Tuesday, October 31, 2006

It's payback time!

So, a very wonderful thing happened to me this morning. My oldest son (going on 10 years old) woke me up and let me know my coffee was done and he'd poured me a cup. I came out into the living room, sat down on the couch with a cup of coffee already at hand. A little later, he was kind enough to give me a refill, too. And my (caffeine addicted) mother's heart melted. I've been just waiting and waiting for this! All those diapers changed, noses wiped, sibling disuptes negotiated, tears dried, sleepless nights, years of nursing, anger subdued, math facts drilled, worries gallore...all became a distant dream this morning as I saw payback. In the form of a fresh cup of coffee, lovingly poured for this SO not a morning person mom.

Ok, ok - you all know that I don't believe this is the first "payback" of being a mom - there's so, so very many wonderful things to being a mom. I even *like* changing diapers most of the time, and holding those newborns is just this side of heaven, I believe, and having your 4 year old come up and hug you saying, "Mom, I *like* you!" is just awesome! I could just go on and on - so don't get the impression that this is the first good thing I've seen about being a mom. But oh - oh!

It was just such a sweet, sweet morning! :-)

Monday, October 30, 2006

Standardized tests...

So, here in my home state of Georgia, state law indicates that you must "Administer and retain the results of a standardized test every 3 years beginning at the end of the 3rd grade." So, dutifully, at the end of 3rd grade (well, OK - late August - as long as it was before we started 4th grade work it counts as "end of 3rd grade", right?), we administered the Cat 5 test, using Kolbe Academy. Because we took the test "off-season" (in other words, late! ;-), our results were delayed a bit getting back to us. We got them back this weekend. As expected, J1 did very well. And I have such mixed feelings about the whole process. It's state law, so obviously I will follow it, and give another test in 3 years. But truly? What a waste of time!

I mean, I am his mother, and his teacher. I work with him every day, I check his work, we talk about what he does - I am well aware of what his strengths and weaknesses are. The only surprise for me on the test was that he didn't score exceptionally well on the section on "word analysis" - apparently he had trouble with long vowels and variant vowels. But, since he aced his reading comprehension scores, and was in the top percentile in spelling - obviously, there are no issues there. I suspect he either misunderstood the directions or just got bored and careless. So, J1 pretty much did exactly as I expected him to - $40 and 6 hours of our life later. It's a bit frustrating.

Though I do feel proud of him for his efforts. He's never taken any kind of test like that before, and because we were so rushed and busy with our late summer move, we didn't do any practice tests or anything. And admittedly, it is nice to see that our efforts here in our homeschool are bearing some fruit. And I'm very thankful to Our Lord for blessing me with a very academically oriented son as my first child - he has great intellectual gifts, and it makes my job much easier as a homeschooling mom. I think that I would have gone nuts (well, more nuts! ;-) if my first child was of the "late blooming" type. Just my personality, I would have worried endlessly - more so than I already do! :-)

But, I am struck by how one-dimensional testing of this sort is. Yes, in the basic academic subjects, J1's doing quite well. But there is so much more! He has much to learn about our faith, his handwriting's still, well, terrible, he has many character issues to work on, he still needs help buttoning his pants, we have so many "life skills" to work on, like cooking and cleaning, etc. He is a fairly typical 9.5 year old boy, in other words, in most ways.

We knew when J1 was quite young that he had very special intellectual abilities (he's officially "highly gifted"), and we made a conscious decision not to push for any sort of "acceleration", or special programs, etc. We always felt that he had all the time in the world to learn academics, and only a very short time to be a little boy.

One of the beauties of homeschooling is the opportunity to serve his needs in *every* way, not just academically. We can spend time learning "life skills", and work on developing a strong character, and immerse ourselves in our faith, and really nurture our relationships. And, at the same time, not stand in his way as he pursues his interests and grows intellectually. I am so very thankful we are able to homeschool, it is truly a blessing in so many ways!

And yeah, it's kind of nice to see those test scores, even though everything I believe about education tells me they're mostly meaningless!

Menu Plan Monday

Wow, these weeks go by so fast! I'm so excited about doing this - it is so helpful to me to get these menu plans up each week, and I get so many great ideas from all the other participants!

