Monday, October 31, 2011

Our General Homeschooling

I've been itching to do a posting about our general homeschool schedule/day. What things we cover aside from the units I so often post about.

Both DD and LD are good readers now.  DD is reading easier chapter books while LD is on longer chapter books now.

They both get up in the morning and read while eating breakfast. I always sprinkle our dining room room table with books (Caldecott books, non-fiction books, books for ED). Lots of reading happens from having enticing books placed in key positions. This probably adds to the clutter, but they sure do pick up a lot of books.

I've been trying to find books that really draw DD in.  Someone mentioned the Animal Ark series and boy did the kids go nuts when this lot arrived:

I paid $19.95 for 30+ books (left) on ebay.  DD started reading the first one, Kittens in the Kitchen right away. I generally make sure she has read two chapters each day from her chapter book. She reads lots of other stuff throughout the day as well.

The kids still read the Horrible History and Horrible Science magazines a lot.

And we usually have about 50 books out from the library at a time!
At the time I took this picture this is what we were reading. LD and I were reading Hatchet. DD (and LD) and I were reading Misty of Chincoteague.  DD was reading the Secrets of Droon on her own and LD was reading Warriors Into the Wild on his own.
ED is not reading and so we read lots of books together. In fact, the first things that happen in the morning are starting the fire in the woodstove, coffee and read aloud books with ED while she eats breakfast and then in front of the fire. The older kids get up later than ED does. ED is not especially engaged by letters and reading in the same way the others were at this age, but she's comfortable with her letters and letter sounds. I usually review a couple letters/sounds while we read, pointing out how one or two words are formed.  These past few weeks we've left it at that.

DD is doing really well with Saxon 2, though I find it progresses rather slowly. Rather than skipping ahead in the lessons, I supplement that with other addition work from other sources and with games. I'll have to reassess that in the next month or so, but for the moment I love the fact that DD went from saying she didn't like math to now saying that math is her favorite subject. She always chooses to do math first.

LD is using Saxon Math (4/5) as well. It's challenging for him (but a good fit, I think). We switch between Saxon one day and other stuff (Spectrum Math, multiplication, division, addition and/or subtraction work) on the next.  I also add in two word problems a day.  Here is the link to the
Multiplication and Division Word Problems. It's from 1877 and no long in copyright.  I copied and pasted problems into a document and then printed them out. We just check off a couple each day. Here are a couple examples:
  •  George owed me 19 cents: he gave me 2 oranges, worth 5 cents each, and the remainder in money: how much money did I get? 
  • There are 7 days in a week: how many days are there in 4 weeks? 
  • How many kites, at 9 cents each, can you buy for 18 cents?
ED does lots of spontaneous counting and she always wants to "do math" (activities from her workboxes like counting with manipulatives, etc.) while I'm working with the other kids.

Writing and Spelling:

We use All About Spelling daily. 
We use Handwriting Without Tears twice a week or so.
We use First Language Lessons about twice a week.
We do free writing about once a week.
We use Writing Source one to three times a week.

Again, ED has activities she can choose from her workboxes. She often does her "spelling" (Melissa and Doug) while I work with the other kids.


We started back up with music classes a couple of weeks ago after a very long break.  We do a kindermusik-type class for ED and her friends (mostly age 4) with dancing, instruments, circle dances, listening, etc.

We also started up the "older class" and this term we're doing Appalachian music and square dancing. Believe it or not, I found this Barney video to be just perfect for them! (I didn't show them the video, we just are learning to do-si-do and so forth.)

DD is learning the piano and LD has begged and begged and begged to learn trumpet. We got him a new mouthpiece for Daddy's old trumpet and he's really taken off with it. I have never played a brass instrument, but for now have figured out enough to teach him the basics. For now he's also continuing with the piano.
German: We continue to add various themes to our German lessons. We seem to do German about three times a week. We've done greetings, colors, things around the room (table, window, pencil, chair), clothes and animals.

Unit Studies:

This is America: Symbols and Landmarks: We have more or less finished this unit for now.  We ended with a study of the regions of the US... and spent time learning what states were in the Northeast, South, Mid West and so forth.

Human Body: The kids finished their copywork for the topics we covered so far this year: the skeleton, heart, brain, joints.  I think we're about ready to set this aside for a while and delve into something new.

Habitats/Biomes:  This semester we've done oceans and deserts. These units were originally intended more for ED, but the other kids always jump right in too.  The kids want to learn about the rainforest next (though we've studied this before, they're insisting we study this one next).

Upcoming Units:

Owls: We'll probably start a quick unit on owls.

Gadgets and Simple Machines I can't wait to start this; I think LD in particular will be over the moon! We might just start with some science experiments first while I spend time reading over things, preparing for and planning out this unit.

Native Americans Last spring we studied the Mayans. We may briefly cover the Aztecs and Incas and then will move up to the Native American tribes of the USA.

