Tuesday, August 31, 2010

How my life would be better with a serger.

Sew, Mama, Sew Blog has asked the question, "How would your life be better with a serger?" At times like this I wish I was witty or clever or funny, but the simple truth is I am not these things and my attempts to be so tend to be rather pathetic. Instead, I'll do what I do best, which is detailed and probably too wordy. Hey, everyone has to be good a something. So, here goes.

My life would be better with a serger because:

1. My limited sewing time would be much more productive.
   This is how my school/family/dining room looked like this afternoon, and it's an all too common state. Today we took the time to clean it up before dinner, but sometimes I sew instead. I'm a homeschool mama of five, teaching high school Biology, preschool shapes and colors, and almost everything in between. I do well to get even two or three hours of sewing per week, and I get that time because I let other things go in order to have it. If I had a serger, just think of how much more I could accomplish in that two or three hours.

2. I find myself drawn to difficult fabrics and complicated construction.
   My pre-teen daughter needs more skirts and pants, so I decided to take a pair of too short jeans and convert them into a skirt by cutting them off just below the zipper and adding a skirt. Did I choose a simple quilting cotton and a straight forward A-line skirt? No way. I'm using an airy gauze that is requiring french seems, and I am doing a multi-layered gathered skirt, all on a 20+ year old 6-stitch Kenmore. It's going to look so great when it's finished, but those multiple fluttering layers all need teeny tiny narrow hems, meticulously and time consumingly done. If I had a serger, I wouldn't have to do french seams and I'd be doing rolled hems on all those tiers. The skirt would be done by now, and I'd be on to another project by now.

3. Lastly, no one ever gives sergers away.
   We are a one income family, and I just don't foresee being able to afford a serger any time within the next few years. People frequently want to clear out their closets and will give sewing machines away to someone (like me) that will use it. Over the years I've been giving 4 working sewing machines, and have been offered a few that don't work. But no on ever gives away a serger. People that have sergers don't have them sitting around in closets; they are using them. If I won the Husqvarna Viking s21, I wouldn't have to pine for a serger any longer.

Thank you, Sew, Mama, Sew, for your generosity in so many things in so many ways. Thank you for the mere chance at such a wonderful, high-end serger. I have 7 people (5 kids, my husband, and myself) I'm sewing for, plus we just bought a home that needs lots for decor and there is always gifts and charity projects to be made. Having a serger of my very own would be a dream come true.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Student Portrait Week

It's week 3, Student Photo Week, on the NOT Back-to-School blog hop hosted at Heart of the Matter. However, my husband strongly prefers that I do not put photos of our children on my blog and I strongly prefer to respect his preferences. So, you won't find any photos here and if you were looking for them, feel free to move onto other blogs on the blog hop.

What you will find, instead, is a verbal snap shot of each of my children, a little paragraph focusing on some part of their personality. You see, I was hugely challenged by the keynote speaker on Saturday of the 2010 AFHE Homeschool Convention, Carol Barnier. She spoke of how we can focus too closely on the problems in each of our children, and miss their gifts, their unique qualities that can be of use to God.

My 8th grader –
Just that morning, while eating breakfast at the time-share we were staying in, I complained about my son's lack of opinions to my friend. She had asked him if he wanted another glass of milk, and he replied, "I don't know." He really and truly didn't know if he wanted more milk or not, and I just don't get how someone wouldn't know what he wants.

During Mrs. Barnier's talk, as a shed a few tears because of the conviction I was under, it occurred to me to rethink this character trait that annoys me so much. It took a bit, but then it became suddenly clear to me. It’s not that he doesn’t know what he wants; it’s that he doesn’t care. If he has more milk or if he doesn’t have more milk, it’s all good to him. Are you seeing where I am going with this? In 1Tim 6:8, Paul admonishes Christians with, “And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.” It seems my son is further along in this regard than I myself am.

My 6th grader –
This girl is immensely capable and reliable. Once she has learned how to do something, such as make a spaghetti dinner by herself, I can count on her to do it again without help, supervision, or even problems. She’s my go-to girl, and is slowly and wonderfully becoming my dearest companion. Other people are beginning to see her quiet and unassuming dependable character too. Even at such a young age, she is being asked by other people to do tasks typically reserved for older girls, such as serving drinks when our church hosting a meal for out of town preachers. Even better is that her reliability is accompanied by a servant's heart.

My 2nd grader –
There is a heart for missions in this guy. A couple years back, he told me he was going to build a boat when he grew up, travel to China and tell all the people there about God, Jesus, and the Bible, and then he would be a policeman. While he has a better understanding of the numbers of people in China now, and his policeman dreams are fading a bit, he still wants to tell others about the one true God and His free gift of salvation. The thought of being the mother and main teacher of a future missionary scares me a bit.

