Saturday, May 09, 2009

Summer ambitions

Our school year is almost over and summer beckons to us. I know that we will be taking it easy with lessons. Mainly the Pillowfight Fairy will continue piano lessons and the Adrenaline Junkie will be practicing reading and writing. But beyond that the possibilities seem endless. There are all of those craft projects that we never got done during the past year but we still have the supplies. The Pillowfight Fairy is contemplating a business plan of manufacturing scarves to sell come fall. The Adrenaline Junkie wants to paint and play computer games. And Mommy? Mommy just promised the girls homemade dresses today.

I may be nuts, but I've missed sewing and I had some fabric set aside that would make wonderful summer dresses for the girls. So today, we all went to the fabric store. While I and the girls were picking out appropriate patterns, Daddy and the Happy Boy were investigating Belt Buckles for the chain maille belt he was making for me. I finally came up with a dress pattern that the girls agreed to, but they had fallen in love with another pattern of fancy dresses as well. It turns out that this was a good day to shop for patterns at this store (All Simplicity patterns were just $1.50 each). So each girl got a pattern for a simple summer dress and a pattern for a fancy occassion dress.

The Fairy in particular is fascinated by this and wants to be in on all of the process. Which I think will be a very good thing. I intend to teach her to sew. So this is a situation where she can watch the process happen and learn how clothing is made. After this (and the completion of a few projects that are still in process), I hope to start teaching her how to sew patchwork by hand to make a small quilt project. So far she likes this idea. I'm not sure how much she will like it after about a dozen seams.

I'm looking forward to sewing again, but I wonder if I can get all four dresses done in a reasonable time so they can wear the dresses before they outgrow them. I am going to aim for getting the summer dresses done in a month's time. The fancy dresses will take longer. I will aim for no later than the beginning of August for them. Of course with dresses that fancy, we will need an occassion for them to wear them. If we don't come up with any special occassion, then I suppose they can always be princesses for Halloween.

Then maybe I will have my figure back in trim again by fall so that I can make something nice for me... Hmmm... I like that idea.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

End of School evaluation

I've recovered enough from childbirth to go back to doing schoolwork with the Pillowfight Fairy. We will be finishing up our last week of school sometime before the end of next week. As a result there will be much rejoicing (by her as well as by myself). Since we are so close to done, I thought I would reflect on what we accomplished, what was short-changed, what changes had to be made to the schedule, and what I learned about teaching my daughter in her first grade year.

What we accomplished: I and my husband are satisfied that our daughter had a productive year and learned an appropriate amount for her first grade year. She progressed in her writing ability from fighting the effort of putting one sentence together to writing several sentences at a time with ease (even doing so for fun from time to time). She did well with her spelling curriculum, such that I was a little concerned that it wasn't challenging enough. I've decided that we will stay with it, because I like the pacing and think that she is getting a fairly good foundation with it. She has enjoyed the readings we have done for ancient literature (particularly the Aesop's Fables). She has a good memory and often retells the tales she likes best. Some of the mythology we covered had longer more complicated stories that were hard for her to follow without confusion, but she still enjoyed many of them.

She did well with her math curriculum, but she enjoyed that less. She picks up the concepts quickly, but hates the repetitive practice she needs to get good at some of the skills. I insisted she do it anyway and she did get better at learning her addition and subtraction facts. She prefers word problems and has been teaching her younger sister to do simple word problems aloud.

We will have covered all of our history curriculum for the year in just a few more days. I have tried to keep the focus on introducing these new ideas from people and places from the past, without getting too caught up in too many details. Everything we are learning in history is brand new to her, so I want her to just concentrate on learning the main points. I was pleased that she was able to make a connection between her history lesson and her Bible stories this past week. It dawned on her that some of the place names in those lessons were the same, so I was able to point out that the events in the Bible were real events that happened historically.

As for her religion studies, we took it slowly to keep the readings short. We are about mid-way through the book of Numbers. She prefers the narrative stories in the Bible best, but most people do. I wanted to get her reading through the Bible instead of just jumping from story to story, so that she would have a more chronological feel for what happened in the Bible. It is also a good habit to develop in general.

As for art and music, she has progressed with both. She can draw well for her age, but she often chooses not to use the realistic style, so that she can use the more stylized look that she finds easier and faster. I've decided to change art books again to try to follow an interest I've seen her display for picture construction. So far we have tried "Draw Write Now." This was helpful in getting her motivated to write using art, but she wasn't making any artistic progress. Then we used "Drawing with Children" which has many useful ideas and tips. However, she avoids following the technique presented in the book. In the meantime, I've noticed that she enjoys the "How to Draw" segments on her Veggietales Videos, where the artist shows how to draw a character from the video using basic shapes and construction lines. We have noticed her incorporating some of these techniques in her drawings. So, to try to follow up on this interest, I decided to pull out an art book I used as a kid that follows the same techniques. It is called "Drawing for Young Artists", by Mary Black Diller. It shows how to do some of these techniques at a very simple level. I also have a more advanced book titled "Drawing for Girls" that she could work on should she master the first book.

She is doing well with her piano lessons and Tim has started teaching her some basic music theory. She loves the piano and the music lessons, she just hates practice. In all of these areas, she has made noticeable progress.

What was short-changed: Despite our daughter's reading ability, I didn't make her read much of her own lessons. At first it was a time issue, then I realized that she was getting away with minimal effort at listening and then was at a loss when it was time to narrate back what I read to her. In the coming year, she will have to do more of the reading. I had grand ideas of having her write letters to people once a week. She did a few letters, but not many. On a positive note, those letters were her idea, rather than mine, so she enjoyed the process more. I didn't do nearly as many craft projects as I had planned. This disappointed both girls most of the year, but Mommy was so tired during the school year that craft time (when the Happy Boy was down for an afternoon nap) became Mommy's nap-time. I hope to make it up to them by doing more crafts during our summer break. We didn't do as much Music listening or Art study as I had planned. Somehow, other things crowded it out. But, actually playing music and making art took up that time, so I'm content. I had the Fairy do memory work, but wasn't very good about going back and reviewing the memorized work. That is something that needs correcting in the coming year.

