Saturday, October 25, 2014

Embracing Charlotte Mason & Our 2014 School Room

Embracing CM & Our 2014 School Room
As I mentioned in my previous post, I am trying to fully embrace Charlotte Mason methodology into our homeschool.  Over a year ago I came across an article on Charlotte Mason methods that really resonated with me and so, I started to research.  The more I read and learned about Charlotte and her methods, the more I fell in love with it.  I love the rich, liberal education that I will be providing my children.  I love that the focus is on creating a deep love for learning.  I love how it effortlessly ties in rich literature... much of which I was never exposed to myself while growing up.  (SO many wonderful works that I'm excited about reading to and with my children).  I love how it pushes and stretches me more (in areas like nature study).  And I love the focus on showing what they DO know rather than making it a focus of showing what they don't know.  There is just so much to love about CM methods but, I can't list it all here. 
Early on, I joined the forum board at Simply Charlotte Mason and for a while, I just read all of the posts.  There is such an awesome community of Charlotte Masoners on the forum and such a huge wealth of information.  Seriously, if you are pondering the CM method even a little bit, spend some time perusing through the forum posts.  It's also a wonderful way to see that every homeschool family has their own unique way of implementing the CM methods, which takes a lot of stress off.  At least for me it does.  I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist so if I think it HAS to be perfected, I will spend a great deal of time and energy trying to achieve that perfection.  (I'm working on it but, it's pretty much how I'm driven).  But, as Catherine Levison said in her book More Charlotte Mason Education, Charlotte won't be in your home to monitor what you use and don't use from her methods so you can adapt her philosophies as needed.  In other words, don't worry about making your homeschool look just like another families homeschool, make it your own.  (And this can be quite the challenge for me... making it my own and not comparing to what everyone else is doing but, I'm learning.)
Speaking of which, I recently finished reading Levison's 2 books Charlotte Mason Education and More Charlotte Mason Education.  I highly recommend them!  She makes the CM Method so easy to understand and they are fairly short and easy reads.  A wonderful introduction to CM.  Currently, I am working my way through the Original Homeschool Series by Charlotte Mason (I was fortunate enough to find it at my Library) but, Levinson's books were a wonderful way to be able to jump right in.
I was going to share more about how I planned out our year and what we are using for each of our subjects but, I'm still doing a lot of tweaking and fine-tuning in this area and still trying to get into a good groove.  So, until then... here are some snippets of our school room (which is also the children's playroom)...
The Desk, Marker Board & Math Lab
Miss M enjoys doing some things at the desk, especially Math and handwriting.  But, she often ends up on the couch or kneeling at the coffee table for a good part of the day.  Whatever works right?  The desk is definitely her place of choice when little Mr. L is roaming free.  Haha! (She caught me taking a picture of her and just had to pose for the camera…my silly little ham).
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I LOVE our marker board!  It’s a weathered wooden frame with glass.  I previously tried to save money by getting a frame with plastic.  TRUST me on this one, go with the glass!  When I tried a different brand dry erase on the plastic, it permanently stained it and in the end, I had to spend more money on the frame with glass.  Dry-erase writes perfectly on glass and comes off like a breeze.  If you wanted bolder colors, you could use sharpies too and remove it with alcohol.  I do this with a small frame that I like to write scriptures or little positive reminders for myself on. I love using a frame because it’s so customizable and looks so much nicer than a chalk or white board.  On ours I have a place devoted to our Character Quality verse of the week (more on that in a bit), a place with handwriting lines which is helpful if I need to write a copywork entry for her.  There is also a color copy of the math journal page I created .  (She has a spiral book made with black and white copies that she fills in each day which covers the date, a daily number pattern, coin cup, time, and yesterday, today and tomorrow.)  And there is a calendar and finally an empty space used as a white board.  I placed a colorful fabric behind everything to make it bright and cheery.  And what I love most is that again, it’s customizable.  So I can change it up whenever I feel the need to do so.  Ideally, I would have arranged and hung it horizontally but, with the addition of our math lab, I had to make it vertical.  But, it still works great!
This year I decided to combine 2 different math curriculums and we are LOVING it.  I will elaborate more on that in a different post.  I have seen on Pinterest so many great ideas for learning spaces, such as a writing center, a nature or science station, an entire room of learning centers.  So. Many. Ideas!  But, so little space in our home.  One of the curricula we are using is all about creating a “Math Lab” for children to be able to freely experiment and explore, much like one would do in a science lab.  Since Miss M clearly has a love for all things math, I decided this is what I should focus on working into our school room.  And we already had all of these manipulatives on hand (as well as the cotton rope baskets I scored on clearance at Target) but, they were either stored in a closet or placed in random areas such as the book shelves, the toy cabinet, etc.  You know the saying, “out of sight, out of mind”.  Clearly, this set up was not going to work for a “Math Lab” environment.  So, I got the bars and hooks from Ikea (very affordable and very easy to put up) and they worked perfectly with the baskets handles.  I installed the bars right above the school desk so that the most used manipulitives are front and center and easy for her to access but out of the toddlers reach.  I keep the abacus, the balancing scales, the coin cups and the place value cards (a free printable I found online and laminated) right on the desk.  All of the other math stuff we have is stored in one spot in the toy cabinet where she can easily access it but, again, out of the tot’s reach.  And the cabinet has a glass window so it’s not out of sight either.  Of course, I’m always willing to answer her questions and help her when she does not understand something but generally, a gentle reminder to use her math lab and to be a math investigator is all she needs in order to figure it out on her own.  It’s been working wonderfully for us thus far.
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I am, I can, I Ought, I will
