Monday, March 31, 2014

Weekend Wrap- up

   Since we homeschool/ unschool I find that we even learn and keep busy over the weekends.  We learn at all times of the day and night, every day of the year.  That doesn't mean I keep teaching the boys but all kids have a way of teaching themselves and learning more about the world around them every single day.  If you look for it you can see and hear new ways in which they develop they skills.  Sometimes it's something as simple as a child asking what a new (to them) word means, sometimes it's a skill they've been working on and have finally mastered,  and sometimes it's something more subtle that you only notice as time has passed and you look back thinking about how much they have changed.
   We started our weekend with another Karate class.  Alec and Evan wanted to head back to the dojang on Saturday and participate in another class.  On the way they brought their DS games, since we only listen to our book on CD when all the boys are in the car.  I actually had Alec working on vocabulary words since his Pokémon game asked him to pick a work that best describes himself he could choose between words like diligent, adamant, naughty, serious, etc. He asked me which one I thought best described him but I put the question back on him and asked him what HE thought.  There was a list of 20 words or so and he slowly went through them all stopping now and then to ask what a word meant.  He decided to pick serious since he's "serious about his Pokémon game!"  Once at karate they participated in an obstacle course and attempted to do pull-ups using a bar.  Alec was able to do a pull- up or two before his arms got tired.  The boys had so much fun ducking, dodging, weaving, punching, skipping, hopping, and cartwheeling over obstacles.  They reviewed Korean terms for different moves and kicks and worked on stretching and control. 
     While they were at karate, Ian was hard at work with his father and grandfather.   Ian looks so forward to going to work on Saturdays and spends most of the day with his grandfather helping out with whatever he is working on.  Sometimes he comes home filthy, but he always comes home happy.  I hope that whatever he decides to do with his life that he always manages to enjoy his work that much.  He's learning new skills and using new tools all the time. 
     The boys spent a good portion of the weekend outside (between rain storms) playing and riding bikes, scooters, and the like.  They ran, used the swing sets, played with sticks and swords and did all kinds of yelling and screaming.  Whenever the rain started coming down hard the boys would come inside.  They played twister, video games, hide and seek and other fun games.  We worked on our family puzzle, read books and cleaned house. 
    The boys observed nature while being outside but also when we were inside.  Of course, we often looked out the window to see what the weather was like but we also got to see a fox crossing the ice on the lake.  The boys were all excited about this and Alec was happy to answers all the questions about foxes.  We compared the different temperatures we encountered each day and tried to gauge the amount of rainfall we received.
    We went to breakfast Sunday morning and Ian was able to guess the restaurant bill total (he estimated and ended up being off by only $.50!)  We headed to my husband's work and checked out some of the machinery he's been building.  The boys love climbing on all the huge metal structures he builds and this time Alec practiced his balancing skills and his karate moves.  The boys sat down and meditated, tried lying down and even holding themselves in a plank pose.  We estimated the amount of welds it took to hold it together and talked about how the machine works.  The boys raced each other around the shop and worked on being fair.  We listened to even more of our book and CD and talked about whether or not we want the next book in this series or to start at the beginning with the Percy Jackson books and listen to them all; the boys chose (unanimously!) to go on to the next book in THIS series. 
     Alec had a birthday party and got to run through a laser maze, climb a rock wall, play air hockey and have fun with kids his own age.  Unfortunately, he came home sick and running a mild fever.  But he did say he had a great time at the party so that was good, though I always feel bad for exposing other kids to our germs.  I consoled myself with the thought that we honestly didn't know.  He seemed just fine and wasn't complaining that he didn't feel well.   He spent the rest of the night on the couch watching TV and movies and eating soup.  Our youngest son was taking very good care of him and became his right hand man.  It was quite sweet to see and I fought every impulse I had to tell him to stay away in case he too got sick.  I've learned over the year that's it's almost inevitable for them to all pass their germs onto one another regardless of their proximity.  I promised myself that I'd back off from telling them to treat one another like they had the plague and instead try to foster sympathy and understanding.  As much as I hate having sick kids around (who loves it; right?!) I really don't like having kids who are mean to one another when they're sick.  So, with a huge deep breath, I've stepped aside and let Evan play nursemaid to Alec.  They're both smiling and it's pretty sweet to see. 
   All these ordinary, every day kind of events helps the kids build skills,  confidence, and character.   Somehow turning away from traditional schooling and forging our own path through homeschooling has really emphasized how the ordinary can really be quite extraordinary.   I know my boys are extraordinary and I just have to keep watching, observing, and embracing all the ways in which they show me that. 


