November 21, 2014

Preschool through 3rd Grade and Choosing Priorities

In our homeschool we usually cover all of the main subjects each year. However, I've found that 1 or 2 subjects take priority each year. 

Choosing 1 or 2 subjects as a focus has really helped me feel less overwhelmed with planning. I know that each subject will have a year where it shines as our focus and I feel better about making sure everything is covered in depth through our elementary years. We do cover every subject for each school year, but I budget my time and spend the most time on our focus subjects for each year.

Here is what I've done so far:

Following Directions
Art - with coloring, cutting, and pasting

It's important for those busy little people to learn to follow simple directions. If they can master this skill, homeschool life becomes easier.
Little people learn best through doing and so I try to make the preschool years as hands on as possible with open-ended art projects (not specific crafts) and sensory bins that allow them to explore colors and textures. 

Picture books
Counting and shapes

I want my little students to develop a love of reading so I try to read beautiful picture books to them so they can enjoy reading with me and start practicing their listening skills.
My PreK'ers learn to recognize each of the letters, how to count to at least 10, and to recognize the various shapes. This is the time to introduce the basics while still keeping things very simple. 

Phonics and Reading
Intro to basic addition

Reading is my first priority with my kids so phonics takes priority during our kindergarten year. Once my kids can read, they are able to do some things independently because they can read simple instructions. So, I try to help my kids be successful with reading as soon as they are ready and we start with a solid phonics foundation in K.
I also start teaching my kids how to write each of the letters using the white board and colored markers. It is nice when a child can complete an assignment without your help because they can read the instructions and copy or write the correct answer.
In this year, we start slowly with math by introducing simple math concepts with a focus on basic addition. 

1st Grade
Math skills of addition and subtraction
Intro to spelling and simple grammar
Reinforce reading and phonics skills

My kids receive a solid foundation in phonics in K so in first grade we spend more time on math and making sure they understand addition and subtraction. We do lots of hands-on learning to visualize the math facts and memorize them. In this year, we lay the foundation for later math skills.
We also begin some spelling and learn simple grammar concepts like the parts of speech.
Previous phonics skills are reinforced and a few new blends are introduced as reading skills are practiced daily.

2nd Grade
Reinforce math and reading

In this year, my kids are reading independently and are ready to start learning and applying some spelling rules. I've found that my kids are not ready to spell independently until they have begun to read with some fluency. So, we save focus on spelling rules after giving them time to practice reading in the two previous years.
Grammar is also a focus in this year as we build on the parts of speech we learned and start to analyze sentences. This is a foundational year as we start learning grammar rules in preparation of writing our own compositions in later years.
In second grade we don't learn numerous new math concepts, but instead practice addition and subtraction with larger numbers. So this year is spent practicing math skills and reading together.

3rd Grade
Math skills of multiplication and division
Reinforce spelling and grammar

This year is the time for a new skill - writing. Now that my children have a foundation in reading, spelling, and grammar, they are prepared to start writing their own sentences and very short compositions (or narrations). In 3rd grade we integrate the skills they have learned into our focus of learning to write.
We also learn some new math skills of multiplication and division as well as some simple fractions. In 3rd grade we build on our math foundation with multiple new skills.
Spelling and grammar are reinforced through writing.

So what will our focus be in 4th grade? That remains to be seen but I have a feeling that foreign languages will be a large focus that year with lots of Spanish and beginning Latin.

Did you notice that science and history are not a major focus in our early elementary years? We do cover those subjects each year but I spend less time on them when compared with the basics of phonics, language arts, and math. I plan to have a greater focus on those subjects maybe in 5th or 6th grades as we start preparing for high school level work. Formal literature study and poetry study will also sneak into our schedule as will a study of logic.

November 19, 2014

Age Appropriate Expectations

In talking with other homeschooling parents I often hear them voice different fears and concerns. They worry about the child who was reading well last week who suddenly can't sound out his own name or their daughter who has completely forgotten her math facts. I've had many of the same concerns. 

Tiger has taken a very long time to learn to read. He's still making progress but is not a fluent and independent reader yet. I kept trying to compare him to other kids and I was worried that he was behind or that he had a learning struggle.

Curly has been a terrible speller. She refused to apply spelling rules. However, during our spelling time she could apply the rules and often spell words correctly. When it came time to write in other subjects, she spelled words incorrectly on a regular basis. She somehow seemed to lack the ability to sound them out to check spelling and she didn't even recognize that they were not even close to being spelled correctly.

