Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Our Sunflower Project

This summer, thanks to one of Barb's suggestions in the Summer Sizzle Outdoor Hour Challenge Ebook, we decided to plant sunflower seeds in pots on our apartment balcony.   It has been such fun to watch them grow this summer!

We started them from seed on June 26, and have periodically measured and sketched them as they grew.
A couple of Michelle's sketches of the progress of our sunflower plants.
On August 24, our first flower actually blossomed!  So we took some time to observe our flowers carefully using the grid provided in the ebook.

Michelle's Nature Journal Page
 We like to take photos of our nature subjects and put them up on the computer screen so we can easily sketch the details.

My Journal Page
Our flower is 48 inches tall (measuring up from the dirt, so this doesn't count the height of the pot) and 5 inches across.  It has 40 petals.  Michelle described it this way:
The leaf has yellowish dots on it and the rest is green.  The leaf has a heart shape with a tip on the bottom and going up like the shape of the heart.  It feels fuzzy wuzzy wuzzy.  The flower is a circle that goes around and around and around.  It is a flower family - that means there are a lot of flowers.  Its colors are bright yellow and orange.

Counting petals with James.  You can see the outdoor market in our street way down below. =)
That bit about the sunflower being a "flower family" was new to me - an interesting tidbit gleaned from The Handbook of Nature Study (the actual book, not the blog. =))  Sunflowers are composite flowers, meaning that the "flower" is actually made of many small flowers all clustered together.  And sure enough, if you look carefully, the center of the flower is made up of many tiny flowers.  The flowers around the outside edge are waving 'banners' (petals) to attract bees to their nectar and pollen.  Kinda interesting, isn't it?
Yup, the sunflower has outgrown Michelle. 

 This was truly a simple nature project that I think anyone can do...even if you don't consider yourself outdoorsy or happen to live on the 4th floor of an apartment building in the middle of the downtown area of your city.  ;-) Also, the sunflowers grew fast and watching them grow has kept my young children interested all summer - so also a good project for little ones with short attention spans.  I highly recommend it if you are looking for a way to get your feet wet with Nature Study!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What We've Learned - August 28, 2012

Two weeks ago we took the week off - stay tuned for notes on our trip to Lyon!  In the meantime, some highlights of our past learning week:

Michelle, Age 6-1/2
1. Practicing the cursive letters I had trouble with.
2. Changing the cards that have the French words of "yesterday", "today", and "tomorrow" ("hier", "aujourd-hui", and "demain") on our calendar.
3. I read in the Christian Liberty Nature Reader about flies, wasps, and butterflies.
4. We read about Penelope and Ulysses.  Ulysses dressed up like a ragged beggar so that no would know who he was.  But when he shook off the rags, he was in his normal clothes.   (from "Penelope's Web", a re-telling of a Greek legend, from James Baldwin's Thirty Famous Stories.)

Once again, Michelle wanted to show you her cursive paper.  If I didn't know better, I'd say she's kind of proud of having learned cursive. (Sorry about the weird cropping job, by the way.)
James, Age 4
1. I did letters with you: a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k.....
2. We also did big letters: K and P and A
3. We played a math game with the orange bars and the green bars. (Mama's note: The game came from MEP, but we used the green and orange Math U See bars as our game pieces because that's what we had handy!)
4. We read Le Bateau Arrive!

Favorite French book of the week!

Bonus: Elizabeth, Age 2
In case you ever wondered what she does during school time....

(It was cute until she started cutting up James' alphabet flash cards.  Oops.)

Hope you've had a good start to your learning week too!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Our Schedule, Part 2 (Daily)

Okay, in this post I described how I organize (and I use that term loosely!) our yearly and weekly schedule for school.  Today, I will tell you about how I organize our daily school schedule.

There are certain 'school subjects' that are not part of our scheduled school time.  This is because they are more a part of our everyday life than our 'acadmics'.   We keep doing them even when we don't do school.  But...if I was in a place where I had to track my hours, I would count the time we spent doing these things as school.   These subjects are Bible, Literature, Handicrafts, and Life Skills.  Bible we do as a family at breakfast (hymns and Scripture memory) and at bedtime (Bible reading and devotions.)   Literature is the form of picture book read alouds with the little ones before naptime and a chapter book for the older ones at bedtime.  Michelle also reads indpendently on her own time.  Handicrafts and life skills (chores, safety, hygeine, etc) just sort of happen as they happen and the need arises.

Michelle has gotten to the point that she can do some work indpendently, so she has a daily checklist of things she can work on without my being right next to her.  She starts these things when her chores are done in the morning, and finishes them when I do preschool work with James.  Or sometimes she works through the whole list while I'm at school, so we have less work to do when I get home.  The subjects on this checklist are: copywork, math drill (on the computer), French (on the computer), and read a section from one of her readers to tell me about later (or sometimes she reads the section out loud to one of us).  Her checklist looks like this:

All the rest of our school subjects fit into a "block" type schedule.  I occasionally move the blocks around to suit our needs, but the basic form stays the same.  Sometimes we do this 'school time' in the morning, and sometimes in the afternoon.  Depends on my schedule and what else we have going on that day.  This part of our school day takes 1.5 to 2 hours.  To keep track of it all I have a chart that looks like this.  For most of our resources we just 'read the next chapter', but if I need to I can scribble in notes about what resources we are going to use.

