January 20, 2017

Life

I decided to try out a new bank this week--one closer to my house. Going to the bank to get cash out has been my responsibility since early after we arrived in Madagascar. It's very time consuming and has to be done during hours when Rob is at work. In the past I've tried to redeem the awful long wait-in-line with promises of ice cream treats for us all... the kids don't complain about this. However, by the time we actually get to the bank (if the traffic is bad, which is most of the time) and then wait through the line up, which can take upwards of an hour, and then return home after getting ice-cream, I feel like we've spent most of our morning out--severely disrupting our school schedule or other fun activities we could be doing. This different bank, located a mere 5 minutes away from my house seemed like a great new option. Plus, the line-up was almost non-existent! I couldn't have been more thrilled to take my youngest out and return, cash in hand, in 20 minutes! How amazing this was. My disappointment came later that evening however when Rob calculated how much this bank had charged me for international funds exchange. Their exchange rate was much higher than my previous bank ever charged us. MUCH. So unless I can figure out a way around this, I think we will have to continue going to the other, much longer-of-a-wait-but-we-get-ice-cream-bank.

School

A couple of really cool school-finds I wanted to share!

This site has some really nice free devotional materials, journal pages, and a large Bible activity book, great for keeping younger ones busy while they listen to a sermon in church, or even for using in their own quiet times.

I used to teach piano before I was married and had children. And I have taught music to my own kids in the past, but this resource has benefited us so much! I love Mr. Hoffman's teaching style and how he gets brand new beginners playing pieces they can be proud of. As a piano teacher myself, I appreciate how he teaches rhythm and ear training--giving students confidence on the piano right away. My kids are going to the piano on their own most days without me asking them to practice. Definitely check them out if you're looking for a solid beginner music program. Hoffman also encourages improvisation at an early stage and builds on those skills throughout the course as the students gain confidence in their knowledge of music.

Ongoing Projects


One of the things I've come across lately is hand-lettered cards. I've found so many neat ideas online, and I'm always looking for new simple designs for homemade thank-you notes. This Madagascar palm was one design I came up with this week. It's so iconic of Madagascar, and I'm really pleased with how it turned out.

Local News

Normally at this time of year we should be experiencing tropical torrential rains every afternoon around 3:30. Those downpours have yet to arrive, and the reservoirs that provide water to our city are said to be basically empty. We were told that the dam some 70km away from the city has been opened, so now water should be flowing and on its way here. Everybody is praying for rain, however, as crops are having to be harvested early due to a poor growing season, and a second planting season probably won't be successful. This of course means most people here, who rely on their own agriculture for survival are entering a desperate time. If the dry season comes earlier than normal (typically April), it means we will have a very short rainy season, and not much chance for the reservoirs to fill again.

Growing

While the rainy season keeps holding off, things in my garden are still growing. I love these plants called heliconia flowers, or also known as false bird-of-paradise, lobster claws, or wild plantains. This is a new plant to my garden that is blooming this year. I didn't get to see it bloom last year, as it was still new. This bud just started opening, so I'm looking forward to seeing it fully open in the coming weeks.




On My Side-Table

Going Solo: from Sonlight 9th Grade Classical Literature program

January 14, 2017

Life and Lists


School

My kids love checklists, which is just fine with me. :)

If I can have things written down in a list-format, my mind feels so much less cluttered.

It was a little crazy last month though as I found myself actually creating a shower schedule for the kids because I didn't want to be bothered to tell them to take a shower (none of my kids' favorite activity, yet, by the way) and have the whole conversation ensue about why they need one and that they smell and etc.... So now I just say "Shower Time" and they all go and see who's supposed to take a shower AND if they're supposed to wash their hair or not. It's kind of silly, but it's one less thing I have to think about, and that helps me. It also lessens our confrontations a bit, I just say "Refer to the list" and they can't argue with the paper.

A little bit about how I organize our homeschool... I have started to look at the following week's work on Friday while the kids are working through their independent school. Saturdays are often planning days, but more and more my goal is to leave Saturdays and Sundays completely free from looking at schoolwork.

