Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Our Christmas Fun….so far

I finally had success with shaving cream/glue puffy paints!  Last year we had a pitiful mess of flaking, smooshable, FLAT goo but this year….SUCCESS!

Look at that lovely, puffy snowflake.


I guess I wouldn’t say this was any less messy than last year but Vicki had a great time.  Evidently the secret is to make sure you use enough glue.  The “recipe” calls for 1/2 glue, 1/2 shaving cream but it’s really hard to measure when the cream foams up and the glue doesn’t.  Vicki chose a lovey brass-colored glitter to add.


Meanwhile, Georgie had no interest in playing with sticky white muck so I introduced him to fuse beads.   I had a bucket full from when Steph was younger.


Georgie made a star that he decided to hang on the wall of his room instead of the tree.  I made a heart and then made him a Pikachu.  Our bucket of fuse beads is mostly pastels and neons, so I’m going to have to gets some more blacks and primary colors before I can make any other Pokemon.


Vicki and I also made some Christmas sugar cookies this week.  Georgie wasn’t interested in helping – since he doesn’t eat sugar cookies, he didn’t want to make sugar cookies.   I may try and talk him into making some cookies with his two favorite things - Hershey Kisses and  peanut butter.

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Friday, December 7, 2012

Weekly Wrap-Up

We had a good but short week.   We will keep plugging away as much as we can even though the holidays, although I am going to try and throw in some more fun stuff.


Vicki was very excited to start her Handwriting without Tears kindergarten level book “Letters and Numbers for Me” this week.    She proudly wrote her name on the cover and started right in.   She still needs quite a bit of work writing on the lines.  

She still enjoys using the lined chalkboard with small chalk pieces and little sponges to practice.  I’ll write something, she then uses a small wet sponge to go over each letter, then dries it and writes it herself.  HWT refers to this as “wet/dry/try”.  We are mostly practicing her name this way.


Georgie is doing one page a day in his Handwriting without Tears 2nd grade book.  The smaller lines and full pages make this all he can handle with good technique and careful formation, at least for now.   He has been doing more of the writing in his Spectrum Writing workbook (for some reason he likes writing in that book) and even some math.


Vicki has moved on to short /i/ words in Explode the Code.   She still enjoys ETC and will do between 2 and 6 pages a day.  I let her do however many pages she wants to do and let her quit when she’s had enough.  She usually writes this herself so gets tired faster than she might if she let me do the writing.

We are up to Lesson 35 in Ordinary Parents Guide to Teaching Reading.  When we reach blends in a few lessons, we may take a break and just review and work on fluency.  She usually sounds out the words one letter at a time but is getting slightly faster at putting them together into a smooth recitation after.   I wasn’t ready this week with a print-out so she did Lessons 34 and 35 right out of the book.  She didn’t seem to mind this like Georgie did when he used OPGTR, so that will make things easier (for me).   We are still using the Hubbard’s Cupboard booklets for practice and next week we are going to give Hop on Pop a try.

The only phonics Georgie is still doing is All About Spelling 2.  We are up to Step 9 and he is continuing to have no trouble spelling any of the words.  I’m not sure he is actually utilizing the rules but I will continue demonstrating them in the hopes he is retaining at least some of the information.

We are having a little trouble finding a good place for the magnetic board when we are working in the kitchen.  I had it leaning on Georgie’s chair but he didn’t want his barefeet on the cold tile floor so he perched on the edge of the seat.  It actually worked fairly well but I’m not sure that is the way we will continue.


We spent time reviewing commas and adjectives outside of our Spectrum workbooks this week.   I found some extra practice pages from Evan-Moor Teachers File Box and The Learning Page.  He’s definitely getting more comfortable with writing since on The Learning Page worksheet all he had to do was write 5 words to describe a storm.  Instead he wrote 5 full sentences, “The storm is LOUD”, “The storm is big", “The storm is dark”, “The storm is wet”.  Of course, he had to yell when reading “LOUD”.  Not overly creative but he seems to understand adjectives finally.

Reading Comprehension is still a mixed bag.  Some of the selections (from Evan-Moor Read and Understand with Leveled Texts, Grade 4) he reads right through, answers the questions easily, and moves right along.  Others, he scans the text then takes random guesses at the questions.   I have found that he isn’t ready to answer questions that require a lot of deduction from the text instead of the answers being clear.  After the holidays, I’m hoping to do some literature units where we can discuss actual books.

