Saturday, December 5, 2015

Staying Organized

I have played around with several different systems, but for now this is what works for us. I just take a ruler and eyeball 10 columns and 14 rows with a thin row at the top for the subject titles. I use the width of the ruler for columns (cutting the first in hald for Date and Bible). For the rows, I also do one ruler width first, then go back and half them.

My goal is to hit each subject each day, or at least frequently for things like music and art. I also keep track of how many days we do in a month, with the goal each school year being 180. If we don't do anything in that subject for the day, I fill the box with an X. That way, if I scan and a column, say art, has too many Xs, then I know that we need to do some art. If I do three or four social study lessons in one day, then I fill in 4 boxes, either ahead or behind as needed.

I like the size of the boxes because they let me keep track of what we did in a little more detail than just my checkmark system from kindergarten. I don't do the chart on the computer because I lose a lot of space that way. Doing it by hand let's me use the whole page.

Across the top it says:

Monday, November 2, 2015

Seed Picking

One of my favorite things to do is go on a nature walk with the kids all around our neighborhood to see what seeds or plants we can bring home to grow on our land. We only take things from vacant lots or the forest. We have more than 100 plants, mostly planted around the edges of our 1/2 acre.

Tonight's find was some tall purple flowers and cypress seeds. We saw a whole variety on the tree and I finally figured out why our "acorns" have never grown before. Those little things are the seeds, not the cone part. Aha!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Green Pen

Found on a facebook repost from my friend ARQ from Alejandro Hernandez Reyes:

With this picture was an article of a mom who taught her son by circling his best work with a green pen, instead of marking his mistakes in red.

I liked the idea and started doing it today with Raccoon. Instead of focusing on his failures, we circled his successes and the change in his attitude was amazing. He couldn't wait to write his next number to see if it would be his best one yet. And it gave me the chance to point out what makes a number great.

Thank-you, Anonymous Mom, good job!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Dough Dinosaurs

We used no-cook Recipe III and I added pumpkin pie spice for smell. 

This book is from 1989.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Make and Do

These last few weeks since moving we've been more unschoolers than not. Raccoon discovered Book 9 "Make and Do" in a set of Childcraft (1968), recently gifted to us. Today's cranky hour project (the twilight zone between Kitty's nap and suppertime) was paper houses. Which inevitably turned into inventing time. Thank you, Childcraft, for a little afternoon peace, except not for the mess in my living room.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

McDonald's Kitchen Tour

Due to Raccoon's food allergies, we never eat at McDonald's. But we happened to be near the one with the largest play area yesterday. So we stopped in, to the immense joy of our kids. As playtime was winding down, the hostess came over and asked us if we'd like a kitchen tour. Yes!

After suiting up, we went behind the counter. My favorite thing was the soda machine (picture below), and at the end, free sodas. The kids liked washing their hands and pulling on the rinse hose above a large sink out back. The King was impressed by all the cleanliness measures and considered it a tour about the danger of germs.

Overall, a win-win for everyone, and the bonus of an unexpected field trip.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Field Trip and Frank

When I look back at Raccoon's childhood, perhaps if his kids ask me for stories about when their dad was little, I want to remember Frank. The avocado. Raccoon found him (it?) yesterday in a friend's yard and brought him home. Upon hearing that we could not eat it yet because it wasn't ripe, he named it, made a home for it, and turned it into a pet, much to the delight of his entire Sunday School class this morning. I love Raccoon's joy and how he builds a world for anyone in need. Habitats, cushy avocado rides with seat belts, whatever needs doing he'll find a way. Upon completion, he's off to the next thing.

This afternoon, as Frank's novelty was waning, we drove up to a local volcanic park (not the erupting one!). A small cafe was open with a gorgeous view. The lake in the picture is supposedly 200 meters deep in the middle. On the drive home, I couldn't get over how much material the volcano had deposited in the hilly country. It must have been some explosion, long ago.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Art: Pirates, Stencils, and Vases

The school year is marching on and I feel at peace this year. One new subject is art. We mostly do spontaneous activities, but today I found this book and gave it a try. Raccoon really enjoyed it. (He got tired so I did the palm tree).

