When We Get Around To It…

…That’s when we’ll start school.

(I answer that question a lot.)

We do enough educational tasks during the summer (all of which I track on my templates, which you can download here) that we can afford to start school when God intended: In the glorious month of September. But this year, we actually started on August 29, which was, I decided, close enough.

I printed the kids off some signs as I always do,

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But when we woke up that morning, we found that Chris had hand-drawn them some notes before he left for work that were way better than my lazy-download-off-of-Pinterest signs.

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From now on, signage will fall under the Principal’s duties.

I’ve found that hype is important in the homeschool classroom, so anything I can save for building and creating hype, I do. This year might have been my biggest hype success yet – I surprised the kids with a “classroom computer.” It’s a super cheap laptop so that they can learn how to use a real computer (i.e. kids these days don’t know how to use anything that doesn’t have a touch screen and does have an actual keyboard) and so that we could enhance and expand our learning. They were pretty much ecstatic.

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We’re currently using it for typing, Spanish, and quiz websites like iXL. And it’s quite the treat that I save for the end of the school day.

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Our ticket program worked so well over the summer (until I started forgetting to enforce it) that I decided to re-launch it and expand it greatly for the school year, attempting to solve every single one of my parenting problems with one simple system. And so far, it’s one step above miraculous.

Ticket System for Allowance and School

In the past, I have tried everything short of exiling Noah to Vanuatu in the attempt to get him not to throw his dirty clothes on the floor and to clean up his plate after a meal, and he has never done either of these things voluntarily. A week and a half into the new ticket plan, and he has not missed a single plate or sock.

Replacing allowance with this system was a huge motivational factor, along with the newness of it and a BRAND NEW COLOR of ticket.

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When I ordered my ticket stash at the beginning of the summer, they came in a pack of four rolls, and we used red throughout the summer. Something about me announcing regally that red tickets no longer had value and, furthermore, keeping the new color a secret for TWO WHOLE DAYS built a hysteria in Noah somewhat akin to when Apple announces a new iPhone. Hype. Is miraculous. And the “I can add or take away tickets at any time” feels like Hogwarts House Points to Ali, so therefore even more magical.

The success of this program rises and falls with my ability to continue to hype and enforce it, so y’all pray for me, okay? I think I may have discovered the key to life and happiness if only I can keep it rolling.

Speaking of life and happiness, while I was at Target buying the kids pencil cases in which to store their tickets, I came across this guy.

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Never have I ever unzipped a pencil case and burst out laughing, loudly, in the middle of Target, but he made me do it. The way his mouth waggled back and forth as I unzipped him…I knew he wasn’t for the children. He was for me.

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I’m keeping all my random supplies in him that usually get misplaced and turn into tiny messes – glue sticks, post-it flags, glue dots, etc. I found all his siblings on Amazon and depending on how my self-control is, I may have an entire family of Zipit monsters by the end of the school year.

(I might already have two more in my cart.)

(What all can I use these guys for? Help me out to justify my monster NEEDS.)

(By the way, the GENIUS case is all one zipper – you can unzip the entire case into one long string. Can I start a ZipIt fan club?)

As far as curriculum, for those of you who care, Ali’s subjects include:

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– American History 6 – A Beka
– Reading 6 – BJU
– English 5 – BJU
Exploring Creation with Chemistry and Physics – Apologia
– Bible: Who Am I?  – Apologia
– Math: Saxon 6/5 – Saxon
– Writing: Ali is writing in her diary, plus we will write various papers throughout the year.
– For Read-Aloud, we’re very nearly done with The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson (HIGHLY recommended), then plan on trying out The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place.
– Spelling: We’re studying the Scripps Spelling Bee lists as always.
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And Noah’s are:

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– American History 1: A Beka
– Health: A Beka
– Reading: BJU 1
– Bible: I love the My ABC Bible Verses book – they’re great verses to learn at this age.
– Science: Noah is learning Chemistry and Physics along with us, and picking up surprisingly a good deal. We’re also participating in a Science Club where they’re able to do experiments, which they both adore.
– English: BJU 1. This is his first ever English book, which is very confusing to him. On the second day he told me accusatorily, “This isn’t helping me at all with learning how to speak a different kind of English.”

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I guess he thought he was learning ESL. Or some secret new segment of English he’d never heard before. Poor kid.
– Math: BJU 2. I ordered him BJU 1, but when I got it, it was endlessly simple for first grade. We turned to the back of the book and Noah did all the problems in his head. Thankfully they have a good return policy and I swapped it out for 2nd grade.
– Spelling: Noah is joining us in our spelling bee pursuits this year.
– Writing: This is Noah’s first year to keep a diary, and he’s extremely proud of it. Ali’s five-year-running daily diary has always impressed him, so he feels quite included to be writing in his own.

