Tuesday, May 21, 2013

2013 - 2014 Curriculum and Budget

The conventions are done and we are pretty much settled on curriculum for the next year. Obviously we will have to make changes as we go along, but I am hoping that my plan will allow for flexibility enough that I won't have to overhaul everything too many times :)

I was able to find a My Father's World kindergarten and First grade Teacher's Manual at the CHAP convention's used curriculum sale. I will use their program as a starting point and add in SRA Phonics, Explode the Code, and lots of extra reading for language arts. I also got the first level of Rod and Staff math, as well as the first volume of the Life of Fred series. That along with our Rightstart math program should give me enough background to teach to Henry's level as we go.

The MFW curriculum is low key, provides decent tie-ins to biblical concepts, and gives me a framework to start from when building our curriculum. It's not truly an all-in-one for us, but it does help me by limiting the possibilities and giving a little more structure to my mommy-made studies. The kindergarten program starts with a two week intro, then progresses through 26 themes, each beginning with a different letter of the alphabet. There are short passages of scripture, some fun activities, and a phonics/handwriting progression. We'll skip the letter sounds but definitely use the fine motor skills practice.

The first grade program is all about learning to read, and employs a bible reader that the child is meant to read independently by the end. The older version of the first grade is not as well laid out as the kindergarten but I am working on putting the info into a plan book in order to make more sense of it.

I also got some extra resources from Rod and Staff, some art resources, picture books from the used sale, a small home worship Betty Lukins felt set for teaching Bible stories, some devotions books, and a couple of Wee Sing cds for extra enrichment. Then I came home and placed an amazon order for any other lit. books I still wanted (getting most of them used). All in all I spent somewhere around 600 on curriculum, and will hopefully be able to pass it all onto my niece and then use it for Stella some day. It seems like a lot, but I actually spent less than I had budgeted! I used money from my and Stella's birthday too.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Homeschool Convention!

We took a break for the last month or so, continuing with some phonics and reading books when we felt like it, and focusing on all the spring social events. We went to weddings, birthday parties, and small group events, and I spent mother's day weekend at the CHAP homeschool convention.

The convention was amazing, way bigger than the NJ convention we've gone to in years past (and will go to this weekend). I talked to some parents who also had early readers, which just filled me with such a sense of relief. There was no trying to say negative things to balance out talking about Henry's reading, no apologies, no assurances that I'm not crazy or suggestions that I'm pushing my kid to do more than he is able to do.

I also found some great curriculum options, which I'll post about separately. Things got a lot easier when I decided to just go with my gut. My first inclination was to find work that was at Henry's level phonics-wise, in other words, second grade stuff. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that my desire is for us to have a low-key, low-pressure, enjoyable school experience this year. I'm far more concerned about learning about the Bible, developing character, learning to get along with others, and spending quality time together than I am about academics at this point.

The truth is, Henry will be fine academically, but these preschool years will be over in no time and I want to make sure that he learns to love school. I want him to feel the satisfaction of knowing the right answers, of getting everything right. There will be plenty of time to struggle, to work hard, to be disciplined. I want him, in the midst of learning something truly difficult, to remember the feeling he had of getting every answer. I want him to know that he is smart, and capable, that he can get this.

This may seem obvious to everyone but me, but I really have struggled with the decision of which path to take. Encourage him to do the hardest work he is capable of doing, or let him revel in a job well done? Both are important I think. Anyway, we will be starting kindergarten curriculum soon, a very cool Bible-based kindergarten curriculum that is similar to what we've been doing. I will supplement the phonics and perhaps the math as needed, and we may continue doing our continent boxes just because they are fun! My plan is to finish up the kindergarten sometime around Christmas, and then start 1st grade in the new year.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Feb.-Mar. Transition/Bunnies!

We worked on finishing up the rest of my winter-themed books and activities last week, making snowflakes, reading the gingerbread baby and the mitten, and continuing to enjoy our Antarctica box.

This week we are reading several books about bunnies, including Peter Rabbit and other Beatrix Potter stories, ABC Bunny, and The Little Rabbit. I decided to do a week with these books and some light-hearted Easter reads now, and then focus on the real Easter story at the end of the month.