I LOVE the Charlotte Mason quote "I am, I can, I ought, I will" so, after looking at different variations online I created my own wall hangings, further elaborating on each part of the quote and backing it up with scripture.  It's one of my favorite parts of the room and I will probably work them into copywork and memory work later down the road.  But for now, they are simply lovely to look at on the wall and use as gentle reminders.  For the sake of keeping it REALLY simple and cheap, that’s just cardstock taped to the wall.  I used the 100 LB. cardstock.  I thought about gluing them to cardboard or foam and then cutting them out to make them more sturdy but, again I was going for super simple and really, if they are just hanging out on the wall, how sturdy do they need to be?  I love them and that’s all that matters.  UPDATE:  For a FREE Printable version of this go HERE!
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Morning Basket
Leading up to planning out my year someone started a thread about Morning Basket routines in the forum at Simply Charlotte Mason which really peaked my interested.  So naturally, I followed the thread, looked at MANY other blogs where they shared tidbits of their Morning Basket etc.  I was completely in love with the idea and decided to implement that as part of our plans as well.  It's not really supposed to be anything extra, but more rather, a way of organizing certain subjects differently (primarily all of the family study subjects such as history, Bible, picture/artist study and composer study etc.) and keeping them at the forefront of the day so that they don't get pushed aside and forgotten because we were "too busy" with the "core" subjects.  Currently our basket contains A Bible, A Childs Garden of Verses, Favorite Children’s Poems Old & New, 3 different Shakespeare books for children, The Children’s Book of Virtues, Christian Liberty Nature Readers, a book on manners and etiquette, Hymns for a Childs Heart, Little House in the Big Woods (our current literature pick) and a small memory work binder (to briefly review Bible verses, poems, math facts and spelling).  As lovely as the basket looks sitting all alone on the shelf, I fill the empty space up with library books on the artist and composer we are focusing on and other things like nature field guides.  I guess I needed a bigger basket.  ha!  To learn more about Morning Basket routines, check out this thread (and some of the great links mentioned within).  I’m still trying to get into the right groove with our own Morning Basket routine and a friend of mine had a wonderful suggestion to pull the basket out each morning and ask Miss M what she wants to focus on for the day rather than having it all scheduled and then feeling like I failed if we didn’t cover something I planned.  I really love this idea and I plan to try it out this week.  (See…still making changes!  haha!)
Character Qualities
Next to the desk I have 2 clip boards I created out of cardboard, scrapbook paper and oversized clothes pins.  One is used for displaying Latin words or phrases of the week (though we have not done a lesson in quite sometime.  It keeps getting pushed on the back burner) and the other is for our Character Quality of the week.  These were created by Rachel Carmen and she shares them on her blog, His Sunflower.  I have printed about half of them out (she has added new ones since, which I plan to print soon).  I print them full sheet size and placed them in sheet protectors and then into a binder.  So when I hang them, I leave them right in the sheet protector and they easily go back into the binder.  She has a little lesson/devotional to go with each one so I printed those and store them in the binder behind each Character Quality (CQ).  So about one per week I will hang a new CQ and then write out the corresponding verse on the board.  And we will focus on it throughout the week (sometimes longer, depending on how long it takes for her to memorize the verse).  I work it into copywork by having her copy the CQ one day and the verse on another day and then I may or may not read from the devotional.  She also provides matching coloring sheets which I may start using with Mr. L sometime soon.  This keeps wonderful character traits that I want to instill in not only my children, by myself as well (we all have room for growth and improvement) on the forefront of our minds.  Sometimes, if there is a trait that I feel needs more attention, I will leave it up longer.  And currently, as we go through our bible lessons, we are making note of the character traits of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph.  I thought, what better place to hang these than right below our CQ of the week.
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Visits to Africa
Currently, we are using Module 1 from Simply Charlotte Mason to cover our Bible, history, geography & social studies.  As part of the curriculum, we are using their Visits to Africa book which includes mapping of the countries and more.  (I will elaborate more on the curriculum in a later post since I’m still tweaking things with it).  Anyways, I found this coloring map of Africa and used the poster printing feature in Adobe to make a large version.  I created a “chalkboard” sign for it and added a Bible verse at the top.  Miss M enjoys coloring in the different countries as we go along and whenever I pull out a new picture from The Stuff They Left Behind portfolio, I hang it up above the map so that she can see it all the time.
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Wall of Literature
Last but not least, is the wall of literature.  This is another favorite project of mine that I think turned out really cute.  I spent hours collecting book cover images of children’s literature that we already own and that I eventually want to add to our collection.  Some we have already read or begun reading and the rest, we will definitely get to.  If we already owned the book, then I would look for the exact same image.  Others I chose based on my favorite illustrators such as Tasha Tudor and Inga Moore or simply the version I liked best.  This was an easy and inexpensive project to do.  I had them printed at the office supply store since I’d probably pay more money replacing my ink cartridges at home and since there were 2 per page, it really did not cost vey much at all.  The only other things I purchased were the hooks and the mini clothes pins.  I already had the jute string on hand.  When Miss M came in from playing and saw it she got really excited about many of the books that we will be reading in the future and she is already making plans about which order she wants to read them in.  Love for reading? Check! (and yes, I totally tidied up that table before snapping a picture.  It was a mess!  haha!)
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That’s all folks!  :)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Reflections On Our First Year of Homeschooling (with a major relocation & a toddler underfoot)

