Saturday, April 30, 2016

An Eclectic Homeschool Schedule

I can’t believe how much I’ve missed planning school for the kids.  Setting up daily schedules, researching curriculum, planning breaks, working on lessons.   I love it! 

In between the craziness of life, I’ve been working on our plans for next year.   I know, I know it’s months away.  But, life IS crazy so I figured the sooner I start, the better.   Plus, since I decided to not change too much as we finish up this school year, I needed something to do! ;-)

Way back in 2013, when I was teaching the kids, we did a loose year round schedule.  We would mainly play it by ear, taking breaks as we needed to, and just continuing to plug away at things until we finished.  It worked okay mainly because the kids were young and the curriculum we used was easy to just "do the next thing".   The kids have gotten a little bit away from the year-round schedule in the intervening years, but their curriculum still didn’t require much planning and much of it can now be done fairly independently.

Squidy is going to be starting middle school next year and Vicki will be in upper elementary school.  Things are getting more challenging for both of them.   Some of the curriculum I’ve chosen for next year will require more involvement from me, and will need to be planned out over weeks rather than just day-by-day.   Less worksheets and more discussion, less fill-in-the-blanks and more writing. (more on that in another post)

In addition to shaking up the curriculum we use, I also want time for more educational fun and opportunities for exploration.  Geocaching, nature studies, field trips, etc.   Plus hands-on science, history, art, and music.  And exercise.  And chores.  And games. Now things are starting to seem overwhelming. 

Since it’s been almost three years since I’ve done any real school scheduling, I've been doing a ton of reading.  Kind of a refresher course on the various options out there.  Of course, when it comes to homeschooling in a non-reporting state, the options are pretty much infinite.  But since my kids like routine and predictability, and I like steady progress (and planning!), we are going to stick with fairly structured options.

After reviewing our curriculum selections, and trying to be realistic about how our life usually goes, I’ve decided on a modified year-round, 4-day a week schedule.  Sort of.

Once breakfast is done and some simple chores completed, we will start school.  Each day, Vicki will begin by working with me while Squidy does his independent work.   After about an hour, we will take a break for more chores, then I will work with Squidy while Vicki does her independent work.  If they finish their independent work early, they will start on their hour of assigned reading.

After lunch, we will do a few more chores, some outside/exercise time and then start our content subjects.  We will do Spanish four days a week, Geography once a week, History or Science three days a week.  We will alternate History and Science, completing a unit in one then switching to the other.  Art will be done mostly with History this year.

They will then go to one of their activities – swimming, TKD, or yoga.

That is the plan four days each week.  The fifth day, which I currently have on our schedule as Wednesday but will likely vary occasionally, will be slightly different.  The day will start the same but the kids will only do their main math (Math Mammoth), literature and reading first thing.  This will be followed by music and should take us to mid-morning.  Then the fun starts. J   This will be our field trip/geocaching/nature study/games day.  Educational, but less schooly.  This will also be the day we go to the library to pick up any books I've ordered.  We do not have a library in our town so I need to check all books out of our county branch. 

Now, for the year-round part.  Most year-round schedules seem to school for a set number of weeks, then take off for a week or two, with maybe a couple of extra weeks off in the summer. We will follow our primary 4 day a week schedule from September to June.  We will continue math and language arts for the summer, with some nature study and field trips thrown in.   Instead of regularly scheduled breaks, we will take breaks around holidays and the times we are most likely to go camping or have fun activities.  A full week at Labor Day, the week before Halloween, Thanksgiving week, two weeks at Christmas/New Year, a week at President’s Day, a week in April, a week at Memorial Day, and a week at Independence Day.   This puts breaks as soon as 3 or 4 weeks (around Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas) or as long as 7 weeks apart.

I do all my planning in Excel spreadsheets so it's easy to adjust as we go along.  We’ll see how many times the plan changes between now and September. J

Friday, April 22, 2016

Weekly Wrap-up: 4/22/16

Spring weather has finally come to our corner of the world so we took the opportunity to get out and do some geocaching.  There are about 100 (literally!) geocaches within 5 miles of our house.    The first two we looked for we couldn't find.  I was using an app on my phone and a very old TomTom gps.  We were supposedly close but then the gps would start jumping around.  When we came home, I did some research and evidently that is not uncommon.  I downloaded the "official" geocaching site app and I'm hoping next time we try we have better luck.   The one we did find, I didn't use the GPS, I knew where it was going to be (I guess that's cheating but I wanted the kids to have one success) and only contained a log, that Squidy filled out for us. 

We had a nice walk in the woods, discovered some nice meadows with bird houses, a quiet sitting area right by the river, and finished up with some ice cream.  It was a pleasant way to spend an afternoon even if our quest wasn't successful.

