Following the guidebook

I recently ordered another language arts/reading program with guidebook. I was a bit unsure about the guidebook but it was inexpensive so I ordered it. Last year I ordered the Abeka guidebook. We started off the year using it rather diligently. This was new to both my son and I as we didn’t use guidebooks for anything in kindergarten. Anyway, it was a bit of a hassle. Some of the things were great. Other things seemed boring to one or both of us. By the third week, we had figured out what we would and wouldn’t do in the guidebook. That didn’t last very long. He was getting the concepts without the extra activities. At one point my son told me he just wanted to do the workbook pages and to forget the guidebook. I tried a few more times to do some things in the guidebook as the year went on, but that never worked out.

When I was planning this year, I originally was going to again use Abeka. Another homeschool family gave me their old 2nd grade language arts guidebook. They must have followed it very closely. It was underlined everywhere. Some pages had just about everything underlined. To me that takes away the point of underlining, especially since Abeka has the most useful items already in bold. I erased it. Luckily it was in pencil.

Well, I ordered the Christian Light Education’s guidebook for the reading but not the LA program. I need to know which pages from the readers go with which workbook pages. One thing I did like about Abeka is that each page in the different workbooks in printed with which lesson it is for. Their readers aren’t used with the workbooks. That way you can coordinate the workbooks easier. CLE doesn’t have that system. Plus it is a new program to us and I don’t want to guess how it fits together.

That doesn’t mean I may not tweak it to fit our needs. I like a program that allows some flexibility. It seems hard to imagine exactly sticking with any guidebook. They are meant to be a guide not a script. However, that’s just my opinion. I know of some families who strictly follow their guidebooks and wouldn’t think of tweaking it. This just goes to show the great variety in homeschooling.

So how closely do you follow your guidebooks? Do you even use a guidebook? What would be your perfect guidebook?

It’s gardening time!

The garden season officially starts here in interior Alaska on June 1. Up until then there is still the danger of frost. (Even after then some years!) Well, we took a chance on Sunday and put our pre-plants in the ground. We didn’t have time to plant any seeds or potatoes. Those will likely plant a bit at a time this week and next. We have a smaller garden than in years past but it’s still a large garden about 1500 square feet (30×50).

The kids each have their own areas. Richard has broccoli, cauliflower, corn, kale, collard greens planted. He has seeds he will also be planting so we may need to get him more space. He has daisies planted at the ends of each row. Karen’s spot is much smaller. She has a broccoli, a cauliflower, and 3 daisies. They each have one special seed potato the owner of the greenhouse where we bought the pre-plants gave them: one is red, the other purple.

Somehow we wound up with an extra set of 6 daisies. I put 3 in a big pot at the top of the garden. The other 3 are in the bottom of the garden. We have now planted in the main garden broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce, squash, zucchini, and rhubarb. The seeds still needing to be planted are beans, beets, peas, carrots, some flowers, and potatoes.

We are relying on rain to water the garden. We don’t have gutters on the house or garage since the new roof was put on last fall. We eventually hope to have gutters and rain barrels on both sides of the house and garage plus a pond or two down at the garden. If this year is like last summer, it should be fine with sunny mornings then showers in the late afternoon and evening a few days a week.

Our garden season is about 90 days from June through August. It’s been know to start snowing in September. However the long days (up to 20 hours of sunlight) make things grow very big, very fast. We start our seeds inside in April and May then transplant them outside around June 1 which helps lengthen the season.

Box Day #1

Today the first box from WinterPromise arrived! The kids were both excited about getting new books. Unfortunately, only about a quarter of the books for the Animal Worlds were in the box. It looks like they shipped some more books in another box, but most of the books were marked as being shipped soon. I guess they are back ordered or something. The program guide wasn’t in today’s box.

