Sunday, August 30, 2009

Rubber Ducky, You're the One!

I love baby showers! Last Friday I helped host a baby shower - and since the mom-to-be hates pink I pulled out the rubber ducks and we had a blue and yellow baby fest!

Aren't those huge ducks great! I found those years ago at Walgreens for under $5 each. They have served for many baby showers and even a few birthday parties over the years.
Gotta' have lots of soapy fun, even if it is sugar :)

And my favorite touch - pick up a pair of yellow rubber boots on clearance, pop a glass inside to hold water, and fill with sweet daisies!

Add a few glasses full of blue marbles, a flock of mini rubber ducks, and have fun. Oh, and while I don't have a pic for this - don't leave out the punch - mix blue hawaiian punch, pineapple sherbert and gingerale for a bubbly mix perfect to float a few ducks in.

Ancient History Outline

It is hard to believe we have been homeschooling long enough to have completed one four year history cycle (though honestly, we really spent 2 years on middle ages and did not touch much modern history :). But, here we are, ready to dive back into Egypt, Greece and Rome. I am using the history portfolio this year for the crocodile hunter and the little princess, but I have taken the topics to cover from Tapestry of Grace. Really, history in our house consists of lots of reading and fun projects when mommy feels like it, but I do like to have a formal plan - even though we are really, really (I mean really) loose about it. I break things down into terms, but that does not mean we strictly follow a calendar, we move through as it works for us. Sometimes I decide not to cover something, sometimes we spend a lot of time on one topic. But, in order to feel confident in that flexibility, I usually create an outline of the historical period. In that outline I plug in all of the resources I own that correlate with that topic. By no means do we actually read all of those books, or do all of the projects. The outline is my way of reminding myself what my options are. If I feel like doing a project, we will, if the week is too busy, we won't. Usually, I read aloud from a main book, and then have supplemental books the kids can look at on their own time. So, with that lengthy and convoluted disclaimer, I am linking to my Ancient History Plan. The first term is more fleshed out than the others, I still have some information to fill in, but overall, most of it is there.

To give you a look at how it works in our house - our first week of school, it went something like this:

Monday - we read the story of creation from the Bible and the Heavenly Garden during our morning time together and we talked about Asia and where the Garden of Eden might have been
Tuesday - we read Somewhere in the World Right Now, and the first chapter from Child's Geography: Explore the Holy Land and looked at a map of Asia, locating Turkey and the Bosphorus Strait
Wednesday - we looked at What the World Eats - first looking at the US, then Turkey, then they browsed through the book on their own - we had some discussion about the differences in types of food - I read One Humpy Grumpy Camel to the Queen
Thursday - they both colored the days of creation from the Homeschool in the Woods lapbook (we will be putting these elements into the History Portfolio in the appropriate places instead of making a separate lapbook)
Friday - copywork for the History Portfolio, for fun we read The Hungry Coat (folktale from Turkey)

As you can see, it is mostly reading - and most of that was done in our morning time before the kids began their workboxes. Then they continue with fun reading on their own. The only thing we did not do that I want to do - is the Queen has not yet done her watercolors for the days of creation, but since her history will not cover as much as the others, I am not worried if it takes another week or two to get those done. Over the weekend the crocodile hunter read several books on dinosaurs, and decided he wanted to make a map that indicated the locations of all the dinosaur fossils discovered in the USA. He also decided to write several pages about why he believes there might still be dinosaurs alive somewhere today - and this from the kid who HATES to put pencil to paper! So, that is what history looks like around here - though really I guess it is history, geography, science, social studies and literature all in one.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A is for Anna

We officially began our letter lessons last week, a little earlier than I planned, but she was exploding with excitement to "do kindergarten", so we went ahead and started. One fun thing we did with the letter "m" was when we read Mary the Mother of God she raised her hand every time she heard a word that began with the "m" sound. There are a lot - and it was a great activity for phonetic awareness.

Our next lesson is the letter "a". Since we have been reading about the Theotokos, it is a natural progression to then move to her mother Anna - my patron saint. This week we will focus on St. Anna, the sounds of "a", and of course, apples :) I have lots of fun books related to apples, and since it is a bit early for apples off our own apple tree, we will be using store bought apples to make applesauce and apple pie.

