Thursday, October 6, 2011

2 weeks in 1: Knowing What Your Child Can Handle

We've started doing two weeks in one as far as the official Sonlight P4/5 with Kindergarten Readers curriculum goes. My decision to do this is based on Gilgamesh's incredibly fast progress, and his recent boredom with some of the busy work.

The funny thing about busy work is that it's not busy work unless you already know the material. Otherwise, it's just called practice. But there's nothing more frustrating for a child than being forced to do worksheet after worksheet of tedious stuff he knows backwards and forwards.... except perhaps being forced to do work that's too advanced. Either way is not good.

That's what I love about homeschooling. Who knows a child better than his mother? Especially during the early years of life! Mom-as-teacher can look at progress/past work/attitude and determine what would best motivate and facilitate learning in her child. So that's what I did.

Gilgamesh is reading at a first grade level.

Let me just say that again because I'm really proud of him:

Gilgamesh is reading at a first grade level... at four and a half years old.

I already knew he was doing amazingly well when he started asking me about apostrophes and contractions and pointing out commas whenever he found them. But Sonlight has a nifty little Quick Reading Assessment on their website. The word lists are representative of words the public school children in each grade are reading.

When I saw that they were recommending the first grade readers for Gilgamesh, I was 1) super proud and 2) really not that surprised, considering he's already reading the kindergarten readers fluently. The next steps in reading are some of the most challenging with hard-to-remember rules and big words that take some serious sounding out, but Gilgamesh will soon be ready. He's not yet, which is why I chose to accelerate the current curriculum rather than abandon it.

Since the very light preschool program we're using doesn't actually do math and definitely doesn't bog down the preschool mind, we're perfectly fine in reading more material each day and doing more writing practice. The increased rate of practice has been great for Gilgamesh, since it's always new, and kids (at least mine) love novelty. We're still doing art projects, reading about natural science, and looking things up on youtube and Google images when he's curious, so there's no feeling of being rushed, really.

But we are covering two weeks of the curriculum in one, so by his fifth birthday, he'll be all set to start Sonlight's Core A (kindergarten) with Grade 1 Readers. I'm very excited for him because of his pure love of learning. Anybody who thinks I'm pushing him to read earlier would be dead wrong. Everything he does, reading-wise, is his idea. But I definitely prepped the soil.

Here's what I have done:

  • Insisted on reading aloud with him every day, whether it's a chapter from a chapter book or several picture books.
  • Let him point out the sight words he'd been learning on the pages of actual books.
  • Purchased and used Phonics readers (Disney makes these, and so do the merchandisers of just about every kid show you can dream of, like Dora, Diego, Cat in the Hat, etc.) We got ours at Costco for under ten bucks.
  • Exposed him early and often to TV and videos that encourage reading: Super Why (Super Readers), Word World, Meet the Letters, Meet the Sight Words 1, 2, and 3, Leapfrog Letter Factory, Word Factory, etc.
  • Kept flashcards in the house and wasn't afraid to use them.
  • Let him see me reading. Encouraged his dad to let the boys see him reading.
  • Talked about new books like they were ice cream.
The rest was all him. My natural love of books shines through in my life and attitudes. That added to kids' general natural curiosity and desire to be like the adults in their lives combines to create fertile soil for learning to read. 

I'm not saying we've never had struggles, like letter reversal, dropping beginning consonants while sounding out words, or sounding out the first few letters only to guess haphazardly at the whole word (that's my favorite). Everybody has challenges while they learn to read. I'm just grateful for Gilgamesh's natural love of learning and intense interest in the written word. I recognize not all children are built like him. I hope this little list is encouraging to parents who aren't sure how to proceed with introducing their kids to reading. My suggestion: dive into the deep end and keep swimming. Kids are hardwired to learn language. The time is now. 

[end inspirational speech]

Most of all, remember that as a super-involved parent, only you and your spouse know what's best for your child. If it's skipping the first grade to go into third, ignore the judgers. If it's taking it super slow to make sure he has a stable foundation for the rest of his life, ignore the judgers. Focus on what you know is right, and if it's not as clear as a bell...

Prayer works.

Good luck and enjoy!

What does Interest-Led education mean?

From a blog called Interest-Led Learning comes a post including FIFTEEN top blogs for homeschool ideas. The connecting link? All these blogs follow an interest-led lifestyle in different ways and to differing degrees.

So what does interest-led mean in terms of education? I guess it's pretty self-explanatory... except that everyone does it differently. Like the concept of "unschooling," people take this concept and make it truly their own. That's one of the big things I love about homeschooling.

One person might consider their homeschool interest-led because they let their children choose and plan their own class titles (Bohemian History, underwater basket-weaving, or German Language Studies). Others think in order to be truly interest-led, you have to let the kids do it all. Just leave their schedule wide open to explore the world and see where their curiosity takes them.

Being a bit of a hippy at heart, this appeals to me. But if you've read my tabs across the top of this page then you know I'm also deeply in love with classical education philosophy. That means memorizing things during the "Grammar" years (grades 1-4), learning Logic next, and finally Rhetoric to tie it all together. It also includes old books (not text books), heavy doses of literature, and classic languages, both dead and alive (Latin, Greek, Hebrew).

I had fun perusing the links in the article linked above. I found an interesting mix of nomadic hippies and people like me with a curriculum that's supplemented by curiosity-led or interest-led bonuses.

We are currently using Sonlight's P4/5 (preschool for four and five-year-olds), but Gilgamesh will often take a special interest in one idea or another, even something I've only barely mentioned... like the algae in the Berenstain Bears' Big Science and Nature Book. He'll also request to redo things we've already done, like in the same book: "Can we look at the frogs again?"

For math, this is often self-directed or interest-led. He does and is learning place values, addition, and subtraction. But he learns even more when he decides to do addition and subtraction on his own (like when he's playing with his play parking cones, adding and taking away one at a time and using the terminology he learned on starfall).

Art is something I seldom have to plan because he'll find something he wants to do in the books we read or the videos he watches. Someone will fly a kite and he'll say, "Let's make a kite!" Or we'll read in his Dictionary about M words, and he'll say, "I want to make a mask." More frequently, he'll see an idea or picture that inspires a crayon and pencil picture.

Everyone does interest-led so differently. I'm grateful for all the bloggers out there sharing their experiences and resources. It's incredible the wealth of information available for the taking, if I'm just willing and motivated to delve a little. Like I've said before, the homeschool classroom has no walls. Just the world, baby.

