Friday, September 30, 2011

Weekly Wrap-Up: Sept. 26-30

I'm linking up to Kris' Weekly Wrap-Up.  I like the idea of summarizing our week here on the blog, but I haven't been able to pull it off very often. Our weeks feel very full and busy.  I am now teaching 9 piano lessons a week and three Kindermusik classes.  It is a great way to make extra money from home, but it does take up a lot of my "spare" (haha) time.  I realize that I am not taking many photos of our day to day learning that is not "project" related.  I guess that's okay.  I'm including quite a few photos in my other posts throughout the week.

SC (the 4th grader) has just finished reading The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden.  What a great story!!  I can't tell you how many times he's asked me today if I think Chester the cricket will ever come back to New York to visit Tucker, Harry and the Bellini family.  I love it that he's asking this, because it shows me that he really connected with the characters in this story.  One of my biggest goals for him in reading this year was to get him to love reading fiction.  I think we're getting there.  I think it's a sure sign of a great book when the reader is left yearning to learn what happens next.  SC is going to finish up a final project with this book and I'll be writing a post this weekend (hopefully) to detail our learning with this book.  This week SC has also started doing some lessons in Easy Grammar.  He does Handwriting Without Tears cursive twice a week as well.  He is enjoying our history and science curricula so I'm glad we've made a switch there.  In math, he's busy working with fractions and we are both loving the Right-Start materials and lessons.  He and I will also go on a field trip tomorrow that's only for 4th graders and up.  I'm looking forward to that special time with him.

LG (the 1st grader) has been following our new format for reading (I wrote about it HERE).  He read a leveled reader about camping and we pulled out some skill work with that book including work with contractions.  I read the book Amelia Bedelia Goes Camping to him and together we completed a story map.  He's also worked on his sight words each day and does Handwriting Without Tears twice a week.  He finished his Lego Mini-Figures book, so we'll start a new on-going writing project next week.  In math LG has been working on reading and representing 4-digit numbers.  LG has not been very into the new science curriculum and it's intended for 2nd through 5th grade, so he is a bit young for it.  I purchased the Real Science Odyssey Life curriculum which is more for his age group and I may start doing that with him on his own a couple of times a week and just have him sit in on the Chemistry labs, but not complete the lab sheets.

As I posted earlier this week, we did the first chapter of The Story of the World this week.  We learned about nomads and did some cave paintings.  See THIS POST for the details.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Real Science Odyssey: Chemistry

I wrote a few posts back about purchasing the RSO Chemistry ebook from Pandia Press for our science curriculum.  Their ebooks are currently on sale through the end of September.  I ended up buying the Level One Life Science curriculum too.  I just love how their curriculum is set up and I am loving the ebook format.  I can easily print off only what we need and multiple copies of the lab pages for both boys.  For now we are doing science twice per week.  I teach it on Wednesday mornings and my husband (the one with the PhD in science and who is a college science professor) teaches on Thursday mornings.  While he is better qualified to answer questions than I am, I'm really excited that I get to teach part of this great curriculum to the boys.

On Wednesday we did a fun lab to discover how small atoms are.  First I read the "for my notebook" pages to the boys.  These are pages that explain the concepts in kid-friendly, attention-grabbing language.  We learned that a 2 mm dash like this "__" contains 40 million atoms.  Isn't that amazing?  For the lab, we smelled some uninflated rubber balloons and examined them closely with a magnifying glass to be sure there were no holes.  Then (with the boys in the other room), I put a small amount of water in one, some cinnamon in one, some almond extract in one, and some lemon extract in another.  I then inflated the balloons and numbered them.  They boys smelled the balloons to try and guess what each contained.  The gist of the lesson is that atoms are so small that the "scent" atoms from the cinnamon and extracts were able to "squeeze" between the atoms of the balloon so we could smell them. Pretty amazing when you think about it.  I just love how hands-on and fun the labs are.  Hubs gets to do one on Thursday morning which explores how atoms move.  I'll try to remember to get photos.  Here's one photo of the balloon lab that I managed to take.

