Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Smiles for a Moody Teen

"Imagine the harmony in our homes if we were to give encouragement a place of prominence.  Think of what might happen if smiles and hugs for a moody teenager were a more natural response than critical words."
~ Sharon W. Betters
Treasures of Encouragement:
Women Helping Women in the Church 


Maybe I'd even be a less-moody mom!

Lord, help me to be a loving mom, attentive to the needs of my children.  Help me to really listen, to parent without fear and keep my eyes focused on you.  Help me each day to dwell in your word, to sup on rich fare at your table, to come to you empty, ready to be filled.  Fill me, that I might have something of eternal value to give my precious blessings.  

In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Planning Language Arts Part 2

Last time I covered how to set up a language arts plan by thinking through your child's skill level.  This time I'll describe in a little more detail some of the things you might work on in each of these areas, and some of my curriculum choices:

Beginning Reading

Reading instruction will start with basic phonics instruction and your child reading to you single words (perhaps on a word list, cards, or from words built from letter tiles).  When my son was little, I had letter cubes and would build "word rockets" that he liked to pretend blasted off!  Then they'll read simple books to you.  As they get into longer books, you might employ a technique called "buddy reading" where they read a page or paragraph and then you read for awhile.  Eventually this time will become an independent reading time.  

For beginning reading we used a combination of materials:  Reading Reflex, readers from Sonlight, Bob Books, Christian Liberty Press K readers, DK readers--pretty much anything I could get my hands on used or borrowed until they were reading more solidly.  

Reading Reflex uses the Orton-Gillingham phonograms and was helpful for the first half of the book, but when it got to what they call the "advanced code" (letter teams that make up one phonogram such as OA for the long O sound), the program felt very disorganized and didn't work well for us.  I would use All About Reading instead if I had another child to teach now. AAR includes research-based instruction in decoding, fluency, automaticity, vocabulary, comprehension, and phonemic awareness. Sonlight has supplied most of our readers and has usually been a good match here.

Reading and Literature

Some of reading time (or some of read-aloud time) might also be spent in literary discussions. A wonderful resource to help with this is Glencoe which has free literary guides for older students, or the book Deconstructing Penguins for all ages.  Even if you are clueless about literary terms like protagonist, climax, theme, and plot, just having normal, every day discussions about books and poetry can teach these concepts (and it's not hard to learn what these words mean, a little at a time, over the years.  The aforementioned book can help and makes it easy and enjoyable).

As you move into high school, you can make this a more formal learning time.  I have not yet used the following, but like the look of Teaching the Classics from IEW, and Learning Language Arts Through Literature Gold.  Sonlight has a nice combination of award-winning books, and always includes a poetry book as well.


Handwriting doesn't have to involve putting pen to paper to start either.  You can do things like writing with an index finger in sand, pudding, on carpet squares or other tactile surfaces.  There's a great description of air-writing near the end of this article about preventing and correcting reversals that is a wonderful tool for young students.  Writing involves both gross and fine motor muscle tone as well as neurological involvement and working memory, and is fairly complex.  I remember thinking that pre-writing types of activities were not all that important, when in fact they are very important.  I was too anxious to get to "the real thing" (pencil to paper) and if I had it to do over again, I'd spend more time doing fun pre-writing activities such as these.

Handwriting Without Tears is a favorite here because the methods help to prevent reversals (or help you retrain a child who is doing reversals).  Letters that are commonly reversed such as "b" and "d" are formed differently and contained in different sets of letters ("b" is a "diver" letter and "d" is a "magic C" letter).  I didn't like the look of the letters at first, but then I learned that my kids didn't make letter that looked like the samples anyway--each person develops his or her own personal style.  I really like their Can Do Cursive book for 5th grade as it includes some light grammar and some basic Greek and Latin word roots too.  (I like things that do double-duty!).  My kids also enjoyed a year of A Reason for Writing, which has some nice border papers to write Bible verses on.  We sent the verses to Grandma sometimes, for her refrigerator, or to a friend who was a shut-in. 

Some people use copywork for handwriting practice, but that didn't work here in the early years.  (See mistake #2 for more on copywork).  But this year my 8th grade daughter decided she wants to improve her penmanship, and she is using America the Beautiful from Queen Homeschool for copywork.  Lovely selections!


