Friday, July 29, 2011

How we learn HISTORY

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I'm linking up with Learning All the Time's "Favorite Resource this Week!"

Favorite Resource This Week

It's hard to narrow my favorite history resources down to just one, because we pull our lessons from so many different sources!

The Horrible Histories series by Terry Deary is lots of fun. So are Bentley Boyd's Chester comic books. Dude loves DK books; we own a few, but most of them are available at the library. Super likes E. H. Gombrich's A Little History of the World. We use it as a basic outline for our chronological history studies.

We love hands-on projects, so sometimes we use History Pockets as a supplement. We also like the Spend a Day in... series by Linda Honan because they are full of fun crafts and activities. I believe there are only three in the series; I wish there were more!

This is one project we made from Spend a Day in Ancient Greece. We still use the caduceus as a symbol for medicine today.

Notebooking is a great way to summarize what we've learned. It's also fun to go back and look over their past work as a review. The kids recently asked to study Vikings, so I got these great pages from The Notebooking Nook.

As you can see, the kids also made paper shields. We cut out cardboard swords and covered them with foil, but they didn't stand up to "battle" as well as the shields!

We also used the Brandenburg Vikings unit, downloaded from CurrClick. You probably can't read the Viking sayings above, so here they are:

A man who wants to kill his foe
Must get up fast and never slow.

A wolf who wants a snack

Never sleeps on his back!

Beer and mead are not that good.

They make your brain as thick as mud.

And my personal favorite:

Didn't realize those Vikings were so well-spoken! :)

These are all great resources, but I would have to say that our absolute favorite resource for history is...


When you're a homeschooling mom, it's extemely handy to have a history loving-husband! (Dad's idea of a fun evening is reading a biography of Thomas Jefferson, or watching a Ken Burns documentary.)

Dad is in charge of helping the kids with their timelines. He also likes to read Larry Gonick's Cartoon History of the Universe books with them. And if the kids ever have a question about some arcane bit of historical trivia...well, they don't come to me!

My public school history education was based on boring textbooks and memorizing dates, so it's not surprising that I forgot nearly all of it. I'm grateful to have an opportunity to get a great history education along with my kids.

Who knew that history could be interesting and fun?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Curriculum for 2011-12

I love this time of year, don't you? Planning for the upcoming academic year is always so exciting! Especially when my kids are asking me "What do we get to learn about next, Mom?" It's wonderful to see their enthusiasm (and I'll probably need to remind myself of this moment around February of next year!)

Thanks to Michelle at Lagniappe Academy for the portable filebox idea!

Choosing curriculum can be fun, but it can also be overwhelming. There is so much out there, and what works great for one family isn't necessarily the best choice for another.

Over the years we've tried lots of materials and methods. Every year I feel a little more confident in choosing what will work for me and my kids. And every year I make at least one wrong turn! I guess it comes with the territory.

Science and History

We're making a change in our routine this year. Instead of devoting an afternoon to science and an afternoon to history each week, we're incorporating science and history into monthly unit studies. In the past we did NOEO Science and Dad taught history, using SOTW as an outline. But we tend to get really into whatever we're doing at the time, and going back and forth between science projects and in-depth history studies was too much for all of us.

I've noticed that lots of homeschooling families alternate between science and history. I'm hoping it will make it easier to really focus on whatever we're doing at the time. I'm sure it will make it easier for me to have the right materials on hand, as well!

Elephant books for our unit study

Our first two unit studies (Elephants and Be a Scientist!) are homemade. I put them together from lots of different sources, including books we already had, library books, art projects I found online and other web resources. If I ever get around to it, I'll organize them and post a link to share.

Our other unit studies for the year are based on Teacher Created Resources Immigration, History Pockets Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, Intellego Economics, Windows on the Wild Oceans of Life, GEMS Plate Tectonics, and The Mailbox's Human Body. I say "based on" because we never use a ready-made unit study without supplementing and customizing. Not sure if that means I'm creative, or just a control-freak!

My favorite science resources:
Anything by Janice Van Cleave
Anything by Ellen McHenry
DK Books
The Way Things Work and The Way We Work by David MacAuley

And history resources:
Horrible Histories by Terry Deary
History Pockets
You Wouldn't Want to Be Series
Spend a Day Series by Ellen Honan

Language Arts

My kids would do science and history all day, every day if I let them. But into every education a little grammar must fall...

After a lot of thought, I made the decision to use textbooks for grammar and language arts this year. This may not seem like a big deal, but it was for me, because I've tried so hard to avoid any and all textbooks since we started homeschooling. I still have unpleasant memories of the boring "read-the-textbook, do the questions" model from my own school days. Charlotte Mason didn't like them, and generally, neither do I!