One more thing before I forget.............I keep pretty close tabs on the stats for this blog.  If you like what you're reading here and don't want to have to remember to keep checking, please consider signing up for an email subscription.  You can do so using the link in the right sidebar.  It's FREE and that way you'll get updates via email each time I post.  Just a tip for those of you who don't use Google Reader to keep track of your blog reading.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Story of the World: Chapter 1

This week we spent two days reading Chapter 1 of SOTW.  We learned about nomads and what they ate (lizards, yuck!) and the boys completed a lapbook component with pictures of the various foods of nomads.  I forgot to take a picture of it though! 

On our second history day, we journeyed into a deep, dark cave (my husband's "mancave" in the of the only rooms in our house without windows) armed only with our torch (a small flashlight).  We quickly built a fire (lit a candle) for warmth and for cooking.

Once in the cave we decided to do some cave paintings to let future generations know more about us.  Below are the ones we did.  I had to take these with the light on to show them, but we drew them by candlelight (and a little flashlight).  This was a fun experience that I hope the boys will remember.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Great Graphic Organizers

On Monday of this week I stumbled across a great website with lots of free printable graphic organizers.  I am finding that I like using these a lot with my oldest son as we work on reading comprehension.  When I found this website, I was doing a Google search to find a printable story map with the major literary elements. In addition to finding the story map I wanted, I found a wealth of other resources.  I'll share a few of my favorites now, but I encourage you to visit the site to see what other goodies you can use.  HERE IS THE LINK to the website itself.

Here are a few of the things I printed immediately.  My excitement over this find greatly increase my son's writing workload on Monday, but (bless his heart!) he didn't complain a bit!!

Since the boys and I had gone to the play "Ferdinand the Bull" last week at a local children's theater, I had him fill out this "Play Response" form.  I was planning to have him write about it anyway, but having this great form to write on was better than the blank notebook paper I was planning to have him use.  (NOTE:  All the forms shown here were completed by my fourth grader, not my first grader!)

I thought he did a great job on this.  He really took it seriously and I love the illustration he added in lieu of an actual photo from the play. 

The play was VERY different from the book and I'm sure I could find a great compare/contrast organizer on the website, but for now I'm really happy with how well he summarized the main details of the play.  I also liked that there is a place to circle his "rating" of the play at the bottom.  We are going on a field trip this Friday and I've already downloaded and printed a Field Trip Response form for him to complete next Monday.

I also found this Reading Log form that I like a whole lot.  As you may remember, in addition to reading a piece of literature together (where we work on vocabulary, comprehension, literary elements, etc.), I'm having my fourth grader read an additional book (his choice) for 30 minutes each day just for fun.  I'm not quizzing him on it or having him write about it or anything like that.  The focus is just on reading for readings' sake.  I'm so proud of him for reading three lengthy chapter books so far this year (and he's almost done with the fourth!).  I have been having him just keep a log of the titles of the books, which I'll continue to do so we can keep track of what he's read.  However, after finding this form, I've decided that from this point on I'll have him complete the form when he finishes each "just for fun" book.  It's a quick form to complete and it allows him to categorize the book by genre, rate it, and write a brief summary.  Below is his form for Because of Winn-Dixie, which he just finished last week.

The next photos show some bookmark printables that I found and loved!  I haven't used these yet, but they are just what I needed although I didn't realize it until I saw them!  When we were still doing A World of Adventure, my son and I had talked about the different types of conflict in literature.  Even though we've put AWOA aside for now, I still wanted to continue to help him analyze conflict in future texts that we read.  So.....I'm loving these bookmarks.  I made several copies of the page you see below.  My plan is to cut them out and have them available so he can easily grab them to mark places in the story where he has identified a particular type of conflict.  When finished with a book, the bookmarks used can be stapled together in a group as documentation of our learning and thinking about that particular book.

In our AWOA curriculum, we also talked about the development of plot.  Needless to say, I was thrilled to find a set of "plot" bookmarks.  Again, I've printed up a bunch of these and I'll let him use these to mark where he finds the various stages of plot development in a story.  I'm sure that initially he'll need a lot of assistance from me in how to use these tools, but I am hoping that over time he'll be able to use them himself. 

These examples are only a few of the treasure trove of resources available at Cheryl Sigmon's website.  Be sure to visit and check it out!!

