Poor Thing 3 is surrounded by girls. May I submit for your review, Exhibit A . . .

Now, just to be clear, Thing 3 can be, and usually is, all boy. He's a whiz with a football, makes all the requisite "brrrrrowwww," "errrrrrrrr," and "woooosh" sounds while riding his Big Wheel and playing Hot Wheels, and he's not immune to that little boy sweaty-head smell they all seem to get after 15 minutes outside. But let's face it, there comes a time in a little boy's life when he just shouldn't be subjected to such (future) humiliation. Lest you think this an isolated incident, I present to you Exhibit B . . .

I believe no further evidence (or justification for kindergarten) is necessary. I rest my case.

(If you need me, I'll be waiting in the pick-up line at school. :-)

Friday, September 7, 2007

Oh yes, I forgot. End-of-Summer Item #2

Thing 1 and Thing 2 are, obviously, not hard to impress. In lieu of the new sneakers and Hannah Montana backpacks, Thing 1 and Thing 2 were thrilled to receive as back-to-school goodies: one each, Hannah Montana 3-hole-punched very groovy folder, and, one each, stretchy print book cover to camouflage the hideous black-speckled cardboard cover of the composition-notebook-masquerading-as-a-journal that we have yet to find time to write in. You know, it's the little things . . .

So, as a homeschooler, it's kinda tough coming up with fun things that mark the beginning of a new school year. Something that says, "Hey, we didn't actually die last year (of boredom, burnout, each other's company . . . ), so let's be thankful for that and try to get excited about this coming year!" I am met with blank stares.

Ok, Plan B. A little background . . . Over the summer, the Things fell in love with the movie Matilda. Sometime last spring, the Roald Dahl classic (the book) became one of the few read-alouds at the time that 1) everyone sat through (Things 2 and 3 have a tendency to roll around on the floor kicking each other, stare off into space, wander off aimlessly and/or beg for snacks), and 2) All the Things begged for more, more! each time I finished a chapter. Shortly thereafter we picked up the movie at the library. They loved it so much we finally bought it. Now, where was I . . . ?

Oh, Plan B. Right. Well, after deciding not to call our homeschool Crunchem Hall (although it's very tempting), the next best idea was to take something from the book to make our back-to-school special. Naturally, we decided on food. We came up with all sorts of dinner dishes--Wormwood spaghetti with Zinnia zucchini, chicken fingers with Miss Honey dip, Matilda meatloaf--but by far the most popular request was for Trunchbull chocolate cake. Now, I'm not going to go to all the trouble to create a multi-layer, gooey, chocolate confection extravaganza, but I will, however, whip up a Duncan Hines devil's food bundt cake. And I did make my own super-yummy, thick and gooey, from-scratch chocolate frosting. Needless to say, the cake went over really well. And, yes, once the kids were asleep, I did go back and shamelessly finish off the last piece--faster than you can say, "Bruce Bogtrotter!"

Welcome 2007-2008!

Farewell to Summer

Well, we officially said so long to summer last week when we deflated the kiddie pool and cracked open the books. I wanted the Things to have a happy transition into the new school year (when you don't go shopping for new sneakers and a Hannah Montana backpack, well, you just gotta do something!), so we did a couple of things to make the summer good-bye a little less painful.

The first item wasn't exactly fun (ok, it was our first piece of memory work), but I thought it captured, so nicely, the fond memories of our recent vacation to Lake Michigan.
At the Sea-Side
by Robert Louis Stevenson

When I was down beside the sea
A wooden spade they gave to me
To dig the sandy shore.
My holes were empty like a cup.
In every hole the sea came up,
Till it could come no more.
The spade is now plastic, but some things never change.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Our Homeschool Room--On a Budget

I wanted to share some pictures of our homeschool/playroom (yes, it has to do double duty) that we put together without spending a whole lot of money. It's amazing how far a little paint and sweat-equity will go!

Just so you can get an idea of where we started, this is the room before (it's pretty small--about 11 1/2' x 12'--your standard, icky, suburban white box).

