Monday, April 28, 2014

Playing With PicMonkey

A little out of the homeschool realm, and more in the blogging/birthday fun - I've been playing with PicMonkey the last couple of days and thought I'd throw in a share of some of Bug's birthday pictures from her party a week and a half ago. I can't believe how fast she is growing!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Update on Work Journals in the Homeschool Environment

Well, I don't have a picture-packed post of the kiddos this time. In fact, I don't know that I have more than a small handful of pictures of what they have done. We have been very busy, though. It has been almost 2 months since I wrote my first post about using work journals in our home. In the last few weeks, we have seen the results of sticking with it and consistently keeping up with our new system. My little class of five - well, the three of them who are using the journals - are really blossoming under this system of accountability combined with work journals.

So, although I didn't get to capture all the work we've been doing (because I have been so busy with them!), we have our journals as proof! I thought I would share a few progression pictures with you, to show the journey so far and where we have come from where we started.
When we began, I gave them a few days just to write down what they were doing, and left them open-ended opportunities to choose whatever they wanted, without any direction on what I wanted/needed them to do. I wanted them to get used to have the work journal as part of their day.

This is a snapshot of their journals from the early days:

Miss Priss - this was actually two days of work for her. Not much looks to be accomplished, but it may have been that she just didn't write it all down. Regardless, you can see the apparent need for accountability.

You can see the same with Hoss' first day of journal entries.

LM seemed to have a little more to write in, but in reality, the work that needed to be getting done wasn't getting there. If I didn't suggest it, it wasn't happening.

Then, I talked in this post about bringing back our pocket chart for use as an 'Expectation Chart'. They were given very simple expectations to complete by the end of the week, specified only by subject name. We spent a couple of weeks doing that, showing them that there are things I expect them to do, that our days aren't without the need for some stability and order.

Here is what those days brought us:

Miss Priss immediately began improving on her work load. 

This is Hoss' journal entry a couple weeks in to working with journals daily. A big improvement on only having two entries the first day! :) If you notice the words *test* and panic -don't :) We don't have 'tests' as you would in a traditional setting, but this was the week prior to getting his tonsils removed, and only four weeks out to their state testing. Because I knew that he would be down for at least a week after the tonsillectomy, I was trying to prepare him for what his test format would be like, with some test samples that came in a workbook from a local store here. 

I was very pleased with the changes I saw with LM as well. Her cursive style of writing here is atrocious - she definitely wasn't taking her time with it - but the content of her work was getting much better, and has continued to improve. 

Then, I made the expectations more specific. I explained that I had these specific expectations for them to complete every week. I wanted them to decide what days they expect themselves to do them, bringing in a personal accountability as well, and teaching them to have a larger view than just the day itself. I told them they were responsible for keeping themselves busy. They are allowed to move an expectation to the next day if needed, if all their work doesn't get completed for whatever reason, but on Friday what isn't done must be complete. We don't carry any work over to the next week, because I would forget, they would forget, and I like the beginning of the week to come with a clean slate. Here are some current pictures of journal entries from the last couple of weeks:

This particular day, Miss Priss decided it was a great idea to work ahead - all on her own, not of my suggestion. So not only does she have her daily expectations on there, she also has extra expectations that she didn't actually set for herself until a later day that week. I know that rings very similar to a *check-it-off-the-list-and-be-done* method - I don't want you to be confused. She did still do work on the day that she had tried to work ahead for, and some were things that weren't part of the basic expectations. I was pleased to see, though, that she figured out that she could work diligently and reap the rewards of not trying to wait until the last minute - that's an important thing for a child to learn and carry over to adulthood. 

This is a picture of Hoss' journal. I chose it to show the method we use for when there are expectations that need to be carried over to the next day, and this is proof of him working ahead as well. The first three works written down were actually completed two days prior, the same day that Miss Priss was working ahead. Then the next two works were actually ones leftover that he didn't complete from Wednesday, though he did work ahead on others. There were stars in front of them, and when the work was complete it was erased. Another note on his work - he has Golden Beads written down. He is at a point where he really doesn't NEED the GB work at all, both with his age and mastery of some other concrete-to-abstract work, but he is using it as a way to practice multiplication of larger numbers in to the thousands. He is working on the concept of it, so is doing the same work with the Golden Beads, Stamp Game, and will soon be doing it with the Dot Game as well. I am trying to make sure the process is well grounded before teaching him abstract multiplying. 

You can also see that I allowed for a substitution. This particular day was a Friday, and he got to the end of the day and was discouraged to see that he had worked hard, and had forgotten his grammar work. So we looked over and I told him I'd let him trade the extra reading and history for grammar that day. The concentration and dedication to working and holding themselves accountable for their expectations has been my goal - I think the proof is in the pudding.

LM's journal entry from the beginning of this week. 