We are almost at the end of our First Start Reading workbooks A-D, but that will take us only halfway through Classical Phonics. I just write the new words and sentences on a little white board, then Henry reads them and erases the board, because he is not writing yet, but I didn't want this to hold him back from the phonics that he has already mastered. He pretty much knows the words we're doing now, but I still wanted to go through each lesson anyway just so I know I'm not skipping something crucial. I guess when we finish the workbooks I'll have to just make lessons up for the rest of the phonics books. We should be finished with the workbooks this week if I stay on top of it.

We started reading our Bible stories from this book 5 Minute Bible Story Devotions. He seemed distracted while I read but later commented on a story, so I think they're good. I also read from the My Father's World Story Book Bible, and roughly follow the ABC Jesus Loves Me 3-year-old schedule for the stories.

We went to the library and got some Australia books, some about the country and some about animals from the country, so we'll start doing our Australia box soon. I have some more stuff coming in the mail too. We might forgo themes for a while and focus on the animals or something if Henry likes them enough.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

We went to PA last weekend for a little vacation, and I visited an educational store there. A woman who worked there said she was a former preschool and kindergarten teacher and asked if she could help me find something. I asked her about resources for teaching some specific phonetics skills.

When she showed me some workbooks that were heavy on writing and drawing, I explained that I was looking for something more visual since my son was young and didn't enjoy writing. When she heard that Henry was three, she looked at me like I was crazy. First she said that there was no way that he could really read. When I assured her that he could, she acted like I was "hot-housing" (a term I just found out about) or something, drilling him with concepts too advanced for him. When I said that I only followed his interest, teaching him when he asked to be taught and answered his questions about reading, she said, conciliatory, "Well, it's not developmentally normal. Pretty soon he'll just stop and then all the other kids will catch up."

At first I was baffled. Why didn't she just show me what I wanted (and make a sale)? Why was she so invested in convincing me that my son was weird, that I was crazy, that Henry learning early and well was something to worry about, that it would be fine because eventually he would fall back and average out?

I know not all teachers are like this lady. There are certainly teachers out there who see each child as an individual and do their very best to bring out the full potential of each student in their care. But it made me realize that sending Henry to school might subject him to personalities like these, who want everything and everybody to fit in a neat little box, those who see working ahead in the same light  as falling behind.

Homeschooling is hard. It will probably get a lot harder before we are through. But it's worth it to let my children learn the best way they can, whether that fits into someone else's timeline or not.

Snowy Day!

It didn't snow this week but that didn't stop us from reading some great books about snow days and snowmen. There were so many cool activities I found for a snow theme that we didn't get to all of them, so we may sneak a couple into next week when we read The Mitten by Jan Brett.

Henry is getting faster at reading and spelling words. Other than reading aloud and along with him, we also practiced some silent e words and now he is much better at pronouncing silent e words quickly. Before when he saw a word like "make", he would say "mack, no wait, make." Now he is much faster at seeing the whole word and saying it correctly. We'll probably continue practicing the silent e words this week, maybe with some vowel-r-silent e words because I think those can be tricky.

He is also more interested in holding pencils. He didn't want to write letters but likes those printable worksheets where you trace a path from one object to another. He also did some dot-to-dot worksheets and some regular old coloring. I'll be ordering more FLIP crayons from rainbow resource because we've worn ours down to nothing. I'll probably also order some new do-a-dot markers just for fun.

I backed off doing any kind of math this past week.

We opened up our first continent box, Antarctica! Henry absolutely loved it. We have a little ball that looks like a globe, an inflatable globe, and a big map of the world on the wall. We found Antarctica on all of them. We read books from the library and tried watching March of the Penguins. I have to say I was glad Henry wasn't that in to it, that movie is sad! I think his favorite thing about Antarctica is spelling it. It's probably the biggest word he knows and he gets a kick out of it.

We listened to Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne on cd from the library. The first chapter I played he almost ignored it, running around the house. His attention span got much longer as we continued, and now he'll sometimes ask for two chapters, but I've found one is more where he is at this time.

We've been reading one devotion from Gotta Have God Devotions for Boys each morning. Now that Henry is a bit older, the ABC Jesus Loves me curriculum is more his speed in terms of the Bible stories, so we're following that schedule again. Next week is Jesus Feeding the 5000, which should be fun!

