Monday, July 14, 2014

2013/14 wrap up and 2014/15 plans

Wrap up for 2013/14 is fairly simple. We are pretty much done with our year. This was a hard one. Not because the school work was difficult but because this was kind of a crazy year with a lot of changes. In September we moved from Elizabeth back to the 'burbs. School got off to a slow start due to moving and settling. Fall was difficult because James encountered some fairly tough work circumstances which culminated with his job being terminated in January. I started babysitting to make a little cash. James was unemployed for only 2 months but given we had just stretched to purchase our house it was enough to really do us a number financially and emotionally. James is back to work and life is normalizing but it's been difficult.

In January, because of the stress of the job loss, we went back to basics. Reading, writing, arithmetic.  We plodded along. 

Ian made huge strides with reading which has been a great accomplishment for him. I'm glad we have crossed that barrier. His perfectionism continues to be a tripping hazard in the learning process so along with his work it's a constant lesson of teaching him perspective. Slowly but surely we make our way.  His writing has improved and he continues to do well in math. I expect his 3rd grade year will be a year of many many leaps of knowledge for him. He is working in his handwriting book through the summer.

Gracie continues to do well in all areas. She fights me on math for reasons I can't understand. She's good at it but she doesn't like the steps it requires. She's attempting to finish Math U See Delta through the summer.  Reading and writing continue to come very easily for her although she balks at proper grammar. 

2014/15 Plans:

This is going to be a year of change for us. Gracie is entering 5th grade and she has big dreams for herself including college and a masters degree. Schooling her has always been a challenge for me personally because she can be argumentative and the stress of that has caused me to give into her at times when I should not. After this last year of outside stress on top of tween hormones I realized that I need help when it comes to her education. I need to remove myself from the process because I am tired of fighting about it. This lead to a lot of research which then lead to enrolling her in Colorado Calvert Academy. It's an online school that I think will fit her well because it has a high emphasis on literature and reading, both things in which she excels.She placed solidly in their 5th grade curriculum except for math. I feel badly about this with math because I know it is not because she is incapable of understanding what she should at her level but it's because she just hates the step by step process of math and she really hates to check her work. The positive of her placement this is that she will start in 4th grade math but will receive tutoring twice a week through the program. She will be able to advance as quickly as she likes and my hope is that she will end this year at least half way through the 5th grade math. They use Singapore which is an advanced curriculum that puts kids generally about a year ahead of traditional math programs. Anyway...... all that to say she will be getting the support she needs and I will be able to help her instead of have to be the hard ass teacher. This will be a year of change for us but I think it will all be for the better. My greatest fear is that someday Gracie tell me that I failed her and she wasn't able to do what she wanted because she was somehow not prepared. I hope this program will give us the best of both worlds, structure she needs from an outside source while still staying home for school. 

I will still be putting Ian's classes together for him. He will be doing:
Math U See Gamma
Spelling You See Level B 
Reading from various resources 
What your 3rd Grader Needs to Know for Science and History
In general school with Ian is pretty simple. His perfectionism can be a challenge but he really wants to please and loves to work with me and I anticipate this year will be much the same.

Both kids will also participate in homeschool PE at the YMCA.

So that's how I hope our year will pan out. If this year taught me anything it was that the flexibility of home schooling is an incredible gift when life gets crazy. Although we may have fallen a bit behind this year due to our circumstances I know we will be able to make that up now that things are more stable again.

So.....until next July (since I never post here even though I fully intend to).


Thursday, July 25, 2013

2013/14 Plans

I just finished ordering stuff for the kids this year. So. Much. Fun.  I love ordering school books.  I also love hitting back to school sections, can't wait to go pick through Target soon!!

So, this is what I have for this year:

Gracie- 4th grade

Language Arts- Galore Park Junior English level 3.  This is a curriculum from the UK. Level 3 is for ages 9+ which is right where she's at. I like this curriculum because it feels very classical to me and I really like the classical mentality especially for reading and writing. I think this will be a challenge for her because it's a lot different than the typical fill in the blank stuff she's done up to this point but I also think that she will learn leaps and bounds because of how this book is laid out.