A park we walked through during our first days in TX.

What is this?  A non-food post?  It sure has been a while since that has happened.  But, I wanted to reflect back on our first year.  Maybe I'm doing this more for myself to be able to look back and (hopefully) see how far we have come after years gone by.  But, maybe also, it will offer encouragement for other first year homeschoolers, homeschoolers who make a BIG move in the midst of the school year and homeschoolers with a toddler under foot (a toddler who has had tummy issues from day one and NEVER seems to sleep...ever!).  Or maybe like myself, a homeschooler experiencing ALL. OF. THE. ABOVE.  Ya might wanna go tinkle or grab a cup of coffee... or a snack even.  This is gonna be long.

We started our homeschooling journey last August with a University model school, where my daughter went to a private school for 3 days (the 3rd being an optional enrichment program they offered) and we homeschooled (co-taught) for 2 days.  My son was just two weeks away from turning 1 and my daughter would be turning 6 a month after that.  While my heart greatly desired to exclusively homeschool, it just wasn't in the cards at that very moment.  (Long story).  I trusted God and I was thrilled to at least be able to partially homeschool my daughter.   I loved the community feel of the school and her teacher was so nice and patient.  They basically told me what curriculum I needed to buy and they provided the lesson plans for our home days.  I initially liked this aspect because it took the burden to research curriculum choices off of my shoulders.  However, I quickly realized that it was not exactly the homeschool experience I envisioned.  Every parent thinks their kid is smart and bright and I'm no exception.  But, my daughter really was pretty far ahead most of her classmates.  She was already reading very well (going into Kindergarten).  The reading for school was not as challenging as it could have been and both Math and Phonics started out pretty boring for her.  Had we been doing our own thing, I could have progressed her as needed.  But, since it was a school setting, she had to go according to their schedule.  And I had very little room for creativity in teaching her.  Looking back now, I can say that it kind of felt like 2 days worth of homework that had to be completed and sent back in.  But, overall, my daughter was happy & enjoying it and I loved having her home more & being so involved with her education, so I was truly thankful for that.

