’08-’09 school’s almost over

We have just about a month of school left to do. Originally I had planned to be finished by now but with our unexpected long vacation, we got a bit behind. This post started as a comment on another blog, but I thought everyone may be interested in a wrap up of the year. I’ll probably do one more when we actually finish to let you know how the last few weeks went.

One of the biggest changes was switching from Abeka to Christian Light Education for language arts and reading. We started with just CLE Bible last year. Then we switched to CLE for reading and language arts this year and love it. CLE is a very thorough reading and LA program. I didn’t need to worry about spelling. I ordered another spelling program to supplement CLE but didn’t need it. CLE has 3 spelling lists per Lightunit workbook with 15 words each. Then each lesson has an activity they do using the spelling words.

So far we haven’t had the frequency of huge struggles to get him to do his work since using CLE. That isn’t to say he doesn’t have his bad days when it takes all day. We just have fewer of them. If he stays on task, he can usually have everything done in less than 3 hours. Sometimes he really zooms and gets it all done in less than one hour. Just getting started seems to be the biggest hurdle. Once he’s working diligently, he keeps going. He likes a 15 minute break between subjects if the lesson takes awhile.

CLE has a consistent work load. There’s enough variety from lesson to lesson to keep him engaged rather than just fill in the blanks like Abeka seemed to be. The major subjects are broken into 10 workbooks called Lightunits. Each Lightunit has 16 lessons, 2 quizzes, a unit test and a self check. We don’t do all the assessments though. We do one lesson in reading and language arts a day. This makes it easy to plan each day. We did this with Abeka too but their workload was less consistent.

I use MathUSee for math. I actually bought the CLE 2nd grade math to supplement MUS but didn’t use it. He’s making great progress with the MUS. He’ll do Gamma and my daughter will do Primer this fall. I like MUS because we don’t have to do math everyday for them to make progress and understand math. We usually do it Tuesdays and Thursdays.

I also added American Story 1 by WinterPromise for history/social studies. That was another great choice. He’s really enjoyed the books and activities. They’re challenging and engaging with enough variety to keep him interested. His favorite part is making 3D maps of what we’re learning. I’ve added and substituted few extra books but mostly use the ones from the program. The longer novels he usually takes a week or two to read. The shorter single topic books he reads in a day or two even though they are scheduled to take a week or more. He just loves to read and surprises himself when he gets to the end.

I wish I had kept on schedule better with the history. Toward the middle of the year we had many weeks when it just didn’t get done. As such we are only a little over halfway through. I’m not sure if we’ll finish over the summer or next fall. I want to get him American Story 2, which is another 36 week schedule program. It would be nice to finish American history at the end of 3rd grade.

Karen was doing preschool. She enjoyed listening to some of Richard’s read alouds. She finished the Beginners Activity Series and is working on the ABC series by Rod & Staff. This fall she’ll do kindergarten using CLE’s Learning to Read. Since they go from LTR into second grade we may take a year off from CLE after that for her and do literature then pick up CLE again as second grade the following year.

Science has been an on again-off again subject. Still, we have done enough to progress him into the third level this spring. This is where things get tougher. He starts to need to do more in depth investigations with write ups. I think the Real Science 4 Kids will continue to be a good fit. The biggest problem is I forget to document when we’ve done something so when it comes time to submit proof, we need to recreate it. I should try keeping a science folder for it.

Overall, this year has been great. The curriculum changes I made worked out well, with the exception of WinterPromise science: The World Around Me which was too easy. Starting RS4K got that back on track. I don’t plan any major curriculum changes for this fall. It’s going to be an adjustment enough having Karen doing kindergarten while Richard does third grade. I’m glad CLE is laid out to be fairly independent.

Teaching using CLE has been more fun for me too. Not only are there much fewer arguments for doing school work, it is easier to teach. The teacher’s guide is more clear. It doesn’t take an hour just to introduce every lesson like the Abeka did. It is fun seeing his enthusiasm for learning again. Giving him variety and seeing him catch on to the topic rather than just drill rules and memorization was just what we needed. Last week, my friend (who has several children she homeschools) confided to me that whenever she went looking at different curriculum, she kept coming back to CLE because she felt such peace about their materials. I would agree. I’m looking forward to starting Karen with CLE.

