Curriculum Review: Five in a Row

Let me start by saying that I love reading books with the kiddo. With the exception of those nights where I am just so tired that my eyes are crossing, we are reading several books at bedtime. And then with homeschooling, we read a lot of books throughout the day. Throughout any given week, we will read and reread the same dozen or so books. This is probably why when I first read about Five in a Row (FIAR) on the homeschool forums this summer, I took note. The premise is simple – read the same book to your child for five days in a row (I’ve seen this referred to as “rowing” the book…). Each day you read the book, you find the location it takes place on the map and place a story disc – simply a circle with some identifying drawing on it. The curriculum book has several topics for discussion or little projects to use with each reading of the book, covering Social Studies, Language Arts, Art, Math and Science. For a given book, there might be several Social Studies topics listed. There is not a hard and fast rule on how to use FIAR – use all the topics, use only one, whatever. Some people use FIAR as their core curriculum, while others, like us, use it to supplement other studies. That is the beauty – you can use it as you wish.

I really like finding the location of each book on the world map, though. It really introduces the child to other places, and gets them familiar with using maps. We also use a Home disc (we designed our own – there are blank templates included in the appendix), so we find where we are and then where the story is taking place, so it really has more of an impact. It is clear that China (The Story About Ping) and France (Madeline) are across the world, while Ohio (Lentil) is relatively close to home.

Social Studies is the broadest of subjects covered: Geography, Cultures, Human Relationships – its really the catchall subject for FIAR. When I do my weekly planning, I try to pick a couple of topics if possible for the day we do Social Studies. Language Arts usually introduces a couple of new vocabulary, or literary terms that are used in the book. Art may point out the techniques used in the books illustrations, architecture of the time as seen in the illustration, etc. Math might involve counting, fractions, and other concepts along those lines. Science introduces topics such as weather and taste buds. For our age group at home (an almost five-year-old in kindergarten) I use a relaxed approach in how we cover the “lesson” portion. We start with the reading, and then find the particular location on the map (our daughter’s favorite part!). Rather than make a big deal of “now we are starting our lesson on such and such a topic…” I keep my curriculum book open while I read the book for quick reference, and then following the book reading and mapwork, I lead into a discussion with my daughter and cover the day’s topic. I try to plan ahead and have a book that I can show her about any corresponding country – she really enjoyed seeing pictures of Paris landmarks when we read Madeline – many were included in the illustrations so I tried to point out the pictures that went along with the illustrations.

As I have mentioned in an earlier post, we are involved in a small co-op which covers Social Studies and Science. With our other school reading, I realized after the first week that I was not always able to read our FIAR book every day for five days. So in our studies, I give us two weeks to cover our book rather than just one. That is one of the best parts of homeschooling – the flexibility! One thing I love about FIAR is the choice of books. These are classics, and while I am familiar with some of the selections, others are new to me. We are really enjoying our books so far! For us, I would not want to use FIAR as my sole curriculum, I would feel like I was lacking in math and science. Beyond that, though, I think it really is a great choice whether as a supplement or as a core.

Week 8 update

So we are in the middle of week 8 here, and while we have our share of bad days, and some days are definitely more productive than others, I have to say that overall, I am quite happy with our progress. I have had to scale back some of the expectations I had regarding scheduling and how much I thought we could get through in a day, week or our six week sessions. This is why I do my weekly planning sheet in pencil! I think Kyri is quite capable, but with house responsibilities, a 3-month-old baby, and well, the fact that Kyri is a typical almost-5 year old who can’t be expected to put in several hours of academics, I have realized that things are not going to progress at the pace I initially thought. But that’s okay, because we are still ahead of the curve! I forget sometimes that we are doing kindergarten, and we started her a year early at that (she has a late birthday so she wouldn’t start school until next fall if we were going through the school system). We are moving at a slower pace on certain things and really enjoying ourselves. I don’t want to push through material for the sake of covering it. I want her to really enjoy what we are studying and for her have some retention of the material we cover.

Like I said, we have our share of bad days. Some days our schooling just doesn’t get off the ground. I try to hold her attention long enough to bang out the bare minimum and then call it a day. Some days we get through everything and she is really eager to learn more. At first, the bad days were discouraging. But I have realized that this is just a natural occurrence, and that I need to just remain flexible. I salvage what I can of the day and shuffle material over the remainder of the week if possible. The important thing is that she is learning, and that she is ENJOYING learning!

We are involved in a small co-op and we are using Story of the World (SOTW) for our Social Studies. We spent two weeks learning about the Ancient Egyptians, and Kyri was FASCINATED with mummies! We read the same book covering the Egyptians and mummification for two weeks at bedtime. We would discuss the steps and order in which the body is wrapped – I was amazed she remembered all those details!

