Thursday, July 30, 2009

Hanging with the 12 Apostles.

This summer while at the IHM Conference, I purchased a really cute activity set with the 12 apostles from Jody's Hands-On Learning. I knew it was an activity that the kids would love, especially Isabella!

So I set out to get the activity kit all ready for assembly. If you are working with younger kids, this means cutting out the paper dolls and clothes ahead of time. The kit comes with everything you need...paper dolls, fabric for clothes, googly eyes, templates, etc.

It was a bit time consuming to prepare everything for the kids. I am not a fan of doing everything for them, but I knew that it would be too difficult and time consuming for them to do all the cutting necessary to complete the project. I was extremely happy once I was done getting this step out of the way, however.

We worked on this project on a Sunday and it was a nice way to spend part of the afternoon. We got to talk about the apostles and how important they were. The most gruesome part was, of course, the hanging of Judas Iscariot. But I reminded the kids that his betrayal was an important part that led to our salvation. In all, they were reminded of the importance of friendship, loyalty, and faithfulness.

Isabella loved putting the paper dolls together.

The 12 Apostles all done and lined up on our wall. Notice Judas Iscariot hanging on the side. A bit morbid, but an important part of history nonetheless.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

First Day of School Success!

I know I promised to post pictures and such on Sunday evening. Much to my dismay, however, I have been suffering from a poison ivy rash that is only remedied by sleep. So in attempts to ignore the itchiness, I have been opting to take some Benadryl and get to bed early. Being pregnant with a giant rash is not fun!

But we did have our official first day of school on Monday! It was a complete success and the kids had a blast getting to "meet" their new books, open their Schultute's, take pictures, and yes...even get started on work! All around, I saw God's blessings and it turned out to be a perfect day!

I was hoping to capture the first lesson for each child, but only had the camera on hand for one shot. I did capture so many other shots, however, and I hope you like them!!

The kids' Schultute's the night before our first day.

I can't say how excited I was to have the kids see them, but what surprised me was how excited my dearest husband was at the thought of starting this new tradition. He LOVED them!

After having a special pancake breakfast the kids were allowed to go into the school room. There they found crowns with their names on them and their new grade levels on the back. The giddiness they exhibited was adorable!

On the side of their names was a little picture clue as to what the theme for their Schultute was going to be. It was fun to hear them brainstorm all about their big surprise!

Even Christian got in on the excitement with his own crown.

On the count of 3, everyone say "First Day of School Rocks!!!"

Showing off their new grade levels on their crowns.

I made the kids stand in line while I placed their Schultutes on the school table. We then made a march to the school room once more.

It was pure excitement when they saw their cones on the table!! They immediately wanted to open them to see what was inside, but they knew they had to wait. And although Christian might look a little bummed that he doesn't have his own cone, he quickly felt better after he got a little bag full of treats just for him.

My boys! That cone is almost as big as Anthony!!

Getting to open the cones was the best part of the day for the kids. I love the expression on Marco's face when he sees what's inside the Schultute! I'm glad I caught it on camera!! Surprises are the best!!

The kids finished opening their Schultutes and I let them spent part of the morning enjoying their treats. After all was put away, we hung them up on the wall where they nicely form part of the decor now.

We found a nice place on the wall to decorate with the school cones.

After all the excitement, it was time to hit the books and start a new year! It was a great day!!!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Preparing for the First Day of School.

Our school room is done. My plans for the first two weeks of school are neatly written in my planner. Copies of necessary paperwork for the kids has been made and filed away. Our schedule has been posted on our bulletin board. School books are lined up ready to be used.

It seems like everything is in place for a new school year! The kids are excited and counting down on our calendar. For now, my job lies in preparing a special little something for the kids. As I posted earlier, I will be making a schultute for each of the kids.

