It’s That Time of Year!!

Curriculum! I love buying drooling over curriculum. I buy it too–probably more than my share.

Next year I will have a 1st grader!! And my second little man will be along for the ride. He will be five in early September, and though he will meet our state’s age requirement for Kindergarten, I am planning to file intent to delay formal education for him for one year. He’s a peanut, and I truly am not certain that he is ready for Kindergarten and all that it will entail. I think that it will be great to have a year to enjoy having him home with us.

So, we will be schooling a 1st grader, an almost Kindergartener, and a two year old. Truth be told, I’m a little nervous about this. I believe that learning should be about discovery, and I have found this year that it is sometimes challenging to create that environment of discovery when the toddler is coloring in library books or emptying the cupboards. Not to mention that the student never seems to be quite as excited about the subject matter as the teacher!

Our best weeks of school this year took place when I didn’t over plan. Our best weeks were the ones that I didn’t have TIME to be detailed, I just stacked the books I wanted to get to next to the armchair and wrote them into my lesson plan as we read and discussed them!

Our biggest struggles this year were math and reading. What we have going on right now is working for us, so I have no plans to stop, AND I have enough lessons to take us through the summer and into the fall.

We started the year with Horizons K for math. C was miserable. It moved quickly, and it required quite a bit of writing (which we discovered is something he is not quite developmentally ready to do). We made it through half of the program before letting it go. We were spending HOURS each day doing it, and I realized that I was doing more work than he was. The idea of school was misery for both of us, and I KNEW that Kindergarten is not where we wanted to lose that spark of interest!

Then I found these books. Life of Fred elementary series. Charlie LOVES them. We’ve gone from “I hate math!” to “PLEASE, Mommy, can we do MORE??” I can’t decide how much math we are truly going to learn from them, but I’m so delighted that he cheers when I reach for the book. The books are about Fred, who is a four-year-old math professor. All the math that is learned is math that Fred is using as he goes about his life. It’s imaginative and quirky–just like my boy. It’s really no surprise to me that he loves it. There are 10 books total in this series (and then there are other series that go up to college mathematics!), and we are midway through the second book. Because I can’t wrap my head around the idea of not using a workbook at all, we are using the Critical Thinking Co.’s Mathematical Reasoning series. These books only work through one concept on each page (opposed to Horizons which tackled up to six concepts in a lesson), and while, C doesn’t LOVE it like he loves Fred, he doesn’t groan at the sight of it either!

I have the K book in the Mathematical Reasoning series for D, and 1st grade for C. I have a feeling that D’s math instruction is going to be a whole new ball of wax, so I am open-minded to adjustment as we look to the next year.

Our reading curriculum has been all over the map. And we are still not quite settled. C is reading simple CVC combos, but has been for over a year without really moving forward. Right now, we are using the BOB books, which he tolerates. I have just bought Phonics Pathways, and I am thrilled with what I have read so far. I think that this may be what we need to launch C into being a truly independent reader. And I think that it will work well for D, too!

I will continue with Handwriting Without Tears this year for both boys. I wanted to love this program, but it’s, well, it’s handwriting. I’ve discovered that there are things that just ARE and have to be, and I’m ok with that.

One new element that I AM excited about (perhaps a little more than my children) is a Language Arts program that was recommended to me by a friend. Language Lessons for Little Ones seems to be filling in some gaps for me. It is rich in poetry and art, and gentle in reinforcing language arts concepts. We are currently using the second book with C (and D when he is home from preschool).

I consider that to be our nuts and bolts, and with both boys to juggle, I think that if we accomplish math and language arts, we will be doing well. But, the icing on our cake will be Sonlight Core A. I am SO excited to begin, truly begin, our Sonlight journey. We have been using Sonlight’s preschool books for years. I bought Core A last year for C, and then we decided to wait a year so that both boys could do it together. So, having had it for over a year, you might imagine how eager I am to get started! I have pre-read all of our books, and I can’t wait to share them with the boys! C is addicted to the sound of my voice reading to him. “Keep reading, Mommy!” I hear over and over. Sonlight will chart us through Bible, history, geography, and science.

