Monday, January 22, 2018

MFW Exp to 1850: Weeks 1 & 2

Our first two weeks back to school have been slightly bumpy, but overall great! It's always tough transitioning from vacation mode back to a schedule and assigned tasks, even when you homeschool. On top of that, we had some frightfully frigid weather keeping us homebound more than is typical.

We started off our year with some back-to-school pictures. E insisted on donning his Viking costume since we were learning about Leif Eriksson on day 1.  I have found that costumes are one of the best ways to get my son engaged in what he is learning. The nice ones can be pricey, but if you shop costumes on Amazon when it's not close to Halloween, or check the clearance sales just after Halloween, you can usually get some good deals on historical types of costumes. 

Miss M was completely ready to begin our school year. She loves academics and appreciates the routine of our school days.  Our first two weeks were a bit of a light start with some subjects not being added in until Week 3. Miss M is excited to start Writing Strands: Intermediate and Vocabulary from Classical Roots in the coming week. E is not so thrilled to be starting cursive in Week 3, but I'm confident he'll survive.

On Fridays we meet up with another family using Exploration to 1850 to do some activities together. We sailed ships from Spain to the New World. I'm sorry to report that only the Pinta made it across as the NiƱa and the Santa Maria were not quite seaworthy. Care to guess which child managed to fashion a suitable ship from aluminum foil, a hunk of clay, and a bamboo skewer? (Hint: it was the only boy in the group).

Week 2 brought us to some national leaders of the 1500s and some exploration of the people who were in this great land before the arrival of Europeans. Miss M wisely asked why they don't get the credit for "discovering" America, and E was just happy to spend hours and hours in his makeshift teepee with a "campfire" to keep him company.

Ever since I first heard that we get to memorize the book of James in Exploration to 1850, I have been looking forward to it! We memorized James in my 7th grade Bible class and it was a great experience. The kids were a little unsure about the idea, but so far they've done great keeping up with the daily memory work and recitations. I am fully confident that they are capable and have high hopes for staying on track.

Miss M has really enjoyed the Draw Write Now books that go along with our studies. E isn't interested since they are "too cartoony," but he got really into our still life artwork from God and the History of Art in Week 2.  Even after homeschooling for 7 years, things like that still surprise me. I can never accurately predict how either child will respond to an activity like this. One loves it, the other hates it; one spends tons of time and effort, the other gives it a lick and a promise. I really just never know what to expect. But I was very pleased this time with the effort both children gave and more than that they both seemed to really enjoy it and asked to do it again some time. Score!

We are looking forward to moving out of the introductory weeks and into the full swing of things. We're also really glad that the major cold snap we had has broken and we've gotten some more humane temperatures lately.  February is right around the corner and experience has taught me that February is a brutal month for homeschoolers. I call it burnout month! We'll be taking two full weeks off in February to watch the Olympics and generally ride out some of the dull days of winter. Spring can never come fast enough.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Lego Zip Line STEM Challenge

Every so often I like to pose a STEM challenge to one or both of my kids. We've done some really fun challenges like building bridges strong enough to support 100 pennies with just 3 notecards and some tape.  I recently ran across a post where they used a clothesline and pulley to construct a Lego zip line.

Since the kids' nana had just recently given them a set of Classic Legos, this seemed right up E's alley.  And boy, was I right!

First we looked for a plastic clothesline pulley at Walmart, but they didn't have any. Then we went to a small local hardware store, but only found expensive metal ones. So we tried a big name hardware store and finally hit the jackpot!

Pulley: $2.38
Clothesline: $2.78

You could buy them on Amazon here and here, but they are more expensive there.

Next he had to build a platform and figure out how to attach it to the pulley.

Then he tested his contraption and discovered it arrived at its destination too forcefully. In fact, it smashed to smithereens!  So he contrived a way to slow and pad the landing by wrapping a paper towel around the clothesline a foot or so from the end. During this phase we had a lot of great discussions about angles, gravity, force, friction, tension, and construction stability.

Lastly he decided to add a mechanism to assist in pulling the zip cart back to the start. You could avoid this step if you anchor the higher end of the clothesline a bit lower, but ours was high enough that Mister E needs a stool to reach it.  He tied a piece of leather thong to the underside since that's what he had at hand.

Once the construction phase was complete, E played with his device for hours and hours on end. I was amazed with how long it held his attention.  He kept coming up with new treacherous scenarios for his Lego man to overcome.

If you give this challenge a try, find me on Facebook and share a picture! We'd love to see what you come up with.


Monday, January 15, 2018

He's Still Working on Me (FREE Printable Scripture Art)

He's still working on me
To make me what I need to be
It took Him just a week to make the moon and stars
The sun and the earth and Jupiter and Mars
How loving and patient He must be
'Cause He's still workin' on me

This is a song I heard often growing up. I don't remember if my mom had it on a record or cassette or if she just sang it to us, but it's been on my mind a lot lately. (Listen here).

