Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Personalized Learning

I just read a very interesting article, mostly about personalized learning:


The article doesn't mention homeschooling at all, but I could see many relevant connections to homeschooling in the discussion. For instance, the article states that one-on-one tutoring is the most efficient form of learning (but too expensive to provide for every student!). It talks about differentiated learning (teaching each student at their own level), and independent study, and computer-based learning. All in all, it was very enlightening for me to read, having a mindset, or background, of homeschooling. Many of the things they suggest as being good and useful are the types of things we homeschoolers use already. Some of their comments were even new thoughts for me to consider.

The concepts discussed do sound like they might improve classroom-based education, and public schools. (Not everyone can, or is willing to homeschool, after all.) It's a difficult job to teach a classroom full of different students all at once, with such a wide variety of needs and abilities. If they can use some of the tools and methods we use as homeschoolers, all the better for them!

It is a rather long article, but if you have 30 minutes or more to spare, you might find it interesting too.

Friday, November 22, 2013


I am so thankful that my entire family approves of our decision to homeschool our kids. I read about others who face opposition and negativity from the grandparents, siblings, even spouses. I read about divorced parents where one actually presses charges against the other over homeschooling. I read about grandparents that sue for custody over homeschooling. I read about lost relationships, broken ties and angry words among family members, just over homeschooling.

I didn't start out planning to homeschool. I sent my oldest to public kindergarten over 3 years ago, and breathed a sigh of relief! None of my family members tried to convince me to homeschool. None of them mentioned it really.

But we all apparently had thoughts about it in the back of our minds. I had considered it since my firstborn was born. It was an option. We had quite a few friends and neighbors who homeschooled. Our school district wasn't the best, and I thought maybe after a few years of public school, we'd bring them home, before they got to the dreaded middle school years with all that peer pressure. "Later" just turned out to be earlier than I had thought.

When I discussed it with my husband, he just nodded and started coming up with more and more reasons to homeschool.

When I told my parents, they smiled broadly and after a few conversations about how to do it, whether I would be ok with delaying my other career plans, and asking when they could help, we were set.

When I told the church choir about our schooling plans during prayer time, I don't know how many people said, "Good for you!" - and prayed for us.

When I told my in-laws (with a little trepidation, I have to admit), my mother-in-law smiled and admitted, "I've been praying you would decide to homeschool," despite never having mentioned it to me before.

My brother-in-law and his wife thought it was a great idea. My brother and his girlfriend thought it was great. No one spoke in condemnation of it, no one told me it was a bad idea, no one discouraged me. Sure, some probably had some doubts and concerns, and some mentioned other cases they had heard of which didn't turn out very well, but I didn't feel any strong negativity toward our decision. Maybe it helped that I have more education than most public school teachers, in a variety of fields. Maybe it helped that I was also a good student and a life-long learner.

But whatever the cause, whatever the background of all my family members that made them view homeschooling in a positive light (none of whom were ever homeschooled themselves) - I am just thankful. It makes it so much easier. And it makes it so much easier when they compliment the kids' progress every now and then, send little notes of encouragement, and tell me how glad they are we're still homeschooling. That can turn a negative, poor, sad day (when I'm considering packing them off to school somewhere) into a happy, relieved, positive day (when I remember how lucky I am to be able to homeschool).

I am very blessed to have such a supportive environment, among family and among friends and neighbors. I have never had anyone tell me I'm crazy or that my kids will turn out terrible. The store clerks just smile and chat - one even told my daughter that the smartest people she knows were homeschooled. One told me that she's trying to convince her grown daughter to homeschool her kids, and asked me about support groups in the area. Even the public school teacher and counselor were very encouraging when I withdrew my oldest. Maybe God knows I needed all this positivity to make the decision He wanted me to make. Whatever the reason, I am thankful.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

All About Spelling

I just looked through my earlier posts, trying to see if I had ever written about the spelling I'm doing with my oldest this year, and didn't see anything. How can that be? We are really doing good with spelling this year, for the first time.

Spelling has been my oldest's bane since 1st grade. We've used curriculum from Evan-Moor, BJU Press, CLE, Sequential Spelling, Rod & Staff - nothing really worked well. She liked the stories that went along with BJU, but she still couldn't spell and hated to write since she worried too much about spelling things wrong. She really liked Sequential Spelling, at first. But after about 20 lessons or so, she had decided it was boring, and she still couldn't spell the words we had "learned" at the beginning - the patterns didn't really click with her, and she couldn't remember them apart from the sequence in the lessons. I'd have to correct her on the first word, and then she'd get a few correct - until the pattern changed again. Now, Sequential Spelling might be a perfect fit for my middle child, with her excellent visual memory, but it wasn't for my oldest.

I had read about All About Spelling (AAS), and seen so many good reviews, but it was expensive, and seemed a bit overkill to me, what with all the letter tiles and "accessories." I also didn't like how teacher-intensive it was. I wanted independent! I didn't think Rebekah was dyslexic (which AAS is supposedly really good for helping) - she reads well above grade level, and loves reading. But after everything else seemed to be not working, I decided to splurge and try it for 3rd grade.

It is amazing! Rebekah's spelling has improved drastically, and she loves our spelling lessons! I'm even enjoying them, and not minding how teacher-intensive they are. If she starts to misspell something when writing for other subjects, I just have to remind her to sound it out like in our spelling lessons, and she can usually figure it out. She will write more now, with less fear of misspelling things (though her writing level is not as high as I'd like it - we may be focusing on that area next!). We are almost through with Level 1 of AAS, and I just ordered Level 2. We should be able to get through that by the end of the year, I believe, and she will be basically at grade level then. You can start AAS in 1st grade, but I think it might be better to wait until the child can read at a 1st grade level, thus doing Level 1 in 2nd grade, Level 2 in 3rd, etc. But every child will be different, I'm sure. AAS is designed for one-on-one teaching, going at the speed the student needs, and not just blasting ahead with one spelling list a week, like so many other methods.

