Saturday, February 26, 2011

Week 22: An Ideal Week!

I think I've written before that one of my early homeschooling mentors (who has taught 7 children of her own) said to me one time, "If you have one really good day of school a week, then it's a good week." Well, if that is in fact true, then this week was fantastic! We managed four good school days and our regular Classical Conversations day, as well. One of the highlights was having Dad home for President's day, and rather than taking the day off, we enjoyed the 1:1 student to teacher ratio. He did math and science with both of the kids, then we switched and I did language arts and reading.

The compass experiment from Lesson 5 in Apologia's Astronomy book.
After that day we were on a roll, and we somehow managed to have the kind of week that my planner absolutely loves, with everything getting thorough attention and all the boxes getting checked.

Since it was the kind of week I wish we could have all the time, I have taken the time to describe what our "ideal school week" looks like, along with the curriculum we do.

Most days we start school between 8:30 and 9:00 a.m. We are not early risers, so this is a reasonable time for all of us. Over breakfast, we read and discuss our Bible curriculum and pray, and review any Bible memory work that we are working on. This year we have been working through Apologia's Who is God and Can I Really Know Him?

It has been a very thought-provoking program for my nine-year-old son, and my 5-year-old girl has listened and discussed it as well, though she is probably not grasping it on the same level. I would give this curriculum a definite thumbs-up because of the level of thought that it stimulates, and the kind of discussions we have had because of it. We have delved into the problem of what it means to be separated from God, the problem of sin, the difference between flesh and spirit and the struggle that results...Invariably my heart is full to hear what my kids are thinking about with regard to these issues. We are nearing the end of the book, and the interest level for it has not waned on any of our parts. We did not use the journal or the notebook because we have used it more as a devotional, but we have memorized the recommended passages of scripture, many of which the kids already knew!

After morning devotions, we read our science chapter or section in science and the children narrate back what they remember from the section and answer my questions that I pose to them orally. At the moment I am pushing to finish this book, as it always seemed to be the last thing on our list in the fall. My hope is to finish it in the next month so that we can begin Botany in the spring and work on that through the summer, while using our garden as a hands-on science lab.

So far for us, we have been very satisfied with Apologia's science products (we have also done Zoology 1 and most of 2). The presentation is very conversational and lends itself to good snuggle-on-the-sofa time. I also appreciate that at every turn God is given the glory for the marvels of the universe, and often scripture is used to illustrate a point. The experiments are fun and easy to implement using household products.

After science we usually head downstairs to our school area where our huge white board and maps are, and we review our Classical Conversations memory work. Matty is working to achieve Memory Master this year, and so it is very important that his memory work is reviewed daily. One day a week we cover all of it from beginning to the current week so that it stays fresh in his mind. He sometimes uses the CC flash cards or the study helps online to drill himself, but I do "proof" him once a week to make sure he is not lagging in one area or another. Memory Master is achieved when a student can recite all of the memory work for the 24 weeks with no more than two mistakes. He is then awarded a certificate noting the accomplishment. It is a significant accomplishment requiring diligence on the part of the student.

Then Matty begins his independent work in Math, reading, handwriting, and typing. For Math this year Matty is using Math Mammoth Light Blue Series 4-A and 4-B which to my understanding is a Singapore-like system in that it employs more of the Asian approach to learning math. This program is laid out for for a student to self-instruct. I have found that it is easy for Matty to understand the built-in instruction boxes, and after just a bit of guidance from Dad or me, he is able to complete the assignments on his own. The assignments are challenging but doable. There are "puzzle boxes" that sometimes even Dad and I have trouble with, but they are fun, and I think that it is good for him to see that even Mom and Dad have to sit and wrestle with something to get answers from time to time. My one complaint about Math Mammoth is that occasionally we have stumbled on a mistake in the text, or a concept is included or needed in a problem that has not been covered yet, but overall, it is excellent, and now that we know this we can simply skip over that rare problem and move on.  Molly is also working in Math Mammoth 1A, and she has done very well. We go very, very slowly with her, just working with the concept of addition. Maria Miller (the author) has the students do a lot of "find the missing number" problems, which I think can be hard developmentally for some 5-year-olds. Since this is a first grade text we are taking our time, and my goal with her is simply to have her know her addition facts through 10, and understand the concept of subtraction by the end of the year. She already knew all of the K-level number concepts, shapes, etc, so the next logical step was to go ahead and start the curriculum. I am not sure yet if Math Mammoth will be the right approach with her, but we will continue with this a bit longer until I am sure.