How do you translate interest-led learning?

Berenstain Bears Paper Dolls with Seasonal Outfits

When I find something awesome, I have to share. I'm hardwired this way. Hence, this homeschool blog. :)

Today I found this: Berenstain Bears Paper Dolls with Seasonal Outfits

They're free to download and print. We like to turn ours into laminated magnets instead of using the flimsy little tabs. After all, I'm raising knights. They are not gentle on paper products.

The cool thing about these Paper Dolls is

a) they use a familiar bear family that kids associate with fun learning
b) they include outfits and accessories for every season!! (swimming for summer, gardening for spring, coats for winter, pajamas, Sunday clothes, baseball uniforms)

Here's a peek at the double-sided paper dolls...


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Detective Kid - Links for your own Little Sherlock

We listened to this audio story at The Friend, from January 2010. It's about a young detective who asks his mother to borrow a small mirror for his detective kit (he already has the hat, the flashlight, and the magnifying glass to look for clues, but he needs a mirror to see around corners). It slips out of his pocket and he kneels on it, accidentally breaking it. The story is about honesty and eventually he tells his mom the truth about how the mirror broke.

This story got Gilgamesh really excited about playing detective. We happen to have a magnifying glass, small children's flashlight, and cheap-o mirror for him to use. But today I realized I have no idea how to guide him in playing detective. And he needs a little guidance. He wants to play, but has no idea how to begin.

We're doing two things about this:

1. Looking up detective stories for children. 

2. Consulting the internet for home detective games:

TLC Detective Games for Kids - includes instructions for an invisible ink secret message game, periscope game, and suggests using literature to "solve" classic mysteries with a notebook, basically taking notes during a mystery.

Wiki How: How to Be a Good Detective - actually just some fun ideas for kids to get into the spirit, including wearing dark clothes and finding a fort, rallying their friends, etc.

Blue's Clues Ghost Hunt - is an online game for 4-6-year-olds. Not exactly what I had in mind, but might be fun.

PBS History Detectives Kids - a website with links to more free online games for kids, including How Old is This House and I-Spy with Magnifying Glass. And a printable detective kit.

Party Games - an exhaustive list of party games with instructions on how to play with friends! Some of these have a detective flair to them, like I-Spy and Mafia.

We'll probably end up doing treasure hunts until he's a little older. Many of the resources I found involve complicated logic tests.

We did buy The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (a kid's version) illustrated by Lucy Corvino. From reading this aloud together, he'll see the amazing deductions Holmes reaches that wow Watson all the time. :)

A note on reading aloud with a four-year-old and two-year-old: Just like I mentioned in an earlier post, children will always surprise you with what they learn when you think they aren't listening. You never know when they'll grasp onto something you're teaching. That's why repetition is so important. In reading aloud, I've already found that my wanderlusting preschooler rushes back to the couch to see the book when he hears an interesting visual described. He wants to see the picture, but what he's learning is that he can already see the picture of what I'm describing in his own mind. He's building his imagination each time I read aloud, without me having to do anything extra.

As he gets better at listening and forming these mental images, I'll make it more of a habit to ask him to narrate back to me what happened in the story, as suggested in The Well-trained Mind, the perfect segue into classic book reports. For now, I'm happy to see him running over to see if there's a picture to check against his own mental image.

Good luck with your own little detective adventures!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Pocket Chart in Action

So it was a while ago that I bought this awesome Pocket Chart at Michaels. We've been winging it with our subjects in mind for some time now. The other night, I finally put times on the cards and ordered them according to our usual day's progression.

First thing in the morning, breakfast and family prayer before Daddy goes to work

8:00am Scriptures: Yesterday we read chapter 12 in the New Testament Stories for Children and today we read chapter 13. That's the story of Jesus' first miracle (water to wine) and the story of Jesus cleansing the temple, respectively.

I found some amazing pictures to print out and laminate for next time we go over this story. That's the great thing about preschool. I'm making resources I'll use with all my children.

8:30am Writing: We used to print out writing practice pages for Gilgamesh, but he also wrote down his own words. He prefers to do this because writing between the lines isn't as fun for him. :) We're working on that. On a tiny note card, he wrote "I love you too so much."

Writing transitions nicely into...

9:15am Art: Yesterday Gilgamesh made up his own art project of tracing his hands, counting his fingers, and coloring the palms orange. He showed me his own palm and said, "My hand is orange." Today, he colored a page full of letters, following the instructions to color the A's orange and all the other letters black (except we used purple because we couldn't find black).

10:00am Math: We did Candy Factory, which introduces the concept of places, like the hundreds place, the tens place, and the ones place. When you count up to 9 by ones (candy canes), and try to add one more, they'll tell you it doesn't fit in the bucket and then wrap all ten candy canes with a ribbon. Then they'll try to fit the bunch into the tens bucket, where it fits nicely. Once he got 9 bunches of ten in the tens bucket, a new bucket was rolled out: the HUNDREDS bucket! After that, Gilgamesh had a blast adding candy canes until he reached 999. When he added that last candy cane to the ones bucket, we watched the candy canes bunch up, move over, bunch up again, and finally all ten bunches of 100 danced around with a giant 1000 and confetti. A very fun intro to high numbers and places. After that, I made up a quick page of random numbers like 537, 421, 201, etc. so we could practice saying them aloud. He wanted to say "five, three, seven." We worked on saying "five hundred thirty seven." He didn't master this concept today because this was just an intro, but I'm very glad we found such a fun way to practice.

11:00am Lunch

11:30am Naps

3:30pm Music: Baby Loves Jazz, Ella the Elephant Scats Like That book/CD, dancing with instruments, singing along

4:00pm Reading, Science, Social Studies: Right now, our reading overlaps with social studies and science since Gilgamesh is so interested in his body books and most of our Sonlight books include great examples of social studies, fables, and other countries. But yesterday we read A Pocket Guide to Rocks & Minerals.

page 46 has Malachite, a stunning picture of a rough green, crystalline stone that looks like this when polished:

Gilgamesh saw this and immediately wanted it. He lost some interest when I told him we weren't buying it. :) But we did learn that malachite was used from antiquity to about 1800 as a crucial element in green paint. It's also been used quite a bit in the jewelry trade, and you can find malachite boxes that are very beautiful (and expensive). It was extracted from King Solomon's Mines for over three thousand years. It isn't used in green paint anymore, but still very popular in jewelry and metaphysical healing. It's found in Russia's Ural mountains, Democratic Republic of Congo, Namibia, Mexico, Australia, England, France, Israel, and the USA.

