Saturday, May 28, 2011

Heading West!

Sorry to be away for so long!  We've been busy with the usual - track, dance recitals, trying to finish up school even though the beautiful outdoors call us, etc.  I've been planning two big events - next year's school (which will be an upcoming LONG post), and our big trip out west.

We're all very excited to be heading to Colorado where my husband's sister lives.  We'll be camping so that makes it even more fun.  Our trip will involve a stay in South Dakota, a stay in Colorado and a stay in Indiana with lots of driving in between!  I've recently discovered that there are bear alerts in Colorado so that adds a little discomfort to things.  We camp every year, several times if possible, but we've never been in a situation where there are "bear alerts".  Hopefully it's not as bad as it sounds!

The biggest part of the planning is figuring out what to pack in the way of food and clothing.  The clothing will have to make it for two weeks (I'm hoping I find a Laundromat somewhere!) and the food will have to be purchased as we go.  We'll take enough for the first week then find a grocery store.

Some things that will be different for us this time:
  • We usually take kayaks, a canoe, and bikes.  None of those will be coming with us this time because they wont fit.
  • We usually camp for 4-7 days.  This will be a 14 day trip.
  • We usually camp in sites with electricity.  Our stay in Colorado will be non-electric.
  • We usually all stay in our one huge tent.  The addition of PJ means Night Owl and maybe one of the other boys will be in a small pup tent.
  • The lack of electricity and space to pack will mean leaving behind some things we've grown accustomed to:  the electric cooler, the coffee maker (horrors!) and the electric skillet.  The coffee maker was the biggest worry, but we've discovered a wonderful invention - the "French Press coffee maker!
I think this will work best as a series of posts, one for camp menus, recipes, and packing lists, one for our itinerary and all the fun things we hope to do, and one for the camping tips we have learned over the years. I'll throw in a few pictures of previous camping trips to make it interesting. I'll post pictures when we return from this big adventure too!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Learning Styles 3

This is the final post in this series.  After Builder, I have 2 more kids to go, but since they are a three year old and a 4 month old, it's hard to determine their learning style!  Actually, I'm finding it difficult to determine Builder's style.  I'm mostly sure he's a 'hands on" kinda guy, but really, aren't most boys in 1st grade "hands on"?  I know as a classroom teacher, at this age and into second grade, I taught most things using some form of hands on work in the beginning.  Children at this age need something concrete in order to grasp concepts, especially in subjects like math. 
That being said, Builder really is sort of an "extreme kinesthetic learner".  He's always working on something with his hands, building with Legos or just taking "stuff" he finds around the house and coming up with new inventions for it.  He's very creative and when I stop what I am doing to listen while he describes his newest invention or idea for an invention, I'm quite amazed at what he comes up with.  He's a bit of a dreamer so logic isn't always involved in these inventions, but none the less his creativity never ceases to amaze me.  I'm not sure he will always be so kinesthetic, but for now, he certainly fits in that category.

Disposition: Thinks / Creates, Invents (!)
Modality: Global
Style: Kinesthetic
Other: Very creative, sensitive to other's feelings, needs lots of activity

I see some of Builder in the descriptions of both the Thinks/Creates disposition and the Invents disposition.
Taking the two descriptions from Discover Your Child's Learning Style, this is what I come up with for Builder:
Creates mental images, idea oriented, preoccupied, imaginative, daydreams, questions, wonders, doodles, articulate with hands, invention oriented, concrete thinker, experiments, "hands on", technical, discovers, focused.

Regarding curriculum for a child like Builder, the first thing one might think of is a need for manipulatives.  At least that was my first thought.  But can you see where manipulatives might be a problem for Builder?  True, there are math concepts that are more easily understood when the child can "feel" it in solid form so they are necessary at times.  But Builder does not do well when manipulatives are available all the time.  The problem is that instead of using the manipulatives to help him learn the math concept, he becomes so distracted with what he can build with them that he loses focus on what he is supposed to be learning!  I've found that some work better than others.  For example, when teaching Builder to add early on I had a choice between using an abacus or linking cubes.  The abacus worked well.  There were beads that he could slide over to add, or slide the other way to subtract.  The linking cubes were not a good choice.  Every time I looked away he would start building a gun, a cityscape, a house ... whatever popped into his mind.  Add or subtract?  What was that?  So the abacus was and still is the math manipulative of choice.

So, with that in mind, here's what I'm using for Builder in First Grade-

Religion  -
Lap books work well!  We are currently working on the Confession Faith Folder from  Lapbooks for Catholics.  Builder still has to focus on the lesson, but I actually let him do some of the cutting and folding while I read or talk to him about the day's concept.  He is better able to attend when he is doing something with his hands.  This was hard for me to get used to at first because I thought his fidgeting was a sign that he was not paying attention.  I was wrong and in fact, it is more distracting for Builder to be still then to build something while he's listening to a book being read or instruction being given.
Builder also enjoys drawing so he will sometimes draw while I read to him from the Baltimore Catechism or stories of the saints.   He really enjoys learning about the saints and will readily narrate back to me what he has learned.  The Once Upon a Time Saints books are our favorite for first grade.  Builder's memorization skills aren't too great so he struggles with the Baltimore Catechism memorization.  I'd love to hear suggestions that might help with that.  It's important though, so we keep plugging away at it. 
I have yet to get out our Mass Kit to use with Builder but I think it is about time I did.  We have the one from Our Father's House and it is quite beautiful.  At first, Builder didn't seem mature enough and I didn't want him to use the materials improperly.  I think now he is ready though, and I'm sure they will appeal to his hands on style of learning.  This Mass kit will help him to understand the Mass, which will be especially important next year as he receives the sacraments of First Communion and Confirmation.

