Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Chemistry For Kids

In science class this year we'll be studying chemistry. Quite an intimidating subject to try to teach, in my opinion. Luckily I've found some great books and resources, and I've determined exactly what I want to cover at this early age. I'm taking a pretty organic approach to this subject; I don't really have lesson plans at this time. I'm just going to start exploring the books we've chosen with my son, and add in activities and experiments when they seem appropriate.

Here are the books we'll be using:

At first glance, I thought Basher Science: Chemistry: Getting a Big Reaction would be too childish and simplistic for our use.  I was completely unfamiliar with the Basher Science series, but luckily I took the time to check this book out of the library and look through it.  I immediately realized it would be a wonderful resource for us, and I ordered a copy from Amazon.com.  (Click on the image or the link to check it out.)
I also used Amazon's "Look Inside the Book" function to peek at this one:

I'm very excited about using it, and so is my son.  He's a huge fan of trading card games like Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokemon, and this book presents each element as it's own trading card character, with attributes and characteristics.  I think this will be an excellent way for Hunter to commit a lot of this information to memory; it's right up his alley! (Again, click on the image to take a look inside for yourself.)

DK Eyewitness Books: Chemistry has a ton of great information, and fantastic photos and illustrations of just about everything Hunter might get curious about.  I'm sure we'll be using this daily as a reference. 

Rader's CHEM4KIDS (http://www.chem4kids.com/index.html) is a great website for all young chemistry students; the information is clear and divided up into concise categories with quizzes.  If you're teaching chemistry and unsure about where to start or how to proceed, I recommend starting here. 

Most of our experiments this year will be done with everyday household substances, but we did order a few products for fun:

We have already used some of our Be Amazing Jiggly Jewels, and they were awesome!  I saved most of them, and plan to have Hunter take notes the next time we use them.  I want him to note the time, describe how the jewels feel before we put them in the water, what they look like, etc.  I'll then have him check on the jewels periodically and repeat this process for his science notebook.
We also bought Be Amazing Lab-in-a-Bag Test Tube Wonders, which we haven't opened yet.  I'm hoping we'll be as happy with it as we were with the Jiggly Jewels.  I'm unsure how educational this product will actually turn out to be, and how exactly I'll tie it in to our chemistry lessons, but I'm certain my son will enjoy it. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Middle Ages For Kids

Having covered Ancient History last year, Hunter will be spending this year studying the Middle Ages.  We're very excited about it; history is one of his favorite subjects, and we'll be covering a lot of fun topics.  Our primary history text is The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child: The Middle Ages
We like the "Story of the World" series.  It really simplifies teaching history to young children.  The book consists of 96 short chapters (each about two or three pages long) designed to be read aloud to the child.  Click on the image to look inside the book, or find out more:

We also use the companion book, The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child: The Middle Ages: Tests and Answer Key, which contains a few multiple-choice review questions for each chapter.  Just reading a chapter aloud, discussing any unfamiliar vocabulary with the student, and going over the review questions would be a valuable history lesson, especially if you have more than one child at different levels or are pressed for time.  We like to use the chapters as a jumping-off point for further study, which will continue until Hunter's interest in a given topic has been exhausted.  If you don't have time to come up with supplemental activities, there is also an activity book that can be purchased:

I've never used one of these, but they have excellent reviews.  It provides coloring pages, maps, and games.  If you want all of your supplemental materials in one place, already organized for use, then the activity book is probably a good investment for your family.

I personally like to use a combination of books, online activities, free printables, and Dover coloring books.  It can be a little more work tracking stuff down and keeping it organized, but I like to keep our history and science lessons very customizable because Hunter often takes a special interest in different topics, and I like to indulge that curiosity as much as possible.

One of my favorite free history printables is this one: http://www.guesthollow.com/homeschool/printables/files/historyreport.pdf

It's a "Historical Person Report" that asks the questions "Who?" "What?" "When?" and "Where?"  The large boxes at the top and bottom of the page provide space for your child to create illustrations.  The "Where?" box contains a map of the world. Children can either color in or put dots on the appropriate regions.  I printed off one of these to use as an original, and I make as many photocopies as necessary throughout the year.  This year Hunter will be filling out one of these pages for each of the following: Muhammad, Charlemagne, Leif Ericsson, Alfred the Great, Richard I of England, John I of England, Genghis Khan, Joan of Arc, Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci, Ferdinand Magellan, Hernando Cortes, Martin Luther, Nicholas Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, and Sir Walter Raleigh.

