Thursday, December 4, 2008

Dropping K12

Well, I have finally decided it was safe to let go of our K-12 security blanket and become "real" homeschoolers. We used K-12 last year for our first year of HSing. It was nice to have the guidance, yet at the same time it was kind of stressful. It took me at least 3-4 months before I got the hang of how to make the program work for us. However, what I have finally concluded is that we are "book" people, more so than "computer" people. Lord knows that we humans seem to spend increasing amounts of time sitting and staring at a screen of some sort. Enough is enough... but I digress.

It has been said on many occasions that the first year of HSing is the most difficult, and I couldn't agree more. This is where K-12 gave me the courage to actually try our hand at HSing. If it wasn't for K12, I likely would not have done it. I have learned a lot about teaching and learning in these past 18 months, and have gained the confidence in my ability to teach my kids what they need to learn.

Now, in our second year, I have finally found our own rhythm and approaches to learning. I am clear on the direction we need to go, and how to get there. I have found curriculum's which are working for us, and I have let go of the need to compare to the "school system". It occurred to me recently that most of us barely remember much of what we learned in our earliest school years. Why then, should I now place such enourmous importance on teaching those very same subjects to my young children? Obviously the "schools" don't always know "what is best"... As long as my kids are well versed in the 3 R's, the rest will come more naturally when they are ready (and interested).

So, we are filing our affidavit next week. I FEEL SO LIBERATED!!!! :)

A Fleeting Thought

Isn't it fun and amazing at how much we as parents learn (and relearn) in the homeschooling process? It all seems so much more interesting now, and actually has application in our daily lives as adults. I am soooo grateful for the chance to teach, learn, and have a close and bonded relationship with my kids. Homeschooling is a wonderful gift!!!!

Starting FIAR

I have decided to integrate "Five In A Row" into our studies. The approach is simple - read the kids a classic story and base weeekly lessons on the story... The story is read daily (5x), but the lessons each day change. Vocabulary, geography, math, science, character study, etc... can all be integrated into our lessons under the guise of "story time". I feel like this is an ideal time to introduce FIAR since the kids have a pretty solid handle on spelling, writing and math. It is time to expand our horizons a bit into something fun and new. We are looking forward to it!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

All About Spelling - and what I think of it

At long last we have fully integrated spelling into our daily school routine. We finally have a spelling program that is working for us! It's called All About Spelling. Although I am in no way an expert, I would like to share my thoughts about the program. I figure there are plenty of other people out there that have the same questions I did. So here it goes -

I started out "trying" to use Spell to Write and Read. A fine program, whose approach (Orton-Gillingham) I liked, but found that SWR is rather difficult to implement. It definitely requires a LOT of prep work on my part, before even beginning with the kids. We only got through the basic notebook setup and the first two lessons, and I had to set it aside. It simply wasn't "flowing" the way I needed it to. I also found that the way the spelling rules are introduced didn't quite sit well with me. I felt a more structured introduction would be more beneficial to the kids.

Enter All About Spelling... This program is based upon the same fundamental approach as SWR, but is set up in an Easy-to-Use, open-the-book-and-start-teaching manner. We are half way through Level One, and the kids and I are enjoying it. Although both kids are familiar with most of what we have covered up to now, the reinforcement and review has been beneficial for all of us. We have even picked up a few extra tidbits by starting at the beginning. It has been very easy to fall into a natural rhythm with it, adding to a sense of confidence on my part, and a sense of mastery on the kids' part. I already see a positive difference in their thought patterns as they write, which translates to better spelling and sentence structure.

So - now the nuts and bolts on how AAS (level one) works. It is actually quite simple. Each level comes with a teacher's manual(TM) and a set of flashcards (phonogram cards, sound cards, key cards, and word cards) along with dividers. You supply an index card box. You use the flashcards to introduce the lesson of the day (as presented in the TM) and then file it/them in your index card box in the review section. The rest of the lesson involves the use of letter tiles for initial spelling practice, and then writing the spelling words on paper. The following day, you use the cards to review previous information as long as necessary to reach mastery of each lesson before moving on. When ready, you simply move to the next lesson which is fully explained and laid out in the TM. It really is all spelled out for you. When a concept is mastered, you file the flashcard behind the "mastered" index divider.

