Thursday, February 13, 2014

Three Quarters of a Year

I can't believe my baby is four months from his first birthday! At 8 months old Silas is sitting up on his own, though he doesn't quite know how to get out of the position. He does "the worm" crawl. He lets me put him down a ton lately, probably because he likes to test out his mobility and get into stuff, but he still sleeps with me. We're working on getting him in the crib and by "we" I totally mean "I" because the little dude is a momma's boy. We've reached the stage where it's just not comfortable for anyone in our queen bed anymore. If we had a king it would be a different story... remind me again why we didn't buy a king?! Ugh!

My little Gingersnap screeches and is almost always ready with a belly laugh... He's my marathon nurser, often done in a matter of a few minutes. He has two bottom teeth he likes to bite me with, though, ahhh! He thinks it is hysterical of course. I discovered just a few days ago that one of his top centers AND a canine tooth broke through with the other center and canine following close behind. That may explain the fussies we've had lately and all the fist chomping he's been doing.

Silas may not look too sure about Judah holding him here but what he is sure of is the love his siblings and parents have for him! He literally shakes and wiggles with excitement when his siblings greet him!

I have no idea what he weighs but at 8-months he wears 9-12M clothes and has lots of chunky rolls. No words yet but he does a lot of the baby babbling if his binky isn't in his mouth (which is a lot because he is a binky baby!).

No baby food or table foods but he's very interested. Judah dropped a piece of homemade bread with jam on the floor, Silas crawled under the table and I discovered him happily sucking on it when I crawled after him. Boy was he ticked when I took that away! The kids already eat everything in sight so I can only imagine the groceries when this guy starts chowing down on solids.

In other baby news a brand new niece was born two days ago. I came down with Shingles rash on my back and it's almost gone but I haven't visited just to be safe. She's an absolute baby doll from her pictures! I haven't gotten to hear her birth story yet but my sister-in-law pushed for a gentle cesarean and I'm eager to hear how it turned out for them since her past ones weren't so gentle. Please pray for recovery and strength as she's got a very energetic toddler son to chase after when she gets home with the new baby. I think our mom-in-law will be over to help but there are still moments when it will just be her and the kids.

Not long after the Shingles rash started another niece of mine was hospitalized and almost died. She's 7 and without going into great detail they discovered a rare blood disorder where her blood attacks itself when it gets too cold, she had several blood transfusions over the course of a couple of days but is home now. That was terrifying. I've never seen my brother so scared before. Honestly her being alive right now is a true MIRACLE as she was at death's door and her parents were told to prepare themselves... But she is alive and well and the doctors could not understand how her hemoglobin was so low and yet she still lived. Thank you, Jesus!!! If you all wouldn't mind praying that they can find out the reason behind this sudden onset that would be fantastic. With this particular disorder it helps to know the cause, not just the diagnosis, to prevent a future attack.

Kindergarten Curriculum

Check out my post on PreK Curriculum HERE.
Check out my post on Choosing Curriculum HERE.

So technically for PreK and even K you can get away without buying a single piece of curriculum. And technically you could do that throughout your entire homeschool journey. But for those that wish to use a curriculum for some or all of their school you may find that Kindergarten is the year you really focus on what curriculum is available.

A lot of what you did in preschool carries over into Kindergarten. Children learn by repetition (and in other various ways) so making patterns with colored blocks and sorting, etc. are things you'll continue to do in Kindergarten.

If your child didn't learn how to write their name in preschool they'll most likely learn how to write their name in Kindergarten. This is like a rite of passage! The pride in your child's eyes as they messily scribble their name, some letters backward, onto a sheet of paper is, without a doubt, amazing. And it's only the beginning! The more they write it the better it will look so don't worry.

So what does one need for Kindergarten?!

Ask yourself what your child will be learning in Kindergarten:
-How to spell and write their name
-How to recognize and sound out letters
-How to recognize numbers
-Rote counting
-Simple addition
-Reading some words (phonics)
-Recognizing vowels versus consonants
-Sight Words

I think that for this age it is important to have at least Phonics and Math if nothing else. Phonics sets the stage for reading and then later writing and spelling. And of course number recognition sets the stage for addition and later in the year subtraction. They actually do quite a lot in Kindergarten when you break it down but it progresses through the year and much of it is interwoven together.

