Sunday, November 11, 2012

Fall News from GPE

Twelve weeks into our second year of homeschooling, and I can honestly attest to the following:

  • Nobody is (yet) in therapy. 
  • The house is significantly messier on a daily basis than it ever has been in my entire married life. 
  • We're all learning so much about the world and everything in it!
  • We've had to exercise the words "I'm sorry" many, many times to one another.
  • We sometimes eat popcorn for supper. And then string cheese. And then an apple. And then...well, you get the idea. All because Mom didn't have a meal planned.
  • I once was prompt, and now I'm a mother of three.
  • We love to break out in full-blown giggles at least once daily just because we can.
  • The Mister of the household is certifiably the most sane grown-up on the premises.
  • The teacher of GPE has revised "the schedule" at least 8 times in 12 weeks. Because I can. :)
  • I rarely run errands before 3pm with the kids because I still don't like getting those "why aren't your kids in school?" looks from people.

This year has been a totally different experience for us all. We're "getting used to" homeschooling after spending the entire first year trying to figure out what works best for all three of the kids (and me!), on top of working it in with the rest of life's demands. Ben is also adjusting better and knows that we "do school" together. (More on him in a different, most entertaining post!)

So with all that said, a HUGE thank you for "you all's" encouragement, support, prayer, and kind words as we continue on in this fun learning journey! Here's a photo gallery of some of our fall focus and doings at GPE:  

First day of school: 
Ben especially liked that he got a pencil box and balloon too!

A few of their favorite subjects: 

Family Fitness 


Spanish (Rosetta Stone)

Playtime at the Park :)

We chose to do a geography study this year instead of history, so we're looking at a different country each week (using Expedition Earth by Erica at Confessions of a Homeschooler). We've really enjoyed these lessons and it's amazing the stuff we're learning about other cultures, people, religions, customs, food, and a little of their history. 

Day 1 of our weekly country study includes finding it on the map ... 

and stamping our entry into the country in our "passports".

We also loooooove doing the art projects related to each country! Here we started by learning about maps. So we made a paper mache globe ...

and put a big red N on it for Husker Nation!

We also love our field trips and outings:

A morning at Riverside Park to do a nature scavenger hunt. 
Good thing we had the Richter family with us since Noah is the "bug killer"! 

A day at the Bismarck Papa's Pumpkin Patch with the Richters!

Have I mentioned lately what a true blessing it is to have a homeschool family right next door!? And for their kids to be so close to our kids' ages!? Ellie has found her true BFF, Ben is becoming friends with Noah, while Abbie just likes to oversee the "littles"! I love being able to call or text Kristin and ask for help, advise, or just a listening ear. LOVE having them as neighbors and friends!

The Core Subjects:

Ellie writing Grandma a letter after using the color-coded strips to organize her ideas. 

Princess Ellie doing math. Wearing a tiara helps the math make more sense! 
(Why didn't I think of that in high school math?!)

Working with number bonds.

We LOVE our Classical Composers study! So far we've studied the orchestra, practiced the role of a conductor (that was a fun lesson!), learned the different types of instruments and their sounds, and just finished a unit on Johann Sebastian Bach (who Ellie confused with Gwen Sebastian, a local singer here in ND). LOL!

The lapbook we're making for Classical Composers.

Ellie the Conductor

We were able to take a week of vacation in October, and went to Lincoln to see a very special couple get married and spend time with family.

Went to the Roca Berry Pumpkin Patch with Grandma R!

Took a trip to the Children's Museum.

At the museum with Grandma Dee :)

We also got to see our cousin Zach marry his sweet Tara. 
Such a beautiful couple (and wedding)!

And of course the reception party was a huge hit for the kids!

And how on earth do you visit Lincoln and not cheer on the Huskers!? The only game we could get to was the Lady Huskers - which was no small feat to get tickets, either!

And perhaps the biggest blessing of all this fall was when our Abbie asked to be baptized as a public expression of her faith in Jesus Christ. Inexpressible joy from this Mama's heart!

Next post topics:
*Toddler Days with Ben! 
*Extra-curricular Activities

Thanks for catching up with us! We'd love to hear back from you! 

Blessings & loves,

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

GPE's 2012-2013 Curriculum Choices

I've had a few people ask what I'm using for curriculum this year, so I'm dedicating this blog post to sharing our selections! After using last year's curriculum selections, I only chose to make a couple changes for this year (which I'll note below). And like last year, we may get half-way into the year using this line-up and decide something's not working and change it again! That's just how it goes. 