Reading is such a big part of our school day. We read our Story of the World book, History encyclopedia, corresponding literature suggestions for our weekly History topic, books for our Science studies that we are also doing with our co-op, our Five in a Row literature selection, and a fair amount of reading “just for the fun of it.” She has started to read to me almost daily. She knows a lot of the “easier” words and I help with the tougher ones. READING TO YOUR CHILD MAKES THE DIFFERENCE!

I’ll save more details of what we are learning about for later posts. I’ll close with this thought: home schooling is a lot of work and takes time, hard work and dedication. I did not envision this for our family AT ALL but I am so glad this is where we are. It is very rewarding!

Adventures in Homeschooling

While we are definitely still working out the kinks, we have had a great start to the school year! This week will be Week 4 (I am trying to do my planning and scheduling in 6 week increments). We’ve had two weeks with our Social Studies and Science co-op and its been a great time for all the kids involved. We do our reading before we meet on Wednesdays and then as a group we do hands-on activities – coloring, crafts, experiments, map work, etc.

Week 1 Social Studies – We introduced the study of History and Archaeology. The kids had a dig site set up to find “artifacts.”

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Coloring the world map and becoming familiar with locations as we study them is an important part of our lesson.

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Week 1 Science – Learning about Solids Liquids and Gases. Melted crayons to form crayon cookies. Kyri showing off her cookie!


 

 

We followed up this lesson later in the week by making a full batch of crayon cookies at home.

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Week 2 Social Studies – Learning about Prehistoric people. Making “cave paintings” with charcoal and acrylic paints.

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Week 2 Science – We introduced dilutions, solutions and mixtures. The kids compared paint that was undiluted versus paint that they diluted with water. Later they mixed sugar and sand (separately) in water to observe the difference between a solution and a mixture.

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We’ve only covered two weeks so far, and we are having a lot of fun! This is a great introduction to Social Studies and Science topics for kids at this age.

Homeschool Begins

We are officially homeschooling. Okay, since Kyri has a November birthday and isn’t eligible to start Kindergarten until next fall, I guess its not “official.” But I think she is ready so we are moving ahead. We started the week of August 22, and as we are wrapping up our Week 3, I can say that it is going well so far, even as we are working out some of the expected kinks. Here’s a breakdown of what we are covering this year:

1. Math – I will spare you the details, but overall, Kyri will be proficient with counting, patterns/sequences, addition and subtraction, fractions, geometric shapes, time and money. We aren’t using a specific curriculum for this – so far workbooks are more than enough. Starfall also has math and counting content for supplemental work.

2. Language Arts – This covers reading and phonics, and handwriting. We are doing A LOT of reading. I am realizing that the library is the homeschooler’s best friend! We get leisure books, books on topics of interest, and books that correspond to topics we are learning about in our other subjects. I really like the idea of learning from living books, and so we typically have a large collection at any given time. For Phonics and beginning reading we use Starfall. Kyri has been using Starfall.com since April and is able to read a fair amount. She is not limite to sight words that she has memorized – she is comfortable reading words by sounding out and using the Phonics she has learned. I am really impressed with her progress already. I also give her copy work to practice writing letters, words and sentences. We are working on improving her handwriting and correct formation of the letters.

3. Five in a Row (FIAR) – this is an interesting curriculum. You read aloud a classical story five days in a row, and each day you use the story to lead into a different lesson. The curriculum guide lists several learning topics, covering Social Studies, Language Arts, Art, even Math and Science. Some use FIAR as their core, but I am really using it as a supplement.

4. Social Studies – We are involved in a co-op this year covering Social Studies and Science. For Social Studies, we are using Story of the World (SOTW) Volume 1. Each week we cover (typically) one chapter, and our children read living books, do map work, and some relevant arts/crafts. This week, we learned about Nomads and made cave paintings and bead necklaces. SOTW follows the Classical education approach outlined in the Well Trained Mind. One thing that I really like abou the Classical approach is its focus on living books. Especially at this young age, this is the way to engage them, not being limited by a stuffy textbook.

5. Science – the second topic we cover as part of our co-op is Science. Again coming from a Classical approach, we are using Elemental Science . This is a great introduction to scientific concepts for young children. Covering topics such as Dilutions and Solutions, and Density, it introduces concepts in a simple and fun way. Kyri has been having a blast!

