Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Math Enrichment Resources

A few weeks ago I asked Crazy Bug what she wanted to do this summer.  I expected the typical responses: swim, go to Six Flags, camp.  Instead she said, "Math! Lots and lots and lots of math."  So math it is!

We are currently using Math Mammoth 1b as our basic curriculum.  It's a nice, steady, easy to implement mastery-based approach to math.  I love that you can just open it up and go because I don't have time for lots of planning.  While its nice to know the basics are covered and Crazy Bug is not missing any concepts, I have to admit that Math Mammoth is a bit dull.  So I supplement with other materials that increase critical thinking skills and mix up the material a bit.

Here are some terrific supplements:

Sunshine Math is a program created by the Florida Department of Education to challenge advanced students.  The worksheets are available for free online.  Each worksheet has a mix of concepts and problem types, and many explore concepts outside of the general grade-level curriculum.

Singapore Math's Challenge Word Problems is another great resource.  Word problems ensure that your child not only understands how to do math, but also when and how to use each concept.  These problems are a little tough, so you may need to go down one level from your child's general math level.  Be prepared to provide support and assistance while your child adjusts to this type of problems.

Critical Thinking Company offers a large variety of math and non-math resources.  They all challenge children to expand their ways of thinking about and solving problems.  This year I'm using Mathematical Reasoning Level B and Building Thinking Skills Level 1, as time allows.

Dr. Wright's Kitchen Table Math: Book 1 is the first in a series of three books for elementary school children and their parents.  The three books span the entire elementary school math curriculum with easy, hands-on math activities to do at home.  If your child is a tactile learner, then this is a great place to start.  Personally, we have only used Book 3, which focuses on non-arithmetic math: geometry, problem solving, probability, graphing, and more.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

To Be Continued...

This is the last week before the final SAT exam of the year, so life's a little crazy around here right now.  Afterschooling is temporarily on hold while I race from appointment to appointment.  We'll pick up again next week and I'll have some new posts for you then, like a Picasso study, our first Story of the World chapters, and more math enrichment!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Chihuly Artist Study

Dale Chihuly is a glass artist who makes beautiful, colorful, gigantic glass pieces that fascinate kids.  He's also an exciting artist to study because he's still alive and creating.  And he looks like a pirate.  I'd never even heard of him until Crazy Bug and I went to the MFA.  In the middle of the museum there is a 40 ft glass sculpture entitled Lime Green Icicle Tower.  It's incredible to look at up close.  It glows in the the light on a sunny day.                                                                                                             Since Chihuly is a recent artist, we couldn't find a children's biography about him.  But the Indianapolis Children's Museum came to the rescue with their Chihuly unit for teachers.  It includes a two page biography that worked perfectly for us.  There are also online games and videos that allow children to explore glass work.

Our first project was to make "glass" bowls that explore color mixing.

Coffee filters
Washable markers
Water mister
Spray starch (try your local dollar store for a can)
Glasses, bowls, or tupperware

The process is pretty simple.

1.  Have your child decorate a coffee filter with markers.  Try different color combinations and patterns.  Feels free to swirl the colors all around each other.

2.  Mist the coffee filter lightly with water to help the colors start mixing.

3.  Lay down some newspaper and place upside-down glasses, bowls, or tupperware on top.

4.  Put each coffee filter over a bowl or glass and spray it with starch.  Use your finders to fold and mold the coffee filters into interesting shapes.

Crazy Bug loved this project so much that she made dozens of bowls.  They lay around our house until my mother suggest using them to make a flower garden on Crazy Bug's bedroom door.  I trimmed some green paper into a grass border and taped it to the bottom of the door, then added thick green ribbon stems.  We then tapped the bowls to the top of the stems to make flowers.  Too cute!

The second project was to make a free form "glass'' installation.  I picked up cheap clear plastic cups and stemmed glasses at the Dollar Tree and we colored them with permanent markers.  (Medium to light colored markers look best.  We painted the inside a few of the ones shown here with acrylic paint, but those turned out too dark and matte for my taste.)  I then placed them on a foil covered cookie sheet and broiled them for a couple of minutes until they started to melt.  Watch carefully and open all your windows!  Afterwards, I hot glued them together and hung them with strong thread.  This looks beautiful hung in front of a window where it will catch the light!