Saturday, March 29, 2014

Taking off with math

     As they woke one by one they each migrated downstairs and they watched the movie Wall-E.  I consider Wall-E one of those fun yet educational shows.  I think it really drives home the importance of taking care of our planet so I sort of consider that movie as science.  By the time the movie was over they all started getting ready for the day; eating breakfast, getting dressed, making their beds, etc.  Then the house got silent.  Eerily silent; but in a good way.  All three boys were up in their rooms playing with toys.  It was so totally silent it was like I was home alone.  There was no way I was going to interrupt that to start school!  I started modifying our plans for the day to allow for them to play as long as they wanted in the morning. I got all my computer work done and sat down to work on our family jigsaw puzzle (well, I say family puzzle but I think I pretty much put this entire puzzle together by myself this time around).
    The younger two boys came to me to tell me all about Lego Chima.  They had been putting Lego Chima sets together and were ready to play but first stopped to tell me ALL about the whole story behind Chima, the characters, the history, etc.   They then asked if they could have a scarf and pocketbook like yesterday (I had gotten a new pocketbook and scarf in the mail and before I had even finished opening the box they tied both across their chest Rambo style and used them to hold their assorted weapons).  We went up to my room and found them each a scarf and pocketbook with a long enough strap to use cross- body style and they set off to battle with the forces of Chima.  We also had to find Evan's riding gloves and all the cylinders in our foam block sets to use as Skunk In A Jar (I had no idea what that was but I guess it's a weapon the skunks in Lego Chima use!) and then they were off and playing. 
     It was probably after 10 by the time Ian wandered downstairs and asked if we were ever going to start school today.  I could have said no and they would have all gone along playing happily but I'm not one to look a gift horse in  the mouth.  Within moments all three kids were sitting at the table asking what we were going to do today.  The older boys wanted to start with their math minute and Ian was thrilled that he passed his 8 times tables and has only his 9's and 12 times tables left.  That ice cream party is so close he can almost taste it!
    While they worked on that Evan asked if he could to the dot to dot on the computer but counting by ones instead of by two's.  So I went back to ABCya! and found him the dot to dot page.  He was bummed to discover it was an octopus again.  We then looked through other kindergarten games and he played Keyboard Zoo.  He practiced finding the letters on the keyboard and then the computer tells him the name of an animals that starts with each letter.  He kept trying to guess what animal they would show him for each letter and was thrilled when he got them right.  I was thrilled he could come up with an animal name for almost every letter of the alphabet (a few like x really stumped him). 
    Alec moved onto to his math workbook and knew what he needed to do for his next page while Ian and I worked a bit with our fraction tiles.  I was showing him (& asking him to show me) equivalent fractions.  From there we moved onto reducing fractions, which was today's lesson in his workbook.  He struggled with it a bit mostly because he's afraid to make mistakes.  We talked about that being a part of learning and I think I may have gotten him to loosen up a little...maybe.  I told him his workbook is a WORKbook, it can be messy, it can have eraser marks, lines, scribbles, etc.  It's for working, learning and figuring things out.  He smiled a bit and I noticed he started making notes to help himself next to each equation.  He made a few mistakes but seems to have the general concept.

      Alec finished his page and started telling me all the answers to the next page; which was multiplying by 10's.  He stopped more than half way through and said "why am I doing this?  I'm just going to have to do this all over again!"  To which I replied "nope, I was just thinking if you got through this whole page I'd mark it as done and then you don't have to do any math work on Monday."  A moment or two later when he still hadn't made a single mistake I stopped him and marked it as right.  He obviously got the concept!  Next thing I knew he had completed 5 more pages! He worked with reading the names of numbers and writing them, place value, ordering numbers from least to greatest and greatest to least, he worked with fractions too.  He was writing fractions and even making equivalent fractions!   "Now I don't have to do any math work next week!" He declared.   Ian started to complain that it wasn't fair and Alec would be done his math workbook before he was when I showed him all the multiplication fact ice cream cones and reminded him that he's ahead of Alec.  I reiterated that they can work at their own pace.  I expect at least one page a day to be done but they can always do more if they want.  I will never tell them to put down their math books!  Ian then started flipping ahead and found some easier pages and orally completed a multiplication fact page too.   I guess I found the right motivation for these math workbooks!

      Evan and I read a story together.  He reread the story he had picked out yesterday.  Since it had a lot of new words he had a hard time with the story yesterday and I wanted him to be more confident with it before adding it to his bin of bedtime books.  He was able to read the story straight through without any mistakes today.  He asked if he was done school today and I asked him if he could do one last thing for me-- count to 100.  I had planned on having him do a dot to dot puzzle starting at 100 and counting down to 1 but he had assured me he did NOT know how to count to 100.  To make it more fun both Evan and I got up off the couch and did jumping jacks and hopping on one foot while he counted to 100.  He lost his place a time or two but if I counted a few numbers before where he trailed off he was able to find his place again and made it all the way to 100 without any mistakes.  I told him he could go play and that I didn't have anything else planned for him.  He decided to sit at the table and "play" with the fraction tiles until his brothers were available to play with him.

