Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A New Beginning

I love a new beginning. Whether it’s a new year or new plants coming up in the spring, there is something about starting again that makes me want to do better. I think the New Year is always well timed as far as homeschooling goes. We’ve paused to spend time celebrating, relaxing and reflecting and then it’s a little easier to get geared up for January and the promise of what it may hold.

So what do you have planned for January? It can be a great time to try something new with your children, whether it is putting your first lapbook together or reading a classic that has been on your list.

As I stare down the New Year I am excited about the projects that have been simmering through the holidays, just waiting for my focus. I’ll be adding several lapbooks to the website, including one about Crazy Horse and another about Norway. We did the one on Norway as a family a few years ago and loved it. I’ve just never put it in printable format, until now.

Only semi-related to The Learning Cottage, I am trying to finish up my novel. I will be presenting it to my critique group for their review the first part of January. I’m pretty excited to be putting the final touches on it so it will be ready for them. Of course, once they review it there will be revisions to make. But they will seem small compared to the work I’ve done on it in the last year. It was last January that I had the idea for this novel.

The novel is a middle grade adventure. The main character, Asher, and his twin sister find a hidden entrance into a community hidden away into the mountain. However, the mysterious door closes behind them, trapping them inside with people who are afraid they are dangerous. There are many secrets to be discovered as they search for a way to return to their family outside the mountain. I’ve had so much fun writing this novel.  Once this is done…what? I’ve got some new ideas churning around in my mind for my next novel.

I’ve waited years to have time to write. But when all my children were small, my goals for a new year looked different. Usually they were focused on what would help a particular child progress in a certain area.

I’d love to hear your goals, and challenges you are facing with the New Year. Please share what you are looking forward to as the New Year arrives.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Holiday Homeschooling

Mom's burned out. The kids would rather do something else. Christmas is just around the corner and there is so much you'd like to do, but what about homeschooling. What about that great curriculum you had planned.

Every year that I planned my curriculum, I strategically included a holiday plan. I figured out that if we totally let go and had no plan, it backfired. It always seemed like the children fought more and everybody was bored. But if I planned something appropriate to the season that helped them to still be focused on learning, everybody was happier.

There are so many options this time of year. As I try to decide which personal examples to use in this post, I scan the many wonderful memories, and it hard to choose. File folder games, like the one pictured above are always a good thing to pull out when you need a change. They are a great way to make rote learning fun. I shared my Turkey Math game from last month with a friend. She told me the other day that her son loves it. When his public schooled friends come over he wants them to play it with him. They are convinced he is trying to make them learn something, but he is convinced that it is just a fun game and everybody should play it. There are so many ways to use file folder games, and games in general, for learning. This is a great time of year to be pulling those out.

But there is so much more. I think our favorite thing to do at this time of year is to choose a theme. Our theme has generally been a country, although one of the other great ideas I've heard is to do a colonial Christmas. One year we chose Australia. I don't really know why, mostly because we keep joking about moving there. We learned that on Christmas day Aussie's usually gather for a barbie (not a doll, a barbecue). To this day when we have a barbecue my children still pull out their Australian lingo, trying their best to imitate the accent too. Australians have another tradition, one borrowed from England. They make Christmas Crackers, a small tube with goodies inside. To open it you pull each end and it pops. We were so fascinated with this that we searched the internet and found a place called "Olde English Crackers", where we could purchase the cracker snaps that make the pop when you pull it apart. We made crackers and found them so entertaining that we made more for the extended family get together. They became a family tradition for several years after that. Studying another country at Christmas time is great way to add fun to the season and study a culture and its traditions.

One year we studied Norway at Christmas time. This was probably the highlight of all the homeschool activities we have chosen for Christmas. In fact just last week one of my children said to me, "We should have a Norwegian family Christmas again. That was fun." The thing that was especially unique about this one is that my great grandma came from Norway. So after studying the many aspects of Norway, from their lemming population to their Christmas traditions, and making a Norway lapbook, we planned a Norwegian Christmas family home evening. We made it a big deal. First, we found a book of Norwegian recipes and planned dinner from this collection. We made julekake, and other desserts from Norway. We invited the cousins and grandparents. Grandma told us about her grandma who had come from Norway. She showed us things Grandma Serena had crocheted as well as items that had come from Norway. It was a connection for my children and the other cousins that made it more personal. We had some great entertainment and let the girls all dress up in white, wrapping red ties around their waists. We made a wreath of electric candles for one of them to wear and let the rest of the girls carry a single candle as they filed into the front room. Before they did this we taught everybody the song for Santa Lucia and tried to sing it as the girls entered. The evening was a hit, a great culmination of everything we had learned about Norway.

Whether you need to simplify and just pull some games out, or do something fun and different to keep your children excited about learning, remember to make it fun. Enjoy the season and this precious time you have with your children.

Monday, November 14, 2011

American Girls Club

Years ago when my two oldest daughters were younger we organized an American Girls Club with other homeschool families in the area. Some of the girls and moms still talk about it years later. It was a great way to bring the American Girl books to life, have a great hands-on experience and form friendships.

