Monday, November 1, 2010

Links that I keep clicking on

I have let this blog sit silent while my family has walked through a grief filled period. I have a few thoughts bouncing around in my head, but my heart just isn't there yet.

In the mean time, here are some links that I have loved visiting

For math (are you tired of me talking about math?) - so many ideas, so little time
dy-dan - - high school math teacher turned PhD student, no algabra students in this house, but I love reading his ideas

For Science
birdsleuth - - free Homeschool material published by Cornell University. Think about that for a minute, a well respected university acknowledging that homeschooling is a viable option. Click on this link as a way to say "thanks for admitting that I exist Cornell University"

For encouragement (I know Laura in real life, her blog should be bookmarked on your computer)

In my spare time I am teaching a high school biology class. My students are currently working on landscape design projects. I am thrilled with their ideas.

Are there links that you are loving? Leave a comment.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Where to start?

Sheep uterus dissections. A big thank you to Greg and Nancy Landry for inviting us to join them during an anatomy camp. Most of the content was for older students, but my girls sure had a great time.

Shenandoah National Park, VA

Visiting with one of those few friends who loves my kids as much as I do. We have known each other for nearly 25 years.

Roan Mountain State Park, TN
Our mini-van has 1,200 more miles on it. Our savings account has a few less pennies in it. We loved having some time to catch up with family and friends. We treasured an opportunity to take an extended camping trip. Scott is without a doubt refreshed. He has returned to work with a renewed passion for his job.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Math Research Results

During the 2009-2010 school year my eight year old hit a road block in math. Each week the weaknesses of the Saxon program seemed more glaring. The biggest challenge for me was the lack of information for the parent. Saxon offers no alternatives for teaching a given concept. By May we were both discouraged and frustrated.

My goal for this summer was to find a math program that offered the parent multiple suggestions for teaching the same concept. I was also hoping for an unlimited list of ideas for hands on activities. Knowing that that was a rather tall order, plan "B" was to buy the next level of Saxon along with several idea books.

Here is a summary of what I found - - -
idea book - -good luck! Marylin Burns wrote some fun books in the 80's. I was able to find one at a used bookstore. ONE. The one that I found was cute, had great ideas, and is written to students. I bought it, but it wasn't quite what I was hoping to find. Also, I will need more than one idea book to get through the entire school year.

Math programs at the NC homeschool conference were amazingly weak. Here is a quick run down of booths I stopped by:

Teaching Textbooks - all done on the computer, when a wrong answer is given the child is then given the option of skipping the question, parent is not involved at all, no hands on activities

RightStart Math - EXPENSIVE! Requires manipulatives unique to that program, uses an unorthodox approach to math facts (no memorizing)

Math-U-See- weak on calendar, measuring, and telling time; many families use this program, it is fine, but not what I was looking for

I already knew that I was looking for more, not less, so I avoided programs that I knew to be similar to Saxon.

Math on the level - I had not heard of this program before; I was impressed by what I saw. It is initially more expensive than all other programs, but cheaper in the long run. It includes every math concept from kindergarten through Algebra. There are no consumable workbooks, so you can reuse the entire program for multiple children. Each concept had multiple teaching suggestions. There was an entire book devoted to hands on activities. There is a yahoo group that parents use to ask questions, and I am told that the group is quite helpful. I didn't make the purchase this weekend, but I am seriously considering switching to this program next year.

I did buy several books from the Critical Thinking Company. I love their math products. My girls do too. This year they have a new series called 'balance benders'; I highly recommend it.

I also bought a used copy of Saxon 5/4. Why? Fair question. It was cheap. I wanted to have a back up plan. I am pretty sure that I am going to use Math on the level, but the upfront cost does have me dragging my feet.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Unusually quiet around here

For the next few months this humble blog may seem rather silent. School will continue as scheduled, but my free time will look quite different. My husband has started a three month sabbatical. He has a great job, that he is quite good at, if I may say so. His job can be rather intense. To compensate for that his employer gives all full time workers a three month sabbatical after every five years of work. It is an amazing deal. I assure you that during those five years of work he wakes up every morning prepared to pour himself out each day.

The kids and I are thrilled to have him home. As my seven year old was setting the table on the first night she asked me, "will Dad be home for dinner?" It was wonderful to answer, "yes."

I am sure that I will read several blogs as I prepare for next school year, but I might not post too often myself. I will be enjoying my husband's company and relishing backyard baseball games.

Math - -join the conversation

As I posted a few months ago, I have been carefully reviewing math in our school. I have enjoyed reading the posts that Sylvia has written (there are three, so be sure to read each one). I have also enjoyed reading the comments that were added by her readers.

At the end of May I am going to sit in on three "how to teach math" sessions at the state homeschool conference. I am looking forward to compiling all of this information and making a final decision about math for next year.