Math -
Builder does well with Abeka Arithmetic for the same reasons Jetter does.  The lessons are short and to the point, the pages are colorful and inviting and the workbook style allows him to write directly into the book.  I do have to pull out manipulatives on occasion, as I described above, but they are not the core of the program. 

Language Arts -
Learning to read has been a struggle for Builder, but that has been the case for all the boys in this family, so far.  By 4th grade it has all clicked though and they do fine.  I'm hoping that Builder catches on a little sooner, but I'm not too worried about it.    Here again, manipulatives, when used a certain way, can be helpful.  I use All About Spelling for both spelling and phonics instruction.  All about Spelling has these wonderful letter tiles that I have attached magnets to the back of.  They are arranged in alphabetical order along the top of a dry erase board.  Builder can slide the tiles back and forth to "build" words.  It sometimes works well.  But, once again, here we have all these wonderful tiles that he can slide around!  I've found it  works better to transfer some of the tiles to a cookie sheet (I actually use this, but a plain cookie sheet would work too!) so he is limited in his choices.
Another thing that is working well for Builder is the Simply Charlotte Mason method of teaching reading.
In this method, sight words and phonics are combined.  I tweek it a bit and use the All About Spelling program for the phonics portion.  But the sight word part, described at this link, works really well for Builder.  He likes the idea of putting the words he has learned on cards and then building sentences with them.

Writing -
Handwriting Without Tears was the first program I used for Builder.  He loved the early stages when the children use wooden manipulatives to build the letters.  (Surprise, surprise!)  I was already using this program for Jetter and continued it for Builder.  Now that Builder is in first grade and knows the formation of the letters, I'm not sure he really needs it anymore.  I am now using a more traditional ball and stick font for him.   Neatness is always an issue since he wants to rush through and just get it done, but he physically, he is able to write well.  I simple use the Startwrite Software I have to create copy work sheets for Builder to use to practice his handwriting.

Science -
Science is all about experiments this year.  I'm using the kits from the Magic School Bus, along with the DVD's and Builder really enjoys it.  We also still incorporate a lot of nature study and that is very hands on!

History -
Since Builder is only in first grade I am not using a formal history program for him.  I'm allowing Builder's interests to dictate what we learn about.  Right now, he is very interested in ancient history.  We have many books on our shelves about ancient history so there are plenty of resources.  We go on line as well.  Here is a neat site I recently found with lots of hands on activities for the various historical time periods.  This has become one of Builder's favorite sites.

That wraps it up for Builder.  Now it's time to start planning for next year!  Actually, I've already started that process. :)  The posts in this series have helped me as I continue to plan.  I'm reminded of my children's strengths and the areas they need to work on.  I think that finishing a year with a recap of what they have been doing has been very beneficial in helping me to plan for the coming year.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Learning Styles 2

My intention, while writing the first post about learning styles was to quickly jump into this second post about Jetter and Builder, but because their learning styles are different from the first two, and they are very different from each other, I've gotten bogged down in details.  I will try to simplify a bit more here, while still being thorough.

Going with the same format at that first post but trying to simplify significantly, we move on to Jetter.

Disposition: Thinks / Creates  (A bit of an "Inventor")
Modality: Visual Spatial Learner
Style: Global
Other: Introverted, excellent visual memory, ADHD tendencies, needs routine

A description of the Thinks / Creates disposition, according to Discover Your Child's Learning Style, is "Creates mental images, thinks in abstractions, enjoys being alone, open to new ideas, idea oriented, preoccupied, imaginative, daydreams, questions, wonders, doodles."  Yep, that's Jetter!  I could also put him in the "Inventor" disposition for some things.

Jetter is a  strong VSL - Visual Spatial Learner.  I find that he is a delight to teach, but I admit VSL learners do create challenges for teachers in schools.  Some articles that will help you to understand a VSL are listed below.  For Jetter, I will just try to summarize by saying academically, he does well with diagrams, maps, word mapping activities, sketch narrations and organizing by color.  He is great at math concepts.  Learning to read was a terrible struggle, but now that he is reading comfortably, he really enjoys it.  He does not do well with curricula that are random.  He needs things to be very organized for him because he doesn't do so great with organizing them himself.  It would take pages for me to describe in detail the strengths and struggles that Jetter has in regards to learning.  Instead I will refer you to these very informative links:
Visual Spatial Learners - Gifted Development
Helping the VSL - Harmony Art Mom Blog
I Think in Pictures, You Teach in Words
Soaring in School

Curriculum and learning strategies that work well for Jetter are as follows:

Religion - Bible History, Saint Studies and Catechism.
  • Bible History - I read this text to Jetter and while I read, or after I've read, Jetter draws what I call a picture narration.  We compile these into a notebook.  They are delightful to look at because Jetter is such a detailed drawer.  This is one of our favorite things to do together.
  • Holy Traders Activity Kit - I purchased this for Jetter thinking the short concise biographies of the saints that are found on the cards and in the book would be appealing.  I also thought he would enjoy collecting the cards.  I was right about collecting the cards!  The book that comes with the cards has the information from the cards as well as some fill in the blank questions below.  Unfortunately, Jetter just likes to fill in the blanks without really reading the whole page of information so he is not gaining as much as I thought.  Next year we will probably go back to reading biographies of the saints in book format.
  • St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism 1 While memorizing the Catechism questions has been a real struggle for Jetter, we have enjoyed the simplicity of the first two St. Joseph Catechism books.  The pictures are excellent.  If I had to do it over, I would have Jetter copy the picture for each lesson, as best as he could, into a notebook and have him narrate the concepts for that lesson.  The pictures are wonderful at helping him to remember the concepts.  I find that there is great depth in them, even in the first and most beloved book that we started with in first grade.
Math - Abeka Arithmetic 4 Normally in 4th grade we switch to Saxon Math.  However, Jetter does so well with Abeka I had him continue for another year.  Abeka uses a spiral approach like Saxon.  The benefits for Jetter are that he can continue to write in the workbook as apposed to transferring his answers to paper, Abeka is challenging which keeps him from getting bored, and the lesson explanations are very short.  I noticed, at least up until the 4th level, that the explanations use fewer words than Saxon, and are more visual.  This appeals to Jetter and he is able to grasp the concepts quickly.

