"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."

John 10:10

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Swimming Lessons

Our days are rolling along with a lot of summer fun.  Both sides of grandparents wanted a quick visit before the baby comes.  Grandma was here from Thursday til Saturday.  Then Nana and Papa arrived Saturday night, and left this morning.  I finished up some getting ready for baby tasks, Mark and I went out for our 12 year anniversary, and of course the girls got spoiled.  I soooo appreciate our parents' willingness to make the 4 to 5 hour drives to come see us.  I know that our living away is an inconvenience to them, but they don't let that stop their love and devotion to their grandkids.  We have the best family, and I know that is special.  So, the girls are on grandparent detox right now.  

Last week Madeline, Lydia, and Anna all had swimming lessons.  It is so exciting to watch them learn and grow more confident in the water.  Anna is our little fish.  The entire time I was watching her in the water I had a huge grin on my face because you can tell she is  loving it.  Lydia was pretty apprehensive.  She happened to need to use the bathroom when it was time to practice diving.  We had many pep talks about bravery throughout the week, but she finished strong.  Madeline is gaining strength and endurance.  After watching their lessons, I understood why they were so tired every night.  Anna and Lydia will be in Level 3 and Madeline will be in Level 4 next swimming lessons round.  The two videos below will put a smile on your face... Lydia diving (but really jumping to the ladder) and Anna jumping in.

Speaking of being tired every night, Madeline is attending Camp Sonshine this week.  With non stop activity and the heat, she was bushed last night.  It is a day camp, which is much easier on Mommy than a stay away camp.  She will sleep over Friday night under the stars.  I expect her to sleep the day away on Saturday.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Thoughts on curriculum choices: The Basics

Now that I have my school plans coming together for next year, I want to flush out my reasons and philosophy about my choices a little more.

     We use Saxon Math because it seems to be the old time standard of a thorough math program.  It is not fancy or colorful, which to me can be distracting for the girls.  The program uses a lot of manipulatives for the younger grades.  Saxon 5/4 is the transition year for the student doing most of the lessons on his or her own with Mom checking in and clarifying when needed.  Before that, the lessons are completely scripted for the teacher although some explanation or expansion is sometimes necessary.  Saxon uses a spiral approach, meaning you work on a new concept, go on to something different the next day, then come back to the concept in a different way later.  However, there is a lot of review each day to complement the spiral approach.  Included in the review is fact practice, word problems, and mental math.  Although it is tempting to doubt your choices and try other programs, Saxon has worked well as a thorough and understandable math program for us so we are sticking with it.  It seems to me that jumping around with math programs could really produce some holes.
Last year, I came to a screeching halt with Madeline and math.  Although she understands new concepts easily and enjoys learning new concepts, she was struggling with having the basic math facts of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division down automatically.  We would drill and drill, which was not fun for either of us.  Then I discovered xtramath.org.  This has been a great add on to our math.  Everyday she (and Lydia) go online to their site and do about 10 minutes of math drill.  For some reason, doing it online instead of with Mom is more exciting.  Xtramath tracks how the girls are doing and does not let them proceed until they have mastered a fact.  It is the best math drill site I have found.  

     Until the girls reach CC Essentials, we use Writing With Ease (WWE) by Susan Wise Bauer.  WWE begins with simple copywork and one sentence narration exercises from children's literature.  Then it moves on to dictation from literature.  We use the workbook, which has every lesson laid out for the mom.  I really believe in making it as easy as possible for mom so that lessons actually get done.  We have loved WWE for the gradual increase in difficulty as the student moves on, and we also love the children's literature selections used.  It is exciting to encounter a selection from a book that we have already read and we have even found new books to read from WWE.  The copywork/narration/dictation method fits the classical model of learning and seems to transition to our writing program for 3rd/4th grade on up:  Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW).
     Last year was our first year to use IEW.  Madeline started out the year stating that writing was one of her least favorite subjects to finishing out the year as her favorite subject.  She learns the new "technique" in her Essentials class every week, then works on her assignment during the week at home.  It requires a lot of writing over the course of the year.  The premise of IEW is that you learn to write from other writings.  She learned how to construct a key word outline from another writing selection, and then had to write her own paper from that outline adding in dress ups, sentence openers, and other items from her checklist.  It covers creative writing, poetry, research papers, and other topical writing assignments.  Essentials uses the IEW history based lessons, which coincide with the history that CC is covering that year.  All my kids will go through IEW multiple times over their schooling career, until they hopefully master the skill of writing.

