Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Year In Review: Organizational Notes (2014-2015)

Twice already this summer I've come across an idea on a blog and thought, "I should do that!"  This thought is followed immediately by the realization that I've already done this particular thing in the past, and I've stopped doing it for some reason.  This then leads to a concentrated wracking of my brain, trying to remember the details of why I stopped doing this thing that I now thought was a good idea (again).  In an effort to forestall this process in the future, I thought I'd make some notes about the year we just finished.

Last summer I bought a ProClick (last summer it was much cheaper to buy in person at OfficeMax) and a box of 5/16" spines and created a number of bound books for the kids.  Gregory (Y3) and Nathan (Y1) had one for their copywork and one for their math.  As I mentioned before, I used the copywork books from Classical Copywork, and bound each one separately.  I also bound each section of MEP separately so that the books didn't get too unwieldy.  I placed a piece of card stock at the front and back of the book to give it a little more rigidity and used these for the entire year, just swapping out pages as they finished a section of math or a copywork book.

I also used my ProClick to make songbooks containing all the music we sang together during Morning Time, adding card stock at the front and back of each book.  These too held up well and were very useful.

Pros:  Durable, manageable in size, no missing pages or ripped holes.
Cons:  Didn't shelve well (although it just occurred to me that I should have tried a magazine holder to contain them on the bookshelf)


The Year
This year was the first year I implemented Sabbath Schooling - a six week on, one week off model for our homeschool year.  We also took a four week break at Christmas and a two week break at Easter.  The kids and I enjoyed this model and we plan to do it again next year.  They appreciated the downtime in the different seasons and having the breaks from their school work throughout the year. Thanks to Mystie's fabulous online course, Simplified Organization, I've started running everything on an interval planning system which follows our school year.  It has been a wonderful addition to our lives.

Pros:  More peace, more stuff gets done, I don't get burned out, the kids don't feel like school is dragging on forever and ever (most of the time, at least!), the world is a happier place.
Cons:   Hmm...  well, it makes the school year look longer, because we started in mid-August and ended in mid-June.

The Week
When I was planning last year, I made a spreadsheet with multiple tabs, one for each child.  In the spreadsheet, I copied and pasted the Ambleside Online weekly breakdowns from the website, modified some things, and added in my own substitutions and changes.  Each week I would change the background color on the cell for each completed reading.  We didn't always finish the weeks' reading in that given week, but seeing it all laid out with the colors made it easy for me to see what needed to be done so I could keep moving things along.  This worked extremely well and I was able to follow out the entire year this way.

For the first part of the year I was working from my spreadsheet and making each child a weekly checklist.  These were stored on their clipboard at their desk, along with their current drawing practice page, paper for drawing, and any reference pages like a cursive alphabet page and multiplication table.  This worked reasonably well, so long as I made the checklists in a timely manner and checked the clipboards weekly to cull finished pages.

But (and you knew there was a but, didn't you?) as I struggled with my sleep issues in the late winter I couldn't keep it up.  I moved to a daily notebook log as Sarah described for Emma (Y7) and Gregory (Y3).  I didn't bother with a list for Nathan (Y1), instead maintaining a list of his weekly read alouds in the Reminders app on my phone and having him do the same basic table work each day.  A written daily list worked well for Gregory (Y3), but not for Emma (Y7).

Emma wanted to be able to see all that she would be doing in the week week and more control over what days she did which assignments.  I tried giving her a weekly list without day assignments (largely because that was a much easier format for me to produce, therefore much more likely to happen in a timely manner), but it was way too easy for her to not do enough work early in the week.  What ended up being a happy medium was a weekly list and a 10 minute conversation each evening.  Each assignment on her list was rated at one or two Pomodoros and I would tell her how many Pomodoros she would have available the following day.  She'd then go over her weekly list, choose her assignments, write them in a small notebook and show me.  I'd look it over, perhaps suggest a modification or two for better balance, and hand it back.  Using the Pomodoro app to help keep her on track, it would then be her responsibility to get the work done before dinnertime.  Side Note:  We have a rule in our house - if you don't have your cleaning chores and your school work done before dinner, you don't eat dinner until they are completed.  It isn't perfectly enforced and I reserve the right to be merciful and grant exceptions, but it does help see that work is completed.

