Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Nearing the Beginning...

It is almost that time of year again. We're nearing the start of another school year. I'm anxiously awaiting tax free school supply days and the smell of fresh notebooks and newly sharpened pencils. The kids...not so much.

We've taken last week and this week off and I'm debating starting next Monday. I like to be a little ahead so that way I have some free days to work with. Although the summer school work still didn't put us to where I wanted to be, the call of a new year is luring me in.

I have been working *somewhat* diligently these past couple of weeks to prepare and there are going to be quite a few changes to our daily school routines.

The first thing I did was to work on a year long lesson plan notebook. This was so awesome. I have to admit that this is the FIRST time I have ever made lesson plans. Before, I just kind of averaged out on a piece of notebook paper as to how much we should accomplish each day. Sometimes that worked and sometimes not. So to see my notebook filled with colorful pages (more for my benefit than for the kids) I really get excited to give it a go.

You can walk through the step by step, customizable process for this lesson planner here. I love it because (as you can see by the close up pics) it is a daily planner, so there's plenty of room--and I write very large so I need lots of space.

The second big change will be the use of the P.E.G.S. chore system. I just got that set up and we'll begin using it tomorrow as a test run. I thought that it would be good to go ahead and begin this before we start so that the kids aren't overwhelmed with so many new things in one day. Here's a picture of our peg system (with the character trails list next to it to remind the kids of the character traits they're to aim for). You can get these at: http://www.familytools.com/

the peg system is so awesome. there are nice sized tags that have pictures of each chore, and each child gets their own row. When they complete a chore they flip it over for the day. Also, the ABC's at the bottom are for attitude, behavior and character. they can earn green tags for good behavior and the not tags for bad. They seem most excited about working with this...and the fact that I said each green tag earns you a dime (not tags cancel out a green one and lose a dime).

And lastly, we're using a modified version of the workbox system. I have mentioned this before and we did a sort of modified before as well. However, this time we will be using the actual Velcro tabs to be able to move over whenever a subject is completed. And they'll have their work strip handy as they go. This is what that looks like set up and the link for info:

I'll update more pics of it in use as we go along, but for now, time to sit back, finish up last minute preparations and get ready to jump on board the homeschool express. :)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Summer School....

Yes...we're taking *gulp* summer school! Since we had missed a little extra time and there were some thing I don't feel happy moving on and "leaving behind" then I decided we needed to have summer school.

I originally had the idea that we could do our full curricula for the next school year, but quickly saw a few areas I wanted to work on and polish first. So the school work for next year has been shelved for a few more weeks and we're doing a very light but productive day.

First, we finished up our Liberty's Kids DVD series for history. I have to say that I enjoyed this cartoon series about the American revolution as much as the kids did. And now that we are finished, we'll be moving on to Story of the World which is a chronological approach to history that (hopefully) we'll be working on for the next 4 years before we move on to high school social studies classes. But enough about that since it will not begin until next month (I will try to refrain from talking about "next years" work in this post).

Our day now (having finished up history) consists of math, spelling, reading and writing. For math, I want the kids to work on memorizing their multiplication/division tables more so we're doing Timez Attack (an online computer game), flash cards, timed worksheets, games and songs. It doesn't quite feel like school if you're dancing around the living room singing "One times any number equals that same number..." lol! :)

For spelling, I thought we'd go back and just do a basic review of some spelling concepts. I especially thought this would be needed since the children both tend to spell phonetically still whenever they write. However, after going through a big huge list of words, turns out that they can spell most of what I've given them, they must just choose not to use this skill. Maybe I'll have to get a little tougher on my "grading" (oh who am I kidding, I don't give grades...you either learn it or you don't....if you don't then we'll go over it again). I guess I mean I'll have to be more stringent in making them correct and re-do their spelling errors themselves instead of me just pointing it out and spelling it for them.

Moving on from that, we're continuing our quiet reading this summer. I was really hoping that the kids would be to the point of WANTING to read for themselves for fun by now...but I know that takes time. Until then, quiet reading remains a part of our summer school (as well as regular school) schedule. This house is filled with so many books that one of these days, when they do chose to read for fun they will discover a vast treasure trove!

A big reading step we're taking this summer is assigned reading. So far, if it's not part of our curriculum (as in reading aloud Bible lessons, science chapters, etc) then we've only had quiet reading. I chose the Children's Illustrated Classics version of "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" as a good jumping point. So far they seem to be enjoying it and I'm aiming for one chapter per month.

Well, that is what we're doing right now. It seems like a lot, but just math, spelling, assigned and quiet reading. That's typically enough to be finished in just a few hours. Although my typical workday usually takes at least 6 hours whereas other hs'ers can do theirs in 4, lol...don't think we'll ever get to that point. Although most, I think, is due to the kids procrastinating with their work and taking so long to get it done.