Squidy finished Gregor the Overlander series.  This series is the first one that has really touched him.  He said that he was feeling sad it was over, and that it didn't feel right to do school right after finishing it.   I did tell him he could take a break before doing the rest of school if he wanted.  I also told him that it was perfectly okay to reread a favorite series of books, even though it won't be exactly the same since you know what's going to happen.  Since I have seen him pull out the last couple of books to read portions of them over again.  I LOVE that he was so touched by a story.  For his next reading, I let him go lighter.  He read Harriet the Spy and some of his comic and Pokémon books.

Vicki LOVES the Thea Stilton books so I usually let her read them when she gets a new one.  In addition to the latest, she's also read Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH and just started From the Mixed up Files of  Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

The kids really like doing school using their clipboards.  They like being able to sit in the comfy chairs to do their work.  I've also found it makes it really easy to bring school on the road when we need to.   They've done school at the Y, at gramma's house, and outside in the sunshine in the past couple of weeks.  And of course, in their pj's. :-)

We've been continuing to work our way through Liberty Kids and reading about the Revolutionary War in preparation for our visit to the Valley Forge Homeschool Days in May.  We were going to go to a reenactment weekend at Jockey Hollow/Morristown Historical Park but my ankle was bothering me too much for a day full of walking cross country (I badly sprained it a few weeks ago and it's slow to heal fully).  

A few years ago when we were participating in a postcard exchange, we took a visit to Washington's Headquarters in Morristown because it seemed that the only postcards available locally were for New York City or Atlantic City.  Not really what I was looking for.  The gift shop at Washington's Headquarters had a great selection of historical themed postcards.  As we were looking around, I chatted with the park ranger working in the gift shop and happened to mention that we homeschooled.  He gave me the full kit they provide to local schools before they come on field trips, usually in 4th or 5th grade.  It contains a ton of information on the Revolutionary War, especially as it was fought locally.  We've been reading through the primary book and we will be taking a trip to Washington's Headquarters and Jockey Hollow in the next few weeks. 

The kids had belt testing last week and they both moved up to their orange belts.  Tai Kwan Do has been great for my not-so-athletic/not-into-team sports/but really need regular exercise kids. 

We had a 4-H STEM meeting last week.  This meeting we learned about earthquakes, discussed the best building designs for stability, and were challenged to build the tallest "earthquake-proof" structures out of straws and tape.  We simulated earthquakes using pans of jello.

Steph is in her final semester at college!  Completely unbelievable because of course, I am not old enough to have a daughter who's a college graduate. ;-)

She recently choreographed and taught (to a bunch of non-dancers!) an amazing routine for her sorority for Greek Week.  They won First Place!  Check it out!:

She also had what will possibly be her last dance performance ever, with the MSU dance team.  She choreographed a tap routine and did an amazing job with the rest of the routines.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Weekly Wrap-up 4/8/16

We had a short week since George took the kids away for the weekend.  I don't know what I'm going to do with three days of peace and quiet!  ;-)

I finally got my evolution study plans all put together and have posted them to the Pages link at the top left.  We will be getting started next week (hopefully!).  I would love feed-back since this is the first unit I've put together since I've been back home.

We won't be taking off for Spring Break since the kids were off for two weeks before Christmas, we went to Disney for two weeks in February and then had another week off when I first came home.   We will continue to plug along with school until they finish their current grade level.  As they  finish up the current level in some of the Evan Moor resources they are doing, we will not be replacing it.  By the end of June they should be doing only their core math (Math Mammoth for Vicki, Math Mammoth and Beast Academy for Squidy), assigned reading and journal writing.  We will continue with those for the summer and, at this point, I'm planning to completely shake things up for next year. :-)

We will also continue to work on our US History study, and the Evolution/Darwin/Prehistory study over the summer in preparation for Ancients in the Fall.

The biggest change I made when I came home was to assign more books for their hour of required reading during school.  It has been going well so far after some initial resistance.   I'm giving them a mix of classics and books that I think they will really enjoy but they might not pick up on their own.  It's primarily breaking their habit of exclusively reading super-easy chapter books or comic books.

Squidy is still working his way through the Gregor the Overlander series.  He's up to book 4 and has been trying to talk Vicki into reading them.  He said it's because he likes to share the things he enjoys.   I love that he is so excited especially when he was reluctant to try the first one, but Vicki seems a little intimidated by the size of the books, so it may have to wait a little bit.

Vicki read James and the Giant Peach and How to Eat Fried Worms this week. 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Darwin/Evolution/Prehistory Study is now available!

I have posted the details of my new Darwin/Evolution/Prehistory study, linked at the pages to the left.  This study is geared toward upper elementary/lower middle school, since that's where my kids are at ;-) but can probably be easily adapted up or down by varying the books used.

I'm hoping to get started implementing the plan next week and complete two sections per week.  As we complete each section, I will post here and link it back to the plans.

Please let me know what you think!


Saturday, April 2, 2016

Weekly Wrap-Up

My first weekly wrap-up in a very long time and it's actually going to be more of a "what are we doing now" post.  :-)

I've been back home for 3 1/2 weeks now and we are starting to get back into a routine.  I bought the kids storage clipboards so they can sit wherever they want to do their work and I load them each morning with just that day's work.  They were using a weekly binder but I found that it was better if I could adjust the work they were doing from day to day, if necessary.  For example, Vicki has needed more multiplication drill added to each day, while George) (who now goes by "Squidy" has been able to move faster through his Math Mammoth.

