Monday, September 26, 2011

Gifted Children.

Recently, I've been hearing a lot about gifted children. Through friends who are trying to get their kids into the gifted programs at their local public schools, from homeschool moms who are seeing giftedness in their children and in the local news where they've been highlighting the gifted programs and what they offer. I thought this was a great subject to talk about!

First off, I don't know if my kids are truly "gifted." I think all children possess giftedness in some way or another. Some are great at math, some are great at reading and some are great at art. Most children excel in some subject or other. But true giftedness? That would probably mean across the board, above level performance. Which led to me to thinking....what exactly are all these moms prepping their kids for in public schools?

Not too long ago I met a mom who was getting her son tested in order to for him to qualify for the gifted/talented program at a school. She had been prepping him for the test for a couple of months with lots of workbooks and practice tests. At first, I thought she was crazy. I kept thinking, "Hey. If you're kid is really gifted...it won't matter if you prep him for the test or not. And if you have to prep him, then he probably isn't truly gifted."

But them she went into why she wanted him to test into it so badly. The gifted classes were smaller. They offered things like Latin, chess club and more hands-on "real world" learning. When she got to talking about all the perks, I realized that I would probably want the same for my kids, if they were in school.

Of course, homeschoolers don't have that problem. We can teach our kids Latin (and we do!) even if they aren't "gifted." We play chess, our class size is small and there is plenty of real world learning going on all the time. I get to speed things up in any subject I see my kids excelling in and I can slow things down if I have to. There is no need for me to test them!

All my children are covering more than one grade level, which makes it soooo hard to label them. Are your kids in 4th, 2nd, and kindergarten? Well, yes. BUT...not one of them does all their work at grade level. And that is one of the greatest perks of homeschooling. You tailor what you teach to the student...not the class.

So if you happen to be reading this and you happen to send your kids to school. Give homeschooling a second thought. It's really not so bad being around your kids all day. And you'll be happy to know that you won't ever have to fight with a school in order to place your kids in a "gifted" classroom.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Keeping Things Simple.

I still haven't posted my daily schedule and have been working on tweaking it a lot this week. We switched phonics and math, we added a new activity to Fridays and I'm trying to squeeze more time in with Christian's preschool work. Things look chaotic on paper! But it really is coming along and our MOTH (Managers of Their Homes) method is what still continues to work for us. Click here to see some of my previous advice on creating a schedule.

Of course, we know that with a large family it's important to keep things simple if you want to stay sane. It's all about prioritizing. Not too long ago I experience my first burnout. We were doing school, co-op, swimming, dance, piano, soccer and who knows what else. I wanted my kids to be exposed to different activities and to have fun. What I got was a not so happy family. I was chauffeuring kids around 4-5 days out of the week. We were rarely eating dinner together as a family and we were always in a rush. I was cranky so that meant that everyone was cranky. So what happened? I got burnt out. I grew so tired that I dropped every activity besides school and co-op.

It took me almost a year to recover, but I vowed to never do that to myself or my family again. Now I'm learning to keep a healthy balance. My kids are allowed to do 2 activities each. One that benefits them physically and one that benefits them mentally. I combine wherever I can, take shortcuts and NEVER sacrifice family time. The results are working out well so far.

Our extra curricular activities this year? Here's how I have it set up so that I'm able to get all the kids' activities squeezed into our week without sacrificing our family priorities.
  • Karate fulfills our physical requirement. This is done together so that I don't have to go back and forth with different sports. They get to help each other and they love it!
  • Piano is also done at home. Our piano teacher comes over once a week and takes turns doing the lessons with the kids. That means I don't have to take time off from teaching; so while one child is doing their lesson, the rest are working on their school.
  • Art is our new activity this year. It's once a week and the kids also do it together. While they are in class, I walk down the street to the library and load up on books for the week. It works out great!
But what about the littles? I can't take credit for toting around 6 kids with me all the time. I have a nanny who comes in 3 times a week. She mainly takes care of little Jimmy and Christian, unless I have to go somewhere and I leave the whole crew with her. I am hesitant to admit to having this help, but I don't want to seem like super woman. One thing I will add is that to have her over means that we sacrifice in lots of other areas. Again...priorities.

So how do you keep things simple for your own life? Here are some tips.

  1. Make a list. Grab a piece of paper and make a column for each child. Under each name, list all the extra curricular activities you would like for each of them to have. Don't be afraid to include yourself and your spouse! It's important to keep in mind all the things you want to accomplish as well when making a schedule.

