02 October 2015

Agent Homeschooling 2015-2016: Week 14

Hello, friends. Hope you had a great week. Following is a summary of what we did this week in our homeschooling for Agent E (grade 4) and Agent J (grade 2). We also have a kindergarten student (Agent A, age 4.5) but we don’t do much formal or structured with him so he’s not typically included in these updates. (But, if you’re curious about how we do kindergarten around here—well, the reading and writing part, anyway—you can check out this post.)

Om Nom watching Magnet Person
take Magnet Dog for a walk under the Magnet Sun
This week we looked at measurement, ratio, money, multiplication, division, and telling time. (Not all at once and not all subjects with both Agents.) My plan was to just look at measurement (and maybe money with Agent J) but somehow we had a week of rabbit holes with math. We also tried checking out one of the “math kits” our library puts together (a tote for each grade—kindergarten through fifth—with books, games, worksheets, suggested online resources, etc.) but it didn’t work for us. The books were so-so (we’ve chosen better ones on our own) and the binder of activities was overwhelming and not that interesting. A good idea in theory, though, and maybe it works for some.

Language Arts
We looked at punctuation this week with the help of several great (and funny) grammar books. We’ve now covered all the parts of speech, synonyms and antonyms, similes and metaphors, homonyms and homophones, and punctuation. Along the way, we’ve done some sentence structure (subject/verb agreement), word choice (they’re vs. there, action verb vs. linking verb, comparative vs. superlative adjectives), spelling rules, and reading comprehension. I think it has helped the Senior Agents to see all the mechanics broken down in this way. Like their Momma (ahem) they seem to have a pretty intuitive grasp of grammar and what just “looks and sounds right.” Now, I would like to start making a more concerted effort to work on original writing. For both girls, reading level (speed, comprehension, interest, desire) has always outpaced writing interest (and skill). I’m not sure yet what the best way to go about this will be, but hopefully we’ll figure it out soon and I'll share in next week’s update.

Agent J rocking her Octonauts hat from a birthday party last weekend
After much back-and-forth indecision (mostly on my part) we decided to throw Spanish into the mix this week. Now, we’ve tried this in the past and it never really got off the ground, so we’re hoping that it sticks this time. We started with a very basic (Grade 1) Spanish workbook and we will build from there. This week focused primarily on numbers. 

We covered mountains this week, including a book about the first expedition to reach Everest’s summit. Thinking of switching up our geography studies once we get to the end of this unit on planet earth. Maybe moving away from physical geography and going back to studying the human geography of different countries. (The fact that we booked a trip to Disney this week and cannot wait to get back to the World Showcase in Epcot may have possibly influenced this decision a wee bit.)

We took another break from our history spine this week. (Truth: It’s going pretty slow.) We also kind of gave up on one of the human evolution books we were reading—the level of detail is simply too much for right now. We did, however, continue with our survey of world religions. We talked about Hinduism and read a few books including a Hindu folk tale. (We’re kind of into folk tales around here. Not sure how or when that got started.)

This week we got more into our study of mammals, concentrating on marsupials. We finished the Life of Mammals series on Netflix as well. The Senior Agents are currently undecided as to what types of animals they would like to move onto next.

Having wrapped up our study of the muscular system, we decided to take a brief break from looking at the individual body systems to tackle germs. (This was totally prompted by randomly running across Bill Nye’s Great Big Book of Tiny Germs at the library.) There are several experiments to try, so we’ll likely continue with this for at least another week or so. 

Mr. and Mrs. Fluffy
(Yes, we had a wedding ceremony)
We read several fun books this week about the use of color in art, and learned a bit about how folks used to make their own paints (often with super-expensive and/or poisonous substances). Then we messed around with paint on our own. Because, messing.

This week we looked at stringed instruments. We also did a little mini-review of some of the other instruments we covered so far. Agent E continues to practice her keyboard skills daily. She only knows the first few notes, but The Imperial March is on her list of must-learn tunes.

So much for our run of decent weather and getting outside daily. Rain plus cold means we need a new plan and we need it soon. Our enthusiasm for exercise videos kind of fizzled. The few days it wasn’t pouring this week, we did make it out for a walk around the neighborhood. But we definitely need to work on options for our second New York winter. We spent way too many days inside last year.

Hope your weekend is fabulous. Happy Friday.

I’ve recently simplified my social media outlets. You can find me on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram.

Linking up with the Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers and the Hip Homeschool Hop at Hip Homeschool Moms.

29 September 2015

We’re Not Busy. And That’s Okay.

This time of year especially, with the school year in full swing and the holidays approaching, most everyone we know tosses two words into every single conversation:

So. Busy.

And I don’t relate. At all.  Because we are for the most part—can I say this out loud?—decidedly not busy. By choice. And we like it that way.

