Tuesday, March 31, 2009
A lot of educational cartoons come and go through the years, many are good, a few are excellent. Three come to mind almost instantly. If you haven't seen them, check them out. They are not new, but they are well worth viewing, or reviewing if it has been a while.
- The Magic School Bus by Scholastic. This is a science program, that covers a wide variety of topics. All the episodes can currently be seen for free at http://www.veoh.com/ . The scholastic website also has a number of fun games and science experiments to go along with the shows. And the local library carries many, if not all, of the books that cover even more topics than the shows. The episodes are a wonderful introduction to, or a backup for, many of our science units. They are geared for middle elementary school years, but younger and older children still enjoy learning from them.
- Liberty's Kids. This is a history series dealing with the Revolutionary War. It can be seen for free at http://www.kewlcartoons.com/ , though they rotate the episodes 5 at a time, so it can be a little tricky to catch all of the episodes in order. The series does have a very good follow-up website at http://www.libertyskids.com/ .
- Cyberchase: This is a math series which used to air on PBS (it may still, since we cut the dish I've lost track). We generally catch the episodes on YouTube, or pick them up at the library. Netflix also rents out many of the episodes. They are aimed at about 3rd grade, though again, older and younger children can still learn from them, and enjoy them. The animation is a little disturbing for this series, but the math is solid, and the basic story lines are light and fun. The end of each episode contains a live action clip dealing with the math concepts in real life. They are a corny, but they do help to bring out the uses for math in everyday life.
I'm sure there are many more excellent educational cartoons for children, but these three are at the top of our don't miss list. They can be an excellent save on those days when everything else falls apart, but you just have to get a little learning in.
With shows like these available for free at your fingertips, it really is great to be a homeschooler!
Monday, March 30, 2009
I was definitely ready for a Monday movie night! Thankfully, I remembered that we hadn't cashed it our Pizza Hut "Read It" coupons yet this month. So, it was pizza and a movie night. Perhaps that's why, as a surfed the web for more uses for my left over borax, the polymer experiment (better known as make your own goo) caught my eye. What could be better than pizza and a movie followed by a themed science experiment.
Before dinner the older children watched a couple of quick videos about polymers online, one from Professor Gizmo and one on VideoJug. Then we had our pizza, popped some popcorn and watched The Absent Minded Professor. Afterward, we made our own "flubber" from the borax, some glue and a little water, with a drop off food coloring just for fun. It just so happened that my younger son had made a pretty good likeness of a polymer chain out of his Zoobs, which came in handy as I explained how the borax was acting as a cross-connector to the polymer formed by the glue and water (lucky for me I'd stumbled onto a website earlier that explained all that in simple detail).
Now the older children and I can follow up tomorrow by reading the chapter in our Chemistry text on polymers, while the little ones play with the slime. It's great to be a homeschooler!
I'll admit, there have been times when I've found it challenging to find a physical way to teach a certain concept. I was surprised, however, to find rounding to be one of the difficult concepts to teach to my mover. Even the language of rounding a number up or down, seemed to imply movement, and yet I hit a complete wall when trying to teach it to my son.
The problem was not so much with the rounding up, as it was with rounding down. No matter how many times we went over it, or how often I jumped his pencil on a number line, he always rounded down too far. For instance, if the number was 34, he'd round it to 20 instead of to 30. I could see his thinking. When you round up, the ten goes up, when you round down, it should go down. I simply couldn't get him around this thought. That is until I was able to make him the number moving up and down.
We have ten stairs in our house. I numbered papers from one to ten and placed them in ascending order on the stairs. I stood at the bottom and had my son move up and down the stairs. Sending him to the seventh stair, I asked him if it was closer for him to go on up to the top, or back down to the bottom. I reminded him that if he was halfway there, he might as well go on to the top. We continued working through rounding tens, hundreds and thousands.
I set out an additional ten papers, trailing away from the bottom of the stairs. His flawed thinking in rounding down became instantly clear to him. Within minutes he had learned a concept we'd been bashing our heads against for a week. He's never struggled with rounding again.
