Thursday, July 2, 2015

Ten Things

It is hard to find time to blog lately, because our summer has been so very busy. Monday mornings just don't work for my usual Monday musings posts, but I find myself missing them. Since there's no particular reason rambling only has to occur on Mondays, here are ten things going on around here right now.

1. We have so many garlic scapes! Not that I'm complaining; they are a short-lived thing after all. All of ours are clipped and in the fridge, and we are getting more each week from our farm share. We are putting them on Italian bread to make the best garlic bread ever, sauteing them for a pasta topping, adding them to white bean dip, and (my favorite) making garlic scape pizza.

2. The garden is growing well, but oh, my is it weedy! I have just not been able to find enough time to get out there this week, except for a few minutes here and there to snip a few things for dinner. I am hoping to find some time over the holiday weekend. It really, really needs it. The raspberries are starting this week, which is always super exciting.

3.  Speaking of busy....our new summer schedule started this week and it has really thrown me for a loop. Part of the issue is that I really love to have a routine and it has been impossible to come up with a regular one for this summer.  Rose has four mornings a week at the gym until the end of July. Grace is volunteering several weeks at her barn, and is doing a week of camp at a veterinary hospital. So the girls are very busy and need dropping off and picking up each morning and afternoon. James and Christopher have a much quieter summer planned, with a week of day camp for James and a few days of tennis clinic for Christopher. I am very relieved my boys wanted a more laid-back summer - I don't think I could handle it otherwise.  I am putting a lot of miles on my car each day driving everyone around. The first few days felt way too hectic, but I am slowly getting used to it. August should be much quieter, thankfully.

4.  Except that in August we are getting a puppy! More on this later, I am sure. For right now, Puppies for Dummies has a permanent spot on the living room table.

5. I am using Rose's gym time to exercise, since we need to be out of the house too early for me to exercise first thing in the morning. I can take a nice walk right from the gym, so I am very grateful for that. I plan to bring the boys along at least once a week to walk with me or play tennis at a nearby court. This week they opted for tennis, and it was really nice hanging out with just the two of them. Silver linings.

6. I pretty much can never watch a whole movie, unless it's with the kids. I am just too tired at night to make it through more than an hour of movie watching. Right now, we are watching Boyhood without the kids. It will take me 3 nights to get through, and I feel pretty pathetic admitting that. I took the kids to see Inside Out last week, and we all loved it.

7.  I am reading Ashenden, and very much enjoying it. I have always had a bit of a thing for big, old houses, so this book is right up my alley. Rose and I are reading Ramona's World  at bedtime, and Still More Stories from Grandma's Attic in the afternoon. We are thoroughly enjoying both.

8.  We are still getting a bit of schoolwork done each week. I have some things I would like to get wrapped up over the summer, but fitting them in has been a challenge. My current strategy is to have the boys do some independent work while I take Rose to the gym and Grace to the barn. Then, when Rose and I get home, we eat an early lunch and I do a read-aloud with James, discuss the boys work with them, and do some reading and phonics with Rose. After I pick up Grace (if it's early enough), she, Christopher and I work on finishing up our last read-aloud of the year. She usually takes along some of her work on the drive to the barn too.

9.  We have pink-eye in the house for the first time ever. James started with it a few weeks ago and spent ten days on oral antibiotics, plus one more week of antibiotic eye-drops when the first round didn't take care of it. My fingers are firmly crossed that he, at least, is over it! Now poor dh is the next victim, just starting out with his round of antibiotic eye-drops today. Fun! Okay, not really.

10. Rose reminded me today that we hadn't put the Fourth of July decorations up. We really don't have many, just a few little flags to decorate the table and a starry banner Grace made years ago, but putting them up made Rose quite pleased.  I am planning to make fireworks with a fork with any interested kids tomorrow.

Happy Fourth of July!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

100 Things to Do this Summer

I made up a list of ideas recently for those " But I don't know what to do!" moments this summer (not that my kids have those or anything), and I thought I would share it here. The activities are all things we can do at home, because I am driving around far more than usual this summer. When we have some free time, I just want to be home!

