Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Nature Table

Creating a nature table (or any other small space you set aside) is a wonderful activity to mark the passing seasons and treasure the changes that come each year.

It can also be a tool for learning about the flora and fauna of your area, for appreciating nature in general, and a way to encourage noticing what is happening outside.

A nature table is seasonal decorating at its best!

Here are some simple steps you can take to create your own:

1) Declare a space to be set aside just for this purpose.  Some ideas could include the entry table near your front door, a fireplace hearth, a coffee table, a bookshelf or desk.  A special placemat, tray, vase or box of some sort can be added.

2) Find or purchase a few starter items.  In the spring, you could purchase a potted bulb getting ready to bloom,  in the summer you could fill a glass or vase with seasonal flowers, in the fall you could begin with a small pumpkin, in the winter a paper snowflake or an empty branch.

3) Get outside!  Dress for the weather and explore your area.  Encourage your children to bring home appropriate items from appropriate places (don't pick your neighbor's flowers, but collecting autumn leaves in the park is fine) and talk about what sort of plant they came from and how that plant looks during this season.

4) Keep your hands off.  Let the children be in charge of placing, arranging and adding to your nature table.  Let your job be informing them in more detail about anything they have found, or answering questions they might have.

Here is a picture of our fall table:

How do you mark the changing seasons in your home?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Five Things I Wish I Had Known

...before I started homeschooling.

We have been a homeschool family for almost a decade.  Over these years, our children and I have learned a lot!  As their primary teacher, I have made mistakes and grown because of them.  Now, when a new homeschooling mom asks for tips or advice, I pause and think about what I would have liked to have known before I started homeschooling.  Today, I'm sharing my top five.

Struggles will happen, and it is OK.  These struggles help teach my children perseverance, persistence, and diligence.  Additionally, they help stretch my teaching abilities and allow me to become more patient.

There are many, many choices.  Pick and choose what is important to you and your family.  You can't possibly do everything.  If you later find out you made the wrong choice, then make a change. 

Homeschooling days will change as your child ages.  This is natural and logical.  You are helping your child grow and mature.  Their needs at age 15 are different from their needs at age 5.  Make adjustments to your schedule, plan, or days to meet their current needs.

It won't always look pretty and good.  Some days are hard and some are down right ugly.  Bad days happen in life, and they will happen in your homeschool, too.  Learn to evaluate.  Determine what went wrong and why.  Make changes if possible.

Your relationship with your child and your child's heart are of primary importance.  All other items, even academics, are secondary.  You will always be your child's parent.  Eventually, you will stop being their primary teacher.  No matter how long the days seem, the years will go by quickly.  Soon enough your little elementary student will be graduating from high school.  What kind of relationship do you want with your child in the future?  Start cultivating it now.  What kind of heart attitudes would you like to see in the future?  Start planting those seeds now.

As I glance over this listing, I wonder, what will my top five be in another decade?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Using Picture Books To Teach Science and Other Subjects

For this post today, I thought I would share with you how you can use picture books to science and other subject areas.  I chose a few picture books that are currently on the shelf at my home.  Some of what I might share is obvious, but in other books, you might have to engage your child by using questions about the story to lead to learning in other areas.  What I really hope you take away from this are ideas about how to use picture books for activities other than just to teach your child to read.  Depending on the child, you could potentially use picture books as a supplement all the way up through middle school.  Let's get started!



Curious George in the Snow by Margaret & H.A. Rey: 

In this story, George and the man with the yellow hat are visiting a winter sports competition.  As usual, George and his curious ways leads to some interesting activities.  In this book, it is sledding down the hill on different contraptions, including a giant pizza pan!  From this story, you could develop a variety of science activities.  You and your child could investigate snow, or winter sports, or even how an inclined plane works.  Based on the age and ability of the child, you choose how technical you get.

God Gave Us You by Lisa Tawn Bergren

God Gave Us You is a sweet picture book about a conversation between a polar bear mama and cub.  This book could be used as part of your Bible lesson curriculum.  The story includes a repetition of the phrase, "God Gave Us You," with the polar bear mama teaching the cub that God was the reason she was part of their family.  That is really the message of the book.  But you could also use it to teach about life in the arctic.  There are many animals in the book including polar bears, seals, foxes, whales, penguins, and caribou.  The illustrations are beautiful and this book would be great if you wanted to study different biomes or climates and the wildlife that live there.

