Monday, February 26, 2018

Mid-Year Homeschool Curriculum Update {Kindergarten}

I thought I would pop in quickly to do a little recap on how our Kindergarten year has been going so far! Which curriculum we are loving, and which ones are not at the top of our list. I get so many ideas from other homeschoolers, and I always enjoy sharing what is and isn't working for us, as well. 
We are more than mid-year right now. We actually only have a couple months left! We have been cruising right along, and even with a long Christmas/vacation/moving break in December and part of January, we are still making pretty good progress so right now I think we should be finished up end of April or early May sometime. 

Language Arts
For English this year, I really wanted to avoid having tons of different books/curriculum for spelling, reading, writing, grammar, etc. It seemed overwhelming to choose different curriculum for each of those things, so I was on the hunt for one inclusive curriculum that covered it all, and I found it! We have been using Logic of English Foundations A&B this year and loving it! Logic of English Foundations is so thorough and complete. My girls aren't just learning to read, they are learning WHY words are formed the way they are and learning all of the rules, so that when they are done with this curriculum, they won't have to guess at words, they will be able to read and spell accurately because they know why it is the way it is. I have a reading endorsement so a good start for reading was really important to me and I really feel like they are getting that with this curriculum. I love that this program teaches them ALL of the sounds that letters make, not just the initial or most common sound. This has really helped to eliminate confusion when they are sounding out words, and learning new spelling rules. Overall, I would highly recommend this curriculum. I think you can really go at your own pace, as well. If I use this with my boys in a few years, we will probably take it a lot slower, but since the girls knew a lot of the information from book A, we sped through it a little faster. You could do one book per year and divide each lesson up into 2 or even 3 lessons, or you could do 2 lessons a day and get through it even quicker. We do 1 lesson per day and we finished up book A right before our Christmas break, which was perfect for us. We will be done with book B in about 5-6 weeks, I believe. My plan for right now is to casually go through book C over the summer a few times per week (this would take us about 20-30 minutes per day, so it won't take away from our fun summer activities) so that we can start with book D in the fall. I also don't want them to stop right when they are getting the hang of reading and I would like to continue on with that momentum. I have read that D is really just tying everything together and solidifying it, so I am hoping we can speed through that within the first few months next year and then we will start on with a different curriculum. They should be at least at a 2nd grade reading level by the time they finish D which I think is awesome! But, I am getting carried away here. Back to the here and now. My girls enjoy this curriculum for the most part. Some parts can be repetitive, but it is the things that need to be. There are gobs of different games and activities and different types of lessons within the curriculum that really keeps it fresh and keeps us from getting bored with it. I'm so glad we found this curriculum! 

My math review isn't as positive as my LA review ;) We are using Math U See Primer. We don't love it. I really wanted to. So many of the homeschool blogs and YouTube channels I follow use and love it and it sounded like a great program, but I guess it just isn't a good fit for us. I've only just admitted this to myself in the last couple of weeks. I was trying hard to make it work and we were all frustrated. My poor oldest was just about in tears for a week straight with a particular math skill and that's when I finally thought 'hey, maybe it's the curriculum that's not working.' I can't pinpoint exactly what isn't working, I just know that it isn't. My girls haven't really used the blocks, which is a huge part of Math U See. It slows them down and seems pointless for them because they can figure most of the things out without them, so they just don't end up using them. Which has been fine with me, but they also haven't gotten a lot of practice using them which I think would be helpful if we were to continue on with the program in future years (which as of now I don't think we will be). The lessons are taught on a DVD and we do them once per week. I feel like they're not super thorough and they kind of drive me nuts because the kids in the background are all yelling out the answers and are just generally kind of annoying and distracting. I like that there is a lesson taught to them, but maybe I've relied on that too much and should have just ignored those and taught it myself. The teacher's manual has been completely pointless. I think I've opened it twice. Each day my girls will do 2 worksheets from the book, so for example on monday they do lesson 22 A and 22 B. Tuesday they would do 22 C and 22 D, etc. Each lesson has A-G. It is SUPER repetitive which I know is necessary for mastery, but the way they teach things doesn't always make sense and at this point I would rather the girls have some math facts memorized than rely on the blocks or counting to figure out simple addition problems like Math U See has them doing. Overall I give it a 'meh'. It's not terrible, it's not great and we probably won't use it again. I am kind of thinking about scrapping it for the rest of this year and getting some general math workbooks and working on learning to tell time and doing some money skills for our last few months. 

