Sunday, January 30, 2011

Groundhog Day Unit Study

With February 2 just a shadow's length away, I thought I would share my Groundhog unit that I prepared last year for our homeschool group and held at the community center. I'm holding it again this year, with some new activities mixed in, but here are the highlights from last year.

There are a lot of fun Groundhog day books out there, but the best by far (imo) is "Groundhog Day!" by Gail Gibbons. Accompanying the beautiful illustrations, Gail not only includes the history of the holiday but information about groundhogs and hibernation also. Start off reading this book first so the kids understand the activities more.

Craft: Cut two pieces of brown felt the size of your child's finger and glue them together (instant fast-sticking fabric glue works best), cut small pieces of tan and white felt for the eyes, teeth, hair, etc. and create a groundhog finger puppet. Take a small paper cup and turn it upside down, cut a hole in the bottom of the cup large enough for your child's finger to fit comfortably in and out of. Viola! Your child will love popping their groundhog in and out of ground. (You can decorate the cup to look more like the ground also, by adding green construction paper for grass, brown for the earth etc, but I just used the cups that have flower print on them to simplify.)

Games: Wack-a-mole game and a tunnel for the kids to "burrow" in.

Science Experiments:
Set up a flood light against a wall with large paper taped up. Have each child sit in a chair in front of it while an adult or another child traces their shadowed silhouette. Last year we didn't really have enough darkness to make this as efficient as I would have liked; this year we'll be in my basement so it should work much better.
We also categorized animals that live or sleep below ground and above ground. For each animal that I had printed and cut out, I had the kids guess whether they thought it was an animal that slept above ground or underground. It was fun.

Also printed out lots of coloring pages, a groundhog puzzle, groundhog word searches and scrambles, etc. Here's a great website to find those for free. I found a lot of printable activities at The Official Website of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club.

Snack: Teddy Grahams (bears hibernate!), and juice.

Here are some more I've found for this year, including a great geography activity for Punxsutawney (Link). More free groundhog printables.
Happy Groundhog Day!!!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Peanut Butter Pinecone Birdfeeders

Grab some pinecones, peanut butter and a cup full of bird seed and you've got the ingredients for some good old fashion homemade bird feeders. It's a winter tradition in our house (along with our regular feeders) and these are the months wild birds need the most help finding food. Tie to the branches of nearby trees with string.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Alphatrain floor puzzle, homemade ABC hopscotch and other letter games

My kids enjoy down time as I prep lessons with their alphatrain floor puzzle, I was lucky enough to find ours at a garage sale for next to nothing a couple of years ago. Not only does my toddler get letter and puzzle learning time, but he loves to crawl along the train when it's done shouting, "Choo-chooooo!" :) Even though my kindergartner knows her letters already, she still has fun with it, and because the letters are all scrambled in the box, it makes her think about the order they go in, as well.

Other activities I do to incorporate alphabet practice with a little indoor energy burning in the winter is I'll write the letters of the alphabet on pieces of construction paper and tape them down on the floor. Then the kids can jump from one letter to the next as they recite their letters, if they are different colors for the paper you can incorporate color practice for little ones, too. ("Jump to the Green B") I'll also use simple direction following with this, or Simon Says/Twister. ("Simon says touch the yellow R with your right hand," etc.) My kids love to do Alphabet Races where they run back and forth from A to Z and they burn up a ton of energy this way, it's a lot of fun! (Paper saving tip: cut the construction paper in half, you don't need a full sheet for each letter square.)

Another game we play during our circle time some mornings is: I have the alphabet on index cards and we'll put them in a bucket. It's kind of mixing the rules of mulberry bush and duck duck goose, but we sing a song, the kids pick a letter, say it and something that starts with that letter. To make it more challenging you can make it be something that starts with that letter that they can see in the room. What are some of your favorite letter games?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Miss America is a Homeschooler!

With how much my daughter admires princesses, it's pretty cool that the new Miss America is a homeschooler!

Miss America 2011 Teresa Scanlan (Steve Marcus/Reuters/Landov)
People Magazine

This article explains she stands proud as a homeschooler and a Christian, and she is setting her eyes on the White House. Makes for a pretty great role model, as far as celebrities go, I'd much rather have my daughter admire or cheer for Miss Scanlan than say, Paris Hilton or Britney Spears.

