December 15, 2009

The iPod in the homeschool

I've had an iPod Touch for a year now and mainly use it for listening to music while grocery shopping.  Suddenly grocery shopping was fun and relaxing, unless I went on Saturday.  I also used it occasionally for keeping the kids quiet at the doctor's office or during a Scout committee meeting - "Here, watch this episode of Super Why or Batman."

Now, however, I've discovered Apps and I'm wondering, "How did I ever live without them?"  Suddenly school is going so smoothly.  The 3-yr-old is cheerfully sitting next to me, getting his back scratched, and practicing math facts, ABCs and other preschool-y things.  Instead of tearing apart my house he's putting together the monkey's broken fruit.  Instead of throwing himself on top off all the books we're reading, he's controlling traffic and avoiding crashes.  Instead of chucking our math cards across the room he's tracing his letters.  Aahhhh, the wonders of modern technology.

So, here are my favorite apps thus far.  I'll also include the ones we've tried and didn't like so you won't make the same mistakes.  I love you that much!

Updates as of February 2010 in italics below.

1.  iWriteWords - the full version ($1.99).  This was our first app.  Thank you for showing us the way.  My two youngest (3 and almost 6) love this one.  It shows you a letter and then shows how to trace it by putting little numbers along the line.  Follow the numbers and trace it with your finger.  Your finger creates a line so you can see how well you did.  It then says the letter name out loud twice.  It teaches both upper and lower case, numbers and simple spelling.  Don't worry if your child can't count well yet, this app does a fantastic job showing the child how to write.  Very highly recommended. Still love this app and use it all the time.

2.  Trace (free) - In this app you're trying to get your little guy from one side of the screen to the other.  You have to use your finger to trace a line he can walk/jump along.  There are various obstacles and random falling objects.  It's surprisingly easy and hard at the same time.  All four of the kids (ages 9-3) can play.  It's a great game for teaching logic and it's not violent.  Very highly recommended. All the kids continue to play this. It is one of their favorites and it continues to amaze me that even the 3-yr-old can solve the challenges.

3.  Traffic Rush (free right now, but may not be for long) - In this game you have to help cars get through the intersection without crashing.  You can stop or speed them up and it gets more hectic the longer you go.  It's a great logic game, but the cars do crash in a cartoony way.  No bodies flying though.  My personal best is 54,  the same as my 9-yr-old.  They like this one and play it often, but only a few rounds at a time.  Recommended. They don't play this one much anymore. They'll pick it up now and then but it's sort of lost its appeal.

4.  Monkey Preschool Lunchbox (.99) - My 3-yr-old plays this one all the time.  It teaches colors, counting, letters, puzzles, and matching.  You can earn a sticker after answering so many questions.  It seems a little redundant to me and I wish there were more activities, but the kids love it so I can't really complain.  Highly recommended. This one gets played CONSTANTLY by the 3-yr-old. They've added a new activity (big/small) and I hope they do more. Great investment for our family!

5.  Teach Me Kindergarten (.99) - In this game you learn letters by finding the correct beginning letter to spell a word, simple addition and subtraction, and sight words.  You can have 4 different accounts for children and can customize it for each child.  When you answer so many questions you earn "coins" which can then be used to buy stickers.  The littlest one LOVES buying stickers and gets fairly upset when he's spent all his coins.  He plays this one over and over because he loves to shop for stickers!  I appreciate that in the math section you can tap on the objects and it counts them out loud.  It also shows you how to subtract by moving objects to the trash can.  My soon-to-be-6-yr-old hasn't really played this one yet so I can't speak to that age group.  Highly recommended. Another of the 3-yr-olds favorites. He plays it regularly.

6.  WordGirl Word Hunt (.99) - We love the Word Girl cartoon so I thought this app would be fun.  My two youngest are "scared of it" and won't play it, plus it's a little above their heads.  I think it does a good job teaching vocabulary and it's fun, but thus far the older boys haven't really played it.  The jury is still out on this one....They really haven't shown any interest in this one. I'm still hoping though...

7.  Meet the Vowels (free) - My boys love the Preschool Prep Company videos (we own all the sight words one).  This app is fairly basic but the two youngest LOVE it.  They show you 3 vowels (either upper or lower case) and ask you to choose a certain one.  When you choose it the letter turns into a fun character and does something silly.  At the end of the game it sings the ABC song.  The company says they'll be coming out with other apps soon and I'll most likely get them.  Very highly recommended. How many times do we have to watch this thing? Yes, they still love it.

