Thursday, December 29, 2011

Thinking Out Loud

So after almost 7 years of homeschooling one child for 8th grade, 1 child from 3rd to 8th grade, and one child from Kindergarten to 5th grade (so far), here's what I figured out:  the 5 main ingredients to successful homeschooling is reading, math, plenty of field trips, a positive home environment, and lots of freedom to pursue interests.  That's essentially it.  For all grades.  And by "successful" I mean whatever it means to each of us, really.  My definition of success is:  the ability to achieve (or have it in them to go for) what they want academically, socially, & emotionally (and in all areas) throughout high school, college, and adulthood.

Reading.  Anything and everything.  Good literature is ideal, "twaddle" is ok, too.  Narration is a good idea with most readings.  It shows you what they retained and lays a foundation for some good writing skills.

Math.  Any program is fine.  Even no program is fine.  Whatever works for your child and gets them to understand the key concepts is good.  Utilize math in daily life (unit pricing, percentage discounts off, budgeting, banking, measuring, etc).  Solidify the basics (addition, subtraction, multiplication, & division) before moving on and the higher math will be so much easier to grasp.

Field trips.  Now I know many people don't live in a big city like we do, but making an effort to scour your area for cool places to go is important - even if you visit the same places over and over again.  Find the museums, gardens, zoos, theater productions, ethnic restaurants, art galleries, state parks, factories, etc.  Check out the fire houses, libraries, police stations, pizzerias, etc and see if you can go behind the scenes to see how they run.

Positive home environment.  This should go without saying.  Be a fun family.  Be encouraging, do things together, have traditions, have good discussions, and really listen to each other.

Freedom to pursue interests.  I believe a child can learn more in 1 hour of doing what he loves than from months of forced seatwork.  My kids' interests can last for years or only a few days.  It's all important, though.  Nurture and facilitate those interests in every way you can.  And know when to back off.

If you can focus on only these 5 things, I can almost guarantee homeschooling success.    Comments?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

NY Botanical Garden and Myachi

W has been keeping very busy with Myachi, reading pokemon books, making more crossbows, karate, CCD, playing outside for hours with the neighbor kids, card tricks, making videos, and playing with his DS.   We'll get back to the formal academic seatwork after the holidays.

We went to FAO Schwarz again last week and W spent the whole time with 2 real Myachi masters - "Metal" and "Monk"  (Monk is on the Myachi packaging and part of the House of Skillz). They taught him new tricks and they spoke what seemed like a foreign language for over 1/2 hour.  It was like there were 3 of my son - they were all on the same wavelength and with the same enthusiasm.  W decided he'd like to work there, too.

After FAO, we met up with B, the girls, and my mom to go to the annual musical at LaGuardia High School.  This year they did Guys & Dolls and it was unbelievable.  It's amazing that these are only high schoolers.  It was like being at a Broadway show.  The sets, the orchestra, the acting and singing - amazing.  

Another cool field trip last week with the homeschool group was to the NY Botanical Garden's Holiday Train Displays and Gingerbread Adventure.  I've always seen that advertised, but never got around to getting there.  We had such a great time.  It was all so beautiful.  They built a bunch of NYC landmarks out of all natural materials (pistachio shells, juniper berries, etc) and trains were whizzing by all of them .  They even made NY bridges and Yankee Stadium.  There was so much to see.  The Gingerbread Adventure had them in a class at 3 different stations learning about gingerbread ingredients and where they come from, then checking out huge beautiful gingerbread houses made locally from different bakeries, then sampling some cookies.  We had a fantastic tour guide who was funny and kept the kids interested.  I loved it!

Last week was also Parent Observation Week at J's school.  B and I gt there at 9am to watch J in both double dance periods.  She has 2 periods of ballet (90 minutes) and another 2 periods of modern dance.  The kids are so beautiful and talented, the teachers are just phenomenal, and I love that there are live musicians.  We left at around noon and grabbed some breakfast at a local cafe near Columbus Circle.  

Just about all my Christmas shopping is done.  It certainly has been a stressful season.  It arrived way too fast this year and I wasn't ready.  Oh well - I just hope my Amazon order gets here before Sunday.  MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!

