Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Capturing A Moment

That moment when you're watching your child do something mundane (like rolling up a map) and you see that he's struggling just a little (because it's laminated and slippery) and you offer to help and he says 'no, thanks, I think I've got it' and you know he does but now he seems so much bigger than he did just eight seconds ago?

He's just growing so fast.  His face is still soft and full, but the curves are beginning to melt into planes.  His hands are larger and more capable.  He's tall and I see his ankles peeking out between the hem of his jeans and his shoes because we can never keep him in pants long enough.  His heart is thoughtful and his laughter is quick.  He's still ever so impulsive but I see an awareness that wasn't there before.  

How did we get here? 

I have these moments regularly.  When I look at my kids and realize that we're not in Munchkin Land anymore in the House of Freeman.  My heart catches and I want to wrap my arms around those lanky kids and hold them tight before they get all grown up on me.  I ache to cuddle longer.

It's all as it should be.  But I needed to try to shove this moment into simple words and wrap it up with pictures that don't do it justice.

Because these people are my babies.  Always my babies.  

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Nitty Gritty

Sorting through the sea of curriculum is only half the battle when considering the homeschooling year.  The next part of the equation is fitting it all together and making it happen.

This year, we have two 6th graders, a 3rd grader, a 2nd-ish grader, and a 4 year old.  We also have chores, band class, dance class, co-op, church, regular library visits, field trips, and whatever else to fit into our daily, weekly, and monthly routines.

Once I finalize what books we will use in the classroom, I start evaluating every aspect of how our school year days will look.

I start with what time the kids wake up naturally.  That's somewhere between 6:30 and 7:15, depending on the kid.  This means that it's safe to say that breakfast should be at 7:30 and our day is constructed from there.  Currently, this is what our weekly schedule looks like.

This simply outlines the hours of the day that we know we will be out of the house, the hours that we know we'll be home, and a general guideline of how we will use those hours.  On Fridays, the only school we will take part in is what goes on at co-op and then tie up any loose ends from the previous week.

Our daily routine looks more like this at the moment, but we're still tweaking through it. 

In years past, I've had individual time slated for each child.  This year, I don't have it scheduled into the day, but it's a natural flow of the way we actually do the day.  When I cleaned out the school room this summer, I got rid of a TON of books and two bookshelves.  We moved the whiteboard and suddenly I had an empty corner in the room that demanded a cozy chair.  So we put a cozy chair in it (we happened to have one upstairs that was in need of being re-homed).  I spend the entire school morning in that chair or at the table with the kids.  I'm right there all morning long.  They stay on task, I get a lot of work done, and I'm available for anything and everything.  Daniel's little play area and desk is right beside my comfy chair, so it's easy to stay present with him while I'm relaxin', too.

Those pretty two charts up there?  Those are actually one of the last things I do to prep for the start of the school year.  Once I've got all my curriculum and resources in place, I determine what that subject looks like on a weekly basis, then break it down into daily segments.  I am in love with Mardel's homeschool planner and take great joy in filling in all those pretty blank pages.

Word to the wise, y'all: Always, always, ALWAYS plan in pencil.  White out on gray paper doesn't look as neat and tidy as white out on white paper.  Besides... who ever knows where the white out is hiding when you need it? 

Knowing what subjects we will be tackling each day and what the actual assignments are, I can then work in what chores to do each day.  I don't get to pick the days for band and dance, since I don't teach those, so I pencil them into the calendar as soon as I know the date and time.  Those are The Big Activities for the school year and we plan a lot around those.  Then, like pieces in a puzzle, it all slowly works together.  And, like a puzzle, you sometimes find that what you thought worked over here actually needs to be moved over there or flipped around a bit to fit just right.

Having the curriculum and the schedule tamed, I turn my attention to making things run smoothly.  Organization.

My kids made color assignments easy years ago.  They all have different colors that are their favorites.  Kid you not, I now a family with four girls and all of them claimed pink as their very favoritest color in the whole wide world.  Thankfully, my kids didn't go that route.  We don't color code everything, but after talking to Lora about her Color Coded Classroom a little, I went out and bought orange, pink, yellow, and green washi tape.  Thomas was handed a roll of blue painters tape because we already had it and it's basically washi tape.  Then the kids each got their very own box of colored pencils, box of pencils, package of colored pens (the older three kids deemed it Scholastically Necessary to have pens this year) and their school box.  They patiently went through and marked all their pencils and pens with their color of tape.  I did the same with my stuff.  Miraculously, I'm not experiencing pencil mysteries this year...

