I’ve been working lately on getting a shower as soon as I get up. It’s hard to get going in the mornings, mostly because of Charlotte. If she’s awake, it’s hard to figure out what to do with her to keep her happy while I take a shower. If I wait until she’s sleeping, then I lose a lot of the morning. So I’ve been trying lately to take a shower as soon as I get up. It seems the time when Charlotte is most likely to stay happy for a while. And then, at the latest, I can eat breakfast while I nurse her, so that when I put her down for her nap, I’m ready to really start my day. That seems to help with getting things going.

Of course, today I slept until 9. No idea exactly how that happened. The kids are on a later schedule because of the time change (I’ve been moving them 15 minutes earlier a day, although last night they got to bed really late because of AWANA), so that’s part of it. And I think the late night might have made them sleep later (even though it’s usually the opposite).

I feel like we’ve been rushing through the end of P3/4 (the current year of Sonlight we’re on) because I’m excited about P4/5 and want to do the year that’s a bit more scheduled. And then somebody on the forums posted a schedule she created for P3/4. And, while it would be work, I’m thinking that I might try to do something like that for the remaining part of P3/4, and also including “What Your Preschooler Needs to Know,” which I bought, thinking to go through it before starting P4/5. I’m really excited about P4/5, but at the same time, I’m don’t want to start it too soon.

Looking ahead at K, the year that follows P4/5, some of the books have a pretty high maturity level. A lot of parents recommend not starting K until kids are at least 5.5 or 6, and that the older the child, the more they get out of it. So I think that I’m going to try to at least wait until the fall of 2012 to start Emily on K (which is the year she’d start kindergarten if she were in public school). I can try to stretch out P4/5 a bit, reread books from P3/4, do the “Needs to Know” book, and I also found a website with a list of great books for kids, so I might try to make a schedule with those books.

Of course, Sonlight’s core doesn’t necessarily align with reading/math level, so I can certainly work with her on those things separately, at whatever level she’s ready for. So I bought Singapore’s Earlybird math books, and I’ve started with “A Reason for Handwriting,” and I might start the Language Arts K a bit early, we’ll see about that one.

It seems strange to think about doing handwriting with a 4-year-old, but the thing is that she loves to write and does it all the time… but she forms some of her letters wrong. And from other moms, I know that it’s *really* hard to fix later. So I’m trying to make a game out of it, but at the same time work on getting her to do the letters right from the start.

I’ve got the kitchen pretty much completely decluttered at the moment. The counters are blissfully clean. The top of the dishwasher now has a wide, low tub, and I put coloring books and paints in it, so they’re convenient but also out of the way. I love it. There’s something about empty counterspace that says to me, “Don’t just leave those dishes in the sink, wash them! Unload the dishwasher!” So the kitchen is staying quite clean at the moment because I’m staying on top of everything. We’ll see how long that lasts, ha ha. The table still has some junk on it, but I’ve gone through a lot. Our new tablecloth arrived, so I have inducement to get the table finished and try out the new tablecloth.

Steve’s desk *was* clear, until I started using it as my “stuff to Freecycle” area. Of course, all the stuff there will be going, and anything that doesn’t get taken will go in a box to be saved for the next donation pickup, so it should be fairly easy to take care of.

The homeschool stuff is all cute and organized, at least for now, in two boxes on their sides on top of the piano, one box as a “shelf” for each grade level. However, they’re full to the brim. I think I need larger boxes. I need to get to an office supply store soon, or possibly Walmart as I have some returns for there, so I might take a look at what they have in the way of bins. Although ultimately I’d like to have the stuff in a cabinet, so maybe I should just deal with this for now. We’ll see.

I also moved the couch and the armchair and swept all the junk out from underneath. Then cleaned the living room. So that’s not too bad, even though it did get cluttered again.

I still have about a million loads of laundry to fold. I’ve been getting my clothes unfolded out of laundry baskets for the past week. But, then, it’s actually much more convenient then needing clothes from the bedroom when Charlotte naps in there. And my sweaters don’t really wrinkle. So it’s a time-saver!

Oh, and I even vacuumed out the minivan today. So it looks very nice and pretty. I forgot to clean the front window, though, which really desperately needs it. Maybe I will try to do that tomorrow morning on our way out.