I've tried a lot of programs over the years:  Spelling Power, Natural Speller, Tricks of the Trade, Sequential Spelling, Spectrum, Apples Daily Spelling one point I gave up and started writing my own curriculum!  I've also used dictation to teach spelling.  With dictation, you choose a selection from your child's reader that has 5-10 words for the child to learn.  At the beginning of the week, you show the child the passage and spend time pre-teaching the phonics involved in each of the words.  Point out things like various reasons for silent e's, letter teams that are working together, patterns like AY that are generally used at the end of words (while AI is used mid-word), rules for adding suffixes, and so on.  Of all the methods we had tried up to that point, this was the most helpful.  However, it wasn't systematic enough for my kids needs, and it was time-consuming for mom!  

Then I found All About Spelling and that changed everything for us.  After two weeks my then 5th grader told me it was the most effective spelling we had ever tried, and both children begged me not to ever change programs again.  After a year, both of their reading levels had gone up two full grade levels.  You can read my review here.  AAS includes dictation (no having to find your own sources) and some sentence writing starting in Level 3.  After level 3, students have mastered around 1000 words, and it's a good time to start a formal writing program.

Writing and Grammar

In the early years I like to do informal writing and grammar work.  Things like thank-you notes or making little books, letting them tell me a story that I scribe for them, having them narrate back to me about something we read together or a movie or what happened in Sunday School are all various ways of working on writing and pre-writing skills.  Kids work on organizing their thoughts, summarizing (a very difficult skill that can take years to master), presenting ideas in an interesting way, "hooking" their audience and so on without the pressure of putting pen to paper.  I also like to do interactive journal-writing with my kids--I write a note to them and they write a note back to me in the same notebook.  The notebook  might put in a special place like in front of the door to one's room, on a pillow, or in a "mailbox" made for this purpose. 

Informal grammar is something many of us do naturally.  When our children use the wrong form of a word or state something in a way that doesn't make sense, we might gently restate what they said and have them repeat it.  In our house, this is second nature and we really don't even realize we are doing it!  Later, a formal grammar program can be used.  I like The Writer's Jungle approach of covering grammar 3 times--once each in elementary school, junior high, and high school. You can do a quick refresher as needed. (I'm doing a capitalization and punctuation refresher with my kids this year for the first 8 weeks, and then we'll focus on writing for the rest of the year--which of course requires them to use all of their grammar skills.)

Another way to study grammar at the high school level is through a foreign language.  There's nothing like a language difference to help one understand the grammar in one's native tongue!

For a formal program, again I have tried several things for writing and grammar.  Early on I was drawn to Charlotte Mason type programs like Primary Language Lessons.  I also used Sonlight D LA. Spectrum and Steck Vaughn have LA programs that cover grammar and writing both.  One year I used Jump In from Apologia for writing.  None of these worked "great" for us, so I would use a program for a year or so and then look for something else.  Over the years I learned that my kids needed more incremental and explicit (direct) methods.  My oldest especially doesn't learn from implicit or discovery-oriented methods.  

My daughter did enjoy Karen Andreola's Story Starters for creative writing.

The best choices for us have been Easy Grammar and Essentials in Writing.  Easy Grammar starts off teaching the prepositions and how to find prepositional phrases in a sentence, which then makes it easier to identify the other parts of speech.  Students are taught how to identify one thing at a time, and then given exercises to work on that.  Things like irregular verbs and noun-forms are taught, plus capitalization, punctuation, clauses, how to identify run-on sentences and fragments, etc...  My son really likes this program, while my daughter jokingly calls it "Not Easy Grammar!"  However, she shows more understanding of grammar through this program than through any of the things we tried previously!

Essentials in Writing includes grammar in the elementary grades, but I haven't used those levels, so I can't comment on that.  I like this one so much that I included a complete review here.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Planning Language Arts Simplified

Why is it that Language Arts seems to be the most difficult subject to plan?  One reason is that it encompasses so many subjects--phonics, reading, penmanship, listening skills, spelling, grammar, writing, poetry, literature, vocabulary, speech...  It's overwhelming at times to consider all that we could do, and to try to figure out what we should do.

Another reason is that it can be an area of struggle for some kids.  34% of children struggle with learning to read.  (As a side note, if you are dealing with a child who struggles, here's a free webinar on that topic).  Many struggle with spelling or complain about writing.  

