Monday, September 02, 2013

Favorite School Resources Fall 2013

We started school a few weeks ago for the fall. Hans turned 5 in June, so he is Kindergarten age. LOVE this age! I'll explain what we're doing with him in a minute.

Gretchen is 2 (3 in one month!), which means she has absolutely no "assigned" school work. But she does love to feel "included," so she has some activities of her own that she gets to do if she is interested. I bought the Letter of the Week "curriculum" last fall, intending to use it for Hans, but realizing it was too "busy work" oriented for my sanity and for Hans' learning style. (Last year for Hans, we ended up using the same writer's K4 curriculum, with heavy modification and supplementation, with good results.) I am just not a busy work person. But Gretchen is. Ha! So we're getting some use out of Letter of the Week after all. I'm not going overboard with it, just printing up a few options each week, and when Gretchen asks me for "letterw at-tiv-tees," I show her what I have for her, and she gets to pick what she wants to do. She can not get enough of drawing, coloring, cutting, etc. She also has a stack of puzzles, unifix cubes, coloring books, and she gets included in whatever of Hans' school she wants to do (and is feasible). And we're doing one letter sound per week.

Martin is 2 months old, so he's kind of our controlling/limiting factor on schooling :-). Hehe. We have a proposed "schedule" for school hanging in our dining room each day, with what we hope to cover and in what order, but let's be honest, sometimes "recess" gets moved up a subject or two, based on when Martin is in need of a new diaper, nursing, etc. He's actually a really chill baby most of the time, unless Mommy eats food that he doesn't like :-P, and he's big enough for the Ergo now, which makes things even more possible :-). And it's nice that Hans is only 5, so I'm not concerned about getting a strict set of goals done for the year, especially since he can already read.

So back to Hans. We start each day with him filling in the day's date on his calendar. It's a simple way for him to get the flow of the days of the week, the months, etc. We did it last spring and all of a sudden he totally started "getting" the flow of the week, time spans, etc. He loved it so much that he asked to keep doing it. Right after filling in his calendar number, we work for a few minutes on a poem we're memorizing. Right now we're working on "My Shadow" from A Child's Garden of Verses. Total between the calendar and the poem, we're talking about 5 minutes. Just a quick way to start the day, and a little every day is all poetry memory needs. I haven't decided yet if we'll pick another poem to memorize after "My Shadow" is done, or if we'll take a break, or do something entirely different. Maybe some art appreciation? We'll see.

Two days a week, we try to read a few poems from A Child's Garden of Verses after we do poetry memory. Just 5 minutes worth, and Hans loves it. Sometimes I read them, sometimes he reads, depending on his preference. We have a beautifully-illustrated edition with drawings by Eric Kincaid (mercifully unrelated to Thomas Kinkade).

Next we do penmanship. This, quite honestly, is NOT a favorite, which is why we get it out of the way early :-D. Hans has never liked handwriting, though he has vastly improved in the past year. We are using Rod and Staff this year. I love how simple and straight forward the lessons are. They do give room for a LOT of repetition, which is great, unless you're Hans and shut down :-D. So after a rough first several days, I've started giving him a more reasonable "yes, he is still just 5 and he's also a boy, and he's Hans" number of repetitions for each assignment, rather than the full number provided. He's still getting good practice, but it's not like pulling teeth anymore. It doesn't mean he's leaping for joy when we pull out penmanship, but it's going MUCH better.

Next we do math. We're kind of doing a hodge podge for math. Our "official" text is Singapore Math 1. We're partway through this book, but actually haven't been doing it much this fall (we started it last spring). Before we press on more in Singapore, I wanted to work more on addition/subtraction facts with Hans. I found this site and cannot recommend it highly enough. Love, love, love it. So many options for activities, worksheets, and games for working on the different "families" of numbers. I love how the site helps draw the connection between the addition facts and corresponding subtraction facts, rather than focusing on memorizing them in isolation. (It ties in perfectly with Singapore, which also uses number bonds to link the concepts.) Hans loves the number family stuff and has his favorite options for practicing each set. The slider cards and ghost cards are the most requested. We've finished sets 5, 6, 7, and 8, and are currently on number family 9. My plan is to get through the number family 10 set and then resume doing the Singapore text as our primary, while slowly working on sets 11-18 for the number families. The Singapore text was utilizing many of the number family facts (especially pairs adding to 10) in the text for things like adding numbers to 20, and I felt like Hans would benefit more from the lessons after memorization so he was more familiar with the pairings, not just the initial cursory glance at them that the text did. (Singapore is not known for reinforcing facts, but instead doing a great job with word problems and getting mathematical reasoning across.)

