Saturday, September 24, 2016

Weekly Wrap-Up Week 3: 4-H STEM, Percentages, and Green Belts

We had our first 4-H meeting of the new year this week.  Since I wasn't sure how many kids we'd have in attendance or how long the business portion of the meeting would take, I had to plan a fairly flexible activity.  We had to pick officers and I was ready to go over all the safety rules and basics of 4-H if we had a bunch of new kids.  

I decided to go with Balloon Towers!  This STEM challenge involved building the largest tower using balloons and masking tape.  I had a TON of green balloons left over from Fair (since we ended up not doing the vinegar/baking soda balloons after the first day) and multiple rolls of tape from last year.  The only prep was blowing up a LOT of balloons, but Daddy was a big help with that.

Each group was given a dozen balloons and a roll of tape to start with.  As they used up the available balloons (or popped them), we blew up more.    Prior to starting, we had discussed what the sturdiest shapes were for towers (pyramids), what issues they would have with balloons that they might  not have with other materials (they are so light that a breeze would cause them to move around).  They were allowed to tape the balloons to the floor and to each other but not to any furniture or walls.

Each team worked with a different strategy - setting up grids or wide bases or just starting to pile balloons on top of each other in a straight line.  Surprisingly, the team with the tallest tower - 76 inches - was Vicki's and they were the ones who just started stacking balloons in a straight line, then went back and built a base around it.   I was very surprised by how high they were able to get their straight tower of balloons.

Sorry for the crappy pictures, I forgot my camera and my phone is the WORST for taking pictures.

The winning tower....

Squidy's team's tower....

And the second place tower, only a couple inches shorter than Vicki's group.

Also happening this week - the kids had a belt  test in Tai Kwan Do and received their Green belts.  They've been enjoying TKD and it's great exercise.  We can go up to 6 times a week when it fits into our schedule.

We also did some school this week. :-)
Vicki finished up the last of Math Mammoth 3B and started 4A.  
Squidy is struggling a little bit with figuring out percentages so I pulled out some manipulatives I bought over the summer and he sat playing with them for a little while.  I also wrote out some hints on how to tell what word problems are asking:
What is x% of y - you want to multiple x times y
x is what % of y - you want to divide x by y
Having it spelled out helped but we'll continue to go over it as we move on. 
Once he goes through ratios (which he finds "super easy" so far), he'll be ready to move onto 6A.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Weekly Wrap-Up: Week 2 and Renaissance Fair

This week we continued with just our 3R’s since it was the first week of extra-curriculars.    I’m trying hard to have the kids get in at least an hour of exercise a day, so that’s where a lot of the extras are focused.   So far they are doing outside swimming, yoga, and Tai Kwan Do classes.  We also do yoga at home each morning, take walks, and will be working on biking and skating.

These extra-curricular classes are the only part of our day with set start times.  We’ve always done better with more of a routine, rather than a strict schedule and this year is turning out to be no different.  In fact, I’ve had to loosen up my original plans for a semi-defined routine. 

My initial routine for this year included an hour of independent work, an hour of work with me, content subjects after lunch, etc.  Now that we’ve actually started, I’ve discovered that’s not going to work.  Basically I’ve found I’m not the best judge of what the kids will need help with, and what they can do on their own (at least not yet!).   They also might need more or less than an hour to do their work.

Our new routine includes the kids doing everything from their “binder” work on their own, putting aside anything they feel they need help with to do with me later.  The kids no longer have binders, instead they are using storage clipboards:

And those clipboards don’t even hold all their “binder” work, they only contain workbook pages that can be removed from the books.  The Mosdos Press textbooks don’t fit in there, and neither does the Zacarro Challenge book for Squidy.  But the kids like to refer to any of the 3R’s work that way regardless.

In order to encourage working independently, I did start them using planners. Because I wasn’t sure how well this would work or if we were going to stick with it, I went inexpensive and bought a couple of planners from Target dollar spot.  It’s only been two weeks so I guess it’s too soon to declare them a success, but I like them.

