Friday, December 30, 2011

Too Many Presents

I hope everyone reading this had a wonderful Christmas! We did things a bit differently this year, since Christmas was on Sunday. Normally, we let the kids open one present on Christmas Eve, and then open the rest on Christmas morning, after reading the Christmas passages in the Bible. But since we had church services both Christmas Eve and Christmas morning this year, we decided to just open all the presents on the morning of the 24th, and then tried to focus on the church services and worship on Christmas Eve and Day. Of course, the kids still wanted to just play with their new toys mostly, but I think it worked much better than rushing through "present time" on the 25th and then hurrying to get ready for church by 9:30. Or making the kids wait until Sunday afternoon.

I still feel that we (as a family and as a culture) focus too much on presents, and make too big a deal about all the cool new toys the kids will get. It is hard to keep from buying too many presents for the kids. There are so many neat things for children of their age, and so much advertising! But it really does overwhelm the concept of celebrating the birth of Jesus. Everyone, when meeting a child a few days after Christmas, seems to ask first of all, "What did you get for Christmas?" or "What was your favorite present?" It's the inevitable question. Never would someone ask, "How did you celebrate Jesus' birthday?"

I did try this year to buy more educational toys than just entertaining ones. There are a lot of those out there too, and I had a list of ones I've been wanting to buy the kids, but couldn't justify spending more on "curriculum" or school-oriented things. So I shifted them to the "Christmas present" category. ;-) The kids got maze books, geography puzzles, and thinking puzzle/games (as well as a few toy cars and pairs of socks). And does a new Kinect XBox count as educational? At least physical education? That was really for the whole family. Plus, I dug out all my old Legos from about 30 years ago, including a castle set with 20 knights. At least I had fun putting it all together for them!

But back to how we celebrated the birth of Jesus - in our family, it usually revolves around music. Our church choir and small drama group put on a Christmas musical for 2 nights, and the children's choir sang with the adults for the beginning number. That was very nice, since my oldest daughter and I got to sing together. She actually stood on stage this year for the first time (all previous years she was too nervous to actually go on the stage), so I was very proud of her. According to everyone she sat with while I sang in the rest of the musical, she sang quietly along with us on all the other songs too. She has a very good memory for music. We also had 3 big rehearsals the week before, so my daughter and I spent lots of time immersed in the musical. I also played handbells, sang with a small ensemble, and played a piano solo for the Christmas Eve and Morning services. For me, that is the most worshipful way to spend Christmas - singing and playing songs to God.

Friday, December 9, 2011

A New Thought About History

I had a new thought yesterday, concerning our history curriculum. I really do want to use Sonlight for a good portion of our history, but have struggled about how to combine all 3 kids. They are 3 years and 3.5 months apart, which is just a slightly wider age gap than Sonlight recommends. I previously thought of letting my youngest just listen in on a core that the 2 girls are doing, and not require him to do all the work. But I just didn't think that would be quite fair to him, to do that all the way through school. I've read how being just a year or so older allows a child to grasp so much more from the material, and I didn't want to shortchange him - having him always being just at the edge of understanding it all.

So I thought it would be best to separate the kids, and teach my oldest with one core, and then teach the two younger ones together about 2 years behind her (since they are only 1 year apart). Doing 2 Sonlight cores might be time-consuming for me (and voice-consuming, since I tend to get a dry throat quickly with much reading aloud), but I figured that would be best to allow all my kids to get the most out of Sonlight.

Another option, which I've written about earlier (I think this past July), was to use the BJU Heritage Studies videos as the core of our history, each kid doing their own grade level, and just adding Sonlight books at the appropriate age/reading level. That would work, but I'm realizing, after a few months of doing BJU grade 1, that I really think the literature approach for history is much better, instead of using a textbook. Rebekah just doesn't get nearly as much out of the videos for history as she does from the books we're reading (I'm also doing Sonlight Core A with her right now - just the history and read-aloud portion). The videos do add some special interest clips, but not that much, really, for history - very little that we can't find on YouTube or somewhere else. And the skits seemed like a cute idea, but Rebekah views them more as entertainment and doesn't really get the point of them. Maybe she would as she grows older, but she's also getting a little tired of all the videos, and I'm thinking we're just going to stick with using the videos for English and math only (and maybe a little Bible thrown in, since she loves singing the hymns along with her teacher). Rebekah loves the independence of the videos (and the lack of frustration her video teachers' express compared to me!), but she misses the one-on-one time with me. I think the perfect balance would be to use videos for English and math, and for me to teach/read history and science directly. Bible we'll probably split half and half. (And while I'm discussing it, I'm not sure the videos will work best for my youngest 2 in any case - my son might not sit still through any of them, and my younger daughter seems to love workbook formats best.)

Anyway, so we're back to how to combine the kids with Sonlight. The thought I had yesterday, suddenly, was why not choose the core based on the 2 youngest ones' ages? That seems obvious, and I had considered it before, but had assumed that the core I chose that way would be too simplistic for my oldest, and plus, she wouldn't be able to go through all the cores before graduating. Well, I realized that I can much easier add material to the core for my oldest than take it away for my youngest. There is so much history material out there that I keep being drawn to, and this way I can add in some of it for my oldest to bring the lower cores up to her grade level. For instance, if we do core B when she's in 4th grade (and the younger 2 are in 1st and 2nd grades), then I could add some of the Greenleaf Press guides to the Famous Men series (e.g. Egypt, Greece, and Rome), or even some of the Sonlight books from core G. There're also the History Pockets books which Rebekah really liked in kindergarten (they have them for older grades too). It makes me excited to think about being able to do some of this other material too! I just love too much curriculum!

As for finishing all the cores before she graduates, well, I'd already decided that I loved the cores A-F, but after that, I probably would just do parts of the cores, adding in other choices instead of the Sonlight spines. If we do core B when Rebekah's in 4th grade, then she would make it through core F by 8th grade, and then have 4 years of high school left. There's plenty of other choices I have in mind for those 4 years, merging a few Sonlight cores, combining Sonlight with other things, or maybe even Oak Meadow history. The other 2 kids would have a few more years before high school to do more Sonlight or something else. Anyway, I've spent a lot of time today considering options, and I am really liking this scenario so far.

What this means is that Rebekah will have 2 more years after this one before we do Sonlight Core B. I could just have her use the BJU Heritage Studies videos, but I think we'll do something else instead. I have in mind some geography and government and economics unit studies for 2nd grade next year (maybe the Intellego Globetrotting studies too, like this one). Then for 3rd grade, I would love to use the Memoria Press D'Aulaire's Greek Myths set, and maybe some US Geography too (revisiting the US States study we started for 1st grade and never finished).

As for the literature side of Sonlight, I don't want to do double-English, making the kids do the BJU reading/literature courses as well as the Sonlight literature and writing material. Definitely too much. I do think BJU has a more thorough coverage of grammar and literary analysis, so I want to use them. However, I like having the kids read complete books (not excerpts) and I like Sonlight's book choices better for cultural awareness, etc. So I'll have the kids do the BJU work, but then have the Sonlight books for free reading, without requiring any reports or analysis of the Sonlight books. They'll be "just for fun" books.

Hopefully all my kids will like reading. ;-)

Friday, December 2, 2011

BFSU science curriculum

I've heard mentions of the Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding (BFSU) books by Dr. Bernard Nebel for quite some time, but hadn't looked into it too much until the past few weeks. Many people rave about it, saying how it is more thorough, more complete, more useful for building a truly integrated understanding of science than any other elementary or middle school age science curriculum they've seen. I hadn't looked at it too much because it is not really a planned-out curriculum. The books are for the parent or teacher, not the child. There are no day-by-day lesson plans, or scripts, or lists of "read these 3 pages in this book, do this experiment, and color this picture, etc." There are no pictures or worksheet pages in the books, no cute images to intrigue your young children. Basically, I thought it would be more work than I wanted to implement it, so I ignored it.

However, I recently found that you can buy an e-copy of one of the books in pdf format for only $5, downloading it straight to your computer (or Kindle). That's a full 3 years worth of science curriculum for $5, since each book covers 3 grade levels: book 1 is for K-2nd, book 2 is for 3rd-5th, and book 3 is for 6th-8th grades.

I bought book 1. I read the introductory material over our Thanksgiving vacation. And I really like it.

Those other reviewers were right - I think it really will build a comprehensive understanding of science, of all sorts, that is far deeper, more integrated, and more complete than anything else I've seen. The trick is that the author has organized the major facets of 4 primary scientific threads (chemistry, biology, physics, and earth/space sciences) and determined how they are interrelated, how they interact, and what you need to know in one field to understand the other fields. He's composed concise lessons for all these scientific fields and put them all in the "correct" order to develop an incredible scientific understanding if one studies the lessons in the correct order. And the lessons are designed for the appropriate ages, to not be too complex for 5-year-olds at the start, but increasing in complexity and depth as they weave their way through the scientific threads all the way through all 3 books. (I have to admit that I've only looked at the 1st book, for K-2nd grades, and so cannot promise that all the lessons are exactly "on-grade," but looking at the scope and sequence, they seem to be.)

