Homeschool Notes October, November, December

We’ve been settling into our routine pretty well this fall. The interesting thing about routine–I always think the days I let it go will be easier than the days we stick to it and I am always wrong about that. The kids are in better moods (therefore, I am in a better mood) on the days we stay on schedule (at least roughly) than on the days we throw caution to the wind.

So we’re learning to make the schedule a priority.

Within the routine of the schedule, things are still pretty scatter-shot. It’s almost the opposite of the routine thing: I will decide “It’s time for Kid A to learn Thing B” and sit down to make this happen. It never goes well. On the other hand, if the kids decide they want to do something, they get really deeply into it start-to-finish and end up happy and proud.

This is something I believe is true from a theoretical standpoint, and it’s how I want to approach education with them. (And gee–it’s not just theoretical if I report that it’s working, right?) But I have the teensiest bit of control freakishness that creeps up from time to time and convinces me I am ruining the kids for life by letting them buzz from flower-to-flower at their own pace, rather than running them through hoops. So I up and try to control their learning and it goes horribly wrong.

I’m not sure how many times this will have to happen before I let go and trust the kids.

Here’s an example. This week, Nat found an iPad app that is a Montessori division board. She wanted to play with it. So I bought it for a dollar or whatever and she played with it. But she wasn’t in the least understanding the concepts involved and I could see that. I beat myself up about it for a while, convinced I should not have given it to her until she had a solid grasp of multiplication.

But she really wanted to figure it out.

Nat works on her division with sea shells.

Nat works on her division with sea shells.

So I told her I’d give her some division work, but not on the iPad. She was good with that. I gave her a big box of sea shells we collected on the beach when my parents were spending winter in the Gulf, and five bowls. I made a list of division problems: 50-:-5= ; 45-:-5= ; 40-:-5= etc. down to 5. Then I showed her how to count out fifty shells, divide them evenly between the bowls and count the number in a bowl to arrive at the answer.

She loved this. She did it for 50s, 40s, 30s, 20s and 10s and went through the whole process for every single problem, even after realizing that the answers were always 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

I still don’t think she has grasped the concept of division, but all that practice is getting it into her and the steps in the process are a challenge to a kid with distraction issues. It’s great for her to practice counting out 50 shells and learning that if you make a simple mistake and count out 49 or 51, the whole problem will fail.

If I had asked her to do this without her original interest I can only guess she would hate me forever. I mean, how dull can you get??? I would hate it, myself. But it was her project and she was all into it. And if she learns multiplication via division instead of the other way around, I guess the sky won’t fall.

Another Nat-inspired, Nat-produced activity this past week was a shrine to her Granddaddy. My father died last July (in case you managed to miss me blogging/tweeting/FBing about that constantly). His 67th birthday would have been this past Sunday (9 December) and Nat wanted to do something to honor him. I suggested taking an extra can of “sharing food” to put in the basket at church on his behalf and she was good with that, but had her own plan.

“I will make a birthday card, with his picture on it. It will say “Happy Birthday Grandaddy, we miss you!”

I told her that sounded like a good idea. Then she added, “I can put it up on a shelf and when I miss him, I can look at it and say a little prayer.”

This was all her own idea, mind you.

Nat's Shrine to her Granddaddy

Nat’s Shrine to her Granddaddy

And it’s exactly what she did. I gave her some card stock and printed out a few pictures of Daddy. She opted to use all the pictures and make multiple cards. Then she put them on the fireplace mantel and placed a sea shell (the same ones she used for the division project) in front of them to “make it pretty.”

I am kind of blown away by it, and really proud of her for coming up with her own little tribute and orchestrating it all in her own special way.

Selina has been doing lots of building lately. She makes elaborate cities with Lego blocks or wooden blocks, then dresses up all the people and animals and enacts little plays with them in her cities.

She finished the word book we started a month or so ago and she is very proud of it. In working slowly on that, she has also just started taking an interest in spelling out words throughout the day, and reading others as well. Her reading hasn’t started rolling on its own quite yet, but it’s going to soon, I think. She is a little linguist–always wanting to know what words mean, and using a wide vocabulary correctly in an easy, natural way. Once reading really clicks for her, she’s going to take right off.

(I have a little video of Selina reading her word book, but am having trouble uploading it for some reason. Watch this space. Maybe I’ll figure it out.)

At bedtime, if I am not totally wiped out (which, let’s be honest, I usually am), we all take turns reading a book. Nat reads something aloud to us, I read something aloud to us and Selina “reads” something aloud to us. We have some great picture books without words that Selina especially enjoys and can feel really expert at “reading.”

We should do it every day, but I am not Wonder Woman. So to substitute, I often tell Selina to choose some books and have Nat read them to her. This works especially well. Selina wants to be like Nat and so it inspires her to work on her reading and Nat gets really proud of herself if she can teach Selina to recognize a new word or two from their reading together.

We’ve also found a lot of great apps for the kids’ iPad, but I want to do a whole separate post about how we are using those.

Selina is a whiz at jigsaw puzzles. So that’s one thing we try to keep on top of. (It is really hard to find puzzles in her current zone of 250-300 pieces. 100 is too easy and 500 is too hard, but they seem to jump between those two sizes, most of the time.) I found one recently that’s 101 pieces, but they are small pieces, rather than big, kid-friendly ones, so that upped the challenge a bit.

A New Puzzle!

A New Puzzle!

