Category: Trials and Successes


Last time I was here, I wrote my school year 2014-2015 roundup. Some things have changed since then, and although it’s the end of the year (and we’ve officially started our next school year), I wanted to put my thoughts on some changes I’ve made, and changes to come, here for any who are interested.

Chi is in what would otherwise be his 7th grade year. He completed the writing curriculum Writing with Ease by Peace Hill Press (which I cannot praise enough for the changes it has wrought in my so-reluctant-to-write-Aspie-that-he-had-less-writing-in-his-504-plan) early in the year and, of course, we moved on to the next phase of that series: Writing with Skill. We worked and worked through it and his writing became more and more reluctant. It felt like we weren’t getting anywhere no matter how much we did and Chi increasingly hated the lessons. So much so that he began having meltdowns.

Meltdowns are uncommon for him these days, and that made me realize this curriculum was no longer for us. And so began the months’ long search to find a writing curriculum that both of us liked.

The problem with most of the curricula I liked was that they were part of broader language arts programs and entirely too comprehensive, and thus more expensive, as a result. Also, integrated writing curricula tend to be extensions of other subjects: spelling, grammar, vocabulary, and reading comprehension and therefore more difficult and often confusing to use outside the whole.

I very much like the curricula we use for those other language arts subjects and don’t need more overlapping in those areas. So the search continued until I stumbled upon Brave Writer by Julia Bogart.

Brave Writer is a more comprehensive writing curriculum than Writing with Skill but only because it includes a nice reading comprehension component that pairs nicely with what we already do in that area. It also expands the concepts I was introduced to through Writing with Ease: daily copywork and dictation exercises as a bridge between reading and writing.

Originally, I wanted to buy the language arts bundle but  Chi’s level wasn’t yet released. So, after waiting for a couple of months and continuing my search elsewhere, I decided to buy the available components: The Writer’s Jungle.

I really like it. It’s not a scripted curriculum like we’re used to using, but more of a class for me to learn why these concepts, why they work, and how to implement them in my homeschool. So far it’s been great, and I liked it so much that I started using it with Pieces and Pynni.

The first thing I brought to our day was free writing. For Chi, this means writing a short story or part of one, making brainstorming lists about anything and everything that interests him (Minecraft), elaborating on the lists, or writing a journal type entry. For The Littles, that means drawing a picture (elaborateness is a personal choice) and writing about the picture in some way. There is no minimum number of words or lines or pages. There is no grammar or spelling checks. It is just a means to get them writing in a completely stress-free, non-judgmental environment. It has been completely freeing for them and Pynni has really taken to the task and run with it.

The grammar and spelling and sentence structure is being covered elsewhere. This isn’t about that.

The next two things are stuff we already do in First Language Lessons (our grammar curriculum), Writing with Ease, and All About Spelling: copywork and dictation. Right now, I haven’t expanded copywork and dictation outside of those subjects. Eventually, I will have expanded both within those subjects and without, but that’s another post.

Everything is trucking along now. The other components of Brave Writer were released since I began putting this post together. I’ll acquire that and integrate it this summer.

Summer is the time of year when I do a big reassessment of our goals and how to meet them. This summer has me doing a lot of research and learning, and this fall should bring some pretty big changes in how we go about our school day. Chi is in his 8th grade year and is still behind in math, but not by too much, so we need to push that along a little faster. It’s also time to start having him write some formal research papers. It will be his first. I’m not looking forward to it, but hopefully my work this summer will help me feel more up to the challenge of getting this reluctant writer of mine to write something not about Minecraft (although I’m thinking a history of Minecraft might be a good jumping off point).  Pynni is in her 5th grade year and is way, way behind. In fact, she tests at barely a third grade level. I have more information on that, but it won’t be delved into here. Suffice it to say that most of my work this summer will be integrating a bunch of resources into our school day to help her cope and advance. Pieces is starting his 3rd grade year and he is beyond that already according to his end of year test. He blows me away with how quickly he assimilates knowledge.

Whoo. It’s a crazy ride. I don’t always feel equal to the challenge, but giving up isn’t an option. So onward!

