Thursday, December 18, 2008

Hello, Again. Hello.

I've been terribly neglectful of this blog, I know. Too much to do in too little time combined with a whopper of a cold to really make a mess of me lately. I'm beginning to feel like I might manage to make it through intact, though!

We've still been learning and covering all of the basics on our school schedule, just not necessarily according to the actual schedule. Math, reading, phonics, handwriting are all moving along extrememly well.

I've lightened up a little on the history these past few weeks mostly because I have been unable to read aloud without coughing. We managed to cover Ancient China pretty well in spite of this. After a short break for Christmas, we'll move on to Greece and Rome for the second part of the shool year.

So far, Real-Science-4-Kids Chemistry Pre-1 has been a big hit with Cullen. Then, he has loved everything we've done for science.

He did share with me not long ago that he wants to be a scientist when he grows up. His motivation took me a little off guard: He wants to develop a way to turn his cousin Walker into a girl for at least a little while as a just payback for some prank in their history. As he spoke, Cullen drummed his fingers together and grinned wildly at the genius of his plan. Sometimes I think my son should have been born a cartoon!

The session of chess classes finished this week with an awards ceremony. Cullen was awarded third place in chess (as opposed to some of the other instructional games and awards for class point system.) Before the coach called his name, he said that in a class of 1st through 6th graders, it was very unusual for someone so young to place in the top three.

Now if he could just manage to beat his Dad...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Wordless Wednesday

...never should've looked down.

Trying to Get Out of Egypt!

We've spent the afternoon trying to wrap up all of our Ancient Egypt odds and ends so we can move on to Ancient China for a little while. Here is Cullen working to flatten out our thoroughly soaked papyrus reeds. Maybe we'll still paint something on it when it dries. That is assuming it's useable, of course!

Then we pulled out some rubber heiroglyph stamps and figured out how to make our names. After the paper filled up, Cullen labeled himself in various places.

Yesterday, we got to go to the King Tut exhibit in Atlanta. It was really impressive, and I absolutely loved it! Cullen worked on writing a couple of sentences about the outing, with a little rubber mummy from the gift shop keeping him company.

With all of the unbelievable treasures and artifacts we saw, the highlight for my little boy was a toilet seat from an ancient Egyptian palace!

There is a little bit of inventive spelling still, which is okay for a six-year old, and the handwriting could be neater, but look! Two complete sentences with capitalization (mostly) and punctuation done correctly the first time! I really can't adequately explain the hearts or know if they are related in any way to his excitement over the toilet seat, though. He was quite pleased with himself after writing this and knew that I would be proud of him, too. Maybe all those good feelings just spilled out onto the paper!


Yes, I missed posting a weekly report for last week. It was a scrambled up sort of week with a few days of computer trouble tossed in! I'll cover everything in this Friday's Weekly Report post.

This is all about curriculum and lesson plans, so only read on if you think you won't be bored silly!

I think we've finally settled into a writing routine that works!!! I tried to begin the year with Sonlight's Language Arts programs, but Cullen is between their level 1 and level 2. The amount of customizing that was required was wearing me out, so I looked into a few other options. Write Shop Primary is a little below Cullen's level right now, but I've pulled some good information and ideas from it. The publisher has not yet finished the series, so there is nowhere to go with it after the A level.

I bought and read a copy of Writing With Ease, which I will include in what we do. I also found a great book at my local store, The School Box, by Scholastic called Grade 1 Writing Curriculum Week-by-Week Lessons. Though originally designed for classroom use, it is easily used in the homeschool setting. (Available also for grades 2 and 3)

Our weekly writing now includes copywork, following recommendations from Writing With Ease, alternated with D'Nealian 2 workbook for handwriting practice. We do oral narration in response to history, literature and sometimes science readings, with Cullen actually writing out a couple of sentences one day per week for his Ancient History notebook. Two days a week, he writes just a sentence or two in response to a journal prompt from the Scholastic book. (These are really good prompts!) Then the remaining two days of the week, he does prewriting and writing for a short assignment covering things like descriptive sentences, narrative sentences, friendly letters, expository sentences, etc. These require a few sentences each, but we won't be calling them paragraphs until later in the year when we cover what exactly makes a paragraph.

