Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Nature Challenge 2

Well, I had to adjust which day we are doing our Nature Study - but we have done Nature Challenge #2 now

We heard the wind: rustle; birds: cheep cheep

We saw: Huge Sunflowers

We felt: smooth, crunchy pinecone

The kids had a hard time of it - coming up with words that is...

I've looked ahead and I'm wondering a bit about Challenge 10, which is a picnic.... I think it will be a good Mid-November when we get to that one..... It'll probably be 40 below with my luck! I've camped (yes, tent camped) in winter so I know it is doable.... but will really have to think on it!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Suzuki Primer

I don't know if I will be able to write this as smoothly as what I had thought of the other day, but I'm going to do my best.

Sometimes being a Suzuki parent can be kind of confusing at first. Delta has been in the Suzuki violin program for 2 years now (starting his 3rd year), and Echo has started officially now too. It isn't the most experience out there, but on the other hand, I still remember the "fun" of being new... so here goes.

Rent or Buy
First thing first - your child will need a violin. You may need one too (depending on the implementation of the program.) When you look at the fact that your child is going to outgrow their violin, rental at first seems like a good choice. There may be times when that is still the best choice - but do some thinking first. How long are you likely to need a size of violin? Are there more children coming along that will need a violin too?

Where we are, you can get an excellent used child violin for around $250-$300. This is not necessarily a "concert grade" violin - but we have gotten used Suzuki brand violins for that price with a very good tone. Used violins can be gotten from a registry from your Suzuki group, or from music stores that rent or sell violins.

To rent a violin, on the other hand spreads the cost across the time, but you don't end up with anything for it. Where I am, the suzuki program has a limited number of rental violins for $10 a month.... and most of the stores rent violins for about $15 a month.

Delta was in the 1/16th violin for 2 years.... if we had rented for that time, even at the $10 a month, we would have paid out $240 in rental fees, and still not owned a violin. As you can usually "trade up" or resell the used violin for around 50 to 75% of what you paid for it if still in good condition (or even more) - it just doesn't make sense. Especially when you look at the fact that Echo is now using the violin, and probably Foxtrot will too.

For your adult violin, however, it is not as easy of a question. It depends on if you want to play on the long term or not. Assuming that the program where you are requires the parent to learn for a while, you will probably need a violin for at least the first year, possibly a couple. It might be worth buying an inexpensive violin, or you may just want to rent it.

Buying the Violin
One thing to keep in mind, is that the completion of sale should be based "On approval of the teacher." We have bought 2 violins - and we have taken 2 back for a different one. (1 was too big even though it was supposed to be the correct size - violin sizes are not totally standard. The other was ok, but the teacher said to see if there was a different one with better tone.) The store we have dealt with has been excellent at letting us get one that worked best for us.

I know that some of the other parents have bought violins through a mail-order place that the one teacher has recommended as having ok, inexpensive, violins. These violins were even less expensive than the ones I mentioned above, but are not as nice. One mom has bought very inexpensively off of ebay. There is a risk doing either of these, as you need to look at the shipping costs, especially if there is a problem with the violin and it needs to be returned. However, it is something to consider.

I have to learn too!
A lot of the suzuki programs require the parent (or "home teacher" - as you are called during practice time, etc) to learn the violin too, at least at the beginning. These seems to vary a bit from place to place - Some don't require it; some do until the child has earned their violin; some do until you have learned "Twinkle"; and some do further, until Perpetual Motion, or even the end of book 1. I've even heard of some that do until the child is passing the parent.

I personally looked forward to learning the violin, and I think I learned fairly quickly. I'm still working on it on my own (with the occasional check-in with the teacher.) I have to admit that it very quickly gave me an appreciation for how difficult it was to hold the violin correctly, how trying to move my bow straight didn't look the way I thought it would, and over-all just how difficult it is to keep track of everything. It made it a lot easier to work with Delta, and to sympathize when he said that his arm hurt, or that his fingers hurt.

Of course, the sympathy and the knowledge of how things are done is only part of why you are learning too - the main reason is that your child looks up to you and wants to do everything you do. By playing the violin, they want to emulate you and play it too. Also, if you practice daily, they see that as normal.

