Saturday, February 28, 2009

Other Language Arts

Other than Reading and Handwriting Jetter and Social Butterfly have just a couple of other subjects that fall in the Language Arts category.
Spelling was quite a struggle for Jetter until I found the program (through the help of my consultant) called All About Spelling. It is an approach that teaches the rules of spelling, which makes more sense than just having the kids memorize a list of random words each week. The thing that is so helpful for Jetter is the hands on approach. Here you see him at our "spelling board". The little tiles he is working with are magnetic letter tiles. Using these, he spells the word that he is currently learning. We also use these tiles for learning new spelling concepts. Other than the tiles, the program also encourages using the white board to practice writing the words. This is motivational, but it also helps Jetter understand the concept of syllabication. He can write each syllable of the word in a different color of marker. He can also label "vowel teams" or "consonant teams" an other things that help him to remember the spelling rules. Social Butterfly uses the same program, but chooses to skip the manipulative part. She likes writing her words on the whilte board in color so I allow it. It seems to be a great program for all learning types.
Finally, we have grammar. Jetter will start his formal study of Grammar next year. Social Butterfly is using a program called Shurley English. She loves it! It comes with CD of "jingles" that are designed to help the child learn the parts of speech and their functions. She listens to the jingles and memorizes them She is currently working on the prepositions jingle which is quite long since it names the 49 prepositions. It sounds rather juvenile, but the application of what she learns in these jingles is not! She "parses" sentences quite well and will have no problem next year with sentence diagramming.

Friday, February 27, 2009

A Few Changes

I've decided to change a few things here on the blog. First, I removed the "What's For Dinner" on my sidebar. It doesn't really work since I don't have time to post daily.
Second, I am doing a terrible job of keeping up with the lists of books we're reading. I think instead of posting as we read them, each month I will list the books that are currently in the book basket (I try to change them monthly, according to whatever we are learning about.)

On another note, today Night Owl is home because it is a snow day. We actually got very little snow, but lots of ice. Of course, the students at the Good Shepherd Academy insist that they should have a snow day too. That's okay. The teacher needs a break!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Back to School Subjects - History

All of my kids really enjoy History. I think this comes from their Dad in some respects, since he has always expressed an interest in History. But I also think it comes from the way in which we learn it here at home. No dry textbooks with endless facts and dates to memorize. We do use textbooks, but they are for the "spine" of our program. The student reads from the text to get the facts and dates, and then completes an assignment for that section of the book. But then we get to the more enjoyable part. We read tons of really good historical books that help the kids "get into" the time period. Here is a picture of Social Butterfly's text, and some of the other books she is required to read this year. This isn't even all of them! I'm glad she likes to read!

One of the first historical fiction books that Night Owl read was Johnny Tremain. He loved it! That started a passion for learning about the Revolutionary War, which lead to the Civil war, and all the other wars! His current interest is World War II. The disappointing thing he has found out at the highschool he attends is that they only have one year of history - American history in the 9th grade. World history is offered as an elective, but not required. That is disappointing. Luckily, he likes history enough to read about it on his own.

Back here at home, along with the text and the historical fiction the kids will read, we have our timeline. For each person or event studied, we add a figure. This helps the kids get some perspective regarding when things happened. For instance, I found it interesting to learn that Beethoven was a child when we signed our Declaration of Independence. Below is a picture of our classroom door with the beginnings of our timeline on it. At this point it only had a few items on it. There is also a close up picture so you can see the figures a little better.

Jetter is just starting his studies of history and does not use a text. (That will start in 3rd grade.) For 2nd grade history, we just read good books about famous people. Currently he's really enjoying our book about Daniel Boone, which comes from the series called "Childhood of Famous Americans". We have lots of these books. Davey Crocket was another one we read from that series. We also have lots of books by Edgar D'Aulaire. He writes very informative picture books for children. They read the story to learn about the person, and the pictures help the younger ones stay attentive. I also have some neat historical figures. These are more of an "added bonus" and they don't get played with much, but they look great as a display of who we've studied about.
Some homeschool moms have their kids doing all kinds of projects: building log cabins, making candles like they did in Colonial times, doing skits and plays, etc. I have to admit, I'm not much of a project sort of person. I don't think it is necessary, and sometimes, the amount of time these projects takes cuts into other school time. If the kids aren't learning something new by building a log cabin with popsicle sticks, I don't see the benefit of having them do it. Now, if they want to do that for fun, on their free time, great! I just don't do that sort of thing much during school time. You'd think the kids would complain about this but they never do. Maybe they're not project people either!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Happy Birthday Jetter!

Here he is, the new 8 year old of the family, holding one of his very cool birthday presents!

Jetter had a great birthday party. We invited just two of his best buddies over and they had a great time. Since it's February most of the festivities involved electronics.

First there was the Wii,

then they moved to the computer,

and finally a movie with pizza!!

The gifts were a big hit and Jetter says "Thank you!" to his wonderful grandparents!