Thanks to those of you who have been a part of the conversation. I certainly benefit from reading your ideas. I am sure that others do too.

TOG library style

For the last quarter of the school year (Year 2, Unit 4) I have tried using the library for all of our books. Overall I am pleased with the result. By relying on inter-library loans, I have been able to acquire most of the books that we will need. There were about 10 books that I was unable to match perfectly. In most cases I have been able to find a reasonable substitute.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Last day to enter the give away

If you haven't already entered this give away you have one day left. Tapestry of Grace will be giving away ALL OF THE TEACHER MANUALS AND SUPPLEMENTAL MATERIAL to five families. This amounts to nearly everything that you would need for history, literature, and geography for K-12. That is one amazing give away.

Monday, March 22, 2010

You mean that you were listening?

Do your kids ever surprise you? Are you ever fully convinced that they are ignoring you only to find out that they are listening to your every word?

We have nearly finished Year 2 Unit 3. That also means that we have nearly finished reading Colonial Living by Edwin Tunis. Though the book is fascinating, it has been a challenging read aloud. Several times I have allowed the girls to work on a craft project while I read to them. Today we only had a few pages to read, so I thought that we could just sit on the couch. They kept talking, getting up, and trying to play with their two year old brother. I assumed that I would need to re-read the passage later in the week.

Tonight at dinner my seven year old explained in reasonable detail how dogs were put on treadmills that were attached to the spit so that the meat would turn over the fire. (see what I mean about fascinating?) Well, who would have guessed that she was listening?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A drawing worth entering

As you know, I use Tapestry of Grace for most of my subjects. I have been so pleased with every aspect of the curriculum. Tonight I learned that they are holding an awesome drawing. Five lucky families will receive ALL FOUR YEARS of Tapestry of Grace and the supplementary products. Since all Tapestry year plans have K-12 teacher guides you would be set for quite a long time! Click here for the details on how to enter the drawing.

5 families will be given a gift worth more than $1,200. Make sure that you give yourself the chance to be among them.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The learning is the reward

For several years now my mom and I have talked about the fact that rather than rewarding young children for academic work, parents and teachers should guide students to understand that the work is the reward. This conversation started when my oldest daughter entered kindergarten At the first parent/teacher conference my husband and I were politely chastised for not writing down each book that we read to our daughter at home. We assured the teacher that we read to McKenzie daily. At the time we had three children, ages 5, 3, and 6 months. My husband was recovering from meningitis. We didn't understand the desperate need to record what we had always thought to be a sweet way to finish out the day. Then the teacher explained, "But that is the only way for her to get the free pizza."


My husband and I both grew up under this system. I am sure that many of you can relate. Reading meant pizza, good grades meant movies, and good behavior was rewarded with popcorn. And really, what did this communicate to a school full of learners? My mom would argue that it communicated that reading is a chore. I agree with her.

"The learning is the reward" is a lovely catch phrase for a teacher to adopt. However, without concrete examples, the phrase is meaningless. Here are a few ideas from my bag of tricks. Please leave a comment sharing ways that you remind your student(s) that the learning process is the reward.
  • books are given as treats (vacation entertainment, Christmas presents, just because . . .)
  • a map reading geography adventure
  • handwriting practice becomes a letter exchange between friends
  • increasing freedom in the kitchen (my oldest is often allowed to assemble simple recipes; math and reading; I suppose that one could argue that there is still an edible reward at the end of the process. I assure you that she enjoys the actual work involved. Most children are quite proud to help with the family meal.)
  • casual dinner table discussions reviewing the week's history lessons (most recently my husband was explaining that in the 1600's many people came to America searching for religious freedom; "yes, that reminds me of reading about the Huguenots," was the reply. The "reward" for such detailed reading? A huge grin from dad.)
  • saying things like, "oh, I love these kinds of problems" or "wow, this is a thinking question! You will feel great when you figure it out." That may sound cheesy, but you are the gauge by which your student will set his attitude. You can coach him towards the mindset that challenges are to be relished or towards the mindset that challenges are to be avoided. You can validate a student's sense that this problem looks tricky without bemoaning hard work.

My mom recently published her fourth book. In one of the chapters she offers suggestions for classroom teachers to build "intrinsic motivation." While the book is written for a teacher facing a room full of students, I think that teachers with only a hand full of students will find it thought provoking and motivating. Hopefully intrinsically so. After all, for any teacher, and especially for a homeschooling mother, the work is the reward.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Suggestions for streching the homeschool budget

The writer of one of the blogs that I catch up on as I am able has posed this question: how do you spend your school money? In her post she asks for ideas to stretch the school budget. Here are a few of my thoughts. Feel free to share some of yours.

