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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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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Snapshot: Autumn 2015

FullSizeRender 3Sometimes it helps to read about other people’s life hacks. This fall I have a 9 1/2 year old, an 8 year old, a 6 1/2 year old, a 2 year old, and a baby due in early November.  So what works for me may not work for you.  On the other hand, maybe you’ll find a couple of things that might make life easier at your house, or give you a few ideas, or just make you glad that you don’t have my life!  🙂

Mornings

One fact I have accepted about myself: I abhor having to get my family anywhere by a set time in the morning. This is odd because I tend to be a morning person and my kids tend to wake up early.  But every time we have tried a morning activity–MOPS, co-op classes, tennis lessons, etc–it has resulted in stress and more than the usual amount of fussing at everyone to find their shoes and stop crying and remember their backpacks.  I’m sure there are hacks for this, but I’m done looking for them.  Instead, I rejoice in the fact that I can arrange our schedule to NOT have to be anywhere in the morning.

I like to get up earlier than the kids and have time for coffee, Biblestudy, exercise, and a shower before everyone else wakes up.  I really like it if I can get work time in that window too.  But the reality is that I am not sleeping well at this stage of pregnancy so I’m cutting slack wherever I can.  I do get up and shower and get dressed, and sometimes have time for coffee and a little bit of work time before the kids descend and the wild rumpus starts.

Breakfast

In the interest of streamlining I have cut breakfast down to things the kids can make themselves with no mess.  That means cereal or breakfast sandwiches or yogurt and peanut butter toast type meals.  I’d love to make this a higher protein, higher quality meal, but the reality is that I can’t do it all right now.  The kids get their own breakfast, either while I’m cooking my eggs or while I’m reading out loud to them.

IMG_4354Sarah (6 1/2 – 1st grade) is cheerfully eager to learn first thing so we go with that.

Sarah has first Teaching Time as soon as breakfast is mostly over and morning jobs are done.  We usually start this around 8, give or take half an hour.  I have 45 minutes slated for her individual teaching, but it’s often more like an hour or more.  She often has her independent assignments (copywork, cursive, math page) done already. I teach her the next new thing in math–she’s on about lesson 60 of Saxon 3–which could mean one lesson or could mean several, depending on how well she’s catching on.  Then we do a grammar lesson from First Language Lessons 2 and a section in All About Spelling 3.  After that, Sarah reads out loud to me from a chapter book (currently Little House in the Big Woods) for 15 minutes, which helps me catch anything she’s skimming in her reading and helps her work on good expression and reading aloud skills, which are different from independent reading (she does lots of that too).  Finally, she does the Biblestudy her Sunday School teachers put together, which involves looking up and reading a short passage then answering a couple of questions.

Hannah (9 1/2 – 4th grade) is working very independently but needs oversight.

Next is Hannah’s Teaching Time.  At this point, Hannah does her copywork, math problem set, writing assignment, and independent reading on her own just fine.  However, she does still need oversight and so we have a 30-45 minute one-on-one teaching time every day. In that time we go over the new material in her math lesson and talk about any issues with the previous day’s problem set (she’s working in Saxon 6/5). This is my reminder to CHECK that she actually completed the problem set, as a couple of times she has slacked off there and I only found out later.  Then we cover grammar in First Language Lessons 4, and spelling in All About Spelling 4.  I’m about to loop in Writing With Skill, but for now I give her weekly writing assignments based on independent reading.

The Reading – We cover lots of subjects together.

After Hannah’s Teaching Time we collect on the couch to read for an hour or 90 minutes from our history, literature, poetry, geography, art history, composer study, and science books.  We use a literature-based approach to all subjects, and look for living books.  So we read a mixture of different levels of books to learn about all sorts of aspects of the time-period we’re studying.  The kids intermittently narrate what we read, especially science, but I don’t make them narrate everything because I find that tiresome.  We often have talks about how different subjects relate or how what we’re learning about now relates to things we’ve learned before.  It’s a good way to process ideas and put things in context.

DSC_0434Table Time – For things that fall through the cracks.

Next we eat some sort of protein snack and cover subjects that might otherwise fall through the cracks.  Lots of subjects don’t have to be done every day, so I have a rotating list and we do what we can in 30-45 minutes.  Days when we are pressed for time, we can have a short Table Time or none at all and still get more than enough done to see progress.  Table Time subjects include:

  • Alternating Latin (we’re all doing Song School Latin this year, with extra games and activities since the kids are older – I might post more on my evolving philosophy of Latin) and Spanish (mostly covering what the kids are learning in their co-op Spanish classes)
  • Map study (twice a week in addition to maps we look at during The Reading)
  • Dictionary look-up (twice a week each kid takes turns finding words from our Tapestry vocabulary list and reading the definition out loud)
  • Poetry memory and review
  • Art projects – Tapestry includes lots of hands-on project ideas so we do some of that, and we’re also doing a great book with step-by-step instructions for how to draw like Picasso, who is the subject of our current artist study.

Jack (8 – 3rd grade) is the wild card.

This is a challenging year parenting- and teaching-wise for Jack. What’s working for the most part is to give him a concrete list of expectations and then lots of latitude for when he accomplishes things.  So some days he does Teaching Time with me, and some weeks he elects to do his entire roster of assigned work on Fridays.  It’s not always convenient, but I’m working to let go of what he’d have to do in a traditional school setting in favor of keeping the goal in mind–which is that he be challenged and learning and making progress.  This is only an issue for his individual subjects, not the rest of school, which is good.  On a day when he’s doing Teaching Time, we do a math lesson (he’s in Saxon 5/4 and mostly doing the problem sets out loud with me after working problems in his head because he hates writing things down.  Writing things down is important so I do make him show his work a little bit in each problem set, but I also don’t want to hold him back since he mostly still finds this book easy), a grammar lesson from First Language Lessons 3, and spelling from All About Spelling 4.  If he’s willing, he breezes through Teaching Time, having been known to do a math problem set including algebra in 12 minutes flat.  Other days, he drags his feet and wants to stop to talk about random things like how penicillin works and it takes a lot longer.  Again, I’m learning flexibility.  He does always get the week’s assignments done, so I’m letting go of when and where and how that happens.

