Monday, August 31, 2009

Grade 4, Lesson 2, Day 1 ~ Math Again

In general, I try to preserve Monday as a home day. I don't make appointments for Mondays unless it can't be avoided. I don't plan on going to the grocery store or doing any other errands. We plan to stay home, do some laundry, and put the house to rights (am I the only one whose house can look like a tornado hit after a weekend at home?). Monday is our soup and bread night because I know I will be home to simmer a soup and bake bread (usually a gluten-free quick bread).

Of course, the Monday plan also includes the return to lessons. Today went fairly well; J-Baby was slow but he wasn't complaining, and honestly, there was a lot of writing today. His hands get very tired writing, especially when he must write in small spaces; the OM4 math worksheet today was filling in number sequences. Monday is also the day the boys write their spelling words in their spelling journals. Plus they had journaling and penmanship work.

I think I chose to start our weekly lesson rotation with math because it is one that doesn't require a lot of prep time or materials. I'll admit it; Monday are hard for me. We always need to get back into our groove after the weekend with Papa. Right now math is exceedingly easy; we are doing review and honestly it is review of second grade concepts. I want to make it harder but I also know that review is good and that we are establishing rhythms.

The workboxes are still working fantastically. It doesn't take me long to set them up the night before and the boys, T-Guy especially, like knowing what comes when. For now I have been setting the boxes up with all of the independent work first (giving me time to accomplish morning chores), however, T-Guy is finishing before J-Baby and he ends up with time to kill while waiting for the focused lessons (done with me) to begin. I may try switching it around.

Once again the OM syllabus is obviously not geared to our climate ~ today the suggestion is to take nature walks. Not only is it 103 degrees right now, but our air is full of smoke from nearby wildfires.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Grade 4, Lesson 1, Day 5 ~ The Boys Take Their First Test

Today I gave the boys a spelling test. It was the first time ever; in general I am against testing but really how do you find out if they are learning their spelling words if you don't test them to find out? They don't write enough for me to naturally correct spelling and help them learn the words they have trouble with. It can also be a bad thing to correct spelling in creative writing as it can stifle the creative process.

Friday is our day to "catch up" or finish anything we needed more time for during the week. We finished the social studies writing and drew a cross-section of a lemon for science.

I think that whenever we choose a curriculum there is a tendency to want to get our money's worth from it and we don't always question the whys behind the assignments nor do we always change the assignments to best meet our children's and family's needs. We don't stop to consider which parts of the assignments could be done in a more organic manner. In other words, we don't always look at the ways that it is too similar to traditional schooling.

I feel fairly committed to using Oak Meadow this year, but I am seeing that it will work best used as a spring board. What is the point of this assignment ~ what are we meant to learn? Is this the best way to approach it?

I can say after one week that I hate, hate, hate not doing main lesson blocks. Hate it! I might have to rearrange everything to change it. Here I spent nearly $300 on the various OM books needed because I wanted more direction, and now I am thinking that I have to do the work to pull it all apart. I'm going to give it another couple of weeks though before I start the deconstruction.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Grade 4, Lesson 1, Day 4 ~ The Weather Gets in the Way

I like to picture of all the people who write homeschool curricula, especially Waldorf or Waldorf-inspired curricula, sitting under the trees in their New England yards, enjoying the fall weather and having no frigging idea what August is like in California! Our leaves are still green and won't drop for several months. There is no chill in the air, no sense of crispness. Any smoke we smell is from the nearby forest fire, not from people burning wood in their fireplaces to stave off the cold. There is no cold.

When we used Enki none of the nature stories worked with our climate. Today Oak Meadow suggests that we head out for a field adventure ~ only it's already 88 degrees (before 10 am) and the mercury is rising swiftly. We aren't about to risk heatstroke, and honestly, the boys are already cranky from playing outside earlier. I've decided we'll do an early morning topography study after it cools down somewhat. Plus various Waldorf and Enki curricula expect that we can go to a park or natural place and collect samples. Excuse me, it doesn't work that way here! We leave rocks so that the next person can see them; heck, at some beaches we aren't allowed to collect shells. There are just too many people living here to let everyone take something home. We have to content ourselves with pine cones from the city parks (we can pick those up, as they just go over them with huge riding mowers anyway) and maple leaves and acorns from the sidewalk. We had to steal mulberry leaves from the local school when we raised silkworms.

