Sunday, August 31, 2014

Free ABC Coloring Sheets


Secora has been asking me questions about letter sounds recently, and she always wants to paint.  I decided it would be a good idea for one of her work trays to include letter sound coloring sheets that she can paint with paint daubers.  As usual, these are available for free to anyone who wants to use them.  I only ask that you share the link to this post rather than sharing the sheets directly.

A few notes
  • I tried to find pictures that wouldn't be confusing for my child.  For instance, I used dinosaur instead of dog because she will think, "puppy dog" when she sees a dog picture.  Other kids may need different pictures. 
  • I tried to use pictures that wouldn't use a ton of ink, but the letter edges are pretty thick, so you may still want to print draft quality to minimize ink usage.
  • I made the sounds coincide with the All About Reading program that we use, so instead of "q", there is a "qu" and all of the vowels have a picture that illustrates their short sound.  I've also added on some two letter phonograms at the end of the set. 
  • Because children will see lower case letters more than upper case letters in reading, we always start by teaching lower case letters first.  We only add in upper case letters after they're starting to get the hang of the sounds.  Accordingly, this set only includes lower case letters because that's where we're at for the moment. 
  • I use these with one letter per page so she can easily paint them.  An older child or one more interested in coloring than painting might benefit from printing 4 pages to a sheet so the letters are smaller. 
 Now for the link!  Go here to download your own full set of letter coloring sheets!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

New School Room

In our five years of homeschooling, we have worked in 3 different school rooms and this year we're moving to a fourth!  When we first moved to this house, I thought the dance studio the previous owners added to the back of the house was going to be perfect for school.  Unfortunately, the fact that that room is not tied in to the central heat and a/c got in the way.  We tend to take more breaks when the weather is good and work ahead on school during times we'd be staying inside anyway.  So last year, we found ourselves carting all the books inside to the dining room table on a regular basis so that we weren't freezing or burning up. 

This year, we decided to make a small living area we mostly used for holidays and playing into a school room.  Here's the finished result!
Just outside the room is a shelf with Secora's activities.  I think this is actually going to work better than last year's set-up because she has fewer options at one time and they are all immediately visible.  Secora is 3 years old, with a birthday coming up soon.  That means with our local school cut-offs, she should be pre-K next year and Kindergarten the year after that.  She happily works on these activities for two hours straight while we do school and keeps asking me to tell her letter sounds though, so I might end up starting pre-K with her this year, I haven't decided yet.  The main difference about making it official would be getting All About Reading's pre-reading program for her, then we'd play it by ear to see if she's ready for kindergarten next year or not. 
Yes, this shelf is tied at the top so she can't accidentally pull it over on herself.  I will switch these activities out over time, but here is what she's starting with starting at the top left: A bowl of blocks with different shapes and colors; colored pom-poms to match to the containers, there are tweezers to pick up the pom-poms so fine motor work is included too; matching the animal figurine to the animal picture; pattern cards along with colored blocks; painting tray with the papers switched out for different letters periodically; sponge cubes in water with a garlic press to squeeze the water out of them (fine motor strength); blank papers and a marker to draw and write; sticks in a styrofoam block with beads to put on the sticks.
Inside the room, the big girls have access to two shelves full of free read books. 
I even sorted them by topic and labeled the shelves so they can more easily find what they're looking for.
In the corner, there's the couch/reading corner for when it's still school time, but they're done with their assigned work
On one wall they have their AAR/AAS sticker charts and the chores they need to do that day
On the other wall is the schedule.  GASP, we have a real schedule.  I hate schedules.  I'm alright with routine, but a specific schedule drives me bonkers.  We're trying the schedule though.  Sedona has been seeing a therapist to work on her attention and self-control and to help us figure out if she's dealing with ADHD or some general learning disability or just "an abundance of Tigger-ness". Ms. therapist has helped Sedona make a lot of progress and helped me understand how best to handle her, so when she said she really thought the whole family would be a lot happier if Sedona was on a schedule, I figured it was worth trying.  At the top, we have our daily schedule.  A bonus is that the kids have a visual reminder of how much of the day involves free time for them, they really don't have a leg to stand on when they try to complain that they do school ALL THE TIME. 