So here we go ... starting with my little man in Tot School!

Tot School: 
It's important for me to explain my philosophy on "Tot School".  At 3 years old, it's important for me that Ben be a part of the family's activities, spending time with us - doing what we're doing - as much as possible. He should enjoy exploring and playing, being creative and active, visiting the library, riding his bike, and playing at the park. I don't think it's necessary for him to know his numbers or letters, be able to name the first 10 Presidents in the U.S., or recite any poetry. He's 3 ... just turned 3, in fact. I want him to love being a little guy. 'Organized learning' through curriculums and such can come later ... much later. In the meantime, he'll be loud and dirty and cute and happy. 

With that being said, I do try to have some activities that he can play with and enjoy. Other than the usual Plah-doh, painting, blocks, trains/cars, stickers, etc that he enjoys, I have gathered or made many toddler-appropriate activities for B to use during our school days. I even have a tentative "schedule" of activities for him to do each day so that I'm not scrambling for something to engage him with each day. A few of the websites that have been very helpful in collecting new tot activities and ideas include: 

Other: He'll just blend in and do whatever we're doing (Bible, P.E., Art, read alouds, etc). This, of course, is where great patience on my part is needed!   So that's Tot School in a nutshell :)

Before I break down what each of the girls will study at their instructional level, I'll share what we will investigate and study together: 

-We'll start with 10 Days of Character Studies (which is actually 10 weeks of study)
-They also have their AWANA books to study and work on Scripture memory throughout the year.

P.E.: Family Time Fitness - because we MUST have some regular movement and fitness!

-Classic Literature Unit Studies from Confessions of a Homeschooler
-Independent reading selections and response journals
-Lots and lots and lots of library books!  We have some awesome librarians here at the Beulah library and they take very good care of us : )  

Geography: Expedition Earth by Erica at Confessions of a Homeschooler
*I'm going to tell you all right now that if we get into the school year and find that we've tried to bite off too much, this is the first curriculum to be put on pause! But man - I'm so excited to have this curriculum! We're excited to learn about 30 different countries and cultures with this world geography curriculum! 

Also - I'll return to using My Father's World history and geography curriculum next year when Ellie's in 2nd grade. We loved using "Adventures" of MFW last year for Abbie!

Music: World's Greatest Composers by Erica at Confessions of a Homeschooler

Foreign Language: Rosetta Stone Spanish - twice a week during center time.

Ellie - 1st grade

Subjects listed above: Bible, P.E., Literature, Science/Art, Geography, Music

Phonics/Spelling: Explode the Code and also working on High Frequency Words / Phrases
*This is new for Ellie this year as last year she finished her "100 Lessons to Teach Your Child to Read" (excellent Kinder reading curriculum!).  

Extras: AWANA, gymnastics, seasonal sports, and Girl Scouts

Abbie: 3rd grade

Subjects listed above: Bible, P.E., Literature, Science/Art, Geography, Music

*Change from last year when we tried Spelling Workout, which, well ... didn't work out. 

*Honestly, she's not a big fan of handwriting practice. So we'll use this sparingly ... but she does need to practice!

Composition/Grammar: Shurley English along with her own journal writing for stories, poetry, illustrating, freewriting, brainstorming and drafting, etc.

Music: Abbie is excited to participate in the 3rd grade choir at Beulah Elementary school which meets every Wednesday from 8:00-8:25a.m.  She'll also continue in piano lessons this fall.

Extras: AWANA, ballet, seasonal sports, and Girl Scouts

So there you have it folks! It's a load of learning, and we're totally ready! I think...

From our family to yours ... much grace and love in the school year ahead! 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Advent: 8 Days to Prepare our Hearts for the Resurrection!

Happy Easter to you all! 

This year I wanted to focus our minds and hearts on the purpose of our joyful celebration of Easter, and also to share this reason of our celebration with others. I came across this idea of an 8-day Easter Advent via the website Motherhood Your Way. It looked "doable" ... and by that I mean cheap, easy and fast for me to prepare, and kept our focus on Jesus. I took some liberties and changed a few things ... but in a nutshell, here's what we did: 

I hung our 8 cards in an easily-seen place in our home so that we could continue the conversation, excitement, and activities throughout the week. I had each girl take a turn pulling down a card and reading it aloud each morning as a kick-off to our day. 