IMG_4492Lunch

By lunch time I am wiped out. We do easy things that the kids can mostly handle themselves like sandwiches, cheese and fruit, vegetables and hummus, baked potato bar, or leftovers.

Rest Time/Work Time

After lunch the big kids can finish up independent work assignments and read or play quietly in their rooms or the basement until the neighborhood kids get off the bus.  Eliza (2) takes a nap.

This is my prime work time.  Most weeks my friend who owns the business I contract through comes to watch the kids on two afternoons, which shifts depending on her schedule and when I have client meetings.  I try to schedule work calls and client phone meetings for Eliza’s nap time.  It usually works.

  • On days when my friend watches the kids, I get five hours of focused work time.
  • On other days, I get two to three work hours while Eliza naps, and then sometimes another hour or two of interrupted time if the kids are playing well and we don’t have other appointments.
  • One afternoon a week we are at our homeschool co-op from right after lunch until 4:45 or so–each of the big kids takes three classes, Eliza takes pre-K, and I teach in two classes and have one parent connect hour.
  • One afternoon a week all of the big kids have back-to-back piano lessons, so I get two hours of work time and then either take work with me or read a book for the hour and a half of piano lessons.
  • Other work time happens on Saturdays.

IMG_4496Late Afternoon/Dinner

I’m trying to make dinner super simple too.  So I’m experimenting with meals I can dump in the crockpot, freezer meals, and very simple things.  The big kids are supposed to be prepping and cooking one meal per week each, but the reality is that is very time-consuming for me and I’m usually not looking to spend another hour and a half on my feet at this point in the day.  So easy wins for now.

Ideally I would do Eliza’s individual reading time in the morning but mostly it happens in the late afternoon before dinner.  I aim to read to her from a story Bible, a Mother Goose, and at least five picture books every day.  This takes 15-20 minutes.  If we have time, I also do the alphabet with her, if only because of the disarmingly cute way she says “bobba-lyewww” for W.  Otherwise Eliza is in the mix all day.  She likes to “write” and color when the other kids are at the table doing school, or works on puzzles, plays with the Little People dollhouse and barn (which are kept in our school room), or plays with whichever big kid is done with school or taking a break.  She listens in on our school reading and evening read aloud time as well.

In the afternoons I usually try to find time to do my around-the-house walks.  I can get some exercise while keeping tabs on kids playing outside and listening to podcasts or books on tape.

We eat dinner as a family the vast majority of nights.  Josh gets home from work late so we often don’t eat until 6:30 or 7.  We spend 30-45 minutes at dinner–according to my time logs–and actually have some pretty good discussions.  We usually listen to music during dinner, either the composer we’re studying or some other classical music.  Then there are the nights when everyone is talking at once and squabbling and spilling things and acting like they have never heard of manners and were raised in a barn.  It’s not always idyllic, but many nights are, so we press on.

FullSizeRenderTwice a month I have book club meetings, one or twice a month I go meet a friend for coffee or something, a couple of Thursdays per month Josh has worship team practice (I’m taking off this trimester), and sometimes he works really late so we eat without him, but mostly this is how evenings work.

Evening Routine

After dinner Josh puts on music that is more dance-friendly and he does the dishes, the kids do their assigned jobs, and I do general kitchen clean up, make lunches ahead, and things like that with breaks for family dance parties.  This way clean up is faster and more fun.

The kids go up to take showers or otherwise get ready for bed, Josh gives Eliza her bath, and I do school prep.  This involves updating notebooks, changing the white board, rotating job wheels, and setting up for anything that requires advance setting up, which is not much.

We really don’t ever do night time activities, with a very few, very rare exceptions.  Evening activities are kind of disruptive for our family and keep us from the things we’re prioritizing like family time and reading aloud and getting to bed at a decent hour.  That won’t work for everyone, but it’s something we’ve realized works best for us, at least for this stage.

IMG_4468A side note about keeping track of things:

Each kid has a spiral notebook for math and another for everything else.  I prep the notebooks by writing the day’s date for them to copy (in print for Sarah, cursive for Jack and Hannah) and then their copywork (print for Sarah, cursive for Jack and Hannah).  The next page is their daily checklist, which also serves as my reminder to check up on what’s gotten done.  The checklist includes independent assignments and reminders to do things that may eventually become habits like doing morning and evening jobs, practicing piano, daily hygeine, unloading the dishwasher, putting clothes away, cleaning rooms, etc.  A lot of it stays the same every day, but it’s a good visual and also something I can keep track of.  Last year I tried printing out checklists, but found that they got lost or the kid would say “I finished it and threw it away” etc.  In the notebook means I know where to find it.  Each kid uses this notebook for grammar stuff like proofreading and diagramming sentences, spelling, writing assignments, etc.  I also tape in art projects and other loose pieces of whatnot as a sort of record keeping device.  Then I have one school binder where I keep my teaching notes for where we are in Tapestry, our file of poetry and scripture memory for review, and the record keeping sheets showing what each child did for school each day.  It’s much more streamlined than last year, and it’s working well.

More reading aloud.

Once everyone is (reasonably) clean, we have read-aloud time of 30 minutes to an hour, then worship, which sometimes is reading from the Bible, sometimes is reading from a Biblstudy book, and always is singing a Psalm or hymn because we like singing.  Then we have prayers and the kids go to bed.  Josh does final bedtime round up because I’m almost always incapable of doing stairs by that point (lots of hip and back pain this trimester).

