Monday, January 30, 2012

What I Loved About Last Week (18 Ed.)

1. I went to a college class! Kansas Dad is team teaching a class on Science Fiction and Theology at his university and, through the generosity and goodness of my mother-in-law, I am attending as well. I'm not actually enrolled in the class, so I don't have to write any papers (I'm a little afraid I won't even be able to keep up with the reading), but I can go and participate in the class discussions. I had a great time last week. I'm sure the real college students thought I talked too much, though Kansas Dad thinks they probably didn't think about me one way or the other. In case you hadn't noticed, I read a lot, but I rarely get to sit in a room with a bunch of other people who read the same thing and want to discuss it.

2. First Son and First Daughter developed an elaborate plot involving some Ninjago warriors, the Hero Factory Witch Doctor, Buzz Lightyear and Cindarella. I couldn't follow it myself, but there was definitely a plot.

3. Second Son is 18 months old! He deserves a post of his own, but I find chasing him around (and feeding, teaching and cleaning up after his siblings) is keeping a bit too busy to write a proper one. He's saying new words every day, absolutely adores the dog and has a terrible cough.

4.  With the help of Netflix, we managed to get the majority of the stuff out of the "office" and into our bedroom. Only two of the three bookshelves would fit, so a few things are on the floor or piled on the desk. We're still working on a solution. In the meantime, we settled the girls into their new bedroom, complete with painted trim (thanks to the handy Kansas Dad). The girls moved their own clothes, which means they stuffed them into whatever nook and cranny they could find in the cabinet and set of mini-drawers we put in there. The neat organizer in me wants to cry every time I open a door or drawer, so I just won't.

The majority of the week was consumed by the illness that began with First Daughter and progressed through myself, Second Daughter and Second Son. The two little ones are still coughing like crazy and sounding terrible but every day I hope they'll be better.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Range Recordkeeping for our Homeschool

A few days ago, a question popped up on the Mater Amabilis Yahoo group about record-keeping. I'm not sure how I'd qualify my teaching, but I love record-keeping. I shared with her what I was doing this year (which is new for me this year and working out wonderfully). At least two people asked to see the actual spreadsheets, so I thought I'd make a post about them. Perhaps others are interested as well.

There are probably as many ways to keep track of lessons planned and accomplished as there are families that homeschool. The most important thing to remember is to adapt any method to your own family and adjust as your family changes!

I have two spreadsheets around which our homeschooling life revolves. (Oh, how I love Excel!) The first is a basic weekly schedule:
Schedule to Share

This schedule is our ideal week and where I begin my "quick planning" each weekend. I print out these two pages and compare it to our lesson plans, the second spreadsheet.

This second document is huge! It has a column for every week of our school year (35 this year) and everything I hope to accomplish each week for each subject typed in, along with any notes on items I need to have on hand or resources I need to request from the library.

It's a huge file. I cut it down to just four or five weeks and it's still rather large, but here is an excerpt of our weekly lesson plans:
Lesson Plans to Share
I have planned nearly a whole year's worth of activities and lessons for each subject. Planning ahead so extensively works for me because I'd rather adjust as I go along than scramble to figure out what we're doing next.

