Our two-short-week warm-up to the school year will be done tomorrow and it feels
like we’re getting the hang of the new routine. Here are some highlights and lowlights.
Earlier this summer, I bought Motiventure’s
Summer Olympics program, then was too overwhelmed to implement it. I finally
got over that and made a list of all the chores I want the kids to do every day
plus another list of bonus point options. It’s basically a fun way to make them
do stuff – all carrots, no sticks. Instead of negotiating extra screen time or
allowance, they get points and competition. We’re only 3 days into it and I’m
worried that Leo’s going to quit trying if Peter beats him by a lot this week,
but they have been far more motivated than they ever have been before.
Everybody’s bringing dishes to the sink and carting laundry around the house.
They each brought garbage and recycling out to the alley enthusiastically
today. I’ll take it!
I’m speeding through ancient times to give
them backstory on how Rome got to where it was by 63BC when our history volume
begins. At first, I tried to get through a few pages, multiple times a day.
Both today and yesterday, they kept asking for more at once. I think I read 25
pages in one sitting today. I was going to wait until after a couple other
subjects, but they insisted we read first thing as we did in previous days. I’ve
been giving them blackline maps of the areas being discussed. Today they designed
their own Punic Wars on top of the map of the actual ones while I read about
them. So long as they can tell me what’s happening, I mostly let them do
things. I usually insist on sitting fairly still and they can’t read other
stuff. After all of today’s reading, we’re finished with ancient times and will
wait to start the new unit until Monday.
I think doing math with them is fun but I
doubt they agree. Peter gets through his math lesson but he treats it as
something to trudge through. Leo’s math has been wonky because I’ve had him
take an assessment every day (except when he forgot what even/odd was and I
spent a day going back over that) until we reach the point where things aren’t
obvious anymore. We hit the test for lesson 40 today and I’m going to stop my
accelerated approach now. I think he’d do fine at the next assessment (the one
that would cover lessons 35-40 and be taken with lesson 45) but starting with
lesson 41, the material looks like concepts he could benefit from that aren’t
as fluffy. The math facts are still ones he knows but he isn’t always able to
write all 25 in under a minute at this point. The book has 132 lessons, so we’ve
skipped almost the first third of the year and I think we’ll finish in
mid-February. My current plan is to switch him to Singapore and stick with that
through 2B. Then I might switch again to Beast Academy, which currently begins
with third grade. Hopefully the timing will work and the 4th and 5th
grade materials will be ready when he is. I will probably switch Peter to
Singapore next year, assuming using it for Leo is a good experience. Then
eventually, I’d move him to the Art of Problem Solving’s curriculum, which I
think starts with pre-algebra. Saxon (our current program) is just so bleh, I
can’t blame the kids for thinking math is dull. Both Saxon and Beast Academy
seem to make kids think more deeply about the concepts and avoid endless
drills. If they’re light on math facts, we could add in XtraMath or flashcards
My detailed plan for having baskets of
literature available has mostly flopped. Peter began reading a couple of them.
Leo has mostly ignored them. Neither usually reads much fiction and it’s harder
to insist that daytime reading be from the baskets than I thought. I might have
to schedule in literature time one afternoon a week or something where that’s
the only thing to do.
Art and Music have gone over very well.
Music is pretty bare-bones – we read about a new composer once a month and
listen to his/her works for an hour once a week. But the book of composers is
written well and fun. Art is a combination of art appreciation using
Child-Sized Masterpieces and projects from two books that give ideas on
recreating styles from famous artists. The boys enjoyed making watercolor bath
paintings today and got into mixing colors and trying different techniques. We’ll
do this once a week.
Spelling isn’t a favorite although I really
like the programs they’re each using. Leo’s is way too easy for him at this
point, but we’re moving quickly through this part and should reach things more
at his level by spring at the latest. I’m not sure why he isn’t loving it – it’s
certainly not because it’s too hard. All About Spelling does a great job making
it multi-sensory so it’s not like he’s stuck there writing endlessly. Peter’s
program has him self-correct and he’s come upstairs every day saying he has the
words all right even when he doesn’t. Yesterday he actually had 13/15 and today
was 14/15. I’ll just keep double-checking his work and hope that eventually he
gets better at correcting. It does seem like this level might work for him
after all. He might reach the end before the end of the school year, but that
would be fine.
I decided to dump Pictures in Cursive and
get Handwriting without Tears books for both boys (grade 3 cursive for Peter
and the 1st grade one for Leo). That cursive isn’t pretty, but it’s
taught in a sensible way and that will get the job done. Leo’s handwriting
could use work and I don’t want to constantly focus on it so his own handwriting
book will give a place for that.
I think I’ll sell the Life of Fred book I
bought because I’m not sure where it would fit in and the little I showed the
boys they weren’t impressed.
The Institute for Excellence in Writing’s
TWSS program has gone over well. Peter totally gets it and makes key word
outlines super-fast after 3 days. Leo thinks through it a bit more and then
comes up with probably better word choices. I’m doing the writing for Leo at
this point – when they start having to write out their version, I’ll have Leo
do the final draft as copywork. They haven’t complained about the writing and
that was a big hangup for each of them in the past, so yay!
Timing and transitions are getting smoother
but we still need to work on that. We’ve started fairly close to 9am (except
yesterday when we went to 8am Mass and ran a bunch of errands along our walk
home and started at 10:30) and we’re always done by 4. We end up taking
probably a 90 minute break in the middle when we make lunch, eat it, and I
nurse Tim to sleep. Any work still remaining in the afternoon gets done in fits
and starts. I want to consistently get the core things done before lunch. I’m
trying to figure out what the best order for subjects is to minimize crankiness
and whining. I do think that having a big protein-filled breakfast helps both
for their moods and the chance that they don’t beg for snacks all day. We’re
doing okay on that front – I plan for late afternoon teatime and try to keep
any other eating to fruits and veggies if they’re desperate.