My Wind Down

After the kids are in bed I finish any school prep that needs to be done, hang out with Josh, read, and do my Biblestudy (since I can’t count on early morning time anymore).  I try to stay off the computer at night because it’s a huge black hole of time wasting, but I’m not always successful.  I try to get to bed by 10 or 11.  Sometimes earlier, but with the kids not usually in bed until 8:30 or 9, I find I really need some wind down time, and then it takes me a while to get my contacts out and get ready for bed.  I’d like to streamline the get ready for bed part, but haven’t found a hack for that yet.

jack soccerWeekends are different.

Two kids have soccer, I take one kid per week out on “special time” to run errands and get groceries and Starbucks, I usually do a longer chunk of work time, Josh handles household stuff and plays with the kids, we do church stuff on Sundays, and sometimes we do fun extras.

But, generally, this is the flow of our weekdays.  Having a general routine and order to the day helps a lot.

I’m planning on devoting one post per month to a more general homeschool and/or life topic.  Let me know if you have questions or specific things you’d like to know more about!

 

Disclosure: The curriculum links above are affiliate links.

Deconstructing Penguins

penguinsI got so much out of Deconstructing Penguins: Parents, Kids, and the Bond of Reading that I ordered my own copy before I finished the one I borrowed from the library.  I’m glad I did because I’ve already referred to it again a few times.

The kids and I discuss books a lot.  We talk about the books we read for our history and literature selections, we talk about the books we read out loud together just for fun, and we have mom/kid book club discussions when Hannah or Jack want me to read something they’ve read.

While I enjoy these discussions, I have not always been intentional about what to ask and how to direct the conversation.  Sometimes I ask the kids for narrations (telling back what they remember–which also shows me their interpretations and how they weight different events, always interesting), and sometimes I let them bring up topics they want to cover.  Deconstructing Penguins gave me a different way to tackle book discussions.

I love the framework the authors used–based on their years of leading real book groups with kids 2nd grade and up–of approaching each story as a mystery to solve, teaching kids how to find the protagonist and antagonist to get at what the themes and the author’s message are, and helping kids learn how to read critically.  The method is a kid-friendly walk-through of literary analysis, and if you have studied literature as an adult it will feel familiar to you.  But even if you haven’t read anything remotely literary since a tortured 10th grade English foray through The Scarlet Letter, Deconstructing Penguins will give you the tools to make yourself and your kids more discerning readers.

Since Hannah was re-reading The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler for the eleventy-hundredth time recently (it was one of my favorites too–must be a firstborn girl thing) and that book is one of the examples from Deconstructing Penguins, I decided to try the method out on my unsuspecting 8 year old.  I re-read the book too (it’s still good!) and walked through a similar discussion to that described in Deconstructing Penguins.  It worked out great!  Hannah gave many similar answers to the ones described in the book, but it was also interesting to note where she veered off into other observations and connections.  Overall, it was a really enjoyable book discussion and I think it was more fruitful than our usual free-for-all method.

If you want to encourage your kids to be good readers, or aren’t sure how to talk to them about books, I would highly recommend Deconstructing Penguins.  It would be great if you want to lead group book clubs like the authors did, but it also works in a one-on-one setting.  It’s a fabulous resource, and one you would not regret owning.

 

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

A Simple Approach to the Educational Feast

There are lots of ways to homeschool, just like there are lots of ways to serve sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving.  My goal in education is to spread a great feast, but I well know that there are lots of different ways to do that, and to do it well.  In this post I’ll mention some ways that I lay out Tapestry of Grace (our history, literature, art, geography, etc curriculum) to maximize the depth and richness of a particular historical era while also keeping things simple and manageable.  Coming on the heels of our turkey dinner, I feel compelled to serve the metaphors on my best china.  You’ve been warned.  🙂

I’ve gotten a few comments from people who have the Tapestry of Grace digital edition and aren’t sure what to do with it.  As we’re using the DE for our third year, I have a few observations and tips that have worked for us, so I’ll pass them along here.

1. Get the big picture.

Each year of Tapestry is set up in 36 week plans, broken up into four units.  You’ll want to keep in mind a couple of things:

  • Tapestry is structured so that you can keep all of your kids in the same historical time period at all different levels.  If your oldest kids are in early elementary school, you can TOTALLY condense weeks.
  • If there aren’t many resources for your child’s level for a given week, you can always supplement with others–there’s nothing magical about the book lists in Tapestry. Most of them are great, and many families feel like what’s there is more than enough, but if you like to read a lot, you can always find more.
  • You can schedule your week however you want to based on the week plan.  You can do each subject every day, or you can cram all of literature into two days to make time for other subjects or commitments.

The first thing to do is to click on your Tapestry year and select your unit, then read the Unit Overview. This gives you a high level idea of what you’re covering, so you can see how it all fits together.  Tapestry links subjects by time period, so when you have a general sense of what was going on and what the key themes are, you can better teach and integrate subjects as you go.

Within each unit are the week plans.  I usually prep several weeks at once in advance, and would suggest starting with a whole unit if you’re new to it.  When you open a week plan (click “Curriculum” under that week and then “week plan”), have a Word document open or notebook out.  Read the Threads section to get a sense of what you’re covering that week, and maybe note major historical figures or ideas for each week.

2. Check the reading lists.

Next, you’ll want to check the reading lists.  The week plan is grouped by learning level (Lower Grammar: K-mid elementary, Upper Grammar: mid to upper elementary or independent readers who read for facts and ideas, Dialectic: upper elementary to middle school, and Rhetoric: high school) and then by subject.  I use my library website to search for the books online, placing them on hold or requesting them, and then do a library search by topic.  So, for example, if we’re learning about the War of 1812, I also do a search for that topic in the library’s children’s collection.  I often turn up worthwhile books that way.

