Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Reading The Hobbit to Your little Hobbit

The Hobbit New Photos

I am a huge proponent of reading fantasy novels to children.  I know there are many people and groups out there that feel fantasy novels are anti-Christian and dangerous, but I couldn't disagree more.  Every good fantasy novel features and epic battle between good and evil, characters who make hard choices to do what's right, and people who prove that love and forgiveness are more powerful hate.  These are precisely the ideas I want my child to absorb.

Plus, fantasy is just plain fun.  Crazy Bug loves the Harry Potter books and the Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander, and my husband and I can read them without going out of our minds.  But recently, we got a little more ambitious.  My husband has been begging to read Crazy Bug The Hobbit for some time now, but I've been putting him off.  I figured the book was just too dense for a six year-old to enjoy.  I couldn't have been more wrong.  Yes, the book took a lot of explaining. Unfamiliar terms abound, there are dozens of characters, and Tolkien enjoys using extremely long sentences.  But there is a new adventure every chapter and Crazy Bug loved the battles with wolves, trolls, goblins, and spiders!  Plus, with The Hobbit movie coming out on November 28th, your kids will undoubtedly be seeing and hearing enough about it to stir their interest.  If you're already reading chapter books to your child, then I highly recommend this book for your next read aloud!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Back to School!

It's that time again!  Shiny new clothes, lunch boxes, and trips to the bus stop.  Crazy Bug started first grade last week, and we're still adjusting to full day school.  (Actually, Crazy Bug seems fine, but I'm heartbroken at losing our "girl time").  As our time together shrinks, my job is to find ways to continue afterschooling while maintaining time for play, relaxation, and sports.  Are you having the same problem?  If so, then read on for some ideas on how to manage.

1. Prioritize
I'd like to expose Crazy Bug to so many experiences and help her improve so many skills.  But time is short, and I have to except that I can't do it all in one year.  So I prioritize with these three questions: What area does she need help with?  What area does she need more challenge in?  What excites her?

Using the questions above, I set these goals for the year:
  • Continue reading with and to Crazy Bug and asking critical thinking questions about what we've read.
  • Provide math enrichment through "real world" math challenges, word problems, and Kangaroo Math.
  • Continue artist studies and The Story of the World.
2. Find Ways to "Sneak Attack"
Now that I'm confident that I'll fit in my priorities, it's time to find ways to squeeze in some bonus learning.  I call this method "Sneak Attack" because it's fun, casual, and integrated into our every day life.  For example, I can work on writing complete sentences by having Crazy Bug write letters and thank you notes to family and friends.  We'll watch fun science videos and documentaries and work on geography skills while playing a family game of Scrambled States of America.  How can you sneak in a little extra education?

3.  Build Learning Skills
When I'm really honest with myself, I realize there is no way I'll ever be able to teach Crazy Bug everything I want her to know.  And I shouldn't!  Crazy Bug has a lifetime ahead of her to explore and learn!  What I can do is give her the skills and desire that will enable her to learn.  So in addition to teaching her fractions and grammar, I'll also teach her how to:
  • Find an answer to a question through research.
  • Follow through on projects and assignments.
  • Plan a project by breaking it down into manageable pieces.
  • Look at the world critically and ask questions about why and how.
  • Apply information she's learned in new ways.

Now I have my game plan. 
Good luck creating yours!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Learning to Love Latin

Once upon a time, Latin was a central part of students' education.  Students not only learned to conjugate verbs, but to read and enjoy literature in Latin as well.  Unfortunately, Latin has slowly been pushed aside to make way for other subjects.  Many schools only offer Latin as a lower-level course, making it a poor option for students concerned with their GPAs.  Luckily, as afterschooling parents, we have the option of giving our kids what the schools do not provide.  Even if you don't know a bit of Latin, you can learn along with your kids!  Here are some fantastic reasons to teach your kids Latin:
  • Your child will increase his vocabulary and increase his ability to understand unfamiliar words.  (SAT skill!)
  • Latin teaches grammar explicitly, which helps kids comprehend confusing English grammar concepts.  (SAT skill!)
  • Understanding Latin makes learning other Romance languages easier.  Since most college-bound students will study a Romance language in high school, this could be a huge help!
  • The ability to read Latin opens up a door to a world of Classical literature and culture. 

