Sunday, August 17, 2014

Homeschool Prep: Day 1 + A Peek Inside Our New Classroom!

Well, tomorrow is the big day: our first day of homeschooling! I'm excited and anxious and nervous all at the same time! I've prepared about as much as a person could (I think), so I'm hopeful it will go well. There are a lot of variables (a certain 15-month-old, for example), but I believe we're set up for success, and I know God is in this so I really shouldn't have anything to worry about!

The classroom area has come together quite nicely, if I may say so. I love the blue accent wall, our super inexpensive whiteboard solution and the art display wire. The table and chairs are the perfect fit for the room, and I have plenty of storage available for all of our supplies. Here are a few pics!

First, a "before" pic:

And after!

Ready for our first day!

Lots of storage and supplies to help us be successful!

A fun magnet center for my littlest learners...

A few of the hands-on activities to keep us engaged while learning through play!

Of course the day will start with prayer, followed by this:

And, something you'll never find in public schools, that I'm VERY excited to include in our morning routine:

Once the room was finished, it was time for me to really focus on preparing to teach. I'm really happy with my curriculum selections and I've already spent hours pouring through the lessons; however, it was time for me to put together our first lesson plan so I could start to envision the flow of our first homeschool day. I didn't want to plan too far until after we've had a few days of "trial and error" to determine what works and what I need to do differently.

For those interested in my curriculum choices for LO's 2nd grade year of homeschooling, here they are!
I'm planning on working with Chase on a few things, such as Explode the Code primer books A, B and C and online activities with a subscription to Reading Eggs, but my focus this year will definitely be on LO.

Here's a look at the lesson plan I've put together for our first day of homeschool. I will include a morning snack, lunch, outside play along with additional breaks as needed, but if we can complete this plan tomorrow, I will be ecstatic! I also may move things around a bit but for the most part, this is what I hope to realistically accomplish:

I imagine this should be approximately 3 hours of schooling, plus needed breaks throughout the day. I'm excited to get to it and report back on how we did! Please say a prayer for me and the kids as we begin this adventure together! And thank you for following along with our crazy journey!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

On the Right Track

So my post today is all about another confirmation I've received that tells me we're on the right track with our decision to homeschool. I'm so thankful to God for giving me this added sense of peace and I'm going to write about it here -- since this IS my blog and all -- but I will warn you that it may sound a bit like an "anti-Public School" rant. That's not intentional. Obviously public school was the right choice for LO's Kindergarten and 1st Grade years. And obviously it's the right choice for millions of families across the country. Please know that in no way do I want to come across as saying homeschooling is the right decision for every family, because I know it isn't -- it just happens to be the right one for us: for now. We may very well be back in the public school system next year, as I've only committed to this homeschooling adventure for ONE YEAR and will await God's direction once we prepare and make decisions for next year. So public school isn't public enemy #1 -- but it just may sound that way (unintentionally) in my rant below.

A few weeks ago, I requested LO's cumulative file from the elementary school she attended (you can read a bit about that at the bottom of this post). Upon reviewing the information I was provided, I realized they didn't include ANY tests, scores or assessments at all from 1st Grade -- only a report card. I called the school office, and they weren't able to provide me with any information, and suggested I speak with her 1st Grade teacher. I left her a message and awaited her response.

Her teacher emailed me to tell me that the 1st grade file usually contains a sheet that indicates her beginning and ending point for the Fountas and Pinnell reading assessment used by the school, as well as three writing samples (none of which we received). However, her beginning and ending reading assessment score was the same because they only test to level M in 1st grade and that was where she started 1st grade. And apparently her writing samples were recycled at the end of the year for some reason rather than placed in her file.


A few deep breaths later, after reading and rereading the email several times, I began to get upset. Why were her writing samples recycled (thrown out) rather than included in her file? Why couldn't they give her the next grade reading assessment at the beginning of the year once they realized her starting point was at the highest level of test offered? How on earth could they possibly gauge her improvement in reading and comprehension if they didn't have a valid benchmark in place at the beginning of the year? In my mind, if her records show she started at level M and finished at level M, I would feel that indicates she didn't learn, grow or improve in any way over the course of the school year.