Then we cracked open Presidents and Prophets: The Story of America's Presidents and the LDS Church.

Presidents & Prophets. The Story of America's Presidents and the LDS Church

We read about James Monroe, who was the president from the time the prophet Joseph Smith, Jr. was eleven years old until he was nineteen. James Monroe died one year after the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Later prophets touted his Monroe Doctrine as a crucial pillar of keeping the young nation of America free from Europe's interference and allowing the young Church of Jesus Christ to be organized and (largely) protected. Even though there were mob persecutions later on, and the next president wasn't interested in going against Missouri's execution order for all Mormons (because he'd lose the Missouri vote), the Church was allowed to continue out West in spite of persecution because of the principles of freedom of religion then unique to America.

This was a great beginning for such a book, and I'm looking forward to the rest of it. It offers a unique view of Church history, one from the White House. :)

We also read a few stories from the Lion Bedtime Story Book, one about a famine-stricken land saved by a clever mouse who finds a store of wheat in an underground cellar, and one about a tiger who gets stuck trying to trick the rabbit in his own hidey-hole. Gotta love those simple stories and fables with a moral!

In between the schedule and the last evening item on the pocket chart is our memory scripture:

Gilgamesh has that down pat, including the reference. It's awesome.

And the last item is Kinect with Daddy, in the event that Daddy gets home at a decent time before bedtime and the boys have eaten dinner. Evenings are crazy at our house. (I'm sure we're not the only ones.) Last night, he didn't get to do this because we went out to eat instead, which was plenty of exercise (you try holding hands with a four-year-old and two-year-old across a busy parking lot). Hee hee. 

So it was a great day yesterday and today we're doing okay, too. We're actually having a bit of an attitude problem, but it's getting better. We said a prayer to help Mommy to have patience, and the boys to be obedient, and it's definitely getting better. 

Gilgamesh just got out the vacuum cleaner (the big one) and asked if it was time to clean the house yet. So here we go! I'm off to help Gilgamesh clean the house. (Yesterday both boys fought over helping me load the dishwasher.)

I love my family. I'm grateful for the ability to teach them at home. And the pocket chart is awesome. 

The end.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

An Encouraging Week 9/6 - 9/14

My four-year-old is a genius

For me, personally, it's been a weird week. Just feeling ill, achy and low energy and having to force myself to get out of bed in the morning. My car accident injury is flaring up again, and I'm struggling. I know this too shall pass. But it's frustrating. I'd like to be on my A game all the time.

So why is the title of this blog post An Encouraging Week? Because my kids are so amazing. All children are amazing. It's been very encouraging to see how well they've learned with me putting out minimal effort. Not that I want to give up on my A game, obviously. But it's great to see that they learn even when I'm being the substitute teacher rather than the, ahem, shining example of an educator I usually am. *polishes nails* Hee hee.

So here are some of the things we did this week that weren't amazing, but worked nonetheless.

I discovered Baby Loves Jazz!!!

Ella Elephant Scats Like That: Baby Loves Jazz

 It was so reasonably priced on amazon, I ordered our first one, Ella the Elephant Scats Like That, right away. We got it in two days and started using it immediately. We've listened to it every day by popular request.

This is one of the real joys of being a parent: introducing your kids to something you love. In this case, jazz. Scat, in particular, makes me all kinds of happy. And a well-voiced female scat-singer makes this Baby Loves Jazz book/CD super quality.

At first when I put it in, Gilgamesh didn't want to sit down with the book and listen to the CD. He wanted to watch TV. Blah. But I insisted the CD would stay in and the TV off. Gilgamesh didn't sit with me, but once the music got going, Alastor, the two-year-old, started to dance. I love this about him. He just soaks up good music.

So Alastor starts dancing, and I get the idea of giving him some percussion instruments (bells, tambourine, drum, xylophone, maracas). I hand him one and one to Gilgamesh, keeping one for myself.

And we dance. Two times through the CD.

When Daddy got home, we listened to it again. My kids learned about jazz, scat, and the jazz instruments showcased in the book: drums, bass, trumpet, piano, and voice. On the last page, all the instruments play together. The whole thing is kid-friendly and high quality, with songs like "Peanut Butter and Jelly" and "Do Your Ears Hang Low." I even heard Gilgamesh singing "Peanut Butter and Jelly (That's What I Put in My Belly)" randomly yesterday while he colored. I highly recommend this book/CD, and hope to review the entire collection as we acquire it. If I could find a similar program for classical music, I'd be thrilled. Please put your recommendations in the comments. :)

Another thing we repeated this week was the digestive system section of The Usborne Flip Flap Body Book from Sonlight's curriculum.

Flip Flap Body Book (Flip Flaps)

At the end of each page is a flap that reveals yet more colorful illustrations and simple explanations for body parts and systems. Gilgamesh has gotten this book off the shelf no less than three times this week and insisted upon reading it with me. On Sunday, he drew a picture of his body with the "food tube" going all the way from his mouth to the toilet. :) How's that for demonstrating mastery? There's even a little quiz at the end of each section (very easy, suitable for kindergarten age kids). It's more of a review, really. Since he also has a Cat-in-the-Hat-themed body book (which I reviewed here), he got that one out and compared. And there's a third Body Book, which we call the Scary Body Book, because the cover has a hologram on the front that changes between a smiling x-ray of a skeleton and a brain-and-muscle-covered face with eyeballs. Very accurate, and thus, very scary. The actual title of this book is Encyclopedia of the Human Body: Begin to discover the human body.

Apparently it's a DK Eyewitness book, from that collection, though it doesn't say that anywhere on the cover. I recommend it, though it's not targeted at Gilgamesh's age group. It's significantly more complex than the Flip Flap Body Book, which you would expect from anything labeled Encyclopedia. The only reason, truthfully, that I bought this book was because it was $6.99 at TJ Maxx near the checkout and I'm always hunting for great deals on books. But, as often happens with my TJ Maxx impulse book buys, I've been very impressed by the quality of this tome. On page 113, the digestive section begins in full color, photographs and illustrated diagrams, scientific medical terms for body parts, and fun details, like how much an elephant eats and for how long (20 hours A DAY!!!) - very compelling stuff. (That's almost as many hours as a koala sleeps! Aren't you glad we aren't elephants or koalas! There would be no time for watching TV.)

