Thursday, April 30, 2009

Kids and Blogging

Blogging is something that appeals to people.
I don't know exactly what it is that makes it so enjoyable, but it certainly is a lot of fun!

A year-and-a-half ago, one of my sons thought he would try his skills at blogging.  He did a pretty good job of it for a while.  He seems to get inspired to do it sporadically.  And since it's his project I let him take it at his own pace.

Here's his site : it's called Cliffside Notes
I gave him pretty much free reign about what and when to write. 

It has encouraged his typing skills, his editing skills and his general writing skills.  It has opened up the opportunity for us to discuss how to effectively communicate your message to an audience.  We talked about the idea that you can't assume anything about your audience.  

Who knows when his next post will be, but if I ever stop doing my blog compositions at midnight he might just see my example and get back on the wagon!

Do you have children who are blogging?  Post their links in the comments sections so we can check them out!

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Story of the World

Ah history... I always hated history in school.  I guess the teachers who taught it to us were really not teaching it.  I can only remember reading dry texts with lots of dates and details.  And then trying to memorize it all.  For me, the trouble with "history"  was that it seemed more like "no-story." Just boring facts.

So, now that I'm teaching history to my children, I am always looking for ways to bring the story to life.

Enter: The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child by Susan Wise Bauer.

If you're a classical educator, I'm sure you've heard of this series.  It's a history teachers dream!  I have actually come to love history thanks to this lovely set of books!  And, they are so well-suited to teaching world history to the younger learner.

There are four volumes, one for each year in the classical education cycle.  Each volume has a companion activity guide which is worth it's weight in gold! 

The activity guide contains references to other history books such as the The Kingfisher History Encyclopedia  and the Usborne Encyclopedia of World History, both of which are great for visual learners!  (Stay tuned for my post on learning styles, coming soon!)  

The activity guide also lists recommended reading of other non-fiction books (which can provide more background information on particular topics) as well as fiction which support the history theme.  Also found in the activity guide are reproducible maps and coloring pages, as well as recipes, craft ideas, games and more.  And, oh, let's not forget the review questions (it has those as well, although I admit to not using them a whole lot!)

For those auditory learners out there the series also comes with a compete set of audio books.  These are the full text, not abridged!  Each volume comes with 7 or more CDs. We love listening to them in the car!

The Story of the World is a complete history in four volumes from ancient to modern times.  My kids love to do the crafts, activities and recipes in the books.  And I love that the content is well researched and written in a clear and engaging style.

If you haven't seen them yet, check them out!

Related posts:

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Homeschooling on a Budget

Money's too hard earned to see it spent unnecessarily!

We strive not to break the home school budget in many ways some are quite obvious and others are crafty.  Here are a few of them:

  • We try to use the library as much as possible.  Our local public library has a wealth of resources from books to books on CD and even DVD's!  We can learn a new language, or discover a new favorite book.  We make it a point to visit the library each week. (It's also a great place to meet new friends!)
  • Planning ahead is another good way to economize when homeschooling.  I try to stick to my plans when acquiring new resources.  I don't know about you, but I could live in a bookstore or an office supplies store!  I love the smell and feel of new books and stationery supplies.  So, when I'm in one of those types of places I feel a little bit like a kid in a candy store.  It can be tricky not to over-spend on all those new and tantalizing supplies.  The trick is to make a list of the things you really need and try to avoid impulse purchases.
  • Internet resources are another great way to save money when homeschooling.  It's amazing how many helpful people are out there posting free resources for downloading.  Many of them are intended for classroom teachers, but often these can be modified to suit a home school environment.
  • Involve the children!  Teaching them about budgets is a great way to ensure that you're following one yourself.  They love applying what they learn, and what better way to set and example than by using restraint when deciding how to spend the home school budget.
  • Buy quality materials.  If you're homeschooling for the long term, try to ensure that any equipment or books that you purchase will hold up under use and still be in good condition for the next child.
  • Second hand materials are another obvious option.  Getting access to them can be the tricky part.  If you have a co-op with another family you could share resources, or pass them between children of staggered grades.  There are online sources of second hand materials.  And, we are lucky to have a local curriculum fair for Homeschooling families held once per year.  I always head to the second hand sale to see what treasures I can find.
  • Make cooking a  subject in your curriculum.  Cooking at home is much cheaper than eating out, so why not shave off some of the food budget by teaching your children how to cook inexpensive and easy meals?  You could even use some of the former eating out budget toward homeschooling endeavours.  

What are you doing to home school economically?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Reading Assessment

Knowing what your child is comfortable reading is important for choosing a reading list that suits the child's ability.  For me, it was important that my children feel good about their reading skills and at the same time meet some challenges.

