Monday, November 25, 2013

Gobble Gobble

Happy Thanksgiving! :)  We are doing light school this week, so I'm taking a moment to come up for air and do a blog post.

Over the past month, we have switched a few things around.  The big change is our new school room!! It is SO NICE to have a designated space for our learning. With shelves for storage. And a HUGE dry erase board. And did I mention the shelves?? And storage?? I'm loving it. So much. :)

The next biggest change is our math curriculum.  We were doing Math in Focus, which was fine. But it didn't go with our learning styles here.  Buggy and I get kind of bogged down and bored when there is only. one. thing. at a time.  We both enjoy variety and a faster pace.  So we switched to Horizons (and I just accidentally typed Verizon instead.... ha!) and it's really fun.  After we did a "zoom review" through the chapters we knew, we are on track with where we belong.  This month, Buggy has learned to tell time on an "old fashioned" clock, adding & subtracting 4-digit numbers, skip counting 3s, 4s, 6s, etc., and how to multiply.  It's much more interesting. For both of us. :)

And we also started a new spelling curriculum - All About Spelling.  It's a little slow starting out with it, because we began with Level 1 as they advise and it's pretty basic.  It lays the foundation for the whole program so it's important (for example, instead of saying "buh" for B, we have re-trained ourselves to say just "b" -- I'm not explaining it well... look it up online!! It's pretty cool stuff).  I really like how it is going to teach Bug all the rules for spelling, so she isn't just memorizing a list of words each week and then promptly forgetting it when the next week's words come out.  The neat part of it being so basic is that Lulu has been able to join in some lessons. She knows all the letter sounds from her Leap Frog DVD, so she can participate too!

She also helped alphabetize the letter tiles. Sort of.  It went a little downhill after D.... she likes to do things wrong to be funny. She is a character.... teaching her will be interesting :) :) And entertaining!

That's it for now!! This week I am finishing up our new schoolroom and starting to prep for the second half of the school year. Whee!!! :)

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Question. (and yaay! organizing!)

Several people have asked me lately, "So how is homeschooling going? Are you totally stressed? Are you getting out enough? How are you holding up!?" and other questions along those lines.  My answer shocks most people -- I actually am more relaxed and happy than I have been in years.  After getting stumped the first time someone responded with, "How!??! Why!?!?", I gave it some thought.  It's a valid question. I have my kids home all!day! every day.  I rarely have time completely to myself.  I have added a lot of work & pressure to my life by taking on this whole homeschool thing.  Shouldn't this all translate to being a kazillion and three times more stressed than I was last year at this time???

After pondering it for awhile, I realized that the answer has two parts ---

1. Homeschooling has slowed our lives down. We have opted out of the kiddy rat race that school can become.  And for us, we knew there were holes in Bug's education, so we also were supplementing when we could.  I never felt like we were doing enough to fill in those gaps, and that was super-stressful for me.  We have a lovely routine to our days now, and I am loving it.  Also, it's not like during the summer, where everyone is crazypants by the end. That was a concern of mine at the beginning of August.  Everyone was yelling at each other and all the fun summertime relaxation that seemed wonderful in June was just making everyone crabby.  While this was happening and I was putting together lesson plans, I kept thinking "OMG you are insane, woman!! Get them out of the house and take a BREAK!"  But the whole vibe changed once we started our school routine. (Whew!) And as far as "me time", the girls have quiet time in their room every afternoon for an hour or two.  During that time, I *make* myself rest, either with a book or catching up on TV. I relax. Sometimes I even close my eyes for a few moments. :)  I do the same in the evenings after everyone is in bed. And bedtime during the school week is nice and early, at 7:30.  So I get a couple of hours to myself each night.

2. It's such a relief to finally be homeschooling.  I have felt the pull to do this since Bug was a wee one, probably about 2 or 3?  For whatever reason, I really feel in my bones that this is right for us. That is a more nebulous answer than #1, but there you have it.  To finally be diving in and doing it feels SO right to me.  It's a relief to not fight it or worry about it, and just do it.  A huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders.


