Friday, November 10, 2017

Homeschool Morning Basket November 2017



Since the beginning of this pregnancy, we had kind of slacked off on doing much of a real "morning basket" or "morning time" routine in our homeschool. But we have missed it very much, so I have decided to bring the morning basket idea back!

Our morning basket routine will change some from month to month, and some days it may look totally different from another. But I want to share what is currently working to help start our homeschool day off right.

With the 6 year age gap between Big Brother and Little Brother, my goal is to make morning time something that they can both benefit from and enjoy together.

Morning Music

I have gotten back into the habit of turning on a music CD when we get up in the morning. It really helps us wake up and greet the day on a more positive note. A few days this week we have listened to a Christmas album by The Singing Echoes (a family Gospel group we were able to see in concert recently), and this morning we pulled out the ABeka Sing Unto the Lord 4th Grade CD and listened to the hymns and choruses designated for the month of November. We keep the music playing through morning chores and breakfast.

Prayer

We are privileged as Americans and homeschoolers to have the freedom to begin our school day with prayer and worship. And the day just goes so much smoother when we exercise that "privilege to carry everything to God in prayer." (Joseph Scriven - "What a Friend")

Bible

We also have the privilege to build the education of our children on the sure foundation of God's Word.

While Big Brother is working independently through his ACE Bible Reading PACEs daily, I also want to start our day with some Bible time together.

A couple days this week I have chosen to read the boys a short Scripture related to thankfulness. This morning I asked Big Brother if he had anything he had been learning in his own Bible reading that he wanted to share. So today he shared with us that he had learned where the longest and shortest verses in the Bible are located (Esther 8:9 & John 11:25 respectively) and read them to us. Then we went down a short rabbit trail because Esther 8:9 referred to the Persian kingdom stretching from India to Ethiopia so we had to grab the globe and show this area to Little Brother.

For Little Brother I pulled out a sweet little book called Bible Forget-Me-Nots that features beautiful pictures, short stories, and poems to help with learning short KJV verses. We read about Jesus and the children and discussed Luke 18:16.

Language

Next for Little Brother, I quickly handed him a capital letter A flashcard and a lowercase letter a flashcard (these came from ABeka) and let Big Brother help introduce each one to him. He already knows most letter names, but I think a quick reminder each morning might be helpful to him.

Then we worked on a ten-sentence oral exercise from our ABeka Oral Language Exercises booklet. I love this book! It teaches good grammar skills so gently, and it is so easy to implement. The exercises are perfect for any age, so both boys can participate in repeating the quick sentences aloud.

Zoo Animal

Our boys both LOVE animals, so I thought some type of animal study might be fun for them to do together. We have Answers in Genesis's Zoo Guide: A Bible-Based Handbook to the Zoo, and the boys were delighted to start reading through it one animal at a time. The book is spiral bound, and each two-page spread features a full-color picture of the animal and a page of interesting facts about it.

Read-Aloud

With Thanksgiving coming up soon, I wanted to include an interesting read-aloud book related to this season. So we are reading Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving a few pages at a time. This book is so well-written and beautifully illustrated that both boys can enjoy it.

U.S. Presidents & States

This last part of our morning time was at Big Brother's request. He wants to learn the names of the U.S. Presidents in order and relearn all the states and capitals.

So I included one flashcard for each in our morning basket. I just say the name of the President or state and the boys take turns repeating them. Little Brother is such a good copy cat right now, it wouldn't surprise me at all if he ends up memorizing these right along with Big Brother!

Once our morning time is over, Big Brother gets started on his school goals for the day, Little Brother heads off to play, and I pretty much grab some water and go put my feet up to rest for a while. For now this simple morning basket routine is working nicely for us. Eventually I hope to change it up and include some different books and activities.

Do you do a morning basket or other special morning routine in your homeschool? I would love to hear your ideas!

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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Homeschooling Through Pregnancy

The student body at Shield of Faith Homeschool is growing: we will soon be adding a new student!

At this writing, I am almost 6 months pregnant with our third child, Baby Sister. Since this is my second time homeschooling through a pregnancy, I thought I would share a few tips and insights on how we have made it work.



While some women seem to love pregnancy and go on and on about how great they felt... that's not me!

