Term 3

By hook or by crook, we have wrapped it up. We are all very ready for a break. We dropped the last few weeks of math and writing and doubled up on readings for awhile, and finally I decided to just call it quits. We did finish Marco Polo and The Landing of the Pilgrims, both of which it would have been a shame to quit before the end. (And both of which held their interest right until the end.) We said goodbye to books we have been working with for years: Pilgrim’s Progress, Parables from Nature, Lamb’s Shakespeare. Although Pilgrim’s Progress was seldom a favorite, except when Pilgrim was battling Apollyon, they expressed interest in reading the sequel next year, the “off” year before the twins are scheduled to start it.

We didn’t quite finish Jungle Book, but we read all the Mowgli stories and “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi,” and I have hopes that we will dip into the others over the summer. I decided to shunt off a few chapters of history–they can probably survive if they don’t read about the founding of New Hampshire or the Black Hole of Calcutta just yet. We haven’t listened to as much Handel as I hoped, but we have done some and I caught them playing a CD of him on their own volition one night. We haven’t looked at all the Rembrandt prints I made but I will try to cycle through them over the summer. We finished off Peterkin Papers as our free read and loved it. Longfellow poems were a hit, even for the twins, though we didn’t read quite all of those scheduled. Spanish pretty much fell off the radar and we didn’t do all the memory work I had lined out.

It was a difficult term for me because of everything else going on. DOB’s health remains doubtful and we are not sure what life or school will look like by fall. But it was still a good term and the end to a good year with a lot of progress. Deux drew a snake in his nature notebook with only the smallest of prompts. Duchess started written narration and did quite creditably–easily doing a legible, coherent paragraph.

Because I apparently find it hard to let go completely, I signed them all up for Khan Academy math and they are excited (ok, begging) to do that. (Duchess jokes that it is where you learn how to be the Kahn. I said I hoped she would be Kublai, not Genghis.) I figure on them doing three days a week, with a half-hour of free reading for the big kids and a brief reading lesson for the twins. (I really think they should be able to read. I kind of suspect they *can* read, but don’t realize it or don’t want to admit it yet. The other day a lady from church was reading to Dot at some length and protested because every time she missed a word Dot would point it out, yet Dot continued to insist that she could not read.) Those will be the days they get computer time, and then they will have a few extra days a week without computer time. Deux is finally starting to enjoy reading independently, and I’d love to solidify that over the summer. I suspect his eyes are finally adjusting to his glasses.

New Year, New Plans

We finished Term 1. We took our advent break. It still felt awfully busy; I had quite a bit of work I needed to do, then there was Christmas. And things are just going to continue to be really, really tough until we can move to an accessible home. Right now I have to be consistently available to help DOB with everything for him to get out of the house in the morning and again in the evening. After he’s finally off in the morning it’s late and I’m worn out. Getting the kids started on school while I do that doesn’t work, either with the way the house is laid out or with the way my brain works.

Somehow we need to streamline school so that it doesn’t run us well into the afternoon–when I need to work–but I don’t want to compromise on education either. It could be a long, long time before things get easier and kids are growing up in the meanwhile. And I really value the many different elements of the CM education and don’t want to settle for something thinner. And of course I think things like writing need to happen every day while they want to see more science experiments and handicrafts.

So I’ve been giving it some thought and come up with a plan. We’ve actually done very well at doing school every single day. It’s the time we start that makes it drag out. Duchess takes to independent work like a mountain goat to cliffs, but Deux needs a smooth path. Really, really smooth. So I’ve revamped their assignment  sheet to show exactly what work they need to do each day of the  week. I’ve preprinted copywork pages for Deux again (I’m using the Alice in Wonderland sheets from briem.net). I’m  going to try going back to the MEP worksheets, but marking out sections that seem too tedious. We’re doing geometry, fractions and decimals now and I think it will work better than when it was mostly very long basic operation problems. I prepared dictation passages each week for Duchess (she can choose her own copywork.)

