Thursday, August 30, 2007

Homeschool: Our Curriculum

Here is a partial list of my favorite resources for homeschooling. We have not purchased a currciulum package, but my first choice would have been Sonlight, a literature-intensive and worldview-based program. I like the freedom to choose topics that are relevant to our lives and are of special interest to Max and Mitchell, and though it is time-consuming, I like being able to create my own lesson plans. The Sonlight package would have been about $700 - $1000 per chid, and I prefer to use some of those funds to buy books, purchase educational toys, sign the boys up for classes, and take field trips.
If you are interested in this list of resources for your homeschool program, please check this post again as I list additional resources in the future. I wish I had time to post the links for these favorites, but I have lesson plans to write! In addition to the titles listed below, we also utilize resources within our community, including a local homeschool co-op, a field trip club, the public library, local parks, community education classes, church activities, and field trips to local and state museums. Even if you are not a homeschooler, you may find items of interest on this list of what I consider to be the best resources I have encountered on my search to find top-notch additions to our at-home library. My can't-live-without selections are highlighted in bold text. Future items added to the list will be highlighted in another color.

Explode the Code workbook series
Reading Activities by Marilee Robin Burton, et al

The New Kid on the Block by Jack Prelutsky
Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
Peter, Peter, Pizza-Eater And Other Silly Rhymes by Bruce Lansky
Something Big Has Been Here by Jack Prelutsky

The Ultimate Shape Book: Shape Patterns for 50 Story Books for Grades K - 2, published by Evan-Moor

Singapore Math, textbooks and workbooks
Multilevel Math Fun: Instant Games and Activities for the Multilevel Classroom for Grades 1 and 2, published by Creative Teaching Press
Math-Made-Easy series, published by Dorling Kindersley
Moving with Math
40 Easy-to-Make Math Manipulatives, by Carol Reesink
The Complete Book of Math Timed Tests for Grades 3 - 5, published by American Education Publishing

Language Arts:
First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind by Jessie Wise

Sequential Spelling series

Music Together Songbook Collections and CDs
Menagerie Songbook
The Story of the Orchestra book and CD
The Usborne First Book of the Recorder Kid Kit

Real Science-4-Kids Chemistry, Pre-Level I
Christian Kids Explore Chemistry
The Usborne Book of Science Activities, Volumes One and Two
730 Easy Science Experiments With Everyday Materials by E. Richard Churchill, et al
Janice Van Cleave's For Every Kid series
Science Teacher's Almanac by Julia Spencer Moutran
More Mudpies to Magnets: Science for Young Children by Elizabeth A. Sherwood, et al
The Ultimate How-It-Works Encyclopedia, published by Horus Editions

Usborne First Thousand Words in Spanish
Usborne First Thousand Words in Spanish Sticker Book

Social Studies:
Value Tales biography series
The Children's Book of Heroes, edited by William J. Bennett
The Usborne Internet-Linked First Encyclopedia of History
If You Lived ... series, published by Scholastic

The Little Hands Big Fun Craft Book: Creative Fun for 2-to-6-Year-Olds by Judy Pres
Discovering Great Artists: Hands-On Art for Children in the Styles of the Great Masters, by MaryAnn F. Kohl and Kim Solga

Physical Education:
The Ultimate Homeschool Physical Education Game Book by Guy Bailey

The Getty-Dubay Handwriting Series

Magazine Subscriptions for Kids:
Family Fun magazine
Martha Stewart Kids
Kids Discover
Your Big Backyard
Sesame Street magazine
Highlights for Kids

Early Childhood Education:
Slow and Steady Get Me Ready by June Oberlander
Mazes workbook for ages 4 - 6, published by School Zone
Carson-Dellosa's File Folder Games for Preschool, Kindergarten, and First Grade
Do-a-Dot Activity
Mister Rogers' Play Time by Fred Rogers
My First Book of Mazes for ages 3, 4, 5, published by Kumon Publishing

Bible Stories:
The Children's Bible in 365 Stories by Mary Batchelor
The Usborne Family Bible, retold by Heather Amery
One Hundred Bible Stories, published by Concordia Publishing House
Read and Learn Bible, published by the American Bible Society
My First Bible by Pat Alexander

Bible Devotions, Prayers, and Hymns:
Sword Fighting by Karyn Henley
Lutheran Worship Hymnal, prepared by The Commission on Worship of The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod
Father, We Thank You by Ralph Waldo Emerson
100 Ways to Tell God's Great Story by Phyllis Vos Wezeman
The Fun and Active Book of Devotions for Kids
Heritage Builders Simple Science Family Nights Tool Chest

Favorite Books we use weekly:
Pots and Pans by Patricia Hubbell
The Big Book for Peace, edited by Ann Durrell and Marilyn Sachs
Graham Oakley's Magical Changes
The Dangerous Book for Boys by Hal Iggulden
Treasury of Virtures: Twenty Stories to Grow On
Mistakes that Worked: 40 Familiar Invetions and How They Came to Be by Charlotte Foltz Jones
Emily's First Hundred Days of School book, sticker chart, and activity cards by Rosemary Wells
The Great Big Book of Children's Games: Over 450 Indoor and Outdoor Games for Kids by Debra Wise
What to do with the Kids on a Rainy Day by Adrienne Katz
Building Thinking Skills: Critical Thinking Skills for Reading, Writing, Math, and Science, published by The Critical Thinking Company

Homeschool: The First Day of the Year

Last night I went to sleep with first-day-of-school jitters. Not the ones from elementary school, when I wondered who my teacher and classmates would be. Not the ones from junior high school, when I wondered if my outfit would fit into the coolest clothes category. Not the ones from high school, when I had butterflies in my stomach as I thought of boys I hadn't seen many times over the summer. The first day jitters I had last night were because I was nervous about teaching the two most special students in the world.

You may know that our family has been homeschooling officially since 2003, when Mitchell was just a baby and Max opted out of preschool, because he "didn't get enough time at home with his toys," in his words. The early months didn't even feel like homeschooling. We were just playing then, learning about letters and numbers and shapes during every day activities, like playing cards, reading books, taking walks, going to the library and music class and community education classes.

Homeschooling feels much different to me now, as the mom and teacher of a just-turned four year-old and an almost-eight year-old. I remember working in second grade classes many times over the years, including in high school, as a physical education apprentice, a Spanish teacher, and a STABLE helper; and in college, when I did field experience and student teaching in second grade classrooms. Second graders are _really_ reading. They are learning to use maps, work in groups, compute all kinds of math problems with carrying and borrowing, and studying other countries. I want Max to have all of those good experiences that traditional schoolers would have in their classrooms, but most of all, I want him to love learning. I want Mitchell to learn to write the alphabet, count forwards and backwards with ease, and soak up hundreds of stories all through the school year, but most of all, I want him to laugh and giggle and sing and play all day long. Those ideals are enough to give any homeschooling mom a huge case of first-day jitters.

The boys had been begging for a few weeks, "When can we start school?" at first with excitement, then impatience, when I would reply each time, "Pretty soon." I just didn't feel ready. I wanted to have lesson plans made to last us through Christmas. I wanted to have the books ready that we would use for the first months of the year. I wanted to have a wish list composed for the supplies I still wanted to buy. I wanted to have my house clean so we could focus completely on learning! But none of those tasks were accomplished, and today we started school anyway, much to my eager students' delight.

Both boys woke early, despite their troubles falling asleep the previous night. "When can we start school?" they asked excitedly. "At nine o'clock," I answered each time, as the minutes ticked by too quickly for me and too slowly for them. I hurried to clean up breakfast and straighten the pillows surrounding our stack of books on the sofa.

We began the school day at 9:20 a.m. after taking first-day-of-school pictures on the front step. Mitchell donned his beloved Santa suit, bright yellow Crocs, and his new Diego backpack recently purchased from Target. Max wore his Number 12 shirt that I love on him and proudly displayed his new favorite new school supplies: a glue-rolling gagdet -- which he discovered today, with great disappointment, is _not_ refillable -- and a crystal-growing science kit and shiny new mechanical pencils.

Our first story of the day was Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, an old favorite that we used to read every day, but hadn't read in months. We also read Baby Says by John Steptoe, the story with only seven words of two brothers who learn to play together. In the story, we don't know the brothers' names, so we call them Max and Mitchell because the characters act just like Max and Mitchell. We read a poem from one of our favorite Jack Prelutsky collections, The New Kid on the Block. The boys listened to the CD that came with a cute mouse story called Piper's Twisted Tale by Mark Lowry and Martha Bolton.

Max's special time of the day came first today, as he read to me Mouse Moves House by Phil Roxbee Cox and Stephen Cartwright, his selection from a stack of readers I had pre-selected. Later that day, after lunch, he also read I Love Trucks by Philemon Sturges. Last year at this time, he was still struggling to put sounds together and read them as words. I love seeing his progress in all areas of his development, especially reading.

While Max read to me, Mitchell played with a new set of Where the Wild Things Are magnets and a set of puzzles. He was not very interested in his toys today as we settled into our new routine. Mitchell doesn't always have enough patience as Max works to sound out words. I made Mitchell a snack of cheese and crackers, which he gobbled at the kitchen table while Max and I did our language arts lesson. As we reviewed the definition of a noun, I asked Max to give me some examples of nouns, and Mitchell shouted out, "Candle! Table! Cracker!" and all three of us smiled broadly as we enjoyed another unexpected perk of homeschooling.

Then I sent Max outside to walk Minnie the Pug for a few minutes within sight of the living room, and it was Mitchell's turn for special time on the sofa. When Max came inside, he went to his art desk to work on his spooky castle story that he had begun writing earlier this week. Mitchell and I read The Grapes of Math by Greg Tang. We did simplified versions of the counting activities in the book. We searched for items on a page out of the I Spy Ultimate Challenger, and that is when Mitchell's trademarked silliness crept into our special time, as he pointed to the wrong objects with a completely straight face. I tried some alphabet flashcards, since I was curious which letters he knew with ease, and after about ten cards, he began saying the wrong letters on purpose and even made up nonsense words, this time with a mischievous smile on his cute little baby face. I tickled him and we sang a few songs, and played a game of Quips, one of the greatest kids' games ever.

When Max finished his four sentences for today, including composing and editing, he was rewarded with his model butterfly kit that he had chosen as part of his ten-dollar school supply spending spree. While Max was getting the kit ready for assembly, Mitchell quickly scooted over to Max's workspace and tried to erase Max's story. After that squabble was over, and the butterfly model was beautifully assembled, Max created two sparkly works of art with construction paper, glue, and lots of glitter.

The boys ate a late lunch on the deck while I read the mail, the three of us enjoying the last days of the hot summer sun. (Well, I enjoyed it. The boys complained, "It's too hot!" in perfect whining intontations.) I began teaching them a new prayer, from our book entitled We Thank You For This Food, which I keep handy in the kitchen on my cookbook shelf. After lunch, we read some more books. With his trusty new pencil, Max completed two pages in a phonics workbook, a code activity and a crossword puzzle, and four simple pages in a multiplication workbook.

At three o'clock, we went into town to celebrate a successful first day of school with a trip to Cold Stone Creamery. Despite Mitchell's initial huge protests, we opted for the Cold Stone ice cream shop at the mall, in order to squeeze in a trip to Gymboree to earn Gymbucks and a visit to Barnes and Noble Booksellers. After trying a small sample of their flavors of choice, Mitchell chose blue cotton candy ice cream mixed with a peanut butter cup and sprinkles, and Max opted for cake batter ice cream, with a peanut butter cup and marshmallow creme stirred into his kid-sized creation. The total for their desserts was $4.45. As a reward for their cheerful attitudes throughout most of the day, I bought them each a charm for their Crocs, which are loose-fitting, foamy clog-style shoes that are very popular and oh-so-comfy. After great deliberation, Max chose a lightning bolt, and Mitchell chose Percy the train. The charms attach to little breathing holes on the top of their shoes. Trips to the mall and the ice cream shop are not normally part of our school day, but they were a fun treat for the three of us today.

We ate dinner on the deck, a combination of takeout from Subway and China Star, with disposable tableware, which made the evening an even bigger treat for me. The boys were in bed by 7:30, with jammies on and teeth brushed, and we finished most of the items on my lesson plan for the day.

In bed, before lights out, stories, and prayers, I taught them how to play "Fifty," a dice game from one of my favorite resources, The Great Big Book of Children's Games. In the game, players roll two dice and score points when they roll doubles. A pair of sixes gives you 25 points; a pair of threes wipes out your score; and all other doubles net you five points. The first player to reach fifty points wins the game.

We read our Old Testament Bible story for the day from Mitchell's toddler Bible, My First Bible by Pat Alexander; Stone Soup from the Treasury of Virtues; and Father, We Thank You, the version of Ralph Waldo Emerson's poem illustrated beautifully by Mark Graham. We practiced some Spanish words from our copy of The Usborne First Thousand Words in Spanish by Heather Amery and Stephen Cartwright, including cama (bed), la almohada (pillow), la pasta dentifrica (toothpaste), la silla (chair), el retrete (toilet), el telefono (telephone), el video (video), el espejo (mirror), el cepillo (brush), el esponja (sponge), la ducha (shower), and el armario (closet). Those are words we will be able to use daily in conversation, once I remember to do that!

Mitchell fell alseep just after we finished prayers for the night, and I read Chapter One to Max from the classic Stuart Little by E.B. White.

Before he went to sleep, Max commented, "I think this was the best first day of school ever. It was the first time we got to have a party, and it was the first time we got to spend ten dollars on school supplies. (With his money, Max had chosen a 3.99 glue roller tool, a set of two mechanical pencils with extra lead and eraser refills for 3.99, the model butterfly kit for 1.00, and one other dollar item I can't remember tonight; Mitchell chose a 9.99 Diego backpack, his new favorite cartoon character. We went shopping at Target this past Monday and school supplies were in short supply.)

Last year, we honored the first day of school with lots of books and a trip to Florence Park, one of our favorites in nearby Stewartville.

Mitchell fell asleep by 8:30 tonight and Max fell asleep around nine o'clock. We ran out of time before I finished all of the activities I had penciled in my lesson plan for the day. We did not get to read the beginning pages of the book that came with our crystal-growing kit. I did not get to do the easy sequential spelling lesson today. I had planned to work on music theory with Max, and we didn't have enough time for that, either. He wants to learn to play piano and guitar this year. In a few more days, I am sure I will realize that I do not have enough time to teach him those instruments on my own, without the help of some music teachers. I do know two individuals who I think will be good teachers for him as he begins formal music instruction. A small and brave part of me is still holding onto that notion that I can do almost everything. This evening I appreciate the advice I have received from veteran homeschoolers: start the school year slowly, in stages, and don't expect to cover every subject every day.

Now I'm trying to finish my mental to-do list for the day, which includes tidying up each room for just a few minutes, a load of dishes (thank you to the person who invented dishwashers, and thank you to Kent for the friends-and-family Bosch discount), lesson plans for the next couple of days, and a steaming hot bath.


Tuesday, August 7, 2007

My Favorites: The Invitation

I invite you into my world. Read about my life: my adventures with my kids, travels with my family, times spent with friends. Read about what inspires me: my favorite literature, music, art, moments, and scriptures that bring beauty to my days. Read about my favorite things: homeschooling, running, being outdoors, reading, music, spending time with loved ones, my faith, and being creative.

The Invitation
Oriah Mountain Dreamer
Canadian Teacher and Author

It doesn't interest me what you do for a living
I want to know what you ache for
and if you dare to dream
of meeting your heart's longing.

It doesn't interest me how old you are
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool
for love
for your dreams
for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn't interest me what planets are squaring your moon...
I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow
if you have been opened by life's betrayals
or have become shriveled and closed
from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it or fade it
or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your
fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
be realistic
to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn't interest me if the story you are telling me is true.
I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.
I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.
I want to know if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand on the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,
It doesn't interest me
to know where you live or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after a night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.
It doesn't interest me who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the center of the firewith me
and not shrink back.
It doesn't interest me where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone
with yourself
and if you truly like the company you keep
in the empty moments.
© 1995 by Oriah House, From "Dreams Of Desire"
Published by Mountain Dreaming