Also, a box of 3 Alaskan studies books and lesson plan CD’s from Judy Ferguson arrived yesterday along with a box from the bookstore of the Sonlight books. I got free shipping. However, one of the books “Winter at Valley Forge” isn’t what I thought. It is comic book style and very pro-war so I don’t want it. My friend has the one from Sonlight which I thought this would be. It is a more factual journal style and she will trade me. I have “War Torn Valley” by Joyce Miller from Rod and Staff Publishers which we will also be reading when studying the US Civil War. It is the story of an Anabaptist conscientious objector family in Virginia. I think it is important he learn not everyone thought war was the answer.

So we’re still waiting on the remainder of the books from WinterPromise and the Christian Light Education order. When I added the reading program, I was told it should be here next week. I told Richard about not using Abeka and he took it really well. He said he was getting bored with Abeka so was looking forward to trying something new. He was glad I choose CLE because he really liked the other stuff from them.

His ILP meeting with the school district is supposed to be the second week of July but we will be in Kodiak. The teacher will be gone the week before and has something else going on later so we’ll have to do it in August. Oh well. It’s no big deal. It’s to formalize our goals and what curriculum we plan to use next school year. We can still order it before we have the meeting.

Switching from Abeka

I’ve decided to switch from Abeka to Christian Light Education (CLE) for language arts/reading. Unfortunatly, not only have I already ordered Abeka, but the order arrived today. How’s that for timing! 😛 Anyway, its not all bad. There was a music CD, 2 KJV Bibles, and a numbers workbook for Karen we will be keeping. In the mean time we now have 3 different language arts programs: WinterPromise, Abeka, and soon CLE. I just need to have Richard do the first few lessons this month so I know if the CLE will work before I send the Abeka back for full credit . We will probably still use the Abeka handwriting workbook since it transitions from print to cursive in the style he has been using.

As I stated in prior posts, Richard has been burned out with Abeka language arts by the end of both the last two school years. Yes, he has learned a lot but it isn’t fun or engaging. The work is very repetitive. Drilled the death, he was tuning out, making the last third of the books a real struggle. So I have been looking for new language arts program which is comprehensive and engaging. While Abeka is comprehensive, it isn’t very engaging. WinterPromise seems engaging but I’m not sure how comprehensive it is.

Well, I looked over the scope and sequence and some of the workbooks for CLE 2nd and 3rd grade language arts. He is somewhere in between them so I decided 2nd would be good. I don’t want to skip some important things and the things he already knows will be good review. It seems more balanced than the Abeka and definitely more gentle but still very thorough. Hopefully that with the WinterPromise will be a good combination.

Another thing I like about CLE which was totally non-existent with Abeka, is that they have study skills throughout all their different programs. Their website has this to say about the reading program: “A major goal of this reading program is to teach children to think…One goal of this [reading] series is to give him the needed skills to make those decisions by thinking that is based on God’s word.” The more I see about them, the more I like them.

The readers for CLE seem more wholesome. Richard really likes that style of story. He’s already read the Abeka readers so I’m not sure how much more he’ll get out of reading them again. Especially since they have no questions other than a few basic comprehension. Whereas the CLE has both comprehension and reading skills questions related to the readings.

When I did the order with Christian Light Education on Saturday, I didn’t realize their reading program has a lot of grammar in it as well so I only ordered the language arts. I thought it was just reading practice and comprehension. He’s a good reader and we’ll have a lot of reading and comprehension practice with the books from WinterPromise. Instead it also has things about how to do paragraphs, dictionary skills, and each story has a Bible verse to study that ties in with the story. Now, I need to call CLE and order the reading also to have a balanced program. Part of the 2nd grade reading program was online which is how I realized my mistake.

Even with the reading program, CLE is still cheaper than Abeka. The cost for CLE’s 10 LA workbooks, 10 reading workbooks, 2 hardcover readers, and reading guide was $92. It cost over $60 just for the Abeka workbooks. Then the guidebook is $35 and the readers are over $100. This makes the total cost for Abeka more than double that of CLE. I already had several readers so I (thankfully) only spent around $100. Our homeschool program won’t cover either so I’d prefer to save money, especially if it is a better fit for us.