AAS teaches the rules about why things are spelled the way they are, and that is apparently what my daughter needed to learn. I've always been an excellent speller, but I didn't know these rules - I just spell things the way they look right, and had no idea spelling followed rules so much! So I'm learning too.

It's great for reinforcing phonics too. Rebekah needed some reinforcing on that, since her earlier phonics lessons didn't seem to stick. It's like a lightbulb went on, now that she's hearing the sounds and connecting them with the correct letters. Before, she just seemed to draw a blank when she had to figure out what letter was making a particular sound. She could go the other direction  easily - from written letter to sound - but had a terrible time going from the sound to the correct letter. AAS starts with learning all the sounds the letters make, getting into blends and digraphs later. That's one reason I think it might be best to wait until after a child has learned both short and long vowel sounds, and possibly other sounds (like /ah/), before starting AAS, since AAS starts with teaching that "a" makes 3 sounds.

As for the teacher-intensive part, I've finally accepted that Rebekah really does so much better with me teaching her directly, and is not really ready for independent work in many areas. I had dreams at first (fantasies, maybe) of just setting work in front of her and having her learn on her own, self-taught, or video-taught, or whatever. Yeah, well, that didn't work. I've had to let go of my desire to do my own thing all morning, and buckle down to this teaching stuff. That's my job, after all! And a very rewarding job. And it will not last forever. Rebekah is already a voracious reader, and seeks out information about everything. Before long, she'll be going full-steam ahead on her own, and never looking back.

And, hopefully, spelling things correctly.

Saturday, November 9, 2013


Earlier this week, while we (all the kids and I) were driving around to various activities, we saw a big 18-wheeler truck with one of those bigger-than-life-size images of food plastered onto the side. This one was for spinach pizza. No, it wasn't close to lunch time or dinner time - it was early morning, actually - but it still made me hungry. My middle child (the one who eats vegetables) also thought it looked wonderful. The other kids - not so much.

We just happened to be going to the grocery store later that day, and I just happened to see a box of frozen spinach pizza. So I bought it. It wasn't the same brand as we saw on the truck, but with the encouragement of my daughter, we decided to try it out. Normally, our pizzas have pepperoni, sausage, bacon, more pepperoni, etc. But a vegetarian pizza sounded good for a change.

And it was absolutely one of the best pizzas I have ever eaten! Only my middle daughter and I ate it, but that was fine - more for us! So I thought I'd write a blog post about it, if you would like to try it out too. It came from a company just called Amy's Kitchen. They claim to be the nation's leading natural (vegetarian) frozen food brand. I just may have to try some more of their stuff...

Monday, November 4, 2013

Birthday Time!

My middle child turned 6 two days ago, and my youngest child turns 5 today. So we had their party the day between their birthdays this year. We went to the Little Gym for their party, since they love gymnastics (and so I wouldn't have to clean house...). Here's a bunch of pictures.

The cake and cupcakes:

Play Time:

Running across the beam

And jump!

Balance walking

Two at once

 Hula Hoop moves:

Moving too fast to capture

All tuckered out

Big sister gets to swing too: 

Cake Time:

Dig in!

 Time for a few presents:

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Fish Food, Doctors, and Sniffles

This week has been a bit abnormal for us. In other words, we're not getting as much school work done as I would like. I had my annual check-up on Tuesday, which means most of that day was lost, what with dropping off my boy at preschool, driving to my parents' house to drop off the girls, driving to the doctor's office, driving to pick up some Chick-fil-A, driving back to my parents' house for lunch with them and the girls, driving back to the preschool to pick up my boy, and driving home. We didn't feel like doing much school work after that.

Today, my oldest has been rather sniffly and not feeling well, either due to allergies or a cold that's going around. She didn't even feel up to taking her ballet class today, so I'm letting her have a sick day. At least I did get more reading work done with my middle girl.

Then, I've also spent an inordinate amount of time this week cleaning the fish tank

I just cleaned it on Monday - the first time in a rather long time, poor fish - which took quite a while, to do a thorough job. Then on Tuesday, I glanced at it as I rushed past and thought it looked rather cloudy. Strange, I thought. Later that day, after all our running about, I looked more closely and saw a ton of food covering the bottom of the tank.

After (loudly) calling all three children to come and look, I determined that my youngest was at fault. He says he got up in the middle of the night and decided to feed the fish. With about half the container of food.


So, I cleaned the fish tank again. It still looks cloudy today, but I think I'll wait until tomorrow to clean the tank again. The fish is still alive, after all. And it's only Wednesday.

Monday, October 28, 2013

CLE Learning to Read

My middle child is working through Christian Light Education's Learning to Read program. We started it last year around when she turned 5, but only did a few lessons. This past summer we jumped back in wholeheartedly, and are more than halfway done now. I've mentioned a few things about it here and there before, but I thought I'd write a more complete review of the program.

Learning to Read (LTR) is designed for 1st graders, but starts at the beginning of learning to read, with letter recognition. Christian Light Education curriculum is published by Mennonites, and their children do not start formal school until 1st grade, typically. This turned out to be a perfect fit for my middle child, actually, since she has a November birthday. In public school, she would be starting kindergarten this year, even though she turns 6 next week. She is a quick learner, however, and has always been a bit ahead of her age in terms of academic ability, so I have put her in mostly 1st grade material this year. LTR then made sure she understood the basics and then is moving along fairly quickly to get her up to a 1st grade reading level.

LTR is composed of 10 workbooks, or LightUnits, for the student, with 2 spiral-bound teacher's manuals. Each LightUnit has a test at the end. Then there are letter/sound flash cards, word flash cards, phrase flash cards, and 4 small paperback readers. There are also extra practice sheets, which we did not get, and some phonics cards like small versions of posters you might see posted around a teacher's classroom. Those phonics cards seem to be more used in the Language Arts curriculum, which starts around the 6th LightUnit (a little more than halfway through learning to read), but they are very nicely done, and my daughter likes to look at them.

