Monday, January 30, 2017

Heal the World Book Club

This summer we did a Countries Around the Globe study, using the book Give Your Child the World: Raising Globally-Minded Kids One Book at a Time, reading a number of books from this book list, making food from those countries, and watching videos about the countries we selected. Simple Homeschool had a summer book club with a continent every week with extra resources in addition to reading the books.

Simple Homeschool is starting a new series of posts for their  new Heal the World Book Club, which highlights books where kids make a difference in the world. With all the divisiveness and problems plaguing our country and our world right now, this book club focuses on how we each can make a difference in healing the hurts of those around us. We'll be following along for the next few months and I'm excited to add these books to round out the kids' reading (which usually tends toward fantasy-those often have themes of right vs. wrong, courage, and love, too, but I think focusing on more human/earthly examples could broaden their reading repertoire).

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

3-year Anniversary of our Homeschool Journey

I can't believe we've been doing this for 3 years now. I haven't kept up with this blog much, but for posterity's sake, I thought I'd record some notes as we pass this milestone.

Things are now even more streamlined than a year ago. We've kept a similar routine, but have added a daily viewing of CNN Student News (now called CNN 10) each morning, and then we do our Bible lesson, and take time to pray about what we learned in the Bible lesson as well as what we saw in the news segment. We now do science and history each day (rather than focusing on one or the other for a few weeks at a time), and we got more serious about learning Chinese. The kids are both at a point where they don't fight me about assignments. They sometimes complain, but they don't throw fits like they used to. Monkey is still not the best at time management, but when motivated, he can do it. I've found that letting them listen to music actually helps them stay on task.

I have to say, I am LOVING homeschooling! I love that we have the afternoon and evening free for fun family activities or extra curriculars without the pressure of homework. I love being able to take a topic they're interested in and jump right in and start learning about it. I love that we don't have to deal with classroom/school drama. I love that we can take vacations whenever (well, I'm still limited by the # of vacation days that we have from work). I love taking random days off. I love that we have time to do volunteer work.  I love not rushing for the bus in the mornings. Most of all, I love seeing them learn! When out of the blue, they're just doing their own thing, they'll pipe up and recall something they learned and how it connects to what they are currently doing, it just makes me so excited (and a little relieved, that YES, they are actually paying attention).

Looking back at some of the goals I set last year...

1. Adding more formal Chinese teaching, maybe introducing more reading/writing, since we've mainly focused on listening and speaking.

2. Getting them to pick up more life skills/chores, such as cooking or cleaning. 

Bunny came up with a great system over the summer which has worked really well for cleaning the house. Each person gets assigned 1 room and 1 task per week for which they are responsible the entire week. At the end of the week, each person is award points based on what is expected to be completed for that room/task, out of 10 points total. Then additional bonus points are added if they go above and beyond and do extra work (like dusting, washing out the bunny pen, etc.). Whoever has the most points gets to choose a fun family activity, an outing, or a restaurant. This has really a blessing in keeping the house in a manageable state, as well as giving us a lot of fun family time. We've gone on hikes, played various board games, watched movies, eaten at a variety of restaurants, baked cookies, gone out for ice cream...

3. Give them some practice with studying and taking tests, since we have not done any testing (we will do our first standardized test this spring).

They took the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) in the spring and they did great! The time limit threw them a bit, but they still did really well. We have also started using Quizlet to test how much they know. Doing a quick search on there finds a lot of quizzes already created by other people, and often for the same curriculum we are using.

4. Doing more discussion about their reading. We don't have any reading plan or curriculum right now, so we need to work on understanding more complex literary elements.  

We tried Progeny Press Literature Guides and Total Language Plus Study Guides and ended up liking Progeny Plus better. The questions are more in-depth. TLP had a lot of spelling and vocabulary review, and basic reading comprehension, and some light writing assignments, but I liked the Progeny Press had more literary analysis and writing prompts, as well as other project ideas.

We also added spelling this year, using Sequential Spelling. Monkey has a hard time with spelling, but so far, so good. It was so frustrating with his spelling before that I just gave up on it. Now that he's older, I think he's getting it. I read once somewhere not to worry about spelling, many kids will just naturally pick it up if they read a lot, but if by middle school, they are still struggling, then go ahead and teach I'm taking that advice.

For the year ahead...

