Monday, September 29, 2014

What Works For Us - Part 3

All weekend long I have been wondering what I would share regarding how we homeschool our 7 year old.  Well, to be honest, it is still a constantly evolving process with him. He has a very unique learning style and every day I learn something new about what works and what doesn't.  So rather than bore you with a long list of what we have tried that doesn't work, instead I'll use a photo journal to show what DOES work for him. 

Computers - True to most children his age, he is fascinated by anything electronic.  Computers are used often in our home to enhance the learning process, whether it be through you tube videos, Minecraft or various educational games.
Exploring with interactive "life-sized" touch screens at New England Aquarium.

Legos - We use legos any other building toys to demonstrate educational concepts. B has always been a builder and he really soaks up information when he is able to get hands-on with the lesson.
Exploring landforms and bodies of waters using legos during our Geography Club.

A great discussion on engineering was the result of this tower build at Legoland. 

Lots of hands-on exploration: Building on usage of manipulatives such as legos, we also try to incorporate hands on whenever we can.  Sensory bins are a great way to stimulate the senses and offer opportunities to explore an endless variety of topics.
 Mining for Gemstones. 
Exploring our fall sensory bin.
Imaginative Play: All of our children spend as much time outside playing as possible. I will admit that in our home (and many others I'm sure) we struggle finding a balance between outdoor time/free play and screen-time.  I think its extra important for my 7 year to get outside and away from the screens as he does have trouble at time sticking to limits. 

 After a visit to Fort Ticonderoga he was ready to play Revolutionary War soldier. 

Field Trips: My children love field trips - especially B. We have to balance carefully how much time we actually spend on field trips and try to limit to one or two or month in addition to their regular activities.  Its very easy for us to lose track of our educational goals if we're not at home to work on them. We try to always ask ourselves "will this help meet a goal?" before embarking on a trip.  Too often we've spent so much time outside the house that when we get home we have difficulty getting back on track.  

Visiting the local landfill.

Although clearly we are just goofing here, there were so many educational opportunities during our Disney trip last fall and we took advantage as many as we could.

Book Learning: In case you were curious as to whether we do any book learning, yes we do. I do not believe book learning is necessary for children during the younger years if they are not developmentally ready. That said, I am a huge advocate of teaching children to read as soon as they are able so that they have that extra tool to help themselves learn. Some of my children are ready sooner than others. We've tried a number of different programs to help get him going but for now have settled on Seton phonics along with McGuffey, BOB Books, Faith and Freedom Readers, etc. We also use downloads from Teachers Pay Teachers and other websites to spice things up in our homeschool. Of course we always prefer free, however I know a lot of work goes into making these materials and I don't mind paying for materials when I know its something that we will use again. We really enjoy downloads from The Moffat Girls on TPT, especially their reading program. It really compliments what we are doing already and gives us plenty of hands-on activities. We read aloud in our home using living books as well as the classics, but we don't restrict "twaddle" either.

Using McGuffey's Primer along with videos Easy-Peasy All-In-One.
For math, we use Seton math as our spine and do lots of extra enrichment for him using Hands on Standards materials purchased from Learning Resources.  It was an investment we made years ago for my now 4th grader during his preschool years and these books and manipulatives have already paid for themselves over the course of the years. We started with the preschool aged books and manipulatives and have just added in when we needed to as my oldest progressed through them.

The list of all we do for any of our children is a mile long, but this is generally what is working for us now.  Given how B is constantly keeping us on our toes it wouldn't surprise me if this list was completely different in 6 months. 

So, what works for your unique learner? 

Monday, September 22, 2014

What Works For Us - Part 2

My oldest is a very independent learner. With guidance, he will just take a list of assignments and plow through them to get on with his day. Although he enjoys hands on studies immensely, he also likes being able to guide himself at his own pace through his learning. There are some days that he will spend all morning going through math lessons and others that he'll be playing catch-up with his language arts materials. At the end of the day it all seems to even out, so basically "if its not broke, don't fix it!"

