Showing posts with label homeschool curriculum. Show all posts
Showing posts with label homeschool curriculum. Show all posts

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Making Our Own Soap

I often contemplate whether or not our homeschooling approach is good.  We do a mix of online curriculum, reading classic books, and hands-on activities, not to mention the outside classes they have in art, science, martial arts and dancing.  I recently tried to decide which hands-on activities are most valuable.  It struck me that we should try to make as many of the things we use as possible - if not on an ongoing basis, at least once or twice to get a sense of what's involved.

Soap is something that I hadn't though about too much except I was pretty sure that what we were buying in the store wasn't all that healthy.  Once I researched it, however, I found out that so many academic subjects could be covered in making soap so there is value across age groups.  There's safety, chemistry, math, social studies, art, reading, and research skills.

Safety is very important since you are handling lye.  Glasses and gloves must be used.  I suit up the kids in sunglasses that wrap around with good coverage and gloves.  I also don't have them directly handle the lye.

Chemistry is obviously covered, but the real nuts and bolts of the reactions are probably better for older age groups though.  Still, my kids get a sense of it by measuring the temperature of lye and water mixture (with a non-touching thermometer) and seeing how much heat is given of when the two combine.

Math is well covered.  I have them add up the oil amounts so we know what number we are weighing to on the scale.  They weigh the oils and take temperatures.  They help me use an online calculator to determine how much lye and water is needed for the type of oil.  There is also cutting the soap trying to get as even measurements as possible and weighing the bars once they are cut.

Social studies is loosely covered since I have explained that mixing oils and lye is the traditional way of making soap back into history.  There is also the economics of selling some of the soap online and to friends and acquaintances. 

Art is somewhat involved because one can get creative with coloring and design.  Although we prefer natural soaps we stay away from too much in the way of color.  However, it is interesting to see how appearance is affected by the ingredients.  We may experiment with color at some point providing it is from natural sources.

Reading is obvious since we need to read recipes.  Although many recipes we learn by watching videos.

This brings me to one of the best thing - research skills.  We learned a great deal from youtube and doing internet searches so the kids got a sense of how to take charge and learn something independently without only relying on formal education.  It also strikes me that youtube, on some respects, is like John Holt's vision for education where there are no schools, but people finding each other and teaching what they know.  This happens when an expert puts up a good video and people like us find them and can replicate what they are doing with no classroom required.  The information is free and available.

On a related note, we did make our own dry laundry detergent.  I am not sure what we will do next in the way of things we use.  What items have you made as a homeschool project that you were able to use?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Teaching Time Managment

As part of our homeschooling, I have a list of classic children's books sorted in precise grade level order (2.1, 2.2, etc.) that I am having the kids read in addition to their Time4Learning, outside activities, and impromptu play and experiments.  Sometimes, it is hard to get T to sit down and read because there are so many things he wants to do.  I began to push bringing his books with us to activities.  Since we ride the NFTA buses to go places there is usually extra time waiting for a bus and extra time when we get somewhere early because the bus times aren't always precise for the desired arrival time.  There is also the time waiting for a bus to come home.

He fought me at first, but when he realized that he was getting almost all his reading done during time that would otherwise be wasted, he got much better about it.  He now sees that he has more time at home to play and do other things.  Hopefully, he will begin to appreciate how important time management is.  I think this is a pretty good way to teach it especially because without going to school there is still a tremendous amount of free time and this just increases it.  When I was in school learning time management wasn't the difference between free time and more free time, but no free time and a little free time.  It was hard to see the point when I was so overloaded.  Only time will tell if the time management sticks, but we'll wait and see.  I certainly think learning it in the context of more choices is better than the way I learned it where there was more of a punishment element in not having all my assignments ready.  Again, we'll have to see how it works long term.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Kid (and Winter) Prompted Science Experiments

Walking down the sidewalks in Buffalo, I can't help but complain about the way people don't shovel.  I know my neighbors hate how I am last minute with my lawn in the summer, but when it comes to shoveling, I am out there quick and regularly scraping down to the concrete.  I don't believe in salt because of the environment.  If you scrape it right away and wait for the sun to come out (even the limited Buffalo winter sun), it is all you need.  When my kids encountered sidewalks that were poorly shoveled but covered with salt, I want off about this.  Surprise, Surprise!  Anyway, after I shut up, they asked me why salt is put on ice.

