August 21, 2013

Keep it Simple, Stupid!

When my first boy had his first birthday, I started a tradition that I enjoy, but that also causes me stress every year.  Each birthday, I bake and decorate a cake.  I don't mean that I slap some frosting on top, cover it in rainbow sprinkles and write "Happy Birthday!" with store bought icing tubes.  

No.  I bake the cake.  I assemble the cake into a specific shape, based on the theme of the birthday party.  I make (sometimes buy) fondant and roll it out and cover the cake with it... just so.  I create elaborate designs and shapes and colors to make just the perfect cake that everyone will ooh and aah over.

I usually use the week before the party to plan out the design on paper, then, the day before the party, I spend about 5 hours building my masterpiece.  I've created out of cake everything from Bob the Builder to an African safari.

My boys are always excited to see what their cake will look like each year.  People who aren't able to attend the birthday parties are always disappointed that they won't get to see what cake I came up with this time.  

But, if I'm being honest, over the last couple years, I've grown tired of making elaborate cakes.  They're expensive  And it stresses me out to be spending so much time working on a cake instead of enjoying time with the birthday boy.  Plus, the end result never matches up to the image I had in my head, which leaves me disappointed.  But the boys always seem to look forward to it, so I've kept going.

This year, though, I've gotten lazy.  The thought of spending hours on a cake made me want to hibernate for a month.

For my youngest son's birthday, which was in February, I cheated.  I baked the cake, and I made the frosting, and I even made some Oreo cookie pops.  But for the decorations, I purchased pre-made edible paper images, which I simply slapped onto the cake and the cookie pops and called it good.

Turns out, my son loved it!  He (and everyone at the party, for that matter) thought it was so cool that they could EAT paper!  Plus, it was an image of Transformers.  I guess I couldn't go wrong with that.

For my oldest son's birthday, which was just this month, I cheated even more.  Even the cookie pops were a bit more work than I wanted to do, so I gave my son a choice.  I told him I could either make a fancy, elaborate cake for his party, or, I could make an ice cream cake.  Lucky for me, he chose ice cream cake.  

The only decoration this cake had was a picture of Iron Man I printed from my computer onto plain paper and stuck into the top of the cake.  The cake was made of 24 ice cream sandwiches stacked on top of each other, slathered in Cool Whip, sprinkled with crushed Oreo cookies, and drizzled with Hershey's chocolate syrup. The whole cake took a total of about 15 minutes to put together.  10 of those minutes were spent simply unwrapping the ice cream sandwiches.

Wouldn't you know, this cake was a huge hit!  Even my father, who HATES Cool Whip, enjoyed 2 helpings.  My son ranted and raved over how awesome it was.  All the kids oohed and aahed, just as if it were one of my elaborately decorated cakes from the past.  At the end of the day, my son declared (more than once) that this was the best birthday he ever had.

Here is where I slap my own forehead and say, "Duh!"

All these years, I thought I needed to make a fancy, amazing cake that took hours to complete, because that's what my boys expected and looked forward to.  But, it turns out, all they really care about is that I am there with them.

They know I love them, whether the cake is a 3-tiered replica of the Empire State building or just a bunch of ice cream sandwiches stacked on a plate.  The type of cake I create for them doesn't make or break their day.  Sure, they think my elaborate cakes are cool, but a pile of ice cream sandwiches is just as good.  To them, the fact that I spent any amount of time doing something just for their special day makes them feel appreciated and loved, which is really the whole point to begin with.

Somewhere along the way, I came to believe that they would be disappointed and maybe even feel unloved if I didn't spend hours building a phenomenal cake for them.

I'm thankful that my husband and I, with God's guidance, have taught our children to appreciate the things we do for them, however big and fancy, or however small and simple.  They know we love them and that they are special to us, regardless.

I just need to remember to keep it simple, stupid.

July 31, 2013

Teachable Moments: Don't Pee in the Pool!