I remember in my early homeschooling years, longing for an all-in-one language arts curriculum.  I knew if I chose separate curricula for all the various topics that I would either miss something or end up with 3 hours of work per day for my kids to do!  The trouble was, I could never find an all-in-one that fit us.  Kids tend to learn to read faster than they learn to write or spell, and programs that lined up these subjects frustrated us by being too slow for reading or too advanced for writing.  

So, I decided to come up with some basic goals.  Why do we teach language arts?  What are we trying to accomplish?

At the basic level, language arts is all about communication.  Taking in information, and being able to communicate with others.  We've actually been working on these skills from babyhood.  We have already taught them a lot about how to speak and to listen, vocabulary, grammar, syntax, all before they even hit school-age.  We don't really think about it, but we've been busy! 

Practically speaking though, I needed a plan for moving forward.  What order should I teach skills, and what priority do I give them?

Reading Aloud

For all children, 20-30 minutes minimum reading literature aloud to your child is a wonderful way to naturally build language arts skills as well as pass on your values, character training, and just enjoy some snuggle time. 

You can cover so much through this.  It's a great way to teach vocabulary (I often stop to see if my kids know a word, or they will stop me and ask for a definition.  If I don't like the one I come up with, I pull out the dictionary and we look the word up together.)  Syntax and grammar and the flow of our language are taught informally.  Poetry can teach rhyming, alliteration, and the musicality of language.  You can work on listening skills and oral comprehension by asking simple questions like, "What do you think will happen next," or, "Why do you think the character did that?  Would you have done that?"  Most of all, reading aloud can help your child develop a life-long love of learning.  I still read to my high school and junior high students, and will as long as I can get away with it!

Building a Plan for Daily Work:

To reign in our budgets (both time and money!), I recommend some basic time limits for daily work.  I like to do 30-60 minutes or so for kindergarten and first grade, and 60-90 minutes for second grade and up.  

To fill this time, set your priorities.  A basic beginning plan might start like this:

Phonics and reading instruction:  20-30 minutes
Penmanship: 10 minutes

When a child becomes somewhat fluent in reading simple three and four sound words, add in:
Spelling: 20 minutes

When a child can read chapter books fluently, then that Phonics/reading instruction time becomes:
Silent Reading:  30 minutes  

You may still want to have your children read aloud to you on a daily basis.  We cover this during our Bible time, but you could also choose to have them read a paragraph from a reader to you each day.

When your child is ready for more, you can add in grammar or writing instruction.  I start off working on these topics informally, as I find it easier to add in a formal writing program after a child can spell around a thousand words.
Writing or Grammar: 30 minutes

Writing and Grammar do not have to be taught simultaneously.  You can choose to focus on one per year, do units in 6, 9, 12, or 18 week segments, alternate days, or use a program that incorporates both.  

Eventually Speech can be woven in to that writing/grammar time slot.  

So that's it!  Think through your goals, the skills of your child, and step by step build your plan.  You don't have to do every language arts topic every year.  Next time I'll cover what each of these topics might entail, and some of my favorite curriculum choices.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

AAS Letter Tiles Mini Office UPDATE

Last year I made a Letter Tiles "Mini Office" for All About Spelling, and after using it for most of the year, I'm tweaking it.

Previously I used magnet strips.  I really wanted to use a full-page magnet, but had trouble finding them, and when I did they were not powerful enough to hold the magnets.  I have seen magnet folder-books for storing die-cuts online, but I haven't been able to see one in person to determine whether they would be strong enough to hold the magnets, or large enough to hold the system.

This year I found that Walmart has some hanging tins on sale for 97 cents (in the craft/office supplies area).  They are about 9" X 11" or so.  They work great!

The tiles stick to these better than to the magnet strips, and I never have any fall off.  For now, I simply glued five small magnet strips onto the folders to hold on the tin signs.  I may decide to glue the whole page down though, I haven't decided yet.

Here's the whole system:

This is actually about half a foot shorter than my previous system, another bonus. You may notice that there are more tiles than ever now.  My oldest is in Level 7!  That level includes extra prefixes and suffixes...

...another Advanced Phonogram...

 plus a whole page full of Greek and Latin Root tiles:

I opted to put these in a separate folder & will pull them out when my oldest uses them, rather than add a 5th panel.  We may even just build on the bottom of this little board since there's room and it's easy to hold.

