Friday, October 23, 2009

Week 8, Toronto trip, Week 9!

It's been a while since my last post because we took a week off in mid-October for a road trip to visit my in-laws in Toronto, something we have never done in the fall due to conflicts with my kids' school schedules. No longer an issue! My husband usually has some sort of fall break period so we took advantage of it and of our flexible schedule. So our week 8 was split into two, with two days occurring before we left for Toronto and the remainder completed after we returned. Just a couple of photos with highlights of our trip which included an apple-picking outing (brr! chilly day! but yummy apples...can't beat that fresh-off-the-tree taste!) and a visit to the Ontario Science Center. Thanks to Uncle Mike and Auntie Esther for taking all the photos since our camera is currently in disrepair!

The downside of returning mid-week was t
hat I felt the need to jump back into school while trying to dig out of travel clutter, no easy task. As such, it was a somewhat disjointed week and probably not one of our better ones in terms of retention and creative activities. But we were back to normal by week 9. So I'll just combine our week 8 and week 9 updates!
  • Harry completed Singapore Math 1A and did well on the placement test I used to gauge his progress. He only had a little trouble with the ordinals and once I explained them to him, he was good to go. It feels great to have that foundation under our belts and now on to 1B! So far he is cruising through the new book, which I think is reflective of all the work we did starting this summer on firming up his math facts. He is still not perfect at them, but he's so much better than where he was at the end of 1st grade, which has been very gratifying to see.
  • We've kept up with our usual mix of Classical Writing Primer, First Language Lessons, handwriting and spelling...nothing particularly exciting to report here, except that I'm seeing much nicer printing from Harry when he tries his best. He has also started cursive and that's been going slowly but steadily.
  • In Adventures, we learned about Benjamin Franklin, including a number of facts that I never knew outside of his experiments with kites and lightning (he was the founder of the academy that became the University of Pennsylvania; he founded the first public library; he founded the first fire department, etc.) Quite the remarkable inventor, not to mention statesman and ambassador! Now I better understand why he is one of only two people depicted on U.S. currency who was not a sitting president (Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill being the other).
  • George Washington was our focus for week 9, and as I speak the older two boys are enjoying a Nest Entertainment video on Washington, who is crossing the Delaware at this very moment. I usually let the boys watch an educational history video on Fridays if the Adventures curriculum recommends one. It's a fun way for them to end the week after reading and hearing so much about the main characters. They also made their own version of tricorn hats to emulate those that were in style in Washington's day.
  • We also did a brief study of rocks and the composition of the earth. This was the topic that first introduced me to the complexities of talking about the age of the earth. I've discovered that there is a strong contingent of homeschoolers who believe the earth is only about 5,000 years old. I can't say that I agree, but this is not an area that I have done much research in to find out what those in the "Young Earth" camp have to say. I'm sure I'll write more about this in future posts. For now, I just explain to my kids that there is a wide range of beliefs about the age of the earth and none of really know for certain--aside from God, that is--how old the Earth really is. I know that will not be a sufficient explanation for very long so I better get reading up on this topic myself!
  • Lastly, this week we broke out the watercolors to paint trees and leaves, a perfect activity for the season, which is something we haven't done in quite a while. Even Dobby wanted to get into the act! This is Harry's depiction of our neighbor's tree, then Ron's depiction of I'm-not-sure-what! =)

Meanwhile, Dobby is just having fun being a part of it all!

As always, we continued in our other subjects as well--Bible, Latin, Mandarin--as well as getting acquainted with Tchaikovsky (Harry is captivated by the 1st piano concerto and says he wants to play it someday. Wouldn't that be wonderful?) and learning what that word "macaroni" in the song "Yankee Doodle Dandy" is all about ("macaroni"= fancy hat worn in England at that time). Who knew? As I have discovered, it's never too late to learn new facts! =)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Week 7: Details!

Usually I paint the picture of how the week went in fairly broad strokes. This week I'll try to put more details to what the boys are learning and doing on a daily basis. We are not a fast-moving family in the morning, so we are usually up and ready to eat breakfast by 8 a.m. The boys know that after they wake up and get ready for the day, they are to tidy their rooms and the basement/playroom/schoolroom for the day, and our aim is to have all this done by breakfast.

After breakfast, Harry starts his piano time while I clean up the kitchen and the younger boys play. After I'm done, I will attempt to fit Ron's violin time in. We aim for 45 minutes for Harry, sometimes a little more, and 30 minutes for Ron. If Harry is done before I'm finished with Ron, he'll start working on assignments that don't require much supervision from me, usually cursive handwriting practice or an online math drill to practice addition and subtraction within 20. He's really gotten much stronger in this area over the past 4-5 months, although his subtraction is the weaker of the two. My friends with children in 2nd grade in public school tell me that subtraction is definitely harder for kids than addition and Harry's classmates haven't yet mastered subtraction within 20 either, so I think we're in good shape!

