Tuesday, May 27, 2008

May 27

Wow - what a day! I was busy all morning doing prep work for this short week - I hadn’t wanted to think about it over the weekend, thus more work for me today. We ended up having a pretty good day.

J had a good piano lesson. He seems to honestly enjoy piano, which is pretty cool, given how much *I* love piano. He is also quite, quite good. I probably don’t appreciate how good he is, I’ll be honest. I think that I will keep teaching him for another year, maybe two, then if he wants I’ll get him outside lessons. He also worked on handwriting, is preparing (mostly mentally, at this point), for his confirmation, and took a math test (he got an 85.5% - not his best, but not too bad, either).

S had kind of a rough day today. I worked him pretty hard in math - he did 4 worksheets, and I think that isn’t the way to get him learning. I am just at my wits end, though, as he continues to struggle some with his math facts. I’m not even certain he understands the concept of subtraction. And his reading, which was going along so well, is suddenly at a stand-still. He actually asked to go back to 100 EZ lessons today. We did, but he actually struggled a bit with the simple lessons he encountered. I think he just had an “off” day - everyone does. He did well with handwriting, though he was still complaining about the math when we were doing handwriting! Note to self - not too many worksheets for S!

A had a *great* day. He did quite well in his math, I feel confident that he is starting to ‘get’ it. And reading - wow, the kid amazes me. He is SO close to being comfortable and fluent - he can feel it, too, you can tell. He starts to read the story and is completely confident, going rather quickly and actually reading with expression and everything. He is still stuck bit on 4 letter words with double consonents (like “went” or “town”, etc) He’ll “get it” soon, I can tell, and then I think he’ll just take off. I’m so excited for him!! His handwriting is coming along (still need to make that doctor appointment) and I can tell that he is just starting to come into his own, learning-wise, and I’m so happy - for him and me! I am actually starting to look forward to teaching him, rather than dreading it.

All my guys, there just comes a time when they just take off. They just seem to reach a certain maturity, and then they’re reading. Not one minute before, but they get there. With both my guys, it seems to happen at age 8. J was an early 8, A is a late 8, and I’m guessing S will be an early 8 - but 8 seems to be the magic number for my boys, definitely.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

May 25

Well, we had a decent week last week. Made progress in reading and math and handwriting, in particular. A very basic week, but I think that I’m starting to get the hang of it.

A and S are plugging away. We didn’t get to phonics this week, but we did quite a bit of handwriting. Handwriting is ok. I still think we need to get A’s hand checked out, as he has a lot of trouble holding his hand properly (hard to explain in words, but he won’t rest it on the table along the pinky side of his hand). Could be nothing, but perhaps part of his problem with handwriting is that he needs to have further surgery on his hand, the way they suspected he might. Or maybe he’s just got “young boy handwriting” syndrome particularly bad, lol! S does ok with handwriting - but the boy presses SO hard with the pencil it’s rather frightening! Incidently, J’s handwriting is doing ok - I can tell he’s gained more fine motor control - right now one issue he’s having is that it just takes a particularly long time for him to write neatly. It’s agonizing to watch, really. I’m hoping that this new italic handwriting will help him gain some speed in another month or two, in addition to the neatness improvements I’ve seen. N likes to color and write, spends a lot of his freetime just drawing pictures, more so than his brothers ever did, so I’m hoping handwriting comes easier for him.

Worked at math quite a bit, but they are still struggling with subtraction, especially A. I think I just need to take a different approach from what the Math U See books are doing. Just focus on hard memorization of the addition facts they already know, and then go over the concept of subtraction. Hopefully, if they know their addition facts, it won’t be a big stretch to go to memorization of subtraction. I think I’m going to do the on-line drill, but also mix it up a bit with written worksheets. I think I’ll spend one day going over 2-3 “new” lessons on the DVD, then just take several days of drill work. Maybe that will go better than how things have so far. J is, as usual, doing well in math. He is reaching the point where he has to pay a bit more attention with multi-step problems, and he does tend to get careless. But, when he’s focused and paying attention, he is doing great. I think I will go at regular speed one more week, a short week, and then accelerate him for a few weeks again. He just seems to do better focusing when he’s going fast.

