Homeschooling

Fall 2013–the best-laid plans…

Well, after all my planning, I ended up scrambling a whole lot of things over the summer!

Still on Tapestry.  Still on Singapore Math.  But we went to a curriculum fair and I have come to realize a few more things, and… pretty much everything else has not quite ended up as I planned! But now that we are working through our first week, it’s all official—if still subject to change!

DSC05537

The first thing is, I switched to A Beka phonics.  Now, I really don’t like A Beka.  I don’t like what I have read about their business practices, I don’t like their prices, and I don’t like their theology or their rampant civicism.  But…  While feeling like I still don’t know anything and wishing that I had majored in early childhood education instead of secondary education, I have nonetheless come to the conclusion that I have been going about teaching reading all the wrong way.  I think I have been too laid-back and random.  E got a hold of math really well, with very little effort on my part, and I thought reading would be the same way, that learning was just a natural process that needed to be facilitated.  But it didn’t work.  So, while she knows a lot more than the beginning of A Beka Letters and Sounds K5, we are starting in the beginning, doing all the exercises, all the games, all the chalkboard stuff, everything—and we’re taking R along for the ride.  They’re doing the exact same thing.  It will be a lot of review for E, and a real challenge for R, but they really enjoy doing it together and I am hoping it will serve as a good foundation for R, while cementing a lot of concepts that E didn’t get so well (particularly blending), while building her confidence and mine.  A Beka is supposedly about a grade ahead of most other curricula, so while it kills me that my otherwise-first-grader is doing a K5 curriculum, I’m trying to be very chill about it and just ignore the “K5” on the cover. :)  And for R, I’m not really expecting her to master the concepts, just to do her best, and then next year we would either move on to something only incrementally more difficult for mastery, or, if she does better than I expect her to, she could keep on with E.  They don’t seem to mind doing the same thing.  I even have L in on the fun and am hoping he at least picks up his letters, if not his letter sounds, from the exercises. (For him, I am supplementing with extra preschool-oriented worksheets centered around the same letters that the girls are working on.)

I will say that the experience has given me a great determination to be more purposeful in earlier schooling, and I am pursing a more systematic preschool curriculum for L so that he might have a better foundation than E did when he gets to this point.  That’s my hope, anyway!

I also changed science.  We went to a homeschool fair and there was an Apologia Science display, and I looked at it and really liked it.  It is designed such that the whole family studies science together, with different levels of activities and notebooking for the different grades.  I really like doing school together.  It also, instead of doing every science subject in every grade year after year, picks one major area (botany, animal science, anatomy, astronomy, etc.) and spends a whole year going into great depth on it.  That seems a lot more conducive to learning.  Then, after I’d decided on it, and went through to compile my supplies lists and pick our experiments and projects for the year, I was even more impressed because it’s full of things that are really hands-on but also use affordable/available supplies and are easily adapted to a wide age range.  The only thing I really don’t like about it is the textbook is very word-heavy and has few pictures (and some is downright clipart-looking) and it isn’t bound very well.  The text itself is fine, but the formatting just is not very appealing, and it’s hard for small children to be engaged with so many lines of unbroken text.  All three children do science together with very different expectations of their participation.

I’ve also added subjects.  We are doing First Language Lessons for grammar, which are really short auditory lessons that all three children participate in, which fits well with our school day, A Reason for Handwriting (A & K) for handwriting (I don’t like A Beka’s), Draw Write Now for an art supplement, and Polished Cornerstones for a “character”/home economics supplement.  I should add that none of these is terribly time-intensive, nor do I try to do them all every day (except for handwriting).  But it is good to have them on my weekly schedule and work them in here and there. Smile

Homeschooling

Homeschool Day Book — Review

I have been hunting for the perfect homeschool planner for months.  And finally ended up with an Excel spreadsheet and a whole bunch of paper printouts.  Still not thrilled with that solution.

But when I read about a record keeper that let you put things in after finishing them, it seemed like it had the potential to be a good fit for us: I could keep my spreadsheet for planning ahead, but then keep track of what we actually did in a neat little program.

So… how did it work?  We just started our school year so I decided to give it a whirl.