It then turned into a great basic science experiment.  We put two plastic yogurt cups of water in the freezer to freeze.  Then we took them out and put lots of salt, a big layer, on one of them.  I tried to explain that the one without salt was the control one and the other was the experimental one, but I am not sure they will remember.

We then placed them back in the freezer.  Over the next several days, we observed the one with the salt melt despite being in the freezer. 

Of course, they had to taste the salt water to see that it wasn't plain water.  That part was their idea, not mine, but since it was plain old salt, it didn't hurt them. 

The best part of the whole thing is that some of our regular activities prompted this which made it relevant.  Over the holidays, I know I was starting to worry about not being creative enough with coming up with experiments.  After this, I started to worry less.

I highly recommend this experiment, mainly because it is very easy and not too much work, but also because it is so relevant this time of year.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Homeschooling: The Occasional Problem with Self-Paced Learning

This week I couldn't help but think about how nice it is to stop and smell the flowers.  C loves to stop and look at flowers and butterflies and rocks and ants and, well, everything.  It's great to have the freedom to explore what is around us, an amazing amount of nature for our city environment.  I don't remember doing this as much when I was a child.  I probably did when I was four and half, and just don't remember.  However, by the time I was in school full days at six and a half, there just wasn't the time.  We had homework, places to be, and strict bedtimes.  We played in the neighborhood after school with the other kids, but by that time of day, our brains were fried and the energy for natural learning was lower.  It seems we destroyed ant hills more than we watched them.

I am getting better at letting their interests dictate our activities, but I am far from perfect.  When it comes to letting them learn at their own pace with the curriculum we use, however, I always felt like we were on the right track.  First of all, we only spend about an hour a day on it or less.  Second, they can repeat any sections or activities that they have trouble with.  Third, they can work ahead whenever they want.  Finally, my kids happen to be ahead of their peers at this point.  This could always change of course, but it does give me some added comfort right now.

Unfortunately, C is too far ahead in math.  She finished kindergarten, but isn't ready for first grade math at all.  There is a big jump between two levels, at least in math.  You would think that this wouldn't be too much of a problem because we could either take a break or she could repeat some of the kindergarten activities.  However, since I have always let them go ahead when they finish something, she wants to proceed.  We have done the first lesson multiple times, and I added some customized activities with Mom in between.  Over time, the pace will moderate with adding these hands-on activities and slowing down by repeating, but will she get frustrated in the meantime?  Will I get frustrated at designing extra activities that we might not have needed if she tried it older?  Only time will tell. 

Has this happened to you?  How did you handle it?  How did it turn out?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Insourcing: Teaching Your Strong Areas Yourself

While it isn't unusual in homeschooling to teach most things, I recently wrote Outsourcing My Teaching Weaknesses.  Unlike many homeschooling parents, I don't do arts and crafts too often relying on the library for this quite a bit.  Other homeschooling parents outsource too, but much of the discussions I have had related to physical education.  They have their kids participate on community sports teams for physical education. 

In this case, I have decided to insource.  While not a trained swim instructor or life guard, I am an avid lap swimmer and used to swim competitively.  Now with my fibro, it is the only exercise I can still do rigorously.  Rather than sign my kids up for a set of nine or ten lessons, I am taking them swimming with me on a pretty regular basis.  I do my laps while they count down for me (a good math lesson), then they come in to play and work on skills.  I am following Infaquatics: Teaching Kids to Swim.  It is quite an old book, but the step by step method seems like it will be successful.  We just started and T and C are already pretty comfortable holding their breath and going underwater.  Now we are working on the next step: floating.

Since I have to go to the pool anyway (I will stiffen up if I don't swim and stretch), it isn't adding too much time to bring them with me when I go.  For most people who are avid swimmers, this can be done with no problem.  With the significant amount of rest I need, I did need to make some sleep schedule changes to not get too tired at the wrong time of day, but it is still far easier than dragging them team to team or lesson to lesson or having to do it at the end of the day after school.