Language Arts
  • English/Grammar -Currently we are working through Abeka's Lanuage A.  Like the math program from Abeka, the lessons are short and explained very briefly.  The books have a variety of activities and incorporate some color. 
  •  Spelling - All About Spelling is a good program for VSLs. The tiles make it possible for the child to concentrate on the spelling concept not on the formation of the letters. The review cards are simple and colorful, also appealing to a VSL. It is rather mom-intensive so I am thinking of ways for Jetter to use it more independently.
  • Latin/ English Roots - We are using English From the Roots Up as an introduction to Latin as well as English vocabulary.  This program works well because I am also incorporating the Greek and Latin Notebooking Pages from 4RPress
History - We've done several things for history this year.  We started with the text, Pioneers and Patriots and added in some additional reading according to the MODG syllabus.  I decided Jetter needed a visual, so when we were studying the Revolutionary War we watched the Liberty Kids DVD's, which all my children enjoyed.  This worked out okay, but I don't feel the Jetter really learned as much about that time period as the other kids had.  Now we're into the Civil War period and, once again looking for a visual resource, I ordered History Pockets Civil War.  What a hit!  I highly recommend this resource for visual and kinesthetic learners.  It sort of has the flavor of a lap book but  the student doesn't make all the small booklets.  While Builder really enjoys lapbooks, all the cutting and pasting is really too much for Jetter.  He gets lost in the process and the content gets overlooked.  History Pockets is kind of the best of both worlds, in my opinion.

Science - Science didn't go as well has I had hoped this year.  Jetter is still very interested in astronomy but the Apologia text we are using is moving too slowly for him.  It's a very informative text but I'm afraid it's almost too much.  Jetter is getting bogged down in details.  We'll be looking for something different for next year.   In years past, I really incorporated a lot of our science studies into our nature hikes.  It was sort of an immersion approach since the kids were in the midst of what they were studying.  I'm not sure of another way to describe it, but it works!  It's hard to really immerse a kid into astronomy!

Handwriting - Jetter has been using Handwriting Without Tears since his kindergarten year.  What a blessing this resource has been for us.  We went from "wailing and gnashing of teeth" to an "oh, I CAN do this" attitude.  Jetter's struggles with handwriting are hard to explain.  One day, his penmanship is beautiful, whether it is cursive or print.  The next day, or maybe even the next hour, it is barely legible.  I honestly don't believe this is a discipline issue.  He truly wants his handwriting to look nice and works hard at it. 
Handwriting Without Tears has helped him to make huge strides. 
That being said, I think it is time to move away from the HWOT books.  Lately, instead of having Jetter do the workbook pages, I have been making my own copywork pages for him using Startwrite.  Startwrite is a program that allows me to make my own handwriting or copywork sheets using any font I want, including the HWOT font.

Geography - This is one of Jetter's favorite subjects.  He's memorizing the states and capitals, and the location of each of the states.  His favorite part though is drawing the states and creating a geography notebook.  For each state, he uses an outline map, either from Uncle Josh's Outline Map book or from the Dover United States coloring book to draw the map and add the important details.  He really enjoys using the Dover coloring book because it includes drawings of the state bird, state flower, and several other details.  He enjoys drawing these things onto his maps.  Jetter has a great visual memory and from this exercise he can usually tell you the name of a state simply by looking at it's outline.  I find that states like Florida and Michigan are quite easy to distinguish but South Dakota and some of the other, boxier states are confusing for me!

Well there you have it for Jetter.  Once again a much longer post than I had hoped!  The final post in this series will be about my totally hands on learner, Builder.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Learning Styles 1

A few years ago I read Discover Your Child's Learning Style .  I thought it was a very interesting read and I was delighted to find, after doing the tests and checklists in the book, that I already had a pretty good grasp of my children's various styles of learning.  I believe that is one of the benefits of homeschooling.  We know our children from the start and we can, with maybe a little thought and research, find those teaching /learning methods that best suit him or her.

On the other hand, I want to quickly add that I'm not sure it's good to use only materials that are in line with a child's learning modality or style.  I believe children, and adults for that matter, need to be able to adapt their learning style.  It will be a rare occasion for a college professor to excuse a child from a written exam because he is an auditory learner!  So, before I jump into my children's learning styles and some of the curriculum that seems to work well for them, let me also say that I  am always on the lookout for ways to help these children develop those learning modalities that are the weakest.

