Saturday, August 31, 2013

School Room Reveal

About a year ago, I got a vision for a much better school room than we had.  Perhaps it was born out of pure envy as I peaked into the school rooms of other homeschooling families via their blogs.  IKEA furniture and fixtures seemed to dominate the decor and I quickly learned that nearest store was about three and a half hours away in Boston.  So I started scheming and brainstorming ideas for a new and improved place to keep our  homeschool materials.

The following are the "before" pictures I took last August.  Wow, what a mess!  But I was grateful to have a good size room to keep all our supplies in... 

along with other things like gift wrap and bags...

and our makeshift coat closet.  Wow, these pictures are really keeping it real!

Josh was on board from day one to redesign this room into something more organized and more attractive.  I spent some sessions online at IKEA trying to design the room using a variety of their products- kitchen cupboards, wall shelves, media cabinets, etc.  I had planned to go with black cabinets and shelves, but then I painted the room this dark teal color....  and quickly realized black would be too dark and overwhelm the room.  On a visit to Home Depot, I noticed they had stock cabinets in white and we decided that this would be the best and easiest way to go!  They were already assembled, plus there was a sale going on for an extra 20% off!

Josh is the best guy for the job when it comes to home improvement projects.  Not that I'd know how to attach a cabinet to a wall, but even if I did, would I use a level?  No way.

The cabinets went in quick and easy!  How often can you say that when it comes to home projects?

The cabinets lined one wall, and the other wall was devoted to floor-to-ceiling shelves.  Josh custom built them so that that they were not as deep as typical shelves.  We had about 12 inches from the wall to the door, which is plenty deep enough for most books.  He designed and cut the shelves, I primed and painted them.

And here they are (minus the final one on the end)!  It's ridiculous how exciting this is to me!  I was giddy with excitement when I saw it all coming together and couldn't sleep at night as I dreamed about how to organize our books on the shelves!

I painted the frame around the window and I plan to put a bulletin board over that big box shaped thing sticking out. We're still not really sure what it was put there for, but the other side is in the kitchen and it's the place where I store all my cookbooks, so I actually like it.  Plus I have some baskets of supplies stored on top.

As you can see, it's not a huge room, but it's such a blessing to have one place devoted to our homeschool supplies and growing library of books. While I still have plenty of extra room right now, I know it will only be a matter of time before I'm running out of space.

A peak into our art supply cupboard...

And the drawer for adhesives...

Petite's cupboard with preschool goodies inside....

One shelf is devoted to homeschool helps.

Another for poetry.

Bible resources

 And one whole column of shelves is devoted to history books. I divided them according to the cores we will be studying from My Father's World. Shelf one is for Creation to the Greeks, two is for Rome to the Reformation, and the next three I separated by Native Americans and explorers, American Revolution, Civil War, western expansion and frontier life, the 20th century, civics, and geography.  I divided all the read-alouds that were historically relevant this way, too, so that hopefully when we study a particular time period, I don't forget the great fiction I have to go along with it.

There's also a shelf for art books and music resources, and then one for things like health and money management.  The best  thing about this room is that it is already fulfilling it's purpose! The kids have been going in and looking for books and supplies they need without my help.  Mister went in one evening and asked if we had a book on robots. I showed him the science section and we looked in the index of several books until we found some information on robots. He happily went off to read about them!  I also divided up some of the fiction into a "boy" shelf and a "girl" shelf.  When it was time for Mister to choose a new book to read, he checked out was on the boy shelf and chose one.  Because things are so much better organized, and visible, they are already getting used more often.  I also love that we're able to devote a whole room to our homeschool because I think it sends them the message that this is an important part of our life. I realize not everyone can have a whole room for homeschooling.  We don't have room for an actual classroom, nor is that what works for us.  I admire lots of those beautiful rooms online with the desks, or big tables, and charts on the wall, comfy chairs to curl up in, etc, but it's always worked best for us to school at the kitchen or dining room table, or overflow into the living room. 

While I'm loving the new school room, I'm learning that there are spots all over the house that can be dedicated to learning.  I recently transformed the space between the living and dining room, next to the staircase landing, into a little "learning corner" for Petite. I put our number rug there and the Little Tykes table and baskets of books and she brings her toys there.  I have a bookcase in the kitchen for my teachers guides and the kids notebooks, as well as supplies we use regularly. I still use the black entertainment stand in the living room for my Staples cube that holds our core books and math, English, etc, plus the math manipulatives we use most often, music CDs, and more.  We have baskets of books all over the place, and more bookcases too. The white board is set up on an easel in the kitchen most of the time.  We learn all through the house.  Homeschooling is more of a lifestyle than it is a portion of our day.