For Bible this year, we have been using Bible Study Guide For All Ages and we have really enjoyed it! I feel that it is theologically very sound, which I appreciate. It does not sugar coat certain Bible stories (i.e. Noah) but still teaches in a very age appropriate way. My girls have learned A TON from this program this year and I love that. I only ordered the first book (lessons 1-26) to start, because I wanted to make sure that it aligned with our doctrinal beliefs, etc. before investing in it, so after I was sure of that, we ordered 2 more sets. I think I will need one more to get through the rest of this year, which would put us around lesson 104 at the end of our year. We used the Beginner level this year and it has worked out very well. I will read the lesson on the backside of the page and for example, I'll say "box 1" then read it and it has things for the girls to do in it. For example, they look at box 1 and it is a picture of Pharaoh sitting on his throne and Moses asking him to let his people go. There might be a bubble with the word NO coming from Pharaoh, or something similar. So when I read it, it'll say 'trace the word NO with red.' It helps them to really take in the story because they are doing something with it.

 I like that a lot. The girls LOVE doing Bible every day. After we are finished with the lesson, we do a read aloud and they color the picture from that lesson on the front of the page, which they absolutely love. Overall, I would recommend this program. I am interested to see what the next levels are like. I like that every level teaches the same lesson, so that in a few years when I have kids at different levels, we can all do it together, but their activities are a little different. I am looking forward to that. I think next year, we may use a different curriculum, just to mix things up a bit, and then come back to this in a few years when they boys are starting school :) My only complaint is that the books are very flimsy. They are just glue bound and fall apart right away (I think they're meant to tear apart easily for Sunday School classes and such), so I have been getting them bound, which isn't a huge deal, just something to note. It's a very affordable option at $5.95 for 26 lessons and no teacher's manual. 

Unit Study
This year we've been doing a unit study on Oceans and ocean animals. We have kind of ebbed and flowed with it a lot. We are going through kind of a dry spell with it right now and haven't done much of it since the holidays. We need to get back into it. It has been fun to just go at our leisure, and learn about whatever sea creatures the girls want to. We've done a few fun experiments and activities with it, which I should do more of. It has been a breath of fresh air, and something that feels more like fun than school. We will keep at it for the next few months and then we are ending it with a big fun surprise for the girls when we go on vacation ;) 

Read Alouds
Read Aloud is the favorite part of our homeschool day for both girls. We have been trucking right through our read aloud list, and even done a few good ones off the list so far. 
We have read: 
Freckle Juice
Pippi Longstocking
James & The Giant Peach
A Bear Called Paddington
McBroom's Wonderful One Acre Farm
My Father's Dragon
Dr. Doolittle
Secret Mermaid: Seaside Adventure
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Left from our list are: 
Charlotte's Web (which we just started today!) 
The Bears on Hemlock Mountain
Mr. Popper's Penguins
Charlie & The Chocolate Factory
The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles (not sure if we'll do this one this year) 
Mary Poppins
Peter Pan
We are probably going to do Alice in Wonderland at some point, as well as a few others. 

Enrichment Classes
My oldest goes to enrichment classes one day a week through the local school district. On that day every week she gets art, music, P.E., science, history, lunch & recess. She has absolutely loved it and I really like how the program is run and all of the teachers. She has done tons of fun projects and learned so much. She has gotten to do pottery from beginning to end-molding the clay, painting and firing it in the kiln, grow grass, grow wheat, learn about the parts of a plant, she's rehearsing for a music performance, and so much more! Next year both girls will go together, which will be a lot of fun. I was hesitant about sending her, but I am so glad we decided to go ahead with it. We are really fortunate to have a lot of awesome homeschooling options in our area.

That's about it for this year! I am already starting to look into curriculum for next year and come up with a plan for our 1st grade year! This year has flown by. I am getting really excited to nail down our programs for next year and share those in a few months! 