It's great to be a homeschooler!
Sunday, March 29, 2009
The children enjoyed this step quite a bit, even if I thought it felt a little Brady Bunchy.
We washed the stained pillow case with Tide in hot water, using a little of the detergent as a pretreater. Then we stained the cloth on the other side with the same configuration of stains, and washed it with the generic detergent in hot water, using the detergent to pretreat again. Finally, we stained a remaining fresh spot on the cloth, marked it, and washed it with our homemade detergent, using it as a pretreater too.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
On my right shoulder sat the Unschool Mom, and on my left, the A-Type Personality Parent. They both looked just like me, but I'll let you decide which one was dressed in white and which one was in the classic red. The conversation between the two went something like this:
A-Type Parent: You should be quizzing him. Maybe it's not too late to make some flashcards. You can't let him go unprepared, or he's going to fail!
Unschool Mom: Trust your son. Either he's interested in this stuff, or he's not. You can't learn it for him.
A-Type Parent: This isn't really about knowing the material. It's about knowing how to take a test. Have you ever even shown him how to take a test?
Unschool Mom: What do you mean this isn't about the material? This is hunter safety we're talking about. Either he learned what he needs to know from the class, or he needs to learn more.
A-Type Parent: But if he fails the test, you fail too. It will make you look bad as a teacher, and homeschoolers everywhere look bad as a group. Not to mention what failing might do to his self-esteem.
Unschool Mom: If he shoots someone in the woods it's going to hurt his self-esteem more than if he fails a test. You've provided him with the information he needs, you've given him support and guidance, now it's up to him to show he knows it. If he doesn't know it, he can always take the class again if he wants to.
A-Type Parent: Take the class again! That was every night for a week! Wouldn't it be better to just get him through the test. You can always fill in the gaps in his knowledge later on your own.
At this point the Unschool Mom simply shakes her head and poofs away, the way those little people on your shoulders do when conversation has become pointless. And since Tom ended up passing the test, both "little voices" are happy for now.
It's great to be a homeschooler (unschooler?).
Friday, March 27, 2009
I started a fresh pot of coffee, and sat down for a little web surfing. Being early spring in the Rockies, it was still a little nippy outside. The afternoon sun was pouring in through the windows though, heating the living room to the point where I turned off the heater and opened a few windows. In typical homeschool fashion, this got me thinking about solar ovens.
'Wouldn't Friday be a good day for a little spontaneous science,' I thought to myself.
I quickly located directions for making your own solar oven out of a shoe box, and perused the list of needed materials to see if I had everything on hand. The only thing I was lacking was an appropriate piece of plastic to reflect the sun with - but I could probably dissect one of my picture frames for the Plexiglas covering (thank you MacGyver for all those brilliant ideas I absorbed in the 80's).
Next I turned to the problem of what to make in the solar oven. S'mores seem to be the online favorite, and why not, who wouldn't want a S'more? Of course, now I had a problem. There was not a marshmallow to be found in my kitchen. Normally, I would make a quick dash to the store and buy a bag, but I've been faithfully following the advice of the frugal bloggers, and I was not about to make an unnecessary trip to the store. I would simply have to make marshmallows.
I waited until after dinner, when my husband and oldest son had headed off for an evening of hunter safety class. I put on some cartoons for the little ones, scattered about a few interesting looking toys, and then retreated to the kitchen, recipe in hand. It had taken a little bit of searching to find a recipe which didn't call for unflavored gelatin. If I didn't have marshmallows, I surely didn't have unflavored gelatin.
An hour later I had a two year old prone on the floor at my feet, crying for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a six year old looking for help on a Zoob helicopter, and a large sugar brick that was supposed to be a pan of fluffy marshmallow. (Mental note: deciding to be a homeschool mother of six does not automatically turn one into a rolled together mix of Martha Stewart and Laura Ingalls Wilder).