I printed out and laminated a wonderful student prayer from The Teacher's Helper cd's I have. Each child will get one in their school cone. Other treats will include:

  • School supplies. A pencil case filled with simple supplies.
  • Stickers.
  • Klutz craft book.
  • Treats (candy and snacks).
  • New sketch books.
  • New crayons.
  • A t-shirt with our school logo on it.
  • A new rosary.
  • A small toy.
  • A handmade prayer book.
I'll be working on the actual cones starting tonight and through the weekend. It was hard coming up with a "theme" for each schultute. But I finally came up with a shark theme for Marco (who is insanely into sharks right now), flowers and tiaras for Isabella, and an outer space theme for Anthony. I'm excited about getting them done!

I'm taking pictures as things get done, so get ready for a picture filled post on Sunday night!!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Starting Early.

The impending birth of our little boy has recently got me thinking on what a good start date for our school year would be. Normally, we ease into our new grade materials since we are year round homeschoolers. This year, I want to have an official start date complete with pictures and "first day of school" activities. In all, I want our full schedule well into play once the baby arrives.

But since my due date falls in the middle of August (usually around the time we make our grade switch), I only saw two options. 1. Start our new year after the baby is born or 2. Start the new year before the baby is born. What to do??

After much consideration, we decided to start before the baby is born. I want everyone to be accustomed to following the new school schedule well in advance of adding a newborn. I want to gain a little bit of momentum and get some good ground covered by the time our new baby comes home. Granted, I understand that things might get hectic around the house with a new baby (this is my 5th!)...but we are such a go with the flow family that I'm not worried about that at all. If we take a week off, I won't be as concerned as if we delay starting. At least I'll feel like I have a few weeks under my belt!!

So our new date for school has been set. July 27th!!!! I's right around the corner and it only gives me one week to finish whatever planning and organizing for school that I may have. We'll see how it goes! The kids are revved up and so am I!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Human Body Unit Study.

My kids have always been fascinated with the human body. From how we digest food, to what kinds of cells we have. I'm almost certain it has everything to do with their dad being a doctor. I've been wanting to do a fun unit study on the human body for the longest time, but it was something that I just never got around to preparing. This year, I made it a priority!

In wanting to keep things simple, since this is mainly for Marco and Isabella (with Anthony tagging along depending on his mood), I didn't want to make it too in depth. So I came across two great workbooks that cover the human body in simple terms and offers tons of hands-on activities.

My Body, by Teacher Created Resources and Easy Make & Learn Projects Human Body by Donald M. Silver were the perfect finds for our unit study!! So yesterday I spent a couple of hours planning them to go together. They complement each other wonderfully! To make things a little more challenging for Marco, I also added a narration, copy work, or additional activity. I think both kids will have fun with this!

Of course, being a scientific daddy...DH was a bit envious of how I get to teach all these fun things to the kids. "You know, I really should be the one teaching the kids about the body." SOLD! So now my dearest, most loving husband will be the one carrying out this little unit study that is going to span 14 weeks (this will only be done once a week due to DH's demanding and hectic schedule).

The lesson plans are simple, but finished. The copies are all filed away in order and I'll be pulling out all the human body books we have to keep in our book bin upstairs. Daddy will be a wonderful resource for the children as they are always learning fascinating things from him (the latest being all about bone marrow cells, the coccyx, and other body parts that I can't even pronounce!).

Here is a sample of the first 6 weeks. Super easy!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Just Answering Questions! **Updated Version.

Thought I would answer a couple of questions in a post, as opposed to writing in the comments.

I mentioned that the kids have their own timers to help them do their math drills and other timed activities independently. I had searched high and low for a timer that the kids could use by themselves that would go both forward and backward. I finally stumbled upon these handy little timers over at Lakeshore Learning, and for $5.99 each, they were a great deal! I use these timers for my two older kids. Anthony, who is still a preschooler, is given our trusty Time Tracker to let him know when his time with a certain activity is up.

Using a Checklist:
I was asked a very good question about my previous post having to do with the file box and checklist. "Have you found that you need both the checklist and the numbered folders? Wouldn't you just put the book/paper in the folder with a note as to what is to be done?"