After math, we generally do Language arts, which includes writing, grammar, and spelling. This is my favorite part of the day, and I love all of the curricula that we are currently using for both kids. For Matty, we are using mostly Peace Hill Press's curricula. We had successfully worked through First Language lessons for the Well-Trained Mind 1 / 2. I discovered it a little late, so we finished it in his third grade year, and now this year we are working through FLL 3. At first it seemed a bit too scripted and a little dry, but now that I have become used to it, I can give it my own flavor and spin, and we actually have a lot of fun with it. I appreciate the thoroughness of it and the constant review, and I know that we are not missing anything important. We don't always need all the review, so we do what we need and skip what we don't. My one complaint with the program is that the student workbook uses way too much paper. I think that smaller print could be used and fewer pages taken up to demonstrate the same concept. Small complaint which in no way diminishes my appreciation for the quality of the curriculum content, but it drives me crazy how much space it takes up in the notebook! Overall, I highly, highly recommend this program to anyone who wants to be sure that their child is getting a proper education in grammar.

Another of my favorites from Peace Hill Press is Writing With Ease. We are finishing Student Workbook 2 and will Continue on with Level 3, though we will be working from the text and not the workbook, since I would like to have a bit more flexibility in the reading selections and begin to use more of our history and science readings as selections for the narration and dictation exercises. I will write a review of this curriculum in a separate post, but suffice it to say that of everything that we use this is my favorite, with no complaints. My child enjoys it, the philosophy behind it makes so much sense, and the results are amazing. Thank you, Susan Wise Bauer!

Our other language arts thread is spelling, and for Matty we are currently using what I hope will be his last spelling curriculum, All About Spelling. Spelling has been for us something akin to torture until now. He is not a natural speller, though he is a very good reader. The theory that "the more they read they the better speller they will be" simply is not true in every case. We have tried Abeka spelling, Spelling Workout, Sequential Spelling and Megawords. In every case he could memorize the words, spell them for his test, and then have seemingly no other relationship with the words in any other context. Whenever he has needed to spell a word, say for a dictation, he would revert to guessing and spelling however he thought the word sounded. Finally, at long last, we have come upon a curriculum which he likes and I am seeing his spelling improve already, after only a few weeks of using it! He enjoys the lessons are very hands-on and interactive, and sees / feels the improvement himself. I have to give a shout out to the ladies at The Well Trained Mind forums because they steered me in this direction after my moaning about my situation to them. Thank you, thank you!

Language Arts with Molly is becoming more and more fun as she increases in her abilities in reading and writing. We generally work together while Matty is working on his math and other independent work. At the same time I began All About Spelling with Matty, I began The Phonics Road with Molly. Both programs are based on the Orton-Gillingham method of teaching phonics. Both Molly and I are enjoying Phonics Road. I enjoy it because it is "open and go"--I watch the included instructor videos to see how it should be taught, then deliver the lesson as prescribed by the author, Barbara Beers. Molly loves having her own notebook and clipboard and the lessons are engaging for her. She loves to practice her handwriting, and this program has many opportunities for her to do so. It is a little early for me to give a full assessment of the program, but so far, so good. I chose this for Molly because I didn't want her to fall into the same gap of reading / spelling ability that Matty has experienced. Already she demonstrates more of a natural spelling ability, but even so, I want to give her a very thorough phonics foundation so that we don't have the same problems later. My one reservation about using the Phonics Road in the long term is that I love the Peace Hill Press Products so much that I don't want to regret not having used them with Molly. After we complete level one, I will then decide whether or not to continue working with her in The Phonics Road based on the merits of this program or switch to All About Spelling and the PHP products. It is a hard choice--I'm surrounded by excellent products and what it boils down to is personal preference.

Sometime around 11:45 we are all ready for a break, and so I head upstairs to make lunch while the kids play. It affords me some head-space and gives them a chance to work out their wiggles. They are usually very rambunctious at this point! We break for about an hour, and then after lunch the kids practice their piano lessons (30-40 minutes for Matty, 15 minutes for Molly), and then I work with Matty for another hour or more, depending on what kinds of assignments we need to complete. Sometimes we will not have finished all the language arts, or he may need to do some study questions for science, or do some research for a history lap book. Generally speaking we work until 2:30 or 3:00. School is dismissed when all his independent work is checked off, the basement is picked up, and piano is practiced. Then they may use their media time or play with neighborhood friends. Then it's upstairs for a little Facebook time for mom and solving the never ending question..."What's for dinner?"

I should note that it is  ideal for us to have three good study days like this a week because on Wednesday afternoons, both children have piano lessons and Matty has art class for two hours, during which Molly and I work on her art curriculum together. On Fridays we attend Classical Conversations, and after that our school work for the week is finished.

Working in this way with some degree of consistency this year has rendered this our most productive school year yet. Both children and I have enjoyed ourselves immensely, and I feel that there is a healthy balance of rigor and fun in our learning. Certainly we aren't perfect, and we have our weeks where tired, cranky, moody, sinful, and ill throw us off, but when it works well, it's great!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Week 21: Time Well Spent

There are always those weeks where you feel as though you got "nothing" done. The goals on the checklists remain unchecked, the stories in the stack didn't get read, and not as much math as intended was covered. It is these weeks that I have to remember that there are other things that have even greater value than checking the book items off.