The stencils were something we did the other day. I helped Kitty with the one pictured below.

Another project with his cousin, S, vase decorating.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Wind

Fastest so far thus summer: 15 mph

Today: 7 mph

The wind feels so very strong,  I am surprised by these numbers. But it's gusty, not constant. And our instrument perhaps is not so very precise,  but it's fun all the same.

Thank-you Grama for our weather station.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Bird Nest

Look what we found today! A bush was removed from our back yard and we found this tucked in behind. I wish we could have seen the eggs and babies. It was very ftagile, coming apart as soon as we touched it. Just exploring our 2000 square meters is an adventure every day. I am grateful to live here, even with a volcano as a neighbor.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Bean Plants

Kitty was playing with some black beans as a sensory activity and Raccoon decided to plant some. From there it grew to a life cycle project he's going to share at our newly forming homeschool coop.

Thursday, August 27, 2015


We were given a terrarium by my high school English teacher. Fill it with catepillars and presto!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Hermit Crab Habitat

Raccoon's latest passion... hermit crabs! They aren't available here, but that doesn't stop him from being prepared, just in case.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Volcano School

We live about 50 miles from an active volcano. It has been billowing ash since Saturday and this morning we woke up to a grey, gray world. After morning chores, our noses were burning so out came the masks and the air filter.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Book Review: Overcoming Dyslexia

by Sally Shaywitz

At the end of a book like this, the question I always come to is, "Would I recommend this book? And if so, to whom?"

If you want to find out what dyslexia is and what to do about it, then yes. If you're looking for encouragement as a homeschooling parent of a child with dyslexia, not so much.

I loved the first 15 chapters. I am new to the world of dyslexia and needed a detailed, practical explanation. She gave me that, along with a step by step plan to help Raccoon become a fast and fluent reader. But towards the end of the book, I was very put off by one paragraph meant for parents of children who attend regular school. It bothered me because what she says is at the heart of my insecurities about teaching Raccoon at home, which is: can I teach him well? I felt especially discouraged because it came as such a surprise. In the beginning of the book she says, "I strongly believe that behind the success of every disabled child is a passionately committed, intensely engaged, and totally empowered parent, usually but not always the child’s mother." This is the paragraph from Chapter 16 (bold is mine):

"While a parent should not become her child’s primary teacher, she can become her child’s biggest helper. With a light hand, good humor, and the suggestions found here, you can help accelerate your child’s progress. In most instances I strongly caution parents against setting out to teach their child all of the phonics rules or a complete reading curriculum. Teaching reading is a complex task and one that should be left to a professional. Keep in mind that your child is in class for perhaps six hours a day. You will see him after school when he is tired and less receptive to learning and when you, too, are not at your most energetic or patient. I recommend that you work with your child fifteen or twenty minutes a few evenings a week; it should remain fun and not a chore for either of you. For the most part, weekends should be left for enjoyment and not to play catch-up. Focus on reinforcement. School is where new learning should take place; home is ideal for practice and reinforcement."

Later, she shares her low opinion of public schools, " general, public school programs for children with reading disability are failures" and "On balance, public schools are generally slow to identify a reading problem, provide too little instruction, and, worst of all, often use unproven and incomplete programs taught by teachers who may know little about teaching reading."

She also says that private schools often aren't a good fit for children with dyslexia: "In contrast to most public school settings, I have found that the children in private schools are more likely to be in lockstep with one another. Such schools pride themselves on uniformity, which often extends to the curriculum and to reading instruction. The lack of student diversity in this setting does not usually serve the interests of a student with a reading disability; the opportunities for innovation and for creating special programs are limited."

So I'm not sure which "professionals" she's referring to who aren't parents and apparently aren't public or private school teachers either.

