Saturday, May 20, 2017

Curriculum Review: 1st Grade

This will be short, because the point of 1st grade is to nurture and create a thirst for learning. So Evie has very little formal learning but a lot of saturation by being around her older siblings as they learn. She participates in science experiments and history with them. I notice her listening comprehension most; she will say things like, "At first the main character of the story was.... but now it seems to have changed to....." She will be fun to teach as she grows older. I didn't do any formal handwriting instruction this year, which  may have been a mistake. She gets bored of making letters and I didn't want to discourage her; but I am going to have her do that next year so she makes them correctly.

Reading - We started the year with the Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading and I quickly assessed Evie wasn't ready to read. We hit the pause button and around the beginning of the year I had her do a quick online Reading program (Reading Eggs) just to jump start her interest. We took up the Ordinary Parent's Guide again in the spring and she has made a lot of progress. I think I detect interest and comprehension and that we will go quickly in the fall. I love the way this book is short and easy, teaching reading phonetically while also working right off with those "disobedient words." (4 days/wk)

Math - Evie loves math and Horizons was her favorite thing to do every day. Interestingly, the first thing she learned to read were written numbers.
She has mastered addition and subtraction into the 100s place and even learned to carry. (5 days/wk)

Grammar - First Language Lessons is quick, easy, but solid instruction. I have used it for all three kids. We take about 10 or 15 minutes on a lesson. There are great poems to learn throughout the book and Evie loves this part and learns well. (3 days/wk)

Art - Evie finished up Joseph, the Canada Goose this year. This is a step-by-step drawing guide that follows the story of the an elderly man befriending an injured goose. I appreciated that it included the very simple, imperfect art work of other children as an encouragement, even as it taught drawing and some color technique. Evie does a lot of coloring, cutting, pasting, and drawing on her own. (1 day/wk)

Logic- I worked through the Mindbenders verbal book with Evie. She has done a lot of Mindbenders puzzles in the past and really enjoys them. (1 day/wk)

Curriculum Review: 4th grade

I remember a college prof of mine telling me he never taught a course the same way twice. Every year, he discovered something he needed to tweak, and every course had a different mix of people with different abilities and learning styles.

So it is with my children. Kyrie learns differently, loves different things, and I have had to rethink how I do things to maximize her learning enjoyment. She is far more independent and likes to control her schedule.

These are the tools we used this year.

Bible-- God's Great Covenant New Testament 2 focuses on the book of Acts and the Missionary Journeys of Paul.  This is the final offering in this series and we have enjoyed all of them. I skipped the teacher's guide which I didn't find necessary. Kyrie was required to complete worksheet pages and take quizzes for the first time this year. These are challenging, and while she struggled, she learned a lot and it allowed her to become comfortable with a variety of testing methods (e.g. true/false, matching, short answer).  We spent several days a week on this together (1st, 4th, and 7th grade) reading Scripture and the chapter, and learning memory verses.  (5 days/wk)

History/Humanities/Literature-- Story of the World Vol. 3 is so much more than history and we use it to guide our reading, literature, and do some art and cooking projects from the activity book. I have no idea why anyone would use this as a stand-alone without the activity book which is what makes the series what it is. The reading lists alone make it worthwhile. It is so adaptable for multi-level use. We do a lot of reading together but Kyrie likes independent reading enough that she read a lot of the literature recommendations on her own. (4-5 days/wk)

Math --Horizons is a strong math curriculum that typically runs nearly a grade ahead. Having said that, its best years are 1-3 and 7th and 8th (I hope). The first half of the 4th grade curriculum is largely a review of 3rd grade, and then the last half picks up again. Kyrie wanted to stick with Horizons and the colorful and consistent format really appeals to both of us. It was a good choice for her; I think the review only strengthened her abilities in math and solidified some things she needed more time with. I thought the long division would kill us both, but we survived. The spiral method is essential to her learning and she enjoys the puzzles more than Ben did. (5 days/wk)