I think they are going to start appreciating them more after this week.  They were working with the old assumption that anything that was in their binder/clipboard was what they were supposed to do.  But workbook pages have two sides, and some workbooks aren’t being separated.   Squidy did MORE work than he had to in three different subjects this week.  Once I pointed it out, he decided that actually looking at his planner was a good idea.  ;-)

So, the kids get started on their binder work at whatever time I rouse them out of their rooms.  I don’t need to wake them up, they are both up before I am most days.  Whoever is done first comes and sits with to go over what they needed help with.   For both of them, this is pretty much math right now.  Surprisingly, Squidy is doing great with Jousting Armadillos and Zacarro Challenge, and struggling a little with Math Mammoth. 

If the other finishes while I’m still helping, they start their hour of assigned reading.   An hour of assigned reading and an hour of screen-free, quiet time are the only parts of our day besides outside classes that have a set length.  Because they are often starting and finishing these at different times, they each have their own timer.  I recently bought new timers for them that are magnetically attached to the lamp at the side of my chair.  This way we can clearly see how much time they have left and there’s no confusion.


One last note about our set-up.  Because we are dealing with a lot more books this year, each of the kids has a crate holding all their materials.  That way if they need to look back at something (like reread the story in Mosdos in order to answer comprehension questions), they have it right there.  I also have a selection of literature for them in each crate, so if they unexpectedly finish a book, it won’t take me long to find them something else to read.


So, how did week number two go?

Vicki - 9 years old/4th Grade

Vicki is starting to get the hang of Beast Academy.  While we still sat together to work on it, she was able to find the answers much quicker and with less coaxing. 

She is still working on fractions in Math Mammoth and seems to understand the concepts fairly well, although she has a lot of trouble drawing diagrams (especially circles divided into 5th’s or 6th’s).  She also is being a little lazy and not writing the denominators when she is adding and subtracting fractions.

Vicki is really enjoying the stories in Mosdos Press Ruby.  I’m going to give it a few more weeks and then write a full review, but so far I really like it.  Each story includes comprehension questions, graphic organizers, vocabulary, literary terms, and some writing assignments.

Spellling is getting a little bit harder for her now.  She’s about half-way through the Evan Moor Spell & Write Grade 5 book.  We’ve been doing the tests orally and I think having her write the words on a whiteboard or chalkboard will make a huge difference.  I’m much better at spelling when I write something out.

Squidy - 11 years old/6th Grade

Backing up in Math Mammoth to restart percentages has made a huge difference.  He’s having much less trouble now and even mentioned that it was pretty easy and we probably didn’t have to back up quite that far.  We only “redid” about 10 pages so I think it was probably the right amount.

He is enjoying Jousting Armadillos and Zaccaro Challenge Math.  He’s getting a kick out of a lot of the questions (there was one about a slug….) and so far isn’t struggling with either of them.  Of course, he’s only done about one lesson in each, so we’ll see.

Vocabulary from Classical Roots 6th Grade is one of the subjects he ended up doing too much work at once.  I haven’t pulled the pages out of this workbook and I’m only having them do one exercise a day (there are around 3 exercises for each lesson) since the book doesn’t have a lot of lessons.  Squidy ended up doing an entire lesson each time instead of just one exercise. 

Both kids received Kindle Fire’s for their birthdays and I set them up for the Epic reading site (  I receive a report of what they’ve read and so far Squidy has read 26 books, for 351 minutes.  I haven’t assigned any reading from there yet (they do have quite a few of the books I will be assigning, just haven’t done it yet) so most of what he’s read has been Garfield comic books and Big Nate. 

For assigned reading he read Redwall and started The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate this week.


We’re still easing into our full schedule and this week we added a bunch of PE stuff, so we didn’t do any of the others.

Although we did finish up the week with a trip to the New York Renaissance Fair.


Linked up to Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers and Hip Homeschool Moms. 
See buttons on Left for links.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Weekly Wrap-Up: Week 1 Done

I'm glad that our first week was a short one.  Not that it went badly, it was just exhausting.  Between the holiday Monday, a power outage Tuesday night (that kept us all up late playing The Game of Life), and an attempt at a Not Back to School movie trip Friday, it was even shorter than I had planned.

We are starting our days with a little yoga/meditation, in the hopes this will help us start calmly.   The kids enjoyed it and wanted to suggest poses to do (from when they did yoga at the Y or the Wii Fit, I assume).   We are starting simple and building up from there.

I didn't plan any history, science, etc this week and I'm glad I didn't.  We had a couple of days where just getting through the core stuff took all day.  Since we are using so much new stuff, I figured it would take some time to judge how much they could get through each day.

