Thursday, August 15, 2013

Lessons from Last Year

Last year, it appears that I only managed two write two blog posts about our schooling.  I thought I was busy then with the pregnancy and three Spark Plugs in tow, but this coming year is likely to be even more intense with four rambunctious kiddos, Diabetes, and everything else unknown that will come our way.  

I did learn a lot last year from our wild ride, and as a result we will be holding on to what worked and letting go of what didn't.

For starters, we finished our second year of The Weaver Curriculum.  Some of my irritations with it were resolved in Volume 2, and some did not.  The second year was more cohesive, had a stronger focus on history, and over all made more sense than the first year.  However, the grammatical errors were just as atrocious; we were missing several pages (a problem I had been warned about when purchasing used curriculum and which was mostly remedied by calling the distributor); and there was still a sense of lopsidedness in that one month was nearly solely history-focused while others were notably lacking (I much prefer an even distribution of subjects across the board).  

That said, I really like The Weaver's Wisdom Words, which is their version of Language Arts.  Since WW goes all the way through 6th grade, we will be using it again this year.

For our Bible, Geography, Science, History, and Art, we will use Exploring Countries and Cultures from My Father's World (this was a gift to our family).  Several friends went through this program last year, and they've been extremely helpful in advising me about what parts of this curriculum worked for them, which parts they recommend skimming over, and what areas they found deficient.  From them, I've gleaned that the strength of ECC lies in their geography, whereas the science is on the thin side.  Oddly enough, this arrangement is perfect for us.  Because of California's health requirements and Tyler's recent diagnosis, I've decided to study body systems (the endocrine system in depth) and diabetic nutrition, which will satisfy our need for health education and will enhance any limits that ECC may have in science.  I can't wait!

I loved my home-made lesson planners, but they weren't perfect, and revamping them would have taken time and resources that I didn't have.  I instead opted to purchase duplicates of the Amazon planners that we used two years ago.  These worked fairly well, and I really like the big, wide boxes for scribbling in assignments.

Modern Curriculum Press mathematics will be our choice for the third year in a row.  It is low cost, does a thorough job of explaining new concepts, and gives tons of review, just what our family needs right now.   Some day, I might look into either Math-U-See or Right Start, but this year I just needed to go with what was familiar.

Sequential Spelling was an even greater disaster than was spelling from Modern Curriculum Press the previous year.  I've decided that I really can't do any worse, so I'll be taking one spelling rule a week, selecting words from our readers that correspond to each week's rule, and we'll do pretests, vocabulary cards, oral tests, word searches, and final tests each week from the lists that I compile.  I also have Spelling Power, which starts at third grade, in the event that this new attempt fails as dismally as the last two have.

Our beloved Bob Jones green readers will again be our reading curriculum.  I really like how they are a bit advanced for each grade.  Both of our boys are avid readers and need the challenge in this area, so these are a great fit for us.  We will also compile a weekly stack of books from our shelves for their perusal during nap time; my plan is to pull out selections based on our current geographical and scientific studies for them to enjoy.  We have been extremely blessed to have two entire bookshelves dedicated to children's books, and we have books on nearly every subject matter we could ever desire. We can also supplement from our local library as well.

I don't know whether or not we'll get to much else this year.  Music, typing, and some sort of physical education are all floating around in my brain, but because of our new circumstances, I know that often less is more.  The last thing I need to do is to stress out either myself or the spark plugs by giving out impossibly-busy schedules.  If we can easily work in these things, wonderful; if not, there is always next year.  I'm not going to stress about them.

One last change we'll be making is with our schedule.  Always before, I've started the school year in mid-August to get a head start.  I like finishing before Kyle's birthday in May, and I like taking a long Christmas break.  In order to get everything, we need the early start.  However, as plans disintegrated this summer, it looks like we won't start until September.  We'll either take shorter breaks at Thanksgiving and Christmas, or we just won't finish as early as I'd like.  I think I'm okay with that.