Grammar-- The strength of Language Lessons becomes more and more apparent when we reach the end and I struggle to find a new Grammar course. Without being busy, LL covers the topic masterfully, following a spiral method to review key concepts. The teacher's guide gives all the help and there is no prep involved. We get our books and do the days work in about 20 minutes. It only goes through 4th grade and I am sad. (3 days/wk)

Spelling/Handwriting-- Kyrie's handwriting is nice and she works at it on her own so I skipped any formal instruction and just had her use cursive in her spelling book. She excels at spelling and it involves independent work so she completed two books (Spelling Workout D & E). These are workbooks but offer a list of words for each lesson with exercises that develop both spelling and comprehension, with a small bit of writing. A lesson could be stretched out over a week. (2 days/wk)

Writing & Rhetoric--  This writing program is engaging, but challenging, and I was thrilled at how Kyrie embraced it and excelled. I had only planned for her to finish the book we started last year (Fable), and complete one more book (Narrative I); however, she loved it so so much, she ended up finishing Narrative II as well. She loves to write, and this forces her to speak as well as write. This series encourages reflection upon what makes good writing, exercises to encourage comprehension, and writing exercises that help a young writer think through better word choices, summarizing, elaborating on, and other valuable tools. It also teaches how to outline.  (3 days/wk)

Science-- Kyrie participates in the experiments and labs from Ben's Real Science 4 Kids courses. They are designed for middle school (they do offer elementary) so I don't have her take quizzes and do the research; however, the text is colorful and engaging and she participates in that with us. (1 or 2 days/wk)

Spanish--We started the year with Classical Academic Press's Spanish for Children Primer B and mid-year had to make a change. I don't abandon a program easily. When we started, Kyrie was excited to learn Spanish. And she worked hard last year and did well with Primer A. We were not very far in to this book, when the grammar was well beyond what I had in two years of college Spanish. The teacher was engaging and humorous, but we were a little lost and exhausted. I switched mid-year to my old Conversational Spanish text that I used in high school. We had a lot more fun with that. I opted to end Spanish in March so we could finish strong in other subjects. (4 days/wk)

Logic--Mindbenders is a great series that helps develop logical thinking. We have used the books and this time used the software for a change of pace. (1 day/wk)

Art--Kyrie started Little Annie's Art Book of Etiquette and Good Manners last year. It is a little young for her, ideal for K-2nd, but she enjoys learning proper etiquette and then drawing related to the lesson.  (1 day/wk)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Curriculum Review: 7th Grade

As I plan the coming academic year, I'm encouraged to see that it looks like coasting after this year. I think we made it intact, but we did end a course early. Even though I write these up, I work closely with Ben. If the student is not engaged, they won't retain as much, and so we have already talked about what worked and what didn't and planned next year.

Bible-- God's Great Covenant New Testament 2 by Classical Academic Press. This is the final offering in this series and we have enjoyed all of them. This year I skipped the teacher's guide which I found overkill. It made me work harder because I had to find the answers to worksheet questions; however, the quizzes and answers came in a download. As in the previous books, this focuses on what is in Scripture and avoids a lot of controversy. The focus in New Testament 2 is on the book of Acts and the Missionary Journeys of Paul. We spent several days a week on this together (1st, 4th, and 7th grade) reading Scripture and the chapter, and learning memory verses. Each lesson has a worksheet, and then a quiz. (5 days/wk)

History/Humanities/Literature-- Story of the World Vol. 3 by Well Trained Mind Press. This is so much more than history and we use it to guide our reading, literature, and do some art and cooking projects from the activity book. I have no idea why anyone would use this as a stand-alone without the activity book which is what makes the series what it is. The reading lists alone make it worthwhile. It is so adaptable for multi-level use. In 7th grade, Ben is doing more independent writing so he summarizes each section in written form. He did more independent reading this year and will do even more next year. Again, the resources of a blogger including these notebooking pages and timeline cards were very useful. This year, the timeline cards went on our world map instead of in a line and we identified them with a place. (4-5 days/wk)