Here's a link to Miss Scanlan's blog. Way to go, Miss America!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

No, we're not picture perfect!

This post has been on my heart for a few days/weeks/undetermined frame of time. I love sharing the fun we have on our homeschool journey, but that's not to say we don't have struggles, too. We have difficult, unproductive days where nothing seems to go right, and I lay in bed at night wondering, "IS homeschooling the right path for us?"
I have doubts I can do it, I fight fears we won't eventually be able to meet their needs. I wonder if I'm dooming them forever! (Okay, that last one is an exaggeration, but the rest is real.)
Guess what? You don't have to be perfect to homeschool! No one mom is everything and not even every family's path is going to look the same or include all the same landmarks as someone else's. For the same reasons I feel secure that I can and will do my best as their mother, I have faith I can continue to fulfill my role as teacher, too.
When my husband and I were weighing our decision to homeschool, there were times in that process where I was convinced against homeschooling. Often times the books or blogs I would read that were trying to convey pro-homeschool points actually did the opposite and gave me more reason not to homeschool. So, I know all too well the skepticism some people hold in regard to homeschooling, because a hop, skip and a jump ago, I shared the same. When people painted a picture of homeschooling being the perfect, absolute, outstanding, flawless option for education, it raised more alarms for me than anything else--I wanted to know exactly what I was getting into, I wanted the cons along with the pros--I knew full well the seeming benefits of homeschooling, but I wanted to hear more of the cons! (Or at least hear that homeschoolers could acknowledge there were cons, because if you aren't aware of the drawbacks, you can't work to fill in gaps to potentially make up for them.) Nothing is perfect, but the truth is, while no road or mom is perfect or can offer it all, we ARE pretty good at finding the resources, programs and people who can fill in where our weaknesses may be.
I had asked for the real cons a year and a half ago, and my friend Candice who was homeschooling her 4 girls at the time, gave me some honest, welcome advice that went over some of the real drawbacks. I thrived on it, it was empowering, and it was the first time I felt like homeschooling was an honest, viable option for us. You don't have to have it SO together that handling their education on top of everything else is a statement of how super-mom you are (read my column last April I discussed live on the show Take Five Grand Rapids, The Illusion of Super-Mom.)
So, while there may be many picture moments during our homeschool journey, that doesn't mean our entire lives are picture perfect. I have flaws I'm struggling to overcome, I have areas I'm not particularly gifted in. My kids have screaming fits and meltdowns just like any child, they have areas they are not particularly gifted in. My marriage takes work just like everyone else's. We can all strive to reach goals and better ourselves as we go along, but to reach perfection in every area isn't possible on this earth, for any human or any avenue for education, whether a public system, homeschool, private or charter school. All any family can do is pick the road that best suits their needs and start walking.

“I do the very best I know how, the very best I can, and I mean to keep on doing so until the end.” -Abraham Lincoln (homeschooler) ;)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Simple Sock Puppets for less

Pre-Christmas shopping in the craft section, I noticed "make your own sock puppet" kits, retailing for $20. It included 3 fuzzy socks and all the "fixin's" like google eyes, foam paper, string, puffs, etc. In other words, everything that any mom who ever does crafts with her kids should pretty much have on stock already, save for the fancy socks. Man, they really jack up the price on people who aren't naturally craft-inclined, don't they? I went over to the sock aisle, found fuzzy slipper socks on clearance, 4 pairs for $2 (making 8 sock puppets, instead of 3) and stocked up on normal crafts (in greater quantities than the kit gave) and put them together in a bag as a gift for my kindergartner and toddler to open, all the materials to make their own sock puppets for the bargain price of under $7. Oh, and another FYI- tops of cheap mop heads from the dollar store make great hair for puppets, too. We made some with my daughter's friend on a playdate after Christmas, and if I had bought the kit, that would have already been the end of the supplies. Thankfully we still have many more on the way. Here's my daughter's pink monster gal pal and my son's goofy zebra friend.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Taking the Time

I'll never forget the best lesson on time I was ever taught. When my daughter was only 2 and my son was a newborn, I was rushing around the house trying desperately to get us out the door for a playdate when my sweet little girl asked me if we could make paper bag puppets for the friends we were going to see. "We don't have time!" I said, in an exhausted, sweaty panic. My daughter handed me her little toy clock and thoughtfully replied, "Sure we do, mama, it's right here."

