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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The outdoor classroom-Taking advantage of a good thing!

Today is such a beautiful fall day, the leaves are falling, changing colors, there is a breeze in the air that with one breath brings a flood of memories of this time of year, I get the sudden urge to create some new ones. We have missed a few of these beautiful days recently due to my being under the weather, so we are taking advantage of this beautiful day, and I am so thankful that we homeschool and have the freedom to do that.
So how do you get out and enjoy the day, but not skip school. I could just say it’s a field trip day, observe nature day or something, but really we need to do some critical work today so its not an option. So I had Joshua practice his writing, (he is an advanced reader and writer) I had him write a story, and we are all going to act out his story in the woods. That’s fun, will work their imaginations, and he gets practice with his printing, spelling and punctuation.
We will also be practicing his math facts…He is very bright, he memorizes all his math facts in seconds, and even figures out the ones I hadn’t even taught him yet. We are up to the 8’s addition family and he taught himself the 7’s and 8’s all by himself!
This is great! Though I’ve said it before,in my M+M=MM MM Good Math time Learning post, that when it comes to math, kids need to learn word problems, so they learn the math concepts, not just straight memorization. It is critical to understanding math concepts they will learn in the later years. So I am going to have him create word problems and equations using items from the environment (ie: 5 red leaves, + 2 yellow leaves = 7 leaves, or the tree had 5 yellow leaves and 2 red leaves for a total of 7 leaves) who knows what we will come up with, the possibilities are endless.

We are also going to make more of our pinecone bird feeders, and hang them in the trees in the woods for the birds, and the squirrels.

We will finish with our PE lesson and a snack, which goes with today’s lesson, and then head home for naps. These are some awesome ways to utilize the outdoor classroom.Later I will have Joshua work on some workbook work, as "homework". Getting out of the house is not only ONE half of the battle, but its the second half of the battle too, two halfs equals a whole and that makes it 100% of the battle, so I better get moving! (Had to sneak in a little math time fun:))

I would love it if you would share with me how you utilize the outdoors for learning. Send your info and pictures if you have them, to teachableme@gmail.com.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Curriculum Challenge Part 2-Making An Informed Decision

So in my last post I discussed how finding the right line up of curriculum really depends on your family’s individual needs. Today I would like to share with you what my experience has been.  Very early on, I started out using www.hubbardscupboard.org just to pass the time constructively with my children. They provide a great variety of resources already planned out for you. It is a Christian resource which has the units designed in themes, centered around Bible stories at the younger ages, and character traits for the older ages, so if you are studying about Adam and Eve, you learn a corresponding Bible verse, the letter A, with a rhyme to illustrate the sound…”Adam at an apple a, a, a…” counting by putting apples on a tree which is a printable they have available to you…and a whole host of other activities to fill your week. This was the greatest resource for me. Once that curriculum finished I was at a loss. I wanted a curriculum that was laid out the same kind of way.
Joshua was not supposed to start kindergarten until 2011 bc of his birthday but he was clearly able and ready to learn, so I did kindergarten with him the year before he was supposed to start, this was the first time I did full time homeschooling in our home. I did it this way just so I could try to play around with what worked and what didn’t for us, before he was really supposed to be in school. It was a great decision, but that’s for another post J
I tried to do research, for a similar set up of curriculum most of the ones that were unit study, were out of my price range, so I tried a variety of things that I found at a local used homeschool bookstore, and utilized tons of free online resources. We made it work, but doing it this way, was a lot of effort on my part, to do the research and prepare all the things I needed for the lessons. It was a bit overwhelming, for me as I also had a 2.5 yr old and a 6 month old to care for as well.
In considering this, I knew that I wanted something with minimal planning on my part, I also had to take into consideration, my strengths and weaknesses. I observed as a weakness, that organization is something that takes a lot of concentrated effort on my part, as a strength, I am very artistic and creative and can come up with pretty much a creative way to teach anything. In considering Joshua’s strengths and weakness, I needed to take into account that Joshua is a very intelligent child, he learns things very fast, it’s fascinating to me. Basically I teach him something once and he knows it forever, he also does well using workbooks, and even taught himself how to read while we were working on beginning and ending sounds in a workbook we bought in the $1 section of target!
Weighing all these things, I figured that whatever curriculum I settled on, for the core curriculum (math, reading, phonics) I wanted it to be a Christian curriculum, a complete curriculum, one that was put together by one company and came with everything I needed to teach a full year of school, and that it have some workbook centered time. I wanted one that outlined everything I had to do, and had all the resources, and was workbook centered. And of course that it fit our budget.
Our pediatrician homeschools, and he recommended Rod and Staff to me. I checked it out online, and it was completely affordable and came with a complete 1 yr of curriculum, workbooks, flash cards, even art and music curriculum. Everything that needed to be taught was completely outlined for me all I needed to do was pull the things they told me to have ready for class, and then teach their curriculum. I was sold. I ordered it and was ready to go at the start of the year in 2011.
We have been blessed by this curriculum, it was great for my own strengths and weaknesses. One thing we have found to be a challenge, Joshua’s intelligence, the first grade level curriculum we chose for him because he was already advanced, has not been challenging enough for him, it is very slow moving lots and lots and lots of repetition for a boy who grasps things very quickly, it has been frustrating for him. I was very discouraged the first week of school when he was saying, I already know this mom, I need something more challenging…most teachers would love this comment, and I am pleased that he is such a fast and eager learner, but I had no budget to go out and purchase a whole new curriculum…what was I going to do…That will be covered in my next post, The Curriculum Challenge Part 3-Making the curriculum you chose work for your family’s needs.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Top Challenges to Homeschool Families-(Part 1-Finding a curriculum that works)

