Friday, February 12, 2016

How I Plan FIAR

Rose and I have been using Five in a Row since the start of our school year, and we both love it. If you haven't guessed from reading this blog, I am a pretty dedicated box-checker/laid-out curriculum type. When we first started homeschooling, I did much more of my own planning and pulling together. I loved doing it, but it took a lot of time and energy, both of which tend to be in short supply around here. I also found that, for whatever reason, the more energy I put into planning and pulling together resources, the less likely I am to actually use my plan properly.  I suspect I enjoy the planning more than the doing, or that I burn out on the planning, and then don't have the energy to actually do it. 

I don't want to spend a ton of time planning extra stuff anymore, but do like to spend a little time. FIAR fulfills my planning urge nicely. It takes only a short amount of time to plan each book, and I have a ton of fun doing it. So today, I thought I would share how I go about planning a row. If you aren't familiar with FIAR , it's called a "row" because you are supposed to read the book five days in a row, doing related activities each day. We usually take more like two weeks to row each book, because we are doing this alongside Sonlight Core B.

I am currently in the process of planning our next three FIAR books: MadelineMike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, and Katy and the Big Snow. Once they are planned, I will let Rose decide which order we do them in. I use a few resources to plan a row: my FIAR manual, the FIAR cookbook, and a couple of blogs.

The first thing I do is crack open my current FIAR manual: Volume 1.  There is no particular reason to finish one volume before starting the next, but that's how I have decided to do it. (If you are curious about what we have rowed so far, you can click here). I am going to plan Madeline first, so I flip to that section of the manual.

I also start a Word document on my laptop. FIAR provides planning sheets in the back of the manual, but I prefer to type my notes.

I divide my Word document into sections that match the subjects covered in FIAR:

  • Social Studies
  • Language Arts
  • Art
  • Math
  • Science

I add a fifth section "More Fun" for anything that doesn't fit in the above categories.

I start by looking through my trusty FIAR manual and adding any ideas I like to my document. Looking at the geography section, I decide I want to have Rose look up France on the map, talk about why cities are located on major rivers, discuss how to have compassion for others, and bring up some of the historical aspects of the illustrations. I do not spend a lot of time going through the manual or making these notes. I just skim the manual and type an abbreviated note in my document, something like:

 "Discuss history in illustrations" (m).

The (m) reminds me that there are discussion notes in my manual, and I will refer to them while we are doing FIAR.

Then I move on to the Language Arts section. By the end, I have a decent list of ideas, just from the manual itself. I do not do everything listed in the manual, though. I pick and choose based on what I feel like doing and what I think Rose will enjoy. If something feels like it would be busywork, repetitive of something we have done already, or will take too much effort,  I skip it. For Madeline, I decide we will not take a trip to a working riverfront or ride on a bus. Both ideas sound great, but it's the middle of winter and we live in a rural area, so neither is easy to do. However, we have visited rivers and ridden on buses in the past, so I will mention that to her as we read. I am always amazed and inspired by the imaginative things I see families doing with FIAR, but for us, it really is just a fun extra. I don't want to get overly stressed with a long list of to-do's that will be hard to fit into our regular day. So, I keep it simple.

After I've checked the manual and noted down the ideas I'd like to use, I turn to the FIAR cookbook. The cookbook includes two or three recipes for each story, but I aim to make just one recipe per book (okay, sometimes two).  For Madeline, there are recipes for quiche, french rolls, and a fruit platter.

Rose does not like eggs, so quiche is out. Rolls would be great, but to keep things simple, I think we will make up a fruit platter for dessert one night. I add a note under my "More Fun" section.

Next, I go to one of my favorite FIAR websites Delightful Learning. There are tons of helpful and inspiring FIAR posts there, and I almost always find a neat idea or two to add to my list. I might visit one or two other blogs for ideas, then I look over my notes to see if anything jumps out at me. This time, it occurred to me to look up the Eiffel Tower's website, where I found and bookmarked an online tour activity we can do, plus a page just for children.

I think I have plenty of ideas now, so I make sure the list looks neat and pretty by adding some bullet points and colored headings before printing it out. Now we're ready to go!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Slow Cooking Dinner: Cranberry Barbecue Turkey Meatballs

Continuing on my quest to come up with 25 dinners for the slow cooker that most of my family will eat. 

Recently, I made my absolute easiest slow cooker recipe ever. This is what I did:
  • Put a bag of frozen turkey meatballs in the slow cooker (mine was a 28 oz bag). 
  • Added a cup of barbecue sauce.
  • Added a can of cranberry sauce.
  • Stirred it around.
  • Cooked it all on low for 4-5 hours.

