Friday, April 24, 2015

Weekly Wrap-up: European Explorers

We're back on to history now, after taking last week for science. We had started with Leif Eriksson a few weeks back, and now we've come to Columbus and other European explorers. We are using Notgrass's America the Beautiful  and I really like it so far. It's got a short Bible passage for each day, lots of pictures, biographies and American landmarks included in the history lessons, and short enough lessons that it's not too drawn out.

But it does focus on only American history, so I've also supplemented with Story of the World Vol. 3. I love how SOTW reads like a storybook, and the kids definitely enjoy it. We read about various kings and queens and in Europe during the 1600s...Charles, Phillip, Ferdinand, James, Mary, Elizabeth...It was fascinating to hear about the treachery and drama that went on with the various people taking over thrones and plotting overthrows!  We also got to hear a bit about the struggle between Protestants and Catholics during this time period, which the kids really knew very little about. The kids were captivated by all this! I have to admit, I know very little about European history, so I found it fascinating myself!  It also put a lot more relevance to where the names King James Bible and Jamestown came from!

So we read a lot about various explorers, and I remember learning and memorizing a bunch of facts about each explorer in 4th grade. I don't know that it really helped me in my life to memorize those facts, so I tried to just make sure the kids have heard of the explorers and the areas they explored, and we made the connection of where they came from and where they explored, to the influence that they had on the current languages spoken and culture of these areas today. We also talked about their motivation for exploration(gold, and looking for trade routes), their treatment of the Natives, and the spread of the gospel in to the New World.

We also found an iPad game called European Explorers: The Age of Discovery, which has them exploring "new" land and outfitting a fleet, and in the process, reading brief bios of various Captains that explored long ago.

This post is linked up with Weird, Unsocialized Homeschooler's Weekly Wrapup.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Weekly Wrap-up: African Grasslands Minecraft Project

We did our second week of African Grasslands this week, and I asked the kids to make a project that incorporates all the animals we've talked about and their habitat.  I gave them ideas to choose from: build a Minecraft project, a Powerpoint presentation, a short story, a diorama, a painting/drawing, a report...their choice. So, no big surprise, they both picked a Minecraft project.

Bunny built a 'zoo', with signs or a book of facts, alongside each animal section. They have a Minecraft mod called "Mo' Creatures", which gives them alot more animals in the game than the regular game (but they don't have giraffes), so she penned them into sections like a zoo.

Monkey built statues of the animals, that you could climb through, and inside, there were facts posted on signs.

They both really enjoyed the project and were proud of their work. I think I will try to incorporate a project for future units, they seem to like to do that, but I'll have to have some guidelines or every one of them will be a Minecraft project. Not that Minecraft is a bad choice, just that I'd like to give them the chance to learn how to use Powerpoint or do some artwork or do more creative writing.

This post is linked up with Weird, Socialized Homeschoolers Weekly Wrap-up.

Friday, April 17, 2015

My Eclectic Homeschool Philosophy

Eclectic Homeschool has a great quiz "What type of homeschooler are you?" . For some reason, I love taking quizzes! Maybe it's because I like to see confirmation of what I think I am or maybe it's because it leads me to think more about what I think or maybe it opens my eyes to new possibilities. Anyway, I think this quiz is fairly accurate!

My top 5 (all fairly high scores) were Montessori, Charlotte Mason, unschooling, unit studies, and classical.

To be honest, I didn't know what Montessori was, so I googled it and found it's natural, child-led learning that believes a child will learn at their own pace, and that our most important job is to teach them how to learn and develop a love of learning. So yes, I agree with that philosophy. I was surprised Classical came up because generally I don't see myself as following the classical teaching method, but I think what put me higher on that scale was the question about Latin and logic, which I think is important (although maybe not so critical for Latin as true classical teachers would believe, but I do think logic is VERY important), and using great books from literature and history. However, I also scored high in unschooling which seems to be the direct opposite! I think maybe I just see the many benefits of the different teaching philosophies, one is not absolutely best, so I pick and choose to incorporate the various aspects from the different philosophies. Also, I firmly believe every child is unique so different philosophies will work with different kids.

