Friday, August 22, 2014

Back to Fun

I was going to title this post “Back to Work,” but that did not seem to fit the beginning of our school year so far. Sure, we have done quite a bit of work – math pages, grammar worksheets, history memory cards – and we have had to arrange teaching times around the baby’s naps. But, we have also had a lot of fun.

On Monday, Hannah and Ben learned about the center of gravity. They began by figuring out how to balance a potato on a ruler, using only a pair of forks. Then, they used what they learned to balance a broom on the palm of their hands by first identifying the broom’s center of gravity.

We also had our first Phys. Ed. Class on Monday. A few years ago, I got a free fitness and health package from Subway, including two pedometers, a stopwatch, and a year’s worth of lesson ideas and activities. The kids have gym once a week at co-op, but I want to add a bit to their learning at home as well. The kids loved experimenting with the pedometers, counting the steps needed to walk around the house or get the mail. Becca has even decided to eat a healthy breakfast every day, so she can feed her brain and maybe get better grades on her school work.

Today, Becca experimented with reading maps. I made a map of our property and marked several “treasures” on it. Then, she used the map to find the treasures – just a few nickles and gumballs. She needed a bit of help from Hannah to find the last few, but I may mark some more treasures next week and let her try again until she gets the hang of it.

I think everyone’s favorite lesson this week came from our new geography curriculum – Mapping the World with Art. We read a brief lesson on ancient maps and then followed several steps to draw maps of Mesopotamia. The kids’ maps are surprisingly good! The curriculum is supposed to be for ages 10 and older, but even Becca could follow the steps to draw a decent map. By the end of the year, the kids should be able to draw a map of the entire world!

After we drew the maps, we used edible chocolate clay to make Babylonian-type maps, using chopsticks and drawing cuneiform markings on them. I baked them, and everyone enjoyed delicious, warm chocolate map cookies with a glass of milk as an after school snack. I intended to take photos, but they did not last long enough. Geography should be a lot of fun this year!

I am so thankful that the kids have been working more willingly this school year. Perhaps they are just older and more mature. (They are in 2nd, 4th, and 5th grade now!) Or, maybe they work better with checklists of work to accomplish instead of scheduling subjects at specific times. Regardless of the reason, they have been finishing their regular work more quickly, which leaves room for a lot more fun and experimentation. This should be a wonderful year!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Our New School Room

I have not completely finished decorating it yet, and a few boxes still remain, but I wanted to share a few photos of our new school room. It is in the basement, so the lighting is not great, but I am so excited about having a room dedicated solely to school!

From the back of the room:

I plan to rotate what I hang on the large wall in the front. This month, I will have a map of the US, showing the electoral votes from each state, which we will use to discuss the presidential election.

From the front of the room:

On the other side of the stairs behind the desks, we have our family room, with our computer, so the kids can watch movies or use the computer as part of school.I can't decide what to put on all of those built-in display shelves yet...

From the pantry side:

Our laundry room is through that door, so I can work on chores while the kids work on school! We also have a small half-bathroom in there, which is convenient during school.

From the laundry room side:

I put a desk through that door, in the pantry, so the kids can take tests without distractions. Ben actually puts himself in that desk frequently during the day, because he discovered that he can concentrate more when he sits alone.

All-in-all, our school room works well for us. Now, if only I could get the rest of the house this unpacked...

City Mice, Country Mice

This school year so far has slightly resembled the fable "The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse."

In August, when school began, we lived in a smallish brick home on a busy street in the city. For recess each day, the kids played outside in our small backyard, with strict instructions to never leave our property or get too close to the road. They quickly tired of playing in the small yard and yearned for more freedom - freedom I could not grant because of the neighborhood in which we lived.

At the end of September, we moved into our new home, on 5 acres of land in the middle of the country. The kids roam the property, playing in and out of the woods, leaping over the small stream, never tiring of playing and exploring.

Hannah has named her favorite trees, and she constantly shows me interesting bugs she finds. The first day, Hannah excitedly brought me a giant leopard moth caterpillar, and this weekend, we laughed together at the dancing of a colony of beech blight aphids on a tree branch. We also found a particularly odd cluster of bugs, which we finally identified as adult and nymph oak tree hoppers. And, this evening, Becca discovered a walking stick in the living room as she headed up to bed. The kids love looking up and identifying all of the interesting species of bugs.

Of course, the one type of bug none of them like is spiders, particularly the wolf spiders which keep coming into our home. Yesterday, Hannah picked up her sneaker and a large one fell out, and today, one kept creeping out from under the wall in the school room as we worked. Josh finally caught that one this evening and relocated it to the barn, hoping that might keep it from returning to the house.