So there are 3 main things that are a challenge to most every homeschool family, curriculum, home keeping, and occupying younger brothers and sisters. I am starting a series of posts on these three things.
Today I am tackling the ever complex topic of curriculum. To start I am going to just say, if you are a first time homeschooler and are asking around about what people use, do not have the expectation that someone will just give you a magic answer where you will be able to run out, buy it, and it will be your perfect ever curriculum, that’s what I was hoping for, it never happened. People would whip off names of like one hundred different curriculums and I was like, uhhh ok. I went to an informational meeting a homeschooling mom from our church organized, and I was so confident that I would walk out of there, with a better plan than I had.
I was W-R-O-N-G… Wrong. All these women showed up with what seemed like thousands of these mega sized textbooks and filled up a huge dining table with them. It was very overwhelming, I felt very discouraged afterward. I looked through so many of those books, there were toooo many choices. I had no clue which would be best for us. I had been mostly making my own Pre-K lessons all along, I am artistic and creative by nature, so planning fun activities around a theme was always something that just came natural to me as a mom, and for the more technical things, I had a little help from www.hubbardscupboard.org ,which I highly recommend as a place to start for anyone thinking about homeschooling, and its FREE! I left there thinking, how in the WORLD am I supposed to take a big ol’ textbook and make a lesson from it?!(I didn’t reaIize that those big ol’ textbooks WERE the lesson plans) lol. Either way it was very intimidating. Like I said, I left there, neither confident, nor with ANY kind of a plan at all, in fact I was more panicked than anything, wondering if I could even do this at all.
I continued to ask around, hoping someone would just tell me I HAD to use this one particular type of curriculum and that would be that. But I would ask and get like 200 different things they had tried, and what they were using now, and what they liked or didn’t like about each one and what they were switching to. Everyone always said, you just have to find what works for you….well what was that?
 We are on a budget, so I didn’t have the freedom to just be buying and trying out this curriculum and that, some of the ones people recommended where well out of our range to begin with and I was like, well if its that much money and it doesn’t work, then what?
I just kept researching. I found some great sites I have them on the side panel of my blog. The first is www.letshomeschool.com it has a wide variety of very helpful information, teaching tips, curriculum reviews , state standards, ideas and more.  The other is http://cathyduffyreviews.com Where the author of the book, 100 Top Picks, which is highly recommended for any homeschooling family, has detailed reviews of curriculum and more based on subject, and lots more information to help you find your way.
Now, the reason I say that you will never get an answer that will solve all your problems with deciding on a curriculum, is that what you decide will absolutely depend on what will work for you and your family. So to conclude this post, I would encourage you to think about what kind of learning style your children have, what kind of organizational/planning person are you, do you do well at balancing many different tasks, or do you find it hard to do that, consider how much planning time you have available, Do you want to do a lot of  the planning and prep yourself, or do you want something that just has everything done for you and you just have to organize it, and teach it, consider what YOUR strengths and weaknesses as a teacher are, and what your children’s strengths and weaknesses are. Write these down somewhere so that you have them, when you are reviewing the different choices of curriculum out there.
In my next post, I will talk about my personal journey down this path, and where it has lead us, and what it is looking like moving forward.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Written History-Making it personal

What is history? It’s the study of what happened in the past. I love to take what we are learning and make it personal. Today we studied that one way of finding out history of a person, place, or thing in time is to study written records. We learned about different types of written records, and what is held within them.
Books are the first thing they thought of, so we pulled out some different kind of books, learning books, entertaining books, true story books, of course the Bible. We talked about birth certificates, how they tell when, and where someone entered into the world, death certificates, to note the opposite, medical records to tell the history of a person’s health, Dental records, and how they can be used to identify a person, and finally personal letters which can tell you so much about the intimate details of a persons history, you can tell from a letter a woman wrote to her mother in the pioneer days how life was starting up, you can learn of wars, and wartime strategies, and even stories of love. I also showed them my “mother’s diary”, and we had fun reading all the little things I jot down that are funny, cute, or monumental that they do. There are so many written records we could hardly discuss all of them and it would be way above their heads, but I tried to have some of these available to them, to see, birth certificates, medical records, whatever I had on hand.

I am all for hands on learning, and I believe that when the kids can see touch, taste, feel whatever it is they are learning about, it becomes more personal and they are more likely to remember it. The night before this lesson, I remembered that a yr ago we had done a time capsule as a family, where we all put in items that characterized our lives, so I dug it out of the linen closet and had it ready to present. Then I had some empty plastic nut canisters and some note cards so we could create a written record of our current time. After presenting the lesson, we pulled out the time capsule from last yr, there was a letter from daddy, a church bulletin, and even some bible memory verses from the kids Sunday school class with the date on it, this was perfect for teaching how we can use written records to determine history.
If we were trying to find out about this time capsule, we could conclude that this was from a Christian family (Bible verses/church bulletin) , with a devoted dad who loved his 3 boys.  We could conclude that it was during or after the year 2010 because he mentioned baby Joseph who is only 1 yr old currently. We can affirm that year because of the date on the bulletin and Bible verse pages.
After this we created a written record time capsule. I had written out questions on the cards and asked each boy the questions. and placed their answers in a time capsule to be revealed at the beginning of next school year. I can’t hardly wait!