Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Special Affirmation for Home Schooling Parents

As you look around my blog, you'll probably notice a very eclectic approach to our homeschool. I've picked up bits and pieces of nearly every methodology that I've studied so far and melded them into my own brand of "Kelly School".

There is a new model, however, that has me so deeply intrigued, so thrilled and energized that I have to make mention of it yet again here in this post. Looking at my side bar you may have already guessed what it is: The Thomas Jefferson Leadership Education model. You can visit this site to learn more about teh basic tenets of this education model.

I'm in the middle of reading one of DeMille's book (up until 2am the other night with it) and each page has me nodding my head and saying, "Yes! This makes so much sense."

My one hangup is that, while they claim it is simple and straight forward, it doesn't feel that way to me. At least not yet. Of course, everything new seems a little scary and overwhelming at times. I never thought I'd be able to homeschool at ALL until I tried it....for four months. Then I started to find a groove.

So, while I may not be able to implement a full scale Leadership Education program today, I am definitely making progress and applying a few nuggets of gold that I have immediate need for in my home.
For exmple, we did our six month purge and it felt terrific! We unloaded books, clothes, toys, electronics, DVDs, tools, and more. And today I instituted the Bean Jar Game. I think it will have a whole variety of applications in our every day lives, not just in school.

I've come to accept that making a Leadership Education Home will be a continual work in progress. But that's ok. I look forward to adding many key elements of the TJed into our school, home and family life.

Here's a section of the book that especially gave me strength. Speaking to mothers and wives the author writes,

"We want to affirm your personal mission and unique purpose and share with you our conviction of the incomparable importance of home and family...You have the potential and capacity to accomplish what is needed....Every sacrifice and diligent effort you make will be fruitful in some way at some time and minister to your own success and happiness. Some women wonder if they are "missing their mission" as they nurture family members and "keep the home fires burning." In fact, they are fulfilling their mission and preparing themselves for future purposes through a refining crucible of greatness that has no equal."

Friday, June 19, 2009

Farmer Boy Cooking Experiment

We're now on the third book of the Laura Ingalls series, Farmer Boy. We're enjoying it very much, but we're taking a break from the lapbooking. I feel myself slipping into summer mode and don't mind the break! I need it, I think.

But our mouths water with every meal that Almanzo has with his family! When we read that his favorite dish is fried apples and onins, however, we couldn't help but question his tastes. ick, we thought. But we were also curious so I found this recipe:

and we gave it a shot.

It might have turned out better if we'd used the bacon. We just skipped the bacon and used olive oil in the pan. And we goofed and peeled our apples instead of leaving on the skins.

Not my favorite thing to eat, for sure. But we ALL had plenty of it and even my toddler son seemed to like it all right.

I'm wondering if we ought to invest in the little house cookbook and delve deeper in to Almanzo's delicious world. (He always has apple pie and doughnuts to spare!)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Chore Charts

All right, so now that I've identified myself as "anti chart" you'll find me quite hypocritical to be setting up ANOTHER chart system for my kids, albeit very simple and uncomplicated.

When I was a kid my mom had a really simple chore system which I've decided to reinstate with my own kids since it was easy to understand, easy to use, and everything else I've tried hasn't worked! Ha ha. Going back to my roots.

I think my mom purchased pre-made charts (that was before everyone had their own mini office at home. And I've recreated the same sort of charts to suit our particular circumstance.

The charts are divided up by room and each room has a "quick clean" (daily) and a "good clean" (weekly). You can see the charts I've made so far for the BATHROOM and BEDROOM.

These are simple to use and even my 3yo can follow them by looking at the pictures. It's working well. I simply indicate to them when it's time for a quick clean or a good clean and they know which part of the chart to use. We did use our Monday night family lesson (held weekly) to review these charts and I gave a demonstration on how to follow them exactly. Now they're doing it almost on their own. Hurray. One small victory for our household.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

My Modified WorkBox System

I've never been a "chart" person. For as long as I can remember, I've never been good at writing lists and checking off items. In college all my planners (despite my best efforts to use them) only became "extra stuff" in my back pack and a good place to loose things. In school, in business, in home organization...I've just never been one to utilize charts and checks.