 

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Language Arts: spelling, reading, writing, grammar, vocabulary

Mathematics and Critical Thinking 

Extras: 

  • Handwriting Without Tears: all three kids with Pynni and Chi learning cursive
  • Snatch: a programming language for Chi
  • Kano by KANO Computing LTD.: initially for Chi, but will expand to the other two as I see how it works with him. (It’s a computer you build yourself. It uses Linux and Raspberry Pi and teaches the basics of programming)
  • A History of US by Joy Hakim: all three kids
  • R.E.A.L Science Odyssey by Pandia Press: all three kids
  • Supercharged Science  by Aurora Lipper: all three kids
  • Which Way USA? and Top Secret Adventures by Highlights: all three kids (this helps cover basic geography on top of what they learn in their history curriculum)
  • Piano Adventures by Faber: all three kids

Joint Reading:

  • Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling (We’ve been reading through the Harry Potter series. I thought I’d start including our group read-aloud books here, as well.)
  • The Scorch Trials by James Dashner (We finished the Harry Potter Series and started with the Maze Runner series. The books aren’t nearly the tomes of Harry Potter and makes for fast reading.)

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Whew, it’s been a while, I know. I could go into all the why’s, but it’s a long, very unhappy, story, but a) talking about it anymore might make me scream, b) it’s really not relevant to this blog other than the lack of blogging, and c) talking about it now feels like whining and very self-indulgent. But, now I’ve made you curious and that’s rude so I will say two things: 1)Depression and 2)Writer’s Block.

Ok, now that the obligatory “I’m sorry I wasn’t blogging and I’m going to write again, now, but I can’t promise this will be with any regularity” is out of the way, onward with the Curriculum Roundup for this school year 2014-2015.

Chi is in “7th” grade this year, Pynni is in “4th” grade this year, and Pieces is in “2nd” grade this year. Not a whole lot has changed about our curriculum except that Chi moved from Writing with Ease to Writing with Skill and we BOTH hated every second of it. So for now, until a)I find a writing curriculum that I like and b)Chi finishes his other language arts curricula except spelling, he is taking “Mom’s Writing 101” and learning some general things about essays and research and expositions, etc.

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Language Arts: spelling, reading, writing, grammar, vocabulary

  • All About Spelling by All About Learning Press: all three kids
  • All About Reading by All About Learning Press: Level 2 for both Pynni and Pieces (Pieces has caught up with Pynni and will pass her soon. They’ll both move on to Level 3 this year).
  • Explode the Code by Nancy Hall: Level 3.5 for Pynni and Level 3.5 for Pieces (they will be moving up to Level 4 in the near future)
  • Guinness Book of World Records Reading (comprehension): Chi (He is almost finished with the last book of this.)
  • Reading Detective by Critical Thinking Co.: Chi
  • Writing with Ease by Susan Wise Bauer: Pynni Level 2 and Pieces Level 1 (Chi finished WWE and moved on to Writing With Skill: commented on above)
  • First Language Lessons by Jessie Wise: all three kids although Chi is on the last level and will be finished with it shortly.
  • Vocabulit by Perfection Learning: all three kids

Mathematics and Critical Thinking 

  • Math U See by Demme Learning: all three kids
  • Mathematical Reasoning by Critical Thinking Co.: all three kids
  • Building Thinking Skills by Critical Thinking Co.: all three kids
  • Kumon Publishing North America, Inc.: My Book of Easy Telling Time; My Book of Telling Time; My First Book of Money:Counting Coins; My Book of Money: Dollars and Cents: Pynni and Pieces (They hated the time telling and money counting apps. I don’t know why because they seemed fun and well done to me, but these books have been very helpful and not so fraught with drama. They’ve both completed the time telling ones and can both tell time accurately on analog clocks. There are length, weight, and volume books that I will be using once the money counting books are done. Math U See covers time telling and money counting, but there wasn’t enough repetition, or hasn’t been yet, to really engrain the concepts).
  • Balance Benders:Logic and Algebraic Reasoning Puzzles by Critical Thinking Co.: Chi

Extras: 

  • Handwriting Without Tears: all three kids with Pynni and Chi learning cursive
  • Snatch: a programming language for Chi
  • Kano by KANO Computing LTD.: initially for Chi, but will expand to the other two as I see how it works with him. (It’s a computer you build yourself. It uses Linux and Raspberry Pi and teaches the basics of programming)
  • A History of US by Joy Hakim: all three kids
  • R.E.A.L Science Odyssey by Pandia Press: all three kids
  • Supercharged Science  by Aurora Lipper: all three kids
  • Which Way USA? and Top Secret Adventures by Highlights: all three kids (this helps cover basic geography on top of what they learn in their history curriculum)
  • Piano Adventures by Faber: all three kids

Joint Reading:

  • Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling (We’ve been reading through the Harry Potter series. I thought I’d start including our group read-aloud books here, as well.)

