Tuesday, September 29, 2015

On Fixing a Bad Day with Cuteness and a Camera

Yesterday we had one of those days.  Well it actually started on Sunday when I took a tumble coming down the steps after mass.  I was holding Margret when it happened and the good news is that my protective mom instincts are fully functioning and she was completely unscathed.  The bad news is that said mom instincts meant that I didn't throw my arms out to stop myself from falling and so I ended up tumbling head first, with my dress hiked up, skinning up my legs and feet along the way and now have an ankle that, while it can hold my weight, isn't exactly functioning in it's usual pain-free capacity.  Embarrassing and painful, a wonderful combination.

Then yesterday, Chris "worked from home" which is always just as productive as it sounds like it would be so that I could go to three doctors appointments sans extraneous children.  I was so proud of planning them all so that I could get them all taken care of in one day and not need to finagle extra child care which I'm sure you know can be quite a challenge.  Especially when you don't want to have to pay someone so you can go to the doctor by yourself when you never even get to pay someone so you can actually go out and do something fun.  Well, due to mistakes that I am certain were not mine two of those appointments ended up not being on their respective schedules and didn't happen.  It wouldn't have been so bad if the receptionist had admitted something went wrong on their end and been even a little bit sorry.  No.  She just looked at me like I was crazy, because clearly it makes more sense that I would write down a doctor's appointment in my planner that I had completely made up for no reason whatsoever.

By the time I got home from the second trip out to the hospital I had a major headache coming on so I did what I always do in trying situations and grabbed my camera.  There might be a lot of things going wrong all at once but I do have adorable children and capturing that adorableness always makes me feel better.  So please enjoy this little therapy photo shoot of Margaret age almost one, and almost walking.  I know I did.

I had to flip her over and tickle her to get her to show off her teeth, but they needed to be documented.  She has two bottom teeth already like a regular baby but up top she has apparently decided that instead of growing two matching front teeth like any old basic baby might do, she's going to be hip and ironic and grow one front tooth and one side tooth instead.   She's a baby that refuses to conform--and also one that is going to look ridiculous if those other teeth don't make an appearance soon.

There now.  Doesn't everyone feel much better now?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

On Being Up a Tree

Me:  "Boys, where are you?"
Henry:  "We're up here!"
Me:  "What do you mean, we?"
Boys:  maniacal laughter

When we moved into this house the first thing the big boys did was to scale the two story high magnolia tree in the backyard.  Now, I like the idea of tree climbing in theory, but I do not like actually seeing my children that high up in the air with only their monkey skills and wits to keep them safe.  Monkey skills they have, wits.....well we're still working on those.  My solution is generally to try not to think about what they're doing and avoid watching it altogether whenever possible.

Toddlers though, toddlers should not be up a tree unsupervised.

And these pictures really do not do justice to how high John John was.  I didn't want to back away to get a full shot for obvious reasons.  Although the fact that I pulled out my camera to document the moment while simultaneously chastising him might have sent mixed messages.  He must have been at least ten feet up because he was completely out of my reach and I still cannot figure out how he hoisted himself up into the bottom branches to begin with.  He insisted on climbing down "by mysef mommy! BY MY SEF!" but he hasn't quite grasped the fact that while climbing up a tree is relatively easy, getting down is the tricky part. Maybe if he had, he wouldn't have ventured up quite so high. Once he was dangling from a lower branch trying rather unsuccessfully to find a foot hold he begrudgingly allowed me to offer him a hand.  

As usual, I'm one part proud and three parts terrified.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

On Homeschooling Plans and Planning: What We're Doing this Year

I planned to start our school year the day after Labor Day this year since that's when all the neighbor kids began, but it turned out that we had doctors appointments all that morning, and then the next day was our co-op orientation all morning, so we began our homeschool year on a random Thursday with more of a fizzle than a bang.  I don't have any cute 'first day of school' pictures of the kids with chalkboard signs decrying their current passions and adorable handwriting but I do have an entirely too long post detailing our school plans with the added benefit of two weeks of actually implementing those plans so I can even tell you how they're going.  

Before we get to that though, I'd like everyone to admire my newly organized homeschool bookshelf.  Last year I had a basket that I put all of the notebooks and floppy things and too-tall-for-our-shelves books in, that sat on one of my skinnier shelves and was pulled out each morning, which meant that it was always in the way and our books were constantly being rummaged through and shoved to the bottom of the pile.  Well, no more!  This summer I took everything out of the bookcase and rearranged the height of the shelves to make more sense and repurposed these magazine coloring book holders into our school boxes instead.