Rainforests is our next preschool unit.

Outside Activities:

Gymnastics: All three kids really, really enjoy their gymnastics classes. LD still goes twice a week for two hours each.

Soccer: LD enjoys playing soccer.  He has practices twice a week and has a game (if it ever stops raining!)

Choir: LD sings in a children's choir.

Roller Skating: We've fallen in love with roller skating and try to go once a fortnight to a local roller skating rink.


The kids are CONSTANTLY doing crafts and creations.  DD loves to draw freehand. She and LD are always making various crafts from what's on hand.

ED still loves to color and especially likes coloring sheets. She fell in love with these Cuties (left) from the artist, Heather Chavez's website.  She's colored most every page Heather has offered!  Examples: sea horse, owl, bat, here

ED's Preschool Activities: I still rotate in lots of preschool activities and general change things up two or three times a week.  I haven't taken very many pictures lately except for this magnet kit which the kids all really enjoyed one day last week. I got the kit ages ago on clearance for $5.00 in Australia and they've had so much fun with it through the years.

Anyway, I usually try to bring out a new puzzle two or three times a week, and change out the activities (Perler beads, hammering, pattern block pages, bug sorting, card games (Uno, Blink, Rat-a-Tat Cat, etc.),  and lots and lots of board games like Perfection (great for small motor skills), Cariboo, Snail's Pace Race (good for colors, counting, taking turns), Memory, HiHo Cherry-O, Chutes-and-Ladders, Sorry, Adventures in Neopia (this is probably the kids' favorite), Dino Math Tracks, Candyland, etc.) every other day or so. I feel like playing games is quite a large part of our preschool day! I also set out her Montessori cards/activities (counting, animals, etc.) but have only done that once a week recently.  I also change up the books in her area daily.
At some point soon I feel like I need to spend time teaching LD and DD chess.  It's such a good, strategic game that gets people thinking. 
Snail's Pace Race

How much time do we spend on school stuff?  Well, it depends on the day. I would say some days we do 3-4 hours, some days less a occasionally we do more.  In general doing just the basics (reading, spelling/writing, math)  takes us about an hour and a half. The kids do these subjects separately and I bounce from child to child to child.  Then our other subjects, the things we do together in collection (unit studies, German) takes another hour to hour and a half depending on what I have planned. They each practice their music on their own and that just happens at some point during the day (but I need to sit down with them generally to do that). Oh--but all this doesn't include games we play and so forth. I'm purely talking about the more 'academic' stuff I do with the older kids.

Do we let the kids watch TV? This is always such a contentious, debated topic out there in the blogging world. In our family, we have a pretty firm rule that there's no TV or video games until after 3pm as long as all schoolwork is done.  We're usually out the door by 4:15pm for afternoon/evening activities so that pretty much sets the limit on electronic time.  Occasionally I'll let the kids watch a school movie (this summer we watched Liberty's Kids, every now and then we watch a National Geographics program, but to be honest educational TV doesn't come to my mind very often). We don't have cartoon network and don't generally watch TV shows, but rather watch DVDs or TV shows/movies off of Netflix. I like that the kids' exposure to TV ads is very limited.  We decided not to have a TV in our living room or homeschool room, so the TV isn't a focus of our family life (the TV and Wii are down in the basement), but we all enjoy our various shows (I've been watching Battlestar Galactica when I run on the treadmill--so I admit even I enjoy my TV time!)

Outdoor Time: I feel this is really important for kids and we usually spend time outdoors (half hour to hour) most days. I work outside a lot (last week I planted a peach and cherry tree and chopped lots of wood) and the kids play. We have a very (very, very) steep hill and the kids can go sledding any time of year. This is currently the kids' favorite outdoor activity. They went sledding pretty much every day this week!  Yesterday my nephew (13) and LD went out into the woods to build a new shelter.  LD has been very inspired by the survival story we've been reading, Hatchet, about a boy who has had to survive on his own in the Canadian wilderness with just a hatchet as a tool. I think I'll need to find a book of similar vein after we finish the next few chapters.

Well, that was a bit longer than I had thought it would be!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Halloween Festivities

 I organized the Halloween Party this year.  We had quite a lot of games and I think everyone had a great time. The youth organized a haunted room and another adult set up a spooky cake walk with black lights and so forth which was a huge, huge hit!

