Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Countdown--Christmas Eve

We'll finish our countdown readings with Matthew 27:11-26 and John 19:16-20, 28-30 (Jesus before Pilate, crucifixion, death) and Luke 23:50 through 24:1-8 (burial and resurrection).

I'd like to find a chance today to have the kids make butterfly ornaments for the Christmas tree. It would be the perfect way to tie Christmas to Easter and a yearly reminder about the work Christ came to do.

Otherwise, as I posted on Christmas Eve Eve, we'll just enjoy each other today and I'll let them take the lead on what countdown activities they would still like to fit in. There's also church today so we will celebrate the glad tidings there as well.

Christmas Countdown--Christmas Eve Eve

Our devotion today comes from Luke 22:7-23 and Matthew 26:36-50 (Last Supper and arrest). The kids have really been making the connection that these stories show what Christ came here to do, beginning on that very first Christmas. We'll re-read some of their favorite Christmas stories.

Today and tomorrow we're going to celebrate our Christmas countdown by enjoying each other's company. Maybe we'll listen to or watch the Polar Express, maybe we'll do some Christmas crafts, or maybe we'll just be together. In any case, I'm not planning a particular activity for us today.

Christmas Countdown--3 Days Until Christmas

The Bible reading for today was Luke 19:28-38 (Palm Sunday) and Luke 22:1-6. We read from Jan Brett's Christmas Treasury. The plan was to drive around town tonight and see everyone's Christmas lights displays, however, some of us aren't very healthy. We'll do that another night.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Countdown--4 Days Until Christmas

Our Bible reading will be Luke 4:1-13. With a healthy dose of snow Monday and Tuesday we'll be singing "Let it Snow" and "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas". We'll be enjoying some Jan Brett stories from her Christmas Treasury for our literature.

We usually let the kids decorate a stocking with puffy paint each year. (I usually buy stockings when they're less than $1 at 75% or 90% off.) This year we have a plain white sweatshirt for each of them to decorate and wear on Christmas day. We'll talk about some of our Christmas stories, Bible lessons, and symbols and they'll decorate them as they choose.

Christmas Countdown--5 Days Until Christmas

Our devotion is Luke 3:1-6 and 21-23 (Baptism of Jesus). Our hymn is "Now Sing We Now Rejoice". My second grader has a countdown assignment today to help practice math facts--find out how many gifts were given on each of "The 12 Days of Christmas".

When assignments are completed, we'll play "Pass the Parcel".

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas Countdown--6 Days Until Christmas

Our Bible verse for today was 2 Corinthians 8:9 (Christ who was rich became poor). Any Christmas carols and hymns with this idea of the lowly stable and humble furnishings fit well. (From Heaven Above to Earth I Come/Away in a Manger/What Child Is This...)

Today is a good day to re-focus our attention on the meaning of this season.

In one week, all of the presents will be opened, the Christmas ham/turkey will be frozen or discarded, and radio stations will go back to playing their regular music.

Will we be feeling Grinchy? Hopefully after today's literature reading of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and watching the accompanying video, we'll be reminded that Christmas is much more than ribbons and bows.

Christmas is about the message of the coming of our Lord and Savior that we've been looking forward to all these weeks of Advent! It is just the beginning!

Our Bible countdown lessons will shift gears in the coming days to the work Christ came to Earth to do--His life, death, and resurrection to forgive the sins of the world.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Countdown--7 Days Until Christmas

We will read Psalm 98 (a psalm of rejoicing) and sing Joy to the World. Since the kids and I are a bit under the weather, we're just going to cuddle up with the Read-Aloud Christmas Treasury and call it our countdown activity for the day.

Christmas Countdown--8 Days Until Christmas

Our Bible reading was from Matthew 2:1-23 (the visit of the Magi and the flight into Egypt). We sang several Epiphany hymns and I read from the Read-Aloud Christmas Treasury.

Our countdown activity for today was to help decorate at the church.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas Countdown--9 Days Until Christmas

Luke 2:21-40 told us about Jesus' presentation in the temple at 8 days old. It also told of the responses of Simeon and Anna who met Him there. We sang the Nunc Dimittis (Simeon's song) from our hymnal.

Our countdown project today was to look at some Christmas art painted by Raphael in the 1500s. We especially discussed his use of line, color, and texture to create a subject and a mood. Then we made drawings to reflect these elements in our work.

We continue to read through the Read-Aloud Christmas Treasury.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Countdown--10 Days Until Christmas

Luke 2:1-20 (birth of Christ) is our lesson for today. Philippians 4:4-9 also shows our response to what Christ has done for us. We will sing several Christmas hymns (Silent Night, O Little Town of Bethlehem...) that tell of Jesus' birth.

We continue to read from the Christmas Treasury book. For our countdown activity we'll watch a Christmas special.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas Countdown--11 Days Until Christmas

Our Bible lesson was Mary's visit to Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56) and our hymn was the Magnificat (Mary's Song). We continued to read from the Read-Aloud Christmas Treasury. Our countdown activity was a family game of Christmas Carol Pictionary. We also attended a friend's winter band concert.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Countdown--12 Days Until Christmas

The Bible reading was Matthew 1:18-25 (the angel's message to Joseph). It's a perfect time to thank Dad for the person he is in our life. Maybe we can do one of his chores for the day or make him a nice dinner.

We read from the Read Aloud Christmas Treasury illustrated by Marc Brown. We also made some more thank-you cards to send after Christmas.

My basic philosophy on writing thank-you cards is this: If someone shared their gift of time and money to give you a gift, you certainly can make a little time to sincerely thank them for their gift.

It doesn't have to be a long note. Very small children can draw a little picture and the parent can jot the note. Children just a little older can fill in the blanks while you write the rest.

I can't think of any good reason not to share this habit with my children. Yes, as a parent we may have trouble convincing our complaining child why it's important. But teaching them about gratitude is too valuable to avoid simply because "I don't have the time".

Did my child write a letter to Santa? He can take the time to thank "Santa".

Did we make the time to write out birthday invitations? Then we can make the time with them to thank someone for their gift.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Happiness Is...

...wondering what you're going to make for dinner and realizing that you still have plenty of leftover chili on this 5 degree night.