The same website has lots of great timeline printables: http://www.guesthollow.com/homeschool/history/timeline.html.  We keep a timeline in a 3-ring binder, and Hunter adds events to it as we go. 

Another great resource that we get a lot of use out of is Dover coloring books.  They're full-sized, high quality, super inexpensive, and available on an enormous variety of topics.  Amazon.com sells them 4-for-3, meaning if you buy 3 you get a fourth one free.  We've been building up a collection of them, knowing that they'll be useful throughout our entire education.  We photocopy the pages we want rather than coloring in the books so that I can re-use them as many times as we need to.

The Dover coloring books we'll be using this year are:
Life in Celtic Times (Dover History Coloring Book)
  • Pg. 22, to go with History Lesson #3: "The Celts of Britain"
Life in a Medieval Castle and Village Coloring Book (Dover History Coloring Book)
  • Pg. 36, to go with History Lesson #7: "Medieval Monasteries"
  • Pg. 39, to go with History Lesson #8: "Writing Books By Hand" 
Beowulf (Dover Classic Stories Coloring Book)
  • Pg. 9, to go with History Lesson #5: "Beowulf the Hero" (Note: I let Hunter choose the page he liked best, but almost any page will work with this lesson)
History of the Sword (Coloring Book)
  • Pg. 15, to go with History Lesson #30: "The Greatest King" Charlemagne"
  • Pg. 16, to go with History Lesson #32: "Eric the Red & Eric's Son"
  • Pg. 39, to go with History Lesson #41: "The Samurai: Japanese Knights"
  • Pg. 22, to go with History Lesson #52: "The Mongol Conquest of China"
  • Pg. 31, to go with History Lesson #71: "The Moghul Dynasty"
Norse Gods and Goddesses (Dover Coloring Book)
  • Pg. 7, to go with History Lesson #33: "The Norse Gods" (Note: Again, there are other pages you could use here)
Story of the Vikings Coloring Book (Dover History Coloring Book)
  • Pgs. 14 & 15, to go with History Lesson #34: "The Vikings Invade England"
  • Pgs. 22 & 23, to go with History Lesson #55: "The Rus Come to Constantinople"
Kings and Queens of England (Dover History Coloring Book)
  • Pg. 3, to go with History Lesson #35: "Alfred the Great"
  • Pg. 6, to go with History Lesson #36: "The Battle of Hastings"
  • Pg. 9, to go with History Lesson #46: "Richard the Lionhearted"
  • Pg. 10, to go with History Lesson #47: "John Lackland and the Magna Carta"
  • Pg. 14, to go with History Lesson #62: "Henry V and the Battle of Agincourt"
  • Pg. 17, to go with History Lesson #81: "Henry VIII's Problems"
  • Pg. 18, to go with History Lesson #88: "The Queen Who Almost Wasn't"
  • Pg. 19, to go with History Lesson #89: "Good Queen Bess"
The Medieval Castle (Dover History Coloring Book)
  • Pgs. 18 & 19, to go with History Lesson #39: "Stone Castles"
Story of the Crusades (Dover History Coloring Book)
  • Pg. 21, to go with History Lesson #44: "Saladin of Jerusalem"
Wonders of the World Coloring Book (Dover History Coloring Book)
  • Pg. 28, to go with History Lesson #75: "The Mayans of Central America"
Exploration of North America Coloring Book (Dover History Coloring Book)
  • Pg. 9, to go with History Lesson #79: "Cortes and Montezuma"
  • Pg. 3, to go with History Lesson #94: "The New-Found Land"
Life in Colonial America (Dover History Coloring Book)
  • Pg. 5, to go with History Lesson #93: "The Lost Colony"
You might ask if it's worth paying $3.95 for a book from which we'll only be using one page.  But when you consider that each page will be used at least twice (once for each of my sons), that we already used multiple pages from some of these books last year, and that we'll use countless more from all of them in the years ahead, I do believe it's well worth the money.

A few other books that we'll be using this year, that we have either purchased or will borrow from our local library:

The Vikings (People of the Ancient World) is a great resource full of pictures and fun illustrations, as is The Ancient Celts (People of the Ancient World).

