Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Homeschool Update: What's Working, What's Not, What We're Doing About It

It's been a while since I have posted about the state of our homeschool.  Not that many people care to know the nitty gritty of our academic life, but I felt like writing about something I know.  I am certainly not a homeschooling expert (still a novice over here!) but I am an expert in our homeschool.  And since we're wrapping up a school year and making plans for the next, this seemed like an appropriate topic.

Of course, this is simply what we're doing and how it's working (or not).  I'm not advocating for any one way of teaching.  And neither do I stand by one particular curriculum.  Some we will keep using because they work very well for us.  Others are working for now, and some are not working at all.  I recognize that every family is in a different place in their schooling journey and that place changes with the growth of our children and other shifts in life.

All that said, here is what we are doing now in our homeschool.

 Arithmetic 3 Work-text   -
What curriculum are we using?
A Beka Math

Who is using it?
Joshua, 7 years, Grade 2, Arithmetic 2
Hannah, 6 years, Grade 1, Arithmetic 1
Abigail, 4 years, pre-K/Kindergarten, Numbers Skills K5

How did we settle on A Beka?
We used A Beka Numbers Skills K5 for Joshua and Hannah in our very first year of homeschooling.  For me, it was easy to use because the lessons are scripted out, but it seemed repetative for the kids and I wanted to see if there was something a little more engaging.  We tried a year of Singapore Math, which was good for developing mathematical thinking skills but it was too teacher-intensive and produced a lot of stress and frustration.

I knew that we needed something low-stress yet thorough, with plenty of math facts practice built into each lesson.  A Beka fit the bill so we made the change in January of this year.
Is it working?
YES!  This curriculum is working well for us.  It is a better fit for Hannah (first grade) and Abigail (kindergarten) than for Joshua (second grade).  This has nothing to do with the second grade curriculum, but is simply a difference in learning style.  It is working well enough for Joshua, however, that we are most likely going to move right along with A Beka and not waste time finding a better fit at this stage.

Why is it working?
We spent most of last year having ditched a formal curriculum for learning and practicing math facts.  For nine months Joshua and Hannah made their way through the addition and subtraction facts using flash cards and an occasional color by number or other worksheet.  It was good at the time and really helped with their memorization of math facts.  However, after nearly a year of that I felt like we needed a change.  This restlessness combined with knowing that we would be giving the kids standardized tests to fulfill Virginia state homeschool law, made changing to a formal curriculum seem like a good choice.

A Beka is filling the need to cover more concepts than memorizing facts while still giving plenty of practice on basic arithmetic.  It is easy for me to use, requires no advanced preparation, and has been flexible enough for me to tweak it to fit into our daily routine.

 Spell to Write and Read   -     By: Wanda Sanseri
What curriculum are we using?
Spell to Write and Read

Who is using it?
Joshua, advanced speller
Hannah, intermediate speller
Abigail, beginner reader and speller

Is it working?
YES!  I have written about this before here and hereThe more I use this program the more I really like it.  The kids are excellent readers and solid spellers.  Each time I go through a section (some I have already been through 5 or more times), I am understanding more of how the English language works.  It's not as complicated and conviluted as some might think.

Probably I have written before, but I will say again that I do not use this program to its fullest potential.  When following all of the suggestions, you can use this set of two books to teach a complete language arts program from beginning reading through upper elementary school and even beyond.  It is a little too much for me to sort out how exactly to do that, so we use it strictly for phonics (leading to reading) and spelling.  We even omit the learning log and are still getting a lot out of this program.

First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind, Level 2  -     By: Jessie Wise
What curriculum are we using?
First Language Lessons 

Who is using it?
Joshua, Level 2
Hannah, Level 1

Is it working?
I think so.  I read all kinds of things about waiting until upper elementary school to introduce grammar and writing.  I also read things about introducing children at a younger age to definitions and the basics of grammar and writing so that when they are older things are familiar to them.  My thought is that by the time kids get to high school and college, the only thing that will matter is if they can write well.  Their college professors aren't going to say, "Oh, wow!  You must not have started grammar until fifth grade!"  Neither will they say, "Incredible!  You must have memorized the definition of a noun when you were only 6 years old!"