So this week, we learned from all three body books with a focus on the digestive system. Like any kid, Gilgamesh is fascinated by his body, particularly the waste part. :) These types of resources capitalize on that
right from the beginning so he knows his body is interesting and complex (in a good way) and not something boring to be dreaded (anatomy class, biology class in high school and junior high respectively).

Gilgamesh has three working binders for preschool. Well, not exactly working binders. Two of them are working. The other is just a collection:

blue binder: best of his art
orange binder: Sonlight weekly instructor guides/schedules with applicable worksheet papers
black binder: printables, entire Listening and Writing Book printed out. The focus right now is on rhyming words, and hearing the beginning and ending sounds of things. He's also tracing and copying the letters, both capital and lower-case.

There's undoubtedly a more efficient way to keep track of what he's doing, and I hope to streamline it by the time he's five and a half, when we'll start actual Kindergarten curriculum. No worries, I'll tackle it.

For now, though, this system works. Gilgamesh knows when he wants to do something out of the orange binder (mostly read aloud assignments with a few papers for copying and move-around activities), and when he wants to do some papers from the black binder. Throughout this week, he'd request things when he wanted to do them.

I have a personal rule, even when I'm feeling ill. I never turn him down when he a) wants to read a book with me (unless it's a Leapfrog Tag Pen book b/c it's like watching somebody play a video game and really something he's mean to do independently) or b) when he asks specifically for printables. Usually, he'll ask for this by saying, "Can we print something?" He equates the printer with activities. :) Good thing, I guess.

Counting occurs as a regular course. I don't think we could get through a day without counting something. It's just too tempting for a little guy who knows how. Telling time is the same way. We talk about the clock and calendar every single day. More complex math, like addition and subtraction, is still an occasional thing, and something I hope to do more in his Kindergarten curriculum next year (most likely Saxon Math for Homeschoolers). For now, he's still learning the correct way to write a two and how it's different from a five. He does watch Math videos from Leapfrog and sing the songs, as well.

Writing happens naturally, too. I don't think I could keep Gilgamesh from writing. His little brother Alastor even gets in on the game, scribbling circles and hash marks on his page and saying the names of the letters he's pretending to write. Difference is, of course, that Gilgamesh actually is writing letters. In fact, he's become quite ambitious. Today, he wrote me a little story. It went like this:

Help the Dog said (originally written sed) yesterday (originally written yedray) to swim.
(All other words spelled correctly the first time.)

You can see what we're working on now: spelling, vocabulary, and sentence structure - all without a textbook. There's definite room for improvement, but, um, he's four! I'm pretty excited about this new interest in narrating and hope it translates into journaling in the near future. In fact, I already have a special diary (with Toy story people on the front) that locks with a key, and a giant toy story pen, that will be one of his back to school presents for Kindergarten. If he keeps improving and boldly experimenting at this rate, he'll be able to write simple records of his day in his diary within the year. I still have the journal I started (thanks, Mom) when I was six years old. The spellings are... creative. But the content is priceless.

So this is pretty much how we got through the past week. I kept track of some of it in his binders, and other things are just *gasp* stuff he learned without documenting it.

The closer we get to the day I actually have to file an affidavit with the state and start keeping transcripts, the more I (just slightly) panic. But I have a few previously reviewed library books I intend to look up as the time draws nearer that include everything you could ever need to know about homeschool transcripts. I know when these babies are done right, they help homeschoolers get into prestigious and competitive colleges (if that's what they want to do).

You're looking at the girl who wrote in her journal every single day her freshman year of high school. I can keep records. It's just a matter of - what else? - discipline.

How was your week? Learn anything life-changing?

More of our pics from the past week:

Gilgamesh doing his thing with the foam letters.  There's only one of each letter, so after this he got creative, substituting G for O, etc.

Alastor burned himself on the fire pit at the reunion. We didn't know this until the next morning because he was so cool about it (and it was dark). I swear there's a pain threshold disparity in this family. My boys are super tough. You can't see it, but he's actually pouting in this pic. Not because his burn hurts... because he doesn't want a bandaid.

Gilgamesh and I had a nature expedition in the place we call The Garden. He took all the pictures.

Except for this one.

Jasmine: my favorite flowering bush (or vine)

A spider web in the fern

There were many more nature pics. It was a great little intro to nature photography/digital photography. :)

Alastor hiding under the chair doily Aunt Aubrey crocheted.
Hiding and playing "Get me" (which is suspiciously similar to tag) are his favorite things right now.

My knights all together before bed

Gilgamesh's idea of a drive-in theatre. His words, not mine: "They're watching a Dora movie."

Gilgamesh took this picture, too. This is where I sit while the boys play independently, and Gilgamesh brings me his papers to check or to show off, as the case may be. Notice the stacks of books everywhere...

*happy sigh* I have a feeling next week will be even better.

Children are amazing

Photo from

Children are amazing. If anybody out there is having doubts about a kid's capacity to learn (and to love it), please research homeschooling. There are thousands of blogs out there (much better equipped than mine) to demonstrate how it's done. These are the resources that gave me both the hope and courage to teach my own kids the things they need and want to know.


I saw smiling kids holding up homemade projects they did almost entirely by themselves and realized with admiration that those were genuine smiles and complex projects that taught them a ton. I remembered my own first projects, including a cut and pasted map of the world where instead of memorizing the country names and positions, I was admonished by my fifth grade social studies teacher to make sure I used the side of my colored pencil and ONLY COLOR IN ONE DIRECTION. Yes, she yelled that last bit. Presentation was more important to her than social studies - than our actual learning. Seeing these other families thrive in their homeschool efforts buoyed me up and gave me hope that my children could do a similar map exercise (but maybe with food or clay) and really learn. Without anybody criticizing their burgeoning art skills.


I saw difficult times. Parenting is not a picnic. Well, homeschooling is parenting on steroids. There are golden, euphoric moments when you think, "I am the luckiest person alive." And there are those times when the proverbial poop hits the carpet (or maybe not so proverbial) and you think, "I am a horrible parent and my kids are little monsters." Reading the blogs of other families showed me the light and dark moments in their lives, and prepared me for the burn-out, the lazy tendencies we all have, and the stress of keeping all the balls in the air.

