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?