Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Summer School Update

There has been so little summer schooling going on around here, much less than I thought there would be. Today we had a rare free afternoon at home, so I decided to take advantage of it. Grace, Christopher, and I read a chapter of The Great and Terrible Quest, Grace read some of her biology text (just half a chapter to go!), James and I read some of Swift Rivers, and Rose and I read from one of her summer readers. She and I also worked on The Ordinary Parents' Guide to Teaching Reading - today she was feeling ambitious about it so we did five lessons in one sitting! We are up to about Lesson 172 now and she is really catching on and reading with a fluency and ease that is new to her,  which is so very exciting.

We have a much needed vacation coming up in just a few days, and my plan is to push through and finish up our Book Shark Cores before then. James and I are nearing the end of our week 35 reading and Grace, Christopher, and I are just two chapters away from finishing up. Of course, I would have preferred to have finished everything neatly in June, but it just wasn't to be this year. And this year, I am really trying to be better about finishing things. In years past, we often stopped in June and just left the math or spelling or Core or whatever unfinished, but this year I committed to actually finishing most things, and it has been wonderful. There is so much gratification and accomplishment to be found on that last page. Not that it is all sunshine and roses to get the kids to finish something, but I can tell they are proud of themselves when they put that book down for the last time. They tell everyone about it at dinner. It's a nice feeling!

 Once we are back from our trip, one of my tasks will be to come up with a master planning list for next year. I planned out our curriculum in the spring, but I have not ordered everything we need, and I want to come up with a calendar and a 36 week plan. So, planning posts will be in the future, I am sure.

Hope your summer is going well and I'll be back in a week or so!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Planning the Week (Summer Version)

Planning for the upcoming week is a regular weekend activity for me.  I love sitting down with my planner and my colored pens to write down everything that needs to get done. Since I started setting aside dedicated planning time on the weekends, Sundays have been far less stressful for me. Once I have everything planned out, I can relax and enjoy the weekend without worrying about the week to come. But summer has thrown my usual weekly planning for a loop, because no two days are the same (let alone no two weeks).  I am spending a lot of time this summer ferrying kids in all directions, so coming up with a regular routine has proven impossible.  Instead,  I made a list of things to consider each week as I work on my planner. When I am ready to plan, I pull out the list and work my way down it, filling in my planner as I go.

My list:

1. Schedule in camps, lessons, and appointments. These get plugged into my planner first, always in green ink (green for go!). Everything else must fit around them.

2. Consider special days - are there any birthdays, events, or holidays this week? Plug them in and make celebration plans and notes as needed...add any relevant errands to a separate errand list. Errands get scheduled in later!

2. Decide on a time for the kids to go to the gym. Three of my kids have a membership at a rock climbing gym and their dad takes them once a week.

3.  Add in any extra activities. These may include activities with our homeschool group, field trips, swimming, or time with friends. I like to add in at least one fun thing a week, depending on how busy our week is.

4. Decide what's on tap for the weekend. I jot down our weekend plans and decide if we have time to go on a family outing or do a project around the house. I like having my weekend plans in place early. We are always willing to change them if something comes up, but by planning early we have time to pick up picnic or beach supplies, invite family over, or just make sure we have supplies for s'mores.

5.  Plug in errands. I decide what errands need doing and plan to do them when we will be out anyway. I hate to make separate trips for errands, with the exception of grocery shopping.   Regular errands for us include shopping for various things (someone always needs something!), picking up our farm share, and going to the library.

6.  Add in exercise. I like to exercise most days, so I decide in advance when I will be able to fit it in. If I am going to be home one morning, I might plan to walk or use a yoga video. If I am going to be out most of the day I can walk during one of the kids' classes. Planning ahead for this has been key to making sure it gets done.

7.  Figure out when we can get a bit of school work done. It's summer, so school is not our priority right now, but I still try to fit in an hour here and there to work on a few things.