    Once Ian was done with his math book he wanted a snack and I offered to coach him through making Chex Mix.  Typically I'd give him the recipe and have him read and follow the directions but I don't really use the recipe and I modify it as I go along.  He pulled out all the ingredients and I talked him through the amounts to use.  He knew which measuring tools to use; the 1/4 tsp. measure 3 times for 3/4/ the 1/2 tsp. three times for 1 1/2 tsp., etc.  By the time he had the Chex Mix done all the boys were pulling out lunch ingredients.  I had no idea it was lunchtime!  Our morning flew by!

    The boys asked to watch Wild Kratts during lunch and we learned about the spider monkey.  I figured with all the math work they had done this morning, with all the reading the older boys did last night (Alec once again read 8 books at bedtime!), and with the science movies and shows that we had watched  that school was pretty much covered for the day.  The boys wanted to go outside since the thermometer said it was 50 out but it started to rain.  Bummed they all asked to watch TV and I figured, hey, it's Friday! 
    The rain cleared up and the sun came out so all the boys headed outside to play.  The younger two boys brought their weapons and my scarves outside with them to play and they didn't even bother stopping to come back inside when it started to rain again.  Ian, however was bored, so I offered to help him make some more snacks and treats.  It seems that everyone in this house has a real sweet tooth lately and our groceries just aren't lasting.  We decided to make some brownies and since there are directions right on the box I left him to do it by himself.  It's great reading, reading comprehension, science, and math practice for him-- not that he knows that.  He just thinks "oooh, yummy brownies!"

     The younger boys came back inside once the rain picked up and Evan wanted to make some mousse.  I had some instant mousse packets I bought at the Christmas Tree Shoppes this past weekend and so I helped him mix some up.  We did a double batch so he had to add 2- 3/4 cups together and came up with 6/4.  I did tell him we could turn that into 1 1/2 but since he's only 6 I had him measure out 6 -1/4 cup measures.  We then turned on the mixer and I had Alec tell us what time it would be when 5 minutes went by.  I showed Evan the clock on the stove and told him it was 2:18 that the first number before the dots tell us the hour and the numbers after the dots tell us the minutes.  He then called out the time every minute as the clock changed.  He even told me when we only had one minute left until we had to turn off the mixer.  He turned it off the second the clock turned to the correct time and we started scooping out the mousse into dessert cups.  The house smelled heavenly between the mocha mousse and the brownies baking in the oven. 


Friday, March 28, 2014

A very easy day

   We had planned on heading out to a game day with our homeschool group so I hadn't planned on having my kids so much in the way of schoolwork today.  The older two boys had their new math books come in yesterday so I knew I wanted them to work on one page in those and I figured Evan and I would play a sight word game and read a book together.  That's it; short and simple!  So, knowing I didn't have much planned I wasn't worried about starting school that early this morning.  I let the boys lay around after waking and they watched some TV and played some video games.  It's so nice to say "yes" to them!  They watched Wild Kratts, Duck Dynasty and played World of Zoo.  I even gave them the morning off from cleaning since I only had the two tubs on my list of things to clean today. 
    Somehow we still managed to start school at 9 this morning!  The older boys started with their math minute and both of them are just a few answers away from completing this round of facts.  Alec immediately asked if he could try saying them again instead of writing them.  His idea certainly has merit and I told him I'd think about it.  I like the idea of them getting used to writing their answers out since we write so little.  We finally agreed that if he still hasn't passed his 9 times tables in a week then he can say them out loud.  I love when they come up with ideas and way to compromise.

    We moved onto their new books and as soon as they opened them they both balked.  I told them to calm down, take deep breaths and only focus on the page we're working on for today.  Ian was still a bit apprehensive since he saw that it was a 5th grade workbook and he's only in 4th grade.  I promised him I would work with him and that since the book is going to take us close to a year to complete he would be in 5th grade for most of the book.  I went over today's assignment with him and while he wanted me to check his work repeatedly he really was getting it; though I had to continually point it out to him that he was getting it all right!  He had to practice multiplying by 10, 100, and 1,000.  I think it was the sheer size of the numbers that was intimidating him because he understood to add one zero to the end of any number being multiplied by 10, two zeros to any multiplied by 100, and three zeros to anything being multiplied by 1,000.  He had some difficulty deciding where the commas went in each of the numbers.  As part of this page he also had to break down answers that had been multiplied by 100 and 1,000 and come up with the original number-- he did great!  At dinner they were bragging to their dad about how easy it was even though it was hard work. 
     Alec's workbook page started with having him write out the number in words-- 3,452 as three thousand, four hundred fifty two.  It was great spelling practice for him and he breezed right through the page.  He also had to take some numbers that had been written out in words and write them as numbers.  The only one that stumped him was five thousand eight which he wrote as 5,08.  Once I showed him he only had numbers enough for five hundred eight he knew he had to add another zero and he knew he had to add it in BEFORE the 8.  He even looked at tomorrow's assignment and told me that was easy. 
     In between helping the boys with their math assignments I played a memory sight word game with Evan.  He totally kicked my butt!  He must have had at least 5 more matches than me by the end of the game.  I blamed it on his older brother's distracting me.  I'm normally quite good at memory games but I just couldn't focus today and so Evan won.  He read the majority of the words to me and had lots of fun working with his sight words. 

