Wednesday, April 29, 2009

WW: A Tale of Two Brothers

So we took all the kids out to enjoy the nice weather over the weekend.Benny was a blur of activity and quickly worked up a good sweat.
Henry refused to move. Apparently grass is too itchy for crawling, so he sat and made faces at me until I picked him back up.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A Classical Education, Part 1

Before learning about classical education, I wandered through several other homeschooling books without finding quite what I desired. Ruth Beechick's books on the 3Rs were informative but not what I wanted. I disagreed with her better late than early stance and found her academic scope even for the basics to be a bit light. While it would be possible to get your child off to a great start with her suggestions, I wanted something more laid out. I didn't want to have to plan lessons for the 3Rs because I knew myself well enough to know that without good planning I tend to let things fall to the wayside. I also wanted more of a long term vision. Before I started, I wanted to know that I could continue all the way through high school, but I hadn't found a framework that covered the entire span of education. Enter The Well Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. I finally found an educational method that made sense to me.

The classical model of education is based on the trivium. In the grammar stage, young children learn facts for everything from math to grammar to history. In the logic stage, they begin to question what they are learning looking at how information is related and organizing it into a framework. The rhetoric stage allows them to use what they have learned to express themselves and form their own opinions. The exact ages for each of these stages varies somewhat among classical educators, but I find breakdown in The Well Trained Mind of 1st-4th, 5th-8th, and 9th-12th to be the simplest and easiest to use.

Beyond introducing me to the classical model of education, The Well Trained Mind provided me with two more key components for our homeschool. First, it gave me a starting framework that spanned from K through 12th grade. I finally had a vision of what education could look like from start to finish. I could evaluate and set not only goals for the coming year, but longer term goals to make sure that what we work on one year prepares us academically for the years to come. Second, it gave me a myriad of resources to accomplish those goals. While I do not currently use every curriculum that is recommended in the book, I can honestly say that I start my curriculum search each year by evaluating what is recommended. Many of the choices I use successfully. A few I have altered to better fit the needs of my children. I'll talk more about some of these changes in upcoming posts.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Week 35: Bring on the nice weather

I am so ready to be able to open up our windows and let in some fresh air, to hang my laundry on the clothes line, and to send my kids outside for some exercise. It's been an up and down week. Jessie had a stomach virus at the beginning of the week, and Violet had a lighter version of it midweek. Jessie actually slept so long Monday afternoon that when she woke up she thought it was Tuesday morning. Somewhere between cleaning up bathrooms, visiting with my Mom, and a couple of doctor appointments, we did manage to accomplish most of our work this week.

Jessie completed the Intensive Practice section on solid figures over the first half of the week and began working on the final section in the textbook and workbook covering volume Thursday. (YEAH!! We're almost done!!) She practiced determining the volume by counting up the number of 1 cm cubes used to make the figure and then learned the V= length x width x height formula. Her CWP is also almost complete for the year. She's working one section behind on the solid figures unit, but will be in the final unit on volume next week.

Violet has continued adding and started subtracting with numbers up to 1000. We kept the lessons from Mom short and mostly let her do the workbook pages after she informed me that she already knew how to do this. Her Miquon pages have had her working with fractions. For problems like what is 3/12 of 12, she caught on very quickly. When she had to start comparing 1/3 to 1/4, we broke out the fraction strips that I made last year for Jessie and then she did very well.


Monday when Jessie wasn't feeling very well, you would have thought the spelling words were in greek based on the amount of time it took her to do the work. (I think it had more to do with lack of sleep than anything else.) By the end of the week, she did much better. In grammar, we completed unit 10 on prepositions. We didn't get to CW. She's continuing to enjoy The Swiss Family Robinson and The Book of Three. We only did a couple of days of dictation, but are close to finishing our section in The Silver Chair.

In spelling, Violet began working through the review units, which have gone very smoothly so far. In grammar, we are still working our way through prepositions. She's doing very well memorizing the preposition list. She completed a few days of copywork. For reading, she finished The Cricket in Times Square and The Fairy Doll in addition to her weekly fairy tale from The Blue Fairy Book.