I also got the bedroom dressers cleared, put down pretty dresser scarves, and put up little framed photographs. And picked up everything off the floor (not too bad, as that room is mostly just for sleeping anyway).

Only four days left to work on the house before my parents come to visit! Eek! I’ll probably try to make tomorrow my last decluttering day, and then use the last three days for cleaning and shopping. One nice thing about *really* cleaning is that I find it easier to keep things looking nice if the original state is really clean. Like the counters. So I find it much easier to be neat in a house that is already neat. As opposed to our house, which always seems to have a ton of clutter that we don’t know where to store. So that’s a goal to work towards, I think.

Oh, and I got foamboard today. So I’m going to be starting on a calendar for ElisaEmily, with pieces for the months, the seasons, the weather, and various activities (dance class, AWANA, etc.). It should be fun.

This evening, I’m going to start making a lesson plan for P3/4. I’ve decided that I’m going to try to hit most of the books a second time, add in some activities, and add in the other books I’ve come across, workbooks, etc. Just because I have the books for P4/5 doesn’t mean I have to use them immediately, of course. And part of the reason I was anxious to start was because I wanted the schedule. So stretching out P3/4 a little longer, adding in some activities, etc., should satisfy that. I do want to start with some math activities, some handwriting, and maybe go ahead and start the K language arts program, as it looks like it’s just about right for where Emily is now, and might be way too easy, especially at the start, if I wait until I’m ready for P4/5.

So, that’s what I’m off to do. Somebody posted a sample schedule on the Sonlight forums, so I’m going to start with that and make my own. Wish me luck!

No rest for the weary

I was so tired this evening that I decided I would really have to try to get to bed early (even though I generally love my evenings to myself so much it’s hard for me to do). I turned my computer off at 9, got things ready for school tomorrow, prepped the kids’ breakfast, got ready for bed, and was in bed at 9:40. And I’d swear I’d had 6 cups of coffee (no, I don’t drink coffee) within the last half hour, because my heart and brain were racing along and I couldn’t even come close to falling asleep.

Then, at 10, Charlotte woke up. Fed her, got her back in bed around 10:40. Went back to sleep. Woke up at 11 when Emily was crying… she’d had a nightmare about Jenny getting sick. Got her settled back in and went back to bed. Heart and brain still racing.

11:30, Charlotte wakes up again. No idea why. She just ate. I changed her diaper, but it wasn’t particularly wet. No hair wrapped around tiny fingers or toes. She seemed happy enough once she had me, so I don’t think she was hurt or anything. I couldn’t get her to go back to sleep without crying, though. So finally I let her cry and went to eat some leftover cake, make ice cream, and fiddle about with homeschool stuff online. And now it’s 1am. So much for getting to bed early.

So, I spent a ton of time researching the prices for books, and ultimately bought a lot of books from Sonlight but didn’t buy their packaged curriculum, and bought some books from Amazon and Abebooks. I just did a price compare… for this year’s books, I spent about $444 (yes, Sonlight is expensive). If I’d bought their packaged curriculum and then bought the additional items (handwriting, a US puzzle, special binder, learning to read items) at whichever source was the cheapest, I would have spent $518. So ultimately I ended up saving about $74. Which is a pretty decent amount, although proportionally it’s not huge. And considering that it meant buying a number of books used, and how much work I spent in price comparisons (seriously, folks, hours and hours), and how long it’s taking some of the books to arrive… I’m starting to wonder whether it was worth it. I think that I’ll monitor Ebay in May, June, and July for used curriculum for the following year, and for the math set that I want. (Because that’s my best chance of saving money, buying a large set used.) But if I don’t see them on Ebay, I might seriously consider just buying the core set from Sonlight and being done with it. After all, I’ll get plenty of use out of it, with three children to use it. And there’s also a part of me that wants to support Sonlight, as I believe in their mission. Anyway, it’s something to think about.

Anxiously awaiting!

Tomorrow our main box of homeschool books should arrive! I’m excited. I keep checking the tracking, even though it’s not going to arrive early or anything. At least FedEx usually delivers in the afternoon and not at night like UPS.

