Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Advent!

Last year was the first year that I really tried to be intentional with my kids about how we celebrate Christmas in our family. We did advent activities for every day of the month leading up until Christmas. It was such a wonderful experience, and I felt like we really tried to grasp the meaning of Christmas for the first time. This year, we are definitely going to do it again. Here is a look at our advent tree this year

Aren't those tags adorable? They are a free download from this blog (click here).
Here is our advent calendar (each activity is written on the back of that day's tag--we are not doing Sundays, as I consider going to church our advent activity for that day!):
December 1: Listen to Christmas music during school
December 2: Craft day with the REACH group
December 3: Meet Santa!
December 5: Color Christmas pictures
December 6: Put money in a Salvation Army bucket
December 7: Make paper snowflakes
December 8: Go to the gas station and get a hot chocolate
December 9: Take Graham shopping for Isaac's present
December 10: Take Isaac shopping for Graham's present
December 12: Daddy takes Isaac and Graham shopping for mom's present
December 13: Mommy takes Isaac and Graham shopping for dad's present
December 14: TBA
December 15: Make Sugar cookies from scratch
December 16: Go to a movie as a family
December 17: Christmas at Aunty Mel's and Uncle Doug's
December 19: Make Jesus a birthday cake
December 20: Candle-lit bubble bath with Christmas music
December 21: Gingerbread houses!
December 22: Family game night
December 23: Go for a drive and look at the Christmas lights
December 24: Christmas Eve
December 25: Merry Christmas!

We will also be doing the advent activities from Impress your Kids (click here)

Each day, we will be doing a scripture meditation, adding a chain with the key word for that day's meditation onto a paper chain for the tree, and doing a corresponding ornament craft for the tree. I am hoping it's not too much to take on being almost full-term pregnant, but I have pretty much everything prepared and ready to go every day. In the month of December, we will be taking it pretty easy academically, with most of the emphasis on these Christmas activities.
By the way, don't you love the title of the website above? It does not reference impressing your kids as in "wow-ing" them with all the great things you do, but rather, impressing God's Word and Truth onto their hearts. After all, isn't that the most important thing anyway?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Nano Wrimo

Isaac participated in the Nano Wrimo "Young Writers Program" (Click here to find out more about this program), which encourages students to write a novel in the month of November. We initially found out about this program through another homeschooling friend (thanks Brandi) For very young students, you can modify the number of words to be more attainable. Today, Isaac finished his novel. Because it was a creative writing assignment, I let things like proper punctuation and spelling go by the wayside. He honestly had lots of fun writing his novel. Isaac's novel was called "The Agent" and was a story about two heroes named Zach and Cody (Hmmmm, I think he stole those names from the Disney Channel perhaps?) that are secret agents. Zach and Cody travel the world performing martial arts defense moves on the bad guys as they search for the coveted Golden Watch.
Anyway, he got this nice web-badge, which will be hanging out proudly on my blog, as well as a certificate and T-shirt that will be coming in the mail soon. We will definitely participate next year!

Monday, November 28, 2011

This and That

We are wrapping up our Thanksgiving Five in a Row book this week. This book is called "Cranberry Thanksgiving" by Wende and Harry Devlin.

Today, we did our last lesson by discussing the chemical reaction that allows food to rise when we are baking. The boys took baking soda and combined it with vinegar. They loved watching the foamy bubbles rise to the top of the bowl.


Have I mentioned how much I love Five in a Row? Hopefully the kids enjoy it as much as I do.
On another note, I have noticed some real progress in Graham's fine motor skills, especially with coloring and holding a pencil. His attention span also seems to be improving (yay!), as he is able to sit and color for fairly long-ish periods of time. Here is an example of his coloring at the beginning of the year (this is from the front of the ABC book we are working on).