Together this week, we learned about the Wright Brothers and Seward's Folly. Independently, the girls read biographies of Louis Pasteur and Dr. Wilhelm Roentgen. I feel like we are jumping back and forth alot on our timeline, so I will probably change the order up considerably when Benny does American history in a few years. We completed booklets and added timeline figures for all four topics.


This week we completed lesson 9 in Zoology 2. It really would have been easier to spread the lesson out over two weeks, but I'm ready to be finished and move on to a new topic. Tuesday, we learned about crustraceans and bivalves. Thursday, we covered gastropods. The kids were excited to learn that most of our conch shells from the beach are actually whelk shells.


Lesson 30 complete. We've basically dropped ASL for now, although the kids still use it to ask for something when Henry's sleeping.


The girls each drew a squid, which we'll learn about in science next week. We didn't get to music, so I really need to try to make some progress and finish up over the next few weeks.


For phonics all week Benny has been reading Bob books. He's mastered the months of the year. For counting we're using a hundreds chart to count by ones and the abacus to begin learning to count by 5s. My mom read him several books during the week since he didn't get much time to play with his sisters. Today he's hobbling around because his legs are sore from getting his last set of immunizations on Thursday so I gave him the day off.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

WW: Benny's 5th Birthday

Hunting for dinosaur eggs

Playing a short game of hot potato with his sisters

Making dinosaur finger puppets

Cake time
and of course the presents

Monday, April 20, 2009

In Search of Good Books, part 2

What makes a good book? Timeless, classic, enthralling... There are many ways to describe a good book, but ask me to define what a good book is, and I find myself at a loss for words. I can tell you if I like it or not, describe the plot or characters, or explain how hard is was to put down once I had gotten into the story. But what exactly made it so good? It's intangible to me, but thankfully not everyone shares my loss of words. In rereading the first half of Honey for a Child's Heart over the course of the last week or so, I began to piece together a better understanding of why I love certain books and despise others.

So what are some qualities of a good book?
  1. A good book is an experience. "It introduces us to people and places we wouldn't ordinarily know. A good book is a magic gateway into a wider world of wonder, beauty, delight, and adventure. Books are experiences that make us grow, that add something to our inner stature." It is a combination of the what we encounter on our journey as well as what we take away from it that elevates some books higher than others.
  2. A good book contains good writing using "imagery and word pictures that inspire the imagination." It is this capturing of imagination that brings a book to life in our home. I know a book is good when I have to tear myself away from it to go fix dinner or just go to bed. I know I have found a great read aloud when my kids are asking for just one more chapter or suddenly begin incorporating all or part of the story into their pretend play.
  3. A good book has to be relevant. On some level I have to be able to relate to it. "Good books are about the stuff that makes up life. Most books are about relationships-siblings and friends, parents and children- and the emotions these relationships engender-joy and sorrow, hate and love, admiration and envy, anger and hope. Every child needs to see the possibilities of being human, watch the consequence of choices, and have their hearts stretched by goodness and courage in action." It's what causes my kids to cheer for one character when he succeeds or muse "if only he had ... instead" when he stumbles.
  4. A good book teaches without preaching. "A good book has a profound kind of morality...the sort of force that inspires the reader's inner life and draws out what is noble. A good writer has something worthy to say and says it in the best possible way. The author respects the child's ability to understand. Principles are not preached; they are implicit in the plotting of the story." The best example of this that I have read is The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I remember watching the light bulb go off in Jessie's mind when we reach the scene where Aslan allows himself to be killed on the stone altar. Suddenly, she figured out on her own the similarities between Jesus and Aslan and spent several minutes explaining them to me.
  5. A good book works for any ages. Something that my kids and I can both enjoy reading whether we read it together or they simply bring the book to me to show me what they have discovered on their own. "The quality of the idea, the skill of the plot, the depth of the characterization, the distinctive style of the author-that's the best I can do by way of defining a good book. When you find one, you recognize it."
This is just some of the information that I gleaned from the first half of Honey for a Child's Heart. While all of these answers are true for good books, I think that perhaps the best image of what truly makes a good book for me what captured in the following quote.