The Lexile Framework  is a great tool for selecting books that are progressive, or within a certain ability range.  Other leveling systems exist out there, like the grade level system found on the backs of some school age books.  For example 4.2 indicates 4th grade 2nd month.  And there's the letter system used by school teachers that begins with AA and goes to Z.  These are great if you are looking at a series of books which are already catalogued.   But what about the great literature out there that hasn't been catalogued?

Lexile Framework has been a great source of reference for us.
Jules Verne's original:  870L
Retold by Carl Bowen: 440L
Judith Conaway's adaptation:  440L

This is a very helpful chart for determining which book is appropriate for my children to read.
My eldest is reading in a lexile range of 700-900, so the original is fine for him.  But,  if a younger sibling wanted to read the same story, either of the 2 retellings would be more appropriate reading level.

Try a search for yourself and see!

Online Math Curriculum Supplements

I have found a couple of websites that I frequent for math enrichment.
They are from 2 text book companies which publish online support materials.

The first one is Houghton Mifflin Math.  I use the table of contents from the leveled practice link to pinpoint appropriate material to support the concepts that we are working on.   For example, if I'm helping my 5 year old with adding by counting on then unit 6 from grade 1 reinforces that concept.

By selecting the leveled practice link, we are able to view all the lessons in the unit and the type of worksheet to generate (practice, reteach, homework, problem solving and English learners.)   The reteach is helpful if I'm looking for another way of explaining a concept (since Houghton Mifflin is not my primary math curriculum.)  The .pdf files that support these units are quick and to the point.   Click one circle from the 2 sections to view a worksheet.

Another good math resource is the Harcourt online games which correlate to their math program.  These are a nice treat, or a good way to keep one child active while working one on one with another.  The games are simple but fun for kids.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bob Books - Basic Phonics

My kids felt such pride after being able to read their very first book.

For each of them their first book was Mat, which is book 1 in the Bob Books Set 1.

Bob Books are written by Bobbi Lynn Maslen and illustrated by her husband.  Each page is paced perfectly for the fledgling reader.  There are not too many words on the page and the stories all end with "The End!"

The stories are charming and the kids love them!  Each book adds a few new letter sounds and keeps familiar characters in the story.   The second book in the series is called "Sam."  

I highly recommend this set of books for any child who has learned their consonants and short vowels.  Check them out!  If you want to peek inside the books, amazon has some sample pages and also customer images posted  from readers.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Kids in Mind Movie Ratings

I know this topic isn't directly related to homeschooling, but this website has to be the greatest invention since the VCR!  Kids in Mind movie ratings is an online resource for determining the appropriateness of movies for children.

Each film is rated according to the level of sex/nudity, violence/gore, and profanity.  Each element is scored from 1-10.  1 being mild and 10 being extreme.

The site doesn't stop there, however.  It then procedes to outline the details which gave the film the rating.  So in the sexuality description it might say something like "A woman wears a short skirt.  A man kisses a woman on the cheek."  '

I love this site and have found the ratings to be fairly consistent.  I know that my sons' violence levels are a 2 for the youngest and 3 for the oldest.  So I can use the search feature to find films that have violence ratings of 2 or less for family viewing.

Another interesting feature is that it lists topics for discussion that are presented in the film.  

This has been a great help when my kids ask about seeing a particular movie.  I might want to still pre-screen some of it, but I have a better idea what I might be looking for!  

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sunday Surfing: Educational Websites

I guess it's no surprise that if Mom is a blogger that the children are also involved in computer/internet learning.

Here are a few of our favorites:

Galaxy Zoo:  This is a real life research project where individuals with time to spare can help classify galaxies.  Yes, that's right actually classify galaxies.  

Krampf:  This guy is so cool.  He's always got an experiment or demostration to share.  Lots of cool videos and you can even subscribe to a newsletter with an experiment of the week.

Wildcam:  Ever wonder what wild animals are up to in their natural habitat.  Wild cam give you a sneak peek of what's going on in the wild! Some of the cams are highlights and others are in real time.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Choosing a Grammar Curriculum

Grammar is something that can feel dry and complicated if it's not dealt with carefully.

We looked for a long time before finding the "just right" grammar program for us.

Growing With Grammar by Tamela Davis was our final choice.  We began with the Grade 4 book, since that's what grade our son was in at the time.  Up to that point we had discussed parts of speech and looked for them in differen types of texts, including prose and poetry.   We played some word substitution games to make crazy sentences, but then it was time for some "real grammar."

I wanted a book that was straight forward, comprehensive, and fun to work with.  Growing with Grammar was just the program for us.  It comes with 3 books:  a student text, a student workbook, and an answer key.  Each of these books is coil bound.  And, I love it that the workbook is coil bound in stenographer's style, with the coil at the top.  This makes it easy to work with for left or right handed students!

The series is now available for grades 1 through 6 with grade 7 coming soon.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Elements With Style!