I already adjusted my schedule.  I was planning to start the day with George doing his independent work while I work with Vicki, then switch after an hour.  But it turns out I'm not the best judge of what they can do independently and what they will need help with.  And I'm slower to get going in the morning than they are, so we can start earlier if they begin while I'm still waking up with my tea.

Anyone who has been a reader here for a while knows that I was always looking for the right set-up and best way to organize so our days would go smoothly.  The kids are older now and I've pretty much given up on that.  They prefer to work sitting on the couch or lying on the floor so I'm just going to go with it (only opening up the big folding table when we really need it).  Both kids have storage clipboards to write on and to hold their "binder" work (they still call it that despite the lack of an actual binder), and can sit at their computer table if they want a flatter surface.


Squidy had a little trouble with math this week.  Not with his Jousting Armadillos, which he liked, but with his Math Mammoth.  It was too many weeks since he started the Percentages chapter and he was forgetting too much.  I reprinted the chapter and we are going to start over from the beginning.  It's really important that he has a good understanding of the basic concepts before we get too far into Pre-Algebra. 

He liked Mosdos Press and really appreciated that any of the longer assignments from the workbook I was letting him type on the computer.  I may start letting him type them right in an email window so he can send them to my computer, where I can print them if I want or just review them.  I found that idea in a blog I was reading this week, but I don't remember where.

Beast Academy went well.  He is still working on the Division chapter and he's finding it pretty easy.

Spectrum Writing and Vocabulary from Classical Roots were both new but he found them easy (at least so far).

He did NOT appreciate having to do handwriting again.  I pulled out the Scholastic Practice Jokes & Riddles so he can work on handwriting at least occasionally.

He is currently reading Redwall as his assigned book, and lots of Big Nate on his tablet at night.  I signed up for a trial of Epic (, which is an ebook borrowing service.  They have many of the literature books I'm planning to assign this year, plus non-fiction and fun reading. 


Vicki had a little bit more trouble getting back into the swing of things than Squidy did.  She gets easily frustrated when things are even a little difficult.

Her comments this week:
"it looks scary" - about reading The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
"Awww crap" - when looking at the triangles in Beast Academy
"my brain hurts" - the logic puzzles
"It was Amazing!" - the story Leah's Pony from Mosdos Ruby.  So at least one thing went well. :-/

She didn't have any trouble with Spectrum Writing once she was sent back to read the page more carefully, Vocabulary from Classical Roots was easy, Spelling went fine, and she seems to understand fractions in Math Mammoth.

Mosdos Press uses cursive for the vocabulary words in their workbook.  Vicki did have trouble reading the words, so I had to write them out in print underneath.   She does okay writing in cursive and has finished her Handwriting without Tears book, but evidently we will need to work more on reading it. 

She did end up enjoying The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate once she started it.  It's going slowly and it's longer than what she's used to reading so I'm sure it's going to take her time to finish it.

Next week starts swimming lessons and yoga at the Y, and we're going to work on finishing up US History so our days will be a little longer.

Monday, September 5, 2016

2016-2017 Curriculum - 4th Grade, 6th Grade

Tomorrow is our first day of the new school year!    I'm very excited about checking out some of our new programs, while also using some old favorites.  Not everything is going to be done everyday (cause that would be ridiculous!).  We will be using a kind of quirky loop schedule, to go along with my quirky kids. ;-)

Vicki - 9 years old/4th Grade

Math Mammoth - She has a few pages to finish up MM3B and we will be jumping right into 4A

Beast Academy - Vicki is ready to give BA a try!  She likes to read through the Guide books we have from when Squidy started so I thought it was time.  We are starting with 3A since this is such a different, more intense presentation of Math than she's used to.

Evan Moor Skill Sharpeners Math 4 - We will continue using Skill Sharpeners Math as a spiral review of concepts already covered.  We will wait about a month to start the 4th grade book

Mosdos Press Ruby -  This program is new for us and will cover reading comprehension, vocabulary, literature and some writing.

Evan Moor Spell & Write - Vicki is about halfway through the 5th grade book. We will finish through the end of 6th grade and then stop spelling except for watching for mistakes in writing.

Vocabulary from Classical Roots 4th Grade - Another new program.  I think Vicki is ready to learn about Greek and Latin word roots and this program can take us through 11th grade if we like it.

