Thoughts on Responsible E-Reading

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I was having a conversation recently with a fellow mom and we were talking about the kinds of environments that really encourage kids to grow up with a love of learning.  One of the factors we were discussing was having parents who enjoyed reading.  Reading for pleasure, reading to learn about something new, any kind of reading.  We agreed that seeing your parent read on a regular basis was probably a pro in the world of home schooling.

Our curriculum choices mean that currently I read out loud to my kiddos quite a bit.  We also have bedtime family read alouds along with two budding readers who commandeer my Kindle whenever I allow them in order to proudly read out stories from the Treadwell Readers. So as a family, reading is a regular habit in our home.   My husband and I are both readers by nature and read for pleasure on a regular basis. However, I realized after our conversation that my children might not actually know that!

I do tend to sit and read while they’re playing around me.  But all too often, it’s just as convenient for me to read on the laptop through the Kindle Cloud Reader or on my Kindle app with our iPad.  The realization I had was that from my children’s point of view, I could just as easily be engrossed in Facebook or Pinterest instead of my Bible or a wonderful piece of fiction.

So one of my goals for this year is to make the conscious choice to read out of actual, turn-the-pages books or on my super basic reading-is-all-you-can-do Kindle whenever I’m in front of the kids.  And the kids are already taking notice!  I was reading a copy of For The Children’s Sake (highly recommend!) and underlining sentences or starring impactful passages.  The kids huddled around and were fascinated, wanting to know all about what I was doing with my book and why.  I’ve probably highlighted hundreds of passages in the Kindle Cloud Reader via laptop right under their noses, but they’ve never noticed before.

It’s small choices like these that help me understand more of Charlotte Mason’s ideology that “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.”  The truth is that our children never stop learning, even after the school day has ended.  So the question becomes “What are we teaching them when the ‘teaching’ is done?”

Here’s to a year of creating “an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life” that enhanced our studies rather than undermines them.  And to the familiar feel of turning a page.

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Our Advent Wreath

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This is the first year we’ve made an Advent wreath or done any real Advent activities in our home. I have intended to for a couple of years but lack of planning and the freakishly fast passing of time has always prevented me. And it almost foiled my plans again this year, but I decided that I would NOT let tardiness defeat me and we finally began our “condensed Advent” unit on December 9th and just finished making our Advent wreath today (although we did light the half finished version on Monday night since we already missed the first two Sundays of Advent).

Advent comes from the latin word adventus which means “arrival” or “coming”. During the Advent season, we remember when Christ came to earth as a baby and we look forward to the day when he will come again. There is so much beautiful imagery to celebrate during this season, I highly recommend carving out some time for reflection even if you’re a bit behind like we were.

There are a few different candle set ups that are traditional for Advent. We went with four white candles for the four Sundays leading up to Christmas and one red candle in the center for Christmas Eve. Then we decorated our wreath with the following:

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-Rosemary* to symbolize the evergreen or christmas tree, which is a reminder that because of Jesus, we can have eternal life.

-Star Anise to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem that revealed the birth of Jesus to the magi.

-Cinnamon bark tied in the shape of a cross to remember that in celebrating Jesus’ birth, we look toward Easter, when we celebrate his resurrection and defeat over death.

-The fragrance of all of these things reminds us that we are the fragrance of Christ to God as we carry His love out with sincerity and compassion.

*Rosemary was just easier to acquire than actual evergreen branches. Just use something fresh that smells good!

If you’ve never made a point of celebrating Advent in your home – start now! In a season that can all too quickly become a blur of parties and gift wrapping and stress, Advent points us back to the true heart of Christmas.

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5 Thing I Learned From Our First Year of Homeschooling

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Let’s all just pretend that I wrote this in the weeks following the end of our first year of school instead of in the weeks preceding the start of our second… deal? Deal.  Moving on.

While it was messier and more chaotic than I expected, I’m officially calling our first year of school a major success.  I really only had two main goals for the year.  The first was that I would be able to figure out how the heck this homeschooling thing worked for us.  The second was that the kids would have fun and learn that school was something to look forward to and not something to dread.  Mission accomplished on both accounts!  Of course the girls made leaps and bounds of progress in math and reading and other important life skills, but I honestly viewed this first year mostly as prep for making the future years a success.

Here are some of the most important lessons we learned:

1) Things that aren’t flexible will break under pressure.

A valuable science lesson, sure.  But it was one that we learned in the grand experiment of life. 😉 If I wasn’t willing to be flexible about where we schooled, we would have missed a lot of days (when we were still getting settled into our new home) just because the dining table was too overwhelming too clean.  If I forced myself to stick to lesson plans even when I realized they were clearly making us miserable, I would have failed completely on goal #2.  We encountered this with our reading curriculum, which worked perfectly for one kiddo but was a huge struggle for the other.  That is, until I started making some simple but significant tweaks to suit her learning style.  Then it was smooth sailing for them both, but if I had just kept pushing, we would have both hated reading by the end of the year.

2) Teachers need to take notes too!

I realized during our second semester that I usually had tons of ideas during school for enrichment activities or general improvements but that I was rarely implementing them.  Mostly it was just because I forgot about them until we were already “in school” again or when I sat down to try and organize my thoughts, I couldn’t remember them all.  So I finally started keeping a notebook with our school supplies and at the end of each lesson, I’d jot a quick note if I thought of something and then right after we finished for the day, I’d sit for a couple of minutes and flesh out those notes.  Once I did that for a few days, I had a lot less to write because I’d actually put the ideas into practice.  But it was a really helpful habit and I definitely plan to keep it up this fall.

3) Be realistic about DIY curriculum.