Besides these two main math resources, I've found a lot of great activities online that we've enjoyed doing. Just a few:

Number bonds worksheet generator

Time activities. And more time (This website actually has lots of worksheet options, not just for time, and also for many grade levels. Some are lame, but most are great extra practice.).

Currency activities. More currency. And loved this library book on currency.

Also we've used a number of activities from this list.

Those are the "main" things we do each day. After math we take a lengthy break, usually an hour, sometimes less, and often more if we go for a walk and come back for showers/baths before continuing. When we get back we spend about 10 minutes for recitation - reviewing memorized facts like skip counting, addition/subtraction facts, Spanish vocabulary, life science terms. Eventually I'll throw in geography terms, but we're not at that stage in geography yet. After recitation what we do depends on the day. Sometimes we're done for the morning.

Two days a week we do geography after recitation. We're going through a Beginning Geography workbook, and Hans loves it, Simple and incremental. And honestly, the most important aspect of geography is the two maps we have hanging in our dining room - a states map and a world map. And also our world globe. Constant topic of conversation for the kids and they are both starting to learn the states and some of the countries without realizing it :-D. As we progress in the workbook, we'll spend more and more time with our maps and our world globe, instead of just worksheets, but meanwhile, Hans is always excited when I get out the geography worksheets! 

On Fridays after recitation we do a flannel Bible story. I have a set of Betty Luken flannel figures that my mom passed on to me from childhood. Love it! The kids always look forward to flannel Bible time. I'm trying to work incrementally through the Bible, hitting the main stories.

Afternoons sort of vary. Every day we do a bit of Spanish which is "technically" scheduled for afternoon post-naps, because I want to give Hans the option of having more free play time in the morning, in addition to the "recess" we take after math. But 90% of the time, we've been doing Spanish in the mornings because the kids ask to do it then. Spanish is very low-key and is video-based, which is the reason the kids ask for it ;-). Poor, video-deprived kids that they are. . . We're going through one 15-minute Salsa episode each week (free public show online! - 100% Spanish), watching it twice during the week for reinforcement. On the non-Salsa days we're doing videos that my sister recorded for the kids, to supplement the Salsa videos. She takes the basic new vocabulary from the episode and interacts with it more, all in 100% Spanish. The kids love it, and yes, my sister is amazing. And so is her husband, who is helping her with the videoing and uploading and such. And she made them flashcards and worksheets to go with each week! They. love. it. And it's been hilarious to see them use random Spanish words throughout each day.

The other afternoon school we have is life science, but once again, it sometimes happens in the morning, but only if Hans wants to do it in the morning rather than wait for the afternoon. I try to do life science 2-3 times a week. We're keeping it low key. I call it "feeding Hans books on animals." My plan (always up for revision) is to do about 16 weeks of animal study, 2 weeks on each of 8 animals or animal groups. Just hitting some of his favorites or other highlights that I think would be fun. This isn't supposed to be all-inclusive, just hitting highlights and piquing interest. I'm roughly following suggestions by Susan Wise Bauer in The Well-Trained Mind. Basically, I get out a lot of juvenile science library books on whatever animal we're studying for a 2-week period and see which ones Hans wants to read. He's loving getting "new" library books to read each week and is fascinated by animals. I also bought Kingfisher First Encyclopedia of Animals as a reference and he often pulls it out when he has a random question about an animal - where it lives, what it eats, etc. After about 16 weeks of zoology, I plan to do 10 weeks of human anatomy, using My Body to make life-size posters for Hans and Gretchen. Also I bought the First Human Body Encylopedia, planning to cover one body system a week. Then we'll probably finish out the school year with a study of plants. If we are in a house (as opposed to an apartment) by then, this study will probably take the form of a garden ;-). Otherwise. . . we'll see. Our apartment now doesn't even have a sunny spot for a potted plant, but we might do some basic plant identification. We'll see.

A few miscellaneous resources that aren't as formally scheduled:

Every few weeks I pull out Schoolhouse Rock and the kids love listening to it, especially the history songs.

For family devotions, besides reading through the Bible chapter-by-chapter, we are working through the Catechism for Young Children with both Hans and Gretchen. We are doing the questions and the accompanying verses provided by CMI.

And that's school for us so far this year. Hopefully some of the resources I've found can be helpful to others :-). Would love to hear what others are using. I love finding new resources :-).

ETA: I can't believe I forgot to also mention Lyrical Life Science! We have all three CD sets and love them! Most-requested CD's in this household, and light years better than just about any other school-facts-set-to-music we've heard. Highly recommended!