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Monday, August 27, 2012

Things we're about

A basket of hard-bound school books
I don't know what's happened, but I actually have a few minutes to plan each week. It must be this season of my life or something! I know that it has to do with finally landing on a system that works for us. The last few weekends I've spent a few hours sitting at the table on the deck with my planning pages on one side and a stack of readers and other books on the other. What bliss!

This last week was good, with a few hitches. We spent most of Thursday at the dentist. How many dentists do you know that will risk blocking out a whole morning for eight children? Mine is a dear, sweet peach! Only four cavities out of the bunch--that's a lot to praise God about!

Old books I have printed and bound myself
Other than that, the week was full of learning. The McGuffey readers gave us all food for thought.

As for math (we use Ray's Arithmetics), I found out that one child is about to go into cancelling but is really, really rusty on multiplication--or maybe it was just a fuzzy day. Oh well, we are again reviewing until the basics are mastered...

Another child that has always had trouble mastering math has decided to learn it by teaching it--I can't think of a better way!

A library book sorter--I think it was originally a
business file-sorter, but it's perfect to keep library
 books both accessible and neat at the same time. 
I've so enjoyed taking my little girls through D'Aulaire's history books. We've read about George Washington, Leif the Lucky, Abraham Lincoln, Christopher Columbus, and Benjamin Franklin. These books are old favorites in homeschooling circles, and with good reason. They're well written and engaging, even for the smallest children, with pictures that are colorful and just busy enough for inquisitive little minds. Best of all, God and faith are not excused from the narrative, but are an integral part. I tried lapbooking afterwards, but the ones we did were a bit too schoolish, so we abandoned them for some good old-fashioned notebooking, so the girls could enjoy creating for themselves. I also had the girls take turns narrating as I went along. The younger ones are still getting the hang of it, but Olivia, now ten, does very well and is a good example to the others. At first I was having her do her notebooking lessons alone with the older children, but she was so lonely. I finally realized that she needed to be with us, and with me, so I included her in our daily readings. She has blossomed and smiles more now. She is so sweet, and I'm so glad that I've included her. Of course, Patience, three, doesn't always sit still the whole time. I allow her to wander off and play close by. She comes back periodically just to look at the pictures, and then she loves to color when we go to the table.

This is Patience' "school box"
I have created some very special "boxes" for the two tiny girls to keep their colors, some scraps of paper, a pencil, some chalk, and a small clipboard in. They're the size of a lunch box and are plastic. These have solved a whole host of problems for me. For one thing, it keeps the mess of coloring and drawing in one very manageable place. For another thing, I don't have to drop everything to try and help them hunt up their colors and paper! Besides, they feel very special, as all little girls should! I suppose there must be thousands of used lunchboxes at thrift stores and the like that would be perfect for such an application.

Ryan has been engrossed in the creation of an "art nouveau"-style dollhouse for their woodzeez. I really must share some pictures of it when he is done. He is so creative and gifted and is painstakingly going over every detail. He has already created stained-glass windows and a grandfather clock with shelves underneath, among other things.

Sarah and I are working on creating leg-warmers to wear under dresses this winter (she is giving me a refresher on knitting). Eliana is still working on her novel about an imaginary land, complete with a map and a character list. She wants Ryan and Nicole to illustrate it for her. Sometimes Ellie works with Ryan on his dollhouse project as well. Joshua nurses our poor water-thirsty yard, always trimming and coaxing green things out of the ground despite the drought. Many of the girls have pen pals, and they love to spend time creating letters and pictures they want to send. With postage being the way it is, we tried tonight to scan a hand-written letter in and send it as an image. Way cheaper than snail-mail, but more personal than email.

As for notebooking, there have been pages and booklets about carnivorous plants, medieval dress, coral reefs, Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, Art Nouveau, Christopher Columbus, Benjamin Franklin and Colin Powell.

The reading lists have included Howard Pyle's The Story of King Arthur, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Jester, Freckles, by Gene Stratton Porter,The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Speare, and The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson.

I hope to get started back into reading novels aloud to the children, I was taking time in the morning just as they woke up this past summer, I just need to find a good time for everyone.

