First Week of Kindergarten

I have not done a post devoted to just our sweet first daughter in, well… years.  She made us parents and she is so very often a ray of light and joy in our home.  I couldn’t imagine my life without her in it.  Last fall I had planned to start doing a bit of formal schooling with her here and there, but that never actually took root.  There has been so much chaos that it hasn’t happened, and I had initially expected Jacob to tag along in her studies on a more serious level.  But he’s just not ready for that yet, and so our first few tries failed considerably.

photo (57)After I got off of bed rest I thought we would just wait to get a routine like this going until after the baby came, but one week passed… then two weeks… and I realized that I simply didn’t have that kind of patience!  So I decided to jump in and go for it.  Tuesday was Evangeline’s very first day of kindergarten.  See?  I even took a picture!  She picked the pigtails.  :)

Our school week goes from Tuesday through Friday, although we do some things on our weekend days too.  I have a lot that I would love to cover with her before we officially start “1st grade”, but I decided going slow and adding things as we can would be the best way to do it.  This week we have been dabbling in: arithmetic, poetry, hymnody, Bible, Catechism, reading and ASL.  If I’m really confident we’ll get our nature study time in tomorrow too.  Next week we will start with our memory work  and hopefully nature studies and handwriting.  Music, art and handicrafts will follow after we are doing well with the rest.  History and foreign language will probably be the last subjects we add down the road.

It all sounds very ambitious, but we follow a primarily Charlotte Mason approach.  She advocates for very short lessons, a ton of free play and outdoor time, and would defnitely balk at the idea of “formal lessons” for my almost five year old.  :)  But all of you who know me know that my brain just doesn’t work that way and it has to be formally written down or else I will lose my mind!  And with two children with special needs and a new baby on the way… without some sort of structure I just wouldn’t get these quality moments in at all.  With all that said, this week has gone very well, and I’m pleased with where we’re headed for the rest of the year.

Our days are pretty simple, we have to schedule in time for therapies and meals, and I have two school times each day.  We have a school basket and each child gets to pick which lesson they want.  It takes about fifteen minutes in the morning and fifteen minutes in the afternoon.  All four kids are present, but not all of them are listening or participating at the same level 😉  The only child I have any expectations for at this point is Evangeline, but they all enjoy sitting in on the fun.

For arithmetic I found a great resource for the early years.  It is quite aged, but their reasoning is spot on and I really don’t see a reason to reinvent the wheel if this works perfectly well!  The book is called The Eclectic Manual of Methods for the Assistance of Teachers”, and the arithmetic section we are working through begins on page 105.  Google reader has the text available for free here.  Every morning I put six random household objects in our school basket and we first practice recognizing a group without counting (How many oranges are on the floor?).  Stephen can recognize what one orange looks like and Jacob can recognize up to two objects.  I always let them do the easy questions before getting more in depth with Evie.  After that I ask her how many objects I need to add or take away from the group to make a different number (How many quarters do I need to put on the floor so we have four quarters?)  

She is now at a point where she can add and subtract objects up to five with almost 100% accuracy and she can recognize a group of six objects without counting them.  Once she masters that we’ll keep moving up through the number 10 and then she’ll “graduate” to the next phase of the arithmetic program.  I’ll have to write a more in depth post about this approach because I just love it so much.

We also do poetry, which is one of my favorite subjects to teach right now, partially because Evie loves it so incredibly much and it’s a pleasure to do it with her.  We are working on learning one classic children’s poem by heart each month.  Since this month only had a week left I picked a really short one to start with, it’s “Clouds” by Christina Rosetti and she learned it by heart after only two days of hearing it once or twice each.  She enjoys reciting it now, and her expressiveness is awesome.  Recitation is definitely a strong suit for her!  After we recite our poem I let each of the kids pick one other poem they want to read before we move on.

Bible is nice and short.  Each day we read one of the readings for Church on Sunday (an Old Testament, an Epistle and a Gospel reading).  We read each one twice during the week so that they can recognize them during the service on Sunday and understand a little better what’s going on.  We briefly discuss what the readings were about and I let the kids ask any questions they have before we move on.

For Hymnody we do two hymns at a time.  We have a weekly hymn we sing every day, which is also from the next Sunday’s service.  Our goal isn’t to know it by heart, but just to be familiar with it so that we can sing it well at Church.  I love to incorporate the children in the liturgy as much as possible, and this is part of that conscious effort.  We also have a monthly hymn we sing every day, and that varies according to the Church year.  Our goal for this is to memorize it by heart and add it to our family’s repertoire of hymns that we can enjoy on a regular basis.  I will usually have us sing one of the hymns at school time and we’ll sing the other during our family hymnsing before bed.