Teachable moments.  You know the kind.  You're having a conversation with your kids, or watching them play, or observing them interacting with other people, or any number of other scenarios, when out of the blue they do or say something that catches you off guard, and you think, "Did my child really just say/do that?"  or, "Where in the world did my child learn that?"  or, "Oh my gosh!  What did my child just say/do?"

We could freak out.  We could holler at our child, pull them aside, and admonish them for the outrageous thing we just witnessed.  Put them in time out.  Ground them.  And walk away dazed and confused at how our little angel could possibly have been capable of such words or actions.

It happened to me yesterday.

I work part-time in the afternoons.  My husband works full-time.  To save money, rather than paying a babysitter or day care, my in-laws take care of my boys while my husband and I are at work.  It's a good deal.  Frequently, my father-in-law takes his grandsons to the YMCA to spend the afternoon swimming at the rec center pool.  They love it!  And they get to spend some time with their grampa that does not include fast food or parking their behinds in front of the television.

Yesterday was one of their "Y" days.

As I was baking some delicious cinnamon sugar donut muffins last night, my youngest stood beside me waiting to lick the batter off the spoon.  We chatted about his day.  Our conversation led to their time at the "Y".  My boy confessed to me that he pees in the pool.  All the time.  But it wasn't the kind of confession that is an admission of guilt.  It was the kind of confession that is matter-of-fact, and "Oh yeah, by the way...", as if it were perfectly normal.

And I thought, "Did my child really just say that?"

I nearly hollered at him.  Okay, maybe I did holler just a little.  But not in anger.  More in shock and disbelief.  And I said, "What?!  That's so gross!  Why do you pee in the pool?"

He responded, "What?  It just stays around me."

Forehead slap.  Shake my head.  "Doh!"

Teachable moment!

I called my boy into the kitchen, and pulled out some blue food coloring and a cup of water. I poured a puddle of water onto the kitchen counter.  "Noah, this is a swimming pool."  Noah interrupted, "And the food coloring is the pee?"  "Yes, Noah."  I let a single drop of blue food coloring fall into the center of the water puddle.  "Now, watch what happens." 

We watched the blue, slowly but surely spreading out throughout the puddle of water.

"Noah, do you think you should be peeing in the pool?"

He hung his head, clearly realizing that peeing in the pool is not a good thing.  I didn't even need to move on to step 2, which would be swirling the food coloring around to represent people swimming in the pool.  Noah got the idea.

I don't know if this little life lesson will keep Noah from peeing in swimming pools from now on, but I do know that he learned an important lesson.

This is one of the things I love about home schooling.  Learning isn't dependent on classrooms and books.  Learning can happen daily, through numerous teachable moments.  You just have to recognize them when they arise and grab onto them.

Here's a short video of our "Don't Pee in the Pool" teachable moment:  Step 1 - make a puddle of water to represent the swimming pool.  Step 2 - Squeeze a single drop of food coloring into the center of the puddle to represent the pee.  Step 3 - Use a toothpick to swirl the food coloring around in the puddle to represent people swimming in the pool.

Have you experienced any funny teachable moments?  Tell me about them!

July 24, 2013

Great Curriculum Adventure

Hello!  I know, I know.  I'm a bad blogging momma.  I haven't posted a "real", substantive blog in over a month.  But, as I wrote in my previous post, we've just been so darn busy!  Little League, All Stars, three summer camps, vehicle purchasing, Vacation Bible School, birthdays... just... crazy.    But I'm back now.

One of the main things keeping my so busy this past month was researching and purchasing new curriculum for the 2013-14 school year, which officially began on July 1st.  We aren't doing any formal lessons yet, but we've had a few trips and events that we count toward our required hours, and we'll also be visiting the NASA Glenn Visitors Center and Great Lakes Science Center.  I'll probably post about that when we return.

For this post, I thought I'd share with you the curriculum and resources I chose for this school year.  Up to now, we've been using a lot of Alpha Omega's materials - Lifepac, Horizons, and Monarch - for several subjects, which worked well for us, and we enjoyed, but this year I wanted to try something different.  I wanted to find resources that are more engaging, visually as well as in content, and that I felt "fit" my boys personalities better.

