Ben is Four!

Ben is Four!

Since we had to go to the grocery store today, I got Ben a balloon.

Birthday dinner at Halfway Cafe. Eating popcorn.

Presents in charming brown paper, reclaimed packaging from an Amazon box. Decorating with markers made it personalized wrapping paper.

Homemade chocolate cake. Ben helped.

Distracted during the singing of Happy Birthday. I can’t hear you over my presents.

Blowing out his candles

Bella made Ben a couple of pictures. This one was a house with a car. She was particularly proud of the s-shaped handles on the door and windows.

A book! Books get opened before toys in our house.

And we must pause to read the book, Otis and the Puppy by Loren Long, before we move on to the next present.

Ben loves Otis.

Definitely a hit.

What can this big package be?

“Armor! Armor! It’s armor!

And though he’s thrilled to be wearing his armor, Ben still self consciously dons his “I don’t want you to take my photo” face.

A sword!

And a shield!

And his own knight

He finds people who are lost, Ben tells me.

Trit trot, trit trot

Sophie reads Otis and the Puppy to Anthony.

I only had read it once, but Ben and Sophie were narrating it quite well. Oh the poor lost puppy!

Poor Anthony has been quite put out today because it’s not his birthday. He keeps trying to claim all of Ben’s goodies: My birthday, my balloon, my book, my cake, my sword. It’s hard being two.

Miss Lucia looks up and sees her favorite big brother, Ben

The other book Ben got was The Knight and the Dragon by Tomie de Paola

Goodnight, Ben. Happy birthday!


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  • Mrs D., I’ve stumbled upon Miquon Math in my searches and wondered if it might work for us. Right now I think what I’m looking for in a math curriculum is something that is really all manipulatives and almost no writing. Trying to combine writing with math work is a disaster for us right now because the need to writ out numbers, any numbers, is getting in the way of the actual math work.

    I have thought about just doing math games and playing, but I would love a book that served up an activity a day and in some kind of rational sequence so that I don’t have to research every single day’s activity and be creative all the time.

    If Miquon will fit that bill, then I’ll give it a shot.

    bearing, That’s not a bad idea. I need to find some kind of format to put lists into. A planner book, a calendar, a blank journal… something that will work for me.


    Thanks I’ll check it out.

    Meghan, our library has that reading history too, but unfortunately there’s no way to sort it. We get such a high volume of books and the schoolish ones are mixed in with all the silly picture books and even the books I check for myself. Trying to separate the wheat from the chaff is really the problem….

    I don’t have any old planbooks sitting around. That might work, though…

  • You might look into Miquon math. I found it very helpful for kids who needed the manipulative help, and as it’s a six book series, we were able to keep on moving after we didn’t need the manipulatives anymore. It does need some worksheet supplementation, and I’m finding with my four-year-old that we’ve gotten to the point where he needs to be able to read numbers before we can further, but then we stop and work on that. You can get the Annotated Lab Sheets book to help you, but I didn’t use it that often (though it was helpful when I needed it).

    Miquon starts multiplication earlier than some programs, since you’ve got the manipulatives right there to show how three twos make a six and so on. I liked that and thought it made sense, but not everyone wants to go that route.

  • My advice isn’t to overthink the format.  I am wary of purchasing a ready made planning book—especially if you tend towards the rabbit trail or the unschooling—because it has a tendency to make you think you have to fill in all the boxes and conform to its paradigm.  When we started I was just writing the to-do list on a legal pad, tearing it off every day, and saving it.  (Originally I was throwing it away, and then I realized how stupid that was considering that I was having trouble keeping records!)

    I eventually moved towards a “daily record sheet” that I made myself in a word processing program—it had blanks for “date” and “week” (of the school year), a large empty space for “special notes” (doctor’s appointment today, extra long nap, etc.), and then I just had two columns.  The right column had a series of lines _____ with check boxes to write items from the to do list or rough plan for the day.  The left column was blank and was the place where I would write the “school subject” I was going to sock each item into.  (So for instance, if “help mom make lunch” included a discussion of measuring cups, I might write “math” there after the fact.)  I left it lineless so I could be a little more free form about it and not feel compelled to give every item one and exactly one subject. 

