Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Diva Challenge 304: Waybop - and Shrinky Dinks!

I was glad to see Waybop featured in this week's Diva Challenge. I was immediately drawn to this tangle when I first saw it a couple of weeks ago. You get a lot of bang for your buck, with a surprisingly simple set of steps yielding a complicated, cool-looking image.
The one thing I haven't figured out is how to make it play nicely with other tangles. I've tried a few auras, or gems in the middle of the shapes, etc, but I'm not finding it easy or instinctive on how to flow it together with other patterns. (Unlike most of you other Diva Challenge participants, I see! I am getting lots of fun ideas!)

That in mind I decided not to even try today. Instead, as I also needed to occupy my girls, I pulled out my little stock of hoarded #6 plastic takeout containers and made Shrinky Dinks!
I let Waybop play all alone on mine, with just a few jewel and seed shapes to fill in the empty space.

 Before shrinking. Image is 2 - 2.5 inches in diameter.
After shrinking. Colors are darker and more vivid. Item is about 1.25 inches in diameter - just bigger than a quarter.

For anyone who is interested in recycled Shrinky Dink projects, it is simplicity itself. Just be absolutely sure that your plastic is marked with a #6 in the recycling logo.
I like to draw the outline on one side of the plastic with a Sharpie or (better yet) a Sakura Identipen. I then flip it over and color (again with Sharpies) on the other side so there's no fear of muddling or smearing the black line.
Then you cut your image out, punch a hole if desired, and put it in the oven at 325 F for 2-3 minutes. It will curl up at first and then flatten out. Watch carefully and take it out when it goes back to flat.
That's all there is to it!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

A Typlical Homeschool Day

I Just wrote a "week in the life" post a few days back, but I didn't really go into detail on how school itself has been working lately. Yesterday one of the mothers at dance class asked me how long I usually spend on school each day and my off-the-cuff answer was 90 minutes. I think that may be underestimating things a bit, actually, so I'm going to give a try at documenting what we actually do on our "normal" days.

School starts promptly at 9 am. In my dream world, that is. :)
Maybe I should start back a little earlier.
The alarm goes off at 7:45. I usually make it downstairs a couple of minutes after 8 where I quickly make a sandwich for David to take to work when he leaves at 8:15. The kids have usually already begun serving themselves breakfast by that time, but somehow actually eating seems to linger past 8:30 if not longer.  I serve myself something which I eat while simultaneously doing dishes and cleaning the kitchen (I work better in the morning, so usually about 1/2 the dinner work is left over.) We listen to the news, the kids disappear (without cleaning up their places 90% of the time), and I'm usually starting to think about my first cup of coffee when I notice it's after 9.  I decide it's time to get going, but there's always something - whether it's starting a load of laundry, chivying reluctant pre-schoolers into their clothes, or persuading an older child to do a chore - that intervenes, and in point of fact it's rarely before 9:30 - 9:45 when we start.

The first subject on our list is Bible. This is the only thing we do all together. We're making some, but not exhaustive, use of Danika Cooley's "Bible Roadtrip" curriculum and are set to finish up the Pentateuch this week.  Mostly we read a chapter or two out loud, or sometimes we let the narrator on my "YouVersion" software read it, and I give a little commentary and ask some leading questions. We also have been watching the "What's in the Bible" DVDs when we can get them, as well as the (much  more advanced) videos from "The Bible Project" available on YouTube. The kids will watch anything with eagerness and they're perfectly happy listening to the Bible straight out too, as long as they are allowed to color or do some other quiet activity. (James usually asks for "one more chapter" so he can finish whatever he's coloring!)
What we're not doing is craft projects, lap books, notebooks, or anything else that (a) takes prep and planning on my part, and (b) requires a lot of interaction and cooperation from the kids.
In my defense, this is a considered decision based in large part on knowing James will fight, with tooth and nail, anything that has writing involved. Grace often will too, depending on how its introduced. It's not worth the fuss to me, and I've mostly given up even feeling guilty about it.
As to the crafts, well, they do plenty of crafts at Sunday School and more - of their own choosing - at home. We don't need the extra fuss. Really. Just keep telling yourself that...

