Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Diary - 30 January

I worked from home today because I was suffering from something that felt akin to gravel rash on my eyeball. It was a side effect from our great day at the pool yesterday. Unfortunately it left me headachy and in pain so I worked a half day and then slept for a big chunk of the afternoon. Feeling better tonight, so yay!

Last week's diary entries were deceptive - we do do more formal homeschool too. I have been trying to be more relaxed about days where it doesn't happen, sometimes we just need to kick back.

The Whipping Boy
At the moment we're studying Concept 4, Unit 2 of Moving Beyond the Page 7-9. The literature component is a study of The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman and the SOSE component is an introductory study of US Government which I am supplementing with a study of Australian Government, making it almost a double subject.

The kids have enjoyed The Whipping Boy and will be reading the conclusion tomorrow. Today they were working on the structure of the US and Australian governments and it was quite a big day of quite a dry subject. There was lots of reading from How the US Government Works which I bought in Kindle format and now regret as there aren't any page numbers on the Kindle and it's not something which has lent itself to being easily read in chapters. But Jamie joined in for the discussion of the role and function of government in the US and we enjoyed the discussion. Keeping it to a level suitable for the kids is quite a challenge, though. 

I will be glad when this unit is over. They have been very interested in the discussions on voting and the election process but the function of government is ho-hum to them. There is little for them to relate to at this age. It's in there, though, because it's mandated curriculum whch just goes to show the fallacy of mandated curriculum. You can include it, you can teach it, but doesn't mean the kids are going to learn it. I fail to see how most kids in 2nd or 3rd Grade would be really that interested.

Practising spelling and handwriting
We also got on with our usual tasks of maths, handwriting/spelling and reading. I have some slates my grandmother used to use to teach first graders 60 or 70 years ago and the kids practice their spelling/handwriting using them. Anni remarked today on how her penmanship is improving. I asked her if she would like to have a handwriting practice sheet each day and she seemed quite keen so I will add a page from Handwriting Without Tears 1st Grade to her daily work starting with the next unit. 

Reading about local government
Their daily reading is from books that support the current topics. This is to help them build a broader knowledge around the topic. Anni admits, though, that she's not retaining a lot at times. Again relevancy is a big issue. They are good with some aspects (voting, design of Canberra) because they have meaning or interest for them. The rest (structure of government, role of government and officials, who is actually in government at the moment) is all pretty uninteresting.

There was much incentivising today to keep motivation up. In Anni's spelling practise photo above you can see the games already selected for after work is finished. Unfortunately they didn't finish their chores during the day which meant no games or TV after school was finished in the evening (probably a good thing because it was nearly 9 pm when we finished school). The kids have been staying up later and later while I am trying to go to bed earlier because I have to get up at crack-o-dawn to start my longer work day. Vince is also having trouble sleeping. So this morning we agreed on an earlier bedtime and reinstating some bedtime routine to help him settle down and sleep better. There was some whining at bed time and I got cranky - evidence that we all need to sleep more/better.

Reflections on the day - Vince is quite bored by the SOSE component of the work so I am glad we only have one unit to go. Our next year of study will see him jumping to the Grade 4/5 equivalency, 9-11, which I hope will be much better. It's self-directed and more challenging, both factors that should improve the experience. Anni is sad that she will be studying on her own when she begins 8-10 and I am concerned that it will make things harder as I will have to find time to teach two different grades. However, self-direction is both Vince's and our goal, so I am excited to be supporting him to move on and take more responsibility in his studies.

What motivates your kids in their studies? What neccessary parts of the curriculum leave them cold and what do you do about it?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Weekly Diary - 25 -29 January


Swimming - Vince went to swimming and swam 25 meters using the kickboard. He was so proud of his acheivement and his teacher was chuffed! Vince was happy all day and was ebuillient enough to tell family and aquaintances of his acheivement.

Practice - breathing in the bath and the pool. Plan to go to the pool over the weekend.

Minds and Hearts - Both kids had appts at Minds and Hearts.

Rhiannon caught up with L and they talked about the friendship group that Rhiannon will be starting on 4/2. Rhiannon's very excited about the group and is looking forward to meeting the other girls.

Vince and R spent some time catching up on Christmas events and then talked about friends and making friends. They spent some time discussing how to have a casual conversation which Vince struggled with. He has trouble thinking of questions to ask someone in a casual situation or how to keep the conversation going. 

Practice - We will practice casual conversations over the month and think of ways to start and continue conversations. We will also encourage Vince to have incidental interaction with people like shopkeepers, at the park etc. Also will prepare conversation starters for Art Class and for the Tween fun day. 