Here it is.  The Great Home School Curriculum Adventure!

We've been using the curriculum our local school district used - Scott Foresman/Addison Wesley - but it's just not working for my almost 11-year-old.  He struggles with math, and I'm not good at it myself, so this year I decided to try something different.  After a lot of research, and finding an smoking good deal at a home school curriculum sale in June, we're going to try Bob Jones University Press' Math 5.  My son is actually beginning 6th grade this year, but as I thumbed through BJU's Math 5, I realized it contains a lot of things that Foresman/Wesley covers in their 6th grade books.  The format seems comprehensive enough.  Hopefully it will be a good fit for us.
My 8-year-old, on the other hand, has taken to math like a duck to water.  He can look at a workbook page and pretty much figure it all out on his own, without much help from me.  He completed his 2nd grade Foresman/Wesley text at the end of our 3rd quarter last school year, so we're already into the 3rd grade text before the new school year even begins.  We'll be sticking with that for him until such a time as it no longer works for us.
Up to now, for both boys, we've used Scott Foresman Reading Street, which our local school district used as well.  It covers reading, grammar, vocabulary, spelling, and writing.  We only used it for grammar, though, and found it to not be a good fit for us. To take care of reading, we had the boys read from books of their choice for 30 minutes each day.  For writing, I came up with various book report, essay, and creative writing projects.  I gleaned the ideas from Pinterest.  For penmanship, we used Alpha Omega's Horizons curriculum, which wasn't bad, but was just copy work, and didn't really help teach the boys how to write their letters properly.  Plus, they hated it.  Finally, for spelling and vocabulary, we took words from throughout each week that the boys had difficulty with and created a list of 10 or so words each week for them to study and memorize.  Another method that was okay, but didn't really help the boys learn to spell properly.

This year, I found some different resources that I think will better suit our needs, and even look like a lot of fun!  Because, for my boys, if it's not colorful and filled with fun activities, they tune out.

For reading, we'll use the Reading Detective series by the Critical Thinking Co.  The appeal of these books is they are set up like the reading section of most standardized state tests.  I know, I know.  What's the point of home schooling if you're just going to teach to the public school's standards?  Here in New York, we are required to test our children at certain points, and they must score at or above the 33rd percentile in order to continue with home schooling without being put on probation, which basically means that if you can't prove your kid is improving, then they can stop you from home schooling.  With that said, my boys struggle a little with reading comprehension.  They both read above grade level, but when it comes to retaining the information they've read, well... it's not happening.  So, the Reading Detective books will, hopefully, help us out in that area.

For spelling, I decided it's time to use a formal resource rather than just winging it, because the boys aren't gleaning much from rote memorization of spelling words.  We'll be using Spelling by Bob Jones University Press.  Various activities are utilized to help the boys learn how to spell words properly, including crossword puzzles, matching, fill-in-the-blank, and more.  At this point, anything is better than the nothing we've been doing, so I have high hopes for this.

Penmanship.  While the format isn't much different from Alpha Omega's Horizons curriculum, A Reason for Handwriting by Carol Ann Retzer, a part of the A Reason for... series, is much more colorful and enticing.  It also includes what they call Border Pages where the boys can write a final copy of their scripture verse and then decorate it for display.  Artwork is something my boys love, so this aspect may motivate them to do their best.
Writing.  After much research, I found Jump In: a workbook for reluctant and eager writers from Apologia.  Honestly, what clinched this for me was the title itself.  Both my boys are extremely reluctant writers.  It's a miserable task just to get them to write a simple paragraph.  Apart from that, the format looks like no other writing curriculum I've seen.  I'm excited about this one, and I think it has potential to make writing less painful for my boys.  We shall see.
Finally, to help my boys gain a greater grasp of grammar, we'll use both Grammar Minutes by Creative Teaching Press and The Language Mechanic by the Critical Thinking Company.  The ability to utilize English grammar properly is important, in my opinion.  These days, grammar has taken a back seat to the language of texting and Facebook.  In my opinion, a person who has the ability to speak and write properly but chooses not to ends up sounding ignorant.  Unfortunately, the coming generation isn't being taught properly, and not many people seem to care.  I want my boys to know how to speak and write properly, to understand its importance, and to care.