So how do I mix all these styles?

We read a lot of living books rather than textbooks (Charlotte Mason)
We do dictations, copy work and narration (Charlotte Mason)
We do short lessons (Charlotte Mason) so we can have plenty of child-led free time, with various options that they can pursue in that time(Montessori, unschooling).
We use a textbook for math and will be using a textbook in addition to living books for history(traditional and Charlotte Mason)
I slip in Latin once a week and logic when I have time (Classical)
We read great classic books (Classical, Charlotte Mason), although I don't limit the kids to classics.
We do unit studies scattered throughout the year (Unit Study)
I've been incorporating an unscheduled week every few weeks for child-led learning. (Unschooling)
We use videos to supplement (Not any particular philosophy but it would not sit well with a true classical or Charlotte Mason method)

Any purist from each of these philosophies would probably say I'm not actually using that method at all because it's not complete, so maybe the only classification I can truly claim is "eclectic".  They all have their benefits, so it's hard to choose one that is 'best' for us.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Dig, Sow, Grow!

Today, the kids started a 12 week, bi-weekly homeschool class at a farm that will give them hands-on experience and learning about growing plants. Today was our first day, and they each took home a little tomato plant in a mini-greenhouse made from a soda bottle. They also started seeds to grow in the farm's greenhouse, and eventually, they will get to plant vegetables in their own little plot of land and tend it and harvest it, and make some food with harvest, along the way learning about soil nutrients, photosynthesis, insects(good and bad), etc. I'm so excited, because I want to learn too, for the sake of our garden, that we have been trying to establish for years.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Weekly Wrap-up: New Beginnings - Zoology and Early American History

This week was our first official week of homeschooling Bunny.  I tried a schedule that was much more defined, in order to try to keep some semblance of organization through the day:
  • Bible
  • Math
  • Language Arts
  • Science or  History (sometimes both)
  • Chinese during lunch
  • Free time in the afternoon to explore their own interests
I'm doing most of it together, except for Math and Language Arts, except for this brief moment when they both worked on LA together:

So not only was it a new beginning in terms of Bunny being homeschooled, we also started new units for Science and Social Studies


We began using Sassafras Science Adventures: Zoology with Animal Classification and African Grasslands .  We've just been doing science based on Monkey's interests for the past year, but with both kids, I wanted to try to do something they would both be interested in- Animals! I found some online games that covered animal classification:
We read the book "Do Cats Have Family Trees?" to explore the different classification categories of animals and watched a Brain Pop video.

We learned about Lions and Cheetahs in the second chapter of the Sassafras Science Adventures. This curriculum is a different approach to science-using a story to impart the facts, and it's alot less dry than reading a textbook with animal facts. The story is 2 kids who are staying with their eccentric Uncle for the summer, and this uncle has a cool invention that allows them to go on an invisible zipline to locations around the world, where they will encounter and learn about all kinds of animals. We will supplement with short books about the animals from the library and DK's Encyclopedia of Animals to learn more facts about each animal.


I had started with Ancient History a few months ago with Monkey, but it wasn't quite 'exciting' and didn't seem to capture the kids' interest (I was including Bunny after school when we did History), just felt very forced and unnatural. Maybe it was just too distant to feel relevant? I was also concerned about ancient practices being a little too intense for Bunny (sacrifices, mummies, etc.) so I decided to just do a different period of history now that Bunny is home-Explorers/American History. I love the idea of using living books so I got the, TruthQuest History Early American History for Young Students I, which is a very open-ended guide of History, with no planned schedule, just a list of great living books, and a commentary, and we are free to explore those periods of history. I will supplement with videos and a timeline. (In the meantime, I've also discovered Notgrass's America the Beautiful, which I think I will add to this, even though this is a textbook and I prefer to use living books.  Notgrass's textbook looks great and covers daily life, biographies, American landmarks, and a biblical worldview when looking at history, but also as a literature component corresponding to the periods in history).