Blogging - Getting the blog going again as part of my More Time for the Homeschool Journey initiative. I want to record what we're doing and share it with more friends. I have tried to update my blog, plan some ideas for regular updating and have also been visitng lots of other homeschool blogs for inspiration. I've got a few ideas about what I'd like to add.

To do - take some up to date photos of the kids. I am woefully out of any recent pictures of them to share. Ditto for me, I have discovered! Second I want to figure out how to set up a 'what we're playing' gadget and include games that we're playing ath the moment. This should be good for vistors for reviews/suggestions and hopefully will inspire us to play more games.

To do in homeschool - Start a portfolio for each of the kids. I need to post on my goals so I hold myself accountable for this this one. Vince's psych would also like us to showcase his achevements in the social sphere as well, so it can all go in the one book for him. The goal is also to make HEU reporting easier next year. Only a month to go until Anni's report is due!


Hugo - We went to see the movie Hugo which both kids enjoyed. It was very well told with lots of tension, mystery, a puzzle to solve and sympathetic characters, even the Station Guard was someone you had a cheer for at times. Hugo is based on the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret which is on Vince's Literature list for the coming year. Afterwards we discussed the history of films and whether the story had any true elements. We resolved to research it and discussed how the book might be different from the movie. Vince seems to be interested in studying it further when we get to it in the curriculum.

Killer Bunnies and Tomboy Cardigan
Killer Bunnies Ultimate Odyssey - Vince and I played a game of this, his first game and my second. It's sat in the cupboard for quite a while as it has a complicated CCG style play. He was able to pick it up really well and we had an enjoyable game, which Vince won with much cackling and fist pumping along the way.

Killer Bunnies Crops Deck
Planet Earth the game
Planet Earth and Menagerie - After dinner Vince, Anni and I played two games. It was the first real game of Planet Earth we've tried and it went really well. The kids were familiar with much of the subject matter thanks to watching both Planet Earth and Life recently. The questions were multiple choice which allowed for some guessing. We modified the win rule slightly for a faster game by allowing multiple people to occupy a home circle at once. Anni won and was very proud of herself.

Australian Menagerie
Then we played Menagerie which would be the most played educational game we have. The only games we would play more would be Carcassonne and Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magic Carrot. Every time we bring this out I am reminded of how much we love it. The game play is relatively simple, turns are quick and there's a small amount of strategy in what you discard, but it's not too complex. The kids love reading the different facts on the cards and they gain an attachment to the animals they are collecting. I must get another expansion but even without it it's a game we play again and again.


Lazy Day - It was very overcast and wet all day. Both kids slept in pretty late and got up to play quietly on electronics until after midday. Vince then taught Rhiannon how to play Killer Bunnies Ultimate Odyssey. Fortunately I had decided to try and get a third deck today, so I stopped on the way home and picked up the Energy deck, pity it was the only one Mind Games had. 

Catan - Settlers of America: Trails to Rails
I also picked up Quiddler after reading a recommendation for it and The Art of Children's Conversation on the thought that it might help with Vince. Saw many other things I would like to get including the newest Ticket to Ride - Asia and Catan Settlers of America - Trails to Rails which looks like it will be good when we get to the Westward Expansion in Vince's curriculum later in the year.

Homeschool was on the agenda today but Jamie and the kids completely forgot about it so we decided to give it a miss in favour of having a games night.

Art - Vince went to his first Art class for the year and was very excited to go back. E had him painting today but next week she will have him clay modelling again which is is ecstatic about. He loves to model so E is going to set him some challenging goals for the year. 

Games Night - We played a three deck version of Killer Bunnies UO and then a game of Guillotine. I won Killer Bunnies and Anni won Guillotine. The kids are starting to get a real feel for the strategy in both despite the posted age of 12+. Perhaps that has more to do with the content than the difficulty. 

Chickens - Choc Choc appeared to be missing yesterday and we spent the night being worried about her. When I went to check on them this morning she was happily hanging out in the chicken run. Crisis and funeral averted. 

Knitting - I have finished the body on Anni's Tomboy Cardigan and need to bind off. I chose a stretchy bind off but got half way before deciding that I didn't like it so undoing and going to do something in pattern to maintain the rib. 

Organisation - I've followed some ideas from others and organised our activities and homeschool plan more thoroughly using Google Calendar and Evernote. I only have two more lesson plans to do and I will be finished planning the last unit of Moving Beyond the Page 7-9. Just a few more weeks and we will be done with 7-9 and starting 8-10 and 9-11.


Modelling - After I finished the diary last night Rhiannon decided to work on her latest model, dubbed a Bear-Guy Gundam. Jamie had to help her replace a lost piece but it was finished and now is ready to display. She was very happy as she perceived this to be the most complex model she had attempted yet. She is going to work further on another model, something more complex than the distorted minis she has been working on so far. 

