Monday, November 28, 2011

Free Printable: Advent to Epiphany Planner

Advent is such an exciting time, and there's always so much I want to do, see, read and make with my family. I usually go a bit crazy trying to fit it all in, or at least fit in the most important things.  I often see so many great ideas on the Internet, yet forget to do them!  This year I decided to create an "Advent to Epiphany Planner" to help me remember the special feast days.

The planner includes a block of several lines for each day from the first Sunday of Advent to the Sunday in which the U.S. church celebrates Epiphany.  Actually, I included a planner for the Feast Day of the Baptism of the Lord, because my family likes to celebrate that, too.  This year, it is celebrated on January 9 in the U.S.

Dates are included in each block; common feast days are listed, too.  Under the date is a section called "Theme."  Sometimes I like to incorporate some special themes during our homeschooling day. For example, on "Poinsettia Theme Day" we would read Tomie DePaola's "Legend of the Poinsettia," make poinsettia cookies, do a poinsettia craft, etc.

I also included spaces on each day to jot down:

- Special meals/snacks I would like to serve (like an all-white meal on December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception),

- Activities we can do together as a family (like make a craft, look at the Christmas light display at a nearby park, or see the Nutcracker ballet)

- Read-Aloud Books (our favorite holiday books)

- Holiday DVD or video (we have a great collection of classic and newer holiday DVDs and videos, both religious and secular.  This will help me set aside time to watch them.)

I thought others might like to use this resource, so I uploaded a copy on Google docs, which you can download and print out to use with your family.   You can get it here.

If you use it, let me know what you think!

I linked this page to several link parties filled with terrific Advent ideas!  Please check them out:

1) The "Make Yourself Monday" link party at For Love of Cupcakes.   Click here for more great holiday ideas! 

2) A Ten O'Clock Scholar's Keeping Advent link party.  Click here for some inspiring posts about Advent!

3) Catholic Family's  Advent Festival of Links, which you can reach here.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Nativity Carnival: Keeping Advent Link party

Kerry, at Ten O'Clock Scholar, is hosting a link party to share ideas on how to keep the Advent season.

Check out the ideas here

Question: do you homeschool in December?

I've been thinking about whether we should put formal schooling on the shelf for December, and perhaps just focus on making Advent holy and memorable.  For those of you that homeschool, what do you do in December? If you take the month off, do you have any ideas for incorporating reading and math into your everyday holiday chores?  Please share in the comments section; would love some advice!

Favorite Find: Advent Music

A couple of years ago, a local radio station began a tradition of playing Christmas music 24 hours a day, starting around November 10 until Christmas Day.  I love Christmas music, but this didn't feel right to me. November 10 was too early for the exuberant, joyful tunes of Christmas.  I yearned for quieter music that would help me ponder the wonderful gift that God gave us.

So began my search for "Advent music."  It wasn't an easy one!  Sadly, there isn't a lot of music for Advent, except perhaps for some beautiful Gregorian chants. 

However, I discovered two CDs which have become family favorites:

Like Winter Waiting: The Advent Story by John Foley, S.J.
Produced by OCP Publications, this is a musical story about key Biblical events surrounding the birth of Christ. Different actors play the roles of Mary, Joseph, Zechariah, Elizabeth, the Angel Gabriel and other characters. It gives listeners a peek into the feelings and emotions that these various characters may have felt while experiencing the amazing changes that were occurring in their lives.

Tracks include a welcome/introduction from the Angel Gabriel, Zechariah and Simon talking about the pregnancy of Elizabeth, the Angel Gabriel appearing to Mary, Joseph pondering the angel's message about Mary's pregnancy, Joseph and Mary's trip to Bethlehem via donkey, the birth of Christ and the visit by the shepherds to the stable.  My children's favorite song on the CD is "Unless You Lead Me On," a joyful song by the donkey about the need to have God in its life.  You can hear samples of the songs here.

We Shall Prepare: An Advent Cantata for Young People by Mark Friedman and Janet Vogt
Also produced by OCP Publications, this CD is almost like an audio "Jesse Tree."  It includes songs about Noah, Moses, King David and Jonah, then moves on to songs about Mary, Bethlehem and the birth of Christ. There are many wonderful upbeat songs on this CD!  Our favorites include "Get On the Boat," about Noah; "Moses, Set Them Free," about God's call to Moses to bring the Hebrews out of Egypt. 

For those who teach in a Catechesis of the Good Shepherd atrium, several songs would be very appropriate for Advent lessons, including "Wonderful Counselor," which corresponds to the meditation of  Isaiah 9:5 and helps children understand the various titles given to Jesus; and "Little Bethlehem," which corresponds to the Biblical geography lesson about Bethlehem and the meditation of Micah 5:1.

You can hear samples of this CD here. 

Do you have any favorite Advent music?  I would love to hear about it! 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Favorite Find: Wooden Church Playset

A couple of months ago I was looking for some simple, portable materials that I could use in the catechism class I'm teaching at our parish.   I ran across this Wooden Church Playset from Beulah Enterprises.

