June 25, 2011

Curriculum Choices: Fun Extras

Our curriculum choices are not complete until we add some "fun extras" to the mix. This year our extras came in a box from Timberdoodle. The kids were playing in the cul-de-sac when the UPS truck showed up (have I ever told you he knows us by name?.....that's for another post.....we do keep him quite busy). The boys knew it was for them so asked if they could open the box right away. I was planning on hiding till the school year began but couldn't resist so here's the picture of the box opened in the cul-de-sac and yes, one of my boys was already playing with his Thinking Putty (see top left corner of picture?).

So here are the fun extras....

For Caleb: Magnets kit (that we will use this summer)

For Noah: Glow in the dark and Metallic Thinking Putty (this has been great to help him concentrate on his school work)

For both boys: GeoPuzzles (we ordered Europe, Asia, Africa & Middle East)

For Sarah: Lauri's Uppercase and Lowercase ABC Puzzles

What fun extras are you adding to your school for next year?

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First Class Homeschool Ministries

We recently completed our first year of "Friday School" with a local First Class Homeschool Ministries Coop. It was one of the greatest blessings for our family this year. The boys had a chance to be part of a more structured classroom environment where they learned and made new friends. Some of the classes they took included: Music, P.E., Community Helpers, Lego Robotics, Space, Art, Health and Hands-On Math. Sarah also got to be part of the program and enjoy toddler classes with storytime, simple crafts and games.

Being a Coop, the parents (and grandparents) have a very important role. We help teach or assist classes, monitor hallways and help in other ways like setting up and cleaning up. We all play an important part and help each other carry the load.

A typical day at First Class includes: chapel time, 3 blocks of classes, snack time and closing session. All moms get a free block to interact in the parent room, make new friends and share encouragement. Our coop also offers regular park dates, field trips and moms night out.

What I love the most about First Class...

~It is an answer to prayer! I first heard about First Class from Steve and Jane Lambert at the Five in a Row message boards. They spoke very highly of the founders of First Class and after reading through their website I loved their vision for homeschooling families. There were talks about starting a group like this in Illinois but during that time we were making our way down to Texas. After trying 3 different local support groups, I still did not find one that was the right fit for us. Some were non-sectarians, others did not offer classes, others put too much emphasis on academics and most were too expensive for our one income family.

~First Class is affordable and effective, I definitely love that!

~It gives my children the opportunity to have wholesome socialization while enjoy wonderful classes that enrich their learning at home.

~I've made some wonderful friendships with the moms and have come to know and love a very diverse group of women. It is encouraging to see how we are growing in love for each other, serving one another in our times of need and encouraging one another as home educators.

~It is a place to use and grow your gifts and abilities. Some moms are naturally better at teaching a subject or are great at organizing activities or recruiting people or at leading the chapel time, etc. We all bless each other with what the Lord has entrusted to us.

~We get to decide what we want our children to learn. I love that because I do like to be in control of what my kids are learning and at First Class we share classes ideas before each semester starts.

~We meet 8-10 weeks per semester. That is perfect for us. It is enough to be enjoyed and not overload the kids or the moms. :)

First Class is a national organization and you can read more about it at their website.

And if you area Houston area, our coop meets at Copperfield Church on Fridays in the fall and spring. Check out our website for more information.

We also have an upcoming Information Meeting for families who would like to learn more about the coop on

Friday, July 22nd, 7pm at Copperfield Church in Houston

More information will be posted on our website.

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June 22, 2011

Our Very First Box Day!

Yesterday, I posted we will begin using Sonlight for our Core in the fall. Well, there is a tradition among Sonlighters to celebrate "Box Day". It is simply a day to celebrate your upcoming school year and enjoy looking through all the new materials and 'wet' your kids' appetite for what they will learn.

You can see and read other families box days at Sonlight's Blog.

Here is our first Box Day...

Our Sonlight Core B box arrived a few weeks ago. Just about 10 days after I ordered! And shipping was FREE! I told the kids that morning that the box would be here in the morning but unfortunately it arrived during nap time which means both younger kids were sleeping. Caleb was with me and of course, I couldn't make him wait till his siblings wake up so he had a "personalized box day".

He helped me opened the box, handed me the big blue binder on top (instructor's guide) and said "Here mom, this is one is for you" and immediately started looking through the books. Here is a picture inside our box half-way full.

The first book that truly got his attention was "The Usborne Time Traveler". So much so that he could not get himself to sit down, instead THIS is how he read it for the next 10 minutes.....

...I love my little bookworm! He did switched legs every 2-3 minutes. I think this picture makes a pretty memorable first box day. And I think he is going LOVE Sonlight!