So, this week is a light week, menu-plan wise. Today is a kid birthday here at the AAA house, so the birthday boy has requested a special treat - the dreaded golden arches! :-) And tomorrow we're going to a friend's house for Halloween, so I don't have to cook on Tuesday, either - that's a special treat for me! :-) So, here is my week...

Monday - birthday, fast food requested by the 6 year old!

Tuesday - Halloween party at a friend's house - no cooking for mom tonight, either! :-)

Wednesday - Tortilla Chip Pie, salad

Thursdaty - Vegetable Beef Soup, Cracker Bread

Friday - Pasta and meat sauce, salad, italian cheese bread

Saturday - Chicken Pot Pie, Salad

Sunday - Cola Pot Roast (yum!!!), mashed potatoes, broccoli casserole (gotta find the recipe!)

Head on over to Organizing Junkie and take a look at all the other yummy menu plans!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Menu Plan Monday

It's that time again - Menu Plan Monday! Can't believe a whole week has passed already! So, what's on the menu this week?

Monday: I've got a late afternoon appointment, so tonight's an easy meal:
Tomato Soup, Grilled Cheese Sandwhiches, Salad

Tuesday: Fried Chicken, Rice, broccoli and carrots

Wednesday: It's a big birthday day today, so we're out for dinner tonight!

Thursday: Hamburger Steak with Onions and Gravy, Mashed Potatoes, Mixed Vegies

Friday: Hot dogs/brats, chips, vegies and dip

Saturday: Chili (family recipe - I'll write it down and post it soon!), corn bread, salad

Sunday: Pork Loin Roast, garlic parmesan roasted potatoes (I can't find this recipe, I'll posted it as soon as I do!), sauteed cabbage

So, what's on your menu this week? Check out Organizing Junkie for more ideas!

The First Month - what works, what doesn't and our daily routine

Well, we're approaching our first month of schoolwork here at Aquinas Academy. Just enough time to discover what is working well, and also what isn't working much at all!

What's working well...Our binders! I love having everything all ready to go with the younger ones, and J1 and I both appreciate the independence he has with his binder. I continue to love most of CHC's materials, their lesson plans are such a wonderful base for me! I also like the routine we've developed. Here is a general idea of what we do each day:

7:30am (or thereabouts) everyone's waking up, eating breakfast, maybe watching a little PBSKids or playing a computer game, or talking with mom (or fighting - no! playing with each other, lol!)

9am (or thereabouts) mom cleans up the kitchen while the boys brush their teeth and get dressed. Then, J1 goes to the schoolroom to do math, handwriting, and grammar, spelling, or catechism while A2, S3, and N4 come to the dining room table for their morning seat work. We start with catechism, following the CHC 1st grade lesson plans, and utilizing some of the Who Am I preschool work book for N4. Then, we do handwriting, and afterwards I have the boys get up and do some stretching exercises. We sit back down and I read to them from a science book (right now it's usually The Usborne First Encyclopedia of Animals) or else a story that ties in with our weekly character card (like Richard Scarry's Please and Thank You Book when we were working on our "Please"s and "Thank You"s). Then, we pull out a sheet or perhaps two from Explode the Code (or Get Ready for the Code for N4). Once those are done, it's time for recess!

10:30-11am - Outside playtime. The boys go outside and play for 30-40 minutes. After 2 years in an apartment, we just are enjoying our backyard so very much! They run around with our dog, play elaborate games of "war with the aliens", or some such thing, and practice baseball. Mom chats with dad a bit, sends out an email or two, and maybe gets a household chore done.

11:30am or so - snack time and story - mom reads a story (currently A Grain of Rice) while the boys have a quick snack. I will also read from J1's American Poetry book once or twice a week.

11:45 or so - we have one on one time with my younger boys. J1 plays with N4 (usually with Play Dough or Legos)and one of the middle boys while I go into the school room with the other one. We work on either reading or math, and then A2 and S3 trade off. I do reading with one, then with the other one, then math with one, then math with the other one, in any combination, so that I have one on one time with both A2 and S3 for reading and math instruction. Finally, N4 comes in to have his own one on one time with mom. I generally work from the MCP K Math book - not that I really want to be doing K math with my 4 year old, but truly, he insists!!

1pm - we watch Between the Lions on PBS. The kids love this show, and it's really reinforcing our reading and phonics instruction. A2 in particular is a very visual learner, so this is very helpful for him.