Math- Math U See Gamma and Delta. Yep, you read that right. I intend to get her through 2 levels this year. Basically because Math U See 4th grade level is Delta but I feel the math we did last year was pretty weak so we are going to start with Gamma as a review. I love Math U See. Gracie didn't like it in 1st grade so I tried a couple other things the last 2 years but I have decided we are going back to Math U See. I love that they have a continuum of levels right through Calculus which will be important should we home school all the way through and if we don't Math U See will give her more than enough foundation for any other curriculum she may encounter. Gamma emphasizes multiplication and Delta emphasizes division.

Handwriting- Handwriting Without Tears Cursive Success

Ian- 2nd grade

Language Arts- I'm piecing together work for him this year from a lot of different workbooks and other things I've picked up along the way. Our focus will be improving his reading skills and getting him confident to start writing.

Math- Math U See Beta which is the 2nd grade level for them.  If he flies through it we will start Gamma as well. He loves Math U See and he's great at math so this was an easy choice.

Handwriting- Handwriting Without Tears Printing Power.  I got him the little chalk slate for this year too. Helping him gain confidence is the goal. He is not a fan of writing and I'm hoping this will make it fun.

Both Kids-

History- American History and we'll cover Colorado History as well since that's what the 4th grade classes do in public school. A trip to 4 mile historic park and a trip to the state capitol will happen.  Still planning on a trip to DC, probably in the fall of 2014.

Science- Whatever we feel like doing whenever we feel like doing it.

So there you have it! What are you planning for this year?

Monday, June 24, 2013

2012/13 Year End Summary

Oh this poor neglected old blog.  I didn't even do a year end summary last year!

Well, we are still home schooling. Still eclectic. Still relaxed.

This year got off to a very rough start as I had surgery and then was ill with a respiratory infection from the surgery and being laid up. There was even a point in September where I pretty much felt I was losing my mind and started checking around to local schools so I could enroll the kids. I didn't want to really, but I felt like I might have to because I didn't think my mental status was doing any of us any favors. Luckily I pulled out of the illness and recovered from surgery and we completed our school year last Friday. We took a lot less breaks this year than we have in previous years because we didn't really get started until somewhere in the middle of October. The flexibility of homeschooling wins again!

So, the nitty gritty. Gracie completed 3rd grade with very little struggle.  She's an incredible reader who devours books and although she doesn't always enjoy writing she's quite good at it. She's right on target with math although I feel that the book we used this year wasn't quite challenging enough so I am planning to change that for 4th grade to make sure she is getting the foundation she needs. She's bright and curious and knows more than I do about a lot of things. The Titanic for example. Just ask her about it. She'll freak you out with her knowledge of dates and times and passenger statistics.

Ian completed 1st grade with a  little less gusto than I would have liked but I've known since he was a tiny toddler that pushing him at anything only makes it a million times more difficult.  It's a challenge to me because 1- I can be fairly type A when it comes to getting work accomplished and 2- He's crazy smart but he is a perfectionist who constantly belittles and double thinks himself. The motto "Just do it" does not speak to my son, lol. He likes to do things slowly and methodically with lots of hands on and distractions. He's a math whiz and manipulatives are necessary for his learning style. He actually finished 2 different first grade  math curriculums this year.  A lack of manipulatives for language arts made a lot of writing difficult for him this year so we will be focusing more on that next year as he matures.  He has mastered basic reading through the Bob books and is doing more and more of that every day.

All in all this was a good year. I didn't go overboard on buying stuff at all. We used a lot of what we had on hand and a couple full curriculum workbooks I got on clearance at Barnes and Noble.  We've begun studying American History with a trip to DC planned for next year. Science remains what it always has been, very unschooly with nature studies as the kids are interested. We also make very good use of Netflix and Amazon Prime for documentaries which generally pertain to either history or science.

