Friday, September 4, 2015

First Week of the New School Year

Last week was our final week of summer vacation, and I spent it rearranging everything for the new school year.  I like new starts, fresh beginnings.  So everything came off of nearly all the shelves in the room so that I could thoroughly clean and then repurpose each space for this new school year.  

Last year's books were packed away and placed into the large bin labeled, "America: Year 1" and stored away in the storage closet until we need them again (in about 3 years).  We are beginning our second year of American history, so I pulled out the bin labeled, "America: Year 2" and placed those books onto the shelf.  I love this rotation of books so that we enjoy them for a season and don't tire of them.  Fresh books make for happy campers!

When school supplies go on sale at the beginning of each school year, I stock up on tons of 3-ring binders, spiral notebooks, composition notebooks, and 3-prong folders.  In addition to about a dozen more spiral notebooks that don't fit into this cabinet, this will last us until next school year when everything goes back on sale.  

Instead of workbooks with endless fill-in-the-blanks or multiple choice questions, I encourage my children to make their own notebooks about what they learn.  I will blog more about notebooking later.  But, suffice it to say that these notebooks will all be filled with intriguing treasures by the end of the school year!

Ooooooh!  Okay, these are the newest addition to our shelves, and I LOVE them!  In fact, I have it on my radar to go back to buy several more of these next week.  These are book bins from Lakeshore, and they are $5 each.  I wanted to see how they worked for us, so I bought 4 to begin with.  I love everything about them...sturdy, colorful, and a clear pocket for a label.  This keeps our books separated well, and instead of hunting for 10 minutes to find the American art book, we know exactly which bin it's in.  I plan to buy more bins for Language Arts, Math curriculum, and also some for individual children to keep their notebooks.  These bins can link together too.  Awesome find for $5!

We use a curriculum that uses excellent pieces of literature as opposed to single textbooks, and that means that every school year, we read TONS of good books.  Instead of keeping these books out on the shelf where they slip and slide, I placed them all into an easily accessible bin.  

Every school year, I like to change out the labels on our bins.  It's an inexpensive way to give a new look and feel to the area, and these were so fun and colorful.

So, that takes care of getting the area physically ready for a new season of learning.

And every year, I always find that I have to mentally ready myself with a fresh slate.

Just before lessons ramp up again, I always love to pull out my favorite get-me-back-into-the-mindset books.  Here are some of my favorites:  
  * Educating the WholeHearted Child is by far my very favorite homeschooling book.  I've highlighted my favorite parts and can go back easily for encouragement and reference.  

  * Ignite The Fire is a book I only read once, but I forever grasped onto its advice to let my children make their own unique and interesting notebooks instead of using canned worksheets.  

  * Charlotte Mason Companion is an easy-to-grasp overview of the Charlotte Mason style of education.  If you're interested in CM education, this is a great place to start reading.

A Charlotte Mason education does require a bit more parental attention than a boxed curriculum or a computer-based curriculum.  But, I find it entirely worth the bit of extra effort. And as the CM-style of education becomes part of your every day lifestyle, it becomes quite natural to implement and is a joy to both parents and children.

Because we have multiple children with different levels and different books (and only ONE momma to facilitate!), I invented my own archaic way of putting together a schedule of sorts.  Just for the record, I hate schedules, calendars, etc.  I am a spontaneous girl, and predetermined schedules box me in.  But, alas, with 4 kiddos, I do have to make some sort of schedule so that I have time with each child and for each thing they want and need to work on.  We also have an "activity room" where our big computer, piano keyboard, etc are located, and every child has their own desire and need to be alone in this room.  So, a schedule gives everyone a time slot in the activity room and keeps peace among the troops. 

To make it easy to put together a schedule (without writing, erasing...or typing, deleting), I wrote each child's necessary lessons onto index cards (cut in half).  I think and dream in color, so every child is a different color.  Here is an index card with our son T's reading and writing time slot.  