Math-- We went with Horizons Pre-Algebra and it was a good choice. Perhaps my favorite aspect of this text is that each chapter (not lesson) introduces a new person who uses math in their line of work, from a HVAC tech to a youth pastor. Each of the story problems for that chapter will solve problems they would encounter in their job. The Teacher's Guide provided helpful instructions as to what should happen in a teaching day and instructions for the student. It does assume that a knowledgeable instructor is doing the teaching. This is a rigorous text; math-challenged students would probably be lost or have to spend a lot of time on the subject. It involves Algebra and Geometry; we are well into graphing flips and transformations. For the first time, I had Ben use the optional worksheets and introduced him to the concept of "homework." I am officially in over my head. I did more prep this year to assure I knew how to solve these problems myself. (5 days/wk)

Grammar--We used Rod & Staff again. This is a challenging, rigid, grammar program. It works well for someone like Ben who likes structure, understands difficult concepts quickly, and is happy to work with me. I couldn't recommend it for a student who wants to work through grammar independently. I assess his understanding as we read through the lesson and then we do the class exercises orally. If he understands the concept, we skip the written exercises. There are worksheets for select lessons and he does those. The world view is a bit legalistic at times and there is an emphasis on archaic language, that we often discuss. This is a busy program; so if you have trouble skipping some material and exercises, it might drive you over the edge. (4 days/wk)

Writing & Rhetoric--I continue to love Classical Academic Press's Writing & Rhetoric series. Creative and rigorous, Ben has thrived in this series. He finished up the Commonplace book that he started last year and started working on the Encomium & Vituperation course. This taught him to write an essay of praise or disapproval. The final capstone on the year is the careful process of writing his first research paper. (3 days/wk)

Spelling & Handwriting--Ben worked through Spelling Workout G. I have given up on a formal handwriting program with him and this program allowed me to require that he write his spelling words in cursive. It was something. I loved the way this built on where certain words come from and focused on categories. (E.g. words that are Latin derivatives, words from Music, etc....). This was a challenge for Ben this year and I watched him looking up words whose meanings he wasn't sure of. While you could stretch each of the 36 lessons over a week, we found he could do a lesson in one day a week. It was a challenging and he learned a lot. (1 day/wk)

Science--Real Science 4 Kids has made me enjoy teaching science.
We used the Focus on Study Bundle and finished Astronomy from last year and completed Chemistry. I appreciate the interesting, colorful text, and the lab book that has manageable experiments while clearly teaching the scientific process. All grades were involved in star-gazing and chemistry labs. Ben made a folder in which he found and compiled information on each lesson that he could study from for quizzes and tests and there is an assortment of interdisciplinary suggestions for additional research. (2 days/wk)

Spanish--We started the year with great intentions. We used Classical Academic Press's Spanish for Children Primer B and mid-year had to make a change. I don't abandon a program easily. When we started, Kyrie was excited to learn Spanish. And she worked hard last year and did well with Primer A. Ben was never as enthusiastic, but he was learning. We were not very far in to this book, when the grammar was well beyond what I had in two years of college Spanish. The teacher was engaging and humorous, but we were all a little lost and exhausted. (I actually would love to do this program again personally; it picked up where I left off and I was ready.) I switched mid-year to my old Conversational Spanish text that I used in high school. We had a lot more fun with that. I opted to end Spanish in March so we could finish strong in other subjects. (4 days/wk)

Logic--Once again, this topic is so fascinating to us as parents that we made it a night course so we could be involved. Our text was the Argument Builder which is the follow-up text to the Art of Argument. These could easily be taught as a semester course and done the same year, but worked well for us to do as a group one day a week with Ben doing writing and responses another day. I thought it was some tough stuff for a 7th grader; Ben ate it up and did well. For most, it would be better in 8th grade, or even early 9th. This is just a text and teacher's guide without the DVD option. It can be taken online which Ben would have enjoyed. We are glad he did it with us. (2 days/week)

Art/Music--Our music education was minimal this year and next year I am determined to have Ben take piano again. We did make it the Detroit Youth Symphony. Ben continued with the Feed My Sheep, which is a 4-year curriculum. Even though the fonts are a little outdated, this is good instruction that teaches various principles of drawing, but encourages creativity. I was impressed with what he learned this year. (1 day/wk)

Friday, March 31, 2017

All You Taught Me

Michigan, Sept 2016

A couple of years ago I went to visit my grandma. We had so many good conversations in her little room at my aunt and uncle's house in Walla Walla. In this one, she told me, "One day my heart is going to give out and I'll be gone just like that. And you will be fine."  And while at other times she was more anxious and afraid she would have a long painful death, this ended up being prophetic. And I keep reminding myself that all is well with my soul. I am fine. But I will miss her so.