C was sort of our guinea-pig in regards to homeschooling. He started off in public school and although we liked his teachers and friends we decided that public school was no longer a good fit for our education philosophy.  Here is the list of materials we are using with him this year:
Each child has their own Thirty-One Bags Utility Tote for their school books. 
I have provided non-affiliate links for your reference.

Math:  Saxon Math Homeschool 5/4  We have tried a number of different math curricula including Miquon, Singapore and Seton.  Last year we successfully plowed through both Grade 3 and 1/2 of Grade 4 Seton so we started up with Saxon 5/4. I found the transition between the two to be seamless.  True to form though he is plowing through the book and we'll be in 6/5 after the holidays. I am tempted to move him up now but we do have some gaps that need to be covered. 

English: English 4 For Young Catholics This is a great basic English program that covers grammar, writing and reference skills.  As with their other materials, Catholicism is woven throughout the books.

Phonics:  Phonics 4 For Young Catholics We are big fans of Seton phonics.  Having seen the program from the beginning (kindy) through grade 4 I've found it to be a good solid no-frills program for learning to read. We are also using this with our kindergartener who is flourishing with it. Like anything else, its not for everyone - we have one child that we had to find alternate materials for. 

Spelling: Spelling 3 For Young Catholics. He struggles with confidence in spelling so we are finishing up last year's book and trying to decide whether or not to move onto Spelling 4 or try All About Spelling. Seton has a great spelling program, but we've always struggled in this area from the beginning. I'd love to hear your thoughts on All About Spelling.

This book is identical to the book I used back in the 1980s.
Vocabulary: Wordly Wise: Book 1 These are the old-school vocabulary books that I used in grade school so it was a no-brainer that I use this program.  We do not give tests in vocabulary and this is generally a subject that we do side by side together. I'm a word geek so I am not sure who enjoys this program more, he or myself.  I will again say that this is a very dry program and Seton has been developing their own vocabulary program that we have also used and enjoyed. 

Faith and Freedom Readers (pic borrowed from Seton)
Reading:  Faith and Freedom Readers I wish we had purchased the complete set of these readers from the beginning!  We are buying year to year for now, but thankfully they bundle grades 5-8 for a big savings.  My only complaint about these books is that they are only available in paperback. We are also using Seton's Reading Comprehension and Thinking Skills books intermittently.  Some reading lists we also use for book recommendations: Seton Home Study, Catholic Heritage Curricula, Ambelside Online, and Classical Homeschooling. He really is into non-fiction as well and our home library is loaded with nonfiction books on just about any topic that we've collected from library book sales or purchased used on Amazon.

History:  The Catholic Faith Comes To The New World. Seton's history books at the elementary level are pretty dry but we do use them for a spine.   I love that they are written to include Catholic history along with general world/American history. I was able to peak inside the table of contents and saw that it did cover one of our major topics for this year: Colonial History.  It also included Vikings which my 4th grader has suddenly developed an interest in so it was a great purchase for us.

In addition to this book, we will be doing a unit study with another home school family that will be covering Massachusetts State history.

Geography: Maps Charts Graphs: States and Regions. This is your basic Geography book. Not a lot of bells and whistles, but teaches a lot about map reading. I would have skipped it all together but 9yo loves maps.  We are also hosting a geography club out of my home this year that will cover all the continents and a few major world regions.

Science: We are taking science classes with the local natural history museum. Many of the topics covered in these classes are also in Science 4 for Young Catholics so we'll be referring to this as well. We are also doing activities and projects from which cover a lot of science topics.

Reading all this it would seem that we are pretty rigorous.  I want to make it clear though that we do not do all these subjects on a daily basis and they are always subject to changed based on what hands-on experiences we can provide throughout the year. We have done full enrollment with Seton in the past and it was just too much book work for us so now we use the materials and branch out from there. In addition, there are many great curriculum providers out there, but I love that I can order so much of what we need from one location. Although there might be other curricula out their with more bells and whistles I'll still stick with Seton based on the easy ordering process, one stop shopping and fabulous customer service. Also, I know that it is a solid "tried and true" curriculum.  When needed we do step outside the box (as I'll explain in another post) but for now this works for us. 

