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!