Monday, January 19, 2015

Spring Term 2015

I love homeschooling!

I love it for zillions of reasons, but for now I will focus on just a few. Specifically- I love our homeschool routine!!!!

Homeschooling, for us, is a year-round endeavor. In the spring I work hard to research the best possible curricula for the coming school year while I am in the thick of the materials bought the year before (this is so I can purchase the bulk of our homeschool items, subscriptions, and materials with our tax return). Summer is spent with fewer school subjects, mostly wrapping up anything that needs review or may have been missed. In late summer and early autumn we get back in the swing of things and start the new traditional school year*. During the holidays we have special units and change a good deal of our curriculum to fit those unit themes.

*The children may have advanced levels before this time in one subject or another, but for record-keeping purposes we do not advance their "grade" until the fall. If a child advances far enough that they are basically a year ahead, we skip a "grade" the next fall without really skipping anything, as the work was actually done the previous year.

Our typical homeschool day begins at breakfast time. The kids meet downstairs and start their breakfast notebooks (November editions pictured at top). I heard about breakfast notebooks a few years ago and fell in love with the idea! It is a really great way to teach the kids things like addresses and phone numbers (VERY important things to know!!!) and months of the year, etc. I first learned about breakfast notebooks from some friends of mine, who pointed me here. The website shows a breakfast notebook for a younger child. Currently our own breakfast notebooks have our school schedule on one page (pictured above- currently Minecraft themed), a calendar, math journal (it is more advanced calendar work), number of the day math sheet, their scripture/Article of Faith/memory work, a science unit outline and checklist, a scripture map, and then pockets for any worksheets I may add. Most of the breakfast notebook pages are in sheet protectors, and the kids just write on them in Expo markers and erase them at the end of the schoolday.  I change the breakfast notebook covers and contents, checklists, etc every so often, just to keep it fresh and fun. I try hard not to make major changes to the curriculum unless absolutely necessary, as some major changes can be the academic equivalent of changing schools.

For science we usually do unit themes, but right now we decided to dive into the Starting Point Science book and do that for the remainder of the school year (works for us!). I love it so much- I am happy we ended up doing it! I will be tracking down a volume 2, and getting the other new books in that collection as well. If my math is correct, we will finish both volumes and the other books before next school year. We basically cover about two pages per day- which is essentially one concept as part of a larger unit. I really love this, and we quickly review what we learned so far (or already knew) before moving on to the next topic. This is a wonderful opportunity for me to do a nice and thorough review of some really great basic scientific concepts! There are so many amazing articles, videos, worksheets, and more online- we supplement as we go and it seems to be working out REALLY well!

We read scriptures every day and map out where we are. We are currently reading The Book of Mormon, and we are keeping track of our reading on charts such as these. The kids love these maps, and I love them too! We have discussions on our readings, and talk about what is going on, what was learned, and our general take-aways.

We have been using Math U See for a few years now and I am VERY pleased with the curriculum. We start a new chapter by watching the DVD lesson, then we sit down and I work on the new concepts with the child. The child then does daily worksheets that help reinforce the new concept, as well as review past concepts. I allow our children to tell me when they are ready to take the chapter tests. Sometimes tests may happen on day one or two, other times it may take every worksheet in the workbook (a week), and occasionally it takes the workbook sheets and printouts from the Math U See website too. We focus on mastery, and do not move along until a score of at least 80% is achieved- however, this program is so good at teaching, building, and reinforcing math concepts- we have only had each child score that low (80%) once. Usually they pass with 95% or higher (and we have them self-correct their worksheets and exams). The Math U See program really focuses on logic building and uses word-problems at every step and every level. Word problems are the kids' favorites (a passion I never shared growing up!). Very happy, and we will continue using these math books.

Spelling You See was a new addition this year, and one I am so happy we made! I have tried spelling lists, spelling apps, spelling this, and spelling that- and honestly none of them really spoke to my kids. I have one child who is a flashcard genius and would just drill himself until he scored perfectly- but months later when he saw the word again it was often missed. UGH! He would get so frustrated! I saw the Spelling You See program and decided to give it a try. We LOVE it! It takes just a few minutes each day, and really helps the kids learn to spell naturally. This is wonderful for my little kinesthetic learners, who learn best by doing. Now they are learning to spell by writing! We will continue this next year as well.