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IMG_2157Despite how it might read, he got a BATMAN widget spinner on 8/30.

Together, we’re studying Spanish and typing. After a good bit of research, I decided on Living Language Spanish instead of Rosetta Stone – it is significantly cheaper and has way better user reviews. For typing, I bought this kid’s typing bundle and they are LOVING it. I have also taken the program to set up my own profile to show off for them.

So far, everyone is enjoying their curriculum and paying attention fairly well – even Noah, who sometimes needs a couple hundred cups to help him listen.

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But listening is listening. I’ll take it.

Hands-On Alabama History: The Conclusion.

From the beginning

1st-Day-of-school-2016s-3 I promise this was from the beginning of this school year. Ignore the wrong dates. I’m a qualified teacher really I am.

To the end.

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It was an absolute adventure.

And my most ambitious and longest school year yet is finally over.

Although we’d finished most subjects, we officially ended it all on May 24, toward the end of a two-day field trip to Huntsville when Ali and I mutually agreed that although we did not go to all the places in my giant Alabama History plan, we were both officially done. Two days later, after she finished her field trip reports on said trip, we were DONE done.

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We did a total of 36 field trips, some(crazy)how, over her fourth grade year. (Some were multiple trips on the same day, so it’s not quite as insane as it sounds.) The book she wrote about those visits…is substantial.

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It was a remarkable year – one that we all learned more than usual and we will all remember extraordinarily fondly, but also a busy year. And oh by the way, Ali grew just a bit.

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(Noah grew too and also Noah learned to read this year but poor kid – gets overshadowed by our giant history project. Someone clap for Noah! He can read! Hooray!!)

(Okay thank you. Now let’s continue.)

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I didn’t get all of our Alabama History adventures written about during the year, but Ali’s reports are so much better than mine, so I’ll just let her cover the ones I never got around to:

Arlington Antebellum Home and Gardens: This was our least favorite trip – we went in December and it was really cold that day, so we didn’t enjoy the grounds. The admission price was high, and there wasn’t that much to see. The Christmas decorations were pretty, though, and the “A Christmas Carol” theme was fun. Ali and Noah made the best of it and slid down the very uneven floors in the Antebellum mansion. (The floors were uneven because plumbing was installed post-construction. Makes for a fun indoor slide.)

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Tuscaloosa – we went to the Bear Bryant Museum and the Children’s Hands-On Museum. The Hands-On Museum wasn’t exactly history related, but it was my favorite museum when I was a kid, and I wanted them to enjoy it again. As expected, Noah now asks me to take him back there at least every other day. This was our last field trip with Carla Jean, so it was a delightful, yet bittersweet, final opportunity to enjoy our perfect symbiosis of friendship and education.

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Southern Museum of Flight and the Birmingham Public Library Maps Exhibit: we took my Dad along to the Southern Museum of flight, which was fantastic, because he was able to teach the kids so much about the planes he’d worked on in the Air Force. Like their inappropriate nicknames and the fact that the switch that drops the missiles is called the “Pickle Switch.” Important information. The kids really enjoyed this museum – they had many planes to play in and several hands-on areas. The education director, Mr. Charlie, was a wealth of information and really fun to make and fly paper airplanes with.

Southern Museum of Flight and Maps Exhibit

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute: This was one of our most important visits, but also ended up being one of our most risky visits. It is definitely geared more toward teens and adults, yet I was brilliant that day and invited friends to come with us. Needless to say, our group of 11 kids ten years old and under were greeted at the front door by a museum curator with strict instructions on how to behave and respect the museum. They did well, considering, but I wished I had left Noah with someone and just taken Ali. It was a grave experience, and there’s so much Civil Rights history that happened right here in Birmingham to absorb. The videos are quite graphic, as are the exhibits. It’s both a vital and painful piece of understanding Alabama’s history.

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

U.S. Space and Rocket Center: Alabama played an important part in the Space Race. The U.S. Space and Rocket Center is a fantastic campus (it’s way more than a museum) to learn about and appreciate that impact. They have actual vessels that have been on the moon – that alone is worth the drive. The staff there was extremely helpful and voluntary with their loads of information. They made the kid’s visit so much more fun.

