Monday, November 21, 2011

Week 11: Stretched Out

Week 11 was a bit confused. No, the teacher / mom was a bit confused. Facing the prospect of heading out of town for a few days to visit family, I was wandering around the house wondering what I should tackle first. It would be better if I paid no attention whatsoever to the fact that we were leaving town, as I found myself horribly distracted and got nothing done in any category. As usual I found myself up late the night before our trip packing and cleaning.

We did the usual math, language arts, and will, over the first few days of the Thanksgiving holiday we will finish our week 11 TOG reading. Matty is working through Island of the Blue Dolphins and I am reading about the Cherokee to Molly. We have finished most of our other reading.

This week I resolved once again (resolutions get me no where) to not plan for a trip the night before we leave. Let's see if I hold to that next time we go somewhere...probably not, but it gives me comfort to think that I might do that.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Oh, Yum!

Here's the thing--we moms all need a super-fast-super-yummy crockpot recipe now and again, and we get really sick of the same-o, same-o stash of recipes that we do because we don't have time to think of anything new. I was wasting some of that time that I don't have on Facebook the other day and a friend had requested some food ideas for some-sorta-something, and one of her friends suggested a version of what I made tonight (Thank you Susan's friend!) I wish I had a picture but it was so good, there isn't a scrap left to show you!  I threw it together in about ten minutes at about 7:00 this morning. It really didn't do any damage to my "I am not a morning person" psyche to have to do this, and I was so comforted by the fact that I was going home to dinner already cooked. Here it is, in its ridiculous simplicity.

8 skinned, bone-in chicken thighs
2 cans black beans
1 bag frozen corn
1 bottle salsa verde
Cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 in crockpot. Serve over quinoa, rice, whatever you like, and sprinkle with shredded cheese.

My whole family devoured this. We served ours over quinoa, which is a healthier option than rice or flour-based couscous.

Enjoy! I hope I just made your day a little easier.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Week 10: Crossing a Threshold

This week we crossed into some new territory.  So far, I have enjoyed TOG for the "heft" of the content. There is no shortage of reading material for the interested student. However, at the end of unit 1, it seemed Matty was not quite getting enough reading from the upper grammar (UG) track. He even said, "Mom, can I have more to read?" Happily I obliged him, and decided to try doing the dialectic (D) track literature with him. He was already reading one of the dialectic history sources in addition to all the UG history and literature reading, plus any Story of the World  assignments (which are given as alternate history core) given in a week. So this week he started reading Island of the Blue Dolphins, and is truly enjoying it. He found the student activity page (SAP) to be more interesting for this as well, and previously the SAP for upper grammar seemed kind of pointless to him. He also read all of the UG assignments and some of the D history, as before. I heard a few groans near the end of the week for the sheer volume of reading, but no complaints. I believe he felt gratified for putting in the hard work. I'm pleased that he found all of the selections to be engaging and interesting.

We all enjoyed reading aloud a book called In the Days of Queen Victoria. Only chapter one was assigned but they begged for more, so I read ahead. When I am finished with this book I will show the children the movies Young Victoria, and Mrs. Brown. The latter may be a bit over Molly's head, but I expect that Matty will thoroughly enjoy both.

Math and Language are moving ahead nicely. Molly is enjoying Writing With Ease 1 (WWE 1) and is doing very well. She has heard Matty and I go through the process of narration and dictation so much that she is ready! When I ask her, "Can you tell me one thing you remember from the story?" She replies, "Can't I tell you two?" Matty is doing great with WWE 3 which is where we will stop before moving into Writing With Skill. We are enjoying meeting weekly with some friends for French class, which I am teaching. I am using Le Francais Facile which is working well so far, but we are only a couple of weeks into it. It is indeed "facile" and is helping me to brush up my French from oh, about a hundred years ago.

All in all, it was a full and productive week, and I am well satisfied with our progress. Let's see what happens here (i.e. will it all unravel?) as the holidays overtake life. I am hoping for a low-stress, peaceful season.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Lap Books and Things I said I'd Never Do

I like to post photos of the lap book projects that the kids do for a couple of reasons: first, they are so proud of their work and think it's very cool that Mom is proud enough to show the world on the blog, second, lots of people are looking for lap book ideas, and I hope to provide some inspiration.

