Friday, September 25, 2009

.......................................A Busy Weekend ahead!

I'm not sure we could fit one more thing into next weekend, even if we wanted to! Here's what it looks like:

Thursday Evening -
Grandma and Grandpa come up for a weekend visit.
Social Butterfly has a piano recital.

Friday Afternoon / Evening-
Homecoming Parade for Night Owl's highschool and
Homecoming Game for Night Owl

Saturday Morning -
Football game for Builder
Football game for Jetter

Saturday Evening -
Homecoming Dance for Night Owl

Sunday -
Builder's Birthday party with his friends.

Grandma and Grandpa picked a busy week to come. I'm hoping to have all my ducks in a row so we can just relax and enjoy the activities!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Football Pictures

Since it's football season, my new "lucky numbers" are 15, 77 and 75!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Will this be the week?

The week that we finally settle in to our routine? I hope so! It seems that things have been in upheaval since we started school.

First, there was the work on the front porch. This doesn't seem like that much of a distraction but let me tell you - demolition, noisy power tools and workmen here most of the day do not mix with school when it comes to little boys! We called most of that day an "in house" field trip and talked about safety for the workmen, their tools and how they used them, simple machines, what it means to do a good job and not just do something half way to get it done, etc. So, it was educational, but I didn't get to check off any of those little boxes on my lesson plan sheet.

Then there was Catholic Mosaic. We had a great time, but it was difficult to have a regular school day with the preparations I needed to make. (And I thought I was organized!) We learned about St. Peter Claver, did a craft and played with friends. The kids had a great time and I would say, once again, the whole thing was very educational but ... I still didn't get to check off many of those boxes!

Friday was the first day back to piano lessons. Once we settle in, this will be a time to get some work done (and check off some boxes!). However, yesterday, being the first day, I wasn't prepared for Beany's reaction to this whole idea of waiting in the car while everyone quietly worked on Math and one child at a time went in for piano lessons. He and Builder were not as patient with this whole thing as I had hoped, so the child who was not taking the piano lesson was quite distracted by these little ones and didn't get their work done. Once again, boxes left unchecked.

BUT, this week will be different! Sure there are the usual football practices and piano lessons, but those are accounted for in our schedule. But there is nothing else on our schedule that should put a kink in our routine. Now I'm praying desperately that no one gets sick!

Friday, September 11, 2009


The schedule looked perfect on paper.

I thought the time I allotted for everything was sufficient. I assumed the kids would all embrace the "getting back to school" and I was looking forward to this first week.

Wellllll, I forgot to account for the extra time it would take to get everybody ready and get to football practices on time. I forgot to account for the extra driving time necessary to take Night Owl to the various functions he needed to be at like JV games and team dinners. I forgot the fact that the contractor was going to start work on our front porch this week, and waiting for him to come, as well as the distraction of the demolition that was going to mess up our schedule. I forgot that Jetter's personality causes him to resist anything with structure, like a schedule, even though he needs it more than anyone. I forgot that Social Butterfly would be watching the clock, reminding me when we were a few minutes late to move on to the next thing and driving me absolutely crazy. I forgot that Beany, now a two year old, would be resistant about taking his naps when I wanted him to, and that the toys I so neatly layed out for him to play with would probably not interest him as much as big sisters markers. And, I forgot that every year it begins this way!

So, I'm tweaking the schedule a bit, adding more time for driving here and there, taking advantage of the "fog delay" this morning to get a head start on next week's plans, and thinking of a better plan for Beany.

Despite all the above, we did manage to get started with the year though. We didn't get to every subject every day, but we did work on our routines and cracked the binding on most of our new books. So, it's a start. As usual, I'm praying for grace this year. I love homeschooling my children, but I know I can only do it with God's help.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Starting Our Day

In this post I talked a little about the importance that I place on the beginning and end of our school day. Here I talked about our Tea Time, which is the end of our school day, and one of our favorite times together. But the most important part of our day is the beginning. It seems that if we can start off on the right foot, the whole day goes well. That being said, there are days that it just doesn't work as planned and we make the most of it. The description below is of a morning that works as it should.