Under the schedule is a weekly board for each girl showing what she needs to accomplish each day.
In the other corner is my desk, where we sit for one-on-one work.  The bookshelf with all the current books and worksheets is within reach so I don't have to keep interrupting the lesson to get up and get things.  A monthly calendar shows the girls what to expect activity-wise.
Back at the front of the room are two desks for them to sit at for individual work, the printer, another bookshelf of workbooks and a filing cabinet full of different types of paper.  My stop sign at the door way reminds them to put away anything they got out and to not take anything out of the school room without permission.
Everyone was excited to get started on the first day (those are Secora's sensory bins on the floor) and so far they're really liking the organization and very clear expectations. 
Every year we end up changing some things about our school set-up, which I think is a good thing.  One of the biggest benefits of homeschool is the ability to adapt however you need to in order to meet everyone's needs.  I think this year is going to be a good year!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Tea Time Is Back!

Last year, we started using the Brave Writer program and one of their suggestions is to do a weekly poetry tea time.  The girls all loved it and it was good practice for reading aloud, seeing different writing styles and discussing what made a "good" poem. 

Part of what makes tea time so appealing is that it's fancy.  We get out my grandmother's tea pot and an assortment of hot chocolate and apple cider mixes and real china plates.  There is also a constantly rotating assortment of books to explore (thanks to the library).  It turns out when you provide this fancy set-up, the kids automatically act older.  They feel grown-up and do their best to act grown-up. 

Unfortunately, I just couldn't keep up with setting it up weekly.  I would end up skipping it several weeks in a row and then they would bug me about when we were going to do it.  I would get annoyed because if one kid can ask you about something five times, three kids will ask you fifteen million times (roughly) until you never ever want to do it again in the hopes that they'll forget about it completely and just drop it already. 

When discussing expectations for the school year, everyone really wanted to be sure tea time was included, so we made a deal.  We will do it every other week.  I think I can more easily stick to this schedule and they will end up getting tea time more often than they did last year. 

We haven't officially started school yet, but we had our first tea time of the new year today.  Well, lemonade time because the heat index is 100 degrees (so far) and who wants hot drinks?



Their favorite part today by far, was Secora's original story that went something like this:
S: This is a story about a mannequin
Me: A mannequin?  Where was this mannequin?
S: On a boat
M: Wow! A sailboat, or a motorboat?
S: A motorboat.  AND there was a rabbit.
M: A rabbit too?!  Was the rabbit on the boat, or skiing behind the boat?
S: Skiing behind the boat!
M: Did he have really long ears?
S: YES!
M: Did they fly behind him like this?! [insert mom acting like a fool pretending to be a bunny rabbit water skiing with his ears flapping in the wind and lots of giggling from the "audience"]
S: YES! They did!
M: Did he use water skis, or could he ski on his big ol' feet?
S: He skied on his big rabbit feet!!
M: So you've got a mannequin driving a motorboat so a rabbit can ski on his big feet with his big ears flapping along behind him like this?
[more impressions of water skiing bunny from mom, more giggling from children...]

Friday, August 15, 2014

Bucket List Tri--Race Report

A guest post from Josh, whom I convinced to do the Bucket List Tri with me last weekend!

TLDR: Old dude wins first triathlon he enters.  

Now for the real story.  First, a huge thank you to Kim for getting me to try a tri.  I have been watching her and Sierra for a good two years now and had not really had the urge to race a triathlon.  Then the bucket list tri comes to town and is really the best one to do if you just want to dip your toes in the water, so to speak.  200M swim, 8 mile bike and 2 mile run.  Not even a sprint distance, a nice super sprint, over and done in an hour (that was my goal).  We have run a marathon and half-marathon and 5k races, so the running was not going to be a problem.  However, running after swimming and biking definitely makes it more interesting.  I was never on swim team, so I didn't really know how to properly swim.  I can get from one place to another, but not very elegantly.  As I say, “I am sure I look like a harpooned dolphin splashing in the water.” Kim gave me a few lessons and hints, which were invaluable to swimming comfortably. As for biking, that was, well, just like riding a bike. In my younger days I raced semi-pro for a few years so I am very comfortable on a bike and know the little tricks to maximize your speed and efficiency.

