Saturday, May 28, 2011

Weekly Wrap-Up ~ The Last One

This is technically the last Weekly Wrap-up of this school year for Journey to Excellence. School is over for us. Yay!!

I didn't plan on schooling over the summer. I thought we'd just have fun. But, then education started becoming a way of life, instead of an institution. That happens in homeschooling, I have found. So, looks like school will continue, somewhat, over the summer. The older two kids won't be required to do anything formal. Kyndal will be working at her job, sleeping late and hanging out with her friends. And other than reading, and working with his grandpa for a couple of weeks, Dawson won't be doing anything other than being a teenager.

At Eli's IEP meeting it was clear that he needs some reading reinforcement this summer so that he is fully prepared for 2nd grade next year. And Brynne loves to read. So the two of them will be doing reading lessons every day (a reading lesson sheet, Saxon reader and silent reading). And Eli really wants to learn about China. So I am going to order Expedition China from Amanda Bennett for us to do, as well. It will be fun to include him in our homeschooling this summer. There will also be lots of weekly activities and Coop summer activities, so we will be busy and will be having fun. That's what summer's all about, right?

Because of all of this summer learning, Wrap-ups will continue, I am sure. Plus, there's all the progress in curriculum-building for next year.

This week was a finishing-up week. Dawson had a list of things he had to complete, and he did it by Thursday afternoon.

Brynne and I spent the week discussing animal habitats, characteristics and adaptations. We did Venn Diagrams, sorting and lots of discussing (in preparation for going to the zoo).

She read several books she had checked out from the library.

And then we finished our week off by going to the zoo. We attempted to complete an A to Z Scavenger Hunt, and did almost all of the letters. But, we got distracted by the treats in store for us while we were there. The chimpanzees were especially rambunctious. We laughed and laughed at the two kids fighting over a stick. We could sit and watch those chimps all day!

The cheetah made a rare appearance up close and personal. Usually he's hiding or sleeping.

The river otters were in a playful mood and the prairie dogs even came out of hiding to see us.

The 120 year old tortoises were awake and eating near the fence.

And Brynne got to see her beautiful giraffes that she loves so much.

It was a beautiful day and a perfect way to end the school year. We even took Eli out of school at noon (his last day of public school this year) so he could go with us. Kyndal had finals so she had to stay at school.

Daddy treated us to dinner out to celebrate our great year. And then I came home and got in my jammies and vegged on the couch because I was exhausted! I went to bed at 9:30 p.m. and crashed.

What a great, great year!! Now let's start getting ready for the next one.

Thanks to Kris for hosting Weekly Wrap-up every week! I have gotten so many great ideas from it and have learned so much about homeschooling and myself.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

... and we're done

When Dawson came downstairs a little while ago and said that he had completed his Pre-Algebra final and made a 91%, I experienced quite a wave of emotions! First I realized that WE .. ARE .. DONE !!!!! That was his last assignment. He and I were so excited! We high-fived and hugged. We made it through our first year of homeschooling.

Then I almost started crying because I took a brief moment to look back on all that we have accomplished this year as teacher and student, mother and son. I was a little overwhelmed.

And we are both still really happy with our decision for him to come home. We are ready for another great year next year, but are also ready for a break. Let the break begin!!

(Brynne is also done, other than our final field trip tomorrow to the zoo. We had a great year! I don't think the emotions are as high for her or for me because we knew our time together would be great. And, it has been! And for her, the learning never stops. She has plans to do lots of reading this summer and her and Eli want to learn about China, so we will be doing a unit study on that.)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Next Week's Plans ~ The Last Week

To celebrate Brynne completing the entire study of a letter-of-the-week curriculum, we will be doing a week-long lesson on The Zoo from A-Z.

How will we do that?

My amazing bloggy friend Stacey at BrainInTrainin (I get so many of my ideas from her) posted about a website for the Indianapolis Zoo. You can download the materials by going here. (It's the 3rd grade program.) I printed off the relevant materials for our study and put them in a binder for a full week of activities. Many of the items in the materials can be used, no matter where you live and no matter how old your kids are.

