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Archive for the ‘Family Centered Homeschooling’ Category

Today we went with our homeschooling group to  the Blue Army Shrine in Washington, NJ for a May crowning. The day was absolutely gorgeous! We started out with noon Mass at the shrine and then took a small statue on a liter to the Holy House and crowned Our Lady followed by a procession through the rosary garden praying the Joyful Mysteries.

Here is what greeted us when we made the trek up the big hill when we were done:

As my friend Viv said:

“That has GOT to be a sign!”

Yes, Viv, it does!

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” 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they labour not, neither do they spin. But I say to you, not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these. 28 Now if God clothe in this manner the grass that is today in the field, and tomorrow is cast into the oven; how much more you, O ye of little faith? 29 And seek not you what you shall eat, or what you shall drink: and be not lifted up on high. 30 For all these things do the nations of the world seek. But your Father knoweth that you have need of these things. 31 But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you. 32 Fear not, little flock, for it hath pleased your Father to give you a kingdom. 33 Sell what you possess and give alms. Make to yourselves bags which grow not old, a treasure in heaven which faileth not: where no thief approacheth, nor moth corrupteth. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. 35 Let your loins be girt, and lamps burning in your hands.”

I love following the threads at 4Real.  They really help me to think my own thoughts on oh so many issues regarding homeschooling, parenting, faith and my children (not in any particular order).

There was a post the other day that really got me thinking…and remembering.

About this time 2 years ago I was starting to plan for high school homeschooling for the first time.

Ordinarily, during planning time, I would pull out my notes that I had been accumulating throughout the year.  These planning notes mostly came from a  spiral bound notebook I always had with me for fast scribbling when an impulse would hit me to try something new or take a new direction.

Hasn’t it ever happened to you??  ~Distraction! …Here I would be

~armed with my coffee(in my pre-pregnancy state…or would that be post-pregnancy..hmmm..I mean, caffeine only in a non pregnancy state but something hot nonetheless)  and running the circus…all the players assembled around me working.   I would be watching the children with that day’s work and  I would begin to see these already implemented plans beginning to bear fruit.  Mind you, the process is not idillyic or smooth running…remember!  I am an optimist.  I see good even in its distressing disguise [:)]

It typically would hit right about then…wanting to change things or tweak things…which could be disruptive.  I had to compose myself…I felt like a kid in a candy store the day after lent was over! I wanted to try it all.  I found that scribbling in my “Mommy’s Brain in a Book” was the BEST thing I could do at that moment.   It was my way of ‘sitting on my hands’ when I wanted to bolt to the shelves or the computer or the library (all at the same time ….at just THAT moment) which would of course disrupt learning and cause me to lose my audience.  I had a plan and I was going to work it, but I had to scribble to leave me room for inspiration that could be implemented LATER…like the next day or week….not right then. Disordered creativity doesn’t help anyone…it only causes frustration…even just for the note “Make copies of coloring page for 5yodd” would be recorded or “buy dress shoes for 7yo before Sunday”.  I would write ANYTHING that would make me move or distract me so I could stay on track.   There is no guarantee I will remember anything if I don’t write it down.   Be patient with me if you call.  I have to write down the fact that “I can’t talk to you now and I will call you back later”  or I will forget when I place the phone in the receiver.

So, ideas  both big and small, scholastic and domestic were pressed into the “Mommy’s Brain in a Book” book.  This would be used with a variety of other homeschool sources to plan things out later, editing out the non-essential of course!  In some cases,  I had been planning almost 2 years ahead, but that was for elementary school.  I was wondering if the stakes were changing for high school and was I prepared for it?  I have to admit to feeling unsettled and unsure of how to proceed as my eldests had some processing issues and I wasn’t too sure how that would work if they were planning on being in a college setting.  They were improving by leaps and bounds, but would that trend continue?

I also considered their younger brother, Young Einstein, and that he would be college material by the time the high school experience was over, but what would HE need?  He is gifted in some ways.  I could see a young engineer budding here…that would take some careful consideration.  He would need a well-rounded education to be sure…logic, latin, writing, science, math…..and more…

I have always enjoyed using an eclectic combination of several ‘methods’ such as Montessori, Catholic Charlotte Mason (lots of living books), Classical…etc…sometimes in an unschooly kind of way in that we followed lots of rabbit trails when the interest in a particular subject was high.   I just LOVED gleaning this way!  It fired me up to do more. In those circumstances they studied far more than ever would be required of them just for the joy of learning a new thing…  could I keep that up?