     The older boys finished their books right around the time we finished our game and I told them that since it was their first day with their new books and they had been dreading it so much I was going to give them the rest of the day off.  To which Alec replied "can that be all we do everyday?"  I just laughed and assured him one math worksheet a day was not a full school day.  Alec was pretending to eat the pizza picture off the front of his book and then Ian noticed he had money on the front of his book.  We added up how much money was showing and the boys were trying to figure out how many pizzas they could order with that amount of money.  Seeing the fun and excitement, I told them that when they finished these workbooks, which probably wouldn't be for a year or so, we could have a pizza party!  They were thrilled.  I was hopeful that it would keep us on task with using these books. 
     We worked together in the kitchen to pack lunches and pulled out some games to bring with us to our homeschool game day.  The younger two boys did not want to go at all today but since Ian did they were willing to go along with him.   Alec and I started adding up and figuring out the time he's been spending playing video games and watching recreational TV this week.  We've found that on average he's playing for 3 hours a day.  Seeing it written down and figured out he's been much more cooperative about taking breaks.  As much as I cringe at that three hours and want to cut him back to our two hour limit that I really do try to impose it's still very cold, windy and blechy (yes, I know that's not a word but it's how I feel about our winterish spring weather we've been having!) here lately and I just don't have the heart to kick them outside nor do I want to listen to constant refrains of "I'm bored!"  I know it will all be different soon when we finally get some nice warm weather (and by warm I mean we can leave the house in jeans and a sweatshirt without scarves, gloves, and winter jacket!). 
      Alec and Evan decided to start playing a game of Mario chess and Alec continues to teach Evan how to play.  They played a few rounds and I had to intervene a few time when Alec was getting frustrated with Evan.  I just kept reminding him that Evan was learning and yelling at him wasn't going to help.  Evan is such a good sport about loosing and he's determined to figure out the strategy to playing chess.  He loves Alec's Mario set and always wanted to play with it.  Alec doesn't usually want to play with Evan since he's not hard to play against so now Evan is really applying himself to try and learn. I love it!  Alec recruited me to play a game or two with him too. 

  While Evan and Alec played games Ian worked on his Lego's,  played in his room and then worked on finishing up his snake painting.   They all decided they didn't want to go to game day after all and settled down to have some lunch. They begged me to read some more of the Wildside.  So I read one more chapter.

   After lunch the boys all headed outside with their new wooden swords and axes.  To say I was a bit nervous was an understatement.  I'm a mom so I always worry about my boys; add in some really hard and thick weapons and it's just amplified!  They were fine though and played outside together for over an hour.  They had such fun playing in the woods and chopping trees (though I use that term loosely as they mostly just knocked small dead twigs off of trees).  They rode scooters and bikes and had some fun in the sun.
    Their grandmother called and took them to her house for the afternoon to work a bit in her yard raking and breaking up the ice.  I got the afternoon off & went to library and ran some errands alone.  I love my boys so much but it's like a little slice of heaven to have time to myself once in awhile.  It doesn't happen often, though, so when it does I've learned to really enjoy the moment and store it away for one of those  days where I wish I could have a break.   Once home they all went back outside to play with their cousins.  Ahhh! I love the coming of spring and days where they get overloaded on fresh air and sunshine!  They even played outside after dinner while my husband and I pitched in to do all their evening chores for them.     

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Movies, Movies, Movies.

    Woohoo! We started school at 9 this morning!  Well, Evan did anyway.  He came downstairs around 9 after having helped clean the bathrooms and playing with his Lego's for a bit and asked if we could start school.  I showed him a computer game I found on ABCya! where he can connect the dots while counting by 2's.  He was excited to try this game and did really well with it.  I stayed nearby in case he needed help but he managed to count all the way to 100 by 2's without any difficulty.   He enjoyed it so much he asked me to save it on the computer so he could play it again another time.  I only wish they had more pictures to choose from.

     Evan picked out another book to read to me and I was impressed that he knew the title "Best Friends" without seeming like he sounded it out or anything.  He read through the whole story with only a mistake or two and got real excited when I told him we were going to play Bang! again today.  I had pulled out the old sight word flash cards and put in his new words and we had such a fun time learning together.  He did really well with most of the words and I was glad to see how many of the new words he already knows. 