"I would be the most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves." Anna Quindlen

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Petite-Size Curriculum

My baby will be four very very soon. One week from today, if I happen to publish this post today.  When Mister was four, we began formal schooling at home.  I had a curriculum (The Weaver's Interlock, Singapore Early Bird Math, a growing pile of Usborne books) and I sat him at the dining room table with his two-year-old sister and we started doing school.  I had him sequencing numbers up to 100, he began reading, much to my surprise, and I expected a lot out of him.  I really did enjoy the time together and I look back and remember lots of the fun, preschoolish things we did... but my thoughts and feelings about early childhood education have changed in the six years since.

The first child is always the guinea pig.  Petite gets the benefit of not going through so much trial and error with me as her mom.  She's getting the mom who is a little more relaxed this time around when it comes to schoolish things.  She'll probably have a lot less of the task-master mom I was to poor Mister.

Petite also has the benefit of having two older siblings to emulate and learn from.  She picks up on everything they do and I often hear her copying it, for good or for bad.  She uses bigger words, like they do.  She tries to write like them.  She's always been a part of our homeschool and loves to have a school box like the older two.

She is a natural lover of books.  Her two favorite things, in fact, are Minnie Mouse and books.  I already see the incredible effect  that reading aloud to her has had.  Books are real to her. They carry over into her play.  Her toys reenact the stories she has heard.  She gives them the names of characters in her books.  She is alert to details and studies the pages carefully.  She reads to herself, reciting aloud the stories she knows so well.  I feel very blessed that she loves books so much.

Much of her preschooling will be just wonderful books.  Books like the Madeline series, Eloise Wilkin stories, Robert McClosky tales, and even silly stories by Mo Willems. She loves nursery rhymes, Richard Scary, and the Llama Llama series.  We have baskets of books everywhere you look in our house.  There is a shelf of "special" books in the new school room.  They are on the bottom of the shelf so she can access them, but they are special in that they are the very nicest and best books for her. 

Books are the very best in education, but with two older children to school, I can't be reading to Petite all the time.  That's why we've invested in some other great resources to keep her occupied and learning right alongside her siblings.  I keep many of these items in a special corner cupboard and pull them out when she seems bored or in need of direction.  If I need to spend concentrated time with the older two, there are plenty of activities she can do independently.

Inexpensive foam number and letter puzzles (I found them for 50% off at the Family Dollar Store- a whole 50 cents each).

Lauri toys, many purchased from the My Father's World preschool kit.  Lacing and stringing activities, shapes and sorting, peg boards, and an orientation puzzle.

I also purchased the activity cards for these to diversify the learning even more.

She loves puzzles and Play Dough

and Melissa and Doug makes many wonderful learning toys for children.

I keep these in the cupboard so that they remain special, instead of being things she can access at any time.  Of course, if she asks for them, she may have them.  And we're teaching her to pick-up when she is done.

Petite loves to color and lately loves to draw and is even writing letters. I stocked up on the cheapest spiral notebooks to keep her papers contained and give her plenty of freedom to put pen to paper.  I also purchased the Rod and Staff preschool workbook series. I love this series so much! It is inexpensive and thorough, addressing lots of preschool and kindergarten developmental needs.  I think Petite will love them because she'll have "school books" like her brother and sister.  I plan to let her set the pace for these activities.

I used Handwriting Without Tears with my older children, so we'll use the wooden letter pieces to start teaching letter formation. I also purchased the HWOT chalkboard for her so she can practice her letters if she wishes.

I have times in my daily schedule sectioned off to spend one-on-one time with Petite.  I've found that if I don't purposely set that time aside, she doesn't get it.  It's easy to focus on the older two who "have" to be schooled and to neglect the little one who doesn't have to be yet.  But of course she thrives on attention and she wants to feel like part of things, too.  I also like to employ one of  the older two to read to her or do an activity with her while I work one-on-one with the remaining child.  Somehow, we make it through our days and get plenty of things done. 

So no formal lessons for Petite this year, but I know she'll be learning lots and growing by leaps and bounds!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Curriculum Choices 2013-14

Just call me a curriculum junkie.  I won't be offended.  I don't have to own it, but I'd sure like to.  And I at least love to know about all the cool and amazing teaching tools out there, even if I'll never use them.