Tell me about unusual areas that you insource.  I would love to hear about all the different approaches!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Outsourcing My Teaching Weaknesses

A couple Saturdays ago we went to the Dr. Seuss birthday event at the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library.  One reason we went is that I am trying to find new library events for the kids who have outgrown the beloved toddler story hours.  It was getting awkward to bring them on a weekday with the two year olds to our local branch.  Even though C is only 4, she is as big as her brother and they were starting to overpower the group by over-participating and sort of jumping in front of the smaller kids.

The other reason I brought them is that the description of the event mentioned arts and crafts.  This was their favorite element of the story hour and one of their favorite activities.  This of course is a weak area for me.  Partially due to my impatient personality and partially due the fibromyalgia, I lack the energy and patience for this.  Despite being a homeschool mom, I don't think I have organized an art project in almost a year.  I have decided to handle this by attending as many library activities as possible where this is covered.

I have done the same thing with speech.  T was very difficult to understand.  I got him evaluated at Buffalo Public Schools and, despite his pretty high IQ, he was deemed to have a moderate to severe delay in pronunciation.  I was not as intimidated with the speech as I am with art, so at first I tried to find resources to do homeschool speech.  There was some information available, but nothing that I felt confident in using, at least for the articulation part.  I let the CSE place him at a school nearby just for speech.  Despite warnings from other homeschool parents that it would be a waste of time and that he would outgrow the speech delay anyway, the placement seems to have been pretty successful.  T is doing much better with pronunciation thanks to the very good speech teacher.  I am sure that part of the success does have to do with outgrowing it, but not all of it or even most of it.  Additionally, he does get to experience a small bit of conventional schooling allowing him to learn with other kids while not being couped up in the full-time job that school is for conventional students.

This is another advantage of homeschooling.  In public education and government in general, "outsourcing" is a sort of dirty word usually having to do with union contracts.  In homeschooling, though, you can customize and tailor the program to each child.  I am confident in my ability to guide my children in learning their core curriculum, reading, and field trips at their own pace, but for some of the more labor intensive areas or areas where I lack skill, I can turn to better resources.  I hope that understanding this will give more parents the confidence to homeschool.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Doing Math Online With Classic Offline Tools

T was working on his math today on Time4Learning when he started having some difficulty.  Since he has gotten so far ahead for his age, it isn't a surprise.  Anyway, he was working on some addition and subtraction that had some nuances.  After I talked to him about how to approach the problems I saw him revert to his hands as a study aid.  With numbers under 10 there is no harm, but now that these types of problems are regularly featuring numbers up to 15 I had to think fast.  Then I remembered the nuns in catholic school never let us use our fingers to count.  We drew sticks and crossed out or added whatever the problem called for.

I am glad that I have been saving used envelopes and receipts as scrap paper.  It looks like we may be in a new phase with math where it will definitely come in handy.  He seemed to do better after he got confident with this technique.

By the way, I also use the back of junk mail to print out worksheets.  Since I rely on the score reports for records and don't save the worksheets after I go over them with him, it is fine.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Learning Spanish in Homeschool

While I seemed to excel in other subjects throughout my schooling, learning languages was difficult.  I learned a small amount of French in elementary school, Latin in high school, and Spanish in college.  Little if any of it stuck in those traditional environments.  My husband was a little more successful with Spanish, but not enough where he can claim to be bilingual and do better in the job market or anything.

We hope that with the extra flexibility of homeschooling that our kids can spend more time on Spanish while learning at their own pace.  Of course, even though we are trying to learn with them, it isn't the same as speaking to native speakers or even going to a well run class in Spanish.  At some appropriate point, we are going to need to find some sort of class or environment to help with this, but in the meantime, we are working on exposure to the language.

So far, until they can read and do a more sophisticated online course or go to a real class with native speakers (maybe in a couple of years), we play Spanish Bingo or have them watch Kids Love Spanish.  We have had them watch many different sets, but this seems to be the favorite.