So we started with the Vikings and Leif Ericsson(or Erikson, Ericson, Eriksson) as the first to 'discover' America, reading:
We also watched the Crash Course video on Vikings. The kids love the Crash Course videos, but most of it goes over their heads. They might catch a brief overview and general idea of a topic, but they talk so fast and cover so much, and make jokes that are beyond the kids, so I don't think they learn that much from them, but they love to watch them.

But, after this first week with both kids and also doing a planned science and history unit, we've decided to just focus on one at a time. We'll do Science only (zoology) next week (and incidental history, if we come across it in our reading or everyday life), and at some point we'll switch to History (explorers) again (and do incidental science based on interest)

This post is linked up with Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Teaching Two Very Different Kids

Yesterday was our first day homeschooling Bunny and I'm so glad to say it went pretty smoothly! I had laid out the daily schedule and their weekly assignments ahead of time, with both kids doing Bible, science,  history and Chinese together, but math and language arts separately, all by lunchtime. I've always known the kids had very different personalities, but it was especially clear as they went through their day yesterday.

With Monkey, a non-sequential thinker, he never liked schedules or checklists. He liked to just go with what he felt like each day, often dragging his feet so that the work spread out all day with very little free time.  Bunny, though, is very orderly and likes to check things off her list and get them done so she can have lots of free time. Because I don't want to be at the mercy of them needing help randomly throughout the day while I'm working, we are trying a more structured schedule, starting at 8:30am. When it was just Monkey at home, some days he wouldn't even be up at 8:30, or even if he was, he putzed  around until 10-11 before starting on his work, and the work would be spread out all day. Bunny, however, at 8:32 was chastising Monkey about "making us late for Bible time".

So we got off to a good start-I worked with Bunny on math while Monkey worked on Language arts independently. Right away I could feel the difference. Bunny set up a spot on her clear desk for homeschooling. She wants to sit in a chair and have a shelf, in her room. Monkey has always resisted desk work and insists on being in the same floor, if not the same room as me. He rolls on the ground and lounges on the couch and if he's at a table, he gets up over and over, (Over the past year though, I've begun to insist that he does written work at a table, rather than on lounging on the ground, because he's so easily distracted, but he can stand, not sit if he's at a table, as long as he has a firm surface to write on).  Monkey picks up math concepts really fast, I barely have to teach him. My work with him is helping him to be careful and not sloppy with his arithmetic, keeping his work organized and not scribbled illegibly all over the page, and negotiating how many problems on the page to do. Bunny, on the other hand, took some explanation to get her to understand how to do the math (multiplying 2 digits by 1 digit), and she got frustrated because she didn't get it. After she understood, I asked her to do the practice problems but out of habit, I said she didn't have to do them all (Monkey hates needless repetition of the same type of problem). She proceeded to write out all the problems neatly and orderly on a separate piece of paper and decided to do ALL the problems! 9 problems took her maybe 3 lines of paper. This would've taken an entire sheet of paper for Monkey, and probably taken him 3 times as long (not from not understanding, but just from dawdling).

We then switched so Bunny did Language Arts while Monkey did math. There are 5 days of lessons, and Monkey usually would do just 1 day at a time, even though I've told him he can go ahead and do more, and have less work to do later in the week. Bunny finished 3 days worth in the time it took Monkey to go to the bathroom! She would've done more if I hadn't told her to save some for later this week. That NEVER happened with Monkey.

We moved on to science - Animal Classification. Because Bunny doesn't like to read non-fiction, I'm planning on reading aloud a lot. Monkey used to read almost all his social studies and science independently. So for now, I guess I'll just read aloud to both of them.  That's going to be a change for me to get used to...more time spent hands-on for  science and social studies.