I realize that I'm more of a big picture person rather than a detail person. But I've tried to use charts with my kids over the years because I know that young children thrive on routine. It always works against me because they remember the chart...I forget the chart...then the chart becomes meaningless and eventually gets tossed out. Ugh....

So when I came across the Sue Patrick WorkBox system, I thought it was cool but I was reluctant to use it because of the rigidness of the routine and the obvious use of charts and schedules. However, with a few twists of my own, I thought that the work box system would be just what our home school needed to give it new life and direction. I only ordered the e-book for $18 and that was plenty for me to go on. I really didn't want all the consulting and all the pre-made materials because I realized that I would be giving it my own flavor anyway.

The basic concept in this system is that the day is broken up into bite size pieces of clearly presented work that the child can do on their own. Occasionally a work box will require mom's assistance and is clearly marked to that effect. AS the child completes work, the boxes are removed from the shelf so the child can see how they are progressing and how much is left to do before school is over.

I decided to give this a try for one main reason: it seemed like a great way to get my kids to use our various montessori-themed materials in the room that I know they'd benefit from, but never really seem motivated to pick up. That was it. That was my motivation.

See, our school room reflects HOURS of my time and effort, not to mention some investment in supplies and materials. And while I like my kids to be free to roam and choose as they will, I was often frustrated when they didn't choose the materials that seemed especially pertinent to their current studies and development. Sometimes they wanted to do nothing at ALL and then we began to disagree on things, which never bodes well.

So when I saw this I thought, "PEFRECT!" I can put the works in the boxes and that way they just "have" to do the work in order to get through the day. Then I wondered if it would be too much structure and I would be defeating the entire "follow the child" philosophy. However, the materials I present do generally follow my children's interests. So I reasoned that by providing a "required" list of their chosen interests each day, I would be able to find some nice middle ground and perhaps get much more accomplished.

I reserve the right to modify the boxes as our day goes along. Already i can see that sometimes I put too little or too much in the boxes. For me it's not really about getting all the boxes done. It's more about making better use of our time and using a wider variety of materials and resources in our day. If we don't finish all the boxes, I just save them for the next day. This still allows the kids to work at their own pace with out feeling rushed or compelled. Or if my daughter groans when she sees the contents of the box, I don't mind tweaking it a bit to make it more interesting for her. Stuff that HAS to get done is put in the first few boxes and is interspersed with lighter, funner activities like puzzles and games.

Today was our fourth day using my revised work box system. I didn't follow all of sue's suggestions, or use all of her forms. So far, what I've set up is working quite well for us and my daughter even said to me yesterday, "Mom...this feels so different. It feels like I'm back in my Montessori school." can imagine how happy that made me. So as long as they are enjoying it, we are making progress, and we're not arguing, I call that success and we'll keep on.

Here are some pics of how I put the work box system together at our house:

I did not use the shoe racks as Sue suggested. I remodeled the top half of our entertainment hutch to include more shelving and stuck plastic wash tubs ($1.88 each) on each shelf.

Here's my very easy method for adding shelving to the hutch:

This would be easy to take a part should we decide to do that.

The pink boxes are for my 6yo. I gave her 9 boxes (rather than 12) and that seemed to be plenty for her. There were enough boxes to get the more "academic" stuff as well as the fun stuff. My 3yo has the 6 green boxes. She may or may not get to all of them. As long as she works diligently through out our school day I'm ok with what ever she gets done.

Once they finish a box, the work goes back on the class room shelf (not the work box shelf) and the boxes are stacked in the bottom of our shoe closet:

I chose these wash bins because the clear shoe boxes that Sue recommends, while slightly cheaper, were also very much smaller and would not hold many of the works we have in our class room. So I went with the bigger boxes even though they were not clear. I can even fit all the pieces of the broad stair in there. I also like them because we often do work on the floor that requires some writing. After emptying out the work box, you can flip it over and it makes a nice little writing surface so that we're not having to get up and down from table to floor all the time.

The girls also enjoy using the schedules that guide them through their work boxes, and checking in and out of class each day.
I have these stored on the side of the hutch when they are not in use.

