Monday, April 29, 2013

Sedona Graduates

Sedona officially finished kindergarten a few weeks ago.  For our homeschool, that means she successfully completed Level A of RightStart Math, Level 1 of All About Reading, the science lesson plan I put together for her, learned to write all of the numbers and letters, and began playing piano.  There were a lot of other things going on too, but those were the requirements. 

She remembers that Sierra had a kindergarten graduation, so she expected one also and we were happy to oblige and celebrate her accomplishments.

Before the party, we got out a rather large surprise.  We decided to get one of those inflatable water slides for the girls to use this summer.  It wasn't really a graduation gift since it's for the whole family, but it seemed like a good time for the big reveal.  They were very surprised:

The whole family went to see Sierra perform in her latest play that afternoon, then we rushed home for the graduation party:
It was a very informal pizza and cookie cake affair, but as you can see, Sedona was absolutely thrilled to have everyone come see her and take a look at some of the work she's done this year:

Then she shared some fun projects from the year with the other kids.  This one is pans of baking soda with different colors of vinegar:
At that point, Sierra rapidly descended into the suffering of an ear infection.  She tried to hold it together, but she ended up in another room crying from the pain (we found out the next morning the ear that was hurting her was severely infected and the other ear was also infected).  So Sedona continued to enjoy her guests and opened a few gifts, but I stopped taking pictures as I was a little busy trying to divide my time between the two of them. 

Sedona had a blast.  Graduation was definitely the highlight of her kindergarten year.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

A Girl and Her Spider

We had a little kindergarten graduation party for Sedona recently (post coming soon).  One of our friends got her a bug playground.  That thing has been glued to her ever since.  I can't even tell you how many hours she has spent collecting bugs, keeping them in them in playground for a while and checking them out, then releasing them so she could find more bugs.  There have been lots of lady bugs, beetles, a fly, ants, and today she even caught a tiny grasshopper nymph.

The find of the night was a wolf spider.
She had great fun collecting other small bugs and putting them in there for the spider to eat.  She also wrote a manual all about how to take care of her spider. 
Because I have no faith whatsoever in her promises not to release her bugs, and now arachnids, in her room and this particular friend can bite, it was released back out to the backyard at bedtime.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

2012/2013 Curriculum Wrap-Up

We are just about done with our school year, so it's time for another Curriculum Wrap-Up post!  I think we have finally zeroed in on what works for us.  For the first time, there is absolutely nothing that just didn't work at all.  The things we plan to ditch aren't necessarily bad, just not a perfect fit for our needs.  I'm no longer wasting money on useless curriculum though, I finally have enough experience to avoid things that just won't work for us.  If you're new to homeschooling, take note...it took 3 full years to reach this point!!

Quick background: These are the materials that we used for an 8 year old, strong reader in 3rd grade and a 5 year old, math-minded kindergartner.

Here is the final list of what we used and what I thought about it (most links are affiliate links, clicking them will not raise prices for you, but will give me a small commission if you choose to make a purchase).  Previous years' reviews can be found by clicking the "homeschool freebies" link on the left sidebar.

RightStart Math: I am still very happy with this program.  Sierra has now done levels B, C and D and Sedona has finished level A and started level B.  I feel like they are getting a great foundation in math and understanding the why of what they're doing rather than blindly following an algorithm that was given to them.  Now that Sedona has gone through Level A, I wish I hadn't skipped it with Sierra.  According to the placement test, Sierra needed to start on Level B, but it was pretty difficult for her as she had to work through a lot of frustration and drop bad habits she had developed.  If I had it to do over again, I would have gone ahead and started at Level A with Sierra in first grade, and just worked through it a little faster.  The review would have been helpful and while it would have been easy for her, it would have built her confidence. Had I done this, I think we should could have finished Levels A and B in 9-12 months.  Sierra definitely has to work at math, while it comes easier to Sedona.  Right Start has worked well for both of them.