If you like near Indianapolis, go check out Fireworks of Glass!  We'll be soooo jealous!

*I selected this post to be featured on Education Blogs. Please visit the site and vote for my blog!*

Monday, May 21, 2012

Early SAT Prep 2: Math

SAT math and high school math are very different animals.  In high school, students study one concept at a time, from one area of math.  For example, most students take a year of geometry.  During that year they might study angles, then triangles, then polygons, then circles.  After studying a concept for a couple of weeks, they're tested on that concept.  For the test, they mainly have to recall the information learned over the prior few weeks and apply it over and over again in slightly different ways.

The SAT tests dozens of concepts from different areas of math.  What's more, many problems test multiple concepts within one problem!  Students can't simply regurgitate the same information again and again.  They have to use their critical thinking skills to evaluate the information provided and determine the concepts, equations, or strategies necessary to solve the problem.

Student who do well on the SAT are not necessarily the ones who receive the highest scores on their classroom tests.  But they are the ones who understand how math works.  They are the ones who can reason out an answer even without a handy-dandy formula.

So how can you help prepare your child?  Here are some tips:

Know the Facts
The SAT is a timed test and every minute counts.  So having basic math facts memorized obviously helps.  Yes, students can use calculators, but calculators are easy to confuse.  Hit plus instead of minus or add an unnecessary decimal and your answer is thrown off.  I've seen many many students multiply 36 x 9 and get 4 without realizing that something strange is going on.  I love the free site XtraMath for memorizing facts.  It's simple, graphic free, and kind of boring, but it gets the job done!

Work the Word Problems
The SAT is the wordiest math test you'll ever see.  Many students can't even figure out what the problem is asking them to do, much less how to solve it.  Public schools do spend more time on word problems than they used to, but it's still not enough.  Particularly at higher levels.  Two useful resources are Singapore's Challenge Word Problems workbooks and The Art of Problem Solving curriculum.

Don't Give Partial Credit
Teacher's often give students partial credit if they solve the problem the right way but make a calculation error.  The SAT does not, and for good reason!  I remember watching my husband and father-in-law build radiator covers for our old house.  They knew how to do the calculations, but kept making minor mistakes.  Much cursing ensued when the resulting radiator covers didn't fit over the radiators.  There's not such thing as a "partially correct" answer to a math problem!

Mix It Up
While new concepts clearly need to be taught one at a time, it doesn't mean students should only work on one type of problem at a time.  Every lesson should end with review problems from several different areas.  And as students get older, problems should be multi-step and multi-concept.  For example, the SAT often gives students the area of a square inscribed in a circle, then asks for the circumference of the circle.  Students must use their knowledge of area to find the length of the square's sides.  Then they must use their knowledge of right triangles and squares' diagonals to find the length of the diagonal.  This in turn is used to find the circle's radius, which is then (finally!) used to calculate circumference.  See why your teenager's head is spinning?

Don't Wait to Get Help
If your son or daughter is struggling with math, don't delay getting help or hire a "homework tutor."  I have frequently been asked by parents to tutor their children by helping them with their homework each day.  I see two problems with this.  First, it's just treading water.  Students who are struggling generally need to go back to the basics and move slowly forward from there, filling in gaps in knowledge and skills as they go.  Second, it teaches the student to be dependent on outside help.  Tutors should help students master concepts so that they can do homework problems (which are designed as practice) on their own.  Math continues to build each year, so getting your child help with pre-algebra will be much more useful then trying to diagnose what she's missed when she's in algebra II.

I hope these ideas help!  If you have other ideas or resources, let me know and I'll try to add them in.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Matisse Artist Study

File:Portrait of Henri Matisse 1933 May 20.jpgI picked Henri Matisse for our newest artist study simply because of his work with paper cuttings.  Crazy Bug is a serious snipperer.  Sometimes call her the Once-ler because she goes through so much paper.  So I knew she'd enjoy these projects.

We read Henri Matisse: Drawing with Scissors (Smart About Art).  Next we tried two different art projects. (Just because snipping is so fun!)  The first was a self-portrait project that I found at Art lessons for Kids, that she in turn found at IncredibleArt.com.