But this point of contention aside, she did provide me with a clear plan of what to do, along with much applicable advice. I cannot compare it to other dyslexia books, having only read this one, but it felt complete enough to me that I haven't done any more research at this point.

From her explanation, I realized that Raccoon and I jumped into phonics last year, but he is missing some of the foundational pre-reading skills. From now until October, we will be focusing on one skill a month: rhyming, sound matching, segmenting, and blending. Once he has mastered these, we will move back into phonics. I expect a totally different and positive outcome for his first grade reading skills.

Many children don't receive remediation until third grade, so I am glad that we are starting now. Our goal is 90 minutes of reading and related activities 5 days a week. So far we're averaging about 30 minutes of reading a day.

Favorite quotes:

"On the other hand, dyslexics appear to be disproportionately represented in the upper echelons of creativity and the people who, whether in business, finance, medicine, writing, law, or science, have broken through a boundary and have made a real difference to society."

"Above all, do not keep the child back a year in school."

"In addition to providing the loving and nurturing that comes naturally with parenting, parents (and teachers, too) of children with reading problems should make their number one goal the preservation of their child’s self-esteem."

"Early on it is critical to help your child identify an interest or a hobby, an area in which he can have a positive experience, whether it be pure enjoyment or perhaps the ability to stand out or excel..."

"Encourage your child to view himself as a person who has something to say and whom people should respect. Discuss important decisions with him. ...As he gets older, there will be many occasions when he needs to speak up and be an advocate for himself. Getting into the habit of speaking out and being heard is invaluable preparation for that."

"...Boies’s life experience reinforces the dictum that it is not how fast you read but how well you think that counts."

I might just frame that last quote.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Week in Pictures: Grama's Here!

Everything is more fun with Grama, especially since she's a teacher at heart. Our new schedule is working well, two hours of school in the morning and one in the afternoon, three days a week.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Dear Raccoon

You have dyslexia, a weakness for reading surrounded by a sea of strengths. The very thing about your brain that makes reading hard is also going to help you be an amazing scientist, inventor, or whatever you decide to be. World-changing.

I am glad we are doing school at home. What matters is not how fast you read but how well you think. You will do just fine with that.

We may still be in time to help you be a fast reader. If so, great. If not, I will read to you, give you hands-on experiences, and help you chart a non-traditional path through this world. I will always be your biggest fan.


Saturday, July 4, 2015

Browsing for Curriculum, AKA Drinking from the Fire Hose

Breathe. Just breathe. It's first grade. We don't have to conquer the world this year. I'll settle for learning to read.

Item 1) Overcoming Dyslexia by Somebody (it's been a long evening of names)

I have done a bit of research and it's early yet, but when dealing with Raccoon, I listen to my gut. So I bought the book, which was recommended on a parenting forum I find useful in cases like these. Review to come.

The rest of the night I spent wishing for more money and time. Shake it off. I have enough of both. As my dad would say, "Keep it simple." One thing I ask myself when pining over resources is, "Can I find or make something similar for free?"

We are going to try 3 days a week in July, just language (reading/writing), science, and math, for about an hour. I am going to spend July and August planning our science-based curriculum, which should give me time to breathe. I-n-f-o-r-m-a-t-i-o-n o-v-e-r-l-o-a-d.

I'm going to add in some right brain activities ( I think that's the site). They are a little out there with some things, but I hope to help Raccoon calm down and focus. Just giving him a pencil can make him anxious.

And... drumroll please... this year I'm introducing the Schedule, made up of 15 minute chunks. I hope it makes me more mindful of how we use our time.

Things left to do:

1) Find a moderate set of First Grade Goals

2) Pull resources I already have

3) Spend some time thinking about Tot School for Kitty.

4) Find a better way to do lesson plans. How to combine online and book resources all in one spot?