In the past, we've used Susan Van Zile's Awesome Hands-on Activities for Teaching Grammar, 101 Ways to Love a Book from Teacher Created Resources, Fill-in Flip Books for Grammar, Vocabulary, and More by Michael Gravois, and Grammar Games and Activities that Boost Writing Skills by Immacula A. Rhodes.

I still think those are great resources and I'm sure we'll continue to use them! And we will definitely use the Four-Square system for all our writing projects (Judith S. Gould and Evan Jay Gould.) But...I need at least one core subject to be easy and already mapped out for me. Especially since 6th grade and 4th grade language arts are so different. I just can't create a custom curriculum for everything!

From Voyages in English 4

As far as textbooks go, Voyages in English by Loyola Press doesn't look too bad. The graphics are fun without being babyish or distracting. And most importantly, the explanations are really clear. The first few lessons are a total review of what we did last year, and the kids are going to complain about that, but I think a little review never hurt anyone.

Evan-Moor's Spell and Write pages

I'm also taking a slightly easier route for spelling this year. We've used AVKO Sequential Spelling before, and it's a great system. But, once again, I needed something that the kids could do independently. I looked at a lot of spelling workbooks in a teacher supply store and eventually chose Evan-Moor's Spell and Write. I liked these because they begin with an interesting reading passage that uses the words in context. Then you practice writing the words a variety of ways. Each chapter ends with a test. However, there are no review pages or tests, so I'll have to make those on my own.

I'm looking forward to adding more poetry to the mix this year. In fact, I think we'll start each day with poetry (we used to do math first every day, but I'm thinking the kids will like reading and discussing a poem before diving into our day.) There are so many good poetry resources out there. Teacher FileBox has reproducibles for grade levels up to 6th, but mostly, we'll just use the poetry books that we already have.

Dude fell in love with concrete poetry after reading technically, IT'S NOT MY FAULT by John Grandits, and he's been creating his own ever since. Both kids love Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant by Jack Prelutsky (amazing illustrations by Carin Berger.) In fact, pretty much anything by Jack Prelutsky is fun to read and easy to memorize, if you're into reciting poetry. And Shel Silverstein, of course! We have A Light in the Attic, Where the Sidewalk Ends, and Falling Up. Oh, and an easy cure for a kid in a bad mood: make them read Runny Babbit aloud. Works every time!


Math faves (minus Primary Challenge Math--I miss you, Buddy!)

Math! My favorite! ( And I never thought I would say that!) Math is where we get really creative. I try to make it as hands-on as possible. We follow the scope and sequence from the Core Knowledge series. The kids move at their own pace, and I absolutely do not rush them through anything for the sake of "keeping up" with a predetermined schedule. When it comes to math skills, we're aiming for mastery and real understanding, not "covering" lots of material.

So, using the Core Knowledge series as my guide, I put together a very flexible plan with weekly and monthly goals for each kid. Then I found games and activities to match each concept. My favorite resources for this are:

Family Math by Jean Kerr Stenmark, Virginia Thompson, Ruth Cossey and Marilyn Hill
Math Wise by Jim Overholt and Laurie Kinchloe,
Independent Practice series from The Mailbox
Pretty much anything by Marilyn Burns!
Games: Mythmatical Battles, Roll-n-Multiply, Multiplication and Division Bingo, Monopoly, Logic Links, etc. A homeschooling buddy was selling outgrown sets of 'Smath and Exact Change, so we'll try those soon.

Our "official" math games (but don't most games teach math?)

Much to my frustration and sorrow, I lost my copy of Primary Challenge Math by Edward Zaccaro. If I find it, we'll use the challenges for collaborative problem-solving exercises. We'll put one of the challenges on the white board and brainstorm together. (Can you tell I've been reading Alfie Kohn this summer?) If I can't find it, I also have a good book called Math Stories for Problem Solving Success by Jim Overholt, Nancy Aberg, and Jim Lindsey.

As allergic as we are to worksheets, there does come a time when kids just need to practice a new concept or refresh an old one. That's where Evan-Moor's Teacher FileBox comes in. Math Mammoth also has good practice pages. And if we're moving along at a pretty good pace, I told the kids we could start reading Life of Fred by Stanley Schmidt on Fridays. I love how they are excited about doing something that is (secretly) good for them!


German resources

We'll continue our German studies using German in 10 Minutes a Day, by Kristine K. Kershul (thanks to Michelle at Urban Cottage Homeschool for the recommendation!) We also have a great DK visual dictionary and Let's Learn German by Marlene Goodman. The labels that I put on everything when our German friends were visiting are still up, and I'm planning to add some more. The kids are looking forward to writing letters to their German friends as well.

