Oct 132014
 
Heading outside for art lessons.

Heading outside for art lessons.

Each year that I homeschool, I learn a lot about being a good teacher. In these early years, I feel that I improve as a teacher by at least 30% each year over the previous year. Most of what I have to learn has to do with time management, setting the right expectations and child behavior patterns–all great organizing lessons. Each year, I try to learn from the mistakes of previous years and try something just a little bit different.

Last year, we focused in hard on the core subjects of math and language arts. We did well in these areas but I felt like we fell down on a couple of subjects, like art, music, and history. So, this year, I made the decision to start each school day with our weakest subjects and save language arts and math for last.

Below is a quick run-down of our typical school day this fall and our goals for the year.

Art

2014-10-13-artisticpursuits We start our days with an art lesson. While this sounds “fun,” this art curriculum is really quite serious. The ARTistic Pursuits Elementary 4-5 Book One focuses on the fundamentals of drawing. We are training ourselves to see like artists and learning the elements of art that make for more interesting compositions. So far, we are learning about looking for shapes, capturing details and learning about how and when to use shading. It is really a lot of hard mental work. It is kind of a struggle to get excited about teaching these lessons but we are all excited about how much we have learned so far.

 

Goal: Be able to draw with more detail and sophistication and identify simple drawing techniques in other artists’ work.

Still life with kitchen tools

Still life with kitchen tools

Drawing of Audobon owls

Drawing of Audobon owls

First drawing of an LPS toy

First drawing of an LPS toy

Drawing of the same toy about 3 weeks later in our lessons.

Drawing of the same toy about 3 weeks later in our lessons.

Still life of fruit and vegetables.

Still life of fruit and vegetables.



Music

Screenshot from simplymusiconline.com lesson.

Screenshot from simplymusiconline.com lesson.

Because last year, we kept “forgetting” to do our piano lessons, this year, I built it into the school curriculum. Over the summer, I received an email notice from the Homeschool Buyer’s Coop about an Australian piano lesson curriculum taught completely online. For a onetime fee of $60, you could buy a lifetime subscription to the website simplymusiconline.com. This method of learning emphasizes playing songs rather than learning music theory. You watch the videos online for a quick lesson and then spend the rest of your week practicing on your own. Rather than practice 30 minutes per day per child, we practice only about 10-15 minutes per child. So far, my children are enjoying these lessons and they have both learned two songs already and will spontaneously practice them when they pass by the piano.

Goal: Complete the Level 1 curriculum and learn approximately 11 songs. We hope to perform the songs in an end of year recital perhaps for one of our older neighbors.

2014-10-13-piano1 2014-10-13-piano2



History

Balloon globes

Balloon globes

2014-10-13-chartingtheworld

World geography is the theme for this year’s history lessons. We spent September learning about principles of geography and now are taking an around the world virtual tour. We will be visiting each of the continents and spending a few days in select countries. We created a “passport” that we complete for each country as well as an art project representing each country. We are making liberal use of our library card and our local library system has been amazing in terms of providing wonderful books for us to use.

Goal: Gain an appreciation that the world is a large and complex place as well as respect for different cultures and peoples.

One of our recent stacks of books from the library on Africa.  Our library has a terrific collection of both reference books and fiction from each country.

One of our recent stacks of books from the library on Africa. Our library has a terrific collection of both reference books and fiction from each country.

Example "passport" pages.

Example “passport” pages.

Our Congo art project: interpretations of Luba fertility sculptures.

Our Congo art project: interpretations of Luba fertility sculptures.

Our Ethiopian art project: paper mache interpretation of the guinea fowl found in their folk art.

Our Ethiopian art project: paper mache interpretation of the guinea fowl found in their folk art.



Science

2014-10-13-ancientcomputing 2014-10-13-eyewitnesscomputer 2014-10-13-nyscience

Computer science is our focus for science this year. We started off with some introductory books on computer science, including the history of “computing.” We have now progressed to the K-8 Into to Computer Science Course at learn.code.org. This is an amazing curriculum available to anyone completely free of charge. They provide all the lesson plans for the “offline” activities. My children, however, look forward to the “online” lessons where you get to practice coding through a series of interactive games. The first one we did was based on the games Angry Birds and Plants Versus Zombies. Each lesson is introduced by a video starring computer science greats like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, telling the children in simple terms what they are about to learn. This really is an amazing gift to U.S. schoolchildren and I hope that every school will someday take advantage of it. In addition to our computer science lessons, we are also doing a few pages per day from the study guide for the New York 4th grade science exam to prepare ourselves for end-of-year science testing.

Goal: Have at least a general idea of how one might write a computer program, including some of the language elements and logical constructs.

Screenshot from one of the online lessons at learn.code.org.

Screenshot from one of the online lessons at learn.code.org.