Pros:  My spreadsheet was fantastic - I was worried that it would be unmanageable or become obsolete, but changing the colors and making modifications as we went it worked extremely well.  Looking only at the work for today was a good thing for Gregory.  It helped him be more diligent in getting his work done and it was easy for me to do.  The Pomodoro concept was a big win with Emma, and it has helped her to work in a more focused fashion.
Cons:  I spent a lot of time on my spreadsheets last summer - although this year it has taken probably only a quarter of the amount of time.

Outside Commitments
In this school year, we had Atrium once a week.  We would leave the house at about 2:30 and be home by about 6:30.  Last summer I used the slow cooker meal plan from $5 Dinners to make crock pot meals to use each Monday and on the whole that worked well.  The food wasn't amazing, but it was edible and got the family fed.  Since my husband works from home, I could ask him to do things like start rice in the rice cooker or put prepped broccoli in the oven for roasting, and that was a big help.  If that wasn't an option, I think I would have had to make the rice ahead of time and reheat it when we got home and just had pre-prepped salads as our veggie side each week.

We were also part of a public charter this school year.  The money was nice (although I think I only used about half of it at most), and the occasional field trips were convenient, but the testing, paperwork and the need to go to the monthly meetings was always a struggle.  And when there's money allocated to be spent by a certain deadline, it is hard not to feel like it has to get used, even if I don't really need to spend the money on more activities or more consumables.  The people at the charter I'm with are incredibly nice, friendly and supportive - really, they couldn't be easier to work with.  But it still adds another layer of complexity to my life.

We also joined another family for a small once a month co-op.  During our time together we would do things like a US Geography study, prayer, recitation, a picture study, a poetry study, Shakespeare and folk songs.  The geography study, recitation and prayer were the only things that we did each month, the others were a rotation.  Each month we'd focus on 5-6 states and make a lunch with foods from that region.  Then there would be some time for visiting and play.  The kids (and moms!) enjoyed getting together and we're considering doing it again next year.

Once a month Emma and I volunteered at our local food bank, shelving donations and sorting food.  It has been a good experience for us both, and we hope to continue.  For the first four months or so I took Hannah and wore her on my back in the Ergo, then she got old enough to be left at home with my husband and the other kids.  Our volunteering was a real family effort!

At the beginning of the year I vowed that I would take the kids on a hike at least once a week.  We did well for about three months, then we had a horrible stomach bug run through the family and then we hit all the spring busy-ness.  It was a great practice while it lasted.  On hike days we we did Morning Time together, then a little bit of tablework (copywork and a section or two of math) then headed out.  Sometimes we would bring a lunch, sometimes we wouldn't.  Then we'd be home in time to put younger kids down for naps and I would do some read alouds with Gregory and Nathan while Emma would do some reading.

In the spring I made the mistake of scheduling too many things.  The three older kids were in a once a week clay class, which they really enjoyed.  We also signed up for quite a few field trips, almost one a week.  And then there was a camping trip in Yosemite, Confirmation and two Confirmation retreats...  and it all added up to a lot.  All good things, but too much when taken altogether.

Pros:  Lots of good stuff
Cons:  Too much good stuff leaves everyone exhausted, crabby, and unable to do much at home except cleaning chores, bickering, and school work.  And did I mention bickering?  *sigh*

Phew!  I hope my future self appreciates this!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Family Studies: Weekly Work (2014-2015)

This year we had three defined areas where all my children worked together:  Morning Time,  Morning Read Aloud and Weekly Work.

Weekly Work
I also used Sarah's loop scheduling for this area as well.  I also moved this to the Reminders app about mid-year and that worked wonderfully.  We spent about 30 minutes on this block, and I generally would group Picture Study and Pilgrim's Progress since each only took about 10-15 min.

Emma (Y7) was present for all of these subjects, but Gregory (Y3) did not have to join us for Plutarch.  Nathan (Y1) was excused from Shakespeare and Plutarch.

Plutarch - Dion then Crassus, using Ann White's excellent (and free!) study guides.  These are absolutely invaluable in making Plutarch doable, especially in the beginning.  I had hoped to study three lives, but two ended up working out much better for us.

