Friday, January 15, 2016

Revisiting Kindergarten Goals and General Update

I've been too busy homeschooling and homemaking to be blogging about it! I've also been growing another child to add to the collection, and that has taken a bit of effort too. :)

But as we get back into the swing of things at the start of the year, I've been thinking about my kindergarten goals, and reminding myself of what I wanted to prioritize for this our first year of home education:

Habit Formation
Outdoor Play
Enjoying Good Literature

Habit Formation

  • Personal habits
    • Since September we've worked on obedience, attention, thankfulness, and now joy, or as we like to call it, "looking on the bright side." 
    • We've been using Sonya Shaefer's Laying Down the Rails as a guide for this. When we're in our routine, we might do 2 little "lessons" a week from the book, selected or tweaked for their young age (3 and 5). We usually do this at morning snack time. I've liked using this resource, as I've been able to learn what Charlotte Mason had to say about each habit, and then have the practical lessons pulled together for me. I've found that twice a week has been good just to keep us all focused on a particular habit. In no way would I say my kids have "mastered" any of the habits, but they are now aware of what these things are, why they are important, and how we can work together to keep forming them in our daily lives. (What we are calling "joy" is what LDTR calls "A sweet, even temper." We could all use work on that, I'm sure!)
  • Household habits
    • One of my big goals has been to get us all in some kind of regular daily routine. Not a strictly timed schedule or anything, but an underlying rhythm to our days. I have discovered I am the kind of person who is not naturally prone to regular routine (distracted by books! thoughts! sunny days! singing in the shower!), but I've also discovered that I NEED to be in routine myself in order to function well as a mother and homemaker, and to then create routine for the kids. 
    • Morning routine:
      • Breakfast, getting "dressed and ready for the day" which involves getting dressed, making beds, tidying up bedrooms, brushing teeth and hair, and washing faces. 
      • The better I am at getting ready and going before the kids, the better they are at this! My natural tendency is to drink coffee in my pajamas for as long as I can, but then my morning is far less productive and the kids are far less cooperative, so I am doing my best to be disciplined in this area. 
    • Chores:
      • Besides their bedrooms, we have "kitchen chores" that we do together each morning - clearing the table, unloading the dishwasher, sweeping the floor, making sure the hallway is tidied. They each have a little part to play in this. 
      • A month or two ago I made a "chore chart" which has chores for the kids AND myself on it. Each day we essentially focus on a different "zone" - the kids have their work to do, and I have mine. This has worked well, since it's all laid out, with pictures for what the kids need to do. 
      • We don't give rewards for basic chores. Instead, I'm trying to instill in them the idea that we all need to work together to keep the house clean and tidy, that we all have a valuable part to play, and that we do it because we love our home and we all enjoy when things are "in order." If they don't do their chores, they don't move on to the next thing, which is usually a snack! 
      • The kids are more positive and productive now that this "habit" is getting fairly well established. It just becomes part of what we do, and so there is less resistance. 
    • We don't do things so much by the clock, as much as in a certain order. There are certain time stamps we try to hit though, to keep things going smoothly. For example. all chores must be done before morning snack, which usually falls between 10:00-10:30.

Outdoor Play
  • One of the big reasons I wanted Arden to be home for kindergarten was to give her (and Jack) lots of time to play outside. I believe that extended interaction and play with the "real" world of nature outside is one of the best things for kids this age! 
    • Personally, I tend to prioritize outdoor play over "school" time, at least for now. I am happy to see them playing outside, getting lots of exercise and fresh air, exploring our yard, and coming up with their own play. 
      • For this reason, on any given day, "schooly" activities will often be shortened or even skipped altogether if the kids are happy outside. 
      • When our morning routine is running smoothly, however, the kids usually have time to get ready for the day, do their chores, and have a good hour or so outside before we start "schoolwork." They often go out again in the afternoon. 
    • The kids are getting good at playing outside together by themselves within the boundaries we've defined. This gives me time to get other chores or things done inside.
  • Outside together:
    • We try to spend time all together outside too: walks in the woods (all seasons), playing on the swingset, exploring the riverside, having backyard picnics, bringing books to read outside on the front porch or on a blanket, bonfires with Dad
  • Working outside:
    • Helping Mom with gardening, helping Dad with chickens (all year) and pigs (summer), carrying small pieces of firewood, hanging or bringing in laundry from the line