(for more about our curriculum and schedule, see this post on my other blog, Large Family Mothering)

That's it for here, what's up at your house?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Ray's math, practical helps

Clarity, structure, brilliance; these are three words I would choose when describing the Ray's Arithmetics.

These are not glamorous books. They are not in color. There are no fancy diagrams. 

But my kids love them, and so do I. 

I have heard Ray's described as being "labor intensive," but nothing could be further from the truth! I suppose these books are not as easy to implement as the Saxon series for some students, but in some ways they are easier. 

For one thing, the instruction is direct, I would even venture to say that it is "economical" in a certain sense. Little time is wasted on anything that is not essential, and it is in the emphasis of the essential that strength is garnered.

The laborious part is at the beginning of instruction. But even this is pleasurable. 

The other day I was able to sit with my two daughters and teach them from the Primary book with a rare treat--candy corn! I simply spoke the problems to them and used the sweets as counters. I had their full attention! 

That's part of the brilliance. I can use any and all helps to reinforce concepts--there are no limits. 

For teaching to tell time I have an office clock-sign. This is not an official school-type clock, but it is perfect for the job. It's a real sign, used by real businesses; in fact, it's a left-over from one of my husband's old jobs. Using this communicates immediately that telling time is not just something one does to earn a gold star; it's a useful skill used in the real world. 

And here is a chalkboard. I made it by covering an old board with some chalkboard contact paper (much easier than chalkboard paint), and then screwing on an old clipboard clip. The kids love these when we do math together. There is something about working the problems out on a bigger surface that makes concepts become just a bit more clear. 

I have wipe-off boards and markers, but these things are always drying up and getting lost. Chalk is durable and cheap. Recently, I bought a whole box of it for just a dollar--something like 100 pieces! This way I never have to fret over markers getting ruined or lost--one less thing! 

You'll notice that there are ghosts of lessons past; isn't that just the charm of chalk? This particular exercise was all about finding the prime factors of a number. Ray's uses a method I have never seen in any other math book, unless I missed something. I love numbers, so learning this was a real treat--sort of like doing number puzzles over and over. I remember struggling with finding the primes of numbers as a youngster, and feeling so frustrated that I wanted to give up! The instruction I received was that one just needed to "guess" for the primes and use trial and error with nothing suggested as a way to keep track of your findings except for some silly "tree". Ray was too compassionate to be so vague; his methods are fun! 

Even if you feel a little overwhelmed and not sure that you can remember all of this math jargon, just jump over to Whyu and enjoy watching a slew of their videos with your kids--very enjoyable, professional and clarifying!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Frugal Homeschool Resources for your Personal Library

A couple of years ago, on a lazy Saturday my husband and I were out and about and spied a sign stuck in the ground at the stop light advertising a local library book sale. We had the little children in tow, and so we decided to juggled them as we perused the tables and aisles to eventually congratulated ourselves with the golden nuggets we had retrieved for the tidy sum of $5.75!  

The types of books we buy are real books--no textbooks here! Why waste a child's time with books that have been so regurgitated by committees and "think-tanks" that the heart of all the knowledge contained has been cut out or re-engineered to fit a liberal minded agenda? Children want to know about real things that truly matter, at least if their natural inclination and love of learning hasn't been snuffed out entirely.  

Here are some of the titles:

The Splendid Wayfaring; the Exploits and Adventures of Jedediah Smith and the Ashley-Henry Men 1822-1831, John G. Neihardt I just love the story of Jedediah Smith and have always wanted to own a biography of this godly mountain man--a quick perusal of this one told me that I had found a great treasure!

Reader's Digest ABC's of Nature, A Family Answer Book This was a wonderful addition to our collection of nature books and guides. Published in 1984, it contains some of the myths of evolution (our children know better), but it still includes plenty of information about animal and plant life that must be powerfully intriguing, judging by the way it has been disappearing throughout the house. 

The American Heritage Junior Library--Cowboys and Cattle Country The books in this series are fascinating to my 16 year-old son. These are written in narrative form with plenty of period illustrations to guarantee many hours of interest. We also own the one about clipper ships. The series contains many more titles and is worth collecting. 