If he does well with it, I will probably start Karen in CLE rather than Abeka so she doesn’t have to switch. I know she’ll like it since she is enjoying their preschool coloring workbooks. I ordered her another set of preschool activity books along with Richard’s 2nd grade LA and Bible. It will be interesting “doing school” with both of them this fall.

While CLE may not be as popular as other publishers, or even a very well known company, I have had favorable dealings with them every time. If I have a problem they fix it right away. Their staff are very helpful and I have never felt pushed into buying their books like with some other publishers. While their website isn’t the greatest it does give the basics of what they offer for both their school programs and other Christian books/publications and has online ordering. You can call them if you have questions about their books or your particular homeschool situation. My orders have arrived within 2 weeks.

UPDATE 11/3/08

We’ve now been using the CLE for over 2 months. It’s going great. What a wonderful change. No longer do I have a huge daily struggle getting him to finish his lessons. I feel he is really learning. He said last night “language arts is full of learning”. He likes the stories and is excited when it is time to read another one. His writing skills have really improved. I’m so glad we switched. I finally feel we have our curriculum on track.

UPDATE 2/28/09

We’re now over half finished with the school year. He’s still doing great with the CLE. One thing that worries some people when they first see the CLE workbooks is the lack of color and pictures. For the most part, they are plain text with very few drawings or other pictures, unlike Abeka which seemed to have color drawings and pictures on every page. I’m finding my son is better able to concentrate without the pictures distracting him. Most of the Abeka pictures just fill white space anyway and have no relation to the lesson.

There’s enough variety of activities in the lessons to keep him from getting bored. Most language arts lessons have the new material then a section called We Remember which is review. Abeka didn’t have much direct review like that. It really helps him remember and understand better.

Karen has now finished the first set of preschool activity books and begun the second set. I would consider this set to be early kindergarten but since CLE doesn’t have kindergarten, it’s referred to as preschool. She is learning colors, numbers, and shapes. Today she read the word “red” and is learning left and right. When she finishes these, she will be ready for their beginning first grade program, Learning to Read.

I love how gentle this preschool program has been. We go at her pace, not something set by a guide book like K4 Abeka was. The drawings are simple, yet she has been enjoying coloring them. Most days she gets out her workbook and crayons then asks to do school when her brother is. I’ve notified the school district on my intent to register her for homeschool pre-k this fall. She’ll get a $200 allotment.

video based schooling

What is one of the biggest benefits of homeschooling? Family. Getting to spend time with your children. Teaching them about the wonders of the world around them.

Yet there are getting to be a number of internet/CD/DVD/video based school programs out there. I even use one for math and art. However,  they aren’t my full program. Even with them, I sill do most of the teaching. The videos just help introduce the lessons. These programs aren’t the focus of this post.

This is dealing with the several video based programs where the video IS the lesson. There is little parent interaction. Some of them are just videos of regular classrooms doing the lesson and the homeschool students follow along.

Since they are video based, they would be best suited to a visual or auditory learner. My son is a very kinesthetic hands-on learner. He’s watched some of these program demonstrations and was lost. He just couldn’t sit still long enough (part of the reason we homeschool). He was very bored. He needs more stimulation than a video can give. For this reason, interactive internet or computer based programs are slightly better than just videos because the more senses you can involve, the better the information is retained.

Depending upon how closely you stick to the video school, these programs don’t offer much flexibility.  You move at a pace determined by someone who doesn’t know your child and likely has never met you. The ability to interact with the instructor is almost non-existent. The exception is some internet based courses (usually high school and science) done with video link to live classrooms. Or perhaps high school students who choose this instruction style for themselves. I would not use exclusively these programs in elementary grades.

I wonder if these kids are getting the full benefits of homeschooling. It seems more like just school at home which isn’t quite the same thing. How do they ask the teacher questions? Some have an e-mail or 800-phone number to call. That’s just not the same as individual, parent-directed homeschooling. I wonder if these kids would be better in a private school that used the same curriculum? Sure, it would likely cost a little more, but they would have more live teacher interaction. Or better yet, get the books and materials  then teach it yourself.

