Friday, October 31, 2014

October, in and out again

Is it really already the last day of October?  Halloween already! I love having a six-year-old at Halloween, she is so excited about today. She really, really wants to bob for apples...I think because they do it in It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown and most of her Halloween picture books. So we will be doing that this morning. I think her brothers will be happy to join her.  I also plan to do picture study for the first time all year... we have been slacking off in that department. We will be looking at this Grandma Moses print, very appropriate and fun for today! I wanted to do our picture study earlier in the week, but the printer was not cooperating in printing out a copy for everyone. Technology really drives me bonkers some days. Most days, actually.

What else? I think we will watch The Great Pumpkin again, because we only watched it once and really that just isn't enough. Today that is definitely more important than math lessons. Rose and I read a big stack of Halloween picture books yesterday. I hope she still wants to read them next Halloween. We made some witch hat cookies and brooms yesterday. Lots of fun, and very easy. Today we need to make some more treats to take along to a Halloween party, but I am not sure yet what they will be. Something with candy corn, most likely! After the party we will eat a quick dinner before heading out to trick-or-treat, all except Grace, who wants to stay home and get ready for NaNoWriMo. She is very excited about that this year. Christopher is going to do it too, but he isn't giving up trick-or-treating for it.  I am a little jealous, actually. Maybe I will NaNoWriMo next year. James and Christopher both have beards as part of their costume this year. I warned them about beards, but they really wanted them. They wore them to a party last weekend and realized why I had warned them. They are itchy. But they are going to see it through and wear their costumes as planned.

My favorite part of Halloween is when trick-or-treating is over and we are back home and the kids have candy spread all over the living room and hopefully everyone is happy and on a bit of a sugar high. I like the getting ready and the walking around in the dark with flashlights too, but I am always a little relieved to get back and get warm and eat chocolate. We always buy some for ourselves, because it is pretty disappointing on Halloween when everyone except you has candy!

I feel pretty happy with the progress made on our October list. The only thing we didn't do is make cider donuts, but we did eat lots of cider donuts that other people made. So maybe that counts. And there is still November. I am going to make a "November fun list" too.

Happy Halloween!!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Monster Pancakes

Monster pancakes are a new Halloween tradition for us. We usually make pancakes on Sunday mornings, so the Sunday before Halloween has been designated 'Monster Pancake Day'. A few peanut butter cups, some M & M's, candy corn, Hershey Kisses, mini marshmallows, bacon and eggs, and whipped cream (not necessarily all on one pancake, but on the other hand, why not?). A really fun and easy way to kick off Halloween week around here.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Monday Musings

For the week of October 27th...


Plans for the week ahead

It's Halloween week! Rose is super excited, so hopefully everything will go off without a hitch. We had a family Halloween party over the weekend to kick things off, and this week we are carving pumpkins, making some fun treats, heading to a Halloween party with friends, and of course trick-or-treating. And funny enough, our week is starting off with dentist appointments for all four kids. Get the teeth cleaned before loading them up with sugar, I say. 

Thinking about

Fall cleaning. Every year I say I want to really clean the house top to bottom before the holidays and then I never do. This year, I am really trying though. If I can just get in 30 minutes or so a day of deep cleaning I should be able to hit most of it. The problem is that there are many, many days when finding even 30 minutes seems impossible. I am almost done the first room though, so there is hope. And I really love the feel of a perfectly clean, decluttered room. Naturally, it immediately starts getting messy again, but it gives me ambition to do the next room.

Homeschool notes

 Grace is starting her last week of Sonlight's Core F this week, so later in the week I will have her help me set up for Bookshark World History 1. I am determined to start doing our picture study again this week. I was all set to do it last week, but then the printer starting getting all funky and refusing to print photos. If I can get that fixed, we are going to be doing a Halloween print by Grandma Moses. More about how we do picture study here.

Out of doors

It looks like there is a chance of snow for Halloween, and I am really hoping that does not come through. We have had our share of delayed Halloweens, including one with no power for days. So we can wait for snow until after Halloween, and preferably after Thanksgiving, thank you very much. It has been fairly mild lately and I could almost be lulled into thinking winter will forget to come, but not quite. I am starting to stock up on gloves and boots for those that need them.

