Monday, December 21, 2009

A Day in the Life

It's been a while since I've written anything very detailed about our homeschool activities. But do not fear! There's learning! We have all kinds of learning happening, all over the place. In fact, I'm afraid everyone is getting to be too educated for my own good.

For those who may not be familiar with our particulars, we have Ryan (age 7.5), and Morgan (age 4.5). We also have Sean (age 1.5), who figures predominantly as a force of destruction and discord here at our happy homeschool. :o)

I love to read blog posts describing "A Typical Day in the Life of a Homeschooler," because I always find some wonderful ideas (and also because I'm just really nosy). But I find it difficult to write about a typical day for us, since each day is usually very different from the next, and also because many days turn out much differently from the day I'd had planned in my head. For instance, one day we'd planned to do lots of history, and it turned out that the kids wrote letters all. day. long. I didn't have the heart to stop them! When someone wants to practice handwriting and spelling, I simply cannot get in the way. And when TWO people, who are often adversaries, want to do that TOGETHER for HOURS and become so engaged in that activity that they LEAVE ME ALONE? Well, then. I'm sure you can understand.

The more I think about it, we do have a rhythm to each day, so I'll try to describe how homeschooling works around here. Here goes!

Usually our days begin with my coming downstairs with the baby to discover Ryan and Morgan awake and breakfasted, and engaged in some kind of independent pursuit. (The joys of older, independent children!!!!) Sometimes they're engaged in something on the TV--usually on mornings when they woke at the crack of dark to see Brendan off to work. Usually, the TV is off, though, and I might find Morgan on the computer playing Starfall or or Jigzone or Funbrain or on NickJr. Often, she's drawing pictures (online or on paper). Ryan will usually have a battle set up on a table (or three) with his soldiers, complete with detailed story line.

I'll get my coffee and breakfast for me and the baby (and remind the others Ryan that breakfast is often a good plan, since he still sometimes forgets). I'll check my email, look at my list of stuff that needs doing, figure out which of those zillion things I might have a hope of actually accomplishing, and discuss our plans for the day with R & M.

And yes, I still ask them each morning, "What is your work going to be today?" I really do try to take into account the things they wish to do and incorporate that into our day. For example, just this morning, Morgan requested that we take a walk this afternoon, so we'll do that. And I'll make sure they know my plans. Today, my plans are to work on the computer (aka, "blogging") and go to the grocery store. So they are aware of the things I'm going to do, and the fact that they'll have to actually get dressed accompany me to the grocery store.

And then we'll spend the morning working on all of that self-declared work. Morgan has been on a computer kick lately, so that's what she's been doing. She will also willingly read books to Sean, who LOVES books, and knows those little marks on the page have something to do with the words that are said, and calls all letters "B." :o) Good reading practice for her, and fun for Sean, and the BEST part is that they're out of my hair!!!! She also does lots of arts and crafts (anyone know where I can get CHEAP drawing paper in large quantities?), and loves to write letters.

Ryan will work on his battle plans, and is beginning to write out the mission plans, with a little help in the spelling department from me. He'll also spend time reading and writing letters. Letters are becoming a popular activity around here (just in time for Christmas Thank You Notes, yay). My mother-in-law has agreed to become their "Letter Chat Friend" (aka, "Pen Pal") and that campaign has just kicked off. What a great way for them to practice handwriting and spelling, and learn the proper forms for letters and addressing envelopes, etc. They're looking for more Letter Chat Friends, so if you're interested . . . ! I'm investigating Writing Strands, too (Level 2), as a source of other writing practice/activities. I know Ryan would love to do a Journalist writing activity, for example.

We'll work around the house, too, and we usually get some householdy tasks done in the morning, too (for example, Ryan will work on his laundry). I've also found that morning is the best time for us to complete errands, as everyone is much more cooperative in the morning. And I haven't run out of my daily quota of patience either. I personally find it most helpful to have a ready supply of Patience and Good Attitude for grocery store trips that involve three children.

So in the mornings, we all work independently on things, do some housework, and run errands. Then the kids make their lunches (whenever they're hungry). By the way, I find it highly amusing that many people seem to think that a Mommy who does not fix her children breakfast and lunch is a seriously neglectful parent. Just peruse any random comment thread on Free Range Kids and you'll almost certainly find a comment in there to that effect. Why would I do this for them when they can do it themselves? I mean, if I'm actually cooking something, of course I make enough for all of us and share it. But I don't feel the need to make them a sandwich or be involved in their food apart from helping to open yogurt containers, cheese wrappers, or ensure that there are enough hard-boiled eggs in the house.