Monday, September 26, 2011

How I plan for my first grader's reading block

I wanted to write a post to explain how I've been planning reading for my first grader in case it might help some of you out there.  As a former special education teacher who worked with struggling readers, I have pretty firm beliefs about what components should be included daily for beginning readers to build a solid foundation of reading and writing skills.  Therefore, our reading/language arts (R/LA) block each day has the same general components or activities which include:  writing, guided reading, re-reading, working with words, and independent reading.  During our R/LA block I work directly with my little guy for the most part.  We can usually complete everything in about 45 minutes give or take, and I don't usually time it, so that's an estimate.  During the time I work with my first grader, my fourth grader is doing his own 30 minutes of independent reading from a self-selected text as well as reading the next chapter of our focus literature text.

We usually start with writing, but not for any particular reason.   I am using my son's interest in Legos to encourage his writing.  To start the school year I had him create a scene with his Legos.  Then I had him act out the scene.  I took "action" photos as he moved the pieces and narrated the story.  Then I printed all the photos out on printer paper, one per page, and he wrote his own book using his ideas and his own Lego creation as a basis for the story.  He wrote one page per day until this book was finished.  Below you can see the first page of the book.  He never complained once about writing!!  He finished his fire truck story and is now working on writing a page each day in a Lego Mini-Figure book I made for him.  He writes two sentences in this book each day.  I'll try to remember to post photos of that book sometime soon.

Guided reading is a "teacher" term that simply means reading with some adult support.  I use printed books from Reading A-Z as the basis for my first grader's guided reading texts right now because most readers that are commercially available for young readers are either a.) too phonetic or b.) too hard.  Reading A-Z offers a range of printable books with lesson plans (which I don't use, but they're very well-done) for the most beginning readers (one or two words per page) through about the fifth grade reading level.  For my example in this post, I'm showing the book Scaredy Crow, which I chose as our focus text last week. Once I selected that core text, we pulled skills from it throughout the week which I'll show in a minute.  The first day, my son and I looked through the book at the pictures and talked about the story.  I pointed out a few words I knew he wouldn't know and also told him and pointed out the names of the main characters.  We also talked about some features of the text such as quotation marks around the words the characters spoke.  Then I had him do his "first reading" of the book.  The next day and one other day during the week he re-read it to me.  More about that below.  In the photo you can see the book along with a cut and paste worksheet I found with -ow words.  Since the book made reference to "scarecrows" and "crows", we used -ow words for some of our word work this week.  

 Re-reading previously read texts is very important for emerging readers and may be something you haven't thought to have your students do.  Here's why it's so important.  The first time a child reads a new text, they are focusing so much on pulling the words off the page that their fluency (how smoothly they read) does not have a chance to develop.  Additionally, they are working so hard to solve unknown words that their comprehension may be somewhat affected as well. sure to have them go back and re-read at least short bits of text they've previously read.  I always have my little guy re-read a new book at least one time.  Poems are also a great type of text to re-read several times because their rhythmic nature can really facilitate reading fluency.   This week I found two poems about crows and scarecrows online.  I printed them out and read them to my first grader on Day 2 of our week.  I had him select the one he wanted to learn, then we read it together a few times.  He continued to practice this poem throughout the week and read it to his grandmas on the weekend.  And boy did his fluency improve!!!  I had him illustrate the poem and we'll put it into a poetry binder along with other poems we use and learn in this way.

Our "word work" time each day always consists of working with both sight words and decodable words in some way.  I wrote some about our sight words and word wall in this post.  Each day we review the sight words on his "word ring" and practice spelling them in some way (i.e. writing on marker board, writing with gel pens on black paper, spelling with magnet letters, stamping with letter stamps).  Additionally, we do more word work either with a lesson from All About Spelling (3 times per week) and/or with a skill I've pulled from our focus text.  This week as I said above, we worked on words with -ow (long o sound) since it tied into our story and poem for the week.  One day I spelled the word scarecrow with our magnet letter tiles (on a burner cover........these are great, cheap magnet boards!) and had him rearrange the letters to make new words, then he wrote those words in his spelling notebook.

One final extension we did this week was making a "scarecrow" book.  I found a simple graphic in Microsoft Word and printed three pages with the text "My scarecrow can scare away _________" and my first grader filled in an animal name and drew it next to the scarecrow.  The last page said, "But he doesn't scare me!!"   You can see one of his pages below.

So that's how I plan a well-rounded, interest-driven reading program for my little guy.  I'm really happy so far with how it's going.

