Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Let no set back go to waste

This morning was exactly what I imagined homeschooling would be like. When I brought my oldest daughter home I had a four year old, a 18 month old, and a 5 week old. I was terrified. I was lucky if dinner was ready. I had no idea how I would teach my daughter how to write a paragraph. Totally convinced that God was asking me to bring McKenzie home, I withdrew her from school. I braced myself for a "wasted" year.

At 10:30 this morning I was still cleaning up the breakfast mess. In my mind I was going over all of the academic things that undoubtedly would not be accomplished today. Then, my three year old broke a Christmas decoration. Okay, deep breath. Not a crisis. Not even close. However, it had to be cleaned up. (dirty dishes in the sink - -ok; broken glass in the carpet --not ok) By the time that I was ready to start school I already needed a mental break. I sent the kids to play in their room while I went to basement. While I stood in our unfinished basement I decided that the best way to start our school day was with something fun. Yes, we were "behind". Yes, I was anxious about fitting in two handwriting lessons. I also knew that I did not have the patience needed to guide the girls through their more challenging lessons.

Today, at the shameful time of 11am, we started our school day by reading "The Winter's Tale" from The Children's Shakespeare by E. Nesbit. The girls loved it. In fact, they were jumping up and down begging for "one more Shakespeare." My six year old said, "Shakespeare is better than dessert!"

We didn't have time for handwriting lessons today. I didn't hold up any math flash cards today. We didn't draw maps of Magellan's historic trip to the Spice Islands. Today we read Shakespeare. Today I offered up a prayer. God, despite my weaknesses, please let my children learn.

Ten years from now my girls might be sitting in a high school classroom. I hope that if their teacher hands them a copy of a Shakespeare play they will clap their hands in joy.

Friday, November 20, 2009

If success is measured by learning opportunities

Geography challenge #2 was, if nothing else, fun. I love that the most ordinary activities become exciting with children.

I let each girl pick a destination. My 6 year old routed us from our pick up spot to the "transfer circle". From there she guided us onto our next bus and pulled the bell when our stop was announced. When we reached our destination she looked up at me and said, "Thanks for planning this."

My 8 year old was also able to reach her chosen destination, but it took a little more work. She did not need to switch buses, but she really wanted to. After two attempts at navigating a bus transfer she agreed to stay on the main line and get off at the stop closest to her goal, the library. The ride back to the car went more smoothly.

I would like to repeat this activity. I think that I would be able to tweak it as they get older. Superimpose latitude and longitude type lines on the bus map, give the destinations in the form of coordinates. Also, it would be fun to ask them to be the tour guide for our town and have them plan a tour using the bus system. That idea would focus more on social studies and language arts.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Geography Challenge #2

At the beginning of the year I tried a geography challenge with the girls. It worked even better than I had hoped.

We are now filling the "geography adventure" jar again. For the next two weeks, as we read about Columbus, I will be teaching the girls basic map skills. Each morning I am asking them questions from the previous lesson. Along with the review questions I am throwing in world geography questions. For my first grader I am also asking her questions about our address.

My ideas do not always work. This one is working. For this homemade geography unit I am using a book called Maps and Mapping: geography facts and experiments. (check the J912 section in your library for something similar) I am also using TOG Year 2 map aids.

And the adventure that will reward all of their hard work? A trip on the Applcart! What? The Applcart is our college town's version of public transportation. Each girl will be given a map, pick a destination, and without assistance pick the bus route that we should follow to reach the chosen destination. They are so excited that it is almost embarrassing. You would think that they never leave the house.

I do not care to spend the entire day on the college bus with my 4 children, so I am highly motivated to teach well. I hope to take pictures of this adventure.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

When the teacher is the student

Two and a half years ago my husband and I made an agonizing decision. We wrote a letter to the principal of our oldest daughter's school. We ordered a math curicullum. We drilled our friends with questions about home management. We called the president of a local homeschooling coop. And so began this quiet "unexpected adventure."

