Well, originally when I laid out my plans for science for the year, we were going to talk about the Five Senses in August, along with some extra detail about the human body. While AW had a bit of studying on that previously, it would be new to DC. Then I realized that there was going to be a SOLAR ECLIPSE and we had an Ivy Box with a space theme that I'd saved up. The great thing about homeschooling is the ability to course correct.
We also worked on ordinal numbers in math, which worked out perfectly with our study of the solar system.
We read a lot of books about space. Eight Spinning Planets by Brian James is a favorite library book at our house (this was not the first time we've checked it out). We might end up buying it. I also loved The Planet Gods: Myths and Facts About the Solar System by Jacqueline Mitton. It ties in all the myths of the deities that give the planets their names, and it's beautifully illustrated. We watched a video of the first moon landing and all the Sci Show Kids space episodes on YouTube. We explored the solar eclipse and solar system with chalk pastels. And I made black playdough to represent space. I had to use all my black gel food coloring to get it right, but it's totally worth it.
We went hiking on the "easiest trail in the Shenandoah," which was wonderful. It's the Limberlost Trail, named after the book A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter.
We also took a trip back in time with our reenacting group. The kids aren't picking up too much history from these outings yet, but I'm confident that the immersion will have an impact over time. They do get to see a lot of 18th century skills in action. AW makes art wherever she goes, even with found objects. She also learned to play cards. I got her to show some visiting kids how to card wool for spinning, but she lost interest pretty quickly.
We also started exploring the resources on Khan Academy and Moby Max for math. The kids love Starfall (an app and educational website), so I've been looking at doing some more online schooling from time to time.
From space, we are now moving in a little closer to home. We are talking about our place in space and in the world, and we will be doing some map making. Today we did some exploration with Google Earth (it's so much fun!). We pretended we were on a hot air balloon ride, after reading a picture book about the first hot air balloon flight with passengers (a rooster, a duck, and a sheep). We are going to Udvar-Hazy Air & Space Museum this week for a field trip.
For this coming month, I also checked out a number of picture books about places and people in Africa. The first History Unboxed American history box ships this month, and it's all about the Mali Empire. When I was teaching sixth grade, I learned that Virginia's current standards include a study of three African empires at the beginning of a year of American history. I love that idea, so I opted to start there in the history timeline that we created. After all, American history at its birth is the coming together of three (very broad) cultures: African, Native American, and European. So we will be doing the Mali box and enjoying literature based on African stories and people, both in the past and today. We are doing money math, and I actually found a picture book to go along with both Africa and money. Yay!
It's great to really be back in the swing of things with school. I'm looking forward to the next several weeks!
I'm certain that throughout history, the majority of adults responsible for feeding children have faced some resistance at mealtime. The ways of handling such resistance are varied.
At summer camp, we were allowed to serve ourselves but we were not allowed to leave the table until we finished everything on our plate.
At home, the rule was that I had to eat at least four (real) bites of everything on my plate. If I did not care for what I was served, I was free to make myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
I was not a particularly picky child. I couldn't tolerate spicy food, as much as I tried. But I did not like Brussels sprouts. I'm fairly certain that dinners stretched long on the nights when they were served, waiting for me to eat the required four bites (two whole sprouts!). Now, in fact, I quite like them. But I never opted to go make myself a sandwich.
Then, along came my kids. When it was time for AW to start eating food, we went right to baby led weaning, skipping the baby food. We used baby food pouches for convenience on the go, but generally, she just ate whatever we were eating. It worked really well for us, and we congratulated ourselves that she seemed to like eating just about anything. It worked well for DC too.
Then, they got older. They developed preferences. AW learned to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches--and started wanting to eat one for dinner every night rather than the meal I'd cooked. I'd read a few books about feeding children, because I'm a researcher and that's what I do. I didn't want to hold dessert out as a bribe to finish food. I wanted them to try food, but didn't want dinner to become a battleground. I tried the "You don't have to eat that" approach, but we were still having a lot of tears at the table.
Then, I read more deeply about Ellyn Satter's Division of Responsibility. Once a child is eating solid food at the table, it looks like this:
The adult chooses what is served and when food is served. Satter recommends three meals a day, with a snack in between breakfast and lunch and again between lunch and dinner, so that the child is eating about every two hours when awake.
The child, in turn, gets to decide whether to eat what is served and how much. Satter recommends teaching children to ask if anyone minds if they take the last of something, but otherwise not limiting portions.