My Grandma Bigger was not a playing grandma. My cousins and I can't remember her playing a game, and certainly not dolls. She had apparently been quite the athlete in her youth, playing basketball among other things, but by the time we came on the scene, she preferred reading, crocheting, embroidery, and watching television. She loved the quiet. She was an avid sports fan, climbing the stands to watch the Seahawks in her 90s, following the Seattle Mariners.

Mackinac Island Ferry, Sept 2016
She didn't force anything on anyone. So you had to ask her questions about her life, you had to ask her what she thought. And oh, then the gems that she produced.

When I called to her just a month ago, she thanked me so much for calling. I told her it always made me feel better to talk with her, that she helped me with life. She sounded like she had a catch in her throat. "It DOES?" She was incredulous. And it did. Every time. She gave me courage and perspective.

When I was feeling overwhelmed by potty-training my child, I shared that it was not going well. She encouraged me by saying she wished she hadn't been so hard on one of her children. Oh, she had so many regrets about how she had pushed him. "But I had to break the ice in the creek to wash his diapers," she added. Wow! That changed my perspective ENTIRELY. I also haven't complained about laundry ever since.

Mackinac Island with my dad, Sept 2016
She took the time to counsel me to "punish" less, telling me she wished she hadn't been so hard on her kids. She saw in me the need to have "control" and told me when she looked back, she didn't think she would have done any harm if she had punished less, and just loved them. (She wasn't at all opposed to discipline in the right frame of mind and for the right reasons.)

Once when I was hating my life in a gray, rainy, depressing climate and complained about it, she told me she had lived there too. And hated it just as much. It was there the Red Cross came to her door and told her they thought my grandpa was dying. She was a young mother and he was on a military base, in training to go fight World War II and had contracted pneumonia. She remembered they told her to find a neighbor to watch her child so she could go say "good-bye." My grandpa pulled through. I decided that my life was really NOT that bad. It was just weather.

I asked her about what it was like to live through the Depression and she told me how her family spent one winter of the Depression living in a tent in the snow in Yakima, Washington. She only remembered eating the wild plums that grew at the edge of the field and said she didn't like plums to that day. That story helped me appreciate what I have never had to do without.

Once when I was preparing for a trip to Los Cabos, Mexico, I called her and asked her if she had been there. I knew she had been to Mexico, having seen pictures of boating trips off Mazatlan. She chuckled when I asked. "Oh yes, I was there twice." And then, what she would say to me often, "I really have had such an amazing life." And she did. And so do I. Getting to see the world, and even better, seeing it with someone you love, is amazing.
Cruising through the Panama Canal

As she grew older, I became more and more aware of her anxious nature and the courage it took for her to do many things. Every trip she took over the last ten years, she wasn't sure she could go on.  She was worried about so many things and yet, she bravely got on planes to Washington D.C., to Michigan, to Ireland. Over and over, she kept going. Even at the end, she got in the car and left "safe" to see something new. As my battles with anxiety escalated over the last few years, I have claimed her spirit time and time again. I have set foot on the plane, stood in the line, and boarded the train. When my nerves kick in, I have often had to remind myself, "If your 90-something grandmother can do this, you certainly can."

But the most important thing Grandma taught me was LOVE. When you married into the Bigger family, you became a Bigger. In-laws weren't outsiders; they were loved and cherished as beloved children, and grandchildren. All of their in-laws called them "Mom" and "Dad" and it wasn't forced. They were loved. 