QPB Treasury of North American Folktales This is a fairly recently published book, and therefore is an exception to our rule of thumb, which is to avoid contemporary publishing--for a myriad of reasons, including quality of writing, but mostly for moral content. This is not the best collection of this type, but it contains historical folklore like Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, etc. 

Indians of the Americas 1947--although not a politically correct title (can this be a plus?), this is a fascinating book filled with illustrations and facts about native Americans--from the Arctic circle to the Antarctic continent. 

American Geographical Society: Around the World Program, including booklets for Holland, Israel, South Africa, Bolivia, Germany, Australia, and Denmark. Published in 1970--gives an interesting perspective on the geography and history of these areas some forty years ago.

The King's Rangers, John Brick A tale of the Revolutionary War written from the loyalist point of view--we're sorry we bought this one--oh well, at about .25 a book, you don't feel bad about having just one stinker in the group!

And if you don't have a good library system nearby, or a lot of cash in order to invest in quality books, even good history and reading books, then I would suggest you keep your eyes open for two very good series of books written expressly for children: The Bookshelf for Boys and Girls and Child-craft Books of How and Why. I'm not sure how the newer publishing of these books appear--I haven't been able to find any good reviews, etc. 

I do know how the older versions have been a blessing to our family. My older children and I used up a set of the Child-craft books until they were in pieces. These were published in the 1950's and we all have happy memories of hours and hours spent reading the stories and poems, singing the American folk songs, and even trying some of the crafts and recipes. 

We currently own a set of the Bookshelf for Boys and Girls published in 1972. We found these at our local thrift store for a dollar a piece--and they are worth their weight in gold (I found one used set advertised on the Internet for more than $100.)!  

These are filled with nursery rhymes, baby play, baby and preschool classics, fairy stories, stories from around the world, classic stories such as "Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel," excerpts from popular children's books, and even some quite thorough American history that is well-written and mostly from a biographical viewpoint.  

There is a volume on science and one on nature. My children have almost used up the one on crafting! I especially love that there are many references to faith in Christ--poems, prayers, even a whole section on Christmas that is full of reference to the birth of Christ.

I love to take a volume with me as my little ones are drifting off to sleep and reading from it until their eyelids close--they fight sleep and beg for more! These "real" books can be used for all sorts of language study, especially for the younger set. Just enjoying and discussing these can lead to all kinds of formal as well as informal learning. These are bereft of political correctness, and often even mention "spanking" (Oh, me, oh my!)--how refreshing!

I also often copy a story or two at a time and give it to my struggling writers so that we can all write and revise together, while we all learn something interesting.

Although I own many children's books which I have collected over the years, I could actually throw most of them out and never miss them if I still owned a couple of these sets (there may be other types from other publishers, I just haven't come across). Actually, I believe they contain just the right amount of illustration, unlike the titles common for purchase or check out at the library. The emphasis is on the stories themselves, not the "fantabulous" pictures.

This makes for better readers in the long run. If you can't find these at a garage sale or thrift store near you, you can try to find them at Free-cycle or Craigslist--and there is always eBay (Child-craft is here, Bookshelf is here), or other Internet sources.

In fact, in researching for this post I have found some pretty wonderful older books that are in the public domain and absolutely free. Here are a few for your enjoyment: Boys' and Girls' Bookshelf: Historic Tales and Golden Deeds Stories for Little Children This one is especially charming for little ones--how about this little snippet:
Kindergarten Prayer
Two little eyes to look to God,
Two little ears to hear his word,
Two little lips to sing his praise,
Two little feet to walk his ways,
Two little hands to do his will,
And one little heart to love him still.

Boys' and Girls' Bookshelf: Book of Nature and Outdoor Life Gutenberg has a number of Boys' and Girls' Bookshelf titles in eBook form--the illustrations in these are amazing!  

Boys' and Girls' Bookshelf: volume 1 of 17  The illustrations and directions for teaching finger and toe play with babies in this one are priceless!