One area that Homeschool Day Book really shines is in simplicity.  It took me less than ten minutes to put in our three students and all our subjects.  Similarly, it has been taking very little time for me to enter what we did – less than five minutes. If I’d put the program on a laptop that I kept in the schoolroom (this would have been smart) then it really would be effortless.  I love how easy it is to tick which subject each lesson falls into (this would make field trips, for instance, really easy to categorize), and that each lesson can include any combination of students.  You can also record how long you spent on each activity, and add a “description” to explain what you actually did.  This could be really useful for those who aren’t using textbooks or who need detailed notes to compile for the state.  So far that is not me, however, so I am just putting the page/lesson numbers in the title and leaving the description blank.  It works well.

Then there are the reports:

image

And this, to me, is the weakness of Homeschool Day Book: there just aren’t quite enough options on the reports. And I would love to be able to export all my data to CSV or some such readable format so that I’m not locked into the program’s report options.  For me, the major thing the reports are lacking is the subject name.  You can print subjects when you do the “Time Spent Per Subject/Date” reports, but the “Entries” report (seen above) doesn’t include the subject names at all… leading one to wonder what on earth “Cooked Cornbread” was supposed to fall into (it was actually part of our kindergarten phonics exercise).  This would be a handy option.  The reports are neatly formatted and sensibly divided by date, subject, or child, so this is kind of a minor quibble, but honestly, the inability to export the data wholesale would make me really question the wisdom of entering my information in every day, day after day, and then be limited to these few report options that the program provides.  I can think of lots of ways I might want to format the data, but will never be able to.  That said, the program is so simple and fast to use, and light to run, that I might use it anyway.  They’ve really put together something that excels in simplicity, and that’s a good thing.  “Reports” is just a little too simple.

The last point is the price: I downloaded the trial to do a review, and popped over to check out the price, and it’s $39!  That’s a lot, for something that you could do with just a spreadsheet (admittedly a sloppy and hard-to-print spreadsheet, but still).  If it was half that, I would say, that’s fair, and I would consider paying it myself for the convenience and simplicity of the thing.  I would also think about paying that much if it was web-based so I could access it across computers, because I bounce from one computer to another all day, and having to go upstairs to enter information on “my” computer is a small hassle.  If it was $29 instead, I would think it was pricey but would still consider it.  I understand that in some ways, $39 is not so much since it is a permanent license, and it is a useful, niche program, and if I used it every year for twelve grades, then $39 would be an absolute steal.

To conclude… on the one hand, I do think I’d be more likely to use this than any other planning software I’ve tried.  It is so easy and requires so little time.  It’s easy to understand, easy to get started, and easy to be up and running in less than a half hour.  It’s practical.  On the other hand, the fact that I’m limited to the predefined (and few) “reports” to get my data back out again… I’m not so keen on that. And honestly, that is what is making me waver about whether or not I’m going to continue using it.  My advice would be: wait until you start school, then check out the trial, take a good look at the reports, and if you’re happy with what they generate, then this could be a great solution. Smile

Disclaimer: I was offered a free license for the software in exchange for writing a review. It did not impact my opinion.
Homeschooling

Fall homeschool planning.

DSC05197

So, next fall we will, Lord willing, begin our first foray into 1) official, state-registered homeschooling, and 2) first grade.  And so I am attempting to make sure that we are covering all our bases, and covering them well!  Because I am expecting to be greatly pregnant by the time we begin, and have a newborn halfway through the year, I am trying to do as much planning ahead as I possibly can.  I have my lesson plans broken down to the weekly level for the entire year, and am beginning to work through which specific activities we’ll do.  I am planning for a long winter break from Thanksgiving through New Years, because I’m sure otherwise school will fall apart then anyway until we settle into the routine of a new baby.  That long break also means that we are beginning in August, and running through the end of May.  When our year isn’t planning to be interrupted by a newborn, I would ideally like to plan 9-week terms separated by substantial multi-week breaks and run year-round.  But this year, I think we need one big fat break in the middle instead.