We do work on memorizing a Bible verse together each week. Sometimes we'll tackle a longer passage over a couple of weeks; other times we'll take a break with something short and simple. When possible they coordinate with what we're reading in Bible Roadtrip, but I'm not above picking out verses that relate to a current family struggle. (Proverbs 15:1 is this week's!)

Once Bible is complete (say, around 10:15) we usually go on to spelling. As mentioned in my previous post both James and Grace are doing Level B of Spelling-U-See; Grace is on week 9 and James is somewhere in the 20's. Right now neither of them like it, and I can usually expect a fight, most frequently from Gracie. The funny thing is that neither is actually struggling with it. It's not hard, it's just not exciting, James doesn't want to "chunk" (highlight various vowel and consonant combinations) the same passage each day, and Grace doesn't want to copy out her fragment and then have me correct her backwards "Bs" and "Gs" when she spells words from dictation. (note to self: stop doing this and add handwriting back in as a separate subject?)
The most reliable strategy I have to get us through is to promise that the entire ordeal will take no more than 10 minutes, and set a timer to back myself up. We almost always finish well before it sounds, but it seems to do the trick as often as not.

A side note on simultaneous schooling:
In an ideal world I would have James working on Math while Grace works on Spelling, and Grace work on Handwriting or whatever while James does Spelling, etc, etc. In real life it rarely works out. I try, but something always gets dropped. The copy-work is done and James disappeared before Grace writes her first spelling word. Grace needs help on her math before I can start with James on his spelling; Lucy is determined to "serve tea" or something else ridiculously distracting and needs to be re-directed before either can get started. Etc. The worst of it is, usually James gets my attention first up and Grace disappears. Then 50% of the time we don't get to her reading or math (neither, actually, today, come to think of it) at all because we get hungry and cranky and after lunch I'm not good for anything. Or we have places to go, or Something. It's a good thing that her age group doesn't actually Need a ton of instructional time, because she isn't always getting it.
There are some things I could be doing better in the planning department - for instance, having the James' entire set of assignments written out on the board so he can do the independent ones without referring to me, or having a less spur-of-the-moment plan for Lucy. Hopefully I'll improve in this area before it starts to really cause problems.

Then on to math. It's usually left to last for both kids, but when I am hoping to cover a new concept with James we try to put it in front.
He is working through a "Spectrum" 3rd grade book. It is Common Core aligned, which I consider neutral-to-negative, but as a rule I use it to tell me what to teach, not how to teach it, which ameliorates the downsides of CC. In any case, I picked it up at the craft store of all places for probably less than $10 after my coupon, and it's doing the job.
I'm giving it a partial rest for a while, though, because it's come to my attention that despite his ability to work through the simple division problems in the current chapter, he really needs review and re-focus on the basics of showing his work. Because he Can do a lot of things in his head with decent accuracy it's been easy to let this slide, but he is Adamant that he ought never to have to write anything down, and it increasingly clear that he doesn't actually understand How to set up his problems using the appropriate symbols, alignment, etc. This manifests as anger and resistance which drains everyone's energy in no time at all.
Case in point: after reading a review of a disturbing study that found only 18% of American adults were able to do a problem in which they computed the cost of carpeting a rectangular room - using a calculator! - I decided to work through just such a problem with him today. It's well within his conceptual abilities. But writing on his paper "9 x 108" was enough to drive him to distraction.
We made it, but it took most of my instructional energy for the morning.

Meanwhile, a minor miracle was taking place on the other side of the table. Grace was teaching Lucy to write her name! Lucy knows how to spell and recognize it, and she's been writing the "L" accurately for some time, but has not been willing to work on the other letters. Not that I've exactly pushed: she's not yet 4! But this morning she was working away at tracing it by following the dots that Grace made for her, and both of them were enjoying themselves. When they tired of that activity, Grace asked for the alphabet flash cards and began teaching them to Lucy. Here I had to briefly intervene so as not to let her drive her pupil nuts, but they both played happily with some game or other they'd devised using the cards through the entire 30+ minutes I worked with James on his math.

