Ready to Wind Down

May 8, 2012

Busy.  Busy.  Busy.

It’s been a month since Adrian moved into his new residence and things are going very well for him.  I thought it’d mean I’d have so much extra time… yeah, not so much.

Of course, part of that is that I was free to make eye appointments, dental appointments, orthodontic appointments, doctor appointments and haircut appointments – so I did.  By the end of the month we’ll be caught up on everything. 🙂

Part of the time we’ve also spent trying out our new-found freedom.  We went with Dad to CT for business.  We took a weekend trip to PA to see my grandfather, something I haven’t been able to do in about 10 years.  I even got to go to the Marvel Movie Marathon!  Over twelve hours of movies!  What?! I haven’t been able to get out to see a movie in the evening for about 2 years so I was catching up 😛

Then we’ve also had homeschool co-op just about every week and play practice on top of that….  Then there were trips back and forth to Adrian for meetings, visits and dropping off furniture…  We had a couple of birthdays in there too…

Now it’s time to prepare for and take the end of the year tests that will count as our annual assessments.   I’ll be glad to get that over with and get into wind-down mode in our schooling.

June is our science project month.  With most of our other school work finished for the year, the kids are free to concentrate on a science project of their choice.   They’ll find library and internet resources on their topics, design experiments, write a presentation complete with visual aids and deliver it to the family.

And I hope we’ll find the time to travel and do other fun stuff somewhere in there too!


Fake Travel Agents

March 28, 2012

So remember that I said we were going to go easy on the academics while we finish the task of getting Adrian settled in his new home?  Yeah, it never fails that when you back off all that educational stuff, something fun (and educational) crops up to fill it’s place.  😛

A couple of weeks ago we bought a few bottles of honey which happened to have some of those little instant win code thingies on them.  Zee took note that the prize was a trip to London and bugged me to log into the website to see if we’d won.  In his mind, he was already on his way to the airport.  (FYI: we didn’t win lol)

I asked what he’d do and see if we did go to London.  He said he didn’t know.  It reminded me that when the girls were in second grade, one of their favorite things to do was study other countries.  Sometimes they’d plan fictitious trips as part of the process.  Bingo!

So as explained he could plan a trip, the girls started to chime in.  They still love the trip planning – but I was afraid their enthusiasm would take the whole project right out of Zee’s hands!  To prevent this I let them pick their own locations to plan trips to.

Our fake travel agency was born.  Our agents are specializing in trips to London, Jamaica and the Florida Keys.  They’ll research what there is to do and see, plan a trip within the allotted time and budget, poll vacationers (our family) on their priorities and post summaries of tours, attractions and hotels on our fake travel agency website (while learning about blogs, picture copyrights, etc).

And since they all love a little friendly competition and the chance to do oral presentations, they’re going to make a video ‘ad’ for the trip they plan in an effort to gain the most vacationer votes and win the title of ‘Best Fake Travel Agent’.

Let the battle (and learning) begin! 🙂

Adventure Story Class

February 16, 2012

I’m so excited about the class I’m teaching at our homeschool co-op this semester!

I was inspired by the collaborative storytelling my kids have been doing for years.   They create characters, a world for them to live in and share in dreaming up storylines for them.  The girls are both busy writing and drawing their own versions of the stories they create.

Several of the moms at co-op had mentioned that some of the kids had difficulty writing.  It was no surprise to hear that these same kids tended to avoid it whenever possible.  That got my gears turning and I hatched a plan for an adventure story class.

It wasn’t easy to explain my idea to the moms at the planning meeting.  It’s part collaborative story, part board game, part arts & crafts and a tiny bit creative writing class.  From the confused looks on their faces, I’m guessing my unbridled enthusiasm was the only reason they agreed to let me teach it.  😛

Each class I spend a couple of minutes talking about some aspect of creative writing.  The first week we talked about creating characters.   We discussed the difference between round and flat characters and when it was best to use each type.  We looked at all kinds of character traits and talked about how character flaws can drive the story.

Other topics we’ll cover during our 8 sessions include ways to describe the setting and physical environment, elements of plot, what makes an ending satisfying, how characters grow and develop in a story and how to publish a story.

