Poetry Illustrations

Poetry doesn’t fit into one academic subject box for me.  Many would put poems inthe category of reading, writing and grammar.  Rightly so, but I see poetry as an art.  So while we could dissect the word patterns and evaluate the rhyming schemes, I wanted the kids to see poems as pictures.  Without any real formal curriculum I decided to try a make-shift, week long poetry unit.  I assigned each of the kids a poem to memorize that was all their own, and I choose one group poem for us all to illustrate individually.

Some homeschools have a weekly poetry tea time. Four of my kids really enjoy this.  (Fancy desserts always help.) One of mine seems determined to sabotage poetry tea time. We are in the habit now of working on a poem to memorize, but we have come back to poetry illustration when we need a break from our regular curriculum.

Here’s how it works…

First, I get a couple short, simple illustrated poetry book from the library.  We read them together and talk about how the illustrator was inspired by the poet’s words.

 

Then I give them a copy of a poem without illustrations OR a title.  I give each child time everyday for a week to plan and practice his or her own illustration of that poem.  The finished product is due Friday.  The poem should be written on their art work, and they must come up with a title.  BUT they cannot let their siblings see their ideas or know their title.  We like secrets around here.

Finally, we all come together and share our art at the end of the week.  The finished pieces are so fun because they reflect each of the kids’ interpretation of the poem as they make the poem their own.  When they reveal their personal illustrations and new titles, the kids have been amazed that anyone else could see the poem differently than they did.  (There are some good life lessons there!)

We first did a poem about leaves from the book Autumnings.  My daughter picked deep colors to illustrate hers.  For my son it was all about the action words in the poem.  I didn’t catch it at first, but he wrote all the words of the poem inside the leaves that he drew.  I loved seeing their strengths and personalities come out in this project.

 

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When we used this method this year we my second son join us.  He does not like to draw, but he came up with a plan for his snow poem: cutting snowflakes.  He was proud that his work was so different than his siblings.  They had completely different yet beautiful illustrations and different titles.  One chose “White Snowflakes,”  the other “In the Silent Night,” and the third “Drifters.”

I love seeing the kids connect with the poems, and I look forward to collecting a pile of illustrated poems from each of the kids that I will cherish in the years to come.

Homeschooling through Burnout

There are seasons to homeschooling.  Some follow the weather;  we do nature study when in the spring or fall and extend our reading when it’s 4 degrees outside.  Some seasons shift with the age of the students, pre-readers to readers, playful curiosity to avid readers with deeply thought out questions.  Seasons can change because of family dynamics, like adding a new baby.  If we are being really honest some seasons change because of mama’s mood.  Seasons of burnout are real.  Very Real.

I sat with a mother the other day who was burnt.out.  She needed a listening ear.  She needed encouragement.  (Quick shout out to my dearest homeschooling friends who that do that for me on a regular bases!) But she was also asking me practically what I do when I’d rather stick a pencil through my eye than work through another math problem or open up  another read aloud.

Gasp!  Did I just admit to not always loving read aloud time with my people?  I am sure that goes against the homeschool mom’s code or something, but oh yes, I did!  Even something as wonderful as read aloud time can be soured because of a season of burnout.

Sometimes I have to just take a week off.  I do this several times through out the year.  I now plan time off in advance in order to prevent burnout, but I have learned a few other tricks so that we can keep learning when mom needs a break.

1.) Assign an audio book and corresponding art project.  We are a family deeply invested in audio books.  We have seasons when the kids decide when and what they are listening to, but we also have times when I assign audio books and direct what activity they do while they listen.  For us that has primarily been drawing or coloring.  For example, if I picked  Charlotte’s Web or Farmer Boy, I would get them a book on how to draw farm animals to use  while listening. If I assigned Black Beauty or a Misty of Chincoteague I might get a horse coloring book or paint by number.  Our favorites have been Draw Write Now, 1-2-3 Draw, and Drover Coloring books.  There are tons of options though-origami with Sadako and 1000 Paper Cranes. Paper dolls with Little House on the Prairie.

