Thursday, January 31, 2008

It's soooooo cold!!!!

It's -28C right now outside. That's actually warmer than it was the other morning. The kids have still been playing outside, but they're not lasting their 2-3 hours at a time--more like 45 minutes, then they're in. All the schools are having indoor recesses and my lucky guys get to go play out in the snow!

I have to take a picture of something they've created out of the following drift that was created overnight the other day:

It's normally completely flat in there. They've managed to create something that looks a bit like a castle!

The cold reminds me so much of growing up in Yellowknife and I have remembered why we all wore long-johns under our pants each and every day!!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

What? January's almost done??

Where did it go???

This last week seemed to drag on forever. By Wednesday, we were all thinking it was Friday. Not sure why. We're probably cooped up too much while the 16yo finishes up her work and studying for her exams. One more week and her first 2 exams will be done and her exam studying will be done.

Not a whole lot got done by dd and "Bob" this week. Part of it was because I was so focused on helping the 16yo. Another part is that everybody's getting so antsy, it felt better to just let them go play. They actually decided to learn how to play chess this week. It's absolutely hilarious to watch because they've modified the rules. It's no longer a competitive game--they're making deals with each other about places they can move. Some of the games, though, are lasting a whole 5 minutes. It's quite funny!

I've been doing not too badly with ds. A couple of times, I gave him is A Beka cursive workbook (K level) and told him to pick any page. He likes that rather than having to go strictly in order. He was sooooooooo proud of some of his letters. It was so cute. Then I decided to do a modified Ray's Primary Arithmetic lesson (orally), but thought I didn't need to go in order like they do. (First question is something like: John has 1 apple and Mary gives him 2 apples. How many apples does he now have? Second question goes to 2+2, then 3+2 and so on.) Actually, I thought he'd catch on too quickly and would just automatically go in order without thinking about the answer. But he got all confused and I went in order and he never caught on. I should just trust the program--it was used for years in the old schoolhouses in the 1800's and the kids learned so much from their approach.

Dd is no longer doing the Saxon math. She was eager to do it before she started actually doing it. Then it was drudgery. I just made up some sheets for her for a bit then gave her The Key to Algebra and had her do a couple of pages. She LOVES it. So there we go. She's happy with math again. I'm thinking, though, that I'm so tired of her and Bob not knowing their times tables that I may have them do a TON of work on them this week. Is it possible to learn all your tables in a week? It's not like it's something new. But there is so much frustration from certain work because they don't know their tables. It's time to get them mastered and be done with. I could have sworn years ago I'd seen something about mastering the times tables in a week. I'll have to see if I can find something. If not, I'll make something up using a variety of approaches. Using just worksheets, of course, would be very annoying. But you mix some oral recitation with some physical games (like go pick up the answer) and some board games and some flash cards AND the worksheets, then you get a lot of practice in a bunch of different ways. Oh, right, and I have a multiplication tables Wrap-Up. I've got lots of stuff. That's my only math plan for them this coming week, except maybe integrate some fun geometry.

Other than that, Bob's reading is making some nice progress. I think his glasses have made a big difference. He's made it clear that he likes having a checklist to tell him what he needs to do, but likes choosing the order. That's fine--if it works for him, so be it. This week, I'm assigning him pages to read in the book Peak by Roland Smith. He's started reading it with/to me and it's going well. AND he's enjoying it. I really think it's a book he'll like. I'm only assigning 3-4 pages per day, definitely doable. Especially since we're restarting our 30 minutes of silent reading in the morning. Somebody reading this might say, "He's only going to read 3 pages in 30 minutes?" Well, his reading is still iffy and this book is actually above his level (although he read "moldering" without ANY assistance last week--woo hoo! and he KNEW it was moldering even though he had no clue what moldering meant!) and he spends half his time fretting about whether he'll be able to read and getting up and getting a drink or going to the bathroom or asking questions... If he can get the 3 pages done in 30 minutes, that'll be great. Then we can start gradually moving him up.

