Thursday, August 23, 2012

My students and our curriculum

We’re taking a break from school for a few weeks while I help Steph get prepared for college and do a massive reorganizing of the house.   Since we’re also getting ready to start a new school year, I figured this is also a good time to tell a little bit about my lovely students and what we are using.


Georgie just turned 7 this week.  He is the main reason we started homeschooling.  He is gifted and quirky, with some sensory issues and possible ADHD.   He would definitely not thrive in a typical school classroom but he does great here at home.  Other than a year of Early Intervention for speech delays, from 3 to 4 years old, he has never been to school.  His favorite things are playing Wii, Minecraft and other computer games, and Pokemon.

Georgie would be entering 1st grade if he went to public school.  Due to his late August birthday, he would not have started kindergarten until he turned 6.  In practice, he is working between a 1st and 4th grade level.

For Language Arts, he is currently using:

All About Spelling – we will be starting level 2 when we start up school again next week.  Georgie is very visual so AAS with its cards and tiles works very well for him.  This is also serving as his only phonics program since we finished Explode the Code 5 and I decided ETC was just busywork at this point, at least for him.   We usually do one Step a week.

Spectrum Reading Grade 2 – Georgie tested with a reading comprehension equivalency of 4.9 but other things come up in this workbook so I don’t want to jump him ahead and leave gaps.  He does one lesson a day and they often incorporate rhyming, alphabetical order, homonyms, contractions, etc.

Spectrum Grammar Grade 2 – This is going slow probably because we never completed a Grade 1 grammar curriculum.   We started with capitalization and he’s getting hung up on the difference between a proper noun and a common noun, so we are taking things very slowly and supplementing with extra worksheets from Evan Moor’s Teachers File Box as needed.

For handwriting, he is using Handwriting without Tears – Grade 1.  He actually just finished the Grade 1 book but is definitely not ready for the Grade 2 book yet.  He still tends to use mostly capital letters so I’m going to start back at the beginning of the Grade 1 book and review all the lowercase letter formation.

I’m hoping to add some free writing this year since Georgie always loved to write stories and I feel he doesn’t do it enough anymore.   I will probably just go with a general journaling plan using writing prompts from Pinterest occasionally.

I’m also hoping to add some vocabulary work using Vocabulary Word-A-Day Cards from Scholastic.

Last, but not least, I want to encourage Georgie to spend more time reading this year.

For Math, he is using:

Math Mammoth 3A/3B – he does pages from all different chapters each day.   This helps keep his interest since he gets bored easily.  Math often seems to come almost intuitively to him, yet he’ll still complain that it’s too hard if he doesn’t understand something new the very first time it’s presented.

Since Georgie is also not a kid that likes flash cards or drill, we use a lot of fun games and resources to cover facts.   His current favorites are Solve the Riddle Math Practice: Addition and Subtraction from Scholastic, and Algebra Readiness Made Easy – Grade 2 also from Scholastic.  I have a ton of other resources for when he finishes these thanks to the regularly scheduled Scholastic Dollar Deals.

Beast Academy – we are using this as a fun supplement.   We didn’t get to it too often the past few months so I’m hoping to start using it at least once a week, maybe instead of Math Mammoth.


Vicki just turned 5 in July.  She has never been to any school and has been doing kindergarten for a few months already.   Her favorite things are playing outside, painting and other crafts, and playing Wii.

For Language Arts we are pretty much just doing phonics and very occasional handwriting.

For Vicki’s phonics, I am using Ordinary Parents Guide to Teaching Reading but not directly out of the book.  I usually set up the lessons on the white board using extra AAS tiles, on large foam puzzle pieces on the floor, or on index cards.  She pretty much has short /a/ words down and we will be reviewing and starting short /e/ words when we start back up.

I have the Handwriting without Tears Pre-K book for her.  She strongly resists doing handwriting, never colors beyond scribbles.  I don’t think it’s a lack of ability or coordination.  It seems to be more impatience with having to take the time to do it.  We use the wooden letter pieces from HWT and I’m trying to encourage more using the white board or a chalkboard.

For Math we are using Mathematics Enhancement Programme (MEP) Year 1.   I usually demonstrate using a magnetic white board rather than just using the workbook pages.

Since Math isn’t nearly as intuitive for her as it is for Georgie, I’ve started gathering more manipulatives.  So far we have Judy Clocks, Base 10 blocks, Cuisenaire rods, magnetic foam shapes (tangrams).

Things we do together:

We play lots of games to work on math and reading concepts.  Some of our favorites are:

printables from Kelly’s Kindergarten
Money Bags
Very Silly Sentences
Scrabble Jr.