The parents of these students are passing up a wonderful opportunity. How can sitting in front of a screen (tv or computer) looking at a recording be better than a live person? Sure it’s easy for the parent. The parent doesn’t have to do much because the parent isn’t the teacher. They have just substituted a video school teacher in the place of a public school teacher. It isn’t true homeschooling.

Collecting

I seem to be collecting 2nd grade language arts programs. 😆

I went to the used homeschool sale today. The woman who sells Christian Light Education materials was there. Well, I looked over the scope and sequence for CLE 2nd and 3rd grade language arts. He is somewhere in between them so I decided 2nd would be good. I ordered it. Now I have 3 LA programs for only 1 student.

I also ordered CLE second grade Bible. It’s more workbook activities to continue familiarizing them with Bible stories. He can read the complete passages in his KJV if he wants. I ordered another preschool workbook set for Karen. She’s really enjoying them.

One of the tables was selling recorders and lesson books, so I asked if she would sell just the books since Richard already has a recorder. She did. I got 2 like new books for the price of 1 new plus a harmonica and book.

80’s TV on YouTube

I just found a bunch of old TV shows and music videos on YouTube. Talk about a trip down memory lane. I started looking at Monkees song videos. Then I found entire episodes from their 60’s tv show. I first fell in love with them from the re-runs on Nickelodeon in the mid-80’s. My friends and I were huge fans of the Monkees and Beetles. I think I had all the Monkees albums. We used to rush off the school bus to watch it then call each other (can you say conference call). None of us had a VCR so if we knew we would be missing an episode we would hook up a time delay on a tape recorder then listen to the tape. I can still sing their songs from memory. Hey, Hey we’re the Monkees… 🙂

Junior year in high school we had a lot of fun and won some awards doing tv show themes for band: Dallas, Jeopardy, M*A*S*H, MacGyver, Magnum PI, Mission Impossible. Great thing is most of these intros are now on YouTube. I wish full episodes were.

Remember when drama and action shows had a plot other than just shoot the bad guys like The Fall Guy, A-Team, Dukes of Hazzard, Hardcastle & McCormick, Simon and Simon (AJ was cute), Quincy, Columbo, Knight Rider. Wonderful mysteries like Perry Mason (it was great Barbra Hale and Raymond Burr were together on both the 50’s and 80’s versions of it), Diagnosis Murder, Matlock, Father Dowling Mysteries, Murder She Wrote. Or the evening soaps Falcon Crest, Dynasty and of course Dallas? How about kids shows like Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids (Hey, Hey, Hey), Electric Company, 3-2-1 Contact (shows by the Children’s Television Workshop ruled!), Sesame Street (before it turned PC), Reading Rainbow (Lavar Burton still makes this show), Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock. Cartoons like Inspector Gadet, Looney Tunes (they were canceled for being too violent!), Thunder Cats, Transformers, Smurfs, HeMan, Garfield. Then there’s always Hulk Hogan, Richard Simmons, Weird Al, Arsenio Hall. We got MTV then VH1. Charity Aid concerts that were real charity and great concerts. Live Aid concert and in 1985 over 8000 radio station played We Are the World (try to get a group together like that today) at the same time to benefit starving Africans. They played it at our school over the intercom and we all sang along. Farm Aid to benefit distressed US Farmers. Remember Atari when PacMan, Pong, and Space Invaders were the latest games? We have more than 30 Atari games including paddle controllers.

Anyway, parts of these wonderful shows and more are now on YouTube. What are your favorite 80’s shows on YouTube now?

Gas and oil prices

Today here in Alaska, we became the first state to average over $4/gallon for gas. Diesel prices are even higher. We had to buy heating oil for one of our apartment buildings yesterday at $4.05/gallon. As such, you’d expect me to be complaining and whining. Yes, it is hard. However, I look at it differently. I don’t think the price is high enough.