As my kids grow and develop, they hit stages where they really want to try out their newly discovered faculties. Sometimes this results in some pretty uncomfortable moments where they're each pushing at and picking on the other -- one to try out a newfound knowledge, the other rejecting input and desiring space to be their own person, etc.  It seems to be really hard for them to see each other as a work in progress rather than as an already complete -- and faulty -- individual.

In pondering our goals and focus for the new year, God laid it on my heart that we should strive to keep in mind the work He is doing in ourselves and in each other.  I chose Philippians 1:6 as our focus verse for the year.

"For I am confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will continue to perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus."

I want to keep this idea and specifically this verse always before us this year, so I created a big banner to post up on the wall in our school space. I also made smaller one-page size posters and put them throughout the house -- in the kids' rooms and the bathroom.

If you'd like to print one too, select one of the color schemes below to download the full page poster.  

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Getting Ready for Exploration to 1850

When you use My Father's World, you really don't have to do any prepwork to get ready for your year. Things are all planned out for you and you can easily just open and go.

However, I am a bit particular and like to have things just so. I find that putting in just a little effort before getting started helps eliminate small frustrations as we go along. Since I had the time and wanted to, I decided to do a few things to get ready for our year.  This post will make more sense if you read our curriculum picks first.

The first thing I did was open our packs of student sheets and separate out the State Sheets and President Sheets. I used my brand new binding machine -- a Christmas gift from Hubby that delights my nerdy heart -- to bind each child's pages into a separate notebook.  Since you receive some of the sheets this year and the rest of them next year in 1850 to Modern Times, it made sense to me to separate them out so at the end of the year it's easy to set these ones aside to be added to next year.

I choked back my design objections and allowed each child to design their own covers for their notebooks.  The covers are not as themed or uniform as I would have made them, but it's one easy way to allow the kids to take ownership of their studies. We downloaded royalty free pictures from Pixabay, inserted them into a Word document, and added text boxes for titles. Then I sent them over to Office Depot to have them printed with nice paper and good ink. I could do it at home, but for only 22 cents apiece, it's a little luxury we really enjoy.

The next thing I did was trim down the state bird and flower cards. I bought some 8-pocket pages to appeal to the kids' desire to collect things.  The only problem is the cards punch apart about a quarter of an inch too wide for the little pockets. So I broke out the paper cutter and trimmed 1/8th inch from each side of the cards. Now they fit into the little pockets beautifully!

While I was having covers printed at Office Depot, I also sent over the PDF of Writing Strands: Intermediate 2.  Did you know when you upload a file to be printed at Office Depot, you can delete certain pages you aren't going to need? I ended up with only the writing lessons, not the reading lessons we aren't using. I stapled each lesson in the corner and put them into a 3-ring binder. I didn't spiral bind them like the others because Miss M will be adding her finished papers to the binder as the year progresses.  Affix a cute cover on the front with washi tape, et voila, we're ready to go!

As in previous years, I used the grid pages from my teacher's manual to create a lesson planner for the year. My Father's World graciously allows for copies of the grid pages from their TMs to be made for your records if you agree to never sell, loan, or give away the manual or any copies at any time.  At the end of each year, my lesson planner becomes part of the records I keep to satisfy Missouri state law.  In addition to photocopies from the TM, I created another grid page for the kids' math, English, and foreign language lessons. I could have pencilled these in on the grid pages themselves, but it seemed neater to go ahead and type it all up in advance. Now each week of school is a two page spread in my planner. In the front I included a year-at-a-glance calendar and a monthly calendar for keeping track of holidays, events, and field trips. In the back I added a place to track a few grades and math drill scores, and a copy of the book of James for quick reference since we will be memorizing it this year.

Once my lesson planner was printed and bound, it was time to get out the one I ordered for Miss M. This year she asked for a paper planner rather than using Homeschool Planet like she has in the past. I thought that was wise since using an online planner has its pitfalls, not the least of which is the time-suck that anything on the computer can be, even if it's just "quickly" checking your email.

I once received a copy of The Ultimate Daily Planner for Students back when I was a reviewer with Home School Mosaics. (You can read that review here.) Miss M wasn't really big enough then to use it to its full potential, but she really enjoyed having it. I considered a lot of planners, but ended up going with this one again mainly because it's really difficult to find an undated planner for students, I needed a daily one, and I didn't want to write everything out like in a bullet journal or plain spiral notebook. She will be moving toward more independence this year with more opportunities for practicing time management, and I'm hoping this planner will be an excellent tool for her.