US Space and Rocket Center

The Double Helix Park, EarlyWorks, and The Huntsville Depot – We did a triple take for our last field trip day (maybe that’s why we were so done by the end of it) – we first walked The Double Helix Trail in Huntsville, which is a really excellent .8 mile walking trail in the shape of a double helix. Along the way, you learn about characteristics that are on each genome and how they affect our genetic makeup. They also have an app that you can download and turn the walk into a Scavenger Hunt, which we did and the kids adored.

EarlyWorks is a Children’s Museum in Huntsville that, instead of being a science-based hands-on museum like McWane in Birmingham, it’s a history-based hands-on museum, specifically focused on Alabama History. It was an excellent place to spend an afternoon – the kids loved playing Mercantile, running through the River Boat, and setting off dynamite. Oh and their pile of stuffed dogs is AMAZING.

The Huntsville Depot had a fantastic collection of train cars that could be played on, and even had working buttons and switches that made thrilling noises. They also had a museum of old cars and a train museum. We didn’t make it in time to go into the train museum, but the kids enjoyed the rest of it immensely.

Huntsville Field Trips

Interviews – we didn’t do nearly as many history interviews as I’d hoped to. The fact that all the interviews would be in the latter part of the project (nobody’s still alive from the prehistoric days, after all) contributed to my failure in that area. By the time we got to the end of the year, I was just trying to desperately finish the field trip part of our project. We did have one interview event, however, that was seriously tremendous. Our famous meteorologist James Spann came and spoke to us and a group of about 40 other people who have been participating in our Alabama History project, or that just wanted to come and hear him speak. It was very off-the-cuff, and he talked about all sorts of fantastic Alabama stuff (such as the route one would take if they wanted to turn the four hour trip to the beach into a four day trip, going through every little town and eating at every tiny bar-b-q dive along the way.) He took questions from the kids, as well, which was really fun and quite hilarious. We talked about tornadoes and racism and small-town Alabama and everything in between. He was the perfect person to single-handedly handle the interview portion of our project.

James Spann Interview

And that’s it. I’ll see you again in four years, Alabama History.

If anyone wants the last version of my spreadsheet, they can find it here. I do plan on doing a seminar later in the summer for anyone interested in the details of how we made this year work. I plan on having a curriculum guide written up and copies of my spreadsheet ready to go, so let me know if you’d like to be a part of that.

I mean, I plan to do all that, but it is summer. And it’s been a mighty long school year. So feel free to nag if you don’t hear from me. Until then, I’ll be making like Noah and taking a nice, long, nap.

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The Super Bowl of Homeschooling.

To a homeschooler, there is nothing more thrilling than standardized achievement tests.

…Okay actually this is way too blanket a statement and is vastly over-applied.

To myself and my daughter and perhaps a few other homeschoolers, there is nothing more thrilling than standardized achievement tests.

I adored them every year when I was a kid. I looked forward to them with much excitement. I loved that my Mom took me to the store and let me pick out whatever snack my heart desired – she said I needed as much brain power as possible to help me to do well during my tests.

(10 out of 10 kids do best when they get to pick out their own snacks.)

And oh, the random snack I chose every year.

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Potato Sticks.

I don’t know why I picked these – I actually don’t remember eating them at any other time except for achievement tests, but they were my standardized snack of choice.

(Maybe it was peeling that plastic seal off that allowed the metal ring to pop off in such a satisfying way. Maybe it was the film of oil on every surface of the inside of the can. Maybe it was the closest thing I could get to Fries in a Can.)

Anyway. Between my beloved Potato Sticks (do they even still make those?), the delight of filling in rows and rows of bubbles, and having a few days in a classroom with other homeschoolers, testing season was the best.

And it thrills my heart to see my daughter find the same joys as I did.

She asks me at least once a month, “How much longer until achievement tests?”

And, with much excitement and glee, they arrived this week.

I of course let her pick out her own snacks. She went with these attractive looking creatures:

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Just as her mother before her, this is not something she normally eats, nor is it something she’s asked me to buy at any other time.

Also? They look like literal dog biscuits. So at least we share extremely questionable standardized snacking taste.

Anyway. She’s taking tests this week, and I’m proctoring tests (for a different grade), because if I’m not allowed to take standardized tests anymore, proctoring is second best. At least I get the joy of seeing other people scribble in beautiful little bubbles.

Right?

As such, I’ll be back next week, fresh off the oh-so-addictive high of helping little minds compare their smarts to all the other little minds out there in the world.

In the meantime, let’s discuss:

1. Did you love/like/hate standardized testing?

2. What unusual snack would you pick out today if you had a week of blissful multiple choice bubbling?

I think I’d go with Potato Sticks. For old time’s sake.