So, it looks like lots of changes are coming our way this year, though I'm grateful for the sense of stability with our reading, language arts, and math.  I also plan to put a reminder sheet on the refrigerator so that when Tyler starts acting up, I'll realize more quickly that he may be having a blood sugar issue and not necessarily just an attitude issue.  We're all going to need an extra measure of grace as we enter the school scene again, but hopefully now that we have a diagnosis, we can be better at managing the ups and downs.

Here's to a new year, a new adventure, and a new way of life!

Monday, February 25, 2013

When Less Is More

After a rough start to our school year, we finally found our stride in early November and have been pushing hard ever since.  In order to be able to take a month off of school when Baby Dylan arrives, we've been doing extra days whenever we can squeeze them in.  We only took two days off instead of a full week at Thanksgiving, and over what would normally be a two-week Christmas vacation, we accomplished some extra days there as well.  And since Jon doesn't routinely get Monday holidays, we haven't been taking them, either.  Over all, the spark plugs have been more than eager to plug along at their work, making my job that much easier.

There's only so much a person can take, however, before starting to feel burned out.  Two weeks ago, as my anemia worsened and my energy diminished, I realized that even if the kiddos were content to push forward at the pace we were going, I needed a break. 

I had a few projects that I'd been neglecting, so instead of our formal together time (others call it circle time), we focused solely on our core curriculum and set aside our extra subjects.  This enabled us to finish up our health book and add in some of these side projects.

Imagine the spark plugs' excitement when Mom pulled out two years' worth of coins and let them count, sort, stack, and exchange all those glittering quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies!  This made for a fun afternoon without the kids even realizing that we were reinforcing this year's math concepts.  (It also didn't hurt that I let them redeem all the coins and add the proceeds to their savings accounts.)

While they were busy with the coins, I sorted through baby clothes and worked on our Family Closet, a universal laundry system that is working really well for us at the moment.  While it isn't without its drawbacks, I am greatly enjoying the fact that no spark plug can tell me, "I have nothing to wear!"  Mama, 1; clothes shoved under the bed, 0.

We had numerous outings that week, such as my next prenatal appointment (the spark plugs LOVED hearing Dylan's heart beat); a tour of the Rengstorff House with our home school group; a Valentine's Day-themed park day; and a few other pressing engagements.  It was nice to have a little extra time to fit in these important things.

The end result of this temporary shift in schedule was that I felt encouraged and less burned out.  I additionally appreciated the extra time to work on the house and prepare for the baby's arrival, and I think the spark plugs loved some of the special projects I gave them. 

This week, we're back in the saddle with a full school load complete with Together Time.  While I'm still pretty tired, the change of pace (even though I actually felt busier with all the extra time away from home!) was just what we needed to re-energize and re-focus for these final weeks until we bring home our 6th family member.  The flexibility that home schooling affords us has never been so appreciated!


Monday, January 14, 2013

If You Give An Eight-Year-Old Boy A Math Lesson...

This post from Heavenly Homemakers was simply too cute not to share.  Anyone who loves the "If You Give A Mouse A Muffin" series should especially enjoy!

Monday, November 26, 2012


T, 3rd Grade

K, 1st Grade

L, Preschool

In my last post on my other blog, I shared some of the wonderful adventures we enjoyed during the summer months.  Reading straight through that post, one might get the incorrect idea that we've gotten things pretty well figured out, that our schedule is ticking along gracefully, and that we're constantly trying new, amazing things.  This blog post will put to bed any silly notions of the kind.  :)

Earlier in the summer, I put together these assignment books and began filling in tentative lesson plans.  This was a huge step for me; I'm usually the kind of mom who looks at assignments the day before the day of and hopes that I have everything on hand that we'll need for the day.  (I do NOT recommend this method.)  I was thrilled with myself for this summer-time achievement and began to wonder if I were finally getting the hang of this preparation stuff.

Not only that, but many of the things we did between school years counts as academic work, and I loved the idea of having a few extra days to count here and there as needed.  (Since the CA public school requirement is 175 days per school year, we make sure to complete at least that many days. While this isn't a private school requirement, I feel better getting in at least that many.  I know, I'm weird.)

