Plans for 2012-2013 school year

Where has the school year gone? Between Richard being sick and our vacation this spring, we have fallen rather behind. That means we will be doing summer school to finish up. If everything goes well, we will be living on our boat which means fewer distractions demanding our attention. Hopefully that will allow us the time needed to get everything done.

Even if we don’t quite manage to finish up, I still need to decide what they will be doing for next year. They will be in 3rd and 6th grade. Hard to believe Richard will be half done with school.

They will continue with Christian Light Education for reading, language arts, and Bible. Karen will probably also use them for math since she is doing better since I switched her into it. Richard will do Math-U-See level Zeta which covers decimals and percents. I always struggled with that so it will be good for me to review it with him.

They will be doing health for science. As part of that, we need to do a physical fitness test. Karen will use Health, Safety, & Manners 3 from Abeka which is a basic introduction to good health. Richard enjoyed going through it and I think she will too. This is only one semester so I’m not sure what else to do the rest of the year.

I will order Science F from Sonlight which covers health, medicine, and human anatomy for Richard. He’s already done the Abeka Health 3, so this will cover many of those topics in more detail as well as others. I can’t decide if I want to get the 4 or 5 day package. The 5 day has four more books than the 4 day. I just don’t want to get overwhelmed. On the other hand, those 4 books seem like things he is interested in like DNA and fossils. I’ve given up trying to do my own unit studies or cobble together related books. I’m just not organized enough to get through a full year like that.

I just added it all up. Richard’s will be $335 or $375 depending which science package we get (4 or 5 day). His is more expensive because of the Sonlight science. Karen’s will be less because we can use Richard’s old reader and teacher guides. It will be $145. That’s a total of about $500 for both of them.

Thinking ahead

I am thinking ahead again. While I am ordering for this year, I am starting to think about next year. This helps me keep an eye out for interesting things of the topics I think we may want to study. One thing I’d prefer to do is have both kids studying similar things for social studies and science.

They may be on different levels, but if the topics are similar, it makes it easier for me. In fact, this is how the district is set up. Each level delves deeper into the science content areas. So while the content areas stay the same, the student is learning new things each level. This works great because instead of bouncing around and learning a little geology, biology, physics, and chemistry each grade, I can concentrate on one for a year and get several levels of that content area finished then switch to another. My children enjoy the more in depth study as well. They are understanding more specifics rather than just a general understanding. It’s a mastery approach rather than the spiral approach general used in elementary school.

The drawback is finding quality materials instead of general textbooks or small, disjointed unit studies. Luckily WinterPromise and Sonlight seem to share this approach to teaching science. While filling out forms and browsing websites for this year’s items, I discovered WinterPromise has redesigned their geology program. It now has several items I was interested in. The target grades are 3-6 so Karen will be a little young using it in 2nd grade. However, most of their science programs are on the light side so I think it will be fine for both of them.

Then I’d like to revisit biology for their 3rd and 6th grades respectively. The Sonlight Science 3 has some good books.

For 4th and 7th grades we’ll do chemistry.

Then Richard will be ready for Apologia science texts while Karen does the more advanced parts that he already did. I’ve heard mostly good about them. From the review on homeschoolreview.com the general science text has been successfully used starting as early as 6th grade so I may do it then with Richard considering how gifted he is in science. They are available from Sonlight and Christian Light Education. Sonlight is on the approved vendor list for our allotment so I’ll likely order from them if we end up using it.

I may put together an Alaska study using books such as Julie of the Wolves, White Fang, The Call of the Wild, To Build a Fire, and Robert Service poetry (such as the Cremation of Sam McGee. Add some history books such as the journals of Judge Wickersham, native stories such as The Roots of Ticasuk, early Fairbanks such as The Way it Was; along with Alaskan geography such as building the Alcan Highway in The Trail of ’42, stories of the great 1969 earthquake,;the Valdez oil spill, and biology (Wild Harmony, To the Arctic) for a cross-curricular theme for middle or high school. Or turn it into a wilderness adventure study by adding My Side of the Mountain and Where the Red Fern Grows (I still cry when I read that one).

Hands-on learners (revised)

First, what is a hands-on learner? A hands-on learner is someone who learns best by touching and doing things. They like manipulatives and projects where they can do things rather than just reading textbooks and writing. Often they doodle, fidget and have trouble sitting still. For this reason, many hands-on learners are mislabeled as ADD or ADHD by schools, especially boys.

