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.