I also had this seemingly-great idea to start off our first two weeks with a bang - we would hit the books hard, and after that, we could lighten our schedule if needed.  Besides, I was tickled to think that I would be able to start teaching the boys music, and some introductory typing and foreign language were also in my plans.  Additionally, I developed a plan that would give more flexibility for field trips, park days, and catchup work when needed.  This was going to be my most-organized, most fun, most involved academic year yet!

As Proverbs so aptly states, "Pride goeth before a fall," and I was about to come down hard.

A mere two weeks before our master schedule was to be put to the test, we found out that our fourth spark plug was on his way.  Two days later, I was leveled with the most severe morning all day sickness I've ever faced (not that this was saying much, since I'd never before had a tremendous amount of prenatal nausea).  It was all I could do to survive the day.  In the morning, I prayed for nap time to come.  In the afternoon, I prayed for nightfall.

I quickly changed my teaching strategy.  Instead of starting off strong and tapering later, we focused on the basics and left extracurriculars for later, assuming I'd feel better later in the school year.  There were no music lessons, no typing instruction, and I didn't get out the Foreign Language CD until three weeks ago.  And there's nothing quite like taking "first day of school" photos 9 weeks into the school year!

Am I discouraged?  Not at all.  This may not have been my plan, but it was God's.  He knew that I wouldn't be feeling well at the start of the school year.  He graciously allowed us those extra days during the summer, knowing that we'll need some unscheduled time off in April when the baby arrives.  He prompted me to work out those assignments months earlier so that when I could barely function, I could at least look at the current day's reading pages and show the boys which section of math to focus on.

While music and other extra academics are fun, there's still plenty of time to focus on them later on.  We have the needed books and CDs for these things so that, when time and health do allow, we'll be ready to jump right in.

For now, the new schedule I'd arranged months ago is working amazingly well.  We're able to focus on our weak areas and we're continuing to grow in our strengths.  The spark plugs are learning some incredible things, and they're remembering what they're learning.  We're discussing and tracking the baby's progress, something I'd never considered studying this year.  (I highly recommend visiting The Bump website for baby updates.  It shows the baby's size based on a different piece of fruit each week, something that young children can easily relate to.) 

This school year may not be anything like what I'd envisioned, but this is much better because it's what the Lord had in store.  From now on, hopefully I'll be less likely to get caught up in my own achievements and will more quickly realize the Lord's leading and preparation for life's crazy twists and turns!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

DIY Lesson Planner

In my last post, I mentioned that I'd developed my own Lesson Planner.  Last year, we used a planner similar to this one, but when my mom-in-law sent me this link for a Unit Study Lesson Planner, I was intrigued.  However, there were a few things about the Unit Study Planner that I didn't care for, and I didn't want to pay much for them, either.  So, I made my own!

First, I experimented with Microsoft Word until I created a layout I thought would work for my needs.  Then, I printed out two sets, one for each school-aged spark plug, bought four sheets of cardstock, and had them bound at Kinko's.  All said and done, I think I paid about $12 for both, rather than the $15 each for the pre-made version.  And, mine's tailored for my personal use as well!

T's is red, his favorite color, and K's is green for the same reason.

Here is T's, above, with block assignments on the left and activities and vocabulary on the right.

K's, above, is backward.  I'll pretend that I wanted to see which layout I like best instead of admitting that this is the result when one doesn't pay close attention to page direction before binding.  :)

I think I will love these.  I can already see, though, that for next year I'll be doing things a bit differently.  For starters, I will buy a slightly higher grade white paper to avoid the ghost imaging from the back sides of the pages.  Secondly, I will take up Kinko's suggestion of adding a plastic sheer cover on the front and back.  Third, printing out a school schedule (shown below) to include would be very helpful (I made our schedule after binding the Lesson Planners - oops!).  These upgrades will raise the cost a bit, but I think I will be happier with the end result if I incorporate them.

As I mentioned earlier, I developed these based on what I think I will need and like for the coming year.  Because of that, I doubt that these would exactly suit anyone else, but if someone would like the Word files for them, either to use as-is or to use as a starter template to alter as needed, leave me a comment or send me an email and I'll be happy to give them out.

Happy planning!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

"It's Over, It's Over, It's Over!!"