Convinced?  There are many wonderful Latin programs out there designed for homeschoolers.  While it is nearly impossible to teach your child a spoken language if you aren't fluent yourself, it is possible to teach Latin!  Most classical homeschoolers and afterschoolers start Latin instruction around third grade.  At this age, kids have the ability to read and write in English and understand basic grammar rules.  They are still young enough to memorize easily (a skill that fades as we grow older) and see learning a "secret" language as exciting.  

One Latin program I've looked at is Visual Latin.  It's a lively video Latin program that takes the pressure off nervous parents.  I've heard nothing but positive reviews from parents in the Well-Trained Mind Forums.  (Although I can teach my daughter Latin now, I know she'll probably progress faster than me as she gets older.)  And right now, it's 30% off!  Check it out below.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Early SAT Prep 3: Writing

Those of us who took the SAT years and years ago only dealt with two subjects: math and verbal.  Today's student face three: math, critical reading, and writing.  Many parents dismiss the writing section because they feel only the other two sections really matter.  While this was probably true when the writing section was first introduced, it's less true now that it's a well established section.  In addition, even if a college focuses on math and critical reading, a glaring low score in writing is sure to attract their attention.  You would do well to prepare your child for all three sections and let colleges focus where they will.

Before I start with specific advice, I'd like to tell a little story about a student I tutored this year.  I was tutoring her in AP history, because she had trouble keeping up with the fast pace of her AP class.  She had straight A's in her AP English class, however, so I assumed she was a strong writer.  When I helped her revise a history paper, I discovered I was sadly mistaken.  Nearly every sentence was a run-on sentence.  Some sentences actually lasted 5 or 6 lines!  Her paper wandered around her topic at random.  I could not discern a coherent argument.  While some paragraphs were nicely written, they didn't connect into a cohesive whole.  I sat there and wondered, "How is this an AP English paper?"

The fact is, that English teachers today have way too much to teach in a 50 minute period.  Great literature, critical reading, vocabulary, grammar, composition, poetry, and more.  It's too much!  I love literature, but I'd never want to be an English teacher.  Since their time is spread so thin, most English teachers can only help their students with the basics.  They teach the 5 paragraph essay format, which focuses on writing a thesis, introduction, body examples, and conclusion.  If they're lucky, they'll have time to address a few critical grammar problems as well. 

Strong writers are not created in 50 minute classes.  Here are some ways you can support your child's writing development:

1.  Read, Read, Read
Just like small children absorb the language they hear and then utilize it in their own speech, writers internalize what they have read.  Exposing your child early and often to well-written literature is essential to developing the inner ear: the ability to hear what sounds right and what doesn't.  Now, kids love and adore all sorts of terrible series books, and that's okay.  Just make sure your child is also hearing and reading vibrant, descriptive writing as well.

2.  Learn the Rules
Grammar is one area that continuously gets shortchanged in public high schools.  Strong readers will learn many of the rules by ear and naturally apply them to their own writing.  But most student need some explicit instruction.  The SAT writing section contains two grammar sections that ask students to identify and correct errors like run-on sentences, misused colons, subject-verb agreement, and improper pronoun cases.  You may be thinking, "What??"  Trust me, so are your kids.  There are many great homeschool grammar programs out their to choose from.  I recommend First Language Lessons for the Well Trained Mind for young children.  Make sure grammar work doesn't end in middle school, however.  There are more advanced grammar rules that students still need to master well into high school.

3.  Argue With Your Kids
Yeah, like you needed a reminder to do that!  Americans love to argue, but have you ever noticed how few do it well?  Occasionally debate issues with your kids.  Make sure they stick to the topic, don't change sides, and support their argument with strong examples.  All these skills are necessary for good persuasive writing.  Learning a bit about the classic art of rhetoric wouldn't hurt either.

4.  Teach Transitions
I've noticed that schools tend to teach that essays are made up of individual paragraphs each focused around a topic sentence.  That's a great start.  But students often don't realize that those individual paragraphs need to be careful woven into a cohesive essay.  Teach your kids that the topic shouldn't shift abruptly at the end of a paragraph.  For example, an essay arguing that creativity is the most important human quality might contain a paragraph about Einstein and another about Da Vinci.  The paragraph about Da Vinci shouldn't simply start with "Da Vinci was highly creative in many areas of his life..."  Instead, there should be a smooth transition from one paragraph to the other like, "Einstein was a great creative genius of the 20th century.  Similarly, Da Vinci was the creative genius of his time.."  Or whatever, but you see the point.

