Friday, October 22, 2010

Washington, DC

We just returned from a wonderful educational vacation of DC. A friend in our home school group planned a week-long camping tour - Thank you for getting us organized!!

On the first day we tried to visit all the major monuments and started the Smithsonian museums. Here are my munchkins at the Lincoln Memorial -this was Fizz's (6) favorite site on our tour. She is still talking about it! The ducks in the reflecting pool are very friendly (even some of the squirrels will eat out of your hand!). We did a lot of walking, but it was worth it to see these amazing sculptures in person.

(*day1: looped the monuments from Washington Monument to Abe Lincoln, around to Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson seeing the war memorials along the way. Stopped at the Holocaust Museum where we took the youth tour, then Aj (13) and Jewel (12) started the "adult" tour. (Unfortunately, they did not have a chance to finish and both want to return to complete this museum.) We then met up with our group at the Natural History Museum and Museum of American History. Aj and Jewel were fascinated by Julia Child's kitchen, and Bee (3) couldn't wait to see Dorothy's ruby slippers. The Prehistoric and Gemstone exhibits were a hit, too. Can you believe we fit all that into one day???? Me either!!

The second day included the White House Visitors Center (which was surprisingly educational) and some photos in front of the real thing. Then we moved on to the Air and Space Museum. We spent a lot of time here since everyone was really enjoying it. We also started the West Art Museum, but didn't get far before a Preschooler meltdown let me know that we had done enough for the day. :)

By the third day the younger ones were tired of the museums, so some of us went kayaking at Mason Head State Park. I stayed on shore with Jewel (12) who does not really like the water that much, and Bee who was not old enough to be allowed on the boats. We walked the nature paths and found tons of shells along the shoreline. This was a great way to break up the walking tours.

Here are the two land-lovers watching out for the return of the kayak/canoes.

Then, day four, back into the city for another day of touring. The library of Congress was amazing; the tour guide was a wealth of knowledge. The library has these little passport kiosks throughout the building which kept the younger ones occupied while we looked at the exhibits. If you get a chance, go -just for the jaw-dropping architecture. Wow! The Museum of the American Indian was our last scheduled stop. It was very nice and informative, but I was disappointed not to find any reference to the Abenaki (part of my blood line) or much about the northeast tribes in general. The museum's focus seemed to be on the more popular/well known nations. Not sure why that is, but I can speculate.....Never the less the building is very impressive and the exhibit of modern Native American art was enjoyable. We were able to return to the Art Museum and stall the baby blues long enough that I could scoot around and visit some of my favorite artists. I kept Bee busy looking for pictures of "princesses" in gowns, ....and puppies, ....and ships ...anything really, just so I could keep going through the exhibits.... someday I will have to go back and really take the time to appreciate the amazing artwork. The Degas sculptures were amazing and the light on the just can't capture that through a photo in a book-almost made me want to cry. It takes your appreciation for these master artists to a whole new level.

There are still many things that I would like to go back an see and do. But after a week away from home and husband, I was ready to go home Perhaps we will return as a family in the future.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Kayaking and Hiking

Ooh, I'm first blog photos.

We had a fun-filled nature week. Dad took the kids kayaking and we all went hiking. I love science in the great outdoors!

Dad took our 5 year old out on a calm, local lake. There is a small island that she explored where she found muscles and shells. The fish swam right up to her and nibbled her fingers. So, cool. We don't have identifications on the things she found, but next time we'll have them bring a journal and take more pictures. I didn't get to go on this outing, but I hope to go next time.

We also went to Hanging Rock State Park. They have some really nice trails here. We went on the Indian Creek trail which has beautiful waterfalls. Of course, water flows down, so going back to the parking lot is all up-hill. The park keeps up the trails beautifully, though.

The kids were all excited because they found fresh bear scat in the woods behind the waterfalls. You know... kids + poo = good times. Baby collected pine cones and everyone else pushed the gravitational envelope. (Mom respectfully requested that no-one break anything while climbing the rocks.)

