Monday, January 19, 2009

a late start....but FUN!!

Hi girls -- we are back home in China, and getting more settled into a routine here. I wanted to let you all know that we started "school" today (Monday, January 19th!! 2009)! I guess its not a typical year for us, but Asia was excited!! Our curriculum was easy to follow - but we didn't get thru all the material for our first day. What I wanted to share tho were some neat tidbits that you might be able to incorporate into your lives too - if you think they might apply.

1. We made a HUGE timeline that spans one wall in our "classroom" with strips of orange paper. We measured out the years (in 500 year chunks) from 4100BC all the way to 2000AD. Many of the books on our reading list this year include stories from people/heroes throughout history - and this was their idea to give the kids a larger perspective/scope to their understanding of how it all fit together. I really like this idea, and I am excited to add to it... also our curriculum comes with 3 pages of printed stickers of each character/hero - but this would be easy to create on your own depending on who you want to add to your timeline. Let me know if you want a list of ours.

2. We put a large Map of the World along the wall - its a blank map that you can write on with erasable markers. On one side is the world, and on the other side is the United States. I love this map!! Here's a LINK where you can find one if you want. We added colored dots for different things: green for places our heroes are from, red for our family, blue for friends. I think this will help them get an idea of how big the world really is - and see how people come from all over to shape our history & world around us. Asia ends up having lots of neat questions too. I think this goes great with "global laundry" too!!

3. We also started a Writing Journal today. Its a blank spiral notebook without any lines/etc. I hope to have Asia write a sentence in it 3 times a week - whatever she wants to write about. She can draw a picture too if she wants. The main purpose is for her to sound out the words on her own - not to spell perfectly. My mother-in-law gave us this idea - and so far Asia really likes it. I help her figure out how many words are in her sentence, and make a line for each word she wants to write. Then I let her go for it! Maybe I can post a picture later so you get a better idea. I think I will also see improvements as the year goes on!

Anyhow, those were just a few things from today that were really fun!! Our classroom looks more learning-friendly after today, and I am excited to add to it as we learn more this year.

Some neat Read-Aloud books we have loved:
The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
Milly Molly Mandy by Joyce Lankester Brisley
I am sure you could find them at the library too!

love you girls!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Lisa Proposes. . . a Monthly Vintage School Day!

Okay, moms, here is the idea:

Once a month, preferrably at the end, we gather at Vintage in the gym (or classrooms, if we get the green light) for learning, games, stress management and structured educational mayhem! The idea I have is based upon the old time one-room schoolhouse model, so all ages of kids could participate. Here is what it might look like:

--a planned theme for that day, with appropriate activities, say a book/mini-lesson and hands-on activity/craft. Moms can take turns volunteering with this, but it is my idea so I will be glad to do it if no one else does. : )
BENEFIT: you can check off school for that day if you want! Group learning! Your child learning to respond to teachers other than yourself!

--circle/sharing time, where each child (and mom) can share with the group one thing he/she has completed or learned that month.
BENEFIT: built-in incentive (for both mom and kids) to buckle down and finish that project that is getting dragged out a little too long. Kids get to share their accomplishments. Moms get to be inspired by other moms and encouraged by each small success.

--an old-fashioned spelling bee! we all work from the same spelling list and when we gather had a spelling showdown, where the kids all line up and we start with the easy words and everyone gets three misses before they have to sit down.
BENEFIT: spelling is worked into the month, kids are excited to practice words knowing they will need to know them to do well in the game

--recitations! each child shares something from memory or reading--a scripture verse, a poem, a short story he/she wrote.
BENEFIT: practice speaking in front of a supportive group, memory skills, helping your child know by heart something you decide belongs there. ; )

--at least one planned game (I would love it if moms took turns planning and leading this one--not my strength, although I have lots of ideas)
BENEFIT: P.E.! learning group dynamics, following rules, improve gross motor/coordination, good for the body and spirit!