This week I have realized all the things that I would have never learned had I been unwilling to venture down this path. Here is the short list:
  • I love history. My exposure to world history prior to homeschooling was a backbreaking textbook with dates, dates, and more dates. This year history has come alive for me. I love the books that we are using. Real books, not two paragraphs used to bookend another timeline.
  • spelling - - -teaching phonics is greatly improving my spelling skills
  • each fingertip has 50,000 nerve endings! Did you know that? Last night as I prayed for my children, I thanked God that he knows every one of those nerve endings.
  • how to find the answer to analogy questions (wish I had had this one 15 years ago when I was taking the SAT)
  • how to rejoice and live comfortably in the life that God has called you to, even if that is different from what you expected

What are you learning on the adventure that God has called you to?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

the non-TOG stuff

At the heart of our school work is Tapestry of Grace, but, as the sidebar indicates, we have a few other things going on too. Here is a quick update.

Math - -still good; I like being able to pull from two resources; McKenzie is loving the analogies. I usually have to make her stop and move on to the next thing.

Science - overall good; It is working for both girls, which is nice. I did buy anatomy coloring books that we are using to supplement the anatomy reading. I am also finding myself adding experiments. If you are willing to use R.E.A.L. science as a starting point it is fine. If you would rather have all you need at your fingertips don't use this one

Grammar - I continue to be satisfied with Easy Grammar. We are using the daily grams workbook and the larger lesson book.

Spelling - Spelling Power sure seems like a lot of work for a spelling program. I am not following the program exactly, which doesn't seem to be working. Now I have to decide, do I spend a few hours organizing spelling or do I bag the whole thing. Advice?

Phonics - My first grader is using Veritas Press phonics. Last year I did not need the teacher's guide. This year I saved a ton $$$ and only bought the student workbook. As it turns out I wish that I had the teacher's manual for the first grade material. I am making it work since I have two years worth of Saxon phonics to pull from, but if you are thinking about using Veritas just buy the whole thing.

Friday, October 16, 2009

a common goal

We are wrapping up unit one of year two. For those of you not using Tapestry of Grace, that means that we are beginning to transition out of the middle ages and into the renaissance. Today we talked about the life of Jon Wycliff and I did a quick review of some of the people we had talked about through out the week. Joan of Arc, Johann Gutenburg, Jan Huss I went rattling through the list. My third grader said to me, "it is like they were all working on the same things and didn't even know."

Wow. That was so true. All week I had been reminding the girls that these people had given their lives. Being the only woman in the army must have been lonely. Devoting yourself to one goal despite financial ruin must have been challenging. Standing for the truth of the Bible, even if that meant standing against the bishop, would have been scary. McKenzie pulled it all together for us. All of these people surely had times when they felt alone. And yet, they were not. God was using each of them to usher in the reformation.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Margin of Error

The question of the week seems to be, do I have room for error? I am referring to the relatively small things that happen through out the day that become time stealers. Last night I was out with my six year old. We had a fun evening together. On the way home we stop by the grocery store. I let her pick out a snack. Before we had left the parking lot of the store she had spilled the better part of a large bag of goldfish on the floorboard. Room for error? Today, while working on math with my older two, my two year old managed to dump the vacuum canister down the stairs. Room for error?

Have I placed so much pressure on myself to accomplish a certain amount, or so filled our family calender that these minor issues become a breaking point? My children are still so young. I want to leave a large margin of error. I want to be able to calmly pull the car over and help collect a spilled snack. I want to stay clear headed enough to remember that I left the vacuum at the top of the stairs, not the baby.

I would like for my children to remember their home as usually peaceful, loving, forgiving, and safe. As a place with a pace that allowed for time to correct their errors, purposeful and accidental.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Well, I don't know the answers to ALL your questions

Author's note: I love my children. All of them. A whole lot!

My oldest is exhausting! She starts asking questions before the sun rises and is still asking questions after we shut the bedroom door at the end of the day. She is 8. Eight.

Questions from today:

During Bible time, "Can you read us a new parable today? I think that you have already read all of those." That question lead to a conversation about the fact that while the words in the Bible stay the same our understanding of God should grow each time we read them.

While reading The Squire and the Scroll, "But did the princess want to marry him?" She was totally offended that the princess was given to the hero without being consulted.