6. Geography – I wanted to go beyond our basic topics and chose three extras to cover this year in addition to our “core” Social Studies and Science topics. I found Intellego unit Studies , which contains a large variety of curriculum choices in both Social Studies and Science topics. The Geography unit study that we are doing introduces maps, and for the next several weeks, we will be learning about what they are used for, and the different types available. Last week we even made a treasure map! We will also be covering cardinal directions and hemispheres. We have also covered our school room walls with various maps.

7. Civics – in the state of Texas, Civics is expected to be taught in schools, including homeschools. I am using a Civics unit study from Intellego.This particular Civics course introduces Symbols. We have started learning about the American flag, and we will cover topics such as the Pledge of Allegiance, and the Star Spangled Banner.

8. Astronomy – By far my favorite of our extra topics, our Astronomy unit study from Intellego has been a lot of fun so far. We have been learning about our solar system. We will cover galaxies, the moon and the planets during this topic. While I don’t expect my child to retain everything from the course, I think a broad understanding of the topic is really my goal here. Already Kyri has shown an interest in stargazing. Just this evening we all spent some time out back looking at the stars. I think a telescope is in our near future, as well as a study in Constellations.

These are our “official” subjects. We are still exploring options for Art/Music. She has shown interest in Ballet in the past and we are considering putting her in a class. I am hoping that sometime this fall we will have some sort of musical or artistic activity planned for her. We are also considering what to do for physical activity. We asked her if she was interested in Soccer and she wasn’t. Martial Arts are another option we have been considering. Like the Art/Music, we hope to have something in place later in the fall for her Physical Activity.

As far as the “kinks” go, we are still trying to find our groove. What I mean is, we need to find what type of daily schedule works best, how to best schedule our topics, how long should we work before taking a break. While I have our first six weeks planned out, I am waiting to see how it goes to see if I have been too ambitious in what I expect to cover in that time period. One of the wonderful things about homeschooling is working at the pace of your child. There is no reason to “move on” from a subject because that is how it is scheduled. If more time is needed for a subject, than that’s what we are doing. I accept that this year is going to be a learning experience for the both both us. I am learning what works best for us. I love reading blogs to see how other moms organize their days, as well as deal with the frustrations that occur.

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At San Antonio Children’s Museum

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Bubble Ranch at San Antonio Children’s Museum

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Working on worksheets at co-op

Progress

Sometimes it feels like I still haven’t gotten started yet – some days are more productive than others. Because I am still slowly setting up our new house and trying to establish some sort of housework routine as a new SAHM, we still don’t have a rigid schedule. Some days we spend a fair amount of time doing worksheets and practicing writing, and Kyri spends plenty of time doing Starfall online. Other days, errands and housework consume the day and I end up feeling unproductive as far as school goes.

I am trying to keep it in perspective though. I knew starting out (at 8 ½ months pregnant!) that the summer would really be a time of transition, in more ways than one. Settling into our new home and establishing a household routine (cooking, cleaning, shopping, etc), slowing getting into a homeschooling routine (baby steps, right?) and now settling into life with a new baby – life has definitely been hectic the last several weeks!

We ARE finally starting to settle in a bit, however. Everything is now unpacked and rooms are set up. Some cleaning still needs to be done, and we are finding things in our new home that need touching up and repairing. That’s the way of home ownership, though, right? I’ve set up the baby’s room as my temporary sewing room (he’s in with us for the early months) but so far haven’t found time to tackle any sewing projects. I don’t have my personal workspace as organized as I would like, but it’s functional. I’m still trying to get my “perfect” system put together for keeping up with schoolwork, appointments, and our finances. So far, I am keeping up with things, but I have to stay on top of stacks of paper (my weakness). Even the outside is coming along – planter boxes built (though the late start is not boding well for my transplants), composter set up, front garden bed planted. I will say this – I had no idea that I would have less free time as a SAHM – I am always busy!

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For our homeschooling, I am working to get involved in our local community, and to explore all the city has to offer. Immediately after arriving, we joined our local homeschooling group, and we have weekly park days for the kids to play and the parents to interact and socialize. I am getting to know some of the moms, and Kyri is starting to socialize a bit and seems to really enjoy the experience. She went from spending all day and all week with a group of 16 or more kids, and being quite the social butterfly, to being a homebody with mom. The homeschool group has fewer kids in her age range, but she is adjusting. I think there are a few things that are causing her to be a bit shy. First, she sees these children once a week so it’s a little slower progress, and she has been in a classroom setting for a while. Second, in a classroom setting, you have a teacher essentially steering you into interactions with the other children, and in our current setting, the interactions are really child-led. Kyri has really settled into a routine with one child, who is the same age, and she does look forward to Park Days, so that makes me happy. We are also going to be involved in a homeschool co-op starting this fall, to teach Science and Social Studies, and most likely a second co-op to cover Music and Art. Many of the kids from the homeschool group will also be in the co-op, so Kyri will be interacting with the same group of kids several days during the week. Things are still going a little slow as we adjust to having a baby in the house, but I am so impressed with the progress Kyri is making. She’s my little reader! She has really grasped the Phonics lessons from Starfall, and can read many words now. She loves when we read together, and its really a high point of each day.

