Thursday, November 15, 2007

MS 2007-2008

So, what are the kids doing individually this year? We'll start with MS, because, well, it's an oldest child thing.

Last year (2006), when we were in the States, I brought back this year's (2007) school books. We already had our 2006-2007 books, because a group of volunteers had brought them for us. I just knew that if I came back with school books over a year ahead of time that we'd end up evacuating, and I'd have to haul them right back to the States (think I've had similar things happen too often? :-/ ).

This, fortunately, did not happen. We only had one small repercussion from buying so far in advance: SL re-vamped their Language Arts program. So, I had to re-buy 3 levels of LA, 1 & 3 for JW & MS for this year and 2 for JW for next year. (We came back this summer with our 2008-2009 books, hoping that our "no evacuation" "luck" will hold up.)

So, MS is doing the new SL LA 3 for language arts this year. We got off to a late start, because FedEx made a shipping mistake and had to send our SL order here to us in the Middle East (shout out to SL customer service; they were great in helping us get this figured out).

That left us playing catch-up. We were almost caught up when I had the bright idea for the kids' school blog, which I've been using as MS's creative writing assignments for the past couple of weeks. I guess we'll catch up again at some point.

I pulled the Grammar Songs assignments from the old LA 3, because I wanted him to work through those, even though I'm assuming they're included in the new Grammar Ace program. With all of the "Songs" sets that we're using (Addition, Multiplication, Geography, History, etc.), I'm hoping to have the kids review them at least once after the first run-through to shore up the information.

MS is also doing the Core 3 Adv. Readers. We do our readers a bit differently, though. We don't read them as scheduled. I put their level of readers on their shelf along with all of the extra period-related history readers that I've bought for them and let them have at it. I keep a checklist of the readers, and I put one in their independent assignment folder (guess I should explain that; I'll do that soon). Occasionally, I sit down and ask them which books they've read. We don't do comprehension questions, but I usually hear enough about the books in casual conversation to know that their comprehending what they're reading (I don't let a kid loose on readers without being confident of their ability to read for comprehension anyway).

He reads these books during our daily "rest time," for at least 45 minutes and at night after the other kids are in bed if I feel like rest time has been too disjointed recently or if we've missed rest time for a day or more due to other activities. [Side note: after his 45 minutes and at bedtime, MS usually does "free reading," which is reading one or more of the myriad of other books we have in our house for the kids.]

For those interested, here is MS's checklist for his readers. We've added some period-related readers since then from a shipment of books we received (RIP M-bag service), mainly several books from the Mandie series, and a few of the Core 3 read-alouds, but this is most of what he's reading.

For Bible, our tradition has become to buy kids their own NIrV (the NIV with vocabulary changed so as to be at a 3rd grade reading level) Bible once they reach independent reading. [MS received a "Super Heroes" Bible in which major Bible characters are highlighted as heroes or villains along with their powers/downfallings.] I then have them read the daily Bible readings from the SL core themselves. I make a spreadsheet (of course) with the year's readings divided into six different columns. I put a small column to the left of each list. Cut apart, these become a bookmark for their Bibles where they can keep up with their reading by making checkmarks in the small column. Here is MS's Bible reading sheet for this year. I blacked out all put what appears on SL's website on the sample IG pages.

[I'm going to add a post at some point for what we do for art and music appreciation, because I just realized that I didn't include that in what we're doing for all of the kids.]

I just realized that this post is going to get really long, and I should have just gone ahead and put it up when I stopped working on it the other day, so I'll put it up now and probably get the other half up tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What we're doing this year

Some of what I have to say about the organization of our school day/year relies on what it is we're actually covering, so I thought I'd go ahead and lay that out. I'll save what each child is doing individually for separate posts and just focus on what we're doing together.

