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...