We call the start to our day our Morning Meeting. Unlike the rest of our school day, the Morning Meeting takes place upstairs, in the sunroom and the dining room. Often, while the kids are eating breakfast and getting their morning chores done, I'm gathering necessary items for this morning meeting. As always, the more organized I can be, the better it goes.

We start off with just a mention of the day's feast day, if there is one. Then we say our morning prayers together, which will often include a prayer to the saint who's feast we are celebrating. Then we look to our calendars. For this year, I will have two calendars posted. This one,

which I have used for several years now, and our new Liturgical Year Calendar. I decided not to get a Liturgical Year Calendar last year and I really regretted it. So here it is, waiting for the first day of the new Church Year. It is simply attached to the wall with "sticky tac" for the picture. I'm working on a more attractive way to display it, especially since it's in our dining room. I'll post an updated picture when I get this all figured out.

For our regular monthly calendar, we just review the month, day and year and add the new number for the date. This is mostly for Builder who is in Kindergarten this year. The other kids don't mind since it only takes a minute. We sometimes sing songs to help with remembering the days of the week and months of the year. This site has some really neat ideas for using the calendar to help with math concepts. I am going to use the "School Day Count" idea at that site to help Builder grasp the concept of place value. Other than that, most of our "calendar time" as it is sometimes called, is based on the Liturgical Year Calendar.

When we look at the Liturgical Year Calendar, we will talk about the day, the liturgical season, the colors of the vestments worn, the feast days etc. This mom, who has a beautiful blog, uses tiny images of the saints and attaches them to her Liturgical Calendar. There are so many neat ideas out there. I wish I had the time to use them all! Along with our calendar, we will also make sure our home altar is decorated for the feast day, or at least the Church Season. Here it is, ready for tomorrow, the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the past, we have always read a story or some information that goes along with the saint's feast day. This year, I'm going to do things a little differently, in the hopes of things running a bit more smoothly.

Instead of celebrating the feast days as they come, we will celebrate a feast day for the week on Mondays. We will decorate our home altar, and I will read a story about the saint whose feast day we are celebrating and the kids will usually color a picture or do a simple craft. I have several resources for these pictures, but one of my favorite is this blog, where the author provides coloring pictures for each saint that is studied in her homeschool (scroll down at that site to see the list of coloring pictures available). Since we use the suggestions from Catholic Mosaic, I also have the corresponding coloring book, Fenestrae Fidei, which we will use this year. Doing it this way, we will sometimes have to choose which saint to study, as there will be several feast days in one week. I think that it will still work better though, as we will have more time to concentrate on the one we are studying.

So, why only Mondays for feast days? Because that leaves time for the other important things I wanted to get to this year. Besides the Catechism and Scripture the children will be studying, I also like to include a very practical, "Living Faith" study. There are three areas in this Living Faith category that I want to focus on this year. First, there are the Liturgical Year Celebrations, which I spoke of above. But there are two other areas that I really wanted to focus on and, while they are touched on in the children's Catechism lessons, I wanted to give them more emphasis. These areas are virtues and the Mass.

We will study the virtues on Tuesdays. I am planning to use Amy Wellborn's Book of Heroes as a spine for this study. I like the way she breaks the chapters in her book down by the spiritual and moral virtues. For each, she explains the virtue, tying it into the life of Jesus. Then, she includes several stories of saints that used that virtue. I'm hoping to use other resources we have, like William Bennett's The Book of Virtues, to round out our study. The kids will d0 a notebook page for each virtue, then add a bit of copywork, a colored picture, or sometimes just a holy card of some of the saints that lived that particular virtue.

