What we are reading

Bear used to say that she hated reading; this broke my heart. She loved books, but hated reading. Thankfully that is not the case anymore. Towards the end of last school year, it was hard for me to break out of the comparison game. My friend’s children were reading chapter books independently, but Bear did not have the stamina to do this. I took the pressure off- I stopped making suggestions when we would go to the library and just let her explore. As a result we took out lots of different kinds of books: cook books, drawing books, and books about animals. Then Bear got super into puzzle/detective/mystery type games on the ipad. Many of these had lots of reading involved so I was thrilled. Not too long after she became obsessed with mystery games, I discovered the Greetings From Somewhere Books. They were a game changer for us!

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This series follows the Briar family. Dad is a history professor, mom a newspaper reporter, and their twin 8 year olds Ethan and Ella. Mrs. Briar gets an assignment to do a travel column for the paper, so the family begins their adventure to travel the world and homeschool along the way. Their Grandpa Harry communicates with them via email and often gives them clues regarding special places or things to find or mini missions to go complete. This series is very fun and does not stress Bear when reading it. The font and spacing is rather large and there are just enough illustrations to keep the text from feeling overwhelming. As a bonus, we have built in some geography and map study into our learning. If you have a reluctant reader, definitely give this series a try.

Social Distancing

How is your family handling “hunkering down” in the face of COVID-19?
My 12 year old asked me today if something like this epidemic had ever happened in my lifetime before, and I explained that it had not. This is new for all of us. Since my youngest are homeschooled, having them home all day during the week isn’t anything new, but socially distancing ourselves definitely is. My public schooled teenagers are handling the situation better than I thought, but I am sure they will be itching to leave the house soon.
Here is what we have been up to so far and some things we plan to do while we are all home together.

Art: When I thought we might be facing school closures, in addition to stocking the house with food, I got a bunch of art supplies that I knew they kids would enjoy. Some of the supplies I picked up included: a big pack of canvases, a multipack of felt, various peg dolls, a 25 pack of sharpies, new paint brushes, and model magic. So far all of the kids have started at least one project.

Games: We enjoy board games, but don’t play as many as I would like. We are trying to take advantage of this time to play more games together as a family. So far we’ve played Smart A$$ and Pictionary. Clue is on the agenda for tonight.

Movies: We have been watching tons of movies together, which I have to admit has been pretty fun. The teens have been watching some classics from my and my husband’s youth. So far we have watched: Little Shop of Horrors, Liar Liar, and The Truman Show. On St. Patrick’s Day we all watched an old Disney Channel movie, Luck of the Irish. My oldest loved this movie as a young child. It was nice to all enjoy it together. My 12 year old loves documentaries and we have been utilizing our Curiosity Stream subscription.

Remote learning: Our public schooled high schoolers will begin their remote learning on Monday. Thankfully they are used to utilizing google classroom already, so they will not need to learn a new system. I am hoping the teachers will ease them into it because it is a stressful time. I am sure there will be a learning curve, but hopefully it will go rather smoothly. I will update once they’ve gotten through their first week.

Planning Next School Year

If you are active in any homeschool groups, be they in-person meetings or online groups, you probably have witnessed many homeschool parents planning for next year. Every homeschooling family schedules their “school year” differently, but spring seems the time to reflect, research, and plan for any changes or addition to the curricula being utilized. So here is a run down of where we are at and what we are planning for next year.

Reading and Spelling: We will continue with both of these programs as they are working really well for both of the girls. Beaver will be beginning level 4 AAR next year and Bear will be working her way through level 3 AAR by September.

History: We are currently using Story of the World Volume 1, Ancient Times. Next year we will begin Volume 2 Middle Ages. We use the audiobook (bonus we get it from the library and save some cost there). My kids find the audio very engaging. We review the questions in the companion activity book together. Once a week we get together with friends to review the chapter and complete some extension activities from the activity book. This has been a wonderful thing for the girls and highly motivating so we are excited to continue next year.