When I sent the kids to play outside, "Will we be in trouble if we don't have fun?"

No matter what option parents choose for school, raising children is mentally draining. It is God alone who keeps me from screaming, "Yes, you will sit in time out until you turn 20 if you don't get out there and have fun!" It is also God who is gracious enough to pour out his forgiveness when I fail to train my children in ways that reflect the fruit of the spirit.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A little sample

If I had a scanner I would use that right now. Then you would be able to see the handwriting and the spelling errors that I missed. I do not have a scanner. You might have noticed that we are still working on acquiring a digital camera. I am sorry that the flaws are all hiding behind the computer screen, but here a sample of Mckenzie's writing.

"Becoming a knight"
It took many years to become a knight. First you would become a page. They learned to clean stables and ride horses. They served food. Later if a page worked hard enough he became a squire. He learned to care for weapons and to use them. He learned manners. If he was a good squire he would become a knight.

When a squire became a knight there was a special ceremony. first the knight spent the night in chapel praying. The next day people would help him dress. Then the knight got a tap on the shoulder with the king's sword. Then he received a sword and other gifts. After the party the knight was considered a great knight at everything he did.

Perhaps a tad idealistic at the end, but she is 8. Knights and soldiers are heroes. I can be ok with that.

Teaching writing

One of my goals for both of my school age children is that they would be able to write well. In my mind that encompasses proper spelling, punctuation, grammar, and a level of comfort with putting words on paper. My oldest daughter (third grade) has no problem putting words onto a page. She has a lot to say! We are focusing on spelling, punctuation, grammar, and structure of paragraphs. My first grader struggles to get ideas written down. I am starting to step away more as she works on short writing assignments. I don't want her to focus on correcting errors; she needs to get something on the blank page. We will be able to work on the details once that has happened.

For my first grader I have found lapbooks to be quite helpful. Rather than a large empty page, she starts with a small space. She also has specific instructions about what should go in that space. For example, what types of weapons did the vikings use? Two to three sections of her lap book at a time seems to work well. Beyond that the frustration level becomes so high that we are no longer productive. I am starting to walk away after I explain what she is supposed to write about. She usually tells me that she can't do it. I encourage her to try. We might go back and forth on that a few times, but eventually she will get something written down.

My third grader is more comfortable writing. I am spending more time focusing on the writing process. Here is what that looks like for us (all of these ideas are pulled from Tapestry of Grace curriculum):

Day 1: I give her a specific topic to write about (this week: in the middle ages how did a boy become a knight?); she completes a brainstorming sheet (this week: a ladder diagram); after she is done with school I look over this sheet to see if she understands the assignment

Day 2: brainstorming sheet looks great: I review the parts of/rules for paragraphs and ask her to write the paragraph ; brainstorming sheet has errors: we review the sheet together, if necessary she starts over, usually she is able to make corrections to the sheet she has already started

Day 3: self -proofing - - before I read her paragraph she looks over and and makes corrections. She is checking for - indented, topic sentence, each sentence supports the topic sentence, conclusion, each sentence begins with a capital letter and ends with a punctuation mark. I read the paragraph, mark any spots that need to be corrected and she makes those changes.

I remind both girls often that it takes at least 10 years to learn to write. I do not expect them to know how to write yet; I expect them to give their best effort to learning how to write.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A warm mug of hot chocolate

We are now six weeks into our school year. I naively thought that I would not experience what many call "the fog". I assumed that since I had experimented with Tapestry of Grace last year, extensively research all of my curriculum choices, and was entering my second year of homeschooling that we would seamlessly slip from summer into school. In fact, I was so convinced of my ability to avoid the back to school blues, I didn't even recognize the symptoms.

On Thursday of this week I was thoroughly enjoying being home with my children. We were defiantly having a Kodak kind of day. The weather was classic fall mountain weather; chilly, damp, and foggy. School went well, the toddlers kept their tantrums to a minimum, and I was canning applesauce. While standing in the kitchen, I took a deep sigh and tried to think of a way to describe how I was feeling. Not being a coffee drinker, the first thing that I thought of was swimming in a mug of hot chocolate. What a fabulous thought!