The only thing I wanted out of this triathlon was to finish in less than an hour.  This seemed very doable, but you never know what's going to happen.  I had the usual night before jitters and butterflies.  The morning was occupied with getting bikes in the van and making sure we had everything we needed.  I did ask Sierra in the days leading up if there was anything I needed to remember to do and she said have fun and don’t stop swimming.  Sage advice from the 9 year old.  We arrived and walked over to transition.  There was lots of space available, so we snagged a spot right by the bike-out.  After double checking to make sure we had everything set up right, we were off to swim warm-up.  I'm glad Kim suggested we do swim warm-up.  It would have been a shock to jump in the water the first time because it was a little cooler than I was used to practicing in.  It was nice once you got swimming, so that was a plus.  We got out and had one of the multiple bathroom breaks before the start.  Then it was time to just wander around and try and keep the nerves under control.  The pre-race meeting was worthless because they had it in the cavernous, concrete pool area.  Lots of echo and reverb and the words were totally unintelligible.  Hint to the race director next year, do it outside.
Then it was time to wait in line and soon the first swimmer was in the water.  I cheered Kim on as she went past, then it was my turn.  The swim was really kind of a blur.  I remember passing people and being passed.  I did a combination of freestyle/side stroke/backstroke.  I think backstroke is the fastest for me at this point, probably because I can breathe the easiest.  Unfortunately, I realized I forgot to start my watch.  Oh well, I'd just have to try hard and hope I'd come in under an hour.  The short jog to transition was nice to relax and catch my breath.  There were no real bike transition problems.  I could be a little better on the bike mount, but it was fine. 
Now I was in my element, I just put my head down and started passing people as fast as I could.  The course was nice and mostly flat with some little hills.  The intersections were traffic controlled and there were volunteers at every turn.  No thought was required to keep yourself on course, which was nice, you could just focus on the race.  I remembered to drink on the bike, something I forgot to do on my training ride.  It made a big difference to get that hydration in before the run. Now where was Kim?  We thought I would pass her somewhere on the bike.  Way off in the distance, I recognized her green jersey.  Finally, I caught her about 0.75 mile from the end.  I yelled “on the left” and went past.  I found out afterwards I just about scared her into the curb because I was too loud.  Oops.  I came in fast and did a flying dismount to run into transition.  One thing I have learned watching all these triathlons is that the time wasted actually stopping and getting off your bike matters.  Get out of your shoes, throw a leg over and hit the ground running.  I started putting on running shoes and Kim rolled on in. I knew she was there and she said hey, but I cannot remember if I responded.  

I slowly jogged out of transition and grabbed the first water I could to pour over my head.  By the way, did I mention it is August in Texas?  Yup, it was about 85 degrees with 85% humidity at this point, with the sun beating down.  I tried to work off the rubber legs by alternating running and walking.  I made my way around the first curve and realized that the person that just passed me was number 116 and I was 113.  Nope, couldn’t let that happen, so I just tailed him and kept up.  Poured more water over my head at the next water station, that felt really good in the heat.  It was difficult to keep any sort of rhythm running after the effort of swimming and biking.  As I entered last mile of the race, I was giving high-fives to people I knew and yelling words of encouragement to the kid that lost his pedal but didn’t stop and is finishing out the race.  That kid deserved a medal all his own.   Did I mention how hot it was?  I couldn’t run nearly as fast as I wanted to, but I did my best.  I crossed the finish and it was done.  I lived to run another day.  
I knew Kim would not be far behind so I got a drink and waited for her. Soon, she was coming around the last quarter mile.  She did her last effort push and she was across the finish line.  Yep, she was talking about how hot it was too.  We made our way over to the timing tent and I punched my number in.  Cat. Age 1.  What???  How can I be first in my age group?   So we waited and kept checking to see if it would change.  Eventually, we knew enough people had finished that the ranking would hold.  And you know what the award was?  A free entry to the TriAggieland Triathlon next year.  My overall time was 51 minutes, so I was under the hour I wanted.  I only wanted to try a tri, but now I have to decide how hard I want to tri.  That decision can wait till after my next half-marathon in December.  Just as a side note...do you know how much food an active family of 5 goes through?  An astonishing amount.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

She is Not a Picky Eater

A little over a year ago, Secora was hospitalized for a sore throat.  The sore throat was not the problem.  The problem was that because of the sore throat she wouldn't eat, drink or even swallow her own spit.  