For the past two years, we have been following a modified Sonlight core schedule. We did Cores 1 & 2 but I rearranged them around the timeline of Story of the World Volumes 1 & 2, rather than Child's History of the World that Sonlight uses. I prefer the tone of SOTW and it has an Activity Guide and tests available for each volume, which we use to varying degrees.

My plan for this year was to use SL Core 3 and overlay SOTW 3 on top. They cover roughly the same time periods, but I wasn't going to bend over backwards to get them to line up perfectly. I did re-arrange Core 3 where we were alternating reading a read-aloud with a history read-aloud (the novels, not the Landmark text) so that we were reading larger chunks of one at a time, rather than having two going at the same time, because we prefer it that way.

It takes me several hours to do all of this modification at the beginning of the summer, and I lay it all out in a spreadsheet that I refer to each six weeks when I do my lesson planning for that period (more on those later). You can see that spreadsheet here. I've blacked out what I think is the only copyrighted info, the pages of the Usborne Internet-Linked Encyclopedia of World History that we read which correspond to each chapter of SOTW. These are listed in the SOTW AG, and I wouldn't want to just give away what they put a lot of work into. As a plug, reading those pages, with their extra information and great visuals (as is typical for Usborne) lend great extra depth to our SOTW reading. Plus, the boys will actually pull out the UILE to just browse (as do many guests in our home :-).

So, with our school year all planned out for us in a format that's worked great for two years, we plunged in.

Only, the read-alouds from Core 3 were just not doing it for us. The boys were following the storyline, but were not that enthused about it (JW's been in on read-alouds for the current Core since the last bit of Core 1). Hm, maybe I should have listened to the chatter on the SL boards about there being a big jump to Core 3. I was prepared to address the mature issues; I just wasn't quite ready for them to be so ho-hum about the books. Especially since a friend had gone on and on about how this was the favorite Core she'd done with her kids. At an older age, of course.

I was already contemplating making a change of sort. The clincher: MA said to me one day, "Mommy, remember when I used to sit with you guys when you did read-alouds, and I got to listen to what you were reading?" Back to the drawing board forthwith! (This really surprised me, because read-aloud time was when MA got to play on the computer, one of her favorite things to do. For her to suggest something different was a big deal.)

Around this same time, we were doing some storage juggling (when you have no closets and all of your out-of-use things are in trunks that you use when you travel, this has to happen at times) and our Core C books were out. I had been contemplating pulling some of the higher level read-alouds for us to use, and as I looked through them, I realized that there were a lot more meaty books than I'd remembered. Between that and the new books SL had since added to Cores B & C that I'd purchased this year (haven't looked at those cores since Core A was introduced, so I'm sure there are plenty more now), I had enough read-alouds to lay out the rest of the year.

So, I added a column to my spreadsheet (because life revolves around spreadsheets, right? or is that just my life...) for Core C read-alouds. We dropped the Core 3 ones, some of which I added to MS's readers for the year, some of which will become read-alouds at some later point, and some of which I'll just let the kids read on their own as they get older, so none are wasted, just reassigned.

In addition to the read-alouds scheduled on the spreadsheet, I laid out the chapters/sections of Hero Tales and Grandmother's Attic from Core C for us to read daily and weekly respectively.

Our read-aloud times since then have been precious. MA joins us, everybody's loving the books, and we're all commenting and discussing much more now that the boys aren't struggling to just keep up with the storyline. Of course, I'm having to fight them off of the read-alouds for independent reading, but that's a problem I don't mind having.

Oh, and MA still gets her computer time when we read history and science after the Core C read-alouds, so it's a win-win situation for everyone. :-)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Allowance system

I thought that, since I'd posted comments on a couple of other blogs, and people might actually come and look at my blog, that I'd probably better start making posts. :-P

[Sidenote: this is a perfectionistic tendency, putting off an overwhelming task, because it can't be done perfectly all at once. Now, you know even more about my perfectionist self.]

Of course, I get here to post and discover it's too late. Trish beat me to my blog. :-) Oh, well, here goes.