There are some resources available to help you organize activities in connection with the books, but my favorite way to organize such activities is to customize it to the group.

If you are interested in organizing such a group the best way to begin is by going through the books and looking for connections. In other words what was going on in this American Girl's life that will make an interesting activity for your girls?

Josephina learned to weave wool into blankets. Learning to spin on small hand spindle is an activity that stuck with our family, but it began when we first read the stories about Josephina and tried it out with the group. A weaving activity could also fit here. If you want to keep it more simple than this you could even have the girls weave a design with construction paper. We always loved doing things that were a little more involved though. Making tortillas or organizing an activity to familiarize the girls with goats are all activities that would bring Josephina to life.

A simple embroidery project is an obvious thing to consider when you are reading about Felicity. This set of books also opens the door to learning about manners and the differences between then and now. When we read the Felicity books I found a published play and the girls had a great time putting it on for their parents and grandparents. They still giggle about some of the fun we had while putting the play together.

If you are learning about Kirsten, be sure to make some Santa Lucia treats. If you want to go all out you can find some of those battery operated candles and make your own Santa Lucia outfit. These experiences create memories and bring each character and historical time it represents to life.

You can meet at the end of each book or a couple times while the girls are reading. That's the nice thing about homeschooling, you can do it the way it will work the best for your group. For that matter you could have a great experience just doing these activities one on one with your own daughter. Sometimes those quiet mother/daughter activities are more ideal than working with a group. No matter how you choose to bring the American Girl books to life, enjoy the journey.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Lego and Robotics

Years ago a friend of mine handed me a bag of Lego her daughter had outgrown. Well, I don't know if you ever truly outgrow them, but they passed them on to my daughters anyway. When she handed them to me she said, "Welcome to the world of vacuuming up Lego". I laughed.

Of course, I had grown up with Lego and knew all the greatest ways to make a game out of setting up a storefront and trading pieces back and forth with my siblings. Usually we would trade for something from another sibling's store so that we could have that one special piece they had built into a structure. Those are great memories.

I taught that game to my children, but they made it their own. They customized it to fit a new generation with new ideas and challenges. We discovered K'nex along the way too, which opened up a whole other world. But that is another engineering moment.

The thing that really opened a new door as far as Lego is concerned was when my son became interested in robotics and we realized there was a 4-H robotics camp coming up. The door opened, we walked in and they fell in love with the idea of building a robot, hooking it up to the computer and telling it what to do, all with a specialized set of robotic Lego. It's not as easy as it sounds. Sometimes they would program the robot only to discover that they hadn't told it to turn far enough at a certain point or had given it some other faulty command that threw off the sequence. This took them back to the computer to fix the program and what I realized as I watched them is that they were learning engineering skills that could help take them toward a rewarding career if they were ever interested in that.

Just one more wonderful, hands-on way of learning. Lego has led us from the store front game to the world of robotics and headed us down a fascinating road where we are busy exploring other robotic mediums for learning.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Hands-on Learners

Kinesthetic learners are exhausting. They have to be doing something all the time. If their hands are not busy they will find something to do with them…tap on the table…pick on their sister…you get the idea. If you have hands-on learners you know what I’m talking about.

As the mother of six active children I've always looked for ways to enhance the learning of my children by letting them do. We love games and manipulatives that provide an active approach to learning. File folder games, lapbooks and other activities keep their hands busy and their minds focused on the subject at hand, helping them to comprehend and learn effectively.

I love to come across new ideas for making it hands-on; like the one in the picture. Here's how you do it. You'll need a round piece of cardboard. An easy way to come up with this is to buy the cardboard cake holders like the one pictured above. You can find them in the cake decorating section and they are intended to put a round cake on before you decorate it. They usually come in a stack with several to work with.

Choose what you want to focus on whether it is times tables or synonyms and antonyms as in the example above. I chose to put synonyms on one side and antonyms on the other. Write these systematically around the edge. Then, on clothespins, write the answers that will match up to each item around the edge. Because I made mine two sided, I wrote answers on both sides of the clothes pin, but carefully colored the edge of the clothespin on the side where the synonym answers are.

When they play, they pull all the clothes pins off the edge of the cardboard and mix them up. Then the goal is to get each clothes pin back where it belongs.

Any time we can give variety to learning it helps keep the mind open. For example, yesterday while teaching one of my piano students, I asked if he had worked on his theory. I've never been crazy about theory workbooks, but it came with him from his other teacher and so I've assigned it. However, he never does it. He said yesterday that after being in school all day the theory seems too much like school work. Sitting down to the piano and practicing was okay, but he just hate doing the theory. I pulled out the music Wrap-ups. If you've never seen these they are a great tool when children are drilling facts that must be mastered. I handed it to him and he was excited. I asked if he wanted to work on the Wrap-ups every week at lessons or take it home. He wanted to take it home and practice it every day. Now instead of begging him to do theory he made the commitment on his own to work on it daily. I love it when a child enjoys learning.