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Over the year, we've worked our way into a great daily schedule, in compliance with all of the learning time hours we must acquire over the year. It really made such a difference to "practice" meeting the requirements for a year before I had to be accountable to the district. In our state, one doesn't have to enroll their child as a homeschooler until 1st grade. Dinomite spent all of last year in kindergarten at home. In our state kindergarten is a full day program.
Our day starts out with breakfast, clean up, and then our morning routine. Once this is done, (about 9:30 AM) it's table work time! This is not part of the Montessori Method, but I feel it's important the kiddos learn how to complete worksheets in preparation for their school testing in years to come. It's also a way to make sure they practice reading and writing every day plus have examples of their work etc. Their workbooks are located in the learning time room closet, on top of a storage dresser, ready for them to grab themselves and bring to the table.
As part of table work time, Dinomite completes one workbook page in the area of Math and one in the area of English. As he gets older, I'm sure we'll add other subject areas. Bulldozer and Princess complete two pages out of their workbooks also. Once I know each kiddo is proficient in writing all of their letters and can read simple words, I introduce the writing and drawing journal.
How does the journal work? I write an open ended question in the journal each day based on an activity and/or theme of learning that week. Dinomite writes an answer to my question in a complete sentence using words in the question and guessing on the rest. There are no grades given on the journal, no writing mistakes corrected. The point is to help the kiddos learn to write. As Dinomite has learned more words, sounds, and phonetics, his writing improves. Once he answers the question, he draws a picture in the area provided that relates to the question and answer. At first Dinomite really struggled with the journal. I honestly can't say which he disliked more, the writing or the drawing. However, once he finally overcame his anxieties, he's learned to love the journal. His writing and drawing have soared. It's been a great way to document his progress and show his writing and drawing abilities when I go to meetings at the beginning and end of each school year.
At the beginning of each new quarter this year, Dinomite will be required to add one more sentence to his journal answers. (My questions will adjust to ensure he can add another sentence.) That way, by the end of the year he'll be able to write a 4 sentence answer, which is what will be required of him according to Common Core standards.
After completing his journal, Dinomite practices his reading. Right now he reads one Bob Book to me. When he can make it through the book without errors, he progresses to a new one. This usually takes about two to three days. Dinomite is in the middle of set 3 right now. When he graduates from Bob Books, he'll move on to Ready-to-Read books. Bulldozer and Princess will start Bob Books when I feel they're ready. It won't be long for Princess at all!
Table work time for Dinomite usually takes between 30-45 minutes, give or take, depending on his mood and workbook pages. It will progress to longer as he needs to write more and complete more subject area workbook pages. Princess and Dinomite are finished within 15 minutes, only completing worksheets.
Sunshine usually joins us, sitting in her high chair coloring, or doing some other fine motor task.
After table work time is over, the kiddos have play time, therapy time, or extra curricular activity time, depending on the day. Some days it's occupational therapy. Some days it's gymnastics classes. Other days there may be appointments. Depending on the day, the kids may earn learning time minutes in physical education (gymnastics) or Language (speech therapy).
There are days when I plan special projects during this time that I want to do together with all the kiddos. They could be art related, science related, or whatever, but won't really fit on a tray in the allotted time we have in the afternoon.
When therapies and extra curricular activities are over, it's time for lunch prep and meal time. This usually goes pretty quick. Clean up follows and then Sunshine goes down for a nap. It's time for learning time in our learning time room.
Now, before I go further, I never intended to home school my children. The room that we use was painted and decorated to be my music studio, as my degree is in classical music with an emphasis in voice. I enjoy teaching private piano and voice lessons to all ages. The room was perfect. And then Bulldozer was born, and all that changed. It was only recently that it became our learning time room and desperately needs to be painted. Dark red is the perfect color to evoke passion and confidence when playing classical music or singing arias, but not the greatest color for a learning environment. Hopefully by Christmas it will change to a nice neutral color. The picture of the workbooks above, is from the closet, which I never painted when I painted the room originally. It's still in the colors we found when we moved here.
We do not have a lot of space in our home for learning time. The room we gather into is only 9'x13' with a closet adding on and addition 3'x6' for storage. It has taken much creativity and organization to make such a small space work, especially when using a modified Montessori Method.
