Week 1

Aug. 8th, 2014 10:59 am
entirelysonja: (Default)
It's the end of week 1 of school, and I think it's gone very well!

The kids seem to be enjoying the Book Shark 3 curriculum, though they wish there were more map activities. I've had to invent a few. :) I've set aside an hour every morning to do the read-alouds, map, and timeline activities, which seems to be enough time so far.

We've been spending 3 hours each morning on schoolwork, which has been enough time for:

  • All of the read-alouds
  • The Language Arts grade 2 and 3 activities -- just the stuff from Book Shark, we are not using any of the supplementary handwriting, spelling, or vocabulary resources.
  • Math -- the kids are using Singapore Math 2A and 4A, with the Challenging Word Problems books, but I am not assigning every page in the workbooks/CWP books. This year, I'm assigning what seems useful after going through the textbook with them. They also use an iPod application for fact drills.
  • Latin -- Erika is meeting with me twice a week for a short Latin lesson from the Minimus iBooks edition.
  • Memory work -- both kids use Anki for memory work on the iPod.
  • Piano practice -- I assign piano practice three times a week, but they decide for themselves how long/what to practice.
  • German -- Karl is doing a page a day in the Einstern's Schwester German curriculum. This is one of the places where he's getting handwriting practice, along with German reading and writing. Once he finishes it (he's in book 5 of 6), he'll move on to cursive handwriting.
  • Reading -- for the most part, the kids have been able to get their assigned Book Shark reading done during this time, though occasionally it has spilled over into other times.

I'll be interested to see whether they're able to fit their homework for German School into this time once that starts in September; they may have to work on that after lunch once or twice a week.

We don't try to fit Science or Art into our morning "school time"; instead they do activities in those areas in the afternoon, on the weekend, and on field trips. We're trying out Groovy Lab in a Box as a science resource this year, and yesterday they had fun building a water wheel. They're not big fans of formal science curricula intended for elementary students, and I honestly can't blame them.

I was really impressed by several things this week:

  • Karl didn't complain about the amount of reading he was expected to do, and started working his way through the first Harry Potter book on his own time. It's very slow going for him, but I'm impressed by his perseverance.
  • Erika recognized on her own that if 3 is not a factor of a number, 6 also cannot be a factor of that number. I was not trying to teach her this -- we were just working on finding all the factors of a number.
  • Karl did a great job of learning his spelling words; it's the first time he's had spelling words.

I've also started using Homeschool Tracker to generate daily assignment sheets for them. In previous years, we have used weekly assignment sheets, but for various reasons I decided to go with daily assignment sheets this year. That's been going very well -- they each get a checklist each morning indicating their assignments, along with their chores and other details about the day. I like that Homeschool Tracker allows me to put in plenty of detail about each assignment, so I can do things like indicate that a particular assignment is to be done over several days.

Next week they'll be in Circus Camp all week, so we won't be getting to Week 2 of school until the week after next.
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Today was the first day of school for the 2014-2015 year. We're starting a lot earlier than we usually do, because we're planning to go out of town for a couple of weeks in September, and because we will most likely take a longish vacation starting in early May. I don't want to have to come back from vacation and try to get everyone back into a school frame of mind for another few weeks!

We're making major changes this year. We won't be spending nearly as much time, if at all, at co-op activities, and we'll be using a new academic approach at home. I was excited that a secular curriculum, Bookshark, based on Sonlight has been released, and purchased their "grade 3" package to use with both kids for history and literature -- it's the first year of a two-year study of US History. I also bought their readers and language arts curricula for both kids -- second grade intermediate for Karl, and third grade advanced for Erika. Although Erika is in fourth grade, I chose the third grade language arts and readers for her because it's all closely connected to the history. Plus, the age range for this level is 8-11, and she'll be turning 10 during the year, so I'm sure it'll be fine.

The first day went well! I think the kids enjoyed the books I read out loud, and I know they enjoyed the timeline and map work. Karl didn't balk at the amount of reading -- I was worried about it, particularly since I'm trying out having him read both the second grade (very easy, but connected to the LA) and second grade intermediate readers.