Learning to Read covers phonics, reading (obviously), spelling, and handwriting. Then a little more than halfway through, you are told to start with the first Language Arts LightUnit (of which there are 10). These are shorter lessons, and cover punctuation, reinforce phonics, and do a little grammar. I believe there are some creative writing activities as well, but we haven't gotten there yet. These LightUnits have a couple quizzes and a test each. After finishing the last LTR LightUnit (but before finishing the Language Arts ones), you then start the first of 5 LightUnits in their Reading 1 program, to complete the 1st grade Language Arts curriculum. So there are 10 LTR LightUnits and then 5 Reading LightUnits, while the Language Arts LightUnits overlap with both. The material is not multi-color, but they do use one color (red for LTR, blue for Language Arts) instead of just black and white, so it is a bit more colorful to use.

My daughter enjoys the whole program, though we are skipping some of the oral portions in the teacher's guide. Some of those parts are geared more for a classroom, with everyone taking turns, so it's a bit much to make one student do all of them. But it's nice to have examples of oral review to do, in case you need it. I do more review when she is struggling with a concept, which is really not very often. We have just finished all the letter/sound flash cards, and are halfway through LightUnit 107 (the 7th workbook). So we have covered all the consonants, 5 short vowels, 5 long vowels, and 4 consonant dipthongs: sh, th, wh, and ch. The rest of the workbooks go into vowel sets, such as "ee," "ai," "ay," etc. The last LightUnit does a few 3-letter sets, like "thr."

The Teacher Guides are very helpful, with portions scripted, though you don't have to follow them exactly. I like the way they have given little stories to explain things and help the children remember, such as how the silent e at the end of a word helps the earlier vowel remember to say the long sound. There is a longer story for each new letter or dipthong, which I read while my daughter colors the picture in her LightUnit which is a black and white copy of the picture on the flash card. There is a little saying embedded in each story which becomes the rhyme they use to remember the letter. My daughter loves these, and even my 4-year-old son has memorized some of them. The flow of the program is very nice, with everything falling into place in a good order - it makes sense, in other words. The pace is just right for us too, with just the right amount of review and practice (which you can adjust, depending on how much of the oral work you do). It is very thorough, and my daughter is learning to read very well.

Since Christian Light Education is a Mennonite company, they do have more "old-fashioned" references than some more modern curriculum - stories about farming, grinding grain, taking care of farm animals, etc. There have not been as many obscure images for me as there were in some other curriculum I've tried, such as Climbing to Good English and the Pathway workbooks. Any images of women also have a head covering shown, but I have to say that my daughter has never asked about that (and we do not know any Mennonites personally). Some of the more defined gender roles might bother some people, but while women are always shown working at home while the men go out to work, that separation of roles is never pushed or made obvious really in any of the stories. That is how our family works anyway (at least now), so it is not a big deal to us. Christian beliefs, God, prayer, and worship all play a big part in the stories and exercises, so that definitely may make LTR better suited to Christian homeschoolers. There was one story in the Teacher's Guide that spoke against the idea of the earth being millions of years old, but I have not found nearly as much anti-old earth talk as in other Christian curriculum (which is a big deal for me, you may know if you've read my other posts....). Overall, despite not being Mennonite (though definitely a Christian), I have enjoyed all the material.

I'm not sure yet if we will continue with CLE for 2nd grade for my daughter, mostly because I'm not sure if I want to continue with a Language Arts program that has grammar, handwriting, and spelling all in one. It's nice to have it all together, but if a child is at different levels in those areas, you might not want them all in one book. I'm not sure if I will use LTR with my younger son yet either. My main concern is that he does not like writing in workbooks nearly as well as my daughter, and does not have nearly as long an attention span. However, LTR lessons can be split into multiple smaller ones (which they recommend actually, and mark in the Teacher Guide when to break). Maybe I will modify the program for him, or maybe I will do something else. But for my middle daughter, it is turning out to be just right.

Friday, October 4, 2013


We grew sunflowers this summer - giant ones. Then we read about how to dry them and harvest the seeds. My husband did most of the work, but we are just now getting to the part where we remove the seeds from the dried flowers and use them for something.

We have still been doing bird studies for science (almost done), and we recently made bird feeders out of empty milk jugs. So our plan is to put the sunflower seeds into the bird feeders. The kids have all been rather excited about it, especially making the bird feeders (one for each - fortunately, we drink a lot of milk, so just happened to have 3 empty milk jugs handy).

But after the initial excitement of figuring out how to get the seeds out of the dried flowers today, my 2 younger ones have given up rather quickly. It is hard work, separating the seeds from the rest of the flower. My oldest is still outside, but the younger 2 have come in to play play-dough. It is rather warm outside still, I have to admit. We are eagerly awaiting the cold front that is supposed to come through Saturday night, bringing highs only in the high 70s (and lows in the 50s!)

 We've had some other excitement lately. My husband found a puppy on the side of the road near our house two days ago, and we have not been able to find the owner. We might be willing to keep it, but it looks like a Rottweiler, and we're not sure we really want that breed of dog. So we're searching for someone who might want him....

My middle child came down with a stomach bug yesterday morning too, but fortunately, it only lasted a few hours, and she is fine now. My youngest came down with a fever and a cough almost 2 weeks ago. His fever only lasted a day too (of course, the day we had a really good field trip planned), but the cough is only now gone.

And on top of all that, my husband has been furloughed without a job since Tuesday, when the government shut down. It is handy to have him home for a few days, but I think we'd both prefer it if this was just (paid) vacation time and not forced, unpaid time off. Fortunately, we have enough savings to last us for a while, but not forever....