The kids also loved the skeleton scavenger hunt where teams competed to find the various parts of the skeleton (we took apart one of those skeletons held together with brads and hid the various parts).
These are some of the signs for the games we played.  If you click on the picture you'll probably be able to read the directions better.
The races were among the most popular activity, though the balloon pop was a big (loud) hit too. Someone had prizes inside balloons and the kids had to sit on the balloon and pop it.
The kids helped me make Halloween decorations. We made bats and spiders to hang and painted lots of boxes (jack-o-lanterns, tombstones and so forth).
The youth put together a haunted room which included intestines (spaghetti), a brain, eyeballs and other spooky stuff.
We had about 50 people, but once the party really started I didn't take many pictures.
Donut on a string. You can't use your hands.
Pumpkin roll race

cake walk
Zombie-daylight, darkness (like red light green light)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Desert Unit (USA)

This was a unit I thought would mostly be fore ED, but all the kids jumped excitedly into it!. My kids know very little about the American deserts of the southwest, though they could tell you heaps about the Australian desert (they were born in the Outback and we moved back to the US about a year and a half ago).  So we focused on features and animals of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. The kids were amazed to learn that when I was DD's age, I lived in the Mojave desert.  In fact my family took in an Antelope Valley Ground squirrel that we kept for a number of years.  It's a long story on how we wound up with the squirrel, but the nest was found by teenagers and we wound up adopting... ready for the name?  I named her myself... and was just learning to read... Sally (one of the characters of the Dick and Jane books)! 

Back to our unit!  Here are a few of the things we covered:

We learned about coyotes and ED made a coyote mask.  We read several books with the coyote as one of the main characters: The Three Little Javelinas, The Tale of Rabbit and Coyote, and Coyote Raid in Cactus Canyon.
DD didn't want to make a coyote mask, she made this howling coyote instead.
We learned about some of the cacti such as the prickly pear and the saguaro. The kids did sand paintings of cacti (and other desert features -- dust storms, tumble weeds, etc.  We also learned about snakes and continued our sand painting projects to create coral snakes.
Here ED helped make a rattle snake (with jingle bells in the tail to make it rattle!). ED just loves sewing at the moment so this was a great project for her!
Obviously I helped ED with glue portion of her sand painting. DD and LD did sand paintings as well.
DD and LD wanted more information about what the cacti looked like and what exact colors they were. They went off and read quite a bit on their own.  I love hearing, "did you know..."
DD's lower picture has a bird nesting in the cactus because of the reading we were doing as she made her picture.
We learned "red on yellow kills a fellow!"
If you are going to do a desert unit, I highly recommend you try to get a hold of Jim Arnosky's books. His desert illustrations are simply superb and my kids learned SO much from his books!
One quarter of all desert areas are covered in sand.  We talked about the patterns that sand made when it blows the sand in the desert. Then ED made her own sand dunes.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Human Body Eggsperiment: Protect That Brain!

Our last brain-related activity was to design a helmet that would protect our egg pilot in a fall. The shell, I told them, was his skull; the egg white and yolk was his brain. Then I left the kids to it!

LD designed a balloon-encased egg protector. 

DD designed a construction paper protective cloak:
Mom designed a cotton ball-play dough helmet:
I took the photo before covering it entirely.
Then it was time for the big drop:

We checked to see which egg pilots survived.

DD's made it through unscathed:
Mom's design was a bust:
LD's egg pilot survived and lived to see another fall (and another and another!)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Human Body Unit: The Brain

We have been studying the brain in fits and spurts the last couple of weeks. For some reason, we're only getting to it about twice a week. But here's what we've done.

We talked quite a bit about the functions of the brain (not the senses as we'll do this later), but things like memory, thinking, sleep and thing like that.


First we talked about the difference between long term and short term memories. We spent quite a bit of time reminiscing about living in Australia.

To the left, we are playing a memory game. They are looking at the tray of objects. Then I took two objects away and they tried to determine what was missing.

We also looked at a list with five words:
and a list with ten words:
and tried to recall all the words.

We learned strategies for improving your memory as well ... like placing items you need to remember in funny places around your house. For example, if you need to remember to buy toothpaste, you imagine placing the tube inside the microwave or something.


We spent time learning about the parts of the brain and the different functions of the various regions of the brain. We did copywork related to our readings. (We read a number of children's books about the brain that we borrowed from the library.)

We made a brain out of cornstarch clay and used that as we talked about the various parts and functions of the brain.

We opened one of the kits we got this summer and put together the various bits (the eyes and teeth pop in, you connect the jaw bone, add the brain and the top of the skull).
I picked this cheap foam puzzle of the brain up a while ago -- we reviewed some of the parts and functions of the brain while they took turns putting it back together.
And we also talked about our dreams and read about dreams function for the brain. It's always fun talking about dreams you've had!

We also talked about protecting the brain, but that's a post for another day.

We got a lot of great ideas from this book: It's All in Your Head: A Guide to Your Brilliant Brain by Sylvia Funston and Jag Ingram for engaging activities related to memory and dreams.

I thought My Brain by Kathy Furgang was terrific for teaching the kids about the functions of various parts of the brain.
Just for fun, I ordered this free jello mold (I paid $2.95 in shipping/handling so it wasn't truly free.) It came quickly and we're excited to give it a try. We'll be doing this for Halloween.