Cause the goal, when buying curriculum, is to use it. 

I really enjoy the process of choosing curriculum each year.  I've had moments of uncertainty, frustration, and of feeling overwhelmed, but overall, I love that I get to tailor our curriculum to fit each of my children.

If you've read my blog in the past year, you know how much I loved My Father's World Exploring Countries and Cultures.  It was our first homeschool year departing from The Weaver curriculum and as much as I loved The Weaver, I had no idea what I was missing!  Having the lessons all planned and all the core books included was exactly what I needed.  I felt like our year was complete and didn't have a lot of gaps in it.  I loved the notebooking pages and the general emphasis of the core.

So it's no surprise that for the 2013-14 school year, I've chosen My Father's World again!  We will continue to follow the Family Cycle and take the next step, doing Creation to the Greeks.  I've spent the last two weeks acquainting myself with the books in our new core and I'm really excited!  You can see the entire package here, but these are the elements I'm most excited about:

English From the Roots Up

My Father's World breaks this study of Latin and Greek word roots up into the next two years. This year, we'll be learning Greek word roots.  It looks fun and simple! Our first Greek word root is "photo" which means light. We'll think of lots of "photo" words we know and some of their definitions!  As a word lover and  the kinda gal who loves diagramming sentences, this kind of geekery is right up my alley!

Patricia St. John Read Alouds

 I've heard amazing reviews of her books from other moms. In fact, I haven't heard a complaint, ever, from moms or their kids.  I love reading aloud and I'm amazed at how the stories stick with my kiddos.  The power of story is profound.  I can't wait to read these for the first time.

Celebrating Biblical Feasts

I have long been interested in the significance of the major feasts of Israel.  We know several families who celebrate Passover each year and have participated in the past.  This year we'll be celebrating the seven major feasts as a family, assisted by this book which is full of recipes, crafts, songs, prayers etc.  I'm hoping and praying these will be memorable celebrations for the kids, or at least a great time of learning more about what God intended when he instituted the feasts.

I'm also really excited about the new math program we're using this year...


I first learned about JUMP (Junior Undiscovered Math Prodigies) math from the Timberdoodle catalogue.  They sell the JUMP at Home workbooks and gave them rave reviews.  JUMP breaks math down into the smallest incremental steps and their philosophy is this:

JUMP Math is a numeracy program. JUMP Math is dedicated to enhancing the potential in children by encouraging an understanding and a love of math in students and educators. JUMP Math replaces the self-fulfilling myth that some people are born with mathematical ability while others do not have the ability to succeed with assumptions that all children can be led to think mathematically.

JUMP is a not-for-profit company founded by John Mighton.  I read Mighton's book The Myth of Ability which covers how JUMP Math began and it's success with students that were otherwise far below grade level in mathematics.  It is a Canadian based company but provides books to meet US standards as well.  I purchased the Canadian versions for my kiddos via Amazon Canada.  The cost for BOTH children with shipping was $56 for one year of math.  That's because teacher's guides are FREE online.  The company truly is not-for-profit and interested in helping teachers and students achieve math success.

And we sure need some help in that department!   I am really, really excited about JUMP Math.  Our philosophy this year, as encouraged by Mighton in his book, is "I will not let you fail".  We won't move on til the kids are ready and I'm going to do my best to eliminate the math stress from our home.  Stay tuned through-out the year for updates.

(As a side note, if you are looking into JUMP Math, teachers guides are FREE online with registration.  Both my sister-in-law and I had major failure trying to register on the website.  We would never get a confirmation.  However, I ended up creating a Yahoo Canada email address and got my confirmation within ten minutes and I'm now in the system.  I emailed JUMP about this problem and received a personal email with access information for my regular email address. )

Considering God's Creation

Our core from My Father's World includes science using Genesis For Kids, a book of science experiments based on the seven days of Creation. I have to admit I am not at all excited about this book.  One glance through and all I could do was turn up my nose and curl my lip. However, Josh will be doing these experiments with the kids and I'll be doing Considering God's Creation with them!  This notebooking, Charlotte Mason inspired program is also based on the Creation week, but is much more my speed when it comes to teaching style and what I think is effective for my kiddos.   We'll be getting out in nature and keeping a notebook of what we learn. 

I'll be writing a separate post about what Petite will be doing this school year, but these are the highlights of the upcoming school year for the oldest two and myself!  I am always amazed at how much I learn, too. If you're homeschooling, I hope you're excited about the upcoming year and the curriculum you've chosen.  Have a great time growing together!