  1. Read a book
  2. Walk the dog
  3. Brush a pet
  4. Cover the driveway in sidewalk chalk
  5.  Blow bubbles
  6. Make popsicles
  7. Bake & decorate cupcakes
  8. Watch a movie
  9. Make a marshmallow shooter
  10. Watch a documentary
  11. Do a crossword puzzle
  12. Do a jigsaw puzzle
  13. Play a board game
  14. Send someone email
  15. Make thumbprint pictures
  16. Make a glass of iced tea
  17. Play Frisbee
  18. Wade in the stream
  19. Work on your schoolwork
  20. Go in the pool
  21. Have a water fight
  22. Get out the water balloons
  23. Set up some things to knock down with Nerf darts
  24. Ride your bike
  25. Make an obstacle course outdoors
  26. Play catch
  27. Take some neat photos
  28. Make ice cream
  29. Play horseshoes
  30. Play bocce
  31. Play badminton
  32. Make muffins for breakfast tomorrow
  33. Play wiffle ball
  34. Play with the cat (get her moving!)
  35. Play croquet
  36. Make silly videos with the camera
  37. Practice a sport
  38. Request a book through interlibrary loan
  39. Add movies and documentaries to the Netflix queue
  40. Do a drawing lesson on Draw 3D
  41. Find something to do on the Smithsonian education website
  42. Declutter your room
  43. Bake cookies
  44. Visit and find a project to do
  45. Have a picnic snack outside
  46. Eat a freeze pop
  47. Make a CD
  48. Make origami
  49. Do a Duolingo lesson
  50. Decide what you'll make for dinner next week
  51. Hide something for someone to find
  52. Design a board game on a sheet of posterboard
  53. Play a game of chess
  54. Set up a mini mini golf course in the backyard
  55. Knit
  56. Invent a Lego challenge, or try one of these or these
  57. Play with playdough
  58. Make a pet rock
  59. Make a collage using old magazines
  60. Print out a coloring page & color it
  61. Make a toy for the cat
  62. Spread peanut butter on a dog cookie & hide it for the dog to find
  63. Make whoopie pies for dessert
  64. Get a headstart on your fall schoolwork
  65. Dribble a basketball
  66. Wash your bike
  67. Make marshmallow pops
  68. Pick a bouquet of flowers
  69. Make chocolate-dipped bananas
  70. Take a Jedi Training Quiz
  71. Make sunprints
  72. Press flowers
  73. Make fireworks in a jar
  74. Make (and eat) Oreo cookie moon phases
  75. Make sandpaper art
  76. Leave the porch light on overnight to see what moths will come
  77. Make gummy worm ice cubes
  78.  Teach yourself a song on the piano
  79.  Learn a sign in sign language
  80.  Learn a few words in another language
  81. Listen to The Story of the World.
  82. Play a round of pool putter
  83. Write something in code for someone else to decode
  84. Or try a secret code challenge
  85. Check the library's online catalog for books you'd like to check out
  86. Make a pizza for a snack (or lunch)
  87. Use a slingshot (carefully!), or make one
  88. Take a nap
  89. Jump rope
  90. Play tic-tac-toe
  91. Have a staring contest
  92. Make jello
  93. Read the comics 
  94. Race cars down the slide
  95. Swing
  96. Practice going across the monkey bars
  97. Hula hoop
  98. Clip catnip from the garden for the cat
  99.  Write a short story or poem
  100. Go sit in the hammock
Happy Summer!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

A Review of First Language Lessons Level 4

James finished First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind Level 4  a few weeks ago, so I wanted to post a few thoughts about this program while it is still fresh in my mind.

First of all, I really love the First Language Lessons series. I have used these books with all of my kids, off and on over the years. So far, Grace is my only child to go through all four levels, mostly because we haven't historically been a "grammar each year" kind of family. Everyone did the first two levels, but James and Christopher skipped the third. I do plan to have Rose do all four levels. She did Level 1 this year, and I reviewed that level earlier this year.