I have other vague plans for some electives. But I don’t want to overfill our time. One of our purposes for homeschooling our children is so that they will have time to actually BE children. So, I have music, art, and even a typing class for C, but I will establish our core work first. I’m certain the boys will wish to play soccer again, and C will be old enough for the Y swim team if he wishes to participate. Some things just have to be fluid.

Are you trying anything new this year?

Synergy

We’ve had a rough year. Maybe it was more just not what I was expecting than truly rough.

But all of a sudden, we’ve stumbled into two or three really great weeks. The kind of weeks where the days all seem to work together to create one incredible learning environment. Synergy.

I just wanted to let you know (and be able to prove it to myself later when things get harder) that it actually CAN happen.

 

 

Swapping with a Sister

I was excited to participate in the latest Sister Swap at the Homeschool Post. This is how it works. You sign up, and then they send you a bunch of info about your assigned swap sister (another homeschooling mom). Then you put together a care package for your sister and send it by a specific date. Then, once it comes, you blog about it! That’s it!

My swap sister and I have so many things in common, not the least of which is being sisters in Christ. It was fun to get to know someone new and to feel a little less alone in the day-to-say struggles of being a homeschooling family. I hope that we will be able to continue to stay in touch, but as she has already found out, staying in touch is a struggle for me.

So, without further ado, here is what sweet Danielle sent me!

She tucked all these lovely gifts into the canvas bag. I immediately removed the things to the box and started using the bag. It’s perfect for our church bag (books to keep the littles quiet during the service), a library bag, a diaper bag, a picnic bag. Seriously, I’ve had it for only a couple of weeks and I’ve used it for all of these things! My other bag that is a study canvass has a zipper, which frequently gets in the way, and this bag is so much sturdier than my reusable grocery bags, which often tear and fray from carrying heavy books.

The exciting part of the package is the tie dye kit. I can’t wait to break it out. I’ve been changing in my head all the things we are going to do…t-shirts, book bags, underwear. Yep. It’s going to be fun. We’ve been running around busy these last few weeks, but now our co-op is over (boohoo!), our trips are over, and our last big thing is our eldest’s drama class performance next week. So look out summer! We will be welcoming you with COLOR!

And of course, Danielle tucked in a few little things for me. Some tea (I don’t think I told her that peppermint is one of my favorites, did I?), a beautiful mug, and some (very useful) beautiful post it notes.

Participating in this swap was a blessing for me. Not just for getting a package in the mail (which was so fun!), but for getting to know another cool homeschooling mom. Isn’t it great knowing that you are not alone??

Teeter Totter (or Our World as It Should Be?)

My kids LOVE the teeter-totter. I have no idea why, and I’m pretty sure I remember loving it as a child too.  It’s the up and down motion that is the most fun…sometimes the feeling that you don’t control it alone, but together. But it is most definitely not as much fun when it is balanced right in the middle. Right?

 

I am struggling right now with balance in our fledgling adventure of homeschooling. The fact is,

I’m a gentle parenting/attachment parenting practitioner who sometimes loses my temper with my kids.

I’m a whole foods believer who sometimes (ok, a lot of times) runs through the drive through.

I’m a homeschooling advocate and educator who sometimes wants to dial up the nearest school and drop my kid off.

Our house is a wreck…seemingly all the time. The laundry is either piled up dirty or clean, and the drawers are always empty. The dishes overtake not just our sink, but the whole counter on a regular basis. And my kindergartener refuses to write in any sort of workbook or worksheet or to draw any kind of picture that I direct him to draw.

We are struggling. And I have to wonder if this is really the best thing for our family. Not really the homeschooling thing or the whole foods thing or the dirty house thing…but you know, the part that they all have in common. Me.