I play classical music during some of our down time, but haven't put up our composer of the month pictures yet. I am going to do the Artist of the Month first I think, starting with Picasso because he is fun. I got some books from the library and googled coloring pages for Picasso's paintings - it is amazing how many there were! We will hopefully start the Artists this week and the composers a couple weeks later.

I think I'm mellowing out as we go. I used to feel so bad if we didn't do something I had planned or if I changed the plan or dropped something. Now I'm realizing that those decisions were usually made not because we are lazy or ineffective, but because that was what was best for us at the time. If Henry isn't ready for something he isn't ready. In the same way, if he is ready to read why do we need to wait on someone else's schedule to do it?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Will You Be My Valentine?

We had lots of fun with our penguin theme last week. I think we may return to it once I get our Antarctica continent box ready!

This week we are reading some Valentine's Day and love-themed books. Today we worked on making some Valentine's Day cards for our friends and some handprint crafts for the grandparents. We also took some time looking at our new maps that I hung in the hallway and reading Where Do I Live?

Henry asked to read BOB books but got bored with them pretty quickly. I'm thinking this is a good thing because they are very easy for him and the stories are not very interesting. It is always hard to know how much he is comprehending when he is reading aloud to me, but in this case I think he realized that the stories were boring. He loves to read Go, Dog, Go, which has more newer sight words and is just all around a more "real" book.

I tried to play a little addition game but he was either bored or just not getting it. I think we'll have to try something more conceptual. Tomorrow we will wrap Valentine's Day presents for the kids in our small group (hoping Amazon gets them to us in time), and do some more fun reading aloud.

Stella has been cruising, crawling, teething, and eating us out of house and home, so it's been harder to sit down for a long time with Henry. On the other hand I feel that for his age shorter, more spaced out learning is working well. I do a little activity with him, then feed the baby, then something else, then do some dishes, etc. It doesn't fit into my neat little plans always but it works.

This Week: Penguins!

We are having a great season of preschool! Henry is happy to be learning and makes progress every day. We are still working on potty-training and our main focus for school is just improving his reading. He will now verbally spell words out unprompted. It is fun to open the front door and hear his little voice whispering "L-O-C-K. That's lock. Yeah, that lock."

I got him to try tracing some letters by using some printable letter pages, I think from 1+1+1? I put them in a binder in sheet protectors and let him use tiny dry erase markers from the Target dollar section to trace the letters. He loved erasing them with the eraser too. We also just do do-a-dot pages and I'll be opening up a new pack of skinny pipsqueak markers to color with tomorrow.

This week our theme is Penguins, and we've been having fun reading some really great books. Greg has been reading The Narnia Chronicles to him before bed, and I just started reading Mr. Popper's Penguins during the day. We've also found some great picture books, including One Cool Friend, Tacky the Penguin, and Penguin. Of course there is always our old favorite, Osbert. Henry hasn't asked to watch Pingu yet, but I'm sure that will happen too.

Greg does "Math School" with him about once a week but I am hoping to join in and do little games throughout the week. He would love memorizing whatever math facts we taught him but we are hoping for a more conceptual understanding.

I am planning a big geography survey based around our continent boxes, but I'm not sure when we'll start. I guess I originally planned to do Antarctica when we did Penguins, but I don't feel like I've prepared enough yet.

I found a great website for a study of artists and musicians. I had some classical cds I got at a prior homeschool convention and I hope to get some more when we go in May.

It's hard not to feel overwhelmed by all of the awesome plans I'm making right now. It feels like there is so much work to do, especially considering our budget limitations, but I'm trying to remember to focus on the basics for now, and realize that by the time Henry is ready for these substantive topics, I'll have it figured out.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Where We Are Now

I haven't posted much since we've been so so busy. Hurricane Sandy threw us for a loop and since then it's been non-stop dealing with damage to the house and rearranging our house now that we have no storage space. We have continued to do preschool at home, but with all of the non-essentials cut out. Just this month I've been able to add back in more of the fun theme-based activities that I'd planned on doing. Without further ado, this is where we are now:

Life Skills - Henry FINALLY was able to use the potty (consciously, not just accidentally because I was putting him on every ten minutes). This has been our main focus as far as teaching him to be independent. We got him a special new train for the first time he did it, and now have a sticker chart for another reward. I got three packs of chore chart things from the dollar section at Target (awesome sauce). I'm taking baby-steps with this. I tried just putting him in underwear cold turkey and I still have PTSD from the number of accidents I was cleaning up, so for now he is still in diapers. I'm sure he would train faster if I had the guts to ditch the diapers again but for now I'm ok with the gradual approach.