Why is it working?
Well, I'm not sure how well First Language Lessons is working.  Joshua and Hannah are very good at memorizing things.  This program definitely plays toward that strength.  However, some application seems to go over their heads.  The lessons are scripted and short.  That means I am able to keep up with them with minimal effort.  I am not a lazy mom.  Neither am I a lazy teacher.  I do, however, have several irons in the fire during school time alone (not to mention the rest of the day) and I know that if I can't keep up with it, the kids won't be learning that subject.

I like the simplicity of this curriculum.  It works well enough for now.  Therefore, we will stick it out and see what results we get in later levels.

Cursive Success Student Workbook Grade 4, Updated Edition    -
What curriculum are we using?
Handwriting Without Tears 

Who is using it?
Joshua, Grade 3 Cursive Handwriting
Hannah, Grade 3 Cursive Handwriting
Abigail, Kindergarten Letters and Numbers for Me 

Is it working?
YES!  You can read more about how and why we switched to this program hereEveryone enjoys handwriting.  Everyone is improving in handwriting.  And, true to its name, it is all without tears.  Amazing!

Why is it working?
It's simple.  After they learn to form letters and hold their pencil correctly the kids can do it on their own.  They love the workbooks!  It really couldn't work any better than that!

Hey, Andrew! Teach Me Some Greek! Level 3 Workbook   -
What curriculum are we using?
Hey, Andrew!  Teach Me Some Greek! 

Who is using it?
Joshua, Started the year with Level 2, Now in Level 3
Hannah, Started the year with Level 2, Now in Level 3 

Is it working?
Yes!  Joshua is attempting to construct sentences in Greek.  He and Hannah enjoy using the books.  They have learned this on their own for the most part (seeing as though neither of their parents currently read Koine Greek).  I'm pretty sure it's working.

Around the World in 180 Days Student Workbook, 2nd Edition  -     By: Sherrie Payne
What curriculum are we using?
Around the World in 180 Days
A Beka History of the World in Christian Perspective
Public Library, Juvenile NonFiction 900's

Who is using it?
Joshua, Around the World in 180 Days, Grade 7 History of the World in Christian Perspective
Hannah, Around the World in 180 Days, Public Library Juvenile NonFiction 900's

Is it working?
Yes and no.

So, this is a little more complex than math or handwriting simply because the kids work at varying grade-levels and this subject can't be qualified very easily.  We started off the year using the public library to check out books of the kids' interest.  They read about things from ancient civilizations to men landing on the moon.  You can read about how we did that here.  But they needed more structure.

Why is it working?  Why isn't it working?
In an attempt to find something we could all do together, we tried Around the World in 180 Days.  I like the idea, but couldn't really pull it off.  Getting books on hold from a fairly small library system was challenging.  Guiding two young elementary students through the process of reading various books in order to find answers to specific questions was tedious and too time-consuming for me.

Joshua did great with it.  I threw a packet of questions and maps at him along with a stack of books and some atlases and he finished two units without much trouble (or effort, for that matter).  He needed more of a challenge.  For Hannah it was more challenging and frustrating.  She is younger than Joshua and her strengths lie in different areas.  She needed something more age-appropriate.

Joshua has recently switched to A Beka History of the World in Christian Perspective.  I will start by saying that I had no idea that I handed him a seventh grade level book.  I really didn't.  We bought a used copy, along with a few other Christian history textbooks, to help us along with the Around the World curriculum.  The book does not say what grade it is intended for.  When he finished units on Antarctica and Australasia, did two extra activities and reports, and I didn't have the next unit ready for him I realized this approach wasn't going to work.  So, I grabbed a textbook from the shelf and said, "Read this, define the bold terms, and answer any questions you see."  He is doing great with it!

Hannah has gone back to the willy-nilly, ready-what-you-feel-like method.  It's not bad, but she is lacking direction and doesn't have the a strong interest in the subject to be self-driven.  For now we are just finishing out the year.  But we will be doing something different with her next year.