Day 1: Create an Easter nativity set and use it to retell the Easter story. 

So this was pretty cool, and one we can save to set out next year! I collected toilet-paper rolls from friends and neighbors, printed out the people and tomb templates onto cardstock paper, and voila!  The tomb is glued onto a Kleenex box with the top opened up on the side for the tomb. To print these templates out for FREE, go to the Catholic Icing website

Day 2: Jesus died and was resurrected in the springtime. Springtime is a time of new life. Make a spring mural and talk about what Jesus loves. 

This was easy-peasy! I cut out strips of construction paper for the petals and stems, then let the girls put the flowers together. We used painter's tape to hang it on the stairwell. Sure brightens up our entryway! 

Day 3: Do an act of secret service for another family and talk about how Jesus loved and served everyone. 

I took this idea to "egg" a family straight off the Motherhood Your Way website! We counted out plastic eggs (2 for each family member), filled them with candy and the girls wrote a special note sharing what we love about each person in this special family. Then we bought an Easter lily and filled it with our eggs, waited for this special family to leave their house, and then EGGED them! The sign on the door says "You've Been Egged!"

Day 4: Make a card for someone who is sick and talk about how Jesus healed the sick. 

We talked about who we know who is sick or suffering right now. Several people were thought of in this, which made my heart smile that the girls were thinking of these people more than I knew. (Amazing what we learn about our kids when we have these conversations!)  Anyway they enjoyed making their separate cards for a sweet woman at our church. We're going to deliver them this week (last week wasn't a good week for her to have visitors). 

Day 5: Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Each person is important to Him. Do secret service in your home to make each person feel special. 

I wish EVERYday was "secret service" day! LOL!  It was fun watching the girls come up with ways they could bless others. I wish I had a picture of this, but it's seared in my mind ... Ellie helping Ben get on his tricycle with such patience and care. I stopped in mid-stride just to watch it. Sweetness to my soul.

I also had breakfast in bed served to me the next morning by my firstborn! A hot cup of coffee and a soggy bowl of cereal! It was fantastic! My prayer is that they start to see how blessing others not only pleases their Lord, but it truly blesses them in return. 

Day 6: Jesus died for us. Make a cross-project that reminds you of Christ's loving sacrifice. 

We had worked on this tomb garden the week before, but wanted to add the 3 crosses to it on Good Friday (day 6). I loved making this tomb garden ... such a powerful visual of death being conquered! 

Day 7: Jesus's friends loved him and watched him tortured and killed on a cross. Make a stained-glass cross with tissue paper, and talk about how they must have felt when Jesus died.  

Truth be told - we did not get to this on Saturday with all our preparations for Easter Sunday. But I'd like to either do it later this week or maybe keep it for next year.  Check it out at Kara's Creative Place

Day 8: Jesus is Risen! Open an empty but beautifully wrapped gift box and talk about how the tomb was empty on Easter morning. 

This was a great object lesson - but Ben did not appreciate that the box only had a white cloth inside! He was a little stunned into silence while Daddy explained the significance of the true gift we have in salvation and relationship with Jesus our Savior. 

Using the 8-days of Easter Advent activities was a great way to prepare our kids for the true meaning of Easter! It helped us nurture an understanding of the reason we celebrate the resurrection ... and why this one event changed everything for us. We hope and pray your own celebration of Easter was wonderful and worshipful as well. 

Much love,
The Utechts

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Toddler Fun in March

Ben continues to entertain us at GPE as we often find ourselves pausing for a good giggle at something Ben has said or done. He also seems to be easing into his own little niche of entertaining himself for longer stretches of time! 

Here are just some fun pictures of what a 2-year old enjoys during our mornings in the classroom!

 Play-Doh fun! This was the first time he had rolled it all out by himself to cut out shapes. 

 Abbie's so good about including B in the calendar time! Here she's showing him where to put the numbers on the "Days in School" board. 

 This is B's new favorite game! I ordered it from Current Catalog and I can't say that it's super durable or has great quality ... but it has brought much happiness to my little man. : )

What caption would YOU give this picture?! 

 Making the date with money ... 

 The semi-truck trailer full of matchbox cars has been resurrected! B found it in the corner of the closet and therefore spent at least 30 minutes organizing the cars, then dumping them all out, then organizing them, then dumping them out ...

 He's getting pretty good at putting this train set together!