My K’er –
This boy has an overweening sense of order. Before he was a year old, he would line his cars up by size; a practice he still does when he is finished playing with them. I have to fuss at him in the grocery store, because he doesn’t want to leave an aisle until he has straightened all the shelves he can reach and brought packages of food forward to fill empty places. He even tries to change my organization system on my books shelves, but… Well I don’t tolerate that much because I disagree with him on a couple of key issues (for example, he likes books pushed all the way back to the wall and I prefer the spines all aligned). This little man has some detail-orientated future in store for him. I can see that God placing him with us will be a good thing. He will learn how to tolerate those that don’t sweat the details much ;o).

My preschooler –
My baby. The Lord definitely knew what he was doing when he gave us this one last. She has such a personality that only her youth keeps her from dominating all the rest of her siblings. I’ve even seen my teenager obey her commands once or twice! Thankfully, the majority of her bossiness is simple mothering. “Bruvver, use two hands!” is a typical ordered issued from her cute little mouth. I foresee her happily in charge of a large family of kids some day.

My children are wonderful, unique, pleasant individuals. I enjoy being with each and every one of them, and it is amazing to me to watch who they will be unfolding in who they are. May their unique gifts become a blessing to man and bring glory to God.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

What's in the Workbox

This is my 2nd grader's Read Aloud workbox for this week. Every thing I read aloud to him, and my K'er, goes into one bin with this week's Core Instructor's Guide page. If I felt I needed the guide pages for the books I would add them to the bin as well, but since this is only Core 1 and I've done this Core before I didn't bother with the guides.

This is my K'er's Math workbox for the day. He wants to do lots of pages in Singapore Earlybird book A each day, but he isn't really getting the concepts fully. So, as needed, I am making up additional hands-on Math for him. Today he has to count out the amount of beads written on each Post-It note. Not exactly related, but I used green Post-Its because his color is green. Yes, I do color code my kids.

This is a tea party in a bin for my preschooler. Her workboxes are all about keeping her occupied and happy while I work with my school aged children. Well, tea parties make her very happy indeed and I can't think of a single other activity that will keep her busy for more time. This is all she needs for herself and her two pandas, because (at least according to her) pandas like tea parties too.

This is my 6th grader's last pocket in her workfolder for today. She is working on a quilted notebook cover. We are both loving how using this version of the workbox system is getting her to more electives more regularly.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

School Room Week + Workboxes

It's week 2, School Room Week, of the NOT Back-to-School Blog Hop over on Heart of the Matter. 

We don't have a dedicated school room, but school definitely dominates our family room. Check it out. As usual, click on any photo to see it full size.
This photo was taken from in front of our kitchen sink, over looking the bar counter, the dining room table, and then into the family room where school takes place. Notice the cattails in the foreground from an earlier blog post, and behind them you can barely see an ugly but comfy yellow chair, and off to the right between the wooden chair and the computer desk is a comfy but ugly green love seat. The shelves and desk are pretty ugly too. Hmmm, I sense a theme there.

We do have prettier dreams, however. We are making plans, counting costs, and saving up to put in built in cabinets and shelves along that large west wall of the family room. This is about what we plan. We'll replace the ugly but comfy seats with pretty but comfy seats too.

While I'm at it here, I'll spend the rest of this post talking about our version of the workbox system. Don't know what workboxes are? Well, Squidoo has the best overview that I know of.
 I opted to use Sterilite 6.2 quart flat bins instead of plastic shoe boxes, because the idea of folding workbooks to fit in smaller bins just bothers me. The bins I chose allow even extra large books to lay flat. Otherwise my system for my three younger kids is pretty much the same as explained on the above Squidoo page. For my preschooler, the bins with pink numbers, "school" is just a mix of games, puzzles, and other activities that keep her happy while I work with the others. When I first started out with these about three weeks ago I was changing out her things daily, but now I have found she is just as happy if I keep the same items for a full week.

Here is a peek into my 2nd grader's #1 bin. The underside of the lid has the workbox schedule grid for the velcro numbers to go as he finishes each bin. Also, in this bin is where his pencil, crayons, and other school supplies live, and right on top ready for Monday morning is a cardstock page with clip art of a child making her bed and it reads "clean your room". He has to clean his room for the #1 bin to be done and so he can go on with the rest of his school day. My K'er and preschooler have similar #1 bins.