2.) Memory CDs.  This year we could not get all four of our schooling kids in  enrichment classes on the same day so we have relied on “van schooling” more than we ever have.  One term we shelved some of our traditional memory work and listened to memorization CD’s on our way back and forth to enrichment classes.  I have friends who do not participate in Classical Conversations but use the memory CDs from that program.  There are many great Bible memory CDs available for families too.  One of our favorites has been Seeds Family Worship.  We are using a geography CD to memorize our states and capitols.  I plan to use the parts of speech CD for next year.

3.) Workbooks.  Now, some workbooks require a lot of explanation or a lot of correcting.  That’s not the kind that I need during seasons of burnout.  We have always loved Explode the Code for a good phonics review, especially  for my kids who need a little extra help. I like Draw Write Now which mixes art with copywork.  When I find quality educational puzzle books on sale, I pick up word searches, Sudoku, crossword puzzles, mazes, mind benders, or spot the difference books and use them as assignments.

4.) Short Unit Study. One of my favorite ways to reboot when we can’t take a week off from school is to incorporate a unit study.  This isn’t good if I need a break from the kids, but it is great if we all need a break from our curriculum.  I am not a unity study mom, but sometimes it’s good for us all to set aside the books and do something that is just different.  When the kids were younger we did thematic unit studies or literature based units that I pulled of the internet for free. As they have gotten older we have done poetry, art and geography units.

5) Educational DVDs.  I want to put a plug out there for planning ahead and using a DVD series to prevent burnout.  I am one of the many homeschooling moms who has thrown a DVD when I was fried, just trying to make it to the end of the day.  But when I am in a season of burnout sometimes I plan regular DVD’s for a couple of weeks.  One semester we watched 2 episodes of Liberty’s Kids every Friday after our seat work.  There have been many February’s when the days are long, and I plan for a science DVD everyday after lunch. One of the kids’ favorites has been Popular Mechanics for Kids.

6.) Games. I am not going to go into a lot of detail here because there are a boat-load of ideas over at Simple Homeschool, but I assign my kids a game and a game partner several times a week.  I think that it builds relationships and logic skills all at the same time.  (I work myself into the mix of partners too!  For some of my kids it really strikes a chord with  their love language.)

7) Ditch the Guilt. One of the good things about having a few years of homeschooling behind me is that I know that the seasons will come and go.  It doesn’t mean that I am a bad mom or that I should give up on homeschooling.  Burnout happens.  I also have had to ditch the guilt that might accompany any one of the 5 other suggestions that I made.  The homeschooling community can speak so positively about morning time, reading aloud and spending quality time with our kids that I felt guilty if I had to take a break and do something so mediocre like use workbooks or DVDs.  I don’t get the rest or refreshment that I need if the whole time I feel guilty.  I have learned that it is far better for me to accept it and move on.

So if you are feeling the heat of burnout, don’t be afraid to take off the week, or every afternoon this week or every Friday for the next month. I know that I will, and I will be a more refreshed homeschool mom because of it!

Evaluating our 1st Term

This post is a week late.  Obviously I don’t keep any sort of blog schedule-Ha!  Since we started schooling again I haven’t written at all!  But last week was our “Sabbath week.”  We school 6 weeks on 1 week off.  It is a beautiful time of rest and re-calibration.  I spent a vast majority of the time freezer cooking, which was a great thing, but in my heart I knew that I needed to stop and asses how things were going before we continued.  I didn’t and this week I regretted it.  So a week late, I sit here reevaluating. (As this practice is so beneficial for me.  If I didn’t write it here I would have to talk it all out with my husband.  He does not enjoy the tweaking and evaluation process so he is thankful that I do a lot of it in written form.)

Read a-louds-I rocked the read a-louds first term.  I picked stories that I knew I could read a-loud well; it is was so enjoyable. I started a book last week that wasn’t as easy to read out loud.  I am going add it to our audio book list and find something else to read this week. I also used 5 in a Row with my kindergartner, but everyone sat in on that this as well.  We enjoyed the stories together and practiced finding the different elements of a good story.

