Thursday, December 21, 2017

Four Year Checkpoint

With this Christmas break marking the anniversary of when Monkey left public school, it's now been 4 full years of homeschooling! I can't believe I've now been doing this for almost as long as Monkey was in public school (4.5 years). It's been a great journey, and I definitely feel that not only are the kids learning, but I'm learning as well! I definitely did not know this much World History until now and I'm re-learning Chinese (well, I'm not even sure I knew this much Chinese before, but I might have, and then forgotten many of the Chinese characters that the kids are learning. I certainly can read much better than I could before!)

This is the first year that I've actually kept a gradebook and given them tests and scored their assignments. They've actually been responding quite well to this. It's more work on my part, but in preparation for doing transcripts from high school, I started grading this year.  This fall we also started doing more formal grammar, as Monkey started an online English class.  I'm learning from the class teacher what things I need to cover for Bunny.

Anyway, I don't post much here anymore, but I do think taking stock of the year and setting up goals for the next year has been helpful for me, so I'll do it again this year.

Looking back at last year's goals that I set:
  1. More cooking- We did fairly regularly up until this fall, when we stopped doing this weekly. Now it's more like 1-2 times a month, but I'm hoping to restart once-a-week cooking for both kids in the new year.
  2. More writing-We did better on this for this fall, than last spring. We did do more writing in general though, even starting from last spring, but since Monkey started taking an online English class which includes writing, this has forced us to have more writing each week. I have been having Bunny do the same writing assignments that Monkey does with his class.
  3. More note-taking skills - The kids are doing all their lessons independently now, so I just assign the pages to read and they take notes. We still need to work on note-taking in a 'live lesson', so when we've watched videos, I recently started having them take notes during the video, and I plan to continue doing that in the new year. 
  4. More friends - The co-op friends are 'gelling' more and more, and having the after-co-op playground games of Capture the Flag have definitely given them more of a social outlet.  Bunny's new friend from last year got us connected to a First Lego League robotics team (and then we pulled in Monkey's old friend from public school) where the kids were able to have some more regular contact with kids their age this fall, so that was a great addition.  We find that outside of co-op time though, we don't really get together with other homeschool families. Bunny was able to do a "Education Fair" project with one of her friends from co-op in the spring, and that was fun for her.  
  5. More logical thinking- Our co-op is running a Critical Thinking/Logic class for middle schoolers this year so got that covered! 
For the year ahead, I'm hoping to work on these new goals

  • Coding-They've gotten pretty good at Scratch and Monkey  has done some HTML and JavaScript coding, but Bunny has only recently been introduced to written code. We'll probably use Khan Academy for this.
  • Electives- I've always encouraged them to do their own "Free Exploration" after finishing their work, but haven't really pinned them down on systematically learning something of their choice. Some ideas that they've come up with are piano, flute, sewing,  probability and statistics, or art.
  • Classic literature - Not sure what we will read but I'd like to add some classic novels to our reading.  In general, Bunny reads a lot, but all of it is contemporary. Monkey doesn't read that much for leisure so I'd have to assign reading anyway, might as well introduce some classics. 
We will definitely continue with the things that we started working on this year, but as those become more routine I'm hoping to add these other goals in.

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.