The only flexibility is in which book they choose to read each day, and there I have the preselected books in a basket with the passage for each week marked with sticky notes, green for Deux and purple for Duchess. The independent read books will be the biographies of Queen Elizabeth and Shakespeare, The Heroes (which I’ve broken into shorter weekly readings), Pagoo, Marco Polo, and American Tall Tales. When they read the passage, they pull off the sticky note and stick it to their assignment page. That will make it easy to keep track of where the reading starts and stops.

Then I’ve carefully laid out everything else as part of our morning group time: the usual memory work, plus two readings each day: the history readings, Children of the New Forest, Pilgrim’s Progress, a biography of Galileo, and the CM geography book.

So, the theory is this: Each evening I lay out a clipboard with that day’s work for each of them, plus a basket of the available books and a few several pencils. In the living room, out of the way of the morning rush. In the morning, instead of getting engrossed in play, motivated by the prospect of being done early and whatever other bribery I need to introduce, they get started on their independent work pile. I get DOB gone, start the laundry and the dishwasher and the crockpot, and if I have time do a little something with the twins. Then, at ten o’clock or whenever I’m ready for group time, they’re already mostly done with their independent work. They can report on what they read already. We do the memory work, the readings, go over math and finish up any independent work. Then we do a group activity, assigned by days: science experiment, art appreciation, music appreciation, knitting or sewing, and drawing. Spanish seems to work well at lunch time and we do poetry and read aloud with afternoon snack (which I am now following with a general chore time to get the house tidy and settled down before DOB comes home).

What I hope this will do: eliminate me being pulled in twenty different directions at once. Keep school done before lunchtime and lunchtime done before two. Smooth out the days and make me feel less frazzled. Persuade Deux that he can do something on his own.

Math Remix

So, I posted a couple of weeks ago about how math was not working well. We had switched to MEP which I really do like conceptually, but which was bogging us down unbearably. There were too many things to do too quickly, there were some areas we had missed or not spent enough time on to do quickly, more writing than Deux was willing to do, and even doing it on the computer didn’t help much.  Duchess was having many, uhh, dramatic moments. Math had become the most miserable time of day, and since we did it first, it set the tone for the rest of the day. And we were getting nowhere near doing work independently.

Well, I considered several options:

  • Moving backward, to Year 3, which would be *really* easy for them, and expecting them to work alone.
  • Moving forward, to Year 5 (I actually haven’t ruled this out entirely), where the work looks (at short glance) a little more focused on interesting concepts and less on long, tedious calculations to ensure mastery of place value. (Which seems to be dominating Year 4).
  • Scratching MEP altogether and finding something else they could do independently.
  • Muddling through and telling them that this was what math was like, so just deal with it.

None of these seemed quite the thing. I realized that the strength of our math time was the time we spent working through complex and interesting problems together. There were some of these in the materials, but they were usually overshadowed by tedious calculations, or rushing on to the next thing. I also realized that they had not had enough experience with book math to know how to do multi-digit calculations efficiently, and that we needed to master those before going too much farther. . . but that they wouldn’t need a year of repetition to be sure they had grasped those, as math books tend to be written for.

What I finally settled on was sticking with where and what we were doing, but doing it our way. We stopped using the worksheets almost entirely, unless there was one that really caught my eye.  Instead of trying to rush through seven or eight activities, which is how the lesson plans were laid out, I selected one or two that had the potential to be thought-provoking. Or I looked at the area to be covered and used an activity I had seen elsewhere. I’m paying attention to the goals for the year and I will feel free to skip areas I know they have down and spend more time on the others.

To work on the basic calculation skills, I assigned them one long-hand problem to do each day. Just one. But they had to do it all themselves and get it right. I have walked them through these until they got the transition from the mental math they were good at to how it was represented on paper with problems too complex to keep straight in the head.

I also decided we needed to spend some extra time getting math facts automatic, but there was no reason this had to be painful. Right now they are loving DigitWhiz. I love that it’s free and that it uses multiple approaches to reinforce understanding in addition to memorization. Deux especially has trouble with timed things, but so far he is doing OK with Digitwhiz’s approach. (Although I’m not sure he’ll ever be able to pass the “mastery” sections–he thinks deeply about math, not quickly.)