Many people are familiar with the 3 general learning modalities - visual, auditory and kinesthetic.  I can safely say that among my 4 children for whom I've been able to determine which style of learner they are, there are no two that match!  No wonder my life is so crazy!  I have to admit I enjoy that though!  These are the things that keep me challenged.  (Well, these, and devising ways to keep the house clean, run the errands, keep the children well fed and in clean clothes .... you understand I'm sure!)  I think that life as a teaching mom might get a little boring if all my kids learned in the exact same way.  What then, would be the use of poring over those homeschool catalogs that come every spring ... for hours!  What would be the use of all those dog eared pages and pencil jottings in margins?  It would be so easy, and rather boring, to just make them all use the same program.  I really enjoy meeting my children where they are at, and I think most homeschool moms are that way.  If a child is an auditory learner, and he or she is struggling with a concept or entire subject, I can pull out the material designed for auditory learners and help her to understand better.  On the other hand, if said child is such a strong auditory learner that she can't seem to learn concepts without hearing them, I might pull out the materials for visual learners and give her some challenge to help build those areas she is weak in.

I mentioned the 3 general learning modalities ~ auditory, visual and kinesthetic, but  Discover Your Child's Learning Style takes it into further categories.  The author calls these "Learning Dispositions".  I found reading about these dispositions to be particularly interesting as this is the area in which I see my children overlap.  Beyond the information in this book, there is also lots of information on line and in books about other learning types and styles.  I found a brief explanation of the concept of   Linear vs. Global thinkers here .  It is a very short article which explains that a person receives information in either the auditory, visual or kinesthetic modalities, and then processes it in either a linear or global way.  I see that I have 2 linear learners and at least 1 global learner in my bunch.  And then there are  the VSL's (Visual Spatial Learners) we read so much about today.  Well, maybe you don't, but since one of my children is a VSL, I tend to seek out information that will help me help him to learn.   

I see that many of these labels mean the same thing, it's just a person's particular way of saying it that changes, which can create some confusion.  But as best as I can I will try to describe the various labels that fit my various kids and list some of the curriculum choices that work well for each.

So, first up, is Night Owl.  I don't teach Night Owl too much anymore.  He is a junior in high school and doing quite well.  This doesn't surprise me, based on his learning modalities and dispositions.  He can be classified as:
Disposition: "Producing"
Modality: Equally strong auditory and visual
Style:  Linear
Other:  Introverted, excellent memory, all around nice guy type!

So, this child learns information by either hearing or seeing it.  He likes his information to come to him following some sort of natural organized progression, like an outline,  a timeline, a chart or graph.  His "producing" disposition can be described as one that "likes plans and schedules, does well on tests, likes rules and routines, memorizes facts easily, efficiency oriented, focused, diligent ..."  Do you see why a child like this would do well in school?  What has helped Night Owl to stretch a bit outside his comfort zone?  Yearly involvement in the Science Olympiad.  Night Owl has always enjoyed all branches of science.  Give him an encyclopedia about a science topic and he will happily read for hours.  Give him a book like The Elements and he'll disappear for hours, reading and storing information in his very organized file system of a brain.  But!  Now, tell him to work with another student and build a robot for the robotics element of the Science Olympiad and you have a completely different child.  This was the struggle of struggles for him.  Thankfully, he is diligent, and kept at it despite the difficulties.  Science Olympiad has thrown him into the state of insecurity each year, and I'm glad for it!  It has helped him to see those areas in which he needs to work and that all learning isn't as easy as he might think.  Along these same lines are the Shakespeare plays he and a group of friends had to re-create and then video tape for the class.  Definitely outside of his comfort zone!  He had to go beyond just memorizing the play and now actually recite those lines, while acting, while being taped for all to see!  S-T-R-E-T-C-H!  I think it's great, he doesn't always agree!

So I cut my homeschooling teeth on a very easy student to teach.  What a breeze!  Then came child #2, with some similarities but a few differences that provide some challenge for mom.
Social Butterfly:

Disposition: "Producing" and "Relating/Inspiring"
Modality: Very strong Auditory Learner
Style: Linear
Other: Extroverted, excellent auditory memory, musically inclined

Like Night Owl, Social Butterfly is in the "producing" category.  She loves schedules, even more so than her brother, and is constantly organizing things on paper or in her room.  She has schedules posted on her walls and charts for the business she will someday own.  (Yes, at the ripe ol' age of 11, my daughter is determined to be an entrepreneur.)  Along with all this scheduling and organizing though, Social Butterfly has a strong "Relating/Inspiring" component. She thrives when she is in social situations and is happiest when there are lots of people around her, paying attention to her. 

This need for constant socialization, for the only daughter of this family, does create some challenges for me.  I have to make sure she is seeing her friends on a regular basis and I'm always encouraging her brothers to include her in their games.  I try to meet this need in several ways.  She is involved in a dance class where she has met friends, she has a friend down the street that I allow her to see regularly, and when it is necessary to drive her to a friend's house or bring a friend here I try to make that a priority.  One not so great thing that happened this year is that the moms in our homeschool group are all so busy we weren't able to have any formal weekly "get together" for the kids.  In years past my daughter has been involved in Little Flowers groups and last year we had both a Catholic Mosaic group and a Tea and Cake With the Saints group.  This year, we are missing these organized socializing opportunities.  But, in an effort to help her enjoy her least favorite subject - science, she is meeting once a week with a friend to do science labs together.  This has  turned out to be an excellent idea.  The girls have worked through the TOPS  Magnetism Unit and are now working on the Electricity Unit together.  These are definitely not subjects Social Butterfly would enjoy on her own, but add a friend and Science has become her favorite subject!