Enjoying Good Literature

  • One of the "anchors" of our day is our read-aloud time, after lunch and before quiet time.
    • Usually the kids each get to pick a book, either from our shelves, the "learning basket" (books that cover a theme we may be looking at, everything from foxes to Thanksgiving to snowflakes), or the library basket, where we stash our weekly haul. Sometimes I will pick one too, or we'll do a whole bunch!
    • We have sometimes done chapter books in this time slot, but the kids still really love the picture books, and I am just fine with that. There are so many wonderful picture books out there! 
  • Chapter books
    • So far we've read Old Mother West Wind, The Hundred DressesThe Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (our 12 days of Christmas read), and now are about halfway through Paddington. (We started Little House on the Prairie, but ended up doing something else partway through.) I haven't found the ideal regular time to do chapter books yet. Sometimes we do them at regular read-aloud time, sometimes at bedtime. 
  • Poetry
    • We usually do poetry along with morning or afternoon snack time. 
    • So far we've read When We Were Very Young, skipped around various children's collections including A Child's Garden of Verses, and now we've settled into Now We Are Six
    • Over Advent we included poetry memorization along with our "together time" during school. We did "The Christ Child" by GK Chesterton, and it went over well, so I think I will keep including a short poem to memorize in that part of our day. 

"School Time"

Arden was quite excited to officially be starting "school" this year. So even though I believe our whole day is opportunity for education, and that we are continually learning from all of life, on most days we set aside time for our "schoolwork." I didn't want to spend a lot of time with formal, desktop learning, but Arden is ready for some short lessons of that nature, and enjoys our learning activities. (We are trying to follow a Charlotte Mason approach in general. I am still learning!)

We do our "schoolwork" in our music room/library. I wasn't sure how we would work this out, as we have a nice bright dining room with a big table, but in the end, we ended up in the other room. It has a piano and other instruments, bookshelves (with Mom's books, kids books, music books, homeschool books), a small table with 2 chairs (I pull up a stool) for the kids to work at, a comfy love seat for reading, and best of all, it's open in the middle with a lovely soft carpet. I think it is a calm and beautiful space for our learning. 

Our school time is basically divided into a few sections: Together Time and Table Time, followed by Reading Time or Rotating Activity Time. (It all sounds so official when I put it that way, ha!)

  • Together Time (we gather together on the carpet)
    • Memory verse (1 or 2 a month) 
    • Hymn (usually 1 a month, with learning 1 new verse a week) 
      • We each have our own hymnbook and sing without accompaniment, though on Mondays we play through the whole hymn with me playing the piano and kids accompanying on various instruments (hand drums, shakers, whistles, harmonicas, etc.). 
    • Poem (we did one for December, but I have yet to pick one for January!)
    • Prayer Time
      • Prayer cards (coloured index cards - each day of the week we pray for a different category (family, neighbours/friends, missionaries we know and our sponsor child, needs in our community, our church)
      • The Lord's Prayer (we memorized this back in the fall, and have continued to include it with our daily prayer time)
    • Bible Story
      • For  awhile we did this at the table, when the Bible story book I was reading came with pictures to colour. With the colouring, it took up quite a bit of time. We've switched to a Bible story book now without the colouring element, and we sit and read together on the couch.

