Tuesday, December 1, 2009

I ♥ Homeschooling...

When I sent Little Brother off to get dressed this morning, he came out dressed in a hand-me-down bat costume. No problem!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

November wrap-up

Pathetic, eh? Doing a single post for an entire month? It turns out that between homeschooling, driving kids all over, and too much time spent on Facebook, my little blog suffers. Here's what we've been up to...

Big Sister's Spanish class had a Dia de los Muertos celebration, complete with sugar skulls, pan de muertos (I was able to make some that was dairy and soy free, for our friends with food allergies), and marigolds on display. They learned a lot and had a great time.

Little Brother's last day of first grade at public school was Friday, October 30. He had a Halloween party in class that day, which was a nice way to say good-bye. He also came home with a very nice, spiral bound book of pictures and notes that his classmates and teacher created for him. A nice momento from his time in Ms. P's class.

Lil'Bro' is continuing to participate in music with his class twice per week. I knew that homeschoolers in our state are allowed to access classes through their neighborhood school, but wasn't sure how much resistence I would run into. It ended up being no trouble at all, and the principal was very gracious about the whole thing. It's a really great music program, like nothing I could provide for him, and I was very happy that it fits into our already busy schedule. He would have preferred to continue with P.E., but the timing didn't work out. Maybe next year.

In November we hosted Flat Stanley, who came to us all the way from North Carolina (after stops in Texas and Missouri). I've always wanted to participate in a Flat Stanley project (Flat Stanley has his own wiki), so I jumped at the chance when it came up. Flat Stanley is the story of a boy who gets smashed flat when a bulletin board falls on him at school. He learns that a benefit of being flat is that he can travel all over the world for only the cost of a stamp. We took Flat on a fieldtrip with our homeschool group (to Petco - not very exciting), to dinner at Teddy's Burgers (where he had his picture taken in front of the wall mural), and to the Visitor Center at Microsoft (where he was photographed with the founders of Microsoft). He also got to experience some typical fall/winter weather while he was here. His next stop is Connecticut, and we wish him well. Before he left, Big Sister filled out a form that tells about the activities he participated in, as well as interesting facts about our area. It was a fun learning experience for all of us.

We're wrapping up a unit on Thanksgiving. I recently subscribed to Evan Moor's Teacher File Box through a group-buy at the Homeschool Buyer's Co-op, and I'm really enjoying it. I've always liked the Evan Moor Pocket Books, but found myself put off by the cost of purchasing each of the books, plus the time involved in taking the book to be photocopied. The reasonable cost for the subscription, plus the ease of printing at home makes it totally worth every cent. Some of the Pocket Book themes are a little on the young side for Big Sis, but we can beef things up a bit for her - she's just excited to finally be doing more of this crafty-type stuff.

Our other activities lately have included: girl scouts, lego club, a fieldtrip, parkdays, Spanish class, drama class, swimming lessons, and homeschool PE class.

We just completed Thanksgiving/Christmas number one with the grandparents over on the east side of the mountains this past weekend. It was a little early to breaking out the holiday cheer, but necessitated by the fact that the grandparents will be making their annual flight south to Mexico in less than a week. We won't see them again until summer, and were thankful to have the chance to see them one more time before they go. Thanksgiving number two will be celebrated with hubby's family, and we are looking forward to it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Enough complaining and whining - time for action...

Friday is Little Brother's last day of public school! We've been going through a rough patch with first grade, and it didn't make sense to keep trying to muddle our way through when there's another option available to us. I'd obviously not been won over by school this fall, but was trying to be supportive of a choice that was making my boy happy, and certainly wasn't damaging him - until it started damaging him.

One night I heard him crying softly in his bed - turns out he was worrying about the next school day, and feeling like he's "not smart enough" for first grade. I immediately emailed the teacher to let her know what we were dealing with at home, so she could either shed some light on the matter, or work with him on her end. After all, with him away from me for 7 hours/day, she's the one who has him for most of his waking hours - plus she's "the professional" and I thought she might have a few tricks up her sleeve. She is a nice woman, and my boy thinks she's amazing, so I have no gripes against her really - it's just that her methods of trying to build his self-confidence back up were hugely unsuccessful. She let me know that she's constantly telling him how smart he is, and publicly pointing out her own mistakes and foibles to him in an effort to make him feel better, but to no avail. The fact is we can tell him these things until we're blue in the face, but if he doesn't believe it and really feel that he is successful, our words matter little.

Unfortunately, after weeks of working on this issue, Little Brother's attitude towards himself and school has not improved. He began asking, daily, to homeschool. So, after many long discussions with dear husband (who agreed that when our intelligent boy believes he's stupid, there's a problem), I set the wheels in motion to home school. I filled out the paperwork yesterday, had it signed and date stamped, and then let his teacher know. She was very supportive, and agreed that the home school environment was likely a good fit for him right now. Today I go to the school's office and let them know officially. I also want to talk with the principal about having my boy continue taking music with his class twice/week (state law allows homeschoolers free access classes, such as PE and music, on a space-available basis at their neighborhood schools). After a Halloween party at school on Friday, he will officially be a first grade drop-out!

This will be a big adjustment for all of us. Big Sister is worried about having less one-on-one time with me - a valid concern. She's also worried that Brother won't like her humming and fidgeting as she works - he probably won't. She does agree that school isn't working for Brother, and that he deserves the same opportunity to learn at home as she is having. I'm confident we will make this work, and that we will all be happier for it. Wish us luck!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A rant from a home schooling mom with a child in public school

A recap: Little Brother is in first grade at the neighborhood elementary school, and Big Sister homeschools. Little Brother says he likes school. Mom doesn't like school. Little Brother frequently comes home and shares things about school that make Mom cringe. Little Brother is a grumpy beast every single morning when we are getting ready to walk to the bus. Mom has told Little Brother that she doesn't understand how he can like school but be such a rude crab while trying to get him out the door to this wonderful place. Mom isn't having a good time.

Shall I count the ways in which I dislike school (in no particular order)?

1.We can start with the three weeks of mind-numbing math review that had Andrew in tears at homework time because "I already did this in school. Why do I have to do it again?" Honestly, I don't know. But if you want to play the school game, then this is what you put up with. And even though I would like to have kept him moving forward on the math he'd been doing over the summer, he was burnt out after a long day, followed by homework. "Afterschooling" would be cruel, for both of us.

2. The ridiculously long school day. He leaves home at 8:45am and returns to the house at 4:10pm. That's nearly 7 1/2 hours. These are children, for Pete's sake. I completely understand that the long school day is a huge blessing for families that do not have an adult home during the day, and relieves some of the financial burden of childcare. I would like to have the option of a shorter day for families that are able to accommodate that (oh, wait. i do have that option - home schooling).

3. Homework in first grade. Dumb. It's all part of the trend - cram more academics in earlier, extend the day, and you're supposed to have some magic recipe for higher test scores 11 years from now. I think the experiment is failing. If I remember correctly, when I was in school we did NOT spend all day in school and our test scores were higher. Quantity (time spent in school being stuffed full of information) does not equal Quality learning.

4. I can't even pick my own kid up from school. Last Friday I sent him to school with the proper form filled out so that we could pick him up as our family was heading out of town at the end of the school day, rather than him riding home on the bus. When the school day ended, Brother's teacher wouldn't let him get in the parent pick-up line, even when he reminded her that he did bring a note that morning. She had forgotten, and told him he didn't have a note and made him get in the bus line area. When we finally found him he was sobbing - full body-shaking sobs, afraid we were going to leave town without him. When we homeschool, I don't have to fill out anyone's form to leave town on a Friday afternoon.