I am reading through the Instructor's Guide and many of the books and I'm already so impressed with the quality of literature selected. Yesterday, I shared how I was a little concerned with the already given schedule but I see now the schedule is so well laid out that you can easily follow or easily tweak....hard to explain but I think you can effectively use it both ways.

Very, very excited about this curriculum and so thankful that I have the privilege to teach my kids at home.

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June 21, 2011

Curriculum Choices: History

If you've follow my blog for some time now, you know we love unit studies and have used many wonderful resources to teach the boys this way.

Primarily we've used Five in a Row. The boys did 2 years of Before Five in a Row and just a few months ago we completed Volume 3 of Five in a Row! It sounds silly but for me is the completion of a wonderful journey since FIAR was our boys' first introduction to learning through books. And I can't wait to introduce Sarah to all the great stories and learning activities that FIAR offers.

We are going to wait to use Volume 4 until Noah is a little older and in the meantime, we are switching to a different curriculum for our core learning.......


We will start Sonlight in September with Core B. We are only doing their History, Readers and Read Aloud (the basic Core). Core B is an Introduction to World History from Creation to the Fall of Rome. It also includes Geography, missionary stories, Bible reading and memorization, timeline activities and stories to read aloud. I also ordered the 3rd grade readers for Caleb and one add-on music and art appreciation.

I first heard of Sonlight when Caleb was 3 years old and I was searching online for curriculum. At the time it appealed to me but felt I didn't want to spend that money for preschool. :) So we did Five in A Row instead since I could find most of those book at the library. But for some reason, from time to time I requested a Sonlight catalog and loved many of the book selections they made. I knew one day we would have to try this curriculum.

I value good literature for our children so I'm looking forward to the many read alouds we will do together and the great books Caleb will be reading on his own as well.

This is a big change for me as a teacher too. I enjoy creating lesson plans for our boys and putting things together for us to do and enjoy. It takes more preparation time but it's proven to be rewarding for me and the boys. Sonlight's has a teacher's guide with the weekly lessons completely laid out for you. I know it will take time for me to get used to but this will allow me to have time to prepare fun things for Sarah's "tot school".

Tomorrow I will share pictures from our first "Box Day".

June 20, 2011

Curriculum Choices 2011: Old and New

As I begin our plans for our next school year in the fall, I have to say that every year as a homeschooling mom, I gain more confident (and peace of mind) on our curriculum choices. Just like anything in life, the longer you do something, the better you get at it and the least you worry about how it is done.

In homeschooling, as our children are growing and we are entering our sixth year of homeschooling (that's counting Caleb's 2 wonderful preschool years, of course...just 4th of "academics"), I finally feel comfortable with their learning styles, strenghts and weaknesses.

So, if you are on the beginning stages of your journey, take heart! It does get easier to choose curriculum. :)

With so many wonderful choices out these, it is always tempting to try something new. But most of the time that is not wise, especially if you are a one income family.

At the end of each school year I like to evaluate what worked best and what we will replace. Last year we made some new changes and some of those were our favorites things this year.

What Worked BEST And Will Use Again:

#1 Primary Mathematics (Singapore Math): This was definitely the best new thing we added last year. It made a huge difference in the way our kids see and are learning math and in the way I for the very first time enjoy teaching it!

#2 Reading Made Easy: I taught Caleb how to read with this program and he is doing fantastic. Reading now anything that he encounters and with great decoding skills. Noah has 25 more lessons to go on this book so he will continue those through the summer and continue reading early reader books. He needs more frequent reviews of phonics than Caleb did so I added the Reading Made Easy Activity Books and that has worked well for him.

#3 Hanwriting Without Tears: Another favorite at our house. We love the gentle and effective approach of this program. I appreciate the short lessons instead of long pages full of busy work. Caleb will begin their cursive program and Noah will continue printing.

#4 Critical Thinking Company: The boys can't get enought of these books. We will continue using "Mind Benders", 'Thinker Doodles", "Language Smarts". I do not use these daily but "sprinkle" their school days with these workbooks to vary things a little bit and make sure they are working on logic, spatial and reasoning skills.

#5 Evan Moor's Daily Trait Writing:This has worked great for Caleb. The lessons are short. One writing assignment at the end of the week. He has grown in confidence and it gives him extra handwriting practice. He will continue using this program for grade 3.

#6 Sequential Spelling: Very pleased with our first year with this program. It proved to be a bit advance for Caleb but we resumed it in January and he was ready for it then. His spelling has improved a lot. I like the simple yet effective approach of Sequential Spelling. We will finish book 1 this summer and move into book 2.

NEW Curriculum Choices We Can't Wait To Start Using:

And now....I'm sooooo excited to share the NEW things we are adding for the next school year.....