I was extremely close to not creating a checklist for the kids at all. What made me reconsider was the fact that I wasn't going to be including all books and assignments in the file box itself. Certain assignments require the use of a book (example: Marco is required to copy the definition of a word from the dictionary) that I would not put or could not fit into the file box. I didn't want to create a workbox situation where everything the kids need is in their file box either. I love our bookcases and expect the kids to learn how to use them, find books, and put things back where they belong. In the case of copying the definition, the copy work paper would be in the appropriate file and he would just take that out.

I suppose I should expand on how this file system is going to work around here.
  • The kids get their file box in the morning and see exactly what work needs to be done for the day by looking over their daily checklist. This immediately omits the "what do we have to do today?" question.
  • They proceed to complete independent assignments according to our daily schedule. As these assignments are completed, they check it off on their list and place the completed assignment in the "Completed Assignments" drawer (we have a special drawer for this that the kids have used for a while now...I'll post about it later!).
  • Since not all work can be done independently (the kids are still young), they will still be working with me on the majority of subjects. My responsibility lies in teaching the lesson. Their responsibility lies in getting out their books and supplies. Example: "Marco, it's time for grammar. Please get your stuff!" He would then grab his book, take out any necessary paper or written assignment sheet (to be found in the file folders), and be ready to get to work with me.
  • All paperwork will be waiting for them in the file box, along with workbook assignments.
Please keep in mind that this is a new system for us!! I'm sure there will be tweaking along the way. In having a checklist/planner, however, I feel like they are developing a good habit of keeping track of assignments.

Our daily schedule is pretty important around here too. At the beginning of the year, I make a giant copy and post it in on our bulletin board. It stays there for about a month, until everyone knows exactly what we are supposed to be doing when. This worked great for us last year as the kids knew what they should be doing at any particular time of the day. And if we every fell behind or went over with big deal, we would just move on to the next thing!

In conclusion (sorry for the long explanation to this question!), having a checklist is just what is going to work in our family. I don't want to have to write assignments on 12 different pieces of paper and then put each paper into it's file along with all the required papers and books. Like I said, I don't want to create a workbox system.

Hope this explanation clears up how I expect my system to work!!

Lesson Plans & Checklist Use:
"What I'm wondering though is how you do your lesson plans? Does this mean that you will have your lesson plans for each kid, then write it on the daily checklist AND put everything in the folder. Last year, for K I was spending about 2 hours every other Sunday planning for the next 2 weeks. It seems to go better if I only plan specifics for 2 weeks at a time. How can I make a checklist for him without having to copy all of my lesson plans, which seems like a LOT of extra work?"

Lesson plans, for me, are basically a break down of what to do and when. The majority of the subjects covered don't need detailed lesson plans. It's pick up and go. The best example for this is Saxon Math. I know that I'm doing math 5 times a week and that the lessons just progress. I don't need to write anything out...I just take out our needed supplies (manipulatives, meeting strip, etc.) and open the book up to the lesson we are on.

Grammar, phonics, spelling, religion, and our other core subjects are the same way. All the work is already laid out for me in the curriculum. I just need to know how many times a week I am working on a particular subject and what lesson is next. So when I am planning out the checklist for the kids, I know that yesterday we did math lesson 37, so today is math lesson 38.

For more difficult subjects, like history, there is a bit more prep work to be done. We are using History Odyssey so the basics are done for me. I know how many lessons I need to do per week in order to finish in a year. Each lesson comes with a list of what to read and additional activities, so my job is to gather all our books and materials at the beginning of the week. I usually prepare 2 weeks in advance for history, since it is one of our subjects that is more time consuming.

Now for complete lesson planning. Complete lesson planning does take lots of time. Perfect examples for this are unit studies where you are not following any curriculum. We happen to be doing a human body unit study this year and I am in the process of making lesson plans. This includes reading materials, experiments, activities, etc. Since I am pulling things from different resources, it is most certainly time consuming!!

