26 September 2011

Back to the Grindstone

Well, we are back to work after taking a short break to get used to the new addition to our family. J entered our family on the 8th of September, so we took just over two weeks to adjust before continuing our normal school schedule. Today was our first day back to the school room, and everyone did well, even J. He spent the first hour in his bouncy chair near my desk. During our break, I gave him some lunch and tried to get him to nap. He was a little fussy during our second session of school, so I decided to break in the Baby K'Tan. It put him right to sleep and allowed me to be hands free for the rest of our school day.

We may end up tweaking our schedule a little bit as we go along, but it's not like we've never had to do that before! Overall, I have faith that he will fit into our routine quite well.

12 August 2011

Weekly Update - Week #2

Week #2 has come and mostly gone. It was a pretty good week, even though life is getting hectic with doctor and dentist appointments.

The highlights of the week have been K having four 100% math assignments and one 97% math assignment, H doing fantastic at a trial gymnastics lesson, and the arrival of level 2 of Winning With Writing (WWW).

H has made the decision that she wants to give up horseback riding lessons and try gymnastics instead. Last night we were able to take her to a class to try out. I'm going to see if we can do that again this week, as it took her a while to warm up and participate in the class. I'm hoping that if she goes to one more trial class she can prove to us that she is going to participate in the class. I don't want to pay for something that she's going to end up not doing.

Next week we plan on adding the new WWW program and Sequential Spelling (SS) to K's workload. I kept them out so that we could ease into the year. However, she worked so diligently all this week, I think we can safely add them in without it being an overload on her. With SS, we are going to be continuing where we left off. WWW is a brand new program for us this year, though. I looked through the first 11 weeks of it last night, and was able to eliminate some of the lessons that are too much of a review for her, like subjects and predicates. She could probably handle level 3, but we decided to get her level 2 and just let her work through it at a faster pace, so that she doesn't end up missing out on something she needs to grasp before level 3.

I also made some tweaks to how I'm going to teach Bible Study Guide for all Ages, although we did not try it out this week. On day one, we will go through the drill, review past lessons, and read the story for the lesson. On the second day, we will do the worksheets. This should break it up evenly so that we're not spending so much of our school time doing just one subject.

I also decided to ditch the Excel spreadsheet that I was putting lesson plans on for the girls. The original plan was to use that to schedule a week or two at a time, print it up for the girls each week, and use it as a visual for them to see what they accomplished throughout the week. I would then transfer what they actually did into Homeschool Skedtrack (HS). However, it's too cluttered of a format for me, and makes for extra steps in my day. If they did more than one math assignment in one day, for example, it was hard to tell at a glance what they had accomplished. Instead of a grid, I think I need something that utilizes lists. I also like to give the girls an extra bonus if they complete all of the assignments by the end of the week. This motivates them to not try to save something for the next day. (I'll have to make a post about our reward system.)

So, with the absence of the Excel planning sheet, I'm back to trying to figure out a way to keep track of a week's worth of assignments. Unfortunately, HS does not allow printing of a weekly assignment list, but just a daily one. And I'm also back to entering my lesson plans into HS, though I do think that it will work out in the long run.

Well, that's it for our review for this week and our look-ahead to next week. :)

10 August 2011

Story of the World - Take 4

After attempting to work our way through SOTW for the last three years, I think we are finally to a point where my girls will actually get something out of it. It took the first three years to make it through the first nine chapters. At first, they struggled with listening. When we would go through the review questions, they didn't know any of the answers. Getting narrations out of K was like pulling teeth. We set the program aside for a while.

When we resumed later, they were better listeners and were able to answer at least some of the questions afterwards. I still had to remind them to pay attention while I was reading, though. Narrations were a tad bit easier for K, although she still seemed to not want to do them. H was to a point where I thought she could handle them, but she lacked the ability to retell without me putting a lot of the words in her mouth. We shelved it again.

And a time or two after that.

During our first week of school, we did some review of the first nine chapters. Fortunately, through much drill over the past three years, they still retained key points from those chapters. They know about the Great Pyramid, papyrus, the story of Gilgamesh.

Today we began learning about Ancient China. I was quite impressed with their listening skills, their ability to answer the questions that followed, and yes, even their narrations. Here is what they both told me about the story Lei Zu and the Silkworm:

H's retelling:
The Empress discovered silk by the silkworm. A silkworm's silk cocoon fell into her cup.

