Halfway

Actually we’ve finished Week 20 already, but it took me awhile to sit down and write things up.

The big change since the beginning of the year is that we have started our own law firm. That means my other work has gone from busy to insane. Fortunately DOB’s brother, who is living with us, is able to supervise school when I have to be at the office and usually four days a week I am able to get school done in the morning before needing to buckle down to work-work. Still, days are long. Hopefully it will slow down once we have things running a bit more smoothly.

So we’ve needed to streamline a few things. The big one was math–working through MEP Y5 just involved too much referring back to the lesson plans to make sense of the worksheets. We jumped ahead to MEP Y7, which seems to cover pretty similar ground but is designed for more independent work. So far that’s going pretty well, as they can work on it mostly independently while I work with the twins or am gone to work.

George Washington’s World has been especially good. They read one section each day; they don’t love them all equally, but generally their narrations are pretty good. Deux has developed a real interest in politics; when we read Abigail Adams Duchess will give a narration with all the Adams family news while Deux will rant about the stupid thing Parliament just did. We also started Plutarch and it’s challenging but going OK. For Shakespeare we are reading Twelfth Night and Deux naturally volunteered to be Sir Tobey Belch while Duchess again insists on being *all* the girls.

They don’t love Madam How and Lady Why as much as I would like, but I think they’re starting to get something from it. One rainy day they came in after checking out their fort and noticing the way the mud flows and water drips had made formations similar to those described in the the chapter about volcanoes; then they drew it up and wrote notes in their nature notebook.

The twins are still doing great with narrating and enjoying all the books (especially Just So Stories), but reading and math are still coming slowly, and I find I have to mix it up a lot. I also need to split them for reading instruction. I wound up printing off phonogram cards and letting them make up a game with them each time. Then we do a very short bit of reading, plus possibly some word building. Right now Dot is working on an Inch and Rolly book and Dash on Frog and Toad.

For math we tried doing MEP worksheets for a while, but they were way too abstract and writing-heavy. So we are just rotating through various activities: Cuisenaire rods, board games, blocks or legos, or just making up questions. I’m focusing on getting them solid on addition and subtraction to 20, with a little bit of multiplying and dividing in small numbers. In both math and reading progress seems slow but we have definitely moved ahead since the beginning of the year.

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Six Weeks’ Mark

We have made it halfway through the first term, which is the point it seems right to pause and look around and see what is working and what is not and give myself a tiny pat on the back for being well begun. We’ve stayed on track so far, and if we keep that up it should get us done before Thanksgiving week, maybe even with a day or two for exams. If we do stay on track, I’d like to go ahead and do a couple of weeks of Term 2 before Christmas so we don’t drag quite so long into the summer.

Working with four kids is hard work. Really hard work. It’s working, but the days are intense. Dot and Dash are enjoying the readings and are, thankfully, really good at narration. Reading and writing and math are proceeding acceptably, but it is kind of an adjustment to me to do slow and steady instruction in reading.

Our group times are going well. I am rotating the various memory subjects so we only do two or three a day, then a language lesson (Spanish, Latin, or grammar), a Bible reading, and some days an extra reading, either in history or a picture book chosen for a special reason, or art or music. The whole thing usually takes less than half an hour, and as they usually draw or color during it, it is relatively smooth.

Then I set up the big kids with typing and their assigned independent read, while I take the twins’ AO readings and reading lesson materials off to the bedroom. (We lost the schoolroom with DOB’s brother moving in–on the other hand, we gained an in-house piano teacher, which the older two are taking to very well.) In theory the big kids should only interrupt once, to narrate and swap typers, but they usually interrupt a few more times than that with various problems. Still, we’re working toward independence. That’s about another half-hour chunk of time.

After this we sometimes go straight into snack, although we are supposed to do copywork first. Also sometimes we are all ready for a break by then. Or we go for a walk. On Mondays it’s an official nature walk and they have to add something to their notebooks. Then we return, do copywork if we haven’t already, and then math. (Occasionally the big kids will have done their math the night before at the dinner table with DOB–Duchess prefers his explanation style to mine.) The twins and I are working through the Arithmetic Primer, but I think I will slow the pace down as we get closer to the number 10–they still need a lot of concrete work to get the ground very sure under their feet, though Dash sometimes moans in protest, “This is TOO peasy!” The big kids are getting more independent (with a little instruction) in MEP Year 5.

Finally there is one more reading to do with the big kids–this one we generally do together, though I am working towards having at least a round-robin reading. Wednesday we only do math and Shakespeare for the big kids, plus some singing in the car during errands, and copywork and usually one reading for the twins.

