Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Show and Tell: The "Schedule"

I use the term "schedule" loosely in my homeschool...being tied to the clock does not work well with babies and toddlers in the house! However, we do have a routine, and I have found it helpful to post our "average day" on the wall so the children know what to expect.

In keeping with my habit of pinning our school activities to normal household routines that always happen no matter what (meals and snacks, for example), I have divided our chart into smaller charts. Somehow it seems slightly less overwhelming that way too...

This routine is very similar to our routine last year, except that this year, I have a new Year 1 student! I have planned to do several lessons together with my Year 3 student (the Morning Time and Tea Time routines are done together), but I still need about 45 one-on-one minutes with JJ(6). That's 10 for math, 10 for phonics and reading, 10 for piano, and 15 for beginning narration.

When I total it up, total school time for my Year 1 student is 2 hours and 15 minutes, and for my Year 3 student is 2 hours and 30 minutes. This does not include our "Morning Time" routine, but it does include our relaxed "poetry teatime" routine and 20 minutes of Phys. Ed. and play in the middle of it all. For me, of course, the total is more like 3 hours and 45 minutes. I hope that will decrease a little if SA(8) gets more independent with some of his lessons. 

I am trying to get most of the work done in the morning so the afternoon can be much more free. I will be trying throughout to do as much as is reasonably feasible outside, even during the morning.
We have been having a break from screen time this summer, and I will continue with that as long as the weather is nice. In the winter I will probably return to our usual allowance of screen time at 4:00.
Keep in mind that this is only my plan! No doubt it will evolve over time as we work it out.
How do you organize your school days?

Monday, July 25, 2016

Show and Tell: Maps for the New School Year

I'm sure a lot of you do the same thing as we do: go back and forth from the dining room table to the couch, to the backyard to do your homeschooling. We have a normal-sized house, adequate but not expansive ...no space for a dedicated room for homeschooling here!

I had an idea this year for all the maps we need for our lessons. I put a tablecloth on the table, laid out the maps, and put a clear vinyl tablecloth (from the dollar store) on top of it all.
I'm finding the vinyl tablecloth a little thin and will be looking for one of a bit heavier weight, but I think the idea will serve us well. I may also look for some clips to hold it all in place. The vinyl has been sliding a little bit, though the tablecloth underneath and the maps stay in place remarkably well.
Most of the maps are outline maps, unlabeled. We will write in the names of the places as we read. The map below is one of Newfoundland, the Maritimes, and part of Quebec for our study of Jacques Cartier this term. I also have maps of Canada, Europe, the Great Lakes, the Exodus from Egypt, and the Mongol Empires of 1200-1480 AD. All of these relate directly to our lessons coming up this year.

For the maps themselves, I searched online for maps in the public domain, saved them, and sent the files to Staples to print them in the format I requested. Most are 11x13 on cardstock. 11x13 was the largest size I could print before the price jumped from 89 cents to $14.99, and I thought cardstock would be a bit more durable than paper. If you are using Ambleside Online, I realized just after I did all the work of finding maps that the forum there has links for all the maps you might need!
We also have a world map and a Canada map on the wall next to the table to give context to these smaller maps.
What about you? How do you use maps in your homeschool? I'd love to hear how everyone else does it!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Deciding What to Combine in AO Years 3 and 1

As we begin this coming school year, SA(8) will be in Year 3 using Ambleside Online, and JJ(6) will be starting Year 1. I also have two preschoolers: MM(4) and AJ(1). I think I mentioned last time that planning for two official students seems like a huge thing for me. (Feel free to smile, you moms of many. Some day I will be where you are.) This process of deciding what to do together and what to do separately is a personal one. Some people combine, some don't, some just combine a few things. This is just my plan...it is prescriptive for no one but me!

Pre-Reading...The First Step When Choosing What to Combine
I started my planning by pre-reading week 1 of Year 3. Pre-reading is becoming more important now as I plan to have SA read more of his lessons on his own. (Narrations will still be oral, of course.) I am hoping to keep a few weeks ahead of him if I can. I take notes in my bullet journal that I can refer to as we set up the lessons...names to introduce, places to find on our maps, and words to define so they don't bring him to a screeching halt in the middle of a lesson (I try not to do more than three per lesson...many words are easily understood from their context.). I also jot down sentences that might be good choices for copywork.