I have spent many days reminding them to keep up with their work, write everything down, even beginning to have them record what they do (or sometimes, what we don't do) on days where we don't have a specific work time. We have a four day school week, with one day spent dedicated to having our library time. They now are encouraged to record even this. I don't want there to be a gap in the days in their journal, except for the weekend. If we don't do school for whatever reason, I want them to record *No School* for that day, so that when we look back, all days are accounted for, no matter what happens on them. This article written at Montessori Trails and the comments that followed it are what encouraged me to have them begin keeping track of each day, no matter what we do. I don't think it hurts to have good documentation, just in case it's needed (although, if you read the comments on the article, I also agree that you shouldn't provide more than necessary, and leave room for someone to infringe on your rights as a homeschooler. But that's another subject - one that was best covered already on that post!)

I would love to hear if anyone else had the same struggle to finding what worked with them (and if they had to change it often, depending on the child) and what you did to make things go smoothly in your home! :)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

School Days Highlights

I haven't taken as many pictures as I'd like the last couple of weeks, but here are a few that I managed to get during our work time. 

Bug was intrigued by cleaning the brown stair one day, and decided she would clean each piece while putting it together. 

She enjoyed it a little more than I expected. Here she is, checking her work a final time before putting it away.

This is the history that LM is divulging herself in lately. I had the CD's, but they weren't captivating enough for our children for some reason. The books, though, are LM's current favorites to read. As of right now, she's made it through this one entirely, and is working on Volume 1 (kind of taking a step backwards, I guess :) ).

Hoss is even enjoying reading more than he used to, which is good to see. He does still have a 'shut down' mode, however. When he *shuts down* he can read the words, have no comprehension whatsoever, and quickly gets frustrated. I have been trying to work on watching this with all my children, and make sure I can catch them before shut down occurs and messes the day up. 

Hoss was working here on articles. He still has some trouble trying to keep the rules of singular/plural separate from the rule of using *a* and *an* with vowels and consonants. I set up a basket with some small objects (nouns) and had some word cards with the articles the, a, and an on them. He has been reviewing the rules of each, working towards mastery.

LM LOVES to sew. I wish I had more time to teach her - when there aren't so many little feet around. Chances are, it's going to take some weekend time. However, she was able to cut out a makeshift pattern and hand sew a dress for her bear, a project she was very proud of :)

About two weeks ago, my oldest two - LM and Hoss - had state-mandated, standardized testing, which is why there aren't a ton of pictures of other work being done. We spent a lot of time that week making sure they were prepared for the way the test goes, filling in bubbles, and what can and can't happen - no getting up, no asking for help, yes, there will be questions you don't understand - it's done on purpose, don't panic, cry, get angry, etc. Oh, and SIT STILL :) What we did get to squeeze in was a lesson on making homemade biscuits. One day, after piano, their teacher (and a dear friend of our family) stayed late to teach Kirsten (and me!) how to make homemade biscuits. So we had an unexpected bit of practical life thrown in.

This is how much Bug really LOVED the biscuits.... Okay, so these weren't the greatest. But it wasn't the fault of the recipe so much as all the floury hands in the bowl. Too much flour, to be specific. The next time we had them, I made them myself, with  less extra flour to weigh them down, and the kiddos love them. I'd love to share the *recipe* but there really isn't one - it's a pinch of this, pinch of that, pour here and there and make sure it feels just right.

LM and Hoss had their first piano recital a couple days after their state testing, so that was also being prepared for. 

I don't have any new pictures to add from the last week or so. We have been very busy, and if you took a peek at the work journals, they are great story-tellers of what is going on. Truthfully, I just had a chance today to charge the  battery on my camera, so obviously pictures haven't been taken!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding

We are headed a new direction with Science as of late. I will admit here - this is not a strong subject for me. It never was, and I was really unsure of where I wanted to go with it. I have tried several things, even going so far as to scour books, trying to make it interesting and exciting - I just don't have a brain geared for a love of Science. Nor a way to make it fun!

I know how Montessori teaches Science, but don't have the manuals to do so. I was at a loss, but decided to look again in to a book recommended by MBT at What Did We Do All Day? -
Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding (henceforth known as BFSU), written by Bernard J Nebel.

An excerpt from the Introduction:

"In summary, this text is designed to: provide a steppingstone-like sequence of lessons that facilitates systematic building of concepts; maintain interest by centering lessons on what children regularly experience; engage children’s own thinking in reaching rational conclusions; and integrate other subjects."

Nebel, Bernard J. (2007-11-30). Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding: A Science Curriculum for K-2 (p. 2). Outskirts Press, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

I have seen several posts from MBT about using it in her own home, and figured it would be $9.99 well spent on the Kindle version if it worked. I wish now I had bought it MONTHS ago. If you looked close enough at the excerpt, you would see it's from the K-2nd grade volume. Although LM and Hoss aren't in the early grades, the book is set up systematically, instead of a pick-and-choose variety of lessons, and I didn't want to risk not touching on something they needed. The good news is, there are two more volumes, so if this works well for us, we will be able to continue on. There is a flowchart in the beginning of the book, giving you a good idea of the order of lessons - there is some flexibility with this, so I am trying to pre-plan the order of lessons, and keep a good smooth flow to what we work on.
There are four major threads - NATURE OF MATTER, LIFE SCIENCE, PHYSICAL SCIENCE, and EARTH/SPACE SCIENCE. As it stands we will be elbows deep in all, flowing in and out between threads.

