How does homeschooling work over the long-term?

Now that my kids are in 5th, 8th and 11th grades, we are seeing the results of homeschooling long-term.

We began this journey 10 years ago when my oldest was in 1st grade. As with any education plan there have been both high points and challenging moments. Now that my oldest is in 11th grade, we have come full circle as this year she is thriving in public school; back for the first time since Kindergarden.

Last year my oldest studied AP Chemistry, AP Calculus, AP Statistics, AP Music Theory, AP Government, and AP American History at home.  It sounds challenging and it was, but she didn't spend any more time studying than a typical high school student. In fact, I believe she studied less. Now she is a smart child, but by no means a genius of any sort. Homeschooling has simply enabled her to always be challenged at her level. These classes just happened to be the next in line.

Her 2016/17 course load was a challenge for me too. My main role as homeschool mom has always been to find the best resources for each child based on their learning style, interests and ability. With resources in hand, I put together a schedule/plan for each child to keep them challenged, thinking, and learning new material. Some subjects the kids study on their own, where as others I am very involved. There is always a balance.

Although my oldest studied AP Government, AP American History and AP Music Theory completely on her own. I was an integral part of AP Chemistry, Calculus and Statistics. Those being difficult classes, and I being her main person for questions resulted in a challenging year. When she had questions, I first had to understand the material and often, this was time-consuming. But we made it through and I am very happy with where she is now.

This year she is in the public school system. She is taking AP Physics, AP Biology, AP Composition and dentistry. Yes! She is studying lots of science and doing great! Her teachers say she thinks differently, often has different views and ideas on topics, but is mixing well with the other kids and doing a great job. I'm overjoyed to have more time to spend with the other two kids and a little extra free time during the day to complete the things I need to get done.

Next year when she is a senior, she will likely take two sophomore/junior level courses at a local university as she mostly beyond community college.

It's been a while since I've written on this blog. I suppose I haven't had much to say lately, but I am planning to write a post a week starting in January to discuss some of the curriculum and educational activities I have been doing at home with my 5th and 8th grader.

Happy Holidays.

Microscope Lessons for Kids

Using the book Ultimate Guide to Your Microscope as a guide, the kids have been captivated with specimens.

Our science lessons are scheduled twice per week for four hours each session. Four hours per week has enabled us to learn to create a variety of different slides for the microscope, keep a science journal and examine the world of the tiny. 

 The Ultimate Guide to Your Microscope begins with the different types of microscopes and moves into slide creation. From there, the book is packed full of activities. Each requires creating a slide and examining the slide under a microscope.

 Looking closely at newspaper comics, we saw dots that blend together to make color.

Raiding my mom's sewing room for thread samples allowed us to learn the differences in types of thread. Embroidery thread is different from quilting thread, and they are both different from sewing threads. There are also metallic threads, invisible thread, silk thread and disappearing thread. Some are fuzzy, some are smooth, some are twisted and some are synthetic. It was thought-provoking seeing the differences under the microscope.

In addition to thread and colored newspaper print, we have explored bugs, feathers, skin cells, coins and more. I highly recommend exploring activities with a microscope with kids. You will both learn a bunch!

Super Art Lessons for Kids

I found an excellent source for art lessons.

With all the art resources available on the internet, it has always been time consuming to narrow down projects. So many choices makes selecting activities that the kids will learn from a challenge. In addition, with a limited art background, it can be difficult to choose projects that increase in difficulty. But I recently hit the jackpot!

With the internet still increasing in use, many schools are putting lessons on-line. The courses labeled Anderson Art at the Gilman school are proving to be a fabulous resource. The teacher has a years worth of lessons for each of the middle school grades. They are in power point format and are easy to follow if you have a little knowledge of art.  We have completed the abstract animal watercolor project and are working on abstract trees. I'm loving the simplicity of planning art!

Abstract Animals

 Select an animal that matches your personality.

 Sketch the animal using shapes.

 The website contains several more steps which include drawing organic and geometric shapes to divide the background.

 There are also instructions for beginning with primary colors and then mixing colors to form secondary colors and tints.

 We used our Zentangle book for inspiration in filling in the background with designs.

Sports for Life

"Sports for Life" is a lifelong philosophy towards fitness which involves choosing sports that can be enjoyed for a lifetime at a level which can be sustained.

Throughout a lifetime, there are a large variety of physical opportunities available. They can range from participating in a soccer team, taking swimming lessons, cleaning a house, doing yard work, playing football, dancing, and oh so many more. Some of these activities have greater appeal to specific age groups, and some are much easier logistically to do at certain ages. One aspect of a Sport for Life philosophy is choosing sports and activities that can be enjoyed by a majority of ages groups.

