Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Snowmen!! (on paper at least)

We finished up the Pre-K Handwriting Without Tears letters today. They were all capital letters, and Bug has really done a great job mastering all of them. We had 5 letters left, and she just plowed through them this morning, along with a couple supplemental pages to reinforce each one. Now we just have to finish working on writing #6-10 and we will be officially finished with the Pre-K HWOT book, and ready for K!

We also did a thematic unit today, which is always nice. I like having a package deal sometimes, where there are several activities within one theme. This one was FREE, which made it even nicer. :)

The theme was "Brr it's cold!". Even though it's not cold here (mid-70s), we like to do activities with snow and snowmen. :)

This unit had shapes and numbers:

Beginning word sounds:

And patterns:

Very fun. And easy on me! :)

As I mentioned in my last post, this past month has been rough. Trying to find our groove with this whole homeschooling thing has been harder than I would have thought. My home office has been re-organized to better suit how I use it nowadays. I've basically done an overhaul of the way I used to be set up, based on what I learned during the first two months of homeschooling. My approach now vs. my approach on 9/13 when we first started is a complete 180.

For anyone out there reading this who is considering homeschooling, my biggest advice would be to go easy on yourself at the beginning. Dive in wholeheartedly, definitely, but also know that things will not go the way you expect. I started out trying to re-create a preschool classroom in our home. That does not work for us. I thought it would all be neat and tidy and there would be "regular" time and "school" time. That is not the way our days go.

Every moment throughout the day can be "school". We have been homeschooling since the day Bug was born. Sometimes deliberately, through activities found online or through learning toys. But usually? Just through the way we talk to her and the places we go. When this clicked for me, that continuing into pre-K and Kindergarten was just an extension of what we were doing before, and not some brand new beast that I had to conquer, I felt that "click" of understanding. An "a-ha" moment, if you will.

My Type A self is learning how to approach all of this in a new way that keeps the chaos at bay, but also allows me to be less than perfect. And this isn't just with regards to homeschooling. Adjusting to two kids has been challenging. At the end of the day, the dishes aren't always going to be done and my house isn't always going to be put back together. Even just typing that sentence is hard for me, but my expectations have shifted, and by aiming for a little less than perfection (ha), I find I am happier. This translates into homeschooling, too. I don't have a checklist of what items Bug has to learn each week. I know where she is in relation to the standards for Pre-K, K, and 1st grade. I know how she likes to learn, what types of activities work best for her. I focus on those things, and use activities within the range of where she's at, and we have fun with it. With increasing frequency, there are moments when I see her grasp a concept, or when certain activities suddenly become too easy for her. Those moments are my "checklist".

This got long and rambly, but as an extrovert, it helps to get that all out there. And at the end of this "trial year", I can look back and see where I was at this point in time.

Thanks for reading! :)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Still here!!

Holy moly have I been overwhelmed!! The holidays started, the Monkey has become more mobile and doesn't like to take naps, Bug isn't napping at ALL anymore, I have been working a LOT, and I'm tired. :) But -- I am still here and we are still homeschooling. I just have not updated the blog in over a month. I have been struggling to stay on top of everything and get us into a rhythm. I am seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, so I hope to have time to update the blog sometime this week.

We will be starting "Kindergarten" in January, after the holidays. Bug has mastered all the Pre-K level Standards so we are moving on up. We are working on addition, and I'm going to expand our horizons in the Science area. (Bought some AWESOME math & science stuff at Lakeshore Learning last weekend. *LOVE* that store. Even got an ant farm... eek... leaving set-up of that one up to the hubby.) We also will be working more on reading. Not forcing that one too much (this is one of the areas that I'm a fan of letting it come naturally when the child is ready), but we have been working with sight word flashcards, and Bug seems to have fun with that. When I read to her, she loves to scan the page for words she knows and then pointing to them excitedly and yelling them out. So we are getting there! :)

I'll be back soon... :) Hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday season.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

New (to me!) Stuff

Thanks to my mother-in-law, who retired from the school district this spring, I am now the proud owner of my very own laminator!!! SO exciting. :) Isn't it glorious?? I am a laminating fool this weekend. I think I have a new addiction.

And our other new item is a globe I picked up at a yard sale yesterday for $8. (I love bargains!) I realized on Columbus Day that we really, really need a globe. I printed out a map for that holiday and showed Bug where Columbus sailed... but a globe would have been way cooler. This one is from a retired teacher who had a welder friend that put this together for her. Of course, I did forget to check one tiny thing... if the globe was current. My husband (ever the down-to-earth one to balance out my rose-colored glasses approach to life :) ) asked me when I got home if it had the USSR on it... and um. Yes. Yes it does. So I figure we can use this one to show what the world USED to be like. Right? :) Hey at least it will give Bug an idea of where we are in comparison to other countries. As soon as I put it down, she promptly pointed out where Texas is. Gotta love our Melissa & Doug USA floor puzzle!