Here is the curriculum line up for Social Butterfly and a few notes on how / why they work:

~Religion - Besides the Baltimore Catechism, Social B. is doing a study of the gospels of Mark and Luke.  She really enjoys this because we get to talk about it together.  Anything that involves discussion is a subject that ranks high on Social B.'s "Like" list.  For the discussion we are using the questions in Laura Berquist's Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum.
~Math - Saxon 7/6.  Social B. is good at Math, but she doesn't like it all that much.  I believe it is one of those subjects that makes her stretch.  It is not a social subject here at the Academy.  I encourage the kids to read the lessons and work the sample problems to try to figure it out on their own.  I do step in when necessary, but I encourage independent learning here.  I've added the D.I.V.E. CD to Social B.'s curriculum this year and she finds that helpful when she doesn't understand a concept.  Hearing the instructor on the DVD as he explains the concept helps her to grasp it.
~English Grammar- Easy Grammar.  Here again, is a relatively independent subject for Social B.  She says she likes it more than Math but I think she would really like it if I sat next to her and discussed it with her the whole time.  Being a mom of six children, I can't do that though.  She does come to me with questions and I do explain new concepts, but for the most part it is a subject she works on independently.
~Latin - For Latin, I am happy to say that I found a way to make it a bit more social for Social B.  This year, I finally broke down and bought the DVD's that go with Latina Christiana.  What a difference it makes.  In the first place, there is a lady teaching Latin that knows her stuff.   Being an auditory learner, the DVD's are also very helpful in that Social B. can hear the teacher as she goes through the drills and lessons.  I've also added Lingua Angelica this year and Social B. just loves it.  It really appeals to the auditory learner and her love of music.
~Poetry - This year we are all enjoying Linguistic Development Through Poetry Memorization   .  All of the kids, especially Social B. are finding the memorization of poetry much easier and more enjoyable.  I keep the set of DVD's in the car and we listen to them as we travel here and there.  Each morning, after prayer, each of the kids takes a turn reciting the poem they are currently memorizing.  Social B. has two sets of poems she is working on.  She also memorizes those poems as prescribed by Mother of Divine Grace for 6th grade.  She really seems to enjoy poetry in all forms and memorizes it easily.  She enjoys performing for us when she is asked to recite for the family as well.
~Spelling - For an auditory learner that struggles with spelling I haven't found a better program than Phonetic Zoo, created by the same company that gives us the Poetry mentioned above.  Once again, Social B. does this mostly independently.  We go over each new lesson together, and then she uses the CD to work through daily quizzes.  Once she has gotten a 100% the required number of times, we go on to a new lesson.  Hearing the words spelled out loud on the CD really helps them to stick with Social B.  The little jingles and songs that she learns for each spelling rule also help.
~Science - As I mentioned above the TOPS Science units have been a big hit since Social B. is working on them with a friend.  It's a big help to the friend's mother and I too.  For Magnetism the girls met here weekly to do the experiments while I oversaw things.  I taught a little, but most of it is what I would call discovery type learning.  This semester, the girls are working on the Electricity unit at the friend's house.  It's a nice break for me and I know the girls are still getting a quality science lesson.
~History - Social B. is really enjoying history this year.  She is learning about Ancient Civilizations and most of that learning is through reading great historical fiction books.  She did have some text book work early on as a spine, but from there it's just been reading and now writing a paper.  She loves to talk to me about the books she is reading.  She provides voluntary oral narrations on a regular basis and we both enjoy the conversation that follows.  The list of books used in the history program for Mother of Divine Grace is just one of the many reasons why that program has been a big hit for both Social B. and Night Owl.

As usual, in posts like this I tend to get a bit wordy so I'll stop here and continue with my other two learners, different as night and day (except for their high activity level!) in a new post.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Saving Money ... or trying to!

Today is grocery shopping day ... again!  I am always amazed at how quickly we go through food around here.  It seems that we shop for a month on Saturday and by Monday I'm hearing my 17year old, head in the fridge, saying "I'm hungry mom.  Don't we have any food around here?".
It's really quite exasperating. 
  Now, truthfully, there is food.  It's just not the grab and go sort of food my children would love to see more of around here.  You know; chips, candy, hot pockets, mini-pizzas, etc.  If my kids want pizza, they have to wait for me, or the pizza chef - Night Owl, to knead the dough.  I rarely buy candy because high fructose corn syrup is a definite no-no around here.  Chips are rationed.  I see these foods as empty calories so I don't buy them often.
What can they eat for snacks?  Fruit, veggies, nuts, some of them can have cheese, pb&j is a big hit for those who can eat bread, leftovers, homemade cookies, ... There's really quite a bit of food.  How can I help it if my 17 year old considers an entire box of pasta (that's a pound) mixed with Alfredo sauce  an after school snack?  Or, an entire baking sheet of barbecued wings (made with his own barbecue sauce by the way!) is a bedtime snack?!  This kid is so hungry all the time and even without purchasing junk food, I am spending way more money than I want to at the grocery store.  Jetter and Builder are following closely in his footsteps, so I know there will be no financial relief anytime soon.  With the gluten restrictions, Beany's diet can make things more expensive too (although he is worth every extra cent we have to spend!).
So, the dilemma - how do I feed these precious and very "hungry all the time children" without spending way more than I have budgeted for food?

I do several things that help:
I make up a monthly menu that I stick to as much as possible.

I try to shop once a month for most things to discourage impulse buying.
We don't eat a lot of junk food.
I try to buy fruits and vegetables in season.
I buy large portions of meat and use leftovers for lunches.

I don't clip coupons because I found that many of the coupon items were things I wouldn't normally buy.  So if I save .50 on a box of cereal that I wouldn't have bought in the first place, that's really no savings.

I would like to do a better job at maintaining our garden and preserving what we have grown.
I would like to find a better, less expensive way to buy meat.  I'm looking into the cost difference of buying a side of beef vs. buying the various cuts we eat. 