    By the time Evan and I sat down to play Bang! the older boys had made their way downstairs too.  Ian did his math minute and then pulled out his extreme dot to dot book and worked on that for a while.  Alec wanted to wait to do his math minute and instead started with his color by number paper.  I let them choose what they wanted to do for math today since their new books will be in later and we'll be starting on those tomorrow.  They could choose dot to dots, color by numbers, or Sudoku or anything else that was "fun" with numbers.

     Once Evan was done math and reading he went to go play and soon I was left with just Alec.  He wanted to try his math minute and was so disappointed when he had two more left to fill out and the timer rang.  I offered to let him try and take the test orally so I grabbed anther blank test, set the timer for one minute and stood next to him while he called out the answers-- he managed to get all 21 questions in under 30 seconds.  I considered that "knowing" his facts and told him to add another scoop to his ice cream cone.  He's now working on his 9 times tables since he believes the 9 times tables are easy.  He's found a pattern with them that has helped him memorize these facts quite quickly. 
      Once all the boys were done with math they took off back to their room (and each other's rooms) to play with their Legos.  I let them play for a bit while I did some laundry and worked on the computer and then we reassembled at the kitchen table for science.  Since the boys had so much fun with the magnets yesterday I thought we'd conduct an experiment using them today.  I have been wanting to try to show the boys the iron in our cereal and so we followed Steve Spangler's Eating Nails experiment.  We modified the experiment slightly since we used two different kinds of cereal (each with a different iron content).  We compared raisin bran to frosted mini wheats and I had them predict which one they thought had more iron.  We started by crushing each cereal and seeing if we could get any flakes or pieces to move around the plate using our magnets.  The boys were diligent about making sure they tried each of the three magnets during each step of the experiment to see if there were any differences.  Once they tried moving dry crumbs around on the plate they tried getting a piece of cereal to cling to the magnets by pressing down on the flakes with the magnets.  Finally we tried adding a bit of water to the cereal pieces and seeing if we could get anything to move along the top of the water.  Ian managed to get a few flakes of the mini wheats to stick to his magnet so he guessed that the mini wheats had more iron.  We took two quart size freezer bags and added 1 cup of cereal to each bag.  We then poured hot water until the bags were 2/3 of the way full and then mushed the cereal and water around a bit with our hands.  We set them aside in a bowl to sit for 20- 30 minutes and then checked them with the magnets to see if we could attract any of the iron with our magnets.  I hoped and prayed that something would show but I just wasn't sure if our magnets would be strong enough to make a difference.  They weren't! The boys and I were so bummed so we decided to buy some stronger magnets and try again another day.  I hate it when our science experiments fail.  I know it's still a learning experience but it's always such a let down. 
searching for anything moving near the magnet

Ian got a flake to stick

our cereal slurry

     My goal for the day had been to do some art with the boys.  I felt like it had been a long time since we had done a real art project. Ian was the only one interested in doing art today since the other two boys wanted to continue playing with Legos.  Once Ian started though, Alec became interested and decided to try making a snake painting too.  They each added their own twist to their art work and I just love watching their creativity take over.  Alec took samples of green paint and made me look up a picture of an anaconda so he could make sure he had the "right" shade of green for his snake.  Ian chose to make a milk snake and already knew the color pattern he wanted to use.  They worked on these painting throughout the day in fits and spurts, setting them aside to dry or when they had had enough and picking them back up again when they felt like it. 

Alec's painting is all finished.

Ian is still working on his painting


       We watched Born to Be Wild.  It was a very interesting documentary about orphaned elephants and chimpanzees in Africa. They all really enjoyed it so much.  It was funny and cute at times; who doesn't love baby animals?  While watching the movie the boys got their lunches all ready.  They worked together to put their lunch on the table and I am so grateful that they're becoming so independent.  Once lunch was over they settled in to watch the rest of the movie and I had to snap a picture of my younger two enjoying one another and the movie.  These glimpses of friendship are so rewarding and reaffirm my belief that homeshcooling is the right thing for us.  Once the movie was over all the boys were acting out that they were chimps trying to carry one another around on their backs. 

     We also watched Families of Russia this afternoon.  It was a cold, windy day and was just perfect for snuggling on the couch watching movies.  I even offered to pop some popcorn so we had a fun snack in the living room.  The boys love this series and asked me to request a few more of them.  They compared the two families shown on the movie to one another, to our lives and to the other movies we've seen so far in this series.  I used to feel so guilty about watching so many movies or too much TV in a school day but there really are such wonderfully educational shows out there and if the boys are engaged and learning I try not to let it get to me.  They'll remember some of these shows long after they've seen them and retain a lot more that way then just reading about it in a book.  Through homeschooling we've upon some of the most wonderful and engaging movies/series.  Our favorites include the Families of... series, Travel With Kids, Disney Science of Imagineering, Popular Mechanics for kids, Bill Nye, Beakman's world, Magic School Bus, Liberty's kids, Wild Kratts, the Disney Nature series, the list just goes on and on. 