No problem, I simply whisked the evidence of the failed marshmallows into the dishwasher, and went off to build a Zoob helicopter, after gently explaining to my two year old that we don't get peanut butter and jelly sandwiches when we refuse to eat dinner (okay, everybody knows I made her one anyway). Resigning myself to being more frugal next week, I decided to call my husband and ask him to pick up a bag of marshmallows on the way home from hunter safety.
Flash ahead to Friday morning - the sky is darkly overcast, and definitely promising rain. Oh well, so much for the solar oven. It's still great to be a homeschool mom!
Thursday, March 26, 2009
I'm not usually a fan of the immersion method for teaching foreign languages, but on occasion I stumble over a resource that uses immersion well. The Salsa program put out by Georgia Public Broadcasting is one of them.
It is aimed at an audience from Kindergarten through second grade, and it is excellent. I would go so far as to say it is one of the best beginning Spanish programs out there. You can check it out at www.gpb.org/salsa. Even if your children are a little bit older than the target audience, I would still check it out.
The cost of the program is somewhat prohibitive to the average homeschool family, but much of it can be accessed for free on their website. This includes entire episodes, Spanish learning games, and parent/teacher resources - far too many free resources for the thrifty homeschooler to pass up! The best part of this program is that it does not require a teacher to be trained in Spanish in order to use it well.
We happened to catch most of the episodes when they aired on one of the Spanish language channels several years ago. My older children picked up quite a bit of Spanish from it. I'm delighted to have access to the episodes now for my younger children as well. I did notice that the episodes have added an English introduction, and a sign language component, that I find a little bit distracting. However, we had such success with the original form of the episodes, I'm willing to give the people at Georgia Public Broadcasting the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps these added features will prove useful to the children too.
Anyway, I could go on all day about how wonderful this program is, but you really should just click over and check it out for yourself. You won't be disappointed.
It's great to be a homeschooler!
There are a few tricks to this method in order to insure you get the most out of it.
- Make sure the pictures, and any writing you actually want remembered are big enough to be read from your child's bed.
- Point out the information to your child, but don't let them know your hoping they're going to memorize it. ("See, here's where we live on the map - and here's Grandma's house - and over here is Auntie Esther's")
- Leave the pictures on the wall for long enough for the children to become attached to them, before adding anything new.
- Don't forget the space along the ceiling - time lines work especially well wrapped around the top of a wall in place of the old 80's wallpaper border.
We've used this method for learning the Japanese and American Sign Language alphabets, the kings and queens of Great Britain, the Presidents of the United States, the planets, the state capitals, the continents and oceans, the multiplication tables, general German vocabulary, and the books of the Bible.
The children look at them from their beds at night or in the morning when they are supposed to be sleeping, and soak in the knowledge. They're happy, because they think they're getting away with something by not being asleep (and because they have such colorfully decorated rooms), and I'm happy, because they are learning a few fun facts without any of the tedium that would come from rote memorization.
It's great to be a homeschooler!
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Look at it as a field trip to the kitchen. Nothing enlivens the learning process like a change of pace, and the promise of chocolate. But of course, all was not lost (this is the part where the unschooling part of almost unschoolers takes over).
What did we learn from cookie making?
- Reading Skills - reading a recipe is very different than reading a book. We studied new abbreviations, and learned how to navigate between the ingredient list and the instructions of a recipe.
- Math Skills - measuring, estimating (how do you know you have 3/4 of a cup using a 1 cup measure?), metric conversion - as a discussion of the differences between Fahrenheit and Celsius broke out, multiplication - 4 rows of 3 cookies makes a dozen on the pan, story problems - if there are a dozen cookies per pan, and eight people in our family, how many pans of cookies will we need for everyone to have three cookies? And how long will it take to complete the baking at 10 minutes per pan?
- Socialization - learning to work as a team, making sure that even the youngest members of the team have a useful function in the cookie making process.