My current project is to develop and use a price book.  A price book is simply a way to keep track of prices of frequently purchased items.  This link describes  one method of making such a book. This is not a new concept for me.  I've actually been trying to keep a price book effectively for a couple of years.  My problem is that I was using methods that didn't really fit my circumstances.  But after reading Miserly Moms, I decided to give it another try.  So, a little brainstorming and problem solving helped me to come up with my current system.

The first price book I made was a binder style book.  I had created a chart for each item I purchased on a regular basis.  The chart was similar to the one in the link above.  This was all kept in a 3 ring binder.  The binder is supposed to sit, open, on the front of the shopping cart so the shopper can make notes as she goes and easily flip to the correct page to check the prices of an item.  My problem is that this front seat of the shopping cart is rarely empty!  I always have at least one little person with me.  When that little person is a toddler it's even more difficult because they want to "help" and the pages to the price book get ripped out or scribbled on or whatever.  The whole thing became very frustrating.

Price book number two was created on my computer and filed as a document there.  My intention was to fill in the information when I came home from the store.  Then, once it was complete, I would just take it with me to refer to, but not write on.  I thought it would be easy to just use my receipts from each trip to record the information.  Well, as most busy moms know, it's not always easy to find that time to sit down at the computer and fill in a chart right away.  By the time I got to it, I would have a pile of receipts and then I often forget the size of the items and the receipts don't always show that.  So that was slow going and frustrating as well.

So, what exactly did I need?
1~ The price book had to be portable.  I wanted it small enough to fit in my purse.
2~ The price book had to be something hard that I could write on even when a little person was in the front seat of the cart.  (A clip board came to mind, but lose papers wouldn't work.  I'm sure I would lose them.)
3~It had to be organized so I could quickly find an item or jot a price down.  (Quick is vital with toddlers in a grocery store!)
4~ I wanted it to be some sort of notebook with the paper bound into it.  It's too easy to tear the papers from a binder.

So, wanna see what I came up with?

I used a journal style notebook because, in all honesty, I thought it was pretty.  A steno notebook or composition notebook would work just as well though.  The size of all of these is just right to slide into my purse, and because they have a hard binding, I can easily hold them in one hand and jot a note or two while resting it on the edge of the cart (or even my hip).  But, pretty won out so this is what I'm using.

To make it organized, I used a copy of my shopping list.  This is a list of the items I keep stocked in my kitchen or pantry.  It is based on a menu rotation that I created some years ago and still use.  (That took some time, but talk about a time saver!  I highly recommend it!)

The above picture shows a shopping list that has been used already!  You can see I scribble notes, circle certain items and then fold it to fit in my purse.  The items are colored coded according to what store I buy them at. 
In the price book I attached tabs for each division of grocery items.  Since my shopping list is organized in order of my favorite grocery store, this was easy.  (It also streamlines the shopping and makes it easy for my husband or son to find items if they need to go for me.)  So my tabs say things like Dairy, Household Cleaners, Canned Goods, Produce, Meat, etc.

In order to do this, I used a sticky note per category and jotted the items in that category.  Then I counted the number of pages I would need for the category, added a few for new items I might find, and went forward that number of pages before I started the next category.

Then I went through the list again and wrote each item on it's own page or 1/2 page.  My intention is to keep track of the items, making notes on the brand, the size, the price and the store it was purchased. 

Finally, I used a few of the most recent receipts to write in some of the items I had information for.  This will give me a head start.  As I mentioned above though, receipts don't always show all the needed information (like size of the item) so I still have quite a few items to write information for.  This I will do as I purchase those items at the store.

In this example I have written notes for Salsa.  It says "Pace, 38 oz 2 pack, $5.58 from Sam's Club."    These are notes I can jot quickly at the store.  Now, when I'm at a different store and I see that this salsa costs less, I can jot that information down as well.  I can plan my shopping trips so that I'm buying the items at the lower prices.

I stuck some sticky notes to the back cover.  These I will use if I need to jot an occasional note.
Finally, I stuck an envelope to the front cover.  As I mentioned, I don't clip coupons on a regular basis, but occasionally I do see one that I can use.  This will be a way to store them easily.

One thing I will add is that I only shop at 3 grocery stores.  One is a regular grocery "super store", then there is a warehouse store that requires membership, and most recently I found that I can save money on some items from a local GFS.  My husband and I usually go to the warehouse store and GFS once a month.  It's nice to have him help me at these stores because the items are usually heavy!  I try to go to the grocery store once a month as well, but it usually turns into one big trip a month and then smaller trips each week.
I know some people that go to 4 or 5 stores.  But for me, the amount I would spend in gas and time just isn't worth it.

I would love to hear your ideas for saving some money, or things you've done with a price book to make it workable for you!

Oh, and just since he's so darn cute:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


For homeschoolers using the Montessori Method, here's a great website to check out:

Here's a quote describing the program:

NAMC's 3–6 Montessori Homeschool Program is an all-inclusive program that provides you with everything you need to set up and put into practice a three-year homeschool educational program for your child. In a convenient, single shipment, you receive all the curriculum, materials, preparation instructions, and support material you will need to build a solid homeschool foundation. The program is rooted in Montessori philosophy and methodology and is designed to meet the cognitive, emotional, social, and physical development needs of your child.