Some people new to workboxes wonder how subjects that are done together with more than one child are dealt with. For example, if I am reading one History book to two or more children what do I do with it? Well, the biggest benefit of the workboxes in our homeschool is the accountability required of me, so it is important to me that all school is in the boxes. So, I just put the do-together items in one child's box and when we get to it the other child (or other children, as the case may be) take a break from their boxes and come along too. Again, we are only about three weeks into this workbox system, but it is working very, very well so far. I'll post a workbox update come January or February, as I am often curious how people's systems work in the long term.

Lastly, I'll show you my 6th grader's workfolder system, which has a similar premise but is a bit different in execution. I take no credit for the idea; I pretty much copied, almost exactly, the idea from this blog post from Homeschool Creations. For me, this is the perfect solution for kids (and moms) that could benefit from the general workbox idea, but that feel they are too old for a dozen or so boxes. Also, it is quite compact, so it would be a great small space workbox solution as well. 

I found this comb bound plastic eight pocket folder at Wal-Mart on a low shelf in the school supply section, and bought two of them so that I could undo the comb binding and add four of the pockets from one into the other to have a single workfolder with twelve pockets (and another folder with four pockets that I am using for the Biology mini co-op I am hosting). The first pocket holds the schedule grid, plus has "clean your room" and "gather school supplies" as tasks to complete to call it finished. For items that won't fit easily into the pocket, such as the novel King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry that she is reading this week, I just use a Post-It note and a velcro square that says the subject (some, like this "Reading" one I got from Homeschool Creations' printables and others, like the "Clean your room." one above I made myself). 

Using this workfolder has been a huge success so far this school year, all three weeks of it, and I have great hopes that it will continue to be an asset. It keeps her moving forward steadily in all subject areas, keeps me more accountable to keep on top of her work daily, and keeps both of us more motivated to make sure some "fun" things are scheduled in there too. In the next couple days she'll get a chance to do an online video Art Club and work on her quilting project. In just three weeks she has already done more art, hobbies, and extracurriculars (typing at this moment) than she did for all of last year, and all while still getting all her other subjects done too. Scheduling her "fun" stuff in this way doesn't make it less fun, but rather makes it like a reward for working hard.

UPDATE: See this blog post to read how my workbox system is working almost a year later.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Note to Self: School Guilt

Note to self: Weigh all the facts before allowing yourself to be overwhelmed with lack of success of last school year.

As I have mentioned here before, we bought our own home late last spring and moved in at the end of May. Last week my husband finally got the book shelves set up (look for photos in a post next week), so I spent most of yesterday unpacking boxes of books and organizing school stuff onto the shelves. As I emptied boxes I sorted out the books that we should have done last year but due to this, that, and the other we never got around to reading. The left pile is what the older kids didn't get to, and the right is the younger kids. Pretty depressing stacks, huh? I was feeling rather low looking at them.

However, as I continued unpacking books and arranging shelves, I noticed the pile of books we did read last year was growing steadily. Sure, there were a number of good, worthwhile books that my kids missed out on. Books that I had spent money on; book that are gathering dust. But look at the pile of books we did read last year. Hmmm, nothing bad to feel about looking at these stacks ;o).

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What did YOU do this morning?

So, what did you do this morning? Me? I did this.

I collected pond water, placed it into four jars along with various "foods", and then stashed them away in a warm, dark cupboard (and we picked cattails too, just 'cause cattails are fun). Two weeks from now we'll take the jars out and see what kind of microorganism zoo we have grown. Oh, I soooo wish I had one of those cool microscope digital camera attachments, because this is going to be fun! I love homeschooling :D.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Curriculum Week

"The stores are filled with excitement to get public school kids geared up with new pencils, backpacks and even a new wardrobe just in time for Back-to-School. Missing out on all that buzz can be a bummer for homechooled kids and their parents – so we’re continuing the tradition with our 2nd Annual Not Back-to-School Blog Hop." Quoted from Darcy from Heart of the Matter.

Week 1 of the Not Back-to-School Blog Hop is all about curriculum. What we'll be using and how excited we are about it. As usual, I can summarize the basis of our school year with one really cool banner.

Sonlight Curriculum

This will be our eighth year using Sonlight for History, Literature, and Language Arts. We occasionally use Sonlight's Science as well, although this year it will be just individual titles instead of entire packages. We will be starting World History again, with Core 6 as our basis and Core 1 and 2 books added in for the youngers. Mystery of History volumes 1 and 2 will be our spine instead of Story of the World.

Other than Sonlight, I'm only going to focus on four additional curricular things we are doing with each child. Even though it won't be a complete picture of what we are doing this year, this post still got very, very long. Sorry. That's what's happens when you have 5 kids and are an eclectic homeschooler.