A note on the books: some Tapestry books are really great literature, and some are pretty generic non-fiction.  I tend to buy the books that are used in multiple weeks or multiple years, or the books that look like really great literature we’d want to revisit.  Before I purchase a book new, I look to see if it’s free on Kindle (many older or classic books are), and also check sites like Better World Books and eBay for used copies.  I also make a quick list to carry around with me to used book stores and garage sales throughout the year.  This is another good reason to read your unit overviews–you’ll know what topics you’re looking for!  I also highly recommend investing in The Story of the World books or audio–Tapestry notes which chapters coincide with that week’s plan, and even if you just listen or read SOTW as an overview, it’s a great spine.  Also, I highly recommend buying anything on the lists by the D’Aulaires or David Macaulay.

You’ll find that the week plan includes both required and recommended texts for all levels and all subjects.  I usually try to get all of them if possible.  That way, we can dig deeper if we want to, the kids have extra things to read, and if we don’t like a particular selection, we can try something else.  I read the Lower Grammar choices aloud, and use some of the Upper Grammar choices as read-alouds too, particularly the literature selections.  I also assign the UG choices to my older kids for independent work, or just leave them lying around since my kids read like sponges.  Or like sponges would read, if sponges were literate.  So maybe I should have said, “read like sponges soak up water.”  Now the metaphor is well and truly done.  Ahem.

3. Pick out activities.

After the Reading Assignments section you’ll come to Weekly Overview.  This is sort of a checklist for the ideas and events your child should learn when you cover this information.  Take notes.  You might want to just print the page to help you at first.  Now I just jot a few things down.  This page also includes vocabulary words to cover or look up, activity overviews, and geography notes.  You decide how much of this to cover and when.

If you purchased the Map Aids add on (which I recommend) you can also download the age-appropriate map and teacher map for the week.  I always look at these, and decide if and how to use them.  For younger kids, it can be helpful to have one big map of the area you’re covering for a few weeks (Egypt, say) and color or point to main items every day (the Nile, the Nile Delta, the Mediterranean Sea, etc).  Then have the maps close by during read alouds so you can make observations (like why people would want to live close to the Nile versus in the desert, where Egypt was relative to the Red Sea or to Greece, etc.)  For us, geography helps the kids to get a sense of where events happen, and of terrain relative to places they have already studied.  You can decide how much or how little to require the kids to learn or memorize, and it’s worth taking time to think through your philosophy of geography (philosophy everywhere!).  I’m not kidding.

One resource I value highly in Tapestry is the activity recommendations.  I never think to do things like this on my own.  But when I see the week plan recommend making a cookie dough map to help learn topography, I make a note and we try it.  Likewise for things like making related crafts.  My learning style is to read, but kids love to do hands on projects, and it does enhance their learning to try their hand at weaving, or build a scale model of a pyramid, or practice pointillism with q-tips, or whatever.  In my notes, I list a few activity options for each week, so I can plan in advance.  The Loom section of the DE lists additional activities, detailed instructions, links related artists, and so forth.  It’s worth checking The Loom when you’re planning, even if you don’t wind up using many or any of the additional links.

Tapestry includes worksheets for literature selections, which I almost always skip.  At this point, I know how to get the kids to narrate, how to figure out if they are making connections, and so forth.  But if you’re just starting out, you might want to look the worksheets over to make sure your kid knows what’s covered or understands the skill involved.

Tapestry offers lap books.  I hesitate to say this, because I have dear friends who use lapbooks and I don’t want to offend them, but I HATE, LOATHE, DESPISE, AND ABHOR lapbooks.  To me, they are meaningless busywork and Mama winds up doing all the heavy lifting.  I do not recommend purchasing Tapestry’s lapbook add-on.  However, that said, I do think notebooks are a great idea.  I take a couple of pieces of construction paper, fold them in half, and staple the edges.  Then the child labels the pages and writes or draws what he or she remembers or finds interesting.  For a few Year One examples, we made books of what is interesting about the Nile and one on how each plague corresponded to things about Egyptian culture.  Yes, that’s a lot like what a lapbook would be, but instead of providing a bunch of pre-made pieces to stick in a lapbook, the notebook allows the child to direct what subjects are mentioned or covered, and at what depth.

Other lapbook alternatives include finding interesting coloring pages online for really young kids (we found some cool ones of medieval subjects for Year Two), and typing out the child’s narration on a topic then letting him illustrate it.  In the past I’ve tried to do narrations at the end of units or terms, but I find it’s more helpful to do them week by week.  It’s simple: “Tell me what you know about Napoleon” or “What have you learned about ziggurats?” and then type what the child says.  It’s pretty stream-of-consciousness, but always interesting to find out what caught their interest or what conclusions they draw between subjects.  This is also a handy way of measuring progress without having to create tests.  You can easily tell after some narrations if the child has a good grasp on material or if they have missed the point entirely.

4. Read the Teacher’s Notes (maybe).

Each week plan also includes detailed teacher’s notes for the covered time periods and literature selections.  If you have older kids, you’d probably need this more–there are great helps for how to discuss ideas and books with dialectic and rhetoric levels.  For grammar kids, you might skim the teacher’s notes if you aren’t very familiar with the topics covered that week.  For example, I read the teacher’s notes on the Indus River Valley civilizations more closely than for the War of 1812.  You can try reading them for a few weeks and see if it helps you.

Another reference to consider is Susan Wise Bauer’s series on history for adults.  Reading those books (for example, The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome goes with Tapestry Year One) in advance of studying the covered time periods was really helpful for me–both as a refresher and also because most of us didn’t study history in a global and integrated context and these books help you link your existing knowledge.