OOPS!  I almost forgot!  I also have him read for about 15-20 minutes to himself each day.  He can choose any of the books we've done with guided reading, but he usually chooses from a box of Scholastic Lego Readers that we have.  One funny thing........he loves to go into his little "reading cave" to do this.  He uses a laundry basket with blankets draped over the top and sits inside to do his reading.  Luckily, I can hear him reading inside the cave so I know he's not just chilling out in there!!  The photo below shows his little reading cave.  In this photo he's sitting on a chair in our schoolroom, but now he usually sets it all up on the end of the couch.  His little stuffed kitties go inside the cave with him and he lines it with pillows, then puts his box of books in the laundry basket part.  He sure couldn't read this way in public school!!  It's great to be a homeschooler!!!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Story of the World (SOTW): Introduction

I like that most of the chapters in SOTW are easily broken up into two parts.  We will be studying history twice a week and science twice, so this easily fits into our schedule.  We did the introduction over two days this week.  In the introductory chapter we learned about what history is, what archaeology is, and how we can find out about the lives of people who lived long ago without talking to them or interviewing them.

After listening to the first half of the chapter, we made a family timeline and recorded major events from the year 1900 through 2011.  I just taped a bunch of papers together and made the line with a marker, then the boys helped me figure out where to mark birthdays, marriages, etc. We're planning to hang this in the schoolroom and add to it as we grow!  I also showed them how we could take a "piece" of the timeline and break it down into smaller parts, such as a timeline just for 2011 broken into months.

We are also going to make lapbooks for each chapter.  Fortunately, I had found and saved this awesome lapbook for SOTW Volume 1 a while ago.  Instead of putting our components on file folders, we're putting them into a blank spiral bound book.  It will be much easier to store!!  Below you can see the cover of my oldest son's book.  We just printed out the cover page and glued it to the front of the blank book.

For Chapter 0 (the introduction!), we added a pocket about "What is History?"  I just had my first grader do the pocket.  However, for my fourth grader, I had him do the pocket with pictures and then write a short paragraph about what he learned about "what is history?".  We then folded his little "report" and added it to the pocket.  His lapbook pages are shown in the next two photos.

For the second part of the chapter we learned about what archaeologists do and we had our own dig!!  This is an idea from the Activity Guide, but I loved seeing how Satori and her mom did a similar dig over at Satori Smiles.  Below are photos from our dig.

I mixed up sand, cornstarch, and water to make the sand hold together a bit more than it would otherwise.  Then I put it into a metal cake pan (after I'd put a bunch of "artifacts" into the bottom of the pan) and marked off a grid with pieces of string.  I showed the boys how archaeologists excavate one area at a time.  Luckily, we took a field trip a few weeks ago to a real dig site and I was able to show them a photo of an area marked off into a grid with trenches.  If it weren't for the wonderful flexibility of homeschooling, they probably wouldn't have had a real-life experience like that to tie into their learning.  

We "excavated" into a colander to be sure we didn't miss any little pieces.

When we found something, we put it into a baggie and labeled the bag with the coordinates of the square we'd found it in.

I had made up a grid worksheet for each of them to record their finds.  They had these on clipboards and it was all very official and very fun!! regrets about staying up until after midnight to get this activity prepped.  It was totally worth it!!  You can see my 4th grader's grid below.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

FIAR: The Story of Little Babaji

Technically The Story of Little Babaji is not a Five in a Row book.  Truly though, any book can be used the FIAR way.  Since I'm trying to align our FIAR books with the country we're studying in Expedition Earth, I needed a book set in India and this one fit the bill.  Those of you who are near my age may remember the original version of this story which was called Little Black Sambo.  In efforts to be more policitally correct and culturally sensitive, the newer version was written.  Most of the main story elements remain the same, however.

We did not do any projects to go with this book.  However, a few that would be good companion activities include this Taj Mahal coloring page (NOTE:  The Taj Mahal is not in the story, but is important to the study of India.) and this game from Homeschoolshare.  I actually printed and laminated the game for the boys to play but so far we haven't fit it in. The Homeschoolshare link also includes a bunch of other ideas for using this book.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

So here's the deal..........

In THIS POST I explained that I have been considering making some changes to our program for this year.  I've now made those changes and I feel SO MUCH BETTER about what we're doing!!  I promised to explain what I'd decided, so I'll do that now.