Christmas Countdown--13 Days Until Christmas

Our Advent lesson today will be Luke 1:26-38 (annunciation) and Isaiah 7:13-14 (the prophet foretells this event about 700 years earlier). We will be reading from the Family Read-Aloud Christmas Treasury illustrated by Marc Brown. It's one of my favorite Christmas treasuries for its good mix of poetry and classic stories. Our activity for the day is decorating the house and Christmas tree. We always wait until the third Sunday in Advent (the "rejoice" Sunday) to put up our decorations. After waiting "so long" the kids are very excited.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Christmas Countdown--14 Days Until Christmas

Our Bible reading was from Luke 1:5-25 and John 1:19-28 (birth of John the Baptist foretold). We did requests again for the carols/hymns.

We read "Snowmen at Night" and used it to fulfill several of our state standards: Compare a real story with a fantasy story and traits of a character. We also used pantomime (which reminded us of what Zechariah must have done from the Bible lesson after losing his voice) to fulfill other state standards.

Review--Time For Learning

I had the opportunity to try for one month free of charge. In exchange, I agreed to post a review of the site. My goal is to be as honest as possible.

Let me start with the positive aspects of the program.

*The site gave me the gift of time, to the tune of a couple hours during the busy holiday months. I really liked that my kids could be doing learning activities on their own. Even if they only use 30 minutes every day, that is on-task time that I didn't have to plan.

*The kids could select areas of interest. I've wanted to introduce more interest-based learning time into our curriculum. This gave me a taste for what they might enjoy. Whenever given the choice, they tended to lean toward certain subjects and lessons, even repeating their favorites.

*The lessons seem to reflect topics that might appear on standardized tests. We live in a state that requires us to take standardized tests. I feel comfortable knowing that the kids covered some new topics that will probably be on their tests.

*The lessons from grade K-2 seem to be largely "taught". There is a voice that progresses through the lesson and you can't skip past the voice just to rush through and be done.

*You must complete a certain amount of lesson time before going to the playground. The parent sets the amount of required lesson time and playground time. This can be changed at any time and lets me use the site as it fits our day's schedule. Also, when your playground time expires, it shuts down your game. It prevents someone from sneaking in extra playground time.

*For most K-2 lessons, the time-on-task seems to be quite high. There is a good mix of lesson and follow-up questions or quiz.

*Your child can access lessons up to one grade above and below their current grade level (set by you).

I'll also include a few aspects of the program that I was less excited about.

*There seems to be quite a large jump in maturity required for the 3rd grade activities. My 2nd grader is above grade level in several areas so I wanted him to try several grade 3 topics in addition to 2nd grade ones. This proved a bit difficult. The 3rd grade lessons often required a great deal of reading. He could read them. Unfortunately, he didn't really want to. He could skip right through these parts and the lesson was still checked off as if he had finished it. There often didn't seem to be the nice questions or quiz at the end of the lesson as in the grade 2 lessons to check your mastery over the material. If I wanted to know whether he was really doing the lesson, I had to be close by.

*I would have liked more History/Geography/Social Studies in the K-2 grades.

*The cost is a bit prohibitive at $19.99 for the first child and a discount for subsequent children.

*I don't think there was a pre-test to help determine which lessons were most important for them to cover.

*They seem to do monthly maintenance (one Saturday) on the site which lasts about a day. The lessons are all inaccessible at this time.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Christmas Countdown--15 Days until Christmas

Our Bible lesson for today was Isaiah 11:1-11a. For Christmas hymns and carols we took requests.

Our book was Tomie dePaola's re-telling of the Mexican "Legend of the Poinsettia". After talking about some of the Mexican Christmas customs, we then tried to make as many words as we could from the letters in the word "poinsettia".

Our other countdown activity for the day was a program at our library with holiday poetry and songs.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Christmas Countdown--16 Days Until Christmas

After our Advent Bible lesson for today (Isaiah 9:2 and 6-7 with Isaiah 60:1-3) we talked  about our Christmas symbol for today: the bell. We sang Jingle Bells and Carol of the Bells. Instead of reading a bell-related Christmas story, we worked together to write a short story in which a bell made a difference in someone's Christmas. Each of us took turns writing lines of the story.

We also did circuits for PE. At each station there was a bell-shaped note telling what to do at that station (jumping jacks, use the trampoline, use the stepper, stretch your knee to your elbow...). When I rang the bell we all switched stations until each person had completed each station.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Christmas Countdown--17 Days until Christmas

Our story came from the Ukrainian/German traditions of the Christmas spider. In these traditions, the spiders leave beautiful webs on the Christmas tree that make it shine in beautiful silvers and golds. We followed up the story by singing "O Christmas Tree" and making pipe cleaner spiders to put into our own Christmas tree.

Our kitchen also became a huge spider web today. As a fun motivational treat, I had attached a note to the end of a string and weaved it over and under, around and through all sorts of places in our kitchen. The other end of the string was taped and labeled with one child's name. (Each child had a different string). When all of their schoolwork was completed, they were allowed to find their labeled string and unwind it until they found their message, granting them a special activity for quiet time.

For our devotion, we reviewed the messages of Comfort and the Good Shepherd from Isaiah 40:1-5 & 9-11. Our hymn was "Comfort, Comfort, Ye My People".

Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas Countdown--18 Days Until Christmas

On Monday we received our first Christmas card of the season. Today we'll begin a tradition of saying a special prayer for each family as we receive their cards.

The Bible reading is Psalm 24. (What does God do? He acts.) We'll read another of our Christmas Arch Books. Our carol is "Hark the Herald Angels Sing".

For our project we will make a traditional heart-shaped paper basket ornament from Denmark (similar to the simple version on the bottom of this link).

Christmas Countdown--19 Days Until Christmas

Our Bible reading was Psalm 40 (a prayer for deliverance) and we sang "The People That in Darkness Sat". We read one of the Christmas Arch Books from Concordia Publishing House. I remember having Arch Books from my childhood days and I continue to love them as a parent. There are so many to choose from and they're great for preschoolers even into the middle elementary years.