Science: We have enjoyed doing Mystery Science with our homeschooling friends. We have used the lessons as the framework for our science studies. For some of the topics we have dug a little deeper by using other resources such as Bill Nye the Science Guy and Sci Show Kids. We got really into magnets and extended our investigation on it. We have been using the free membership up until this point, but I just got in on a group buy, so I am excited to be able to access all of the lessons. We will continue Mystery Science next year.

Math: We are currently using Math Mammoth. It is a very solid math program, but the kids are not in love with it. They are definitely not excited about it. Part of this lack of excitement could have something to do with the fact that I bought the pdf version of the curriculum and then printed it at home on our monochrome laser printer. Being in grayscale does make the pages a bit drab. We are going to try Mathematical Reasoning by the Critical Thinking Company for next year. The samples look great and I have heard great reviews. My kids enjoy colorful workbooks and this looks like it will fit the bill. I’ve read there are lots of different puzzles included within the text to make the material more engaging (Math Mammoth does have some puzzles as well). Beaver loves logic puzzles, so hopefully there will be some puzzles that style.

Writing/Grammar: Writing has been a bit of a modge podge up until this point. We do some journaling, but not as much as I would like. We sometimes work on creative writing with our homeschool friends that we meet with weekly. Now that both girls are reading more fluently, I would really like to work on their writing. I think for next year I am going to give Write Shop Jr. a try. Many of the blogs I follow about homeschooling children with dyslexia recommend it.

All About Reading

The Ladder of Literacy

The Ladder of Literacy

One of the most outspoken advocates for libraries and allowing children to choose their own reading material is author Neil Gaiman. I first learned of Gaiman in high school from a Tori Amos song. I was a huge Tori Amos fan in high school (still am, but admittedly have not kept up with her newer material) and in the song, Tear in Your Hand, Amos says, “If you need me, me and Neil’ll be hanging out with the with the Dream King”. The liner notes (I do not think my kids know what liner notes are) explained the reference being to Neil Gaiman and his Sandman comics. I did not really investigate much beyond that at the time. A few years later I met Folkdaddy and he happened to be a Sandman comics fan and I finally began reading them and was blown away. If you are not a fan of graphic novels, there is plenty to choose from in Neil Gaiman’s published works, from children’s books to mythology. His social media is also a wealth of inspiration and information.

WIth Folkdaddy being a librarian, libraries are very dear to my heart. One of their most vocal and persuasive advocates is Neil Gaiman. In his Reading Agency lecture in 2013 Gaiman discusses fiction reading and how adults can inadvertently push their children away from developing a love of reading. The whole thing is brilliant, but one quote sticks with me and often comes to mind when planning our homeschooling. I am going to do a block quote below and highlight the part that sticks with me every day.

 I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad book for children. Every now and again it becomes fashionable among some adults to point at a subset of children’s books, a genre, perhaps, or an author, and to declare them bad books, books that children should be stopped from reading. I’ve seen it happen over and over; Enid Blyton was declared a bad author, so was R. L Stine, so were dozens of others. Comics have been decried as fostering illiteracy.

It’s tosh. It’s snobbery and it’s foolishness.

There are no bad authors for children, that children like and want to read and seek out, because every child is different. They can find the stories they need to, and they bring themselves to stories. A hackneyed, worn-out idea isn’t hackneyed and worn out to them. This is the first time the child has encountered it. Do not discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing. Fiction you do not like is the gateway drug to other books you may prefer. And not everyone has the same taste as you.

Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a child’s love of reading: stop them reading what they enjoy, or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like, the 21st century equivalents of Victorian “improving” literature. You’ll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and worse, unpleasant.