I inquired with a teacher friend of mine who works for the same school district (but not at LO's school) about this, and she mentioned how teachers have several students to benchmark with only a certain period of time in which to do so, and they are instructed to stop at the end of the next grade level up. This makes sense. But apparently it is possible for a parent to ask the teacher or the school's instructional coach to retest her at a higher level at another time during the year.

My issue with this?
  1. We were never notified of the fact that LO took this assessment.
  2. We were never told that she started the year testing at the maximum level.
  3. No one communicated to us that we had the option to have her tested again at a higher level so as to create an accurate baseline at the start of the year.
  4. I was continually inquiring with her teacher concerning how she would ensure LO would receive advanced reading opportunities to keep her challenged throughout the year.
How is this okay??? How is it that so much attention these days is put on children who are lacking in a certain skill or those who are considered "behind" and yet place no attention on the children who are advanced and need to be challenged throughout the year? Ugh. I know there are a zillion things that go into making a public school work, so how should I possibly expect that my child will receive the kind of individualized attention I want her to have? It's just not possible in that environment when there are so many children, at so many different levels of development, only one teacher, and the prioritized task of achieving the best test scores at stake for these schools? I just don't feel like it's about the students anymore -- it's about making sure the school makes the grade they need and receives the funding they want and the state has the overall scores it needs. That's solely my opinion, of course.

But regardless, this was just one more disappointing thing that proved to me we are doing the right thing. My kids deserve more than what a public school is willing and able to offer them. Did you realize a public school student spends over 15,000 hours in school from Kindergarten through 12th grade? I can't imagine empowering a public school with that kind responsibility over my child. At least not right now. Of course this is subject to change at the Lord's leading, but for now, I'm following the path He has set in front of me for my family.

My apologies to those who may read this as an anti-Public School rant. It honestly wasn't intentional. It's just me telling our story and giving praise to the Lord for continuing to settle my anxious heart as I head into a very new chapter in my family's life next week.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Welcome to Homeschool

Well, everyone seems to be in "Back to School" mode and I guess I'm no exception, only this year, it's quite different! No need to rush out to battle the crowds to purchase items from school supply lists or look for sales on new wardrobes for the kids. Instead, I'm transforming our downstairs play area into a "learning room" where we will begin our homeschool days beginning on Monday, August 18, 2014. I am SO thrilled to see what God has in store for our family in the months (and years?) ahead!!!

So here in SC, you have 3 options by which to homeschool, and I thought I'd discuss them here, mostly since this blog serves as a journal of sorts to help me remember things and this decision to homeschool was a pretty big one---as you might imagine!

Option 1)

Under a SC public virtual school, which basically brings the public school classroom (and it's curriculum, from into your home. As a parent, you don't really "do" anything except ensure your child is completing assignments and online schooling through the virtual school. You're held to the same requirements of public schools (testing, calendar/holidays, deadlines, etc.) and have literally zero control over anything. While this was my original plan when I first considered homeschooling, God took me in a different direction when He helped me realize Option 1 doesn't provide me with either of the two things I wanted most out of homeschooling: FLEXIBILITY in our schedule and the ability to CHOOSE the curriculum I would use to teach my children.
((Option 1 cost: Free))

Option 2)

Under the SC Association of Independent Home Schools. This option provides accountability for homeschoolers, curriculum selection assistance (especially helpful for first-time homeschool parents) and record-keeping services. After I realized Option 1 wasn't for us, I quickly turned my attention to Option 2. It's basically a way to embark on homeschooling with someone holding your hand the whole time, giving you directions on where to go and how to get there, and taking away the burden of keeping the necessary records that meet state requirements for your students. YES!!! I wanted to go this route because I didn't believe I could do it on my own. Homeschooling is a very overwhelming thing to even consider doing, much less actually executing it! But again, I felt God telling me He was with me in this endeavor and He would see me through. So then I began to look into Option 3.
((Option 2 cost: $350/year for 1 student, $400/year for 2 students, $450/year for 3 or more students PLUS the cost of ALL of your curriculum selections.))

