July 10, 2012

New School Directions (and some cool new resources!)

It's that time of year when I spend endless hours evaluating our current school style, how the kids are growing socially, emotionally, and intellectually, and decide where we should go from here.  It's the most mentally chaotic span of time, making Black Friday look like a walk in the park.  It also happens to coincide with my editor asking me to compile an extensive resource list for the back of my book, and as I go through reevaluating the resources that we've used or heard good reports on, I find myself sucked back down the rabbit hole of curriculum evaluation, wondering what perfect fit is out there that I haven't tried yet.  But I've made some excellent finds in the last few weeks, so I'm feeling good about a new direction!

Hannah Jane has already signed up for more online public school classes then she has ever taken.  This is both good and bad.  Good in that I know the high points will at least be brought to our attention and she won't be missing any critical action items (like when she entered a regional math contest and it suddenly became clear that I had neglected the quarter when we learned about money.  Ooops!  Crash course in counting by 25s, and she was good to go), but bad in that we're kind of married to it whether we love it or not once we get started.  Still, I've been known to use the table of contents to prepare my own, more memorable lessons, and then use the work books and assessments to see how much they retained.  That's worked quite nicely in the past. 

Hannah Jane's dear friend, Rachel, came over for a sleep over and asked if she could use the computer and when she logged on, she logged into this really cool math program that my kids were all enamored with.  Rachel has her math facts down pat, and that's Hannah Jane's weakest area, so we looked into the program that Rachel was using and we've all fallen in math love.  It's called Reflex Math and you can get a free 2 week trial (without even giving all of your credit card info like most free trials ask do).  As the parent, you can log in and see specifically which facts your child is fluent (which in their terms means ridiculously fast.  Guess that's why its called reflex) and which ones are emerging.   Even the boys beg to do it every day and everyone's fact fluency is clipping right along, onward and upward on the fluency growth charts.  So that's our favorite math supplement find.  Haven actually asked if he could trade in his television watching points for reflex math time!

For history, we're going to try a serious mixture of stuff.  Hannah Jane has signed up for history through the online public school thing because she's always loved their history, but their program feels a little passive.  It's kind of like watching cartoon history television, which I'm sure is why she loves it, but it doesn't require much from the student.  Maybe when this grade level arrives, I'll find that it ups the ante a bit, but I'm not holding my breath.  And while we are told in very precise language that their curriculum is not to be viewed as a supplement to other curricula, in the history department, I just can't bring myself to see it as complete.  We love it, but it's not enough on its own.  I've always been drawn to a literature based history program, but haven't found just the right one.  Ever.  Despite my constant searching.  I want something that is detailed and memorable, factually complete, but that doesn't ask the kids to pray for the lost souls of the heathens of other cultures.  Seems like the best history programs out there also happen to be so religiously focused that they disregard and disrespect cultures or historical figures who weren't Christians and that leaves a lot of major players out to dry.   I want my kids to be religious, but not to use it as a club to whack over the heads of historical figures who weren't on the God boat.  Ya know? 

Anyway, I was wandering the library while the kids were reading on the couches last week and this AP History test prep book just sort of jumped out at me.  I wasn't actually looking for history stuff at that particular moment, but this caught my eye and I thought, Well, that's certainly got to have everything you ever need to know in it.  Right?   I checked it out and I was right.  It's like a Cliff's Notes of US History and it's got just enough to keep up on track and gives me terms to google and search for related literature on.  Score!  I liked it so much that I went out and bought a copy to keep. 

Then I found this Good Reads list of great children's historical fiction.  Even our rinky dink, soul crushing back woods library has about half of these titles, so we'll be good to go!  I'm so tired of having to buy a ton of books because our library has about a thousand books, but only on about 20 topics.  If you're into canning and 80's home decor, this is your library.  Otherwise, prepare to buy!  But many of the books on this list are Newberry and Caldecott award books, so our branch actually has some of them.  So we'll supplement our public school curriculum with factoids from the AP US History exam and great historical fiction.

All 3 kids are taking public school language arts and math, but again, I'll spruce up the lessons with my own momma-flare.  Montessori Grammar is still going quite well for us, so we'll keep doing that as a family during circle time.

We're going to use Practical Pages' artist of the month approach and each week we'll make rip-off art.  We used to do that a lot and the kids loved it, but with life being like it is, some of the fun extras fell by the wayside and it's time to bring them back!  I want to add something like the artist of the month thing in for classical music, too, but I think I'll have to make my own.

I've made Baha'i quote based copy work for handwriting for all of the kiddos.  The boys' are done in a fantastic free font called Jardotty, which is a dotted lined lettering with small arrows in the dots to show which direction the strokes should go.  Even though both of the boys are decent writers, their letter formation sometimes lacks directionally appropriate strokes and I'm starting to really appreciate the Charlotte Mason idea of only doing as much as you can do perfectly.  So we're starting off with tracing letters in the quotes.  After 4 months, I'll reproduce the same set of quotes, but in truer copy work form, with the quote above some empty handwriting lines, and in the next round, the quote above simple lines.  By the end, I'm hoping they are at least minimally familiar with each short quote, and that their handwriting has progressed with that eye for detail that they lack now.  When I get more sheets done, I'll post them so you can have print some too!  For now, with my hectic schedule, I'm just making 5 per week and forgetting about the whole plan and print ahead thing.  That never works anyway, right?  The farther ahead you plan, the more of your energy goes to waste because life just throws unexpected changes in direction at you. 

We're really trying to do the nature journal thing.  We've tried every single year we're homeschooled and that just seems to be the thing that goes first when time gets tight.  Plus, they wallow in nature for half of their day, soaking up the great outdoors.  Schooling it up seems like a fast way to make them love nature less.  That said, I want them to pay attention to nature, appreciate it, and to be aware of its rhythms.  So, I've printed some blank nature journal pages and so far, their writing in nature has been breath taking.  Hunter wrote the most amazing passage about a butterfly on a flower and I got all teary eyed over it.  So sweet.  So, we'll try yet again to hold on to our nature study time. 

And I think this could be the year that we actually stick with a schedule and keep things like nature study because this has been the year that I've learned to say no a bit more to things I don't actually enjoy and keep the things I do enjoy in check.  I've gotten brave and said no thank you to play dates that I don't really want to go on.  Maybe I don't really connect with the mom and so spending an hour on the playground making small talk feels like water torture.  No more.  Maybe the kid is kind of mean and we've just put up with it because I do love the mom and want to spend time with her.  Now, we'll just set up mom time without the kids.  I'm taking cues from a few brave women in my life who are good at gracefully bowing out and it feels good to not feel bad about saying no and spending my time on productive, joyful things.  Ahhh...  And I'm blogging a bit less (in case you haven't noticed).  I love to blog, but when people like what I do I always feel instant pressure to do more of it even when I don't feel like it.  So now I'm just blogging when I want to without worrying that I should be doing it more.  With the book coming out in a few months, it's not an easy choice to make, but I can crank up the book promotion machine when the time comes.  For now, I'm enjoying the calm before the storm.  With all of my new schedule cuts, I think we just may be able to stick to a regular school day most days and save outings for things we really want to do.  It's going to be a good year!  I can feel it!

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