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 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.