She was a strong wife to my grandfather. She gave him structure and strength; he made her life fun and adventurous. She loved rules; he loved to bend those rules. But they loved and respected each other and created a legacy together. They modeled and promoted what they believed it. So no, they didn't push me on the swings or go down the slide. But I will never forget the time they took me to ice cream after observing me do something unselfish for others. I won't forget that they came to my baptism, my graduations, and applauded my hard work. I treasure a letter my grandmother penned to me on September 11, as soon as she learned I was far from my Virginia home and safe. And just a few weeks ago, she dialed my number to say thank you for her birthday flowers. It was our last call. She was grateful then. I will be grateful forever.

Garnet Clarice McCoy Bigger, March 4, 1921-March 22, 2017

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Stepping Out

I love New Year's resolutions. Or at least, I use to. At some point, I hit that realization that I made the same resolutions every single year and I was still carrying extra weight, still impatient, and still couldn't seem to focus in prayer.

When I was younger I used to think that midlife crises were the result of people realizing they weren't "young" anymore, and despairing at extra weight, the loss of hair, or some physical attribute that reminded them that their bodies were in decline heading toward that surety-death.

And while my aching back and neck, and my declining eyesight certainly are not things I'm celebrating, I'm realizing that midlife despair is more about realizing that all the things we were going to change about ourselves, those pesky bad habits, our "sins of personality" are still with us. This process of sanctification is slow going; is it even happening at all?

Even worse, some of the things that were more contained when younger, are not so easily contained. Anxiety, for instance, that I've struggled with since I was a child, has only become more evident to the outside world as I have aged and witnessed more of life to be anxious about.

So I started the year of our Lord 2017 with a kind of discouragement that I was still short-tempered and impatient, and I was still prone to second helpings and a secret stash of chocolate and thus carrying extra pounds, and that I still can't seem to focus well when I need to pray.

Only self-defeat is not really helpful. I'm always ruminating on life, always have an internal conversation happening about my short-comings and the lamentable situation of the entire fallen world and what would make a difference if it changed. Oh, and my husband and my dearest friends know these musings often go external when given a chance. (Sorry!)

Now we are into February and I have realized a couple of happy things. One is that while I've always approached exercise as this thing I should do to be thin (and it has NEVER made me thin, even when I was disciplined), I recently realized (because I'm getting old) that the goal of exercise is to help me be strong, and to keep the instrument I live in, running. Sadly, it also makes me really sore now, and I wish I had realized this when I was younger when it didn't hurt so much, but it is something. So in the last year I have finally made regular exercise, part of my life.

But more importantly, I tackled a psychological hurdle I have faced for 20 years. I started walking, alone, in my neighborhood, again. Something so simple has given me joy and a breathing space, and the capacity to pray in a new way.

Twenty years ago I was living in a part of Portland with a sketchy reputation. My cousin had just been murdered and I was dealing with all kinds of grief and anxiety there. I have always loved walking and exploring and that hadn't changed. But one day I went for a walk in my neighborhood just as the police swooped in on a drug-ring in a nearby apartment complex. It was somehow too much for me, and as much as I tried walking over the next 20 years, I always imagined predators behind the curtains of houses and couldn't do it without a racing heart and a quickened pace. Eventually I quit trying to take walks.

Two summers ago, I borrowed my mom's bike a few times and went riding in my neighborhood. It was something. I also went out walking on summer evenings with Mike.

Consciously, I wasn't really thinking about this thing I didn't do, and the reasons for it. But it started coming back to me, that I had once loved to take a walk, and that it was healing balm for me in the stress of a normal day.

This last August, I set out one morning. I took a short walk on a route I had been taking with Mike in the evening. And I just kept going. Nearly every day, except when I tried to go out one morning when it was 28 degrees and decided to set a personal limit of 32 degrees as my threshold.

I have found walking helps me with my anxiety-prone thoughts. It helps me with prayer. It helps me physically, mentally, spiritually to face life with joy and confidence.

And finally, it is something I didn't let beat me down. I tackled my fear, and won. be continued...

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Goodbye 2016

On board the USS Midway

The perfection of Jesus’s divinity was expressed in the perfection of his humanity, and vice versa. He was God because he was so sublimely a man, and Man because, in all his sayings and doings, in the grace of his person and words, in the love and compassion that shone out of him, he walked so closely with God. As Man alone, Jesus could not have saved us; as God alone, he would not; Incarnate, he could and did. ~Malcolm Muggeridge 

Our Christmas cards went out in the mail already, but the year wouldn’t be complete without a letter. The week after Christmas is the perfect time to complete it. Or, rather, procrastinators feel compelled by the new year to act.