2 years ago, I wrote a post about hands-on (kinesthetic) learners. Since then, I’ve found more ideas and curriculum suggestions, so I thought I’d revisit the subject. Most of this is geared toward elementary students, but parts of it can be used for all levels. Some of this is copied from my earlier post. I’ve arranged my comments by category to make it easy to find suggestions. If you have an area of concern that I don’t cover or you have something else which you find useful for hands-on learners, please feel free to let me know.

GENERAL TIPS:

I’m finding the biggest thing is to have a variety of activities and allow lots of wiggle time instead of insisting he sit doing writing based activities all day, although we will still do those too. He also needs consistency in routines. For instance, we do reading every day. He will have to do the workbook lesson, but the lessons themselves may contain different activities. Part of learning for kinesthetic kids is learning when you really need to just sit still and get the work done. That’s hard, especially for younger students. We try to limit sitting time and have movement breaks or hands-on activities between them.

One thing that has helped greatly in all subjects is using a kitchen timer. I give him a set amount of time to do the work. If it is done before the timer goes off he may get a reward. If not then he has some sort of punishment unless he has tried but truly doesn’t understand the work. Rewards can be extra time the next day, going to the park, extra free time, or occasionally a small treat. Often I’ll let him use any time remaining as a break. Punishment is usually loss of a privilege or time-out and depends upon how much extra time he takes to complete the work. This helps keep him on task.

I used to insist he do his workbook lessons at a desk. This year, I bought him a clip board so he can do his lessons elsewhere as long as he is working. Often I’ll do this as a reward for getting work done on time the day before. Sometimes though, there are days he just can’t get comfortable at a desk and having the clipboard to choose his work area helps get him on task.

MATH:

There are a few companies now that use manipulatives beyond just the first few grades.

We love Math-u-See for math so he can fiddle with the blocks to find the answers after watching a brief video introduction to the lesson. As Mr. Demme always says, “Build it, Write it, Say it.” Using multiple senses makes memorizing anything easier. I’ve tried to apply this to other areas of his learning. I like this company because they use the same blocks all the way from kindergarten through calculus. So once they learn and get used to the blocks, students aren’t constantly switching manipulatives like some programs. Since the blocks compliment the lessons and workbook, instead of being the main focus, students don’t become dependent upon the manipulatives. Nor do parents have to purchase and keep track of many separate manipulative systems.

There is a math program called Right Start Math which uses a lot of manipulatives including an abacus, shapes, number balance scale, blocks, and more to teach basic math. I’ve seen this program and it seems good if you don’t mind keeping track of many separate manipulatives. I know a few homeschool families who have had good outcomes with this program.

LANGUAGE ARTS and READING SKILLS:

I switched from Abeka to Christian Light Education after first grade. While Abeka was thorough, it wasn’t very engaging. The work in Abeka was very repetitive and he was getting burned out by the end of the year. While still a workbook based curriculum, CLE is more engaging because they have more variety of activities in their workbooks even though they are plainer (less color and illustrations). This helped him focus on the work instead of the illustrations.

There are a few other reasons CLE is better than Abeka for hands-on learners. Abeka reading only had very basic comprehension questions whereas CLE has a full range of reading and comprehension skills. CLE also has study skills lessons which Abeka didn’t. I think these are important to learn (especially for kinesthetic learners) and not all parents know them or how to teach them. Having them built into the curriculum is great.

The goal of any reading program is ultimately to get students reading real books. The best was to do this is to expose them to quality literature as soon as possible. Readers and levelized stories have their place, but quality literature for children should not be left out.

HISTORY:

For history we use literature and activities based programs from WinterPromise instead of a history text. This is more of a Charlotte Mason approach. He’s doing well and really enjoying the reading selections. Most are historical fiction or single topic books. There are a variety of hands-on activities to reinforce the topics each week, instead of the usual narrative or fill-in-the-blank style worksheet.

SCIENCE:

My son is gifted in science besides being a hands-on learner, so finding a science program has always been a challenge. He enjoys reading about science, but finds traditional elementary texts too dull and easy. However, he’s enjoyed many of the books in the God’s Design series. There are activities that go along with many of the lessons, but often there is a lot of parent prep and help needed for them.