5. His class earns marbles in a marble jar when they're being good. Last Friday the jar was full to the top, so the class got to vote on what kind of "party" they wanted to have for the following Monday. Brother voted for an extra recess, but watching a movie won. Monday rolls around, they start watching the movie during snack time, but a lot of the kids are talking so the teacher turns the movie off part way through and the entire class loses their earned reward. Andrew was not talking, in fact is such a strict rule-follower he probably earned half those dumb marbles for his class... and he was enjoying the movie because it was about his favorite book characters of all time: Kevin Henkes' mice. He was so sad and disappointed. I asked him (and I really shouldn't have said this, but the whole thing was ridiculous) "So did you turn around to the rest of your classmates and say 'You guys all suck! Can't you keep your mouths quiet for 15 minutes?!!'" Fortunately he said he hadn't, and you can't say stuff like that at school. Too bad - they deserved it. I hate when the good kids get punished because of idiots they can do nothing about.

6. Other kids are annoying. Really. And they don't listen to politeness and respectful behavior. What's wrong with these kids? There's a girl that is constantly in Brother's space every single day after school in the bus line. She touches him and tickles him, and doesn't stop. For the first couple of weeks he would politely say "Please stop." which only fell on deaf ears. This caused him to revert to behaviors we haven't seen in over a year, where he self-harms out of frustration - biting himself, scratching his face hard enough to leave marks, pounding his head into the ground. Nice, huh? I realize he needs to learn other ways to manage frustration, but this annoying kid needs someone to teach her that when someone repeatedly asks you nicely to stop, you stop. Neither kid is being helped by a guiding adult in this situation. If my kid someday smacks her (rather than hurting himself), I will applaud him.

7. Not enough time for my slow eater to finish lunch, and he's not drinking liquids. Not the school's fault entirely, but something that could be completely avoided if he were eating lunch at home. He never finishes all his food, and he doesn't have enough time to finish his apple juice. Because he doesn't have time to finish his apple juice, he's stopped opening it up at all. Why? Because any liquids have to be squeezed out over a strainer into a garbage can at the end of lunch, and he has a hard time coordinating a proper squeeze that doesn't get juice all over him. Rather than face that stress (since everyone is in a hurry at that point, and the line is growing behind him), he has determined it can be avoided by simply not drinking. This is my kid who is just overcoming 4 years of severe bowel issues and is finally weaned off of daily meds, and needs to be drinking fluids so he doesn't back slide. But I can't be there to say "hold on and drink your juice before heading out to recess".

8. The bus is completely inconsistent. This is a gripe, but it's related to my overall dissatisfaction with our school experience. The bus shows up sometime in a 10 minute window on either side of his appointed drop-off time (morning too, but slightly more regular). I have to block 25 minutes out of my afternoon to make sure that I'm at his stop in case she's running early, leaving Big Sister home to mill about. I'd just like some predictability, that's all I ask.

9. My boy is starting to read, but can't really read yet. Sometimes he doesn't quite get the directions right on the work he does in class. The other day he was supposed to draw and odd number of shapes, and an even number of shapes. He ended up drawing two shapes of odd-numbered sides (triangle and pentagon), then added all the sides together and wrote "8". He did the same for the evens, drawing a square and a hexagon, then adding all the sides and writing "10". We were looking it over when he got home, and he said "Hey! Why'd she mark that wrong?" Well, dear, it's because the teacher is expecting the same conventional responses to these questions out of each of her students, and it's too much to expect her to figure out that your answer shows understanding of the concept - and then some. There is little room in public education for thinking outside of the box.

This is all just a rant. School is not killing my boy (yet), or me (but almost). I think the reason the first month of school has been so hard for me is because I see daily that everything about it is unnecessary. We could avoid all of this by homeschooling. When I think about what he's gaining that he wouldn't be receiving at home, there's very little I come up with. This all struck me yesterday when Little Brother spent a school day at home with us. He woke up around 4:30am with a cough and never fell back to sleep, so I decided to keep him home for the day. It was great - we all homeschooled, he came along to Natalie's Spanish class and swimming, he learned to play tether ball, he picked a chicken egg from our friends' hen house, and we met some very rude and obnoxious homeschooled boys (and I was able see everything happen and talk to him about it later). It was a fabulous day, and it all felt right. I don't think we'll be playing the public school game much longer, as it's just not worth it to us on so many levels.

Friday, September 11, 2009

I can't believe what a joy it has been to get back to serious homeschooling with Big Sister. With her reading falling into place last year, and her overall willingness to learn, it's been a breeze these last couple of weeks. Her attention span is miles beyond what it was just a year ago, and we can work together through the morning, moving from one subject to the next, and the time is flying by. It's a little creepy how well it's going.

Some of what is helping it to go more smoothly is settling on a few key bits of curriculum that we're both equally happy with. Still loving Singapore Math (just about ready to move on to Primary Math 4B), with some math games, and multiplication review thrown in. Still using Spelling Power, which I'm not convinced is helping her to retain words past the week that she studies them, but is at least systematic and modifiable to fit our needs. I have noticed that as she's reading more, her spelling has improved, or at least her ability to recognize that a word doesn't look right. We've been using a workbook for modern cursive (which she chose as the style of cursive she wanted to learn) and adding in some additional copywork to help her become more comfortable with the flow of the writing.

We just started using Four Square Writing Method for grades 4-6 for writing, and Big Sister was immediately hooked. I chucked Writing Strands out the window then and there. This was our second try with Writing Strands, and we both found it excruciatingly dull.

I bought a subscription to Aha! Science through the Homeschool Buyer's Co-op, which she is really enjoying. We've been supplementing lessons on astronomy in Aha! Science with activities and reading from Exploring the Solar System: A History with 22 activities, as well as additional biographies of famous astronomers.

We will likely flip back and forth between science and history this year, still using K12 History. I think it will work fine to finish a unit in one area, and then switch gears to do a unit in the other subject.

Other than that, Sister is continuing her outside activities from last year. She's still taking drama through Studio East, and she's starting her last year as a junior girl scout. New this year is a weekly spanish class that she'll be taking with three other girls. All these activities start next week, so we'll see how our schedule holds up!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Space: The Final Frontier

Little Brother said he wants to learn about space, so we're off on a voyage through the galaxy, where we'll explore planets, stars, and other out-of-this-world objects and phenomena. As we go along, the kids are going to be compiling their own Space books using resources I found at Enchanted Learning's Zoom Astronomy, Learning Page.com (membership is totally free, and there's a lot of fun stuff for the under 10 set on their site), and the (paid) Printables section on the Scholastic website.

Oh, and Brother also let me know last week that he would really like to have "theme" days, like they did at his school. If you stop by tomorrow, I want you to know that it's "Bring Your Stuffed Animal to School Day"...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Getting back into the swing of things...

It's been one crazy summer. July was filled with one road trip after another, with only 12 or so days spent at home. The first week in August found me and the kids at Girl Scout Day Camp - I volunteered (teaching Map & Compass), Little Brother was in the boys unit (for sons of parent volunteers) and Big Sister was in a 5th grade unit. We had a fantastic week! The morning after our final day at camp, we started on a whirlwind revolving door of house guests. It was a lot of fun visiting with friends and family, and taking them around to various touristy activities - however, we are all now exhausted and trying to remember how life goes when it's all back to normal.

We've been on the fence over whether to have Little Brother homeschool this coming fall. He reminded me the other day that I had said early on in the summer that we would try out homeschooling the two kids together and see how it went. If it didn't go well, we would likely have him return to ps. Well, he was essentially firing me as his teacher, saying that homeschooling this summer has NOT gone well AT ALL! I explained that we haven't been anywhere near home for the past six weeks, and would make it up to him once our last guest was gone. Grammy went home yesterday, and school started back up this morning.

One thing I noticed I need to work on with Sister is her summarization skills. They are sorely lacking. We'll focus on that a bit in the next few weeks. Also need to polish of the rusty multiplication tables after 6 weeks of sitting idle. It's amazing how quickly that knowledge drifts away.

Brother read to me for a bit, did some math, played with cuissenaire rods, and put together a puzzle. While putting the puzzle together, he said "This feels like homeschooling." I think that was a compliment, LOL!

Off to a couple of playdates to reconnect with nearby friends we have been missing due to all the other fun we've been up to...

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Backing up a bit...

Big Sister went on her first solo sleepover to Grandma and Grandpa's house over in Yakima. See Grandma Sharon's post over on their blog.