So that's it, the 2012/2013 year in a nut shell.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Why I don’t test or assign grades.

Short answer:  Because I don’t think tests or grades can accurately explain how well a subject matter has actually been grasped and in many cases I think that testing is more detrimental than it is helpful.

I see the question of grades and tests and evaluations a lot when the subject of home schooling comes up. It’s amusing how upset people can get at the idea that we are allowed to do things differently than teachers and students in traditional classrooms.  Not testing and labeling ability is paramount to abuse in some circles.  To put it mildly they just don’t get it.

I could test and grade if I wanted to. In Colorado there is very little oversight for home schoolers, something I am very thankful for.  We are required to register as home schoolers every school year once the child has reached 7 years old and to record 172 days of instruction per year.  We are also required to have our children take standardized tests or be evaluated by someone the state deems worthy every other year starting with the 3rd grade.  That’s it.  Thank goodness.  My plan is to have my children evaluated until they are ready for the 9th grade standardized test.  We will avoid tests and grades until then.

I cannot speak for anyone else and I don’t want to as applying a broad stereotype to home schoolers just doesn’t work.   One of the main reasons we home school is the flexibility we are allowed.  I like taking breaks whenever it suits us.  I like taking vacations during the off seasons.  I like not being married to curriculum that isn’t working for the kids.  I also really like not labeling their abilities with tests and grades.

Gracie has been a great example of why tests and grades and classroom competition feel so wrong to me.  She’s been flying through the end of her math book.  Just absolutely kicking it.  It’s awesome to watch because until this point math has not really been her strong suit.  The whole thing got me thinking.  See, I was never good at math. Or more to the point I was labeled not good at math.   Somewhere during those high pressure timed tests given in elementary school to see who can do how many problems more correctly and faster than anyone else I gave up.  I was never fastest. I never had them all correct. So I wasn’t good. I was in the lower math group in my class and I decided that it wasn’t worth caring about.  Gracie and I are extremely alike. She is my mini-me in oh so many ways.  She strives to do the right thing.  She tries hard.  She feels things very deeply and when she thinks she’s not doing it right she will just shut down and label herself as stupid and label stuff she thinks she should know as too hard.  In a traditional classroom setting she would be exactly where I was when it came to math.  I know this without a doubt.  It would be a huge shame because it’s not that she hasn’t known how to do things, but she takes her time, she likes to get it right the first time.  So, here at home I have been able to see her learn and do without the pressure of the super math whiz in the class beating her on every single math test.  I do her work beside her.  I am constantly evaluating if she understands what she is doing and it doesn’t take a test and a red marker for me to know where she is at.  She checks her own work with a calculator and if it’s wrong she fixes it. If she can’t figure out how to fix it I do it with her.  Now, because she is able to learn and understand in her own way and at her own pace she is becoming a math whiz.

The love of learning is one of my main goals for my children. I want them to want to learn about whatever it is they want to learn about. I want them to be able to critically think about those things.  I want them to be internally motivated as much as possible.  I don’t want their self worth destroyed because they were the slowest and I don’t want their self worth inflated because they are the only student with a whole row of stars on the chart.  Pitting kids against each other isn’t necessary for them to learn.  Timed tests, trading papers to grade other students work, sticker charts, posted grades and recognition for the “best” leaves a whole lot of kids wonder why they even try which can then translate into a lifetime negatives for them, determining they aren’t good enough for a major they would like to have in college or a job they would love as an adult.