The effect after just a couple of weeks? Math is now the *favorite* subject. We are having the fun we used to have with math when they were preschoolers and it was all about divvying out the snacks. On the day that multi-digit multiplication clicked, they were covering the board with difficult problems long after school was over. Deux is now writing out three by three digit multiplications without complaint, where at the beginning of the year he still struggled to remember which way a 2 went. Sometimes we do fun (or just silly) problems during supper with Papa. Duchess came up with a lovely model of multiples by drawing a street with even numbers on one side and odd on the other, then envisioning which houses each number would stop at.

So our new plan works like this:

1) Do one multi-digit basic calculation long hand. (We started with one of each during the week, but addition proved so easy we dropped it and now they are doing one extra of where they think they need work.) When they all are getting too easy, we’ll add fractions and decimals, negative numbers, or order-of-operations challenges to the mix.

2) Explore an interesting math topic. We have drawn factor trees that really looked like trees. (Duchess is so much happier with math that involves art. Or bunnies.) We have played Stake Your Claim. We have calculated the area of the different rooms of the house and figured out how to deal with odd shapes, even triangles. We have worked out complicated word problems from the MEP lessons together, and taken the time to talk it through for full understanding. I look through the MEP plans and choose the activities that are the right challenge level and cover the relevant material without bogging us down on stuff they know.

3) Play on the computer to practice facts.

All told, it’s about half an hour and we are having fun again and they are *getting* it again instead of freezing up. The moral of the story is . . . sometimes you can take curriculum that isn’t working and turn it into something that is. Sometimes less is more. And sometimes the learning is worth the time spent working together instead of rushing to independence.

Week 25–Back in the Saddle

Year 1: CHOW, Ch. 29 “A Boy King”; PFN, “Law of the Wood”; PTTS Ch. 19 “Forest Fire”; JSS, “The Alphabet”; Aesop, “Fox and Goat”; “Cat, Cock and Mouse.” Science–Biomes of the world;

Twins: Letter “M”; Readywriter “Brownies” page; pattern blocks; read-alouds.

We switched back to morning school, which means I’ve been doing a better job of doing things with the twins and the big kids have been reading out loud to me more regularly. The twins remembered more letters than I would have thought and they are at least moderately interested in the Readywriter pages.

We had a really great discussion on wildfires; we supplemented with a more detailed picture book and also they recalled a great deal from the relevant chapter in Little House on the Prairie, so we re-read and discussed it. Then we did our science lesson on different biomes and located pictures of wildlife and identified where it would live and why.

Alexander the Great was a pretty fun topic, too, and Duchess at least had read some of the supplemental books I got.

We have slowed down in math as it gets a little more complex and so that we’ll come out even at the end of the year. In addition, they are now doing a computer math game every morning while I finish up the morning chores and do things with the twins. Zoo Whiz has been one. It’s basically just glorified worksheets, but they’re relatively intelligent worksheets and they have enjoyed earning animals for their zoo. Duchess also has been enjoying the beta test of the Addition and Subtraction Timez Attack, but Deux finds the timed work too stressful.

The next two weeks Grandma and Grandpa are visiting, but we’re hoping to continue more or less on track, with the twins spending school time doing special projects with Grandma and Grandpa, and then big kids taking their turn in the afternoon.

Carrying On

We are now midway through Week 23, trying to finish up the term next week so we can take Holy Week off. We’ve had some nice weather and some bad weather and a really horrible stomach flu, all of which have driven us partly off course, but we’ve managed to pick up and move forward.

I don’t have any inspiring or creative stories, though. We just read and narrated. We are horribly behind on picture study and music.

We had a good time reading The Librarian Who Measured the Earth (about Eratosthenes) and later doing a Sieve of Eratosthenes to identify prime numbers. Our history reading has been about the Golden Age of Greece.

We’ve started planting in the garden and talked some about plant structures and purposes.

We went on a creek hike.

We went to the Children’s Museum in Tacoma.

We played a lot of Plants vs. Zombies when everyone was sick. They learned what “vs.” means. Actually I think learning to deal with some of the pressure of losing or facing threats and realizing it’s just a game is good for them. Some of them take it pretty intensely.