To my surprise, Deux *asked* to do dictation and likes it much better than copywork. I will usually work with him to do this a couple of days a week. He is painstaking and slow with it, but absolutely accurate and legible, and his flow, proportions and confidence have improved markedly since the beginning of the year. He also has occasional days where he can just sit down to his readings alone without a great deal of difficulty settling himself, though there are still plenty of the other days. Duchess is doing written narrations from Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (her choice) and I plan to have her add a typed narration from one of the assigned readings next term. It is rather strange listening to them narrate from independent readings–they tell such completely different things from the story you would think they were reading different books.

If we start by 9:30 we can usually be done by 12:30. We don’t usually start quite that early, but on the strength of the snack we usually delay lunch until we are done. And after that I am feeling very done. My work has picked up a lot this fall and between that and school my days are very full and quite exhausting, but most satisfactory.

Term 2

We have finished up Term 2. We have also finished moving. So we are running a little slow for the year, just starting Term 3 while everyone else posts about winding things up. Looks like we will have a very short summer.

Still, we’ve accomplished a lot. The clipboards continue to work very well to organize independent work and give them a chance to get started early. The basket isn’t as essential now that we have a designated schoolroom, but the organizational scheme has carried us through some very hectic weeks. (We did wind up taking three weeks off during the critical part of the move.)

Children of the New Forest was very well-liked. Sort of the Boxcar Children writ large, with more perspective on the English Civil War than we ever hoped to know. In history we continued with our existing books, focusing mostly on the English Civil War and the early settlement of Virginia. They read biographies of Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth, already two favorite figures. In science we finished Pagoo and started Secrets of the Woods. Honestly, nature readings are never their favorite, but I think they are enjoying Secrets of the Woods a little more.

They are starting to get the hang of doing worksheet math finally. Deux wants me to write some of his answers, but they are beginning to work more independently. Some of it seems too easy, but since they’re still getting used to doing it themselves, that’s probably a good thing. Not sure what I’ll do next year, but we’ll see how they are doing at the end of the year. I may want to skip a year, as there’s a lot of repetition at this age and they are usually complaining that it’s too easy (except when they find something novel, then they complain the other way).

I am not having much luck getting Deux to read on his own. There still seem to be some eye fatigue issues, though he can read and comprehend any of the texts. Apparently he has not been wearing his glasses enough for his eyes to adjust, so we just need to keep pushing through. Meanwhile, I’m still buddy-reading with him, or if everyone is getting along very well he and Duchess will read together.

In our new house, we have lovely dirt roads through woods and fields for nature walks and have been doing more of them just as a nice break mid-morning in school. Also we have actually made some nature notebook entries.

The twins are still hanging on the periphery. With Term 3 I am starting them on the Burgess Bird Book. Dash is not impressed with being required to do anything, but he clearly understands. Reading lessons have been very hit and miss. They seem quite close but we just haven’t made it a regular thing yet. They both did very well with their AWANA books this year, and have amazing verbal memories.

Another change in the new house is having the piano handy instead of in an outbuilding. I don’t want to try to do formal lessons yet, but we are playing around with some basic things, and maybe trying some online lessons. Just getting them familiar with the instrument.

Honestly, I’m a bit worn out at this point. I’d love to call it quits for the year and pick back up in the fall. But school is providing some much-needed stability for our day, and there are some exciting new books in Term 3.

Out of the Frying Pan

Well, this week turned out to be an even better one to test my new independent work basket than expected, because in addition to the start of Term 2 we had our first (and last) house showing on 72 hours’ notice. So I had spent all weekend cleaning like a crazy woman and was still at it all morning on Monday. The kids found the basket, did most of their stuff (with considerable questions, especially for math, but I could answer them while scrubbing the sink). Then a very kind lady from church took them out for a few hours while I cleaned the floors and the showing happened, then we did our group time in the afternoon.

The rest of the week was punctuated with meetings, but the new system held. Deux still doesn’t do it all alone, but he is pretty enthusiastic about doing the math and grudgingly cooperative with the copywork. He really prefers to read out loud or listen; for the Heroes I finally dug out the little MP3 player and that worked very well for him; he gave a stellar narration.

Some mornings the full planned group time right after the independent work is too much. I need to learn when to quit and start again after lunch. The twins have been doing mazes and super easy word searches, as well as just free drawing.

We are putting a bid in on a house today, so we’ll see how that goes. (It has space for an actual schoolroom/office! AND a playroom! AND a hideout for DOB!) Regardless, it looks like the next couple of months are going to be very hectic.

It only takes me about 10 minutes or so to tidy up the clipboards and ready the basket for the next day. The assignment sheet pages get really battered by the end of the week, but I suppose that is not important. I’m a little aghast at the quantities of paper and printer ink consumed.

Lurching through the Term

We only have two weeks to go, and then I plan to take a long Advent break, with just singing time and some no-narration read alouds. Given the existing level of stress, sometimes I think I should just have dropped school altogether already, but it’s an organizing principle in our day and the children do not handle sudden changes well. They have been looking forward to Advent, so we shall press through, finish the term, and take our break then.