We have been using Getty-Dubay handwriting for a few years, and I like it a lot. It is an italic to cursive writing method, which I felt was important for them to learn. They do just a page a day. We tried other handwriting methods, and I was not as pleased with the results. These look much better. (Getting them to bring that nice penmanship outside of the workbooks is not as easy!)

Journaling started as my own way of getting Carter to overcome his fear of writing. He HATED writing. H A T E D. Never wanted any part of it! Years ago I handed him a little notebook and told him it was his daily journal. I asked him to draw me something every day. Then I asked him to write me a word (any word) each day. Then I asked him to make me lists, "What are your favorite colors?" "What are your favorite books?" Then I moved on to asking him to tell me stories, tell me about trips, dreams, experiences, etc. I did the same with Harrison, and now they pretty much write about anything. It was once my intention to correct these for grammar, spelling, etc- but I have found that the leaps their journals make from the beginning of one school year to the next- without any interference from me- are a really neat demonstration of the advancement of their language arts skills. So, for now, I do not correct them. (I do keep them and intend on showing them to their future spouses.) The journals are an excellent creative writing activity, and something the kids look forward to eagerly. Our rule in journaling: journals are personal, and we do not read another person's journal without permission. Mom always has permission- all others must ask first.

Reading is vital, and each child has 30 minutes of independent reading per day. This is in addition to any special family reading, book club/group reading, scripture reading, reading done together at the library, reading we do with siblings, reading of recipes, reading of textbooks, etc. 90% of the time the kids get to choose these books. At ANY time they are able to ask to go to the library (it is the next street over).

"Special Work" is my personal favorite thing. This is MY insert-whatever-I-want-to-do-today-here slot! We might do crafts, computer work, special worksheets, family reading (we read the unabridged A Christmas Carol every year. Why? Because I want to, and this is MY slot!), documentary viewing, an outing, yoga, dance party, trip to the store, extra science experiment, super cool math worksheet, really-whatever-I-want-goes-here thing! This gives me the freedom to be super spontaneous while giving them the heads-up that I have something planned. They know that there is something that will happen that is not on the usual schedule, but that is okay- because it is on the daily list. Freedom for me, routine for them, everyone wins.

"3rd/4th grade work" aka generic grade-level work, is different from previous years. My mother sent me these awesome Brain Quest workbooks and I LOVE THEM!!!! They are so great! Each has an entire year of curriculum-based exercises and activities in one fun book! (I literally just copied that from the cover.) This replaced our Time4Learning online work as our kids are still on an anti-computer streak (all them... I don't get it, but am happy to have something else that works!). These workbooks are a great chance for the kids to learn, review, or check their knowledge in various areas. Great stuff. This is where language arts, vocab, structured reading/writing, math skills in various forms, social studies, and generic science are all addressed and completed.

The kids practice their instruments daily. I once asked for 30 minutes but it was too much. We got down to 20 but even that was a headache and frequently missed. For us, for now, we are just 15 minute-a-day musicians. And for right now, that has to be okay. It is one of those times where I have to say, "Okay, Self- are we going to do 0 or 15?" because that is where we kept coming. So, we were honest with ourselves and just made it 15. (And now it happens!)

The last few entries of their breakfast journals list recess and snack/talk time. You might think, "What the heck is that listed for?!" Good question, glad you asked. Honestly, those are listed because they are important. Yes, my kids are home all day... always here... every day... all the time... never gone... but still, it is important for us to talk about things: news, current events, common interests, thoughts, plans, ideas, etc. Why? The conversational skills of American youth are becoming increasingly concerning, especially with the development of handheld technology and the cultural acceptance of public/private/anytime screen-time. Social skills are on the decline. Children need to learn to have face to face conversations, and here at home is a wonderful place for them to practice those skills. And recess? Great things come from recess- especially in a community with a lot of other homeschoolers! (Just today the kids ran around outside with kids their same ages- all of whom are also homeschooled. It was a little neighborhood gathering!)

And that is our homeschool!

I love it. I feel like this is an excellent groove for us, and I am very happy with it! 

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