In the 15 months since then, she has been doing feeding therapy along with her speech therapy.  She has made a lot of progress.  Unfortunately, in this scenario, progress often means she'll tolerate a food on her plate or maybe touch it, not that she'll actually ingest it.  The most useful progress is that she now drinks the full meal replacement pediasure.  She'd happily live on just that if we let her, which isn't so good, but at least we have an easily transportable "safe" food that supplies the minimum nutrients she needs.

So, I come across this blog post tonight about another child with these problems.   I tried to post it on facebook, but realized my heart was racing out of empathy for this mother and I had much too much to say about this to limit it to a sentence or two.

If you know us, or know someone like us, you need to read that post.  It describes Secora.  It describes why she's in feeding therapy.  This really exists and it is not solved by forcing foods or bribing with dessert or sending them to bed hungry.  These are not picky eaters. 


"But I know how it feels to have nothing he can eat...and to have his anxiety so high he is in tears and to have him telling me that he is hungry."
I know this feeling much, much, much too well.  My anxiety "breakdown" back in 2012 coincided with a time when my 16 month old would sit with me daily and sob, "hungee....eat....." but gag on every single solid food I offered her.  I still nursed her all day and all night, but she wasn't growing.  We discovered Girl Scout Thin Mints were a "safe" food so the doctor and the OT said, "then feed her Thin Mints" and we bought cases of them (recently she has decided she won't touch GS cookies with a 10 foot pole...losing foods is one of the more frustrating attributes of this problem).  

When reading this post, I only saw 3 differences between this story and our story:
  1. Secora's problems started from the beginning, there was never a regression until the hospitalization.  In hindsight, I see it started with unusual nursing behavior from day 1 and she never started solid foods "normally".  She was in OT because of eating problems by the time she was 1.  
  2. The child in this post is 7.  Secora is nearly 4 and has been making some hopeful progress lately, so maybe it won't be so bad when she's 7?  We never know because feeding problems lead to food jags and food jags lead to "dropped foods" (things once eaten that she'll violently refuse for months).  
  3. Unlike the child here, she CAN handle different packaging and presentation of the exact same food item.  Took a year of feeding therapy to get there, but we can put juice in a different cup and it still gets ingested.  Yay.    
As this mom mentions, travel is stressful.  We love it enough to make it worth the work and we have eased back into it, but that's primarily been possible because she started drinking pediasure, which is easy to take along.  "What will she eat?" is still a major factor in planning any trip though.  One of the primary reasons she stayed home with dad instead of going on the Ozarks trip with the rest of us girls back in May was because we knew her food choices would be limited.  When we take trips, we pack all of her shelf stable safe foods like the blogger mentions, but the 3 biggest staples of her diet are frozen foods, which makes traveling with them troublesome, to say the least.  Stopping at a local restaurant in a new town is difficult because you don't even know if their version of a french fry is a type of french fry she'll eat.  Will a fruit cup contain mostly grapes and apples, which she'll eat, or melons, which she won't?  There are only two chain restaurants we can go to and know for sure she can eat a full meal--Chick-Fil-A and McDonald's.  Who wants to live on that for two weeks? And still, I'm grateful for this.  You can vilify crappy fast food all you want, but we worked HARD to get her to a point where she would eat a protein and a fruit and okay, maybe french fries and tater tots don't really count, but it's the only "vegetable" she's really eaten in her life and it helps keep weight on her (she has tasted cucumbers and very briefly ate sweet potato fries).