The 16yo is going to be studying social and chem on Monday, mixing it in with beginning to plan her second semester, do her social exam Tuesday morning, we'll go to the library Tuesday afternoon, I think she has a driving lesson Wed. morning or Wed. lunch hour, then she'll study chem and continue her semester planning, then Thursday study chem and do semester planning, then Friday morning, do her chem exam and Friday afternoon, she'll be able to go snowboarding and know she's done her exams! (Well, for now--she has to finish her math still and do that exam in March. And, of course, that doesn't count the 4 exams she'll have to do second semester in May/June.) She can go home Friday night and know that there's not a single thing she has to work on all weekend. :)

For ds and my niece... I'm really trying hard to focus on bringing more Montessori into our days. I have felt so scattered the past couple of weeks, though, and think it's largely due to not getting some good routines in and focus on these exams and evaluations (oh, yes, that's another thing the 16yo has to do--do MY tests/worksheets so I have marks to give). I've started rereading some Montessori stuff and am thinking up ideas. I need to get my own personal routine going so that I can improve upon our environment and have be prepared to show them some great lessons. That's always the key--the outer stuff happens according to how I've dealt with my own things. Always like that. When I slack off, even if my slacking off has nothing to do with the kids' work, then they do. Total mirroring! It's crazy. But at the same time a nice natural consequence to keep showing us how we're off. :)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Wow! A week since I posted!

Yet people keep coming by and reading the blog. I guess I should put up something new. :)

We're just kind of plugging along with the 16yo's coursework (which is essentially done), her study time (which will continue all this week with possibly her first exam on Friday), trying to get the next two oldest into some sort of groove (hasn't yet been happening--I've got ideas for this coming week though), and taking care of things like my computer's power supply dying this week, going to their weekly ski/snowboard time and things like that.

I sat down and had a think session yesterday. I've gone off-course again with our homeschooling and it's showing. The 16yo is doing great--we found something that works for her and sharing little things like, "You don't have to want to study/work to actually study/work," seems to have helped her get herself really going. She's doing really well.

The groove has not come back for the next 2, however, and I'm not getting my time in with my son. One of my realizations is that I need to have him and my niece more a part of the group. I'm recommitting myself to Montessori, as much as I am able, admittedly with some modifications. I know with "Bob" it can't be a typical Montessori jr. high situation because he MUST get his reading and writing up to par first (well, not that I have a farm or some other suitable business for him to work in anyhow, although, if he wants, I could get him involved in the dayhome in some way.... hm...). So I thought back to things that worked well in the past and the first thing that came up was group time, especially in the morning. We had restarted it, then something threw the routine off and it just never came back because it hadn't yet become a habit. I want it to become a habit. Starting off our mornings together, getting focused, thinking about the things we want to learn... It's just a really good routine.

I also thought of our Writing Workshops which we haven't done in a couple of years. Now, the 16yo won't be able to participate in those right away due to her exams and whatnot, but she does have ELA that she will be starting within the next 2 weeks. It could work out to have something set up where we're all writing at the same time. Bob never totally got into the Writing Workshop, but he's since actually put some initative into writing, so this could work. And I'd love to get my ds started on even just drawing stories. I should refresh my memory again by taking out that book on Writing Workshops, or maybe purchase it. But this idea of the workshop got me thinking about how some Montessori schools have a kind of reading group--Great Books or other. There is such a thing as a Reading Workshop (or maybe it's Readers' Workshop) and while I might call our time that, it's not necessarily the same thing. But I think I will propose it this week. A time together to read and discuss some book, story, poem or other. But then that got me thinking: what about Math Workshop--I present lessons/materials or they come with things they want to learn? Science Workshop--pick a topic or book or experiment? There's something about that word "workshop" that sounds so... "cool". These would be scheduled times I'd be available to do group activities with them. The activities wouldn't take up so much time that they leave no room for other stuff, unless they really enjoy it that way. They really like working together more than they are right now. The tough part will be balancing the French and the English!

Then, for my niece, I've pulled out my Gettman and am going to start getting going on that. I can even enlist the help of my son, tell him that he can help "teach" his cousin things and I can show him how to show her. That made me realize that there's a lot of early work I haven't yet done with my son, so I'm going to start in those early math things with him. The language isn't being introduced as often as I'd like, but it's still there. The math... Well... Hm... Time he did some Decimal System work!