I like the language arts program so far; I think it's at the right level for my kids. The second grade is really going to challenge Karl, but I don't think it will be so hard as to be a problem, and he needs to be challenged after spending the last two years focused on learning to read and basic handwriting. The third grade has a fair bit of review for Erika, but I'm also OK with that -- she will benefit from spending more time on these concepts.

We're using Singapore Math US edition for math, and I spent today zipping through the first parts of 2A and 4A with the kids, identifying a few areas they need to work on and opting not to assign any written work for the rest. I want them to have enough time to work on math enrichment activities, which will never happen if they are bogged down doing every problem on every page of the workbooks.

We wrapped up the school day with some drawing with Mark Kistler's draw3d web site, which the kids had a great time with.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow!
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I completely neglected my homeschooling blog last year, but I suddenly find I have something to say.

Things are going remarkably well this year so far.

Last year, I split the kids up so they were working in two different rooms, because when they tried working together in the same room, neither of them could work effectively.

This year, I'm continuing to have them split up in two rooms, but I've set up a schedule whereby each child has me with them for half an hour, rather than me shuttling back and forth "as needed". I provide them each with a checklist of everything they're supposed to do for the entire week, and they're supposed to move on to something else if they discover that they need me during the time when I'm with their sibling. Amazingly, for the most part they're actually succeeding in figuring out how to structure their work so that they don't need me when it's not their turn. Plus they're taking responsibility for getting all of their work done during the course of the week, something I've been working toward.

It's a big improvement over last year, when I was always saying things like, "I'd love to work with you on math, but your brother just asked me to work with him on reading." Of course I tried last year to get them to work with me at non-conflicting times, but I didn't have much success.

I don't think this method would have worked last year, but I'm sure glad it's working this year!
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Karl was very excited about his first day of school; he'd mentioned many times that he couldn't wait to do formal schoolwork.

Today started off with the German tradition of a Schultüte, which is a cardboard cone filled with stuff for a kid's first-ever day of school. This is normally given at the beginning of first grade, but we've chosen to do it at the beginning of Kindergarten in our family. A picture of Erika giving Karl his Schultüte )

He then completed his first written schoolwork -- a few pages of Explode the Code 1, a page of Getty-Dubay Italic Handwriting B, and a couple of pages of Miquon Math's Orange Book.

Photos of Karl doing his schoolwork )

He seemed to enjoy it. The only part he really didn't like was needing to play on his own while I was coaching Erika through the work she couldn't manage to focus on. Sigh.

Once she finished, we went to the local homeschooling group's "Not-Back-To-School Picnic," where we saw lots of people we knew. Erika spent a lot of time reading (she's on the last Percy Jackson book), while Karl mostly ran around on the playground.
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This evening we tried playing Happy Birthday, Robot! for the first time. Karl, Erika, John and I all played, and came up with the following rather boring story: )

It was fun, though we obviously need to work on creating more interesting situations!
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Erika has been using Math Mammoth Blue Series for quite some time, and is perhaps halfway through Add & Subtract 3. I gave her the placement test for Beast Academy 3a, to see if she was ready for that, and based on the results, decided to let her try it.

The first chapter is on geometry, and contains some really interesting and difficult problems. Our approach has been for her to try them herself, and then if she doesn't quite see everything, I let her know that she needs to try again and offer her hints and suggestions if she wants them. I'm very happy with the level of thinking required thus far -- and was amused that I encouraged her to play Tetris in order to deepen her understanding of one of the lessons.

I'm looking forward to seeing how it goes from here, and I'm pleased that she's been willing to accept help; unwillingness to actually be taught has been an ongoing issue for us.

This has definitely been the spring of reading for her -- she just finished the entire Harry Potter series, and has now started reading the Percy Jackson series.

I didn't really expect her to read the entire first Harry Potter book, let alone the whole series! But she just kept wanting to keep going, and I don't believe in censoring kids' reading, so...
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My mid-year homeschooling review was yesterday, so it seemed like a good time to write up my reflections on the semester. The review itself was fine, and although I was annoyed not to get to meet with the same reviewer I'd met with last year, I was happy with the experience.

This academic year, we have co-ops on Tuesday and Wednesday, which is killing us. The co-ops themselves are great, but having them two mornings a week, back-to-back, is not working out well for the rest of our rhythm. Written schoolwork really only works for us in the morning, so it means we're only doing our regular schoolwork on Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays. Erika is very routine-oriented, so the only day when school really goes well is Friday, since she had Thursday to get herself back into the habit.

