To My Friends in Public (and Private) Education…

this post is for you. Hope you all have a great start to the school year!

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Sharp new pencils, crisp clean notebooks, unsullied glue sticks, markers still inked up and ready to go. Fall has definitely descended upon Target.

This wonder is lost neither on me nor on my kids. When I see the preprinted lists of back to school supplies on the cardboard racks, I feel a slight twinge because I’m not required to follow a list to get what my kids need for school, and they miss out on the cultural rite of passage of selecting a new backpack and lunch box each year.

Still, there is something about joining these kids and parents digging through the bins of 25-cent crayons that brings us together, regardless of our schooling choice: We are thinking about and preparing for another season of educational intention with our kids.

Having a husband who is a schoolteacher is of great benefit to this homeschooling family. When he returned to the classroom two weeks ago (which seemed insanely early, but not unusual), it spurred a natural response in my own kids to resume their studies. When I announced to them that we would begin our own studies within four days, they were neither surprised nor disappointed; it was the natural course of things.

Similarly, I have become Facebook friends with a lot of people from my past who are now living out their lives in the field of public education. The homeschooling me of three years ago would have really been intimidated by this, but the homeschooling me of now knows that we’re not enemies; we’re both doing what we believe is the best thing for our kids. Their shared enthusiasm inspires me to be a better teacher in my own home, and I’d like to hope my zeal does the same for them in their classrooms.

When I see my friends with children in the local public school gather together weekly to pray for their children and their teachers, it strikes something very deep inside me. I’m proud of them for doing that; I need to do the same within my own school at home.

Proverbs 27:17 says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” In the sometimes-fierce educational philosophy debates, the tendency is to be sharpened so much that we have a dangerous edge. I think if we allow ourselves to drop our defenses, we would see we actually have much to learn from one another . . . and much to teach our children by doing so.

Homegrown

Homegrown

Here it is, everyone: three months of work rolled up into a juicy red tomato. I just stood there and ate almost the whole thing (I didn’t eat the whole thing because Maddie stood by me and ate the rest).

My dad used to tell me about eating homegrown tomatoes from his grandpa’s garden when he was a kid. He said he would eat them like apples. I never believed that because I thought tomatoes were nasty.

But these? These are not nasty. I just stood there and ate it like an apple. I can’t wait to do it again.

Interesting Finds

Here are some things I’ve seen lately worth taking note of:

Blog and Mablog: Doug Wilson on girls and education

Grant’s Farm: St. Louis folks, it’s back to school weekend at Grant’s Farm. You can park for free on Saturday and Sunday and your kids 10 and under will get a free hot dog and drink.

My family on Awkward Family Photos: One of the commentators, in their haste to make fun of my kids, mistook her homemade Easter dress for a Lilly Pulitzer. And that’s 700 kinds of awesome. Thanks for the tip, Chelsea! I stopped checking those comments a while ago.

The Pioneer Woman: Brisket. Yum, yum!

The Notebook

One might think, by my title, that I’m referring to one uber-cheesey chick flick (which I have not seen). One would be wrong.

Instead, I’m referring to the notebooks I made for each of my kids for this school year. And I wouldn’t even bother posting about them except that I’ve been asked to expound on what the heck I’m talking about by a couple of real-life friends and I figured if I was going to explain it all, I might as well just Explain It All. To you, too.

As Maddie is a 5th grader this year and Millie is officially of proper kindergarten age I did the only thing any self-respecting homeschool mama would do. I panicked. For a bit. Just a teensy tiny bit. And then I started thinking.

Last May I heard of another friend who makes assignment notebooks for her kids. That’s all I know about it. I kept meaning to go over to her house and take a look at what she meant by that but it never happened, so after ruminating on the idea of “individual assignment notebooks” for three months, I came up with what I think will be a pretty workable solution for us this year.

But we have only just completed day two of our homeschool year, so ask me again in five weeks, you know what I’m saying?

First off, and on the recommendation of another friend who ordered this without seeing it yet, I, too, got myself a copy of The Well Planned Day. Because I’m crazy like that.

I meant to take a picture of the cover, but I forgot, so here’s the first week of school planning I did:

Week 1

I did a sketch of this, including all the Sonlight reading and specific math lessons and basics on everything else for the first ten weeks of school.