6.  Be Descriptive
There is a world of difference between decent writing and good writing.  And the difference mainly lies in style.  Which sounds better, "Martin Luther King Jr. fought for civil rights," or "Martin Luther King Jr. fought passionately for civil rights"?  One small descriptive word can make a whole lot of difference.  Great writers know this and describe everything they discuss.  Make sure your child have a strong vocabulary full of adjectives and uses them regularly.  You can use them too in your daily discussions!

I could make a million more suggestions, but this blog post is already wordy enough.  (Hey, it's about writing!)  One great comprehensive writing program I love it 6 Trait Writing.  It can be used for any level and teaches students to edit their own work.  Self-editing is crucially important for college students and adults!  There's not always going to be a parent or concerned teacher looking over their shoulders to help them improve.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Story of the World: Chapters 5 & 6

Life has been a little crazy around here this week between the 4th of July and preparing for the kids' art class I'm teaching next week.  So here's a combined post for The Story of the World and Episcopal Children's Curriculum (EEC).  Chapter 6 of SOTW tells the story of Joseph, which tied into our EEC unit, so we studied them together.

Story of the World: Chapter 5
This chapter tells the story of Sargon, the first Sumerian dictator.  Sargon united Sumer and renamed it Akkadia.  Chapter 5 was very short and none of the suggested crafts particularly appealed to us, so we skipped them.

The Golden Sandal - a Cinderella story set in Mesopotamia

Ancient Civilizations for Children: Ancient Mesopotamia (With Teacher's Guide) [VHS]

Sumerian Inventions Word Search - found in the Activity Guide

Story of the World Chapter 6 and EEC Shell Year Unit 1: Sections 5 & 6

Joseph - this is a BEAUTIFULLY illustrated bible story
Dance, Sing, Remember : A Celebration of Jewish Holidays - introduces Jewish holidays and includes some accompanying activities


Joseph - King of Dreams

Crazy Bug made a many colored dream t-shirt using spray on fabric paint. This was a good lesson in "less is more" because the more spray that was added the muddier the colors became.  We're going to try it again this summer using only closely related colors like red, purple, and blue.

We've also been checking our Chicken Mummy and changing his salt mixture regularly.  He's already dried out a lot!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Buying Curriculum Without Going Broke

At some point, once your signed onto the idea of afterschooling, the big question is going to hit you: How am I going to PAY for all of this?

Homeschool curricula, art supplies, project materials, and educational aids can be expensive.  But you can afterschool without going broke.  Here's how:

1.  Use your library.
 If you haven't been in a while, you'll be amazed at how much your library has to offer.  Most libraries also offer interlibrary loan, where you can borrow materials from other local libraries and pick them up at your own library.  This should be your number one stop for read alouds, independent readers, non-fiction resources, magazines, documentaries, etc.

2.  Decide what you need.  Then decide what you really need.
Once you've realized what your library has to offer, you should be able to narrow your list down.  What else can you do without?  Many curricula publishers offer all sorts of extra materials you don't really need.  For instance, I don't need videos and cds to accompany every book I have.  Could you use free online resources instead of pricey ones?  Join a forum like The Well Trained Mind Forums, and you'll find that many members have already created great materials and are willing to share free of charge.

3.  Buy used., Paperback Swap, and library book sales are great places to find cheap materials.  Check if your local homeschool organization organizes a used curriculum sale too.  Last month I found half the Smart About Art book series and all the early readers I could ever need at my town library's sale.  I walked away with a huge bag of books for under $10.  I also collected 20 Illustrated Children's Classics at a yard sale for just $3!

4.  Visit the dollar store.
You can buy cheap craft materials, workbooks, flashcards, and more dirt cheap.  I also use this as a resource for those one-time-use project supplies.  I don't drink coffee or iron, so when I needed coffee filters and spray starch for an art project, I purchased them cheaply at the Dollar Tree.

5.  Rack up points.
Lately I discovered a great site called Swagbucks, where you can earn points to redeem for Amazon and other gift certificates.  In just a week I've earned $20 in Amazon gift cards.  Just by downloading the Swagbucks toolbar you can earn points for doing your normal, everyday searching.  If you have extra time to take surveys, you'll earn even faster!  (My daughter swims for hours every day, which is normally wasted time for me because I have to be by the pool.  Lately I've been taking surveys on my cell phone to better use the time!)

Do you have other great money saving ideas?  Let me know!  We can all use a little help.

Search & Win

Friday, June 29, 2012

Story of the World: Chapter 4

All Hail the Chicken Mummy!

It's here, it's finally here: the infamous chicken mummy chapter!  Crazy Bug and I have eagerly awaited chapter 4 of The Story of the World, because we've heard so much about the chicken mummy project.  And because we like doing really weird stuff.

