Sunday, August 31, 2008

If I didn't have these . . .

Last week the printer ink in my homeschool printer went berserk and decided that though it was full, it wanted to say it was empty. Of course this happened while Erik was gone, in keeping with Murphy's Law which operates more strongly when he is away.

It killed me. I can't tell you how many things I wanted to print or photocopy (this was compounded by the fact that the other printer's ink really WAS out). It got me thinking about all the things that I depend on to do homeschool. I made a list this morning, in case any newbie homeschoolers are out there wondering, "What supplies should I have in my homeschool room?" Here's what I can't live without:

1. Photocopier - what did I do before this? I use it almost every day
2. Paper cutter - a big one
3. Giant white board
4. 3 hole punch (yes, though I live in the land of 2 hole punch, I will not submit. I bring 3 ring binders from the States. They just work so much better).
5. A really good pencil sharpener. And a back up in case I can't find the first one.
6. Laminator - I want a bigger one!
7. good art supplies - I've stopped thinking about how much they cost and just get them because they're worth it. Of course as much as I can I still get them in the U.S. where they are a fraction of the cost.

Who said homeschooling was cheap?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Best Laid Plans . . .

I am a planner. In the past I've planned out my homeschool semester using my history book as a guide. I printed out my blank homeschool template for each week, filled in what we'd be doing for history, then left the other subjects to be decided week by week. This is a pretty good approach, since many of the other subjects are straight forward, like math. You just write down the next lesson.

But this semester I had some time (imagine that - this, even before my maid came!) so I decided to go all out and I planned every subject through December, even down to extra curricular activities like art, music, PE and life skills. I felt a great sense of relief, knowing that each Sunday night I just have to breeze over my schedule and see if I need to gather any supplies.

It looks great on paper, until your son decides that his math chapter is too easy and instead of taking a week to do it, he takes a day. Or when he loses the book he's reading, so we just jump ahead to the next one. Suddenly I'm checking things off in next week, and the week after. I could rewrite it, but I know it will keep happening, so I guess we just go with it and see how it comes out in the end.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Review: Spell to Write and Read

I wasn't looking for a new language arts program, per se. But I have a boy who is quite logic smart and as a result is not a good speller - it just doesn't make sense to him logically, and the program we'd been using taught rules with too many exceptions. (in other words, their rules aren't very good rules).

So when I was in China last spring visiting some friends and they mentioned this Spell to Write and Read program, I was interested. Each of them though seemed to have a hard time summarizing exactly what the program teaches. This is not a reflection on my friends. It's just a complex program. In fact, if I had just picked up the book without a recommendation, I'm sure I would have dropped it and run.

The premise is that you teach reading and writing by teaching spelling. You teach spelling not by teaching the letters, but by teaching the letter sounds and phonogram sounds. What appealed to me is that the rules are much clearer and there are fewer exceptions - perfect for my logical boy. What also appealed to me is that I did a pretest and found that my kids scored at the same level - meaning I only have to prepare one language arts lesson each day.

I did three weeks of the program in the spring, mostly just teaching the basic sounds of the letters and phonograms to the kids. After that I did another placement test. With a little help using the new rules, Megan scored a grade level higher, and Ethan, two levels higher.

After our first two weeks this fall, things are going well and I'm glad I chose this program. I am not using it exclusively (it is meant to be all inclusive for language arts). I still have them reading other books and doing things with those like writing and grammar, because I prefer that. This program also insists you start cursive first. I'm not being a stickler with that either, because Ethan is already writing cursive, and Megan is writing far beyond her level but doesn't want to write cursive yet.

If you are interested in this book, I highly recommend setting aside a few hours to read through the entire instructor's guide first. It seems daunting, and it's good to have a friend who's done it available for questions, but you get a better idea once you've read the book. In the States I believe there are seminars you can attend to learn how to use it. I know some of my friends in China were able to attend one and said it's a must. They haven't come to Singapore, so I've had to muddle through on my own. But once you start doing it, you see the method behind the madness.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Back to School

We started school again this week, and I think it went pretty well. It was a little off beat, punctuated by breaks for watching the Olympics (but hey - there's tons of learning there!) and going to the chiropractor. Highlights of the week included:

1. Something clicked with Ethan on the piano this week, because he opened up the book after not playing all summer (some things you just let go) and played his last piece with little effort. I knew he was encouraged when he went back and played the whole book to that point, and practiced his new song without complaining. Megan is determined to be better. The competitiveness comes from Erik.

