Well, one thing is for sure: First Grade isn’t Kindergarten, and teaching a three-year-old preschooler and a first grader at the same time is no cakewalk.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I love teaching my kiddos, and it is hard work. Probably I partly love it because it is so demanding, and I love a challenge. I’m kooky that way.

We start school by 7 AM, as both kiddos are up-and-at-’em and I come back from my run (up to 5.5 miles is usually what I can fit in before Bill leaves) near 6:30 AM. We all kiss Bill goodbye, wave as he heads to TVHS, and then I take a few minutes to cool down, de-sweat, and start breakfast and tea. Katie works on her math warm-up usually. If Eric happens to be sleeping in, we will free read from one of her chapter books (she is SUPER interested in historical bios right now: we’ve read about Helen Keller, Annie Oakley, Harriet Tubman, and we’re now on Amelia Earhart) until he wakes up.

Cock-a-doodle-doo!

Much of the morning work takes place in their jammies. We start with Montessori trays (Eric) and math (both kiddos). We do a daily word problem, addition drills, and a lesson from our math book every day. We might also play a math game and/or use manipulatives throughout our math time.

English comes next. Katie and I work on critical thinking (always a warm-up) grammar, spelling, phonics, roots, lit core, Five in a Row, free journaling, and copy work and also incorporate composition writing from another discipline (this week it was history, more on that later). Eric works on his vowels (specifically “A” this week), Five in a Row, and his preschool books (classification, matching opposites, circling the object that is different, etc).

There is a recess/break between math and English, often a long one that involves getting dressed and going outside.  Our huge calendar is now upstairs in the playroom, and we try to get calendar time done up there when we’re dressing. There is another recess after English (sometimes in the middle of English, depending) with a snack.

Then we work on history and science. I used information on one-room schoolhouses from Katie’s core social studies text for a tie-in to our FIAR book and as the basis for a composition this week. Other than that, we are now squarely into continents and oceans, landforms, natural resources, and map/chart/graph reading. In science, we are studying living/nonliving things, and animal classification.

Classification has actually been a focus skill for us this week. All of our critical thinking work has been classification based tasks, I chose our science unit for its classification emphasis, and we used a compare/contrast Venn Diagram as part of our composition writing scaffold with the idea that comparing and contrasting two or more ideas/things is a way to begin to classify them.

Now that we are out of the boxed set, I greatly enjoy the freedom to come up with our own units, lessons, and themes. I am spending most of my free time in the evenings prepping right now, and I do find it very enjoyable. On the other hand, there are some hobbies I do miss at the moment. Still, even this week I am finding that getting into the swing of things is helping to reduce prep time. I know where we’re headed now for several weeks out. It helps tremendously to have our first week under our belt.

We have been ending by 2 PM or even 3 PM. Then I start the household tasks: tidying up, cleaning, putting away laundry, dinner, any errands, planning for the next day, bath time, more reading and playing, phone calls to family, answering e-mails, bedtime by 8:00 at the latest (though I stay up and overdo it) so I can be up by 5:30 at the latest. There truly haven’t seemed to be enough hours in the day this week. But I know we’ll find our balance again, though even when we do we aren’t dealing with K curriculum that can be done in 2-4 hours. This grade 1 business? It’s real, dude, it’s real. The grade 1 standards/objectives aren’t messing around.

I always love mid-September/early October: that seems to be the time for me, in a classroom or in a homeschool room, that I feel the rhythm kick in. Just have to give it time and ride the energy that comes with the start of the year…!

These pictures capture a little bit of what we’ve been up to over here:

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Agenda for the first day back. I try to have the kiddos work on similar objectives, i.e. classification, but via different ability-appropriate tasks. Sometimes Eric gets longer breaks than Katie. We’re working that out. 😉

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A happy lunch on the first day back!

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Eric works on sequencing and pattern recognition with our unifix cubes

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Kumon penmanship cards: the letter A

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Another agenda sample

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Katie got to choose a “back-to-homeschool” special lunch, and of course she chose her favorite place, Pamir!

