Monday, September 30, 2013

Biltmore Estate Field Trip!

I have wanted to visit Biltmore Estate ever since I was in grade school and first heard that there was a real live castle in America. I was a kid obsessed with all things royal, and even though a real king or queen was never part of our country's history, this home came in at a close second. While lesson planning over the summer, I saw that we'd be covering the history of architecture- including castles and cathedrals- during Chapter Two of Weaver's Volume One. I had the fantastic opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. Although jetting across the Atlantic to see castles in Europe would have been amazing (and maybe completely unrealistic) I realized it was my chance to finally tour Biltmore. It could even count as an educational experience for homeschool. I mean, what could be better?! I brought up my plan to Bill, and he went for it. I could finally live out my fantasy of living the Downton Abbey life for a couple days! Sign me up for some of that. This is the girl that jumps on room service and valet parking at any given opportunity. I don't care who makes fun of me for it (Amy).

The trip was amazing. On day one we took the general two hour tour and walked around Antler Hill Village. We ate lunch inside the old stable, with tables inside former horse stalls. On day two we took a special architecture tour, and a whirlwind walk through the gorgeous gardens. Asthma and allergies kept us from staying too long in the gardens. I loved every single moment. (Except maybe during the general tour on day one when Lydia started yelling, "I haveta poop! I haveta poop!" over and over again on the grand staircase. No public restrooms inside the house itself, so there was lots of fast walking to the exit. Fun memories.) There's no photography allowed inside the house, so I only have pictures from the outside.

 The architecture tour included the tippity top roof. I was trying very hard not to have a panic attack. Not joking.

 Lydia was loving the house. While holding hands with her daddy walking down the grand staircase, she declared, "I am a princess, and this is my castle." She kept asking us over and over if we liked her castle. That's my girl. 

 She was able to eat food cooked by the chef in Antler Village's restaurant! This is rarely ever possible with all of her allergies. She was super excited.

 Children's maze.

I know the history of this house inside and out, including the Vanderbilt's family history, but I am resisting the urge to spill everything I know in this blog post. I've been getting polite blank stares when I talk about it, so I'm guessing not everyone is as fascinated as me. Though Madeline was just as excited in the history, and is not shy to tell you all about it either. It was a really great learning experience, and I can't wait to visit again one day! 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Volcanoes! Unit One, Chapter Two

I was so determined to be a consistent nightly blogger this school year. Then real homeschooling life kicked in. There's been lots of out of town traveling, field trips, and ongoing sicknesses keeping me away from blogging. Homeschooling is amazing and we're loving it, but we are still trying to find our groove in the whole scheduling thing. I quickly realized that I'm not the only one in need of structure. After two days of loosening up on a strict schedule, I was going crazy inside- and after a talk with the kids, I was a little shocked to realize that they were too. The girls asked if we could go back to the way we did it the first week- early AM start and clear-cut schedule of events. I guess we just aren't the homeschool family who sleeps in until 9am and starts school in our pjs. I'm kinda disappointed about that, because really- sleeping in past 7am sounds heavenly. But sanity is more important than sleep sometimes.

Last week we covered volcanoes, and I don't think it's possible to do that without a homemade volcano. I wouldn't say that their volcano knowledge was deepened by the project, but it was a ton of fun!

Here's a YouTube of the project. I had some fun with the video editor.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Kindergarten Life

When I was five years old, I went to kindergarten in the morning and came home at lunchtime. I remember playing with toys, coloring a worksheet of apples, and whispering my numbers to my teacher because I was too shy to talk. Low key, lots of playtime. But over the past twenty to thirty years, kindergarten has changed. It's hard core!

I have a different approach for Isaac compared to the public system. He is always on the move, and he probably would have constantly pulled a stick/moved his color card/etc this year, or else came home and exploded with pent-up frustration. I think it's a bit much to expect a five year old to sit quietly several hours a day- another major score for homeschooling, because obviously I don't have to make him sit at a desk that long. 

There's not a set schedule yet for Isaac. I've been gauging it based on how the day seems to  be flowing. There are a few constants we hit no matter what, including math and reading. We spend about twenty minutes a day on reading lessons using the DISTAR method. I love this philosophy in teaching my children how to read. After 100 lessons and twenty minutes a day, the child can read at a solid second grade level. Madeline was reading at three years old, and Brooke at four years old. Isaac wasn't quite ready to read that early on, but is doing great now. We're on lesson 26. We tried teaching him about six months ago, but he was getting frustrated and it wasn't clicking, so we put away the book until now. If he hadn't been ready at this time, I would have still put the book away and tried again in another few months. There's so much pressure to have a five year old reading- but I think that a child will read when they are ready, and to push them too early just causes frustration. (I have the same approach to potty training, actually. Both Isaac and Lydia weren't potty trained until three years old, but it took less than four days once the time came. You have to decide to just not care about other people's opinions if you take this approach. Ha!)

Here's the story he read today from Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons by Siegfried Engelmann. The book incorporates reading comprehension into the lessons, which I love. There's a picture for each lesson that you keep covered up until after the child reads the story and understands what he just read without picture clues. 

Jack keeps us company.

We also spend about fifteen to twenty minutes a day on his math book. We're using Singapore's Earlybird Kindergarten Mathematics Textbook and activity book. I like that the activity book has lots of cutting, coloring, and gluing- all the stuff that helps make kindergarten fun! 

