Friday, August 28, 2015

The Nuts and Bolts of Our 2015-2016 School Year

Warning: a very long, detailed post follows, more for my records than for human consumption. If you read it, I hope you can find something helpful in it!


So, the school time nitty-gritty. We have a very full house this year, with a fourth grader, a second grader, a kindergartener, a toddler, and a baby. It's loud and busy here all the time. Take a look at our school pictures this year (and go back to past ones -- 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011 --my word, they get big fast!), and then I'll share our schedule and booklists.






The best way to make this pig fly this year is by breaking the day down into hours and assigning each one a task, AND (very important!) planning tons of margin in the day. So I schedule about 30-45 minutes of work into each hour. This leaves us with time to regroup at the end, time to change a blow-out diaper or feed a hungry baby (hello read-alouds!), or get everyone a snack, or send them outside to run off some energy, or do a quick clean-up of the house because I can no longer see the floor, or help a kid who is stuck on a difficult problem, or whatever. And it's usually many of those per hour. So here's how it goes:

8-9: eat breakfast, get dressed, do poetry reading using A Child's Introduction to Poetry. When we finish that one, we'll move on to another poetry book. I just read two or three pages and we talk briefly about the poem. I like starting the day with something fun, lovely, and inspiring, before we hit the harder stuff.

The other day, Cory was talking about Iain's "death" in minecraft and he said, "Iain went gentle into that good night." It made my day. Week, even. :)

9-10: math. Iain is in Singapore 3, Cory is in Singapore 2, and Laina is in Singapore K. We're also using this time to drill the multiplication table and work on skip-counting. Iain has to do 30 minutes of focused math, Cory and Laina do 15. Plus the drills. Usually, Cory ends up doing more than 15 minutes, and he's making steady progress.

10-11: Language Arts. This one is tricky because it requires lots of help from me. Iain has two loops to work on, each for 15 minutes. A loop is basically a list of a few subjects he needs to work on, but rather than them being assigned a day (spelling on Monday, handwriting on Tuesday), he works on the next one on the list, regardless of the day. So if he misses a Tuesday, say, he will just pick up again on Wednesday. Loop one is spelling, handwriting, and Wordly Wise, and loop two is typing/spanish, spelling, and Explode the Code. He's using Spelling Workout C, CC's cursive handwriting book, Spanish at our local program where he does extracurriculars (he's also doing gym), and we don't yet have typing set up. I wrote the loops out in the back of his assignment notebook (more on that in a second), and he moves a paperclip down the subjects every day to remind him which one he's on.

Iain is also doing a writing class taught by me. A friend of his is in the class too. We're meeting once a week, and I'm using the curriculum I developed when I taught at Circle Christian School the year I got married. It's a hybrid IEW and other stuff program. I'd love to have a few more kids in the class, so if you're local, have a fourth- or fifth-grader, and want a free writing class, let me know!

I chose a bunch of readers for Iain this year--mostly from Sonlight's Core B read-alouds (thank you Alison for the core!), but he's such an avid reader, he's pretty much going to read for an hour or more every day whether or not I ask him to.

Cory is doing reading with my friend Sarah this year. She's been tutoring him once a week, and my word, has she been a God-send. Literally. He's doing great with her. He's doing some spelling with her, too, and some Spelling Workout A, and he's also doing Explode the Code, which he hates but is good for him. He's doing Handwriting Without Tears at the program I mentioned above (he also does art).

Laina is doing Handwriting Without Tears also at the program above (a different class than Cory; also she does ballet. Hello cuteness!), and Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. She rocks it and loves it. 

So the way this hour works is that I start Cory on spelling and Iain on his loops, and read with Laina. Then she plays or does handwriting while I read with Cory, and Iain continues his loops. Then Cory does handwriting or plays while I do writing with Iain. Phew.

11-12: Morning Time. This is my favorite part of the day. We do Scripture memory using Desiring God's Foundation Verses (we are currently learning the Ten Commandments, so we also sing the campy Ten Commandment song, "number one, we've just begun, God should be first in your life..."). We practice the poem we're learning, and talk about it (currently "The Tyger" by William Blake. And Mason quoted part of it to some friends at CFA last week and landed us squarely in the homeschool nerd camp.). We read some geography from Peoples of the World and eventually I plan to rotate geography with music (hymns and appreciation) and art (picture study and art projects). Then we do what we do best: read-alouds. To be fair, we actually schedule it here, but usually do it earlier, and often later too. We do it when I'm feeding Ivy, and if we're somewhere we have to wait. I have always practiced the very good tradition of always, always having a book with me. Now I have two. One for me, and our read-aloud.