When my kids sound out words they often leave out sounds that are clearly in the word. A word like"protect" can become "potet" even though they sound out each letter individually. However, when it comes time to blend them together, many of the sounds are missing. My kids can also do the opposite and add in extra sounds or even syllables. This means that "went" can change to "wind" and "sing" can turn into "sinning-ging." In those moments I wonder if I'm losing my mind or if we're not reading the same page.

There have been some weeks when Curly cannot add two numbers together (even when they are simple digits like 8+4) or she struggles to subtract. I've been baffled as I've grabbed the abacus and demonstrated the facts to her. I've had her practice with flash cards or do an addition drill page.

I've taught a lesson in science or history one day to review it the next and have my children stare at me as if they have no idea what I'm talking about. I'm left sitting there saying, "Don't you remember Marco Polo? Where did he travel?" *blank stares* "Where was he from? We talked yesterday about what he brought back to his home country." *blank stares* "Yes, he traveled somewhere far away and when he came home the people did not believe him. We read about that." *more blank stares*

When I listen to Curly read aloud she doesn't stop at any period, comma, or other punctuation. She reads like each paragraph is one giant sentence that is smashed together until it no longer makes sense. If a word has more than 2 syllables she doesn't stop to sound it out but rather makes a guess that defies logic and all phonics rules. She just skims through the sentences and leaves out half of the words. I sit next to her and try to follow along but question if we are looking at the same page.

Tiger's handwriting is so terrible I can't tell a "y" from an "r" or an "s" from an "e." I coach him on correct letter formation and we practice on the white board or on lined paper. Yet he still writes like he is scribbling down random code words.

In the face of this discouragement, I question if I'm an effective teacher or if I'm absolutely ruining their educational experience. I wonder if their brain has completely fallen out of their heads or if there even was a brain in residence. I feel like a complete failure as a teacher and question why I ever thought I could homeschool.

And I'm not the only homeschool parent who faces these challenges and failures on a regular basis. 

I've learned a thing or two about age appropriate expectations for young elementary children in the short time that we've homeschooled. 

For example, it is completely normal for a child to use spelling rules during spelling time and then seemingly refuse to apply them in every other subject. Their brain compartmentalizes the spelling rules and takes them out only during spelling time. For the rest of their school day, those rules are stuffed into a little box that is only used during spelling time. In other subjects, they use other areas of their brain and the spelling rules have not seeped into any other subject.

It's also normal for a student to be able to sound out each letter individually but blend together a strange concoction of sounds and syllables that sound nothing like the original word.

It's normal for some children to lack the fine motor skills to properly form letters when they are writing.

It's totally normal for kids to struggle with simple addition or subtraction facts and need lots of practice and reinforcement.

It's also normal for them to forget more abstract concepts like science and history information.

Again, it's normal for a student who is an excellent reader to have trouble reading aloud, ignore punctuation, and accidentally skip over words on a page.

Many of these things are skills that simply take lots of time and practice. In addition, a each child's brain changes and makes connections at different rates and times. There is quite a wide range of normal. So, sometimes you need to relax and realize that you can take a deep breath and remember to have age appropriate expectations. Some things just come with time.

Disclaimer: Of course, if you have questions about your child's progress or development, seek to find answers. It is always best to diagnose learning difficulties early so a child can receive adequate help. Many of the things I've learned have been through researching or talking with those who are trained to recognize problems. They have assured me that my children are on track and are progressing in a way that is age appropriate. It is nice to have that reassurance but it's been even more important for me to understand and have proper expectations for my kids and their ages.

November 17, 2014

Curriculum Confessions

I use textbooks, scripted curriculum, workbooks and we don't do projects .

I said it out loud.

If I said that among classical homeschoolers I would receive startled glances. The Charlotte Masonish homeschoolers would be horrified. Unschoolers would be appalled. I'm still in shock myself. This is not quite what I had in mind at the beginning of our journey.

I've found that sometimes your homeschool doesn't look how you might have envisioned. I always thought we would create our own curriculum from a vast array of living books and historical biographies. I guess I thought we would just float through our days filled with projects and experiments and the library would be our second home as we checked out a 100 books every week.

My kids just want to finish school each day. They want to get through my lesson plans and venture off to explore and play on their own (which is still learning, yes). And I want that for them. I want time for spontaneity, play, and relaxation in our day. So, as I've struggled to change my vision for school I've learned a few things.