Block #1 Opening Family Work:
1. Calendar + Read a section from God's World News
2. Poetry (read aloud 1 poem, practice reciting the poem we are memorizing)
3. Aesop Fable + narration (for Michelle)
4. French song (action nursery rhymes, so we get some wiggles out) + activity

Block #2 First daily reading:
Day 1 - Character/Personal Development
Days 2 and 4 - History
Days 3 and 5 - Nature

Block #3 Indpendent and Guided Work:
Michelle does with me: Cursive Workbook, All About Spelling, and start Math together. She completes her math worksheet on her own, plus any work from her checklist she didn't get to in the morning while I do 15-20 minutes worth of work with James (letter/sound recognition, nursery rhymes, math games, a wee bit of handwriting).


Block #4 Second Daily Reading
Days 1, 3, and 5 French story (read and talk about it, define words we don't know, etc.)
Day 2 Geography
Day 4 - Composer or Artist Study (we alternate - spend about 6-8 week on a composer, and then switch and do 6-8 weeks on an artist.)

This 'flexible routine' method of scheduling has worked really well for us...hope it gives you some ideas too!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Our Schedule, Part 1 (Yearly and Weekly)

I've been meaning to do a post about how our school schedule works all year.  Except for that I kept changing it.  Now I think I've finally stumbled upon a system that's working for us and that we can sustain even in this super crazy season of life that we are now in.  So, if you too are looking for a way to bring some order to your chaos, this is the post for you. =)

Our Year
We started out the year with a 4 weeks on, 1 week off schedule, but then I discovered that because of ME being in school part time this year with a schedule that is constantly in flux, the kids' school schedule needed to be flexible too.  So, I don't necessarily plan set times for school to be "in" and school to be "out".  I keep a calendar that looks like this (I'm pretty sure I downloaded it from Donna Young's website):

We basically take a day or two off here and there as we need it - a playdate or field trip opportunity comes up, someone gets sick (or just plain too tired), I need to catch up on other work, we go on a family vacation, whatever.  I mark on the calendar which days we did or did not do school.  I keep a running total at the end of each month just so I can stay on track and make sure that we end up with 170-180 'school days' in the end of the year.  I don't have to report attendance to anyone, but I do want to make sure that we are staying on track with the 'average' school year and avoid the temptation to take too many days off just because I don't feel like it.

Sometimes going to the park and picking dandelions wins out over school. ;-)
Oh and for what it's worth, we do a January-December school year.  This is mostly because Michelle has an October birthday, and we 'officially' started K the January after she turned 5.  She was ready for it and it seemed silly to wait until the following September to start school with her, even though that's when she would have started K had we opted to send her to a traditional school.  We're also going into our 4th year in a row of making a major move in January so it's sort of a natural place for us to take a longer break for Christmas and moving and start fresh again once we're settled.

Moments like thse are what I love about homeschooling. =)

Our Weeks
In keeping with our flexible schedule, I don't schedule our weeks as Monday-Friday weeks.  They are labelled Days 1-5.  If we take a day off, or the weekend gets in the way, we just pick up where we left off the next day so we never miss out on anything.  Day 6 is our "Project Day".   We do just our basic subjects (Bible, literature, and math practice) and spend the rest of the day doing projects that can be too time consuming to squeeze in to a regular school day - nature walks and journalling, art projects, cooking projects, French videos, etc.  This helps to ensure we don't miss out on these things (we would if I didn't schedule them) and mixes things up enough to prevent burnout, even though we don't generally take extended breaks unless we are away from home.   So...a week in our house may look something like this:

Monday: We follow our 'Day 1' school schedule.
Tuesday: Day 2
Wednesday: Papa is off school so he take the kids to the park and I get caught up on emails, newsletter, or studying.
Thursday: Day 3
Friday: Day 4
(Saturday and Sunday off)
Monday: Day 5
Tuesday: Day 6: Projects
Wednesday: Day 1
Thursday: Day 2
Friday Day 3

Now this post is getting kind of long, so I will save our daily schedule for next time. =)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

What We've Learned - August, 7, 2012

A peek into our learning week...

Michelle, Age 6-1/2
1. I'm learning to write (copy) a letter in cursive. 
2. I am learning to spell words and write a whole sentence from dictation.
3. We read Aesop about the "Farmer and His Sons" - and mama wrote down what I said about it.*
4. We talked about shadows and stuff for Nature Study.

James, Age 4
1. We learned the sounds of i and j.
2. We did some math - I followed mommy's directions.  I wrote a purple square and two green triangles, and 3 orange circles.
3. I learned how to write letters - Jj and Ee and Ii.

