Thursday, October 11, 2012

A visual checklist

I've seen these for chore lists, using wooden door hangers. I just adjusted the idea for what we need and what we had available.

I found several of these buckets with chalkboard stars at the Dollar Spot in Target. One holds pencils, one has scissors & glue, another has crayons, and we had two empty ones. I wrote all his subjects on clothespins and clipped the ones he needs to complete today around the edge. As the Train Man finishes a subject I let him remove the clothespin and set it inside the bucket.

He can easily see what he still needs to do, and it's self-contained so he (hopefully) won't lose the pieces. I still need to find a way and a place to store all the buckets. I will work on that after we move the desk and supplies into the extra bedroom. Right now it's all in the living room, but that is too distracting with the other two running around. I can't wait to get the learning spot all set up!

These could have been a lot prettier with scrapbook paper and mod podge, or a printer and fun font. But as I shared earlier, I'm great at starting things and terrible at finishing them. If I had waited until I could get some great scrapbook paper or a nice printable setup, it would never get done! This was easy peasy and if I do get motivated to make a prettier version, I can! I could even use the same clothespins. No harm in quick 'n' dirty!

After these pictures were taken, I added two more clothespins for daily activities on websites provided by the school: one for RAZ-kids and one for Skills Tutor. You could put other activities such as lunch on clothespins and clip them in order to show the routine for the day. For now I let the Train Man decide which subject to tackle so we don't have a set order. I don't know if we will or not, but if that lonely Language Arts clothespin keeps hanging around until last, I might have to intervene.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Oh, Mondays.

This past weekend served to solidify my opinion that we should not take breaks from "school." I set The Train Man's scheduler to assign him lessons on Saturdays and Sundays because a two-day lapse in the structured lessons is really hard to overcome on Mondays. If he were in a classroom setting, I don't believe this would be the case. I think getting ready to go, making the trip, and walking into the classroom would serve to re-set his thinker into "OK now it's school time."

It didn't help that Daddy was home all weekend. We like when Daddy's home, obviously, but we don't get much sit-down-and-do time. There's always a computer game to watch, or the TV is on, or there is some really interesting outside work to interfere with. We have to go about things a different way.I haven't figured out what that is yet, but forgoing all scheduled lessons is not it. I could tell that The Train Man was just not all here today. For example, the instructions said to draw three ice cream cones. He drew one upside down triangle for the cone and then started to just pound the crayon onto the paper. We took a little break.

We have a busy day on Wednesday with MOPS, followed by a field trip, and then a school picnic on Friday as well, so I'm trying to work extra lessons in here and there so we won't be trying to rush through on those days. We did get a little more math done but other than that, I think he's toast for today.

If we had done a little work on Saturday and Sunday, I think he would have been more in the groove and gotten more out of today. Another thing I noticed is that he lost two sight words after not going over them every day. So I put those words back up on the door and didn't give him as many new ones. He was not happy to have sight words he had already done put back up on the door, but maybe that will motivate him to keep it up.

All that is not to say we haven't been learning! Train Man and the Rock Star go to Awana every Sunday where they are hard at work learning their verses, pledges to the American flag and Awana flag, and songs. Not to mention all the classroom rules and schedules!

In addition, I have been allowing the Train Man to stay up a bit later than his brothers each night reading quietly. He's in the top bunk so I just attached a clip lamp to the rail so the light doesn't disturb the Rock Star. I had picked up some simple books that emphasize certain sight words (some of them are even on the list his school wants him to know) at a yard sale this summer, and he is able to read some of them. He sounds out some of the words, knows some from his school list, and spells others out to me so I can help him.

He is doing so well! The kid has known all the letters from 15 months, all the sounds from 18 months, but has not been inclined to put that information together into "reading" until just recently. I think the sight words helped kick start him into doing it. He used to look at a page and just see a bunch of work, and immediately say "I can't do this." Now I think he sees some of the words he knows already and is motivated to find out the rest of them. Realizing that all those words work together to make up an interesting story is icing on the cake.

I love seeing him so interested in reading even though he's not perfect yet. He's never been one for practicing anything. If he can't do it right away, it's too hard. It's stupid. It's boring. Like riding without training wheels. He didn't think he could do it so he wasn't willing to try. One day my husband had tightened the chain on Train Man's bike but hadn't put the training wheels back on, and he wanted to ride. I told him I didn't know how to put them back on but why not just try it without? He took off on two wheels and never looked back. He thinks everything should come easily to him, and when it doesn't, it's someone else's fault. We're working on that.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


Routines are very important in a kid's life.  I don't mean schedules, like at 8:00 a.m. we do X, then Y at 8:30 and Z at 9:30. I mean first we eat breakfast, next we do X, then Y, followed by Z with breaks when we need them.

We're working on our routines. For example, I realized that the math is crazy easy for The Train Man (yes, I decided to give them nicknames!). I started scheduling two math lessons a day for him to get him through the stuff he already knows and to keep his interest. However, I realized that a lesson might take five minutes or it might take thirty, depending on his mood. If he's just not feeling it, why fight through two whole sets of that?