Our core curriculum, although it is treated as more of “dessert” at the early stages, is Tapestry of Grace.  This is a classical curriculum, in four yearly cores, which repeat three times each throughout the schooling experience, covering a multitude of subjects from history, social studies, English, composition, philosophy, government, rhetoric, and geography.  The first year, which we are doing at lower grammar level, is the Ancient World.  The thing I am most excited about is that all students, regardless of age, are centered around the same basic part of history every week, while the activities, expectations, and reading and writing assignments are tailored to each student’s individual level. So, for instance, one week the lower grammar child may be learning about the geography of Egypt and the importance of the Nile to the local economy, building pyramids and making Egyptian headdresses, while the rhetoric-level teenager may be writing a 10-page essay analyzing the intricacies of the ancient Egyptian religion and its influence on later philosophy.  I think this is a great opportunity for larger families to maintain a lot of cohesion while also meeting each child’s academic needs, and I am excited to see how it plays out as the years go on!  I am intending to repeat this year almost exactly in four years with E2, rather than E1, in the student role (while E1 would have moved on to an upper grammar approach to the material), so in addition to trying to make meticulous plans beforehand, I am going to try to keep detailed notes and lists as we go along.  I will say, the books seem a little ambitious with only a first-grader and a kindergartener; I am expecting it to go a little haphazardly, but then of course the next time around we will use the same books except then we will have a 2nd grader and 3rd grader as well, Lord willing, because by the time the cycle repeats, even if E1 is moved on to upper grammar, the younger ones will still all be lower grammar.  So I’m definitely looking at this year as a low-stress test drive of the material and the course structure.

For science, I honestly didn’t agonize over the decision very much.  I’ve looked at many lower-grade science curricula, and they all seem incredibly similar.  This one is MacMillian/McGraw-Hill, 2nd grade (because we’ve already been doing “first grade” for quite some time—early science is easy and our kids love science!), and I picked it because it was incredibly affordable (widely available used), and has a good website with lots of supplementary videos, and is simply structured with review questions and suggested experiments all right within the text.  I am planning to keep our kids “together” for science in at least pairs, which seems doable to me because the high school sciences don’t necessarily have to go in order, so we can simply reshuffle partners around as necessary to make sure everyone gets the right curriculum at the right grade level.

For math, we are continuing into Singapore Primary Mathematics 1A and 1B for E1, and Singapore Essential Math Kindergarten A and B for R.  I like Singapore, and so do the kids!  From what I’ve read, it is pretty well leveled with Saxon, so I am intending at this point to switch to Saxon once we are out of early elementary… or not.

For phonics/reading, I have not been able to “plan” it very well, because it has seemed like more of a brain development issue than a textbook/teachable issue.  With that said, I have been pretty pleased with EPS Primary Phonics, and we worked through the K book last year and are currently working through the 1 book, so I am hoping to begin the 2 book by fall and begin, at some point (probably earlier than fall), the K book with R.  We also use lots of supplementary materials, games, and computer programs.  Once such which was recently recommended is Phonics Pathways, which I’m going to try to draw all the kids into.

Lastly, preschool… L will be our youngest-yet “preschooler,” and my plan so that I can actually teach the girls is to assemble a number of “busy boxes” for him so that when I need him distracted, he can sit at the table and work on his schooltime-only special exciting activity/toy.  I am expecting that with both Tapestry and science, he can sit with us as we read together and even do his own semblance of many of the activities—not necessarily to absorb any of the learning, but at least for distraction purposes.  So it will be more when we are doing the “seatwork” of math and reading that I will be trying to distract him with his busy boxes, and hopefully at some point in the year he can begin his own workbooks.  We have had good experiences with the Rod & Staff Preschool Workbooks, which are by far the most well-suited to very young children that I have ever come across.

Homeschooling

On the first day of school…

Julie / September 5, 2012

DSC01346

Oh they are growing up.  This is the first year we are going to really “do school,” in a formal way—we’ve been kind of sporadic up until now, thanks to pregnancy and such major life changes. Smile  But now we’re on!

Ellie is four.  So not legally allowed to begin kindergarten in our state… yes, I actually wrote to the Department of Education and asked!  And that REALLY frustrated me because we’ve been doing kindergarten math texts and first grade science, so what am I supposed to do next year?!?! So I am waiting to formally enroll until next year, and then we’ll just start with first grade. It makes it less stressful, anyway, because if kindergarten doesn’t work out the way I think it will, we still have a whole extra year if we need it.  But my intention is to formally enroll as first grade next fall, if we get through all the state kindergarten standards before then.

