March 27, 2015

Where Is Writing with Ease Taking Our Writing Skills?

My kids enjoy the program Writing with Ease. They love reading the short passages that are included in the program. They don't love the dictation but do it without too much complaining. I have seen their skills slowly improve as they are able to remember long sentences and phrases. They are starting to construct grammatically correct sentences that are complex.

I enjoy many things about the program as well. One of my favorite things is the ease of use for me. I don't have to do any planning or search out passages from other resources. Everything is done for me with the workbooks. The lessons are done 4 days per week and take less than 20 minutes. It's been a great intro to writing for our homeschool.

So, now that we're almost done with the program (with only 1 level left to go), I've been thinking about where to go from here. I've reflected back on the program and where I've seen improvements in my kids.

Where is it taking us?
Now that I've progressed through several levels of this program I can see the vision for this style of teaching. Yes, it would probably be best if I read the text or listened to a talk by the author that describes her style of teaching writing. But I have not yet had time to do those things. I've just jumped right into the program and hoped for the best. And yes, it has paid off.

For Tiger (age 7, Level 1), he has improved in his listening skills. He is also able to now dictate complex and well-formed sentences to me when he provides the things he remembers from the story. This program has taught him to think in a complete sentence - not in broken fragments. Now that he can express himself well out loud, he will be able to soon express his complete thoughts on paper.

For Curly (age 9, Level 3), she is receiving excellent practice in reading aloud since I have her read the passages to me. She is learning how to read with the proper pauses and inflections while also paying attention to the reading in order to comprehend the meaning. It has bolstered her reading comprehension skills.

She is also learning to think in complete sentences as she has to express her thoughts back to me. But now she is learning the skill of summarizing the story. Instead of picking her favorite detail, she has to think hard and pull out the most important details and provide only those ideas to me. She is learning to read critically and then remember the most important points in a passage. This will serve her well in later schooling as she studies from lectures and texts.

The program is also teaching Curly to hold complete thoughts in her head and then put them on paper. These thoughts are properly punctuated and well-written. With this program she is seeing models of good writing that she writes after she hears them read aloud.

The benefits I have seen from this program are the way my children can put their thoughts into a complete sentence and then express themselves clearly. They also learn from models of good writing that they imitate, seeing different forms of sentence structure and observing correct punctuation.

What I love about the program is how easy it is to teach and implement. It takes about 10-20 minutes per day, depending on level, to do one day's lesson. My kids are exposed to snippets of interesting literature that often sparks an interest to read the full work. Also, the program does not require any advance planning by me.

We have only one more level of Writing with Ease left - Level 4. I don't think we are quite ready to jump into it next year though as the passages look very long and challenging. We are going to take a year off and work on some of the new books from Classical Academic Press - Writing and Rhetoric.

Recently, we completed the Fable book and will be starting Narrative soon. We will probably complete the second Narrative book before we think about returning to Writing with Ease.

For my other kiddos my writing progression will look something like this:
1st - Writing with Ease 1
2nd - Writing with Ease 2
3rd - Classical Academic Press Fable (and possibly Narrative 1)
4th - Writing with Ease 3 (with Narrative 1 or 2)
5th - Writing with Ease 4 (with Narrative 2 or Chreia) 

March 25, 2015

{Curriculum Review} My Thoughts on Writing with Ease

I'm now in my 3rd year of using Writing with Ease from Peace Hill Press. It's a curriculum that is very easy to implement and it is working well for my kids. Today I'm sharing my thoughts on this program.

What levels am I using?
First, I only use the workbooks. I don't own the main text that details how to use the program and gives examples for each of the levels. Can I admit that I haven't even read that book?
I read that the workbooks include reading and copy work passages which meant that I did not need to find my own passages for copy work and dictation. I knew this would save me lots of time. So, I went straight for the workbooks.

Tiger (1st grade age 7) is using Writing with Ease Level 1. There are 4 days of writing work:
Day 1 - There are two copy work sentences for practice. You can choose whichever one is the appropriate length for your student or you can have the student copy both.
Day 2 - There is a short passage to read and then you ask the child questions about the passage to test their listening and comprehension skills. The then child provides one sentence about what he remembers from the passage. You then write this sentence down on the provided paper.
Day 3 - This is another copy work day with two sentences provided.
Day 4 - This day has another short passage to read with the child. After you ask the questions about the passage, the child provides another sentence about what he remembers. You write this sentence down and then the child copies this sentence.

Curly (3rd grade age 9) is using Writing with Ease Level 3.
This level has quite a bit of advanced reading and the dictation passages are sometimes fairly long. In the future, I plan to use other resources for writing in 3rd grade and wait and use this book when my children are in 4th grade.