Here are some more pictures of the trip to the NY Botanical Garden:

Saturday, December 03, 2011


It's December in the city again and I love it.  W and I "did" Manhattan yesterday with some friends.  We decided to follow a direct route and see all of the big store holiday display windows.  We started at Bloomingdales, then headed to Barney's, then Bergdorf Goodman, and Saks 5th Avenue.  Gorgeous and unique windows this year.  We made a couple of pit stops on our journey.  First was FAO Schwarz - the big toy store.  There were 4 19th-century carolers outside and the big toy soldiers greeted us as we entered.  Our next stop was the tree at Rockefeller Center.  We took some more pictures and watched the ice skaters for a bit.  We were on the way to Lord & Taylor and then Macy's, but we stopped in a Barnes & Noble for a rest and a snack.  W and I had $3 bowls of this incredible creamy chicken soup, which was perfect for the cold day.  He wandered off with his friend after that, telling me he felt like reading (?!?!!!).  I got some mom chat time, so that was great.  We spent so much time there, that I couldn't finished the route.  W and I hopped onto the subway, got home, returned our rental car, picked up my car from the collision place (don't ask, lol), got W to karate, picked up J, brought her to the orthodontist, then drove J to a friend's house.  I was ready to pass out when I got home.

Underground RR lantern
Union & Confederate caps
Last week we went to an awesome class all about the Civil War.  All of the kids were so knowledgeable and so eager to participate.  The instructor has a bunch of artifact replicas to show us - the real thing on display at the NY Historical Society.  NY played a pretty big role in the Civil War and the Underground Railroad.  A cool part was when the kids worked in groups and did short presentations.  We saw an old map of New York City (which only comprised of the very downtown area) and discussed how far we've come since then. I have to say, I was really impressed with the level of understanding, participation, excitement, and comraderie I saw that day.  Even the instructor was amazed by these kids.  W remembers so much about the Civil War even 2 weeks later - just from this class.  This is part of the reason I love homeschooling so much - we get to be a part of so many wonderful  and varied learning resources.

Academics have been focused mainly around spelling, reading, and math.  In the last 2 weeks we've gone from equivalent fractions to angles to dividing with decimals.   W is soaking it all in and now that the academics are more relaxed, he's having a lot more fun with everything - which undeniably means he is learning faster and easier.  Spelling Skills and the bridge workbook are going very well.  I think that bridge book is my favorite.  It was my favorite when J was home as well.  The book has these reading comprehension pages - read a passage then answer the questions.  It's the same kind that you'd find on a standardized test.  W did a couple of them.  Wow.  He definitely excels at reading comprehension.  He can pick out the main idea of the story (I always got those wrong in school) and is so confident he knows the answers that he'd rather make up something in his own words rather than go back and copy from the passage.  I'd hate to discourage that beautiful creativity, but he won't be able to do that on a real test.  Sigh.  No wonder schoolkids lose their enthusiasm.

W is also reading a mystery novel, a book about the Pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock, and will start a book about Thomas Edison next week.  He is spending more time on the independent reading and I don't want to rock that boat.  What he reads is pretty educational, so I don't really care that Captain Underpants is part of his stash, too.  As long as he's reading.

Here are some shots from our walk around Manhattan yesterday:

Bergdorf Goodman

Bergdorf Goodman

Barney's - Lady Gaga display

Along 5th Avenue

Sak's 5th Avenue

Ice skating at Rockefeller Center

Friday, November 18, 2011

2 Field Trips

We went back to the Paley Center of Media (the old Museum of Television & Radio) on Monday for a great class.  It was called "The Fine Art of Persuasion" and it was all about advertising.  We watched and discussed different commercials - from different decades.  We learned about target audiences, how ads are the reason most TV shows are on at all, tricks of the trade, exaggeration, what companies what to convey, etc.  I learned a lot.  The adults enjoyed it as much as the kids did.  And the kids were so into it - all the kids had their hands raised constantly to ask and answer question.  After the class, I heard the instructor tell the trip coordinator that these were probably the smartest kids she's ever seen.

On Tuesday we did a guided tour of a local supermarket.  I love these kinds of trips.  It makes you pay more attention to what's going on in the normally boring places you regularly go to.  We were brought to almost every food section and the kids got a baggie of stuff to eat from each of them.  Topics included:  organics, artificial colors & flavors, locally-grown produce, types of bread/grains, MyPlate (which replaced the food pyramid), unit pricing, understanding ingredient labels, and healthy living.  I think W got a lot out of it.  Both of the trips this week were for 5th-8th grade.  I'm really happy there are so many trips and classes for this age group.

J's school is performing Guys & Dolls next month.  If you'll be in the city for any of the show dates, I encourage all of you to experience this.  It's Broadway quality and only $20/adults and $10/students - you can order them right on the website.  Other than that, J's doing really well again this year.  She still loves it more than anything.  At the dance studio, they're in the throes of new choreography for the 2012 competition season. There will also be plenty of workshops, conventions, and outside classes this year, too.  K is enjoying college and doing great and she's still in training at her new job.  Her birthday is next week - on Thanksgiving!    W is still going very strong with karate.  Three days a week doesn't seem enough for him.  I have every Friday off in December so all month he can do 4x/week if he wants.