We intentionally choose to have lots and lots of breathing room in our lives. Oh, we still Do The Things. But, we are extremely selective about what Things make it into our routine.

Quite honestly, our simple, unhurried homeschooling schedule is pretty sweet. We don’t mind staying close to home most days, and we like the steady rhythm of our days. Our general rule before adding any regular event to our calendar is to ask, is this activity worth disrupting our week?

We do have a few specific (timed, outside) activities in which we participate, both weekly (e.g., UU services) and monthly (e.g., a homeschoolers workshop for the Senior Agents), but for the most part our calendar is pretty free.

This is an anomaly in a world where non-stop busy-ness is worn like a badge of honor. I’m not saying what we’re doing is better. I’m saying I think many people forget they have options.

And I am acutely aware of how fortunate we are to be able to orchestrate a non-busy life. Dear Hubby is our sole income provider and I am our primary childcare provider and do most all of the homeschooling planning, implementation, and record keeping. I realize how privileged it is to be able to say, we choose to do this or we choose to not do this when our family dynamics are what they are.

I know that some folks truly don’t have a choice. People for whom “busy” is a way of surviving . . . the ones working two or three jobs, raising kids without a partner or family support, taking care of aging parents, juggling childcare, just trying to make ends meet financially and get by.

Let’s face it, though: for most people being busy is a luxury. A self-imposed, too many good things to choose from, take advantage of every opportunity, can’t say no, luxury.

People confuse I have to with I get to. We complain about the privilege of having too many extracurricular activities to choose from, and then expect empathy for our purposely over-scheduled lives.

I’m not going to argue the merits of individual activities and schedules, or suggest that you personally go all minimalist. That is totally up to you.

I’m just lending a voice to the (apparent) minority who do not over-schedule, do not stress fitting it all in, do not mind the relative silence.

Were out there, and contrary to the conventional wisdom of our current culture, were doing just fine.

If you enjoyed this post you might also like:

I’ve recently simplified my social media outlets. You can find me on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram.

Linking up with Wake Up Wednesday co-hosted by Krista at Far From Normalthe SHINE Blog Hop co-hosted by Jennifer at The Deliberate Mom, and the Hip Homeschool Hop at Hip Homeschool Moms.

25 September 2015

Agent Homeschooling 2015-2016: Week 13

Today marks the end of lucky week 13. Here’s a summary of what we did.

First, just for fun, a little video that perfectly illustrates Agent J's personality. I mean, what else do you do when you're wandering through the park on a Sunday morning and hear music playing?



For math this week we focused on division (Agent E, 4th) and money (Agent J, 2nd). As much as Agent E loves math, long division is pretty much the bane of her existence. (I can say I blame her.) Agent J is getting there with figuring out coins and dollars and counting currency. Really, though, we don’t use a lot of cash in our day-to-day occurrences, so she doesn’t have the exposure. We’re working on telling time as well . . . to the hour and half hour is pretty solid, but we’re still practicing the smaller increments. We finished up Life of Fred Apples (J) and Ice Cream (E). (Apples is the first book and very basic, but had skipped it back when we started the series because at the time it wasn’t available at the library.)

Language Arts

Our topic this week was similes and metaphors. I’m thinking of moving onto punctuation next, but we may need another review week soon. Both Senior Agents have a reading comprehension workbook they work through (a page or two a day). And of course we’re never lacking reading material around here. Agent J is currently reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Agent E is re-reading one of her favorite American Girl selections.


We talked about tsunamis, although we probably should have included them in our discussion of earthquakes last week. We also read about the development of tsunami warning systems. We’re almost through the first major section (planet earth) of our geography spine book. After that we’ll be moving on to a more detailed look at rocks and minerals.


Evolution continues to be a favorite study. We’re currently working our way through two books, The Human Story and Evolution Revolution, and hope to wrap those up next week. We also looked this week at early writings, including Egyptian and Mayan hieroglyphs. For our world religions overview, we concentrated on Islam. We found a cool book series at the library called This Is My Faith which gives the basics of faiths around the world from a 10-12 year old child’s point of view.


We decided to begin a more detailed study of mammals. I’m certain this interest was influenced, at least in part, by our recent viewing of Life of Mammals on Netflix. So far we focused mainly on general characteristics, but we intend to study specific groups of mammals individually, beginning next week with marsupials.


This week we covered the muscular system, although that will continue into next week. We may do a review here soon as well. As usual the Agents enjoyed some of the great human body resources from KidsHealth.


Our art and music spine books coincidently matched up this week, so we looked at Chinese art and Chinese music. Then we read a book of Chinese poems about musical instruments, with sidebar descriptions of each instrument. We also finally ordered Agent E a keyboard, and it has been a huge hit. I know nothing about music, so she’s teaching herself from books, worksheets, sheet music from the library, and an inexpensive recorder. She absolutely loved being able to try out a few simple songs on an actual keyboard. 