My day had certainly had plenty of normal adventures for a stay at home mom with young children. I was behind on the laundry. I had hoped to accomplish a little more during school, and the apples were trumping dinner planning. Yet, there I was swimming in my mug of hot chocolate. Completely relaxed, perfectly content, and even a bit confident.

I began to consider what fact could possibly have brought me to this point. What was so difficult about two weeks ago? Last week? Even yesterday? After a few minutes of reflection I realized that I had experienced the "four week fog."

Well, I am humbled to discover a new layer of arrogance in myself. I am also thrilled to be mentally back into the school routine.

Monday, August 24, 2009

I am confused, was Charlemagne good or bad?

We started week 4 today. I was hoping to start the week with a "geography adventure", but due to weather we postponed our trip.

We started the skeletal system today. The girls were full of questions. I am please with R.E.A.L. science so far.

The hardest question that I was asked today was about Charlemagne. I have to be honest and say that I underestimated my third grader's ability to integrate information. I did start her on the Upper Grammar track, but I was completely prepared to adjust to lower grammar. Since I was so unsure about which level we would find ourselves using I focused on lower grammar details over the summer. So, when I was asked today about the details of Charlemagne's life, I had to pause for a moment.

Our history time ended with a conversation about the fact that christians' lives are full of mistakes. I reminded McKenzie of a question that she had asked me earlier in the day. She had asked, "how can we abide in Christ? I know that we want to do that, but we do still sin, so how can we do both?" A great question. One that I suspect she will be revisiting for the rest of her life. We know that Paul wrestled with that same concept. I focused our discussion on the desire to love and follow Christ. After we finish 1 John, I think that Galatians would be a good follow up. ("our righteous acts are filthy rags")

These are the kinds of discussions that drew me to use Tapestry of Grace. I feel better equipped to navigate these spiritual questions couched in the context of history.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Week 3

The girls filled the geography challenge jar this week. That means that week 4 will start with a field trip. I think that it will be good for all of us to spend some extra time outside. This idea worked well, and I would use it again.

I was hoping to get in some of the art projects this week, but that did not happen. I think that once winter sets in we will do the weekly art projects.

Math is going well. So far the balance of Saxon and mathematical reasoning is working. I would like to spend some time playing math related games next week.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Week 2

Last week was quite full for us. We did manage to get in a reasonable amount of school, but there was no time to blog.

Here are a few questions that were on my mind last week. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Cursive - - any tips on teaching cursive? I am using startwrite to create worksheets and I use Donna Young's cursive animations. Any other ideas?

The silly cycle of home school mom guilt - - - "Oh great, she finished a 4 week literature assignment during week 2. I am not challenging her enough." Then, later the same day, "I am expecting too much from her. I should have gone with the grade level spelling workbook." Does anyone else struggle with this roller coaster? How do you find mental balance?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Off to a good start

Here are a few highlights from our first week of school:
1. McKenzie read two week's worth of literature this week (I am sure this will slow down as the writing assignments increase, but I took that to be a great sign)

2. Thanks to the webinars that I participated in this summer I felt the freedom to let McKenzie read on her own. She retained far more than I thought she would. When I read aloud to both girls McKenzie would say things like, "oh the Huns. I read about the Huns today." That was usually followed up by a description of the Huns or another people group that she had read about. This will revolutionize our school day. I have been grateful for the advice all week.

3. Paige (1st grade) begging to go first on the assignments that she does with my help.

4. The geography challenge is working. Yesterday while they were cleaning up their toys the girls kept asking each other questions like, "what is a mesa?" Our jar is filling up.

5. Base 10 blocks are awesome. This summer I bought a set of base 10 blocks. Saxon math does not use base 10 blocks. When I added them to an order the woman on the phone questioned me. "Aren't you using Saxon?" I figure a great teacher would not strictly follow one curriculum. A great teacher would combine ideas from several different programs. This week right as Mckenzie was starting to get frustrated with a few work book pages I pulled out the base 10 blocks. Her demeanor totally changed. She was able to finish the assignment with a smile.

