Saturday, June 1, 2013

What We've Learned: May 2013

May has been a good learning month at our house.  For the first time in a very long time…perhaps in our entire homeschooling career…I feel like we’ve settled into a really good, sustainable rhythm that we can keep for a while.  That’s nice.  (Of course watch – now that I’ve said this, something’s gonna change!)   Part of this has to do with moving around our school area (you can see photos of our “school room” here).   Having our couch and school table face towards the back windows, rather than the playground out the front windows, has made a tremendous difference in terms of distractions.
Some of our highlights from the past month:
Michelle (Age 7-1/2, Completing “Grade 1”)
We are up to Week 10 in Ambleside Online Year One, and as I’ve mentioned before it is going really well for us.   I enjoy her school readings as much as she does!   We’re starting to get into some of the more challenging selections such as Parables from Nature and Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare, but her narrations have been surprisingly good and she seems to be enjoying the stories.   We made cards for all the characters in “A Midsummer Nights’ Dream” (our Shakespeare story selection) to aid with the narration which was enjoyed by all (especially James, my not-quite-5-year-old…he kept bringing my various character cards later and making comments about them: “Mama, Helena loves Demetrius, but he doesn’t love her.”).   We’ve also been finding some really fascinating things to observe for nature study – you can check out some of our recent nature study posts here.
I had originally assigned the D’Aulaire biographies to be read independently this year, as they are well within her ability to read on her own.  However, I discovered that her narrations have been very poor when I send her off to read even a very short section.  So at the moment, we are reading them together and we will take baby steps towards being able to hand them over to her independently.  Right now, she is reading aloud to me and then narrating each page.   We’ll use these books to help guide her towards independent reading throughout the rest of Year 1, with the goal of passing more readings on to her in Year 2.
James showing off our Midsummer Night's Dream character cards.

 We are also just about finished with Math U See Alpha.   After seeing her standardized test scores, we felt some supplementation in math was a good idea for her as well, so we’ve also started using MEP Year 1 (starting in the middle of the program, at lesson 81) alongside MUS.  The concepts presented are mostly review (MEP Year 1 also focuses largely on addition and subtraction facts), but they approach the facts from a variety of different angles and gives the student more than one way to think about numbers.   She is really enjoying it – there are lots of games, puzzles, and activities included in the lesson plans.   We’ll continue MEP through the summer, and make a decision in the fall whether to continue with MEP Year 2, MUS Beta, or some combination of the two.  (I feel like both programs have strengths and weaknesses that complement each other…but that’s a post for another time.)
Michelle’s writing and spelling abilities are also taking off.  She frequently writes notes and letters to friends and increasingly her spelling is all correct, or very nearly so.  (Ironically enough, I’ve noticed this great leap in spelling abilities since we dropped All About Spelling and have been taking a much more casual, individualized approach!)
James (Age Almost 5, Pre-K)
We are continuing to work on 3 and 4 letter word building as he is interested.   Favorite activities for word building/phonics this month included working through the Kumon My Book of Rhyming Words and Phrases workbook (good handwriting practice too!), building words on the Read-Build-Write mat (although take note -we just use 3-4 letter words we are working on for word building, not the vocabulary cards described in the linked post), and occasional reading out of the All About Reading readers or the Abeka Little Owl Books.   (FWIW, he initiated handwriting on his own and frequently practices on his own.  He seems to have unusually good fine motor skills for a child his age.   I say that to explain why so many of our activities involve writing – that is largely his choice.  I don’t recommend pushing a child this young to write if they aren’t yet ready.)   For math he’s enjoyed working with the Cuisenaire Rod Alphabet book and the counting puzzle you see below – which is great. (I purchased it here in Cameroon, although it’s obviously been imported from Europe. I have no idea if something comparable is available in the USA or not.)
  He’s ready to kick things up a notch in math from the counting games and such we’ve been playing, but I have yet to get things organized for him.  But it will be coming soon!  He is also showing a lot more interest in tagging along with our family studies including making nature journal sketches and memorizing poetry.  He loves Mozart, our composer for this term.
Elizabeth (Age 3, the “Tagalong”)
Elizabeth loves tagging along with anyone and anything.  Or else emptying out the contents of my purse…   She is also enjoying the Cuisenaire Rods and counting puzzle mentioned above, as well as an occasional page from a Rod and Staff preschool workbook.   I just finished reading Winnie the Pooh too both of my little ones, and we’re now reading from Kindergarten Gems  (a story collection from Yesterday's Classics for young children). 
Mama (Because you should never stop learning…)
I’ve been really enjoying reading and thinking through the 20 Principles of Charlotte Mason study, but you already know that. ;)  I have also been reading some other things that are helping me think through what my priorities and ministry role here in Cameroon ought to look like.  No conclusions yet, but lots on my mind.   I have been learning the benefits of ‘slow reading’ by disciplining myself to stick to the group reading schedule for The Scarlet Pimpernel  (so good, and so hard to limit myself to the assigned 2-3 chapters per week!).  It’s really true though…as much as I would love to just devour this book, I am savoring and enjoying it so much more but spreading it out over time and pondering it.   There really IS something to slowly reading several books at time rather than inhaling one right after the other.  (It’s also lovely to have something to look forward to on Thursday evenings after the kids are in bed – curling up with a cuppa and reading the next installment before the new discussion questions are posted on Friday!)
In more practical endeavors:  I’m still trying to find my go-to bread recipe for the flour and climate here  (baking in different countries with different climates and ingredients is not-so-much fun.)  And I will commence learning how to drive a stick shift very shortly, since we have acquired a stick-shift truck.   This scares me to no end, but not driving here is not an option unless I really want to be permanently stuck in our gated compound.  Which I don’t.
Looking Ahead…
Hoping to wrap up Term 1 (through Week 12) before school is out for the rest of the kids here June 11.  Then we’ll continue, but on a much abbreviated ‘summer schedule’.   We find long breaks make us all crazy, and we’ve had such an interrupted year that it will be good to keep something going consistently, I think.   Stay tuned!

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