For our study of the Mass, which will happen on Wednesdays, I will be using a very simple little book, The Mass Book for Children as a spine. It is much too simple for Social Butterfly, but I plan to use it more of a launching off point and plan to round it out with other materials. I love Erin's Unit Study on the Mass and wish I would have found it sooner. I'm not sure I can get something so elaborate together by ... tomorrow! ... but I'm going to read through it carefully and glean some ideas. I especially like that she uses Maria Montessori's book, The Mass. It is one that I will certainly incorporate into this study. Like the days when we study a Liturgical Feast or a virtue, the kids will make some sort of notebook entry after we do our study on the Mass. I'm learning to keep these simple so we actually do them, and they don't take all day! Wednesday is also the day I am hoping to get to the Mass at noon with the kids, so this should all work together quite nicely.

I don't have a Living Faith plan for Thursdays. I am thinking it will be good to have a catch up day for when life hits us differently than we had planned and the schedule is forgotten. We seem to have one of those days frequently! This could also be the day that we do an art project, but that's another post.

We'll finish this time of day with individual Religion lessons because I think they will naturally flow together. Social Butterfly will be focusing on the Catechism this year, and well as some Bible History. Jetter, will be doing the same, but at a different level. Builder will be mostly learning the Bible stories. Beany will just be making messes of course! I'm looking forward to this special time of day starting up again. Our Morning Meeting and Afternoon Tea Time are the times we all miss most when summer vacation is here.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Football Season

So, what does your living room look like on a Thursday morning in September?!
Click on the arrow for the short video below!

Boxes, Binders, Bins and Bags (Part 4)

This Fourth and final post about how I organize our school time, environment and curriculum is about the workboxes. Sue Patrick's Workbox System was like a dream come true for us last year. We had had a very productive year, until about Spring Break when we went on our vacation. Spring Break marked the beginning of Spring Fever for all of us around here. It's like a runner hitting that "wall". It's so hard to keep going when the books are almost done, the weather is nice, the kids just want to play etc. It was about that time that I read Sue Patrick's Book about her Workbox System. I decided to give it a try since it seemed like an awesome way to plan and organize our school day. (Have I mentioned I like to plan and organize?!) It worked wonders. The kids loved it, I loved it and we finished our school year without the usual wailing and gnashing of teeth;).
This year, I've decided to start off with the workboxes in place, but I've made a few changes. Because our schoolroom tends to be a bit cluttered with all our materials (I'm a curriculum junkie!) the workboxes that Sue Patrick recommends just seemed too big and added to the clutter. I also decided that Social Butterfly really doesn't need the workboxes. She loves to arrange and organize her desk, and the workboxes aren't necessary for her. BUT, she still wanted some "fun way" to organize her assignment list.
This is what I've come up with for our workbox system. The boys will each be using this storage system I purchased from JoAnn's at a great half price sale:

Not too exciting to look at, I know, but it's going to work great. There are 10 drawers which is just enough for Jetter and more than enough for Builder. Like last year (see pictures here) I'll attach velcro dots to the outside of each box. There will be a number attached to each dot. When the child has completed the work in the box, he will replace the number with a smiley face, or other sort of "I'm finished" type label. On the top of each of these units I will have a box or basket (really?!) in which I will keep those items that the child will do directly with me. Everything in the drawers will be independent work. (But of course my children can and do ask for help whenever they need it.) When the classroom is in order (hopefully with new desks for the boys) I'll take a picture of the whole system in place.

Now, Social Butterfly's system is quite different and very girly. That doesn't surprise anyone who knows my feminine, creative daughter. It's one of the many parts of her personality that I enjoy completely. Here's a picture of her system:

As I said, Social Butterfly likes to organize (and reorganize!) the school books and notebooks in the drawers of her desk. A system like the boys have didn't really interest her, and really, she doesn't need it. The system above is much more to her liking. I used a piece of clear plexi-glass that we had from another project. I attached 12 library envelopes to the outside and wrote a subject on each. I have business cards in the same colors. I will use these cards to write the assignments on and insert them into each envelope. For some subjects, like Math, I will make one card and laminate it (with clear packing tape!). I will use a wipe off marker to write the lesson she is to complete each day. For other, more involved assignments, I will have to write it out on the card. I have a large stack of these cards so I should be in good supply for the year. When she finishes an assignment she will put the card into a small basket (really!) and if there is a written component, that will go into the "finished assignments" tray that we've had since our first day of homeschooling. Here is a picture of Social Butterfly's desk which she has had organized and ready to go since June:

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Boxes, Binders, Bins and Bags (Part 3)

(Warning: this is a long post! And, to make it worse, no cute pictures of the kids!)
With the first day of school less than a week a way, planning is in full gear. This yearly planning, that takes all summer it seems, is about complete, but today I'm going to talk about how I do my weekly planning. The items in the picture above are what I use to get my coming week organized.
The basket holds a file folder dated for each week of the school year. In these folders are the copies, books, worksheets, etc. that I will need for each week. This basket is mostly geared towards the Liturgical Year activities we will do, since these have a definite date. For example, if I pull out the folder dated December 6th - 12th, there are activity suggestions for the feast days of St. Nicholas, St. Ambrose, and our Lady of Guadeloupe. Also in these folders are activities that might go with a monthly theme that don't have a specifice date. An example of this would be Advent activities in this same folder. This whole idea was inspired by Dawn's File Crate System at By Sun and Candlelight. It's not exactly like hers since I adjusted to meet our needs and my file crate is strictly used for school activities ...for now.
The binder with the light green cover (with holy cards glued to it thanks to my lovely daughter) is my "Liturgical Year Binder". I used this exclusively before I developed the file above, but I think the files will be more efficient. I keep this binder because in it I have lists of the years feast days and a chart that shows me what activities I have available for each. I also put copies of special prayers or other items dealing with our faith in this binder. Sometime, I hope to combine the binder and the basket, but I'm not there yet.
The blue binder is my Homeschool Master Binder. It's a 3" binder that gets used ALOT. I'm trying to find something inspirational to put on the front but for now the picture of the ocean is there. This is sort of like my "Teacher's Plan Book". I have sheets for lesson plans behind dividers for each of my children. I also have a section in which I write goals for each child. I have a list of all the books that we have on our bookshelves (which I take with me when I shop used book sales at our Homeschool Conference or the Library. Our collection of books is getting so large it's easy to buy something I already have!). I have the syllabi for each child which I typed into a checklist style to make it easier to keep track of. Finally, I have the information for my Mother Of Divine Grace consultant along with pages for notes.
The black planner is simply a monthly planner. After using this one for a while, I've decided that I really don't need a fancy planner. All I really need is a monthly calendar type planner with plenty of space to write, and a stack of paper on which to write my "to do" lists.
Finally, there is the clip board that I keep with me during the day. This is where I clip my to do lists, schedules, copies for activities we will use that day, menus, etc.
So, those are the components, here's the plan for planning. (Writing this all down makes it seem long and tedius, but really, it doesn't take long at all. Setting aside a little time for planning and organization allows the coming week to run more smoothly.)
Ideally, I take a little time on Thursday evening to start this. On Thursday, I do the planning that will bring some order to our home life. On Friday, I do the planning for school. My goal is to have this all done BEFORE the weekend. Our weekends are so busy and if I don't get to my planning before Saturday, it ends up being a rushed job on Sunday night, which I don't like.
So, Thursday evening, I pull out my black daily planner and I print off a weekly menu and grocery list from my computer. I also grab the school binder and open it to the new week's lesson planning sheets. I use the planner to note feast days, errands, appointments, etc. onto the lesson sheet and the menu sheet if they affect dinner. For example, on Monday night we have boys at football practice from 5:30-7:00. That evening we will have a meal in the crockpot for when we get home. If it's a feast day for which I have a special recipe to try, that will be recorded on the menu as well. I write up the menu then use that to mark needed items on my grocery list. Because I do my errands and grocery shopping on the same day, I use the grocery list to also jot down any errands I will need to run. The grocery list and menu are attached to the clip board. I also attach a "to do" list on which I write household chores, phone calls that need to be made, etc. This really only takes about 30 minutes. The thing that could potentially take alot of time is the menu, but I have a rotating menu that I use the keep things simple. It is a month of favorite recipes that I use. This changes for feast days, birthdays, holidays, etc. but having it really cuts down on the time and energy it takes to decide what to make for dinner every night.
On Friday I do my planning for the coming week's school activities. I pull out the week's file folder from the file basket, the Liturgical Year notebook, and the Homeschool Binder. Any activity pages that I need to make copies of are clipped to the clip board. I use the "check list syllabi" to write down the lessons for each child on the lesson plan pages in the binder. I then write down any other activities they will do for their workboxes that are outside of the syllabi. (I'll explain this in detail when I write about the workboxes.)
I write down any items I will need to purchase for art, science experiments, etc. onto the grocery list that is attached to the clip board. I finish by filling the workboxes for Monday and making sure the school room is tidy and ready for another week.
Whew! Seems like alot doesn't it? It's really not though, and the planning makes a world of difference when Monday morning arrives!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Filling the Book Basket