As you can probably tell from my posts, homeschool is working for us, so this is not going to be a temporary situation.  And, as most of you also know, I love a good organizing/decorating project!! :) So I am working to create a more permanent school room.  Right now we have a nice set up, but it's in our dining room with things piled into every nook & cranny I could find out there.  I'm really excited to get a HUGE dry erase board, a school table, and get all my school stuff organized in a more functional way. It will also be nice to get it tucked away into its own space.  This will happen during the week of Thanksgiving, which is our first big break this year.  So, be warned, there will be lots of pictures and posts about the new schoolroom!! :)

I hope everyone is enjoying all the holiday activities this weekend! Happy Fall! :)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Catching Up

I was reminded last week that I haven't been blogging very much.  Oops! :) I'll try to update more.

So, we have finished seven weeks of homeschooling, and I'm ready to call this as one of the best decisions I have ever made. Seriously.  I have had so many moments where I want to freeze time and savor whatever is happening. Some examples: the light bulb going on over Bug's head during a math lesson and the excitement in her eyes, and how she wants to do "just one more!" problem to practice her new skill; when I get to witness my girls laying the foundation for a lifelong friendship; Bug teaching Lulu after she finishes her work; and just those times when I think "Wow, this is amazing that we can do this!"  Those times are quite frequent. The flexibility we have, the latitude to study what we find interesting -- I have not yet come across a downside on this journey.

Last week we wrapped up a few things, and we are about to start some new material.

  • We have finished Alice in Wonderland. The lapbook and book report are completed, and we are ready to start Black Beauty this week.  As you can imagine, Buggy is much more excited about this book. :)  
  • We completed our unit on Picasso and are ready to start Van Gogh.  It's so cool that Bug now knows famous Picasso paintings and can talk about the style of painting he used and what influenced his different painting periods. (Add that to the list of "happy moments" above!)  
  • We are about to start Chapter 3 in our Math in Focus book.  We are *loving* this book. It's very user-friendly for both mom and child.  So far, we have reviewed adding and carrying numbers to add up to 1,000, and then we did subtracting with borrowing (although Bug pointed out that it should be called "stealing" because the tens or ones columns do not give the 1 back...) and subtracting "across zeroes".
  • We are done learning about the Southwestern and Western regions of the US.  Right now, we are reviewing both regions, making sure all the capitals, landmarks, and land forms are memorized before we move on to the Midwest.
  • We are *almost* done with Bach --- we did the different orchestral music periods and types of instruments, and now are listening to various Bach pieces and discussing what we hear.  Handel is next.

  • Science -- I've talked a bit about this in previous posts, but we learned about atoms & matter, and we just finished up a unit on the Animal Kingdoms. This week we will start a month-long unit on rocks & minerals.
  • Spelling - we are going to switch gears on this one after Thanksgiving.  I am not pleased with just memorizing 16 words each week.  I don't feel like Bug is "getting" the rules of spelling or retaining the spelling words beyond the weekly tests.  So I am researching spelling curriculum to find something that would give more information and help Bug in this area.  In the meantime, I'm not going to waste our time with the "old way", and are tabling spelling lessons until December or maybe January.
  • Grammar - chugging along, we do a lesson each morning -- I started her on Level 1 because I thought there may be some gaps, and we are approaching those gaps in the coming weeks. (Singular and Plural Nouns, Verbs, Adverbs, etc.)
  • Reading/Writing - we are talking about the parts of a story, and Bug is working on writing a book.  We are plotting out the conflicts and resolutions, and she is making notes a few times a week about characters and ideas she has.  This should be completed by the end of October.

That about covers what we have been doing! :) Every Tuesday Bug does a PE class with our homeschool group, and then we hang at the park with everyone for an hour or so.  Each week there is a different activity - Lego club, Show & Tell, Cycling Group, etc.  We are all making new friends and feeling pretty at home with this group.

Alright, time to get back to planning and organizing!! I will work on posting more often so it's not such a novella each time.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

She blinded me with...