I’m staring down the challenge of my personality that has plagued me my whole life. The one that generates the most regrets in my past. The one that leads me to give up. When I’m facing a wall, a BIG wall, I have, in the past, had the tendency to sit down. Not to try to climb (well maybe a little half-hearted attempt), not to find a way around, not even to go back and find another path. Just to sit down and do nothing simply because I knew that I couldn’t do it just like the picture I had in my head.  It’s hard for me to pick one task and do it, even knowing that it will lead to the beginning to the solution of my problem. So right now I’m staring myself in the face and trying desperately hard not to blink.

And yet, I wonder if this is the best gift I can give my children. To show them that maybe instead of seeking after that elusive balance that everyone talks about, it’s okay to ride both the highs and the lows–and enjoy it. And it wouldn’t be a see saw without a few bumps along the way, but if you know that in a little bit, if you can just get through the pain of the bump, sometime soon, you’re going to soar high into the air.

So here’s a rundown of the highs AND lows in our life right now.

  • There is less (well, there is no way of making this sound pretty) poop in my four-year-old’s pants these days, and it’s all because I’m allowing more junky, plastic toys in our house that I am trying desperately to declutter. Trust me, I’ve tried everything to get to this point, so I’m celebrating the win inside the loss.
  • Yesterday, we had an amazing time at our homeschool co-op. My boys are engaged, they are making friends, and they LOVE being there. The mere idea of co-op makes their little faces light up like Christmas. But yesterday, we ate at fast food joints twice. Not only does our bank account take a hit in gas money (co-op is more than an hour drive one way), but we are often out at every mealtime. I simply don’t feel like I have the time right now to change this. But I hate it.
  • My oldest would rather sit in a chair for two hours (!) and stare at his workbooks than write the letter ‘j’ six times. This is frustrating. But he will also sit in said chair and listen to me read beautiful, important stories for two hours without break (we don’t do the two simultaneously, of course). I’m trying to let go of comparing him to other kids and nurture this love of story.
  • My children love to read. My youngest bangs me on the head with books, demanding that I “read.” My middle son disappears for the better part of an hour with a stack of picture books. And my oldest loves to be read to (as I already mentioned). Books are available to them, but I’m always stepping on and over books EVERYWHERE in our house. I can never seem to get it through to them that the books could get ruined if they don’t pick them up and put them away when they are finished with them. We’ve had books peed on, goopy form banana, or sticky from spilled drinks–not to mention the broken spines from being stepped on.
  • And finally–we have been delighting in outdoor adventures lately. The kids have been playing in the yard/driveway for hours each day soaking up vitamin D and exercising. We have picnicked outside on our patio almost as many times as we’ve eaten inside at the table. I have planted a small garden of greens and herbs for a Spring harvest. But the house is messy–so messy I can’t stand to be in it. And I would rather allow my very young children the benefit of the outdoors than drag them all in just to clean it up. They can’t be out there by themselves, that’s for sure.

So I’ve decided that I’m not quite seeking that perfect balance anymore.

Sometimes the house is going to be messy.

And sometimes we aren’t going to eat the best foods.

And sometimes our education doesn’t go as planned.

Though sometimes,

At the end of the day, we all fall into bed happy from the joy of the sunshine and wind in our faces.

And sometimes, we are so eager to finish one perfectly adventurous and magnificent story that we forget about lunch.

And sometimes, we have a dance party in the hallway to celebrate a   hard sought toileting victory.

It’s the working together, hitting lots of bumps along the way, to help everyone have a chance to soar to the top that will be our goal.

And I will learn to accept that the walls may not be scaled to the ideals in my dreams, but with a little give and take, we will all flourish–it’s not worth sitting on the bench just because I may not be able to satisfy the perfection in my head.

Day in Our Life (with a 19 month old, 4 year old, and a five year old)

1:00 AM  — daughter wakes.
1:30 AM — daughter wakes.
2:00 AM — daughter wakes. etc.
It was a long night.

My super amazing husband wakes with the kids and feeds them cereal and fruit, then gets them dressed. He’s about to tell our oldest of my plans for the Y and childwatch when he sees me shake my head, eyes still closed. I can barely move. He lets me sleep some more. He’s already changed two of her diapers before my toddler (19 months) wakes me around 9:30 by banging a large hardcover book on my head with a big you’re-my-mama-grin. We look at the book a while before I drag myself out of bed to make a cup of coffee.