Now, I do have to state that my planning is done on a weekly basis. I have my own teacher planner where I know what each child is doing for school on a daily basis. I just merely transfer the information to their own checklists each evening. The process for weekly planning is about 1 hour. The process for making the kids' checklists is about 5 minutes. Here is a sample of what my weekly lesson planner looks like when full (only showing page 1. The details are all hypothetical), and what the kids' daily checklist will look like.'s messy looking and full. But it's also realistic. I would show a real sample of last year's planner, but I have packed it up!!

So back to lesson planning. The majority of it is done by the curriculum itself. I just need to divide the number of lessons by how often we do school. For all the other subjects or unit studies that don't come with lessons already prepared, I do them before the start of our school year (yup...I prepare for the whole year!). This way, I can just take them out when I need them and all the work is done ahead of time.

Sunday nights are also when I plan out our week and take out all necessary supplies and materials to have "on hand." We tend to keep our school room very organized, and this is a HUGE help because I always know where everything is!

So, don't have to copy all your lesson plans for yourself and then again for the student checklist; just write the assignments for the student checklist. Keep in mind that a lesson plan details what you will be doing for each lesson. This is for the benefit of the mom, not the child.

Hope this answered your question!!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Student Planner.

I had a hard time deciding how I wanted to organize the daily assignments for the kids. I looked into the super-popular workbox system. It seems that this has caught the homeschool community by storm and is all I read about when searching for ways to organize daily work.

After taking a really good look at it, however, I decided that it was just not going to work for me. Having 12 boxes for each child is not my idea of something I want to do. So, I searched and thought for a long time until I finally came down with a system that I think will work for me and my kids. I didn't come up with this all on my own...I don't want to reinvent the wheel! But Kelly, over at Life on the True Vine, came up with a great little system for her crew (she's a mom of 8, by the way!). I decided that it was a WONDERFUL idea and I set to out create my own little system.

First I purchased a file box for each child. I found these great brown, leather ones on clearance at Office Max and was extremely happy to be staying away from the typical plastic boxes.

I then labeled 13 hanging file folders. One is labeled "Checklist," and the rest are numbered from 1-12. Inside each hanging file folder is a vinyl file folder (I stayed away from the paper ones for durability). I chose not to label the folders by subject since I might mix things up and put things inside that are not exactly part of our core curriculum.

My next step was to create a checklist or daily planner for each child. I didn't want anything complicated, as the children are still young and this will be the first year that they will be using a planner to keep track of assignments. After doing an exhaustive search, I decided to create my own using Excel. I included all our subjects (although I won't be doing them all on a daily basis) followed by a space to write the daily assignment. Once the assignment is complete, the kids can put a check under the "Complete" column. This sheet will go into the file folder labeled "Checklist."

The file folders labeled 1-12 will contain any work to be completed. These will also all be done in order. For example, one of the first things we do in the morning is our daily math drill using Calculadders. This worksheet will go into the #1 file folder and can be done independently (the kids have their own special timers). If the assignment requires the use of a workbook, such as phonics or spelling, the workbook can go into the file folder. Assignments requiring the use of a book will only include the name of the assignment in the folder and not the actual book.

All work is obviously not done independently, but this system will give them a head's up as to what they are to do each day.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

I'm a Featured Catholic Mama!

My friend Erika from Cor Iesu Homeschool Academy recently started a new blog, Catholic Blogging Homeschool Mamas. It's a great site to which I am happy to comment that I am a contributing blogger!

You should check it out! She will be featuring a Catholic, blogging mom every week. This week's featured Catholic Mama is....ME!!! Thanks Erika!!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Getting It Done!!

I finally have a few things checked off on my to-do list. Our school room is finally looking how I want it to. From new shelves to a new dry erase's looking good! Our new learning center space is also coming along. Just a few more things to organize and it's done. I'm hoping to have both spaces ready by the end of the week.