We love the books from the DK Eyewitness series.  We have some, but because our budget is small we usually get them from the library when we can.  Our library didn't have Medieval Life (DK Eyewitness Books) though, so we bought a copy. Here are a few others that we'll probably be using:

I'll be adding other materials and activities as we go, and we'd love to hear any suggestions you have!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Back to School

It's that time of year again!  Most of my friends are doing their back-to-school shopping, making sure their kids have the wardrobe, the new backpack, and all the necessary supplies for a brand new school year. 

Our family has school year-round so there's not quite as much excitement for us in the fall, but it can still be a hectic time of year.  The state of Maine requires me to submit a 'letter of intent to homeschool', as well as a licensed teacher's assessment of the previous year's work. I recently finished putting together a portfolio of my son's work to be evaluated - one thing I can cross off a very long to-do list!

Things seem to go most smoothly when I have a very clear and detailed outline of the entire school year before it begins; this also helps prevent wasted money in the form of books and supplies that don't end up getting used.  For most subjects I can come up with lesson plans for the entire year, which we then supplement with extra activities, online explorations, trips to the library, and any last-minute additions that inspire us.  Good record-keeping not only helps when it's time for our year-end assessment, it will come in handy when homeschooling my younger son - most of the planning will already have been done!

For some awesome free homeschool planner pages, check out this site: http://donnayoung.org/index.htm
You'll find all kinds of organizational and administrative forms and charts, as well as worksheets, blank maps, timeline forms, and even pages to organize your household chores and cookbook.  I love this website!

I'm hoping to put as much information about our upcoming school year on this blog as possible, subject by subject, so check back often for new posts!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Grammar For Young Children

It can be tricky trying to teach a subject like grammar to a child too young to really read or write.  A lot of people don't even find it necessary, in home schools or public ones.  Proper grammar is not only the foundation of writing, however, it's the foundation of speech.  In the interest of giving my boys every advantage in life, where their thoughts and ideas will be judged in part by how effectively they are communicated, I started doing grammar lessons with Hunter when he had reached a first grade reading level.  I used Jessie Wise Bauer's First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 1 (Second Edition) (First Language Lessons).  The book is broken down into short lessons for the teacher to deliver orally.  There is a lot of repetition designed to help children commit grammatical rules and parts of speech to memory; children who remember things easily may find it a little annoying, but it worked really well for our family.  It would be easy for any parent or teacher to simply skip over any lessons that are unnecessary once their child has grasped a particular concept.

Here's what the book looks like (click on the image to find out more about it and read the reviews of other parents):

This year we'll be starting the next book, First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 2 (Second Edition) (First Language Lessons).  We haven't done any of the lessons yet (we'll be starting grammar in the fall), but I'm sure it will be very similar and work as well for us.

Once we get the third level, there are also workbooks for the child, who by then should have the skills to start doing some written grammar work. 

Another book I've heard very good things about but never used personally is Primary Language Lessons by Emma Serl.  This book is older and covers a lot of classic children's literature.  I'm told it works particularly well with the Charlotte Mason method of homeschooling.

If anyone else is using a great grammar book, I'd love to include your recommendations!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Tie-Dyeing T-Shirts!

So far, we don't use any formal art curriculum in our school.  We use a fraction of our budgeted "school money" to make sure we have a variety of art and craft supplies on hand when inspiration strikes, and either buy art books or check them out of the library for the boys to browse through.  Occasionally we splurge on craft kits.  This summer we tried the Jacquard Tie Dye Kit and made some pretty cool t-shirts.  I'd seen the kit at the craft store for about $25 and thought it was too expensive, but when I stumbled across it on Amazon.com for much less I bought it on impulse.  It sat in the basement for a while until I had enough extra money on hand to get some white cotton t-shirts, which I found in the boys department at Wal-Mart for $5 each.  I bought two shirts for each of my kids to dye.  I ended up wishing I'd bought more!  The boys had a blast, and the shirts came out great:

There was plenty of dye left over in the kit to do more, so I'm going to get some more shirts and let the kids have some more fun.  Now that they've seen the finished products, I think they'll have a better idea what they're trying to accomplish while dyeing.  Even without really knowing what they were doing, they really enjoyed it and learned a lot about mixing colors.  The kit comes with dye in the primary colors, but as you can see the boys quickly figured out how to make orange, green, and purple.  They love showing off their shirts, and I like that the money spent on this project ended up paying for a fun afternoon, a great learning experience, and four new shirts that my boys can wear until they outgrow them.