What I LOVE about AAS is that I literally can pick up the book, see what we need to do, and then just do it. Everything is in place to be able to pick up where you left off the day (or week) before without missing a beat. There is no lengthy preparation necessary to implement this program.

Also, the multi sensory approach has really seemed to make a huge difference in how well my kids learn, understand, and remember the lessons. What seems to really help is the use of the letter tiles. The kids first spell the words with the tiles, and then move to writing the words on paper. And so far, the progression from writing words to phrases is logical and straightforward, offering practice on previously learned concepts. I can't wait till we reach full length sentences!

So, what I have decided (at this point anyway) is to use AAS to systematically teach and practice the spelling rules. Once we have completed AAS, I am thinking that I will use SWR as a means of additional reinforcement of what we learned with AAS as well as using SWR for more advanced spelling lessons. I am unsure as to how advanced the AAS levels will be at this point. They currently have levels 1-4 available, with levels 5 and 6 still on the way.

Based upon our experience thus far, and in looking ahead at future levels, I am fully sold on All About Spelling. Seeing the progress my kids have made in a short amount of time has convinced me of it's merits.

I hope this "review" helps some of you decide on a program that is right for you.

UPDATE January 10, 2009: We have finished Level One and are now 3 lessons into Level Two - we still LOVE LOVE LOVE the program and are seeing fantastic progress. The kids' retention of spelling rules is remarkable and thier writing/spelling improves daily. I am so glad we found this spelling program! I am so impressed by the program in fact, that I have become an affiliate. Here is the link again to find out more about AAS - All About Spelling. Thanks for taking the time to read this far!

Monday, November 3, 2008

This week's activities

It was a very busy, but very good week. We finished up our study of the Native Americans by celebrating our own Native American Night. Our evening consisted of having Native American foods for dinner, a presentation from the kids about what they learned, which was supposed to be followed by Fry Bread with wajapi, but the kids were too full from dinner, so we played NA games instead. It was a fun evening! Here are more details:

For dinner we had Lemon Pepper Salmon representing the NW Coastal Tribes. I didn't exactly prepare it as it would have been done long ago, but H was especially pleased about the choice of salmon. Representing the Eastern Woodland Tribes we had wild rice with cranberries, and from the Plains Tribes we had corn and squash. I made baked pumpkin too, which was our dish from the Southwest. Naturally we started our evening with an opening prayer/blessing to Great Spirit and a special acknowledgement of the salmon's sacrifice to our well being, which set the tone for a meaningful family affair.

Once we finished our feast, we headed to the family room for the kids' presentation of their notebooks and an overview of what they learned. I was pleased to hear just how much information stuck, as well as hear what was most interesting and noteworthy to the kids. They both gave a very good presentation, each speaking clearly and confidently. I will definitely be planning more evenings like this one.

After the presentations it was time for games! Although it got a little late, and the kids were tired, we all agreed that we needed to finish our evening with at least one game. We played a stick game using Popsicle sticks with a series of pictures drawn on one side. We would drop the sticks and score according to which pictures landed facing up. We all had fun, but were also glad that it was a game that didn't drag on forever.

We will be finishing the last "Kaya" (American Girl Series) book this week, and then will transition our studies to the Pilgrims and Colonial period.

Overall, it was a very successful evening, leaving us all with a sense of togetherness which we haven't had in a while. What's even better, is that we have enough left overs for another NA feast tomorrow. Perhaps we'll have some room for Fry Bread tomorrow. YUM!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

He wins GOLD!

