Saturday, September 2, 2017

N Minus 2 Is Easier Than N

It will probably come as no surprise that homeschooling 2 children plus a preschooler is easier and less work than homeschooling 4 children plus a preschooler. Despite doing a full school schedule with B7 and H5, I've felt like I'm on vacation this week. I suppose I'm reaping the "It Could Always Be Worse" effect (see https://www.sonlight.com/BA18.html) - if you keep adding difficulties, removing a few of them makes the remainder seem inconsequential. I remember when P13 and E11 were in 2nd grade and kindergarten - I didn't feel nearly this relaxed!

Adding in our Sonlight reading is always fun - it's our favorite part of school. I'm reading History/Bible/Literature B (https://www.sonlight.com/BC1R5.html) to B7, with H5 listening in, and this week we started Charlotte's Web and The Usborne Book of Peoples of the World. It always makes me happy when both boys clamor for another chapter! We've also enjoyed the internet links that come with The Usborne World of Animals, exploring bird calls and enjoying videos of baby animals. And after watching the science video, the boys ran off to experiment with how effectively various magnets could still pull through various materials (notebooks, the table, etc.).

I pulled out the I Can Read It series for H5, because he seemed to feel the Reading Lesson was getting a bit tedious. This series is really perfect for him. It starts out right at his level ("Nat the cat sat on Pat the rat. Nat is a bad cat!") but looks like a "big kid book": the pictures take up half the page or less, and there are several sentences per page; the stories are divided into chapters, and each book is 90 pages long. He was so excited to be able to read from the first book that, for the past two nights, he has asked to take a flashlight to bed with him so he can continue reading after lights out.

B7, after we watched The Tale of Despereaux on DVD over the weekend, checked out the book from the library and has read it twice through. Once H5 tired of doing his own after-bedtime reading last night, we heard voices from their room: B7 was reading Despereaux to H5 by flashlight. It's really neat to see B7 taking care of his little brothers like this - finding himself temporarily in the position of being the oldest shows up facets of his character I hadn't noticed before.

Yesterday (Friday) was really fun. I'm still doing math club for our homeschool group every 2 weeks, and lately we've been making our way through Camp Logic (http://naturalmath.com/camplogic/). But with P13 and E11 out of town, I decided to review some of the ideas we've explored in the past at the intersection of math and art, inspired by the artwork of B7's I posted last week. We had more people attend than ever before - 8 different families in addition to us - and most of the children were really engaged, drawing and coloring mystic roses. I challenged them to use as few colors as possible, and one girl managed it with just 2. Others used as many colors as possible, which yielded a different, interesting artistic effect. Something that I love about math club is that because we have it at a local park, when the lesson is over the kids all go off and play, leaving the adults to chat. It's actually become a de facto homeschool support group, where we share what works and what doesn't, and remind each other that there are actually a lot of us who do this crazy thing called homeschooling. And we do it in many different ways, and all our kids seem to be turning out pretty well so far.

The letters and texts we've received from P13 and E11 show that they're also learning a lot and having a great time. They started in LA, and among other things have seen Death Valley, Bryce Canyon, and the Grand Canyon. P13 sent a letter describing E11 climbing down to a big rock and yelling to his grandfather, "Opa, I think this is iron silicate! It's odd on such a pale rock." Thank you, Oma and Opa, for taking over homeschooling the older 2 for a few weeks - we're all gaining from it.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Fourth Week of School

Right now, P13 and E11 are on an airplane somewhere over the Pacific, on their way to meet Ari’s parents at LAX. I’m really excited for them, but I’m going to miss them a lot! It’ll be interesting to see how the dynamics of life in general and school in particular change without the two oldest children around. I plan to do full school with B7 and H5 next week (adding in Sonlight history and read-alouds).

This past week, I added writing to our daily school lineup. H5 jumped in with enthusiasm, dispatching a letter to his cousins on Monday and updating his journal with illustrated stories like, “The ripped book is magical. Flip to a page becomes real.” (I wrote the words on the board, and he copied (most of) them). He has been working through the Handwriting Without Tears kindergarten-level workbook, and is writing quite neatly. I also added reading lessons for H5; this week focused on words using the long /i/ sound. Daily practice yields excellent results, and he is able to read sentences like, “This is mine.” It’s fun to see the satisfaction in his face as he deciphers each word.

B7 has been working on cursive handwriting. He is careful and precise, but doesn’t enjoy it! He can now write his name in cursive, as well as all the vowels and the letter B. He updated his journal, adding a second sentence with reluctance after I told him I expected a 2nd grader to write at least two. He’d far rather read a chapter book like Holes than write words on a page. Artistic expression is another story – he asked me to position 10 points evenly around a circle, and carefully connected the points in a mystic rose. He colored each small section, leading to a remarkable work of mathematical art. (I think he may have seen E11 start working on a similar project with 13 points, which he planned to complete on the plane)

E11 continued to happily produce large volumes of written material in response to science questions (though he objected to the fact that one of the assignments was a quiz). I don’t proofread or correct his journal entries, so he happily writes quantities there, and he sent a letter to his cousin, and updated his blog (which I DID proofread). He is happier to correct assignments if they have been typed in on the computer, so we have a deal where I look at his Word document and bold any mistakes I find. He tries to correct them without me telling him what they were, which is like a game and thus easier to stomach.

