What We’re Reading: Thanksgiving Week

We’ve been taking a bit of a history jaunt the past week, veering away from the very interesting-looking chapter on “The Bottom of the World” in our history spine to give homage to the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. I was fortunate to find several good books at the library:

The story of the first Thankgiving told from the prospective of Squanto, who is incredibly important, but usually sidelined. I think I always thought as a child that he somehow just magically knew how to speak English! I appreciating reading the context of what has going on with the Native American nations as the first English settlers were arriving.
This story chronicles s child’s perspective of making the journey across the Atlantic on the Mayflower
After reading so many more accurate historical descriptions, this one stood out as a more romanticized picture of the pilgrims. It was interesting to contrast it with the other more grim representations. The artwork really is lovely though, and makes for a nice picture study. 
And to counterbalance the romanticized view, a depressing one! 
I will warn you at least, lots of people die bluntly in this book. But there are lots of engaging illustrations and the author certainly does not shy away from presenting the suffering that the pilgrims faced. My sensitive daughter looked a bit ill. But its true that its difficult to appreciate how relieved they were at the time of the first Thanksgiving without understand the difficulty they had already undergone.
I found this a really interesting modern tie in – what would a modern day pilgrim look like? Who today is looking for religious or political freedom? How might the beginnings of our own country change they way that we should respond to such people?
I’m thankful my library has done such a nice job curating their book selections. ūüôā
Hopefully we will get to some art projects and such…


5 (Possibly Unexpected) Things I Use Everyday to Homeschool

Its would come at no¬†surprise¬†that we use lots of living books and ¬†lots of art supplies in our day to day home learning adventure. But here are a few a little more off the beaten path resources that I’ve come to rely upon…

1) Split page journals


These are like regular notebooks or composition books, but provide a large space for drawing.
I started using them years ago for my oldest daughter’s copy work, since she loves drawing and could be compelled to do just about anything if drawing was also involved. Since then we have begun to use the format for nearly every subject – each kid has history, science, and copy work notebooks. I like the narrow ruled Bienfang note sketch books for science and history notebooks (more room to draw) and the Mead primary journals for copy work (more explicit handwriting guides). After reading our daily selections in history and science and hearing narrations, I have them record a response to the day’s reading in their notebooks. Often this is just a picture with a sentence (or few, depending on their age). This solved the reporting ¬†issue I had with my Charlotte Mason approach – I have provide work samples for subjects that the primary work comes from reading and narration, which is a bit tricky to show. Their notebooks provide an easy, low key way to show what we are doing, and gives my art loving kids a creative outlet built into their days.I also find that if we don’t do official art that week, I still have plenty of artwork to show, and its nice to have everything contained in one space. I also love the somewhat Waldorf element it lends to their work – they are in a way creating their own textbooks.

2) Primary Handwriting Dry Erase Boards

Like this. I use it everyday for writing out passages that we do for copywork. The handwriting guide style helps me make sure I’m writing out in (nearly) perfect form, and is easy to reuse everyday. I do like to use wet erase instead of dry erase markers though, since with dry erase my careful printing can come off on little misplaced fingers.I use a second board to write out weekly spelling words to copy out daily, or various other passages we might be memorizing and copying.

3)  Singapore Math Videos from Khan Academy

My oldest is using (among other things) Singapore Math 3a right now, and I was thrilled to find that Khan Academy has a series of explanation videos for it. Although the videos don’t exactly match up to the workbook sequence (or maybe they do in a way I haven’t quite deciphered), they are proving useful, and are free! I hope they continue to add on for more of the series.

4) Play Away Books

These are mp3 player pre-loaded with books and extremely easy to use. Even my 4 year old can work them with a little help. Although I use this more for quiet time entertainment than school work, I have found a few that I could use as a lazy (or exhausted or vocal-resting) mom’s helpers for our daily read aloud novels. A few I’ve gotten I’ve used for school work from the library have been The Princess and the Goblin, The Jungle Book, and The Hobbit. Even though I also frequently check out traditional books on cd, these just make things easier, as they only require a set of headphones for individual listening. They would be too expensive for me to buy individually, but if your library doesn’t offer these, definitely suggest them to your librarians!

