Sunday, September 25, 2016

Our first month of a new school year

We follow a non traditional year round school schedule, taking short breaks throughout the year rather than a long summer break. We did take a big break the entire month of August, which helped mark the beginning of a "new school year" for us in September. Now that our first month is coming to a close I wanted to document what school looks like for us in this season of life.

Several homeschooling moms have told me that it took several years before they really felt like they had a handle on their homeschooling, and I can now say this is true for me as well! This year is the first one that I feel confident in what we are doing and how to do it...not to say that we don't hit bumps and challenges, because we certainly do! But overall I am really happy with how the school year has begun.

Our day starts with an attempt to get all kids up around 7ish so we can have a family devotional time with Jason before he leaves for work. We are going through "Our 24 Family Ways" by Clay Clarkson. Some days this happens, some it doesn't...but we're going with the flow over here so it's all good! :) Jason has an amazing assistant who holds down the fort at his office so that he is able to come in a bit later in the morning if needed. She is a blessing!

Once kids get some breakfast (its somewhat of a free for all!) we settle back at the table to do their CBS (Community Bible Study) lesson. We are currently going through the book of Daniel and it has been wonderful! They have lessons to complete Monday through Thursday, then we meet with our community group on Friday mornings for two hours. (On that day the kids each go to their own classes, and I go to my women's class.) This year Silas is in first grade, which means he gets to join Isabella and Leo in the daily lessons. He has been loving it so far. Elsie is patiently waiting to be old enough to get a workbook too!
While I'm helping the older kids with their lessons, the younger three are generally milling about, playing and trying to stay out of trouble.

After we complete the CBS work we take a brief break to finish any morning chores. Kids put away any clean laundry that may be in their baskets, and do their morning job if they haven't already. I try to do a quick clean up of the kitchen.

Our goal is to be in our classroom around 9. Let's just say that this is a worthy goal, but it is usually not reached. Last week, for example, Jeremiah was a fussy mess (molars coming in).so we just had to wait to start our classroom time until he was down for an early nap. Again, homeschooling with littles means you have to go with the flow!

The first thing we do in the classroom is our "rotations". This has been a new change this year and it is working so well. I have 5 assignment cards that are randomly handed out to each child (I included Samuel since he badly wants to be one of the big kids!) Math, Writing, Work with Mom, iPad (this is the most popular card. Ha!), and Play with Jeremiah. We clip one card under each child's name on the wall and every 20 minutes we rotate the cards. By the time the morning is up everyone has done each of the five things.

We started the Math U See program this year and it has been so helpful in making rotations work. It comes with a DVD where the kids can watch a short math lesson and then do the accompanying worksheets. They just get done as much as they can in 20 minutes, then pick up where they left off the next day.

For "writing" they practice handwriting (Isabella and Leo are learning cursive) or do copywork into a notebook.

The "work with mom" card means that they do a lesson in All About Spelling with me, and read a short lesson in a McGuffy's reader. Spelling is an area that a couple of my kids struggle with, so this program has been great.
Elsie is still finishing up the Teach Your Child to Read book, so she alternates doing a lesson from that book one day, and an All About Spelling lesson the next. I don't normally start my kindergarteners with regular school work, but she is able and asking for it. So she is doing reading, spelling, a handwriting workbook, the Alpha math level, and listening in on the kids' other subjects whenever she likes. We started the reading lesson book over the summer so she is about 2/3 of the way through that already.

The iPad card gives them a break to do educational apps, and the Play with Jeremiah card keeps the little guy a bit more occupied so I have a chance to work one-on-one with each child.

Samuel likes to try to do all the subjects too (he LOVES to sit and color), but he usually loses interest about halfway through the morning of rotations and goes to watch Elmo or Blue's Clues, or something like that.

At the end of our rotation time they are ready for a snack, so they eat and listen. We alternate daily between geography and grammar. (Geography for Children and Language Lessons), and we've been watching memory work videos from during this time as well. We're not part of a CC community, but I ordered the Classical Conversations Foundations book and I'm excitedly waiting for it to arrive so we can more easily do some of the memory work at home.
I'll update you on that in the future!

Once all this is done we take a break for lunch and playing. I put Jeremiah down for a nap (unless he's already taken an early one, which completely throws off the afternoon!) and then we do a lesson in history or science. This is our first year doing the Story of the World book and we are loving it! The lessons are so interesting and the activity book is packed with great ideas. I went through the book and highlighted the activities that seemed like a good fit for our family, so we are just doing those.
We are continuing the astronomy science book (God's Design for Heaven and Earth) that we started last year. I never stress about finishing school books within a "school years" time. We just take as long as we need to go through them, then begin the next one whenever we're ready.

In the afternoon I pull teeth to get my kids to do silent reading time. I am believing one day they are going to have to be forced to stop because they will love reading so much...but in the meantime I just make them do it.  :)  While they're reading I put Samuel down for his nap, then we finish the reading hour with me reading to the big kids from our literature basket. This part they like, because they love to be read to! The basket is filled with a random selection of books (current selection pictured below). I read from a few each day then place them in the back of the stack so that we rotate through all of them over the course of the week. If any kids are "in a mood" (moms, you know what I mean!) I will read a few chapters from a fictional chapter book instead. Right now we're in the middle of Old Yeller and Stories From Grandmother's Attic.

Once this time of reading is done, school is "over" and the kids go play. I collapse in a heap...I mean I go do housework. ;)

Around 4:30 we stop and do a quick tidy of the house then the kids get about an hour and a half of screen time, where they take turns playing with the iPad, computer, or watching a show. Then it's time for dinner, listening to a chapter from our family read aloud book, cleaning up and getting ready for bed. If we're feeling ambitious we may even bathe them. ;)
Jason is going through a devotional book with the boys before bed, and I have one with the girls. We used to do this time together as a family, but for some reason it was a lot more chaotic. Since the kids are all together all day long it has been really nice to divide into boys and girls at night.