5. Arrange your week.

I used to try to fit Tapestry reading selections into daily page allotments, which I mapped out on detailed spreadsheets.  Friends, that is over-planning.  It is too time-consuming, don’t do it to yourself.  Instead, before starting to actually teach a given week, check the notes you took while prepping.  Put together your stack of books.  Put a sticky note on the front of books that aren’t assigned in entirety (like “read chapters 4-9 for week 7”).  Note which days look most likely for projects, or if you need to do a little bit of work on a project each day.

Because we love to read (and I doubt you would have selected Tapestry if you didn’t like to read–though I suppose aspirational literature-based education could be a thing), we do The Reading every day.  And we refer to it with capitalization like that, because it’s Very Important.  🙂  During The Reading, we go through our Tapestry stack, reading a chapter or a few pages, or reading an entire book if it’s short and engaging.  In this manner, we easily get through the assigned and alternate selections, or whatever else I found through the library.  The Reading also includes our poetry, Aesop, Mother Goose, and science reading, plus biographies of the artist and composer we’re studying.  I say that to let you know that it’s not daunting to get through a Tapestry reading list in a week without resorting to page assignments.  You can exercise some freedom here, and read less if you have a headache or more if you really like something.  You can’t take longer than a week to read a really detailed book, or jump into the next week’s reading if the books were short and fast.  Which leads me to the next point…

6. Stay flexible.

When we used Year One, my oldest was in first grade.  We condensed a lot of weeks (doing reading for several weeks in one week of actual time) at the beginning, because there weren’t a lot of grammar resources for the ancient world prior to Greece (with the obvious exception of Egypt).  Note to would-be kids historical fiction writers–the ancient world is wide open for you!  But then we spent MONTHS on Greece and Rome.  We read way, way more than the Tapestry plans.  Don’t be afraid to stretch a week plan out or condense it as fits your stage of life, your energy level, or your resources.  When you’ve done your prep work, you can be flexible without worrying about getting behind.

7. Enjoy it!

This sounds like a lot.  I know.  I’m looking at my word count and it’s way over 2200 words for this post.  But in actual practice this is a really fast process.  I spend 15-30 minutes per week plan when I prep, including searching multiple avenues for books.  It took me longer when I first started using Tapestry, but you do get the hang of it. Tapestry is so flexible and open-ended, and such a great resource for integrating subjects and ideas–have fun with it!

If you’re just starting out with Tapestry, or are considering it but aren’t sure how it will work, I hope this helps.  Feel free to send me questions–I’m not an expert, but have picked up a few things along the way so far!

 

Disclosure: This post contains an affiliate link to Amazon.  I’m not sure of the status of the Tapestry of Grace affiliate program–I signed up for it long ago, but it’s not clear to me if TOG is still doing affiliate credit.  At any rate, if you do sign up for Tapestry based on my reviews, please feel free to list me as your referrer (chgillespie {{at} gmail [dot}] com).  Thanks!

Teaching the Classics

After listening to the Adam Andrews interview on the Read-Aloud Revival Podcast (you should subscribe to these, parents, they are very motivational and geared for parents whose kids are in any kind of school, not just homeschool) I bought a used copy of the workbook portion of Teaching the Classics.  The book walks parents and teachers through how to discuss books with your kids at all different levels–from picture books to college level lit.

I found the framework very handy.  We don’t unpack every book we read (no need to kill everyone’s love for books with endless drilling) but we do discuss a fair number.  I liked how Andrews laid out a way to help kids build skills in literary analysis from very young ages, because all good stories have the same elements and knowing how to read with understanding is a very useful skill, even if you are just perusing novels on the beach.

Andrews’ approach is based on the Socratic Method, which is to say that it sparks discussion through questions that prompt thinking.  The book includes an exhaustive list of great questions for all levels that you could use on any book.  There are example applications, so you can see how the method could be applied to Peter Rabbit, or to Tolstoy.  The whole book was very helpful and instructive.

As an appendix, the book includes lists of great books by age.  If you’re a collector of such lists, you may not find too many surprises, but I’m always interested in good book lists and find them helpful for reminders and ideas.

One last aside: I found a used copy of the seminar book very inexpensively.  If you want to purchase it, you might look around on Amazon or ebay and watch for a while until you see a good price.  Alternatively, if you wanted to get the DVDs of the actual seminar and a new copy of the book, you can find those on Amazon or at the Center for Lit website.

If you want to discuss books with your kids, Teaching the Classics is a great resource, and I recommend it.

 

Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Read Alouds September 2014

We finished off many books this month, mostly because we started school again in August and finished up our first term at the end of September. This list includes chapter books read aloud for school reading as well as those we read out loud for unrelated family enjoyment, and a few I read myself in order to discuss them with Jack and Hannah, who read them independently.

I’m glad we own a paper copy of The Story of Napoleon, but had I known it was available in audio form for $1.99 I might have purchased that version. The book, by H.E. Marshall (author of Our Island Story, another of our favorites), is a spirited, lively version of the major events of Napoleon’s life, reign, and downfall. This book is listed as an Upper Grammar assignment for Tapestry of Grace Year 3, but I decided to read it out loud instead of asking Hannah and Jack to read it independently, because I didn’t want Sarah to miss out. Plus, I’m leaning more toward doing our history and literature reading out loud and letting the kids free read outside of school assignments (currently, Jack is reading Tolkein and Hannah is reading so many things simultaneously I can’t keep track).  Anyway, if you’re looking for one book about Napoleon that is both informative and well-written, plus a living book not a dry history text, we’d recommend The Story of Napoleon.

If you liked Five Children and It (which of course you did, how could you not?) you will also like the reprise of the same family having adventures in The Phoenix and the Carpet, except this time instead of a Psammead they have adventures with…wait for it…a phoenix and a magic carpet.  We really love these siblings now, and had great fun with this book as a bedtime read-aloud.  I was wiser in my choice of a more sustainable voice for the Phoenix but the chapters in the book do run long.  A few times I got away with reading only a half chapter, but the last night we were all so intent on finding out what happens that I read 68 straight pages and that, my friends, was a lot.  Worth it though–this book is great fun and highly recommended.