We made a really fun find last summer at Chapters book store.

While perusing the science section (our favorite) we came across a set of books created by Basher.  They are a unique series that mix science and art to give personality to scientific concepts.

In the book Periodic Table, Elements with Style, each of the elements is given a persona and is illustrated cartoon style.  There's a bio of sorts for each one.  
For example: 

On first impression I'm a regular sort, but I've got an explosive temperament.  You might hardly notice me, but I make up almost 80 percent of air, and I'm essential to plant life on Earth.

I'm normally a pretty uncreative gas, made up of two atoms of nitrogen.  The triple bond between these two atoms is hard to break, and that is my hidden power.  When nitrogen atoms form nitrogen gas, they release massive amounts of energy.  This make the many compounds that contain me potentially explosive!"

The group number and other important facts like density, date of discovery, melting point, boiling point, atomic number and weight are also included for each element.
We also have the book Physics: Why Matter Matters; and we plan on getting a couple more in the series, as there are more!

These books have proven engaging and entertaining.  A fun way to get acquainted with sometimes dry material!

Rainbow Jello

...Sometimes working in the kitchen is the perfect way to enhance a learning activity!

Recently my 5 year old was learning the colors of the rainbow.

He was having a little trouble remembering the order, so I went online to find a way to help him remember them.

Fly to My Window is a blogger with lots of creative ideas.  And this one was no exception.  Taking the day to add layers to this jello art masterpiece was a great experience.  Spending the day mixing and pouring while naming the colors is a great hands on way to reinforce the light spectrum, and kind of tasty too!  

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Drawing Manga

Art is a favorite subject in our household.  And, lately we've been exploring drawing cartoons.  We've never read much manga, but the art work is very interesting.  My 9 year-old son discovered a great series of books that give excellent directions on how to draw manga characters.  They are by Christopher Hart.

The first one he discovered was the Kids Draw Manga Fantasy book pictured on the left.  He was excited that his finished work looked like the pictures in the book!  That is always so encouraging, isn't it?

Then, he wanted more books, and he specifically asked for Christopher Hart.  So, we picked up a few more that were even more direct with their instructions.  They included the Xtreme Art titles Draw Manga, Draw Mini Manga and Draw Manga Monsters.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Dolch Words

Learning to read is one of the greatest adventures!  

My 5 year-old is in the process of emerging as a beginning reader.   What fun watching him discover how letters combine together to create words. 

To help him on his way, we have been using a combination of explicit phonics and sight words.  We are intensive on the phonics and use the sight words as helpers to make reading real books easier.  

To assist with quick recognition of high frequency words we have been playing a game called Roll-Say-Keep found at  

Now that he knows how to read all of the words in Dolch List 1, he is able to read much more difficult books than basic phonics primers.  We often read as a team, with him reading all the short words and me reading the irregular or longer ones!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Stop Motion Animation

One of the joys of homeschooling is the ability to take time to explore areas of interest with your children.  Our eldest is 9 and loves lego and movie making.  So, we have combined the 2 interests and created some stop motion animation movies.  

Our tools are simple ones that are easily available.  We use our webcam to capture the images using free software called Stop Motion Animator, or SMA.  This program allows us to create the clips.  After we have the clips created we edit them with Windows Movie Maker.   

Here's a sample of one of the videos that we recently created.
We learned the process of planning scenes to tell a story effectively and had some fun adding sound to enhance the images.  Check back later for more mini-movies!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Life of Fred

Wow!  Can this really be a math book?
Yes, it is.  And it is an easy reading, self-teaching one at that!

Does your child have a quirky sense of humor?  If they have already mastered their multiplication and division facts, then Life of Fred, Fractions is the book for you!

This is a book that puts applied math into perspective.
Fred needs to know something.  It involves math.  We learn the math along with Fred.   Then the silly story continues!  I've heard some people call the book wordy (at first glance it doesn't really look like a math book at all.) But the wordiness tells the story and  it's the story that makes the math so real and causes the book to be engaging!  

The style of the book is engaging, as it uses different fonts to create a conversation between the author and the reader, and still another one to tell what Fred is thinking.

There is a lot of opportunity to practice the skills learned in the "your turn to play" section  and also in the "bridges."

We LOVE Fred!

Fractions is the first in a series of books that goes all the way to calculus and statistics.  The books are written by Stanley Schmidt, a Ph.D. who taught both high school and college math.  (Man, do I ever wish he had been one of my teachers!)

Check out Life of Fred.  It is available from the publisher, Polka Dot Publishing, for $19, shipping included!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Engineering for Every Kid - Janice VanCleave

This book is another must-have for the science-minded homeschooling family.
We used it to compliment our grade 4 study of  physics.   It was tons of fun for our kids to learn about bridges, rockets, airplanes, roller coasters (and so much more) in a hands-on way.