8. Block off time to clean.  I look for a day when I will have a solid three hours or so at home and plan to do the bulk of the housecleaning then. Lately, this has felt easier than trying to clean a bit every day.

9.  Find some writing time. I have been trying to spend more time writing in the hopes of earning some money from it again, so I need to put in the time. Currently I am aiming for 10 hours per week, so I plug those hours in whenever and wherever I can find them. This part is not easy!

10. Decide on a realistic dinner plan for each day.  This will depend on what time everyone will be home, who is around to do the cooking, and how much prep time I have earlier in the day.

After I have all of these things written in my planner, I jot down my to-do list. I am currently using the Plum Paper Planner, which provides space for a weekly list. I also look ahead a week or two to see if there is anything coming up that I should be planning for.

All of this might make it seem like I am incredibly well-organized, but I can assure you that things regularly fall through the cracks anyway. That's just the nature of life with several kids! The other day I realized that we have done nothing to prepare for an upcoming trip, that I haven't weeded the garden in just about forever, and that I forgot to shop for the sneakers Christopher needs for camp in a few days. Still, this system of planning has been very helpful in reducing my stress level during a very busy season.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Ten Things

Ten things we have been doing during our staycation week

1. Eating ice cream out and about and at home, because ice cream has always been a major part of our summers. Our new love is waffle bowl sundaes at home. I don't know how I never bought waffle bowls until this summer - but they are so good loaded up with ice cream, a little chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and a cherry.... I could eat them all summer.

2. Healing a hurt finger (Rose's) that got accidentally slammed in the car door. Several days later she still has some bruising and swelling, but thankfully the pain is mostly gone, and she is back to practicing handstands in the living room.

3. Finishing one book and starting another. We have been out and about a lot lately, and one of my very favorite things this week has been reading in bed after a long, busy day. Bliss.

4.  Swimming in the the pool, at the ocean, and at the river. At least the kids have been swimming. I have been mostly wading. The weather has been warm, but the water is cold!

5.  Picnicking at the river and at the beach. I bought two sets of Bento Lunch Boxes for the kids to take to camp and  boy, do I love them! On picnic days I just set out a bunch of options...sandwich makings, fruit, cheese, olives, crackers, pretzels... and everyone puts together their own box.

 6.  Spotting wildlife - we saw a bald eagle! Rose spotted him flying overhead and thought he was a hawk, but we noticed the white head and tail feathers. Sure enough, he landed in a tree and we were able to photograph him on digital zoom and see that he was clearly an eagle. Then we noticed there was already an eagle in the tree. Two eagles! We were pretty darn excited.

7.  Seeing movies - we saw Minions, which was good, but I much prefer my Minions in Despicable Me, one of my all-time favorite movies. At home we watched The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader with the kids, and The Grand Budapest Hotel and Small Island without the kids.

8.  Picking raspberries, every other day, if  not every day. We have so many raspberries right now. We are eating them on cereal, on pancakes, in waffle batter, but mostly just by themselves.  I also made up two batches of raspberry freezer jam.  Freezer jam is my new favorite kind of jam because it is so much less work than canning and I am lazy like that.

9.  Riding the rides at Six Flags with the kids' Read to Succeed tickets. We were lucky and got a perfect day - not too hot, and not too crowded. Rose rode a big roller coaster for the first time and immediately wanted to go on again. I have to force myself to do one roller coaster per year, because I like to be able to say that I did, even though they pretty much terrify me. I am very proud of myself this year because I went on a coaster that goes upside-down.

10.  Spending time on our new favorite summer hobby- jigsaw puzzles! We put together a whiskey one...kind of an odd choice maybe, but it was a Father's Day gift.

And then we put together the 1000-piece White Mountain Puzzles Candy Wrappers- this one was tons of fun!