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I’m really happy with Math U See still and all of All About Learning Press’s stuff (All about Reading and All about Spelling). I really like Writing with Ease and First Language Lessons, but Writing with Skill (the next set of books after Writing with Ease) was just not something that was working for Chi. I felt like it shoved him into the deep end of writing without a flotation device when I’d just been teaching him to tread water.

So I’m looking long and hard at Michael Clay Thompson Language Arts Curriculum. It’s a comprehensive curriculum that includes vocabulary, grammar, reading comprehension, and writing. My biggest hesitation with this curriculum is that it IS comprehensive. What if one part of it doesn’t work for us? Also, we like Vocabulit very much, but maybe it wouldn’t hurt to have a little overlap in curricula. My second biggest hesitation is the cost, but then I spend quite a bit on Peace Hill Press books so that will cover some of the expense. I’m also a little hesitant because it is SO intensive, but I know I can pull back and slow down as needed.

In order to give MCT a shot, though, Chi has to complete First Language Lessons (grammar), Guiness World Records Reading (comprehension), and Reading Detective (comprehension). I have until then to decide. I see a trip to  the Homeschool Gathering Place (our local homeschool store) for knowledgeable input into this decision.

So, hello? How’ve you been? For me? It feels good to be back.

 

Wynni Penny Pie (or on this blog Pynni)

This post has been much harder to write than I thought it was going to be. For some reason, talking about Chi and any struggles we’ve had felt natural. I felt like talking about it helped me and may, in turn, help someone else. I’m struggling to view Pynni in this light.

For some reason, learning disorders feel so much more personal. It feels like it can change how people view you, how they treat you, how you view yourself.

Pynni made a comment to me the other day that hurt me to the core. She was skipping away from her school day and whirled around and smiled broadly at me and said, “I’m getting smarter and smarter!”

I said, “Babe, you’ve always been smart. You are learning more and more things.”

I said, “Reading has been hard for you, but that doesn’t make you not smart.”

She says, “Really?”

Oof. I thought I’d been pretty clear on how smart I thought she was, but SHE doesn’t view herself like that. I don’t want ANYONE to think she is any less smart than their over-achieving early readers because my sweet Wynni struggles in that area.

So there it is. Maybe, I’m the one with the issues. Reading was always very easy for me. I was one of those over-achieving early readers. I was like my oldest: big vocabulary, advanced reading level. Maybe, I’ve unknowingly judged people who didn’t read well and found them less smart than I. That’s changing right now.

Pynni was diagnosed with “Severe written language disorder” by the Speech Language Pathologist that Pieces sees for his speech therapy (I’ll call her SLP here). SWLD is characterized by difficulty sounding out phonemic words, letter reversals, omission and addition of phonemes, as well as, global errors, such as, reading words that are similar yet different (i.e. goes/gets, tale/tall, when/what).  SLP also noted that Pynni also demonstrated difficulty in the area of phonemic awareness in her attempts to sound out phonemic words. Such tasks often took greater than 10 seconds at which point the word was provided to her. She lacked confidence when decoding phonemic words and tended to guess a word if she did not recognize it, even after an attempt to decode it. Her fluency rate is negatively affecting her comprehension. She shows mild deficit in the area of phonemic awareness skills for encoding.

SLP noted that when Pynni was provided the word, she applied that knowledge to every recurrence of the word in the rest of the reading. Which is, apparently, not something many kids do when they are struggling with written language like she is.

There may be other components to this, and I’m prepared to find that there are other issues at play. Right now, though, this therapy is going to start addressing a large chunk of the issues Pynni has exhibited while reading.

We’ve only had two therapy sessions and a little bit of work to do at home, but I can see little bits of that natural self-confidence she has peaking out while she goes about her school work. There’s a lot of work do, yet, but little bits at a time seems to be what she needs.

 

All About Reading Success! AAR has help Pynni tremendously.

All About Reading Success! AAR has help Pynni tremendously.

I’ve documented the struggles I’ve had with Pynni in both math and mainly reading here on my blog, and those struggles have put her even further behind than she should be as she starts her 3rd grade year. On a much more positive note, she is flourishing and reading better and better and with more and more confidence. I can see, now that Pieces is reading, where the confidence deficit has really hurt her because she doesn’t try and read every word she comes across. Pieces tries to read every word he sees. He isn’t more advanced in his reading level, yet but, he is way more adventurous and less worried about getting a word wrong. Still, without Pieces as a gauge, she is doing much, much better. I’m so proud of her extra hard work and perseverance.

