Thursday, December 29, 2011

One of the ways I get to enjoy Christmas break

High ratio of creamer to coffee, with a dollop of whipped cream for good measure.
Holly and jolly at the same time.

Monday, December 26, 2011

A bit out of the loop

Having spent many hours this Christmas season listening to different types of Christmas music, I've realized that I'm a bit out of the loop on "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas".

As a homeschool Mom I just can't relate to the line that "Moms and Dads can hardly wait for school to start again".

Not me! I'm enjoying my break from lesson planning and I prefer gathering around the table for a board game rather than for lesson time.

From our house to yours,
Have a very Merry Christmas and Blessed New Year 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Interviewing Skills

After learning about the steps of conducting good interviews the kids spent some time practicing conducting interviews with each other.

*Make an appointment.
*List questions.
*Collect materials.

*Introduce yourself. 
*Listen carefully and maintain eye contact.
*Take notes.
*Ask questions to clarify.

*Write the interview information in a way that can be shared.

I got to thinking how very many people we could interview, just for a short couple of minutes to start with. People have such interesting stories and we, as people, love to talk about ourselves, right? Interviewing is great practice in listening skills and writing key words so you can remember what was said later. 

I've heard socialization described as the ability to be a contributing member of society as a whole. This sounds like a step in that direction.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Happiness Is...

...having both your children (6 and 8 y.o.) in suspense as to whether Elizabeth and Darcy will *ever* get together!

I have to admit that I was never really all that crazy about abridged versions of literature. I may be changing my mind a bit.

There is a series of book/CD sets of abridged classics that we've been reading/listening to lately. We've done everything from Captains Courageous and Moby Dick to A Christmas Carol and Pride and Prejudice. The kids are loving it.

On the downside of abridged versions I always kind of thought it was "cheating" a bit not to read the original.

On the upside, these are very high-reading level classics that they are now familiar with. They know the basic story line which is just enlightening. I also hope that someday when they're presented with the originals they're able to follow the storyline better since they know where it's going.

Any thoughts on abridged versions?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Time4Writing Review

Our two-week trial has sadly come to an end. It's time to share our thoughts about this program. Note: My son (age 8) was signed up for the "elementary paragraphs" course. 

-The course lessons could be completed at his pace. This is a huge bonus for my competitively-spirited ds. He loves working toward a laid-out goal of this type. The complete course was an 8-week course. During our 2 weeks he was able to finish 3/8 of the lessons. 
-The program lessons for this introduction to writing paragraphs were put together very well sequentially. The lesson was usually introduced by a video in which a teacher would tell what the new concept was. It was followed by some computer-graded lessons which would test whether the student understood the concept. There would then be a writing assignment that was turned in to an actual teacher. Within 24 hours the teacher would respond with comments and a grade.
-The teacher was great. Her feedback was given in a very positive manner and he took each suggestion very well (much better than he does from me).  :)
-Before beginning the program I wondered what the grading criteria would be. For this course a certain number of points were taken off for spelling and grammatical errors. This was clearly stated at the beginning which was very helpful. 

-Ds worked just about every weekday on a lesson during the first week. The second week was much busier around here for us and unfortunately he didn't get much of a chance to log in for the second week. That was certainly a missed opportunity since he really enjoyed the program. I suppose if I had purchased the 8-week course and then had some unexpected things had come up (preventing us from logging in as much as we'd like) I might feel as if I wasn't "getting my money's worth".  
-Since ds successfully completed his teacher-graded writing assignments, I can't say what would happen if a student didn't. For example, for an assignment to "write three supporting sentences for each topic sentence below" what would happen if a couple of the supporting sentences didn't really have a lot to do with the topic sentence? Would the student be asked to re-do the assignment or would points be taken off?
-This was my first experience using an online course with an actual teacher. I don't know what the average price is for such courses so I can't compare it numerically with anything. I can say that I would have a difficult time paying quite this much for an 8-week course for my third-grader. I might be willing to do so for a more advanced student, however, if I felt that he or she could really benefit from the expertise (think high school transcripts). I also wonder what would have happened if I purchased the 8-week course and he finished in 4 weeks. Have I purchased the course or have I purchased 8-weeks?

I would sincerely like to thank for this amazing opportunity to try their Elementary Paragraphs Course.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Celebrating 11-11-11: Just For Fun

Just for fun, the kids didn't get started with any schoolwork until 11:00.

Also, we're doing "eleven" activities both today (11-11) and tomorrow. We just had too many ideas that the kids wanted to do. So we'll celebrate both days.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Celebrating 11-11-11: Compiled List

As promised, here's our starter list of things to do with "elevens".

Ds8 decided that we could do 11 minutes of each subject. He also thought we could get 11 minutes of something extra-special. Maybe it could be electronic time, reading time at night, etc.

