Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Weeks four through eight

I have been so lax in posting; this will be a quick summary of what we have done the past five weeks.

Geography: both kids are now into their mapwork. Here is what we do: First, we read the section of the book that is assigned. On a different day, they get two outline maps. One is a map with the places marked and the names written neatly on the map. (I usually choose the places that will be marked, and I try to use something that has some significance in the story, or if I know it will be important later on.) They also have a blank map, and their job is to copy those marks and names neatly onto the blank map. Then the third day (not always three consectutive days) they are given the original map to study. They have to pay attention to location and spelling, and when they feel like they are ready, we put away the marked map, and they have to fill in a blank map. Afterward, they can get the original map back out and correct their work. The next week, we will add one or two places on the map.

Composer/Music Study: We have changed this up. We used to do it near the beginning of the school day, but the other day our musical selection was over 30 minutes long! This caused a lot of grief, because the kids were anxious to get their day started. I don't allow multi-tasking (reading, drawing, chores, etc.) during our weekly "music study" time. I don't mind repeating the music in the background, but the music deserves to be really listened to a couple of times. After all, that is what the composer had in mind. It was not written to be background music.

So I was trying to figure out a way to make this fun for the kids, but still encourage active listening. I came up with the "Drink Party." The kids can order special drinks that we would not get to have on a daily basis. I made up some recipes and gave them fancy names. For instance, "Cowboy Roy" is root beer served in a frosty mug. (Apparently there is an alcoholic drink by this same name, but I wasn't aware of that at the time. oops!) I also have a couple of fruit juice drinks that are made with frozen concentrate and lemon-lime soda. I have a little electric ice crusher that I hardly ever use because it is so loud, but I do use this to crush ice for our party, to make it a more special occasion. :) The rules are that you remain seated until the music is over and no refills. I don't want it to be me in the kitchen making more drinks the whole time! I do allow a bit of talking at the table, but I do encourage them to mostly be quiet and listen.

The drink party has been very popular and the kids really love it.They even requested that we do this on a different day of the week while we listen to Shakespeare, so we are doing it then also.

Shakespeare: We are listening to a dramatized version that we bought on Audible.com. At first, I didn't want to do this because I thought it was a cop-out and my kids should read it themselves. But I did think of this: Shakespeare wrote those plays to be performed, and most people in Shakespeare's day only experienced them in that way. So while we are not watching a performance, we are hearing it acted out by excellent performers. After we are finished, we will watch a video performance.

Outdoor Hour: We have enjoyed some park days, but the past two weeks two kids have been ill. They seem to be on the mend now, so we will get back into our weekly nature study this week.

Fall Break: We are taking our Fall Break a week earlier than the school kids. We are going back to good old Branson, Mo. for some family fun. We leave tomorrow. Everyone is so excited!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Taking care of our workboxes (envelopes)

Previously, I have posted about the workbox system that we use, and that we actually use clear poly envelopes instead of boxes. The envelopes are expensive, and I feel like they need to last us over a year, or else the system would be too costly.

Here are some rules we try to follow to keep our envelopes in good shape so they can be reused longer:

1. If possible, we keep the book in the envelope on days when it is not used. We have more books and notebooks than envelopes, so this doesn't always work. With bigger books, I've found it is better to not take them out and put them back in the envelope extra times.

2. When replacing the books in the box, we return them to the envelope first. We tried just putting the book back in the box separately from the envelope, but soon found that the envelopes always ended up being folded or awkwardly crushed.

3. We only wrap the string around the button one time. Sometimes the envelope doesn't even need the string to remain closed, but when it does, it doesn't help to wind the string around several times. This seems to save the string, and also helps mom. I might have 12-14 envelopes to prepare for school the next day. It's time-consuming to have to unwind all the strings.

4. Mom is the only one who takes the Velcro numbers off the envelopes. This keeps them from getting lost, and Mom seems to be able to best handle that Velcro. Even though I used sandpaper to prep the area for the sticky dots, they still have trouble staying on, and you can't just rip the number off. You have to hold both pieces of the Velcro and pull them apart gently. This is another reason we chose not to use the number strips called for in the workbox book.

5. The biggest books are the hardest for the envelopes to handle. If a book completely fills your envelope, you can bet that the envelope won't last the year out. You just have to decide if it's worth it to continue sticking it in an envelope, or figure out another method.

Week Three Recap

I had enough "demo-skipping" when I was in school.

We are using AmblesideOnline curriculum, Years 4 and 6.

Dad brought home a super-fancy little scale home from work that would measure in grams so that Peanut could do one of her science demonstrations. The demonstration did not work out as planned, I think maybe the scale was too sensitive. She actually has had a few demonstrations this year. We try to always do anything mentioned in our book. I had enough "demonstration skipping" when I was in school. I am sure we did less than 10 hands-on projects in science, and that counts watching something the teacher did, at least up until high school.