In Spectrum Writing, he is working through the stages and tools for writing – brainstorming, word webs, etc.   Their suggestion for a web was “Foods I Like to Eat”.  Not a great topic for Georgie since there are very few foods he likes to eat.  But, we managed to get through the assignments.  Next week he will work on writing his own paragraphs and I will probably let him type them up on the computer.  Observing him lately he types using both hands, all 10 fingers and at a decent speed.


Vicki has been getting bored with her kindergarten math.  She decided to mimic her brother and declare them “too easy” this week.  I took a look through the math suggestions in What Your Kindergartener Needs to Know and some of what would be coming up, and decided that she may be ready to start Math Mammoth 1A.    Next week we will give that a try and see how she does.  Since she is starting right at the beginning and definitely doesn’t have Georgie’s affinity for math, I think we’ll probably be able to just proceed through the chapters in order.

George is doing great with his 5 million different math activities each day. 

He still loves the Algebra Readiness Made Easy puzzles but it looks like the current ones are too easy since he finishes them in about 30 seconds.  We are still at the beginning of the 3rd grade book and I think it gets harder as it goes along so I may need to jump farther into the book.  I’ve also been looking at some other logic books, such as grid puzzles, that I think he may enjoy.

He did slightly more of the writing than is usual for him this week in Math Mammoth.  In one case he actually chose to do math while I was working with Vicki instead of waiting for me like he usually does.   Another set of problems – borrowing over zeros from 3B – I wasn’t sure how to have him explain it to me so I could write it for him while still making sure he understood it.  I did copy the problems larger onto separate sheets of paper so they were easy to work with, especially having to cross off and borrow from multiple digits.


He thought this meant he would only have to do four problems since I wrote a problem on each side of a page folded in half.  When I told him I would just get another piece of paper he said “Drats, I knew mommy would know a way around that”.   But, since he was able to answer all four of the problems I gave him without hesitation I didn’t give him anymore off that page.   He is currently doing 3 pages from 3A or 3B each day.

He is working on Beast Academy 3A as well.  We are only up to the second section, on quadrilaterals, but he is doing a lot better understanding.  He had some trouble when we were doing the triangle section and I thought he might not be ready for the very different approach of BA, but for some reason the quadrilaterals are coming much easier to him.   We will continue doing this very slowly as a supplement.

I’ve also started running through flashcards with him at the end of school.  He is great with understanding concepts but is not quick with facts.  So, we are doing drills of addition and subtraction to build up his speed.  Eventually we will move onto multiplication.  He doesn’t seem as resistant to flashcards as he used to be, as long as I let him have the cards after he answers them correctly.  That makes it into a game for him.


Once Vicki is done with her work each day, she usually does Play-doh while I work with Georgie.  This week I did get her to make some foam Christmas ornaments we had from last year.  She actually followed the picture on some of these and put them together according to her directions.  Most of them had her own unique touches though.


I’ve gone back and forth on various methods of organization, and various strategies for work flow over the past couple years.   I think I may have finally hit upon something that will work. 

Georgie really likes to see how much work he has to do each day.  He likes being able to see what he should do on his own and what he can wait until I come help him.  He likes to talk constantly as he does his work, and he likes to put his worksheets right in my face to check them over the second he is done with them, even though this is usually the time when I am working with Vicki.  The constant talking isn’t really a problem since he doesn’t expect an answer and it doesn’t seem to bother Vicki at all.  He is just discussing every single thing he is doing, what he thinks about it, and how it’s going.   The shoving things at me and expecting an immediate response IS a problem.

He really liked his binder where he had a clear division between his independent work and what he did with me.   But we now use a bunch of workbooks that I can’t pull apart for binders, and we sometimes had trouble with him not knowing what to do with “independent” work that he actually needed help with.

So, here is what I’m going to try:


a very loosely interpreted workbox system from plastic magazine holders.  In one is all his independent work, in the other is all the things we usually do together.  Things that are borderline I am putting in the “Go Ahead” bin and if he feels he needs help, he can move it into the other bin.   Anything he finishes and wants me to look over, he can put in the “Stop” bin and I will go over it with him (which usually means me checking the answers and saying “you’re right, good job”).  If he finishes his “Go Ahead” work before I finish with Vicki, also in there are his composition notebook for free writing, his How to Draw Pokemon book and a couple Draw, Write, Now books.  These will be clipped together and have a note saying only to do them if mom is still working with Vicki, although I will try to make sure he gets to these at least a couple times a week.