Our project for the day was to celebrate St. Nicholas Day. The kids found gold coin candies in their shoes and we used Story of the World Volume 2 to review the history behind St. Nicholas.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Christmas Countdown--20 Days until Christmas

Today's Bible reading is 1 Samuel 16:1b and 16:5-13. We'll read "B is for Bethlehem" and sing "Once in Royal David's City". Our activity for the day will be family Christmas caroling. For today we'll just gather around the piano. In past years we've enjoyed going with a group to a few local elderly apartments and nursing homes.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Finding The Perfect Christmas Gifts from the Heart

I wanted to share a really exciting thing that happened to us today.  

I had one more person (aside from the kids) to buy a Christmas gift for. It was someone who pretty much has everything they need. But the person means a lot to us and we wanted to give something useful and thoughtful.

Our literature readings today were about giving gifts from the heart. One story told of a person who had only 60 cents to spend on each of his remaining gifts. One has to get pretty creative to accomplish that. But the gifts that were given ended up being very meaningful--a bundle of sticks with a note saying "Let's always stick together" and a candle with a note saying "You're the light of my life".

My son thought this was absolutely great and proceeded to give his visiting grandmother a roll of tape with a note saying "Let's always stick together". My mind was aflutter with ideas for this last Christmas present I had to buy. Most of the gifts we came up with are quite small, but the notes serve the purpose of sharing things I might not otherwise take the opportunity to say.

 Here's part of my list. I hope you can use this idea for someone special to you as well. My kids enjoyed helping come up with ideas. Feel free to share your ideas, too!

1. (lightbulb) You brighten my life.
2. (pad and pencil) You're all "write".
3. (mints) You're a breath of fresh air.
4. (toothpicks) I'll always pick you.
5. (can of mandarin oranges) Orange you glad we're related?
6. (anything sugary) Taking walks with you is so sweet.
7. (a homemade CD of the kids talking, singing...) We wanted you to CD best of our kids. (This is a far-away relative!)
8. (pen) You're indis pen sible.
9. (coffee creamer) You're the cream of the crop.
10. (wooden spoon) You stir up warm feelings of times spent together.
11. (Teddy Grahams) We wish you a beary Merry Christmas.
12. (roll of toilet paper) Thinking of you as the days roll by. (Or "Thanks for being my "roll" model.)
13. (postage stamps) Your recipes have my stamp of approval.
14. (jar of spices) You spice up our lives.
15. (eraser) I'm so glad you've rubbed off on me.
16. (Christmas tree-shaped Little Debbies) Talking with you is always a "treet".
17. (angel ornament) You're an angel.
18. (Life cereal) I thank God that you're in my Life.
19. (can of frosting) You're the icing on the cake.
20. (box of pudding) Thanks for all the times you "pud" me first. (Or "I appreciate that you never hesitated to "pud" me in my place".)
21. (pet rocks the kids made) You rock! (Or "Our friendship is as strong as a rock".)
22. (nickel) If I had a nickel for every time you came to my rescue, I'd be rich.
23. (pennies) Being your friend makes perfect "cents".
24. (Snickers) Your jokes make me snicker.
25. (candy canes) We're hooked on you.
26. (100 grand bar) Your love is worth more than $100,000.
27. (cheese balls) Every time we're with you we have a ball.
28. (nuts) We're nuts about you (or your cooking...)
29.(Hershey Hugs and Kisses) Closing this with hugs and kisses. 

Many of these things we already had in our school supply stash or in the kitchen. Each is individually wrapped with a note. We won't be able to do all of the ideas this year, but I'm definitely saving the list for a couple people I already bought gifts for, to use next year.

Have fun!

Christmas Countdown--21 Days Until Christmas

The Bible story for today is from the book of Ruth. I'll summarize the book and then read 4:13-17 (Ruth as the relative of King David). The carol will be "What Child is This?" We'll relate the "peasant king" and "King of kings" to our Bible reading. The literature selection for the day is a story from a Christmas anthology.

The kids love making graham cracker "gingerbread" houses and it's a yearly tradition. We have plenty of Teddy Grahams and bits of Halloween treats left over to decorate them.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Christmas Countdown--22 Days Until Christmas

Our Bible reading for today is from Deuteronomy 18:15-19. We'll sing "Away in a Manger" and read a couple of short Christmas stories that remind us about the true meaning of the season.

Our big activity for today is a trip to an arboretum about an hour away that has a big lights display and an indoor holiday village.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Christmas Countdown--23 Days Until Christmas

As part of today's school, we'll read Genesis 28:10-17 (Jacob's dream). We'll sing angel-related Christmas carols (Angels We Have Heard on High...) and read "The Cat that Climbed the Christmas Tree". To continue the angel theme we'll make some angel ornaments and do an angel-shaped handprint/footprint craft that will make nice thank you cards to use after Christmas.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Christmas Countdown--24 Days until Christmas

Today we'll be making some Christmas goodies as part of our Christmas countdown. I picked a couple of easy treats (chocolate dipped pretzels, Kiss cookies) for which I can get their part ready easily or even beforehand. They can help measure as their attention allows (we'll see).

The Bible reading is from Genesis 15:1-6 (God's promise to Abraham). We'll sing "A Great and Mighty Wonder" with its "...and peace on earth to men" refrain. Our book will be "Cranberry Christmas" by Wende and Harry Devlin. It goes well with our baking theme. If the kids would enjoy the Cranberry Cookie recipe included in the book we'd make those, too. Much of the book's theme revolves around the community skating pond, but unfortunately we don't have one of those to get out and use.

Christmas Countdown--25 Days until Christmas

Our story today was "The Story of the Christmas Rose". It went well with the hymn "Behold a Branch is Growing" (same as "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming"). I also took requests. This has become a required portion of the countdown! The Bible reading for today was Genesis 3:1-15 (Fall and Promise).

In "The Story of the Christmas Rose" the main character stops to help or feed several woodland animals. We wanted to echo this sentiment in the yard. Pinecones rolled in peanut butter and seeds work well. I've also seen this done with a hanging container filled with cereal or popcorn and cranberries strung on thread.