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Wiggly Phonics

My middle child, an almost 6-year-old girl, cannot sit still. We've noticed this for a while, especially at church, where she cannot sit still even during the music parts. She is constantly moving at least some part of her body. It drives my husband crazy, since I am usually up at the piano playing for the service. She's also fallen out of her chair while sitting at her school desk more than once. The time she almost smacked her chin on the desk was when I decided the swivel chair might not be the best idea for her.

My youngest, a boy, has often fallen off his chair in the past, and has some typical little-boy wiggle problems, but my middle daughter is definitely worse. She is a prime example of what Cathy Duffy calls a "Wiggly Willy," although she does really love workbooks too.

Anyway, I've been trying to find ways to focus her attention more during phonics and reading lessons by incorporating more physical movement. We are using Christian Light Education's Learn to Read program, which we both really like, but which doesn't have enough hands-on or active learning for her. She loves the workbook format, and has always loved filling in worksheets, but some of the drill and flashcard time is a bit boring for her.

One frequent activity is identifying when the first sound in a word is a particular letter. The book suggests having the child raise their hand whenever the word starts with the letter we're working on. Instead, I have her sit on the floor and jump up whenever the word begins with our letter. She loves doing that, though I have to make sure she has plenty of room.

Another activity is identifying the vowel sound in a word. Instead of just telling me, I give her flashcards for the vowels, and she has to raise the right card. She raises the cards quite exuberantly at times, jumping out of her seat as she does so!

I sometimes have her write on our lovely 2' x 3' white board I recently got, instead of on paper. That provides a little more physical activity, and a change of position.

She has also, all on her own, started acting out the flash card words as she shouts out the word. These are words like "dig" and "cup" (she takes a sip) and "wag" and "lap" (she pats her lap) and "hop" (her new favorite). There are phrase cards too, which provide even more fodder for her imagination. The mental activity of trying to figure out a motion for each one is useful too, since the flash cards are generally very easy for her. It exercises her ever-active brain which is always flitting to dozens of different thoughts with every word I say. I sometimes wonder how her brain works, she is so often chasing rabbit trails and coming up with amazing connections to everything imaginable. Her brain cannot keep still any more than her body, I do believe.

Whatever works. And keeps her happy. And it is definitely working. She is learning to read quite well, and can read pretty detailed, lengthy stories now. Along with every single road sign we pass as we drive....

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Field Trip to the Airport

We went to Ellington Field this morning, for our first official field trip of the school year.

Standing by the nose gear
My husband has been working out there, making some changes to the interiors of some of NASA's planes (like the Super Guppy), and so he was able to bring us out there to see the 747 that was used to ferry the Space Shuttles from coast to coast. If you're not too familiar with it, the shuttle sometimes had to land in California due to weather concerns in Florida. When that happened, NASA had to somehow get it back to Florida and the shuttle processing facilities there. So they modified a 747 to carry the shuttle, "piggy-back" style, and fly it across the country. Now that the shuttles are retired, this 747 will be retired too (to become a display at Space Center Houston), so this was about our last chance to go out and see it at Ellington.

Little boy - huge engine
Three in a row

Future pilot

Future co-pilot

Future clown

Figuring out the controls...

Halfway down
The interior of the 747 was completely gutted - no seats, no carpet, very little insulation - in order to lighten the plane. With a space shuttle mounted on the roof, they needed to save all the weight they could!

Down at the tail end

A long walk back to the front

A very long walk... Plenty of leg room compared to most commercial jets though!

Don't jump out!

Sitting in first class

Monday, August 26, 2013

First Day of School

No, not our first day. But most of the public school kids around here went back to school today. I lost count of how many "first day" pictures I saw on Facebook today. And how many comments I read about quiet houses - some said sadly, some said happily.

I wouldn't mind a quiet house, and a whole day for myself. Being an extreme introvert, I really crave quiet time by myself.... But I wouldn't trade homeschooling even for a whole school year of quiet days. We've been at it for 2 1/2 years now, and I've seen the immeasurable benefits of it. For all of us. Restructuring of priorities, amazingly increased self-esteem and a boundless curiosity about the world for my oldest, intellectual leaps and bounds for both girls, a growing desire to help out around the house for my little boy, the opportunity to notice how creative and skillful a builder and "maker" my son is turning out to be, an obviously sincere interest in others shown by all my children to people they meet of all ages and stations in life, a closeness between all the siblings that will never break, a growing depth to our love and thankfulness for and amazement of God, and a vision of how intertwined God is with the whole universe - not just something added on at the end of the day or on Wednesday nights or Sundays.

Nope, I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Of course, there are negatives as well, and days that I threaten them with sending them to "big" school. Childish arguments, temper tantrums, stubbornness, not listening to directions, not listening to anything I say, slamming doors, whining (oh, the whining!), a lack of personal free time for me, the challenge of scheduling appointments when I have to find a babysitter first. But still, I wouldn't trade it.

I thought I'd give a run down of our day today, for comparison, perhaps? Probably a fairly typical day, though we're (I'm) still getting used to how to schedule things with 2 full-time students instead of 1 - trying to prod my oldest into doing a bit more of her independent work independently, instead of sitting there watching me teach her sister.

So, I don't know what time we started this morning. Breakfast is email reading time, so sometimes it takes me a while to get going. Maybe around 8:30 or 9:00?

