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!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Saturday Fun

What. A. Day! It's been wild and fun and now we're chilling at home with no intention of going out for the rest of the weekend (except for Church tomorrow). The great thing about all the learning activities we did today is that we didn't have to prepare any of them. They were things I made years ago and filed away when Gilgamesh outgrew them. I just pulled them out and we played them again!

We started the day with games! Alastor sorted construction paper apples into the corresponding basket. It took a few runs to get the hang of it, but eventually he put the green apples in the green basket, etc.

Gilgamesh played Buy it Right with Daddy, practicing calculator use and identifying types of money. Alastor matched game pieces onto the square cards.

These felt apples go with the Ten Red Apples song:

Ten Red Apples
Ten red apples growing on a tree,
Five for you and five for me.
Help me shake the tree just so,
And ten red apples fall down below.
One, two , three, four, five,
Six, seven, eight, nine, ten.

We probably sang it ten times! Each time, the boys took one side of the 'tree' and shook it until the apples fell off. Then we counted as we put them back on. I remember playing this with Gilgamesh when he was almost three and now he's reading! Time flies. It's fun watching Alastor do the same activities that got Gilgamesh hooked on learning.

Each boy counted five apples onto his half of the tree.

Put them back up and do it again.

We did this "one more time" five extra times. How do you say no to a boy who's bouncing on his toes in excitement? Well, when he wants candy, it's easy. But when he wants to count the apples again? Can't just say no.

Dance Central on Kinect, one of Daddy's favorite workouts.

Then we headed to the park to get some sunlight and fresh air! We almost got too much of the former. Alastor's cheeks were bright red about twenty minutes later. He's not sunburned, but boy, were we hot!

Alastor played in the sand a ton. 

Daddy taught Gilgamesh how to bat and throw.

Sports are one of Gilgamesh's favorite things. He'd play them all day every day if he could. I wonder sometimes what he'll choose when he realizes they each take so much commitment. Lots of time for that, though, thank goodness.

This picture of Alastor makes me smile every time.

We brought baseball gear for him, too, but he was way more interested in exploring and climbing!

...and jumping on the bleachers.

After all that excitement, we went to Michael's and picked up a few things I need for church tomorrow (knick-knacks for the Young Women), plus some crafts and school resources. And (good news!) I found a $6 pocket chart with colorful scheduling cards for Reading, Math, Science, Social Studies, Art, etc. It's going to make me feel so much more organized, and help teach Gilgamesh about time and sequence of activities. One of my biggest fears as a homeschool mom is that my kids won't learn to organize themselves, since that's something I've always struggled with. But I firmly believe that if we start them young and keep going back to organizational principles, it will become something they want to do, to help them reach their goals. It's just a pocket chart, but it represents the beginning of that to me.

Daddy  bought some kits to do with the boys, like a bird house and a wooden plane. Very cool! Daddy-Son time is crucial to creating champion knights. Well, Alastor keeps trying to pull me away to dance to the movie credits of Cheaper by the Dozen. Gotta go!

Homeschooling Leftovers

Being the Easter Bunny

Today (Friday) was Leftovers Day. It's leftovers on the meal plan and leftovers in our school week. Gilgamesh warmed over the previous day's bear discussions and made a meal out of it: brought me a picture of a bear going into his cave, surrounded by snow. He explained that it was winter and the bear was going inside to sleep. Who needs testing when he volunteers to show me how much he's retained of yesterday's lesson?

We read The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss together. I realized today that he has the first several pages pretty much memorized. But I also watched him sound out a few tough words. He noted every comma (pause) and period (full stop) on the page. He looked for apostrophes, but we didn't find any in that book. There are a lot of "it is" and "cannot" long forms in there. He also practiced writing earlier in the day, including asking me how to spell computer. He's doing this more and more, asking how words are spelled. It's amazing how much he retains, too.

He chose to watch Leapfrog's Math Adventure to the Moon, which is great for introducing patterns, shapes, and counting, all of which he has already mastered. But it does have counting to 100 by tens, and that was good practice. Later, on a family drive, he counted the red cars we passed. Always learning and practicing!