The signs at Walmart come decorated and with ribbon hangers--here is the front:

I opted to use the back since the patterned backgrounds are too busy to use with the tiles.

The back does have some small print on it, but most of the time this is covered up by tiles and not overly distracting.

I still think that the large, recommended magnet-board is the easiest to use, but if you have limited space or take school on the go, this is a good second option.  You can use this with either All About Spelling or All About Reading (or both).  My kids are older now and don't use the tiles as much, so we like to be able to fold up the tiles and put them away.  I can keep it right in my AAS box.  We generally either lay it on our laps or lay it out on the coffee table in front of us.  A lap version really needs sturdier pages than the folders...which is the thing that makes me want to glue down the tins rather than just attaching them to the folder with magnets.

Happy Reading & Spelling!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Workboxes - 3 Years Later

My son's workboxes
"Do you still use workboxes?"  That's a common--and excellent question to ask.  I've read a lot of blogs on workboxing over the three plus years that we have used them--I always like to see pictures and read descriptions of how people are using their systems!  The people who stick with it found a way to mesh the system with their way of home schooling.  It seems like a common reason for giving up is because someone tries to completely change the way they home school to fit the system.  If you are thinking about starting a workbox system for your kids, I suggest using what works for you first, and gradually trying some new ideas, rather than a quick and sudden overhaul that leaves you exhausted and giving up a month later.
Do older students like workboxes?  Mine are 15 and 13, and they still like the system.  Here's a link to my original post on workboxes.  I thought I'd share some of the ways I've tweaked the system to work for us. 

My daughter's workboxes
One thing I realized early kids didn't want "fun" things added to their day.  They didn't think the things were fun, they thought they just made their day longer, so that didn't work as an incentive.  They also didn't like to be surprised or to have boxes out of order, so I actually label our drawers.  (I also let them have input on the order).

I no longer use a separate box for them to turn in their work.  I found that we were all better organized if they simply returned everything to the drawer before putting up their sticker.  (Last year I updated the stickers, got rid of the old ones with pictures, and changed to a round style--my son saw a friend who had round stickers, and he thought they looked more professional!)

This has greatly simplified the system for me.  No trying to think up what to put in boxes, no loading them each night (things that burn some people out on workboxes)--the drawers are ready to go as is, and if I get sick, no one has to guess what the system is or look for some kind of master list--the kids can get up and get to work on most things without me.  I think if I had started with younger kids, I would have enjoyed mixing things up with fun crafts and so on, but my older kids want to get to business and choose their own "fun" activities.  

Each night (or sometimes in the morning before school), I check their work and record what they did in my teacher binder.

I also added another row to their progress charts so that I can include their weekly "Family Service."  I made a sticker for each of these chores and put them on top of the workboxes.  They add these to their progress chart whenever they do them, and leave them up for the week.  I let them manage their time, so long as all of the chores are done each week.

My daughter, always the crafty one, needs her scissors handy, and you can also see a magnifying glass sticking out under her progress chart.  She's the resident detective.

I added a top drawer for a few supplies, and to have a place for daily stickers that don't need or wouldn't fit in a drawer--practicing their instruments, making their beds, exercising, and taking out the garbage or recycling.

My daughter's #1 drawer (which still needs a label!) is a "Time with Mom" drawer, where I put any of the previous day's work that we need to go over.  After we do that, she simply puts those books back in their respective drawers, and starts her day.  She keeps her Bible in the top "supply" drawer, but doesn't put a sticker up for that.

My son prefers not to have a separate drawer for "Time with Mom" any more, and just comes to me with the work he knows we'll need to discuss.  When he started high school last year, I found that our time was getting longer and felt it was more fair to him to schedule things like longer history discussions into his actual history time.  We spent enough time on history last year for 1.5-2 credits!  So I make sure longer discussions no longer derail the day but count as part of his work.  This helps me not to be such an over-achieving home school mom, trying to squeeze in one more thing!

The boxes help my kids know what to expect each day, and help them efficiently use their time.  They keep their items well-organized, and we seldom have missing books due to our rule that they can't put the sticker up (marking a subject as "done") without returning all of the supplies.  It's simple, yet effective.  Having a very visual organizational system is helpful for anyone who might struggle with losing things, and yet I find this flexible enough to be creative in our schooling.  My kids can work on a project or experiment, read outside, and manage their own time--this just helps us keep on track, not forget to do things, and not lose things!  If I want to schedule only a half day, I only put some stickers up.  If they want to write in their science journal for Language Arts time, I can make that switch.  The system hasn't changed us so much as it has made us more efficient and effective in what we do.