In the kitchen

I picked up some things to make witch hat cookies and candy corn Rice Krispy treats for our pumpkin carving night. I was going to link the candy corn treats, but I couldn't find one that was basic enough. I don't use food coloring or cut the bars into candy corn shapes. I just make regular Rice Krispy treats with the cereal and marshmallows and mix in some candy corn. It sounds weird, but it is really good, if you like candy corn. I am trying to come up with some more crockpot recipes everyone likes, because I am getting sick of making the same old chili and chicken tacos again and again. Though both are very good! This week, we are going to try lentil sloppy joes.

Watching & reading

I am reading Under the Dome. We tried watching the television version, but we just couldn't get into it. The book is pretty good though. I hadn't read Stephen King for ages, and wasn't really sure I could get into it again, but so far I am enjoying it. The book is long though (over 1,000 pages!), so I am going to be reading it for a long time. With the kids we watched Night at the Museum and the sequel. I was afraid they might be too much for Rose, but she adored both. Without the kids, we have been watching Sherlock season one.

Halloween crafting

We did a couple of things from our October Fun List last week. The girls and I made luminaries-these turned out so cute! We pretty much followed the instructions on that blog exactly. I did use glaze spray as recommended, that was probably my least favorite part, because man does that stuff stink! But it did give the jars a nice and shiny protective coat. We put tea lights inside and have been lighting them at dinnertime...

And Rose made footprint witches, which I think are so cute. I wish I had found these when the older kids were young! She had a blast getting her feet painted and she drew in the details herself after they dried. 

 Hope you have a great week!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Plum Paper Planner Review

A couple of months ago I really needed a new planner. I love planners, paper planners that is. I have tried to use computer-based calendars and planners in the past, but I do not find them nearly as inspiring as a good-sized paper planner that I can carry around, flip through, and jot stuff down in.

 After a lot of searching, I came across Plum Paper Planners. Their planners have a lot of the same features as the Erin Condren planners I had considered, but they are much cheaper. The planner did take quite awhile-nearly a month- to arrive, but it is custom made after all. I have been using my planner for three months now and it is just about perfect for my needs. It was definitely worth the wait!

So here is a little tour and review of my new planner....with one caveat. My weekly pages are full of stuff-names, times, phone numbers, random jottings...but I'm only going to show blank pages in this review...which I think probably limits the usefulness of this review a bit.  I know if I were reading this, I would like to see how the person is using the planner instead of just reading about it. But I am always hesitant to put up too much personal stuff online, so this will have to do.

Okay, then.

First up is a heavy, clear, laminated page that protects the front and back covers. I love this, because someone is always spilling something on the counter where I tend to keep my planner, or putting a damp dish towel down on top of it, or setting their bagel on it or something, and this really keeps my planner looking nice. I can just wipe down the cover if something does get on it.  I have had my planner for almost four months now, and it still looks great. There are tons of cover designs to choose from and you can choose to have your name on the front or do a monogram if you like. I chose a monogram.

The spiral binding is very sturdy. I have not had any pages come loose yet and the binding has not pulled out at all like sometimes happens with a spiral binding- our Rightstart Math manuals are notorious for this!

On the inside, first up, there is a year-at-a-glance calendar, which is always nice to have. I love all the color!!

The heavy-duty month divider tabs make it super easy to flip ahead to the month you need....

The first thing after each monthly tab is the Notes page.  I use this page to jot down to-do's and ideas for the month at hand. For February, I have nothing listed, because it is a ways off yet! My October page, on the other hand, is full to bursting and includes things like:  my Halloween shopping list, a note to order a long- sleeved leotard for Rose, a list of craft and recipes to try this month, and a note to try to vacuum the mattresses this month (due to allergy issues).... among other things. Basically, this page functions as my monthly to-do list. When I make my to-do list for the week, I refer to the monthly to-do list and pull off those items that can or should be done each week.

Turning the page, we have the month-at-a-glance page, my favorite (and most heavily used) part of my planner.