They’re listening to Chronicles of Narnia on CD at night and Duchess and Deux are both working on the books for themselves.

Weeks 9 and a half

Year 1: CHOW, Ch. 13: The People Who Made Our ABC’s. JSS, “How the Rhinoceros Got His Skin.” PTTS Ch. 7. BFB, “Aladdin and the Magic Lamp.” Twelfth Night.

Twins: Not much “academic”; I think we played ball, house, and cooking.

We decided to take a vacation over the Veterans Day weekend, so Week 9 got stretched a bit, but we should still finish Week 10 before Thanksgiving which leaves plenty of time to wind up the term before Christmas. And we had a great and undoubtedly educational time, seeing different regions, visiting nature centers and museums, and poring over maps.

Twelfth Night was a huge hit. I have caught both the kids reading it on their own. (Again, we used the Bruce Coville illustrated version.) They thought it was hilarious. Well, so were Aladdin and the Rhinoceros. It was a good week. Paddle is still not a favorite, but they are beginning to connect with it a bit more.

Math is going well. On top of our regular lessons, I gave them empty multiplication charts and they were entranced with puzzling out the whole thing. The Duchess exclaimed, “I love how in math there are so many cool patterns!” In the regular lessons we have nearly finished up to twelve, at which point there is a lot of review and consolidation before moving on into double-digit addition, more multiplication, etc.

We are reading Pinocchio for free read and my own selection The Phantom Tollbooth which we started on vacation.

The twins have been less interested in learning new letters–they may be at saturation point for now. We mostly play during their time.

Week 8

Year 1: CHOW, “The Kings of the Jews,” BBB, Goose and Loon; AIS, Albion and Brutus; JH, Blossom Comes Home, Aesop, “Gnat and Bull,” “Plane Tree.” Math: Combinations to 11.

Twins: Letter “H” is for House and Helicopter.

Although for the previous couple of weeks *somebody* was sick, this week *everybody* was sick. We didn’t do school at all Monday or Tuesday, so I just doubled up the readings on Thursday and Friday so that we would stay on track. Don’t know if that was the right decision or not; it’s still not really that much, but I do enjoy the more leisurely pace. However, I want us to have plenty of time off around Christmas (mostly so that I can plan the next term out as thoroughly as I did this one).

I have not done so well with dealing with the kids this week. Maybe it’s just the sickness and crankiness and extreme sleep-deprivation. OK, I hope that’s all it is. I’ve done a lot more yelling than I would like. (Not usually pertaining to school, but it does set the tone.) And with regard to school there was just a lot more squabbles over seats and crayons and all that irrelevant stuff. I hope we’re all sleeping better soon.

Last night the ducklings were dressing up as characters from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Duchess as one of Titania’s attendants, Deux as Puck, and Dash as, in his words, “The guy who scares everybody” (Nick Bottom). Can’t wait to try Twelfth Night with them, although I forgot to reserve it at the library, so it may not get in until next week. (BTW, I’m annoyed to discover that our library apparently does not carry the movie version. Surely my aunt had a copy, and maybe my sister knows where it is.) I wish I knew of a good movie version to show them; I really wish I could take them now to the live performance DOB and I saw when they were toddlers, which was all done in a 40s movie theme and quite hilarious. Or it would be awesome if one of the local outdoor productions would do it next summer . . .

I was excited to finally get to British history (and with mermaids, no less), although it was somewhat overshadowed by the general ill humor, but I think they did enjoy it. The James Herriot books are still something we just do; they don’t actively dislike it, but they’re not very enthusiastic either. They seem to be warming up to the Burgess Bird Book, though. And we are loving watching the birds at our feeder.

We didn’t quite finish math for the week, but in general we’re keeping up. Deux worked out how to add things to 99 by making 100.

I’m not doing quite as much of the science lessons as I would like as such, but we do seem to weave past topics into our casual discussions pretty often.

We made it outside pretty much every day, notwithstanding the horrible colds. The weather has been mild and sunny for November. We even went to the park and prowled trails and picked huckleberries today.