As you may have guessed, I'm blogging live today. Currently the boys are on their second box (we started late so that they could get in a little outdoor play before it gets unbearable hot), which is math. They are playing math war with dominoes; it works just like war with cards except they have to add together both sides of the domino.

Truthfully, we are all a little cranky today. Papa most definitely has the flu, although he refuses to entertain the idea that it might be H1N1. T-Guy started coughing this morning and is really grumpy, which is usually a sign that he is sick. I already experienced fatigue and sore throat and now I have the headache that won't quick. J-Baby? Well, he's always a little cranky ~ it's in his nature.

Today is also our wedding anniversary. 21 years ~ our marriage is of legal drinking age. Most of the time I am really glad that we waited to have children, but when the anniversary numbers started getting pretty large I realized that if we had gotten started right away we could have had 2 young adult children by now, off to college. Which means I could be eating bon-bons right now instead of stopping every fifth word to help the boys (they've moved on to writing their spelling words in sentences). Don't get me wrong ~ I really love being with my boys everyday. The desire to have the boys grown and gone to college, or even off to public school, is only the headache typing.

(Ooh, I have a hummingbird flitting around my hummingbird wind chime. How cool is that?)

Today's art lesson is taking a lot longer than planned; they are enjoying their work. I need to do a better job of calculating how long each lesson will take for any given day. Yesterday the boys were done with everything in under two hours, today they've been at it for more than two hours and we haven't even started social studies.

Part of the social studies lesson for today is drawing a big, old tree. The boys really got into it; J-Baby's is gnarled and completely leafless (he said it is a winter tree). We definitely ran out of time this morning so we'll finish today's lesson tomorrow during "catch-up" time.

Oh, the final temperature check before I post this ~ 105 degrees.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Grade 4, Lesson 1, Day 3 ~ The Post That is Practically an Infomercial

I'm just going to start by saying that workboxes are awesome! I am definitely using a very simplified version, but it is working for us. I fill the boxes the night before and the boys can dig into them as soon as they are ready in the morning. They are easily accomplishing their journal writing, math practice, penmanship, spelling, and independent ready, all before we sit down and work our main lesson, art, and music together.

I think it works because of its ease, organization, and accountability. I am responsible for filling the boxes (or in many cases simply changing the page markers or slipping in new instructions) ~ the boys hold me accountable. If I don't do my part it falls apart; they count on me to be organized, and with this system it's easy. They are responsible for working through the boxes each morning. They move the card that shows which box they are working on and flip the cards on all completed boxes to show the word "Finished". (I know this is worthless without pictures ~ I will take some soon.) I hold them accountable for finishing their work and it is easy for me to visually see which boxes have been completed, which box they are working on, and how many boxes they have to go. As I update the boxes at night I can quickly check their work.

Wednesday is our science day; today we combined science with our art lesson as we drew pictures of fruit from two perspectives. Observation is key in OM4 science, so we worked with real pieces of fruit. After we drew our pictures we wrote two sentences; one that described the fruit in terms of the physical, and one that described our impressions of the fruit in a subjective way. For example, a lime was green and oval, and it smelled bright and tasted tart.

I struggled less with the non-Waldorf aspects of Oak Meadow today. I knew OM wasn't truly Waldorf and that we wouldn't be doing main lesson blocks. The boys are actually excited to approach a different subject each day ~ it stays fresh for them. Working on each subject once a week we still have some amount of sleep/digestion before we come back to it.

Tomorrow requires field work. It's supposed to be 106 degrees ~ yikes! I'll post about that tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Grade 4, Lesson 1, Day 2 ~ The First Wrench

We got up earlier today. There is nothing like waking up because the dogs are barking like maniacs, only to have your spouse tell you that he feels like he has the flu and your child tell you that he wet the bed. Seriously, I wasn't even out of my bed yet and I was behind. I got Papa a glass of water and some ibuprofen, sent the child to take a shower, and stripped the bed. Oh, and I brought in the barking dogs.