I spent a few hours this evening doing some more research into math curriculums. I didn’t get one yet because I hadn’t made a final decision. I initially leaned towards Saxon Math, but a lot of reviews say that it’s a lot of work, it’s hard, and can be a bit dull, especially in the early years. It looks like it’s highly rated in the later years, so I was browsing to see what other options there might be. I looked at A Beka, Horizons, Singapore, Math-U-See, Bob Jones, and a few others. So far I’m leaning towards Horizons. Math-U-See and Singapore are both highly rated, but they use the mastery system (in which you stick with one skill and you advance in that skill before adding any others–you spend an entire year on addition, then one on subtraction, then multiplication, etc.). I’m not so concerned with “getting behind” with that system, because I think that it evens out. My main worry, however, is forgetting things. I think I prefer the idea of learning cyclically, so that you constantly return to and review the concepts you’ve learned, advancing in them each time. I also prefer the idea of learning multiple concepts in relation to each other… addition and subtraction interrelate with each other and with multiplication and division, and fractions, etc… Also, Beth gets bored easily and likes a lot of variety in what we do, so I think staying too long on one subject would be a problem for her.

One of the difficulties in choosing a math curriculum is that there isn’t one perfect curriculum, but different curriculums are better for different needs. Horizons is more bright and colorful, but can be distracting to some kids. Also, some programs are better for visual learners, others for audio, and yet others for kinesthetic. Horizons doesn’t seem as strongly in any one of those, it seems to be a little bit more in-between, which I think might be better. But it does seem like, from what I’ve read, that math is a subject in which you just need to keep an eye on how your child is doing, and if they’re struggling, try to figure out what their difficulty is and consider looking for another math curriculum that might be better. It seems common for parents to switch every few years, or to have one student use one program and one student use another. I’d like to be able to use the same one with each kid, but especially since a lot of the expense in the math curriculum is the workbooks, which are a consumable, it might not be that big a deal. Of course, so far I don’t really know what kind of learner Beth is. I think it will become more apparent as we go along.

I organized the books I have so far on top of the piano. I used two boxes turned sideways with the flaps tucked in to make shelves. The first shelf is for P3/4 material and previously purchased things like workbooks and such. That’s the shelf I want to be working with now. The second shelf is for P4/5 material and for newer items that I either want to hold off on or introduce gradually. More advanced, in other words.

I think I really need to work with Beth on number recognition. I think she’s maybe a bit behind where she should be in math, and it’s at least partly because of that. So I’m going to concentrate on the math workbooks for a while and maybe make some flash cards. I might combine them with some M&Ms or pennies to make it a little more interesting. I also have a “Comprehensive Curriculum of Basic Skills” that I’d like to do some more in.

Fortunately, if I don’t finish the workbooks and want to move on, there aren’t really many workbooks in the Sonlight P4/5 (the ones I have were purchased separately). So it shouldn’t be overkill to do some amidst the rest of the books we’ll be doing.

We’ve been really enjoying “101 Favorite Stories From the Bible.” It’s a good storybook, with very details stories and nice, vivid pictures. It also has good questions for every story that help me think of ways to discuss the story with Beth. Even the pictures contribute. For instance, yesterday we read about Cain and Abel, and the picture showed Abel and Cain each preparing his sacrifice, and Cain looking at Abel with hatred in his eyes. Then there was the story of Noah, which showed Noah’s family making a sacrifice of thanks to God, with the ark and animals in the background. She wanted to know what the altar and sacrifices were, so we talked a little while about how people used to sacrifice. I was then able to explain about how we don’t do such things any more, because Jesus sacrificed His life for us, He was the sacrificial sheep. And because His sacrifice was the perfect one, we don’t need to keep doing it. We’ve already done it once, and His sacrifice now stands for all eternity. I think that she actually sort of understood a bit. And it helped her understand the story we read today about Abram’s readiness to sacrifice Isaac.