  • Read 1st grader a Bible story while she colors
  • Study 3rd grade Bible lesson with oldest daughter
  • Start up a 1st grade history lesson video
  • Teach 3rd grade English, spelling, math, and world history (learning about England in 900 AD today)
  • Tell 3rd grader to finish reading chapter book, and do reading comprehension worksheet, handwriting practice, vocabulary practice on computer, logic puzzles on computer, math fact review on computer, and complete a review on bird facts learned in her science book (all of which should take about an hour total)
  • Teach 1st grade math, logic, and half of the reading lesson
  • Read 1st grade read-alouds (with 3rd grader listening in, who has done exactly 1 of the tasks I gave her earlier) (interspersed with worry about why my 4-year-old is being so quiet, until he comes to listen in, holding a complex Lego model of some sort of vehicle)
  • Take a break for the kids to watch the newest episode of "Paw Patrol"
  • Lunch
  • Ask my 3rd grader questions about the chapter book she finished and then tell her to finish the other "independent" work she should have already been doing
  • Finish the 1st grade reading lesson
  • Teach my 3rd grader a piano lesson
  • Tell my 3rd grader, again, to finish her "independent" work
  • Let the 1st grader and 4-year-old watch "Paw Patrol" again while I exercise in the TV room (it's raining today, and if it weren't, it would be too hot to play outside during the afternoon anyway)
  • Let all 3 kids play with the (very loud) rhythm instruments while I take a quick shower
  • Take away the (very loud) rhythm instruments when I come out
  • Let the 1st grader and 4-year-old play on the piano while I sew some
  • Read-aloud for my 3rd grader (and 4-year-old who wants to listen in)
  • And done for the day! Play time! Legos! Dinner! More play time! (unfortunately, still raining outside...) Is it bedtime yet?

That's basically it, not counting a few chores, bathroom breaks, checking-on-the-4-year-old breaks.... We switch out different subjects on some days, like geography, art, exercise, health, history of the horse instead of world history, etc. I admit I haven't been doing too much with the 4-year-old lately - he will be starting preschool next week, 3 days a week. I think he'll get a lot out of being with other boys for a while, and I'm not as good with entertaining teaching preschoolers as I am with slightly older ones. And the girls will be starting ballet lessons in a few weeks. And they all will be starting Team Kid on Wednesday nights in a few weeks (missions, physical activity, teamwork, music, etc.). But we get done with most of the main subjects by around lunchtime, and tidy up the loose ends throughout the afternoon and evening, whenever we feel like it. (I have checklists - I'd never remember everything without them.) And then we take breaks some days for field trips - hopefully one tomorrow morning, to the airport.

Nope, I wouldn't trade homeschooling for anything.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Back to School

It's back to school time! We started our full schedule a week ago, though we've been doing a few subjects throughout the summer, along with VBS, camps, and more camps. I actually had a couple days all to myself this summer, thanks to Space Camp for my girls, and the grandparents for my boy! (My youngest tried Space Camp twice, but was just not really ready for a whole day away from home. Though he does just fine a whole day away from home when he's at Grandma and Grandpa's house, fortunately.)

But now we're back to doing all subjects, and I decided I should probably get back to writing this blog.

I was afraid I had planned too many things for this year, for my 3rd grader, but surprisingly, we made it through everything I had planned last week, and it wasn't too long a day at all. We even did our first Latin lesson and have already completed 2 DVD art lessons (I've got to take some pictures to post). It's a little tougher this year since I have added my middle child to the school day, instead of just giving her a lesson whenever she wants one. She's protested once or twice about not wanting to do school, but is really doing quite well. If I can just get her to stop wiggling so much and dropping her pencil every 30 seconds. I know - she's obviously a "wiggly willy" but the constant hopping up and down off her seat is driving me crazy. We're going to try a new chair/desk arrangement soon, so she can at least wiggle a bit without risking injury to herself (or others) constantly. And maybe I should tie a string around her pencil and attach it to her wrist?

After my last post in April about math choices for my oldest - well, we're going with Life of Fred right now, supplemented by IXL online practice. Around the last LightUnit of CLE Math 2, she started to get burned out, and despite her earlier assurances that she absolutely loved CLE Math, now she strongly insists she can't stand it. (this was, of course, after I already bought CLE grade 3 math.) We're about halfway through the 2nd book - Life of Fred Butterflies - and she really loves it. Of course, it is really easy review right now, with a few tidbits of interesting facts she hadn't heard before. But we'll see how it goes when we get to higher levels.

At these early levels of the books, I felt uncomfortable not supplementing with something else too - being afraid that she will forget all her addition and subtraction and multiplication facts - so I signed her up for IXL math. She did some trial problems first, to see how she liked it (you can do 20 problems for free a day), and she thought it was ok. But once I signed her up for real, and she got to earn medals and prizes, she absolutely loves it! And I love that she loves it! She's doing the easy review problems right now, but I'm not complaining (yet). As long as she's loving math, and progressing toward the harder problems, I'll let her do below-grade-level problems for a while. I'm also looking at maybe using a bit of Miquon math with her (and the other 2 - especially my son, when it's his turn).

My middle girl is doing CLE Math 1 right now, and she likes it quite well, and is sailing through it. She loves flash cards and speed drills. We did lesson 35 today (out of 160?), and so far, there's only been 1 or 2 speed drills where she hasn't gotten all the problems finished well under the 1 minute time limit. I'll keep doing CLE math with her until she's ready for a change, I suppose. Or at least until she gets through 3rd grade, since I already have that material? But I'll do Life of Fred with her too, after she's learned her addition and subtraction facts.

She's doing CLE's Learning to Read program too, and is sailing through that too. We're in LightUnit 104 (4th out of 10 booklets), and she is getting 90-100 on every quiz and test. She's beginning to read everything she can get her hands on (and, unfortunately, every sign we see as we're driving - did I used to do that too? It's annoying!).

Anyway, I'm so glad I can homeschool her and not send her to kindergarten this year (which she would be starting next Monday). She would be absolutely bored out of her mind! And she is way too mischievous when she's bored. Sometimes she gets bored with the phonics drills I give her, and she starts giving me the wrong answers on purpose, grinning her sneaky little grin at me. That's when I know I need to speed up the pace a bit.

It looks like it will be an interesting year! I'll try to post more regularly, too....

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Reading Lists

I just updated my Reading Lists page with the books we've been reading this year and plan to read next year. They are mostly from Sonlight (from the PreK cores to Core C for next year) and Ambleside Online (years 1-3), plus a few of my favorites (and ones I just found on my shelves). For next year, I also listed the books from Beautiful Feet's History of the Horse, which we will probably start this summer.

