Sunday, September 20, 2009

Week 3, day 5

I'm writing up Friday's activities on Sunday night, because we left on Friday afternoon for a church family retreat and just got back this afternoon. We all had a great time, and everyone, kids included, has new friends and knows more people in the church we're going to now.

Friday morning I let the kids watch their math video while I exercised and showered. I started the video at the section on even and odd numbers, and between exercise and shower I skipped forward to let them watch their favourite, "Snack Schedule", in which the main character reads the clock carefully to make sure he gets all his snacks in, but then ends up lying on the floor groaning, "I ate way too many snacks today!" We did our catechism review and Bible story, and P reviewed the Lord's Prayer (E has not been interested in it, which is probably because it seems too hard to him).

After thinking about P's reluctance and sensitivity toward handwriting, I scoured the Handwriting Without Tears teacher's manual for ideas on making it more "without tears". I realized that I'd just been giving her the workbook and a bit of explanation, without using many of the other teaching ideas, and she needed more teaching from me before doing it on her own. So we tried the "wet-dry-try" method in which I write a demo letter on the blackboard, explaining all the steps, she traces it with a tiny piece of wet paper towel to erase it, and when it dries she traces in the track left by the wet paper towel with a piece of chalk. When she'd done that, she wasn't remotely interested in actually writing in her workbook, so I felt we could leave that until Monday and instead review some other letters using "wet-dry-try". E enjoyed erasing each letter when P was done working on it, though we had to keep him from being over-enthusiastic and erasing before she was done. We went through the 3 letters we've covered so far in our "letter-of-the-week" scheme, and she did well with writing them on the board. I think in future I may need to insist that she do the workbook page for a given letter before we do a "wet-dry-try" for the next letter, because I sense she won't be willing otherwise.

We had pretty much finished up with the language arts curriculum for this week, and all that was left was the optional "crazy letter" activity: choose a fun or crazy activity to do that starts with the featured letter. In this case it was M, so the kids both jumped at the opportunity to make muffins to munch. We own a pair of wonderful kids' cookbooks, Pretend Soup and Salad People, and used the "hide-and-seek muffins" recipe. The kids measured, counted, and poured, and I even (with much explaining) helped P to see that, using a 1/2-cup measure, we needed 3 measures full to make a cup and a half. She quickly grasped that 2 measures made a cup, and thus 4 measures made 2 cups, but finding the half was a bit tough for her. My mom pointed out to me that that's probably third-grade math, so it's okay for her to struggle with it in kindergarten. The "hide and seek" aspect of the muffins involved placing pieces of fruit (we used apples, since we didn't have the strawberries the recipe called for) in the unbaked muffins, so we thought to go along with the M theme they could be called mystery muffins.

While we waited for the oven to preheat (I'm bad at remembering the "pre" part of preheating) and the muffins to bake and then cool down enough to eat, we looked at picture books of Canada and E played with his puzzle pieces. P wasn't interested in making a book about Canada yet, so I'll ask her to do it on Monday. Next week, I plan for us to start looking at Mexico. After that, we'll move on to looking at regions such as the Caribbean, central America, etc. when there are many small countries close together, and countries only when they're big and/or particularly interesting (Brazil, Chile, etc.) The pattern we've used for the books so far has involved drawing a flag, which won't work if we're not doing a specific country. However, I imagine if I get good enough picture books we can find enough pictures to draw to fill in the gaps. Our public library is quite adequately stocked.

I spent $300 all at once, not something I'm in the habit of doing, but it was for a good cause. A week ago, I ran across a reference to a math curriculum called Math on the Level and, after checking it out, decided that this was the curriculum for us! No workbooks, lots of emphasis on hands-on activities, and the books can be used for all our children from K through Pre-Algebra. For younger kids, there's simply a checklist where you write down the math activities you do (playing store, baking mystery muffins, etc) and mark which math concepts you covered - it's basically a help for record-keeping, and helping me make sure that our activities cover a range of topics. When they get older, there's a more detailed review system in which you give your kid 5 different problems a day (not a whole page of similar problems) to review every concept you've covered at least every 3 weeks. The box arrived while we were at the church retreat, but I've spent this afternoon making myself familiar with the system. I'm looking forward to being a bit more intentional about math activities, and keeping track of just what we're doing, but I don't anticipate that our basic "unschool" plan for kindergarten math will change significantly.


  1. Math on the Level looks very interesting. I look forward to seeing how it's implemented.

    The description leads me to wonder where the right balance is between giving students enough problems that they become "fluent" in their math skills, but not giving too much busywork.

    My 12th grade math teacher would give us 100 problems every few days, and strangely enough I think I enjoyed that. Perhaps it was because the problems were varied enough that they weren't boring, and because I had a couple of friends with whom I competed to get the answers first.

  2. I imagine the balance between fluency and busywork is different for each individual. This, of course, is an advantage of homeschooling, which can be tailored to the individual. In a class of 30 (or 300!) students there will be some for whom the amount (or type) of work given is insufficient to grasp the concept, and some for whom the amount is a ton of busywork. (I fell into the second category in high school, and the first category at Caltech). I can also see how a varied set of problems under time pressure feels less like busywork than a set of similar problems for homework does. I imagine your math teacher was competent, creative, and good at handling larger groups of students than I'll have to... :-)