We will do the following:
  • sort and diagram the provided animals using a Venn Diagram to plot animals with claws, beaks and tails
  • sort and chart habitats of the animals (grassland, forest, ocean, swamp rain forest, tundra and desert)
  • choose three animals from our animal fact cards and discuss the different ways they all do the same type of activities, like eating, foraging, moving, protecting themselves, listening and communicating and finding shelter
  • play habitat games of Kangaroo Hop, Monkey Thumbs and Binocular Eyes
  • choose ten animals from magazines and make lists under each of them, on a poster, of the things on the animals' bodies that help them survive in their habitat and what actions the animals might take that help them survive
  • sort all of the animals into groups of carnivores and omnivores
Then on Friday we are going to go to our local zoo (a great zoo) and do an A to Z Scavenger Hunt. That will be lots of fun!

And that will conclude Brynne's 1st grade year of homeschooling. An Amazing and Zealful year!

I made Dawson a list of things that he has to finish by next Friday: Pre-algebra assignments (6 lessons plus his final), his Valesquez poster, typing and Spanish lessons, and I, Juan de Pareja. As soon as he gets it all done, he's out of school for the summer! That timing is entirely up to him. Then he will go to the zoo with us. And then he will be a high school student!  Wow!

That night we are celebrating the end of our school year with Pizza!

Weekly Wrap-Up ~ Favorites

This week was kind of a blur .. just trudging along trying to get done what we need to get done.

Brynne did finish her alphabet study and she was thrilled! Each week she did a tracer page, made a mini-book, did a word search for her letter-of-the-week, and read four books about the letter. She completed "Z" this week.

We finished up our Princess study and concentrated on 1 Peter 2:9 and Psalm 45:13, the fact that she is a common girl chosen by God to be His princess. We read the scriptures and she copied them. We also correlated the importance of taking our role as princess seriously, just like the new Princess Catherine has to take her role as princess seriously.

Here is my favorite princess.

Speaking of favorites, here is a picture of Dawson's favorite homeschool lunch: garden vegetable Ritz crackers, sliced mozzarella cheese and pepperonis.

With studying the Italian Renaissance, we continued to discuss the artists of that time, and read more of I, Juan de Pareja. That's a great book! Diego Valesquez was a great artist and man!

And while we are talking about great works of art, here are a couple of mine.

We took Thursday off and went into Philbrook Museum in Tulsa. You can read all about that here and see some beautiful photos.

Dawson also made a planets book. He drew and colored a picture of each planet and included five facts about each. We bound it together for Brynne to use next year on our planned solar system study.

Are ya'll tired? I am. I am ecstatic that we only have one more week left of school. We have some fun things planned, and I'll post about that later this weekend.

Lots of homeschools have closed shop for the summer. I see that many will continue on with some sort of schooling throughout. My older two will not have any school, but I will still reinforce reading with my younger two.

Go to Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers to check up on other families.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Day at the Museum

Today we took a 'school away from home day' and went to Philbrook Museum in Tulsa. We love this museum. Not only is it beautiful, but it has great works of art. It's one of Dawson's favorite places to go. He is studying the Italian Renaissance, so we made sure to stop by the Italian painting and portrait wing. Beautiful art!

We spent the most of our time in the gardens though. Breathless!

We also purchased our family zoo passes for the year, while we were out, and had lunch at iconic Hideaway Pizza. Yum!!!

It was such a great day!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Hold that Thought!

Do you like notebooking? Wait ... Hold that Thought!

Yes, that's the notebooking resource we will be using next year.

We have tried lapbooking, and I know lots of people use it and love it. But we always felt like we spent so much time cutting and pasting and it required tons of work on my part to get the pieces prepared. We didn't like it.

Instead we found ourselves taking our units and making copies of all of our worksheets, etc., that we planned to use and binding them together in a manila folder with yarn. Brynne seemed to enjoy them, they were organized by topic, and she could look at them anytime she wanted. It also gave her more room for free writing and drawing.