  2. Prioritize and Rank. Rank your activities. Take into consideration all the things that are important to your family when ranking. Are weekends together as family important? Then perhaps soccer might not rank high because of all the Saturday games. Is having dinner together a top priority? That might weed out all evening activities.

  3. Minimize. Look over your list and trim wherever you see an activity that is not in line with your family priorities.

  4. Pencil it In. Look at your calendar with your new activities penciled in. If your calendar still looks too full, perhaps it's time to go back and minimize some more.

  5. Pray. Prayer is a powerful tool when deciding what activities will benefit your family.

In the end, don't be afraid to say "No!" There is absolutely nothing wrong with keeping our kids at home and enjoying our families. It's important not to fall prey to the materialistic culture that plagues our society. More is not necessarily good and our children will not benefit from having a full schedule that keeps them away from family. We have to remember that in teaching our children, we want to prepare them for heaven above all else!














Family Time, Happy Kids or Over-scheduled, Cranky Kids

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11

Today marks the 10th anniversary of 9/11. My prayers are with all the victims of that horrific attack, both living and deceased.

So many lives lost, so many affected. We will never forget.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Early Winners.


We are coming upon mid-September already and school is in session for mostly everyone. For families that started early, like ours, we are already figuring out what the winners and losers are for the year. Here is a snippet of what's working so far, what's not, and what we're on the fence about.

Winners...So Far.
  1. Saxon Phonics. We are using this phonics program for Anthony, Isabella and even Marco! I love that it's scripted and the kids haven't complained yet! It combines phonics with spelling, which I find helpful in getting the kids to understand their phonics rules. For Anthony, this is his core program. Isabella and Marco are both using the Saxon Phonics 2 program and it is completely review. It's working fantastic, although sometimes I wonder if coding all those words is helping them read proficiently. But if they are showing success with it, I can't argue!

  2. Famous Men of Greece (Memoria Press). We are using this for history and following Angelicum Academy's lesson plans. So far the kids love it. It's colorful and interesting to them and I like that it covers vocabulary and reading comprehension, among other things (the suggested activities are great).

  3. Poetry Memorization from IEW. This is super easy to do and the kids LOVE it so far! The kids recite their poetry in the morning, during lunch and then for their dad over the dinner table. It's great fun for them!

  4. A Nature Walk With Aunt Bessie from Queen Homeschool. This is the science I'm doing with all the kids together. It's completely from a Charlotte Mason Approach and completely fun for the kids! We do this everyday and it is something the kids look forward to. I love that it's compatible for all the kids, from Christian in preschool to Marco in 4th grade.
Runner Up. Still sitting on the fence.
  1. Latina Christiana. Perhaps it's my own insecurities with teaching Latin that make this program so difficult for me. Marco and Isabella do this together and they are doing well, although I'm always unsure about how well they have grasped the vocabulary. I'm hoping that as the year progresses, I'll be more confident in teaching it and the kids will continue to do well with it. For them, this is not a favorite subject...but it gets done! We are taking it super slow!

  2. Map Essentials. This is another Angelicum course that I have loved over the years. But now that Marco is doing his 4th grade book, it's getting more rigorous (which is great!) but less fun. And I'm all about the kids having fun when it comes to geography. Why shouldn't it be fun? It's a solid program...it's National Geographic! But I think I was hoping for something that would make learning cartography and geography more hands on. Perhaps I'll supplement if we have the time; after all, this is done only once a week.
Losers.
  1. Vocabu-Lit. We followed Angelicum's suggestion of using Vocabu-Lit for 4th grade. The workbook is great and it uses literature to teach new vocabulary. But as we were progressing through the book, Marco began to get more and more frustrated with the work. "It's too hard! I hate it!" So I did further reading to see what the problem could be. Well, it turns out that the book that Angelicum is recommending for 4th graders is actually a 6th grade book!! That might be fine and dandy for kids who are great readers, but for the average kid...this might be a little too much. So I abandoned Vocabu-Lit and am going back to using something more grade appropriate. So I guess in the end, it really isn't the program that's a loser...it's just a loser because we were using something that wasn't suited to our grade level.
That's it! Looks like we don't really have lots of losers this year. All other materials are straight from Angelicum and we are enjoying them all. I hope that all you homeschoolers out there are having luck with your curricula. It's always a mystery as to what will work, but thank goodness that we have the luxury of tailoring our teaching to what our kids need!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Scholaric Review.

