School Year in Review

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The school year is done!!!!  Before I barrel into next year, I thought I’d share a quick list of what worked and what didn’t work for us this year.  I’m so glad to say that after 7 years of homeschooling, most of the books we used this year treated us well. I think I’m finally getting the hang of this.  ***This post contains affiliate links.***

What worked

  1. All About Spelling and All About Reading  This is one of the few programs we’ve used all the years I’ve been homeschooling.  Liam and Jack completed level 5 of spelling.  Matilda completed level 4 of reading (the last one!) and level 3 of spelling. Matthew completed level 2 of reading and level 1 of spelling.  Max completed level 1 of reading and started level 1 of spelling.  He’s now begging to do it all summer so he can pass up Matthew. 🙂
  2. RC History  We are halfway through Volume 2 (the arrival of the King-early medieval).  The only reason we didn’t complete this yet is because the older boys had an intense extracurricular this year.  We’re finishing it up this summer, but the kids don’t mind one bit!  The literature selection is fantastic for this volume.  Liam is working on the logic level, Jack and Matilda are working on the grammar level, and Matthew and Max are working on beginner.  We have some fun projects lined up for the summer!
  3. Saxon Math I think this is the first year no one cried about math…well Matthew did a little. ha!  Liam completed the 6th grade book and Jack completed the 5th grade one. Both boys are taking pre algebra next year. More on that later.  Matilda finished the 4th grade book, and Matthew completed the 2nd grade one.  For summer maintenance, they will be doing Times Tales and Khan Academy.
  4. Elemental Science This was new to us and I loved it!!!  Matthew and Max worked on  Grammar Stage Biology.  The demonstrations were super easy for them to set up and we had most things on hand.  The best part is the boys retained quite a bit of information!  My goal was just to expose them to new things, but they completely surpassed that!  I loved it so much that the older kids are doing Logic Stage Biology next year.
  5. IEW writing and Fix-It Grammar This was another new program for us.  We’ll definitely be using this again.  The three older kids worked through the first Fix-It Grammar book, The Nose Tree.  For composition, Liam and Jack used Following Narnia Vol 1: The Lion’s Song.  Guys, they LOVED this.  I’ve never seen two boys so eager to write before in my life!  And the worked they produced, oh my goodness!  Matilda loved hers as well, and I loved that she kept wanting to rewrite each story and illustrate it.  Fables, Myths, and Fairy Tales was the book she used.
  6. Read-Aloud Revival  This isn’t necessarily a curriculum, but I finally got a membership.  We use this to “attend” live author seminars and various lectures about poetry and other things.  Seeing the kids learn about their favorite writers’ processes has been extremely fun.  Now when we read certain picture books or novels, the discussions the kids have has taken on a whole new level.
  7. Finally, our wonderful enrichment program worked well for us yet again.  The kids attend once a week to take such classes as Latin, art, jujitsu, etc.  They also attend Mass with their friends.  Little ones worshipping together, this is what homeschooling is all about!

Since this list is already reaching War and Peace length proportions, I’ll just give a quick what didn’t work.  Mystery Science (a little too simple for my kids to stay engaged), TOPS Science (a little too hard for my kids to stay engaged.), and Spectrum Geography workbooks (a little too much social studies and too little map work).

I already have my book list for next year, and I’m elated.  But first, summer.

 

Catholicism From a Cry Room Window

There I was again, watching daily Mass through the sound proof window that separated the very audible babies from the rest of the quiet congregation.  This particular Mass I had only my littlest 3 with me.  My older three kids were quietly sitting with their friends in the front pews while my friend, Jean, graciously asked my middle child to sit with her.  Slightly easier Mass, yes, but I was still spiraling down into a pity party as Henry was yanking my hair while I was nursing him, and Stella was crying because I wouldn’t let her sit in the window sill so she could realize her dreams of smudging tiny fingerprints all over the stained glass.  Each time Fr. Hough started to speak, Max asked me a question such as, “How high can Charlotte Bronte jump?”