I had read that previously, but until a few months ago, I wasn't implementing it very successfully. Then I read deeper into the website. I was still deciding what to put on the plate and in what portion. That's where things were breaking down. Even if I didn't push the kids to clear their plates, the visual was sending a message that they had to eat everything I put in front of them.
We started doing family style: everything goes in serving dishes on the table. Everyone serves themselves. We might mention ingredients that they like, but we don't force them to try everything. People get to have likes and dislikes. Once everything is on the table, the kitchen is closed. They don't have to eat what is on the table, but I don't make anything else. I try to make sure that there is at least one thing on the table that they like, as part of the meal. If I'm making a protein main dish that they've never had, I'll make a vegetable they like. I often serve rice. If I'm making a salad, I might let everyone add ingredients into their own bowl. They get to be independent. They also watch us modeling. They know their daddy doesn't like peas. I serve them from time to time, because the kids love them. They see that he doesn't take the peas, but he also doesn't complain (other than perhaps to make a joke). It's ok for us to like different things but we don't need to make rude comments.
I'm not a short order cook. Most nights, I prepare food that I know that Himself and I will enjoy. The kids usually have more input when it comes to breakfast, snacks, and lunch. I've started letting each of them pick a snack for the week if they come with me to the grocery store. It's not a 100% easy solution. They still sometimes complain, but overall, it's been an improvement.
Here is an example from last night. I made a pork, apple, and spinach stir fry. It was highly flavored (but not spicy), and I had a good feeling the kiddos wouldn't be interested. I made a big batch of brown rice and steamed frozen snow peas. They didn't really eat the snow peas, which surprised me. One kid ate a lot of brown rice for dinner. If that's all they ever ate, that would be problematic, but it tends to balance out over time. The other kid ate rice and some apples from the stir fry.
You can also see our small water pitcher. They have cups that they keep on the table all day and they can help themselves to water anytime. Any other drinks are only served with meals (milk anytime they ask and lemonade as an occasional treat).
Every Tuesday, we have Taco Tuesday. Usually we have ground beef and black beans in our tacos. Sometimes we do just black beans, sometimes we do fish, or sometimes I'll do something fancy and different. It's a really easy dinner to serve this way. Himself cooks on Tuesdays, so he cooks the meat and beans together, and fries up all the corn tortillas. Then everyone gets a plate with their allotted number of tortillas based on past experience. On the table, we have a bowl of meat and beans, a bowl of mild salsa, a bowl of sour cream, and a bowl of cheese. One child now eats everything on the table and usually has seconds of everything but tortilla. The other kid eats sour cream and cheese for dinner. Since this is the same kid that only eats rice on some days, you start to see how it balances out. A pediatrician once told me to look for balance over the course of a whole week, rather than at a single meal. Other days, this child will eat loads of fruits or vegetables.
Satter recommends serving dessert side by side with meals. I sometimes do, but we usually only have dessert on weekends or at poetry teatime. When we do have dessert, it's not linked to whether or not they ate the rest of their food. One of my children will stop eating sweets on their own. The other child will eat sweets until they are sick. I do let them serve themselves sweets, but I will remove the plate if I see that one is going overboard. Because we don't have dessert at every meal, or even every day, I'm fine with them eating more dessert than dinner. After all, isn't it better that they notice when they are full, rather than piling dessert on an already full tummy?
We started this as an experiment for the month of July. Himself was skeptical, particularly about how messy it might be with the kids serving themselves. But it turns out that they do a pretty good job, and they know when to ask for help. We have been so pleased that it has become our regular way of doing things. Our only added rule about seconds is that they have to eat what they've taken before they have seconds.
I've been listening to a fabulous podcast called Homeschool Sisters as well as reading the accompanying blog. They did an episode last year about their "Fall Haul," or the resources that they planned on using for the year. I thought I'd do something similar here. (In addition to these resources, I'm a devoted user of Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers).
Phonics and Literacy
Logic of English--Foundations A (AW only)
Activities from A Year of Playing Skillfully
A Year of Playing Skillfully
Preschool Math At Home
Family Math: Comparing
History Unboxed: American History (because it's my baby and I want to do it)
Pin-It Maps: Early American History
(We are loosely following Virginia's Kindergarten standards, with the freedom to fall down rabbit holes as desired)
A Year of Playing Skillfully (More social-emotional than history/civics)
A Year of Playing Skillfully
Children's Science Center
Traveling Acorns (our preschool nature group)
Podcasts (But Why? and Brains On! in particular)
Classics for Kids podcast
Singing together in morning time
A Year of Playing Skillfully
The Way They See It
Southern Hodgepodge Chalk Pastel tutorials
I was going to be cheesy and quote the lyrics of "Total Eclipse of the Heart" but it would be more like "83% Eclipse of the Heart" which isn't quite the same thing.
