Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Note to self

Watch more videos on the neurology of learning. Remember to get her to make predictions about outcomes or what will happen next, and then give her timely feedback, to get the info to set in her brain.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Gearing Up

I love this time of year! I love the Fall even more, with the crisp air and the start of the new year, but the plans that start percolating in August are almost as exciting. Last week we went shopping for Sarah's first full-size backpack, a new lunchbox, and her first looseleaf notebook, and I think I was even happier about it than she was!

This year Sarah and I have put together a set of themes that we started working with in June (because our Spring was so busy that we decided to take 6 weeks off from playing school in April and May), and which we're planning to work with through the end of the Fall semester. If they work for us we'll continue using them into the Spring, or we may shift to using something else.

Social Studies:
Mosaic Intro to World History part I (starts with the Big Bang)
(this uses Story of the World and the Usborne Encyclopedia of World History, and also does timeline work, map work, and brings in myths and folktales from different traditions)

Living Math
Good Time Math Event Book by Marilyn Burns
Oak Meadow Fifth Grade
Khan Academy
Logic and Critical Thinking (can't find the name of the book at the moment)
(can you tell how much she loves math?)

Intellego Weather Unit
Chemistry Experiments
Nature Study
Physic Experiments and Engineering

Coffee Break Espanol
Conversation with friends
Spanish story books

Poetry and Storytelling:
Memorizing a variety of poems together. Familiarizing ourselves with a variety of stories so that we can tell them in our own words.

We're also continuing with Life Skills (cooking, shopping, maps, gardening, drawing, sewing, crafts, building stuff, planning adventures, building confidence with animals and in social situations), and with our miscellaneous projects and topics (NYC, family history, Hudson River, Food Detectives, Family Zine, Family No Free Lunch). She'll also be taking the Active Citizenship and Music classes I'm facilitating, and doing Country Day once a month.

My Super Secret Goals for her, this year, are:
* Improved writing skills (spelling, handwriting, composition, vocabulary, research, analyzing what she reads and forming and expressing her own opinion, introducing the ideas of: metaphor, simile, analogy)
* Improved math skills (more math facts at her finger tips, also more abstract skills, more comfort with the use of math in every day life)
* Increased confidence with social situations and physical skills (soccer, baseball, etc.)
* Expand our narration styles to include scrapbooking, bookmaking, songwriting, dioramas, magazines/newspapers

I can't wait to get started! (We've been doing a lot of this already, this summer, but we're gearing up for Sarah's week of Grandma and Grandpa Summer Camp right now, and visiting with lots of friends who are getting ready to go back to school, so we're taking more days off than we're playing school. We'll jump back in when Sarah gets back from her visit to my parents'.)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

End of year wrap up

I met with my good friend and fellow homeschooler, A, this week, for a Parent Teacher conference. :) As both parent and teacher to the same child, it can be good to have the opportunity to say aloud "this is what my plans were for last year, and here's how those plans went." To talk about what you're going to keep doing, what you're going to change, what new goals and approaches you're going to try to add for the next year.

At the start of this last year, Sarah and I had just shifted to choosing themes for the year (before we'd been choosing new themes each month). Our themes for this year were:
* Math (using Oak Meadow and Living Math)
* Social Studies (history and culture of NYC, early US History, Oak Meadow 3rd grade's social studies (which uses stories and maps to explore several ancient civilizations and several Native American tribes)
* Communications (writing and conversation, Spanish, family zine, letter writing, making books)
* Science (nature journals, the ecosystem of the Hudson River, potions (that is, chemistry experiments))
* Lifeskills (cooking, rollerskating, gardening, drawing, bravery badge...)

My Super Secret Goals for her included improving her writing skills (handwriting, spelling, composition, vocabulary, rhetoric), improving her practical math skills (making change, telling time, increased proficiency with basic arithmetic skills), and life skills (in addition to the ones above, increased familiarity with public transportation, phone etiquette, maps, nutrition, and a variety of spiritual practices).

How did that go?
Math: We made it through the 3rd grade Oak Meadow math, and her work with Joe has put many more math facts at her finger tips. We're jumping to 5th grade Oak Meadow math, this year, and using the Good Time Math Events book for math projects. This last year we picked and chose from the Living Math books, integrating them into our homeschooling, but didn't work our way through them in order.