I write all appointments, classes, holidays, birthdays, and other events on here. It gets quite full, so I am showing you a month that I haven't filled out yet! I like to use colored gel pens on this page to make things stand out and just to have a little fun with it.  Over to the left there are sections for "birthdays", "events", and "notes". At first, I thought the birthday and event boxes seemed redundant. But I have found that even though I do write those things on the date squares, I also like having them listed on the side.  They stand out more and gently remind me of what is coming up. Under "Birthdays" I list any birthday that I need to do something for (mail a card, make a call, buy a gift). Under "Events" I list any events of note that I have to do prep work for, like a holiday, a trip, or a special outing. When I am making my weekly to-do list I glance at these boxes to see what is coming up.   I paid a few dollars extra to have some colored stickers bound into the back of my planner (I will show you that page soon). I write appointments and other events on those colored stickers so that they stand out on my month-at-a-glance page.

After the month-at-a-glance come the weekly pages for the month, a double- page spread for each week. There is space for a weekly to-do list and a box for notes here as well. There were a few options to choose from for this page. I chose to have my planner divided into "morning", "afternoon", and "evening".  I like to use my colored pens for appointments and other events and then fill in other notes and reminders in black ink.  I use the Checklist section at the bottom for my three "must-do's" of the day. I write everything on these pages. Everyplace we have to be, everything I think of that needs doing, things I need to remember to ask someone about, phone calls I need to make, when I am going to run errands.... I love having it all written down. Saves me brain space.

In the Weekly List section I write down my priorities for the week. I love the little bubbles for checking off what I have done! I keep a big paperclip on the current weekly page so that I can flip right to it. I also keep a smaller paperclip on the December notes page where I am keeping a running list of Christmas ideas. Anytime an idea floats through my mind I can quickly jot it down. The other day Rose mentioned that she does not own a book light like her siblings do. After she ran off, I flipped to my December notes and jotted the idea down. If I had not done that, I probably would never have thought of it again. Now obviously I do not write down every single thing that comes through my mind, but I find that the more I do write down, the more relaxed and prepared I feel.

At the very end of the planner there is a Special Dates page, which I haven't filled out yet.

There is also a list of holidays, a contacts page, and then a 2015-2016 year-at-a-glance calendar, which is always nice to have. It is kind of hard to make out in the photos, but the holiday page has dates for each holiday for 2014-2016.... kind of a neat touch.

 At the very back, I have my sticker sheets bound in. I love this. They don't get lost and whenever I make a new appointment or commit to an event,  I stick one on the appropriate square of my month-at-a-glance page,  and write the info right on the sticker. It really makes the event "pop" and makes my planner look more fun. And fun is good.

The very last thing in my planner is the "For Keeps" pocket. There is a heavy pocket on each side of this page. I stick appointment cards, forms, cards to send out, whatever I need to have with me in there.

And that's a tour of my Plum Paper Planner! I am pretty much in love with it:).

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Review of First Language Lessons Level 1

Rose and I have been using First Language Lessons Level 1 for a few weeks now, so I thought I might do a little review of it.

First of all, we don't have the exact copy of the book that I am linking to, we have the first edition, where levels 1 & 2 were combined in one book. So keep that in mind. I am not sure exactly how the new version differs from the older one, but I imagine that the overall feel and content of the program are the same. This is my fourth time using FLL! Our copy is getting a bit dog-eared...

FLL 1 is a very gentle introduction to grammar. Very little writing is required from the child, which makes it perfect for a first-grader who is ready for the concepts and ready to work on some narration and memorization skills, but isn't quite ready to do a lot of writing. The child is sometimes asked to copy short things, like their address or name, but I will sometimes skip that part if I think Rose has already had enough handwriting for the day.

Most of the program is done orally and we usually do it on the couch before we do our read-alouds for the day.  Rose and I are on about lesson 30 of the 100 lessons, and so far she has memorized two poems, learned her address, done some story narrations, learned what common and proper nouns are and how to give examples of each, reviewed the proper full names of all of her relatives, and figured out what exactly an uncle/aunt/cousin is. She has also done a couple of picture narrations, which I will talk about in a bit.