P13 watched the first DVD of Andrew Pudewa’s Student Writing Intensive B, detailing how to take notes on a passage or article and use them to re-create a written document, and practiced a little. She also sent a letter, updated her journal regularly, and updated her blog. While they are on the mainland with their grandparents, the only school-like assignment I have asked them to complete is a daily journal detailing their activities. Since they will be experiencing geological sites all the way from California to Texas, the educational potential in this assignment is rich. Of course, I also look forward to reading what they've done.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Third Week of School


Another week of school is over, and we’re settling into a routine. Of course, after just another week, P13 and E11 will be flying to the mainland to spend a month with their grandparents, and the rest of us will join them in early September, so our routines will take a hit – but at least we’ll have a general idea of the pattern we need to return to.
We added in science and current events this week, and everyone enjoyed them. One thing that always helps is that I am excited about both, and I like to think my enthusiasm rubs off on my children.

P13 and E11 are studying Earth Science this year using a textbook from Novare. This is the best science program I’ve used, and we’ve tried many. I described some of my reasons for choosing Novare in my “update on our experiment” post. Having used it for a full week now, I can add a few more loves. Firstly, to use E11’s words, it “doesn’t underestimate [his] powers”. The science is in no way dumbed down; the chief difference between this book and my college geology textbooks is that it explains fewer, more basic topics with greater clarity – but with the same level of respect for the reader’s intelligence. The spiritual content isn’t overbearing, but is introduced conversationally, in much the same style as the asides I would always insert when we were using secular programs, and with a genuine sense of wonder at the glory and beauty of God’s creation. The end-of-section questions don’t require mere regurgitation of the facts, instead calling for reasoning based on a deep understanding of the concepts. (For example, after the section on lunar phases, the children needed to determine what phases an observer on the moon would see on Earth during each lunar phase). On Friday, we covered the section on eclipses, a timely lesson given that we plan to wake up early on Monday morning and take a home-built viewer somewhere with an eastern horizon to try to see the sun rising partially eclipsed.
As I had hoped, the fascinating content is inspiring both P13 and E11 to write excellent responses to the end-of-section questions. Frequently, when a single sentence would suffice, E11 (my reluctant writer) is writing entire paragraphs in explanation. His spelling and mechanics are atrocious, and I have struggled with how to correct him without discouraging him. After watching some more teacher training from the Institute for Excellence in Writing, I am resolving to choose one writing concept to focus on at a time (capitalizing each sentence, spelling new vocabulary correctly, creating a “frequently misspelled words” list and proofreading based on that) and not badger him about things we haven’t yet focused on. He doesn’t always handle correction well, but I know if I expect more of him, he will be able to produce it. The only end-of-section question that really upset E11 this week was the one asking him to calculate Earth’s orbital speed, given the orbital radius. The tantrum he threw! “There shouldn’t be any MATH in SCIENCE!” I laughed and laughed. I’m laughing again now. Oh, child, the sooner you lose that misconception, the happier you’ll be! Fear not, gentle reader, he calculated the orbital speed (after an hour of moaning).

Because I already had it lying around, I’m using Sonlight Science B for B7’s science. Because it covers animals, magnetism, and light, areas he hasn’t yet become obsessed with, a presentation aimed at children his age isn’t hopelessly too easy for him. It also doesn’t take me more than 15 minutes a day (except on days we do experiments), which means it gets done! H5 occasionally listens in, so I consider it to fulfill his science requirement, as well. I’d like to add in some more advanced chemistry content for B7, which didn’t happen this week but hopefully will in future weeks.
This is the first year we are including a discussion of current events as a formal part of our studies. I considered a variety of news sources, and finally settled on CNN 10. It is a 10-minute show, available online, covering selected world and US events 5 days a week. Because it is aimed at students, it does a good job of providing necessary historical and geographical background without assuming the level of awareness of an informed adult. For my own edification and in order to add more background and commentary, I have been listening to World Radio, which gives a Christian perspective on world and US events, with frequent in-depth analysis from various commentators. After the children have watched the daily CNN 10 show, either P13 or E11 describes one of the news items to the whole family at dinnertime, which often launches an animated discussion with further analysis. For example, E11 discussed the cholera epidemic in Yemen resulting from the current civil war, which launched a discussion of water-borne disease.

Next week I plan on adding in writing. I’ll have P13 go through Student Intensive B from the Institute for Excellence in Writing, and give her assignments based on what she’s reading in other subjects. All 4 of my school-aged children will be writing letters and journal entries weekly, and I’ll have H5 and B7 work on handwriting daily while E11 and P13 do weekly blog entries. I’m also going to resume H5’s reading lessons. Right now, he is able to sound out CVC words and has read the first dozen or so of Sonlight’s kindergarten readers. I’ve been using the appropriately titled The Reading Lesson, which claims to get a child to a 2nd grade reading level by the end of the book. I’ve used it with all the older children, and we’ve never finished it: the child always takes off and begins reading fluently before we reach the end, so I have high hopes for H5 as well.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Second Week of School

Another week of school is over. In addition to circle time and math, we added exercise, required musical instrument practice, and Greek lessons for P13.