My 8th grader --
He will be doing Sonlight Core 6, with Mystery of History volumes 1 and 2 and Sonlight's Language Arts 6, over one year. He also is finishing up the six week Kidswrite Intermediate class at Bravewriter. This class focuses on transitioning kids from elementary to high school writing requirements and so far has been beneficial to him.

For Algebra I, he'll be using the Keys to Algebra series along with Life of Fred Beginning Algebra. Actually, he started the Keys to Algebra books at the tail end of last year and it's going well, but then I found out it only covers Algebra I topics. Now I am madly researching Algebra II options to go along with Life of Fred Advanced Algebra. Life of Fred is a great word problem/deeper thinking supplement, but it covers things too much, too fast, on too deep a level to stand alone, at least for my kid.

Apologia Exploring Creation with Biology. Yes, this is a high school level course but this kid is more than ready for it. Honestly, I think I'm more excited about doing Biology than he is. I've been waiting for high school Science since this kid was preschool and we were first deciding to homeschool. We'll be doing the labs from this course with a couple other families, sort of like a mini co-op. Fun, fun, fun!

Recreating StickMan: Introduction to 3D Interactivity. At the Arizona homeschool convention last month, we met a family that is producing tutorials teaching kids how to use the open source (i.e. free) Blender 3D graphics software. Blender is no light child's play program. People the world over are using it to produce Pixar-like animated short movies and much, much more. The Recreating StickMan tutorials teach designing and programing video games, and while simplistic in scope (the character is a stick man) the process would be the same for a much more complex game, only with loads more detail. This is obviously an elective, but one that my son is personally excited about and motivated to complete. Add to that that the content is worthy of at least a half credit for high school, and we both are super happy about it.

 My 6th grader --
She'll be doing Sonlight's Core 6, with Mystery of History volumes 1 and 2, and Sonlight's Language Arts 6 all over one and a half years. Along with Core 7, I plan to have her spend a total of three years on World History, slowing her down just a bit so that she doesn't start Sonlight's Core 100 before the 9th grade. Other items she will be doing include (but aren't limited to):

A Virtuous Girl, by Queen Homeschool Supplies. This is a Bible devotional/study/workbook for Proverbs 31:10-31. She does this independently during her 30 minute Bible time each morning, along with some time in prayer and any Sunday School assignments she may have. I don't correct or even look over her work in this, as I want it to be her time with the Lord. However, I have told her that I am free for any discussions or questions she might have.

All About Spelling level 4. I actually plan to buckle down and get her through all of level 4 and 5 this year, and hope to get through 6, the final level, as well. The only reason it took all of last year to do level 3 is simply because we were doing well if we got to it once a week or so, not because it was difficult for her. I plan to make Spelling a priority in her day this year, aiming to do it first thing in the morning right after Bible.

Singapore Primary Mathematics 5B Along with it she's doing Singapore Challenging Word Problems 4, which is sadly out of print but I bought books 3 through 6 before Sonlight was completely sold out and I just make the kids use a spiral notebook. I've read a rumor that it will be republished, however. Anyway, she is not "behind" to be doing Singapore 5B and Challenging Word Problems 4 in the 6th grade, not by a long shot. When kids finish Singapore 6B they are usually ready for Algebra I, and the word problems in Challenging Word Problems 4 are eerily similar to problems I was given in my College Algebra class but Singapore teaches how to solve them without Algebra. When she finishes Singapore 5B and Challenging Word Problems 4, she'll do Life of Fred Decimals and Percents, before moving into Singapore 6A and Challenging Word Problems 5.

See the Light, Drawing Children to Him. I picked up this DVD that teaches chalk drawing at the convention, and free with purchase was the first three lessons of their online drawing videos as well. We haven't had a chance to try these out yet, but if my daughter likes them as well as I think she will I will consider subscribing to their online video lessons for the rest of the year.

My 2nd grader --
This kid, along with my K'er, will be listening in on Mystery of History volumes 1 and 2 over one and a half years, with books from Sonlight's Core 1 and 2 added in as appropriate. Basically, I'll be restructuring Cores 1 and 2 to more closely match the times covered in Cores 6 and 7.

Egermeier's Bible Story Book. This book is actually scheduled to go with Sonlight's Core K, which we did last year, but I feel it is better with slightly older children so I saved it for this year with my son.

My Calendar Book by Christian Light Publications. My older kids both learned the days of the week and months of the year easily through normal daily living and the occasional calendar lesson. This child is just not having the success with this method, and he needs concrete day-in and day-out instruction, I think, to get it to sink in.I'm hoping this workbook will be just the ticket.