Back to me and math.  The whole problem with the labels I had put on me in elementary is that they were wrong.  I am good at math.  I also really enjoy math. It took me becoming a teacher to discover that though.  I basically had to go back to the beginning and then it hit me and I realized “Wait, I AM good at this!!”.  I like doing math. I like doing our bills, I like doing our taxes.  I could have taken advanced math classes and I would have done just fine with them had I not been in such a competitive classroom setting as a young child where I was convinced that because I wasn’t in the top group I wasn’t good. And if I wasn’t good I should probably avoid math.  If only I had been allowed to enjoy and understand math in my own time and at my own pace without my progress being labeled.  If only.  This is just one example I have of how grading and testing and what ended up essentially being tracking pushed me to do things in college not because I necessarily enjoyed them but because it was where I belonged since I wasn’t “academic”.

I know schools in some places have come pretty far and that some of the competition has been eliminated.  I also know that in most places in our country education is in dire straights and students are prepped for test scores much more than they are prepped to know what their own personal strengths and weaknesses are.  Statistically those with very involved parents are generally the ones who have the best chances and the most success, so I figure why not go all the way and remove traditional school from the equation entirely?  Some would say we are throwing the baby out with the bath water but hey, it works for us.  I really don’t feel like fighting against institutional education for the next 12 years.

So there you have it.  We don’t test or grade.  Eventually we will have to, especially as I prepare high school transcripts for the kids.  I’m not ignorant, I know how our society works.  I am an idealist though, so I’m glad that at least for the moment we can have our ideal.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A new year already?!?

Ok, not really.  We've actually been doing school since the start of July.  I know, I'm a total slacker with the blogging again.  You should see the family blog.  Poor neglected dusty thing......

Anyway.  Gracie is in 2nd grade and Ian in Kindy this year.  One of the biggest changes in my life this year will be having every Friday all to myself.  I have no idea what I will do, probably sleep and eat chocolate although I probably should clean and do grocery shopping.  I'm looking forward to it, over 7 years of being the primary care giver for at least one child deserves one day a week off, right?  We have switched to a different Options location this year and I am pretty excited about it.  It's larger, has a nicer facility, offers more classes, is only about 5 minutes from James office and it's on Fridays like our last location which was kind of a must for me at this point, I really like Options as a kick off to the weekend.

So, what are the kids up to this year?

Gracie's classes

Mathmatics Grade 2 by Scott Foresman/Addson Wesley-  Not what I would have probably picked.  Not what we'll probably do next year. I wanted something more hands on and visual because I think she needs that.  She wants a work book she can speed through as fast as possible with as little explanation as possible.  I went with her wants this year because Math U See was a battle last year and this was free through Options.  So far it's not terrible but I don't really feel like she's learning concepts as much as she's just filling out answers. I liked Math U See better but it's not always about me, right?

Easy Grammar by Wanda C. Phillips-  Easy day by day exercises that introduce grammar without being too intensive.  I like it, she likes it.  Win-win.

Spelling Connections 2 by Zaner-Bloser-  I like this system because it integrates writing, vocabulary, grammar, reading, and thinking into each unit without it seeming like it is.  Sneaky sneaky.  Again so far we both like it.

Science/Social Studies/Reading:
Moving Beyond the Page Age 5-7 by Epiphany Curriculum- This will be new for us starting this week.  We started with Scott Foreman Science and Macmillan/McGraw-Hill Social Studies from Options.  I didn't like either of them last year and neither did the kids really but it was free and I didn't really have any other curriculum in mind so I just went with it.  The biggest issues with both those systems is that it's meant for teaching a whole classroom and at least for me I just couldn't get it to translate to home schooling well at all.  I was supplementing a ton from the start which is fine but adds a lot on my plate.  And the kids thought it was boring.  And then Gracie started having major jealousy issues with Ian because I have to read him everything from his books because he doesn't read yet and she didn't understand why I was focusing on him and having her do her work quietly once I got her started because she can read and follow directions.  That didn't make sense to her though and she thought it was really unfair.   All of this came to a head by the end of July.  I had learned of MBTP after we had started and had filed it away for next year but after all this I decided maybe just biting the bullet and purchasing it would be for the best.  I decided to go with level 5-7 because then we can do all of it together, as a team.  These are the classes that take us the most time during school and working together will be good for us I think.  Plus in each lesson there are generally 2 options for each activity, one that is easier and one that is a bit more challenging.  This works perfect for us, two activities on the same topic, one geared towards Gracie, one towards Ian, and only one lesson plan for me to have to follow.  Finally having them 20 months apart is paying off!!  After doing our plans for this coming week I am totally sold on the system and can't wait to do it with the kids.  It's literature based and right up our alley.