Mom wasn't too thrilled about the blue icing on the cake - it was EVERY where! But when we didn't have time to put together a solar system, Jetter requested a "store bought cake with blue icing on the edges". I should have gone with the solar system!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Preschool Wrap Up

Other than the "4 R's" (reading, 'riting, 'rithmatic and religion) and his extra curricular activities, Builder's school days include just one more thing. We use a program called "Little Saints" which covers a different theme each week. For each theme, there are suggested poems to read, story books to read, and scripture verses to read or even memorize. There are also lots of projects. Some are quite simple and others take a few days to complete. I pick and choose because there is not enough time in a day to do it all, but also because some of them are a little too young for Builder. I've noted for the future to start this program with Beany when he is 3 years old, instead of waiting until he's 4 like I did with Builder.

So what does Builder do when he's all done and I still have lots of school work to do with Jetter and Social Butterfly? Well, some days he just gets into trouble and I have to enforce our "Behavior in the Classroom" rules. These are the rules for our school time:

  • No one may go upstairs during school time

  • No running, climbing or throwing objects in the classroom

  • Use the materials properly

  • Return the materials to the correct space when you are finished with them

  • Speak quietly

  • No toy weapons

I do a "3 strikes and your out" sort of thing. If Builder gets his three strikes he has to leave the classroom. You would think that would be great for him, since leaving the classroom means going to the playroom (the basement room we recently remodeled). But Builder is as much of a social butterfly as Social Butterfly is, and he hates to be alone. He will beg, plead and bribe if I tell him he has to go to the play room. So, most days, the system works pretty well.

For Builder, staying out of trouble means keeping busy. We have LOTS of things in the classroom that keep him busy, and I'm happy to say, I consider them all educational. This was an inspiration from Maria Montessori. I love her method, but it would cost a small fortune to do it successfully. So I just use some of her ideas and make them work in our homeschool. Some of Builders current favorites are working with Pattern blocks or Magnetics, doing puzzles, constructing all sorts of "droids" with things I keep in the art cupboard (drinking straws, clothes pins, pipe cleaners, etc.), drawing (I keep lots of drawing books on hand along with paper and pencils), doing sorting activities, and looking at books. We don't keep the Lego's or K'Nex in the classroom because the boys would often dump the bins out and then leave them. I LOVE Legos and K'Nex but I HATE having to pick them all up. So now they are in the playroom. They still have to be picked up, but it's easier to say "No, you may not watch that video (or invite that friend over, or play on the Wii) until the Legos are picked up". Works like a charm.

Builder will start Kindergarten next year and is looking forward to it. I know he will do just fine!

Thursday, February 12, 2009


I learned from teaching Night Owl that Handwriting just doesn't come naturally for boys, at least not these boys! I actually tried 3 or maybe 4 different programs for him until I found one called Handwriting Without Tears. By that time he was into cursive and this program has a font that is actually do-able, even for a 6th grade boy who hated writing.

When it was time to start Jetter on a program I didn't think twice. Handwriting Without Tears was not only do-able for Night Owl, but it is working well for Jetter. It was actually designed for kids who struggle with Dyslexia or Dysgraphia so it has really been beneficial. I've started Builder on it this year as well, even though he doesn't seem to have the same struggles as Jetter.
Here are some of the components of the program These are actually the ones I use with Builder. Jetter used them in Kindergarten and 1st grade. There are letter cards, a small slate, a blue mat and wood pieces. They use the letter cards to learn how to build the letter with the wood pieces and then build the letter by themselves on the blue mat. We then do an activity with the slate called "wet-dry-try". I use the chalk to make the letter on the slate. Builder then takes a small piece of wet sponge, and following my exact strokes, goes over the letter, erasing it and leaving a wet mark in the shape of the letter. Then he uses a dry cloth to dry the wet marks, once again in the exact strokes. Finally, he uses the chalk to form the letter himself. All these activities help to solidify in his mind the form of the letter and what needs to be done to make it. I add to it by having him repeat the sound of the letter while he is writing it. This helps add a bit of phonics to the exercise. The last step is the work in the workbooks which Jetter is doing below:

It is not necessary to go through all the steps with Jetter anymore. He knows how to form the letters but he needs lots of practice. One very simple but helpful thing about this program is that every component has a small smiley face in the top left hand corner. This helps orient kids like Jetter to where the letters are supposed to start. This helps him avoid the reversals that he struggles with. Besides the workbook, Jetter does have a larger, lined slate that he uses for practice. When he starts cursive next year, we will use that slate alot, using the "wet-dry-try" activity to help him form the letters and connections. I think he will do okay with cursive, he may even find it easier than printing. Some theorize that children with dyslexia, or symptoms of dyslexia, should actually be taught cursive first - there is less chance of writing the letters backwards. My problem with that is what about reading? Most books are printed, not cursive. I try to tie reading and writing together so they learn and practice both at the same time. If Jetter did not know how to print the letters, I think it would be a bit confusing ... but then, I'm no expert.

