Friday, August 31, 2012

Blog Survey Results

A couple of weeks ago, I asked you to fill out a brief survey.  Do graphs and pie charts thrill you like they do me? 

Oh...well, maybe not...but in case you think they're pretty neat (like I do!), here are the results of the survey for your viewing pleasure. 

What is your gender?

                How old are you?

               How many kids do you have?

Do you have a blog?
No. I read blogs, but I don't write.
Kind of. I have a blog, but I rarely update it.

What do you enjoy reading about on Bits and Pieces From My Life?

                 What is your favorite thing to read about on
                         Bits and Pieces From My Life?

     How often do you read my blog?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

How Do You... Document the Books You Read For School?

How do you keep school records for books you've read?
When I shared my nature study biographies book list, my friend, Allyson asked how we document reading in our homeschool records. That's a good question because when you read a book, there are no tests or projects to show for it.  My mom wrote a post earlier this month about how she she keeps a daily record of everything they do or read in a given school day

But the question is "How do YOU keep records?"  and I'll admit I've never been much for daily records in our homeschool.  I prefer to do more general, grand-scheme-of-things record keeping.  At the end of each school year, I make each child a 1-inch 3-ring binder to document their year.  I divide it by subject and list what the child has accomplished in each subject and include some sort of documentation.

In this case, I would list "read nature biographies" under the science tab (along with the other things we've done).  Following this cover page, I add the documentation.  A books list with full titles and author's names would be included.  I might even print off a blog post where I included descriptions of the books!
(For more information on my homeschool record keeping, click here.) 

How do you keep homeschool records?  Let us know in the comments. 

Also, if you have a question for a future "How Do You...?" post, share that in the comments, too, or send me an e-mail! I'd love to hear from you. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

"Day in the Life" Questions

After posting my Day in the Life of Our Homeschool post, Michelle asked a few questions that I thought were worth answering publicly.  

What does the daily list of independent work consist of? Do you look at the week and the assign the pages/ assignments? Is it just for the older two?

The independent work is for the oldest three-- Gavin who is close to 10 and in 5th grade, Maddie who is 8 and in 3rd grade, and Owen who is 6 and in 1st grade.   By independent, I mean that they work in their own book on their own level, unlike our Bible, history, science, and other subjects that we do  and read together. 

I am almost always in the same room or nearby, but I'm trying to break the habit of, "Mama, I did the first math problem.  Can you check it?" or "I wrote a K!  How does it look?"  Instead, I want them to finish a page before bringing it to me, avoiding the chaos of working with every child at the same time! 

Independent work consists of 1 page of handwriting, a row of math drill, and 1 page of math for Maddie and Owen.  For Gavin, it includes spelling, 1 grammar lesson, 2 typing activities, and 1 math lesson, though not all on the same day.  When we sit down at the table, I'll let each child know what subjects to work on and they can choose the order.

Do you set an alarm and get up at a certain time each morning? I have to admit that is really a stumbling block for me.

I have a confession, too.  I stay up too late almost every night, then have a hard time getting up in the morning.  Brian sets an alarm for work, but the clock is on my side of the bed so I am the one who turns it off every morning.  While I often drift back to sleep, I have disciplined myself to be up by the time he leaves.  If not, it can set me behind all day.  With out new routine of morning chores, it would set a bad example if I slept while the kids worked around me. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Day in the Life of Our Homeschool

I thrive on a little routine and structure, but with five kids under the age of ten, every day is different.
I thrive on a little order and neatness, but with five kids under the age of ten, every day is rowdy and messy. 

I say this not to feel sorry for myself, but to illustrate that our homeschool, just like our lives, can still thrive even when it doesn't fit into the mold we've made for it. 

We're trying a slightly new routine this year.  After waking, we all independently make our beds, brush our teeth, and get dressed.  Then we meet in the kitchen for breakfast.  After we eat, we move on to morning chores.  The two oldest kids have begun rotating weeks for morning dog duty.  The one who is on dog duty is also responsible for sweeping the back steps daily.  The one who is not on dog duty, helps with the inside chores. 