All About Spelling: Beyond thrilled with this program and wish I'd known about it sooner!  Sierra struggles with spelling and other things we had tried did not work.  We started with Level 1 and worked through that and Level 2, plus started Level 3 this year.  The beginning was very easy for her, but there were key rules she picked up that she didn't know, so I think it was necessary to work through it.  She generally did really well with spelling tests in earlier years, but she never retained the information.  Simply learning words was also too random for her, even though they were always consolidated into logical groups.  All About Spelling gives her specific rules to follow and while it seems like a lot to remember at first, as you work through the program, it starts to stick just because you are using them so much.  I have learned rules and skills that have helped me with my own spelling too, I wish my teachers had used this program when I was a kid!  I thought I would get to start this with Sedona this year too, but she wasn't quite ready.  She will do well with Level 1 next year, I think.

All About Reading: Sedona completed Level 1 this year.  I'm not quite as happy with this as I am with All About Spelling, but I still like it and will gladly move on to Level 2 and use this again when it's time to teach Secora.  My main complaint is that the books use the type of "a" you see here on the screen.  That's really confusing for a younger child who is also learning how to print the letter a in her handwriting.  Even now, Sedona sometimes thinks the "a" is an "e".  I'd rather the type match basic print that kids this age are learning.  Also, there are fluency practice sheets on a regular basis.  These need to be done, but there are too many words on a page.  We could never read a whole page in a sitting, and Sedona quickly learned that and then dreaded them every time she saw them.  I think it felt like failure to her.  So I wish the program started with shorter fluency worksheets at the beginning and worked up to longer ones so it wasn't as discouraging.  Over all though, the method and ease of just following the directions in the book when teaching are both fabulous.  Going into homeschooling, teaching a child how to read was my biggest concern.  Had I known this program was out there, I wouldn't have worried so much.

Science Odyssey, Earth and Space Level 1: The geology part of this curriculum was really good for Sierra and taught her a lot of new information.  The astronomy part was much too easy and she and I were both bored with it.  I finally got to the point where I flipped through the book asking her the end-of-lab questions and once I verified she knew all the information, we skipped that entire section.  We really liked Life Science last year, so I want to give chemistry a try with her next year, but I'm worried it might be too easy as well.  Keep in mind, Josh and I are both scientists, so there's been no shortage of science talk in this house and our kids are starting with more science knowledge than is probably typical.  Sierra's bedtime stories as a baby were chapters of Josh's grad school biochem book while he was doing homework.  If you're looking for a secular science curriculum, this is a good place to start.  I think going forward, I will do earth and astronomy with Sedona for 1st grade, life science for 2nd grade, and chemistry for 3rd grade.  I'm not really sure where I'm going to go after that, I need to do some research.

Evan Moor 6-Trait Writing:This has gone better than what we've tried for grammar/punctuation/writing in the past, but I wasn't thrilled.  I think perhaps my standards are off, I may be expecting more than I should for 3rd grade writing.  We're planning to bite the bullet and try out Institute for Excellence in Writing next year.

Level 1 Early Modern History: I've been creating our own history curriculum and it's available for free to anyone who wants to use it or parts of it.  Since it was already tailored to our needs to begin with, of course I was happy with it!  In particular, the Evan Moor History Pockets we used this year were really enjoyable.  I plan to add more to our collection and will probably try out their Literature Pockets with Sedona next year.

Rosetta Stone Spanish, Homeschool version: Sierra is working on Level 2 now and Sedona started Level 1.  I'm still happy with this program and plan to buy Rosetta Stone again when we're ready for another language. 

Reading: Most of Sierra's reading was tied into her history (and the books are listed on that lesson plan).  She also did a lot of independent reading.  She likes to read, so I take her to the library and let her follow her own interests rather than over assigning books that just make her dread reading time.  We did read The Candymakers, which we just discussed as she went along.  We also read  Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, which I created a set of worksheets for (available for free here).

Music: We continued working through John W. Schaum piano books.  We also utilized the free music theory workbooks available at G Major Music Theory.  I had her take an old theory test available on the Texas Music Teachers Association website (which she had no trouble with) to be sure we're still on the right track.

Handwriting: Sierra wanted to learn cursive this year, so we did that on our own.  She did rather well, but her print has not neatened up very much at all.  She still forms her letters backwards and has a poor understanding of correct letter placement in the line space.  I am going to be purchasing Handwriting Without Tears for both girls for next year.

Evan Moor Geography: Sierra loves these books, so we've kept with them.  There is a strong focus on map reading and I want her to branch out from that, so we will probably do something different for geography next year, but I'm not sure what yet.

