Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Just go with it!

   After feeling like I have been in turmoil over how our schooling is going lately we started out our week with an informal family meeting.  Well, I guess it wasn't a real family meeting since my husband was already at work, but I did sit down with the boys and talk to them about how we're all feeling about school lately.  I told them what I felt was and was not working for me and asked them for their input.  Their only complaint was that they don't get unlimited time (or more time) to play video games.  Is it awful that I don't take that complaint seriously?  I don't think so.  I know they LOVE video games and they would play them a lot more if they were allowed, but I also know they spend a few hours every day playing/ watching/ engaging in everything we own that has a screen.  I put a challenge to Alec to write down the start and stop time of all his screen time for one week so we could see just how much time he was getting to devote to his passion (I'm also sneaking in a bit of math since he has to figure out elapsed time!).  But I warned him that he has to spend time doing other things and I don't plan on adding additional time for him to pursue this.  He spends just plenty! 

     I warned the older boys that since they're getting into more advanced math it's getting harder and harder for me to find games and hands- on ideas so I have ordered a new math series for them.  I'd like to stick to a schedule of doing one math worksheet a day in these new books with a quick lesson or review for each of them.  Math is one area I always question if we're doing enough, if I'm missing concepts that I should have taught them, etc. and I think having a set curriculum will really help (I hope and pray I can stick with this unlike our last math series!).  Alec already started to protest but I don't think one worksheet a day is too much to ask.  Plus I did tell him I would still play math games, use fun manipulatives like candy and make math fun.  He was slightly mollified, but only slightly. 
    Evan begged to keep reading to me each day and wants to continue working on sight words, adding, and "taking away" so we're all set there.  Ian didn't have any input about  anything he wanted to change.  He's probably been the most easy going about homeschooling out of the three.  He remembers what public school was like and rarely complains about any work I give him (other than writing).  I have warned him that as he gets closer to high school age we'll have to add in a lot more writing to our day.  We talked about why he wants to go to high school, what he hopes to get out of his learning experiences and even some of his long- term life goals.  I know he's only 10 and it will change but it's nice to have an idea of where they'd like to end up in life.  I encouraged all three boys to spend more time on the computer looking for learning tools, games, and videos (with my help) and learning to type.  They didn't seem thrilled by this prospect either. 

   Our biggest change was that instead of starting school at 10 we're going back to starting school early in the morning and finishing by lunchtime.  At least that will be our new goal; it remains to be seen whether we can achieve that or not.  We all agreed that it is much nicer to have all afternoon to go off and do things, play with toys, and just have fun without school work hanging over our heads.  In order to start school earlier I've recruited the boys to help with my list of daily chores.  To my surprise they eagerly helped out.  While I vacuumed the upstairs rugs, Ian vacuumed the downstairs carpets and Alec and Evan worked together to wipe down all the bathroom counters and sinks.  We were done in minutes!

    We started school (at 10!  Grrr!) with math today and the older boys each had a math minute.  Ian amazed himself with his new 8 times table math minute-- first day in and he already had 16 of them right!  Alec was bummed that he didn't do any better than his last test.  After talking about it I learned that he had not practiced this whole past week that we had taken off so I tried to reassure him that with just a bit more work he will get it.  I then let Alec and Ian pick their own page out of the old math books we had to work on for today until their new books come in this week.  Alec chose to work with geoboards and elastic bands while Ian chose a review sheet of adding and subtracting 3 and 4 digit numbers, comparing using greater than and less than signs, writing fractions and telling time.  He did really great but got stuck with subtraction with regrouping-- a concept that has always given him grief.

     While the older boys were hard at math so was Evan.   He had a subtraction paper and we used a row of dinosaurs as counters.  It's great that just a simple thing like swapping out counters makes math so much fun for him.  He divided them into teams of herbivores and carnivores and set to work.  He did great!  We worked on writing his numbers too since he still needs practice with that.  As soon as math was done he set off to play with his dinosaurs and the pattern blocks.  He sorted pattern blocks into piles and then him and Alec used them as food to feed the dinosaurs.  They pulled out the scale and tried to make sure all dinosaurs had equal amounts of food.  They used green blocks for the herbivores and orange and blue blocks for the carnivores.  They had this whole elaborate play system set up and I didn't want to disturb them.