#1 Exploring Creation with Astronomy (Young Explorer Series from Apologia): woohoo! We are starting our very first formal science program. Up until now our science have been unit studies based and we have loved every minute of it. The boys have learned a lot and we covered a variety of topics. But I realized Caleb was craving for a more sequential study of science so this is our choice. We will begin our first year (hopefully of many) with this series. I was so impressed at how much Charlotte Mason is in it and can't wait to start using it. And with Space Center and the Observartory at Brazos Bend so near us, this will definitely be a great science year for us.

#2 Language Lessons for the Very Young/Elementary Child (Queens Homeschooling): we will use this as our core program for language arts. It is also Charlotte Mason and covers picture study, narrations, copywork, poem memorization and grammar. Noah will start this after he finishes Reading Made Easy.

Would LOVE to hear from anyone who have used Apologia or Language Lessons. What did you like/dislike? How did you implement it to your routine?

I will write a separate post on Bible/character building because for us that is more than academics.

And there is still one more NEW choice but you will have to wait until tomorrow for that one...

June 18, 2011

Summer School Plans

Next Monday we begin 8 weeks of summer school for the boys. I told the boys we will continue math and spelling since those are two areas we are making so much progress and don't want 3 months to pass by without reviewing them.

Everything else will be THEIR choice! After all, isn't that one of the wonderful benefits of a home education? The students can have a greater input on what they want to learn about.

So here are the boys' choices:

Caleb chose:
*Magnets and electromagnetism
*More Piano (yey!)
*More Spanish (wow, this one really surprised me)
*Nature Walks (my nature lover since age 2)

Noah chose:
*Cooking (my hands-on learner)
*More Art projects (again....hands-on)
*Pirates (2nd time around)

Looks like we are going to have a fun summer learning!

We will also have read-alouds of course. Caleb will read Pilgrim's Progress (the "little" version) for the very first time. And we will be reading Lamplighters books and re-read ALL the Five in A Row books we owned one last time...(for now since Sarah will start her FIAR journey soon) before we begin in the fall our new curriculum I will announce soon!

I love homeschooling!

Biblical Character Projects

I have a new favorite blog that wanted to share with you all!

It's the blog of Doorposts! They have a section called "Weekly Character Projects". I'm linking here to the projects archives page. If you are looking to add more character building into your daily routine, read through some of their ideas. As always Pam, does such a wonderful at writing simple but meaningful lessons for children and of course, I find myself learning and being challenged right along too.

Hope it blesses your family and encourage you as you teach your children. :)

June 14, 2011

History Pockets= Ancient Civilizations

Well we are officially enjoying a short break before we begin our summer school weeks. I'm planning to wrap up our year sharing some of the fun things we did that I never got around to post here. I will also share our plans for the next school year...SO EXCITED ABOUT IT! Can't wait to share it so stay tuned...

One resource we used to supplement and to add more hands-on learning for my Kindergartner was Evan Moor's "History Pockets". I previously blogged about our very first "pockets" about Life In Plymouth. You can see that post here.

Our next unit was "Ancient Civilization". It was a very simple introduction how people lived long, long ago.

There civilizations are Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, China and Aztec. There is also an additional pocket titled "What is history" that covers what makes something ancient and talks about how many of the early civilizations had many things in common.

Each pocket includes vocabulary (words to know), a booklet (2nd grade reading level), additional background information sheet for teacher, puppets of people of the time and a variety of hands-on projects.

Here are some pictures of Caleb's pockets and some of the projects for "Mesopotamia".

June 03, 2011

Nature Walk Surprises

You never know what you will find on a nature walk. Yesterday Caleb spotted these amazing tracks! There are definitely a dog's paws but still fun to look at. And look at all the ducks and geese tracks around them too!

Noah asked why not cat paws? The answer is....cats hide their nails/claws when they walk so they don't make noise and scare their preys. Their nails are usually larger than dogs but you don't see them in a paw print. :)

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Dry Season Nature Walk

The kids and I regularly visit a pond and forest reservoir near our home. It is one of those things we do I always want to blog about and never find the time to do it.

The last few months we have experience one of the worst droughts in our area. As a result, we did not see as many migrating bird species stop by the pond and very little wildflowers appeared.

But that did not stop us this week from enjoying our walk and find beautiful things in nature. Like the tree Sarah is standing by...all year around, this tree is surrounded by water but now we can stand on it and observe those strong roots! The boys got to peek under it and talk about how frogs probably lay their eggs here, etc. It was fun to hear them come up with scenarios.

I always look forward to our nature walks because it is teaching our boys to learn to be attentive, patient, to contemplate and marvel at God's creation.

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