Think about typical physical activities enjoyed by active adults. The list may include, biking, running, walking, hiking, swimming, dancing, skiing, and tennis. Most of these activities can be done individually with little special equipment. Kids can learn to do all of these things.

Team sports such as baseball and soccer have a definite role to play in the lives of children, but become more difficult to do on a regular basis as adults. These sports build camaraderie, are fun, promote fitness and should not be ignored. However, as we get older, we run out of time. Finding practice and game times that can accommodate all group members is near to impossible.

Another aspect of the Sports for Life lifestyle is participating in sports at a level that can be sustained. So often, people say, "I'm training for the X run. I really need to get in shape so I can complete it." Although it is natural to have periods of greater and lesser fitness throughout life, being generally fit is an excellent strategy. Instead of focusing on winning the race, the person with the Sports for Life attitude would focus on being able to complete it no matter the season. Depending on the person and sport, this could mean being able to run a 5 km race on any given day, or a 25 km race on a given day. The point is the sport and amount is sustainable for the participant.

Competitive sports offered by many schools are in direct conflict with this philosophy. Instead of training the kids to be fit for life and enjoy the sports they are mastering, kids are required to attend practices 4-5 days per week and train at high intensity levels. The short term desire to win is strong with both the kids and the leaders of the activities. Unfortunately, in addition to creating burn out, these levels can lead to injuries which can eliminate most fitness activities for months at a time. Over a lifetime, adults will look back on the days they played a sport and say, "I wish I was in good enough shape to do that." Where as if they were taught to enjoy the sport, they may continue to do it forever.

Participating in family athletic activities and behavior modeling are the two major components of training kids to enjoy sports for life. When kids are young, going hiking as a family is easy to do. Kids don't need 10+ miles of trails. They will be happy with a mile long trail through the woods. Likewise, they don't need 100 mile bike rides, but riding bikes as a family will teach them that biking is something to always be enjoyed. This doesn't mean that kids shouldn't run on the playground, or ride bikes through the neighborhood. These activities are excellent for kids, but it is important for them to see that their adults enjoy these activities as well. Training kids to adopt a sport for life philosophy involves participating in the target sports with kids.

In addition to doing these activities with the kids, it's important for the adults to enjoy fitness on their own or with other adults. This is behavior modeling. When kids see their parents exercising each morning before work, they will grow up to do the same thing as adults. Instilling these behaviors at a young age results in healthy adults who enjoy activity.

The Sports for Life philosophy means learning to love fitness activities as children which can be enjoyed the entire life long. It also means enjoying these activities at a level which can be sustained. Not at levels that ramp up and ramp down to achieve certain goals such as finishing a really long running race. If you need to develop a PE program for your school, or are looking for a way to teach kids to be fit, I strongly suggest a Sports for Life philosophy.

Structural Engineering Projects for Kids

My son built a model building frame and learned about structures.

As a follow up to our Bridge Unit Study (scroll down to see lessons) we read the book Art of Construction and completed many of the activities. Like the book Bridges: Amazing Structures to Design, Build and Test, which we used for our bridge study, the Art of Construction contained lessons which are part of structural engineering. The books did contain some overlap, but were both worth studying.

 The above photo shows the beginning of a building frame model. Studying the book teaches how differences in structural member cross section affects the strength. Kids learn these concepts by reading about them and then performing simple experiments with paper.

If you have a budding engineer, or a student who enjoys hands-on technical projects, this is a great book. The book Bridges: Amazing Structures to Design, Build and Test, is written for a slightly younger audience, upper elementary to middle school, and a better place to start. I would recommend Art of Construction for any student who enjoyed Bridges or middle school and up.

Fabric Stenciling Project for Kids

We used shaving cream and ink to create stenciled and tie dye style shirts.

Our TSC Designs inks and stencils were purchased as a kit at a local quilt show, but all the same products are available on their website.

 TSC Fabric Inks

 Collection of stencils

First fill a plate or tray with shaving cream.

 Next, use a dropper to place drops of ink on the shaving cream.

 With a Q-tip or a toothpick, swirl the ink through the shaving cream.

 Take a t-shirt or some fabric and smoosh it into the shaving cream.

 Lift the fabric out and scrape off the shaving cream.

 Another method is to use a sponge to stamp the design onto the fabric with a stencil.

 When finished, the fabric needs to be left to dry and then ironed to set the dye.