The sequence of the lessons is not totally rigid, I should add. There are "pre-requisites" for some of the lessons, and you should do the lessons in each of the 4 threads in order, but you can choose which thread to do next. You can do a few lessons in one thread, then switch to a few lessons in another thread, go back to the first thread, etc., as long as you make sure you do the "pre-requisites" before certain lessons.

The lessons do involve a lot of hands-on work, and a lot of "experiential" learning which you can accomplish as you go about your daily life (grocery shopping, for example). Suggestions for a variety of things to do are described for each lesson. And any experiments require minimal supplies, most of which you really will have around your house.

I think since science is the one subject I really want to focus on myself (as opposed to finding independent or pre-planned or video-led curriculum for the others), I can have the time to implement BFSU. Science is one of my main passions, so I really want our science curriculum to be well-thought-out, complete, and academically advanced. I do love planning, too, and perhaps it is good to focus my "need to plan" on science, happily spending my time and effort on developing the best plan for us.

I know I had planned on using NOEO for a large portion of our science from K-8th grades, but I think the books and materials from NOEO can be used within the BFSU framework, just allowing BFSU to re-order when we do different topics. (I actually think now that BFSU will add a whole new level of comprehension and integration to NOEO's material - NOEO is good, but perhaps not integrated as well over the course of multiple years, and not as conducive toward building a real scientific, thinking, critical mind.) Even Sonlight's science book lists will be a useful resource. I forgot to mention that the BFSU books also include book lists for each lesson. Correlating all these lists should lead me to find a good selection! Also, there are many video sources that can be integrated into our master plan. Magic School Bus videos have been mentioned as a good fit, and perhaps the Sid the Science Kid videos for the younger ages. Also, Discovery Education videos (which you can get through the Homeschool Buyer's Co-op) should be an excellent supplement to BFSU.

The more I think about it, the more excited I get to implement BFSU. I can see lessons where an engineering topic would fit in very nicely, such as discussions about robotics, electronics, sensors, etc. Going with BFSU instead of a pre-planned curriculum would let me integrate all the other cool science stuff that I find and want to add on without (necessarily) overwhelming my kids (like Timberdoodle engineering kits, Intellego unit studies, robotics).

The BFSU lessons do have specific grade-level suggestions, but everything I've read indicates that you can easily use the lessons with ages outside those levels. I worried at first that I wouldn't be able to teach all 3 kids at the same time with BFSU, but I think I can. They are only 3.5 years apart, after all. I think if I wait until my oldest is in 2nd grade, and the youngest is 4, we can start with book 1. We'll just explain things simply for my youngest, and add in more material for my oldest. The sequence of lessons is the key, and I worried that my youngest might not understand the beginning lessons well enough to build on later, but if I wait long enough to start, I think he will. Previous lessons are revisited in later lessons, in a form of spiral learning, as more and more layers of scientific understanding are added. I believe the books are quite good at explaining how the required previous lessons fit in with a new lesson.

I'll be looking into how late I can start my oldest on the books and still have her finish by the end of 8th grade, to be ready for high school science. Then I'd have a few more years with the younger two before high school to add on or re-do any topics that needed more work. There are 108 "lessons" overall for K-8th grade, so I should have a bit of wiggle room, depending on how long I spend per lesson. The 4th thread, covering earth and space sciences, has the least number of lessons, so I'm thinking I'll end up adding quite a bit more there.

One last note - the thing that really sold me on BFSU was the lesson in book 1 on gravity and weightlessness in space (lesson D-7). It seems like every other elementary-age (and even older) science book I've read about astronauts explains the weightlessness of space as due to the "absence" of gravity. That has always irked me to no end. Earth's gravitational field does NOT just disappear in space, even as far away as the moon! BFSU explains that the weightlessness is due to the combination of the astronauts freefalling toward Earth (due to gravity) while moving at a high enough speed to maintain orbit (due to inertia and their initial speed at launch). The two force vectors combined result in the astronaut "falling around the Earth." Finally someone got it right! 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Charlotte Mason and Evolution

Even though I am happy with our current curriculum choices, I continue to consider the future and other curriculum alternatives. I am a student at heart, and love learning, so it follows that I love learning about methods of learning!

Anyway, I was browsing the Ambleside Online website the other day (amblesideonline.org), which I had apparently never been to before, despite having read other people's comments about the curriculum. It is quite fascinating, and I'm afraid I may end up spending quite a bit more time there, perusing the book lists. Basically, AmblesideOnline (AO for short) is a free online version of the Charlotte Mason approach to learning. The website has much more information about what this approach is, but it involves a lot of "living" books, a lot of nature study and active exploration of our world, hands-on productive craft work, and a somewhat freer approach to learning than textbooks, but yet more structured than student-led approaches, and can be quite rigorous and in-depth even through high school. At least, that's how I would describe it after my brief perusal. Charlotte Mason is the "no twaddle" approach that you may have heard described.

Sonlight, one of my other favorites, is partially a Charlotte Mason approach, so that explains why I am also attracted to AO. AO is cheaper (many of the books on the lists are available for free online - though if you wanted to buy them all, I'm sure the prices would come out close to Sonlight), but requires more planning on the parent's part. It sticks with one book for a longer period of time than Sonlight, and seems to use older texts. Anyway, that's a brief review if you're looking for a curriculum review.

What I mainly wanted to note in this blog is that I was surprised to read that Charlotte Mason believed in evolution and an old Earth. Most Christian adherants to Charlotte Mason homeschooling do not, nowadays, but apparently, in her time, around when Darwin first published his results, many Christians accepted evolution and easily saw how it could be understood as a method God may have used to create the Earth. That has always been my belief too - that God can use any method He wants to create the world, and to just categorically deny this possibility is to put God in a box, making Him smaller than He really is.

I have also read recently about how many Christians, raised with an anti-evolution mindset/worldview, fall away from their belief in God when they study more of the details of evolution in college, and find themselves among people who strongly believe in evolution. This is not surprising to me, as I have personally witnessed this "falling away" of other Christians at this stage of life.

What most Christian homeschool material suggests to prevent this from happening is to teach anti-evolution creationism so strongly in the K-12 years, providing counter-attack arguments to every evolutionary idea, that the student will never doubt their beliefs. One problem with this, however, is that evolutionists have come up with counter-counter-attacks for all these issues, and will continue to do so. If even one of these arguments makes sense to a Christian student who has always been taught that evolution equals atheism, then they risk falling away from God.

What I believe is a much better approach is to teach your young students that even evolution requires God. Even if you don't believe in evolution, you can still teach that those who do believe in it still need to (and can) have God in their equations. Even evolution, despite it making so much of "creation" possible without God's direct hand, still requires God at the beginning - at the very beginning, before time began, before the universe popped into existance. Exactly how much God "guided" evolution is totally debatable (and unprovable - it's just philosophies at this point) - you can go from no interaction at all after a first activating touch, up to frequent guidance at every genetic permutation.

The advent of Adam and Eve is still completely possible with an evolutionary viewpoint:  at a certain time, when the human form had become what God intended it to be, He breathed His spirit into the specimen He had chosen, making Adam the first true human, and quite distinct from all other "animal" forms (created from the dust, no less - from the very smallest building blocks of life - just over a longer period of time than generally assumed). I know - preposterous to many of you who believe evolution to be crazy. But for those whose scientific investigations force them to believe in evolution, would you rather they hold to such a possibility and still believe in God, or have them fall into atheism?

My point is that evolution does not negate God. Evolution does not negate the Bible. It may perhaps require a different interpretation that you are used to, but believe me, it does not negate even the first chapters of Genesis. Those who claim that it does are following tradition, not Scripture.

This is such a sore point with me because I see so many scientifically-minded people throw God and the Bible away, because they have been told so often that "Christians can't believe in evolution." Teaching evolution does not make students fall away from God. Teaching that Christians can't believe in evolution is what make students fall away from God.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Not the Best Week

Last Monday was one of those days when I seriously reconsidered home schooling. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), the child I really wanted to send away to school was my youngest, who won't be eligible to attend kindergarten until the fall of 2014!

My oldest, the main one I'm homeschooling right now, is doing great. She loves her school work this year, hardly ever complains, does her work quietly (well, she sings a lot while she works), and gets nearly all her worksheets, tests, and review questions correct. If I only had her at home, life would be so easy!

But I have 2 others, just turned 3 and 4, and they can cause so much chaos! I'm hoping they mature (just a little bit, please!) over the next 1-2 years, and start being more obedient and less destructive and noisy. It would be nice to be able to spend a few minutes helping one child without the others scattering legos all over the floor, dropping toys down the stairs once a second (it must have been a gravity experiment, right?), and turning my video camera on and leaving it to record (for a whole hour, no less!) face down on the kitchen counter.

