We have now completed four weeks of first grade. Which is like, nothing. But for whatever reason, it makes all the difference.
That’s the strange thing about homeschooling – you really have no idea how the family dynamics will work each year until you actually start, then at least you know what you’re dealing with. Also, no matter how much you plan and read and scour and ask for advice, you simply cannot predict what books you and your kid will love and hate.
So here’s what we’ve learned in our first four weeks.
Rewards (or bribery, as it’s known to many) are everything. Being able to visualize your rewards with perfect princesses gazing proudly up at you – even better.
After forgetting this necessity from last year and hurriedly throwing together the ugliest rewards sheet ever, I started week two with the above laminated fancy sheet.
(By the way. Have I mentioned how bewitched I am with my laminator? Because there’s nothing quite like the pleasure brought forth from the consummation of plasticizing something.)
(Feel free to come over if you need anything plasticized. Bring your important papers, your gun permits, your kids. I’ll run ‘em all through.)
Anyway. Based on how well Ali focuses on each subject, she gets to put an arbitrary number of stickers on her page. And when she gets to fifty, which happens about once a week, she gets to raid my School Prize Drawer.
(I wish it were a wall instead of a drawer. Then I could tell Ali, “Be sure to use the School Prize Wall thoughtfully.”)
As she’s picking her prize, I split my thumbnails peeling all the stickers up and we start over.
This was working fairly well, but Ali’s attitude was still not great – she was exhausted and “not feeling well” every day. At the beginning of week three, I was on the verge of booking her a doctor’s appointment when I decided to first attempt an attitude chart, on which she can earn only one sticker per day, or two if she’s an exceptionally attentive or whiny student.
(The consequences would most likely be a grounding off of her iPad, but just leaving it at “consequences” sounded so much more ominous.)
It was magical. The moment I placed the freshly laminated sheet in her hand, her little eyes lit up with the passionate joy of a girl motivated. And since then, she’s been so cheerful she could be the focal point of an insurance commercial.
“How happy are Geico customers? Happier than an OCD little girl with an attitude chart!”
I kicked myself for not implementing it sooner. I should have known – I’m motivated in every area of life by charts and graphs – of course Ali would be even more so.
As far as our curriculum itself, the textbook approach was definitely the right way to go for Ali, and we agree that our favorite choice was the Bob Jones Reading/Reading Comprehension program.
Ali loves the activities that go with the stories, and I can already tell a marked difference in her comprehension and attention to what she’s reading. We’ve moved really fast, finishing the first and second book in two weeks each. But the stories quickly ramp up in depth, so I’m hoping that means we slow down soon.
Ali is also enjoying Explode the Code for her phonics (it has about half a dozen different formats of learning pages, and she especially loves the silly question language comprehension.)
The A Beka Science, History, and Health are each going well, although I’m not doing a good job of supplementing them with fun activities or paper mache dioramas or really anything at all other than reading the books. We’ve been doing a mixture for Bible, between the Bob Jones Bible, ABC Bible Verse Book stories and memorization, and What’s in the Bible DVDs (which are perfect when I need a mental break. Which is at the end of every school day.)
The A Beka Math is good, but we’ve also been adding in other skills that Ali already knows, like multiplication tables and fractions, and doing supplemental work on concepts that are difficult for her, like telling time, skip counting and place values.
Also, on one random day’s lesson, her math book included a map problem. It turned out to be her favorite problem ever (along with graph problems – again, big surprise), so I’ve been drawing her custom map problems that contain her best friend, favorite places to play, and her most adored restaurants.
(And yes, we’re raising a local foodie snob – And I’m okay with that. Ali doesn’t understand why people go to restaurants where they don’t know the owner by first name.)
I have to admit I’ve enjoyed drawing these problems as much as she’s enjoyed solving them, which proves that our personalities really are quite blessedly suited to be paired together as teacher and student.
(We’ll see how Noah wrecks my peaceful paradigm when he gets to Kindergarten.)
What we haven’t ended up using is the Handwriting without Tears. I suspect this is my fault as I only have the workbook, and not the entire system. However, Ali much prefers copying my writing at this point, and it seems to be more effective.
And then there’s Noah.
His passion for learning is palpable.
His first set of “School Legos” were fantastic – he painstakingly built each suggested vehicle included on the poster (which I lovingly laminated for him), and I think it was great for his comprehension.
The peace that this Lego set bought us lasted for ten glorious days.
And then he was done with it.
So on the third week of school, he got a new Lego set – this time, the construction one. So if anyone’s keeping count, school is costing me approximately $9 per week of toddler hush money – and I’m budgeting that as “Cheaper than Mother’s Day Out.”
(Suggestions are welcomed and desperately needed for his next gift. Please help soon.)
And then there’s me. I couldn’t find a school planner that I liked, so I made my own pages on Excel this year, and I’m very happy with them (You can download my template here.)
As for the beautiful efficiency of homeschooling, our school days are lasting from about 8:30 to 12:00 every day, we usually end up ahead enough to have a light day on Friday, and I never plan ahead – I write down each subject as it’s completed. Because who likes changing things once they’re in ink?
And those stickers down in the bottom right-hand corner?
Yeah. That’s my own motivation section.
And it’s so totally effective.