(Spark Plugs making "healthy" cookies on the last day of school)

I'm not sure where the lyrics came from, but I distinctly remember in my childhood my mom singing to us, "It's over, it's over, it's over!" whenever a major event had ended.  When the school year finished for us, this was the first thing that popped into my head!

We're now into our fifth week of summer freedom.  The time is flying, as evident by the fact that I'm writing this post four-and-a-half weeks after summer vacation began!  All totaled, we completed just one more day than the minimum California state requirements for public schools.  I briefly felt guilty that we had not aspired to more, but when I thought about the fact that we completed all of our textbooks, never took a sick day, accomplished every goal and more, and only had two half-days in the entire year, I realized how crazy it was for me to think that we'd slacked in any way.

So, how did the school year go?

Looking Back:

As burned out as I got in the final weeks, this year was a banner year for us.  We learned much more than I ever expected, tried more new things than I thought possible, and increased our love of home schooling 10-fold.

Where curriculum is concerned, I LOVED using Modern Curriculum Press for math.  It presented the concepts in very simple, easy-to-follow increments, with lots of review problems to use when needed.

The Weaver Curriculum, which we used for Bible, Social Studies, Language Arts, Science, and Art, definitely had its pros and cons.  I loved how it developed unit studies based on a chronological study through Genesis.  I despised they way we stayed on one verse for months and then flew through multiple chapters in a single sitting.  The hands-on projects were wonderful; the disjointed history lessons were not so (the biggest faux pas that comes to mind is the Social Studies lesson where the parent is instructed to educate the child on George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and the Civil War all in one afternoon).  The preparation time associated with The Weaver, in addition to glaring grammatical and punctuational mistakes, drove me crazy.  Overall, my take on The Weaver is that it's an excellent start; I only wish someone would go in and finish it up, clean it up, and balance it out.

Bob Jones' reading program - sans any busywork assignments - was a perfect fit for us.  We supplemented with McGuffey Readers - may I just say that if everyone were required to read McGuffey's short, moral stories, we would all be better off?  It's amazing to think that these were once the standard literature for the classroom.  How far we have fallen!

For Health, we read through the suggestions in The Weaver but mostly focused on Abeka's Health and Safety.  The Abeka book worked well and was very simple - just my style.

Field trips are also suggested in The Weaver, but the field trip days rarely matched the days that I had the car, so we tended to go with our GRACE home school group on some of their outings instead.  We additionally participated in several nature walks that a friend organized for us.  We greatly enjoyed these as well.

Spelling and handwriting were our toughest subjects, mainly due to our curriculum, or lack thereof.  Since we liked MCP for math, I expected to like MCP's Spelling Workout.  With its jumble of unrelated word groupings, however, it simply did not work for us, even though I did like the spelling activities.  Handwriting simply consisted of left-over work sheets from the previous year in addition to the Creative Writing assignments from The Weaver.  I loved Creative Writing, but the boys' fine motor skills still need some guidance.

Looking Ahead:

For the coming school year, we'll be keeping some things the same and trying a few new ideas.  Since I already own the next volume of The Weaver, we will again be using it for Bible, Social Studies, Language Arts, Science, and Art, as well as adding in Vocabulary this coming year.  (If I still find parts of it as wildly unbalanced as this past year, we may opt to find a new unit study curriculum in the future.)  To supplement, we'll go through Bob Jones' Heritage Studies (Social Studies and History) and Abeka's My America.

We'll use the next levels of Modern Curriculum Press math and Bob Jones' readers.  Health will come from another Abeka Health and Safety book, supplemented by The Weaver just as we did this past year.

Field trips will continue with our GRACE group and nature walks, and I hope to include more of the field trip suggestions from The Weaver when possible.  

Our new spelling curriculum will be Sequential Speller.  It looks as though it will have many spelling activities similar to Spelling Workout but with logical word lists.  I have high hopes for this new method!

For Handwriting, a friend sent us a free download for cursive writing, which T will start in the fall.  Additionally, he'll be practicing writing his spelling words in cursive.  K will try the popular Handwriting Without Tears.