We're only in preschool, although at times Gilgamesh is doing Kindergarten grade stuff. I know we're just biting off the first layer of the jawbreaker, and I'm perfectly content to be in that position. Because I also know I'll just keep learning alongside them. We'll try methods or curricula that fail for us, and we'll get back up and try something else. We'll have days when it seems like nobody learned anything valuable.

But they are learning.

Today, Gilgamesh saw me playing with Alastor and his mini stone collection from Disneyland's Grizzly River Gift Shop. He got up from playing (basically abandoned the shiny technology) to investigate these polished stones with his magnifying glass. The rocks are beautiful and enticing, just the sort of objects I was attracted to as a child (um, and still am). Suddenly, Gilgamesh's eyes lit up and he said, "Do trees turn into stone? You said that, right?"

My jaw didn't drop or anything, but I was surprised. He remembered me pointing out petrified wood at the Botanical Gardens in San Diego's Balboa Park! He'd been manic that day, jumping off the walls and making me nervous for the plants and people surrounding us.

But he'd heard me. In that bustling, noisy moment, something I'd said interested him enough for him to remember. Petrified wood.

I took the moment to reinforce that yes, old, old trees did turn to stone, but not all stone came from trees. Some of it came from dirt compacted really tightly together or from erupting volcanoes. We talked about how some rocks are really hard and others are fragile and can break easily. And we talked about all the different colors. I pointed out they were naturally colored that way, not painted. We didn't go into depth about igneous rocks, or cleavage or specific hardness scales. There's time for that later. But I watched my boys play with stones together. Just rocks. Two boys playing on the floor with colorful rocks.

It was this simple moment that reinforced for me how natural learning occurs. It's all them. We're merely facilitators.

Children are amazing.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Day at a Glance 9/6/11

After Labor Day weekend, Gilgamesh has really jumped feet-first into home learning. It's been inspiring to see how much he seems to have missed the writing and drawing. He learned stuff while we were away, like at the Festival of Sail in San Diego where we got to tour historic tall sail ships and a U.S. submarine. But he seems so comfortable back home with all his school supplies, showing me his words and asking me how to spell more complicated ones. Today he wrote Queen by himself and then asked for help in writing Cookie. 

Here are a few more things he did on his own today:

Gilgamesh's Independent learning this morning:

  • made alphabet "cards" - letters in squares, then cut them out.

  • copied down the vowels (A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y) three times, twice by pencil, once by foam letters.
  • Built words with foam letters while watching Word World

  • Wrote down a series of words in pencil.

  • picked out a few Leapfrog learning videos

with Mom:

  • Listened to a 7-year-old Australian kid play Flight of the Bumblebee and get praised.

  • Listened to an older man sing an opera song from Les Mis.
  • Alastor went through the flash alphabet and repeated a few things: "A, a, apple." and "I, i, igloo." He also did a few letter sounds. He especially likes, 'T.'
  • Gilgamesh did nine whole 'papers' in the Starfall Listening and Writing book about the sounds of words.
  • We read Uncle Wiggily and the Tame Squirrel, which made Gilgamesh want ice cream like the kids had at their party. Then we made a fruit smoothie and enjoyed it. :) 
  • We also did the Move and Jump activity suggested in the Sonlight curriculum. We hopped like frogs (Gilgamesh got out the foam letters and spelled FROG without any prompting from me). Alastor did his first somersault ever. He looked really surprised when he ended up on his back. :) We also practiced jumping and landing with our feet both apart and together. A precursor to jumping jacks? The boys loved it. 
Yesterday, upon returning from our family reunion over Labor Day weekend, Gilgamesh went right back into school stuff. Monday, he wrote a whole bunch of words on a piece of paper, including rock, tree, and dragon. His first spelling of dragon was 'jagin.' He also wrote 'Hiccup' a la How to Train Your Dragon. Daddy read two stories from

The Lion Storyteller Bedtime Book: The Mouse Deer's Wisdom and The Two Brothers.
  The Lion Storyteller Bedtime Book

My Review: This is one of my favorite Sonlight story books. The stories are short with colorful illustrations and compelling yet simple plots. Great for bedtime or any time. 
When we read The Mouse Deer's Wisdom, we talked about smells. Gilgamesh said his favorite smells are hot dogs and marshmallows. :) In case you were wondering, we did just get back from camping. He counted ten coins into a pot and listened to them clink against the metal just like in the story. We talked again about saving up for the wagon he wants. He's motivated to do extra chores and behave well so he can get more money in his wagon bucket.

We also opened up Things People Do: The Schoolteacher.

 Things People Do

My Review: This is one of those busy books with lots of stuff going on in the illustrations and little words to explain what people are doing. The names of the people in the town of Banilla are pretty funny, like Sue Prano, the music teacher. It's a little too busy for my four-year-old, but would probably be excellent for a slightly older child with a longer attention span. I look forward to looking through it with my son when he's more capable of focusing on the tiny details that make this book so wonderful.
We did the memory verse both yesterday and today:

Genesis 1:1 "In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth." Gilgamesh has begun to beat me to the punch on the last few words. I'll call and he'll repeat most of it, but right after he says 'heaven' he rushes into 'and the earth!' like it's a race. I'm glad he's getting it down by memory. This'll be his first memorized scripture.

Tomorrow, we'll focus on the Language program Sonlight offers: lately we're working on writing down our address and phone number and learning new vocabulary via the Picture Dictionary. I'll have more to say about that tomorrow. Tonight, I'm beat.

I hope your Labor Day was awesome!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Preschool Fun September 1, 2011

This was today's adventure for Gilgamesh:

Leapfrog video: Code Word Caper (blends, silent E)
 Nursery Rhymes: Three Men in a Tub; One Misty, Moisty Morning Uncle Wiggily's Story Book: Uncle Wiggily and the Rich Cat
 Art: Learn to Draw Pixar Collection: Wall-e and Eva.
 Leapfrog video: Math Circus
 BrainQuest Kindergarten cards
 Magnetic bug puzzle by Melissa & Doug
 Foam letters, building words like Boat, Bus, Us, Bike
 Nature walk, leaf rubbings
 Shopping -helped me with the cart

All in all, it was a successful learning day. We're a bit pre-occupied with preparations for hosting a family reunion this weekend. Should be fun to have all the cousins in one place!! 