1:30pm after the show, we eat lunch. At this point, the formal schoolwork for the younger boys is completed. They clear the table after lunch while J1 and I go off to do his work. We correct his math and discuss any issues he's having. We go over our Latin lesson, talk about history and science, correct grammar and spelling, take any quizes, etc.

2:30pm or so - we're pretty much completely done with any formal schoolwork at this point, and we have an hour or so before dad gets home to do some household chores, etc. We need to work on organizing this a bit better, though!

However, I do consider both dinner time and bed time to be part of our school day. At dinner time we spend a lot of time discussing our catechism lessons, our history and science, current events, etc. At bedtime, we have a family read-a-loud (right now it's Time Cat), and on most nights J1 reads quite a bit on his own.

Our normal, every-day routine of school is working very well for us. Staying in a normal, every day kind of life has been a challenge. Birthdays, visits from grandpa, field trips, doctor's appointments - one big struggle for me is maintaining our routines even in the face of interruptions to our "regular" life. We do have Wednesdays as a "light" day, where we work on art and music and have time open for field trips and doctor's appointments, etc. Still, the interruptions are getting to me. I am glad I at least have a "normal" routine that works well!

Two other things aren't working well, and are changing. The first involves my organization. I started out doing my weekly lesson plans, re-organizing the binders, etc, on the weekends. This ended up causing me a great deal of stress as I seemed unable to find a good time on the weekends to work on it, and ultimately ended up getting a late start on a couple of Mondays as I frantically tried to pull everything together Monday morning. My solution? Utilize our "light" day, Wednesday, for planning purposes. Now, we work on art and music in the morning, then the kids get some free time while I gather materials and plans for the following week, Thursday through the following Wednesday. It's working really well, and has really eased my weekend time!

Finally, we are having to completely change our handwriting program. I love CHC's handwriting, I adore the lovely Catholic words and sayings the kids write, I like the concept of practicing handwriting strokes by drawing in the borders of the pages...but for my young boys, it just doesn't work, not at all. After struggling mightily for the first few weeks, I'm switching over to Handwriting Without Tears. My boys just have such a hard time with handwriting, they need the extra help of HWT. I need to go back and review the teacher's manual, I used it with J1 for the first couple years of handwriting, but I think A2 in particular is going to need some of the extra techniques HWT uses and I need to review!

All in all, things are going quite well this school year so far. I need to let disruptions not disrupt us so much, and I'd like to spend some more time working on some "real life" skills. Montessori type activities for the younger kids, some cooking lessons for J1, and teaching everyone to help maintain our home. That's what we'll be working on more in this next month!

The Loveliness of Babies

Well, turns out I missed the Fair for this one. Seems I missed the deadline because I, uh, didn't read directions! Hmm... I was just discussing this very issue with J1 last week - wonder where he gets it from, lol! At any rate, I've decided to leave the post up, even though I missed the fair. For those of you who manage to find it, enjoy! :-)

There has been a series of Blog "Fairs" discussing "Loveliness". From Simple Elegance in the Bedroom to Simple Elegance in the Living Room to the Loveliness of Autumn, these fairs have inspired me to think about beauty and elegance in my own life. The discussions over at the Real Learning Forums that led to thinking about the beauty in our lives are well worth a read! This week, Elizabeth over at Real Learning is hosting the Lovliness of Babies fair. How delightful!

Anyone who knows me, knows how much I adore babies! I'm not so overly fond of toddlers, lol, but babies are just the best! It has been quite some time (it feels like!) since we've had a baby in the AAA house. At one point, I had 4 children under 6 years of age, and I remember well how overwhelming it was. As much as I love the babies, caring for that many very young children stretched me to my absolute limits (I think! The Lord is awfully good at showing me how far my limits really are!) I have many friends right now who are there where I was, with lots of little ones, and I just keep telling them - it really does get easier! Bigger kids are such a help, and once you have someone you can actually converse with, your days become much more intellectually interesting, if perhaps not as snuggly and cuddly! As much as I enjoy my older children, as much easier as it is now that I have no one in diapers... still, the heart of my family longs for babies.

For a wide variety of reasons, the Lord has led us to this long gap between children. Many families I know are in similiar situations - longing for babies, but unable to welcome one into their lives. Whether through secondary infertility, repeated miscarriages, health issues, or other unavoidable life circumstances, it is exquisitely painful, in a strangely beautiful way, to wait for another little one. How do you keep that baby love alive, in yourself and your children, when you're in that difficult waiting part of life?

