Monday, January 26, 2009

Our little classoom of two

The week has started off great for us at home. This weekend Nicholas found a cool Batman notebook in the dollar section of Target and asked if we could buy it. Yes, we bought it and it is now his daily journal notebook. I thought we could use a little more routine in our days, so we are now transitioning from breakfast to schoolwork with the daily journal. I write the date and a question on our little chalk board and Nicholas starts the school day with a dated journal entry of at least 5 sentences and has to include the answer the to question. Today's question was his choice: "What is your favorite song?" His journal entry mentions several songs by artists like Smashing Pumpkins and Linkin Park, apparently he can't choose just one :) He wasn't sure how to spell Linkin the way the band does, so I suggested he go look it up on his iPod. While Nic worked on his journal entry, Sydney wrote her own notes on paper using a cupcake pencil.

Today we also worked on math review from previous weeks lessons on rounding numbers, fractions and more review on double digit addition without carrying numbers. Next week we will start carrying numbers. We do a math lesson or review daily, as Nicholas was struggling with math and receiving extra help in this subject at school. He does better with visuals, so part of working with fractions was to help make pizza dough using measuring spoons and cups. Sydney was glad to assist as well, and is now my official salt pourer.

Art will be a big part of our week, as Jeff's birthday is this Wednesday and the kids and I are making him a present. I can't go into much detail without spoiling the surprise, I will have to add details and more photos on Thursday to keep it a secret. I can say that I am working on using several different media with both kids this week, and today we used craft paints. Its always fun when I can find something that both kids can do together. With 5 years between them, it's not always that easy! Recently I found that they both really enjoy Play-Doh, something Nic hasn't played with in several years and a new thing entirely for Sydney. Our supplies were extremely limited, so I decided to use a gift card from Christmas to buy lots and lots of Play-Doh and accessories for them both - thanks Granny!! The Play-Doh also came in handy for more fraction lessons. We made circles out of the doh, then cut them into different fractions so he could really see how 1/3 is actually smaller than 1/2, since the numbers themselves can make you think otherwise.

Naptime for Sydney is just about to come, and Nicholas and I have a project ready to go. We shredded newspaper that is currently soaking in warm water. This will become a new sheet of paper for us with the help of a science kit given to Nic for his birthday - thank you mom and Aunt Sue! The kit will allow us to make 1 sheet of paper per 24 hour period, so this project will be ongoing. The first sheet of paper will be used to write Presiedent Obama a letter. Nicholas has a few questions for him after seeing the Inauguration, so Jeff and I thought he should write to the White House and see what (if any) response he gets. Anything back would be AWESOME, so I am hoping our mailbox brings something (truly, ANYTHING) for him to gloat over. I will be sure to include a scanned copy of the letter once its ready. While ripping the newspaper to recycle, Nic found a picture of Obama and did not want to rip it. He hung it on the fridge instead, and Sydney learned who he was. She also announced that "Present Obama is so cute!" Hahahaha!! (And yes, she says present instead of president.) She later recognized him on the cover of Time magazine on the counter.
More homemade recycled paper will be used for upcoming Valentine's Day projects. The kit will be getting plenty of use!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Boxtops for Homeschool Supplies

I remembered reading that Boxtops for education was a program that one homeschooler was using, but was surprised to go to the Boxtops website and find that they do not honor private homeschools. No worries, I have a solution that many other homeschoolers are also using. Ebay. Simple as that! I am saving our Boxtops and will auction them off on Ebay when I have $25 worth (that is 250 boxtops!!). Boxtops tend to sell at face value. I would assume that parents who really want their child's class to win the prize for the most boxtops are the ones bidding. Everyone wins! That class gets a prize, the school gets to shop from the boxtop catalog, and my family gets the money to spend on homeschool supplies. Ebay takes their cut too of course, but hey, its still free money from little pieces of cardboard :)

If anyone reading has any that they are currently throwing away, we would really love the donations! Each one is worth 10 cents, it can add up fast. The money will go toward some things on my list of wants, like a Presidential poster that includes all 44 U.S. Presidents for us to hang up. Products that have the Boxtops are on hundreds of products. I find them on Huggies diapers, Cheerios, Cottonelle TP and more.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Branching out to new resources

As the days of our homeschooling go on, I am finding our new found variety in teaching methods to be both overwhelming and awesome. There doesn't seem to be enough time to do and learn everything I would want! And with Nic's curiosity and eagerness to learn, well, its hard to not stray from the subject when our discussions lead to new questions and discoveries.

With realizing that Nicholas learns best from being read too and having visual or hands on stimulation, I have been planning our lessons using so much more than the standard textbook or worksheet. My greatest resource has been our county library in conjunction with joining a larger library system for a fee of $30 a year due to being outside of our county residence. $30 for a years worth of resources was well spent!! I have found math & science tutoring dvds, books on cd and even storybooks that relate to our studies to make learning more fun. And honestly, they help save my voice, because I can't be the only one reading aloud to both kids all day long!

