Monday, June 9, 2014

It Helps To Review

School is out and summer break is here! The 2013-2014 school year is in the books and, in what seemed like mere months, I now have a third grader and a second grader. 

Although every day was not rosy and fun (confession: many days were not rosy and fun!) we had a great school year. Not only did we learn a lot, but we went a lot of places, experienced a lot of things, met a lot of people, and best of all, did it together. 

Adding Jaxton to our family this past winter was a strain on the flow of our days as I struggled to find our new normal. Not only was I tired physically, but I was tired emotionally and I really questioned if we were making progress. But, when I could step away from the emotion of feeling overwhelmed and look objectively at what you were learning and doing, I was affirmed that we were tracking well. Your state required test scores proved that as well. Phew! 

So, before too much time passes now that our summer days are spent at the pool and playing with friends, I want to take time to remember some of what we learned and did this year. It helps to review where we were so we can celebrate where we are now!

US Geography
We toured the United States and took a brief stop in each state - learning it's key facts, unique products, interesting land forms, and natural resources. For each state you colored a worksheet, created a postcard, added a stamp to your passport, and cooked a recipe or created a craft relevant to that state. And, to the amusement of anyone who cares to listen, you can recite the 50 states in alphabetical order.
I asked what you liked learning about the best and this is what you said:

Micah: "The rock in the ocean that used to be a big jail. You know, the one in California?"

Grady: "My favorite state is South Carolina because of the battle we learned about there."
Hands down, science was our favorite subject this year. We spent the year learning about Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day and covered birds, bats, dinosaurs, and insects. We took time to focus on details about birds and creepy-crawlies that we'd never understand or appreciate otherwise.

You each made colorful and interesting nature journals and put together some great projects: bird houses, bird feeders, ant farms, butterfly displays, and so much more. You spent a lot of time together walking in the woods to collect things and had your magnifying glasses and insect nets ready in your back pockets.

You also took a handful of science classes at area museums and learned about matter and energy, the oceans, the rain forest, and pollination and decomposition.
Math was relatively simple for both of you this year and you worked completely independent in this area. We began multiplication and more work with fractions this spring and that gave you some challenges, but never fear: I have CD's with each of the multiplication tables sung to catchy, get-stuck-in-your-mind-so-you-can't-forget-them-even-if-you-try songs. 

When I asked you what you thought about math you said this:

Micah: "Math is probably my second easiest thing to do except for multiplication. It's kind of hard so far."

Grady: "I like adding when I have to borrow, but I don't like subtraction because it's hard to do in my mind." 

And, for the record, I've informed Dad that when your math materials start referring to numbers as integers I'm removing myself from the teaching process altogether and he's on duty. My brain has never had much capacity for math and I'm hopeful your accountant Dad can have you doing math that I never could. Chances are, I'll be sitting with pencil and paper right next to you while he's teaching all of us how to do things! 

Most of the time it seemed like spelling wasn't really about our list of words or new phonetic rules. For one of you spelling is a huge challenge and takes a lot of effort. For the other, spelling is as easy and natural as breathing. 

Interestingly, our spelling lessons this year were more about character development than they were about spelling! For one, we spent a lot of time talking about confidence in who God made you to be, realizing that everything  in life isn't a competition, and that we all have strengths and weaknesses. For the other, we spent a lot of time talking about bragging attitudes and prideful words, laziness in efforts, and indifference to constructive criticism. 

Several times a week you spent a handful of minutes writing in your journal. Nothing long and nothing complicated; just something to to help you connect your thoughts to paper. Each day I'd have a leading question or a prompt of some sort to get you started. Some days you were focused and detailed; other days you were abrupt and gave a couple word answers. It never mattered to me what you wrote, I was simply pleased with the practice of learning to formulate thoughts and opinions and how to express them. And, the completed journal is a keepsake for sure! I will cherish the notes, pictures, lists, prayers, and stories you wrote.
You both enjoy reading and I could not be happier. Some of my favorite learning times were when you read out loud to me. I enjoyed sitting close to you on the couch, sipping hot coffee, and listening to you read and develop the skills to articulate and express. These were some of the few one-on-one moments I got with each of you during the day and I treasure them.

