Thursday, May 1, 2014

Books I Love! - The Rest

Now, we come to the nitty-gritty, the less fun school subjects that my children check off each day (ideally). These are not complicated, but we are happy and at peace with these choices. Both of my students have used all of these materials with success with the exception of typing, which my son is about to begin next fall.
Seton Religion

Up until First Holy Eucharist, I prefer to use a very eclectic mix of catechetical resources. There are many, many books I love (and I could detail those in a separate post another time), but not one of them is a traditional textbook or one you would find in a parish Religious Education program. I did use Faith & Life with both children, reluctantly, because that is what our parishes required, but I supplemented like crazy. This year, I needed simplicity, and I now see that including the Seton Religion books has been an inspired decision. My children have been well-catechized thus far, so most of the material is not new to them. But, they are able to dig deeper, and most importantly, read the material on their own, coming to me to answer the review questions each day.

Math U See

I cannot sing the praises of this math program enough! My first child struggles with math and therefore strongly dislikes it. This works for her. My son enjoys math and computations come naturally. This works for him. Both began with Primer and my oldest is finishing up her Epsilon book. I have already purchased Zeta for next year. Yes, we have done one book each year, so far, but I intend to allow my son to speed up if he chooses to do so this coming academic year. That's the way the program is intended, to work outside grade levels, but I wanted to avoid a competition and so kept him going slow and steady until she could master enough material to feel competent.

Handwriting Without Tears

Again, this is a program I highly recommend. I did not find it until my oldest was learning cursive, but we have used both their printing and cursive instruction with success. There are two books for each plus an additional book for older students who need review. After using that printing review book, my oldest's printing improved dramatically. Yay!

Spelling Wisdom

As a former middle school Language Arts teacher in the public schools, I am so pleased with this program that teaches spelling in context, not in arbitrary lists. My children are excellent readers, and I know they have the background to see the words correctly when they understand context. Their spelling consistently improves the longer we use this, and my oldest is about to finish Book One.

Drawing Textbook

Simple. Do-able. I'm not artistic. Have you glanced at my lousy photos? But my husband is an excellent sketch artist, and I see the same talent in my children. This book has helped them develop that talent without my having to know anything about drawing.
Dance Mat Typing

We tried a few other typing programs, but this wins. It's simple. It's fun. It's free! And, I think the animals singing with British accents are too precious!

Rosetta Stone Latin American Spanish Homeschool

We invested in this program several years ago, and it is worth every penny. My children use it most days, and I wish I had more time to use it, too. I'd love to relearn my lost Spanish!

That's what's working for us this year. The only significant thing I really left out of this list or my previous one is our literature/reading, but I just pick books for them to read. It's not a curriculum or list that I use. The selections are entirely dependent upon the child, the time of year, the other books we're reading at that time, etc.

There are a few books we were going to use that I really like the few times we used them, but I just didn't prioritize enough to include them very much. Making Music Praying Twice was going to make me give some focused attention to the three-year-old. Discovering Great Artists was going to make me do some messy art in a structured way. The All Things Girl series I borrowed from a friend (I think it's out of print) was going to help me start the conversations I need to be having with my daughter. When we used them, they worked. Here's to hoping I can use them more over the summer and next year!

It is SO important that we find materials that work for our children. What have you found that you love with all of your children for multiple academic years?

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Books I Love! - Morning Basket

My previous post made me think about the books we are using this year and what we love. So, for my friends who are interested, I will share what I love about what we used this year. To start, I'll talk about our Morning Basket subjects. This is how we start our days, the things we read and discuss all together before the children pull out math and spelling and other texts.

I used to think this took too much time out of our days and tried to rush through, but then I listened to Cindy's talk "On Morning Time" and realized how valuable this learning time can be. It takes anywhere from one to two hours, which can be until lunch on days we don't start until ten, but now, I'm okay with that! It is my children's favorite part of homeschooling, and allowing for discussion has enriched our homeschooling and our relationships so much!