We also went to the library today where they had supplies set up to make (large!) 3D paper snowflakes. The project was similar to that seen here, except that the library used full sheets of paper, fancy-edged scissors, and hole punches to make the snowflake fancier. I felt that the project was very do-able even for my 5 year-old (when done together) and the results are quite stunning.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Christmas Countdown--Bonus

I'd heard about people who have a winter snow picnic and I'd been wishing for some perfect packing snow during our countdown days. Today we got several inches of it! We made a little snow table with little snow chairs and had hot chocolate and cookies. It was one of the highlights of my week so far. (But next time I think I'll take something waterproof to sit on!)

Christmas Countdown-26 Days until Christmas

Today's book was "Christmas in the Big Woods" a "My First Little House Book". We talked a little bit about the simple traditions of yesteryear holidays. We pointed out similarities and differences between ourselves and Laura's family: the presents Laura got and the things she did for fun. In the book Ma makes pancake people for Christmas and we made pancake people for our lunch as well.

The Bible verses today were from Genesis 2:4-25--the creation of man and woman. "Of the Father's Love Begotten" is a Christmas hymn that fit well with the text. The children also had a chance to request a Christmas song.

For a messy project we made string Christmas snowballs. I thought they could remind us of the creation story since they're shaped like the globe. Note: The balls dried beautifully and I'd like to do the project again sometime BUT I would definitely add the glitter BEFORE popping the balloon. We followed the directions and popped the balloon, then painted the balls again with glue, then added glitter. The balls started to change shape (being wet from the second round of glue) and one of them even completely flattened and had to be redone.

I also made logic puzzles for the kids with holiday words. I think this type of puzzle is called chain letters. The letters must be linked in the correct order, and you may not cross over any other letters. Both the 5 year old and 7 year olds like these. Here is an example with the answer "candle". The puzzles can be made with 10 letter-words as well, adding a line of four circles under the line of three. The six-letter words I used to make their puzzles: Joseph, angels, lights, advent, candle, wreath, sleigh, and manger. My seven year-old realized that in his puzzle "manger" could also be "german". Leave it to him to find something new.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Christmas Countdown-27 Days to Christmas

The kids are excited about Day 1 and they're eager to share their suggestions on ways we can celebrate the season.

For today, we did our Bible reading from John 1. I decided that we'd have a "star" theme for today's activities. We sang "We Three Kings" and its "star of wonder" refrain. Our book for today was "S is for Star: A Christmas Alphabet" by Cynthia Furlong Reynolds. We then cut easy origami-type paper stars. Each child used one of their stars to make a thank-you card which we'll use after Christmas. We'll also use these stars to decorate the house and eventually the Christmas tree as a way to re-focus our attentions during the busiest times of the upcoming season.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Christmas Countdown--Advent Bible Readings

I've been doing a lot of thinking about how to count down the days until Christmas. I've made a list of crafts and things to do as well as learning activities in the subject areas. I'll share these a bit later (still tweaking).

For today I'll share our list of Bible readings that we'll be using from Sunday, November 28 (the first Sunday in Advent) until Christmas Day (28 readings total). I hope these can be useful to you in your regular family devotion times.

In a nutshell, the readings begin with the beginning. They trace God's continued promises to His people over thousands of years until the fulfillment of these with the birth of Christ. The last readings tell about Jesus' work on earth and culminate with readings from Holy Week and Easter.

John 1:1-5 (Christ, the Word, and the beginning)
Genesis 2:4-25 (the creation of Adam and Eve)
Genesis 3:1-15 (the Fall and the Promise)
Genesis 15:1-6 (God's promise to Abraham)
Genesis 28:10-17 (Jacob's dream and God's promise)
Deuteronomy 18:15-19 (God's prophets speak God's Word)
Ruth 4:13-17 (after summarizing Ruth 1-4, use these verses show the continued line of Christ)
1 Samuel 16:1B and 16:5-13 (David anointed)
Psalm 40 (prayer for God's deliverance from sin)
Psalm 24 (What does God do? He acts.)
Isaiah 40:1-5 and 40:9-11 (Comfort and God our Shepherd)
Isaiah 9:2 and 9:6-7 with Isaiah 60:1-3 (People in darkness and For unto us...)
Isaiah 11:1-11a (Root from Jesse to redeem for the second time)
Luke 1:5-25 (John the Baptist's birth foretold) and John 1:19-28 (John's later message)
Luke 1:26-38 (the annunciation) and Isaiah 7:13-14 foretells this about 700 years earlier
Matthew 1:18-25 (angel's message to Joseph)
Luke 1:39-56 (Mary visits Elizabeth)
Luke 2:1-20 (Jesus' birth) with Philippians 4:4-9 (what we now do)
Luke 2:21-40 (Jesus' presentation at temple)
Matthew 2:1-23 (Magi visit, Mary, Joseph, Jesus escape to Egypt, return)
Psalm 98 (joyous psalm good for use with Joy to the World)
2 Corinthians 8:9 (Christ, who was rich, became poor. Good for use with various Christmas hymns)
Luke 3:1-6 and 21-23a (Jesus baptized by John)
Luke 4:1-13 (Jesus tempted by the devil)
Luke 19:28-38 and Luke 22:1-6 (Palm Sunday)
Luke 22:7-23 and Matthew 26:36-50 (Last Supper and arrest)
Matthew 27:11-26 and John 19:16-20, 28-30 (Jesus before Pilate, crucifixion, death)
Luke 23:50 through 24:1-8 (burial and resurrection)

Note: To start making this list I consulted an online advent calendar. Then I modified and added readings taking into account some of our church's readings for the upcoming weeks. Finally, I added a few days of readings from Holy Week and Easter. After all, the reason Christ came at Christmas was for our salvation through His death and resurrection on Good Friday and Easter. God's blessings on your Christmas Countdowns!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Little Extra Spanish Practice

We've recently come upon a couple more great ways to practice our Spanish vocabulary.

1. I give the kids a lunch menu with food choices listed only in Spanish. It's a great way to pracice the names for numerous foods. It's also a great way to have them practice asking for things and saying thank you in Spanish. They can ask for cold/hot, big/little foods, and a certain number of foods if they can remember those words in Spanish. 