This week has just been one of those weeks. Our science experiments haven't been going as planned either. We're studying sedimentary rock (like sandstone). One activity was to create our own sandstone by mixing sand and glue in a pan and letting it harden. It didn't harden. I even used (wasted) just about a whole bottle of glue. We did find a few harder chunks today, but they crumbled pretty easily. The main experiment was to use sand and crushed rock as a filter to clean dirty water. Well, the sand flowed right through the little pebbles I used (I didn't have any finer crushed rock available), and right out of the mouth of the 2-liter bottle, so we were never able to get the right layers to create our filter, much less try pouring muddy water through it. Today we painted with paint mixed with sand. I guess I put too much sand in, since it got really clumpy really fast. It worked, kinda, but not like I was expecting.

But despite all this, I really cannot complain. My daughter's self-confidence has greatly improved since I started homeschooling. Instead of hiding behind me whenever someone appears, now she sings hymns out loud as we walk through the parking lot and grocery store aisles, smiling at everyone. (She still has her shy moments, but they are definitely less frequent.) She is full of energy most of the day, eager to investigate her world, and not dragging her feet with exhaustion after a 40+ hour school (work) week, and then having homework to do on top of that. Instead of complaining that she doesn't like reading, she now reads books to her younger siblings in her spare time. Science and math are her favorite subjects. Her brother is one of her best friends, instead of being someone she hardly ever saw awake, and he follows her around like a puppy. She is inseparable from her sister (despite the pouting claims once a day or so of "I'm not your friend anymore!" that I hear from both - Ryan has taken to mimicking them when they say this, and then grinning really big).

So I can't really complain when I say this has not been the best week. Compared to what? There are much worse weeks possible. Yes, I have to admit - we are spoiled!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Birthdays and Cakes

I haven't written in a while, as the past few weeks have been a little busy. For one thing, my youngest daughter turned 4 last week, and my son turned 3 2 days later, so we had a joint birthday party last Saturday. They both love Cars, so we used that as our theme. So far, it's worked well to have "together" parties, at their young ages. My poor daughter didn't get much of a first birthday party, since I was just 2 days away from being induced with my son, and was feeling miserable! For their 2nd/1st birthday, we did a Mickey and Minnie Mouse theme, and for their 3rd/2nd birthday, we did a Team Umizoomi party. As they get older, I'm not sure if we'll always do a together party or not, but I'm going to try! It's hard enough planning and baking and cleaning the house for 1 party! Maybe we'll end up having 2 different themes someday, but still have the parties on the same day.

I have a goal of decorating birthday cakes for each of my children's birthdays. I'm not a professional, by any means, but I like being creative. Here's some pictures of past birthday cakes I've done. My oldest is partial to castles, so I end up using that cake pan for most of her birthdays. For her 5th, I took a chance to use a different pan (against her wishes), but fortunately, she still loved it!

November 2011 - Cars November 2010 - Umizoomi

November 2009 - for RyanNovember 2009 - for Reanna

July 2008 - Castle/Princess July 2009 - Castle/Princess

July 2010 - My Little Pony/Unicorn July 2011 - Princess

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Smushed Egg

We're studying volcanoes this week and next. I've added an extra week of volcanoes to our schedule, since we have a Magic School Bus volcano kit to add to the Intro to Science curriculum. Also, we had the fire station field trip this week and we have an aquarium field trip next week, so we're loosing 1.5 days of school over these 2 weeks.

Today we did an experiment with a soft boiled egg to demonstrate that volcanoes tend to form in the cracks between tectonic plates. Basically, you soft boil an egg, let it cool, tap it against a table to form cracks (tectonic plates), mark the cracks with a sharpie to make them stand out, and then - squish the egg. My daughter chickened out and so I ended up being the one to do the squishing. It was a bit messy, but sure enough - the "core" of the egg came out right along a "fault line" (though you might not be able to see the sharpie line in the picture below). Messy fun!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Fire Station

We went on a tour of a fire station this morning. Our homeschool support group set up a tour for the "birth - 6 year old" group, which we fit in quite nicely. All my kids seem to love fire trucks, shouting whenever they see one while we're in the car, so I figured this would be a good field trip to attend. The firemen showed us their trucks and the things they carry (jaws of life, hoses, axes, etc.), and let the kids climb through the front of the truck (and the moms too, if they wanted). They showed us all the gear they wear, talked about safety, and showed us inside the building (offices mostly). They then showed a video with a silly fire dog and robot, but with little safety tips added in throughout the videos.

My son was thrilled, and kept pointing at everything and naming them ("Firetruck! Firetruck!"). He wanted to touch and climb on everything, of course, so I ended up holding him probably half the time. He was better than I expected - at least he didn't continually run off and escape me.

My oldest daughter was interested, but stuck close to me most of the time. She enjoyed climbing through the truck. She made some friends as soon as we arrived too, handing out hugs left and right.

My youngest daughter was really fascinated and paid extremely close attention to everything the firemen said. She often walked off ahead of me, following the firemen whenever they said, "Come this way." She just had a lesson on a fire station yesterday, so this was really good timing for her. I was surprised just how attentive she was, though, especially for a 3-year-old. She could probably relate to me everything they said!

All 3 kids watched the video raptly, though Ryan did squirm a bit near the end. They all got a bag of goodies and a plastic fireman hat, which all 3 refused to wear until we got home. Then the 2 younger ones put them on and marched around the house playing fireman. And of course, during lunch we had to watch our own fireman video, which is one of their favorites. All in all, a successful field trip!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Good Teacher

I found this article today, via an email, which made a lot of sense to me:

What Does Your Child Want in a Teacher?

Patient, encouraging - I think I am definitely more like the "Miss Jackson" in the article than the "Mrs. McGregor." Oh, I absolutely love and care for my children more than a non-related school teacher would, but I know that still does not make me a better teacher in itself, despite what some home schooling parents will tell you. I know my first attempts at home schooling were not the best. I didn't really know what a 5 year old was capable of, so I grew frustrated with the slow pace of learning and my daughter very quickly picked up on my attitude. She became frustrated with learning and was beginning to dislike school more and more.

I have been learning myself, though, and have improved my own attitude. Some of that came from learning what a 5 or 6 year old is able to learn, and backing off on my expectations. Most of it has come from stepping back from the day to day teaching and watching the distance learning teachers do their job on DVD. They truly are excellent teachers, with much experience, and despite filming their teaching with no students present in the room for feedback, they know just the right pace to take for this age level. The amount of encouragement required for happy learning has been a learning experience for me too (you'd think that would be common sense for me, but unfortunately, it was not), and my daughter is blooming with the positive attitudes in her BJU classes. Learning how to encourage (and how much to do so) is a wonderful learning experience for me in everyday "mothering" life too, not just during "teaching" times. As my excuse, it is hard to be encouraging sometimes when 3 little children are constantly pestering you with demands, every single waking minute!

I may learn enough before long to be a good teacher myself, but I still think I prefer using the distance learning classes for the most part, and letting my role be that of reinforcing concepts, reteaching if necessary, aiding with "homework," organizing supplies and schedules, picking curriculum, etc. Sometimes it is better all around for the mother to take a step backwards from the day-to-day teaching and just be the mother. Even if a mother does not need to work outside the home, being the only teacher of her children is not necessarily her purpose in life. Sometimes God really does have other plans for mothers, and not all mothers have a desire or aptitude for teaching. God has, after all, given some people the gift of teaching, and thus He must intend for them to have students who are not all their own biological children! I know I am deviating somewhat from my topic and ending up on a soapbox, but I think this is one area that the homeschool world puts too much emphasis on, and seems to look down upon mothers who do not enjoy teaching.

Many mothers make excellent teachers, of course, and are the best teachers their children could ever have. Many homeschoolers decide to home school because they want to be the ones teaching their children, and that is an excellent reason. It's not my reason, however, which has much more to do with providing a higher level of academics, offering more individualized learning, emphasizing math and science more, teaching social education issues (sex, drugs) at the age I believe is appropriate, protecting from the physical/emotional hazards of bullies, encouraging self-respect and self-esteem and independence, reducing peer pressure, reducing busyness and schedule pressures at this young age, spending more time together as a family, and teaching and demonstrating Christian beliefs in the home. I don't want my children spending so much time socializing with children who are disrespectful to authority and their peers (or being taught by teachers who cannot enforce respect in the classroom), who promote immoral and/or un-Christian beliefs, or who spread false beliefs and rumors (about all sorts of things).

Not that I intend to shelter them from all beliefs I disagree with - this is one reason I am including a wide variety of reading from Sonlight and other sources, which introduce different religions, cultures and ideas. But I want to introduce these other beliefs within the framework I choose, particularly at this young age before they have developed the skills of logic and analysis to evaluate other beliefs themselves. I see too many grown people floating around with so many wild ideas they are overwhelmed, especially in this age of the internet, and they do not have appropriate tools of logic to analyze anything. No wonder they think the world is chaotic.