For those lessons or time slots when we are all together, I wrote in purple (see pic below).  Then, after all the cards are written out, I lay them all on the table in order of the day (top = first thing in the morning) and move the cards here and there until there are no overlapping time slots.  For example, when T is in the activity room working on his math and piano, I am working with HB and D on their multiple areas of Language Arts, and G is working on a skills game.  When HB and D move into their independent literature, and T is still in the activity room...I work on math with G.  It's like gears all turning at the same time, and it keeps me from hopping all over the place.   

Seeing the cards out on the table gives me a visual of what the day looks like and lets me see if there are any overlapping slots.  This works wonders.  

Then I transfer it onto a piece of paper so that I can reference it during the first couple of weeks of the new routine.  Some people like computer spreadsheets to do this, and that would work well.  But, I like old-fashioned paper and markers.  (You may notice that our high schooler has large empty gaps in her schedule.  This is because she is mainly independent and is in charge of scheduling most of her own studies.  This gives her ownership of her learning as well as time management.)

Here are some of my new goodies for this school year...

Picture Study will be DA VINCI, and Music Study will be BACH.  I love love love these little packaged studies from Simply Charlotte Mason!  It has all the richness of CM-style education, but I don't have to spend tons of time or money locating several paintings by a particular artist or in finding books about a composer and weeding through tons of info.  It's all prepackaged for the busy mom who wants to forego prep time and just wants to open it and have a seriously awesome study of the masters.

And for beginning readers, I just stumbled upon this little treasure...Delightful Reading Kit, from Simply Charlotte Mason.  I'll post more about this one soon.

To understand exactly how to put together a CM-style Language Arts study, this is a great resource...

For those children switching over from print to cursive, this is a beautiful book with quotes from Proverbs that the children write as they learn cursive.

For my junior high and high school students, Analytical Grammar gives a nice study in grammar without having to hammer it endlessly into their heads year and year and year.  ('s a little secret...and it comes from a person who loves grammar and went on to minor in English in college:  Grammar is a finite body of knowledge.  You do NOT need to learn that same body of knowledge every single year.  Yes, really.  More on that in another post....)

And so the new school year kicked off this week with a fresh start and with an ever-increasing understanding and love of the Charlotte Mason style of "living education" that I hope to share more and more with you as the days go by.

Here's a brief photo journal of what our week entailed...

On the verge of reading...oh the joy of playing with letters!

And who says math has to be at a desk when the princess wanted to have her lesson in her special tree tent?! 

Point to the blue circle...

And the next day we added yellow to the mix, which complicated the choices a bit (but she completely rocked this activity!).  And, try not to get distracted by her obnoxious hair flower!  It wasn't my idea, but I go with the flow when the girls need their frills.

And LIVING BOOKS...ahhhhhhh, these are one of my very favorite parts of the Charlotte Mason style of education.  Instead of dry textbooks with boring facts that have to be chewed like sawdust and then regurgitated onto a test, GIVE THEM REAL BOOKS...delightful, amazing literature that grabs their attention and invites them into a world where they cannot help but to learn!

Even the youngest guinea pig realizes the value of a good book! ;)

When God gives them a gift or talent, they need time and space to develop it until their heart is content.  This is nearly impossible if they are loaded with hours and hours of worksheets and busy work.  T learns the piano "by ear" and is currently setting his ears on an amazing song written by The Piano Guys, and after only 3 days, he is making awesome strides forward.  He is my huggable child, so he often hugs me and says, "Guess what God taught me on the piano today?"  And this is how it should be...just he and His Maker walking alongside each other onto the paths he was born for.  He asks God to show Him what keys to hit, and He does.  The faith of a child...and the faithfulness of a big God!

Two of our children are using Teaching Textbooks for math, and they both love it, while our oldest child did not like it.  

And nature study is a seriously rich part of the Charlotte Mason style of education.  At the beginning of the summer, we planted a Back-to-Eden Garden and have very much enjoyed being in the garden alongside God as He grows some incredible things.


Nature-journaling on our property in Texas Hill Country...

Picking zucchini...

And who knew that the inside of a squash stem was hollow?!  "I wonder if I can make a musical instrument out of it?!"  

Curiosity fuels these endless opportunities to learn.  

Yep, it's been a good first week.