There are no easy answers, of course. In my own family, we enjoy looking back on our children's babyhood. On each birthday we re-tell the circumstances of their birth, and discuss what they were like as a baby. We ooh and ahh over every baby that we see - people always smile at us when my four young boys comment, loudly and repeatedly, about the cute babies we see! My boys all enjoy nurturing stuffed animals, even a baby doll or two. I love to see the nurturing, caring side to my boys!

Finally, in their bedroom (yes, all 4 boys share a room), we have a very special wall. On it, we have the name hangings a friend got as a welcome home present when we got our new house, and above each child's name, we have my favorite baby picture of each of them hung. The boys love looking at pictures of themselves as babies and I love looking at them and remembering them when they were so tiny!

The best part of the wall, for me, is the opportunity to see my children, both as babies, and as rapidly growing young men. I can look at them sleeping in their beds, and glance up to those beautiful pictures of the babes that they once were, and see the connection. When we are having A Discussion while they cry, pout, or stew on their beds, it helps me to glance up and see the little baby I once was so intimately connected with, almost instantly my patience and understanding increase. It helps the boys to see themselves - and their brothers - as babies, to understand that they weren't always so big and independent.

There's just something about babies, in photos, and especially in real life, that opens the heart with joy and tenderness!

Thanks to Elizabeth and the Real Learning folks for letting us take a closer look at the Loveliness of Babies!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Birthday Extravaganza Begins (part 1)

Here in the AAA house we have 3 birthdays in 11 days near the end of October. What a busy, delightful time!!

Today is N4's 4th birthday! Because daddy has to work today, and it's awfully tough to wait all day long when you've just turned 4, we let him open one present in the morning, while daddy listened in on the phone and mom took lots of pictures.

Being young boys, one of the requests this year was either a Star Wars Blaster or a Batman sword. The sword won out in mom's mind, and was met with great enthusiasm by the birthday boy!

Then, mom had great fun listening to the adventures of "N...Ninja and his sidekick, S...Samuri."

There was some discussion about the fact that perhaps S3, as Samuri, should really have the sword, but the birthday boy "Ninja"was loathe to give it up. It was ultimately decided that alliteration and birthday fun was much more important than any possible historical accuracy.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Real-life nature study and combustion...

Yesterday was a very interesting day in the AAA house. As any of you who know me understand, I am definitely not a bug person, and I have a personal history with rodents that has left me with a true phobia (ask me about "the great mouse invasion of 2000" someday!) Ever since we moved into our new house a couple months ago, I have wanted to call a "bug guy". I know, I know - toxic chemicals and unneccessary expense and all that. Sorry - having a pest control system in place around my house will reduce my stress level a great, great deal, so I'll budget carefully and live with the chemicals if I have to! Last week we found a dead scorpion in our basement (thank you, kitties!), and that was the last straw. Dh called the Cook's Pest Control people, for no other reason than their catchy jingle during the Atlanta Braves radio broadcasts! We liked them very well, they were thorough and their prices are in line with other area companies. Dh signed up for the monthly maintenance plan, and I must say I am very pleased.

First, the good news: We have no major infestations of any kind, our house is pretty secure with no obvious point of entry issues. The few bugs that were seen were of the "they wandered in by accident and don't really want to be there" variety, according to bug inspector guy. With a regular maintence pest inspection in place, we should have no problems with bugs at all. The best news? No evidence whatsoever of rodents - horray!

Now, the bad news. We had some termites near the concrete, in the mulch, at the front of our house. No sign that they had gotten to the house or our porch wood or anything, but they were definitely there. Bug guy recommended removing the wood mulch and replacing it with pine straw or gravel. That's definitely near the top of our project list now! We had a termite bond from another company when we bought our house, so we will be calling them to see if they will continue to treat the house. We'll definitely take care of that one way or the other in the next month or two. Being in the South, termites are definitely nothing to mess around with! Pest inspector also found all the Orb Weavers around our house, a Wolf Spider carcass in our garage (shudder!) and a few "American Roaches" (a/k/a "Palmetto Bugs" - yuck!)

Our property is in a beautiful wooded area not far from a large lake. In fact, we have about an acre that backs up to government property around one of Georgia's lakes. So, given our environment, we knew we would be dealing with critters. The bug guy said that he found nothing unexpected or unusual for our environment, and no major problems of any kind. Small comfort, but comfort none-the-less.