When I find something that I love, helps me and is easy to use...I want to tell the whole world!! I'm a chronic planner, organization junkie and all around nerd when it comes to homeschooling. I'm constantly looking for ways to make my life easier and more streamlined. With 6 kids, keeping our homeschool organized is a top priority.

Before the beginning of our homeschool year in August, I decided that I needed an easier way to organize lessons for my 3 grammar stage kids. Fitting everyone's schedule in my planner just wasn't working and adding any more kids to it was just not realistic. So I decided to give the electronic planner a try.

I started with a popular, downloadable "Tracker" program. It took me a whole weekend to type everything in, understand how to use it and get the ball rolling with it. I was on the brink of throwing in the towel with it's learning curve, but decided to stick it out because of all the time I had already invested in it. But then something wonderful happened. I got rid of my dinosaur PC and upgraded to an iMac.

Upgrading to an iMac is awesome...but not so awesome for Tracker users. I found out that not only could I not transfer my Tracker files, but that I couldn't even start over with Tracker because it is not compatible with Macs!! All that precious time wasted! I nearly cried with frustration!


Thus began my search for a homeschool planner that was Mac compatible. Luckily, it didn't take long before someone recommended Scholaric. Could it be that I had found something I could download to my Mac that would save me from a planning crisis? Read on.

It turns out that Scholaric doesn't need to be downloaded into any computer because it's web-based. That means all your planning stays online and not your computer. I wasn't sure I liked this. My lesson plans floating around in virtual space? I didn't buy into the hype until a light bulb lit up over my head. My lesson plans....accessible from any computer!

Once I realized that I could plan my school week not only from my desktop, but from our MacBook from anywhere in the house, I got so excited! Not only that, but you could use it on your iPad too! How much more convenient and terrific could this Scholaric program be? I signed up for the trial version immediately. After all, not just because you can have easy access to something does it mean that it's easy to set up or use, right?

Well...Scholaric is extremely easy to set up and use. If you like to spend hours typing information into a planner before you actually get to use it...this program is probably not for you. But if you like to get started right away, Scholaric is perfect! Setting up our homeschool account on Scholaric was a breeze. It's like opening a notebook planner and just filling in the days with what you are doing. You can schedule repeating lessons, record time spent on a subject (necessary in some states), reschedule lessons easily and even share lessons if you have more than one student.



Scholaric makes it easy to record grades too and even generates a report card if needed. What I really like about Scholaric, beside all these great features? I can print out a daily or weekly assignment for my kids that they can check off. Here is a quick screenshot (sorry it's blurry).



Is Scholaric perfect? Probably not. There is no perfect planner, although for me it's as close to perfection as I've ever had. Sign up for a free 15 day trial to find out how easy it is to use this amazing online planner. It's only $1 per month, per child after that!

Check them out and become a fan! They post tips and updates on their FaceBook page.




Sunday, September 4, 2011

New Pup?

We are finally settling into the routine of being back to school. Co-op started this past Monday and it was great. The kids were so excited to be back! It was a great first day and I was happy to see all the kids and my friends!

Of course, things are never dull around here with school, co-op, a new baby and just our daily routines. But I decided to throw in a little curve ball this past week. We are fostering a dog!! I know it's crazy of me to even think of adding a dog to a family of 8, but I couldn't justify not allowing my kids to get a pet. After all, I have very fond memories of growing up with pets myself.

So enters Sierra. This little pup is a year old and the sweetest thing. We actually weren't planning on adopting a dog just yet. We were waiting to see if we could swing buying a nice poodle mix so that I wouldn't have to add vacuuming dog hair to my list of chores. But as I took Anthony on a mother-son lunch date, we decided to stop by the humane society just to look at the puppies. And there was Sierra. More timid that my own little Anthony (he's a shy one!), but just so sweet. We fell in love with her! Now we are fostering her for a week or so to see how she adjusts to living with our family and how our family adjusts to having her around. So far, things are going great!

Yea...she sheds. She's not a designer dog. But the kids love her! I'll have to let you know if we decide to go through with an adoption and having her become one of the family!


She was so shy at the shelter. She was almost afraid to be pet.



As soon as we got home, she opened up. She loves the kids and is excellent with them! She is not one bit shy anymore!!




With 6 kids, she gets plenty of attention. Here she is taking a nap after a long walk.