Friday, August 23, 2013

First Start Reading

With my 1st grader, I needed a new phonics curriculum this year.  For personal reasons, but also because her language skills are still a bit delayed, we just needed a fresh start, and we decided to try First Start Reading by Memoria Press.  I have 4ish phonics programs on my shelf right now, so we thought we would start with this and then go on to something else if it wasn't working. 

I have always appreciated how straight forward and easy to follow Memoria Press curriculum tend to be, and First Start Reading has been no exception.  She is doing great with this curriculum.  I am starting her in book B.  We went back to the end of book A, and she could pretty easily read the material there, and could honestly start further in to book B, but I wanted to start her off easy, build confidence, and then move into new material. 

This curriculum gives a short lesson each day.  I appreciate the limited time involvement, and that I need to do no prep work beforehand.  I also love that the stories you read each week are 7-8 lines of text on a page, instead of little readers like you typically see.  I have always had issues with my beginning readers being more interested in the pictures on the page and being too distracted to read the words or guessing at the words based on the pictures.  I usually fold the page back and cover the picture anyway.  With this curriculum, there are no distractions.  There is one picture to go with each story, but it is on the opposite page.  What you read is actually all on one page, one sentence per line.  The teacher's book gives you comprehension questions and discussion starters for each line to make sure the student stays on task and is comprehending what she is reading.  There is also lots of opportunity for the student to draw the scene they just read about, which this child loves.  Some of mine hate coloring, but this particular child loves it. 

All in all, I have found the program to be simple and straightforward.  It doesn't have a lot of the bells and whistles of some other programs we have used, but that is honestly what I was looking for with her.  She wants to read and doesn't need the distraction that other programs provide.  The super short lessons work well with my time.  If she was a very beginning reader, this program might not provide enough reinforcement early on, but for where we are, it has been a great fit.  When she gets through book C and has the basic phonics rules down, we will move onto something to build more fluency. 

Teaching reading has always been my most dreaded task of homeschooling, but so far this year, my kids and this curriculum are making it easy on me. 

Our year so far

We have made it through the first 2 weeks of school!  Usually, the first few weeks of school involves a bit of tweaking and changing until we find the right flow, but I think we have found our groove again finally.  The biggest exception to that is my 3 year old, who generally is not the most cooperative child and is proving exactly the same for school.  We did expand our classroom, however, over the summer, and my most easily distracted children are around the corner now and his antics are not causing major problems.  I know he will settle down into our rhythm with time.  He also potty trained himself on his own the past two weeks, so I can't be that frustrated with him-ha!

We started out our year this year studying what is history and we read the Magic School Bus Shows and Tells about archeology and Archeologists Dig for Clues to go along with our story of the world reading.  We also read You Wouldn't Want to be a Mammoth Hunter.  If you don't know this series of books, they are awesome.  Funny and entertaining, but good solid history under the humor.  For our history projects, we drew a cave painting which we created on crumpled grocery bags and they taped them underneath tables and drew from laying down.  Lots of fun.  We also started one of my favorite books of art history for kids called Learning About Ancient Civilizations Through Art.  It discusses specific art--in this case, the Lascaux Caves in France--and then gives additional activities to do related to that discussion.  My new logic stage student also worked on learning to outline her Kingfisher text and began her new drawing curriculum.  We start more technical art studies in 5th grade.

This week, we dove into the 1st of a 4 week study of Ancient Egypt.  We made pharaoh crowns, felt papyrus, burned incense, and read about the great Spinx to go along with our Story of the World reading.  We also created cuneiform clay tablets when we discussed the beginnings of writing and compared Sumerian writing to Egyptian hieroglyphics.  And, we also watched a documentary on Netflix about Ancient Egypt.  My logic stage student began a Greenleaf Guide to Ancient Egypt to go along with her Kingfisher outlining.  Much more Egypt to come! 

My high schooler is actually on the Middle Ages this year, and approaching history as a great books study.  I will write more about that soon. 

For science, we dove into Elemental Science and are loving learning about habitats for the little ones, and cells and classification for my logic stage student.  So far, we have found the curriculum to be well laid out and explained.  I love that it isn't a textbook, but sends us to a variety of resources each week, with a variety of activities to go along with it.  My grammar stage students began a diorama project that they will be continuing for their animal studies. 

So far, our studies are going well.  All kids began a new year of Math-U-See and are continuing with their language studies and additional work on their own in the mornings.  My 1st grader is progressing quickly with reading and my kindergartener is finally blending sounds!  Phonics has been more of a struggle with both of those 2 since they spoke Russian for the first years of their life, but we are finally making quick progress.  We are also working on their language processing issues with lots of listening activities including Listen and Learn Phonemic Awareness from Lakeshore Learning, as well as their regular speech therapy. 

Friday, August 2, 2013

Getting ready for back to school

Wow, what on earth happened to July?!  I don’t know about you, but our summer flew by too quickly.  We did some light schooling over the summer like we usually do, as well as our share of camps, swim lessons, vacation, and as much fun as we can squeeze in to those few weeks.  Now, I am in full scale back to school mode.
For me, back to school involves cleaning my house top to bottom, cleaning out, organizing, catching up on all the tasks that I put off when we are busy with school.  For my family, school is our priority when we are on a school week, and it is easy to let those things back up.  I make sure I am well caught up before the beginning of a new school year.  The classroom will be scrubbed top to bottom.  Books will be moved to the appropriate shelves, and school supplies will be set out in each child’s space.
In our classroom, each child has their own shelf with the books they will need for the year.  I also have a shelf of the history books we will need for the year, and a shelf for science books.  We are heading into year 1 again, so I have books about the Ancient world and biology out and available. 
Each child also has a clipboard that opens and holds their school supplies.  In their clipboard, we put a pair of scissors, glue, crayons, colored pencils, pencils, and a small pencil sharpener.  Paper goes on top.  The clipboard gives us the flexibility of being able to grab 1 thing and have everything we need if we need to car-school or we want to head outside for school.  All the supplies they might need are kept there and no one has any excuse to go searching for anything.  And yes, we color code—binders, folders, scissors, etc match the color clipboard that child has. 
I am also writing out work plans for our 1st 4 weeks of school and making all copies we will need for those weeks to put in each child’s binder.  This year I will have 10th, 5th, 3rd, 1st, K5, 3K, and a baby toddling around.  My 10th grader will plan out his own weeks, but the 1st, 3rd, and 5th graders will get work plans.  My kindergartener will be working with me some on phonics and math, and spending much of his time with Montessori materials.  And my preschooler will be learning how to operate in our classroom with the early Montessori lessons. 
The weekend before the first day of school, I will sit down with each of my older kids and go over their workplans, explaining anything new and making sure they understand what is expected of them this year.  I know that first day can be so hectic, and I need them as independent as possible while I get my preschooler working and get my 1st grader doing more big kid work (and entertaining my 1 year old in the meantime-ha!). 
My biggest concerns for this year include my extraordinarily stubborn 3 year old and my 1st grader.  She has a processing disorder and I have to be creative about how I introduce information to her.  All in all though, we are super excited and can’t wait to get started.  My 3rd grader in particular is begging to start.  I love his enthusiasm!
We are filling next week with as much summer fun as we can, but we will still plan to swim and play after school each day through August. 
I hope your back to school plans are going well!  I have lots of posts in the works to answer questions you guys have had.  Be patient and I hope to get to all of those very soon!