Health: I'm pulling stuff off of this website for a once a week health talk.  I figure it's a good thing to talk hygiene and stuff.  Before they get all big and smelly.

Atelier Art level 3- We did level 2 last year and it was great.  The projects are great, there is also fine art to observe and discuss.  It was designed for homeschoolers which is nice.

Other stuff:
This fall Gracie will be in a new choir in Parker and playing soccer here in Elizabeth.  As long as rehearsal doesn't clash with practice it will be all good.  She'll also hopefully be taking Karate at Options but that's not for sure yet. 

Ian's Classes

For the record I had no intention of Ian doing much school this year.  I didn't make G do anything for kindy and she turned out just fine (so far) so I had the same plan for him.  He, however, had other plans.  My kids always have other plans it seems.  He has been very very very excited about school and being in school and doing school and learning.  He's turned out to be quite academic which is a pleasant surprise.  So I'm going with it.  (Are you catching a theme here? I do what they tell me.  If they ever figure this out I am toast.)

Math U See Primer-  Ian was itching to do this all year last year. He LOVED the blocks and was always playing with them when Gracie did math.  It was an easy choice for him this year.  And then guess what?  When I went to pick it up they said he doesn't need blocks.  I was like WHA?  He was like WHA?  I asked if they were sure, they said yes, so off I went with a crying boy.  But by lesson 9 you do need the blocks, they are in the video and everything.  So they are getting me the blocks. Ian is happy.  The end.

Language Arts:
Sing, Spell, Read, Write-  I had no idea what this would be like but it sounded good and again, it was free, so I went for it.  Ian really likes it, he likes that he gets to cross stuff off his train track and he can't wait to get to the race car level which I think is for next year.  If we finish early we'll start it this year because he's crazy to be a car instead of a train.  Go figure.

Science/Social Studies/ Reading:
If you don't know what he's doing for this you obviously didn't read what I said Gracie is doing and shame on you.

Same as Gracie.

Same as Gracie.

Other Stuff:
He's also playing soccer here in Elizabeth this fall and will hopefully be doing karate at Options.

So those are our big fat plans for this year!  What are yours?  If you have a blog link hook me up!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

We are done!

Well.  Gracie is a second grader now.  And at some point I'm going to have to come to terms with the fact that my baby is a Kindergartener.  *sob*

Our year ended well and I really feel like we all grew.  Here's a sampling of our accomplishments:

~We finished our year much more relaxed and with more enjoyment than we had about a month into things.
~Gracie is reading chapter books, like real big chapter books.  Her favorites are Harry Potter, Judy Moody, Encyclopedia Brown, any of the American Girl series but the mysteries in particular, Nancy Drew and The Chronicles of Narnia.  As you can tell she loves mysteries.  Her reading skills are awesome and her comprehension is amazing.  She's light years ahead of grade level in the reading department.
~Gracie is an auditory and visual learner for the most part and I LOVE the ability we have at home to let that dominate her learning.  We do very little work sheet type work.  She much prefers to hear about things, watch videos about things, read about them, look them up on the internet, research them, and then write a report or do a hands on experiment.  She is very much her mothers daughter!  She's not into drill work, she's into practical application.  And she does great with that so we generally skip the drilling.
~Her writing has improved so much.  The way she expresses herself, the amount she wants to write and her handwriting in general have really taken off.  One thing we need to work on is spelling.  I'm at a loss for how to teach this as she hates drilling and I was a horrible speller so I'm not sure what will help her out.  I'm still a fairly bad speller actually.  Thank God for spell check!  I'm going to try a new approach with her next year, we'll see how that goes.
~Ian really got into the idea of learning generally.  He loves his Brain Quest book, that's all we've focused on this year and he's really into it.  His fine motor skills are coming along and he's trying to read.  I have a feeling Kindy is going to be a huge year of changes for him like it was for Gracie.  She started not able to read and really not trying much with writing and by the end she was reading and writing well.  I'm so excited to see him reach those same accomplishments!