I love sliding along through the stacks of books and inspiration with a touch of enthusiasm.  After all there is only so much tugging and pulling I can do with some of the children.  I would rather leave those kind of battles to the laundry monster or any of the other unpopular chores they also had to accomplish.  I wanted learning to be an adventure (wherever possible) in that even if I had to poke an prod a little, the process would soon (usually after 15-20 minutes..I TIMED it one day) pick them up and build their confidence and propel them ahead into learning.  The first 15-20 minutes took FOREVER but the last 2 hours FLEW! I was comfortable with this and then you throw the monkey wrench of SATs and whatever other monsters that might be ‘lurking under the bed’ and I get a little weak in the knees.

But I did it.  I prayed and I figured it out.  After all, that business of the children is really just ENTRUSTED to me..they really are God’s and He knows what He is about….even with beautiful talented girls with processing issues.  I had to trust in that and just move forward knowing that their crosses were no fault of my own.  I had to help them carry them…not jump on the back of them and make them heavier by “trying to keep up with the Joneses” .  They learned how to talk and to walk and to read and to write,  and so on with steady progress.  There was NO WAY I could go through our day with anything less than sacrifical peace.  Sacrificial in the sense that I would do all I could to help and I shouldn’t sweat the bumps along the way.  What good would it do to offer a curricula and have not love…something to that effect.  My daughters even told me that if they went to college, they would more than not study theology and teach outdoor survival and maybe get into domestic sustainable farming…hmm

Then with Young Einstein,, who was doing much of the same work with his older sisters would be going to college and majoring in something to do with math and science….

I really needed a planning hand to hold.  I consulted my Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum book, and CHC’s High School planning book and a few other planning books that I used as place markers to make sure all of the concepts were covered in each subject.  The most unlikely place I found a helping hand was already on my shelf.  I had purchased the books for making lapbooks, but I realized that they were full of lists that would help me ensure that if the children continued to pursue their own interests in a particuar subject, like…WWI in 20th Century History…they had basic points covered in their notes.  These books helped them take notes and include what they would need in order for the NOTES to be a good review tool.  I didn’t expect them to make them into lapbooks, I expected their notebooks to trigger their memory quickly…ok..there are 2 things to compare here…here are the important dates to remember…here are

I had to steer the ship for high school and yet still cover grammar school (K-5 ATM)  I needed some good overview lists to make sure each individual person covered the subject areas needed as well as each group…without being tightfisted about them.    I decided that the twins were either freshmen this year  if I ‘hold them back a year’ or sophomores if they decided they want to finish up quickly but I wouldn’t alter the course of their learning…they can do it on their own muster in three or slower in 4 it is up to them at this point.

  • Freshmen  the twins (16yo)  and Young Einstein (14yo)
  • 4-5th grade dd(9) and ds(10)
  • K-1st grade dd(5) and ds(7)

I divided the groups then I divided the data..

  • subects
  • skills
  • extra projects by season
  • individual goals
  • family goals
  • book lists
  • library lists

Each child had their own planning/assignment book and they have to ck in with me during the course of the week to adjust goals and to review whatever was covered.  We were looking for areas of improvement and areas that still needed tweaking.  In these books were also kept extensive reading lists.  This one was hard to stay on top of because they didn’t always want to write everything down.  But, by having the weekly meeting with mom(teacher) and the weekly report with dad (principal)  it became something they were proud of….confidence goes a long way …especially with a certain 10yo here…

Well, in hindsight, I guess we did all of those things.  God has a unique plan for all of them and I have been praying about that for a long time.  I was praying I wouldn’t ‘get in the way’ of His Grace either.

But your Father knoweth that you have need of these things. 31 But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you…

I am still planning on the twins attending a good Catholic college (only God knows where that $$ is coming from..and if Young Einstein goes the same year??!!  …ONE day at a time, Mama!)  and at the same time I am relaxing my fearful heart over if what we are doing is good enough.  I can see looking back, they are still going strong and making steady improvements.  They are growing in grace and I feel the Spirit blowing strong with them some days.  It took me some time to figure out a new way to ‘plan’ for the year and still meet the objectives that they would need for any potential college.  I sometimes worry about
TIME

and well…I have learned to put prayer before all things and put religion first during the day (at least in some form) and it does make the road a bit less scary to travel from a gulp, I am in charge of all of these people and all that they …..etc…perspective

Back to the 4 Real post though…

I identified the one subject that made me uncomfortable planning for high school and that was science….  I realized that I had somethings at my disposal to help in that area.  I have a few high school and college texts that I just picked up at the thrift store or garage sales…so I could see WHAT was being covered and HOW.  The creative mommy in me wanted learning to be fun and meaningful.  I wanted them to remember.  I hadn’t found a text for the high schoolers that I was sure would be a good fit.  I was wondering if I could continue using mostly living books to cover this subject.  I loved MacBeth’s Opinion…and other such resources, but would that be enough?