Art: We followed our own art plan (lesson plans free here). We didn't do all of the projects, but having a plan definitely made it easier for me to include art on a regular basis.  Next year, we will try mixing in more information about different artists.

All in all, it was a good year!!  The other important thing we finally got right was to work ahead.  At the beginning of the school year, we are all eager and excited.  By the time April rolls around, we are all done and more interested in playing outside than doing any seat work.  In the past I had kept Sierra from working too far ahead because I didn't want her to get years ahead.  I'm over that now.  My goal for next year is to have the whole year for each subject planned out, provide her with those plans, and let her go as fast as she wants to.  When she finishes a subject, I'll give her the choice of being done until the next fall or starting the next year's work. 



Thursday, April 18, 2013

And Now West

It's been a rough week. 

Last night a fertilizer plant in West, TX exploded.  West is only 100 miles from here.  It's a town we've driven through many times.  It's known for its Czech heritage and kolaches.  Kolaches...the pastry I ate after each of my children was born, the food I baked while we were living in Montana to remind me of my beloved Central Texas. 

The death count is higher than Boston and likely to climb since there are people missing.  Local news sources are reporting about 170 injured.  Texas Task Force 1, an elite urban search and rescue team that is based here, has been sent to help search efforts in West.

And so we come back to: life is scary.  And there are no guarantees. 

It's one thing to say that.  To be thankful for each day, to appreciate what you have.  It's a different feeling when it's not abstract.  When it's a visceral knowledge because you've seen it up close and personal.  When you've had the experience of talking to someone as if it's just another day and then days or even hours later, they're gone, with no warning.  Once you know what that feels like, events like these can swamp you.  It's overwhelming to know that so many people are hurting that badly.  It's overwhelming to know that tomorrow it could be your family and to fear that loss. 

Different people handle those feelings in all sorts of different ways, some of them healthy and some rather self destructive.  As I mentioned in my Boston post, I still choose to look for the helpers.  Does it fix everything? No.  Does it keep these events from happening? No.  We can't control every variable in life, we cannot guarantee our safety no matter what we do.  Rather than letting the fear of that reality steal the joy from my life, I choose to look for the good, look for the humanity around me, and know that even in the worst possible scenarios, I would not be alone.  It's not easy.  It doesn't come naturally to me.  It is worth the effort though. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

On Boston

My oldest friend is also a new mommy.  She posted on facebook soon after news broke about the Boston Marathon and said she has a whole new level of hurt now that she has a daughter.  That resonates with me so much.  It's almost overwhelming at first, to look at that helpless baby in your arms and wonder how you will keep them safe because even the briefest thought of losing them is so physically painful it takes your breath away. 

When I had more children, that worry multiplied.  After I attended the funeral of a precious little boy who felt like family to me, I almost drowned in the fear that comes with knowing for certain that tomorrow is not a guarantee.  I've worked hard over the last year to cultivate a different point of view though.  I'm still working hard at it and maybe it will never come any easier, but it's worth the work. 

Fred Rogers has taught me and my children some wonderful lessons, but one of the most comforting is to look for the helpers.  Because when you watch video of the explosions in Boston, you see a brief moment of evil eclipsed by a wave of helpers.  You see people running towards the victims without hesitation and without knowing when or where another blast might erupt.  In the grief and confusion and pain and fear, you see helpers.  People comforting each other, tending wounds, searching for other dangers.

There are people in this world who do bad things.  There are many many more who are helpers.  We don't have to sit alone in a pit of fear and wonder "what if".  We don't have to grieve and hurt by ourselves.  We can all be helpers and by doing so, both give and receive a gift of humanity that will make this world a better place for everyone.



Wednesday, April 10, 2013

50 Books in a Year

Another birthday, another list of books! I fell short of my 50 books goal yet again this year, but I did much better than the last two years. I also read more pages and more non-fiction this year, so yay for that. You can click the links for the 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008 and 2007 book lists.  I've decided I'm tired of writing summaries of the books.  Clicking on the picture will take you to amazon, where you can read a summary AND lots of reviews.  Win, win.  *all images are affiliate links to amazon.

