A Little Extra Math For Fun

 

Math pedagogy can be overwhelming, whether or not you homeschool. Is this the right curriculum? Am I doing too much? Too little? Am I boring him or pushing him too hard? What if she misses something important? How can I help my child enjoy math even if I’m not “a math person” myself?

I think math is beautiful and fascinating and exciting, albeit somewhat mysterious once you get past calculus. Sometimes I’m not sure if I’m conveying those feelings to my kids, or if I’m pushing them to dislike math by boring them or over-drilling. Recently, I read a couple of books that helped me to relax about math, try some new things, and aim in a slightly different direction for pre-algebra.

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In Mathematical Mindsets, Jo Boaler examines research about how children learn math and what makes a successful mathematian to suggest the ways in which traditional education is failing students and how we can change outcomes as parents (or homeschoolers). Whether you have your child in a brick and mortar school or you homeschool, this book would give you a lot to think about.

Topics like how to create problem solvers (versus calculators or test takers), how to help children develop a growth mindset, and how to best challenge kids with math are well-presented and highly practical, while also backed up with good research.

I found Mathematical Mindsets incredibly helpful and would highly recommend it to all parents, whether or not they are teachers, and all teachers, whether or not they are parents.

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I also read the inspiring and encouraging collection of essays in Playing With Math. The book chronicles efforts by really invested teachers in a variety of school settings, homeschoolers dedicated to teaching math well, and leaders of math circles (groups that get together to do problem solving). I got so many helpful ideas, insights, and reassurances from this book. Most of the essays end with a math problem to solve individually or in a group. I really liked the inclusion of those problems, and was inspired to add math games/group problem solving/logic puzzles to our Table Time each day.

Most of all, I am glad to have read both of these books for their vision. I think my kids had gotten into the habit of thinking of math as just a problem set to get through, but what I really want is for them to catch the excitement of how neat math is, and to learn to be problem solvers. While I wouldn’t say I agree fully with everything in either book–it’s not practical to implement every idea in every setting–both were instrumental in shifting my focus and in making math more enthusiastic in our house.

If you’re interested in adding math games for a range of ages to your family time (whether in homeschool or just for after school fun), I’ve also been using some of the suggestions in the following books:

And, since I mentioned pre-algebra, I’m looking at switching over from Saxon to Art of Problem Solving when Hannah finishes Saxon 7/6. If any of you have thoughts on that, I’d love to hear what you think!

What are your favorite problem solving, math, or logic games?

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Hodge-podge: Books for Kids and Adults

This weekend, I surveyed the double layer of books on my To Read shelf and elected to thin the herd. It felt great to lift some of that pressure, self-inflicted though it is! Although I’m preferring the topical round-up style reviews lately, I thought I’d throw out a hodge-podge in case it helps anyone clear out an overfull shelf, or gives some ideas for kids books to add to your audio queue for upcoming over-the-river-and-through-the-woods jaunts.

First, a few kids books of note:

Alice In WonderlandAlice in WonderlandThis classic is probably worth owning in print if you don’t already, and it’s also quite inexpensive on Audible. We listened to the audio version through our library’s Overdrive app and enjoyed it. It’s a great mix of silly and bizarre and rhymy so it works for all ages. It’s also a lot shorter than I remember.

The Island of Dr. LibrisThe Island of Dr. LibrisI expected to like this book more than I did, given the premise of kids encountering book characters coming to life. But often I just wondered, why these books? Why these characters? Some seemed normal for kids, while others seemed needlessly linked to grown-up books, so it’s not like the kids who read Dr. Libris would then go out and read the adult books. It just could have been better. It was fine as an audio book for the car, but nothing extraordinary.

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid LindgrenPippi Longstocking – Although it’s obviously a classic, do yourself a favor and get your kids the paper version rather than subjecting yourselves to the audio book. From a parent’s perspective, Pippi is just so annoying. I could not wait for the book to be over. It’s a little odd, since I remember liking the book as a kid, and my own kids have read and liked the book. I guess it’s just one of those things, like how adults read Little House in the Big Woods and can’t get over how much work Ma had to do, when kids are only thinking about wanting a pig bladder balloon. Anyway.

Stone-Fox-John-GardinerStone FoxThis short book packs in a great story of adventure and sacrifice, with some good topics for conversation. It also has a shocking ending (at least it was shocking to us) so be forewarned. It was a great audio book to listen to, but would be a good one to own as well.

 

mrs_piggle_wiggles-farmMrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Farm – You really can’t go wrong with Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. We’ve enjoyed all of the series (at least the ones we’ve found so far) both in audio and paper versions. This volume is no exception to the pattern: kids with bad habits or character issues are taken to Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, who gives them some natural consequences or otherwise helps them to figure out how to change their habit. I like the emphasis on the child having to do the work to change, but the adult being there to help.

Now, on to the books for grown-ups:

nature-anatomy-coverNature Anatomy – We used this book as a read-aloud for nature study, but I thought it could just as easily be something an adult would want to pick up to peruse. The author did a lovely job of hand-drawing bits of nature from rocks to birds, animals to plants, and then hand-lettered in interesting facts and scientific names, with some typeset information and grouping by category. This is what a nature notebook could look like if you were an artist and naturalist for real. We found it inspiring and quite informative.

strong-and-weak-andy-crouchStrong and Weak – I wanted to like this book more since I did really enjoy the author’s previous book, Culture Making, and named it as one of my favorites from 2009. But this one just didn’t really stand out for me. It was fine, but I didn’t come away from it feeling particularly challenged or inspired or with new ideas about flourishing. I think your response might depend on how much culture-shaping type literature you’ve read.