Besides these things, pre-reading the first week of lessons before even beginning to think about scheduling allowed me to easily see which books might be good options to do with SA and JJ together, which books SA can probably read on his own, and which books I should continue to read aloud to him.

Some Obvious Things to Combine
There are some things that we have been doing together all along, and we will not change that. These things are:
  • Bible reading and narration (JJ will just begin to take his turn narrating along with SA.)
  • Pilgrim's Progress
  • Bible, hymn, and catechism memory work
  • Poetry reading and memorization
  • Folk songs
  • Picture study (again, JJ will begin to take his turn describing the pictures)
  • Music appreciation
  • Drawing lessons
  • Nature walks
  • Chores
  • French
  • Handicrafts
These things already have a place in our routines, and it will not take much to add one more "official" student to the mix.

Readings I'm Planning to Combine
This takes more thought. In the first place, having JJ participate in some of SA's Year 3 lessons means taking away some of the Year 1 lessons in order not to overload him. We might be able to circle back to some of them in the future, but it's hard to leave out books that I loved reading with SA in Year 1.

In the second place, I have been seriously thinking about beginning JJ's Year 1 with more of an emphasis on Canadian history, and less of an emphasis on British history. Canada is his own country, and he naturally has more of an interest in and relationship with Canada. I listened to the History podcasts (episodes 11, 12, 14, and 15) from A Delectable Education a few months ago and was quite convinced that learning about their own country was the way to go in the early years of a child's education. This actually works quite well when it comes to combining, as SA is just beginning Canadian history now in the AO history rotation.

So here are the books I'm planning to do together in the first term:
  • Pagoo (leaving out The Burgess Bird Book for JJ's Year 1. But I think I may come back to it, possibly when MM starts Year 1 in two years.)
  • Trial and Triumph (I'm planning to add this to our breakfast circle time, in rotation with Pilgrim's Progress and selections from Paterson-Smyth's commentary on Exodus. If I was doing Parables of Nature, I'd add it to this rotation, but I think I'll skip it again this year.)
  • Cartier Sails the St. Lawrence (A wonderful Canadian living book - will review soon! This actually has quite a few pages, and I'll regretfully have to take out both Benjamin Franklin and Our Island Story for this term.)
  • Tales from Shakespeare
Deciding Where to Plug Combined Readings into the Routine
For me, it makes the most sense to add these readings to activities in our routine that we're already doing together. Trial and Triumph will be added to our breakfast circle time (We have two circle times...Breakfast for Bible-related things, and Tea Time for poetry and art.). Pagoo, Cartier, and Shakespeare will all be added to our Tea Times.

This is as far as I have gotten in my planning. The next part is even harder... deciding how and when to do the lessons that will be done separately. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit

It may seem like I'm going off-topic from my usual homeschooling theme here, but please bear with me. This is what I'm thinking about these days, and this blog is the place I have to write through it. And the truth is, this applies to homeschooling too, even though that wasn't the point of pain in this particular story.

My husband is going through a career change. At the end of the month, he will be quitting his job as a computer technician, and he will become an elder in our church and minister full-time there. He will be preaching three times every Sunday, leading a mid-week Bible Study, and doing whatever pastors do as he begins to study towards becoming a pastor himself.

The interesting thing about God calling a man into ministry is that at the same time God calls the man's wife to be a minister's wife. And I don't feel like I have what it takes.

I have seen good pastor's wives. They are warm, and caring, and kind. They connect people. Their homes are open. They are intentional and wise.

I am introverted. Caring conversations do not come easily to me. I feel insecure about opening my home. I do not have the spiritual resources in myself to do the job God is calling me to.

There's something else to this story. My husband has actually been preaching for years on the side as a lay preacher. We have been part of a lovely congregation, one that gave him grace as he worked more than full-time and just did not have the time to do many of the things pastors do. In many ways we were allowed to be a blessing just by being there... I could feel that I encouraged just by adding my voice to the singing, and by taking our young boys to church amidst an aging congregation. But my expectations of myself have changed now that my husband has changed his focus and decided to go full-time.