And . . . here is what it looks like now . . .

Now, I like to think of myself as cost-conscious, but let's face it, I'm actually just cheap. So, in order to create a comfortable place for the Things to do school and play, I had to go bargain-hunting! Here's a run-down of some of my finds:

  1. The map--I originally fell in love with this map in the Pottery Barn catalog. Yes, it was laminated and markable, but it was also $200. I did some searching online and found this one (the same map) from a map dealer in PA. It's not laminated, but at $75 (including wallpaper paste) I was thrilled! I love it! (although, due to lack of wall space, we did have to lose Alaska and part of Japan. Sorry, guys!)

  2. The table and chairs--unpainted, small dining set from Ikea--maybe $150-$175 for the set; can't remember. Needs another coat of paint (it's on my list of will-do-it-eventually). I'm in the process of getting a topper for the table--glass or plexiglass, I haven't decided. I like the idea of being able to change out what's underneath it. Right now I'm having a U.S. map laminated at Office Max--free!

  3. The rug--one of my favorite finds; it determined my color scheme because I found it first. Lowe's clearance table--$5!!!

  4. Roman shade--J.C. Penney clearance. Think it was $17.

And in the other corner . . .

This picture shows three things Dear, Dear Hubby has done--just for me!
  1. Those of you who knew me way back when (in our beautiful base housing--ha!) will recall that the ladder bookshelf(ves) used to be in my living room, and black. This was another one of those Pottery Barn desires that wasn't going to be fulfilled, so DH (using every bit of his carpentry skill and any left-over college engineering knowledge) made these bookshelves for me, using the PB catalog as a guide. They still work great, and are just perfect for holding the fabric bins I found at Wal-Mart, which, fortuitously enough, coordinated with the $5 rug.

  2. The beadboard DH put up and painted by himself. Yes, I owe him big time! It wasn't expensive, just a pain in the, well, you get the picture.

  3. And last but not least . . . my fabulous white/bulletin board. Very simple--just a piece of whiteboard from Lowe's, some cork tiles from Target, and trim moulding to pull it all together. DH even cut out the closet light switch for me on the whiteboard. What a guy!

  4. This picture also gives you a glimpse of the inflatable solar system I got online for about $40. It travels across the ceiling, via fishing line and cup hooks, with Pluto (not voted off of our solar system) hanging somewhere near where Alaska should be. It's an odd perspective, but it works.

Here are a few last items . . .

I got several packs of various-sized, glow-in-the-dark stars in the cheap toy/party favor asile at Wal-Mart. After agonizing for a week or two about whether to create a "Milky Way," I finally just got out the ladder and stuck them on randomly with some of that gummy stuff teachers use for posters. Looks very cool with the lights off!

Pluto, hanging out in Canada. :-)

The other corner. The clutter on the shelves drives me nuts! (I have issues.) But I try not to stress. After all, it is a tiny schoolroom and playroom for three kids under 9!

And last, but not least . . .

  1. The chair pads my mom sewed for me from napkins I found at target ($3 each).
  2. The placemats (which I intend to put under the table topper), also from Target, on clearance, $1 each.
  3. The frames for the Things' "Star" posters, 1/2 price at Hobby Lobby. Still $25 each, but the posters are special keepsakes.

So there you have it, my schoolroom/playroom (P.S. the closet door is hiding the floor-to-ceiling shelves DH built for all the toy storage--it's organized, but full!). I haven't actually totaled up how much we spent, so if anyone bothers to, let me know! I do know that I could have spent a whole lot more! I guess having such a small room can be a blessing!

Friday, August 3, 2007

Our 2007-2008 Weekly Schedule

This is our weekly schedule for the coming year. All the non-school things we do together are in brown (well, ok, I'm the only one doing the coffee/paper thing), Thing 1 (3rd) is in red, Thing 2 (2nd) is in blue, and Thing 3 (private K) is in purple. The school classes we do together are in green. Not sure if this will pan out, but I needed to get something down on paper! You can click on the picture to make it actually readable.

Saturday, June 30, 2007