Reading - Watching Henry learn to read has been one of the most exciting experiences for me as a homeschooling parent. I'm not a former teacher like many homeschool moms I know, so I was a little worried that I would do something horribly wrong and Henry would end up behind with this. Fortunately for my inexperienced self he has always been obsessed with letters and as soon as he "got it" (figured out how to put the letter sounds together to sound out words phonetically) he was reading.

I let him watch the Preschool Prep Sight Words dvds before he was reading phonetically, and he could pretty much read their Sight Words Readers, but I didn't consider him to be actually "reading" until he was sounding out new words on his own. He started doing that soon after he began reading the Sight Words books, so I think allowing him to take the whole language approach first actually triggered something in his mind that allowed him to "decode" the letters and read. Starting with whole language is controversial, and I wouldn't have chosen to do it, but he loved the Sight Words dvds so much and kept asking for them and in our case it worked out very well. Now he can read many many picture books, BOB books, and the leveled readers like Step Into Reading books. He also loves sounding out signs and other words whenever he encounters them. He will verbally spell out words (unless asked!), like MILK, and CAN'T!

Henry loves Starfall and anything else that has to do with the computer or movies so I'm trying to use that to my advantage. We are doing the portion of Starfall that teaches silent e's and he is doing well with that. Also the Leapfrog dvd WordCaper explains silent e words very well so I think I'll try and show him that again. He knows the rule but needs more practice to apply it quicker.

Writing - Henry is either average or behind with fine motor skills for his age. It's hard to say, because I think he's actually capable of writing but is very easily frustrated and gives up quickly. We went to a birthday party for two sisters this weekend, and he wrote his name on one card, looked at it, and refused to try the second card even when I tried to help him. I think the fact that the letters don't look the way they look in his mind is frustrating to him. He often asks me to write words or letters for him, but I try to hold back a little so that he'll develop the desire to try himself. He is stubborn and won't cooperate when I try to correct his pencil grip. I'm hoping this will be one of those developmental things and that he'll just wake up one day and want to do it :)

Math - Greg does "Math School" with Henry at least once a week. He uses the first grade materials from Right Start Math, level B I think. This program is very conceptual and doesn't yet require writing skills so it is going well. There is a cd with rhymes to learn their system and some visual aids that Henry likes.

Behavior - I've been really encouraged these last few days. Henry is still going through a "no" phase where he basically just says the opposite of whatever we say. I'm not too disturbed by this, since he has actually been more obedient, he just says no but still follows directions and has been sweeter than ever. For example, we'll say "Henry do you want to go swimming in the pool?" and he'll say, "No! Not the pool! We can go take a bath!" A minute later he'll realize what we said and what he said and run up to us saying "The pool the pool, we can go swimming in the pool." His negative responses seem sort of reflexive. I've been ignoring it. I think focusing on it would just make him dig his heels in. I think it has something to do with becoming more independent, trying to have his own opinion, that sort of thing. We're hoping he outgrows this phase soon though :)

Other Subjects - Like I said, I've been planning to do some more theme-related activities. Some are new, others I planned to do earlier but never got to. Up next are Penguins, Snowmen/Snow, The Gingerbread Man, The Mitten (the book), Valentine's Day, Dishes (setting the table, putting the silverware away), Clothing, Weather, Bugs, and Growing Plants. This just means I try to find library books, gather books we have, and buy a few books about the theme, print out some little activities with theme-related clip art, and maybe do a craft or two. It's just a way to get Henry into what we're doing and create some unity between the other subjects.

As far as the bible stories and memory verses are concerned, I'm not sure what to do. I was trying to use the ABC Jesus Loves Me website as a basic guide and planned to gather different resources, books, crafts, etc to go along with the Bible stories she suggested. I'm having such a hard time with this. Maybe I just don't have enough time to do it well. I'm going to research it a little more and see if there isn't some bible curriculum that requires less work on my part. I really wish we were going to one of the big homeschool conventions in March, but money is just too scarce to plan another trip right now. The NJ and PA conventions we're planning on attending are not until May and I don't want to wait that long to change up our Bible time. I may have to try and just ask around.