Our major change is that I've decided to put aside A World of Adventure for a few years until both of my boys fall into the age range that is intended for which is 4th through 8th grade.  I was having a hard time with the difficulty of the literature selections even for my oldest son.  And it was also really hard for me to keep my youngest son involved.  The publisher does offer a companion curriculum for adapting it for younger students.  Still, I feel sure that the direction we have chosen to take is best for us this year.  I want to restate that I do think AWOA is a really great curriculum.  We were not unhappy with it; it just wasn't a good fit for us at this time.

For my oldest son's literature I am going to let him choose which chapter books we'll read.  Now we are working on The Cricket in Time Square.  I'll write a whole post on our work with that book once we've finished.  I love this book so much and am so glad he chose it.  George Seldin's writing and characters remind me a lot of E.B. White who I also love as an author.

For language arts we are adding in Easy Grammar (4th and 5th grade level).  We've just barely started this.  I had managed to get a copy for a great price at a used curriculum sale this summer.  I am also considering Winning with Writing for a writing curriculum for him.  It is very reasonably priced and looks really good.

For history we are going to use The Story of the World.  I already had Volume 1 and the Activity Guide and was originally planning to use it before I chose AWOA instead.  We have done the first chapter this week and are LOVING it!!!  I will be posting more about it soon.  With all the references in the AG I'm easily able to add extra reading and writing for my 4th grader to amp up the challenge for him.  I'm SO excited about this!

Another change I'm really excited about is that this week (tomorrow) we'll be starting a new science curriculum.  Again, I had originally wanted to use Real Science Odyssey from Pandia Press for science.  Then I chose AWOA and decided not to order.  Through the end of September Pandia Press is offering a discount on their ebooks and I jumped on it and ordered the Chemistry curriculum.  It is intended for Grades 2-5, but the labs are hands-on and the text is written just right for children so I think my first grader will do fine with a bit of help on some of the lab sheets.  My husband (who has a PhD in science) teaches science to the boys on Thursday mornings while I teach Kindermusik in our home studio.  He'll do one lab with them a week and I'll do one.  I have to admit that I'm so excited about this curriculum that I'm a bit disappointed I don't get to do it all.  Admittedly, he's way more qualified than me to answer their questions!!

I can't tell you  how much better I feel now.  When I made my curriculum decisions last spring as a new homeschooler I really wanted something I could open to tell me what to do each day, especially for my oldest.  Even though I'm a certified, licensed teacher and have taught for 20 years, this made me feel better.  What I should have know is that even when I taught in public and private school settings, I ALWAYS had to tweak everything and add in lots of my own activities and ideas.  It's just the way I love to teach.  The changes I've made much better reflect how I love to plan and teach.  So it's all good.  Can't wait to post more soon! 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Spelling and Vocabulary City

If you have not already utilized the FREE and very awesome website Spelling City, please consider doing so.  While there is a subscription option that allows you to do more, with the free option you can create your own spelling and/or vocabulary lists and then your child can play online games using the word lists you've created.  I used to use this site a bit when my oldest son was in third grade.  I put in his weekly spelling list and printed out worksheets for him to do to practice his words.

In our homeschool, I'm using the vocabulary list option and am finding that I LOVE it!  As I mentioned a few posts back, my oldest son is currently reading The Cricket in Times Square for literature.  On THIS website, I found online quizzes to go with that book as well as vocabulary lists.  I typed the vocab lists into Spelling City and every few chapters I'm having him use my list to write definitions for his words.  He writes the definitions on index cards which are filed alphabetically in a card file.  After he does his cards, I give him various games to play using the lists.  He then reports to me his "score" for the game.  So far he's really enjoying doing his vocabulary this way.  One great feature is that when you type in a list as "vocabulary" the program automatically offers you several suggestions for definitions and allows you to pick the one that fits the context of the book you've taken the word from.  Therefore, you don't have to spend time looking in a dictionary for a good definition of each's already done for you!!  This free resource is well worth a look!  Let me know if you already use it and if you have any additional suggestions for getting the most out of this great resource.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Word Wall