Also in the “Go Ahead” bin is a checklist written in Sharpie marker on a laminated page (so it won’t smear but can be removed with alcohol) that he can check-off things as he finishes them.  I don’t know if he’ll like the checklist, but since he’s always asking how many things are left when we are doing school, I thought it was worth a try.

Vicki is also getting her own version of a workbox.  Just hanging file folders in a file crate we already had.  This will make it easier for me to put together things I want her to work on beyond workbooks, like manipulatives and games, and sits on the bench seat next to where she sits for school.


Sunday, November 25, 2012


We’ve been plugging away at school in dribs and drabs, in between getting the house straightened up after the storms and preparing for the holidays.

Vicki is doing really well with reading.  We’ve been using the Hubbard’s Cupboard word family readers.  I highlight the words I want her to read and I read the others.  I did it this way because I wanted her to have practice with the word families but she was having trouble with sight words.  She’s doing a lot better with those now and can read can, see, yes, no, the, and and possibly a few others.   She can read most of the short /a/, /e/ and /i/ word families.  I’m going to start pulling out our Cat in the Hat-type beginning readers for her to work on.

She had a few days recently where she didn’t want to do any school and kept complaining that things were “too hard”.   After a total melt-down over writing the number “3” on her math worksheet, I started writing the answers in highlighter after she told me them and letting her trace.  That ended the melt-down and she ended up doing three days worth of planned work at once.

Vicki has also been enjoying using her 100 chart to practice counting, and we’ve been playing some of our printable games from Kelly’s Kindergarten to work on reading. 

Georgie is continuing to do a mix of complaining that things are too easy and are “baby questions” or deciding they are too hard and not wanting to try.

Math is easily his best subject but it’s also the one he tries to get out of doing the most.  He loves his Algebra Readiness Made Easy puzzles but otherwise, he’s constantly trying to make deals to do less math.  I tried to have him play Carrot Sticks Math for some extra drill practice but he would just plug in numbers until he got it right instead of actually solving the problem.  He definitely needs more drill in subtraction facts.

Language arts aren’t going as well as math.  Mostly because he doesn’t want to take the time to read the instructions so he knows what to do.  We’ve been working on commas in Grammar, and describing words in Writing.  I’ll definitely be printing out some extra pages from Evan Moor to give him more practice in both of these.

For Reading Comprehension, we are using pages from Evan Moor Skill Sharpeners Reading Grade 4 and Evan Moor Read and Understand Leveled Texts Grade 4.   He does okay with the Skill Sharpeners but the Leveled Texts are giving him some trouble.  The passages are longer and he doesn’t want to take the time to read them carefully.   I’ll probably take a step back to the Grade 3 level or chose shorter passages for now.

Spelling is coming pretty easily to him, at least so far.  We are up to Step 8 in AAS2 and have been working on reviewing all the words before proceeding to Step 9. 

The holidays are coming so we will be spending more time doing crafts and fun activities, while concentrating on math and reading practice.  After the holidays we will be reorganizing (again!) to set up dedicated school areas, which will hopefully lead to smoother days.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

4-H Cloverbuds – Birds

Our latest unit with our 4-H Cloverbud Group was Birds.   We ended up holding our field trip before our library meeting due to illness (mine).

We took a trip to the Trailside Nature Center and started with a nice hike through the woods.  To the kids, this meant running as fast as possible along the trail.


The kids had a great time exploring a Lenape wigwam, bird viewing windows, a night display where they could experience nocturnal animals, and a discovery room.

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A few weeks later, we had our library meeting.  We started with a trivia game about birds.  I used the question cards and Fun Fact cards from our Camp game.


The question cards contain multiple choice questions at four different difficulty levels.   The Fun Fact cards contain…fun facts.  I reworded the facts into True or False questions.  

I try to avoid direct competitions so we played as more of a collaborative game.  I had all the kids line up at one side of the room.  I would read the question and all the choices, then they would put one hand up and, using sign language signs for a, b or c, or thumbs up/thumbs down for true/false, indicate what they thought the correct answer was.  In reality, they yelled out the answer while bouncing up and down.  Everyone who answered the question correctly would take a step forward.  If the answer was wrong, stay in place. 

I used mainly the level one or two questions like:  “What shape does a flock of geese fly in: a) V, b) I, c) L”  or “What color is a cardinal? a) red, b) blue, c) green”.  But there were a few harder ones like: “True or False, the nuthatch is a bird that can walk upside down along a tree truck” or “True or False, the ostrich is the largest bird in the world and can reach 9 feet tall”.   The kids did a great job and learned quite a bit about birds.