By 8:30 the boys were bored; they had already eaten breakfast, dressed, and finished a few chores. I told them there was no reason to wait until 9 am ~ they could get started on their lesson work. Last night I rearranged the workboxes so that the first 5 had independent work (journal writing, math practice, penmanship, spelling practice, and independent reading). The boys actually breezed through the boxes fairly quickly and needed very little instruction from me; this is a big change from before and I already like it! I spent my time updating our school records. Other than needing to file our Private School Affidavit (can't be done until 10/1) we are set.

For now Tuesday is our day for language arts. Some language arts work is done everyday, such as journal writing, independent reading, and spelling work. Today we reviewed the parts of speech and the boys wrote simple sentences then circled the nouns in blue and the verbs in red. Can I just say that I geek out on grammar? They wanted to know what kind of word "the" is and since the Oak Meadow definition of "the" as a "helping" word wasn't good enough I explained to them that it is a definite article.

We are working on drawing and music daily. Today we practiced holding colored pencils and sketching shapes without making outlines, and then we practiced holding and strumming our guitars.

I think we get an "A" for effort today ~ it is hard enough to focus when Papa is home without him being ill and requiring that we be quieter than usual.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Grade 4, Lesson 1, Day 1 ~ Let the School Year Begin!

Recap: we are using Oak Meadow 4th Grade this year. We are tweaking the music, adding in physical education, and augmenting subjects as the boys express interest.

We woke up bright and early enough, ate breakfast, dressed, and did a few simple chores. The boys were eager to get into the "classroom" aka an area of the family room that is set up with a large desk and bookcases. All week they had been making school references which was actually starting to drive me crazy. J-Baby in particular was talking about his "long" walk to school and the "cafeteria" lunches, and when Papa asked if "the teacher" was going to ring a bell to start the day T-Guy told him that "the teacher" wouldn't even wake up until the bell rang. Yeah, they've got me pegged.

In addition to using Oak Meadow I am loosely adapting Sue Patrick's Workbox System to help the boys work independently on certain tasks and to stay organized, so I was introducing both the Oak Meadow program and the workbox system to the boys. We got through the main portion of our first day in about 3 hours. Of course, there was little independent work as I had to explain each box to the boys.

I had read that we might want to divide the main OM subjects and work on one per day, so Monday was math day. While I suppose it works in theory, for now it feels clumsy. The lesson itself mentions working on several days. The lesson seems to be cut short if we work on it one day and leave it for a week. On the other hand, working every subject everyday might seem tedious and very like traditional school. I'm not exactly sure what to do; I am still accustomed to the Waldorf method's main lesson blocks. Other ways of organizing the material feels alien to me.

Monday, August 17, 2009

"Teacher" Prep Week

I've always loved this week in homeschooling ~ it's the week that I finish my lesson planning, gather any supplies that are still needed, and get our learning space organized. I geek out on office supplies and lesson plans, LOL!

Tonight I ordered the readers that I wasn't able to find used this summer. My order came to $32 and I had an Amazon voucher for $35 from turning in coin a couple of weeks ago. Woot! We've decided to use what we have as much as possible this year and to economize where we can. With that in mind I have purchased one copy of each reader; if a second copy isn't available from the library we will share. The library has 1 -2 copies of each book but we can't guarantee that they will be available to borrow when we actually need them, hence owning one copy of each book will be insurance that we can stay on track.

I had read about Sue Patrick's Workbox System on several blogs and message boards and even know a few people in my area who are giving it a try this year. I bought the book and am adapting it (very loosely) to work for my boys. We have 8 shoe boxes per child on nice bookcases in the family room. I'll use them to organize the boys' daily lesson work. My goal is for them to take on some responsibility for the work they can do independently and also to give them visual information about what we will be doing. I am sure that the rhythm of what we are doing will become integrated very quickly and at that point the boxes will mostly serve as organizers for our work.

Another project I am working on in preparation for the beginning of our "school" year is creating a chore system. I have made charts in the past but they always failed because I would forget to print new charts each week. Jennifer at Tree of Life Homeschool posted awhile back about a magnetic chore chart she made and it looked like something that could work for us, so we bought the magnets and I will be printing out images and/or cue words and will make our chart this week.