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....