One note - with "a", I am introducing all three sounds to her, and we will practice all three, but our focus will be on the short "a" sound.

Monday - introduce letter with flashcard, re-read Mary, Mother of God this time focusing on Anna, take narration and color icon
Tuesday - practice making the sound and thinking of things that start with that sound, make applesauce, explore letter bag
Wednesday - practice shape of letter using play-doh and textured tracing cards , make apple pie
Thursday - color flower from flower fairy alphabet - apple blossom of course :), make apple ice cream
Friday - Copywork page

What we will be reading:
(including link for apple ice cream - yum!)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Simplifying your Household

This year our women's retreat is focusing on some very practical aspects of life, with small mini-workshops on topics such as serving as a godparent, fasting and feasting ideas, setting up your home altar, and household cleaning tips. My home is far from simple and streamlined, in fact, recently, visiting a friend, I looked around the home and realized how little "stuff" they had, and how much easier my life would be without so much stuff. I love my home, and I love the feeling I get when I walk into it, and I hope that it always feel welcoming to others. At the same time, I love finding simple ways to streamline and make maintaining my home easier. In that respect, I am offering one little tip for making a job simpler, and in return, I would love to hear any great little household tip you may have to offer. I will be gathering ideas for the ladies in our church, and welcome your input.
My tip: if you use a bar of soap in your bathroom or kitchen (my husband prefers a bar of soap - not to mention it is cheaper :), don't pay a lot of money for fancy soap dishes. They are a pain to clean, and they rarely last more than a year or so, the finish begins to come off, or they get broken. Instead, I purchase cheap bowls or saucers at Goodwill, TJMaxx or Marshalls. There are usually fun and pretty dishes for less than $3. When I am ready to clean them, I stick them in the dishwasher. If they get broken, no big deal. They are designed to handle water, and the finish does not come off on a dish! So, that is my fun tip for making a cleaning job easier without sacrificing beauty in my home.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Workboxes and how they are working

We have officially begun school this week, and as you have seen in previous posts, I am implementing the workbox system. I have to say, it is an easy system to incorporate into any schedule, and so I can honestly say our school day routine has not changed drastically so far, and the workboxes are fitting in nicely. I have seen many people remark "I don't get it, why is it such a big deal?" Well, it's not, it is just a very helpful way to keep me and my kids on track. Here is how workboxes fit into our day so far:

7:00 - kids up, chores, breakfast
8:00 - leave for workout
9:15 - home, quick pick up, head to school room
The baby goes to her playpen for independent play, and we begin our morning time together. We say prayers, read about a saint, read our Bible story (which is also our history right now), review memory work and read a selection from one of our science story books or geography books.
10:00 - or whenever we finish with our basket time - the kids move to their workboxes - the baby joins us in the school room and I stay in there helping each child as needed - I have made certain to schedule Latin and Math in the first few boxes.
11:00 - tea time - they stop wherever they are in their boxes and join me for tea time, poetry reading and a story
11:30 - back to workboxes
1:00 - lunch time
1:30 - here is where things are loosey-goosey :) they take a break if needed (though the workboxes are allowing me to build breaks into the earlier times making it unneccessary now.) This time is set aside for working on projects, history exploration, geography, sort of a lesson block time for whatever I want to spend a lot of time on. When we complete that, then if there are workboxes left, they finish them, if not, they go outside to play, or get ready for afternoon activities (gym, karate etc.)

My evaluation for the week - while it is a bit of work to make sure the boxes are ready to go each day, I am beginning to find a rhythm to that (little things like making sure I have all of our math drill sheets printed off for the week and in a folder ready to load each evening). I am also trying to work towards loading the boxes in the afternoon when they are finished for the day so I don't have to do that after they go to bed. It is helping me to make sure the little things are getting done (can't remember how often we actually used pattern blocks last year, it was always one of those things I never got around to - but it is so easy for me to just dump them in a workbox along with a few design patterns and it gets done.) Same thing for all of those wonderful preschool activity bags I did years ago - they get loaded into workboxes for the Queen, and she is containing the mess beautifully. So, for us it has been a help so far. It cuts out a lot of the time I was spending last year telling them what to do next, and it is easier and more motivating for them than a checklist of assignments. Overall, it has been a good start to the school year!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What's in your workboxes today?