I realized today that we haven’t had the
horrible outbursts from them that we typically have, especially at the
beginning of the school year. They don’t skip off happily to bedtime, but they
don’t scream about it either. Mornings are calm and that’s definitely new. It’s
really, really nice that evenings are for fun things and not homework. I loved
letting them run through the sprinkler until 8pm last night instead of worrying
that they’d be exhausted and miserable if I didn’t drag them in. They’re going
to bed a bit later than they used to and I have to wake them up at 8am (but Dan
used to get them up at 6:30).
I went to the Y with Tim at 6pm tonight
while Dan brought the older boys to the dentist and I think that’s going to
have to be more the standard than my former 10am classes. It’ll be harder to
hit my 12 visits per month, but if I go once each weekend, I think I’ll be able
to do it with some effort. I should be able to get away with bringing all the
boys once a week and maybe still bring Tim (who likes it there!) the other
My work schedule has been almost
non-existent since we went on vacation at the end of July. Dan’s summer job
made that possible but I need to start back up again. Fall is always tricky
because it’s the peak of canning season. One of my two clients cut back a lot
so I haven’t had as much to do, but I haven’t done the project I do have.
Somehow it’ll work itself out.
This definitely wouldn’t be the case for
all children, but my kids have been happy as clams never leaving the
neighborhood. Leo’s going to appreciate the field trips, as the most extroverted
person in the house, but I think Peter could stay here indefinitely without
complaint. For that reason, it’s probably important that we do drag him away,
but staying home is not a struggle with either of them. Next week we start
field trips – I think we have a 2 hour nature center cidering class on Friday.
The following week I might bring them to the homeschool day at the indoor
climbing center and the co-op has a park playdate on Friday. I’m trying not to
go overboard with outside-the-house stuff until we get our feet under us at
Now that I better understand how much math
we’ll get through, I went through the calendar and counted out holidays and
weeks and whatnot and realized that we’re going to have more school weeks than
chapters in a few subjects. We have 36 weeks (5 are 4 days and 2 are 3 days,
plus a 37th week is 2 days and I’m counting this week and last week
as a single week) in the year. Our religion program is 30 chapters, music and
art are 32. Peter’s math will take the whole year if we do 9 lessons every 10
school days. History has 7 units and suggests about 4 weeks each, but it’s
flexible. Everything else is fuzzy and goes as long as I want. Knowing that, we
might stop a couple things during December and focus more on Advent and
Christmas stuff. In addition to the obvious religion options, maybe we could
look at customs throughout the world or something. It’s nice to know there’s
some leeway. I haven’t figured out how things will work on days where we’ll be
gone most of the morning. Science classes obviously take the place of some
science classes for the week. Fun days are a little trickier, but if they’re
with other homeschoolers I won’t feel guilty about counting them. Once a month
I have MOMS Club business meetings I’ll need to attend and other things like
that will come up. I can probably flip the day and do the core subjects while
Tim’s napping but I’ll need to decide whether to cover other subjects in the
evening or skip them.
Leo has always been a child of extremes.
When he was four, he studied maps. For hours, he laid on the floor, tracing
roads and adding features. He kept that up the entire fall that Tim was a baby.
It was really handy with a newborn. He can still tell people how to get places
all over the Twin Cities. This past winter into summer, it’s been electronics
and rockets. He has done everything with his snap circuits set and now reads
Dan’s college electronics book for fun. Dan ordered parts and the three of them
plan to build an altimeter they can put in one of their model rockets. A month
ago, he began composing music. Sometimes he copies notes from other pieces.
Usually he looks at other music to see what it looks like and learn about
crescendos and key signatures and everything else. It took a few weeks before
he knew about measures and how many beats they should have and now it’s
considerably easier for Dan to play the pieces the boys write. Peter has gotten
into the same things this year, but with Leo it’s more of a constant obsession.
If we were unschooling, we would be doing music theory and electronics all day.
The music writing has led to piano playing – Dan is now giving them lessons because
they finally see the value in being able to create the sounds they have in
their heads. Making them practice the beginner pieces and not random other
things is the challenge. It feels really weird telling them to stop composing
music so we can have our spelling lessons, but really, Leo at least would sit
at the table surrounded by sheet music all day. This definitely falls into the
category of weird but not too bad hobby. It’s cheaper than building rockets.
So far, I haven’t felt twitchy to get out
of the house either. Running errands is harder – so far it’s been easier to
wait for Dan to come home than to try to work it into the day when no one wants
to join me at the grocery store anyway. But the days are busy enough that I don’t
feel stuck here. With the boys helping more on chores, I’m doing better at
keeping up with what’s left. We usually finish around the time I need to figure
out dinner, so that hasn’t become any more of a problem than it used to be. I
like not interrupting Tim’s nap to pick the boys up from school 2+ times a
week. It looks like Peter’s speech therapy is going to be switched over to our
neighborhood elementary school without too many hiccups. I have spent less time
online during the day than I used to. Tim seems fine with everything. He plays,
he gets into our materials sometimes. He helps me cook. He has taken over the
fireplace mini-broom and steals the dustpan so he can sweep on his own. We
sometimes put him in underwear to leave the house and haven’t had a horrible
disaster of that (yet) but I still put diapers on him if I can’t hover over him
out of the house.
So my day 5 opinion is that this is going
to be the right move for our family. I’m enjoying it more than not and I like
the extra time I have with my big boys. No one has asked to go back to school.
So far so good!