We'll be staying with fractions now for a while.  First we're reviewing the basics.  He gets it and seems to like fractions (he's probably just glad to be away from all those multiplication and division drills, lol).  I'm using a lot of different tools:  online videos and games, workbooks, manipulatives, using fractions throughout our day, and we took out the big blackboard.  I don't want it to get boring.  Spelling Skills was another 20 words along with categorization and "if-then" exercises.  In the bridge book he did a page on synonyms and using a thesaurus and common abbreviations.  And we read about fruits and vegetables in Science Lab in a Supermarket which  went nicely with our supermarket field trip.  He he did a written narration with this.  We started reading The Landing of the Pilgrims (w/a narration).  W did more independent reading as well.  We mailed the first quarterly report out this week - same format since 2005.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

This Week - Academics & Karate

I still feel good about letting go of curriculum.  I thought I'd have doubts, but I'm good.  

W's favorite book is Spelling Skills.  I agree with him - the book has everything.  This week he learned 20 new words and did a bunch of definition and antonym stuff with them.  Then he proofread a paragraph, finding the spelling mistakes and adding correct punctuation.  He also learned about "subject" and "predicate" and did a page on those - and when a word can be both a noun and a verb (e.g. poison, soil, etc) and how it gets listed in a dictionary.  38 more pages and we move on to the next level.  

For math, we started out the week with the Flash Kids 5 and by Thursday W asked to go right to TT7.  We're starting it in the Fractions section (Unit 4, Lesson 28).  He's done very well with the previous weeks' multiplication and division review.  He has the tables memorized and zips through long division with no problem.  I do feel he's ready to move on.  The great thing about fractions, decimals, percents, etc. is that all the math basics will constantly be used.  And even in the fraction lesson, TT7 threw in a few large-digit multiplication and division problems.   

He also did a few pages in a geography workbook (earth's makeup, other planets), a reading comprehension exercise in a summer bridge book - which I knew he'd be great at thanks to all those narrations over the years, and lots more independent reading.  We're going to focus on colonial and pioneer life this year for history - from about the late 1600s to the late 1800s.  I have a gazillion books, websites, and documentaries saved for this.  For science, we're going to try and spend a week on each worldbook topic (biological adaptations, biotic communities, animal and plant classification, etc) along with regular nature study (notebooking).  It's easy this way - we'll be using the  NY Hall of Science a lot, along with workbooks, websites, and science shows.  Gotta keep it simple.

Karate and fitness are W's new obsessions right now.  He goes to karate 3-4x a week and to the track 2x a week.  At karate, he's learning the 20 moves in the Kihon Kata, and the basics of Kumite (sparring) and in about 2 months he can take the test for his yellow belt.  At the park, we run around the track twice, then W does a bunch of reps and sets on all the exercise structures that are found every 50 feet around the track.  It's mostly sit-ups, leg-raises, push-ups, dips, lunges, pull-ups, and stretches.  Hey, it's good for him and it's starting to branch off into nutrition and other healthy living.  I love when he gets so into something.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Changing it All Up

We have been using Ambleside Online for a few years now.  I love the whole concept, but little by little we have been whittling away at the AO books.  We first eliminated the religious stuff.  Then a few books that were just dreadfully boring.  Now we're paring back even more due to W's glazed-over look when we read them.  Soon we'll have hardly anything left.

I've been focusing mainly on math and reading lately anyway, even though W wanted to spend less time on those this year.  I have found that he does better when he reads books that actually interest him - duh - and even "twaddle" isn't bothering me so much.  Being able to follow a general subject outline and using books of our own choosing is what I believe will be most effective.

Copywork, dictation, oral and written narrations, nature study, short lessons, and a history timeline are all things we're keeping.  We'll also be using lots of workbooks on various subjects since W likes them.  Trips to the library will be more frequent and of course lots of field trips and classes all around NYC.  We'll do more projects and hands-on stuff.  We will now cover a topic as in-depth as we like without feeling we must move on to stay on track with the curriculum.

The Worldbook  Typical Course of Study has been the main part of my IHIPs for a long time.  Now I'm going to print it out and use it as our guide.  Already I'm feeling a lot of stress being lifted.  We're both at that point where we just want to be free of a set curriculum and start using our own various and fun assortment of materials.