Part 3 of this series will cover materials for our first grader.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

What works for us - Part 1

This post should probably be titled "What We Use Wednesday" but since its Thursday and I'm already 4 days behind schedule that's not going to work for us this week. Writing this post took so much longer than I thought so I will be breaking it up into a few posts. 

The homeschooling community is full of labels. There are many bloggers who have broken down the variety of homeschool styles but AtoZHomeschooling  has a really great outline here that I usually refer people to.  A to Z is the first homeschooling website I think I checked out almost 8 years ago and one I continue to refer back to... the website has been around as along as "mainstream" internet.

So what label do we fall under? I wish I could say "all of the above" because that would be an easy answer to a complicated question, but really there is no answer to this question. However, I would say that the category that best fits us is "eclectic".  Basically what that means for us is that although it isn't the most "convenient" method that we've tailored our days to best meet the individual needs of each child.  One child is a very independent learner and works with very structured materials, and another we take a more hands-off approach as we navigate the waters to discover which way works best for him. The third seems to be a combination of the two.  Her emotional needs require hand holding but she prefers the book work over hands on learning. We've gone through a variety of curricula over the years and what works one year might not be what we choose the following year based on what's happening in our family at the time and who needs what.

The boys working together using Tieramid blocks.
We began using Seton Home Study materials last year and this year we continue to include those in our curriculum with all three of our children along with other supplemental materials. I love how Catholicism is beautifully woven in through the materials. The books are jam packed with beautiful artwork and their traditional nature makes them pretty easy for both parent and student to teach or complete.  In the elementary years although the lesson plans are somewhat useful to get started, it is not that difficult going without them. Last year we were fully enrolled with lesson plans, this year we are choosing to go without the lesson plans. This allows us more flexibility with our curriculum choices and gives us more time to explore other interests.  I will discuss the individual materials we plan to use in later blog posts.

As a family we are doing the following activities together:

Geography Club: A friend and I (Martianne from Training Happy Hearts) are hosting a geography club in my home each month. We are so excited to get started on this and plan to study a different continent/world region each month. 
Science Classes: Science is a weak area for me so the kids are signed up for a variety of science classes within our homeschool groups and local natural history museum. They love science and I love that we're able to provide this for them. After we take a class we take that information and explore the topics more deeply at home.
Searching for micro-organisms during Nature Explorers science co-op  We'll be earning badges with a local club. This I am super excited about as we are not a scouting family.
Faith Formation - my kids are enrolled in Religious Ed through our local parish where I also am a catechist this year. There is only so much that can be covered one hour a week so we do a lot of supplementing at home.  I use the Saints Daily Planner* by Tan publishing. Although I am not a fan of the horizontal weekly format I found that after an extensive search that I wanted to continue on with this planner. It has reminders for feast days, holy days, reminds me to abstain from meat on Fridays, and is a great conversation starter. We will be following the liturgical calendar closely and celebrating either at home or with our local homeschool group.
Our family at the baptism of our youngest two. Although they were enrolled in religious education at our parish, a great deal of preparation went on in our home to prepare them for this special day. We were blessed to have my brother be able to baptize them.
Lots of outdoor time: I firmly believe that children should be outside as much as they can, and if we can replace formal learning with outdoor time, we absolutely do!  We do have some sensory issues here so are unable to get out as much as we'd like, but we try to find opportunities to explore whenever we can. 
B searching for crabs during a "Not Back To School Beach Day"
Field Trips!  We always have time for a field trip. My husband also likes to be included on these when he can because it really allows him to get his hand in the homeschooling process. Last year we visited a fire station, a recycling plant, aquariums, museums, historical landmarks - the list goes on and on.
The kids checking out marine skeletons at the aquarium. It pays to go later in the day.  
In Part 2 of this series I'll be sharing what materials we are using with my 4th grader and my preliminary thoughts on them.