The read-alouds have mostly been just for the benefit of my oldest, but I expect my middle child will start listening in to more this coming year. I also have a separate (smaller) set just for her next year. For the next year or two, I will probably have more separate readings, but I hope, by the following year, to be more on the same page (no pun intended) with all 3 kids. I hope that by then, my youngest will have a bit longer attention span. If not, then he can just listen in when he wants.

Some of the read-alouds I listed for next year will really be within the reading level ability of my oldest, so I may just let her read some of them by herself, if she wants. I really want to read all of them myself too, though, including the readers, so I think I need to start getting busy reading all of them now!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

CLE Math

Wow, it's already April. I really do have good intentions about keeping up with blog posts. I have ideas all the time about what to write. But I just run out of time and energy. By the time it's quiet at my house (after bedtime), I just want to relax and do what I want to do, for once, and I have way too many projects I want to do - cross stitch, reading, researching curriculum....

Yes, I research curriculum for fun. And around this time of year, I start planning and buying for next year. In fact, I think I've just about gotten everything for next year already.

I researched math curriculum again for my oldest, who will be in 3rd grade. There are a lot more options available once you reach 3rd grade, I guess since most kids are pretty good readers by then, and more independent. Switched-on Schoolhouse and Monarch start at 3rd grade, our public free virtual school option starts at 3rd grade, Teaching Textbooks starts at 3rd grade....  I showed my daughter some of the options a while back (Teaching Textbooks, Horizons, Math Mammoth, etc.), and she continues to say that she wants to stick with CLE (Christian Light Education) for math.

And I'm still surprised.

I really had no idea CLE math would be such a big hit with her. It is not colorful, it has at least 4-5 pages of work each day, and it is spiral. I do understand that she prefers the spiral method in math now, though earlier I had been just sure that a mastery-based method was better. I'm still shocked that she loves to do speed drills (but extremely pleased that her computation skills are so much better now). And she keeps doing extremely well on her quizzes and tests, with a high A average so far this year. And math is pretty much her favorite class. She still complains occasionally, when I tell her to stop playing and go do her math, but once she gets started, she just lights up and enjoys herself.

I sure hope this lasts!  CLE doesn't go all the way up to Calculus, but we'll figure out something else when we get higher up.

Now I need to start figuring out what my other 2 kids will do best with - CLE, or something else. I get the impression that my middle child will not be the same. My youngest and my oldest are rather similar, but that middle child.... She likes variety, so spiral might be good still, but I'm not sure she will like the pace of CLE. I think she'd rather move faster, but we'll see. I am tempted by Critical Thinking's Mathematical Reasoning books, and I also think she might like the Life of Fred books (or is it that I might like them?). I already have CLE 1st grade math, so we'll start with that this coming year (we've already done a little), and see how she likes it. I also have Math Mammoth, but I hesitate to print it all out in color. If those aren't overwhelmingly successful, maybe I'll splurge and try out Mathematical Reasoning and/or Life of Fred Apples.

It's a little frustrating, to have just figured out what works great for my oldest and then have to figure it out all over again for the next child. But in another way, it's fun too - more curriculum to research!

Thursday, February 14, 2013


Well, here I said I was going to try and write more often, and then I take a 3-week break! I have a somewhat good excuse though. I've had tendonitis for years - it seemed to start after my first child was born, and then it got better.

Then after my second child was born, it got worse again. Then it got better.

Then my third child was born, and it got worse again.

This time, it never really went away. I complained to my doctor, had an x-ray which showed some calcification of my tendon, and got sent to physical therapy for a few months. It got better. That was about 2 years ago.

Then last summer/early fall, it got worse again - worse than it had ever been before. I started getting sudden jolts of pain when I moved my arm too quickly. Another x-ray showed more calcification, and I went to physical therapy again. The therapists were surprised by my limited range of motion, and while the pain disappeared and I slowly improved, it was very slow, and at least one of the therapists wondered if I might have a "frozen shoulder" - where the tendons or muscles have "locked up" and take a while (1-2 years) to go back to normal. But I learned all the exercises and starting in January of this year, I just did my exercise routine once or even twice a day on my own. I think it was still slowly getting better.

But then, about 2 weeks ago, I noticed a marked increase in soreness during the day, and by that night, I woke up in extreme pain and was just sure I had torn my rotator cuff or something. I called an orthopedic specialist the next day and got an appointment (not until a whole week later), but the pain became excruciating, especially at night. I couldn't move my arm at all, and even touching my shoulder hurt terribly. There was no position I could put my arm in that would lessen the pain. I think it was worse than childbirth, even before I got an epidural! When my husband got home from work that day, I was just in tears with the pain. I had to cancel going to our music co-op (I couldn't really drive), and I had to find a substitute to play the piano for me in church that weekend. I could do absolutely nothing with that arm. Taking ibuprofen and acetaminophen helped take the edge off the pain some, but I couldn't sleep at night laying down on the bed more than an hour or so at a time. The recliner, with a heating pad, was the best I could do.

Fortunately, I was able to get in to see the doctor a few days early, and they x-rayed me, gave me a cortisone shot, and 2 prescriptions for an anti-inflammatory and stronger pain medicine. By that night, I was much, much happier. The x-ray showed a rather large spot of calcification on my shoulder - right where it was the most painful to touch. From what the doctor said, and from my own internet research, I think what happened is that the calcification went into a re-absorption phase, where the calcium starts to break up and get absorbed into the body. Apparently, that is the most painful phase, and I can attest to that! The calcification can be growing for quite some time - 6-18 months, I think I read on one site, and then spontaneously starts to break up. So I don't know if the previous times I had x-rays that showed calcification, perhaps the spots never got too large and I never really noticed the re-absorption part? Or maybe this one place on my shoulder has been forming for a really long time, and just now started to break up?