We need our children to get onto the reading ladder: anything that they enjoy reading will move them up, rung by rung, into literacy. -Neil Gaiman

I have been working on getting my 10 year old on the reading ladder since we started homeschooling last year. She is currently on Level 3 of All About Reading and her confidence in her reading skills has really improved. She reads signs, flyers and posters when we are out and about and I can see in her eyes the satisfaction that she is no longer walking through the print rich world unable to understand the words surrounding her. Audiobooks have also been instrumental in allowing her to get the content level that she craves even if her decoding skills are not yet up to the task.

She recently has experienced a boost up the reading ladder. She was not happy that our audiobook listening of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was taking so long to get through the book, because we only listen in the car. My husband got her the ebook for her tablet and enabled the text to speech feature that highlights the text as the computer voice reads. She finished the book that night (she had restarted at the beginning). She had really wanted to watch the movie, but we told her we wanted to wait until she finished the book, so the next day we watched the movie. The next two days she read the Prisoner of Azkaban, then again watched the movie. She has just finished The Goblet of Fire and we will be watching the movie tonight. She is climbing the ladder of reading; she is using assistive technology to do it and that is totally fine. It is amazing. If we had told my daughter that she needed to read something less whimsical, more serious etc. she would not have continued her journey to love reading. She would have shut down. If we would have forced her to trudge through without the assistance of the text to speech, she would have been too frustrated and exhausted to continue. I am so grateful for how far she has come and thrilled that she has not only learned to read, but become a reader.

Family Movie Night: The Greatest Showman

Going to the movies can be very pricey, especially for a family of 6. My husband and I subscribe to Moviepass, so for $10 a month each we can see 1 movie a day. This has allowed us some time to get out, just the two of us and to enjoy movies that we most likely would not have spent the ticket price to go and see while in the theaters. The kids have been feeling a little left out of the fun, so when The Greatest Showman came out we took the opportunity to all go together as a family to watch it. My 12 year old has taken a circus skills class in the past, and received a 6 week class pack to re-enroll, so she was thrilled to see a movie about the circus. My other kids all love musicals so it was a no brainer for them.

Hugh Jackman portrays P.T. Barnum in a rags to riches story of a meager tailor’s son rising to wealth and infamy while creating a new form of entertainment. Barnum has big dreams and ideas and his wife is unwaveringly supportive of him while he struggles to see these dreams through. In the movie, Barnum recruits individuals that are seen as outcasts because they standout from others in one way or another. He helps the people to embellish their differences to create characters for his circus. The film paints him as empowering these individuals rather than exploiting them (which is viewing him through rose colored glasses). This film did open a dialogue afterwards between the kids and us about different medical conditions and how underneath a physical differences everyone has the same kinds of wants and needs socially.

There is some Disney Channel appeal to the movie as well. The movie stars Zendaya and Zac Efron. The characters that they portray are fictional, they were not part of P.T. Barnum’s circus. They set up a story line that challenges racial constructs of the time. Zendaya’s character is a trapeze artist and my two little girls were confused why she was “unique” (the wording of the ad in the movie). I explained that it was because at the time it would have been unusual for her to star in a show because of her skin color. My sensitive girls did cry at part of the movie, so some caution if you have sensitive kids like we do, but they recovered from the scene well and in the end it is a happy ending.

Overall we enjoyed the movie. The music was very powerful and it was visually engaging. It is not historically accurate, at least based on the little bit I know from brief reading about the actual P.T. Barnum. The rewriting of the history in the movie does make a compelling story of finding strengths in that which others find to be faults. The conversations that it provoked and the affirming message especially in the song, This is Me, makes this movie one you should definitely see.  