    Somewhere on the sheet in small print I included a list of the “subjects” just as a jog for my memory while I made up the plan—“math, nature study, geography, writing, etc.” but I certainly didn’t set it up to have one “box” for each subject every day because we don’t roll that way and I felt I would waste a lot of space and feel constrained by the need to fill up all the boxes.  It was just something to glance at while I thought to myself, “What should we do today?”  Later I added a place at the bottom, to write the results of any “assessments” we did, like math quizzes or typing speed tests, just so I could quickly find these numbers at the end of the year when I wanted to produce a summary.

    My oldest son (8th grade) has a more “boxy” kind of weekly planner now, though, because we do strive to do every subject every week.  We fill it out together at the beginning of the week and he checks things off and adds things himself as he goes.  I put him on notice that this year is his “practice” year for keeping his own high school records that will be the data for his transcript.  So that is what it has evolved to.  But the skill and habit was established back in second or third grade.

  • A fairly painless way to get in the habit of record keeping is to make a “to-do” list—either daily or weekly, whichever suits you better—and check off the items as they are completed. 

    Add “spontaneous” items (complete with check marks) as you go.  (“Discussed Antarctica.”  “Made cardboard swords and shields and role-played with them.”)  Leave unchecked things that don’t get done.

    Don’t over think it—it’s just a to-do list. Or you could call it a “rough plan” or anything else.  It could say “Do Saxon K Lesson 43” or it could just say “Math.”  It could say “Read Chapter 2 of Milly-Molly-Mandy” or it could just say “Read Aloud Time.”  Whatever kind of list makes you happy.  You could make a note of which books you read afterwards, if you want to be spontaneous but still want a record; or not.

    And then?  Save the lists.

    At the end of the year you will have a daily log of everything you did.  It is not organized into a nifty summary, but it contains the basic data you need to see how many days you worked on each subject.  You can analyze the data and make a summary (“Bella did Math 120 days out of 180 days”) or you can stick it on a shelf and never query it unless you start to wonder about it (“It feels like we’re skipping math more often this year than last year, is that really true?”)

    As you make the to do lists you can talk with your kids about planning and show them how sometimes you try to stick with the plan and other times you deviate for a good reason.  Later they can begin checking the boxes themselves, and eventually the to-do lists may become their daily or weekly assignment sheets—which you can continue to save in order to construct your educational record.

  • Adding:  H. And I use an entirely different daily record sheet on our co schooling days, which might be a good paradigm for people who feel they need to keep a strict daily schedule because that is what meets their needs—as we usually do in order to keep everything moving.  We have it blocked out in time blocks, in two columns—one for the subjects she teaches, one for the subjects I teach, in the order we do them.  The target start time and end time, the kids they include, and the subject name are written in very small print in the top of each box, and we hand-write the accomplishments afterward.  We included a block to write down what we made for lunch and what we served for snack, because we wanted that data.

  • If you’re looking for math games, Right Start Math is great.  Disclaimer though: We didn’t like it that much, because I am also not a math person and the games made me nervous.  I didn’t have a baseline confidence in the material to know my kids were learning what they need to.  So, we went back to Saxon when they were a little older and love it now.  But we kept the RSM games!  And still intend to play them someday. smile

  • So many things to keep track of!  Of course you can’t write everything down.  Our library system has an option to keep record of what you’ve checked out—“Reading History” is what ours is called.  You can check if yours is available and then it’s already there, digitally saved.
    Do you have an old school planbook?  I loved writing in mine.

  • We use RightStart math here too and love it.  I’m in Level D with both kids (we started with Level B).  My son is very math inclined and my daughter is just an average math student, and it works well for both of them (I teach their lessons separately—my son is a bit ahead).  There is a written component in Level C and D, but the writing in Levels A and B is very light.  I actually do a lot of the written stuff orally with them, as I don’t think they should be slowed down conceptually simply because they aren’t ready to do that much writing.  I like to separate the two skills.