We are back to somewhat of a regular routine this coming week. Among other things, Grace is volunteering at horse camp, Rose has gymnastics, and I am still trying to get the kids to finish up some school work. Christopher should finish his BookShark reading and math this week. Grace has a bit more reading to do, James and I need to finish Swift Rivers, and Rose and I are going to keep plugging away at The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading. We have been failing miserably with the library's summer reading program, but I hope to make it in this week. This summer has been far busier than I am used to, but I am trying to roll with it. Another couple of weeks and Rose will have some time off from the gym, we have a vacation by the ocean planned, and then a quiet week (with a new puppy!), before one last week of summer camp and starting our new school year. Whew!

Monday, July 13, 2015

A Review of BookShark's American History 1

James and I are finishing up our last read-aloud for BookShark's American History 1: Swift Rivers. BookShark puts grade levels on all of their packages, which I don't care for because I always feel like my kids are behind somehow.  American History 1 is called "third grade", but they recommend it for ages 8-11. For the record, James was in fourth grade (9-10 years old) when we did this, and for the most part, I think the reading level was great for him. The read-alouds were just right challenge-wise; he certainly had to pay attention while I was reading, but he usually understood what was going on and could discuss it.  Some of the readers were a bit on the easy side, which I initially saw as a negative, but then decided not to worry about. James had no trouble keeping up with the reading assignments, which meant that I didn't have to nag him, and that is always a plus! And after all, it is nice to read an easy book after a more challenging one. I like to do that too.

A few of the books James and I read this year

The Readers

As I said earlier,  I chose the advanced reader package to go along with this level. The advanced readers are not harder.... there are just more of them. The advanced reader package includes the regular readers, plus eight more books.  Many of the readers were very easy. In fact, James read several of the shortest ones, like Stone Fox and Sarah, Plain and Tall, in just one day. I did not read the books myself, but the notes in the instructor's guide were sufficient to help me discuss each day's reading with him. Many of the readers are classic historical fiction like The Bears on Hemlock Mountain, The Corn Grows Ripe, and The Matchlock Gun. There are also a fair number of biographies at this level, such as The Story of Eli Whitney and Meet Thomas Jefferson. James really prefers nonfiction right now, so I appreciated that there was plenty of that  mixed in this year. On average, it probably took James 20 minutes a day to complete his reading assignment.

The Read-Alouds

The eleven read-alouds for this year are mostly historical fiction. There is also a poetry book, A Child's Introduction to Poetry, scheduled once per week. I reviewed the poetry book earlier this year and you can see the whole list of read-alouds on the BookShark website. I enjoyed all of the read-alouds and appreciated that there was a good mix of writing styles and topics. Rose (6 at the time) wanted to listen to all of them, so I think a child on the younger end of the recommended age range would probably do fine with them, depending on their patience. On average, we spent 20 minutes on our read-aloud each day.   Johnny Tremain and Carry on Mr. Bowditch are long books that definitely challenged James in his listening abilities. I needed to have a glass of water along for those readings! I will admit that I was not looking forward to re-reading either of those two books, since I had already read them with Grace and Christopher for Sonlight's Core D. I had memories of them taking approximately six years to finish and the kids being just a wee bit bored. But I did read them aloud and was pleasantly surprised to find that I actually enjoyed both books much more the second time around. And while James never exactly begged me to read more, he had much more patience than I remember his brother having for our read-aloud sessions. I wonder if that has anything to do with his years of listening to his older siblings' Sonlight read-alouds?

Secrets of the Sealed Room was a really fun read, and we both enjoyed trying to figure out the mystery. We were totally wrong, for the record! I enjoyed The Witch of Blackbird Pond, but it wasn't such a hit with James. I think it may have been a bit too girly for him, with a little too much romance and talk of marriage to hold his interest.  He preferred Winter Danger, Sign of the Beaver, and Toliver's Secret, which all have a lot of action and adventure.  I think the age range for this set of read-alouds (8-11) is right on target, with the possible exception of Carry On, Mr. Bowditch. I think that one is better suited to the upper end of the age range, because the story is a bit harder to follow and there is a lot of scientific terminology in it. I definitely appreciated the vocabulary notes in the IG for that one! For sensitive kids, you might want to preview Walk the World's Rim, because there is a death in it that may be upsetting. James was fine with it, but I did wait to read that section until Rose was out of the room, because she does get bothered by such things. There are quite a few deaths in Bowditch as well (that guy had a hard life!), but I warned James about it ahead of time and he was fine with it, as was Rose, who listened in off and on.