My hubby heads out the door to the church and some visitation as I am finishing my coffee.

My older children (5 and 4) are involved in a seriously intense world of their own making in their bedroom–my toddler follows me around the house as I begin setting some things to rights. Starting laundry (though I have to start the washer again, since the wet clothes have been sitting in the washer all weekend and are smelling a little ripe). I clear the breakfast dishes, and make a vague swipe at the floor in the living room.  I load the dishwasher with yesterday’s dishes, and start it up. I talk to my mom and the phone, and I read baby girl 2 or 3 books (not simultaneously).

By this time, I’ve had requests for snacks (frozen yogurt popsicles were offered). I share a popsicle with baby girl, and we snuggle in the chair.  It’s getting to be lunchtime. Baby girl is ready for her nap, and since she had had a healthy snack and a good nursing, I put her down before I begin preparing lunch for my boys.

It’s almost noon, and the haze is finally beginning to lift–I’m awake.
The boys eat, gazing out the window, and talk about all the things they see–particularly speculating about the doings of the neighbors. My five-year-old discovers that he can make light from the window reflect on the ceiling with his plate. So I hand them each a plate and they scoot their chairs closer to the window, where they play with the light for a few minutes. This gives me a chance to do a quick pick up in the school room (which is really used for all sorts of things all the time) in anticipation of beginning some lessons.

Baby girl wakes up (but I know she can’t be done with her nap, so I rock her and nurse her.)

The light play ends with D jabbing his plate at C’s neck. Through C’s dramatic-yet-lacking-genuine-pain screams, I somehow communicate to him that he can pick a book and wait for me in the reading chair–praying all the while that baby girl will stay asleep through the racket.

She does, and I am able to place her in her crib without incident.

I read two long books to the boys before transitioning into our actual lessons.
We read from our Bible storybook, then I do a math lesson with my oldest while my younger son looks at another book. I consider again, changing our math curriculum. He really seems to hate what we have–some days are better than others, and this is one of the others.

Then we all three sit down and do some phonics instruction. It’s repetitive for my older son, but there is value in doing it all together. They giggle and color and mark their answers. We do as many pages as they have attention for (about 5). We disband, and they run to play.

My husband comes home and fixes himself a late lunch, and my 4-year-old joins hims for a bit, eating more of his own lunch. I take a couple of minutes to check reviews online of some curriculum I’m considering. I also begin to package some books that have been requested from me on paperbackswap.com. I get interrupted.

The boys have taken a little time to reorganize the circus that they dreamed up a couple of days ago. They drag my husband from his office, and me from the schoolroom, and we all participate in the various acts of the circus. It’s so much fun that we do it twice, adding more acts and changing the less interesting ones. We have a juggler, tight rope walker, a magician, and a pony trainer.

Baby girl is still asleep.

My husband goes back to the office, and I unload the dishwasher and finally get the load of laundry from BEFORE the weekend into the dryer.

The boys are playing, and I am thinking that it’s about time for baby girl to wake (it’s been almost two hours!). Her brothers’ noise takes care of the problem for me, and I go get her from her crib.

I decide that we will have a snack and make a craft at the same time. I saw on a friend’s blog how she made heart-shaped bird feeders with pipe cleaners and Cheerios. The boys think it’s a great idea. But then LM thinks that they are making them just for her and she starts eating D’s bird feeder candy-necklace-style. Rather than being annoyed, the boys think that she’s pretty funny, so feeding the birds turns into feeding ourselves–there is still a pipe cleaner with Cheerios on it in my cupboard as I type. I was able to rescue a few completed hearts, but even after searching several rooms, I cannot find the string. So the hearts are shelved until I can find or buy string.

Making our Heart-Shaped Bird Feeders

Eating the Fruits of our Labor

As Far as We Can Go Without String

The thought of *possibly* having to go out into the yard to hang the feeders finally drives me to get dressed.