Next year (I am forever looking ahead) I think the Sonlight Language Arts 2 Intermediate, which I already have, will be a very good fit. Of course, I will tweak it a bit to make room for history or science-related writing to be added in.

As I've been typing, Cullen's been doing his math worksheet. I hear him running a toy dump truck up and down the hallway, so that means he's finished. I'm signing off to check some calculations, then have lunch with my little man.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Weekly Report

Another week of fun for us! We didn't get to finish everything on my plan for the week, but I have to say that is not unusual. Cullen learned a bit and made progress in the important areas, so all is well.

Memory ~ Proverbs 9:10, as well as another short verse for Sunday School which I don't have written down here and can't remember. (Maybe I should be doing some memory work, too!)

Math ~ Moving along through Horizons 2 at about half a lesson per day, with continued drill work on facts. The bright spot for me on Friday was Cullen's sitting down to tackle his math without trying to negotiate fewer problems. He just got busy!

Language Arts ~ Handwriting is showing more consistency and care. Spelling comes easily to Cullen, and he loves taking his quiz every Wednesday. Reading and phonics work are moving along nicely. Switching to Explode the Code online was a really good thing for us! We are doing oral grammar about 2 days a week, which is working out pretty well.

History/Social Studies ~ We tried to wrap up studies of Egypt and of Mesopotamia this week, working on History Pocket projects. The papyrus project we began last week still isn't done, but it is ready to roll out for drying. I think we'll get that done tomorrow afternoon. This upcoming Monday, we (Dad, too) have tickets to go see the King Tut exhibit here in Atlanta. Our history and geography readings next week move us to the Indus Valley, but we will likely be finishing up a few odd Egypt projects at the same time.

Science ~ This was a highlight for Cullen this week. We began Real Science 4 Kids Chemistry Pre-Level 1, reading about atoms and molecules and making observations. I plan to do one chapter a week, with lab time on Fridays.

At the beginning of the year, he begged to learn about motors. I did find a small kit appropriate for his age from Thames & Kosmos, but I wanted to cover basics of motion, force and simple machines first. Lego Education has great kits for learning about simple machines, so I ordered a couple hoping that they would not be too advanced for an eager six year-old. I pulled out the Levers set this week and it was perfect for us! Cullen built different types of levers, exploring the effects of changes in placement of the fulcrum and of the load, etc.

After putting all of the little pieces away, I asked if he could create a lever to move an object from among his things. It took only a couple of minutes for him to set something up that worked, then he decided to explore changes in the height of the fulcrum on his own. I just stood back and enjoyed watching!

Cullen's Wednesday chess class was especially fun for him this week because he got to play his coach twice and earned extra points for managing to keep his queen one of those games. He may already play better than I do, but has a long way to go before giving his Dad a run for his money!

As a matter of fact, that is one of Cullen's life goals at this point - to beat his Dad at chess. Must be a boy thing!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Unofficial Outdoor Hour

We spent a little time at the park today. Cullen ran off a bit of pent up energy playing with a friend we ran into there and having a great time in the sunshine. It was a warm and absolutely gorgeous day!

Walking along the trail with me, he discovered this snazzy little red leaf.

We looked up and around to discover we were surrounded by sweetgum trees, in all shades of yellow, red and even purple.

I couldn't believe that I hadn't noticed the hundreds of prickly sweetgum balls all over the ground. Cullen had never seen these before and is still not sure if he likes them. I almost told him how we used to throw them at each other when I was a kid, having all-out wars with them. Knowing he would have immediately tried throwing some at me if I had shared that, I'm very glad I caught myself in time!

The star-shaped leaves were everywhere! I actually had quite a few handfulls of those thrown on my head before all was said and done!