Well, she had not even been in school for a month, when my husband told me about a recruiter from a company contacting him.  He had always wanted to work for the company so, naturally, I was very supportive of him submitting his resume etc.  Not too long after, he told me they wanted to fly him to Texas for an interview.  I looked at him in shock and said "what do you mean Texas?"  As far as I knew, this particular company was in Florida, local to us.  He explained that there was more than one location and that they wanted him for a job exclusive to the TX offices.  I was quiet for a moment and then said "well, if it's God's will, then things will work out the way they are supposed to".  Hubby called me after the interview, sounding excited and told me how, when he walked in, all of his nerves melted away and how well he felt the interview had gone really well.  At this point, I still was not wrapping my head around everything.  I was in a "let's wait and see" mode.  1 week later, it was a beautiful Thursday afternoon in late September, I had just picked Miss M up from class and loaded the kids into the had been exactly 1 month since school started, and Mr. A called.  When I answered, he said "Well, pack your bags!".  That began our whirlwind of a relocation.  They wanted him to start in October but, they were willing to wait until the first week of November.  That gave us only 1 month to get everything in order, find a place to live, celebrate Miss M's 6th birthday, say our goodbye's to family & friends, etc.  Also, during that month of preparing to move, I researched homeschooling in TX and university model schools etc. and we decided for the rest of the year, it would be best for me to just do it on our own under the covering of the school she was at in FL.  (Private School Covering).  Which basically meant that I would send her work back at the end of each quarter and they would do record keeping there.  This might possibly be the most exciting part of the move for me personally, a chance to exclusively homeschool.  I was SO very excited and thankful for this opportunity. That last month in FL was truly a whirlwind.  We did not have time to mentally or emotionally process everything.  We blinked our eyes and then, we woke up in Texas.

Aside from the first week, things did not get off to a wonderful start though.  We lived in a hotel for the first week while waiting for the movers to get here with our cars and all of our stuff.   It kind of felt like we were on vacation.  We explored, went to the zoo and a few other places.  The next week was a blur of unpacking boxes and trying to make the home as livable and functional as possible.  By the end of that week Hubby had started feeling homesick, and questioning if he had made the right decision.  Especially with Thanksgiving just on the horizon. We actually had some friends only 20 minutes away who had just moved to TX 5 months earlier and I knew they also did not have any local family.  So I invited them over for Thanksgiving dinner.  I spent the third week unpacking, settling in, getting the kitchen fully functioning for Thanksgiving and trying to do some school work with Miss M.  Thankfully, some toys had been located and the DVD player was up and running so I was able to keep Mr. L mostly distracted amidst all of the chaos.   And thankfully he was not walking or climbing yet so, he did not get into too much.  He was still nursing quite a bit though so that made everything take much longer than I had planned on.  Hubby was getting sadder and more depressed by the minute which was effecting everyone's moods.  I was trying to reassure Him that God had a reason for bringing us here when He did (weather it made sense or not) and that God's plans are always the best plans.  During Thanksgiving week, I did school with Miss M for 3 days, much of it being related to fall and Thanksgiving, in addition to preparing some food in advanced, grocery shopping and getting all the supplies necessary to make and serve a successful Thanksgiving day Turkey.  Since I still had access to the lesson plans to use as my guide, I remember feeling that I HAD to get Miss M caught up since she had not done anything for 3 weeks.  Why I was attempting this on Thanksgiving week is beyond me.  I was not considering that as homeschoolers, we have more flexibility.  But, I started out being a slave to the lesson plans...lesson plans made by someone else nonetheless.  While things did not go exactly as planned and we ate much later than intended, we still had a very enjoyable & memorable Thanksgiving with our friends.  But, you could see that Hubby was really down despite our company.