My child was given a BOX
Many suzuki programs start the child off with a Box violin (or a Boxilin) to work with. Especially the 3 to 5 year olds. It seems a bit weird to the parent at first - but it does make sense. It is a lot easier to see a child trying to hold the boxilin properly (with no hands) - and see it fall to the ground, than it is to watch a violin fall. (Although don't worry - you will for sure see the violin fall once or twice anyway!) The boxilin stage might last a couple of weeks - or it might last a few months - depending on the teacher and the child.

How long do we twinkle
Ok - this is hard to take at times - but you are probably going to listen to "Twinkle" every day from now on. (Twinkle Twinkle Little Star) Oh - and there are 6 variations. These are different rhythm patterns. Each rhythm pattern teachers your child a rhythm they will need later on. Also, the teacher will probably use Twinkle to learn new techniques, or new rhythms. Delta has done a couple of extra patterns to Twinkle to prepare for a new song.

It will take some time for your child to learn how to Twinkle. How long will depend on a LOT of things, including their age. We really took almost 2 years.... partly because we had a few problems with Delta. (Feel free to read about it on my other blog - see the side for the link.)

It does occasionally get tiring - but on the other hand, that is something I like about Suzuki. That each song is learned and kept, instead of "thrown away". Each song gets to a point where it could be performed - and kept there.

Practicing can be a fun time - or it can become a battle. Don't make it a battle. We did ok the first year, but it wasn't every day, and some days it was a real challenge. I used a few games the teacher had given me - but the problem was that Delta would through a tantrum when an activity came up in the game that he didn't want to play.

With some observations from Mike, I made a few changes in the 2nd year, that helped. I would be VERY careful about making corrections (something I had tried to do) and always tried to find something valid to praise. I would play with him when I could (which wasn't easy at the pre-twinkle stage). I would call a concert and round up stuffies to be the audience. They would all clammer for their favourite songs...

Eventually I bought the "Step-by-Step" book and CD for book 1. It has accompaniment for each song at 2 to 3 different speeds, and Delta enjoyed playing with them. Also, surprisingly enough, I found for Delta, that the best practice plan was a chart with everything he was to practice listed. If he did an item happily, I would draw a smilie face in the box. If he complained, or had a tantrum - he still had to do the item/song - but would only get a checkmark. At the end of the practice I always had a "Happy Song" where he could play anything he wanted, with no corrections or anything. I would then count up all the smilie faces, and write the number under the day. If he got all smilie faces, he would get a star.

The first practice like that he got 3 smilie faces - and we challenged him to think of it like a race - could he beat his record the next time. The numbers got higher, and now we almost always get a star. He now wants checkmarks, so the odd time that he complains about practice, he gets a sad face in the box - but that happens so rarely. He is now to a point that most of the time, I can practice with him (unless there is a new technique or something that I am monitoring.) So he gets the choice of playing alone, playing with me, or playing with the CD.

In January, we did our program's 100 practices in 100 days - so we started practicing every day... and we haven't stopped. We are at about day 270...

CD Listening
There is no getting around it - you need to listen to the CD everyday. This doesn't have to be a hard thing - and your child doesn't need to sit still for it. I made a copy of the CD so that I wouldn't have to worry about it getting scratched (I have the master somewhere safe.) My kids have a CD player in the bedroom with the CD in it.... they often decide to play it while playing in their room. I often set it to play when they go to sleep (although I have heard that some children can get conditioned to get sleepy when they hear the music if you do that.... so watch for that if you use it for bed music). Some days I'll play it in the car, or while eating. Make sure that no adults in the house make comments about being bored with it - your kids love repetition, and are not likely to complain until they hear an adult complain.

(That said - my kids have their own taste in music, and have their favourites on the Cd, as well as a few they don't like so much.... I'm sure it will be "fun" to learn the songs they don't like...)

Anything else?
I've tried to think of the main points.... but if you have more questions, please ask!

And on a final note - sometimes the best teacher isn't the best teacher for your child. Our first teacher was wonderful, and is very sought after in the program... but Delta started refusing to do anything in classes with her. I know this was very difficult for her (and for us) and she worked hard to find out how to teach him. Eventually we switched teachers, and he has just taken right off. Switching teachers was a very difficult decision, and I know it was not easy on his first teacher - although she did agree and recommended his new teacher. If things are really not working, discuss it with your teacher and work together. If it is decided that it is best to change teachers, do it up-front with your original teacher, and try to keep things friendly. Ideally it is something that is worked out together.