I was just at my “Ugh, will I ever get to listen to another Mass again?!” moment when one of the cry room citizens (not one of mine) started screaming.  This kid was tired and done and letting everyone know about it.  At first, I thought nothing of this.  I didn’t dare turn my head to look at this poor child’s mother lest she think I was judging her by his behavior.  I’ve been that mom.  I knew what she was feeling.  Or at least I thought.  I finally did a sidelong glance, and what I saw filled me with such calm and just absolute love for my friend.  She was holding her screaming baby, yet with closed eyes, she was saying the prayers of the faithful with such sincerity one would have thought she was sitting alone quietly with only Jesus in the room.

Any pity I had on myself disappeared that second.  Of course she wasn’t just sitting alone with Jesus, she was holding Jesus, and he was screaming.  I was holding Jesus.  He was yanking my hair, crying about not touching stained glass, asking me about the Bronte sisters’ athletic skills.  I began immediately to offer it up, offer it all up.  I sat there and offered up the past 12 years of baby and toddler wrangling during Mass.  I offered up all the pacing done in the narthex, all the missed Easter Vigils because the kids just can’t sit that long that late at night, and all the potty breaks just as communion is beginning.

I know that eventually the babies will grow.  I’ll be able to sit through an entire Mass…and participate in all of it.  I’ll have different pains and hardships to offer up.  But for now I’ll be here,  looking on through the cry room window.  And that’s ok, because Jesus is in here with me too.

And the King will say to them in reply, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” Mt 25:40

 

 

I’m Working on the Tree

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Today Max excitedly ran up to me and said, “Mommy, mommy!  I’m building a treehouse!  Do you want to see what I have so far?”

“Sure!” I said.

He opened his hand to reveal an acorn that he picked up on our walk earlier.

“I’m working on the tree.” he said.

**The picture is the most recent I have of Max, who is most firmly planted in his own world.

Jack

 

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Jack at his First Communion

Jack,

You turned 10 yesterday.  There’s so much you have taught me over the past 10 years.  First, you are such a pious young man.  Your devotion to Jesus is something many adults aspire to.  Your love for the Catholic church inspires me.  You even have a pope name picked out “just in case” you ever get elected…Pope Patrick.

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Warming up with Stella by the fire

You have such a tender spot in your heart for your younger siblings (most of the time).  I love that you always read to them, teach them things you think they may find interesting, give extra hugs and snuggles to the little ones, and that you set such a good example for them.  And it’s really been a joy to see the friendship you and your big brother are developing.

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Lumber Jack

You are always willing to try new things be it splitting wood, learning a new sport, learning a new language, strapping on a pair of running shoes to see how far you can go, even trying your hand at sewing.  Maybe we can work on trying new foods now. 🙂

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Turtle watching

I love your curiosity.  Your thirst for knowledge makes it a dream to teach you.  A few months ago, you watched a tiny bug crawl around for almost an hour, then you took notes and drew pictures about all you observed.  I watched you out the window with the biggest smile on my face.  I love your patience and attention to detail.

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10 candles!

When I asked you what you hoped to accomplish in your 10th year of life, you of course said you want to learn how to code Java so you can make Minecraft mods.  I have no doubt that you’ll do that.  But I know that you’ll also do so much more.  Can’t wait to see what this year brings for you!

-Love, Mom

Henry Edmund

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Wee Henry Edmund joined us on June 27th at 7am weighing 7lbs 13oz.

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He’s already been hugged countless times.

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He’s already been held countless times.

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And those sweet cheeks have already been kissed countless times.

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We’re working on the napping countless times.

Information about his namesakes can be found here and here.

Lazy Days of Summer

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When you homeschool it’s so easy to continue schooling throughout the summer even though you’ve technically covered all the course material for the school year.

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This summer started out no differently for us.  I fully intended to have the kids do copywork, math, and a bit of poetry over the summer.  And of course reading.

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So far, it’s not quite working out that way.  With all the rain we’ve had in Houston, there is an explosion in the toad population in our yard.  So the kids bolt out of the door every morning after breakfast to see how many they can catch before lunch.  Our oranges are growing well, so the kids check on them daily as well.