In the afternoon, when Sean is (usually) napping, we are able to accomplish more serious academic work. For example, Ryan's been listening avidly to his Ancient History lectures at History at our House. By the way, thanks Mr. Powell, for letting us purchase the whole year of recorded lectures in advance!!! This has allowed us much flexibility (and therefore, less stress for me) in this area of our homeschool lives. Due to travel earlier this fall, we didn't do too much history. But that was okay, because we were able to listen and catch up as we could. And we're now actually a bit ahead.

We tend to do history in bunches, a couple times a week. So Ryan will listen to 2-4 lectures all in one afternoon, take a few days off, and then go back for more. I love this flexibility so much, and it especially helps since I have younger kids. Morgan kinda sorta listens to the history lectures, and even though she's ahead of Ryan in some skills, she's still only 4, so I'm not too keen to foist this onto her before she's interested and ready. She is absorbing some ideas, and that's perfectly okay by me. If she's not paying attention to history, she'll be on the computer, playing, drawing, or writing. Sometimes I'll even pop her in the bathtub or get her help with dishes or something.

Since we're well into Ancient Greece in history class, a natural thing (for me) to do was introduce the kids to Greek Mythology. So after Ryan listens to Mr. Powell, we'll read a little from D'aulaire's Book of Greek Myths, which I enjoyed as a child. Now this is something Morgan is interested in, too, so I'll usually end up reading aloud to all three kids (because who am I kidding--of course Sean is up from his nap by now!). These are fun stories, and I'm having so much fun experiencing them all over again with the kids. We talk about how funny and interesting it is that people thought Zeus made lightning and thunder, and how Argus's eyes were put on the tails of peacocks. And they are also beginning to notice carryovers from Greek mythology (and history, too) in our culture today. Super. Cool.

We've been a little light on math lately, but Sean-willing, we'll be able to sit down with our formal stuff on a semi-regular basis soon. The kids have been working in math workbooks for fun, usually in the car, and I had them do an assessment test recently, just so I can figure out what they know and what they don't. I'm fine with how things are going in that department--everybody understands place value and number lines and are beginning to figure out fractions, too.

We spend the rest of the afternoon on individual pursuits: projects, battles, housework, etc. Sometimes one of the neighbor kids will come over, but I'm finding that we don't see as much of our schooled friends as we used to. They aren't home from school until 3, and one kid in particular is just so wiped out from school that he just doesn't have any energy to play. And then there are the extracurricular things--we're at TKD three nights a week ourselves, so coordinating any before-dinner activities just seems impossible. And after-dinner is Daddy Time. So I feel sad about that, because Ryan misses his friends from the neighborhood. Fortunately, he has many friends from homeschool activities and taekwondo.

We don't hang out at home every day, though. Wednesdays are our homeschool co-op days, so we're there by 10:00. Last session, Ryan took Chess and Morgan had a class for preschoolers called Journey through the Months, where they learn about the calendar and the seasons and holidays and read books and do craft projects. Despite her advanced academic level, she really needs and enjoys this kind of class, which is more her speed maturity-wise.

Both kids also took a class called For the Love of the Birds, which was taught by a college girl (who was homeschooled). What a great class that was! They learned all kinds of things about birds we find in Georgia, and did projects like make bird feeders (I still need to find peanut-safe bird seed! Any leads?) and dissect owl pellets (yum). I was a little worried about putting Morgan in the class, as it was billed for kids K-4, but she did fine. The only problem was ensuring that Ryan waited for her after class to help her come and find me. :/

We've signed them up for some fun classes in Session 3. They'll stay in Chess and Journey through the Months. And then at 1:00, Ryan will be in his first, long-awaited, much-anticipated, LEGO Robotics class! He is FINALLY old enough to take one of these classes (the people who teach them are very strict about adhering to the age guidelines). I know he'll love it. Also at 1:00, Morgan will take an Egyptology class, where they'll learn about Egypt and do craft projects like building pyramids out of sugar cubes. I'm not convinced she'll learn so much history out of it (but that's what we have HAOH for), but I know she'll have fun listening to the stories and doing the crafts. And her friend will be there, too. AND she'll have something interesting to do while Ryan is in Robotics, which will be much easier on me! :o)

By the way, we have excellent news on the reading front. The long and short of it is: I have two readers!!!! Hooray! Not only do they have reading skills, both kids are beginning to choose reading as an activity. I recently caught Ryan staying up late to read in bed, and both children are taking books on car trips, even short ones.