Okay so Abigail was in Kindergarten last year. It was our first year homeschooling and my biggest stress was teaching her how to read

For phonics... I bought Explode the Code, McGuffey Readers, a single little box of Bob books I found at the thrift store, Modern Curriculum Press, Rod + Staff Readers... I'm not kidding. I bought everything. I was seriously freaking out! This is where my tips for choosing curriculum would have come in handy! I felt so ill prepared and inadequate. I'll break down the different things we got because one of them may be a great fit for you!

Explode the Code - this is a Phonics workbook. Phonics is breaking down the letter sounds and putting them together to form words (which becomes reading). I know a lot of people like Explode the Code BUT half of the time I didn't know what the poorly scribbled graphic was to resemble. It looks like a child made most of the graphics. For me this didn't work because I want my child to have a clear visual. Other than that it isn't really bad. Some customers have uploaded photos of the inside of their books HERE. You can see it does have great feedback but was personally not my favorite.

McGuffey Readers - These readers are an old classic! You can find a set HERE (or find them used as I did because they aren't cheap). I like these but they required much more planning and set up than I could keep up with. I needed something that was done for me due to the limited amount of planning time I have between work and home. Now that Abigail is really clicking with reading I may break them out again and work from them, or perhaps use them with Zoe as she is picking up phonics easily. Basically the series begins with a few easy words (like CAT). Then they build upon those words until your child is piecing them together in the stories (a.k.a. readers) and reading!

Bob Books - This is a well loved series as well. But they are expensive. I happened upon a little box that contained ten readers at the thrift store for $.99. It was missing the flashcards but I abhor flashcards so I didn't care. We still have the readers and use them! I started off reading the first book to Abigail a few times. Then I started having her sound out words with me. Now she reads them herself. This was something we did together, snuggled on the couch, while Judah took his naps. You can also find Bob Books on your smart phone app store. These reader sets contain a ton of repetition which may not work for a child who doesn't like obvious repetition or get bored easily.

Rod and Staff Readers - This is a Bible-based set of readers, workbooks, textbooks... it's a lot. And that was my problem with Rod and Staff. I loved that my child was learning Christian values and Scripture but I didn't like that we had to get out four or five books to do one lesson. It was just very overwhelming to me. I couldn't keep up with the lesson planning. I'm not a natural teacher, I will admit it! If you want a set of inexpensive Christian books and have the time to create each lesson from the different books you get in the set I would highly recommend this set for you. You get phonics, reading, writing, cutting/gluing/art, math, science, Bible, etc. so you hit several subjects. It just requires a lot of piecing together and planning. You can find the sets gently used or buy a new set directly from the publisher HERE (links directly to the Kindergarten set).

Modern Curriculum Press - This publisher has a wonderful collection of language arts books. We bought Level A found HERE and this was probably my favorite of the workbooks overall for what I tried. It was very similar to Explode the Code but colorful and I felt the graphics were more easily decipherable. Out of all the different phonics books I've outlined this one seems to have slightly worse feedback but it seems it is mostly from people who've tried the older editions AND the new editions with preference for the older material. Abigail and I were both pleased with this workbook.


Hands-down the most helpful resource for helping Abigail read was Reading Eggs. It is an online, virtual teaching program. It does have a yearly fee but you can try them for the first month free to see if it is a good fit. We did the trial, she kept begging to do the program after our trial was over and so I purchased it. It is honestly what got us over this plateau in learning to read and got her on the right track for reading independently. It made learning to read fun! And it doesn't require me to do anything except follow along with her and they send me progress reports via email. We tried their new Math Seeds program for mathematics and loved that as well but I didn't purchase it as I felt they should offer a bundle since many families are on tight budgets.

For science we used Apologia's Young Explorers text. We started with Sea Creatures. I'd read the text to both Abigail (grade K) and Elaina (grade 2) and we'd discuss what we read, find videos online of the different sea creatures to see them in action, watch our BBC Planet Earth videos, we built a diorama of the ocean and added clay creatures we'd make after we learned about them. Listening to someone read text can be boring and hard to follow so I made sure to stop every few sentences and ask comprehension questions. My excitement for science definitely helps pull them in (it's my favorite subject!).

We also had "field journals" and would just go outside and explore. They were free to ask "WHY?!" and we'd find the answers. Observation and exploration were a huge part of our science. We also did a great unit study on Insects that they thoroughly enjoyed (with some disgust, ha!). We find individual lesson plans for free or at a low cost at Teachers Pay Teachers (a website of lesson plans that directly benefits teachers!) and spend time just learning and absorbing a topic!

