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!