Friday, June 26, 2015

Friday Wrap-Up ~ What We Did in Philadelphia

We just returned from a week vacation that included stops in Virginia and Pennsylvania. Today, I am going to tell you about our adventures in Philadelphia, PA. We spent the better part of three days and two nights in Philadelphia. My Dad and Stepmother joined us on this adventure.

Sunday ~ The first day was really an afternoon and early evening. We arrived in the early afternoon at the visitors center and talked to the rangers. We decided to do a self-guided walking tour and see the free attractions first.

We visited the Liberty Bell. The line moved fairly quickly and we were allowed to stand in front of the bell for pictures and to get a good look at it.

Liberty Bell
We then walked over to the Quaker Meeting House. There was a history interpreter inside who told us about how the Quakers handled the Revolutionary War in Philadelphia (Quakers are typically pacifists). He also gave a wonderful explanation of the difference between Shakers and Quakers, which was the most articulate explanation I had ever heard (by the way, I knew the difference because I was raised a Quaker). Lastly, he let us sniff many of the medications, such as landum, used in the early 1800's. The smelling salts were overpowering.

Quaker Meeting House and medicines on the ledge
We continued our walking tour and viewed Benjamin Franklin's grave, Betsy Ross' grave and courtyard at her home, Independence Hall and Elfreth's Alley (the oldest residential neighborhood in America, built 1720 - 1830).
Independence Hall, where Congress debated and adopted the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution
We finished the day off with a Philly Cheese Steak. It was very good and fun to get something unique to Philadelphia.


We returned to our hotel room at about 7:00 for the evening. We decided to stay in a hotel 12 miles outside of the city to control costs and increase the quality of the accommodations. This worked out really well.

Monday ~ We decided to buy the city pass which gets you into five attractions for a reduced rate. It was a good buy, even though there was one attraction we didn't get to see. We started our adventure at the U.S. Mint. Little Red Riding Hood loves coins so this adventure was for her. We enjoyed learning how coins were made and then bought a few national park quarters that we didn't have in our collection. We then rode on the Big Bus Tour, which gave a great overview of the city attractions. Our bus tour ended at the Philadelphia Zoo. We all enjoyed the zoo. It is a very nicely laid out zoo with lots of shade. We bought a fan that sprayed water which helped immensely to combat the heat (did I mention that the temperature was in the 90s?). Everyone especially loved watching the lions walk on the overhead catwalk.

We all craved quiet and air conditioning after such a busy day and settled into a calm Italian 
restaurant for dinner. On our way back to the car we stumbled upon Benjamin Franklin's house (outline of his home). We explored the "house" and grounds. 

The kids dared me to put a picture of Benjamin Franklin's privy on my blog ... so here it is!
Tuesday ~ On our last day we did two more attractions. The first was the Eastern State Penitentiary.This was a self-paced audio tour. I expected that my Dad and my husband (whose bachelor's degree is in sociology with a major in criminology) would enjoy this museum. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that we all really liked it. The kids said it was one of their favorite things. Note to self ~ The audio tour taught the kids so much. I really should pay for audio tours in the future when possible.

We finished our wonderful time in Philadelphia with an afternoon at the Franklin Institute (science museum). We only did about half of the museum. I did not want to rush them and they were enjoying every minute of it. The museum was wonderful and my science nuts were really in their element. Most of us braved the Skybike two stories above the ground. I thought it was fun. 

Being neurons in the brain and working through the mazes of the brain
Walking around a huge model of human heart
Working with gears
Learning about how mechanical belts work
We had a blast in Philadelphia and could have stayed for several more days. Maybe we will make it back there in a few years.

Blessings, Dawn

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Goals for 2015 - 2016 School Year

We finished school off with our last presentation with friends. This has been a very positive experience for the kids and I will be continuing it next year. Little Red Riding Hood did a presentation on dance, Tom Sawyer talked about the Solar System, and the twins taught us some Hangul. We capped the evening off with milk shakes and rootbeer floats.

I know summer break just started, but my head is already racing with ideas for next year. I am a planner and there is nothing I love to plan more than my children's education. I always like to start my planning with a list of goals for my kids. This coming year I will have two middle school kids. This is an exciting time in their lives. They are growing so much and changing daily (so it seems). My primary goal is always to keep my children's hearts happy and fulfilled and help guide them successfully on their journey through life.

I have been thinking a lot about what is important during the middle school years. I want my children to become self-sufficient. I want them to explore, imagine possible futures for themselves and solidify their knowledge. I want them to enhance their critical thinking and take pride in a job well done. Lastly, I want them to be an asset to themselves, family, friends and the community.