"Stories that make for wonder. Stories that make for laughter. Stories that stir one within with an understanding of the true nature of courage, of love, of beauty. Stories that make one tingle with high adventure, with daring, with grim determination, with the capacity of seeing danger through to the end. Stories that bring our minds to kneel in reverence; stories that show the tenderness of true mercy, the strength of loyalty, the unmawkish respect for what is good." -Ruth Sawyer (taken from Honey for a Child's Heart)

Happy reading!!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Week 34: A bit distracted

It's been a rather disjointed week. I've been trying to get ready for my Mom's visit and plan a few fun activities for Benny's birthday so I haven't done a very good job at keeping to our schedule. We did finish all of our school by doing more work in the afternoons than normal. Here's a look at our week.

In math this week, Jessie began and completed a section on solid figures. She started off the week learning about a cube figure. The rest of the figures for the week were all built using various amounts of cubes in assorted configurations. She either had to figure out how many cubes were in a given figure or determine how many cubes needed to be added or removed to change from one figure to another. The section itself was short and simple so Jessie completed not only the text and workbook, but also the IP section as well. She also had one day of review at the beginning of the week.

Violet plugged along through the section section of the 3A book covering addition and subtraction with larger numbers. This week has been mainly a review using only numbers up to 1000. A couple of days were spent focused more on word problems and using bar diagrams to solve them. Her proudest moment of the week was solving the word problem on the right because she drew the bar diagram all by herself.

Lesson 12 in spelling was a review this week. In grammar, we've continued working on prepositions and prepositional phrases. We also spent one day on conjunctions and another reviewing all of the parts of speech covered up to this point. In reading, she's continuing to enjoy The Swiss Family Robinson. She even spent Monday afternoon making her own version of a tree house on her bookcase. On Tuesday, she began reading The Book of Three. On the left is a sample of her dictation for the wekk. We're still working on selections from The Silver Chair. Finally, for CW I let her choose her selection this week. Her choices were Rapunzel or Rumpelstiltskin by Zelinsky or "The Story of Robin Hood" which we skipped earlier in the year. She chose Rapunzel. In order to encourage her to put in her best effort, I promise that we would make the final copy into a book that she could then illustrate.

Violet has finished up the lessons in SWO D. We'll spend the next couple of weeks going back through the review lessons that we skipped previously to make certain the material is mastered. For grammar this week, it has been all about prepositions and memorizing the preposition list from FLL. She's still thoroughly enjoying The Cricket in Times Square. Her fairy tale for the week was "Cinderellis and the Glass Hill", and on Thursday she read The Rocking Horse Secret by Godden.


Together we learned this week about the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Panama Canal. Independently, the girls read biographies of Marie Curie and George Eastman. Jessie ended up writing most of her own narrations this week. Even Violet took the initiative on Thursday to write her Eastman summary by herself rather than wait for me to stop what I was doing to write it for her. We completed booklets on all four topics and added corresponding timeline figures as well. We also added two more presidents to our timeline: Chester Arthur and Grover Cleveland.


We finished up lesson 8 on Crustaceans. There were four booklets covering lobsters and crayfish; crabs including fiddler crabs, hermit crabs, and Christmas Island crabs; shrimp and krill; and finally barnacles, horseshoe crabs, and trilobytes.


This week's art assignment was to draw a shrimp. Jessie finally got around to sketching one out in pencil for me. Violet chose to create a whole scene with several shrimp and crabs.


Lesson 29 completed.


We've spent this week reading Bob books together for phonics. He has two books remaining in the first series. It's been a nice change of pace from Phonics Pathways. I think we'll read at least part of the A2 series before returning back to the phonics book to attempt four letter words with double consonant endings. He's still counting. I think we might try skip counting by 5s next week. He did remember the month of May in his months of the year song. Yeah! His favorite book of the week has been A Kindle of Kittens by Godden. I've lost count of how many times I've read it. Below is a picture of the paper plate lobster that he made on Friday.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Monday, April 13, 2009

In Search of Good Books, part 1

Having been convinced by Miss Mason to search for "living books" to read with my children, I found myself at a loss of where to begin. To some "living books" mean classics such as Pilgrim's Progress or Peter Pan. Some will read only the original versions of stories while others will read children's versions or abridged versions of these books. Others stick with what they know and read books that they enjoyed as children to their own children. (I fell in the latter camp for a while.) Still I must confess that most of my childhood diet consisted of cartoons on television and book series like Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. I knew up front that I needed to expand my own book horizon to discover what what constituted a "living book". In the midst of my quest, the book Honey for a Child's Heart by Gladys Hunt was recommended to me by a friend, and I knew at once that I had found a place to start.