For Science, we are using REAL Science Odyssey with lots of supplementation from Magic School Bus, encyclopedias/books and field guides.  We are currently working on rocks & minerals in RSO, but we also do nature studies, and various topics together with our 4-H Cloverbud group.

For History and Geography, we are getting ready to start a US History and Geography study.  We will be using the Complete Book of US History, History Pockets, Road Trip USA (from Confessions of a Homeschooler) and lots of books and encyclopedias.

We are also participating in a Flat Stanley exchange and a State Cultural Exchange.

My Goals for this year:

Do formal school at least 4 days a week consistently.

Take less than 4 months to complete a science or history unit.

Start Spanish utilizing The Complete Book of Spanish and free videos and lesson plans from Instant Replay.

Do more art study using Come Look with Me books and various What Your x Grader Needs to Know books (that I already have).  Encourage more use of our Draw Write Now books.

Do more art and craft projects in addition to the ones we do at 4-H.

Start music instruction on electric keyboards using Kid’s Keyboard Course Book #1.

Start typing instruction for Georgie using Dance Mat Typing.

General Social Studies, Health and Character education using Studies Weekly.

Less computer, less television and more PE for everyone.

Friday, August 17, 2012

4-H Cloverbuds: Art to Wear

This week at Cloverbuds our activities were club business rather than a specific topic.  Our group decided to have the kid receive badges for the different activities we do and this week they received the badges for our activities so far (for more details on our previous activities, click on the 4-H Cloverbud tag to the left).  I had each kid come up and tell what their favorite activity was when the received their badges.   From now on, we will be handing out badges as a topic is completed.

There were two different activities for the kids to do at this meeting.  The first was decorating lanyards to hold the badges.  The kids used regular markers to decorate 1 1/2 inch wide elastic.  I have a 4-H stamp that worked great when colored with a green Crayola marker and pressed to the elastic.   When they were finished decorating, I joined the ends with prong fasteners from my stash of scrapbooking supplies.   Mine won’t have any badges but I did have my 4-H leader pin.


The main fun for this meeting was doing Sharpie tie-dye t-shirts.   I really wasn’t sure how this was going to work out with a group of kids ranging from very newly turned 5 years old, up to 9 years old.  I was even more worried when I realized the windows in the room we use at the library don’t open.  But everything went great.  The kids had fun, the shirts looked great and the smell wasn’t overwhelming (it didn’t even bother some of the more sensitive sensory kids). 

In order to keep things as neat as possible (after all, we were in a library conference room) I brought some tablecloths left over from our pool party to cover the tables (so no one would decide to decorate the nice tables with Sharpie markers), and used small dropper bottles for the alcohol. 

The method is pretty easy:  use a washed white t-shirt, pick where you want your design to be and stretch that part over the top of a cup securing it with a rubber band.  Make a design – dots, swirls, lines, evidently words work – with Sharpie markers.  Slowly drop alcohol (I used 91% at this meeting but I had used 70% for my practice shirt and it worked fine) into the center of the design and watch the colors spread.  I had the kids wait 30 seconds to let it dry a little bit before moving to the next area.   Watch your cups because for the kids who use a lot of alcohol it tends to accumulate in the bottom and could easily spill.   The shirts should be put in the dryer for 10 minutes to set the color before washing. 

Even the youngest kids were able to get some beautiful effects.

Georgie wrote ‘cool’ and it came out pretty cool!


Vicki had a little trouble with the idea of marker first THEN alcohol and really loved using the little squeeze bottles.

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Lots of fun and not too complicated.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Weekly Wrap-up

Another week down.  I really need to find a better way to get going in the morning.  It seems that we just get started and it’s time to break for lunch.  Of course, considering Georgie sometimes doesn’t get out of bed until 9:30 and likes his lunch at 10:30, that’s not just an impression, it’s the reality.  Life would be much easier if Georgie was my early bird and Vicki liked to sleep late.  Then I could do all of Georgie’s school before Vicki even wakes up and we’d have lots of time for fun and games.  I suppose I could work with Vicki while Georgie is still asleep but then I’d have to find something to keep her amused while I’m working with Georgie since he seems to have less and less he can do as independent work. 

Okay, enough whining.  We actually had a pretty good week.

Vicki continued with MEP Year 1 this week.  She’s been almost counting to 20 for a while but had a tendency to skip 15, 16 and 17.  We’ve been working with a number ladder and she’s now got it.

She doesn’t like writing but I’ve been trying to get her excited about her name so I had her build it using the wooden capital letter pieces this week.