We read Benjamin West and His Cat Grimalkin
as part of our not-so- great artist study this term. We did learn a lot about Benjamin West’s childhood years from this book, although our attempts to study his paintings came to naught.  When I asked Hannah to tell me about Benjamin West in her end-of-term narration, she gave many details about his upbringing but concluded with “He became a great painter, and I’ve heard he was very good.”  Momfail for not pulling the picture study together, but I do think it was worthwhile to read the book, as we learned about Quakers and colonial life, and we found the story and illustrations engaging.

A Head Full of Notions
is a chapter book biography about Robert Fulton, who invented/perfected the steamboat. Of particular interest, the book highlights how Fulton was consumed with achieving fame, and always took all the credit for himself, even when other people helped him. The kids all noticed and remarked on these things, leading to good conversations.

If you like stories about little people, like the Borrowers and so forth, you will probably like Mistress Masham’s Repose by T.H. White. The book imagines that Liliputians were brought back to England and escaped to a deserted island monument at a crumbled down old country house, where they are discovered by the last descendant of the ducal property owners, a little girl under the thumb of a dreadful governess and the guardianship of a despicable curate. I learned about this book in How the Heather Looks and found it very amusing, so I immediately gave it to Hannah, who is also a fan of the miniature people genre.

I found out about Magic & Mischief: Tales from Cornwall via How the Heather Looks, although that book referred to an older set of Cornish fairy tales on which Magic & Mischief is based.  I think the older version probably would be better.  The fairy tales in the book are interesting, but not in the literary way that, say, the Andrew Lang fairy tale books are.  Of most interest, to me anyway, were the old English words sprinkled in here and there in the book.  I think linguistic change is very interesting and I love to learn the origins of old words and phrases.  Hannah co-opted this book out of the library bag before I had a chance to get to it, and she thought it was ok but didn’t have anything particularly superlative to say about it.

Abel’s Island  was a fantastic family read-aloud.  Written and illustrated by William Steig (who wrote some of our favorite picture books like Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, Brave Irene, etc), this short chapter book would be a great choice if you’re just easing in to reading longer books aloud.  The story follows a spoiled young mouse who  is swept away to a remote island during a storm.  While on the island, Abel learns to take care of himself, finds out what his professional calling is, and figures out that he’s much stronger than he would have imagined.  We all loved this story and the pictures are great too.

We listened to most of Susan Wise Bauer’s The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child, Vol. 3: Early Modern Times on our long car trip in August, but finished it up in September.  Although Bauer’s volumes don’t exactly match our Tapestry of Grace years (TOG Year 3 covers the 1800s, SOTW3 covers 1600-1850), they are a great spine and so well told and memorable.  Of all of my (many) educational purchases over the years, buying all four volumes of Story of the World in audio form was probably one of my best decisions.

So, telling the story of a famous historical figure through the viewpoint of his or her pet is apparently a huge thing in kid literature. The latest of this genre that we’ve read aloud has been Lewis and Clark and Me: A Dog’s Tale.  The book is narrated by Lewis’s dog, Seaman (alternately referred to as Scannon in older books, because Lewis had such atrocious spelling that no one could figure out the animal’s name until recent scholarship decoded it), and each short chapter is based on an incident from Lewis’s actual diaries in which the dog is mentioned.  It is a pretty good device, and an engaging way to add depth if you’re studying Lewis and Clark.  Sarah particularly enjoyed this book.  The pictures are very nice as well.

Eli Whitney, Boy Mechanic was a school read-aloud, and I’m glad we found it.  The book is a great and engaging biography of Eli Whitney, focusing primarily on his childhood (with a few chapters at the end covering his invention of the cotton gin and interchangeable parts).  There are nice pencil drawings throughout, and the chapters are not terribly long, but always interesting.  Jack was especially interested each day to find out what new thing Eli was going to figure out (he built a violin, figured out how watches worked, and all sorts of other things).

Every time we got in the car and listened to the Tim Curry dramatized audio version of The Bad Beginning (from Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events) the children debated whether or not to continue.  One of my kids is particularly impacted by the mood of music, and was almost brought to tears by the scary accompaniment and creepy voices of this story.  Still, we pressed on because we all wanted to hear how the story would turn out.  I will say that from my perspective the book was fun, because it uses great vocabulary (and explains the words well) and is funny.  The kids all requested that the subsequent books in the series be consumed in paper form rather than audio.

Of Courage Undaunted was supposed to be a school read-aloud.  After waiting for it week after week in the library hold line to no avail, I eventually purchased a copy.  I tried to read it aloud for several days but for some reason I just don’t think it lends itself to reading out loud.  The kids agreed.  So Sarah looked at the pictures and sounded out bits here and there, and Hannah and Jack read it to themselves.  That meant I had to read it too so that I could discuss it with them, and it was ok.  I didn’t love it.  I remember loving reading about Sacagawea as a child, but this book is more about the crew as a whole.  It gives good information, and I do really like the illustrations, but it just wasn’t particularly a favorite.

What have you been reading aloud (or along with) this month?

 

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Sarah’s School Work, Fall 2014

Sarah is in Kindergarten this year!  In some ways she seems past this stage, in that she’s quite articulate and good at many things, but in other ways she’s still pint-sized, as evidenced by the fact that she went to church in a size 3T dress this Sunday and I didn’t notice anything amiss.