Other ideas:

-Can you use 11 coins to pay for these items in our pretend store?
-List 11 or more ways to make $11.11.
-Practice these 11 addition (or subtraction, multiplication, division) facts.
-How much money is in 11 pennies? What about 11 nickels, 11 dimes, 11 quarters, 11 half dollars, 11 ten-dollar bills, or 11 hundred-dollar bills?
-How many minutes are in 11 hours? How many seconds?

-Practice writing (print/cursive) these 11 letters.
-Use these 11 letters to come up with at least 11 different words. Use them to practice handwriting.

-In your journal, write about what you will be able to do when you're 11 that you can't do now. What won't you be able to do anymore that you can do now?
-Write a paragraph (topic, details, concluding sentences) about why I should give you 11 (fill in the blank).

-Use 11 spelling words this week.

-Put these 11 words into a vocabulary crossword puzzle using definitions as clues.
-Look up the definitions of these 11 words. 

-Find 11 nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, these sentences.
-Put these 11 words into alphabetical order.
-Make complete sentences with 11 words.

-Locate these 11 world capitals on the wall map.
-Find out what locations are within 11 miles of your home.

-Find out who was president 11 years ago. Ask someone to tell you what they remember about that person's presidency.

-Use Finale Notepad to make an original song using these 11 notes (the notes can be repeated more than once).

-Locate these 11 books at the library using their letter/number codes.

-Do an 11 minute walk/jog.
-Do sets of 11 jumping jacks, windmills, toe touches, etc.

-Count to 11 in the language you're studying. 
-Count to 11 in 11 different languages.

-Bake 11 (pretzels...) or make pancakes with 11 chocolate chips each. How many chips will we need for 2 pancakes each and 5 people?
-Estimate and check: how many M&Ms in 11 grams?

Celebrating 11-11-11: A Book List

I thought I'd post a list of some books with "eleven" theme you may be able to get from your library:
(Please note that there are quite a number I haven't read, so I *can't* vouch for their content.)
-Eleven (Winnie Years) by Lauren Myracle 
-Eleven by Patricia Reilly Giff
-Eleven Birthdays by Wendy Mass
-Santa's Eleven Months Off by Mike Reiss and Michael Montgomery
-Eleven Lazy Llamas by Dianna Bonder
-Eleven Kids, One Summer (An Apple Paperback) by Ann M. Martin
-Eleven Nature Tales (World Storytelling from August House) by Pleasant DeSpain
-Eleven Turtle Tales (American Storytelling) by Pleasant DeSpain
-Westward Ho!: Eleven Explorers of the American West by Charlotte Foltz Jones
-Eleven Elephants Going Up! by Bethany Roberts, Patricia Hubbell and Minh Uong
-Eleven Hungry Cats by Noboru Baba

More of our "eleven" themed activities to come...

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Trying Time4Writing has given me two weeks to try one of their teacher-led, online writing courses in exchange for an honest review.  Be sure to come back and read about my experience. To find out more about Time4Writing or how to write a review, contact them for more information.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Celebrating 11-11-11

Next up this week--the kids are helping brainstorm ways to celebrate 11s for this out-of-the-ordinary day.

We'll update you when we've got our list ready!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Edible History "Report"

My kids are a little young yet to do formal history reports. Yet they are old enough to learn a lot of good information about the history we read. So how do they share that information?

Last week we learned about Martin Luther and the Reformation. I happened to find some cookie cutters at an estate sale this summer that were perfect for a tie-in: Robin Hood (probably the person sent in UPCs from Robin Hood flour years ago).

We used the Friar Tuck cookie cutter to make Martin Luther the monk as well as John Tetzel. The castle and the knight cookie cutters became Martin Luther as Knight George hiding at the Wartburg. The Maid Marion and lute-player cookie cutters became Katie and Martin the family man. To fill in some dates the kids used number cookie cutters. We used a knife to cut out a church and a paper for the 95 theses.

We took the cookies to a get-together (with good friends) and they presented the recap of Luther and the Reformation. Unfortunately I didn't get pictures *before* we started eating them. It was great oral-presentation practice. Yummy, too!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Things Not Uttered in the Little House in the Big Woods

"Laura, would you please get me some propylene glycol and yellow number 5. I'm making a cake."

Sunday, October 16, 2011

When I Have Some Extra Time

I recently heard a recommendation for It caught my attention and I spent a bit of time poking around there.

It's basically a site where you can create booklists for yourself to read. You can also rate books you've already read and receive recommendations based on what you've enjoyed.

I'd like to get some more free time to really try out this site. Oh, to curl up with some great books I've been meaning to read!