Homeschool progress reports

Progress reports are due to the district today for our homeschool. Rather than just listing each subject and having an arbitrary letter grade, Chugach progress reports list each individual target for the levels your child is in of each subject. The targets that have been previously met are already marked off. I go through and mark which targets he can now do. The report is 22 pages long. You only need to turn in pages where progress has been made. For us that is just about every page this time. Along with this they need a math and language arts work sample.

Once all targets have been met, I provide proof including assessments and he then moves up to the next level for that subject. I had previously submitted proof for his science but I got an e-mail stating that they wanted another assessment for science so I’m including that as well.

I really like doing school like that. It gives us direction in exactly what needs to be learned. Rather than just saying second grade math or reading, it is all laid out. I know what he needs to learn when looking for materials and curriculum. For instance, I discovered that the third grade Abeka health book I ordered does align with the standards he will be working on.

These reports and having levels with detailed targets do take more record keeping than traditional letter grades. I need to keep track of what proofs I have for each target. Luckily proofs can be used to cover more than one target at a time. Some subjects such as math, science, and language are rather long. Whereas other subjects such as technology and social studies may only have a half dozen targets.

Get thee to South America

A few of you already know this. We are going on another cruise.

Holland America offers cruises to South America. We’ve been dreaming about it for several years now. However, it is expensive, especially for 4 of us. Well, recently they sent my husband an e-mail about “Vacation Stimulus”. It worked! We’re going! This will be our first vacation together in 4 years.

This one isn’t the entire South America but pretty close. We got over $12,000 discount. It is 38 days starting in Rio DeJaniero then goes south around the tip of S.A. and up the entire west coast to Seattle. I don’t think we will but we were joking of getting on an Alaska cruise in Seattle with the train back to Fairbanks. Now that would be funny!

One big factor in our decision to go on this trip was airfare. Sure, the cruise was a great price, but tickets from Alaska to Rio are at least $1400 each. Ouch. He has a mileage card and thought perhaps we could get one or two this way. Well, when he called, they were only 40 thousand miles. I couldn’t even get to Washington DC last summer for this few miles. That’s good. What’s even better is he actually had enough miles at that rate for all 4 of us so our airfare was basically free! We do have to pay ticketing fees but they’re not much.

The best ticket dates we could get give us an extra 4 days in Rio before the cruise leaves and 1 in Seattle at the end. We’re glad for the days at the start because of the drastic climate difference. We plan to explore and take the kids to the beach. But most of all, we need the time to get used to the heat. I just hope we don’t get sick.

We thought it would have a side trip to the Galapagos Islands but that was a different cruise. It also doesn’t get to Antarctica, which is something I’ve always wanted to do. I’m not sure what (if any) side trips we will do because the cruise itself is costing most of our vacation money. I’m sure we’ll still be able to find something interesting on our own like we usually do.

So now we’re getting paperwork, shots, and tickets. Brazil requires visas which are a bit expensive. Especially since if you’re not able to hand deliver (and presumably pick up again) the application to the consulate in LA you have to use an agency. We already have our passports. I’m making packing lists as we think of things so we don’t forget anything important but we plan on packing light.

We are going to be bringing Richard’s school with us. We told him if he does 2 lessons/day he’d be enough ahead that he wouldn’t have to do any on the trip but so far he’s not doing that.

New science stuff is here!

The Real Science 4 Kids arrived today. Richard and Karen were very excited. So was my husband. He has a degree in biology and grabbed the biology text to preview with Richard. We got level pre-1 chemistry and biology along with the lab workbooks and teacher guides. What a hit! We all agree it is a great science program, not your usual watered down kids science. It has a good balance of facts and fun drawings (smiling atoms linking arms to form molecules).

We are going to alternate biology and chemistry each week to keep him from getting burned out. We did chemistry chapter 1 and experiment 1 tonight. I’m going to copy the lab worksheets in case he messes up badly or wants to do it again later. Plus we won’t need to get another one when Karen does them. She was giggling over the pictures.

School’s almost halfway over

Yikes! How did we get so much done in so few months? It’s amazing the amount of material we’ve covered so far this year. We started in mid-August and haven’t taken any of those one- or two-day holidays like the public and many private schools do. As a result, we’re almost halfway through the school year.