So instead of trying to do X amount of work, we're going to try X amount of time, but not stick to a strict schedule. We'll start math, and work about 20 minutes or until we're "done." If he's focused and doing his best work and really into it, why stop? As long as he's not being introduced to new concepts that I think he needs time to think on, I'm going to let him go at his pace.

Between subjects we have 15-minute breaks. Before I discovered these online timers, it was a pain to get The Train Man back to task after a break. Now he runs back to start his next subject when the bomb explodes or to see which runner won the race. I even use them to call him over to start school (just choose a noisy one and set it for 1 second). I cannot recommend this website enough. It's a sanity saver!

I used to use a timer to start breaks, too, but stopped because it would go off when he was in his stride and he would just shut down. After the break he did not want to come back to finish whatever he had been in the middle of because in his mind, he was done with it!

Train Man is starting to understand when he will and will not be able to focus. He can tell me "I just really need a break right now" and will choose which timer he wants to use (usually the C4 explosives) and run off to play. After the explosion, he is fresh and ready to focus again. I really like that about school at home. If he was in a regular classroom, he would not be able to self-evaluate and decide when to work and when to play. However, three days a week, his whole class gets together in a live lesson at 9 a.m. Having that scheduled lesson teaches him to start getting himself to a point where he can be present mentally, even if he feels he isn't ready. He does not like to miss the live lesson because he gets to hear & see his teacher and interact with other students.

I think a good routine would help him even more. His best times are always in the morning. We've tried other times and they just don't seem to work. Even then, however, there are some interruptions I can't help, such as the needs of the younger kids. There are also interruptions caused by school itself, such as the live lesson.  If we get work done before, great! If not, that's fine too. Then there are interruptions I'm not willing to avoid, such as MOPS meetings. We do our best to work around those things. MOPS is twice a month and takes up the entire morning. Twice a month is not too bad, so we usually skip the "thinking" subjects and do art, activities, and fun stuff.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Welcome to our journey!

I suppose for a first blog post, I should probably introduce us and what our journey is about.

I'm Dani', mom to three very active, very boyish boys. More about them later. My husband and I have been married for eight years and three days as of this post. I like to crochet, sew, and carve stamps, along with other crafty things when the opportunity arises. I was born and raised in Illinois, but two years ago life took us to the beautiful state of Colorado.

One reason I am starting this blog is to chronicle our pseudohomeschooling "journey." My oldest son is enrolled in an online virtual school, which has allowed his active, curious personality to thrive, rather than be contained in a classroom. I can give him one-on-one attention (when the younger two are pacified!) to keep him on task. I will dedicate an entire post to why we chose this school for our son, as well as the pros and cons we've discovered in the near future.

This is our first year with a virtual school as well as our first year with schooling in general. Since birth our children, like all children, have been learning. We have done our best to foster this in them, encourage questions, and investigate together. We let them lead, and when they showed interest in a subject (mostly trains, I will admit), we Googled, read library books, watched videos, visited museums, and whatever else we could think of to help grow their knowledge on the subject. So we are no strangers to learning, but unfamiliar with schoolish territory.

Another reason for this blog is to share and organize ideas for teaching, learning, crafts, organization, recipes, and anything else even remotely related to schooling. I won't pretend to be on the same level as the hundreds of homeschool blogs out there. I have read with awe and envy. Those women are my heroes and are brimming with creativity. I have a fair bit of my own, so I thought I could humbly send a few of my own thoughts out there into the world, as well as share others' ideas that we have tried and would like to recommend.

A third reason, perhaps most selfish, I have created this blog to assist myself in looking inward in order to become more: more organized, more thoughtful, more patient, more wise. Hopefully. I am extremely good at starting things. I have great ideas and motivation. Continuing past a week or so is the hard part. So we will see how this goes. I am planning to incorporate blogging time into our school schedule, and hopefully the structure I am trying to achieve will provide the structure I am trying to achieve, if that makes any sense.

Now on to the fun stuff! Here are my wonderful boys. I've noticed that some blogs decline to provide children's actual names and substitute nicknames instead, which is a good idea. However, I haven't decided what or if I'm going to name my children yet, so for now you get pictures and descriptions.

5 years old, adores trains and just about any other mode of transportation. Determined to find a dinosaur bone one day. Does math in his head without realizing it. Loves all vegetables except "salad." Always trying to get a laugh. Finds it difficult to sit for more than 30 seconds. Easily overstimulated, hates unexpected and prolonged noises.

3 years old, loves guitars, drums, and rocking out. Favorite bands are Cake and the Aquabats. Quite verbal from an early age. Affectionate and thoughtful. Tells crazy stories. Can quote most of Vector's lines from Despicable Me. Has perpetually dirty fingernails. Extremely sensitive. Prone to temper tantrums and overreacting.

20 months old, enjoys watching Color Crew. Knows everyone thinks he's adorable and uses it to his advantage. Definitely one of the big boys and NOT a baby. Speaks in grunts and single letter sounds but signs well. Dances at the first sign of music. Picks fights with his brother. Understands much more than he lets on.