I also picked up Monopoly Jr., a bag of science-y items like magnifiers and such, and a cardboard train-making kit. The lady was wonderful - she also threw in a bag of miscellaneous worksheets and bulletin board display materials for free. Retired teacher yard sales are the BEST.

Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Month #1

Wow that month flew by! :)

The "workbox" method is really working for us. I am going to continue doing it in our modified way for now, and at some point get a more official set up going on. This past week was fantastic -- when we were home and were ready to do some school, we perused the box for the day and picked out something to do. We actually finished up everything on Thursday, though, because the Bug really wanted to spend ALL afternoon doing school. So I found some other things to do Friday.

I joined a local homeschool group through Yahoo a little while ago, and we finally went out for the weekly park day on Tuesday. (It's out of the triple digits now, so I'll venture outside. :) ) Everyone was SO nice and Bug had a great time. They have a weekly PE day that we will try out on Tuesday. It was a big relief to meet some of the moms in person and feel that "click" when you find people you get along with and with whom you feel comfortable. It's not a huge group, which is nice too.

At this point in our journey, I am feeling very excited about homeschooling. It's exhausting at times, but so rewarding and FUN!

A couple cool resources I learned about this week from other homeschooling mamas:

Destination Math - Bug has been zipping through the Units on this -- it's a great online teaching tool for math. This goes along with the Saxon curriculum. We don't use that, but the website works fine on its own. They offer a free one-month trial.

Critical Thinking Co.
- SO COOL!!! I'm really excited about this one right now. I printed out a kazillion and two worksheets for this week. (Seriously, a LOT!!)

And I have to share my favorite resource. I first discovered The Mailbox at our local library last year. It had such neat ideas in it, and really got me thinking about what all we could do at home. We got the Preschool issues last year, and now we are at Kindergarten level. Online, I am able to access information for both Pre-K AND Kindergarten, though, which is really nice. Also, my mother-in-law was kind enough to buy us a subscription to the Mailbox Teacher's Helper, which is chock full of worksheets. I could probably plan an entire curriculum just around the Mailbox.

That's all for now. I have a 6 month old who is teething/growing, and is waking up several times a night. So I'm one sleepy mama. :)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Lessons for Week of 10/11

I actually got everything pulled together in a couple hours on Sunday. Hurrah!

Here is everything laid out for the week:

And a breakdown of what we are doing:

Crafts - Columbus Day activities, a book she'll put together called "All About Me", and a mobile that will show the life of a pumpkin from seed to fruit

Worksheets for each day (sure hope I have enough! This child is voracious with the worksheets!) - rhyming words, days of the week, reading readiness, counting, matching, "Listen and Do", etc.

Handwriting Without Tears - reviewing U, C, O, Q, and G with some corresponding activities; working on writing 1 and 2 (1 she has down pat, 2 could use some work - I haven't officially taught her how to write numbers yet)

Activities - rhyming, counting, classifying living/non-living things, science activity re: sun & earth rotation, and sight words activity:

Learning Games

And a couple books with corresponding activities

Should be fun!! We are off to do our Columbus Day lesson and activities now. :)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


This is such an experiment!!! I am learning so much about both my daughter and myself through this experience.

As I mentioned before, we are now doing our own thing, and we are loving it. (Side note: Unfortunately, upon scanning the Calvert Pre-K materials, I don't see a ton of stuff that we can use. A lesson to all of you out there -- do not write on your curriculum or start cutting things out until you look through everything to make sure if you want it!!!) I am trying out the idea of workboxes. I like the flexibility and the way it can be tailored to each child. It can be set up in such a way that Bug could independently go over, select something, and do some work on her own. In an organized fashion! (Which you all know I *love*.) If you are interested, Google workboxes - you will get a ton of hits and lots of fun pictures to peruse. I love to see how everyone else organizes their home/learning area, so I could spend hours just looking at that stuff. :)

Instead of rushing out and buying shelves and boxes and setting it up (of course, that's what I'm *dying* to do!! an organizational project yaay!), I am trying it out for a couple weeks to see if it suits us. Here is what I have done so far - a box for each day with that day's activities inside:

As an example -- here is what I have inside Thursday's box:

Hopefully, this weekend I will get the entire week pulled together ahead of time, and I will post pictures and information about what I am planning for each day. The boxes for this week don't include everything I want to do each day. I need to add in Handwriting Without Tears and more activity sheets ahead of time. This week, I have been copying/printing the worksheets as we go.