I included this project to try to break Crazy Bug out of her rigid, perfectionist habits.  She hates trying anything new, so I new making a crazy, odd picture would be tough for her.  She complained many times while making it, but she loved the end result.  (Except for the lopsided smile.)

The second picture was a collage made from shaped paper cut-outs.  It was inspired by the "I am the Vine" parable we heard at church last week.  (John 15:5)  I thought it tied in nicely because Matisse also designed an entire church.  We did this one as a collaborative project.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Teacher-Free Geography

I've been pondering this problem while I looked at the recommended curriculum plan in The Well-Trained Mind.  (One of the most brilliant modern books on parenting and education, in my opinion.)  How could I leave anything out?  My daughter is not being challenged enough in school in reading and math.  I need to provide that.  Schools don't really teach grammar any more, so I'll have to do that too.  Art appreciation is laughable, so add that.  History, Latin, geography, oh my!  This is not all going to fit.

So I decided to add some stealth geography education.  No teaching.  No worksheets.  Just plain fun.

US map
First, I tacked big maps to the wall.  Every time a place is mentioned in a conversation, we go look it up.

Then we played Pin The Continent on the Map.  Exactly like pin the tail on the donkey, only you're pinning up continents and oceans.  After about 700 rounds of this (and my deeply regretting I'd ever created the game) Crazy Bug knew her continents!  And it's still her favorite game.

Next, we read around the world.  We read stories that took place in different countries and made crafts and recipes from each country we read about.

Shifting to the US, we read The Scrambled States of America.  You can also watch the movie and play the board game by the same title.

I bought a US states puzzle and a world map puzzle.  Crazy Bug is currently puzzle mad.

Other resources you could try:
Great States Junior (ages 4-7)
Great States Card Game (ages 7+)
Our 50 States: A Family Adventure Across America (picture book, same illustrator as Fancy Nancy)

There are also computer games, CDs to listen to in the car, activity books, and sticker books.  You'll be surprised how much stealth learning you can include!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Jacob's Dream

Here is our project for lessons 3 & 4 of ECC:

I combined lessons 3 and 4 for two really sound pedagogical reasons: I thought 3 was boring and I couldn't find a good craft to go with it!  I searched and searched for a good craft for lesson 4 and finally came across this printable from New Church Vineyard.

Crazy Bug colored Jacob and the ladder, cut them out, and glued them to blue construction paper.  Then I helped her do a Google image search for angels.  She adores printing things off the computer, which I rarely let her due because colored ink costs so much.  I copied and pasted the images onto a Word doc, then adjusted their sizes so they all fit on about 1/2 a page.  We printed them out and Crazy Bug cut them out and glued them around the ladder.  Finally, for a heavenly touch, we added extra fine, clear glitter to the angels, ladder, and air.  (I love extra fine, clear plastic glitter!  It matches any project, looks more classy then regular glitter, and doesn't seem to leave the same kind of mess all over your house!)

Next up in EEC: Joseph and his coat of many colors.  Stop by next week to check it out!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Early SAT Prep 1: Vocabulary

One comment I hear again and again when I tutor is, "I've never seen any of these words before.  How come I have to know them?"  Students often feel that having a strong working vocabulary is unimportant because they can just look up any unfamiliar word as they come across it.  What they fail to realize is that the SAT tests the level vocabulary they should be writing and speaking with, not just reading.  The difference between a sophisticated paper and one that lacks style lies partly in the words chosen to express the ideas.

So how can you help your child build this kind of working vocabulary?  Well, you could get flashcards...

Just kidding!

Here are some easy ideas:

1.  Read books that use sophisticated vocabulary.
I find that older books tend to include many more words than newer children's books.  Compare Andrew Lang's fairy tales with Disney versions, for example.  Or even one of the original Curious George books with the new stories based on the PBS show.  When in doubt turn to the classics.  Roald Dahl's books also pack a verbal punch.  (If you know of other vocabulary-rich children's books, please leave a comment!)