8.  Wheels on the Bus - (.99) - This one was so highly recommended on all the websites I checked that I decided to try it.  It's basically an animated book with some interactive things on each page.  Cute, but limited.  For some reason my 3-yr-old is terrified of the chicken on the first page and now refuses to use it.  This did not work for us.  It might work for others, but it is short and has limited (if any) educational use.  Not recommended. Still scared of it.

9.  123 Tracer Lite - (free for the limited version) - So far the kids haven't used this.  The Pop Me section is way too hard for the little ones (it has multiplication!).  The Trace Me section is not nearly as cool as iWrite and the Count Me section is a tad confusing.  I wish there was a way to customize it for younger kids, maybe the full version has that.  Overall, not an app that has much value for us.  Not recommended. I took it off. iWrite is so much better.

10.  zooSpelling Preschool (free for the lite version) - In the lite version you can find 3 animals while exploring the zoo.  To return them to the zoo you need to spell words - shorter words and sight words.  Each letter is on a different color paint blob so it's fairly easy for them to see that they need a purple letter and "e" is on the purple blob.  You can also look through flash cards to hear the words spelled then said as a whole.  I'm debating whether or not to buy the full version as the 3-yr-old really loves it and is frustrated that he's found all the animals.  Highly recommended. He still likes it quite a bit. Still trying to figure out if I want the full version.

11.  KidWords Lite (free for the preview version) - None of my kids has played this yet.  I think it's one I'd have to "require".  You can change the levels from easy to hard and choose 3-letter to 6-letter words. It shows you a picture and says the word out loud then you need to spin the dial to find the missing letter. There are usually only one or two letters missing.  A fun game (I think) but one the kids haven't been drawn to.  Still recommended though. The developer of this game contacted me after my initial review and gave me a free copy of the full version. We have been using that now and really like it. I sometimes have to 'encourage' them to use it. It's great for spelling practice.

12.  FirstWords: Sampler (free) - Both my almost 6 and 3-yr-olds play this one.  They show a cute picture with the letters to spell it written faintly underneath.  At the bottom are the letters all scrambled around and you need to drag the letters to the appropriate squares.  When you have them all in place it spells it out loud then says the word and the picture does something silly.  I think this is  fun way for non-readers to work with letters and words.  The kids have asked for more words.  The full version apps cost anywhere from $1.99 to $4.99.  Still considering.  The free app is a good start though.  Very highly recommended. I bought the full version. The two littler guys love it and use it a lot. I sometimes find the big boys doing it too.

13.  Giraffe's Matching Zoo (free) - This is a standard matching game with animal pictures and sounds.  My kids laugh at the weird animal sounds.  Fairly plain but it does the job.  More than adequate if you want a 'matching game' - why pay for one when this is free?  Highly recommended. They play this once in a while.

14.  Jumbalu Zoo (free) - This has no educational purpose, it just shows different cartoon animals in different settings and you can change their clothes and poses.  They think it's funny but it doesn't hold their attention for long.  Recommended, maybe. Still gets some use. Not as much as it did at first though. I'm just glad I didn't pay for it.

15.  SimpleDraw (free) - A very simple drawing program, thus the name.  You can only use 5 colors and a few different brush sizes, but still fun.  Recommended. My oldest boy told me this was "pretty dumb". It is rather hard for kids to figure out and sometimes when you tap it with two fingers to switch screens it ends up marking your picture. It doesn't get much use.

16.  RushHour Free (free!) - This is the lite version so it doesn't have a ton of puzzles, but still more than enough to keep us occupied.  We all love the board game version of RushHour.  All the kids (and me) can play this.  Very highly recommended. Still loving it.

17.  TapOut by TapJoy (free) - Similar to Rush Hour but with boats.  Lots of fun and great problem solving skills.  Very highly recommended. Love it. I'm amazed at what my 3-yr-old can do with it!