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Eric enjoyed his cardamom scented cherry blossom tea at Pamir

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Katie and my mom at Pamir

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Sorting blocks first by color and then by shape and then by choice while Katie works on a math problem

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Using wiki sticks to form “A”

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Katie needed to take a 2.5 hour online adaptive diagnostic in math and reading.  She was a trooper. We took breaks. I feel you, baby, I feel you.

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Counting “A” for “ants” (and also practicing scissor work and gluing)

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Finding number line ranges for “greater than” and “less than.”

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Free journaling. We do this a few times a week. She writes whatever she wants and however much she wants to the questions I pose. I ask only that she pay attention to spacing, capital letters, complete sentences, and periods. Those four elements are our writing objectives for the next couple of months. In free writing, I do not care about spelling right now. As we add spelling words, I will call her attention to those. I always respond to her writing in her journal with my own written thoughts. We enjoy communicating this way. She is really, really interested in the Underground Railroad right now (after reading the American Girl series about Addie, a bio on Harriet Tubman, and Follow the Drinking Gourd this summer). This question asked her to think about Addie and Harriet’s experiences. Some of our other questions are much less heavy!

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Sorting more shapes with big tweezers

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Katie’s Venn Diagram comparing and contrasting the one-room schoolhouse (part of our FIAR book Three Names) and The McGaugh Academy. After several other activities, she wrote her first formal composition on this topic this week. We took it through a full writing process, and she finished the final draft today. We use time in the car to play “the topic sentence game.” We give each other topics and then the other player has to come up with a topic sentence, two examples, and a conclusion…essentially writing a mini four-sentence oral essay. It seemed to help with this composition, though this will be an ongoing set of objectives this year.

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We don’t say “I don’t know” or “I can’t” or “I won’t.” Instead we say, “Please repeat the question” or “What does ______ mean?” or “Can you explain it a different way?” or “Can you give me an example?” I am constantly working with Katie on ways to keep our progress moving forward. It is our belief that saying “I don’t know” in answer to a question can inadvertently (or on purpose!) stop the progress and productivity of a lesson. It won’t take us anywhere. It is totally okay NOT to know, but we have to know how to keep going forward when, in fact, we feel stymied, by using more productive language and communicating a specific need. We are working on giving Katie phrases to say that indicate that she needs more from ME, as a teacher, in order to get the information she needs. I am giving her tools to put the onus back on me: how do we ask a teacher for clarification/help when we need it instead of shutting down? A work in progress…

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Another agenda

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Eric had to use the popsicle sticks to recreate the designs

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Cutting out objects to classify as living or nonliving things on his science paper

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Sorting “hard” and “soft” objects

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Daily word problem

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Cheerio stacking on spaghetti, then counting the stacks

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Wait, are you eating your assignment?

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A for alligator handprint art

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Working with charcoal and vanishing points for FIAR

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After making an animal classification chart (with information about coverings, habitat, and babies), Katie and Eric sorted some of their plastic figures/animals into the right classifications.

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Working with the geometry boards/rubber bands

Then at 2 PM today, it was off to the park with our homeschool buddies for our “Back to Homeschool” party!

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Katie entered her first potato sack race

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Homeschool friends

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Eric and I played “farmer” and these were his flowers. He had imaginary horses nearby, too.

Katie starts soccer practices and games this week (we had our info session last week). She also starts choir next Monday. These are definitely her two biggest passions, and other than that, we are trying to stay committed to keeping the extra-currics few but meaningful. I feel a bit like I am not doing enough supplement for Eric right now (not as much as I could when Katie was his age, anyway), but we need solid hours at home this year to make the first grade schooling truly work for us. We also need to keep time open and free to visit family, another big priority for us. Balancing both of their needs can be tricky, and the biggest challenge this week has been the feeling of guilt that Eric is not getting as much attention as Katie gets right now, nor as much as she got at age three. He is constantly sharing me, and I worry I am not giving him enough—either of my play time, or of enrichment. I am working on getting Katie to work more and more independently so that he can have comparable time. That’s truly the difficult part right now, for sure.

We did school on Monday this week in order to free up a day later this week.

Here’s to the next few days and every day becoming—well, not easier—but at least smoother!

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