And today--he even traced the letter "J" accurately without prompting (this is a huge deal!) Good job Graham!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The value of the dreaded Christmas Toy Catalog

Every year, the arrival of the numerous toy catalogs to our home is a big event. Many parents dread the ensuing materialism that accompanys the catalog. There is inevitably endless whining and begging for the toys that look so appealing to little eyes.
However, I have realized how many ways we have (accidently) used these catalogs for educational purposes over the past two weeks:
*Isaac has added up the totals of the toys he wants, and has had great practice for triple digit (yikes!) addition.
*As he adds up the items, Isaac can see how much the things he wants costs, and we can compare that to the Christmas budget we actually have.
*Graham has used fine motor skills to circle the items he wants.
*Isaac has used penmanship skills to write out his very extensive list (writing is usually something he hates to do).
*The boys have learned to take turns with the catalogs, and have practiced sharing skills.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Five in a Row: The Rag Coat


We are really enjoying our Five in a Row curriculum. This week, we started reading "The Rag Coat" which is a sweet story about a little girl whose father works in the coal mines and cannot afford a coat for his daughter to go to school in. The "Quilting Mothers" get together and sew little Minna a coat out of the scraps of fabric they have. Each scrap of fabric contains a story. When the kids at school see Minna's "Rag Coat" they initially make fun of her, until they realize their stories are a part of Minna's coat.
Today Graham and Isaac each made a paper quilt from scraps of scrapbooking paper that I had on hand. Isaac chose his colors and patterns carefully, and named his quilt "Grayson's Quilt." Graham chose a blue color palette (his favorite color). We talked about how the colors you choose for any piece of artwork you are doing influence the overall feeling of the artwork (warm colors=warm feelings, cool colors= cool feelings, etc.)


Monday, October 17, 2011

A time to re-evaluate

I feel like what we have been doing lately is NOT working. It's not working for me, and it's not working for the kids. There have been too many days with tears recently, and too much arguing and fighting. I have felt like this is too hard for me lately.
Knowing that this is NOT how God would probably want me to spend my days homeschooling my children, I have decided I need to take a close look at what is not working (and come up with some solutions) and also to look at what is working.
What is not working
Problem #1: Isaac is reading well and both him and I are bored to tears with the phonics portion (which is a HUGE portion) of the curriculum I purchased for this year.
Possible solutions: Drop the phonics portion of the curriculum, with periodic testing to make sure he is still grasping phonics-related concepts. Focus more on language arts (workbook), spelling (workbook and tests), and reading. I may find a supplemental reading curriculum to implement. I would really like to take his reading to the next level, and help him develop a love for reading. I may need to do a little research, and ask fellow homeschooling friends for some suggestions.
Problem #2: The boys are still fighting like crazy, even though I have tried to implement a behavior modification system.
Possible solutions: Implement a new system that is easier for the boys to attain rewards. With the last behavior modification program, they were never reinforced because it was too difficult for them, and they eventually just gave up. The new system will focus more on immediate punishment for fighting, along with easier to attain rewards for not fighting.
Problem #3: I need to be spending more time focusing on letter identification with Graham.
The problem with the Letter of the Week curriculum I am using now is that it requires me to print, laminate and cut out activities every week for each letter. This takes me anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half each week, and I find that I avoid doing it. Also, the activities for each letter are all repetitive (the same activities, different letter). I think we are both bored by it. I need to either spend one day preparing the entire curriculum so we are ready to go each week, or I need to scrap this curriculum and find a new one. Graham needs lots of help on letter identification right now.
Problem #4: I feel like there are too many "holes" in our schooling right now...we are not focusing at all on art, music, science, history, etc. Too much time is spent on things we have already mastered, not enough time on the things that we haven't or would like to.
Possible solutions: Implement one craft activity per week for Graham. Find a science or foreign language curriculum for Isaac. Post an ad on REACH classifieds to see if I can get Isaac affordable drum or guitar lessons.
Problem #5: Not a consistent Bible/prayer time daily.
Possible solutions: This is apathy on my part. We need to begin each day in prayer, regardless of how crazy it is.
Problem #6: The school room is always a mess at the beginning of the school day.
Possible Solutions: Dave needs to work with the boys to clean up the area each night before bed while I am editing. We need to be able to wake up, have breakfast and begin our school day instead of spending a half an hour cleaning up toys from the day before.
Problem #7: Isaac's penmanship is still horrible.
Possible Solutions: Take some of the time we were wasting on phonics and apply it to developing and improving Isaac's cursive and printing skills.
Problem #8: There are portions of our Geography curriculum that are pointless and a waste of time.
Possible Solutions: Because overall, I feel like Isaac is learning about each state, do not scrap the entire curriculum. Just get rid of what is not helpful and is a waste of our time.