We're reading The Green Ember right now. I have heard so very many good things about this book, and my opinion is that it's...okay. It's a fun story. Not the best thing we've ever read. I'm also reading The Far Side of the Mountain with just the big boys at night after Laina is in bed. Jeremy just finished reading The Princess and the Goblin with the boys, and as a family, we're working through The Chronicles of Narnia (we're on The Magician's Nephew, reading them in the order they were written). I have so many fun books waiting in the wings. Many are historical fiction taken from the time period we're studying this year: the Middle Ages.

12-12:30: Lunch. If we've made it this far without eating, which doesn't usually happen. We try to learn one Latin or Greek root word at lunch.

1-2: Quiet time. Mason naps. 

2-3: Afternoon Loop. Mason still naps. (Sometimes we switch this and quiet time.) This is another favorite. Our loop here is History, Worldview, History, Science. (When you loop, you can put one subject more times than the others if you want to do it more often. It's all about ratios. I hope I'm explaining this well!) For History, we're using Story of the World book two. Worldview is Apologia's Who is God? And Can I Know Him? and Science is Science in the Beginning. This is a fun loop, but to be honest, it is hard to get it done. Once we dismiss for the morning, it's hard to get traction again. That's why we eat the frogs first with math and language arts, and save the fun stuff for later--it's more likely to get done that way!

One more thing: for Iain and Cory, I started last year writing their assignments out each day in spiral notebooks. We love this system and we're doing it again this year. Sarah at Amongst Lovely Things does an excellent job explaining the system.

Okay, one more thing, really: during school, where are the little two? Mason is playing, coloring, eating a snack, running the water in the bathroom, jumping on the trampoline, coloring on the walls, or throwing things. Ivy is in the pack n play (and if she is, she's crying), in the ergo, on my hip, napping, or trying to eat cheerios under the table. It's loud, chaotic, and crazy. It's all part of my plan to teach my kids to concentrate under extreme circumstances so if they ever have to do math or underline the nouns or remember who Beowulf is during a fire drill, they'll be fine.

If you've read this far, I'm impressed. 

Also, if we can fly this pig, I will be impressed.

Homeschooling five kids eight and under: it's not for wimps.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

School Daze

We started school a week ago today. Our first day was held at Chick-fil-a, which actually worked really well as it let us use the play place for Mason (and Laina when she wasn't working). Plus it was a fun way to start things off--a new tradition to be sure. We've had some bumpy days since, and today was the first day that I feel like things were actually working and coming together, and, like I read on one mom's homeschool blog, we're making this pig fly.

This year, I'm schooling a fourth-grader, a second-grader, and a kindergartener, all while trying to entertain/fend off/discipline/train a two-year-old ACTIVE boy and carry/nurse/care for a seven-month-old baby girl. It's quite a year around these parts, friends. And we're only a week in.


We decided not to do Classical Conversations this year. It wasn't a good fit for us, but we are so very sad to be leaving the community of friends we made. It was hard to decide what to do. I wanted to do Sonlight again, but not necessarily for the content of the curriculum as much as for the ease of using a boxed curriculum that's ready-made and, if we were to stick with it, would provide a good education for my kids without a lot of gaps. But. Sonlight is very expensive.

I have been gathering my own curriculum for the past three years and been liking it fine. Last year was the easiest to put together because I had CC as an organizing spine. This year, I'd be on my own. I thought, too, that we'd be pretty much a Classical education family, but this year, I realized we're more of a mix between Classical and Charlotte Mason. Believe it or not, it was a helpful realization to make. I started listening to some podcasts from the Circe Institute, and I found a website that was instructive, inspirational, and down-to-earth (the Schole Sisters). This! This is what I'm looking for! These resources and others like them cast a vision for an education steeped in truth, goodness, and beauty, with Christ at the center. They call for hard work and academic excellence, along with character development. They focus on literature and use read-alouds freely and often (our favorite thing!) and they present a well-rounded, liberal arts education that I just might be able to provide for my kids. Even more helpful, they repeatedly remind parent-teachers to simplify, that less is more, and that a deep education doesn't mean one that is stuffed full of subjects and never-ending quests for the best, but that it is one with margin, time to think, reflect and pray, time to create, time to read, and with carefully chosen subjects and books, not every one there is. Charlotte Mason's ideas and schedules helped a lot with this, too.

This is what I've been trying to do. And I found others doing it too. It was freeing and encouraging and helpful. And I've found ideas and resources and practical help.