Reading is going well. I got S into “Nate the Great” - a bit higher level than the Arnold Lobel books he’s been reading, and you can tell. Rather than reading 95% of the book and getting almost 100% of the meaning, he’s reading about 85% of it and getting about 95% of the meaning. I think it’ll be good to stretch him a bit, then take him back down and see how he does. A is doing great. He is struggling a bit with words that are harder to sound out (Like “down”) but other than that, he is reading the paragraphs in 100 EZ lessons SO well, very easily, quickly - fluently! I’m so excited. I have noticed him reading more in regular life, too. It’s very exciting! J1 is getting back into reading after taking a few weeks off - he’s reading the “Foundation” trilogy by Asimov. I am hoping that Rick and I can read it and we can discuss the books. I would like him to get into more “critical reading” this fall, and I figure this series would be a good place to start. The biggest problem right now is finding books that he’s interested in that are appropriate! He’s no longer interested in any sort of kid book whatsoever.

All in all a decent week. We’ll continue along the same lines this upcoming week, a short week, but after that I hope to add in more stuff - science and history for J, science and more “Langauge Arts” type stuff, too. I also need to adjust my scheduling a bit - get started earlier, have less play time *before* school and more afterward.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

May 22

Well, it's actually after midnight, so this post is really about early this week.

Had some storms move through Tuesday night - always fun to send the kids to the basement.  After the spring we've had, they are justifiably a little freaked about tornadoes.  A lot of my friends just about 10-20 miles east/northeast of us got hit *hard*.  Scary!

It's been a fairly decent school week so far.  I continue to be dismayed by how hard I have to work to get the minimums done with all 3 of my "official" kids.  I feel like I run from the time I get up till after dinner, and all I have to show for it is math, reading, handwriting, some phonics/grammar, and maybe a bit of history or science or catechism (but not more than 1 of the proceeding 3!)  I feel gratified at the progress we're making, but a bit overwhelmed at all the other stuff I *wish* we were doing!

Really, what we've mostly done this week is math and handwriting.  S3 and A2 have worked on reading, and J1 has done some art and music, plus study for his big catechism test this weekend.   We are definitely making progress in math and reading with the younger guys.  

I am honestly so gratified at A2's progress with reading.  3 months ago, I was half convinced that he would never be able to read.  He still isn't what I would call "fluent", and it's still somewhat of a struggle for him.  But the improvements he's made are vast, and I am pleased with his progress.  I marvel at S3 - I never really "taught" him to read, he just got it on his own, and he is close to being "fluent".  My definition of "fluent" is, being able to read a more than basic book on their own with good comprehension.   S3 has read Arnold Lobel books (think Frog&Toad, Mouse Tales, etc) with great success.  I got him a couple "Nate the Great" books, and I think after he gets through those he'll go on to "real" books like Beverly Cleary, Boxcar Children, etc.  A2 is still determined that he won't read a book till he gets through all 100 EZ lessons.  He's on lesson 54 now, so we're more than halfway there.  By fall, I think, he'll take off.  

Math with the younger set is going a bit slowly.  They both seem to be struggling a bit with subtraction.  I'm less enthused about MathUSee - I think they might do better with a more straight forward approach.    But - I just ordered "Beta", so we'll stick with it for a little while longer!  It might just be a temporary bump - it's not like they're *stuck*, per se, it's just not coming as easily as it was there for awhile.

Handwriting went better today.  I was a bit concerned yesterday about Alex's hand (he was born with polydactyly, and had surgery on his right little finger joint when he was a year old), but he did better today.  They've all definitely got that "messy boy handwriting" thing going, but after working consistently for just a week or two, I am noticing some improvement - so I think just more practice is in order!

J1 is struggling just a bit with math.  Primarily it's a concentration/neatness thing.  Plus, he wants to do at LEAST half the problem in his head.  I keep telling him - no, you have to break it up, write everything down and do it step by step.  He doesn't buy it.  I told him today that in a few years, he would admit I was right, and he flat-out informed me he didn't think so.  I learned by hard experience that when you get to more advanced math, it is *vital* to be methodical - I guess he's going to have to learn the hard way, too!  Plus, I think part of the problem is, he's bored again.  We're at a tough point.  If I accelerate him too much, he feels he's flying too fast, but if I don't, he gets bored and careless.  What a dance it is to fit into what he really needs!

Must get to bed, but thought I'd write a quick update.  Another couple days and it's a long weekend - horray!

Friday, May 16, 2008

May 16

Actually, it's May 17, around 1:30am!  I've been having fun with my new Mac laptop.  LOVE it!