Things we are doing well

*Isaac is reading exceptionally well, and is at least a grade ahead of the curve in reading. He is also an excellent speller.
*Graham is still enjoying what little school time I do with him every day.
*Isaac is in a regular routine of doing chores around the house, and is doing them without complaint.
*Graham is also better about helping to pick up his toys.
*Isaac is improving in mathematics significantly.
*I am still really enjoying the "Five in a Row" curriculum, and like that both boys enjoy it. It is one of the portions of our school day that is (usually) calm.

Friday, October 14, 2011

ugh.
This hasn't been a good school day, nor a good school week.
I feel like I am not doing enough with my kids.
I feel like we just survive, and get through the school work for the day so we can be done and do other things.
I feel like I have zero creativity right now, and zero ambition to do anything other than just what has to be done.
My kids are fighting, and it's driving me crazy.
The behavior plan I started a few weeks ago...well, not working so well.
I am overwhelmed and tired a huge portion of the time.
I need some strength to get through the days from someone other than myself.
I know who my help needs to come from...and I cry out to Him...
This is not easy, no one ever said it would be.
I guess I just didn't know how tough some days really would be.
I do virtually everything myself...I don't rely on anyone to educate and raise my children, take care of my home, run my business. For just once, I want someone else to take over for me...even for just a little while. Like a relay race, I want to hand off the baton and catch my breath.
Then, I will be able to run again.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Beginning of the school year update

Well, we have been in school for going on three weeks, and we are getting back into the swing of things. When I am not "in session," I forget how much I enjoy doing school with my kids. It is honestly a part of the day I look forward to. Some days are difficult, and I almost want to pull my hair out, but in general, I love home-schooling my children.
Isaac has been busy with phonics and math. His math was really lagging the first week, but now at the end of the second week, I can already see he is making progress. His reading, as always, is phenomenal! I am always amazed at his ability to grasp reading and phonics-related concepts. He has also been bugging me about learning a foreign language lately, so I am looking into that and trying to figure out which one we should tackle.
We have been busy with US Geography as well, and it has taken me a couple of weeks to feel like I have a good grasp of how the curriculum flows.
I am doing Five in a Row with both kids, and I LOVE IT. I cannot say enough about this curriculum. It is brilliantly and simply put together. Here again, I am still figuring out the flow of the curriculum and how we want to utilize it. I have been buzzing through it, using one story per week, but I think I want to slow down a bit and do a story every couple of weeks instead...there is just too much great information.
The first week of school, we did "The Story About Ping." The kids had read this story before, so it was a little bit of a review. We talked about the geographical components of the story (where it took place, information about the Yangtze River, a look at the people who live around the Yangtze and what their life might be like, etc.). We tied in science with this story and talked about buoyancy one day and did an experiment to test what things would float and what wouldn't (Graham loved this!). I heard Graham a few days later talking to himself about whether something would float or not!
I LOVED the art lessons related to the story. We talked about using colored pencil to create depth and how to draw water.
The second week we read "Lentil." Here is Graham constructing a city out of blocks somewhat similar to the town of Alto, Ohio in the book


Graham has been busy with "Letter of the week." So far we have covered two letters and are onto the third. One activity he really enjoyed is number graphing with manipulatives.