    Once the movies were over I thought of school as being "over" for today but the boys asked me to read another chapter in Wildside.  With a bit more editing and stumbling I made it through another chapter.  The boys had some questions and I couldn't answer them.  I told them I'm not liking or following the story much and I really don't want to finish reading it. Aside from the underage drinking, the swearing and the sexual content that I edit as we read through there is a lot of technical jargon about flying planes that just goes right over my head.  I'm lost and genuinely don't like the story.  We're 1/3 of the way through the story by now and I'm still waiting for it to pick up and become interesting.  The older two boys insist that they really like the story and want me to keep reading; so I will-- with lots of editing but I can't wait for it to end!
       Evan decided to count down from 60 by 2's and used the sticky notes from yesterday to hop around the dining room table "backwards."  He did an awesome job and was so proud of himself.  I'm glad I haven't ripped those numbers up yet.  Who knew he'd enjoy such a simple activity for so long?  I love that he challenged himself to try counting backwards by 2 too.  That's awesome! 
     The boys spent the afternoon playing, painting, and watching movies.  Evan played World of Zoo for a bit on the Wii and all three boys spent their evening after dinner working out on the treadmill, elliptical machine and playing ping pong.  Alec even challenged my husband to a game of chess.  He loves chess and I keep promising to find him a chess group so he can play more often and even be challenged.  Alec has been working on teaching just about every family member we have to play chess and while he doesn't always win, or win easily I'm always uncertain that we're all playing "right."  It would be nice to get him together with other kids who know and understand the game too. 
All in all it was another (dare I say?) perfect day. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Magnets are fun!

    The boys all happily playing in one room together with all their Lego sets I was not anxious to interrupt them and start school.  They had been so helpful with all the housework this morning that I didn't mind letting them have free time to play.  When the boys came down to start school the first thing they noticed was the magnets and metal pieces I had put out.  They were drawn to this simple science play and spent a long time playing with all the magnets.  They tried shaking the magnets once things were stuck to them to see if they could get them to fall back off.  They tried sticking all the magnets to each other.  They used the magnets to pick up the metal pieces and move them all around.  We discovered it was really hard to get the metal shards and pieces off the magnets!

"it's all hairy!"

    The older boys settled in for some math fun-- I had written answers onto each bubble of some bubble wrap and handed them a stack of flash cards.  As they solved equations they could pop the answer.  They seemed to really enjoy this activity and it was great division fact practice.  They then practiced their multiplication cards and took their math minutes.  I love when math is accompanied by smiles and laughter! 

       Evan wanted to make some noise too so he went into the living room and played pop the sight words.  I had these long bubble wrap tubes that came in my Amazon order and I wrote a sight word on each tube.  He would read me the sight word and then pop the word.  He tried jumping, karate chopping, using his stuffed animal, pulling the word apart, etc. to break open all the poppers.  He had so much fun experimenting with different ways and watching what happened when one word popped.  He noticed that the force sometimes made them pop open at both ends.  He noticed that sometimes the release of air moved other words around it.  He noticed that if he pulled them apart the air released slowly and didn't make any noise (or else made a slight hissing sound).  It was great that he added some uniquely science observations to his reading.  There's just something about jumping and making noise that makes these types of learning activities so much more fun!

stomp that word!

     For math Evan practiced jumping by 2's.  I took mini post it notes and wrote the numbers from 2- 60 (counting by two's only) on each note.  I set them down around our dining room table and Evan would hop from one note to the other calling out the number as he went.  It must have been a lot of fun because I found him doing this several times throughout the day; it was such a fun way to practice counting by two's!

       The older boys wrote another page in their cursive books and Evan wrote his entire name two times.  They all did really nice work using their best writing and as a bonus even Evan was able to write part of his name using a colored pen.  He thought that was just great. 
     Evan and I worked on making a sample Lemur for his Madagascar report.  This paper Lemur is going to be his hands- on project and we wanted to make sure we'd have all the supplies we needed packed up with us.  I also wanted to make sure it wasn't to hard or to time consuming a project for people to make.  I think we'll look around for some small sticky back googlie eyes to use since the eyes were really hard to cut out and besides, I think googlie eyes make most craft projects more fun for kids. 

     Alec and I worked on the computer for a bit.  We went to Pinterest and looked up Japanese snack and craft ideas.  He decided he wanted to make paper lanterns as his hands- on project and so we settled down to make a sample.  He took out colored pencils and used his sample of Japanese writing to add some characters to his lantern.  Alec also spent part of his day looking through his bin of rubber stamp animals trying to find an animal that he could use as the passport stamp for the children who visit his table.  After a bit more reading about Japan and the animals that are found there.  He finally settled on a sea turtle stamp.  We had read that sea turtles will lay their eggs on a few of Japan's sandy beaches so he was quite excited about that. 

