Thursday, October 18, 2012

When I began this blog, I had no idea how difficult it would be to keep up with any amount of writing, much less create new blog posts on any sort of regular schedule.  After taking a lengthy break (which is easy to do when you don't have many followers), I don't know that I am any better prepared for the task, but I do want to share a few things that we are doing this year.

One of the challenges we have faced this year is a need to homeschool on a very limited budget.  This has required a tremendous amount of internet research in order to find good resources at low or no cost.  Some of the jewels I am using this year include:

abcmouse.com to supplement kindergarten skills

sparknotes.com for their quizzes and essay question suggestions for classic literature (We have been doing a lot of Shakespeare for senior English.)

khanacademy.org - for my youngest daughter who has a great conceptual grasp of math concepts but becomes intimidated when she sees that material is two or three grade levels above her grade

I will save some of the others to discuss later.  These are just a few of the tools that we are using this year.  We are also planning to do NaNoWriMo again this year, which fits well with the creative writing course I am teaching.  If you have kids that love to write or kids who think they couldn't possibly write enough to fill a book, check out the Young Writer's Program at nanowrimo.org.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Update on NaNoWriMo!

After a month of struggling to get their stories on paper (or on hard drive), my writers have completed their stories.   All four met their word count goals!  During December and January, we are continuing to revise and edit.  Hopefully we will be finished with final copies (or as final as they will get) by the time we're gearing back up to start school next semester.

Now is also a good time to reflect on their accomplishments and on what we've learned through this process:

1.  My second-grader, who always insisted that it was too hard to write more than four or five sentences on any topic, completed a story that exceeded 750 words - and with plenty of time to spare.  A couple of paragraphs will never seem unachievable again.  My goal for her first revision is to extend the story so that the ending seems more of a natural conclusion and reveals a purpose (or message) for the story.

2.  My perfectionist fifth-grader, who cannot leave something unfinished or partially complete, powered through to complete a 1200+ word first draft that still had some holes in the plot and character development.  I know this seems a strange thing to celebrate, but if you've dealt with the kind of perfectionism that brings the writing process to a screeching halt if the perfect solution to a writing process doesn't present itself right at that moment, you understand why I'm celebrating.  Sometimes you just have to trust that the solution to a writing problem can wait until time to revise and move on.   My goal for her first revision is to give a multisensory appeal to the story - telling the story through action and description as well as through dialogue.

3.  My ninth-grader with a million ideas and not enough attention span actually completed a full draft of her novella.  Exceeding 10,000 words (by a long shot), she showed herself that she can maintain focus and interest long enough to complete a lengthy project.  My goal for her first revision is to maintain a distinct voice for each of her characters.

4.  My eleventh-grader is not new to the novel-writing process; he has been working on a novel for close to three years.  For him, the goal was to complete a cohesive story from beginning to end without stopping and rewriting large sections before reaching the revision stage.  Perfectionism again is the enemy of the process.  He can rewrite all he wants now that we have a complete draft to work with, although I doubt he will need to do such hefty rewrites on this story.  My goal for his first revision is to weave the beautiful mastery of language he exhibited in the descriptive passages in the first few pages of the story throughout the rest of the story, to maintain the tone and style.

What a wonderful adventure we have been on the last two months!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

It's National Novel Writing Month!

Making lesson plans for English in November got a lot easier when I discovered the National Novel Writing Month Young Writer's Program.  This is the month to get your student writing!  Go to ywp.nanowrimo.org and sign up your student.  Have them set a word goal for the month, and get them started writing.  There are lots of resources to help your child get started, and you can track your growing word count  as the month progresses.  Students can share their book title and synopsis with others, as well as author information.  Students who reach their word count goal at the end of the month receive a certificate.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Favorite Homeschooling Find #2

I had actually planned to choose a different website as my second-favorite homeschooling find, but the need to occupy my four-year-old, hopefully in a vaguely educational way, prodded me to rediscover this little gem.  When Mr. D. was begging me to let him play a game on the computer, I quickly looked up "preschool games" and came up with Starfall.com.  Starfall is a free phonics resource emphasizing phonics skills and early reading skills.  Mr. D. played happily on their website for over an hour, reviewing the alphabet and letter sounds.  They do have other resources for sale at the Starfall store and a full kindergarten curriculum available for purchase at more.starfall.com, something I may explore for next year.  But for reinforcing basic preschool skills while keeping a little boy happy, I'm planning to keep this site on my list of favorites.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Favorite Homeschooling Find #1

The first resource that I am grateful to have for homeschooling is not free, but it enables me to access many free items.  I love my Kindle!  I can access many classic books for free, and it is easier to read them on the Kindle than on my ipod.  This summer I read The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew,which was free on the Kindle, to my girls as our bedtime reading.  I have downloaded Herodotus for a taste of early histories and the New Oxford American Dictionary for vocabulary study, as well as numberous classic books.