Once Sunshine is asleep, we start off learning time with song. My kiddos are not big on singing, in fact some really despise it. I've found, if I use music videos online, they respond much better. It's an added plus if I find ones with words that go across the screen. We usually sing one to four songs, depending on their moods, and then sit down in our seats. After singing songs, we work on our Spanish skills, usually with a video or a game.
Calendar time comes next. This year that includes saying the date using the day of the week, month, and number. We review our letter and number of the week, not for the identification, but to help them remember the sound and to bridge into our writing practice. Princess and Bulldozer are still learning how to write their letters, so I try to make sure they practice the letter of the week at least once a day. It works perfect to incorporate it into calendar time. I'll explain more below.
This year we've also included an animal of the week. Dinomite LOVES animals, so the idea was inspired by him, but it also helps to me make sure to include a zoology lesson in our activities each week, along with a special reading time dedicated to the animal.
Lastly, weekly sight words are included in calendar time. I try to have them correlate with the letter of the week if I remember. We review them together, saying them, spelling them, saying them again, and then using them in a sentence.
We say the Pledge of Allegiance and practice one of our Articles of Faith during calendar time, usually before we review sight words, letter of the week, number of the week etc. The Articles of Faith are proclamations of our religious beliefs. There are 13 of them, so I'm hoping if we learn one a month, with the exception of learning two short ones one month, we'll know them all by the end of the school year. We also review the rules of our classroom, repeating them each day.
To end calendar time, we practice the skills we NEED to have to pass those darned state tests. Against common Montessori methods, but very much a HUGE part of ABA techniques used for children with autism and other special needs, we use fun incentives and reinforcers to move the work along. Each kiddo has a jar of goodies used to keep them motivated to learn and answer questions correctly. I don't mind doing this because we rarely have treats in the house. Only at parades and learning time do we have candy around.
Skills practiced include writing, math facts, and sight words. Dinomite writes two to three sight words correctly on his white board along with a number I will say aloud, like 426 or 176. The numbers will progress as he learns his decimal system. Once he masters the decimal system, they'll be double digit math facts. Princess and Bulldozer write their upper case and lower case letter of the week, along with their number of the week.
Dinomite gets a piece of candy for each sight word and number he writes correctly. Bulldozer and Princess get a piece of candy for each letter and number they write correctly. In total each of them get 3 pieces of candy.
Once we've finished writing we move on to sight word identification. The kids take turns identifying the sight words of the week by themselves. If they answer one correctly, they receive a piece of their candy. At most they can earn 4 pieces of candy during this process, so I'm not bothered by it.
After sight word identification is finished we move on to math facts. This week, we're working on our addition +2 facts. We go through them together saying the facts aloud, and then the kiddos take turns answering them correctly. Once again, at most they can earn 4 pieces of candy each during this process, so I don't mind. In total Dinomite may have 11 Skittles each day. That's pretty much his only junk food intake. If Bulldozer wasn't allergic to stickers, we may have used those instead but oh well. I save bubbles for learning time trays as incentives for Bulldozer on his worst days.
Moving on! Mondays are our "teaching" days. We do all of the activities on the shelves together, so I make sure they all know how to use them properly. I teach and present material related to the materials on the shelves. When I am finished going through each and every activity with them, they are able to choose any activities they want, no matter what shelves they're on, until learning time is up.
On every other day during the week, except Mondays, once we've finished our calendar and review time, the kiddos go to their trays and pick up their white board and marker of choice. They write their names at the top of the white board and return them to their trays.
Dinomite must complete six activities on the work shelves before selecting "fun" activity on the black shelves. I have chosen the number six, because he is six years old. When he turns seven, he'll need to complete seven activities. Bulldozer needs to complete four activities because he's four years old. Princess needs to complete three activities because she's three years old. It usually takes them the same amount of time to finish the number of tasks according to their age level. Often times Dinomite finishes his six activities about 5 minutes before Princess might finish her activities.