I should begin with this disclaimer: I don't particularly enjoy doing crafts with my kids. I don't like big messes, I get irritated when I have to buy a long list of supplies of weird things that I may or may not use again for a project, I do not sew, and I don't like things sitting around collecting dust, just because the kids made it. When I first saw lap books at the annual convention in Richmond, they fell into that category of things that we would never do, along with sewing period costumes for my kids. I thought, "Oh right - overachieving, uber-crafty homeschoolers. That is SO not my style." Then I started reading about them and seeing other examples online, and I thought I'd try it with Matty, just for fun, to wrap up what he'd been learning about ancient Greece. I was probably feeling guilty because he loves crafts and and I thought I was depriving him. I figured I could handle some cutting of paper and pasting. He loved doing it, and for me of course, his desire and enjoyment for the project directly impacted my willingness to do another one, and so we did. Long story short, this past quarter, for our unit celebration with our Tapestry of Grace group, both kids prepared lap books to display and I (gasp) sewed a costume for my daughter. I thoroughly enjoyed the process of both of these things I thought I'd never do. And this, dear reader, is why I am called the "Accidental Homeschooler."

So, if you have read this far and resonated with any of the above sentiments, indulge me while I display for you their most recent lap book accomplishments. My son, who is 10, used his to summarize the content of the first unit of year three of Tapestry of Grace. My daughter, who is 6, did a lap book specifically highlighting the Lewis and Clark expedition. I used a couple of elements from a prepared lap book for her this time, but for the most part I have them choose their mini-book designs from a folder / pouch of templates that I have collected, and then we glue the content into the mini-books, which we print out on colored paper. We do research on the internet to get interesting pictures for collages, cut out pictures, write sentences, narrations, and timelines and figure out ways to display them creatively.

Molly's Indian mini-book

Map and timeline of the journey

Front cover of Matty's

Main section, map fold-out of Louisiana purchase not shown

Conflict between Hamilton and Burr

Timeline of Jefferson's times

In my opinion, the process of planning and designing a lap book synthesizes so many valuable skills. First there is the process of visualizing a finished product and planning the various elements that will be included. Often this changes along the way, but it is an important first step--that of learning to set a manageable goal. Along with this is the accountability aspect--if you don't finish the project, you have the ugly reminders of half-finished lap-book pieces lying around reminding you that you did not follow through on a valuable learning opportunity. Second, there is the visual / graphic layout process. The ability to choose coordinating colors, arrange an aesthetically pleasing layout, with appealing visual elements is an important skill in today's graphic-intense world. Third, The ability to navigate the internet for both information and visual elements is another important skill. For each mini-book that is included, there is the content that must be researched and summarized. For Matty, this is an opportunity to write, developing skills of  summarizing and narrative writing. For Molly, this includes making collages of things that display what she has learned and narrating to me content that she would like written down. Matty is becoming a better writer all the time, but in the lap books I do not correct every mistake or insist on perfectly constructed paragraphs. Rather, I look for accuracy of content and flow of thought, so that it reflects what he learned about a topic. As he develops writing skills I will be more attentive to style in the mini-books. He is also just developing his typing skills, so not every spelling or capitalization mistake is caught, and that is fine. He will look back on these books and see his progress over time. In this particular lap book, he dictated everything in the timeline mini-book to me because he was tired, and he wanted to ensure that the handwriting was nice. Normally I would not write for him, but in this case for the sake of time and fatigue, he dictated to me everything he wanted me to put down. Altogether his book included three maps, one timeline, and eight biographical summaries. It doesn't look like much when it is all folded up, but when I consider the amount of time and writing that he put into this project and begin folding out those little reports, I am very proud of the job he did! It was proportionate to his age and ability, and he has something to show for his work. He loves to go back over his old lap books, which is a natural review, whether that is his intention or not.

Now that you are feeling inspired, stay tuned for part 2 of my best advice for getting started with the projects.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The Best Idea I've had

I suggested to my co-op friend that since we were having the unit celebration and ending the quarter, we do what public school teachers do and have a "work day," so we did. What a great idea! We got the kids together to play and sat at her dining table with stacks of books and planned out the next quarter. We got so much accomplished, and when we called the kids in, they were filthy and happy. They had played in the woods all day--what a blast! 