Guess that's enough of my written out thinking for now. One thing I want available this week in preparation for the "Math Workshop" (assuming, of course, that the idea goes through, but if not, what I want to prepare will still work) is to have grade-level outcome sheets. This was something Maria Montessori actually proposed, I think, and if not, someone not long after her. Basically, the kids have available to them what the standards for their state/province are and can choose what they would like to work on, even if it's from a different grade. Knowing that all the kids in the public schools are learning xyz kind of motivates them to learn xyz themselves. Just another one of those seeds that can be planted in a classroom. My point: I want to start working on that now. So, ciao. :)

Friday, January 11, 2008

We've Got a Ladybug!

I noticed our one cat last night sitting downstairs in the hunched over in the "There's something moving on the floor" position. I look and see this dark speck. I figured it was some sort of spider she'd found, or at the remotest chance, a little carpet beetle. It was a beetle all right--but a ladybug!! I wondered if she'd found it somewhere, if it was dead. She was going to bat it and I kind of pushed her away and scooped the ladybug onto a piece of paper. It looked dead. I then brought it to my kids and dh and started saying that I think it might be dead when it started moving its legs. We put it in a jar in amazement that we'd have a ladybug in our house in January--especially since where I live, we usually have snow by the end of October, which means no ladybugs from the until next summer.

It was still alive this morning and it was only then that I thought to see what we could do to keep it alive. It apparently needs moisture of some sort to drink--one site said moist paper towel works--and something sweetish to eat, like raisins. I don't have raisins in the house, but I do have some Fruit-to-Go's, so I figured that'd be the closest thing.

The poor ladybug must have been really wanting to drink! It went to the wet paper towel immediately and we could see it with its mouth against the towel. It was so neat to watch. It had spent so long trying to find a way to escape, but once it had its drink, it settled down to 'sleep', we think.

So now we have 3 containers in our "extra" bedroom: one with a... shoot, the name escapes me at the moment--one of those fuzzy yellow-and-black caterpillars (yes, there are many kinds, but I think we only have one kind here) that pupated INSIDE its fuzzy casing (sooo fascinating) and another container with another caterpillar that pupated, but I'm afraid it may be dead. I don't think it was a kind that winters over and should have come out as a moth in August or Sept.

If we weren't eyeing to have dd move into that room this summer so she can have her own room, I think I'd turn it into some sort of zoology room. :)

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

So far, not bad!

Our first day back was Monday. Despite my schedule for dd and Bob, little got done by them. But I knew that it wouldn't get all done. I also knew that trying to kind of control them in that way after they'd chosen their own things wouldn't totally play out, but I was hoping that having something written out like that would at least stop them from wondering about what they could work on. The 16yo actually had a great work day! Very focused, got a lot done.

Yesterday was better for dd and Bob. He actually let me know first thing that he didn't like the schedule and having to do things in a certain order, that he much preferred having a checklist so he could do things however. I said okay. He got his math done and then played a lot on ds' Power Tour guitar (a Christmas present from my mom). He's quite good! The 16yo had a doctor's appointment that kind of messed up her routine, then we had a visit from our facilitator, which basically cancelled her whole afternoon study session.

Dd has started reading a lot more in French. She doesn't seem happy about it, though. It's like she has decided that she must do it, so she'll do it, but doesn't really want to do it. It's kind of funny. She's started Saxon 65 and other than a meltdown brought on by tiredness on Monday, it's going just fine. I'm only having her do half of the questions and I'm not even sure she needs to do that much with these early lessons. I might go through the first part of it really quickly with her, cover 2 or 3 lessons in one day, and maybe she could even finish the text by the end of June.

Today was a bad day for the 16yo. She's started this medication for her stomach problems, but it's far worse than any of her stomach problems have been. She's gone home. Bob did GREAT work. He practised reading the days of the week in French and then copied them out, he did all of his math and then wrote a very, very short story. (He'd only really done math the past two days, so I asked him to add at least one more thing to his own personal requirements for the day.) He's also played on the guitar and gone outside.