I used two reading assessment tools I found here (scroll down) to help me try to figure out where each child's reading level is. I'm not exactly sure how scientific this kind of thing is, but I got a sense of what each child can do, and the results were pretty consistent with my own Mommy Assessment, so I think that's something. And I recently discovered that many children's books indicate a Reading Level, if you know where to look. (I'm sure more experienced homeschoolers are aware of this, but in case you aren't, I hope this revelation will be helpful to you!) Some are obvious--we have many Biscuit books, and they're pretty clearly marked as "My First Reading" and then on the back of the book, this level is described as "Ideal for sharing with emergent readers." So those books are for reading aloud to younger kids.

But with Night of the Ninjas (Magic Tree House, No. 5), for example, the Reading Level is indicated by a"RL: 1.9," on the back of the book. This means, 1st grade, 9th month, or end of 1st grade (the months go from 1-9, to correspond with a typical school season, I suppose). This is still somewhat vague to me, but I gather it means that most first graders could handle this book by the end of the school year, or possibly that the average first grader can. Both Ryan and Morgan can pretty easily read the Magic Tree House books, so what these reading levels mean to me is that I now have a ballpark way to figure out which books they might be able to handle mostly independently, and which might be more challenging for them. We choose books together, and understanding how the RL works (as well as the results of the assessment tools) helps me let them them know "This is a book you can do independently." or "This one is good for reading together." And that's all I really need to know right now.

Both kids require a little bit of assistance with figuring out trickier words, even in books close to their reading levels, but other than that, No Mommy Required! (Bliss for Mommy!) Well, actually, Ryan needs some reminders not to just skip over words that require effort (hmph), since he'll just do that, and/or make up words that he thinks will fit with the story. This is more a Ryan trait than a function of his reading level. I have much experience in this realm, and in those cases, I simply, gently, remove my assistance, reassuring him that he CAN do this independently if he takes the time and effort, and also insisting that he try. Well-practiced dance steps for the two of us, since his toddlerhood. :o)

So that's kind of an overview of the things we've been doing, and what a typical week might look like. It's not an exhaustive list, though--there's also Music Class and playdates and sometimes homeschool play group and singing and dancing and playing with the baby and chasing the kitty cat and resolving conflicts and soothing hurt feelings/bumped heads and arguing and being dogs and playing pet store and exploring and discovering and creating and laughing and, of course, laundry. :o)

Really, when I write it all down, it seems as if we all are accomplishing quite a bit. Yay!


SAHMinIL said...

For the cheap paper: Do you know someone that works at an office or as an office job? You'll be surprise to learn what they just THROW AWAY! My husband has an office job and has gotten boxes full of paper (2,500 sheets)for FREE because the company he works for what going to throw it way. There's nothing wrong with the paper, they just could no longer use it because they upgraded their printers and the paper was for that printer.

We've also have gotten paper because the company changed their letter head and could no longer use the old stuff. It's Perfect for doodling! Which is what my kids love to do the most!

Sheila said...

Discount School supplies you can order all sorts of paper! EVen the kind on a roll!! We love all the various crafting items they have including cheap tempra paints! We ask for stuff from them for all holidays or birthdays!!

Sheila said...

My friend Dione got us remnants (sp?) from rolls of paper at an envelope manufactring company. It worked out great we have it so they can pull it over their desk and draw and can tear it on the edge of the desk. Sorry we are big crafter/ paper folks!!

Cyndi said...

When I was in 2nd grade (in Maine), I joined a PenPal program through my class and began writing to a girl, my age, in North Dakota. Your blog started me thinking about that and wondering if there are still programs out there like it. I found one called that may be worth checking out. Also...I have a 7.5 year old son if Ryan wants to try out a pen pal in Rochester, NY.

Rational Jenn said...

SAHMinIL and Cyndi--welcome! Sheila, Hey girl! :o)

Thanks for the leads on the cheap paper! I really, REALLY need a way to keep her in paper. She cranks out artwork all day long! When I was a kid, my dad would bring home printouts from work (those lined pages with holes in the side, remember?) and we'd color on the other side of them.

Also, thanks for the pen pal link, Cyndi. I will check it out, and maybe we could set up a pen pal thing with our sons. I'm thinking they could probably bond over what...Star Wars? Why don't you talk to yours and I'll talk to mine and we'll talk about it some more? :o)

SAHMinIL said...

Another thing we have done is when family ask what to get our kids for say Christmas, we told them PAPER! We said we are not eco friendly here as I tend to think we kill a tree a day. (maybe not a whole tree, but we do go through the paper like you wouldn't believe, well maybe YOU'LL believe it)

I'll tell everyone paper, because with kids like ours we never can have enough paper! I'm sure you can relate!