Not an official Outdoor Hour Challenge or a "real" nature study, just a time to delight in the beauty of creation.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Friday, October 31, 2008

Weekly Report

We enjoyed a great week here, in spite of the lingering effects of a cold virus. On a couple of our school days, Iron Man has shown up to do Cullen's work for him. I will say that Iron Man is doing a great job of focusing and doing his best! ;o)

Memory: Psalm 91:11 "For he will order his angels to protect you wherever you go." We also reviewed "Singing Time" from last week.

Math: Short daily drills of addition facts. Next week, I'll be adding in a little subtraction to the mix. Cullen just completed Horizon lesson 24. We've worked primarily on adding with regrouping, subtraction and telling time to the quarter hour this week.

Language Arts: Still reading from the Beginner's Bible, with one of this week's stories, Daniel and the Lion's Den, tying in with our memory verse. Free reading usually happens in the evenings, but not always. We worked a little bit on capitalization, punctuation and parts of speech with oral exercises from Easy Grammar 2. Cullen likes these a great deal. He completed Spelling Workout A lesson 18 and aced his quiz. Explode the Code work has only happened a few days this week because of computer issues, but I'm working on those.

History/Social Studies: We continued learning about Ancient Egypt, watching an Ancient Civilizations for Children DVD, reading together and working on History Pockets projects that I work into regular notebooking. We have always done oral narration after history readings, but this week I actually let Cullen dictate a couple of sentences to me that he felt most important, then let him find, cut and paste some clip art on the page. I've included photo of one. I plan to do more of these each week. Cullen enjoys the process of putting his ideas into words, as long as he is not the one who has to write those words down!

I purchased an inexpensive kit for making our own papyrus paper to later use for a little Egyptian art or heiroglyphics project. Here is Cullen putting strips of the plant into a pan of water. They'll soak for days, then he will roll them flat to dry. This is his kind of hands-on project - messy, with a strange smell and something useful as the end product.

In addition to history, we read about and discussed elections and government. These were excellent books for this age level.

Science: Another light week for science-related reading, but we dig into Real Science 4 Kids Chemistry Pre-Level 1 next week. This week, we spent some time outdoors in this gorgeous weather. See yesterday's post for details.

Music/Art: We were very light in this area, instead spending time preparing and helping to set up for our church's Fall Family Fun Fair.

One of the highlight's of the week: as we were driving around on errands, Cullen was listening to his cd of Hip-Hop addition facts. He is all about rhythm! His headphones were on, but I got to listen to him singing along, which was hilarious. Then when he finished with those, he asked for another cd. All I had handy was the Beethoven that we'd been listening to earlier during the week. Just a few minutes later, I took a peek into the back seat to find him with his chin tucked against his collarbone, furiously playing air violin! That absolutely made my day!

Cullen is waiting for his grandmother (He calls her Queenie) to pick him up for a visit while I go vote. Of course, he's already counting down the minutes till he can become Iron Man again and hit the neighborhood.
Have a safe and fun Halloween!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Maple Tree and a Romp in the Woods

We combined two Outdoor Challenges, #34 Maple Tree Study and #36 Autumn Tree Study, because the tree we chose last Spring as our focus for the year-round tree study is a maple in our yard. The weather is so perfect today, though! We ended up spending quite a bit of time wandering around and exploring in our wooded back yard.

I couldn't think of a better way to spend the afternoon!

First, the maple tree:

This tree was planted by a landscape company when our house was built, so we know that it is called an October Glory Maple. I find the name a little ironic, because it has never turned its gorgeous, showy red until well into November! You can see in the photos that the leaves are just beginning to show the green giving way to red.

We do have other types of maple trees in our yard, most of them are turning more yellow than our focus tree. None are quite as striking in color as the October Glory Maple, though. Cullen chose this leaf to bring in for a simple leaf rubbing.

I offered him a little bit of syrup to taste while I put away paper and crayons. While he licked his fingers, I explained how maple syrup is made from the sap of certain maple trees. That was amazing news to him. I'm not sure he is entirely convinced that I'm telling the truth about it!