2. In a similar way, I can use Spanish words in center time directions and instructions in other subjects. Useful words here are "write", "read", "draw", the colors, and direction words like "under, above, beside". Examples include instructions to measure the "lapiz rojo", circle the "quinto" square, or find two adjectives on "la página 25".

A Way to Change Up School for the Busy Holiday Season?

I've been invited to try Time4Learning for one month in exchange for a candid review. My opinion will be entirely my own, so be sure to come back and read about my experience. Time4Learning can be used as an online homeschooling curriculum, a web based afterschool tutorial or an online summer program. Find out how to write your own curriculum review for Time4Learning.

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Way to Start the Day

How do you get your school days moving?

In order to just give a little nudge toward getting ready for the day I thought it would be interesting to write notes to the kids on the bathroom mirror with a dry-erase marker. It's something my roommates and I did in college and it was often a way to brighten someone else's day.

Sometimes I will write just a simple message about an event for the day. Sometimes it can be a riddle for them to solve. Anyone who has gotten ready for the day can then eagerly report to me at the breakfast table about what they think the answer is. I can also leave out letters of some words, make a grammatical mistake to be discovered, etc.

As an added bonus, the kids usually want to take a turn.

The down side: I think I may need a bigger mirror.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My Favorite Free "Academic" Websites-Reading


What: Read a book. Go to the website (which is created and maintained by Sylvan learning) and take a short comprehension quiz. Earn points based on your score. There are ready-made prizes. Parents/Teachers can also make their own "prize library" based on your favorite rewards and the number of points you would like your kids to earn. There is also a "team" option where your entire group can work together to reach a specific goal.

Who: This site is for kids in grades K-8.

Why I like it: It gives me a chance to do a quick "check" to see if the kids are comprehending the books they read.

Why the kids like it: Did I mention prizes? The kids love to work toward earning extra privileges and prizes that they have helped plan. We use our "prize library" more than the ready-made library from Sylvan, but a couple years ago my son did earn a pretty cool card game.

How long I have used it: I've used this site for more than three years. I started an account for each child as soon as they could read easy books on the list (Clifford, Mercer Mayer).

Drawbacks: I'd love to see a bigger list of books available.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Laundry "Aha" Moment

I can't tell you how many times I've put things into the dryer that shouldn't be dried. I'm a multitasker. Somewhere in my haste to get the laundry from washer to dryer I forget that there is something delicate that should be "laid flat to dry" or hung.

The other day I had a brainstorm. You've all probably been doing this for years, but I wondered, "Why not jot a note right on the washer lid?" (In addition to being a multitasker I'm also a compulsive list-maker.)

From then on I've been keeping a dry-erase marker next to my laundry soap and dryer sheets. Each time I put something into the washer, I make a little number in the corner of the washing machine lid for the number of items that shouldn't be put into the dryer.

The results: A perfect record so far. As a bonus, it's also ended up being a good "red flag" if someone else goes to put the clothes into the dryer other than the person that started the load.

I have found that I need to be a little careful with the brand of dry-erase marker I use. Some come off easily with just a wipe. Others seem to require a bit of water and a firmer swipe.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Celebrating 10/10/2010 Idea List 2 and Update

My second grader did several "10" activities today.
-Find the 10 errors in this story.
-Find the time in 10 minutes, 10 minutes ago, in 10 hours.
-Put these 10 words in alphabetical order: kitten, kite, kaput, krill, knuckle, knock, kindness, Korea, kangaroo, kumquat. I thought his mind was really working when he said to me, "Why didn't you give me words starting with the 10th letter of the alphabet?" He's always thinking!
-Answer these 10 history review questions.
-Match these 10 world countries with their capital cities.
-Make any combination of these notes (whole notes, half, quarter, eighth, rests) which equal 10 beats total.
-Compose an original song using only these 10 notes on the piano.

So far, this has been a fun diversion from our regular lessons. He's completing tasks which meet state standards, too!

Here are some other ideas we came up with, but haven't used yet:

-Read up to chapter 10 in our current read-aloud book.
-Find 10 books on your shelf written in the last 10 years.

-Find 10 abbreviations and 10 homophones in the newspaper.

-Add 10 adjectives to liven up the story you wrote last week.
-Journal topic: What would you like to be able to do by age 10?
-Journal topic: I wish I knew 10 _______... If I swallowed 10__________...

-Count the number of days until we can celebrate 11-11-2011!
-Write ten < > = number sentences.
-Count out 10+10+10 pennies. Make a graph to show how many were minted within the last 10 years and how many were minted before that time. Were there any surprising results?

-Name 10 countries in the northern hemisphere.
-Put these 10 events from the Middle Ages (our current history time) in chronological order.

-Find 10 constellations or heavenly bodies in the night sky. (We're currently studying space science.)
-Take a 10 minute nature hike.

-Take 10 minutes to do some outdoor photography. Look through the pictures and choose 10 you'd like to keep and print.

-Do something very special on 10-10-2010 at 10:00.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Celebrating 10/10/10 - Idea List 1

I know 10-10-2010 is on a Sunday, but I couldn't resist...

I usually stick pretty closely to our curriculum, but after 50 school days we're all ready for something a little different.

Today we started brainstorming a list of ways we can celebrate 10/10/10 across all curriculum subjects. Everyone in the family from 5 to adult was giving input. I'm so excited that I had to share what we've come up with so far. And we're just getting started! We're on such a roll, I fear it may take us 10 days to celebrate all of our ideas! I hope there are at least a couple of ideas here that help you! Have fun learning!

(These ideas are for our second grade and kindergarten levels, but I tried to make some notes on how they could be adapted for higher levels.)

-Do handwriting practice with 10 letters.
-Do handwriting practice with words that are 10 letters long.
-Write a 10-line poem.
-Write a complete sentence which is 10 words long.

-Have three free reading sessions, 10 minutes each. Or do 10 minutes independently + 10 minutes listening to me + 10 minutes reading with your reading partner.
-Read 10 picture books. Older students could read 10 chapters. Choose your favorite and write or draw about your favorite character or favorite part of the book.

-Practice 10 new spelling words.
-Do a crossword puzzle with 10 clues about a theme you're studying. I love to use puzzlemaker. Other types of word puzzles are available for you to make (for free!) there, too.