Option 3)

Under an independent association for homeschooling. This is the one that provides the most freedom to families. But it is also the one that puts the largest burden on the parents. With this option, you join an association (there are several in SC), and that's that. YOU as the parent select ALL of your child's curricula, YOU are responsible for keeping and maintaining their grades and records, YOU are responsible for 100% of the instruction. It's a LOT to consider, but I know without a doubt that THIS is where God has led us. I began by purchasing this book: 101 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum by Cathy Duffy. I ate, slept and breathed this book for MONTHS. Literally.

After my extensive research with this book, I felt confident enough to select the curricula I would be using for my first year of homeschooling -- for both LO and Chase. It was so overwhelming and so important to me to try to make the best selections possible that it certainly deserves its own post! Watch for that to come soon.
((Option 3: Free, plus the cost of ALL of your curriculum selections.))

I've felt God's leading in this entire process (a dear friend once told me, "God leads, Satan pushes.") and I feel confident about what we're going to do. As if it that wasn't enough (It is.), He is continually reminding me that I'm on the right path. My latest confirmation was from when I requested LO's cumulative file from her old elementary school. It contained her report cards and some test results (that I had never seen). I was particularly surprised by the results of a test she took back in Kindergarten where her skill level was "Above Average" in all areas, and the "Instructional Recommendation" was "Consider Need for Individualized Instruction."

Seriously? First of all, I'm so happy because individualized instruction is EXACTLY what she will be receiving at home. :) And secondly, I was disappointed (though not surprised) that the school noted the need for her to receive additional, individualized instruction 2 YEARS AGO and even with my constant prodding of her teachers and the administration, the school never made any effort to provide her with advanced learning opportunities. I couldn't be MORE PLEASED with our decision to homeschool, and I can't wait to see how it all plays out!

NOTE: If you are interested in reading the full SC Code of Law §59-65, which includes Compulsory Attendance and Home Schooling Statutes, please click here.

- Posted from my beloved iPhone

Monday, July 28, 2014

7th Birthday Fun - Part II

Well, the weekend o' birthday festivities continued over the past few days and I think it's safe to say LO had a tremendously awesome birthday! After the birthday pancakes and gifts from mommy, daddy and her brothers on Friday morning, it was time for a trip to the movie theater to see Planes: Fire & Rescue (which I really LOVED, btw, as well as the kids). Dinner was a trip to Red Robin, per the birthday girl's request, complete with singing and an ice cream sundae.

Before we knew it, Sunday was here and, after church, it was time for her big birthday party at the local water park! YAY!

She had a lot of fun with her friends, especially this sweet girl.

Mmmmm, pizza!

E had his share of pizza, too. Daddy was feeding him pizza pieces with a plastic knife... Yum!

After pizza it was time for the CAKE! Check out this amazing masterpiece (and, as if I even need to mention it, I did not make this georgeousness)!

This year, I decided to use Icing Smiles to make a dream cake for both LO's and Chase's birthdays. Icing Smiles is a national non-profit organization that partners with local bakeries across the country to provide dream cakes for medically-fragile children and their siblings. This was something I had always considered doing for the kids, but I wanted to wait until after Chase was post-Fontan (3rd scheduled heart surgery). I heard about this amazing organization from other heart families and have seen some amazing works of art provided for these kids! LO's cake was certainly no exception! She was blown away by this cake. The unexpected bonus? LO has ONE Ariel doll that sings and plays music, so she can't get wet (obviously). Well, our amazing baker purchased an Ariel doll to complete the cake that was made to be used in the water -- pool, bath tub, etc. LO couldn't believe it and was completely thrilled!