4) Home Science Adventures Kits

Microscope Explorations Unit

My husband (the physics professor) is extremely into hands-on science activities, to a point where I was overwhelmed with my lack of ability to fit in enough said hands on activities to meet his or my science-devouring children’t expectations. My hands, or really my brain, is pretty exhausted after our everyday work, and beyond a weekly¬†experiment¬†(which is more than a lot of people do, right?!?!) I had a hard time providing enough. These kits have come to the rescue! They include really well written guiding worksheets to follow as well as everything you need to do the¬†experiments¬† The best thing (aside from never having to hunt for a length of wire or rubber ball) is that they are (at least for my 6 and 8 year old) able to be done independently. That being the case, they are easy to use as a child supervised science exploration activity. I.e, it can be done with mom in a hammock, reading. Score! Of course you could also probably use it as your main science curriculum – there’s lots to do and¬†plenty¬†of opportunity for living book¬†supplementation.

5) A Trampoline

Seriously. Studies have shown that children sitting still for more than 10 minutes start to¬†lose learning capacity. So an easy, centrally located activity-generator is a perfect solution. A mini-trampoline doesn’t take up a ton of space, but gets out a ton of energy. We do of course have to have strict rules for its use: one kid at a time and no hanging on the bar! But we have yet to have anyone injured on it, which for my children is saying something. It amuses me that they treat it like a hamster wheel – hopping on through out the day, bouncing happily for a few minutes and going about their business. I think it helps put them more in control of managing their energy and stimulation levels, which I think is a great step toward independence.

What about you? Any kind of weird standards that you wouldn’t want to homeschool without? I’d love to hear them!

Incorporating Poetry Into Your Home School

Read Alouds

First and easiest step – find yourself a good poetry compilation and use it frequently for read aloud time. I personally love A Child’s Anthology of Poetry, which my husband bought several years ago as a non-picture book read aloud that he could easily read to the kids in short chunks. It has become an invaluable resource for us and really lots of fun for adult reading. The poems are not “children’s poetry” in the sense that they were written with children as the primary audience, but were chosen as poems that will resonate with children but also provide a strong baseline familiarity with the major body of poetic literature. ¬†Its a broad and diverse collection, ¬†appropriate for a range of developmental levels. I most likely wouldn’t read “The Raven” to a five year old for example, but the variety certainly gives a nice scope to the collection. On that note, my husband once read “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” to my oldest daughter at 5 years old, and while I was horrified that she was going to have nightmares, she actually did enjoy it and seemed to comprehend a lot more than I would have expected. ¬†Treat poetry reading as fun reading – please don’t belabor the process by trying to unpack heavy meaning from the poems. Of course it can be fun to wonder out loud what happened in the poem, or are there times when you feel like that poem describes? Just don’t turn what should be light and fun into a lecture at this point. A few other excellent¬†compilations: Favorite Poems of Childhood and The 20th Century Children’s Poetry Treasury.

Copy Work
Oh copy work, you are my favorite “kill two birds with one stone” trick – or in this case three or four birds. Copy work ¬†improves handwriting, spelling, and vocabulary, while also giving children the opportunity to slow down and absorb the words they are writing. I initially ran into the idea of copy work while reading Charlotte Mason’s books on education, and have seen it put to use in a structured way in First Language Lessons for the Well Trained Mind, a book I use heavily for Language Arts. There is really no need to follow a set regime though – right now we are on summer break, which for us is like “homeschool lite” – math facts, reading, read alouds, and a bit of writing and copywork. I just find a good poem and write it out carefully in cursive for my 7 year old (who is ¬†just starting writing script) and have her copy it a few lines a day, or however she would like to do it at her own pace. Often by the time she has copied it, she has a good appreciation for the poem and sometimes has already started to memorize it a bit. Which leads me to…

You don’t have to be Classical or Charlotte Mason inspired to benefit from poetry recitation. Forgive me if I go a little Anne of Green Gables on you, but there is a certain simple joy in being able to call up verse from memory. Young children will even¬†spontaneously¬†memorize their picture books without even trying. All it takes really is re-reading the poem several times over the course of a week and reviewing now and then. When a poem is mastered, we will usually make a big deal out of the child reciting for Dad, and also reciting for the video camera to delight the gradparents (or really more likely make them think that I’m really weird and trying to have little Anne of Green Gables children – but whatever).