As for lesson planning, I'm hoping to finish is up within the next couple of days. Anthony and Isabella are done, but I still have a few things to sort out with Marco's schedule and subjects. Since I'll be doing geography and a couple of other things my own way, it means I have to figure out my own lesson plans.

All this on top of keeping up with laundry, housework, and school lessons!! But it will get done. I'm not one to pile on too much on my plate....OK, I'm lying!! I AM one to pile on too much on my plate! But I don't hesitate to look for help. To help me speed things up with organizing and my urge to clean, I'm hiring some help. Why not? I'm 8 months pregnant, tired, have 4 monkeys running around the house, and I have no family around to help.

Off to organize some more!!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

I Promise I'm Not Slacking.

So it may seem that my organization has take a nose dive this past week from the lack of updated posts. But au contraire mon frere! Things have been busy, busy, busy! Unfortunately, when I decide to organize a space...I go all out! Well, I'm not sure this is completely unfortunate or not, but I do know that it is extremely tiring!

Being pregnant and in "nesting" mode doesn't make things any easier either. I've gone from searching for new furniture, to finding accessories, to planning the space, to reorganizing everything. It's not easy shopping for the perfect basket with 4 kids in tow! This week has been full of purchases, returns, and perfect finds. I'm happy to say that I'm nearly done and it feels so good!

My poor, dear, dear husband. He is AWESOME!! Last night he says to me, "Honey. You've got to slow down with all the redecorating and organizing. Everything looks great, but you still have 4 more weeks of nesting. I don't know if you can make it that long!" A supportive and loving husband he is. All he cares about is me not wearing myself out. But the tenacity of a pregnant woman is immeasurable!

Yes...I am exhausted. My feet are swollen at the end of the day, my mind is spinning from trying to squeeze in some school lessons with the kids, and I spend every spare second I have searching for all the right equipment. I'm sure I'll be patting myself on the back for planning ahead, however. It will make for a smoother year...I hope!

So here is a little sneak peek at what I've been working on.

Well, I thought I'd finish with this picture of The Virgin of the Lilies by Bouguereau. It's not new and it's been hanging in our hallway for a while. But I love to look at it each time I go upstairs as I find it inspiring to know that our Holy Mother said "YES!!" to God. I need to do the same and say "YES!" even to what may seem to be the most mundane tasks that a mother needs to do.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Missing Our Friends.

Recently, we had some dear friends of ours move away to their home town. Life has kept going on for us, but we miss them terribly!! They have been our vacation companions, weekend company, camping buddies, out-to-eat counterparts, play-date playmates, emergency babysitting allies, baby baptizers, and so much more!!! They basically became family to us!

Today, as we drove in the van, Anthony exclaimed that he couldn't wait for them to get back from their trip so that we could all get together and go swimming. It was a little sad for me to explain to a 3 year old that once you move, you are most likely not moving back. So trying to keep the mood happy, I told him that maybe we could visit them sometime soon. They only moved about 13 hours away!!!!

Anyways, I thought I would blog about them today as we've been thinking about them. They are a wonderful family and we wish they still lived just only a few miles away.

We miss and love you guys!!


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

What I'm Working On.

I've been quite busy these past few weeks. I'm still trying to get ready as much as possible for the new year. I had no idea it would take me this long to organize our plans and our learning centers!! So I have compiled a list of what I'm working on. I expect to finish soon with most of these things...give me another week or so!

1. Religion Lesson Plans
2. Nature Journals
3. Create Memorization List
4. Organize Learning Centers
5. Organize Arts & Crafts
6. Create independent shelves/drawers/bins for each child's weekly work
7. Organize Bookshelves
8. Find a way to store and hang maps and posters
9. Finish up any book lists
10. Make our learning spaces easy to access

I'll be posting on these things as I finish them up. I feel so rushed to accomplish all the things on this list before my little guy is born. Of course, this list doesn't even mention all I have to do to get ready for the baby!!! I need a drink! Well, maybe a Snickers bar will do for now!