Well, except for the *really* bad news. Ok, ok - it's not awful news, not really - bug guy found nothing poisoness or truly dangerous. However, guess what he found under our front porch?!?!?

Yes, folks, that is a snake skin! Look at how long it is!

So, ok, we have 4.5+ feet snakes around our house. No big surprise, I guess. The bug guy thought it was probably a "Bull Snake", or perhaps a "Black Racer". Neither snake is poisonous, and in fact will eat lizards, birds, bugs and rodents (horray), most of which we really don't want around, right? The bug guy and dh didn't think it was a copperhead or a cottonmouth (the venomous snakes likely to be found in our environment). For one thing, the copperhead and cottonmouth snakes are actually slightly smaller than the skin we found, and the skin we have has no pattern evident in it - apparently it is common to be able to see the banding patterns found on those venemous snakes still on their shed skins. Ours is rather plain - but so big!! At any rate, we obviously need to learn more about snakes! I plan on going over to United Streaming today and seeing what I can pull up for the kids to watch and become informed about snakes.

I suppose that, given where we live, we really have to expect to share our environment with all these creatures, and we do have an awesome area for real-life, backyard nature study in our homeschool. Truly, as long as the critters stay out of my house, I'm ok. Thus, our Pest Control contract! And I am very, very glad that we have two cats and a dog who will hopefully at least scare the snakes away when the kids are playing outside! Yikes!

On a lighter note, we also had a chimney sweep come and clean out our fireplace. All was pronounced safe and sound, and the boys were almost unbearably excited about having a fire. Our chimney sweep assured us this was completely normal, that he would have been worried if they hadn't been excited. He said he didn't know what it was, but all young boys seem to be inordinately excited about fires in the fireplace. Hmm...perhaps United Streaming has a film about fire? At any rate, the boys, they're awful cute! :-)

Monday, October 16, 2006

Menu Plan Monday

While perusing one of my new favorite websites, Tammy's Recipes, last week I discovered "Menu Plan Mondays". Basically, a website called I'm an Organizing Junkie (love that blog title! :-) gets a group of bloggers together, everyone posts their menus and links back to the original site, where a list of links are kept. What a boon! I'm always looking for ideas, especially about meals and menus, so this was just a great find. I have discovered, as you will see from several of my recent posts, that staying organized and having a clear plan is the key to my happiness as a homeschool mom. One of the ways I do this is to have a menu plan each week (I even keep it in my new Kitchen Binder!), so I thought that I could participate in Menu Plan Monday myself. Horray, what fun! So, without further ado, here is this weeks' menu:

Monday: Spicy Rapid Roast Chicken, brown rice, mixed frozen vegies, salad

Tuesday: Country Steak and gravy, mashed potatoes, peas and carrots, bread and butter (for my wierd children who don't like mashed potatoes!)

Wednesday: Chicken Noodle Soup (use leftovers from Monday), cracker bread (yum!!), salad

Thursday: BBQ beef sandwhiches(I'll use the crockpot for this), soft onion rolls, plain sandwhich rolls and chips for the kids, coleslaw (I'm still on the search for the perfect coleslaw recipe, thought I'd try this one this week), birthday cake for my youngest!!!

Friday: Tuna Noodle Casserole (I'll make it with canned tuna, homemade cream of mushroom soup, frozen peas, and egg noodles, with a parmesan/cracker crumb curst on top), salad

Saturday: Fried Pork chops, spiced potatoes (family recipe, I'll post it someday!), green beans

Sunday: Roast beef, yellow rice, mixed frozen vegies, Apple Crisp and ice cream for dessert

Many thanks to Laura at I'm an Organizing Junkie for organizing this great collection! Do check out the other blogs listed there on Menu Plan Monday - you'll find some great ideas!

More binders! The Kitchen Binder story, Part 1

I have to tell you all - I have become positively obssessed with binders! I started with my school binders (see my posts here and here), and now I have begun a "Kitchen Binder".

One thing that I repeatedly find is that the only way to survive, make progress, and be happy about it all while homeschooling 4 young boys is to be very, very organized, with a clear plan. This not only means organized about our schoolwork, but also, I'm finding, about every aspect of our homelife. Given that I live with 5 males who are all big (dh is 6'1", while my oldest, at not quite 10 years old, is already almost 5'2" with feet bigger than mine! All his brothers are pretty proportional, so I have a lot of Big Boys, lol!) and all pretty much ravenous every waking moment, the logical place to begin organizing my home is in the kitchen!