2.  Discuss unfamiliar words.
When you come to a word your child may not know, stop and ask him about it.  Explain what it means.  If you don't know it, you can find plenty of free dictionary apps for your smartphone to help you out.  Try to use the word again later when discussing the book or having a conversation.

3.  Encourage descriptive writing.
If your daughter is writing a thank you note, postcard, or story, encourage her to use stronger descriptive words.  Can she change "We saw some big mountains" to "We saw some gigantic mountains"? 

4.  Talk like a grown-up.
Children absorb what they hear.  Anyone who's ever accidentally let an expletive fly knows that!  Use this to your advantage by using sophisticated words yourself.  If your child doesn't understand a word, you can always explain it.  If your own vocabulary is weak, go ahead and sign up for a word-of-the-day e-mail program. 

I hope these ideas inspire you!  Maybe someday your child will put his arm around you and say, "Mom, thanks for all you did to help me succeed on the SAT and get accepted into my top choice college!" 

Or maybe not.  But we can hope, can't we?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Advice from an SAT Expert

I've been an SAT and ACT tutor for 5 years now.  I've taught hundreds of students in test prep classes and in their homes.  The majority of my private tutoring students are bright teenagers taking multiple AP and Honors classes.  These kids should be well prepared for the SAT.

They're not.

Here's what I would like to say to their parents.

"Your child has spent 12 years in school learning to read, write, and solve problems.  Now he has 8 weeks to prepare for the SATs.  In 8 weeks I can:
  • Teach him strategies to improve his accuracy and avoid careless mistakes so his test scores will reflect his actual abilities.
  • Review math concepts he hasn't used for a while and may have forgotten.
  • Show him how to write the specific type of essay that the essay graders are looking for.
  • Review and/or teach grammar rules.
In 8 weeks I cannot:
  • Provide your child with a college level vocabulary.
  • Greatly increase your child's critical reading ability.
  • Increase your child's math problem solving ability to the point where he can see a problem and determine the simplest way to find the information he needs to solve it.
What can you, as a parent, do?  You can get in a time machine, go back to kindergarten, and start working on those skills then!"

Somehow, I don't think that conversation would go over well.  But hopefully, your child is still in elementary school and you have plenty of time to prepare!  Does this mean I advocate spending 12 years "teaching to the test"?  Absolutely not!  However, I do advocate spending 12 years helping your child prepare to be an articulate adult who reads critically and solves difficult problems.  Starting tomorrow, I'll help you out with a series of posts demonstrating how to build these skills in children.  No flash cards or bubble tests necessary!

Our May Reading List

Last month we finished reading the third Harry Potter book to Crazy Bug.  We're afraid the rest of the series may be a little heavy for her at this age, so we've been looking for other options.  Neither my husband nor I can stand any more of the rapidly published children's series books!  So here's what we've found...


Emily's Runaway Imagination, by Beverly Cleary
A book about the funny adventures of a farm girl in the early 1900's.  This is a great introduction to what life was like a 100 years ago!  Follow it up with a trip to a living history museum so your child can see things like a washboard and wringer in person.

The Blue Fairy Book, by Andrew Lang
This classic 1890's collection of fairy tales is part of a whole series of books.  The tales are much more detailed and interesting than current versions and use rich, sophisticated vocabulary.  Your child might enjoy seeing how the original tales differ from the Disney versions.  Plus, the series has dozens of tales you've probably never even heard before!

Aesop's Fables
Every child should be familiar with these.  There are probably hundreds of versions available.

Mr. Popper's Penguins, by Richard and Florence Atwater
When Mr. Popper is sent a group of penguins, life gets nuts until he takes his penguin show on the road.  Try another compare and contrast activity with the book and the recent movie.

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
Pippi leads the life your child dreams of: she has a pirate father, a pet monkey, and no parental supervision!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Noah, His Ark, and Father Abraham

Here are our bible crafts for lessons 1& 2 of ECC!

Noah's Ark

This project was actually suggested in the curriculum.  The rainbow is a sign of God's promise to humanity, so we made a big rainbow collage.

1.  Take a piece of poster board and sketch a large rainbow on it.  (I was neurotic and actually used a ruler so all the colors would be the same width.  But feel free to freehand it!)