Both Dawson (9th grade) and Brynne (2nd grade) will be doing a full year study of U.S. History next year. I have purchased them each a 3-ring binder and we are going to notebook our study of America.

While searching for notebooking pages for the themes we will cover, I came across a notebooking publisher called  Hold that Thought!

They have full notebooking pages on cd for Advanced History and Beginner's History. A great deal offered by the publisher, if you order from their website, is that when you purchase one cd, they will give you another cd of your choice for free! I ordered (and paid for) the Advanced History notebooking cd for about $25.00. Then I requested the Beginner's History as my free cd. When I got them in the mail, I also received a Geography cd for free!!!

I took a few minutes this weekend and looked at the contents of the cds. Oh. my. goodness. There is so much material, I can't even believe it! The notebooking pages are beautiful and thorough! I am so excited that I want to start planning and printing the pages and assemblying the notebooks right now!

We are not planning to cover Geography this year, but in a couple of years we are going to do an 'Around the World in 180 Days' self-built curriculum and that Geography cd will come in so handy!! For now, however, it will be priceless as we travel all over America in our U.S. History study. We will be able to incorporate some amazing maps into our notebooks.

You have got to go look at the notebooking options at Hold that Thought!  I think I have hit the jackpot!!

Stop the Presses!!!

Just after I posted about our plans to use Math Mammoth for our primary daily math lessons, my friend Stacey from BraininTrainin recommended MEP ~ Mathematics Enhancement Programme.

And I am in love.

So much, in fact, that I printed the first 30 lessons of the Practice Book, Lesson Plans and Copy Masters. They will go in a binder and we will use this curriculum (FREE, btw) for our math lessons. We will do them on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday we will do Living Math. We don't do formal school on Fridays because of Homeschool Coop.

What attracted me to MEP? It is heavily logic based with a heavy emphasis on word problems. It's not just 2+2 ... it's figuring out why there is 2+2.

It's not "paper math" even though the answers are written on a worksheet. The math is primarily done in the mind.


MEP follows the hungarian methods of math. Hungary is ranked 6th in the world for mathematics. The United States is ranked 14th.

You should go check it out. It's interesting, looks fun and engaging. I am confident we will love it!

Math Mammoth will be put aside. I'll be honest, I liked it when I purchased it. But after Brynne and my conversation about how she does not like "paper math", I was worried. Math Mammoth is paper math.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Living Math

Because Brynne came home from kindergarten after school started, I didn't purchase any formal curriculum for her. I already knew she was advanced in many areas, so I really just used this year to let her teach me! I wanted to get a good feel for what she already knew, what she was interested in and what style of teaching worked best with her.

I already had an interest in the Charlotte Mason method, which worked especially great since I didn't have any formal curriculum to use. We stuck with the 3 R's and did science and social studies units based on her interest, doing lots and lots of reading! And with all of the reading we did she learned to, well, read!

In math we used a 1st grade book that the school gave us, but it was boring to her so we incorporated as much hands-on math as we could. We tried to work off of our social studies and science units and do math activities related to them. She liked that!

In public school she would be in 1st grade next year, maybe even kindergarten because she has an August birthday. But, she knew everything I tried to teach her this year, which was all 1st grade material, so we will naturally be moving on to 2nd grade work.

Next year we will be doing primarily Charlotte Mason type studies, with an emphasis on Living Books, copywork, art and nature. But there will also be a balance of notebooking, grammar work and math work pages using Math Mammoth.

These last couple of weeks of school we are just working on math facts worksheets. Last week she was excited to do them. This week, not so much. Today she said, "I don't like paper math."

I knew it. I knew it because she really loved the hands on math activities we did all year! That's why I had already planned to incorporate some "Living Math" into her curriculum next year. The last thing I want is a bored student!

I have heard of families who have done Living Math full out, and then regretted it at testing time. I am one who believes in a healthy dose of balance. I don't think you can have all your eggs in one basket. Maybe that's because I have had (and still have) public school kids. I know what is to come, and I want my kids to be prepared.