More big news: I changed half of our living room into a school area. So far it has a shelf and kid table with two chairs. I'm getting over an allergic reaction to a plant drink a new friend gave me (i.e. lots of vomiting), so not much got done today. I did make and print off our year-long calendar, two months to a page. I taped the 6 pages next to my whiteboard, replacing the ones my mom made me last year. I circle the date if we did school and jot down what subjects we did. It's a great way to track all sorts of things, and to write down ideas or things I want to cover.

Reminders to self: I never heard of the Periodic Table or parts of a cell until high school, and I'm still fine.

School starts Monday.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Prep and Pictures

I finally got around tonight to organizing Raccoon's portfolio of work and evaluations from Kindergarten. It was really nice to add the unfinished things to our first grade pile. Now we have a concrete place to start in July and I don't feel bad about what was left undone at the end of the school year. We'll just pick up where we left off. It must be hard for classroom teachers to say good-bye, knowing that there were things they still wanted to do with the kids but didn't get to, for whatever reason.

So what are our big plans for first grade? A schoolroom, desks, and more Tot activities for Kitty. She'll be approaching 3 in the fall but she already loves to paint and cut and write. I'm wondering about doing subject blocks, like Reading and Writing on Monday, Math and Science on Tuesday, Art and Social Studies on Wednesday, etc. But also incorporating each area into the others, reading during science, writing during math, etc. Or maybe bettet to do a little each day...

I've said this before, but I need more planning time. This is first grade. We're in the big leagues now. :-) But I do need to be more intentional about meeting our goals. I am starting out this year with the end in mind, especially for his reading.

Worst case scenario is that he ends up repeating first grade when we go to the States, which his age would allow, but I feel like he really is going to fly this year. If I can just figure out how to harness all that energy.

First Grade Goal #1
Post a weekly picture update. I did a few last year and love looking at these.

Raccoon's frog trap, a 6 liter bottle with it's top cut off and inverted. We left it in a swampy arra for a week and caught 3 spiders, which are now sitting on my dryer.

Our new reading corner in the living room. It's amazing how moving the bookcase out of my bedroom has made teading together so much easier. The kids and I love it.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Summer is Here!

Yesterday was Raccoon's last day of school. We went to the zoo to celebrate. Today, the first day of summer, it's all boxes and imagination.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Kindergarten is Almost Done

I have a smartphone again (happy sigh), so you'll be seeing a lot more updates from me now.

Raccoon has 11 days of school left. I'm planning an Open House/Graduation Party for him on May 24. I am really proud how far he's come this year.

He wrote his name from memory on Mother's Day, the best gift ever.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

No reading, no worries

Raccoon is just not ready. He knows the sounds the letters make. He can put sounds together. But it's just not clicking. And that's okay. I had a very heartening talk with my aunt the other day, who also homeschooled her three children. She laughed at my worries and said that I shouldn't be worried until he's 8 or 9. Perhaps an exaggeration, but it made me feel better. It's okay if he's five and not reading. Phew.

Sorry Raccoon, I know I've been pushing you kind of hard the last few weeks. All that happened was frustration for both of us. We're going to go back to our relaxed homeschool and both be happier.

Reading will come. And we have all of next year, first grade, to work on it as well. Once it clicks, I know you'll take off. Monster mommy is going back in the closet, or maybe to the moon. Back to fun school.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Kindergarten Assessments

Raccoon and I have 46 school days left to complete our first 180 days of homeschool. Since January we have been doing more relaxed schooling, and it is working well for us, except that now I'm staring the end of the school year in the face and I feel like we haven't done enough. So I hopped online to find a K assessment to see how he measures up.

Things I discovered:

1) Most K evaluations only care about reading and math. I only found one lonely assessment for social studies.

2) Georgia has a 179 page kindergarten assessment in 7 subject areas.

3) California's transitional kindergarten assessment is all touchy-feely, and even includes subjects like cooking.

4) Finally, a K eval that is only 1 page long. Now that's what I'm talking about!

Now that we have a working printer - hooray! - I am going to print out my favorite assessments and use them as activity guides for our last 11 weeks of school (one more 5 day week, then 10 weeks of just 4 days. Ah, the benefit of starting school in July, we're done at the end of May).