Instead of assigning work each morning, I've given each child a consistent list so they can take responsibility for performing the work without reminder and so that the repetition will help them learn to do their jobs well.  After their work is done, they are free to read or play until I call them for school. 

Owen reading to the younger kids while I vacuum.

We begin our school day with Bible reading and Bible memory.

While we're gathered at the table, we often will read our history book together and do our day's "extra" subject, too-- either art, music, poetry, or geography.

Maddie describing what she sees in the art print we are studying

This is where things begin to fall apart.  For the first time this year, Ben has learned to occupy himself during our morning school time. 

playing with markers, paper, plastic trucks, a stuffed Larry, and hand cuffs (?!)

Alaine, however, has moved into the role of needy toddler.  Though not a whiny, demanding child in general, she is not content during school time.  She spends much of the time doing this:

I often resort to holding her, bouncing her, comforting her, much like I would do with an infant!  It would stress me out, except that I've had toddlers before and every one of them went through this crying-during-school-hours stage and every one of them eventually grew out of it! 

After our reading time, we move on to what we call our table work or our pencil work.  Each child does their math and English (spelling, handwriting, grammar) on their own.  We are working this year on independence-- completing your assignment without being told and without needing reassurance after every sentence or math problem! 

Sometimes Gavin prefers to work in the floor of my bedroom, away from the noise of the little kids. 

Our goal is to be done all school work by lunch time. I know this will change as the kids grow older, but for now it works.  The kids' noontime routine is to watch The Wild Kratts television show.  I used to question the stewardship of adding TV to our daily routine until I realized how incredibly much they were learning about animals from this program!  We now count it for school. 

Afternoons are nap time for the two youngest kids and quiet play time for the older ones.

Lately we've even braved a few afternoons of running errands and skipping naps altogether.  It can make for a hairy afternoon, but those early bed times are a treat.

Edited to add: After I published this post, a reader asked a few questions that I answered in a follow-up post.  
What does your average day look like?  Do you even have an "average" or is every day a new adventure? 

Linking this post to...

Not Back to School Blog Hop

Friday, August 24, 2012

Final week of "The Summer Challenge"

The Dress Project: Summer Challenge is coming to a close.  The last day to enter is next Friday, August 31st.  I'd love to see us hit 15 entries and we're almost there! 

Babychaser took a new angle on remaking a dress.  Instead of re-doing an individual dress, she made a petticoat to be worn under many dresses.  And because she used an old crib sheet for the petticoat skirt, she did it economically, too. 

To see more on Babychaser's Upcycled Petticoat, click on the photo.

My mom and littlest sister also remade a dress this summer.  They started with  plain Jane denim dress.  My mom added a pop of color to the belt while Bekah crafted a few interchangeable embellishments. 

 To see Before and Afters, click on the photo above.

Remember when I said at the beginning of  The Dress Project: Summer Challenge that this was about self-expression so your project didn't necessarily need to be a dress?  Well, my little (but not littlest) sister re-made a pair of worn jeans into Bermudas.  Yay for creativity!

To see the original post, click on the photo.

Won't you consider joining us for the last few days of  The Dress Project?   

Thursday, August 23, 2012

How Do You...Deal With Comments? (a follow-up)

Apparently my post last week about responding to negative comments about my family really hit a chord.  According to this article, the average American family size is 1.9 children.  To me, my family of seven feels normal so I am always surprised how even families of  two or three kids get looks or have to answer questions about their size. 

Today, I want to run a little follow-up about what some of you said in the comments and on my Facebook page. 

Jenna said:

My "favorite" comment that I get now is "ohhhh, you FINALLY got a girl! So are you done now?"  UGH!!! I didn't "finally" get a girl; I was blessed with 2 wonderful boys and then a sweet girl.

When people ask if I'm done, I shrug and smile and say we don't know but we don't think so.