I hope to go back in June when the Rhododendrons are in bloom. They grow wild all around the falls. There are several trails we still need to explore as well. I hope to do a lot of nature outings this summer. We got out of the habit this semester and I really miss it.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Working with the Workbox

Well, we did start off well. But, as the month progressed I was still trying to figure out a way to be more organized. I want to have all assignments pulled together a week (or two) ahead of schedule. *Yeah, you probably already do that. But I usually assigned specific pages on a daily basis using my "year goal" as a guideline. I had daily "top priority" subjects (math, grammar, penmanship, science/history), and "if I get to it" subjects (logic, art, foreign language, etc) worked in on 'good days'. Unfortunately, I did not "get to" those subjects nearly as often as I wanted to. Also, there were lots of great supplemental learning activities that were not being utilized.
Anyway, I had been seeing little blips about "workboxes" here and there and it gave me an idea.... Personal workboxes that would hold everything each child needs individually- include daily assignment sheets, chore lists, workbooks, Cd's, reference material, etc all in one handy location. The idea that each child has ownership of their "box", and is responsible for completing each daily folder would be a great improvement on my previous bookshelf system (every one's books always get intermingled or *gasp* "lost"). My hope is that by giving each child ownership of their educational materials, I will no longer have to search for misplaced workbooks, or require and assignment to be redone because "the baby ate my homework."
Walmart just happened to have these hanging file-folder boxes in each kid's favorite color. At $10 each they are heavy-duty and I expect should stand up to the inevitable abuse they will be subjected to. They lock down, and have a storage unit on top for pencils and stuff which I find indispensable. I already had the Pendaflex and file folders on hand. Their assignments separated by subject for daily subjects and day-of-the-week for weekly subjects.

DD5 has been using this method for 2 weeks now and it has been a success for both of us. I get less stressed trying to get her lessons together in the morning. She now knows exactly what to expect each day and actually looks forward to most of her lessons. She likes the folder with phonics and math games/manipulatives, and has become very possessive of the stuff in the top pencil box.

DD10 likes to work independently in her room, and this method allows her to start working as soon as she is ready (usually earlier than anyone else). And come to me when she is ready for lessons. She also has filled the top portion with personal items. I just need to make sure she actually completes each section daily.

DS12 is still working on using his box effectively. He tends to forget to return his books to the box. His natural instinct is to have things in a logical order, so I will just need to work on forming the habit with him and proving that it is effective.

DD2's box will have sewing cards, preschool puzzles, a filefolder game, and coloring pages. I want to add more filefolder games and manipulatives as I make them up. I envision this as a busy box to keep her happy while I do school lessons with the others, but that is still in the works.
We are going on vacation this week and will be bringing along their **packed and prepared!!** workboxes. I will let you know how it goes.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Jump in - another school year begins

After a July vacation, we started school back up full force August 3rd. I have planned an ambitious curriculum for everyone, including myself. Now, I just have to figure out a way to keep the momentum going (and myself from becoming a zombie). Monday - Thursday will follow a standard schedule. All of our Fridays will be taken up by group activities with our local home-school group. And we will use Friday and Saturday afternoons for extra work on math, spelling and nature studies. At least, that is the plan. And for one week, it has worked well.

I still have a long way to go in bringing our whole home school experience up to my imaginary perception of what we "should" be doing. I have this pretty little (Victorian) picture in my brain of neat, organized children, sitting primly with washed shining faces and pressed clothing, listening and reading attentively, teaching each other, and creating artsy crafts of museum quality. Yeah, I know, unrealistic. But, I would settle for going a week without misplacing any school books, or finding a place on the couch not covered in piles of laundry-in-progress. To be honest, I am having a hard time juggling 4children of different abilities/interests. It seems like I should be giving each one about twice as much personal time as they are currently getting. Occasionally, I will scour the internet trying to find the magic wand that other have used to teach a gaggle of children on mulitple levels. But, alas, so far the wands are those of dilligence, organization, patience, and prayer. Right ... Sigh!

