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.

 

Jack’s Tragedy

We’re winding down the school year, but I had my older boys eek out one more small essay for me.  Both Jack and Liam used the same source text, yet they both produced very different writings.  I loved them both, however Jack’s paper kinda made me tear up.  I thought I’d share

To give a little introduction, we were talking about CS Lewis’s character Diggory in the Magician’s Nephew.  Lewis drew inspiration from his own relationship with his mother to form Diggory’s relationship with his mother in the story.  For those who don’t know, CS Lewis was known as Jack amongst his circle of friends.

Jack’s Tragedy

by Jack (age 10)

Jack loved his mother, yet her life came to a tragic end.  Jack enjoyed when his mother spent time with him learning and having fun.  Her name was Flora Lewis, and she spent much of her time with Jack and his brother, Warnie, reading to them and teaching them how to draw.  Both Flora and the boys were exceptionally intelligent and imaginative.  In time, Warnie was sent to boarding school because he became of age, so Jack and his mother grew very close having fun and learning Latin.  Later, when Jack was still very young, Flora became ill and was confined to her bed.  Only six month later, Flora passed away, and Jack, who was heartbroken at the loss of his mother, became deeply depressed.  He would later find comfort in retreating to his attic and thinking of all the fun he had with his mother.  Later, in his days as a writer, he would reflect upon Flora, who had directed him to the world of literature and set him on his path to take part in it.

**For those homeschoolers who follow me, we use IEW.  This particular piece came from the theme writing book Following Narnia Vol. 1: The Lion’s Song. (affiliate link)**

All About Reading Level 1 Second Edition Review

IMG_9021**I was given All About Reading Level 1 Second Edition free of charge in exchange for a review.  All opinions are my own.**

I’ve never really been one to mark “firsts”.  I don’t remember the dates of first steps, first solid foods, or first haircut.  The same cannot be said, however, for first story read.  That is a huge moment here at Casa Jones.  Well, Max, at 4 years old, read his first story after just a couple of lessons in All About Reading Level 1 Second Edition, All About Learning Press’ updated early reader program.

IMG_9022We are now 8 lessons in and Max already knows and is comfortable with the rhythm of this program.  The lessons alternate between learning phonics and reading stories.  Each lesson is fully scripted, so there is minimal prep time for the parent/teacher.  I did have to spend some time before starting lesson 1 prepping the flashcards and adding them to Max’s reading box, but that didn’t take much time at all.

The phonics lessons offer a gentle introduction of letter sounds and reading rules to our budding readers.  Phonics are introduced using flashcards then tiles.  Max loves using the magnetic tiles to blend words.  The tiles also make it easy for Max to identify the vowels (red tiles) vs. consonants (blue tiles).

There are a lot of tiles on my oil drip pan, but that is because my older kiddos are using more for upper levels All About Spelling and Reading.  Having this many tiles on the board doesn’t bother Max, but it may help struggling readers to have only one set of alphabet tiles.IMG_9024Each phonics lesson has fun, interactive activities to help the kids practice blending and to commit the phonics sounds to memory.  My kids all love the word flippers!  These lessons are short and sweet so the little ones don’t get overwhelmed.  This also allows me plenty of time to teach the other kids, especially since there is minimal prep time with each scripted lesson.  IMG_9027

The readers Run, Bug, Run, The Runt Pig, and Cobweb the Cat are full of cute stories that incorporate all phonics learned thus far.  I find that each story is just challenging enough to give Max confidence reading while stretching his abilities. Some lessons call for reading multiple stories, so I like to have Max read one story at a time throughout the day or even over a couple of days to avoid any frustration.  IMG_9028

Not only does each story have fun reading comprehension games, but the teacher’s manual has prompts so that I can guide Max to relating the stories to his own life and discuss any new vocabulary words.  There was one fun activity that taught Max how to read a sentence with a period then again with an exclamation mark.  I love teaching him how to read expressively at such an early stage!

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And of course we have fantastic sticker charts!

So how does the second edition differ from the first?  Max is the third child to use All About Reading level 1 at our home.  I’m finding that the second edition has great improvements which gives me confidence that All About Learning Press will continue to improve each of their products.  There are four new lessons in this edition.  There are many new stories to give Max more reading practice and build his confidence.  This edition also had Max reading a story by the second lesson.  He was so, so proud!  So if you have the first edition from previous students and are wondering if you should purchase the second, I say it’s worth it for the extra stories and reading comprehension lessons alone!