Here's how it works:
  1. Each weekend, I print out the first spreadsheet, my two page ideal week. I write in the week number (we just finished week 20) and the dates for each day.
  2. I promptly go through and cross off any subject we're not doing that week. For example, we didn't start reading from Pagoo until second term, so that was crossed off every week until then.
  3. I check our upcoming lesson plans, particularly the appointments box, and consider any adjustments I need to make if we're going to miss half a day of school (or a whole day). I can either eliminate a subject entirely for a day (just cross it off), combine lesson plans for two days into a single day, or move subjects around (just write it in the next column). This is also the time when I make adjustments for field trip opportunities I may not have known about at the beginning of the year. These pop up wonderfully in our active homeschool group.
  4. Then I take a few minutes to read through our upcoming week's plan. I make sure we have everything we need for the week. If I'm very productive, I print out all our maps and make any photocopies for the whole week.
  5. I print out the lesson plans for the week, just the five pages or so that list the actual plans. Steps one through five generally take me an hour or less, depending on how much adjusting I have to do and whether I've already planned our copywork selections.
  6. I put everything on my clipboard (HT to Brandy for the clipboard idea; perfect!). First, the weekly schedule, then the lesson plans, finally any worksheets or notes. Now I'm ready for our week.
  7. Each night before school, I make a pile of all our books and pages for our upcoming school day. It's not sophisticated, but it works perfectly. I never have to search for anything while the kids wait and, if my hands or lap are full of Second Son, I can ask First Son or First Daughter to bring me something from the pile. First Son watches this pile closely; he knows when it's gone, our school day is done (usually). Making this pile each night takes about ten minutes. Remember, everything is on the lesson plans. I just need to go through the list and pull out what we need from the shelves.
  8. Ready for the record keeping? Each day, when we start, I write down the time on my printed weekly schedule.
  9. As we finish subjects (or just before I go to bed), I check off any subject we did.
  10. At the end of the day, I write down the time we finished.
And that's it! Here's a look at my clipboard this morning. It's a small picture, but I think you can probably see how some subjects are crossed off and some have check marks.

I do spend a few minutes at the end of the week making any notes in my lesson plans of things we didn't finish, things we need to push to the following week, resources I didn't like, etc. Those are mostly for future reference. I also file the actual paper copies of the schedule and the lesson plans into a binder for now, though I haven't decided if I'm actually going to save them at the end of the year.

I also have another tab where I enter the actual hours. Here in Kansas, we have a theoretical requirement to school for a comparable number of hours the children would receive in public school. As far as I know, no one has ever been asked how many hours of school their children did during the course of a year, but I like to have it just in case I'm the first.

Now let me tell you what I love most about this method.
Friday's lessons, ready to go
  • For us, keeping to a timed schedule did not work. This way, I don't have any times. We progress through the subjects in roughly the order they're scheduled, though I often dig out something from "later in the day" for First Son to do on his own or that will be much easier if Second Son is napping.
  • As we're going through our day, the only writing I have to do is start time, end time and check marks. I can do everything else (not that it takes long) after the children are in bed.
  • With my weekly lesson plans, it's really easy to look across a row and see the whole year at a glance. I can easily see where I can make adjustments and I can insert a cell to move everything back or delete a cell to move everything up a week.
  • Also with my weekly lesson plans, it's very easy to see the whole week at a glance. I can tell if we're heavy in science and go light in history to make up for it. 
  • Though I didn't mention it above, I usually go through our upcoming week on Monday or Tuesday (so, look through week 22 during week 21), to request any books I need from the library. I've noted them in the lesson plans as "(library)" so they're easy to pick out. Then Kansas Dad picks them all up for me on Friday. It's so easy to just read down a single column in one Excel spreadsheet and have everything I need.
  • Though it doesn't apply this year, in the future I will put some of our lesson plans on a separate clipboard for First Son to complete independently. They can all be in the same spreadsheet, just like this year.

Maybe this helps someone. I certainly didn't invent this system; it's a conglomeration of ideas I gleaned from a host of other moms (in real life and online) with a whole lot of Excel thrown in. Because I love Excel.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

My Favorite Picture Books: Miss Rumphius

Miss Rumphius, written and illustrated by Barbara Cooney

I'm having a hard time motivating to post regularly to the blog and decided I needed to motivate myself with something near and dear to my heart. Welcome to what I hope to make a weekly post: my favorite picture books. It'll probably take a while for me to get to anything that's never been mentioned before, but this way there will be a nice little tag for anyone interested in such a list. Like me. I love lists like this.

Miss Rumphius may very well be my favorite book of all time.

Miss Alice Rumphius is adventurous, elegant, and intelligent. She fulfills all her dreams but knows she must do something more. She must make the world more beautiful. She does so by planting lupines, which are beautiful in an obvious way. The message, though, is more subtle, as we can make the world more beautiful in so many different ways.