“I picked stories that I knew I could read a-loud well…”

Veritas History Online-This is still a great option for us.  I think that my only complaint is that I wish it followed a 4 year history cycle.  Sometimes I would like to supplement with other currics and would be easier to do if it followed a 4 year cycle!  The kids’ test scores have improved this year.  Test taking is a skill that they will need someday so it is good to know that they both understand the material and can take tests well.

Teaching Textbooks-There is a great deal of review at the beginning of the year.  It turns out he needed it. 😉  I think that I will find some free printable worksheets for some additional review and confidence before moving forward.  Mastery, understanding, and confidence is so important in math.

Math U See-My 2nd grader is plowing steadily ahead.  I debated pushing him and seeing how fast he could go through this book and move on to the next.  The more that I thought about I decided against it.  The skills that he is working on is so foundational.  Why rush it?  I am assigning quite a bit of practice work, and he is not discouraged.

Build-Your-Own-4th-Grade Math-Before I started planning for the current school year I asked for his thoughts on math for our 4th grader.  Somewhere along the line she got the idea that she hates math-not that she isn’t good at it, but just that she hates it.  She began with MUS, then switched to Horizons.  I wanted to switch her back to MUS for my own ease, but my husband reminded me of some of our math goals for our kids and encouraged me to put together a math specifically for her.  It wasn’t the answer I wanted, but it was the right answer.  We are using the MUS DVDs to teach the math concept, but different workbooks for a little more variety in practice.  So far so good.

Spelling Workout-My first grade and forth grader really liked Spelling Workout last year.  They were able to work independently, and I thought it was great for their vocabulary too.

God’s Design Science-The first term we “finished” up our book on plants. I resisted the urge to plow ahead in the text and took it outside to evaluate leaves and roots.  It meant that we had to skip unit on unusual plants.  It was the right decision.  My oldest son has been itching to do more with science and approached me about it.  What kind of homeschool mom would I be if I said, “No, you can’t learn more!”? We ordered him Exploring Creation with General Science with the MP3 audio companion.  We are only one week into that one, but he has enjoyed his two days of “advanced” science.

Handwriting without Tears-Still my favorite.  I will say it is amazing to see the differences in kids.  One kid can have the most beautiful artistic handwriting and eagerly do page after page.  Another kid can solve complicated math problems in his head and yet struggle to get two sentences written neatly on a page.

Free-Write Friday-I am so glad that before we started a formal writing curriculum we started with free writes.  The kids really enjoy expressing whatever is on their minds without being bogged down with the mechanics.  They each choose one of their Free-Writes to edit at the end of the term.  I think that they enjoy that too.

Bravewriter’s Language Arts program, Arrow– The jury is still out for me on this. A Charlotte Mason approach to language arts sounds really good to me, but it is a leap of faith for me to put it into practice.  Arrow takes a children’s book and spends 4 weeks on 4 different passages doing copy work, dictation, spelling and grammar practice.  Since Arrow is organized in 4 week units and our term is 6 weeks, we used traditional grammar worksheets for the remaining 2 weeks.  There is an ease in teaching to the worksheet.  I have felt like the Abeka worksheets teach themselves.  I am still figuring out how to teach the Arrow units.

IEW Writing-I don’t know if I am teaching this “right.”  I went the economy route, and bought a really old version.  I have the CD’s that teach me how to teach it, but I don’t have the CD’s for the kids.  We are using the co-op schedule for All Things Fun and Fascinating. I really should have gone back and reviewed these CD’s last week for my own confidence in teaching.  I also need to watch myself that I don’t become a “slave” to the curriculum and the schedule that it suggests.  It is more important that the kids master each the writing skills that is presented than keeping the suggested schedule.  (I am going to write that again to keep it in the forefront of my mind… “It is more important that the kids master each of the writing skills that is presented than keeping the suggested schedule.”  There, hopefully that sticks!)

“It is more important that the kids master each of the writing skills that is presented than keeping the suggested schedule.”