 Increasing sight word vocabulary is a daily part of my reading/language arts program with my first grader.  I have word lists from our local school district for kindergarten and first grade.  He had mastered the kindergarten list last year as a public school kindergartener.  I used the lists to assess the first grade sight words he already knew.  Then, each week, I'm adding about 5 "new" words for him to learn.  I am taking these from the unknown words from our first grade sight word list as well as words he doesn't know from the guided reading books we read each day.  His "new" words are added to his "word ring" and he does various things each day to practice them such as stamping them on paper, writing them on a marker board or building them with letter cubes or magnet letters.  I wanted a place where he could refer to these words during writing and also a place where all his "known" words would be easily accessible for more "word work" activities.  I decided to use a folding presentation board (I bought it at Hobby Lobby) and turn it into a portable "word wall."  Many early elementary classrooms have a "word wall" of frequently used words and I think its a very valuable addition to any classroom, including home based classrooms.  I didn't have the wall space in our schoolroom to devote to a word wall, but the presentation board is the perfect solution since it folds flat when not in use.

I used shipping labels (cut in half) to print my alphabet letters.  Then I printed all the words he's already mastered on those teeny tiny return address labels.  These labels come 100 to a sheet and their size is perfect for the presentation board.  In my previous life as a special education teacher, I had a word wall with words that had velcro on the back and attached to a felt-covered bulletin board.  That way as we added new words we could reorganize the existing words in alphabetical order.  With the printed labels, I didn't worry about ABC order.  Some of our "word work" each week will involve having him pick a letter and alphabetize the words beginning with that letter on a separate piece of paper.  I am really happy with how this turned out and I'll post more in the future to let you know how we are using the board.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Taking a little detour

We are now about 4 weeks into our homeschool journey.  Overall, things are going very well.  However, after reflecting a bit about the curriculum I've chosen and how it's working/not working for us, we are making a few changes.

As you may know if you've read my curriculum page, I chose A World of Adventure from Learning Adventures as my main curriculum for my oldest son who is in fourth grade.  In hindsight, I admit that I chose it because it reflects the kind of education that I wanted to give him and I liked the fact that Dorian (the author) had done all the work for me so I could just open to "today's" lesson and be good to go.  I should have known myself and my child better than that, but I'm sure that many a homeschool-newbie has followed this same path or something similar.  Before I go on to explain some of the changes we're making, please know that I think this is an excellent curriculum and as of now we are not abandoning it entirely.  It's good stuff.'s what's going on.  First of all, I really wanted a curriculum that presented history in a chronological manner and I really, really wanted the literature we read to correlate with the history period we were focusing on.  AWOA completely fit the bill in this department and that's largely why I chose it.  The first six-week unit in AWOA is Ancient Egypt, and the main literature selection is The Golden Goblet by Eloise Jarvis McGraw.  The literature selection is recommended to be read aloud and then there are comprehension questions for discussion in addition to vocabulary and written language assignments.  Although my son was not complaining (bless his heart!), I soon realized that this particular text is pretty advanced for a fourth grader to easily comprehend, even when it's being read aloud.  Keep in mind that my fourth grader is a gifted learner.  And still, I found that it was really hard for him to keep track of the characters and all the details of the plot.  So I asked my mom for advice.  She taught reading and language arts in the upper elementary grades for MANY years and is truly the voice of experience.  She basically confirmed to me what I already son would not make gains in reading comprehension from a text that was too difficult nor would he grow to love literature (remember, he's a non-fiction kid) if only presented with texts that are either a.) too difficult or b.) not interesting to him or c.) both a and b.  Essentially, she gave me permission to abandon the book entirely and try to find something that my son was more interested in and that was better suited for him.  And I had to get over my need to have our literature align with our history study.  Which was a bit hard, but I'm over it now. :-)

Luckily, my mom (the veteran retired teacher and lover of books) had a whole stash of great upper elementary chapter books in her basement.  I hauled about 12 to 15 home and the next day I allowed my son to (gasp!) read the cover blurbs and choose which book he would read next.  (Sidenote:  The Book Whisperer author would be so proud of me.  I actually heard her voice whispering in my ear as we made this transition.  I'm totally serious.)

So now we are happily reading The Cricket in Times Square by George Seldin.  I LOVED this book as a child.  Fortunately there are a ton of free resources for this book online.  For example, Lesson Pathways has a really comprehensive list of very cool activities and links to enhance a child's experience with this book.  THIS LINK has been invaluable as it has an online quiz for each chapter as well as activities, vocabulary and English lessons.  I've been having my son take the online quiz after reading each chapter.  In a future post I'll share what we're doing with the vocabulary lists.  I haven't used much yet from THIS link, but it looks like a bunch of good stuff.  And of course there is a great bunch of resources at Homeschoolshare.  Many of them are for making a lapbook.  I'm not yet sure if we'll be doing a lapbook.  If so, I'll be sure to post about it.

