Farm Fun

Anna’s good little friend Rebekah had a birthday today, and the party was out at her place in the country. Part of the fun was getting to feed the goats! Here are a few pics:

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And some fun on the trampoline too!
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Now We Are Six

I realize the last time I blogged was half a year ago on Sarah’s birthday. After it had been a while and I hadn’t posted, and then it had been a while longer and I still hadn’t posted, I decided I’d just wait until Anna’s next birthday before starting up again. I haven’t missed a birthday yet, and maybe the hiatus was what I needed to make a fresh start. Time will tell. If you don’t hear from me again until October, I guess we have our answer!

Happy birthday to our sweet 6-year-old!

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We had a birthday party at the house for her. 12 kiddos! We did a craft and played a few games, then ate pizza, fruit and veggies, and cupcakes. We had a small birthday cake for Anna with Snow White (Anna’s request) and 6 candles to blow out, then each child got to decorate her own cupcake!

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Wheeee! She’s three!

Happy 3rd birthday to our Sarah!

Thanks to a couple of international student friends of ours, Sarah got to hear a beautiful version of “Happy Birthday” on the piano and violin!

So what do we do all day?

As promised, I’ll try to tell a little about our kindergarten “curriculum” of sorts. (See my previous post for more about my overall mindset on this.)

First of all, at this age, “schoolwork” does not take precedence over playing outside on a nice day, play dates with friends, visiting with out-of-town family, or the myriad fun and educational opportunities that arise out in the real world. This is just an attempt at a little structure and a way to fill our time with things that are meaningful and beneficial. And it most certainly doesn’t always happen like this; it’s just something to aim for.

Bible (most days): We read a passage from the Bible and memorize a verse a week. We don’t use a curriculum for Bible, although we are trying out Long Story Short to see how we like it. My goal is for her to understand the gospel, not just learn a bunch of “dos and don’ts” and how to be good. The dos and don’ts are important, but they can only be properly understood in the context of the gospel of grace!

Reading (most days): Since she already reads very well, we don’t do any reading instruction; we just read good books—poetry, chapter books, picture books, and “easy readers” (not my choice, but I try to steer her to the better-quality ones). There are lots of great book lists online from people who value high-quality children’s literature and know more about it than I do, and for that I am grateful! It has been fun to discover (and at times re-discover) wonderful children’s books.

Handwriting (most days): She has been doing some pre-writing “stylus skills” worksheets, but now we’re switching to practicing letters. We’re using Joy of Handwriting because I was able to get it free one day, but there are lots of printables out there on the internet, or you can make your own. When she gets better at writing letters and words, we’ll switch to copying poetry, Bible verses, or quotes from good literature—nothing overwhelming, just a few minutes of practice every day. There’s no getting around the fact that some things you just have to practice over and over to master.

Math (most days): This is the only real curriculum I bought. We went with Math Mammoth, which is a downloadable curriculum with a very generous license and very reasonable price, but still a quality product that has earned its place of respect among curriculum reviewers. I think I was attracted to the simplicity of it. Some other curricula have a teacher book, text book, workbook, DVDs, manipulatives, etc. Math Mammoth is just ONE .pdf that you print out. Rather than buying a specialized set of manipulatives, there are suggestions at the beginning of each chapter for games and activities to help teach the concepts using materials you likely already have on hand. We are doing the 1st grade book but moving through it pretty slowly at the moment, so I anticipate it carrying us into her official 1st grade year. We try to do a game and a workbook page each day.

Spanish (a few times a week): There are lots of free websites with video or audio that introduce kids to Spanish vocabulary, so we are just going through those. They will overlap, but that’s ok. I’m just looking for exposure and some basic vocabulary this year, not a systematic teaching of the language. We also know a couple of Spanish-speaking international students that we can converse with as we pick up some more vocabulary.

Bird study (once a week): We are going through the Burgess Bird Book for Children, which is absolutely wonderful and free in the public domain. How have I never heard of this little gem until recently? It is a storybook, but each chapter introduces a different type of American bird and weaves bits of information about the bird into the story. Then we are looking up information, bird calls, videos, etc. on each bird using Cornell University’s All About Birds website (and others if needed). Then she colors a picture of the bird and lists on the back a few things she learned. We will, of course, try to observe some real birds in the great outdoors as well!

Crafts (once or more a week): Like a lot of kids, Anna loves crafts; the problem is that most kids’ crafts are just JUNK and need to be thrown away at the first opportunity! Or, if they are more durable than that, they are just more “stuff” for kids who don’t need more stuff. But there are kids who actually do need more stuff—enter Operation Christmas Child. We’ve been participating in this ministry for years, and now I’m trying to help Anna make some crafts that can be gifts in OCC shoeboxes. Win-win! So far we’ve tried simple bead necklaces and felt pouches sewn with yarn and a plastic needle. As she gets older, I envision no-sew rag dolls, handmade games, more complex jewelry, felt finger puppets, and more. There are so many possibilities!