Here is a photo of our back yard. I absolutely love it! Cullen hasn't spent nearly enough time exploring in it, though. I am determined to change that. He was able to recognize oaks and maples. We found little baby trees and ferns and a dried up stream bed. Cullen discovered a well-hidden spider web among the crunchy leaves underfoot, and had me hush to hear the cricket song. I couldn't help but smile that he was leading me as much as I was leading him.

He also found that our largest tree has a nice-sized hole about eight feet off the ground. We wondered what might have its home in there, but we couldn't get high enough to take a peek inside.

Cullen usually resists writing much about one of our outings, so I tried giving him prompts or sentence starters with a blank to finish. He eagerly filled in his findings and thoughts with this format. We'll definitely be using this method again!

We both enjoyed being outdoors so much, I think we may take advantage of the beautiful weather and look for a different type of tree tomorrow afternoon.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Weekly Report

Not so many pictures this week, although when I checked my camera earlier, I found twenty or so photos of flared nostrils and toes and elbows and other odd parts of my litte one. Maybe he needs a camera of his own!

I meant to post earlier this photo of our wall climber. Last weekend, after a monstrous amount of cotton candy (see Wednesday's post) he got to try something entirely new. He only made it about halfway up, which is exactly how far he climbed before he looked down the first time! That did it for him.

This was a good week for math at our house. We've been working about half of a lesson from Horizons a day and spending some time polishing up addtion facts. We should be back on a full lesson per day, four days a week, within 2 weeks. We usually do "fun" math on the 5th day. Cullen is proud of conquering addition with regouping this week!!!

Reading is progressing nicely. He really enjoys stories from The Beginner's Bible, and he also chooses an extra book to read to me each evening. Tuesday night, I got to hear an entire book about teeth in musical theatre-style song. We did the usual handwriting practice and copywork this week. Cullen is extremely excited to see that he's on the last few pages of his D'Nealian Handwriting workbook, so much that he wants to double up his work and finish sooner.

Memory work included our weekly Bible verse, Luke 6:31, "Do to others as you would like them to do to you," and the short poem, Singing Time.

Ancient Egypt was our focus this week in history and will be for next week, too. We read about mummies and pyramids from Story of the World Vol 1 and Usborne Book of World History, and we'll be reading Tutankhamen's Gift and Tut's Mummy...Lost and Found over the weekend together. (I've decided to switch completely to SOTW in place of CHOW as a history spine. I just prefer it so much more.) We also talked a little about the election process and the upcoming presidential election.

We had short piano practices and only a little bit of drawing this week. Science was very light, as well. Our planned nature studies on maple and pine trees will have to wait until next week. Cullen is dealing with a full-blown and nasty cold. As I type, he is slowly sipping some chicken noodle soup in his pajamas. This looks like a good weekend for cuddling up with a movie or a few books.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Wordless Wednesday

(No, I didn't give that to him, and yes, he ate every single fiber of it!)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Weekly Report

Our week was full and fun!

Last weekend, we went to see a play with our friends, who are also family, Kathryn and Jamie - The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, in which the wolf has his day in court. It was actually pretty funny.

Cullen is really enjoying Spelling Workout - he loves taking spelling tests. Who would have guessed? I recently subscribed to Explode the Code online to give Cullen a way to do phonics that wouldn't require all of the workbook pages, which he tires of pretty quickly. He works on it about 12-15 minutes at least 4 days a week. We're plugging away at the handwriting still, while beginning to use WriteShop Primary. He made a book about himself this week, learning about brainstorming as a prewriting exercise, and is quite pleased with it.

Our memory work this week was a couple of Bible verses since they are both short: Gen 1:1 and Isaiah 41:10a. One was on my original schedule and the other is really for his Sunday School class. He seems to enjoy learning these.

