Friday, November 21, 2008

How we do it: Part 3

Here's an easy one:
(I know, smarty-pants--there are two yellow ones.
But one of them has a flaw so we can still tell the difference.)

Drinking glasses.

When we had only two girls in the house, I decided that my friend Heather's mom had the right idea. If you are just using your cup for water, you shouldn't need a new one every time you fill up.

So, we get our cups in the morning, letting the old ones go into the sink, and then continue to use the same cups all day. The kids know to choose cups of different colors so as to keep things obvious.

Think about it, with six kids at three or four cups each (low estimate) of water per day...well, you can do the dish-washing math yourself. :-)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

How we do it: part 2

First of all, I need to tell you all very frankly that I am NOT an organized person by nature! In fact, for those of you who have suggested such, all my family and childhood friends are laughing their heads off at the suggestion!!! Thank you for making them so gleeful. :-)

I have spent my life disorganized. I don't know about ADD. I refuse to label myself like that; it is probably way to extreme anyway. I will say that I have had to carefully think of ways to cope with my tendency to wander the house aimlessly working while somehow managing to accomplish nothing. I was, until the last few years, a moderate hoarder. Until I met Flylady, I never threw much away. I couldn't resist a good deal-- and If I found one, it made me hold onto that item forever. I know I am not alone!

I am much better now. (I am not as good at this as my sister in law, Lynn, but I am trying!) I resist bringing anything into my home that will just be clutter. Kitchen tools must multi-task! I like simple, clean lines. I will go without for a long time waiting to buy exactly what I need rather than buying things that might work. (you know how that goes; they never get used!)

My house is not, I repeat: NOT in perfect order. In fact, most of the time, it is not in order at all! There are often toys everywhere and the change of seasons swamps me with clothes. Right now, there is a laundry basket of clothes on my living room couch for me to sort through and on the floor My Little Ponies are threatening to take over that space. (I am coming back to add that the ponies have taken the living room.)

I do have the blessing of knowing that for a brief period of time each day, all the menial daily work that a small child can do has been done! That is why I love my jobs system. I can do the projects, like the clothes, attacking the laundry mountain, vacuuming and the like and have somewhere otherwise neat to begin.

Okay, I just wanted to say all that because If any of you ever drop by unannounced, I don't want you to be surprised by the actual state of things!
The End.

Today's topic is homeschooling.

I have had a lot of requests for how I handle this one. This is another area that I have had to compensate for my lack of organization in. My biggest blessing that has helped me so much this year is that Steve built in a bookshelf on which I can store our books. I used to keep them all over the place. One shelf of this is dedicated only to our daily books. Now, each morning after work and breakfast, I can easily grab that stack of books and put it on the table in the kitchen where we do school.

We try to start at 10:30 am. Usually,we get one main and one partial or light subject done before lunch. For instance, today, I began by reading three chapters (they are short chapters) of our "Pilgrim book" to the kids before we began. After that, we got started on Math.

I have six kids but only four are officially in school. Ivy and Vitali have worksheets they sometimes do and they listened to the reading time but they are free to go and play at any time. Three of the kids are in first grade work. (Max, Misha and Annette) Hannah is in fourth grade.

Even though three are in first grade, I purposely keep them on different pages. I found out early in the year that if Misha didn't know the answer, he had no problem looking at Max's paper to find it! Annette learns quickly and other than a little help along the way, she can get through her work on her own once I give it to her so she accomplishes more ground than the others each day.

So, how do I do it? Again, I have to compensate for my lack of organization. Here are some things I do. These may or may not work for you but they do for our situation:

  1. I do not grade papers. What?! Yes, I do not ever grade papers. I used to try but just didn't get to it! So, what do I do? As each paper is finished, I look at it. I circle incorrect ones and send the kids back to fix them. If I notice that one child has trouble with a particular concept, I may give an extra worksheet with that concept on it. I do not keep a grade book and never put a letter on the tops of the pages. I home school independently and am not required to submit grades the the school system . I set for the kids the standard of 100% comprehension of concepts and so I do school with that in mind.
  2. I do not do lesson plans. I know that I will not follow them! Nor will I get around to keeping them up so my method needs to compensate for that. Instead, when I get our books at the beginning of the year, I count the pages. I figure out how many pages need to be covered each day in order to reach the end of the school year having covered the required 180 days and finishing the books. So maybe I have a general all-year goal--but I don't call it a lesson plan.
  3. I sit at the table while the kids all work there. I don't do anything else. I can't. The boys need me too much anyway. We take a good sized break at lunch time for me to do a few things and during that time, the kids go and play. Also, if I don't sit there with the kids, it is too easy for me to say, "I'll help you in a minute" and then never actually do it! (Keep in mind that homeschooling does not run from 9:00am-2:30pm like formal schools do.)
  4. I don't get out much. I try not to sabotage our schedule by planning lunches with other friends or going shopping or doing errands. I know myself. If we don't just sit down and do it the same way every day, it will get pushed aside and forgotten!
  5. I kill two (or three) birds with one stone. Like yesterday when I had Hannah use her Bible memory verses for handwriting practice and Annette write on her language paper about George Washington after skipping to that section in her history book and having her read about him.
    I call it 'sneaky' but it does help them retain so much more.
If I think of more, I'll post it on here. for now, that is all I have. I just want to say though, that these things make me most consistent at the school stuff. Sometimes I can add more and sometimes, like on Wednesdays, for instance, we do a lighter load. My methods work for me because they are basic and affect only the core structure of how I work and allow me to build on them with relative ease.

Any questions? Ask! I am sure I left things out.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

How we do it: part one

I think a good place to begin is with a disclaimer: I am not an expert, just a mom. I have six kids but I'm still new at it! My current methods have evolved and are subject to change at any time. What works for me,may not work for you so I will try to explain my reasons for my methods as I go.

It seems to me that the best way to go about this is to do it in installments. I will put all I can think of about each topic that comes to mind in individual posts. Then I will label the posts with the topic "how we do it" so that the posts can be gathered together with one click later on.

Also, if you think of anything you want to ask about--about the topic or other topics that interest you--please say so in your comments and I will try to answer them in this series of posts.

And without further ado, the topic of the day--

I debated about what to start with and decided to begin with my favorite thing instead of saving it till last. Our job system.(Vitali, age four, unloading the dishwasher)

It is important to begin at the beginning. I did not bring home three Russian-speaking boys and expect them to clean the living room the next week. I counted it as helping around the house if they didn't miss the toilet, for goodness sakes! We had a lot of work to do with the boys to get them to obey us (another topic--not sure if I'll do that one or not...) and it was all consuming for three weeks at least. Then for the following three or four weeks we were mostly consumed, followed by a couple more weeks that eventually and gradually morphed into days at a time where we would go to bed smiling and not completely exhausted. This period of time would certainly have been a recipe for failure for any attempt at structure in the area of housework. One day, after the storm had lifted and I was able to look around and survey the wreck of my routines, I was inspired with what is now our job system.

I should say that I rejected all ideas I had seen up until this point knowing that charts, rotation schedules, and the like would be disastrous failures for me. I needed something that required no maintenance on my part. No stickers to buy, no "Oh, yeah, it's Monday and I forgot to update the chart" business for me!

An adoption friend, Leslie, posted on her blog how she made a list of all the daily jobs she could think of and required the kids to each choose four a day to accomplish. I made mine a variation on this technique.

First, I started out like Leslie, I made a list. My children were all eight and under so the work needed to be appropriate for their ages. In making my list, I divided up some jobs. Like for instance, CLEAN THE KITCHEN overwhelms me and I knew that none of the kids could really do the counters yet anyway. So I divided that room like this, SWEEP THE FLOOR, and TIDY KITCHEN FLOOR, and CLEAR THE TABLE (breakfast). None of these jobs is all that hard in and of itself and I knew that could be key to our success.

Next, I got my supplies. Enthusiasm gave me focus and I put magnetic tape and magnetic adhesive sheets on my shopping list. Then, I typed, in easy to read capital letters, each separate job. I cut out and stuck these onto individual pieces of magnetic tape. In the end, I drew pictures on the tape too since only two of my six children could read English! Like I said, No maintenance for me!

Also, Most of the kids didn't even recognize their own names in print and in the interest of clarity and color, I had wallet sized pictures of the kids printed and I cut these out and stuck them onto the magnetic sheets. Even the littlest two. Can they clean the living room? Not alone, but I can go in there and do the job with them and be investing in my future and theirs too. One day, they'll surprise me and do the work themselves! For now, I am resolved to be joyful with their imperfection.

Each morning, and this has been fine-tuned, the kids do their Morning Routines: clothes on, teeth brushed, beds made, and THEN are allowed to go and choose their jobs for the day. This gives incentive to hurry and get the MR done so as to pick the favorite jobs! The oldest two each pick
three, the middle two pick two, and the small ones are supposed to pick one. (They don't always pick and then they don't always do the job since their success depends on me helping but I am just planting seeds with them right now anyway) They "pick" by taking a job-magnet and placing it under their picture, like a mini to-do list.

