Friday, February 19, 2010

Week 22: First Big Test and Auto Show!

In an effort to be more consistent with blogging about our efforts, I'll try to be more succinct this week! Our Adventures/MFW-related topics of the week were:
  • Jesus the Head of the Body
  • History/Geography: Going West by Wagon Train; Illinois, Alabama
  • Science: The Human Body
(MFW again nicely tying together its Bible and Science topics!)

I don't actually have much to share about the above, and unfortunately, I didn't take too many photos last week. It felt as though our week went by very fast, and we weren't able to finish some of the activities planned for the week, so we'll save them for this week and hope we can get through them all. I've noticed that our homeschooling day is creeping to a later starting time, which sometimes results in our not getting everything done in time, so I think I have to start being a little more diligent on my end to get downstairs and have breakfast ready earlier. Of course this means I need to go to bed earlier, too! Easier said than done when I enjoy the quiet of the nighttimes, with all the kiddos sound asleep.

In other subjects....

Math: This week we did our Singapore Math 1B evaluation. Harry had 90+ questions to answer based on his work over the past many months on this book, and he achieved our goal of at least 80% correct, although I was hoping to see something higher, truth be told. But, the test showed me several areas in which we have to go back and focus attention (namely double-digit subtraction!), so we'll go ahead and do that this coming week, making sure we shore up any area that seems shaky, before we proceed. I do love Singapore Math overall, but this shows me that we could use some more practice time on the concepts, which I'll start to try building in. Although it is sobering to recognize that I bear most of the responsibility for how he is doing academically, at the same time I'm glad to be aware of the areas of both Harry's strengths and weaknesses so that I can spend time focusing on those areas that need it. Ron continues cruising through Singapore Earlybird A, which is now doing a unit on shapes; after he's done with the day's assignment he keeps asking me, "when do I do math?" I both find it funny that he only thinks of math as numbers and algorithms and also relate; that's how I often think of math when it is actually much, much more!

Latin and Chinese: I discovered last week when listening to Harry doing his Prima Latina lesson that he had been forgetting more than I realized. So, this past week we did a lot of Latin review instead of forging ahead. We also met with a new Chinese tutor to help Harry with his pronunciation and conversational speaking; our progress in Mandarin has slowed this year as a result of not being a part of the Chinese school we were in last year, but on the other hand our stress level has decreased significantly and we're still making forward progress overall, so I'm still happy with our decision to do Chinese on our own. It's difficult but so long as we have regular time with a native speaker, I think we will be okay.

Handwriting: Harry's cursive is really coming along nicely. I gave him some "Fruits of the Spirit" stickers to play with last week, and he did this on his own initiative:

We still have a way to go, of course, but I'm pleased with how things are going thus far with our New American cursive program. As for brother Ron, I switched him to the more traditional Zaner-Bloser font this past week, per last week's post about the downsides of italicized fonts and pencil tracing. Some people I know actually start right off with teaching cursive but I'm not sure I'm that brave! It feels challenging enough to help my 7 year old with it!

Lastly, we took a day off from our weekly homeschool co-op so that my husband could take Harry and Ron to the annual Chicago Auto Show. Thought I'd share a couple of photos from their outing. There weren't too many kids there on a school day so they had the run of the place in the morning! Ah, the fringe benefits of homeschooling. =)

Back to reality now with a new week. Hopefully I'll get the next report up sooner! Have a great week.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Light Week and Week 21

Last week was our "light week", although in some ways the phrase is a bit of a misnomer. Not having the full load of schoolwork means that I have to instead find other things to fill the time! But, for the kids, especially Harry, it feels like a welcome break away from some of the things they typically do. I usually have Harry do a few math drills during a light week, just to keep those muscles flexing; we stick with our daily "quiet reading time" but I give him more flexibility to choose what he wants to read; I usually also incorporate some videos that relate to topics we've been studying. So for example, as last week we studied the story behind the "Star Spangled Banner", I let him watch a history video about the U.S. flag and he also watched some of the Liberty Kids video series, which he has been enjoying. Ron gets a break from his usual daily dose of reading, math and handwriting, and the kids have fun playing more than usual. When the weather gets nicer, I'm sure light weeks will equate to much more outside time, which I'm looking forward to for them.

We also started on our first lapbooking project, as I mentioned last week. I have no idea if lapbooks are something our kids will enjoy or not; they look like fun to me but I've learned that my idea of fun and their idea of fun don't always match! Harry worked on a project related to the Winter Olympic Games and seemed to enjoy the process, but I'm not sure he really fell in love with the idea. Still, I'm glad we tried one and I hope he'll be open to doing more in the future.

And last week was also our first week for the spring semester of our homeschool co-op. This semester, I've included Ron in the fun, and the boys are each taking three classes; Harry takes a gym class in the first hour while Ron takes a class on Dr. Seuss books, then both take karate and art together. Meanwhile, I take along my netbook and take advantage of the free wireless to get work done (and update blogs!) Here the boys pose in their art shirts at the church where co-op is held:
In fact, it was at this very location, on a Friday morning nearly a year ago, that I first felt God nudging me to consider homeschooling. I was interviewing the senior pastor's wife for the book I'm working on, she was telling me about her own experiences homeschooling, and as I watched the kids milling around at this co-op I felt the unmistakable sense of God telling me, "You need to look into this." Lo and behold, here we are! I will always have fond feelings sitting here in this church, knowing that this is where our homeschooling journey began.