    As for record keeping, we’re using Ambleside Online almost as written (with religion choices by me and a few other switch-outs), and I do a weekly checklist and just check off things as we go.  I don’t move on to the next week’s checklist until I have checked off all the items, so occasionally it will take us longer than a week, and that’s perfectly fine by me.  But it doesn’t hold us to a daily schedule with formal time slots or anything—with all the littles, I know that trying to plan our school time that way would be a recipe for disaster, so I keep it much more flexible.  I have things like “art project” and “nature journal” and all the other stuff I might not get to were it not for my compulsive love of checking off boxes. So that’s a good motivator for me to get to the stuff I might otherwise let slide. wink

    I think it sounds like you guys have had a wonderful year so far.  We just started our second grade year this week (we finished Year 1 in April, so we’re running on an earlier schedule) and all of us are so happy to get back to our schoolwork!  (Well, I suppose it’s really *their* schoolwork, but goodness, I am learning so much as well!)

  • I was homeschooled with Saxon and feel like I don’t really get math, even though I always got good math grades, so that is the one curriculum I’ve vowed never to use. Shiller math, a Montessori-inspired curriculum-in-a-box, looks interesting.

    A moveable alphabet might be a good tool for you guys, too. Bella could practice encoding separate from the mechanics of writing. You could just print out a paper one.

    JenMack’s narration post has been helpful to me. Bella is obviously retaining a lot – maybe she finds narrating tight away overwhelming precisely because she remembers with such great detail? Might shorter readings help make it more manageable for her?

    I second bearing’s record-keeping suggestions. My lists live on clipboards that hang on the kitchen wall. I am way too out-of-sight-out-of-mind for a planning notebook or anything I have to open first to see. grin

  • bearing, I like the idea of a customized record sheet of some kind. Maybe the best plan is to start with a legal pad and see what I really want to record. I’m terrible at follow-through, so it would have to be very simple. I agree that a box per subject would kill me. I definitely don’t roll that way.

    For today so far I’d like to record that Sophie and Ben and Anthony spent time flipping through the Gombrich Story of Art book. (Great suggestion, by the way. I got it from the library to glance at and will definitely be buying a copy.) Bella brought me some plants she wanted to talk about. We tentatively called two of them ferns and the others I didn’t know but we talked about what made them distinctive: shapes and textures of leaves and stems, patterns of leaf arrangement, etc. Anthony is reading nursery rhymes and starting to memorize them. Ben, Sophie and Bella played the Princesses Learn French app on the iPad and Sophie and Bella were heard trying to repeat French words.

    Nothing planned at all, but some use of materials I had previously purchased in hopes that learning
    would happen at some point. That’s the kind of stuff I haven’t been recording, but wish I had.

    I’m wondering about the utility of creating weekly as opposed to daily goals and whether record sheets should reflect that. But then that adds a level of complexity. Probably better to stick with what we did today, with the option of recording several days at once when necessary.

  • bearing, one other question. Do you keep a separate page per child or just throw it all onto one sheet?

  • Sara, I did look at the Schiller Math, but felt I didn’t have enough information about it. It does look interesting. But as I discovered with Saxon, it’s as much about what you do with the manipulatives as what manipulatives you have.

    I made a sort of moveable alphabet. Some cards are single letters, others are letter combinations. So I have cards with “at” “ed” “ig” “as” “is” on them and then I use the single letter card to make words. Sophie loves it, but Bella does not.

    Jen Mack’s narration post is definitely interesting. Especially the fact that her older kids narrate later, sometimes even the next day. I’m thinking if Bella already has the habit of recall and the ability to do so, then maybe she really doesn’t need the discipline of immediate narration? So far the length of the passage doesn’t seem to make a difference, only the length of time. She can’t narrate a paragraph right away, she freezes, even with the most basic questions. But two days later, she will happily spill out very long narrations about whole chapters.

  • For math games try Family Math. It’s not a curriculum, but intended more to supplement school math. I have no math curriculum plans (by training I’m an engineer) but I have grand plans to use it with my 5-year-old. We also play chutes and ladders, dominoes, and war (the card game, but using only number cards).