I also like that it allows me to clearly see how to organize my day--both kids can't use the computer at the same time, or work with me at the same time, so I make sure to lay out their boxes in an order that accommodates those needs.  My son reads history while I work with my daughter, and so on.

One last thing we have changed since I started:  location.  We no longer school in our kitchen.  The only remaining school items in there are a wall map and a cupboard with art supplies.  Their boxes are now in our livingroom with all of our home school books.  My kids are growing up!  sniff...

Next time I'll post about what's in each box.  How do you use workboxes?

Need a template for number circles?  Here's the one I made.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Sticky Tabs

Since I mentioned my slight fascination with Sticky Tabs last week, I thought I'd post about them!  

What's the big deal you ask?  I don't know, but they are so convenient!  First, I like them better than "flags" because they are thicker like plastic.  It makes it much easier to turn to the page than a floppy flag.  They make great bookmarks.  

Here you can see them in my Teacher Binder.  Along with having a section for each subject, sometimes I have papers for each child in that section.  I use blue tabs to mark my son's pages, red to mark my daughter's, and yellow for both.

My kids like to use them for bookmarks in their readers because they don't fall out, and if you lose one, they are easy to replace.  I also use them to mark where they should start and stop reading in a text book.  Often the place is not only on a certain page, but at a certain paragraph, and the tabs can mark that place easily.  Sometimes I've found green tabs, which I like to use for "go" and red for "stop," but I've also used blue for "go."

In a reader, I always mark the glossary or list of characters if there is one.  In textbooks I use them to mark glossaries, appendices, maps, and other tools that my kids might not automatically think to look for.  I write right on the tab what I'm marking.  It also serves as a visual reminder to me to point these features out to my kids.  (You'd think that since I marked the book I'd remember the next day when I hand the book to my child...but that thought is sometimes lost overnight!  Until I see the tabs, that is.)

What are your favorite or most useful school supplies?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

My Magic Light

My computer is in a closet.  Yep, right where we used to keep the winter coats, boots, and hats.  That sounds worse than it really is though!  Truly I have a very quaint little office that's just big enough to hold a 5' wide desk with 4 file drawers, a printer and computer, and 2 shelves above full of books and supplies. 

If you look closely, you can see my son's Hero Factory creations on the bookshelves to the right.  Not sure why they are there right now!  Anyway, my little office is quite cozy, with pictures and things the kids have made.

I even have a few momentos from childhood--Raggedy Ann and Andy Dolls that my Grandma made, animals I used to collect, and a hedgehog from when my mom and I went to England.  (They fit right in with Ziggy!)  Yeah, I'm still a kid at heart...

So, what does this all have to do with a "magic light" you ask?  Well, since I live, er, work, in the closet, the light was on a pull-chain, with a long string attached, and I guess it really wasn't made to be used multiple times per day.  The switch wore out and we replaced it, but soon started to have the same problem again.  I thought about getting a lamp of some kind, but then I'd have more cords to deal with, plus I'm really partial to overhead lighting.  But short of hiring an electrician, I really wasn't sure what to do.  Then my hubby came to the rescue!

Dave found this little gem in the magic hardware aisles where they have all kinds of gizmos and gadgets and things that make things work.  It's a battery operated remote light switch!  I could take this thing anywhere upstairs and turn on my light!  But of course, that would never do...then I'd need a clapper to find the switch, and then something to find the clapper...  So my son mounted it on the wall for me...just like a real light switch!  I know, I'm easily amused.  (Although, in my defense, even the kids couldn't resist trying it out, as if they had never seen a light switch before.)   After spending several days in the dark, I'm pleased as punch to be rid of the pull chain and have a switch!

Hubby switched out the fixture as well:

Now instead of the generic round globe I have a lovely frosted tulip.
So thankful!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Teacher Box

I use my Teacher Box almost as much as I use my Teacher Binder!  This is where I store all of my answer keys, as well as worksheets that we'll be using throughout the year.

I like being able to have everything I need in one place.  This box has a handy storage compartment on top where I keep index cards (great for notes to the kids as well as making flash cards), a pen & pencil, paper clips, and one of my most important tolls...Sticky Tabs!  (handy for bookmarks and place-holders of all kinds).