With that said, I still worry about her. When she writes, she still gets letters mixed up and backward. When she reads, it’s slow and painful. She often complains of her eyes hurting and headaches and being sick to her stomach. The complaining can seem, at times, to be a ploy to get to stop reading. It’s not a ploy and fall into, but I have been trying to teach her to take small breaks to give her eyes a rest. It doesn’t seem to help, but I think it makes her feel better that I’m listening to her problems and taking them seriously.

She is so smiley and happy and wonderful and then she has to read or write and she becomes something else. Not my Pie. She gets frustrated easily and will completely lose her shit during class. So I’ve been addressing that and trying my hardest not to get frustrated with her. I’m trying to teach her ways to help deal with debilitating frustration. I’ve given her leave to take mental health breaks. If she gets frustrated, or preferably, feels herself getting frustrated, then she can get up from the table and get a drink, take deep breaths, move on to something else for a bit, go upstairs to the quiet of her room and cry if she needs to. Of course, part of learning to deal with frustration is also to learn when the breaks need to be over and what sorts of things are acceptable during school to alleviate frustration. Hint: Getting online to play a game or chat with your friends are not acceptable.

But all of this seems to be dealing with symptoms only. It’s reactionary and I like to be proactive so I’ve done some reading; research, if you will. I’m going to have her assessed for dyslexia or some other reading/writing delay (dysgraphia?). I HOPE that an answer will be found here. I don’t WANT her to be dyslexic, but I do want strategies to deal with her difficulties. I DO want to help make her learning experience less frustrating. She may not ever LOVE reading, and as an avid reader I really struggle with that, but I would love to make school less odious for her.

Then this happened:

My kids read independently for a set period of time every day. Chi will read for pleasure outside of this set time period, but the two littles haven’t found that love for reading, yet. I decided to take them to the library. I’m not sure why it’s always the last thing I think of when talking and thinking about reading, but there you are. So, I took them to the library. Chi has a ton of books at home that he’s working through (have I mentioned I’m an avid reader?) and rarely wants to go to the library. Pieces and Pynni LOVE the library. I told them to get 7 books in their reading level. They ended up get 8 or 9 a piece and they were SOOPER excited to get home and start reading.

I would find both Pieces and Pynni reading outside the allotted time for the next week or so. It made me smile. Pynni told me she didn’t like reading unless it was a book she picked out. This was after asking the week before if she could just skip learning to read altogether. So progress, I think.

Anyway, I’m still having her tested. The issues she has are too consistent and too pervasive to ignore. I’ll keep you posted.

Things. Stuff.

Things. Stuff.

That’s all I’m going to say right now. Stuff and Things have happened; have been going on. I’m hoping to turn stuff and things into some posts. There are updates needed, I know.

Onward!

While we officially started our new school year in mid June, we didn’t really kick it into high gear until last week. This is our third year of school here at Lamp Post Academy. Chi is moving into the 6th grade, Pynni is starting on 3rd grade and Pieces is charging through 1st grade.

**Side Rant**

As a homeschooler, I really dislike this need for every kid to fit into a specific grade category. I get why it’s a thing for kids in public school, but here at home? We do whatever level we need to be doing. If Chi is struggling with a math concept, we will back up and take a harder look at it. If that doesn’t help, I will find a different resource to help explain the concept to him in a different manner. We will work on it as long as we need to. If a reading curriculum isn’t working for Pynni, I can switch it, but that generally means backing up to learn how that curriculum introduces concepts or explains them. What terminology they use for concepts.

So we end up, with Chi for example, being in early 5th grade in math, but 8th grade in grammar, and 11th grade in vocabulary and reading comprehension. He couldn’t write his way out of a cardboard box, but he can verbally address many subjects quite eloquently and with a vocabulary that will stun you. So you see? What grade is that really? Well, I guess we’ll just stick with the conventional “this is where you’d be if you were in public school” levels and continue on with our regularly scheduled programming.

**End Rant**

Chi age 11.75 beginning 6th grade; Pieces age 6.25 beginning 1st grade; and Pynni age 8.25 beginning 3rd grade.

Chi age 11.75 beginning 6th grade; Pieces age 6.25 beginning 1st grade; and Pynni age 8.25 beginning 3rd grade.

When we started with our homeschool adventure, I backed up with Chi and Pynni, and started behind where they were in public school. I did this for several reasons, but the two main ones were to get a good feel for their knowledge level without starting out ahead of where they ended their public school education (All curricula are different and teach things in differing orders and ways. It’s easy to start out and quickly come across a concept the curriculum has covered in previous books, but not one your child has ever seen.) and to start a few things from the beginning that, Chi especially, hated in school like writing and Pynni was shutting down doing like reading. In the end my strategy worked amazingly well, and I accomplished all the objectives I was working to meet, but it also set the kids up to be behind in all their subjects as pertains to grade level.