They are using a lot of the same stuff they were using last year, just at a higher level. 

Vicki is right on track to finish up her grade level material between now and mid-June.

She is currently working on division in Math Mammoth 3B.  She is struggling a little because she doesn't have her multiplication facts memorized.  She fully understands the IDEA of multiplication and has been solving the problems by doing repeated addition.  I've pulled out the old Scholastic Solve-the-Riddle Math Practice Multiplication and Division and Super Sudoku Math Multiplication & Division that Squidy used when he was at this point.  We're also doing flashcards, filling in multiplication tables and writing out problems.   In the meantime, she uses a multiplication chart while she's doing her math.

In addition to MM, she's also been doing Evan Moor Skill Sharpeners Math Grade 3, Algebra Readiness Made Easy Grade 3, and Evan Moor Daily Word Problems Grade 3.  She will finish Skill Sharpeners and Algebra Readiness in the next week or two, and Word Problems in mid-June.  We are going to hold off on the next levels until September and spend the extra time working on solidifying multiplication and division.

For Language Arts, Vicki is using Evan Moor Grammar & Punctuation Grade 3 which she will finish next week.  She just recently finished Evan Moor Skill Sharpeners Spell & Write Grade 4 and has started Grade 5.    She will finish up Evan Moor Word-A-Day Grade 3 by the end of May and Evan Moor Daily Reading Comprehension Grade 3 by the end of June. 

Vicki is also working through Handwriting without Tears Cursive.  Once she finishes the book, I'll be pulling out the Scholastic Cursive Practice Jokes & Riddles that Squidy used.

Squidy will finish up Math Mammoth 5B by mid-June.  He is also working on Beast Academy 4B, and Evan Moor Daily Word Problems Grade 5.   He will finish the word problems by mid-June but has just started back up with BA.

Squidy is still doing Evan Moor Daily Reading Comprehension Grade 6, and Evan Moor Word-A-Day Grade 6.  He will complete both by mid-June and at that point, he will have finished up what Evan Moor offers.   For spelling, he is using Spelling Workout E/5th Grade since he had already finished all the Evan Moor prior to this year.   He is also using Words on the Vine to learn about the Greek and Latin roots of words.

Both kids do brief journal entries each day and have an hour of required reading.  I've started to choose the books for them to read during that hour, sometimes from history or science, sometimes from age appropriate classics, sometimes just something a little more challenging than they would pick on their own. 

For this week, Vicki read Ben and Me, And Then What Happened Paul Revere, Magic Tree House Revolutionary War on Wednesday, Magic Tree House Research Guide American Revolution, The Cricket in Times Square.  Some of these were very easy for her and she finished them (or more than one) in an hour.

Squidy read The City of Ember, Gregor the Overland, and he's working on Johnny Tremain.  He was very hesitant when I suggested The City of Ember and Gregor but he ended up liking Gregor so much he asked for the rest of the series.

We will continue math, reading and writing on a lighter schedule through the summer. 

For Vicki that will likely mean continuing along with Math Mammoth, word problems, and drill if needed, spelling, and journal writing.  I'm not sure if we will be continuing with the other Evan Moor resources in September so I'm not planning to purchase the next levels until I'm certain.

For George, he will continue with Math Mammoth and Beast Academy through the summer, along with journal writing.

We are currently working on finishing up the Revolutionary War in history.  They have already done the History Pockets so we are mostly reading, watching the rest of Liberty Kids, and taking field trips.  We are taking it slow because I'm trying to stretch it out until we head down to the Philadelphia area in May for the Valley Forge Homeschool Days.  We're taking two days so we can also visit Washington's Crossing, Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.   More posts on that will be coming.

We will continue American History through the summer, hopefully through the Civil War, and start up Ancients in the Fall.

For Science, I'm working on plans for an Evolution/ Darwin/ Prehistory study.  I'm hoping to have everything planned and start in the next week or two. 

We do a 4-H STEM club twice a month (run by George Sr. and I).  Last month, we learned about Chemical Reactions and made Polymers (bouncy balls and slime). 

We also attended 4-H Science-Sational Day at a local community college.  George Sr. and I ran a Build-A-Better Boat STEM Challenge workshop.  Vicki was too young to do our workshop but participated in the younger kids track.  Squidy participated in our challenge - build the boat that holds the most pennies using 4 straws, a square of foil, an index card and two strips of tape.  Our top score was 274 pennies.

For Physical Education, the kids are doing Tai Kwan Do (recently received their yellow belts)....

swimming lessons, walks/hiking, and Wii Fit.

They are both still in choir and I will be teaching them to read music between now and September so they can start instrument lessons.  Vicki wants to learn to play guitar.

So, there's my usual long-winded post about what we are currently doing.   One of these days, I'll post about what I'm planning for next year. :-)