Spectrum Writing 4th Grade - I wanted to go back to a very basics, step-by-step writing program.  I feel they need more explicit instruction than they've been getting.

Scholastic Logic Posters, Problems & Puzzles - one of the many Scholastic books I bought at Dollar Days over the years.  Squidy did these a few years ago and I think Vicki's more than ready to give them a try.

Handwriting - Vicki has about 4 pages to finish up Handwriting Without Tears Cursive.  Once she finishes, I'm going to have her do another Scholastic book - Cursive Practice Jokes & Riddles.   I will also expect her to do small writing assignments in her best cursive handwriting, but longer assignments I will allow her to type.

Reading - In addition to selections for History and Science, I am having the kids work through the Mensa Excellence in Reading Lists.    Vicki is going to work with both the K-3rd list and the 4-6th list.  The K-3rd list has quite a few books rated for 9 year olds that she hasn't read yet.  Some of them she's already read but doesn't remember and some will be super-easy, but there are many books on the 4th-6th grade list that I know she isn't ready for yet.

Squidy - 11 years old/6th Grade

Math Mammoth - Squidy has one Chapter left in MM5B - Intro to Percentages.  He will be doing one page from that chapter each day, as well as one or two pages from 6A.  We are using the "old" version of MM so he is done with it after 6B.

Beast Academy - Squidy really enjoys BA so we will continue using it as a fun supplement.  He wasn't doing it that often the last few years and I don't want to skip any, so he is still working through 4C.

Jousting Armadillos - Another one of our new programs AND a new subject - Pre-Algebra!  It's hard to believe we are at this point.  JA looks to be a fun and quirky introduction to Pre-Algebra and I think Squidy is going to love it.

Zaccaro Challenge Math - Another non-traditional math program that I think Squidy will enjoy.

Mosdos Press Pearl - New program that will cover comprehension, some vocabulary, literature, and some writing

Vocabulary from Classical Roots 6th Grade - Another new program.  George finished Words on the Vine last year so I needed something new for Greek/Latin roots.  I also wanted something that Vicki could do, so we are giving this a try.  After the 6th grade book, books A through E cover 7th through 11th grade so we'll be able to use this for a while if it works well.

Spectrum Writing 6th Grade

Scholastic Logic Posters, Problems & Puzzles - I'm going to pull out some of the harder of these and let Squidy give them a try.  I don't think he did all of them when we last worked on them since some of them required math beyond what he knew (squares, primes, percentages, etc.)

Handwriting - Squidy is also going to use pages from the Scholastic book - Cursive Practice Jokes & Riddles.  

Reading - Squidy will be working through the Mensa Excellence in Reading List for 4th to 6th grade.   He actually read his first book as part of our Science - The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate.  He really liked it but felt the ending didn't wrap things up enough.  I did some research and found out there is a sequel so I have that one on hold from the library.


Science - We will be finishing up our Evolution/Prehistory study, then doing units on Microscopes, Botany, Zoology and Habitats.  We will be using REAL Science Odyssey, and lots and lots of books and Pinterest ideas.

We are also continuing with our 4-H STEM Club.

History - We will be finishing up the last two units of US History - Westward Expansion and Civil War, and then starting Ancients.  We will be using History Odyssey Level 2 and Story of the World.

Art - Art is mostly going to be done along with History but we will also do some general exercises using How to Teach Art to Children.  We will also do some drawing using Mark Kistler's Draw Squad.

Foreign Language - We will continue to learn Spanish (I probably shouldn't say "continue" since I doubt they remember anything).  We will use Duolingo, First Step Espanol, and lots of videos

Health  - Harcourt Health & Fitness Grade 5.  I want them to do it together so I split the difference in their grades.  I found the Activity Book online for free and bought a used textbook cheap from Amazon.

Music - in addition to doing choir, I'll be teaching the kids to read music and some keyboarding using a variety of resources.  Vicki will also work on learning guitar as she wants to.

Internet Safety - we will be working through the Internet Responsibility program from Commonsense Education.   My kids spend a lot of time online so I want to make sure we cover this well.

Physical Education - Swimming lessons, Tai Kwan Do and Yoga are our outside classes.  We also plan to do hiking, geocaching, biking and Vicki just got a pair of Heely's.  We are also going to start each day with some Yoga (using the Kid's Yoga Deck) and meditation.

Extras - we may do some BraveWriter activities as we have time.