We've had another good couple of days, school-wise.   We're definitely getting back into a groove.  We're not at full speed yet, but things are going well.

N4:  We've noticed he's having some sort of intellectual developmental leap the last week or two.  He's been extremely crabby.  Been driving me to distraction, and then some, actually.  But his vocabulary and language type stuff has just exploded.  Yesterday he told me a story, as he colored an alligator picture I printed off for him, about:  "Did you know I have a pet alligator in the back yard?  I feed him fish - blue fish, green fish, and red fish.  Fortunately, he can't climb steps, so he doesn't bother us in the house.  As a matter of fact, he doesn't bother the dogs, either.  Because I keep him happy feeding him fish!"  Today, as he helped carry in the groceries, he grabbed a bag, held it high in the air and said, "I am victorious!"  and today he asked me what the word "vengeance" means, and was suitably pressed when I explained it.  He's having a lot of fun coloring while his brothers work on handwriting, and he watches math u see with his brothers and gets more than he lets on, I suspect.  Yesterday he told me he "wasn't smart", and I explained that he was just so much younger than his brothers, and his brain had to grow a bit, that was all, he was really smart for being 5.  He seemed to feel better after that.  I think it must be hard to be so smart, like he is, and yet be the youngest.

S3:  S just continues to plug away.  He is really getting into handwriting, and drawing pictures.  Yesterday dh made a big bowl of popcorn and the boys were going to watch a show.  S got all excited, and wanted to make a list.  So he asked how to spell, and then wrote:  Popcorn, drinks, blanket, movie, brothers.  We didn't have to show him any of the letters, he was just able to write them all down. - and he almost spelled 'popcorn' by himself.    He is breezing through phonics, he's done about 8 pages this week.   He did run into a bit of a problem yesterday with math, though.  For some reason, he just could NOT get subtracting by 9s!  It's so simple, and he just cried about how hard it was!  I got kind of frustrated, too, I'll admit.   We worked for a good 20 minutes, but I think he *finally* got it.  I don't think he's internally "clicked" with subtraction, though.  He will.  I think math u see is actually confusing him a bit.  They have all sorts of tricks for learning, and he sees a "9" and thinks that "9 sucks 1 away to become 10", the way they do it for addition.   There aren't those kind of cute tricks (so far) for subtraction, and he's confused.  I tried to explain it several ways, and I think he's ok.  We'll see.  I know he'll get it - part of the problem yesterday was that he kept looking at all the other problems on the page, comparing them, rather than actually just doing the '9' problem.  Ie; he did 17-9=8, then the next problem was 15-9, and he said, "hmm...if I know 17-9 is 8, and 15 is 2 less than 7, that means..." and he'd think and think and be stuck- I'm guessing it was just too many steps to put all together as he's learning.  But today, I had them do the on-line facts drill for both addition, and the subtraction that they've done so far.  S got 20's (out of 20) on both addition drills, and then a 17 and a 19 in subtraction.  Not bad!  Reading, he's doing great!  He's reading Arnold Lobel stories right now - yesterday was - can't remember the name right now, but it's one of those stories where it adds on stuff - first the mouse was in the lake, and he asked the wind to blow, then the west wind came and blew him up in the air and onto a house.  Then the north wind comes and blows him and the house on a tree,  then the south wind came and blew him and the house and the tree up onto a mountain, etc.  Anyway - he thought it was *quite* funny.  He reads about 95% of the story all by himself, with no explanation from me.  Well, that's not *quite* true - I rather often have to slow him down a bit, and make sure he's reading the actual story, not embellishing it as he goes.  He's so funny!  He's excited about reading, he asked me to "read 15 minutes a day" with him, and thinks he can read books on his own "without talking" really soon.  I agree!