Spanish

2014-10-13-spanishnow I looked long and hard for a Spanish curriculum I wanted to use. There is a lack of intermediate and advanced language curricula for elementary school students. It is also hard to find affordable programs. I finally settled on the Barron’s Spanish Now! curriculum that includes a workbook and companion CDs. This year, we are trying to focus more on speaking Spanish. I liked that this curriculum seems to have a lot of repetition in the exercises. You use variations of the same phrases over and over and over. The curriculum is probably designed for at least a junior high – adult student. We adjust it by doing only one page per day. The curriculum is similar to what we used last year where there is a story and worksheet pages to follow. We repeat the story every day and do the worksheet page. The CDs are great because they allow us to hear the correct pronunciation of words and also provide oral exercises. The curriculum also teaches Spanish grammar, like masculine and feminine, plurals, etc. So far, my children are handling this curriculum beautifully.

Goal: Improve Spanish vocabulary and understanding. Be able to respond to simple questions in speech and writing with at least a few routine Spanish phrases like “Es posible . . . “ or “Es necesario . . . .”



Language Arts

2014-10-13-commoncorela-4 2014-10-13-commoncorela-2 2014-10-13-vocab-4 2014-10-13-spelling-4

2014-10-13-pshipwriting

We are continuing with the Brave Writer language arts curriculum, graduating to The Arrow curriculum. This curriculum uses longer chapter books and provides copywork passages and literary elements for each book. Ideally, you complete one book per month. There also is a companion Partnership Writing curriculum containing several creative writing projects which you would also complete roughly one per month. My only complaint with the Arrow and Partnership Writing curricula so far is that it does not come with any sort of daily schedule or monthly lesson plan as to when to do what. There is a general guide in the Partnership Writing curriculum but it doesn’t cover basics like how many chapters are you supposed to read in a week to make sure you finish the book by the end of the month. I am having to figure that out on my own. In addition to the Brave Writer curriculum, we are continuing with the Common Core Language Arts 4 Today test prep books as well as a vocabulary and spelling workbook. This is also our year to learn cursive writing, which my children have been waiting for!

Goals: Improve patience for longer chapter books. Improve reading comprehension and vocabulary. Continue progress in creative writing.



Math

2014-10-13-singmath-2a 2014-10-13-singmath-2b 2014-10-13-singmath-4a 2014-10-13-singmath-4b

We are continuing on with the Singapore Math curriculum, levels 2A/2B and 4A/4B. The only change I made this year was that I didn’t order the teacher’s manual for the books this year. In past years, I found that I hardly referred to it. There is so much to complete already between the daily assigned textbook and workbook pages that I didn’t need any other teaching activities to supplement. The only downside is that I don’t get an answer key without the teacher’s manual but the math is still simple enough at this age that we don’t really need it.

Goals: Complete each curriculum. The second grade curriculum requires addition with carrying and subtraction with borrowing as well as simple multiplying and dividing by 2, 3, 4, 5 and 10. The fourth grade curriculum requires multiplying by 2-digit numbers, adding and subtracting fractions, adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing decimals and calculating area and perimeter.



Preschool

Another twist this year is that I have one more student added to my homeschool, my preschool-age son! I am still trying to find a curriculum that works for him. I initially planned out a lot of fun crafts but after trying a few with him learned that his dexterity is still quite limited (although he loves painting with a brush) and that he has more enthusiasm for reading, games and playing outside. We are also doing some socialization learning for him through a sports class (more on this in a future post). Formal schooling isn’t necessary for him at this stage so I am not worried about doing a lot but am trying to keep him engaged in reading and learning in general. He always seems to end up in the middle of the girls lessons, whether “helping” them paint or accompanying them during their piano lessons so he is also learning quite a bit by osmosis as well.

This is the most ambitious homeschool schedule we have attempted yet! It has taken several weeks to feel comfortable with it but it is finally starting to settle into a groove.

 Posted by on October 13, 2014 General Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,
Sep 242014
 
Sometimes little brother joins the homeschool action . . . especially if it involves Danny and the Dinosaur!

Sometimes little brother joins the homeschool action . . . especially if it involves Danny and the Dinosaur!

Last fall, I gave a peek inside our homeschool classroom, showing a little about what we were learning. It was my first year homeschooling two children at the same time, one in kindergarten and the other in third grade.

I am pleased to report that in general, our year was a success! Teaching two at a time didn’t pose as many challenges as I anticipated. With the exception of math, I generally taught all subjects concurrently to both children. I generally taught at the third grade level and assumed that my younger daughter would probably not pick up all of it and we would adjust as needed. To my surprise, she generally kept right on pace with her older sister!