K's retelling:
When the silkworm's silk cocoon fell into her cup, Lei Zu's maid went to get her a new cup. The maid helped Lei Zu unwind the silk a million times. The dressmaker turned it into a cloth, which the dressmaker turned into a robe for the Emperor. 

While it might not have been a "million"times, I think we are finally on our way to a productive year of history!

09 August 2011

New American Cursive - A Review of Workbook 1

When I decided it was time for my then six-year-old daughter to begin learning cursive, I began researching all the different options available. I wanted something that was pretty, without being too fancy, and also easy to teach and learn. My search led me to New American Cursive (NAC). The program seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. It was pretty, without being too fancy, and the website pointed out that it uses fewer strokes than some of the more popular cursive programs. There was also a convincing article about why it's beneficial to begin teaching cursive in first grade instead of waiting until third grade. (This was helpful, since the reason for the research was because K asked to learn cursive, and I wasn't sure she was ready.)

In addition to the fact that NAC seemed to be exactly what I was looking for in a cursive program, they also have a StartWrite CD that contains their font so that you can make additional worksheets for your children. This truly seemed the best fit for my needs!

So far, K has made it through the letter Q. I have been extremely impressed with her handwriting since starting school back up this past week. She always rushed when printing, unless I continuously reminded her to use her best handwriting. Now she seems to take pride in her cursive, and takes her time to form the letters correctly and neatly. Below is a sample of a page she did today.

Throughout the first book, the format is typically to be introduced to a letter, practice writing that letter, then do one of the Fun Exercises & Artwork pages, as above. Every three letters, they will also have a practice page to review the last three letters learned. 

Having the CD for extra worksheets has really been an invaluable resource for us. What I am doing this year is having her do the individual letter pages, one per day, and then on the day she is to complete the practice page, I also make my own practice page with words using letters she has used so far. For example, last week, I made a page with all names, so that she could have some more uppercase practice. It included Abel, Lee, Dale, Leah, Elle, Jack, Jill, and Bella. She was up through L at that time, so I stuck with names that included only letters she has learned. Eventually, once she has learned all of the letters, I plan to make copywork pages for history and science. 

We recently received workbook 2, along with workbook 1 for H. Workbook 2 appears to work on transitioning them to smaller handwriting, as well as writing on lines without guidelines. I will come back and review workbook 2 when we have actually begun using it a bit. In the meantime, if you are looking for an easy-to-teach, pretty handwriting program, I highly recommend NAC. 

04 August 2011

The First Week - So Far

We have been doing pretty good this week so far. We are not quite back to our normal "schedule" yet, but we have been plugging along with the school work.

The girls have already gotten a lot of their work completed, and K has already had a math test, which she got 96% on. Tomorrow is her first grammar test in Growing With Grammar.

H has begun learning cursive, which she really seems to like a lot. She has learned through the letter C so far. I will need to make her lots of extra sheets to practice with, I assume, as she doesn't seem to want to take her time with it like her sister does.

Some things I can already see need to be tweaked, and we have not added all of the subjects back into the mix yet, either. We still need to get going on science again, K is going to start writing soon, and we haven't done any Sequential Spelling yet. History this week was a review of the first nine chapters of Story of the World, but next week we will continue forward, learning about Ancient China.

I can also see that the new Bible program needs to be tweaked. It it too time consuming to do it along with all the other subjects and still expect to get the others done without taking all day. I will sit down with it this weekend and figure out a good way to break up the lessons over two days. This will work out nicely, since I had planned on doing just two lessons a week anyway, so instead of just doing it two days a week, we will do four days a week. Once we get our feet wet with it some more, I will probably post a review of the program.

27 July 2011

Donna Young's Art Program

When I asked my 7-year-old rising 3rd grader which curriculum was her favorite, she said her art program. Since we let her take art at our co-op, we don't actually do a formal art program at home. It took me a minute to realize she was talking about the Donna Young sheets that we are using for drawing practice until we return to co-op in September. So I decided that I would make a post about them. The best way to describe them is to just take a look at them, so I have scanned one of them to show off my daughter's work.