Anyway, this blog has turned out much longer than I intended (which was just a simple link to a good article). I think I need to stop writing now and go get my children back under control!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

BJU Days

I think we have now gotten the hang of our new curriculum - the BJU Press distance learning classes. My 1st grader, Rebekah, really loves her classes and teachers, and enjoys being in charge of her own lessons. She still needs help sometimes finding the right lesson on her DVD, or finishing a worksheet, or sharpening her pencils, but most of the time she can do everything on her own. She still needs a little prodding sometimes to stay on track and not spend half an hour on a simple coloring sheet, but her days are definitely more streamlined than they were when we started.

I have gotten my own part more streamlined too. I get a whole week's worth of prep done on Friday evening or sometimes Saturday, pulling out all the worksheets she will need, printing out any supplementary material, and checking to see if I need anything from the store (we needed 20 grapes last week). I have my own 3-ring binder for 1st grade now, with a section for each class. In each section I have a printout of the lesson schedule (which includes needed materials) and any grading sheets, plus a pocket folder for the week's handouts. Have I mentioned that I love organizing? It's actually fun for me getting all her stuff together for the week.

Rebekah has her own smaller 3-ring binder too, with a section per class, where I put the worksheet/material for each day. I did have separate pocket folders for her for each class, but it got confusing and messy, so I put it all together in the one binder. She even has a checklist in the front, with each subject listed, in a clear plastic pocket so she can check off things with a dry erase marker. I put the video number for each class there too, so she can know which lesson she's on.

We still do science separately, though I'm adding in the BJU science videos as they pertain to our own lessons, and we are still adding in Sonlight Core A material (just the history and read-alouds, not the readers or Bible parts since we have that all covered by BJU). We are on our 3rd read-aloud book right now, and Rebekah loves listening to them (and I an enjoying reading them for myself). It doesn't add much time to our schedule either, and Rebekah tends to finish coloring her worksheets while I read.

Our days are longer than if we did some other homeschool curriculum, I'm sure, but I actually like the longer days. It keeps her occupied with something she enjoys, it helps train her to work hard, and she still gets plenty of play time, since we don't have homework on top of our normal day. We have been doing English in the mornings as soon as we finish breakfast. This is the long class, covering composition, phonics, handwriting, and reading. That usually takes her from 8-10am. I have to say I am extremely impressed with the improvement in her reading ability, and we are only on lesson #27. We take a short break and then we do science and Sonlight reading, which takes maybe 30-40 minutes for both. If it's been a shorter day, sometimes she'll do another video class then (spelling, Bible, or heritage studies, which we do only 2-3 times a week). We take recess and lunch breaks then, and start again when Ryan takes a nap, around 1pm. Her favorite classes are then - spelling, Bible, and math - so she does those all on her own while I take a "kid" break and do some work of my own, like writing. How long her afternoons are depends on her - how much time she wastes playing around. She could finish in an hour or so, but usually takes longer. Then she can play the rest of the day!

Other than that I read her a page or two from an A Beka health book once a week, and we do an art project once a week. I teach her a little piano from time to time, but she's not too interested in that yet.

We're just getting started with kindergarten for Reanna - we've just done 4 lessons so far. She is still young, so I'm not pushing her, but she has really enjoyed what she's done so far. She has just 3 classes - Beginnings (which is phonics/reading/science/history all together), math and Bible. I was thinking we'd do Beginnings one day, and then math and Bible the next day, but she begged to do all of them in one day last Tuesday. I'll just let her go at her own pace, since we have until Dec 2012 to use the material. So far the material is at a perfect level for her, even though she's not quite 4 yet. I think it will get harder soon, so we may go even slower then.

For Reanna, I bought the online option, and I'm wishing we had gotten the DVDs. The desktop computer I planned to use for her crashed completely, and after weeks of fiddling with it, I have come to the conclusion that it needs to be thrown away. It is rather old. So she is now using our old laptop instead, but it has multiple serious issues - its internet connection dies about 3-4 times a day and has to be rebooted, plus it tends to crash when videos are played for too long. But we've managed to get through most of her lessons with only a few reboots. The other issue, which I'm not sure is the computer, our internet connection, or BJU, is that the videos stop to buffer quite a bit, which is rather annoying.

Ryan has been quite good lately about not crying when we start school, but just going upstairs to play with his toys. I read to him some, do alphabet flashcards, and just sit near him. I'm not sure when he'll be ready for more structured learning. He's not too into coloring yet. I haven't totally decided whether I'll homeschool him or send him to school so he has more boys to play with! Reanna too, really wants to try "big" school sometime, so we'll see. Rebekah is quite content with homeschooling, and it may really be the best option for her all the way to 12th grade. Reanna can't start public school for another 2 years anyway, and Ryan not for 3 years, so we'll all be home for a while still!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Science and Sink Clogs

We made a mud pie yesterday for science. We're studying fossils this week, so the experiment was to make a mud pie with some seashells, rocks, sticks, etc, mixed in with mud. Then we let it dry for a day (no problem with that, here in drought-stricken Texas), and today we broke it apart and looked at the impressions we made. The seashells made the prettiest "fossils," with their finely detailed lines etched in the mud. The instructions said that soil with heavy clay content worked the best. No problem with that either. Our soil is probably about 90% clay!

All 3 kids loved this experiment, though my little boy refused to stick his hands in the yucky mud as we mixed it up yesterday. My middle child poked around in it a bit, but my oldest, princess-y girl dug right in and got mud almost up to her elbows!

The problem came during clean-up time. I was washing off the middle child in the kitchen, so I sent my oldest to her bathroom. She came back in a few minutes to tell me the sink wasn't draining. Must have been that clay soil. I poured almost a whole bottle of Liquid Plumber in the sink, and let it sit for about 6 hours - still completely plugged. It looked disgusting too, with half-dissolved mud, gel-like liquid, and soapy water all mixed together. My husband eventually got the toilet plunger out (though I know the Liquid Plumber bottle says not to do that), and got it flowing again after just a few minutes. That sink has problems anyway, and is connected somehow to the air conditioner as a drain, so I think some sort of vacuum had built up and it wasn't really the Liquid Plumber's fault. But at least it is fixed now, and running smoothly!

My oldest and youngest worked well together uncovering the "fossils" too. The middle child stayed inside with me, as it was way too hot and humid outside, even at 11am. My oldest carefully picked apart the mud pie and found all the fossil impressions (and showed us through the sliding glass door), and then gave the leftover pieces of dried mud to my youngest, who proceeded to throw them all over the porch to watch them crumble to pieces. Great fun!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Back from Vacation

Well, we've been back from vacation for almost 2 weeks, and this is my first post since then. We've been a bit slow getting back into a normal school routine too. Mostly, this is due to all the annual/biannual doctor and dentist appointments that come due this time of year. With 3 kids and me, that takes quite a few appointments. We have 3 this week (one down, 2 to go). After that, we should be good for a long time. Except I need to set an eye doctor appt. for me, and the 2 little ones' annual check-up is due in November....

But we had a fun time in Washington. The weather was absolutely perfect - I think we hit the best week of the year for Seattle. The girls loved seeing a temperate rain forest, going hiking, exploring beaches, finding seashells, climbing inside giant trees, feeling the spray from a big waterfall, visiting an aquarium and a zoo, driving across floating bridges, riding a city bus, and walking around my old school (the University of Washington). Their favorite part was the airplane ride, though - especially the landing. When the pilot hit the breaks to slow down, they felt like they were sliding, and they both just started giggling. They were wonderful travelers, but we were all glad to get home too.

I'm just glad to not have little girl feet kicking my face in the middle of the night any more.

We have done several days worth of school lessons so far, but Rebekah has been protesting a bit. She has so many new role playing ideas after everything we did on our trip (airplane ride, bus ride, hiking, etc.) that she just wants to play with her brother and sister! Hopefully we will get back on track soon, and into a better routine (and with a better attitude).

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Vacation!

Tomorrow morning my 2 girls and I are going on vacation! One of the wonderful benefits of homeschooling is being able to go on vacation just after everyone else goes back to school, when the attractions are less crowded and possibly even cheaper. I'll consider it an extended field trip, learning about travel, airplanes, the environment, and cultural differences within the United States.

Unfortunately, we're not taking my son or my husband. We had just enough frequent flyer miles for a trip for 3. We've had the miles for several years and I keep thinking they're going to expire or something, so we decided we better use them. So, the girls and I are flying to Seattle to go visit my brother and other friends up there (I lived there for 10 years earlier). It's still miserably hot here in Houston, but the Pacific Northwest should be perfect this time of year.

My oldest has flown a few times before, but she doesn't remember any of those trips, and my younger daughter has never flown, so it should be an experience for them! They are both old enough to make traveling fairly easy with them, unlike my son. There's no way I could handle him too by myself on such a trip. He'd probably end up escaping from me, pushing open emergency-alarm doors, and running out onto the runway or something.

I will report back on our trip in mid-September, but for now, I will be taking a break from blogging!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Thunderstorm

We have been in a drought for the longest time. We have had so little rain that there are cracks in the ground big enough to swallow a small dog. We normally have our field cut for hay, and it's grown so little this summer that there's probably not even enough for one bale. People have been praying for rain for months. The governor even held a prayer meeting at the stadium downtown.