One of the results of our experiment last February was that P13 tried several languages and settled on learning Koine (Biblical Greek). I've wanted to learn Koine myself, so we're working together. We've been using Elementary Greek by Christine Gatchell. It's laid out to be used by people (like me) with no prior Greek knowledge. Each lesson consists of a memory verse (or portion of a verse), five vocabulary words, and a grammatical concept. We had completed about 10 lessons by the end of last year, and did occasional review over the summer, but it slipped off our list of priorities for the last month or so. However, neither P13 nor I had completely forgotten all the vocabulary or grammar forms, and after a few days' worth of diligent review at the beginning of each day, we're back up to speed. The pace is fairly slow, designed for children as young as third grade, so now that we've reviewed the material, we may start doing 2 lessons per week.

Over the summer, I did not require my children to practice their musical instruments on a daily basis. Instead, I presented them with goals: a certain piece (or pieces) to be thoroughly learned, and rewarded with a trip to McDonalds for ice cream. When we go, everyone gets an ice cream cone, and the child being rewarded gets two. The result was that E11 made significant progress in violin over the summer, H5 occasionally took out his violin but not regularly, B7 avoided the piano entirely, and P13, uncomplaining child that she is, never mentioned to me that I had forgotten to set her a goal, so just played piano and recorder for the fun of it. H5 earned one ice cream treat, and E11 earned 2 or 3. Now that we've started school again, I'm asking H5 and B7 to spend 10 minutes a day practicing, and E11 and P13 to spend 15 - and all 4 of them have goals to work toward. E11 spends more than his required 15 minutes, playing through all his repertoire and learning a new piece. P13 practices willingly but not enthusiastically, precisely until the timer beeps, and I can hear improvement. H5 requires my constant attention and encouragement during practice time, but is also improving. B7 has his own ideas of how to practice. His goal for the next reward is to learn the next 2 pieces in the book. I asked him to learn the first one hands separately, paying particular attention to the pattern in the left hand. If I don't swoop in and stop him every day, he will play the first two bars of the piece hands together, find the third bar difficult, go on to the second piece, play the first two bars hands together, find the third bar difficult, and go back to the first one. He complains that playing hands separately is "too easy". When I actually coerce him into doing it, he makes many mistakes, proving my point. He is impatient, wanting to hear the piece the way it will sound when he has finished learning it, and thus is unwilling to put in the time to learn it. I think that having to slow down and do something that doesn't come easily to him is good for his soul, which is why I will continue to require him to practice!

For exercise, I realized that I needed to set a good example. It's one of those things that easily moves down the priority list until we go hiking as a family and I realize, puffing to keep up, that I'm not as fit as I could be. I have the T-Tapp 15-minute workout DVD, so a few weeks ago I did "boot camp" (doing the workout every day for a week), and now I'm doing it 3 days a week. I wanted to add some aerobic exercise, and struggled to think of when to fit it in. Finally I realized that in the morning, while the oatmeal is cooking, I can go for a walk while I pray instead of sitting in my room trying to get E3 and H5 to stop barging in and asking for things. Usually Ari is still eating his breakfast at that time, and if he's gone, P13 and E11 are able to take care of the little guys' needs. It wasn't my example that inspired E11, though. 2 1/2 weeks ago at church camp, one of the speakers compared the Christian life to a marathon, and asked if anyone in the congregation thought they'd like to run one. The enthusiasm of E11's response was impressive, and convinced us to try to find a race for him to compete in (maybe shorter than 26.2 miles, to begin with). Every day this week, he has run almost 4 miles. He requested an alarm clock so he can wake up at 6am, run before the heat of the day, and make it back for breakfast by 8:15 or 8:30. Nobody else's choice for exercise is quite as impressive. P13 has a ballet lesson DVD and some aerobic exercises of her own devising, and the little guys like to walk to the playground and run around there. Archery will be starting up in September, so P13, E11, and B7 will participate in that.

Math continues in much the same way as it did last week. The Life of Fred math book E11 is using has a section called "The Bridge" after every 4-5 chapters, consisting of a 10-item quiz of which 9 must be answered correctly before going on to the next chapter. E11 hates these, because the problems lack the fun narrative of the chapters, and because too many careless errors can mean he'll have to do the next one as well. There are 5 different quizzes in each "Bridge" section, and he has thus far completed the first 3 with up to 80% accuracy (and thus, more than 80% tears). I'm hoping he rocks the next one on Monday. H5 has been working to understand place value, and enjoys playing the "Trading Up" game. This game requires base ten blocks (unit cubes, ten-sticks, and a hundred-flat), a 6-sided die, and a whiteboard and marker. H5 rolls the die, takes that number of unit cubes, and, if appropriate, trades up 10 unit cubes for a ten-stick. The game ends when he trades 10 ten-sticks for the hundred-flat. Each turn, we write the number of tens and ones on the whiteboard, and H5 reads the number. He finds it endlessly entertaining (that makes one of us), and is starting to grasp the concept pretty well.