I thought it might be a fun idea to give a look each week at one of the kids workboxes, to share ideas about how I am loading them, so today I will share with you what is in the crocodile hunter's 5th grade workboxes.

1 - latin flashcards, blank cards and colored pencils for adding new vocabulary words
2 - lively latin exercises
3 - math drill from Math on the Level, pencil, timer - he times himself and writes the time at the top of the page and turns it in to me
4 - strayor upton math book and pencil - this he will work with me to complete
5 - pattern blocks and 3 patterns to design
6 - Guns for General Washington - with a note indicating which chapters to read
7 - copywork and pencil - printed off from Evlogia
8 - Backyard Scientist experiment book, science experiment sheet, baking soda, tablespoon measure, cup, popcorn, vinegar - when he gets to here the little princess can stop what she is doing to observe
9 - Hooked on Drawing book, pencil, paper - instructions to do warm-up exercises

In addition to these assignments, his schedule strip includes morning time with everyone, piano practice and running on the treadmill. On Friday I am planning to post a schedule showing how I have incorporated the workboxes into our school day.

Anyone who wants to join me in this (sort of a workbox version of a weekly reporter), post a comment here linking to your post answering the question "what's in your workboxes today?" I am only going to list one child's contents each week, but you are welcome to share multiple kids if you wish (I didn't want this post to be too terribly long!)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Drawing Skills

I have shared my plans for artist and composer studies, but what about the studio arts? Over the past year I have used Atelier Art Level 4 and part of level 5 with my kids and their cousins. We have completed all of the lessons I have, and I do not want to move on with Atelier because I think Level 5 is too advanced for my youngest at this time. Instead, I want to shift our focus this year to drawing skills. Since we will be studying botany and have 9 state park field trips planned for nature studies, it seems like a good time to hone our sketching abilities. I found Hooked on Drawing over the summer, and purchased it for the crocodile hunter. It is a very easy to teach step by step set of lessons on drawing. I don't know how often we will use it, I am guessing it will be a weekly assignment scheduled in one of his workboxes. I have created a checklist for the first section of this book which is focused on line drawing, and I like the way each is broken into very manageable exercises. It requires very few supplies (most lessons need paper, pencil or pen, and maybe a few household objects) and seems the perfect art instruction to incorporate into his workboxes. Here is a link to my breakdown for the first section of the book.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Art Resource

I recently picked up The Annotated Mona Lisa in a local bookstore because it was clearance priced and it looked interesting. I have since had the time to really look it over, and I have to say it is an invaluable resource for integrating art into history studies. Full of images of art and architecture, it is arranged chronologically and will walk even the most art illiterate through the basics of understanding art and its place in history.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Just a quick FYI - if you are planning to do workboxes (or the phonics flashcards, or Mary's montessori cards :), they require a good bit of laminating expense. Our local Sam's Club currently has in stock the Scotch 9" laminating machine for $17-25 (depending on the location). These are not large enough to laminate folders - but after doing a cost breakdown of the larger laminator - it is cheaper to go to a teacher supply store for that laminating (our local shop only charges 75 cents per foot). But, it is well worth the $25 to have your own laminator for all of the smaller items.