Math for Grace has been a little more haphazard. At first I was happy to work through the 1st grade A Beka book with her, but it got to be downright tedious. She does not read well enough to follow the directions on her own, so I always have to be sitting with her while she works. And the problems are terribly repetitious. So we've abandoned it for the time being. Instead we're using "Comic Book Math" from Thinking Tree, which hides some good fundamental concepts inside pages filled with doodles you can color when you finish the problems. Right now she's working on "Magic Squares:" sets of four problems using the same three numbers, for instance {4,5,9} - so the kid fills out "4+5=9," "5+4=9," "9-5=4," "9-4=5"
Somehow this remains an elusive concept for Grace, but she's getting a little better at it.
And then there's Life of Fred. I have a love/hate relationship with these books. I want them to work, because they're great fun, completely lack "drill and kill," and introduce ridiculously advanced concepts (orthogonality, sets, and prime numbers, just for starters!) at the 1st grade level. But I've concluded that even for my advanced student, drill-and-kill has a necessary place in our lives. So we're using Fred for supplementation, mostly for Grace.

Finally, on to reading. James has little or no assigned reading at this time because he willingly and voraciously reads comics and easy chapter books, usually right before bed or in the car. I don't want to kill that by making it "work." I am starting to introduce book reports, or at least book Journals, to him. Mostly that happens during our true 1:1 time at McDonald's on the weekend.
Grace is not yet a fluent reader. She is making it through level 1 readers, mostly, but is easily overwhelmed even by a more complicated Dr. Seuss book. She's bored, however, by the little A Beka stories, and I can't really blame her as they're not much more than Dick and Jane in (slightly more) modern clothes. It's Hard to write something worth reading when restricting yourself to four and five letter words. Our real favorites right now are the "We Both Read" books at the library. The left hand page is for the parent; the right hand page is part of the story, but written at the child's level. It really works at getting the kid engaged in a non-idiotic (sort of!) story without overwhelming them.
We're also working through the A Beka phonics flashcards. These are able to engage her where the stories do not, and it's mostly because she is always permitted one word from each card to act out. When we actually pull these out, she has a lot of fun with them and will tear through 1/2 a dozen before running out of steam.
Usually this reading happens - if at all - informally and after the regular school day ends at lunchtime.

And that is the end of the formal school day.
Lunch is often a little late - 12 or 12:30 instead of 11:30 which is what our stomachs might prefer - but it does mark the end of the instructional time. So that makes it somewhere between 2 hours and 3 at worst case, which at least 50% of that time being "down" for any given student.

You'll notice: no formal science, history, econ, health, or etc. I assume some of that is going to come eventually.
For now I am happy to class the "Little House," "Great Brain," and "Rush Revere" books we read together in the evenings as our "history curriculum." We've done a few cool science lessons with our co-op, and hopefully we'll do more this spring and summer. Obviously we're always talking, discussing, and explaining things from current events to bits of theology to economics to important battles of WWII. (That would be David, not me!) The rest... there's plenty of time. I don't want to bury the kids or myself.

Things have gotten quite a bit easier this school year as I've successfully established expectations with James. But "easier" has not yet become anything like "easy" (see math and spelling discussions above!) And ironically things have become harder with Grace who uses such different techniques to avoid work or express her frustration that I haven't yet figured out how to successfully combat them.
I'm trying to (a) not push and (b) remain not guilty about not pushing, teaching Latin, and working on massive unit studies. And also to remember that the academics are Not the most important thing I'll be teaching them. We may not be able to do a unit study and a lap book on "diligence," "compassion," "kindness," "respect," "obedience," or etc. But we are teaching them, like it or not. The academics are just a framework.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

One of those Weeks (in the Life)

James has "The Empire Strikes Back" on the TV. Grace is watching "Masha" on the other laptop. David has Lucy at Costco. And I am completely amped up on the caffeine from my "decaf" McDonald's coffee. Probably can't sit still long enough to craft anything, so I'm going to give a try to a "week in the life" post.

Sunday 1/29:
Lucy has a bit of a cough, which fills me with dread regarding the rest of the week / month. But she doesn't seem to feel too yucky, so we ignore it for now. (Isn't it fascinating, though, that the more a toddler is likely to cough or sneeze, the closer to the food table she seems to stand?!) I have snacks to bring to church (Costco muffins, mmm!) , as well as my standard duties on the laptop.
We hang around a little longer than usual after church, but the girls especially still don't want to leave. Eventually we get them into the car and head home where I grab an extended nap. A smaller crew joins us for spaghetti and meatballs: only 8 or 9 including us. (We've had up to 14 recently, but the Selixes and a couple others couldn't make it this time.)  Regrettably, James starts fighting with his sisters during dinner and doesn't take it well when banished to his room. He has a classic, full on, totally out of control meltdown which puts a real pall on things. Really wish we could help him get a handle on his temper.