I can't imagine anything more helpful for a mom using the Montessori Method for her preschoolers!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Planning Changes

I've written several posts about planning over the years.  Maybe readers will see that I tend to change things each year.  I suppose that's part of homeschooling, at least for me.  Each year there are different circumstances to deal with; new babies, nursing babies, toddlers, traveling, learning difficulties, etc. etc.  Around here, these changes usually mean I have to adjust my planning system.  This year, back in August, we began with what I thought was going to be a great plan.  But by October I was completely stressed. 

Part of my October stress was due to the pregnancy.  I remembered that when I was pregnant with Beany that "2nd semester energy boost" was non-existent.  I suppose when your over 40 and pregnant energy boosts just don't happen.  So, I was feeling tired and didn't see any light at the end of the nine month tunnel.  That can be a bit depressing, especially as the days get shorter and colder.

Then there was the crazy schedule we had going.  Both Night Owl and Jetter were playing football and while it was all very exciting, every weekend was taken up with football games.  Night Owl's were on Friday nights and Jetter's were on Saturdays.   So my Saturday routines which included some final school preparations, and normally extra cleaning, laundry, and errand running, were pushed to Sundays.  That is something I really had a hard time with.  Remember, I was already very tired, but now "the day of rest" was used for catching up from the hectic week!  I just plain ran out of energy.  Not to mention the planning, which I had enjoyed so much at the beginning of the year, just wasn't getting done.  This made our Monday mornings less than stellar as far as schooling went.  I didn't have my planning done and for me that is like being stuck in the mud.  I have a really hard time just "winging things".  I need a plan.

On top of everything else, I was feeling a bit burned out.  Looking back, I'm not sure it was actually "burn out" but maybe just plain ol' tiredness.  I actually cried when our homeschool group decided to have an All Saints Day Party.  This is something I normally looked forward too, and my kids love!  But I just saw it as one more thing I had to do.  Costumes!  Ugh!  (I'm not proud of my attitude - just tryin' to give you a clear picture of how I was feeling!)

So, I remember thinking, "How on earth am I going to do this?!  I'm already exhausted.  I have a husband and kids that need to be loved, fed and cared for.  I have kids that need to be educated. My house needs to be cleaned.  Groceries need to bought.  Errands need to be run ...  AND this baby is due just before Christmas!  I have to get ready for Christmas, like ... NOW!   .... "  Get the picture?  I was wigging out big time!

Then, as a result of clicking through some of my favorite blogs, looking for inspiration, I clicked on a link, that linked to another link, that linked to this blog post:

Springs of Joy blog 

Talk about "Springs of Joy"!  I could almost hear The Hallelujah Chorus playing in the background!  This file system saved the day, and since it's still working, the rest of our school year!

Here are her opening paragraphs - the lines that grabbed me and helped me realize that this is just what we needed:

"Wouldn't it be nice to have a personal assistant in your homeschool? How about an administrative assistant who would hand you everything you needed for the week pre-photocopied and organized by child... including lists for shopping and the library. Maybe she would even hand you a pile of fun coloring pages and games for your littles to do.
Perhaps she could help you get all the things you wanted to do in your homeschooling but never get to because you didn't have time to get it ready. Like what about that FIAR study that you always meant to do with your littles, or the fun lapbook units that pass by your email box."

Yes, that is exactly what I need!  So how do I do it? 

So I read the rest of the post, realizing that I had already completed the first 3 of her steps to starting this system.  I then sat all the kids down and asked them how they would feel about taking an unplanned break from school - probably a week - so I could get a new system into place.  Silly question!  Of course they were on board, even though it meant that we would have to attach a week onto the end of our school year.  They quickly calculated it and realized they would still be done with school before Night Owl, so they were all for it. 

The kids started their "Fall Break" and I started gathering the materials.  I already had tons of file folders on hand that I recycled for this purpose.  No, they aren't pretty, but they are functional which is all I cared about at that time.  (If I do this next year I might buy some pretty folders!).  I found 2 file boxes and divided the folders in half, so they fit easily.  I originally tried getting them all into one file box but they were really tight and getting things out would have been difficult.  This way there was a little breathing room.  Then, starting with Social Butterfly, I went through the rest of the year's plans and week by week filled the file folders with everything she would need, from grammar pages, to notes regarding papers to be written, to copies of poems to be memorized ...  It was actually kind of fun.  I was in organizer / planner heaven.

Then I moved on to Jetter, and then Builder.  I did not do folders for Beany, although I realize now it would have been nice to put some coloring pages and number / letter worksheets in folders for him.  The one subject I did not divide by week is Math. 

There are a few reasons why I did not include Math in the fild folder system. 

First, I would have had to tear out the pages and the math books are some big books!  The thought of tearing them up just bothered me.  Also, Social Butterfly's math book is not consumable, so I couldn't tear hers apart anyway.

Second, one of the things that makes the file system work is that if you miss a day, you just keep going.  The missed work is quickly done orally, or even not at all.  I can't do this for math.  As you know, in math, each lesson builds on previous lessons.  It's important that the child understands each step or they will find themselves totally lost a little while later (don't ask me how I know!).  If we missed a day, I couldn't see just skipping the assignment, so the kids do every assignment in order.  Yes, they might have a few days at the end of the year after the rest of the school work is done to finish up math, but it's not usually a problem.

Third, we have a great "flow" to our day and that is something that didn't need changed.  Part of that flow is that we do math at the dining room table, all together, while the kids eat breakfast.  The rest of our school work is done in the school room.  So I just kept the math books and materials in the dining room where they had always been.  The file boxes are stored in the school room where the rest of the work is done.