The last couple of days, I tried starting Circle Time as soon as I finished my own breakfast (as opposed to waiting for every slowpoke to join the Clean Plate Club). This has more than one benefit. Firstly, we get started sooner, and people have less time to disperse (and to create a need to be rounded up). Secondly, since E3 is the slowest poke, starting before he's done eating automatically gives him something to do quietly while I read. E3 has seemed somewhat emotionally needy this week, so I may try finishing Circle Time by reading a story just for him.

Next week, I plan to add in science and current events. Check back here to see how it goes!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

First Week of School

This past week was our first week of school. We started with only two subjects: math and circle time. As circle time is a new feature for us, I'll describe it first. After we have cleared the breakfast table, I gather everyone to read the Bible, some devotional books and missionary stories, work on a memory passage, read some poems, and sing a song. On Monday, I received serious push-back from E11. I believe he had expected we would do circle time outside or sitting on the futon, and when I refused to move it from the kitchen table because I wanted people to be able to draw during the readings, he threw a fit. However, he then proceeded to draw a tree during the reading, continuing to add details throughout the week, and he seems to be enjoying it now. Allowing the children to draw while they listen is a successful strategy, allowing even E3 to stay at the table and pay some attention much of the time. (He still needs frequent reminders to return to the kitchen). During our poetry reading, I have P13, E11, and B7 read some of the poems. They all need to work on reading slowly, loudly, and clearly, but already I see some improvement. Having all the children together to discuss the devotional book is helpful because, although it is technically part of B7's curriculum, H5 often chimes in with a question or comment, and P13 and E11 are able to summarize and explain in ways that are easier for B7 and H5 to grasp. A real advantage to doing circle time is that, when it has ended, everyone knows that school has started and I am less tempted to do "just one more" housekeeping task (which can turn into "just 5 more") before getting started.

Immediately after circle time on Monday, I gave P13 her first lesson from Core Plus Mathematics. We investigated the physics of bungee jumping by connecting rubber bands and attaching varying numbers of nickels (5-gram weights) to the end before dropping them from the top of a yardstick. It took a bit of trial and error to find a way to effectively attach the nickels to the end of the rubber band chain and to measure the maximum stretch, but P13 devised a cone out of paper towels which she tied on to the chain with another rubber band, and I moved my hand incrementally down the yardstick until I didn't feel the point of the cone touch it when dropped. Our plotted data showed an approximately linear relationship, with the length of the rubber band - nickel cone assembly growing by about 7/8" with each additional nickel. E11 found himself drawn into the investigation despite himself, and making mathematical observations. Later in the week, he was similarly drawn into our investigation of a game of chance in which a fundraiser pays out $4 if a die shows a 4, but receives $1 if the die shows any other number. Unfortunately, this investigation was much harder to conduct with only one student, because the randomness of the results after only a few trials far overcame the general expected linear trend if you were only to look at the fundraiser's profits after every 50 trials. Had we had another 5 students or so, everyone could have played the game 50 times, and we would probably have gotten better results without spending a prohibitively long time rolling dice. However, P13's mathematical insight allowed her to predict what should have happened if we had been able to conduct hundreds of trials: on average, every 6 rolls will lose the fundraiser $4 and gain it $5, for a net gain of $1 every 6 rolls. P13 seems to be enjoying this program and it certainly forces her to think and express herself clearly. And if it can draw in my reluctant 11-year-old, that says something for it!

Speaking of E11, I gave him a lesson from Life of Fred: Fractions on Monday after P13 was done with the bungee jump simulation. He is over halfway through the book and theoretically knows how to add, subtract, and multiply fractions and mixed numbers. We read the chapter (part of a continuing story) and he worked on the problems in the "Your Turn to Play" section. Unfortunately, he seemed to have forgotten absolutely everything over the week or two since he last did math. He was trying to find common denominators before multiplying, and to add the denominators when doing addition, among other painful errors. Worse, when I tried to ask questions to understand his reasoning, he stormed off, refusing to answer. When he was ready to try again, and I tried to explain the concept using a simpler problem, he shrieked that I was wasting his time. When I tried using 2 different methods to explain the concept using the problem that was actually causing him difficulty, he again moaned that I was not making sense (without taking time off from moaning to hear any of my words, or to tell me what part of my explanation confused him). Some days, he is REALLY hard to teach. Because he had such trouble with the first problem set, I decided to give him a similar problem set every day until he mastered it, instead of proceeding to the next chapter. He was furious, because the chapters contain quirky and amusing stories, and plain problem sets don't. On Tuesday, he got the egregious result that 1/3 - 1/12 = 3/0. (He remembered to find like denominators - and then subtracted them!) With much difficulty, I got him to listen to explanations (involving pizza, or squirrels) of what was going on in each problem. On Wednesday, he got all 5 problems (covering the same concepts as Tuesday) right on the first try, with a much better attitude. It's the same pattern as over the summer! On Thursday, we went on to the next chapter (more of the story! Yay!) and he retained what he had learned over the previous days - and the same thing happened on Friday. I really need to remember (over the screaming) that just because he seems to have completely forgotten a concept doesn't mean he'll have as hard a time re-learning and retaining it as he did the first time.

