Thursday, April 22, 2010

Light Week, 48 Hours Away, Week 29!

Last week was one of our scheduled "light weeks" which coordinated perfectly with my trip away for two days to the biennial Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing, a conference I've wanted to attend for YEARS. My gracious hubby took a day off work and took care of the boys while I scurried away to Grand Rapids, MI for my getaway, and it was a fabulous time. I didn't think about homeschooling once while I was away! And I think that was actually a good thing. We all need breaks once in a while!

But this week, it was back to the normal swing of things, even though I do have to admit it was like pulling teeth to get our plans together. I was so tired by Sunday evening that I was falling asleep just trying to do lesson plans! But, somehow, by the grace of God no doubt, we made it through the week. Highlights include...
  • Ron (DS, 5) continues to truck through Singapore Earlybird Math A. Sometimes the lessons are geared more for a full class, so it takes some adapting, but Sean still managed to have great fun with the section on capacity. Anytime "free play with water" can count as a school activity, kids are bound to have fun!
  • Harry started using My First Magnet Kit as suggested by our My Father's World curriculum as an optional science activity, and I'm glad we've done it. He's really enjoying the short little activities to show magnets in action. Ron joins in when he can, and both particularly loved seeing the two magnets of the same pole repelling one another. "Oh, magic!" they said. "No, magnets!" I would have to correct. That didn't stop them from pulling out their makeshift wands and pretending to be the cause of the top magnet floating seemingly in thin air.
(making a homemade compass, above)

  • This week our Bible theme was "Jesus the Good Shepherd", and we're reading Mountain Born by Elizabeth Yates, which is a lovely story of a shepherding family and just another example of the ways in which MFW ties together various aspects of the curriculum to reinforce each other. I wouldn't say this has been our kids' favorite read-aloud this year--they prefer something a little more action-packed, such as Stone Fox which we read together for fun recently--but I think it's great for them to hear a mix of different writers' voices and styles. Hopefully one day, 20 years down the road or so, they'll agree! =)
  • We continued through our tour of the U.S. by covering Nevada, Kansas, West Virginia and Nebraska. As we discovered that the first Pizza Hut location was opened in Wichita, Kansas back in 1958, it only seemed fitting that we should order pizza that night to commemorate it--and so we did!
  • Harry is choosing to write more and more of his assignments in cursive, without my even asking, so that's a good sign that he is becoming more comfortable with it. No arguments here!
    • We were blessed with yet another beautiful spring week so we had to enjoy it! We ate lunch outside on Wednesday, then the younger brothers had fun playing while Harry was doing an online class on Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I always listen in on the class and am so happy that Harry gets a chance in this virtual way to participate in a class discussion. He never hesitates to raise his hand and even though he is the youngest in the class, he makes good contributions to the discussion. How could we homeschool without the Internet???

    We are really coming down to the home stretch here for our school year, which seems just insane--the year has gone by so fast! We have five more weeks left in our MFW/Adventures curriculum, with a week break for a trip to California to visit my folks, which means we'll officially be done the first week of June. Just in time for the annual Illinois Christian Home Educators' conference which takes place ten minutes away. Another blessing! Thanks for visiting. =)

    Friday, April 9, 2010

    Ron's birthday, Easter, and oh yes, Week 28!

    The weeks are flying by here, and I can't believe we are heading into the final stretch with our first year of homeschooling. I was tempted to take it easy on Monday, as we had had a very full weekend between Easter and Ron's 5th birthday, but I pushed forward and we did manage to get a good week of school in, despite my feeling utterly exhausted on Monday morning!

    Speaking of the weekend, although it doesn't really have anything to do with school, I thought I should include some photos. We had to be at church early on Sunday and as a result, we just didn't have time to take any photos of our dapper boys! (Well, dapper for about ten minutes until they began to run around and be boys!) One of our church friends caught them enjoying the Easter Egg Hunt after church, and these are the only photos that show any evidence that we did try to dress up for Easter!

    And here's birthday boy Ron, enjoying his moment of being the center of attention:

    As for school, we were scheduled for week 28 in our My Father's World curriculum. In honesty, I feel like the curriculum has slowed down somewhat; the creative activities that were present in the first half are not as prevalent now, so I don't feel like I have as many picture-worthy opportunities. I also wonder if I need to be taking more initiative to come up with creative ways to reinforce what we're learning, but I don't know that I have the energy or time to do so. The challenge with homeschooling is that there is no end to the research and preparation you can do, and I do feel at this point in the year that I'm basically just doing what needs to be done to get by on a daily basis. Are the kids still learning? They are, but I do feel like I could do more to help those lessons sink in a little more. (I have to say on a side note how much I love the Ordinary Parents' Guide to Reading. I wasn't sure how it was going to work at first--it looked so boring and scripted--but this program has done wonders for Ron and has truly opened the door for him to read. Short lessons, a straightforward phonetic approach--I've learned as much as he has this year!)

