Friday, August 10, 2012

Tea in the time of, well---TIME.

Ever have one of those days where you’re mindlessly scrolling through Facebook or Pinterest so busy you are nearly flattened by the fact that you are missing out on the most precious moments of your life?
Last week, Gloria kept pestering me about playing with the little ceramic tea set we have, which I had purchased a couple of years go with the vision of enjoying many cozy tea parties with my girls.  I was doing something on the computer (I’m sure it was hugely important…) and I kept brushing the kid off.
“Not now, babe. In a while.”
“Later on, okay?”
“In a bit, kiddo, in a little bit.”
Well, Gloria finally got tired of waiting and got the set down.  I heard the clinking of the dishes and went to investigate.  My first inclination was to scold the kid for getting into the tea set without permission. But when I saw her dressed in her finest, with a giant, floppy ribbon carefully tied in her hair, and setting the table with a flowered hankie as a table cloth for the tea set, I melted.
This wasn’t going to be any old tea party, casually slopping water from tea pot to cup.  This was going to be the REAL DEAL.
I don’t even remember what I was doing before, or what I did after—but right then, I realized this was an opportunity to make some sweet memories.  We made biscuits.  We made herbal tea.  We set the table. We broke out the freezer jam.  We invited the other kids.  We added insane amounts of sugar AND honey to our drinks.  And we had a blast.
Isn’t she adorable?

Of course, things got a little less dainty and refined when the siblings joined us, but hey---good company is good company.

We decided to skip having a real lunch and just gorge ourselves on biscuits and jam and sugar loaded lemon herbal.

I love that the baby has a tea cup AND a sippy.  She’ll have her tea, and drink it, too!
I love her pinky in this last picture—it appears Gloria is trying to be dainty, but the reality is that as I took the picture, I asked her a question, but she was focusing on drinking the tea—the uplifted pinky was a signal that she couldn’t respond right then and would have to wait until she finished.

Say Cheese (and don’t forget a jar of money.)

After several failed attempts at arranging family/kid portraits with various photographers (I know I’m sabotaging it all myself, that that’s another post) this is as good as we’re going to get:
The baby had crawled up on top of a box and we hurried to cluster the other kids around her for a photo—which of course, made her want to get off the box and toddle away—so we grabbed the closest “prop” we could find to keep her interested in sitting still—the “swear jar.”  (If anyone is doing the swearing in our household, it’s me, and this photo clearly explains why I’m always broke.)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Courses of Study for 2012-13 (or Ooh, That Sounds So High-Falutin’!)

We are a “freestyle” homeschooling family, meaning we are unaffiliated with the local school district or any online charter schools.  Thanks to very liberal homeschool laws in the great state of Idaho, (God bless Idaho!) we are free to teach our children anything we choose.
Last year, we continued with the Writing With Ease series, Spelling Workout workbooks, and the First Language Lessons series for language arts. These are all heavy on narration, recitation, memorization, and worksheets, which my kids love doing. (Who ARE these people?)
We also relied heavily on online resources for many of our classes.  We used ALEKS for math and BrainPOP for social studies and science.  We also began using the Rosetta Stone Spanish program (which is AWESOME, by the way.)
This year, my goal is to get the kids off the screens so much (their choir homework is also done online), so we have joined a local co-op that promises to be very hands-on.  Through the co-op, we will be using The Story of the World Vol. 1 (Ancient Times through the Fall of Rome) as a basis for our history and science courses. (I’m co-teaching science and we’re going to mummify a couple of chickens while we’re studying Ancient Egypt!)
Outside of co-op, my middle and little kids will be focusing on handwriting, using the Zaner-Blozer model for both manuscript and cursive (merely because that’s what I was taught and what I prefer to teach.)
I recently invested in Saxon Math, after finding the the ALEKS program was just not enough even when using the core curriculum program (as opposed to the supplemental version available at most public schools.)  I have started my two little kids in the K and 1 Saxon books and they are clipping along. In fact, I’m wondering if my 7 year old is ready for Book 2.  My older kids are using Saxon 54 and 65 books.  I started them a couple of weeks ago.  At this point, the lessons are merely review for the big kids—which was what I wanted---they really need to cement the basics—especially as far as defining mathematical terms.  Saxon is very teaching intensive, meaning unlike ALEKS, Saxon requires ME to really do the teaching.  So far, I am enjoying it—I’m learning and “cementing” concepts right along with the kids.  The kids are a little less than impressed with the drills, but we make it fun by turning the drills into games and even making goofy flash cards.  At this point, my kids would technically be considered “behind” in math if they were in a public school, but they are progressing nicely since we switched to Saxon and they are liking math a whole lot more.  (And I am liking math a whole lot more!)  I have no doubt they will catch up with their public school peers within the next few months.  My goal is to have them into the next books by January, putting them “at grade level” by the end of the year.
Outside of the core classes, our kids will continue with Rosetta Stone Spanish, use BrainPOP as a supplement for science and history, and they’ll also be involved in extra-curriculars.  They are currently lined up for tae kwon do, Cantus Youth Choirs, Boy Scouts, and various church youth development programs.  Ellen is now old enough for volunteer work at the local library and humane society, and she’s expressed a strong desire to do both.  The challenge with that will be trying to find time to serve in an already busy schedule---we want to make sure we prioritize non-school related family time.
An important component of family time is our religious devotions and study.  I admit, we really still are “fly by the seat of your pants” in this area.  We have gotten very good at having a Monday night devotional, which in LDS lingo is formally called Family Home Evening, but other study and devotions, including scripture study, have been hit or miss.
In an effort to bring our spiritual development to the forefront this year, I have created Personal Prayer/Personal Scripture Study, and Family Prayer/Family Scripture Study cards to use in our Visual Schedule each day.  Since I implemented the schedule and these cards, we’ve seen steady improvement from each child and as a family.  Of course, the average family scripture study period consists of reading a verse or two, and asking the kids to sum up the principle taught in that verse, or summarizing a favorite scripture story (Daniel in the Lion’s Den is my personal favorite, as is the Nativity story.)  It’s not long and it’s not particularly deep, but it’s a start.  I would like to get us singing hymns (which means we need to memorize them, which means we need to practice them—but I haven’t figured out how to get the kids excited about that yet.)
I am really looking forward to the “official” school year—so far, we’ve been taking a relaxed approach to the curriculum for this coming year—easing into it, if you will.  I plan to ramp it up come August 21.  This is the day that the local kids go back to school and there’s a great energy that just comes with that “back to school” atmosphere—even though my kids aren’t hopping on the big yellow bus.  We’ll take advantage of everyone else’s excitement and get rolling right along with them! 