The reason that I'm thinking about this question - did Raccoon "pass" kindergarten? - is because I may be heading Stateside this summer and looking for next year's curriculum. Do I call it K again, based on his slightly behind reading skills, or do I just jump into 1st grade and work with him to catch up? A lot depends on how things progress these next few months.

We're using Abeka's reading program, which I just discovered that I have, and he seems to be getting it. But I think I do need to make reading practice a daily item instead of just once a week. I backed off because he was starting to hate it, so I thought focusing more on what he likes (science, social studies) would help restore some balance. And it has, but now I feel like we're behind. I think next year I won't worry so much about getting in our number of school days, but instead focus more on the content he needs to master.

The other question lingering in the back of my head is... should I ask the K teacher at the school I hope to put him in (around 3rd grade), for her evaluation? Because really, that's the one place that matters, I think. Although based on age they might put him a grade behind anyway. He would be in their pre-K program this year, which would be a good match in reading, but too easy for other things, I think. I'm hoping that by the time I want to put him there, he will be placed based on his skill level and not just their age cutoff, which is September 1 (he's an October birthday). I don't mind if he's a leader among his peers, being one of the oldest in his class, but I desperately don't want him to be as bored in school as I was. My mom would tell me right about now, "Stop worrying about the future! Focus on this year."

All in all, I'm pleased with our first year of homeschooling. We've figured out a lot of what works and doesn't work for us. Evening school was a surprising success the other day. I think he's a night owl like me. Even Kitty wanted to "do words" like her big brother. My gut is that once reading clicks, he's going to jump ahead, so I shouldn't worry. But I always do, with all his skills, until the leap happens.

Thoughts for next year:

1) More organized activities for Kitty. Balancing her and Raccoon this year has been challenging at times, and he is going to need to do more sit-down school next year, I think.

2) More intentional curriculum. This year we just floated around doing whatever interested us. I enjoy picking out curriculum, but an A Beka 1st grade kit is looking tempting too.

3) Lots of science! I'd like to continue doing kits with him since he loves these. And working on setting up our own science laboratory with real equipment. I'd love to have a science shack out back, like a clubhouse.

4) More field trips!

5) More planning time to pull everything together.

6) A schedule, routine, rhythm, or something we can stick to that balances his social needs and learning time.

7) Find a homeschool group to join.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Starting Over Halfway Through

When I started to plan Raccoon's kindergarten year, I had all of these fun and creative ideas. About October I realized that I'm not a theme person, and Raccoon, as I've always known, is not a sit-and-do-school person. It was not working but we soldiered on to Christmas break. I knew something had to change.

So this is our new schedule:

Monday - Seatwork and Sensory
Tuesday - Science and Inventing
Wednesday - History and Computer
Thursday - Books and Games
Friday - Creative Play and PE

Today was amazing. He did three pages in his math workbook, then we sat on the couch and read two books in week 1 of the Starfall curriculum. They use a stuffed bear as a new student, so I introduced Mousey as our new student, and unlike Starfall's bear, he is very naughty. Mousey is a stuffed puppet I used until Raccoon was three to help role play appropriate behavior. He is reappearing now because Raccoon has gotten it into his head that he can't learn to read. I hope that giving that negative role to Mousey will allow Raccoon to take on a more positive one.

After reading, we did snacktime with a BrainPop, Jr. video and I prepared our art project - noodles, glue, markers, and dot paints. The kids enjoyed it and so did I. When they were done we went out to play, then had lunch and nap/quiet time, all very successfully.

We're off to a great start and I'm looking forward to our new variety. I have some general goals I want to achieve by May, such as cvc reading and counting from 1-100, but I feel much happier about school now, and I think Raccoon will like it too.

Tomorrow is science day, then I want to have a picnic. I know he's going to love that. And I feel good that Kitty is getting a varied Tot school experience as well, joining her big brother for the hands-on stuff. Right now she's working on counting and learning her colors.