They're glorious.  They keep everything so organized and non-rumpled and they've made our mornings run so much more smoothly.  I can't believe I didn't think of this solution sooner.

As you can see, this year we've added Henry to the school mix for some light Kindergarten work since the State of Virginia says that I have to.  We're continuing to use Ambleside Online with Year 0 for Henry and Year Two for David because it's both wonderful and free.  I don't like to make many changes to the book lists, but I do look to Celeste for her advice on Catholic-ing it up a bit.  She also helped me decide to switch the Y2 and Y3 natural history readings since we were going to be covering some of the Y3 readings in our co-op this year (and I was panicking that everything was completely ruined because clearly if you can't do everything exactly in order you probably shouldn't do anything at all, right?).  If you email her AO questions she will very sweetly reply even though that's probably what the message boards are for, which is good for those of us who are intimidated by message boards and have no idea if they're using them properly so they don't risk it :)

So what does all of that look like exactly?

Second Grade:  

Bible, History, Geography, Natural History/Science, Literature and Poetry readings are all straight from the Ambleside Online Y2 schedule (with the exception of the switched natural history readings from Y3 and minus Trial and Triumph which I had reservations about).  I read these aloud to David and he narrates them back to me.  Then we do mapwork or make entries in his timeline afterward depending on the subject.

For Phonics we're finishing up All About Reading Level 3 and then I think we're going to....just stop there?  I haven't quite decided if it would be worth it to continue on and do the next level or not.  I'd love to hear anyone's thoughts on the subject, or what to do next once your kids are reading pretty fluently.

For Math we switched over to MEP (Year 2) after reading some good reviews on the Charlotte Mason message boards ( I do read them, I just don't do scary things like ask them questions) and again....it's free so that was really appealing to me too.  I printed everything out and organized it using folders and so far so good.

For Copywork I broke down and bought a copybook from Simply Charlotte Mason.  I always feel like I should just make my own copywork and I'm being lazy and wasteful not doing it myself, but in the end I thought it would be better to have something easy and done that I don't have to think about all the time.  Homeschooling's hard enough with babies and toddlers running around without having extra weekly decisions to make.

We're starting Spanish this year in our co-op so we'll be working on that at home as well--the author of the book (recommended by Simply Charlotte Mason) runs the co-op so I'm feeling pretty confident in my ability to do it despite my complete lack of foreign language skills.

We're also doing Picture Study (Van Eyck) and Composer Study (Chopin) with our new co-op as well so those differ from the Ambleside Online rotation too.

David's "Table of History" from Laurie Bestavater's, The Living Page except much longer and not actually a table.
The timeline idea is from Celeste and can be found here, I have a strong and irrational aversion to binders so I made this and had it spiral bound instead of using a binder.  She has lots of  excellent thoughts on time tools that can be found here as well.
David's nature notebook.  A mushroom with a spider.  We are amazing at this Charlotte Mason stuff.


For the most part, we're using lots of good picture books from Ambleside Online's Y0 book list with an emphasis on Winnie the Pooh, Beatrix Potter and Mother Goose.    

For Math we're using MEP (the Reception Year) which he really loves so far.  And lots of playing with all our math manipulatives.  This boy is obsessed with Cuisinaire rods.

For Phonics, we're finishing up our trip down The Alphabet Path from Elizabeth Foss's site and once we complete that little adventure we'll move on to All About Reading Level 1 and just move through at his pace.

And for Copywork, again, I broke down and bought a handwriting book.  I'd also like to get him a little chalkboard to do some extra practice on.

Henry's Alphabet Book.  Very fancy.

Now I've made a few also very fancy charts and lists in order to pull all of this together.  The first is our loose schedule.  Right now we start at eight, right after the baby goes down for her morning nap and then proceed through in time chunks rather than by a set time schedule.  I'll probably tweak this a bit in the next couple of weeks once we see how everything flows.  Right now, Henry hangs out for our morning basket time for as long as he can manage and then goes to play until it's time for David's break and his one on one time.  He does a bit of copywork and then alternates with either a math or reading lesson followed by a story just for him.  

To keep organized I also made a weekly checklist that I had spiral bound.  I did this last year as well and it was wonderful.  For whatever reason, I couldn't get my mind around scheduling using Ambleside Online until I saw the checklists Celeste had made similar to these (so, I guess what I'm saying is that you really need to poke around her site if you are still having trouble envisioning how to implement all of this in your own homeschool--she's a pro).

