Monday, August 27, 2012

First Day of School 2012!

 Lesson learned from the first day of school today: At some point you've got to pull the plug and call it quits.

Maybe that's not a great way to start a post about a most exciting day, but as this weary mama unwinds via  the written word, it's the first thought that comes to mind!  If I haven't expressed this adequately over the past few years of blogging, let me say it now: homeschooling your children is going to take a lot out of you.

I do say all this with a tired little smile. It was a good day.  We began our new school year with Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls, a real treat around here.  After dressing, brushing our teeth and hair, and returning to the table, I gave each of the kids a box full of school supplies and a few of the more fun books they'll be using this year.  Everyone was full of grins and smiles!
 The older two kids got two spiral binders for their notebooking pages, a "cool" spiral notebook, markers, colored pencils, crayons, their own roll of tape, scissors, glue sticks etc.  I put their flag sticker book and animal workbooks that go with our ECC core in them too.  It was like Christmas!

 Petite got many of the same items, but instead of binders, she got lots of new coloring books!  Oh, the delight on her face!  She loves to color.  Our big little girl just turned three and wants to be part of everything her older brother and sister are doing.
It makes my heart happy that such little
gifts make them so happy.

It's amazing how exciting a box of school supplies can be!

Mister builds a castle with his little sister, giving me a chance to work with Brown-Eyed Girl.

Today I introduced some of the first books we'll be using in our new core.  Window on the World gave us a preview of what is to come this year: learning about people groups all over the world who need to hear about the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It offered us some tips on how to pray and encouraged us to keep on praying even when it seems like we are not getting answers.   Because we didn't have a prayer focus yet, we got out the latest edition of God's World News and read about the upcoming election in our own country, and prayed for its outcome.  I look forward to seeing how all our prayers grow this year.

I love when there are moments in the day that could never have been planned.  Our discussion about our memory verse (John 3:16) and prayer was one of those moments.

The kids filled out their passport applications so that they can travel to 16 different countries this year.  They took a geography pretest to show-off how many countries they know so far.  We learned about ecology and watched a youtube video they said was "cool" (and which explained the concept better than the book).  Math, English, reading.  Some parts of the school day get old quick :)

Home educating keeps me on my toes.  It is a huge commitment of time and energy.  And it goes without saying, though I feel I have to say it, that I'm not just a teacher, I'm mommy the referee, the trainer, the grocery-getter, the meal-planner, the laundry folder, and the dishwasher emptier.  Today was one of those days that I kept thinking I'd have a chance to sit down and take a breather, but it just didn't happen. Potatoes had to be chopped, corn shucked, table set, and drinks poured.  One more thing kept coming up.  And that's why today's lesson is that at some point you have to pull the plug.

I just love this picture of my crazies.
They are worth it all.
It's easy to start a new school year gung ho- and forget that no huge results are going to be seen on the first day.  My children aren't instantly better at handwriting because they are in a new grade.  Not every day- not even the first day- is going to be a miracle.  And there's rarely going to be a day when everything gets done that I'd like to get done.  So it's important to, at some point, call it a day, and call it a good one, and let some stuff go til tomorrow.

So I'm calling it.

It was good.

174 more days to go!

Monday, August 20, 2012

House Bountiful, Not Beautiful

Not Back to School Blog Hop

I've been having all kinds of fun following a Blog Hop over at I happened upon it by accident, but it is a four week meme focusing on four different "Not-Back-To-School" ideas- curriculum, school room, school pictures, and a day-in-the-life. Too much fun for people like me who just love to know how other home educating families do it!

My homeschool room is lame compared to some of the ones I visited via blogosphere. One of the things I really loved about our new house when we first looked at it was the little room off the entryway. I knew at once it would be my school room, or school closet I should say. It's about 10x8 in size, so it's larger than the average closet. But not big enough to actually set up for doing school work.

The colored bins hold writing tablets, each of the kids' readers for this year, and the read-alouds for this year, as well as the math books we won't be using until later in the year. I also keep my collection of homeschooling help books here, handy if anyone should want to borrow one. I have several bookcases that are strictly school books, organized by science, history, and language arts, plus electives.

It's not just a school closet, it also has wrapping paper and gift bags. The drawer bins hold our craft supplies. The white file holders on top of the table hold catalogues and homeschool magazines, and notebooking supplies like dividers, cardstock, page protectors.

It's also our coat closet and in the blue rubbermaid tote I keep everyone's winter boots.

It's not nearly so pretty in here as I'd like it to be, but I still feel blessed to have a place to corral all the bounty that comes with home education. I recently finished reading Educating the WholeHearted Child by Clay and Sally Clarkson and I loved their very practical chapter on keeping things organized. I also loved their description of the home where school takes place- House Bountiful, not House Beautiful! It's so true! There is so much extra stuff to keep track of.