6. Both girls are responding well to a Bible study method that I thought I would try. Again, I got this idea from the webinars. Basically we are trying a scaled back version of the Kay Arthur method. Now, this particular method has never appealed to me. However, when I heard Marcia Somerville talk about using the Kay Arthur method with her children, a light went off in my head. I printed off 1John in large font and we are color/picture coding the words. They are enjoying it. I will let you know in a few weeks if they are learning more about 1 John this way.

This first week was not without typical bumps in the road. My three year old got sick, we had a church event that kept us out way too late, and had some of the general chaos that comes with small children. Overall, a great start to our school year.

Monday, August 3, 2009

School is in session (Year 2, Unit 1, Week 1)

We are off to a smooth start. In the interest of honesty, we started about 30 minutes later than I had hoped due to a toothpaste explosion. I would say that flexibility is on the top ten requirements list for home schooling moms.

This year I have created a schedule for us to follow. I am hoping that it will help the girls move forward when I get distracted by toothpaste explosions created by my younger two. I am also hoping that the schedule will help me re-enter school mode post-toothpaste explosion.

Tapestry of Grace eases into the school year. Today McKenzie read the first two chapters of King Arthur and the first chapter of The story of the Middle Ages. We started reviewing geography terms, completed placement tests for Spelling Power, and started math.

For the most part we are sticking to the basic Tapestry of Grace plan for the next few weeks. I have added a "Family geography challenge" I knew that we would need to focus on math facts this month. Handing the girls another stack of flash cards did not seem like a good idea. They are still making the flash cards, but after that they can ask anyone in the family the definition of the term. We have a jar that they can put a token in for each correct answer. When the jar is full we will go on a geography adventure (i.e. - hiking, berry picking, fishing, etc.).

My goal for the year is to post on Mondays and Fridays. I would love to trade ideas with other moms. How do you start your school year? What fun ideas are you using this year? Leave a comment. If you have already answered the questions on a blog feel free to leave the link as a comment.

Author's note: Sorry that there are no pictures. The camera is broken currently. I hope to have that problem fixed by the end of the month.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Marine Biology, oh, I mean vacation

As I have previously mentioned, my philosophy on teaching science is that it needs to be 98% experiential. Sure, some reading and writing are necessary. However, I am fully convinced that reading and writing supplement experiential learning in the area of science. I use personal experience as both a teacher and a learner to support this philosophy. I have discovered that very little can compete with the joy of watching your own children learn.

We had an amazing experience last week while on vacation. We got to watch a nest of sea turtles hatch and venture into the Atlantic ocean. There was no need for me to prompt my children to learn. They were bombarding me with questions, gasping in awe and planning their futures as scientists. I was able to answer some of their questions on the spot. The majority of their questions required a bit of research.

I suspect that they will retain what they have learned about Loggerhead Sea Turtles for many years. I wish that I could take my children on a world tour, allowing them to take in the amazing variety of plants and animals that call Earth home. Since that is out of the question, my husband and I try to maximize the opportunities that are presented to us.

Here is a link to an article written by Dr. Albert Mohler that addresses the issue of exposing children to God's creation. I was encouraged by this article when it was originally published in 2005. I love it when scholars confirm what I simply feel in my gut as a mother.

For those of you interested in the turtles here is a video of the nest that we saw hatch being relocated. Hopefully the video of the babies parading to the ocean will be up soon. You could check back here or on 'Coastal Digital' page on You-Tube.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Summer Science class (of course they don't know that)

We have been hanging out in our neighborhood garden recently. Gardening with children is so fun. They are amazed that the seeds that they planted in May have actually produced something edible. This is a picture of Paige collecting sugar snap peas. She ate most of them before we got back to the house. Oh well, I guess that is the point.

McKenzie, Lauren, and Zach collecting more peas. I have to remind the kids that we are sharing this garden. We can't pick everything.
We also found a monarch caterpillar. We agreed with the three other families that are working on the garden to keep any milkweed that came up. It doesn't make for a very tidy garden, but we are hoping to attract monarchs. I am hoping that the kids will get to observe the full life cycle. This picture is Lauren finding the caterpillar.