They had driven over to our side of the mountains to watch Sis perform in her play "The Princess Plays". There were two acts - in the first she played one of the Princess Court, and One o'clock, and in the second she was one of the Royal Soldiers. Cute play, but not her favorite - it was a large cast, and most of the characters weren't particularly well-developed. Next year she plans to try a musical.

Here she is as a soldier...

...and here's one of both kids on the afternoon of her first performance:

They don't look at all related, do they?

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Happiness is a perfect day...

Yesterday was a terrific day! The kids finally woke up shortly after 9am. While they ate breakfast, I reminded them that I wanted to get to our schoolwork before they got involved in their game, and they were both totally fine with that. They finished eating, got dressed, and met me downstairs. Big Sister covered handwriting (she's working on learning cursive), spelling, and math, and Little Brother did some math, handwriting, and reading. We were done by 10:30, and then they went upstairs to watch a Voltron cartoon on Hulu.

Shortly before 11am, I got a call from the mom of a friend of Little Brother. Her boy was in LB's class this past year, and the two of them started getting together for playdates in the last month of school. He's a really nice kid, and the boys have a lot in common - it's nice to see Brother finally having a friend of his very own. Anyway, we invited this boy down to our place for a few hours, and had his mom drop him off with a lunch and a swim suit for the slip-n-slide and wading pool. He showed up wearing a brown, hooded sweatshirt, hunched over and using a little stick like a cane, and announced that he was Yoda for the day. See? The perfect buddy for my boy! Each of them dueled with sticks for 3 hours straight, and not so much as a scratch on either one - shows pretty impressive self-control for two 6-year old boys.

When Big Sister found out that Little Brother was having a playdate, she wanted in on the action, too. Until this past fall we didn't know any other kids in our neighborhood. It's an older neighborhood, and there just aren't a lot of young families. In the few families that are around, the kids seems to play indoors, or in their backyards, so we've rarely seen children in the three+ years since we moved here. Fortunately for Sister, that all changed last month because the family of a girl in her girl scout troop has moved in around the corner! She is so happy to finally have a friend within walking or biking distance. I held Sister off for a few weeks while her friend finished up the school year and her family got settled, but we finally had her friend down to play on Saturday for the first time. Yesterday I let Natalie walk up to her place, and they played there for a couple hours while the two young Jedis kept me entertained. Eventually both girls ended up back at our house, and I treated them to a snack of watermelon and popcorn.

Maybe I'm a freak in the Mom World, but I loved having kids over to our house. This is what I've wanted for my kids for so long - something that more closely resembles what I remember from early childhood. My kids have always had friends, but they're friendships that require phone calls, car rides, and scheduling in advance. These are friendships that have grown over time, and we would never trade them for the world, but I've really always yearned for them to be able to wander over to a friend's house to knock on the door and ask if their friend can play, and I want their friends to be able to do the same. I hope our summer will be filled with many more days of friends dripping water through my kitchen, and eating me out of house and home! And for any of you out there? Stop by, anytime (after our schooling is done, lol)! ;D

Monday, June 29, 2009

Summer school...

Summer. The sun comes out, and suddenly I want to do nothing more than relax and shrug off any sort of constraints to the pursuit of nothingness (constraints being schedules. and any tasks pursued for reasons other than my personal enjoyment). Consequently, in the past couple of weeks, there hasn't been a whole lot happening in la escuela de Koch. Late bedtimes for the kids, followed by equally late awakenings in the morning, have led to days that are terribly out of sync for all of us.

I'm awake by 6:30 every morning, usually earlier. I sip coffee, and spend time reading email, blogs, and playing on Facebook. When Little Brother was going to school each morning, I had a perfect pattern of: coffee, computer, shower, wake the boy, sit together while he ate breakfast, he gets dressed, I finish getting ready, jackets on, say goodbye to Big Sister, and we'd head out the door. I'd return to the house to find Big Sister fed, dressed, and ready to homeschool. We'd do all our schooling while Brother was at school, and be done by noon at the latest. The kids had the whole afternoon to do as they pleased, and so did I. I was happy. Kids were happy.

In the absence of a real driving need to be out the door at 8:30 each morning, our routine has greatly suffered. I'm still up at the crack of dawn sipping coffee, but my hour on the computer has stretched into two. The kids are up nearly as late as Mom and Dad, and they stagger out of bed at 9, 10 or later. They sit, half-asleep, on the couch in the living room until their growling stomachs eventually drive them to the kitchen to seek out nourishment in the form of oatmeal, fruity pebbles, or (if mom is distracted) a bag of chips. The remains of yesterday's ongoing "game" (it's how they refer to the days-long sagas of pretend play they create) are strewn across the living room carpet, and both of them are drawn in. Not being in any real hurry to accomplish anything, it's now almost 10am and I'm still unshowered. By 10:30 or 11am I'm clean, clothed, and feeling ready to take on the day, but the kids are now fully engrossed in the game. By noon they are hungry again, and I take advantage of the break in their play to at least have them get dressed so we can do something, anything outside of the house. At that point, shifting gears to sit down and do some schoolwork is unappealing to all three of us. The end result is that I end up feeling like we've been incredibly lazy, with nothing to show for our time but a floor full of star wars characters, littlest pet shop animals, and various magnetics pieces scattered from one wall to the other.

I really can't see taking two months completely off and losing whatever progress Big Sister has made over the course of the last few months. Plus, I much prefer to spend the year working hard for a couple of months, and then taking a week or two off - much more manageable, in my opinion. I do need to find some kind of balance so that I'm not sucking the fun out of these long, sunny days, but right now the scale is tipped way too far in the other direction. My intention today is to get us back on track. Hmmm... how to make this work? I think what I'm going to do is let them continue to follow their own sleep patterns, and make sure I have myself ready for the day before they wake up. That way I can be ready to jump in with a little school time in the moments before they find themselves sucked into taking General Grievous to a birthday party for the spotted dog. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Math games...

We just got together with some friends the other morning for the first meeting of the "Monday Math Club" - which met on Tuesday... but that's another story.

In preparation, I went searching for printable math games online. Little Brother's kindergarten teacher has been using a number of dice games with printable game boards during small group time in his class, and they're a fun way to reinforce math facts and concepts. I love the internet - my search did not leave me empty-handed!

Here are a couple of sites I wanted to share right away, but I'll add to the list as I find more...

Dr. Mike's Math Games for Kids - Well organized with straightforward instructions. Includes .pdf downloads of game boards and game cards, as well as worksheets, fun mazes, etc. You can even order a real game board through a link to Zazzle, if you want something more permanent than sheets of paper taped together.

Learn-with-math-games - Printable Math Games. This site includes rules for all kinds of math games. At our math club, the kids enjoyed playing a dice game called "Stuck in the Mud". We also had two rounds of Fraction Feud going on at either end of the table - we printed the deck of fraction cards off the website, for a game that is a twist on the game "War". The kids playing were often quick to just guess which fraction was bigger (hmmm... 10/12 or 7/8?) so parents supervised and kept paper and pencil handy so the kids could work through the process of finding a common denominator, etc. Who knew fractions could be fun?

*graphic from stock.xchng

Friday, May 8, 2009

Why I need to trust the process...

For the longest time, one of the biggest obstacles to feeling like our homeschooling was going well has been the fact that my kid couldn't read. It didn't matter that she has always been kind, caring, attentive to the needs of others, assertive, able to talk with adults, a whiz at math, a history buff, a budding conservationist, an animal lover, etc. The big "marker" of our success or failure was whether or not she could demonstrate an ability to read, and she just wasn't getting it.

I had heard time and again from parents of other late readers that this would all be okay. My child would eventually read, and that homeschooling was a gift for these kids who aren't ready to read when school needs them to be ready. I was skeptical, and I guess I was also frankly unwilling to be okay with my child not reading until she's 12 years old. Having a 9 year old who wasn't reading was far enough out of my comfort zone.

What a difference a year has made.