becoming-brilliantBecoming Brilliant – Having received an advance copy of this book, I was somewhat sad to find that I’m really not the target audience and I honestly didn’t enjoy the book. For one thing, I felt that the authors’ views on issues like giftedness, the point of education, and educational methods ran counter to what I have read, researched, and experienced, both as a student and as a teacher. For another, the information is presented in fairly dry book report fashion rather than as dynamic new ideas, and I’ve read most of the information in other sources before. Not all of the ideas were really all that supported by research (for example, the actual outcomes from learning via screens). The good ideas also tend to be geared toward classroom teachers, rather than towards parents or homeschoolers–involved parents and homeschoolers are almost certainly already doing the things the authors describe to ensure their kids develop well. In thinking about who should read this book, I decided that it would be good for policymakers in government who have no background in educational issues, but who find themselves needing to get up to speed fast. If that’s not you, skip this one.

games-for-writingGames for Writing – I have a child who is a reluctant writer. It’s not that said child CAN’T write, because said child enjoys attempting intricate calligraphy and keeping notebooks full of random facts about various topics. However, said child LOATHES writing assignments. I have tried Oh So Many Things. What is working for now is reminding myself to take a deep breath because this is only elementary school and there are plenty of years in which to tackle the sort of writing required in college. Meanwhile, I’ve been using many of the writing prompt ideas from Brave Writer, and also several I found in this little book.Games for Writing is geared toward early elementary, but I’ve been beefing it up a little bit so that I can use it with all of my big kids (2nd, 4th, and 5th grades) together. In general, I still think the copywork to written narration to analytical essay path is correct, but sometimes it does help to get there via a meandering path rather than a straight blaze. If you’re in the same boat, maybe this will help.

What’s been in your hodge-podge lately? Have you cleared anything of note (good or bad!) from your To Read shelf lately?

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Two awesome read-alouds (plus ancient Greece)

hittite-warriorThis fall we stumbled upon a terrific author whose books made terrific read-alouds and were then subject to much sibling negotiation as everyone wanted to re-read (and re-re-re-read) them on their own as well. Joanne Williamson did a tremendous job combining excellent storytelling and character development with detailed and fascinating historical research in her books Hittite Warrior and God King.

god-kingWe read the books as part of our history/literature studies, but they are such great adventures that anyone would enjoy them as stand-alone books. Hittite Warrior takes place during the time of Judges and ties in to the collapse of the Hittite culture, rise of the Philistines, and loosely touches ancient Greece. God King is a fascinating account of Egypt during the time of King Hezekiah in Judah and the rise of Assyria. Both books are well worth owning, although difficult to find. Check your library, and if you ever see Joanne Williamson’s other books, snap them up!

I tend to follow a literature-based lead for school books, and so I’m looking for good writing, excellent illustrations, and a storytelling (versus textbook or encyclopedia) feel. We do get reference books on the side, but not for our main focus. Here are a few other books we liked in theras-and-his-townour ancient Greece reading.

Theras and His Town – This novel is a bit light, but we enjoyed the story and the contrast between Athenian and Spartan cultures. It’s a good read-alone for elementary kids, and worked out pretty well as a read-aloud too.

daulaires-greek-mythsD’Aulaire’s Greek Myths – I like this version much better than other options for myth retellings. It’s also the book used in the National Mythology Exam, if you’re into those sort of tests (I’m not sure if we’ll do that or not–it’s the same group that runs the National Latin Exam). Anyway, the D’Aulaire’s always do a good job with stories and illustrations.

one-eyed-giantThe One-Eyed Giant (and the rest of the series) – Kids who like Mary Pope Osborne’s style will enjoy this series. We listened to the first one on audio and then the kids read the rest on their own time. Note that this series is available in two different formats–one that seems to be geared for libraries and another that comes in only two volumes and is for…regular people? Just letting you know in case you pick them up at a used bookstore and don’t want redundancy on your shelves!

golden-fleece-columThe Golden Fleece and the Heroes Before Achilles – You’ll start to feel the repetition if you do a lot of these readings, but Padraic Colum does a pretty good job of preserving Homeric phrases kids should know, like the rosy-fingered dawn, grey-eyed Athena, wine-dark sea, and so forth. Colum wrote other books on Greek mythology and the epics, so you may want to look for those as well.

famous-men-of-greeceFamous Men of Greece – Honestly, this one is a little dry, but the sections are a good length for a daily narration habit, and it does have good illustrations. I’d skip it if you only have younger kids, and might suggest assigning it for older elementary kids who are working on narrating their independent reading assignments.

wanderings-odysseusThe Wanderings of Odysseus and Black Ships Before Troy – These excellent retellings of the Odyssey and Iliad, respectively, are well worth owning. Pro tip: be sure you’re getting the larger format book with the illustrations. I accidentally wound up with paperbacks that omitted the pictures and the kids were none too pleased. We’ve read several of Rosemary Sutcliff’s works and have black-ships-before-troyloved all of them, so that’s another author to add to your look-for list.

The kids read a ton of other books from this subject area, but I didn’t keep up with all of them. It’s been fun to circle back to the ancient world with older kids and see how much they remember from four years ago!

A Quick Note About Book Shopping: In previous years, Amazon has put out several high value book coupons between Thanksgiving and Christmas. If I hear of any, I’ll link them on Facebook and in the weekly Bookmarks email. If you come across any great book shopping codes this season, please let me know!

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To challenge your views on high school and college…

This week we transitioned Margaret to the crib in her own room. No more sleeping in the closet! I felt it would be too soon. “She’s almost a year old,” my husband gently reminded me. She still wears size 3-6 month pajamas! She’s too tiny to sleep alone! And yet, she took to the crib like it was no big thing.