The illustrations are simply lovely. Barbara Cooney is probably my favorite illustrator and this book is a perfect example of her style.

If you haven't read this book, race to your library or bookstore and find a copy.

Monday, January 23, 2012

What I Loved About Last Week (17th Ed.)

1. Second Son has always loved the dog. He's recently started trying to lead the dog around. For those who don't know Moses is real life, he weighs over 60 pounds and is nearly taller than Second Son. It's hilarious to watch the baby grab a hold of the collar and pull with all his might while the dog ignores him. Then the dog sees something interesting and wanders off, dragging Second Son behind, laughing hysterically.

2. Second Son is saying a new word or two each day. He is obviously saying "Jesus" and "Amen." He doesn't say "mama" very often, but he can. I've also heard him say "mo-om" like all those other kids.

3. Second Son yelling "Hooray!" or an approximation thereof along to When You're Happy and You Know It (his current favorite song).

4. Second Son has learned that taking off his pants is funny. I'll give you three guesses for the three people who initially taught him this was funny and then encourage him to do so on a regular basis. (Not that you need a hint, but they're the same three people who taught him it is funny to run away from any grown-up who indicates it's time for a diaper change.)

5. My new closet! The coat closet suffered disaster last week when a whole set of hooks came tumbling down. At one point, we had coats, hats and mittens for four kids piled waist high (my waist) in the closet. Kansas Dad and I went to a store and bought some shelves, rods and baskets. Then, he spent Monday night installing it. Now the coats hang, the baskets contain the hats and mittens and I'm breathing a little easier. Along the same lines, the knob fell off in our shower. Kansas Dad and I spent a few days turning the hot water on and off with pliers, but he bought all the stuff to fix it when we bought the shelves and then fixed it right away.

6. Being able to help a friend. It's nice to be able to set aside some lessons and run over to a friend's house when she needs a little help.

7. "The British Are Coming!" This cry has been ringing out in our house at random times as we begin our study of the Revolutionary War. First Daughter keeps asking what team we want to win. (Seriously, she asks almost every day. I'm not entirely sure how to answer.)

8. Our own room! Second Son moved into the kids' room this weekend. Kansas Dad spent an afternoon taking the crib apart and reassembling it. Now we just need to finish moving all the shelves, filing cabinet and, well, everything but the bed, out of the office so the girls can move in there. They are excited. Maybe that will be the news for next week! (Though I think Kansas Dad is going to have to address the washing machine, which is making a mysteries clanking noise as the drum rotates.)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

First Son's Birthday Post: 8 Years Old

Sadly, I am more than a month late on First Son's birthday post. He turned 8 years old back in December.

We took a nature walk in December to check on our little creek (for our Rivers and Oceans study this year). He does not enjoy our nature walks, but he did like making snowballs while he waited for me to get everyone else out of the van and ready for our walk. First Son is a lot like me; while the idea of a nature walk is appealing, he'd much rather be inside reading about a nature walk

Here's a picture from his birthday party. I made a blue Lego cake. A very blue Lego cake. The cake was not a masterpiece but First Son liked it well enough, which is really all that matters. We played lots of Lego games, including one First Son planned and prepared. He drew a dragon from the Ninjago Legos on a piece of paper and lots of little heads for the birthday party guests to pin onto the paper. It turned out surprisingly well for a last minute addition to our games. Grammy and I went through a whole box of Kansas Dad's old Legos and made bags for each of the guests to use in building a thingamabob. I set a timer as if it were a race, but the girls insisted they weren't done. We didn't have a competition; I just took a picture of each of them with their creation. For my favorite game, I took apart as many minifigures as I could find. The kids built their own minifigure from the options available and then tossed them into a bucket (the safe boat) surrounded by a shark and a crocodile. Second Daughter surprised us all by slamming her first minifigure right into the boat!

Of course, we had the traditional and required pancake-bigger-than-your-head for breakfast, prepared by the fabulous pancake chef, Kansas Dad. (He really does make tremendous buttermilk pancakes.) Also, as usual, the birthday boy could not finish the whole pancake in one setting. Part of the fun is pulling it out for ensuing meals.