So where do we school? Well, last year I tried setting up a place in the living room. We have a table in there that is kid-height and this black armoire. One drawer holds language arts materials, the other math materials. Our Bibles, dictionary, and a few Geo puzzles are kept handy for this year's study of countries and cultures. The radio is for listening to music and other audio cds and the cube has all our core books in it, as well as workbooks and books we will be using frequently.

But it is not where we are homeschooling anymore. In late spring we were given a bunch of furniture from some friends who were moving to New York. We always know people who could use furniture items, so we took it. But no one needed a kitchen table. I got tired of it blocking our entry way, so I set it up in the kitchen. And school just seems to work best for us in the kitchen. I especially love having a surface to put our wall map. The kids really enjoy studying it and I think it will help them learn their countries much more naturally this year. I throw a pretty fabric tablecloth over it if I want to make the kitchen look a little nicer. I'm also in the process of spray painting the chairs a butter yellow color.

My big hope and plan for the school closet is to get things even more organized and have more shelves and bookcases. For now, we use what we have and it is just fine. This week will be spent putting the final touches on things to hopefully set us up for a great school year!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Clean Your Room! An Idea That Might Help Them Do It...

Ever tell your kids to go clean their room and have them return in two minutes and say it's done? You don't really have to look to know that it's not done, but you go and look anyway. The bed isn't made, laundry is all over the floor, and there is stuff everywhere, maybe even shoved under the bed.

"I thought you said you cleaned your room?" you say.

"I did." they say.

"What did you do?" you ask.

"I cleaned my room." they say.

Oh dear. It is obvious that our kids don't know what it means to clean their room. Unless of course we tell them and show them exactly what we mean when we say it.

I'm not sure why it took me so long to get that. I know what a clean room is. It means everything should be in its place and nothing should be without a home. But the only reason I know this is because over time I learned what "clean" is. I wasn't born with this knowledge, neither were my kids.

The experts are always telling us that our children like to know what to expect and I wholeheartedly agree with them. When the kids have specific and reachable requirements, they are much more likely to meet them! And they have a great sense of accomplishment when they do.

For over a year I've had the bright idea to create a room-cleaning photo album for each of my kids. Chore charts haven't been effective, in part because my two youngest aren't strong readers. Also, it still requires a lot of enforcing on my part. But I figured that if the kids could each have an album with pictures in it, showing them what exactly to do to clean their room, they could take it and follow through with it more independently. I FINALLY made good on this bright idea. I took pictures of everything I could think of that needed to be put away and organized on Fridays, our big chore day. I took pictures of neatly made beds, storage bins, dress up chests, drawers fully closed, laundry baskets full of dirty clothes, and each child putting away clean laundry. I printed these pictures at my local Walmart and inserted them in an inexpensive ($1) 4x6 photo album, one for each kiddo.

When I handed them the album, I showed them how to use it. Open it up, do what the first picture tells you to do, then flip and do the next item on the agenda. I also made sure I went through the whole album with them so they would know what each picture was trying to tell them. Then, away they went to clean their rooms. And the results were extremely satisfying, for all of us. Mom wasn't frustrated because there were still Legos all over the floor (making for happy kids) and I didn't have to continually redirect them and stay on their case to get their work done (making for a happy mom). And the albums had the desired effect- the rooms were clean.

Giving our kids responsibility is important. Obviously our expectations need to be appropriate to the child. Each child is different. Motor skills, cognitive skills, reasoning skills- these all affect how much responsibility they can handle. But even a young child likes to have a little job of their own. For Petite it is putting the blocks and puzzle pieces away. As she matures, we'll give her more tasks. Not only does it take some of the work load off me, but it shows them what they are capable of. The more things they can do independently, the more we all "win".

So maybe you'll want to give this idea a shot! The visual reminder is a powerful teaching aid. For around $10 I bought the albums, printed the pictures, and also had an 8x10 photo collage of how to clean the bathroom made. Some quick tips from my own experience:

1. Make pictures very specific. I took pictures of each bin that toys go in. Pet net for the Webkinz, pink three-drawer bin for Beanies, and the purple tub for any other stuffies. Lego buckets, Bionicle buckets, dress-up chest, etc. It breaks each task into a managable chunk.

2. You can also take pictures of other areas in the home that can be cleaned and organized by the kids and assign them to specific children. Taking care of stray DVDs, the bookshelves, countertops, etc. You can switch the pictures from album-to-album if you want to circulate the chores.

3. Have reasonable expectations. The bed may not be made straight, the books may not be organized by size... but if you can tell they did their best, big hugs!

4. Make this fun! I found that this took a lot of the drill sergeant out of me because, again, the kids knew exactly what to do. If they need help, be there to give it. But nobody likes a bossy-pants.

5. Don't put a time limit on this. I have found that doing our Friday chores works best after school or any other things we have to do, so that everyone can work at their own pace. Brown-Eyed Girl is a fabulous and meticulous organizer, given the time. If I'm rushing her, it stresses her out. However, I do require that the work be completed before we move on to the next thing.