This coming year, I want to introduce T to Logic, Typing (Mavis Beacon, anyone?), and Music.  We won't go in-depth right away, but we should have a lot of fun incorporating new concepts.

One last change for the coming year:  I developed my own Lesson Planner!  I based on the Unit Studies Lesson Planner found here, but I tweaked mine to fit our personal needs.  Once I get them printed and bound, I'll share photos.

And now that I've mentally run through our year, I realize why it was that the house cleaning got neglected and why I was so tired by the time May rolled around.  To think that we should have done more...silly me!

That said, I can't wait for fall!!  It's going to be a blast.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Bootcamp Results

When we decided to do our Life 101 class, I was excited.  REALLY excited.


Well, if a picture is worth a thousand words, I think this one image will explain everything. 

I shall refrain from posting more than one "before" picture to save myself the public humility, but suffice it to say that the above is what happens when Daddy works 5 weekends in a row; when Mommy is fatigued; and when the two-week Monstervirus hits.  Ahem.

As embarrassing as the above photo is, at least it's realistic.  We can't always plan for life events, and when they hit simultaneously, sometimes all we can do is clean up the aftermath.  So, when our house turned into a pig sty hit by a tornado, I was very eager to get things back into shape.

Of course, our experiment didn't go quite as planned:

Monstervirus was only half way over when we started, so instead of getting through the whole house, we cleaned 2 rooms.  Total.  Out of 9.  Not including the porch, grounds, shed, or car.  In an entire week.  Not quite the deep cleaning I had in mind!

With everyone walking around like death warmed over (at least, for those who even got out of bed that week), trying to simultaneously accomplish cleaning and some sort of learning like music appreciation, counting, and/or sorting didn't happen.  I think we listened to one CD the entire week, and L counted to 14 once.  That was it.

Not all was doom and gloom, however.  There were a few bright spots in between the illness, two unplanned trips to the doctor, and attempts at school work:

The kids had a great time and loved being involved...until they got bored and started playing with all the boxes that I was trying to recycle.  And, of course, playing with boxes meant they had to pull out all of their newly organized toys to fill up said boxes.  Sigh.  And giggle.

They actually don't look too sick in this photo, so that's a plus!

There were some lessons learned along the way, as always (at least for me; like I mentioned earlier, I don't know how much the spark plugs learned with their feverish little heads being congested as badly as they were).  

In The Money Saving Mom's Budget, she recommends decluttering to help with finances.  Amy at Amy's Finer Things thought this was a waste of time...until she located two forgotten, uncashed paychecks.  I laughed at her post about it here...until I found a stash of change that I've been collecting from my dryer's lint catcher.  

I guess the joke's on me!

So, see?  It even PAYS to keep a house clean.

A few things that hit me as we worked:

When I first set the bar at eliminating 100 items from each room, I wondered if I'd be able to reach that goal.  Not only did we reach it, but we far exceeded it; and, IT WAS EASY!  I might try again and get rid of another hundred (after we eventually get to the rest of the house, of course).

The plan to include the spark plugs in this deep cleaning and decluttering was good, but it turns out that teaching them to daily pick up their things and return them to their rightful spots of residence is, at this point, a much more needful activity.  It's the daily buildup of dishes and toys out of place that leads to situations in the "before" picture above.  I do plan to do more deep cleaning, and I also plan to enlist their help again, but through the end of the school year, we'll be focusing on tidying up various rooms each day before nap and bedtime.  I think this will be much more efficient in the long run.

I'm very grateful that we made a stab at this, even though it produced completely different results than I'd hoped for.  At least I knew enough not to expect any specific results - life simply doesn't allow for consistency!

One final note to self:  once a room is cleaned, take photos immediately.  Do not wait until Daddy comes home; do not pass "go"; do not even blink!  If you have spark plugs, a pet, or dust bunnies, they will instantaneously render your beautiful new room dirty again.  

Otherwise, you, like me, will leave your dear little blog readers to only speculate what those beautiful rooms once looked like.

Must I admit that I'm pretty sure my "after" photo would so greatly resemble the "before" picture that it's not even worth posting?