So, right now our list of materials we have on hand that we're keeping include:

Who was Marco Polo? (Holub)
The Complete Book of Maps & Geography
Basic Series Map Skills (Grades 6-8)
Basic Series World Geography (Grades 6-8)
Basic Series US Government, Economics, & Citizenship (Grades 6-8)
Everything You Need to Know About Geography Homework - Grades 4-6 (Zeman)
American History Homework Survival Guide - Grades 4-6 (Kantor)
Science Lab in a Supermarket ((Friedhoffer)
The Handbook of Nature Study (Comstock)
ScienceSaurus (Houghton-Mifflin)
Science Homework Survival Guide (Dylewski)
Basic Series Science (Grades 4-5)
Basic Series Life Science (Grades 6-8)
Simply Grammar
Writing Strands
Spelling Skills 4 & 5
Word Study & Phonics 5
Basic Series Grammar & Usage
The Heroes (Kingsley)
The Princess and the Goblin (MacDonald)
Flash Kids 5
Life of Fred Fractions
Teaching Textbooks 7
LiveMocha Spanish
Instant Immersion Spanish

And if W doesn't click with something, we'll toss it.  I'm not worrying about it anymore.  Homeschooling needs to have that click.  I've always believed that kids can only learn (really learn) when their interested in the subject matter.  This is something we have to do.  I feel at peace with it and W is very eager to begin our new journey, too.

Monday, November 07, 2011

MOBiA & Karate

The Museum of Biblical Art (MOBiA) was where we went with the homeschool group this week.  It's another one of those places I'd never been to or even heard of.  It was really cool.  We looked at a bunch of very old family bibles (from the 18th century) and talked about what families kept in there - such as pressed leaves, locks of hair, important dates, etc.  We saw some fancy covered bibles that salesman went door-to-door with and how families could purchase a nice bible 1 book at a time.  Afterwards, we all made our own books with beautiful fancy covers.  The pages were accordion-style from construction paper and the covers were heavy frame-backing cardstock that we glued foam shapes onto.  Then we covered the whole thing with shiny gold or silver foil paper that molded to the foam shapes underneath.  It did look like a fancy bible cover.

Halloween was fun, as usual.  J had several parties at the dance studio on the weekend and her high school always does Halloween pretty big.  They even open up the dressing and locker rooms 15 minutes before and after school so the kids can get into their costumes when they arrive and out of them when they leave.  After school is a grand Halloween parade/contest in the school's smaller theater.  Always a packed house for that.  W went up to the main avenue with a friend.  At 10 years old I think they've figured out that the stores are easier to hit and they give out cool stuff.

Academics this week included more long division practice in the Flash Kids workbook.  I'm confident W's got that down now.   I might have him do 1 long division problem a day just to keep him on his toes.  All in all we just stuck with math, spelling, and reading this week.  Halloween, B's birthday, my sister's birthday, my niece's Christening this weekend, and the official start of the holiday season has kept all of us a bit distracted this week.  We'll get back on the AO track next week.

Oh, and W finally started taking karate classes (that I've only been promising him for about 2 years).  We found this amazing place with great prices and great teachers.  He took an introductory class on Thursday and absolutely fell in love with it.  I think he was a natural - very strong and sharp and he gave the sensei his full attention.  His 1st official class on Saturday was about an hour and a half long.  W learned punches, blocks, and played a game with round kicks (out of 25 kids, he came in fifth place - not bad for his first class!  Saturday was a combined class.  His usual class will have only about 15 kids in it).  The sensei was impressed.  W will be going 3x a week (we pay for unlimited, though, so we'll go more days when we can).  I am really loving his enthusiasm about it.  I hope it's everything he wants it to be.

And here's 2 pictures of my beautiful 4-month-old niece.  Her Christening was this weekend.


Friday, October 28, 2011

LoFro & the U.N.

The week started last Sunday when we took J out to Long Island for a dance workshop with none other than the Season 7 winner of So You Think You Can Dance...LAUREN FRODERMAN!   The workshop was from 12pm-5pm.  Lauren taught 2 classes - jazz and contemporary.   Another class was taught by a special guest choreographer... KC Castellano from Born to Dance!  They were both really nice and gave a lot of great tips and information.  Lauren did a Q&A and autograph session at the end.

K will not be taking the assistant manager job at the health food place.  It turns out 2 of the stores are closing, including the one she's in now and the one she was going to.  She's not too broken up about it - she got a heads up about the stores closing a couple of weeks ago so she went right back to the place she applied for  over a year ago - the laundromat.   They had no openings, but all of a sudden the manager called K the next day to say they decided to make some changes and she's hired!  So she starts next week and is really looking forward to it.  This is where she wants to be.  Yay!   