Friday, July 3, 2009

It is all here!

Our last package of school books arrived today. I am so glad to have everything in my possession. This box included our Map Aids CD-ROM and the lap book kits for the first ten weeks of school. We will start our school year the first Monday in August. I have a few weeks to finalize lesson plans and confirm field trips. I am looking forward to a new school year. (If you don't know what Map Aids or lap book kits are click on the TOG box on the right.)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


Spelling was actually the hardest subject for me to plan this summer. The result of using Saxon phonics for the past two years has been that M's spelling level does not fit neatly into a given grade level. She has been exposed to all spelling rules, but has not mastered all of them. Assigning words a grade level seems somewhat arbitrary anyway. She loves to write and needs to be able to spell the words that are stored in her mind. Sometimes those words are "on grade level" and sometimes they aren't.

So, I read and reread and reread the Rainbow Resources Catalog. If you don't have a copy, the web-site is helpful too. However, I continue to find the catalog an invaluable resource. After reading the spelling section of the catalog every night for a week I was still unsure about which spelling program would be the best fit for M. As a last ditch effort I call Rainbow Resources. If you think that the catalog is helpful, you should talk to them on the phone. Every time I have called Rainbow Resources I have gotten excellent help.

The customer service rep helped me rule out several workbooks that I had been considering. After twenty minutes of spelling talk I ordered the first two books in the sequential spelling program.

Sequential spelling is quite different from any other spelling program. If you fall into the "spelling is visual" camp you would love this program. The words are grouped based on patterns. So, in, sin, begin, and begins would all be on the same list. Grade level is not a consideration in this program. It is an interesting concept. I think that I would have benefited from this program in middle school. But, that was also the program's weakness. It would be great for an older student who is struggling with spelling. A student who has been exposed to spelling rules year after year and still can't spell correctly. At that point a different method is clearly needed, and sequential spelling would be a reasonable option.

My students are young. They have not been exposed to the rules of spelling for several years. I knew that I would have to keep looking when I read the foot note for the word pinned.

"there is no need at this time to encumber your students' minds with rules about doubling consonants"

So, how will they spell topped and mopped correctly? I might use the sequential spelling list as a way to break up the school year, as challenge lists, or for mock spelling bees. However, I know that my girls still need exposure to the rules of spelling.

I have finally bought Spelling Power. (This link is by far the best price that I could find) I did not want to use this program. The author has a 45 minute video about how to use the program. The manual is huge. I know that Scott will not find it easy to just pick up and review words with the girls. I am not sure that M will think that the review methods are as great as the author claims. So, why would I pick this program? Several reasons . . . .
  1. Students "test in", which means that my grade level dilemma will be solved
  2. the program is designed to be completed in 15 minutes a day and those 15 minutes are broken down into three 5 minute segments
  3. it is a 3rd-12th grade program; IF we like it I will not have to search for a new spelling program next year

The irony of this time consuming search is that Spelling Power is recommened by Tapestry of Grace. Sometimes we just have to arrive at something on our own.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


When we started homeschooling our oldest was already reading. We felt like some reinforcement would be good, but we did not need an involved phonics program. Out of total ignorance I picked Saxon Phonics. Oops. Saxon is extremely involved. If I had followed the program as outlined we would have spent 45 minutes on phonics every day. I significantly altered the program and we spent an average of 15 minutes a day on phonics.

Saxon has two levels of phonics. We used level 1 during first grade, and level 2 during second grade. I didn't love it, and neither did M, but for 15 minutes a day we could both tolerate it. I will say that Saxon Phonics balances learning to read with learning to spell. I might review some of the flash cards next year if M has trouble with specific spelling concepts.

Our second daughter started kindergarten last school year. I could not imagine teaching a child to read using Saxon. We chose the Veritas Press Phonics program and were pleased with it. Again, I did not follow the program exactly, but we did actually use the worksheets. I also enjoyed the primers that came with the program. Next year we will use the Veritas Press 1st grade student workbook.