Now, you have to know that I just love to cook. I love experimenting with different recipes, trying to balance taste and nutrition and economy. Quite often I'll try a new recipe and everyone will agree "It's a keeper", that they want me to put that meal in as part of our regular rotation. But I can't tell you how many times I end up forgetting about it, and then when I remember, I can't find the recipe anymore. Something definitely needed to change. I've tried various ideas before in the past, including an attempt to use a very nice program for keeping my recipes on my computer and my Pocket PC. Unfortunately, the process of entering recipes is so tedious and time consuming I just couldn't use it. While I was making up my homeschooling binders, and calling to mind various posts I've read out there on the web about "household management binders", I had the idea (probably not original, lol!) of creating my own kitchen binder. And, after just one week, it's working out really well.

Here is what I do. I have a binder (2" works best so far, though it might very well end up really large!), with 6 dividers (so far!). In order, front to back, these dividers say, "Menu - this week", "Recipes - this week", "Recipes", "Old Menus", "Blank forms" and "Reference". I use forms from Donna Young's website, where I print out a menu plan and a shopping list. I write down my menu plan into Donna Young's form and put it into a page protector right behind the "Menu - this week" divider. I print out a shopping list and hang it on my fridge, so that during the week when I think of something I need I can write it down immediately. Next, I print out all the recipes that I will be using this week. I use my word processing program and type out any recipe from a book or my own head so that I have a hard copy of it. Any recipes that I find on-line, I find it easiest to copy and paste the recipe into my word processing program. On the bottom of the recipe, I try to put a reference line that indicates where I got the recipe (ie, what book or website it comes from). I save each recipe to a folder called "My recipes" in my computer. That way I can easily re-print the recipe if it gets damaged or dirty. Each recipe gets its own page protector, so it is less likely to get soiled while I cook. I put all the recipes I'm going to use that week, in the order in which I will use them, behind the "recipes - this week" divider.

Behind that, I have a simple "recipes" divider. After each week is completed, I will take the recipes I used that week and transfer them from the "recipes - this week" section to the "recipes" divider. Right now I simply put them into alphabetical order, but eventually as my collection grows I might have to divide it up by meal or by type or some such thing. I figure after a month or two there will be enough recipes in my binder that I'll have it pretty complete, and I'll no longer have to type, save, and print out recipes each week, I'll just have to flip through my binder and find ones that sound good, or match that week's sales at the grocery store, etc.

Following my "recipes" divider, I have a divider for keeping my "old menu plans". I also put that weeks' shopping list in the page protector with the menu plan. I might eventually re-use entire menu plans and shopping lists - more time savings, horray! Behind that divider, I have one called "forms", and directly behind it I have a pocket filled with blank menu plans and grocery lists.

Finally, I have a divider called "references". I'm forever wondering, "How many cups in a quart?" or "I'm out of Italian Seasoning, what can I use instead?". Right now my reference file has measurement equivalents, and Herb and Seasoning substitutions. I might discover other things that would be useful to me. Much better to have that information handy than to have to stop in the middle of my cooking and search for it on-line (and whatever did we do before the internet??)

This has worked out so well for me! It's so much easier than trying to implement a cool computer program. It's like my own cookbook, but more than that. My kids know, if they're curious about what's for lunch or dinner, they just pull the binder off my desk and open it up. I no longer have to search for my recipes each evening. It's all right there, planned out and organized for the week, in an easy to use and re-use format. Yet more evidence that organization contributes to my homeschool happiness!

Eventually, I'll post pictures of my Kitchen Binder, but it needs a little polishing! I am considering adding a freezer and pantry inventory section - if I could organize it properly, it would be an incredible time saver as I make my grocery list each week. Have to think more about that idea, though. I also want to get a nice pretty cover for my binder, and I think I may come up with a couple more dividers that need to be added. In another few weeks I'll post again about my kitchen binder, this time with pictures! It's definitely a work in progress - but already so useful for me!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

How it's going so far...