On a more positive note, as I look forward to the upcoming year, I can't help but be grateful for the amazing aray of opportunities that we can explore as home schoolers. Between field trips and group activites, my children did more outreach activites in the last two years than I was able to do in my entire public school career! Our children are exposed to their education in such a way that learning is an experience, and not just a mental function. How much more prepared they will be to intergrate knowledge into conversations and adult life! There now....I think I may be feeling it again...almost......inspiration, resolve, energy, and just a glimmer of a smile.

Here we go, for another year.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Winding up the School Year

Technically, we school year-round, but the cross-over from June 30th to July 1st is significant in my mind. That is the day I "graduate" the kids from one grade to the next. I try to have them finish up any loose ends while I am head-long into planning the curriculum for "next year". As usual, we are "a little behind" but I feel that we have make some good progress this year and should be meeting my minimum goals by the end of June in math, and the end of July in Grammar. Spelling and Composition is a bit of a struggle for us but we are making steady progress and hope to get closer to target over the next year. I really like the Apologia science that we started this year (we just skip the few random paragraphs that are not consistent with our beliefs). DS12 just finished the HOAC pack on US Gov't (okay, he didn't get into actually making the lap-book, but he did read the info and did notes). My last post outlined some of the other curriculum changes I have made over the past year.

I think that the main goal for the upcoming year is that I NEED TO BE MORE CONSISTENT by encouraging the routines that I know will work best overall. (It is to easy to let other things take over the daily routine.) I also know that if we do not start school first thing in the morning, it will never get done ... I need to enforce SCHOOL FIRST THEN PLAY. (That means I have to do lessons before I get to sleep no matter what.) We have missed more school days this year because of that, than any other single thing. Still, DD10 is reading more. DS12 is developing personality and conscience. DD5 will do any math I give her and is starting phonics, while DD2 sorts and piles and puzzles for long stretches of time and loves to be read to. And they all like to spend time exploring nature. Always looking for the silver linings and for the most part, things are looking good.
DD10 went to her first visit with the speech pathologist, and I will get the evaluation results tomorrow. The first thing she said when she came out of the testing room? "I never knew there where so many words I didn't know!" I guess that means the testing was thorough, right? I will wait to post more of my thoughts on this until after I have the results, but I think it will be a positive experience that will help me to teach everyone better.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A hard decision

Today I made an appointment for DD10 with a speech pathologist.
This was a hard decision that has been a long time in coming. There has always been a question in the back of my mind about the possibility of a learning hindrance in regards to her comprehension skills. However, since neither her daycare (when she was 3-5yr) nor her pediatrician seemed to have any concerns, I attributed the quirkiness to learning style and personality trait differences. I had sporadically researched various learning disabilities with a view to finding better ways to teach her and perhaps to help me define what I was seeing. While doing so, I found tips to help make better connections for her but never a specific label that addresses exactly what I was seeing. I was always fairly opposed to saddling her with a LD label anyway.
Still, I used some of the things I learned at home and I have seen a huge improvement in her school work over the past year. She was prescribed reading glasses to help her visual tracking. I switched her math curriculum from Saxon to Abeka (the workbook is more colorful and has pictures) and was more mindful of using manipulative's to explain new concepts. We switched from Abeka spelling back to "Spelling to Write and Read" to emphasize the phonograms and more precise speech. I focused on Cursive Penmanship this year to correct her dyslexic-style print. We use Mind Benders once or twice a week to help with logical connections/abstract thought. And, occasionally we do a thesaurus brain storm. (I choose a word, usually an adjective or verb, that I hear overused. Then I have the kids brainstorm synonyms.)