I like how we’ve been able to slip in bits about trusting God and other religious tidbits. While we do have a specific Bible curriculum, I don’t think religious teaching needs to be a segregated, separate subject at this age. There are numerous teachable Christian moments in other subjects, especially history and science. If Christian teaching isn’t integrated to life, then you aren’t living a Christian life. This attitude is best started when they are young. They need to see how what they are learning affects their lives as a Christian.

I’ve had a few sick days for me when I don’t care how much he gets done. Surprisingly, he got more done on those days than usual. He likes to work ahead in handwriting. Then he gets upset when we catch up and he has to do it again.

I’m still glad we changed to Christian Light Education for reading and language arts. I feel he is learning much better. They also share our strong work ethic, positive morals, and belief in individual accountability which are reflected in the lessons. I like how it’s paced and the review sections are great. Next week we will finish unit 4 of 10 for both of these. I never did the Abeka spelling. He’s doing fine with the words in the CLE lists. His main writing problems are motivation and self-confidence. I should add creative writing next year. Still, he’s doing more sentence writing and structure than Abeka would.

He has a problem with carefully following directions. His dad was homeschooled and had similar problems when he was that age.  At first I ignored it because it was new material he was having trouble with (and we were getting used to CLE). Now I know he understands but just is in a rush, so he’s not carefully reading directions. CLE has quizzes and unit tests. While we haven’t done all the quizzes, he’s done all the tests. He does well when he reads directions but I’m now marking answers he improperly followed directions as wrong. For instance he underlines when the directions say to circle or he put an X on the things that were supposed to be circled and vice versa. I’m not going to let him skate by on autopilot like last year. As a result, some of his scores are rather low.

For math we are over halfway. Yesterday he did lesson 17 out of 30. We do math 2 days a week. He’s not needed many review days this year so he often does 2 lessons in one week. I’m thinking he may need to take a test here soon. I’m pretty sure he understands the work. It’s more of a following directions test to be sure he correctly applies the directions (rounds to ten thousands instead of just thousands).

We’re enjoying the history. I’ve not done much of the native American stuff. Most of those projects I would have to finish instead of him. It’s supposed to be HIS history. I don’t mind helping, but he needs to do most of the work. We’ve been learning about the colonial period the last few weeks.

When we get to the Revolutionary War and later wars, we’ll talk about the problems of a Christian participating in war for any reason and conscientious objectors like the Mennonites. “Judge not, that ye be not judged” Matthew 7:1 and “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged; condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned; forgive, and ye shall be forgived.” Luke 7:37. Participating in war is a huge judgement upon your fellow man. You’re judging to death! Not to mention Isaiah 2:4, “And he shall judge among the nations and shall rebuke many people; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war way more.”

Little Karen is enjoying preschool. She’s learning colors and numbers. We should be finished with Doing My Best next week then starting Adventures with Books, the first in the next set of activity books. I think we will start CLE’s Learning to Read in the fall. I don’t want to rush her and she’s needing lots of help with this next set of preschool activity books. Plus her hand coordination isn’t quite good enough for writing properly. She’s starting to enjoy some of the manipulative learning games now.

New friends, PE day

Last night we went and visited a family for the first time. It was another family that uses Christian Light Education. I was given their phone number while in Virginia for training. For several reasons we haven’t been able to get together until last night for dinner at their house. They only live about 5 miles from us. They have 8 kids ranging from 2 months to teenagers. Karen and Richard had fun playing with the younger ones while we visited. We stayed until around ten. We hope to get together again.

Today we got up early to be at a school at 9 for PE Day. The district got a fitness grant. Today they tested the kids on things like running, sit ups, push ups, flexibility. It took longer than planned. They expected to get the testing done in the morning then do outdoors activities in the afternoon. Instead they didn’t finish testing until almost 2 and canceled the outdoor part. Now that they know what to expect, I hope they can schedule next time better. They have 4 more days this school year for these tests to track their progress.

They tested 6 or so kids at once. The others played group games. It was supposed to be grouped by grade so the younger kids would do games while the older ones did the testing then switch. It wound up just being random who went when. I think part of it was there were more families than expected that showed up.

Richard was in the last group. He had a lot of fun. They did a lot of running games. He won’t admit it, but he’s pretty tired this afternoon. There were a few other preschoolers Karen played with. She’s taking a nap now. (I’d like one too, but need to keep the fire going.)