Here’s what I know the fifth time around that I didn’t when my older kids were babies: this window is very, very short. As my oldest is in 5th grade and we’re starting to think through high school options, I’m negotiating the gulf between wanting to hold on to baby days and knowing that the days of their independence are fast approaching.

the-new-global-studentIn some ways, our culture encourages children to grow up too fast. “Sure, you can have your own smartphone!” “Why not dress like an adult going clubbing even though you’re only nine!” “Aren’t you too old to be playing with dolls?” And yet, in other ways, the culture infantalizes kids. Helicoptering while kids play, parents complaining on Facebook about doing their kid’s school projects for them, covering for kids’ mistakes.

Maya Frost calls foul on this tendency, and presents a counter-cultural view on high school and college-aged kids in her intriguing book The New Global Student.

Frost challenges myths about what teenagers are capable of, what really gets kids into college, and what the point of education is anyway. I found myself simultaneously saying, “Preach it, sister!” and “Whoa, I never thought of that.” In other words, it’s the best sort of book–thoughtful, insightful, and convicting.

While I don’t think that all of Frost’s ideas are applicable to our family, many of them bear serious consideration and I find myself thinking through options in a different light thanks to reading The New Global Student. Whether you homeschool or send your kids to public or private school, this book will give you a lot to think about as you head into teenage years and I highly recommend it for all parents.

Even though we’re several years away from high school, reading The New Global Student gave me new tools to lean in to childhood days while also preparing for what lies ahead. From crib to college is simultaneously a long time and a short time–what a privilege to do life in interesting ways!

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Margaret in her 3-6 month pajamas, pensively considering her collegiate options (no doubt)

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On starting school, NOT planning, and knowing yourself

starting-school-not-planningWe started school again on August 1, having enjoyed the month of July for vacation. It was a shorter break than many choose, but for us it was just right–a couple of weeks at the lake with my parents, a couple of weeks at home.

A few people panicked on my behalf because how could I have time to plan a whole school year on only one month of summer break!?!?! Well, it’s simple really. We added a couple of new procedures and a few new subjects. I made clipboard checklists for the kids to encourage them to be more independent. I thought about goals and came up with some solutions to persistent problems. Other than that, I didn’t actually do any school planning.

There are three reasons this works for us.

1) I do not make detailed lesson plans. Or any lesson plans, really.

Yes, I said it. I see people online posting these incredible plans that list page assignments for every single day of the year in every single subject for every single child. Clearly some people love that sort of thing, and if it works for you, go for it! But please know–especially if you are just starting out and feeling overwhelmed–that it is not necessary.

That’s not to say that I go into each day loosey-goosey. We have a set number of subjects and a threshold for completion–we pack a lot of learning into each day. The difference is that my plan looks like “Sarah is using Saxon 5/4 for math”and we do math every day, rather than “Sarah will complete Saxon 5/4 Lesson 16 on August 19.”

After several years of being at this, I’ve realized that my teaching goal is mastery. Every day we move the ball down the field in each given area. Sometimes a kid is on fire and does three math lessons in a day. Sometimes something isn’t clicking and we spend five days doing one lesson. It doesn’t matter. It all comes out even in the end. The goal is for the child to learn math, not to complete a textbook in a given amount of time.

My decision has two facets:

  • I don’t want to hold my kids back. If she is ready to move on, we move on. Does the kid have that concept down? Great, I say, let’s not beat it into the ground. Who says you have to spend a year in a text book just because that’s how they would do it in a classroom? I don’t want to kill the child’s love and wonder for something just because my checklist says get through each and every lesson as written–or just because I made an elaborate plan that requires me to only do one lesson per day.
  • On the other hand, I don’t want to breeze over something that requires more time. In a classroom of 20 kids, you have to do that sometimes. In a classroom of a homeschool family, you don’t. If someone doesn’t get something, we camp out. I don’t get stressed because no one is telling me we had to make it to page 87 today. It’s more important that the child really understand the concept than that we track to a plan.

I do think you have to be careful not to fall behind too badly if your goal is to put a child into a traditional school at some point, or to graduate by a certain point, or to follow a certain academic path. So far, for us, following the goal of mastery has played out mostly in the sense of jumping ahead (for example, Sarah is a 2nd grader in a 5th grade math book) but I think even in areas where a child is behind, it makes more sense to work to mastery than to push ahead for the sake of a schedule.

There are probably notable exceptions and I may change my mind in the future, but that’s how it seems to me from here.

 

2) We do the same things every day.

The second reason minimal planning works for us is that I spent time up front thinking through what we do every day. I carefully considered how much each child should do independently. I changed our daily flow of events to see if that helped smooth some rough spots. But when it comes to actual teaching, we do different lessons and amounts of each subject, but we do accomplish those subjects daily (or several times a week, depending on the item). So each child has a checklist of independent work that I just print out weekly with no changes. He or she knows to do the next thing, or whatever specific instruction I gave during individual teaching time. The only thing I change on my record-keeping checklist are specific book titles by category for read-alouds, vocabulary words, and art projects.

For some people, doing different things every day really helps. For my kids, it’s easier to make the school day a given. I don’t want to fight battles over whether or not it’s the day for math or cursive or whatever. Is it a school day? Then you are doing math, writing, cursive, etc. This makes things easier for me, but it also makes the kids feel better because expectations are clear.

3) We stick with what is working.

Yes, I know there are simply gobs of different ways to teach math. I’m sure lots of them are more colorful, more fun, more modern, and more hip than Saxon. But after trying lots of different things, hopping around from book to book hoping to find the magic and mysterious One Perfect Fit, I decided that my goal is to teach math. And Saxon does just fine. I don’t use the books exactly as written, so I can tailor the lessons to each child, but for the most part we just truck through each level.