That's all we did for the core academic subjects yesterday. Later she worked on her nature journal, which she decided on her own that she would like to do as her own personal project, and started last week. We had gone out and chosen a special book for her to write her observations in. This was one of the things she was looking forward to most about homeschooling so I hope it will be a great learning experience as she observes the changes of spring.

With the new schedule, they both had a lot of free time in the afternoon, while I worked. Bunny bicycled and played outside, played with the bunnies and worked on some of the Skrafty Minecraft Easter lesson from last week. Monkey built a couch cushion fort and played Big Brain Academy on the Wii. (Normally I restrict screen time until 4:30pm, but he convinced me this was 'educational'). Overall, it was a pretty good first day!

I think it will be interesting to teach two such widely different personalities. In some ways, Bunny will be easier and in some ways harder. She is the one who will get frustrated really easily if she can't understand something, and will take longer to understand math and science concepts, but she loves to write and does well with grammar, spelling, etc. Monkey is more difficult in getting him to do work, but he understands things faster, but getting him to write, and to write with correct grammar/spelling, is a LOT of work.  I think it's the whole right brained vs. left brained thing.  I think having the more structured schedule will be better for all of us, even though Monkey may fight it at first and maybe teaching the science and social studies more hands-on will also benefit them both too.

I really don't want to do 2 separate routines, so we're combining as much as we can, but I'm going to try to make allowances for their different learning styles and personalities, within the topics we're learning.

For Bunny, more:
  • worksheets
  • straight math problems
  • writing projects
  • historical fiction reading
  • art
  • sounding out spelling words and breaking words into parts
For Monkey, more:
  • non-fiction reading
  • living math
  • word problems
  • building projects
  • computer projects 
  • visualizing spelling words
Things I think will work for both of them are reading aloud, videos, map work, timelines, free writing, Latin/Greek roots, and Minecraft projects. 

There's so many other homeschoolers who have many, many more kids, and I wonder how they keep up with all their different ages, learning styles, and personalities!

Monday, April 6, 2015

A Love of Reading

I didn't love reading as I was growing up. There were a few series I read as a child, but it wasn't something that gave me that much enjoyment. School-assigned books were tortuous for me. I skimmed them, barely understood them, and got by enough to pass the tests. But as an adult, just in the past 2-3 years, I've discovered how much I LOVE reading! I really think I probably read a total of only maybe 10 books for pleasure from ages of 18-38. I finally had some time to read in the past couple of years, and I've been re-reading old books, reading 'classics' for the first time, reading non-fiction and fiction, and I usually have 3-5 books I'm reading at a time these days (usually it's a mix of a kid book that I'm trying to evaluate, a parenting/inspirational book, a fiction book for myself, a non-fiction book for myself,and often a read-aloud with my kids).

I look back and wonder, why did I not read for so many years of my life (and only read what I was assigned back in my school days) and I wonder, how can I nurture a love of reading in my own kids?

Bunny is an avid reader, but Monkey is not. He'll read comics or 'goofy kid' books like the My Weird School series or Captain Underpants, but that's hardly great literature. I want them to experience the vast assortment of worlds they can escape to through books. I want them to soak in fascinating facts about the world around them! I want them to see other points of view and people in different circumstances, to see beyond their own world.

We started reading to our kids when they were babies. Even though they didn't understand anything, we read to them. Every night, before bed, we read something after our Bible reading and prayers. The would ask for the same books, over and over. As they got older, we continued to read to them, adding in more complex books, beyond what they could read on their own, and now we give them 30 minutes to read on their own each night before bed (assuming it's not an especially late night for some reason). Sometimes we still read aloud, as reading aloud is one of our favorite family pastimes.  I love that they can hear stories that are beyond their reading level, and I think it motivates them to improve their reading so they can read these more advanced books.

