Monday, July 20, 2015

First Grade Read Alouds

1. The Graveyard Book
2. Little House in the Big Woods

Friday, July 3, 2015

10 Life Lessons I Learned From Writing

1. Everyone is sympathetic, even the villains, when you take the time to learn their back story.

2. A good life, like all good stories, requires the main character to further the plot by their own choices. Always be acting, not just reacting.

3. It's boring without dialogue. Look up from your phone and interact with the other characters in the room.

4. Change is good. A satisfactory character arc requires it. But that doesn't mean the middle part isn't muddy with the ending unclear.

5. The dark night, when it feels like all is lost, always comes before the moment when the hero picks up his sword and fights back.

6. Not all endings are happy. Sometimes the saddest ones leave lessons that last longest.

7. The worst antagonists are the ones you can't see. Those without physical form that don't die by the sword.

8. Perfect people do not make interesting characters or stories.

9. Words are meaningless without action. Show, don't just tell.

10. All good stories require goals and obstacles. Do not curse your obstacles and make sure you always have a goal.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

How to Write a Novel

1. Come up with a great idea for a story. Or maybe only half an idea. Or maybe just a character you like and you'll figure out the story along the way. Don't overthink it or overanalyze it. Let it grow and blossom for a while.

2. Lose sleep while listening to your character talk or devising ways to make your character suffer or asking all sorts of "what if" questions.

3. Sit down at your computer and write a thousand words.

4. Repeat step 3 sixty times.

5. Hate everything you just wrote.

6. Hide from it for a while. Convince yourself you suck at writing.

7. Open that folder up and look at all the bloody carnage that is your first draft.

8. Take a deep breath.

9. Focus on the strengths.

10. Get real about the weaknesses.

11. Rewrite the entire, bloody thing, but better this time.

12. Send off your now sparkling pile of not so stinky poop of a second draft to critique partners who love you, but also don't see you on a daily basis and aren't afraid to completely rip your heart out of it's chest.

13. Read their feedback.

14. Take a deep breath.

15. Cry into a pillow.

16. Fix everything, cut without mercy, rewrite problem sections, create whole new scenes and chapters, tweak motivations, sharpen voice.

17. Send out new, much more sparkly, hardly stinky at all manuscript to beta readers.

18. Repeat steps 13-16 until you either

    a) can't look at your book without throwing up
    b) are told there's nothing left to fix.

19. Line Edit. Correct all punctuation, grammar, cut unnecessary words, chop all filters, format correctly, add a title page and page numbers.

20. Write a query letter and realize all over again how much you hate your book.

21. Send out query letter to agents.

22. Get your dreams stomped on daily.

23. Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait.

24. Write another book.

25. Repeat steps 1-24 until you either
      a) die
      b) puke whenever you sit down to write
      c) get an agent and get published. Then you only have to repeat steps 1-19.

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
7. The Chocolate Touch

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
Sweet Betsy From Pike

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)
54. It's Good Enough to Eat  (Reading Seeds)
55. Maddy's Mad Hair Day (Reading Seeds)
56. This is my Story  (Reading Seeds)
57.  Edward the Explorer  (Reading Seeds)
58.  When I Grow Up  (Reading Seeds)
59. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
60. Playground Friends (Reading Seeds)
61. Max  (Reading Seeds)
62. The Princess and the Pea (Reading Seeds)
63. Safari Party  (Reading Seeds)
64. I Can Fly!
65. The Life of a Bee (Reading Seeds)
66. Boris the Basset (Reading Seeds)
67. And Then it's Spring by Julie Fogliano
68. Hat by Paul Hoppe
69. In a People House by Theo Le Seig
70. Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel
71. The Little Red Ox from "Hay for my Ox: a Waldorf School First Reader"
72. Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel
73. Frog and Toad All Year by Arnold Lobel
74. Lazy Jack by Kelley Morrow
75. More Spaghetti, I Say

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.