So I am in the process of checking books out from the library to get me started. I plan to use them the same way I did this year. I will use Math Mammoth as our daily math assignments. But, I will be sure to use Thursdays as a hands-on day reading books that have to do with the subject matter we are on, and doing activities that are fun. (For instance, we'll be doing our first science unit on the human body .... there are lots of bones in our bodies. Might be fun to count, sort, etc.!!)

Here are some books that come highly recommended. I will review them from the library first to see if they are something I would like to purchase for my library. If you have any other suggestions, please comment and let me know! 

Also, if you know of any blogs that showcase unique hands-on math activities, please let me know!! I am hoping to really work to get prepared this summer!!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Weekly Wrap-Up ~ Royal

Two more weeks! Two more weeks! I can't believe we only have two more weeks! A full school year has gone by. Unbelieveable!

Although we definitely feel as though we are winding down, there are still some things to get accomplished in the next two weeks.

This past week was a good one.

Brynne ~ 1st Grade

Brynne spent her week learning about The Royal Family. She has really enjoyed this little mini-unit.

We started our week having tea time. We broke out the china and sat on our back patio for a "spot of tea". She even convinced Dawson to join us, something he thought he would "never do".

We took a picture walk through some books about Queen Elizabeth and Prince William. Then we made a picture family tree so that she could see the lineage and try to understand how one becomes King or Queen in England. The visual was very helpful to her!

For fun we also did a family tree of our family and pretended that her grandma was the Queen. She saw that I would become Queen upon the passing of my mother and then Kyndal, her older sister, would become Queen upon my passing. I asked her what she would be and she said, "A princess." (Next week we are studying princesses, and what it really means to be one in God's eyes.)

And I found this picture on the dry-erase board upstairs.

Then we shifted our focus to Prince William and his new princess. We discussed how Kate was a commoner ... a regular girl like her. We discussed what an important job she now has as Prince William's wife. We watched the coverage of the wedding and then printed off paper dolls of Prince William and Kate. Brynne colored them and we cut them out and then attached small pieces of velcro to them so she could interchange the outfits. She had fun playing with them!

She did her letter "y" activities, did 100 problem math fact pages for 1's, 2's, 3's and 4's, read several books, and went to her last Coop P.E. and music classes for the year (she was very sad that was ending!).

Dawson ~ 8th Grade

Dawson started a study of The Renaissance. As his focus book, we are reading, together, I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino. It is the story of the slave of the artist, Diego Velasquez, and the touching relationship that they had. It is a really great book.

We were planning to take a field trip to The Renaissance Festival, but I think we are just tired of school and that didn't even seem like a worthwhile trip. We've been before, so we knew what would happen. Instead, we just talked about it.

In conjunction with The Renaissance, and our overview study of all of the great artists of that time, Dawson is working on a research project on the life of Velasquez and his paintings and he will make a poster about him to present to me.

In science he has started studying Astronomy, and is basically just listening to the notes on the topic, provided by AWOA, and using his personal reading time to read books to dig deeper into the subject matter. We are all projected-out, so will not do a project in science.

He is finishing up his grammar lessons, spelling, typing, Spanish and Life of Fred: Pre-Algebra. He is strangely focused and doing a great job of finishing strong. I am not sure I can say the same of his teacher. She's ready for summer break!

But summer break means lots of work for this teacher. There is a possibility I will be teaching a business law online college course in the fall (I have three weeks of online orientation for the university in June), so I am wanting to try to get the first semester of planning our homeschool lessons done. But, I am used to planning on a week-by-week basis. It stresses me out some to plan that far in advance. But I think I really need to do it so that I am not panicked in the fall when I'm teaching my class and trying to prepare to teach my children at the same time. 

See how other homeschools are ending their year at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Decision: Public vs. Home

The decision to homeschool Dawson and Brynne is a rather easy one. The decision to have Kyndal continue attending public school is a rather easy one. The decision about whether to leave Eli in public school or bring him home is a very difficult one.