This is a great opportunity for me to use this as the third subject for our HEU report submitting it under Technology. And, as a plus, Jamie is her teacher in this subject, which is a nice change for me (I still have to write up the report, though).

To do - Write up HEU Report.

Errands - Usual run to the library this morning to return and stock up. Picked up Iggie's House so I can review it before the kids read it in our next unit. Also picked up some books Vince enjoyed a few years ago - The Rhianna series by Dave Luckett. We got them in audio book format and I look forward to reading them again as I enjoyed them so much the last time. 

We made a quick stop at Bunnings for some supplies and a plant as a birthday gift for mum. Then we went over to Ace Comics and Games hoping they would have some Killer Bunnies Ultimate Odyssey starters. Unfortunately they were out but we got some UO boosters.

Castle Logix
Games - Anni had Castle Logix out when we turned to do homeschooling. She was working through the levels again as well as making up some creations of her own. We were going to start off school with a game of Quiddler but it ended up taking two hours to play! Vince was really struggling with the spelling format and was having trouble seeing past a spelling game and picking up the strategy. Rhiannon did fine with some assistance. Jamie joined after a few rounds to lend Vince a hand. 

Cooking - After that and with Vince's frustration levels riding high we decided to pause for a bit and Anni and I made some mini muffins. I am trying to provide better grazing options for the kids by having ready to go finger food in the fridge each day. Part of this is providing favourites but in smaller servings like mini muffins. I let Anni take the cooking lead and helped her think through the cooking process. We used a box cake mix and then modified the recipe. I talked to her through the modifications and we added banana and choc chips to the mix. It all went pretty well and Rhiannon showed good levels of confidence. They are also happy with the tasty outcomes!

Birthday Celebrations - We then decided to play a game of Ultimate Odyssey while making a birthday card for grandma. The card came out nicely but we had to stop the game half way through. Vince composed the message and Rhiannon made the card. They consulted and cooperated really well. We went to grandmas, delivered the card and plant. After a yummy roast dinner we played another game of Quiddler which Vince happily joined in and led all the way to the last round where I beat him only by three points. He insisted on spelling the words himself and it was great to see his confidence grow as we played on.

We watched a few episodes of Zoo Day recorded at Chester Zoo which dad has been taping for Anni to watch. Everyone enjoyed discussing what the zookeepers must do to help enrich the lives of the animals. We then watched an episode of an architecture programme. Vince declared he loves architecture and proceeded to rave about how fascinating the building and the design was. I was astounded! Now adding this to interests we should delve deeper in to.

To do - Figure out some architecture and Economics enrichment activities or study.


Cubs - Had an early start to get to the den to have our beginning of the year working bee. We cleaned the den ready for the first meetings that start this week. I left the kids home sleeping because it just wasn't worth getting up two hours before we had to leave to get everyone motivated (none of us are morning people). We cleaned everything out, had a chance to catch up with some parents I am friends with and discussed my need to retire from leading full time with my Group Leader.

Grazing Tray
Healthy Eating - On the way home I stopped to get a container for our grazing tray and some supplies. I got a few things we haven't had for ages as well as a good selection of fruit and veg. Anni helped me with good portions of it and then we all tucked into it for lunch. Successful day 1 where they discovered new things that they liked.

Swimming - We took two friends to Chandler pool and enjoyed some great swimming time in the 25 m pool and on the water slide. Vince had a chance to show me his swimming. It is amazing to see him going for it without any aids. He can swim across two lanes quite confidently. For the next hour we goofed off playing games with everyone and daring each other to hold our breath under water, touch the bottom, dive and swim under lane ropes etc. It was wonderful to see him confidently attempt all of these things which most 11 year olds would consider easy tasks. He did so much today that proved he truly has gotten some water confidence. If you knew him six months ago you wouldn't believe this was the kid who was terrified of putting his face anywhere near water. Much kudos to Vince for his acheivement and to T, his swim teacher, who has shown tonnes of patience and built so much trust with him.

To do - Add this acheivement to Vince's Pride book.

Evening - When we got home we finished off the snack box and yesterday's suspended game of UO. Anni won quite handily. After chores and and a nanna nap for me I organised dinner and then Jamie, Vince and I played another game of Quiddler, which Vince won! We only helped him with a few of the words and this was after he had come up with some great words by himself. This is such a great way to learn spelling rules and he is really loving it.