I remembered something I wanted to say. Sometimes a small lay-out of money can save you money. For instance, buying the "Step-by-step" books made a big difference for us - well worth the cost because it has "saved" us money in music lessons. Of course it depends on how you look at it - we haven't taken any fewer lessons, so really the savings here is academic.... but Delta and Echo are much further along than they would have been without those books.... so you could say that we have saved on the cost of lessons between where they would have been and where they are in their skills.

Another thing that has been worth buying for us was a "Chin Chum". It is a little soft caseing with some cushioning that goes on the chinrest and around the bottom of the violin and is held on by an elastic. It makes the chinrest softer - but it also protects the child's neck from the metal parts of the chinrest that hold it on. (Echo kept getting a red area on her chin until we bought one.) It provides this protection without sticking anything to the chinrest or violin, so it will not damage them. I made one for my violin that has worked well... I made one for Delta's new violin however, and it fell off 3 or 4 times during the play-in. I'm sure I could adjust it and make one that wouldn't - but as he has a major concert coming up (more info coming!) - I didn't want to risk it falling off! So I bought another one.

Another thing that is interesting - but not sure I would buy one (well, I guess I wouldn't because I didn't....) - is the Twinklemat. It is a rollable foot-chart that isn't slippery. Our 1st teacher made a footchart on cardboard that was a bit of a pain to transport. I eventually (After a year) made a couple by sewing felt footprints onto the non-slip shelf coverings.... can't think of the name. I can roll them up to make for easy transport. I've seen a good foot chart made with feet traced on a plastic table placemat.... I don't know if it would roll for transport. But if you don't want to make something, and want something more durable than most of the "filefolder" or cardboard footcharts you see - it is worth looking into.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Narration with the not-natural narrator

Charlotte Mason emphasized the importance of Narration in the learning process. Narration is the process of telling back in your own words, in detail, a story, event, or other information. Narration is important because it causes the person to truly process the information in their head, and kind of sets it into the memory.

However, narration is a learned skill. Many children are natural narrators, although when first introduced to it in a "Schooling" setting, they may freeze with a type of "test anxiety". There are a few children out there that normal oral narration does not come naturally.

Delta is one of these children. He was a late talker, and then stammered for years. Even now, he has a hard time expressing his thoughts in everyday life. He has improved a lot. (His speach has been evaluated a few times along the years, and he is in the "normal" range - so it isn't a "problem" - but it is a bit of a challenge.

So for years, when Mike would ask Delta "What did you do today" - the answer was (and is) almost always "Nothing" or "I don't know". At times I think we could see a huge crash, watch the fire fighters put out the fire - and when asked what happened today, Delta would answer "I don't know". So I knew that narration would be a challenge.

We have completed week 2 of year 1 with Delta so far. I have gotten a couple of good narrations from him, and a few with almost nothing. I am so far just having him narrate 50 Famous Stories, and Aesop as I feel those are the easier readings. (Next week I will be including the Blue Fairy book).

For Aesop - if he can't narrate directly, I have found that asking him to draw a picture, then tell me has helped. For 50 Famous Stories, I am trying having him act it out with finger puppets. Asking questions like "What was the best part of the story" seems to work better for Delta than asking "What happened". I have also narrated some stories for him, to demonstrate what I want.

It can be frustrating working with the children that don't naturally narrate. It can be easy to feel that they aren't retaining anything. Keep doing the readings. Keep working on the narrations, knowing that this is an area that is a weakness. Trust in the process - it will happen. Trust that some of the information is going to stay in the brain, even if not obvious immediately. Some of it will start coming out while they are playing.

Finally, I try to keep in mind that what we are doing is better than what I think he would be doing in school.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Nature Challenge 1

So the other day, we officially started doing the Outdoor Hour Nature Challenges.

It ended up being a really busy day that I had set aside for this, but decided not to put it off anymore anyway. So, we took a little stroll down our road to check out what we could find. There are other nature areas we could go to (and have in the past) but this worked for the time we had.) It is amazing what you can find in
the city right in your yard
and neighbourhood.