The point is, I find that most of the time I can make what I have work for what I need. Because I’m not casting about for the latest and greatest grammar, writing, spelling, math, and so on anymore, I don’t have to spend time learning new systems. Other than new subjects I add for my oldest student, I’m not having to reinvent the wheel.

So, for me, school planning is really about evaluating systems and considering goals.

I think through pain points in our school days and try to come up with solutions. I consider where each child needs improvement or more challenge, and whether he or she is developmentally ready for more. I make general checklists and the details fall where they may.

That said, I’m an ENTJ (side note for MBTI nerds: I once thought I was an ENTP in spite of always testing ENTJ, but then I realized that I’m actually not spontaneous, I just have an extremely low tolerance for inefficiency so I change things up as I go–now I’m wondering if I’m really an E or if I’ve become an I in my 30s? Is that possible?) so big picture planning appeals to me. Maybe the detail planners are different personality types? As with many things in life, it’s important to know yourself. 

If you like personality typing, you might enjoy the homeschool personality post at Simply Convivial. I found it helpful, and even freeing, to realize that I do things a certain way because it works for me.

Maybe you plan (or not) in a totally different way, and that’s great! As always, this is just the way we do things around here. I think it’s nice to get a window on how other people do life.

How are you tackling the new school year?

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Wrapping up the school year

Another one for the books! If you only count Kindergarten forward, this was our fifth year of homeschooling, but if you go by the fact that I’ve been keeping records since Hannah’s pre-K-3 year (I know, I know) this is was our seventh year of homeschooling. In many ways, things that were once difficult are easier, but in other ways, the things that are difficult have gotten more so. I do find that having taken time to articulate WHY I am doing certain things, I have found many areas that work well and require very little planning now.

What worked this year:

  • Convocation – Starting the day with prayer, singing, Bible study, and memory work sets a good tone, and makes sure we get to these things.
  • Checklist – Mine, that is. I’m highly motivated by this to actually get things done, and it also gives me visual permission to stop when we’re done.

What didn’t work this year:

  • Table Time – The consistent accomplishment thereof, anyway. We enjoy Table Time, but it’s hard to make it happen, especially on days when we have a hard stop time and need to get core subjects done.
  • Artist and composer study – We were really good at this for the first three months of the year, but once I went to the hospital it sort of fell by the wayside. Still, we did get some good study in for those three months, and listened to classical music and did some art after that.

At any rate, here is the breakdown by subject and student. I like to read this sort of post because it helps me get ideas, but please DO NOT READ ON if you are going to be tempted to do the whole comparison thing. This is what works for our family, with five kids including a baby and a mom who works part-time. Other families school much longer, or much less, or in vastly different ways, and that is fine. Again, this is what school looks like for us, at least for now.

Subjects we do together:

  • History – We covered the 20th century (Tapestry Year 4) by Easter, then started Ancient Times (Tapestry Year 1) again. We put the bookmarks in part way through the Trojan War and we’ll pick back up again in August. It’s SO fun to hit the ancient world again for the second time. It’s amazing how much Hannah and Jack remember. We will move through at our own pace–and will probably linger with the Greeks and Romans because they are awesome. I like not having to keep up with–or wait for–other people as we work through integrated subjects chronologically. We take a literature-based, living books, ideas and integration approach.
  • Literature – Our literature integrates with history, so has also been 20th century and then back to ancient times. The 20th century was a little rough, as I was trying to stay true to the issues and use living books, but also remain age-appropriate. There is so much excellent literature for children about the Greeks and Romans, so Year 1 is easier to navigate.
  • Science – To tie in to the lab class Jack was taking at co-op, we did Apologia Swimming Creatures this year, and learned many fascinating things about sea life. We then took on Nature Anatomy for more of a natural world angle), and recently started Apologia Chemistry and Physics (covering current interests for Hannah and Jack) after we finished Swimming Creatures. We read some good biographies about scientists, and also picked up Childcraft Mathemagic, which turned out to be a very fun read-aloud with math games (not technically science, but sort of related).
  • Geography – We study maps as they integrate with our history and literature study. We reviewed states and capitals, although I’m not a stickler for that given that I didn’t ever memorize them in school myself. I know, that’s not a good excuse. 🙂
  • Poetry/Memorization – We memorized lots of good poems together this year, with the latest–and by far the most dramatic–being The Destruction of Sennacherib. We render that one with tremendous emotion. 🙂  We also learned several chapters of Scripture and kept reviewing previous ones as part of our convocation time. We learned some new hymns to add to our rotation, and added catechism memory tied to our morning Biblestudy. 
  • Art – I mentioned dropping the ball on artist and composer study in second semester. The kids do a lot of art stuff on their own, which is great, and I’m past the point of feeling guilty for not being a craft mom. Still, we can strive to improve!
  • Vocabulary/Dictionary – Two or three times a week during table time (or, more realistically, during lunch) each kid looks up a word in the dictionary. Often they already know what it means because we discuss definitions when we come across an unfamiliar word in our reading, but it builds good skills to look things up.
  • Latin – I should do a post sometime on our Latin journey. Suffice it to say, we are now doing I Speak Latin together during table time, and enjoying it. It’s fun, and I intend for the kids to do Latin independently starting at age 10 (see Hannah’s section below) so fun is good for our group!

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Hannah – 4th Grade

Hannah has made great strides in handling her work independently. This semester she seemed to make a huge jump up across the board, such that I’m now sort of thinking of her as being in her middle schooling years (if you break the pre-college education into three parts, which is arbitrary).