-Learn 10 new words.
-Practice dictionary skills with those 10 words.
(Puzzlemaker puzzles are good for these, too.)

-Name 10 nouns (or pronouns, verbs, adjectives...).
-Find and recite several 10-line poems.
-Find 10 proofreading errors in this letter I wrote to you.

-Create a design with 10 pattern blocks. Older students create a design with 10 each of the different shapes of blocks.
-Younger students can practice counting out 10 of all sorts of things. These can be used later for the art activities, snack times, etc.
-Solve my pre-made design using 10 pattern blocks.
-Find the full date 10 days from now.
-Use a newspaper grocery ad to make a meal plan for less than $10. Older students can be challenged to make a whole day's meals for under $10.
-How much do 10_____ weigh?
-Write 10 math problems that =10.
-How much would 10 ______ cost?
-Estimate: Will these 10 _____ weigh more or less than 10 g (or 10 pounds)? Advanced: Fido weighs 3.5 pounds. Are you heavier or lighter than 10 Fidos?
-Find 10 things around the room that are less than 10 inches long. Record what you find and their lengths.
-Show a clock. What time will it be in 10 minutes? What time was it 10 minutes ago?
-"If you pay for a $3.99 pumpkin using a $10 bill, how much change should you get back?" and similar making change problems. 
-Measure 10g + 10g + 10g of three different cereals for breakfast or a snack.
-Practice fractions with denominators of 10.

-Find 10 world capitals or countries of the world. This can be done using rivers, bodies of water, mountain ranges around the world, too.
-Find 10 new facts about a country of your choice.
-Find a list of grocery prices from the 1920s. What could you buy with 10 cents? How do each of these items compare with their prices today. Older students can find the difference between the prices or compute the percent increase in price.

-Try 10 new foods. (My picky-eater son came up with this one!)
-Learn 10 new facts about your current science topic (ours is space).
-Health: How many calories in 10 carrots? 10 Tootsie Rolls?
-Collect 10 different kinds of leaves.

-Make a picture or painting using 10 different colors.
-Make a collage using 10 pieces of ____, 10 pieces of ______, and 10 pieces of ____. (I suppose you could use 10 pieces, 10 pieces, and 2,010 but who is going to sit and count out that many?!?)
-Work together to make 10 notecards with your art supplies. We'll use these later when writing to people.

-Use a mixed-artist music CD to listen to songs by 10 different artists. Compare and contrast the moods, tempo, etc. of the pieces.

-Do 10 jumping jacks (or sit-ups, windmills...).
-How far can we walk/run in 10 minutes? (Go somewhere that you can easily measure this or use a route that can be checked with your car's odometer.)
-Make a goal to shoot 10 basketball hoops, 10 baseball hits to the outfield, 10 soccer goals.

-Learn 10 new words in that language.
-Find out how to count to 10 in 10 different languages.

-Spend 10 minutes on your typing program.

-Can you beat me at chess in 10 minutes?

-How could I do enough chores to earn $10? (This one came from my financially-interested son.)
-My husband suggested that he find 10 ways to give $1 or do 10 good things for someone else using a $10 budget.
-Phone skills: Call Grandpa (or your most patient relative) and tell him 10 jokes.
-Help plan and make a 10-ingredient salad for dinner.

-Give an extra 10 minutes of recess, screen time, or anything else you use to celebrate hard work well done.
-Do pretty much any activity for 10 minutes. One I'd love to use on a rough day: Can we all refrain from talking for 10 minutes?

Some ideas here are similar to the ways we celebrate the 100th day of school. Other ideas are new for us. I can't wait to get started!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

50 States

Did you know that "Grand Old Flag" is the perfect tune for memorizing the 50 states?

I didn't either. But on a (very) long family car trip a few years ago I decided to "entertain" myself by looking at a map of the 50 states. (I was the passenger, of course.) This map also listed the order in which the states were admitted.

"Wouldn't it be great to know all 50 states in order?" I asked myself.

With nothing but miles ahead of me I started experimenting with songs that might fit the natural rhythm of the states. Eventually I stumbled upon "Grand Old Flag" and it fit so well that I had to use it. By the time we had reached our destination, I had almost all 50 memorized.

You may not believe me, but my 2 year-old, blessed to be stuck with me in the back, had the first section memorized, too! It didn't matter that he didn't completely understand the words; he just loved music and he loved to repeat things. (He also loved "showing off" to his amazed relatives on that visit, and took pride in teaching the states to his Grammy!) Even today, 5 years later, it doesn't take much effort to recall those states. 

Music is powerful. I often remember places, people, events from the past just by hearing one line of a song. It's an awesome tool for bringing together bits of information and making them much easier to memorize.

I've broken up the states by verse below:
(As a bonus, the first 13 states are also the 13 colonies)

Delaware, Pennsylvania,
New Jersey, Georgia,
Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland,
South Carolina, New Hampshire,
Virginia, New York,
North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont,
Kentucky, Tennessee,
Ohio, Louisiana,
Indiana, Mississippi, Illinois,
Alabama, Maine, Missouri,
Arkansas and Michigan

Florida, Texas
Iowa, Wisconsin,
California, Minnesota, Oregon,
Kansas, West Virginia,
Nevada, Nebraska,
Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota
Montana, Washington,
Idaho, Wyoming,
Utah, Oklahoma, New Mexico,
Arizona, Alaska, Hawaii
And the Capital is Washington, D.C.

I hope to figure out how to insert a listening clip of these. Enjoy!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Can I really be two places at once--a follow-up

I was thinking yesterday about how I could utilize the tape recorder idea in new ways.

I decided I should ask dear hubby if he'd be willing to do the recording sometimes, since he's usually not with us during school time.

I also thought about asking the children's far-off relatives if they'd be willing to try this in some way.

If you have any other ideas about how the tape recorders could be used I'd love to hear about them!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Can I really be in two places at once?

Using a tape recorder:

Although my children are relatively young yet (5 and 7) I find that it can be difficult to address both of their needs at the same time. I can only imagine that this feeling multiplies for those parents with more children.