In addition to the subjects we cover with the other kids, Sarah’s individual school work includes:

Math

Last year Sarah got through half of Saxon 1, so this year I am pulling back in pace a bit and just having her do one page of the second half of Saxon 1.  At this pace, she will still be part way through Saxon 2 by the end of Kindergarten so I don’t see any reason to rush around.  Doing one page a day still helps her practice writing her numbers and gives her time to get really good at addition and subtraction facts.

Reading

Sarah is still convinced she can’t read, which is perplexing since she’s 139 lessons in to the Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading, and is reading even complicated phonemes like -aigh.  But because she can’t pick up any old chapter book and read it, like Hannah and Jack can, she thinks she can’t read.  Curiously, she also thinks she can’t ride her bicycle, although she actually can and has repeatedly done so in front of numerous witnesses.  So at any rate, in addition to her reading lesson, she also reads me a short book like a Bob book reader or one of Eliza’s board books, or something like that, because maybe if she reads an actual book daily, eventually it will sink in that she is in fact reading.  In spite of her assertion that she can’t read, Sarah still reports that reading is her favorite subject, so I guess that’s good.

Spelling

Sarah couldn’t understand why she didn’t have a spelling book like the others, so I went ahead and started her in All About Spelling 1.  I was not too surprised that she immediately grasped the concept of building words by sound, but I was surprised that she enjoyed it so much that she begs to be allowed to do more spelling every day. I actually have to cut her off after she does a week’s worth in about 10 minutes.  So although we’ve only completed five weeks of school, she’s already well over 2/3 of the way through the book and showing no signs of slowing down.  I figure at some point we will get to something that takes more effort and then we’ll slow down to a normal pace, but at this point she’s enjoying it so what the heck.

Grammar

I said I wouldn’t do it but I’m going through First Language Lessons 1 with Sarah again.  I was going to skip it, but she wouldn’t have it and I thought maybe we’d rehash level 1 another time for review before going to level 2.  It can’t hurt, right?

Handwriting

I just have Sarah doing copywork for handwriting.  Since she copies the same length passage that her older siblings do, and her spelling also includes dictation, I feel like that is sufficient.

How long does this take?

Truly, Sarah is the most diligent worker in the house.  She never complains about her work, but just cheerfully does her assignments.  It takes her about 10 minutes to do her copywork, and then about 30-40 minutes for Office Time (her one-on-one teaching time).  Usually she gets all of her work done with me.  Then the subjects we do with the other kids take one-and-a-half to two hours, so total she’s probably doing about two-and-a-half to three hours of school a day, not counting extra reading time and bedtime read-alouds.  That seems reasonable for her age.  Other than school work she does a lot of dressing up and playing make-believe games with her ponies and castle and dolls, and singing at the top of her lungs.

It’s interesting to think about the differences between Sarah’s Kindergarten year and Hannah’s.  In many ways, I’m doing way more with Sarah than I knew I could even attempt with Hannah, but in other ways, I’m way more laid back.  You learn things along the way I suppose.

 

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Jack’s School Work, Fall 2014

This is Jack shortly after we picked up his new cello. The boy has been asking to take cello lessons since he was three, so we finally gave in.  He’s really psyched and we’re hopeful that his enthusiasm will translate into happy practicing!

Jack is in second grade this year and is very smart and capable, but we are having to do some heavy lifting on attitude and diligence.  From what I’ve read, this is a common issue with seven-year-old boys and I am researching like mad on the topic.  Book recommendations welcome!  In spite of that, it’s often really a joy to teach Jack, because his mind is so incredibly interesting.  He asks wildly insightful questions and sees connections in unusual ways that keep me entertained and on my toes.  In addition to the subjects we do together with the other kids, here is the run down on Jack’s individual work:

Math

Jack is kind of a ninja at math when he is in the mood, so he is having no trouble in Saxon 3. However, he does have trouble understanding why he should show his work when he can easily do it in  his head or out loud, so sometimes there is a battle over completing the three page lesson each day  (one page teaching, one page practice, one page of math facts). I remember Hannah having this problem too and she turned the corner eventually, so I’m hopeful Jack will too.

Latin

Since I’m tackling Latin as an individual subject this year, Jack is going it alone in Prima Latina and having no trouble at all.  We’re just doing one chapter per week and he’s heard all of the vocabulary in years past, so the only new thing is that he’s having to write answers down this year, but that’s no problem.  He’s getting 100% on end-of-week tests and likes to sing the prayers as songs (which they sort of are–one is essentially Holy, Holy, Holy in Latin, and another is the Gloria Patri, etc).

Cursive

Having asked to learn cursive last year, Jack is doing New American Cursive II this year.  Some of the gleam has worn off now that he knows how the letters go, but practice makes perfect.

Spelling

Unlike his older sister, Jack is an intuitive speller, so All About Spelling 3 is helping him understand the rules behind how we spell and it’s not hard for him.  The only stumbling block here is the dictation–to reinforce the spelling rules the book has the teacher read a sentence containing words from that rule and then the student writes it down.  The method is good, but Jack balks at having so much writing.  To finish the week he has to do three sentences per day, which isn’t really that much, but sometimes there is foot dragging.  When he is focused, though, spelling is a cinch.  I’m hoping the kinks work themselves out as we go along.  Meanwhile, I work on being calm and cheerful. 🙂

Language Arts

For grammar and writing we’re using First Language Lessons 3 and Writing With Ease 3.  Jack loves these and he really, really likes diagramming.  Boy after my own heart.

Reading

I still have Jack practice reading out loud most days.  He reads well, but it’s good to practice inflection and he has a tendency to skim over words when he’s not sure how they are pronounced.  He is reading The Fellowship of the Ring (having really enjoyed The Hobbit this summer when we read it aloud–he likes fantasy/adventure) and also some books about heroes of the Wild West and various other chapter books he picks up around the house or from the library stack.  He doesn’t read as much as Hannah does, but he enjoys reading and is keen to get in on book clubbing with me whenever we get to it.