    Throughout the day I just took notes and observed each child, helping them with schoolwork when they asked.  Evan and I played sight word bingo together and read another of his mini books.  We're more than half- way through his series of books and he's getting faster at finding the pattern in the text. Today he told me that the word "put" couldn't be "party" because it wasn't long enough and didn't have that "r" sound. 

     While Evan and I were reading and playing word games Ian was reading a book about animals of Guyana.  He wanted to add to his report and asked me to help him get the computer up and going.  He got flustered when he couldn't get the typing up and going the way he wanted it to and ended up in tears.  Luckily, Evan and I were finishing up our work and I was able to sit with Ian and help him out.  We got two more pages done for his report and have some nice eye catching pictures to add to his board.  I also learned that animals like river otters, manatees, and ant eaters are found in Guyana-- I had no idea!

     Once Evan saw Ian working on his report he wanted to work on his a bit too and asked me to help him find a food from Madagascar (that he would actually like) to bring for our snack.  We read through the index of just about every Madagascar book we have so we could read about their food.  We learned they eat a ton of rice-- more than even most Asians eat.  We learned they eat a lot of fresh fruit and in the very last book we read we discovered that while they don't necessarily eat tapioca pudding they do export tapioca; so we're going to see if Evan likes tapioca pudding.  Once we decided on that he asked if we could read one of his book about lemurs (as if I'd say no!).  So we settled into learn all about lemurs.  By the time we were done everyone was hungry for lunch. 

    We had lost track of Alec all morning while he was up in his room.  He was content to let his brothers work on their schoolwork with me while he worked on putting together some Lego sets.  I wished he had worked on something a bit more school- like but I was happy that no one asked a single question about playing any video games or watching any movies.  They were content, quiet, and working hard at whatever they all chose to work on.  It was great! 

    The boys all made their own lunches and when we sat down to eat I read aloud a few chapters (with MUCH editing for swear words and sexual content-- sometimes I think I really should find a way to pre- read all the books we venture into reading!) from Wildside.  I'm not enjoying the story at all but every time I ask if we should return it or if we're going to read more they all clamor to finish it.  I guess they like it and since they don't seem to notice or mind my editing we'll keep reading it. 

     We stopped at the post office and the library, listening to The Lost Hero on CD.  Once home the boys begged me not to turn it off and we sat listening to the story in the car for another 10-15 minutes!  Evan was even telling the librarian that it was an awesome story that he just loves.  We're just over half-way done and they're already asking if I can request the next book in the series.  They've been talking about all the different gods and trying to keep their names straight and it's finally brought the Greek and Roman gods to life in a fun way for them.

    Once home, Evan asked me if I was going to help him add more to his Madagascar report and so I sat at the computer while he dictated facts to me about Lemurs.  I was so surprised when he asked me to help him write up some more facts.  They're really taking off on these geography reports this time and I'm so proud.  Once I finished typing up the facts, we also watched a video on the dancing lemur and added a few photos to his report. 

    He wanted to go play in the garage and outside with Ian riding scooters and so off they went.  Alec came to me and asked if he could work on his Japan report since he hadn't had a turn yet today.  I sat back down at the computer and he dictated several more facts to me about Japan's culture, some of their holidays and traditions, etc.  I was pretty impressed with his knowledge!  Especially since I haven't noticed him reading any books on Japan lately. 

    Ian worked on painting his sword and Evan started cleaning up all of his toys from this morning.  By 4:30 the boys had settled down to watch movies and play video games and I was left to marvel over all that we had accomplished in a day when the only lessons I had planned were math and reading! My only complaint was that school took all day today (10-3:45!); but I loved that they were all joyful about it, engaged and following their own interests.  We tend to work in fits and spurts and I guess I just have to learn to just go with it. 

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