The second part of class we work on an activity or craft project.   Last session they created a character on paper.  Today they made a physical representation of their character with little wooden peg people.  This will also double as their game piece when we get to that part.  Next week we’ll be building the 3D game board complete with scenery elements.

For the last part of each class we tell the story and play the game.  The first week I wrote a short fiction piece which allowed them to participate by saying what their character would do at various points in the story.  Sometimes I go around the room to ask each child what their character would do.  Other times, I use the traits they chose for their characters to decide who drives that part of the story.  I also throw in a bit of chance to mix things up.   Each child has a foam die they can roll to settle trait ties or  just decide who’ll get to speak first.

As the weeks go on I won’t need a fully written piece of fiction.  The kids will be free to make choices about what they’ll do within the confines of the world I’ve created.  The game part helps define these limitations and gives the characters extra challenges to work through to enrich the story.  The characters will have to work together to deal with those challenges and solve a mystery/puzzle/find a resolution/win the game/end the story.   (See?  Clear as mud!)

I’ve made a point of telling the kids that the point is to use their imaginations and have fun.  I don’t require them to write *anything*.    And what they do write is not collected, graded, corrected or shared unless they want to.

But guess what?  Most of the kids brought a whole page of writing to class today.  Even some those kids that avoid writing.  And the ones who didn’t have anything written?  They had simply forgotten and were genuinely disappointed about that.  I had moms tell me how their kids could not wait to get home and write about their characters.

Today in class I gave them a chance to jot down what their character would do at a particular point in the story.  I gave them 3 minutes.  I’ve never seen pens move so fast.

I can’t wait to see how this story ends 🙂


Quarter One Done

October 28, 2011

As hard as it is to believe, our first quarter just came to an end. 

It wasn’t a bad quarter.  We’re just about where we should be according to that silly plan that makes my inner school teacher squeal with glee.  Leaving the last 2 weeks of a quarter free for catch-up and review still works beautifully for us.  No idea where I first picked up that tip but so glad I did!  🙂

Integrated Algebra continues to be the most difficult thing to keep up with.  The girls don’t pick it up as quickly as I did as a kid and I admit, I often find that frustrating.  My brain works differently and it’s a challenge to find new and different ways of explaining it all.  I just ‘see’ how it works.  They need clear steps to follow, formulas to use, ….  and lots and lots of practice problems!

I’m soooo glad I bought a large whiteboard.  At the time it seemed like a bit of a splurge but now I can’t imagine how we’d get through this math without it.  Besides being able to clearly show both girls how to solve a problem, I make full use of the different color markers to highlight each individual step on the way to a solution.  They’ve found this helpful and the girls have begun to use colored pencils in their own work as well.

We’ve added a US History trivia contest to help review many of the different topics we’re touching on.  I ask the questions and Dad plays along to keep them motivated.  We’re pulling questions from this book.  They’re challenging but the multiple choice keeps it from being overwhelming.  I hand pick 3-5 questions that relate to the time period we’re studying.  I love that the book has explanations for the answers and an extensive review section so we can easily look up additional information right then and there.  The kids (and Dad too) love the opportunity to win a candy bar. 😛

Zee’s working through second grade.  I still occasionally find myself getting nervous about deficits here and there.  Handwriting is a great example.  Two months ago his hand writing was pretty atrocious.  We didn’t do much writing practice last year at all.  Yikes!  But I kept calm and reminded myself that we’ve got time.  I’m so glad I did.

His handwriting has improved by leaps and bounds these past couple of months with very little effort.  He’s also learning and enjoying cursive writing.   Slowly but surely his fine motor skills are progressing and his hand strength allows for longer and longer periods of writing without getting pooped out.  It’s all worked out.

So we’ll move right into the next quarter plugging along in algebra, picking up history here and there, writing and reading ….and checking off things on the list along the way.  Gotta keep that inner school teacher happy ;). 


Sunday’s School Prep

September 12, 2011

Ok, ok. I know, it’s Monday.  But I started this post yesterday.  Honest 😉

US History – So much to touch on!  Morse code, Johnny Appleseed, the invention of the donut, the Oregon Trail, the Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson, ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ and Lewis & Clark.  The girls will be taking notes on their report topics too.  Bee will look at the invention of and early use of photography and Gee is investigating more details about the Oregon Trail. 