Originally when I started home schooling I set time limits for the different shelving units. However, Bulldozer became obsessed with looking at the clock. His autism gets the best of him sometimes, and he would start stimming on objects used for an activity or the activity itself. Other days he would just lay around rolling on the floor. Dinomite also became distracted by the time. Princess would just refuse to work until the time was up.
Now, when they've finished their number of activities they can go directly to the black shelves and have fun. It's an incentive and reinforcer in it's own way. It also keeps them on track. If I know there are activities that Bulldozer might stim from, I put them on the black shelves. I'm sure favorite activities vary from kid to kid, but my kiddos love the practical life, sensorial, and hands on science experiments, so those usually end up on our black shelves.
With very little room in our learning time room, I'm unable to dedicate a shelving unit to each subject. Instead I dedicate a shelf of a shelving unit and switch out the activities weekly. The top row of the white shelves is dedicated to English/Language Arts activities. The middle row has our Math trays. The bottom shelf houses our Geography/Culture/History activities. Sometimes Science activities are included on this shelf. It all just depends on how hands on the activities are. On top of the white shelves are the books we'll be reading this week related to our theme.
Our black shelves house Practical Life, Sensorial, Music, Art and/or some hands on Science and/or Social Studies activities. I try to keep them organized by shelf, but it just depends on the unit as to how many in each area we have. On top of the black shelves are books by the author of the month and books for the next week's unit.
It usually takes the kiddos about 60 minutes to finish their numbered activities on the white shelves. From there, they go to the black shelves, and depending on time, they have anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes to have fun. If they decide not to complete white shelf activities, they do not select trays from the black shelves.
We end our learning time with story time. I try to read two books every day, one related to our theme, and one by our author of the month. From there, the kiddos usually have more therapies, appointments, or we go outside to play until it's time to get ready for dinner. Dinner is followed by bedtime routines, which usually involves reading Dinomite's newest animal book from the local library.
On the weekends, (and sometimes week days) we work on making up any time we may have come up short during the week in each subject area. Sometimes we may go and visit a historical land mark or go on a nature hike. It just depends. Most often, we don't need to use the weekends to catch up. Instead they're used as down time. The kiddos don't watch movies or TV on weekdays, so they usually like to hang out and relax.
We home school year round to help keep the kids' routine in tact, but also to break down the yearly hours needed for our district. Instead of spending five hours a day doing school work, we spend about three hours give or take, not including music lessons, physical education, library, and some Social Studies and Science adventures in the form of vacations, field trips etc.
The special needs kiddos don't really do well with changes in routine, so unlike public and private schools where there are breaks, we don't have any, unless we're all really sick with the flu or stomach bugs or it's a holiday. Even on vacations I'll bring along table work and learning time activities. They thrive knowing what's going to happen no matter what, and also seem to retain more over longer periods of time.
Finally to keep track of progress, behaviors, disabilities and minutes spent on each subject ares, I keep a binder and a notebook for each kiddo. Inside the binder are weekly record sheets, where I keep track of every learning time activity the kids do each day and also work they complete during table work time. Dinomite knows he needs to do every activity on the shelves at least once. On Fridays I test the kids on their ability to write their letters and numbers of the week, math facts, and sight words. They don't know I'm testing them, other than that they get more candy than other days. The task is mostly for me so I can go back to the school district and say whether they're meeting standards or not.
Every day after learning time I write a small report about behaviors, accommodations needed, and time spent on education tasks throughout the day. The kiddos have IEPs and 504 plans in place for state testing circumstances. In order to keep those up to date and accurate, I have to have documentation stating why and what accommodations they need, etc. I end each child's report with a "Best Moment of the Day" so I make sure the day ends on a positive note and I see success in each and every child, no matter how hard the day may have been.
After the kiddos are in bed, I try to plan and prepare about 4 learning time activities for the next week before relaxing for the night. Some weeks I'm better at this than others. My goal is to have all preparations finished by Sunday, including the activities on the shelves, so I can enjoy the Sabbath.
I'll admit, home schooling is definitely a lot of work, especially with all of the kiddos' special needs, but the rewards have been so great. I really enjoy it! They love it, and I don't ever plan on turning back. It has been such a blessing for our family and the kids are doing fantastic!