To go along with our planners and keep our place in my teacher's manual, I created a few quick bookmarks. You can use a spare piece of leftover lamination or even something opaque like cardstock or poster board. Decorate with stickers or washi tape. I love this kind because it doesn't fall out, but can be easily moved from one week to the next!

Last of all I went through our many back issues of nature magazines and clipped pictures to go with each week's science study.  This will make notebooking go just a little bit faster since the kids won't have to draw everything they want to illustrate each week.

I couldn't really say how long it took me because I did all these tasks over the course of several days while also catching up on laundry, deep cleaning floors, and so on.  And like I said at the beginning, none of this is strictly necessary for a successful year in Exploration to 1850. I just wanted to, and so I did!

What do you like to do to prep for your year?

Monday, January 8, 2018

Homeschool Sanity Saver: Meal Planning for a MONTH

Last year while on my blogging hiatus, I did something crazy. I planned meals out an entire month or more in advance!  And it was heavenly.

I give a lot of myself during a typical school day. My energies are consumed with many, many details. Did this child read today? Did she understand math? How many minutes did that lesson take? Do I need to supplement this topic? How long until they need a break? Did we cover everything? Is that spelled correctly? What is 7x12? How are we doing for time? Did I take my vitamins? Do we need to be anywhere today? And on and on.  By the time our lessons are over, I am frequently suffering from decision fatigue. I just cannot make choices about what we will eat for supper.  I will literally stand in front of the fridge or cupboard staring at ingredients for 15 minutes, then give up and order Jimmy John's.

To relive myself of this burden, I have discovered that having a meal plan in place is essential. I have enough physical energy to cook supper, it's just my mental powers that are overtaxed at that point. So if I have someone or something telling me what to do I am able to accomplish it just fine. That's where my menu comes into play. I can look at it and say, "Oh, we're having fish tacos tonight," and get right to work. No decisions necessary. I love that!

We like to eat a huge variety of foods, so it's not often that I will cook a meal more than once a month. I tried doing pizza night on Fridays for a while and, boy, everybody tired of that fast.  Yet I wanted some sort of method that would allow me to plan meals quickly and easily.  I finally decided on a two week theme rotation, and it has worked beautifully for the past year!  Each time I sit down to plan out the next month, I refer back to this basic theme.

These themes are not set in stone, so if I'm inspired to try a new recipe or someone has requested something specific I have no qualms about slotting that in wherever it seems to fit.  I left the categories vague enough to have a wide range of possibilities, but specific enough to narrow down my choices when I'm thinking about what to enter on the meal plan.  Thursday's pasta dish, for example, could be anything from turkey tetrazzini to Korean japchae to some good down-home mac and cheese.  Even the "tacos" category is loosely interpreted. Instead of just your basic ground beef crunchy tacos, I have made Cuban black bean soup, chicken flautas with cilantro-lime rice, chimichangas, and scrumptious fish tacos.  

Pinterest is my go-to for finding and storing the recipes I use. I have just one single Food Board so that I'm never trying to remember exactly how I categorized that recipe I pinned one time. My browser's search function or Pinterest's search Your Pins function get me the rest of the way when I'm looking for a specific pin on my board.

A final word about flexibility: when I'm planning, I try to make at least one meal per week a "freezer & pantry" meal. That way if my in-laws show up with Chinese one night or I actually do order in Jimmy John's, I can skip the meal comprised of freezer and pantry items that week (they'll keep just fine as they are) and bump the other meals by one day. This prevents the feeling that my plan is ruined because I now have ingredients for a meal I won't be cooking.

Do you use a meal plan? How far in advance do you plot out what you're going to eat? I'd love to hear what method you use to keep your sanity and feed your family.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

2018 Curriculum Picks: My Father's World Exploration to 1850

I always love reading about what programs other homeschool families use. Sometimes what one person likes you recognize is exactly what you don't like, or what is a disaster for one kid is exactly what another kid needs. I never get tired of that beautiful diversity!

This year my little fella will be a big Third Grader. I can hardly believe he's 8 years old. I distinctly remember my third grade year and the public school in Florida that I went to for part of the year.  It's wild to think that my "baby" could have such clear memories of this time frame when he is all grown up.

Miss M is having a sort of second year of 6th grade. Although she did 6th grade level work across the board last year, I am in no rush to have her start junior high (and high school right around the corner from that). She's only 11!  So this year she will be advancing in her studies, but we're still calling it 6th grade. Some of her work will be at a 6th grade level and some will be a good deal beyond 6th.

We will be continuing with My Father's World for the sixth year; this year will be Exploration to 1850, a study of early American history from colonial times to the California Gold Rush all set in a framework of world history. This study will be different than our past two years since so much more of it will be closer to home -- Lewis and Clark, the Oregon Trail, Native Americans, steamboats, etc.