Here's where they check in and out:

Moving around the room to use the schedule, get boxes, going to the floor, returning work to shelves, putting away boxes etc helps them to keep their energy levels up.
So far, I give this system (with my own tweaks) 5 stars because we are getting much more work done, we're using a much wider variety of materials, we're getting quality work done too and we're having fun with almost NO FUSS from the girls.

I am glad to have found a system that allows me to use an eclectic approach in our school room. This is a great combo of high structure and organization mixed with the montessori style works and philosophy, sprinkled with our required work from the state sponsored WAVA program.

What's even better about this is that I finally have a concrete way of including my little guy who is not even two yet. I have 2-3 boxes for him at the bottom of the hutch and here he is using the magnet work which he chose to do himself and voluntarily cleaned up when he was done:

My only that it's the last week of school! I wish I had discovered this 10 months ago! Oh well. Live and learn. It's going to be a great summer.

Book Review: The Walking Drum long ago did I start The Walking Drum ?

And I finally just finished it this past Sunday. It's 461 pages long, and while I enjoyed the book very much, it certainly did drag on in places.

I never thought I'd find myself reading a Louis L'Amour book. I thought he only did westerns, which are not usually my favorite. But in the spirit of trying to give myself a classical Thomas Jefferson education as suggested in the book A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the Twenty-first Century, I read this book. I am trying to work my way through the list of books at this site:

The Walking Drum is a historical novel taking place in mid evil times as the main character, Mathurian, travels his way across Europe and the middle east after discovering that his mother was killed, his village pillaged, and his father taken as a slave. His mission to find his father (not even knowing if he was alive at the time) and rescue him from slavery takes him across many lands and into many adventures.

Mathurian roller coasters from rags to riches several times in the book. The one constant through out the book is his thirst for knowledge, his love of culture, his desire to learn, his curiosity, and his awareness that knowledge truly is power; that his mind is his sword.

In the end, it is not his might, strength, skillful sword that allows him to find and rescue his father. Obscure knowledge that was very rare and highly valuable in those time is what allowed Mathurian to complete his mission. That lesson, along with the idea that it's the journey rather than the destination that matters, are the underlying themes in this book.

I kept track of new words I learned as I read, looking up their definitions and writing them in a notebook. I can't tell you how wonderful it felt to give myself this little task. It was so satisfying, on a really deep-down level, to enrich and expand my own repertoire of knowledge in this way.

I do recommend this book even for those who do not consider themselves history buffs, mid evil fans, or adventure lovers. The story is told so well that you'll be turning pages all night.

My children knew I was diligently reading this book and often asked me about what was happening int he story and what I was learning. I think this is one of the greatest benefits of having read the story. Hopefully my example of life-long reading will take deep root as i continue on my own TJed journey.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Top Five Tips from This Past School Year

We're wrapping up the year and just about finished with our entire first grade curriculum. In fact, we only have 2 math lessons left to do, but WAVA still likes us to log attendance (and actually do work) until the end of the year on June 18.

We've had a fairly good year. I say "fairly" because as Mother and Teacher, I know where exactly where I goofed, where I could have done better, where I should have done better. But on the whole, I think our first year of homeschooling was a success.

Of course, if I were to do it all over again...boy would I do it differently! I suppose it's better to learn from your mistakes at the very end of the year, than to have never learned from them at all.

Here are five big lessons I learned this year of home school.

1) Less emphasis on the product and more attention placed on the process. I'm by no means a perfectionist. But I do think I got hung up a bit on making sure we did each step, each section, each suggested activity. I loosened up about half way after learning that if we master the skill or concept with one activity, there's really no need to hammer on it. And if we don't come out with a "pretty" end product like the one in the picture, it's really ok. What DOES matter is how we arrived at our product and what learning took place.

2) Set ground rules from day one. I was told to do this, of course. But being SO GREEN, I had no idea what ground rules I would need! And I wasn't even sure how our day would look or be structured so I didn't know how to tell my daughter, "This is how our school will work." So we just played it by ear a llloooooooootttt. Things changed too often. Schedules were not predictable. I was learning to juggle my 3 young children, homeschool, and all of my other existing responsibilities without going mad. It took a long time to figure out.
In the future, I intend to have a set routine for our school day so that we all know what is expected and how things will operate. This will no doubt eliminate some arguing, confusion and tension (not to mention stress). (More on this in the next post)

3) More games. I've only just begun to dig into the exciting world of File Folder Games. My girls L-O-V-E them. And I see now that so much learning can take place via games and other "fun stuff", which allows us to toss out the tired old work sheet and learn a concept in a more relaxed way. Worksheets have their place of course. But we need to sprinkle our day with more relaxed learning materials like games. I will be adding in more leisurely games, activities and such to spice up the day and give them a break from "book work" while sill helping them learn.