While I went into teaching third grade completely oblivious to its importance, I learned later on that third grade is a high stakes year for most kids. Time magazine calls it “the single most important year of an individual’s academic career.” Researchers can predict the likelihood of high school graduation based on how well a child reads in third grade. As a result, many states will hold children back if they are not reading on level by third grade. The common maxim is that before third grade, you are “learning to read” but that once you hit third grade you must “read to learn.”

Reading ability was not a concern for us but I must say that in general, our homeschool ramped up for third grade. We tried to teach more material and more complex material. It was challenging at times but we stuck with it.

With apologies for length, here is the subject-by-subject breakdown of our homeschool year:

Math

2014-09-24-singaporemath1a 2014-09-24-singaporemath3a 2014-09-24-commoncoremath1 2014-09-24-commoncoremath3

We continued using the Singapore Math curriculum we have been using for the past several years. This was the first year we completed the full curriculum on time by the end of the year and I was thrilled with that progress.

My kindergartner blew through the kindergarten math books and then proceeded to blow through the first grade math books ahead of schedule.

My third grader had a bigger challenge ahead of her. Third grade is the year to learn the multiplication tables. Memorization of math facts is not something that comes easily to her but she is very good at adding numbers in her head. So, for example, rather than memorizing 8 x 4 = 32, she often had to count, 8, 16, 24, 32. I did not feel it necessary to emphasize speed at this stage so we just made it through the year with the counting method. On the plus side, with the concept of multiplication firmly in her head, she could calculate answers to questions beyond the scope of the course, such as 20 x 5. She also gradually began to memorize the facts after calculating them so many times.

We learned that there are many ways to teach third grade math. In our local public school, it appears they require students to memorize up through the 12 times tables and the corresponding division facts and then answer story problems based on these facts.

Other math curricula have different approaches. With Singapore Math, after we had learned the 2, 3, 4 and 5 times tables, we then had to learn how to multiply ANY number by 2, 3, 4 or 5, such as 55 x 5 or 555 x 5, by learning how to carry numbers in multiplication. Next, we had to learn long division so that we could divide any number by 2, 3, 4, or 5, including remainders. After we had learned all of that, then we progressed to learning the 6 times and higher times tables up through 10. Singapore Math (and it seems more commonly in Asian math curricula) emphasizes breadth of concepts whereas U.S. math seems to emphasize memorization of facts first and then teaches concepts like long division later on.

Comparison of public school and Singapore Math teaching methods for third grade.

Comparison of public school and Singapore Math teaching methods for third grade.

The only challenge for us with this mismatch in strategies is that U.S. standardized testing frequently has questions requiring rote memorization of the 11 and 12 times tables, which we didn’t properly learn. My daughter had to work a little harder to answer those questions but generally did fine using her counting method.

We also used the Common Core Math workbooks to prepare for standardized testing. In general, the math in these books was easier than the Singapore Math curriculum but helped us prepare for the format of many test questions. We found the Common Core Math to be a fairly accurate guide for each grade level of testing.

Language Arts

Brave Writer: The Writer's Jungle and The Wand.

Brave Writer: The Writer’s Jungle and The Wand.

We used Julie Bogart’s Language Arts program called The Wand. The curriculum was developed in conjunction with Rita Cevasco, an expert on childhood language learning. There were 10 months in the curriculum. Each month we read 2 books. Each book was read 10 times before moving on to the next selection. Daily lessons included learning of complex phonics such as c’s that sound like s’s, the –tch letter team and unusual vowel combinations. A brief history of the English language was also included. We learned about Latin, Greek and other language roots. We copied quotes out of the assigned book and did dictation. At first, I couldn’t imagine teaching some of this to a kindergartner and third grader but I pressed on. This curriculum took me a lot of time to plan in advance and to create my own worksheets to go with the material. I was not a big fan of it at first due to the time commitment.

However, about mid-way through the year an amazing transformation happened in my children. I started getting spontaneous writing! My girls would write me notes or comic strips or all kinds of things without being asked! I realized that some of the more tedious parts of this program, like the spelling practice, were very important in building their confidence in writing. Now that they knew how to spell many words properly, they were happy to write things. They also were more willing to take chances on guessing at spelling, since they had a background in the different phonics and an understanding of when certain spellings are used. So, this curriculum was an amazing success and I would recommend it to anyone willing to put in the time.

One quirk about this language program for us, however, was that it appeared that Rita Cevasco might be a Brit. A few of the phonics lessons ended up requiring some modification because they didn’t make sense to an American speaker of English. Brits pronounce certain vowels differently than Americans. For example, the word “aunt” has a short “a” sound in American English but a short “o” sound in British English. The adjustments were minor, however, and as avid PBS watchers we found the differences more amusing than frustrating.

2014-09-24-commoncorelangarts1 2014-09-24-commoncorelangarts3 To prepare for standardized testing, we also used the Daily Language Review books for first and third grade. These books ask questions about grammar, punctuation, reading comprehension and other common testing subjects. The third grade edition also required several short writing projects, which was a good supplement to The Wand curriculum.