Let me explain before you give me grief. 😉 First, while prices are at an all time high, demand is still going up. Second, world supplies as shown in crude pumping capacity are down. Two of the world’s largest oil fields, Ghawar in Saudi Arabia and Cantrell in Mexico, are past peak (article to read more about what that means here). Simple economics says as demand rises and supplies fall the price must rise.

Eliminating the US federal gas tax will only benefit oil companies and overseas oil producing countries. It won’t stop or slow the rise in prices. It would hurt the programs funded by this tax. There would be temptation to make the cut permanent. Then when and if it were phased back in this fall, it would be a big hit on consumers just as fall heating season begins.

I suggest that instead of waiving the federal gas tax we dramatically increase it and use the money to invest in mandated conservation measures and alternative energy sources such as wind, clean coal, hydro, and solar. This would serve a few different purposes. First it would change our habits thus curbing consumption which would help keep the price lower. When oil prices triple, as I’m sure they will, we will be in a position to dramatically eliminate our dependence upon oil. It would create some jobs to put the new infrastructure in place.

I realize this would be a hard sell to most lower and fixed incomes. I would have a exemption for all or part depending upon income, the amount of conservation you have done and your driving habits. I would also have an exemption for essential services such as hospitals and emergency response vehicles. I don’t want them not to be able to respond because they can’t afford fuel. However, the rest of us would just have to get used to it. Sorry.

While I applaud the new fuel efficiency mandates on new vehicles, I think it doesn’t go far enough. The technology exists to get over 40 mpg right now. I have a Honda Civic hybrid that gets around 50 mpg in summer and around 30 in the middle of an Alaskan winter at -30F assuming I drive 55 or less. That’s another thing, we need to re-implement the federal highway 55 MPH speed limits. Driving slower saves a lot of gas. We have a scooter which gets over 105 MPG but only goes about 45. So it takes and extra 5 to 15 minutes to get where we’re going. Its definitely worth the savings. Besides, it’s fun!

Two things about fuel efficiency of the vehicle itself seem obvious to me: smaller engines and two wheel drive make a big difference. Most drivers don’t need huge engines. The larger the engine, the lower the fuel economy. Nor do most drivers need all-wheel-drive (full time 4-wheel drive). Our Civic is two wheel drive and actually did better with studded tires than some AWD and 4-wheel drive vehicles last winter for traction. If you want 4-wheel drive, it should be a push button activated when needed then able to shut off. It takes more energy to use all four wheels. It is completely unnecessary on dry pavement.

Here in Alaska we use a lot of heating oil. This would be hardest to cut back, but some conservation can be done. Replacing old doors or windows helps but is expensive. If you can’t afford that then hardware stores sell plastic kits to cover the windows. Heavy curtains also help a lot. Lowering your thermostat to 68 degrees instead of 72 is not unreasonable. I just read in the paper that in summer 50% of heat produced by home furnaces goes to domestic hot water. Insulate your water pipes (and water heater if it’s separate). Or install a solar hot water heater.

We need to subsidize our rail system like we do the highways. It is much cheaper to transport goods by rail than individual trucks. We need to improve the passenger rail system as well. It may not be as convenient as private vehicles, but it is much more efficient.

Don’t whine to the government for a quick fix if you yourself aren’t willing to be part of the solution. Some sacrifices need to be made by the public to see us through this. Slow down. Get a smaller, more efficient vehicle. Walk or ride a bicycle if you’re only going a short distance. Consider moving closer to your job or vice versa.

As far as housing goes, consider downsizing. It takes less energy to heat/cool smaller spaces. According to a report I heard on the radio, per capita living space has more than doubled in the last 75 years as our standard of living has increased. As energy prices continue to rise, those in larger homes are going to have a much harder time compared to those in smaller homes. Is the extra space really worth the extra expense?

