Saturday, October 25, 2014

Plum Paper Planner

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 ton 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 every time, but the more I can, 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.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Memory work

Memory work is something we started at the very beginning of our homeschool journey....because it is in The Well-Trained Mind.  And that first year, we pretty much followed TWTM totally. Or tried to, anyway. Then after awhile, we kind of slipped away from doing memory work because we weren't really following TWTM anymore, except for maybe memorizing a poem once in while.

This year, after I decided to drop Sonlight language arts and go back to following the LA suggestions in TWTM, I figured we would add memory work back in too. I kind of figured this would cause a lot of moaning and groaning, but surprisingly it has not! The kids are actually enjoying their memory work, for the most part. I have a framework for each child to follow, but they mostly choose their own things to memorize.

For Rose (age 6)

We only do the poem memorization assignments from First Language Lessons. They are perfect for her. So far she can recite the poems "The Caterpillar" by Christina Rossetti and "Work" by an anonymous poet, and she is very proud. We work on our memorization when prompted to by FLL, otherwise we don't do it.

James (age 9)

I let James choose his own poem from Favorite Poems Old and New.  I can't remember if I have ever talked about that book here, but I really love it. We have used it every year since we got it, back when Grace was in kindergarten.  James started out memorizing very short poems, but lately I have been encouraging him to choose longer ones. He reads his chosen poem three times a day, four days per week. When he thinks he has it, he recites it to me. Then he chooses a new poem to work on.

James is also doing history memory work this year. Right now he is memorizing the Preamble to the Constitution and later in the year I hope to have him do parts of the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address. I just print out a copy of whatever selection he is working on and he keeps it in his memory work folder. He has memory work on his weekly checklist four days each week and he knows that means to get out his folder, read the Preamble three times, and read his chosen poem three times.

Christopher (11) and Grace (13)

Christopher and Grace do memory work much the same way that James does. They choose a poem and read it three times a day until they have it memorized.

Instead of history memory work, though, they are both doing biology memory work this year.  There are a bunch of ideas listed in TWTM for doing this. I just showed them that list and had them pick. They both decided to memorize the major bones of the body first.

I printed out a chart for them (Google is great for this) and they spent just a few minutes each day studying it. When each of them thought they had it, I had them use their little sister as a model while reciting the names of the bones. All involved got a kick out of that. Next, they are going to work on the parts of a cell. The bones chart we used is here, if you are interested.

As we get further into our year I am planning to have the kids type their poems up as they finish with them. They can keep that copy in their memory work folder to review during the year.

And that is how we are doing memory work this year!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Once more, to the beach

It wasn't the greatest weekend ever. There were fevers, coughs, croup, sniffles, fatigue, and lots and lots of television....but there were also some (short) walks on the beach, a sand castle or two, trips out for hot chocolate, take-out dinners, and a really nice sunset.

Now we are back and still battling whatever-virus-this-is. It's a tough one, to be sure. The littler kids are mostly better and have started back to their regular extracurricular, school, and chore routines today, not altogether happily on those last two! The two oldest are still mostly couch-bound, but they have been doing some of their reading here and there.

That's one more item checked off of our October fun list anyway!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

My technological inabilities

I just realized this week that the emails from my blog button were not actually making it to my primary email account. I thought I was pretty cool setting up that email button last spring, though I did wonder a couple of times why I had not been getting any emails. Apparently, they just haven't been forwarding. Duh. Anyway, I just wanted to say that if you sent me an email in the past few months and I didn't get back to you, that is why! I promise I wasn't ignoring you!

I am working my way through my very late responses and I have had one or two messages bounce back to me already, so if you do not hear back from me, that is why.  I really do appreciate people stopping by and reading and commenting and sending me questions. I like talking shop, as it were;). So thank you and I promise to answer all emails from now on!