There are 4 days of work in this level as well:
Day 1 - This day has a reading (about a page long) from various sources. Then the child is to summarize the main ideas of this passage. The teacher guide does not have the list of questions to ask the child to help them summarize and recap the reading. There are a couple of guiding questions listed in case the child gives only details without summarizing.
Day 2 - There is a dictation passage of about 2-3 sentences for this day. They are fairly challenging with some difficult vocabulary (which also impacts spelling). After the dictation there is direction to mark the sentence for specific parts of speech.
Day 3 - This day combines narration and dictation. There is another related passage for the child to read. Then the child should summarize this reading while the teacher writes down the summary. Then, you are directed to dictate the passage so the child writes down his or her own summary.
Day 4 - This is another day of dictation with a short passage to be dictated to the child.

How well is it working?
I will admit that I was nervous about staring Tiger with Level 1. He doesn't enjoy writing so I was worried it would be too much. However, I've found it to be perfect! I can choose which passage he copies for the day and then we discuss the sentence. It is teaching him to use capital letters and ending punctuation and copying the well-written sentences models good sentence structure.

He loves days 2 and 4. He greatly enjoys listening to me read the few paragraphs from a story out loud to him. I've seen how well he retains the information that he hears and it gives me confidence that he comprehends everything I read to him. He is also able to give me very detailed information when he tells me 1 thing he remembers from the passage. 

With Curly working through level 3 I have seen her rise to the challenge of reading the difficult passages. We've had good discussions about the topics and vocabulary as we work to understand the most important points in each story. The readings are at a high level for a typical 3rd grade reader so if Curly was not such a strong reader, I would need to read the passage to her. This is why I plan to wait on this level until Tiger is in 4th grade. However, Curly is a very strong reader so she has been able to tackle the readings with a little help from me. This has been great read aloud practice for her.

Curly enjoys the readings and is able to remember most of the answers to the questions asked in the text. This level contains more questions after the reading and some of these questions are more detailed-oriented. Sometimes Curly has a difficult time remembering certain aspects of the story so she has to go back and re-read. Now that Curly has to both read the story and comprehend the story as she is reading it aloud, I've noticed that it is more difficult for her to focus on comprehension.

I can't say that Curly enjoys the dictation passages in the program. Some of these passages are extremely long and contain words that are challenging to spell for a 3rd grader. For these words, I write them on a whiteboard so she can refer to them as she writes her passage. I also repeat the passage more than the recommended 3 times that is stated in the workbook.

Overall, I'm really happy with this program. It is building a good foundation for writing skills in my kids.

Watch for my next post where I'll share more about where this program is taking us in terms of skills.

March 23, 2015

{Book List} Easter Books

(Affiliate Links)

Easter is almost here so we've been preparing with some faith-based Easter books.

God Gave Us Easter by Bergren

The Easter Story by Pingry

The Easter Story by Wildsmith

The Easter Cave by Wedeven

What are you reading this Easter season?

March 20, 2015

{Review} Brainy Box by Brainy Kit

I love the Montessori approach and my kids love hands-on learning. What I don't love is hunting down all those materials and then watching my budget dwindle. I can also admit that I sometimes am not quite sure what to do with all the fun materials once I collect them-I must lack creativity because I quickly run out of ideas. Therefore, I was excited to have the chance to review an all-inclusive Montessori kit from Brainy Kit.

What is it?
Brainy Kit offers a monthly subscription service called Brainy Box. This is an all-inclusive kit of Montessori materials for children ages 3-6. The box is delivered to your door on a monthly basis and each kit is a different theme. Each box comes with a set of lesson plans that contains activity ideas and instructions for using the items in the box.

The program was developed by Viktoria Altman who started Brainy Academy which is a Montessori-based school in New York. She then decided to bring the Montessori approach to more families and introduced the Brainy Box. This kit allows families to integrate Montessori learning into their homes without the burden of purchasing the expensive materials or even being educated in the Montessori philosophy themselves. 

What's included?
We received the box of materials for the polar unit. This box included a 24-piece puzzle, animal figurines, a wooden puzzle, a glue stick, a walrus face to glue together, a large paper with a polar background and animal stickers, a glue stick, insta-snow, a book about polar animals, and laminated cards of animals, winter clothes, and the north and south poles.

How did we use it?
I took some time to read over the lesson plans to get a feel for the program. The plans include 7 lessons but there are several activities in each lesson so I felt it would be easy to do a lesson over more than 1 day.