Plans for next year:
I intend to keep up with the low key eclectic approach we have going on.  This year we had weeks where I focused on topics and weeks where we totally unschooled.  It worked for us.  My kids like direction, they like accomplishing things, they like to work with me.  They also like doing stuff on their own.  I really think staying relaxed is the key, as soon as someone is fighting anything we just take a break.  They always want to come back to it and usually the break gives them the ability to conqueror it.  Not sure why that works but it does.  I will be using the Core Knowledge books What Your 2nd Grader Needs To Know and What Your Kindergartener Needs To Know.  I LOVE those books.  They are so comprehensive (except for language arts, they have tons of reading but no grammar, spelling, vocab, etc....) and I really like the way they are laid out and how easy they make everything to understand.  I also like the suggested activities. The 1st grade book totally saved both mine and Gracie's sanity this year.  So those books will be our core.  Both the kids will have Language Arts books from Options and I got other text books too because hey, they are free, so why not?  We can use them as reference and if they end up sitting unused it's no loss to me.  I will also continue to have the kids journal and I want to focus more on making that a daily thing.  I love what Gracie wrote this year and I know she will get a kick out of it when she's older.  On Fridays they will be attending Options at a new location which I think we will really enjoy.  It has more class offerings and extra-curriculars all of which is free or extremely affordable.  Karate and Drama are two things in the plans already, both the kids are sooooo excited about those classes!

So that's it.  The 2010-2011 school year is officially history.  Woot!!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

How do you handle extra activities?

Trying to get a handle on things here.

We've had the kids in gymnastics since September.  They love it and I can see major improvements in their strength and balance.  It's been a good thing really.  But it has cost us over $700 for 3 sessions plus enrollment fees.

Then there's Music Together, which is just for Ian and I on Fridays while Gracie is at options.  We did the fall session, the holiday mini session and now the winter session.  That has cost us $360.

We also do 4-H but that is minimal really, $60 for both kids for the whole year.

So, approxiately $1120 on supplemental activities and it's only February.  And we only have 2 kids!!!!!

Today was the last class of gymnastics for this session and I decided not to resign them up.  I feel they are benefiting from it but just can't justify the cost again. Music ends in 2 weeks and I am also not re-registering for that.  We've been taking that class on and off for the last 5 years and this last session was the only series we hadn't done so I don't feel to badly stopping that one.

Now they are asking for swimming lessons again, which is $160 for both kids to take a 2 week/4 classes a week session.  Swimming is important though, right?  I would even go so far as to say it's an important life skill.  The cost is a pain but the drive even more so, our little town doesn't have a pool so it would be an hour round trip driving plus time at back to back classes.  Does not sound fun to me, like at all. 

I think I'm going to focus on the free right now.  We are a one income family and I feel like our budget is constantly stressed, these classes add to that stress a lot.  But are we bad home school parents if we don't get the kids out and about and doing activities?  Granted Gracie does go to Options all day Friday (free via public school) and we have a weekly gathering with our home school group (usually free or fairly cheap), so they are out among the living at least twice a week.  That's good, right?  And the weather is getting nicer too, so we can get out to the park every now and then.  Oh, and memberships!  We have memberships to the zoo and 2 museums, so that's free entertainment and education.

I'm feeling a lot of guilt on this one.  Why do kids activities have to cost so much anyway?  What do you do to supplement what you do at home?  Are extra activities necessary?