Monday 1/30:
Lucy's cough is getting worse but she still acts mostly normal. No outside activities on our schedule for the day, so we get to focus on school: we're in Numbers in "Bible Roadtrip," James and Grace are both doing "Spelling U See," James has copy work and some practice in division / multiplication, Grace has math out of one of several books depending on our collective mood, and reading from a similar number of books or from her A Beka phonics cards. School has gotten Much easier this year since Lucy is nearly always willing to work on coloring, puzzles, pattern blocks, or Perler beads for much of the instructional time.
At 11 or so, Dan, Angela D and two of her daughters (ages 3 and 6 months) come over to work on brainstorming a new logo for City's Edge. (Angela is a graphic designer.) While we're working James builds a fancy new fort from the Fort Magic kit, while the girls (rather to his disgust) mostly do "girl stuff." After lunch I help finish the fort in between laundry and whatnot. The kids are in a very creative mood and wisely don't interfere, much!

The bigger two also do a little outside play despite the chill: the whole neighborhood is working on a giant chalk "Sim City" in the cul-de-sac. This occupied them for hours over the weekend and James is eager to continue developing it.
Eventually I get a little nap. Sadly when the neighborhood kids James' chief "frenemy" Tate (age 10) arrives home from school he inexplicably goes absolutely crazy on James. No-one knows why, but he's suddenly persona non grata. It gets so bad that after the third or fourth incident I finally - against my better judgement - go out and confront the kid. I keep it short, but ask him to please at least Ignore James while he's outside playing. For reasons I cannot begin to explain this works, and everyone becomes buddy-buddy for the rest of the afternoon. I am mystified, but pleased.
And this gives me time to put together some sort of dinner for the rest of the family before heading off to the "PC Women's Group" at Beth's. Love this group of ladies!

Tuesday 1/31: Lucy's cough is still worse, and I feel a little guilty about going to dance class. But I can't stay home without also skipping Grace's class as well as James' speech. Eventually I decide to go for it. I also splurge (at $3/head) on "open gym" at the dance studio, and James especially loves trying to climb the rope and devise obstacle courses for himself. Amar, the guy who runs the front desk, tries to give James a little instruction but isn't too successful. Still, he makes it a few feet up!

I feel a little better about the sick kid when I notice at least one other little girl with at least as bad of a cough. :)
We make it through the day, but I need a nap when we get home, and the kids - especially Lucy - conspire to deny me one. I find myself positively bad tempered and amuse myself writing rants on Facebook about my kids' exceedingly small Venn diagram of acceptable dinner foods. So many mothers declare themselves in the same boat that I do end up feeling oddly better - especially when there are no serious melt-downs over the baked potatoes, salad, and chili I serve. Not that they actually Ate it, but they don't scream and fuss either.

James passed his Orange Belt test on Saturday, so he needs to join the Orange-to-Green class for the first time this evening which makes us hurry dinner rather more than we'd prefer to get him there at 5:50. D and I have also decided to go ahead and let Grace take Taekwondo for at least a while, and this is her first class. She is over the moon. Despite the blatant violation of my declared "one activity per child" rule, I'm copacetic because I get to stay home with Lucy, who can usually be persuaded into an extended bath and early-ish bedtime. I even have time for a little Zentangle and Yoga from Fit2B. Which gives me time for ranting (thankfully just to Beth rather than a larger audience) on FB regarding the reactions to the declared YM split. :)

Wednesday 2/1: Lucy still worse, but Mom decides to come over anyway, given that she's already been exposed by Maddy and Shiloh. We eat at Burger King for once, and out of a sense of social responsibility I occupy Lucy with my phone rather than letting her play in the playground. She really isn't feeling very well today, which becomes increasingly clear after Mom leaves around 3. She Willingly goes to bed early, if that's any clue! I'm still fine, which shocks me. Maybe all that honey-and-turmeric magic mixture is working?! Grace and James are really very compassionate and Grace is talking about wanting to get something for her (out of her own funds) from Dollar Tree to help her feel better. This inspires me to make and package a tiny needle-felted "Phillip" frog - my new craft. :) David and I make it out for a "Pokewalk," which I prepare for by dressing in full cold-weather gear. The wind is picking up, and it's Cold!