The FLL4 program consists of two books:

  • The student workbook, which has all of the exercises, with room for the student to write in their answers.

  • And the instructor guide, which is fully scripted. It tells you exactly what to say to your child during the lesson, has examples of the answers you are looking for, and, most importantly, it includes the instructions and answers for all of the exercises.

You need both the student workbook and the instructor guide to do this program. The workbook itself is a collection of worksheets for the student to complete, but there aren't any instructions on the pages. The instructor guide has the directions and information needed to complete each lesson.

The books themselves are pretty basic, with black and white text and no illustrations, but the paper is high quality and has a nice feel to it.  Unlike some other workbooks, this one lays nice and flat on the table and it was easy for him to write in.   Lessons range in length, but on average James and I spent 20-30 minutes, three times a week, doing grammar. It took us about 32 weeks to finish this program. We did skip some lessons here and there though, as I will mention below.

FLL4 provides sample schedules in the back of the instructor guide, and I found these very helpful. There are three scheduling options for completing the book over 36 weeks. Each schedule tells you exactly what lessons to cover each week. This level consists of 85 main lessons, plus several optional end units on letter writing and dictionary skills. You can choose to skip the optional lessons, mix them in throughout the year, or do them all at the end. We chose the "mix them in" option, and they added some nice variety when James was getting bored with the regular grammar stuff.

FLL  is not a program the child can do independently: all of the levels require parental involvement for the whole lesson. If you want something you can just hand to your child, FLL is not it!  For the vast majority of this program I was sitting with James, either actively discussing and helping him, or waiting for him to finish a short section on his own before moving on. I was able to work with him while Rose did something mostly independent alongside (like spelling). But I would not have been able to do math with her while he did grammar. This level of parental involvement could be seen as a negative; but to me, it feels appropriate to have a discussion- based grammar at this age. And it certainly makes grammar a more interesting subject!

 There were definitely times when it felt like the day's grammar lesson dragged a bit, causing James to get a little frustrated (and bored). The instructor guide does suggest doing one lesson over several days if necessary. We usually chose to push through and finish, but sometimes we did stretch a lesson over 2-3 days. But for the most part there was a good mix of activities in each lesson that kept us moving along. There are fill-in-the-blank, matching, circling, underlining, and diagramming activities (among others).  There are also some more interactive lessons sprinkled in here and there, like standing up when the parent says a proper noun during a short story. There is plenty of review in this book; most concepts are reviewed multiple times and older skills are continually being used along with newer skills. James really had the concepts down by the end of the book.

So what kind of exercises are in the lessons?

Oral : As I said earlier, there is a lot of discussion in the program and part of each lesson is usually done orally. For example, during a pronoun lesson, I might read a sentence to James: "Mary's umbrella is in the hall." He would repeat my sentence, but use a pronoun: "Her umbrella is in the hall." FLL also relies heavily on chants to help kids memorize important grammar concepts. When we first began talking about pronouns, we were often instructed to say the definition of a pronoun together three times. We had a short chant for articles, and another for prepositions and helping verbs. James never wanted to say the chants with me, so I said them by myself. He learned them anyway, even though he thought it was silly! In fact, Grace told me she still remembers and uses the prepositions chant from FLL years later!

Written: This is a workbook, so the majority of lessons have the student using a pencil. Articles are taught in part by circling them in a poem, adverbs by choosing adverbs to plug into different sentences: How do you sleep? And the student fills in the adverb they chose: I sleep quietly.  Other times, James was asked to draw arrows back to antecedents, underline prepositional phrases, or proofread a passage using proofreader marks. There were only a few lessons where the writing was too much for him; I modified those by doing some of the written exercises orally.

Poem Memorization: Every so often there is a poem lesson, with a poem to memorize over the next few weeks. We didn't do any of this memory work, but only because I let him pick his own poems to memorize. When we got to one of those lessons, I just read the poem and discussed it if necessary. 