I went to J's parent-teacher meeting today.  She's doing wonderfully in school and her teachers love her.  Her Social Studies teacher said she writes really well and always does great on her essays.  I will sing the praises of homeschooling on that one.  Never a formal writing lesson, yet she's always praised for her writing. 

W's academics this week included reading more of The Princess & the Goblin. Michelangelo, and American Tall Tales (Pecos Bill).  We still doing a review of long division with a lot of practice problems (which we may continue into next week), and spelling exercises ( words ending in -ed and -ing and the rules that go along with it). I never realized how hard the English language is.  So many rules and inconsistencies.  There was also the big Halloween party and bake sale at Scouts.  

On Wednesday, we went with the homeschool group to the United Nations.  What a great trip!  I hadn't been there since elementary school, so it was new for me, too.  All the kids were 10 and 11 years old and the parents got to come along.  We had a tour around most of the building.  The guide spoke in a microphone clipped to his jacket and all of us wore a headset to hear him.  That was cool - it kept the kids focused and we didn't have to strain to hear what was being said.  The kids were very interested in everything - they asked and answered so many questions.  It was a beautiful day to be in Manhattan.  The following pictures are from inside the U.N.:

W volunteered to be Canada

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Scout Camp Weekend

W had an amazing time camping with the scouts this weekend.  The weather was perfect.  Friday night was a bonfire and Saturday was a full day of activities.  These weekends are for the whole family.  I'd probably go along, but my girls have too many weekend things going on, and besides W gets to do some male bonding with his dad.  Unless, of course, his friend's cute sister wants to follow him around and admire his shooting skills.

We are zipping through the Flash Kids Math 5 workbook this week.  My new favorite thing in the world is Khan Academy!.  I love it and cannot say enough good things about it.  W watches a 10-minute video, we discuss it a little, and he does math problems in his workbook - there are math problems he can do on that website, too.  I may even show the site to J for her high school math.

This week's reading so far have included :  A Child's History of the World, Marco Polo, The Princess & the Goblin, and Science Lab in a Supermarket.  And he continues with Spelling Skills every day.  That book has done wonders for his reading ability.  He does several pages of activities for 40 new words and 2 pages of grammar each week.  The best part is that he loves it!  I also pulled out the HOP Master Level.  There are 4 levels of difficulty - blue, green, orange, then red.  Each one is supposed to be more difficult than the last.  We first got the program in November of 2009 and at that time he was struggling through the blue level, which is the easiest.  We put it away for a while and then last week I pulled it out again to see what he could do.  I grabbed the last story card from the 4th and hardest level (red) and he read the card with no problem.  WOW!  I mean I knew his reading improved since I recognized his dozens of dyslexia symptoms and we jumped into a multi-sensory reading approach, but the strides made in only 2 years are really incredible.  I love homeschooling.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Paley Center for Media

Our instructor holding the screech box
Yesterday we had a great homeschool group trip to the Paley Center for Media - which used to be called the Museum of Television & Radio.  The class was all about sound effects used in the old radio programs.  The kids listened to several programs and discussed how you can tell so much about what's going on with only the background sounds.  Then they got to go onto the stage and try out a bunch of different items and devices that make the sound effects:  A wind machine (essentially a vacuum box sucking air in through 2 small cylinders and had a speed control dial), coconut halves (horses trotting), a screech box (cranking the handle moved nails over glass and made a horrific screeching noise that could be anything from subway brakes to a park swing), a cowbell, small, heavy mats (for any "thud" sound), tied-together corn stalks (when shaken it could be rain, wind, or fire), and a large sheet of metal for thunder.  Most of these things were donated from the 3 major networks.  The instructor had the kids use the items to make the sound effects for a story she read out loud about a stampeding heard of cattle on a dark, windy night.  At the end of the class we watched a behind-the scenes 1940s clip of a radio show being performed.  It was interesting to see a whole crew just for the sound effect devices and just a handful of actors being dozens of characters.

After the class we decided to check out the library on the 4th floor.  It's a huge room with several TVs on each table and your own set of headphones.  Here you can pull up almost any TV show going back to the 1950s - and watch it with the original commercials!  A member gets 3 hours at a time.  W watched some old episodes of Pee Wee's Playhouse and All That.  I watched the Magic Garden, The Judy Garland Show, and Father Knows Best.  My friend was so excited to see the very first episode of General Hospital, lol.  W and I signed up for a free 1 year membership and will definitely be back.  Great trip!