One great thing about homeschooling is we can fill our learning with living books, not dry textbooks. If they don't seem too interested at first with the books assigned for the week, I read them out loud, and usually it's enough to pique their interest and they will continue reading the rest on their own.  I think maybe if I had learned through living books, maybe I wouldn't have hated reading so much as a kid!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Weekly Wrap-up: 2 Kids Home Now

Bunny's last day of public school was last Friday. She was so excited when she came home from her last day of school, cheering "I'm homeschooled now!!" and "I can't believe it!"  This week would have been her Spring Break, so I thought we should give ourselves a week to adjust, and she could still have her week off from "school" that she would have had if she stayed in school.

I've been both nervous and excited about Bunny being homeschooled. I've thought about how to schedule time to teach individually vs. together, what subject areas to cover that would interest them both, how to incorporate my work hours, how to keep them from bickering, etc. I'm glad we had this week to transition to just being together for so many more hours of the day. I wish I could say it all went smoothly, but she ended up having tantrums 4 out of the 5 weekdays this week.

So what did the kids do this week? 

We started each day with a Bible devotional on Jesus' crucifixion from "Old Story New" 10-Minute Family Devotional book.

On the Skrafty Minecraft  server, we found they were offering a free Holy Week course. We've never tried a Skrafty Minecraft course, but since it was free, the kids thought it would be fun to try it. There were Lessons for Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, good Friday, and Resurrection Day. Each lesson had a Minecraft building project, and they had a great time (albeit, argument-prone) building the Palm Sunday scene and the Upper Room, and the 3 crosses. With them both sharing one account, the arguments were many! They enjoyed it though, so we may look into paid lessons in the future.

We also had our first day of co-op! It's nice to connect with a homeschool group finally! I hadn't pursued joining a co-op the first year because Monkey is happy being at home and doesn't really seek new friendships, but with Bunny home now, I knew she (being an extrovert) would need friends and regular contact with other kids her age. The co-op meets twice a month, which works out nicely because then I don't have to take as much time off work. I was thankful to meet some other local homeschooling moms and they were all very welcoming and friendly. The co-op has different subjects per trimester, and this trimester is music, plus they always have an hour of gym. I think it will be a nice addition to our routine.

We've also started doing a rotation of having each child taking turns to help me with the dinner prep. Surprisingly, it's working out pretty well! This week, it involved mostly chopping vegetables and mixing batter, but as they get more familiar with the kitchen duties, I hope we'll be able to add some cooking.

One of the nice things about having Bunny out of school now, is more time for family video time! Our kids don't watch much of anything usually(no TV, rarely any movies), and when there is something we want to watch, we always wanted both kids to be able to watch together, and with Bunny in school, plus homework time and activity time, we didn't have much time for movies. But this week we watched "Mary Poppins" and a "Brain Games" episode on Attention/Multitasking. They loved both!

Besides all that, Bunny read a LOT:
  • "Princess Sonora and the Long Sleep" (Gail Carson Levine)
  • "Where the Mountain Meets the Moon" (Grace Lin)
  • An "Encyclopedia Brown" book (Donald Sobol)-don't remember which one she read
  • "Mary Poppins" (P.L. Travers)
Monkey read 2 comic books of a Japanese cartoon character called "Hamtaro" and has been listening to Fellowship of the Ring read aloud by Dad. He's not much of a reader and definitely prefers being read to. I also began reading "The Jungle Book" to them out loud, as a precursor to our Zoology science unit that we will start next week. 

Overall, a pretty good week, and I think maybe we will try to incorporate an unschooling week every month or so. Every other week (my original idea from a few weeks ago) seems a bit too much, but I do love that they actually do end up learning things(we did a bit of math when I had a %-off coupon, we addressed some envelopes for letters going out, we planted some flower and vegetable seeds), while I get a break from planning.

This post is linked up with Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers and Hip, Homeschool Moms