We also all enjoy seeing wildlife we rarely or never saw in the city - dozens of deer, chipmunks, squirrels, blue jays, cardinals, sparrows, nuthatches, chickadees, Carolina wrens, tufted titmice, downy woodpeckers, and red-bellied woodpeckers. Two mornings, we even had a great blue heron land in the yard! And, this is only autumn. I cannot imagine all of the birds and animals that will be here in the summer! Hannah has been begging to work on her bird project again, creating her own bird guide for all of the different birds she sees. I love that all of this nature and beauty surrounding us inspires them to want to learn.

(See the deer in that photo? I am amazed at how well they blend in, especially in the evening.)

We have definitely had to adjust quite a bit to living in the country, but we love it. My kids (and I) may be "city mice," but unlike the mouse in Aesop's fable, we feel perfectly at home in the country and have no desire to go back. This city mouse would rather be a country mouse any day!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Two Kids and a Baby

OK, she is not a baby anymore, but she is my baby, and I cannot believe she is old enough for kindergarten this year!

This is my first year formally schooling all three kids. Becca is in kindergarten, Ben is in second grade, and Hannah is in third grade. When I first began this homeschooling adventure two years ago, my oldest was in first grade. Now, somehow, my baby is old enough for school. How does the time pass so quickly? Some days seem so long and frustrating. Then, I blink, and the kids are older, and I wonder how the baby I cradled in my arms could be the lovely child standing in front of me.

I found the photo I took of the kids on our very first "not back to school" day, and I am amazed at how much they have grown in just two short years:

School has been interesting so far this year. Hannah has matured quite a bit since last year. She works independently, does beautiful work, and complains very little. She especially loves our language arts curriculum, and her work shows her love for writing. For example, she had to fill in a blank to make a fragment a complete sentence: "________ is funny." My answer key suggested "He" as a possible answer. Hannah wrote, "The clown dance at the circus." I actually have fun reading the sentences she creates!

Ben still wiggles and sings and fools around, but he is doing better than last year. He finishes all of his work, in spite of the fooling around and complaining. I am hoping that he will continue maturing, like Hannah, and eventually have a bit more focus. I think his biggest struggle is not wanting to work hard at anything, but he is learning the benefits of hard work in soccer this year, and I think that may carry over into his school work as well.

Becca has been a bit of a challenge so far. She loves the idea of school, but she does not like me choosing the activities. I know she loves cutting and gluing and reading and workbooks, but she complains about every activity. I think once she settles into a routine with the other two, she will enjoy school a bit more. And I am sure I will find what methods work for her personality, just as I discovered for Hannah and Ben. Becca's biggest challenge, however, is her desire to use the chairs and desks as her own personal jungle gym instead of simply sitting in them. I struggle teaching a little monkey who swings and leaps all around the school room. Again, I think with discipline and practice, she will adjust to this as well.

I am excited about this school year! I have a lot of fun ideas and I cannot wait to learn and explore new things with the kids. Truthfully, even though I love summer vacation and appreciate the rest, and in spite of all of the challenges, school time is my favorite part of the year.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Chore Cards

In the past year or so, we have started giving the kids an allowance, which we tied to their chores. They have "morning chores" and "day chores." Every morning, all three kids must make their beds, clean their rooms, and put away any of their own folded laundry. During the day, Hannah feeds one of the bearded dragons, Ben feeds the cat, and Becca sets the table and organizes the shoes on the shelves by the back door. Hannah and Ben also alternate washing the dishes from breakfast and lunch and sweeping and mopping the kitchen floor. I keep a weekly calendar listing their chores on a white board, which hangs on the door leading to our basement. At the end of each week, the kids receive their allowance. For each day that they complete all of their chores, they earn $0.25, and they get an extra $0.25 bonus if they do their chores every day that week.

This system has worked well, with just one drawback - I did not have an adequate method for keeping track of which days they did their chores. At first, I tried making them put a check mark next to each chore on the white board, but they often forgot and then argued about each quarter they thought they should have earned. I also tried giving them their allowance each evening, but I prefer to distribute it weekly. Finally, one night, I had a sudden inspiration.

Using Photoshop, I created punch cards, modeled after time cards a person might use at work. The middle of each card has the child's name, a place for me to write the date, and the terms for redeeming the card for their allowance. Then, along each side of the card, I put black dots the size of a hole punch, with the days of the week listed next to them - one side for morning chores and one side for day chores.