Allyson said:

This post is so timely. Tim and I were just discussing how I can answer the people (especially at the grocery store) who comment about me having my hands full. (I counted 19 "you have your hands full" comments yesterday alone.)

I always smile and say "Yes, I do." I've read how others answer these comments but their answers sound fake when I say them, especially the, "Yes, my hands are full, but so is my heart." While I may feel that way I don't talk like that :)

However, I also find that the majority of people who say I have my hands full end up complimenting my children's behavior in the next breath. I agree that usually their comments about the number of children in our family are fueled by surprise or by their own feelings that they would not be able to handle any more children than they already have :)

Angela said:  

Oh, I love this one. I usually say, We couldn't imagine life without them, or we have so much fun together.. or something along that line. More than wanting my children to know they are loved.. I like to take mean comments as a way to search my own heart, and share a kind comment back to the person to get them to think.

I often am at home thinking of loving responses to different comments that I haven't heard before. At times the comment has sparked a nice conversation where I would in the past feel the person was just trying to be rude.

The same day my post went up, I saw links to several other articles about large families that I think I could have written myself! 

12 Things Moms of Big Families May Want You to Know by Kelly @ The Complete Guide to Imperfect Homemaking

Top 10 Reasons to Have a Large Family by Amy @ Raising Arrows

My favorite comment of the day, though, was from my friend Dana on Facebook.  

Dana said:

My standard response to the "you sure do have your hands full" comment is "Yes! I do! We love having a large family!" I can't even count how many people have told me that I'm a saint to have that many kids. Ha ha! Well...if a saint is a sinner, saved by grace, then, yes, that's me. 

My children will often pipe up and say, "Well, if you think WE have a lot of kids, you should see how many our cousins have!"

Wanna know who Dana's kids' cousins are?! 

The Duggars. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

T.I.P.sters: Teaching Kids to Read

Last summer, I shared my tips for a reluctant reader.  Of my three school-aged children, two of them didn't begin to read fluently until around age 8.  Both could read easy words by age 4 or 5, but it took a lot of practice to pull it all together and have it 'click' enough to read anything they wanted.  We took it at a slow and gentle pace, while continuing to encourage comprehension and build vocabulary by listening to higher-level literature being read aloud.

I've taken two different approaches to teaching reading.  I began  Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons with Gavin in kindergarten.  After about 15-20 lessons, he had had enough.  He was confused by the method of symbols and decided reading was too tedious.  His frustration became my frustration.

We gave phonics a break, then gave the Explode the Code series of workbooks a try.  Gavin enjoyed the short lessons, the funny pictures, and the slow pace.  (He did not like figuring out which word went in the blank!)  We plugged away for a few years, slowly learning the phonics rules.  By the time he finished Book 5 (out of 8), he was proficient enough to discontinue the series.  He was "reading" long before this point, but this was when he became able to read with confidence.

Maddie began longing to read at age 4.  I decided to try Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessonsagain and she took to the series with much more enthusiasm than Gavin did.  By the time we finished the book, she was reading easy-to-read books.  Then she stalled.  While she could "read,"  she had a difficult time progressing.  She began the Explode the Code series of workbooks that had worked so well for Gavin, but after day and day of tears, we put those aside.

Last year, in the summer before she started second grade and Owen started kindergarten, we began Alpha-Phonics: A Primer For Beginning Readers by Samuel L. Blumenfeld.  We did 2-3 lessons a week and by the end of the school year, both of them were reading well.  

While I liked both programs, Alpha-Phonics more closely fit our style.  Each lesson began with a simple word list, consisting of various words using similar sounds.  Part two of the lesson was reading sentences using various words from the list. Simple, but still fun.

Finding easy readers was another story.  Because they are used to listening to more advanced stories, the stuff of easy readers was often boring to them, but since we love Cynthia Rylant, we gave her Puppy Mudge Ready-to-Read series a try and were happy with the quality.  Though still using very basic vocabulary, no one complained because the stories were engaging.  My new readers quickly moved onto Rylant's other books which are Level 2.  While Owen likes to read the Henry and Mudge series, Maddie prefers the Mr. Putter and Tabby series.