My second daughter helping frost cookies one afternoon
Each of my reading children has a notebook where I write down each day's assigned work. Everything I want them to do before free-time, tv, or computer games goes on this list. Anything in red type is what they will definitely need me to teach them. So they know that they can go ahead on anything else independently. We usually try and do all of our read-alouds either during breakfast and after French lessons (which happen 3 mornings a week), or all after breakfast. For a season I saved our read-alouds for the evening, but then I was finding myself too tired to really enjoy it. The kids save their independent reading for Quiet Time, which we have for 40-50 minutes after lunch. This is the time of day when everyone needs solo time (that is, I tell them they do); I try and rest a bit, and it's generally quiet in our house. My kids have grown up with this, and a couple of them instinctively whisper to me if they need me during Quiet Time. It's wonderful. Of course we have many days requiring my constant reminders that it's truly Quiet Time. :)

Kindergarten--we use "A Reason for Handwriting" to practice penmanship
My kindergartener is probably still my most tricky to include in our school day. For the most part, he's very independent. He has advanced Lego-building skills for his age, which keeps him pretty busy. But I do sense he wants my attention more when he sees me busy with the others. There's a huge temptation to let him play endlessly on electronics (since he loves them), but I try and curb that with limits and other activities, painting, play-doh, puzzles etc.



Life

This week we had a dentist appointment in the city. This was a huge event for us, as we haven't yet had the courage to visit a dentist in Madagascar. We usually save dental work for our furlough. But my oldest had a permanent tooth which had grown in front of a baby tooth, so the baby tooth needed pulling.

This visit to the dental clinic went extremely well--Praise the Lord. The dentist was patient and very gentle, and my daughter overcame a few dental fears that day. Due to our long afternoon at the dentist, we brought some schoolwork with us--a great advantage to homeschooling!

Showing us the tooth the dentist pulled, and where it was

Growing


My garden is giving me many new things to watch and see every day. These hot peppers are ripening nicely on a front window-sill of my home. We love to dry them and then grind them into flakes to sprinkle on rice or chicken.

On my Side Table

The Outlaws of Sherwood: from Sonlight 9th Grade Classical Literature program
The Pearl That Broke Its Shell: recommended by The Modern Mrs. Darcy.

  


January 6, 2017

First Week Back in 2017

Current read-aloud
It’s a new year, and after a great school break in December we are back to it.

I am excited to get everyone back into their routines mostly because our day seems to flow better when everyone has their assigned activities they must do. And, despite how well my kids seem entertain themselves and play together in general, it helps everyone appreciate free-time that much more.

While we were off in December, I tried not to do too much school planning. I wanted to have a school break, so that means I should take a break too, right? But it was difficult to turn off the school-brain completely. The month-off gave me some great time to reflect on the first term of the school year, rev-up for the coming weeks of the new year, and to re-think some of our school choices.

The major change I made was in our Language Arts department.

Main history text this week
I was really excited to get on board with Brave Writer this past year. It seemed like a great choice for us—a way to teach some things across all the grade levels I’m dealing with at the moment, and I also like the curriculum’s lifestyle approach to writing. But for our family, I felt we needed a bit more structure, and often times I find my mind gets overwhelmed when I’m left to “fit things in," or let things happen. So for this term I have reverted back to my beloved Sonlight language arts for each student. Because some of the kids are at more advanced reading levels, I’ve adjusted some of their assigned reading, but I really like how Sonlight plans out writing assignments and gives guidance in teaching grammar. Even though I’m leaving Brave Writer for now, I don’t regret buying the Writer’s Jungle at all. The concepts in the book are wonderful, and I will definitely use it as a reference guide. I feel more confident to adjust Sonlight’s LA material appropriately for each child’s strengths and weaknesses now.

Three of the children are practising piano
Our first week back to school started out a bit rocky… in that one of my kids was constantly asking to have a break or when they could go and play. The month off was already a distant memory in their mind I suppose. Lol.

My boys' (ages 5 and 8) Lego creations this week
Spent time playing checkers with my kindergartener
School books piled up to be put away for the WEEKEND!
Our "school room" for now
We are reinforcing some difficult concepts in math for one of my boys. I'm searching the internet for good resources on the topic, but it's not really helping at all. We are practising, and trying not to get too frustrated. Unfortunately, we can't move on past this and revisit it later, as long-division is appearing in all of his upcoming lessons. So we kind of need to master this now. As well, 2-part word problems are quite challenging at this stage. I think the combination of reading the question, trying to figure out what information is there and what is missing, choosing an operation, and then finally doing the problem is quite overwhelming for my 3rd grader at this point. But we'll get there.