On First Son's birthday, he and his PSR class made their First Confessions. Here is a picture of First Son right after his confession and absolution. That's as clean as his soul has been since baptism.

We are loving second grade. First Son's work ethic is far better than it was last year. Not that he doesn't fight any battles, but he is actively struggling with his desires and tries very hard (most of the time) not to be too grumpy. At least after a reminder.

I was worried at first when I saw our subject list for second grade, some of which require quite a bit of writing (physically putting pencil to paper). He has risen wonderfully to the tasks, though. His handwriting has improved tremendously and he will often write without complaint for multiple subjects. His handwriting is legible, too. Just after the New Year, he started learning cursive and is doing well.

He often makes smart remarks on his math papers or writes silly things for the answers. I'm not sure why he keeps that up since I always make him erase them and do the page over again, but I do think it's funny, too. His math story problems are nearly always about Angry Birds now. Recently he wrote, "Ten pigs stole the birds eggs. The red bird knocked over five pigs. How many pigs are left?" (Those possessive apostrophes are tricky.)

He is getting much better at narration, too. A few days ago he told the whole story of Io to Kansas Dad after dinner. (Well, not the whole story; the version I read aloud to him was adapted for children.)

He's a wonderful reader, when we can get him to read aloud. Recently, we've been enjoying a few of the books from the Encounter the Saints series. They are just challenging enough (especially with all the names and places) for his reading practice.

His current favorite saint is St. Martin de Porres.

Here is my favorite picture from his baptism anniversary.

First Son, may the coming year be one of blessings and growth, love and joy!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


A few days ago, First Son asked me what I would request if I could have anything in the world. Then he said, "I'd want a space shuttle and all the Hero Factory Legos I want. Not all the Hero Factor Legos, just the ones I want."

Yeah, you wouldn't want to fill up too much of the space shuttle with Hero Factory Legos.

Monday, January 16, 2012

I Think So, Too

It's nice to find someone who can more eloquently express what I've often thought. Read Cindy Rollins on Charlotte Mason and Classical Education.

HT: Brandy at Afterthoughts

What I Loved About Last Week (16th Ed.)

1. On Monday, I had a dentist appointment (no cavities, yay!) and Kansas Dad took the kids to the zoo while I was there. (I don't even want to think about what Second Daughter and Second Son would do at the dentist's office while I was having my teeth cleaned.) Then I met them there and we had a picnic lunch together!

2. I started a new nightly prayer routine. The children were getting a little too wild at prayer time. Now, we sit in front of our crucifix, quietly, for a few minutes - just like they do at Atrium. Then we start with a Litany of Saints, followed by a prayer by each of us and then a prayer together like the Hail Mary or the Our Father. Much smoother.

3. Second Son clearly announced "no" and "ball."

4. On Saturday, we took the kids into town to spend a gift card and some of their saved money. After wandering through all the toy aisles, they made their selections and were reasonably patient while hitting a few other aisles for things Kansas Dad and I wanted. First Son found a particularly good deal on some Legos that were on clearance.

7. We finished week 18 of school, which means we're more than half way through our year. (I recently rearranged our schedule to be done in 35 weeks.) I also "found" a week I skipped when planning our year (why wasn't the last week of February on my schedule?) so we're going to finish two weeks earlier than I originally thought. Hooray!

8. First Daughter wanted to sing Father, I Adore You tonight as her evening prayer. As we were singing, I noticed Second Son who was attempting the signs the other children learned for the song in choir last semester even though no one else was signing. I thought that was pretty cool.

9. Second Son loves to say, "Bye bye!" He'll yell it out if he's leaving or if other people are leaving (but I think he likes it best if he's leaving). On Sunday, he said, "Bye bye, Grammy."

Friday, January 13, 2012

Quiet Because It's Chilly

I really wanted to finish a post for Friday morning, but we hit some complications on Wednesday when our furnace stopped working. The thing chugged along all right until we had an actually wintry cold day and then it died when it was supposed to get down into the teens overnight. Kansas Dad loaded the kids and headed to his parents' house around 9:30 pm when the furnace people left and I gathered the last of our things for an overnight, opened the faucets a little and we all prayed the pipes wouldn't freeze.