It's a long day, and a good day.

Tonight when I put the girls to bed they were holding their glow-in-the-dark stars to the lamp before we turned it off, and I suddenly realized that I am just like those stars. When I spend time with God, soaking up His light, then I am able to shine out kindness, patience, and love to my kids...but after awhile I start to fade and I need to be "recharged" again. Because the truth is that I don't have my own internal light source apart from Him. All the good I am able to do is just a reflection of a really good God.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Sweet Samuel turns 3

Samuel turned three recently and we celebrated him with gifts and a cake for breakfast before Papa left for work. Samuel is a really precious kid. He is so sweet and very observant. If he notices something that needs to be done he will quickly try to help. 
"Sure Mom!" is his usual cheerful reply when I ask him something. Its pretty amazing to have such a pleasant toddler... all through his twos he remained the same. He is one of a kind!
Samuel loves to do whatever the big kids are doing (which sometimes causes frustration!) He participates during our school time as if he is doing their level of work. He works really hard when he's coloring a picture, so it was sweet when Trader Joe's called a couple days before his birthday to let us know that he had won the coloring contest that month for the 2-4 year olds.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

our week on the road

What a week we had. We were so blessed to be loaned an RV by our generous uncle so that we could take a family vacation, and it was amazing. Exciting and exhausting...but what else could you expect with 6 kids and 2 parents in an RV for a week? 

I'm thankful for photos to document the journey, because it was a memory-making time!

Our first night was spent in Taylorville Lake State Park in KY. The following day we had a very memorable unplanned hike (that we were not wearing the right footwear for!) and spent some time exploring the creek and getting really dirty. [Can I just say that campground showers are the BEST EVER...well, maybe it was actually the relief of getting cleaned up. I'm not used to getting that filthy. LOL!]

 Stumbling into a hike we didn't plan for meant that we had no baby carrier (eek!). So our inventive fearless leader devised his own using his backpack. Hey, it worked!

Being in such a small space together really challenges the little-people relationships, to put it lightly. :)  But overall there were more happy noises than bickering, so that's good by me.

At a stretch-your-legs pit stop the kids discovered a cicada shedding its old exoskeleton. It was amazing to watch!  This trip had opportunities for learning new things every day.

We decided to add an extra hour to the trip and go down to the beaches in North Carolina. They were breathtakingly beautiful. There was a distant tropical storm brewing the day we got there so the tides were quite dramatic. The kids were amazed by the power of the ocean and didn't venture out too far that day, especially after they watched the lifeguard have to rescue a man who had been caught by the rip tides while surfing.

Elsie is the Kreke who really shows her feelings... but she sums up what all the kids expressed in their own ways. They LOVED our days at the ocean.

We stayed at Oregon Inlet, which is a national park on Cape Hatteras, more popularly known as the Outer Banks in North Carolina. Our campsite was right in the middle of the sand dunes. And we had great "neighbors", a retired couple from Australia who were in the middle of a 45 day trip across the US. They had even been through our home town. :)

 Bella made a centerpiece for our dinner. Jason did the cooking most nights...what a treat!

We were so thankful for the bag of presents Jason's sweet assistant sent to surprise the kids with. 

 Keeping Jeremiah out of trouble was a full time this campsite he finally had to be confined to the stroller during dinner prep because he wouldn't stay out of the cactus. Eek!

 We are just not used to having to watch out for cactus! That was a new experience for us all.

On our way out of North Carolina we visited the Lost Colony of Roanoke Museum, which the kids had learned about last year in American History, and also the Wright Brothers Museum. This was an amazing place, mainly because of the incredible park ranger who gave the daily talk. She was so passionate and exciting to listen to! Halfway through she picked Leo to help demonstrate how the Wright brother's first plane worked. After the lecture the kids completed the Junior Rangers program and were awarded really neat wooden badges. A very serious park ranger had them raise their right hands and promise to help preserve National Parks everywhere. :)
I just loved all the workers at that museum!

Our next stop was Virginia Beach. We stayed at the First Landing State Park, and also visited the exhibit they had, about the first landing of the English at Cape Henry before they settled at Jamestown. What a neat campsite! Even though there were lots of people camping (in the middle of the week! I was so surprised!) you really felt like you had the place to yourself because each camper spot was surrounded by these gorgeous trees. The kids hung up our hammock and climbed the trees as soon as we parked. 

Virginia beach was more populated and not as unspoiled as the N.C. beaches had been, but the water was calm and there were crabs scuttling around, so the kids had a blast.

 Silas with his "pet" (a dead horseshoe crab) He's so funny.

Isabella's big hope before our trip was that she would find a hermit crab. In fact, she was pretty set on it. She had bought a critter cage, checked out a book on hermit crabs from the library, and she was looking hard! The days passed and she found nothing. Then, as we were about to leave our last time at the beach she stepped on something in the water, reached down and picked up...a hermit crab! Amazing. I just love how God surprises us sometimes with those little gifts just to show how much He loves us.

Stopping for groceries and a laundromat visit where we got to chat with curious locals...

We got to see the healing power of God in a powerful way halfway through the trip. Samuel closed his finger in a door, and I actually had to kick the door open to free it. There was a deep dent with a cut in his smashed finger and we were concerned that it might be broken. He was exhausted so we wrapped it, prayed for him, and let him nap for a bit. An hour later we looked at the finger and it was healed! No dent, no cut, not even a bruise. What an incredible God we serve!

Our final part of the trip was spent in the beautiful Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia.

After a final 9 hour drive from West Virginia, we arrived home late Thursday night, stuck sleepy kids into their beds, and crashed. What a great trip!