In Bible we will be studying and memorizing the book of James. Yes, the plan is to memorize the entire book!  I have been looking forward to this for years.  I memorized James in my 7th grade Bible class umpteen years ago and still retain a fair portion, so I'm hoping that my enthusiasm and ability to memorize along with the kids will be enough impetus to keep us going successfully all year.

For science we will start off the year with a study of zoology including the basics of taxonomy, something my kids have not yet encountered; and we'll finish out the year with Apologia's elementary botany course.  I have always loved animals and green growing things, so I'm enthusiastic about these topics. Miss M, on the other hand, confided in me this evening that both of them seem boring. Here's hoping we can win her over as we go along. I think she was exceedingly wowed by last year's astronomy study and it's many, many experiments.

Mister E will proceed into level 2B in Singapore Math and should make it most of the way through 3A by the end of the year. I'm only having him do math 4 days a week, not 5, so he won't quite finish both levels by the end of the year. Miss M will linger over Singapore Math 6A using the Intensive Practice book in addition to the regular textbook and workbook, and then take a quick survey of 6B before the end of the year. I'm more concerned with her practicing word problems and critical thinking than I am about the pre-algebra-like content of these levels since she'll get pre-algebra next year anyway.

English language arts will be fun this year! We're starting out doing Simply Charlotte Mason's Shakespeare in Three Steps: A Midsummer Night's Dream.  Both kids will participate in reading, listening to, and then watching the play. Miss M will also copy and memorize some of her favorite passages.  Once that study is complete, Miss M will study Alfred, Lord Tennyson.  Throughout the year she will dive more deeply into English grammar than she ever has before using Easy Grammar Grade 6, while Mister E takes a gentle survey of grammar using Language Lessons for Today Grade 3.

Between the two kids, we've got quite a stack of literature books and read-alouds to get through. Miss M is rounding out her language arts study with Vocabulary from Classical Roots Book A (Grade 7) and Writing Strands 5.  Mister E will complete a study of cursive using the now out-of-print Cursive Connections.  Neither child is using a formal spelling curriculum again this year. So far they are both natural spellers and any spelling needs are addressed as they come up with excellent results.

Miss M used Easy Peasy's 6th grade Spanish course last year and enjoyed it, so she will be continuing with 7th Level Spanish this year.  Mister E begged me to let him study Japanese this year. I'm a bit hesitant about it because I can't really help him, but I grabbed him some workbooks (this and this) to get him started and will let him pursue that study informally during his own time.

My Father's World schedules lessons from God and the History of Art for all four years of their history cycle. We've been using it the past two years in Creation to the Greeks and Rome to the Reformation. We like it, but the kids also like less formal, more cartoonish drawing lessons, so I pulled together a list of pages from Draw Write Now and Draw and Write Through History (this and this) to go along with our history and science lessons, especially the science lessons. We're going to give Draw the USA a shot since it looks like fun and is supposed to be a really good way to learn geography.  I also snagged some dot-to-dot and maze books (here and here) to keep little hands busy while little ears are busy.

I think the only other thing I have on deck for this year that I haven't mentioned is a compilation of critical thinking exercises for Miss M. I pulled together pages from four different sources so she has one to do each day. She adores these things and they don't take too long, so I made the effort to get them all prepped and ready for her beforehand. In the past I would copy one here or there for her, but without any true consistency; I think this will be much better!  

Logic Safari Book 3
Balance Benders Level 2
Think-A-Grams A2
Dr. Funster's Think-A-Minutes C1

Monday, January 1, 2018

It's 2018 and I'm Back!

Hello, my lovely blog readers!  Did you miss me?  It's okay if you didn't because your life is probably as busy and insane as my own.

Can you believe I didn't blog at ALL in 2017? Not once!  An entire school year in the books without a single post documenting it. But that's okay, because I gave myself permission before the year began to not blog. Sometimes we need to cut things from our schedule for a season in order to put our focus more fully in other areas.

But, I'm back for 2018!

A super quick recap of what we did last year.....

We used My Father's World's Rome to the Reformation for Bible, history, science, music, and art.  Both kids used Singapore Math. Mister E worked through Language Lessons for Today and part of Spelling by Sound and Structure until I realized he already knew how to spell all the words in the book and dropped it. Miss M used the final one third of Intermediate Language Lessons, All-in-One English, and Writing Strands 4.

We studied anatomy and astronomy in science.

We wore costumes.

We did art projects.

We conquered math books. 

We feasted on roast peacock, built Roman arches, and received the Medieval Key to the City of Knowledge.

It was a wonderful year and we made great memories.  Now it is time to turn from the past and look ahead to the future. A new year, new curriculum, new grades, and many new topics to explore.  Check back soon for an update on what we'll be studying in 2018.

P.S. It wasn't really a peacock, just a turkey.