What changes had to be made to the schedule: After we started, I realized that we needed breaks from time to time or we would all go nuts. So, we took breaks every six weeks (six weeks on, one week off, etc.) I also found that writing a narration for every reading assignment was fine at first when it was just one or two sentences each. But, as she got better, I had her write more sentences for each assignment until it was becoming a source of conflict. I finally decided that since she was writing more anyway, I would have her write all of the narration sentences for just one of her day's reading assignments. That helped diffuse the conflict we were having and she still got practice at sentence writing and narrations. I found that I needed to change the rate at which we did some of the work. For instance, she did better with doing her spelling work in four days rather than the five I had planned for. She also went through her favorite subjects quicker (such as art) and I was unprepared for how to fill the void when she finished the work I planned earlier than I expected. I'm going to try to correct some of these issues as I finish up the plans for the coming year.

What did I learn by teaching our daughter in her first grade year: Our daughter's perfectionist tendencies lead her into trouble sometimes. She can paralyze herself by indecision if she is afraid that she will make a mistake. She won't shrivel up and die if I force her to do work that she doesn't want to do. In fact, some of the things she enjoys now, used to be the things she complained about the most. She thinks more clearly in the mornings and is crankier in the afternoons. She works better with a constant daily routine. If we mix up the routine, or delay school work, she becomes less cooperative. If I can involve her imagination using stories or art, she will learn faster, retain the information longer, and enjoy the process more. You never know in advance what she will key into and remember from a lesson. When she keys into something, I need to be flexible and follow it up the best I can (even if it means departing from the lesson plan). My own teaching style requires me to plan the year in detail from start to finish before we start. But, I have learned that I am capable of making appropriate changes as we go along. I don't feel the need to be a slave to the lesson plan.

So how will this effect my plans for the coming year? I'm still trying to figure that out. I just have some fine tuning to do on next year's lesson plan. I'm still adjusting how the day to day lessons will flow. I'm trying to figure out how to set up the science observations I want to do. I'm trying to allow for a slightly more relaxed structure than what we had this last year. But I will try to maintain continuity with this past year by keeping successful curricula and follow routines and patterns we developed in first grade as we transition to second grade.

In addition to working with the Pillowfight Fairy, I was starting phonics work with the Adrenaline Junkie. We are finishing up with some of that this week too. She has been begging to be in Kindergarten (which is not a given, since she is still only four and won't be five until December). I've decided to start her doing Kindergarten this coming school year. For us this means beginning reading, writing, and math. The trick with her is that she is a very wiggly, active girl who doesn't like to slow down for anything. Her lessons have to be either very brief or very active, to keep her interest. I will probably have to spread her lessons out throughout the day to allow her enough run around time in between.

All in all, we've had a good homeschooling year. I had a few trepidations going into it, since we were going to be covering so many more subjects and I knew that it would take up so much of our day. But, we made it through the year and our daughter learned what we set out to teach her. Now we just have to figure out how to do that with a second grader and a kindergartener (plus a young preschooler tagging along).

Friday, May 01, 2009

Life Without a Baby

Yesterday morning we buried Baby E. Tonight we had a memorial reception and got to visit with a lot of people who have been praying for us for the past few months. Our official goodbyes have been said, but we will continue having goodbye moments for a long time to come.

People keep asking us how we are doing. We are doing OK. We have each other. We have our family. We have a good church family who love us. We still laugh and play. The sadness is still there waiting for its turn, too. In the meantime, I seem to be recovering physically, though I'll hold off on any extra exercise for a few weeks yet. Watching our three kids everyday is exercise enough.

Beyond that I've noticed I keep thinking about how life feels different without a baby in the house and without the impending prospect of one in the house. We were successful in spacing our kids two years apart. As a result, every time a baby reached toddler-hood, a new baby was on the way. Even this last time, Baby E. was about two years younger than her big brother. But this time the baby is missing from the picture. We have a baby-less house for the first time since we started having kids. I've been putting away things that were set up in case we got to bring her home for a time. As I do that, I keep thinking how strange it feels to be putting away the baby stuff. I look at the Happy Boy and see how fast he's growing. He's two going on preschooler. I can usually understand what he's saying now. He wants so much to be a big kid like his sisters. He already is fascinated with letters and numbers. We know he's going to be an early reader, too. I can see that I'll be starting to teach him in a more structured way soon. Before I know it, all my kids will be "older" kids and the childproofing of our house will be obsolete. I see it coming like a tourist about to experience a strange new land.

I feel like our home is about to make a transformation as the little kid things get retired and the older kid things take their places. It won't happen overnight, but as I glimpse the future, it feels like that time is nearly here. And it feels strange to me.

Now, we have had a few brave souls (who know us well and therefore know that it's OK to ask) whether we are going to have any more children. Our answer for now is that we haven't made a final decision on that yet. It is never a good policy to ask a Mom to make a final decision on that too close to giving birth, the memory is too fresh. There are pros and cons either way. The Adrenaline Junkie is actively lobbying for a new baby. And, we had baby E. precisely because we wanted another child in the family. But, for now I need to get my strength back. We are not going to rush that decision.

Until that decision is made, we are in the strange world of baby-less households. We have yet to decide if this is a temporary condition or a permanent abode. Somehow the empty crib adds to the sadness I feel at times, but I'm not quite ready to move it out to the garage yet.