Chapter 4 is about the Old Kingdom of Egypt and focuses on mummies and pyramids.  There are a couple projects suggested in the Activity Guide, but the one everyone talks about is mummifying a chicken.  I was wary at first, because I hate handling raw meat and I gag very easily.  The idea of leaving a chicken on my counter for a month didn't sound too tempting.  But many people reassured me, and I'm happy to say they were right.  Our chicken (actually a cornish game hen) is drying nicely in a mixture of baking soda, washing soda, and salt.  No stench!  If you don't have the Story of the World Activity Guide, you can find similar chicken mummy directions here.

I'd recommend this project for anyone studying Ancient Egypt.  Crazy Bug is in that gross six year-old phase and just adores our King Cluckmantutan.  She's really understands what the mummification process is all about now, and I'm sure she'll remember the information for a l-o-n-g time.

Here's what else we did:

Story of the World Lapbook, Chapter 4 component

You Wouldn't Want to Be an Egyptian Mummy! - this book is not for the squeamish!
You Wouldn't Want to Be a Pyramid Builder
Mummies! (Know-It-Alls)


Scented Oil
This is a project from the Activity Guide.  We'll use it later on our chicken mummy.  Crazy Bug chose the unusual and highly stinky combination of cinnamon, garlic, onion, curry, and dill seed.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Raising Artistic Children

One of my major goals as a parent is to raise a creative, artistic child.  That doesn't necessarily mean a child whose drawings amaze others.  It means a child who loves to create, who really looks at art and responds to it, and who uses her hands to communicate and express herself.  How do I pursue this goal?  Well, you may have noticed we do a LOT of artist studies around here...

Here are some ways to help your children develop artistically:

1.  Keep your house stocked with art supplies.
Children can't explore and create if the materials aren't available to them.  And don't lock these away for special occasions; use them weekly!

Paint - For an extremely washable, multi-use paint I love Colorations Washable Tempera
Watercolors -Spring for the Crayolas.  The colors are much more vivid than cheaper brands.
Paintbrushes - Get a good mix of brush sizes and some foam ones.
Construction paper - 9x12 and 12x18
Markers - both washable and Sharpies
Oil Pastels - These are used like crayons, but they can also be blended with your fingers.
Clay - There are a million choices here: oven bake, air dry, modeling foam.  Choose your favorite.
Glue sticks
Strong Glue - I love Beacons 3-in-1.  It is SUPER strong and dries very quickly.
Collage materials - magazines, fancy paper, rhinestones, glitter, feathers, foam shapes, etc.
Acrylic Paints - Once your kids are past the toddler years, you may want to buy some acrylic paints.  These aren't washable, but look much better on surfaces like wood or clay.
Spiral-bound Sketchbooks - for drawing on the go

2.  Buy a good book of art ideas or art "recipes"
Here's a little secret: I'm really not that creative.  I spend a lot of time gathering ideas from books and the internet.  To save you some time, I've listed two of my favorite books.

Scribble Art: Independent Creative Art Experiences for Children (Bright Ideas for Learning)
Complete Book of Art Ideas


3.  Look at art
Buy books about art and artists or check them out from your local library.  Discuss the differences between artworks and styles and what you like or dislike about them.  Don't panic!  Discussing art doesn't require an art history degree.  If you don't know what's special about a particular artwork or movement, read a children's book about it.  The authors have already done the work for you by figuring out how to explain its significance in child-friendly language.  After you've looked at books, see art in person.  Visit an art museum, sculpture garden, or art show.  Again: discuss, discuss, discuss!

4.  Encourage your child to step out of his or her comfort zone.
If your daughter likes to keep her paint colors separate, encourage her to mix them once in a while.  If your son always draw with dark, thick lines, ask him to try drawing with light, sketchy lines.  Your kids love to paint, so you encourage them to sculpt.  Trying new techniques is so important this stage!  Don't let your kids fall into rigid habits.  (But do let them revert to their favorite styles when they initiate the project.)

5.  Change your decorating style to Kiddie Art Chic
Displaying your children's art lets them know how important it is to you.  My entire house is covered with paintings, drawings, collages, and other crafts.  It's not pretty.  But it's teaching my daughter that creating is important.  It's showing her that what she does isn't just "refrigerator clutter" -- it's worthy of my wall space and our attention.