He went camping in his tent and helped me a lot with his little brother, Alastor. While Alastor was down for a nap, Gilgamesh put on a Berenstain Bears movie about Spring, the Easter bunny, and baseball season. He asked me to help him make bunny ears. I did so on the condition that he clean up his building blocks which were all over the floor (he'd been making a baseball field out of them). Once he had his ears in place, he asked for a carrot. Cutest Easter Bunny I've ever seen (see picture above).

The thing I love about the movie he was watching is that it teaches so many concepts, like the seasons, what would happen if they stopped, and how animals often have babies in the Spring (Brother gets a new little Sister in the film). I took the moment to talk about being a good big brother, and I told him I was proud of how he took care of Alastor. Sometimes he tries to take too much care of him, like when it wasn't lunch time and Gilgamesh got out two bowls and the leftover spaghetti for them to share. He even got a small fork for Alastor, which I thought was very thoughtful. We put it all away anyway. :)

The making-change board game I ordered from amazon, Buy it Right, arrived today! We'll play it as a family tomorrow. Gilgamesh wanted to play it immediately, but Daddy came home from work early and wanted to take us out to dinner (so much for leftovers [not that I'm complaining!]). So we ended up at Chili's, where Gilgamesh circled the things he wanted (one from each colored box on the kid's menu) and then tried to share his pizza with everyone.

Alastor loved it when we did a repeat of Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, the action song that had us jumping and touching our toes, pretending to climb stairs, etc. He's been copying his older brother a lot lately, including trying to write with crayons. He'll even say letter names while he scribbles just like Gilgamesh does when he's sounding out a word to write. Of course, Alastor's are limited to, "T, A, T, B, A, T." But it's still adorable. He's started stringing words together, like "Bye, bye, Daddy," and "No, it's mine," or "There it is!" Alastor also likes pretending to read. While Daddy read Wocket in my Pocket to Gilgamesh, Alastor sat on a nearby chair and read Goodnight Moon to himself.

We spent some time in a sporting goods store stocking up for an upcoming camp trip. The fire starting striker set we bought made for a great pre-bedtime sparks show on the concrete outside (it was pitch dark which made it even cooler). We talked about fire safety and the proper place for a fire.

So tomorrow we'll go to the park to play baseball and also play Buy it Right. Looking forward to a chill day with the family. I hope you have a great weekend, too!

Any plans?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Knightly Preschool - August 2011

There's always drawing and writing to be done. Gilgamesh eats these things for breakfast.

Some folks are just starting school today, but since we aren't really of age for all that, we do year-round school with a super loose schedule. We're partway through the Sonlight curriculum for P4/5, which Gilgamesh* loves.

But he also loves's More section, which deserves a large portion of the credit for his early reading skills. Another big helper has been Leapfrog's video series on math and reading (The Tag electronic pen reading system has also helped a little).

Gilgamesh has really blown me away by how quickly he went from memorizing sight words to singing the phonics rules (when two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking) to reading blends like 'st' and 'tr' on his own. Most recently, he's shown an increased interest in punctuation. He likes to guess which letters dropped out of a contraction to be replaced by the apostrophe.

Yep. That's my kid. A geek like me. :)

Today I utilized a brand new website I found called Homeschool Share. I went to Level 1 Unit Studies and picked one about Brown Bear, Brown Bear, one of my favorite picture books by Eric Carle. We didn't follow all the suggestions, but I had fun last night cutting out the colorful animals, attaching them to felt, and sharing them with the kids today. Alastor*, especially, loved putting the felt-backed animals on the flannel board as I read the story.

We also did the...

Music & Fingerplays

1. Teddy Bear Action Song:
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, turn around
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear touch the ground
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear tie your shoe
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear that will do.

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, go upstairs
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, brush your hair
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, turn off the light
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, say goodnight!