We then discussed:

What birds have:  feathers, wing
What birds do:  fly, some swim, some run
What birds eat:  seeds, berries, worms, fish

Our second game the kids pretended to be birds looking for food.  Each kid had a nest on the floor out of masking tape.  Scattered around the room was food (plastic bugs from our bug hunt).  The kids searched for food while music was playing.  When the music stopped, if they weren’t back to their nest, they had to drop whatever they were holding.  They could only collect the amount of food they could hold in one hand.

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After that game, we moved on to our crafts.  As usual, Legos were available to anyone who didn’t want to do crafts.  I provided paper, scissors, glue, feathers, eyes, markers, crayons and paper bags to let the kids make their own birds.

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Friday, November 2, 2012


Due to circumstances beyond our control, school is temporarily suspended.

Okay, so not all of it was circumstances beyond our control but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Most of last week was spent making Halloween costumes.  This year Vicki wanted to be Strawberry Shortcake, while Georgie wanted to be a Minecraft creeper. 

Strawberry Shortcake is definitely available but reviews of the costumes mentioned easy tearing, too small sizing, and poor quality.  For $40+, I wanted better than that.

Meanwhile, a creeper costume evidently isn’t available for purchase regardless of price (with the exception of one mask for $80+).

So, this became a year for homemade costumes (Yippee! I like making costumes).

Vicki’s wasn’t too hard.  I made a tutu skirt following the directions that can be found all over Pinterest.  I used sparkly dark pink and light pink tulle, then glued strawberry stickers on the skirt.   For the shirt, I bought a white long-sleeve t-shirt and drew a strawberry and two diamonds with Sharpies.  The hat was made using a white ball cap and a pink bandana.  Spots and a stem were painted on the bandana to have it resemble a strawberry and it was then attached to the ball cap.  The costume was topped off with a pair of green and white striped tights.  I thought it came out pretty cute and Vicki was happy with it.

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For Georgie’s creeper costume, I used foam board cut and taped together into the proper size box.   Creeper “skin” was printed from the internet and used to cover the box.  It was then laminated to prevent the ink from running if it became wet.  The eye holes and mouth were covered from the inside with a piece from a fishnet stocking, so it would look solid but Georgie would still be able to see out.  The side panels for the body were open and hinged so he could stick his arms out.  It came out a little awkward for movement but looks pretty cool.


The reason I spent so much time working on the costumes when there was still almost a week until Halloween was because we went to the Halloween festival at our local museum on Saturday.

There were craft tables with Trick or Treat locations throughout the museum. Georgie wasn’t interested in a lot of the crafts and was disappointed with the candy selections but it was still fun.

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Now for the Out of Our Control part: Hurricane Sandy.   We lost power Monday and estimates have it returning in 7 to 14 days.  We were lucky than many people since our house is undamaged, although we did have a tree fall in the direction of our house.  The new swingset that we just finished putting together prevented it from hitting the house so it is suspended about 5 feet over the roof.  No damage was done to the swingset either.


We went down to visit Granny Franny for a few days and will probably spend most of next week with Granny Kaye, until our power comes back.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Weekly Wrap-up

We had a full and busy week.  I’ve been going through my school files, pulling out things that both kids are beyond (to pass on to others), and finding those things that I used for Georgie that would now be good for Vicki.  I need to find more things for her to do independently while I work with Georgie.  Things that count as “school” in her mind.

Among the latter, I found some file folder games that Vicki had a chance to try this week.  The first, Dino Bones, is from File Folder fun.  When I printed this off for Georgie, I used the blank bones to make bones with just +0 and +1 equations.  Vicki can now handle some slightly harder problems, so I may print out some extra bones for her. 


Another math game she played was one I made up for Georgie when he was learning to count higher than 10.  It involves matching smiley faces to the correct numbers.  Vicki liked this for a while but had trouble with the higher numbers.  She felt the smiley faces were too small and used her magnifying glass to help see them better.


Vicki has been counting to 100 lately, so I pulled out a 100’s chart for her to count along with so she could get more familiar with how the numbers look and the patterns.  For some reason,whenever she counts, she does the 80’s and 90’s in a Southern accent.  I plan to use this for some games as well.


She is continuing with her Evan Moor Skill Sharpeners Math, Kindergarten.  These are pretty easy for her but she likes them and they include practice in counting, graphing, addition, coins, and patterns.

The Evan Moor Daily Math Practice, 1st Grade is starting to get harder.  She is still able to answer at least 3 of the 5 “daily” problems, sometimes more, but the addition problems especially are getting harder.  After I told her 3+5 = 8, she was able to figure out that to answer 3+4 “you skip down one, so 7”.    If these get much more difficult, I may stop using them.