I'm also grateful to finally be at a point where she can sometimes tell us what is "wrong" with a food.  It is helping us figure out ways to make certain foods more palatable and find things that she can eat.  It makes me both proud and terribly sad to see her at therapy these days.  She tries so hard.  She willingly walks into that room every time and does what her therapist asks of her.  When she can't, she suggests an alternative on her own.  Sometimes she stops, takes a deep breath and then does the really hard thing she didn't think she could to.  Today it was licking a goldfish cracker.  Then she gagged and shuddered and heaved, took a drink, and kept working.  When she gets home, she's exhausted.  She typically lays on the floor or sits on my lap until nap time and then sleeps at least 3 hours.  Many days, I wish I could do the same.

Monday, August 11, 2014

School Days

Not Back to School Blog Hop It's time to be thinking about another school year! We actually inadvertently did year round school this year. It just worked out that after holidays, vacations, house floods and me working a little bit more than I have in recent years, we didn't finish at the end of the school year. Surprise, surprise, the world did not end when June, and then July, and then August rolled around and we still hadn't reached the end of the math book. Actually, this worked out rather nicely because the parts that ended up stretching on the longest were Sedona's math and reading. Two subjects that really don't lend themselves well to a 3 month break anyway. A leisurely "a couple lessons a week" pace through the summer has still gotten us through the material in time to start a new year and she won't be losing any ground from a summer gap.

I am now setting up for our official 2014-2015 school year though and I'm getting pretty excited about it.  We have decided to move our school room and to change the way we organize our day, which is both scary and inspiring.  

Last week was curriculum week at the Not Back-to-School Blog Hop.  As usual, I'm late getting started on this.  Curriculum week is a pretty easy post for me to write up though.  We're entering our fifth year of homeschooling and I feel like I've got my feet solidly under me now.  No more wasting money on curriculum we'll never use or scouring the internet for resources that don't exist.  We've dialed in on what's right for us.  For elementary school, anyway.  Sierra is starting to delve into some middle school course work and I can see I'm going to be doing this curriculum hunt all over again in the very near future.  I've got about 6 months of peace ahead of me before I need to start scrambling again!

For THIS year though, we're set.  Here's the line-up (disclosure, some of the following links are affiliate links):

Sedona.  2nd grade.  Struggling reader and writer, dyslexia assessment was a bit inconclusive (one person told me one interpretation of the results and someone else had a different interpretation).  Naturally talented in math.  A sensory-seeker who prefers movement and games to seat work. 
Math: RightStart Level C.  We've been using this program since 2010 and have no plans to stop.  We've seen first hand how the girls' understanding of math compares to the school norms in our area and their standardized test scores have been phenomenal.

Reading: All About Reading Level 3.  I am sooooooo glad I found this program.  My only regret is that I put off buying it for a year because of cost.  It is worth every penny and if you're even remotely considering it, you should take the leap.  I believe Sedona's dyslexia assessment was inconclusive precisely because of this program.  Basically, I've already intervened by teaching her with AAR and it's working. I think that was the reason some of the scores on her assessment that showed achievement were high even though some dyslexia markers showed clear problems.

Spelling: All About Spelling Level 1 and 2.  She just wasn't ready to tackle Level 1 full force last year, so she completed about half of it.  We'll work on finishing that and then start Level 2.  I'm just as happy with this spelling program as I am with the reading program.

Science: RSO Life Level 1.  We used this with Sierra when she was in 2nd grade.  It's a tad easy just because we're a science family and have already taught the girls quite a bit that most kids aren't exposed to.  The process of doing experiments and filling out lab sheets will be just as valuable as the information she learns though.  I am going to rearrange the schedule on this course to better match Sierra's science course.

History: My own Middle Ages curriculum (which you can download for free).   She had a hard time making it through Ancient History once we passed pyramids and mummies.  My plans for Ancient History are much too light on hands on activities for a kid like Sedona.  Middle Ages has more for her to do and will hopefully hold her interest more.

Spanish: I'm just not sure about this.  Sierra started Rosetta Stone in 2nd grade and did fine with it.  She was a stronger reader though.  I may try it out, but revert back to just reading children's books to her in Spanish so she can pick up whatever she picks up.  Or I may have her do Rosetta Stone but only the listening and speaking parts. 

Geography: Evan-Moor Geography Grade 2.  Both girls just enjoy these worksheets.  They aren't particularly difficult and I assign the whole "week" at once (it takes them about 10 minutes).