He’s also done the Real Science 4 Kids series the last 2 years. These have a separate lab book for write-ups of the activities. While he really enjoyed the readings, we both found the labs, and especially the lab book, tedious. The instructor guide didn’t help much either. As a result, my son was understanding the science theory from the books this year, but I didn’t do many activities to reinforce and apply the concepts.

There is a company called Exploration Education that is a project-based curriculum for physical science. I want to use them next year.  I had a hard time keeping my kids away from their booth at the homeschool curriculum fair. Every time they wandered off, I found them at their booth playing with, and asking questions about, the projects on display.

Their lessons are multi-sensory. First, they each watch a cd video-text about the lesson. There are graphics and animation to help show the concepts. Then, they do the project or experiment. Finally, they do an activity/write up about the project. The second and third levels also have assessments. The first level has narration of the reading (which can be turned off for older kids using the level) so I don’t have to read everything to her. She can be listening while I’m helping her brother with his project.

The curriculum has 3 levels. Actually the third level includes all of the second and just adds on extra lessons for each unit. Anyway, the levels cover the same topics so both my kids could learn about similar concepts at the same time. There are 4 units. The first activity in each unit is a project. This project will then be used for all the other activities in that unit. They are pretty basic but seem to show very well the concepts.

Both kids would be doing separate activities, but about similar topics at the same time. I really liked this aspect of their programs. I wouldn’t need to keep up with totally separate science topics and figure out activities to go along with both of them. Also, it didn’t look like a lot of parent prep for the lessons.

Next year’s science

Today and tomorrow are the homeschool convention and vendor fair. I was in the market for science, Spanish, and writing. While my son was understanding the science theory from the books we have this year, I didn’t do many activities to reinforce and apply the concepts. Also, my daughter wasn’t getting much out of it. I wanted something they could both do.

Well, I think I already solved the science. I found Exploration Education (EE). I had a hard time keeping him away from their booth. He kept wandering over there while I was talking to other vendors.

It has 3 levels. Actually the third level includes all of the second and just adds on extra lessons for each unit. Anyway, the levels cover the same topics so both my kids could learn about similar concepts at the same time. There are 4 units. The first activity in each unit is a project. This project will then be used for all the other activities in that unit. They are pretty basic but seem to show very well the concepts.

First they each watch a cd about the lesson. There is graphics and animation to help show the concepts. Then they do the project or experiment. Finally they do an activity/write up about the project. The second and third levels also have assessments. The first level has narration of the reading (which can be turned off for older kids in the level) so I don’t have to read everything to her. She can be listening while I’m helping her brother with his project.

Both kids would be doing separate activities, but about similar topics at the same time. I really liked this aspect of their programs. I wouldn’t need to keep up with totally separate science topics. Also, it didn’t look like a lot of parent prep for the lessons.

It’s not very expensive. The advanced level is $140. The beginner level is $60. This includes the CD, project kit, workbook, plus teacher manual. For $200, I can have science for both my kids next year. I talked to my husband and showed him the brochure. He thinks it’s a good idea too.

They are a new vendor so aren’t approved by my district yet. It is one of the companies they hope to be adding. I told my supervising teacher that we would be very interested in using this company. She will mention that to the school board when they consider this company. I should know by June if they are approved, but I didn’t see any reason they wouldn’t be.

I also found a good geology program we may use the following year.

Fun with science: baking soda & vinegar

Today Richard read in his new element books about sodium and potassium. He was very interested in chemical reactions involving them so I flipped through a book and found a couple demonstrations involving baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and vinegar. Mixing baking soda with vinegar creates carbon dioxide bubbles. You can do lots of fun things with this.

The first involved filling a jar half full of water the adding 4T of baking soda and 3T of vinegar. Finally, drop in 10 raisins and see what happens to them. The directions have you adding the baking soda after the vinegar. This didn’t work very well. The soda didn’t dissolve fully so the raisins got stuck in it at the bottom. The second time we mixed the soda with the water first until it was dissolved then added the vinegar. That worked much better.

Surprisingly, it was Karen who first figured out what was happening and why. The reaction caused bubbles which stuck to the raisins. They then float the raisin to the top where the bubbles burst causing the raisin to sink. Then more bubbles stick, the raisin rises and falls again. This continues until the reaction no longer is creating large bubbles.

