Thursday, April 26, 2012

Year Round Homeschooling and How We Organize It

I have shared my system for organizing our year-round school schedule before here, but today I wanted to touch on it again, this time with a visual I created to help simplify my explanation:

  Year Round Home Schooling Schedule Organization 

It really is simple, but with all the different jargon out there to describe portions of academic calendars, I thought this little chart would help to put into perspective what I mean when I am talking about the way I organize our year. I use four keywords to describe different portions of the year - the school year, the semester, the unit, and the gap

School Year - Our "school years" begin in the summer, followed by "graduation" the next spring. I intentionally coincide this part of our calendar with traditional schools, mainly to give other people a point of reference (when they ask Hunter the ever-famous question, "What grade are you in?") I consider Hunter in whatever grade he would be if he were in school (currently, 1st grade) but that doesn't dictate what level of work he does (he is above grade level in almost all subjects)

Semesters - The second level of organization is "semesters". I keep it really simple and just have one semester per season. The summer semester goes from June through August, fall semester from September through November, winter semester is December through February, and spring semester covers March through May, in general. Since the beginning of each week doesn't always coincide with the beginning of each month (obviously), the semesters will sometimes slightly overlap into other months (for instance, this year the "summer semester" runs from May 27 - August 25).

Units - The third level of organization is units. I make lesson plans for two-week periods, also known by me as units. Each semester has six units. 

Gaps - Also within the third level of organization is what I refer to as "gap" weeks. There are fifty two weeks per year, and if you divide fifty two by four (semesters) you will end up with thirteen weeks in each semester. Since units are two weeks each, that leaves you with six units per semester (twelve weeks) and one week left over. That extra week is what I call a "gap", and I leave it free of lesson plans, allowing us to use that week to catchup, review, or take a break.  

Why This Planning System Works Well For Us

1. Schooling Year Round Gives Us LOTS of Flexibility - A traditional school calendar goes for 36 weeks, or 180 days. With planning flexible lessons 48 weeks per year (and using the 180 days as a "guide"), that gives us 20 days per semester - 80 days per year - to take off for an impromptu day at the beach, visitors, sickness, no-motivation days, holidays, or vacation, if we need to.

2. I Plan More Fun Things - Just because "Winter Unit 3" overlaps December 25, doesn't mean we'll be doing math worksheets at 8:00 am on Christmas morning.

Throughout the year, I plan based on the season, holidays, and known events. For example, in the unit that goes through Christmas, I might plan only a bit of math review to do a few days during the unit, while using Christmas books for our literature and poetry, and postponing our normal history studies to talk about Christmas traditions around the world or to learn about the birth of Christ.

 Summer involves a much lighter work load, and many more fun activities and field trips are planned into our units. Planning lessons year round allows me to take a "school as life" approach to education and to lighten up all around. Knowing that I have flexibility makes it easier to incoporate the fun things.

3. The Flexibility and Fun Means We Don't Need Large Breaks - The rigors of traditional schooling make a good case for giving kids a much-needed summer break to relax, rejuvenate, and just enjoy being a kid. But homeschooling, particularly in this way (with flexibility for days off whenever needed, impromptu vacations, and incorporation of joyous activities and varying workloads throughout the year) makes such a break unnecessary.

In addition, being able to skip the summer vacation also means being able to skip all the downfalls of this giant break in learning, too. In the spring, time ends up being wasted because the end-of-year testing takes place a couple weeks before the end of school, making the last couple of weeks before school lets out somewhat of a "dead zone" where not too many new skills are being learned. When school resumes in the fall, it is well-known that the first several weeks are spent on reviewing forgotten material from the previous grade, as well as getting back into the old routine and readjusting behavioral standards. I would estimate that this equates to at least 3-6 weeks of school completely wasted due to summer break.  

How This Organizational System Helps Me Plan 

The School Year - As mentioned, the "school year" is more for other peoples' point of reference, but it does help to have a definite beginning and end to describe the goals I want to accomplish each year.

Semesters - Dividing up the year by the seasons (or semesters) helps in terms of goal simplicity, too. I am better able to define what I want to accomplish during each season, to see how much I have actually accomplished each season, and to plan our topics of study based on the seasons (for instance, lighter workloads in the summer, or holiday and seasonal lessons).

Units - The units are the key players in my lesson planning grand scheme, and were the beginning of this whole schedule in the first place.

I used to plan in one-week increments, but ended up spending most of my time feeling behind, discouraged, and guilty because we were never able to accomplish everything I wanted to get done. 

Making my plans last for two weeks has brought beautiful benefits to my family. I don't feel so rushed, there is room for error and "life", and even more importantly, we can cover topics in much greater depth than we were able to before.