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

First Day of School Traditions?

I have never had a first day of school tradition. We school year round, so the days just seem to blend into one another. This year, however, I thought it would be fun to do something special since I'll have 3 kids doing school at home.

A great thread for ideas is over at the WTM Boards. Moms mention everything from taking kids out to breakfast, to taking pictures along with heights and measurements. My favorite? Giving your kids a Schultute. This is a long German tradition in which students are given school cones. These cones can hold special treats and school supplies. You can read more about them here.

What a Schultute looks like!

After pondering, thinking, researching, and debating...I decided to make some Schultute for each one of the kids this year. What I will add to them, I'm not sure yet. But they will include some special treats and school supplies.

I also plan to take the kids school supply shopping. Every August, as we make our way into various office supply stores, there is the big stack of school supply lists neatly organized at the entrance to each store. I ALWAYS get asked by one of the kids what they are for and why we don't have one for our homeschool. Well, this year each kid is going to have their own school supply list. I know they are going to get a kick out of it!

Now the only problem is...when exactly is our "first day" of school????

**What traditions do you have? Feel free to leave a comment!!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Organizing the Liturgical Year.

One thing I never have done, is organize all the wonderful things you can do throughout the liturgical year. The main problem is that by the time I realize a feast day is coming up, I don't have enough time to look for celebratory ideas, gather craft supplies, and have everything ready for the kids to do. After realizing that celebrating the liturgical year is very important to me and my family, I've decided to do something that will hopefully simplify my life in this aspect as well as make it easy for me to do activities.

My first step in creating a system was to GOOGLE!! If you look up "organizing the liturgical year," I guarantee that you won't get a lot of good sites. But I did stumble upon some excellent ideas from other Catholic bloggers, like myself!

My first visit was to By Sun and Candlelight. She has a great file folder system set up for all her homeschool, household, and liturgical needs. I like that she uses a crate because of the openness of it...easy to put stuff in and take stuff out. I tend to ignore our filing cabinet and only keep things in there that I don't really use frequently (think copies of birth certificates and old tax returns).

Another great post to check out for organizational ideas is Catholic Mom's Journey. She was also inspired by the file folder system (above) and tweaked it so that it worked for her. I like that she divides her system into 12 folders, one for each month of the year. She further divides each monthly folder into 5 separate folders, one for each week of the month.

Finally I visited Wildflowers and Marbles where Jen not only has FABULOUS pictures of her school room, but she also briefly mentions her liturgical organization. She divides each month into two. Each monthly folder holds two separate folders: one for liturgical plans and the other for seasonal plans.

After trying to decide what was going to work for me, I decided that Jen has the most simple and user friendly system. So in order to get my own act together, I went out and got supplies to start organizing my own liturgical year. Here is what I did.

1. Purchase a file box for the files (I need something with a lid in order to keep little hands out!).
2. Label 12 hanging files, one for each month.
3. Label 2 folders for each month. One for seasonal plans and the other for liturgical plans.
4. Label 3 additional hanging files for the liturgical seasons of Advent/Christmas, Lent, and Easter.

To clarify what I would put in the folders:
  • The seasonal folders would include things not associated with the liturgical calendar. Holidays such as 4th of July, MLK Day, Father's Day, etc.
  • The folder holding liturgical plans might include holy cards for that month's feast days, instructions to crafts, prayers, coloring pages, book lists, etc.
  • Liturgical season folders would also hold things that just mesh from one month to another, like Advent activities.
I hope this sheds some light on organizing your own faith filled year!! It took me about 20 minutes to put this simple system together once I had all my supplies ready. It was mostly using my label machine that took me longest.

New School Room Tour.

It's back to school time and it seems like everywhere in the homeschool blogosphere, people are giving tours of their learning spaces.  ...