I've also been wondering whether people have found this to be helpful for their kids. In some ways it seems that it could be a nice motivation to read--create your own list, mark books as "read", write reviews. On the other hand, there are some books on the site I'd rather not have recommended to the kids quite yet.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Messy Art-Jackson Pollock

There are a considerable number of messy projects on my to-do-with-the-kids-before-they-graduate bucket list. Many of the fun ones are accompanied by fair amounts of clean-up afterward. This week we tackled one of those projects. 

After reading the Mike Venezia biography about Jackson Pollock I showed them a 2 minute video clip of him working on one of his big splatter paintings. I was sure to point out Pollock's messy work boots so the kids knew what kind of fun awaited us. 

Then I found the biggest pieces of paper I could and we went outside to "work". (Really we went outside to get messy and laugh.) The paper was about 3 feet x 4 feet.
ds8's project

dd5's project

It was great fun for all three of us to make our own large-sized art.

The one thing I didn't plan for was how to get these projects into the house for drying and safe-keeping! If we had done this project in the morning, the paint would have had 10 hours to dry before we picked it up. We did it around 4:00, though, and had a tough time maneuvering through doors and down stairs without smearing the paint.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Love at First Listen--More Books on Tape

It's happened again! 

We put on a recording of Little House in the Big Woods and the kids are hooked.

I've written before about how we've used books on tape. This is another successful example. I can't say that ds8 or dd6 would have picked up these (long) books on their own. But now they're interested in the storyline and the lifestyle of this classic. It's provided for some really good discussion.

Another bonus is, of course, that there are another seven volumes of Little House books which they will likely pick up by choice in the months to come.

Some might wonder whether it's a good idea to let the tape do all the work. For us it's worked out pretty well. Once the kids get hooked they almost always pick up the books on their own. Sometimes they do it because they just can't wait to find out what happens next. (I suppose it helps that I'm well-known for stopping the tape "just at the good parts".) Other times they just like to re-read them.

I wonder if that could work for a Jane Austen classic...
Perhaps not quite yet.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Goodbye Again

Make new friends but keep the old;
One is silver and the other's gold.

This week we again say "goodbye" to a homeschooling family in our area. (Well, here in the Midwest, our "area" includes places a couple of hours away.)

It's the second time this year that we've sent prayers to accompany really great friends on their journey to new home. Do you ever get used to that?

It reminds me of my teaching days in Ft. Wayne. Our school had a good number of seminary families who would be in the area only a couple of years. The adults had this in mind regularly. But the kids didn't seem to notice most of the time--they cared deeply for one another without looking to the time they would go their separate ways. They made every day count.

Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends
 will leave footprints in your heart.-Eleanor Roosevelt

Rather Long Hiatus

Hello again!

It's been a while but I'm finally back after some summer relaxation. 

Thanks for sticking with me!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

If Life Had an "Undo" Button

When the kids began using our computer's word processing program, one of the very first things I taught the kids was how to use the "Undo" button. This nifty little button was able to reverse most of the errors that occurred during their typing. It brought back lines of text which had been accidentally erased. It turned off all sorts of functions that even I didn't know how to otherwise undo. (My son, even from a pretty young age, was quite good at discovering how to use various functions in the program and never once deleted my hard drive. I learned a few things by watching him!)

I was thinking today that sometimes I wish life had an "undo" button. Perhaps it could reverse time so that I could take back something I said. Perhaps it would allow me to change my tone of voice or the look on my face which often says more than the words themselves. Maybe it would help me, after seeing some end result, to go back and do something over a little differently, kind of like I "undo" some formatting that I thought would look good, but didn't.

Maybe I could press "maximize" to maximize my time or the money for my budget. Maybe I could "minimize" all of the things that get in the way of our time as a family or things that become stressful. Could I squeeze together my "margins" so I could get into a new dress? Could I "insert" some time to read a great book for myself?

Of course, if I had an "undo" button, maybe others would, too. Maybe they would go back and delete something that seemed embarrassing to them but brought joy to me (like those cute things our kids do before realizing that someone's watching).

It was just a fun opportunity to remind myself to think before I speak and act. When I get typing quickly, for instance, I tend to make more mistakes. The same is true when things get crazy around here.

Until I get an "undo" button, I've decided I'm going to just be content with my "home" button.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Review Game--Good Idea that Never Materialized

At the beginning of the last school year I thought it would be fun to keep a running list of things the kids had learned so that we could play various review games during the year and at the year's end. I thought it would be fairly easy to jot down something at the end of every couple of school days on an index card for this purpose. My goal was to write down a new vocabulary word, science or history fact, math topic, etc. on these cards.

While I still think it was a good idea, it just never really happened. As I was looking ahead to the coming school year, I wanted to use the idea but actually carry it out.