Technically, we are on break here, but we couldn't ignore the solar eclipse!
We made paper plate masks with our solar eclipse glasses. I'm so glad we did, because they really did a better job protecting the kids' eyes (and I actually liked using mine better than the plain glasses because it layered better over my regular glasses.
I'm so glad we got the glasses and were able to look up. I did make a pinhole viewer but looking up was so much more satisfying.
We kept CE in the shade so she wouldn't accidentally looked up. It was fun seeing how the eclipse affected shadows on the ground. After thunder started rumbling, we came inside and drew pictures of the solar eclipse.
This year, as I think I mentioned, we are doing a year-round series of six week terms, with a week off in between. Here is what that looks like:
Term 1: July 10-August 18
Break 1: August 21-25
Term 2: August 28-October 6
Break 2: October 9-13
Term 3: October 16-November 17
Break 3: November 20-24
Term 4: November 27-December 22
Break 4: December 25-January 5 (Two weeks)
Term 5: January 8-February 9
Break 5: February 12-16
Term 6: February 19-March 23
Break 6: March 26-30
Term 7: April 2-May 11
Break 7: May 14-18
Term 8: May 21-June 22
Break 8 (Summer Break) June 25-July 6 (Two weeks)
That comes out to 210 days of school. Public schools in Virginia require 180 days of school. That means we have thirty extra days. Some of those will be sick days. Some will be fun days (birthdays are school holidays at our house!). We don't need snow days (we can play in the snow and still have time left over for reading and math). And we have a week off almost every month for us to travel, catch up with friends, catch up on housework (I seem to be able to have a productive school day or a clean house, but not both).
The other big advantage is planning. In 13 days, I will have a 5 year old, a 3 year old, and a 4 month old. Our scheduling needs change pretty frequently. I get to re-evaluate how our schedule is working and tweak it. I get a week to plan what needs to happen next, and that's frequently enough to course correct without feeling overwhelmed. I don't have to spend a lot of time planning week to week.
I've also heard that February is a tough month for homeschool families. Parents are warned not to make a decision about packing the kids up and sending them to a classroom environment during the February Doldrums. We will be taking a week off right in the middle of February! I figure it will be a good thing for all of us.
The other advantage is that one of my kiddos needs structure. All kids do, to an extent, but one of my does a lot better with regular routines. By only taking a week or two off at a time, I'm hoping to better support that child.
Now, some of our terms are going to be a little bit lighter academically. We took it pretty easy for our first term, here in the summer. We just did reading and math, with lots of reading aloud and a little bit of art. We aren't going to get too much heavier--after all, she's only five. But we'll try adding in a few more things here and there. When the weather is nice, there might be more nature study. When the weather is nasty, more hands-on science experiments inside. At least that's the plan! As always, I'll keep you posted.
Next up: Our Daily Schedule
We started school on July 10 this year for our first year of year-round schooling. We will have six week terms, with one or two weeks off in between. It gives us flexibility to take days off here and there. I also have a little boy who thrives on consistent routines. AW will be five in September, so she could enter kindergarten if she were going to brick and mortar school. However, we would defer kindergarten for a year in that case. So we are calling this year Junior Kindergarten (I got the idea from a friend's preschool that has a special class just for these "gap year" kiddos).
So what have we been up to for the first few weeks of school?