Each day, the kids use a hole punch to punch out the dots for that day when they complete their chores. At the end of the week, the kids turn in their chore cards in exchange for their allowance. So far this system works quite well. The kids have fun punching the holes, so they are not as likely to forget, and they have a visible reminder of what they must do each day. Plus, I have no more haggling over how much money they should receive. I love ideas that make our daily duties easier (and more fun)!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Project Fridays

This school year has been so busy that I have not taken the time to write blog posts as often as I have wanted. We have been busily working through spelling lists, learning multiple digit addition and multiplication, memorizing parts of speech, practicing the piano, learning to swim, dancing, tumbling, and so on. Most Fridays, however, we take a break from our day-to-day assignments and work on a project together.

In January, after we finished reading My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, I gave Hannah and Ben each a box, set out the craft supplies, and told them to make a shadowbox based on the book. Both kids ended up making a model of Sam Gribley's woods and his home in the tree trunk, so I took advantage of that to teach them a little about habitats. On each side of the box, they glued a piece of card stock and labeled them with the title of the book, "Sam Gribley's Habitat," and the different aspects of his habitat: food, water, and shelter. Then, under those headings, they listed ways that Sam was able to obtain those things in the woods. For example, he drank water from a fresh spring, he hunted for animals with his falcon and ate edible plants, and he created a home in a hollow tree. The finished projects are lovely!

On the Friday before the Super Bowl, we dedicated the entire day to football-related activities. I found an amazing free resource on the website for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and combined with with another packet I got as a freebie from Currclick. I printed out a ton of pages, punched holes in them, and put them in folders for each kid. We began the day by bundling up and heading out to a nearby sports field, where we had a punt, pass, and kick contest, raced through various football drills, and performed an experiment to figure out why a football has its shape, instead of being perfectly round. Back at home, they learned about Roman Numerals (since that is how they label Super Bowls), did some football-themed math, read and wrote poems about football, learned about the first African American inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, discovered how to read nutrition labels to eat a healthy diet (like a good athlete should!), and even designed their own football team mascots, pennants, and jerseys!

Also, in February, we had the opportunity for an amazing project on the planets. Now, as a family, we enjoy listening to classical music, and one of our favorites is The Planets by Holst. Josh discovered that the Springfield Symphony would be putting on a show called "Out of This World," featuring a live performance of The Planets, lovely NASA images from space, and dramatic presentations by an astronomy professor and an acting troupe. In preparation, we listened to the music several times and talked about the names of each planet and how the origins of those names inspired the songs. I also found a free space lapbook at, and I used portions of that and our Children's Atlas of the Universe to put together a wonderful project on the planets. Additionally, I used the student guide provided by the symphony and resources from our Galloping the Globe study of Italy (which includes a section on space because Galileo was from Italy). I was out of town with the youth group on the evening of the show, but despite the two-hour drive each way, Josh and his mom took the kids to the performance, and they loved it! In fact, Becca announced on the way home that it was "better than Chuck E. Cheese's!"

We have had so much fun with our "Project Fridays" so far this school year. I believe that the kids have learned more from them than anything they have learned out of a text book. Even though I have to work a little harder to fit all of their other school work into only four days each week, I am certain that we will continue with Project Fridays for a long time!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Another Asian Adventure

We just completed our study of Japan, as we work our way through Asia in Galloping the Globe. The kids learned the meaning of the word "archipelago" and added it to their geography notebooks. They learned that Japan consists of 6,852 islands and contains 108 active volcanoes. The red dot on the flag symbolizes the sun.

In addition, I found a wonderful site called Kids Web Japan, which has illustrations, articles, and games about Japanese culture, all geared towards kids. We read a few Japanese folk tales and learned about Japanese houses and meals, sumo wrestling, origami, bonsai, kimonos, and bento boxes.

Last week, we made an Americanized version of a Japanese meal for dinner. I made a large pot of Ramen noodles in beef broth and served them with matchstick carrots, shredded napa cabbage, and sugar snap peas to mix into the soup. At the beginning of the meal, the kids said, "Itadakimasu (I receive this food)," and at the end, they exclaimed, "Gochito sama deshita (It was quite a feast)!"

Today, as we wrap up our study of Japan and move on to India, I surprised the kids with homemade bento lunches. They loved them and ate every bite, even Becca who normally doesn't eat raw peppers or cabbage!

Contents: Egg yolk and cheddar cheese sun, egg white clouds, bread land, grape and cheddar cheese flower, shredded mozzarella dandelion, green pepper leaf and stems, and napa cabbage grass.

We enjoyed learning more about Japan, and we look forward to "galloping" the rest of the way around the world as well. What a fun way to learn about geography!

Learning is Life

Where homeschooling is just a small part of becoming life-long learners.