Friday, August 14, 2009

School Planner : Curriculum part 1

As I mentioned in the previous post, one of the sections in my school planner is labelled "Curriculum." This section contains the specifics of our learning for the year. I settled on this method in an attempt to avoid the frustration of "feeling behind." The first curriculum I ever used was Sonlight (a wonderful curriculum, and a blessing for me as a new homeschooler). The curriculum guide gives you all your subject assignments for the week on one page. What I found, of course, was that we never moved at the same pace through all of our subjects. I found myself moving ahead in one area, and taking it slower in another. Psychologically, this became very disheartening, since I always felt behind. That does not bother some people, but it gave me feelings of guilt and frustration. I don't want to start my school morning with those feelings, I want to begin my school day motivated, excited about the day. I like checklists. They motivate me, they keep me on track, and they help me keep my sanity. So I decided that checklists were a better way to track our overall progress through the year. This way, I can turn to my list for a subject, and see exactly what we have covered so far and what we have left to accomplish. There are no dates on these checklists. Instead they are lists of chapters, concepts, books, projects, whatever is applicable to that subject. As we move through the school year, I mark each chapter or concept off my list. For those of you who cannot stand curriculum guides and strict lesson plans, I see this as a great way to add structure without feeling like you are trapped into a detailed plan. I need structure, I need accountability, but part of the beauty of homeschooling is that it has taught me to be more flexible. I want a path for us to follow, but if we stray briefly from that path for other opportunities I want to feel good about that, not frustrated because we aren't "on schedule." By having a separate checklist for each subject, I can move through them at whatever pace we need, without the emotional stress of feeling "behind". For math I use the concepts chart provided with Math on the Level. It lists every math concept your child needs to master from preschool through pre-algebra, with the reference chapter for teaching that concept and a place to bubble in to indicate it has been learned. With Latin, I simply type out the chapters from our Latin curriculum and add boxes to check off indicating that chapter is completed. This concept is especially helpful if you follow a CM approach for subjects such as art and music. It is easy to allow those things to slide, or to not be able to see what you are really accomplishing. So, at the beginning of the school year I select our artists and composers (usually three) and create a checklist for both subjects. This allows me to teach these areas in a casual and flexible manner, but still hold myself accountable.

The subjects I do a little differently are science and history, and that will be the subject of the part 2 post :)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Teacher's Planner, revisted

As a new school year is rapidly approaching, I am now in full blown planning mode, revamping my school planner, school room and lesson plans. Here is another look at my planner and what it contains. I use a plain white 2" three ring binder (Sam's has them in bulk for a great price, this is what I use for all of my household binders and for the kids school binders). My planner cover has an icon of our patron Saint Theophan and his troparion.
When I open the planner there is a Table of Contents (this is an example from a few years ago, I have not completed one for this year yet). Then I have what I refer to as my inspirational pages. It is a set of prayers, poems and quotes that I refer to when I am feeling overwhelmed. They encourage me and remind me of why I am doing the things I do. I also have a copy of my personal mission statement, and a copy of why I homeschool.
Then I have a set of 8 dividers:
Prayers - Here I have a copy of the Orthodox morning and midday prayers. We normally use a prayer book for these, but I like having a copy in my planner in case the prayer book is not handy, or if we are schooling on the go. I also have a copy of the troparion to St. Theophan set to slavonic tone 8 (arranged for us by the Queen's godfather).
Calendar - I usually put a set of D*yRunner style month in view pages, and I also print off the monthly calendar pages from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. These are nice to have at my fingertips since they contain the major saints for each day and a fasting guide.
Lesson Plans - Here I have a copy of our daily school rule, followed by a set of weekly planner pages. Since we are going to be doing the workboxes this year, I am not sure how my planner pages will change, so I am posting what I have used in the past. Last year I penciled in a rough outline of what I wanted to cover for the week and kept it in this section.
Lesson Log - Here is where I record what we accomplish. This section contains a copy of the kids math facts progress charts from Math on the Level and the Concept charts from Math on the Level (this is a great chart where I can track each math concept the kids master from Preschool - Pre-Algebra). Then I have my planner pages. I have wanted to redo my planner pages for awhile now, but I think I need to see how this year starts off before I start changing them too much. Since we use a lot of CM style homeschooling, I have always loved the beauty and practicality of the Tanglewood Planner. It is visually attractive, and I like the concept of simply circling the days we complete tasks such as Picture Study. It is the planner I used for the first few years of homeschooling. Using this concept, I created my own set of planner pages with icons and quotes from the saints that inspire me in teaching my children. These pages are where I document what we actually do each day (as opposed to what I had planned :) This is far more detailed recording than my state requires, and I think I will probably drop the daily grid page and just record what we complete for the week instead of recording daily work.
Curriculum - In the curriculum section I have an outline for each of our subjects. This section really requires its own post so I will wait and go into details for this section a little later.
Extra-Curricular - I file any info on possible field trips here, such as directions to the local pumpkin patch, dates and times for the local children's theater etc.
Grade Report - Here I keep a copy of my state laws concerning homeschooling (courtesy of the HSLDA), and a copy of the kids grade reports which I have to send in twice a year. I also have a copy of a great article someone wrote which I find amusing to give to people when they ask me the ever-recurring "socialization question." I am sorry I cannot credit this properly, I have a bad habit of saving posts and forgetting to document who wrote them.
Recitation - The final section of my binder has a checklist for recitation which lists the subjects I want to cover each time we recite. I also have the Bible verses, poetry and songs I want us to learn.
This planner took me several years to develop, and it is of course constantly changing as our family changes. It is not a necessity for home schooling, but it gives me one place to find all of my important information, and it allows me to very quickly see where we are and what we need to do.

