Sunday, October 22, 2006

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!

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