I must confess that when I first picked up a copy that I skimmed quickly over the first half of the book and headed straight for the book list at the end. I had read aloud all of the good picture books that I remembered and picking random books from the library was rather hit and miss at best. I can't say that every single book on the list was an instant hit, but the number of winners certainly dwarfed the less popular ones. I have been so impressed by the quality of the books on this list that when I, the prereading queen, finally began having trouble keeping up with the voracious appetite of my oldest for books, I handed her the book list and told her she could pick any book of the list that she wanted to read. This is actually the only list of books that I trust enough to do this.

Since then, I have found other helpful lists of books that I use for ideas from time to time. Of curriculum publishers, Sonlight is my favorite for lists of books. With their expansion of choices over the past couple of years in preschool books and readers at the early level, there is an absolute feast of choices available. I am, however, more careful about the Sonlight books and always read them ahead of time for content. While the vast majority are excellent, there have been a few here and there whose content I felt was not appropriate for my kids at that point. Another wonderful website is Tanglewood Education. Although the site has not been updated in quite some time, I still find the book suggestions that are available to be excellent. Finally, there is the 1000 Good Books List from Christine Miller's Classical Homeschooling website. This list is a compilation from several homeschooling moms and provides a wealth of selections for avid readers everywhere. Between all these resources, even the most voracious of readers would have a sufficient number of choices to last them several years.

I have finally gotten around to reading the first section of Honey for a Child's Heart more closely, but this blog is quite lengthy enough already so I'll write some thoughts on that portion of the book next week.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Week 33: Steady progress

It's been a quiet week here. Baby Henry's nose is finally starting to clear up so he's back in his own bed at night. School has been a bit of a roller coaster. Some days the kids were blazing through their assignments as fast as they could, and other days I thought they would never finish. In the end, we finished up our work and are ready to enjoy the weekend.

Jessie spent the week completing a new unit on symmetry. She completed the textbook and workbook section the first half of the week and the IP section during the second half. Basically, she identified which figures were symmetrical, drew lines of symmetry, or completed a symmetrical figure as seen in the picture on the left when given half of the figure and a line of symmetry. Her CWP assignments were a little more challenging this week than they have been in awhile, but with a little prompting she did a great job of drawing the diagrams and completing the assignments.

Violet spent the week working through the first section of the 3A IP book. Some days, she breezed through the lessons and other days... well let's just say we had plenty of opportunity to discuss a few character issues. Most of the problems were a variation on the idea that from a number like 4253 you could make 4 thousands, or 42 hundreds, or 425 tens or 4253 ones. She seemed to have the most difficult with the concept that 4 thousands was the same as 40 hundreds. We may need to go back over this section at the start of the next school year.

Jessie completed lesson 11 in spelling with flying colors. In grammar, she's been learning about prepositions and prepositional phrases. To help her identify the prepositions, I made a card for her memory box with the preposition list from Violet's FLL book. So far she's identified phrases, seen them used as either an adjective or an adverb in a sentence, and begun diagramming them. We did finish up her CW assignment on "The Gingerbread Man". I think we have one story that we skipped earlier in the year to go back and complete over the next couple of weeks. She has finished reading both 20000 Leagues Under the Sea and Lad, a Dog this week. At her request, she's begun reading The Swiss Family Robinson today.

Violet struggled with her lesson 34 test in spelling on Tuesday so I'm having her repeat the lesson and test again next week. In grammar, she has also been working on prepositions all week in FLL. (It's so nice to have them on the same topic.) Her copywork continues to be from Little Pilgrim's Progress. She's doing very well at forming the cursive letters individually. Every once in a while she makes a mistake in connecting letters and bitter becomes litter or lick become luck with a dotted u. We haven't been doing anymore dictation simply because her handwriting is neater when she has a model from which to copy. For reading, she started A Cricket in Times Square this week and read two more selections from the Blue Fairy Book.
History this week has been all about inventors and inventions from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Together we learned about Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Individually, the girls read biographies of Alexander Graham Bell and Luther Burbank. We completed booklets on all four men and added all but Burbank to our timelines. Our map for the week shows the United States as of 1990.