All About Reading-If I have a homeschool regret in the last 7 years it would be NOT using this program from the beginning.  We are taking this so slow.  My kindergarten is only 5, and phonics do not come naturally to her.  Because of this I would rather wait another year to work on reading, but she so badly wants to learn to read.  Her attitude is really great so we are working together, making strides toward her development as a reader.  (Quirky commentary about this girl.  She picks out a chapter book from the library every time.  Then throughout the week she will sit down to read it-always with a bookmark.  She will sit for a period of time carefully “reading” each page and then mark her spot so that she can come back and continue “reading” the next day.  I wish I knew what was going through her head as she looks at page after page of words that she does not yet know how to decode!)

Sequential Spelling-My dyslexic son is using this.  We both like it for his situation.  He is reading well now and did NOT want to continue to use Barton, his Orton-Gillingham curriculum.  All About Spelling was confusing because it used a lot of the Orton-Gillingham method, but called the rules by different names.  This program does a good job of showing the patterns in words and builds gently in difficulty.  He is doing well within the spelling program itself.  I am hoping to see it cross over into his other writings.

First Language Lessons 2- My original plan had been to do the oral portion of these lessons all together in Morning Time, geared toward my 2nd grader but as a great review for my older two.  That worked swimmingly the first 5 weeks; then co-op started and two days a week different kids leave at 8:30 in the morning and Morning Time suffered a hard blow.  That leads me to my next conundrum…

Morning Time– Our Morning Time in August were great for the most part.  HSAP has thrown a huge monkey wrench into it.  Two or 3 days a week kids are coming and going for enrichment classes and/or field trips. For Morning Time this term we had planned to continue reading Who is God? And Can I really Trust Him?, Aesop’s Fables and replace our science reading with geography. Our memory work would be a new Bible passage, poem, hymns and creed as well as begin working memorizing the state and capitals.  Because I was apparently very optimistic I thought we’d try to throw some Latin in there as well.  (“Optimistic” or “senseless” pick your adjective.)   It is clear now that I need to rethink all this.

I need to have a full Morning Time option and an abbreviated Morning Time for days that we need to be out the door by 8:20 with lunches in hand.  So that is what I am working on the rest of the day.  What are the few things that bless us and need to be done, even in a time crunch and how can we loop the other subjects in a way that is fun and engaging?

What a great first term we had!  I really enjoyed looking back and seeing what really worked and needs to keep going and what needs to be tweaked as we move forward.  Time to go get ready for the next week!

Memorization and Morning Time Show & Tell

I have gotten a few emails following my Morning Time Plans post asking for a few more details on our morning time, group learning, memorization, and the like.  I thought that I would compile them in a FAQ post and attach a YouTube clip of our memory binder.

Where did you get your memorization binder?

I made it based on what we are currently studying.  We change out our memory work each term, and work in time for review.  (Our terms are 6 weeks long.)

What types of things are in your binder?

Our binder has our Bible memory passages, the poems that we are memorizing, our academic memory work (after compiling it for my kids I made it available as Relational Recitation) and the sheet music for the hymns we are learning.  You can take a peak at our memory binder here on YouTube.

How do you work memorization into your day?

We do memorization as part of our morning time.  That is one of the things I love most about morning time.  Now that we have created this time in our day to gather together, whenever I discover something that we could all benefit from learning I already have a place in our day for it.  For example, this year I wanted to do a composer study.  We will take one of our terms for a SQUILT classical music until.  (During that time we will not do geography or science.  We can’t do everything at once!)  Often the hardest part of adding something new is overcoming inertia and just getting it started.  If I have to get everyone gathered for recitation and then they all go do math, I have call them back for science.  Then they might split for spelling and I try to learn them back together again for Bible, and I’d spend all my morning starting and starting and starting again.  No thank you!

Do you do memorization with all of your kids?

Yes, we have Morning Time all together.  I would allow my preschoolers to skip, but they like to be where the action is. They paint with water, color or play with play-doh if we are at the table.  If we are having Morning Time in the family room they play with puzzles or blocks or do somersaults. (Honesty, folks!)

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Sometimes it is best to keep the little ones close during morning time.  Left to themselves they tend to find amusement in all the wrong places!

Do all of your kids cooperate with morning time?