I try to have meal planning and most of my shopping finished over the weekend so I don't have to go to the store during the week. This week however, we were finished school early one day and everyone seemed ready for an outing. We took a drive to some shops and the kids had a chance to spend some of their allowance. As well, being post New Years weekend, I hadn't done any meal planning, and had avoided the grocery store as much as possible, so this week's meals have been under the concoct-something-from-ingredients-we-have-on-hand category. Usually this doesn't work well for me, but it was okay this week.

Our french tutor resumed lessons with the children this week. It is a fantastic opportunity we have here. The children's exposure to french is limited (being homeschooled) but what they're getting is perfect for us. Having a tutor come to our house is an added bonus. Three mornings per week, the kids each take turns with her while I work on other schoolwork.

We have been doing the majority of our schoolwork outside on our back terrace. It's summertime in Madagascar now, and our upstairs school room is pretty hot and stuffy. I love being outdoors in the sunshine. Our yard welcomes many birds swooping in and out of where we're working, and the breeze is heavenly.

One thing I've kept up very regularly over the past 3 months is exercise. I love getting up before the kids, having my coffee during quiet time, and then doing an aerobics or strength training video on the deck. I normally loathe physical fitness, and I am not athletic in the least, but when I stay regular at it, I feel energised for the day, and just better in general.

The children discovered stitching cards! We were reminded of this great craft in our read aloud (The Long Winter). My grandma has made many of these over the years, and even hand-stitched each of my wedding invitations. But this was the first time that I made some with the kids. It was so much fun.

The kids went through a major Perler bead stint this week as well. The boys love Star Wars, so the only disappointment for them was realizing that we're out of black and dark blue beads. Unless I source Perler beads in Madagascar, we'll have to wait until July to purchase more. No Walmart or Michael's here...

We also pulled out some unfinished lapbooks the kids were working on last year. They got excited looking at their work and it inspired them to add on a bit.By Wednesday afternoon, my youngest had a fever and a headache, so he laid low the remainder of the week. I wasn't completely surprised, since somebody in our family always gets sick the week following Christmas and New Years. It's like a tradition.  :)

Our week ends with pizza night and a movie!

Until I get around to posting again...

September 13, 2016

Sonlight and Multiple Students-------Take 2

So last year I wrote an extremely detailed post about how I planned to use Sonlight with my, then, Grades 4, 2, and 1 children.

I kept that pace for a few weeks.. and then reworked how it would actually go for 9
full months of school.

Life gave us a few bumps and adjustments that couldn't have been planned for. And as the homeschooling years tick by, I'm trying to remember that flexibility or adaptability is key! Somehow, us homeschool moms need to find a sweet balance between routine and schedule and keeping things real and flexible as life throws unexpected curve balls our way.

If we can capitalize on our slower days, really focus on how great it is, and not get flustered or discouraged on days where it feels like school just isn't working.. I think this can help us avoid burnout. Our family hasn't signed any contract or written in stone anywhere that we will graduate everyone from home, however if we do graduate my youngest from home, we're looking at another 12 years of homeschooling ahead of us.

Setting a healthy pace, and evaluating things constantly, has helped me a lot.

As for curriculum for 2016-2017, we are still using Sonlight. I really have nothing negative to say about Sonlight. Because we live abroad, with no access to an english public library, it is really nice to build our own family library at home. Sonlight gives us the tools to do this, without a lot of legwork. I trust Sonlight's picks to be high-quality. I also love their emphasis on reading aloud.

This year we have Grades 5, 3, 2, and K in our home.

We are going back to Core A this year (World Cultures), mainly to keep my Kindergartner engaged, but also as a good review for my Grade 3 and 2 students. I am supplementing them with some more detailed work related to the topics. My Grade 5 student is doing an online Social Studies course affiliated with the school we are enrolled with in Canada. Because we are Canadian, and Sonlight is American, it's difficult to fulfill Canadian learning outcomes when it comes to Canadian Socials.

Our year ahead looks like this:

History/Social Studies/Bible
Grade 5 daughter will work through Starting Strong for her personal Bible study, and do an online course through our Christian School for social studies.
Grade K, 2, 3 will work through Sonlight's Core A
Science:
All of us are working through Young Explorers, Human Anatomy and Physiology (Apologia)
We will also cover some student-led-interest-based projects.... (I'm scared about this)
Language Arts:
Brave Writer (Jot it Down, & Partnership Writing)
Phonics: Explode the Code, MCP Phonics
Vocabulary: Wordly Wise
Readers: Sonlight Picks for their grade level
Math:
Grade 5: Saxon 6/5
Grade 3: Singapore Primary 3
Grade 2: Singapore Primary 2
K: Singapore Primary Kb
Music: (I used to be a piano teacher)
Grade 5 daughter is continuing with private piano lessons with me
Grade 3, 2 students are practicing with me but also using a FREE online video series we found, and they really like it called Hoffman Music Academy.