If You Give a Moose a Muffin by Laura Joffe Numeroff

Laura Joffe Numeroff has written a series of "If You Give" books and they are a great tool to teach reading.  But there are many other wonderful things hidden within the stories too.  If You Give a Moose a Muffin lends itself to teaching about baking, making homemade jam, gardening, sewing, and painting.  There are so many fun and creative activities you can create with this particular picture book.  I once used of her other books in the series, If You Give a Pig a Pancake, as a springboard for a writing activity.  I read the book to my sixth graders, then had them rewrite the story about something that was interesting to them.  They had to follow the "If You Give" format, and bring the story full circle, like the author does in the book.  That was probably the most fun writing assignment I worked on with my students ever.

 The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
The Snowy Day is a very simple story about a little boy going out in the snow to play, the adventures he finds and what happens to a snowball he brings home with him.  This story would be a great tool to teach about different types of matter and what happens when something changes from a solid to a liquid.  You might even perform a science experiment with this book during the wintertime if you live in a snowy area.

There are so many fun ideas and activities and lessons you can draw from picture books.  It also works the other way around.  If you want to teach a certain subject area, google whatever your lesson is about and the term picture books.  This will work for many subject areas.  There are even picture books that will help children with mathematical concepts!

I hope this simple little post has sparked your imagination with different ways to include picture books in your lessons and make learning fun, yet simple for kids.  Blessings to you on your homeschool journey and happy reading!


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Work with What You Have, Because What You Have, Works

Even before I started homeschooling, and especially after I started, I had a dream.  The dream was a house... with an eat-in kitchen... and a playroom/ schoolroom off that eat-in kitchen... all separated from the 'formal' living area....

And the walls would be lined with IKEA Trofast shelving... and book displays... and a door would lead from this wondrous room into the back yard, per Maria Montessori's recommendation.... 

I didn't feel sorry for myself (most days), just a little frustrated, by the materials stuck here and there, but never where I needed them, when I wanted them.  Aggravated by the sticky door on my jumbled supply closet.  Piqued by our meticulously de-cluttered toy collection that never got picked up, despite its manageable size and scope.  And I dreamed of that room... wood floors, hopefully... a fireplace even?

Well, ladies and gentlemoms, here it is:

this year I got that room.

Oh, I paid for it I think, with a stressful move during a wicked-hot drought, a messy third trimester with a messier house... and the room doesn't have any windows except that door into the backyard (forgot to add windows into the dream...).

And add to that, my  husband had to go to Minneapolis on business a few weeks ago, and guess what?  Trofast shelves hitchhiked home in his trunk.  And guess what else?  Ruined carpet meant ripping out the carpet and laying wood down (well, actually faux wood plank tiles, but good enough for me).

So go on, ask me- is it heaven?  Has our homeschool achieved new heights; has the play in this hallowed space been more soulful, more perfect?  Has my dream layout brought true happiness?

O friends, you know the answer by now, don't you?  You do.

It's just a room.  Right now, those wood planks are covered with toys and the art table looks like Picasso's studio recently vomited all over, spilling down onto the floor.  And several projects are still in progress on my dining table.  The more school-ish math and phonics books still sit in a stack on my bookcase in the living room because hey, I like to nurse where it's quiet and little people apparently like to do math where it's quiet, too. 

Last week, I'll admit, I felt a little let down.  All my great ideas weren't magic.  Things work just like they always have, and frankly, it robs the sweetness of achieving my dream set-up.  My books are organized, well, a little bit- but I still have to use them. 

What I used to have- rubbermaid totes for sorting the toys, stacks of books here and there, art supplies stuffed in the dining room cabinet- worked for us just fine.  And what I've designed and done in our new home works, too.  But it's US who work, really, isn't it- myself and my little people!  Not the storage furniture.  And by the way, IKEA Trofast shelves do look nice, but someone still has to put the toys away in them....

Do you ever do this?  Dream of how you wish you had more space, better shelves, enough baskets for all the toys, an organized supply closet, and so on and so forth?  Are you waiting to carve out that art nook/ reading nook/ nature table till you move to a bigger house/ declutter/ organize your supplies/ have a weekend to yourself?

I wouldn't.  Because it's pretty rare and pretty miraculous for some dreams to come true.  I know I never really expected to have my daydream come true.  That's why I always forced myself to make an art nook when there wasn't really room for one.  And now I realize that the real secret is:

Work with what you have, because what you have, works.

Waiting for the fish to bite or waiting for wind to fly a kite.  Or waiting around for Friday night or waiting perhaps for their Uncle Jake or a pot to boil or a better break or a string of pearls or a pair of pants or a wig with curls or another chance.  Everyone is just waiting.  ~Dr. Seuss

Enjoy yourself.  It's later than you think.  ~Chinese Proverb
As you grow older, you'll find the only things you regret are the things you didn't do.  ~Zachary Scott
For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin - real life.  But there was always some obstacle in the way.  Something to be got through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid.  Then life would begin.  At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.  ~Fr. Alfred D'Souza

Monday, October 22, 2012

Are We Still Homeschoolers?