During the summer, we are keeping things simple. Our minimum daily lessons are just reading and math. For reading, we've been using Logic of English. AW asked to learn to read a year ago, and we tried out How to Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. In Homeschool World, it's one of the top three literacy programs I see recommended, and it's the cheapest because all you buy is the book. However, the lessons were not very engaging and it bored both of us to the point of frustration. We tried twice before I decided it wasn't a good fit for our family. I spent some time comparing All About Reading and Logic of English, the other two common recommendations. I ended up choosing Logic of English because it deals with all the unusual rules of English phonetics and spelling. The price points are similar (both pricey because they come with many supplemental materials). We have really been enjoying the lessons, which are engaging and multi-sensory with lots of opportunities for movement. I also like that the handwriting option is flexible. Writing with a pencil is optional, for example. Since AW is a perfectionist when writing on paper, sometimes to the point of shutting down, some days we just practice writing with cornmeal, shaving cream, or in the air. One favorite activity so far was "Phonogram Hopscotch." (Phonograms are the basic units of the sounds that make up words. A letter can be a phonogram, or a phonogram can be made of multiple letters. T is a phonogram. TH is also a phonogram). I drew a hopscotch board, and AW wrote in the phonograms. Then we played hopscotch, naming each phonogram as we hopped on it. DC got to play too, but of course I didn't expect him to name phonograms. We are 13 lessons in (with two assessments under our belt). I'm thrilled with the program and highly recommend it.
For math this year, I'm making things up as I go. Once we get into September, I'll be picking up activities from A Year of Playing Skillfully again. I'm using a couple of books: Family Math: Comparing and Preschool Math at Home. There are age-appropriate math activities in each month's Ivy Box. I'm also relying heavily on Pinterest and the library. I took a look at the kindergarten math standards to decide what to focus on for the year. In some cases, it might be just working on the building blocks of a kindergarten concept, and in other cases, we might be working on mastery. For the most part, she's on grade level for kindergarten math. It's not because we spent a lot of time working on math explicitly in the kindergarten years. It's because of what I mentioned earlier: we just noticed math and incorporated it into daily life. Now things are getting a bit more explicit. We spent most of July working on telling time. Public school kindergarteners are expected to tell time on the hour and half hour. We did a few lessons about how reading a clock works, and now I just pull a little practice into daily life. There are now clocks, digital and/or analog, in every room she uses regularly. She already knew how to read the hour on a digital clock. We talk about time because certain things have a scheduled time each day. We checked out books from the library about telling time, several of which had built-in clocks to manipulate and played tic-tac-toe with clocks. I do a calendar math time, even though I hated it in public school. We don't do a full session everyday. Instead I focus on something specific. Right now we are working on using the calendar itself, making tallies, and telling time. Once we've mastered reading the calendar, I'll do something different. The Ivy Box theme for the month was ladybugs, and we began working on even/odd numbers and addition concepts using lady bug dots. I'm not expecting mastery at this point, as we will return to these concepts throughout the year.
We've also started doing Poetry Teatime. It's a basic concept: read and enjoy poetry while eating/drinking something special. On fancier days, I put out a table cloth and a china doll tea seat with home baked goodies. Other weeks, we do our heavier duty mugs and store bought cookies. For my pre-reading kiddos, I put out poetry anthologies with pictures and they choose based on the illustrations. Each kid gets a little pad of mini sticky notes to mark the pages they want me to read to them. Some of the anthologies are from our personal library, but I also try to check out poetry books from the public library so we have a fresh book of selections. I aim to have Poetry Teatime once a week. Sometimes we do it more than once a week because the kids love it so much (the snacks definitely help!)
We did a bit of a focus on patriotism as well. We read about American symbols and sang some patriotic songs. I introduced the Pledge of Allegiance, but it didn't get fully memorized. To be perfectly honest, I didn't like saying the Pledge of Allegiance in public school either. I think these are important for cultural knowledge, but they aren't central themes in our home school. Community service, activism, and kindness are more important elements of patriotism than a scripted religious pledge for our family. I plan on coming back to the songs, symbols, and words each July. We listened to patriotic CDs, colored pictures of American symbols, and read a few library books.
We learned about the lady bug life cycle from our Ivy Box. I learned a few things as well. I didn't know newly emerged adult ladybugs are yellow and lack spots.
We kept active too. We had playground trips, library trips, family walks and hikes with friends, and the kids had plenty of opportunities to play outside. They also took swim lessons.
So what's next?
I made a last minute change to my list of topics for the school year, because home educators have that flexibility. I decided we would study space instead of the human body in August, to prepare for the solar eclipse. It also worked out well because one of our backlogged Ivy Boxes had a space theme. I also kept coming across solar system activities when I looked up ideas for teaching ordinal numbers (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc). We're a few days in, and having a blast (har har).
Our American history lessons will start soon. I don't expect the kids to absorb too much but I'm hoping they will enjoy the activities. It's a bit of a selfish plan on my part: I want to see my own work in action and test things out. If they learn anything, great! If not, we'll be coming back to it later in a four-year history cycle.