In any case, the pain disappeared almost completely about 4-5 days later, though my strength and range of motion in that arm is still really bad. It's possible something is still blocking my range of motion, and that's why my earlier progress in physical therapy was so slow - perhaps a bone spur or something? I go back to the orthopedic doctor on Monday, so maybe he'll have some ideas then. I do hope I don't have to have surgery. I am re-starting physical therapy, at least for a few sessions, so we'll see what happens.

Anyway, that's my excuse for not writing much the past 2-3 weeks. It's pretty hard to type with just one hand, and for a week or so there, I wasn't feeling up to doing much typing (or even thinking straight) anyway.

On the bright side, my 4-year-old son learned how to dress himself much better (even the buttons!), and my 7-year-old daughter learned how to wash at least some of the dishes (the plastic ones ;-). And my sweet 5-year-old daughter prays for my shoulder every single night.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The 4-year History Cycle

I've been contemplating history curriculum for next year and beyond. For this year, I've been reading out of Hillyer's A Child's History of the World, doing some Intellego unit studies (we finished government for K-2 last semester, and plan to do economics choices and resources for K-2 this semester), and we've just added an Evan-Moor History Pocket for Ancient Civilizations. We've added in a few other books here and there, like Archaeologists Dig for Clues. Oh, and we've just finished up Evan-Moor's Beginning Geography for K-2.

This year has been loosely based on Sonlight's Core B, but I didn't want to buy and do a full-blown history curriculum with just my oldest. I figured I'd wait until the 2 younger ones are ready to do more listening as well, like 1.5 years from now, when my middle child is almost 7 and the youngest is almost 6 (but technically, probably, in K still). I figured we'd start with ancient history again that year, when my oldest is in 4th grade. So this year, I thought I'd try to read through Hillyer's ancient and middle ages time frame, and continue with early modern and modern times next year.

Well, now I think I'm going to stretch it out even another year, and wait to do a full-blown ancient history study until the kids are in 1st, 2nd/3rd, and 5th grades (not sure yet what grade I'll technically call my middle child, since she may be a bit ahead of her age).  Looking back, I suppose I could have started my oldest on ancient history last year, done middle ages this year, early modern next year, and modern the year after, and be ready to start back in ancient her 5th grade year.

But, of course, I didn't do that. I wanted to try Sonlight Core A last year, which is mostly cultures. I'm still glad we did, since she learned a lot and had fun. Plus, I don't think she would have retained too much of ancient history last year. I might have been surprised, but I'm beginning to think that it's probably not necessary to spend too much money on a history curriculum for these first few grade levels. I do like the idea of a 4-year cycle, but I don't think it's necessary to start in 1st grade and do the cycle 3 whole times. I know other people say that too, and that even if you aim to do it 3 times, you probably won't make it completely, and the repetition means that you'll at least get some of each time period by the time you graduate.

So we're not even going to aim at doing the cycle 3 times. I do like the way we're doing a "light" version now - just reading through Hillyer. I'll continue doing that through the rest of this year, next year, and the year after - however long it takes to get through it. I will supplement with the craft projects in the History Pockets as appropriate (she really likes those), and with some readers or read-alouds that match, but not as many as might be listed in a Sonlight Core or some other such curriculum. I just want to do enough to have an underlying background for my daughter, to have some sense of world history as a baseline in the first few years. I don't see us ever using history as the core for all our other studies, but just as another subject.

I also want to do Beautiful Feet's History of the Horse next year. My daughter loves horses (as do I), and I think that will be a perfect fit next year. It might be more natural science (animals) and art (drawing) than history, but still good. I also like CLE's 3rd and 4th grade social studies programs. 3rd grade is only a half year, and covers communities, mostly Biblical and Israeli. I think I would like to do that as well as the horse study next year, considering that the CLE study is somewhat of a geography and Bible study too. I know - it may be overkill for 3rd grade, but if we have time for it, I think they will all be fun choices. Then for 4th grade, we'll continue with Hillyer, but add CLE's 4th grade course, which is mostly geography. Maybe we'll add in the Evan-Moor Daily Geography workbooks too, mostly for terminology.

Then, in 5th grade, we will do a full-blown ancient history course. Right now, I'm thinking I'll use History Odyssey, Level 2. At the same time, I can do Level 1 with the younger two. I do also like the Beautiful Feet history courses, so I may change my mind. Despite my love for Sonlight's philosophy, their courses just don't line up exactly with how I want to do things. I do really want to do their Core F, Eastern Hemisphere, program though, so I think I will slip that in between Middle Ages and Early Modern. My oldest can do Core F in her 7th grade, while the younger two can do the CLE 4th grade geography course. I'll have the younger two do Core F a few years later, when my oldest will be more independent. Throwing in Core F means I won't have time to do even 2 full 4-year cycles with my oldest, and we may shrink the final cycle to 3 years, but we'll see. If we continue on through summers, we may still have time for it all!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Teaching Myself

You know, I think I am learning more by homeschooling than my kids are. Not just about educational methods and curriculum choices and how old a skunk has to be before it can spray. But about priorities, and faith, and obedience. I have to admit that I came to homeschooling kicking and screaming. Not literally, but I really did not want to homeschool. I am not a teacher, and I'm not even really a "kid" person. It took God to change my mind. I still don't think I'm a teacher, and I still don't like it a lot of the time. I still often wish that I had more time to myself. I still think about sending them all off to school.

But the more I reflect on what I should do, the more I acknowledge that home schooling is best for us. For all of us. Even reading through my daughter's 2nd grade spelling (from Rod & Staff) and math (from Christian Light Education) workbooks tends to convict me, to inspire me, and to show me how wonderful it can be if you are surrounded by Christian material - material that reflects on God all the time. Reading the amazing testimonies of missionaries and others has an even more profound effect on me. Reading the thoughts of other homeschoolers also helps me to clarify my own thoughts. My priorities are changing, and becoming clearer. My obedience to God is becoming stronger. My faith is growing more real.