A few months ago, our family made a decision.  When we moved here to Zambia, we had planned to continue homeschooling.  However, over the summer, we realized that full-time homeschooling was not meeting the social needs of our eldest daughter (age 4).  So, we enrolled her in Pre-K at one of the international schools here.  

Because she is ahead of her peers academically (and because I LOVE teaching her), we still do academics at home every afternoon.  We are working through the Horizons Kindergarten Math curriculum and working on early reading books.  Plus, we do Bible, ScienceSocial Studies, and Writing lessons.  

Abigail has blossomed socially since starting school.  I had no idea how badly she needed more opportunities for social interactions with peers until she had them every day.  At this point, I am so thankful that we made the choice to send Abigail to Pre-K.

However, I often wonder what that means for Abigail's education.  Abigail goes to school and we teach at home.  Is that solution sustainable over the long-term?  How will things change when the curriculum gets harder at school or at home?  Are we still homeschoolers?  

Do any of you do a hybrid of formal schooling and homeschooling?  Any thoughts or ideas you can share would be greatly appreciated!

Marla is a former special education teacher and current PhD student and stay-at-home, homeschooling mom of two little girls (ages 2 and 4).  She blogs about homeschooling at Marla's Motherhood Musings and her family's experiences living in Zambia at Our Life in Lusaka.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Seeds of Wisdom - Concerns about Homeschooling

Most of us, before we start something new, have a concern or two.  Maybe we worry about a specific task which will be required of us.  Maybe we are afraid of failure.  Before we started homeschooling, there were some concerns, worries, or fears we had.  Today, we are sharing a few of these.

Today's question: Before you began homeschooling, what concerns or worries did you have?
AurieI was worried that I wouldn't be able to teach the girls everything they needed. Now, I know that I only need to teach one thing at a time, they don't need to know everything at once. I also realized that as they get into subjects that I'm not comfortable with, I can find someone who is and partner with them.

BethI worried would I be enough for my child? Would I be able to meet all his needs? What if I left something out? Occasionally it still bothers me; but usually this only happens when I start comparing our homeschool experience with somebody else's.

Dorie - Before we began homeschooling, we researched and planned, but I was still concerned about socialization.  Would my child(ren) be like other kids their age?  Now, I don't give it a second thought!  I am quite happy each of my children are not like kids their age.  Instead, my children are individuals who are developing their God given interests and talents which are being expressed in their own unique ways. 

Sam - I was terrified of math. I knew I would have to find a solution that would not include me knowing math, and I am thankful for Teaching Textbooks. I am good with the lower grades, but Algebra still scares me.

Did the idea of homeschooling scare you a little?  What were some of your concerns before you began?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Time Management Helps for Homeschool Students

Does your child seem to take forever to finish a day of school?  Does he/she get frustrated looking at a pile of work to be done each morning?  Instead of stacking the books beside or on the table, why not try a few of these organizational helps.

~ OR ~

Are you having a hard time keeping track of the work accomplished each day?  Does your state require you to journal each day, recording specifically what was accomplished when?  Perhaps one of these systems would help you.

1. Folder System or Box System - The work for each subject of the day is divided into separate folders or boxes.  The child progresses through them one at a time until all the folders or boxes are completed.  This works well for younger children and those children who are motivated by seeing a box or folder emptied.

2. Assignment Books or Check Lists - Older students may prefer a planning book of their own which lists what assignments are to be worked on each day.  The child can simply cross off what work they complete.  These work wonderfully for older elementary to middle school aged students.

3. Weekly Schedules or Monthly Schedules - Depending on your homeschool method or style, a weekly or monthly calendar may suffice for your student.  We have used these for chores, family events, field trips, and co-op days.

4. Syllabus - Sometimes, a semester or full year can be outlined in a syllabus form.  This is similar to a check list, but is for specific class.  Our oldest child uses a syllabus for his science co-op class.  It works wonderfully to guide him.  With it, he easily keeps up to date with his work.  A syllabus can be a great guide for middle school aged to high school students.

5. Time Records - For those homeschoolers who must know exactly how much time was spent on which subject, a time record is an easy way to keep this vital information.  Some people work within a spread sheet, listing the date, subject, what was accomplished, and time spent doing the work.  Other people use a planner and write the times within the individual blocks. 

What time management or organizational tools do you use in your homeschool?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Five Reasons To Try Notebooking

Notebooking, or (or lapbooks, as they are often called) can be a great addition to your homeschool.  Here are five reasons we tried to (and will continue to) notebook in ours.

1)  Notebooking is a great tool for retention, as well as encouragement toward further learning on a topic.  Notebooking is a way of retelling what has been learned in a way that appeals to a specific child's learning style.