4) Trust My Instincts. There were times when I knew that the lesson was boring, that my daughter would not enjoy a certain activity, or that we could find a better way of doing a certain lesson. But being new, I feared the unknown. I feared veering away from the curriculum. I feared that if I jumped off track, we would not get back on and my daughter would miss out on important information or skills. So I stuck to the curriculum like a bee to honey and regret missed opportunities to add our own personality and flavor to school. There were times when my daughter expressed an interest in something, but because I feared falling behind the school schedule or taking too much time away from "required lessons" , I put her off indefinitely at times. I regret that. From now on I will take more cues from my children and do better to incorporate their interests into our lessons. I will trust my ability to know and love my children better than any curriculum ever could. Certainly only good things can come of that.

5) Make Myself a Priority. It was just a couple of months ago when burn out was really starting to set in, that I really made a conscious effort to put myself back on the list of priorities. I started working out (at least twice a week) again, I made sure that I got to SIT DOWN for a meal, that I got enough sleep, that I had time to read for enjoyment and personal enrichment, that I saw my friends once in a while, etc. It makes a huge difference.
Yes, there are still late nights when I'm up cleaning and organizing the school room, preparing new materials for the shelves and creating games. But knowing that I can carve out a little time for me during the week helps to keep me going.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Finally Finished Little House on the Prairie

The girls have really loved reading the Laura Ingalls series thus far. We recently just finished Little House on the Pairie (second book in the series). And as promised, here are some pics of our lapbooks:

We ran out of room for all the minit books so some of them ended up on the outside. And to be honest, I got a little burned out on this project because it lasted so long. There were a few chapters that we did not lap book simply because I was loosing enthusiasm. But on the whole it was a great way to digest, recall, and summarize information from the book.

Inside of 6yo's lapbook:

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Keeping our Social Butterfly Connected

I'm WAYYYY late getting around to this topic that I promised to blog about forever ago. Maybe nobody notices or cares (LOL) but it is something I wanted to write about.

One of my major concerns when starting homeschool was how to keep our social butterfly alive and thriving. My husband especially had concerns as he is Brazilian and had never heard of home school or known any home schooled children before this. He envisioned a "geeky" socially inept, friendless, lonely child who wouldn't be able to throw or kick a ball to save her life.

If you read my very first post (archived) then you know that we had put our 6yo in a Montessori school for 3 mornings a week. Then we whittled it down to 2 mornings a week. the school made special arrangements to accommodate our budget in that way. And when things kept getting tighter, we just cut Montessori all together and that's when I got really serious about learning how to implement montessori techniques at home.

That's also when I had to get really serious about supplementing her social calendar to compensate for the lack of contact at a school.

Here's what we've done to keep our 6yo connected.

1. Our YMCA runs a program called HomeZone and we LOOOVE it. Once a week she goes there for art/gym/swim. It's a 2.5 hour block and she has met some nice kids there. I don't think we have made any real "friends" that we connect with outside of the YMCA, but it's a great group setting where she is involved in team activities and projects. It's divided into Fall, Winter and Spring sessions. Each session costs about $85. Some school districts provide vouchers to students in the public virtual academy to off set the cost but our lovely district does not. What ever..... I'm done beating my head against the district wall on that subject.

2. Ballet. We found a very affordable ballet school and she enjoyed that very much until this spring when she all of a sudden decided that she didn't like it anymore. Hm. I wondered if I should be hard nosed and make her stick out the year. But I thought, no....she gave it a good college try. She performed. She discovered that ballet is not her cup of tea, so let's move on. And move on we did.

3. We moved on to parks and recs soccer. It's a 9-week session and is more affordable than other private soccer schools. SHe LOVES it. It's a great way for her to learn sportsmanship, team work, and physical skill. These are things that I cannot really provide at home so we gladly pay the fee.