 

Science

2014-09-24-giantscience For our science curriculum, we used the School Zone Giant Science book. I liked it because it was colorful and included fun activities such as word searches and simple experiments in addition to reading the text and answering questions. Hands down, the experiments were my children’s favorite. The book covered a wide variety of topics from weather to plants but the main focus was on animals. We learned about insects and ocean life, lizards, snakes and mammals. Animals are a natural hook to science for most children and this book understood that well. I was surprised at how many animal facts were new to me!

 

Spanish

2014-09-24-readandunderstandspanish Our goal for Spanish last year was to find some way to move beyond the stereotypical memorization of numbers, colors, days of the week and a few vocabulary words that is the default elementary foreign language curriculum. We found the Read and Understand Spanish series which is designed primarily for bilingual classrooms. We started off doing once a week Spanish lessons reading the story of the week and completing the 4 worksheet pages. That was not giving us good results as the children were exhausted with Spanish by the end of the lesson and weren’t retaining much.

We switched to shorter daily Spanish lessons with repetition of the story each day and completion of 1 worksheet per day. The worksheets required a combination of writing, cut and paste exercises, word searches and drawings. Coincidentally, many of the stories complemented our other learning in other subjects. Story topics included Jane Goodall, spiders, and fictional stories about children having birthday parties.

Foreign language is one of the most difficult subjects to teach in my experience. While we made progress in terms of learning to understand Spanish phrases and sentences (as opposed to just one random word here and there), my children do not “speak” Spanish to any measurable extent. The lack of immediate progress can be frustrating. However, I do notice subtle progress, particularly in my third grader. She seems to understand more and more and occasionally will write Spanish words herself before I have the chance to spell them out for her. Both girls made good progress learning to write down spelled words in the Spanish alphabet, which is particularly confusing because the Spanish “e” sounds like the English “a” and the Spanish “i” sounds like the English “e.”

In general, I liked this curriculum and would consider using it again.

Handwriting

2014-09-24-smartkidswhohatetowrite 2014-09-24-handwritingwithouttears One of the areas that needed attention last year was handwriting. One of my children had a dysgraphia resulting in frequent letter reversals. We began the year with Dianne Craft’s figure 8 handwriting program and did that daily for the recommended 6 months. I used the program for both my girls. I wouldn’t say that the program was an immediate magic bullet for dysgraphia but it did seem to help. After using the program, the reversals seemed far less frequent.

After 6 months, we moved on to worksheets from the Handwriting Without Tears program that I had picked up used at a homeschool conference. The biggest benefit I received from this text was learning from their suggestions about how to format a handwriting practice page for maximum results.

About three quarters of the way through the year, I realized that I was wasting a lot of time using pre-printed handwriting practice worksheets. I was missing out on the opportunity to use handwriting as a reinforcement for our other learning. So, I began to create my own handwriting practice worksheets using our spelling words. This approach worked very well and I have continued the practice.

Both girls made significant strides in handwriting. Today, the dysgraphia issues are almost non-existent and all the hard work we put in seems to be paying off.

Art

2014-09-24-artisticpursuits I thought I was going to love my art curriculum but I found myself struggling to want to use it. I found it hard to get excited about many of the art projects we were doing and my children did too. After a while, we found ourselves not using it. For me, it was the extra effort required to look ahead and gather all the needed supplies (on top of all the other learning we were doing) and also the lack of excitement from the children when they were doing the assignments. These weren’t like craft projects. They required focus, attention to detail and appreciation of art history. My children seemed to rush through them in 5 minutes, although they did enjoy them and were proud of their work. I am disappointed that I didn’t do more with art and wish I had finished the curriculum. Fundamentally, I think it is a good curriculum but you need to approach it with some of the same seriousness you would use when teaching a subject like math or science.

 

History

2014-09-24-littlehistory 2014-09-24-earth-lifeofplanet 2014-09-24-earlypeople

History was another area where we didn’t quite meet the expectations we had for ourselves. Our goal was to give the children a broad concept of what history is, how old the earth is and how old people are.  My husband did most of the history reading to the children. The year started out well but gradually as we all got busier and busier history just seemed to slip through the cracks. It was also a hard lesson for both me and my husband to learn that it is quite difficult for young children to listen to the non-fiction books we had selected. Many teachers prefer historical fiction for this age group and I can see why. With history at this age, it seems to be an “exposure” subject where children may not absorb it fully the first or second time but with each exposure they start to appreciate more and more. As a teacher, it is hard to stay motivated when your students are staring at you blankly or fidgeting and hoping you will finish soon!

