Wednesday, June 9, 2010


It's June, which means we are officially on summer break (although that doesn't mean that we stop learning!).  The weather has been nice so far but is heating up rapidly.  Unlike some families who can spend all day out-of-doors in the summer, we find ourselves limited by the extreme heat, so I like to plan things for us to do indoors during the hot afternoons.  I also like to keep a rhythm to our days; they're more relaxed and somewhat fluid, but having place markers helps keep the days from stretching into an endless bore.

We generally try to get outside on all but the hottest mornings.  We walk the dogs, eat breakfast outside, and tend the garden.  The boys will play basketball or paint.

One thing I like to do each summer is read a novel to the boys.  This year we've chosen The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, a 2010 Newberry Honor Winner that looks to be smashing.  I like to bring T-Guy away from his rather narrow interest in fantasy novels and I think that a novel that has a science focus will be right up J-Baby's alley.

Each summer we bring a stronger focus on arts and crafts; I'll admit that I find it far easier to have the boys paint outside and deal with the mess out there.  We already have the easel set up under the porte-cochere and jars of diluted (1:1) Liquid Watercolors stand at the ready for painting inspiration, along with our makeshift drying line and a wash station.  This summer we're going to focus on hand-sewing skills as our craft, perhaps branching out to the machines by summer's end.  I now have a Singer Featherweight 221 for each boy, although they both needs some maintenance/repair (I have a Featherweight 222 for myself ~ how lucky am I?).

The boys are old enough now to really learn about maintaining a clean home so we'll be teaching them the basics of dusting, vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms, etc.  It sounds boring but I think it is important to teach life skills to children and help them see the value of keeping a clean and tidy home.  We've decided as a family that we will no longer hire housecleaners for a job that we are capable of doing ourselves (and I am so grateful that my health has improved to a place where we can do this).

Both boys have a real interest in cooking, so once a week I'll be bringing one of them into the kitchen to learn the basics of cooking a healthy, delicious dinner.  They are definitely behind where I was at their age, as at age 10 I could put the entire meal on the table, but the way I cook now is far different than how I was taught (opening cans, boxes, and freezer containers).  Still I think they are ready for learning to cook simple meals such as baked chicken, brown rice, and sauteed zucchini.  They can also pitch in on my weekly big kitchen day.

The pool becomes a big focus for us in the summer, as we go for a couple of hours most afternoons, either before it is time to prepare dinner or after an early dinner so that Papa can come with us.

We have many activities to mark our week; farmers markets on Thursdays and Saturdays, the summer music series on Tuesdays and Fridays, weekly gathering with our homeschooled friends, play dates, a weekly kids' movie series, and our weekly library trips (including twice monthly board game days).  It sounds busy but none of these activities take long, they are spread out, and all of them are optional.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Reviewing the Year: 2009 - 2010 Edition

Long time no blog, eh?

We sort of had a learning meltdown near the end of April, and since then we have completely revamped.  We spent our final month of the "school year" back in a really relaxed manner, exploring Shakespeare and mostly just pursuing whatever interests the boys had.

2009 - 2010 was an interesting year for us.  We all learned a lot.  We did an impromptu 10 minute fraction lesson yesterday and I have no doubt that the basics of fractions have taken hold.  Common denominators and reducing fractions are no longer foreign concepts, and more importantly the boys have a strong sense of fractions being parts of wholes.

J-Baby moved from competent reader to someone who enjoys reading.  He still mostly chooses non-fiction for himself, but he does enjoy fiction.  I learned that the hardest part for him is choosing a work of fiction; it isn't as simple as knowing that you want to read about neutron stars or volcanoes.  He actually appreciates it when I am the one who does the weeding for him and find books that I think will appeal to him.  I mostly stick to the classic books for his developmental stage.

T-Guy really jumped ahead in his math skills, easily memorizing his multiplication facts and quickly getting a strong grasp on long division.  It's kind of funny that both of my boys find long division far simpler than long multiplication.  He read hundreds of books and easily listened to 50 more.  He's moved into creative writing and wanting to write more in general.

Last year I did a year in review and I really enjoyed looking back later and seeing how much we had done, so I am going to do it again.  It is impossible to cover everything we did/learned so I will list the more traditionally academic learning.