Exploring Creation with Botany, Textbook   -     By: Jeannie Fulbright
What curriculum are we using?
Apologia Exploring Creation with Botany
Public Library, Juvenile NonFiction (I can't remember the call numbers - anything from plants to animals to innovations)

Who is using it?
Joshua, Apologia Exploring Creation with Botany
Hannah, Public Library Juvenile NonFiction

Is it working?
Yes and no.

This is very similar to our story of history and geography curriculum.  Joshua needed more structure and direction, so early this year we set him to work through the Apologia textbooks.  Hannah has continued with the library approach but is at a point of needing more direction.  She will be switching next year.

Why is it working?  Why isn't it working?
Apologia is working well for Joshua.  It is pretty thorough without being overwhelming.  The text is easy to read and gives in-depth information and explanations.  I like that it isn't full of cartoons and that the text doesn't sound like it's from a toddler board book.  We will definitely continue using these textbooks.

What isn't working are the projects.  It is hard to keep up with things like this.  Claude is taking care of holding Joshua accountable with his projects, but many of them Joshua does in the morning and then moves on before Claude or I even know he's done it.  Honestly, I haven't checked his science notebook in several weeks.  And since he is one to value completing assignments quickly rather than being thorough, I have no idea how he's really doing.

I know...bad mom.  Bad, bad homeschool mom.  This is why I need summer.  A chance to stop the madness of the daily school grind and be inspired to want to check the science notebook.  Oh, yeah...and give birth, recover, figure out how to do life with six children, and then jump back into a new school year.  Sounds like a recipe for being able to check all the schoolwork, doesn't it?  ;)

Latin's Not So Tough! Level 1 Workbook   -     Typing Instructor for Kids Platinum on CD-ROM   -

Joshua will be adding two new subjects next year.  He needs a little more challenge and stimulation.  Plus, there are a couple of skills he needs to begin working on.  His new subjects will include keyboarding and Latin.

Why keyboarding?
Because it's a necessary skill and he has had very little practice using a computer or keyboard of any sort.  I think he'll have fun since it will seem more like a game than a school subject.  Since I'm the mean ogre mom who makes him slave away over assignments all day this may be a breath of fresh air for him.

Why Latin?
Because it's a necessary skill and...oh, wait.  That's not the reason!

When asked what subjects he would really like to study in school he said, "Hebrew, Latin, Geography, and Space."  Joshua has a knack for languages.  He is picking up Greek very easily and is interested in developing his own codes and secret languages.  He also says that one day he wants to write books for people to understand difficult things like the book of Revelation, the Rapture, and the Millenial Kingdom.

Biblical languages are a natural fit for him.  As is Latin and maybe Elvish.  Hebrew will probably come in time, but of the two languages Latin seemed like a better choice for an 8-year-old.

With all that in mind, here's what the plans are for next year:

History of the World in Christian Perspective, Fifth Edition  -
Joshua, 8 years, Grade 3 
Math: A Beka Arithmetic 3  
Spelling: Spell to Write and Read, Wise Guide for Spelling (Finishing!)
Grammar: First Language Lessons Level 3
Handwriting: Handwriting Without Tears Grade 4 Cursive Success
Keyboarding: Typing Instructor
Latin: Latin's Not So Tough Level 1
Greek: Hey, Andrew! Teach Me Some Greek! Levels 3 and 4
History and Geography: History of the World in Christian Perspective
Science: Apologia Exploring Creation Series (TBD; Possibly Astronomy)

Our American Heritage: People in U.S. History, Fourth Edition--Grade 3  -
Hannah, 7 years, Grade 2
Math: A Beka Arithmetic 2
Spelling: Spell to Write and Read, Wise Guide for Spelling
Grammar: First Language Lessons, Level 2
Handwriting: Handwriting Without Tears Grade 4 Cursive Success
Greek: Hey, Andrew! Teach Me Some Greek! Level 3
History and Geography: A Beka Our American Heritage
Science: Apologia Exploring Creation with Botany