I then perused my shelves and found these resources:

Science Scope by Kathryn Stout is a great resource book I picked up years ago.  It was recommended to me as an excellent resource for people who like to plan their own path and it DOES help planning things. I realized that despite my discomfort doing a CMish type of high school science, I found my children work that way best and this resource helped me keep my place. I also needed a way to keep them on track in their note-taking as their notebooks weren’t cutting it as good review tools. I wanted them to remember at a glance. It is one of those books that have earned their keep on the shelves.

There is a simple little checklist in the back of the book where I can plug in each child’s name(ok just 5 of them at a time [LOL] and the level covered (primary, intermediate, junior, sr high) It is easy for me to eyeball if someone has missed something. A lot less remembering on my part (I am starting to feel challenged in that area as I am divided amongst so many)  So it helped me focus on high school level and helped me keep track of the progress the others needed to take to get there.

I actually used Science Scope alongside the Dinah Zike science books
and used Dinah’s recommendations to facilitate teaching them note taking in each area so they have good coverage in their notes….
Big Book of Science – Elementary K-6]Big Book of Science for K-6
Big Book of Science for Middle School and High School]Big Book of Science for Middle and High School

Dinah has lists that are divided into subject area, skills to be covered and how many parts to include in their notes…a visual/kinesthetic must for several of my children. I felt that at least so far (even with an elementary through a  9-10th grade level in the upper ranks now) we have what we need covered.

We then used this book so they could alter the foldables (if they didn’t want to make a big project of their work) so they could easily be created on they fly and fit nicely into their composition books or binders wihout added bulk using ordinary notebook paper and highlighters and such:
Notebook Foldables

So I did learn that if I feel a bit’ prickly in the skin’ at teaching and being accountable for one subject or another to have some kind of spine or list to keep me on track.…the blood pressure goes at  more of an even keel that way…

I have one other of Kathryn Stout’s books Maximum Math, and it has helped us tremendously keeping a birds eye view on everyone knowing what they are doing and where they are going next…it made for easier projects and rabbit trails for K-8. As with Science Scope, I could make sure we covered everything. They were ‘my’ planning spines. It was my way of making sure that they had a syllabus to follow even though we didn’t fit well with syllabi but the kids wanted to know when they studied on their own ‘what came next’ and ‘how much do I do” I am VERY visual and I needed help and I think I have FINALLY? got it!??

At the end of the day, I realize that what really counts that I continue to discern and pray and put all things in God’s hands…not to mention work with my HEART.    I LOVE my vocation and part of that is my calling to homeschooling.  It is so much easier to love in my vocation and love my vocation when my heart is fully in it and that means my heart must be fully in God.  I treasure every fleeting moment I have been gifted with as I learn beside my children.  They are my gift.  I am blessed.

34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (more…)

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If you haven’t had the chance,  and you have some time on your hands to drool a little, stop on over to Jen’s Wildflowers and Marbles and take a look at her book selection for budding young engineers.  My 14yo ds has enjoyed The New Way Things Work
for quite a few years and now uses it to teach his younger brothers.    My ds Young Edison has a few more ideas to share!

The New Way Things Work 3.2
IPlay The Way Things Work Game

Pinball Science

As far as learning toys go, Jen had some great recommendations.  Snap Circuits PRO SC-500
is one of our favorites here.  It taught ME how electricity worked.  it is definitely worth it getting the larger set as it does more.

Don’t forget the simple machines contained in many of the LEGO sets, especially the LEGO Technic line and many of the KNEX sets.

Gears! Gears! Gears! Super Set – 150-Piece Set
andGizmos and Gears
,  from Learning Resources are  great learning toys for the younger ones (3-10), and the Learning Resources M-Gears Building Set
are great for ages 7-12.

Ooh yes!  One more thing!Snowball Launchers, Giant-Pumpkin Growers, and Other Cool Contraptions
by Tom Fox. (A fellow Magnum Opus Catholic Homeschooler!)

We did a whole architecture unit a few years ago using David Macaulay’s other work using both the books and the DVDs complete with the cool projects done by ZOOM at the end of each program…fun fun!  I THOUGHT I had blogged about it before, but I can’t find it.  I will wrack ds’s brain and share the resources we used…another unit that was a blast to complete.  Talk about hands-on-learning!!  Science is definitely NOT boring around here!!