Diagramming: Diagramming made me quite nervous the first time I did it with Grace, but I am much more comfortable with the process now, and FLL really makes teaching diagramming easy.  You start out diagramming very basic sentences with only subjects and verbs, then slowly progress to more complex sentences. There is always a script in the lesson to help you talk your child through the diagramming, and I found myself using the script more often that not. There are diagramming frames included right in the book, and sometimes students are asked to draw their own frame, which James did not enjoy (but I consider necessary). The way diagramming is taught in FLL made a lot of sense to me. Students are taught to always find the verb first...until they start diagramming more complex sentences, and then they are to find the prepositional phrases first and box them off to deal with at the end.

Summary exercises: There are about six summary exercises in the book.  These  consist of a short passage for you to read aloud, so your child can practice narrating.  I skipped over these lessons because we also use Writing with Ease, and  I didn't feel that additional narration exercises were necessary.

Writing letters...There are several optional letter writing lessons. These include writing a thank you letter, a friendly letter, and a business letter. Each letter is broken up into several lessons worth of steps:  a rough draft, a final draft, and addressing the envelope. I particularly liked the business letter lessons, because he was told to write both a letter and an email to the publisher of the book, complaining that his grammar book was missing pages. He got an email response within a few days, and we are waiting for our snail mail response.

Dictionary skills: Several optional units cover alphabetizing, dictionary usage,  pronunciation, synonyms, and antonyms. Like the letter writing lessons, these lessons were a nice change of pace from the regular grammar lessons.

Fun activities: There are a couple of fun extra activities included in the book. Each of my children has loved making "the preposition sandwich". You gather up the ingredients, then put the bread on the plate, spread the mayonnaise across the bread, etc...and then you eat it! Another lesson covered cooking abbreviations using a recipe for haystack cookies, and we made the cookies later that week.

So what does this book teach? Lots of things! All of the basic parts of speech are discussed, plus lessons on how to form plural nouns. There is quite a bit of diagramming in the book. James did not necessarily enjoy the diagramming! But I did not feel it was excessive. He usually only had 3-4 diagrams per lesson, and there were plenty of lessons that did not include diagramming. Verb tenses, predicate nominatives, direct objects, capitalization rules, abbreviations, titles of respect, and rules for using commas are just a few of the the things covered at this level. He learned a lot this year! I wish there was an FLL 5, but since there is not, he will be using Junior Analytical Grammar next year.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Rowing Storm in the Night {FIAR}

Rose and I just finished rowing Storm in the Night, probably our last Five in a Row book for this school year. I wouldn't count out rowing a book or two over the summer, but right now I need a break! This was an especially good book for us to row, because Rose is afraid of thunderstorms and thunderstorm season is in full force here.  We even had a short thunderstorm during the week of our row, complete with loud thunder and a few minutes of very heavy rain.

Here's what we did!

*Social Studies*

  •  We discussed fear, whether Thomas was truthful when he said he wasn't afraid of anything, and who she thought turned out the light at the end of the story. She guessed it was Thomas, because he had gotten over his fear of the dark.

 *Language Arts*

  • Using the manual, we compared and contrasted the words chosen to represent the thunderstorm at the beginning of the story with the words used as the storm dies down. Then we briefly discussed the concept of onomatopoeia and she completed the onomatopoeia worksheet from the free FIAR Fold & Learn (available to subscribers of the FIAR blog). 

  • I helped her  make an onomatopoeia thunderstorm mobile, which was so much fun.   She chose "drip drip", "patter, patter, patter", and "plop" for rain words, "zap" for the lightning, and "boom" for the thunder. I got the idea  for the mobile from this blog. Even though Rose is just a little bit afraid of thunderstorms, she wanted this one hanging over her bed. 

  • We discussed dialogue (this story is pretty much all dialogue!) and quotation marks, and I showed her some of the quotation marks in the story. We also discussed why certain words in the story are in italics, such as when Thomas asks Grandfather if there were automobiles when he was a boy. He replies,"Were there automobiles!?". She giggled every time I read that part.