I do need to work out a little better how I want to organize our homeschool. So far, we’ve been doing it in the afternoon once the little ones go down for their nap. I’d been thinking about moving some school to the morning as well, partly to give us more time and partly so that Josie can join in a little. The problem is that mornings are also the only real time when we can go out. We don’t go out every day, but when we do go out, it will throw off our morning homeschool schedule. And yet eventually as they’re older we’ll need to do mornings. So I’m trying to figure out the way to do it. I think that my inclination so far is to do mornings when we’ll be home in the mornings, so maybe a few days a week, and then continue to do afternoons daily (and I do mean daily–Beth doesn’t understand the concept of weekends yet and wants to do school every day). I’d like for all the kids to be able to do some preschool playgroup-esque activities in the mornings, and of course I do have to do things like grocery shop, and there are library trips… so we might have to do a schedule like this for some time. I don’t know how much of a disruption it would be to an 8-year-old Beth’s routine for us to go to a morning playgroup for Cecy when she’s 4.

I’ve also been contemplating how I want to set up the house for homeschooling in the future. We’ll be spending much of the day in the house, instead of the kids going off to school, so we need to have a comfortable work area and keep all our things reasonably well-organized. I’d really like to have an area, if not a room, where everything is close together. Perhaps in the playroom we’d have a bookshelf with all the books, a table or desks, beanbag chairs or a comfortable couch with room for everybody, etc. I’d really like to have room to have everybody close together so that I can supervise all the kids at once, rather than having one kid sitting at the dining room table doing math, another sitting on the living room couch reading, and a third on the floor working with manipulatives. That’s not to say that somebody who needs it quieter to read can’t go into the bedroom, but I’d like the option of having everybody nearby since I’ll need to bounce from kid to kid. I’m not sure if having the playroom be used for this purpose, so that younger kids can play in the same room, is a good idea or not. On one hand, they can see their siblings doing school and learn some things themselves, and they would also be supervised. On the other hand, they might be noisy and disruptive, but not have anywhere else to go if we’re using the playroom as a schoolroom. Plus it would be nice to have a separation that says, “Now it’s time for us to work,” by having a separate schoolroom. I guess it would be ideal if we had two rooms, or perhaps one room and a finished basement, so that we could bring the younger kids in with toys if we wanted, but they’d also have another place to play if we needed quiet. I guess those are things to keep in mind for when we start looking for our next place after this one. By the time we make that move, Beth will be 6 and Josie will be 4, so they’ll both be doing school. Cecy, at 2 1/2, might even be ready to try some of the motor skills workbooks (gluing, cutting, coloring) and to start on some of the P3/4 books, especially as I’d like to have Josie and her both doing the same core work.

The house is still a mess, although I’ve made some improvement today. I managed to clean the kitchen and scrub the floor (yes, I literally got down on my hands and knees to do it). Scrubbing this floor is so disheartening. Not only do I need to really *scrub* because stuff sticks to it like you wouldn’t believe, and my kids can’t seem to eat a goldfish cracker without leaving crushed, moist bits to glue themselves to the floor, but the vinyl is the worst ever. It’s in horrid shape, scratched and stained, such that even when it’s freshly cleaned it doesn’t really *look* clean. So I don’t get that nice feeling of a truly clean, beautiful floor. Also, there’s a massive gap between the edge of the vinyl and the cabinets and wall. Stuff gets into this gap and will not come out. Dirt fills the gap. The gap is horribly stained. It’s just really ugly. I hate that floor.

I’m also coming to not like this house. The electrical work is horrible (I can’t believe that our landlord, who is an electrician, hasn’t felt the need to fix things–I know my husband would!). And everything is just stained/worn/scratched to the point where, like the vinyl floor, it never quite comes clean. It makes it really hard to motivate myself to clean when you can’t really see the results.

Tomorrow, I really need to get on top of laundry. I have laundry baskets full of clean clothes all over the living room, just waiting to be folded. I also need to round up the last few bits of miscellaneous stuff from the clothing bins and get them sorted and the bins back in the attic. I did at least finish my major sort-through of the children’s clothing bins. Next I need to do the toys. I’m not sure how that will go, as I’m sure they will want all the toys to play with as soon as I see them. But the toys are definitely all over the place, organization-wise, so it needs to be done. I might also see if I can organize it so that I can pack some toys in boxes that will be ready to move, and then not have to deal with packing those toys later.

And that’s about all for now, as I should get to bed! I keep staying up way too late for no reason, a bad habit I need to break!

Sonlight – waiting for box day!

So, since this is my blog and I get to write about whatever I want, today I am going to bore you with my latest obsession–homeschool!