A brief history: Eli had Interuterine Growth Retardation in the womb. The doctors considered taking him at about 34 weeks because his growth rate was so low. I was measuring several centimeters smaller than I should have been at that point. Because he measured above the 10% mark at that point, they decided to leave him in. I delivered at a little over 38 weeks, but at full term he was only 5 1/2 pounds. During delivery his heart rate dropped off the chart twice. That's when an emergency c-section was performed.

Eli was different right from the start. He was an extra good baby .. almost too good. It was at about a year old that we started to see some "things". Actually it had started earlier than that, but we didn't realize it until later. He had an extreme fascination with lights. He started to show some delays in his development. He would sit and stare at the t.v. forever, especially commercials. He was a happy little guy, but early on showed some quirkiness. When he was a little older he started obsessively lining things up, and just seemed to be in his own little world most of the time. He walked late, did most things late, and then it really became apparent with his speech. It just didn't progress.

At 2 1/2 we got him involved in our state program so that he could receive speech therapy at home. When he turned 3 he started attending a developmentally delayed preschool (an absolute God-send!) He attended there for 3 semesters and then had progressed so well that they mainstreamed him into the regular public school pre-k program. It was so good for him because it pushed him to do things he wouldn't ordinarily do.

Last year he was in the regular kindergarten classroom and this year he has been in the regular 1st grade classroom. He is extremely bright, but still has some issues with speech, structure, over-stimulation, etc. He receives speech and occupational therapy and takes all tests with a special resources teacher so that he can concentrate and do things at his own pace. He gets very stressed under pressure.

With homeschooling Brynne, and seeing the potential of homeschooling, I have been feeling a real tug at my heart to bring Eli home. We have plans to bring him home after the 5th grade, because we live in a big school district and the middle schools are just too much for a "normal" kid let alone one with some special needs. We feel that the school he is in right now is the best public school environment there is. He is probably the most loved kid in the whole school by all of the teachers and staff, and that really isn't an exaggeration. I think many people would be devastated if we took him out of school.

This past weekend Rick and I discussed the pros and cons of homeschooling him versus having him stay in public school, and we all but decided that we would bring him home next year. He would love homeschooling. He would love what we are learning. I feel like we are missing out on so much of him and he is missing out on so much of us. Since he is on an IEP, he would still be eligible for speech therapy even if he was homeschooled. He and Brynne are best friends and love to spend their time together and we are involved in a great Coop that would give him more social interaction than he would probably want.

When I asked him if he wanted to be homeschooled, he said, "No." He said, "I like going to school. It is fun!"

We still thought we would go ahead and take the steps necessary to bring him home.

And then I went to his IEP yesterday and I came home with major second thoughts.

You know how when you spend everyday with your child, you don't see the changes to their physical appearance like someone who only sees them every few months or so? With being with Eli every day, I don't think we had really seen the progress he has made. But when the therapists and teachers started charting his progress to me from this year, I was astounded.

As happens with every meeting with the school, everyone was in tears by the end of the meeting because of their love for him. All of the teachers and therapists are so overwhelmingly proud of the progress he has made.

I have had such fear and reservations about his ability to handle the 2nd grade work that will be required next year. But I was assured that he would be able to handle it, and if he has problems I was presented with the plans to make sure he stays on track. They have even chosen his teacher for next year based on her style of teaching, her classroom structure and his strengths and weaknesses.

The school seems to be right on top of his needs for next year. In fact, the occupational therapist knocked his time down to just one hour per month, but put in a stipulation to increase that time once the 2nd graders start preliminary cursive handwriting at the end of  next year to make sure he gets a good start.

This morning he went to school a little late because he was coughing in his sleep and I was worried he might be coming down with something. But he woke up saying he felt fine. He said, "I want to go to school! We are learning about bird watching!"

He loves school. He loves the kids at school. He loves the teachers at school. There are parts of school that he doesn't like (reading and writing). But everything else makes him so happy.