Yes, the Kindle is pricey, but you can purchase the wi-fi Kindle with Special Offers and Sponsored Screensavers for $114 or the 3G + wi-fi Kindle with Special Offers and Sponsored Screensavers for $139.  If you can put up with the advertising that comes with the price break, this seems to be the way to go.  I wish they'd had this offer available when I paid full price for mine.  If you just can't bring yourself to pay for another electronic device, many other devices (like the ipod, iphone, ipad, and other tablets) have a Kindle app available for download. 

If your taste runs more to contemporary novels or a packaged curriculum, this device may not help you tremendously in your homeschooling, but if you are integrating classics into your high school curriculum or just want to expose your younger ones to books like Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, or The Five Little Peppers, the Kindle is as much fun as a trip to the library.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Buried in (Fun) Projects

I was putting off posting until I had time to go through some new lists of free resources for homeschooling, but I had to stop and write about my creative project consultant.  Miss J. has never met a project idea that she can't improve.  When I ask for a poster, she asks if she can create a 3-d display.  When I wanted Miss C. to write a story about an event that happened and she insisted she couldn't, Miss J. cut up some paper to make a little book that Miss C. could fill far more easily than the piece of paper I had given her.  Today, after considering the model of Mount Olympus that she was already making, Miss J. decided that she could better depict the complexities of Greek mythology by creating a video game.  So this afternoon, she spent an hour and a half using Gamemaker (which Mr. B. had taught her to use this summer) to create a computer game. 

Now, I have to admit, my first thought when J. spins my assignment in a new direction is usually, "Wait a minute..."  However, I'm slowly learning that giving her choices puts her in charge of her learning.  And isn't this what we want?  Children who are self-motivated, curious, and creative?  Now I just need to convince her to create the rubrics for grading the projects, too. ;-)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Things I've Learned (or Relearned) in Our First Couple of Weeks of Homeschooling

In reflecting on our start to this year's homeschooling adventure, I've learned (or been reminded of) several important things.

1.  Life happens.  Be flexible.
     If the computer is acting up or you get an unexpected call from a relative who needs taste-testers for her snow cones, it's okay to change gears for a little while.  After all, learning about the role of preservatives in snow cone syrup is science, even if it isn't about ocean currents and tides.  Just try to get back on track as soon as is reasonable.

2.  My kids feel better when they know up front what they need to accomplish for the day.
     Knowing that after handwriting she'll be able to take a break before history and science (which finish up the day) helps Miss C. power through those handwriting exercises.  Miss J., my perfectionist, likes to know exactly where she is in her plan for the day.  Since Miss N. and Mr. B. are old enough to be given deadlines and plan for how to meet those deadlines on their own, we all feel better having a clear plan for everyone.

3.  It's okay to change plans if you see a problem with the plan or an unanticipated need. 
     I abandoned two different sets of plans for math because they required more practice than I considered appropriate for the attention span of my second grader.  I also jettisoned a couple of units that I considered redundant for my fifth grader.  I added an additional grammar resource for my ninth grader for review purposes.  All of those changes were made to address specific educational needs of my children.

4.  Have fun.
     How do I keep my children motivated if I don't appear to be enjoying the lessons?  Homeschooling is a joint discovery process, and my involvement and excitement about the journey are essential.

5.  Read to them.  Read things you loved as a child.  Share your love of books.
     I have been reading to my girls at bedtime for over a month now.  I found The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew on my Kindle, and I introduced to them the poor family who lived in the little brown house.  Now we're reading about a very bored and improper princess who takes matters into her own hands in Dealing with Dragons.  I love sharing these stories with my children and hearing them say, "Just one more chapter, please."