     My favorite book for teaching my girls to read is "The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading" (OPGTR) by Jessie Wise.  It is a very user friendly, phonics based program.  You can move as quick or slow as you want through the book.  When you are initially teaching a child to read, it is painful.  Sounding out small words, going over the same thing again and again is not "fun."  You wonder what you are doing wrong or if there is something wrong with the child.  But for both Madeline and Lydia, they reached a point where it really clicks and they take off reading.  At that point, we stop the formal reading lessons and I let them read, read, read whatever they want.  They are very soon out of the beginning readers and moving on to chapter books.  I have them read aloud to me every so often to make sure they are reading accurately and to help with reading fluency.  I also ask them questions about what they are reading to make sure they are comprehending and not just flying through books.  We continue with additional phonics rules through our spelling lessons.
  I have skipped over the beginning letter sounds as presented in OPGTR because that seems tedious and I spot check the girls to make sure they know their basic letter sounds before we start the book.  They learn the letters before actually beginning to read through our everyday life.  They learn the letter sounds through everyday life and by watching Leap Frog Letter Factory.  Okey dokey artichokey?  Seriously, that is how I have them learn the letter sounds.
     One of the most important aspects of teaching reading is instilling a love of reading in our home.  I am reading board books to them from day one.  They see Mark and I reading a lot.  We go to the library on a close to every week basis.  There are books everywhere around our house.  Because reading is a natural, fun, and important part of our life they are excited to learn to read.

     Although I have used "First Language Lessons" in the past, I have come to the conclusion that really memorizing the english grammar facts through Classical Conversations should provide a solid foundation for grammar.  Until they reach Essentials, we will not complete any formal grammar study but will really hammer in those english grammar facts.  That means they will know all the prepositions, helping verbs, linking verbs, principle parts of verbs, sentence structures, sentence patterns, noun definitions, pronouns, parts of speech, and more.  This will be an invaluable resource when it comes time to connect the dots in the analysis of english grammar.
     When they reach 3rd or 4th grade, they will begin Essentials of the English Language.  This is a complete grammar program where the student learns the ins and outs of english grammar.  He or she is in class once a week with a trained tutor, then practices sentence diagramming and analysis at home during the week.  The child will go through the program 3 or 4 times, learning the same thing every year but delving deeper every year.

     We use Spelling Workout workbooks because they were recommended in "The Well Trained Mind" when we first started school.  I like them because the child can complete the lessons on her own, then check in with Mom for a spelling test at some point.  Some weeks we do one lesson and a spelling test.  Other weeks, Madeline will finish 3 lessons but not finish a spelling test for a couple weeks.  We are flexible.  The lessons are centered around phonics rules, which I appreciate.  I know there are other more rigorous spelling programs out there, but this has worked for us thus far.  Madeline seems to be a natural speller and Lydia seems to be following in her footsteps.  So, instead of driving myself crazy researching new and better spelling programs, we're sticking with this because it works and is easy for me.

     This is another area where I chose a program when we started and am just going with it.  We use Zaner-Bloser handwriting workbooks.  I order the workbook for their grade level and we go through it.  I really can't tell you much about this program compared to others, other than the style seems pretty similar to how I learned.  While the girls complete the workbook sheets by themselves without too much instruction from me, I have found that I need to stay on top of them about holding the pencil correctly and following the rules for forming the letter.  

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Anna's 2012-2013 Kindergarten Plan

Math:  Saxon Math 1

Reading:  Ordinary Parent's Guide to Reading
  Many library books for free reading
  Family read alouds

Handwriting:  Zaner-Bloser K

Classical Conversations

Lydia's 2012-2013 1st Grade Plan

Math:  Complete Saxon Math 1

Writing:  Writing With Ease Level 1

Handwriting:  Zaner-Bloser 1

Grammar:  Memorizing CC English grammar

Spelling:  Spelling Workout A

History:  Story of the World 4, Modern Times

Geography:  CC geography memorization and tracing

Science:  CC Science Facts with Usborne Science Encyclopedia

Reading:  Many free reading library books, along with history and science library books  
  Family read alouds

Language:  CC Latin memorization

Bible:  Prayer time and reading with Daddy in the morning, and before bed at night
  Heroes of the Faith
  Memorizing Exodus 20 for CC

Art:  Additional reading and picture study of the CC artists for the year:  Giotto, Ghiberti, Fra Angelico, Durer, Michelangelo, El Greco