It's not that she's not making good academic progress, but that things take her much longer than they should on Mondays and Thursdays. I'm probably going to devote Monday to working on a new approach for getting things done efficiently.

Anyway, as for the actual academic progress:


Erika has been continuing to read longer and more complicated books. Last week, she picked up the first Harry Potter book, and has been reading it with great enthusiasm.

For writing, we've been using Evan-Moor's "Daily 6-Trait Writing," the second-grade version. This is working out pretty well for us, and she always looks forward to writing. At the beginning of the year, we were doing copywork and dictation regularly, but those things have taken a back burner as we've been struggling with our rhythm.

Erika has also been learning to type, and is doing very well with it. She has learned to type all of the letters, as well as some punctuation marks.


Erika has learned how to add and subtract two-digit numbers, and is starting to work on three-digit numbers. She's also gotten quite good with time and money.

We've been mainly using the Math Mammoth blue series books, though I do also provide her with a daily problem from MEP.

She's also been using xtramath.org for arithmetic drills.


We did a lot of work on migration earlier in the fall, including watching the National Geographic "Great Migrations" series, reading some related books, and going to a Monarch butterfly day at a local nature center.

Other than that, we took a pretty loose approach to science last semester. Lots of museum visits, nature center programs, etc. -- but nothing particularly coherent. I'm not bothered by this, as I don't think Erika is getting an inadequate amount of science.

A couple of photos )

Social Studies

We did a lot of ancient history this semester -- I read out loud from Story of the World, Erika read related books herself, we did activities at our co-op, etc. We also went on some field trips, to the National Geographic museum and to the Penn Museum in Philadelphia.

This has been the big source of "fun" in our academic day, and both kids have been enjoying it.

Photos of our chicken mummy project )


This is another area where I didn't have a coherent plan for the semester, but a lot got done anyway. Erika did some sculpture, a lot of drawing, experimented with printmaking, did some painting, etc.

Various art things )


Erika continued to study the piano, and took up the recorder. We also sang a lot of German songs in our morning circle time.

She also went to a program on African drumming at the African Art Museum.

PE and Health

Physical Education was a major strength of our program this fall -- Erika took Yoga, Diving, and Karate. She played on a soccer team. She went swimming every week. She went bicycling often. She went to a climbing gym. And so on. She is definitely getting a lot of different kinds of physical activity and learning some great physical skills.

Phys Ed photos )

As always, we addressed health topics as they came up, and I feel sure this is adequate.


Erika is making excellent progress on reading German; at the beginning of the semester, it took her two or three sessions to read books considered to be on a second grade level, while now she can read the same type of book in fifteen or twenty minutes. These are books it takes me about ten minutes to read out loud, so I think her reading speed in German is coming along quite well.

Her teacher at the Saturday school seems pleased with her written work, and she came in first in the class spelling contest today.

On Spelling

Dec. 5th, 2011 09:30 pm
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My philosophy about Erika's spelling is that it seems to be improving on its own, so I see no reason to spend a lot of time trying to teach her spelling rules or working with her on spelling specifically. She has no problem asking for help or accepting correction with her work, and has no interest in doing any kind of rules-based spelling study, so this method is fine with both of us.

Every now and again, it's nice to take a look at her uncorrected work and see how things are coming along. This evening, she wrote the following letter )

I thought it was a pretty decent job, for a first grader working entirely on her own.
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It has been a busy few weeks here!

In our Ancient History Activities class at co-op, we started mummifying a chicken. Picture of kids with chicken )

We also made the board game Senet, and made bricks out of sand and glue. It's been a lot of fun, and very messy!

We've also been on a lot of field trips, including to the College Park Aviation Museum, the National Gallery of Art, and pumpkin picking. And that's just this week!

Karl has also learned to ride a bicycle, and both kids have been doing a lot more biking. Erika's been enjoying her diving class, and is also having a lot more fun in soccer. She definitely has a heavy athletic schedule this fall!
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This morning I gave Erika a math problem that involved figuring out possible combinations of things -- in this case, the six ways you can put three different colored horizontal stripes on a flag.