The harsh truth about stretching the school budget: IT IS TEACHER INTENSIVE. There you go. Can you home school on a dime? If you have access to a library, then the answer is yes. The world is full of free or nearly free resources. The difference between your inexpensive home school and your neighbor's costly home school is most likely preparation time. Having said that, here are a few things to get your brain turning about ways to save:

*use your state's Standard Course of Study for each subject to help guide you on topics to include for each grade level (you should be able to access this on-line) Take that information to create goals for your student.

*trade resources with another family - -Most of my friends aren't ready to part with their materials, but are willing to loan things out. This year I loaned my Saxon 2 materials to a friend who returned the favor by loaning me a grocery sack full of reading material for my oldest.

*for younger students buy one of the grade level Critical thinking books (Mathematical Reasoning). I have been using Saxon and Mathematical Reasoning. I have enjoyed the combination, but Mathematical Reasoning covers the same material. If you do this you will need to be sure that you include homemade flashcards, skip counting exercises, and additional work on calender information. Those are all things that you can do yourself for little to no money.

*nearly anything can be a math manipulative - - Don't be convinced that you have got to have the silly linking cubes. Surely you have 100 grains of rice. Ok, maybe something a bit larger, but you get my point.

*find out about your library's interlibrary loan policy. I live in a small town. Our library is nice, but small. That has not hindered my ability to borrow books. If the book I need is not available locally it can usually be borrowed from another library. I have to pay the return shipping. That amounts to significant financial savings. Again, the real issue here is time and effort.

*science - - (again, teacher intensive) plan the year based on your area; Plan one activity a week and select several library books to read, for each week create a supplies list and buy the supplies a week at a time. I bet that you can average $5 a week. Yes, you can buy a teacher notebook that has done this for you, but you are trying to save money. Use your state's Standard Course of Study as a guide line or better yet your student's interests.

Things that I would spend money on:
a reusable writing space (dry-erase board or chalkboard; I used lap boards until I was able to devote a wall to this; you will save money on paper by doing this)

a great map (in a perfect world: a world map, a U.S. map, and a map of your state)

resource books that would be used for many years (children's dictionary, student dictionary, thesaurus, atlas, children's Bible)

teacher training (podcasts, webinars, books, magizines, etc.)

a place to store things (even if you are not buying much you will need this; my students are little so I asked my husband to create a shelf about 16" from the ceiling. It is ugly. It is out of reach. We used a bunch of "L" brackets and two long unfinished boards. Hopefully you can come up with something better.)

an integrated Language Arts curriculum (this is just my opinion; History/Geography/Literature/Art/writing would be a huge thing for me to plan. At some point my time is worth something. I have chosen to use Tapestry of Grace. )

Crunching the numbers
In this scenario my expenses would look something like this:
Tapestry of Grace year plan $260
2 mathematical reasoning books $60
reusable writing space (including chalk/dry-erase markers) $30
maps $50
long-term resource books $50-100 (I was able to get mine used for much less)
teacher training free-$100 (I have found the library and the internet to be great sources for free materials)
storage items (shelving/plastic containers with lids/cabinet) $100

Grand total: $500- $700

The things that are glaringly missing are basic supplies (paper, crayons, pencils, etc.),science lab supplies, group fees (do you join a local homeschool group, HSLD, or a state group?), field trips, a specific class your child might take (My girls take a P.E. class at the local college. We spend $50 a year for both girls to participate in this.) Most of these things do not come up all at once, so I find it easier to budget for them. I would guess that I average $10-$20 a month on these kinds of things.

One closing thought, balance is key in determining your school budget. Every decision will impact how your home runs. For example, I bought the reccomended math manipulatives. With four small children my house never seems clean. I decided that I would rather eat rice and count linking cubes. I figured that I would use the vaccum cleaner less. The trade off for me was an atlas. I wasn't able to find a used one last fall, so we check one out from the Library every few weeks and use a globe that I bought at Target for $1 the rest of the time. Think through every aspect of your home as you consider purchasing school material. How will an item benifit you and your students? Will the lack of an item offer an opportunity for creative use of other items or will it create another mess? Enjoy the number crunching and take pride in the extra effort that you are putting into your child's education.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

reworking math

For the entire month of January we have struggled our way through math. Both girls are on lesson 80, which marks the half way point. My third grader had the same experience last year. I think that the mid-point is the peak of new material. Lessons 1-40 are review from the previous year. Lessons 40-80 gradually increase the amount of new material a student is expected to master. Around lesson 100 the material seems to ease off on the new concepts and borrow more often from previous lessons. As I have said previously, I love math. I want to do all that I can to instill in my children the idea that math is fun. Sometimes that is hard. I forget that they are learning a foreign language. I get frustrated that I need to repeat things so often.