A Wrinkle in Time

We recently finished the audiobook of A Wrinkle in Time. We started listening before I had heard any of the buzz of the upcoming film adaptation. We generally are not fans of audiobooks narrated by the author, but right from the introduction we liked Madeleine L’Engle’s warm grandmotherly voice. As a child, I strongly identified with Meg Murray. Meg is an awkward tween that while greatly loved by her family, feels like she does not quite fit in anywhere. She feels not smart enough, not athletic enough and not pretty enough. Meg’s parents are both scientists and her father has been missing for about a year. She has younger twin brothers Sandy and Dennis; everything seems to come naturally to the twins. They are athletic, popular and while not the exceedingly smart, they are well liked in school by their teachers. Her youngest brother, Charles Wallace is unlike children his age. He has advanced intellect and a supernatural seeming connection with his mother and Meg.  Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin (a popular boy who is drawn by some sixth sense to Meg and Charles) go on a mission to find the missing Mr. Murray with some assistance and guidance of some otherworldly friends.

This book broaches some Dr. Who like timey-wimey space time travel (the concepts in the book are easier to grasp than some Dr. Who episodes I’ve seen). It also addresses the primal struggle between good and evil forces or light versus darkness. As a child and even now as an adult one thing that resonated with me is the idea of the blessings of our imperfections. Meg views herself as hopelessly flawed, but some of these flaws turn out to be her greatest strengths. I have seen this come true personally and have watched it with Beaver. Having dyslexia does not feel like a gift most days. The gift though is in the way that her unique wiring let’s her see things in ways that others might not. She finds patterns in things that I would not, she sees things for what they can be rather than simply what they are. These are tremendous strengths and I am glad that homeschooling has allowed her to appreciate them as such.

There are a few scary parts (at least they were for my sensitive kids). Thankfully the scary parts were brief and for one I just turned the volume down until the sequence ended. I did remind them that it had a positive resolution and sometimes characters have to face scary stuff in order to figure out how to overcome the challenge they are battling. Overall our listening experience was a good one, though I do not know if they will want to see the new movie. I do know that I will be seeing it with my husband, as he is also a fan of the book (I made him read it when we were dating). Let me know in the comments your thoughts on this book and if your are looking forward to the upcoming film.

October was a whirlwind. Most of the month was spent constructing 5 home-made costumes for Halloween. My sewing skills were really put to the test and were thankfully enough to make everyone’s costumes come together.

Now that November has come and is nearly gone, the craziness of the holiday season begins. I have not posted much lately because life has gone from hectic to down right overwhelming. One of the tough things of not just homeschooling families, but any family is managing the varied schedules of all it’s members. Between school activities for our 2 public schoolers, homeschool lessons and activities, doctor’s appointments, scouts, babysitting, work etc., managing all of these things is exhausting. Add in the holidays to the normally hectic schedule and stress levels soar.

I have a friend that works full time and manages her household of a husband and three very active children. I am often envious because she does so with such grace. One of the things that she does each day is to wake up early and work out. This time is important to her, she says it provides her with the fuel to get through her very demanding days. I certainly would benefit from adding this habit into my daily routine. As things get crazy though, the last thing I want to do is add in a workout (I know that sounds bad, but it is the truth). In one of the online homeschooling groups that I follow on Facebook, Youtube yoga recommendations are often sought out. One channel that is repeatedly lauded is Yoga with Adriene. To see what all the hype was about, I have tried a few of her videos and was happily surprised that I really enjoyed them. It felt good to do something just for myself and her instruction is so gentle that even someone that is a newcomer to yoga and not by any stretch of the imagination in “good shape” can follow along.

In this very hectic season I have decided to commit to doing Yoga with Adriene’s 30 Days of Yoga. I will post follow ups on my progress. My goal right now is to prioritize a time just for me and to give myself time to check in with my body and to not get too swept up in the stress life leading up to the holidays.  Check out Adriene’s channel below.

Yoga with Adriene’s Youtube Channel

 

Getting Back in the Swing of Things

It has been just about a month since school (in all it’s varied forms) has started in our household. This year our oldest transitioned to high school. The first week was a bit overwhelming, but now that she knows where she is going and has settled in a bit, she is starting to enjoy school. I am hoping her enjoyment will increase once all of the clubs and activities start.