During quiet time each day you usually chose to read for the hour. You whizzed through the Boxcar Children chapter books and met your reading goals each month to earn a free personal pizza at Pizza Hut through the Book It program.

Language Arts
This is not a favorite subject for either of you. And I don't think that's because it's difficult for either of you, but probably because it's mostly "boring" seat work. Sitting and completing worksheets about nouns and verbs and punctuation aren't at the top of your list for fun. Because I think some of the best language lessons come from reading, I deferred a lot of the grammar lessons to simply reading stories and pointing things out as we read. Here is what you said about writing and grammar:

Micah: "Grammar is sort of hard, but I like writing stories."

Grady: "I like to write in my journal but not really writing stories."
Art Classes
You took eight weeks of art classes at a local community center and seemed to really enjoy them. Each week you learned about a different style of art, a famous artist known for that style, and then had a chance to create something in that style. The laundry room walls have some beautiful art pieces on display now!

Micah: "I loved my art class because art is fun and I like to create and invent things."

Grady: "I love doing art because I had a fun teacher who gave us cool projects to do."

PE Classes
When Jaxton was born and I knew we'd be inside a lot during the winter, I decided to sign you up for some PE classes. I knew that time to run and play with other kids each week would be important for your sanity and mine! During the four months we participated you made some fun friends and had a great time playing a variety of sports. After the last class for the year you both asked, with hopeful eyes, if we can "puhleeeease doing PE classes again next year?!"
There's not much I can say about this other than neither of you enjoy it. The short 10 minutes it takes each day for you to complete a page produce the most complaints and whines.

Micah: "I don't like penmanship at all. It's the hardest part of school for me. And the most boring." (I might add that it's only hard for you because it requires you to go slowly and take your time!)

Grady: "I don't really like writing in cursive because it takes me much longer to do. And, it's harder to read." (But, your penmanship is beautiful and much clearer than mine has ever been!)
Literature Unit Studies
We began reading the Little House series and it quickly became a highlight of our day. You were fascinated with the adventures of travelling by covered through the wilderness, of farming and all the work required to keep a family alive, and of Indians and their way of life. We read the first three - Little House in the Big Woods, Farmer Boy, and Little House on the Prairie - and will continue the series this summer and fall.

During some of Dad's business travel, we watched season one of the Little House episodes each night before bed. You enjoyed seeing Laura and her family come to life on the TV, but, thankfully, agreed that reading the books was better because of the extra details they had.

We completed a Little House lapbook - a colorful way to focus on key events, details, and people in the book. And, thanks to YouTube, we watched several clips that helped us better understand covered wagons, buffalo stampedes, and pioneer farm life.
Ancient History
History... two years to complete what should have been one year of learning. Oh well. Learning together at home allows for all the rabbit trails we took, and hopefully we're all a bit wiser in understanding the flow of events from creation to the resurrection of Christ. Besides, if you weren't so interested in the battles and armor and trireme boats and phalanx formations we would have finished sooner... but missed out on a whole lot of fun!
Different from last year, I didn't have a specific Bible curriculum and I didn't treat it as its own subject. Instead, I tried to find ways to bring biblical truths into each area we studied. This was especially easy in our literature, history, and science studies. We also took time to memorize Psalm 1 and the 10 Commandments.

Everything above highlight some of our core learning activities, but there are countless other things you did as well. Writing letters to our sponsored child in India, participating in numerous field trips, learning basic functions on the computer, following simple recipes for baking and making dinner, planting and maintaining a garden... what I really want you to see, is that learning never stops. Every day has opportunities to learn about ourselves, about other people, and about God's world.

We have time ahead of us now to enjoy summer - family vacations, day camps and VBS, swimming with friends. But I promise, as we do all of this we'll still be learning and growing, even if your heads aren't bent over a textbook and you're not rummaging for a pencil sharpener!

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