Other than playing around with the structure, everything has been going very well. We are in week 4, and while it has been a little overwhelming to juggle everything at times (housework, my job, Children's ministries at church, and the schooling -- and oh yeah a baby!!), I still feel that this is worthwhile and rewarding. I sat down and went through everything, to see where I could create more hours in the day, and we have decided to have a cleaning lady come every other week.


In the "researching schools" area: I have been looking into BASIS school -- it starts at 5th grade, it's a charter school (FREE!), and it's highly ranked by Newsweek in a national ranking of high schools. I called them this week to see how they feel about homeschooled kids, and they said they actually get a lot of kids who have been schooled at home. That was excellent news to me. We are also going to visit a charter Montessori school and a private Episcopal school (pricey!) sometime in the next month.

I want to see what else is out there, so we can make the most informed decision next spring when we sit down and discuss what we want to do for Kindergarten.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Mat Man!

We started Handwriting Without Tears today. We did 8-10 of the lessons over the summer, but we are now "officially" starting at the beginning and working our way through the book. (Well, we are skipping a few things at the beginning... she knows her shapes)

We started with mat man! :)

Today we worked on the letters L & F. HWT has a cool approach - using different materials to reinforce how to create each letter. There is a card with the letter on it, and the child traces with her finger. Then she picks out the appropriate wooden pieces to make the letter on the card (or on the blue mat). (see below) Then, you can use Play-doh and/or a cool Etch-a-Sketch thingy that we do not have, and then they write it with chalk. We also did the worksheets from the student workbook, so Bug could write it in crayon. So within the lesson, she made the letter with wood, traced with her finger, wrote it in chalk, and then wrote it in crayon. We haven't yet done the Play-doh thing, but I plan on doing that soon!

That was this morning. This afternoon, I used different "L" and "F" worksheets from the Kindergarten workbook we have. The worksheets were "find the items that start with this letter" and I also threw in some "find the items that rhyme" and "match the word with the item" (picture of a cat and the word "cat", for example) for fun. Then I printed out some lined paper and had her write "L" a bunch of times and "F" and also her name in uppercase letters.

We did some crafts this morning, and right now she is doing puzzles. Oh and we also went to gymnastics class. So I think we covered most of the subjects today! :) I need to throw in a game of Frog Pond Fractions to get the math in there...

Friday, September 24, 2010

Week 2

Well another week of homeschooling is done, and we both are still having a great time. Unfortunately, though, combining two lessons a day did not work. We both were still really bored. Bug looked like she was about to fall asleep during half of our lessons this week. So, today and yesterday we backed away from the curriculum and went back to what we were doing before: playing games and doing activity sheets. Bug really loves to do activity worksheets - matching, same/different exercises, finding hidden objects, color by number, connect-the-dots, etc. I printed out some Kindergarten activities, higher level than we have done before with reading and "end of the word" or "middle of the word" sounds (not just starting letter sounds), and drawing time on clocks with the "big hand and little hand". She had a BLAST. We also broke out Frog Pond Fractions and started playing that. I could see the difference in her -- she was energized and enjoying learning. (And to be honest, *I* was having more fun too! Our schooltime was becoming a snoozefest.)

Calvert is wonderful, but the Pre-K level is really just quite boring for both of us. I am going to read through the lesson plan book over the weekend and highlight the games and activities and stories that I think we would enjoy. I will go through my Handwriting Without Tears material and prepare some of those activities. And I will scour the Mailbox "Teacher's Helper" magazines my mother-in-law got for us and the Mailbox magazines we get, and look online, and print out tons of activity pages. That is what we are going to do next week, and see how it goes - if we can get a better flow going, with more energy and excitement. We will do more puzzles and read books. We will play with Play-Doh and do fun arts and crafts. And we will sing and dance and tinker around on the piano.

I wanted to try using a boxed curriculum to save time, and I did a lot of research and chose Calvert. I don't regret that decision, because it really is well crafted, and would be great for a 3 year old (or maybe even 2). The idea of everything being laid out for me is fabulous. It takes a LOT of time to pull all the above activities together. I was spending 3 hours each Sunday putting stuff together last spring, and that was just prepping for about an hour-a-day's worth of activities - a letter of the week with various activities, and a couple Bible stories/crafts thrown in. But I have learned a lot about where to look and what types of activities work best for us. So I'm hopeful I can get the process more streamlined. It was interesting to see how the curriculum worked -- it actually mirrored what we had been doing (reading/math prep, stories, talking about seasons/colors, etc.) but it was at a much lower level academically. They do have some neat game ideas and I'm sure there will be many things we can use. (Trying to not kick myself over the $300 spent!) And now, I can give fancier names to the things we do. For example, playing Candyland is "math readiness", as is a conversation about how many more M&Ms Bug is trying to finagle out of me. :) "But mom, can't I please have 5? That would only be 2 more!! I promise that's all. That's it."

