It's that time of the year again -- the time when all of our school supplies have dried up, vanished, or been sharpened to nubs. We're scrounging for crayons, pencils with erasers, pencils without erasers, paper, tape, children's scissors, etc. Of course, you say, there's always the store -- go buy some! Yes, but we need so many things that I'm hesitant to start buying for fear I may not stop.
We've had mixed success this year. I do think the girls have more knowledge than they did at the beginning of the school year, yes. I see more math skills, or at least a bit more problem-solving acumen. I like the Miquon Math that we've been doing, but some of the more conceptual parts are going over the girls' heads. Right now, after some recent math fails with the oldest, we're doing a page of drill each day, and next year I'm going to start Singapore Math.
Reading has improved, and most importantly, both older girls (8 and 6) have found a love of quiet reading and will sit curled up with a book -- usually one of the A-Z mysteries that our library stocks in droves. That's fine -- I'm not one of those, "Well, as long as they're reading something..." people, but these are unobjectionable, and the pride on my six-year-old's face when she says, "Look, Mom, I'm already on page 40!" warms the cockles of my heart.
But... we just never got any scheduling off the ground. After a strong start, we all came down with the flu in September, and it took us a good month to fully recover. Then I unexpectedly fell pregnant (an English turn of phrase) in October, which kind of scratched our November. Then it was Christmas, and who gets much schoolwork done in December?
All year we had lots of extra-curricular stuff. I'd made several large time commitments before getting pregnant, so all year I taught Eleanor's First Communion class with the two youngest in tow. I'd also promised a friend to write and direct a condensed version of Peter Pan to go along with my girls' dance recital, so we had dance classes and play practice all spring. Directing is not a low-commitment or low-energy activity, so by the performance two weeks ago I was about ready to collapse. (Not to mention that a minor injury to my lead actress had me thinking for ten minutes on performance day that I would have to go on and play Peter Pan at seven months pregnant.)
We went over to a good friend's house every week for a French class, which the girls thoroughly enjoyed even if I can't get them them to pronounce "Est-que je suis une petite fille?" correctly. However, due to the marvelous snacks each week, the girls can ask for pain avec chocolat like natives. Nutella, you're the best spread ever!
The big girls have been in piano all this year, and have been enjoying it for the most part. Having the outside accountability makes it easier for me to make sure they practice. The six-year-old is very diligent and will just sit down and do her practice -- she seems to enjoy the precision of her exercises, and practicing a piece until it's right. The eight-year-old, though she has some talent, has been demonstrating some very real problems with focus and attitude -- she's not a perfectionist, like her sister, but though she's bright, she gets easily irritated when she can't do something easily, and would rather pout and sulk in a babyish fashion than just do the work. Fortunately the teacher won't put up with the attitude during the lesson, but we haven't made much headway in improving this disposition, either in this instance or generally. I'm glad that these character issues are coming to light now so that we can work on them, but Darwin and I have been taken aback and a bit unsure at how to deal with this persistent problem -- scolding, encouragement, cutting allowance, and other solutions haven't made much impression.
We've done a quantity of writing -- not enough, though, and handwriting is something that could be improved. The six-year-old is pretty proficient, but the eight-year-old is sometimes all over the place. However, I think I may do cursive with them this summer, since we're heading into 3rd and 2nd grade. 3rd grader needs to learn it; 2nd grader has the art and handwriting skills to master it. Plus, whatever new thing one does, the other has to do as well. I'm torn between continuing on with the Italics cursive, which I think is elegant and clear, and teaching them traditional Zaner-Blosser cursive. I'd just do Italics, but I hear from people who never learned traditional cursive that they wish it was a skill they'd learned. Maybe we'll do both -- both girls enjoy calligraphy-style alphabets and copying fancy letters, and if it's presented as a low-stress summer activity then it'll just be a fun art project.
(For the record -- I learned Zaner-Blosser cursive in school, and I've never liked my cursive handwriting, yet I can't shake some of the forms. So I dunno, maybe it's best to just leave Z-B out of the picture. I think D'Nealian cursive is just ugly. For a look at these and other handwriting styles, see this link.)
My four-year-old has been remarkably resistant to sitting down and learning her letters from a book or in formal instruction, yet I've noticed this spring that she likes to practice her "writing". She'll copy letters from our alphabet chart, and has been practicing with some of the letters in her name. I haven't seen this translate that much into trying to decipher sounds -- she knows a few basic phonemes, but loses any interest if I crack our copy of Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. She likes looking at workbooks, but doesn't want me to show her how to pronounce the letter on the page or do the activity. She enjoys playing with Cuisinaire Rods and can count just fine, but doesn't care to be instructed in numerals. (She does know the number 2, after pushing the button in the elevator all year to go to dance class.) And really, that's fine. I don't have the time to put a lot of work into coercing a four-year-old with a newly discovered disposition to throw tantrums that she has to do schoolwork. I tried that with my oldest, but I had more energy and less commitments then.
The baby, at 20 months, is an unstoppable force of destruction. (I shouldn't call him "the baby" any more, because despite being a very small guy, he's definitely all toddler boy. He's a madman.) He prefers to be on the table while the girls are trying to write, or else he's pulling chairs up to the counter and trying to snitch bananas. Or he's throwing toys over the bannister or pulling books off the shelf. We did buy him his very own light saber, which is apparently the very best toy a little boy could have. Now he sleeps curled up with it. The guy is the craziest, sweetest little boy ever, but I wish he'd settle down for a minute. Or at least that he could be placated by something other than throwing the Cuisinaire rods on the floor during schooltime. I'm a bit concerned as to how we'll keep it all together when he's two and I have a newborn.
For the summer: baby is due at the beginning of July, so I'm not really planning to go out that much. We're considering some summer classes for the big girls, but we're not sure how that jives with our Dave Ramsey-ish desire to pay off the van by Christmas. Here in Texas, there's a period in the middle of the day when it's just too hot to go outside, so I want to use that time for a bit of scholastic endeavor. The oldest will do some daily journal writing -- just a page a day on whatever subject -- and we'll have plenty of reading time, of course. And probably plenty of movie watching, realistically.