How Do We Get it All Done?

For my older guys, (Gr. 5, 3, 2) I like to write out weekly checklists. It helps them know my expectations without me become more than my normal "naggy" self, and they also appreciate knowing their workload for the day. I am super laid back with my final kindergartener this year, as he is already ahead of schedule when it comes to phonics and math, as well-----I know he'll be fine as I don't see any glaring learning challenges at this point.  :) How's that for vague?

Daily, my goal is to be finished with schoolwork by lunch-time. I've had to recognize each of my children's own learning style. But I'm trying to instill the idea that work comes before play, and school is lumped into that "work" category. This means no video games or tv shows before schoolwork is finished. As well, I have my own things/hobbies I would like to do, so I don't like doing much school work after lunch. I find if things are left until then, they probably won't get done at all. By the afternoon, I'm thinking about shopping that needs doing, supper to prepare, maybe a date for tea with a friend or another project. Who knows.

I try hard to prioritize the items my children will definitely need me for in the mornings, and then they have to get the other things done after that.
So school has 3 basic categories,
1. Work-with-mom
2. Independent-work
And then there's this other strange category that I'm calling:
3. Spontaneous Natural Learning

This final category probably happens more often than I'm even aware. But this year I will purpose to be more observant of this category. So much learning is taking place in our home without me guiding it. Just getting my kids involved with the daily running of our home provides plenty of opportunity for it - - - conflict/resolution, health and nutrition, time management, moral discussions etc...... I think it's key for homeschool moms to recognize how much learning is happening naturally during play and while talking with our young children. What makes it strange or difficult type of learning for me is, there's no substantial proof, there aren't any checkboxes to mark "done"... I can't show it to a teacher necessarily. It's a lot like sowing seeds in the garden and seeing nothing but the soil on top for a long, long time, waiting for the fruit of those seeds to appear.

In any case, every year we tweak and change things as we see the need to.

September 4, 2016

Back to School

Everybody is getting back into the school routine! 

To commemorate "Back to School," we kept a bit of a video diary this week.


We have already been back to school for a few weeks, as we plan to take more time off throughout the year and also we will be finishing up in May.

I hope to journal a bit more about what our school likes for 2016-2017 in the coming weeks. I can't believe we are already into our 6th year of homeschooling. It so strange how time goes. Sometimes it feels like the days are dragging by, and then at others the weeks are flying! How does that work?

This year we are homeschooling Grades 5, 3, 2 and Kindergarten.

October 27, 2015

Sonlight & Multiple Students

This is a topic I have googled many times over the past couple of years. We are into our fifth year of homeschooling now, and just out of curiosity, I wanted to see how other moms might be juggling Cores for multiple age-ranges in their house-hold.

I was able to gather a few ideas, but, as with many other aspects of homeschooling, much must be invented by the mom, as one of our goals in homeschooling is to tailor education to suit our individual family culture, and the children's natural-born skills or needs.

This school year we have grades 4, 2, and 1, with a preschooler who is amazingly good at occupying himself, PTL!

We have chosen Sonlight because I love books, desire to raise a family of readers, and I trust many of the choices Sonlight brings to the table. Having a list of resources handed to me in a box is so helpful. On top of that, we are missionaries in Madagascar, so I cannot run over to a teacher supply store, or even go onto Amazon and buy additions to our curriculum on a whim. When I order from Sonlight, I know everything will be there and it will be fantastic!

For those of you who are familiar with Sonlight, the question of course is, how in the world do we work multiple levels into these rich cores? There's so much reading we could be doing if we try and complete everything. My answer to this question, "How do you school multiple grades using Sonlight?" is "We don't do it all."

The beauty of their history, geography, and science units are that they in and of themselves suit multiple grades within 3 or 4 years.