This morning my daughter spent 45 minutes reading to me from a book that's listed at a 5th grade reading level. So what's cool about that? A year ago she was only reading at a first grade level, and doing so reluctantly and with little fluency. What's extra cool about this morning's reading? When I asked her this morning what she wanted to do for school, she asked if she could read to me. Twenty minutes went by, and I told her she could stop anytime, but she pressed on. I finally got her to stop reading aloud to me, and she's still reading to herself on the couch.

What did I do to get her to finally read? Nothing. Well, maybe it was a guided nothingness. A huge break through was when I got over myself and accepted graphic novels and comics as a literature choice. I have also continued to read aloud to her each and every day from books that were within her interest level, but above her reading level. We got hooked on the Warriors series, which is where she has taken off - she started out reading the Warriors manga back in January, and is moving on to reading the full novels on her own. I could have chosen to force her to read, as is often recommended by well-meaning folks, but I have noticed that in all areas of our homeschooling, trying to force learning brings slower and more reluctant results than learning that is joyful and less stressful.

And that, my friends, is my lesson to myself today. Trust the process. It's so hard to trust the process when the going is really tough, and voices (my own, and others around me) are causing huge doubts! Today's snapshot really did a lot to help me have more faith. This is a work in progress, and (as a wise friend told me recently) it's not time to take her out of the oven yet. When I peeked in today, I did see that my daughter is coming along quite nicely....

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Having a great week

Little Brother is on spring break this week, and I've been reminded how nice it is to just go out and have fun with the kids.

Monday we went to the zoo (with half of western Washington, it seemed). Surprisingly, even with a half million people piled into the Woodland Park Zoo, we somehow managed to run into a group of friends when we got there. We were about to join them when I realized that what the kids and I really wanted was to hang out just the three of us. Sometimes it's nice to do stuff like that with a big group, but doing our own thing was just what we needed. No regrets - we had a terrific day.

Tuesday I took the kids with me to our friends' house - Moms were lifting weights, kids were (supposed to be) playing outside and enjoying the sunny morning. We moms had a nice workout, and the kids mostly kept themselves occupied (Little Brother being the exception - he liked hanging out and exercising with the ladies). Afterwards we ran a couple errands, then came back to work in the yard. Big Sister is such a huge help in the garden this year! I can't believe what a difference a year makes. I can delegate tasks to her, and she can complete them with little to no interference/hovering from me. She planted a section of the front walkway with impatiens, while I dug up and transplanted six blueberry bushes to new locations (hopefully they'll produce better than in years past, unless they suffered too much shock). I also cheated and bought some broccoli starts. Slugs got to them before we did last year, so I'm on guard this time - they better watch out.

Today (Wednesday) we've had plans to participate in a tree planting event that's taking place for Arbor Day. We'll be meeting some other girls from Big Sister's girl scout troop there, along with moms and siblings. I'd figured I'd bust out some homeschooling this morning, since the tree planting won't be happening until late afternoon, but then I had another ingenious plan - swimming. I've been wanting to get the kids signed-up for swim lessons so they're ready to jump in the water this summer, but hadn't gotten around to making the necessary calls. This morning I called the community pool and found out they could assess the kids at the family swim if we wanted to come on down. We hopped in the car, went swimsuit shopping, grabbed a quick bite to eat, and headed to the pool. Little Brother had to take care of getting his suit on and showering by himself in the men's locker room, which was a little nerve-racking for me. He took forever in there, and eventually I went and stood outside the entrance to the pool and called for him. Same story when we finished up to head home. Turns out he was enjoying a relaxing shower. Anyway - I did get them signed up. Sister starts tomorrow evening, twice/week, and Brother will start in a few weeks.

Tomorrow's forecast calls for rain, so we're planning to go see the movie "Monsters vs. Aliens". The kids are really looking forward to it. We don't see many movies, so this is a real treat.

Friday we have LEGO club with our homeschool group. It's loud and crazy, but we don't like to miss this monthly gathering to free-build with thousands of LEGOs of all kinds, while hanging with friends. Blocks and buddies - how can you go wrong?

Next week it's back to the usual routine - not bad, just different. Prior to this year, when we didn't have an established routine, our weeks often looked like this one. While it was nice to drop everything and head to the zoo at the drop of a hat, I don't think we appreciated it as much as we have this week, nor did the outings stand out the way they have these past few days. There may be something to saving everything up for a crazy, fun-filled week here and there.

Friday, April 3, 2009

It's not my imagination

Our weather really has been cr*p. From the National Weather Service this morning:


And we're supposed to brace ourselves for record lows Friday night/Saturday morning. It's nice that my laziness in the garden will be paying off!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Self-education and unit study prep...

I'm dabbling in geology, writing my own Rocks and Minerals unit study to do with the kids in another month or so. It's coming together nicely! I was inspired to get us going on Rocks after a family bike ride that took us across the Tolt River a few weeks ago. The four of us made our way out to a gravel bar that had formed, and spent close to an unplanned hour poking our way through all the fascinating rocks. We kept picking up new stones, exclaiming at their shapes and colors, and wondering what they were. I really want to go back with the kids and have some idea of what we're looking at, and how those rocks came to be. With the massive rainfall we've had since then, I'm not sure what we'll find next time we go. The river channel is in a constant state of flux out there in Carnation.

My knowledge of Geology is limited, to say the least. I never took "Rocks for Jocks" in college, never really having much more than a passing interest in earth science. I taught a Geology Hike back in my days working at the outdoor science school (BC "before children"), but remember very little. So what does one do when one wants to know more??? Well, first I went online and refreshed my memory on the Rock Cycle, which was also a great vocab refresher. I looked up a few course syllabi to see what the key features a survey of geology might include. Then I went to the library and checked out books about Igneous, Metamorphic, and Sedimentary rocks, as well as a book on experiments to do concerning rocks and the rock cycle. I've been reading, reading, reading, and paying special attention to the areas that always had me stumped before. Now I'm trying to piece it all together so I can teach the kids in a way that's structured enough to provide necessary information, and fluid enough that I won't try to resist the "rabbit trails" I know will pop up. Once it's done, I'll post it on the blog.

In the meantime - could you think sunny thoughts for us, so we can soon walk safely along the riverbank again without being washed away? We can't take much more of this liquid sunshine.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Boys are different...

In case you needed proof that boys really are different from girls, some gems from my 6-year old...

LB: "Mom, you know what chore is my favorite?"
Me: "No, which one?"
LB: "Putting away the silverware, cuz I get to put away all the sharp knives!"
Followed by a sinister laugh...

The other morning I was about to wake LB to get ready for school, when I heard quiet singing coming from his room. "Oh, how sweet!" I thought... then I stood outside the door listening, and this was the made up song that I heard:
"...soup cups, and teacups.
And the teacups each had a lasergun,
and I took one! And I pushed the button..."

Telling me about a girl from school:
"She makes me feel happy. I really like her, but so does my friend Alex. I'm going to let Alex marry her. I like her, but I don't want all that marriage stuff, like kids and everything, so he can have her. Plus, he's my friend, and I want to be nice." (LOL - you should see how all the little boys act when in this girl's company. She has the entire class of kindergarten boys wrapped around her finger. It's frightening, really.)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Who doesn't love an epic adventure?

We checked out book #3 of Mary Pope Osborne's Tales From the Odyssey from the library the other day:

Sirens and Sea Monsters.