We got an audiobook of Robinson Crusoe. It is better that way, I don't have to stumble over words, etc.

We did some nature study at the local park. Each kid picked a tree. We took samples of the leaves home for identification, then by the time we all got time to look ours up, the samples had deteriorated quite a bit. Ooops. Guess we'll repeat next week. We did see a ground squirrel sticking his head up out of his little hole, so that was fun. I am not a fan of ground squirrels and moles, but this one was at the park, so I can live with that.

This is not the one we saw, it's just a picture off the ol' Internets. We couldn't get to our camera quickly.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

First two weeks of school

The first two weeks are behind us! It happened so quickly, I didn't even get a chance to post the first week recap. Here are some highlights and things I learned:

1. Robinson Crusoe is going to be a hard read. Not that it is not a good book. It is so interesting, and we are going to like it. But it is just hard to read. I am reading aloud, because that is what Ambleside recommends with this book. It is difficult reading. The spelling, grammar, and capitalizations are crazy. At least, not what we are used to in this century, and you are supposed to use the unabridged version. However, I wish I had searched longer for a more corrected copy. I find myself stopping and stumbling over the words. I've already printed out this copy, so it will have to do, and maybe it will end up being good for me.

2. I am already tweaking the schedule to allow for shorter readings on almost all of our books. I felt like I had split things up adequately, but it helps morale around here if the reading from one book is less than four pages. That seems to be the magic number, no matter the size of the book and type. So I'm happy to oblige. They get a few more assignments per day, but no one has complained about that.

3. Junior is reading from It Couldn't Just Happen. He has specifically requested that this book be assigned every day, no matter what. Wow! So that is a good endorsement for that book, from the boy who wants to cut every extraneous second from the schoolday.

4. Peanut is reading The Hobbit. She didn't want to like it, it is a long book and she is not a fast reader yet. However, she really loves it now. I wish I had been "forced" to read it as a child! :)
5. We had a zoo picnic with our homeschool group. This is a fun way to see our friends, but not the greatest way to see the zoo. We did not see a great deal, but we had a great time, and there were a lot of animals out early in the day because of the cool morning weather.

6. Our other Outdoor Hour was spent visiting our local nature park. Much of the water has dried up, but little Bubby was still able to feed some catfish and carp, so he was very happy about this. We met friends for this excursion too, but it was a smaller crowd. :) We did a color scavenger hunt, looking for various colors in nature.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

More about our workbox system

My kids end up having about 8 envelopes each day. These are for things they do individually; we have other things we work on as a group.

I mentioned yesterday that we do not use a Schedule Strip which is recommended in the eBook. We found we didn't really need this as all our school books can be contained in the envelopes, and there is no need to go to centers, etc. A note on the book will tell them if it is something they need to do with me.

I did like the idea of putting each box, when finished, in another container. In practice, this was a bit confusing, and I felt like it also took up too much space. We have found that for both children, just the knowledge that they have completed one workbox and are moving up to the next number has been enough. My son in particular likes to see how many envelopes he has at the beginning of the day.

The kids do their work at our dining room table, if it is desk work such as handwriting. I make an effort to schedule so that they are not having to share the table. If it so happens that they are sharing the table, we have a handy solution. We purchased some cardboard display folders (like you would use at a science fair) and cut them down to make little dividers. Each child has their own, and we can affix things like a handwriting chart or math chart to our folders. This blocks out a lot of distractions, as well as helping them with some reminders they might need. Much of our work is reading, and they can choose where they want to do that, whether in their own room, the living room, Mom's room, just anywhere that is comfortable and quiet.

The last thing: once in a while I put a small treat in one of the envelopes. Not often enough that they expect it, but it is fun to get a Hershey's Miniature or a Starburst at the bottom of the envelope!

Monday, August 23, 2010

How I use the workbox method with Charlotte Mason

Last year I read about Sue Patrick's Workbox System and was eager to try it. I could understand how it would help my children to become more independent with their school day, but when I investigated the Internet for people who used the method, much of what I read was speaking of children that were a little younger than mine (3rd and 5th grades last year.)

This post will tell how we adapted the system to work for us, and to work with the Charlotte Mason approach that we try to follow.

First, let me just recommend that you not look at my instructions as a basis of the system. I do several things differently. If you are really interested in this approach, please purchase the eBook and read it. (It's not too long.) It is available instantly through a download, so you can get started quickly. Then you can adapt to your own needs. Sometimes I will mention items that are in the book without explaining, but if you search for other bloggers who are doing workboxes, you will probably see pictures of what I'm talking about.