So now that I feel like I have a real handle on the homeschool thing and that I’ve sussed out all the correct curricula and that we’ve got a schooling system and organization that works great for us, I feel the need to press ahead. We, with the exception of Pieces, are behind our public school counterparts in some areas and I think we need to remedy that. Because it’s just the three of us, we can move exactly as fast as necessary moving forward in this school year without leaving anyone behind.

Last year we just sort of mosey’d along with our school days while I worked to figure out what was best for Pynni and Pieces; what worked for them. This year, we can really buckle down and get some learning done. Last year was figuring out how to integrate Pieces into our school days. Last year was meeting with a bunch of homeschool groups and doing a bunch of socializing to figure out what we like best. Last year was making friends and switching curricula whenever we needed to do so.

This year, we have it down. This year we are going to finish at grade level or above. Now, of course, I am aware that “things happen”. Yes. I do know that. So if it takes two school years to be all caught up or more then it takes that long.

Our goal, for this year however, is to be grade level in as many subjects as possible. I’ll keep you posted.

All About Reading Success!

All About Reading Success!

Sometimes, I feel that I jump around too much. Change my mind too much about what the right curriculum is for, well, Pynni mostly. Then, I started using Workboxes to organize our school day and help my kids be a little more independent in their learning and eventually take ownership of their learning. The workboxes work great because you can learn new things and review previous things all in one school day. They are also great because I don’t have to spend all day teaching each child individually, and instead, we can all have school simultaneously.

But filling those boxes takes some creativity, and I’ve been perfecting the right combination of topics all year. I’m feeling pretty confident with where we are at this current moment.

Firstly, I’ve decided to stick with All About Learning Press’s All About Reading. It has really helped Pynni work to build her confidence and overcome her block where reading is concerned. Pieces is really flying with it, also. I think those two things are worth the expense. AAR teaches the rules to reading so there is little memorization of sight words. Be still my heart.

So I’m using the Phonics stuff as a supplement until the kids finish it. I will continue to use Explode the Code because the curriculum is all workbook pages and the kids enjoy working on them. That along with AAR gives us plenty of  activities to fill in any empty spots in our workboxes. For Chi I use Critical Thinking Co’s, Reading Detective. It teaches how to read critically while teaching the various parts of stories both fiction and non-fiction. I also use Guiness Book of World Records Reading for reading comprehension with Chi. He reads a lot, but I like to keep an eye on it to make sure he is still progressing.

As for math, I switched Chi to and started Pieces on Math-U-See. We are all really liking it. I switched Pynni from Life of Fred to Singapore Math this year. It was okay. Pynni liked it a lot, but it was a lot of extra work for me and I do a lot of prep for school as it is. I felt that it wasn’t helping me teach her in a manner she was grasping. She would do the work, but I don’t think she was understanding why she was doing things the way the curriculum asked.

When we reached the end of the book it was a no brainer to switch. So I ordered her the correct level of Math-U-See instead of the next level of Singapore Math. I think it will be less stress for me and more straight forward for her. We start that this week.

I’ve been supplementing math with apps on the iPad. I use Splash Math by Study Pad for the various grade levels to great effect. It is a really great resource for practicing concepts in a non-traditional manner. I’ve also been using Study Pad’s Time app and Splash Money app to reinforce counting money and telling time with the two Littles. I’ve also incorporated Critical Thinking Co’s Mathematical Reasoning at the appropriate knowledge levels for each kid. It is another supplement that can be a stand alone curriculum. I’m all about the reinforcement.

I’m still using All About Learning Press’s All About Spelling for spelling. Pieces recently started that because I think it helps with being a better reader. I love this curriculum because it teaches spelling in a way that explains the rules and exceptions in a logical, progressive manner.

I use Susan Wise Bauer’s Writing with Ease for both Chi and Pynni. Pieces will start next school year. It teaches writing in a non-threatening way. I can not express enough how amazing this curriculum has been for Chi. I know there are many other factors at work here with the ease in his being and manner these days, but I can hold this particular curriculum up as a huge factor in that. Chi was almost completely against any form of writing. He hated it. He just flat wouldn’t do it, and Writing with Ease completely set all the stuff I knew about learning to write on its ear. Chi will write now, without any complaining. It’s still not his favorite, but he will do what is required when asked. It makes me so happy!

For grammar I use First Language Lessons. All three of the kids use the curriculum. I really like it. It’s very scripted, but it teaches in little bits that grow and repeat until the child gets it. All three of my kids are really thriving grammatically speaking.