You may know author Mary Pope Osborne from her incredibly popular Magic Treehouse series of early chapter books. In her Tales From the Odyssey series, she spins the tales of Odysseus' journey in a way that's entertaining and accessible to young kids. Little Brother, in particular, really enjoys these stories. Usually not one to sit through a reading that doesn't involve large illustrations on each page, he remains captivated for multiple chapters when listening to the Odyssey. What little boy wouldn't be entertained by tales of six-headed dragons, and deadly whirpools? This is the third book we've read from the series, and they've each been well-received by both kids (and parents), making for a great family read-aloud in the evenings.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

PASS Test wrap-up

We received the test results from the standardized test we had Big Sister take last month - less than three weeks after returning them for scoring. Her results surprised me, mostly because she did far better on the reading section than I expected her to. Based on last year's scores (from a different test, so comparing apples to oranges to some extent) she's advanced two grade levels in reading so far this year. I guess I'd attribute that to our focused work in this area this year, but overwhelmingly I'd point to her developmental readiness. She's easily done 90% of that advancing in the past 3 months. It's been amazing to watch. I still get frustrated that her reading materials of choice are Calvin and Hobbes, Garfield, and Babymouse, but it seems to be translating over to an ability to read other forms of writing. I'm trying to bite my tongue for now, and rest assured in the fact that she's being exposed to other literature when I read aloud to her at night. Following my own advice here: choose your battles wisely, and limit the number of battles being fought at any one time. ;P

We will definitely use the PASS again next year. I think it's a good, lower-anxiety testing experience than other standardized testing options. The absence of time constraints allowed me to back off and let my (very slow reading) child test without any interference or adjustments from me. The test results consist of a RIT score, showing what grade level has been achieved in Reading, Math, and Language, as well as a percentile ranking against homeschooled students, and traditionally schooled students. Feedback is provided in several testing areas, suggesting skills that should be focused on for improvement, or activities that will help reinforce skills already achieved.

The PASS (Personalized Achievement Summary System) can be ordered through Hewitt Homeschooling Resources, and meets the testing requirement under HBI laws in Washington State.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Scavenger hunt in a book

One of the things we've been doing since focusing on building reading fluency for Big Sister (age 9 1/2), is repeated readings. Repeated readings as a method to build reading fluency has been documented in studies to boost a reader's self-esteem, as well as their overall reading fluency, especially with learning to read in phrases vs. individual words. You can see a review of The Fluent Reader, the book which has taught me so much about the process of becoming a fluent reader, and methods for building fluency at this link.

Repeated readings, if not done with care, can become tedious and dull. I used to think they were boring and pointless before I read this book. The K12 program we used for language arts back in kindergarten utilized repeated readings, and I rarely followed their schedule because I didn't see the value in reading the same story each day for 5 days.

Yesterday, to shake things up a bit and to incorporate grammar into our day, I created a scavenger hunt in the book Sister is working on this week. I went through the book and created questions for things she must find within certain page ranges. For example...

Page 3
Find a past tense verb that changed the "y" to "i" before adding "-ed". Write the present and past tense of the verb.

Page 6-7

Find a contraction.

Page 8-9
Name three nouns that were found under the table.

Page 10-11

List two proper nouns found on these pages, then write the prounoun(s) that could take their place.

This did a couple of things. It kept her working with the story and reading it. It also allowed her to look at spelling and grammar outside of the typical worksheet environment where she's usually exposed to them.

The truth of the matter is that I thought I was a genius for coming up with this idea. She thought it was pretty lame, as activities go. Much more fun (and an added bonus, since she's not a big writer) was when Big Sister announced that she was going to write a scavenger hunt for me, but around the house, not in a book. My activity might have been a little boring, but at least it sparked an idea in her that got her writing for fun. We'll have to pull this activity out another time, for sure!

Friday, March 6, 2009

I think we'll keep him

It must be something in the water around here, cuz both my kids have been losing teeth recently! Well, Little Brother has only lost the one, but Big Sister has now lost three in the past couple weeks. Two molars, and a canine (or whatever you call the sharp pointy ones when you're a human). The third one came out while she was eating ramen at lunchtime yesterday. She washed it off carefully, and tucked it into the pocket of her My Little Pony tooth fairy pillow for safekeeping until bedtime.

Unfortunately, the Momma of the house has been a bit under the weather the past couple of days. Last night I read to Brother, got him tucked in, and then decided to retreat to my own bed shortly past 8pm. I recall Sister coming in at some point. I know I read to her for a while, and then she left to be tucked in by Daddy. Then sometime later I remember waking up again to Sister curled up next to me. I think she was jabbing me with her finger. When I acknowledged her presence with a kind of muffled groan, she said "I forgot I lost a tooth today!", to which I replied "I forgot, too." In the fleeting seconds before I fell back to sleep, I had the brief cognizant thought that I should really do something about that later. And then I was out again.

Hours pass by, and Hubby is finally going to bed. He's trying to pry a limp 9 1/2 year old out of our bed. I decide to get up and walk her to her room to tuck her in. When I get there, I suddenly remember about the tooth fairy. Once Sister is settled, I slip my finger into the pocket of the pillow... and feel a round quarter! Magic!

It turns out that my Hubby totally rocks, and I do not give him nearly enough credit for just how totally awesome he is as a Daddy. He knew I wasn't feeling well, and correctly ascertained that I wasn't likely to remember my Tooth Fairy Duties, so he took care of it. Not only that, but I was surprised to find that he honored my inexplicable need to keep the kids' baby teeth. He didn't want to mess with my "system" so he placed her tooth in a ziplock baggie and hid it in one of my dresser drawers. I know that when he works such long hours it sometimes feels like he's out of touch with what's happening around here, but then he does these little things that let me know he's really trying hard.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Little Brother goes to school?

One of my blog readers, whom I met through the comments section not long ago (and who has two terrific blogs that I've since started following: Best Family Adventures and A Year of Living Charitably) was a little confused by my last blog entry The "Importance" of School. Totally understandable. You think you're reading a blog about a homeschooling family, and then the blogger makes a comment like "Little Brother comes home from school...", and new readers are probably thinking "huh?".

Last fall, after a lot of thought, discussion with the hubby, and talking with my homeschooling friends (who politely acted as a sounding board while rolling their eyes), we made the decision to enroll Little Brother in morning kindergarten.

I should probably back up and explain some of the very first issues that led us to homeschooling almost six years ago. Six years ago, Big Sister was just turning 4, and had just become a preschool dropout. At the time all we knew was that the preschool she'd been going to for 3 mornings/week for the past year (which got me through a high-risk pregnancy and bedrest) was not the right fit for our daughter. We didn't know what our next step was going to be, but we pulled her out and began exploring our options for preschool and beyond. As a single income family, non-religious private schools were not a solution that could be reconciled financially. Our local school district only offered full-day kindergarten, and our neighborhood school was known to be fairly rigorous. I came from a time when kindergarten (if you went at all) was for listening to stories being read by your teacher, playing house, building with blocks, and playing duck-duck-goose on a grassy field next to the playground. Then you drank your dixie cup of juice, and went home to go play some more, and maybe nap. Full-day kindergarten was not in my vision for our kid. (And then there's a rant in here about how putting kids in school all day and starting the more rigorous instruction early on has not translated into increased test scores, or better prepared high school graduates... but I digress.)

I'm not sure I'd even heard of homeschooling before this, and I'm sure I hadn't considered it as an educational choice. It's very possible I stumbled upon it on an attachment parenting message board, but I do know that some of my first answers about homeschooling came from the homeschooling message board on iVillage. Eventually hubby and I decided that we would try it out for a year to see how it would go. Then we tried it another year... and here we are.

Spring forward to the end of Summer 2008. Little Brother is 5 years old. He's quirky, prefers to play alone, doesn't have any real friends. I should qualify that: he has kids who think of him as their friend, but their play usually involves pushing Little Brother's buttons until he gets angry and frustrated enough that he storms away. It's not that they single him out, because these kids do it to each other, too, and seem to like it. It's like some odd, archaic form of "friendship". Little Brother doesn't handle it well, and I was at a loss for how to help him out socially. He also has some issues that I was starting to feel like I wanted an outside person to see besides me, so I might know if we needed to seek outside help: sensory issues, self-injury, and the lack of friendships with other kids. So the local kindergarten started looking more and more like an educational and social experiment that we'd like to pursue.

I am not at all disappointed that we chose to try kindergarten. It is, for the most part, the kindergarten experience a kid should have if they're going to go to school. It's short, leaving plenty of the day for unstructured, child-led pursuits. It's active - the kids don't sit in one place for more than 5-10 minutes before they're up and moving to the next activity. It's fun - they have ample opportunity to choose how they want to play, they sing songs, and hear stories. I could do without the nightly homework, and the fundraisers, but those concerns are minor. I've had my initial feelings validated - Little Brother is a quirky kid, who often prefers the company of adults. He finds most of his same-age peers annoying because they display behaviors that are pointless, irritating, and make little sense. He does now have a core group of three friends who he adores, and they're all nice to each other, and don't try to push his buttons. He's getting to experience what friendship is supposed to be like.