This year we are using the following resources:

  • Core A: World Cultures (Grade 1 daughter)
  • Core B+C: Condensed World History (Grade 2 & 4 children)
  • Science A (Grade 1 daughter)
  • Science C (Grade 2 & 4 children)
  • Language Arts 1 (Grade 1 daughter)
  • Language Arts 2 (Grade 2 son)
  • Language Arts 4-5 (Grade 4 daughter)
And of course we are doing math and music and physical education besides.

So the big question for sonlighters, how do we work multiple cores into our day. After all, it's a lot of reading!

We are doing our own Bible schedule. I have gathered some of the best resources from both Cores, and we are alternating between and everybody does this together. As well, my 4th grader is doing her own Bible reading.

We are doing our own Read Alouds schedule. And we are only reading one novel at a time to everybody. I have chosen books from multiple cores that I want to either hit again, or ones we haven't managed yet. We usually read our chosen novel during lunchtime or before bed, and we have a poetry or short story session in the afternoon which has fondly been named Tea Time.

This leaves History & Geography from Core A and Core B+C, and Science A & C to juggle. To start off with, we are not doing everything from each core. It's just too much for our family. For example, I have pared down my 1st grader's science to fulfill all of her science learning outcomes prescribed for grade 1 (which aren't very many), and then supplemented that with the weekly topics I would like to cover with her this year. Because Science C is written for Grade 2, 3, or 4, my 4th grader is able to guide my 2nd grader in it independently. This is the first year we have been able to do this. In the past I have read all of the science material to the kids. I still have to intervene at times, but mostly they are doing great on their own.

For History & Geography we are basically doing as written in the cores' schedules. I sit with my 1st grader and work through her history while the other 2 kids are busy, and then we switch. Again though, we aren't doing every single reading written into the schedule. If I feel the need to skip, or linger, we do. I think this is so key. Don't work for your curriculum! Make it work for your family.

I was mostly interested to see how some moms organize their curriculum and save their students' work. The Sonlight binders are huge! And I can't stand lugging them around, so I usually work on 4 weeks at a time in a smaller binder. I keep the Scope of Topics page in a plastic sleeve at the front of each section to make it easy for me to report on things we cover. (I am accountable to a teacher in Canada on a weekly basis.)

I have divided my smaller binder into sections:

  • Core B+C
  • Science C
  • LA 4-5
  • LA 2
  • Core A
  • Science A
  • LA 1
This way I am able to flip easily to each student's schedule and see what we want to work on for that day.

Each child has a weekly binder where they have all of their language arts work, history and geography notes, and science activity sheets. At the end of each week, I transfer their work into a yearly binder for each of the kids. This way when it comes time for writing portfolios or collecting proofs for each reporting period for my teacher in Canada, it's all handy in chronological order.


So finally, how do we actually do the work we want to accomplish? I have written out rough timetables in the past and they help give me a very vague plan with lots of wiggle room to get everything done in the day. I like to keep it vague so I don't feel strapped or overwhelmed. It also gives us flexibility for unforeseen things that are bound to come up.


Since writing the above outline, we have added children's French lessons with a tutor 3 times per week. So on these days things get juggled around, or we just take the day off, depending. :) As much as I thrive on structure, to help keep my mind clear and from becoming overwhelmed, I am learning that I must give ourselves plenty of room to bend the rules of the schedule. 


February 9, 2015

Sharing Memories in the Kitchen

Today we made donuts! This was a first. Mostly because I rarely deep-fry anything. Or I try to keep deep-fried foods to an absolute minimum.

I enlisted the help of my eldest, who is always willing to help me cook when I invite her. As I've mentioned before, I have troubles involving the children in the kitchen. I really like cooking/baking, and honestly, it's kind of like my alone time. So I don't often share it.

I need to more.

As we were cooking these, I shared some memories of my grandma. I remember a few times, going to her place and seeing freshly made donuts sitting on the counter, glistening with sugar. Yum. My daughter loves hearing these kinds of stories.

I'm so thankful I have wonderful memories of my grandparents (all of whom are still here, by the way) that I can share with my kids. They are looking forward to reconnecting with their great-grandparents in a few months when we visit Canada.

Recently, rather than making drop sheet cookies, I just made a huge cookie in a pan. This led to another fabulous tradition I remember as a child. My other grandmother (or nana) baking us a pizza sized chocolate chip cookie on our birthday. I remember that being so special, and really yummy too.

Thank you for the great memories Grandma and Nana. We look forward to seeing you in a few months!


My second daughter with my Grandmother in 2010