Of course, Georgie then wanted to play with the wood pieces too instead of doing his work.  He spent 20 minutes complaining before he decided he was cold and had to lie down in the sun coming through the skylight.


Vicki is still loving her foam puzzle pieces and seems to have a real handle on short /a/ words.  Next week we will be moving on to short /e/ words.

One thing that helped keep her occupied this week was adding a few more educational apps to my tablet.  I picked mainly free apps since their interests and levels seem to change over night.  A big hit was the iStoryBooks app which reads aloud a book while showing the picture and text on the screen.  Vicki “read” the Cinderella story twice.   Another hit (at least for now) was Mrs. Owl’s ABC.

Of course, I was distracted for a few minutes helping Georgie and when I checked back she was watching Spongebob on the tablet through Netflix.  I think it’s time to remove or at least hide the Netflix app.


Georgie is still complaining about math but he is doing really well and it seems to come so easy to him.  He completely understands carrying and seems to have most of the addition facts memorized.  What was a surprise to me is he also seems to completely understand coins, their values and how to make change.   It’s these sudden leaps he makes from not getting it to suddenly showing understanding beyond what we’re working on that sure keep me on my toes.  I had pulled out our Base 10 blocks to demonstrate some problems on his math riddle this week that had carrying into the hundreds place.  He definitely doesn’t need the manipulatives to understand the concepts but he loves to make shelters to protect the little people (the one blocks).


I had planned to give Georgie a print-out of the angle mazes from Beast Academy in a clear plastic sheet protector so we could wipe them off and try again if he had trouble.  Instead he spilled something wet and sticky all over it and I didn’t get a chance to print out another copy for this week.  We will try again next week.

Vicki was given a fun sticker book for her birthday that she had a great time using this week for “sticker school”.  She had a little trouble pulling the stickers off without ripping them so I was helping her a little bit.   I also tried to make it even more educational by asking questions – which letter does cat start with?  How about doll?  At the same time I was helping her with that……


Georgie was working on his math riddle.  This is supposed to be independent work but I sometimes do the writing for him.  He was sitting to my left singing “diddly do, we do, now we’re going on for a 9 and a 3, diddly dee, the answer it’s 93” while Vicki is sitting on my right yelling “mom, doll begins with D!  I need another sticker”.   Working with both at once, doesn’t work.

Georgie finished his Handwriting without Tears first grade book but still has a lot of trouble with letter formation.  I’m going to be moving his handwriting from independent work to something he sits with me to do and start all over with formation for each letter. 

He’s been doing so well with Reading Comprehension, including writing the answers, that I moved that to his independent work.  And now, I get to move it back to something he gets to do with mom since he started reading ahead and discovered the answer key in the back of the book.  I suppose I could pull those pages out.

We are still on a break from the Spectrum Grammar book to practice capitalization.  I printed out some extra practice sheets from Teacher’s File Box and we will keep going over those until he seems to understand it better.  Part of the difficulty is understanding the difference between a noun and a proper noun.

When we got to his Explode the Code he took over with a cheerful “This I can handle”.  Great!  Something he can do independently.  Of course, this was the last lesson in Book 5 and I wasn’t planning to get any additional books.  At this point ETC seems to be mainly busy work for him and since we are also doing phonics rules in All About Spelling it seems unnecessary.  As much as I would LOVE something he’s guaranteed to be able to do alone, I don’t want to load up on busywork.

We did have some fun this week.  Since Georgie was clearly having no trouble with math despite the complaining, I decided we could play a few games to reinforce.

I introduced the kids to Yahtzee.  I played with Vicki and I used the dice from a travel Yahtzee set since I didn’t want to know how far the kids could scatter 5 dice during a game.  Georgie rolled a full house on his very first roll, which got him excited, but then they lost interest pretty fast.    Vicki kept asking to play “the money game” so I pulled out Money Bags and we played that for a while.   This is another game that is great for Georgie to practice math but that Vicki still needs a lot of help with.   She loves to play and gets very excited when she can exchange coins for dollars. 

The other thing I did this week was make some pickles.  Our garden is producing yellow squash and cucumbers like crazy so to keep from getting overwhelmed, I decided to make some refrigerator pickles.   We still have another day before they are ready so we don’t know how good (or bad) they are yet.


Saturday, August 4, 2012

Weekly Wrap-Up

I planned a light week for the kids this week since I had lots of fun stuff on the agenda, including a trip to New York City to the Museum of Natural History and a continuation of our Rock & Mineral study.