Past Reading
2006:
30 books; 8,222 pages

2007:
37 books; 14,326 pages

2008:
41.5 books; 15,072 pages

2009:
50 books; 16,199 pages

2010:
23 books; 6,843 pages

2011:
24 books; 11,981 pages

2012:
39 books; 13,790 pages

2013:
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me by Mindy Kaling. 240 pages

Delirium by Lauren Oliver. 480 pages

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver. 400 pages

Requiem by Lauren Oliver. 432 pages

The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of its Enemies Since 9/11 by Ron Suskind. 400 pages

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. 304 pages

Total Immersion: The Revolutionary Way to Swim Better, Faster and Easier by Terry Laughlin. 320 pages.

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. 544 pages.

The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory. 393 pages.

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. 560 pages.

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos. 176 pages.

When Life Gives you O.J. by Erica Perl. 240 pages.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. 496 pages.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. 224 pages.

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. 399 pages.

Aces Wild by Erica Perl. 224 pages.

The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman. 326 pages

The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman. 480 pages

City of Thieves by David Benioff. 258 pages.

 





 The Writer's Jungle by Julie Bogart. 212 pages.


Inferno by Dan Brown. 480 pages.

Charlotte's Web by EB White. 184 pages.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by JK Rowling. 320 pages.

The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel. 304 pages.

Five Days At Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink. 576 pages.

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall. 304 pages.

Divergent by Veronica Roth. 487 pages.

Insurgent by Veronica Roth. 544 pages.

Allegiant by Veronica Roth. 544 pages.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed. 315 pages.

Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison by Piper Kerman. 327 pages.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. 318 pages.

Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII by David Starkey (dense to get through...reads like a textbook. But utterly fascinating. The religious and political history is so much more complicated than I thought). 880 pages.

My Sister's Voice by Mary Carter. 327 pages.

In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord. 176 pages.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. 416 pages.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan. 320 pages.

Monday, April 8, 2013

2013 Goals Update

Back in 2011, I did a quarterly check in on how I was doing with my goals.  I skipped that last year, which led to all of the goals falling by the wayside.  For 2013, I'm back to evaluating my progress every three months.  So here goes with the first update!

1) Have the full year of lesson plans put together by the end of August. I haven't done much with this yet, I'm still deciding what curriculum we're going to use for some subjects.

2) Pay at least an extra $2500 to student loans on top of regular payments. Also haven't done much here.  Extra car repair expenses keep coming up and Josh (thankfully) finished his post-doc and started his permanent job.  Unfortunately, new job doesn't pay for health insurance for the first 3 months, so we're short on paychecks through June.  We have made some extra payments and I'm still hopeful this will happen, but it will take a conscious effort and some tough choices.

3) Blog more consistently.  Ha! HaHaHaHaHa!!  No, I have not been blogging more consistently AT ALL.  Now that winter is over and the sun is back, I'm expecting my mental state to level out a bit, which might help with writing more.

4) Market my lactation practice more effectively.  I set a modest goal of obtaining at least one new client each month. So far, I have exceeded that goal.  Each mother generally needs follow-up through the first 6-8 weeks, so I've been spending a fair bit of time with new babies lately!

5) Finish the quilt.  I have been working on the quilt on a regular basis and it's over half-way quilted now.  I don't plan to hand quilt a king size quilt again anytime soon.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

About That Hiatus...

When we moved last November, I said we'd be taking a break from gardening.  We still went over to our old house and harvested veggies until we closed on the sell.  Then we took 2 months off.  Then I started itching to plant things. 

At first, I was thinking we just didn't have space to have a big garden here.  It's true that the lot is smaller, but it's still over a quarter of an acre.  The house is bigger and more of that space is in the front yard than the back, so I'd prefer to plan out edible landscaping that looks nice rather than a purely utilitarian garden. 

For now though, we decided to use this overgrown flower bed:
While clearing it out, we discovered some berry vines we didn't know were there.  They look like blackberries, but they're sprawling like the wild dewberries I used to pick as a kid.  Both are members of the same genus, just different species, so I suppose it doesn't matter too much which they are.  They've already bloomed and there are several new canes, so it'll be interesting to see how many berries show up:


The rest of the bed was cleared out, lightly tilled and covered with new soil.  Then we planted tomatoes, peppers and some herbs

We'll work on expanding as time goes on because it turns out we aren't so interested in not gardening after all.

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