Today was H's very first Karate tournament. It was done in the style of the Olympics with the winners receiving a gold, silver or bronze medal. H competed in the Forms and Self Defense categories, and won 1st place (and the Gold Medal) in each category! :) He was absolutely thrilled, as was Mom, Dad and Sis.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Planning it all out

Here is a link that I have found helpful in planning our school year as well as unit studies:

I really like how this guides you from a general overview of where you want to go, down to the smaller steps of getting there. Now I refer to my "homeschool planner" and am able to figure out lesson plans with a clearer focus and direction. It has made my planning MUCH easier, and I can actually see our progress toward a larger goal. Thank you to Love to Learn for posting it!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Things we are planning

I have many ideas brewing, but a few things that we will be doing this school year are:

Astronomy (Apologia) - January
Botany (Apologia) - Spring
Cooking and Safety in the Kitchen
All about Money (continued)
Pilgrims and the Colonies (starting in the next week or so)
Unit Study using the Little House on the Prairie series
How to spin yarn

A few things in the plans for later include:

Apologia Zoology 1-3
The Human Body (with concentrated emphasis on each system once we are done with the general overview)
Staying Healthy
Outdoor survival skills
Learn to speak German and/or Spanish

What we're working on - Part 2

Ahh - a good night sleep will do wonders for a weary brain. :)

So to continue - I already talked about Math, Reading, Penmanship and Spelling. That leaves writing as the next subject to focus on. The ways to approach writing are numerous and actually somewhat overwhelming. After reading several HS books, I have decided that a systematic approach will work best for the kids. They understand that letters are the written symbols for the sounds of our language, and when you combine the letters you form words. The next step is for them to practice combining the words to form sentences. The part that seems to bother all of us is that their spelling skills are still quite limited. The kids seem to have a hard time getting sentences on paper because they have a difficult time spelling many of the words they want to write. I have encouraged them to "just spell it the way it sounds", yet they still don't seem to be overly thrilled about any significant amount of writing. I am hoping that as we learn new spelling and vocabulary words, and begin writing sentences using those words, the kids will gain a little more enthusiasm as we progress. Once we get rolling along a little more smoothly with our writing, I plan on implementing the curriculum from IEW (Institute for Excellence in Writing). I picked it up this past summer and must say I am impressed with it. It really does get the kids writing using simple guided techniques. I am looking forward to it. In the mean time, I plan on incorporating more "copywork" into our routine. It seems to be a little less daunting for the kids, and Mom is happy that they are getting pencil to paper. We have also started using "lapbooking" and "notebooking" as a means to record information we have studied. So far the kids seem to enjoy it, and they see how to record and organize important points into a presentation.

This brings me to our next subject of Speaking. I have decided that once we have finished with a particular unit study, the kids will have to present (to Mom and Dad) what they learned, using their note/lapbooks as a visual aid. I have the kids review their pages with me periodically as we work on a particular unit which will help prepare them for their actual "presentation". I may go as far as having the kids dress up for their presentation, and make a Family Evening of it. I think it will be fun.

As far as History goes, I have decided that I would love the kids to have a thorough understanding of the life of the 1st Americans in our country. The Native American Culture has always held much fascination and truth for me, and I would like to pass some of that to the kids. It is a part of our history which doesn't seem to get adequate coverage no matter which school you attend (other than perhaps a Native American school) and I feel it has much to teach us as Americans and as Human Beings. I'm sure I am barely touching the tip of the iceberg, but I figure it is more than what they would get anywhere else. So - We have been studying the major regional differences between tribes and lifestyles. As part of our studies (of the Plains Indians) we went out into the woods behind our house and gathered several long pole/sticks and proceeded to build an actual Teepee. It is about 10-12 feet high, with plenty of room inside. We had to use painting canvases for the outer covering, but hey, we're on a budget, and it worked amazingly well. Of course to go with the Teepee, we gathered some sticks and fashioned a bow and arrow for each of the kids. After all, the Native Americans had to track and hunt their food. It was great fun, and the kids really enjoy playing in the great untamed wilderness behind our property. As we studied the Northwest Coast Indians, we gathered armloads of Cattail Reeds and I taught the kids how to weave a (very small) mat using them. I think this was probably their favorite lesson so far. We also went on a field trip to Hutchings Museum for a Native American Class where the kids learned about ancient weapons and Knapping (making arrow and spear heads from stone), how they made pottery from clay (yes this included a pot the kids made), Native American customs and sacred ceremonies, Native American dance and drumming, and how they gathered and/or grew their food, how they found water, and how they made medicine. If you ever have the chance to attend this class, I highly recommend it. The people at the museum did a wonderful job presenting the information to the kids. Still coming is making Indian Fry Bread and learning a few Indian games, and possibly even making something out of a genuine "chamois" hide. As we wrap up our studies of the First Americans, we are heading into the Colonial period, coinciding perfectly with Thanksgiving. I think we'll be referring to Colonial EPIC Adventures which we have heard about through a friend of ours.