Catechism is done by Daddy so I really don’t know what he does for that… I do know he uses the My First Catechism book by CPH and our family also loves the “Follow and Do” series as well as the Sing the Faith CD, which is Luther’s Small Catechism put to music.  The Catechism is certainly part of our education, but we schedule it after Daddy gets home rather than during our normal school routine.  I would love to add in some instruction on the liturgy as well at some point, but we might wait until next year for that.

Reading is another subject that I am thoroughly enjoying (although really, it’s all been fun!)  We try to keep only quality children’s books around, (I use the suggested reading list from Ambleside Online) and reading takes place all throughout the day.  I do pick a couple of books out specifically to read once or twice during school time just to be sure that everyone is getting some reading time in at least once a day!  Our reading lessons, though, take place individually and spontaneously.  When Evie asks me to read a book I’ll ask if she wants to read too.  If she does, we pick a new word from that story for her to learn and I let her read all the words in the book that she knows while I fill in the rest.

I’m also writing each new word she learns down on a 3×5 card for her to “practice” if she feels like it.  That way, if she wants to read with Daddy or Grandma, they also have a list of all the words she knows.  She gets very frustrated if you read “her” word!  Lol!  I am teaching her phonics rather than just relying on sight words.  Every time she learns a word she has to tell me what sound each letter makes, and as new rules come up (ex: when t and h are together they make a different sound) we talk about them.  If she struggles to remember a word I encourage her to sound it out and she’s getting pretty good at it!

Last but not least, we are also continuing sign language (ASL) with all the kids.  My goal for Evie is for her to be conversational by the end of the year.  We have been signing with her on and off since she was a baby and she’s always loved it.  So far we’ve mostly just used Signing Time, but I am working through the Life Print Course  and modifying it for her as we move toward mastering grammar, comprehension and creating dialogue.  This week we are learning to finger spell our names (she figured it out without any help, because she loves to spell) and learning a majority of the content in Life Print’s 1st lesson, all the content that’s relevant for a five year old anyway.  😉

All in all this has been a much better week and I’m thoroughly enjoying getting back to a productive learning environment.  I know she’s not even five yet, but these early years have so much potential for setting ground work for a future love of learning.  Home school has always been one aspect of parenthood that I couldn’t wait to start and I’m so glad we’re finally here!

Home-Style Preschool

So far this is what we have been doing lately…  (AKA not school).

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Now that most homeschooling mamas have spent all summer planning their curricula and have had pajama parties and fun zoo adventures to celebrate their first week back at school… I have finally got my planning hat on to gear up for the year. Ya’ll know what I was doing all summer (not planning for school, that’s for sure) and with the new family dynamics, we just needed to figure out where exactly our new children’s levels would be at before I could even begin to plan our days.

For those who are new to the blog, we have four children, two newly adopted. Hope and Jacob are just recently home from Ukraine. Hope is nine, but developmentally a baby. Jacob is six but developmentally about four in most areas at this time. Evangeline is also four years old and Stephen is two. So when I talk about home school and curriculum, we are basically doing preschool level activities, so keep that in mind!

However, we are quite settled in and I feel ready to begin! (With a rhyme even!) Today I just wanted to blog about what the goals for our littles is going to look like; then, later I can go back and detail how we’re reaching those goals and scheduling our time. So here is what our learning goals are for this year in each subject:

Christian Living

This early in the ball game they need to learn the vocabulary of the Church and to experience the vibrant life of the Church before they can begin to understand the meat and potatoes of theology or to appreciate the nuances of Church history.  So what do I want my very young children to know? I want them to know the words, the prayers of the Church, the Catechism and the Bible. I want them to sing hymns and learn how to cultivate a daily life of prayer and how to be reverent and attentive during Church. My goal for Evangeline is that she would learn by heart twelve hymns and that she would sing them beautifully.

For the other three I am aiming simply for exposure, to engender a love of hymnody and that the boys would attempt to sing some of the hymns they know, as their language skills are not polished enough for entire songs quite yet. (In English Jacob and Stephen are about in the same place verbally.)  I also want Evie to know the Catechism by heart, and for the boys to be familiar enough with it to speak it from memory when their verbal skills permit.  And my last goal for this subject is to study and memorize, as a family, ten whole chapters from the Bible.  Daddy and I will be memorizing the full chapters, and the children will recite what they are able, according to their abilities.

Reading & Literature

Ah reading, one of my favorite things to do with the littles. For now my goal is just to expose them and teach them to enjoy quality children’s literature and poetry. That’s really it! I am going to be spending about 5-10 minutes a day with Evie on actual reading lessons. She is so ready for them, and it would be lovely to have her reading at a basic level before our school year next year. Not to mention, she just wants to be able to read so badly! How could I deny a desire like that?

