Thursday, July 12, 2012

Science, Part 4: Application Level

  • Read biographies of great scientists
  • Take Honors level classes at the local high school or college courses
  • Perform experiments, dissect, investigate
  • Learn the laws and principles of scientific study
  • Record experiences in their nature notebook
  • Look at the ways science, history, literature play off each other and affect the world as a whole.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Science, Part 3: Analysis Level

  • Study and outline science texts
  • Read and write reports. (Include data from experiments performed or observations from the world around them.)
  • Biography reading
  • Put science history dates in a time line; watch for the effects of scientific discovery on history in general
  • Perform experiments, go on nature walks, ask questions, etc.
  • Keep a nature notebook.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Science, Part 2: Discovery Level

  • Memorize facts, figures, tables, vocabulary, etc.
  • Read biographies, literary science, etc.
  • Hands-on activities
  • Spend time in the kitchen experiencing the wonders of food interaction. Learn safety and how to improvise.
  • If interested, keep a nature notebook
  • Learn about the world by experiencing it.
  • Organize collections and learn to label and classify - try Latin classifications for the serious scholar.
  • Orderliness and focus are important skills for any scientist. Encourage these at every opportunity.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Science, Part 1

It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delecate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wrack and ruin without fail. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty.
Albert Einstein

The study of science can be one of the most fascinating parts during your school day. Teacher and students alike learn descipline, reasoning, observation and love for the Creator as we study the world around us.

Most science text-books are dry, void of reference to a Creator, and limiting to the student. Get your hands dirty. Dissect, draw, experiment, experienc what our world has to offer. Do not get between the child and discovery. There are wonderful videos available that cover a wide range of subjects and that use a wide range of approaches. Watch with your children in order to aid discussion. Using a sketch book for science recording allows for sketches, thoughts; graphs, charts and tables, and experiments to be contained in one book. Study each disicpline separately. Human anatomy, botany, astronomy, chemistry, etc. are easiest to understand when studies systematically. Study the lives of famous scientists. Learn what led up to their discoveries. Encourage your students to experiment and invent. You can find science kits, books, stories and experiment ideas at the libraray,second-hand stores, on the internet and at the mall. Give kits as gifts yourself or request them from grandparents. If you are going to make the investment, spend money on good equipment. Do not buy the cheapse microscope or telescope, for example. They may not serve you very well. Do your homework before you purchase!

If you study history on  a four-year rotation, you can include science in it. The rotation may then look something like this: Ancient world-Life Science, Medieval and Renaissance-Earth Science and Astronomy, Early Modern-Chemistry, Late Modern-Physics. Perhaps summers could be used for computer science, electronics, or anything else on which you want to spend extra time.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Richard's Read-aloud Book List

By Becca Evenson

Once upon a time, there was a Dad who was working full-time and going to school full-time. His wife was a stay-at-home mom who had four young children, a house to keep, a garden to tend, and a fuse that was getting shorter and shorter.
One day after a long day at work and class, Dad came home to find Mom trying to bury herself in the nine loads of unfolded laundry. The remains of the evening meal were still on the table; the paper piles were taking over the computer table, the coffee table, and every other flat surface in the living room; and the children were slowly preparing themselves for bed.
"How do I help? Where do I start?", asked the bewildered and worried father.
"Can you take over story time this evening? I'll work in the kitchen while you read." was the reply.
Thus began a family tradition that lasted for a number of years…and definitely helped with living happily ever after.

Over the years, Richard (Becca's husband) read dozens of books with the children. The rule was: everyone had to be in jammies, prayers were said, and they had to stay in bed. He would plant himself with a large pillow in the hall where everyone could hear him read and he would read from a chapter book for about 15-30 minutes-always stopping just before some big event. When the boys were small (2 and 4 years old) he would read a picture book to them and then ensconce himself in the hallway to read. While he read, Becca would clean the kitchen, do laundry, tidy up, take a bubble bath or play Solitaire on the computer…whatever she needed so that she could take over again while he did homework and it started all over again.
This list is what we read for fun! These are not the books we read for literature or any other study during our academic day. We worked to avoid "twaddle" and choose books that have a point or would simply expand their horizons.
In no particular order, the following is a list of most of the books he read. Some he read more than once. Others (not listed) were started but never finished. (If both the parents and children were bored beyond the third chapter, we moved on to something else!)