I did a lot of research last year into homeschool curriculums, and decided that I really liked the one called Sonlight. It’s a Christian homeschooling curriculum that is based on reading, and a lot of it. Perfect for me, and for Beth, too. Hopefully it will work for the other girls as well. Sonlight has two levels of preschool, P3/4 and P4/5. P3/4 is fairly informal. You have a bunch of books to read, but you don’t really have a specific schedule, you just read the books in “trimesters” and do an activity for each book.

P4/5 is more organized and scheduled, though, which I’m looking forward to. I really need the structure in order to keep up with things. Right now, I do homeschool with Beth while the other two are napping, in the afternoon after lunch. How long we spend at it depends on what else I need to get done that day, but I try to do at least 30 minutes or so. Obviously I’ll have to change that as she gets older (she won’t always have less than an hour’s work to do). Sonlight is organized into core (history, read-alouds, literature), language arts, science, math, Bible, and electives. So my thought is that I might start doing the core, Bible, and maybe science in the morning, and do the language arts and learning to read stuff during naptime. That way Josie can sort of soak up some of the stuff as well. I’ll have to wait until the instructor’s guide comes and I get an idea of what I need to do each day before I make a decision.

Last year, when we were doing P3/4, I tried to save money by looking up the booklist and planning on getting as many books as possible from the library, then getting some used and others from Sonlight. I looked at reviews of books and substituted something else for some of them. I also just sort of let the books get mixed in with the rest of our collection. This did not work. Some of the library books turned out to be unavailable and never showed up. Some of the books were a little harder and would have benefited from a reread, but since they were mixed in with the other books (and we have a ton) we never managed to pick them up again for a reread. Some of the library books had many stories in them, and we only managed a few. So ultimately, we didn’t get through a lot of the stuff.

So when I was working on ordering the P4/5 stuff, I also went back and ordered copies of most of the P3/4 stuff that we missed. I’m going to try to have us read those first. Then we’ll get started on the P4/5.

For ordering the books, I did a mix of things. I made a list of every book. Then I did a price compare between Sonlight, Amazon, and Abebooks. I also looked for lots on Ebay, but there wasn’t much up at this time of year. I ended up getting a few things from Amazon, a lot from Sonlight, and a lot from Abebooks. I should be getting a huge box from Sonlight on Saturday (I hope!) and lots of little separate arrivals from Abebooks.

It may sound odd that I’m planning to start a new year of school in March or April. The thing is, I think that Beth is ready for some more structure in her schooling. And I see no reason that we need to follow the school year when we’re teaching at home. So my thought is that we’ll do the P4/5 5-day schedule, but I won’t necessarily expect their 5 days to align with my weeks. We’ll do a day of scheduled school when we can, and other days we’ll do other activities… play her ABC game or Hi-Ho Cherry-o, work on the dress we’re making, read some of the phonics/sight words books that I got, work on our workbooks, etc. So we’ll stretch out the year and finish… whenever we finish. And whenever we finish, we’ll start the year after that. That’s my current plan for the next couple of years, at least. Once she’s 6 1/2 (6 1/2 vs. 6 because that’s when the school year starts), I’ll have to make sure that I’m keeping abreast of state requirements, so I might have to arrange things differently. But for now, I think this will work well.

I’ve also been contemplating how to arrange things with multiple kids, once several are in school. One thing about Sonlight is supposed to be that you can teach multiple kids at once with one curriculum. You’d use, say, the K curriculum for two kids who are 4 and 5. The older one might be using the Level 1 readers and the younger one the Level K readers, and the 5-year-old might be doing the K math and the younger one not, but they’d do the same history, geography, read-alouds, etc. I might try to put Josie and Cecy together like that. While all the kids have the same age split, it happens that Josie and Cecy, because of their birthdays, would be just a year apart in school, because they usually use Sept. 1st or so as the cutoff. So Josie, born in Oct., would be one of the oldest in her class, and Cecy, born in Aug., would be one of the youngest. So my thought is that the year when Josie is 4 (almost 5) and Cecy is 3, I might have them both start on the P4/5 curriculum, and have Josie do the more advanced readers, and then keep them on the same curriculum from there on out. I’ll have to see how that would go.

Okay, so as a reward for reading all my excitement about homeschooling, I’m including a few pictures of the girls at a local play place. They had lots of fun, as you can see.