Bible: the daily Gospel, Lenten Journal, Ann Voskamp's Bible Verse Memory Project, The Jesus Storybook Bible, etc...

I try to start each school day with a prayer, a Bible story or verse, and a saint. For Bible, it is usually something different for each liturgical season. We have a variety of Advent and Lenten reflection books that usually include some Scripture, as well as an Easter season one. Our favorite this year has been our Lenten Journals from Education in Virtue by the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, our dear friends. The elementary journal was free to print, and I purchased a copy of the one for older children and adults. Most of the time I didn't even read what they wrote, just let the Holy Spirit go!

Saints for Young Readers for Everyday and My Journal of Saints

We have loved SFYRE and used it for several years. While we do not use it every day, that helps keep some of the stories fresh from year to year, and we love learning about new saints periodically. The printable journal I found free online this year, and my children and I are just loving how we can read about the saint and then think about the lessons from his/her life for our own.

Classically Catholic Memory

Last summer a friend and I began a co-op with 8 other families using this material, but unfortunately, we never had one single meeting. The location we had secured fell through, and while we did search for another one, our hearts just weren't in it after that. I didn't think I'd like using the material at home by ourselves, because I'm not big on memorization. But, it has been one of our favorite things! We spend two weeks on each "Week" of material and just read it every day. Sometimes the children actually do memorize things, but most of the time it just increases their familiarity with things I otherwise might have missed. I feel it's done a good job filling in some gaps, and I'll be purchasing Beta Year to do next year!

Life of Fred

This is not our primary math text, but I was looking for a way to make math more fun. This. Is. It! Wow! These stories are so wonderfully entertaining that my children don't realize they're learning math concepts. Now, we did start at the beginning when I already had a 3rd and 5th grader, but they are having just as much fun reviewing their basic knowledge and cruising through these books. Plus, I am slowly accumulating the set to have them for my second set of students, now ages 4 and 1.

Connecting with History

Oh, let me count the ways! This literature-based, Catholic world history program has saved me. I love history, but I cannot stand textbooks. I love the flexibility of this program. While many voices have petitioned to have daily lesson plans created (and they are in the works), I am thrilled with the pick and choose freedom we have to select books that we own or are easily available and use as much or as little of the projects and activities as we like. If you want more detail on how I use this without stressing myself out (there's a lot of potential), I'm happy to share another time. We are moving on to Volume 3 next year.

The World's Story

I just purchased this when it came out this year, and I'm so glad I did. The only thing I didn't like about Connecting with History are the core texts. I just could never get into them, as they are old textbooks. Not my thing. But, this book is a gem! We are reading the chapters to catch up to where CWH Volume 3 will begin, and of course, I'm having my children do written narrations for each chapter. They are not even complaining about having to write, because they are enjoying this overview with all of the juicy tidbits thrown in for fun!

Trail Guide to World Geography

We went through the Trail Guide to U.S. Geography last year and thoroughly enjoyed it. I do own the CD-ROM, so I just print the worksheets and maps for my children to complete, making their own geography notebook. This is just simple enough that it takes only a few minutes at the end of morning basket each day, but I know they are gaining valuable map skills and familiarity with the countries of the world.

Young Explorer Series (Science)

I have gone back and forth with doing this together and separating my children in different volumes, but we are back to doing it together and loving it! I never liked science, but I am pleased to read aloud these textbooks whose tone is not very textbook-y. (is that a word?) We have done Astronomy, Botany, Zoology 1, and Zoology 2. We look forward to Zoology 3, Anatomy & Physiology, and the new Chemistry/Physics volume. I wonder if we can do 3 books next year instead of our usual two! I am so glad to introduce the various sciences to my children through this program. Oh, and we do have the notebooking journals this year, but we don't do every page. So I'm considering getting the CD-ROMs in the future.