For vocabulary, I use WordlyWise. I’ve tried doing other things for vocal, but this seems to be the best. It’s a little advanced for Pynni’s reading level so I haven’t started using it for her. Chi hates it, so we do it in small bites and I’ve added Spellingcity.com as a supplement to help reinforce the words he’s learning and to break up the amount of workbook work he has to do day after day.

I have all of the kids doing some logic type stuff; problem solving and the like. They all do Critical Thinking Co’s Building Thinking Skillsword ladders, and logic links.

For history, I use Susan Wise Bauer’s A Story of the World, and Joy Hakim’s A History of US  (world and US history respectively). Iuse Highlights Top Secret Adventures and Which Way USA for geography and social studies. I use SuperCharged Science for science along with Usborne Books about science.

For piano I use Piano Adventures by Nancy and Randall Faber both primer level and level 1. For foreign language I use Rosetta Stone: Spanish. For typing, I use Type to Learn 4. For handwriting, I use Handwriting Without Tears which teaches print and cursive. For computer science, I use Scratch by MIT and Lego Mindstorms NXT 2.0.

That’s pretty much it.

note: I do not work for any of the above mentioned companies and no one from any of the above mentioned companies as given me anything for mentioning them. Everything is my own opinion based upon experience with curricula I have purchased with my own money after my own research.

IMG_0777I went on a road trip to see my parents. I took my kids, my homeschool, my yarn, some E2 Happy snacks, and a bunch of good intentions. Well, the trip was great and the kids were very well behaved. I got to see my grandmother who has been in the hospital for some time. I crocheted her a hat that looked fab on her and spent a bunch of time running errands for her. It was good to see her spunk and spark, again.

We had school during the week days and the kids were great considering that it was a modified version of our workboxes. I expected a bit of an issue with Chi, but that didn’t happen. He was very amenable to the change. That is amazing. Chi. Flexible. Chi. Chill in the face of change. CRAZY and so amazing! I’ve said it here before, but homeschooling him has been the best decision I ever made.

I spent some time before my trip looking for quilt designs for a quilt my mom is making. We usually do it like this: I pick a design, find the pattern, choose the fabrics and help cut out the pieces. Mom puts all the squares together and assembles the quilt and does the quilting. She does all the sewing. Due to all the things I was in town to accomplish, that gave me several days to actually do some of the sewing.

Triangles together with thread

Triangles together with thread

It was a sort of newsflash for me. I LOVED it! And this time, I made the quilt design based on a photo I found of a quilt I liked. I took the whole project to a whole different place when picking out the fabrics. So much so, that Mom wasn’t sold on the idea until we started piecing it all together. It’s going to be really fabulous and I’ve discovered that I don’t hate sewing at all, let alone how much I thought I hated it.

Toward the end of the week, I went to watch some basketball in the 2nd and 3rd rounds of the NCAA tournament. College ball is always great and live College Round Ball is always super fun. It’s been a thing I’ve shared with my dad since junior high. There were a couple of downsides. The main one being that Rupp Arena is old and crappy and uncomfortable, but also Dad got sick and missed a couple of games. The b-ball was fun, in the end. I’m glad I went.

Rupp Arena runs Cardinal Red.

Rupp Arena runs Cardinal Red.

So that leaves us with the good intentions. So I did okay in the first few days of the trip. I wasn’t eating entirely vegan and not even close to E2 Happy, but I was making good choices. Choosing the vegetarian option, which almost always includes cheese, and the veg where possible. Admittedly, I didn’t make any special efforts, like ordering things not on the menu and giving special dietary cooking instructions to the waitstaff.

My downfall is, and has ever been, soda. I don’t like artificial sweeteners of any stripe. They are just awful tasting to me. So when I have a soda, I go all out. For some reason, when I’m drinking soda, my inhibitions in other places, dietarily speaking, gets completely shot. It’s hard for me to resist sodas when I’m on a road trip. I don’t know why, but it probably has something to do with rationalizing wanting a caffeine boost, but not wanting coffee in the middle of the day. Perfect recipe for the drinking of sodas. And this road trip was 10-ish hours to my parents’ house one day followed by 6-ish hours to my grandmother’s house the following day. Doubled for the return trips. Lots of driving. Lots of time to convince myself I could have a soda.

So I did.

The rest of the trip/visit followed suit and my good intentions paved my way into food choice hell. But, I’m home now, and I’m recommitted. I want this to work. I want to be healthier. I don’t want to have a heart attack before 40. I don’t want to end up a diabetic because I can’t give up the damn sodas. I’m working hard to not beat myself up over the lapse, and just move forward, one food choice at a time.