What would have worked better? Was it just a habit that I never formed? Was it something I should have assigned to the kids at the day's end? Has anyone ever succuessfully carried out this type of idea? I'd love to make this work.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Summer Literature: Paddle-to-the-Sea

There are a lot of great book lists out there. This summer we've been making our way through some of them. This week we had the opportunity to read Paddle-to-the-Sea by Holling C. Holling. It's a sweet story paired with lots of great geography. We discussed the book and traced the boat's travels on the map. We then watched the Oscar-nominated short film. I think I'm enjoying reading some of these books for the first time just as much as my kids. I'm a sucker for a great happy ending. I told them they could type their reactions onto my blog (which they thought needed more color, apparently).

Their basic summary of the book:
Paddle-to-the-Sea was a tiny canoe made by an Indian boy in Nipigon Country, Canada. The boy wanted it to sail to the sea. It had to go through five Great Lakes: Huron, Superior, Michigan, Erie, and Ontario. It sailed over Niagara Falls and through the St. Lawrence River to the North Atlantic Ocean. It even ended up in France!
DD5's thoughts:
     “I felt happy for Paddle at the end, because he made his adventure all through and kept his courage.”

     “I liked the book better because it showed all of where Paddle went but the movie just showed only parts until the lighthouse at the sea.”

DD8's thoughts:

     “I liked everything. I liked when he made it to the Soo Locks. I liked the ending because the Indian boy found out that his boat made it all the way to the sea.”

     “I liked the movie because it had details, closed captioning, and it was short.”

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

When do the kids listen to audiobooks?

In answer to The Mama's question I thought I'd give some idea of how we've used audiobooks.

We've done audiobooks at various times including:

-in the car while traveling (if it's a book everyone in the family will enjoy).
-during afternoon quiet time, each in his own room.
-during lunch sometimes.
-during the summer months when bedtimes are later each might read in their own rooms or listen to a book on tape before lights-out.

One thing I've noticed is that the kids are very willing to listen to something on tape or CD that is above their level, something they would not otherwise have taken off the shelf. It's happened with both of my children that they've enjoyed certain books this way. Often they return later to these books and they become some of their favorites. As a side note, ds8 has spent many hours reviewing history by listening to Story of the World on CD.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Books on CD-Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling

The kids have had a good time listening to these clever stories first published 100 years ago. They're on my list of classics-I-should-probably-have-read-but-didn't. Now I can enjoy them with my kids.

The kids can appreciate them on their own level. They love hearing about the outrageous antics of the characters as well as the crazy explanations for how things came to be (how the camel got his hump, why cats will always be enemies of dogs and men and why they prefer to be alone...).

I can appreciate them on a different level. I find myself laughing out loud at Kipling's clever use of words. How can a story go wrong when the father's name is 'Man-who-does-not-put-his-foot-forward-in-a-hurry', the mother's name is 'Lady-who-asks-a-very-many-questions', and the daughter's name is 'Small-person-without-any-manners-who-ought-to-be-spanked'?

But I wonder what kind of looks we'd get from the kids if dh and I started calling each other 'my Lady and Delight of my Life' or 'my Lord and Treasure of my Soul' (as in the "Butterfly That Stamped"). Those would surely provoke eye-rolls.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Music Exploration-George Gershwin

Although we're on our relaxed summer break, I happened to come across a fun-looking book/CD combination through the library.

Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue W /CD

It was really great. It tells the "why" and the "how" of how Rhapsody in Blue came to be. The kids were excited by the story and loved the catchy music, included on the CD. After reading the book and listening to the CD, the kids each spent some time using Finale Notepad to create their own original sheet music.

Gershwin kept a composing notebook, where he'd keep ideas of little themes of music he thought of. He never knew when they might be useful. As a future idea, the kids would like to keep examples of little themes they make up like this. Who knows when they might come in handy!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Is it my turn to pick the CD?

Is your household sometimes filled with the sounds of "No, it's my turn to..."

As an adult it sometimes boggles my mind that kids get so upset about (what seem to me to be) some very little things in life. I try to understand that these things are actually a very big deal in their eyes. Yet how can we avoid confrontations like this?

For us the answer came from above: God blessed us with two children, one born on an odd-numbered day and one born on an even-numbered day. I don't think of this as a coincidence. It's been a gift. It's alleviated some of the arguing over whose turn it is to do anything from choose what CD we'll listen to at lunch to who gets to give the offering envelope at church.

It might seem absurd that we "plan out" something as little as this. But I assure you, it's helped both of my children to remember that everyone needs their turn at things. Anything that helps them see this and then apply it in other situations is a valuable learning tool around here.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Mom's Reading-Creative Home Schooling: A Resource Guide for Smart Families

I just finished reading Creative Home Schooling: A Resource Guide for Smart Families  by Lisa Rivero. I enjoy reading it every year. It contains so many reminders to keep the joy alive. I find it very motivating and it helps me focus on the needs of each of my separate children. After all, that's a major reason we decided to homeschool.