Isn't it gorgeous?

Speaking of gorgeous... this girl!

Time to open gifts! Yay for more books!!!

The My Little Pony Monopoly game? This thing is AWESOME! We played it last night -- LO, Chase and I -- and it was amazing how much math fun we were able to do with this game! Chase was counting the numbers on the dice and the spaces, as well as counting the money to buy property and pay taxes, etc.! And I was blown away at how well LO was able to figure out payments, change, etc. This is definitely a must-have for fun learning through play!

Rainbow Dash purse? Check!!

Now this is gonna be hilarious. I can't wait to bust out this Just Dance Disney Wii game the next time the kids earn some screen time. It's been so wonderful being "unplugged" for the past month or so, and it makes it really awesome for when we DO turn on the TV/Wii/etc. that it's a real treat and a reward, and not the norm any longer. Win!!

This guy. He was AWESOME at the water park all day. Love!

One of her absolute faves? Applejack, of course! Her MLP collection from Build-A-Bear is complete... that is, until they release the next one!

She's smitten!

The one and only DVD she requested: Barbie's A Pony Tale. Because we can't get enough horses around here!

Another board game -- this time it's The Little Mermaid! I can't wait to play this one with her!

After the cake it was time to hit the water park again! Here's my girl waiting patiently to go down one of the ginormous slides.

The water park party was a huge success for the kids -- LO had a blast, as did Chase (although I'm realizing he wasn't around for many pics) and E did great as well. In fact, he eventually snuck in a nap!

After the water park, we came back home so LO could open a few last gifts that Gramma & PaPa delivered.

She loves making duct tape accessories with her cousin, so this gift was a great fit!

Now for this ginormous box from Gramma & PaPa...

WHAT? An amazing telescope for our girl! She was totally stoked! Our science curriculum this year is an entire textbook of: ASTRONOMY, so this gift is perfect for her!

I still can't believe this girl is 7. I love her so much and I am so thankful for the relationship we have. She's my best girl!!!

Thank you to everyone who joined us for her party, for the birthday wishes, gifts, and love for our sweet girl!

Friday, July 25, 2014

7th Birthday Fun - Part I

Well, I guess it's true! My sweet baby girl is turning *7* today!!! I still can barely believe it. Time really does go by waaaaaay too fast!

So we started the big day with our usual celebratory fare: birthday pancakes!

Then LO was able to open her gifts from Mommy, Daddy and her brothers. She was pretty excited about it and I couldn't imagine making her wait all day to open them (more for my own sanity than anything else... LOL!).

First up... one of the My Little Pony books she's been pining for!

I think she was happy. ;)

Another new My Little Pony book! Terrible pic, but she was pretty ecstatic to see this one, too!

New pj's!

Oh... she's pretty happy to see what's in this next box!

A dress with a pony?! SCORE!!! :)

A new framed pic for her horse-themed bedroom! I took this photo when she and I went to visit my friend and her horse. She was so excited to help care for the horses! I took this one of her and Beau when she took him out to graze, then matted and framed it to match her room! I can't wait to see this one up on her wall!

This last gift was tricky! I wrote a note on it that said to open it ONLY IF she loves to read. Of course, she does and of course, she opened it...

It's her new Kindle Paperwhite! I gotta admit, I was pretty stoked to see a ridiculous deal on these things when I logged into Amazon a few months ago (yes, months). I'm a fan of all things Apple, so adding a non-Apple electronic to the family was a pretty big deal for us, but it was such an amazing deal, I would've been crazy to pass on it. I still don't know how to use the thing, but I was able to get several books she's been wanting to read on it for her to get started with, so I guess that's a pretty big win. And I have no doubt she can show me how it all works by the end of the day. ;)

There's much more to come for our birthday weekend o' fun! A movie, dinner at her fave restaurant and a party at the water park are all on the schedule! It will be super great!

I love this girl bunches and I can't wait to celebrate HER all weekend long!!!