- Life Skills - as we rolled the extra dough into balls for freezing, we added that to our list of grocery savings for the week. We won't need the dough boy for a while.
Finally, throw in a paper craft for the little ones - circle cutting, to make cookies and chips to glue onto them. Finish off with a family story time involving cookies (of course we'd give one to a mouse!), which leads nicely into a story writing project to be worked on while eating fresh cookies, and forgetting entirely that we didn't get to go outside to play today. Not a bad day's work after all.
It's great to be a homeschooler.
- Don't start until your child is really ready to read. The book states that you can begin as early as 3 and 1/2, but don't feel bad if your child is 5 or older - the book still works - and if you start too soon you'll only be beating your head against a wall.
- Don't be in too big of a hurry. The lessons are short, and especially at the beginning, it's tempting to do two or three in a day - but don't. Give each lesson time to sink in before moving on to the next one. Slow and steady is the best approach.
- Read the entire book yourself before you start teaching it. This will give you a better understanding of where the authors are heading, and avoid frustration in the early lessons.
- You can go off script. The book offers a word for word script for the parent to use with their child. If you've read the whole book, and understand the concepts being taught, don't be afraid to mix it up a little. You know your child's learning style and interests. Use this book as a tool - take from it only what you need, and build from there.
- You don't have to make it to lesson 100. I've always planned to, but to be honest, we've never made it past lesson 75. At that point my children have discovered they can read many of the beginning reader books themselves, and won't stay on track with the rather odd stories at the end of the book.
- Follow up with sight words. So far we've found a one, two punch of Engelmann's book and Dolch sight words a no fail approach to learning to read. I have four very excellent readers - one emerging reader - and a minimum of grey hair!
As I said, I've used Teach Your Child To Read In 100 Easy Lessons for five of my six children, and I will definitely use it for the sixth. I couldn't recommend a teaching tool more.
It's great to be a homeschooler!
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
One good way to keep this fact in mind, and encourage our homegrown scholars at the same time, is to let ourselves become the students. Homeschool parents often expect their children to pick an interest, and then pursue it with a certain amount of independence. Have you tried learning that way yourself?
With every new season, I try to pick up some new skill or subject. Sometimes I'm learning something with my children - like knitting, or piano. Sometimes I'm pursuing my own interest - like Biblical Hebrew or blogging. It's a good reminder to me of how much work and discipline mastering a new subject can take, and it's good for the children to see Mom working and often struggling with a new concept. It has encouraged them to persevere in their own studies - after all, they can't play the piano any worse than Mom! And it has given me a greater measure of patience in dealing with their struggles - after all, they play the piano a lot better than I can!
It's great to be a homeschooler!
I usually order through Amazon.de, because it's set up exactly like Amazon.com, which makes it easy to navigate, and takes some of the guess work out in the areas where my own German language skills run short. It's extremely easy to find the children's section for the DVDs and then search from there for the children's favorites.
I found Dora to be especially useful, because she repeats key words over and over, making it easy for the children to pick up. It's a little strange in the parts that are normally in Spanish - in the German versions, they are in English! Don't forget about the Teletubbies too. Their simple words make for easy and entertaining study. My older children have complained a little about my playing the baby shows for them, but they always end up watching them anyway. We particularly like the Christmas specials.
If your looking for free learning tools, check out nickjr.de or disney.de - where you can find many clips from shows, interactive stories, and games in German as well. Again, these sites are laid out very close to their English counterparts, making them fairly easy to navigate. Many German television shows can be found online too, for those with a little more advanced German skill. These can be a lot of fun, and provide a good source of accent training. Besides, if your little ones are going to watch cartoons anyway, why not add an extra level of learning to them? After all, it's great to be a homeschooler!
As the children have grown a little bit older (my oldest is now almost 12), they've grown less sleepy. That doesn't mean that we've given up on nap time. I've discovered a pleasant byproduct of the whole nap experience for my children. While they haven't been sleeping, they've been reading!