  • Math – Having completed Saxon Math 6/5, Hannah is about a quarter of the way through Saxon Math 7/6. She is really being challenged by this book, which is great! I’m being very careful about checking all of her problem sets and having her re-do things she missed, so as not to skip important concepts.
  • Language Arts – Hannah finished First Language Lessons 4, which pretty much wraps up grammar and diagramming, at least for now. This quarter she started Writing With Skill, which builds on FLL and Writing With Ease. It seems like a great bridge between written narration and advanced composition. Although she continues to struggle with spelling (the woes of not being a natural speller!), Hannah did finish All About Spelling 4 and is in All About Spelling 5, with significant improvement over last year. She does copywork in cursive, and I sort of think she spells better in cursive since she has to think about it more as she’s forming the words.
  • Latin – In addition to the Latin we do together, Hannah started Visual Latin 1 and is doing great with the program. I investigated this at length, and am pleased with the overall scope of Dwayne Thomas’s approach. Visual Latin is structured as a high school Latin course, and can be graded and recorded thusly, but they also say you can start it as a 10 year old if you grade it a bit differently, and we have found that to be true. It’s sort of amazing to me that concepts that are stretched out over YEARS in various early start Latin programs are covered in a few short lessons in Visual Latin–and covered well, and actually retained. Lesson learned for Mama! It’s also a big relief to have most of the in-depth teaching for her level out of my court.
  • Typing – To facilitate faster writing and revision, Hannah started learning typing with some free online programs. We started with the BBC’s Dance Mat Typing, then moved on to Typing.com. Both work fine and get the job done.
  • Independent study – I’m assigning Hannah readings in history and literature each week, with the thinking and accountability questions/topics from Tapestry’s Dialectic (middle school) level. So far this is working fairly well, although I’m still trying to get a feel for how best to structure our discussions on what she has read. I’ve assigned her writing projects based on the independent reading but I’m still thinking that through.
  • Other – Hannah continues to take piano lessons, and she took Spanish, Indiana State History, and BizTown (economics/civics) at our co-op this year. We also tried out swim team this spring with great success, and intend to take that back up in the fall. Hannah reads like a maniac, taught herself to make soap, and enjoys making up imaginary worlds and inventing games to play with her friends and siblings.

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Jack – 3rd Grade

Jack is one of those people who, when he takes an interest, goes after it with full gusto. Whether it’s birds, physics, World War II, exactly how original sin works, or what-have-you, Jack is one to dig deep. But when he does not feel personal interest…he goes after it with…umm…double-plus-UN-gusto. This presents a challenge. I spend a lot of time trying to balance encouraging his interests with equipping him to do hard things even when he doesn’t want to apply himself. We want him to be a good steward of his potential, but don’t want to break him of his temperament, which is, after all, how God constructed his personality. Parenting only gets less and less simple, doesn’t it? But the rewards are many and so we press on!

  • Math – Jack finished Saxon Math 5/4 and proceeded to Saxon Math 6/5, which is not challenging him.  However, at this level I’m reluctant to skip things in case he misses something critical, so I let him do only every other problem and keep reminding him that once he puts in his time he can get to really cool things in math and physics and inventions. Although he’s able to do math easily, he still hates to write things down, so math is often a struggle.
  • Language Arts – About how Jack hates writing things down…we come to language arts. He finished First Language Lessons 3 and likes how grammar works but loathes putting actual whole words into the diagram he’s drawn. He is a decent speller and is neck and neck with Hannah in All About Spelling 5, but, again, abhors writing things down. So we figured out a lot of ways to do things out loud, which is time-intensive for his individual teaching time, but it gets the job done. I’ve read that a lot of boys resist writing even up to age 12. That is simultaneously encouraging and terrifying! 🙂 For some reason, cursive is easier for him than printing, which I think is because cursive feels more like drawing to him. And because he only has to do small chunks of copywork in cursive.
  • Other – My husband is teaching Jack guitar sporadically, and Jack likes messing around with the guitar he got for his birthday. He took Spanish, a science lab class, and PE at our co-op this year. Swim team was a hit, so he will do that again this fall. Other than that he likes reading, keeping notebooks of random things he learns (the one time he doesn’t mind writing things down), constructing models and inventions and giant pieces of art, building with Legos, and running around yelling and jumping off of things.

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Sarah – 1st Grade

Sarah is such a dedicated student, and is the sort of person who gets up early to get her independent work done without being reminded. I’m not sure how long this phase will last, but it has been lovely!

  • Math – On the last day of school, Sarah took the final test for Saxon 3 and completed the book. She catches on to new concepts quickly and didn’t have any trouble with this level.
  • Language Arts – Sarah finished First Language Lessons 2, and it was fine for basic grammar. I put her in Writing With Ease 2 this semester because I noticed she was not being as careful with narrations, and WWE does a great job of training the student to listen attentively and both narrate and summarize. Having worked through several books of cursive, I finally just started giving Sarah cursive copywork like I give the older kids. Being more of a natural speller, she’s about halfway through All About Spelling 4. I still had Sarah read out loud to me every day–just a chapter from a Laura Ingalls Wilder book–because reading out loud is a different skill than reading to yourself.
  • Other – Sarah takes piano lessons, and took art, Spanish, and PE in co-op this year. She also liked swim team, so will continue that this fall. She’s looking forward to playing soccer this fall in our church soccer program (one day per week–perfect). She likes to read, make pretty things from art supplies, play dress-up and dolls, and play with the baby. She also has a great Broadway singing voice, which she never consents to perform for anyone outside the family.