We mark our years by the places we visit and the people we see; 2016 was no different.

Mike’s year started off at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., to watch the arguments in a First Amendment case called Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. The organization he works for, the Mackinac Center, had performed a supporting role in the litigation. The Supreme Court only holds about 150 people at a time; even lawyers admitted to the court must queue up at 5 a.m. to be guaranteed a seat. Tip: when standing in line for four hours in January, bring comfortable shoes, handwarmers, energy bars and a newspaper to read.

Then we were all off to sunny southern California for a mid-winter vacation. We saw the USS Midway in San Diego, Lego Land, SeaWorld, Disney Land and the Reagan Library. More importantly, we played at the beach in January. Rachelle’s parents joined us and we visited Rachelle’s brother Mark in Bakersfield (our first time visiting him since he moved to California 10 years ago). A brutal (by local standards) snow storm of ½ inch nearly kept us from getting to the airport for our departure.

In March, we trekked to Walla Walla, Washington, for Grandma Bigger’s 95th birthday and saw many aunts, uncles and cousins.

In May, we drove to Boston for two days of sightseeing and then over to New Hampshire for what was, perhaps, The Happiest Wedding Ever, featuring Rachelle’s last roommate Lindsay Jones and Ben Hansen. At the end of the month Mike and Rachelle’s dad, Rick, met Mark in Indianapolis for the bucket-list experience of attending the Indy 500. Later in June Lindsay’s parents Phil and Bev Jones stopped by during a post-wedding road trip. We were still exulting on the Happiest Wedding Ever.
Amy, Janet, Rachelle in Connemara

July found Rachelle joining soul friends Amy and Janet for a seven-day visit to Ireland. Amy lives in Olympia, WA, and Janet lives in Melbourne, Australia. So, Rachelle had the easiest trip, and still managed to get a travel virus and spend three days feeling miserable. She perked up in the invigorating sea air on a ferry ride to Inis Oirr, an island off the Galway Coast. It was cold, rainy, and gusty with some big waves. Her Viking stomach returned as she watched her fellow passengers not feeling quite as well. Despite a chilly, rainy, summer in Ireland and not feeling great, it was a great trip with good friends. Highlights: Slieve League in Donegal Co., Marble Arch Caves (in N. Ireland immediately after Brexit—interesting stuff!), the Guinness Factory Tour, music and Irish dancing in Galway, and the Cliffs of Moher—breathtaking!

Cesky Krumlov

Then in August Mike took a work/study trip to the Czech Republic, spending most of a week in Prague. The people there are courageous, having thrown off Nazi and Communist occupations in the space of forty years.

Grandma Bigger & Dad Bigger on Mackinac Isl.
In September Rachelle’s Uncle Darold and Aunt Barbara traveled with Grandma Bigger to see our adopted home of Michigan. We rented a house up north, hiked, ate, golfed and rode around Mackinac Island. (Some of us on bikes, others on motorized wheelchairs.) 

Aunt Barbara, Grandma, Uncle Darold
Parents sometimes need time away from kids, which is what we did with Mike’s brother Matt and his wife Vanessa in October for a weekend trip to New York City – our first time there together in more than 10 years. We walked (a lot), visited museums (MoMA and the Guggenheim), watched a play (Something Rotten) and took in the 9/11 Memorial & Museum.

This holiday season we were able to spend time with both sides of our immediate families, with a Reitz gathering in West Virginia and a Bigger gathering back in Michigan.

Ben (12) has taken up fencing. He continues to write adventure stories and has acquired a respectable Nerf arsenal. Kyrie (10) is our Irish dancer and Party Planner-in-Chief. Evie (7) is our gymnast and humorist.

Looking back over the year, we are deeply grateful for the gifts of friendship and prayer. Merry Christmas and a blessed new year!

Mike, Rachelle, Ben, Kyrie and Evie