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

New York City Getaway

My husband and I went on a little getaway to New York City right before Christmas! It was our first time being away from the girls for more than a night at the same time. We've really never gone away since we've had kids and the last big trip the 2 of us took was our honeymoon 9 years ago. It was time! I have always wanted to go to NYC. I'm not really sure why, but for as long as I can remember I've wanted to visit. We had talked about going for our honeymoon and spending NYE there, but we were broke college students then and NYE in NYC is insanely expensive. 
We decided this was the year to go. We had a lot to celebrate--my turning 30, and his almost turning 30, adopting 2 kids, buying a new house, a new job, paying off the last of our non-mortgage debt, and our 9 year anniversary. 
We left December 17, Sunday evening, and drove up to Chicago. We grabbed a late night meal at Denny's and headed to our hotel for a few hours of rest before an early wake time to catch our flight! 
Monday, the 18th, we caught an early flight and arrived in New Jersey just before lunch time.

 We grabbed a train into the city and arrived at Penn Station, then took a cab to our hotel from there. The hotel we stayed at was a couple blocks from Central Park, right on Broadway, and just a few blocks away from Times Square. So much was right there within a few block of us! 
We dropped our bags at the hotel and went walking in search of food. We kind of just started walking and finally ended up at Mom's for lunch. It was super yummy, and it felt really good to sit down and savor a meal after a long morning of traveling.

 After lunch, we kept walking and randomly ended up in Times Square. They had some cool stuff set up in prep for New Year's. The giant '18 was set up so they could switch out the '17 that was sitting up by the ball drop, and so we took our picture with that.

One really neat thing they had was this little booth where you can write a wish on a piece of tissue paper. Then on NYE when the ball drops, they drop the confetti with all of the wishes on it! That was fun.
After Times Square, we continued onto Bryant Park. They had the cutest little Christmas village set up, so we checked out some shops and food set ups, etc. We bought a personalized ornament, and grabbed a snack from Doughnuttery.

 We headed back to our hotel to actually check in, and relaxed for several hours. We were pretty spent from traveling and walking around the city. We decided to grab pizza for dinner, and just went to a place a few doors down from the hotel called Angelo's. It ended up being incredible pizza. We got a pizza with white sauce, which was ricotta cheese mixed with some other things-SO good, and sausage and mushroom. The atmosphere in there was so cute and homey-like a little hole in the wall place right in the middle of the city.

 After dinner, we went exploring again and ended up walking through Broadway, Times Square, Bryant Park again and continued onto Grand Central Station. I had hoped it would be all decorated for Christmas, but besides some wreaths hung, there really wasn't much. Still, it was cool to see. We walked the mile or so back to our hotel and crashed. Monday my watch tracked 21,523 steps (10.54 miles). 

Tuesday morning we slept in until about 11:00, which was AMAZING. I can't remember the last time I've slept in, let alone that late! My husband went and grabbed us some juices from a place right on the corner. I tried to find random ways to sneak in some healthy stuff amidst all of the other stuff we were indulging in, and green smoothies/juices were an easy way to do that. 
After we got ready we headed to Central Park for the morning. They also had a Christmas village set up, so we explored that for awhile. Food wise, we really just grazed on a bunch of stuff throughout the morning. In the village we grabbed a chicken waffle cone while we shopped and shared that. It was so good. Just literally chicken in a waffle cone with whatever sauce you choose.

 After the village, we started walking through the park. We got a hot dog to start, because you just have to have a NYC hot dog from a stand at least once. We saw a lot of the iconic Central Park stops and just walked a ton. It was strange to be in so much nature right in the middle of the huge city.

 We stopped and saw some performers for awhile, which was hilarious. Later in the day we got crepes from a crepe stand. I got the nutella coconut crepe and it was incredible.

 We were still feeling pretty tired from such a busy day Monday, and so much walking already Tuesday, so we headed back to our hotel. On the way we saw a restaurant, Brasserie Cognac, and we decided to try it out. It looked really formal and fancy, but the people inside weren't dressed up so we thought it would be ok. It was a really nice meal. We ate around 4:30 and since we had grazed all morning it was really like a late lunch. I loved the atmosphere in there. It was so cozy, dark lighting, nice music playing, and everything was at a slow pace. It was just what we needed after the morning we had. The place started filling up as time went on and it was fun to people watch as well. To start, we had this incredible goat cheese and tomato tarte, and I got the beet salad for my dish.