This week's highlight was hosting three rescued orphans and their chaperon from the Watoto Children's Choir. Nicholas, Reagan and Elijah, along with their Chaperon Uncle Roger delighted us with their warmth, their gratitude, and their cheerful presence. These kids know how to give hugs, and I felt I could not hug them enough! When we considered their lives and the things they had suffered, there wasn't enough that we could do for them or give to them.

On Tuesday, in preparation for their arrival, the kids and I cleaned the house, prepared their room and planned the snack for after the concert. Upon their arrival, you would have thought the president had come...Matty could not do enough for them, and he was an excellent host. He admitted that he wished that we could adopt them, as did I.

The late night and excitement took its toll on the kids, and the night after their departure they slept for 13 hours! Then it was back to work and regular lessons, and I had to remind myself that something bigger than Math Mammoth had happened earlier this week.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Week 20 : It's All About Discipline, Really

What a great week this has been. It has been full of school work and lessons and even a milestone, and we have learned so much! The big news of this week is that my little girl, no longer a baby by any means, had her first piano lesson this week!

These photos speak for themselves--she is taking this very seriously. She has been wanting to begin lessons for at least a year, but we were simply waiting for maturity to catch up with desire. She simply was unable to sit for a full lesson before, and now, she's plugged in the whole time! We're very excited, and "Miss Steph" was excited to get to teach Molly her first lesson, as well.

Molly also began her new language arts curriculum, Phonics Road this week. Hopefully this will be our last for a while. She really likes it so far, and it is designed to take them all the way through grammar and Latin. Hopefully it's a keeper.

Mom learned a lot this week, too. Giving up sugar and grains for the week and eating only vegetables, fruit and minimal protein was an exercise in self-discipline, but also of personal enlightenment. It's a little too personal to go into on my blog, but the discipline of fasting is one that never fails to bring about big revelations in my heart and spirit, even if I think I'm fasting for purely personal reasons. God showed me at the end that He had a higher purpose in mind for this week, and I long to walk in the things He taught me in the process. I have written before that the fruit of the spirit called self-control is the one we must climb highest to claim. This week I made that climb...

Even so, I thought I'd share one photo one of the foods that I was free to eat this week. What is that stuff in the pot? It really was as green as it looks at first, but I failed to take photos of the final product, so don't be scared. Even my kids eat it and love it. I made the recipe up and haven't named it yet. I'm open for suggestions:

1 med onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 carrots, diced
saute above ingredients in olive oil until tender, then add
about 8 oz. fresh spinach, pureed
2-4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
one bag lentils
1 can kidney beans
one 28oz can tomato sauce or puree
one dried Thai chili pepper finely chopped (could use red pepper flakes)
2 tsp cumin
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup half and half, or 2/3 cup full cream, or 1 1/2 cups whole or reduced fat, though you may need more with 1% (Do not use skim. Anyway, what's the point?) Note: I don't exactly measure the milk / cream. I watch to see the color change from a dark, reddish brown to a creamy brown color. These are estimates of how much I have used.
Simmer for approximately one hour.
serve with a dollop of sour cream (optional)
(c) Kelly Mine 2011

 My family ate this over qinuoa, but it also very nice over basmati rice, couscous, or just plain in a bowl with a dollop of sour cream. My kids love it--and I am telling you the honest truth. It is very filling, nutrient packed, and very lean, and makes enough for two days for a family of 4. It turns a nice reddish-brown--don't worry. It doesn't stay this green.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Week 19 in Review

This is a week I would consider to be fairly successful. I managed to get back in the routine of getting up with an alarm, but added to that, waking the kids earlier and having them finish chores before breakfast. With holidays, and then colds, snow days and what-not contributing to the break-up of routine, we had fallen back into a late to bed, late to rise routine. Understandable, but unacceptable. We simply cannot accomplish what we are able when we get up earlier.

So, we began our new spelling and phonics programs, All About Spelling for Matty, and Phonics Road for Molly. I am just figuring these new systems out, but once and for all, I am going to work to fill in the gaps in Matty's phonics knowledge, which hopefully will help him to improve his spelling. In Molly's case, I am excited to start a program which will leave no gaps and at the same time prepare her for literature, composition and Latin.

I have made the decision to register Matty for Classical Conversations Essentials of the English Language program next year, so in order to prepare him for this fairly rigorous program, I have resumed our First Language Lessons 3 to ensure his comfort and familiarity with the parts of speech and diagramming. This also is going well.

Molly is moving along nicely in reading and has begun the second Pathway Reader Days Go By. I highly recommend these books for improving fluency in reading. She sincerely enjoys the stories and can't wait to find out what happens next.

The highlights of this week were days in which we simply laughed a lot. On Tuesday I spent the afternoon laminating phonics cards while the kids chased each other around giggling, fighting over tortilla chips. They probably were burning more calories than they were consuming. It was hilarious. Another day I came across some videos which made me laugh all day. I posted one of them here in the previous post, about working out from home. Please check it out--it had me giggling all day.