After reading the eBook, I began to realize that some of the concepts, such as repetition, would not exactly mesh with Miss Mason's philosophy. I also do not put "fun" things in my workboxes, as I want to allow my children the pleasure of getting their work done so that they can choose afterward what will be done for fun. I don't think Ms. Patrick's way is wrong, but I just want to do things differently than that.

Our workboxes are really not boxes at all. We use clear poly envelopes which are found at office supply stores. They take up less space and are more suited for our books than a plastic shoebox. They are more than $1.00 a piece, but that was the most expensive part of our system. The envelopes are durable, and though once in a while one will be destroyed, most of ours lasted through last year and are being used again. They can be repaired fairly well with clear packing tape. This year, we have rules for taking better care of our envelopes!

Each child has a milkcrate-like container. I already had a couple of these that I have used for years for other purposes, so those were free for me.

I use calendar numbers (use link or Google it) to number the envelopes. These are attached with Velcro dots so they can be removed. I laminated mine to make them more durable. Each envelope has a loopy dot of Velcro and the numbers have the hook side. I used self-adhesive dots and scratched the plastic a bit with sandpaper in one spot to try to get the adhesive to stick better. I will call them box numbers after this, but use the term "calendar numbers" when you search.

Each day, I slip the books for the day into the envelopes. If we are using the same book two days in a row, I leave it in the folder, and change the number if needed. I add anything needed to complete the assignment, such as pencil and paper, or math items. Usually science equipment doesn't fit, so that will be laid out where the demonstration will be performed (i.e. kitchen or bathroom.)

I use small Post-its attached to the book to write the specific assignment for the day. Usually it will be page numbers to read. If needed, I will add notes such as, "Read this with Mom," and so on. I put this either on the cover of the book or use it for a bookmark.

I arrange both boxes at the same time, hoping to prevent a bottleneck situation where both kids need my help at the same time. I also space assignments out so that items that require handwriting are not back-to-back. Once they are in the box the way they need to be, I use the box numbers to label them. The kids pick each envelope up in order and return it to the back of the box when they are finished. (The workbox book suggests that the child have a separate box in which to place the completed work, but my kids found it confusing and it cluttered up our space. That may be because they are older, and they find it motivating just to see the numbers climb higher and higher towards the end.)

Our family does not do a number strip on which to place the box numbers. I will add more on that later.

We do have a bit of time at the beginning of the school day to do any of our work that is done together, such as reading the Bible, composer and art study, Spanish, and Shakespeare . The workboxes are for individual work, and they come after our group work. Handicrafts, music practice, free reading, playing, and nature study happen mostly in the afternoon, and are not scheduled in workboxes.

This post is getting a bit long, so I will close it and add more tomorrow about how we take better care of our envelopes, and more detail about how we use these.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Back to School Day

Today was our first day of scheduled school for the year. It went pretty well. Mostly because I scheduled a very light day for getting started. We started at 8:30 and everything was done by 11:00!

We are following AmblesideOnline.com again this year. Junior is doing Year 4 and Peanut is doing Year 6. Bible, Spanish, Latin, Art, Music, Nature Study and Shakespeare/Plutarch are all done together, then we split up for History, Geography, Science, Math, Writing/Grammar, and Literature.

The big kids did really well getting back into the swing of things, but little Bubby didn't like it much. He did enjoy watching the DVD that we watched for Spanish. He will probably pick up some of that, since it is repetitive.

This year I did something a bit different. I took pictures of the books each kid is using for the first term (12 weeks) of the year.

Here is Peanut's:

and Junior's:

Another tradition we do is to fill out an info sheet on what everyone is interested it, how tall, how old, favorite subject, and we add a picture to that.

Well, that's it for the first 12 weeks. I left out Plutarch's Lives, because I haven't gotten it printed out yet. Julius Caesar is our first guy to study. Also, I haven't figured out what Peanut will do for Latin. The Prima Latina is a little too young for her, and she has already done the first six lessons or so, but it will be good to review that, and if she hates it too much, I will find something else.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Printing Public Domain E-books at a Low Cost

Since we follow a Charlotte Mason-inspired curriculum, many of our books can be found online as downloadable public domain e-books. This saves quite a bit of money, but reading the texts can cause a problem. The books can be read off the computer screen, but this isn't always convenient, and usually involves some special set-up by mom to get the margins at a convenient width and get the brightness adjusted to it is comfortable to read for a longer period. Another problem is that the computer will be tied up sometimes because our math curriculum (Teaching Textbooks) requires computer use.

We don't own a Kindle or other electronic reader, and that is not in the budget for our school.

Last year, I printed off a couple of texts with our ink jet printer, and that worked pretty well. I finally calculated the cost of that, and found that I would have been better off buying a used book!