Our science topic for this week is electricity, and the nature walk part of it was to witness a thunderstorm and observe the lightning. Now, normally in the Houston summer, we have thunderstorms all the time. The afternoon heat and humidity almost inevitably grows some impressive thunderheads, and we get 10-minute deluges all the time. But not this year.

Until today.

Today, we were supposed to do our nature walk. I already had a youtube link ready for us to view. But this morning, the sky grew darker and darker. We had to turn on the lights in our school room. We began to hear thunder in the distance. It got louder and louder. Then, suddenly, it hit. The rain came down so heavy we could hardly see out the windows. The wind blew so hard the rain was blowing sideways - or at least at an 80 degree angle. It really seemed like tropical storm force winds and rain to me (and yes, I have experienced that before too a few times). The neighbor's trampoline was blown halfway across their yard and flipped upside down.

And the lightning!  Everywhere! Again and again and again! We turned off the computers and unplugged everything and then stared out the windows. Electricity exemplified!

It lasted about 30 minutes at the worst, I think. Our power only blinked off once, and we had one lightning strike simultaneously with the thunder boom. Then the storm continued past, the winds dropped, and the rain lessened. It still rained for another hour or two, to a lesser extent - a wonderful blessing to our ground and vegetation and wildlife.

And we had a very impressive first-hand science lesson. Rebekah's drawing of the storm was beautiful and heartfelt.

What a wonderful, educational day!

Monday, August 22, 2011

History Update

Ok, for history, we haven't started the BJU heritage studies videos yet, but we probably will watch them in our 2nd "semester". For now, we will continue with our US state study, though without so much focus on Cheney's Our 50 States book - it's just too much over all their heads for right now, with all the details and dates. We'll stick to coloring books, locating the states on the map, and putting the state flag stickers into our little booklet. I won't be scheduling it in really either, but just doing it whenever we have some free time and they want something to do.

I can tell already that the BJU courses will more than cover everything I want the kids to learn about the states, geography, etc., so I don't feel a need to add in anything else. Trying to add in more to the so-complete BJU courses is just adding complexity and hassle that isn't needed (not to mention wasting playtime!). I don't like just throwing out the Evan-Moor geography workbook I had been using, but Rebekah didn't like it at all, and pouted when I brought it out, so I'm just going to stop using it. All the things I bought and tried to use earlier, we will just count as a learning experience, and either use partially during summers as a review or try to resell what we can!

I have to admit I am still adding in art - which we'll do on Saturdays - and some music, plus doing science separately. And adding in some Sonlight, which I describe below. But science is a substitution for BJU science due to worldview differences, art and music are things not covered by BJU videos, and the Sonlight is quite short and either expands the BJU 1-semester history courses to a full year, or will replace parts of BJU history in the future.

On a slightly side note, we've been using the BJU videos for a week or so now, and I have to say that Rebekah's attitude has greatly improved. I am not scolding her hardly at all, she's not pouting about doing school, and even though she's spending a little more time doing schoolwork, she is enjoying her days more! I can see already that BJU distance learning is really the right choice for us. I love being able to get some work done around the house, plus play with the little ones, while Rebekah is learning away!

I've let Reanna try a little of the K5 classes, and while she loves doing the worksheets with the video teachers, her attention span is not quite long enough for a full video in one sitting yet. I will hold off on her classes for another month or two, I believe. Right now, Rebekah prefers listening to her videos without the headset most of the time, so it might get tricky when I have 2 of them listening to videos at the same time (not to mention 3 kids). Reanna loves her headset though.

So, we have also started Sonlight's Core A, at least partially, instead of waiting until next year for that. I've thought of several ways to combine 2 or 3 of my kids in history, but have decided with the videos, it's best to keep them all at their grade levels, and just try to combine some of the outside reading. We aren't doing the SL Bible part, since we're using BJU videos for that, and we aren't doing SL readers for 1st grade (too boring at her reading level right now, and too much to add to the BJU reading lessons). I am just reading the history/geography/cultural books and the read-alouds to the girls in the early afternoons after Ryan starts his naptime. We are reading the Boxcar Children right now, and Rebekah begs to hear more of it when we finish the day's chapter! Reanna, however, is quite fidgety and hard to keep still long enough to listen to it all.

I know many parents enjoy the "cuddle" time of read-alouds, but I have to say that it's not my favorite thing, all smushed together on the couch with one or both girls fidgeting so much that they keep kicking, pinching, or pushing each other (and me, stuck in the middle between them). It may get better as they grow older, but as they learn to read better, I am pretty sure we will switch to them reading by themselves more (ala Robinson curriculum), adding in Sonlight books as they fit with the kids' current reading level rather than as read-alouds. I will wait and see as we go whether to keep adding in Sonlight books, or just stick with the BJU history courses. BJU English also has book lists for reading outside of the videos, so whether I use their choices or (a small portion of) Sonlight's choices, I'm sure we'll do some outside reading.

If anything, I think it might work well to just read a little bit one-on-one with each one, instead of all of us together, giving each child a special Mom-and-me time. Today actually worked well when I let Rebekah color while I read, and Reanna just played nearby. However, Ryan has not taken a good nap for the past 3 days, so I am wondering if he is about to stop taking naps. That might throw a kink into our schedule all around!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Independent, traditional, eclectic, and more!

I finally managed today to return my copy of Cathy Duffy's 100 Top Picks book to the friend I borrowed it from. I think the most useful part to me was the questionnaire portion which helps you determine which teaching style you prefer. I wrote earlier how I ended up with scores very close together for almost all of the styles. Well, after getting a bit more hands-on experience with homeschooling, trying out a few things, and checking out more curriculum, I thought I'd redo the questionnaire and see if my thoughts were any clearer or different.

My scores this time were definitely more widespread. I went from a low of 41.2% (unschooling) to a high of 87.5% (independent), instead of everything being clustered around the 40-50th percentile. Kinda funny - you can see how after attempting to teach hands-on for a few months, I have definitely strengthened my desire to get the kids to work independently! My previous ranking for independent study was still the 2nd highest, but was only 54.2%.

Traditional and umbrella approaches turned out tied for 2nd place at 72.7%. This is quite in keeping with my current decision to use the traditional textbook approach of Bob Jones (added in with the independence aspect of using the distance learning videos). Traditional and umbrella approaches were tied for 3rd place the first time I took the questionnaire.

My original 1st place choice, the classical approach, went down to 3rd place at 69%, followed by eclectic (58.3%), Charlotte Mason (54.8%), unit studies (50%), and finally unschooling (41.2%). These are pretty much in the same order as my original rankings - just more widely spaced percentage-wise.

I do still like the classical and Charlotte-Mason approaches, to some extent, but they are very parent-intensive. I am still using a CM approach for science and mostly history. As I've read others say, science is mostly exposure in elementary school, and the more hands-on, the better. We are having fun doing science right now, and I don't forsee changing to a more traditional method until jr. high or high school. I do like teaching all the kids together, and directly, for a least a few things. As I mentioned last time, I have found many correlations between our Intro to Science course and the BJU science videos, and have been letting the kids watch a video or two a week that goes along with our topic. For 1st grade, I see nothing in BJU science that contradicts my old earth belief.

(I'll add a warning though - the reading portion of BJU grade 1 English lesson #150 does contain a very anti-old earth message, along with what I consider to be false information, so we will be skipping that one.)

I'll continue next time with history.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Too Hot for Science

We did a nature walk for science yesterday - from inside the house. We stood at the back sliding glass door and looked outside instead of actually going outside. Hey, it was 104 F officially in Houston!  It was probably only 101 or so at our house, but I had no desire to spend even a few minutes yesterday afternoon wandering around the backyard looking for natural inclined planes.

We found a few, even from through the window: the deck railing, the slide, and the ditch behind the house (we don't have hills here, so a ditch is the best we could do for a slope).

In any case, I think my daughter understands the concept of inclined planes after this week. We raced toy cars down a sloping piece of cardboard, we raced water drops down a wax-paper-covered cookie sheet, and we watched a BJU science video on friction. We skipped the painting project this week. Our teacher guide suggested rolling paint-dipped marbles down a piece of cardboard. I made an executive decision that this would be too messy, as I could easily imagine paint-covered marbles ending up all over the floor.

I've looked over the BJU Science 1 videos and found quite a few that should fit in nicely with our Intro to Science class. I'll just change the order around a bit, showing 1 or 2 a week usually. We'll probably skip the worksheets and their experiments - just watching the teacher do them, since we have plenty to do on our own anyway. The BJU class seems to also be a mostly introductory class, discussing a wide variety of topics, none of which contradict my own old earth beliefs. So it is a nice add-on to our original science plans.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Impressed

I haven't written in a while, due to VBS, and then my youngest getting strep throat, and everyone getting either allergies or a cold that we're passing around. But I just updated my curriculum listing for this year, and had to write about the changes.