I am also going to "try" to hit story hour at the library for Graham this year. They do a fun craft to go along with the story, and Graham always has lots of fun. We met "Biscuit" the dog of the "Bicuit" books, and here he is with his puppy ears.

Monday, August 29, 2011

First day of school




Today was our first day of school, and although a part of me hasn't felt "ready" to start this school year because of how chaotic this summer has been, there was a large part of me that took comfort in some of our old routines making their re-appearance. The kids were SO excited to start this year. I know Graham's excitement will probably last throughout the school year, but I'll be lucky if Isaac's will last until the end of the week! :)
Isaac did really enjoy our "Road Trip USA" geography curriculum that we started today. I also realized, once again, what a great reader he is (and how much work on math he needs!).
Graham started the "Letter of the Week" program today and loved putting his "A" on his ABC tree. He did some coloring, some cutting and pasting, some worksheets and watched "Letter Factory."
I am excited to spend this precious time with my boys.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Our School Room 2011-12 (double click photos to enlarge)

With baby on the way, we had to make some major modifications to where we do school. The old homeschool room has now become Graham's new bedroom (Graham's old room will become baby's room), [you can see it here] and the downstairs family room is now our homeschooling area. I have had to let go of some of my desire to make this room "pretty" in favor of it being useful. But, my goal was to make it a useful room for us, but to still hold on to some cute decorating elements. The big rugs on the floor wouldn't be my first choice, but I have to "try" to protect our carpet somehow.
The hutch we inheirited from our old house in Ankeny. My mom was using it for the past couple of years and I recently reclaimed it. It needs a new paint job, but that will come another day. It holds art supplies, activites and school supplies. The kitchen table was our old table and was in storage. This will make a perfect work area for Isaac. Double click to enlarge.

I have wanted to do this art line for the kids' projects for quite some time. Love the quote.

Graham's work area:

A new addition this year is our chore chart. I have come up with 2.7 million different chore charts and behavior charts over the years. I hope I can stick with this one.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Updated curriculum choices for 2011-12 school year

I have recently changed my mind about a couple of curriculum choices for second grade. Instead of Expedition Earth for Geography, we will be doing Road Trip USA to focus on United States geography instead. We will be doing world geography with Expedition Earth next year.
Also, instead of A Reason for Handwriting, I decided to give A Beka writing (cursive) a second try. We started it last year, but I felt as though cursive needed to be put on hold to improve his printing. I have since come to believe that his printing may never be top-notch, and he was actually writing neater when we were doing cursive. He writes a lot like his dad, and his dad is a great cursive writer.

Isaac, Second grade

Phonics/Language Arts/Spelling: A Beka
We used this for first grade and he is reading great, so I assume it worked well enough to use again! Plus, I found myself omiting very little of the lesson plans, which is my litmus test for a good curriculum.


Mathematics: A Beka
We used Developmental Mathematics this year, and it was OK, but I thought there was a lot missing. I really like the comprehensive approach of A Beka. Plus, the workbook pages are kid-friendly with their colorful pictures. They also tie a lot of the story problems, etc. into geography, which I think is an added bonus.


Literature/Supplemental subjects: Five in a Row
I have wanted to use this program for awhile now, and decided to take the plunge this year. I will also be including Graham in on this portion of Isaac's studies. There are some great, free accompanying lapbooks to FIAR books out on the internet, so we will also be working on those.


Geography: Road Trip USA
This is a great, inexpensive download from Confessions of a Homeschooler (although there are accompanying text books that you need to purchase). We will be traveling the USA, learning about each state and memorizing capitals.



Penmanship: A Beka cursive



Bible: AWANA, various
I may supplement our AWANA Bible memorization with something else, not sure yet.



Graham, Pre-K:
Christian Light ABC Readiness Workbooks. These came on the recommendation of a friend with lots of homeschooling experience who said these are the best.

Confessions of a Homeschooler's Letter of the Week curriculum. This has been hanging out on my harddrive for months, and it is looking forward to being used! I have my ABC tree ready to go for next year!