This has been a great exercise in reflection on our week and I have enjoyed putting it together. We've acheived heaps this week, things I would normally forget about. I'm really glad to have recorded them.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Journey Update

It's been a few months since I've put down our progress - something which I should do more regularly, if only for my benefit. The last time I wrote here we were jumping into natural learning with both feet and while it started off well, in the end we came back to a more structured programme.

Overall, we enjoyed it and I still believe it is the right way to homeschool, but I also had to learn some hard truths about our situation and then face up to how to work with them.

1. I work full time out of the home

And I work part time at home (thanks Hire for Baby). Our family situation allows me little alternative but to work, yet I also need to be the primary teacher. Without a facilitator at home during the day to pick up on interests and progress we were struggling to focus on interests and to capture them (neccessary for reporting, unfortunately). There are days, sometimes whole weeks, where my work demands mean I have to fall back on a basic outline. Our curriculum provides that. When I'm more available I can then enrich what we're doing, but if my time is being stretched in many different directions, the curriculum is still there.

2. The kids like having a plan

They do, really! Being Aspies they need a certain amount of structure. Not as much as the books and most experts would tell you, but some. Both of them needed to know that what they were doing was part of a bigger learning plan. They also like to have goals and continuity. So I had to provide a longer reaching plan. I can also see how they are responding now that we've got some structure back for the day - Vince in particular is calmer and feeling more secure. He is clear on what is school (required) activity and what is his free time and what he can do with it. Also having a plan gives them some part of the day where they don't have to be thinking up what comes next. They're not quite ready yet to fill up a whole day on their own, it really seemed to be wearing them out. They also seem to appreciate their free time more and (generally) use it to do things that we would have done in a natural learning approach.

3. I learned more about what the kids liked

One of the best outcomes of our natural learning detour was learning a bit more about what the kids like - both their interests and their learning preferences. Coming back to more structured learning I was able to incorporate much more of their preferences in learning materials. Both now do their maths online. Vince likes plain instructions, factual, no fussing or flashy stuff. He also likes hands on things to poke at. So we selected HotMaths as his maths curriculum for this year and it's going great. Rhiannon likes flashy stuff, silly jokes and game based learning so she's doing her maths with Time4Learning. Generally she's enjoying it. Both curriculums allow me to check in and monitor progress and I do this a few times a week and sit down to review things with them if needed.

Vince really values being independent and trusted, so as much as possible we try to give him leeway to decide how his day will progress. We set expectations, which we try to keep simple, and then let him work the rest out. 

Rhiannon is a free spirit and has been learning how to manage her time better over the past few months. She really needs a ride along but that's not always possible so we have been trying to help her in small steps that are finally beginning to pay off. 

So on to the future - what are our objectives for the year?

Hmm, saying objectives seems so formal and might give you the impression that I've really thought about this in such plain and clear terms - which I have not! But I have spent some time over Christmas re prioritizing and that is based on some goals.

Spend more time at home and with the kids - this means I need to find a new job or wind back my commitments or perhaps some of both. For the moment I've scaled back to a four day week and I will be stepping back my Scouting commitments, both of which will allow me to be involved more and balance out the fact that home life is getting more demanding between Jamie and the kids.

Simplify and prioritise - I'm not a huge fan of structured simplification or ogranisation but I am trying to be more mindful in my daily choices. I have limited time and resources so where is that best spent? I now get my groceries home delivered - the small delivery cost is worth having that time back on a Saturday. I am working a day less per week - it was either that or get a house keeper or au pair. I decided I'd rather trade working hours for home hours instead of paying someone else to be home for me. But I'm not fooling myself that my home will be any cleaner. 

The simplify and prioritise plan is also being applied to what the kids are involved in. It's driving our curriculum choices for the moment and I have decided to work on a backbone of studies and to make everything else optional. We will always be studying maths, language arts and SOSE. Everything else is deemed optional. Every time Rhiannon writes her 'b's like a '6' I remind myself that beautiful handwriting is optional and that I don't need to add handwriting to the curriculum - her meaning is still clear and that will do. When I read other homeschooling blogs or I hear of all the great things other kids are learning that are outside of our backbone, for a moment I think we should add that too. And then I remind myself that we tried that and we all went crazy! The kids will learn what they want and what they need in their own time.

Know our limits and stick to them - Lastly, our schedule is developing some rules. No more than one activity on the weekend - one day must be for resting. School is scheduled five days a week but where there is an outing we won't do it. On quiet weeks we will bank a few schooling days allowing us to drop a few schooling days in busy weeks. And, last of all, time with friends is just as important and some time should be devoted to this every week. 

And that brings us up to date. Kylie is having a blogging month for Not Back to School so I hope to expand more on our activities over February - I'm looking forward to hearing from everyone else, too.