SCIENCE! OK that was dorky. Sorry. :)

Aaaaanyway --- today's post is indeed about Science.  I will readily admit that Science, especially Biology, is not my cup of tea.  I did not enjoy dissecting a worm (all I can remember about that is I smashed the poor thing's gonads when I sliced it open), and I can will never forget the scent of formaldehyde along with the image of someone making their frog do a funny dance, when we were doing THAT exciting lesson. Blech.  I have always been much more interested in the "why" rather than the "how", when it comes to humans and animals.  What I mean by that is -- I'd much rather dissect (ew) someone's behavior and figure out what past events or hereditary traits are causing their current state than delve into their brain and talk about neurons and DNA and zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...  And on the flipside from boredom, hearing about someone's broken finger or sprained ankle or, heaven forbid, WOUND (just typing that word made my wrists go weak and I had to stop typing for a moment) makes me have to put my head between my knees.  In my mid-20s, I had to bring my mother along with me to my pre-tonsillectomy doctor's appointments because when he started talking about what they would do, I turned green and the world turned fuzzy.  They even had to pull out the smelling salts at one point.  In summary, Kiki + Biology = no bueno, and being a nurse or doctor was never on my list of dream jobs.

However, I did always think it would be cool to be a storm tracker.  And earth sciences are pretty darn interesting.  Tectonic plates, earthquakes, volcanoes --- COOL. (or hot, really, I suppose)  The stars, planets, space -- also cool.  So I'm not totally a buzzkill about the sciences. :)  Just the ones that deal with innards, I guess.

My dad was a Chemist and now my brother is, too.  Chemistry can be interesting - cool experiments and analyzing, figuring out how many electrons are needed for bonding, etc (I love math, so I did enjoy all of that) - so I thought we would start with a Chemistry program I found online.  We dove right in and.... Snoozefest 2013.  Buggy did find the basics of it interesting -- what matter is, atoms, thinking about how tiny they must be -- all that good stuff.  But then... eyes glazed over.  For both of us, frankly.  The experiments and lessons are pretty dry. In my opinion, more for 5th grade than K-4.  Sooo -- we finished our lessons about matter, atoms, and bonds, memorized some terms, and then shut the book (literally) on that one.

We are now doing something much more exciting and FUN! Our homeschool group has a Science Club.  September was all about Weather. So - we kept a weather journal at home with the high temps, the wind direction, the barometric pressure, and the rainfall.  We looked at the journal and discussed any trends we noticed.  We poked around online and talked about earthquakes and tornadoes.  We watched some tsunami and flooding footage.  I showed Bug all the stuff about tectonic plates and fault lines.  Then, we went to our Science Club on Monday, and Bug made a tornado using two 2-liter bottles. So. AWESOME.

See the cute & tiny tornado?

Of course, it's glittery blue water, which makes it even more epic. :)

The kids also made lightning and thunder and learned about rain, and it was just all around pretty darn cool. The conversations that these kids had while doing everything were really neat.  I was glad we had learned about electrons, because there was discussion about electrons inside clouds in the lightning group.  Buggy was able to put together what she had learned with this and it made sense to her. :)

October is all about Animals, so Bug is a bundle of excitement about that!! In the weeks leading up to that next meeting, we are going to learn about animal classifications and habitats, and do all sorts of fun things.

Because Science = SUPER AWESOME FUN at the Cactus Schoolhouse. :)

Monday, September 16, 2013

Lovely Lulu

Going into this homeschool year, I had a pretty good idea of how things would go with Bug.  I spent a few years being her teacher before she went off to Kindergarten, and even then we did some activities in the afternoons together. I know how she learns, and she is a dream to teach. :)  Lulu was the wild card - partly because she is 3, and I was wondering how that would work, teaching a 2nd grader with a not-quite-a-preschooler underfoot.  But also because she has nuances to her personality that are different than her big sister's, and I knew I would have to get to know her in an educational environment to see what activities work best for her.  That is one of the many reasons we are homeschooling -- tailoring the girls' education to their personal learning styles!  A lovely bonus to just having two students. :)

As I have mentioned before, we are using this Letter of the Week program.  There is a LOT in there, so I printed out the things I thought Lulu might want to try, and we're going from there. So far, she has been a big fan of the Leap Frog Letter  Factory DVD, reading books (this is a newer development, sitting still for a story or two), Play-Doh, and coloring.  She also really enjoys painting, whether it's on paper with watercolors, or with water on the walls.  From the LOTW program, here are some pictures of what she is loving (and asking for each week!):

Circle magnets to fill in the letter of the week

Do-a-Dot markers in the shape of each week's letter...
...which ends up looking like this when she is done :)

Counting something that coordinates with the letter of the week (Apple seeds for A), finding the number, and gluing it to the page next to it.