The Princess Bride by William Goldman
The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Rudolf Wyss
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
Indian Captiveby Lois Lenski
The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis (All but the last. He wanted them to read that one privately. Good move.)
The Arabian Nights
The Prydian Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander (All but the last.)
The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen by Lloyd Alexander
The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks
The Sherlock Holmes Mysteries by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare
The Cricket in Times Square by George Seldon
The Great Brain Series
The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks
The Hobbit by J. R.R. Tolkien
The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
TheWestmark Trilogy by Lloyd Alexander
Pippi Longstocking series by Astrid Lindgren
Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
The Arkadians by Lloyd Alexander
The Fighting Prince of Donegal by Robert T. Reilly
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Robin Hood by Howard Pyle
Doctor Doolittle by Hugh Lofting
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Friday, July 6, 2012

A House of Order, Part 4: Dinner too?

By Melanie Skelton

You spend your day helping children with math equations, reading about the reformation, listening to narrations and going on a nature walk. When these things are done you take a deep breath and think, “Oh good, now I’ll take a few minutes for myself.” Only then, you look at the clock and realize if you don’t plan something for dinner soon, there will be no dinner. And if there is no dinner you will have a house full of grumpy people, including yourself of course. After all your efforts to educate and nurture your children, they always seem to want dinner too.

You could make a pizza run every night, but pizza would soon lose its appeal and gets expensive. You could have sandwiches every night, but that gets old sooner than pizza. Preparing boxed dinners every night might be simple, but they get old too. You want to prepare a variety of meals that are nutritious, appealing and still be able to spend time exploring all facets of education with your children.

How do we keep that balance of everything else we have talked about in this series of articles and fix dinner too?
Be assured that it will not always go perfectly. If it does, then you ought to be writing this article. However, by applying a few simple truths to your balancing act, you will find a nutritious meal on your table most of the time.

One way to simplify mealtime is as basic as having a plan. Write a menu out for a week or two at a time, and do the shopping for those meals. You don’t have to specify what you plan to fix each night, but if you have seven options for a week then it will be easier to make the daily decision of what to eat for dinner. Without this plan it sometimes takes more energy to decide what is for dinner than to fix the meal, and then you might not have all the ingredients.

Once you have a basic meal plan for the week it is easier to choose something from that plan each morning. Make this choice as you are preparing breakfast or at least by lunch. Check your menu plan as you prepare breakfast and decide which meal best fits the activities of the day. If you are going on a field trip or to the library and will be gone all afternoon it will be beneficial to throw something into the slow cooker or crock pot so that you have a meal when you return. If you have a day when the children can help you prepare the meal then you may want to choose a meal that is more involved and make it part of their school day.

Involving children in dinner preparations is a perfect way to accomplish two things at once. Not only will you have a meal, but it is a learning time for your children. Reading the recipe is good reinforcement for a child who is learning to read. Placing biscuits on a cookie sheet in four rows of three is a definite multiplication lesson for the child who needs it. Having time to talk about what you have learned that day as you peel potatoes can add fuel to their interest in a particular subject. Each child should learn to cook and be comfortable working in the kitchen even without these academic bonuses. If they learn the most complicated algebraic equations and can’t take care of themselves what have we accomplished? It may be beneficial to assign each child a day of the week to be in charge of dinner for a season.

Try some of the following tips to further simplify your meals.

Learn to use your crock pot or slow cooker. Try converting some of your favorite recipes to the crock pot. Search the internet and your library for new recipes to try. Using the crock pot or slow cooker gives you a way to prepare that meal early in the day and then be done.
On a day when you have more time, boil a whole chicken (at my house we do two), adding peppercorns, onions, celery and rosemary or another favorite spice to create a broth. Put it on in the morning and enjoy the aroma while you do school. Pick the chicken apart into bite size pieces. Plan your meals for the next several days around this prepared chicken and broth. Getting the meat ready is often the hardest part of fixing meals like chicken enchiladas or chicken and dumplings. Doing this for several meals at a time means you only have to do it once. Freezing the chicken or broth for future use is another way to have an easy meal to pull together. Of course, buying canned chicken is simple also, but more costly than preparing it yourself. Save the money and spend it on something to supplement your curriculum.

Dried beans can work with the same concept. Soak a large amount and cook them either in the crock pot or on the stove. Put them in ziplock bags and keep them in the freezer until you need them or plan several meals around them that week.

Making mixes ahead of time may simplify meal preparation for you. The book “Make-a-Mix” by Karine Eliason includes many recipes for making mixes ahead. This can save time in your cooking process.

Have you heard of cooking once a month and putting it in the freezer? If you like the idea of doing all the work in a couple days and then enjoying the meals for the entire month as you pull them out of the freezer, there are many books about cooking this way. A couple examples are: “Dinner’s in the Freezer!” by Jill Bond and “Once a Month Cooking” by Mimi Wilson and Mary Beth Lagerborg. Search for these and others at your local library or online at Amazon.