After Thanksgiving, I tried getting the kids back into a routine with meals, school, Mr. L's nap etc.  Miss M was suddenly having some attitude issues while we were trying to do school, Hubby was still getting increasingly more depressed and Mr. L was getting crabbier by the day.  I was being an over-reactive parent.  Things were not going quite as I imagined.  Then we were hit by a crazy ice storm.  We woke up to what looked like snow.  It was really exciting for the first day and it looked so pretty.  Of course Miss M just LOVED it!  She went "sledding" down the hill on a plastic lid over and over.  But for the hubs & I, the excitement wore off pretty fast.  Because hubby had to drive to work in icy conditions and our SUV could not handle driving on the ice at all (our cul-de-sac was literally like an ice skating ring with 3 inches of ice) so the kids and I were mostly housebound for over a week. We were still not fully settled in and now, we had Christmas just weeks away.  Before the move ever happened, we already had plans (and flight tickets) to spend Christmas with Hubby's family in upstate NY but, in order to transfer our tickets to fly out of TX it would have cost a fortune.  Long story short, we decided to go back to FL for Christmas on a budget airline.  AKA...No frills and nickle & dime you for anything extra airline.  Even though I knew we were not going to be here, I still wanted to put up some Christmas decorations and wrap the kids gifts etc.  So with all of this going on I was still running the house, homeschooling, nursing all the time and now, packing luggage for a 3 week trip back to FL.  And at this point, Hubby was not sleeping very well at all due to his depression/homesickness.  We were having more behavior issues with Miss M and we realized she had developed some sort of tic.  It kept looking like she was glaring at us but, after a while and much frustration, we realized she was completely unaware that she was doing it and had no control over it.  So we tried to ignore it and prayed that it would resolve itself.  Hubs was beating himself up, thinking it was this fault and feeling guilty for moving his family here.  I was trying to remain optimistic, encouraging and understanding.  But, I was starting to feel frustrated (and exhausted) at the same time.  I wanted to shake him and tell him to snap out of it and get over it.  But, I knew deep down that it wasn't that simple and I knew that I just needed to be a shoulder to cry on for that time.  And all the while, I somehow managed to join a local homeschool group, attend our first field trip with them get Miss M completely "caught-up" according to the lesson plans from the school in FL.  But, that clearly came at a cost.  I was a stressed, frazzled mess.  It clearly affected Miss M & Mr. L.  Instead of spending that housebound week enjoying more of the ice-snow with Miss M, I was too worried about getting caught-up and getting everything else done and getting ready for our trip back to FL.  And honestly, Mr. L is a complete blur during that time.  I was SO focused on everything else that I have very little memory of what he was doing that month, what milestones he hit that month, etc.  If I could go back and do things over during that time, I would.  Live and learn right?

Texas Ice Storm 2013


Sweet Little Snow Bunnies

It was hard to make snow angles in the ICE.

Even the lake started to freeze.

It was nice and a little surreal to be back in FL for 3 weeks only 6 weeks after moving.  But, rather than making Hub's depression better, it seemed to make it worse because with each day that passed he knew it was another day closer to leaving FL again and this time, for a much longer time.  He still was not sleeping very well and dealing with anxiety.  But, we still had an enjoyable Christmas and New Years.  Shortly after coming home to TX (a little more than a week later) my in-laws came from NY to visit.  Since they wanted to do a late Christmas with us here, we never opened our gifts before going back to FL and we waited for them.  I decided to go all out and prepare an entire Christmas dinner.  Things were much smoother this time since I was able to time things better and Nana & Papa were able to help with the kids.  It was a wonderful visit and a wonderful 2nd Christmas.

Their visit marked the end of a very, very long whirlwind and we finally started to settle into a comfortable routine.  Mikaela started making friends with some other kids on our street (one family who also homeschools) and I enrolled her into an art & music class at a local place that caters to homeschooling families.  We also enrolled her into a dance class and got her involved with a local Awana group.  Hubs eventually started to get back into running and started going to a Bible study hosted by one of his co-workers.  He made friends and started going out on occasion.  Gradually, and slowly, his depression improved.  We were still hopping for one church to another, trying to find our new church family.  Miss M's tic eventually went away and shortly before Easter, we finally found our new Church family.  Things were finally settled & school was overall going well. 

I used those provided lesson plans for a while but, gradually, I started changing things up and progressing Miss M where I saw the need, then eventually, I would only occasionally refer to them, to see how we lined up and then finally, I just stopped using them all together as I gained more confidence in what I was doing.  It was not long before I changed some of curriculum.  I added Latin and an official Science curriculum, switched to a new Bible curriculum and eventually a new plan for reading instead of the basic A-Z readers the school had provided.

Mr. L Keeping busy while toys were still packed.
 Miss M finished her Phonics curriculum about 6 weeks early so we jumped right into the next level and and she finished her math curriculum about a month early so we jumped right into the new math curriculum (which we are LOVING & I will share all about in another post).  In the end, after all of that chaos had settled down, I think our first year of homeschooling went really well and we created some great memories amidst the chaos.

As a last note, I have been very drawn to the Charlotte Mason methods of teaching and the more I would read, them more I would continue to tweak things just a bit.  But, now that all of my ducks are in a row, I will be fully implementing Charlotte Mason methods in our upcoming school year.  I am REALLY excited about our upcoming 2014/15 school year and can't wait to share about it in my next post so stay tuned.

 This pin-board shows most of what we used for the 2013/14 school year.  My 2014/15 pin-board will look pretty different.  A few of the same things but, mostly different.

Some fun things we did throughout out the 2013/2014 school year....