Writer's Jungle (especially Tuesday Teatimes)

When I bought this, I loved it. It is everything I believe about writing, but it is more of a philosophy of teaching writing than an actual curriculum guide, sort of a course for the teacher. There are many ideas within, and you choose what to try with your children. I have always believe that teaching writing is not a step by step process but more of an evolving understanding of the written word. The more of this course I take the time to read, the more I believe this is the way to go. I have my children write various genres, and we do some copywork and read a ton of quality literature. This year, we added Tuesday Teatimes from Writer's Jungle to read poetry aloud, and my children beg for Tuesday Teatime every week! Good stuff!

I have to add two novels that we have recently read aloud (when we finished our world history for the year, I hoped these would make enjoyable group read aloud literature selections). These books are precious and interesting and fun! And the three of us love a good mystery story!

Mr. and Mrs. Bunny, Detectives Extraordinaire

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library

I'm sure I've forgotten something, but that's our Morning Basket! I'll include the rest of our curriculum materials in my next post.

By the way, has there been a book or material that you tried that did not work for you? I have to be honest and say that my 5th grader and I abandoned From Sea to Shining Sea and our Discover Texas course. Both were too dry and textbook-y for us. (there's that non-word again!) I think I'll assign L Is for Lone Star to my daughter next year and follow some rabbit trails with her (those Sleeping Bear Press alphabet books are rich for rabbit trails) and add a few historical fiction novels. We really enjoyed The Story of Texas when we read it upon moving home to Texas a few years ago, and I will probably repeat that with the other children.

L Is for Lone Star

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Breakfast Notes - Curriculum We Love!

One Saturday a month, I host a potluck breakfast in my home for Catholic homeschooling mothers. The group is always a bit different (there are over 60 women who have requested to receive the monthly invitations), but we always have an inspiring conversation! Here is what we shared this weekend:

(not all opinions are mine; they are a conglomerate of the moms present on Saturday)

That’s the only one of my questions we discussed. The conversation (and coffee) was so rich I didn’t get to any others!
What are your very favorite curriculum resources that were not mentioned above?

Monday, April 28, 2014

My Never-Ending To Do List

In February, long before I attempted the 7 Posts in 7 Days challenge (which was not entirely successful but taught me a few important things about myself as a writer and blogger) I recognized how completely overwhelmed I was. There was too much to do. Every. Single. Day. I felt as if I was accomplishing so little of what needed to be done that I jumped at the chance to sign up for Elizabeth Foss's Restore Workshop in March and April. I knew I needed to get a handle on my burn-out and learn strategies to tackle the beast of my never-ending to do list. Between that online workshop and my Lenten sacrifices, the Lord has done some serious work on me and has shown me how much work is yet to be done.

As a Catholic wife and homeschooling mother of four remarkable children, ages 11, 8, 3, and 1, owner of my own home-based business, and vice chair of our 3rd annual San Antonio Catholic Homeschooling Conference this June, I had been feeling stretched in so many, many, many ways. In fact, the identifying factor in every season of burnout for me has been the inability to decide what to do from moment to moment in my day, to the point that I waste my time puttering in the house or online without doing much of anything. I feel like a deer in headlights, frozen with fear, incapacitated by the expectations of my responsibilities.

I hope to write about many of the insights I have gained about myself and my vocation this grace-filled Lenten season over the next few months. While blogging adds one more big thing to my to-do list, I feel very called to be in this space, to share what God hands me. And, one of the most profound realizations I have had is this:

Most of what I do on a daily basis will never be finished until I die.

This is something many have shared before. Mystie wrote a book on repetitive housework.  Lacy reminds us a mother's work is never done.  And, of course, there are volumes written on parenting adult children. Homemaking and motherhood go on and on and on. This truth began to dawn on me, as I stumbled onto a Facebook fast for Lent. I hadn't intended to give up Facebook, but a few days before Lent started, I found a book that captivated me. My Facebook time was habitually on my phone while nursing or rocking my toddler to sleep, and so I turned to reading the book during those times instead of the Facebook.