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Eliza – Pre-pre-pre-K and School Mascot

I did much better this year at getting preschool time in with Eliza. This is really simple–just reading from a children’s Bible, an Aesop fable, some Mother Goose, five or so picture books, and practicing saying ABCs and counting to 20. She sits in on everything else with us, so she also gets memory work and singing and read-alouds, either while sitting on my lap or doing lacing cards or playing with Legos or something. If anything, I’d like to read more to her, but for now having a dedicated 20-30 minutes just for her seems like a win.

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Margaret – Official Baby and Vice Mascot

Everyone reads to Margaret. She listens in on lessons while I hold her, or while sitting around on her toy mat. Sometimes, she naps. Other times, she yells. In short, she is a baby and we have acclimated to doing school with her in the mix.

AND NOW, LET THE WILD RUMPUS START! SUMMER VACATION IS ON FOR JULY!

 
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Read-aloud Hodge Podge – Feb 2016 edition

And now a hodge podge of longer read-alouds and chapter books I read to discuss with the kids. I’m trying to break these up into topical posts when I can, but these defied my organization for the past couple of months. However, not all odds-and-ends are rewarmed leftovers–these are a proper literary smorgasbord. Let us know if you enjoy them!

moorchildEloise McGraw’s The Moorchild is a fairy story (in the old fashioned sense of the word, not the Disney sort) that weaves in themes modern kids can relate to, such as being different, being made fun of, and not fitting in. This is a great book for discussion. It can be tough to figure out how to talk through scenarios with sensitive kids without them feeling defensive, and I often find that books help. This one gives lots of ways to talk about different strategies, what works and what doesn’t, and helps reassure kids that they are not the only person who has ever felt left out or different. Plus, it’s a great story!

 

Book-BigWoodsOf course everyone has read Little House in the Big Woods, but Sarah, our first grader, just finished reading it for her out loud reading practice with me (I have the kids read aloud to me for a while after they are independent readers so that I can catch any errors in pronunciation and to help them read with good expression).  It was so fun to have little discussions with her along the way, and to see how her ability to read smoothly and expressively improved over the course of the book.  The Laura Ingalls series was one of my favorites growing up, and it’s a delight to share them with my own kids!

 

homeless birdHomeless Bird is a fascinating story about a 13 year old widowed girl in India who finds a way to happiness in spite of many hardships and extremely limiting social conventions. I thought the author did a good job of presenting the reality of a different culture calmly, but without glossing over what makes it terrible for young girls in the protagonist’s position.  The author also handled the ending well–without too much Western sensibility but also without fatalism or outright rejection of the culture.  Note that there are a couple of oblique references to dangerous situations you might want to be prepared to discuss with younger readers, although those might go over their heads.

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My Side of the Mountain is one of my all-time favorite children’s books. I have no idea how many times I read it when I was a kid, and it was really fun to be able to read it with the children. We chose this as an evening family read-aloud. Even though the older two kids had both read it on their own, it was still great to experience it together. The story–about a self-sufficient boy who leaves his home in New York City to live off the land in the Catskills–will appeal to any kid who loves adventure. It’s amazing that this sort of thing even seemed possible in the 1950s, when the book was written.  But I like the way the book shows how children can make good decisions and be responsible, and if you ever have to flee to the hills you’ll definitely want this book along as a reference for what to eat! Highly recommended for boys and girls of all ages!

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All-of-a-Kind Family is a FANTASTIC read-aloud about a big family from turn-of-the-century New York. Even Jack, who normally looks askance at books about gobs of girls, enjoyed the adventures of this family (and he was pleased at the surprise in the last chapter). The book doesn’t underplay the fact that poor immigrant families faced hardships, but focuses more on the family’s hard work, loyalty, and determination to maintain old traditions with new ways of life. Because the family is Jewish, we learned a lot about Jewish holidays and the kids really, really want to build a succah in the backyard.  Maybe when it gets warmer.  We are excited that this is only the first in a series of books, and we plan to read them all.

What was on your read-aloud list this month?

 

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Convocation: What it is and why we do it

IMG_5011Convocation just means the time when we convene to start school.  You can see where it fits into my weekly checklist above.  Unlike lots of other families, it doesn’t work for us to do all of our read-alouds, poetry, memory work, singing, artist and composer study, etc etc all at one time.  There is just too much of it.  I’ve found that it works better for us (for my voice and for the quality of our discussion) to break things up throughout the day. So rather than having one catch-all spot, we have Convocation, Table Time, The Reading, and Bedtime Reading/Worship–at the beginning, middle, and end of our days, respectively. This week, I’ll try to give you a brief look at what Convocation includes for us and why, and how it only takes 15 minutes (usually).

First, we pray for our day.  This is brief, maybe 1-2 minutes, asking God to bless our day, give us teachable hearts and good attitudes, make us diligent, and to show us His truth and beauty as we study. If we have any particular concerns going on, we can pray about those too.

Why start with prayer? Prayer reminds us of why we are doing this hard work of education, and helps put our focus on the larger picture of God’s work and how exciting it is that we get to learn about it in all aspects of our day. But most of all, it reminds us (particularly me) that we aren’t in this alone and that we need God’s help and grace.

The next piece rotates by day and can be very quick or take around 5 minutes:

  • Monday – say the Lord’s Prayer (actually we tack this on to the end of our prayer that day)
  • Tuesday – recite the Apostle’s Creed
  • Wednesday – each kid is given a Bible verse to look up (to get faster at finding passages in the Bible and to get practice reading Scripture out loud well)
  • Thursday – recite the books of the Bible
  • Friday – Catechism review

Why do we memorize this stuff? The Lord’s Prayer, Apostle’s Creed, books of the Bible, and catechism are part of historical church practice–we learn them because we are part of the church and God’s work around the world and across the centuries, not just our own little community and place in time. In addition to being time-tested statements of belief, these are beautifully written pieces that use strong vocabulary and excellent structure–all good reasons to have them in our minds!