We always used to make our own meatballs, until we found out that we like the frozen brand our grocery store carries just as well. I served the meatballs over white rice, and it was a hit with everyone. The only change I would make is that next time I am going to try doing it more like this, with a little less barbecue sauce and some soy sauce added in to balance the flavors.

Here's a recap of the slow cooker recipes I've tried so far:

1. Santa Fe chicken

2. Sloppy joes

3. Baked potato bar

4. Sweet potato and black bean burritos

5.  Pumpkin turkey chili

6. Salsa-lime chicken nachos

7. Turkey and bean chili

That makes 8 recipes down, 17 to go. This week, I'm making barbecue chicken sandwiches using the slow cooker. I'll let you know how it goes!

Monday, February 8, 2016

A Review of Junior Analytical Grammar

James has been using Junior Analytical Grammar for a few months now. We have just a few lessons left before finishing the book, which means it's time for a little review. I am not sure if I will meet my goal of reviewing all of the curriculum we are using this year, but I am sure going to try!

Junior Analytical Grammar (JAG) is intended to be used by children who aren't quite ready for Analytical Grammar, in about 4th to 5th grade. James (10) is using it in his fifth grade year.

I currently have two older students working through Analytical Grammar: more about that here. There are 11 units in JAG, covering all the basic parts of speech, plus conjunctions and compound situations. The book is intended to take 11 weeks, covering 1 unit per week, after which you can move on to JAG Mechanics. For us, it is going to take quite a bit more than 11 weeks - probably more like 18 weeks when all is said and done. My kid is pretty poky about getting his work done, though (he would say he likes to take his time).  We also don't tend to get to grammar every day, though that is my goal.

What You Need

There is a teacher's book and a student's manual. You need both, unless you are super confident in your grammar abilities (I am not). The teacher's manual contains all of the notes, exercises, and tests, plus it has tips on how to teach the units, and most importantly - it has the answers. The student book contains the notes, exercises, tests, and a Playing With Words section for each unit, which is not found in the teacher's book.

How the book is set up and how we do it

Each of the 11 units contains:

  • Notes
  • 3 Exercises
  • 1 Playing With Words section
  • A unit end Test
First up are the lecture notes. There is the same text in both the teacher's and student's edition, so I read aloud while he follows along. The notes include plenty of examples and often require the student to respond orally, which keeps James from falling asleep while I talk (usually).  It takes us 5-10 minutes to go over the notes.

After the notes, there are 3 Exercises, consisting of five sentences to label and diagram, a short fill-in-the-blank section, and a section on identifying word jobs. My aim is to do one exercise per day, but we rarely meet that goal. For Exercise 1, I talk James through the labeling and diagramming of the first two or three sentences.  I encourage him to find the nouns first, followed by the modifiers, prepositions, verbs, and finally the subject.  Unit 9 includes a process chart with clear steps that take the child from labeling the nouns in the sentence to finishing their diagram. He keeps that chart out while he works, and it has been very helpful to him to go about the work in an organized manner.

All of the exercises start by labeling sentences; students are expected to label only the parts of speech they have learned so far. So, in the first lesson on nouns, they are only expected to label nouns. By the time you reach Unit 4  (Prepositions), simple diagrams are introduced. Students work up to diagramming whole sentences, and eventually compound sentences. There isn't much room for diagramming in the workbook, so James uses a separate sheet of paper. We file the completed diagrams in his language arts binder.

After we go through the first few sentences, he completes the exercise on his own.  I stay available to help him, and to remind him that staring off into space is probably not conducive to getting it done! After the labeling and diagramming the rest of the lesson goes quickly, ending with a short section on identifying word jobs. I let him abbreviate these.

Then, I correct his work and we go over any errors. I get the easy job; I have all the answers!

Every unit includes a Playing With Words section, where the student is asked to apply their knowledge. They might be asked to make up a sentence using certain parts of speech, or to write a paragraph using as many prepositional phrases as possible. He likes to get a bit silly with these, and often injects some "boy humor".

After he finishes, there is a  "How Did I do?" section, which he uses to score his own work.

To wrap up each unit there is a Test,  usually consisting of five sentences to parse and diagram, followed by a few fill-in-the blanks. The teacher's manual tells exactly how to grade each test. I don't normally grade anything, but I have been grading these, just so the kids can get used to receiving grades once in awhile.