I stopped in my tracks and looked at time in a more quality, God-giving way. (You can read my column about this from the time here: Making Toddler Time.)

Teaching my now kindergartner how to tell time is a fun endeavor, and, like all things, takes time. Here are a few tools we've enjoyed so far this year.

First of all, check out this amazing website, Just In Time, it gives great free lesson plans on teaching time both with hours and calendar days and months. (I'll share our activities for Calendar Days soon!)

Secondly, along with various time supplement tools, posters and worksheets you can find at the dollar store, consider getting some interesting, quality, products like the Melissa & Doug wooden shape sorting clock, and Thames & Kosmos' Little Labs experiment kit on Time. Both of these amazing products can be found at this great locally owned and operated educational toy store, Minds in Motion.

The Little Labs kit on Time by Thames & Kosmos is designed for ages 5 and up, which is especially nice, because most science kits and experiments are all geared only to older ages. My daughter has really been enjoying this kit, which comes with a helpful guidebook filled with lessons and activities to understand the clock and also time measurement. It includes different instruments to measure time with, such as an hourglass, dial timer and even a small sundial. The experiments are really creative and useful, for instance measuring time with water, and charting various estimated times. The Time Knowledge Wheel included is also helpful, allowing kids to match the digital time to the analog time and then match the time to the activity, like waking up, eating lunch, playing with friends, brushing teeth, going to bed, etc. A wonderful resource!

Another week of homeschool lunches

Here are some more ideas for simple lunches at home...

My kids love when I cut their sandwiches into shapes, it gets great use out of my cookie cutters.
Deer-shaped strawberry jam sandwich, with a side of peanut butter to dip their apples in. (Deer love to eat apples anyway, so it works!)

Fresh grilled chicken on vegetable rice, topped with cheese.

For a playdate, shells and cheese with fish sticks and broccoli.

Need a creative way to reuse leftovers? Here's one of my more hilarious inventions, I call him, "Meatloaf Man," LOL! Simply cut sandwich bread and leftover meatloaf with a gingerbread man cutter and viola! last night's dinner is interesting again. Paired with leftover green beans.

Mini bagel sandwiches with a side of grapes and apples.

Happy lunching!!

Hot Glue Art

My mom never ceases to amaze me with her intricate art hobbies, whether it's self-teaching herself woodworking and wood-burning, or painting beautiful scenery on small rocks with a toothpick, she's got a patience and talent I could never imagine. It's worth noting that her confidence in what she creates is surprisingly non-existent, she was told in school she was no good at art and received poor grades in things she had poured her heart into, because they didn't look like they were "supposed to", (such a travesty--art is such a relative and abstract thing, makes me feel like hunting down her old elementary teachers!) so the majority of her life she never even attempted anything creative or artistic. Now when she explores artistic hobbies, she proclaims her creations foolish and silly, just something to pass the time during the wee hours of her morning coffee, etc.
Her latest invention is so neat, I just had to share. I'll bet you think it's as cool and interesting as I do!

Hot Glue Art

She has created scenes out of dried hot glue on Popsicle sticks that she painted with toothpicks. Using a hot glue gun, she would experiment with the pressure and hang it upside down, blow on it quickly to dry, clipping off any access strings of the glue (or using the access strings of glue as the branches of trees). Then she delicately paints the glue with the end of a toothpick. Much to the delight of my kids, when she brought over these various snow scenes she made up stories to go along with them, including one about Daniel Boone--what a great way to incorporate an art project into a history lesson, creating scenes to accompany what you are learning about!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Ooh, full spelling curriculum!

I'm drooling here, folks. ;) Freely Educate is seriously one of my favorite online resources, if you haven't yet joined their facebook page, you need to, because they share ALL kinds of free educational sites and opportunities for every subject and grade level. It's amazing.

Right now on their blog, they are doing this great giveaway opportunity for a full free spelling curriculum... check it out! It's easy to enter and aside from entering the contest you'll also just be happy to know about Freely Educate. Giveaway from All About Spelling.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Grade Level Expectations, Year-by-Year Review & Sequence Learning

One of the most common questions: what does my child need to know when? There are some great websites and books out there to help give overviews and much-needed checklists to make sure your kids are on the right track and giving you general guidelines for what they should be learning and when. Here are some of my favorites.

