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!

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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.

workboxes

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ADD and homeschooling.  I know there are many of us who walk this path.  It’s a hard, rocky path but occasionally the path smooths out.  This happened for me when years ago, someone mentioned the word workboxes.  My son has a terrible time trying to stay organized and he used to feel so overwhelmed at the beginning of the school day.  So after some research, I decided to give workboxes a try.

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Last school year was our first attempt, and it was beautiful!  My son’s tears and frustrations decreased considerably.

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The nitty gritty:  I purchased the Trofast (I always want to call it Trogdor! darn you Homestar Runner!) storage unit from IKEA.  Little labels were sketched out and laminated. The female side of Velcro is on the back of each label, and two male sides are on the drawers.  Labels are on the left for uncompleted work then moved to the right when completed.  In each drawer are all the books Liam needs to complete his work.  His pencils, erasers, rulers, and other supplies are all in a basket on his desk.  And it’s as simple as that!

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Over time I’ll transition Liam out of the workboxes and into a locker style something.  I’m sure as he grows, his organizational skill will improve, and these workboxes will hopefully give him a leg up.  I don’t use these with the other children since I have limited space and they seem to be doing fine without.  However, I can see how workboxes would be fantastic even for kids without ADD or any other learning disability.

Cabin in the woods part 3

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Here we are at the beautiful Bear Lake.

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Believe it or not, the hiking paths here were pretty crowded.  However, the snow and ice gave everything a feeling of enormous stillness.  Everything was so soft and quiet.  I could have spent hours here, but poor Max and Matthew were finally done by this point.

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These three amassed a great collection of Junior Ranger badges on this vacation.

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Estes Park is such a cute little town.  The food is wonderful (and thanks to the anonymous couple that paid for our meal at Poppy’s Pizza!!!  We said a rosary for you, whoever you are!)

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Liam and Jack had mountain man training from Jason.

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Mirror selfies!  Stella was really sick for most of the trip.  She finally felt better the last few days but still begged for me to hold her the entire time.  I didn’t mind one bit!

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Matthew and Max honed their climbing skills.  This was a pretty steep hike and these tough little boys handled it!

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Over the ridge we found blue skies and gorgeous fields.

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One of the kids took a picture of “butt rock” because we’re classy.

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Qwirkle was our game of choice while waiting for dinner.

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If only the chipmunk knew what the BBQ pit was used for…

The repeated sentence on this trip was, “When we come back here…”, so I think the kids had a great time.  Even though it’s a lot of work for me and Jason to take so many little ones on a hiking vacation, we still had a great time too.  I am looking forward to the day when our hikes can last longer and over much harder terrain.  Soon!

Cabin in the woods part 1

Here are a TON of pictures from our vacation that was allll the way back in May.  We stayed at an off-the-grid (run by nothing but a couple of solar panels, no interenet, no phone, no tv…Heaven!) cabin in the middle of nowhere in Roosevelt National Forest.  So here’s how a family of 8 vacations! Enjoy.

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How sweet are Jack and Stella by the fire?!

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An elk visiting for breakfast.

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Yes, I bathed my baby in the kitchen sink!  One shower with 8 people, so I had to make do.

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Jason became our bearded mountain man.  It was super cold, so we had to keep the fire going all week.  Pa Ingalls would have been proud!

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The kids spent hours by the creek in front of the cabin.  They spent the time rock hunting, rock tossing, and building forts.

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This is a completely working outhouse.  Last school year, the kids learned that outhouses in Colonial Williamsburg were called necessaries. Max kept running to this outhouse saying, “I need the necessary!”

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This fog was carrying some huge snow clouds behind it.

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When it was too cold and snowy to be outside, the kids spent time drawing or writing comics.  Here is Matthew explaining to Matilda the robot he wants her to draw.

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This is Matilda’s robot creation.

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A hill rose up behind the cabin.  This is the “mountain” Liam told everyone he almost reached the peak of.

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Vacation reading: The Road, Pioneer Girl, and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  Reading The Road in the middle of nowhere with pitch black nights was not a good idea.  I was kinda scared!

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Jack creating a comic.

More pictures to come…

Summer Reading

I had high hopes of homeschooling through summer, especially since we ended school early so we could move.  Ask me how much school we did this summer.  Go ahead.  You guessed it…little to none! ha  Turns out we just all needed a big break.  Moving while in the third trimester and homeschooling 5 kids was not an easy task.  So we spent the summer by the pool eating frozen yogurt.

One schoolish thing we did do was read a lot.  So I thought I’d put together a little list of the books I read aloud to the kids and how the kids liked it.  This isn’t a “best of” list or anything.  The kids just picked out a few books and we snuggled up to read.  Perhaps I’ll do another list soon of books the kids read on their own.

1. Indian in the Cupboard  This was a random choice.  I had credit on my kindle, so I let the kids pick out a book.  We really enjoyed this one.  Jack, the boy who claims to hate every book I read, was actually asking for “just one more chapter” each night.  By the end of the book, the kids were fighting over the one little plastic indian we have in the house.

2. Because of Winn Dixie  I’ve always wanted to read this to the kids so I just picked it up one library run.  And we’re big Kate DiCamillo fans here.  This book was fun and the kids enjoyed it. Also I got to use my native southern accent for most of it. 🙂

3. Pippi Longstocking  I think this one was the biggest hit of the summer.  I kept finding kids sleeping with their feet on the pillow or deciding that they were going to be “thing finders”.  Warning: use a new translation.  I picked up a really old copy that used the word cannibals instead of natives.  I ended up having to explain what cannibals actually are.  Fun.

4. Mary Poppins  We just finished this up then watched the movie.  And I have to say that although I love, love, love Julie Andrews, the book was just so much better than the movie.  The book Mary Poppins was a bit sterner but I really liked her.  And the adventures she and the kids had were just so bizarre that it made the book that much more enjoyable.

5. The Borrowers  So I had a reason for choosing this book.  I really wanted to watch The Secret World of Arriety, but I wanted the kids to know the inspiration first.  I think our favorite part about The Borrowers was what they used for furniture and various items in their home.  I knew the kids were fascinated with little people living in the walls and floors, so I picked up a dollhouse door, painted it, and glued it to the closet wall in Matilda’s room.  The looks on the kids’ faces when they found the door was priceless.

6. Little House on the Prairie  My husband is reading this to Matilda (It was his favorite book growing up).  The boys had no interest, but I haven’t broken it to them that this is on their reading list this year.  They did like Little House in the Big Woods, especially the pig part.  Matilda absolutely loves it.  She tells me about Laura and Ma and Pa all the time.  We’re definitely going to continue the series.

And that’s it.  We have an even longer list for the school year and I can’t wait to get reading!