Planning for Fall 2012

I’m going to hit the ground running at the end of August with some new ideas to start off the new “school year.”  The last couple of years have been rather chaotic due to some family drama, birth of a baby, and moving a number of reasons, and while we still managed to get school stuff done, I wasn’t nearly as organized as the kids needed me to be.
I admit, I am NOT a structure person—the thought of keeping to a calendar or committing to regularly scheduled ANYTHING makes me hyperventilate.  I blame it on an artistic disposition—but my children all inherited their father’s need for routine, and frankly, I’m tired of hearing:
“What are we going to do today?”
or more likely: “Can we watch Netflix?”
or more likely: “Can I play games on the computer/Wii/phone?”
or most likely: “I’ve done my morning chores and the other kids aren’t done with theirs and haven’t even eaten breakfast, and it’s not time to do school yet, so can I play games on the computer/Wii/phone?”
I’m tired of telling them no (and feeling guilty when telling them yes) and I realized that despite the copious amount of reading the kids all do—they are BORED OUT OF THEIR MINDS!
Now, I realize it’s summer time, and that a little boredom is a good thing—it forces the kids to use their imagination (or get chores done on the off chance Mom catches them moaning about their lack of activities/entertainment.)  But that’s a different post.  My point here is—we gotta change this up for the school year, or we’re going to go out of our ever-loving minds.
Enter The Visual Schedule!
One day, while scrolling through friends’ statuses on Facebook, I noticed a buddy had commented on this post over at Simple Homeschool.  Normally, I avoid anything that even remotely resembles a formal schedule, but for some reason, I latched onto the idea and became obsessed with creating my own visual schedule—one I could point at when the kids ask “What are we going to do today?” and they don’t buy my default answer: We’re going to try to take over the world.”
I won’t go into the nitty gritties of explaining how I put it together, it’s beautifully done here, in a post by Stephanie at Keeper of the Home and is the model I used to create our own.  The only difference between Stephanie’s set up and mine is that I opted to arrange our schedule on the fridge using magnets I bought at the dollar store, rather than using a teacher’s pocket wall chart.  I’m cheap, what can I say?
Each night, I (or one of the kids, under my direction) put together the next day’s schedule.  The kids love this because they get to see what’s coming up and can anticipate how things are going to roll once they crawl out of bed toward the Fruit Loops.  I love this because the kids know what I expect them to get done before we start school, and it helps keep me focused and on task in making sure the kids are getting in the work (house and school) that needs to be done.
Of course, most days don’t go EXACTLY as planned.  We change things around if the flow of our day needs some tweaking.  We occasionally add or subtract activities if needed.  So, the schedule is flexible, which keeps me from having to breathe into a paper bag while bringing a bit of order to the place!