Shakespeare - Midsummer Night's Dream then Richard III (which we still haven't finished, but we're getting close!)  I should write more about how we study Shakespeare as a family...  I did several years ago, but we've expanded our studies now that I have older kids.  I had planned to study Julius Caesar in the spring, but I hadn't accounted for the length and the complexity of Richard III when I planned that.

Picture Study - Fra Angelico then Diego Velasquez.  We used Ambleside's art suggestions for both, but then I expanded our Velasquez study to include more paintings mentioned in I, Juan de Pareja.  I added a painting by Pareja as well.  I highly recommend reading that book if you study Velasquez, it was one of our best read alouds of the year.  I had planned to study Degas as listed in the AO schedule, but we were enjoying our Velasquez study so much I decided not to end it prematurely.

Music Study - St. Hildegard, using the AO suggestions, then we studied the orchestra using The Story of the Orchestra and a series of wonderful videos on YouTube from the London Philharmonic Orchestra.  I had intended on studying Rachmaninoff as well, but we didn't get to him.  I'm thinking we'll study him next year because he is a composer I really enjoy.

Pilgrim's Progress - We read this all year using the AO 72 week breakdown.  I'm continuing it over the summer so as to not lose momentum.  I hope to finish it somewhere around the end of the 2nd Term, which will give me some room to add a book I want to read next spring.

Handicrafts Instruction - In the first term we worked on small felt projects like felt food and some felt items from Big Little Felt Universe.  This book is not for (most) children but my boys were quite taken with the pocketknife and compass from the book so I made some modifications and they created some fun items.  In the second term we worked on knot tying which was also a big success.  In the third term, the kids all took a clay modeling class at a local art studio (that counts, right??) and made cups, boxes, bowls, pitchers and an assortment of small knives, hammers and other tools.  Emma made a beautiful earring holder for her various dangly earrings.

Nature Study - I did a special study of clover with Gregory (9) and Nathan (7) at the beginning of the year and Emma (13) did one about corn.  They were good studies and went well, but I neglected to have anything on deck to go next.  Emma and I informally studied mushrooms (meaning - we read about them, did lots of observations, intentionally went out to look for them, but didn't actually write anything down) as it was a great year for mushroom hunting, but that's about it.  Not that there weren't lots of nature discoveries and observations and some entries in our Calendar of Firsts, but we did not do any other special studies or nature study journal entries.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Family Studies: Morning Read Aloud (2014-2015)

This year we had three defined areas where all my children worked together:  Morning Time,  Morning Read Aloud and Weekly Work.  

Morning Read Aloud
This is a spot in our day where I used Sarah's loop scheduling to great advantage.  Sometimes this read aloud got skipped due to time constraints, difficult kid behavior, or mommy fatigue, but the loop scheduling helped us to keep making progress in all the books.  About mid-way through the year I started using Reminders to keep track of the list, and that worked well.  I ended up starting all the books I had planned during this time slot, but there are a few that didn't get finished by our last day of school.  So long as we aren't trying to get out the door first thing in the morning, I try to have a brief Morning Time each day during the summer, and I'm finishing up those read alouds during this time.  One book we finished yesterday, one we'll finish at some point this summer, and the last we'll finish in the next school year.  

I grouped these into categories and read one in each category at a time:

Saint Biography - Saint Joan:  The Girl Soldier*

Church History/Catechism - St. Patrick's Summer* and Crossbows and Crucifixes* (only about a third)

Natural History - Nest for Celeste (worth reading for the illustrations!), Samson: Last of the California Grizzlies*, In the Forest, and Ways of the Wood Folk (about halfway through - we'll finish this in the fall)

Art/Music Enrichment - Knights of Art about Fra Angelico, Hildegard's Gift, and I, Juan de Pareja*

Literature - Wheel on the School* and Red Sails to Capri*

Advent - In Advent, I added an additional read aloud to our schedule, sometimes skipping the scheduled one, and sometimes reading both.  We read The Twenty-Four Days Before Christmas*, The Christmas Mystery, and A Christmas Carol*.

*We enjoyed all of these books, but I added asterisks to our particular favorites.