*Why I like it:
-It helps me understand the behaviors that my children at times exhibit that seem to be related to their giftedness (although neither have been formally tested for it). Some of these behaviors include precociousness, intensity, sensitivity, drive, and divergent thinking, (read "always coming up with new ways to do things" and "trying to talk their way out of a corner").
-It's a good reminder to gradually introduce more self-directed study into our school as my children mature. For us right now, this means asking my children weekly what else they'd like to learn more about and trying to help them find out about it. It might also lead me to look for a community program I otherwise wouldn't have thought about exploring.
-There are practical ideas for anyone to use in order to make their schooling proceed more smoothly.

*Some of my favorite points and quotes:
-"One does not homeschool gifted children. One homeschools with them." Over these past couple of years, I've learned that there is a lot that I don't know about quite a few things. I've learned so much by helping the kids find answers to their own questions. They are more eager to take facts to heart if they've generated questions themselves, too.
-"Some gifted children end up underachieving. The student actively "not learns" exercising perhaps the only avenue of self-determination available. These may be letting us know that they need more, not less control over their lives." I've found this to be so true of ds8. We can often achieve the same end goal if he has even a little extra say in the path we use to get there.
-"Asynchronous kids are different ages at one time." Have you ever noticed that with your kids? That hits pretty close to home for me. It's important for me to keep this in mind. A child may be age 8 but have a reading level and speaking skills of a 12 year-old and the self-control of a 6 year-old.

Yes, this book is largely for homeschoolers of gifted children. But it's also for homeschoolers of any and every child. Why?

It's a book about that encourages a tailor-made learning environment based on the needs of each individual child. Does that sound like a lot of work?

Maybe, but in other ways, not really. For example, I don't use different math programs for my kids with different learning styles, but I might use different ways to approach the topic or reinforce what we've learned.

If it takes a little extra planning time but results in less argument during lesson time the method has its place in our homeschool.  

I'm looking forward to trying some of the ideas in this book for the upcoming school year. I'm also looking forward to re-reading the book again spring 2012.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Enjoying "Summer"-Music Game

When you're on school break, what do you do? Are your kids completely free? Do they have certain times when they're allowed to have screen time?

I find that my kids usually get along better when we limit time on the Wii/computer. They also get a little tired of sibling togetherness. So during our "summer" break I've tried to have some other fun things available for them to do.

Today we played a fun music game from MakingMusicFun. It was a break-the-code game using simple rhythms and pitches on the piano. It was great for ds8 to practice his note reading. It was also good for dd5 to be involved as well. She caught right on to which notes on the piano to use and also reviewed some rhythms and note reading. (She just began piano lessons a couple months ago.)

It's a real hit. I'm sure we'll be playing it again. If your kids have basic skills in note-reading they may enjoy it as well. (I was thinking it would be fun to re-play the game with tougher note combinations as well. Maybe in the future...)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Mom's Reading-Cynthia Ulrich Tobias

One of the biggest things I look forward to this time of year is having time to read some of my most motivating school-related books.

I recently read You Can't Make Me But I Can Be Persuaded by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias.
I enjoy reading anything by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias.
*They're pretty quick reads.
*They have well-tested ideas.
*They're extremely motivating to me in dealing with strong-willed souls (who shall remain nameless).

This book was no exception. It reminded me to step back and assess our situations from the strong-willed's perspective and to keep our main goals in focus at all times. It was also a good reminder that some of the very traits that the strong-willed child will exhibit now (much to our frustration) are the same traits that may help them forge through life's obstacles and fearlessly face life's challenges.


All Good Things Must Come to an End

This past week we wrapped up our school year. It's always fun to look back at our notebooks and see what we've learned. It's also enlightening to look at piano books and handwriting samples. The kids know they've accomplished something at the end of it all.

I also love this time of the year because it gives me the opportunity to do some reading of my own. Yes, I'm sometimes able to squeeze in some just-for-fun literature. But much of what I read this time of year is homeschool-related. I love things that give me fresh ideas or motivation to keep going.

I'll be writing about some of these books in the days to come.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Art Lesson-Piet Mondrian

Last week's artist was Piet Mondrian.

Reasons I like teaching about Mondrian:

*His life is a history lesson. His life was affected by both World Wars.
*His life is a geography lesson as we trace his route across Europe and to the United States.
*His artwork is so fun and in many ways simple, using basic lines and primary colors.
*His artwork is easy to imitate. Doing our own artwork in his style can be as similar or different as we'd like it to be. The kids sometimes like the satisfaction that comes when their artwork looks close to that of the original.