I attended public schools almost all of my life (except 1 year in a private school), and while I came out of it with a strong Christian faith, I can see how some of my long-standing assumptions are not really very Christian, mostly due to being around so many others who do not put Christ at the center of their lives. I am learning how important and critical one's worldview can be, and how easy it is to substitute a non-Christian belief for a Christian one here and there. How easy it is to substitute an "American" belief for a Christian one. Or a "church" belief for a Christian one. They are mostly subtle, seemingly unimportant beliefs, but they add up. I am seeing how 2 people with different worldviews have an extremely hard time communicating. It's like we live in 2 different worlds. And I guess we do.

I have several reasons for homeschooling - shorter hours, less peer pressure, better academics, safety. I have always had a spiritual reason too, to be able to teach my children more about God, but that reason is becoming more and more important as I progress through this homeschooling journey. I want my children to have God as their focus, as their strength, as their highest priority. And I want that for me too. And I truly believe that homeschooling is the way for us to obtain that goal. So we continue...

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Montessori Preschool and Kindergarten

Today, my middle child returned to preschool. She went to preschool from about 18 months old until just after turning 3, when I pulled her out a few weeks after pulling my oldest out of kindergarten. I've been teaching her at home since then, using a variety of things - educational computer programs, some BJU K5 material (both video and non-video), Rod & Staff preschool/kindergarten books (A-B-C through G-H-I books), CLE Learning to Read material, and things I've pulled off the internet.

She's been doing great with all of it really, but gets tired of it after a while, and I haven't pushed her since she only just turned 5 last November. I just give her something from my "curriculum stash" whenever she asks. Still, she's already reading simple books, can blend 3-letter words, and knows quite a few addition and subtraction facts. On DreamBox (web-based math program), she's already doing some 2nd grade math. Based on what the public school expects kindergartners to learn by the end of the year, she's already beyond kindergarten level in most areas (her handwriting could still use some work, though she is almost as legible as my 2nd grader).

So, originally, I hadn't really thought about putting her in school this coming fall, when she is officially old enough for kindergarten. I figured she'd be too bored unless they let her skip to 1st grade, at least, which no place around here, public or private, seemed willing to do. But I had begun to realize that she really would like to be in a class with other kids. She is my most social child, and she thrives in an environment with lots of others. I knew that I really would like to give her a chance to experience a classroom setting, at least for a little while.

I looked into various schools in the area - several Christian ones, and a new university-model school that just started in our area (where the kids go for 2-3 days a week, and complete their work at home the other days). But then - I don't know why it took me so long - I remembered that the preschool where I'm sending my son right now (the same preschool my girls both went to earlier), also has a private kindergarten program. Kindergarten, not first grade. But when I looked into it more, I realized that, being Montessori-based, they let the kids progress at their own rate, and they even advertise that graduates of their kindergarten program will have completed a 1st grade level of work.

I talked with the teachers some more, and it really sounds like they will be able to provide my daughter as much stimulation and advancement as she wants, and will be able to start her at whatever level she currently needs. It's a small school, with probably only 6-10 kids in her class, and it's extremely close to our house. And my son already goes there. And it's not too expensive. And my daughter has been begging to go there.

So I signed her up to start today, 3 mornings a week, just like my son, in their accelerated pre-K program. Then next fall, she can attend their kindergarten, 5 days a week, 8:30-2:30.

She absolutely loved her first day today. Her teacher said she's going to speed her really quick through the first levels of the readers they use, since she had no problem at all reading the ones she started her on today. She also will get her a 101-200 number chart instead of the 1-100 one she started her on today, since she could point out any number she (the teacher) called out with ease. Made me proud!

We'll see how things go the next few months, but unless my daughter blows through all the material they have before the fall, we'll probably be sending her there to kindergarten.

I don't want to send the kids to a public school, and I know we can't afford a private school for all 3 kids (or even 2) every year (and I don't even like most of the private schools and their curriculum choices anyway), but this seems like a good thing to do this year, especially for my middle child. When she finishes their program, I can just resume homeschooling her at whatever grade level (2nd?) she ends up needing. My oldest will be quite independent in many areas by then, so I can spend more time with my middle, and my youngest - well, maybe then it will be his turn to try out a private kindergarten.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Internet Connection Fixed

We finally got our internet fixed, after getting a new DSL modem. It still seems a little sluggish at times, but at least it is consistently on.

I have been busy trying to organize/schedule our school days for the near future. I am changing a few things for Rebekah. I'm adding Winning with Writing 2 to our schedule, to try it out, since I think we need to work on more writing. Copywork might eventually work to produce a good writer in many children, but I prefer teaching more specific tools for how to write, instead of just mimicking other writing, and I think that will work better for Rebekah too.

We are doing good with Rod & Staff spelling right now, so we will continue that, perhaps adding in some games with SpellingCity.com. Her reading skills are very good, and we are doing good with a mostly Charlotte-Mason approach to that - reading on her own and then narrating it back to me. Her grandparents were amazed at her reading ability over Christmas break, as she chose a difficult, small-print, non-fiction book about horses to read at their house. Narration proved to be useful in a discipline matter recently too. She did not seem to be paying attention to me, so I told her to "narrate" back to me what I had just told her.

I may eliminate much of the cheap English workbook we've been doing the past few months, in order to have room to add in Winning with Writing. It has some good parts, but I don't think is really too necessary right now. We have a few more phonics pages to do, so we may do those, and then skip the other reading comprehension, grammar, test prep, and other odds-and-ends worksheets. I think we may wait on much more grammar until next year. 3rd grade will be soon enough for that. I'll write more later on my thoughts for next year, but it may involve Latin, Rod & Staff, and/or Growing with Grammar, depending on how well she likes Winning with Writing.

Well, I'll write more later, as the other grandparents are about to come over. Next time - preschool plans.