Our spring break week (or monthly week off, whatever you want to call it) and handling boredom

As I have mentioned before in an earlier post, since Christmas, we went back to taking one week per month off from school. It works out nicely for us to take our break this week. The spring break for the local schools would have been a rotten week for us to take a break anyway, as we all fell like dominos to a bothersome cold that week. If you are stuck at home, why not muscle through some schoolwork with a little help from Mucinex and Kleenex, right?

This week, we have birthday celebrating, a doctor’s appointment, errands, and lesson planning on the calendar, along with our regular afterschool activities. But no lessons. An believe it or not, this is not always a great thing. My kids might get all excited that its an “off week”, enjoy the unlimited play time for maybe one day, and then they miss the structure, the schedule, the routine. What do they do when left to their own devices to fill the day? Well, simply put, that is not my problem.

If one of them (usually the six year old, who has not learned the lesson about how mom feels about boredom yet) whines “I’m boooooored”, they usually get the raised eyebrow. I have stuff to do. Half the time, it is stuff involving lesson prep for the next month. So, I offer ideas:

Build something with blocks, legos, or make a marble run, etc.

Read a book or poetry

Write a letter to one of your pen pals

Write a story

Plan with your siblings

Go outside, maybe care for the garden or ride your bike

Organize something

Play a game or do a puzzle

OR I can give you a CHORE to do, I have a whole list ready…

Usually, they decide to pick their own activity and quickly leave the room before I change my mind and start assigning jobs for them to do. Anything involving screen time is not a boredom option. Screen time is a “Momma’s last resort” option. Boredom is great for kids. It forces them to be creative, use their hands and brains.Children need unstructured time to be children.  Is that not one of the great reasons to homeschool, to give them an opportunity to be bored every once in a while?

 

Homeschooling Austism: Social-emotional learning

My ten-year old is a petite, loving, social, creative, extremely intelligent child (I am not biased, of course, ha!) who happens to have high functioning autism. Homeschooling allows her to have a caring instructor (me) who is deeply committed to a rich education while trying to help her to grow her ability to handle strong emotions, sensory overloads and times when life does not go as planned, her Achilles’ heel. However, there have been some occurrences this past year which have brought social-emotional learning strategies to a new priority level.

This week, I added a few activities to our day to focus on social-emotional learning. First, we took a mid-morning break at 10:30am with www.GoNoodle.com for a couple of movement videos, then a couple of yoga videos, then a rainbow breathing video. (All four of us appreciate the videos are only a few minutes long so we can work a lot of variety into our break. The girls also take turns choosing the videos to grow their avatars, so I appreciate the ease in which we can switch between their accounts from the pull down menu.)

After the rainbow breathing, while everyone was calm and focused, we watched a cognitive behavior therapy video on controlling negative thoughts, via Youtube. The video, found here, is very simple, with no bells and whistles, however gets the message to children in simple language that they can easily understand about “poison” and “anecdote” thoughts. The producer of the video, Joel Shaul, has a website, AutismTeachingStrategies.com, with numerous printables available for FREE for working with children on the spectrum. I printed the “poison” and “anecdote” thought bubbles activity that correlates with the video.. We only did about six of them today, but they loved it. We will eventually do the whole set, as well as watch the rest of the series of eight videos, and do the correlating activities at our pace. The videos and materials are especially geared toward kids with ASD, however I find the material applicable for any child (or adult for that matter). Mr. Shaul is also the author of several books for children with autism and a game called Ryuu, which is described in this Youtube video, and is available for purchase at The World of Ryuu.

Ryuu is a card game about dragons, similar to a trading game like Pokemon. The six dragons move through four levels of evolution from eggs to mature dragons, hindered by dark forces such as black and white thinking and inflexibility, and helped by light forces such as gray thinking and flexibility, respectively. We finished our social-emotional learning lesson, I mean mid-morning break, by reading from the CD-ROM that came with the game about the Land of Ryuu (Ryuu means “dragon” in Japanese) and one of the dragon’s stories. The dragon’s back-stories are written to be relatable by a child. The kids loved it. We examined each of the dragons cards today. Next “session” we will further explore the Land of Ryuu and stories of other dragons, as well as start exploring the light and dark forces that will shape their evolution (maturing). I am not going to lie, this was not an easy decision to buy this. I do not usually plunk down $60 for a game. However, I felt this would be more like a curriculum for us than just a game, and indeed it is. I also had the girls watch the Youtube video for children about the Ryuu game to make sure this is something they would be interested in. Plus, the game came with 2 decks of cards, so thinking we will keep one for play and use the other as a “reward” deck so the girls can earn their own cards for trading. Because this game is created for children, it is relatable to how ALL children feel sometimes, not just kids with ASD, I would recommend it to anyone who has a child who seems to struggle with social skills.

 

Taking a week off

We all need regular breaks, both homeschooling kids and homeschooling moms. The first two years of homeschooling, we started in July and went through the end of May, taking a one week break each month, with a longer break for Christmas and all of June off. Those breaks were essential to planning and preparation of all our homeschooling lessons, but also for appointments and just time to take care of “stuff.”