One other great thing about All About Reading Level 1 is that it is self paced and has constant review.  Max is currently going through around 4 lessons a week, but he’ll easily be able to slow down if things get a little to challenging for him.  And I’m confident that by the time he completes the entire level, he’ll be able to read chapter books such as The Magic Treehouse series all by himself!

This is truly a program that can be used successfully with most students.  It is very thorough and leaves no gaps in teaching how to decode, blend, read with fluency, and much more.

 

The Calm After the Storm

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My wonderful husband took care of most of the crazy kids today so I could cloister myself in our classroom to prepare for our school year starting in 1.5 weeks!  I spent the bulk of the day rearranging things, filling garbage bags, and writing lesson plans.IMG_8885

I kept looking at the mess of a room with bare walls, and with toys strewn about on the subfloor that we’ll someday cover with hardwood.  I know we’ll hit the ground running and not stop until next summer.  Most people would call this the calm before the storm.IMG_8886

But for me this is the calm after the storm.  After a hurricane of a summer…very hard third trimester, new baby, new job for the husband with a lot of travel…this is my calm.  There is such peace preparing this room and arranging things just so. There is such peace knowing I’ll get to spend so much time learning and growing with my children for yet another school year.IMG_8888

These aren’t just lesson plans I’m writing.  They’re plans to snuggle up on the sofa while we soak up C.S. Lewis’ wonderful words.  They’re plans to take a walk down by the creek to see how many different birds we can identify then sketch in our journals. And most importantly, they’re plans to sometimes just be still and know.IMG_8887

I thank God everyday for the gift of homeschooling and the time I get to spend with these seven sweet, wonderful, mighty, and loving souls.

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!*

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.

Our Homeschool Curriculum for 2015-2016

“What curriculum do you use?” is probably the question I get asked the most.  So I’ll just delve in:

Kindergarten:

2nd/3rd grader: (she’s at different levels in different subjects)

4th grader:

5th grader:

Wow!  That looks like a lot when I type it out!!  And I’m sure I missed a lot of little things we do.  However, we do not do every subject every day, so it’s not as bad as it seems.  We still have plenty of hours in the day for play and hobbies and of course minecraft.

A bonus of having a big family and lots of kids to teach, is that most of the books I buy can be reused.  I find that homeschooling gets a little easier on my wallet every year!

A Glimpse into Neverlands

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I find that the best conversations and learning opportunities I have with my kids are while they’re freely doing their own thing and wanting to verbalize what’s going on in their mind, imagination, little worlds.  I cherish those little peeks into their puzzlers.

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I decided to start adapting that learning style to parts of our homeschool day.  Instead of sticking to a strict schedule with clock times written down, we now follow more of a routine, not necessarily tethered to a clock.

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Our day starts with a bit of scripture time (when I remember!  I’m getting better) and discussion followed by some keyboarding and math facts practice.  After that, the older kids go off their own way to complete independent school work while I spend around 1 and 1/2 hours with Matthew.  He’s the type of “get all my school done in one sitting so I can spend the rest of the day playing outside or with toys” type of kid.  He really does enjoy our little school time together though, and so do I.

We then break for snack and play time.  After play time, I start helping the older kids until lunch.  Lunch break is good and looooong!  The kids usually talk me into reading to them. We’re reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and my voice hasn’t given up yet!  After lunch, the big kids and I take about 2 more hours to finish up our work.

Since we’ve adapted this loose routine, I find the kids are much more thoughtful and not rushing through their work.  I also find that I’m more keen to let conversations veer a bit off track when one of the kids is processing some thought.  This especially happens during literature time, which is my favorite time to let minds wander!

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I love being visited by the littlest ones during the school day.  I’m able to sneak in a few (a lot) of books for those cuties.  Stella, Max and Matthew flitter in and out of the classroom, steal pencils, and cause general mayhem which usually leads to laughter, or sometimes fights and tears to be honest.

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This way of teaching the children always makes me feel like Mrs. Darling in the first chapter of Peter Pan.  She tidies up the kids minds as they are sleeping and puts things straight and in their proper places.  A bonus to tidying up the kids minds is that I get a small glimpse into their Neverlands.