Here are my goals for them next year. I will explain how we will achieve these goals in another post.

Goals for both kids ~ 
  1. Read great literature
  2. Learn to use both types of microscopes that we own
  3. Learn to use our telescope
  4. Learn to make and serve four different meals from start to finish
  5. Learn how to wash clothes from start to finish
  6. Learn now to make bread from start to finish
  7. Get as close to grade level in spelling as possible
  8. Become comfortable writers
  9. Do a research paper
  10. Stay on top of personal hygiene
  11. Increase public speaking skills
  12. Continue to dance and perform
  13. Complete a survey course of general science
  14. Achieve another grade level or two in math
  15. Lots of exploration of STEM activities
  16. Increase computer skills ~ PowerPoint, email, research online, etc.
  17. Serve ~ do charity work in several different settings
  18. See new places and do new things
Personal Goals for Tom Sawyer (13)
  1. Learn to play an instrument ~ Guitar
  2. Manage at-home physical therapy program independently
  3. Decrease his critical outlook on the world and negative self-talk and negative talk toward others
Personal Goals for Little Red Riding Hood (11)
  1. Learn to hand sew
  2. Learn to use a sewing machine
  3. Learn Pointe (ballet)
  4. Explore the French language

Blessings, Dawn

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Standardized Testing ~ Homeschool Style

Here is something you don't hear everyday. My kids love standardized testing! They think it is fun. In fact, my daughter, Little Red Riding Hood, said at the end of last week's test, "That was was one of the easiest things we did all year".  Now, I hardly think I am challenging my kids too much day in and day out, but I do think the tests are pretty easy. We used the CAT this year. Sometimes we use the Hewitt Pass test. On occasion, some of our children have tested with a professional using the Woodcock Johnson. In this state, we are not required to take our children to a professional for testing. Most years, I don't take Tom Sawyer and Little Red Riding Hood to a professional, because I don't have any questions about how they are doing or what to do next. I just want to fulfill my legal requirements for my state. I took Timothy and Goldilocks to a professional for most of their end of year tests. I needed any advice I could get on new cutting edge learning disability curriculum that would help them.

So what does testing look like in our house? I do try to keep testing light and fun. I want them to do their best and to do well. They generally score very high on standardized tests. First, I review all the sound advice I have learned over the years of to keep your place while bubbling, dealing with multiple choice questions when you don't know the answer, and checking your work. I make sure they already have eaten and gone to the bathroom. Then, I tell them to pick a comfortable spot. They can test whereever they want. That was on top of the coffee table for Little Red Riding Hood this year.

I don't set the timer. I just keep an eye on the clock for timed tests. If I think they are taking too long, I encourage them to move faster. This rarely happens. They generally race through the test, which makes me worried that they didn't read everything. I let them pick which section they want to do first. Little Red Riding Hood picked both math sections. She feels more confident in math. Tom Sawyer picked vocabulary. He likes to use big and unusual words. At the end of each section, I let them get up from their spot and "stretch". Little Red Riding Hood did back bends, splits and cartwheels. I test them separately. I primarily do this because Little Red Riding Hood is a talker. She likes to talk herself through stuff and talks out loud through the entire test. Also, they are taking different grades with different time limits. I also let them have something that is a comfort to them. Tom Sawyer has sensory issues and loves to brush his hair. He brushed his hair all through the test.

When they are done, they get to do something special of their choice. Testing was the last requirement for Little Red Riding Hood's school year. For months, she's been wishing and hoping for a second American Girl doll and finally got it!

Tom Sawyer wanted to go out to lunch at CiCi's Pizza, which is not an approved restaurant with his food allergies. It is an all you can eat pizza restaurant in our town. We dosed him up with supplements and headed off to eat.

Do I think they are prepared to take harder tests like the SAT's? Not yet! I understand that those tests will come with more pressure. They will have stricter rules and be conducted in a more sterile environment. However, they are learning that fearing a test is not necessary. They are learning to bubble in scantrons and to be prepared for the test by studying and consistently learning their school lessons. That is good enough for me at this point!

Blessings, Dawn

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

End of Year Interview ~ The Kids Speak

Each year I interview the kids about how they feel their school year went. It is a great way to hear their perspective on how their education is going. I think it is very important to take into account what is working and not working for them. I try to make adjustments to our homeschool where possible, based on their needs.  After all, it is their education and what they gain from it will impact how well they maneuver their adult lives.