I then made four individual binders, one for each girl (two shown here):

Binder Covers

The covers were designed on Scrapblog.

Next, I printed copies of certain pages from the My Student Planner from CurrClick for each girl:

My Student Planner Title Page

They have one for boys too. And also a combo pack in case you are one of those strange types who have children of both genders. We don’t know anything about that.

So, from here you see that tab marked “Week 1”? I made 10 of those. Now, putting 10 weeks worth of assignments in one binder proved to be too much, so I had to break out some basic black binders for the extra 5 weeks. I marked those “_____’s Upcoming Work”.

Next, I printed off 10 copies of the days of the week, each printed individually on separate sheets of paper:

Monday

I put those in page protectors and put one set behind each of the weekly tabs. Also, behind each weekly tab is a copy of each girl’s individual assignment sheet:

Week One Assignments

With this sheet I actually penciled in the subject column and certain things on the daily boxes that I knew wouldn’t change from week to week. I made copies of that page so I wouldn’t be writing those same things over and over and over. I got this brilliant idea after I had done just that about four times. I learn the hard way.

As well as one of these sheets:

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I didn’t make the specific chores permanent. I figured I wanted wiggle room to change them periodically or add to them here and there. But this way each girl has a very clear outline of what I expect them to do each and every single day.

You might have noticed the circled “T”s in certain boxes of the individual sheets. I put those there because I wanted the girls to understand they still had to do those things on that day, but the “T” is for “together” and it is something we will all do as a group. The together stuff is outlined better in my notebook, not theirs (see my planner above).

Now then, in addition to this, I went through many of their workbooks and just tore the pages out and three-hole punched them and slotted them in behind the day I wanted them to do it. For instance, behind the week 1, Tuesday section of Katie’s notebook are these pages:

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So far, this system is really working well for us. But I did mention that we’ve only done two official days of school, right?

I also seriously feel the need to mention that this is the plan I made that I think will work for me and my family this year. It very well may not be the plan that will work at all for yours.

Did you hear that? Let me say it again:

This is the plan I made that I think will work for me and my family
this year. It very well may not be the plan that will work at all for
yours.

Okay, I feel better now, having gotten that off my conscience. Homeschooling mamas can be pretty bad about looking at what someone else is doing and panicking that it’s not what they are doing. Conversely, homeschooling mamas can also be pretty bad about looking at what someone else is doing and critiquing it to the death. Funny thing about that, though. Somehow, I don’t think that trait is unique to homeschooling mamas. But I digress.

So that’s that. The Dunham Family Homeschooling Organizational Strategy for 2009-2010. Have any of the rest of you posted yours? Let me know so I can come take a peak and start to panic that it’s not what I’m doing. *grin*

Books on the Brain

I’m consumed with books right now. Planning them, finding them (this is harder than it sounds…), gathering them, soon-to-be reading them.

I’ve always had the girls read their individual readers at their own pace and haven’t really worried about it too much. We’ve never really processed them very much because, frankly, when you are teaching four kids you just count on some of them to do certain things on their own. Individual readers fall into that category for me. I make everyone have a one-hour down time after lunch in which they are to read their scheduled reader for a minimum of what I’ve requested. After that they are free to read any book they choose for the remainder of that hour.

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This year things will be similar to that with this one big exception: the book journal. I’ve struggled to implement book reports with the girls, but I think I have a good plan for it this year. I gave both of the older two a notebook with an ability-appropriate book report form taped inside. I found the book report forms here. Next to that they will keep a running list of the books they read throughout the year. After they finish each book they will write up a report about it right here in this same notebook. When they complete 5 reports they will choose a reward out of a jar.

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That’s where I could use some help. What sorts of things would you consider putting in a reward jar for kids who have done something like this? So far I have two: dinner out and choose a new book at Borders. I need some more creative ideas that aren’t terribly cost prohibitive.

What would you suggest?

Also, speaking of books, one of my biggest problems is organizing all the weekly books we have in a central area. It is not uncommon, indeed, it is very very common to hear me say, “Has anyone seen _____________?” It is too common. I’m hoping this new solution will help us out this year. I’ve gathered all the books for read-alouds and individual reading as well as the book journals and put them in, you guessed it, another covered crate.