Be willing to experiment with these and other methods for simplifying your cooking. Not every idea will suit every person, but find the ones that suit you.
Remember, you will feel better and your children will respond more positively if good meals are being served. Behavior problems can be related to food, and children need healthy meals and snacks. Boys in particular seem to be better behaved and more focused when their nutritional needs are being met.
A final note about having a house of order: enjoy the process. If you learn to find joy in the simple things then doing the difficult things will seem easier.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A House of Order, Part 3: Creating order from chaos

By Melanie Skelton

Have you ever had a day like this? The supplies you need for the school project you have planned are somewhere; you just don’t know where. Your eight year old has no idea where his math book is – maybe the dog ate it. Breakfast still hasn’t happened and ten o’clock is passing quickly. You are ready to throw today’s plan for school out the window.

I hate to admit it, but I have known days like this. There have been days when I knew I had twenty pairs of scissors in my house, but could find none of them. I have wondered if my children hide their math books on purpose. And in the past I have been known to frantically go through the stack of papers next to my bed in search of something important I forgot about because it was lost in the stack.

So here is my moment of truth. One day a very close friend asked me if I ould like her to come help me organize my house.

“Oh, painful!” I thought. “There is no way I can let somebody into my space that way.”

But after some thought I realized I had to go out on a limb if I ever hoped to have my home run more efficiently. And so we set a day for her to come out.

The first day she came I began to realize how enormous this project was.

“Where do you keep your curriculum and school supplies,” she asked.

I pointed to the shelf in the front room, then led her down the hall and opened a cupboard where we kept the math books and personal assignments. Into the master bedroom we went to find another shelf of school books, and finally downstairs to see the rest of what I owned.

I had never questioned that my school books and supplies were spread all over the house. Once I thought about it I realized that I was constantly running to the other room to get something for a lesson or discussion we were in the middle of. This inefficient organization of my supplies was adding to the chaos I felt.

It didn’t end with my school supplies. I had stored many of my kitchen items in what we had called a pantry in the hallway when we moved in. We had since created a pantry in the kitchen but never moved everything into the kitchen. The master bedroom had become a catchall for whatever project I was working on, as well as a place to do laundry and whatever else I happened to put there.

And so the process began. We moved all of the school supplies and books into the family room and organized it so that similar items were in the same part of the room. The shelf came out of my bedroom with the decision that the master bedroom should be a place of refuge, not another place to store school supplies or other projects. The pantry became a linen closet and all that belonged in the kitchen was moved to the kitchen. I organized the game closet with a list of games and what school subjects they were related to. We did a major overhaul on the room that holds my sewing machine, computer and bins of fabric, yarn, laces, etc. A place for everything took on a new meaning. Not only have we been establishing a place for everything, but a place that makes sense in the general layout of my home.

The beauty of this project became evident as I began to see the difference in how we are functioning. I can always find a pair of scissors now. We don’t spend time looking for math books because they never leave the family room. I have found new pleasure in doing school with my children in a family room where I am not searching the entire house for the book I want to use for today’s discussion.

I don’t want you to think for a moment that my home always looks perfect now. In fact, just yesterday I was standing in the kitchen preparing peaches to bag and put in the freezer. The kitchen was a disaster, between the peaches I was trying to finish and the dishes I hadn’t done all day because of the peaches. There were toys strewn all over the family room that the children had been playing with all afternoon. In other words, we still have messes.

The thing that has changed is that my children are learning that there is a place for every item. If they do not know that place, they can ask. They have a bin where all their schoolwork belongs and it has a place. We keep all the schoolwork right in the family room. Now if somebody forgets to put their math book away we do not have to guess which room to look in. It is probably by the bean bag chairs where we do school.

The following list of hints may help you in finding ways to organize your home more efficiently.

Choose the area of your home where you plan to do school. Organize school supplies and books in this area so that they are easily accessible. Group books by general subject so they are easy to find. Use file drawers to file paper projects. Have small bins where pencils, glue and scissors can be kept.