Arithmetic

Jacob and Evie are the only two who will be getting any practice in numbers this year. Maybe Stephen will learn to count to ten, maybe he won’t. We’ll see. He will pick it up when he’s ready. However, I do want Jacob and Evangeline learning the basics of addition and subtraction this year. Evie can already add and subtract numbers up to four in her head. We haven’t worked on this, we just discovered it one day! My goal this year is to have both of them adding and subtracting numbers up to ten.  That way they’ll be ready to start more formal arithmetic lessons next fall.

Art & Music

This is one subject I am de-emphasizing. I really have no goals. I would like to do some basic drawing lessons and to get them listening to some children’s songs and classical music each day. If I can do that, I will be quite pleased! We are considering piano lessons for Evie and possibly Jacob, but that will be a ways down the road I think.  Sometimes you just have to cut corners to get everything in, and this is something I’m comfortable cutting down on for now.

Nature Studies

Nature studies! So fun! Ok, so my goals here are to get the littles outside as much as possible. They were truly made for the outdoors! I also want to start teaching them basic directions (N,S,E,W) in relation to our home, the sun rising and setting, which way the wind is blowing, and other tangible markers. I want them to be familiar with the hills and ponds and woods and pastures around our home and for the older ones to describe those places. I also want to start teaching them how to identify flowers, trees and birds in our area.

This will be taking up a lot of our day, especially in the nicer months, and I am so excited. This is more than science; this is endearing them to their Creator through His creation, and it’s learning how to learn through observation! This is giving them the tools to take in information and use it meaningfully.  It’s experiential learning and not just absorbing through books. Both are so important!

History

My goal for history is just to start teaching the children that history exists. Very basic, yes? I have twelve little events from history that I am going to be telling them as stories. With each new story we will do a library run to find other books on the event or person, we’ll do a fun project or field trip, a timeline and markers on our world map, and just make it into a fun exercise. I definitely want Evangeline and Jacob to be able to tell back these stories, even just very simply, by the end of the year. But I’m not holding us to any real standards other than that.

Foreign Language

Another one of my favorite subjects this year! Yet, I have struggled more with this than any other. When we only had one little I imagined that she would be close to fluent in ASL by now and starting Spanish. Ahem… being in survival mode for so long that didn’t quite happen. She does know quite a few signs, but not anywhere near conversational. And with having adopted two Russian speaking children, we have decided that Russian would be a better foreign language than Spanish for our family.

Jacob already speaks Russian, albeit not clearly, as he has a speech delay related to his Cerebral Palsy. But he understands all of it perfectly. I really don’t want him to lose that! Also, our Hope loves it when we talk to her in Russian. Besides, I think it’s a good foreign language for a few reasons, politically there is a lot of upheaval in that area of the world right now.   Russian is an official language of five countries and has 155 million native speakers. Russian is also a difficult language to learn, which means, we get this one down and picking up Spanish, or any other language that our children are interested to know down the road, will be a piece of cake.

We are also friends with several fluent Russian speakers, so our children will be able to have access to conversations outside our family, which is so important for language learning.  Anyway I am off topic. Goals. Right.  So my first goal for this year is that our family would maintain the level of Russian we have.  My husband and I learned a substantial amount before travelling, and our bio kids have picked up several words and phrases as well. I’ve already noticed Jacob’s Russian grammar starting to slip, so we really need to get ourselves immersed in the language more in order to accomplish simple maintenance.  Next year I plan to focus much more intently on Russian, after I have a chance to learn more myself.

So on top of maintaining Russian, we will be really pushing sign language this year. I want Evangeline to be at a conversational level by the end of the year, and for the other three to follow along at their own pace. Signs are a little more difficult for Jacob because of his fine motor skill issues, but I think it’s a great exercise for him!  Hope is also going to benefit from it, as signs will likely be a main mode of communication for her in the years to come.  And if Evie is conversational by next year, I’ll feel super comfortable diving head first into Russian while being able to maintain her ASL and slowly build her up to eventual fluency in both.

PE/Therapy

My goal? Just do it. For some reason corralling four hyper children into specific physical positions and feats is not my idea of a super fun time. Usually I would just let them run around the yard and check off the box, but Evie is in gymnastics and has practice at home to do and Jacob and Hope have stretching and physical therapy that are going to need to be at least a once a day routine. So we’ll just schedule it and give it a name, right? :) Oh also, we caught Jacob doing like twenty push-ups one morning just because so… maybe that might be a fun bonding activity for him and Dad.

Life Skills

And last but not least… or maybe least, life skills. There are two reasons I even glorify this as a school subject. One, My kids need to learn how to be more self sufficient before Mambo gets here. And two, life skills are an actual serious necessity in our home now that we have children with special needs. Tracking life skills will help me to know where Hope and Jacob need extra support and I think we can make it a fun way to encourage everyone to learn new chores and responsibilities. Again, with this my goal is just to do it, to make a chart, track things, encourage the kids to reach new levels… I don’t care how fast or slow they go. Just as long as we’re making a little progress here and there, that would make me more than thrilled.

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