B7 has been steadily working through the Art of Problem Solving Pre-Algebra book. This week, we were working on finding the least common multiple. B7 has epic mental math ability, but he writes like a 7-year-old, so if I ask him to write down his complete solutions, his brain gets to the correct result many minutes before his brain has time to tell his hand to write down the steps, which is frustrating for him. So I have a deal with him: he has to write down all the steps for the first problem we work, and then he only has to tell me verbally and I will write them for him on subsequent problems. At the rate we are going through the book, it will probably take 2 or 3 years to complete, but that's okay - we can wait until he's 10 before starting algebra! On days when I am too busy or overwhelmed to spend 30 minutes working on math with him, I can ask him to work on Alcumus, a math game on the Art of Problem Solving website (https://artofproblemsolving.com/alcumus), which allows him to review concepts he has learned in the past and forces him to write down his own answers.

H5 is a lot of fun to teach, because he is so enthusiastic about everything. I'm not using a single, formal curriculum with him, though I'm using Miquon as a general outline for where to go next. I have ideas of concepts he'll need pretty soon, and present them using games and manipulatives. We have been using the Right Start place value cards to practice counting to 100, and playing Coin War using cards with pictures of coins I made when P13 was in kindergarten. He also enjoys using Khan Academy's "Early Math" exercises.

I'm glad I decided to start school slowly, as it allows me to work out kinks in each subject and see ahead of time what might cause problems. In previous years, when we've started full steam with all subjects on the first day of school, I've felt more overwhelmed at the end of the first week, with fewer ideas of what specific things need to change. My plan for next week is to add in music practice and lessons, P13's Koine (New Testament Greek) lessons, and some kind of physical activity for everyone. The following week we'll add science and current events (for P13 and E11), the next week writing, and when we get back from our September trip to the mainland, be ready to go full steam with all our subjects. I plan to continue making weekly updates, so check back to see how we're doing.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Update on Our Experiment

Back in February, I tried an experiment in which I abandoned our formal homeschool curriculum and merely required that my children do something (of their own choice) in subjects like math, reading, writing, history, science, etc., on a regular basis. The experiment lasted a little longer than a month, because we all enjoyed it and everyone was clearly learning.

The only thing my children (and I!) really missed from our previous pattern of school was all the reading aloud contained in our Sonlight programs: Core F with Science G for P13 and E11 (Eastern Hemisphere; Geology, Physics [and Origins - we ditched that portion of the course, but it's a story for another day]), and Core and Science A for B7 (World Cultures; Biology, Botany, and Physics). One day, I mentioned that I missed it, and everyone else unanimously agreed, so we started it up again. That covered literature, history/geography, and science, and I let them keep doing their own thing for reading, writing, and math. P is also learning Koine Greek, which she plans to continue next year.

Reading: P13 continued to read as though drinking from a firehose, E11 read various library books of interest at his preferred slow pace, and B7 pursued books about astronomy/planetary science and chemistry. B7's interest in chemistry came about as a result of our experiment: E11 had wanted to learn more about chemistry in order to understand mineralogy better, so I ordered the high school chemistry course from The Great Courses. He was interested in the subject matter, but the math was well beyond him. I worked hard to try to help him understand it, and I think if he'd had a more positive attitude toward his ability to learn mathematical concepts he could have done it, but he was unwilling to put in the effort. However, during the time he was still working on the course, he encountered the Periodic Table. For enrichment and enjoyment, I found the Periodic Table Song on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VgVQKCcfwnU&t=72s. This immediately became so popular that we watched it multiple times a day and, as often happens with songs you hear all the time, we all soon had it mostly memorized. B7 started asking questions about the characteristics of various elements, and, not knowing many of the answers myself, we turned to the public library. After exhausting the children's section, we raided the adult section, and as a result B7 can now announce the half-lives of most of the radioactive elements, and when asked the answer to something like 8 x 7, will respond, "Barium." He would like a particle accelerator for Christmas. (We think a CRC handbook might be more appropriate and affordable).

Writing: Here's where P13 really shines - she writes all the time. But not only that, she decided to launch a neighborhood children's Bible club. She develops and writes up lesson plans each week, in addition to games, crafts, and a snack. During the school year she's had as many as 10 children attend her club, though it's been much quieter during the summer. So I have allowed her Bible club preparation to count as writing - if her message isn't clear, she gets instant feedback from her peers as they pay less attention to her lessons. She also corresponds regularly with friends back in New York and with relatives, as well as writing in creative and prayer journals.

E11 has a negative attitude toward any writing assignment that wasn't his idea. For this reason, I abandoned all the written work attached to Sonlight - not only the language arts assignments, but also the worksheets for science and the Eastern Hemisphere Notebook. He had to write something, so I allowed him to continue working on his pirate adventure novel and letters to relatives during the school year, but as far as I know he did almost no writing over the summer.

B7 doesn't quite share E11's attitude, but writing is not something he prefers. He finished his handwriting workbook and started learning cursive before the end of the school year, but because I wasn't giving specific assignments (do this entire page), he would copy a single letter and inform me, "I've done my writing for the day." He does label rocket parts on drawings he makes, and his handwriting is neat and careful - he'd just rather spend a couple hours reading about radioactive elements.

