Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Silver Lining

For the last month or so, someone in our house has been sick. Why we can't just all get sick over a 3-4 day period and be done with it, I'll never know, but that's a kvetch for another time.

Having Frodo home sick or one of the boys isn't too big of a deal. They lay like slugs on the sofa, watch movies, drink ginger ale, and eat chicken soup until they feel better. All us healthy people can generally function around them... plus, when someone wanders off who should be doing school or chores I know where to find them - in front of the TV with sicko watching whatever movie they found completely uninteresting yesterday but find absolutely captivating today.

When I or one of the girls gets sick, however, it is another matter altogether.

The girls are 18 months apart in age and overlap in their academic studies quite a bit... well, completely. History, science, math, philosophy, Latin, writing, logic... they are both doing pretty much the exact same things. The only distinct subjects they have are geography and literature but even those are dependent on each other because we meet as a threesome one day a week to discuss their lit readings, logic, and philosophy. At least with Friday math lessons they are in different Life of Fred books. This means when one of them is sick and truly not able to do school work (or at least not the amount usually done in a day), it throws both of them off. Literature and geography are self-paced, so those aren't as big a deal, but the last thing I want to do is get behind in math and Latin. Both of those subjects take large amounts of time to learn, review, and master; a week of delays can push the school year back another month. (We do school year-round, but the timing completely messes up my plans for the holiday break.) So, when the girls got sick one after the other, I decided to take it in stride and had them continue math, lit, and geography and delay Latin with plans to just continue that through break. It worked... kind of.

Then I got sick. I teach Quarto all of his subjects myself. It only takes about an hour a day, but that was more than I could handle. Terzo stepped up and covered math with him, Secudno covered reading, and Primo made sure everyone ate. As you can see, the older kids are becoming more self-sufficient and can cover many school subjects independently with only occasional help from me. This is not the case for math, Latin, lit, or logic (or history and science for the boys). Another week lost.

I had promised myself at the beginning of this year that we were just going to chug along with our studies this year and take bumps in stride. No excessive lingering during focused school but lots of encouragement for the kids to explore on their own time. Our year was going splendidly until a month ago. The silver lining in all of this? I was forced to look at how our year had been progressing and how our plans were holding up to life's twists and turns.

What's not working:
1. Math for the girls. I actually figured this out before The Virus (the delayed start in math this year was not helping my stress over the illness delay). Primo struggles with math (or so I thought), and we changed math programs about once a year from 4th-7th grade for her. Turns out, she's actually good at math; she just wasn't responding well to certain presentations, and my constant switching was hurting more than it was helping. At the beginning of the year, she told me, "Can we just go back to Rod and Staff? I liked it. It was hard, but I knew what to expect each day." Ugh: The Great Curriculum Hop started because of weeping and gnashing of teeth with Rod and Staff in fourth grade. Double Ugh: Rod and Staff doesn't go past 8th grade. I didn't want to switch her back into it only to have to find something new next year. Enter Saxon. We had done Saxon K-3rd, and it drove me bonkers. Scripted. Repetitive. Boring. I should have stuck it out into 4th; it becomes a completely different program. And it is laid-out similarly to Rod and Staff. Both girls are thriving with it. Primo is now a solid B student (and improving daily) and says math is her favorite subject. Yay!

2. Do the next thing. Up until now, our lesson plans were pretty simple: "See that curriculum on your school shelf? We're going to start with lesson one in each book and do one lesson per day until we are finished." That was pretty much it. Not working so much any more. I have planned out lessons this year, and they work great... when I am available to tell each kid what to do on a particular day. When I'm trying to teach four kids, those opportunities are few are far between. Since the kids are more independent now, we could have gotten a lot more done if I had been able to print off weekly assignment sheets and just hand them to the kids and say, "Do what you can without me." Yes, math and Latin would still have been behind, but everything else would have been close to on target. HomeschoolTracker Plus to the rescue! Sadly, I have owned this program for 5 years and just figured out how to do things beyond track attendance this year (not necessary in our state). Wow! I already have Latin lessons planned for the next 3 years. I'll be playing around with HST to figure out how to use it's assignment sheets and get us booking it again.

What's working:
1. Weekly meetings. This year, the girls and I started meeting every Friday at 11:30 to discuss our readings (I'm reading, too) in philosophy and literature. We also do a logic lesson and just chat about school and life. This has been wonderful! We all look forward to it.

2. The girls' new math. (see above)

3. Rod and Staff Math for Terzo. What doesn't work for one kid is a God-send for another. Terzo loves Rod and Staff Math 4. The girls have both inherited my metal block with memorizing math facts. Terzo knows them upside down and backward and it's not just because of rote memorization but because he has learned the relationships between numbers. Happily, I have also learned my math facts... although Terzo is still quicker and more accurate than I am.

4. Rod and Staff Penmanship for Quarto. I didn't use a penmanship curriculum for the older three. I would just write something on handwriting paper and have them copy it. (I can hear my parents laughing right now. My handwriting has always been bad; my fifth grade teacher requested that I type all but my math assignments.) Once they each hit about third grade, they started using Classically Cursive. Both girls have much better script than I do (the only thing worse than my printing is my script) and Terzo is getting there (he has mild dysgraphia, so he's just beginning to have writing outside of handwriting practice; a wise decision). Quarto has been able to write letters and small words for awhile now, but he forms them very oddly and I was worried that this was going to 1) slow him down and 2) make cursive more difficult. So, I decided to try a formal penmanship program. He loves it! I love it! It is all laid out with daily lessons and worksheets that take 10 minutes a day. And when he isn't using the worksheets, he's self-correcting! He'll start forming a letter or number his usually crazy, backwards, upside down way (honestly, I cannot explain how he writes or how he developed this technique) then stop himself and say, "Oops. I started in the wrong place" and erase and start over. And his handwriting (on handwriting paper, anyway) is great!

5. Google Calendar and CalenGoo. Google Calendar is a calendar program on Google that allows you to track multiple calendars and share them with others. CalenGoo is an iPhone/ iTouch app that allows you to use and update Google Calendar on the iPhone/ iTouch. I have a separate calendar for each member of the family, and I have been more organized and timely this year than I have ever been! Since I have an iTouch, I need a WiFi connection to sync my calendars (the online and handheld versions), but this has not yet been an issue (plus, it saves me the data fees of a smartphone). I can still add and delete items from my calendar on my iTouch; the changes just won't appear on Google Calendar until I can sync them. Now to just get Frodo to use Google Calendar and maybe those hold-out schedule conflicts will disappear.

It looks like everyone is finally out of the woods, illness wise, so we are back to school as usual. Although I was sorry to have sick kiddos (and a sick hubby and a sick me), I am so glad for the time it allowed me to evaluate and readjust. It has been a blessing!