In math, we've been doing half of a lesson from our Horizons workbook each day and focusing on addition facts with a few different ways of drilling them, his favorite being flash card shout out. You can probably figure out what that is like just from what I call it! On Friday, I let Cullen take the test #2 from Horizons because he seemed so eager to get a grade on something. He actually did extremely well, missing two small things, which he was able to correct on his own when I pointed them out.

For history, we still did a little on Mesopotamia this week, but began talking about Egypt also. I'm looking forward to some fun projects over the next few weeks. In addition to this, we reviewed continents and major oceans. Cullen got a kick out of quizzing his Dad on these and energetically supplying the correct answers when Dad hesitated for even a second. We also talked informally about community government and had a field trip Wednesday to our local City Hall with friends from our Wednesday classes. Here's a photo of the group before we began the tour. Cullen is in the flag t-shirt.

Science this week was a little light and relaxed. We only did a little reading and a nature study focusing on oak trees.

Our art projects this week - clay tablets and some coloring-type activities - tied in with history.

For music, we listened to some of Beethoven's music and Cullen began piano lessons. He's pretty excited about piano, which makes me really happy! He has plans to be in a band with one of his cousins some day, so he is pretty motivated to practice right now!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Oak Tree Study

We are a little late joining in the Outdoor Hour Challenges, but we've been enjoying sporadic nature studies all along. By participating, I hope to be a little more consistent!

We have a young oak in our front yard that was planted by the builder just before we moved in, so we didn't have to look far for a tree to observe. Cullen was excited to find scattered acorns beneath our tree. This is the first year it has dropped any acorns at all, so I was a little excited, too! After identifying the tree online and with our Handbook of Nature Study we discovered that we have a variety of black oak. According to the Handbook, these trees take about 20 years to produce their first crop of acorns, so we also learned the approximate age of our tree.

After observing the bark and the ants crawling up and down, picking off a few leaves, looking at the tiny blotches where the color was beginning to change and gathering some acorns, we came inside to make a page for Cullen's nature notebook. He did a rubbing of a leaf and a drawing of one of the acorns. We also opened up an acorn to see the inside. We'd already read that it likely had a very bitter taste, so Cullen could not be talked into tasting it. Acorns of a black oak are supposed to be tasty to squirrels and deer, so Cullen tossed quite a few far into our wooded back yard where we've seen a few deer and plenty of squirrels. Plus it was just fun to throw them!

By far, the most interesting and surprising thing we learned was that the acorns are velvety smooth, except for a really sharp point at the tip. Cullen rubbed his face with it so much, I think he wore the velvet covering off of this one!

Next, we'll be looking for pine trees and maples. I am loving the time outdoors as much as my little one!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Cuneiform and a Classmate

We've been learning a little about the earliest civilizations in Mesopotamia over the past couple of weeks. Today we pulled out a messy slab of clay and Cullen got to write like a Sumerian, or maybe a Babylonian. (I doubt what we actually produced remotely resembles either!) We found a website that could show us Cullen's name in cuneiform, which was really cool, but a bit complicated to reproduce. Numbers seemed much easier to manage, so we just went with them. Two neatly incised clay tablets are now drying in the kitchen.

I had been modifying Sonlight's Language Arts 2 for Cullen, but this week we began using WriteShop Primary. So far, I am very pleased with it. It suggests what I consider an overload of guided writing and may be just a hair below his actual writing ability, but I never hesitate to tweak things! Cullen will have a weekly "published" project, which makes him feels a greater sense of accomplishment. The goal is to make writing feel more like fun and less like work for him. (We add in Spelling Workout A, copywork, Explode the Code online phonics and mostly oral Easy Grammar to our Language Arts.)

Tomorrow we visit the Mayor's Office in Acworth with our friends from the enrichment classes Cullen takes, so we've discussed the basics of community government in preparation. This afternoon, I began popping questions on the subject to see what, if anything, had actually "stuck." I'm not sure when he managed, but Cullen suddenly had a sock puppet (made years ago by his big brother) on his arm and was consulting with the puppet on answers to my questions! You see the puppet's arm is raised. Turns out he knew what taxes were used for when Cullen had trouble remembering.