At times it was only slightly controlled chaos, especially late morning when they were supposed to play Capture the Flag. Kids were just everywhere. (That’s not the best mixed-age game.) Not everyone knew where to go. Some just didn’t care and were doing their own thing. They didn’t have any morning snack which I think would have helped the younger ones at least because they were pretty tired and hungry at noon. Again, next time should go more smoothly. Another thing that would have helped is a whistle rather than shouting to be heard or to get kids attention. Overall, it was a fun day but I wouldn’t want to do it very often.

I made a fire before leaving home this morning. Still, it was 59 when we got back this afternoon. I got it going again and now it is warming up.

His first mile

One of the reasons I like homeschooling, is being able to explore Alaska whenever we want. Part of this includes winter trips. My son got his first skis for Christmas last year but only went around the driveway and near the house last winter. Yesterday evening I took him skiing at the Dog Musher Hall field. it’s this big open field we hiked a few weeks ago. Now it’s covered in snow. Snow machines have packed a nice trail.

I wouldn’t consider myself that great a skier, not even a pratically good one, so it seemed like a good idea we both learn together. This field is a great place. Its open and flat. We did have to cross a small snow berm but that was relatively easy. Anyway it is a half mile to where we turned around so I know we went a mile. Unfortunately, when we got back and had taken off out skis, I realized I had dropped my pager somewhere along the way. There was no choice but to go back and look for it. We walked this time.

Luckily, I found it. Of course it had to be at the far end of the field. This means we both skied a mile then I walked that same mile. Richard only walked half way the second time. Well, it was good exercise and a little adventure to our day.

This was his first mile on skis! I’m proud of him. We hope to go again. We both had a lot of fun.

Once we get better, I’ll try him on hills. There’s no lack of cross country ski trails around here. It’s a good year with enough snow already and temperatures around zero, although I wish it were about 10 degrees colder.

Switching science programs

Science curriculum problem solved.

I’m not very happy with the WinterPromise World Around Me. There’s nothing wrong with it. He just needs more details. It would have been good for him last year or kindergarten. Plus, its only a single year. I’d need another program next year anyway. I can use it in a few years when Karen starts science so it wasn’t a total waste of money.

I found a blog (thanks Dee) that mentioned a science program, Gravitas Publications Real Science 4 Kids. Its a relatively new program that has more planned. I read the reviews on Homeschool Reviews and The Old Schoolhouse and they were good.

http://www.gravitaspublications.com is the website of the publisher.

Level pre1 is grades K-3: Chemistry & biology

Level 1 is grades 4-6: Chem, bio, physics

Level 2 is grades 7-9 Chem

The books are clickable. You can actually read the entire texts online. My son sat in my lap to look over the pre-1 chemistry. He really enjoyed it and understood what they were saying. It is presented in a fun rather than watered down way. The lab books incorporate the scientific method in every experiment write-up they do. I ordered level pre-1 for this year.

I ordered it from Rainbow Resource cheaper ($130 for pre1 level and level 1 will be $135 not including the extra books called cogs that tie chemistry to 6 other subjects like art, philosophy, and language for $140/set). I asked the coordinating teacher to switch to Real Science 4 Kids as our primary science curriculum and am submitting the purchase order. She said it should arrive within a couple of weeks.

Then next year, I can order level 1 and the God’s Design books. It says grades 4-6 but if he understands it and has already done level pre1, why not? That’s one of the great things about homeschooling; kids can learn at their own pace. Those should last him a few years. Then we could do Level2 of Real Science. I feel these two are very complimentary series and fit his learning style. Plus we’d like to do WinterPromise Adventures in Sea and Sky for fourth grade (perhaps along with the God’s Design for Heaven and Earth books).

Starting art

Today we started art. We skipped the first lesson. It was a review of coloring in the lines. He’s good at that already and the picture wasn’t interesting for him. Today’s lesson was 302: shading. He really enjoyed this lesson and discussion. It talks about how to find the light source relating to the subject then how to shade accordingly. The coloring page was 4 fruits. He did good. If we manage to finish our usual Friday work, I may make this a regular addition to our week.