  • I've found that textbooks are quick and efficient. We learn the major ideas on a topic in an organized manner and still have the option to dive deeper and explore an interest if we would like. Using a textbook allows all of us to see our progress. We mark our pages and know that we hope to finish the text by the end of our school year. It helps to see the end point.
  • I have an affinity for scripted curriculum. I did not think I would enjoy someone else telling me what to do and exactly what to say for each lesson. But, as a matter of fact, I do. I actually am loving the concept of a scripted curriculum right now. Each day I can open the teacher manual to the next page and begin reading. I don't have to spend extensive time planning or reading the lesson beforehand. I don't have to struggle to explain a topic I fully understand to a child who isn't grasping the concept (i.e. direct objects and predicate nominatives) nor do I have to fumble for words as I explain a concept that is somewhat nebulous to me (i.e. chemical equations, molecules, and compounds). In either situation, I just use the words that are written carefully on the page, taking the pressure off myself to hunt for the right words and examples as I teach. 
  • My kids also enjoy workbooks. They like the independence of having their own workbook to write in and complete without too much oversight from me. The workbook pages tell them what to do and they jump right in and work on their own. Again, I think they like seeing the progress of completing one page per day and moving closer to the end of their books. And I've found that many of the workbooks give them excellent practice and reinforce the concepts we are learning. 
  • Call me lazy but I don't enjoy projects right now. It might be because I have two toddlers who enjoy destroying anything we create. It might be because my oldest kids haven't quite become proficient in cleaning up their own messes. Or it might be because I would like to find a little extra free time for myself in our schedule. Projects take an inordinate amount of time from the gathering of supplies, to the set up, to the execution, and then to the clean up. School takes most of our day with frequent interruptions and 5 kids to squeeze into the schedule. Therefore, projects and experiments have been pushed out of our day. 

Now, do understand that we have 3 bookshelves and two linen closets full of wonderful literature, non-fiction books, and historical fiction. We read together every single day. We take time to explore our own ideas and questions. At our house we use more than just textbooks and workbooks. We utilize classically-based resources and living books, we create notebook pages, we complete a few projects, and we sometimes do experiments. However, I've found that I had to change my idealized version of homeschool to become more efficient and streamline my day. After all, I don't want to wear my teacher hat all day. I'm a wife and mom too. It's all about balance.

November 14, 2014

Thoughts on Third Grade

Curly is in 3rd grade this year. I'm still trying to come to grips with this reality. All summer long I had a knot in my stomach when thinking about the upcoming challenge of our new school year. For some reason, 3rd grade seemed like a huge challenge. It was a big jump in expectations and work for both of us. 

I've found that 3rd grade is a big change in that I have higher expectations and there is more work involved. 

Writing - This is the first year that we've really focused on writing. The previous years we've worked on spelling rules and grammar. For 3rd grade we're spending more time writing and Curly is beginning to create original compositions, compose her own sentences, and write her own narrations for science and history.

Math - This year Curly is learning multiplication, division, fractions, and some basic geometry. By the end of this year she will have a solid foundation in the basics of arithmetic. I can look forward into the future and see pre-algebra quickly approaching.

Bible - We have Bible time together as a family but this is the first year that Curly has done an additional Bible curriculum for me. I wanted her to have a greater challenge and become familiar with the Bible stories and themes. So, first thing in the morning, we have our own private Bible time.

Online Class - For the first time, Curly is taking an online class. She is taking a literature class that takes her through several of the books in the Narnia series. She learns about plot, character, setting, and other story elements. She has to write her own journal entries each week, complete reading assignments and projects, and ultimately design webpages with information about the books she has read. It has been exciting to watch her interact with her teacher and the other students in the class as she learns in a new environment.

Independence - I'm trying to help Curly take steps to become independent in some of her course work. She has a planner where I write assignments for her to complete. I give her instructions and have her complete some work on her own. I help her assess how to break assignments down into manageable parts as she plans for her week. I'm hoping to set the stage for greater independence and responsibility as we head toward middle school.

Here's what 3rd grade has included so far:

Diagramming - This is the first year that we have really learned to analyze sentences, find the different parts of speech, and then place them on a diagram. Curly is really understanding the various parts of speech and I can tell she has a greater understanding of grammar now that she can see the visual diagram of each part.

Research projects - As part of her science curricula this year, Curly has completed a research project. She utilized two sources and wrote a short report on one of the planets. It was exciting to see her looking through the books and finding facts on her own. She is beginning to learn how to research and put together her own projects. I plan to assign a few more research-based projects to give her more practice.

Literature guides and discussions - When I read aloud to the kids I often stop and ask them questions to make sure they are following the story. This is the first year that I have used a literature guide to help guide our discussion. Curly reads the book on her own and then writes down her answers to the questions in the guide. Afterward, we go through them together and discuss her answers.