The unit celebration was such fun, but when we tucked Molly in to her bed last night, she said, "It wasn't really how I was expecting..." To which I replied, "Well, what were you expecting?" She said, "I thought it was going to be more party-like." Everyone sort of blinked at her and I said, "Seemed like a party to me--did you dress up? Did you eat hot dogs? Did you have a root beer float? Did you roast marshmallows? Did you do a skit? Did you play with your friends? Jump on the trampoline?" She agreed with us, then, but I still would love to be inside her head and get to "see" exactly what she was imagining. Anyway, it was a party, and the kids were able to enjoy the accomplishments of the last quarter and the moms and dads were able to fellowship. Lovely.

Here are some photos from the evening. I always find it difficult to take indoor photos in the evening and at night and have them turn out half way well, but at least I have a record of the fun.

Meriwether Lewis and his Newfoundland, Seaman

The TOG crew!

Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery...and Ewan!

Flat-bottom boats and barges inspired by the Swiss Family Robinson
Isaac, one of our dialectic students showing his timeline display

Salt dough maps and president books from this quarter

Cumulative map of South America

Various lap books and displays

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Week 9: Unit One Down, Three to Go!

Our TOG kids with Jim Weiss
Today our Tapestry of Grace group wrapped up our first unit of Year three. We have been working on lap books all week that sum up what we've been covering this unit, and when I look back over the past two months, I am stunned at how much we've covered! I have never been able to work this efficiently, and I am sure that it is a combination of several things: 1. the little boxes that lay out for me each week how much of what is to be read, knowing full well that if my kids don't get it done, it's double the work next week, 2. the accountability of knowing that four other families are really counting on us coming to co-op prepared, and 3. a desire and hunger on the part of my kids not to miss anything, because they love the material being covered. On Thursday we went to hear Jim Weiss (the narrator of Story of the World) perform his stories from American history. He started with Thomas Jefferson and ended with stories of "Women in Blue and Gray." In essence he summed up our entire unit 1 and introduced an upcoming one! What great timing. The kids sat for about 2.5 hours, completely captivated by the stories and his voice. It was great to see him in person.
This week we primarily covered the basics of math and phonics and worked on finishing any remaining reading and putting together the lap-books. Molly (6) completed one on the Lewis and Clark expedition and Matty (10) completed one on "Thomas Jefferson's World." Both turned out very well. At co-op we had an in-depth discussion of The Swiss Family Robinson. For craft, Every mom arrived equipped with hot glue guns and craft sticks, and the kids created boats and rafts that we will test at the unit celebration to see if they are seaworthy.

As I write this, it is Saturday evening. My kids are downstairs with Dad pitching a tent in the basement for a "camp-in" because it is too cold to camp outside. We will all watch the movie Rio together, then the guys are going to have some "guy time" tonight, watching Spiderman and then sleeping in the tent together. The girls are going to have some girl time snuggling down in Mom and Dad's room, turning on the fireplace, and chatting.

(Sunday morning) The down time was well-earned. Matty pushed through the fact that he needed to complete his lap book for our unit celebration on a Saturday, and I worked all day on a dog costume for Molly. She is going to the unit celebration dressed as Meriwether Lewis's dog, "Seaman," a Newfoundland. Both kids were absolutely captivated by his story. Matty is going dressed as Lewis, and he has commissioned his buddy to go as Clark. In all honesty I have not touched a sewing machine since I was about 15 or 16, but it all came back to me and I stitched together a very cute furry vest, tail and ears for my girl.

I wasn't quite sure how we would get it all done because at times the to-do list of things was quite steep, but in all honesty, I think I have found yet another strength of the TOG curriculum--the quarterly assessment and celebration factor. I had always worked on more of a semester-basis in years passed, and while it was effective, and I enjoyed that finishing process and wrapping things up for the holidays, I believe this way will afford us the opportunity to get more done, simply by keeping us "wrapping things up" on a more regular basis. The list of "pros" keeps growing for Tapestry of Grace!

On a personal level I am finding myself very challenged by the book I am currently reading: Folks, This Ain't Normal by Joel Salatin. I will write a more in-depth review of this when I finish, but for now I will just say that I cannot recommend this book enough. Stay tuned for more...