Spanish is important for several reasons.  First of all, in an urban environment it is clearly an important language.  When we ride the bus, many of the signs are in English and Spanish indicating the prevalence of people speaking Spanish.  Also, the hispanic population is growing at a faster rate than other groups in the United States so that Spanish will continue to be of value in the job market.

That said, I am not sure the need to speak Spanish will proportionately boom even though it will be pretty important.  Hispanics are one of the newest immigrant groups and are likely in another generation or two to blend in more language wise.  Just as my great-grandparents spoke fluent Italian (Sicilian dialect with one great-grandmother refusing to learn English only going to Italian stores in her neighborhood), my Dad, just two generations later, doesn't speak any Italian.  Ironically, my sister now is learning it to travel to Italy where my brother-in-law has dual citizenship.  Funny how things end up.  Anyway, we are going to try to emphasize learning Spanish as much as we can.  Any suggestions would be helpful!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Homework Lie, Modern Child Labor

At first, I wasn't going to read this book because we homeschool and don't deal with traditional homework:

However, since most of my childhood and teenage years were consumed by homework to the point that college was more of a break, I was drawn to it.  The book is well written and hard to put down, even though it is a research type book.  It pretty successfully debunks the mainstream ideas about homework showing that there really are not compelling studies for it.  Often times, the researchers defaulted back to the myths despite no research evidence.

It was hard not to get angry about all the wasted time in my life on homework.  According to the book, I was likely to be just as successful without it and probably healthier and less stressed since I would have had more free time and more sleep.  It is scary that no one challenged it including myself.  I suppose I could have gotten lazier like some of my peers and not been so good about it, but since it was assigned, being the conformist that I was, felt inclined to push myself.  I kept pushing until I completed graduate school and further into my career until, due to health, I was forced to slow down.  Crash!  Homework can't be blamed completely.  My mother has similar health issues so there seems to be some genetic predisposition.  Still, hers set it at about age 50 and mine by age 30.  She had a lot of homework too, from the same catholic schools, but not as many of the career and graduate school stresses in her twenties, not getting her masters degree until her forties.  Perhaps after all those years of stress, when we heaped full-time work and graduate school onto them, it got to the tipping point with the genetics.  Who knows? But worth contemplating when I think about my own daughter, C.

Should I blame my parents?  In the 1980s, there was not anywhere near as much literature challenging traditional school so I can be more sympathetic to going with the flow back then than would probably be appropriate now.  Also, even though homeschooling was legal, without the internet, resources were quite scarce more challenging to come by.  Given this extremely high likelihood of going with the traditional school grain, my parents were far better than most.  While most parents kept their money for new cars and vacations, my parents sent me to the best catholic schools money could buy in our area.  When most parents thought education was so unimportant that they pulled kids out of school to go to Disney, mine had a whole family schedule: daily, weekly, and yearly that put the focus on school.  Education was the top priority even though it was manifested in the misguided idea that everything about school was good for us.

Now that I am grown up with my own kids, like my parents, education will still be important to the point that I am outside of the mainstream in homeschooling despite the still significant peer pressure to use conventional schools.  "School", however, will not be the priority.  Conventional school takes too much time from the family robbing it of the true education, health, emotional, and spiritual needs.  While I have said before that our homeschooling doesn't have anything to do with religion, we do have more time to read the Bible and make it to Church more consistently because we homeschool.  My kids can sleep when they need to get sick less than their peers despite lots of exposure to germs in parks, libraries, museums, and buses.  Instead of my husband struggling to help them with "homework" when he gets home, he has the joy of playing educational board games with T & C and reading with them, low stress family time.