Delta decided he wanted to find out more about a little plant growing along the side of the road. I don't know what it is yet - but it is very short, looks a little prickly but isn't, and has a little "ball" on the top that is yellow. I suspect it is some type of wildflower weed. He also wanted to find out more about some rocks (gravel on the driveways....)

Echo wants to find out more about pinecones and ladybugs.

I picked a tall green plant growing out of one of the neighbours storm-ditch... and a very tall weed-flower I saw nearby that I think might be goldenrod or something like that.

Foxtrot just went in the stroller for the ride - keeping us busy by taking off her hat and throwing it on the ground without us noticing.

It was a hot day, so when we got home we had ice water and freezies!

The challenge can be found at

Oh, and just wanted to mention, we saw a rabbit today outside a house. It watched us for quite a while, just sitting still. It was there even after we got in the car, and started it up to drive away!

Well, I have looked up Pineapple Weed (thanks to a suggestion) for the little weed with the yellow balls on top - and I'm not totally sure. It looks very similar - except Pineapple weed is a composite flow
er, and I'm sure all that we looked at only had one flower per plant.... and one of the descriptions I read on pineapple weed said it grows from 10-40cm - and ours was a LOT smaller.

Also Here is the tall green weed in the ditch - it is hard to see, but there it is...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Workbox Wednesday

Well, for what it is worth, here is what we did today in our workboxes. (Sorry, I didn't take pictures) - I'm not sure I've got the order the same as we did it....

Delta (Year 1)
  1. Math Lesson
  2. Scriptures reading
  3. A Pioneer Story reading
  4. Plastic Canvas [this ended up not working, as the plastic needle I bought didn't fit through the holes! OOPS!] - changed it to cutting practice on the fly
  5. Burgess Bird Book reading
  6. Cursive First
  7. Polite Moments reading
  8. Treadwell Primer (Reading instruction)
  9. Stamp Collection
  10. On the Shores of the Great Sea reading
  11. Leap Pad
  12. Practice Skipping (outside) - for Otter badge
  1. Mosaic (pegs in peg board)
  2. Colouring worksheet
  3. Maze
  4. Reading Instruction
  5. Literature - Winnie the Pooh book
  6. Make Lunch with mom
There was a bit of waiting by both kids for me - some days it works out better than others. Today there was a LOT of reading that needed to get done. Over-all though, it still went very well.

I wish I had more items setup for Echo however. She gets done very quickly - and nothing I have entertains her very long. So far she has been pretty content to play near us - and sometimes watches what we are doing. (She loves to watch the math, for instance.)

I do think that the workboxes work out very well, as I haven't yet heard "Are we done after this?"

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I Found Book Samaritan!

I am not sure if you have heard about Book Samaritan - it is a non-profit group that help provide free books to homeschoolers.

Unfortunately, it seems that every year, their website would go down in the summer time.

If you do a search in Google for "Book Samaritan" - you are sure to find a lot of sites praising them - as well as a lot of messages saying "Where did they go?" and "Do they still exist?" and "I can't get on." There are messages like that in 2007, 2008, and this year... 2009. There are also messages in 2007 and 2008 along the lines of "It is working now".

Last year, we got books from them. I managed to get on the site long enough to get the address and request books - and sure enough, we got a nice selection of books. Not all fit what we were trying to do, but enough did that it was worthwhile - and I passed on the books that didn't.

This year, I have been trying to get on the site for months. I did send a request in August, having found the information from last year - but I haven't gotten a response yet. It is their busy time. The website address I had was down - and has been for a while. I found a post in July on a blog (in comments about the site being down) - that they were having problems and were going to make a new website.

Well - I found it! They have opened a blog instead of using their domain.

So - for those of you that either need assistance getting homeschooling books - or for those who have homeschool books that they are not using and would like to donate... Here is their location.

They are located in the United States - but as I mentioned, they did send books to Canada for me last year. Keep in mind that shipping to Canada is more expensive to them - so if you are in the position to donate books - please do it. I don't know if they ship out of North America.