Thursday 2/2: Lucy is feeling a bit better, and is very amused by her tiny frog, but he predictably disappears before two hours go by. He turns up a time or two in coming days, but as of this writing Saturday afternoon is MIA again. Oh well.
No outside activities again today, so we make it through school (Grace manages to resist Most subjects again, and it is increasingly clear that She is now coming down with Lucy's cold) and then finally get in our weekly trip to the library. James is devouring more than 1/2 a dozen books a week, especially Tin Tin and Jr. comic books. I am having a little more trouble keeping him in chapter books that I think are even vaguely worthwhile (EVERYTHING seems to be about magic users lately!), but I select a handful of "Boxcar Children" mysteries and a few other series openers to try him on. He wasn't too excited about "A Wrinkle in Time" after the first chapter, and it just gets worse when I try to persuade him. Indirection and feigned indifference is the only way. :}
Somehow we all have energy for a quick stop at the craft store (new needle felting tool at 50% off!) and a longer stop at WinCo, which I'm now managing to visit only every 4-6 weeks. Getting the kids a smoothie to split before we start shopping helps a lot, though!
Both big kids go to Taekwondo, but Lucy is much less persuadable to an early bed. Yup, definitely feeling better!
The weather shifts from "unpleasant" to "miserable" overnight. Wind, rain, and near-freezing temps.

Friday 2/3: Thankfully our side of town doesn't get much ice on the ground, but the cars are coated with a nice, thick layer. I'm especially glad we have another day with no outside activities (co-op is on alternate Fridays), because Grace is obviously under the weather now.
This doesn't stop her from helping James with an big "layout" or "scene" in the box room. They're theoretically making this for Lucy and the toy "Phillip" - everyone is trying to be extra nice to her while she's sick - but I think they get a lot more play time with it than she does. Still, it's a very nice thought.

Not a lot of school gets done by Grace: she is super sensitive to anything "hard," mistakes made, etc. I have to remind myself routinely that pushing her is largely pointless, and she's only supposed to be in Kindergarten. At least we finish up Deuteronomy in Bible Roadtrip. James successfully completes a Scratch project and its variations (we have a book from the library to follow), which I do a bit of crafting on a needle felting project. Grace would like to help, but stabbing things with sharp needles isn't something I really want her to do much of. :)
Once again the kids decide to fight during my "nap," but eventually they stabilize and I get a longer bit of down-time than usual. I drag myself up, and allow myself to be persuaded to begin movie time about 20 minutes early. "Home" is still going when David arrives around 4:45, and Grace is getting ever grumpier. We decide to go to Subway so as to avoid public play-places, etc, at Cedar Mills. This pleases Grace and sends Lucy into a tantrum. She ends up picking Everything out of her sandwich and then complaining that the bread is spicy. I am remarkably unsympathetic. Such a relaxing way to spend the evening. :}
Back home the kids get a little play time, and then we wind down with a chapter from "Farmer Boy," which has been my favorite of the "Little House" books on this re-reading. Lucy remains cranky because I won't read her a book or two in her own bedroom, and manages to keep herself awake fussing for a Long time. Arrgh. I ignore her while working on a couple of updates for the Kenneys at, then watch an episode of White Rabbit while working on the felting project. Grace doesn't sleep well, even with humidifier and honey-turmeric.

Saturday 2/4: Everyone sleeps in, except maybe Lucy. I finally get out the door with James to go to McDonald's around 9:45. There we work on a book report, a little spelling, and some consumer math which unfortunately points out that he needs a lot more practice both on multiplication and story problems. I wish he could be patient with himself and me when working on such things: it takes most of my energy and time just to get him to do what I've asked instead of letting him do it "his way."
We get home around 12:30, and find Grace miserable, lethargic, and mildly feverish.  Everyone is So excited for the Super Bowl party tomorrow: I really hope and pray she improves in the next 24 hours.
And now we're to where I started. A pretty normal week, but well worth remembering nevertheless.