Actually, the book basket is already filled as you can see by the picture in the side bar. The book basket is that basket which holds the books we read during our favorite time of day, Tea Time. I'm really the only one who drinks tea, but we usually have a snack. The snack is often something sweet, which is part of the draw, but truthfully, I also think it's the quiet that lures the kids. We have so much hustle and bustle around here on a regular basis that this short, quiet time of the day that is set aside for just listening (and chewing!) is a highlight. Tea Time works the best when Beany is taking his nap, but, his naps are becoming more sporadic since he is getting older, so I don't let that dictate whether, or when, we have Tea Time. If he's awake, I give him a pile of toys on the floor and we do the best we can. Some days, when we read a picture book, he will sit on my lap and listen. Most of the time though, he's too wiggly to sit so I rely on toys to keep him occupied.

Besides the snack and the good literature and the quiet, the other special thing about Tea Time is that it marks the end of our "school day". The kids have been on a schedule since they woke up and this quiet end to our day marks the end of scheduled time. We have dinner at about the same time each evening, and if there are sports practices those are at a certain time, but for the most part the kids are free to play once tea time is over.

I'm a big advocate of free time for kids, especially when they are outside. During the summer months my kids play outside all the time. It is not something I have to force on them, it is something they enjoy. They come up with elaborate games, look for bugs, climb the trees, and just enjoy the freedom to be kids. It reminds me of my childhood when it was common to see bunches of kids playing outside all the time. I don't see that as much anymore and I wonder where all the kids are. (One day, we met a neighbor from down the street for the first time. He said, "Oh, you're the family with all the kids!" We only have 5 kids, but I think it seems like there are many more than that because they are always playing outside when people drive by.)

Back to the book basket... In years past I have tried different methods of filling this basket. We've done author studies and themes. I've tried changing the books weekly, monthly and quarterly. Any way we've done it, I always seem to be changing books at the last minute, running to the library in search of books about our next theme, and totally forgetting to update the blog with what we are reading. This year, I'm trying a different approach. As I do every year, I purchased some new books to add to our school library and those will go into the book basket first. I also went through our bookshelves and pulled out a few of the books we haven't read in a very long time, or the books that were read by Night Owl years ago, but the others haven't seen yet. There is no theme or particular author, it is just more of a hodge podge of literature that I want the kids to hear and read. I will begin with this basket load, and when we finish all the books here, refill it with more. There is a mixture of picture books and chapter books, fiction and non-fiction, and some poetry. Several of the new picture books are written by one of my favorite children's authors, Jan Brett. Many of the others are Geography related. We will be hitting geography hard this year, with Jetter working on United States Geography and Social Butterfly working on World Geography. I decided we needed to add to the Geography shelves in our school room.
You can see the books in our basket over on the sidebar. Just click on them to learn more about them.