The purpose of the sheets is for the student to draw the image that is in the first square two times. They need to try to make the image the same size with the lines in the same location within the square as the original. What I have my oldest daughter do is draw her first attempt, then show me so that I can give her feedback, such as, "That line needs to be a little longer" or "This circle needs to be up in the box a little higher." She then uses my feedback to do her next attempt. She really likes this program, and will do two or three sheets in one day. 

My youngest daughter, who is 6, likes to copy it, but would rather rush through it and is not as concerned about doing it the right way. I just go with it, since art really doesn't seem like her "thing." She likes to draw and paint and color, but she has never been the imitator that her sister is. 

This sheet is actually from a collection on Donna Young's site that is for younger children. You can find the downloads here.

If you have older children, there is another collection here.

The nice thing about these is that they are free, and therefore make a perfect interim art program, that doesn't make me have to get the paints out every day!

25 July 2011

Horseback Riding Lessons

We originally gave K horseback riding lessons as a birthday present this year, since she has become quite the horse lover. After several weeks of lessons, H expressed interest in having lessons as well. Once a week we take them for private lessons with a young lady from our co-op. They groom the horse together, then each get a half hour lesson.

This is H working on brushing her side of the horse.

Here, K is helping, since her side is already done.

K working on her side.

18 July 2011

New Portfolio/Record-Keeping Binders

Here is a sneak peek of the girls' binders for the upcoming school year. This will contain all of our record-keeping items (attendance, course of study, etc.) as well as samples of their work from throughout the year. Although our state doesn't require any of this, I want to start keeping track this year.

These are the binders. I still need to make some nice covers for them.  K is color-coded blue, and H is pink. These just happen to be their favorite colors.

This is our calendar for the year. I go through it and mark a --- on the days that we don't have school and write a C on our co-op days. I downloaded this from Donna Young.

Each binder has a coure of study sheet in it. It has the subjects and the books that we use for them listed on it. I also got this from Donna Young. I was able to type the information onto it before printing.
Also from Donna Young, this is for each girl to check off each subject on each day as she does them. 
I made this one myself. :) Since we have 42 weeks of school and most of what I could find were sheets made for 36 weeks of school, I had to make my own. We are going with 14-week trimesters. Each day there is graded work, the grade will be written onto the sheet. Then, I can very easily add this information to Homeschool Skedtrack every few days.

11 July 2011

2011-12 Curriculum Changes

For the most part, we are going to be using the same curriculum as last year, with a few minor changes, additions, and transitions. Here are the differences:

Growing With Grammar - She just recently finished level 2 and is now into level 3. Before we began our four-week break, she got through the first six lessons.
Learning Language Arts Through Literature - She has been doing the yellow book of this for a while now, but I don't think I've ever blogged about it.
Winning With Writing - We are considering adding this into the language arts mix this year, but I'm not sure if we will start with level 2 or 3.

Math Mammoth - In addition to Math U See, we have started working through Math Mammoth 1A. This gives us options, rather than doing the same thing day after day.
Sequential Spelling - While I love the approach that McRuffy uses for all language arts subjects, I feel that adding in SS would allow her to begin doing more writing on her own. She has never been one to use imaginative spelling, so always has to ask someone how to spell things she wants to write. And she has been writing and asking a lot lately!
New American Cursive - H will begin book one of NAC when we resume at the beginning of August.

In addition to the above, both girls will also begin Bible Study Guide for All Ages. This will be done together, just like our history and science are.

10 July 2011

New Grading Procedures, Pt. 2

Last week I blogged about the grading system we will be using with K this upcoming year. Today I thought I should share how we will be handling H's grades.

Like her sister, the individual subject grades will be 70% tests and 30% daily work.

Also like her sister, her language arts will be grouped into one grade. However, since she is using different curricula, it will be divided differently. Her McRuffy Language and Reading will receive 45%, McRuffy Spelling and Phonics will receive 45%, and Sequential Spelling will receive the remaining 10%.

In addition to language arts, she also does two math programs. I could use the generic subject of math and give a single grade, but I decided to break it up into the individual subjects instead. Math Mammoth and Math U See will each be worth 50% of her total grade.

07 July 2011

New Grading Procedures

Since my oldest daughter has expressed interest in receiving grades on her daily work, we have spent some time deciding exactly how to weigh the grades for next year. While I believe that a test should be the major indicator of how well a child is learning and retaining information, her interest in also being graded daily has made me come to realize that there should be at least some accountability for daily work so that a child can learn that even your everyday work is important. The tricky part is deciding just how important in the grand scheme of things.