Our second child is now alone at middle school, but with the exception of some bussing issues she had a smooth start to the school year. We were both a little nervous because last year she was blessed with the most wonderful language arts teacher, and we worried she would struggle with a different teacher this year. So far she is enjoying language arts and doing well, and she has the added benefit of two teachers in the classroom co-teaching this year.

As for the homeschoolers, we jumped right in when the older kids started. We are still getting back in the groove, even though we did some work over the summer to keep the summer slide at bay. This year I want to focus on improving their confidence in their skills. Because of their struggles with reading in the past, both can be hesitant to even attempt reading something, but now that their skills have increased significantly, they are quite capable. The other day Beaver read her fortune cookie without any help and it was amazing! Bear Bear was reading sayings on Halloween decorations in Target, and it clicked for her that she did it without help and she was so proud. I know these are tiny things, but from where we started last year (pretty much at the beginning reading skills wise) this is a huge success.

Another thing I really want to build on this year is writing skills, but since we are still remediating the reading, I will do this slowly and gently to keep frustration at bay. Until our kids had some trouble in school I never really thought about the fact that reading (decoding) and writing (encoding) are two totally different skills. I am considering ordering some of the Brave Writer materials, because of the parent’s initial role as scribe. I think it would ease the transition and build some confidence. I am hesitant because of the whole concept of the Brave Writer lifestyle. I just worry that it might not work for us if I cannot fully commit to it as a lifestyle, versus a program. It is possible that the paradigm shift that is necessary for Brave Writer is exactly what we need, though. If you have used this program please comment and share your experiences.

 

 

Solar Eclipse 2017

Solar EclipseAugust 21, 2017Updates

The big day has come and gone! It was a rare occasion for us that all four children were excited and participated in the viewing festivities. Where we live we only got about a 75% eclipse, but we were still impressed. I was a little nervous about my youngest possibly peeking around the glasses, but she knew the dangers and securely held them to her face to view the changes in the appearance of the sun. We used construction paper to make models of what we observed, I did not photograph all of them, but did manage to snap a shot of the model from about 1:40 pm (above). Clouds moved in right as we reached the eclipse progressed, below is a picture from this time. All in all we had a great time watching the progress of the eclipse and it was a fun activity that the whole family got to share together.

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Eclipse through the clouds

Solar Eclipse 2017

Many moons ago I took the Science Praxis exam required in our state for those pursuing a teaching certification for K-8 science. On the essay portion of the exam I had to illustrate and explain how a solar eclipse worked. Recently I tried to explain this same thing to my seven year old while walking in the Target parking lot to the car. My earlier written response was far better than my extemporaneous parking lot explanation. With the upcoming eclipse there are many exciting resources available to help you and your children learn about this rare event.

NASA has a homeschool resource on the eclipse. https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/homeschool

The information is very child friendly and there are activities to help illustrate how the moon (400 times smaller than the sun) can appear to block the sun (which by happy coincidence is about 400 times further away from earth than the moon). There are a variety of related science and math activities math as well as language arts and cultural arts extension activities.

Where we live we will not be able to view a total eclipse, we will see about a 70% view. This map from NASA shows the path of totality of the eclipse.

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In order to view the eclipse safely you will need a special solar filter or eclipse glasses.

eclipse-glassWe just purchased ours at Lowes Home Improvement for about $1.99. I had contacted our local planetarium to see if they would have any for purchase, and they referred me to my local Lowes store. There are some bogus glasses out there, so to know if you have the real deal, when you look through them everything should be black except the sun, you shouldn’t be able to see anything else through them including artificial lighting in your home.

Check your local library to see if they are hosting a viewing event, many got a grant through Google for free glasses.  If you have a planetarium nearby they may also be hosting an eclipse event using their sun filters. I cannot wait to see posts and pictures from everyone’s viewing parties in a few weeks! I will make sure to follow up here on all that we learn and our reflections on the eclipse.