Sunday, November 29, 2009

what we do & how we do it

In the interest of full disclosure (I get uncomfortable with others thinking I have things figured out, when my life is very much a work in progress in every area) and on the off chance that someone might find it helpful, I'm going to share some of what is working for us, and especially, me as I try to plan what we do and what we hope to accomplish each week.

I have come to be a BIG, no, a HUGE fan of "open & go" curriculum. I do love the idea of planning creative things to teach every subject, every day, like games and songs and all that. But it wouldn't happen. Or if it did, it would last about a week and then I'd be drained of creativity for at least four months. Thus, the love of "open & go" type stuff. Here are the things we use that fall into that category:

Math U See (MUS)
I really really like Math U See. I didn't know what to choose for a math curriculum, and a friend was using this with her kids. I looked at her stuff, requested their free instructional DVD, and then decided to get it. I haven't regretted it. Noodle seems to pick up on the concepts we've done thus far without too much difficulty, and she doesn't always use the blocks much. But I really like the idea that the kids will have a concrete & tangible relationship with numbers and math. What makes Math U See open & go is that the DVDs teach the lesson for you, really, so we watch that together on Mondays, then I'll do more instruction if needed from the teacher's manual, and then we'll do some problems together on a white board so I can see if she is having trouble with the concepts. Because I know we will go over the DVD lesson first, I often don't even look through the teacher's manual until right before we are going to start. Nice. We do one chapter a week. Each lesson has 3 pages of practice (A,B,C) and three pages of cumulative review (D,E,F). We introduce the lesson on Monday (watch DVD and do page A on the white board), Noodle does pages B & D on Tuesday, C & E on Wednesday, no pages on Thursday unless she needs a bit more practice (in the future she will probably do some online drills on the MUS website) but we do flash cards, and test on Friday.

Just as an FYI, the materials for MUS are rather pricey (though I don't know how it compares to other programs, but it's pricey for me!), so this year we started doing the workbook pages with overhead transparency sheets and wet-erase markers. I clip them on to the top of the page with two small binder clips. I scan the tests in from the test booklet and print them off for our binders and to keep a record of the work done.

Writing With Ease (WWE)
We are doing the first book with Noodle right now, since we didn't really do any writing skills last year, and she came a bit late to the reading game. You could do the Writing With Ease approach on your own just using the textbook, but you would have to get your own paper and choose your own sentences for copywork. The Workbook has the questions and the paper and sentences all prepared. I almost opted to save the money and do my own passages and copywork, but I can definitely say it has been worth the money to use the workbook! Quick & painless. Plus, I had my workbook cut in two, spiral bound the instructor pages and scanned the student pages into the computer so I could print them out as needed and not have to buy them again for future kids. (They allow copying for use within the family.)

WWE has four lessons per week. We do them M-Th, taking Friday off. Each lesson takes less than 15 minutes to complete. I know some people double up and do a narration and a copywork each day, but for now I like the pace and the short lessons.

First Language Lessons (FLL)
This book is grammar for years one and two. We are still in the second half of year one because I didn't do as much as I should have last year. These are scripted so you don't have a lot of preparation to do. Occasionally there is something like a map to get or to make sure you have a pencil and paper for both student and teacher, but it is pretty quick. I look over the lesson(s) the night before and see if they are short enough that we'll do more than one and get anything I need ready. Takes less than 5 minutes to prepare. We do these lessons 4-5 times/week. Lessons are really brief, about 5-10 minutes each.

Story of the World
Lessons are written in story form. We do one chapter a week, typically on Tuesday and Thursday. Most chapters are split into two parts, so you could read one part on T and the next on Th, we usually just read everything on Tuesday because the kids like to listen to the stories. A workbook/activity book is also available, and I highly recommend it. The workbook has questions to ask, book suggestions for further reading, activity ideas,recipes, plus lots of maps and coloring pages. I did the same thing with this book as I did the WWE workbook -- split it in half, had the teacher part spiral bound and scanned in all the student pages. This is not quite open & go, but pretty good.

What I have been doing is planning out the entire 6 week term of history (& science) lessons before the term starts, and then going to the library and getting all the books I needed. (You can check things out for 3 weeks and renew once, so it worked okay). I've decided that is too many books to try and get on one trip (it was usually 40-60 books) so from now on I'm going to try and do three weeks (a half term) at a time. Though with Christmas break, we only have two weeks of full school before we break, so I'm just doing two weeks this time.