And so, with a lot of hard work and thought, it came together. This year, we will be studying the Medieval time period, and using read-alouds that reflect that and some other good ones I found (starting with The Green Ember, which we are loving so far!). We're doing math and language arts, poetry, a lot of reading, memorization, history, science, world view, nature study, art, and Latin roots--but not all of that every day. We're using a loop schedule for some things and making others into habits. It's too early yet to see if this pig will fly, but we're gluing some wings on and hoping for the best.

In another post, I'll lay out the specifics (more for my records than because I think anyone will want to read book lists!) and also our traditional first day of school pics. But for today, I'm enjoying our first successful quiet time break of the 2015 school year and then it'll be on to science!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Laina Turns Five!

It hardly seems possible that the tiny ten-month-old baby we brought home is now a beautiful five-year-old girl with a mind of her own. But here she is! Laina decided she wanted a play-date party, as she called it. All her girl friends over with their dolls, and crafts, and cookies and sprinkles. And sword-fighting. But we nixed that one--short on time and all. :)

(last day as a four!)

(first day as a five!)

Her birthday was on Tuesday, and we spent the morning doing hair, and then met the Whatleys for dinner at Chick-fil-a, it being Cow Appreciation Day and all. Laina wore a crown that read, "I'm the Birthday Cow." And loved it. She opened presents there from family. I made her adoption story book this year, and we didn't want her to open that at her party in case she felt uncomfortable with it. But she didn't, and showed some of the guests the next day.


(Cory got a salad and a coke--his idea of heaven.)


(Karolina sees the big cow walking around)

Tuesday night we had a massive thunderstorm. We lost power for hours that night and again the next morning and thought we may have to call off the party. But thankfully, we got it back and the house cooled off in time for our guests to arrive!

We decorated aprons and then cookies. Mason used his cookie to shovel sprinkles into his mouth. And he asks to look at this picture all the time.


Laina had a blast at her party. I think her favorite presents were the horse from Nona and the quilt from Grammy and Papa. Although the caboodle and girly accessories from Aunt Jenna were a pretty big win too.
(working on Laina's birthday banner)

(decorating aprons)



(the party people!)


Ivy enjoyed hanging out with her arranged Best Friend (similar to an arranged marriage; they are best friends, as decided by the parents!) Lyla. Lyla and Ivy are eight weeks apart, almost to the day. We did a little mini photo shoot since they both had adorable tutus and headbands.



(The big girls and their baby sisters. The babies didn't care for this part of the shoot.)

(sweet Lyla)


One of her presents from us was extensions in her hair! She's been wanting them for a while, but I thought I'd have to pay someone to put them in. I finally found someone and then Kelsey told me that it's not too hard and I could do it myself. So...I tried it! It took a loooooong time, but Laina was very happy with the results. She walks around tossing her head back and forth. It's great.


And just like that, the four became five. Her big brothers both bought her gum, since five is a family rite of passage to be able to chew it. She glowed and grinned both days of her birthday celebration. Laina, we love you so. You are sweet and kind, silly and fun. Happy birthday, Bug!

Saturday, July 04, 2015

To Pennsylvania We Go!

We've been wanting to take the kids up the East Coast for a while now--to see DC, Philadelphia, Gettysburg, Valley Forge, Williamsburg, etc. The boys are such history buffs, we knew they'd love it. And the fact that we could be based, for the duration of the trip, out of Alison's house, means I knew I'd love it. We tried to go in October, on two different occasions, and couldn't go. Then I, you know, had a baby, which slowed us down a little. No problem--maybe in April. Then said baby turned out to be a car-crier. Another no-go. So when Jeremy suggested we try for the end of June, with Ivy a little more relaxed in the car, no medical problems for anyone, and no one having a baby, we thought, once again, we'd go.

This time, we made it.

We didn't do nearly everything we wanted to. We skipped DC, Williamsburg, and Gettysburg, to name a few. We travelled slowly. But we did it. Can you tell I was pretty proud of us? And surprised?

It took us two days to get to Lancaster, and the night in the hotel was pure misery. But when we got there, our kids clicked with the McLennan kids like they hang out all the time, when in fact, most of them hadn't seen each other since we were in PA in 2010. Laina and Aviviah (also adopted from Rwanda, the same time as Laina) were joined at the hip the entire week, and the boys and Liam played hard for hours a day. It was perfect.

(in the hotel)

(look who turned six months old on the second day of our trip! People might have looked at me funny when I took pictures of her on her quilt on the sidewalk outside the hotel room...)




We arrived on Thursday afternoon. On Friday, we went to the Duck Park (our name for it; not the real name), out to lunch, and to the chocolate factory. This, except for the lunch, was the same thing we did on our first day in PA five years ago. The kids, minus Mason who was a mess, did great at the restaurant, and it was fun to take them somewhere nice instead of to a fast-food place. 