This week's academics was our last week doing multiplication and division drills.  It's all about it being second nature.  Now we can get back to the 5th grade review book.  I may even do the Flash Kids 6th grade review book before hitting TT7.  I'll see how it goes.  The readings this week included more of The Heroes, The Princess & the Goblin, Science Lab in a Supermarket, A Child's History of the World, and Michelangelo.  Spelling Skills, a page a day, is also still going on.  So, nothing really new and interesting with the academics.  We're just plugging along at a nice pace.  Soon we'll be outdoors a lot more - a new skate park opened up about 10 minutes away in one of my favorite parks!  It's the opportunity I was looking for to get those nature studies in.

W is going camping this weekend with the scouts.  He's so excited and looks forward to this autumn one every year.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Met Museum & Central Park

This week we stayed focused on basic multiplication and division.  We used flash cards to speed through all the facts again.  Then we switched it up - instead of giving me the product of the 2 numbers, I told W to turn it into a division problem.  We spent about 15-20 minutes on that each day.  We also started reading The Princess and the Goblin.  W wanted nothing to do with books about princesses, but this starts out creepy enough to hold his attention.  We also read more Michelangelo, Marco Polo, and Science Lab in a Supermarket.  W gave really good narrations.  He didn't do written narrations this week, but he will next week.  He did a page of the Spelling Skills workbook every day, too.  I wanted to get to some art, but he had no interest.  It's ok though, he spends enough time on his own being extremely creative.  Just now, as B was heading to Home Depot, I heard W say, "Dad, pick me up a foot of 1/2" PVC and a coupler".  It sounds like more Nerf gun modding will be happening today.

We met some friends at the Metropolitan Museum of Art the other day.  We started out in Ancient Rome, then to Egypt, and finally 13th Century England to see the armor and weapons used during that time.  The boys liked it, but were eager to get to Central Park for some running around and Nerf wars.   So, we went outside, got a few yummy mustardy knishes from the street cart, watched a wonderful Doo-Wop group for a few minutes, and then walked the few blocks to the park.  Click on the pictures to make them bigger.

In the Egyptian exhibit

Armor and weapons

A mask in the gift shop

The Alice in Wonderland Statue in Central Park

K has been made assistant manager at the health food place where she works.  She'll be at a different location and she's looking forward to it.  She'll be getting a really nice raise, too.  Her main goal has once again become saving for a car.  She had a nice week.  Her friend was down for the weekend from college.  They both visited their old high school - K grabbed a bunch of her uniform shirts and sweats to donate.  Tomorrow we're all going out to my mom's til Monday since the girls are off from school.  I can't wait to see my beautiful niece again - she's almost 3 months old!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Math & Spelling

Am I completely crazy for absolutely loving the $6 Barnes & Noble math and spelling workbooks from Flash Kids?  I keep trying other programs and workbooks but always end up coming back to these.  The 5th grade math book is just for review and to make sure W knows what's what before moving on to TT7.  We plan on zipping through it quickly.  It's touches on everything without being tedious and annoying.  This week we took a short break from the workbook to really nail down W's multiplication and division skills.  I really believe it's important to have these memorized.  It makes the higher math easier.  So, Times Tales was first, and then we spent 2 more days going over the problems in the book - several times over.  W loves playing a speed game with facts.  He loved it when learning to read (the sight-word flash cards were a huge hit) and he still loves it.  By Wednesday I started using multiplication flash cards and doing the speed game with those.  It has everything from the 0 to the 12 times tables.  Yesterday it took exactly 11 minutes to reel off the correct answers to all the cards.  I'd like to spend more time on this next week as well, focusing more on the division end of it.

The spelling book has been a true Godsend.  The word lists and activities have helped him so much with his reading and writing.  There's a nice list of 20 words (all related in some way, either by sound, spelling, or other similarity), fill-in-the-blank-type questions (definitions, antonyms, rhymes, analogies, etc), proofreading paragraphs, and grammar lessons all in one chapter.  It's enjoyable and we spend about 3 days on one chapter.  Listening to W read aloud now, it's hard to tell he's dyslexic.  He's come so far.  One of the issues has been that every word to him is a sight word and it he memorizes them in order for his reading to flow.  Phonics and sounding-out plays a minuscule part.  That's why the Dick and Jane (and Dr Seuss, and Fly Guy) books were great since they repeated words over and over.  Hey, whatever works for him.  And it does seem to be working!

Other stuff this week included reading/narrating Paul Bunyan (from American Tall Tales), some Science Lab in a Supermarket, a chapter about John Cabot sailing to North America a few years after Columbus (in This Country of Ours), and some more Marco Polo with mapwork.  CCD and Scouts also started up for the year.