6. We already had a routine in place for house cleaning. Fridays is the big chore day and also pay day for the kids. When all their work is done, they get paid. If you don't already have some kind of routine, or haven't implemented a consistant way of getting chores done, give everyone time to get into the habit. Again, knowing what's expected can help, but so does simply getting into the mindset of doing chores regularly.

Let me know if you give this a shot or if you have other hints for helping kids gain more independence and take more responsibility!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Raising Readers

I didn't mean to be away from the blog for so long. The new interface was driving me, and my computer, crazy. I was about ready to delete both blogs and start from scratch somewhere else, when I discovered I could go old-school and return to the original Blogger. It solved all my problems, so here I am again, ready to write.

Summer is winding down and can I admit that I'm looking forward to school starting in two weeks? I can say it, it's my blog. I crave structured days and hitting the books, along with cooler fall temperatures. It's been a hot one here in central Maine. I am anxious to get started on our all new curriculum, too.

Although our more formal schooling has been on hold for a few months, we haven't stopped reading. I created a 50 Days of Summer Reading challenge for the kids, complete with charts, stickers, and incentives, to do more reading in between the school months.

I discovered long ago that my children are very very different, but I still found myself surprised by their completely different paths to reading. Mister was a very natural reader, learning all the letters and their sounds in three weeks. I didn't know what the next step was. Someone gave me Happy Phonics which broke reading into seven easy steps. I found the step we were on (blending) and used one of the games that went with that step. Voila! He was reading. It was all so sudden, it didn't even feel magical. For Mister, it was more mechanical. He is a natural rule follower, and just does it.

The struggle with Mister is to get him to read books that are more challenging. He is always looking at books and scanning the pages. He brings a pile of picture books to breakfast. I have no doubt he is reading them, yet not completely. This scanning has carried over to his chapter book reading at times. If he sees a word he doesn't know, he skips over it. Sometimes the font size and line spacing intimidates him and turns him off from reading. Sometimes he is just being lazy.

Brown-Eyed Girl I would also describe as a good reader, yet she is not nearly as fluent as Mister was at this age. She has motivation in droves, wanting to read books that go far beyond her ability, and read them independently too! She dislikes having to read what I have picked out for her, because it is the appropriate level. She requires lots of repetition, doesn't naturally follow the rules (I'm not just talking phonics here), and is highly distractable. She often appears to be looking into space, dreaming, but will snap to attention and read a complete sentence. She was sent to help me with patience.

As I was planning this year's course of curriculum, I found I couldn't reuse some of Mister's books for B-E-G. He is doing excellent with the Rod and Staff English series, which is very traditional. I really like this curriculum, but I know it won't work for her. It requires more reading, even if we just do it orally. It would be an exercise in frustration. Mister breezes through Explode the Code books. Brown-Eyed-Girl reached a standstill after book 3, and hasn't retained the information from them. Even the books they have enjoyed reading are complete opposites. One of the first books I gave Mister to read was One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. He absolutely hated it because it was so silly. Brown-Eyed Girl is loving the Dr. Seuss books for reading.

None of this is said to compare my children in a negative fashion. They are so uniquely made and I am thankful that I'm able to cater to their individual learning styles here at home. I can gently push Mister to read more chapter books, with larger print and some illustrations. I can give B-E-G books with more repetition.

I recently got this treasury of Dick and Jane books at Goodwill. Brown-Eyed Girl had great success reading a small paperback story about Dick and Jane. The repetitive words and cute pictures drew her in. At first she was intimdated by the size of this book, but when she discovered she could read it all by herself. she was beaming with pride. The stories get progressively harder, and certainly don't fall into the "phonics camp", but this is working for her. I consider it a success.

I have no idea how Petite will learn to read. Of all three children, she is the most interested in books. She will listen to stories for hours, and long ones at that. She listens in to chapter book read alouds, although she is always tumbling around. I never realized how much she was paying attention until she started talking about some of the things I was reading about. I hope and pray she is a self-taught reader!

Learning to read is such a priviledge and such a gift. We have the power to learn anything if we can read. Some of the greatest authors, scientists, and world leaders in the world were educated on books alone. My hope as a teaching mom is to help my children become excellent and voracious readers, so they too can self-educate. There is no ideal age to teach a child to read. It is a matter of readiness and willingness. I have no problem encouraging the "willingness" with incentives sometimes! Each of the kids got to choose their goal reward for completing the 50 Days of Summer Reading challenge. Misterwould like to go to the waterslides with Daddy. Brown-Eyed Girl would like to go to "that big mall!" with Mommy and have a girls' day (we specified activities, not material prizes). They also will receive $1 for each book they have read to be spent on a new book(s) of choice. However, they don't know that yet. Surprises make raising readers lots of fun, too!