                                                                            by ds7

                                                                              by dd5

Monday, May 2, 2011

Writing Skills - Memory Skills

Today we practiced our memory skills with an activity reminiscent of a bridal shower game. It started out as part of a Writer's Workshop in which the kids practiced their observation skills. It turned into a great memory game.

The kids had to study the tray for a minute. Then I removed one item and they had to guess which item was missing.

After playing a couple of times, the kids wanted to test me, too. When I could name every item on the tray, the kids were intrigued. It gave me a chance to explain how to group the items in your mind, in pairs or threes, and find similarities that will help your mind remember. In this case:

The cassette tape and tie (necktie) are blue, start with t, and are at the top together).
The whisk, vegetable brush, and hairbrush look similar.
After the hairbrush naturally comes the comb and hair tie.
Lastly, the paperclip and pencils are office supplies (and start with p).

I'm not exactly sure what subject this falls under, but it seemed like it was worthwhile.
Couldn't it come in handy someday when trying to memorize the periodic table?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Weather Unit Study-Helpful Video Resources

I wanted to share a couple of resources that worked really well for us these past few weeks during our science unit about weather.

The Magic School Bus books and videos have always been a big hit around here. A few weeks ago, we used The Magic School Bus Wet All Over to introduce the water cycle. The Magic School Bus Kicks Up a Storm was a good introduction to different weather vocabulary.

This week we watched a video to review wild weather. Stormchasers narrated by Hal Holbrook was a very informative 38 minute video (we watched it on Amazon Instant Video).

Why I liked it:
*The factual information was great, and many things that we had learned were reinforced with pictures and diagrams. I also liked the emphasis on actual work of scientists.

What I didn't like:
*The vast majority of the movie was appropriate even for my 5 year-old. I did fast forward through a 3-minute segment in the middle when a couple tornado survivors described their experiences. (It was a little intense.)

I always try to preview these types of things beforehand for language or violence. After some hit-or-miss experiences while teaching at home and in school, it just makes me most comfortable this way.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Life Skills--Sous Chef

It often seems easier to just do things for the kids instead of taking the time to clean up their food preparation "mistakes". (We've had a couple good puddles of milk and juice which stand out in my mind.)

I know that in the long run having them as helpers truly will save time.

At 5 and 7 years old they truly do seem more developmentally ready now to tackle more kitchen chores.

Ds7's new sous chef chore this week was learning how to peel vegetables. He did well and we didn't find any fingernail shavings in the dinner, either!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Magazine scavenger hunt

This is one workbox/center activity I've used for both my kids at various ages. It's intended to be on-task independent work for one child while I'm busy with the other.

I give the child an old magazine and an assignment sheet.

This is one of my less professional-looking assignments, but it gives you an idea of the types of things the kids are asked to look for.

I've used the activity to practice many subjects and skills. A few examples:

*math: adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing
*math: measuring, rounding to the nearest__
*language arts: finding words of a certain part of speech
*language arts: finding synonyms and antonyms, finding rhyming words
*geography: finding places mentioned on a map, answering NSEW questions about them
*science: finding creatures which are mammals, reptiles, etc.
*life skills: reading a recipe
*foreign language: cut out and label (in Spanish) at least___pictures

Sometimes answers are written on my assignment page. Other times things will be cut out of the magazine and/or glued.

I haven't used the idea while sitting in a doctor/dental office yet, but I suppose it would work there as well.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Into the Community-Visits to the Care Center

Dh and I take the kids to a local care center once every six weeks. We feel that it's valuable for them to be with people of all ages. It's also a little step toward being able to volunteer in the community.

The kids usually make art projects to give away. Sometimes it gets pretty busy for us and we don't have much chance to make things beforehand. These are good to make and keep on hand for those times.

I've been meaning to contact the activities director at the care center to see what other opportunities might be available to get the kids in regularly to visit, read books to the residents, or play chess or cards. Unfortunately I haven't gotten to it, yet, but this seems like a good time to take that on.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Following Interests

It doesn't happen every week, but I do seek the kids' input on interests they might have. I have a box on my organization list (see pictures in the post below) to remind me to ask the kids what interests they'd like to pursue for the week (or weeks or months) to come. We look for library books on the topic or plan time to do related activities.

Dd5 had various horse topics on her list for a couple of weeks. Next week she'd like to learn how to take care of cats. (This is so that someday when she "grows up and lives next to me" she'll be prepared.)

Ds7 delved into chess for a while. Next week he'd like to learn about teeth. Who knew?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Organizing Our Weeks - A Template

I enjoy looking at the ways other people keep their days and weeks organized. I thought I would post a picture of my weekly system. It helps me to make sure that each subject is covered during the week a certain number of times. It also serves as my lesson plan book where I actually write which lessons we're doing.