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The blueberries are being eaten straight off the bush by the children and sometimes the birds.

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There are plenty of flowers to be smelled and picked.  The kids keep planting more (with awesome seed bombs from Seedle) with the hope of luring more bees and butterflies to the yard.

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And of course they’re doing all this barefoot, because why not?

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This little gal (along with her mullet haircut) is becoming a pro at catching baby toads.

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And there’s always a game of freeze tag going on in the cul de sac.

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So while we aren’t doing any school work (except reading…a lot), I’m pretty sure the kids are getting a stellar education anyway.

How to Camp with Kids

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  1.  Sit back in your camp chairs while the kids pitch the tent.

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2. Lure the kids into the woods by telling them they’re going on a fun hiking trip with Daddy.

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3. Lead them deep in the woods (don’t bring any bread crumbs!) then run away as fast as you can.  Unfortunately, these trails were well marked, so the kids eventually found us again.

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4.  Allow the kids to play in the flesh-eating bacteria laden creek.  But don’t fret too much if they fall in because you can…

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5. …air dry the kids in tree branches.

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6.  Let them catch all the butterflies they like.  Then tell them the butterflies are venomous so you can sit back and laugh at the look of horror on your children’s faces.

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7.  Finally, tuck them in.  But before you do, tell scary stories using creepy shadow puppets on the tent wall.  Nighty night kids!

 

All About Learning Press

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I’m sure I’m not the only homeschooling mom who has changed curriculum more than once trying to find that perfect fit.  There is, however, one program that has been with us since the beginning…All About Learning Press.  I first found out about this wonderful program when Liam, my oldest, was in 1st grade.  He hated, hated workbooks, so I needed to find some way to teach him phonics and spelling that would keep his attention.  5 years later, and he still loves sitting down with me for spelling lessons!  To be honest, I’ve also learned more phonics rules and spelling tricks than I ever learned in elementary school.

For this school year, we just finished up All About Spelling (AAS) level 4 for the 5th and 4th graders, AAS level 2 for the 2nd grader, All About Reading (AAR) level 3 for the 2nd grader, AAR level 1 for the kindergartener, and AAR pre-reading for the 4 year old.  Now on to a little description of the different components…

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First, I keep all the teacher’s manuals, student workbooks, and readers in one spot for easy access.  Some days I prepare ahead, but honestly most days I don’t have time to do so.  The teacher’s manuals are scripted and very easy to follow, so not much extra preparation is needed.  That is a HUGE help for me!

The readers for AAR have great stories!  They’re fun for me to listen to and really help the kids with inflection, etc.  And the activities with each story cover reading comprehension, which I love.

Another bonus is that only the activity books are consumable.  While the start up cost of this AAR and AAS may look daunting, it really gets cheaper as the years go by.

For instance, next school year I will purchase AAS level 5, but since I’ve already taught levels 1-4, I don’t have to purchase anything new for my children who are doing those levels. AAR is similar as well.  Next year Matthew will be doing AAR level 2.  I purchased that last year when Matilda was doing it, so the only thing I need to purchase for Matthew this year is his activity book.  Enough about cost, let’s get to the learning aspect!

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The All About Spelling Student Packets come with word cards, phonics cards, sound cards, and key cards.  The key cards are my favorite!  These cards contain different phonics rules that I use with my kids like flashcards.  The kids really have fun reviewing these. All About Reading comes with phonics cards and word cards.  Having to use phonics cards with both AAR and AAS is a big help with having those sounds stick in the kids’ brains!  A teacher at our enrichment program even commented how Matilda really knows her phonics.  I store all of our cards in handy little boxes that you can purchase from All About Learning Press.  These are super sturdy and Liam’s is still kicking after 5 years.

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Letter tiles!  This is our favorite part!  Each lesson in AAR and AAS has the children working with letter tiles.  In spelling, we go over a concept, then I have the kids spell words using that concept with the tiles.  This tactile lesson really helps them remember rules about dividing syllables, identifying types of syllables, identifying letter “teams”, and much more.  Teaching reading with the tiles is easy and fun as well.  My tiles are currently on an oil drip pan, yes the kind used in cars.  But I need to get a larger one to have more work space in the center.  I may upgrade to this larger one.

