April 17, 2015

The Most Important Thing I've Done for Our Homeschool

I have tried many things in our homeschool from different schedules, various curricula, and varying arrangements of furniture for our homeschool room. Some things worked wonderfully while others were a dismal failure. I can admit that sometimes I get things wrong. Other times, I just might get it right. And sometimes, I have no idea if what I'm doing is working or not.

However, I know one thing that it is working well for us. What is the most important thing I've done right for our homeschool? Having a set start time for each school day.

Ok, so there are many benefits of homeschooling. Flexibility is one. Staying in your pjs all day is definitely another. Choosing how to structure your day is another.

Well, I've chosen to have a set start time for each of our school days. School does not begin when I feel like it or when my kids decide to roll out of bed. Why not?

I don't want to be unsure of the end time of our homeschool. I know how long a school day takes us and I don't want to be schooling well into the evening. I don't want to be wondering if I'll have some spare time to do dishes or laundry after school or be worried that I will have to stop school to make dinner.

I don't want to let my kids get lost in their own pursuits and then have to drag them away in order to start school. I want them to have lots of time after schoolwork is done that they can play without interruption.

I don't want to allow myself time to get involved with my own pursuits and then have to stop and drag myself through a school day, all the while thinking about what I was doing before I began school.

To keep myself motivated and on track, I've decided to set a time when our day begins.

Would you like to know our start time? It's 6 AM.

Do I sound crazy?

Well, I only wake up my oldest at this time. Tiger's school starts between 7:15 and 7:30 so I make sure he's awake by then.

It sounds early doesn't it?

But think about this. Our neighborhood school begins at 7:45. I would need to be out the door by 7 to get her to school on time factoring in time to sit in the long drop-off line. I would need to get everyone up by a 6 or 6:30 in time to get everyone get dressed, fed, packed, and loaded in the car with hair fixed, outfits adjusted, and lunchboxes ready to go.

So, instead of getting my kids up early for a crazy early morning rush, I put on a comfy hoodie and some fuzzy socks and head upstairs to our loft school room. I make some hot chocolate for Curly and turn on the essential oils diffuser as well as some Mozart or Debussy.

Curly sets her own alarm and appears in the school room a few minutes before 6. She is wearing her pjs and is wrapped in her favorite blanket. We start our morning with Bible and then finish the majority of her main subjects by 7:15 when it's time for Tiger to join us for history.

The best part of having a set start time? I have an estimated end time. I know when my school day should end and I can take a deep breath and make it to that time knowing that I will have a break. My kids are motivated to jump right in to our school day because they know that completed work means lots of free playtime for them.

So, while having an early set start time to our school day was an adjustment, it has done wonders for our homeschool. A set start time makes school a priority and insures that school is completed first in our day. Then the rest of the day is left for us to pursue our own interests with a sense of satisfaction knowing that school is done.

Hip Homeschool Moms

April 15, 2015

{Review and Giveaway} Jim Weiss

My kids are absolutely obsessed with audio books. I credit one man with starting their love for hearing stories and even encouraging them to tell a few stories themselves.

I first heard Jim Weiss speak during a homeschool convention several years ago. A friend of mine dragged me along to his storytelling session. I left the room with a new appreciation for stories and a desire to introduce my kids to wonderful stories and re-tellings of classic literature.

Recently I had the chance to review a few of Jim Weiss' stories from Greathall Productions, two of them being newer releases.

Famously Funny
This collection of stories lived up to its name. As we listened to each story I heard lots of little giggles coming from the backseat. Two of their favorites were The Emperor's New Clothes as well as The Tiger, the Brahman, and the Jackal. My kids all agreed that the argument scene in The Tiger, the Brahman, and the Jackal was their favorite.
Jim Weiss does each character in a unique voice and masterfully weaves a detailed story that even my younger girls could follow.  

First Stories to Last a Lifetime
My two youngest girls were the biggest fans of this CD (ages 2 and 4). However, all of my kids enjoyed hearing the classic stories of The Gingerbread Man, Thumbelina, The Three Little Pigs, Dick Whittington and His Cat, and the Ugly Duckling.
My two-year-old now yells, "Run run as fast as you can!" every time we get buckled up in the car. I think she believes she might be the gingerbread man. My older girls (ages 9 and 6) both loved Thumbelina and beg to hear it over and over again. 

George Washington, First in the Hearts of His Countrymen
This CD was specifically for my bigger kids (ages 9 and 7). They were transfixed while listening to the stories of George Washington which tied in perfectly with the American history that we are studying this year. The CD talks about George Washington as a young man, his military leadership, his personal life and marriage, and his time as president.
Tiger enjoyed the stories of battles and courage while hearing about the military victories and the skirmishes in the wilderness. Curly loved hearing about George's personal life and how he met his wife Martha. I didn't realize that George was quite a dancer and hearing the details of George Washington's life as told by Jim Weiss made me smile.

The stories are told in an engaging way with perfect voice inflection and rich vocabulary. I've found them to be a wonderful tool for introducing my children to classic stories and famous historical figures. My kids love the different voices done by Jim Weiss which bring each of the characters alive. These stories are aimed at kids but are an enjoyable listen for adults as well. We already have our eyes on a couple more CD's to add to our collection.....

The folks at Greathall Production were generous to give me a set of CD's to review but they've also provided an extra copy for a giveaway. You can enter to win 1 copy of George Washington, Famously Funny, and First Stories to Last a Lifetime in the giveaway below!