We'll soon be taking a week or two off at the beginning of August to relax before plunging into 4th grade. :)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Our heartbreak and loss....

It has been a while since my last post (not counting the time4learning post). I had refrained from posting about what was going on in our personal lives about this time last year until the present.

I think I delayed in posting it to my blog because I was thinking that if I don't write about it, it doesn't have to be true. However, it is time that I write and share what we've been going through.

It was almost a year ago that my husband was diagnosed with testicular cancer. It was at stage 4 and had spread into his back and abdomen as well. We went through a very aggressive line up of chemo following a successful surgery. My husband, Dwayne went through so very much in such a short amount of time. I won't go into all of the details here but cancer is definitely a life changing event.

On February 1st of this year he was told that the cancer was gone and that his chemo was over. He would only have one final scan to see that it was all gone. Two days later we lost my husband, on February 3rd, to a heart attack. I am thankful that my husband at least passed away peacefully in his sleep and didn't have to suffer. That is a small comfort.

As you can imagine, the last 5 months have been a roller coaster of emotions for our family. We've had deep dark depression. We've had lonesome sadness. We've had joy in feeling the Lord lift us up and support our needs. It still seems like only yesterday that I lost my best friend and my soul mate. When Dwayne and I met, it was love at first sight. God whispered to me that he was the one. :)

I still don't know how we'll get through life without him. It's been a big adjustment and parenting alone is definitely one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. I can feel Dwayne with me, and I can feel God's gentle assuring hand on my back as I attempt to carry on.

People continue to tell me that I'm an inspiration. I am not the inspiration, I am just doing what I have to do. I know God is with me and that is the biggest help of my day. I also know that I have to get up and take care of the kids and provide what they need. There have been many days when I would have preferred to lay on the couch where I continue to sleep at night even now, and not get up all day. And in all honestly there have been a couple of days when that did happen. I am not stronger than anyone else, I am just relying on God. Really, during a time that this that's all we can do.

I wish so much that more people had known Dwayne as I knew him. He was truly my best friend. A lot of people say their spouse is their best friend, but he honestly was. We spent 24/7 together. We shared all our secrets and had most of the same likes. Our personalities were similar and opposite in ways that complimented each other. I never had girl's night outs, because I didn't need them. My best friend was my husband and there was no other person on earth that I would have chose to hang out with.

I will post soon on what we've been up to homeschool wise but for now I wanted to share a little bit of our lives and the greatest loss we've ever experienced.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Time 4 Learning...

We were given the opportunity to review Time4Learning (Time4Learning.com), an online curriculum program. The kids were instantly excited when I told them that we were going to put the workbooks away and do our school online.

I was afraid that the curriculum would be incomplete, but I was actually very surprised by the information that it covers. It also does it in such an exciting way that the kids are interested and enjoy the lessons. I had to contact customer service a few times, just for my own questions and was happy with how quickly they replied and remained in contact with me afterward to make sure that my questions or concerns were answered.

I love the way you can instantly go either forward or backward a grade in case you want to go back and review a concept from a grade earlier or perhaps you don't think a subject is challenging enough. However, I have found that the curriculum is as challenging as other hard copy curricula and not as bubble gum or watered down as a lot of online curricula tend to be.

Even after the novelty of doing schoolwork online has worn off, the kids are still enjoying Time4Learning and look forward to it in our school day. We only need to supplement it with our handwriting program and I have continued our previous Bible curricula. Along those lines, I would also recommend Time4Learning to anyone who wants a computer program but wants something more secular than Switched on Schoolhouse.

My only complaint about the program is that you can't make assignments. If I could change anything, that would be it. I would like for the ability to go in and assign certain lessons in each subject because right now, I have to guide them to where I want them to be in the next subject. Technically I do not have to do that, you just teach them to follow the arrows to the next lesson, but I have jumped around a little bit, so want to make sure they are where I want them to be next. However, the person I spoke with in customer service said that it is something they are working to create a solution for (from what I have read on the forum, I believe that the program can also be used in classroom settings and there is some sort of problem with that one point and the way the software itself is set up).

But with that being my own tiny complaint, my positive experience has far outweighed that. I am just so happy with how receptive my kids have been to this curriculum and how they enjoy it. Our fussing over school work days are gone for the most part (there's still our handwriting worksheets to complain over, lol!) I believe that we are going to continue using Time4Learning for a while.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Ooooooh Workbox!

A friend of mine said she was thinking of doing the workbox method...I had no idea what she was talking about. So she pointed me to a few websites and I am hooked!
Here's an overview of the process:
You pretty much just set up a big box system where you put each subject in it's own container and they work through them 1-12 till the work for the day is completed. You also throw in a lot of fun activities. It supposed to help the students become more independent workers as well as providing a fun way to become more organized.