Music:  Additional reading and listening of the CC artists for the year:  Handel, Bach, Mozart

Madeline's 2012-2013 4th Grade Plan

Math:  Saxon Math 5/4

Writing:  Institute for Excellence in Writing Ancients (CC Essentials)

Handwriting:  Zaner-Bloser 4

Grammar:  CC Essentials of the English Language

Spelling:  Spelling Workout E

Typing:  Typing Instructor

History:  Story of the World 4, Modern Times

Geography:  CC geography memorization and tracing

Science:  CC Science Facts with Usborne Science Encyclopedia

Reading:  Many free reading library books, along with history and science library books  
  Family read alouds

Language:  CC Latin memorization, seriously considering Rosetta Stone Spanish, unsure of an additional Latin program

Bible:  Prayer time and reading with Daddy in the morning, and before bed at night
  Heroes of the Faith
  Memorizing Exodus 20 for CC

Art:  Additional reading and picture study of the CC artists for the year:  Giotto, Ghiberti, Fra Angelico, Durer, Michelangelo, El Greco

Music:  Additional reading and listening of the CC artists for the year:  Handel, Bach, Mozart

Other:  Madeline will be working on becoming a "Memory Master" this year for CC, reciting every fact, timeline card, and geography location she learns for the entire year.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Baby Sister

Dear Baby Sister,

You are due to arrive one month from today.  I can't wait to meet you, hold you, and kiss you.  Your sisters can't wait to play with you and sing to you.  They love to feel you move by touching my tummy.  And of course Daddy can't wait to protect and guide one more beautiful girl.

It was a surprise to learn that you were coming.  Daddy and I were taking a few weeks to sit and pray on whether we should adopt, foster, or have more babies.  By the end of the month, you were already growing inside of me.  The peace that enveloped me through knowing that you are a gift from God has been wonderful.  I know that it is an honor to carry you, a miracle that God chose to create a new soul inside me.  Even amidst the nausea, vomiting and exhaustion, I do not take any of this experience for granted.  

This is the first time that we have found out whether we were having a girl or boy.  Your sisters did not even want a brother.  We seem to do OK at raising girls.  Having sisters myself, I am so excited for the best friends that you will automatically come in to and have for the rest of your life.  Although we all went to the ultrasound, we did not tell your sisters until that night that you were a girl.  I made a cake.  If the inside was blue, we were having a boy.  If it was pink, we were having a girl.  

Even though we are pretty sure what your name will be, we mainly call you Baby Sister.  And Baby Ronnie.  Daddy was joking around one night that we should name you Ronnie.  Cora grabbed on to that, except it comes out Baby Wonnie.  Cora loves to tell everyone she is getting a new baby sister, from the check out lady at Target to people that she sees every week.

I have been getting out all the baby supplies and washing up your clothes this week.  We are ready for you.  I am at the point in pregnancy where I'm not sleeping much between getting up to go to the bathroom and my legs and feet cramping.  I know that is preparation for when you arrive and I will be caring for you through the night.  We all can't wait to share our love and life with you.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

How do you do it all?

I always giggle inside when someone asks me that question.  

Then I sigh, knowing the truthful answer to that question.  

I don't do it all.  

I don't craft.  
I don't bake pies.
I don't sew.
My kids don't get to do fun crafts or art projects very often.
I don't put fancy braids in my girls' hair.
You know those cleaning check lists that give you all the fall and spring cleaning tasks like cleaning windows and cleaning behind your oven?  I don't really do those.
I don't teach Sunday School.
I have a cleaning lady that helps with the once a month deeper cleaning.
I don't get my nails done.  
Some of the walls in my house are still bare.  
I don't color my hair, or get it cut very often for that matter.
I always feel behind.
I don't run 5K's or triathlons.  Ok, I don't exercise.
I don't watch TV.  (Well, other than Parenthood, Downton Abbey, and HGTV Design Star which I watch online.)

See?  I don't do it all.  You have to choose what you spend your time and energy on.  Some of the above list I would love to do.  If you do them, great!  But, you can't do it all.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

What didn't work for us last year?

Picture Smart Bible...
I appreciate the idea of this curriculum.  You read through the Bible, and the kids have pictures to color along with.  However, it didn't pan out like I intended.  I don't know if the pictures were too detailed with too many specific requests or my kids are just too young for it, but we had to give up about a third of the way through the year.  It didn't seem like the girls were digesting the information, and I was never looking forward to it.  Instead, I just read through Matthew while the girls traced their CC maps.  That was much easier for all of us.

