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 ;). 


I’ve come to a decision on what the girls will be doing for their math this year.  As we live in NY state, we have Regents.  These state-wide tests usually begin in 9th grade and cover most subjects and grade levels throughout high school. 

Back when my husband and I were in school the first math course with a regents was called Course I.   It was followed by Course II and Course III.  Go figure (no math pun intended :P).

Advanced math students were sometimes offered Course I in 8th grade.  My husband went this route and was therefore able to round out his high school math years with pre-calc and a college credit calculus course.

I didn’t move to NY till 9th grade so I missed that opportunity.  I eventually caught up, but that’s a story for another day.

When I received my paperwork from the school district this year, it included a letter stating that they would allow my kids to take tests with the schools – including the Regents Exams.

So it suddenly dawned on me that I could just teach them Course I (which now goes by the title ‘Integrated Algebra’) and let them take the regents at the end of the year. We can give them a past exam here at home or let them join the school kids in June.  Either way, they’ll get the Regents experience and it solves my problem of what to teach for Math.

Luckily, not only do they still have the Barron’s Regents Exams and Answer books I remember from back in my day, but now they also have review books that summarize all the topics that will be on the exam, give examples and practice exercises!  And they come in this handy ‘power pack’ which includes both for less than $12 for the set.

Having that choice out of the way, I can now put my time and efforts into sifting through timelines for our main focus this year… can you guess what it is?


I’m deep into planning out next year’s school plan.   Gee’s decided she wants to continue with us rather than go back to public school so we’ll still have two students in 8th and one in 2nd grade come August 1st. 

Math has always been the easiest subject to plan for.  We’ve used Math-U-See for years now.  I’ve always loved the clean, no frills workbooks.  They give plenty of practice sheets for each skill and plenty more that include review problems as well.  It’s always been easy enough to take a moment to teach the topic (or have the girls look it up on their own),  assign the practice work and be done.  Zee will be doing just that with all the materials we already own.

But now we’re into algebra with the girls.  And the books have gotten darn expensive.  We did a portion of the Pre-Algebra last year and I found the girls were having a hard time.  I ordered and will use Algebra Unplugged as well.  It’s a great take on the subject for kids who are more inclined to wordy, less scientific explanations.  Not my thing, but I think the girls might love it.   Problem is,  it’s missing vital practice problems to help them use what they learn. 

I also want to do some geometry with them this year as well.  We’ve been looking at logic puzzles and I can’t wait to share the neat geometry proofs with them too!   In order to use the Math-U-See I’d have to order both the algebra and geometry books at a cost of $170.  That’s too much to spend when I don’t really even want the DVDs or the teacher’s manual.  I just want practice problems and an answer key.

So what was the easiest subject to plan for has now become the one holding up the whole plan.  I’ll have to look around to see how I might be able to get them practice work… with answers to save my own time and sanity.  Hopefully, there’s a cheaper way to get just that.

Sunday’s School Prep

February 13, 2011

Haven’t done a Sunday’s School Prep post in a long, long time.  But I’ve been back to doing my prep work on Sundays for a while now.  Once the week begins, the pace quickly picks up and I find myself with 3 students wandering the halls (of our house) and the principal (Dad) wants to see their hall pass (where are you supposed to be and what are you supposed to be doing instead of playing outside my office door) and then say they say they don’t know cause the teacher (Mom) didn’t tell them. 

Um, yeah.  Not good. 😛

SO, here’s what’s going in the folders for the week…

7th graders 

Vocabulary and Language Arts: A couple of pages from Words, Words, Words and a couple of pages from Grammar.  The Grammar book, having been published back in 1984 (when I was in 4th grade), talks about subordinating conjunctions and adverbial clauses like everyone knows what the heck those are.  The girls usually find themselves doing a Google search on the grammar terms first since I’m quite candid about the fact I don’t know what a coordinating conjunction is or how to tell if a sentence is complex or compound… and yeah, and it’s good for ’em to look it up!  😛

Spelling: Can I tell you that I haven’t done spelling with the girls in MONTHS?!  I admit it.  Is it a bad thing?  Maybe.  But then again, maybe not.  Really, I think the vocabulary is far more important.  Hardly anything is handwritten any more and spell check is everywhere.  Heck, I personally use online dictionaries all the time because I’m a notoriously bad speller myself.   The written work they hand it shows they know how to use the spelling tools and other than occasionally mixing up some homonyms, they’re not making horrible spelling errors.  So I guess it’s likely we won’t be returning to the weekly spelling … least till the Principal finds out 😛

Writing:  Unlike spelling, writing is not a subject I’m willing to let slide.  For me, this is probably the single most important thing I want my kids to learn.  Writing well makes up for a multitude of sins in a multitude of careers and real life situations.  It’s important.  But it’s also the area where I most feel like I’m beating my head against the wall.  I’ve been teaching the girls how to write a well organized essay since they came home in second grade.  We’ve used the outline charts, we’ve outlined together, I’ve gone over assignments one on one with them over and over till it’s right and we’ve discussed at length the importance of each part of the essay.  I’ve sat next to them and written with them and sent them to write with Dad hoping a different perspective or some different explanation might do the trick. They’ve written literally hundreds of pieces over these past 5 years and I still feel like this isn’t something they’ve mastered. 