Language Arts: Brave Writer Jot-It-Down.  I've fully accepted at this point that I stink at teaching writing.  Mostly because no good step-by-step teacher guide exists and I am much more comfortable dealing with math and science.  I have high hopes for Brave Writer.  I've been dipping my toe in the water over the last year, slowly incorporating some of their ideas.  The girls both do average or better on writing tests, but it's clear this is where they lag behind their other subjects.  It's time to really step up to the plate and make sure we develop a strong writing foundation.

Art and Music: I haven't decided 100%, but I think these are going to be largely self-led.  While this hasn't worked in the past, I think our new daily plan is going to be much more conducive to encouraging child-led projects and practices.

Sierra. 5th grade.  Very strong reader (high school level reading and comprehension). Talented at math, but not self-confident. Thrives on independent book and worksheet based learning and does her best work when she perceives it to be getting her ahead of where she should be.
Math: RightStart Level G.  This is the end of RightStart and I'm sad to leave it behind.  I've been waffling about where to go next, but the current plan is to start Life of Fred Fractions and Decimals around Christmas (in conjunction with Level G).  When she finishes those, it will be time to move on to pre-algebra.  Don't ask me which program we'll use for that...I've ruled out many, but haven't found anything I totally love yet.

Reading: Her history program this year includes quite a few related books, and I have some ideas for books that relate to science as well.  She is at an age and stage where she will sit down and read an entire Rick Riordan series, then have an educated conversation about it with me, so I will likely require a certain amount of reading without dictating too much of what she reads this year.  She is making choices on her own that are a good mix of fiction and non-fiction and as long as I read along with her it's easy to check on her comprehension and discuss literary techniques.  She's not quite ready content-wise for a lot of the books I would consider "required reading" at her reading level.

Spelling: All About Spelling Level 4 and 5.  She started with level 1 when she was in 3rd grade and she sped through the earlier levels.  She's now hit the point where it can take her a few days to do one of the lessons.  She's got just a bit of Level 4 to finish and will probably get through level 5 this year. 

Science: RSO Biology Level 2.  She and I are both so excited about this course.  This will be a real shift in responsibility for her.  It's a 5 day a week course requiring regular text reading, worksheets, bench labs (and reports), microscope labs, dissections, and unit tests.  A lot of material will be covered that she's already been wanting to know more about and she is dying to get started.

History: History Odyssey Ancients Level 2.  We have been using Pandia Press science for several years, but this is our first time using their history.  Their Level 1 history uses Story of the World as a spine, which I wasn't comfortable with after reading a lot of reviews questioning its accuracy.  Level 2 is a whole different set-up that I think will be great for her.  Again, it will be a big step up in responsibility.  She'll keep her own binder with a list of lessons in the front.  Each lesson has a checklist of tasks that need to be completed.  Reading, outlining information, writing paragraphs and eventually papers about what was read, coloring maps, keeping a timeline, and giving oral presentations.  I think this may be a challenge for her at first, but she'll end up proud of her work.

Spanish: She needs to continue with Rosetta Stone.  She really doesn't want to.  I don't think it's Rosetta Stone itself, I think it's just something to butt heads with me about because we've really locked horns over her lack of initiative with this.  She tries to get away with 5 minutes of work a day and call it done.  With no framework for how a typical public school day goes, she just doesn't appreciate that even if I tell her to do 30 minutes a day, she's still getting a pretty good deal.  I have started making her get early readers in Spanish from the library and translate them for me to keep her at least doing something. 

Geography: I bought a states and capitals book last year that was a total flop.  I have another random Target workbook that I'll give her to work through in her free time this year.  She enjoys geography and will do this outside of school time without being told.  We always include plenty of geography and map reading lessons during our travels too.

Language Arts: Brave Writer Partnership Writing. Like I said above, I've got to get on the ball with teaching more language arts.  Hopefully this gets it done.

Art and Music: Like Sedona, she'll do arts and music on a self-guided basis.  She has been working on piano, guitar and recorder on her own and continues to make progress.  She'll also happily do art if given a few ideas to start with.  She will have access to and be encouraged to explore books about art this year as well.

And that's that!  You can check out other families' choices at the Not Back-to-School Blog Hop!

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