Sonlight's Discover & Do Science DVDs and the Usborne Science Activities books that go along with them. With 4 official students this year, and not one of them fully independent yet, I need to minimize my teaching time wherever I feel I can without too much compromise. These DVDs allow this son to watch the experiments and then he can go ahead and do them himself without much, if any, help.

Miquon Math Red book. I'm a huge fan of Miquon and love the great foundation of understanding of Math that it develops in kids. My son is already half way through the red book and will move onto the Blue and Green books as the year progresses.

My Kindergartner --
This is the kid that is leaving me with the feeling of ACK!!! this year, not because he is or will be hard to teach (quite the opposite, he is bright and eager), but because he makes 4 official students this year, 2 of them still learning the most basic fundamentals of Reading and Math. This kid will tag along with our Mystery of History volumes 1 and 2 study mixed with pieces of Sonlight Core 1 and 2.

Sticker Activity ABC book. He is doing Sonlight's Language Arts K, and one of the activities scheduled in it as a letter is introduced each week is for the kid to make a "letter page" with the letter written large and pictures of items that start with that letter pasted all over. Sonlight's Instructor's Guide does include pages of little pictures to use for this purpose, but I've done LAK two times before I know that as the year moves on we will be less and less likely to pull out the scissors, paper, color pencils, and glue (I have this thing against glue, which is also why I do digital scrapbooking instead of traditional scrapbooking). Anyway, this little activity book has stickers for each letter of the alphabet all ready to go, and attractive alphabetically ordered pages to place the stickers on. I bought it from Rainbow Resource at the convention, and what I paid is more than worth the savings in time and hassle I'll get all year long.

Singapore Earlybird Mathematics. My little guy loves this book, and is burning through it. It is bright, colorful, solidly introduces the most basic of number concepts, and yet has just a little to do on each page which is perfect for the younger crowd that likes to do a lot of pages at any given setting. I like to start with book A while the child is still in preschool, which is why my son is almost finished with this book and will be moving into book B before too long.

My First Book of Cutting by Kumon. I found this book at a used curriculum sale in June, with only 2 pages (out of 80) missing out of it. It was only $1.00, so I picked it up and it makes a fine addition to my K'er's workboxes. I find his fine motor skills to be a bit behind for his age, and the cutting activities in this book are fun and fairly no-mama-needed exercises to strengthen his hands.

Pattern Blocks and Cards. Despite this kid having always loved puzzles, he has hardly used the pattern blocks that I have had since my oldest was about his age. I suspect because unlike puzzles the pieces don't lock in, and his avoidance of these blocks may be related to his fine motor skill difficulties. So, I'm starting him with the easiest cards in this kid and having him build the designs or pictures on a piece of felt so the pieces don't move as much. I will add, however, that this kid is the only one that I have found that doesn't love the pattern blocks. Even my sisters, then aged 14 and 10, loved playing with them one Summer when my Dad brought them for a visit.

My preschooler --
Last, and certainly not least if she has anything to do with it, is my preschooler.  My usual practice for preschoolers is to simply bring them along with whatever I am doing and not to do anything academic until they turn 5, which for my kids where their birthdays fall is usually the second half of the year before they start Kindergarten.

Sonlight's Core P3/4: Fiction, Fairy Tales, and Fun. This, the youngest Sonlight Core, isn't really "school" so much as it is great books to enjoy together. I'm not doing this systematically with her, yet, but it makes up the basis of most of the reading I do specifically with her (she also listens in somewhat on the reading I do with my K'er).

Preschool Scholar workbook. This isn't nearly as "school-ish" as it seems. It was simply the best inexpensive, colorful, preschool workbook that was both easy enough for my little girl to do and not limited to a single subject area. I bought it to make her happy that she had school work like her "bruvvers", and it serves that purpose well.

Lauri Puzzles and other puzzles. I love the durability and originality of the Lauri puzzles, and they are the only preschool puzzles I pay money for. However, I have been given a number of wooden and cardboard preschool puzzles as well that I do make use of in my littlest one's workboxes to encourage her to keep quietly (or at least mostly quietly) busy while I do school with the other kids.

Okay, I give a brand new box of crayons to each of my three younger kids at the beginning of the school year, but a box of crayons with her name on it makes my little one so.very.happy. Oh, for the days when a brand new box of crayons was enough to make you smile big. Wait, I still smile big when I open a new box of crayons and start to use them. I guess my littlest one and I have more in common than I sometimes think.