We started Chapter 2 in Weaver this week, and one of the concepts I'm introducing to Isaac is change. Some things can be changed and then return to the original form, and some things can't. 

First demo: water and ice.

Frozen- but what happens when it melts?

He was excited that the girls wanted to see his experiment results. Too cute.

Second demo: brand new crayons, before and after coloring. He traced the new crayons, and will color with them every day for two weeks. He'll then trace each crayon again and compare the different tracings. 

 Third demo: pencil before and after sharpening. (FYI- the shavings don't become a pencil again.)

I gotta empty this thing more often. Gross.

Isaac sleeps past 7am and gets more playtime during the day compared to public school, while still learning just as much (if not more) material.  I can give him one-on-one instruction and immediately correct mistakes. I find out what areas he thrives in, gently pushing him as far as he can go. I know that there's lots of criticism for homeschooling, just as there is lots of criticism for public schooling. Each has its own benefits and pitfalls. Weighing in all factors, I know we are doing what's best for our own family. I'm only two weeks in, but can say that Isaac will have many great memories of kindergarten. I don't feel like he's missing out on anything, and am beyond grateful I get to spend each day with him. I am so honored to be his teacher!

His rock collection from tonight. Love that boy.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Constants that Matter

We were low key in homeschooling today. We've had a lot of fun with all the hands-on activities over the past two weeks, but I'm afraid that burn-out might set in if I don't slow it down just a tad from time to time. So we focused on math, reading, and Bible study. 

For our first year of homeschooling, I chose to use Weaver from Alpha Omega Publications. It's a unit study using the Bible as a foundation for each day's lessons. Social studies, science, and language arts are woven into our daily Bible story. It's the main reason I chose this curriculum- I like the idea of a hands on unit study focused on God's Word. Even though there aren't textbooks with Weaver, we still use lots of books for our studies. I either buy online or borrow from the library. We read science and social studies' material as a family in the morning after Bible time, and then the girls are given reading assignments to complete on their own. Just two weeks into this material, and I can already tell this style is working for us. I'm figuring out that Madeline learns best by reading, and Brooke and Isaac are both kinesthetic learners.  With this type of unit study, I can tie in each of my children's learning styles- and because each subject intertwines, retention will likely be much higher. It may seem like we hop around topics compared to traditional methods, but by the end of the year they will have covered many topics in depth, while remembering the vast majority of material.

Even though today was relaxed and schedule free, I was feeling guilty. I worried about the fact we hadn't covered any social studies or science. Instead it was a laid back day with kids spread around the house reading books. We read our Bible story and casually talked about it, without any visual demonstration. We were snuggled together and bonding, but my fear crept up that it wasn't enough, that the day should have been more driven. Tonight I went to a monthly meeting for homeschool moms,  and heard messages that really spoke to me. One of the ladies spoke to the fear of "is it ever enough? Am I keeping up with everyone else?" While the world is constantly changing with gobs of new information, she recommended we find the constants and focus on them. Constants like God's Word, math, and reading. The other subjects will follow, but those three constants are the most important. I had to laugh inside because those were the exact same subjects that we covered today while I had been so hard on myself. I love how God gives me the exact message I need in perfect timing.

I start each day with the same prayer, aloud so my children hear it too- that God will guide my heart and my words. That He will teach through me what He wants my children to hear. Not my agenda, but His. Because if they leave the nest full of history and geography and science, but aren't equipped to make wise decisions, then I've failed them. I can only teach well if God's grace is living and moving in me. I'm the person who my children see the most, and who models Christ for them on a daily basis. I want them to feel and see my intense passion and love for Jesus, and to see that He is a God worth living for. If we spend a day reading our Bible together cuddled up on the couch and not open a single science book, it's ok. I'm teaching them something that won't ever be destroyed. We're back to a regular schedule tomorrow (that includes science!), but I'm glad I listened to God's voice this morning telling me to slow down and recharge.

Because this?

This is what matters, what moth and rust won't ever destroy.
By His grace alone.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

City On A Hill- Day 8 (Vol 1, Unit 1, Chapter 1 Weaver)

"You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden." Matthew 5:14

Today we had class on our hill behind the house.

A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.

 We bounced around ideas on how to let our lights shine for Jesus in everyday life, even when we're afraid. We should never be ashamed of our Savior. I reminded them what happens to a candle when the light is covered.

Our earth science lesson reviewed plains, valleys, mountains, and hills. 

Inside the house I used clay to show how mountains are formed. (The book pictured below is The Geology Book by John D. Morris.)

Folded mountain.

Domed mountain.

Fault block mountain.

They each made their own.

We further tied in Matthew 5:14 with an electricity demonstration. Over the weekend we covered power plants, and today we learned about conductors, insulators, amps, and circuits. Last night Bill prepared a circuit for the kids. Today they gathered a few items around the house to test whether they were conductors or insulators.

 Recording her method and hypothesis in her science journal.


Closed circuit- exciting!

The cars fooled them. They thought they were metal, not plastic.


We planned to make clay lamps that Jesus would have used growing up, but we ran out of time. We spent the afternoon gathering more books in the library. The girls read biographies on Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison, and their contributions to modern electricity. I read Isaac and Lydia What Do People Do All Day by Richard Scarry to go along with this unit's city theme.

Loving our new routine.