They didn't. Thank God!

But the furnace people still couldn't get it working on Thursday. Luckily, Kansas Dad had managed to wrestle the shed door lock open and bring in our (very safe) space heaters. So we managed for one night and they fixed it today.

Now I have a bit of typing to do on meeting minutes and parish websites and other such important things so the blog must wait. (I couldn't type in the cold, you know!)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

December 2011 Book Report

December's list is a bit longer than the others recently. I finally finished a few big books I'd been reading for months!

An Unreasonable Woman by Diane Wilson (free Kindle version, offered as a Limited-Time Offer)

Sinner: The Catholic Guy's Funny, Feeble Attempts to be a Faithful Catholic by Lino Rulli (a review for The Catholic Company)

Mary on Horseback: Three Mountain Stories by Rosemary Wells tells the story of Mary Breckinridge and her Frontier Nursing Service in 1920s Appalachia. Each story has its sorrows, but is overflowing with hope and courage. I very much hope First Son is ready to read this himself next year and enjoy it when we reach the 1920s in our American history course. (library copy)

Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens by J. M. Barrie started out very slowly. As Peter Pan was introduced, it got a little better, but there's not much of a plot in this book. It's really more of an introduction to Peter. I have to admit, I wasn't all that impressed, but that may have much to do with my heart breaking at the thought of a boy leaving his mother and then being locked out when he tried to return. (available for free on the Kindle)

The Storm by Cynthia Rylant was a preview. I'm on the lookout for early reader books for First Daughter. This book is the first in a series (The Lighthouse Family) and I think it will be a fine one. Kansas Dad peeked a bit over my shoulder and was wryly commenting on how ridiculous it is, but five year old girls relish the ridiculous. (library copy)

The Book of Dragons by E. Nesbit is a collection of short stories involving English children and dragons. The dragons are generally bad (for those concerned about such things), though there is one that becomes tame and turns into a cat. I found the stories reasonably enjoyable and would be willing for my children to read them on their own, but I decided against reading them aloud. (available for free on the Kindle without illustrations)

The House of Sixty Fathers by Meindert DeJong tells of Tien Pao's journey and search for his parents when he is separated from them shortly after they flee their village and the attacking Japanese early in the Second Sino-Japanese war (I think) in the 1930s. At first I was horrified reading this book. As a mother, the thought of my young son experiencing war then being separated from us and (as far as we knew) worse...well, my heart was breaking. As I continued to read, however, I was amazed at the boy's courage and the descriptions of China and Chinese countrymen. The book includes descriptions of events that terrorize the young boy like planes strafing his village, men and horses being killed, blood turning the river red...This is not a book for young children, but it is a book for children. Next year, First Son will be in third grade. I'm considering reading this book aloud to him, either as part of our American studies (during which we'll study that time period and the book does include American soldiers in China) or for our geography study of China. I think, though, it will only work for us if I can read it when First Daughter is not listening. She has a sensitive heart and I would worry about her listening. (She'd be six early next school year. First Son at six might have been fine with this book, but I doubt First Daughter would be.)  (library copy)

Next Spring an Oriole by Gloria Whelan is the story of Libby and her family as they settle into their new home on the Michigan frontier. It's an easy chapter book and I intend for First Son to read it during our American history studies. It's the first of a series that looks promising. The author also appears to have many other historical fiction books that might fit with our studies. (library copy)

One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp (received as a gift from a dear friend)

A Doctor Like Papa by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock is an easy chapter book that touches on a variety of wonderful concepts - a girl who wants to be a doctor in 1918, WWI, the influenza epidemic, and the effects of all of these on families in Vermont. It's a story of fear, courage, and how people keep living when life is hard. First Son will be reading this as part of our American history next year. (library copy)

