Thursday, August 25, 2011


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


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.