This week I have also started thinking about what type of homeschooling I would want to do long-term. Would I want to do what I was trying with the curriculum, re-creating a classroom environment at home, with a set schedule every day of what subjects we must cover and how long we should spend on each? Or would I want to use the curriculum/guidelines/standards as a base point to jump off of and do our own thing? Could I leave behind my Type A Organizational self and venture into a more laid-back method of learning? Could I somehow reconcile those two parts of me (I'm such a Libra!) and come up with our own educational style hybrid? That's what I'm pondering right now. More on that later. :)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ready to Learn!

This is a cute picture from last week, on our second day of school. Bug lines up her stuffed animals every morning before we start school. She is big into imagination lately with them -- three of them come with us everywhere we go, and she puts their seat belts on in the car. For awhile, she was pulling tiny chairs up to the kitchen table and setting places for them as well. This week, her dolls have been taking turns in the swing, Bumbo seat, and Jumparoo. It's neat to see her act nurturing to her animals/dolls, imitating the things I do with her baby sister. :)

My favorite part of this picture is Domo at the end. :)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


All ready for the first day of fall tomorrow! :)

I am saving the other leaves to do a sorting/matching game with the Bug in the morning. I love this time of year!! So many fun crafts and things to do.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Week 1

So we just finished up week 1 of homeschooling. Overall it was fantastic!! My mind is starting to wrap around this whole concept and it's feeling pretty natural.

Some thoughts so far:

A definite item for the "pro" column: FLEXIBILITY!! Bug had a stomach virus this week and while she was sick, one day she wanted to still do school and one day she was really not doing so hot so we didn't do the lesson that day. So, we could do school in our PJs or just skip it and there was no one to care about germs (or the fact that we had bedhead and were in pajamas!) or to report an absence to. No muss, no fuss. Also, today we got started with our lesson and she was having a rough time, so we stopped and she took a nap. Then we finished later when she was in a better mood. You can't do that in a school environment!

I have decided to combine lessons and do 2 at a time. As I mentioned in my last post, the concepts are really quite simple and Bug knows most of them already. This way, I should be done with the Pre-K by January and maybe we'll go ahead and get the Kindergarten curriculum at that point. Or we can do a review or play around with something else, who knows. But she was getting a little bored, and adding more activities/concepts into each day has spiced things up for us. I have been playing around with how to combine lessons in the past few days and I think I have a system worked out. We actually combined about 4 of them today. I know we didn't have to "catch up", but Bug was really feeling like doing school so we just kept going (she wanted to do even more than that, but I finally said "No, school is done for today!" :) ). I think we spent about 3 hours total on it all today.

Normally, in each day's lesson plan there is any combo of the following: opening discussion, story, reading readiness activity, number readiness activity, "Thing to Do" (usually a craft-type activity), Music, Craft, and Game/Play. These aren't all on there every day, but normally I would just follow along that lesson plan and that's the schedule for the day. I've been adding things here and there, but just mainly sticking to that day's plan.

So - when combining lessons, this is how I plan to schedule the day:

Opening (go over theme if there is one, have our usual opening routine -- find a way to combine the two discussions into one)
Story #1
Number Readiness
Story #2
Reading Readiness
Things to Do

I'm sure this will be tweaked as we continue easing our way into this and I'm more comfortable with the flow, but for now that's where we are at.

I really enjoyed watching her little mind work this week. We have been doing worksheets and learning exercises for awhile now, but it's not been this focused. Getting to sit there and work with her on different concepts and hear her insightful questions and witness the creativity that she is capable of -- it has been a treat. I'm learning more about her (and myself) through all of this, and that brings such joy to my day.

We played with clay, painted, colored, and cut/pasted various shapes. We read many classic stories and she re-enacted several of them (putting that dramatic flair to good use!). We talked about over/under/on, open/closed, in/out, red and yellow and how they combine to make orange (which led to Bug using all sorts of different colored paint to see what colors she could make), and sang some songs and nursery rhymes. We also had several stuffed animals join our school. Bug lines them up against the wall and they listen to the story, and even helped re-enact the Little Red Hen. :)

That's my summary of Week 1. Looking forward to seeing what adventures next week brings. :)

One thing I would like to incorporate in our daily opening discussions -- if anyone has a suggestion, please share -- are morning devotions. I have "10 Minute Time-Outs for You and Your Kids" but it's more for older children. I am looking for something with more basic concepts we can discuss each day; for example, just talking about God's love and what that means - God loves us even when we make mistakes, etc.