Math: P13 is a compliant child, but math is not her true love. She pursued her math requirement by alternating between logic puzzles and Khan Academy's Algebra 1 course. If I didn't instruct her otherwise and check repeatedly, she wouldn't spend more than 15 minutes a day. I wasn't particularly happy with the instructional method, either: Sal Khan shows you how to perform an operation, but you don't get much insight into why it's important or interesting. We'll be doing something different next school year (keep reading for my plans).

E11 was happy in theory for his chemistry course to count as math, but as it required a certain amount of algebraic insight, it made him feel stupid. This is never a good feeling for anyone, particularly for someone whose 4-years-younger brother has better mathematical intuition than he does. I am convinced of the value of a growth mindset ("If I work hard, I can grow smarter") in math as with all subjects, but convincing someone else that this is a fruitful mindset can be tricky if that someone else begins screeching as soon as he hears me start to say anything of the sort. And, honestly, if he works hard but his heart isn't in it, he will not be likely to surpass B7, who loves mathematics more than almost anything. E11 can improve and has improved, but B7's achievements are a real hindrance to him. We tried letting E11 work on Khan Academy, but had a hard time finding the right level, where it would give him problems that didn't "underestimate his powers" but that he knew how to do. Eventually I turned to Life of Fred: Fractions, and that seems to work. E11 loves the quirkiness of the storyline and there are usually only a few end-of-chapter problems to work (because busywork is Not Popular). Every 4-5 chapters there is a "Bridge" containing problems on concepts from all previous chapters, and this has been E11's biggest frustration: you have to get at least 9 of the 10 Bridge problems correct on the first try, or else you try again with another Bridge (more work!). This means he feels under pressure, and being under pressure tends to set his brain to the OFF position. Over the summer, I required the children to do math one day a week, but E11's attitude toward the Bridges in particular was terrible. I decided that if there was a type of problem that made him screech, he simply had to do 3 problems of that type every day until it no longer made him screech. He followed a typical pattern of screeching over the course of an hour while doing his 3 problems the first day, screeching for 20 minutes the second day, and doing them in 5 minutes the 3rd day, complaining, "These are EASY! The problems in the book aren't like THIS!" And when he encountered the problems in the book, someone had secretly replaced them with easy ones. Funny how that works. It may be that the magic bullet for teaching E11 math will simply be a good pair of earplugs for me.

B7, as I mentioned in the original Experiment post, showed an interest in exponents. Having tasted the problems in P13's old Pre-Algebra book, he was hooked. We have continued working through the book. He dislikes writing, so I mostly act as his scribe and only occasionally require him to write solutions himself. (Part of it is that, at the level of Pre-Algebra, his handwriting isn't neat enough for him to line up problems properly. He far prefers doing long division in his head, and is quite able to do so accurately). We have also used the Alcumus program available on the Art of Problem Solving website.

H5, freed from the requirements of any formal schoolwork, has developed a great interest in learning on his own. He's worked with Khan Academy and Miquon Math, requested occasional reading lessons, and developed a passion for paper crafts. He asks for lots of spelling help and sends his grandparents letters (mostly listing the names of family members, finishing with the word LOVE). If there is a pile of paper scraps or a roll of tape in the middle of the floor, it is generally H5's fault. He is SUPER excited to start kindergarten next year, and occasionally I wake up to his voice saying, "Mommy, can I have a reading lesson and a writing lesson and play with Cuisenaire Rods and Khan Academy and drawing and painting today?" Um, let me wash my face and put on my glasses first...

I'm glad we conducted the experiment. By requiring certain subjects but not specifying how they were to be met, I learned more about each child's learning style. We found ways of teaching several of the subjects that worked better for each child than what we'd been using before. I've used the insight I gained in designing next year's academic program, maintaining a certain amount of flexibility and with what I hope will be less academic overload than we had before.

Plans for next school year: Sonlight was the one thing I knew we'd use. We'll be doing World History Part One (Sonlight History/Bible/Literature G) with P13 and E11, Intro to World History Part One (Sonlight History/Bible/Literature B) and Animals, Astronomy, and Physics (Sonlight Science B) with B7 (and H5 listening in), and Fiction, Fairy Tales, and Fun (Sonlight P3/4) with H5 and E3. That covers Bible, history, geography, literature, readers for P13 and E11, and science for B7.

Science for P13 and E11 will be Novare Earth Science (https://www.novarescienceandmath.com/product/earth-science-gods-world-our-home/). I chose this for a number of reasons. Firstly, it's one of very few science programs that combine a Christian worldview with up-to-date science. (I am not capable of using most Christian programs that address age of the earth or evolution - I yell at the book and the kids wonder when I'll get around to teaching them again. This was why I abandoned the "Origins" part of Sonlight Science G). Secondly, Novare focuses on integration: not teaching science as an isolated subject, but across subject areas including math, history of science, theory of knowledge, and English language usage. In particular, because E11 is fascinated by Earth science, I hope he will be more willing to complete writing assignments as part of learning science.

In addition to their science-related writing assignments, I will ask the children to complete journal entries on a regular basis, and write letters to friends and relatives. P13 and E11 have private blogs (only grandparents, aunts and uncles have the passwords) which I will ask them to update regularly. B7 will be working through the cursive handwriting book he started last year (and I'll be clearer on how much is an acceptable amount to complete), and H5 will be working through the Handwriting Without Tears kindergarten book. In addition, I've ordered (but not yet received) the Teaching Writing: Structure & Style teacher course from the Institute for Excellence in Writing, along with the Student Writing Intensive for P13. Since she's already interested in writing, I want her to have more tools to further hone what she writes.