Because the length of the school day increases greatly beginning in first grade (he would leave on the bus before 9am, and not return home until almost 4pm), leaving little time for the pursuits of childhood, we will likely be withdrawing him at the end of this school year. I can't see the purpose in having him at school for that long of a stretch when we could accomplish the same, academically, in a fraction of the time at home. We will continue to nurture the friendships he has developed, and look for other opportunities for him to continue to grow socially.

And that is the story of how Little Brother went to school.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The "importance" of school

Every other week Little Brother comes home with a newsletter from his school. Each edition contains a message from the principal, usually talking about how proud she is of their school community, the work the families and teachers are doing, etc. It's a nice, rah-rah, pat on the back kind of message. Mostly "fluff". A few episodes ago there was a message that talked about the importance of not bringing our kids late, or picking them up early. It hit a little close to home because I had just brought him in one minute late on Inauguration Day, and was going to be picking him up early the next day to attend a play with our homeschool group. Bad Parent. As a parent more firmly planted in the world of homeschooling, I usually blow these messages off with a smirk. Not today.

Today's message is titled "Tardies and Absences Form Life-long Attitudes toward School, Work, and Relationships". That seems awfully self-important to me. For example, the principal says that she tells the students that when they come to school, their "job" is learning - "...I also tell them that in order to be learning, they must be at school..." This is something we in the homeschool community discuss all the time - this compartmentalization of learning as an activity that requires a specific time and place. Shouldn't the purpose of an education be to give students the skills they will need so that they can learn anytime, anywhere? Apparently not, because she's telling us right there that you can't learn unless you're in school - duh!

Then she tells us that most children especially enjoy school because they love seeing their teachers and friends. She says that we must "...model for our kids that school is important to us and to them, not just for our friends, but especially for the purpose of learning." First I'll point out that this is another example of why the argument against homeschooling on the basis of socialization concerns is moot. The principal is telling us right here that while socializing is a big draw (to entice the otherwise unwilling pupils, if you will - sorry, my sarcasm here), we must remember the real purpose - learning. Remember? Learning, and only learning, should take place in school.

Lastly, she tells us that learning to be on time and have good attendance are important life skills. I do agree with that assessment, but I don't believe people develop a poor work ethic because they missed a week of school in fifth grade to go to Disneyland with their family. Families get so little time together as it is, that I say go for it - take time to build lasting memories with your kids. However, the principal says they must learn these skills now "...so that as adults they are able to follow through when they have a job, and when they have made a commitment to people." Seriously? In grade school?

In our own homeschooling, I've witnessed plenty of opportunities to teach my kids the life skills of being on time, and honoring commitments. In real life, you do these things because either others are depending on you, or others will think you're really flaky for not following through, or because being late or not showing up means you'll be missing out on something important, or something you want to be doing. Those are real-life natural consequences, and I have found them to be the best teachers - not some contrived status of self-importance bestowed upon my local elementary school. I also get that unless the schools keep perpetuating these ideas, people might eventually get wise and recognize schools as being nothing more than the tools they are....

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Had to share this...

I'm reading a book titled The Fluent Reader: Oral Reading Strategies for Building Word Recognition, Fluency, and Comprehension, by Timothy V. Rasinski. In spite of the rather dry-sounding title, I'm finding it quite interesting.

Anyway, what I wanted to share was a method for determining reading level of a passage through the use of a word processing program, such as Word (I can't take credit for this - Rasinski told me about it). If you click on 1. Tools, then 2. Spelling and Grammar, then 3. Options - check the box next to "Readability". After running the spell check it will give you a grade level equivalent for the text in the document (as well as other information about the passage, such as word count, average word length, and words per sentence). Cool, huh? We have Office 97, but I'm sure the process is similar for newer versions. This would be useful tool when using passages from online books. I'll have to explore the potential uses for this further....

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Saturday morning coffee with Laura...

Welcome to my Saturday morning calm before the storm! My thoughts have been pre-occupied with details of this morning's Girl Scout cookie site sales. This is the opening morning, and I was able to get our troop three different sites in the first available time slots. That's great for selling, but also means I need to clone myself or perfect time shifting so I can juggle three sites at once. Fortunately I realized that my life could be simplified greatly by distributing cases to the supervising parents last night, rather than trying to do it this morning. I still need to touch base with them this a.m. because there's paperwork I didn't have with me yesterday, but it will take far less time than if I was also trying to count cookies to them.

Wait - I said "calm", didn't I? I'm sipping coffee, checking email, keeping an eye on Facebook in the background. Little Brother's brain is programmed to keep track of when Saturday arrives, and at around 7am I heard him launch himself out of bed and race down the hallway. I received only a quick "Morning, Mom!" as he went past me like a flash, down the stairs to the family room to begin a four hour feast of non-stop cartoons. My kids aren't big tv watchers during the week, but they make up for it on Saturdays. The upstairs remains quiet, as hubby and Big Sister are both adept at sleeping in to their hearts content.

A quick update on last week's testing:
It went alright. As the test wasn't timed, it allowed Big Sister all the time she needed to finish each section. This aspect of the test does set it aside from other standardized tests; the only "standard" being that each child that takes this test has the opportunity to actually complete all the problems. The interesting part ended up being that Big Sister placed into a far higher reading level than I'd expected. Her comprehension, vocabulary, etc. are at grade level or higher, which means it's her fluency that's really holding her back. I've spent the last few days researching how to help develop that ability in her reading. Lack of fluency generally holds back comprehension, or at the very least (in Sister's case) severely limits the rate at which the slower reader can comprehend. I am beyond pleased that she's at least broken through to the point where she can read most anything - it's just that most things take so long for her to read, she chooses not to attempt them because the task is so overwhelming. I have some ideas I want to start implementing in the next couple of weeks, and I'll blog about that later. As far as the experience of taking the PASS, it was much mellower than last year. We mailed the answer sheet back in, and should have results in about six weeks.

Little Brother has been working hard on learning his sight words. There are 20 "official" kindergarten site words, and he has 19 of them (sometimes all 20 - he's hung up on the word "said").

They are:

a, I, no, on, did
my, it, is, in, to
can, like, said, the, go
and, you, see, we, not

We've been using a combination of flashcards, word games, and reading to help him learn them. This has been a much easier process with him than it was with Big Sister. At this point with her, we were still working on the same three words, and she just couldn't figure it out. Wired in completely different ways, these two are. Brother has also been enjoying the Elephant and Piggie books, as well as the Pigeon books, by Mo Willems. The stories and pictures are hillarious, and they're full of sight words and repetition. Perfect for an early reader. He's also been working on reading Green Eggs and Ham.

Well, it's actually evening now. I took a break from this blog post to run out to site sales. I didn't anticipate just how long it would take to sign all the cookies back in at the end of our time, and then repack the remaining packages so I could make sense of what was left once I got home. The boxes, which fit so nicely in the van when I loaded them yesterday, did NOT fit so nicely after the sale today. It looked a cookie factory had exploded, and its contents were strewn within the back of my van. Frightening. But I survived my first day of site sales as Cookie Mom. I'll show up again tomorrow. And probably next weekend. And maybe for the weekend that follows. And seeing as I'm a glutton for punishment, I'll likely volunteer to do this all over again next year. What we parents won't do for our kids....

Friday, February 20, 2009

Testing week is approaching

A week or so ago I ordered the PASS test (Personalized Achievement Summary System) from Hewitt Homeschooling Resources. For planning purposes, you have the option of indicating when you would like the materials to arrive (once the test materials arrive, you have to return them within a predetermined time frame, so you don't want to get them too soon). I wanted to do testing next week, and the forms arrived two business days prior - not bad. Today Big Sister is taking the placement tests, and we'll use those results to tell us which level she should test at for Reading, Math, and Language.