Social Studies/History was our most neglected subject in Kindergarten I think. I didn't really have a set book or workbook for it. We just did what we felt like. We did start off with Mapping the first half of the year which the kids liked a lot. I also got THIS amazing wooden puzzle of the United States.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

PreK Curriculum

Check out my post on Choosing Curriculum to help you narrow down the choices!

Zoe just turned 4 and loves to "do school" with her sisters. She gets very upset if I don't devote time to her learning and instead place my focus on her older sisters for the start of our school day. While I don't necessarily agree that kids should sit and do seatwork all day I have purchased several inexpensive preschool and even kindergarten workbooks to keep Zoe busy when she wants to do seatwork. Which is all the time! It has become a normal part of our lives so she expects it... and enjoys it! I am meeting her where she is at and right now she is loving her workbooks. She gets so excited when one arrives in the mail!

We buy a lot of them from the dollar store and since we have Amazon Prime I purchase a lot via Amazon with free shipping. Here are some other things we do for preschool.

-Fingerplays! Brush up on The Itsy Bitsy Spider and Teddy Bear Teddy Bear and Five Little Monkeys... you'll have your little one begging you to sing them over and over and over and OVER again with the hand motions!

-Play catch. Large motor skills are just as important as small motor skills. Make soft beanbags to toss in bright colors or crumple up aluminum foil into a ball. Adding color and texture increases learning. Grab the laundry basket and try to toss into the basket!

-Speaking of laundry... have your child help sort and fold. It doesn't have to be perfect. They learn value in hard work and being a member of a family.

-Dress up. There's nothing quite like putting on a costume and using that imagination. Which brings me to my next activity...

-Don't toss the box! You just had a purchase arrive on your doorstep in a box. Keep the box and let your child color it, practice scissor skills (supervised of course) and depending on the size create a diorama or spaceship or whatever! We toss ours as soon as the kids destroy it, which may be within the first hour, ha!

-Our favorite is our Sorting Pie!
-Another fave for sorting are Counting Bears.
-For small motor fun find large hole beads (craft department) and shoe strings (shoe department) or purchase a ready-made kit like THIS ONE.

Not everything needs to have a cost. Many things you can use around the house. Preschool and Kindergarten are fun. Don't focus so much on curriculum or workbooks. If you want your child to do some seatwork just print freebies online and have them trace alphabet letters or write your own dotted letters for them to trace. If your child wants workbooks and you can afford them go ahead and splurge! I never saw a child suffer from wanting and getting to do workbooks, LOL! If they WANT to do it then don't hesitate. If they aren't interested now is not the time to force it. You'll all be miserable if you force an energetic 3-year-old child to sit still and copy letters over and over.

Focus on what does interest them! You can teach them math without them even knowing it if the topic is about their favorite superhero or current obsession (dinosaurs, kitties, etc.). Line up your son's race cars in a pattern or make a math equation with them. "You have ten cars. If you give me five of them how many do you have left?" Then help them count out how many are left.

And of course... READ. Read, read and then read some more. Read to them, have them "read" to you, point out words, ask questions for comprehension. Reading is the gateway to other subjects. Build a strong foundation for reading when they are young. You won't ever regret that or the valuable time spent cuddling with them and diving into worlds of make believe.

Choosing Curriculum for Your Homeschool

I've had several people ask me what curriculum we're using this year so I thought I'd start a series of posts, starting with how to choose curriculum. Last year we tried many things that I felt just didn't work for our family based on what had the highest rated feedback rather than content and different learning styles. I buy mostly used from Homeschool Classifieds, Amazon and sometimes directly from the publisher. Thankfully you can recuperate most or all of your money back on unused curriculum that doesn't necessarily fit the bill for you.

I also realize not everyone homeschools with a ton of seatwork (workbooks, textbooks) but that will be the main focus of the beginning of the series. I will also talk a little about other fun ways to homeschool that don't require a textbook!

FIRST THING FIRST: You need to know your your state requirements* for homeschooling! I'm assuming you may have already checked in on your state requirements and are simply needing help choosing curriculum now so the post continues with that in mind...