I've tried to help my children develop independence, but it is a slow road. To help bridge the gap I've sometimes used a tape recorder so that I can truly be two places at once.

Here are a few ways I've used the recorder:
*I record spelling words for my 7 year-old to write.
*I record instructions to go along with a paper-and-pencil activity that would otherwise raise questions. (Sometimes they listen better to my voice on tape than to the "actual" me!)

Here are a few ways the kids can use the recorder:
*My 7 year-old who is a bit of a reluctant writer can sometimes record his answers instead of writing them. For instance, he can record the word meanings for a list of vocabulary words.*The 7 year-old reads books on tape so that I can check his oral reading skills. It also gives the 5 year-old a ready-made listening center.
*He can clap out the rhythms from pre-made musical rhythm cards.
*They can "talk through" a story that they're composing and then use the recording to type it later (or have me type it for the younger one).

This idea takes a bit of extra time on my part. But it's worth it because then I can maximize the time I have with one student while the other is also working on their schoolwork. When used sparingly, it seems to hold their attention. I love having this as one of the "tricks" I have up my sleeve.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Keeping Track of Items While Traveling

Taking a Minute to Take Inventory

Whenever we go to visit friends for a playdate, visit family, or take toys and learning activities on a trip, I like to know that we've got everything before we return home. I give each child a ziploc or cloth bag for their items. We count the number of items in the bag and then we label the bag with a tag showing that number. It works well when we take games or other "sets" of things along with us, too.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Spelling and PE 1

Here is an active way to practice spelling words:

Before you play, cut pieces of scrap paper about 3 inches square. You'll need 26 pieces. Write one letter on each square, A-Z. Arrange these letters in order, in a line on the floor. You'll need some space, so clear away any furniture or other obstacles. 

To play, call out one of your weekly spelling words. Your child then hops to each letter of the word calling out the letter as she gets there. Repeat with a new word.

You can change the game by asking her to crawl to the letters, do the crabwalk, walk backwards, etc. The game can also be played outside using sidewalk chalk.

One feature I like about this game is that I can use it for two children at the same time in a relay fashion. (They're glad to get a break between words.)

We've also played it by taping the letters onto the wall (we need to repaint anyway, so I'm not worried about tape marks).

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Math and Reading

Paying For a Good Story: Add a little bit of math review into your regular day.

Sometime before storytime have your child help you make price tags. These will vary depending on the level of your student. The most basic price tags will be 2 cents, 4 cents, 7 cents or 20 cents, 40 cents, and 70 cents. The next level could have any price up to 99 cents. The last levels might show prices between $1.01 and $99.99. Place these tags hanging out of the tops of several of your favorite storytime books.

At the beginning of storytime, ask your child to select a book he'd like to read. Have him count out the price of the story with play money. The excitement of this activity has usually lasted a couple of days for us.

One variation on this is to have price tags on his favorite toys or video games. He can spend as much of his play money as he would like in order to "buy" these toys or games for free time.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Foreign Language and Life Skills 1

Grocery Hunt

When my kids join me for grocery shopping, I like to keep them busy. I usually give them a list of things to find with the corresponding price to look for (if it's something that was advertised in the flier). The kids look for the items on their lists while we shop together.

In itself, I think this provides great lessons in economics, healthy foods, and financial literacy.

Whenever I write their lists in Spanish, the trip also lends itself to some extra vocabulary review.

I might send them for:

manzana (apple)
uva (grape)
cheese (queso)
pan (bread)

Or I can send them for a certain number of an item:
apples: seis (6)
grapes: more than veinte (20)

If I was at a department store I could even give them a list with words like lapiz (pencil) and quaderno (notebook).

Foreign Language and PE 1

Here's a heart-pumping way to review foreign language vocabulary words.

Before the game begins: Scatter Spanish vocabulary words throughout your playing area. Spread them all around your space to get maximum exercise value. If playing outdoors, you can tape words to the sidewalk, trees, porch, flowerbox, etc. If playing indoors you can hide them in different rooms, under tables, on the wall just at the tip of your children's reach.

Call the troops: Explain to them that they will take turns finding and retrieving one vocabulary word. They are to say what the word means in English. If it is correct, the next person takes a turn. If incorrect, they should go back and return the word for someone else to translate. (You could also just keep a pile of the unknown words to be translated as a team at the end of the game.)

Foreign Language and Science 1

One way to connect Spanish (or another foreign language) with science is to learn various words from your current topic in that foreign language.

For instance, during our unit on space we learn words such as these:


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

How We Structure Our School Days-Time

Since my kids tend to thrive on the predictable, we try to keep a basic structure on school days. The subjects change but the time spent doing schoolwork tends to stay largely the same.

A typical day starts between 8:15 and 8:30 with a short task.  It's usually something that the kids can accomplish mostly on their own while I get breakfast ready. This gets us thinking in "school" mode. It also gives us the chance to "cross something off our list".

I usually try to teach one of the subjects we do together (religion, science, history) while they eat breakfast. It's often something they listen to and then we discuss. They're a captive audience and we're together anyway.

After breakfast we'll do any writing or activities that accompany the breakfast lesson.

Then we'll usually split up for one-on-one subjects. I'll assign one child to a "center" activity, folder work, or something on the computer that can be completed with little or no help from me. The other child and I will work on a subject like math, language arts, or handwriting that is best done without outside interruption. After I'm done with one child I'll switch and work with the other.

Depending on the day, this is a good time for a little break. I try to gauge this based on the intensity of the work already completed or whether any of us seem to have a real need for it at this point.

Some days we'll also come back together for a "morning meeting" which is another subject we do together. I try to make this subject something less academic, since at this point we've already put in a significant amount of time working. Playing Spanish vocabulary bingo, doing an art project, or reading together fit this theme.

After this, the kids enjoy a well-deserved break. Someday I'll figure out how to squeeze a break in here for myself, too. For now I'm usually cleaning up, putting away the morning's tidbits, and making lunch.

There are often a few assignments leftover for the afternoon. These are usually accomplished without too much complaint, since they are followed by free time. It's also the time of day we'll watch any videos that would accompany one of our academic subjects.