I'm saving Science projects for after the holidays. I figure once we get into January, we'll be ready for something new and exciting to get us through the rest of winter.

Another little fun project we recently started is making a lapbook "Dollars and Cents - Learning about money and the things it does". The kids are having fun with it, especially getting to touch "real" money! H has especially enjoyed checking to see if all our dollar bills are counterfeit or not. L just wants to play store...

In my next post I will share some of our upcoming projects. And I'll dig up some photos of what we have done so far as well. Until next time - :)

PS) After reviewing my posts, I realize just how much we really are accomplishing. I really had no idea, in fact I was worried that we weren't covering enough info. Man O Man am I glad I started this blog! If anything, it has really helped open my eyes to our direction and our progress.

Friday, October 17, 2008

What we're workng on - Part 1

Homeschooling is such an exciting journey! I love that we are able to pick and choose what we would like to study, and at what depth. What I have found is that PS covers many topics, but only VERY superficially, much to the detriment of the children's learning experience. My kids grasp and learn a topic much more readily when it is covered in some detail. Spending more time on the subject offers many more opportunities to make the lesson "come alive", further aiding in the retention of information presented in the lessons. I am very pleased with the progress we have made in our studies this year and will continue with this approach as long as it works.

So, without further delay, I present to you our current studies:

It is my firm belief that Reading, Writing, Speaking and Math are critical to successfully navigating through our daily routines in life. Be it at home, work, vacation, or the playground; we use these skills every day in every aspect in our lives. So in these early years these subjects will be our primary focus.

For math, we are using the curriculum from Math-U-See. We started with "Primer" in September, and much to my surprise both H and L worked through it easily in less than half the time I planned for. They both enjoyed it very much, and both have a solid understanding of the basic number and addition concepts presented. We started "Alpha" at the beginning of this month and are already up to lesson 8. I am amazed at how well L has been keeping up with H. I do realize that H will be moving along faster very soon. In fact, he has expressed the desire to move along at a faster pace, but I think it is more a desire to get a lead on L rather than a genuine interest in the subject. I want to be absolutely certain that he fully masters the material before moving on too quickly. This will be a good lesson for him to keep his competitive tendencies in check as well. Math has thus far been the easiest subject to deal with for all of us. We do about 4 days of math per week.

I am using Hooked on Phonics with L for reading (H has already completed HOP). She is moving along very nicely however I am holding her steady for a while so she can practice what she has learned so far. She has completed the 1st grade level, but I feel her fluency needs to improve before we continue to the next level. Considering that she is already a full year ahead of her age/grade level, I am hardly concerned over taking the extra time for her to really "get it". She is doing marvelously. I have H reading early reader chapter books to me. He is doing very well with his reading as well, although often needs to be reminded of his ability to read things on his own. He often asks what something says (signs, labels, etc.), forgetting that it is something he can read himself. With more practice, his reading will become increasingly automatic. Although I would like both kids to be reading daily, it has been difficult to fit into the schedule that often. As we get all our HS and schedule glitches worked out, I know we will reach a 20 minute per day goal within the next month or so. I look forward to it. :) Right now we are only averaging about 3 days of reading per week.

We are working on cursive penmanship currently, and have touched upon spelling. I have "Spell to Write and Read", however I'm not so sure I like the exact approach they take. I found another Spelling curriculum which looks very interesting (and much easier to use) called "All about Spelling" . I am on the verge of ordering it, but still need to figure out what level to begin with. If only money grew on trees... If anyone has used this curriculum, please let me know how you like it!

It's late now, so I will continue our current studies in my next post.