I went ahead and splurged and got the BJU Distance Learning program for 1st grade (for Rebekah) and kindergarten (for Reanna). The boxes came in the mail this past week, and I have to say, I am extremely impressed. Yes, it is expensive, but it really does cover an incredible amount! It looks well done, intriguing, thorough, and amazing. I've listened to a few of the orientation sessions, am going over organizational ideas and material lists, and gathering things together. It may take a little while to learn how to use everything, but it looks like it will be simple once we get going.

And, above all, I am impressed with the teaching provided. These teachers (or assistants - as the parent still can direct the teaching as much as desired, choose what to include, what parts to do themselves, etc.) offer the student patience, thorough explanations, encouragement, well-ordered lessons, well-prepared lessons, exciting field trips, interesting informational snippets on a wide variety of topics, entertaining (yet educational) skits and puppets, and many different guests (adults and children). BJU is like a banquet compared to the workbook "snacks" we had been trying out before.

Of course, it's not perfect for everyone, but for someone who doesn't really like teaching everything themselves, it's wonderful. And I don't really see how I could do nearly as good a job myself, not having the years of experience each teacher has had with their respective subject matter and grade level. It takes a long time to come up with so many neat tricks and ideas for teaching a particular subject/grade, and by the time I would figure it out, my kids would be ready for the next level! Many other curricula offer wonderful teacher helps, of course, and those homeschoolers who are teachers themselves, either by vocation or aptitude or desire, could do just as good a job, but I do not count myself in that group!

Items of note that could be either pros or cons depending on your situation/beliefs:
  • God is mentioned a lot, in all the subjects
  • Students will be watching a screen (TV/DVD player/computer, etc.) mostly independently for about half of their lessons
  • Colorful worksheets & activities make up the other half of their lessons
  • A school day may be long, especially in upper grades (not as long as public school, but longer than many homeschoolers like) 
  • Curriculum is very college-prep
  • Grade levels are fairly specific to each grade/age (harder to do joint classes)
  • K5 and 1st grade seem to need a lot of supplies for activities!
  • Strong proponents of "young-earth" creationism, at least in science classes
  • Expensive (though much, much less than private school or outside homeschooler classes/academies)
I may have more notes later, after we've used it for a while.

One final comment for today, about why I got K5 for my almost 4-year-old daughter instead of K4. I looked over the scope and sequence for K4, and everything seemed to be stuff she's already done, and has done for a while. Reanna was quick to pick up things when she was still in an outside preschool, and has been following along with her big sister since I have kept them all home. She is ready to read now. She has known all her letters and letter sounds for over a year, can count to 20, understands number concepts up to 10, has known all her colors and shapes for over a year, etc. I think she will do just fine with K5. I got the online version for her, which is good until December of 2012, so we have plenty of time to do the courses. I tend to think she will go through them fairly quickly and we'll be done way before December 2012, but we'll see.

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Contagious Laugh

We are having Vacation Bible School at my church this week. We started yesterday (Sunday afternoon/evening), and are continuing in the mornings today (Monday) through Thursday. I am doing the crafts for preschool and kindergarten, and so all 3 kids are also participating. Kindergarten (with my oldest, Rebekah) is next door to the craft room, preschool (with my 2nd daughter, Reanna) is right down the hall, and the nursery (with my son, Ryan) is on the other side of the craft room. So I can often hear what all my kids' classes are doing. I haven't heard my daughters individually yet, but I can often hear Ryan. Laughing, cackling, giggling, and having a good old time!

He has a contagious laugh.

I can't help but smile when I hear his laugh (if not laugh outright myself). I've seen him make other people smile and grin too. Ryan has no idea he's doing it (at least, I don't think so), but his joy and glee at everything just cannot be held in, and others just can't help but smile at his enthusiasm and happiness. They sometimes don't even realize they're grinning right back at him.

Yesterday, at the end of VBS, my oldest got one of those blow-out party toys, where you blow hard into it and the paper curl straightens out and makes a horn sound. Well, I had picked up Ryan first and was holding him in my arms (he tends to run off in every direction at once if you let his feet touch the ground), holding Reanna's hand, and then we went to get Rebekah from her class. Then we began to walk out of the building while Rebekah blew her toy, making that party horn sound.

Ryan thought it was hilarious.

I stopped to talk for a minute with the resource room lady, trying to ignore my children while they continued to toot and laugh, and in the middle of a sentence, the resource lady just stopped and started grinning at Ryan. We totally lost track of our own conversation. Every time Rebekah tooted her party horn, Ryan cackled.

I continued down the hall, children in tow.

The pastor was at the end of the hall, saying hello to people and thanking the workers. We were still a few people away from him when, yes, Rebekah tooted her horn. Ryan threw his head back and gave a great big belly laugh. Everyone turned to watch him, grinning, as he continued to laugh with abandon.

What a ham. He's only 2 and a half right now. I don't know what I'll do with him when he starts realizing what he's doing. Isn't the 3rd/youngest child supposed to be the clown? Mine is definitely heading that way.

Fortunately, by the time we got to the car, Rebekah had blown out her horn completely, and it stopped working, so I didn't have to listen to it the whole way home. But every now and then, remembering Ryan's laugh, I just chuckled.

Contagious.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Last Shuttle Flight

Tomorrow morning, at 5:56am Eastern time, the shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to land in Florida. The last shuttle. It does make me sad, since the space shuttle has been a part of my life for quite a while. So I thought I'd write a blog post about it.

When I was a sophomore in high school, living overseas in Germany, I took physics. I loved that class, and I loved my teacher, Mrs. Smothers. She made things very interesting, and I loved all the experiments we got to do. I still have quite clear memories of some of them - the water wave tank, the portable planetarium that took up the entire classroom, basic mechanics experiments in the hallways. That's probably why I ended up majoring in physics in college. I was also very proud of my teacher since she signed up for the very first Teacher in Space program and was selected as one of 2 teachers to represent American teachers in Europe. At this level of the selection process, 2 teachers from each state, plus 2 from various overseas locations (teaching in American schools), were chosen to come for interviews and testing and all. She had little hope that she would get any further, due to physical limitations, but she was so excited to have gotten that far. She wrote in my little signature book at the end of the school year that she hoped to wave to me from space soon! Due to her participation in this program, I became interested in the space program as well.

Mrs. Smothers didn't get any farther in the selection process, for which I was grateful when, the following year, the Challenger Disaster occurred, with the first teacher in space on board. We lived in Oklahoma that year, my junior year, having moved back to the States the previous summer. I was home from school sick that day, when my dad called and told us we better turn on the tv. We watched the news, stunned.

I still kept my interest in space strong. The following summer we moved to Issaquah, Washington, as my dad retired from the Air Force, and I began my senior year of high school. I remember making a model of a space station out of Legos for my current affairs class. I used different colored Legos for different parts of the station - life support, propulsion, etc. All this was because NASA was talking about building a permanent space station. I also studied astronomy that year as an independent study, since I had already taken physics.

When I started college, I decided to major in physics and astronomy, as well as music - my other love. It took me 5 years, but I still never could choose between the sciences and music. Then we got a new music minister at our church up there in Renton, Washington, who just happened to have a brother who had just been selected as an astronaut. I made sure to meet him.  ;-)

I spent a few years wandering between potential careers, trying out astronomy in grad school as a precursor to becoming an astronaut myself, burning out and coming back to music and more artistic pursuits, then jumping into librarianship so I could read all those books which were my other passion. I realized I could combine some of these interests, and took a 6-week unpaid science library internship in Houston, Texas, at the Lunar and Planetary Institute, next door to Johnson Space Center. My music minister's astronaut brother found me a jeep to borrow for those 6 weeks. A jeep which belonged to an astronaut who just happened to be training in Russia for the year. It was a stick shift, and I didn't know how to drive a stick shift, but I learned the basics and took really, really good care of that jeep!

I also made an interesting discovery while filing newspaper clippings at the library. There was a field called space robotics. I had never heard of such a thing before, but I was fascinated, and realized that maybe I still could become an astronaut if I got a PhD in space robotics.

At the end of my internship, my astronaut friend was scheduled to launch on the shuttle, STS-69, and my family was invited. We went, and got to sit in the VIP viewing area and, after a few delays, watched my friend launch into space aboard the shuttle.

I have no words to describe that experience.

Let me just say that my desire to become an astronaut increased significantly.

When I returned home from my internship, I researched space robotics graduate programs and started applying. I got accepted to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA - the premier school for robotics. I learned computer programming really quickly, and began to program robots to explore space. I found the professors who had connections to NASA and worked for them. I volunteered to advise a high school robotics team, funded by NASA Headquarters. I picked a thesis topic relevant to space exploration, and got to travel to the high Canadian arctic and to Antarctica. I learned how to fly planes and got my private pilot's license. I went skydiving. I got to go down to Florida for another launch, driving all the way from Pennsylvania with my former music minister's family (who had taken a new job in PA). I went down to Houston for another internship, this time at Johnson Space Center itself. My astronaut friend took me to meet Duane Ross, the guy who selects all the new astronauts. I began applying to be an astronaut, even though I didn't have my PhD and wasn't completely qualified yet.

And I tried to learn how to scuba dive. Scuba diving is required for astronaut candidates. I didn't know how to swim, but I figured I better learn if I wanted to become an astronaut.