Monday, September 13, 2010

First Day of School

We had a GREAT time this morning on our first day of school. The curriculum is really fun and easy to use.

We are keeping it basic this week, just sticking to the curriculum so we can get into the rhythm of how our days will go. Every day begins with an opening "circle" time. This is when we do the calendar and talk about the weather and season, and I just let Bug talk about whatever she is thinking/feeling at the moment. Then today's lesson had a story and we talked about "in and out" (had a bunch of things for her to put in and out of baskets, and there was a worksheet). Then we took a brief break where we made a fruit salad snack, and ate together and chatted. Then we did some coloring and played a game.

It only took us an hour to get through today's lesson, because Bug already knows what in and out mean - no time was needed to explain the concepts. Tomorrow we talk about "red" and that's nothing new either. I wavered between getting Pre-K or K, but since she's not 5 until June, I went with Pre-K. As I have said in previous posts, the main way kids this age learn and experience life is through play anyway, so play we will! :) She enjoyed everything we did - hearing a story and playing and doing art is all fun, even if the concepts aren't new. Also, next week I am adding in Handwriting Without Tears (we have done bits and pieces of it over the past year and she LOVES it), and soon after that I will add in music (we got the Discoveries in Music Enrichment package from Calvert, and I will also be teaching Bug piano lessons). By the end of this month, we should be doing 2 - 2.5 hours most days.

It was a lot of fun today and we are both excited to do it again tomorrow! :)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Geography Class

Here is how we have been learning so far - through fun! :) Because of this wonderful Melissa & Doug puzzle, the Bug knows a good chunk of the 50 states. Her favorites are Wyoming and Kentucky, because they have pictures of horses on them in this particular puzzle.

My goal is to continue using fun and games in our learning process as much as possible. It's amazing what children learn just through play time!

Our Learning Space

Pictures of the space where we learn and play:

Morning "Circle" Area
where we talk about what day it is, the weather, the month, the season,
and where we will do our morning storytime:

Learning Area:
Books are sorted by type (animals, learning to read, God, science, people/feelings, fairytales/classics, etc.)
Bins hold play-doh, learning games, and other fun activities
There are a couple shelves for puzzles and learning games/manipulatives
Other baskets have activity workbooks and coloring/sticker books
Hutch holds craft materials

"My" Shelves:
Top 2 shelves have old Mailbox issues and activity/teaching books & materials my MIL gave me; bottom 2 shelves have the Calvert curriculum and Handwriting without Tears materials
The science and math activities boxes are in there as well, also some misc. craft supplies that didn't fit in the hutch

And the play area -- playing is one of the most important (if not THE most important) components of learning as a child!

I love being organized. :)

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Background

How this all came about:

I am a stay at home mom to two girls - a 4 year old, henceforth called Bug, and a 5 month old who I shall refer to as Monkey. (Look at me studiously following the first rule of blogging - keep it anonymous!) I work about 8-10 hours per week from home doing bookkeeping-type duties for a mechanical engineering firm. Even before giving birth to my adorable little creatures, from the time I moved to Arizona (uh-oh, blew the anonymity with that one) in 2001, I have been worried about schooling our children. We are ranked 50th in the nation for education, and this concerns me greatly. (Although someone recently informed me that we are now at 49. We're moving up! Hurrah! :)) We have some good private schools, but the price tag is high. Especially with two children.

I was fortunate to grow up in excellent public school districts. I still remember my teachers' names, the things I learned, the friends I made... art class, music class, the enriching discussions that arose within the daily lessons. Unfortunately, because of "teaching to the standards" and huge class sizes, I am afraid that my daughters will not have the wonderful experiences I (and my husband) did. Far from it, in fact. I want to give my girls the best educational experience I can, as I believe education is the foundation for so much in life. As a result of a LOT of research over the past three years, I believe that homeschooling may be the answer for our family.

However, despite my excitement over the idea of homeschooling (awesome field trips! flexible schedule! getting to be hands-on with my daughters' education!), there is still part of me that thinks homeschooling is incredibly foreign and odd. So, we decided to do a test run, if you will. We are doing the Calvert Pre-K program at home this year with the Bug. Throughout this school year, we are going to see how everything feels. We also have a list of Kindergarten/elementary schools that we will be visiting, just to keep all our options open.

And I'm blogging about it. So people can follow along if they wish, I can have a place to record what we do, and well, because let's face it, blogging is fun! So, as my daughter would say, "Let's do this thing!" :)