We’ve settled on Essential Math Kindergarten A & B by Singapore Math for our math curriculum, which we started working through eight months ago (and then stopped when I found out about six months ago that we wouldn’t be allowed to start kindergarten this year) and will now begin again; and Explode the Code for English/phonics.  We had been doing the preschool Code books but they weren’t very hard and were a bit boring for her, so I bumped her up to book 1.  So far so good!  We’re actually doing the online version now.  There are some other books I am testing out for other English supplemental skills, and we have also been doing the BOB Books, which Ellie has really enjoyed.  We’re also doing Beginning Geography and Everyday Literacy: Science for science.

It was really exciting today (day two) to begin on the online version of Explode the Code and see Ellie actually READING words, all by herself, without hints!  She was typing and spelling and – it was a happy thing to see… just totally basic words and not without mistakes, but it was neat to be kind of removed from the situation a little bit myself and see what she actually knows on  her own, and I was surprised!  She totally hides what she knows until she knows it really, really well, so it’s often hard for me to gauge how well she’s doing.  That said, I can tell she’s going to get bored with the program (at least I think she will) so I need to come up with some kind of reward system.  It gives her virtual “stickers” so it should be easy to translate that to something in the real world.

Rowan is two and wants to do everything her sister does, so she does school too!  Hers is really a mismash of various preschool workbooks, including lots of skill books and the Rod & Staff Pre-K3 workbooks and Pre-K4 workbooks.  The Pre-K3 books, as an aside, are the first textbooks I’ve found at all that are genuinely doable by a two-year-old.  She’s been able to do them for a while.  We’re also going to do the A Beka Pre-K 4 curriculum, which Ellie did not have the patience for at all but I think Rowan will do well.

For both girls we have manipulative/toys (like tangrams, counting objects, letter tiles, etc.) but I tend not to incorporate those into technical “schooltime!” and instead we do them throughout the day.  I want to start doing more science experiments too—we did a little impromptu experiment on displacement this week and it was a ton of fun!  Ellie just soaks it all up and I love explaining how things work.

We do Bible stories and Bible coloring for Bible—all three crayoning munchkins participate.  During the rest of schooltime so far, Liam wanders around and makes messes. Winking smile  I seriously need to figure out what to do with him while I help the girls!

Homeschooling, Printables

Another pre-k printable.

Julie / September 15, 2010
(Note that the pages are out of order on the PDF so that they will print in order after they’re folded.)

So this is probably becoming obvious, but I really like putting together my own little bits of curriculum to use in school with E.  First there was the Twinkle Twinkle Totbook, and now I’m putting together a little series of books to use with sight-words to help E get the general idea of “reading.”  I have the A Beka sets (which both Seth and I learned from as wee ones ourselves!), and while I like them and will definitely use them once we’ve moved on to phonetics, right now they’re too phonics-oriented.  I’m kind of on board with the whole sight-words-first theory–right now I just want her to understand what words are, that they’re composed of letters, and that they tell stories.  Because the A Beka books are oriented towards teaching groups of sounds (and sometimes only sounds), their stories are less cohesive and story-like than E is really interested in, and because they’re aimed at older kids (the ones with real, whole words are K5), they throw a lot of words at you at once.

So I’m making my own, since little books are a very simple project, and this way I can custom-tailor them to E’s interests!  This is the first book.  It’s eight pages, all with illustrations and a “word list” that points out the new words on each page.  If you have a double-sided printer (or a way to figure out which way to flip the pages and when!) then this prints up very nicely on just two pieces of letter-sized paper, plus one for the flashcards.  There are sixteen words, which I think is a very graspable amount for a preschooler.  In future minibooks, I’ll try to keep as many of these words as possible (mainly by keeping the same tenses and sentence constructions) so that the total number of new words will not be as high.

So, that’s my Works for Me Wednesday: I like resorting to my computer instead of combing the homeschool curriculum catalogs!  (And WFMW visitors, please check out the totbook!)  I’m planning to continue making totbooks and obviously to continue my little series of preschool sight-word reading books as well.