For math, I plan on using 4 different programs with my 4 different school children. E11 will continue with Life of Fred, and B7 will keep working through Art of Problem Solving Pre-Algebra and Alcumus. H5 will continue to use Miquon Math, various games, and supplement with Khan Academy. P13 is ready to learn Algebra, and because I was unhappy with Khan Academy's approach I didn't want it to be her primary program. I re-read "What's Math Got To Do With It?" by Jo Boaler, and was again attracted by her descriptions of interested high schoolers working together to solve interesting, challenging problems. I wondered where I could find a source of such interesting problems - the Art of Problem Solving books have them, but because P13 is not passionate about math, the level of challenge was not something she enjoyed. I wanted something like AoPS, but not quite as time consuming. Fortunately, Boaler's book had an appendix containing recommended math programs. I found the first edition of Core-Plus Mathematics Course 1, which integrates algebra, geometry, probability/statistics, and discrete math but isn't aimed just at gifted students, for just $6 used (and the 2 teacher's guides for $6 each, as well). I love the look of it; it has the sorts of problems Boaler described. The chief drawback is that it was designed for teaching groups of students in a school setting, so class discussion forms a large component of the instruction. I tried to find others in the homeschool community who would join us, but because we live 45 minutes to an hour away from Honolulu, the people who expressed interest decided against it. So it'll just be me and P13 trying to re-create class discussions... but I still feel it'll be far better for her than staring at Khan Academy for as little time as she can get away with. And, of course, I'm still doing my recreational math club every other week, and there's plenty of animated discussion there!

Physical Education has always been a weakness in our homeschool program, mainly because I don't care for round moving objects. I plan to allow the 3 oldest to continue in archery, and to take all of them to the playground regularly, but I don't know that they'll ever learn the formal rules of baseball or football. Of course, ignorance in those areas hasn't hindered my enjoyment of life! Physical skills are E11's forte, though, and I'm thinking of finding races of some sort for him. He's the sort of kid who would love to run a 5K or participate in a kids' triathlon, so although I don't have specific plans right now, I intend to find some events and sign him up for them. Ari goes running regularly and sometimes invites E11 to join him, and we go hiking as a family or kayaking or swimming on weekends, so we're not couch potatoes.

H5 believes that a major part of school ought to be art. I've purchased supplies (construction paper, colored pencils, glue, scissors, tape) and mainly plan to sit back and let the kids all have at it. P13 often checks out art instructional books from the library, and she invites her brothers into her room to work on projects together, so I feel that's enough for now. I'm sure it would be good to do some kind of art history, but I'm not in a hurry to add more things to our schedule.

Over the summer, as I mentioned in my previous post, E11 started taking violin lessons from me. He's picking it up quickly, and H5 is not doing too badly on his violin lessons either (though E11 has far surpassed him). B7 is learning piano in fits and starts, and P13 sometimes sits down and plays something or other on the piano. My motivational strategy for practicing instruments consists of a close partnership with McDonalds: I identify a piece or set of pieces that a child needs to learn, and when the child plays that music well, we all go and get soft-serve ice cream cones at McDonalds. The child who has met the musical goal gets 2 cones. Compared to paying for music lessons, teaching my own kids and paying for ice cream every few weeks comes out a lot less expensive!

Finally, just a few days ago, I read this article: https://www.sonlight.com/blog/sonlight-morning-time.html. I'm going to give it a try - straight after breakfast, we'll do some Bible reading and memory verses, read some poems and missionary stories, and sing a song. I hope this will not only get us in a helpful mindset for doing school, but give a sense of cohesiveness as we're doing so many different things throughout the day.

And, although we aren't still doing the experiment I started in February, its benefits were such that if we ever start feeling overwhelmed and frustrated again, we can always ditch what we're doing and try the same thing again.
 

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Birthday Updates

We're done with birthdays for the year, so it's time for me to repent of my blog silence over the past several months. I'll describe the cakes I made everyone and also what they're up to in general.


 
 
B7 is first in the lineup, having his birthday at the end of January. He requested an archery cake, featuring an archer shooting at a target. His birthday marked the important milestone of being old enough to join his siblings in archery class, and he was enthusiastic about it. As it turns out, he has the coordination and strength of a stereotypical geek, but he worked at his archery and improved noticeably, such that his arrow was frequently going as far as the target and even hitting it on occasion by the end of the semester (instead of consistently making it only 5-10 feet from the bow).

 
 
B7's current obsession is chemistry. When his brother E11 started studying chemistry with a view to understanding minerals better, we came upon the Periodic Table Song (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VgVQKCcfwnU). All the children enjoyed the song so much that we ended up viewing the video multiple times a day, until several of them had it mostly memorized. At this point, B7 began asking questions, and looking for library books. After exhausting the children's section, he moved on to books about the elements from the adult section, finding the heaviest (manmade, radioactive) elements particularly fascinating. At this point, he has the table well enough memorized that he uses the names of elements as proxies for the numbers from 1 to 118. (A trip through the multiplication flashcards begins: "B7, what is 8 x 5?" "Zirconium." "And 4 x 7?" "Nickel.")
 