Last year, I bought milk crate type baskets for each kid to keep their school stuff in.  I liked the way they looked standing on their sides with the books neatly lined up in them.  Except that's not how they stayed.  I'd get twitchy looking at the haphazard mess of stuff the kids kept in them.  Everything from the school books that belonged there to junked up construction paper and old newspaper they were hoarding to be creative with at some vague point in the future.  Candy wrappers, loose colored pencils, doll clothes.... it was like looking under a kids bed, which we all know you should never do. This year, I set those bad boys on their bottoms and pretend I can't see the disarray through the little holes.

It's all about compromise.

Finally, I keep the kids on track with their weekly assignment sheets.  This keeps me from having to tell 4 people their different independent assignments every day.  We've been tweaking this system for a few years now and finally landed on a super simple version last year.  Each week, I fill out weekly assignment sheets for each kid and hand them over to their owners.  The sheet tells them what their assignments are each day.  They do them, check it off on their sheet, and turn the completed work into my Check Box each day.  Since I'm in the room at all times, I usually check it pretty quickly so that by the time the next subject, I have the first one checked and they can make corrections or we can talk about it as needed. 

Imma try to be all high falutin on y'all - if you'd like to try the assignment sheets without the time spend in Excel, please just click here to print your own!

I mentioned the Check Box.  When the kids finish up each subject, they turn it in to me to be checked over.  This used to mean a pile of books and notebooks that made me feel overwhelmed in it's sheer volume and haphazardness.  When I moved the bench seat to my place at the table, I placed a cute little file folder holder from Thirty-One on one end of the bench.  I actually have two - one for teacher books and one for the kids turn in work.  Right there next to me, easily accessible but contained!

I can practically hear a heavenly choir singing when I look at those cute boxes.

There's more.  There's always more.....  

Friday, August 14, 2015

School Reset 2015

Home school moms are nerds.

This is absolutely, positively, undeniably true.

We take this whole back to school thing every bit as seriously as our public and private school teacher counterparts.

We contemplate the best place to do school - the dining room, the living room, do we have the space to have a dedicated school room?

Then we contemplate the atmosphere and aesthetics -  how to make it attractive and functional for the people that will be in there, meshing it with the rest of our home so that it doesn't distract from the rest of the living we do.

Which is just funny because homeschooling really permeates every single crevice of life.

We make choices, conscious or not, about what the dress code for our kids will be on a day to day basis.  Let's face it, for those who have the patience to help their little ones look cute and put a bow in their hair every day, the pictures are cuter.  For those of us who want to foster independence in as many areas as possible as early on as possible, well, our pictures feature stringy hair and leggings paired with tank tops and cowboy boots.

Y'all, I have a kid whose hair I can put up on Sunday and she won't touch it for days.  When I get to it to take the elastic hair band out, she has dust accumulating up there.  Honest to goodness dust.  That is not photogenic happiness.

But I digress...

Every home school mom knows, though, that the bestest, geekiest, hairiest part of home schooling is The Choosing of the Curriculum.

Awwwwww, yeaaaaahhhhhhh.....

We officially have the first month of school under our belts.  Which means that we have just barely scratched the surface of any of the new stuff we've started.  We're also a week away from the beginning of co-op, so we're still missing a couple of important subjects.  So, you know, we're not quite full throttle yet.

As always, we've made changes in some areas and stuck with what has worked for us in other areas.

Math stayed the same.  Anna is the only one using Math-U-See this year.  She is over half-way through Alpha, cruising towards Beta.  We stopped about mid-way last year because her reading capabilities hadn't caught up to the word problems she was encountering.  So we paused to allow her reading to be the focus and she simply camped out with worksheets that re-enforced her addition and skip-counting skills.  Over the summer her reading took off and since we've brought the Alpha back out, she's been zipping right along.

Elizabeth finished up Beta last year around March and we used the same website to create multiplication and more complicated addition worksheets for her.  When we officially started school this for this year, she was thrilled to bump up to Teaching Textbooks.  For us, we allow the 3rd grade work to be done all on the computer and don't even bother with a workbook.  It's mostly just review and an opportunity to acclimate to the different system.  Teaching Textbooks is a bit behind what I'd really consider grade appropriate, so we compensate by moving fast through 3, then taking all the time we need with 4th and 5th so be absolutely sure that basic multiplication facts are memorized.  I believe that the whole of math is so much easier if those multiplication facts are stuck solidly in your head.  Lizzie is flying through 3rd grade and on track to start 4th during second semester.  

Thomas and Sarah are both pushing through Teaching Textbooks grade 6 and their goal is to complete 6th and 7th grade by the end of June so they can start Pre-Algebra next year.  I'm holding this more loosely than they are, so it'll be fun to see how it works out.  

My kids enjoy Teaching Textbooks and I LOVE it.  There is nothing like that guy's patient voice saying to them when they've missed a problem, "No, not quite, let's try again.  Remember....".  Y'all, he doesn't have bad days, lunch to make, or younger children he's trying to work with.  He's just always nice.  I think the kids would be content if he taught everything.