As for me, I pulled out my books and sat at the table with the kids and did my work: calculus. I also looked up something on the White House in the encyclopedia. This idea of working where the kids are working is something that came up years ago on a Montessori list but I also heard it recently in connection with the Robinson Curriculum, which has the kids work completely independently. While I don't really care for the whole approach, there really is something about sitting there with the kids and doing work that seems to motivate them or make things better.

It's still morning as I write this and our school day is pretty much done. I have nothing to do with the 16yo since she's gone, Bob's done, ds is tired, dd is tired and just kind of lounging--although she did do some self-created work earlier today that kept her focused for a good 2 hours. Maybe we should go out this afternoon! But where? It's pretty cold today. I had thought about going to this one sledding hill, but there's no way my niece will last long outside--it's -18C (0F). Her outdoor gear is not warm enough for that. Dd suggested the museum. Bob suggested Best Buy. lol. (Does it show he's a 13yo boy??) Hm... We'll have to think about this.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

New start to school almost here!

I have been planning things out a bit and realized that I did as I typically do: totally forgot that Monday morning, when the two oldest arrive, they will need some time to give gifts, everybody will talk and share and my kids will show what they got and all that. So, now it's factored in. I will set a timer after they get here so that it all stops and we get to work! (How un-Montessori is that! lol)

Actually, I'm not going to be very Montessori this week, or really the next 3 weeks (16yo's exams are in 3 weeks). It is vital that the 16yo hop on board, get her work done and study. I also know that the 13yo, sorry, "Bob", needs a lot of structure to get things going. Once things are going, then he's able to make some choices. We have no outings scheduled except for skiing/snowboarding Friday afternoons. I'm not even sure if we'll do our regular Tuesday library outing. The 16yo really needs every hour she can get!! Her sports take up so much of her out-of-school time, plus family stuff, like her sick grandmother. We need to make the most of every minute of school time.

For her, I've done up a time-slotted schedule, but where the subjects will actually fall can be changed. She has 3 hours in the morning, split up between two subjects. That's just to get her basic work done. Then an hour lunch. Then 1.5 hours of a third subject, then 30 minutes of French, then 30-60 minutes of study time, where I will guide her through her studying so she learns how to really study, how to assess how it's going, little techniques to help her learn the tough stuff. I will probably also use that time to give her short quizzes here and there as I need some marks!! Oh, and for her social studies study time, we will work on essays. Probably super short essays at first. I also have scheduled in first thing in the morning that she spends about 5 minutes to work on visualizing herself for her exams: how prepared she feels, how focused she is, etc. Everything how she'd like it to be. Then sending out a little prayer and giving thanks. My hope is that spending 5 minutes a day until her exams will help make a huge difference in her exam anxiety.

For Bob, I have a schedule that isn't based on time. Why not? I was going to put it to time but realized that there have been problems with that in the past: distractions or just lack of effort get to the end of the time and little, or nothing, has been done. So, I've done "blocks" instead. Each day, the block will have a certain amount of work assigned to it. He needs to go through all blocks. Doesn't matter if he finishes before lunch or after lunch, he's got to do all the work assigned. What does his schedule look like?

Monday/Wednesday: math, LA (phonics, spelling, reading, copywork/handwriting), science, French, write, project/interest-based learning (this continues for an hour after lunch if it was started before lunch!)

Tuesday/Thursday: LA, math, social, French, write, project/interest-based learning

Friday: math, LA, health/religion, French, write, project/interest-based learning

Dd has a checklist. She likes checklists. She has also decided to do Saxon math for the next while. What's on her list? Multiplication tables, Saxon (at least one lesson, every other question), French reading, French writing, French grammar or spelling, social studies or science, her choice (English, Spanish, music, art, whatever).

Ds--I just need to make myself do our morning routine. My niece will be coming part-time again, and he spend his time with her. It's so cute seeing the two of them together. He's like a 2nd big brother, and he gets to have a chance at being the "older sibling". Very good. I've just remembered that I haven't done up any new words for him. MUST do that for Monday. I can work on a list of words while the kids are swimming--which I've got to go get ready for now!!!