Then we officially begin together with Bible, using the My Father's World curriculum; this year, we are studying the names of Jesus and last week as well as this week, the focus was on John 6:35, the "I am the bread of life" verse which also served as the memory verse for the past two weeks. MFW does a nice job of trying to align Bible topics with history and/or science, so last week we did a number of activities with yeast, and this week the focus was on bread. Yesterday for our Bible activity, we made two loaves of bread, one for ourselves and one to share with a neighbor. It had been a LONG time since I'd made bread from scratch at home. We used a very simple recipe that hardly took much time at all to prepare and the aroma of fresh-baked bread cannot be beat!

After Bible, Harry has the following subjects to work through in addition to the aforementioned cursive program, and we try to get as much done as we can before lunchtime:
  • Math: Harry is using Singapore Math 1A; although some of this was review, I wanted to start from the very beginning to make sure he had a good foundation of the content in this program. We are just about finished and will start 1B possibly next week or after our fall trip is over. Looking ahead, he will be introduced to addition and subtraction within 100, as well as multiplication and division as well. Fun, fun, fun!
  • Spelling: We use a book recommended by MFW called Spelling by Sound and Structure, published by Rod and Staff. The words are pretty simple for Harry to spell right now, but along the way he is also getting basic phonics instruction, which he has never had in any official capacity and which I think will hamper him in the future spelling efforts if he doesn't learn those basic rules now.
  • Classical Writing Primer: This book has been a lovely, gentle introduction to standard classical education activities for young children such as narration, copywork, and dictation. It also includes a weekly nature study, weekly picture study, and some basic grammar/spelling rules as well. Harry has been enjoying it!
  • First Language Lessons: Although this might be a little bit of overkill, I wanted to also do FLL along with CWP because I wanted to introduce more grammar at a young age with Harry because his language arts skills are generally strong so I thought he could handle it. Where FLL overlaps with CWP in activities such as copywork and narration, I usually just opt for CWP, and use FLL for the grammar lessons as well as the occasional poetry memorization activity. These lessons are usually short so it is easy to add it on with CWP.
  • History/Geography/Science from Adventures in My Father's World: We do whatever activities and readings are assigned in this curriculum. Most of the creative ideas and activities we do come from this curriculum, and I've very much appreciated not having to come up with these activities on my own! In addition to breadmaking, this week the kids also made their own version of canoes in conjuction with learning about the French pioneers who made their way up the Mississippi River and ultimately to Detroit.

Meanwhile, when Harry is working on an assignment, I work with Ron on either Right Start Math A or on Ordinary Parents' Guide to Teaching Reading. Now that Ron is no longer at preschool on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I have more time to work with him on these subjects, which I'm glad about! Having just gone through Singapore Math 1A with Harry, I knew that Ron was not quite ready to jump into those kinds of activities. Right Start A, though, seemed to fit both his personality and his age better; it's more tactile and eases him into mathematical operations more gently than Singapore does. I think after he does Right Start A, he will be much better prepared to move to Singapore 1A, so that is the current plan. As for OPGTR, we have slowly and systematically been working through the lessons, and we are currently on Lesson 60. This program has really helped Ron significantly improve his reading skills. And because there is a strong phonetic component to the curriculum, he actually understands short vowel sounds better than Harry! It takes about 15 minutes for each subject, which I can usually fit in while Ron is working. I also add in handwriting practice for Ron and he participates with us in the other activities if he is awake and interested. And if Harry and Ron are both working on schoolwork, Dobby has to be a part of the fun!

(Speaking of Dobby, the poor guy gets the short shrift right now...I don't do very many intentional activities with him aside from pointing out letters to him when I can. But, he does start Musikgarten this Saturday, as preparation for his future music lessons in cello! THAT will be quite an interesting addition to our daily routine!)

I used to have a mid-morning break, but I've found that just throws us off and makes it very difficult to get our work done in the morning, especially since we aren't starting our academic work until 9:30 a.m., typically. So now, we just work until about 11:45 a.m. or so, after which we take our break/lunch all together.

After lunch, the younger boys take their naps. I clean up from lunch while Harry does his reading time, a combination of books recommended by MFW that fit what we are studying, and good-quality children's literature--I don't let him read Star Wars books at this time although I know that would be his preference if he had the choice! He has been stuck in a bit of a rut of only reading Beverly Cleary books during his reading time, and as much as I love the fact that he is enjoying books I read voraciously as a child, I thought it would be good to expand his horizons a little bit more. So, this week I learned the power of hooking him onto a story and to get him past judging books by the cover. I had brought home all these recommended books from the library that he wasn't reading because the first glances at the books had not captured his interest. So, I picked one such book (A Lion to Guard Us by Clyde Bulla), a historical novel about a family of three children who made their way from England to Jamestown on their own, and read about ten minutes aloud to him. He was captivated by it enough at that point to choose to continue reading it on his own. I have a feeling this is technique I will be using many times in the future!