History/Social Studies:  This year our focus was on American History.  Using the A History of Us series by Joy Hakim we finished Vol. 2 Making Thirteen Colonies, did Vol. 3 From Colonies to Country, and got started on Vol. 4 The New Nation.  The boys viewed the entire Liberty's Kids series.  While American history was our focus we also studies some Viking/Norse history during our Norse Mythology block, and the boys watched various PBS programs on subjects that interest, such as ancient Egypt.  T-Guy says History is his favorite subject and we really love watching him and J-Baby make connections between historical and current events.

Reading:  I stopped trying to keep up with everything T-Guy read this year.  He reread many favorites, discovered some new books such as the Children of the Lamp series by P.B. Kerr, the Hardy Boys, and the new series by Percy Jackson author Rick Riordan, The Kane Chronicles, the first book out being The Red Pyramid.  J-Baby checked out and read hundreds of science books, some aimed at children and some aimed at adults.  Both boys enjoyed their assigned reading, including The Search For Delicious, Stuart Little, The Trumpet of the Swan, The Earth Dragon Awakes, and the many books I found to support our blocks studies on Norse mythology and Beowulf.  The boys did projects for Stuart Little and The Search For Delicious.  This year the boys both participated in their first book club at the library.  Part of the club was reading out loud at each session and both boys did really well with this; Thomas in particular improved his fluency and inflection when reading out loud (J-Baby is rather dramatic and already had this down).  They also participated in book-related discussion, games, quizzes, and art projects.

Language Arts:  This year we studied grammar with an emphasis on parts of speech.  The boys learned the basics about nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs; plus prepositional phrases, interjections, conjunctions, synonyms, antonyms, homonyms and homophones.  They learned verb tenses, sentence and paragraph construction, and creative writing.  Each boy wrote his own heroic epic and a short essay.  The boys developed spelling skills as I worked with them on their phonics skills and spelling rules.  Recently the boys have been watching The Electric Company and this has also helped with developing spelling skills.

Science:  J-Baby lives and breathes science!  There isn't a day that goes by that he doesn't have his nose in a science book or that he isn't explaining some sort of scientific theory to me.  We continued with science experiments this year, some simple exploration with books and some more elaborate experiments with kits.  There was a lot of work with electricity, including parallel and series circuits.  We grew crystals and explored basic chemistry.  We continued to spend time in nature learning our local flora and fauna and went deeper into research using books.  Each boy did research on a local animal, writing an essay and drawing pictures of the animal, it's habitat, home, and food.  We started a garden again this year and revisited our learning on seeds and plants.  One thing we focused on was recording observations and the boys took notes on their experiments, making predictions and recording outcomes.

Math:  Grade 4 was focused on two main subject areas in math, long division and fractions, and we made amazing progress in both.  We also practiced skills in addition and subtracting with regrouping, long multiplication, and multiplication facts.  We informally explored numbers systems and basic algebra.  We observed geometric shapes in nature and described objects in nature with both objective and subjective adjectives.

Foreign Language:  I'd love to be able to say that we moved forward with Spanish this year, but the boys still don't have any real interest in speaking another language.  Informally we spent time talking about word origins and I still use basic Spanish with them, which they understand more and more.  We also explored the culture of Mexico and Mexican-Americans through music, food, and holiday celebrations.

Health:  This was the big year for learning the basics of human reproduction.  We also continued to focus on nutrition, exercise, food chemicals, and more.  We talked about emotions in ourselves and others, personal safety, and exercise/sports safety.

Fine Arts:  Both boys improved in their drawing skills, in part due to natural developmental progress and also our work with drawing using OM4 and Draw Write Now.  We did a basic guitar course and worked on singing in parts.  Both boys really got the hang of knitting and they also did weaving work.  We also continued to attend plays and musical performances.

Physical Education:  This was the year of baseball skills!  Both boys worked on hitting, running, and catching, and T-Guy played his first year in Pony Baseball, which brought a deeper knowledge of baseball rules and strategy.  The boys also worked on learning new mountain biking skills.  Throughout the year we walked, hiked, and swam, with the boys learning three swim strokes (freestyle, butterfly, and breast) and also egg-beater style water treading.