This year, we started in August with the intent of taking a one week break every six weeks. It sounded great in my head, and seemed to work well on paper, and I felt pretty confident that I had reached a point where I did not need all those breaks. However, we ended up traveling during many of those breaks,making life all the more hectic for Momma. I no longer had a week each month set aside for household catch-ups. No week set aside for doctor and dental appointments. No time to plan and prepare the next months lessons in multiple subjects for three different grade levels. Most of this year has felt like I have been running up a down escalator. Overconfidence will get you every time.

Around Christmas, I realized my increasing frustration with our schedule was simply this: we needed our breaks back. So, starting in January, I worked a week off into every month. We are still finishing up our school year in late May, but with only 35 weeks of school this year instead of the usual 36.

But do you know what? In Texas, as a private education option, homeschoolers can plan their year to be as long, or as short, as we wish. In Texas, we also are not required to maintain or turn-in any sort of attendance records, however I do keep detailed attendance records of days of school, and our planned days off. And since we spend many of our “off time” of travel and vacations actually doing field trips to zoos, aquariums, museums, etc., I feel we actually end up with more educational days than public school classrooms, once time is removed that is normally spent on testing days and days spent doing practice tests. Therefore, I feel no guilt at all about that “lost” week, or my regained planning time.

Homeschooling is a rigorous form of education, for the educator as well as the students. We must take the responsibility of how we spend our time very seriously because we report to the worst critics of our kids’ education: ourselves. We decide what is best for our students, for our families. Planning and preparation are vital, as well as rest time away from the books. We cannot reach our destination without frequently consulting the map, and we cannot get there on an empty tank.

 

Friday Game Day

On Fridays, we take a break from our regular curriculum in spelling and math. In spelling, we play Spelling City games at www.spellingcity.com. The website has free and paid-premium options, however we have always just used the free games.

It is easy to add lists. In fact, at the beginning of the year, I just went through the entire All About Spelling book and made lists for each step (chapter) of the curriculum. Then, each week, it is easy to log in, select the step we just completed that week, and allow the girls to play whichever free games they wish.

In math, we set aside our Singapore books to read a chapter from Life of Fred, and do the problems at the end of each chapter.

After Fred, my 3rd and 4th graders play Speed, a multiplication card game. For my kinder kid, today we are trying Qwirkle, my latest find at our favorite consignment shop here in town.

We forgo our regular unit studies on Friday for geography. Today, after we review the northeast states and learn their capitals, we will play a round or two of Scrambled States of America.

Playing games is a fun way to add gifted/talented differentiation to our homeschool planning, and also work on social-emotional skills with my autism kiddo, such as turn taking, manners, and graceful winning/losing.

I found a new PE idea!

My first grader loves GoNoodle.com. She and her sisters are set up as separate “classes”, according to their grade levels. I have not been not crazy about it, feel it is more of a time waster than an academically important use of technology, but I think that is about to change. I discovered they have short exercise videos for kiddos on their Play Channel.

Now, we do NOT sit inside all day. We play outside, go to parks and playgrounds, and get exercise. However, when it is rainy out it is nice to have an alternative other than the mini-trampoline they already use to get the energy out throughout the day. I found two video sections that I think we will particularly enjoy: Zumba Kids and Fresh Start Fitness. The only problem I see is that our Internet seems a little slooooooooooooow loading the videos, but the girls seem interested already. I just love finding easy new ideas to work into PE.

School Day #137

IMG_5584Today is school day 137 of our first homeschool year. My pre-K daughter still has a little fever from the cold going through our house. My first grader is still coughing, but mainly over it. My poor second grader is coming down with it. And yet, we had school today.

We had calendar time and read about the history and traditions of St. Patrick’s Day, but took a break from practicing our Awana verses today, as there is no Awana this week due to spring break. We did our math assignment from Centre for Innovation in Mathematics Teaching and spelling practice from k12reader.com. Then, we took a break to paint our toenails green, read “That’s What Leprechauns Do” and make a leprechaun craft. We also played an estimation game with green jelly candies I found at Dollar General, that turned out to taste like toothpaste. This was the first day in history that all my children agreed with me to throw away the candy.

Today was our science day, so we finished our human body unit by reading about reproduction, growth and care of our bodies in DK’s “First Encyclopedia of the Human Body”. We colored, cut and pasted a uterus and ovaries from “My Body” onto our life sized body posters. Since we added a different body system every week, our posters are pretty impressive after all these weeks! We finished up playing a round of an older game I found used on ebay, the “Somebody Board Game”.

After lunch, my older girls wrote chapter two of their novels. We are using this great program I found for National Novel Writing November. It is taking longer than I thought it would though, so we are rushing to write the whole five chapters this week! The curriculum can be found here at NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month is actually in November, but we started in January. I told you it took us longer than I expected…

We also did our grammar lesson from First Language Lessons by Jessie Wise, read poetry and a literature selection from Ambleside Online, and the girls did their read-aloud assignment.

Apart from the juicy coughing and growing pile of used tissues, it was a pretty average day for us. Next week is our week off for the month, part of our year round calendar schedule. This post includes a decent sampling of the types of curricula we use and the basic flow of our day, however as any homeschooler can tell you, every day is different!