My First Bob Books: Beginning Readers, Set 1   -     By: Bobby Lynn Maslen
    Illustrated By: John R. Maslen
Abigail, 5 years, Kindergarten
Math: A Beka Numbers Skills K5 and Arithmetic 1 
Phonics / Reading / Spelling: Spell to Write and Read, Wise Guide for Spelling, BOB Books, Home Library, Public Library
Handwriting: Handwriting Without Tears Kindergarten Letters and Numbers for Me and Grade 1 My Printing Book

We have made a number of changes to our curriculum mid-year.  This is the first time we have done this, and I do hope it's the last.  It won't be, but I can dream, right?  I like routine.  I like things that work.  I like making plans that we can actually stick with and that will succeed.  But, I do like a change of pace every once in a while and I do not like when things are not going well.

As we are in the final weeks of our third year on this homeschool path, I think we are settling into some curriculum choices that will likely stand the test of time.  Things that fit into our ever-crazier daily routines are not things I will toss out the window with the changing of the winds.  We are learning what works, what doesn't, and when to make changes.

So, what have you been doing in your homeschool recently?  What is working?  What isn't working?  What are you doing about it?

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Is It Friday Yet?

Oh, wait...Friday won't take away my troubles.

Is it Saturday, then?

Ummm...no.  Saturday will have no more success taking away the daily distresses than Friday had.


I guess I just need to hold on and hang in for the long haul.

In the mean time, I will pretend that Claude and I were not woken up sometime in the middle of night by a 45 minute tantrum.

No, it wasn't a night terror.  It was a full-fledged "I didn't get what I wanted so I'm going to scream as loud as I possibly can for as long as I can stand it to see if you'll give in" fit.

I will also pretend that the morning has not included another hour of screaming and outright disobedience from the afrementioned middle of the night tantrum thrower.

No, this child is not ill.  This child simply wants his/her own way.

Instead, I already took a few minutes to stand on our giant porch.  I listened to the birds chirping and the general calming sounds of nature.  Of course, I ignored the sound of cars racing down out little country highway and the smell of the trash cans that were sitting right in front of me.

I snapped the below photograph before heading inside.

This is the view from our kitchen window.  Green.  Crisp.  Spring.  Isn't it beautiful?

Now, I will poor a cup of tea and continue on with the morning routine as usual.

And wait for Friday in the hope that it will start off a better foot than Thursday has.

Monday, May 4, 2015

All Shapes and Sizes

After our firstborn, we kind of thought we had seen it all.  Super strong will.  Super intense personality.  Pushing the boundaries - discipline-wise and also academically.

As an infant he didn't sleep well at night.  In fact, he was two years old before he ever slept through the night.  The Lord humbled us very quickly with that first experience.

And, because He knows better than we do, God continues to humble us even today.

Until our fifth child, we never had a "runner".  You know, those kids that won't stay with their parent out in public?  In the blink of an eye they are across the playground, in the middle of the street, or lost in the crowd.

Four kids we have had.  Four kids who hold on to the stroller and stick by our side very consistently.  I have never had to chase a child down.  We haven't had any that run off just for the fun of it.  Quite frankly, they have probably been too afraid.  They like to stay within at least some of the boundaries placed around them.  :)

Until now.

Meet Rachel.

She runs.  She runs without regard to how far away she may get from the rest of the Crew.  No fear here.  She will now hold on to the stroller only because she wants to be like her older brothers and sisters.  Praise the Lord for years of training the older ones to stick together!

Not only does Rachel run, but she shrieks.  Yes.  I do mean shrieking.  This is not merely fussing or crying.  At birth she took a few minutes to let out a good cry.  We were a bit concerned until we heard it - the loudest newborn cry that graced our ears up to that point.  She continues to be loud.  I guess it's necessary being the fifth in line.  She won't get overlooked around here, that's for certain!

And, that's not all.  Rachel runs.  Rachel shrieks.  And Rachel hits.  When she gets angry she raises her hand in readiness to smack the nearest offending object.  Sometimes it's Jeremiah's head.  Sometimes it's even Daddy or Mommy's arm or leg.  No bounds does her temper currently know.

Lastly, Rachel throws.  She really does.  Upset that Mom gave you water instead of peanut butter?  Chuck the cup.  Angry that you have to go down for a nap when you would rather build with Duplos?  Chuck the nearest block.