This past year, we used Alpha Omega's curriculums for history.  Lifepacs for my youngest and Monarch online for my oldest.  The Lifepacs worked just fine, and my son enjoyed them.  The Monarch online curriculum, though, didn't work for my oldest.  While he enjoys working on the computer, he was too easily distracted and, if left on his own for even a few minutes, would not pay attention to what he was doing, which led him to not retain any of the information he was learning.

Since civics is a requirement in New York, I decided to try something new with both boys.  Something that we could all do together, would allow me to help the boys keep on track, and would meet our civics requirement.  To cover these bases, I found the Uncle Sam and You curriculum from the Notgrass company.  What I like about this is the student workbook that accompanies it.  Jam packed with fun activities to reinforce each lesson, it might make learning history fun.
Science is another subject for which we used Alpha Omega's curriculum - Lifepacs for my youngest and Monarch online for my oldest.  Just as with history, the Lifepacs were good for Noah, but the online curriculum just didn't work for Brandt.

This year, both boys will study the same curriculum - Exploring Creation with Astronomy from Apologia.  It's a straight-forward study of the sun, moon, planets, and space travel.  Both boys are fans of anything outer space, so they should enjoy it.  But, as with our history curriculum, what I like most about our science curriculum is the notebooking journal that accompanies it.  It's filled with facts, activities, projects, mini books, vocabulary crosswords, and more - making learning fun.
This is one subject on which we don't spend a lot of formal lesson time.  I feel that this subject is easily covered just by everyday, real life teachable moments concerning nutrition, hygiene, safety, etc.  New York does require teaching about substance abuse, diseases, a few other things that don't always come up in a typical day.  For that, we're turning to Alpha Omega's Monarch online curriculum.  It's appropriate for both my 8- and 10-year-old boys, and they can work on it together without the need for me to do a formal lesson with them.
As with spelling, in the past, we've just winged it.  I pulled many ideas from Pinterest and came up with several on my own.  I began my college career as an art major, so this subject is a little easier for me to facilitate without much need for formal curriculum.  However, I find that I'm running out of ideas.  So, this year, we'll try out Art with a Purpose Artpacs by Myron and Rachel Weaver.  Not sure what I think of these at first glance, but we'll give them a try, at least.
Yet another subject that we haven't used a formal curriculum for.  Sending the boys outdoors to run, walk, hike, swim, bike, sled, play ball, etc., seems plenty to me.  On rainy days, they often turn on the Wii and play an active game such as Dance, Dance Revolution or Active Life Explorer.  We'll continue with all those, but this year we'll be adding a formal basketball curriculum to the mix - Family Time Fitness' basketball module.  Both boys have attended a local summer basketball camp and enjoy the sport more than any other.  I figured we might as well take something they love and make it count toward our schooling.  I'm not real sure how it will work, though, since it's an online curriculum, and we'll need to trek downtown to use the school's outdoor basketball court.
Last year, the boys began piano lessons, which I am thankful for, because trying to teach them guitar with the limited knowledge I have was agonizing.  They both progressed well, and even though they don't want to, they're going to continue with lessons again this year.  Their teacher will also be adding music history and theory this year, so all our bases are covered.  The books she's chosen are Bastien Piano Basics by James Bastien, Master Theory by Charles S. Peters and Paul Yoder, and Meet the Great Composers by June Montgomery and Maurice Hinson.  I know nothing about these, but I trust their teacher.