2. Cave Finger Play
Here is a cave (bend fingers on one hand)
Inside is a bear (put thumb inside fingers)
Now he comes out
To get some fresh air. (pop out thumb)
He stays out all summer
In sunshine and heat.
He hunts in the forest
For berries to eat. (move thumb in a circle)
When snow starts to fall
He hurries inside
His warm little cave
And there he will hide (put thumb inside fingers)
Snow covers the cave
Like a fluffy white rug
Inside the bear sleeps
All cozy and snug (place one hand over the other)

We looked at pictures of real bears and talked about what bears eat, how big and strong they are, and how they hibernate in the winter. Later we made a bar graph of the different types of teddy bears in my kids' bedroom zoo:
Math-wise, we also swatted (regular fly swatter) laminated numbered bugs for a basic homemade addition game. He sorted the bulletin board bugs into families and counted how many there were of each.

We did edible subtraction with raisins. He likes subtracting by one and counting again. :) Repeat until full.

Yesterday for Math, we played Store with play money after Gilgamesh up and decided he wanted to 'make money' like Daddy. (In case anybody was wondering, this is what I mean by self-directed learning.) I ordered a money/change game called Buy It Right with realistic-looking dollars and coins that teaches kids ages 5+ to count change that should get here in a few days. It may be a bit advanced for him now, but while he's showing an interest, I want to capitalize on the eager attention. And Dad and I will help him until he gets the hang of it.

For Alastor yesterday, we went through's free alphabet series that tells what sounds the letters make in a fun, flash setting. He also watched a time-lapse video of a yellow dandelion going to seed and becoming a wish flower. (I love that one.)

And of course, we read books together on the couch and in bed before naptime (current favorites are I LOVE YOU THROUGH AND THROUGH and GOING ON A BEAR HUNT). 

We also listened to this for our daily scripture study. I love the children's voices on this audio, especially during the Q&A that follows the story. There are songs before, during, and after, to help keep kids' attention.

If we do anything else today, it'll be the tracing, drawing worksheets Gilgamesh has been doing all year. Mostly, though, I think they want to play with their tents and 'go camping' in the living room. (Or watch Darkwing Duck.)

I'm off to finish dinner and take a shower before the missionaries arrive. Hope they like Beef and Barley crockpot stew. :)

p.s. THIS is on my want list. Got that, Santa?

*Gilgamesh is the 4-year-old and Alastor is the 2-year-old. Knight names, not real names.

You might be a good parent if...

I've always liked 'You might be a redneck if'-type lists. Here's a not-so-funny-but-feel-good list for moms and dads who often feel under-appreciated.

You might be a good parent if...

  • If you've ever made a sticker chart to get your child past a particular challenge.
  • If you stop cleaning/working/browsing the second your kid asks for a story.
  • If you've tried to hold a crying child while doing something that requires two hands.
  • If you kept your cool with goo or broken glass on the floor.
  • If snot in your hair or spit-up on your shoulder barely fazes you.
  • If you read to your kids every day.
  • If you get up and dance with the kids during closing film credits.
  • If you own any Barney or Sesame Street videos.
  • If you say I love you more than once a day.
  • If you cleaned all the poop out of the carpet and still loved that poop-smearer.
  • If you sing songs you remember from your childhood and pass along the awesome heritage.
  • If you're always trying to think of ways you can be a better mom or dad.
  • If you got home from a stressful day at work and the first thing you did was play Climbing Tree... you being the tree.
  • If you're teaching your kids chores are part of life.
  • If you pray with your children.
  • Basically if you've ever given something up or made a big life change for the sake of your children (quitting a bad habit, eating all organic, cloth diapering, homeschooling, watched only kid movies for a year).
You're a good parent because you put your love of your children before your love of anything else. You're good because of the sacrifices, big and tiny, that you make every day for their well-being, self-esteem, and education. You're good because you're trying.

You were put on this Earth to be your kids' mom or dad. That didn't happen by accident. Whether we chose each other or not, I don't know. I do know the kids you have are the kids you need, and they're the kids who need you. It's like magic that way.

So feel good about all the great things you're doing, and vow to add more to the list. They say childhood passes in the blink of an eye. Keep your eyes open and enjoy it. :)

Later, I'll post some pictures of our preschool-at-home: some fun silliness we get up to and some structured stuff that's well worth the effort. What are you up to today?

Why this blog on homeschooling?