Even at the high level of gas prices today, the amount spent on fuel is still a smaller portion of disposable income than was spent on fuel during the gas crisis in the 1970’s. People have the money, they just prefer to spend it on other things. So would I but the problem won’t be going away. Its only going to get worse. Considering fuel prices in Europe or even Canada for that matter, are so much higher than the US, we shouldn’t complain.

I do not like the idea of a windfall profit tax on oil companies either. This would have the opposite effect you would expect. Companies would stop exploring for oil. They would have little incentive to do so if they didn’t expect to make a profit. Oil exploration is an expensive, risky business. Yes, they are getting rich but they have a product that just about all the world needs which is running out. They are also the ones taking all the risk when a field begins to dry up or there are large spills like the one in Alaska a few years ago and in 1988. I don’t blame them for cashing in. Wouldn’t you? They are not a social program. Plus, they pay out dividends to shareholders based upon profits. A tax would take money away from the shareholders. Granted some of the shareholders are large companies and rich investors, but there are also many smaller shareholders like my husband.

There’s no doubt that we’re only at the beginning of high oil prices. We need to act now for the future. I realize what I propose goes against our modern instant gratification society but if we don’t do something drastic soon, it will be even worse later. We need long term solutions not quick fixes.

Write like you talk

Grammar, punctuation, and spelling are important tools for a writer. Any writer of any age. However, they are just part of what makes a good writer. If we overly stress them, the writing tends to sound stuffy and dull. If we don’t pay enough attention to them it is distracting and makes for a bad impression no matter how well you know your topic. The trick is to find a good balance.

Finding a good balance in writing has one simple trick. Write like you talk. A word of caution. In these days of text messages and “phonetic” spellings, the tools of writing should take a bit more importance than in the past. If you have bad language then you should spend even more time refining your writing but, it should still flow similarly to how you speak.

How do we instill good writing habits in kids? By instilling good speech habits. Don’t allow poor speech to become a habit. Be a good example and if you notice yourself having bad language, this is a good time to clean yourself up. Filthy and poor language are an insult to God as well as those around you. Don’t be afraid to ask someone else to clean up their language around you and your kids. I had to ask my Dad to do this. He didn’t even realize he was doing it, the bad language had become a habit recently.

I wouldn’t allow “phonetic” spellings popular on IM to be used at all in elementary school. These abbreviated spellings are part of the reason why kids are having such a hard time with basic language skills in schools today. They only confuse proper spelling and reading. Let them try to spell a word, but correct any mistakes. They need to learn how to figure out proper spellings using real phonics and spelling rules before they can figure out abbreviated spellings.

A good grammar curriculum will help improve both writing and speech. They can not be isolated. Speaking is a good test of writing. Read your writing aloud and see how it sounds. If word choice or subject/verb agreement sound strange when spoken, they are probably wrong. If you automatically say something different from what you wrote, compare them and see if you made a mistake. However, this only works if you have good speech.

So, good speech habits and genuine phonics are keys to good writing. What you write about is up to you.

Just us girls

Early this morning my husband, son, and a guy who works for us left for Kodiak. They will be gone 10 days leaving Karen and I here to mind the apartment business with Sarah. This is the first time Richard has gone on a trip without me. This trip was a combination birthday present and reward for finishing first grade. It seems odd to have Karen here but not him. Its too quiet.

I was busy today so didn’t have much time to think about being alone until now after Karen is in bed. I made Richard’s bed with clean sheets and the summer blanket. Karen had a wonderful Parents As Teachers visit this morning about magnets. Then I left her with Sarah at the office while I cleaned carpets in an apartment. Sarah took her twins and Karen to Creamers Field where I met them. After dinner and showing apartments, I went to the dumpsters and cleaned out the car. It was getting pretty trashy inside. Karen said she wanted to go to the vacuum place (car wash) so we did and I spent a half hour thoroughly vacuuming out the car with their heavy duty vacuum. It looks much better inside now plus we found some runaway toys.

All that to say I’m lonely without my guys tonight. I miss Richard’s snoring and Ray’s bedtime chatting. However, tomorrow looks to be another busy day. Off to bed. Goodnight.