We're at such a comfortable point right now, with curriculum we're happy with, a routine that works, and a good level of engagement from the kids, that there's not much I would want to add! I think a few ideas are:
  1. More cooking- I'm hoping to get them to cook a meal a week, but that might be too ambitious of a goal. Bunny won't touch raw meat and Monkey has a fear of pouring salt (after dumping salt all over a dish one time when it flowed too quickly) and neither one will cut onions.
  2. More writing-We currently don't do that much writing, maybe once every 2-3 weeks. 
  3. More note-taking skills - We started on learning how to take notes this fall, but it's slow-going. I don't think I ever was explicitly taught how to take notes, but I realized there's a lot of elements to think about- how to distinguish main points vs. minor details, how to write succinctly, how to organize the notes so it's not just a string of phrases. At this point, I often have to stop what I'm doing and tell them "This is important, write this down." and then pause for a good 2 minutes for them to catch up with writing.  
  4. More friends - Bunny made a new homeschool friend this year, and has easily made new friends previously. They're both getting more comfortable at co-op (this is our 2nd year), but hopefully Monkey can develop some deeper friendships in the year ahead. This goes for me too-getting to know more of the other homeschool moms in the area. This is hard for me, as I'm perfectly fine being quiet and not engaging with new people, but I do know the value of having other homeschool moms as friends and I think I'm finally feeling comfortable myself at co-op.
  5. More logical thinking - Hoping to add the Fallacy Detective to the mix this year. We've used Logic Liftoff periodically, but I think maybe they need more of a challenge.  

Better Chinese's Discovering Chinese Curriculum Review

This fall, we started more formal Chinese lessons than our previous informal lessons that introduced them to many common words. It was a bit haphazard, since I had no rhyme or reason to what words and concepts I taught (unless it related to a specific unit in science that we were studying), and I had no direction of where to go.

We decided to give Better Chinese's Discovering Chinese a try.  This is their introductory Middle-school/High School curriculum.  They now have a newer edition (Discovering Chinese Pro) than the one we bought, with more online resources and expanded content, but even without all that, I feel like it is a pretty effective curriculum. I think it helped that my kids were already familiar with many of the first few lessons' words, so it wasn't so overwhelming to learn all those words at once, but even so, I think it's a good pace. There's maybe 8-10 new words per lesson, and there's a workbook that goes along with it that allows the kids to practice the words in a variety of ways-straight copying, fill-in-the-blanks, rearranging sentences, answering questions, identifying radicals. I like the focus on reading and writing (whereas in our informal lessons before, I often taught words without teaching the characters, because I felt they were too complex to learn, but in this curriculum, complex characters are introduced, but we are focusing on just reading them, not writing them). There are also cut-out flashcards at the end of the book for the new vocabulary, which we have used for games like bingo, flashcard race to read it fastest, and unscramble the sentences.

Some features I liked when we decided to go with this curriculum:
  • The option to purchase a simplified vs traditional version of the book
  • The use of pinyin
  • The little cultural notes included in each lesson
  • The comic book format for teaching the new lesson
Some of the other resources I looked at often seemed to only have pinyin with Simplified characters or zhuyin with Traditional characters, and since we had already started with pinyin, and having grown up with Traditional characters, I really wanted that combination of pinyin and Traditional characters.

We go at about 1 lesson per week, sometimes using 1.5 weeks to finish up a lesson, if the words are harder to remember. As the lessons progress though, I'm finding we need longer in order to review previous weeks' words as well.

The new online app looks really good, but I'm not sure if we will sign up for it. We are doing ok with just the textbook/workbook, but I think it's great that this curriculum offers a web interface. The overall curriculum is classroom-oriented, but works really well for homeschooling as well.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Mid-summer Reflections

Now that we're midway through the summer, I'm looking back over what I envisioned, compared to what it has been. The weeks have been packed with camps and visits (us going, family coming), and we've only had one week of 'free time' which was then packed with a playdate almost every day, until Bunny got sick. Whew! So much for having a carefree summer of lounging around and relaxing!

It's a nice change of pace and there's good and bad to it. I love that the kids are getting to do some things they normally don't get to do at their camps(ice skating, cooking, robotics), spending time with lots of other kids, and I am finally getting a long stretch of the day ALONE! After being with them almost 24x7 most of the year, I'm really enjoying some quiet time. However, it comes with a LOT of chauffeuring them to different camps for drop-off and pick-up! The driving itself is exhausting! I'm spending up to 2 hours per day in the car, since they have had camps that are almost 30 minutes away and they attending separate camps due to their differing interests. It also comes with packing lunches and snacks (which is one of the things I DON'T miss about school), and then unpacking their stuff at the end of the day, and just filling up most of the day so there's very little free time left.

Today, they are in the same camp, in town, and I have a HUGE stretch of time to myself since I don't have multiple dropoff/pickup locations/times. I was so tempted to just take a day off of work and have a day to myself! Woo hoo!! But I eventually talked myself out of it, because 1) I couldn't figure out what I'd do for fun anyway  2) my to-do list was gigantic, between planning for VBS, random errands, and work stuff that I couldn't really *enjoy* a day off, although a day to get a lot of stuff done probably would have been productive, just not worth using up my vacation days 3) I use up too much of my paid time off during the year for co-ops, mid-day church activities, and trips.

Thankfully, it's quiet at work today, so hopefully I can still knock out most of my to-do list, while still logged on to work.

We've been slowly doing the World Geography reading over the summer, but it's mostly been me reading aloud to them and sampling foods from the various regions. They are reading maybe 1-2 books from the region each week, mostly short picture books, but even though they are older, I still think there is value to a well-done picture book.

