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

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Getting Ready

W and I were skimming through a Summer Bridge workbook yesterday and decided to do a few pages.  We jumped around the book, stopping at whatever looked interesting. I'll admit, I didn't have very high hopes since we did absolutely zero academics this summer.  W didn't pick up one book.

First he unscrambled a bunch of 8-12 letter words, matching them to a word list.  This is something we've attempted in the past, but he couldn't grasp (which I attribute to the dyslexia). He also alphabetized several sets of 4 words that had the same first 4-5 letters (e.g. events, eventual, evening...).  We usually hit a wall or 2 with this kind of exercise as well.  He flew through both activities with no help.  I was so surprised.  How did it all

W's always had an issue with the letters in words.  Lately though, I've noticed  him enjoying picking apart different words he sees.  A few months ago for example, he saw the word "platter" and said that if you switch the "p-l" for an "s-h" it's "shatter".  This may be a basic concept, but for W it's a huge revelation.  Being aware of letters, patterns, phonics rules, and how it all fits together has been our main focus for over 2 years since I discovered he has dyslexia.  It's been 2 years of hands-on, mostly whole-language, multi-sensoral learning, getting his reading level to at least match his actual grade level.  I feel confident that it just might be working.

He also played around with US time zones, circling the correctly spelled word (which is a great activity for him), and some basic fraction review.  For a summer of no academics, he was certainly not lacking in skills.  We'll use the Summer Bridge book today, tomorrow and next week.  We'll start AO on the 12th. I'm so happy September is here.

K's first week of college is going well.  She loves it and has decided she'll have a 4.0 average.  Gotta love her confidence.  She and J are both going away for the weekend.  K is spending Labor Day weekend with her boyfriend and his family in the Poconos.  J will be at her best friend's beach house.  The rest of us would be going to my mom's for the weekend, but they they still might have no power out there.  The hurricane knocked out all  power and a huge tree fell in the backyard.  Almost a week with no power?  I wish they'd move back to Queens.

J is excited to go back to school.  Her knee is feeling great with all that physical therapy.  Tomorrow she'll complete 4 weeks (9 sessions) - and there's 4 more weeks to go.  Thankfully she has no more pain.  This year in school she's taking more advance ballet and modern dance. She's so ready to get back.