Specific Literary Devices / Unit Studies
I taught an introduction to poetry class to kindergardners (yes, kindergartners) in our homeschool co-op a few years back. It was a little nuts, I admit, but I had a great time and the kids seemed to enjoy it and really get into many of the activities I had them do. ¬†In a circle-time set up, I read the poem out loud to the group with enthusiasm, then very briefly discussed one major literary device that the poem used. I touched on vocabulary words that would be especially obscure, ¬†and for some of the poems included a brief picture study to help illustrate the vocabulary. Then of course we did a hands on activity (usually some kind of craft) rounding everything out. For example, we made little¬†styrofoam¬†boats when we studied “There is No Frigate like a Book,” and acted out a cozy house scene complete with having animal crackers and cocoa when reading “Animal Crackers.” You could easily build a poetry unit study at home using the same model. Here are some of the poems I used, and what I emphasized:

The Owl and the Pussycat” Edward Lear – nonsense words

“There Is No Frigate Like a Book” Emily Dickinson – simile

maggie and milly and molly and may” ¬†¬†e.e. cummings – descriptive language

Macavity: The Mystery Cat” T.S. Eliot – narrative poem

Animal Crackers” ¬†Christopher Moreley – rhyming

Something Told the Wild Geese” ¬†Rachel Field – loud / soft

“The Children’s Hour” ¬†Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – point of view

Poet Unit Study
Another idea is to focus on one particular poet. I have not done this in a structured way yet, although we have read several poems by the same author and commented a little (like, “oh, I love the way that Christina Rosetti writes about nature!” – but not much beyond that). At this point in my kids’ education, I prefer to focus on the language of the poems themselves over the author, but I can see focusing on the poets as an interesting tie-in to history, or as an interest-led project. An older student might enjoy reading biographies of poets, and could practice expository writing discussing a particular poet’s style and literary contribution. I think for most students, this can happily wait until middle to upper grades.

I hope this has given you some ideas to easily introduce your students to the delights of poetry! Happy reading!

Homeschooling Without a School Room

Just wanted to share our “school” room – also our kitchen and dining area (not even really a separate dining room). Most of our seat work happens in this space, as well as science projects, art, etc. Everything gets cleared off for lunch and then for dinner.¬†

We keep all our current supplies in half of the pantry. I had to put a lot of  my kitchen stuff in the garage to make space, but its worth it to have everything in one place. 

I use clip boxes from Target to contain most of the pieces – on the top are markers, crayons, math manipulatives. On the bottom are larger clip boxes that hold “centers” for my smaller kids (here my 16 month old was checking out the lacing cards – he just figured out how to unlatch there, which is why the writing implements are now on the top!). The books here are all of ours for the year, not including some supplements from the library. The plastic bins hold each kids work for the day. The baskets up top hold art supplies and learning puzzles/games/other randomness. ¬†On the door I have our calendar and the beginnings of an art gallery.¬†I like everything closing away and instantly feeling uncluttered.¬†

We don’t have space for a school room at the moment, but I like this anyway. Having small children (mine are 6.5, 4.5, 3, and 16 months) I like staying central so I can keep and eye on everyone, and even work on stuff in the kitchen while kids work on schoolwork or projects at the table. I would eventually like to find some good stools to have extra working space for kids at the kitchen island, but at the moment even our small dining table is enough space for them all to work at the same time. ¬†We also read a lot, and do that on the couch in our living room. I think the key to this is having specific places for everything to live when not in use.¬†