For $22.50, you get a nine piece set of wooden pieces including a priest, church backdrop, baptismal font, altar, lectern and a family of four figures (father, mother and two children).  You can also get a muslin bag to store it all in for $2.

My daughter has been fascinated with the playset, setting up up to look like our church and then re-enacting the Mass or baptisms with the priest and other figures.  She also took out some of our other wooden blocks and created her own small church--complete with pews and a choir section with "organ" and piano.  She has asked me to look for a small statue of Mary so she can set up a rosary praying area like the one in our church.

The Beulah Enterprise website suggests that older kids might enjoy making vestments so I'll be giving her some purple felt soon so she can decorate her little church for Advent.  I can also picture a tiny advent wreath make from a bit of faux greenery and four birthday candles.

I might give her some clay and suggest she make a paten and chalice.

There is so much play potential with this simple little wooden set.  It would make a great gift for Christmas.

Disclaimer:  I am not affiliated with Beulah Enterprises in any way and will not receive any compensation for this review.  Just sharing another one of my "favorite finds!" 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A great resource for tracking homeschool lesson plans

While we're on the subject of homeschooling, I wanted to mention a free resource that I've been using this year to help me track our lesson plans, completion dates, etc.  It's called Homeschool Skedtrack.

In the past, I wrote our daily and weekly lesson plans on a tracking sheet that I created in my computer.  The problem with the paper method is that it is rather inflexible.  For example, if my daughter didn't complete a phonics lesson on Tuesday, I had to rewrite the phonics lesson plan for the rest of the week to ensure that the missed lesson was completed.

Homeschool Skedtrack is an online lesson planner that has more flexibility than a paper planner. If we don't get to a certain subject in any day, that day's lesson will be moved to the next day or whenever we are scheduled to cover that subject again.  For example, if we cover Map Skills on Tuesday and Wednesday, but we don't do Tuesday's scheduled lesson, that lesson will automatically move to Wednesday and be on our schedule the next day.  No more erasing and re-doing lesson plans! 

Homeschool Skedtrack is easy to use once you understand how to plan lessons in sequences (rather than planning by days).  You determine how many days you will do school in a given year (which can start at any time during the year), in addition to dates you will be off for holidays, vacations, field trips, etc. 

I took my Seton and Kolbe lesson plans and wrote them sequentially in Homeschool Skedtrack.  This can be a rather overwhelming chore!  So I started by writing just a week's lesson plans.  This also gave me the opportunity to see if the program would work for us.  I'm now writing about three weeks' worth of lesson plans into Homeschool Skedtrack, which isn't too overwhelming (I can sometimes complete it while my daughter is doing her independent school work). Eventually, I hope to put a quarter's worth of work in the program.

After the plans are inputted into the program, you simply go to the "Today" tab under the Schedule and see your child's list of assignments for the day.  As your child completes each assignment, he can check them off in the online planner. At the end of the day you can approve all finished work.  Unfinished work will be rolled over to the next scheduled day for that lesson.

Here's a screen shot of the "Today" page:

Best of all, the program is free!  It is supported by user donations and a few ads on the left and right columns of the page. 

I've used the program since August and have been very happy with it. If you're looking for an online homeschool scheduler and tracker, you can check it out here

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Homeschool Curriculum Review, part 2

Note: this is the second in a two part article reviewing the homeschooling material I'm using this year.  For part one, click here.

We cover basic subjects (like reading, spelling, phonics and math) everyday.  We also mix in several other subjects at least once or twice a week.

I find that my daughter can only do school for about 3.5 hours (which includes short snack and exercise breaks) before she really can't handle any other school work.  We usually finish by lunch time.  Sometimes, if we haven't finished all our subjects, I try to extend past lunch but she really isn't focused in the afternoon and gets easily frustrated. So for now, we're ending at lunch time (about 11:30 or noon).  I hope to gradually extend into the afternoon, at least to do some fun hands-on projects.

We're using Seton's English 2, which covers subjects such as using the dictionary, ABC order, writing different types of sentences (like commanding and asking sentences), punctuation and more.  I originally started the year by doing English five days per year, as suggested in the Seton lesson plan.  But since she's been so enthusiastic about learning phonics, I decided to cut back on English for right now so we can reinforce phonics.  So we do English once or twice a week.  I like the fact that Seton's book includes poems and stories about saints, although some of them are rather challenging for my daughter.  Hoping this will get easier as she progresses in phonics.

We generally do handwriting two times a week.  I'm using Seton's Handwriting 2 course, but we skipped most of the printing practice in the front of the book and went to cursive writing.  I did this for two reasons: 1) my daughter already prints very nicely (one of the areas she excels in!); 2) since last summer, she's been trying to copy words written in cursive and has been asking to learn how to write cursive.  I don't have a strong opinion either way on this handwriting program.  It's a basic "copy the letter formation" program that seems to get the job done.

I used Handwriting Without Tears to teach her manuscript writing, and she really liked all the songs and manipulatives in that program, so I would recommend that program to kids who aren't interested in doing a lot of copywork in a workbook.