 I had no idea I liked beets, but it turns out they are delicious! The salad again was SO good. After Cognac, we went back to our hotel and rested for a few hours. We were having quite the dilemma because we were just so exhausted. My legs and feet were so sore from all of the walking, and I just wanted to stay in bed, but felt like that was lame. We were in New York! We should be out exploring! But, ultimately we decided we'd have a way better day Wednesday if we rested up Tuesday night. So, we ordered Shake Shack online, went to pick it up around 8:00, brought it back to the hotel, got in pajamas, and watched Designated Survivor on Hulu while we ate.

 It was actually the best. My husband reminded me that's not something we get to do often at home, and while it's nice to go see all the things, it's also nice just to relax and enjoy a night in :) Love him. Tuesday we did 14,686 steps (7.25 miles).
Wednesday, we got up and grabbed juice from Juice Generation, a couple blocks away. So many good choices.

 We took those back to the hotel and got ready, then my husband grabbed New York bagels from Pick-a-bagel. I pretty much thought a bagel was a bagel...until I had these. They were ENORMOUS, and so soft. And SO much cream cheese. I couldn't finish mine.
After breakfast, we went to the LOVE sculpture. It was our 9 year anniversary, and what better place to get an anniversary picture?!
Wednesday was Chinatown/Little Italy day. We took the Subway for the first time, which was a fun experience. Once we got to Chinatown, my husband really wanted to get some authentic dumplings. He had heard about this great dumpling place, so we walked to it and really got off the beaten path into the heart of Chinatown. It was cool to walk around and see not the touristy stuff, but really where a lot of Chinese people were working and living there. The dumplings were from East Dumplings and they were something like 10 for $3 or so. They were amazing.

 We browsed all around Chinatown for several hours, which was fun. We ended up walking into Little Italy and we both had to use the bathroom so we walked into this little cafe to sit down, grab a drink and snack and use the bathroom.  Well it turns out this little cafe wasn't just any cafe, it was Caffe Palermo-home of the best Cannoli on the planet. I got cheesecake, which they are also famous for and it was excellent. Really rich, of course, but way creamier and thicker than what I'm used to.

 My husband got a panini, and then a cannoli. I don't have a lot of experience with cannolis but it was really good!

After our little pick me up, we walked over to the Brooklyn Bridge.

 We didn't end up walking all the way across, because we had already walked so much that day and the bridge was actually super crowded, but it was a fun experience and we got a lot of cool pictures. The views of the city were amazing.

We headed back to Chinatown to catch the subway home and we rested for a few hours. Around 6 or 7, we took the subway to Chelsea and checked out Chelsea Market. I absolutely LOVED this place. The vibe was so cool. We looked at all the food options and finally settled at The Green Table. Everything was local, organic, etc. I got the chicken pot pie and it was delicious. My husband got a steak which he said was also really good. It was one of our favorite meals. It was such a cozy quaint little restaurant tucked inside the Market. Perfect spot for an anniversary dinner!
We had just a little time to browse the Market, so we did that shortly, then we walked down to the piers to catch a cruise we were taking! We booked this cocoa and carols cruise on Classic Harbor Line cruises. I am so glad we decided to do this! It was so fun and romantic and just something so different than we've done before!

 So the evening was hosted by a little jazz band and they played Christmas carols, we had spiked cocoa and cookies and the captain drove us all around to see the sights, lights, and right up to the Statue of Liberty. It was awesome. We went out and sat outside to see Lady Liberty, and though it was freezing cold and windy being on the water it was romantic and just perfect. So much fun.

 On the way back, they had all of the passengers carol along with them, which was a lot of fun! 
When we got back, we took an Uber back to our hotel. It was so tired from all the walking we did that day, and the Subway was quite a ways away, so we decided to just call an Uber. Well worth it! We logged 24,161 steps that day (12.07 miles)! 
Thursday started off guessed it...juice! Hey, at least we tried different places every day :) Thursday was Joe and the Juice.