We have been doing one of the suggestions in The Well-Trained Mind. They recommend getting the Usborne First Encyclopedia of Our World and the Usborne First Encyclopedia of Space and using those as the backbone of a topical study. So I've been supplementing these two page spreads about topics with other books from the library, and, when available, Bill Nye and Magic School Bus episodes. I have found some books that went along with different units that had fun experiment ideas. I think this has been a decent exposure to the different topics, and the kids seem to enjoy it. I'd like to be able to do "fancier" stuff (I think I covet those experiment kits you can subscribe to), but I remind myself that we don't have to do everything all the time, and most elementary school science stuff is just fact-based. We do science on Monday and Wednesdays, finishing up on Fridays if necessary (it usually isn't). We do one topic per week, though I have lumped topics together from the book if I felt they went well together or were similar enough that I wouldn't want to spend a week on each individually. We do a "Science Notebook Page" about the topic, which means for Noodle that she usually draws the environment we learned about (Deserts, Grasslands, Rivers, Oceans, etc) and I write in some key facts.

Since we use the workbox system, I have found it helpful to try and plan out the "extras" that will be in the workbox during the week. Extras are non-typical things like books, videos, games, crafts, etc that I add to the usual mix of school stuff.

Here is what is in Noodle's workbox every day (click to enlarge):

Here is where I write down what additional things I want to do during the week:

Here is the planning sheet I use for both Science & History (two weeks fit on each page, or you could do Science on top/History on bottom). I use this page to write down the books and the call numbers from the library website before I go to the library so I can expedite my book finding once at the library. I have been doing these pages before the term, but now will do them both before the term and at mid-term:

I am working on incorporating more geography study and fine arts study into our curriculum. That is a work in progress. I'll update when I find an approach that works for us.

If you want doc files of either of the planning sheets, just let me know. They are not fancy, but nice to have. We went through a couple of iterations before I found something that had enough detail but left enough general space for stuff.

Oh, with Spud right now we are reading picture books, doing crafts or other activities, and he joins us for History and Science, as well as any geography and fine arts stuff. We use his workbox to put the picture book we'll read as well as any materials for the activity or craft, but he isn't in full-fledged workbox mode yet because he is "in preschool". (Which I've decided, for us, means "too young to have to do school unless they want to!")

So, that was probably much more detail than you could be interested in, but on the off chance that it would be helpful, it seemed worth sharing.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

End of Term (Term B, Week 6 Report--kind of)

So I think I'll just have to accept that I probably won't get the Week 6 Reports done, at least not with the same detail. I'm too relieved to have a break that my "homeschool brain" shuts off and I can't bring myself to sit down and type up what we did. We did celebrate the end of the term with another Fun Friday Dance Party, though, which was fun. We didn't do dinner this time, which was nice because it was a bit less crazy, and we shortened it to 2 hours.

I taught the kids the line dance to "The Hustle" and we also played some games, including Twister and a game where all the kids laid heads together in a circle and tried to keep a balloon up in the air by kicking it with their legs. It was fun.

We took this entire week off. I had planned to have Spud do his computer school a few times (he did it once) and have Noodle read from Sunny the Yellow Fairy (also happened once), but oh well. Spud did read some books to his Aunt Jenn who is in town, which was good, and Noodle did pick up a couple of picture books to read. And they had a great time at a cousin sleepover Wednesday night and all day Thursday. We also had a Thanksgiving activity with our homeschool group, so they got a mini history/geography lesson on the Pilgrims.

Oh, one cool thing that happened during week 6 was we spent about 30 minutes or more watching a female ring-necked pheasant forage in our "backyard habitat" (aka The Giant Weed Patch that we hope to eventually turn Back into a Garden). It was really cool. We got out my binoculars and also enjoyed watching her disappear with her amazing camouflage. We talked about why female birds are less colorful than the males (it seems to bug Noodle that only the boy birds are pretty, and she hasn't yet seen the beauty in the brown), so it was neat to see how she could "disappear" by standing still, even in plain sight.

Here is a picture of her out in the open.