Saturday was rainy and very cool--strange for the end of June, but lovely. We stayed at the house all day and the kids played. Alison, Ivy, and I may have gone out for iced coffee and ended up driving around town for an hour or two, you know, to let Ivy sleep. Blessed quiet and face-to-face talking time.
(Ivy in the high chair for the first time, looking mighty pleased)



Sunday was the biggest and hardest day. We loaded up early and headed to Philadelphia to attend church at Epiphany Fellowship. That was pretty sweet. Then we went to the historical area to get lunch...or to try to. By the time we found a place to eat, it was 1pm. By the time we got our food at the world's slowest restaurant, it was 2 and we were starving. Not our finest moments. We did eat Philly cheese steaks in Philly, by gum, but it was hard-fought.


(waiting, waiting, waiting for the food)

Then it was on to Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, Ben Franklin's grave, and Betsy Ross's house. We saw the room the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed in, and the chair that George Washington sat in. We stood in the courtyard that the Declaration was read in, and we saw original copies of both documents. 
(the boys pretending to be in the painting)

(outside Independence Hall)

(the room everything was signed in, and GW's chair. So cool!)

(Iain looking at the Constitution--an old copy anyway)

We read about the history of the Liberty Bell and saw it. Mason yelled out the CC Bill of Rights Song, and the three big kids became Jr Rangers. Everyone ran around a big green field while I fed Ivy.
(family photo in front of the Liberty Bell. Contrast with our family photo from the last time we were in PA, below)

(October, 2010)

(waiting for a tour)




(outside Betsy Ross's house)

Iain loved everything about Philly. Cory's favorite thing was the Liberty Bell. Laina liked our Dairy Queen dinner. Mason liked any time I gave him a snack, and really, that was Ivy's favorite part too. Jeremy liked seeing Leviticus 25 on the Liberty Bell, and learning about the courtyard where the Declaration was first read, and I liked the courtyard too.

This day was hard. Logistically, physically, stressfully hard. :) But totally worth it. Mason didn't nap all day and he did as well as we could have asked for an over-tired two-year-old. The big kids loved it.

Monday we took the day slow. We let the kids play. We went to a beautiful playground. And then after lunch, we went to a pretzel factory and then to an Amish farmer's market. We ate hotdogs and hamburgers on the back deck. It was one of my favorite days, and once again the weather was beautiful. 

(Ivy was brave enough to pet Pixie--until Pixie moved!)








Tuesday was Valley Forge day. The McLennans, minus Tim, came with us. We discovered the Story Benches on this trip, and were so sad we missed the ones in Philly. These may have been my favorite part of all our day trips. The kids sat on the Story Bench and the storyteller spun tales of historical heroes, funny foibles, and daring escapades. The storytellers were fabulous, drawing the kids into the stories, acting them out, using voices and physical comedy. It was amazing, hilarious, entertaining, and memorable. Iain got to play the general of Pennsylvania, Gen. Wayne, and was so animated and into it--we loved it.



(Iain as Gen Wayne, rustling cattle)

We drove all around the beautiful Valley Forge and could have spent a much longer time there. The kids climbed in bunk houses and on cannons, and we saw the house George Washington used as his office. As we were preparing to leave, a big thunderstorm was rolling in. We stopped at a gas station and our phones were sending warnings of tornados, saying "take cover now!" The gas station was closing up because of the storm. We looked back and could see huge, rotating clouds, so we quickly drove to the mall where we waited out the storm, had an early dinner, and let the kids look around the Lego store. Finally we made it home--at bedtime. 




















On Wednesday, let the kids play for a while, took some pictures, and sadly headed home.



(have I mentioned how thankful I am for this girl?)

(Contrast this one with the kid picture we took last time we were in PA, below. Between the two families, we've doubled the amount of kids we have!)


(October, 2010)

We made good time heading home--at first. Then we got stuck in one traffic jam after another. The night at the hotel went better (thankfully!) but the next day was bad in the car. It took us over nine hours to drive what should have been around six. For a while there, we were stopping every fifteen minutes for one thing or another.


When we finally made it home, the kids ran to the backyard to check on the garden before they even came inside. Then they ran around like excited puppies for the rest of the evening. There's no place like home!

We concluded that, though the trip had some very hard hours, overall, it was good. We did and saw as much as we could with the younger kids being the ages that they are. We made some great memories as a family, spent good time with good friends, saw some really cool historical things, and did fun stuff in Lancaster. When the trip was weighed in the balance, we found that our second family vacation to PA was a success. And that we don't want to drive anywhere for a while.