*Bonus: Aesop Narration
Michelle wanted me to share her narration of "The Farmer and His Sons" with you all.  We've been using Aesop's Fables for narration since November and when we started I was lucky to get more than a sentence or 2 out of her.  She's come a long way!

"One day, a farmer who would not live very long called his sons to his bedside.  He said: "You must dig in the field.  There is a treasure in there."  So, no sooner had the farmer died and he was in his grave, they set to work.  They dug three or four times in field, but they didn't find any gold.  They thought it was a treasure of gold.  But they were wrong.  It was beautiful corn and they managed to find it by working in the field.  So they did find it, really they did!  The treasure of the beautiful corn."

Hope you're having a good learning week in your home!

Monday, August 6, 2012

What We've Learned - 27 July 2012

A few highlights from our past week (or so) of school:

Michelle, Age 6-1/2
1. We did the flashcard game* for +9 and +8 in math.
2. We are writing letters that end with a grin, a smile, and a jump (in cursive).
3. We read about Greece and Troy in history.  We are waiting to find out what the big horse was left there for. (Stay tuned for the end of the story next week!)
4. We went for a summer nature walk.
This is the page from her cursive book that Michelle wanted to show you this week.

James, Age 4
James was unavailable for comment this week. =)  He has, however, enjoyed marking off flags we see on the Olympics on our "Les Drapeaux Du Monde" chart and always loves playing with the Math U See blocks.  He's asked several times lately "when can I have a big Bible like Michelle's" and seems very interested in the idea of learning how to read when I tell him we'll get him a big Bible when I know he knows how to read it.
Ordering and Matching number cards with their corresponding Math U See Blocks

*Bonus: The Flashcard Game
This isn't very original, but I thought I'd share it anyway because this is a very simple way to spice up what would otherwise be monotonous flashcard drills.  This is my variation on an idea I first read about it in Karen Andreola's A Charlotte Mason Companion,  in the chapter when she discusses how she taught her daughters to read. We've used this same method with alphabet letters/sounds, beginning reading (when we were still in the 'sounding out words but still too overwhelmed by whole sentences' phase), and now for math facts.  Basically take the pile of flashcards you want to review, and lay them out on the table to make a path.  Find a die or 2 and a couple of old game pieces and play as a simple board game.   Michelle and I like to start on opposite sides and see who makes it to the other end first. =)  Whatever square you land on, you have to answer (tell the sound, read the word, tell the solution to the math fact, etc.).  Simple!  It's quick (our games usually don't last more than 5 minutes), takes the pressure off (since mom also has to answer to when it's her turn) and fun - at least, my kids haven't gotten tired of it yet. =)  But then again, my kids are really easily amused....

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Family Reading #3

A few of the reads we have been enjoying in our household lately...

Picture Book Highlights
Lately, I have been fielding multiple requests for Richard Scarry's Best Story Book Ever and Eloise Wilkin Stories (affectionately known as "Babies" around here).  These were some of my favorites in early childhood too, so I love seeing my little ones enjoy them as well.   French storybooks from the library continue to be favorites too, particularly one about the pompiers (firemen)!

Michelle's Reading (Age 6-1/2)
When asked just now "what is the best book you've read for yourself in the last couple of weeks", she replied "The Bible".  Yes, really.   We got her the ESV Seek and Find Bible for her birthday last year when she turned 6..  It's the full text of the ESV Bible with nicely illustrated easy-reader-level retellings of the major stories sprinkled throughout.  She is allowed to keep her light on for awhile and read after we put her to bed at night, and recently decided (on her own) that she should read a Bible story before she reads anything else at bedtime!  Makes this mama's heart happy...

Featured School Book
Michelle's pick of the week: Aesop's Fables.  We've been reading these daily to gain practice in the art of narration, one of the keystones in a Charlotte Mason education.  She has gotten to be really good at retelling these back to me.  (She also likes that I write down what she says...)

Bedtime Read Aloud
We just finished, and enjoyed, The Adventures of Paddy the Beaver by Thornton Burgess and have now started The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum.  (I do have to admit, however, that I keep having urges to burst out into song as I read this one.  My kids have not seen the movie yet, however, so they think I'm nuts....)

On Mama's Nightstand
Well it depends on if my brain is up for a challenge, or if it isn't. =)  When it is, I have been tackling the French novel Le Chȃteau de Ma Mère by Marcel Pagnol. I am actually really enjoying it, and while it is challenging I am finding that I can figure out many unknown words from the context.  I am also finding that by reading I am internalizing good French sentence structure and therefore am more likely to put the words in the correct order when I speak. =) Actually being able to read and enjoy a French novel is a huge boost of language-learning confidence for me!   When my brain is tired, then I pick up Village School by Miss Read - about a teacher in a small school in rural England.  The teacher in me always enjoys 'school' stories like these.

So there you go!  Have you read anything interesting lately?