We are trying a different approach with Language Arts this year.  I bought Spelling Wisdom and Using Language Well from Simply Charlotte Mason.  We're learning the art of dictation and transcription while enjoying excerpts from great sources.  It's been interesting to see how the different writing styles are understood and interpreted by the older three kids.  We're only four weeks in, but I think it's a winner for where we are right now.

We've loved A Reason For Handwriting since day one.  Sarah finished the Transition book last year and her handwriting is so neat and fluid that she is done with the actual subject of handwriting.  Thomas is smack in the middle of Transition and evening out quite well.  Elizabeth has just started the cursive practice lessons in Transition and is pushing to move faster.  She can't wait to write complete thoughts in cursive!  Anna is in Book B, while Daniel will be starting Book K in another month or so.  The kids all look forward to writing the verse at the end of the week and enjoy coloring the picture that is on the verse paper.  I've been exceedingly happy with this curriculum choice and recommend it all the time to folks.

Elizabeth is using Houghton Mifflin spelling for 3rd grade.  While Thomas and Sarah's vocabulary and spelling are pulled from the Charlotte Mason material, I really wanted Elizabeth to continue with a more structured spelling choice.  We've used this curriculum choice for about three years now and I'm happy with the workbooks.  They provide color and interest with a variety of exercises and I don't have to think or plan.  I just hand over the workbook and review with her a couple times a week.  She tests out on Thursdays and that's a wrap!

As a family, we are learning American Sign Language.  I've always loved sign language.  It's useful, beautiful, expressive.  I have a friend who is an Interpreter and after she visited our co-op to share her skill with the kids last year, Sarah also fell in love.  I giggled as several of our students from co-op finger-spelled to one another the rest of the year as a way of skirting the 'no talking in class' rule.  My kids began to make up their own signs and use them in conversation.  So when a fellow mom mentioned she was ordering, I jumped on board along with a few other families.  The goal is to watch the videos at home, practice with our families, then meet together occasionally to use our skills.  My sweet Interpreter friend has even agreed to come chat with us and encourage us all!

Daniel and Anna are enjoying Five In A Row, and the older kids still join in whenever they can.  This is another favorite choice of ours.  We've been using it for eight years!  This is actually where we start the day - with the little ones and a book.  We cuddle up on the couch and get some snuggle time in while we read and discuss the book.  It's so fantastic on so many levels, there's just no way for it to be wrong.

Anna is working through another year of Explode the Code, another oldie but goodie choice.  This has been a low maintenance phonics program for the kids and they have done very well.  Explode the Code, combined with a lot of reading, has given the kids a pretty strong footing.

Next week , we'll fold in All American History.  We were planning to do American History this year using a different curriculum, but our co-op history teacher (thankfully!) chose to teach American History.  I bought the Teacher Guide and equipped us with lots of extra literature to read and we are already enjoying learning about Leif the Lucky and Christopher Columbus.  I spent more time than I'd like to confess to making book lists on our public library's website, but now that it's done, I can go through and reserve a slew of age and topic appropriate books for the kids at the touch of a button.  Within three days, I get an email telling me all the books are collected and are ready for me to pick up at my local branch.  It's a beautiful thing and we are excited to be studying more current history for the first time ever!

We'll also be adding Apologia Anatomy and Physiology.  Here's a fun twist - I'm teaching this class for the 4th through 8th graders at our co-op!  I'm ridiculously excited to be teaching A & P (which I don't consider science as much as I do Just Plain Cool!) and have been scouring Pinterest and Google for fun ideas to fill our time with.  Um, success!!!  Thomas and Sarah are looking forward to science, but mostly, I think they're just looking forward to sitting at tables with their friends.  They are blissfully unaware that it's embarrassing to have your mom as the class teacher.

Don't you dare tell them!

Anna and Elizabeth will be using Apologia Zoology 1.  We all did Zoology 3 last year and had a blast with it!  The kids loved learning about the animals.  It was the first time we actually did science all year long on a real and regular basis.  I am not teaching their science class, so it will be interesting to see how it works to have kids doing different science topics, complete with homework and projects.

And that wraps up our choices for the year, I think... I always feel like I've forgotten something, but
I'm pretty sure that's the high points.

Now the school room is all set up, the books are all in, fresh supplies in each child's school box, and everything is all organized and laid out for the first three months.  We're rockin' and rollin' and finding our groove for the year.  I'll come back next week and tell you about how our daily schedule is running this year.  It's feeling WAY more relaxed than last year and, so far, seems to be working smooth like buttah'.

And really, after 6 years of home schooling, it seems like we should have a well-oiled machine, right?

Wanna talk more about the books we've chosen or tell me what you're family is using?  Join me on the FB page and let's speak (home school) geek together! 

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