The first lesson was simply learning to categorize (organize) your surroundings. I inroduced the new (to some) vocabulary of categorize and organize. We talked and walked through the kitchen, stopping at the utensils drawer to talk about the organization and different categories of silverware, and talked about the grocery store and how they have to categorize their merchandise to make things easy to find. Hoss brought up a local pizza place in town and gave an example of them keeping their silverware on the buffet organized and separate so that people can find what they need, and we discussed how nice that was so that there weren't people we didn't know touching all the silverware trying to find what they needed (he's had pizza on the brain here lately, and really wants to take me out - read: go out so he can play the quarter games in the game room, and get to eat pizza!). 

Then I pulled out these baskets, prepared ahead of time for this lesson. I threw an assortment of objects in there, that could make for several different ways to classify the contents. 

Then, we divided in two teams - LM and Hoss on one, Miss Priss and I on the other - oh, and the third team, Bug and Buddy Boy, were napping :) . I gave them directions to decide among themselves how they wanted to classify their objects, and not to say it out loud - keep it as a surprise. Below are the ways they chose:

Miss Priss chose first to sort hers according to big and small.

LM and Hoss went with color

They wanted to do it a second time around, and this time Miss Priss chose to sort them according to shape, using our geometric solids as a guide.

LM and Hoss chose to sort them according to name - as in, keeping like objects together. 
I was surprised that both times, they sort of chose the easier route. We also talked afterwards, all together, about a fifth way we could have classified them - soft and hard

Our second lesson, about a week later, was on Solids, Liquids, and Gases. We have talked about this many, many times, so I didn't have to initially show them what they were looking for. Instead, I set up three baskets, with labels of solid, liquid, and gas underneath them. I sent the kids searching for things that would fit in to those categories. 


(in the cup was actually several ice cubes - LM brought them in, just showing that she probably knows where these lessons are all going)



It was rather funny, as much as we have talked about the states of matter before, to see them trying to figure out how to fill the basket with gases. They were shocked when I told them it was actually *already full*. The older two, I believe, already figured this one out. 

This led to talking about the properties of each state of matter - in particular, that a solid will always hold it's shape, a liquid will mold in to whatever the solid shape of it's container is, and a gas has no definite shape. We used a few different things - a drinking cup, plate, medicine dropper, and ice cube tray, to show the liquid changing it's shape. I didn't get pictures of those, however - my hands were a little busy.

That is where we are so far, and I think that from what I have read of the lessons to come, the kids are really going to enjoy them.
I personally am enjoying the book, and the simple, cost-friendly, yet effective way the lessons isolate the individual concepts so that mastery of something can happen before moving on. For example, the states of matter lesson actually comes in two parts - the first one what we have already done, and the next showing the transformation of states from a solid, to a liquid, and then to a gas (melting water). It also has the underlying effect of leaving room for the child to question concepts further if they want to, but still understanding what is being taught even if they don't. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Contemplating Art in our Montessori(ish) Path

I have been contemplating the addition of Art in our routine. I will admit this has not been a strong point. I love crafty things, and I am always amazed by those who have an artistic bent, I do not [insert long sigh]. My original plan this year was to rotate composers to give a little music appreciation - that fell through within a couple months. Now that the kids are finished with their state-mandated standardized testing, I am trying to get that out of my head for a little while, renew my thinking for the next few months, and working on *continually* adding to the education of my children. 

I thought I would throw out some ideas, in hopes that maybe I could get some interesting input from any homeschooling (or even non-homeschooling) friends who might be keeping up with this blog. 

I wanted to give a broader scope of 'art' than just the go-to painting that is so often seen. Considering the definition of art (especially def #4a), there is so much more to it than that. I have a desire for them to at least get a modest taste of art in it's different forms, and help them to realize that there are some forms of art that they have already been exposed to, whether they realized it or not. 

My thoughts were to try to bring in a few categories, teaching them in tandem with each other. I don't want the same thing being learned and experienced from one week to the next. Here's my ideas:

1. Artist study - past and present
2. Composers/Classical Music
3. Poetry/Lyrical Song Writing
4. Kids Arts and Crafts
5. Woodworking

Artist Studies would, of course, tie in often to sculpture making and painting, as poetry and song writing will go hand in hand when they learn that many songs were started as poetry. I have even thought of introducing journalism in somewhere, although some may not classify that as an art form. 

I am open for suggestions - what do you do in your home to bring art into the 'curriculum', so to speak? Do you use a specific art curriculum package, do you make your own plan, do a little here and there? Or nothing at all?
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