I recruited by two older girls (ages 9 and almost 6) to help me teach the younger girls (ages 4 and 2). I gave them a couple ideas from the lesson plan and supervised while we all explored the materials. We usually only spent 20 minutes on the activities for the day (because we have a full school day planned each day). But I found it easy to do a partial lesson each day and fill our 20 minutes of preschool time with ideas from the box. And there were some days when we simply repeated many of the activities from the previous days. We tried to get to the activities 3 days per week.

What did we think?
My favorite part of the program was the lesson plans. I don't feel I'm super creative and usually I'm just tired after our long days of homeschooling and the additional housework on top of schooling time. I worry that I don't spend enough time preparing a preschool program for my younger kids and I don't have the energy to plan lots of things for them to do and then purchase all the supplies. So, I appreciated that the program was planned for me and came with numerous ideas on how to use each item in the box.

Some of our favorite activities were playing with the insta-snow, matching the animal cards to the animal figurines, reading the book and discussing the animals (with questions from the lesson plans), and creating a scene with polar animals with the stickers.

I enjoyed that my older kids could take part in the activities as well as help teach them to the younger ones. I found that the kit was something we could do together as a circle time. However, it allowed me to specifically focus on my younger kids and encourage them as they explored.

I appreciated that everything we needed to complete the activities was included in the kit and the lessons encouraged my kids to explore the items in many different ways while sparking a stimulating discussion about what they were discovering.

This program is Montessori for everyone and I found it a fun and simple way to integrate preschool hands-on learning into our busy homeschool days.

You can subscribe for $39.95 per month.

March 18, 2015

Dear Homeschool Mom at a Convention - A Vendor Perspective

I have attended several homeschool conventions as a mom and now I've attended a few different conventions as a vendor. Let me talk to you a little bit from a vendor perspective.

Dear Homeschool Mom,
I am one of those little people at just one of the many booths that you walk past during your convention. I spend the entire convention on my feet. I am there before you arrive and I'm there after you leave. I set up banners and organize the booth and I get to pack it all away at the end. I talk until I lose my voice and I stand until my feet ache. However, I love every minute of my convention experience mostly because I get to talk an amazing group of homeschool moms - encouraging you, commiserating with you, laughing with you, and sharing our homeschool struggles and triumphs.

You can make eye contact with me as you pass my booth. Really, I'm not here to tackle you when you walk by.

You can take a piece of literature from me, thank me, and walk on your own way. It doesn't hurt my feelings.

You can also tell me, "No thank you," when I hold out a piece of information near you. I can take the rejection. After all, I'm only here to help and if my product isn't helpful to you, it's ok.

Feel free to stop at my booth and ask questions. I am happy to share about my product and I'm eager to answer your questions.

Also, feel free to talk about more than just my product. I'm a homeschool mom just like you and I enjoy chatting about our shared experiences as we each venture through our homeschool days.

I do have some suggestions for you as you prepare for your convention and for your convention experience.

Take some time the week or two before the convention to make sure you're ready. Here's how:
  • Go through the list of speakers and sessions and chose those that you absolutely must hear.
  • Choose a few that you would like to purchase a recording of and you can order those at the end of the convention.
  • In your schedule, set aside some specific shopping times when you will have the chance to enjoy the vendor hall.
  • Next, go through the list of vendors and research them before you go so you know a little about the products offered and you can write down specific questions you have.
  • Categorize vendors as those that you know you don't need, those that you know you must see, and those that you'd like to visit if you have the time. Then make a list.
  • Once you get to the convention, use your time on the first day to walk up and down every row in the vendor hall.
  • Pick up some literature from every booth and make note of which booths catch your eye.
  • That night compare your original list with the vendors you saw and refine the list of booths to visit.
  • On the next day (or next two days) of your convention, stop by each booth and visit with the vendor to ask questions and look through the products.

Ask the vendor:
What subjects and age ranges does the product cover?
What is included?
How often is the product designed to be used (or how many lessons are there)?
How is the product different from others available (without naming competitors)?
How long have they personally used the product?
Their favorite aspect of the product
Ask about pricing and convention specials

After you've visited the booths on your list, narrow down your options and make some decisions.
If you've found the programs that you want for your homeschool, make your purchase at the convention because the vendors usually offer great specials and discounts.
Some of them, like me, are volunteers and are paid a small fee or are paid with the next level of the product for their own personal homeschool. You might be surprised to learn that some of the vendors do not work on commission. 

But most of all, enjoy your convention experience. This is your chance to page through the curriculum that you've only viewed online, listen to some amazing speakers, and chat with fellow homeschool moms.

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