I had always bought into the idea that years of training were necessary to be able to teach a child to read. I was so glad to discover my error. Time is the main ingredient. I love having two new readers in the house and I am looking forward to adding two more.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Next school year will be the first time that I have used a science curriculum. I think that science should be a messy, hands-on endeavor. We have the privilege of living in the mountains of Western North Carolina. Our house is surrounded by woods. My kids can identify an eastern towhee based on sound alone. They can identify a wide variety of wildflowers and can tell you what month each of those flowers will bloom. Weather patterns are a constant topic of conversation in our community, and my children live the differences between snow, freezing rain, and hail. They are learning about seeds and plants as we participate in our neighborhood garden. They know that too much rain turns your basil black, but makes your cilantro three feet tall. They know more about salamanders than I do and can tell you the heart rate of the humming bird that we share three meals a day with,
But . . . . .

This year when my rising 3rd grader found out that there would be a science portion on her standardized test she panicked.
M: “Mom, we haven’t done science this year.”
Me: “Sure we have. You have a journal. Remember when we recorded the height of the basil plants.”
M: “yeah, but then Z ruined them”
(Z is baby brother, and did in fact ruin the basil plants. Several times.)
Me: “Well, that is part of science. Even great scientists have to start over sometimes. Anyway, we have done science. Remember talking about birds?”
M: “um, did that count?”

There was more to the conversation, but it was all pretty similar to what you see above. So, this year we are “doing science”. My girls crave structure. This free form science is life plan of mine is not working for them.

I think that I have found a reasonable compromise. Next year we will use R.E.A.L. Science level 1. I was sold when the woman on the phone started reading the necessary supply list, “pitch fork for collecting worms . . . “ R.E.A.L. stands for read, explore, absorb, learn. There are student worksheets, a short reading assignment and a lab for each unit. The material includes a reading list for each unit and helpful websites. The program assumes that you will have science twice a week. Level 1 is “life science” and includes human anatomy, animal life and plant life.

Hopefully next May M will not panic when it is time for Standardized testing, and both girls will continue to learn that science is a wonderful, hands-on subject.

Webinar update

The webinars that I mentioned last week did prove to be helpful. See for yourself by clicking here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A helpful Webinar

One of the things that I intended to include in my 2009-2010 school budget was money for teacher training. There are several topics that I would like to be more informed about. Unfortunately, after purchasing the basics, there is not very much money left. I am still hoping to enter the school year a little more prepared, and I have found several free webinars that look helpful.

I have registered for two writing workshops and a session on helping guide your child's spiritual development. All three look helpful, and the price was easily in my budget. Now the challenge will be carefully coordinating nap time for the younger two. If you would like to join me in one of these webinars click here. There were several other choices, so be sure to read all the descriptions.

If you have ways that you participate in teacher training leave me a comment. I would love to hear some of your great ideas.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Math choices

Clearly, I love Tapestry of Grace. It beautifully pulls together history, literature, art, and geography. However, those subjects are not enough to complete a well rounded school year. I will use the next few posts to tell you what I have chosen to use for our non-tapestry subjects. Let me start with Math.

I have now taken one student through Saxon 1 and 2. Next year I am planning on using Saxon 1 for my first grader and Saxon 3 for my third grader. Homeschooling moms tend to have strong reactions to the use of Saxon Math. Here is my pros and cons list:



Straight forward; my husband can easily teach a lesson, even if he hasn't done so in weeks

Each day, if followed exactly, would take a very long time

Through; plenty of practice with basic skills

The daily repetition can be confusing to young students. If I quiz my daughter everyday on the months of the year, by mid-week she has decided that she must be doing something wrong.

Adaptable; when the teacher's guide suggests sorting pattern blocks we sort laundry

Worksheets follow a familiar pattern; students who are reading well can complete a worksheet with little help

Worksheets follow a familiar pattern; I want my children to be able to answer any math questions, not just "Saxon" math questions.

When we complete a year of Saxon I am confident that we have completed math for grade "x"

I am happy enough with the Saxon program that I have worked hard to find solutions to its weaknesses. It is worth mentioning that I love math, and enjoy finding ways to best teach my children this subject.