Can you see her?
She's in the middle of the picture in front of the fence.

How about this one?
She's in the center of the picture, a little bit left of the green pool thing.

Here are the turkey crafts we made this month.

This is a cute picture of Spud doing Play-doh letters after we read the book, The Worm Family.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

the right motivation

I think I've mentioned the sticker charts I do with the kids. Noodle gets a sticker for each page of math she does (I was tired of hearing her complain about doing math when it really isn't difficult for her) plus two if she gets 100% on ] her weekly test, and Spud earns stickers through reading or doing phonics lessons with me. But it isn't something I want to require that Spud do every day, or even really on a regular basis. Today, though, I mentioned to him that he might want to read some books to get some stickers on his chart, as Noodle would have hers full in a few days. "Okay," he said. We pulled out the beginner books and he ended up reading three books from the Clever Critters Level 1 Advanced Set (The Hot Yak, The Big Cub, and The Fox Begs, and re-reading the BOB books Sam and Mat. (I gave him 4 stickers for each "new" book and three for each "re-read".) He needed very little help, I was so proud of him! He filled up his chart (16 stickers) in one fell swoop!

Of course, then I had to figure out a way to let Noodle finish up her chart today, so she did today's math pages, plus tomorrow's, plus an extra one, and then took her weekly test. So, happily, they both earned their prizes. And now Noodle is done with her math for the week! (We'll do computer drills and flash card reviews, but I thought it was funny that she was willing to plow through so much.) It's all about motivation, I tell ya!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Term B, Week 5 Report

It was a good week. I already reported about the happiness on the reading front. Noodle got 100% on her spelling and math tests, so that was happy stuff, too.

Spud and I read a book called Moon Rabbit, and then sewed a rabbit for him (and then one for Noodle) based on the story.
I made a quick pattern and they were a fairly quick project (though I wish I'd have taken a little more time to ensure a better symmetry on the white bunny). After having a hard time with brown bunny's mouth, I utilized an online video directory of embroidery stitches for the white bunny's mouth, which turned out much nicer. It was good practice for the Christmas projects I'm making.

For science we learned about deserts and read some good books. While we were finishing up reading the book Cactus Hotel, Spud made this saguaro cactus out of Magformers. I thought that was pretty cool.

In history we learned about Crete and the story of the king who kept the minotaur under his castle in the maze and fed him Athenian children every year until Theseus (prince of Athens) killed the monster. I am trying to remember to do some geography with the kids, so I used our Children Just Like Me book and also a cool book I got from the library called How People Live and on Friday we read about modern day people in Crete. (They are called Cretans, which made me giggle.) That was a nice tie-in, I thought.

We also did read from Lives of the Musicians about Mozart. Did you know that if you played all of his music back to back it would go for 202 hours?! That's almost 8 1/2 days! I can't remember if I linked to this website before, but it has some great resources for music/composer study. We like to color the composers in lots of crazy colors and patterns. They kind of look like tattooed rock stars.

We also did a fun turkey craft that I got from here. I will put the pictures up next time I upload my card.

So, yeah, that's about it.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Spelling It Out

So, you (and by you, I mean me) get lists from here (they also have word scrambles & alphabetizing worksheets for the lists)
Have your kids practice their spelling words here
And print out any extra stuff pages you might think of yourself here

Piece o' cake!


So today I included an extra book in Noodle's workbox for her to read, in addition to her Amber the Orange Fairy reading. She read the first page, and I was sure she would complain about having to read the whole thing (it was fairly long), but when I offered to take turns reading pages with her she said, "No, I want to read it!" I could have done a happy dance! She read the entire thing, and didn't get tired or complain! I was so proud of her! I really think that working through the Rainbow Fairy chapter books is boosting her confidence. We've also been doing better at reading scriptures (instead of just working on the ones we memorize), and I'll have her read a verse. She's doing really well at that, too.

I don't know if she would have "bloomed" faster in reading if she'd been at school, but if not, it makes me happy to think that she hasn't ever had to feel "slow". From everything I've read and from talking to teachers, kids develop at wildly different paces when it comes to reading, but often by about third grade even the late bloomers have caught up. When I think of how Noodle was struggling last May and how much improved she is now, it's really encouraging.