It didn't work. I freak out underwater, I discovered, and this greatly dimmed my enthusiasm. I was also becoming more interested in space robotics as a career in itself, and not just a stepping stone to being an astronaut. I was enjoying working as a roboticist at NASA. I was enjoying the opportunity to do robotics research in beautifully extreme and remote locations. Space is cool, but Earth is a pretty fascinating place to explore too.

I did take swimming lessons the next fall, but my aspirations had subtly altered. I graduated with my PhD and went to work at Johnson Space Center, getting to know multiple astronauts and getting to do lots of cool space robotics. I stopped applying to be an astronaut, because I was pretty happy with things the way they were right then. I met a guy at my church who also worked at NASA, and we got engaged.

I usually cut my hair myself, with just a plain long hair style, but I planned to get a professional cut a few months before my wedding. The day this was scheduled also happened to be the day a shuttle was supposed to land. In many parts of the country, most people don't even know when the shuttle is up or down, but in Houston, it's always on the local news. Even those of us who work at NASA don't always pay too much attention to when launches or landings happen - at least back then - but we usually know approximately when they are. So that Saturday morning, when I got up to get ready for my hair cut, I realized the shuttle should be landing any minute now and turned on NASA TV to watch.

There were no pictures of the shuttle. I frowned, looked at the clock, and turned up the volume. There should have been pictures of the shuttle high in the atmosphere, gliding down through the clouds. I checked the landing time on the computer and then looked at my clock again. There should have been pictures of the shuttle on the ground. There weren't. Columbia didn't make it back.

This time, the emotions were much, much stronger than with Challenger. This time, I worked at NASA. This time, I had actually met and talked to one of the astronauts on board that shuttle. This time, I couldn't stop crying.

My fiance and I talked over the phone for quite a while as the events unfolded. He convinced me to go ahead and get my hair cut, and we made it through the day. My fiance was getting new carpet put in his house, and I went over there and we stood watching the news on tv as the carpet layers worked around us. We went back to work the next week, and everyone was somber. Hundreds of volunteers drove the few hours north to help locate, identify and sort through the debris of Columbia over the next few weeks. Thousands stood in the mall area on-site when the president came to speak at our memorial service. Thousands stood silent during the ceremony.

NASA survived, and we survived, and the shuttle program survived. And tomorrow is the last landing, may it be a safe one. My life is so intertwined with so many memories and images of the space shuttle that it is hard to imagine not having any more launches and landings. The course of my life, and the unfolding of my own personal events, has been changed and affected by the space shuttle. I have made sure to have my young children watch all the launches and landings that I could over the last few years. I don't know if they'll remember much, being so young, but all 3 of them were mesmerized by the most recent - the last - shuttle launch. They count down from 10 with the announcer, they raise their hands and shout "Blast off!".  My middle child, just 3 years old, has said several times that she wants to go into space and be an astronaut. I hope they remember some of this, over the next few years without any shuttle launches. I hope they are still inspired to explore space.

But I imagine this is how others felt when the Apollo program ended so many years ago. Many years passed, after the last mission to the Moon, before the space shuttle program began in earnest. In fact, the Apollo program ended when I was just about the same age as my own children are now. I was born just 8 days after the first human stepped foot on the Moon.

Neil Armstrong, July 20th, 1969. Exactly 42 years ago today.

I don't remember seeing any of the Apollo launches, but I still developed a strong interest in space. Who knows what my children will witness over the next twenty or thirty years? Hopefully plenty to inspire, plenty to encourage, plenty to remember. Hopefully not the last, but the first of many flights to come.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Sonlight and BJU History Videos

As I've mentioned before, history was my least favorite subject in school, and I really think a literature-based approach, including historical fiction, is the most intriguing way to teach history. However, I also really liked what I saw in the sample elementary-age distance learning history videos from BJU. They include skits, re-enactments, and props which I think can bring history alive just as much as historical fiction. If I'm going to be buying a full-grade BJU distance learning kit anyway, I am very tempted to use their history too, and not just the English and math which is my primary teaching concern.

Sonlight, BJU - is there a way to combine them? Is it too much to do both? I think it would be too much to do both in their entirety, unless history is going to be your primary focus in school. (That's one qualm I had about Sonlight earlier even - history is pretty much the core for them, and is more of a focus than I had really wanted. Math and English should be the primary focus for the earlier grades, and I really prefer science to history, as far as the secondary subjects.)

However, BJU history (which they call Heritage Studies) in 1st-4th grades and in 6th grade, are just 1 semester courses. I think there will be time to add in select books from Sonlight to go along with each BJU course, spreading it out to a full year. To add even more flexibility, BJU is a textbook approach, despite the videos, and has quizzes and tests, which I could easily omit for elementary history work. Now, I am more comfortable with having some form of testing for student accountability, which is an aspect of using BJU that relieves some of my concerns about homeschooling, but I'm not too set on using tests for elementary history. As long as they are hearing (and seeing) the material and able to tell me about it verbally, I think that's enough for their age in history.

Another issue for combining is that BJU history does not follow the same sequence as Sonlight. BJU focuses on chronological US history for 1st-5th grade, not going back to do world history until 6th grade. Sonlight does world cultures in Core A, world history in Cores B & C, and US history in Cores D & E. But even though BJU does primarily US History, they add in a few choice world history tidbits from the same timeframe for each year. I have gone through the Sonlight book lists for cores A-E and categorized the books I like by time period and location, fitting them into whichever BJU year they match. Most of them end up being readable by the student at that grade level, though for 1st and 2nd, many of them I will have to read aloud. Adding these books is essential, I believe, for gaining the broader cultural "friendliness" and exposure which I love about Sonlight. The Sonlight books that are not history-related (just being readers), or that don't have reviews I like, we will just skip (or replace). This brings the total down to a very reasonable number to go along with the BJU videos.

For 6th grade world history, I will most likely add in more of my own choices to preface the BJU course, adding in prehistory from an old-earth perspective. In some ways, it is better to do this in 6th grade instead of in Core B of Sonlight (around 1st-3rd grade), as the student will be more mature and able to understand all the controversy and different options concerning this time period.

As for the higher grades, I will probably use more of Sonlight. I think I want to do the entire Core F of Sonlight, as it will introduce many valuable history lessons, instead of BJU 7th grade (more ancient/world history). I will probably use Cores G & H too (world history) in the next 2 grades, though not in their entirety, since I don't like the core spines Sonlight uses then. I may even use portions of the BJU 10th grade world history text as a spine. We'll see when the time comes. I plan to combine Sonlight's Core 100 and BJU's 11th grade US history courses for 10th grade, similarly to how I'm combining the elementary courses. I will also use parts of Sonlight's Core 300 (20th century world history) in combination with BJU's 10th grade world history textbook (not the video) again for 11th grade. For US government and economics in 12th grade, I will most likely use BJU's video course alone. So, that gives me a full plate for each year!

As we actually get to these grades, I will post a list of the extra books we end up using. Soon, I'll post a list of what I'm planning on using for 1st grade. If you are interested in what books I'm thinking of for a certain later year, feel free to ask me, and I can go ahead and give you my preliminary list.

As for other BJU courses past 6th grade, I am trying not to make up my mind yet, until we see how the first 6 years go. I do favor BJU English for the entire schooling adventure. Their math sounds good (mostly mastery), but they do not go all the way to calculus, so if my children are math whizzes, we may switch to something else at some point - either plain textbooks or other more advanced video/dvd programs (Chalkdust or Thinkwell, for example - see my earlier post too). We will probably use Math Mammoth worksheets for summer review sessions during elementary school too. So, we may or may not get full-grade BJU videos past 6th grade, but for the 1st 6 years (or 7, including kindergarten), I think I will easily make use of BJU math, history, and English (which includes reading, phonics/grammar/writing, handwriting, and spelling).

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Changing My Mind

My lovely, well-researched, well-thought-out plan for English is fading fast. Neither I nor my daughter are enjoying it much, and this is not a good thing. She even told the doctor today, during her 6-year-old checkup, that she didn't like reading. (On the plus side, she did say she liked math.)

I'm not sure exactly what the problem is. Perhaps it is the black and white workbook pages? Too many "problems" on each page? The Learning through Sounds II book does have a lot of fill-in-the-blank-letter words, for sound/letter recognition, on these first few pages in the workbook. Her handwriting has actually gotten better, though, so it's not as hard for her to write. Some of the hand-drawn pictures on the pages are hard to identify, and perhaps are a bit too Amish and farm related. The Climbing to Good English workbook is very similar, since they are made to go together. She loved the workbook the first few days, because of the dog mascot that appeared on every page. But it is perhaps too much of the same thing day after day? The Evan-Moor workbook pages we've tried are a little better, but are still black and white. They have very short lessons for each day, but I still encounter much resistance from my daughter, and a pouting attitude.

I did have a little success in changing her attitude the day I told her that if she didn't stop pouting, I'd give her more worksheets to do! She paused, then turned to me with a big smile plastered all over her face! It was a little fake, but she did cheer herself up, making things much more pleasant for me.