A page from German in 10 minutes a day

Art and other fun stuff...

My big purchases for the fall, besides Voyages in English, are a pocket chart and stand, and Atelier art curriculum. The pocket chart will hold our calendar, spelling words, and cursive letters of the week, but I'm really going to use it as a room divider. The kids do 90% of their work together, but when they are working independently they need their own space. And if I let them wander off, they take forever just to decide where they are going to work, and then I have to keep checking on them, and I'm going from room to room answering questions... I'd rather have them stay in our school area, but give them their own space by dividing the room. We'll see how it works!

I must be looking forward to school--I'm already making our August calendar!

I'm excited about using Atelier for art this year. When I asked the kids for their planning input, they both said they wanted to do more art at home instead of taking art classes at our rec center. Homeschool Buyers Co-op has Atelier on sale at the moment, so I jumped on it! I have no idea what to expect, but it's art! How can it not be fun?

I'm not sure where art will fit into our routine, but I'm thinking we may just take an art day every couple of weeks or so. I'm also writing field trips into our monthly plans this year: the "do them as we have time" plan didn't work too well.

Our cozy new reading area, with favorite blankets!

We're looking forward to another fun year of homeschooling! I can't wait to check out the other links and see what you're doing! Have a great year!

This post is linked to Heart of the Matter's Not Back to School Blog Hop! Join us at the hop!

Not Back to School Blog Hop

This post is linked to the 2011-2012 Curriculum Special Edition at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers! Check out the great links there!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Lima Bean Aliens

Am I the only one who finds these slightly creepy?

Just for fun, we decided to do a couple of easy experiments with dried Lima beans. All you need is a bag of Lima beans, some paper towels and a few empty jars.

First we soaked some beans in water overnight. Look at the difference in size once they have absorbed the water!

We opened a few of the pre-soaked seeds. You can see the seed coat pulled away and the plant embryo inside. It was interesting to think that this life was dormant inside the seed until it got a little bit of water.

(If school was "in session" at the moment, we might have done a notebooking page or a diagram or something but we're on break so we just talked about the parts of a seed. We may follow up with a more formal study later.)

Then we sprouted some in damp paper towels. This one has really cool roots!

The difference between pre-soaked seeds and dry seeds is remarkable. The seed below was sprouted dry, and I took the photo the same day as the creepy alien seeds above! So soaking them first really gives them a head start.

And here they are side-by-side today (day 5.) Looks like it's time to give the pre-soaked beans some soil!

Sometimes the simplest things turn out really cool!

Just linked up with Science Sunday at Adventures in Mommydom! Take a look at the great entries over there!

Science Sunday

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Flower Magic

We did a fun experiment with white carnations and food dye!

We trimmed the stems at an angle, which I've always been told helps
the flowers drink more water.

We quickly put them in water...

...and then added colors to the water.

Then we tried something a little different.

We carefully split the stem...

...and then put the two sides in different colors!

Here they are after just a few minutes.
The flower on the far left is already taking in some red color.

Here they are after half an hour.

A few hours later...

And overnight!

We learned that tiny tubes called xylem pull water and nutrients into the plant.

Root of Allium cepa

If the water happens to have dye in it, they pull the color in, too!

The split stem flowers turned out especially pretty.

Now we have a lovely centerpiece for our kitchen table,
and we learned a little science, too!

Just linked up with Science Sunday at Adventures in Mommydom! Take a look at the great entries over there!

Science Sunday

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Mount Evans

Going to Mount Evans is one of our favorite ways to escape the summer heat!

The kids enjoyed the cool air at Summit Lake.

Super and her friend, looking like soon-to-be teenagers. (Noooooooo!)

Another friend, gazing into one of the tundra pools.
(Don't fall in! That water is COLD!)

The view looking the other direction. (I've never seen the Alaskan tundra, but I can imagine Miyax watching the wolves in a place much like this.)

Tundra wildflowers seem too delicate to thrive here.

I love the mosses and lichens here, too.

One of the kids asked to borrow my camera and she took some interesting photos...

Not sure if she meant to do this, but I thought it was kinda funny...

Everywhere you look there is something alive. Can you see the water bug in the center of this photo? How can it survive in such cold water?

The highest paved road in North America.

The locals were pretty blasé about us tourists!

You messy glaciers, always leaving piles of rocks everywhere!

Hope you're having a great summer, too!

Linked up with Let's Hit the Road Field Trip Blog Hop!
Have you done a fun field trip lately? You link, too!