Inside there are hanging files for organizing my worksheets and Teacher's manuals.  Up front I have my All About Spelling Letter Tiles Mini Office.

The hanging folders are color-coordinated for each subject (the kids have folders and spirals of the same color for that subject).  Green is Science.  Here are some handouts for my daughter's Supercharged Science.

My son is doing Lego Robotics this year, and his worksheets and quizzes are in the other green hanging folder.

Red is for Language Arts.  Here are some homophones worksheets for my daughter that I printed off from the All About Homophones e-book...

...and my honkin-huge Easy Grammar manual.

I'm always surprised that the hanging folders haven't given out on me yet, between the huge EG manual and the hardbound math guides from Math-U-See, but they've held up pretty well.

Finally foreign language.  My son really wanted to learn Japanese this year.  He's using Irasshai (put out by Georgia Public Broadcasting, looks like a great course!) and My Japanese Coach on the DS for a fun way to review.  Between this and robotics, I think I'm in trouble...translated  私は困っている !  

When it's time to check my kids' work, I just sit down with my binder and my box and I'm all set!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Organization - Teacher Binder

I love to hear how people organize, so I thought I'd share some pictures of my Teacher Binder.

I use this daily, and the cheap binders always wear out.  Last year's was falling apart before Christmas!  So this year I splurged and bought a 1" "Better Binder" from Staples, which has a "lifetime guarantee."  I didn't read the fine print, so I'm not sure what that means!  But the binding does seem to be extra-durable.

When I got home, I decided to look for a nice cover sheet, and found this one at Tina's Dynamic Homeschool Plus.  She has wonderful organizational pages (with a great, 7-step curriculum planner method), plus lapbooks and more.  I haven't used the lapbooks but a friend of mine has and she loves them.  I was tickled pink (er, aqua) to find a coordinating cover!  And I agree with the quote at the bottom too--there are no perfect plans, sometimes we just have to start!

One of the nifty things about the binder is that it has a pocket to slide in a title tab, which makes the binder very professional looking.  

Another great feature is that it lies completely flat.  The yearly calendar on the right is also from Tina's Dynamic Homeschool Plus.  I use that to plan out our year--days I know we'll take off, and a rough count of how many days we'll have per month.  Then I mark the actual days we school and know whether we are on track with our school year or if I need to make adjustments.  

I also like that the binder has a pocket in the front, because that's where I always keep my current week's schedule.  I don't plan every subject for the week out exactly, so my schedule is also like a journal in some ways--I write down what we did each day.  I use workboxes, so the schedule for each child lists their workboxes in order.  

Just behind the yearly calendar, I keep a daily schedule.  Don't let that fool you...I'm not a clock-watcher by any means!  But I do find it helpful to come up with a daily schedule because it reminds me what my time-goals are for each subject.  If a subject routinely goes overtime, I may need to adjust my plans or how I use our curriculum.  It's too easy to over-plan, and schedules keep me "honest" in this way!

The schedule also helps me coordinate when my kids need my one-on-one attention.  I don't think I could teach pre-algebra and geometry at the same time!  Another consideration is computer usage--both need the computer for science, so they can't do that topic at the same time.  So, even if we don't follow the times exactly, this gives a workable flow to our days.

After the calendars, I have a tab divider for each subject:  Bible, Literature, History, Science, Language Arts, Math, Japanese, and Records.  These are sturdy plastic tabs that you can write on and erase.

Behind each tab I keep any record-keeping charts for subjects I want to track grades (helpful now that my son is in high school.  I didn't track grades at all for younger grades, though I did grade some things such as tests.)  For example, Math-U-See and Mystery of History both come with a record-keeping page that you can copy/print off and stick in a binder.

I also keep any needed plans behind the appropriate tabs.  At the beginning of the year, I come up with a plan for each subject.  That plan might be as simple as, "a lesson per day for math," or "a chapter per day for Bible."   This chart is behind my "Bible" Tab, and is a place where I keep track of which books of the Bible we've read over the years.  Rose Publishing sometimes sends out newsletters with free downloads, and this chart came from them (there's a sign-up at the bottom of the page I linked). 