    The other challenge for us is time. Despite the fact that I don't feel like we have as many activities to do as before, at the same time it feels like we are so crunched for time now to get everything done! (Now I'm wondering if this was the great wisdom of the Hazells, the creators of the My Father's World curriculum, to start slowing things down by this point in the year because everyone is feeling crunched for time as the year goes by?) Our schedule now looks something like this every day:

    8:00-8:30 a.m. Breakfast
    8:30-9:30 a.m. Piano time for Harry, violin time for Ron (then somewhere in here Harry usually takes......ahem.....a bathroom break that seems to last forever!)
    10-11:15 a.m. Harry's independent work (changes every day, but includes some combination of spelling, handwriting, math, history or science reading, and either Latin or Chinese; I help Ron with his math, reading, and writing during this time)
    11:15-11:45 a.m. Bible and other activities (i.e., science or history) with Ron
    11:45 a.m.-1 p.m. Break/Lunch then naptime for Dobby and sometimes Ron
    1 p.m.-1:45 p.m. Quiet reading time
    1:45-2:15 p.m. Math
    2:15 p.m-3 p.m. Finish anything that has to be done

    I always like for us to be done by 3 p.m. at the latest, because it just feels like to go any longer would be too long for everyone. We could probably start earlier in the morning, except for the fact that I am not a morning person by any means; we could also probably tighten up our lunch break, but it just always seems to take that long! I wonder what our school days will be like as the boys get older??? (Assuming we manage to last that long!) And how will it become more complicated when Dobby starts getting involved? I cannot even imagine yet! But we'll just meet that challenge when it comes!

    Otherwise, we did a fun activity with gravity yesterday, in which I really tried to hammer home the idea that objects fall at the same speed regardless of their weight. We took two empty bottles and filled one with plastic counters, weighing them to prove that the one with counters was definitely heavier. Then we held both bottles at the same height, let go at the same time, and watched the result. The boys got a kick out of dropping the bottles, so much so I'm not sure they even cared so much about how they landed!

    Last week, one of our friends from church gave us a very unique ant farm, filled with a special gel that has all the nutrients and water that ants need. Over time you are able to see the tunnels they create through this gel, which should be fascinating! This week the big harvester ants to use with the farm arrived. We set it up and have been taking photos of the ants' progress every day. Here are some photos; the first one of the ant farm is how it looked on Day 1, and the second photo of the farm is how it looked 24 hours later. The ants have been busy!

    And in other animal-related news, this week we were able to capture on film the blue jay who's been visiting our feeder with whole peanuts! This took numerous attempts and conquering the challenge of being at the window at just the right moment. Here he is!

    To end our week we took advantage of IHOP's "kids eat free" April promotion, and while we waited for the food we talked more about gravity and as we took turns dropping Mighty Bites on the table. Homeschooling doesn't just happen at home! =)

    Friday, April 2, 2010

    Week 27: Spring is here!

    This was one of those weeks in which the weather was truly the star. Spring does not always last long here in Chicagoland, or it can be suddenly replaced by unexpected winter weather (as happened last Saturday--snow appeared after several days in the 60s!) so we tried to take advantage of it when we could! We spent tons of time outdoors, even eating meals outdoors, and just soaked in so much sunlight. I have read that due to parents' worries about exposure to UV light, kids are actually becoming deficient in Vitamin D and developing rickets in some cases. Well, at least for this week, we didn't have that problem!

    Schoolwise, some of our highlights were...
    • Harry participated in an online class about Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Homeschoolers from all over the country sign on and participate in a group discussion, facilitated by a teacher, and this was Harry's second time doing so. He is the youngest in the group but hasn't hesitated to "raise his hand" and make comments, which is great to see. I was always the kid in class who never wanted to raise my hand, and so I have tried to encourage our kids never to be afraid to participate. The result has been almost the opposite problem, that my kids will be the ones to raise their hands even if they don't know the answer! So we're still working on learning when to raise hands...but at least they're not afraid to speak up!
    • In science, we focused on solids, liquids and gases, and did a little experiment to determine what happens to substances when they are put in the freezer. Both boys were surprised to see how little oil changed after a few hours in the freezer and how milk and juice became something entirely different!
    • In the hopes that we find our digital camera soon, I won't go into great detail about this here, but we found out that whole peanuts are the way to lure blue jays into our backyard and we saw more of them this week than we had all year. The boys were thrilled by this large, colorful, and noisy bird, even if our smaller feathered friends flee at the first (loud!) sound of the blue jay. Hope to be able to capture them in a photo soon!
    • Speaking of birds, we are still enjoying watching the live feed of Molly the Barn Owl. It's been amazing to watch her transform from nesting owl to mother owl, with now four out of her five owlets out of the shells. The boys have been amazed at how carnivorous owls are and how they swallow their prey, fur, bones and all! I think the educational value has been unbelievable. You'd never get to see this in a zoo, the kind of live biology lesson we've been experiencing over the past couple of weeks. The owlets will be in the nest for a couple more weeks yet before Molly teaches her owlets to hunt and they leave the nest to make their own way into the world. Here is a photo with at least a couple of her owlets visible:
    • This Sunday, in addition to celebrating Easter, we will also celebrate Ron's 5th birthday! He is adamant that he wants to do school at home instead of going to kindergarten in the local school. So, this coming fall should be interesting, if I continue to use My Father's World's Exploring Countries and Cultures and also a separate kindergarten curriculum. It's already feels tough to fit everything in as is, so looking ahead, the coming fall will be quite the challenge! I marvel at veteran homeschoolers who manage way more kids than I do in their homeschool. Right now, I mostly hope that I'm not completely messing up my children's educational future. Thankfully, I know God is bigger than any of my mistakes. =)
    Thanks for visiting, and have a happy Easter!