The second thing we did is the classic volcano. However, we didn’t make the mountain. First pour 1/2 cup vinegar in a 2L bottle. Then add 1/3 cup dish soap. We had 2 kinds of dish soap. One was blue, the other yellow. So we played with different combinations of the colors as I filled the measuring cup to make different shades of green. (you’re supposed to add red food coloring, but our “lava” was dark green at this point so we just left that out) Then we taped the bottle to cardboard and took it into the bathtub. Drop in a toilet paper packet containing 1T  baking soda and watch the bubbles rise. Believe it or not, I’d never done this before. The kids played with corking the bottle top and the bubbles coming out a small hole in the side.

These experiments didn’t work especially well for us. Our vinegar is too old. I’d like to do them again with new vinegar. Still, they worked well enough for the kids to get the idea of what’s happening and we had a lot of fun. Not only did we learn about chemical reactions, but also color mixing, math (fractions, counting, and measuring), and geology.

Back to the books

After a four-day weekend for Christmas and Karen’s 5th birthday, we’re back to the books this morning. My husband made a big deal about now that our daughter has turned five, she needs to pay more attention to schoolwork. I don’t know if this was meant for me or her. She’s not paid very much attention and I’ve been pretty slack so probably both of us.

So this morning while her brother did his schoolwork and I did the dishes from her dinner party, she read 5 Bob Books aloud in the living room. Learning at home is fun when you can cuddle with a doll or two while reading to Mama. She did well. She got a Fuzzy Duckling book and matching puzzle for her birthday and Poky Little Puppy puzzle for Christmas. After finishing the dishes, I read her Fuzzy Duckling then she did the puzzle (I had to justify the 20% educator discount from Barnes & Noble).

Everyone got new soft throws for Christmas to snuggle under, perfect for reading on the sofa. Richard got 3 Winnie the Pooh chapter books (Winnie the Pooh, The House at Pooh Corner, and Now we are Six) which he already loves. He also got a set of 15 hardcover chemistry books about the elements. This afternoon, he decided to read some in the book about hydrogen then my husband set up a charge generator to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen.

The plan this week is to finish Richard’s handwriting book. Then we’ll try creative writing prompts. Christian Light Education doesn’t have much writing. We should also finish the fifth of 10 workbooks which will make his school year half over.

Fun with science: inclined planes

Since today was another gorgeous Indian Summer day, we did our Fun With Science day outside. The topic was inclined planes, aka ramps and slides. After reading the sections of his book introducing simple machines and inclined planes, my son did the top part of a worksheet I made up. Then I took him and his little sister to 2 parks to measure slides. It was a lot of fun for us all. One child held the measure tape at the top of the slide while the other slid down holding the other end. They took turns as to who slid down and who stayed at the top. We had to adjust the tape to measure the middle of the slide rather than the center pole on the twisty slides. Richard wrote down the results and I helped him measure the heights. We also drew a small diagram of the slides beside each number since only 2 were straight. Once we got home we did the math to figure the mechanical advantage of each slide.

We’re all really enjoying the God’s Design science series. Rather than being grade level specific, I can use it with both kids. I do the basics with Karen and more in-depth for Richard all from the same book and activities. They are well written with a brief, simple introduction perfect for the little one, and more detail in the lesson for older students. It satisfies her wanting to be included in the science fun with her brother without boring him with easy stuff he already knows. And I only have to teach one science lesson.

Here’s the text of the worksheet I made up:

Fun With Science: Inclined Planes

Label the length and height of the inclined plane [drawing of elongated right angle triangle]

Understanding Inclined Planes:

  1. Another word for incline plane is a ____________________.
  2. Why do people use inclined planes? ____________________________________ __________________________________________________________________
  3. What is mechanical advantage? ________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________
  4. How do you “pay” for mechanical advantage? ____________________________ __________________________________________________________________

Exploring Inclined Planes: Length ÷ Height = Mechanical Advantage

A fun inclined plane found at most playgrounds is a ___________________________.

Measure the slides. Hypothesize which has the highest mechanical advantage: ______

  1. Length _____________ ÷ Height ______________ = ___________________
  2. Length _____________ ÷ Height ______________ = ___________________
  3. Length _____________ ÷ Height ______________ = ___________________
  4. Length _____________ ÷ Height ______________ = ___________________
  5. Length _____________ ÷ Height ______________ = ___________________

Do the math. Was your hypothesis correct? ____________