So, sadly, there hasn't been much time for just "Summer Freedom". I'm certainly enjoying the freedom from lesson planning and teaching, and they are enjoying the break from formal schoolwork, but they haven't had time to just spend hours with unstructured playtime, or even a chance to get bored. I think when we are at the point where they can get bored, then that would be the point at which I can say, "This is what a carefree summer is all about!"

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Incorporating World Geography and the Olympics into our Summer

Of course, taking the summer off from formal school doesn't mean we stop learning. Life is learning, learning is life! With the Summer Olympics taking place this summer, I'm planning on doing some informal World Geography and Olympic Games units.

Using the book recommendations from  Give Your Child the World, I'm getting many books from the library to scatter around the house, and maybe a few to read out loud, for the kids to read over the summer months. As they encounter the different countries represented in the books, we'll find them on the globe, and hopefully by the time the Olympics start, they will be familiar with many of the countries represented at the Olympic Games. We are also planning on listening to Around the World in 80 Days on CD during one of our many long car trips.

For the Olympics, a quick google search or Pinterest search finds SO many ideas for incorporating fun activities based on the Olympics. These are just a few I found:
I'm not going to assign anything, and hopefully just let their own curiosity lead them this summer. With news coverage of and cultural references to the Olympic games, I think it will just flow naturally. Perhaps will have a "Game Day" here and hold our own Olympic Games here!

Summer Break Freedom

This is the first year we are taking a real break for summer. I had intended to go year round, especially since we take most Fridays off, but I think we were all ready for a break.  I was tired of planning and teaching, they were tired of doing schoolwork.

With all their camps (ice skating, robotics, cooking, crafts, Bible) planned for the summer, plus vacation plans, we don't actually have that many free weeks.  Part of me has been enchanted by the idea of nostalgic care-free summers of the past-no camps, no plans, no schoolwork...just sleeping in, staying up late, running around outdoors, learning what to do about boredom, using their creativity and imagination to fill their time, hours of free time, maybe exploring some topic they are passionate about...Of course, we probably will have only about 4 weeks that we can even do that at all! But I did want to give them at least a *little* taste of that 'free summer' (I remember summer feeling like it was SO long when we were little!) without schedules and assignments.

Of course, in this day and age, I had to qualify the "free time": It's "free time", but NOT hours and hours on electronics, which I'm sure they would choose if they were completely free to choose. I'm sure we played Atari for a good amount of the summers when we were young, but my fondest memories are roller skating into the late dusk hours, lying on the grass and watching clouds go by, wandering around the field and woods around our house with our neighbor. Sadly, I feel like this kind of summer is unattainable now. First, ticks/Lyme disease is a serious risk in grassy areas. Second, wandering around unattended in our neighborhood just doesn't feel safe anymore (and I'm sure that topic can be debated, but with the speed at which cars drive on our street, the risk of being accused for 'neglect', "stranger danger", and the lack of friendships with the neighborhood kids, I just can't feel comfortable letting them roam around unattended like we used to.) Third, even if we did have neighborhood kids around to play with, kids these days just want to play on electronics, whether phones, iPads, gaming consoles, etc. so I purposely DON'T want them to just go over to someone's house and end up playing on screens.

But I hope in the days that they are home, they will still be able to spend hours climbing trees, shooting their bows and arrows, playing Legos, building couch cushion forts, reading, and doing all the things that make summer memorable.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Our First Standardized Test

Our state doesn't require annual standardized testing for homeschoolers, but we decided to have the kids take a standardized test (the Iowa Test) anyway for 2 reasons: 1) Practice taking a timed test, because eventually they'll have to take the SATs and other tests 2) See if they are on track academically.  I wasn't really worried that they would do poorly, and I knew their specific weaknesses and strengths so I was prepared for certain areas to be better or worse than others.

The testing itself took place at a fellow homeschooler's home with a group of other students, over 3 separate days, each day being 3-4 hours long. Each subject was given a short time frame (maybe 15-30 each). We don't do timed tests at home (nor any tests really, I do ask them what they know, so if they don't know, we review it, until they can tell me what they know correctly), so this was something new that they needed to adapt to, and they were frustrated that they did run out of time on a few of the tests. One of the benefits of doing these tests is learning test taking strategies too-doing easier questions first, gauging time, etc, so I was glad they had this experience.

We got the test results back last week, and they did way better than I expected! There were no big surprises. The spelling and punctuation was weaker than the rest, but still at grade level, for Monkey, which was not a surprise at all, because these are areas he's always struggled with.

In the report, the test breaks it out by subject, and then also by topic within the subject (e.g. Division by a whole number, Capitalization of Places, Holidays, and Names, etc), with the % they got correct, and the national average for % correct. This was immensely helpful to allow me to know which areas they need work on. So this summer, we're probably going to do some heavy emphasis on spelling and grammar! It also helpful in relieving my anxiety about whether they are at grade level or not, so knowing they are at and even beyond grade level, gives me more freedom to not worry when I want to spend more time doing some non-standard topics like home skills, etiquette, Bible,
computer programming.

Overall, a good experience! I will definitely have them test each year, just to keep a record and keep assessing where we are, and may try different tests in other years.