What are your plans for Labor Day weekend?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Favorites of Sonlight P4/5 Core #1

First up today, I woke to find the boys had already been at their toys under Dad's watch. Gilgamesh had put together his I-Spy Puzzle, and we spent some time searching for the border objects inside the house. He gets so excited when he finds something before I do. 
Gilgamesh took this picture. (He loves digital photography.)

Writing practice: started with Bake, Shut, Wait, (code words from a Leapfrog video) and rhymed words. Cake, Make, Take, Rake, Sake, Shake, Bait, Hut, Nut, But, and later, unrelated, Tent. He wrote all of these words in pencil.

Then he built words with foam letters on his own, mostly the word 'play.' He also (for fun) wrote the entire alphabet on a sheet of paper... twice.

He drew this picture of a clock tower, which I thought was pretty good. It's inspired by the Super Readers (Super Why) episode about the Eraser who went around erasing things like the clock, which people need to know what time it is. Eventually, he sees the error of his ways and only erases mistakes. Often, Gilgamesh will draw a picture of a clock and then either erase it or cross it out to re-enact the show. He'll say, "Oh no! The Eraser erased it!"

Together we sang the My Dad song using this cute printable flip chart.

We talked about honesty per the song's lyrics: "He teaches me that honesty is best in all I do."

And we went over Genesis 1:1, our memory verse.

Then it was on to the books! 

We first copied some pages from and read A Treasury of Mother Goose RhymesWillie Winkie, Dapple Gray, Pat-a-Cake, Little Miss Muffet. They colored the copied pages while I read the rhymes and we talked about how 'wee' means small to the Irish, how 'mire' is the same as 'mud' and how upset Miss Muffet was when she saw that spider.
A Treasury of Mother Goose
Review: I love A Treasury of Mother Goose Rhymes! Each rhyme has illustrations. Most are black and white, but every few pages, they're in full color. The black and white ones are perfect for copying into coloring pages, and the full color ones are fun to look at. The rhymes include pretty much ALL of the ones I remember from my childhood, and some I'd never heard or didn't know entirely. It's a great collection for anyone who plans to read aloud, with her children on her lap or next to her. 

Once the coloring was done, we pretended to be horses like Dapple Gray and (following the Sonlight instructor guide) we gave rides to our stuffed animals. The kids loved being horses and even did a horse race from one door to another.

We took a break from reading to sing The Farmer in the Dell, dancing in a circle and then switching directions with every new addition to the party. They love Ring Around the Rosies, so this was like that times ten.

Eric Carle's Animals Animals
Review: Animals Animals is a delightful collection of Eric Carle's trademark collage artwork depicting all kinds of animals and insects with poems by different authors in the corners of each page. I highly recommend this for teaching both art appreciation and poetry appreciation. Plus, of course, it presents an opportunity to study different creatures, and often inspires more art. For instance, when we read about the peacock, Gilgamesh wanted to draw a peacock. When we read about the platypus, he drew a platypus in a nest just like we'd seen in the youtube video afterward. This book is basically what you make of it, but the art and poetry are above par.

We read Flying Squirrel and then looked up videos on youtube of a flying squirrel in action! 

We learned they are nocturnal and can fly 150 feet from a 50 foot perch. (3 horizontal feet per 1 vertical foot)

Uncle Wiggly's Story Book: Uncle Wiggly and the Poor Dog

Review: Uncle Wiggly's Story Book is... unique. It's not one of my favorites because the style of writing is 1) archaic and 2) informal. The result is an abundance of sentences that don't read well for modern readers. I'll give you an example: 
Oh, he was dreadfully poor, was that dog! 
"That isn't anything," sadly said the bunny rabbit gentleman. The turning around of 'said' and 'sadly' throws me every time. My only other complaint is probably not a fair one, but the stories just don't hold my kids' interest. And I do voices! Maybe it's just that the stories are a little too long or maybe it's the old fashioned language and the lack of brightly colored pictures, but this is not one the boys look forward to. The stories do all have important morals, which makes this one worthwhile. It's just not mind-blowing-ly awesome. If you love old children's books, then you'll appreciate this one more than I have.

We read the last bit of the Almanac, which covers Fall, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Harvest, and Christmas, and then went into the Nature Guide portion, which starts the pages over at 1. The portion of the Nature Guide we read was all about what Nature is and how we use our five senses to experience it. Gilgamesh loves this book!
The Berenstain Bears' Big Book of Science and Nature

Review: The Berenstain Bears' Big Book of Science and Nature is fabulous fun and information all at once! It's like a rhyming, illustrated calendar for the first 64 pages (the Almanac) and then it's a rhyming Nature and Science book for the rest. There's a Nature Walk and a Science Fair, all with the lovable characters my son already knew from a Berenstain Bears video. The illustrations are busy and informative, including things animals really do in nature and ways the bear children can interact with their surroundings. The Nature Walk begins with Papa Bear getting caught in a spider's web just after he told the kids to pay attention to everything around them. Any book that gets my four-year-old son excited about reading and learning is a great book! Put this on your shelf! You won't regret it.

After reading this, we hurried to get dressed for a big shopping night in preparation for a family reunion this Labor Day weekend. Tomorrow, we plan to do more of the Sonlight-suggested activities that go along with the Berenstain Bears' book, including leaf rubbings, calendar creation, and painting the moon in its different phases. We'll also have a couple more Sonlight books to review tomorrow. 

Aside from the usual daily counting, we did no special math today. 

Oh, and my sister passed along a fabulous toddler exercise for learning colors:

You get a bag of colored M&Ms and tell the child if they guess the color right, they get to eat it. If they guess wrong, Mommy (or Daddy) gets to eat it. Ah, candy... the ultimate motivational force. I plan to try this with Alastor soon. He's just begun parroting more, so it might be a little early yet. 

Hope you found something useful among these resources. Holler if you've read any of these books with your kids.

Good Books

Gilgamesh's favorite puzzle. It's an I-Spy type thing where you find the doodads from the margins in the house and yard. Lots of fun even after it's all put together. :) It was a laid back day after yesterday's huge learning haul, and we did lots of puzzles, learning videos, and just plain reading.

I did a bunch of internet research on classical education last night. I was due for a refresher. So I've got some great links to share before I go on about our day.