We still go outside each day after lunch, and we’re grateful it’s still warm enough to do so sans shoes. With the early darkness setting in, going out after dinner to play will be coming to an end soon. For now we’ve moved dinner half an hour earlier so we can still take advantage as long as we can. Last night the Agents and I walked a mile around our neighborhood. It’s a nice leisurely stroll with good sidewalks and no traffic so we should probably do that more. Agent J and I have kind of gotten away from our exercise videos we were doing. Not sure if we’ll pick that back up again or not.

Thanks for stopping by. Have a great weekend, everyone.

I’ve recently simplified my social media outlets. You can find me on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram.

Linking up with the Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers and the Hip Homeschool Hop at Hip Homeschool Moms.

19 September 2015

10 Ways To Encourage Literacy in Your Homeschool Kindergarten

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Agent A will turn five in November. While we likely would not have sent him to public school this year (although technically he could have started, per our state's age guidelines), as far as homeschooling goes we are considering this his kindergarten year.

My intention with kindergarten is to focus only on reading readiness and early math skills. For this post, I’m concentrating on reading. (Perhaps another post sometime soon on how we approach math.)

I should point out that when I say “focus on” I mean that’s what’s in my own brain on my own loose agenda for my own objective of having a vague endgame. We don’t follow any sort of learn-to-read program or language arts curriculum. We take a more relaxed approach—encouraging natural learning through day-to-day activities and fun.

But what does this look like in practice? How, specifically, can you inspire learning in your five-ish-year-old without using a set plan? What do you actually do?

Because I love a good list, following are 10 ways we “do” kindergarten literacy at our house without formal structure.

1. I read books to him. Or his Dad does. Or one of his sisters. Some are books he is capable of reading himself, others are above his reading level, but the concept of being read to never gets old at that age.

2. He reads books to me. Or to Dad. Or to his sisters. Mostly these are the early readers marked ready to read or level one. Some are old favorites he pretty much has memorized, although he has moved from simply retelling the story to actually hitting every single word on the page. Others are new to him and unknown words require some prompting.

3. We read books together. Sometimes it’s not that the text itself is too difficult, but that the book length is intimidating (e.g., some Dr. Seuss and old school Curious George, which tend to have simple sentences and lots of illustrations but also a high page count). Rather than have him get discouraged halfway through, we alternate pages. (And yes, he notices when my side has a disproportionate number of pictures!)

4. He practices handwriting. I don’t really ask him to do this, per se, but he knows how to form many of the letters and enjoys writing them. This may be on a piece of paper with a pencil, but it might also be on a dry erase board with markers or with chalk in the driveway.

5. He learns how to spell words. Often he just wants to repeat the letters back to me, but he sometimes writes them down, too.  He also spells out words (with my help or unassisted) using magnetic letters or wooden blocks.

6. We play the Super Why game. My sister bought him this for Christmas last year, and he just loves it. It’s a simple board game where you answer questions from Alpha Pig (letter recognition), Wonder Red (rhyming), Princess Presto (spelling), and Super Why (comprehension). He insists Dear Hubby play at least three rounds with him every Saturday morning.

7. He sits in on his sisters’ schoolwork. Often he is off doing his own thing while I work with the girls, but sometimes he joins us. He may not comprehend everything we’re reading, but he likes to listen. Occasionally he will even sit at the table with them while they do their written work and have his own “school” time.

8. We go to the library. For the most part he picks out his own books, although sometimes I have to rein him in; I can only carry so many. He has favorites and even remembers where they are on the shelves. We’ll read each of them at least once over the course of the week, some way more. (I’m pretty sure I could recite any Elephant and Piggie book on command.)

9. He reads books and plays word games on the Kindle. We bought the Agents a shared one for Christmas last year, which included a year of Kindle Free Time. He especially loves the Sandra Boynton books (we have many of these in hard copy as well) and the PBS Kids games.

10. He watches educational videos with the subtitles on. Favorites include Word Word, Super Why, Blue’s Clues, Peg + Cat, and Daniel Tiger. Often we watch together (or his sisters watch with him . . . they still like these “preschool” shows although they might not admit it). They are fun ways to introduce not only reading, but also math, problem solving, handing emotions, and social skills. (I confess to having used Daniel Tiger parallels to make a point on more than one occasion.) 

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

I’ve recently simplified my social media outlets. You can find me on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram.

Linking up with the Hip Homeschool Hop at Hip Homeschool MomsWake Up Wednesday co-hosted by Krista at Far From Normal, and the SHINE Blog Hop co-hosted by Jennifer at The Deliberate Mom.