We have also played some learning games (Memory, Dominoes, Candy Land), and she really enjoys those as well.  So far, so good -- her attention span is obviously shorter than Buggy's, but each week she gets more into it.  Whew!  I'm always looking for ideas on occupying a preschooler while an older sibling is learning -- so please share. :)

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Big Reveal...

As promised, here is the finished project from my last blog post. :) It's a Texas Covered Chuck Wagon!! From our Road Trip USA curriculum.

Wasn't that exciting? :)

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Week 1 - Alice, Apples, & Atoms, oh my!

We did it! We survived our first week of homeschooling.  And --- we had a blast!!! :) It was everything I dreamed it could be. I know it's only the first week, but it really felt so perfect.  The rhythm, the learning, all of it - we just settled right in and found our groove pretty quickly. Whew!

So, here are some highlights:

A is for Apple!

Ten Apples up on Top
Some of Week 1's handiwork

The number jumping game was a hit ~ and Buggy even joined in as the "number caller".  Which leads me to one of my favorite things about this week.  When Bug finished up her work, she helped me lead Lulu in her activities.  :)  It was very sweet!

Thanks to the Internet, I found a creative way to reinforce the lesson about atoms.  The curriculum we got may be a wee bit too dry, but it's very comprehensive and Bug **loves** science.  Thanks to all my friends out in the Facebook world, we also now have many neat ideas for experiments and ways to keep science FUN!

Speaking of science, we had our first official Cactus Schoolhouse field trip, to the Arizona Science Center!  What a great place!!!! We walked around for 3 hours, and still didn't see all there was to see. We will definitely be returning sometime soon.

Sesame Street Feet!

We have to get one of these!!!! SO cool.

You know my girls loved to be able to talk about poop without getting the "bathroom talk" lecture!!!

If only Lulu would actually eat this healthy! :)

Making a vortex - SOOO cool.

Feats of strength

Spinning around & around & around...

This was my favorite. So cute :) Dust trees "dancing" to the music. :)

I see you!

And.... stay tuned to see pictures of Buggy's first lapbook (Alice in Wonderland), and to find out what this will become! :)

Sunday, August 25, 2013

'Twas the night before homeschool...

Tomorrow is the BIG DAY!! Bug's first day of 2nd grade AT HOME, and Lulu's first day of Tot School or Preschool or Tagging Along School. :)  

So, before we dive into all this fun enriching goodness, I thought I would take a moment to share what curriculum/programs we are using for the girls. 

Ms. Buggy:
Grammar: Growing with Grammar - Level 1 (starting out at 1 because I don't think she learned some of the items in this book yet - back to basics!)
Social Studies: Road Trip USA
P.E. & Music: Bug will join swim team in October and start some sort of music class this fall as well (along the lines of choir or piano lessons). We will also be doing a weekly P.E. day with the homeschool group. We are taking September "off" from any extras so we can settle in and find our groove before over-committing!

Lulu Monkey:

Whew. I think that covers it! :)  I think I'm ready to go.... I am equal parts excited and terrified.  Thanks for all the support!!!  I'll be back with a report later this week!!!


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Big News!! (Finally...)

If you have had a conversation with me that lasted longer than 5 minutes in the past four years, chances are I have mentioned that we considered homeschooling.  If you have read my blog(s), you know that the word "considered" could be replaced with "obsessed over and tried preschool at home... then we almost did Kindergarten at home, and then didn't, and then obsessed some more... and read lots of books & blogs & statistics... and then didn't homeschool... but really wanted to... " and on and on and on.  From the day I first realized that the schools down here in my state were made of different stuff from the ones I went to in Illinois & Pennsylvania, even before I had children, education has been a hot topic for me.  Every Spring, I do mass amounts of Google searches to see what next year's budget cuts look like.  I check the latest school scores & test results.  I discuss education with anyone who wants to talk about it (who is practically every mom I meet here, it's on all of our minds!) to see what their kids' experience has been in their school.  At least once or twice a year, I come back to the idea of homeschooling and longingly read homeschooling blogs and check in with my homeschooling friends.

But both hubby and I would both get stuck at the final roadblocks of: "It's just so weird" and "What if we screw up our kids?" And we couldn't get past those two worries.

Until now.

Starting this fall, we are going to homeschool the girls.  Buggy will be in 2nd Grade and Lulu will start what many online call "Tot School" -- she is 3, and will mainly do manipulative activities and shapes and letters.  And just tag along for a lot of Buggy's lessons, too, I'm sure.