Then we review our catechism question and answer and do a brief Biblestudy from Starr Meade’s Training Hearts, Teaching Minds.  The book has a short study for each day of the week related to the Scripture proofs for each question and answer from the Westminster Shorter Catechism.  We just switched back to that book after I realized the kids were too old to keep going through the Children’s Catechism and needed something more.  This takes maybe 5-7 minutes or so.

Why tie Biblestudy to catechism? We don’t always, but I like how this study ties what we believe to why we believe it.  It’s a great springboard for discussions.  And I do allow discussion if it comes up–we aren’t tied to a minute-by-minute schedule and I think it’s important to dig deeply and wrestle with ideas. After all, the purpose of education is not just to check boxes!

After that we recite our review passage of Scripture.  We memorize by chapter for the most part, so I just stack in five things from our memory work and put them on my clipboard for the week. This takes maybe 2-3 minutes.

Why do we memorize scripture by passage? I’ve read a lot about the value of memorizing longer passages instead of (or in addition to) single verses, especially for giving us a sense of how verses fit into the whole flow of scripture. Then there’s literary merit, which is not the primary concern but certainly is a factor!  Again, if we purpose to give our children a taste for truth and beauty, we have to make beautiful language part of their experience.

Finally, we sing a Psalm or hymn.  We have 10 per week–five for morning and five for before bed. This takes a couple of minutes.

Why do we learn hymns and Psalms? Our church sings a mix of traditional music and modern worship songs, and frankly I think the hymns are–for the most part–of more enduring value musically and lyrically.  I don’t have anything against worship tunes in general, but I think there is value to learning more complex pieces so we do more of that at home. And obviously Psalms are scripture and singing is a great way to memorize.

So that’s Convocation.  On paper it sounds like a lot, but in actual practice it does take an average of 15-20 minutes, give or take a discussion or breakfast disaster or two.

I hope that helps–let me know if you have any other questions. I gather ideas from all over the place, so very few of these things are my originals.  I just regroup things into ways it will work for my family, so please don’t feel like I’m saying this is how anyone else should do things!

 

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Snapshot: February 2016

I recently noticed a comment on last fall’s snapshot post, which reminded me that I haven’t updated it, in spite of having made some good changes since then that might be helpful for or of interest to others.

Game Changer 1: A Checklist For ME

IMG_4992I don’t know why it took me so long to think of this, but when I saw Misty’s post on her checklist, I shamelessly grabbed the idea and tweaked it to fit our needs. The result? Pure gold. Here is why this works for me:

  • Everything is on one page. This is an entire week of school, for all of the kids, on one page.  It’s a daily to do list and a record keeping tool in one. Because I have it color-coded by child, it’s easy to see at a glance who still needs to get stuff done so I don’t have to scramble to figure out if someone should be playing Legos or actually still needs to finish math.
  • I pre-made decisions. To fit everything on one page, I really thought about what I need to do with each child. In some cases, that meant adding some things, and in others it meant getting real about what I could actually accomplish. I don’t have to reinvent this wheel every week. I just change the dates, change the books we’ll be reading together for history and literature, update dictionary/vocab words, change independent reading, and I’m done. Ten minutes, tops.
  • It keeps me accountable. I love checklists. Seeing something on my clipboard helps me to follow through with intentions. I am doing much better checking people’s independent math work, actually doing Latin every day, and remembering what we do on which day.

Like Misty, I keep my checklist on a clipboard, which also contains our memory work, map work, hymns, and review pieces for the week. I use sticky notes to keep track of where I am. No more hunting for a poem or looking up passages on my phone!  It’s all in one spot, and that really works.

Game Changer 2: Preschool First

IMG_4872I have read over and over again to spend time on the littlest people first, but I never could figure out how to do that. It seemed more important to get the big people through their work. However, when I don’t put a space in for tot school, it falls off the agenda way too often. I’m not talking about crazy academics here, just about the sort of solid reading, Mother Goose, alphabet/numbers, Bible stories, and fairy tale time that I used to pour out for my big kids when they were littles.  Eliza (2 1/2) gets a lot of read-aloud time throughout the day, but that often comes during our school reading, family reading time at night, or from siblings reading picture books to her.  Preschool time is 20-30 minutes of one-on-one with me going through the great children’s literature we’ve collected. We do this right after breakfast and Convocation, while the big kids get ready for Inspection and do their piano practicing.

Game Changer 3: Building in Margin

IMG_4983Homeschooling with a baby requires more margin than you might think, but also less than you might fear. I’m pretty adept at handling a baby while also teaching, but I have been a lamentable failure at margin for a long time. No more. Teaching From Rest put this in great perspective for me, although it is something I should have accepted long ago.  Maybe lessons should take a certain amount of time, but homeschooling (and parenting in general) is not about efficiency, much to my chagrin. I think my reluctance to build in margin is why my schedules never worked before.

IMG_4984This semester, I built in margin every step of the way. Lo, and behold, we actually follow this one. It’s more of a flow than a rigid minute-by-minute thing, but if I don’t at least ball park times for our routine, I’m going to try to put too much in it.  Since I built in some margin, this timed version of our schedule is actually what we normally do, give or take a few minutes.  It looks something like this:

7:30 – Put on classical music (whatever composer we’re studying) to call kids down to breakfast.

7:40 – Convocation while kids eat (mostly Biblestudy, prayer, singing, and memory work).

7:55 – Preschool with Eliza while big kids do jobs, get ready for Inspection, and practice piano if they have time.