When each job is done, this method still allows for a closing action (like putting a star on a chart or marking something off of a list does) giving a sense of done-ness. They simply take the job from under their picture and return it to the space above. When they are done, There is nothing under their picture.

This week, I added a feature. I put a star sticker on the main jobs or "big" jobs. I made a new rule that each of the four older children needs to pick at least one "star" job with his/her other jobs. This makes sure that the last picker isn't left with the biggest jobs. This was a stroke of genius. :-) It has smoothed out that wrinkle very well.

Obviously, I homeschool and we are home all day. We do these jobs in the morning but no one here needs to be out the door at 7:00am. This system may need to be tweaked to have separate morning/afternoon sets of jobs, maybe on different colored papers. (Pick yellow in the morning and blue in the evening, for instance).

We don't do jobs on Sundays, but we sometimes do an extra job each on Saturdays. It varies. I told the kids it would. I also told them that I may say in the evening, "would you please_________" and still expect a willing helper. I haven't had anyone say, "But Mo-om, I did my jobs this morning!"

And, I mentioned being joyful in imperfection when it comes to the littlest ones. This applies to the older kids too! One job in the list is "Surprise". That is one that is an unknown until it has been chosen. (Usually, it is unknown to me, too. And I scramble to think of something!) This gives me the option of getting something small done that I may not need done daily but that needs done that day.

Max loves to get "surprise". The other day, Misha and Max were doing all their jobs together and for the surprise job I gave the task of helping me clean my room. (poor bedroom, it can get so neglected!) this is what my bed looked like when they were done:

Perfect? No!

Done? Yes.

H a l l e l u j a h !!


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

How We Do It: the teaser

I have had a bunch of requests for me to let you know how we handle all these new challenges in parenting. I want to answer that but I am not sure I can get to it till later in the week. Until then, I am thinking on it and trying to notice the main things as well as the things we do without thinking about it.

One thing I'll tell you right now that works great is our chore system. I'll show you pictures of that when I post. The other thing that comes to mind is to admit right now that my housework, despite the chores, suffers! I have had to come to terms with that fact. In fact, before the boys ever got here, I planned on it. Life is stressful enough without worrying too much about what I just can't get to and still stay a sane mom!


Monday, November 03, 2008

school time

Some of the kids at the kitchen table working on schoolwork this morning.
Max (he wears the patch for lazy eye), Misha in the back, Ivy near the wall and Annette's shoulder and knee.

School started out rough for the boys, especially Max, but now they are doing well. Max and Misha are both in first grade books. I am trying to push Max through as fast as possible but he really started from scratch. He couldn't add or subtract at all. He didn't understand much of anything. He seems to have it now and things are really moving along for him and for that I am grateful! He is picking up reading pretty well but has trouble with the changing vowel sounds of English. Once he gets that down he'll just take off, I think.

Misha does pretty well at his work too. His handwriting is especially nice. He knows it and is proud to work at it, tongue sticking out with the effort. :-) His reading is choppier but he seems to have the vowels down and may overtake Max soon if Max doesn't pick them up fast enough!
(Max has the problem of having learned to read in Russian/ Ukrainian and is un-learning that at the same time as learning English letters.)

It is funny that they don't call their Math book "Math" they call it the "Giraffe book" because of the giraffe on the cover and their language book is the "Skunk book" for the same reason. They both groan when it is time to start school but they both usually ask to do more pages at the end of the day. They really enjoy sitting down to a task.

Vitali was so proud because I got out a "real" school book for him today and taught him to carefully trace the letters on the special lines. He was beaming! Ivy is working on learning to write her name and Vitali was so proud to be doing something she wasn't doing yet. He is really starting to "catch up" to being a four-year-old as far as his maturity goes! (that said, "maturity" still sounds like a funny word to use to describe Vitali!)

Sorry for the long hiatus in postings! I will try to do better!
Scroll down below this post and see the new pictures in the post below.



We enjoyed a fun weekend full of costumes and fun! Look at the boys on their first Lawn-tractor-engine-train ride!
Look how excited Misha is. Like a 10-month-old seeing his favorite toy or food!

Vitali rode "his" pony very proudly

Misha was a policeman. It suited his "authoritative" nature perfectly!!
(the others just call him bossy)
He is!