I really like this system. Obviously I wouldn't be able to implement the entire system right now. So I'm trying to think of ways that I could begin using it in small doses now. I'm thinking that I'll put the extra activities that we don't/can't do in a doctor's office into the hanging file folder crate I currently have (and don't use except to hold old papers now). I'll throw in some science activities related to what we're learning as well as possible history lessons and definitely fun art and music things.

I'll let you know as we get started and I will take pics to share!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Almost 5 months later....

Wow, has it really been nearly 5 months since my last post? I used to update pretty regularly. I believe I had intended to take the summer off from my homeschool blog since not a lot was going on school wise during that time.

However, since then we had a severe family illness that has shook our world. I had the school year planned out and it was working fine. We had started the beginning of August just to get a little ahead of the school board this year.

We ended up being in doctors offices nearly all day every day. The typical school work that I had chose was not working. There was no way for us to do the school work by carrying all of these books around daily. And There was no way that we would be able to do school after we got home. So I scrapped a few things. The textbook English that I had just began this year, is put aside for now. Instead I replaced it with a simple $10 workbook for 3rd grade English. It's not a big curriculum name, but it works for now. Maybe in the future we'll work back to the textbook. I also decided to place VA History on hold for a year. I am definitely going to keep the text until next year. But for this year I got a workbook of U.S. History. It's not fancy(just $10 each), almost just stories with no actually busy work.

The kids aren't minding the new history but they weren't retaining it very well, so I'm adding a few coloring pages that relate to what we're reading. Science has stayed, but I am using the workbooks that came with the books and my goal is going to be to read a lesson sometime during the day and do the workbook sheet afterward.

I seriously debated scrapping Saxon because there is NO WAY that I could lug that big teacher's manual around! So what I am doing for now, is cutting out the morning meeting (way too many manipulatives needed that I can't take) and we use the workbook sheets. To learn what we should for that lesson, I just take notes on what is being taught for that lesson. It's working pretty well so far.

So after all of these changes, I take a day a week (was doing it daily but weekly makes it so much easier) and put all of our work together for the week, stapled into daily packets. It is working for now. All is smooth. I also take along a little stack of books so that when the packet is complete, they can work on quiet reading time (reading to themselves).

Well, that is the majority of the changes we've undergone so far. Oh and we joined a co-op. It's funny but I already feel like we belong there. The ladies have been so welcoming and helpful with everything. I wasn't sure if we'd be able to continue because we kept missing at first for appointments. But we're getting into the swing of things so far.

I just packed away a box full of work that we've already completed for the year today! This is honestly the best work we've done so far, even in the face of tragedy. And I also realized today that we are about 1/3 of the way through our school year. Very cool. I don't know how much progress we've actually made. I know that they're learning though. That's the main point isn't it.....whether in a doctors office, a school room or at home.... my children are getting an education and that's the most important thing.

My goals: IMPROVING READING SKILLS! This is the biggest thing. I can tell that they have improved some because sis was reading a book last week that she could not even attempt about this time a year ago. Well, she had attempted and got frustrated and gave up. But this is the year for reading! We will come out of this year with excellent reading skills!

Math- just make sure that they are on-par for where they should be with math. I think this is very do-able this year! We're already to lesson 40 out of 140. Progress!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Shock...and a change in our homeschool approach?

Well, Of course we're TECHNICALLY on summer break. But like I mentioned before, we are spending about an hour per day doing math and reading and sometimes we're doing writing. My goal is that by the time August rolls around and school begins again that they will possibly be better readers and writers. Ultimately I'm working towards my goal of independent readers but that will come.

I am shocked that my husband just started talking about homeschool things. For 2 1/2 years now, he has listened to me ramble on with that glazed look in his eye. Every wife knows that look, its the one that says "I'm here, I'm listening but it's going out the other ear just as quickly". I don't get upset by it, its normal and I'm happy he lets me ramble on, regardless of his interest.

However, now he's been reading my homeschool magazines. He'll bring up things like unschooling or question me about Saxon and its difficulty. He now....*gasp and giddy giggle* says that he wants to teach them a class. I've handed over science. It's not that I don't like science, in fact I love it...but it would be nice to have him help out with a class or two, and I figure he'd enjoy science the most.

He also said took over math class today when I was on the phone and was teaching them multiplication. After that, he decided that he'd handle math too. Oh I'm ecstatic! I don't like math anyway, but he's a wiz at it. I'm sure that there are things that he'd be able to teach them, concepts that helped him grasp it, that I just wouldn't even think of!

So coming this August when school starts back, he will be handling science and math and possibly computer. Although I think I'm going to hold off of the computer class until after they learn typing. (I started it this past fall but with our getting behind I dropped it after about a month or two).

I'm so excited! I am looking forward to fall now! yay! Bring on the new school year!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Yay!....writing! Finally!