Outside the home: She takes art, music, and creative writing classes once a week at Blackbird Academy of Arts. They offer all kinds of fine arts classes for all ages, but they offer a block of classes specifically for homeschoolers during the day. She is with other kindergarteners and has a couple of good little friends there. She also takes gymnastics once a week at Sonshine Academy, also with other kindergarteners. And we still make our weekly trip to the Faulkner County Library for story time, crafts, and to check out new books.

So there it is, in a much bigger nutshell than I intended.

I thought I’d also highlight the fact that it doesn’t have to cost much to homeschool a kindergartener. Three assumptions: 1. You have available a computer with internet access (or you wouldn’t be reading this). 2. You have access to a printer. 3. You take advantage of back-to-school sales and get basic school supplies, including reams of copy paper, for next to nothing. I love Staples!

Bible — Materials needed: Bible, index cards and pen. Cost: negligible.

Reading — Materials needed: books. Cost: negligible, if you use the library or public domain e-books. (If you need to include reading instruction, try a copy of Ruth Beechick’s The Three R’s for 10 bucks, and use it along with… you guessed it… books. Or try Starfall.com.)

Handwriting — Materials needed: paper and pencils. Cost: negligible.

Math — Materials needed: curriculum, paper and pencils, manipulatives already on hand. Cost: $51 (on sale) for 3 years’ worth  of curriculum (if we use it for Sarah too, that’s less than $9 per kid per year).

Spanish — Materials needed: free websites. Cost: negligible.

Bird Study — Materials needed: Burgess Bird Book, free websites, coloring sheets & crayons. Cost: negligible.

Crafts — This depends widely on what you have on hand and what type of crafts you want to do! I’ve spent a few bucks at Hobby Lobby, but not really that much.

For us, the bulk of the expense is the outside activities we’ve chosen to pay for. We are extremely blessed to be able to provide these for her, but you can still provide a quality education without them! If you have a computer, there are free/cheap resources for just about everything if you look!

The second homeschooling post

When I first posted about our decision to homeschool, I confidently asserted that there would be many more posts to come on this topic. Now, a few months later, I’m finally getting around to posting another one. I guess I’ve been busy homeschooling. :)

Actually, I’ve sat down to write something several times, but there are so many muddled thoughts floating around my head all the time that I can’t make much sense of them on paper (errr… computer screen).

A few Mondays ago, when public schools started around here, it really hit me… this is her first day of not going to school. We’re really doing this thing.

I’ve found myself unsure how to answer two very simple questions I’ve been asked often over the late summer: “Have you started homeschooling yet?” and “Is she in kindergarten?” Now, I could answer with a simple “yes” and “yes” and be done with it, and sometimes that’s the right course of action. However, I’m never sure what the other person really has in mind.

Did I buy a boxed kindergarten curriculum consisting of 180 daily lessons that I will systematically work through between August and May? That’s a much easier question to answer—NO.

After much reading and research, I’ve found myself more on the “hold off on formal schooling and let kids have fun being kids” side of the fence. However, I happen to have a kid who already reads fluently and is pretty darn good at math as well. But she is still 5 and acts like a 5-year-old, not a 7-year-old. She can do some work that is more difficult than kindergarten level, but not very much of it, because she’s only 5. (And I wouldn’t want her to, anyway.) We’re just in a different position than many others her age, and no ready-made curriculum would be right for her. So I’m making up my own.

I’m also drawn to the Charlotte Mason approach, which I still have a lot more to learn about. In CM-style learning, formal schoolwork doesn’t start until at least age 6 anyway, so I’ve put together a very simple (but hopefully still high-quality) “kindergarten” plan while I spend this school year learning more about the CM method and reading some of her original works. So far, here’s my understanding of it: the method treats the child as a “whole person” and puts emphasis on the atmosphere in which the child grows up as well as the training of good habits. Academically, it uses “living books” rather than dry, bland textbooks, and uses “narration” (having the child tell or write what she’s learned) rather than fill-in-the-blank type questions. It always uses original, excellent works of art, music, literature, and history rather than “dumbed down” versions for children, and lets children respond directly to these works and make their own connections rather than being told what they should think. Lessons are kept short at the younger ages, and there is LOTS of time for free play, nature exploration, creativity, etc.