I feel much better about our literature now that we've made this switch.  I think The Golden Goblet is a really wonderful book.  In fact, I may finish it myself to see what happens.  We may just hold off a few years and try it again.  As of now, I'm not sure how we'll be using AWOA.  After abandoning the literature component, my plan was to continue using it for our study of history as well as for some of the science units it includes.  However, the further I go into this journey, the more I find myself wanting to tap into my children's interests and to build learning experiences around those topics.  I'm realizing that by randomly (although it was far from random..........weeks and weeks of research went into my curricular choices!) choosing curriculum without considering their interests and needs, what I am offering them is really not a whole lot different than what they'd get in public school.  So I'm taking some time to reflect on this realization and to think about what it means for us and what direction I want to go next in our exciting journey.  I'll be sure to post more on what transpires very soon!!

I'd love to hear from you if you've had similar issues.  I am 100% positive that I'm not the only one!! 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

FIAR: A Pair of Red Clogs

We "rowed" the book A Pair of Red Clogs for our third week of homeschool.  We tied this book into our study of Japan in Expedition Earth.   This is a sweet story with great illustrations that all of us enjoyed so much. There is a great resource page for this book at Homeschoolshare. We did not end up using many of these resources because I'm finding that we are learning so much from the living books we check out from the library about each country.  With the living books and the resources from Expedition Earth, I am not feeling the need to do a lot of extra activities with each book.   I had planned to do a simple origami project with the boys for this book, but we ended up rowing it on a week that began with Labor Day and ended with an out of town field trip, so we didn't get around to the origami.  

We did do a quick kimono art project that I found on Art Projects for Kids.  I enjoy doing these projects with the boys and thought our kimonos turned out great. As suggested in the project instructions, I made a cardboard "T" shape which we traced with a Sharpie marker to give us all a uniform starting point.  Then we used oil pastels to add the details.

Monday, September 12, 2011

FIAR: How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World

During our second week of homeschool we "rowed" the book How to Make an Apple Pie and see the World by Marjorie Priceman.  We have been trying to over lap our FIAR books with the country we are studying for Expedition Earth, but I couldn't find a book to go with South Korea which we studied during our second week.  So.......since the season is right for apple-picking here in Iowa, I chose this book which I love so much!  The boys loved listening to it every day and retelling all the places the girl has to go to get the ingredients she needs for her pie.

I found a bunch of great printable activities for this book at Homeschoolshare.  However, as I am getting further into homeschooling (a veteran of over 3 weeks now........haha!), I am finding that doing every cute printable activity I find may not be the best fit for my two boys.  Which kind of stinks because I really like cute printable activities.  However, I am learning about their preferences and while I had visions of the awesome lapbooks we would complete for each book we row, I am finding it hard to fit in time for all the extras.  And truthfully, I don't think their experiences with the books will suffer if we don't do a bunch of paper and pencil or cut and paste activities.  Please know that I LOVE the idea of lapbooking and still plan to incorporate it into our learning, I just haven't found the right balance yet.  However, I wanted to add a link to the wonderful resources for this book from Homeschoolshare.  That site is truly a treasure trove if you haven't already discovered it.

So, instead of having a cute lapbook to share here, I'll share some photos of our first "field trip" to a local apple orchard where we picked our own apples.............

A few days after we picked the apples we made an apple pie out of them.  And BOY was it yummy!  I used this recipe which I've made in jars (SO cute and fun), but just made a regular "big pie" with it.  I really like the syrup coating on the apples with this recipe.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

About Montessori

A few of you have asked why I haven't set up a Montessori curriculum for my sons this year as I started homeschooling them.  While I understand why you're curious, it surprised me a bit because I honestly hadn't thought about the fact that I wasn't using a Montessori curriculum for them.  After it was brought to my attention, I was forced to reflect on why I hadn't set up our homeschool environment in a "Montessori" way.  So I'll do my best to put my thoughts about that into writing here.  Please don't hesitate to email me or leave a comment if you'd like.  I love getting comments!