I’ll be honest.  I’m the person that sees things on Etsy and thinks “I can make that.” Or sees fancy breads at a bakery and thinks “I can make that.” Or sees homeschool curriculum and thinks “I can make that.”  Noticing a pattern here?  And the thing is, I really can.  And you can too.  Let’s face it, kindergarten curriculum is full of material that I mastered a long time ago.  But even though I still like to hand pick our curriculum subject by subject (no boxed sets for us), I learned the value of having a book that tells you exactly what to do next.  Sure, I could have made my own weekly plans for teaching math with manipulatives, but using Math U See meant that I didn’t have to decide the best sequence to teach them in.  We still had the flexibility of adding in our own activities as needed, but it made school so much less overwhelming in the weeks when we were extra busy or recovering from sickness.  There are tons of reasonably priced choices out there for each subject.  Even if you want to go the DIY route, consider buying a cheap resource to use as a framework and fill out with your own activities.  You’ll thank me in the end.

4) Decide on your minimum “survival schedule”.  

As we went along, I noticed that there were a handful of days where a full school day just wasn’t going to happen (usually due to mild illness) but we weren’t necessarily down for the count.  Somewhere along the way, I decided what our bare minimum subjects were, and occasionally we’d have a “survival day”.   Which leads me to my next point…

5) Have a plan in place for sick days and make up days.

Even if your state doesn’t require it, trust me, you need to track attendance for your own sanity.  I mean, maybe you don’t, but if you have an ounce of people-pleasing in you – it’s probably a good idea.  It doesn’t matter what your system is, but decide on your minimum number of days attended, track them, and have a plan for when you’ll make up missed days along the way.  This way, when post-holiday coughs and sniffles arrive, you won’t waste so much energy debating over whether you’ve already taken too many sick days.

…and lots more!  For example, during our first real “summer break”, I realized that I’m shifting our whole calendar for next year so that we school during the hottest and coldest parts of the year and take our longest breaks during the nicest weather possible. 😉

So we did it!  We survived our first year of homeschooling!  I think I’ll buy myself a celebratory laminator…

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Math U See Primer

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When we started using Math U See, I loved it.  I was leary of the DVD lessons it came with.  I was afraid my children would already be “too cool for school” when it came to watching Steve Demme on the big screen – considering he’s just a regular guy standing in front of a dry erase board giving straight forward math lessons.  No crazy animations or silly characters or songs or poems.  Just math.  And Steve.  And my kids love it.  I can’t explain why and you’re kids might not, but even so – no worries – the videos are short, you could easily watch it before hand and then teach the lesson yourself.

I also loved it because it seems to be very strategically thought out.  This series carries them all the way through calculus so I felt confident that this book would approach the foundations in a much more organized way than I would have – because let’s be honest, teaching kindergarten math seems like it should be a breeze.  And some strong willed, independent moms like myself might think needing a real curriculum is silly.  Let me just say, I don’t remember why I ended up choosing this curriculum or deciding to buy a “real” math curriculum at all, but I am oh so glad that I did.

Apparently all of the really simple math concepts I envisioned a 5 year old learning, well, they’re not so simple to a five year old!  And without Steve’s wonderful step by step lessons, I wouldn’t have realized just how far those “simple” concepts can be broken down into smaller pieces, not to mention, how to do so in a way that a 5 year old will get it.  Thus far, we’ve learned how to read two and three digit numbers outloud, how to skip count by 2’s and 10’s, how to add ten’s and hundred’s, and we’re working on solving for the unknown (?+2=7) which thanks to all the previous lessons, my kids caught on to right away!  This year, we’ll also learn how to tell time, how to subtract, and how to find the area of a rectangle.

I say I loved it when we started, because there did come a point when I didn’t love it – it was short lived, but worth explaining.  From lessons 4-8, I started to feel like maybe this book was too basic.  It seemed like we had done pages and pages of worksheets identifying circles or triangles.  Then we hit lesson 9 – beginning to learn place values – and the pace picked up.  It’s been great since then!  We spend 3-4 days on a lesson and it’s been a perfect fit for our girls – challenging but doable.

A couple of notes about the materials…

Teacher’s Materials – This is a set that includes a manual and the DVD.  I haven’t cracked open the teacher’s manual yet – the DVD has been totally sufficient.  Next year we’re moving on to Math U See Alpha and I think the manual will definitely be helpful as things get more involved.

Student Workbook – We only ordered one for our twins to share this year.  Each lesson has 6 front and back worksheets.  The girls have done fine splitting the worksheets and after completing three each, they’ve mastered the concepts and are ready to move on.  Next year, we’ll order two workbooks as the work gets harder.

Manipulatives – So I thought I ordered the right manipulative blocks.  I did not. I ordered a set of generic unit blocks which has been useful but not as useful as the actual Math U See blocks would have been.  They’re a bit pricey (especially if you order two sets as is recommended, and with two students – we definitely will) but totally worth it.  If you stick with Math U See, they get use for a good six years or so and I haven’t found anything that would make a suitable replacement.  But we’ve survived the Primer year without them and I’m sure you could too if you wanted to get your feet wet before diving all the way in.

Just like The Reading Lesson, this is one of our curricula that truly runs itself.  We just pull out the workbooks (and the DVD when we start a new lesson) and get to work.  Occasionally, we take a day off from the worksheets and do some activities with pattern blocks or cuisinaire rods.  Some days we get really crazy and do both.  But all in all, Math U See has been worth it’s weight in pricey manipulative blocks.  If teaching math to your kids intimidates you, let Steve Demme do the heavy lifting and you take a cheerleading role in the arithmetic arena.

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