In science this week, we completed lesson 7 by learning about agnathans. The girls found the lampreys and hagfish interesting. Benny was excited because he had seen hagfish recently on the Discovery Channel while watching "Dirty Jobs" with DH. We also began lesson 8 on Thursday completing a booklet with basic crustacean information (the girls liked coloring the different parts of the lobster the best) and another on lobsters and crayfish.


Jessie completed lesson 28. I need to put in some time over the weekend and catch up on vocabulary.


Jessie drew a hammerhead and a crab this week. Violet and Benny each drew a crab of their own.


Benny has completed the section on three letter words this week. The next lesson starts short vowel words with double consonant endings. We're going to take a break from the phonics book and read Bob books and make words on the refrigerator with letter magnets for a couple of weeks until he is more fluent at three letter words before moving on. Right now if you give the word hot for example, he says "/h/. /ho/. /t/. HOT!" He figures out the words successfully, but it takes quite a bit of effort on his part. We have started working on the months of the year with a little song. He mastered everything except for the month of May. I keep telling him that he can't forget May because that's when Henry and I have birthdays. So far it hasn't helped him remember. Friday, he completed a crab craft while the girls were working on their history booklets.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

WW: Not demolition, deconstruction

There was a time not to long ago when a tower of cups didn't stand a chance. At most it had a life of about 5 seconds before being completely toppled over at the hands of my young demolitionist. Now instead of a flurry of demolition, a stack of cups is torn down methodically one cup at a time.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Me? A teacher???

To me a "teacher" was someone with a degree in education. One of those amazing people that could turn a bland bulletin board into a work of art and rattle off a dozen different ways to present material to a group of children. Someone who could inspire a love of learning in a child while managing all of the administrative tasks of grading, lesson planning, etc. Truthfully, I had never really considered myself a teacher. I had demonstrated to a group of adult how to use various computer programs. I could tell a Bible story to Jessie's Sunday school class. I could give directions to my Mom over the phone when she couldn't figure out how to do something on their computer. But I didn't really consider myself a teacher. Then I came across the book Schoolproof by Mary Pride. Suddenly, teaching seemed much easier than I had previously thought, and it turns out I had been teaching all along. Who knew? Here are a few principles that I have tried to apply from this particular book.

1. Before teaching anything, every school needs a basic foundation: well disciplined students and some basic organization. I cannot teach my children if they do not listen and obey. I cannot teach if the appropriate books, pencils, etc. are MIA again.

2. There are only a handful of ways to present information. (I've reorganized and renamed some of them to make it easier for me to remember.) Different methods work better for different subjects.
  • Show someone the information: Demonstrate, illustrate, visualize, watch a video, dramatize
  • Tell someone the information: Read aloud, lecture, discuss, parrot, memory aids (songs, chants, poems, etc.)
  • Provide hands on learning: Experience, experiment, simulate, direct (step by step), research, field trips, games
  • Provide the resources and allow the student figure it out
3. Similarly, there are only a handful of ways to assess a student's learning. (Again some reorganization and renaming for my own benefit.)
  • Show me: Quizzes and tests, compositions, models, drawing, dramatizations
  • Tell me: Repetition, narration*, discussion, analysis*, comparison*, presentations (*oral or written)
  • Use/apply it: projects, practice, teaching, challenging
  • None of the above: wait and see... (It's amazing how much assessing can be done simply by watching to see what information my kids incorporate into their own activities, especially their imaginative play.)
4. Contrary to popular belief, people tend to learn in spurts. Educational progress looks more like a stair step than a straight line. (My translation: Sometimes it takes a while for a concept to click Be patient and be prepared to set something aside and try again later if it's just not clicking.)

5. "The goal of Christian education should be to give people the tools to love and serve God and their neighbor."

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Week 32's Art Gallery

Jessie's Ray
Jessie's Shark
Violet's ray
Violet's shark
Violet's hammerheads
Benny's Hammerhead Shark
Benny's Pearl Oyster