For me "morning sickness" is more like "24 hours a day sickness," and I suffer from symphysis pubis dysfunction (which is just long, fancy words for "it hurts to move...a lot"). I swell up like a balloon, I get terrible migraines, I always feel so tired, and I am at risk of developing both gestational diabetes and pre-ecclampsia (I had both with Little Brother).

I am thankful my body has no real problem with making and carrying healthy babies, but it definitely does not like me very much along the way.

So how does homeschooling happen when mommy is expecting?

Independent Learning

So if you followed us last school year, you know we used a very teacher-heavy unit study curriculum. It involved lots of time spent reading aloud, learning together, and doing many really neat hands on projects. It was absolutely awesome, and I am SO glad we took last year to do that!

And I am equally glad that even before this pregnancy began I had already made the decision to switch gears and use a student-led program this year for 4th grade so Big Brother could take more control of his own school day.

It has been such a blessing! He has his own dedicated work space (we call it his office) where he does the majority of his work. Each morning he sets his daily goals for each subject and writes them on a goal card. The goal card is posted in front of him in his office, and he marks them off as they are completed.

Many mornings he gets up and gets started before I am even up and moving around. He has realized that the faster he gets started on his goals the sooner they are met and he can move on with his day (reading, doing LEGO projects, watching documentaries, playtime with Little Brother, etc.).

This system works for Big Brother now because he is 9 and has matured so much in the past 3-4 years.

It played out a little differently when I was pregnant with Little Brother, although I still used independent learning to help us get through it.

At that time, Big Brother was 5/6 years old and still needed me to be involved a lot in his school work. But it was at that time that I discovered the workbox system, and it literally saved my sanity and our school that year! I would put everything he needed to accomplish that day into separate boxes, and he would work through them one at a time until he was done. I often put independent activities in his workboxes (art or coloring, alphabet and number puzzles, educational DVDs to watch, etc.) to give myself some much needed breaks and help him get used to working a little on his own.

As for Little Brother, I have allowed him a lot of independence, too. He is 3 1/2 so I am stepping back and not pushing too many "schoolish" activities on him right now. He starts each day immediately grabbing his cowboy hat, boots, and bandana and declaring himself to be The Lone Ranger. He has pretty much free reign of the living room where he pretends, colors, plays with LEGOs and toy trains, and knows how to work the DVD player on his own if he wants to watch The Lone Ranger or Thomas the Train or VeggieTales or whatever while he plays.

Most days I try to find a time when I feel well enough to engage Little Brother in reading a book with me, counting, recognizing letters, working on simple chores together etc. But I have found what he really needs most from me right now is lots of hugs and reassurance that Mommy is going to be OK. He has sensed a lot of the stress and the changes, and I want him to be able to just relax and play as much as possible.

Accept Help

This is SO hard for us moms! We want to be superwomen and prove we can do it all on our own. But I think sometimes the Lord allows these rough times in our lives to teach us that we have to lean on Him and the people He places in our lives.

Mornings are especially hard for me. On days my husband is able to be home, he let's me stay in bed, gets the boys started with their day, and brings me breakfast. He has taken a few extra weekdays off here and there throughout my pregnancy just so he could be here to lighten my load. And because he graduated from a school that used the same curriculum Big Brother has this year, he is really comfortable with helping him with his school work if he needs it.

Most mornings my husband is at work, and Big Brother has been so faithful to bring me a simple breakfast in bed almost every morning and makes sure Little Brother gets his breakfast, too. He feels so grown up and useful, and it really blesses me to not have to immediately get up and rush around in the morning.

While I try to do some very light house work on days I don't feel like a total mess (those days are few and far between, no joke), Big Brother and my husband pretty well do most of what house work gets done. And I am not letting myself stress about it. No, our house doesn't look like it belongs on a magazine cover by any stretch of the imagination (honestly, it never has looked that good!), but some things just are not important right now.

This is also a point at which being a second generation homeschooler with a mom who knows the ropes and lives just ten minutes down the road definitely has its perks! Two mornings a week she takes Big Brother to her house where she works with him on Spelling, Kentucky History, and United States History. He gets some great hands on, one on one focused learning time, and I don't have to feel stressed to put it all together. She makes him lunch while he's there, and that helps a lot, too. She is also available to take him to his piano lessons or drive us to appointments as needed.