How long does this take?

For Jack, this question is so variable!  He spends about 15-20 minutes on cursive and copywork at the table with the girls, then on a good day he can get his Office Time (one-on-one teaching time with me) done in about 30 minutes.  On a bad day his Office Time can take over an hour.  Then he spends maybe another half an hour on the assignments I give him in Office Time unless he gets distracted and starts playing Legos or building forts, in which case he might still be doing assignments in the afternoon when he would rather be outside playing.  Added together with the subjects we do together with the girls, which takes about one-and-a-half to two hours, I’d say Jack spends between three and five hours on school work per day, not including his personal reading time or our evening read-aloud time.

I don’t mean to overstate the difficulties of school here, Jack is really a very pleasant and happy boy generally speaking, and I do enjoy teaching him.  I think our struggles are mostly related to his developmental stage and I trust we will see improvement sooner or later!

 

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Hannah’s School Work, Fall 2014

Hannah is in third grade this year and seems to have really turned a corner with school work. She’s always been a good student, but this year she’s much more able to handle her workload without dilly-dallying or complaining about how much writing she has to do.  I have told her several times already what a complete joy it is to have Office Time with her–that’s our individual instruction time–this year.  In addition to the subjects we cover together with the other kids, this is what Hannah’s individual work looks like:

Math

After a brief review, we launched into Saxon 5/4. This is the first Saxon level that is a textbook rather than a consumable style, so I think a big step is that Hannah is writing out all of her problem sets in a notebook rather than just putting in the answers.  She’s learning lessons in neatness and checking her work, which is important for later math levels so good to learn it now!  I’m surprised to note that 5/4 spirals more slowly than the end of Saxon 3 did, but it’s an easy win for Hannah since we labored over intense long division this summer so going back to easier review is a relief for us both. I wasn’t sure about this progression–it seemed strange to put her directly in 5/4 as a third grader–but now I’m much more confident that it was the right decision.  There is an option to take a segue from Saxon 3 to a few intermediate levels, but I am glad we didn’t bother with that.

Latin

We’re doing a big review of Prima Latina, mostly for spelling purposes (if there was an award for spending the most possible time in one Latin book, our family would probably win it for our multi-year journey through this one!) and then we’ll move into Latina Christiana at long last.  I’m finding that it works much better for me to tackle Latin individually with each child rather than attempting it as a group subject.

Spelling

Spelling has long been a thorn in Hannah’s side, and I’ve tried so many programs with such limited success.  Usually, she’d get a perfect score on a weekly spelling test and then promptly spell the same words incorrectly in her other writing.  This year, I pulled her back into All About Spelling 2, in hopes of helping her to understand the rules behind spelling since that curriculum worked so well with Jack last year.  Then the heavens parted and an angelic chorus sang “AAAAAHHHHHleluia” because oh my word she is finally getting it!  For some reason this fall spelling is clicking for Hannah.  I think she’s just at an age where she ADORES things that are mysteries or puzzles and AAS is helping her see the rules and reasons behind spelling correctly.  She’s taking the lessons at a rate of 2-3 per week (rather than 1 per week as you’d do normally) so I think she will be on track by the end of this term.  What a relief for us both.

Handwriting

I have Hannah doing her copywork in cursive every day, and also using Copybook Cursive from Memoria Press for additional practice.  It’s sort of overkill, but we have the book on hand.

Language Arts

After much research, I got Michael Clay Thompson’s language arts set and started it with Hannah.  We ADORE this method.  The books integrate grammar, word roots, poetry analysis, and writing in an idea- and story-based way that really makes sense and emphasizes beauty and understanding at a deep level.  I got Level 1, which is used for gifted 3rd graders or 4th graders.  At first I wondered why, because I think at some level Hannah could have done this stuff in 1st grade, but I’m glad I waited because I think her 3rd grade love of figuring out how things work and seeing patterns is helping make this a breeze.  She’s finished Grammar Island and almost half of Building Language and Language of the Hemispheres already, and is doing a sentence analysis from Practice Island every day.  These books dovetail nicely with First Language Lessons, so she is finishing up some of the last diagramming lessons from FLL 3 and will move into FLL 4 as soon as we receive our copy.  I won’t lie–this is a lot of language arts.  But Hannah really enjoys it, so I don’t mind that she spends several hours a day on it.  In fact, on days when we’ve been rushed and I’ve tried to skip some of this, she begs to do it anyway.

Reading

Reading is Hannah’s favorite thing.  She reads voraciously and since I can’t keep up with her anymore, I try to read a few things she’s reading in the interest of discussion, but other than that I rely heavily on classic book lists I find in a variety of places.  Since she reads so much and way beyond her grade level I don’t bother counting reading as school work anymore–it’s just part of her life, which is how it should be!  However, I’m doing some research on how to shape literature discussions so that we can pick our mother-daughter book club back up in a way that helps her learn literary analysis and how to be a thoughtful and discerning reader.  Recently Hannah told me that she feels the need to read War and Peace.  I said yes, you really should read War and Peace, but perhaps not this year.  🙂

How long does this take?

Going over her math lesson and doing some mental math work together, Latin, spelling, and language arts in Office Time takes about an hour.  She does her copywork and handwriting at the table with everyone else generally for about 15-20 minutes, and the work I assign her in Office Time takes her about two to three hours if she’s diligent.  Then the reading we do for our together subjects takes about one and a half to two hours, not including bedtime reading.  All told I’d say Hannah spends five to six hours a day on school work.  Usually we start by 8:30 and she works until lunch, then finishes her work during afternoon rest time.  Sometimes she’s still doing work at 8:30 at night, but that’s her choice.  I have no idea how much additional time she spends reading, but it’s a lot.

As I mentioned, I am really delighting in teaching Hannah this year.  It will be interesting to see how the year turns out!

 

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