OK, first of all, my Montessori training is for 3-6 year olds and that is the curriculum I'm most comfortable with in regard to Montessori education.  I can assure you that if I'd started homeschooling back when they were in preschool or younger, our "schoolroom" would have had a definite Montessori vibe with open shelves and materials from which they could self-select.  That said, I don't have the training in Montessori Elementary education.  I have thought about getting it in the past, but it just hasn't been feasible from either a financial or time-commitment standpoint. 

Next, my oldest son (who is turning 10 soon) attended a private Montessori elementary for first and second grade.  It was a wonderful school and I feel he got a great introduction and exposure to the key elements of a Montessori elementary education.  If he were attending a Montessori school this fall, he'd be in the 9-12 year old class.......and that is definitely out of my realm of expertise when it comes to Montessori training.  I think Montessori is a wonderful model, even at the older age levels.  I just don't feel that I could replicate it in a homeschool setting.  As I researched homeschool curricula almost obsessively last winter, I wasn't able to come up with a resource for "doing" Montessori with upper elementary children in a home setting.  If any of you have any suggestions or references for something like this, I'd be thrilled to take a look!

From the little I know about Montessori education at the elementary level, I know that there is a great deal of emphasis placed on non-fiction reading and reading for research purposes.  While I believe these to be very valid and necessary goals for children, my oldest son excels in this area and would spend all his time reading non-fiction or for research if given the choice.   Reading and understanding fiction at a higher reading level is an area that I felt I needed to focus on with him this year.  So when I chose our main curriculum (A World of Adventure by Learning Adventures), I was looking for something that had literature at its core and which tied in the history and science with the literature components.  In many ways, I can see that the structure of AWOA actually closely matches what I can imagine would be emphasized in an upper-elementary Montessori setting:  lots of content reading from "real books", learning history in chronological order, and hands-on projects to reinforce concepts.

Finally, I think one of the basic tenets that characterizes Montessori education is to "follow the child".  This, more than any material or exercise, is what I believe to be the essential message of Maria Montessori.  Given that, I will definitely be implementing a "follow the child" philosophy in our homeschool setting as I try to build on my children's interests and strengths while simultaneously matching my support and encouragement to their areas of need or struggle.

I truly appreciate being asked this question.  It has been very thought-provoking and reflective for me to ponder.  And I hope I've adequately explained my reasoning for choosing the path I've chosen.  If any of you are using a Montessori approach with your older children, I would really love to hear about it!!  I love how blogging connects people of similar interests and allows us to learn from each other. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

I. Love. It.

My intention is to write on this blog more regularly than once a week, but, boy!, homeschooling sure is keeping me busy!  On top of homeschooling my 2 boys, this week I added teaching 8 piano lessons and 3 Kindermusik classes.  Perhaps that explains why I've been absent in this space!  Also, when we get going with our school days I find that I forget to take many pictures.  I'll try to be better about that!

Here's what I love about homeschooling so far:

I love not having to rush myself and the boys out the door each morning.  We are easing into our school day gradually, trying to start around 9:00 every morning.  This allows me time to exercise before school as well as time to check email, clean up after breakfast, throw in a load of laundry, and gather any last minute things I need for our day.

I love starting each school day cuddled on the couch with my two favorite guys in the whole world.  We have been reading a short devotion from the book Jesus Calling each morning.  It starts our time together on a positive note, which I feel is very important.

I love that I've had time to make homemade bread for us to enjoy twice this week so far.  It disappears quickly! Is there anything better than homemade bread fresh from the oven?

 I love being able to incorporate my boys' interests into their school day.  One way I've done this with my little guy is to have him create a scene with his Legos.  I then took photos of several "action" shots as he manipulated the scene to tell a story.  I printed each photo on printer paper and each day he's been writing the words to go with one page.  When he's finished, he'll have his own book!  This is a much more motivating way for me to get him to write than anything else I've come up with!

I love having the flexibility to add in little field trips that support our learning.  Yesterday I took the boys apple picking at an orchard since we read How To Make an Apple Pie and See the World this week for FIAR.  I'll post more about that later.

So.......I'm loving it.  
A few of you asked about why I'm not incorporating a lot of Montessori materials into our homeschooling.  Which is a fair question since many of you followed me for that last several years over at My Montessori Journey.  I've been thinking about how to answer that question and will try to do a post about that soon.  I just wanted to pop in here today so you'd know I was still around.  :-)