Map Skills 
I love teaching geography! When my son was in preschool and kindergarten, we spent a lot of time reading books about other countries and doing a variety of activities to learn about geography.  Unfortunately, I haven't been able to do that yet with my daughter.  So I was delighted when I saw that Kolbe's second grade lesson plan includes Continental Press' Map Skills C.  The workbook includes lessons on understanding map keys, compass directions, distinguishing between different types of maps (e.g., political and physical maps) and more.

It recommends memorizing the state and capital city names, which are slowly doing with a couple of coloring books I picked up from Target's Dollar Spot and our local Dollar Tree store.

I'll also supplement this by reading several picture books about the states, including Marjorie Priceman's How to Make a Cherry Pie and See the U.SA. and Jackson and Bud's Bumpy Ride: America's First Cross-Country Automobile Trip by Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff.

Last year we did a lapbook based on Priceman's How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World.  We may also do that for Cherry Pie, using some of the free printables found on the Homeschool Share website.

We're using Apologia's  Exploring Creation with Astronomy by Jeannie Fulbright.  I also purchased the Astronomy Notebooking Journal rather than using a 3-ring binder or blank spiral notebook.

The 176-page textbook helps elementary students define astronomy, learn about the planets, explore stars and galaxies and discover space travel.  We are doing it as a read-aloud, although stronger readers could probably read the text themselves with a little help from an adult.  The lessons include hands-on activities and experiments, too, like making a solar system with balloons and creating a pinhole viewing box with a cardboard box and aluminum foil.

I like the way Fulbright brings God into the subject of astronomy. For example, she includes chapters like "Why Did God Create the Universe?" and refers to the chapter of Genesis in the Bible. 

The notebook is very helpful, too.  It's a great place for a student to jot down notes or drawings.  For reluctant writers, there are plenty of creative frames and graphics to encourage a child to pick up a pencil and draw or write. There are also copywork pages where a student can print or cursive write a Bible verse.  My daughter enjoys the vocabulary crossword puzzles.  Each chapter includes a "What Do You Remember" page filled with review questions.

We are slowly working our way through this book.  Perhaps a bit too slowly for my liking!  It is mainly because we don't get to science until after lunch, and then my daughter has a hard time focusing on it. I may put the book aside and do it as a unit study in January/February.  If I do that, I'll build all of our subjects around the book.  For example, our spelling words would be astronomy terms or planet names, our copywork would be taken from the journal, our read-aloud would be the textbook and other picture books on the planets, our math work would include using planet shaped manipulatives, etc.  I'm still toying with this idea since we seem to do science best when we integrate it into all of our subjects.

Throughout the summer, I was researching a history program that would integrate Catholic church history with world history. I was intrigued when I read about Connecting with History on Cathy Duffy's Review website, so I ordered the Volume I of the program.  I like the fact that the program is implemented over four years, spanning history from creation to modern times.  I also like the fact that it can be adapted to various ages. In Volume I, we're studying creation through 63 B.C. and learning about the Israelites, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece and Rome. It also fits nicely with what my son is learning at his Catholic school this year, and ties in with the salvation history lessons I teach as part of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program.

The syllabus is full of ideas on how to implement the program, additional projects, etc.  I like the fact that we also utilize a variety of multimedia resources, including CDs of Old Testament stories, paper dolls of historical figures, etc. The only downfall is that I really was looking for a program that would lay out the readings, projects, etc. on a day-by-day basis.  This program is really for those who want to do the scheduling themselves. In the past, I've preferred programs that allow me to set the learning agenda, but this year I don't have the time to do it.  So unfortunately, the program hasn't been used as much as I would like.  I may make it a theme unit and work exclusively on it for several months this winter, using their suggestions for copywork, vocabulary, etc.   It is a great program, but one has to plan some time to work out the schedule.

Faith and Religion
We go to Mass on Fridays and do an hour of adoration on Tuesdays.  I also plan to periodically doing short studies on the saints, but decided not to do an actual religion textbook every day since so much of Seton and Kolbe's materials incorporate our Catholic faith.  However, since I am teaching catechism, my daughter attends class with me every Wednesday after. The parish uses RCL Benziger's Blest Are We program.   Truthfully, I'm not much of a "workbook/textbook" person, especially when it comes to teaching children about our faith.  So  I'm following it rather loosely, instead trying to emphasize some of the basics of our faith while incorporating alot of the hands on materials from the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program.

I'll be sharing some of the things we are doing on this blog throughout the year.  Many can be used either at home, with a homeschool co-op, or in a catechism class.

So, that's our curriculum this year, subject to many adaptations as we go along!

I'm also trying to make Friday a "fun day" to work on Girl Scout Try-Its, art appreciation, drawing, music appreciation.  So far, I haven't been very good at this, as we usually attend Mass on Friday mornings (with my son's school) and then I try to do a few errands (like grocery shopping) which I have been putting off all week.  Also, if she's had a rough day during the week and we haven't finished everything, I try to add it in on Friday.