I chose this test for a few different reasons. One is that this test allows a more personalized assessment than traditional standardized tests. Sister tends to work at one level in math, and another level in reading/language, so this will let us test at the appropriate level in each (vs. last year where I ordered at grade level, and then she answered 100% correct on math - doesn't really tell us specifically how she is doing). I also like that the test isn't timed. This is very different from the usual standardized tests, but it removes the anxiety of racing the clock. In the future I intend to go back to more traditional timed tests (I do see a benefit to getting that practice in), but for now this fits the purpose of assessing our homeschooling. Lastly, I have a number of friends who have utilized this test with their own children, and are happy with the PASS. I've heard that the individualized feedback received with the test results is useful and insightful. I likely would have used PASS last year, but since I primarily had Big Sister working on 2nd grade material, PASS didn't seem to be an option (they assess 3rd-8th grade).

Stay tuned for further review of our testing next week!

(and for a re-cap of last year's testing, click on "Standardized Testing" under Labels over on the right)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Catch-up post

It was a busy week - this is a long post!

Monday night, Big Sister had a Cookie Rally to attend. One of the other Junior girl scout troops was hosting the rally, where different stations were set up for the girls to participate in a variety of activities to get excited for site sales. They role-played selling cookies to difficult customers, decorated signs for their tables, learned about the history of girl scout cookie sales, and sampled actual cookies. And earned a badge and patch. Only one other girl from Sister's troop attended (most have sold cookies before and earned the badge), but the two of them enjoyed doing the activities together.

Tuesday was our annual Valentine's party with our homeschool group. This has become a favorite with all the kids. I didn't realize just what a favorite it was until I neglected to RSVP, and then had Big Sister telling me about how "all of her friends" were going to be there. Fortunately I was able to get her on the list, and she was right: all her friends were there (except for our friends that are off exploring Mexico). There were around 45 kids in attendance, and they delivered valentines, made crafts, and ate treats from the potluck. Like the chaos of a class party, but doubled, LOL!

Friends drove Big Sister to the party so that I could pick Little Brother up after school. We headed across town to get Sister from the party, then loaded us back into the van. The kids scarfed down lunch I had packed because we were on our way to The Dentist! Nothing like going to the dentist immediately following a sugar-laden valentine's party. Actually, the hygenists had nothing but great compliments for Sister and her dental care, and Brother looked good, too. We do now have an official referral for Sister to see an orthodontist, so I need to get hopping on that.

Wednesday was Sister's last dress rehearsal before their first performance in drama. I was not responsible for the carpool this week because I was scheduled to volunteer in Brother's class. I go during "centers", where the kids rotate through in their assigned groups and do whatever it is their teacher wants them to work on. This particular week there was: a center for decorating valentine's boxes (thankfully I wasn't the parent in charge of that); another for completing a patterns worksheet (doing AB and ABC color patterns - that's where I was); Independent Work Folder (where the kids go get their folder, and work through their worksheets independently until they're all done (with an adult at the table to provide guidance, since they're each working at a different pace and requiring different help); and the last was some parent-led game on the carpet. Depending on the activity, it can get pretty challenging to help six 5-6 year olds complete a task without messing it up.

Inevitably I'll have:
1). one kid who knows what they're doing and finishes in under three minutes,
2). another that wants to talk about what they ate for breakfast, what toy they received for Christmas two years ago, and what they're going to do afterschool today - and somehow can't seem to get started on the activity (usually my son),
3 and 4). are sitting too close to each other, and are both annoyed about the lack of personal workspace, but haven't realized they can solve the problem by sliding their chairs apart four inches. They are both trying to complete their individual tasks, and have cut out all their shapes to glue down, but the pieces have now all intermingled and they're fighting/whining over whose is whose. By this time, half the pieces have scattered on the floor under the table.
5). another that thinks they know what they're supposed to do, then quietly works ahead and glues everything down in the wrong place while I am...
6). helping the child that really doesn't understand how to make a pattern, and is requring my direct assistance.
At about this point the teacher will walk by, smile, and make a comment about how this is "like homeschooling, times 5". I can't help but agree. It's frustrating, fun, and interesting, all at the same time.

Thursday night was Sister's first performance in front of a large audience. She played the parts of Yingtai, the red parrot, and a puppeteer in "Seagirl: A Chinese Folktale". During their dress rehearsal they did get to perform in front of a kindergarten class from a local private school, but this was their first run with a ticket-holding audience. We invited some of Sister's friends and their moms to come see the show, and afterwards the girls asked for her autograph, and then hoisted her up on their shoulders (or tried to - they carried her down the hallway). The play was great - the cast had the roles down well, and worked together seamlessly.

Friday I took Sister back to Studio East to watch the musical "Willy Wonka" that her friends were performing in. Another great show, with fun costumes, and some very talented kids.

On Saturday, Grammy came up on the train from Portland. She was in town for the Sunday matinee performance of Seagirl... and to pick-up her girl scout cookies... and to watch the kids so that Hubby and I could go out. It was a gorgeous day, so he and I went mountain biking together for about an hour - something we haven't done in years. Usually he goes out alone, or we go out with the kids as a family, but it's different riding together at an adult pace. I was pleased with how I did out there, and it was fun to do an activity that we always used to do as a couple before kids. The trails were muddy and snowy, and we'd gotten covered in a lot of mud splatter, so we came home to change before going out for dinner. We headed to McMenamins, a place we used to frequent when we were in college down in Eugene and Corvallis (we get started on good microbrews early out here in the northwest, lol). Good food and drink, and (taking advantage of our childless evening) we sat on the grown-up side of the restaurant!

Sunday was a little crazy. Our troop's cookies were set to be delivered at the same time that Big Sister was in her play. We worked out the logistics of making sure other adult volunteers from the troop could be here to sort cookies and leave me with the remainders (our overstock for site sales). After the play, we came home to 60 cases of cookies stacked along our living room wall. This is going to be a long month.

The final performace went well. Big Sister handled some slight costume issues with ease. Her headpiece slipped off while she was in the part of Yingtai and she casually caught it and slid it back on, continuing her dialogue, never missing a beat. Later the boa/belt that cinched up her red parrot costume kept coming untied and falling off, but she didn't let it phase her. She really enjoys acting and being on stage, and I'll be curious to see where this interest takes her. Afterward we all went out for ice cream with Grammy, Auntie Zebra, and cousin J. Nice way to wrap-up a great weekend.

We weren't allowed to take pictures with flash during the performances, but I did get a few photos. I'm hoping to get more from one of the parents who was taking shots with a better camera, and actually has some photography skills. Another parent is creating dvds, which I also plan to get ahold of. For now, here are some pictures...

Yingtai - Seagirl's friend...

Red Parrot - part of a trio of annoying birds...

Most of the cast. There were only 10 kids in the class...

Signing autographs...

With flowers after the Sunday performance...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ferocious Fractions

Death by fractions - that's what will be written at the top of my headstone. Big Sister has been learning about equivalent fractions, and simplifying fractions. Today she was comparing fractions with different denominators - ie. she had to come up with a common denominator to determine which fraction was greater. This was easy enough when comparing denominators like 3 and 6, or 2 and 10, but then we came upon 7 and 5. It became obvious that she didn't quite get it yet.

Fortunately we've gotten to a point where she'll let me know early on that something isn't making sense. Usually I get a "vibe" from her that tells me she's basically smiling and nodding. Then I ask "Does this make sense?", and she'll kind of start off with a nod that becomes a head shake. So I explained, again, with different words and visuals. We backed up and looked at equivalent fractions one more time, and how 21/35 was really 3/5, and that it was hard to just eyeball 4/7 and know whether it was bigger or smaller, but when we changed it to 20/35 then we can know for sure. I think she gets it now. We'll see if she retains it overnight...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Monday, February 9, 2009

Frosty Fun

That's the name of the Girl Scout badge that Big Sister completed today. I figured that as long as we had snow on the ground, and I was thinking about it, I should have her work on the badge. The badge books are actually a great homeschooling resource. Today we read all about signs, symptoms, treatment and prevention of frostbite and hypothermia; did some snow painting using colored water and a spray bottle; and explored the benefits of blubber for arctic animals by coating Sister's hand in vegetable shortening (aka. Crisco) and immersing both hands in ice water. The badge requirements provide great jumping-off points for a wide range of subjects.