Phonics Cards

I have posted a link in the sidebar to the set of phonics cards if anyone wishes to download them. They are not complete - but all the letters of the alphabet are represented except "q". I will add that one and the other multi-letter phonograms later, but wanted to post these in case someone wants to go ahead and get them printed up now. They are roughly in the order we will use them, but since I am doing this as I go, there is always the possibility I may shuffle things around as we get into the school year (especially towards the end of the set). I am looking forward to starting them, and plan to have the next letter lesson posted over the weekend.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"tea time bunny"

I love swiss eyelet, and I love pillowcase dresses. Check out my newest listing on etsy :)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Jumping on the Workbox Bandwagon

I really hate fads. I hate it even more when I get sucked into them. I must confess, I have been sucked into the buzz about "workboxes." For those of you living under a rock (ie. don't frequent homeschool message boards) the Workbox System is an idea by Sue Patrick which is designed to organize your daily school work and help motivate your kids to more independence. Independence is something we could use a bit more of around our home school, since so much of what we do requires mommy time. I don't want them to "school themselves", I just need to be able to spread myself out a bit more, and teach the crocodile hunter how to take more ownership of his assignments. Enter the workbox system. Basically it is a shelf with 12 clear plastic shoe boxes. Each box contains one assignment for the day. The boxes are numbered, and the child has a schedule strip at his desk to let him know the order of his work. Now, I pride myself on the lack of ugly plastic items in our school room - but after days of searching for alternative "pretty" systems, I decided to just get over it and give this a try. For the older two I purchased scrapbook supply towers, since they are large enough to hold any textbook we have (including the history portfolios, which are rather large), and they are not drawers, but actual boxes that slide all the way out and have a top that seals.

Not pretty, I know, but I am dealing with it, and if it helps us stay on track, I will make the sacrifice :) For the Queen I used the standard shoe boxes the book suggests, and cleared out an already existing shelf in our school room for her boxes. I am particularly excited about this program for her since it will allow me to utilize all of the fun activity bags we have and I never seem to get around to using.
The basic principles are:
1) boxes need to be clear and visible to the child
2) all materials needed to complete an assignment are in the box (eliminates wasting time because mommy can't find the glue/scissors/stapler/timer ... you get the picture :)
3) the boxes alternate between more difficult studies and fun motivating activities - encouraging the child to stay on task in order to get to the fun things
4) the child is to try to complete the assignment without assistance, unless it is noted by a card on the box that this box requires mom to help
5) your child can see the big picture, and is motivated to keep working to finish, when the boxes are finished, school is finished!
If this idea appeals to you, I highly recommend you purchase the book before trying to implement the system. The book provides you a full explanation of the principles behind the system and why they work, along with great ideas for how to fill your boxes. It also provides access to downloads for the schedule strip and numbering system. This is an experiment for us, so I am going to try to update the blog weekly with a "workbox report" to let you all see if and how it is working for us. The boxes do require some preparation - since I will have to fill them each evening, but I think that is a good accountability lesson for me, and I know it has already made me go and pull out some books I have had for years and never got around to using. For example, I am planning to have one box each week contain a science experiment from Backyard Scientist. I can put all the supplies in the box, and the crocodile hunter can have fun! For an even better visual look at this system check out this blogger who does a great job of breaking it down. I will post at the end of our first week exactly how I work out our schedule and incorporate the boxes into the day.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Open for business, sort of