*This post contains affiliate links from amazon. We may receive a small compensation from any purchases made through those links. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Nativity of Mary

This year as I was planning out our 2014-2015 calendar school year I made a resolution that we would dedicate our school year to faith formation and in particular to our Blessed Mother, Mary. As a cradle-Catholic "revert" my kids have been brought up with the traditions of Catholicism however they did not have the benefit of building a relationship with Mary during some key formative years. Our family is blessed that although it was not Catholic, that we were still were part of a (wonderful) church.  As we've transitioned back into the Catholic church over the last 18 months they have proven to me that children are indeed sponges! Their child-like faith is contagious. The beauty of the Catholic Church is that there are lots of opportunities to honor and celebrate feast and holy days. This makes it very easy for me to bring Catholicism into our home and in our day to day life.

We jumped right into our resolution by celebrating The Nativity of Mary with our local Catholic homeschool group. I am continually blown away on how God has used a social networking tool such as Facebook to provide such a wonderful network of friends for our family to gather with on a regular basis. We are blessed to live within driving distance to the National Shrine of Our Lady of LaSalette, so what a perfect location we found ourselves in to celebrate the Nativity of Mary!

My children and a friend posing in front of the Shrine Rosary Pond.

With children its always important to bring some movement activities to help empty some of the energy before sitting down for a story or craft. We played a modified version of Mother, (Mary) May I. The kids had a blast and of course in the end we were all winners.

Playing Mother Mary, May I near the Shrine Chapel where we had our lessons. 
After a game or two we were ready to down to business.  I was initially nervous about holding a class outside with younger children (with short attention spans) but was pleasantly surprised by the children's eagerness to participate and listen to the topic at hand.  I recounted the story of Sts. Joachim and Anne's struggle to have a child and what a gift Mary was to them. We also discussed how Joachim and Anne both separately promised to dedicate Mary to God.  I always love props so I printed out an icon picture of St. Anne  and Mary to pass around while we were having our discussion time.

Retelling the story of Sts. Joachim and Anne.

One book that I found incredibly useful for this lesson was Leading the Little Ones to Mary* by Sister Mary Lelia.  I highly recommend this book to anyone wants to help their children grow their devotion to Mary. It offers a great question and answer dialog for you to use with your child. Some of the language is a bit dated, but its very easy to paraphrase and make it your own.  The kids also enjoyed the story of Mary found in The Coloring Book About Mary by Emma C. McKean.  I read this story while some of the kids were running around a bit and slowly they all came and sat down as the story drew them in.  My Jesus and I has wonderful pictures and very short explanations of the basic Catholic Prayers. We used it to break down The Hail Mary. 

Music always plays a big role and in any of our celebrations and the Nativity of Mary was no exception.  We sang Ring Around The Rosary and other nursery rhymes and gradually transitioned into two verses of Immaculate Mary.  This is a perfect song for children because of its short verses and memorable chorus.  

Singing Immaculate Mary while walking using a parachute.
All in all, this was a wonderful low key event. The weather was glorious and our families were able to spend time together as we walked the beautiful shrine grounds. After the event a few us attended 12:10 Mass which helped us wind down before heading home.

Great follow up activities to do at home:

  • Make a cake (with blue frosting) or blueberry muffins and sing Happy Birthday to Mary.
  • Create a Mary centerpiece/diorama- this is a beautiful idea that I first spotted over on Training Happy Hearts. I cannot wait to do with my children during our next Mary activity!
  • Mary booklets for faith journals/notebooks - I have started one of these with my oldest and he loves having something tangible that is just his.
  • Edible Rosary - I have seen this around the web lately and it looks like so much fun. There are so many variations of this and its easily adaptable to meet any family's dietary needs.

*This post contains affiliate links from amazon. We may receive a small compensation from any purchases made through those links.