And we would structure this so that the sitting and speaking and activities are nicely balanced. And of course there should be some unstructured playtime in there too! Maybe combined with a snack time while moms chat?

ANY homeschooling family would be welcome! (chance to share the love with the greater Santa Cruz area homeschoolers) No child would be forced to participate in any of the activities--or, shall we say, such forcing would be up to the teacher mom of that particular child. BUT we would expect everyone to come ready to participate in the overall spirit of the gathering, so the other kids are not distracted from their learning experience.

I am imagining the whole thing would take at least 3 hours--more with snack and free play, probably. We could structure the morning too so that moms could know what they would miss if they came late, or left early, and plan accordingly if they could not/did not want to be there the whole time. (3 hours seems long, but it will fly by!)

I spoke with Lee Purkey and we have his blessing. So now, please post your feedback here as to what YOU think of the idea. Since at this point it is my idea, I will take full ownership of it and will gladly get it all going--in Feb if at least a few of you are interested. But if anyone has ideas for tweaking the gathering, please do let me know. I do suggest that if anyone wants to make changes to the overall plan, then she should be willing to implement them. Sound fair? : ) I know not everyone will get excited about the things that excite me! But at least this plan is a start!

And somebody please help me with a name for the gathering!

Becky and I had talked about having an "old-school" Valentine's Day party, so we could have our first one that day next month, and then have the next one at the end of March. (It does not have to be at the end of the month, but that works really well for the way my brain works, esp. if trying to finish projects for sharing time)

I look forward to hearing what you think!


i will survive

just a little humor and encouragement from other homeschool moms. : )

The song repeats itself, so you only need to listen to the first half to get a good chuckle for the day!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Global Laundry

Hi Everybody!
I hope you are all doing well as we plunge into the new year. If you are like us, sometimes you think you are getting the hang of this homeschooling thing and other days you feel like everybody else MUST be doing much better than you are. We definitely have our share of ups and downs, but I think that's normal. Anyway, I am offering you the fruit of one of our good days from sometime before Christmas. If I've already gone on and on about this with you, please ignore the following. It was one of those wonderful things that just "happened" and took on a life of its own! We've "played" it twice now, with Katie and Claire leading the way both times. Here's how it goes:

1. Wait til' you've got a load of laundry to fold AND it's time to do school. Don't panic! You can do both at once! Start with a colorful children's atlas on hand if you have one, or a globe.

2. As you sort the laundry, have your little helper(s) find the tag and read where each item was made.

3. Together, locate each country you discover in the atlas or on the globe.

4. Make a stack for each country, labeled with a sticky note. If you have a little bit of room, lay out the stacks according to their general geographic location (Honduras is down there by the coffee table, China over by the television, etc.)

(You could just stop here and have done a great geography lesson... but here are some things we did that further incorporated social studies, writing practice, math, map reading, and responsible shopping).

5. We tallied up the final count for each country represented, and made a graph (math skill!) with a sticker representing each item of laundry. This makes a great visual of each country's representation in your load of clothes and towels. (Pakistan came out ahead in our first round).

6. I shared with Katie and Claire some parts of a magazine article i had just been reading on fair labor practices and responsible buying (Relevant Magazine 10/08). I can't find it online or I would share it with you. But you don't need an article to discuss the basic idea with your kids.

7. We then chose one company/location to investigate online, which was Fruit of the Loom in Honduras. (This is where they make the girls' My Little Pony underwear and Daddy’s T shirts ). We found out that they’ve closed the factory in Honduras because workers wanted to form a union, and now the entire community is suffering because of the loss of jobs.

8. I printed out an unlabeled map of the Eastern Hemisphere and one of the Americas, one for each daughter. The girls each made legends for their maps, designating a color for each country, and then filled in each country represented in our laundry. It's so educational (for me too!) to figure out which country is which. Could you find Cambodia on an unlabeled map? I couldn't either. Now I can! (Ali, you don't count!)