So, with definite improvements being seen, why finally give in and schedule an evaluation? First, was the realization that I will not always be her teacher. A couple weeks ago, I was surprised to be sent for an ultrasound/mammogram when my Gyn found a "suspicious lump". Thankfully, the radiologist ruled out anything of serious concern but the experience left me thinking "what if?" What if I am not always here? What if some day we need to go back into the public school system? What if she grows up and wants to take college classes? What if she really does move to France? (she wants to go to Paris) Making sure that I am being the best teacher and advocate for her now is the only way to help her be successful in the future when she will need to be more independent. Our recent financial and employment changes certainly show that consistency is not to be had in today's world.
Second, was the realization that she has perfected the art of pretending to understand when she really does not. This is especially true if my explanation of an unknown term or idea does not help her grasp a concept. Also, that some of the ways I had been trying to expand her vocabulary were not effective. I will often ask her if she knows the meaning of a word in our out-loud reading and try to redefine the word or give her a story that defines the word if necessary. It recently came to my attention that what I thought were helpful explanations were not always effective. In addition, she has said that she often feels lost when her friends are having conversations around her and can not follow the discussion.

In light of all of this, I started calling around for a place to start. I had to contact four separate agencies over 5 days to finally connect with a speech pathologist who worked with her age and did initial assessments outside of the public school system. However, when I spoke to her today and explained my concerns, her response was knowledgeable. And based upon the history I gave, she was able to anticipate other tendencies that I had not thought to list initially. Now, we have to wait until June for our appointment (that gives me time to save the $ for the visit).
So, now, I am eager to see what insights and suggestions I will get from this appointment.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Time flies - a homeschool update

I can't believe that I have not posted here since the beginning of December! Not to say that we have not had a TON of stuff going on, we have.... I will try to be better about coming back here.

Let's see... updates.

We did have the Science Fair (as mentioned in a previous post), and DD10 did do her project on insects. She started an ant farm and continues to love watching them. DD4 did her project on Worms & Plants. She had a worm farm and a bean sprout, and was quite proud of herself for participating with the "big kids". DS12 (who, by the way, is now taller that me!!!) did a project on The Power of Air - focusing on generating wind energy. I was very proud of the amount of research that he put in to his project. This was really the first time we did an intensive, focused research project that included multiple library books, Internet research, and involved the use of note cards and bibliography cards. Did you know that the first windmill was invented in Persia? That was news to me. See, even the teacher learns. :) He could have done a fifteen minute presentation on all the info he dug up, but ended up nervously skimming the highlights for his oral presentation.

Today, I finally finished setting up our new school room. It has only been four months since we moved. LOL. Of course, we have been doing school in the mean-time, but mostly it has been where ever the kids could find room to put their books, and has not included much arts and crafts. (Mostly because I could not find the paint brushes/glue/construction paper/etc.) Now, they have a dedicated table (that will hopefully stay de-cluttered). And, I think I know where most of the craft supplies are.

In addition, starting this week, I have the privilege of utilizing an assistant teacher for our studies. (My husband is one of the many who's job went over-seas without him.) So, in the spirit of silver linings, I have "hired" him as assistant teacher. ;) I now have great plans to finally get a zillion things accomplished that we always seem to run out of time for when it is just me teaching. He will be in charge of supervising independent work, PE, and making sure all the subjects are completed before play time. He will also probably have a big share in "project activities" and kindergarten classes. This will be our first week trying out the new plan, so I hope that it goes well.

In the move, I apparently lost the lap book that DD4 had started. I kept hoping that I would find it, as I finished organizing our school area this weekend, but in never showed up (along with several other important documents. ARRGH!) Anyway, I feel awful about it because she was really enjoying it and doing well putting the little books together. I guess, at this point, we will just have to move on to something else. I am thinking of doing one on birds since she enjoys watching the birds on our back deck. I just bought one of the DK Eye Witness books on birds. It came with a poster and clip art CD which looks promising for use in making some lap book fillers.

That is just about all for updates. I am anxiously awaiting the results of our CAT tests which we took last week (they always make me nervous). And will try to remember to come back here more often. :)