While you may not have the luxury of delegating certain subjects to a veteran homeschool grandma, you might find it helpful to reach out to another homeschool mom nearby for help. Perhaps a homeschooled teen in your area would like to get some experience as a mother's helper or tutor. Don't feel the least bit guilty for taking advantage of whatever help is available to you right now!

Priorities

This is where it is important to have your priorities straight.

My goal right now is mainly survival. If we all make it through the day alive, that is worth calling an accomplishment.

If I am not able to do every neat project or spend hours planning out detailed lessons or cooking fancy meals: so be it. At least my children are learning to take some responsibility for themselves. That's got to count for something.

Pregnancy is a time in a woman's life where she really has to make herself a priority. Taking care of myself is taking care of my baby.

It Will Pass

Pregnancy, no matter how long and rough it may be while it lasts, never lasts forever.

Baby Sister will make her arrival one way or another, and this relatively short chapter of our lives will be over.

The postpartum period will bring its own challenges, and then our family will gradually settle into a new "normal."

So that is my goal right now: to make it through this pregnancy with my family and I in one piece and then to enjoy the sweet, cuddly little reward at the end!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

There is No "Best" Curriculum

As a member of quite a few homeschooling groups on Facebook, I cannot tell you how many times a day I see moms posting in these groups asking pretty much the same question:

What is the best curriculum for x grade? or We are going to start homeschooling this year. Where do we start and what is the best curriculum for us to use?


Now don't get me wrong, I fully understand that these moms are mostly looking for helpful suggestions. And it is wonderful for moms in these groups to share ideas.

But there is really no way to give a satisfactory answer to these kinds of questions.

Because, quite frankly, there is no "best" curriculum.



I say this for several reasons.

Every Family is Different

Every family has a different dynamic, different convictions, and different needs.

Some families might be interested in a curriculum that will allow them to combine a wide age range of students for several subjects.

Some moms might have plenty of time and energy to devote to a more elaborate, teacher-led learning experience while others really need their children to be mostly independent in their school work.

Different families run on different schedules due to work or other outside responsibilities. Some homeschool curricula are better suited for one family's schedule than another's.

It is also important that you choose curriculum that aligns as closely as possible with your family's values, convictions, and doctrinal beliefs.

These are all things that can vary widely from one family to the next, and all will play a major role in choosing homeschool curriculum.

Every Child is Different

Even within the same family, what works for one child may not work at all for their siblings.

My brother and I were a good example of this. I was the type of learner who said "Just give me the book and let me read it, answer the questions, write the long reports, and take the tests." My brother on the other hand was the learner who said "Let me choose all my own books and projects, reenact what I am learning in play, make my own costumes, and do all my own stunts."

Obviously when you have such stark differences in learning styles, there is not going to be a "one size fits all" curriculum solution.

Every Subject is Different

Your child might be like me. Growing up, I dearly loved my ABeka Science and History textbooks, but ABeka's math was a disaster for me. Or as another example, while my son has enjoyed using Rod & Staff's math for the past 3 years, we are not the least bit interested in using Rod & Staff for History.

Very few homeschoolers I know use one curriculum across the board for their entire learning experience. It is totally OK, and often quite beneficial, to mix and match according to individual needs.

Every School Year is Different

That program or method that worked wonders for your homeschool this year might very well have you pulling your hair out the next. Why is that?

Because all the time you, your family, and your students are growing and changing.

Schedules change and routines need to be tweaked. New babies come along or grow up to be new students. Activities and interests come and go. The needs of each child change as they grow and mature. Homeschooling is a life thing, and life is always changing. I am thankful God says His mercies are new every morning, because every day definitely brings new needs and changes in our lives as a homeschool family!

I know this may not necessarily satisfy the new mom who is totally overwhelmed by all the multitudes of curriculum options, methods, schedules, and philosophies out there in the wide world of homeschooling. But the best answer I can give is to say:

1. Do lots of research
2. Jump in and try new things
3. Keep what works/Dump what doesn't
4. Repeat #1-3 as often as needed!

Just remember, almost any curriculum out there can be the "best" for you. The key is to keep your end goal in mind and view whatever curriculum or methods you choose as tools rather than masters.

Always focus on teaching the child rather than teaching the curriculum.