Science – In honor of the ‘Year of No Summer’ we’ve got books on the science of the seasons and weather.

Language Arts/Writing – The kids have a collaborative oral story they work on together.  Bee, our resident writer, has been taking much of her free time to type out many of their favorite episodes.  I could make them do the grammar books, the vocabulary workbook, the spelling lists and assigned essays…. OR I can take advantage of this very creative, highly motivational work of art and use it to teach all that stuff. 

Being the sneaky mom I am, I’ve announced we’ll spend our language arts/writing time this week working together to edit Bee’s rough draft.  They were bouncing around the house with excitement.  *sly grin*

Math – Still plugging along in Integrated Algebra.  The girls are getting better and faster at completing each section.

Social/Outings – I don’t usually go out of my way to record this type of thing but it’s going to take up a rather large chunk of our week this time around.  Tuesday is tennis with another homeschooling family (5 kids on her end and 3 on mine should make for lots of fun), Thursday we’re back to the homeschool co-op group and Friday we’re going to try out another, less structured homeschool group in the area.  All that and it’s time to end our summer break from music lessons, there might be a grandparent visit later in the week and we’re going to the community center to play in the gym and swim for PE.

That’s our week.  Thank goodness there’s a weekend on the other end cause I’m tired just thinking about it all!

Soft Start

August 25, 2011

Amidst the chaos of starting a difficult diet with Adrian, we’ve also begun our homeschool year.  I learned the hard way in years past that a ‘soft start’ is best.  Even the short vacation we take during the summer is enough to put everyone’s brains into hibernation. 

I’ve started the kids out with about 1/2 of what will be their normal work load. I’ll slowly bring that up over the next couple of weeks.  By September we’ll be fully up to speed.

So what have we been doing?  Well, we’re looking at US history between the years 1776 and 1800 this month.  Zee’s read biographies about George Washington, they’ve all watched several episodes of Liberty’s Kids and the girls have seen several of the lessons on this site.

The kids have undertaken several other projects that relate to this time period including building a suspension bridge (the first modern day suspension bridge was built during this time), eating cupcakes (the first mention of this treat was in a cookbook written around this time)  and learning to play Yankee Doodle on their instruments.

 The girls have started the Integrated Algebra course.  Already that Algebra Unplugged book has come in handy in explaining things in a different way. 

The girls are back to working on essays.  We’re reviewing good outlining practices together.  The girls are writing persuasive essays from either a federalist or anti-federalist viewpoint on a topic that would have been pertinent at the Philadelphia convention.

Everyone did some vocabulary/grammar workbook stuff, looked at the art of John Trumbull, made some things with clay and had several hours of PE time.

Beyond that we’re just trying to keep Adrian busy and calm till school starts back up for him.  That’s a job all by itself.

This will be the biggie for us this year.  We’ll be inching our way through US history unit-study style.  Covering the birth of our nation through 1960 by looking historical events, period literature, scientific inventions and breakthroughs, the growth of our nation and the role geography played in that, music, art, popular culture, economic and social policies, Presidents, politics, wars and our place in world history.

I’ve been pouring over timelines for weeks now.  Timelines about everything from historical events and literature to scientific inventions and popular culture.   Trying to choose what to cover and what to skip has been the absolute hardest part.  It was, for me, another boom-de-ya-da moment.

What’s a boom-de-ya-da moment, you ask?  Well, you may recall Discovery Channel’s Boom-De-Ya-Da commercials from a while back.  I so totally love those 🙂   It captured perfectly something I’d felt since I first began homeschooling.  The world is an awesome place and there is sooooo much to learn about it.  So much to learn that no one can learn it all.  (Phew!  What a relief!)  We all have our own passions, things we love to learn about.  And that’s the way it should be. 

Anytime I get overwhelmed with all the things I *could* be teaching I try to remember…. Boom-da-ya-da, Carol.  Boom-da-ya-da.  There’s always going to be way more to know than I can possibly teach.  I only need to expose them to enough that they can find those things they’re passionate about.   They can take it from there. 😉