I want him home. But I think he wants to be in school. And I know all of the teachers and therapists want him there, too. I miss him so much during the day, but what if I couldn't help him with all the things he needs like his therapists can?

As much as I want him home, I think he probably needs to stay put for the time being.

It hurts my heart. But when you see the joy in that childs face, it makes it all worth it.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Weekly Wrap-Up ~ Just Read It!

Well, it must be the end of the year. I am sure I am experiencing a common phenomenon: I am so excited about what we are going to be learning next year that I just want to get done with what we are doing this year so I can get to planning. (Wrong attitude, I know! We need to finish strong!) And, the weather has just been so nice that about all I have wanted to do is take advantage of it ... just be outside soaking it in!

Dawson ~ 8th Grade

This week Dawson had a book due back to our public library that he is really enjoying, but reading slowly. Because there is a "hold list" for it, he wasn't able to renew it for another two weeks. So, I decided to let him incur a fine and keep reading so that he is ready for the next book when it becomes available (he's on that "hold list"). But, I told him he had to have it finished by today. So he had 200 pages to read in four days. Because we finished The Swiss Family Robinson and our study of the Age of Exploration on Tuesday and because he needed to get that book finished, his week was primarily a reading week. Other than finishing up his Ocean Floor project and keeping up with his Life of Fred: Pre-Algebra assignments (so he can get them finished by the end of the school year), that's all he did this week.

Does that bother me, though? No. He was reading. And enjoying it. And I'm finding more and more how reading is the cornerstone of our educational process. So to me this was a successful week for him. And he is planning on reading the next book this summer when we are not in school! Something has certainly been accomplished here!

Next week we are going to start the first of three weeks about The Renaissance Period. We will finish our school year on these lessons, including a look at astronomy, and adding in a few field trips.

Brynne ~ 1st Grade

It's hard to believe Brynne has finished almost a full year of school at home! It is so apparent to us in the fact that she was on letter "x" this week, and only has two more letters of the alphabet to do. We have learned all there is to know about all 26 letters, and she is so excited that she will have a mini-book completed for each letter of the alphabet!

She was stressed this week because we were out a printer starting mid-week. She really wants to get those books finished, but I have to be able to print for her to do them. We got a new printer last night, with much more economical printer cartridges, so will be all ready to finish the alphabet in time!

Because I was unable to print for a few days, her lessons were pretty sparse, too.

We did lots of reading to make up for it. And we started a four-week unit on Englad, the British Royal Family, the Royal wedding and princesses and knights. This will go along nicely with Dawson's Renaissance lessons.

Our focus this week was on England. We learned about what comprises Great Britain, and about London. Brynne colored maps of both, and the flags of both. Then we read the book Dodsworth in London by Tim Egan.

Brynne made a double-decker bus out of a pop-tart box and a toilet paper palace guard, that I had to draw the pieces for because of the printer issue.

The highlight of her week was watching Youtube videos of the palace guards. There were lots of funny videos: one slipping, one vomiting, several getting fed up with tourists, one falling asleep. She also watched some videos of landmarks from atop of some double decker buses.

We talked about some of the landmarks: Buckingham Palace and Stonehenge and looked at pictures on the internet. Then Brynne used cardboard blocks and legos to make a replica of Stonehenge.

Next week we will finish up with our study of London and move onto the Royal Family.

In math Brynne is continuing with her study of money. This week we primarily did workbook pages, but did get some money out for hands-on work.

We recycled and composted all week, which Brynne really enjoyed, and we took our first load of recycled materials to the recycling site today. Why, oh why, have we not been doing this our whole lives? Our trash can this past Monday had two small bags in it from the whole week, when usually it is overflowing. We had three full tubs of recycled materials from just one week. Brynne is very conscious of how we are saving the earth.

And Brynne finished her week with her Homeschool Coop Track and Field Day. You can read about it here.

Wow! I felt like we didn't get much done this week! But after reading this I see that it was a full week afterall.

Go join Kris and other homeschoolers to see what they did this week at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers.