Sunday, October 25, 2015

Swinging Roo

The Badger made the kids a simple swing for our tree.  It has been a big hit!

Pumpkin Patch 2015

Another fall favorite for me is a trip to the pumpkin patch.  To me, this is parenthood at its absolute best.  Here are some pictures of our pumpkin patch experience this year.   So many fun activities!  

Looks like the Rabbit loves corn mazes as much as I do:

This is such a quintessential Frog face, I had to share it:

The corn bin is a happy place.  They could spend all day there.   I love it.

Here are all ten of us!

Our First Autumn Poetry Reading

Oh, how I love autumn!  As fast as my life is rushing by, I have been trying to make sure we savor my favorite season.  One of the things I wanted to do was have an autumn poetry reading.  The idea was we would all sit outside on a blanket under an autumn tree, eat an autumn-y snack and taking turns reading poems about autumn out loud.  Doesn't that sound delightful?

I had so much fun compiling our autumn poems.  It took longer than I thought it would, but it was so enjoyable.  I put them all in a Word document and printed everyone a copy.  It was about 9 pages long, and it included poetry from a wide range of age levels, so we could take turns reading aloud. 

The autumn tree just right for sitting under turns out to be in our very own backyard.  It's an ash tree.  I didn't know much about ash trees, but now I know that they are glorious in the autumn.

I especially like the way they carpet the ground with a mixture of leaf textures and colors, from crispy deep-red to a soft, pale yellow.  

We had the perfect setting, the perfect poems, and the perfect weather.  A bag of cheese-and-caramel popcorn from Costco became the perfect snack.  And my kids are the perfect people.  So it was perfect.  I look forward to this being a yearly tradition.  Here are some pictures.

Leaf likes crispy leaves.

I am trying to be real, so I am including this picture Fish took of me. 

And this one too.

So, here is a picture I took of Fish.

I lay down to look up into the golden leaves overhead and that turned me into a baby jungle gym.

We noticed something: way up at the top of our tree is a large nest of some sort.  Can you see it?

Leaf loves autumn!

And I think Twig likes poetry.

Well, it put her to sleep, anyway. 

Sweet little Twig hands.

Long live our autumn poetry reading!

Eleven Months

The twin are eleven months old now.  Isn't that exciting?  They both each have five teeth.  Like my other babies, they are nowhere near walking.  Twig says "ma!" and "da!" clearly referring to her parents.  Leaf has the cutest faux-hawk.  They love to eat all sorts of big people food and it's nice to be able to give them stuff that we're eating and not always have to give them baby food.  They are starting to notice each other more, which is cute. They sleep better and better at night.  And they are way beyond adorable, as you can see!

High Chairs New and Old

When Bean was a baby and we were so incredibly poor, my parents gave us the old wooden high chair my siblings and I had all used as babies.  (Here's me in it in 1981!)

It was awesome to have such a nostalgic antique, but we quickly discovered that Bean could climb out of it.  It had no straps.  Some friends of ours gave us a high chair with a three-point harness. We felt blessed to get another high chair for free. 

But he climbed out of that one, too.  So we went to Babies R Us and bought a high chair with a five-point harness.  The cheapest one was $70, which was a fortune to us at the time.  It was worth it: it held Bean in. 

It was pretty fancy chair, with an oversized tray and a double-layer pad.  But I quickly learned that the oversized tray and the extra padding were a royal pain to clean.  Cup holders and extra compartments look nifty but are useless and just make it more difficult to clean.  Over the years I have often wished for a different high chair.  My dream high chair was those Eddie Bauer ones that are wood but have a plastic tray.  I think they are really classy-looking, and yet they have the practical features I want.  But they were always beyond our budget.  And we had a high chair, one that we paid very dearly for.  The fact that we had to sacrifice so much to buy it has kept me from replacing it.  Even during all our moves where we were short on space and needed to get rid of bulky, odd-shaped items, we have held onto the high chair.  Once we strapped it on top of our van, once we strapped it to the side of our car that was riding on the tow dolly behind the moving truck, and the last two moves it has gone on the top of our little trailer.  It definitely adds a lot to the Beverly Hillbillies look we sport whenever we move. 

So, this high chair, as much as I dislike it, has become a huge part of our family history.  Now all eight of our kids have sat in it. 

Recently, it was time to buy a second high chair.  Twins, you know.  I was excited.  After all these years of wishing I had known better what to buy, I couldn't wait to buy one that had the right features. 

The Eddie Bauer ones are still beyond our tight budget, but I found a simple chair on Amazon that I am really happy with.  It was only $50 and I love the owl print!  It's not perfect, but it's soooooo much better than our old one.  The small tray is so much easier to clean, and the way the straps and pad are set up they are also easier to work with and to keep clean. 

I would like to toss our old chair and buy two of these, but the old one still works fine and money is tight.  So we have the old chair and the new chair. And the twins don't really care. 

But as soon as they are done with high chairs I am going to toss that difficult old chair! 

All Together Now

Now I am going to tell you about how we open our homeschool day each morning.  

I would love to say that we always start on time and that the kids are always ready with their binders and their journals the way they're supposed to be.  But that would be lying.  One of the disadvantages of homeschool is how hard it is to create structure in an environment where they are comfortable and where there is constant distraction.  And no matter how many times I tell them to take care of eating their breakfast before school starts,  inevitably when I say "school starts in three minutes!" at least one kid says, "but I haven't had breakfast yet!"  

I keep telling myself that when the twins are older and sleep better and I am not always trying to sleep as long as possible in the morning that things will go better.   I fervently hope that's true.   

Anyway, we all meet in the living room and we start with a song.  I printed them each their own copy of whatever our current song is (usually a hymn printed off and put it in their binders right after their weekly checkoff sheet.  The song is the signal that the school day is beginning.   

It started out with just singing a song through one time and it has kind of evolved into a mini choir practice.   It turns out we all like to sing and I am really excited about this.  I think I will write a separate post about that. 

Prayer is next, and then we read our theme scripture for the year.  This year it's Alma 37:35-37.  Each child has a copy in their binder right after the song.  The next page in their binder is a section of The Living Christ, which we have been working on memorizing for awhile now (Discover the Scriptures has a great free resource you can download to help with the memorizing.)  So we go over that next.  

At that point my kids all like me to pull out my planner and talk about the day.... what is scheduled or what fun thing we might do if everyone stays on task (that's rare, by the way.)  Someone always asks if we can go to the library that day (I must be doing something right!)  

Next is journal time.  The idea was that they are supposed to write steadily for 15 minutes each morning.  I was going for an increase in writing quantity, which I understand will translate into an increase in writing quality in time.  We are having mixed success with this.  Some kids tend to think a lot and only write a sentence or two (they say they're thinking about the journal but...)  Some kids completely ignore my suggested topic and write fiction instead (not exactly what I had in mind, but I did tell them I just wanted them to write....)  And some kids run off and go forage for more breakfast or start playing with toys.  But we're trying,  and I think it will get better in time.  Every once in awhile I am really impressed with someone's journal.   The Rabbit wrote a great entry the other day and that made me happy.  So I think we will keep doing this.   

After journals, we usually work on something as a group, such as science or history.  On Mondays I read to them for a few minutes from The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens.   On Friday I read to them from The Fallacy Detective.   They really enjoy these and always want me to read more.  I wish we could do it more often than once a week, but as it is it always puts us behind.  However,  these are some of the best moments in our homeschool and they are moments when I am profoundly grateful that I can teach my children myself and help them to understand these skills for a successful life.  

Twice a week we do history with Fish, Roo, and the Rabbit.  We are doing Story of the World volume 3 (early modern times.) Each chapter has two sections, so we read one each day.  This year I decided our history binder is a group project (I was tired of multiple copies of the map and the coloring page lying around half-colored forever (especially from the younger kids who had thrown a fit for me to print them their own copy....)   So this year Fish and Roo take turns writing summary paragraphs and doing the maps, and the Rabbit is supposed to do the coloring page.  Then we put it all together into one binder.  Fish and Roo do very well with the summaries and maps, even doing them willingly and quickly, which is refreshing.  The Rabbit decides to be stubborn about half the time about coloring... oh well, it's just coloring.  

Two days a week we do science, which is botany and which I have already talked about in individual reports.  

The idea, then, is that on Fridays, where I have given them a slightly lighter schedule, we are supposed to have time for a more in-depth project in either history or science.   Both these books have some really awesome enrichment activities.   The reality, however, is that this is eluding us right now.  Usually by the time Friday comes there have been so many encroachments on our time (football games in distant cities, trips to the store, doctor appointments, visiting teaching, mom exhausted after a bad night with twins, and on and on...) that we are lucky to be able to wrap everything up for the week.  For this same reason, the logic puzzle time I scheduled for Fridays always gets axed these days, alas.  

I am always wishing things would run more smoothly and we could get more done.  Whenever I think about all the time we waste that is more efficiently used in a traditional classroom, I feel discouraged.   But then I stop and think about all the things we are doing and the wonderful moments we have and just the fact that I can be with these amazing people all day every day, I feel very blessed.  Truly, I am grateful to be homeschooling right now, and I know that I will never regret the effort I put into it for them. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Homeschooling Bean

You know, it's been really good for me to write these summaries of how my kids are doing in school.  It helps me put things in perspective and it helps me realize just how much they've learned and how far they've come.  That's especially a good thing when it comes to Bean, who has struggled so much over the years.

Bean has come so far.  He is doing quite well.  Here's what he's up to:

Math: Bean does well at math.  Due to what we discovered about Teaching Textbooks running a year behind, we decided to try skipping pre-algebra and going straight to algebra 1.  I wouldn't have tried this except that I felt the math he did in 6th grade public school was quite advanced and covered a lot of the concepts from pre-algebra.  So far he is doing just fine.

I will also mention that at the beginning of the school year I didn't quite have the money yet to shell out for Teaching Textbooks Algebra.  So at the start of the year we did a free trial of A+ Math, which is an online math program.  We liked that there were a lot of resources and it seemed very thorough, but Bean found the voice that taught the lessons intolerably dry.  We decided to just back to our familiar Teaching Textbooks.  As soon as I had the money I bought it and in the end he shouldn't be behind if he doesn't let himself fall behind from this point out.  He's a lot better at staying on task than he used to be, thank goodness.

Writing is still my big challenge with Bean.  He's doing a lot better, but he's still not where he ought to be at his age.  I figured the daily journal and copywork would help him simply increase the volume of his writing without worrying much about content.  I hope the copywork will also help with his spelling, which is slowly getting better.  (But he still does stuff like spell "killed" "cild," even though that should have been thoroughly taught out of him in All About Spelling.... maybe I need to do more review.)  I hope to finish the All About Spelling series with him this year.  Spelling City really helps him with retention.

I have him doing pages from Word Roots on Mondays and Fridays, which I think has been helpful for his vocabulary.  Then on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday we work out of the Wordsmith book.  So far, Wordsmith is going okay... at this point it seems to be mostly about word choice and knowing how to find more specific words to say what you mean.  This is good stuff for Bean, and he does a good job on assignments when he applies himself (sometimes he doesn't apply himself and this causes me much vexation.)  He also does a page from Easy Grammar Ultimate Grade 8 every day.  The pages in that volume are quite different than the pages in Easy Grammar Plus that we did last year; in fact, they are just like the pages in Roo's Daily Grams, with a short activity to do on each of five or so topics.  But they are perfect for him because they gently review the concepts we learned last year in Easy Grammar Plus.

I bought Bean a volume of Critical and Creative Thinking Grade 6.  He enjoys it and the little puzzles are a good challenge for him.  It's funny how Fish hates those books and Bean does great with them.

Latin: I am glad we played around with Latin over the last four years, so that he had a good experience with it.  And now I am glad we are going to buckle down and get through it.  So far, everything is review for him, so that's been going fine.  

Bean did NOT want to do Discover the Scriptures this year.  He says he really dislikes the writing (not like there's really that much!) and that he's not really learning anything new.  I think he has learned a lot more from it than he realizes and I wanted him to keep going into Discover the Acts of the Apostles because he really doesn't know much about that part of the New Testament, but I finally told him that if he would read his scriptures every day and then write in a scripture journal that could replace Discover the Scriptures.  Well, he and I had vastly different ideas of what constitutes a scripture journal.  So he would read a few verses every day and then take his notebook and write a sentence: "I read about Nephi building the ship."   In my mind, I was thinking about the elaborate scripture journals I have seen on blogs... I knew Bean wasn't going to do anything that fancy, but the hope was that he would think about what he was reading and to write about what he thinks.  I'm going to have to work on that with him, but for now, I don't have much spare time.  So I made a deal with him that if he would do Discover the Scriptures again I wouldn't make him do any of the writing assignments... all he has to do is read it.  We'll try that this term. 

Bean practices the piano every day.  Again, as I said about the other kids, I feel like they would be progressing so much faster if they had an outside teacher who worked with them consistently.  However, we are doing what we can, and I am just glad he is playing the piano every day. 

Science: Our Apologia Botany that we're doing as a group is a little young for Bean, but since the content is new to him I feel it is helpful.  And those Apologia books do a good job of making stuff understandable to younger children without dumbing it down, so really, there's a lot for Bean to learn in there.  I can't get him to take notes or do much else besides just listen to me read, but for all Bean's struggles in school he does retain unusually well.  When Bean just listens to me read he retains most of it.  What a blessing for both of us. 

History: Bean LOVES history.  He doesn't love the summary paragraphs I make him write though, and for that reason he just barely finished Story of the World Volume 4 that he was supposed to finish over the summer.  Finally!  Now he is going to start on Mystery of History volume 1, working independently.  I am excited to see how this goes and how Mystery of History compares with Story of the World.  I already like that it provides adaptations for older and younger students.  Bean really wants to get into it at the older student level.  I hope he does. 

It is so fun just discussing things with Bean now that he's older and can really talk in depth about various issues.  I love teaching him when we can just talk about stuff.  I especially love that now he's been through world history from ancient times up through modern he has a framework for discussing many things from the scriptures to the humanities to current events.  He also has a good background in geography and I was impressed when I tested him on all the countries in Europe and he knew most of them.  This geographic literacy has come mostly from his own interest and from the study of world history; we have never done much with a formal geography curriculum.  We hope to do more with geography in the future though, since we both enjoy it so much. 

There's a lot I hope to do with him in the future... it's kind of terrifying that next year is high school for him.  Honestly, I have mixed feelings about homeschooling in high school.  I feel very adequate-- excited, even!--  to teach some subjects, like literature and history and geography and writing.  For math I will depend on Teaching Textbooks.  But science really intimidates me, especially chemistry and physics.  And there are so many other things you could do in high school, like computer programming and foreign languages, which I cannot teach.  Aaack!  I know there is a lot of support out there for homeschooling high school.  I have seen a lot of books and articles and things that say "don't be intimidated, you CAN do it!"  So I guess I need to get reading a bunch of those books to get myself psyched for next year. 

Meanwhile, I am enjoying teaching Bean and I am grateful I can have him home with me! 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Homeschooling Fish

Fish is doing very well in homeschool this year.  He is in 6th grade. 

When I was talking to the Teaching Textbooks people at the homeschool convention last spring and they told me that the books tend to run about a grade behind, I was dismayed for Fish's sake.  He did Teaching Textbooks grade 5 last year and he breezed through it... that was probably because it was pretty much a repeat of the 4th grade math he did in public school the year before.  So this year I decided to jump him ahead to level 7 in Teaching Textbooks.  I told him this would be a challenge.  It has been a bit of a challenge.   He can do the math, but he gets discouraged that it's not easy for him like it was last year.  He feels bad when he gets so many problems wrong.  Overall, his scores are in the B range, which is great for someone who skipped a grade.  So I see no problem.  But he likes getting top scores, and he's not, and he has a natural tendency toward discouragement.  So we're working on that.  I don't know if my little pep talks about attitude are helping, and I don't know if I did the right thing having him skip a grade.  I figured I would re-evaluate after first term and if he was really struggling I would switch him back.  Well, here we are and he's challenged, but not desperately struggling.  So I think we will stick it out. 

For language, Fish does the following:

Journal writing: he likes to add cartoons to his entries, a la Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  (Side note: he LOVES those books.  I am not crazy about them because although they are hilarious, I feel that the morals are a little off.  For instance, the character cares more about whether he can get away with something than whether or not it is right.  So I've told him he can read them, but we won't own them.  Well, he still finds ways to read them a lot and they really get his creative juices flowing.) 

Copywork: Fish has the most beautiful handwriting.  I love his copywork, especially when he decides to try to make it look like old-fashioned handwriting or Tolkienesque handwriting. 

All About Spelling and Spelling City: Fish is still deficient in spelling, but he's catching up fast.  And he's doing very well learning to type with Typer Island. 

Wordsmith Apprentice: Fish is doing very well with this.  He is extremely creative.  He has thought up this imaginary company called "Whiffs" that collects, bottles, and sells the scent of the morning breath of famous people.  (Only a twelve-year-old boy could think of that!)  Often he works this into his assignments.  For instance, he had to write a help wanted ad, and he wrote one looking for someone to collect the specimens for Whiffs.  It was very funny. 

Other things Fish does:

Latin: he is doing extremely well with Latin.  He seems to enjoy it.

Discover the Life of Christ: he doesn't really enjoy these scripture curricula very much, but someday he'll thank me for it.  I hope.

Critical and Creative Thinking: he really dislikes these; we are actually working to finish up the workbook I bought for him last year.  A lot of the stuff in them is pretty easy, but sometimes they put some really challenging brain teasers or math problems in there, and when Fish sees those he gets overwhelmed and freezes up.  So I have him come to me and we work through them together.  I love puzzles and brain teasers, and I hope my enthusiasm will rub off on him, as well as my example of how to approach a problem that we don't know how to solve at first.  ("Let's draw a picture" or  "Let's try this number and see if it's close to the answer."  Stuff like that.)  So I know that even though he hates it, it's good for him.  That being said, when he finishes up last year's book I don't think I'll buy him the next one.  I was just looking at our old copy of Building Thinking Skills volume 2 by the Critical Thinking Company that I did with Bean a couple years ago and I think I will order one of those for Fish.  I think he will find it much less stressful, while still being helpful to the development of his thinking abilities.

Simply Draw: I want to do all I can to help Fish develop his art talent.  Right now, art lessons outside our home are not a possibility, so we're trying out this Simply Draw curriculum.  I'm not sure yet how helpful it's been; so far he's just been working on shading stuff, and I think he finds it a little bit tedious.  Part of the problem might be that I bought this awhile back and then we lost the DVD that comes with it when we moved, so he's just working out of the book. 

Piano practice: Fish has talent here, although his progress with me as his teacher is slower than it would be with lessons outside the home. 

Scouts: we set aside a little time each week to work on merit badges.  Right now he is working on the Reading merit badge and he is close to finishing it. 

History: he and Roo (and the Rabbit, when she condescends to participate) are working on The Story of the World volume 3.  I'm making him write one summary paragraph each week, as well as do the map work.  He does very well summarizing, though he always tries to make it as funny as he can get away with, calling King Charles "Charlie-boy" and stuff like that. 

Science: we are doing Apologia's Botany as a group and it's not really Fish's thing, but sometimes he gets interested and excited about something we learned and that's fun to watch.  I'd like to see him do more with his nature journal, since he's so artistic.  But I am not sure how to inspire him to do that at this point. 

Overall, he is keeping up pretty well with his workload.  He gets a little behind sometimes, but he usually catches up pretty quickly.  A couple times he has gotten behind in math and it's been miserable for both of us trying to get him back on track.  But Fish is a kid who really wants to be good and do well in school and in life.  I love it when he talks about how satisfied he feels when he decides not to dawdle but to work diligently and finish his schoolwork in good time.  He smiles and talks about how wonderful it feels to have the rest of the day ahead of him with all his obligations out of the way.  I am glad some of the things I try to teach these kids are sinking into some of them! 

Friday, October 9, 2015

Some Twin Pictures

My mother mentioned to me today that it's been too long since she's seen any pictures of the twins.  So I will take a break from my endless ramblings about homeschool to post some twin pictures. 

Hello, happy Twig!

Hello, twins looking out the back window!

Leaf loves to play the piano! (Also in this picture you can see how we blocked the stairs so they can't climb: our ottoman fits in that space perfectly!)

Here is Leaf wearing the plum jammies that all my girls have worn.  Oh, I have especially fond memories of sweet baby Roo in the plum jammies.  They are now on their last legs, but we're still getting some mileage out of them.  

Hello, babies.  

Oh, Twig, you've stolen my heart.  


They are starting to interact with each other a little bit.  It's fun to watch their awareness of each other develop.