Anyway, after she did it, she wandered over to our wall map, which has flags printed below the map, and figured out which countries actually had the flags she'd colored in this assignment. I love that there was time to do this. Picture of page )

Then we discussed the location of ancient Sumer, since we were at the map anyway...
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This morning Erika was doing some schoolwork by herself so I could pack a picnic lunch. After about 10 minutes, she came to me and said, "Mama, I don't understand what I'm supposed to do in the math problem."

So I began to explain. "Imagine you're in a car. The car has a gas tank that holds 20 gallons of gas. After you've been driving for a while, you only have twelve gallons left. How many gallons of gas do you need to add to the tank to fill it back up?"

"But Mama, you wrote that the car's tank held 10 gallons!"

"I did? Oh. I'm so sorry, I meant 20 gallons. Please change it to 20 gallons. Now does it make sense?"


She then proceeded to correctly solve the problem, which involved filling out a chart showing how much gas you would need to put into the tank based on different values of how much was already there. I got this problem from MEP 2a, which I've been finding very useful for Erika's "Math Warmup." now if only I could copy the problems correctly!

Oops. At least she was in a good mood, so I think it was probably a positive experience involving asking for help before being totally frustrated, and hearing me apologize for a mistake. If it had happened in the afternoon when she was tired, it might have turned out differently...
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Today was the first day of German School for this academic year, and unlike last year, all four of us went.

I wasn't sure what to expect from my class, which looks like it's going to involve reading, discussing things we read, and giving a short presentation. About half of the students in the class are heritage speakers like me, so I definitely feel like I'm in the right place. It's kind of a relief to be in a group of people who have the same general types of problems with the language that I do.

Karl seems to have enjoyed his class, and I'm sure Erika will be OK -- the teacher didn't tell the kids they should eat their snacks on the playground, which is different from what they did last year, so her main feeling about the first day of class was grumpiness about being hungry. She'd been very excited about the first day of class, so I'm sure things will look up next week.

John was looking a lot more relaxed during the break than he did before class, which I take as a good sign.

It's really a lovely atmosphere, one I'm really glad to be part of. Photo of the rest of my family on the first day of German School )

In unrelated news, Erika has reached a point in her journey into reading where she has trouble falling asleep without reading for a while first. I think she's taking after me.
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The second week of first grade is more or less over; I thought it went well.

Highlights included our first day at the Greenbelt Co-op on Tuesday, where Erika took Yoga, Karl did alphabet stuff, we all played board games, and I taught the "Ancient History Activities" class. Erika loved Yoga and has incorporated the meditation practice into our morning circle time, which is fine with me since I'd been trying to teach the kids meditation. If she wants to be the driving force, I'm all for it! All of the kids seemed to enjoy the ancient history activities; I had the kids make "cave paintings" on a brown paper "cave wall" and make their own cuneiform tablets.

Erika enjoyed math much more this week, now that we've both realized that she wanted a workbook. I spent some time last weekend printing out about three months' worth of Math Mammoth pages and binding it with Circa discs. She's also doing arithmetic drills (she's not a fan), plus I give her a daily "math warmup" drawn from the MEP curriculum, which allows me to inject some side topics and puzzles.

She's doing really well with dictation in both English and German, and is choosing to do most of her writing in cursive. We're about a week and a half into Evan-Moor's Daily 6-Trait Writing, Grade 2, which she seems to like, and which is helping me teach her things I think she needs to know, so we're both happy there.

She's been doing a lot of reading, mostly of Magic Tree House and Ivy and Bean books, though she did also read You Wouldn't Want to Be an Egyptian Mummy this week. I need to make more of an effort to incorporate German reading, as she only did that once this week. I blame Labor Day.

We've been reading about ancient history during circle time, and took a field trip to the National Geographic museum today to see Etruscan artifacts. Erika enjoyed the exhibit, though I think she and I would both have enjoyed it more if Karl had not been there, as he was very bored and I spent most of my time managing his behavior. picture of Erika taken after field trip; photography was prohibited in the exhibit )

Tomorrow is the first day of Saturday classes at the German School. Erika is extremely excited; she has been packing her backpack and making sure the outfit she wants to wear is ready for the last 24 hours.
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We've had some rough times this week; although we've been doing schoolwork on a "light" basis all summer, Erika has had some trouble adjusting to the fall semester. Today I could tell she woke up on the right side of the bed -- she was much more cheerful and pleasant in the morning before school. Not surprisingly, we've had a much better day of doing schoolwork.