And, after about five days, the book was finished, and I realized that I hadn't been on Facebook. I noticed that I felt less anxious about my home, my children, the world around me, and putting said toddler down for his naps. Remembering that many of my good friends choose Facebook fasts for Lent, I wondered why. What is it about Facebook that is so detrimental? Facebook wasn't a problem for me. But, then, it hit me. Facebook is never finished. I can always click more links or scroll down further through my news feed, especially since Facebook keeps changing it up, making it more challenging to keep things in chronological order. I can always share more photos or articles or status updates. And, if I do manage to get down to the bottom of the feed where I'm pretty sure I read everything, at least a dozen new updates have appeared at the top of my feed, prompting me to start all over again! There is simply no end to it.

My aha moment to connect this to the rest of my life was when someone said (this was either a podcast or a blog, but I can't remember who said it) I needed to learn to be okay with completing the tasks that are realistic in one day, trusting that God knows how much He wants me to do. God gives us the time in each day to accomplish what He wants us to accomplish, not what we want to accomplish. Right. Wow.

Example 1: My house will never be as clean as I want it to be. I have four children who are home 95% of the time. As soon as I clean a floor, the crumbs and sticky spots return with a vengeance.

Example 2: My children will never learn everything I want to teach them. I choose my own curriculum materials and create my own lesson plans. Therefore, the potential for what my children could learn is endless, and unless I change my perspective, we will never cover everything I think they should learn.

Example 3: My business will never be as big as it could be. I am in direct service and sales, which means that I could always have more customers, more showings, more appointments, etc...

I could continue with examples about laundry (they keep wearing the clothes I wash) and cooking (they keep eating the meals I cook) and volunteering (there is always more that could be done), but you get the point. Just like Facebook (and sometimes blog reading), I can't ever say I'm done.

So, how do I live with that? How do I find peace despite my personality as a Type A do-er who loves crossing things off a list?  How do I find the time to do the things that are important but not urgent? I feel God has given me the answer, even if I haven't taken the time to act on it yet.

Through prayer, set realistic goals and work towards them.

For me, I feel that goals are going to be the answer to reduce my frustration and avoid burn-out. I must let go of my frustration with my never-ending to-do list and work towards goals that are reasonable. My husband suggested giving our two oldest children some freedom to work as quickly as they would like on their remaining school work and possibly finish up the year early (we usually school through the end of June), and I can see how that would give me some much-needed time to reflect on goals for each area of my life.

And, it is essential that this is done through prayer. I must seek what things God would like me to do, not necessarily what I want to do. Then, when I write down those goals and make those choices, I need to trust that He is enough to bring mercy to any of my faults and gaps, and not second guess my decisions. At some point, I need to make a realistic list for each day, week, month, year and stick to it, without worrying about the things I'd like to add but can't due to my human limitations. Let it go! (cue my daughter belting this song at the top of her lungs)

If my to do list says mop the floor, teach math, and schedule a business appointment, I could cross off those things today, but I probably need to do them again tomorrow. Instead, it's time for me to look at the bigger picture and write goals, most of which will never be crossed off. They will require constant work, daily work, and a whole lot of surrender to God.

He knows the big picture better than I do, of course. He winces at my ridiculous focus on the day to day tasks and longs for me to turn towards supernatural and lasting goals. I believe that when I have a bigger goal in mind, repeating tasks over and over to get there, will bring me more peace and allow me to access more of the mercy and grace available to me.

I will do my best to share this new stage of my mothering journey with you, as God speaks to my heart and shows me how to embrace my never-ending to do list as a pathway to His loving arms. Thanks for walking with me.

What repetitive tasks frustrate you the most? What goals do you try to keep in mind on a daily basis?

*This is my first blog post on my new tablet, and I can't get pictures to load. I'll try again tomorrow!