  • Starting with a blank sheet of paper and just writing your to-do lists, later making a form when you figure out what your lists usually contain (and what you need to glance at to jog your memory as you write the list—a schedule or a list of subjects—sometimes that can be printed on your list) is exactly the way I think it should be done.  Once you print some form out there is a tendency to try to conform to it even when it isn’t really working anymore.  Especially if you have already printed out 180 copies for your school year.

    Forms for each child or one form for several children?  I think you can do it either way.  In my state we do not have any reporting requirements whatsoever for children under the age of 7, so I don’t do a to-do list for pre-k, kindergarten, or first grade.  My oldest is transitioning to keeping his own records this year, so he definitely gets his own.  I think if you have two or more elementary age students who have similar curricula—for instance, my 2nd and 4th graders will be doing essentially the same thing at the same time for art, history, spelling, and science—you probably could put them on the same form; or if you don’t intend to use up a lot of space writing details, you could fit two or more kids on the same page even if their days look very different.  But there are reasons to keep them physically separate, for example, if you have kids who can read and check-off their own to-do lists, you will probably want them to have separate pieces of paper.  That’s what I do.

    I typically print out all the copies I need for the year and have them spiral-bound at a copy shop to make an “assignment book” for each child.

  • For writing practice paper:  If she wants to keep what she writes, I like a sewn-binding composition book way more than a notepad or a spiral-bound notebook, especially if you can teach her to use the pages one at a time from the front of the book.  Much more comfortable to write on for left OR right handed kids (mine are all lefties) and the paper really stays in well.

    See “Mead Primary Composition Book” and “Mead Primary Journal” for examples.  The Journal has space for text and drawings on the same page, the Composition Book is all text. 

    If she just wants to practice spelling and then erase it and then practice spelling again:  Large DoodlePro.

  • I think for now I’m just going to try to jot things down in a spiral notebook. I’m not so sure about the to do list format, since right now I don’t have a daily to do so much as a weekly things I’d like to get to.

    I’ve bought some of the Mead composition books and journals. She did take a journal to the MFA and sketched some pieces and i wrote brief descriptions of what they were. Trying to get her to use the pages one at a time from the front of the book… yeah that’s a challenge.

    Interesting that yours are all lefties. So far I have one lefty, Sophie. But the rest seem to be righties. Dom and one of his sisters are lefties and my brother is lefty but very comfortable with using both hands.

    We’ve also been using a bunch of white boards I’ve picked up at Target. Some have lines, some are blank. I think of them as modern day slates.

  • One thing that has helped me with my kids and math:  I emphasize that math is a tool, not an end in itself.  If you want to know how many kinds of butterflies there are in the world, or whether there are more butterflies now than there were last year, then you need math.  I readily admit that the beginnings of math are boring – just like the beginnings of learning a language!  But once you’ve got the basics, you can play all kinds of cool games with your math toys.

    If writing is a problem, remember that it is even easier to make paper numbers than to make letters – there are only ten digits and a few other symbols you need.  Refrigerator magnet sets of numbers can be helpful.  What is the difference between 16 and 61?  Playing with numbers on the fridge will help!  If sentences on the white board help with reading, perhaps number sentences will help with math.  Try doing an addition fact every day?

    Also, measuring is math!  If you are baking with Bella, ask her how much you would need of an ingredient if you were going to make four loaves of bread instead of two… or one loaf instead of two.  This is hugely helpful for developing a math sense, and sneaky because you’re just asking a useful question, not testing her in any way.  If you teach equivalents you are also teaching fractions – say you would need four tablespoons of butter for doubling a recipe; that would be a quarter cup!  And a stick of butter is half a cup, so two sticks is a cup.  You could show her that butter melted does in fact match this quantity in the measuring cup.

    Anyway, don’t fear math.  It’s all around you, and the practical uses you make of math, without even thinking about it, are the place to begin with a child.  If you have a math-y kid, you’ll notice that kid totaling quantities accurately in his head, or figuring out change, or asking “how much” questions.  If not, starting with practical math grounds numbers in life.

    Good luck!