 Here Ben is stringing his button attached to the black ribbon through felt squares that have holes in the middle (pretty hard for him at this point). This new activity came from the Toddler Activity Bag Swap I participated in with about 14 other moms in my area! It was awesome ... 14 new activities for Ben to enjoy! YAH!

This is another activity from the Toddler Activity Bag Swap! He's still working on fine-motor skills as he couldn't quite get that clothes pin open. 

Markering all over Ellie's sentence starters is another favorite activity of B's. Drives the girls nuts, but what can you do? Choose your battles, I say...

Like I said ... he keeps us smiling! I hope his busyness makes your heart smile "teeeeeewww"! 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Workboxes: My (New) Favorite Organizational System!

This was a revolutionary week for us ... and that is a good thing! And it has to do with organization ... my favorite thing in the world! : )  I stumbled across the world's greatest classroom organizational system for moving the girls from a teacher-directed approach to a more student-driven (higher independence and responsibility) approach to their learning.  What was the key, you ask?


I came across this idea several months ago through the amazing Erica at Confessions of a Homeschooler (have you checked her website out!? She's truly saved me this year). At the time I saw her use of workboxes, I literally thought to myself, "Wow, now that's a lady who wears a cape! How DOES she do all this?!" So, not believing I was operating at cape-wearing status to pull something like this off, I put off setting up workboxes of our own. And now, of course, I wish I had done this months ago! In just one week's time, they have completely revolutionized how we do school, and I now understand why I was literally going nutty trying to accommodate an 8-year old's learning needs and levels along with a Kindergartener's needs and levels, and a toddler boy climbing up walls (or just on tabletops)! All in the same room! 

So. Workboxes are my new favorite thing ... IN.  THE.  WORLD. And what's better is the girls RAVED about them! : ) Here's a picture of what they look like:

I ! LOVE !  THEM ! 

So here’s the gist of how we use the workboxes:

  • I bought a 6-drawer storage unit for each girl, and stuck two velcro dots on each drawer (far left and far right). 
  • I printed out 2 sets of subject cards from Erica's website (click HERE to print them), and put a velcro dot on the back of these. 
  • Each evening I organize each girl's set of workboxes with the learning tasks for the 5 subjects they can work on semi-independently, along with everything they need to complete each task to save the inevitable "where are the scissors?" or "I need to sharpen my pencil!" time-wasters. Here's a picture of what the contents of a drawer looks like:
  • The girls must complete the workboxes from top to bottom - no exceptions! This helps me manage my time and availability to each of them, and also sets them up for more success as I try to organize the order of their subjects based on their strengths/needs. For example, starting Abbie off with composition will surely drive me straight to Dairy Queen before 10:15am out of pure misery and frustration!  (Wait ... maybe that's not a bad thing!?)  On the other hand, starting her out with history, silent reading, or math goes much, much smoother.
  • I can also add a "Work With Mom" card on the righthand side of the drawer which tells the girls that for this workbox, they need me to either get them started or provide direct instruction (ie math, phonics). 
  • At the end of their 5 workboxes, they have a FUN BOX which has something fun and often with educational value to end their workbox time with. They LOVE this, and so far this week the Fun Box has given them motivation to work hard on the previous 5 boxes. (YAH!)

The workboxes occur during the middle of our morning, so our new "schedule" looks more like this (and no, I'm not going to attach a beautifully designed Excel document down to the 15-minute marker, though I still have a weird infatuation with that thing!): 

9:00 - Group Time for Bible reading/prayer, Calendar Connections, history reading, Ellie's science focus, and a read aloud. 

10:00 (ish) - Workboxes!  So far, I've focused on math, composition, handwriting, phonics/spelling, reading, and history for their workboxes.

11:15-11:45 (ish) - Group Time again for a read aloud / literature study

Lunch and free time

1pm - Group Time for art, science, a music history lesson, or finish something from the morning. 

So there you have it. Workboxes are the highlight of the month so far, and I'm so thankful for those who have gone before me in this homeschooling journey and are so eager to share their ideas! We'll keep tweaking this system to make it work more smoothly than our first week, but systematically - I am on board!!! 

And just for good humor, here's the "Picture of the Week" of Ben: 

Picking up the kernels of corn he threw out of his lunch bowl. Yep - we're still in Toddler Bootcamp around here! I love that little man.

From our household to yours, with loads and loads of workbox-love!
The Utechts