As for this week, #21, here is what we accomplished:

Math: Harry is almost done with Singapore 1B. We will review everything in 1B next week and make sure we have all the concepts down, perhaps spending some more time on double-digit addition and subtraction, which we haven't practiced doing mentally much yet. The Singapore way is different from the way I have done it in the past so we could both probably use some practice with it! Ron is continuing through Singapore Earlybird A and so far the material is pretty basic, but it seems a good foundation for what is to come. I understand that Earlybird B becomes more "mathy", but we're in no rush, so we'll just ease through the A book and have fun with it.

History and Geography: Robert Fulton was our main focus this week, along with the states Indiana and Mississippi. We didn't really have any activities this past week that were history-related; Harry mainly learned about Fulton through his reading time as he enjoyed the Fulton biography recommended by My Father's World. I asked Harry this week what his favorite subject was, and he chose history, which I found interesting because I have never personally enjoyed history! But I think a big reason for this is because he is experiencing history through "living books", which means historical fiction and literature that helps the history come alive, as opposed to just reading through a dry textbook and stuffing facts into his head (which is how I remember history when I was a kid). I consider it one of the huge gaps in my own college-level education that I never took a history (or art history, for that matter) course, busy as I was with pre-med classes that have actually never been put into use in my adult life! Well, maybe all that biology I took will help me if I ever have to teach it to my boys. Nothing is wasted in God's economy, as they say.

Language Arts: We are doing the usuals in our LA...the only new thing I have to report is that I read an interesting study by an organization that teaches handwriting, claiming that you shouldn't have your students learn handwriting by tracing letters, that fluency comes from either finger tracing in the air or by just attempting to write the letters or words without tracing. (You can see the presentation here.) I also recently read this article about why you shouldn't use D'Nealian script as opposed to a more standard block handwriting font such as Zaner-Bloser. I had been using D'Nealian with Ron because it is the standard in our school district, and it is all that Harry ever learned himself from preschool through 1st grade! But the kindergarten curriculum I am considering (Memoria Press's program) uses a copybook that is not in D'Nealian, so I am planning to switch Ron to Zaner-Bloser from this point on. Hopefully this won't completely throw off his muscle memory! We'll see how it all goes!

This is both the positive and negative about homeschooling--you have to make all these decisions yourself and trust they are the right ones, or change things if you feel they're not working. It never would have occurred to me before to even question the handwriting font that our city uses with its students. Now, I have to evaluate every decision for every aspect of their education. Daunting, absolutely. But also freeing, too. Now I know why they are learning what they are learning because I've made the choices rather than relying on someone else to make those determinations for me.

Science: This week, with our concurrent emphasis on Jesus as the Vine for another week, the science topic was, fittingly, juice. I saved all the science activities for Friday and had my DH handle the fun with the boys, a new experience for all three of them. Here are photos they took from their afternoon together, squeezing different kinds of fruit and using the juice for a variety of activities:

Languages: This year we've had a bit of setback by not having Harry attend Chinese school. It's definitely harder to keep up, especially since I know no Chinese whatsoever myself! We've tried to have a high schooler fluent in the language come to tutor Harry, but we haven't had much consistency with any tutor in particular. But, we keep regularly using the Better Chinese curriculum to get used to the sounds of the language and to hear stories and songs in Mandarin, to the point that even my youngest enjoys the "I love my family" tune we (attempt) to sing in Mandarin.

As for Latin, we are continuing through Prima Latina, but on a recent review I discovered how many vocabulary words and phrases Harry has forgotten from previous chapters. I need to start instilling more regular review of our past work, I realize now. On the flip side, it's fun to hear Harry use Latin phrases mixed up with English, such as when he told me that "you are a stupor mundi." (Wonder of the world! LOL!)

I may have forgotten things here and there but that's generally what we've been up to this week and last. My other question that I'm wrestling with is how to give our boys more time with other kids, because they just haven't had much chance to hang out with children other than themselves. That's largely my fault, because I haven't been very proactive about setting up playdates and such, or the times we have tried to set things up we have been hampered by illnesses. Going forward, I am going to try to be more proactive in this area, and we'll see if I make any progress in the weeks to come!

I also am deeply grateful for online homeschooling communities, as I derive a great deal of support from the ones I participate in, particular the forum boards of The Well Trained Mind. I cannot even imagine doing homeschooling without the Internet and without a virtual community of support! I posted a question about challenges I experience as a homeschooling mom, and I get plenty of responses in minutes. I love the Internet!

And this has nothing to do with homeschooling, but as I am watching the opening ceremony of the Olympics, I thought it was fitting to end with a last photo. Enjoy the Games!

(with thanks to Nono on the Well Trained Mind forum boards for the torch idea!!)