I’m starting to think about making dinner–I have a new recipe I’d like to try, and it takes some time, but the kids hi-jack me for some more books first. I read the boys George and Martha while LM helps herself to a little nursing time. It’s awkward, but ultimately, it works.

While I prepare dinner, the boys build a fortress out of a side table, laundry basket, blankets, and a couple of towels. LM digs around in cupboards then scribbles with marker on a couple of books, the school table, and almost gets the wall with a red marker–after I take away all her writing tools, she wants to go see what her brothers are up to, but they don’t want her messing up their fortress, so the make a mad dash to our bedroom. They shove all the blankets off the bed and start to play. They are noisy, but happy and safe, so I let them all play.

Dinner smells really yummy–baked lentils with cheese and roasted cauliflower. I tally the weight watchers points in my tracker while it’s in the oven. While I’m there, I put in all the food I ate earlier too. Getting close to food time, the boys are making their own puzzles with some blank puzzles I found on Amazon before Christmas. As they finish them, my husband makes copies on our printer so they have a picture to put in the ziplock with the new puzzle they have just made.

We clear off and set the table. The kids are very hungry, and already complaining that they “hate” dinner. But they do try it, with the incentive of getting some pear slices if they do, and they actually DO like it. C asks if I will make it every night. He still didn’t clean his plate, but he did eat some of everything. Dinner conversation mostly consists of enjoying the food, and the kids telling us about the doings of their imaginary friends (I make mental note to get more serious about finding them some REAL friends in our new town).

We break from the table to the living room for an impromptu family movie night–I picked up the new version of Yours, Mine and Ours a few weeks ago for a steal–I still like the Lucille Ball version better, but the kids thought this one was funny.

Bedtime comes next. My hubby puts the boys to bed, and I put baby girl to bed. We reconnect in the kitchen. I’m a few points ahead for the day with my tally for Weight Watchers, so we have a little snack and watch a romantic comedy from our Netflix queue. After the previous nearly sleepless night, it’s all we have the energy for. The dishes are piled on the counter, and the floors are a wreck, but I just don’t have one iota of get up and go to take care of it. C comes in, of course, 4 or 5 times to give kisses and to ask if we can make a computer and printer with cords out of cardboard and string tomorrow for his “office”. He also asks if we can make toys for one of his toys, etc. His brain takes a while to power down. He’s like his mama.

My hubby has fallen asleep three or four times during the movie, so he heads to bed before it’s over, but I can’t leave the story hanging, or I’ll be up all night wondering how it ended.

And now I enjoy a little quiet–a little everybody’s-asleep-in-the-house-but-me time.

I know that our day would run more smoothly if I were more organized or even just more rested. I once again had a day devoid of a personal devo or exercise–I know that both of those would improve my day exponentially. I don’t let myself dwell on these things–I try to live my life not wishing “should-a, could-a, would-a’s”–just resolving to change it tomorrow or let it go. The morning brings preschool for my middle, and some (hopefully) concentrated schooling for my oldest. If baby girl cooperates. And maybe scrubbing the crud out of our showers. It’s after midnight, and I’m heading to bed, praying that I won’t be awakened in an hour by a cranky toddler.

Gallery

Boxerwood Nature Center

This gallery contains 16 photos.

We drove a little out of our way today to return to a beautiful garden tucked in the sweet little town of Lexington, VA. We were there a few weeks ago, and just HAD to go back. It has hills … Continue reading

The Nuts and Bolts of our School Year

I’m certain that every homeschooling blog I’ve read has a post at some point around the beginning of the school year about curriculum. Here’s mine! :)

Disclaimer: This is our game plan–it’s not what usually happens each day. I have learned to write all plans in PENCIL. Most days, our sink is overflowing with dirty dishes, the baby is fussy (because she’s getting molars), the preschooler insists on being held, and the Kindergartener is reluctant to participate in MY plans for his day. But, when all is said and done, we do enough to keep afloat and have enough laughs to stay *mostly* sane.