4. Most recently we have discovered a FREEEE 4-H club at a wonderful working farm just 20 minutes from here run by a very sweet elderly couple that has a passion for farming and kids. My daughter LOVES animals so this was perfect. Once a week she goes to the farm for 2 hours with appx 5-10 other kids (she's the youngest and I think that's fine) to work with the animals. She is becoming a poultry expert and will be showing chickens at several county fairs this summer.

5. For a while we had been doing Friend Friday. This involved having one of her friends over for a play date on Friday mornings. This gets tougher as she gets older and most of her friends are in public kindergarten. Friday is sometimes our field trip day as well so we go to public places where other children are likely to be.

6. This might sound really lame, but when I go work out I drop my kids off at our club's child care for an hour. My husband does as well. And believe it or not, the kids have made an excellent friend through this. We met another family there with a child my daughter's age and they play racquetball together with their fathers each Friday night at our health club. We've had play dates at the park and been to each other's parties too. Definitely made a real friend there.

7. We have a terrific network of friends at church. There is a very special organization for children that has weekly Sunday meetings and periodic activities. This is KEY to our social well being. We never miss a church activity because our friends there are the lifeblood of our social network.

8. I've often wondered what response I'd get if I offered to run a children's book club, a cooking club, or some other sort of club. My main goal would be to have children at the house in an attempt to foster friendship and learning at the same time. Maybe this summer I can work on that. I have had phobias about getting in way over my head and not being able to make it interesting or organized enough. I keep meaning to read books like Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start Them, Run Them and Not Burn Out. Again, might make some good summer reading.

So there you have it. That's the crux of our social calendar. And believe me, it keeps me plenty busy. There are times when she tells me that she misses her friends at Montessori, and she is sad when a friend cannot come play because they are at school. But on the whole, I think we're doing ok. I would like to do more but time and money are always in measured supply.

I'd LOVE to hear about how others keep their children socially satisfied while doing home school.

Fun with Sight Words

Anybody else out there have good ideas for making sight words a little more fun? It took me a while to figure out something that would actually make it enjoyable to learn sight words for my 6yo. And of course I'm always looking for new ideas because even though SHE may love to play this game 10 times in a single day....I can only handle so much of it.

I got this from (if I remember correctly). It was called "Moose!" when I first saw it but we call it "Unicorn!" because that's what my girls are into.

So, you write the sight words your child is learning on Popsicle sticks and put them in a can. Add 3 more sticks with the word UNICORN (or any other fun word that your child might like).

This game works best with 2 people.
The object is to have the most sticks at the end of the game.

To play: Take turns drawing sticks from the can and reading the word on your stick. After reading it correctly, lay it in a pile at your side and the next player draws a stick.

If you draw the UNICORN stick you must return all your sticks to the can except for the UNICORN stick. These sticks are left to the side after being drawn.

Continue playing in this way until the last UNICORN stick has been drawn. The player to get the last UNICORN stick loses all their sticks. The player with remaining sticks (regardless of how many) wins.

Why we love it:
My daughter is very competitive and not a very gracious loser. So playing games at any opportunity gives us a chance to practice gracious losing and winning behavior.

The sheer repetitiveness of this game is its greatest value. Because the sticks are returned to the can after each UNICORN stick is drawn, you child could potentially draw the same word 3 times in one game. This is a fun, non-intimidating way to get repeated exposure to the words. You could even have them spell the words or write them down as they are drawn.

My 3yo likes to sit on my lap and draw the sticks when it's my turn. I read them for her and she gets to feel included in the 6yo's school work.

Typically we add 3 new sight words a week. Right now we have 26 words in the can. I periodically remove the words she has mastered so that our games are not eternal.

MATH VARIATION: We do something similar with math at times. I have sticks with numbers 0-20 drawn on them. I give her "magic number of the day" (sort-of like Sesame's Letter of the Day). She then draws a number from the can and has to decide if we need to subtract or add from that number to reach our magic number. Example: If the magic number is 13, and she draws 5 then we figure out that 5 + 8 = 13. If she draws 20 then we figure out that 20-7 = 13. We keep a yards stick handy and use it like a number line for this game. Or we use our Arithmasticks that we ordered from Montessori-n-such.