While New York doesn't require this subject, it's important to us that our boys build their lives on a firm, biblical foundation.  Last  year we fell a little short in this area, so this year, we're going to try Who am I? And What am I Doing Here? which is part of the What We Believe series from Apologia Press.  This is another curriculum accompanied by a notebooking journal.  Have you noticed a theme here yet?  I really love the notebooking journals we'll be using this year.  I think it will get the boys more involved in their learning and make it more enjoyable for all of us.
Another subject not required by New York State, but I want to give my boys a leg up for high school, since our plan (for  now) is to return them to public school in 9th grade.  Hopefully, they'll have learned enough Spanish to avoid having to take it in high school and maybe take courses more relevant to their future career goals.

Last year, we used Alpha Omega's Monarch online beginner Spanish curriculum, which was perfect for my boys.  The problem, though, is I could not find a Spanish curriculum that fell between that and high school level Spanish.  So, this year, we're resorting to Google and Pinterest and random home schooling blogs for various online Spanish lessons.  Hopefully we'll be able to find enough for the boys to remember what they've already learned as well as grow further in their knowledge.

Phew!  There you have it.  This year is sure to be a curriculum adventure.  Lots of new strategies and ideas.  I'm praying it all falls into place and works for us.

Have you used any of these resources?  If so, how did they work for you?  Do you have any suggestions for a first-time user?  Let me know what you think, and feel free to tell me about your own great curriculum adventures!

July 1, 2013

Busy, Busy, Busy!

Craziness has crept in and overcome our schedule.  Which explains why I haven't written anything new in a couple of weeks.  I feel bad about that, but, honestly, there's not much I can do about it.  Between work, the regular Little League season, Little League Allstars games, summer camps, and trying to finish up writing my home school quarterly reports, annual assessments, and letters of intent to home school.... GAH!!!  It's just... craziness.

I did want to talk a little about our end-of-year wrap-up.  We finished off our school year with our Story in a Bag project, which was a huge success!  Then, my oldest son, Brandt, headed off for Wilderness Adventure camp.  They went on a 10 mile hike, swam in a college swimming pool, were challenged by a ropes course (Brandt got to jump climb a 70 foot tall tree and jump off it, which he loved!), and tent camped in the woods.

While he was gone, daddy and Noah packed up our camper and headed out for a daddy/son overnight camping trip.

When Brandt returned from camp, Little League Allstar games began.  Our team was eliminated after two games, but they kids had fun, and it was a good experience for Brandt, who has never really been much of a team player.

This morning, I dropped my youngest son, Noah, off for Basketball camp.  It's a day camp, but I can't drive the 25 miles twice each day to drop him off and pick him back up again, so he'll be spending the week with his grandparents.  It's a combination basketball camp and grandparents camp.  He could hardly contain his excitement!

While Noah is at camp this week, daddy and Brandt will pack up the camper and head out for a daddy/son overnight camping trip.

Next week, both my beautiful boys will spend the week at Bliss Summit Bible Camp together, leaving daddy and me home alone.  Woohoo!

We will finally embrace some rest and relaxation.  And, at some point, we will pack up our camper and head out for a hubby/wifey overnight camping trip.

We're thinking we'll plan things out the same way next year, as it's been nice for each boy to have their own special time away from home as well as with their daddy.  Bonus:  I get some time all to myself to relax and refresh!

So, that's our crazy busy summer schedule thus far.  In between all that, I somehow managed to complete our Quarterly Reports, Annual Assessments, and Letters of Intent to Home School.  I dropped those off at the school just this morning.  Such a huge load off my shoulders!  Now, all I have to do is figure out what curriculum to use for the coming school year, and write up my Individualized Home Instruction Plans by August 10th.  No pressure!  (She said, with sarcasm dripping off her lips like honey off the comb.)

On the horizon... I'm hoping to finish up my Why We Home School series with Why We Home School: Facts.  I'm also beginning a post on things we should say to our kids (to counter the numerous articles I've seen lately about what not to say to our kids, because I take issue with several of them.  For example, should we say "Good job!" to our kids?  Should we avoid saying "I'm disappointed in you"?  I'll be addressing those questions and more.)