So, after much discussion and obtaining lots of opinions from others, we have come up with 70/30. In all individual subjects tests will account for 70% of the final grade while daily work will account for 30%.

However, I reached a wall when trying to decide what to do with Sequential Spelling. With this spelling program, K takes a spelling test each day, with corrections made to misspelled words before going on to the next word. There is not really a periodic assessment that is performed. I inquired about this on the Well-Trained Mind Forum, and someone had a wonderful idea: Give the daily spelling tests a grade of 100% each day, but then group all language arts subjects into one and give spelling a low weight. When I realized that Homeschool Skedtrack has the ability to group subjects this way, I decided that was probably the best way to handle the situation.

So now, all of K's language arts grades will be lumped into one group for report card purposes. Growing With Grammar will be 30%, Winning With Writing 30%, Learning Language Arts Through Literature 30%, and Sequential Spelling 10%.

Assuming I have not forgotten something major, this is the plan for the new school year when we resume next month.

06 July 2011

2011-12 Record Keeping

After much research into different peoples' methods of record keeping/planning, I have decided to continue to use Homeschool Skedtrack to document my homeschool. However, I have made a few minor adjustments.

One of the downfalls I have had with Homeschool Skedtrack in the past is that if I got behind on the logging of our daily work, I would just give up and stop using the program. I have come up with a few ways to remedy this. First of all, I am going to be giving the girls a sheet of their work to be completed on either a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. I am still trying to decide the best way to do this. I might revert back to a Word document that I made a couple years ago that had a monthly plan for me and then a weekly plan that I would print out and give to K. Then they can check off the items as they are completed out of their workboxes and I can have a record of the work accomplished for the week.

The only obstacle that I'm running into is that sometimes I'm not sure what we're doing until the day before, as I might change something up to add in extra review, skip ahead, or even just have a day where the work is "different" for a change of pace. For example, H is using two math programs. Currently I alternate them based on the subject and the "school mood" she is in. Sometimes, just seeing one of them makes her "resistent" to school, but if I pull out the other one, we can get something accomplished. For this reason, having the schedule made up ahead of time might not be productive, unless I go with a daily plan.

Next, since K has expressed interest in getting her daily work graded as well as her tests, I have been grading her assignments as she completes them, with the exception of Growing With Grammar (GWG), which I have taught her how to grade on her own using the answer key. (She finds this subject especially easy, so usually gets most, if not all, of them correct!) I am going to use either an Excel grade sheet or a paper grade sheet to keep track of grades on a daily basis. This way, if for some reason I do not have Homeschool Skedtrack open on a particular day, or if we simply are away from the computer, I can easily go back into it and update the grade info when it's convenient.

Hopefully, these tweaks will make all the difference for me and allow me to keep up to date on all that we are accomplishing throughout the year. I am really looking forward to our upcoming year, which starts in three-and-a-half short weeks!

23 June 2011

Planning Ahead

As we wind down our school year, I have been considering what our goals for the upcoming year should be. Most of our curriculum has been wonderful this year, so there will not be any changes to that. However, there are some areas that I feel we need to make the focus of the upcoming year.

For both girls I have two specific goals in mind:
1. Finish the first volume of SOTW. They are now in a place where they actually enjoy and show signs of readiness for this, so we should be able to complete it without shelving it any more.
2. Finish R.E.A.L. Science - Life. I just need to purchase the complete program, since my nine-week's worth of lessons are completed.
3. Work on more memorization.

For H, I have the following goals:
1. Work on reading confidence. She has gotten a lot better in the last year, but I want to continue that upward trend.
2. Finish McRuffy Kindergarten and transition into McRuffy 1st grade. We are almost there!
3. Work on handwriting, particularly lowercase letters. We will also probably start New American Cursive with her later in the year.

For K, I have the following goals:
1. Finish learning all the cursive letters and begin using cursive in other subjects.
2. Begin memorizing the multiplication tables.
3. Find more fiction for her to read.

For myself, I need to work on the following:
1. Keeping better records of things like attendance and which assignments we do each day.
2. Keep up with my blog better. I would especially like to remember to take more pictures of their daily work and special projects, like lapbooks.