Vicki seems to have short /a/ words down pretty well except she always starts off whining about how she doesn’t know.  She sounds them out one letter at a time but is then able to say the full word.   She is still enjoying using the foam shapes to practice the words.  The foam puzzle pieces are from Walmart and each one has a word she’s been learning on an index card taped to it.  I've been trying different things to write on the pieces themselves but so far nothing removes easily.   I start off with the foam pieces and she has to read the word in order to get the piece.  She takes each piece and builds them into a mat on the floor.  Once she has all the pieces, I call out words for her to jump to.  We finished up this week with 24 pieces.


Also in reading, she’s been able to read the first two emergent readers from Hubbard’s Cupboard this week (Jan & Dan and Pam & Sam)I already had these printed out from when I used them with Georgie.  I took a suggestion from Progressive Phonics and underlined the words she was to read since we haven’t gotten very far in sight words. 

Vicki also seems to finally understand greater than, less than and equals to.   I’ve been building sets for her on the white board using the magnetic foam shapes and having her place the correct symbol in between.

Georgie is just about finished with his Handwriting without Tears 1st Grade book.   I don’t think he is ready for the 2nd grade book with it’s smaller lines so for now, he will just being doing copying work on HWT paper.  I’ve been trying to use sentences from our other subjects, like science or history, or useful information, like months of the year or days of the week, and I may add in the occasional riddle or joke to keep it interesting. 

He actually did a lot of the writing for his programs himself this week.  He filled in his Spectrum Reading Comprehension workbook without my help and did one of our lab sheets on his own.  It may be time to start increasing the amount of writing he does outside of handwriting.

He seems to be getting the idea of carrying with addition from doing his math riddles.  I have probably said “do the ones, THEN do the tens” a million times but he finally seems to be remembering.

We played a few games this week.  Short /a/ words character UNO that I had printed off from Kellys Kindergarten for Georgie years ago.  Vicki had a lot of fun playing and it really helped reinforce the words she’s been learning.


We also played Very Silly Sentences which is great for reinforcing parts of speech.  Vicki couldn’t read many of the words on her own but kept asking me what the different things said, so she’s taking an interest in trying to learn to read.  Georgie loves the funny sentences that come up in this game.  “A pretty banana cooks up the purple fox” and “The shy baby flies on the fast bed” were examples for this week’s game.

We had some interesting visitors to our yard this week.  The one picture didn’t come out well since it was taken at dusk through a window and screen but we evidently have triplet fawns spending each night down our hill.






American Museum of Natural History

We took a field trip into New York City this week to visit the American Museum of Natural History.   It is possible to take a train right from our area into Penn Station in NYC, so it’s not a complicated trip but it does make for a long day.  This was my first time taking the younger guys, though I have been there with Steph.  Grammy Kaye and Granny Franny both went with us so I had some help keeping track of them.

I was a little worried about how the kids would feel about the train ride, not worried enough to spend the $20 in tolls and $40 to park it would take to drive in, but they loved it. 

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Once we made it into NYC, we hopped a cab up to the museum.


We started with the dinosaurs, of course.  It is amazing how large they really were.


The museum had lots of interactive exhibits with things the kids could touch….

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and interactive computer screens where they could get more information on the evolutionary branches (Georgie’s favorite of course)….


 there were special displays in each room showing what evolutionary advance each room represented (examples were the amniotic egg, a movable jaw bone, hip bone structures, etc.)

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We spent lots of time examining the rocks in the Hall of Planet Earth, which had information about volcanos, earthquakes and the rock cycle.

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We watched a cool movie on the Big Bang and the formation of the universe and another one about evolution (that I would really love a copy of but it doesn't seem to be available), saw a model of the moon and were able to see how much we would weigh on the moon (mommy certainly liked that number better than the usual one).


We saw a giant clam shell…..


a humongous slab from a Redwood tree….


and we visited the Discovery Center.  The Discovery room is for kids to get a hands-on look at some of the things found in the museum.

Masks:  matching masks with their country of origin….

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getting inside a native american mask with handles to control the mouth and flippers.

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playing with matryoshka dolls….


a dinosaur dig….


adding magnetic dinosaur bones to a metal frame to put together the skeleton…..


Georgie played with some wooden totems for a very long time.  I was hoping to find something similar tht he could paint and play with when we do native americans but I wasn’t able to find anything.


Vicki explored collection drawers filled with a variety of specimens of bugs, shells, feathers, rocks, etc.

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We finished up in the rock and mineral rooms.

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After all that walking around, Georgie fell asleep on the train ride home.  It was a fun trip and I hope to do it at least a few times a year as we go through different units that the museum has exhibits for.  We skipped all the human origin and animal exhibits this trip.