Big Sister also completed the last of the activities for her Inauguration 2009 patch. Today she created a president flashcard for Barack Obama, to go with the other 43 cards in our set. It wasn't actually one of the activities to earn the patch, but it was that, or go out and buy a whole new pack of cards, but that seemed silly and unnecessary.

Then tonight she attended a cookie rally, and earned another badge. An interesting bit of trivia - did you know that back when girl scouts first started selling cookies in the 1930s, they cost less than a quarter per box, and there were 44 cookies in a package? Anyway, it was quite the busy scouting day. Little Brother wasn't to keen on being dragged along to the cookie rally, where the girls were participating in a variety of activities to get them ready for, and excited about, site sales. He did meet another little brother who was also stuck tagging along. Turns out this other boy is about five months younger, and goes to the same school as he does. They had both brough along LEGOs to play with, so they really hit it off.

Speaking of Little Brother, he made me laugh earlier today. I was asking Big Sister if she remembered what it means for fractions to be equivalent, and he chimed in "It means they're pregnant!" Oy.

Looks like tomorrow will be another snowy morning, since we've accumulated an inch so far, and it's falling fast. Winter is determined to stick around!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Returning to normal

Little Brother went back to school, after staying home sick for three days. Not having left the house since Saturday, I quickly escaped from the house with Big Sister once LB was on the bus. With hubby gone 12 hours/day for work, and a really sick kiddo, we were starting to run low on some essential items. And I was running low on sanity. Our pantry, and my mental health, have now returned to their appropriate states of well-being.

The order I'd placed with Rainbow Resource last week arrived yesterday. They are so speedy. And their customer service is really awesome. After I'd entered my order on the website, and printed out my receipt, I realized I'd forgotten to order the math workbook we needed. I quickly called them up on the phone, and the nice lady who answered was happy to track down my order and add the item I requested. She got bonus points for not making me feel like an idiot.

Yesterday I also called up K12 to order the materials for our next course. We're getting ready to make the switch to the next segment of history (Renaissance through American Revolution). The last lesson won't be complete for a few more weeks, but I wanted to make sure that we had everything ready before it's time to make the call. Once Sis is done, I'll call K12, and they'll have our access changed by midnight that night. Should be a piece of cake.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Lots o' photos

Packages on the front step are always a nice surprise, especially when they are addressed to you!

A mom and her boy. A little blurry, but I still like it.

Auntie SixGreenZebras and cousin The Little Man came over...

I made his cake, but had some icing issues. I couldn't find my writing tips anywhere, so I tried to improvise by piping the icing through the corner of a plastic bag. It was sort of working, until the side of the bag split open and exploded all over, and then I was suddenly short on green. I'm still proud of my little cake wreck...

Little Brother stayed home sick again today. Lots more coughing and sniffling, but his fever is lower. I printed out his homework from his teacher's class website so that we're not scrambling to get caught up when he goes back to school.

Tomorrow is Big Sister's first dress rehearsal for the upcoming play! Exciting stuff!

Monday, February 2, 2009

What a difference a day makes

My poor little stink (aka Little Brother) stayed home sick today. He's got a barky cough, and his temp has been over 102 for most of the day. He had a rough night, but his fever wasn't too high when he woke up. He was even feeling well enough that I thought he should do some schoolwork with us this morning, but part way into it he curled up on the dining room chair to rest. I suggested he go lay down on the couch, and he went to sleep. He's been napping on and off all day, not hungry, alternating between roasting and being chilled. I'm trying to push fluids on him.

While that's been going on, Big Sister and I got a lot of homeschooling done, and she got started making valentine's for the upcoming party with our homeschool group. I also went downstairs to see if I could try and find the top of our computer desk. Good news - it's still there! I worked on sorting/recycling/filing papers while talking on the phone to my good friend, Leah, whom I hadn't spoken with in months. It was great to hear from her. Email and Facebook are great, but it's nice to hear a friend's voice, too.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Happy Birthday, Little Brother!

My baby turns 6 years old today. He's got his first wiggly baby tooth, ready to fall out any day now. I guess he's not a baby anymore?

The Birthday Morning Photo Tradition lives on...

He can keep getting older, but he'll always be my baby...

Friday, January 30, 2009

If I were a baby bird...

I overheard Little Brother telling Big Sister that if he were a baby bird, he would never fly out of the nest. Smart cookie - he knows when he's got a good thing!

She tried to reason with him that if he never left the nest he would freeze to death in the winter time.

He countered that he would be a baby bird in Mexico.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Ordering time again

Just placed my order for RealScience4Kids Level 1 Biology. We've been really happy with Pre-level 1 Chemistry, which we are about to finish up. Real science, using the real language of science, at a level easily comprehensible to kids, coupled with experiments that utilize materials that are easy to come by - perfect. I'd like to note that this is one of a very select group of curriculum I've actually used and stuck with for any stretch of time.

Also in that category would be Singapore math, which I also place an order for today. Moving on to Primary Math 4A.

And I recently decided to give Explode the Code a try with Big Sister. Trying to fill in any gaps, and solidify some concepts in order to help improve her spelling. If nothing else, she's enjoying the workbooks.

As usual, I placed my order for all of these materials at Rainbow Resource. They're my favorite all-in-one spot to fill our homeschooling needs. Rainbow Resource is a business owned by homeschooling family, and their prices are generally less than I would pay if I were to buy directly from the publishers. Granted, I break even after shipping charges, but I still feel good knowing I'm taking my business to fellow homeschoolers.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Mulitplying Mayhem

edited (1/24) to add: "how embarassing to have a typo in the title of a post! bleh!"

While watching Bis Sister work on her math last night, I decided I'm not pleased with her recall speed on many of her multiplication facts. We'd been using Timez Attack quite a while ago, but she didn't care for it - she got really anxious when it came time to face the big ogres in the dungeon, to the point of nearly being in tears. That's my sensitive kid for you. The boy child thinks Timez Attack is great fun.

So I went searching the 'net to find hints and ideas for reinforcing and practicing multiplication facts. I came upon Multiplication.com, which was just the ticket. Lots of free online games that appeal to a variety of interests. Big Sister enjoyed "Math Models" (answer enough multiplication problems, and it opens up more outfits and accessories to dress your model), and "Cone Crazy" (serve the penguins the flavor ice cream they want by answering problems correctly). Other games include trying to fling a knight over a castle wall (rather than into the wall, or the moat), whacking moles, and much, much more. Fun stuff. In addition to the games, they also have other printable activities and resources to help make those multiplication facts stick. I haven't explored much further, but it looks like they have sites for other math operations as well. I can tell Multiplication.com is going to get a lot of use in our house!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day

What an historic day! President Obama's words were as inspiring as ever, and now I'm thinking more about what I can contribute to do my part as a citizen of the world. I really hope the country can move forward from here.

The kids and I watched the President being sworn in, which meant that Little Brother was a little late to school today. I really wanted to watch it, and it was important to me that Big Sister watch it, so I didn't sweat him getting to school one minute late.

Both kids were glued to the screen while Obama took the oath - Brother let out a loud "Woo-Hoo!" when I confirmed for him that Obama was now president. Then I ran us out to the van (which I'd already scraped free of ice an hour earlier), and we listened to the Inauguration address as we drove Brother to school. I went with him to the office to get a pass to class (we just barely missed the bell), and then Big Sister and I continued to listen to the remainder of Obama's speech in the car.

In preparation for the big day, we had watched a video on the history of inaugurations at http://inaugural.senate.gov/history/

Came home, and it was back to business as usual. We plugged away at some seatwork, and got more done then I'd planned (I should say: as much as I'd hoped we'd accomplish, but more than I expected, lol) - things have been going very smoothly in the past week or so. It probably helped that Big Sister had yet another Warriors manga book that she was eager to get started on! We have a chemistry experiment to get to this afternoon, and then just some math problems she'll do while Little Brother does homework tonight.