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And as an added bonus, the crate happens to match my window treatments:

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Now then, to finish stringing and hanging the other one that has been draped over my stairs for the last three months…

Also, since we’re on the topic of books, I’ve decided Millie has gotten the shaft in the picture book department. By the time she was on the scene we’d pretty much moved into chapter books as a family and I haven’t done the best job of reading all the great picture books we have to her. So in addition to the scheduled Sonlight reading, I’m adding in two picture books/day of books we already have.

Okay, enough about books. What about my book report jar rewards? I could seriously use your help!

The Problem With Sleeping In

Warning: Random bits of useless information ahead. Detour may be necessary.

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I didn’t wake up until 10am this morning. Gasp! Shock! I know. I also didn’t go to bed until almost 2am this morning, so the math makes sense, but still. I can’t keep this up. The problem with this routine is that it perpetuates itself and here I am, wide awake at 12am again. Only I don’t have the luxury of sleeping in until 10 again in the morning.

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So, we’re starting school back up again on Monday. I think I could possibly be the most prepared for this I’ve ever been. My oldest is entering 5th grade this year and I also have a 4th grader, a 2nd grader, and a kindergartener. It’s about time I got myself organized in this department. The problem, though, is in implementation. I can organize just about anything. Maintenance, however, is not one of my strong points. But I have higher hopes this year because of the way it is all organized. Ask me again in four weeks, I guess.

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Chloe turns 9 soon. As she’s read all of the Little House on the Prairie books too many times to count, I thought it would be fun to introduce something sorta new, but also familiar. Enter the The Girls of Little House. Now then, I have no idea of the quality or content, but they look good, and we all know we DO judge books by their covers, so there’s that. Most of the original versions are going out of print and are being replaced with abridged versions with realistic covers instead of the traditional illustrations. I snapped up as many as I could off of Amazon (with the 4 for 3 plus free shipping deal), Half.com, and Paperbackswap.com. I think there was only one I couldn’t find and am not willing to spend $35 on. Should make for a pretty sweet birthday gift. Shhhh, don’t tell her, okay?

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I’m working on making a bunch of these right now:

Crate Covers

I found the tutorial here. They are rather addicting to make. So far I’ve made one for a friend’s birthday present, three for hostess gifts (filled with Trader Joe’s yumminess), one for my hall closet upstairs (to organize bathroom stuff in – need to make 4 more for that closet!), and these three for some of my Classical Conversations tutors to organize their weekly supplies in. I need to make 5 more for them. Oh, and also I need to order more fabric. Note to self: order more fabric soon.

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Speaking of Classical Conversations, my group has 45 kids enrolled. I was taking a head count for our upcoming back-to-school family picnic and if everyone comes, including spouses and siblings, we’ll have 100 people there. Dadgum. We’re sorta official now.

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I’m at that point in our school planning where I’m deciding on all the extra-curricular activities for the year. So many things to do, limited amount of time in which to do them. I need to be reminded of my philosophy of extras. That philosophy is this: Will said activity add lasting value to their lives, both throughout childhood and adulthood? Ballet and bowling will most likely not. Piano and choir most likely yes. American Heritage Girls? I have no idea.

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I received a surprising phone call from my group ticket sales lady with the Cardinal’s this week. She wanted to offer me two tickets to an upcoming game against the Astros in one of their party rooms, including food and drinks. I waited a minute for her to tell me the special group price, but she said they were free. Yippee! We already had 4 tickets to the nosebleed section for that same game, but I sold them in a hurry. That money will now pay for babysitting while Craig and I go act like we belong in a section better than normal for us. Think we can pull it off?

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Okay, that should just about do it. It’s late again and none of us wants a repeat of this blogging scenario tomorrow night. Ahem…

Testing, 1, 2, 3

I’m a homeschool mom. And I like standardized testing. Any questions?

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I have a dirty little homeschooling secret: My kids take standardized tests every year.

I can hear the gasps among all the homeschoolers—some because we participate in that educational evil, the standardized test; others because we do it every year. Either way, I find myself defending our decision more than I ever thought I would.