Were your kids "early" or "late" readers?  What are your learning to read tricks?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

How Do You... Deal With Comments About Your Family?

How do you deal with negative comments about your family size? 

It has taken me a long time to realize that even the most ridiculous, rude, and abrasive of comments usually stems from true ignorance and surprise.  When someone says, "Five kids?!  That's crazy!"  I try to understand that while, hopefully I'm not really "crazy," sighting five kids from the same family is unusual in our society.  Maybe instead of feeling disdain, the observer is really (tactlessly) expressing surprise.  It is hard for me to have a friendly mindset because comments about my kids hurt my feelings, but I do attempt to give people the benefit of the doubt.

Secondly, regardless of the intention of the comment, I maintain a smile and friendly attitude for the sake of my children.  When someone says, "Well, you have your hands full,"  I always smile and say, "Yes, I do."  Or when someone says, "Are they all yours?"  I smile and say, "Yes, I have five."  I know my children are watching and listening and I never want them to think that I think they are a handful or a burden.  It also sends a signal to the people I encounter that I am happy and not begrudging my situation.

photo credit: Kati

How do you deal with comments about your family
?  Let us know in the comments. 

Also, if you have a question for a future "How Do You...?" post, share that in the comments, too, or send me an e-mail! I'd love to hear from you. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Nature Study For the Non-Outdoorsy Type

I've admitted before that I am not an outdoor kind of person.  However, my kids would be devastated if we gave up nature walks and our outdoor nature study. I love the days, though,  when it is too hot or too rainy and instead, I have an excuse to do what I do!  I breathe a {guilty} sigh of relief when I check nature study off of our list without ever stepping toe outside the door.  

Here are five nature biographies that can satisfy your nature requirements inside:

Me . . . Jane (Jane Goodall) 
by Patrick McDonnell

This fully exemplified the term "good for all ages."  With only a few words per page, it was especially good for my little listeners, but it was fascinating to the older kids with actual sketches and notes from Jane's childhood nature journaling. In fact, I sat one day and pored over the book all alone.  Everyone loved the photographs of Jane as a child and later as an adult.


by Rebecca Bond

I had never heard of these nature photographers, but I was intrigued by the cover of the book when I spotted it on display at the library.  It wasn't until I brought it home that I realized it was a true story about English brothers who dreamed up ways (and disguises) to capture natural photographs of birds up-close in their own habitats.  Gavin was especially fascinated by a series of real photos in the back of the book and we  all turned back and forth when we realized that many of the illustrations in the book mimicked the photos.


The Boy Who Drew Birds (John James Audubon) 
by Jacqueline Davies

Written in story form, this chronicles a year in the life of the young Audubon as he seeks to discover whether birds return to the same nests after migrating south for the winter.  Again, the illustrations make the book! 


Snowflake Bentley(Wilson Bentley) 
by Jacqueline Briggs Martin

We check this out of the library and read it at least once a year.  (Maybe we need to break down and buy it.)  It tells the story of a New Englander who, as a young boy, became fascinated by snowflakes and dedicated his life to photographing them.  Some of his actual photography is included in the book. 


by Jennifer Berne

I brought this home and slipped it into the library basket without much ado.  I was anxious to read it, but it was a busy day and I figured we'd have time tomorrow.  But...nestled in among at least 20 other books, Gavin dug  it out and pored over it while he relaxed in the recliner before dinner.  Later when I asked if there were any books he wanted me to read with him, he brought this back out.  Though this is a biography, it is told as a story.  It begins when Jacques is a little boy and carries him through adulthood.

There are two things my children love to discover about a book.  One is when the story they've enjoyed turns out to be a true story.  {Check!} And two is when there is some form of artwork that is unique.  In this book, the page that could be unfolded to represent the depths of the ocean did the trick!


Is there a book you can add to our list?  I'd love to hear about it.

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