This summer, I came across some good directions* for printing e-books at a low cost. This website is focused on the Robinson Curriculum, which also uses many public domain books. A black and white laser printer will print these books for a much lower cost, so I researched and found a printer on sale this summer for $60. I calculated the cost according to their method, and found that in almost every case, I could print a book for less than I could buy it used. I make my books half-size, as they recommend.

A tip that I have learned is to format all your printing on MS Word (or your similar software) and do not change any printer settings except for asking it to duplex, either manually or automatically. Print small samples of just a few pages to make sure your printer is going to do what you want.

I am currently experimenting with different binding methods to find what works best for my family. More on that later.

*I have found that these directions work for almost everything, except poetry and Shakespeare's plays. For that, you are better off printing as-is on half-sized paper. If poetry is included in the text, you will have to manually format it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Preparing for the Fall

I have spent the past few days getting my schedule ready for next year. Last year we used AmblesideOnline for our core, and we are doing the same this year. We really enjoyed getting into a more Charlotte Mason-inspired curriculum, and I feel like this is where we will stay.

To plan our year, I started out by choosing which years we will be using from the AmblesideOnline site. This year my daughter will follow Year 6, and my son will follow Year 4. There are different reasons why we chose not to combine both kids in one year, and I will go into that on another post.

To get everything lined out, I made tables in MS Word with five days across the top, and each subject down the left side of the page. I made separate tables for both children, although some areas are the same for both of them. This way, they will be able to see their weekly chart and tell how much they need to do for the day.

Here is a small shot of what they look like:

AmblesideOnline gives you the suggestion of work that should be completed each week of the program. I spaced things out so that Mondays and Fridays are light days, and Tuesday - Thursday are our heavy days. This will work out best with the schedule of outside activities we are planning. I also added a tweak based on my experiences last year. Instead of 12-week terms as AmblesideOnline suggests, I fit everything into 11-week terms. This gives us a catch-up week if we need it, or a field-trip week.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

A New Birthday Tradition

This year for Junior's birthday, we started a new tradition. I think, anyway. Junior asked for a pie-in-the-face, so we gave it to him.

For the pie, I used a graham cracker crust filled with Cool Whip. I think next time I will just use the Cool Whip in a foil pan, as the graham cracker crust was slightly harder to clean up. We threw the pie at him in the driveway, so all we had to do was hose off the driveway, then hose him off and everything was cleaned up!

This was very funny, and made his day more special. He invited three little boys from the neighborhood over to watch, and now they want pies thrown at them on their birthday. Peanut does too! We have decided that the pie-in-the-face will be voluntary, of course. If you want it, you get it.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Kindergarten graduation

Several people I know have kindergarteners in traditional school (public and private.) They are having little graduation ceremonies complete with caps and gowns.

I have never done anything for my kids when they were done with their first "real year" of school. It seems very silly to me, but maybe I am strange. To me, it is an extra "thing" to put kids through, as well as the expense of a cap and gown for a quick photo opportunity.

I have a fifth grader, and her friends are also "graduating" from fifth grade. I don't understand why you would do something like this. I mean, no one is going to stop at fifth grade (I hope.) You have seven more years of school! And that is just for someone who is not continuing their education.

Maybe this year we will go to the park or some other pretty outdoor spot and have a photo session, and maybe some ice cream to celebrate the beginning of summer. But that is all that is "beginning" right now. She still has a long way to go.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Tot School - Pizza Game

Tot School"Bubby" is 39 months old.

Bubby got a game called "Noodleboro Learning to Listen Pizza Palace Game" for Christmas. He has really liked to play this game, and we've made it a part of Tot School. It has a couple of little pizzas in little delivery boxes, and two boxes of "toppings." The object is to listen to the other player's order, and then make a pizza according to directions.

We don't always end up playing by the rules, but it is fun to take turns ordering and making pizzas. The game came with a music/story CD and a storybook, and those have been a lot of fun too.

I have searched it out, and this game is not being produced anymore, but it is not hard to find available for purchase online.

I can't get a good picture of this, but we have been using a balloon to work on a lot of gross motor skills. We play basic balloon volleyball, balloon catch, etc. Basic easy stuff, but I can't get a picture of course, since I'm one of the players.

My daughter taught me a new trick. Before you blow up a balloon, drop one marble inside. Then blow up and tie as usual. The marble will bounce around inside and generally cause the balloon to act haywire. It is good for a laugh, and it does give us a case of the giggles. It makes the balloon's life a lot shorter, though.

We've needed to play a lot inside because the weather has been so cold. Here in Oklahoma, we do know what snow is. It snows pretty much every year...a little. We rarely get a nice snowfall like the one this week. It has been so much fun to do all the usual "snow things" like make snowmen, snow forts, snow angels, and snow ice cream. It hasn't been all wonderful. The ice that came before the snow wreaked havoc, but still we are thankful for such a pretty snow!
For more Tot School, visit 1+1+1=1 blog!