The dvds on math have been a big help. The visual stimulation captures Nic's attention, and the way that they show examples seems to help him more than the way I explain things. One example is rounding numbers - I told him the rule of thumb about rounding up if its 5 or more, he did ok on a workbook activity but something seemed to be confusing him. The series "Getting Ahead:Mathematics" used a space alien named Numberella, who has a very soothing voice and British accent and looks like a squid with glasses in my opinion, uses her long tentacles to show him a number line and how 5 is halfway, and anything halfway or more goes up. Right then I saw it click for him! He just needed to SEE it! We watched the sections on rounding and estimating twice to absorb more of what was said and shown, and now both kids ask to watch it for fun. They both say its a video game show, the theme music really does sound like an older arcade game.

Yesterday we got our first taste of books on cd. I love reading and have always encouraged both children to be readers. I read aloud to them everyday, at the very least bedtime if not during the course of the day as well. I like having the extra time with Nic to read so much more now too, and it seems to me like he does as well. I had never considered books on cd before, the thought just never really occurred to me. It was Nic who first saw the red packets of books and cds at the Gwinnett Library last week. We looked thru them and decided to give em a try. Turns out the are pretty great, especially for times when we are in the car running errands! Yesterday we had to get some grocery shopping done, and on the way there and back we heard the story of "Max & Maddy and the Chocolate Money Mystery". Nicholas followed along in the book as well. This seems like a good resource to have around for times when life calls me away from being at his side teaching as well, he can listen in his room using his computer if he needs an activity and a quiet spot to go.

T.V. and the Internet have also become popular learning tool for us this week. Namely CNN and Wikipedia. Tuesday was a big day in American History and Nicholas was able to watch it live with our family, which I think was pretty special. During the morning ceremonies, Nicholas was literally counting down the minutes until President Obama's speech. He was a bit bored with it once Obama began talking, but still, he was witnessing history. Nic was most excited that this was the first time that there had been a new President for him to see, as George Bush was sworn into office just days after Nicholas was born and then again 4 years later. This year, he was old enough to understand and to be curious about the process. Even better, Nic's chosen candidate won the election :)

Wikipedia has helped answer questions Nicholas has had, and quickly. Whenever he asks something that we don't have the answer too, we say "Let's look it up!". Wikipedia has told us that JFK was the 35th President, Obabma is #44 and that an elephant has many uses for its tusks such as digging and marking (something we tried to guess while at the Zoo and later looked up to see who was closest). It's amazing to me the knowledge that exists at our fingertips. Having the skill to find an answer to a question is definitely a life skill, and Nicholas knows how to do it!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Politics 101

Today was spent mostly talking politics and watching President Obama's Inauguration. Nicholas was literally counting down to Obama's speech, but honestly he seemed bored through it in the end. He seems to love facts, things he can memorize, such as knowing that Obama is our 44th president and JFK was #35. So it looks like we will be venturing off and studying the U.S. Presidents! Our Scholastic order arrived today (turns out I can order as a homeschooler on their teacher website!!) including our Election activity booklet. Perfect timing, now we can go back and learn how we got to the Inauguration and why this ceremony means so much.

Monday, January 19, 2009

James and the Giant Peach

We have finished our reading of James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. After reading the book, we borrowed the Disney film from the library. Nicholas, Sydney and I all enjoyed both the book and the movie! This book was recommended by Aunt Hayley, its a childhood favorite of hers. I had never read it before, so this adventure was new to us all.

Since Nic is such a hands on kid, I decided to give us a fun project to do relating to the book. Nic had a lot of fun doing a shoebox display of his favorite book last school year during spring break (Spiderwick Chronicles at the time) that I decided to do the same thing for James and the Giant Peach. Of course the Styrofoam ball we found for a peach required we get a much bigger box hahaha. Nicholas painted the ball peach first, to which Sydney wondered where her peach was :) I will need to start having a toddler version of projects ready for her, as she is enjoying homeschool as much as he is. She did learn to use a glue stick this week, my little shining pupil hahaha. Anyways, some of the characters are made from egg crates, pom-poms and "fuzzy sticks" (the new name for pipe cleaners apparently). Others were hand drawn and cut by Nic. He also drew the ocean line and shark fin. We used bits of various blue papers and felt for the water. I think the finished project is pretty cute and we had a lot of fun talking about the book while we were making it!

Our next reading adventure: Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

Week 2: Socialization, the dead horse of homeschooling

The most frequently asked question of homeschoolers seems to be "But what about socialization?". Every homeschool book or article I have read so far has covered it. It is the dead horse of homsechool according to most of them. Yet as a new homeschooler I find it to be valid.