Homeschooling, Printables

Twinkle, Twinkle “Totbook”

Julie / September 10, 2010

I finally finished my first “totbook,” or lapbook aimed at 2-3 year olds.  I am much more a fan of simply putting all the pieces into a envelope than actually attaching them to folders, but I included little mini-packs to assemble for all the pieces nevertheless.  🙂

totbook

It’s based on Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.  Here’s what’s included:

  • Overview / Further Suggestions: a brief description of each activity, and detailed suggestions on tying the study into Bible time.
  • Connect the Colors: Connect the dots worksheet, except for little ones too young to understand sequencing and numerals–simply connect the colored dots instead! A star appears when completed.
  • Can You Count the Stars: a simple card game, with sixteen cards with varying numbers of stars on them. Ask child to identify which card has how many stars, how many stars are on each card, which card has more stars, etc. Includes two cards for each number, so can also do matching.
  • Constellation Connections: a worksheet where students form their own “constellations” by drawing connecting lines between matching letters.
  • Stars and Diamonds: a same/different matching game, these eight cards can each be matched up with a different card by matching either color or shape, but not both! A step more difficult than simple matching.
  • Pin the Stars on the Sky: the child can cut and paste the stars into “outer space” (avoiding the Earth), or the parent can pre-cut. Either way, teaching the concept of boundaries and appropriateness, so that the child puts the stars where they belong not on Earth!
  • Big Star, Little Star: a very simple ordering game. Arrange stars from smallest to largest, or stack from largest to smallest, so that all stars may be seen at once.
  • Twinkle Tracing: improving eye-hand coordination in preparation for writing: a variety of star shapes and sizes for little ones to trace and color.
  • Simple Star Puzzles: two very simple puzzles to cut out, 2″“ and 3-piece, to develop students’ spatial abilities.
  • Twinkle, Twinkle, Real Stars: a small book (8 pages) with full-page photographs (mostly from NASA’s archives) and simple scientific facts about stars, from the sun to the universe. Available in two sizes; both print on regular letter-sized paper.
  • Free to use and link to, but do not redistribute online.  Permission is granted to redistribute offline, e.g. within a school, but credit in footer must remain intact.

    Homeschooling

    School ““ some reflections.

    Julie / September 6, 2010

    1239803_52913220

    “Doing school” has changed our little lives. 

    I’m not being very rigid about it–E is usually very eager (more than I am) for “dool time!” and so I haven’t really needed to push her at all.  Focus, yes, but not push.  Which I guess is a good thing.

    I’m very surprised, though, by how much more attuned I am to what she does and doesn’t know, and how rapidly she is picking things up.  Intentional instruction is definitely making a big difference!  She’s really latched on to the alphabet and goes around pointing out letters even when we’re not in “school” and asks, quite often, what various words / letters / numbers are that she sees.  She also must have picked up a lot more from Blue’s Clues or Dora than I ever would have thought that she would she knows a good number of letters that I haven’t taught her yet.  Conversely, there are some concepts in the “same/different” category of learning that it just blows my mind that she doesn’t understand–but she doesn’t.  I guess this is something we haven’t really run across in our daily lives, that S and I haven’t been pointing out to her.  But, see, formal school means I know this giant gap exists now, and we’ve been working on it together and she’s starting to understand more!

    It is more work than just playing was.  We spend maybe an hour and half or so per day–although a very big part of me likes the “four day schoolweek” and so Fridays occasionally fall by the wayside–usually our time is consecutive, but sometimes it gets split in two pieces.  I’ve started making use of the time after breakfast to get E started on various tasks that work well at our dining room table by herself: tracing, coloring, and critical thinking exercises.  She works on those while I do my morning chores, which works surprisingly well.  So I guess in one way, it’s less work because it definitely adds a lot of structure to our morning, which everyone seems to like.  But it’s a lot more work because I’m having to do a lot of planning and assembling activities that I wasn’t doing before.

    I finally got some giant folders this past week which I divvied out the activities and worksheets into, and another multi-pocket folder which I’m going to use to divide up the activities on the weekend for the upcoming week–based loosely on this modified workbox system.  One folder per day, with maybe some sticky notes for things that don’t fit in the folders.  I did finally get my act together last week enough to sit down and figure out what my formal subjects actually are, what activities fall in the purview of which subjects, and what days I want to focus on each subject. 

    It’ll all work out eventually.  I’m definitely becoming a big proponent of this kind of early schooling, though: it’s beginning to seem like quite a waste of everyone’s mental resources to just coast around PLAYING.