Gaps - The gap weeks don't always happen the week following unit 6 (in fact, they rarely do). If we take a week-long family vacation during what would normally be in unit 2, the gap week just gets switched around and all the other units get bumped down a week. Guilt-free flexibility!

I hope that this post has been informative and useful to some of you. Perhaps if only to get a glimpse at how life works around here, or maybe as some inspiration if you are considering adopting a year-round school schedule in your own home.

I should also mention, that even though I have only talked about Hunter's schooling so far in this post, I plan Damien's (10 months old) activities and lessons on the same schedule - in two-week units, with no-plan gap weeks, and goals divided by year and season.

I would love to hear your comments!  

"All this, said David, the LORD made me understand in writing by his hand upon me, even all the works of this pattern." 1 Chronicles 28:19

Hunter is 7 years, 1 month old (1st grade)
Damien is 10 months, 2 weeks old (grade "KB")

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

(Bible) Reading and Mealtime - Our New Technique

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There was a time in my life where I used to read Hunter three chapters out of the Bible at (close to) every single meal.

The idea of trying to pull that off now seems comical.

To say the least, we haven't been getting much Bible reading in for a while. That is, until I discovered this neat little trick, and its simplicity is leaving me to question why I never thought of it before now. 

Rather than trying to keep everybody at the table after we're all done eating (very difficult with a 10-month-old), we have started listening's free audio bible while we eat.

Laptop on table, audio rolling, listen away while we chew.

And what is even more, we can get a good 3-5 chapters in during a typical meal, and it only takes the time that we were already spending eating.

I am trying to be intentional about our listening, to make sure that it doesn't become "background noise". Keeping our conversation to what is being read helps too. I try to comment here and there about what is being said, and after mealtime is over and we're cleaning up, to really discuss more about what we listened to.

This has been wonderful for my goal of quantitive Bible reading. That is, reading scripture, over and over, in large quantities. Exposure. Immersion. Long-term repetition. At the rate of 9-15 chapters a day, that is getting us through the Bible three to five times per year. That's approximately 50-90 times of reading through the Bible in 18 years, and all in the time we were already spending on eating. Talk about productive multitasking.

I still am making it a point to do other types of Bible reading, too. For instance, even though we are loving the audio, I still believe it is important for my boys to actually hear me reading the scriptures, and in Hunter's case, to actually read them. So our bedtime routine is currently involving reading of the Psalms and Proverbs.

The Bible is also incorporated into regular school hours, through memory verses, history, character studies, and stories. Not that all of this stuff happens every day. But we try.

 And believe me, I am no roll model. Our family and personal Bible reading has fallen by the wayside lately, in a way I would describe as dismal. But we are picking up and moving forward. And I'm hoping our little laptop companion will get the ball rolling again.

 Because I know how important it is.

 P.S. How does your family like to read the Bible (ideally)? Do you find audio recordings of all sorts to be useful in other ways for multitasking and teaching kids? I would love to hear your comments.

"And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus." 2 Timothy 3:15

Hunter is 7 years, 1 month old
Damien is 10 months, 3 weeks old

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Introducing Puzzles to Babies (6-12 months)

Introducing puzzles to babies 

At what age can you introduce puzzles to your baby? 

 While even simple puzzles have generally been deemed as an activity for the toddler and preschooler domain, there are lots of great options nowadays that can bring the benefits of puzzles down to babies under a year old. 

When is my baby ready? What are some good things to look for to see if your baby is ready for puzzles? For starters, if your baby:
  1. Picks up small objects with one hand
  2. Puts things inside containers
  3. Manipulates objects, such as trying to open containers, cabinets, or locks
He will probably be able to handle simple puzzles. Most babies are able to do these things well before their first birthdays.

How to Introduce Puzzles to Babies

1. Get the Right Puzzles

Find some good "inset" puzzles, the kind where puzzle pieces fit inside cut-out spaces in a board.
Try and find some puzzles with as many of the following characteristics as possible:
  • Have large, easy to grasp knobs
  • Have only a few pieces, 1-3 is best to start
  • Have a little wiggle room and are easy to put in
  • Have simple shapes (circles are the easiest)
  • Have matching pictures under the pieces
A few "ok" options:

 Some of our personal favorites include this 3-piece jumbo shapes puzzle previously available from Melissa & Doug, and this set of Garanimals puzzles (which Damien is pictured playing with) from Wal-mart (available as a 3-pack in the baby section for $6). It would really be ideal to find some "perfect" starter puzzles, such as a one-piece puzzle with a circle shape, but so far I haven't been able to find any. Have you?