I have set a one hour time limit on math. To make that work I look at the lesson in reverse. How long will it take my daughter to complete the worksheet? Are there additional worksheets to be completed? Is the lesson introducing a new concept? How did the "meeting book" time go yesterday? Once I have considered those questions I can mentally divide out the hour. We rarely complete more than one section of "the meeting" each day. I have found that over the course of a school year that is fine. Actually, when I was attempting to complete the entire "meeting" each day I found that my daughter struggled more. It became clear to me that she figured she must have been wrong the past three days. Doesn't that make sense? Typically we drill students on material that they are struggling with. She knew that I asked the "plus 9" facts everyday because she needed the practice. A logical jump for her was, "hmm. . . I must be getting those months wrong. Maybe there are 13." When I switched to asking calendar questions once a week she got them right every time. Less time and greater success, that is a good match.

To address the issue of familiar worksheets I use the Mathematical Reasoning workbooks that are published by the Critical Thinking Company. I also print worksheets from several websites. I will add links to those sites soon.

So, that is what I do for Math. This year I will use Saxon 1 with Mathematical Reasoning B and Saxon 3 with Mathematical Reasoning D. Hopefully that combination will work as well next year as it did this year.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Quick Recap of the 2008-2009 School Year

    During the 2008-2009 school year we continued to focus on phonics, spelling and basic math facts. I used Tapestry of Grace year 1 to supplement these basics. The literature selections were great for lower grammar students. We also spent plenty of time completing the hands-on projects suggested. Here are a few highlights:

Lapbooks for Unit one – these helped bring some focus to our discussions; they also proved to be a great review tool. The kids loved making their own books.

Field Trip to the King Tut exhibit in Atlanta, GA – I thought that this might be a little too much for my young children, but as it turned out they loved it. The realization that the books that they were reading were about real events was surprising to me. Their reaction to an actual mummy only confirmed what concrete learners young children are.

Salt Maps – What a great idea for teaching geography to young students. While we were working on the maps I was skeptical. Can my 5 year old truly understand the difference between a mountain and a mesa? The end of the year verdict was, yes, she sure can.

Using a children's Bible as our main history text- In September both kept asking me, "I thought that you said we were doing history, why do you have the Bible?" It took several months of explaining that the stories in the Bible are real. Real people, real events, and most certainly real history. I appreciate the Tapestry of Grace teacher's notes that help me tie Biblical events in with other aspects of history.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

An unexpected adventure?

In 2007 my husband and I made a shocking decision. We chose to homeschool our oldest child. For us, it was an agonizing decision. We loved the idea of public school. The first step in our homeschooling journey was to come to grips with the fact that the public school in our area was not the best fit for our child at that time.

During the 2007-2008 school year we limped along. I focused on phonics and basic math skills. We spent the majority of our school time reading. In the spring of 2008 I went into research mode. I wanted a curriculum that would offer plenty of guidance without feeling confining. I wanted a curriculum that integrated all subjects, did not involve me making thousands of copies, would allow us to easily add in our other children as they got older, and involved reading lots of great books. My standard was high.

By the end of May I had been introduced to Tapestry of Grace. To be honest, I was unsure. The teacher's manual was enormous. The book list was overwhelming. I was curious, but skeptical. Knowing that I would need to continue to focus on phonics and basic math facts, I chose to buy one unit of year one. The 2008-2009 school year served as a test run.

After a few weeks of Year 1 Unit 1 I knew that we had found the right curriculum for our family. This year Lampstand Press chose to begin offering a digital version of Tapestry of Grace. Now users have the option of purchasing access to all of the great material without creating a significant storage problem for themselves. I am eager to read all of the great book selections with my children. I love that I am able to focus on learning with my children rather than the preparation. I love that I can adjust their writing assignments based on 12 learning levels. And the great books, have I mentioned that already? Ultimately two factors made the decision easy for me, the organization of the material and the book lists.

I am looking forward to sharing with you our learning adventure. I hope that you will leave comments with links to any sites that you have found helpful in your schooling endeavor.