9. We have agreed that the next time we play Global Laundry, we will find a recipe and cook the "winning" country's cuisine for dinner :) There would probably be a zillion ways to become better aquainted with the people and places that produce your family's clothes -- and build an understanding of how interconnected our world really is. We have a great book by DK called Children Just Like Me about kids around the world that really fascinates Katie and Claire, and this is a great investigative tool!

Save the maps, charts and sticky notes, and put them in a Global Laundry folder. Next time, see how many more countries you can color in. Make a new chart and compare it to the last one(s). It really is amazing to see how many different nationalities have a hand in making the things we wear and use ... and disconcerting to wonder how many of them are underpaid or under-aged.

Anyway, I encourage you to try some form of Global Laundry . . . and the best part is, it evolved on a day when I was feeling so discouraged and disorganized and dis-everything, and it felt like God just wanted to give us a boost. I love those occasional days when school feels natural and easy and full of curiosity... and the laundry gets done at the same time!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Our favorite project thus far

I thought you all might like to hear about a project we are doing (almost done) that has been the absolute best experience. We have been studying Colonial America and the founding of our nation, and part of that was memorizing the Preamble to the Constitution (thank you, Schoolhouse Rock). But the Preamble is full of all kinds of lofty ideals and big (and outdated) words, so what does it really mean? We decided to break down the Preamble into short phrases; for example, "We the people" and "in order to form a more perfect union" and "establish justice" and "ensure tranquility," etc. Then we talk about what each phrase means, G looks up words in the dictionary (very useful skill!), she writes down the phrase on lined paper to practice her printing, then when that is correct she transfers it onto an unlined drawing page, and then we brainstorm what the concepts embodied in the phrase might look like in modern day, esp. in our home, and then she draws a picture to illustrate the phrase. So for "Promote the general welfare" she drew her mommy making dinner while her children happily learned and played. (the nicest compliment I could have received) So the illustrations each child comes up with will be unique, because he/she will have his/her own understanding of the concepts. In fact, we might revisit this idea later in life, when we study the Constitution in jr.high, for example, and they will do this same project again, with new ideas and greater understanding.

G is almost done, having colored the pages and is today working on the cover of our Preamble Book. I hope to laminate the pages so we can put the finished product on our bookshelves for years to come. : )

Next I want to try this same idea with a Psalm, probably the 23rd or maybe the 1st. Doing this project involves to many positive learning skills, but the best is feeling like they really understand what it all means.

Why We Homeschool, the Craddocks

Ok, this is my first try at a blog post, so we shall see if this ends up in the right place.

Gwynneth went into kindergarten at our local elem. school when she was young--not yet 5 when the fall semester started. And while we really liked her teacher (and in fact insisted that Meredith have her this year for kindergarten), the whole experience seemed lacking, and had some weird negativities:
--G has always been behind the curve with her fine and gross motor skills, so during one of the parent-teacher conferences, it came out that G was being sent out with a mainstreamed special-needs child for special gross-motor practice. This would not have been a big deal except they did it without talking to us first. Nothing like finding out after the fact that your child has been labeled "special needs."
--the summer after kindergarten, G once mentioned a time at school when the other kids were working on computers and she was watching. I asked if this was because there were not enough computers and so they were taking turns. She said, no, her teacher said she was too little. What the . . . ?! If she is old enough to be in kindergarten to begin with, then she should be helped and encouraged to do all the things the other kids are doing. I never got to ask about that one, since she told me way after school was over. Who knows, maybe there was a very innocent explanation--but even if she misunderstood the teacher and there was a different reason, she THOUGHT that was what happened, and that in itself matters. Let's send our young children messages that they are not good enough or as capable as the other kids! That's the way to get them excited about learning.
--and then just hanging out on the playground sometimes and listening to the older kids at play really made me pine for the innocence I knew my girls would lose so quickly in the public school environment. We do shelter them from some things, but also expose them to other things--we are not trying to blind them from the world, but actually give them a REAL perspective on the world. The words and ideas of the culture are not necessarily real, and there is so much bad stuff out there, how can we parent our kids well without addressing it? I do NOT think you have to homeschool to protect your kids, and also believe good, Christian kids are needed in the public schools to be "salt and light." But I think those kids will need a really strong home foundation of faith, and honestly, I don't think we are providing that yet. I am myself too weak and still learning so much spiritually and make too many mistakes--I do not trust myself to parent well enough to overcome the negative influences of the world they will get through public school.