 
H5's birthday comes 8 days after B7's, and he requested a komodo dragon cake. We had seen one at the Honolulu Zoo with my parents over Christmas, but I'm afraid my rendition didn't really do it justice. However, the birthday boy was quite pleased.

 
H5 continues in his relentless enthusiasm for life. He will be officially doing kindergarten in the coming school year, and several times has approached me this summer demanding lessons in reading, writing, and math NOW. He uses up paper at an alarming rate, sometimes dispatching missives to grandparents, but as often writing things like to-do lists: "Tidy your bed. Play outside." He can't read beyond simple CVC words, so I am frequently summoned for spelling assistance. He enjoys playing chess, both with himself and against opponents. Ari comments that, although he is still easy to beat, he is really trying to think through strategy in a way that B7 doesn't always do.
 
 
 
E11 wanted a pirate ship for his birthday in mid-March. He had a friend over, and they shot each other with Nerf guns (E11 received two as presents), ate cake, and then Ari took them night fishing. 
 
 

 
Unlike B7, E11 excels in archery (and just about anything with a physical component to it). He actually placed first in the Parks & Rec island-wide archery competition among under-12 boys. This summer, he asked to take violin lessons, and has made rapid progress - again, there's a physical component, but he also has a good sense of rhythm and a good enough ear to correct badly out of tune notes without being told. He climbs everything everywhere, so if I ever hear myself asking, "Where's E11?" I am generally looking up. He isn't a total bookworm like his sister, but I do often find him reading - the Harry Potter series and, most recently, Hatchet by Gary Paulsen.

 
E3 watched all his brothers' birthdays and wondered repeatedly when it might be time for him to experience a similar event. As soon as he requested a lion cake, he began badgering me, every time he saw me enter the kitchen, to bake it, already. Every time he saw me sit down at the computer, I needed to look at pictures of lion cakes for inspiration. He had to wait all the way to the end of April. But the day finally arrived, and he was glad. (So was I). We took him to the Waikiki Aquarium, using birthday money from grandparents to buy an annual family membership. He was thrilled with the experience and talked about it for weeks afterward.

 
E3 is a delightful preschooler, interested in helping in the kitchen and hearing stories read aloud repeatedly. He likes playing outside and finding creepy-crawlies under rocks. He is gaining enough sophistication to be included in the older children's games of pretend. He is also completely out of diapers except at night, so we are looking forward to soon seeing the last of that very long stage. About a month ago I pulled out the Sonlight Preschool (age 3-4) curriculum for what we expect will be the very last time, and have read almost a quarter of it to him already. Of course, children's books bear multiple re-readings, so if we finish before Christmas, we have only to start it over again (and again, and again). What's been most fun with this is how much my older children have enjoyed seeing their early childhood favorites re-emerge. I love reading to them, but they also clearly love being read to. It makes me happy!
 
 
We have a teenager! P13 is a natural organizer, and planned an art-themed birthday party. She did all the inviting herself, and we ended up with 5 additional girls (as well as her brothers) playing blindfolded Pictionary, making sculptures with air-drying clay, and polishing off an entire artist's palette cake. The night after her actual birthday, Ari and I asked a friend to watch the boys while we took P13 by herself to Outback Steakhouse. It was truly delightful to sit and chat with her for a couple of hours without interruptions from the little guys.

 
P13 shows her organizational skills in other, more impressive ways, as well. In mid-February, she came up to me and said, "I'd like to start a children's Bible club at the local park. I'll develop the lessons based on The Jesus Storybook Bible, and come up with crafts, games, and snacks. I just need a canopy tent we can set up in the park. Here's one I found on Craigslist, and I have the money for it. Can you contact the people and drive me to Kaneohe to pick it up?" The Bible club has been a tremendous learning experience for her. Although it's been quiet during the summer, with only 1 or 2 people attending each week, during the school year she's had up to 9 or 10 kids. Some of them have been troublemakers, revving motor scooter engines next to her canopy tent to drown out her teaching, and stealing her equipment. But there have been some interesting results to this harassment, as well. On one occasion, as the ringleader of the bullies started riding his getaway bicycle with some of her things, his bike hit an obstacle and he tumbled over. One of the kids in the Bible club yelled after him, "That'll teach you to mess with God Girl!" Another time, she and E11 devised a scheme to make the troublemakers regret their thieving ways: she "accidentally" dropped a box of Altoids when they were coming toward her. But instead of containing powdery white breath mints, the box contained squares of white chalk she and E11 had prepared just for this purpose. When the bully grabbed the "Altoids" and shared them with his friends, they had an unpleasant surprise! It seemed to me an excellent example of being "wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matthew 10:16, https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+10:16&version=ESV). The troublemakers inspired us to allow P13 to achieve another milestone: her own phone. Now, if trouble shows up, she can credibly threaten to call the police, and they either disappear or decide they aren't going to be trouble after all. P13 having her own phone also makes it easier to let her (and E11, when he's with her) wander around the neighborhood more freely, and to leave her to supervise her brothers if I need to make a quick grocery run in the middle of the day.