The Paint Brush Kid by Clyde Robert Bulla was better than the first book (The Chalk Box Kid). Gregory and his friends decide to paint the house of a neighbor with the stories of his life. When the house is scheduled for demolition to make room for a freeway, Gregory finds the courage to speak out to try to save the house. The ending is surprising, but sweet. First Son's reading level is above this book and I don't think I'll ask First Daughter to read it during her reading lessons, but it would be acceptable for silent reading. (library copy)

My Storytime Bible by Renita Boyle (a review for The Catholic Company)

The Life You Save May Be Your Own by Paul Elie (library copy)

The Canada Geese Quilt by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock tells of Ariel and her family in the 1940s as they struggle with the recovery of her devoted grandmother after a stroke while preparing for a new baby. I think it could be a nice complement to a young person's study of World War II and think I'll ask First Son to read it next year (third grade). Like A Doctor Like Papa, the book is set in Vermont. (library copy)

O Little Town: A Novel by Don Reid is a little novel centered on the interactions of the people in a small town in the days before Christmas. It's a nice little story and kept me occupied during our drive to my parent's house when I wanted something light. The sermon at the end seemed to elicit a more miraculous response than it warranted, but I can live with that. (Kindle edition, available for free for as a limited time offer)

The Help by Kathryn Stockett was a great vacation book. It was engaging and entertaining without requiring a lot of thought on my part. Set in the 1960s, it focuses on racial interactions and inequities in a way that can help us think about them today as well. It's worth a few hours of your time to read it, though I do wish our library had a copy of the DVD so I could see the movie now. (borrowed copy)

The Cabin Faced West by Jean Fritz is the story of a ten year old girl on the frontier in Pennsylvania. She's ambivalent about her family's new home at the beginning of the novel, but grows to love it and to recognize her love for it. I had never read this as a child, but I intend to read it aloud to the kids when we're learning about the era just after the Revolutionary War. (library copy)

Because there were quite a few pre-reads this month, I thought I'd point out that I do not intend to read every book before the children do. It works out that way now because First Son doesn't read many chapter books unless I sit him down next to me and demand he read aloud. I do, however, like to pre-read all the books we may use for lessons because First Daughter is nearly three years younger than First Son and yet listens in on nearly all our lessons. She's a sensitive soul, as I've mentioned before, so I tend to be careful about what she may hear. I also like to pre-read any book I'm introducing within our lessons as I feel they may be given greater respect by the children. I'd like that respect to be well-deserved.

Monday, January 9, 2012

What I Loved About Christmas

The holidays are officially over! We're starting school again this week after a long break and two weeks visiting my family in Illinois. I've got mountains of pictures to go through and we've started to tackle the "storage" in our office in the hopes of moving the girls in there soon, so things are busy around here.

1. We had a lovely Christmas and New Year's celebration this year. No one went to the hospital!

2. Second Son has started talking a little. He says "night night" quite clearly and will slyly repeat both "mama" and "dada" but refuses to actually call us by them. (I think he knows exactly what they mean.)

3. I received what I wanted most for Christmas, a lovely icon of St. Athanasius. I think he now must be the patron saint of our family.

4. Kansas Dad received Agricola from my parents and we've been enjoying it. We can only play when the little ones are sleeping, but it promises to be a worthy game for two people (which sadly, The Settlers of Catan is not).

5. I had a lovely dinner with one of my dearest friends. She even built a fire in her new fireplace for us!

6. We found a faster route to my parents house, making the drive in only 10 hours (including stops!) on the way there.

7. Kansas Dad and I feasted at June with my brother and his wife (whose brother is the owner and chef). We can only afford to go once every two years, but it's worth every penny. Highly recommended. (The company was good, too.)

8. Did I mention we had a lovely Christmas? We celebrated with Kansas Dad's parents a little early and then drove to Illinois to spend Christmas Day with my parents, my brother and his family, my sister and her family and my youngest sister. Everyone stayed for days and we still had a bit of time with just us and my parents. First Daughter and I also went along to watch my youngest sister's basketball game. My kids adore their cousins! I could write more and more about our trip, but I really need to start thinking about our school this week.