I admit I’m entirely frustrated by this.  So when I saw the Teaching the Essay program from Analytical Grammar, I jumped on it.  I’m going through this with the girls now as our only writing work (other than a short current event summary).  Not only is it great for teaching the organization every essay should have but it’s got the bonus of being geared towards writing a literary essay, something I’d hate to have to teach on my own.  Fingers crossed this means the end of poorly organized writing….

Science:  Speaking of things I’ve taught over and over… Bee asked this past week, “Where do the clouds go when the sky is blue?”  Um.  Yeah.  We’ve covered weather/clouds/water cycle officially in 2nd grade and 4th grade and twice on vacation trips as well.  Oh, and just this past summer she was reading books on the water cycle to the 1st grader as part of his introduction to this topic.  DOH!

So I’ve rounded up some internet sites and experiments including this and this.  Next week we can review the answer to her follow up question… “Why is the sky blue?”

Social Studies: We’re slowly working our way through American history. Last week  the girls finished their colonial life projects. 

Gee investigated money, how merchants operated and what was traded between the American colonies and England.  Her project included a collections of items that represented what a peddler might have sold and a trade map, complete with 3D boats to show the flow of goods and resources across the Atlantic. 

Bee researched all things food.  She made a diorama of an ice house and some very yummy cookies.  Both girls casually explained all they’d learned about their topics.

This week we’ll continue moving through the early to mid-1700’s.  We’ve already looked at the life of Benjamin Franklin some in exploring his scientific interests but we’ll continue learning more about him and his publications.  Also on the hold list at the library are books about Thomas Paine, the Salem witch trials, the Great Awakening and Fort Ticonderoga. 

We’re gearing up for our study of the Revolutionary War… which should be particularly interesting given how we’ve been watching Tunisa and Egypt’s revolutions in current events.

Math:  It’s that time of year again when I start anticipating the annual standardized test.  Looking at the math section, there’s a few topics we haven’t covered yet.  Of course, that’s mostly because Math-U-See follows a different order in teaching some things.  But I’m taking the opportunity to go over them now so they’ll be familiar with everything come test time.

Then finally, they have daily music practice, weekly music lessons, daily reading, art, physical education and homeschool co-op meets this week too!  Yikes!

1st Grade

Oh, this is so much easier 😛  

 Zee’s got his usual 1st/2nd grade math and  language arts workbooks, math flash card practice, reading, art, music, physical education and spelling.    Homeschool co-op gives us a bonus in reading, physical education and science.  Last week he watched the video on Colonial era wars with the girls and this week he’ll probably get in on some of the history stuff they do as well.


And so our homeschool journey marches on…

We officially started our 2010/2011 school year about a month ago and have slowly been bringing everyone’s workloads up to speed.  The girls will be in 7th grade this year and I’ve adjusted the amount of work they need to do accordingly.   Zee’s officially in 1st grade so his school work will be more structured for him this year as well.   Here’s a glimpse at what’s on the plan:

Language Arts:  The girls are going to continue daily workbook practice with emphasis on test skills.  We’ll finish up the pages left in the 6th grade workbooks and then move on to Giggles in the Middle, Words, Words, Words! and Grammar-Grades 7&8.  Zee’s starting out with Language Arts Success.

Spelling:  We’ll still use the spelling lists from Natural Speller.  It worked wonderfully last year to have the spelling tests recorded.  It only took me a few minutes to make audio recordings of a few lists once every couple of weeks.  Then the girls were able to take the test by listening to the recording for that week’s list at their own pace whenever they were ready.  I require a score of 100% for them to check off spelling for the week. 

While this independence is nice for the girls I will likely continue to do Zee’s spelling with him for another year or two.  His spelling practice will include writing the words 3 times each, writing each word in a sentence and putting them in alphabetical order.  This will allow him to hone his reading and writing skills at the same time.

Writing: The girls will finish out the prompts left in The Write Stuff Adventure ,  write a current event weekly and write on Social Studies and Science topics we’re learning about.  I’ll probably do a mixture of writing assignments for Zee including poetry, journaling, letters, stories and reports.

Reading: The girls now read books of their choosing for an hour each day.  That’s in addition to any other reading I assign for other subjects.  Zee will begin reading books of his choice independently for 15 minutes each day and read books to me 4 times weekly.  He’ll also work on Spectrum Sight Words and Phonics workbooks a couple times a week.

Math:  The girls will keep plugging along in Math-U-See pre-algebra and algebra.  Zee’s working on increasing his speed with his addition and subtraction facts as well as Math-U-See alpha and beta.

