Thursday, May 28, 2015

Our Kindergarten Reading Alouds

We set a goal to read a novel every month during Kindergarten, and we did it! Here is a list of the books we read.

1. Magic Tree House 1-6
2. The Tale of Despereaux by Kate Dicamillo
3. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate Dicamillo
4. Because of Winn Dixie by Kate Dicamillo
5. Sarah, Plain and Tall
6. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

We started with Magic Tree House. These books are really great for introducing read aloud chapter books to your kids. The chapters are short, they are easy to understand, and very fast paced. But after six of them, I was ready for something with a little more depth to it.

As you an see, we went on a Kate Dicamillo kick. My daughter will tell you that she is her favorite author. While we were reading Jane would say, "How does she always write such good books?" I worried that some of the ideas or plot points would be above Jane's head, but she caught onto most of it really well, and I feel like the challenge was good for her. She has become very good at listening and understanding a story in the last year.

Sarah, Plain and Tall was received well and understood better than I expected. They played and talked about it for several days after we finished. I never finished a chapter though and had the kids beg for more.

Charlotte's web is a huge hit. We're almost finished with it, but the kids always beg for one more chapter. Always a good sign!

Song List

I am working on having a list of songs that I sing in the morning while we do chores. I'd like to sing and have the kids know and learn a lot of the classics, folk, Broadway, Gospel, etc. I'm trying to learn a new song every couple of weeks. So here is my list so far so I can keep track.

Oh, What a Beautiful Morning
Here Comes the Sun
Scarborough Fair
Danny Boy
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Jane's First 100 Books

This is a book list/reading log. We've set a goal for Jane to have read 100 books by herself by the end of August. We started with the Bob Books, which as you will see takes care of the first 50 titles. But the next 50 books I'm hoping to see a growth of confidence and a growing passion for reading.

1-50: Bob Books Sets 1-5
51. Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
52. What Can You See? by Sharon Callen (Reading Seeds Level 1 Readers)
53. Zoo Hullabaloo by Sophie Valentine (Reading Seeds)

Sunday, May 24, 2015

10 Ideas to Promote Daily Learning (And Stop Summer Learning Loss!)

Summer is upon us. School is ending and it's time to have fun and play and not even think about school, right?

Of course!

Then in three months we can all return to school with two months worth of learning loss!

Wait, what?

Yep, summer can be a real brain drain, but it doesn't have to be. And you don't have to turn your house into a summer camp or a temporary homeschool to stem the leak. The secret is in creating routines and a family culture that support everyday learning opportunities. As I've traversed this last year of homeschooling, I've realized that certain parts of my rhythm/routine do half the work of homeschooling for me. They're not hard, and I think they can work for you too. So without further ado.

10 Things You Can Do to Promote Daily Learning

1. Turn off the TV. You don't have to go screen free (though if you do, that's awesome) but try to limit this to no more than 1-2 hours per day. TV especially relieves our minds of actually thinking, increases risks of ADD in children, delays language development, and stunts creativity. Plus, it kind of just makes you feel blah and puts kids into a TV coma. Find something else to do during TV time. Here we've learned how to knit and played with lots of playdough to replace that hour of quiet time TV we used to have every day.

2. Make a weekly schedule of consistent activities. These do not have to be huge and they don't have to take up that much of your day. Actually, you'll really only stick to this if they're small. For us, Monday is painting, Tuesday is games, Wednesday is baking, and Friday is park day. I'm thinkng of making Thursday night music night and Sundays, "puzzle day." Other great ideas could be library day, playdough day, swimming day, golf day, biking day, somewhere new day, family history day, garden day. Really, the possibilities are endless. What you have to do is decide what you want to do and plan on it.

3. Plant a garden. I can't tell you how many learning opportunities have come from our little garden. The kids have learned all about bees and pollinating. They have watched it take place and witnessed the transfer of pollin. They've helped manually pollinate flowers, learned to identify male and female flowers, found ladybugs, seen aphids, understood the relationship, cheered on the arrival of butterflies, measured, harvested, tasted. It's one thing to learn about these things in a classroom, it's another to watch it actually happening.

4. Join or Create a summer reading program. Most libraries have a summer reading program. I remember doing one every summer back in Wyoming, even into high school my mom would take us into the library and make us create a really challenging reading goal. When I was younger it was 100 books in a summer. As I got older and was readingjust by myself, it was 25 novels. 25 novels in a summer is quite a bit of reading! And reading, for most people, is the very root of education and learning. A person who enjoys reading will always be learning something.

5. Have a real family devotional. Our family devotional has really become an important part of our homeschooling. Not just because the kids are learning scripture stories. We also learn a song each week and the sign language to go along with it. This only adds 1-2 minutes onto this nightly ritual, but what a learning experience it creates! If you have older kids you can really discuss and study scriptures together. Plus, devotional is just one more chance for kids to practice reading skills.

6. Play board games. A good board game will keep those math facts oiled and ready to go. There are all sorts of games and all sorts of different kinds of math to be learned from them. Starting with just counting, to using money, to multipliers, and lessons in calculating averages and chance.

7. Sing lots of songs. This is something I've started trying to do recently. We are inheritors of such huge collection of traditional songs. It's a shame that we don't pass more of these beautiful words and melodies along to our children. You can choose what sorts of songs to sing, but maybe before turning on Pandora you can all spend a few minutes in the morning singing a few rousing renditions of some of your favorites. Our favorite morning songs here are "Here Comes the Sun," "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning," "Shanendoah," "Danny Boy," "Scarborough Fair," and last week I added, "Swing Low Sweet Chariot."