Independent math work - I teach the math lessons to Curly each day and then I assign the worksheets for her to complete independently. She's also working on Beast Academy for a greater challenge and I encourage her to work as many problems on her own as she can. It's been helpful for me to see what she remembers from our lessons after she has completed her assignments on her own.

Read aloud practice - Now that Curly is a fluent reader she has not been reading to me as often as she should. I've tried to find time for her to read aloud to me several days a week so she can practice reading aloud and I can make sure she comprehends what she is reading.

Assigned reading - I keep books scattered around our house and give the kids time to choose books and read on their own. This is the first year that I've chosen some books and assigned them to Curly to read. Many of them she enjoys but she has had to finish one book about Pocahontas that wasn't a huge hit with her. It's been good practice to understand that she won't love every book she reads but sometimes she will need to persevere and finish.

Completing narrations for history and science - In previous grades, Curly would give me oral narrations and I would write them down for her. This year she writes her own narrations on her notebook page and I check them when she is finished. She has to think about spelling, grammar, and content as she completes her own narrations.

Writing her own books - Curly has discovered that she enjoys writing. She learned to type last year and has put that skill to good use this year as she types out her own books. I give her time each day to type and she creates her own story lines, imagines characters, and types her own books. It has been great practice for her spelling and grammar skills.

Now that we're in the middle of our first semester of 3rd grade I feel that I've relaxed into our routine. But when we were getting started I often felt overwhelmed by the amount of work that was necessary for a new year of learning. 

I've found 3rd grade to be a challenge but Curly is rising to that challenge and I can see that we are making progress and heading steadily toward upper elementary and then middle school - which is a very intimidating thought!

November 13, 2014

{Review Crew} Purposeful Design

We had the chance to review a beautifully illustrated book of the Creation story called Purposeful Design: Understanding the Creation that was published by Purposeful Design.

Purposeful Design Review

What is it?
Purposeful Design was created by Jay Schabacker who has worked in many fields such as finance and aerospace engineering. Throughout his life and career he has enjoyed studying the marvels of creation and learning more about the Creator through Bible studies. His travels and studies inspired him to write an uplifting book that explores the wonder of creation through pictures.

Purposeful Design: Understanding the Creation is a coffee-table hard back book that takes the reader on a visual journey through the days of creation. It contains Bible verses, relevant quotes, factual information about the objects and animals created on each day, and stunning photographs.

The book contains short narratives about what was created on each day of creation to introduce the reader to the elements of creation while demonstrating the purposeful way in which God created every element.

This book is designed to be used with all ages.

The book also has a companion workbook that is available online for free called the Young Explorer's Club Curriculum. This is geared for elementary students to enhance their learning experience as they read through the book.

Purposeful Design Review

How did we use it? 
We read through this book slowly. We often only read one or two sections at a time. Then we paged through the illustrations. I often found my kids with the book spread open on the floor in front of them as they flipped through the illustrations.

This book appealed to all ages within my family. My oldest, age 8, enjoyed reading the book on her own as well as hearing me read it.

For the rest of my crew, I read this book aloud. They sat next to me or above me on the couch and peered over my shoulder to see the many illustrations.

My younger children, ages 6, 5, and 3, especially enjoyed the pictures. They loved to slowly page through each section of creation and look at the many pictures. I made sure to leave the book within their reach so they could enjoy it on their own. Our favorite page was from creation day 5 which has pictures of very unusual-looking sea creatures to illustrate the Creator's sense of humor.

To use the curriculum, I printed off the PDF form and used it as a discussion guide with my older two children - ages 8 and 6. We discussed things such as intelligent design, thermodynamics, the rain cycle, the depths of God's love for us, phases of the moon, the ocean's tides, and what it means to be created in the image of God. I did find that I had to help them with some of the answers. The guide worked best with Curly and was used as a guide to an oral discussion rather than have her write her answers.

What did we think?
The pictures are breathtaking. We especially enjoyed the pictures of the stars and the heavens as well as the photographs of various animals.

The book takes you through a journey of the days of creation with pictures and text. Each section opens with the corresponding verses in Scripture for that day of creation. The text includes factual information about aspects of creation from that day such as information about the oceans and details about the uses of plants.

I found that the amount of information was just right for my young crowd. We were not overwhelmed with many details of all the aspects of each day of creation. Instead of being a technical and scientific writing, this book contains facts and interesting tidbits with a short narrative. This was perfect for the ages of my kids and held our interest.

My wrap up!
We enjoyed reading through this book together and exploring the various days of creation with the beautiful photographs that highlight God's workmanship. This is a book that my children will enjoy paging through again and again to read the short facts and revel at the pictures. 

More info...
This book can be purchased for $18.95

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