I was inspired by Cindy’s posts on Morning Time to reevaluate what we are doing and see what I could do to improve it. One change has been to start with the responsive saying, “The Lord be with you,” “And also with you,” which they know from church, followed by a morning grace from the Book of Common Prayer and special requests. Another has been to make everybody sit down around the table (Yes, this probably seems obvious, but I tend to miss obvious things). If we do a youtube video for one of the songs, I bring the laptop to the table instead of everyone getting up and crowding around my desk. It’s a small change, but it has made things much calmer.

A third change has been to add a read-aloud to our time together. I did a picture biography of Martin Luther for the last week of October, and now I have started one of Michelangelo. This has been a big hit, and has me pondering how I might blend the children’s work next year when the twins officially start Year 1. Reading about how Cindy incorporated a history spine into Morning Time has made me wonder if that might not be an appropriate way to organize it. The twins have eavesdropped on most of the big kids’ history, anyway. So if I read aloud from the spine (This Country of Ours, mostly) each week and supplemented with appropriate biographies, I think it would be enjoyable for everyone. They will still have their other readings to do separately. I’d also like to do Shakespeare together–start with a children’s version for everyone, then read through the play together with the older kids (twins eavesdropping, no doubt). (I’m also thinking about trying to incorporate grammar and Latin, very briefly. We’ll see how things are next year.)

With the twins’ reading I have been taking a more low-key approach. We read some stories together (usually we each choose one). They often want to read beginner books, which, of course, are not great literature, but I think they choose them because they can begin to spot words in them. Then we will choose a word from the reading and write it with magnet letters and maybe do some word building with it. Sometimes they are not that interested, but at times when they are I can tell their ability to blend and analyze words is gradually increasing. Dash “read” most of Green Eggs and Ham this past week; obviously he was reciting most of it but I could tell he was beginning to catch differences between memory and what he saw.

I still don’t really do math with the twins, but one day things were going smoothly enough that I pulled out the gems, counted out nine for each of them, and we played with some different combinations. Dot started pairing hers off. When she came to the odd one out she said, “This one doesn’t have anyone to talk to!” I guess I know how to explain even and odd numbers to her.

Deux is still not eager to read by himself and I’m not sure how to nudge him in that direction, but I want to after the first of the year. I think it is a matter of settling himself to a new subject–transitions are hard for him. He did pick up better interest in his Bible reading when he came to the Ten Plagues.

One Month In

We started, and as expected, thanks to the early start we got the first month of school done by the end of September, in spite of expected interruptions (from DOB’s health mostly) and unexpected interruptions (my grandfather died). It’s been a rocky month, and the start of school has not gone very smoothly. However, I feel like we’re finally starting to get our feet under us. Anyway, here’s the short version.

The Good:

The books. Although there are definite favorites, there are not any duds. (Well, Parables of Nature and Pilgrim’s Progress are still challenges, but they’re familiar challenges and their understanding is pretty good. I’m doing Pilgrim’s Progress during lunch which seems to work well.)¬†As expected, Princess¬† and the Goblin, The Heroes, Tall Tales are all much loved. Marco Polo is very cool and we are making scrapbooks to go with it. The history selections are not usually picked first in the week, but we generally have interesting discussions once we get there. (Henry VIII and his wives this week.) Leonardo da Vinci is more tolerated, but to my delight Deux is really excited about Pagoo. The history timelines are going pretty well, too–I am trying to have Deux do his copywork in there once a week and then I add any other entries.

Dictation is going well for Duchess, and Deux has been so inspired by watching her do typing that he is trying to do it, too. She’s also doing good independent work with French, though I really need to get her more resources. The new Spanish curriculum is working out OK, though I need to work it in daily. Geography is fine–though the map of Asia still feels enormous, but then it is only the beginning of the year. I started using a jigsaw puzzle site to supplement our art study, and that is a big hit. We have just been listening to the music, with the briefest introduction, but it’s in there.

The Bad:

Science hasn’t really happened, except a few experiments they designed themselves and a couple of not-too-impressive nature notebook sessions. I guess it’s not so bad, but it’s a lot less than I had hoped. It definitely is the thing that slides out of the week when it gets too full.

The schedule has been . . . awful. I was hoping to work out times so that I wouldn’t feel constantly interrupted and pulled in four different directions at once, but it hasn’t really happened. Everybody seems to need something different. We’re working on it. I’m trying having Duchess dictate onto the computer and then listening to it later (which seems to be helping, and we can still have the discussion when we all listen to her narration). The twins’ lessons have been getting shoved aside (however, I’m toying with the idea of splitting up their reading lesson, with perhaps DOB teaching Dot in the evening, and I can usually squeeze a brief story time in). Deux also seems to be slowly getting back into school mode, taking on longer chunks of readings, doing his handwriting more independently, etc. He’s waiting on glasses for farsightedness, too, so I’m hopeful those will help.