Oh, and this is happening more often: Noodle will pick up a picture book or one of the baby's board books that are lying around and read the whole thing, either to herself or Spud or Sprout. Yesterday she read this book, which I have to say I just love. A very cute story of a boy whose mom won't let him get a dog, and his clever plan to convince her that dogs are pretty good pets to have around.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Term B, Week 4 Report

We didn't do anything fabulously exciting. Spud needed to finish up his sticker chart so he could earn a prize the same day as Noodle, so I told him I'd give him 3 stickers for each BOB book he read. He read Mat, Sam & Dot with hardly any trouble. Just goes to show what a little incentive can do. He seems to be enjoying our new "relaxed" preschool. Every day we read a story and then do something that (usually) goes along with the story. We read this hilarious book called Ugly Fish. Then we drew our own versions of Ugly Fish and the other fish in the story. I should scan Noodle's in when I find it, as hers was quite good. Here are Spud's and mine:

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Who's Who pages

We only started doing these a few weeks ago. A couple of times I have gotten one out for Noodle but not Spud, figuring he won't want to do one. Then he asks for one, which makes me happy.

This week we are learning about Babylon and King Nebuchadnezzar. Both kids wanted to do their page on his wife, Amytis. I write the information (though today Spud really wanted to write on his page, so he did) as I want it to be a non-stressful activity for Noodle. Plus since we do History at the end of our school day, I don't think she has it in her to do any more writing or copywork.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Term B, Week 3 Report

This is going to be a really short report.

This week we did Wetlands for Science. There isn't a page for it in our science "text" (Usborne's First Encyclopedia of Our World), but I thought wetlands merited some attention. Plus, we had BOTH Bill Nye and Magic School Bus episodes about wetlands. We read a book, watched the shows, and made a page for our science notebook.

History this week was on the Assyrians. We learned about Ashurbanipal and the fighting strategies of the Assyrians. We "reenacted" their two-man basket shield & arrow-shooting technique with markers and a laundry basket. We also built an Assyrian Siege Tower out of Legos (I'll add pictures later today, hopefully.)

Other than that, Noodle made good progress on reading Ruby the Red Fairy and was delighted to be able to create her own fairies on the Rainbow Fairies website. She and I also had a drawing together time, where we both drew pictures of fairies. I freehand drew my version of Ruby from the cover of the book. Since I'm not an artist, I was pretty pleased with the result, and I think I might enjoy drawing more fairies. Lately I'm finding that I can do okay if I have a picture to look at, and as long as it isn't supposed to look real. Cartoonish style is much easier for me.

We had a really full non-school week. We ended up taking Tuesday off, as we had some errands that we had to do and we also needed to get a present ready for Spud's friend's birthday on Wednesday. We checked out both Dollar Tree and Robert's Crafts looking for gift ideas (being on a very tight budget). We ended up buying a recipe box (as both kids thought the friend would like to have a box) and then making him a very cute Sculpey clay dinosaur and painting a peg doll like a caveman for him. We also made a little clay fire and Spud made a snake. Spud also painted a dinosaur magnet for him. We cut a piece of green fabric and put that in the box also. We also made him a necklace out of a circle of wood (we painted his initial on one side and a cool pattern on the other) and some beads and strung it on a leather string. I wish I'd have taken a picture. It was fun to work on together, and great because we had all the supplies already at home. I'd like to get more ideas for homemade birthday gifts and try to do that more often.

Noodle had Imagination Club on Wednesday, also, so we spent a lot of time out on Wednesday as well.

Thursday was a nice, regular day. Very productive!!

Friday Noodle took her Math test (100%) and spelling test (missed one, but easily fixed the mistake when I had her look at the word again), and did her reading and writing assignments. We hosted a Halloween Party for our homeschool group, which was fun. I wish I'd have planned things a little earlier, though. I think it went well, but I felt a little frazzled trying to do too much prep at the last minute. C'est la Vie!

Oh, we started on the subtraction chapters this week, and Noodle did so well on the first subtraction chapter on Monday that she wanted to take the test Monday, too. She did and didn't miss any. She has her addition facts down very solid (and is getting quicker as we keep doing the flash cards--she got 18 cards in a minute this week!) so I think that makes a big difference. I think we'll do two chapters a week for a while if she keeps sailing through them.