This is a great book if you're looking for simple and quick exploration activities to support engineering concepts related to radiation, acoustics, hydrology, meteorology, and more.  

Each activity is simple and involves things easily located or found around the house.

Each begins with  "What You Need to Know" that is very helpful for background knowledge and vocabulary. It is written clearly and can be readable, while not being diluted.  

There are a couple of exercises that test the students understanding of the material.  These often involve studying diagrams that are well drawn and to the point.  


And, finally there is an activity to demonstrate the principles taught in the lesson.  The format of the activity is scientific and is :  purpose, materials, procedure, results, why.  Check it out!   

Adventures with Atoms and Molecules - Chemistry for Everyone!

Science is so deliciously hands on! It is the perfect subject for all ages. It is one subject that everyone can get involved in at whatever age or grade level they are.

My kids love science, and in fact have been known to beg for it! But, do-it yourself science curriculums can be difficult to come across. Well, the kind that actually teach science, anyway.

If you're like me, you've found lots of books that claim to have 234 cool science experiments you can do at home...but often times the explanations are lacking, or they just plain don't work.

I like science to be exciting, fun, and educational. So, I was looking for a good book that treated chemistry the way I would have approached it as a scientist; while at the same time giving the children a sense of learning it themselves and really doing science experiments.

So, where do you turn for some really good science?

Enter: Adventures with Atoms and Molecules by Robert Mebane and Thomas Rybolt. Each experiment is laid out similar to a science lab. There is a lead in question which needs answering, followed by is a listing of materials required (which truly are things which can be easily found around the house!) Next is the procedure and suggestions for observations. And, finally there is a discussion section, which is recommended to be read after you complete the experiment. There is a good deal to be learned about the physical interactions between molecules and the chemical reactions that can result.

This book is a great way to teach the scientific method of inquiry by testing and observation. We made mini-lab sheets for each experiment to keep in our science notebook. And also made a glossary of new science terms.

Now, don't let the dull illustrations fool you. This book is the real deal.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Homeschooling With Mulitple Ages

So you've decided to home school.... and now your pulling your hair out because the toddler is flushing the cat down the toilet while you're trying to teach fractions to one child and basic addition to another! How can one person manage all of the children? Take a deep breath, relax, and know that you are not alone!

Here's a suggestion:

As a starting point, let's categorize school subjects in three categories:
teacher intensive, student intensive, and teamwork.

For example, in our home school:

Teacher intensive subjects:
Science experiments
Math: introduction of new topics
Administration of a spelling test

Student intensive subjects:
Math practice and drill
Creative writing

Teamwork subjects:
Read aloud time
Home Economics (i.e housework ....come on it's a subject! How else does Mom have time to teach?)


Complete your own list for all the subjects being covered.

Once you have your subjects categorized, organize the teaching day so that one child is working with you on something teacher intensive while another child is doing something student intensive, or while everyone else is doing something that involves teamwork. This will give you one-on-one time with the first child while everyone else is occupied. (I usually work with the most easily distracted child first, before I become distracted myself! Then cycle through them one by one. Making a schedule to loosely follow is a big help here.)

As the children get a bit older, it can be nice to involve the oldest sibling with a younger one to act as the teacher. It is not only a good curriculum review, excellent practice in teaching and a sibling bonding experience, it also gives Mom (or Dad) a break!

Give it a try!

Oh, and for the toddler who is flushing the cat, check my next post on what to do with a wayward toddler!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Well-Trained Mind

When discovering your homeschooling philosophy it's important to research different approaches to homeschooling.  

One popular homeschooling method is the classical approach.  Classical education is an approach which links the study of world history to literature and science.  Essentially, the study of world history can be divided into 4 eras.  Each era represents a year of study.  The 4 eras can be cycled through 3 times during the entire schooling experience.  

The first 4 years, grades 1-4, are the grammar stage, also referred to as the poll-parrot stage. At this stage children are exposed to information for the first time.  

The second cycle, grades 5-8, is the logic stage.  At this stage the material is presented again, but the learner is more mature and is able to ask questions to help gain understanding in the "why."
The final cycle through the curriculum is the rhetoric stage. This is the culminating stage of the classical education in which students learn to write and speak about what they have learned in an intelligent and persuasive manner.

The Well Trained Mind, by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise-Bauer is an excellent guide for parents who are interested in learning about classical education and how to implement it. 

We use this book as a spine to guide our home schooling.  Although we use an eclectic approach it is based on the Classical format.  There is a tremendous amount of information in The Well-Trained Mind.  It is clearly presented and well researched.  

The one caveat that I have in recommending it is that if you tried to do everything they outline, you might go mad!  It covers everything very extensively.  It is being revised and updated for publication in 2009.  This book is 800+ pages of valuable resources.  Check it out!