Overall, I think we can call our school year a success.  We attempted more subjects than ever before and learned a lot about teaching strategies for this young age group.  Repetition is key for these young learners.  Going over and over and over a concept seems to really drive comprehension.

In my next post, how we fared with standardized testing this year.

 Posted by on September 24, 2014 General Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,
Oct 152013
 
Taking an elective nap.

Taking an elective nap.

 

While the most important subjects for young students are math and language arts, there are so many other wonderful things to learn about. As a homeschooler, the challenge is not to get too carried away studying everything! You can find curricula to study just about any subject for any grade level.

This year I am taking on a more aggressive subject load for electives than I ever have before. It has taken a while to adjust to it. While initially, my concept was to teach one elective per day in addition to the math and language arts subjects, this didn’t work very well in execution. With a few exceptions, teaching an elective well for a younger student requires short daily lessons rather than intensive once a week lessons.

Below are the elective courses we are pursuing this year.

Science

Knowledge of science is becoming more and more essential in our technology-driven society. Teaching science to children, however, can be a little challenging. Since children are prone to asking “Why?” about everything, it can be intimidating to teach a subject where you might not know all the answers. Also, many children will not naturally understand concepts like gravity and electricity. I have learned to accept that at this age, all you are looking for is exposure. Young children may still have no idea what you are talking about but with each exposure to a subject, they will start to gain familiarity and knowledge. Other basic concepts about science that are helpful for young children to learn are: the process for conducting an experiment, using various instruments, measuring and recording data and learning how to think creatively as a scientist.

SchoolZone Giant Science cover Since I am teaching science to two children of different ages, I was looking for a very child-friendly science curriculum. I settled on the SchoolZone Giant Science book. It is colorful and combines a textbook and a workbook in one. Units are on simple ideas like weather, animals and plants. There are simple experiments to conduct as well as fun activities like word searches. So far, my children are really enjoying it.

In September, we studied the weather unit. We created a weather recording station in the backyard for $7 in supplies from Home Depot and recorded the daily temperature and rainfall amounts. We put our kindergartner in charge of reading the rain gauge. After nearly a “zero” every day, she was thrilled the day we received half an inch of rain. I showed the children how we could chart the data on the computer.

A "magical" experiment with air pressure.  A piece of paper is placed over a cup filled with water and the cup turned over.  The paper stays in place (for a little while).

A “magical” experiment with air pressure. A piece of paper is placed over a cup filled with water and the cup turned over. The paper stays in place (for a little while).

Thermometer and humidity gauge.

Thermometer and humidity gauge.

Rain Gauge.  Our weather station was complete for about $7 for both instruments at Home Depot.

Rain Gauge. Our weather station was complete for about $7 for both instruments at Home Depot.

Celebrating 1/2" of rain after a month-long drought.

Celebrating 1/2″ of rain after a month-long drought.

A "cloud jar" experiment showing how clouds are formed.

A “cloud jar” experiment showing how clouds are formed.

Making rainbows.

Making rainbows.

Graph of our weather data for September.

Graph of our weather data for September.

History

History lessons are conducted on the sofa with dad reading to the children and giving extemporaneous lectures. My husband is a natural Socratic-method type of teacher. The children love their lessons with dad!

History lessons are conducted on the sofa with dad reading to the children and giving extemporaneous lectures. My husband is a natural Socratic-method type of teacher. The children love their lessons with dad!

My husband, who loves history and is a historian by education, offered to teach the children a history curriculum this year. We have both been fairly disappointed by the history curricula for young children, so we made up our own. We decided that for this initial year, we wanted to lay a foundation for what history is about. Our “history” is a mixture of astronomy, geology, anthropology and history. We started with a book about how the universe was formed, then moved to more specifics about the progression of life on earth and the evolution of human beings. Eventually we will get to recorded history.

Some of the books we are using are:

2013-10-10-earthlifeofourplanet-cover 2013-10-10-earlypeople-cover

2013-10-10-bryson-shorthistory-cover

2013-10-10-littlehistory-cover

Handwriting

Handwriting-8 exercise in progress.

Handwriting-8 exercise in progress.

We really needed to work on handwriting and I decided to try Dianne Craft’s “Writing 8” exercise for dysgraphia that I learned about at the HEAV convention. Since I attended that conference, research has come out showing that there might not be such a thing as “right brain” or “left brain” learning.

So, the fundamental explanation for Dianne Craft’s methods might no longer be accurate. However, we decided to try the “Writing 8” exercise anyway and I have to say that this really does work!

All that is necessary for this exercise is a large piece of paper (we like the large newsprint paper pads from the dollar store) and a fat crayon. We also used cookie sheets to provide a smoother surface and some masking tape to prevent the paper from moving around.