Social Studies: Our focus in Social Studies for the next two years is going to be America.  We’ll be looking at history, geography, literature, politics, culture, art, music and the environment. Right now we’re looking at pre-Columbian history including dinosaurs, bison and Native Americans.  The rest of this year and next we’ll be looking at a 5-20 year period each week, depending on how much information there is to explore.  I have a binder prepared with a timeline so we can fill in important dates and have a place to gather projects and written work as we move along.  Zee will participate in this at his own level as well.

Science:  This is another subject area where I plan to have the kids work together, each at their own level.  We’ll touch on ecology, energy, evolution, cellular biology and genetics.  As always, we’ll round out our school year with the ever popular choose your own science project.

Art and Music: I hope to tie our art studies this year to what we’re learning about in American history.  Gee and Zee will continue weekly piano lessons and Bee has a wonderful teacher for guitar.  The girls willingly practice 45+ minutes per day and their efforts really show.  Zee’s a bit less enthusiastic but puts in his 20 minutes and is progressing nicely.

Overall, I’m looking forward to this next school year.  We love the homeschooling lifestyle and it freedom it affords us… like the freedom to head to Disney for a vacation when all the other kids are breaking in their school desks 😛

Our 2009-2010 school year officially started this week. 

Reviewing what’s worked and what hasn’t in years past, I’ve drawn up the plan, scheduled the topics and set the ground rules.  This year will count as Zee’s official kindergarten year so he’ll be following along and participating where he can as well.

So what’s on our agenda for the coming year? 

Language Arts: Most of what we cover in this area is all done through our social studies and science topics.  With each study the girls do some piece of writing, read from various fiction and non-fiction sources, learn new vocabulary and practice spelling and grammar in the process.  We’ve got Spectrum’s LA and Vocabulary workbooks to overview and practice for standardized tests as well.

Writing: Most of the major writing pieces will stem from our studies in social studies and science.  However, we’re giving The Write Stuff Adventure by Dean Rea a go as well.  This book’s lessons provide interesting writing prompts across a variety of writing styles.  It’s less about having a perfect piece of writing and more about exploring and experimenting with writing.  That should balance things nicely.

Spelling: We’re still using the spelling lists from Natural Speller by Kathryn Stout. In years past, we tried to do spelling tests on Friday.  It didn’t always work well.  For one, sometimes the girls were ready for the test earlier in the week.  Then there’s the fact that they work at different speeds so I’d have to repeat the words over and over.   This year I’m trying something new.  I’m recording the ‘tests’ ahead of time in an audio file.  The girls can take the test when ever they’re ready and pause it , working at their own speed.  They can move on to the next set of words once they get 100% right on the current set.  We’ll see how this goes.

Math:  We’ll continue on in the Math-U-See program. By my estimation, we’re ahead in math.  Last year was math intensive at the expense of the social studies and science.  This year I’m swinging it the other direction and I plan to spend most of our math time on review and computation skills.  We’ll cover some new algebra and geometry topics throughout the year.

Science and Health:  One of our most enjoyable activities each year is the Pick-Your-Own Science Project.  Every year we’ve spent the month of June on this and the kids just love it.  They love choosing a topic, researching it, writing out a report/presentation, designing experiments and visual aids and, most of all, they LOVE presenting it and telling everyone what they’ve learned.  They really do learn more when they’re given the freedom to explore something they find interesting.  And as a bonus, they not only learn all about their own topic, but also learn a lot from one another.  So this year I’ve decided we’ll do the Pick-Your-Own twice – in December and June.  Beyond that, we’ll also touch on oceanography, drug education, nutrition,  human reproduction and sexually transmitted diseases.

Social Studies:  This is by far the most fun, versatile subject there is.  It lends itself nicely to unit studies (where you touch on all the other subjects while studying a single topic) better than any other.  When asked what they wanted to learn about this year, the girls put social studies topics at the top of the list.  The topics for this year include Greece, the Middle Ages, an overview of US history, exploring Puerto Rico in greater depth and covering the global impact of AIDS.

Art: We’ll be using Daily Warm-Ups: Artby Walch Publishing to inspire some unique works of art while covering some of the basic concepts. 

Music: Thirty minutes of music practice has become a regular part of our school days.  Gee is taking piano lessons and Bee is still exploring her options.  Zee is young but he’s got a drum set for when the music mood strikes.

That’s all of what’s ‘officially’ on the plan.  But we’ve been at this for years now and we know that they learn far more in a year than just what’s on the official list 😛

More Christmas

December 4, 2008

It’s that time of year again!  We love Christmas time around here.

As we jump into the season the thought occured to me that this is yet another perk of the homeschooling lifestyle.  For music today we broke out the Guitar Hero and the girls sang and played along to Christmas carols.  We’ve got a few Christmas art projects planned already and as part of our studies the girls are learning about how to put on a Christmas play.

Now I’m sure that they’d do similar stuff if they were in school.  But because they’re here with me I get to do it all with them.  It’s not just music time or art time or drama class or creative writing practice.  It’s all family time.  And that’s really the best part of Christmas.

Sure we could try to squeeze some of this in even if the kids were in school….  But this way, there’s more of it.  More Christmas.  More time to enjoy the season together as a family.