K has been busy with work and college - both are going great.  J is doing very well in school, hobnobbing with various celebrities, and just enjoying every minute.  At dance, she's gearing up for a new competition season.  Most of her group are at the top of their age category this year, so a lot is expected from them.  She has a bunch of workshops, master classes, and conventions on the schedule, too - starting next month.  I'm looking forward to a great year.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Yesterday & Today

Multiplication, analogies, word meanings, Marco Polo, and Greek mythology were on the agenda for the latter half of this week.  I've pulled out the old Times Tales again.  After a long summer, W has forgotten some of the times tables, so we're doing a nice once-over.  He enjoyed it a lot 2 years ago and he's enjoying it again.  I did all of Part 1 with him yesterday and today.  While I took a phone call, he caught himself up on Part 2.  I quizzed him on all of it and he knew everything.  Next week we're going to continue with basic multiplication and division.  He's already able to do large-digit X large-digit multiplication and long division with large numbers (and decimals), but remembering what 8x6 is make it all take so much longer.  If there's one piece of wisdom I can share with anyone, it's to make sure your kids' basic math functions are down pat.

W is still working out of last year's 4th grade spelling book.  We didn't completely finish it by June and with his dyslexia, I don't want to push too far ahead while leaving gaps.  He took a 5 chapter test, 25 questions, and got 100%.  The test was full of analogies, definitions, what words belong in which group, and completing each sentence.  We do spelling every day and cover about 2 chapters a week.  We'll probably get to Spelling Skills 5 in a couple of months.

Marco Polo is a lot of fun so far.  MIL picked up this cool atlas from Hammond called The Explorer Atlas and it has the perfect map.  Every country, route, and passage that Marco Polo went across and visited, is on a nice, 2-page spread.  Plus, it's great to have pictures and descriptions of things.  AO says to study Polo for the whole year.  We may just do that.  There's so much to discuss and so many books, websites, and documentaries out there. His travels also seem like a good segue into the next 400 years.   Each country on this map is a unit study in itself.

We are covering some Greek mythology this year as well.  The book we're using is called The Heroes.  The first chapter, centered around Perseus, is pretty good so far.  W likes it and it's written in a way that grabs his attention.  He gave a great narration and he's looking forward to the rest of the story.  I may use this for his future written narrations.  It's funny - I've noticed W's handwriting has improved steadily from the beginning of the week to today.  I think it's because he just so happened to do a lot of writing this week.  I didn't hear him once complain of cramped up fingers either, lol.  So, after several years of narrating stories back to me and his seemingly renewed enjoyment of putting pencil to paper, I do believe I was correct that he is finally ready for some real creative writing work.  The written narrations are the first step.  Thank you Charlotte Mason.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


W wrote a substantial narration about Christopher Columbus the other day.  Written narrations are new for him.  Last year he did a couple of sentences every few months or so.  This time, after we read the chapter, I needed to pick up K, so I handed W a pencil and a notebook and told him to write down what he remembers - in order if possible.  When I got back I saw he had written 2/3 of a page.  That was really impressive.  And apart from some run-on sentences and spelling mistakes, the narration was pretty good.  Here's the edited version:

"What I remember is that a kid named Christopher Columbus read about Marco Polo and wanted to be just like him.  He wanted to get a ship and sail across the ocean to find a new land.  He went on a boat and went to a whole lot of places so somebody could help him with the money to buy a boat.  None of them wanted any part of it except one, the king and queen of Spain.  They offered to give him a lot of money and he was happy.  He bought three boats.  And that's it."

And that's as far as we read.  I was happy with that.  His reading comprehension is good.   This is the year we will get into writing.  We'll spend a lot of time on sentence structure, grammar, & spelling.  One written narration a week should be fine for now.  Then we'll go over it, make corrections, and he can write it over again - or even type it out.  Spelling this week was contractions (hasn't, they've, we're, I'll etc).  We're using a huge atlas during the AO readings to see what area something occurred, where someone was born, how far one city is from another, etc.  W gets more into the stories that way.  Math was big number addition and subtraction, including word problems.   I am all about review and solidifying those basics.