To do this handwriting exercise, you basically have to understand the rotation of each letter. For example, “b” goes clockwise while “d” goes counter-clockwise. My brain does not think this way at all. When I conducted the exercise with the children for the first time, I found that afterward, my own brain was spinning a bit. I think of this exercise as writing for visual-spatial children.

Example of the Writing 8 exercise after one week of practice.

Example of the Writing 8 exercise after one week of practice.

While Dianne Craft will tell you that you can learn about how to do this exercise for free from the instructions on her website, I found that her DVD was essential for me. I needed to see someone demonstrate how the letters went, some of which are exaggerated forms of the letters that you wouldn’t actually use in everyday handwriting. She also shows how to instruct multiple children at once.

After the first one or two practices, it was really hard to muster the enthusiasm to repeat this exercise every school day. It is rather tedious and boring. But, just like physical exercise, we fit it in and as we get near the end of it, we get excited that we have finished it yet again. The biggest challenge is just getting started and committing to making it a routine.

I can’t tell you why this exercise works but it does. It seems to have to do with muscle memory. The child that is struggling the most with handwriting enjoys doing this exercise and reversals are almost totally disappearing after just one month of practice. The child that does better with handwriting finds this exercise tedious and asks why we can’t just write the letters on a piece of paper in the normal way. With both children, if they get confused about how the letters go when they are spontaneously writing, all I have to do is say, “Think of how we do it in our handwriting practice.” and they do it perfectly each time!


Spanish

Our "monstruo" Spanish worksheets.

Our “monstruo” Spanish worksheets.

I liked these so much I used them for Halloween decorations.

I liked these so much I used them for Halloween decorations.

Perhaps the biggest concern from professional educators about homeschooling is that uneducated people will be teaching their children the wrong things. If there is one area of our homeschooling where this may apply to me it is in our Spanish instruction.

Learning a second language has been shown to have numerous brain benefits, not only in learning languages but also in improving general cognitive skills. We decided to focus on Spanish for our children. It is one of the easier languages for English speakers to learn, and it is fairly easy to find people who speak Spanish in the United States. You can read Spanish on most product packaging and find it on signs in hospitals and other places. Our local library also stocks a good selection of children’s books in Spanish.

My entire Spanish language knowledge base comes from one intensive summer semester in college. I learned some basic words and some basic pronunciation and verb conjugation but not much else! My children had some Spanish instruction in preschool, learning colors, numbers and days of the week. We have been trying for the past few years to keep their Spanish progressing but so far have not had much success.

I have been trying to find resources that mimic how a native Spanish speaker would teach Spanish to their children. A few years ago, we found someone selling a beautiful collection of Spanish children’s books on CraigsList. This family had lived abroad and bought most of these books in Spain. I was excited to buy them. However, when I tried to read even the simplest of these Spanish books to my children, I found that I didn’t have enough knowledge to even read a book aimed at babies! From that point, I knew that something was wrong with the way we were learning Spanish generally.

I still haven’t found the magic answer. We haven’t had the time or money to invest in a formal Spanish tutor but this is eventually where we will have to go. I also discovered recently that many of the embassies here in Washington offer Saturday schools in foreign language instruction and there is at least one for Spanish. Unfortunately, our Saturday mornings are spoken for at the moment but we hope to enroll in one of these schools next year.

2013-10-10-read-understandspanish 2013-10-10-spanishreading-cover For this year, however, I was excited to find a new curriculum book aimed at immersion and dual language classes. There are stories and accompanying worksheet pages. They are printed both in English and in Spanish so you have a translation ready if you need help. We read the story every day for a week and do one of the worksheet pages each day.

Our Spanish is still laughably rudimentary. We can barely complete the worksheets but we are learning something. I find it is tremendously helpful to read and hear full sentences in Spanish, even if I can’t understand everything. You start to get a sense of how certain phrases are used and the general pattern of words.

We also make liberal use of Google translate to help us write original sentences.

Using Google voice search and Google translate to assist with our Spanish.

Using Google voice search and Google translate to assist with our Spanish.

We may not be 100% correct but I at least hope to lay a foundation that another Spanish teacher can polish in the future.

An early indication of progress in our Spanish learning... my 5-year old read this sentence on her worksheet and volunteered "Mom, I know what this says!  'Draw your favorite insect!'"

An early indication of progress in our Spanish learning… my 5-year old read this sentence on her worksheet and volunteered “Mom, I know what this says! ‘Draw your favorite insect!'”

Art

Painting en plein air

Painting en plein air

With my children’s interests, art is a mandatory and not optional subject. I found my art curriculum this year through the HEAV convention. It is called Artistic Pursuits and it blends art history with art instruction. Each lesson is short and tells the story of a famous artist. The stories are written right at a child’s level. There are examples of the artist’s work and an art project that generally tries to mimic something from that artist’s style.