I am happy to report that Zack (to the best of my memory) wrote his first big paragraph today on his own. It was not school related at all. Nothing I had even requested. He just wrote a note to daddy about playing video games. But hey, can't complain, at least he WROTE a note that wasn't just a pictogram like his birthday wish list was. ;)
That, my dears is progress. Slow and steady wins the race!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

New Directions....

My life is kind of taking on a few interesting changes right now. I will not go into details until they are revealed a little more to me first. But the road is very interesting. things are looking up which is good.

I've stopped freaking out so much about school right now. I'm just having the kids do some math and reading and maybe some writing right now. I do want to work on the reading part a lot more over the summer and I'll continue with it daily I believe. We'll probably also work on some math until the end of June at least. We'll see how it goes. But I'm not stressing out about it though.

On a side note, Sierra has really gotten into writing now. Her spelling is way off of course, but she'll just write us notes for the fun of it. Her grammar is typically very good, the sentences are very well put together. Zack of course still hates writing. He just has no use of it yet. For his upcoming birthday he wrote me a list of things he wanted. This list consisted of drawings. For example, a drawing of a game, a plus sign and a drawing of Indiana Jones, another plus sign, and the word legos. He'll get there soon, I'm sure.

I am just in such a happy place right now. Things are so good, which is a drastic change and I think God has plans for us soon! :)

Monday, May 11, 2009

John Henry field trip....

We went on a very impromptu field trip this past monday...May 4th. To move to something lighthearted and simpler for the duration of the year, I had decided to study some American Legends and Tall Tales...

We had studied a few different ones such as Johnny Appleseed (which is based on the man John Chapman who not only planted apples but preached as well); Paul Bunyan (which apparently isn't based on one specific man that they can trace back, but many different legends); Casey Jones, and John Henry.

John Henry was an actual "Steel Driving Man" and it turns out that the Big Bend Tunnel in Talcott, WV was the location of his infamous challenge. I found out that it was only 2 1/2 hours from here so of course...FIELD TRIP!

We had to get lost first...because no good journey excludes this point. Here is the road that we weren't supposed to be under. It was the tiniest little road with a beautiful river next to it!

*See how tiny that road was....it was the wrong road of course!*

Then we stopped to check out a lake. It was so pretty and the view was amazing. I noticed the sign said "Army corps of Engineers" to which I said 'what, did the army make the lake?'.....

*this bridge had so many pot holes, we were afraid of falling through! I was afraid to tread....Dwayne was afraid he'd lose his tread....on his tires..I know, I'm no comedian*

*This is only half of the view of the lake, it was huge!*

...Only to discover that it was a dam, so yes, they had made the lake, lol. There were people fishing from the small overlook next to the bottom. I think this was probably the kids' favorite spot.

**You can tell we are homeschoolers...the comment "Look at that tire!" led to a discussion about water currents and forces etc**

**The poor tire...doomed to float in that same spot forever....or until someone moves it**

More driving and getting lost in a town (don't trust google maps, lol) before we got on the right road again. We almost missed it, it was only a small little spot on the side of the road. There stood the large (supposedly life size) statue of John Henry.

There was also a red caboose that was closed and a marker as well as a ball that we suppose had a purpose of some sort, and another marker that was missing it's plaque. I would love to find out what those meant.

*The red caboose*

**Isn't this the coolest statue ever!**

**Of course Zack has to pose...If I say smile he has a cheesy grin...if I say 'no seriously' then he looks mad or sad, lol

**The plaque at the foot of the statue**

**This is standing just at the foot looking up, it is a massive statue. **

**The landmarker**

**The large round rock...I have no clue what it is or supposed to be...maybe part of the rock from the tunnel...I'm just guessing here. I think I'll contact the town of Talcott and see what I can find out**

**Another mystery....what did this plaque used to say?**

There wasn't a spot at the bottom to look at the actual tunnel but signs did say that the John Henry landmark would be moving soon, however they looked as old as the location itself. I was really dissapointed with how the landmark seems to have been let go. You would think that being this tiny (20 minutes away from the interstate) town's only real attraction that it would have been better taken care of.

When we got home I did some reading and found out that the holes all of the statue are actually bullet holes, that it was once doused in white paint and that for some time they had to keep it behind a large fence for protection. It is really quite sad.

I would love to rally people together to fix up this landmark and make it portray the glory that the legend of John Henry himself portrays....overcoming adversity, perserverance and determination. I just have no idea who you'd get in touch with. I just have an idea that if the African American community would see the state of their greatest fold hero that perhaps they'd want to do something about it. I personally would love to do something about it!

But overall, the field trip was a blast and I loved being able to stand in the footsteps of one of America's greatest legends of all times! Is that thunder I hear??? No, must be John Henry striking that hammer! :D