I’m really looking forward to all that homeschooling has to offer. As we get started with some of the local offerings and some of the curriculum, I’ll post in more detail.

Curriculum Review: Starfall online

As we ease into a homeschool routine for our preschooler daughter, we are really trying to focus on basic math and counting skills, and basic phonics and reading skills. I came across Starfall a couple of months ago after hearing about them on the Secular Homeschool website. While they have a packaged curriculum, one which is adaptable for either classroom or homeschool use, they also have a web portion that is really great.

We opted to purchase a year’s subscription to Starfall.com. This gives us full access to all of the web content, which includes a very nice collection of flash-driven activities. Word generators introduce simple three-letter words, “books” are read-along by clicking on individual words or having the entire sentence read aloud. There is also active content within books, which makes it even more exciting for the child. A wonderful collection of animated songs, and nursery rhymes introduce various subjects, like time, money, months and days of the year, body parts, etc. We love the emphasis on phonics – in just two months of using Starfall, our four-year-old has really made significant progress in learning to sound out words, and I often hear her imitating the starfall website in making the sounds that each letter makes. The content is enjoyable for her, and so it doesn’t seem like “school work” and she is really benefiting from the material and its approach.

One thing I love about the Starfall online membership is the Teacher Lounge. Here I am able to generate worksheets for our daughter to practice writing her letters, words, and numbers. I can also generate word finds and letter search worksheets. While there are defaults that follow the “weekly” schedule of the Starfall curriculum, it also allows for custom input. Included in the Teacher Lounge are additional resources, such as a Blank Writing Page, perfect for early writers, as well as Vocabulary list generators, Word and Number Card generators, and a large collection of the Starfall Books available for on-screen reading. Finally, the Starfall Kindergarten Curriculum guide is available, broken into “weeks.”

As we transition from a more formal preschool to educating at home, we are taking a relaxed approach out of necessity this summer. While we will be incorporating more structured material in the fall as we move into Kingergarten, Starfall is providing a nice foundation for our daughter to get more comfortable with reading and early math. The material available with Starfall ranges from early readers in preschool to new readers in Kindergarten (and beyond), and the Math content ranges from early counting, addition and subtraction, and goes into simple multiplication and division. There is a whole series of songs for learning the multiplication tables which our daughter loves, even if it is a little advanced for her!

Overall, we have been extremely pleased with the Starfall content. Our daughter loves to do Starfall and really seems to be getting a lot out of it. We have even bought three Starfall apps for my Iphone, which she absolutely loves. I think the reasonable price ($35 for home membership) makes this an excellent investment, even if not homeschooling.

A time of transition

I haven’t posted in some time, as our family has been going through a major transition period. We relocated halfway across the country, and this involved a six week separation while my husband moved with all of our stuff, and I stayed behind with all of our dependents. Finally, we are all together in our new house, and slowly life is getting back to our new normal.

Our new normal. As if relocating was not enough of a shock to the system, our entire routine has now changed. Seven weeks from the arrival of our second child, I am now at home full-time. This is an entirely new experience for me – I am not used to being home and handling domestic concerns fulltime. I arrived to a large stack of administrative task to handle, as I will be the “administrator” in our household now. I have taken a backseat to most things of this nature for years in our relationship, so this is very new for me. I am embracing the challenge and looking forward to getting my own “system” organized and running smootlhly.

A major change in our routine is having our daughter home. She has been in daycare since she was 6 months old, and has been in preschool this past year. We have spent the last two months preparing her for the change to her schedule, and so far she seems to be enjoyoing it. Because there is so much initial stuff to handle with relocating (insurance, doctors, new homeowner stuff etc.) we haven’t gotten into a normal routine yet, but I have made our initial steps in that direction. I have involved us with our local homeschool group so that she gets to socialize with other kids in her age group (and I get involved locally as well). We have also found our local library, and found out the Storytime schedule. I’ve really tried to make the effort keep her engaged during the day with educational activities, though I am sure I am leaning a little too much (out of necessity at this point) on computer games and educational shows. I think the mound of paperwork should be handled by week’s end, though, and we can have a much better routine in place.