Keep checking in on me, and forgive me for being so busy!

June 18, 2013

Story in a Bag: Creative Writing

We're pushing through our last few weeks of school here at Linwood Academy.  I'm trying to make it as interesting as possible for the boys, because we are all soooo ready for a break.  But we have a few more things to finish up before we clear our kitchen table of all the books, papers, markers, erasers, pencils, and random crumbs and scraps.

This week, a creative writing project.  

I can't take full credit for this idea.  Creative Pinterest users inspired it.  (If you don't know what Pinterest is, you should absolutely go check it out.  You will thank me.)

I merged a story prompts idea with a blank book report form to create this project, which I'm dubbing Story in a Bag.

To begin, I foraged through the jungle that is my boys' bedroom and collected ten small objects (five for each boy), which I then placed into plastic gallon zipper bags labeled "Story Bag".  I didn't get fancy with the bags, but you could definitely take the time to decorate them, or, make an art project out of it and have the kids decorate them.

Tiger, tree, crayon, man, doctor (or nurse).

Tree, knight, giraffe, bowling pin, police woman.

The boys each chose a bag and opened it to discover which objects would make their stories.  They immediately began shouting out ideas popping into their heads.  They've never been so excited for a writing project in all our time home schooling!  (Note to self:  do this again.)

Next,  I gave each boy a modified book report form.  I found this form on Pinterest and thought, with some slight changes, it would be perfect for this project.  Where it originally asked the student to fill in the plot of whichever book they read, I changed it to have the boys fill in what the plot of their own as yet unwritten stories would be.  Where it asked the student what their favorite part of the book they read was, I changed it to have the boys tell about the setting and genre of their as yet unwritten stories.

Below are images of the book report forms - first, the original, then, my modified version.  You can click on my modified version to download it yourself, if you'd like to give this project a try.

The original.  A great form for regular book reports.
Modified version for use in this project.
Filling out these forms spawned even more creative ideas in my boys.  They couldn't stop talking over each other about what they wanted to write.  I managed to shush them enough so they could begin filling out their story forms and flesh out their new stories.  Here are their completed story forms:

Brandt's story form: The Missing Mr. Tree. He ended up changing his genre from comedy/mystery to fantasy/action.

Noah's story form: The Man, the Nurse, and the Talking Tiger.  He decided to write his story in the form of a play.

With their stories now outlined on the book report forms, they began writing their stories out, which is my favorite part of this project, because it employs lessons in grammar, spelling, penmanship, and dictionary skills all at once.  I love lessons that kill multiple birds with one stone!  Here they are, hard at work:

Both boys begged to keep their stories and report forms FOREVER!  They were so proud of their work.  I envision this project becoming perhaps a bi-monthly project next school year.

What sort of writing projects spur your kids on in creative writing?  What did you think of this project?

June 7, 2013

Five Home Schooling Myths Dispelled

1.  Home schooled kids aren't properly "socialized".  They lack social skills and aren't learning how to deal with life in the "real world".

Hanging out with friends at the lake.
Water fight at a birthday party.

Donut eating contest at a Halloween party.
Chatting with friends at Basketball Camp.

2.  Home schooled kids don't learn the important things they would in a public school.  They just read books and enter spelling bees.





3.  Home schooled kids sit at home all day.  It's just an excuse for families to be lazy!

Teasing the bear at Rock City park.

Learning about parabolic arches at a kid's science museum.

Taking a spin on the new go-cart.

Posing in front of a space capsule at a NASA museum.

4.  Home schooled kids are deprived of extracurricular activities.

Brandt's Little League team.

Noah's Little League team.

Noah receiving a certificate at Basketball Camp.

Brandt receiving a certificate at Basketball Camp.

5.  Home school families are all weird.

Okay, maybe that last one is true.  But we're okay with that.

What other myths of home schooling have you heard?