For subjects like literature, I come up with a listing of books to use and put them in order that we'll use them.  Our literature often complements our history, and usually it's easy to tell the time period of the book by looking at the back cover or the introduction or first few pages.  Occasionally I might look online for this info in a book description.  

If you have used Sonlight, I make a similar 1-page guide to what they have up front, listing the week that I anticipate we'll start each book.  I keep a list of optional books as well, in case we get ahead of schedule.  We can also easily drop a book if we don't progress as quickly as I anticipated, without throwing the schedule for our whole year off.   
For history, sometimes I have additional resources that I want to include with a spine.  When that's the case, I'll make a chart showing how the lessons line up.  This is fairly easily done by looking at the Table of Contents for each book.  Here I've lined up Mystery of History 3 with the Famous Men books. 

I use the table function on MS Word for all of my charts, but you could just as easily keep your plans on notebook paper or whatever is convenient for you.

I use the "records" tab at the end for my weekly schedules that are completed, as well as things like a working transcript.  This form is from Lee Binz, who has great information on transcripts and record-keeping.  The simple charts and reading lists I keep for each subject made it a breeze to get my son's transcript started--I recorded his first year and compiled simple course descriptions with reading lists and curriculum lists in about 2 hours.  Then I don't have to keep all of my scraps of paper and everything is organized.  

Here's a back page I printed out on cardstock from Tina's.  I enjoyed the quotes!

Short answer keys also go into my teacher binder, but for longer ones, worksheets, and other materials, I use my Teacher Box, which I'll post about next time.  How do you organize your materials?

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Essentials in Writing Review

I used Essentials in Writing last year, and I really like how the author (Matthew Stephens) walks kids through this process. This has been a GREAT program so far for my reluctant writer. Now, he still says that writing is a pain...but he says it with a smile and lightness now that wasn't there before, and says he likes it best of the things we've tried.

My son gave me permission to post a descriptive paragraph ( which I'll post below) that he did in its various stages: he started with a sentence about an embarrassing incident.  That one sentence went into 2 different style graphic organizers where my son added more details each time, then into a rough draft paragraph, then revised with more details a couple of times, and finally into a final, edited draft.  He was able to craft some colorful descriptions because the program took him through step by step, gave him examples to think about, told him how to elongate a climactic part by slowing down and describing more, and really helped him to come up with a great narrative paragraph.  No other program has ever drawn this much vibrant description out of him!  Of course, he didn't write like this every time, we had some "just regular old pieces" too--but this one really encouraged me!

Things I like:
The author talks through the concept as he's writing.  He leaves mistakes up, then corrects them.  Or occasionally he'll start writing, erase a whole sentence, and then start again.  Students get to see what the writing process is actually like--it's not perfection on the first try!

He shows ONE thing--a literary device, or something like fragments and run-ons. Then students practice that concept. Some worksheets have them identify that thing, others have them practice rewriting, still others have them do writing from scratch (sentences, paragraphs, essays, and so on).

The author gives clear examples that let the student see the difference between "showing" versus "telling," and teaches how to change things to make their writing come alive (you'll see the metamorphosis in my son's writing below). He helps students want to communicate the "movie" that's in their minds through words.  He teaches how to discover what's unclear in their writing and fix those spots.  

When he taught paragraphs, he made sure to explain that narrative paragraphs are different from essays/research type paragraphs--he taught both styles.

My son enjoys his teaching!

The worksheets are available on a CD-ROM and are clearly labeled--very user friendly.  You can print off one lesson at a time or the whole year's worth.  Or you can buy a workbook if you prefer.

Essentials includes grammar lessons for 1st-6th grade, but not in the 7th grade level I used (it's in there as a review if you need it, it's not scheduled like in levels 1-6).

The answer key is helpful.  Even if "answers may vary," it gives examples so you have a feel for what you are looking for.  My son feels empowered and even interested in writing, which I appreciate.  And the price is awesome!  Overall I find it's very incremental and breaks things down into doable parts.

Things I don't like:
The sound quality needs improvement. It's tolerable, but it could be better.   But since the videos are so short, it isn't too bad. You can hear the samples online to see what you think.  We've seen a few minor errors here & there, but that's normal in a new program & none have been major things. One other con is that the grade level label is in the videos and on the cover of the DVD (though not on the worksheets). Normally you would use the grade level your child is in though, so that's really only a con for me!  I used the 7th grade version with my 9th grader (higher levels were not out when we started, but I really wanted to try this, and the Cathy Duffy review said it would be meaty enough to use with a high school student). I discussed this with my son (I didn't want him to think I was calling him a 7th grader!), and he was willing to try it after watching a sample video online.