2.  Collect all the craft or could-be-craft supplies in your house and start sorting by color.  We used feathers, foam shapes, pom-poms, dyed pasta, fabric flower petals, etc.  Start gluing them on to the appropriate rows.  (By the way, if you don't have a good, strong, fast drying glue, I'd highly recommend Beacons 3-in-1 Craft Glue.  It's a liquid glue that dries as strong as hot glue!  Keep an eye on it though - it took the finish off my coffee table!)

3.  If you've run out of materials and it still looks wimpy, add stickers to any empty spots.  AC Moore usually has great tablets of 500-1000 stickers for $1 each.

4.  You can just print "Promise" above it or print the quote "I have set my bow in the clouds and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth." (Genesis 9:13)

Abraham and Sarah

God promised to make Abraham's descendants as many as the stars in the sky.  So we made beautiful "stained glass" stars.

1.  Cut a star out of cardstock, poster board, or a cereal box.

2.  Use a hot glue gun to make thick lines of glue across the star in various directions.  These will be "metal" between the colors of glass.

3.  Glue aluminum foil to the star with white glue or a glue stick.  Fold the edges around the back of the star.

4.  Use Sharpies to color the areas between the glue ridges.  (Fat, marker-like Sharpies work much better than ultra-fine point ones.)

Thump-Free Bible Curriculum

Let me just state now that I'm a liberal Episcopalian from Massachusetts.  I support gay marriage.  I support birth control.  And bible thumping makes me very nervous.

But that doesn't mean I'm not a Christian.  I want my daughter to have a relationship with God, a strong sense of right and wrong, knowledge of the bible, and an understanding of our religion.  With that in mind, I set off to find an appropriate religious curriculum.  It was a scary journey.

I finally narrowed it down to three curricula widely used by the Episcopal church: Catechism of the Good Shepherd, Godly Play, and Episcopal Children's Curriculum.  The first two are Montessori based and require fancy materials.  And so I turned to the Episcopal Children's Curriculum published by Virginia Theological Seminary.  ECC is available, in its entirety, online and free of charge.  It has lots of options for each lesson including activities sheets, cut and paste crafts, more creative crafts, and serious bible study.  It covers bible stories, prayer, sacraments, Episcopal liturgy, and more.  For non-Episcopalians it could be easily adapted by skipping the "church" units to focus on the bible units.  My daughter loves it because each lesson has a collectible review card to accompany it, and she'll do anything that allows her to collect stuff.  And did I mention it's free?

The only problems I've found is with the crafts.  Crazy Bug and I are Serious Arts-and-Crafts People.  So I've scoured the internet and my own brain and added our own thematic crafts.  We're currently using the Shell Year of the Primary curriculum.  I'll share the crafts here as we create them.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Snails: Part 2

 Snail mania has not yet subsided at my house.  Crazy Bug's fabulous kindergarten teacher encourages kids to bring in things they've written at home and share them with the class, so Caitlyn published a book about her snails.  I let her type it up, because she had a lot to say and her hand still gets too tired for lengthy writing projects.  I sat with her to help her organize her thoughts and use complete sentences.  For example:

 Me: "What did we do first?"
CB: "Find snails"
Me:  "How could you say that?  We..."
CB: "We found snails."
Me:  "Good, where?"
CB: "We found snails in the bushes."

I found another great advantage of typing: spellcheck!  My daughter is a perfectionist and HATES to be corrected when she writes.  But it's extremely painful for me to watch her hand her book to someone after all her hard work and hear them say, "What does it say?"  With spellcheck, I didn't have to say a thing.  Incorrect words were obvious with the handy red line.  Crazy Bug is at the point where she recognized the correct way to spell a word when she sees it, but can't always remember how to spell it on her own.  So after she wrote the book, I showed her how to use the spellcheck to find the correct spelling.  Every time she was able to pick out the right word from the list of suggestions.  I could practically see her thinking, "Oh, yeah, 'right' has a 'gh'."  Golden!