     While working on Ian's Guyana project we've really been struggling with a hands- on activity to go along with it.  He really wanted to study Guyana because of the show Gold Rush.  He loves that people mine for gold and diamonds there.  In keeping with his truck obsession we finally decided to set up a mini mining site inside a tote/ bucket for the geography fair so he spent some time looking through our toy bins for the right kind of trucks.  We also printed out the information that he has written up and started assembling his board.  It's a good thing we did too-- we discovered he only has room for another 3-4 pages of "stuff" and he really wanted to write up a couple of pages about mining and print out some mining pictures.  So we deleted the half- page or so he had written up about their history.  I love that these homeschooling geography fairs are so flexible and allow the kids to really focus on what is important to them about each region they chose to learn about. 

      We watched a Disney World Of Music DVD during lunch and learned a lot about music.  The movie was great-- it combined Disney rides, sights, and movies with real music applications.  We learned what sheet music looks like, we learned about rhythm, melody, and beats.  We learned about all the families of instruments and got to hear salsa music, classical music, and pop music samples.  We saw adults and young children playing instruments and watched a whole orchestra playing together.  The DVD inspired the kids to find new way to make music and they started "playing" the table, the door, their empty IBC root beer bottles and so much more.  They talked about what was vibrating to make the sound each time and tried to determine which family of instruments it would fall into.  Evan brought down his guitar and the two younger boys spent the afternoon making up their own music, their own dances, their own songs, and their own way to play the guitar.

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    Ian pulled out some computer paper and sketched a drawing of a dragon that he wanted to add to his sword.  He has put several coats of red paint on it and wanted to end with a picture of a black dragon going down the blade of it.  Then the boys spent a bit of time playing outside and in their rooms with their Lego sets before getting ready for Karate.
     At karate we learned that Evan was chosen out of all the kids in his age group to be April's student of the month.  His master explained that he had been noticing how focused, well behaved and the "black belt attitude" that Evan has been exhibiting.  Evan was so proud and couldn't wait to tell everyone that he was student of the month.  All three boys earned the next stripe on their belt and Ian moves up to the next belt level during Friday's graduation ceremony.  I'm always a bit nervous for them on stripe evaluation night because the evaluations can get pretty touch and expectations are high.  Yet, they always seem to rise to the occasion and do quite well with the added pressure and expectations. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Using A Family Meeting To Guide Our Homeschool Journey

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. 

I try to have these family meetings with the boy every few months; or at least a few times a years.  It helps us all to sit back and evaluate what we like and what we don't like about our homeschooling days and routines.  

Well, I guess it isn't really a  family meeting since my husband was already at work, but since he supports us not matter what we do we don't often include him.  I sat down with the boys and talk to them about how we're all feeling about school lately. 

I asked them for their input: 

  • Their only complaint was that they don't get unlimited time (or more time) to play video games. 
  • 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. 
  • They miss having their afternoons off and having large chunks of time available.

Then I told them how I have been feeling; what i think is working and what changes I'd like to see...  

I try to just make small changes and only when necessary.  I still would like to try and follow their lead most of the time while sprinkling in some more traditional subjects.

Is it awful that I didn't  take their video game 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.  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!).   Plus I did tell him I would still play math games, use fun manipulatives like candy and make math fun.

I have warned the boys that as they get closer to high school age we'll have to add in a lot more writing to our day.  They are all reluctant writers and it's one subject I feel like we have been neglecting completely!

I sat and talked with Ian, my oldest, 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 so we may push off the typing skills for a few years.  I thought they would jump at the chance to be on the computer more but if I was wrong that's OK.  

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. 

BUT, 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. 

With our meeting done, we headed into our day.  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.  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!

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.  It's so nice to see he's finally catching on to this whole reading thing!

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.    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. 
  • 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.

We had a great morning they were content, quiet, and working hard at whatever they all chose to work on.  It was great! 

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. 

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. 

We'll keep working towards our goals from our family meeting and check back in with the boys in another month or so to see how they think things are working out.

Our homeschooling journey is ever changing and I don't want to ever leave them behind forging my own path for us all while they're left wondering where I went without them.  They are the center of our learning and we have to move forward together in a way that works for us all

Monday, March 24, 2014

How Learning About the Various Homeschooling Methods Helped Ease My Fears

It's easy for my fears to derail my homeschooling efforts.  We've had one of those weeks where I'm questioning all that we are doing and learning.

I never thought that by learning more about the various homeschooling methods I would feel better!  

After all just reading about the methods didn't meant I had changed anything in our approach.