Since January I have been expecting the girls to "gut it out." Math was no longer fun; it was a period of time to be endured. We saw more than a few tears hit the school table. Last weekend I took some time to really evaluate my goals for math. I talked with a friend who is several years ahead of me on this homeschooling journey. She confirmed my thoughts. I need to let go of my "finish the book" mentality. I need to grab hold of a mentality that says, "learn the concept well."

This week I did not attempt to teach the girls math separately. I reviewed each of their lessons and choose a hands on activity for each day that combined aspects from several lessons. This week the girls learned about square roots, collecting and analyzing data, symmetry, congruence, and practiced skip counting. Or, as they might tell you, this week for math we built pyramids, counted skittles, made snowflakes, and sang a few songs.

In addition to purposefully choosing a hands on activity for each math lesson, I allowed the girls to grab any "math resource" they wanted as they worked through their written assignments. They both used the hundreds chart several times. My first grader used linking cubes and coins also. My third grader continues to benefit from the base 10 blocks and used the linking cubes a few times too. I enjoyed watching them chose these items on their own. That is a logic exercise all by itself. (I need to solve this problem, what resource will help me solve this problem?)

Math went much better this week. The girls were more relaxed when they started their worksheets. I have been combing the Rainbow Resources catalogue for a few books to help me as I rework our math time. As I find great resources I will share them with you. Here is a short list to work with . . . . . - - lots of great things on this site, for math I like the fact sheets

Liz Robinson:musical mathematics - - skip counting songs from 2's to 9's, great for students on the cusp of memorizing the multiplication table

Math Games - - that is the title of a book that I checked out from the library several years ago, it is what it sounds like, a book of games designed to reinforce math concepts, filled with helpful ideas

Feel free to leave a comment about any math resources that you have found to be helpful. May math look a little more like the pictures at the beginning of this post each day.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Geography Adventure Returns

Sometimes school might need to look a bit more like this . . .
The girls did have to fill the geography challenge jar to earn this afternoon on the slopes. Tonight I will empty the jar and we will start working toward a new goal.
If you are interested in trying out Tapestry of Grace, don't forget to check this out.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

To buy or not to Buy

One of my absolute favorite things about Tapestry of Grace is the fact that we are using actual books. Even for lower grammar students (aprox. K-3) there are no "readers". My girls aren't reading random excerpts, but instead, complete stories. I have been pleased with the choices. Highlights from year 2 unit 2 have been - -
Children's' Shakespeare
Mother Goose (that took me by surprise; my 1st grader has enjoyed reading all of the poems in an over-the-top, animated way)
I, Juan de Pareja
Trial and Triumph

As I finish up a nine week unit my husband and I begin the "to buy or not to buy" discussions. Using real books is an educational joy and a financial strain. We live in a college town and have decent access to many of the books that are needed. Tapestry is purposefully designed to allow for book substitutions. In fact, the teacher's manual includes library call numbers, so that you do not have to work at finding similar books. That fact alone might lead you to ask, "what's the debate all about? Borrow the books and save some money." And you are right . . .I think.

My girls will reread books. My first grader has recently realized that she is actually reading. She has enjoyed returning to books from earlier in the year. She can measure her progress. She knows that she is reading something that was far too daunting in August. It is encouraging to her. My third grader is a devoted reader. The library is not large enough for her voracious literary appetite. A pile of great books seems like a reasonable investment.

So, here I am again. Weighing the pros and cons of purchasing verses borrowing.

purchase: creates a storage problem, means I once again wait for __________(random household item that, while not necessary, sure would be nice), means that if one child is sick and I don't make it to the library school can go on, and allows for the silly joy that comes with a pile of new books

borrowing: involves some extra work on my part, hello cute little house thingy that I keep not buying, can cause a set back if I am unable to make it to the library, teaches my children that they do not have to own every single thing

No matter the outcome of this debate, I can homeschool two children for half the price of sending one to a private school.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A New Room for a New Year

This fall we were able to finish our basement. What an improvement that has made in the functioning of our home. We now have a space devoted to school.

The is plenty of natural light. The black wall that you can see in the picture is a magnetic chalkboard. That wall is worth every coat of paint that it took to make it magnetic. The other huge improvement for us is the space around the table.

Join us as we set sail for the new world

We are packing our bags, filling our minds and generally preparing for a trip to the new world. Our boat sets sail in two weeks. Won't you join us?

Seriously, if you have considered using Tapestry of Grace, now is a good time to check it out. The free three week trial includes everything. Very few curricula offer such an in depth preview. We are finishing up week 18 this week. So, I plan to start week 20 January 25. Take some time to look over the sample materials. Pick up a few books from the library and join us on this learning adventure.