2. Put Puzzles in Baby's Play Area

I have had puzzles out in Damien's play area for a while. He has mostly enjoyed dumping them out, banging them together, mouthing them, and doing all of his other dozens of "scientific experiments" with them.

In the process, however, he was able to truly learn about their shape, texture, color, length, diameter, weight, thickness, curve of the edges, sound they make, balance, and many, many more characteristics babies are discovering in their play.

3. Play Clean Up

After letting baby play with the pieces, teach him to put them away.

I believe that if a baby is old enough to dump toys out, he is old enough to put them away. So as with other clean up activities, guide his hand in putting the puzzle pieces in the correct place and then putting the puzzle away on the shelf. He will get a feel for where they go and how they fit and will very quickly attempt to do this on his own during playtime.

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4. Scaffolding - Play Puzzles with Your Baby!

"Scaffolding" essentially means giving your baby as much help as he needs to advance to the next level of skill, but not more help than he needs.

For introducing puzzles to baby, it might first mean guiding his hand in placing the pieces in the correct spot (as in the "clean up" activity above).

The second step might mean putting the puzzle piece almost in the right spot, then guiding him, "Put the puzzle piece in" and letting him "do the rest", essentially only moving the piece a little before it falls into place.

The third step might mean giving your baby a puzzle piece, making sure it is oriented correctly (not upside down or sideways) and pointing out the correct spot while encouraging him to put the piece in.

And so the game would continue, with each time giving your baby only much help as you feel like he needs to succeed, then stepping back and watching him figure out the rest on his own.

Damien is currently somewhere in between the second and third step mentioned above. We have only recently started playing with puzzles more often, and he really seems to enjoy it. His focus while trying to put the pieces in is intense!

Puzzles can be a great addition to your baby's playtime. Always remember when playing with your baby to keep in mind the principles of teaching tiny children - specifically to keep it brief, fun, and stop before he wants to stop.

P.S. I would love to hear about your experiences of introducing puzzles to your baby or toddler, as well as any recommended beginner puzzles you have found!

"He made also ten tables, and placed them in the temple, five on the right side, and five on the left..."
2 Chronicles 4:8
Damien is 10 months, 2 weeks old

Friday, April 20, 2012

Swimming Lessons 2012 - Damien (Physical Excellence Friday)


Ideally, our Doman-style swimming lessons would continue year-round.

 But then reality sets in, and there is pretty much nothing that is going to motivate me to go swimming when it is 40 or 50 degrees outside, no matter how "mild" that is in comparison to some of the other winter climates in the country and world.

 So trying to be realistic, our swimming lesson season runs from about April through October, giving us a good 5 to 6 months a year, 3 to 6 days a week.

 On our first day of swimming earlier this week, it was encouraging to note that Damien took to the water like a fish (which I know is totally cliche). In fact, the first day we went swimming, I had planned to just let Hunter swim and we were going to watch. Ha. Nice try, Mom.

 Damien was so enthusiastic about the water that I couldn't keep him out of it. I ended up giving up the battle to keep him poolside, and we waded on the stairs after stripping him down to his diaper. He splashed and kicked with gusto.

  swim 2_new

So, as our swimming season began earlier this week at the first sign of warm weather (it's been in the upper 70's and 80's, finally), I would like to share with you some goals I am hoping to accomplish by the end of the "summer" (October) at which time Damien will be 16 months old.

 These goals might be lofty, or they might be underestimating him - who knows. Whatever doesn't get accomplished this summer, we will pick up next summer (or maybe even during the winter if we could ever find an indoor pool).
  • Swim 3-10 feet underwater independently
  • Float on back independently
  • Jump into water (from sitting or standing) and then swim back up to surface to adult or edge of pool
  • Swim to edge and hold on
  • Climb out of the pool from stairs
  • Dive for objects at bottom of pool (in very shallow water, body height or less)
  • Roll over in water from front to back
  • Swim and come up for breaths, either by sticking head out of water or flipping on back to breath/rest, as in here
  • Water safety (do not enter pool without adult, do not enter after swim time is over, careful jumping, more)
Damien's current skill level? He splashes, kicks, eagerly puts his face in the water, and (sometimes) holds his breath underwater momentarily. He used to do well floating on his back in the bathtub, but currently is not too fond of it. I suppose he is out of practice.

Hunter's goals (age 7) for the summer are a bit more extensive and deserve a post of their own (next week). Wish us luck!  

"And he shall spread forth his hands in the midst of them, as he that swimmeth spreadeth forth his hands to swim..." Isaiah 25:11
Damien is 10 months, 2 weeks old