Selina tends to master a jigsaw after about two or three times doing it and it’s hard to keep ahead of her learning curve. But puzzles are an especially great way for her to exercise her weak eye when she wears her eye patch, so I want to indulge her as much as I can.

Speaking of puzzles, Nat is a big fan of Geo Puzzles. They are mostly fabulous realistic maps with the pieces shaped like the countries. (My quibble is that they put Mexico in with South America, then put the U.S. and Canada together in one puzzle.)

Her favorite thing for the longest time was her Africa puzzle. She chose that puzzle to begin work time every single day. So after a while, I started making her other Africa work, like matching countries and capitals, writing out all the countries for handwriting practice (she was really proud of this–so eager to get it done she actually woke in the middle of the night and got it out to finish it), African country word-search puzzles, and picture books and television documentaries (yea, Netflix!) about Africa.

Then, Cole found out that for work reasons, we might have an opportunity to take the kids to Brazil next spring. So I put Africa away for now and took out South America (plus Mexico…grumble, grumble…) and she’s been doing that one.

I told Cole that I remembered having to memorize the countries and capitals of every continent by rote in grade school, trace and color maps and be tested on it all. I hated the pressure of it. But Nat has learned all that stuff because it was fun for her. So I count that as a win.

We still aren’t getting enough physical activity in the week. The girls have ballet on Wednesdays and Saturdays. But they could really use a good vigorous hour of play or other movement every day. Next “semester” we are going to try karate at the Y in addition to the current ballet schedule. Hopefully that will help them in a number of ways. Nat’s sense of self-control is definitely showing improvement since she has turned a corner in ballet (according to her teacher). I am hoping karate will help her continue that improvement. And Selina just needs to run around!



Finally, some holiday notes… I am a bit of a control freak, as I mentioned above, and one of the ways that manifests is that I can’t stand cooking with anyone but myself. I had been cooking with Nat somewhat regularly last spring, but this had fallen off for a few months, as life just became too crazy for me to keep it up. It’s a challenge for me to let kids spill and lick spoons and mix poorly and all that normal learning stuff that happens in a kitchen. But I am trying to get back into the swing of teaching them to cook, so we did some holiday cookies.

The only real disaster in our cooking adventure was losing the 1/4 teaspoon down the garbage disposal. but it was my favorite measuring spoon! Alas.

The only real disaster in our cooking adventure was losing the 1/4 teaspoon down the garbage disposal. But it was my favorite measuring spoon! Alas.

It was the first time I ever made rolled cookies, so it was a new thing all-around. The kids did great and I kept my head on my shoulders (mostly). And the results were tasty, so that covers a plethora of kitchen sins.

I’m also teaching them to sing the Hallelujah chorus. Which really just means I’m introducing them (especially Nat, since she can read words well) to understanding a musical score, how to count musical time and follow your part. Actual singing is going to be another project altogether, since Nat has a habit of confusing



pitch with dynamics (ahem). But she loves to sing. So Hallelujah, it is.

Josiah is home again for several weeks (he spent the summer and much of the fall in a tepee in Iowa) and he is going to try reintroducing Nat to more routine guitar lessons. I think she’s ready to do that, as her attention and ability to focus has increased a bit lately. We are looking forward to lots of music in the house again!

6 responses to “Homeschool Notes October, November, December

  1. I’m surprised you think learning about division with seashells and bowls is dull …? It was a fantastically creative idea, I thought. Just right for maths for kids this age. Much better to vary the learning, as opposed to only drilling on maths sheets, endlessly. And, there’s absolutely no reason why multiplication **must** come first. Multiplication and division go hand in hand, just as adding and subtraction do: there’s no need to … how do I put it, be concerned. Well, I’ve always homeschooled mine (ages 23, 13, 10) and using manipulatives with each of them for maths was always, I would say, essential. And also creating maths lessons and games based on their interests and questions. So, taking the long view, I wouldn’t be concerned about one concept ‘clicking’, before the other. Which is all my long-winded way of saying that I loved the seashells and bowls :-)

  2. Well, clearly my taste is not universal! Nat loved it. I would hate recounting seashells for six hours (even spread over four days).

  3. Hmm. What about buttons? Counting bears?? I mean, as adults, maybe we’re past the **need** to use manipulatives to do maths, so it probably wouldn’t come up as something we’d be required to do! But for kids in the learning phase — mine continued to not just need but genuinely enjoy maths manipulatives through 7th grade level — it seems a simple thing. So many kids spends endless hours on things like water scooping in the sink and building block towers only to knock them right down only to build them up again, you know? R: the maths … There’s just something really nice about having something tangible to feel and touch and see and move about and alter — *especially* once you toss in fractions — there is something very settled and satisfying about: it is orderly, absolute, safe (seriously: higher maths gets very tricksy, sneaky even, as my 13yo says: the tidyness of primary maths is quite soothing).

    Anyway. At Nat’s age, or thereabouts, did you most appreciate doing pages and pages and colums and colums of equations? Or might you have enjoying grouping with seashells?

  4. (Sorry for the typos: just can’t reliably coordinate fingers and eyes since the brain tumor)

  5. What a great post! I love how you’re taking advantage of the flexibility that home schooling offers, rather than feeling like you have to make home schooling just “regular school, but at home.” Well done!

  6. Teaching your kids to read music with the Hallelujah chorus – that is brilliant! And it sounds like fun. Kudos for you for teaching your daughters to understand different types of music.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s