8.  Get outside. A lot! Send your kids outside for at least an hour a day, but preferrably more. During the hottest months of summer we actually do school so we can take a break in September. It's just too hot to spend much time out there. But we still try in the early morning and late evenings or with a constand stream of water running. One thing Jane and I have enjoyed doing outside is nature journaling. This improves art and writing skills, but it also just helps you slow down and admire the beauty all around you. There's so much to see and learn about outside, and just do with your body. Learning the limits of what your body can do is important to education and more and more research links learning and certain physical capabilities.

9. Have a reading time. Like I said before, I think reading is the most essential ingredient to learning, and I think it needs to happen every day. I also think the number one thing to get your kids reading is to not only read to them but to model reading for enjoyment. You want your kids to pick up a book? You better be picking up a book every day too! I find it easiest to do this with a set reading time. I always try to read as the kids play outside. Between eating lunch and naptime we have family read aloud time. Just having a set time makes it so it actually happens every day.

10. Talk with each other. Take the time to connect. You have all day together now! Your child's greatest teacher and influence truly can be you if you take the time to listen and respond.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Our Waldorf Week of May 18

I actually made this felt crown several years ago and didn't think it would last a month. It's still going strong and one of the most used parts of our dress up box! I made it stiff by using cardstock as the liner.

I'm really enjoying the rainbow tulle over our nature table this month. I made the flower baby last week, and the flowers are leftovers from my Mother's Day bouquet.

It's a big week for Toby in our Super Sam stories this week. He finds his family! Of course, I had to illustrate it on the chalkboard. The kids were so excited for Toby to finally get his happy ending. They've been anxiously waiting for it for a while.

Here is Max's painting from Monday. He has become very adept at mixing colors and not just getting a brown sludge. I'm impressed and kind of jealous. I don't think I could do this if I tried. 

The Music of the Gospel Chalkboard Drawing

I summarized the conference talk, "The Music of the Gospel" in Sunday School this week. Here is the chalkboard I drew to accompany. And here is the talk.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

On Making It

Tonight I was getting dinner on the table and Max and Tommy were sitting in their chairs making silly faces. Max had his tongue out and was making Tommy laugh. His eyes sparkled with genuine delight. He was happy and full of light and spreading it to those around him. And I had to pause for a moment and relish in my realization.

We were making it.

Maybe that seems like a silly thing to realize, but things with Max haven't always been easy.

You see, Max is extremely passionate. When he feels things he feels them deeply. It's great when he's happy and playful, but when he would get angry, or sad (which turned quickly into anger), he was a force to be reckoned with. For two years now we've dealt with, fought, talked through, cried about, and hugged out, the hitting, punching, pushing, pinching, screaming, absolute meltdowns.

Last year he sent a cousin to the Emergency Room for stitches. He was tired, he got angry, there was no adult supervision, and he just happened to be carrying a golf club.

It could have been a lot worse.

After that came the guilt and the worry. We were told there was something wrong with him. We were asked not to leave him. I watched people online say they would never let their kids play with a child like mine. Some insinuated behavior like this was indicative of domestic violence.

It was isolating. I couldn't take him to the park and talk with the moms. I had to monitor every move, every possible trigger.

It was exhausting. Day after day I would draw suns and butterflies and flowers on his hands and remind him to have gentle hands.

It was humbling. I crashed to my lowest when it would drive me to yell and scream or to smack his hand back. In one episode he began kicking the door at our in-laws so hard I thought he would break it. I was so embarrassed I threw the door open to tell him to stop, and in my anger not realizing exactly where he was standing, the doorknob hit him right in the eye.

I was a terrible, terrible mother. I felt hopeless and helpless.

But I could also see this amazingly giving, thoughtful, kind and loving little boy. He has this goodness within him that is unparalleled by his other siblings. His lows are so low but his highs are so incredibly high.

But I felt nobody would be able to see that beyond the violence and the anger.

I tried everything. Gentle parenting, time outs, consequences, positive attention, empathy. They all worked and didn't work, or required me to always be on my game and sometimes I just wasn't. In the last year we've moved twice, been denied a home loan two days before closing, dealt with the grief of losing Steve. I wasn't always on my game. I didn't always give him the best of me.

But somehow...he's getting better. I'm not saying we're out of the woods yet. We still have an occasional problem. But they are fewer and farther between and usually brought on by extreme situations where everything is thrown off, hunger, exhaustion, etc. I've found if I can guard against those things, we do much better.

In the last two years I've found a recipe for mostly success.

1. Rhythm and routine.
2. Plenty of sleep.
3. Whole foods.
4. Very limited screen time.
5. Hours of outside play every day.

But I don't feel like I can credit all those things with the change. I think a lot of it is just growing up and maturing. And so today, when I had that realization that we were on the downhill slope. That things were getting better, easier, that he wasn't this angry little boy anymore, it felt like breathing fresh, mountain air after a long time in the city.

I know I'm not the only Mama who has a passionate, energetic, and sometimes aggressive little boy. I know the pain and the worry. And all I can say is Mama, don't give up. It will get better. He will grow up. Keep setting him up for success. It will not always be like this. That child has the qualities of a great leader. And right now you may be the only person who sees the goodness deep within him. Hold the image of him in your heart. It. Will. Save. Him.

He will be okay. You will be okay.