The thing about homeschooling is there are so MANY choices. I could choose to go any direction in any subject I want. I new from the beginning that Unschooling would not work for us. It is too unstructured. I seek structure and life with Chi requires structure. I, originally, wanted to do Classical Education with my kids and read the book The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise-Bauer and Jessie Bauer. It was very informative and helpful in choosing what curricula I started out using with my kids.

Well, as it turns out, Classical Education is FINE in THEORY, but not so much in implementation in my household. Memorizing everything under the sun works for Chi and Pieces (Pieces is practically a memorization prodigy, and I thought Chi was amazing at memorization), but Pynni HATE-HATE-HATE-HATES it. So it’s not working for her. As you know, if you’ve read anything of my blog in the past, not much I started out using worked for Pynni at all. I’ve changed things around for Chi, too, but not as much as I have for Pynni.

Now we’d started out using Saxon Math, Pynni and I. It is very dense, very comprehensive, very expensive, VERY BORING. At least if one is Pynni Pi, which she is. I realized a few months in to school last year, that even I dreaded the opening of that tome of mathematics. So I went to the Homeschool Gathering Place to research and ask questions. I came away with Life of Fred: Apples. I was excited. Literary math! Who knew?

Pynni has loved it. Me? Not so much. I remain unconvinced that she is getting everything out of the reading that is expected of her. There are many large concepts she just isn’t getting. I keep having to break out other mathematics resources to fill in, what feels like, giant gaps in her knowledge and understanding. That isn’t working for me. If we switch away from Fred, Pynni will be very upset with me.

For now, I’m working with Critical Thinking math workbooks and using the Math-U-See curriculum (which is what I’m using with the boys) to fill in the blanks, but it feels like a lot of extra work, when just switching to Math-U-See would work just as well all on it’s own. Or maybe I should switch to a whole other math curriculum? Singapore Math has all the pictures and color that Pynni could want, like the Critical Thinking books, but it comes with instructional material. ugh.

So the evolution of my homeschool continues.

I’ve occasionally looked around to find a “schooling” philosophy to follow, but I’ve decided to have my own philosophy and teach my kids the way that works. I’ve met many families who homeschool through various functions and get-togethers and I’ve discovered that really, no two home schools are alike. Which is fitting, really, when you consider how different each individual child is and how amazing home school can be at catering to the individual. I know it’s why we chose to homeschool, and why we will continue to do so.

Even cousins and neighborhood friends joined in.

This has been the summer of science. Summer is now done and we didn’t get to do nearly as much as I’d wanted. That’s mostly due to me. My back. Hi, Internet, have you met my back? It is the ruiner of fun, the pooper of the party.

I take copious notes for each lab. I know how to take notes because I had Mrs. Loyless in 8th, 9th, 10th, and 11th grades.

I’ve been laid up with back suckage most of the summer, but the few days that I’ve been able to DO things, we’ve done science labs. These labs have been ROCKIN’! I signed up for this deal for a summer science camp from Supercharged Science for an e-class type summer camp. It’s run by me and I’ve probably spent more time getting ready for the classes than the website suggests that I do, but I like to be prepared.

We learned about air pressure. We learned about Bernoulli’s Law. We learned about flight. We did experiments dealing with air pressure using water. We made a Cartesian Diver which demonstrates air pressure. We explored Bernoulli’s Law by playing around with a windbag made from Diaper Genie bags. We built a variety of paper airplanes and birch wood airplanes. Mainly, we had fun while the kids (and the adults, too) learned new things. (I failed to document these experiments photographically)

Using a battery pack, alligator clip wire leads, and LED’s, we learned about the flow of electricity and that diodes are “one way streets” for electricity.

We did get to go to my parents’ house toward the end of summer to see DJ and Mae and their dad. Abshie and Timmus came with us. I brought along the necessary lab supplies.

The first thing we did was learn about molecules and their parts. We learned about electrons and ions and electricity. We learned some basics through some static electricity experiments, during which we made our hair stand on end with a balloon, picked up styrofoam peanuts and bits of confetti, spun a meter stick around as it balanced on a spoon, and bent a stream of water. All with a balloon!

Motor and a rheostat

Then we broke out the electrical components and built simple circuits. First we lit up LED’s. We learned about making a series with the LED’s. Then we learned about conductivity. I gave the kids a list of things and asked them if they thought those things would conduct electricity. We tested their answers with our simple circuits. We learned about amps vs volts to find out why our little circuits weren’t a danger to us.