I'm looking forward to another great week.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Harbor Defense Museum

On Monday, we went with the homeschool group to this little hidden treasure called the Harbor Defense Museum.  It's a nice collection of actual (and models of) weapons used from the Revolutionary War to WW2.   It's in the Fort Hamilton military base in Brooklyn.  The museum is housed in a brick structure that was built in 1825.  It was used as a fort to protect enemies who came in from the Narrows waterway.  The arched, brick windows had cannons place at each one.  The original wooden building on this location was used in the Revolutionary War.  The Battle of Brooklyn (also known as the Battle of Long Island, since Brooklyn & Queens are physically part of Long Island) was fought right on that spot.  The workers in the museum are all military veterans and are so knowledgeable and enthusiastic about these artifacts.    

We saw muskets, bayonettes, many different cannons, and ammo.  We also saw Revolutionary War uniforms from England and Scotland.  After a tour of the museum, the kids watched a couple of videos on how to load and shoot an 18th century musket and how large cannons were used and maintained.  W really enjoyed it, as the subject matter is right up his alley.  

After the class the kids ran around a big, grassy field playing Nerf guns and manhunt for over an hour.  We had lunch in a beautiful spot overlooking the water.  I was surprised to see some big boats going by.  

The wooden front door of the museum has iron built into it so enemies would break their weapons when trying to chop the door down

Talking about the Battle of Brooklyn

Big chemical ship in the Narrows (Lower NY Bay)

This guy was playing his steel drum down in the subway last week.  He was amazing.

In other news, we started on some academics yesterday.  W did 2 pages of math.  We're using a 5th grade, $7 bookstore workbook for review and to solidify the basics.   He did a page of spelling - contractions.  And we read about James Watt in The Story of Inventions.  Today he's doing 2 more pages of math, another spelling exercise, and we're reading about Michelangelo, and a chapter in A Child's History of the World.  He'll be doing a written narration, too.  I'll let you know how it turns out.   :)

J is now in her 2nd week as a sophomore in the Fame school.  She's still loving every moment of it.  Her schedule looks like this:  1. History  2. Ballet   3. Ballet   4. Modern Dance  5. Modern Dance  6. Science  7. Lunch  8. Math  9. English.  She also has Dance History once a week replacing one of the ballet classes.  No French this year so she has a free period.  She loves every one of her teachers (surprisingly) and feels real good about this year.  She's still going to physical therapy for her knee twice a week.  I think this is her 6th week (2 more weeks, 4 sessions, to go).  It's seems to have done the trick, but J hasn't been working it all that hard yet this year.  We'll have to wait and see.

K's doing great in college.  I didn't realize how much the textbooks cost.  $134 for one book?!   It's a brand new one so she can't even get it used anywhere -and it's only sold at the college bookstore.  WTF??  

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ellis & Liberty Islands

Our first field trip with the homeschool group this year was to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.  We didn't let any NY terror threats put a damper on our day.  And it was a very beautiful day, too.  We all met at Castle Clinton around 9am and got right on the Statue Cruises boat.  The boat ride across the  Upper NY Bay was fun.  We were all on the upper level feeling the sea breeze with beautiful scenery all around.

Our first stop was Ellis Island.  I had never been there before and was really looking forward to it.  The building has kept its original flooring and benches from 100 years ago.  It's awesome to walk and sit where millions of immigrants came through in the early 20th century.  The 4th-6th graders had a 90-minute class with a very enthusiastic instructor talking about the process of coming int this country.  We had a tour of the building, and the kids got to see what ship steerage sleeping quarters were like.   Then they got to try some things the new immigrants had to experience, such as performing mental acuity tests and figuring how much it costs to send letters and luggage to other states.  After the class we ate lunch outside and the kids climbed a tree and ran around the large grassy area.

Then it was back onto the boat and over to Liberty Island.  This is where the Statue of Liberty is.  After lots of security checks, we went in.  The first thing you see is the original torch that she carried for 98 years.  After the 1984 renovations, a new torch was put on and the old one was kept due to its history.  We took an elevator to the top of the pedestal and got some gorgeous views of the bay, the Manhattan skyline, and of New Jersey.  By this time it was nearing 3:30 and we jumped onto the boat back to Battery City.  I got home by about 5pm, dropped off W and made it to work with 10 minutes to spare.

Battery Park City.  9-11 Memorial flags (the stripes are made up of all the names of those who died), the gold sphere sculpture that was destroyed, and the eternal flame

On the boat heading for Ellis Island

Ellis Island

The class was called "Shore to Shore"

In the tree after lunch

One of the boats.  They make round trips to Liberty Island, Ellis Island, and Battery Park.  Others start and end in New Jersey

The original torch on display in the pedestal of Lady Liberty

What the inside of the statue looks like, taken from the top of the pedestal right under the feet.  That's the spiral staircase leading up to the crown

The Statue of Liberty - I'm looking up from the pedestal