I decided to start with my most recent project that I undertook and decided I might want to share, our recently re-vamped and so-far-working allowance system. I stumbled upon a blog one night that had a listing of blog entries by about 30 moms relating how they handled chores and allowance in their home. I had recently come up with a new "family responsibility"/chore system that was working for me (to be expounded on in upcoming posts), but I read with interest about the various allowance set-ups. [I had full intention of linking to this informative blog listing, but I cannot figure out where it was. If I find it, I'll come back and add that.]

We have tried a variety of allowance systems over the years since MS turned 5 and started receiving one. They've included sporadically giving the money when we remember, dropping the whole thing for periods of time, printing charts to record amounts and forgetting to record them, etc. Obviously, we had yet to find a system that worked.

A little background first, though: in our house, chores are chores and allowance is allowance. Chores are done because of membership in our family and service to one another (and if not done...well, that's another post, too). Allowance is for the purpose of learning financial responsibility and to be able to purchase "wants" above the "needs" and gifts Mommy and Daddy purchase.

To this end, we want to provide an amount of allowance that allows for a decent accumulation. We want our kids to see that saving actually allows them to purchase the items they want, not get discouraged and just squander it on candy and trinkets, because that's all they can afford (not to say they won't do that at one time or another, just that we don't want that to be their only viable option).

We operate in a different currency, but our kids get roughly $0.28/year of age each week, starting at age five. That means, MS is currently getting $2.26/week and JW is getting $1.69 (thank goodness for the currency converter on my Mac dashboard!).

Okay, so none of that is new. We decided on that amount a couple of years ago. What I gleaned from the blog round robin was using allowance checkbooks.

Basically, you create a checkbook, with register, for each child. They record their allowance and any other deposits, like birthday money or payment for extra jobs, in the register and write a check for each purchase they make. This means, that when they go (physically) shopping, they must have their checkbooks with them. When they shop for something on the internet to have someone bring over or to download (and MS has quickly learned that this is the cheapest way to go over buying expensive imports in-country), they just write me a check when I make the purchase that they've chosen.

No money to lose, and they are responsible for recording their weekly allowance deposits (it's on their weekly chore list on Fridays to remind them, and I am still helping JW record his). I've taught/am teaching them how to use the calculator on their computer dashboard and MS is learning the currency converter, as well.

So far, two months into the experiment, it has worked *very* well, and I think we've *finally* found a solution to the allowance system dilemma.

To make the checkbooks, I looked high and low on the web for a template or existing option. I didn't find anything that really fit what I wanted, so I just looked at what I had found and made my own mock-up. I did this in Word and customized it to each child. I used made-up addresses, because we don't have street addresses here, but if we'd lived in the States, I would have used a home and a business (ML's) address for the checkbook holder and the bank respectively. This familiarizes the child with their address, which they may not know that well in this electronic day and age. For the router number at the bottom of the check, I some other numbers that I'd like the kids to be familiar with, but I won't share what numbers, in case some stalker is reading my blog and happens to be in the Middle East where he/she can go through my trash. :-/

I printed out pages of the checks, cut them apart with my paper cutter, and had them comb-bound with a cover sheet on top and two folded check registers in the back. The comb-binding includes a clear plastic cover and a cardstock backing.

Oh, and I also searched for some images to use in the corner of the checks that I thought the boys would find fun. MS has Link from the Legend of Zelda game (please wait before judging me on that one; I'll explain later), and JW has Sonic the Hedgehog. For the bank insignia, I used our family crest. Pretty nifty, I thought.

I've posted the checks on Google Docs, minus any personal information. And I've put up the register I made up, too. You should be able download and modify the documents for your own use, if you'd like. The checks are in Word. The register is an Excel file.

- MS's checks
- JW's checks
- check register

Please, feel free to post any questions you have about the system (once anyone reads this blog :-), and I'll either add the answer to the post or answer with a comment.