So what are your thoughts? Is there one "best" curriculum for everyone? Are you in the process of seeking out the "best" curriculum for your family? I would love to hear from you!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Why We Will Be Switching Curriculum Next Year



Let me just say, this has been a great school year for us thus far. Making the decisions to wait another year for Big Brother to jump into "official" 4th grade, to change to a more relaxed year-round schedule, and to use a fun, history-based unit study curriculum have all worked out well this year. I would not change anything about this 2016-2017 school year.

But changes are coming next year!

I think most of us by about mid-March (if not sooner) start taking an honest look at where we are and pondering on our plans for the next school year. And one of the wonderful things about homeschooling is that you can customize your children's education and make necessary changes as you go. I love having the freedom to do that!

We are still somewhat in the pondering stage at the moment, but I think I have a pretty decent idea of where we are headed.

And to be honest, I never thought we would go this route!

Next year we will be switching several subjects to...

Drumroll please...

Accelerated Christian Education (ACE)

I used a lot of ACE growing up, my husband graduated from an ACE Christian school, and I used to work as a part-time monitor in an ACE school when Big Brother was in Pre-K/Kindergarten. He even went through all the 1st level Science and Social Studies PACEs for extra reading practice that year in the school's K-1st Learning Center while I was working.

I still never really imagined us using ACE in our own homeschool.

But in about an hour, Big Brother is going to be taking the ACE Diagnostic Test to find out exactly where he should start in their curriculum.

Right now, I am thinking we will be switching him to ACE for at least Math, English, and Literature/Writing; and we may also plan on using their Science and Social Studies in addition to reading ABeka's textbooks and adding in some unit study fun

So what brings about this switch? Several things really.

Independence

Big Brother will very soon be 9 years old. Like it or not, he's becoming a "big kid" now. (OK, if you know him, you know he's already a "big kid!" He's about the size of an average 12 year old and he is so strong, too!)

So as a boy coming up on his pre-teen years (did I really just admit that?!), we feel he is ready to start learning to be more independent and take more control of his learning. With its simple goal setting system, ACE is good for fostering some independence.

Another reason he needs to be a bit more independent is for me to have a little more time to do some other things during the day. Little Brother needs more interaction from me than what he is currently getting, and our house needs a bit more of my attention as well (ahem).

While I had hoped Little Brother would just join in with what we were doing in our unit studies this year, that just hasn't happened as much as I had envisioned. He will soon be turning 3 (where did my baby go?!), and he is ready for more learning time of his own.

Structure

As you may recall from other posts, Big Brother has some struggles with focus, attention, and auditory processing. We have never sought any formal diagnosis, but his struggles are pretty obvious.

In the past we have had great success using written instructions and a workbox system to help Big Brother get through his academic work each day. ACE is perfectly suited for this kind of system. He will know exactly what he needs to do each day, and he will even be involved in making those decisions.

And when we have those days (oh we have some days, folks!) when I am either not feeling well, or Little Brother is being himself, or I just really need to get other things done: his ACE PACEs will give him a predictable, familiar structure he can be reasonably expected to follow on his own.

Mastery

I know I have talked a lot about how much we love mastery-based learning. We have used Rod & Staff math for the past 3 years and loved it's mastery approach. Rod & Staff is a WONDERFUL curriculum, and I still highly recommend it; but ACE also teaches for mastery, so we will not be changing methods.

We are simply switching to ACE Math because it can be completed a bit more independently than the Rod & Staff we are currently using. Rod & Staff uses a textbook that problems must be copied from by hand. This has become rather difficult for a boy who struggles with the physical process of copying problems correctly from one book to another. So I have been writing out all his problems in a notebook for him each day. ACE will eliminate this time-consuming step so he can simply focus on working the math problems (which he is amazingly good at doing!).

The entire ACE system, not just their math, is based on teaching for mastery. Students work on one concept until it is mastered, and they do not progress to more complex concepts until the simpler ones have been grasped. This is a natural, and even Biblical, approach to learning.

My plan is to allow him to spend an hour each morning reading, practicing music, exercising, and enjoying hands-on learning together before he completes his independent work each day. Then if we still have time after his goals are completed, we will continue with more interest-led learning. He will NOT be sitting at a desk staring at a wall all day, as some have imagined the ACE system being used.

And I can hardly wait to share with you my plans for learning over the summer! Stay tuned for that post soon!

How many times have you switched curriculum or methods in your homeschool? Or have you always used the same? Talk to me in the comments!