I went ahead and bought Artpac 3 (available from Christian Light and Rainbow Resource). I was pleasantly surprised. It is better than the glorified coloring books of 1 and 2. It has more teaching of techniques. It didn’t take any longer for me to introduce and get him started than any other CLE lessons. Each lesson has a list of materials needed and clearly stated purpose. There are 40 lessons. It is very basic with black and white pages (a bit dull compared to some glossy full color art books). It would be better if the examples were color and bigger. However, it fits very well with the other CLE materials: wholesome, gentle, thorough, kid and parent friendly. My son loved his results with this first lesson.

Now he’s sitting in my rocker singing with his “Praises for Children” and “Wee Sing” songbooks. I’m not sure how much he understands about reading the music or if he’s making up his own with the words. He knows some of the songs from CD’s and church.

He really loves God and Jesus. I think it helps that we limit what influences him and his sister. They don’t watch much TV or popular radio. We scrutinize their books, trying to give them wholesome reading material with good moral lessons (including any drawings and pictures). As he gets older, we can let him have more choices about what to do but for now while he is young and impressionable, it is best to keep a close eye on their influences. I think this is part of the reason there are so many young people with social problems. They don’t have a secure, solid moral base established before they are slowly exposed to different ideas. This leaves them confused and rebellious, seeking security from their friends rather than parents.

The arts are one way kids are exposed to different lifestyles and cultures through painting, drawing, music, and drama. This can be good and bad. It’s also one reason I had a difficult time choosing an art program. I wanted something more meaningful than just crafts but still wholesome. Several of the mainstream art programs do a good job of showing various art techniques but aren’t very wholesome for young students while many of the Christian art programs are wholesome but not much more than crafts. I think the Art the a Purpose Artpacs are a good medium. I can choose which artists to study while it covers drawing and painting techniques. Then when the kids are older and have a good moral and basic arts foundation, they can study more mature themes in the arts.

Junior dog mushing

The Alaska Dog Mushers Association annual International Sled Dog Symposium is this weekend. This afternoon was the freight pull exhibition. It started at noon. I was planning to go then but the fire was being stubborn lighting this morning so it was after 1 when we got there. The kids had a good time watching the dogs pull. Richard posted himself by the gate and was the unofficial dog greeter. As the dogs left after their pull he would ask the owner then give them each (the dogs that is) a pat.

This was the first time I’d been to a pull. What happens is they have a carpet (so they aren’t sliding on the icy parking lot). The dogs have a minute to try to pull a weighted cart 25 feet. Weight is added after each round. A dog is eliminated if unable to finish the pull within the minute. When that happens, the owner helps the dog pull then leaves so the dogs still have a sense of accomplishment for the next time. Eventually it gets too heavy until the dog who can pull the most weight is left.

The symposium has workshops you have to pay to attend and a free trade fair selling all things mushing related including designer dog foods, sleds, harnesses and other gear, winter clothing, fur mitts and hats, distance race souvineers and information. My sisters in law usually attend and sell their fur hats, mitts, crafts, and books (Trapline Twins and Dog Driver: A guide for the serious musher). However, the weather was too bad for them to get to town this year.

The kids have mentioned that they would like to try mushing this winter. There was also a booth by the Fairbanks Junior Mushing Association. We don’t have any dogs or plans to get them. I asked if this would be a problem and was told no. One woman even offered to let my kids borrow their kids’ old equipment and a dog. The entry fee is only $4/child for the season except the Junior North American Championship race which is $25. So for $8 my kids could try out mushing this winter. They will both be (rookies) in the one dog class which goes 200 yards around a track. If they like it and do good we may enter the JNAC as well. It is a big deal since kids come from all over the US and even the world for this race.

We went to the race grounds and walked around 1 mile of trail on the way home so they could see the area where they will be racing. It’s pretty flat and open. It may be a good place for him to practice skiing as well.

Races are every other Saturday afternoon starting in December. They are canceled if it is colder than -15F. The last few years has been a problem of first not enough snow then too cold so the races have been rescheduled. I hope that doesn’t happen again this year.

It has been warm this weekend. We had 3 inches of snow on the ground but it has melted so there is only about an inch. It actually rained a little yesterday afternoon so I was glad I had covered the wood pile again. We’re supposed to cool back down this week. Snow is forecast starting tonight with a total of 3 inches by tomorrow evening. I wasn’t planning to go back into town but Richard lost his mittens. I think he left them at the symposium since he didn’t have them on our walk. I know he had them at the symposium because we talked about him needing another pair for racing.