Schola: Resources for Classical Education - it won't directly link, but the left margin has a link that reads:
4. Resources. Click on that and you'll get the superduper page of links, including Preparing the Young

The Lost Tools of Learning by Dorothy Sayers. 

For we let our young men and women go out unarmed, in a day when armor was never so necessary. By teaching them all to read, we have left them at the mercy of the printed word. By the invention of the film and the radio, we have made certain that no aversion to reading shall secure them from the incessant battery of words, words, words. They do not know what the words mean; they do not know how to ward them off or blunt their edge or fling them back; they are a prey to words in their emotions instead of being the masters of them in their intellects. We who were scandalized in 1940 when men were sent to fight armored tanks with rifles, are not scandalized when young men and women are sent into the world to fight massed propaganda with a smattering of "subjects"; and when whole classes and whole nations become hypnotized by the arts of the spell binder, we have the impudence to be astonished. We dole out lip-service to the importance of education--lip- service and, just occasionally, a little grant of money; we postpone the school-leaving age, and plan to build bigger and better schools; the teachers slave conscientiously in and out of school hours; and yet, as I believe, all this devoted effort is largely frustrated, because we have lost the tools of learning, and in their absence can only make a botched and piecemeal job of it.
She strongly recommends Latin as a Grammar stage subject, so I did a little digging and found this: Getting Started with Latin. I'm seriously considering this, but not for right, right now. Do any of you do Latin as part of your homeschool? What's your experience been?

For history, Greenleaf Press offers books for teaching chronologically, which is crucial to a classical education. The Well-trained Mind suggests four years for each stage, with each cycle increasing in complexity: 

Year 1 (grades 1, 5, and 9): Ancients (5000 B.C. - A.D. 400)
Year 2 (grades 2, 6, and 10): Medieval- early Renaissance (400-1600)
Year 3 (grades 3, 7, and 11): Late Renaissance- early modern (1600-1850)
Year 4 (grades 4, 8, and 12): Modern (1850- present)

Literature and Science should follow these parameters, too (Biology in the Ancients, Earth science in the Medieval, and Chemistry in the late Renaissance, with Physics and Computer science only during the study of the Modern era).

Most school programs don't actually teach history this way, although science does tend to follow this sequence. For instance, when I was in school, I learned first about my own neighborhood, my state, and my country's history. This is great, but I think kids can handle the 4th of July and Ancient Egypt simultaneously, especially since elementary subjects are covered rather lightly.

Memoria Press offers classically-leaning books in all language studies. I was impressed by the organization of this online catalog, though I'm not sure about the prices. Foreign language study does tend to be expensive, but I'll have to price check.

Since we'll be starting in first grade (though not for a whole year, at least) with the Ancients, I'm studying up on my own church's ancient records with the Maxwell Institute resources. This is BYU's ancient records research department (not the official delineation). They offer many free resources for learning about Bible times, Book of Mormon times, and the lesser-known times in between where primary records are scarce or barely readable. Though we can never know exactly what happened historically (heck, we can't even know exactly what happened at Pearl Harbor or 9-11 or the assassination of JFK), I think studying these things is important and worthwhile. I never appreciated history until Mr. Helsel at Mt. View showed me it wasn't dry and boring. I hope to share history with my kids in a way that's just as vibrant and fascinating to them. That means I have to read the boring articles and find the gems for them. :) I think it's worth it, though

That's it for the links I have to share.

Now for today's run-down (Tuesday):

We built words and practiced counting by tens (with raisins). Actually, it was funny because I was putting something in the crockpot for dinner and when I pulled out the raisins, Gilgamesh got really excited and sat down at the table for math. How do you say no to that? p.s. we need more raisins.

We read the Cat in the Hat book: Inside Your Outside: All About the Human Body, and Gilgamesh paid close attention to the part about blood cells. He had been introduced previously to the idea of germs as bad things in our bodies, so when I showed him the white and red blood cells, he thought they were bad, too. I explained that the red blood cells made our blood red and carried food nutrients and oxygen to every part of our bodies, while the white blood cells were like soldiers, fighting off the bad germs. Science and reading all in one. Love it when that happens!

He continues to practice his writing. Today he wrote, "I love you," and "Gilgamesh getting big." Except he wrote his real name instead of the knight name and he spelled 'getting' really creatively. It's not the first time he's tried to write a word he doesn't know how to write yet. I love that he's constantly challenging himself. And of course I tell him how those big words are actually spelled so he can fix them if he wants. He makes good use of his eraser.

He cut up some shapes, including a heart, and asked me to show him how to cut out an 'M.' He's getting better with his manual dexterity every day. Art is definitely his thing. I'm thinking we need to get him back to the Draw Write Now books he was too young for last year. The last time we tried it, he drew a sheep, a chicken, and a pig and you could actually tell what they were. When it comes to art, he likes to take instruction, but he's very sensitive to criticism, so I'm learning to be more patient when he makes his own lines that look nothing like the sample drawing. :) For those of you who are parents, you know patience is an ever-evolving thing, and only the strictest practice of it helps it to grow. Everything else makes it shorter than ever.

We did not make our igloo today, mostly because Mom was distracted by other things. Instead, we watched computer animated videos on of the development of an egg into a human baby. Gilgamesh is fascinated by this process. He's learning about it because some of his friends from church are getting new siblings and we've talked about him getting new brothers or sisters someday (even though this is not imminent). The other day after we went to the store, we were driving home when he said, "Then I'll say, 'Ten babies please.' And we'll get ten seat belts and ten car seats." It came out of the blue that day, but actually wasn't the first time he talked about getting ten new babies. I have no idea where he got this number, but he's a very social kid and I think he just wants a ton of brothers and sisters to play with. This is definitely a quote I'm putting in his quote book, though. :)

This evening, I went to a baby shower (told you, lots of new babies at church), and Daddy played Kinect games with Gilgamesh. In homeschooling lingo, we call that recess/P.E. Nice, huh?

So even on days when Mom is busy and fails at the structure side of school, we still learn new things and have a lot of fun in the process. Keeping a strict schedule is going to take some practice for me. I've been out of any kind of rigid structure since my first pregnancy when I quit my job and devoted myself full-time to the chaos that is child-raising.

I think I've got a pretty good system in place now, and all I need to do is practice it.