  • We discussed what medium she thought the artist used. She guessed colored pencils, but the manual said it was acrylic or oil paint. With the help of the manual, we searched for telltale brushstrokes in some of the illustrations.  

  • To go with her thunderstorm mobile, Rose made a rainbow craft. This is just half of a paper plate painted yellow, yellow-painted clothespins for the rays, and some pretty ribbon for the rainbow. My picture here is not the greatest, but I love how it came out and how it looks hanging on her wall! I got the idea here

  • We discussed how the author shows light and dark in the story.  Because this story takes place during a power outage, there are few sources of light until the end. The result is that some pages are very dark, while in others there is light from the lightning or from the woodstove.

  • We discussed facial expressions and she drew some faces with eyes looking in different directions. This was an idea from the manual. She was reluctant to try it, until I told her that I would do it along with her. Turns out, after she tried one, she wanted to do all of them by herself!


  • We discussed the different geometric shapes in Grandfather's quilt, then she "painted" a quilt using the Enchanted Learning website. She chose the Lone Star pattern, and we printed a copy for her binder when she finished.  


  • We made a list of all the sources of light that she could think of. The cute lightbulb printout is from the FIAR Fold & Learn I mentioned above.

  • In the story, Thomas notes that he can hear better with the lights out. I had Rose sit for a few minutes with her eyes shut and tell me all the sounds she could hear. 

  • I printed out a simple water cycle diagram, we discussed it, then she colored and labeled it.

*More Fun*

  • For our Storm in the Night recipe, we made cloud parfaits (blue jello and whipped cream).

This was another fun row! I love that so many of the books are seasonal, it adds an extra dimension of fun. I think if we do some more FIAR over the summer, our top choice will be Night of the Moonjellies, one of my all-time favorite summer picture books. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Homeschool Moments

Just a few highlights from our homeschool lately...

Rose finished the first grade portion of First Language Lessons! We both really enjoyed going through this book this year. I reviewed FLL earlier in the year and my feelings on it are still the same. Did we need to do a grammar program at this age? Not necessarily, but this a light and enjoyable introduction to grammar and we both look forward to Level 2 in the fall. The author says it is best to continue the grammar lessons over the summer, but we are going to take a break until the end of August.

Christopher is close to wrapping up Latin for Children A, with just a few pages left to go. He has already finished his history reader. I am adding it to my mental to-do list to post a few thought on LfC, but for now I'll just say that I definitely recommend the history reader. It is an optional resource, but I thought it was great translation practice. He and I worked on one lesson from the history reader per week. I plan to have him continue to use Headventure Land (CAP's online language resource) over the summer, possibly trying out the paid version since we have only been using the free stuff.

More grammar finished! James finished First Language Lessons Level 4 and he is very happy to be done with grammar until fall. One of his last lessons involved writing a letter to Peace Hill Press to complain that his book was missing half of the pages and that he would like a replacement. Fun! PHP is supposed to acknowledge the letter, so we are waiting to see if they actually do.

Also from FLL 4: haystack cookies! The recipe was included in one of the lessons on abbreviations and James wanted to try them out. They may not be pretty, but they were surprisingly good! I never thought I would like chow mein noodles in a cookie, but they worked quite nicely with the chocolate.


 Rose finished up her year of Sonlight with a few more magnet experiments from Science B. That brought us to the end of week 6, so we will be starting with week 7 when we start in the fall.

Christopher did an experiment on the sudsing ability of hard versus soft water for his BookShark science. I think the results are pretty obvious!

In other news, Grace, Christopher and I finished up our latest BookShark World History read-aloud The Hidden Treasure of Glaston. Christopher commented that it was a bit long, but we all stayed interested in the story line and I will definitely look forward to re-reading it with James and Rose. Next up is our last World History read-aloud of this school year: The Great and Terrible Quest.

Till next time!