"The Educated Child" by William Bennett was a favorite on my shelf long before I ever made the decision to homeschool, (including when I thought I NEVER would!) it's a parent's guide to reference during public education, but also makes a good reference for homeschoolers. Any parent looking to take an active role in their child's education should have a copy to refer to from preschool through grade eight. I can't speak highly enough for it.

Another fantastic resource is the Core Knowledge series by E.D. Hirsh, you can find all the books "What your ___-grader needs to know" at the library. Hirsh also wrote "Books to Build on: A grade-by-grade resource guide for parents and teachers."

Core Knowledge

Home Learning Year by Year is another resource for these purposes, although it's not a "checklist" format, such as the evaluation checklists included in "What your child needs to know when" which I really enjoy making use of.

Hot Chocolate Lessons

Sometimes, you need to have hot chocolate just-for-the-heck-of-it. Making hot chocolate memories through the simple act of drinking hot cocoa on a cold winter's day or returning inside from playing and sledding in the snow is a childhood rite of passage! So, while you need nothing more than to simply drink and enjoy hot chocolate, here are some ideas and resources if you felt like turning one of many cocoa days into something a little more.

Winter Time Poem
by Mary Ryer
Icy fingers, icy toes,
Bright red cheeks and bright red nose.
Watch the snowflakes as they fall,
Try so hard to count them all.
Build a snowman way up high,
See if he can touch the sky.
Snow forts, snowballs, angels, too,
In the snow, so white and new.
Slip and slide and skate so fast.
Wintertime is here at last.

Story Problems
You have ______ marshmallows in your hot cocoa. You add ______ more. Now how many marshmallows are in your hot cocoa?

Caleb had ______marshmallows in his hot cocoa. ______ melted away. Now how many marshmallows are left in Caleb's hot cocoa?

You have ______ cups of hot cocoa in a teapot. If you share the cocoa with ______ friends, how many cups will be left?

Unit Study Links
This website is awesome, and here's an extensive, free unit study on Chocolate for a wide grade range, check it out!

And this one is fantastic, too!

Now is here --
A fine new start
For a whole new year.
The snow comes down
In the dark of night.
When we awake
The world is white.
In January
When there's snow,
We get our sleds
And away we go.

Here's a link to a cool video for making your own homemade marshmallows! We haven't done it yet, but it looks like fun!

To see more weather studies we do, see my post, Weather Wheel.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Highlights from our Homeschool Week

My friend Lori writes a wonderful homeschool blog, Jehovah Jireh Dwells Here. Occasionally she'll do general highlights from her week, I enjoy seeing a peek here and there from a few days at once, it's inspired me to start sharing a general "week-in-review" from time to time.

Here's a glimpse at some of the highlights from our homeschool journey this week. Nothing out of the ordinary, just more of our time to every purpose!

One of my daughter's Christmas gifts was a pottery wheel, we've been having fun trying it out.

Finding Africa, specifically Sudan, on a globe and learning about it. We discovered the shoeboxes we packed and wrapped for Operation Christmas Child can be tracked and ours went to Sudan. (Read about our adventure with that here.)
Here's a great Africa for Kids site on pbskids.

Dad sledding with the kids and teaching our 2-year-old how to make snow angels, lol!

Reading Berenstain Bears books for our Book-It program time. (Read more here.)

One of my daugther's best friends, Wyatt, got her an awesome subscription to Your Big Backyard magazine for her birthday. It's a fun, educational kids magazine from the National Wildlife Federation. She's been loving the first issue that just arrived and can't wait to read more.

Cooking with Cricket! Does anyone out there remember Cricket?? She's a talking doll from 1986... tape cassette in her back and her eyes and mouth move too. I had mine in mint condition (still in box, etc.) from my childhood with a series of different tapes and books to go with it. It was my daughter's "big" gift this Christmas, and BOY has it been a hit!! She absolutely loves it!!! Here she's making a Banana-in-a-Blanket recipe along with Cricket (pb and honey on bread rolled up with a banana).

Everyday stuff, worksheets and workbooks, flashcards, etc.

We had an all day drop-off playdate Wednesday with one of my daughter's homeschool friends, it was a ton of fun!

Next day, math, library, afternoon playdate at a friend's place (more of our favorite local homeschool friends!)...

And last, but certainly not least, we had a fun day with egg science experiments. You can read all about our chicken and egg lessons we had all this week from my post, Which Came First, The Chicken or The Egg.