Well, here we are, well into our first month of school, and all in all, things are going quite well. I must admit, it's an incredible challenge to teach 4 young children all at once. Of course, my youngest is not quite 4 and is really too young for any kind of formal schoolwork - but just *try* to stop this child from doing everything his brothers do! In fact, besides N4, technically, S3 is only in Kindegarten this year - but he's doing mostly first grade work. So, I seem to have a 4th grader, two 1st graders (though A2 is definitely almost halfway through first grade work, apart from reading), and well, the 4 year old is essentially doing Kindegarten work. It makes for some really, really busy days.

But I love it! I feel so very blessed to be teaching my children, I am so happy to be sharing with them, learning with them, just being with them!

One thing that has worked really well for us this year is all my planning and organization. There is simply no way that I could teach this many young children without being very organized, with a clear plan in place. I spend an hour or two each week putting together my lesson plans, and then for the rest of the week I don't have to think about it. Each morning we just pull out our binders, I check my weekly plans, and we get started. We have a nice daily routine, which I'll post about later, and I really feel like we athatccomplish quite a bit. We're pretty focused in our work, so the time we spend actually sitting at the table working is only about an hour and a half for my youngest 3, while J1 spends about twice that on his work. We try to spend 30-60 minutes outside each day (I love my backyard!), and another hour or two playing with good toys, like play-dough, legos, blocks, art supplies. We also have kitchen work and household chores, though I definitely have to get more organized about , lol!

One thing that I particularly love is the opportunity to see my children as unique individuals. They are so very interesting and diverse in the way that they learn. J1 is a very traditional scholar - he reads voraciously, and is quite happy to read about history and science, and grammar and spelling come easily to him because he reads so much. He loves studying language, both English and Latin, and is really taking to his beginning piano lessons quite well. He is very much a verbal child, though, and has to *talk* about everything. For example, when I give him a spelling quiz, it takes, oh, three times as long as it should, because he has to make up stories using all his spelling words and laugh about it with me. He struggles to do anything silently - but given that he's not quite 10 years old, and *is* capable of focused concentration when he's alone, I believe that it is just his personality. He gets it from his dad (as any of you who know my dh can attest!)

A2 is very deliberate in everything he does, almost methodical. Even if he can tell me what the answer to the math problem is by just looking at the numbers (which he's more and more able to do), if there is a picture to accompany the problem, he simply must count it all out. In addition, A2 is going to dig in his heels and not do a thing until he understands it. If you present a concept to him that he doesn't immediately understand, he just seems to shut down. But if you give him some space, he'll very patiently work it all out on his own, and then when he's mastered it, he will then - and only then - show you what he knows. I believe that's why he is not quite reading yet. Though he is making fabulous progress so far this year!

S3 does everything with a flourish. He presses really hard with his pencils and crayons on everything he does, tells stories about everything he can, physically acts out many of his stories, and generally can concentrate for about 10 minutes (though that's an improvement from his average of 8 just a month ago, so this school thing is really helping him out!) His mind is incredibly quick, and he pays attention to everything, even when you think he's off in la-la land, and surprisingly, he listens to instruction better than any of his brothers.

N4 just eats up the attention involved during schooltime. He always asks to do just one more worksheet, one more story, he could probably work all afternoon if it was just him and me and I was focused on him! He's very loving, very social, with a very long attention span for a child not quite 4 years old. He's also imaginative. He'll often just start giggling as he's working on a math sheet, for instance, and I realize he's quietly amused by the silly pictures in front of him. He doesn't talk about it (unlike J1 and S3), just giggles as he works.

It's just so very interesting to me, an only child, to see my 4 sons as such unique individuals, despite the fact that they are so obviously brothers (someone once asked us if we kept a mold in the basement where we made our kids!) I am so happy to get to know these children, really know them in all their strengths, weaknesses, and quirks. I think that's one of the best parts about homeschooling!

The one thing I need to work on, though, is finding more time in the day for my tasks - like updating this blog! I have many, many things I need to write about, especially given that this blog is mostly for my own record-keeping purposes. So, now that we have our school routines down, for the next few weeks I'm going to work on my household routines, and creating more time for my own writing and record-keeping. I'll let you all know how it goes - hopefully! :-)

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Last week...

We went on a fabulous field trip last Wednesday to a local farm. I arranged a field trip to Carlton Farms for my wonderful homeschool group, CHANGE. It was the first field trip for our group that I coordinated, and other than realizing in the middle of it all that I really should have brought name tags for everyone, we all had great fun.