Simple switches made with index cards, brass fasteners, and paperclips.

We modified this simple circuit in a few ways. First we put buzzers in place of the LED’s. Then we added a push-button type switch so we could control the buzzer sound. Then we learned the concept of the switch by making one out of an index card, brass fasteners and paperclips. We learned that switches are like stoplights for electrons.

Adding switches.

We added motors that turn clockwise or counterclockwise based on the polarity. I couldn’t find propellers that fit these motors anywhere so we improvised with tags made of duct tape (this was the kids’ favorite part, I think). This helped to reinforce the idea of positive and negative. We replaced the switches with rheostats and potentiometers. We learned that these devices can control the speed of the motors by limiting the electrical current passing through them. We learned that rheostats were the best at motor speed control as they seemed to be more sensitive and able to run the motor at very low speeds.

DPDT switch made from an index card, brass fasteners and paper clips.

Then we upped the difficulty level and made double pole double throw (DPDT) switches. It’s a concept used in “4-way” switches which allow you to turn one light off and on from multiple locations.

Motor and potentiometer

We took these circuits and applied them to “robots” a few days later. But that’s a whole other post.

Some more pics from our circuits lab.

We almost couldn’t move on from this because they liked it SO much!

****NOTE***** “Droppin’ Science Like Galileo Dropped the Orange” is original to the Beastie Boys. It is from the song Sounds of Science from their Paul’s Boutique album.

Even The Littles got in on the circuit action.

Everyone was very proud of the circuits they made that worked.

School Table Before Workboxes (and that’s the part I’m willing to show in public)

We’ve been homeschooling for entire calendar year. Wednesday (22nd of Aug) is our official anniversary.

One of the things I’ve been struggling with the most, outside of my back, is getting anything else done at all besides school. When I’m down with my back the number of things besides school getting accomplished falls to zero. Times like now, when I’m sort of up, but waiting on the referral for physical therapy, and trying to accomplish things without rehurting (yes, that is a word! I have LIVED it.) myself, I get very little done outside of school. Dinner gets made. The occasional load of laundry gets done. A few things get picked up here and there. Some cat hair gets swept. I may take a shower. The kids appoints are met. That’s about it.

I, mostly, “do school” and plan to “do school”. (Again, this is a legitimate action verb and direct object, just ask Chi.) Those things listed above fill in the spaces along with back icing and laying (I am the most productive person EVER). Even though I spend most of my time on school or preparing for school, we rarely get through every subject every day. If I work with each kid for three hours, I’m teaching for 9 hours and that does not account for preparation. Three hours of school for a kid is GREAT! But 9 hours of school for me isn’t so much. I don’t mind, really, but I wish we were more organized, more efficient.

Enter Workboxes. Workboxing is a system designed by homeschooling mom, Sue Patrick. It is brilliant. If you google “workbox system” you will find all kinds of people who have adapted this to their homeschooling. There are photos and ideas. It’s excellent.

Took a while, but finally all parts are together and put where they go. Ready for school!

Chi’s workboxes.

The idea of the workbox system is to divide your child’s school day up into twelve, easy to swallow, portions that include new material and review. The boxes should be diverse in nature so that your child does not get bored with some easy tasks and a few challenging ones. There should be many tasks that require your child to work alone and a few that require work with Mom (or Dad, you know, whoever is doing the teaching). Thus, teaching your homeschooled children independence in their school work, which is something that can be difficult to do when the one on one time can be pretty constant.

The over all concept is a little more complicated than that, but you get the idea.

Here is our school table after the workboxes are filled. There’s room to work!

We took the week off school so that I could get this thing implemented. The work up front is pretty intensive, and on the whole, won’t really cut down my school prep time, but the actual school time will be slashed dramatically. Also, this system will keep us better organized and on task. I’ll keep you posted on how it’s going and what my thoughts are as we go along.

With all the “back to school” things everywhere, it’s funny how implementing this workboxing thing is like the mark of a new school year for us.

edit: I’ve found in the few days since implementing the workbox system that if I plan ahead, the daily prep takes about twenty minutes. MUCH better than before. A surprising, but welcome, development. And with all three breaks, the kids take about three and a half hours to get through all their subjects. In September we will start rotating history and science with the social studies we’re doing now. Pynni wasn’t too thrilled with the length of time working at first, but she’s come around now that she doesn’t have me looking over her shoulder for her entire school day. Chi took a day or so to acclimate and really struggled with the change, initially, but I expected that to be the case, even considering all the prep work I did with him. Pieces is Pieces and school is his mission while he’s doing it, whatever form that takes.