A2:  That stinker!  Yesterday was the first day in a few weeks we sat down with "100 EZ lessons" and I was prepared for him to struggle.  But he did *great*!  Had almost no problems reading the story in Lesson 51.  I mentioned that I really thought that in 4-6 weeks he'd be able to read whatever he wanted.  He just shot me this look, and I *knew* - he is so totally fooling me!  He already CAN read anything he wants to - *want* being the operative word.  So today, we sat down and he did even better than yesterday.  He's really starting to gain fluency and ease and speed in his story reading.  It's only a few short paragraphs, but still - he has made such tremendous progress, he really has.  He is insistent that he wants to go through the whole book before he'll read books on his own.  So, though I think he could, we'll stick with how he wants to do it and get through all 100 lessons - or at least as far as he wants to go!  I'm really pleased, though.  Considering I despaired that he'd EVER read just a few months ago, I'm much relieved.  In doing phonics, though, I have noticed that he needs to fill in some skills.  Handwriting is tough for him, and so I haven't made him do the writing portion of 100EZ lessons.  But now, he has the skills to read words in phonics, and  can hear sounds in words.  He can *tell* me that "pot" starts with the sound "p" and ends with the sound "t", but he can't write, from memory, the letters "p&t".  He even struggles just a bit to pick them out from a list of letters.  So, we will work a bit extra on doing some "backward engineering" and get him some facility with writing the sounds and recalling the letters, in addition to reading them.  In math, he's great.  He got "9" facts quickly, with ease.  He still needs to work a bit on his addition facts memorization (he got a 16&17 on his drill, and a 17 and 19 on subtraction).  Overall, though, I'm very pleased with this first week back.  Gotta work on his handwriting, though!  He's got that boy messy thing going, big-time.

J1:  We've had a slow, but good, week.  Yesterday he practiced piano some more, but today he had to give it a miss cuz dh was SO busy at work (the home office is where the piano is).  He's coming along with the handwriting, the italic series is working wonders for his legibility.  He had some trouble with math and needed a lot of hand holding earlier this week, but today he did it on his own, with only a couple preemptive questions, and got 100% on the whole lesson.  I think he'll continue to do a regular math schedule next week (one lesson or test per day, evens or odds on the mixed practices), then if he continues to do well, we might accelerate a bit again.  He's on L. 71 in Saxon pre-algebra.  We didn't get to science or history this week, but he did finish his art, and every day in our house there's some history lesson involved.  J and dh often sit around the dinner table, talking history and current events - I'll try to pay more attention and capture some of that next week.  

Well, this is long enough for 2am!  Still love my my new laptop! :-)  

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

May 14

Today was a pretty good day. J1 has been up too late the last couple of nights and thus, was tired. The other boys were excited and did well.

J1: Practiced piano, I helped him with a song he's been having particular difficulty with. Also counseled him not to get so distraught at the new metronome, and pointed out that I could already notice improvements in his tempo and continuity with just one day of the metronome. Corrected his math from yesterday and went over the problems in depth as he was having trouble (it always takes him a week or so to get back in the swing of things after a break). Later on, corrected today's math and went over several more problems with him. He also did handwriting - new Italic program is resulting in VAST improvements in his writing. Pointed out he should use that style of handwriting all the time. He completed his art for the day, and I'm amazed at the improvement I see in his spatial awareness and appreciation of form. He got tired and asked to do the rest of his work tomorrow, and I agreed.

S3, A2: Worked on the MathUSee drill page. S3 scored 19, 18, and 20 on addition, and a 19 on subtraction (0, 1s, 2s), while A2 got an 11, 14, and 16 on addition and a 20 on subtraction. Worked on getting the StartWrite handwriting program installed, but have not been able to get my computer to work. Printed out number sheets from donnayoung.org. Boys did numbers 1-10. A2 did 3 pages of phonics and did quite well. S3 did 4 pages and also did well.

N4 watched S3 do the math drill pages and got a few right on his own. He also colored a picture while S3 and A2 worked on handwriting.

All 4 boys listened to a page from "Big book of questions and answers" about buds and flowers. We went and got a couple of buds, and a flower, from the pot on the porch. The boys copied a sentence or two about buds and flowers, then drew pictures. It was an enjoyable project for everyone, I think. I also drew a picture and wrote a few sentences. I think it might help if the boys seem me doing some of the things I ask of them. And - it was fun!

I'm washing fabric now to do some sewing. I think tomorrow the boys will watch and I can explain a few things. I also want to start a book to read out loud. Hopefully tomorrow we can add in reading instruction and a read-a-loud. But, for the first full day back to school in a few weeks, we had a good day!

First Post

It's been a rough year here at Aquinas Academy. Lots of stress (started off the school year in September in the midst of 4 months of unemployment for dh), and it just seems like every time we turn around, unexpected events prevent us from getting a solid routine down.

At any rate, I'm resolved to have a good last few months of the year. To help me out, I'm creating this new blog as simply a place to keep a journal of sorts, a listing of what we do each day, or at least each week. I'm looking for records of what we do, in addition to some accountability. I hope it helps!