I'll also be supplementing these two choices with lots of fun activities, various workbooks I have on hand and preschool packs.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Isaac's Book Review: Nate the Great Goes Undercover


In this book, Nate the Great goes undercover. At 2 or 3 in the morning, Oliver comes over, Nate is sleeping. He tells him the trash can is tipped over again. So, he has to figure out why and who tipped it over. At the end, we find out its his dog that tips it over because he is sick of eating pancakes every day.
I liked this book. I liked reading about him being undercover.
Isaac gives this book TWO STARS.
(I will be making this a regular part of my blog. I will be having Isaac pick a book he has recently read and he will tell me about the book and whether he liked it or not. He will rate the books based on a three-star rating system.)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Nature Walk!

It has been a long, long, long, long, long winter. I say that every Spring, but this year seems especially true. We went on our first nature walk of the season today. We had a Spring Nature Walk Senses Scavenger Hunt worksheet that I printed from the Handbook of Nature Study, although there wasn't a whole lot to tell us it was Spring quite yet. We will have to do it again in a few weeks.


Of course, we saw a lot of mud, which was on our list.

And probably the biggest sign it is Spring in the Red River Valley is a five letter word: F-L-O-O-D. Some say we have four seasons here: Summer, Winter, Winter and Flood.

This is the bridge a block from our house. That is the Sheyenne River you see creeping precariously close to the bridge. This is not uncommon and happens every year. Thankfully, someone had the presence of mind 20 years ago to put in a diversion for the Sheyenne River, otherwise we'd all be 10 feet under water by now.

We saw a lot of fat and happy Robins on our walk.

There are two in this photo, can you see them? Double click the photo to enlarge.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Drum roll please....

The selections have been made and purchased for our Curriculum for next year. Here we go:

Isaac, Second grade

Phonics/Language Arts/Spelling: A Beka
We used this for first grade and he is reading great, so I assume it worked well enough to use again! Plus, I found myself omiting very little of the lesson plans, which is my litmus test for a good curriculum.


Mathematics: A Beka
We used Developmental Mathematics this year, and it was OK, but I thought there was a lot missing. I really like the comprehensive approach of A Beka. Plus, the workbook pages are kid-friendly with their colorful pictures. They also tie a lot of the story problems, etc. into geography, which I think is an added bonus.


Literature/Supplemental subjects: Five in a Row
I have wanted to use this program for awhile now, and decided to take the plunge this year. I will also be including Graham in on this portion of Isaac's studies. There are some great, free accompanying lapbooks to FIAR books out on the internet, so we will also be working on those.


Geography: Expedition Earth
This is a great, inexpensive download from Confessions of a Homeschooler (although there are accompanying text books that you need to purchase). We will be traveling the globe, focusing on one country at a time as we fill up our passports. Should be big fun!


Penmanship: A Reason for Handwriting, Sonlight
Being a leftie, Isaac's handwriting has left a lot to be desired this year. We started the year with hopes of writing cursive by the end of the year. Since his printing resembled that of a serial killer, I decided to backtrack a bit and focus just on printing. It has gotten better, but not much. I plan to spend a little more time on his printing before we head into cursive.


Bible: AWANA, various
I may supplement our AWANA Bible memorization with something else, not sure yet.



Graham, Pre-K:
Christian Light ABC Readiness Workbooks. These came on the recommendation of a friend with lots of homeschooling experience who said these are the best.

Confessions of a Homeschooler's Letter of the Week curriculum. This has been hanging out on my harddrive for months, and it is looking forward to being used! I have my ABC tree ready to go for next year!

I'll also be supplementing these two choices with lots of fun activities, various workbooks I have on hand and preschool packs.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

KFNW

We took a field trip to our local Christian radio station, KFNW the other day.
Here's my two monkeys...

A look at where they do their broadcasting



The CD library they keep "just in case" their digital library goes bad

Our tour guide showing the students the "guts" of a hard drive he is working on