I redid Vicki’s office board this week to update it for what she’s currently doing.  I removed her full name (because it was just confusing her) and just put an example of Vicki with HWT type lines.  I replaced her alphabet and numbers with a 100’s chart (with the 2s and 5s circled in different colors) and a word wall, and added a picture to show the difference between d and b (something she does struggle with), and the full Handwriting without Tears alphabet and number guide.


As she learns word families, I will give her some sample words on post-its.  When she reads them to me, she can hang them on her word wall.  After a few days (before the next batch), I’m writing the words in and removing the post-its (since they kept falling off).


She’s been a little reluctant to work on other phonics this week but she did play a fishing for words game, consisting of a magnet tied to string and laminated paper fish with paperclips taped to the back.


Handwriting is probably what went best this week for the little girl.  She is enjoying the lined chalkboard from Handwriting without Tears, playing wet/dry/try, and she wrote her name this week.  Not exactly on the lines but pretty close.


She has finished all the letters in the Pre-K book and will move on to the Kindergarten book as soon as we go through numbers.

Georgie seems to have only two modes when it comes to math - “Why are you giving me baby questions?” and “How am I supposed to know THAT?”  The latter often becomes the former if he slows down long enough to read the directions or listen to an explanation.  But, he did have a few challenges this week.

His Algebra Readiness Made Easy is still going well despite having moved on to the Grade 3 book.  These are one of the few things he is able to do almost completely on his own right now.

In Math Mammoth we covered:
     Fractions – too easy
     Time to the minute – tortuous, he seems to have forgotten everything about telling time to the 5 minutes.  Time to pull out the Lotto game again. 
     Graphing – evidently we’ve never done this before.  He had some trouble at first and I think I will need to find some extra practice pages.
     Place Value – too easy, we’re done with this for now.   MM doesn’t touch on this again until 4A.
     Money – I think I’m going to stop MM and just working on making change using the cash register, and playing games.  I printed off some worksheets from another Scholastic ebook – Instant and Interactive Math Picture Pages with Activities.  This week I gave him an Autumn themed activity, which worked mainly on addition (still working on getting him faster with his facts), but we then used the page to play some store.  He used crayons to represent the various items.


autumn harvest

Georgie had a lot of fun trying to give me math problems that I couldn’t solve.  Since he usually repeated numbers in his problems, like 100+100+32+32 or 1 million + 56 + 56, they weren’t too hard.  I told him how I was solving them and he seemed to find it interesting.

We finished up the triangle chapter in Beast Academy 3A this week.  I can’t tell if he likes this or hates it.

I’m very happy with his reading these days.  I started reading to the kids at night and two nights in a row, I read a few Chapters from a Magic Tree House book and Georgie finished that book and read an additional one.  In two nights he read, Night of the Ninjas, Vacation Under A Volcano, Mummies in the Morning (which he was disappointed there was only one mummy and it didn’t even walk around), and Pirates Past Noon.  I hope this is the start of a new trend of him reading more on his own.

All his Reading Comprehension activities this week were from Evan Moor Read and Understand with Leveled Texts, Grade 3.  He didn’t have any difficulty with the actual reading or the vocabulary activities.   One of this weeks assignments – When Granny Met Johnny Appleseed – had an activity on similes, which came up again in his Spectrum Writing workbook.  He seems to have the basic idea down but, as usual, doesn’t like to keep things simple.  He had to complete his own similes as part of both lessons. 

His selections from reading comprehension:

   -As big as “a gorilla” – okay pretty normal.
   -As cold as “the nice chill of the penguins” – getting a little odd.
   -As old as “grandfather owl with his kid telling a story”

In his Spectrum, we ended up with:

-Little sister cried like “a hard storm” and
-My doll is as “boring as a toy boat that doesn’t float”.

I told him he could keep them shorter but he said he was “making them interesting”.

The rest of Spectrum Writing this week was describing words.  Georgie willingly did some of the writing on his own.  He decided to use symbols instead of actual words, but it’s some progress.



I decided to move a little faster in All About Spelling 2 until he starts having trouble.  We went through the rules and words for Steps 4, 5, 6 and 7 this week.  We will review some of the extra words, then move on next week.


Also this week:

We learned about Washington DC and the symbols of the United States.


We went to the Pumpkin Patch


and decorated our pumpkins.


Last weekend, we joined Stephanie at college for Homecoming Day.