I post these on the refrigerator and use a highlighter to color each box when the lesson is completed. It's great for the kids to see their progress toward finishing our weekly goals.

These are the templates for ds7, grade 2.

This is the template for dd5, grade K.


-I use this for my most structured weeks of the year. We also slip in a week of unit study, literature unit, or other out-of-the-ordinary weeks from time to time. I still use the template to try and cover these subjects during the unit.

-In the beginning, I made a note of which assignments were done independently and which needed to be done with me. That way I could sometimes offer a choice. "Which of these three with-Mom activities would you like to do first?"

-I try to have one working on independent activities while the other works with me.

-I've been trying to experiment with using workboxes and this helps plan out the week.

-I've experimented with having weeks where the kids got to choose to do their assignments in any order. The first couple times we did this ds7 ended up with three or four math assignments left for the last day. I thought it was fine as a learning opportunity, but it was a little much for him.

-One of the negatives is that I have to plan it all ahead of time (instead of getting away with planning a couple days and then planning the rest of the week later) but it's definitely one of the positives, too--lots of work in one day's planning, but more time later in the week for other things I have to do/like to do.

-As the kids have gotten older I've had the chance to ask for their input in the planning. For now it's been input into music, art, some of the science, character education, community goals, and general learning. I haven't experimented too much with letting them help set goals for the other subjects.

-We've also experimented with working ahead at the beginning of the week so that we have some extra time for something special at the end of the week. I think that would probably work out better as they get a little older.

-It's a little small but it saves paper (hello, frugality/get out the bifocals).

Of course, things change from time to time and we try to be flexible and open to that as well.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Addition and Subtraction Hands-On

Dd5 has been doing some basic addition and subtraction. She loves doing things that supplement her lessons. We've been...

*...playing store, first with whole dollar amounts, later with coins, too. He would have to add the price for two or three items and give me the correct amount. I would even ask him simple making change questions.

*...making up songs to remember even and odd numbers.

*...playing anything that required two dice that would be added together before moving. I'm pretty sure we made a few file-folder games to practice this, too.

*...playing addition or subtraction war, first with only the numbers 0-5 and later adding the other playing cards.

*...counting cereal pieces at the breakfast table.

*...reading books from the MathStart series by Stuart Murphy.

*...using flashcards. They're easy enough for beginners, tough enough still for ds7 learning multiplication and division. Best of all, it's free.

*...making addition and subtraction riddles for everyday things. For instance, you can choose 3 + 1 books for bedtime reading time.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

What to do when a friend moves...

Last week the kids found out that some really good homeschooling friends will be moving to Wyoming. After talking about it together, the kids and I decided we could do a couple things to help us adjust to this exciting time for our friends.

*The library has some good books on Wyoming and the west including books about geography, landmarks, and western history (goodness, pretty much anything cowboy helps, here). There are also some DVDs about the landscape.
*Find the state and capital on the map. Use mapquest to find out how many miles it is from here to their new home. What do you pass on the way? Any Wyoming state study information is good here, too. We sent for a Wyoming visitor's guide.
*Compare the population of your state with Wyoming.
*Music: Look at the words and music of the state song which happens to be titled "Wyoming". All kidding aside, the song speaks of lots more Wyoming tidbits of interest.
*Check the average temperatures and climate for the state.
*What interesting animals would be found in Wyoming that are not native to your state?
*Art: Jackson Pollock was born in Wyoming. Wouldn't it be fun to let out some of our feelings with a Pollock-style work of art?
*Author Patricia MacLachlan was born in Wyoming. Not only did she write many endearing books, many also include aspects of western life that help us learn about places like Wyoming.
*Write a note to give them. Or send it so they have some mail at their new house.
*Use the Cricut to make them a gift. Create cards that the kids of the family can use to send mail to people that are now farther away.
*Pray for their safe travels.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Turn out the lights, the party's over

I've often been one to spend the last couple days of a vacation feeling a little sad to see it go. In my head I know it's silly--I'm still on vacation. Why waste the last moments because you're disappointed that they're over?

I'm trying to have a much better attitude this time around. After a nice week-long spring break it's time to get back to school. None of us are really itching to do it, but we all know it's time. After all, we only have about 40 school days left before a longer summer break.

Here's my plan for a successful first day back, and hopefully then, a great start to the rest of our year:

*Be clear about expecations.
 -I've mentioned the end of break a couple of times so that it wouldn't come as a surprise.
 -We'll talk after dinner tonight about getting back into the swing of things and put it in a positive light.
 -I'll remind the kids where to go tomorrow morning to find their assignments (they'll be taped to the fridge).