These ideas should get you started.  Before you know it, your walls will be covered and your six year old will be asking to go to France to visit the Monet museum.  Mission accomplished!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Story of the World: Chapter 3

Chapter 3 of the Story of the World is only one section long, but we did a lot with it!  This chapter discusses the invention of writing and introduces both cuneiform and hieroglyphics.  We read the chapter and completed the chapter 3 lapbook component.

Seeker of Knowledge - I loved this book!  It's a great beginner's biography of the man who deciphered the Rosetta Stone.

After discussing how the Egyptians made papyrus, we made our own homemade paper.  I've done this before using materials from around the house and it was a pain in the neck.  This time we used Arnold Grummer's Papermaking Kit , and it was much, much easier!

We did an experiment to test which was a more durable method of writing, carving on clay tablets or writing on paper.

1.  First, we used Sculpey oven-bake clay ( III Modeling Compound copper) to create clay "tablets".  Using toothpicks, we carved cuneiform letters onto them and baked them until hard.

2.  My mother gave Crazy Bug a great hieroglyphic stamp set from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which we used to stamp "papyrus" (resume paper).  We rolled the paper into scrolls and tied them with string.

3.  We filled two identical containers with the same amount of same temperature water (a great time to talk about controlled variables), and put the clay tablet in one and the paper in the other.  We then checked the items every few hours to see how they were holding up.  By the next morning, we couldn't unroll the paper without ripping it, but the clay was unchanged.  Crazy Bug and I discussed the fact that there are few records from the later Egyptian periods and how this relates to the use of paper.  We also discussed how our modern records (paper and computer files) might hold up in 5000 years.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Cute Banner Craft

Make this cute, simple banner to decorate a kid's bedroom, decorate for a party, or just liven up your house!  It works nicely as either a family project or something for your kids to work on at the table while you're making dinner.

Materials needed:

Three 9"x12" sheets of colored felt
Foam or felt stickers
Glitter glue or puffy paint
Strong glue (Like Beacons 3-in-1)
Hole punch
1/4" satin ribbon


1.  Cut 9 triangles from the felt. They should be approximately 3" wide at the base and 10" long.

2.  Decorate the triangles with the stickers, glitter glue, and/or puffy paint.  Glue the beads on for added detail.

3.  Punch two holes at the top corners of each triangle.

4.  String the triangles on the ribbon in a pleasing pattern and then hang.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Summer Reading Olympics!

Olympic Rings

Now that summer's here, your children are going to be spending a lot less time sitting in class, and a lot more time sitting around your house.  Hot summer days can be boredom inducing, or they can be brain boosting!  There's nothing better than relaxing in front of a fan with a good book on a steamy day.

But maybe your kids haven't realized this yet.  Maybe they haven't discovered that reading is fun.  What you need is a little incentive.  Many parents feel they shouldn't reward kids for reading because they want their kids to read purely for the love of it.  This ignores a fundamental truth about reading, however.  When kids first learn to read, it's not fun.  It's hard, hard work!  Their little brains are trying to remember a million things at once, and it's exhausting.  Reading only becomes enjoyable once it feels natural.  Until then, your child probably needs a little motivation.  We used to require Crazy Bug to read 10 minutes a night.  Some nights it was torture.  We kept it up, though, and suddenly, when she got to a second grade reading level, she took off!  Now she's reading day and night.  It took us a few incentive programs to get her there however.

This year Crazy Bug's school participated in her school's Reach For the Gold Reading Program.  The idea was for students to become "Olympic Readers" by reading for 15 minutes each night.  There were ribbons for students who read for 10 consecutive nights, and medals for those who read 20, 30, or 40 nights.  Crazy Bug would have done ANYTHING to earn that gold medal!

There's no reason you can't recreate this program at home!  Here's how:
  • Set your own goal for either a daily commitment or a total number of hours read.
  • Kick off your Reading Olympics with an Opening Ceremony.  Create some fun Olympic themed crafts together, like this Olympic torch.

  • At the halfway point, your "athletes" gain corporate sponsorship with all its perks!  (Let them choose their favorite place for an inexpensive treat and call it a sponsorship perk.)

  • Keep the fun rolling with Activity Village's Olympic printables.
  • When your kids have met their goals, hold an awards ceremony.  Make your own awards or purchase these fancy medals.
There's no reason why you can't stretch the Olympic fun to other subjects too.  The Summer Olympics has more than one event.  Maybe your child can earn a silver medal in math facts or a bronze for geography!  You could also do a unit study on the Olympic Games.  Homeschool Shareoffers a free Olympics Lapbook template.