Assign each child a place to keep their school work. Rubbermaid or Sterlite totes can be just the right size for this. Consider each room by what its purpose is. Keep like items together in that room.
Use totes and bins to provide a place for anything from lids in your kitchen cupboard to paintbrushes in the area your children do art. A fishing tackle box works well for organizing your first aid supplies into one place.
Find a friend whose home seems organized and approach them about walking through your house and giving some organizational tips. Their eyes may see something that you do not see because you look at it every day.
Sterlite makes large storage containers that fit beneath a bed. These can provide your children a place to keep their “treasures” and other things. If you have more than one child in a bedroom, this gives them with a storage space that is only theirs. Pencil boxes can be purchased inexpensively at back-to-school sales in August and used to let them organize their collections of cool things within their “treasure bins”.
Have a system for doing laundry. Hanging clothes on a clothes rack near the dryer as they come out goes quickly and keeps clothes from getting scattered or wrinkled. Children can learn to hang clothes as part of their assignments. They may not be hung perfectly, but with practice they will learn.
Insist that your children learn the place you have established for each item. This will not happen overnight, but will be a project that will take months. Be willing to stop what you are doing to teach them where you want a particular item. As you use these moments to positively reinforce new habits they will begin to appreciate the need for order. Without changing old habits, organizing your home will be a waste of time. This is the most important step you can take in creating order form chaos.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A House of Order, Part 2: Sticking to your plan

By Melanie Skelton
Part 1 of this series focused on mapping out your curriculum. I hope you all have a great plan mapped out and are jumping into a new school year with the same enthusiasm we are. Now it is time to face the reality. Somebody is going to try to foil your plan.
Who? The list of possibilities is endless – your children, your mother, your neighbor, other home educators, or even yourself. It will most likely be a combination of all of these.

How? Your children will want to watch television or play rather than get to work Your mother may call in the middle of the great project you are doing or book you are reading with the children. Your neighbor may knock on the door and need some great favor or want to visit. Other home educators may lure you into too many activities outside of your home, leaving little time for what really matters. And you…well, I can’t say what your weaknesses are, but I foil my own plan by checking e-mail, answering the phone, planning appointments or starting projects all during the hours I planned to do school with my children. I usually only plan to spend a few minutes doing these things and then we will get right to school. But the reality is that at the end of an unfocused day I don’t feel the same sense of peace and accomplishment as when I have truly spent quality time with my children exploring the subjects of the day.

So how do we avoid these interruptions that can devastate a great school day? We must choose. Most interruptions can wait. I understand that there may be situations where there is a true emergency or urgent situation that needs attention, but these are the exception. I repeat… most interruptions can wait.
Establish firm habits with your children concerning television or other distractions from school work. Charlotte Mason says that “habit, in the hands of the mother, is as his wheel to the potter, his knife to the carver-the instrument by means of which she turns out the design she has already conceived in her brain.” Habit is a powerful tool in helping children to remain focused on learning. As the parent you can instill this habit lovingly. The key is consistency. This is where it becomes critical to eliminate the other interruptions from your life so that you are not being pulled away from your children at a moment when your attention will make the difference.

Help the people who are close to you understand that you will not answer the telephone, door or e-mail during the hours you choose to do school. One friend puts a stop sign up on her door as a friendly reminder that school is in session. Owning an answering machine or subscribing to voicemail will allow you to monitor your messages in case there is a situation that is a true emergency. I check my messages when I have given my children a ten minute break. Otherwise, we let the phone ring.

Choose activities in your home school community carefully. In our community there are always classes in art, drama, language, geography and more. Some offer co-op groups for boys, girls, teens, preschooler or a combination. We see chess clubs, nature clubs and clubs for anything else a person can dream up as well as sports opportunities. Convincing yourself that activities like these are providing most of what your child needs in their education is concerning. Over the years and through many co-ops and activities I have come to the conclusion that my children learn best at home. Believe me, I’ve tried to justify every kind of co-op I could create join or create. In the end, it has never been as effective as what I can do with my children at home on a focused day. There may be a place for carefully selected activities in your plan. But these types of activities have sometime been my largest interruptions from accomplishing my goals with my children. If you choose to participate in these types of activities, try to choose ones that are at the beginning or ending of the week, in the afternoon, or at times when it will conflict the least with your plan.

How do we keep from foiling our own plans? This is probably the biggest question. In the end, I am the person who decides whether to answer the phone, check the e-mail or to justify working on that project “just for a minute”. Habit, again, is a powerful master. You just have to decide to change the habit that is keeping you from achieving the plan you have set out to accomplish, and then stick to it. If this change is too overwhelming, change one little habit or part of a habit at a time. It is better to make a slow change and have it be permanent than to get discouraged with an overwhelming plan. Remember that your children are worth it. Habits you establish now will pay off later.

As a final note, enjoy the ride. All of this habit changing and choosing to stay home with your children doesn’t mean you can’t have fun; quite the opposite. You will find that as you create a “House of Order” by having a plan and having control of that plan you will find other ways to be flexible, enjoy your children and treasure each moment.