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St. Nick  arrived dutifully on December 6th filling eagerly waiting shoes with goodies and placing this Miter (printed on cream-colored cardstock with each child’s name written on the back of it in gold paint pen..just leave off the treat cup base) in each shoe.  I am sure he found it easier to keep each child’s goodies from falling onto the hearth and I am sure he avoided any hurt feelings over whose chocolate was whose!  Of course he included a new toothbrush with those chocolate coins…he is very practical thinking!

funny thing…he left a scroll of parchment like cardstock hanging from the fireplace with this message:

Dearest Tappclan!  Blessed Feast to you all!!

I know you have all been very good boys and girls this year and I want to give you a very special surprise!  After your chores are dutifully done at day’s end, return to the feasting table for a scavenger hunt!  Your dear Mother and Father will instruct you what to do!  Enjoy this special day…all for the Glory of God!!

….and it was tied with a striped pipecleaner and shaped like a Crozier….how cool is that?!

After dinner Mom placed a pretty basket in the middle of the diningroom table and announced that aaallll of the dishes had to be done quickly and the table washed as the fun was to begin as soon as they were done.  She remarked at how incredibly quickly the work was done and reveled in the first non-complaining night of the season…lol

In the basket were 10 scrolls of parchment-type cardstock.  I numbered them and coded them with a word on the outside so I would know where I needed to hide that one.  Each scroll was rolled and tied with a red and white pipecleaner with the end shaped like a crozier…see a theme here?? 

After the kids finished their chores they all went down into the basement as Mom, Dad and baby hid each clue.  They were then called up and read the “offical words of the game”…

“”Share Ye All Thy Gifts With One Another! ”

Nicholas gave to others because that is what Jesus commanded us to do, but did so anonymously so people would think only that gifts came from God.  Look to God’s sky, under which we all live together and are to care for and help one another”

….They scurried to the boys’ and then the girls’ room where they found the next scroll hanging from the ceiling fan. (The ceiling is painted in both rooms to look like a blue sky with clouds.)  …get the idea??

I went to the Saint Nicholas Center and printed out this story and re-wrote it leaving each paragraph as a clue to lead you to a location for the next parchment.  I hid them in almost plain sight so that the house didn’t get too torn apart….gulp…that would be bad… 

As they found each clue they had to bring it back to the dining room and read it out loud at the table…always TAKING TURNS (we can’t have hurt feelings here) and making sure all of the younger ones “found” at least one clue on their own. 

10, as it turns out was just the perfect number.  It kept their attention just long enough.  The fun part is playing the final prize at the end:  

“Imitate Good St. Nick in his heroic virtues.  You are each called to be a SAINT!  Always be ready to give a good witness.  “Finally, all of you, be of one mind, sympathetic, loving toward one another, compassionate, humble.”

Begin this new church year preparing your hearts for the Christ Child!  Make a WARM place in your hearts to shelter Him from the COLD and let Him be the FOOD for your Soul!   Ready? SET! Go!

…and the final clue was found in the crisper drawer in the fridge…LOL!

It was also a good time to color in their new St. Nicholas Feast Day Folders that they found under their shoes in the morning.  They had a large assortment of coloring pages, (FWIW these images make great shrinky-dink images to hang on your Christmas tree!!) a word search and a crossword as well as a few paper crafts (already printed out on cardstock) and a story of St. Nick and a personal note from him on the inside….Each younger child had a different colored folder with an icon of St. Nicholas laminated (with clear packing tape) to the outside with the words printed with gold pen on the front as well as their baptisimal name… :

“My St. Nicholas Activity Book”

and on the back:

The Nicene Creed (laminated with packing tape)

Just don’t ask what time Good Ole St. Nick went to bed

…of course he didn’t get this ‘revelation‘ until the night before

…when all through the house, not a creature was stiring…and mom had enough quiet to start to dream…..(which of course my dh calls my “dangerous time”  LOL!!   

Meanwhile…. My 15yo twindds used a St. Nicholas cookie stamp (we got ours from Hillside Education) and made a huge batch of sugar cookies.  I got the idea to print out St. Nicholas wrapping paper which I copied into a word document and edited the properties of the image to make it a watermark…and then printed out the paper so that we could wrap a few cookies in it and place it into the shoes. 

 We may have been low-budget this year, but it was not short of fun on both sides…both from the makers and the receivers. 