And - A big THANK YOU to these volunteers that make it easier to homeschool.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Homeschool Tracker and Workboxes

I have decided to use Homeschool Tracker (the basic version is free) to keep track of what we are doing each day. Fortunately where I live requires very little tracking - but we want to keep track more anyway. This seems like a simple way to plan, and track, very inexpensively. Sure, we end up ignoring the grades section - but so far it seems to be working quite well.

While I was figuring out next weeks workboxes, I had a great idea. I've put in all the assignments for each day into Homeschool Tracher.... but I've been having a fun time trying to keep track of what fun stuff to do.

So - here is the idea. Add a "Fun Stuff" subject into H.T. - and for the various ideas, make a resource! So I have resources like "Maze", "Jigsaw Puzzle", "Play Dough". etc. Then if I want to be specific, when I assign it, I use the page/chapter/etc to specify. The cool thing is the resources only show up when I say I want a fun resource. (And when printing reports later, I can choose to exclude the fun stuff subject too)

Basically, I look at the schedule for the day - count how many box activities there are, and then figure out how many fun boxes I need - then pick out that many assignments from the fun stuff subject.

I can later print out the planner sheet for a week - and add in the box numbers. Then each night - fill the boxes as usual.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Great Canadian Search

See History Plan

I have been having a lot of "fun" trying to figure out our Canadian History and Geography resources. Honestly, almost anytime I start reading a book about Canadian History - I'm about ready to fall asleep. It isn't that Canadian History is boring - because really it isn't. However - the way it was taught in school was horrible - and I really didn't retain much. Most of the bits of Canadian History that I know I learned later.

I haven't figured out if there just aren't any good living books about Canadian History - or if my school reflexes kick in. I'm starting to suspect the first. What I'd really like to find is a great "spine" book that has a lot of the basics of Canadian history in it - and then some good biographies and other books (historical fiction perhaps) to add to it. And I'm having problems finding them.

And I don't think I'm alone. It seems that on the cmcanada yahoo group, the question comes up regularily. And although there are usually some answers along the lines of "I'm using this" - I really don't remember anyone saying "we use this and it is totally fantastic!" or anything even close to it. Yes, there are some good recommendations of individual books - like the Barbara Greenwood books like we are using for Year 1.

I'm even having fun trying to figure out good Canadian Literature - especially for the early years. I do know some Canadian authors - mostly from school. But again - I ended up hating them in school.

So - there is my rant. I am checking out some Canadian history books from the library, to try to plan the Year 2 - 6 for Canadian History. I am open to suggestions!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

First Day & Workboxes

The Workboxes

Well, we had our first day of Grade 1 (and I guess preschool) - and we did do workboxes. And I have to say, the workboxes worked well for us. The only upset was that I only filled 9 boxes instead of all 12!

Delta had 9 boxes - I think they were...

  1. Scriptures
  2. Math (MEP)
  3. Puzzle (a fun box - he loves puzzles!)
  4. Read Along - Canadian History
  5. Handwriting
  6. Read Along - World History
  7. Picture Study
  8. Read Along - Geography
  9. Stencils (a fun box)

Filled Workboxes

Echo only had 4 boxes (partly because that was the space I had....) She had
  1. blank paper and crayons (brand new ones!)
  2. Magnext
  3. Reading Cards (phonics)
  4. A worksheet (I bought a few worksheet books for stuff for her to do) - basically colouring
She zoomed through them pretty fast though - I guess there was nothing that different from what she usually does. I need to put in some items she isn't used to, and some more. She played fairly quietly with us.

Echo's Workspace

Delta's Desk

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Robert Bateman Pictures picked!

I know this took a while, but I have finally picked the pictures to be studied that were painted by Robert Bateman. This took a while, as Robert Bateman has created MANY beautiful and important pictures.

I have tried to select pictures that are available for viewing online (although still copy-protected) - that show various types of subjects, and ones that are often thought of if you talked about Robert Bateman.

Please check out the pictures at (note that you will need to look around on the site to find each picture.

I couldn't decrease it from 8 pictures.... you will have to make the final 2 cuts....

I selected...
  1. Giant Panda
  2. The Return - Bald Eagle
  3. Power Play - Rhinoceros
  4. Watching Siberian Tiger
  5. Wolf Pair in Winter
  6. The Challenge - Bull Moose
  7. Ice Berg and Hump Back Whale (the style on this is a bit different)
  8. Polar Bear Profile.