Is this a question of expectations of myself that are too high? Maybe that is part of it, but I don't think it is all of it. I do still see my callings as wife, mother, and educator as primary in my life. I ask myself what God expects of me in this new role he has suddenly placed me in. I believe He wants me to love His people and to show that love. And the openness required in showing love is not something that comes naturally to me.

"I'm going to need help, Lord," I prayed last night. "I'm willing, but I'm not sure I have what it takes."

And this morning (I was reading Spurgeon's commentary on Matthew) He said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

Poor in spirit. What can that mean but that a person doesn't have what it takes, spiritually speaking? I realized that this place I am, where I realize that I don't have enough love, or openness, or wisdom for the job God is calling me to is also the place where I know I need Him. This is a good, a blessed place to be, however uncomfortable it seems.

Since this is a homeschooling blog, I'll take it back there. I've always been quite confident in my ability to homeschool. I've seen this as a blessing. I know that none of it is worth anything unless the Lord blesses it, unless the Holy Spirit teaches my children. But this is a place of confidence, not of pain, for me. But some of you are poor in spirit when it comes to homeschooling. Perhaps you know God has called you to do it, but you don't feel have the spiritual resources to teach your children for his glory. You are blessed. Blessed! You know with all your heart that you can't do it without Him. You may not have what it takes, but He has everything that you need.

Yours is the kingdom of heaven.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Our Year 2 with Ambleside Online

This summer SA(8) finished Ambleside Online Year 2. I may have mentioned before how grateful I am for the booklists Ambleside Online provides so I can get on with homeschooling. Once again I did not deviate much from what they laid out, though I did begin with Canadian history near the end of Year 2.

Next year is going to be interesting, as I will finally have two students! JJ(6) will be starting Year 1, and SA(8) will go on to Year 3. Of course, I'm not implying that JJ hasn't been learning before this --he learned to read this year, and is loving his math. But somehow starting Year 1 is still serious business for me. School suddenly becomes much less casual somehow. I am a little overwhelmed at the thought of two students. I know, you moms of many. It's nothing! But it seems like a lot to me now. I know I will adjust and move on, and do it again when I add another student, and another. Each step is an adjustment, though, and feels like a big deal.

Anyway, (big breath) before I jump into that I'm just going to take a moment to look back at Year 2. This is going to be long, sorry!

The Books

The books are my favourite part. There is something so satisfying about gathering a good feast of wonderful books and getting to know them well over the course of the school year. Some of the books are hard at the beginning, and then your student adjusts and you suddenly realize that what was once difficult has become easy. I also noticed over the year that SA made progress in narration from telling back a few sentences at a time to a few paragraphs at a time.

The History Books

Our Island Story (British History) was continued from Year 1. I continued to read aloud, even though SA became quite good at reading over the year. This book has a lot of names and places. In Year 3, I think I will introduce the names at the beginning of the lesson and allow him to read to himself.

We added several names that stood out to us to our timeline. I love our timeline! This year we will start a fresh one because JJ is starting school. I am considering making it a little bit longer (more space for SA) and giving SA the bottom portion and JJ the top. We will transfer names from stories that SA found especially compelling from the old timeline to the new one. At this age it is not so much about understanding who the most important figures are as it is about getting to know people in history and making connections between them. Having some people he already knows on our new timeline will help him make those connections.

We also had a few readings from A Child's History of the World this year. I was excited about this book at the beginning of the year, but in the end I didn't love it. I think it was the tone...it seemed to talk down to children a bit. However, we had some good experiences with it, especially when it enriched our understanding of Our Island Story.

Using Ambleside Online, we begin to study the history of our country parallel to the history of Britain when European explorers begin to arrive in the New World. I am reconsidering that for JJ's Year 1 next year (I would like to start with Canadian history from the beginning.). However, with SA I have followed AO as written and so we began our Canadian history near the end of Year 2. We used E.L. Marsh's Story of Canada for the stories of Christopher Columbus and John Cabot, and supplemented with Brown's Story of Canada for more on John Cabot. This worked well, and I would do it again. It meant more of an emphasis on Cabot than Columbus, which was appropriate for our Canadian homeschool. The books complemented each other well, not overlapping so much as adding to each other.

The Little Duke is a good example of a book that we grew into this year. It was difficult for SA to narrate at first, with all its description. However, over time narration got easier, and we grew to love the characters. I'm already looking forward to reading it again with my next child.