The History

There are three main history spines for this year: The Landmark History Volume 1, The Children's Encyclopedia of American History, and The Beginner's American History.  Each day we were assigned  a reading from one of the spines or one of the supplementary history books.

Landmark  was recently updated and now has plenty of full-color pictures and a much more readable text.  I already owned an older Sonlight Core D, but I purchased BookShark American History so that I could use the new Landmark. The reading assignments are generally just a few pages, but I do think the text might be a bit difficult for an eight- year old. I thought James was the perfect age for it.

 The Children's Encyclopedia of American History is your typical DK encyclopedia: heavily illustrated with both small snippets and full paragraphs of text. I had originally planned for James to do the DK readings independently, but I found that he he got much more out of the readings when we did them together. I loved  the reproductions of historical paintings scattered throughout the book;  it was like a mini art history lesson along with our reading. The back of the book was a good source for memory work ideas for us this year. It includes the list of American presidents and the text of the Declaration of Independence, among other things.

 The Beginner's American History seems like it was designed for a public school setting since the last few pages of each section are devoted to comprehension questions. We skipped those questions and just did the questions from the IG, which were often the same anyway. The readings from this book are short, with a casual, narrative style. We often combined two days' readings into one day. This is the easiest of the three spines, as far as reading level goes. The readings focus primarily on specific people, rather than just historical events, so it is a nice complement to the other two books.

 In addition to these three spines, we read If You Were There When They Signed the Constitution, Pedro's Journal (historical fiction in diary form, which I thought was a neat idea), a book about Lewis and Clark, and a picture book about North American Indians, which we didn't read, because I couldn't find it!


James kept a Timeline Book for this level, which I reviewed here. I do own the markable map and markers, but we never used them; we always did the map assignments with the smaller  maps included with the IG. We did not use the Language Arts for this level, so I can't review that. 

Overall I think this is a great core, and I will definitely re-use it with Rose. James will be moving on to BookShark's American History 2 next year.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Ten Pictures

1. My "baby" turned 7! I won't even get into how old this makes me feel. She had a party cake, which was chocolate with white frosting and these fabulous glittery blue sprinkles.

2.  And a cake on her birthday of course, which was a cookies and cream cake (so good!).

3. Getting our farm share each week has turned out to be more of a commitment than I imagined. It takes about an hour to bag up our produce and get all the pick-your-own items each week. Last week, we picked peas, strawberries, herbs, currants, basil, cilantro....and flowers! It is worth it though, I am loving having all the vegetables each week.

4.  We celebrated July 4th with our traditional morning: pancakes with strawberries, blueberries, and whipped cream.

5. And we made fireworks with a fork. This one is Grace's. I think they came out pretty neat, though the boys were not at all interested in making one.

6. And these fireworks are by Rose. She added the moon to hers.

7. We went to see real fireworks, which is always a hit. The kids wanted to try taking photos of the fireworks, which is not easy.

8. We did manage to get a couple that weren't totally blurry.

9. After Rose and I finished up the Nancy Drew book from her summer readers pack, she really wanted to make the cork pony project at the back of the book.

Well, I tried. If you squint, it might even look like some sort of animal, though not necessarily a horse.

10. Much more successful were the strawberries I made for Rose's birthday. She wanted some Frozen-themed things, so these are "Anna's Frozen Hearts"...strawberries dipped in white candy melts and rolled in sparkly blue sugar. Found on Pinterest, not invented by me.

Have a wonderful week!