I do worry about his social needs and how he will fit into society as an adult as well as now as a child. So keeping that in mind, as well as the need to raise his poor self-esteem and self-image, I am looking for positive social outlets for him.

Homeschooling gives such a flexibility to allow as much or little socialization as you want, I am finding it easy to load up my calendar with activities that ordinarily we would have had to skip. We have always loved field trips and classroom-less learning. I have been known to pull Nic from school for an activity like bundling up the kids to watch the state groundhog wake up on Groundhogs Day to witness firsthand if he sees his shadow. It's a nice feeling to know that we can do these activities without falling behind schoolwork or being in trouble with the school board for unexcused absences.

Our first field trip came this week courtesy of the Zoo Homeschool Academy, a program I did not know existed until a friend told me. We decided to give it a try. Kids were separated by grade level into small groups of around 8-10 and went off to learn with 2 zookeepers while parents and younger children were free to roam the zoo. The 2 hours passed quickly with Sydney and I enjoying the animals and our friends. I saw Nicholas with his group once, and he looked content. When I picked him up he was beaming! My friend Lori was there with her homeschooled brood as well and said something like "Wow, I've never seen him like this" - yeah, that would be HAPPY!! He said he had an awesome time with "Mr.Bill" and the group. They learned all about mammals and even did a craft. He wanted to explore the zoo some more so we stayed until they announced that the zoo was closing. The whole time he was reading signs, asking me questions, and carrying on conversations with zookeepers stationed at specific exhibits. He even got to go rock climbing and reached the top by himself! I feel confident that our zoo trip was quiet the social experience.

Sports is another option for homeschoolers and I am lucky that his county basketball team is full of buddies for Nic, kids that like him for who he is. I only wish the season could last longer! He has 6 boys within a year of his age to play with for 1-2 practices a week + a game. The entire team also came to his birthday party and you could tell he felt on top of the world to have everyone who loves him around him at once. I hope to help him continue these friendships after the end of the season, and also hope that next season will find him on a team with some of these same friends.

Our calendar is filling up and its easy for me to rearrange some of our learning units to include these trips and activities. Nicholas' learning style seems to be hands-on and auditory, so trips are right up his alley. Crowds create a lot of noise, and for my sensory overloaded child this causes problems focusing, so weekday trips are also a plus for that reason. I think the rest of the year will bring lots of knowledge and fun!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Week 1: Finding Our Way

Week 1 flew by! It's amazing to me that there is more time, and yet, there is less.

We started off a slow pace, as is recommended for new homeschoolers who are "deschooling" as a way to transition into homeschooling. The main focus right now is Nic's self-esteem. He has spent so much time feeling like a failure, and I want to un-do that. So for week 1 I chose subjects and projects that he would enjoy and succeed in.

Nicholas has always been intriqued by the brain model in his neurologists office, so I found a small similar model that was a puzzle and made for children his age and above. It took us some time to assemble, but now he has something cool on display in our dining room turned school room! Later he can keep it in his room even. To go along with it we read "AHA! The Most Interesting Book You'll Ever Learn About Intelligence" which was really a fun book. It has bright illustrations and a lot of "do it yourself" mini-quizzes. We found that I am a reader this week and Nicholas learns best when hearing or doing hands-on. I think I knew that all along, but the tests were fun and I think he felt special after each one.

This week we also started on a new book, James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. I read aloud, mostly while laying in my bed with both children listening, as well as 2 of the 3 animals hahaha. Its quite fun family time. I am really liking the togetherness of homeschool. I think Nic is enjoying and thriving as well. Not every day is perfect, but what ever is? I feel like we made the best decision for our family, it really just feels right.

1.5 Million Homeschooled Students, now +1

It is being said that 1.5 million children are now homeschooled. Or as Saturday Night Live Weekend Update says, five eleventy thousand hahaha. Well, add 1 more! I made a list of 43 reasons why homeschool would be best for our son Nic, and my husband agreed with them all. His last day was a Christmas program and he just never returned. We have officially withdrawn from the public school system and sent our Letter of Intent to the county as well.

I spent the winter break researching and studying homeschooling. This is what I do, I read and I plan. One book I read, Homeschooling for Dummies, seemed to be talking just to me at some points. "One little guy I know had an awful second-grade year...." and "A good number of new homeschoolers begin in January after winter break..." stick in my mind. I am still browsing thru it, as well as The Homeschooling Option. There was a third book borrowed from the library, but it was very religious and I just couldn't seem to get past that, so back it went. Friends and family have offered lots of support and resources as well, it's been a wonderful 1st week! This feels like the right thing to do for us, so here we go.