I am also enjoying the more domestic aspect of our new routine. Even though I have a lot on my plate now, with getting our home unpacked and organized, and handling all of the administrative tasks, I am home to make dinner at a reasonable time, and have time in the morning to pack my husband a lunch, and get our breakfast made. For too long, our morning rush has been a source of stress, and long days resulted in quick meals thrown together after work, or a willingness to dine out and eat substandard food at a ridiculous price. Being at home will be a great opportunity for me to try out a bunch of new recipes I have earmarked in my cookbooks (once I find out which box they are in!).

A lot of things going on, and that I will be posting on:

I am reading Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne, and following the book club over at Clean . I’ll be posting some thoughts as I work through the book. So far it is a great read. We are working to simplify our routine and lifestyle (all around, but definitely with regard to our daughter) as we can see firsthand the effects the ‘too much, too fast” lifestyle has on her behavior and our sanity.

Diving headlong into home crafts – being at home full time is affording me the time (and financial motivation) to transition our family more toward homemade items, such as soap and personal care products, as well as baby items such as cloth baby wipes. I’ve been really looking forward to this, and am really excited to get started!

Simplifying our food even more. Two hectic work schedules have not really allowed for the amount of home prepped food we would like. I much prefer homemade, but have had to pick and choose based on what has been realistic for our lifestyle. I am looking forward to more home-prepped food – bread, pasta, preserves, etc. My goal is to minimize our processed food as much as possible – I’m not giving up my Tofurky deli slices, but I would like to find a good vegan sausage recipe that my family enjoys. And for the amount of bread we go through in a week – I definitely need to be baking my own. I will finally start canning, and hope to invest in a smaller second freezer for food storage. The only short coming in this part of my plan is the late start to gardening. The growing season starts early here in south Texas, and I still need to put in a couple of raised beds. But minimally, I plan to have at least some tomato plants, peppers, and squash plants growing soon. Being 8 1/2 months pregnant also limits how much gardening I can manage this summer (i can only put so much on the hubby’s to-do list…), so I may be at the mercy of my local farmers market (once I find it this weekend!).

Homeschooling starting soon

We have been discussing homeschooling our daughter for the past several months. Our discussions have ranged from whether it was the best option for our family, to the financial impact this decision would have on our family, as I would be leaving work to do this. The impending arrival of our second child this summer, coupled with relocation to a different state for my husband’s job, has really put us in a position to move forward with this decision. I will not be working once we relocate since I will be so far along in the pregnancy. I am also wary of putting such a small baby into daycare just to rejoin the workforce. We were able to juggle our schedules when our daughter was small, so we did not have her in daycare until she was six months old. So this move has really put us on the road to becoming a homeschooling family.

Our four-year-old is currently in preschool, and once we move, we will continue a preschool-level school plan for her at home. This will be a comfortable way to adjust to homeschooling, and will be more relaxed, which I will need at a late stage of pregnancy.

I plan to move into a kindergarten-level curriculum starting in the fall. Our daughter will turn five in November. In the public school system, her late birthday would have her in pre-K for this coming year, and starting kindergarten next Fall. I don’t think this is necessary, as she is already excelling at many things, and I think starting at this level now can only help her succeed. I really like the idea of not being limited by a school system’s calendar, and expected milestones. I also like the idea of moving along at the pace that is needed by the individual, not by the needs of a diverse group of students.

Now that we know where and when we are relocating, and have committed to the idea of homeschooling, I have begun to research and organize the vast amount of information available on the internet. While there are general home schooling sites out there, dealing with discussions ranging from organizational approaches, different teaching styles and curricula available, there are also state- and city-specific sites dealing with laws regarding homeschooling and parents’ rights to educate their children at home. Additionally, there are many wonderful blogs out there, with insight into daily struggles, successes, curriculum ideas, etc. I am slowly assembling my resource page and organizing many of the sites available, as well as a blog roll of homeschoolers I enjoy reading.

I am really looking forward to this experience. Our daughter is excited that once we move, mommy will be her teacher at home. She’s already asked me if she can call me Miss Mommy! I feel lucky that we are starting this at the preschool/kindergarten level. In my opinion, it will be easier to adjust and adapt, rather than starting at a later grade, or mid-year. While I will have some structure to my approach, I will not be using a packaged curriculum for kindergarten. I also like having a little time to explore what curriculum approach I will take for later grades. Most importantly, I am taking this one step at a time. I’m willing to try new things and see what works best for the family. My first step (before even getting started with the actual teaching) will be to draft a written statement of purpose. I think sitting down and really thinking about what is most important in what we hope to accomplish as home educators is vital. It will ground us in our planning for the future and keep us focused on what we want to get out of homeschooling. It will also establish what approach or philosophy our family will use in planning our home education.