One of the things on today's agenda was Erika's first formal dictation exercise, which went very well! Picture of dictation )

One of the things I've been doing this year is preparing a math "warm-up" of just a few problems in a little bound notebook for her to do. She wanted to have some easy math to start off the day, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to incorporate review, so that's been a good move for both of us. Though it does mean I have to write out some math problems every night before school!
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... her response to a power outage is to keep reading by the light of the two LED tea lights she had on for atmosphere. I would have gotten her a better light, but it was really time for bed anyway.
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We start school this coming Monday, and I am super excited! I think I have a decent schedule put together that will give Karl something to do if he wants it. We're also going to be doing some activities in the morning, and I want to still do some formal school on those days, so we'll see how that works out. I've also prepared a secondary school area for Karl to do his "schoolwork" across the hall from where Erika works. I have plenty of things he can do mostly independently if he wants to -- cutting activities, play-doh, mazes, etc.

Here's my draft schedule for the fall:

8:30 - 8:50 - Circle time, during which we will sing some German songs, have a 10-minute read-aloud, and a few minutes of meditation. I've started trying to teach the kids meditation, but I'm not sure we'll actually manage to carry this through the school year.

8:50-9:00 - Erika works on writing with me

9:00-9:30 - Erika works on math with me

9:30-10:00 - Break

10:00-10:30 - Erika works on German with me

10:30-11:00 - Karl works with me on reading or math if he wants, Erika reads silently.

11:00-11:15 - Erika does English copywork or dictation with me

11:15-11:30 - Erika does typing with "Typing Instructor for Kids" and Anki memory work

In the afternoon we'll do science activities, art, PE, etc.

Erika will also read at bedtime, including reading in German 3 days a week, and will have a piano lesson with John on Tuesday evenings.

I'll be interested to see how this works out -- and how much of it changes within the first few weeks of school!

On days when we have activities in the morning, I expect Erika and I will use a schedule more like:

8:30 - 9:00 - Math
9:00 - 9:15 - German

Sometime later in the day:

10 minutes - Writing
30 minutes - Reading
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Over lunch, we were discussing the number of days in each month, which led to a discussion of different methods of remembering which months had which number of days. Naturally, we wound up talking about the number of days in February, during which John pointed out that the leap years are divisible by four.

I pointed out that Erika doesn't yet know what "divisible" means, and launched into an explanation involving dividing up various numbers of cookies among the four members of our family. This led to the following hilarious exchange with Karl:

Karl: Wait, I have an idea! If we had that number of cookies you said...
Me: Ten?
Karl: Yeah, ten. We could each have two cookies, and then when Mama and Erika went to Karate, we [Karl and John] could eat the other two!

John then pointed out to him that we could also break the remaining two cookies in half so we could share. But I was very amused by Karl's idea; he clearly thought it was so clever!
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We've been studying some American history this summer, and capped it off with a trip to Philadelphia to see Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and Valley Forge. The kids weren't terribly impressed with Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, but they loved Valley Forge. Especially the part where they got to run around between two cannons. They also enjoyed seeing the reconstructed cabins, and were struck by how close together the bunks were -- not a lot of head room there!

Some Photos )
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We were supposed to meet my parents at the Maryland Science Center today, but after they had to cancel, we decided to go anyway.

The kids had a great time. Karl especially loved the musical ball machine, though this one is different from the one I knew as a child at the Franklin Institute or the one at the Boston Museum of Science, in that it is kid-powered. Also, instead of using pool balls, it uses smaller balls, a couple of which are much heavier than the others and wind up going down a completely different path in the machine. I thought it was very well done, and Karl loved it.

Erika especially liked the pneumatic tubes in the children's section (kind of like a children's museum inside a science museum). You could write messages on pieces of paper, stick them in the capsules, and shoot them across the room through the tube.

A couple of pictures )

We will definitely be going back!
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Karl (4.5 years old): That man did something he shouldn't be doing! He put something in his mouth that makes people sick!

The man was smoking. We then talked about not making people feel bad by talking about them.


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