The 4 AAA boys were really excited about visiting a real farm. The drive out to the farm took about 45 minutes from our house, and toward the end it was positively bucolic. The day was beautiful, sunny, with that nice early morning mist rising from the rolling hills. Even the massive power plant we passed on the way couldn't mar the beauty of the Georgia morning! We arrived at the farm and the boys were immediately enticed by the tiny baby black kitten who wandered out to greet us - A2 was practically in tears because he wanted to take it home with us. I was fascinated by the chickens roaming around everywhere. Would they peck at me? No, these seemed to be gentle, rather friendly chickens - not at all like the monsters my mom tells horror stories of feeding in her youth (remember them, mom? :-)! After the boys played with the kitten awhile, I managed to get them to pose in the pumpkin patch for me:

After everyone arrived at the farm, our tour guides got us started. We first took a hay ride on a massive "wagon" type of contraption pulled by a tractor. The boys had a love-hate relationship with the hay - and the sun!

The hayride took us around the farm, and we drove past their animal barn (more on that later), their dairy operation (very impressive) and finally, out to the pasture with the cows.

The intent at this point was to have us feed some of the hay in the "wagon" to the cows - unfortunately, the cows weren't that interested!

Next we went to the animal barn, where we got to see a baby cow being bottle-fed,

and the kids got to pet and feed the sheep,

who weren't all that interested in human boys, but the goats across the path from them loved us!

N4, in particular, just loved feeding the goats!

We also saw some baby chickens and some really interesting looking exotic chickens with long, hair-like feathers (didn't get a picture of them, unfortunately - they were really neat!).

After the animal barn, we got to go into the corn maze. I had never been in a corn maze before. and it was both fun and kind of creepy. I don't know what other mazes are like, but this one had different numbered boards scattered through the maze. When you entered, you were given a piece of paper with questions - if the answer to the question was true, you went left at the board, if it was false, you went right at the board. Each board also had a hole-punch, so you could punch your slip of paper after answering each question so you would know if you doubled-back. If you took a wrong turn, you just went in circles for awhile before coming back to the board. The boys and I and the families we were travelling with got to the second sign and then got hopelessly lost! We ended up just going back to the entrance - a reasonable choice when your group includes two pregnant mommies and 4 kids under the age of 4! Even though we failed to get through the whole maze, we had a lot of fun!

Finally, we ate our lunch with our friends under the shade of the trees in front of the farmhouse, and before we left we got a gallon of fresh raw milk for our - ahem - pets. Indeed, our cats and our dog and our, um, other household creatures thought the milk was delicious! Even more so for having visited the cows that produced it!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Our first week

Our first week back to our sit-down schoolwork was a little crazy. I was so very sick last week that I just didn't get the start that I had hoped for. But, it was a decent week, really. Here is what we accomplished:

J1 started his schoolwork, and we worked out a few kinks in his routine. We decided that doing human anatomy, American History *and* geography and map skills, in addition to all his other subjects, was just too much. We agreed that for the first half of the school year, he would focus on History and his unit on Human Anatomy. In the second half of the year, he will continue his history, but would study geography with the units on nutrition and survival skills that we had already planned. Human Anatomy is just so interesting, and fairly intense, so it is much better that he have more focus on that in this first part of the year. J1 also successfully got right back into math and handwriting, so I was quite pleased with that.

While I didn't manage to get started with the other kids last week, I did get all their binders completed! Here's a picture of the table with their master binders and their weekly binders while I was making up their lesson plans.

As you can see, I spent some time planning out our lessons, and now I have a good outline of what all of them should accomplish this year. I also spent a great deal of time thinking about how to organize my day so that I have the time to devote to teaching all of them.

I was a little afraid that I was spending way too much time planning, rather than just *doing*, but I really believe that isn't the case. I will give you more details in another post, but I will tell you that so far this week, all my planning is paying off and our lessons and routines are really going well!

Also, though we didn't do a whole lot of formal school last week, we did have a close encounter with the bug world! A Very Large Grasshopper got into our house one day. Thankfully, dad was home to help us take care of it. We watched it hop around our living for awhile - WOW can those things jump! Then we caught it in a cup and took it outside to study before we let it go.

The boys were somewhat fascinated, and a little scared! All in all it was quite the interesting afternoon!