    • "Exercises"
      • The kids love this part! We do stretching, jumping jacks (and practice counting to 20), and whatever exercises the kids feel like doing or making up (right now, lots of somersaults). They get all their wiggles out, and then we are ready to head to the table.
  • Table Time
    • Writing: Letter practice
      • So far Arden has been more motivated to write than to read, so we decided to get a book to work through for her to learn to form the letters properly. We are using the Getty-Dubay Italics program, working our way through the first book. (Usually one letter a day.)
    • Writing or Reading practice (alternating days right now)
      • Extra writing practice: copying a few words from our memory verse or hymn, writing out a few words we are trying to learn by sight, making a card for someone, or she will write a little story in her book while I tell her how to spell all the words. It may take 2 minutes or 20 minutes, depending on the activity!
        • We recently introduced a large, shallow plastic tub filled with rice for more tactile letter practice, and it's been a big hit. 
        • We also do "sky writing" where we practice writing the letters as big as we can in the air. 
      • Reading: We are taking a slow, fun-and-games approach to this. She is familiar with most letter sounds by now, and is just starting to get the hang of blending short vowels and consonants. Some things we do for fun:
        • I made up some simple letter tiles with cut up index cards (vowels are a different colour than consonants), and we've played around with these. 
        • Right now, a little chalkboard is a big hit, and we are just getting into blending sounds so she can read simple 2 and 3 letter words on the chalkboard. 
        • We also borrowed the first few "Bob Books" from a friend, and are practicing with these. 
    • "Schoolbook"
      • When Arden asks for her "schoolbook," what she means is one of our Rod and Staff preschool/kindergarten workbooks. I got some of these last year, which we did as an activity together. She knew another little girl who was doing those books for "school," and so that's what they became known as. We might do a page, or a few pages, depending on the day. Some days we don't take it out at all. We are in the 4th book right now. Much of this is getting too easy for her, but she still finds it fun. The other little issue is that the letter practice part of it doesn't quite match with the italics method we are learning, so I will adjust or skip over some of those pages. 
    • The 3 year old:
      • While Arden does her lessons, he has colouring books, other pictures to colour, a notebook to draw in, and a notebook to "write" in, where I trace letters for him to copy (he's been the one asking for this), scissor practice paper, look and find books, etc. 
After these language based activities, we may grab some books to read from the Learning Basket, or move on to one of our rotating activities.

  • Rotating Activities:
    • Music - I'll play the piano and they play other instruments, and we do hymns or other songs together. Sometimes we put on classical, folk, or fiddle music and dance and sing along.
    • Math - My basic approach to math for this year is that it is part of everyday life - counting, adding, subtracting, baking, recognizing numbers on signs, learning how to use a calendar, reading a clock, etc. Some days we will sit at the table for a "math activity," including:
      • Counting pennies to 100. We have a jar with 100 pennies we can count out, and put on a chart that has numbers up to 100. 
      • Coins. Different coins to become familiar with the values. 
      • Clock book. We look at a book with moveable clock hands to practice time telling.
      • Calendar - at the beginning of each month I have Arden fill in the name of the month and the dates on her own calendar page.
    • Nature Study
      • Fair weather: In fairer fall weather we took our whole "school time" down to the pond at the end of the road on Wednesdays, and did a version of things there, along with our official "nature study," which usually involved finding something interesting and drawing it, and perhaps looking it up in one of our handbooks. 
      • General resources: nature handbooks (birds, wildflowers, shells, shore life, trees), magnifying glasses, binoculars, books from the library, nature notebooks (for kids to draw in), and a natural sense of curiosity!
    • Games/puzzles
      • Various assortment!

In the afternoons when we are home, we have read-aloud time, quiet time (an hour where they can rest or play quietly by themselves), snack, and then either free play/outside play, or maybe another activity together (baking, craft). Usually one afternoon a week we go to town for shopping and errands, and we spend half the morning on Thursdays at our local library where they have a story time, so that day looks a little different too. 

So, that is a detailed update of what our home education life has been like! 

Overall I'm happy with our progress and what we've been able to do together. There are definitely days that drive me crazy, but lots of days where I am so thankful for this opportunity I have to be home with the kids. I've been able to identify some of my weaknesses and areas I need to work on as a mom/teacher, and that has been both humbling and challenging. The kids are thriving, and Arden has said on many occasions that she wants to homeschool "for all the grades," so I take that as a sign that she is enjoying things too. :) 

With a new little one arriving in March, I know that will definitely change the rhythm of our days, but I'm hoping we will have enough of a framework in place so that whether or not we get to all or any of our "school" activities, we'll be able to keep some stability. Our focus then will shift to learning about life with a new baby! 

Monday, January 4, 2016

Advent Presentation

At the end of our Advent/Christmas season of homeschooling, we put together a little presentation to show Daddy. The kids chose their own "fancy clothes" and were quite pleased to show Daddy what they had learned.

On the program:

Memory Verse: Isaiah 9:6 (KJV)

Poem: "The Christ-Child" by G.K. Chesterton

Songs: "Away in a Manger" & "Joy to the World"

After their little recitations, we got our all the instruments and had a family carol sing together. The kids had a fun time singing, making noise on the drums, harmonicas and whistles, and dancing around. It was a great way to finish off the season!

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