 We walked to Times Square after that and got breakfast from Wafles and Dinges. We had seen these stands all over town, and knew we had to indulge at least once. It was ridiculous and delicious and gave me such a stomach ache, but I'd do it again ;) I built my own with something like hot fudge, nutella, walnuts, whipped cream...I can't even remember what else. All I remember is that it was so rich and good, and I was freezing while we ate it.

 Overall, the weather was great while we were there! Mid 40s most days, one day even in the 50s. Sometimes the wind would hit just right that we were chilly, but other than that, we were actually very comfortable the entire trip! After our absurd and amazing breakfast, we headed over to Radio City to get in line to see the Christmas Spectacular!

 Ok, this show blew me away! Of course, I mostly expected lots of dancing from the Rockettes, but holy cow, the technology this show used was insane. I absolutely loved it! It was such an awesome show. If you go around that time of year, be sure you see it! The hall was decorated so beautifully for Christmas, as well! 
After the show, we walked across the street to Rockefeller Center. We had big plans to go ice skating at the Center and spend a lot of time exploring it, but we were totally underwhelmed with it. It was very meh. A glorified shopping mall with a bunch of stores we have at home. And no bathrooms. It really wasn't great, I am not sure what all the hype is about unless we missed something really cool. The rink itself was also pretty meh. It was dropped down a bit, so you didn't even have a view. Nothing like what I've seen on shows or movies. The rink at Bryant Park was way bigger and prettier, as well as Central Park. I kind of wish we would have skated at one of those instead, but at that point we just knew we were ready to leave Rockefeller and kind of forgot about skating. 
We subwayed back to Little Italy and walked to eat at Lombardi's, the first pizza place in the USA. It was cool to be in a landmark place like that, but overall, we both felt like the pizza we had the first night was just as good, if not better. I'm glad we went, though!

 After lunch, we walked around little Italy a little bit more, and stopped at Rice to Riches which is a rice pudding place. Random. The signs on the door were hilarious and drew us in. We got cheesecake pudding to go, and it was actually really good! We walked around the NOHO area for awhile, went in some stores like Adidas and Crate & Barrel and then took the subway home. We relaxed in the hotel for a few hours and then went to grab dinner at Black Tap. We had walked past it before and seen a line pretty far out the door. We looked it up and felt like we should go check it out. When we got there, the line was pretty long and we asked someone about halfway up how long they had waited. They said about 15 minutes, so we decided to stay. Everyone in line around us was also trying to decide if it was worth the wait. We ended up chatting with several people around us which was just fun to hear where other people were from and what they had been doing in the city. We eventually got in after about 45 minutes or so and it was FOR SURE worth the wait. The atmosphere was really cool and the burgers and fries were so good. But the milkshakes. OH THE MILKSHAKES. They had every kind of dessert-y milkshake you could think of. The cake one had a full slice of cake on top. Same with the brownie shake. The M&M one was just completely covered in M&Ms. It was hard to decided which one to get but we went with the cookie shake and it didn't disappoint!

 Every single person was taking pictures of their shakes-it was pretty hilarious. After our late dinner, we went souvenir shopping for the next hour or two and wrapped up our night. Thursday we came in at 12,693 steps (6.08 miles).
Friday we basically woke up, packed up, grabbed breakfast (bagels) and got ready to go. We tried to take a Lyft to Penn Station, and without getting into the dramatic details, we had a driver accept our request, then cancel it on us, another one accept, waited 5+ minutes for the driver when it said he was 1 or 2 minutes away, and then when we could see he was 1 block away he cancelled on us too! So, we missed the train we wanted, hailed a cab and made it to Penn Station about 4 minutes before the next train left for New Jersey, luckily! Took the train back to the airport, then landed in Chicago and made the 4 hour drive home to our babies!! And while we're on the topic of Lyft, they then tried to charge ME for one of the cancelled rides. I was NOT happy and it took forever to get it taken care of, so I am forever team Uber from now on.
One of our kiddos was sick the whole time we were gone and I felt so bad to be away from her. The others started passing it around right as we were getting home and I got it a few days later (flu, I'm pretty sure). They were in such good hands and had such a fun time with Grandma and Gramps and we are so thankful to have been able to get away and spend such quality time together! It is definitely one of my favorite trips and one I will remember forever. 
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