So what exactly are we doing these days? Stay tuned… (No, really, I’m going to try to post something in the next few days…)

Pigtails and Locust Shells

Does anything transform a child from “baby” into “kid” like pigtails? Oh, she looks so grown up…


 

 

 
The girls have had a good time collecting those locust shells lately:


 
And one more pic, just because they’re so cute:

Move over, Smokey—there’s a new bear in town.

Among the things Anna learned at Safety Town this past week were a number of little songs to help kids remember safety tips. They performed some of these for the parents at “graduation.” The fire safety song goes like this:

If you’re asleep in the middle of the night,
Snoring like a bear in his wooly underwear (insert snoring noises here),
And a fire breaks out in the house (Oh my!)
You need a smoke detector (beep!)
A smoke detector (beep!)
A smoke detector (beep!)
To wake you up in the middle of the night.

Well, Anna was giving her own little mini-performance for us (with the help of Sarah, who didn’t know the songs but was glad to be of assistance anyway). They each had a stuffed bear with them. Anna said something like, “This bear is ‘Fior’… and this one is really Sophia, but we’re calling it ‘Fior’ too…”

I said, “Wait a minute… what?”

“Fior.”

The bears were named “Fior.” And this was apparently an important part of the act. I started thinking, “If you’re asleep in the middle of the night, snoring like a bear in his wooly underwear”… wait a minute… “FIOR asleep in the middle of the night, snoring like a bear in his wooly underwear…”

Uncontrollable laughter ensued. From me and David, not the girls. Now, it’s probably a big parenting blunder to laugh at your child’s mistake, but really, we couldn’t help ourselves. When I got a breath, I asked David, “Do you want to take this one?” He managed to answer in the negative.

I tried to explain it, but Anna seemed unconvinced. She picked right back up where she left off with Fior.

“Fior the Smoke Detector Bear.” It could really take off, don’t you think? Bumper stickers, t-shirts, and other assorted paraphernalia. The proceeds can go to Safety Town.

Safety Town

Anna’s calendar has filled up this summer! She has spent every morning this past week at Safety Town, a program offered one week each summer by the Junior Auxiliary and Conway Regional for kids entering kindergarten. It focuses on all aspects of safety, including fire, water, stranger, animal, school bus, railroad, traffic, and poison safety. The kids are divided up in classes, kind of like a preschool, and go through several different activities throughout the day. They were visited by the fire department, police department, MEMS, a school bus and driver, and Scratch the therapy dog, among others. And one of the highlights is riding tricycles around the pretend “town” with roads, intersections, and buildings, learning to observe traffic signs and such. This is a great program which has been going on for 17 years and has graduated 2200 kids!

Too hot for the sandbox…

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Today I pulled out one of those over-achiever-super-Pinterest-mom-who-has-it-all-together type tricks and made cloud dough. The word “sensory” should probably go in there somewhere if I were an early childhood education major or a therapist.

Anyway, they seem to be enjoying it!

(more…)

Chapter Books

It’s been a while since I updated about the chapter books we’ve been reading. Books we’ve read with Anna since my last update include Mary PoppinsA Bear Called PaddingtonWinnie the PoohThe House at Pooh CornerRaggedy Ann and Andy: A Read-Aloud TreasuryThe Lighthouse MysteryMountain Top MysterySchoolhouse MysteryCaboose Mystery, and Houseboat Mystery. The last five are Boxcar Children books, and David has been reading those with Anna. That has become their special thing. I read the others, usually right before nap time. I used to put Sarah down for a nap earlier than Anna and then read with Anna, but lately Sarah has joined us and has done pretty well.

I’ve been a fan of Pooh for a long time, but I just discovered Paddington. He’s wonderful! We’ve only read one book, but there are lots of them and we plan to read more. The Raggedy Ann and Andy stories were sweet, a little sappy at times, but still pretty good. Anna liked them, and she and Sarah got a special surprise when I gave them my Raggedy Ann dolls (I had two) from my childhood. Mary Poppins is very interesting—pretty different from the Disney movie. There are actually several books in the series; I’ve read the first four myself, but only the first one with Anna so far. While I find the movie’s portrayal of Mary Poppins’ personality more likeable, the books include many magical moments that I’m glad I didn’t miss—P.L. Travers had an amazing imagination!

I seem to have a new habit of collecting book lists. As I muddle my way through children’s literature, thankfully there are many who have gone before me who like to publish online their lists of favorite books for children. There is a lot of overlap, of course, but with each one I seem to find more books I want to check out. We won’t run out or reading material for a while! Or ever, really. There are more good books out there than we could read in a lifetime—and most of them FREE electronically or through the library. It’s astonishing.

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