Social Studies: Lots and lots of books on NYC, using a documentary on the history of NYC, and several field trips into the city. Our early US history theme focused mainly on biographies of some of the founders of the US, and field trips to various sites connected to the Revolution. We also learned a little about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The Oak Meadow 3rd grade social studies was the bulk of what we did in the second half of the school year -- reading stories set in several ancient civilizations and then in several Native American tribes, and spiraling back around to each society again and again to explore themes of geography, economics, and government. We only touched on family history a little.

Communications: The family zine has languished, unfortunately, but her writing and communication skills have just taken off. Between the copywork she's been doing on a regular basis (including copying over lines of poetry and working a little bit with spelling lists) and the research, writing, and presentations she's been doing every month for the geography club she belongs to, her clarity of thought, grammar, spelling have blossomed astoundingly. Her handwriting is like night and day, when she takes the time to focus and work carefully. The sophistication of her vocabulary amazes me, and this year she shifted from reading almost exclusively comic collections (which I consider absolutely valid things to choose to read, but I was a little concerned about the fact that, while she could read chapter books, she still found them a little daunting because of all the unbroken text) to sitting for hours reading 3- and 4-hundred paged books (like Lightning Thief, DragonRider, This Book Is Not Good For You).

Life skills: Her cooking and drawing have improved immensely. She's improved at the various practical math skills (like making change) but we're going to continue to work on them.

What am I rolling over to next year? We'll be continuing to work on all the life skills mentioned, the chemistry/potions, the nature journal. Also, family history, NYC, the Hudson River. I'd wanted to work more with fractions and decimals than we did, this year, so I'll make a point of making sure a few of the math projects we do, this upcoming year, incorporate those skills.

My underlying Super Secret Goal for this year (what I also call my Shadow Curriculum) was to stretch her academic sophistication a little by slowly increasing what I was asking her to do on her own (at the start of the year, I was reading everything to her, and then just asking her to do an art-based narration afterwards), and by having more sophisticated, abstract conversations with her about how to take your dreams and break them down into bite-sized goals, and how to assess your own progress. I'd say that was wildly successful, in part because of the changes I consciously made, but largely because the soil was fertile, she was ready to make that sort of leap.

More later, on our goals for this year.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Is that anything like "Pop Up Video"?

I never did post the pop-up cafe wrap-up I'd intended to. It was so much fun, I think all the kids had a great time, and I was thoroughly impressed by how smoothly our brand-new staff of 5-12 year olds kept things running!

Sarah and I spent all day Wednesday cleaning and cooking, and then got up at 8 on Thursday (ungodly early for us night owls!) to start cooking again. Joe took the day off and was an invaluable gopher and assistant!

We made a lot of things ahead of time -- cake, brownies, pizza dough, focaccia bread, sloppy lentils, pasta sauce -- but made sure there was still plenty available for the kitchen staff to do if they were feeling especially enthusiastic!

Sarah handled the front of house, and I was head chef. We wrote up the kitchen rules and taped them to the wall in the kitchen: 1) Wash your hands -- when you come in to the kitchen to start working, before you touch food, and after you touch food (pretty much any time you even *thought* about food); 2) keep an eye on the supplies and let the head chef know if we're running out of anything; and 3) Have Fun!

We had two seating areas, at the dining room table and on floor pillows around the coffee table in the living room.

The first batch of guests/kitchen staff started arriving promptly at noon. We split them in half, brought half of them in to the kitchen to decide if they wanted to be chefs or servers and to familiarize them with the menu, and sent the other half to Sarah to get seated in the cafe.

After an hour or so, we switched shifts, and the first batch of staff got to eat while the first customers now got to take their turn at cooking, plating, and serving.

Sarah had spent the weeks leading up to the cafe thinking about what to put on the menu, flipping through her cookbooks and magazines, considering her own favorite foods, the tastes of her prospective guests, and what would be quickest and easiest to prepare. She wound up with quite a nice menu: three appetizers to choose from, four entrees, three desserts, and three or four drinks.

Some friends stayed all day, moving in and out of their roles as guests and staff, and others came for just an hour or two. I was so pleased to hear from many, many customers that the front of house remained serene and pleasant, no matter how hectic the situation in the kitchen got, even as calls of "Behind you!" and "Order up!" could be heard coming from behind the scenes.

There were some rough patches -- some miscommunications about who wanted to work when, some difficulties balancing out available staff with the flow of guests, some confusion about RSVPs/reservations, and I was on my feet cooking from 8 in the morning to 4:30 in the afternoon -- but I'd say it went really well for our first try and we're both looking forward to doing it again!