While I enjoyed the book, it may be more important to recommend it to our traditional school parent peers!  Maybe it will at least get people to change the debate from how much to whether or not to assign homework or even use conventional school.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Hands-On Science

Friday we decided to do an experiment from:

We did the Falling Orange one on inertia.  The kids had a blast as you can see from the short clip below:

They are beginning to beg to do experiments more often.  We are hoping to accommodate as much as possible an keep the interest in it high.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Outcomes for Urban Unschoolers

I very much like this blog post (and blog):

City Kids Homeschooling

See it and my response by clicking on the link above.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Defensive Testing

It seems that homeschoolers are often homeschooling because they don't like that schools seem to "teach to the test" or think that tests are not a good measurement of how well a child is educated.  What about testing as a defensive measure?  In New York State, standardized tests must be given every other year starting in 4th grade, but not all states require them.  When T finished kindergarten before he turned 5 I thought that there would be many people, maybe at the school district, but more likely naysaying extended family members or acquaintances who would question whether he really learned what he was supposed to learn by that age without going to school.  I decided to take a chance on it and give him the California Achievement Test for kindergarten thinking that, by the standards of those who believe in conventional school, it would prove that he really did well enough in kindergarten to proceed.  Fortunately, he scored 60 percentile or above on everything.  While I don't believe that standardized tests are a great measure of acheivement, it feels like one more piece of evidence that we are on the right track.  What do you think about defensive standarized testing?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Board Games with the Grandparents

You just can't beat them as an educational activity, board games: reading or math many times, principles like good sportsmanship, and socialization, yes socialization.  Being able to get along with people of all ages, including the older adults like their grandparents.  It is a great way to learn.  Since I hadn't played Chutes and Ladders in many years, I forgot how great it is for math with all the spaces marked with a number 1-100.  By advancing through the board, kids get in the habit of seeing what happens to the larger numbers as they add numbers between 1 and 6.

Board games are a great, simple, low cost, low stress winter activity that can reinforce valuable skills and provide for hours of fun.  In our modern times of overscheduled children, it is something that warrants rediscovery.  Homeschooling can give you the time to use them more often and enjoy family time too.  Any way that we can teach our kids with less stress and more fun is a way to reinforce lifelong learning!  How often do you play board games with your kids?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Getting Ahead in Math by Taking Your Time

One of the great luxuries in homeschool is being able to take your time on lessons that are difficult and being able to move more quickly through lessons that are easier.  Math is an area where this seems especially important.  Some concepts come more easily than others.  Sometimes kids just need the extra time and freedom to work their own examples for true understanding.  T spent about an hour and a half playing with pennies to figure out odd and even while he was doing a worksheet from Time4Learning.  While it felt like a long time, by the end of this largely self-directed exercise, it was apparent that he really got it.

This happened countless times in math in the past year.  By stopping to get a full understanding, he could move ahead with confidence.  He is working ahead on first grade math, despite just turning 5 recently.  The same has been true for C.  She is way ahead of her peers progressing through kindergarten, slowing down when necessary and speeding back up when possible.  Conventional school just doesn't have this advantage, no matter how good the teacher.  We can all remember times when we were in school when we needed more time to learn something and other times when something was easy and we were bored.

Only time will tell if the pace of T and C will get slower or faster, but either way it will be their choice!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

How to homeschool?

While we knew at the beginning that homeschooling is more efficient and that we didn’t need to spend the whole day at the dining room table, we still fell into the trap of trying to design highly structured activities around the alphabet, numbers, and nursery rhymes. At the end of the first week, Liz was ready to call it quits and Tom was not far behind. After all, the whole idea behind homeschooling was giving the kids more of a chance to be kids. It was also too stressful for Liz who felt the increased family time and flexibility of homeschooling was supposed to keep our stress level low and well-being high.

Then we began our quest for a curriculum that the kids could enjoy at their own pace that wouldn’t wear us out. At the same time, we felt a pull towards the freedom of unschooling after reading many homeschooling books from the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library. It just felt like unschooling took real confidence and courage. This was not us as new homeschoolers! So, we decided to look for a curriculum to use as a base so that we could be sure we covered the core material that they should know. The rest of the time would be unschooling. We also had two years to get a handle on what we were doing before compulsory school age became an issue.

We began using Time4Learning, an online curriculum, as our base curriculum. Overall, it fits us, but as the year went on we still tried adding other things and oscillated between the online lessons only and adding so much that we were beginning to get overwhelmed again Each element that we added was valuable: some classic picture books, non-fiction books, handwriting, workbooks, other websites, Spanish DVDs and several field trips. Unfortunately, sometimes we tried doing all the elements in one day and were back in the same predicament. Needless to day the right balance was and continues to be a struggle!