Obviously, you do not need a scripted program to teach your child all of these things, but I enjoy having one just so I have less to think about and plan for. I also find that a lot of things that I would think would be obvious to her- like that her uncles are my brothers- are actually things she finds confusing and has benefited from going over.  When I say this program is "scripted",  I mean that the program tells you exactly what to say to the child and that it also tells you what sort of answer to expect back from them. I do not usually read the script word for word, but I find it helpful to fall back on when I don't know exactly how to explain something. Or when I am tired, which is pretty much always!

So some things that FLL focuses on....

Grammar: Obviously there is grammar in this book! But it is very gentle, with lots of repetition built in. There are about 46 lessons that mention common and proper nouns before pronouns are introduced.  That sounds kind of excessive, but it doesn't feel that way when you are doing it. One day we talked about nouns that are things and looked around the room naming some "things", another day we talked about places and brainstormed some common and proper nouns for places: "store" and "Target", for example. And another day, when we talked about proper nouns, she got to try to remember the full names of all of her cousins. One thing we do feel like we are constantly doing lately is reviewing the definition of a noun. I am sure that she can say: "A noun is the name of a person, place, thing, or idea" in her sleep. But you know what? I find it kind of funny to hear a six-year-old spouting off stuff like that. She does, too. My older kids know the definitions of all of the parts of speech by heart and it is definitely due to FLL!  So yes, there is a lot of repetition, but it is not mind-numbing, at least to us.  Later on in this level, we are going to be learning about pronouns, action verbs, abbreviations, capitalization, initials, titles of respect, and the four kinds of sentences.

Poem Memorization: Every few lessons we are asked to memorize a poem. The poem is included in the book and we read it several times the first day. On subsequent days there is a little reminder at the top of new lessons to review the poem we are working on and/or to review some of the older ones we have already learned. The poems are the perfect length for this age, and Rose has been very happy to learn them.

Story Narration: Sometimes, instead of a grammar lesson, we are given a story narration to do. We read a short story together from the book, something like "The Tortoise and the Hare". Then, there are some questions in the book that I can ask her to help her summarize the story. Finally, she narrates the story to me while I write it down. The idea is to help the child condense the story into just 3-4 sentences, though I will often let Rose's go longer because she loves detail so much. 

Picture Narration: Picture narrations include a black and white picture with accompanying scripted text to help you discuss the picture with your child.  These are often used to reinforce a grammar lesson. Recently, we were given a picture of a family baking cookies and we were asked to guess what each person's proper name might be. The picture narrations are short and fun and a nice break from the grammar.

Copywork: We have not quite reached the lessons where copywork is included as part of the lesson, but when we do, I suspect we will skip that portion of the lesson because we are also using Writing with Ease.

Optional Enrichment: Many of the lessons include a short "optional enrichment" activity for children who are ready to write more. These include thing like having the child decorate a copy of a poem they learned or having them do a short copy-work exercise, perhaps writing a sibling's full name or a short letter to a friend. We skip most of these.

Other Things of Note: Very few materials are needed to complete this program. If you have the book, some paper, and a pencil you are mostly good to go. Some of the enrichment activities call for basic art supplies.  It looks like you can't see a sample of FLL on Amazon, but there is a sample on the Peace Hill Press website. Rose and I do three lessons per week, usually on three separate days, though I sometimes double up if a lesson is very short. Lessons usually take no more than 5-10 minutes.

After all of this,  I will say that I don't think grammar is really needed at this age at all.  Everything introduced in FLL 1 is covered again in the later levels, and waiting a few years will not cause harm, at least in my opinion! I never finished FLL 1 with James, for reasons I can't even remember, and he has done no formal grammar since. So he is really getting grammar pretty much for the first time this year, with First Language Lessons Level 4. He is doing just fine with it and I will review that level at a later date.

Since Rose is enjoying this program so much, I do plan to continue it with her. I do think there is a lot of benefit in the "other" parts of the program (narrations, poetry, learning your address etc..) and would continue the program just for that.