IMG_49858:20 – Inspection (What is inspected gets done! Everyone has jobs and checklists for this) and get Eliza dressed.

8:30 – Jack’s Teaching Time (one-on-one subjects with me) – other big kids do independent work and/or read to Eliza.

9:20 – Sarah’s Teaching Time (one-on-one subjects with me) – other big kids do independent work and/or read to Eliza.

10:00 – Table Time (this is a rotating list of things we do together like memory work, geography, dictionary/vocab, art, Latin, etc) – I peg this to morning snack to make sure everyone gets protein and that we actually do Table Time.

10:30 – Hannah’s Teaching Time (one-on-one subjects with me) – other big kids do independent work and/or read to Eliza.

11:20 – The Reading (Subjects we do together using read-alouds, like history, literature, art history, poetry, science, etc) – this takes 1-2 hours but we don’t always finish it all at one time in a given day.  It can spill over to meal times, afternoons, after dinner…lots of families do this sort of thing first, but since this is what we love to do most, it’s the one thing I can reliably do in the evenings and know it will still work.

In all, school takes us about 5-6 hours per day. On paper at least! In reality, independent work isn’t always completed efficiently, and often even with margin the times wiggle significantly. Still, we generally follow this plan now and it seems to work pretty well.

Game Changer 4: The Week View

IMG_4940Another great thing about my checklist is how it helps me to see school as a week-long pursuit, not just one day.  Some days we have appointments, or a babysitter coming over, or homeschool co-op.  Sometimes we just have a rough day.  The checklist helps me to see what we have to accomplish for the week, so I can clearly see where we can do more or less on a given day.  We can have a really long Table Time, someone can double up in spelling, or we can finish up subjects at night after dinner.  School doesn’t have to happen between 8 and 3, and flexibility is part of the beauty of the whole thing.

Game Changer 5: Humility

This year has been all about humility. We’ve had crisis after crisis that I did not see coming. Things I thought I had all sewn up (potty training! getting baby to sleep!) after Kids 1-3 fell to pieces on Kids 4 and 5. I do have some systems in place so that we can stay functional, but more and more I am realizing that what I think I have “under control” is not really under my control at all, and what looks like “together” is actually God’s grace more than my competence.  That is simultaneously terrifying and freeing.  So I’m bringing my basket and doing my best and praying a lot more and continuing to learn as I go.

In light of that, please see posts like this for what they are–a snapshot of what is working, for us, for now.  It will almost certainly change, probably soon, and possibly won’t apply to your situation at all.

Anthropology.  It has to go somewhere!

What is working for your family or school life these days?

 

A few more World War II books for kids (chapter books and read-alouds)

It has been a while since I did a post on read-alouds, so I thought it might be easier to break them up into topics.  As usual, the criteria for these reviews is books that are over 100 pages and not picture books, that I either read aloud to the kids or read in order to discuss them with one or more kids who read the book independently. We also still read shorter books together, and the kids read a veritable plethora of other chapter books about World War II, but documenting all of those would take a long time!

You may have noticed that we’ve been reading a lot about World War II.  I think these books bring up the tail end, and our school reading has turned to Korea and the Civil Rights Movement, so I figured a wrap-up was in order.

sixty fathersThe House of Sixty Fathers makes a fantastic read-aloud for both boys and girls.  The story of a young Chinese boy during the Japanese invasion in World War II is based on a true story Meindert DeJong (who also wrote The Wheel on the School–another favorite) observed when he was serving in China at that time.  Apparently DeJong tried to adopt the real life boy but wasn’t able to make it happen during the war and then he never was able to find him after the Communists took over.  Fortunately, the book has a happier ending!  We all enjoyed the adventure and the determination of the little boy.

war saved lifeIn The War that Saved My Life, a little girl from London’s East End finds hope and a loving community when she’s evacuated to the country during the Blitz.  The story was good, but I thought it suffered somewhat from unbelievable elements–namely a mother who was too entirely villainous. I think it might have been a stronger book had her behavior been more to do with ignorance or superstition or even just being poor and tired, rather than being straight evil. I thought maybe this was just my adult perspective, but Hannah picked up on it too, so maybe not.  In spite of that caveat, the story is interesting and might be a good pick if you have a tweenish person studying World War II.

thecayThe Cay  will probably only work as a read-aloud if you’re able to read ahead a bit and modify text while you’re reading it.  We did this one as a family read-aloud and I could not BEAR the spelled out accent of one of the main characters.  I like doing voices when I read, but it was like trying to imitate Sebastian the Crab from Disney’s Little Mermaid and that was just so annoying that I had to stop, announce to the kids that I’d be reading in a regular accent, and change some of the pronunciation and diction.  I also changed a few words and mentions that I felt were racist or at least not the way I want my kids to think about people.  Having done so, the story was great–kind of a less far-fetched version of The Swiss Family Robinson, but with a kid in the Caribbean during World War II.

war peace jazzI’m not a huge fan of textbooks for kids–they are usually dry, dumbed down, and much better replaced with living books. However, I have found a few that worked well, and A History of US: War, Peace, and All That Jazz: 1918-1945 is one. The book has short chapters and takes a story-telling approach, using good photography and art, to form a spine for the covered years.  Since so much was going on from 1918 to 1945 around the world, I felt like we needed a spine to hold it all together as we read widely from other living books too.  We read this one out loud together and I thought it worked well for that. We’ve also listened to The Story of the World for this timeframe, but I wanted something with a bit more detail and that I could read out loud versus only listening to (since we’ve got the audio version) in the car. I wouldn’t say that this one was better than the SOTW, but I think they complement each other.

You can read about other chapter books on World War II for kids here and here.

 

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