This project was fun and a little messy. It was a great way to spend a sunny afternoon outdoors. The book from TSC Designs has complete instructions and a few more ideas on ways to use the ink. Have Fun!

Austrailan Dot Painting for Kids

We created an Australian dot painting.

Dot painting is interesting because it is both an ancient and modern art form. Dating back thousands of years, some native aboriginal people used dot painting in conjunction with story telling to explain belief systems. Many traditions incorporated symbols to represent common story subjects such as trails, campfires and people. However, native people did not paint exclusively with dots. Different regions of Australian natives had different art traditions.

In more recent times, dot painting has become recognizable as a native art form. Although the last natives to paint in the traditional way died out in the 1960's, descendants have carried on and changed the art. Dot painting is a very popular souvenir and many artists have taken notice.

This video is a good introduction to dot painting.

In creating our dot paintings, the kids had to incorporate a minimum of three traditional symbols and tell a story of a recent experience.

Curved U-shapes indicate men.

Concentric circles are symbols of camp sites, and wavy lines indicate a journey.

Short and tall lines indicate children and adults.

Welcome back to school. Art class rocks!

Game for Learning United States Geography

Last spring at a homeschooling convention I did a little bartering and I'm sure glad I did. The game Snapshots Across America is an engaging way for kids to learn about the United States and a few attractions in each one.

To win the game players must visit seven tourist attractions by driving their car, traveling by train, ocean liner, river boat, lake ship or airplane to destinations.

Other players can ruin a vacation by playing a weather card such as tornadoes in the midwest.

Each destination card has a representative photo and short description of the attraction. From Niagara Falls to Revolutionary War sites to volcanoes in Hawaii a player can travel all around the US.

This game was created by a homeschooling family to teach geography, and they did a great job. The cards are bright. The game sparks a travel interest. It's fun to see where else you can travel and there is even a little strategy involved in being the first player to visit seven destinations.

If you are planning a vacation, this game may even give you some new ideas. We have been playing about once per week in conjunction with reading about US history. This game is a wonderful supplement to any geography curriculum and would make a nice gift.

Speed! - New Font

Skip-counting is a key ingredient in teaching upper level elementary math concepts. Once kids have a good handle on the numbers 1-100 and can count backwards from 20 to 0 they are ready to learn skip-counting. This usually happens between the ages of 4 and 8 years old and around the same time as kids are learning addition. Numerous math skills are based on skip-counting such as multiplication, division, adding and reducing fractions. With a good understanding of skip-counting, children are able to progress much more rapidly through these upper elementary math concepts.

Songs, the card game Speed! and hands-on practice work well together to cement the fundamentals of skip-counting. When playing Speed! kids learn to skip-count beginning on any number. For example, if they are skip-counting by 3's, they may begin at 18 and progress to 21. They also learn to skip-count backwards. The rhythm and rhyme of song helps engage memory and the colored decks of cards in the game Speed! help kids create a visual association with numbers.

 The card game Speed! has just been given a facelift. The exterior of the container was lightened from a dark blue to a light blue and the numbers on the cards are now a more common font which is easier to rapidly read. The original version is shown above on the left, and the updated version is on the right.

If you haven't purchased this game yet, now's the time. After all, it's fun and a great way to keep kids learning over the summer! Kids play because they want to win, not to learn to skip-count. The beauty of the game is that in order to win, they have to have the skip-counting numbers memorized and they do so enthusiastically. The big secret, is that the numbers are all the answers to the times tables. After playing Speed!, kids can quickly apply what they've learned to multiplication, division, factoring, and fractions. How can you beat an educational game kids actually want to play.

Bridge Unit Study - Lesson 8: Maintenance

Our bridge unit study ended with a discussion on maintenance.

Too often the cost of maintenance is not considered as part of the cost of a project. Whether you are building your home, a building or a bridge, maintenance should be a huge consideration. After all, if the structure breaks down, we will have to do without or start over from scratch.

Therefore, I was pleased that the book we chose to follow for our bridge unit study Bridges: Amazing Structures to Design Build and Test addressed the issue of maintenance. Painting, erosion, weather, corrosion, and traffic load are a few issues that determine how long the structure will last. The book does a good job of summarizing maintenance considerations.

To gain a better understanding of weather effects, my son explored corrosion with a science experiment. Putting steel wool into different types of water, he watched it over a 24 hour period to see how much it rusted. It was a very simple experiment and a great way to wrap up our bridge unit study.

Now where ever we go we take a good look at the different bridges around us.

 Honfleur Cable Stay Bridge (Normandie, France)

 London Bridge

Tower Bridge

Charles Bridge, Prague

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