I'm a big fan of active, physical, (hopefully) outdoor time. We all try to get out as a family each day in the evenings. (Besides the health benefits, the obvious benefit is having kids who are tired enough to get to sleep at a decent time!) We also like to squeeze some active time in during the school day.

I'll address the questions of "What are we doing today?" and "Are we done yet?" in another post.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Still Getting Goosebumps

There's a first time for everything.

Experiencing something for the very first time can provoke a very intense reaction. These can be intimidating (think "going to the dentist for the first time"). They can also be magical and powerful.

The other day my apprentices were dutifully completing their lessons. The clouds outside the patio window confessed that a storm was brewing. As the wind decidedly began to pick up I noticed a fascinating sight that I had never seen before.

A swarm of monarch butterflies was taking flight out of the backyard trees. This group of maybe 30 or 40 magnificent little creatures had previously gone unnoticed. But together they became such a sight that we had to immediately drop everything else and take it all in. It took me quite by surprise, and I never even thought to grab the camera.

It was a good reminder that our students are also experiencing things brand new to them. There is an inherent sense of wonder and enthusiasm that accompanies this. These are powerful moments to capitalize on and to enjoy together.

I also think it's valuable that the kids saw my own excitement at experiencing something completely new. They sometimes get the impression that we have a basic grasp on pretty much everything (read "they think we think we know-it-all"). It's good for them to remember that we, too, have many things available to us that we can explore as well.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Supporting the Library

As an educator, I use my own public library several times a week. On an average week my family may have 30-40 books checked out altogether.

I make frequent (that may be an understatement) use of our interlibrary loan program.

My kids attend varied programs at the libraries in our region at no cost, and I get to count them toward our school goals.

Yes, I pay for this through my taxes, but...

I continually ask could I teach successfully without these services? How many books on the ancient Celts does *my own* library have? How many videos on the digestive system does it have? Do I have the skills to put on my own live autoharp and Peruvian flute concert? 

No (especially to that last one).

If I donate just 25 cents per day to my local library I probably won't notice any difference in my wallet. It's also a very hands-on organization that my kids can see value in contributing to. What if I told my kids that they could pick out a movie from the library once a month instead of renting one, giving the extra money as a donation? It could prove to be a worthwhile lesson that benefits both my kids and my library.

Celebrating Hobbies

One of my greatest joys in teaching is when children are so engaged in their subject matter that they don't realize they're learning.

One way I've stumbled upon these moments is when I've followed someone's hobby or area of interest. In the classroom I vividly remember a unit I developed on the Titanic. It was an interest of mine, and very intriguing for the kids. In my homeschool my most recent examples of this come from baseball and NASCAR. 

I still find great value in following a curriculum and I do use structured resources most of the time. But sneaking in the *exact same* learning objectives while hiding them within an area of interest rejuvenates both me and my students.

Story of the World History CDs

I consider myself to be quite frugal on the spending spectrum, so I'm always excited when I find a resource that's well worth its money.

For history, we use Story of the World written by Susan Wise Bauer and recommended in The Well Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. There are CDs available to complement the series--unabridged versions of the textbook. These are read by Jim Weiss, award-winning storyteller.

My children, especially the 7 year-old, listen to the CDs by choice during afternoon free time, at meals, in the van, etc. Thus, by the time we actually get to a certain chapter in the textbook, they may have already heard the section 2, 3, 10 times already. This greatly adds to their comprehension, makes their summarizing simpler, and their activities that much more enjoyable.

We also used it at the end of last year to review (and to cover the chapters we hadn't gotten done). 

This expenditure may not pay off as well for other families. I would strongly suggest checking to see if your library system has a copy of one volume. If your kids seem to enjoy listening, it may be worth the money for to purchase as well. 

Monday, August 30, 2010

How We Structure Our Year

We currently live in a state that does not have a law regarding the number of days or hours that we homeschool.

Still, it seems helpful to me to know that we're not trying to fit in "too much" or doing "too little".

Every spring, I use a calendar to map out a 180 school-day calendar.

Last year I actually wrote down which days we would be doing school, knowing that it wasn't absolutely set in stone (family things come up, kids get sick...). We actually stuck to it pretty well, beginning August 1 and ending May 19. It was a good plan.

This year we're trying something a little different. I did short review (often fun review) sessions throughout the summer to keep the kids current on their skills. I counted these toward their new 180-day school year (so I guess this year we technically are doing school year-round). I wrote down only how many days per month we would be doing school. It works out to about 4 days per week.

Each year I also try to map out the materials we'll be using for each school subject as well as how many days per week we should be doing them.

Our subject areas this year include Reading, Writing, Grammar, Phonics, Vocabulary, Other Language Arts, Math, History, Science, Religion, Logic, Art, Music, Dance/Theater, PE, Computers/Keyboarding, Latin, Spanish, Life Skills/Character Education, Community-Based Learning, and Hobby/Interest Areas.

Celebration Books

The Celebration Book Box falls under that category of "Educational Rewards". These awards have an inherent educational value to them. They are "gifts that keep on giving" (and they are one of my kids' favorite rewards)!

I collect very good quality books from yard sale and thrift stores. (When I was in a classroom I also collected the "free book" points from the book clubs to use for ordering books.) I keep them in a special place, but you could certainly keep them in a decorated box if you have the extra space.

I keep books with a variety of subject matter, trying to keep in mind the kids' current interests. (Of course, sometimes a new topic inspires a new interest.) I also keep books of different levels and look for books of a certain series currently popular with the kids (Magic Tree House, Jigsaw Jones, Encyclopedia Brown, Arthur, Arch Books).

I most often use these when we have reached a reading goal. For six months during the school year the kids are involved in the Book-It Program through Pizza Hut. For some of the other months, we use the Celebration Books.

It's also handy to have some of these books around for the end of thematic units in history and science. A homemade "Certificate of Completion" and a great book on space are often welcomed at the end of a fun unit on the solar system.

The Well-Utilized Reward

I'm always looking for ways to encourage my kids to do their best and achieve their goals. While it is important that students feel an internal sense of pride for work well done, it is also nice for them to sometimes have rewards from the outside as well.   

In this section, I'll post some ideas for a variety of rewards, as well as a few thoughts on when rewards can fittingly be used.