After a nice long week off and many reassurances from our families that my boys are growing and developing just fine.... After a week of reading all the unschooling and delight directed learning blogs I could find... After a week of talking with the boys and really listening to them, watching them play, hearing them talk, seeing what they're really interested in... I thought we were all set.

I found many quotes that reminded life is a journey and we should enjoy it.

I realized that I had once again been panicking about all that they have not yet learned.

 I worry so much about them learning everything I can teach them even thought I know that it's just unrealistic.  I know that, yet I can't seem to get that message to sink into my brain! 

I wanted to head back towards a more unschooling approach and I was happy.  The boys were happy.  Life was good.   

Then my husband voiced all of his fears to me and I faltered again.  Funny enough, he was having all the same sort of anxiety about all the same sorts of subjects.  His fears being voiced aloud at a time I was struggling with my own did not help much.  I don't think either one of us felt all that much better by the end of our discussion either but we did agree that we don't want to send them back to public school (phew!), we agreed that they're still young and they still have plenty of time but it left me feeling a bit uncertain again.
As much as my husband supports me and all the work I do for homeschooling, most of the work does fall to me and like I told my husband I have no guarantees for him that I'm not screwing it all up.  I only know what I can and can't motivate the kids to do.  

  • I know what they do and don't retain when I force through the knowledge.  
  • I know that we can't all be crying, yelling and in tears over our school work or else no learning will ever take place.  
  • I know that if we're all miserable every day we're going to quit, give up on homeschooling and feel badly toward one another.  
We're still looking for middle ground between total schoolwork all the time and complete unschooling and I just have to lean more toward unschooling.  It's where I find I see the most connections being made, where we all find the most joy in learning and it's where we love homeschooling the most. 

I have always used the terms delight directed learning and unschooling interchangeably and only after reading several delight directed learning blogs have I learned that they aren't really the same thing at all.  

All this time I've been struggling to be a strict unschooler when I now realize we're more of a delight directed homeschooling kind of family.
  • We work together to pick topics we want to learn about, field trips we want to go on, new experiences we want to try and while I guide them with the actual work I'd like to see being done, they pick the topics and areas of interest.  
  • We have whole days, weeks or even months where we completely unschool and they find their own areas of learning and interest.  
  • We have weeks or months where I pick a lot of areas I'd like to cover and we plug away at those for a bit until they're off on another tangent they'd like to explore more in depth.  
It's funny how just this tiny discovery this weekend has helped me feel better about what I always see as our disjointed way of approaching school. 

It helps so much to read blogs of other homeschooling moms (especially moms of older children who have gone through all this and have kids successfully in college or careers!). 

It helps to read about their struggles and know I'm not alone.  

I'm not the only one whose kids don't happily cheer at the sight of a workbook,

 I'm not the only one who kids grumble, moan and complain.

 I'm not the only one who feels frustrated.  

I'm not the only one who buys curriculum books and forgets about them a week or so later. 

Sunday, found me back to feeling content with our decision, our journey and our life and I sat back to enjoy my family.  Evan wanted to buy some new toys and my husband offered to make them all some.  The boys picked out some swords from the Lego Chima TV show that they've been wanting and my husband cut them out of wood (though Ian helped make his own sword).  The boys painted them, played with them and had a great weekend outside.

Alec and Evan paint their swords

Ian helping dad to cut boards down

Ian tracing the sword shape onto the wood

Ian learning how to use the saw

Ian's turn to try it out (don't worry we're right
next to him!
We went, as a whole family, to the grocery store.  We talked about nutrition and Ian was able to estimate the cost of our groceries (he was only off by $5!).  We listened to more of our book on CD and the boys filled their dad in on the story and what has been happening.  We talked about Greek gods and Roman gods and I was so pleased when Alec could tell us all what the difference is between these two groups.

The boys hiked, biked, used their scooters and enjoyed playing outside.  Ian and my husband worked together to put together a wooden bulldozer from a kit Ian had gotten from Christmas.  Ian used tools and learned how to follow the directions. 

Ian read a new recipe and made chocolate chip cookies for us all!  He's turning into a really good baker.  We talked about fractions, equal fractions and reducing fractions while he was cooking.  He had to figure out how many tablespoons of butter he needed when the recipe called for 3/4 cups.  He was ready to flatten the butter out into the measuring cups when I showed him that 1/4 cups equal 4 tablespoons.  I then asked him how many tablespoons in 2/4 (or a half cup) of butter.  He told me eight so I told him he then had to figure out how many in 3/4 and he said 12.  I told him he had just added fractions!  If he keeps up with all this baking and cooking he's going to be a whiz in fractions in no time at all! 

 In essence they showed me all that they learn through life and that what we're doing is working.  Blending their interests with my need for more traditional schoolwork is just fine and we're all going to be OK.

Linking Up With:

Tots and Me

The Homeschool Post