Curriculum can be... overwhelming to say the least! When my husband was homeschooled there was very little choice. Now there is so much available that you could easily spend weeks trying to figure out what you need, what you don't, what others like, what others hate, what is affordable and what is not... only to realize everyone has different tastes and each child learns differently. That's not a comforting realization.

What has been comforting is the freedom to take our time, find what may or may not work, change it up. The Internet is a huge wealth of information, reviews and stories. You are not married to your first choice in curriculum so don't be discouraged if it turns out to be horrible. Instead find the joy in new discoveries and trying new things!

I went to a Christian bookstore, Mardel, before the school year started so I could actually look inside books. Some of our favorites are the ones I got to look through before committing to buy. I found them cheaper on Amazon and others I found gently used at the homeschool classifieds website. A few I do purchase directly from the publisher if I plan on using the curriculum for all the kids (make photocopies). On the curriculum websites and on Amazon you have the ability to view a few pages inside some books as well.

My Advice for Narrowing Down Curriculum:
1). Go to a store or website where you can view inside several books to compare!

2). Start small! Buy a phonics/grammar book and a math book to start. Then add another subject, then another and another when you're comfortable and your child is ready. You may also choose to create your own curriculum or unit studies (a study of one topic where you cover each core subject). This is especially helpful for families who can't afford to spend a ton of money all at once. Buy a little here and there!

3). Go at your own pace. Education is not a race and children don't *need* to read at age 3. If they desire to then that's another story. Trying to force Abigail to read in Kindergarten was a no-go! In first grade she's readily and quickly picking up reading whereas her 4-year-old sister can spell several words. Each child has strengths that should be given challenge for growth and weaknesses that should be nurtured gently (not ignored by any means). With that said I made the mistake of buying way too much when I should have listened to advice #2!!!

4). Don't compare homeschools. The grass may seem greener on the other side... but they have weeds just like everybody else! You make your school work for YOUR family. Someone may have a fancy $500 curriculum set that matches and is brand new but they secretly struggle with making it work. Everyone has a different budget. Don't be discouraged if you need to start off using free online sources and cannot afford to spend money trying different things.

5). Don't underestimate the value in life lessons. Having your child make the grocery list is handwriting, spelling, etc. Have them organize the list alphabetically and you've hit sequencing (math) as well. Ask them to estimate how much everything will cost at the end of the grocery trip and see who guesses closest! You don't need a textbook every single solitary day you do school and some parents choose to not use curriculum at all. This is something you need to weigh for yourself. This is often called Unschooling.

Okay now that I've got you all revved up about perusing curriculum you may wonder WHAT SUBJECTS do you even need to consider?! In my next posts I'll break down what subjects we're specifically doing for each grade (PreK/K, 1st and 3rd) and what resources we're using as well.

*Update yourself on state laws every year as laws may change. You may want to consider following the organizations that oversee the homeschool laws in your state as the threat to homeschool freedom is challenged so you may be a voice in protecting your rights to educate your own children.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

We FINALLY have a downstairs bathroom!

 Long, long ago I mentioned our downstairs, pink bathroom was gutted. And I do mean gutted...

We hired our brother-in-law (BIL) to renovate the bathroom. I got to do the fun parts like choose the color scheme, sink, etc. My BIL got to do the dirty, hard work.

The above is the electrical he put in. Progress being made...

Oh hello, Neighbor! We had to replace an outside wall. Seriously my BIL rocks!

I have more photos of the progress but can't find them. It's also late and I don't have a photo of the 100% finished room but the above is the best one already on the computer. We found the sink base at Habitat for Humanity REStore and it's solid wood. I think we paid $75? I LOVE it! It's unique! We used a high pressure sprayer to clean the existing toilet and used composition tiles for the flooring. The color palette I chose was soft blue, black and white for a clean, crisp look. What you don't see: we put a frame around the window and the drawer back in the sink base.

We also made our own light fixture. I've seen the mason jar lights out there, loved them and thought it'd be perfect over the changing table in the bathroom. It IS perfect and I love it. I made it myself and it took less than five minutes. I think it ended up costing us around $10, maybe even a little less, to make the light (minus the Edison bulb that is in it).

It's so great to finally have a downstairs bathroom! I think my BIL did a great job and I love all the little elements Daniel and I put together to make it a very nice, cozy, pretty bathroom!

I have more house updates from this past summer/fall to share and have more planned for this upcoming year as we try to prepare it so we can sell the house and move. Eek!