I'm pretty sure that the worksheet style and quantity has a little to do with her dislike, but I will confess that the majority of it is probably my approach to teaching it to her. I just cannot make myself nearly as exuberant teaching English as I can teaching, say, science. I tend to tell her what to do on the page as quickly as I can and then just tell her to do the page. Not the best teaching method. Some of it is my lack of interest in the subject, and my frustration with this basic level of education, and a lot of it is having to deal with my 2 and 3 year olds at the same time.

("Stop coloring on the desk! Don't take your sister's scissors! Sit down! No, not at my desk! Stop singing so loud! Stop grabbing your brother's cars! Stop grabbing your sister's hair! Stop crying! Stop! Stop!" - it really is quite constant sometimes.)

I still really like the concept of the Pathway readers, Climbing to Good English, and Learning through Sounds approach. The teacher guides have tons of good information about how to present the material, how to drill the students so they get everything they need to, in what order to teach things, etc. I love the back-to-basics approach, with wholesome, moral beliefs intertwined in the material. I love the inexpensive price for all that you get. I think this course of study would still be really good for many homeschool teachers, and has the potential to be used well with multiple grades. But I think the parent/teacher must still be a good, willing teacher in order to engage the child. The teacher guides talk about this, and show how to do this, but I find myself skipping too many of those parts due to time constraints and lack of interest (on my part, that is). It is not doing my daughter much good, and is driving me crazy, so I am sorrowfully acknowledging that our plans must change.

What If You Don't Like to Teach?

So, what is my plan now? If you have read my blog from the beginning, you might recall that my first thoughts when deciding to homeschool were to use distance learning videos, such as from A Beka Academy (so I'm not really changing my mind, right - just returning to my original mind!). I thought they might be the only way I could homeschool, since I knew I didn't really like teaching. I moved away from that when I started researching curriculum more and found so many other wonderful resources available. I moved away from A Beka when I talked with several friends who had either been taught themselves with A Beka, or were using A Beka with their own children (the textbooks, not the videos). None of them liked it. Too much drill and repetition, too boring, too dry - they had other complaints, but those were probably the main ones. The videos also had bad reviews, as they are just cameras set up in the back of classrooms. Too much time spent listening to other children responding to questions, too long, too much like regular school, etc. My daughter thought the sample videos online were cool (she liked the school atmosphere, I think), but I think she would soon tire of listening to the repetition of other students.

Other places have distance learning videos, primarily for jr high and high school, with several different math programs, some science ones (mostly secular), and classical rhetoric and logic and discussion classes teaching literature and history. Many of these sound wonderful (and expensive), but they are not for early elementary. There are also online game-type sites that are for elementary ages, but they are more supplementary than primary for teaching. There are also co-ops that teach for 1-3 days a week, with the parent doing the rest at home, but these focus on science, literature, and history, leaving the basics of reading, English, and math for the parent - exactly the opposite of what I want! (kinda ironic that I named my site “Teaching the 3 Rs,” huh?)

Bob Jones also has distance learning videos for 4-year-olds through 12th grade which have much more wonderful reviews. They have engaging teachers who address your student directly, with props, field trips, puppets for the younger ages, etc. Their entire curriculum has good reviews, and is intensive and college-prep (very different from the Amish material I've been trying - some of their websites even discourage sending your students to college, which I knew from the start was pretty opposite of my inclination - perhaps I should have paid more attention to our philosophical differences. I still think a college-bound student could use the Amish/Mennonite material with excellent results, just adding more college-prep material in high school.)

Anyway, one reason I steered away from Bob Jones originally was because the textbook material is very teacher-intensive, which I was pretty sure I couldn't handle with 3 students (and didn't want to handle, since I'd rather be hands-off in teaching). Also, the main turn-off for me was their young-earth belief, which is quite strong and can be somewhat dogmatic in their science courses, and is also present in their ancient history texts. Most of their other religious beliefs are very similar to mine, and I don't have any qualms (based only on their online samples) about their take on U.S. history, economics, Christianity, math, English, etc.

However, I am rethinking using their video-based distance learning (just omitting their science). That would take care of the teaching for me, and I think the video teachers would engage my oldest much, much better than I can. Their reading program has extremely high ratings from others, for example. Their higher-level English and literature program also has very high ratings from multiple people, and is very rigorous all the way up through 12th grade.

I think to save my sanity, and my daughter's interest in learning, we really should use BJU videos for English and math (despite my daughter saying she likes math, we really have the same attitude problems - hers and mine - with math every day). Since it is the same price for the whole grade level as it is for 3 classes (and the English is split up into 2-4 classes each year, not even counting math), I will probably just get the whole grade level, even if we don't use it all. I love the skits and field trips they have for history too, and while I had planned on doing the 4-year-cycle for history and using Sonlight, I have figured out how to intertwine Sonlight history reading with BJU history for many years, and will probably still use Sonlight only in some of the later years. (I'll post about those details later - using portions of BJU history and portions of Sonlight.) I will probably also use the BJU Bible course (it's just 15 minutes a day).

I will not, however, use their science, and will continue to teach all 3 children together with our own science courses. (I may pre-screen some of the science videos to show them, however.) Science and art, as I mentioned in an earlier post, are fun for me to teach, and fun for the kids to learn from me. Music, computers, robotics, also, I will teach myself. Reading aloud from historical fiction and even non-fiction is also fun for me to do with the kids, so I will still do that part myself, leaving some of the textbook, fact parts to the BJU teachers.

BJU videos are expensive, yes. But they are much cheaper than sending my 2 youngest ones (or even 1 youngest one) off to daycare so I can focus on my oldest (which I don't want to do anyway, since I want my 2 youngest ones at home too). It will be cheaper to use full-grade videos for all 3 children than to send even one child to a private Christian school, which would be my next move. I don't want to stop homeschooling, and I don't want to send them to a public school, and I don't even really want to send them to a private school. But I'm afraid I will be burnt out very, very soon if I have to continue teaching reading and basic math to all 3 children over the next few years.

It does make me sad to give up some of my earlier plans, and to not use some of the material I’ve bought. The cost does bother me too, considering that you can homeschool for free, really. There are so many resources available, free educational videos, an entire year of history units and activities for $1.99, etc. I am basically a frugal person, and knowing that there are materials available to use so cheaply (if one were only an interested, good teacher), but then spending so much on a video curriculum does disturb me a bit. But what price is sanity?! And if the alternative is public school, even my husband prefers spending the money. We are very fortunate to be able to afford it.

My new role then, aside from continuing to teach science, art, music, computers, robotics, and some history, will be more of a mentor, tutor, and administrator. With the videos, the parent can be as involved as they want to be. At a minimum, the parent must gather and organize the needed materials for the day or week, grade papers, re-teach anything the child didn’t understand from the videos, and help the students focus and maintain a schedule. For many homeschooling parents, those are the unpleasant tasks - they prefer to focus on the teaching. I, however, don’t like that part (except in science). I actually enjoy the administrative parts! So I think maybe distance learning videos are perfect for us.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Mixing Colors

Today, our science and art classes went together quite well. We are studying colors this week in science, and our art lesson today is also about colors. Well, I guess art is almost always about colors, in some form or fashion, but this week's lesson is about mixing colors, blending white with bright colors to make paler ones. And our science experiment we did today was mixing primary-colored water to make new colors (e.g. red + yellow = orange).

The science experiment was made much easier, and more fun, by using the jumbo test tubes I just won in a Facebook contest by Discover This (website: http://www.discoverthis.com/). They had posted a picture on facebook of some mystery object magnified 43x. I guessed it was the bottom of a mouse pad, which turned out to be correct! So they sent me these test tubes, as well as a Magic School Bus volcano kit, which I plan to use in conjunction with week 16 of our Intro to Science course, which is on volcanos. Pretty neat how it all fits together!

So, for the color mixing experiment, the experiment called for using 3 squeezable bottles (like empty dishwashing soap containers) full of water dyed with food coloring, in the 3 primary colors of red, blue, and yellow. They the kids could squeeze the colored water into clear bowls to mix colors in various combinations. I didn't have 3 squeezable bottles on hand, so what we did instead was take 3 clear plastic bowls and filled them with the 3 primary colors (food-color-dyed water). Then I gave each child a medicine dropper and one of the jumbo test tubes, and they were "scientists" mixing "solutions" of color.The girls loved it, and did quite well. My 2-year-old Ryan loved it, but could not for the life of him figure out how to fill up the medicine dropper. So I filled the dropper for him, and he squirted it into his test tube. Mostly. His aim is not so good, so we used quite a few washrags to clean up all the spilled/squirted water everywhere.

Going along with the color theme, the nature walk for this week is to try and find a rainbow outside. It actually rained yesterday (we've been in drought conditions for months, so this was quite a welcome surprise), so we ran outside to look for rainbows, but unfortunately didn't find one. We might even get more rain this week, so maybe we'll find a rainbow by Friday. If not - I've got a prism handy, and we'll make our own.