Well, it only took me a year, but I finally got the etsy shop going :) Unfortunately, I do not have a lot of things to list yet, since I sold most of the dresses I had in stock at a local sale this spring. But, I listed the one gown I had hanging in my closet, and since I have a sewing room full of fabric and lovely vintage pillowcases, I hope to be adding more very soon, so we will just call this a "soft opening." So go check it out, and keep checking back through the new link on my sidebar for new items coming soon!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Lovely Places on the Web

I love stumbling across beautiful spots on the web. In my hunt for the perfect paper to make invitations for the Queen's upcoming fairy birthday party, I found an amazing site. If you need special notecards or unique invitations, you need to look at what Cheryl creates. Using pressed flowers, she creates the most beautiful scenes and invitations. So beautiful in fact, for the first time in 8 years I am going to buy invitations for a child's birthday. I have nearly always made my own, even for showers and my parent's anniversary party (which required 75 plus invites!), but I am in love with the look of her cards, and they capture the feel of a fairy wonderland perfectly. She is going to custom create my invitation, and I am seriously considering having her do invitations for the baby whose second birthday will be in October. So go explore her site, and splurge on a set of beautiful thank you notes or personalized cards.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Letter Bags

This was not my idea, and in fact I think I got it from Mary's previous blog a few years ago, but since you can't see it there, I am going to share my version here. This is a simple idea that offers a variety of sound related possibilities. I purchased mini tote bags from Hobby Lobby (on sale of course :). I got red ones for vowels, yellow for the letter "y", green ones for "c", "g" and "s" since they are the consonants with more than one sound, and the rest of the consonants are in the natural color (that color was the cheapest). I also got blue bags for some of the multi-letter phonograms such as "ch" and "sh" (not pictured).

On one side of each bag I wrote the lowercase letter, and then on the other side the uppercase letter using a permanent marker. Inside each bag is a set of texture cards for that letter, and a selection of wooden die-cuts that begin with the corresponding letter. These can be purchased for anywhere from 25-50 cents at craft and hobby stores. You could also just collect small toys or objects you already own. I slowly accumulated the little figures over a period of a few months until I had 2-6 per bag (some letters are harder than others :)
The Queen will get a new bag with each letter, and in the beginning will just have fun with them. Once several letters have been introduced she will be able to use them for sorting activities.

Monday, August 3, 2009

M is for Mary

After teaching two kids to read, I feel like I have a better handle on how I want to approach this with the queen. With the first two I tried all sorts of programs, and quickly realized a program was not what I needed - the only things I needed were time, maturity on their part, patience on my part, and a handful of index cards. This time, I am not going to waste my time with any programs, I am just going to introduce the letters slowly and have fun. So, I am going to try to share our reading journey here. The plan is to introduce one letter at a time along with the life of a saint, similar to Serendipity's Alphabet Path. As I plan each letter, I will post my ideas and welcome any ideas you all may have!

We will not be following the order of the alphabet for our program, since that is not very conducive to reading (how many words can you read with a,b,c and d :). Since my goal is to have her sounding out words as soon as she is ready, I have ordered the letters with that in mind. Also, I have chosen to present the letters that are easiest to blend first, since this skill can be difficult for some children. So, with that in mind, what better way to start our school year than with the blessed Theotokos! The Church begins and ends the year with feasts to the Theotokos, so that is where we will begin too. We are following Katherine's plans for the Dormition, and gradually working our way into the school year by the end of August, but our letter study will probably wait until the first of September. Since the Queen was born on the Nativity of the Theotokos, it seems like the perfect time to begin her lessons! We will not read as many books this week, since we are spending most of August learning about Mary.

I suggest printing these on cardstock, cutting them and laminating them. I will try to download all of the cards in the next week, so if you wish you can laminate all at once (Office Max is offering half off laminating for teachers right now)

What we will be reading:
Lesson Plans for Week 1
Monday - introduce letter with flashcard, read story of the saint, take narration and color icon
Tuesday - practice making the sound and thinking of things that start with that sound, make marshmallow krispy treats, explore letter bag (will explain this in the next post)
Wednesday - practice shape of letter using play-doh and textured tracing cards
Thursday - color flower from flower fairy alphabet
Friday - Copywork page