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And finally sticker charts!  So simple, yet so effective!  This also helps me remember what lesson each of my children are on. 🙂  Each level in AAR and AAS comes with themed stickers or you can use whatever you have on hand.  You can also download the charts straight from All About Learning Press.  Today my big boys finished level 4 of AAS.  Even though they’re preteens, they were super proud to put that final sticker on their chart!

How do I teach 5 kids all of these lessons without getting overwhelmed?  First, we do spelling only on Fridays.  Each lesson takes about 20 minutes max.  I do verbally quiz them through the week, sometimes even at the dinner table, to see what rules they can remember or how to spell a particular word. Also, to save me some time, Liam and Jack do spelling lessons together.

Reading is done twice a week.  My 4th and 5th graders are above AAR reading levels, so they don’t do it.  I use it only for 3rd grade and down.  Again these lessons are only about 20 minutes, including the fun activities that go with each one.

So between spelling and reading for 5 children, I spend about 2 1/2 hours total per week teaching.  While that seems like a short time for teaching reading and spelling, this program is really effective.  All of my children are strong readers and spellers, and I really owe it to All About Learning Press!

*This post contains affiliate links.  Thanks for supporting our family!*

Matilda’s First Communion

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Saturday was her big day!  After preparing all year (all her life really), Matilda received Jesus for the first time.  She kept saying, “I can’t believe I can take the Eucharist now!”  Then she asked if we can go to daily Mass this week.

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And of course we celebrated after with a party and lots of food!

“This is the wonderful truth, my dear friends: the Word, which became flesh two thousand years ago, is present today in the Eucharist.” -St. Pope John Paul II

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And I tried oh so hard to finish her Icon before her Saturday, but I’m kinda a busy lady and didn’t get it done.  One day soon though!

*For those asking about her dress, I didn’t get a lot of pictures because of the hustle and bustle of the day and the rain.  I’ll take more later.  I made the dress using an Oliver + S Pattern, the Fairy Tale Dress with tulip capped sleeves.  I would have liked to use a different pattern like Garden Party from Oliver + S or Olivine from Clever Charlotte, but I let Matilda pick everything.  She did a great job I think!  The silk sash really made the dress!

 

How I “get it all done”

Twice in the past week, people asked me how I can possibly have time to sew or make anything while homeschooling 6 children.  First, let me say I don’t get it all done.  My house is messy.  Some weeks I can only focus on keeping the bathrooms and floors clean and I just have to let the rest of it go.  I try to make sewing and crafting time for me a priority because it helps me calm down and focus.IMG_1283

But one huge help I have is extensive chore charts!  I read a Charlotte Mason list of things children at various ages should be responsible for.  At first I thought no way can my newly 4 year old do laundry or my 5 year old unload and load the dishwasher…then I had them try it.  Guess what, they can!  So I made chore charts that closely followed the Charlotte Mason list.IMG_1284

I sat the kids down and explained that if we all work together, chores shouldn’t take long at all.  And everyone doing their chores makes for a happy family.  The lists are in the most prominent place in our house, the front of the refrigerator.  I taught the children what we expect with each chore, and there will be consequences, such as loss of screen time, if they do not check everything off each day.  And yes, even my 11 year old has to be reminded to brush his teeth every day.  My 20 month old even has her own chart that the big kids help her with. IMG_1167

Not only do these chore charts give me extra time for sewing, Iconography, and making rosaries, but it also give my kids a sense of pride in all that they can accomplish for the family.

These charts, along with our assignment sheets, help the day go much more smoothly.  The kids know what’s expected of them and I don’t have to constantly remind them to clean this or that or get their math done…oh wait, yes I do, but not as much as I would without the charts!

***Edited to add that I also do “work for hire”.  I pay the kids extra above their weekly allowance to do jobs like vacuum and wash the van, wipe down the front of the cabinets in the kitchen, etc.  Typically I pay for harder jobs that should be done monthly or every few months.