Social Butterfly is a totally different kid. She LOVES to write. This year she is using a new program for our homeschool called "Italics". I think the font is a bit challenging but she likes the way it looks and practices happily. I tried to take a picture of it below but it's a bit blurry. Like I said she practices happily and I'm sure she'll have beautiful handwriting some day. She is also learning to type and doing quite well with that too. I think playing the piano has helped her coordination.


Inspired by our recent discussion in Science, Jetter just informed me that he would like a "Solar System Birthday Cake". He went on to describe it: "Each planet could be a cake that you could decorate with icing. And you could put little aliens on top of some of them, but not Mercury because they would burn up. The sun would have to be really big, like the size of the table. It will be really great mom!" Uh, yeah, right. I'm sure glad you're not asking for anything too difficult Jetter! Somehow I don't think the oblong cake with "Happy Birthday" written on it is going to suffice.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Look What I Can Do!

With all the learning going on here, I couldn't help but include Beany in the bunch. He is learning to feed himself with a spoon and has become quite independent. He can also blow bubbles with a straw into his water which is just tons of fun!
(Notice the chairs stacked in the corner behind this picture of Beany? He's also learned to climb on the kitchen table. We tried moving the chairs but then he learned to push the chairs to the right spot for climbing. The only thing we can do - other than become very angry and frustrated - is stack the chairs in the corner when we're not eating.)

Sunday, February 8, 2009


The kids have the benefit of seeing Dad and I reading and their big brother reading quite a bit. It's just sort of something we do around here! They all know reading is important and so far the older ones seem to find reading enjoyable. Hopefully the younger kids will as well.

For Social Butterfly, reading is mostly for content at this point. She is a very good reader and reads quite a bit for enjoyment. Her History curriculum requires a lot of reading so it's a good thing she enjoys it. It's not uncommon to find her on the couch or near a sunny window reading one of her books. She also reads out loud to her brothers which is a blessing to me and them. It allows me to get a few things done while they are sitting quietly for a time ... as brief as it may be!

Jetter is still in the learning stage of reading and it's been a challenge for him. He's a real trooper though and keeps on plugging away at it. We started him off with phonics rather intensively. Last year I used many Montessori materials to help him get the sounds of the letters. Tactile letters were very helpful for him. Now he is doing better, combining these sounds into words and remembering many of the common words he reads on a regular basis. Here he is using a device called a "Wispy". It's very simple and I've heard of making them with PVC pipe. It's pretty neat though. He can whisper out loud as he practices his reading. The Wipsy takes the sound directly to his ear to he can hear himself loud and clear. He thinks it's fun so the added bonus is more reading practice time. Currently I am using a series of readers with him called "Little Angel Readers". They come with a workbook as well. He's really enjoying reading as he advances to more difficult levels and is able to find books off the shelves that he can read too.

Builder is at the beginning stages of learning to read. I use a lot of hands on materials for him. Here he is showing off his reading pocket chart. As he learns his sounds he can place a felt object in the pocket that corresponds to that sound.

Here he is with another hands on activity that he enjoys. I also use a series of workbooks for Builder called "Explode the Code". With these workbooks, he is learning about one letter sound per week. He is doing quite well and will be off and reading in no time.

Of course, this wouldn't be complete if we didn't include Night Owl. He still loves reading even though he's not home much.

So from the youngest...

To the oldest >>

We're a family that loves to read!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


I had planned to cover the core subjects before getting into extra curriculars, but since I had this picture from last night I thought I'd talk a bit about Music. For the most part, Music has three components. We sing, we play an instrument, and we have "music appreciation".
I have a resource that I use for the singing part, but I have to admit, the kids would much rather sing along to their "Kidz Bop" or VBS CD's. That's okay! They enjoy the songs and all three of them enjoy singing them. Social Butterfly has a beautiful voice. The local University (CMU) offers voice lessons to children who are 10 years old or older. I think I will enroll her when she is old enough.
For the musical instrument, we have the piano. We don't start the instrument until the kids are in 3rd grade. I hope the teacher we have for Social Butterfly is around for a very long time. She is wonderful. She's very kind but she also demands quite a bit. I couldn't believe it when Social Butterfly had to transpose her practice selections to a different key. That's a bit difficult. This teacher also has monthly recitals. The kids can choose if they want to participate or not. We usually allow Social Butterfly to take part every other month. She enjoys the audience (where did this child come from?) and it encourages her to practice more and increase the difficulty of her songs. The other part about the recital is the poise it allows the kids to develope. I'm very proud of Social Butterfly! Next year, Jetter will begin.
Finally, we have Music Appreciation. For this aspect, we simply listen to classical music. Surprisingly, the younger kids love it. It has a very calming affect on Jetter, who loves to listen to it in the car. He has always been very sensitive to music and even as a baby cried when the music in the car was louder than he wanted. The curriculum we use has specifice music that the kids listen to when they get into 3rd grade and higher. They listen to the music and learn about the composer. For the younger kids, they listen, but it only to develope in them an appreciation for it. The more they hear classical, and the less they hear "pop" or the other popular music of the day, the more they like the classical. It sure doesn't take them long to "change sides" once they become teenagers though!