One week later, or really less than a week, the file system was ready to go.  It works beautifully with our workboxes and binders.  Each Saturday, it only takes me a few minutes to pull out each child's folder and pop the assignments into their boxes or binders.  The kids are cruising along with their school work despite the fact that I might be changing a diaper or nursing a baby.  Mondays are no longer dreaded ... well at least not much, and I don't have to spend hours on the weekend planning for the week.  (Actually, I do still plan a few things but they are the fun things we weren't getting to before, like Lap Books!  But that's yet another post!)

Friday, February 4, 2011


Frozen - That's how I feel here at this blog!  I guess I match the weather...

By the way, my husband did not agree with my last post.  Maybe because it's his job to clear the driveway. 

One of my kids all time favorite things is to run next to the snow blower and have the snow fall on them.  I don't get it, but they sure have a good time doing it! 

Anyway, back to being frozen here at the blog.  I have quite a few things I would like to write about - mostly homeschool related - but for some reason I can't get myself to just sit down and write them!  For example, what exactly was I doing from All Saints Day until PJ was born?  That was a big gap of nothingness at the blog, but it was filled with lots of exciting things in real life.  Night Owl can't believe I didn't even post anything about the football team going to the state finals and then winning the championship! 

One of the most time consuming things I did was to completely revamp my system for planning for the kid's learning activities.  After a panic set in regarding how I was going to do everything when the new baby arrived as well as just get through the last couple of weeks of pregnancy and then Christmas, I went in search of a better, more streamlined way of doing things.  I'll be writing about it soon - it's working well.  It practically runs itself which is what I needed. 

On a not so positive note, Beany, who had been doing so well on a gluten free diet, started to lose weight.  This was due to the mistake I made.  About 6 months ago he had some gluten and it didn't seem to have any negative effects.  We slowly added in more and more until we were back to eating a "regular" diet.  I had assumed that he grew out of his gluten sensitivity.  Not so!  The symptoms just took a while to show and when they did ... they really did!  Poor kid.  When we realized he had lost nearly 5 pounds we new what the problem was.   We are back to a strict gluten free diet for him and he's already starting to gain weight.  I would like to write a post to share some of the new resources and recipes I've discovered.

There are also big plans in the works for a summer vacation!  Planning a trip out west has us all excited for summer to arrive!  I'll be posting about that as it gets closer.

Then, of course, there will be the planning posts for next year!  Can you believe I've already started looking at curriculum?!  School room changes will be included as well.

So, not much has been posted lately, but I have alot of posts tucked away in my brain.  I just need to get them organized!  Maybe if we get a February thaw, my brain will thaw a bit as  well.  From the looks of things lately though, that might be a while in coming!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

More Snow

When my husband and I decided to move here, a friend said, "Well, you better learn to like winter!". 
After about 20 years I can say "What's not to like?"

(Ask me again in late March when the river is still frozen and I might answer differently!)

Saturday, January 29, 2011


Thanks to a very dear and talented friend, Social Butterfly is taking cake decorating classes.  So far she's made two cakes and I'd say she's doing a great job.
The first one she did on her own, sort of an experimental cake:

After taking two classes, Social Buttefly made this cake:

It wont be long and I'll be "hiring" her to make all the special occasion cakes for the family!  
(With all this delicious cake around here I'm never going to lose this "baby weight" though!)

Friday, January 21, 2011


When Night Owl started going to highschool in 9th grade, Beany was a new born.  That was a good year for Night Owl, but I imagine learning the new routines, making new friends, figuring out what various teachers wanted, etc. was all a bit stressful.  Some days, he would come home from school and find Beany and just pick him up and hold him a while.  It seemed to be a relaxing thing to do. 
Now, with PJ, everyone recognizes the "thereputic properties" of holding a sleeping baby. 
Is it the weight on the stressed-out person's chest?  
The steady breathing?
The little baby noises?
The feeling that this little person is just so content to sleep in the arms of the one holding him?  
I guess it could be any one or all of these things,  but for whatever reason, everyone in the house seems to gravitate toward PJ - especially when he's sleeping.

For some, I literally have to argue why Mom gets to hold the baby too - and not just when he's crying! 

Life gets a little tumultous for pre-teen girls! Who wants a stuffed animal when they can hold a peacefully sleeping baby!

Night Owl has a pretty intense schedule lately so he does less "just-sitting-and-holding-the-baby".  He's more inclined to multi-task.

At the football banquet we recently attended, Dad was double-proud.  Not only did the oldest receive awards, but the youngest looked darn cute sleeping on his shoulder.  More therapy! 

When the cousins were here this past weekend the excitement of it all was a little too much for Builder.  At one point he came to me and said "Mom, I feel kinda hyper.  Can I just hold PG for a while?"  Therapy!

And then there's the "Looking out the window, watching the river while holding the baby" sort of therapy session.  Jetter and I both prefer this one!

He really does more that sleep!  The sleeping baby pictures were too precious to pass up though!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

PJ's Baptism

Sunday turned out to be a beautiful day.  My brother and his wife, PJ's godparents, came up with their kids, and my mom and her husband came as well.  It was nice to see them all and my kids really enjoyed re-connecting with their cousins! 
The baptism itself was beautiful and I was proud that my children behaved at Mass!  I have these fears of one of them diving into the baptismal pool (I apologize that I don't know the official name for it) but other than a close call with Beany, nothing of the sort happened!
After the baptism family and friends all came to the house to help us celebrate.  It was a joyful event!

 PJ with his godmother after the "de-robing"!  He looks a bit stricken by the whole event!

PJ with his godparents.

The cousins got to bring up the gifts!

The kids all behaved well ... mostly!

We are so blessed with little PJ!

Grandpa, and Grandma with grandchild #19!