At first it was just my oldest son. Trapped in his room, for two hours every day, with a younger brother who was sleeping, he turned to the books laying around collecting dust on his bookshelves, for entertainment. Some of the same books, I'd been trying to encourage him to read at other times, but with no success. As nap time ended, and T began approaching me with, "Hey Mom, you know that book Grandma gave me for my birthday? Turns out it's really good," his younger sisters took note. Suddenly all the easy reader books began to disappear into the girls room, for nap time use. Lately, I've noticed, their tackling more, and more difficult material.
Now, instead of asking my children to read anything, I simply leave it near to their rooms. Sooner or later, it gets picked up, and devoured during their "naps". And best yet, I still get a chance to mop the floor, and read a chapter from my own book! It's great to be a homeschool mom!
Monday, March 23, 2009
Math: This is really a no brainer. Simply make a trip to the super market with coupons in hand, and you're on your way to a great math lesson. Is it better to buy product A on the 10 for 10 sale, or to buy the generic version at its regular price? How low can we go on our favorite products by combining store sales, coupons, and rebates?
Turning away from the stores, and back to the headlines, what about graphing the unemployment figures? Or, take the unemployment figures for your county, and compare them with the population, to see if you can figure the actual number of unemployed from the unemployment percent.
Take a reading of your electric. or gas meter every day for a week. Use the numbers to figure an average of your daily use. Follow the steps on one of the many frugal living sites to reduce your energy usage, while continuing to record your daily usage to see if the changes around your house change your average numbers. These numbers can then be graphed (which by the way also works for a lesson in computer skills!)
Science: Why not take the opportunity to clean your house, and teach your children at the same time? There are many recipes available for home cleaning products, some of which can be made for much less than the store bought versions. Use a recipe for one such as laundry soap, and compare the results against your favorite laundry soap, or even against the cheaper store brand soap. I'm sure your children would enjoy preparing some various stains for cleaning. If you do this, by the way, be sure to let us know how it turned out - we'd all like to be using the best laundry soap, dish washing soap, and bathroom cleaner we can!
History: Again, this is a no brainer. Of course you have to study the great depression, and the other depressions before that. What a great time to make a trip to the library, to visit the archived newspapers. Can you find the headlines from the late 1920's? How do they compare to today's headlines?
This is also a great time to interview older relatives. and neighbors. Although they'd have to be quite old to have in depth memories of the depression, many in their 70's have childhood impressions from that time, or family stories to relate. Also, it's interesting to talk to the older generations about frugal living, and cutting costs. The ideas, that are so new, and interesting to us, are often old hat to them.
Geography: Map out the unemployment numbers state by state, or county by county, within your state. What parts of the country are being hit the hardest? What are some of the reasons, that certain areas of the country, such as Wyoming or North Dakota have not been hit as hard?
Literature: Again, a good time to visit the library. There are a number of great books, both fiction, and nonfiction, dealing with the depression. There are also a number of books out right now on the current economic situation, which might be challenging for older students. Younger students might enjoy comparing works of fiction to movies, that have been made from them. It might even be a good time to pull out the Charlie Chaplin films, and discuss social satire. For a creative writing project, have the children consider what might happen if all of the jobs are in the middle of country instead of the coastlines. Will there be a reverse migration from what we saw during the great depression? How might this change the culture of the Midwest?
Art: This is a terrific time to pursue recycled art projects. It might also be a good time to learn a new handcraft. If it turns out well, you could sell it online, and add a little to the family income.
Bible: The book of Proverbs abounds with verses about money, and wisdom. There has never been a better time to study it.
This is also a good time to find creative ways to give as a family. Sometimes giving can be of time, and not of money. Could you offer free, or inexpensive daycare to another family struggling to make ends meet? Can your savings at the grocery store be translated into an increase in giving to a local food bank? With gardening weather coming on, can you plant a little extra to share with others?
These are just a few ideas that we've been brainstorming about. I'm sure there are countless more. I just have to say it again - what a great time to be a homeschooler!