Madeline worked through "Prime Latina" by Memoria Press this last year.  She would watch the DVD every week, and then complete the workbook pages to go along with it.  Again, I like the idea of it.  She was learning a couple prayers in Latin as well as vocabulary words and beginning Latin conjugations and declensions.  But, she thought it was boring.  It was usually a task to complete without really absorbing or enjoying the material.  I'm not sure what we're going to do for Latin this next year.  I am leaning towards really focusing on memorizing the CC Latin, and calling that good.  If we lodge the declensions and conjugations deep in to our minds, I think that may be as good as any other Latin program at this point.     I have also come to the realization that I need to learn Latin myself.  While the DVD program worked well because I don't know Latin, I think that it is only fair that I learn it along with her.

Working on handwriting with Lydia and Anna at the same time...
Handwriting is a subject that needs to be dealt with individually.  Trying to get through it quickly with both of them at the same time was not effective.  The younger years require individual attention, and there is no way around it.

Getting allergy shots...
Madeline and Lydia were diagnosed with environmental allergies last summer.  While there is no cure for allergies, one treatment option is shots that gradually build up your resistance to the allergy.  The treatment begins with twice a week shots, then down to once a week, every other week, and so on.  Because this does promise at least a better handle on the symptoms, we decided we need to do it.  The girls have handled the shots very well (considering they are getting dreaded shots).  Taking a couple hours out of our morning twice per week this last year really hurt though.  It is a reminder to me to keep running around and activities to a minimum because we really value our time at home.

Monday, June 11, 2012

What worked last year?

Read Alouds...
We read some fabulous books together.  Early American history is full of engaging literature, uniting engrossing stories with historical education.  My favorite book from the year was "Amos Fortune, Free Man" by Elizabeth Yates.   What a powerful story of the fight for good, even when the good is incredibly difficult.  To imagine the hard life that some have led, yet remained virtuous, is humbling and inspiring.  Amos Fortune would let no one hinder him from living as a free man of God.  I cried during this book, finding it difficult to get the words out.  Of course, I think I cried at some point of every read aloud book this past year.  Yes, I even cried when Matthew died in "Anne of Green Gables."  It gets me every time.  I'm not sure my girls entirely know what to do with me when this happens.  

"Window on the World"...
We read through a good portion of this book during our table time this year.  Each two page spread would give a description and short story about a place or people group that has severe poverty, persecution, or very little Christian influence.  It was an eye opening experience for all of us to learn and love people around the world.  I was surprised how much the girls enjoyed the book and would not let me forget to read it.

Lydia learned to read...
What an exciting accomplishment this is.  She followed a very similar path to Madeline in her development of reading.  The fall was laborious, slowly sounding out words, struggling for the ideas to click.  Then in January, boom!  Something in her head clicked and she was off.  Once she got it, she loved it.  She has been devouring books like crazy.  She's been reading all the "A to Z Mysteries," "Magic Tree House" books, and American Girl books.  

Classical Conversations...
What can I say?  We love CC!  It makes our homeschooling fun, full, and complete.  Anna went through her first year of CC.  Initially I was hesitant as to whether she was ready or not, but she did great.  We had a wonderful year with like minded families.

The afternoon class for 3rd/4th graders through 6th graders in Classical Conversations is titled Essentials of the English language.  They learn english grammar, work through the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW), and play math drill games.  Grammar is the first subject I've encountered that has completely stumped me.  I don't know if I never learned how to diagram sentence or I have blocked it from my memory, but I was struggling.  I am so thankful for Essentials presenting the material in a manageable way for me (oh, and for Madeline too).  It was amazing to see what all the kids learned throughout the year.  At the beginning of the year, Madeline said she didn't like writing.  By the end, it was one of her favorite subjects.  

I was the tutor for the CC Masters class.  It was not as much work as I thought it would be, and was a lot more fun than I thought it would be.  Because I was forced to really learn the material for class, I think I was more effective at reviewing the material at home with the girls.  

A Schedule...
I know that following a schedule gives me more time.  I know that we only have so much time in a day, which we need to budget.  I know that following a schedule is actually freeing rather than suffocating.  Yet, I struggle on a day to day basis to follow a schedule.  When we do follow our schedule, we get everything done that we need and want to.  If only I had the discipline to do this, we'd be rolling.