Trial and Triumph went much better this year than last year.

Somehow I missed Diane Stanley's Joan of Arc! I didn't buy it because it's in our local library system, but though I ordered it, it never ended up at my house.

The Literature

We managed to read through most of Pilgrim's Progress Book 1 in Term 1 of our school year. (It was supposed to take all year...) I don't know why, but I think it went that fast because the schedule told us to read 800 words a week. I wasn't about to count out 800 words every time, so I just read a little every day. We started in on Book 2, but went much slower. We still have a little bit to finish up in the new school year. The boys told me what to draw afterwards in a sort of picture narration. (SA in particular is not much of a draw-er...) So really, it was just a narration, but it felt unique to them because I drew what they were saying.

Understood Betsy was a fun, easy read in term 1. We really started to lengthen the amounts I could read to SA before we broke for narration, and that carried over into his other narrations.

The Wind in the Willows was SA's favourite of the year, I think, along with Robin Hood.

We dropped Parables from Nature.

Natural History and Geography

These were the books SA read on his own: Tree in the Trail, Seabird, and The Burgess Animal Book. I read Burgess aloud sometimes, but I found that he actually did a better job of narrating when he read it himself.  Usually, I set the timer for ten minutes. When the timer went, he read on to a good stopping-place and marked it in pencil (so he'd know where to start next time...). Then he came to me and narrated. I am hoping to hand over more of his reading to him in the coming school year.

Our Circle Time

Circle time is our time to learn things together as a family. As I have done from the beginning, I divided our "Circle Time" into two parts. One part was immediately after breakfast for Bible reading and narration, Scripture and hymn memory work, and prayer. The other part began at around 10:00 and marked the beginning of our school days. We read poetry on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, studied pictures on Tuesdays, and listened to music on Thursdays. A real highlight in the poetry this year was Robert Frost's little book You Come Too. Whenever I gave the children a choice of what to read, SA chose from that book. (JJ and MM still love Cat up a Tree.) My favourite times of picture study were in Term 2, when we studied Canadian artist Tom Thomson. Music...well...let's just say I need to work on getting them to sit quietly and listen. We really enjoyed watching The Nutcracker ballet (on YouTube) before Christmas.

We also tried to work on our French at Circle Time on Tuesdays and Thursdays. In Term 2, SA really enjoyed working online with Middlebury Interactive Languages. I didn't end up purchasing more of it, though, as it is expensive! In term 3, we watched quite a few BookBox stories in French on YouTube. They were much in the same style as the Middlebury Interactive program (only without the step-by-step lessons, of course.). The stories seem to be real folk tales from all over the world. Also like Middlebury Interactive, they include the written word at the bottom of the screen (which Charlotte Mason would not have approved of, at least not at first.). I don't feel that I used these stories as well as I could have. I know I need to do better at teaching foreign language. Or maybe I just need to hand it over to my husband...

We did well (for us) with drawing in the third term. I discovered the Art for Kids Hub. I am no artist, and I have picked up and dropped Drawing with Children several times already in the few years I've been homeschooling. I still like it a lot, but I just can't seem to get any momentum with it. With the Art for Kids Hub, we'd just watch a video once a week and follow along. SA did not complain, and JJ and MM continued to draw throughout the week based on that one lesson. If I can't be perfect, art lessons done this way still bless my family...

The Skills

SA made a lot of progress in copywork from the beginning of the year to the end. His neatness remained about the same throughout the year, but his fluency increased quite a bit. He went from printing three words in five minutes to printing two or three lines. He is still "behind" other children his age, and would still not voluntarily pick up a pencil and write something down. I think this coming year will be the year it takes off, though. He is becoming conscious that he can't write or spell what his cousin (just slightly older) can. JJ is also catching up with him in this area. I think these things may just give him the motivation he needs. I may add spelling to circle time this year, as I think SA and JJ will be at about the same level this year.

We made some changes between Term 2 and Term 3 in the way we do math. Those changes have worked out very well, and I plan to keep going with them. Our every-day math conversations started coming back, and SA began to amaze me again with the way he figures things out. He had been getting bored with just Singapore Math day after day, it was as simple as that. More variety and more inspiration has been good for him.

We had a good year. We still love homeschooling, and learning, and Ambleside Online!