I took the weekly schedules found on the Ambleside Online site and put them in the front of my book, along with a yearly calendar and a book list page for each of the boys and one for family read alouds to keep track of the free reads we do.

Then I made a blank checklist for each week.  Before we start school each week, I flip to the weekly schedule sheet and fill in which readings we need to do, and we just move to the next lesson in their math, phonics, Spanish and handwriting books as we complete them.  Easy.

I organized my checklist into morning basket, daily, and weekly work sections.  I really like the flexibility the checklist provides while also keeping me accountable.  It's easy to see if I'm dropping the ball on anything--like say, doing calendar work or memorizing a poem or learning a hymn for instance.....not that those boxes haven't been checked once yet in our first two weeks of school.........

This year I also left a blank page between each week to give myself more room for note taking and ideas which I hope will keep the random scrap papers and post-it notes to a minimum.

So far the year has been going much better than I had dared to hope it could.  Henry has turned out to be a delight to teach and David has been, well maybe not a delight but really very good all things considered and he never pouts when it's time to stop listening to Shakespeare and do some math.......

I think our co-op is going to be really fun and I'm glad I decided to try it out.  If nothing else, the other moms are definitely encouraging and there are days when I really need that encouragement.  Oh, are there days.  All in all though, I think it's shaping up to be a pretty good year.

I hope :)

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

On Birthday Weekends

Chris and David have back to back August birthdays--some years this means gigantic shared birthday parties and some years it just means two days of special dinner and dessert selections.  This year it was the later--much to David's disappointment.  He thought we should send invitations to all the students at Hogwart's (including the Slytherins) to a giant birthday extravaganza at our house.  I told him that our house is clearly not large enough to accommodate a whole castle worth of kids.  He rebutted that obviously they would be able to bewitch the house to fit everyone once they arrived.  Ah, I countered--but underage wizards are not allowed to use magic outside of school.  Au contraire mother--the seventh years would be of age.  Touche David, but terms starts on September first and unfortunately your birthday is August thirty-first so I'm afraid there is just no way they could make it all the way to America and back the day before they start school.  

The disappointment of youth. He got over it.  

Chris had somewhat less extravagant birthday wishes.  All he asked for was his favorite (and coincidentally my least favorite) food that I haven't made for him in probably eight years and also his grandparent's most beloved homemade ice-cream.  

Done and done. There were a lot of "taste-testing" spoons inserted into that ice-cream before it was brought inside to eat.

Chris is a little bit anti-birthday and doesn't ever really want to celebrate which takes a lot of fun out of birthday planning, but I managed to surprise him anyway with a new supply of geocaching Pathtags and Grandma Kazleman and Aunt Courtney loaded him up with some much needed Notre Dame gear since he was still wearing the same shirts he had in undergrad--it was past time for an upgrade.  

David was a bit down about his lack of birthday party and also the lack of cousins sharing his big day with him after their plans changed, but luckily for him his aunts and grandparents came through with more presents than any child of ours has ever received on their birthday, ever.  His haul included a new bike, a model train, a chess set, a new backpack, quarter-collecting gear, and a ridiculous amount of Amazon gift cards which were promptly turned into Lego sets.

Chris says Christmas is probably going to be a bit disappointing this year.

He's probably right.

For his special meal he asked for a buffet of every different pizza there is.  Which is funny since he will only ever eat plain cheese.  Ever.  What he really wanted was a trip to the magic land of Cici's pizza which Aunt Kate had lovingly described to him in great detail the last time we saw her--from the smorgasbord of Italian delicacies to the fruit punch to the games and gum balls in the back.  For a child who doesn't know what Chuck E Cheese is, it's a wonderland beyond his wildest imaginings.  Since our local Cici's is apparently really gross, we arranged a quick trip down to Fredericksburg, which appeased David's desire for both cousins and cheap pizza.

I'm pretty sure it was his favorite part of his whole birthday.  Well, maybe second to realizing he was finally in possession of the model train he's been begging for for the past two years.

For his special dessert he asked for the same strawberry cake he had last year--a request I was happy to fulfill since it was finally something I actually wanted to eat.

Now I need to learn how to play chess, less David start to think that, along with engineering and math ,girls also aren't any good at doing that either.  I'm not sure where I went wrong with this one :)
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