2. We started a new language arts program in the spring called Spell to Write and Read. The kids both placed at 2nd grade, 7th month in May, so we started the program a bit into it. Even so, the first day this week Ethan said, "Mom, can you give me something harder to do?" It's fun to see that he's feeling confident.

3. Ethan is highly motivated to write in cursive, and he's quite good at it too. For a boy who, at the end of 1st grade, was still writing in huge block letters, this is amazing.

4. I decided that we'd have a more flexible schedule this year, where each day the kids can choose in what order they want to do their subjects. We just did it yesterday and today but it's cut down grumbling considerably.

5. Megan is turning out to be a bit of a sanguine (where this comes from I don't know). Everything is, "This is the BEST __________ EVER!!!!" or "I LOVE __________!!!!!" We actually heard a few of those comments this week in regard to some of our activities.

6. My personal favorite - today when I picked up the Bible (we've started reading the New Testament) Ethan decided he wanted to read along, so Megan grabbed a Bible too. Ethan stopped me after two verses and said he wanted to read the next one. Of course Megan didn't want to be left out, so we ended up taking turns reading the whole thing. It was wild to hear my kids read scripture like that. When we were done Megan wanted to keep going. I told her she'd just have to wait for our next day of homeschool.

Well, so far so good.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Homeschool . . . it's a lot like running

If you read my other blog, you know that I've been slowing torturing myself for the past eight weeks by training for a half-marathon. I've already posted there about what I am learning from running, but here I want to write about how it has been leading me to reflect on homeschooling. In fact there are several parallels for me in both activities. Here they are:

1. Running and homeschooling both require perseverance. You have good days and bad days, but you don't give up.

2. It's good to vary your activity to strengthen different muscles and keep your body sharp when you run. In the same way, it's good to change things up once in awhile for homeschooling. We do this by adding activities like art, music, science, nature walks, computer. And by throwing in fun games here and there. And my personal favorite, calling a "Teacher Mental Health Day" and doing nothing.

3. When you say, "I can't" what you really mean is "I don't want to." I used to say this about running, but the truth is, I CAN run. It's taken time to build up my stamina, but I can say now that running five miles isn't a big deal.
The most frequent comment I get when I tell people I homeschool is, "You're so brave. I could never homeschool." And really what they mean is, "I don't want to homeschool." That's cool. But don't limit yourself with "I can't." If God calls you to something, you can do it.

4. People ask me if I'm enjoying running. My answer is, "Sometimes." It's true of homeschool too. Sometimes a whole mile passes without me realizing it because I'm just enjoying the time Sometimes I even feel something of a runner's high when I think I could run forever. And there are days when homeschool is great - the kids are happy and learning, and I get comments like, "This was really fun mom!" But there are also days in both activities when I want to drop to the ground and stay there. I keep going because I enjoy the benefits.

5. Snacks are helpful. That's pretty self-explanatory.

6. Rest is good and necessary. I know last year because we started later in the year, we didn't take enough breaks. I tried to plan more free time in this year so I don't stumble over the finish line come June like I did this year.

I've spent a good part of this morning planning homeschool for this fall. I decided to go crazy this time and plan out everything for the whole fall. In the past I just planned history to get my big picture, and planned other subjects week by week. But this year, maybe fueled by my running stamina, I am planning all my subjects through January. I know, it's now how a lot of people operate, but I think my Strengths Finders (communication, belief, strategic, focus, input) would back me on this. It's how I work best.

Gearing Up

I bet you thought I forgot I had another blog didn't you? How could I forget? I've just been storing up the goodness to share with . . . well, whoever's out there.

We've been on summer holiday, which doesn't translate in a country with no seasons. I often have people in public look at my children and ask, "School holiday?" At first I'd tell them we were off for the summer, but it soon became apparent that it was better to say, "Yes, school holiday."

But we've got one more week before we start up again, and I have to say that I am feeling something I haven't felt much before with homeschooling - excitement! It may last all of a week, but for now, I'm excited. I've spent some time over the summer looking through new resource books, looking back through old idea books, and planning out our year. I got some great new materials like nature journals for the kids (we tried those out last week and they LOVED them), and new music and art supplies. I'm also feeling good about this new language arts we started in the spring, which I will have to post about later because it's - well, it's different. I'll leave it at that.

So what color is excitement? Yellow? I'm going with yellow. Color me yellow. I think it's going to be a good year.

" Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. "
-- William Butler Yeats