Sometimes.  Actually this question is quite humbly-timed today.  There was  a lot of fight back from the youngest two in the form of whining and trying to get the attention of the older ones.  (Someone may have purposefully dumped his water from paint with water directly onto the paper and we had to relocate to the family room.) Like just about everything in life we have our days!

I believed that morning time was going to be a blessing to us, but that meant that I had to work to establish it.  I will send an uncooperative child to listen from the stairs or to his bedroom.  I have taken a pretty strong stand that this is a profitable time for those who participate, and I cannot allow one person to ruin that for the rest of us.

Any tips for helping everyone enjoy morning time?

  1. START SMALL.  We have been having Morning Time for a few years now.  It is a little like juggling; start with a few balls, and when you’ve found your rhythm, add another ball.
  2. Use a time that you are already gathered-a regular story time, group study or even snack time.
  3. Plan things you know your kids will enjoy.  Our family loves music so our morning time involves singing.  We are reading from an Aesop’s Fables book each day.  My middle son picked our Bible passage for this term.
  4. Purposefully put variety into Morning Mime.   First we recite, then I read to them, then we sing. After that I might read again.  We waft back and forth from reciting (with movement if possible) and sitting to listen and then we go back to something more interactive.
  5. Make sure to break out of the mold once in a while.  Sometimes if things are getting a little mundane we take morning time outside or we have hot chocolate.  Once a week I try to  include a YouTube clip of a current event or of something that corresponds with our science chapter.  Every day does not need to be a treat, but adding something special every now and then is good for all of our spirits.

 

Morning Time At-A-Glance

Our Nature Encounter

“I am going to rock nature studies this year!  We are going on nature hikes and starting nature notebooks! This is the year we are going to get out there and learn outside!”

So I bought real sketch pads and expensive colored pencils. I got a book of Iowa plants and flowers to help us identify what grows naturally here.  Last week I scouted for great places near by for us to have nature hikes.  I found some about a half of a mile from our house.  No problem.  I will just get out the bike trailer.

This morning I told the kids, “Put on your hiking shoes and clothes we can get dirty in.  We are going to have some fun this morning!”  They were thrilled.  I was pretty sure that a nomination for “Mother of the Year” was going to be coming my way.

This is where I would insert pictures of the kids exploring and finding treasures amongst the woodland creatures.

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Sadly, no such pictures exist.

First, It had been approximately 4 years since I last pulled the bike trailer.   I was fine but my children had little faith in my capabilities and kept yelling, “Slow down!  Do you know what you are doing?” Ridiculous.

We arrive at the hiking spot, parked our bikes and started hiking…for a whopping 30 seconds.  The rains that have gifted us lush, green yards also left ample breeding grounds for armies of mosquitos.  It took less than a minute for us to each get bit a half-dozen times and we high-tailed it back out of the trees and to our bikes.

I would not be beaten by these little bugs.  A quick ride back to the house for bug spray, and we’d be back in nature in no time.

“I’m hot!”

“Can we be done?”

“This is a the longest bike ride EVER.”

I sprayed them all down and rehydrated everyone. I could see that our enthusiasm was waning, and a compromise was in order.  We decided that we would get back on the bikes and ride to a much closer, smaller area with trees to look for treasures to bring back to the house to draw in our nature notebooks.

The boys took off exploring at once.  The girls and I followed more slowly behind.  The mosquitos were totally ignoring our repellent.  This trip was not fairing any better.

Then my daughter walked into a spider web…with her mouth open.  Complete Panic. I don’t know that I can adequately describe the flailing, the jumping, stomping, spitting, screaming and wailing.  It was epic.  Clearly she almost ate the spider and would probably die.

I called the boys back.  It was time to be done.  My youngest fell in the mud and kept yelling, “Bugs in my ears! Bugs in my ears”  And more than one of my children said, “I think we have had enough nature for the day.”

Earlier today I had posted a picture on Facebook of my 7-year-old eagerly completing two math lessons before 7:30 a.m.  If I share pictures of the good times it is only right that I also post the times like these when my great plans are eaten by mosquitos, and my children want to curse nature and die.

THE END