Little Red Riding Hood ~ 11 years old ~ End of 5th grade interview

What did you like best about this school year? I liked all of the science field trips. The Gem and Mineral Museum is fun and I like visiting it each month. I also really liked the literature we did this year. I like it when you read to us or we listen to books in the car. I really liked the City of Ember and want you to get the next book in the series.

What was your least favorite subject this year? The WORKBOOKS! I am so tired of language arts workbooks and I hate spelling.

What do you feel helps you learn the most? I like listening to audio books and then talking about them. I also prefer hands-on science to watching videos. I also liked going to the matinee series at the theater. If we have to learn about Shakespeare, seeing a play is the best way.

What subject do you wish we did more often? Literature

If you could study something that you are not currently studying, what would it be? I would really like to learn pointe, but I know it is expensive and that you want to make sure my feet are ready. I also want to learn French.

What "out of the home" classes did you like best this year? All of my dance classes. I love being in Tween Company.

What did you think was a waste of time? Culture Club! It took hours to prepare for and the food was awful (at the Culture Club potluck).

What do you want to stay the same next year? I want dance to stay the same. I also want to keep CNN Student News as our first thing and I like the rotating of subjects (the kids take turns each day picking which subject to do next).

What would you like to see change? I would like you to bring back report cards. I also want less workbooks.

Tom Sawyer ~ 13 years old ~ End of 6th grade interview

What did you like best about this school year? I liked Lego Club, audio books, all science stuff and the Tinker Crates.

What was your least favorite subject this year? The language arts workbooks.

What do you feel helps you learn the most? I really learned a lot in my writing class with Miss Angie and watching educational videos. Also, I like having lots of snacks.

What subject do you wish we did more often? I wish we did more literature and more hands-on science. I wish we went on more field trips.

If you could study something that you are not currently studying, what would it be? I want to learn how to play the guitar. I also want to take a real acting class, not that dumb drama class I took this year (the kids were really young and wild in the class).

What "out of the home"classes did you like best this year? I liked (in this order) Lego Club, writing class and dance classes. I really loved being on stage in dance, but the modern class is hard (on his muscles).

What did you think was a waste of time? Culture Club is so stupid. We could learn all that stuff at home so much faster. The kids were too young and weren't very serious.

What do you want to stay the same next year? I want to stay in dance class, Lego Club and writing class. I want to keep CNN Student News at the beginning of the day.

What would you like to see change? I am good with how the days run.

My Reflections ~ 
  • Obviously, I wore them out with workbooks during these last few weeks. I will say that I believe that the workbooks really helped prepare them for end of year testing. The results are not back yet and Little Red Riding Hood got almost perfect results last year so there wasn't a huge amount of room for improvement. However, she talked to herself while she took the test and repeated many of the rules that those workbooks had taught her. I think the workbooks helped her a lot. 
  • They certainly see their "out of the home" classes as a major part of their education. Little Red Riding Hood will be increasing her dance classes to seven hours a week in the fall. We are planning on letting her add pointe. Also, Tom Sawyer will stay in the same two dance classes (3 hours per week), and we plan to add guitar lessons. I do think the kids are going to have to take on one major chore beyond their daily chores to free up some more of my time so that I can have more hours to sell to earn money on Ebay. I am thinking that they are going to take on 100% of the laundry!
  • I am really very pleased that Tom Sawyer got so much out of writing class. We will continue that next year, but the teacher will be different. I hope he will continue to thrive under a different teacher (the last one was a reading/writing specialist whose concentration was helping special education kids).
  • We will give up Culture Club. I am glad that we were forced to learn PowerPoint. However, I agree with them. The rest of the club was not that useful to our current needs.
  • I am still thinking how to make spelling more enjoyable and successful for Little Red Riding Hood. The end of year test did not test spelling, but I know that she is very poor in this subject. 
  • Neither one of them mentioned math at all. I know they are both a little tired of Teaching Textbooks. Little Red Riding Hood is thriving with our current math program and Tom Sawyer is struggling a little. He is quick and rarely checks his work. Since Teaching Textbooks gives you two chances on each problem he has developed a bad habit of racing through his work. I plan on keeping Teaching Textbooks, but adding more review workbook pages. Oh dear, there is that workbook thing again. We also still enjoy the Life of Fred series. 
  • Lastly, I wonder what would be enough science for these kids?! We do science at least three times a week. I guess they would like it five times a week. I will continue trying to increase how much we do. 
I wasn't very surprised by this interview. I am glad they were pleased with how their school year went.