So far, we are learning about Italian Renaissance painters, like Cimabue and Giotto. The art projects combine a variety of materials from watercolor to oil pastels and even a fresco project using drywall spackling. The children love this program! It also fits nicely into a one day a week schedule.

Working with improvised "gold leaf."

Working with improvised “gold leaf.”

A Giotto-inspired oil pastel scratch art.

A Giotto-inspired oil pastel scratch art.

Creating a "fresco" surface.

Creating a “fresco” surface.

Music

Progress in our piano lessons.

Progress in our piano lessons.

Finally, we are also trying to squeeze in music. I give my children a short weekly piano lesson. Both children were a bit reluctant at first but I am delighted to report that they spontaneously practice nearly every day. It may be only for a few minutes, but their interest in music is wonderful to see.

I also pulled out a Wee Sing book from our piano bench with Halloween songs in it and my children love this too. They will sing and dance as I play.

So, as you can see, it is a full load of subjects. So far, we are not overwhelmed by it but some days have their moments.

If you are homeschooling, what do you prioritize as electives for your children?

 Posted by on October 15, 2013 General Tagged with: , , , , , ,
Sep 062013
 
The book I hauled with me around Richmond this summer.  Here resting on a bench while my children play in the pop jet fountains.

The book I hauled with me around Richmond this summer. Here resting on a bench while my children play in the pop jet fountains.

Are you creative? Most people can answer this question quickly with a “yes” or “no.” Are there really two distinct groups of “creative” people and “non-creative” people? Are some people better at coming up with new ideas and some people better at executing those ideas? Perhaps. But you don’t have to stay stuck in one of those two categories. Author and artist Erik Wahl in his new book Unthink: Rediscover Your Creative Genius argues that “breakthrough creativity is in all of us.”

Who is Erik Wahl? Erik Wahl’s economic story is a bit of a roller coaster. He graduated college into the exciting economy of the dot com boom. He joined a start-up and had a well-paid corporate job. He married and started a family. He felt secure and important and began leveraging his wealth into other investments. But then the dot com bubble burst and he found himself losing everything he had worked for and starting over at age 30 with a wife and 3 children under 5 to support.

After being stung by the corporate world, Erik Wahl rediscovered himself in the artistic community and found a new passion for painting. He came up with an idea to create presentations for corporations on creativity, blending his corporate experience with his newfound love of painting. His wife supported the idea and began helping him make the calls to market his skills. Erik Wahl now is a successful corporate speaker. His trademark is the type of “surprise” paintings where you aren’t sure what the artist is creating until the last strokes are made at the very end.

Unthink outlines 7 key elements of the creative environment. If you don’t think of yourself as a creative type, you might find the ideas radical. Since I would put myself in the “creative” person category, I can’t say that many of these elements were new to me and I mostly found myself simply nodding in agreement. However, I don’t know if I have ever seen these elements expressed in this way before and it is nice to have a concrete list of reminders.

Erik Wahl is a wonderful writer and the book is full of great quotes. Here are a few of my favorites, many of which have applications to organizational strategy as well.

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One very creative aspect of Unthink is how Erik Wahl makes his book read just like one of his surprise painting demonstrations. At the very end, he ties his elements together in a surprising way that makes the reader say, “Of course! Why didn’t I see that before?”

While this book is generally applicable to anyone, I felt it would be especially relevant to a couple of audiences.

Since I was mostly carrying this book around with me during my adventures in Richmond, I thought it would be wonderful if city and county governments were reading this book. We hear so much in the news lately about how cities that have been decimated in recent years by economic collapse are revitalizing via investing in the arts, such as Hannibal, Missouri and Detroit, Michigan. You can certainly see evidence in Richmond’s transformation of its investments in art, history, and open spaces. As Richmond begins expanding its economic base now into things like sports and businesses, it will be interesting to see whether continuing to nurture and invest in its arts and historical resources will be essential to continue its economic growth.

Teachers and schools are another core audience for this book. Learning the mindset of creativity and teaching children how to nurture this mindset within themselves would be a tremendous gift to the future.

Finally, “older” workers may find this book an excellent reminder about what it takes to stay fresh and relevant in today’s workplace. We all know that we may need to work perhaps into our 70’s and 80’s and that age discrimination typically begins around age 40. How do you avoid the age discrimination trap? You will need to constantly prove that you are “young in mind.” Discrimination is not just about gray hair but a perception of inflexibility and an unwillingness to risk or to try things differently. The principles in this book will help keep you young in spirit.

I confess, however, that I had a few disappointments with Unthink. I wish it had more concrete examples of how to apply these principles to a typical corporate job. Perhaps a follow-up book could be made where Erik Wahl the artist speaks to Erik Wahl the former corporate employee and shows how he specifically would use these principles in his former corporate life. I can also think of several concrete steps that improve creative opportunities in one’s life that have nothing to do with being creative and I wish the book had some practical steps like these. Finally, I wish there was a little more biography about Erik and his family, showing how his transformation into artist/entrepreneur came about, both the challenges and the successes and how their family worked through them. However, if this book is to be the first in a series, I am hooked!