Bible
We have several children’s Bibles that we enjoy with our kids. I read each story twice, each day we read the new story from the day before and a brand new story. I anticipate that we will add to this routine a little more as the year goes on, but right now, this is my boys’ favorite part of the day, and it is the ONLY part of the schooling routine that my preschooler enjoys regularly. My oldest has an amazing auditory memory, so I am often astounded when he repeats back to me nearly word for word what he has heard.

It is also important to my husband and me that our children memorize Scripture. So in my eldest’s copywork for each day, we are working on memorizing and writing a Scripture passage. My son isn’t that fond of writing, but I’ve found that he LOVES tracing. We need to buy stock in the company that makes our tracing paper. I’d really love to find a more economical way to purchase it!

Language Arts
We are using Sonlight’s language arts for Core B with C this year. I started with LA CORE A (it was too easy and not quite right). I also thought that we would use All About Spelling for phonics, along with their readers. That was too much. We dreaded it each day, and it was too long for C. I think that we will try again later. Right now LA Core B is meeting our needs. He has readers, spelling lists and activity suggestions. We are using the Kindergarten book of Handwriting Without Tears, which is working really well. He loves the songs and mnemonic rhymes. I love that there aren’t endless lines of practice letters for me to force him to complete! We are also avid readers…we LOVE to read aloud. I read to the kids from a wide variety of genres, various lengths of books and in varying degrees of difficulty. Eventually, we will add in components of Ruth Beechick’s Language Learning for Early Learners, but for right now, we have as much as we can handle.

Math
We are using Horizons K program for math. I can’t say that either one of us love it, but it’s getting the job done. I shoot for four lessons a week. He does two each day that his brother is in nursery school. On the other days, we all do conceptual practice together without the workbooks (we count, we do the Hokey-Pokey or Simon Says to practice direction, we look at the calendar or play with money).

Science
We are really LOVING our science book. We are doing Jeannie Fulbright’s Exploring Creation with Human Anatomy and Physiology from Apolgia. Since toddlerhood, C has been fascinated with the workings of the human body. He is loving the experiments that dot the chapters, and I am loving that the content is interesting to read, yet very detailed. The last couple of weeks, we have been learning about cell anatomy. We will end the study by creating an edible cell model out of Jello and candy. I can’t believe how much C can relate back to me about how cells work!
We’ve also been trying to be intentional about being outside. We live in an amazingly diverse geographic location. We have been hiking and observing and making nature journals. It’s something that we can ALL enjoy together, and we’ve been trying to make a point to get out as a family at least once a week.

History/Geography
For being an important part of our educational philosophy, history and geography are not getting a lot of face time yet. I have selected a few books from the Five-in-a-Row curriculum that we are using. This is something that my husband does with the older boys when he has time. It’s not every day, but they are getting some, and it has spurred some great cultural conversations…at least we’ve talked about some great things, I’m not sure the kids are as excited about it yet as we are.

We are in process of laminating an inexpensive world map on cardboard backing. We are seminary grads, and we have MANY friends who are serving as missionaries home and abroad. We are going to use this map as a springboard to teach our kids about these friends and the cultures they minister to. We are hopeful that this will not only add a geographical dimension to our curriculum, but also a dimension of prayer and building compassion.

Electives
Right now, I feel like our electives are taking over our lives! The boys are playing soccer, and C will begin drama classes next week. We have just finished a series of swimming classes, which we will not re-enroll in at this time. We have begun taking the boys to our church’s food pantry on the days that the truck delivers food, so that they can help unload and sort it all.

We are also going through a critical thinking workbook set called Developing the Early Learner (which came with our Sonlight curriculum)–I think that it has been beneficial.

We have art books coming out of our ears (most of which we’ve yet to touch), and I hope to begin some basic music theory instruction soon (maybe AFTER soccer!).

We are staying busy, yet I am intentional about making sure the kids all have time for free play. I limit school to three hours, and I only plan four days. We often spill into the fifth day or use is for a nature excursion.  I LOVE to overhear their imaginary play, plus I need SOME time to do the dishes and fold the laundry that has overtaken our guest bedroom!