Hi! Welcome to our homeschooling adventures. First a bit about who I am and why I'm here:

I'm the mom of two amazing little boys and for a long time I've been enthusiastic about the opportunities of a nontraditional education in our modern, technological society. For me, school was somewhat stifling. I had a few great teachers whom I still love today, but that's not what it's about. Day after day, I found myself in a boxy room learning boxed in curriculum. I started out with perfect penmanship, eager to please, writing poetry that my kindergarten teacher stole. At the end of the road, my learning had more holes than an insect jar. I'd given up trying to perform perfectly, and felt constantly insufficient despite my good grades and advanced classes.

When I went into a university, on my first day I met two girls from a different high school who'd earned the equivalent of a two-year associate's degree while in high school. They were going straight into their prospective programs without worrying about soul-crushing general electives like economics and history.

To be honest, I felt ripped off. I'd taken every advanced class available, took four AP tests, and did well on the ACT. But even with my new university's generous policy toward AP credit, I wasn't halfway done with college like these other girls. I was barely dipping my toes in. And the thought of those four more looming years of college, even at a university I loved, made me dizzy.

In short, I came out of the public school system ready to be done. I believed education meant having facts drummed into your head, staying up all night reading and BS-ing essays about books you didn't actually have time to read. A good portion of this is my fault: my personality, my work ethic, etc.

But it made me determined to try something different for my own children. See, I wasn't the only person who came out of the public school system feeling ripped off and worn out. There were others like me who knew learning should be invigorating and novel, and were disappointed it had become boring and requisite.

The number of parents choosing to teach their children at home has skyrocketed in the past two decades. Many of these parents are people like me who got a decent education but didn't feel like that was enough for their own children.

Is it hubris that makes me think I can offer them something better? Maybe. But I don't think homeschooling is going to make my kids smarter because I'm somehow a better teacher than all those other master's graduates. I think homeschooling is going to make my kids better prepared for life for the following reasons:

1) The best learning is completely customized to the individual (impossible in public schools)

2) I can already see at least one of my sons has the kinesthetic, visual learning needs I had, and classroom lectures where one is required to sit still and listen would crush his soul (and get him into needless trouble)

3) The real world is out there, and it lives in libraries, parks, museums, city streets, grocery stores, etc., etc. It does not live within the four windowless walls of a classroom.

4) Healthy social interactions begin in the home where parents and siblings teach young children the golden rule, and other social rules for making and keeping friends. You don't even want to know the dysfunctional social rules I picked up as a 6-year-old in school.

5) When kids want to learn, they learn! It's a miracle to watch and I've already watched my older son (4 years old) learn to read because he was excited about it, not because I required it. I want to see that thirst for knowledge and skills follow him through life, and the way to keep that spark is to feed it with time for self-directed learning.

6) (this is where Classical comes in) There are incredible resources available for teaching children by classical methods that encourage retention of a wide breadth of subjects. Homeschoolers can truly become Renaissance men. Latin, comprehensive history of the world, ancient studies, grammar, real spelling, etc.

7) Some of my favorite people have either been homeschooled or partially homeschooled (parent-led education after school and on weekends). I believe the extra care that goes into it truly makes a difference in the way the student sees the world. There are no windowless walls. They see endless possibility, and a clear path to their goals.

I could probably go on much longer, but I just wanted to give a brief introduction to who I am and why I'm doing this.

As to the question of, why this blog right now? Well, because I have three separate binders keeping track of the things my preschooler is doing (though our actual homeschooling day so far is very laid back and student-led). And my two-year-old is beginning to participate on his level, too, bringing me his attempts at letter-writing and sitting in with us during games. I need someplace to chronicle what we're doing. As a writer, I already spend about a half hour every day on blogger keeping up my writing blog and participating in that community, so this is actually a more convenient place to record new developments than in a notebook which will (in mere seconds) be buried under a pile of new drawings my darling kids want to show me.

If you're reading, I hope you find something useful in our experiences. So far, they have been overwhelmingly positive.

I feel ready for the new challenges and opportunities facing us as my oldest prepares for more structured learning.

Any advice from veterans is much appreciated!

For more on our current curriculum, check out Knightly Curriculum. Thanks for stopping by! I hope your school year is a memorable one!