2)  Notebooking has no rules.  Whatever your child likes best (coloring, writing, drawing, painting, cutting, pasting) can be included.  However creative or utilitarian they desire their work to be is just fine.

3)  Having control is inspiring.  The less direction I have given my children, the more elaborate and detailed their notebooks have become.  I have also been shocked at the amount of work they will do without being assigned.  My dyslexic/dysgraphic child is writing up a storm.

4)  There are endless ways to add to a notebook.  One of my favorite resources has been this list of suggestions from the Notebooking Fairy.  There are also reams of Pinterest boards and web sites dedicated to notebooking ideas.

5)  Notebooking is fun.  So much fun, that my children have been working on their notebooks in their free time.  Notebooking is fun because it, like homeschooling itself, can be tailored to the needs, desires and talents of the individual child.

Have you tried notebooking as a part of your homeschool?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Pumpkin Painting Ideas

Who says you can't incorporate a little pumpkin decorating into your academic work?

A few ideas for combining pumpkin fun and learning -----

  • Literary Pumpkins (literature) - Create characters from a story, like Humpty Dumpty, or this familiar set of friends.

  • Planets (science) - Do you have quite a few pumpkins? A whole solar system could be made with them.  Want to be even more technical, try to coordinate sizes.  Make the largest pumpkin Jupiter and a smaller one Mercury.
  • Globe (geography) - Just want to paint one planet?  Why not try to draw the rough outlines of the continents and paint one pumpkin to resemble the earth.
  • Georgia O'Keeffe style flowers (art) - Are you currently studying a particular artist?  Earlier this year, we learned about Georgia O'Keeffe and her large scale paintings.  When it came time to paint pumpkins this year, we simply turned a pumpkin over and painted one large scale flower similar to her painting style.

  • Flags (geography) - Are you studying a particular country?  Perhaps you could paint a landmark or the country's flag on your pumpkin.
  • People, Events, or Inventions from the Past (history) - Studying the American Civil War this year could lead to a painting or carving of Abe Lincoln on your pumpkin.
  • Animals (science) - Does your child have a favorite animal?  Perhaps he would like to use his pumpkin to make one.  My youngest son is planning how to make a bat out of a pumpkin.  He has decided he will add black construction paper wings to the pumpkin.
  • Patterns and Shapes (math) - Perhaps you would rather try something more basic.  How about painting a pattern of stripes or simple shapes?

Two Preschool Pumpkin Painting Tips -----

  1. Encourage your preschooler to coat an entire pumpkin with glue using a foam brush.  Then, sprinkle glitter over the wet glue.  Allow it to dry completely. 
  2. Securely tape a simple stencil or shape, i.e. a leaf shape, onto the pumpkin.  Ask your preschooler to paint over it all.  Allow the paint to dry and remove the shape to reveal the design.


Ideas for Before and After Painting Pumpkins ------

Before you paint, decorate, or carve your pumpkin, use it in your math and science lessons.  Measure the weight and girth of each pumpkin.  Conduct comparisons.  Observe your pumpkins in their natural state.  Are their many differences?

After, when the pumpkin starts to waste away, because they will, try using them for further lessons.  Cut them open and see what was inside them.  Or host your own "Pumpkin Chunkin" contest.  Encourage your children to build their own catapults or pumpkin launchers and hold a contest to see which machine can launch the pumpkins the farthest.

Looking for other ways to incorporate pumpkins into your homeschool days?  Perhaps a look through In a Pumpkin Shell, by Jennifer Storey Gillis, will offer you a few ideas.

Or, perhaps you'd rather just cuddle up with your child and enjoy reading a few pumpkin books?  Then this listing compiled last autumn by Beth will help you find a few good ones to share.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Seeds of Wisdom - Surprises in Homeschooling

Most of the time, when you begin a journey or new path in life, you plan and prepare.  You find out just where you are headed and how.  These actions help alleviate most shocking experiences as you know generally what to expect.  However, if we are all honest, there is usually something along the journey which shocks, or surprises us. 
Homeschooling is no different. 
So, today, we are asking and answering the question: What has surprised you most about homeschooling?
Aurie ~ That I don't have to do everything all at once, and it's okay to take a sick day now and then.
Beth ~ The amount of time that I have had to spend attempting to convince family and other professionals that homeschooling is best for us. I really think they will just have to see the fruit in order to believe.
Marla ~ I was surprised to learn how many people homeschool. Before we started teaching our girls at home, I thought that homeschooling was only for a few crazy people. However, in the past few years, I have met so many families that choose to homeschool in some capacity.

Have you been surprised by something in your homeschool journey, too?

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