Monday, July 2, 2012

A House of Order, Part 1: Mapping out your curriculum

By Melanie Skelton
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I start feeling like chaos rules in my home. Between the laundry, dinner and home schooling, we carry a heavy load as home educators. The process of learning to put it all in order, so that both home and school run more efficiently, is ongoing. This article is part one, of a four part series, where I will focus on different aspects of how we can help home and school become less chaotic and frustrating.

Consider the plans you make when preparing for a vacation. Do you map out the places you intend to visit or just jump in the car and hope it all turns out?

When you are on vacation you'll get more out of it, if you have a basic plan. It is most helpful to know where you are, where you are going, where you intend to eat and sleep along the way, and any sites you want to be sure to see. It is possible that you will find out about something along the way that will sidetrack you...and this is alright. Flexibility will allow you to enjoy your trip and get the most you can out of it. But if you travel with no plan at all there is no guarantee you will end up anywhere that matters. Although the cornfields in Iowa are something to experience, you may want to see more on you journey.

The same applies to your home school journey. Although you may want to keep your curriculum flexible so you have time for side trips when the desire strikes, having a basic plan will help your children benefit more from the journey.
The following steps will help you to plan out this journey more effectively.

Understand where you are. How does your child learn best? Are they an auditory learner, a visual learner or a learner who needs to touch it and do it to learn it best? Understanding this can make all the difference in how you approach learning with your child. Learn to understand the factors that influence learning in your home. Understanding your own personality and those of your children can also be helpful in defining how you will approach learning. It is also critical that you understand the level at which your child is learning. If you assign work to an eight year old that requires them to analyze they may struggle. However, at this age they are very capable of absorbing information. Don’t be frustrated if you cannot figure this out all in one shot. Find books that teach these things, and study how your children learn. This will be an ongoing process that will help you adjust your curriculum as you see the need.
Understand where you want to be going. Consider why you have chosen to teach your children at home and what you want to accomplish overall. Write this down and go back to it when you feel like throwing in the towel.
Define the subjects you plan to study in the upcoming year. Do you want to focus on life sciences or learn about the earth? Will you study ancient history or the Renaissance? Once you have made some general decisions in each subject it will be easier to narrow it down into specifics. For instance, we will be studying life sciences this year. I’ve divided that into three segments: the study of animals, human body and plants. It makes the most sense that we study plants in the spring when we naturally start working out in the garden and go on nature walks. We will do much of this learning outside. We will study animals the first part of the year and have purchased a zoo pass so that we can incorporate several trips to the zoo into this study. I will outline what I think we should learn about animals and then allow for some exploration in our study. We will use the library extensively in finding material for this study. We will learn about taxonomy and pull out field guides that will help us learn how to categorize the animals we see and learn about.

Understand the interests of your children. Sit down and have a brainstorming session with them. This doesn’t mean you will cover every idea they throw out. If your children are like mine, they will throw some ideas out that are very general and others that are so off-the-wall that there is no way I’m really going to spend energy on doing much with it. But you may tune into some things they would like to learn about. If you incorporate topics that interest your children into your plan they will be excited with you.
Schedule a Planning Session. Once you have an idea of where you are and what your destination is, set aside a time to put it all down on paper somehow. This can be as detailed or general as is comfortable for you. Map out the year with a plan of what you will be covering each month. Remember that December will get busy and in the spring you will probably want to go outside. You can choose to make notes of the resources you will use or know that when you get to that subject you will pile the kids in the car and head to the library. I’ve done it both ways.

Some subjects will require less planning than others. In the past I’ve mapped out what math assignments each child will do each week, and I don’t recommend it. We use Math-U-See and I expect them to do an assignment every day. However, if a particular child is struggling with a concept I want them to have the time to slow down long enough to understand what they are learning. On the other hand if they are ready to move on to another lesson, we will skip ahead.

Remember that life is part of school. If you are canning, get your children involved. If you are building new shelves, your children can learn great things from helping. If you are going somewhere, there are always museums and other learning opportunities along the way. Let a child be in charge of meal planning and preparation once a week. If they are younger, they will need more help. There is much to learn in the kitchen. Remember to incorporate the things that are part of life into your school plan.
Plan for side trips. Keeping your plan a bit flexible will make it possible for you to pause and learn about a current event or the strange bird that chooses to make your carport home for the winter.

Enjoy the journey. Planning a curriculum that meets your needs will make your year more enjoyable. When you need to simplify, do it. When you or your children are excited about something, pursue it. If you want to experiment with lapbooks or unit studies, you can. Remember to enjoy this time with your children and make the journey all you want it to be.