Giveaway open to US residents only.  Winner will be selected at random by Rafflecopter and will have 48 hours to respond to email.  I will verify the winning entry.  If the winner does not respond within that timeframe, a new winner will be selected.  The product offered is free of charge, no purchase necessary.  Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest are not affiliated with this giveaway.  By providing your information on this form, you are providing your information to me and me alone.  I do not share any information and will only use your information in order to contact the winner.   

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Hip Homeschool Moms

April 13, 2015

{Book List} Favorite Books of My Boy (1st Grade)

Contains affiliate links

My son, while not reading very well independently, loves to be read to. I spend much of my time reading aloud to him. I hope my efforts will give him a love of stories and of books that will encourage him to keep learning to read.

Here are some of the books that have been his favorites during our read aloud time:

Hip Homeschool Moms

April 10, 2015

A Glimpse of Things to Come

The other morning I had a beautiful glimpse of things to come (or at least the things I hope will be happening someday).

It was a typical homeschool morning. I was sitting at our table with Curly while we worked through our morning school time.

Suddenly I heard a door open and a very sleepy Bee appeared with crazy bed-head hair. She stumbled to the table and mumbled some things at me. I suggested she go downstairs and get some milk and then come join us. A few minutes later she trotted upstairs and sat down in her chair with a cup of milk. Without a word she opened her handwriting book and started on the next page.

With Mozart playing in the background and essential oils diffusing away, I continued school with Curly while Bee happily practiced writing "A's" in cursive.

As I was finishing school with Curly another door opened suddenly. Out came Tiger with two blankets and one pretend rifle in tow. He walked right past me without a word and flopped into a bean bag chair like a limp rag. Then he pulled the blankets up over his face as I tried to tell him good morning.

Three children were all awake at the same time and in the school room. Curly was done with school earlier than usual and I had visions of getting ahead for the day.

I prodded Tiger up to the table and gave him his handwriting booklet and a pencil. He wrapped himself in blankets and started on his cursive. I also explained his math page to him so he could work on that next.

I gave Curly instructions for her independent work and she started right in on her Bible and math.

Then I pulled my chair around next to Bee and began her school work.

A few minutes later I glanced up to see Curly busily working on her science review page while Tiger used the abacus to finish his math problems. Little Bee was sitting next to me reading a book aloud as she followed along with her finger.

This was the homeschool I had always envisioned. Morning sun streamed through the window and a Mozart sonata was playing in the background. My 3 oldest children were all sitting in their individual places around the table as I walked around to each and helped them with their school work. Everyone was cheerfully and quietly working together.

Bliss! I hope this is a glimpse of things to come!

April 8, 2015

{Curriculum Review} Beast Academy

We have a core math program that we love (Right Start Math). However, I wanted to find a resource to provide extra challenge (and a dose of fun) for our math time. We found Beast Academy and we are loving it!

This program is brand new and only covers 3rd and part of 4th grade so far. Eventually the program should have 2nd-5th grade.

Beast Academy has a comic book for a text book. This book follows the beasts who attend Beast Academy as they learn about math and learn to apply mathematical concepts. It is fun, witty, entertaining, but teaches some in-depth concepts.

The program also contains a workbook for the student which has practice problems that build on the concepts introduced in the lesson.

Each level has 4 parts with each part having both booklets, so for 1 year of math you would need 4 guides and 4 workbooks.

We are using Level 3 this year. Here are the main concepts from this level:
  • Shapes
  • Skip-Counting
  • Perimeter and Area
  • Multiplication
  • Perfect Squares
  • The Distributive Property
  • Variables
  • Division
  • Units and Measure
  • Fractions
  • Estimation
  • Area

The program is designed so that the student reads several pages in the comic book and then completes an entire section of the workbook in which that concept is practiced in multiple different ways.

Here's how we use the program:

This is a supplemental program for us and not a main math program. The reason I do not use it as our main program is that math is not Curly's strong suit (or mine either) and I want a more traditional program to introduce concepts. I also want a program that has more incremental practice.

Curly and I read through the lesson in the guide. I read the comics to her as she follows along. Anytime a problem is introduced to the beasts, we stop and work the problem ourselves to see if we get the same answer. Once the section has been read, we go to the guide to complete the corresponding pages.

There are often several pages (8-10) in the guide that correspond to the reading. I assign Curly one page at a time and she attempts the problems on her own. If she gets stuck, then we work them together. This program is more of a collaborative effort and I'm always ready to help Curly as she puzzles through some of the more difficult problems.

I view this program as one that is teaching Curly how to think and how to view a problem from different perspectives.

Here's what I love about the program:
  • The guides are colorful and fun.
  • The comics are funny while still teaching challenging math concepts.
  • The practice problems introduce the same concept in many ways so you have to be able to manipulate the numbers in order to solve them.
  • This program requires the student to puzzle through many of the concepts and discover how and why they work. In other words, it doesn't always contain direct teaching but forces the student to move through the concepts and arrive at the answer through discovery.

This program has taught Curly to think differently about math and understand that there are many ways to solve a problem. It has also taught her to persevere in solving difficult problems. I've also seen her ability to think logically and conceptually improve. It's not just math - it's how to think and discover and answer. 

Beast Academy works well as a supplement in that it provides additional challenge and practice for concepts that were already introduced in our main math program (because we use this program slightly behind our main program). Therefore, Curly has already been taught most of the concepts in our core math program and then we use Beast Academy to flesh out the concepts and dive into them more deeply.

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