I also took some pictures and added them to the pages for her, so it looked really professional.  Here's the final result:

A Trip to the MFA

I took Crazy Bug to the MFA for the first time a few months ago, and we went back today.  An art museum may sound like the dullest place in the world for a 6 year-old, but it doesn't have to be!  Here are some tips:

1.  Let your child be the guide.
Don't make your kids spend 5 minutes staring at a picture just because it's a Picasso.  My daughter zipped through galleries in record time, then spent 20 minutes staring at the Chihuly sculpture in the atrium.  I thought she'd be fascinated by the Egyptian exhibit, but it turned out that she'd seen a few too many Scooby-Do movies about mummies and wouldn't go in.

2.  Look for kid friendly options.
The MFA offers homeschool classes every Friday with a 45 minute art tour followed by a creative project.  It costs $8 and the child and parent both get free museum admission!  Personally, I thought a 45 minute tour was a little too long for 6 year-olds, but at least check out the options.  Museums also usually have special handouts or guides geared towards families.

3.  Don't ignore modern art.
You'd probably like your child to appreciate Renoir and Michelangelo, but young kids aren't interested in subtlety.  Instead, try the bright, bold modern art exhibits!

4.  Be prepared.
Bring a sketch book and colored pencils and let your child draw what he sees.  Or make a simple scavenger hunt to help your child have fun AND learn about art.  See below for an example.

5.  Ask questions.
This is the most important thing you can do to help your child slow down and really look at the art.  What do you like about that painting?  How is this picture different from the last one?  What animals do you see?  Did the artist use big lines or little lines?  Straight or curvy?  What do you think that man is thinking?   What do you think that sculpture is made out of?

6.  Take a break.
Go to the cafeteria or courtyard and eat a snack.  Hungry kids are fussy kids, as we all know!  Little legs get tired easily too.

7.  Collect stuff.
Collect brochures, exhibit guides, and any other hand out you can find.  You can bring them home and use them for a scrapbook of your trip.  My daughter loved finding pictures of the artwork she'd seen and pasting them onto a "My Trip" page.  Which was then glitter-glued half to death.

Simple Art Museum Scavenger Hunt

Take a few jumbo index cards, hole punch the corners, and put them on a binder ring so they don't get lost.

Write the following on the cards:

Card 1                                                                    Card 3
Can you find a ...                                                     Can you find...
Portrait                                                                    Straight lines
Landscape                                                               Curvy lines
Still Life                                                                    Dots or dabs

Card 2                                                                    Card 4
Can you find an example of...                                   Can you find a sculpture of a...
Painting                                                                    Man
Sculpture                                                                 Women
Print                                                                        Child
Pottery                                                                    Real animal
                                                                               Mythical creature

When your child finds an item, write the title of the piece on the card.  Over ambitious parent bonus idea:  Take a picture of the artwork or find an image online and add it to the cards or type up a little book.

Monet Artist Study

Self Portrait With A Beret - Oscar-Claude Monet

We've been doing a little low-key artist study this year using the Smart About Art series from Grosset & Dunlap.  I love these books because they're not as wordy or as dry as most children's biographies.  There are cartoons and word bubbles!  We read each book, then I have Crazy Bug fill out a sheet I typed up.  It has spots for the name of the artist, his year of birth and nationality, the artistic movement he was part of, and a brief description of his style.  (CB just jots down descriptive phrases, not whole sentences)  There's a space at the bottom to attach a picture of her favorite painting or sculpture by the artist.  Then we do a project in the style of the artist.

For example, today we read Claude Monet: Sunshine and Waterlilies (Smart About Art).

Artist: Claude Monet
Year of Birth: 1840
Country: France
Movement: Impressionism
Description: dabs of color, painted outside, light

For the project we looked at the painting The Waterlilies and tried to recreate it.  Now obviously, my 6 year old is not going to be able to paint a recognizable copy of The Waterlilies.  That's okay.  The point is, that in attempting to recreate it, she's looking closely at the artist's technique.  We observed that the water was made up of blue, green, and purple short up-and-down strokes.  The lilies used red, yellow, peach, pink, white, and light blue and were made with little swirly strokes.  Monet used extra green around clumps of flowers to suggest grasses.  The point of our artist study is not to create an artist, nor even to remember different painters and styles.  Instead, I want Crazy Bug to learn to notice how artists create their effects.  What colors, lines, and textures do they use?  Do things look realistic or not?  What kind of mood or reaction do those elements create?