To answer the inevitable questions:

1. No, there was nothing wrong at either of Buggy's schools.  We loved her Kindergarten class.  The teacher was amazing, and it was a great experience.  12 kids, half day... perfection.  But even during that year, her teacher and I talked about the state of education and how homeschooling can be a great alternative.  She encouraged me along this path.  We switched from that school during 1st grade because ... it got kinda boring.  It wasn't an enriching experience overall for Bug.  So, I decided to not drive a total of 2 hours every day (which Lulu HATED) for something that wasn't worth it.

The second school was also fine.  Although we lost art and science (I recently discovered that they did not do any science experiments there during first grade, eek!), we gained a *fantastic* and challenging reading program.  Bug loves to read, and this was the extra "something" she had been missing at the other school.  We also loved being part of our community.  And a lot of "extras" that rounded out the educational experience.

But... it still wasn't as amazingly wonderful as I envisioned homeschooling to be.

2.  Yes, we will socialize!!! I am starting a Brownie troop this fall, Bug is on swim team, and we will do other classes/activities/clubs at the Y and in our community.  We do church activities.  We also have several homeschool groups available - we just have to find which one is the right fit for us.  These groups meet every week, have clubs, PE classes, get together for group events, etc.  There is a big group of homeschoolers in my area, and that will be a blessing to us as we find our way.  But, we will not be hermits, and my kids will be "socialized".

3.  We are not going to "unschool".  We are using math and language curriculum.  We are doing Social Studies (this year so far I have planned Road Trip USA with hefty doses of American history, and then moving on to world history) & Science (chemistry to start, then biology), art history, and music (piano lessons, and also learning about composers)... There will be daily creative writing in a journal. There will be spelling tests. I have a daily schedule (of course! :)) and the lesson plans for this fall all planned out day by day.  Not that there is anything wrong with unschooling, it just is not for us right now.

I'm very willing to answer more questions if anyone has them. I realize that this choice is different than what the majority of my friends are doing, and if I were you guys, I would be curious! :) This has been a long process to get here, and I am excited and terrified at the same time.  Despite my fears, I am diving headfirst into this, hoping and trusting that this truly is right for us.

Thank you for the support you all have given me on this journey.  Keep the support and prayers coming please!! :) I need it now more than ever. :)  I will be using this blog to document our adventure, so stay tuned!!!


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

We're baaack. :)

We disappeared for awhile, because we switched Buggy's school after Thanksgiving last year.  It was a great decision and we have no regrets.  She now gets to ride the bus and go to school with the kids in our neighborhood & from our church.  She is more challenged at this school, so we no longer are doing "after-school school".  Partly because her brain is ready for a break when she gets home, and also because she has about an hour of homework each night.  So she comes home, has a snack, PLAYS, and then does homework.  This school has more opportunities for after-school activities and "extras", too, which we love.  Everything feels much more well-rounded, and we are all happier.

We made the decision to keep Lulu home for (3 year old) preschool, at least for the 2013-14 school year.  Buggy's new school has full-day Kindergarten as the default, so I am pondering what preparation Lulu needs for that.  Whether schooling @ home and going to structured activities during the week would be enough, or if she would benefit from some preschool in a school environment.  We will revisit that next year at this time, I'm sure. :)

So I am sorting through all the preschool materials that I used with Buggy, and checking Pinterest to see what other fun ideas are out there.  I am very excited to work with Lulu and figure out her learning style.  So far, we have done manipulatives, patterns, Memory game, puzzles, etc.  Just your basic hands-on pre-math and pre-reading activities.  She is a funny one -- likes to choose the wrong answer to be comical, randomly jumping up and doing a dance, or grabbing the pieces and taking them to the other side of the house to add to her toy stash.  She also is much more outspoken than Natalie, so this will be an adventure!!  She now is more into crafts, too -- we do painting and Play-doh quite often around here.  She was not feeling the Letter a Week program, so we put that on hold for a bit.  I will probably break that out again this summer, along with Buggy's Road Trip USA.

I'm very excited about starting Lulu's education journey, and about getting back to this blog.  Life at home with two little ones is an interesting experience, and putting something in writing about what we are doing helps my Type A self see what we are accomplishing. :)  Because some days? It feels like nothing gets done!!!

Happy Spring!