I can't wait to use this program again this year!

Here is the descriptive paragraph that my son did:

Day 1, Brainstorming:
Zach chose this topic:  Practicing my fake limp.

Day 2, Organizing thoughts:
Who:  Me and an old guy
What:  I was practicing my fake limp for fun and I turned around and saw the old man staring at me through a window.
When:  Monday afternoon.
Where:  McKinley Street

Day 3, Event organizer:
In the middle of school > turned on McKinley Street > started working on a fake limp for a disguise
limped for a block > stopped to look and see if anyone was watching me > old man staring and shaking his head.
I ran away fast.

Original paragraph:
I was doing my exercise in the middle of school.  I turned onto McKinley Street and started working on a fake limp for a disguise.  I limped for a block and then stopped to see if anyone was watching me.  An old man was staring right at me and shaking his head.  I ran away fast!

Final Revision (a few versions later):
It all started one cold and cloudy Monday afternoon when I was doing my exercise.  I walked up the hill and then dashed onto McKinley Street.  By then I was getting bored because I had left my MP3 at home, so I decided to work on my fake limp.  I had watched a documentary about changing yourself to hide in plain sight.  It was really hard because I kept mixing up which foot to use, so after a block or so I gave up on the whole thing.  Only then did I look around to see if anyone was watching.  I turned to my left and looked into the window of a light brown house.  Looking back at me was an old shaggy man who looked like he'd been sleeping for a couple of days.  His hair was standing up all over, and his chiseled face held a look of scorn, as if to say, "Stop acting like a fool!"  I high-tailed it out of there as fast as I could!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

What was in the bag?

If you were wondering what was in my Mother's Day surprise bag...

Me & my cheesy grin, they know I love cake! 

(By the way, that's my Grandma's daisy-necklace, it was fun to remember her on Mother's Day).  Yes, there was cake :-).  And it was heart-shaped.  And pink!  Actually, that wasn't in the bag though.  That was hidden (very sneaky of them!) on TOP of the refrigerator.  Even these guys looked all over but didn't find it!

Gerbils, quivering as they sniff out the cake

The bag had ice cream.  Two kinds!  Moose Tracks and Mint Chocolate chip (with no added food coloring, yay!)  No, I didn't share with Stuart and Rocka!

MY icecream!
Ok, I DID share with Dave and the kids.  (Since they bought it & all!).  But it's not like the gerbils are hurting for food...  Look at all that's left of their house in just 2 days!

Stuart (left) and Rocka, now almost as big as the remains
of their once well-crafted home.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Gerbils, Spies, and a Deprived Mother

"I've been a VERY good mommy this year!"

That's what I told my husband when I found this highly suspicious article in the freezer:

highly suspicious unnamed food item
"Tomorrow's Mother's Day.  Keep out."

Such cold-hearted words!

"You know, honey, if we followed the Jewish schedule, Mother's Day would start now."  Bat-bat (eyes).  Smile sweetly.

It wasn't working.  I tried the good mother bit again.

"How would you explain it to the kids?  They want you to be surprised tomorrow!"

"Easy.  Gerbils.  Stuart and Rocka can be VERY naughty boys!"  Now truly, this is a somewhat believable argument.  Oh sure, they LOOK innocent enough here...

Rocka (left) named after the Hero Factory hero,
and Stuart (right) for Stuart Little.
...but they could do it all right.  They're already eating themselves out of house and home:

Stuart sampling his house...
This was solid house before they got a hold of it, the true entrance is on the other side.  Shall we make little footprints in the (hopefully ice cream) in the freezer and be done with this?

Standing Guard...

"Hold it right there, Ma'am!"


Secret Agent...

"Agent Gibbs?  Yes, I've apprehended the suspect.

Whatever's in there must be finger-waggin' good!

 "Uh-uh-uhhh.  Not this time!  Mother's Day doesn't start until tomorrow and by that I mean AFTER 12:00 noon!  Maybe 5:00 pm!"

I've been warned...


Notice he couldn't resist a smirk!

Sigh.  Still no ice cream until tomorrow...

Happy Mother's Day everyone!

Find out what was in the bag.