SO, those are just a couple of reasons behind our choice. I think we can help our children grow and bloom as whole people better than the public school. I think our kids are smarter than the current system and deserve the opportunity to stretch as far as they can go. I remember being in public school my whole life and remember the good and the bad, and there was enough bad to inspire me to try something different with my kids. We are not planning on homeschooling through high school, but hopefully until middle school. High school can offer so many amazing chances for kids, through the sports and activities, etc.--I loved being so involved in h.s. and really found myself as a person through its challenges, so don't want to deny that to the kids. But this is all an organic, evolving thing, and we may change our minds at any time!

I am so glad to be doing this in such a homeschool supportive area, with such great resources, and with lots of wonderful moms to share it with!

Monday, January 5, 2009

how we start our day - Circle Time!

I wanted to share a few ideas that we do to jump-start our week/day on the right foot. I am sure many of these ideas are age-old & timeless things - but it works, and it might be new for you!? In the morning, we all get ready, eat breakfast, etc - and typically by 8-10am we are ready to begin. Did you notice that was a 2 hour chunk of variable time? We like to be flexible like that. I announce to the girls that we will have "Circle Time in 2 minutes!!" - and they all get really excited. They each go choose a story (I try to encourage a bible story, but no huge pressure) and sit on the flower design on our carpet in our living room to wait for me (this is where you picture angelic girls sitting with books & hands in their laps waiting for mom to float across the floor). Ha!! The more consistent we are, the more anticipation they have for this focused time together. I think it produces faithfulness in me too.

Circle Time
For us, with little girls (ages 5, 3 & 2) we have a variety of activities that we incorporate into our 10-20 minute chunk of time together. The younger ones may not be able to stay focused for long, but we also bring out puzzles or picture books in case they need to be busy. You can be as creative as you want! Here are some ideas:
  1. Read a Bible story & discuss it. Ask lots of questions to get them to share & grasp the truths within. You can also choose ONE book that you go thru during this time: a family devotional, something instructional, etc. This is very character-building focused.
  2. Play guitar & sing songs together. Instruments & dance are a bonus. You can talk about the words to the songs, learn an old hymn - or whatever!
  3. Work on memory verses, or other memory work. Poetry is a great idea for this too, tho we haven't attempted it yet. I would like to help them memorize passages of scripture this way. I hear its very easy!! You can also do flashcards, with pictures of places, famous people, or other things you'd like to memorize. You ideas can be stored on 3x5 cards, in a box, or even a "Circle Time" binder.
  4. Sharing time: this is very ambiguous, but sometimes there have been topics that we wanted to discuss with the girls, or deeper issues we wanted them to think about more - so we try to ask questions, and help them figure out the answers or truths. Other times I just ask a silly question like, "What makes a good friend?" and we talk about it, and try to apply it to our lives. I think the best sharing times have been when I (mommy) have opened up and been vulnerable with them - asking them to pray for me, or share what Dad has been speaking to me. Its so powerful!!
  5. Prayer for others: we have 3 little photo books (the cheap ones) filled with pictures of friends & family - so we can open the book to new pages & pray for them by name. We are always updating & changing the pictures in here. A great spot for Xmas photos! Sometimes I ask the girls to choose a part of their character they want to grow in for the week - and we pray about it together. Its really amazing how they choose "kindness" or "generosity" and really work on it each day.
No matter what you choose - all these things are more important than reading, writing or arithmetic. And it only takes about 10-20 minutes, depending on what you incorporate!