*Have something to look forward to.
 -When laying out tomorrow's assignments I've tried to plan a couple less "booky" subjects in addition to their more academic subjects to ease back into schooltime.
 -I'll plan an extra family movie night for something to look forward to. (We usually do movie night on Fridays.) It's a good reminder that we "work while we work so we can also play while we play".

*Be patient, be patient, be patient.
 -I'll remember to do my deep breathing and you remember to do yours. After all, one of our reasons for homeschooling is to develop a strong family relationship. We're in
this together. Time flies. We're going to enjoy each other while we can.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Little by Little

Have you ever read Aesop's fable about the crow and the pitcher?

I've been thinking a lot today about other areas in life for which the above fable's moral holds true: Little by little does the trick.

If we're doing a tough school assignment, we sometimes need to break it into smaller pieces. When we feel like giving up we often agree just to keep moving, even if it's a little bit. What often happens is that the satisfaction of getting that part done gives us just a litte encouragement to keep going even farther.

I also find myself using the motto when I'm cleaning or exercising. Just a little bit more before taking a break and the break feels all that much sweeter. It's incredibly satisfying to prove to myself that I really could accomplish more than I thought I had the energy to do.

For the record, I'm also a big fan of taking breaks and giving myself (and others) a little reward, which is why I often cozy up with my internet and a cup of coffee in the afternoons after school or other work is accomplished.

Slow and steady wins the race.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Cleaning Up a Little at a Time

At the beginning of the year I made a pact with myself. I have a lot of things in my basement (and various nooks upstairs) that need to be gone through. I'm sure a lot of things could be thrown out.

Since our monthly garbage bill is the same whether my trash can is half-empty or completely full, I made a goal to try to get my money's worth. I've been trying to have a full can each week. If there is a bag's worth of room in the can on the night before trash day, I've been trying to go through something that could be thrown away.

So far this plan has worked out pretty well. Most weeks the can is pretty full. I've probably gotten rid of at least 4 or 5 bags of trash that otherwise may not have been gotten to yet. It's also a good time to review those school "projects" still "adorning" our home. Is it time to take a photo and toss the original project? After all, how long does it take before salt-dough castles start to attract unwanted visitors?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Memorizing the 50 States

(I recently had a conversation with some other homeschooling moms about songs to help kids learn. I thought I would re-post this entry for those of you trying to teach the 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)

Tune: Grand Old Flag

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!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

When the cat's away, what will the mice do?

Do you leave "lesson plans" for your "substitute"?

I was going to be away for a couple of days this week. I left my husband in charge of the kids. I didn't leave instructions for any schoolwork other than a packet full of worksheets intended more to keep them busy on the morning he had to take them to work with him.

I returned from my retreat refreshed and renewed...and completely surprised.
Not only had the kids done very thorough, neat work on the worksheets, he had also taken them through a writer's workshop and part of a mini-unit he found (by himself) at

It was a good reminder that it can be very beneficial for both the kids and me to find someone that loves a particular subject and would be willing to mentor them in that subject. My husband is so good at writing and the kids did a really nice job in their writer's workshop. What a nice surprise.

(The sink was completely empty of dishes, too!)    :)

Staying on Track

What do you do to stay "on track" when things are crazy around the house?

One way I accomplish this is to buy a "complete" workbook each year. (I usually purchase the grade level above what my kids would be in school since they're working above grade level in most subjects.) I've been really pleased with Scholastic Success With 3rd Grade this year. Language arts, reading, math, and map work are all covered in pretty good detail.

If we're ever traveling to a far-away field trip or things are just too crazy to plan "regular" subjects I pull this out and feel my sanity returning with every moment.

What do you do to stay "on track"?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Marching Forth

It would be very consistent with my perfectionist tendencies to go back and analyze the reasons that I haven't updated my blog since January.

Instead, I'm going to use March 4th (tomorrow) to look to the future. With renewed strength and sanity I'm going to make an effort to be more regular in my posting. I'm reminded that I might actually have a few worthwhile things to write about and share.

I just returned from a 48 hour pastor's wives retreat with three other wonderful people. There was time for fellowship and Bible study, movies and games. Having the chance to share the ups and downs of our lives at present really helped me get perspective. I returned home feeling that I really can make it through to the end of our school year. I also had a sense of peace knowing that whatever does or does not get accomplished this school year is minimal in the eternal scheme of things.

Parenting and homeschooling can be difficult, living in a small town with few opportunities to get together with other homeschoolers. Taking this opportunity was definitely something I would recommend highly. I have a couple more really special people in my life that I'd like to share a smiliar renewing experience with.

Today I'm especially grateful for:

-this time away.
-a welcome-home full of hugs and kisses.
-a clean sink without any dishes from 46 hours ago.
-extraordinary friends and family given to me by God with whom I can share anything.
-the internet, which helps me stay connected with across so many miles.