She is fiery.  She is a fighter.  And she is learning that these outbursts are not appropriate ways to express her personality.

We thought we had seen it all.  Now the super strong will, intense personality, pushing the boundaries kind of kid is wrapped up in 23 pounds of cuddly Rachel goodness.  Although we have learned many valuable lessons with our other children, we are out of our reckoning...again.

You can have a handful of kids.  You can think you've seen it all.  But friends, you haven't.  We haven't.  No one has.

Let's be humble.  Before you go and judge that mother whose son runs into the parking lot at every opportunity, remember that you haven't seen it all.  Your kids just may not be runners.  Before you try and explain how easily you potty-trained your daughter, remember that your kid is not your friend's kid.  Your child may just have a knack for keeping her pants dry.  Before you launch into the best and only way for your neighbor's child to sleep through the night, preface it by saying this is just what worked for you.  It may not work for someone else.

Kids come in all shapes and sizes.  Their temperaments vary greatly even within the same family unit.  Their personalities, individual bents, and quirks are not duplicated in any other little person.  If you're like me, maybe it takes having several different children to really get this - not just to say it, but to really know it.  But if you're wiser than I am, which you probably are, learn it now.

All shapes.  All sizes.  One amazing Creator.  And a bunch of perplexed parents.  I guess we're in need of grace because there's no way we're going to find a formula with this kind of mess!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Snapshots: Camping

I'm not exactly the "funnest" mom on the block.  When it comes to special outings and little extras I just don't do very well. I enjoy spending time with the kids, but the days are full of meals, dishes, laundry, schoolwork, diaper changes, and discipline.  Of course, they are also full of cuddles, laughs, funny things the little guys say, and interesting conversations with the older crew.

In an attempt to be fun and spontaneous, I planned a little escapade for last weekend.  Claude was out at a 50K, camping overnight in the little van so as not to miss an early morning start.  I thought, why not take the kids camping while he was away?

Before you start thinking that I'm some kind of super mom, just check out our campsite.

Our very large toy room (soon to be occasional guest room) seemed like the perfect spot for our 9 person tent.  Of course, it had to actually fit.

Which it did.  Perfectly.

We started our campout with a rousing game of Memory.

The kids were bouncing off the walls (literally...if they could defy gravity they would have been up and down and all around the walls and ceiling).  The excitement was extreme, and they didn't even know that we were sleeping in the tent.  They were wired from a day of merely playing in the tent.

I went for easy, camping kind of food - hot dogs and frozen peas (still frozen) served in coffee filters.

*Note: Coffee filters are my new favorite way to serve everything from hot dogs and sandwiches, to popcorn and pickles.  Try them.  They are awesome.  Cheap.  Compact in the trash.  No washing necessary.

Next we enjoyed S'mores, which I made in the oven.  Half a marshmallow, two pieces of chocolate, and a two graham cracker halves.  The kids each had about three, but even with that their sugar intake was significantly less than if we had used full marshmallows and twice as much chocolate.

Everyone thoroughly enjoyed them.

Here are a few of the messy faces.

While the older three kiddos watched "Milo and Otis" (which, by the way, scared Abby immensely), I sat upstairs to monitor the little guys.  They did well, but boy did they blow a lot of raspberries before they finally conked out.  My lips were tingly and then numb just listening to them!

And then, before I knew it, everyone was sound asleep.  One was even snoring.  One claimed to have stayed awake the whole night.  :)

And then Rachel woke up three times in the night.

And then she cuddled with me on my mattress and we slept for a while.  And then she woke up, walked all over the tent, and brought things to drop on my head.  And then she toddled down the stairs with me at 5am because I finally caved and decided to give her a bottle of milk.

We slept beautifully after that.  :)

And then the morning came and with it the metldowns and grumpy attitudes I had feared.  Saturday was a bit rough and I was so glad when Claude walked through the door!

We had fun.  Made some memories.  And learned some rules about tent dwelling.  Now that we've had a practice run maybe we'll attempt a "real" camping trip!