After reading time, Harry does either his Prima Latina (he has finished Lesson 5 and can now recite the Latin prayer The Sanctus by memory--"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts/Heaven and earth are filled with his glory...") or Chinese (we are on Lesson 9: "What Day Is It Today?") and we wrap up anything we haven't finished during the day. Although I generally like for us to be done by 2:30 p.m., if Harry is really enjoying his book or some other activity that we are in the middle of, I'll just let him keep going with it. I'm still learning where I can flex and where I need to hold firm with the school day; my tendency is generally to be too firm about the schedule and so I'm trying to loosen up to keep things fun while still getting what we need to get done, done!

Three days a week, the boys get to play with our wonderful sitter, a college student who spends a couple of hours playing with them; this is supposed to be my time to work on my upcoming book with Moody Publishers on being a missional mom. More details on this in the future, hopefully...once I make more progress on it!

So that was the week that was! Next week we will have a couple of days of school then go to visit family in Toronto--a nice homeschooling benefit, being able to align our schedule with my husband's teaching schedule for once! I will post Week 8 in a couple of weeks when we come back and finish. Thanks for visiting and reading our update!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Week 6: Chugging Along, but Questions Arising

Thursdays are my "breathe a sigh of relief" day. I don't have to plan for school tomorrow, as it is co-op day and perhaps we'll do a little bit of catch-up from the week, but typically it doesn't require any preparation. Thursdays are also a long day as DH works late, so I'm usually pretty spent by the time Thursday evening rolls around and the kids are in bed. It's the night I gather all the unfolded laundry that has been languishing around the house and fold away while indulging in some "Gray's Anatomy" and whatever else might be on. And, if I'm really motivated, or if I want to delay the laundry-folding for a bit, it's the day I can start posting about the week that was at Rowan Court. So here goes!

Topics and activities of the week: Jesus is the Bread of Life; the beginnings of New Amsterdam (which became New York City...yet another basic fact from my own history education that I forgot or never learned); science experiments with yeast, and making butter! I do enjoy how MFW/Adventures likes to group related topics and themes together. The yeast experiment--combining yeast, warm water, and some sugar in a glass bottle with a balloon stretched across the top-- was great fun for the boys, especially when they began to understand that what the yeast was doing was consuming the sugar and releasing gas. Boys and comments about "passing gas" go hand in hand and guarantee laughs.

And we had a great time making butter today, in an attempt to recreate the experience of the early pioneers of New Amsterdam, who had managed to transport farm animals across the ocean from Holland all the way to the New World. Our process was simple but made quite an impression on the boys: take whipping cream, put it into a container with a tight lid, and shake away! I took the advice of some fellow Adventurers and used an electric mixer for the first few seconds to get things started, then it was all manual labor from that point. We just used about a half a pint of whipping cream, poured into a clean Snapple bottle (yes, we do like our Snapple around here!), and Harry and Ron took turns shaking for two minutes each. Fourteen minutes later, we had a thick substance coating the sides of the bottle. I wasn't sure what this was; it was too loose to be butter so I shook the bottle for just another 20 seconds or so then became aware that suddenly the previously thick substance had turned into liquid again, which was utterly confusing at first. Then I realized that something was floating in that liquid, and there was our butter! (The remaining liquid, buttermilk. All things that perhaps other normal, educated people are aware of, but it all was wondrously new and fun for us all.) The kids were amazed to see what had emerged and excited to taste it. I added a little salt for taste and we all had some with bread as part of our lunch. The boys said that it was the best butter they'd ever had. =)

Lest I give the wrong impression that homeschooling is all fun and games, let me correct that erroneous impression. Along with the fun parts of homeschooling come, at least for me, tons of questions. I wonder constantly if we're working hard enough or too much. I wonder if my expectations of Harry in particular are too high or too low. I wonder if he is working to his fullest potential or if being home gives him the impression that he can do the opposite. I wonder if being away from other children will lessen his self-motivation to do his best and to excel. I wonder, I wonder, I wonder! These are the kinds of questions that his potential teacher in 2nd grade would likely not have asked; he or she would have the benefit of experience and perspective to know what is generally acceptable or excellent work by a 7 year old. Without that kind of experience and training, I just have to trust my instincts and hope they are good enough. This is the scary part of homeschooling, the knowledge that my son's education is in my hands! But then I correct and remind myself that my son's education is actually not in my hands, but in God's hands, and that I just have to be faithful to do what He has called me to do. Homeschooling has been one big of leap of faith and continues to be so. But so far, the benefits have far outweighed any negatives. We'll hope and see if this continues to be true!