I highly recommend the kit to any family looking for a fun art project.  Click on the image below to check it out at Amazon.com; I have yet to find them at a better price.

Note:  If you have more than one child, you may want to buy a few extra pairs of latex gloves so nobody tie-dyes their hands!

Expecting the Unexpected When Homeschooling

One of the best things about homeschooling is that your kids can learn at their own pace.  This is a deciding factor for many families when they're considering their education options.  In a large classroom setting, a brighter child may be held back by the slower pace of the classroom.  Other children may struggle to keep up and have a hard time getting enough one-on-one help from an overburdened teacher to bridge the gap.  Even the child whose learning pace and style are ideally suited to their classroom will find themselves playing catch-up after every stomach bug that keeps them home from school. 

My husband and I had always been ahead of the curve academically and I naively assumed that our children would be also.  When envisioning my son's education proceeding at his own pace, I assumed that pace would be an accelerated one in comparison to that of his peers. I had taken my first high school course in fifth grade and had visions of the heights that my boy would reach outside the school system, with the only limitations on his achievements being his own.  He would love school, love to learn.  Teaching him would be fun.

The reality was somewhat different.  Hunter struggled to learn to read, just couldn't seem to remember much of what we taught him no matter how many times we went over it.  Most days I wanted to tear my hair out or bang my head against the wall in frustration; each tiny gain represented weeks or even months of hard work and patience.  Luckily, my mother happened to be a literacy tech for the school system.  For over a decade she'd been taking struggling readers out of the classroom and teaching them one-on-one, working with them until they got up to grade level.  She was more than willing to work with her grandson in the evenings.  I was very happy to have her help, not only for the early professional intervention that Hunter clearly needed, but because I probably would've blamed all of his problems on the fact that he was homeschooled and given up had she not been there to set me straight. 

Even with her well-trained assistance, Hunter's difficulties persisted.  Homeschooling wasn't to blame, nor had I failed as his teacher.  It was simply a quirk in the way he learned; essentially, certain things took him a little longer.  As we both continued to work with him and learned the best way to explain things to him, he started closing the gap.  I remarked to my mother one day how lucky he was to have had access to the same interventions at home that he would've received at public school, grateful that my choices hadn't deprived him of that extra boost.  She informed me that he wasn't nearly far enough behind to qualify for her services had he been a public school student. 

It had been my first instinct when I saw my son struggling to blame myself.  I immediately started questioning my decision to keep him home, doubting my ability to teach him.  My mother's comments made me realized that had he been a public school student he would've had to keep dropping farther and farther behind his classmates until he finally qualified for some extra help.  If anyone was going to intervene for him before he'd fallen so far behind, it would have been his family all along.  It's not the fault of the teachers, but there are so few of them, so many students, and such an enormous workload.  At home Hunter is his teacher's first priority, every day.

It's easy to get discouraged when you've taken on such a huge responsibility and things aren't working out the way you'd planned.  Some parents, seeing a bumpy road ahead, decide to cut their losses and put their kids in the school system before they can screw things up too badly.  I entertained that thought on many occasions.  I'm glad I didn't quit and enroll my son in public school; his problems only would have gotten worse.  The more I've learned about how my boy's mind works and how best to teach him, the happier I am with the decisions I've made. 

Starting to homeschool is sort of like bringing your first baby home from the hospital; it's a lot tougher than you could have anticipated, and there are constantly new challenges to adapt to.  If you're not expecting the difficulties and frustrations, it can feel like you're failing.

Prepare yourself for the reality of homeschooling; it may look very different from the visions that led you to choose it in the first place.  Expect the unexpected, and be ready to improvise when necessary.  While some families really do find that homeschooling isn't the right path for them after all, chances are things will get easier as you go along.  You'll work out your routine, discover your child's learning style and a teaching style that suits, get better at deciding which materials to use and which to skip.  This flexibility is unique to home education.  It may take a while and some trial-and-error, but I value the chance to tailor the situation to my son's needs. 

Don't give up!