This was one of those moments when I was really glad the camera was handy!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Rain Gutter Regatta & Writing

Highlight of the week for Cullen: the Rain Gutter Regatta with his scout pack last night. Here is a silly pic showing off his little sailboat.

Lung power was no problem, but controlling exact direction of airflow was trickier than anticipated! This made for funnier races, though.

Cullen won his match, but didn't have a fast enough finish time to make the finals. There was time for the boys to just race for fun, so they got to blow their boats until they were tired of puffing.

Now a drastic change of subject...

One of our biggest school-related goals this year is to strengthen Cullen's writing ability and build some stamina. Our oldest two, Eric and Taylor, would each spend hours drawing and coloring from a very early age and neither had any trouble with handwriting when it came along. However, Cullen has never shown more than a minimal interest in drawing or writing endless pages like his brother and sister. If I work really hard, I can sometimes talk him into coloring a Spider Man page, but never more than one. Now that he is writing, his hand and finger muscles are having to catch up to the demand he is placing on them. Because this is a new problem for me, I've had to put in a little research and intentional effort to help build those little muscles.

Last year, he announced to me that handwriting practice was "EEEEVVVIIILLLL" while glaring his eyes. (I think that came from a Sponge Bob cartoon.) About five words was the most he could manage in one sitting last Spring. He's come a long way since then, I am pleased to report!

Though he still makes a face if a great deal of writing is asked of him at once, his attitude has improved greatly along with his stamina. He makes an effort these days to produce readable writing, catching most of his own mistakes and correcting them. I just thought I'd share an example of copywork that he is especially proud of...

and a few sentences he composed and wrote. (Neatness was not the primary goal of this assignment - writing something he wanted to write was the point!)

Weekly, he makes improvement in quality and in amount of writing he can manage. Not too many things other than this have been a real challenge to him yet as far as learning is concerned. (Now there are other issues that are a different story!) I am terribly proud of his determination to work through something that isn't always easy.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Cub Scouts, Spider Eggs & French-Accent Rap

We have a new salute! Cullen is learning the basics of how to be a cub scout, and he's enjoying it thoroughly so far. Next Monday evening, his pack will be having a Raingutter Regatta with lung-powered little sailboats. We are just getting started on ours and expect to be painting it over the weekend. Of course, Boy Scouts means selling gourmet popcorn, too, so if any of you are really interested in purchasing some caramel or chocolate-covered popcorn, please let me know! We will set you up!

An update on our favorite spider from an earlier post: the spider has disappeared and left a large, untended and tattered web. We found a rather large egg sac a little farther up in the shrub, though, and we will be watching as the season changes for signs of little baby spiders emerging.

The earlier part of this week was much too hectic with my business requiring time normally dedicated to schooling. Not that anyone is looking over my shoulder, but I really do not like to get behind with Cullen's work. Today has been more than I could have asked for! Cullen has had the best attitude, and there have been no interruptions! We are completely caught up with where I think we should be. Even his handwriting practice brought no complaints, and when he was writing out the names of the continents, he produced probably the most beautiful word he has ever written. For just a few seconds, I thought I must have written it. Of course, later in the day when he composed and wrote a few sentences on his own about his favorite game, his handwriting somehow reverted back to its usual appearance!

Cullen added a little zing to his reading selection today by doing the whole story of Ruth and Naomi from his Beginner's Bible as a French-accent rap song, complete with beatbox noises between paragraphs. Keep in mind that any French accent he has managed to obtain has likely come from cartoon sources only. I was able to supress my giggles and pretend that I noticed nothing unusual, but just barely. As long as he is reading correctly and clearly, he can do as he likes to make it fun. Or funny!

This evening, we'll read together about Johnny Appleseed in honor of his birthday tomorrow. If you see Cullen carrying a pot on his head tomorrow, you'll know why!