The Ugly:

Math has not been going well. At all. Instead of things beginning to click with MEP, we just got bogged down. Too many problems, too much to get through, too many arguments and it was just a miserable slog. I thought about going back to Y3, but that just seemed too easy conceptually. So for now, I’m using the lesson plans as a loose outline, taking our own sweet time, doing a few problems slowly and thinking about them, taking time for more creative exploration and discussion. They each have to do one multi-digit problem each day, all written out and done independently and checked in their head and then on the calculator, just to see they can do it. The rest of the time is fun math. I’m also having them do lots of games to get the multiplication facts down. Math is fun again. I hope they don’t find themselves horribly uneducated for it.

The Summary:

We’re getting there. It’s starting to come together. I think. Life’s going to be pretty complicated for the next who knows how long, so I hope we can settle in a little better.

Whew

We made it to the end of school, yes, even with me working on a trial during the last two weeks. And, as eager as I am to start planning next year, I want to stop and take a look at what we did *this* year.

Language Arts: I feel like Deux made solid progress in handwriting this year, though he still doth protest too much. Duchess continues to have flawless handwriting, but I do wish she could go a little faster. Spelling (word building) remained one of the favorite lessons, but I’m still thinking about dropping it and just doing copywork (dictation for Duchess). They do spell well for their ages. Narrations didn’t improve that much, but at least we had fewer protests–I really think they need to be reading on their own for me to see real improvement. I made less progress handing books off to them than I had hoped–mostly we just got as far as taking turns reading them aloud.

Math: We made good math progress, so that they can now do all four operations with multi-digit numbers and are beginning to learn the written algorithms. They got bored with Frank Hall toward the end of the year and we began the switch to MEP; the downside to that is that we don’t have as much extra time for games and puzzles. Deux still doesn’t write much of his, which is partly a problem because it annoys me and partly because it is harder to make sure he and Duchess are working separately. However, it does seem like much of MEP is meant to be worked as a class, so that may work well for us for now.

History: We had a lot of fun with history this year, both the biographies and the history books. The Little Duke was a huge hit, and Joan of Arc was much admired. We didn’t do as much in the timeline notebook as I might have envisioned, but we kept pegging away at it and I think we are beginning to make it a habit. There were a lot of kings of England. It was something of a relief to me to arrive at Columbus. The comic book was a nice way to wind up the year.

Geography: Our plan was simple–just filling in a blank map of Europe each week, as much as possible from memory, then a few more items from the atlas. Now at the end of the year they know the 12-15 largest or best-known countries and the principle bodies of water. Tree in the Trail did not make much of an impression, I fear. We enjoyed Seabird more but did not tie it in to geography particularly well.

Science: We did manage to do a little more regular nature study this year. The science lessons were also slightly more frequent. Not quite frequent enough on either, but a modest improvement. The Burgess Animal Book was not one of our favorites, but I do think they have learned a good bit from it. They applied some of it in the RPG we made up set in the Olympic Forest (they insisted in strict accuracy on what their characters ate, no matter how much it distressed DOB that they were eating small, cute creatures).

Bible: The notebook got kind of old and our lessons tended to trail off to just read and narrate. Still, it was good. I really liked going through one book slowly–I think we got a much better feel for the themes and focus of each book this way.

Art: We actually stayed on schedule here and did the picture studies. It still seems very simple, but I do think it adds up over time.

Music: Thanks to Grooveshark, we also managed to stay on schedule with this. Opera was a mixed bag (they did like Rossini better than Puccini).

Spanish: I’m starting to see some real progress in this, where they will actually speak and respond. They’ve watched all the Salsa and Muzzy videos multiple times now, and they memorize the songs readily.

Literature: Most of these were favorites. Understood Betsy, Wind in the Willows, Otto of the Silver Hand. (We will be reading Robin Hood for fun over the summer.) I guess Parables from Nature is a literature selection, though it’s rather hard to quantify–it’s almost like an apologetics book, except unlike most apologetics books, it’s not presumptuous, arrogant, preachy or dull. Rather it gives some quite thought-provoking stories that address some deep questions. I was not too fond of it at first, and the kids even yet seem to ask for it in the spirit of “getting it over with,” but our discussions have gotten deeper at it. Pilgrim’s Progress also has been hard going at times, but they have enjoyed looking up where we are in the adapted versions and it has sparked some valuable thoughts. Oh, and I forgot Shakespeare. We settled on Lamb’s and it continued to be a hit, especially with Duchess.

Free Reads:¬†I’m kind of perturbed by how many of these remain–on the other hand, thanks to library audio books, they have listened to many from future years, so hopefully it will all even out.

All in all, a good, full, rich year with lots of learning and progress in spite of a lot of interruptions.