Friday, August 31, 2012

Week 1: Back to Routine!

What a great first week this has been, and if you are a regular reader, welcome back! It was a restful and refreshing summer, and I needed the break from both school and blogging, but we're back and ready to go!

Most years I have started school on the local schools' schedule, which is the Tuesday after Labor Day here in Virginia. This year I have not paid attention to that at all and have focused rather on re-establishing a routine with the kids in a gradual way. The goals we set for the week were met with positive attitudes, possibly because I have eased them back into the books this year. We did one week of just math and summer history reading, the next week we did a bit more, adding in writing to the math and history, and then we added in grammar and a bit more reading, culminating in this last week when I added all of their work in sort of a block schedule, devoting certain days to history and geography and certain days to science. This week at least, it proved a very positive development! The kids enjoyed being able to take more time on the subjects they really enjoy.

My girl is now 7, so we are moving forward toward 2nd grade-ish type work. While I really don't know how she compares to other 2nd graders in brick and mortar schools, she is reading well, and we are about 2/3 of the way through the Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading and will start McGuffy's 2nd Eclectic Reader next week. She also reads various other books on her own, such as the Magic Treehouse series. Her math skills seem to be moving along at an appropriate pace. She can add and subtract numbers to 20, skip count by 2s, 3s, 5s, 10s, use an abacus and base-ten blocks. She is a whiz at narration and sentence construction, and can do this at the second level of Writing With Ease (WWE) (our writing curriculum) but her spelling skills are not yet at a point where she can take the dictations that WWE2 doles out. Here is her stack:

Molly's "stack" for 2012-13
This week she enjoyed reading Eat My Dust (about Henry Ford's first race) to me out loud and I read the First Flight (about the Wright Brothers) to her.

Molly's cell anatomy page in the Jr. Notebook

The highlight of our week was starting our science curriculum, Apologia Anatomy and Physiology for the elementary grades, as well as the notebooks that accompany the text. We learned the anatomy of the cell and the kids looked into the microscope at various types of cells in tissue. We also learned about the history of the study of anatomy and physiology. Of course the Egyptians and mummies came up and we did an experiment which, by next week should reveal a mummified apple.

control apple and mummified apple
This is far preferable to me than the home-school standard of mummifying a chicken.

The boy is now 11 and is doing very well in whatever I challenge him to do. He is working on Math U See level Zeta, and very quickly, at that. He also is working through Life of Fred Decimals and Percents. He is an excellent reader and can handle whatever I throw at him, so far. Currently he is reading Call of the Wild by Jack London for his Tapestry of Grace literature selection. Here is his stack of some of the stuff for the term:

The stack does not include all the extra reading that is included in TOG or his logic or grammar. He is using the Kingfisher History Encyclopedia to practice making outlines each week for the core history topics, as described in The Well-Trained Mind.

Matty's greatest challenge by far is the new level of writing he is tackling in Writing With Skill (WWS), which is the continuation of Susan Wise Bauer's writing curriculum. It is a lovely and clear progression from WWE, and as Matty said one day, "Mom, this is hard, but it's not uninteresting." He is successfully writing summaries, doing topical outlines, and working with a Thesaurus. We have come to week 3 in the book, and every exercise seems to have the perfect balance of instruction and challenging work (though not too difficult).

He showed enthusiasm and interest in the timeline book we put together for him. I put it in book form because I think this will be preferable to trying to find a place to string it up in the house. Also, because he has enjoyed lap books and things like that in the past, he will probably enjoy putting this together.

To avoid the scramble for materials that I typically face, I assembled the book beforehand and went through the timeline points in TOG Year 4 Unit 1. For many (but not all) points, I pulled pictures from the internet and printed them onto sticky-backed 8 1/2 x 11 sheets, so all he has to do is cut, stick, and write in beneath or above the picture. On his own he thought of some other events that he wanted to add and pulled some of his own pictures and glued them in. This year we hope to have the book filled from 1900 to the end of the Cold War, and next year we will begin the Ancients. The goal is to have a working timeline for all of history, completed over the course of 4 years.

Overall, it was a wonderful week, and hopefully a harbinger of good things to come this school year. Keep checking back! I'll be updating weekly, as well as getting back to "Wordless Wednesdays" and periodic articles on various topics. Happy learning!

Summer Reflections

Reflecting on the summer, I spent much of it poolside, reading books and allowing the burn-out to stop smoking. Mostly, I screamed for the kids in swim team until my throat was raw. I packed a lot of lunches and got up terribly early most Saturday mornings for swim meets. I didn't think at all about school, curricula, or what I was going to do this year. I let it all go. Then as August came around I let school things seep back into my brain, and here we are.

It is now Labor Day weekend, and it feels good to be back in school routine. It just sort of happened gradually and we've slowly gone back to work. Here are my take-aways from this summer, without waxing too spiritual or philosophic.

1. Summer is meant for being outdoors, for growing things, especially children.

2. Sometimes, in spite of summer, the garden does not grow. Sometimes the bugs and deer are more savvy than the gardner. There is always next year.

3. Yard work is overrated. (see #2)

4. Easy-up shade canopies are extremely cool. Swim meet families should be labeled a sub-culture.

5. Vacations with good friends are investments for a lifetime.

6. Beach vacations with good friends are never quite long enough.

7. A little competition never hurt anyone, and may even make you stronger.

8. One must read books in the summer. Lots of them.

9. Humidity stinks, especially when combined with 95+ degrees.

10. Men in Speedos need to be outlawed. Period.

So with the summer drawing to a close, let the lessons (and blogging) begin!