Water Lilies 1916

Crazy Bug's Reproduction

Monday, May 7, 2012

What is afterschooling?

I am a huge proponent of afterschooling.  Afterschooling is an idea that grew out of the homeschool movement, but is used by families who send their kids to traditional schools.  Very simply, it means that you don't hand your child's education over to the school and hope for the best.  Instead, you make a conscious effort to continue educating your child outside of school time.  Most of us actually do this to some extent whether we realize it or not.  Do you require your child to read?  Do you do the occasional kitchen science experiment?  Have you played a math game?  Guess what: you're an afterschooler!

There are, of course, all different extents of afterschooling.  Some people do more than others, some people use formal curriculum and others don't.  I personally take it pretty easy.  I read a great post at  Teaching My Baby To Read about afterschooling.   Jennifer calculated out that if you do just 20 minutes of afterschooling a day, but the end of high school your child will have had the equivalent of two full years of additional schooling!  That's massive!  I suddenly realized that my daughter probably spends at least 2 hours in front of the TV and computer each day.  Surely we could fit in 20 minutes of education!  (Okay, I promise no more exclamation marks for at least five sentences.)

Here's our current afterschool curriculum:

We read to our daughter for about 1/2 an hour every day.  We also require that she read to us for 10-15 minutes.  This is usually done at bedtime.

I feel very strongly that the arts are missing from schools, so I make sure to make up for it at home.  We look at paintings from famous artists and discuss things like line, color, texture, and style.  Then we experiment with the artists techniques.  (I'll be sharing some of the ideas soon)  We probably spend a 1/2 hour on art 2-3 times a week, because both my daughter and I love it so much.

I'm an Episcopalian and I want my daughter to learn more about our religion than she's going to learn in a 25 minute Sunday School class.  Familiarity with bible characters and stories is also important to understanding literature and cultural references.  We're currently using the Episcopal Children's Curriculum from VTS which is free online here.  I alter it to fit my daughter.  (Much more extensive crafts than the ones suggested)  We spend a 1/2 hour on this one to two times a week.

Math / Science
I'll admit, I'm not a big math and science person.  But we play math games, study nature, and do the occasional science experiment.  Nothing formal or highly organized. 

Since we have more time in the summer, I'm planning to add some history using The Story of the World and grammar using First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind.  We'll also do some more organized math with the Life of Fred series.

What could you add for 20 minutes a day?  What do you think your  child's school is skimping on?  What is you kid behind in?  What does your child love to learn about?  Don't think afterschooling has to be drudgery.  Most kids love to learn new things, as long as there aren't any workbooks in sight!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Snail Crazy

Crazy Bug's class started studying snails this week.  I decided to build on her excitement and extend the learning by helping her catch snails at home.  Bad idea.  The kid has gone absolutely snail crazy.  They're all she can think and talk about.  We have to "play with" the slimy things five times a day.  (And how can you play with a snail?)  We've written snail poems, sang snail songs, and made snail homes.  Enough already!

But, on the other hand, we've learned some interesting things:

Our yard is practically infested with snails.  I never knew how many lived around us.  What else have we been missing?

Snails are both male and female.  Any two snails can make crazy snail babies. 

Snails' eyes are on their tentacles.

Cool stuff.  If you'd like to start your own snail study, it's pretty easy.  Get a glass or plastic container and add some leaves and sticks.  Cover the top with an old nylon held by a rubber band.  Go out on a wet day and look underneath the leaves of low-growing plants.  (This often involves turning halfway upside down to look up at the underneath sides of plants).  Pull the snails gently by their shells until they release their grip on the plants.  Make sure that you mist the snails and their home regularly with dechlorinated water so they stay moist.

If you're having trouble finding snails, another option is to make an outdoor snail house.   Simply turn a clay flowerpot upside down and prop one edge with a stone or saucer.  Put some veggies peelings inside and wait until nighttime.  Then lift up the pot and grab the little buggers.

If your kids fall totally in love with the snails, try writing an acrostic poem about snails.  Write the word "snail" down the left-hand side of the paper in capital letters.  Then think of something about snails for each letter.  Here is my daughter's:

Happy snail hunting!