I have to credit this book though for helping me make a breakthrough in my own thinking. As you know, my theme word for this year is routine. After reading this book, I made a realization about routine:

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As you can see, Unthink has much to inspire you and give your thinking a kick-start. It’s a great addition to your fall or back-to-school reading list!

*Disclosure: I received a free review copy of Unthink.

 Posted by on September 6, 2013 Ruly Bookshelf Tagged with: , , ,
Sep 052013
 

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It’s back to school week and this week we are adjusting to the new demands of our homeschool schedule. This month I will be devoting to educational topics as there are certainly a lot of organizing challenges that go along with school. But first, I wanted to briefly recap summer’s blog posts.

As with last summer, my children and I were busy traveling and participating in various camps and educational opportunities. Last summer, I had a great time with all these activities but simply found it too overwhelming to blog about any of it. This year, while I wasn’t able to keep to any predefined schedule, I did manage to blog about the interesting things we have seen. I am glad to have this as a record for our family and glad that many of you have commented that you were interested to hear about these adventures as well! I also learned on Twitter yesterday that Virginia set tourism records in 2012. It will be interesting to see if this holds for 2013 as well.

This summer was packed with various birthday and other celebrations for our family. While most of these events did not hit the blog, I shared with you the simple Father’s Day cards we sent this year. Having some simple, non-stressful homemade crafts up your sleeve is one of the best skills to develop as a mom and these cards definitely fall in that category. From the many amazing aunts and grandparents I have and have been fortunate to have, I have learned that taking time to remember all these small events–even when you are tremendously busy yourself– means so much more to the recipient than you will ever know. So, if you are one of those people who faithfully sends Facebook birthday greetings or emails or even snail-mailed cards during the holidays, and you aren’t sure if it is worth the bother, allow me on behalf of the universe to say that it has made a world of difference to someone to be remembered so kindly and thank you for your efforts!

I posted about our family room flooring project, replacing carpeting with stained-to-match hardwood flooring. Over the summer, as we did some entertaining in our home, we received several positive comments on how this project turned out. We are still allowing the floor to cure at the moment but are making grand plans for moving back in around Christmastime.

I gave a report of my first time ever visit to the homeschool convention sponsored by HEAV. I continue to benefit from so much of the advice and information I received there. I would highly recommend that any homeschooler ensure they are attending a conference like this once a year.

I also gave a report of my visit to the National Gallery of Art exhibit on Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes. While you may or may not see a connection between the arts and organizing, I find the arts a tremendous source of inspiration. I also hope that my small efforts in blogging may encourage more people to incorporate more art into their own lives. In a prior post, I wrote about our visit to The Washington Ballet’s spring performance at TheARC.

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This post was favorite-d and retweeted by The Washington Ballet on Twitter and I also was enormously thrilled to receive this comment on the post by one of the young male dancers in the show.

Yesss thanks for the compliment on my Technique nd how i was a standout

I reviewed the fantastic book and pattern book companion for The Broken Circle: Yarns of the Knitting Witches by knitter and author Cheryl Potter. Ms. Potter left a kind comment for me:

Thank you for taking the time to read my book and write a review. I love hearing what readers think of The Broken Circle and the patterns that go with.
Cheryl

It is one of the great rewards of a blogger to receive a comment like this. Authors and prospective authors, please take note that you can earn yourself tremendous goodwill by trying to comment, Tweet, etc. with appreciation for each positive review. I continue to be enamored of the Skye’s Traveling Cloak pattern from her book. Over the Labor Day weekend, Ms. Potter had a terrific yarn sale going on in her Potluck Yarn Shop and I picked up some amazing hand-dyed yarn from her Potluck Yarn collection to make it with.

In other comment news, it was fun to get a comment thread going on my old post about topiaries. A reader commented with a question about how to read Mike and Marliss Stribbling. Mike Stribbling himself commented:

We do not have a website but if you need info on Topiary drop us a line and we will give you all the help you need within 24 hours

Behind the scenes, I connected the reader with Mike’s email address. If spam weren’t such an enormous problem, I would post it here for everyone. Mike sent me a nice note that he enjoyed my post as well. It’s always fun to see how people connect with words that you have written.

So, while we still have 16 days until summer officially ends, we, like most families, are transitioning into a fall mode at the moment. This month will give you a little peek into how school works in our house as well as share some clever education ideas from others and discuss how our routines in general are changing with the seasons. Hope you enjoy!

 Posted by on September 5, 2013 Monthly Recap Tagged with: , , , , , ,