Hey!  I held myself back!  I really really wanted to do this….but I will do that next year….into the liturgical year file it goes…..

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Some of my favorite workbooks can be so expensive to purchase 8 times (or more!) so I have found that an inexpensive option is making them re-usable by laminating them.

I am placing each dismantled sheet in a letter-sized laminating pouch and feeding it to my inexpensive duck laminator (that I purchased from Walmart) and storing them in my file cabinet in a large labeled folder for each dismantled workbook. I found it easy to keep like pages together by running a sharpie around the outside edge of the laminated card to tint it a bit. That way red cards go back with the red cards. When I get really good, I will color coordinate the folder to match the cards. I am just not THAT good…yet 😉

I place a few of these double-sided laminated cards out on the school shelves (separated by subject) in a magazine holder for use and replace when needed. I am still deciding what kind of marker to use for this…right now it is a marker that I keep in a little holder attached to the magazine holder and a colorful rag to wipe it off with that is pinked from a beautiful piece of remnant fabric.

This does save me a ton of visual space on the school shelves, looks neat, and you can find what you need at a glance. …that, and if my soon to be highly mobile toddler knocks it off the shelf, it is somewhat durable and I don’t have that much to pick up! 😉

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I and several of my dc are very visual learners. I hit up the thrift store recently and found a collection of small photo books (the kind that looks like a bunch of page protectors in a stiff cover) (Move over Pottery Barn Kids…learning spaces I covet on a regular basis [:$] )

photo album book had the idea of placing timeline cards in these books and having the kids narrate everything they can remember about the person and approximate time period. The beauty of this is that I don’t have to commit any one image to any one child. We can view them in the books or pull them out for a moveable timeline or play games with them…etc…

I have been known to use timeline cards on a moveable timeline….
but, this is different…fresh…new….aaand there is chocolate involved as a bribe learning incentive!
I use the cards from Our Father’s House’s program The ABC’s of Christian Culture and RC History cards.
The heck with using these hand-held books for family albums! I can make a “Jesus’ family album” for Salvation History studies…..etc… and then! I thought about having my middle aged children write the text to put in these books on the opposing page….hmmm…. I am still fleshing this out a bit. These books are right with my history center on my history learning shelf.

I have so many ideas lately that my head hurts. (Although I really think the ache is from my pulled muscle under my shoulder blade from scrubbing that one wall in the kitchen….)

I am decluttering for school. Whenever this happens, I get a better sense of what I have and what I can do with what I already got. And right now I already got too many ideas and too little of me to go around.

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My dear Young Edison(13)  is inordinately attached to the computer screen…it’s more of a moth-light relationship.  It FEELS like I am always struggling to get him to start on his homework when all he really wants to do is find ANYTHING even remotely related to education on the net.  A few days ago, I witnessed this behavior once again after I had asked him to begin some of his more independent studies.

“Young Edison!  Do your Math!”

and he disappeared into his room…

I later came back and saw him with his nose facing the direction of the monitors glow…

“Young Ed-is-on…….DO your MATH!”

and he disappeared into his room…

I came back into the room after hurling laundry into the washer and dryer, carying a baby in my arms that needed a diaper change, and with a 4yo attached to my left leg (also toting her 100 EZ lessons reading book) and pleading with me to sit with her NOW, and the timer on the stove was going off along with a very loud kettle all demanding me to pay attention to them.

Taking a deep breath to steady my temper I gently called out to him…

“EDISON!  Do you KNOW where your MATH book is??!”

He calmly responds, “Of course, Mom.”

I smiled as sweetly as I could between clenched teeth…”Look, I am trying to make the world a better place to live in.  Could you PLEASE, do your Math??”

He calmly responds with a smile, “Of course Mom!”

and he disappears into his room….

Later I asked….

“Did you do your Math?”

He beamed at me, “Yes! I really did!”

“Ok, then.  Do your history!”

wash…rinse…repeat…

Later on that night I was getting ready for bed.  My eldest dd was telling me that she heard of a good story and proceeded to share it with me.  “Mom, Edison told me that there is something he didn’t tell you today…”

“Oh yeah?”

“Umm yes, you see…every time you sent him into his room to do his math…”

“Yes….?”

“He DID it…as a matter of fact, he did 3 DAYS worth of  homework…”

You know something?   If I were not a sane person, moments like these might make me question it a bit.  He had his laugh all day.  Maybe the laugh was on him.  We are ahead of schedule with only 1 day’s worth of frustration to show for it! 😉 LOL!

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