Morning: up at 6:30am, breakfast for the kids, write my writing blog, read and comment on others' blogs.
Mid-morning: start with freetime play and transition into the first subjects of the day, reading, math, writing, etc. per the pocket chart.
Noon: lunch and naptime
Afternoon: any remaining learning projects, exercise/outdoor play, and otherwise free play (this is usually when the boys want to watch Leapfrog or Word World or Dora.)
Evening: dinner, play/read with Dad, pray, kids go to bed
Update my homeschool blog (which is why it is now 1am)

Hope you enjoyed the links and my attempts at ordering the chaos of our lives after the fact. Tomorrow I'll cover Sonlight books: the ones I love vs. the ones in which I merely see educational value.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Pocket Chart

Gilgamesh sneaked into this picture!

I haven't written times on the pocket chart we got at Michaels, and I'm not sure I will (we don't always start at the same time every day), but I do love the sequence aspect of it! There are always so many things on our to-do list, so it's nice to have a chart to show Gilgamesh and say, "Okay, what's next? Oh, math!"

First on the list was reading, so I let Gilgamesh pick out a couple books and we read together. One of these was Goodnight Moon. It's been a while since we read that one to him, but it used to be a favorite. This time through, he was excitedly pointing out all the words that rhymed: "Hey, mouse rhymes with house! Does hush rhyme with shush?"

Next on the list was math. I got out the raisins and grouped them into fives to demonstrate counting by fives and multiplication. Since Gilgamesh has shown an interest in telling time, counting by fives for the minute hand is very important. We only went up to twenty today and then went backward until it was 5 x 1 = 5. Backwards counting with edibles is the best fun! Alastor came over and ate some math with us, too.

This transitioned well into snack time. :)

Next up was writing. I had some worksheets and curriculum prompts for this one with both Starfall and Sonlight, so we spent more time on this 'learning center.' He ended up doing several pages of a Readiness Skills workbook we got through Sonlight. Most of these require some parental supervision or even guidance, like exercises where I instruct him to color the bird blue and put an X over the bone. One of these was particularly tricky because you're supposed to see if they can remember the instructions after a minute. He did pretty well, but completely forgot the instructions for the last bird/bone and ended up coloring the bird like a rainbow.

We also studied the letter 'T' today. I asked him to look it up in his Children's Encyclopedia and he did it all by himself. He also recognized most of the words in the 'T' section. After that, I helped him make a 'T' poster by drawing a big block letter 'T' with its lower case 't' beside it. All around the edges, he wrote words that start with 'T' and illustrated it. He narrated a few stories to me, which I wrote down on notebook paper, including one about his aunt visiting us for a week, and one fictional tale of a boy named Luke who won a swimming race and his prize was a lot of food he didn't have to share.

Hand in hand with writing went social studies, since we've been learning our address/phone number through copy work. Today he wrote his city, state abbreviation and zipcode - first tracing it and then copying it. Now that he's covered his full name, address, and the city, state, zip, we'll practice doing all of them together, maybe on an envelope. We do owe Nana and Papa another letter.

Science is one of those things preschoolers do by accident, but we do like to help it along with more structured activities. Gilgamesh hurt his finger playing and wanted to put ice on it. Then he saw all those ice cubes and decided we should build an ice cube igloo. I've never done that before, so I did some research and found a great project online that needs more ice cubes than we currently have. So that's tomorrow's science project. We'll be using ice cubes of different sizes, salt (because salt water takes longer to freeze than regular water and it effectively melts the ice at room temp), and slush for mortar. It will definitely take a lot of patience.

Today for science, we went with something else. Gilgamesh wanted to do a tarantula craft. I cannot remember what inspired this, but he decided he wanted to make a tarantula. I found a spider craft (not the same thing, but it was fun), and then for science, we looked at a diagram of a Mexican Red-Kneed Tarantula and several real photos from Google images.

We often combine music with scriptures since has so many great music resources. Personally, I still find comfort and joy in songs I learned as a child about God answering prayers and the amazing world He created for us.

We sang I Pray in Faith which explains in song how to say a prayer. Then we started memorizing Genesis 1:1.
In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.

Gilgamesh liked doing this call-and-repeat style and I found out I could start it at a random time throughout the day and he'd repeat it without skipping a beat.

Art was when we painted those egg carton lumps and put pipe cleaners through them with wiggly eye balls on top. :) That was fun. 

Alastor and Gilgamesh also painted on paper. Now that we have a nice little patio table, I'll have to get out the paints more often. The white carpet in our apartment has always given me mini panic attacks around painting toddlers/preschoolers. Even the dining room is carpeted. (To all apartment owners/managers of the world, this seems really stupid to me. Please explain yourselves.)

Midday we had nice naps, and there was much watching of Word World episodes and copying the words they built with our own foam letters. 

For exercise, we did some Kinect games, jumped on the bed (I didn't do this, but they did), and later ran around the toy section of TJ Maxx. Good times all around. We also picked up a new Cat in the Hat book Gilgamesh couldn't wait to read (but it was bedtime, so he had to). It's called Inside Your Outside: All About the Human Body by Tish Rabe.

Alastor usually likes to color while we do worksheets (we just call them 'papers' since 'worksheets' sounds boring), but today he marched to the beat of his own drum. I found him playing with Gilgamesh's kindergarten readers and some alphabet block books. He wouldn't be enticed away except by homemade popsicles...

On an administrative note, I ran our printer/copier dry creating a 1.5-inch binder full of preschool learning/assessment worksheets. I now have enough for the next several weeks of lesson plans. While I've never been a huge fan of worksheets, these are all more like coloring pages that stimulate critical thinking, and Gilgamesh begs for more. He actually has been known to fuss and worry when I say we're done for the day.

Also, today we talked about this interesting question: "What is school?" Gilgamesh asked me that right before nap time. I told him it's the word most people use when they mean "a place of learning." We do "school" every day when we learn new things and practice skills like reading, writing, drawing, and math. I'll save the real debate on the definition of school for when he's out of the Grammar stage and into the Logic stage.

For now, I'm enjoying my little sponges as they soak up facts, ideas, and pieces of our family heritage and call it FUN! I hope they never lose that thirst for learning. Already, they've got preferences, and certain things they prefer not to spend too much time on, but their minds are pretty much open to all kinds of information. They want to know. It's awesome. 

Tomorrow is a bigger reading day, so I'll have lots of book recommendations for you. Until then, God bless!