Monday, August 4, 2014

First Day of School!

The internet is full of photos of kids' first days of school, each labelled with their new grade.  I tend to shy away from sticking to a "grade" label.  My girls are young, just 4 and 5, but will be doing the same work the boys did in 1st grade.  My boys will be in mostly 7th grade material.  They took the 6th grade standardized test last year. But, I will stick with what I have told my boys to say when asked "What grade are you in?"  The answer:  "We don't really go by grade."

And so, a new school year begins!  Luckily, we are easing into this one.  Last year was a bit frantic for us.  I know that kids are to school in the morning after shoveling a quick breakfast in their mouths, that parents are sitting in carpool lines or at bus stops in the dark.  They are rushing to work, themselves.  I know that after a long day of school, kids come home to homework and sports practices.  Life is hectic and busy.  But, I just cannot do it.  I see peace in my children when there is peace around them.  Each year, I try to learn from the previous ones, and to create a healthy, happy, peaceful environment.  I know this year will have its issues.  It will.  But, I am trying to do my best to bring it all down a notch.

Today was nice.  There were no lunch boxes to pack, no clothes to lay out, no folders/extra change of clothes/All About Me sheet to make sure to have in just the right size book bag.  Instead, there was excitement over new books, new routines, and stickers.  There were bright eyes at the thought of a prize box... and then my surprise when my boys asked to participate in all the little rewards.  There was classical music during handwriting time.  And, although my day began as I was jolted out of bed by my boys, coming in from their chores, exclaiming that the pig had escaped and was nowhere to be found, there was peace today.  At least I was not rushing out the door, stressed over not having the time to spend finding our lost Daisy... who was not lost at all, but (as Addison puts it), "right where she always goes, just look for all the oak trees".

I can look back and see what my boys' first day of homeschooling was like, so I will lay out the specifics for future reference.  Although I had planned to begin with pancakes and sausage, the kids wanted to start while I cooked.  So, we began with a handwriting lesson (girls- A Reason for Handwriting 'A' / boys- Handwriting Without Tears Can-Do Print Grade 5) at the dining room table.  Yeah, my boys definitely need a handwriting curriculum this year.  Yowza.  Since the boys finished earlier than the girls, they then worked on their grammar lesson.  Luckily, they are used to Hake Grammar, and are very independent with the program.  (They are in Hake Grammar 7.)  After pancakes with lots of syrup, we split things up.  The girls worked on decorating their brand new folders.  For little ones, it's all about the stickers, the glue, the newness, and the fun!  For less than $1, I was able to give them a sense of ownership over their school year.  Honestly, I didn't even have a reason for the folder, other than that I knew they would love it.  In addition, I bought each one a brand new box of crayons and watercolor paints.  I vividly remember how great it felt to start a new school year, to open up new books, to smell all those new crayons... and I want to help them feel that, too!  By the end of the day, I realized we would need the folders to keep coloring sheets and other fun things for them to take out while they are waiting for me to get finished giving someone else instruction.  Ivey's is now full of horse pictures!

Asa and Addison sat at a folding table that I set up in the living room.  There, they began their DVD writing course, Institute for Excellence in Writing.  As I set things up for them and explained what they would be doing, the girls drew/wrote in their journals, "My Days, My Drawings".  The boys were a little older when they started, so they began with "My Days, My Writings"... and I still love to love back and them.  Back to writing... the boys are doing the Student Writing Intensive Workshop, Level B.... and although it has only been one day, I think they like it.  They thought it was witty and entertaining, and they completed all the work right along with the DVD.  I'm really hoping it works for them, as it helps me to have a little time to focus on the girls.  While the boys worked on writing, the girls and I worked on the Hooked On Phonics 1st Grade blend cards, along with the audio CD.  Although the girls are sounding out words pretty well, they are only 4 and 5 years old.  And, although I love Abeka phonics for a few early elementary years, I don't think it's the most fun for wee ones to start on.  Could my girls do it?  Yes.  But, I personally love to start off with something more fun, and that builds ability and confidence, so when they do merge over into Abeka, they feel proud and prepared!

I helped the boys transition into their new spelling program (IEW Phonetic Zoo Spelling, Level B), which is also very independent.  After a brief lesson, it uses audio cd's and headphones for the rest of the time spent on the list.  Each boy will work on the list each day, until they are able to get them all correct for two days in a row.  I will test them, and then they will move on to the next list.  This way, they can work at their own pace, and not be stuck to their brother... which will be great.  As the boys worked on spelling, the girls and I cracked open their brand new Singapore 1A books.  (By the way, it felt completely surreal to be up the night before writing new names on the workbooks.  For the past 5 years, I have only writing "Asa" and "Addison" on them!)  The girls have been working on math so much on Dreambox that we will be sailing through the majority of this stuff.  However, I think it's important to translate the concepts learned in the computer program into pencil and paper lessons.  They worked on number bonds, and easily came up with different ways to make up various numbers.

I could tell the girls needed a break, so they played and colored while I helped the boys get introduced to their science program (SuperCharged Science).  There is a lot of online material, videos, and they already have all the supplies they need to do a ton of experiments.  Asa is chomping at the bit to jump in!  Today, however, they had to learn how to keep a science journal.  The real fun begins tomorrow!

I read a couple chapters in a chapter book to the girls, and then we began First Language Lessons 1.  (I'm a big fan of FLL, and I wish there were levels beyond 4!)  I love little ones.  They were thrilled to learn what a noun was today!  Although we will also be working through Wordly Wise 3000, Level 1, we will not begin that program until tomorrow.  So, I gave the girls each a sticker on their "Great Day" charts, and that's a wrap!

The little two chilled out to an episode of Wild Kratts while I led the boys through their first math lesson in The Art of Problem Solving, Prealgebra.  So far, so good... but I am hoping the online videos, forums, and activities help make this go smoothly!  Asa and Addison transitioned into Wordly Wise 7 (vocabulary), which they seemed to like.  For literature, they are reading Call of the Wild, by Jack London.  Because Addison has a crazy processing time with reading, he is already finished with it.  So, I gave him an online test (which he passed, of course), and started him on the next book, "The Time Machine" by H.G. Wells.  Basically, I have a book list, and although I do have a deadline for finishing the book, I will just move on down the list as anyone finished early. 

As I wrapped up my lessons, and began cleaning up the aftermath, the boys moved to their online elective time.  They have to spend 45 minutes on either their online typing lessons (free from BBC, great resource!), Khan Academy (Addison's choice more than Asa's),, or Dreambox.  They have been working on these sites all summer, and Asa has really improved his typing!  

In order to help keep the boys' schooling fluid and less interrupted, I am posting their assignments to their own page linked from this blog.  Each will have their own list of assignments, so they will not have to stay at the same pace.  Between that, a huge calendar on their wall, and their chore charts, I expect we'll make it.

Although things are calmer as far as academic classes go, this is the calm before the extra-curricular storm.  By September, Olive will be in ballet (Saturdays), Ivey and I will be in hockey, the three bigger ones will be in music/orchestra classes (Fridays), boy scouts (every other Tues) and Aikido (Tues and Thurs) will continue, Farm Fusion classes will be in full swing on Wednesdays, and I'll be heading up to the gym every chance I get.  The girls absolutely love the childcare room there, and they even get their nails painted by sweet, energetic college kids!  It'll be busy, no doubt.  But, hopefully I can find a way to keep that peace, that still, that lowered heart-rate, that smile.  It's my goal.  And... if I fail to keep things happy and relatively calm... there's always next year.

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