So, to sum up - I really, really like Junior Analytical Grammar - it is a solid, easy to use program that gets the job done. I will not go so far as to say that James looks forward to grammar, or is disappointed if we don't get to it!  But I am not sure there is a grammar program out there that would cause that kind of reaction in my children, so I'm good with this one. When he is done with this book, we will move on to JAG Mechanics, which I'll review separately later in the year. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Rowing Papa Piccolo {FIAR}

Rose and I finished up our first row of the new year last week: Papa Piccolo. This is a book that I remember rowing with Grace and Christopher; they enjoyed it so much that I bought a copy of the book at that time. It's about an independent bachelor cat who ends up with a couple of cute kittens...who totally change his life. Rose absolutely adored this story - and as a bonus, the artwork is beautiful and we learned a lot about Venice, the story's setting.

Here's what we did!

*Social Studies*

  • She found Italy on the globe, and we talked about how it looks like a boot. 

  • We talked about Venice, especially the streets of water and the gondolas, which play a prominent role in this story. Rose was very interested in the idea of getting around by boat - something we certainly can't do here! The book has a nice section right at the beginning that gave us a lot of information about Venice. We agreed that we would like to visit one day. 

  • We discussed the Italian phrases in the book and what they mean ~ such as bambini (infant) and buon giorno (good day). These were reinforced each day as we read the book. I had bookmarked a site where we could learn Italian phrases, but decided to keep it simple and only focus on the words and phrases mentioned in the story. 
  • After several readings, I asked her to remember the many lessons Papa teaches the kittens.  She did a pretty good job. Among other things, he teaches them how to eat spaghetti!

  • As the manual suggested, we briefly discussed adoption and who Marco Polo was - the kittens are named Marco and Polo. 

*Language Arts*
  • We went over some of the vocab in the story - like canal, trinket, and sardine. We don't do a whole lot with the suggested vocabulary words, just discuss and move on. I do notice though, that the new words "stick" in her mind.
  • We talked about the song Papa sings the kittens... he sings to them about stardust, moonbeams, and goldfish. I asked her what she would sing to put her puppy to sleep, and she thought of things like bones, toys, and bacon treats. 
  • As suggested in the manual, we read The Fox and The Sour Grapesthen I had her tell me what part of Papa Piccolo it reminded her of. There is a scene where Papa misses out on a pastry - and then decides he doesn't like pastry anyway. 

  • We looked at the lovely double-page scene following the title page and made a list of all the colors we could see. 

I am afraid that we weren't terribly imaginative with the names of the colors, but we were impressed at the sheer numbers of shades used in the illustrations throughout the book. 

  • We discussed "live eyes" - adding a little highlight to the eye to make it seem more life-like. This is something she learned and practiced while doing Mark Kistler's drawing lessons. 

  • We discussed how the illustrator gives the illusion of speed, as the cats race for Piccolo's pastry, then Rose tried out the technique. 

  • We discussed using yellow to show light, and then she did a watercolor painting of a thunderstorm over the ocean. We had also discussed the concept of complementary colors, so she chose to use purple and yellow, which provide a strong, interesting contrast when used together. 

  • As suggested in the manual, we tried counting the windows throughout the book - I can't even remember how many we got to - there were a lot!
  • We talked about peripheral vision (because Piccolo sees something out of the corner of his eye). We then tried the experiment suggested in the manual. I had her look straight ahead while I moved a pencil from the back of her head toward her face. Her job was to tell when she could see the pencil in her peripheral vision. 

  • We had a brief discussion about breeds of cats, because this story features a Siamese cat. We also discussed what "calico" and "tabby" mean. 

*More Fun*
  • We made two of the recipes from the FIAR cookbook - a ricotta cake, which I thought was very good and easy, like a cheating way to make cheesecake.  I would make it again, but James didn't really care for it. And, we made the marinara sauce recipe. Rose helped with this and was very proud of "her" sauce. It made a ton, so I put half away in the freezer to use next week. It was quite good!

We just began our next row, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, so that will be my next FIAR post.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Candles for Candlemas

Rose and I gathered up a whole bunch of candles this morning, to be lit at dinner this evening.

It's reminded me that we could definitely stand to refresh our stash! I am thinking that perhaps Valentine votive holders would be a good project for us. We started our pudding cups for dinner; we have a busy day today (and some of us are sick!), so I let Christopher make up the pudding cups and he admits they came out a little messy. But I think after we top them with crushed Oreos and a Teddy Graham "groundhog" nobody will notice.  And it sure saves time to not insist on perfection, as I am constantly being reminded.

Have a lovely afternoon!