I understand many homeschoolers, for reasons legitimate and otherwise, don’t want to be accountable to the state when it comes to educating their children. I also get that standardized tests don’t account for the differences in how many families study core subjects. Finally, I believe that being my kids’ teacher and discussing what we learn gives me an intuitive understanding of what they know (I don’t need a test to tell me).

But there are benefits to objective analysis. My oldest daughter learned to read at the expected age of kindergarten and first grade; she finished The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe all on her own when she was 6. But she hated math to the point of daily tears. Not wanting to stress her out, I let math slide that year and focused on her strengths. Not surprisingly (though I wouldn’t have known it without the Stanford test she took that May), by the time she finished third grade, her reading level was in the high school range, but her math level was stuck in first grade.

I didn’t need a test to tell me that. I knew she excelled at the one and struggled with the other. But having it objectively stated on the test results sheet was very productive for all of us. Having that mark of first grade level on my otherwise intelligent, entering-fourth grade daughter spurred me to action. It spurred her to action as well. We helped her set some goals for herself for the school year, among which was to raise her math score on the standardized test the following year.

Fast-forward 365 days and a whole lot of hard work: My daughter’s math scores were four grades higher than they were the year before. This was cause for much rejoicing.

Again, I didn’t need the test to tell me she had made improvement, but honestly, I didn’t know exactly how much of an improvement she’d made until I saw an objective analysis of her ability. Whereas the test from the year before surprised me by how much she didn’t know, the current year’s test surprised me by how much she had learned since. And it was encouraging.

Some would say that experience is the best teacher, but what we’ve found out is that it isn’t experience that is the best teacher; evaluated experience is. For our family, that’s what standardized testing—three days, once a year—helps provide.

August, So Far

In our efforts to slow things down before school starts (ahem), it seems we’ve instead packed as much as possible into these remaining pre-school days.

Last Saturday, Craig’s aunt and uncle celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. At least we think it was them.

Happy Anniversary, "Jan" and "Paul"

On Monday we spent the entire day at Six Flags. Well, we tried to spend the entire day at Six Flags. Chloe had to have an impromptu orthodontist appointment that morning, after which we attempted to go to Six Flags. After a series of frustrating driving challenges getting there (MODOT was working on I-44 and it was backed up almost to 270), we pulled up to the park just in time for Chloe to toss her cookies overboard out the window of the van as we were pulling into the $15 parking lot. And you know what we did? We went in anyway (she has recently started getting carsick and that’s all that was, though we felt like dumb parents for doing it). Still, the day redeemed itself and we had fun.

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On Wednesday I took the girls to visit my sister and her family. This morning, before we left, Michelle and I had the brainstorm to go get Maddie and Anna’s ears pierced again. However, in small-town America, there really is only one place to go to get your ears pierced: Walmart. So I mustered up everything I had inside me to forget all about this experience and took the girls to Walmart. Second time’s a charm, right? (I know how the saying really goes…but I want this one to work on the second try, not the third).

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PS:We bought about the biggest piercing stud they had. If her ears swallow these, we really have no other alternatives but to go back to you-know-where. And you-know-what that means, right? It means I’ll have to get my nose pierced. But let’s not go there just yet.

And finally, I surprised the girls on the way home with a stop at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home in Mansfield, MO. And drat it all if someone didn’t quadruple graffiti that sign all up and I didn’t even notice it until 20 seconds ago as I was copying the URL to paste it in here. Shame on everyone who did that.

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Here they are, my own “Mary, Laura, Carrie, and Grace” as I used to call them here on the Half-Pint House blog, standing in front of the house Almanzo and Laura built and lived in when they moved to Missouri so long ago.

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All the girls loved this experience very much, but I think it was most meaningful for Chloe who has read the entire Little House series so many times I’ve actually lost count. She could go on Jeopardy with all the Little House facts she has stored in her brain. Super cool.

And now we are home. The girls will be attending an art camp that a friend of ours is hosting this week, followed by as much pool action as possible before it winds down for the year. I still haven’t decided if we’ll start on the 17th or the 24th, but I imagine we’ll start doing something soon to ease our way back into it.

Forward, ho!