18.  KidCalc Free (uh, free) - This is the free preview version.  You can look at flashcards, do a math puzzle where you touch the 4 cards in order, use the calculator and do math games.  You can customize this to count by 2s, 5s, 10s, etc.  It would be nice to count by 4s and 6s and such.  You can also turn off the multiplication and division if you're working with a younger kid.  It's not "flashy" and thus loses the attention of the younger boys fairly quickly.  It's not one I'm likely to upgrade and I'm debating kicking it off altogether.  Not recommended. Okay, here is where I eat my words. The developer contacted me after my initial review and gave me the full version to try. What a different app! It's almost exactly what I wanted. Now I can have them count by all sorts of numbers (think skip counting practice). There are SO many options on how to configure this - backgrounds, numbers, age range, difficulty level, etc. The only thing I could ask for now is that I could have different users set up, so that I wouldn't have to change the settings each time a different child used it. Very highly recommended.

19.  abc PocketPhonics Lite (free) - Another lite version.  This is a neat concept but my kids haven't wanted to play it yet.  You can choose upper or lower case, print or cursive and a few different handwriting styles.  Similar to iWrite, you trace the letters with you finger.  This is different because it makes the phonetic sound, not just the name.  You can decide if you want gentle guidance or pretty strict "stay on the line" reminders.  It also has you spell words - first it says the sound and gives you some choices.  I may encourage further use of this before I pass final judgment because I think it could be a great tool.  For now I highly recommend at least trying the free version.  But DO make sure you customize it for the kid who's using it or they'll be very frustrated. They use iWrite more than this. It just hasn't caught on yet.

20.  Baby Piano Lite (free) - All the kids love messing with this, but only for a few minutes at a time.  You can choose animal sounds (not very realistic) or piano sounds.  The prompts to buy the full version are annoying though.  Cute and fun.  Recommended. He plays with this once in a while, but now much now.

21.  Counting Ants Lite (free) - This is the Ants Go Marching song and you see 1 ant with "one ant" written while they sing.  You can move through the various numbers.  We haven't seen much use on this.  Cute concept but doesn't really hold their attention.  It might be good for the younger toddler set; I think mine are a bit old at 3 1/2 for this.  Not recommended. Took it off.

22.  Diet WordPop! (free) - Okay, I'm the one that has played this the most.  My 9-yr-olds just aren't used to looking at words this way.  You start with a board of random letters and you have to try to make words with them.  You can go up, down, sideways, etc all within the same word.  Once you've spelled a word those letters "pop" and all the letters shift down.  You can hit a button which turns the board a rotation making new combinations possible.  I enjoy it and want to teach the older boys.  If they take to it I'll upgrade to the regular version, but for now the Lite meets our needs.  Highly recommended for older kids.

Updated - I found my 9-yr-old playing this today.  He figured out how to play on his own and was having a lot of fun.  When I showed him how he could pick connected letters all over, not just in a straight line his eyes lit up and he cleared the board!

Update 2 - The developer contacted me after my initial review and gave me the full version to try. I'm still having a ton of fun with it. One of my 9-yr-olds plays all the time too. He loves that his score goes to the 'global list' and he can see where he is in the standings. He plays a lot more because of this. Still highly recommended.

23.  A Dinosaur Kids Math Free Lite (free) - How's that for an awkward name?  For this game you do simple math like 4 + 3 and it shows you 4 dinosaurs plus 3 dinosaurs and gives you 3 choices at the bottom.  This isn't as easy for younger kids to play because you can't 'count' by tapping on each dino (as in it doesn't say the number out loud for you like some of the other apps).  If you get it wrong it just floats the correct number to the top, but you often miss it because it's transitioning to the next card.  This has limited use and isn't as polished as some of the others.  For this reason I'm not upgrading.  Not recommended. Took it off.

24.  Feed Me! (free) - I think this is funny.  It asks various questions and gives you 3 choices.  Take the one you think is right and "feed" the monster.  If it's right he chews it up and makes a silly sound or licks his lips.  If you feed him the wrong answer he makes a sick face or sticks out his tongue.  Thus far we've seen simple fractions (like half and fourths), sequencing, shapes, counting, number recognition and a few others.  I like the wide range of  questions.  My kids laugh hysterically as they feed him and actually try to get things wrong sometimes because it's so funny to see him get sick.  Highly recommended. They still play this one a lot. They just laugh their heads off, and I hope learn.

25.  Finger Physics Free (free) - This is the lite version so it doesn't have as many puzzles as the full.  I've really enjoyed this although the kids haven't played yet.  I know my older boys will love the challenges and I think it has excellent teaching possibilities.  If they like it I have no problems upgrading to the full.  Highly recommended. They've almost figured out all the puzzles. We'll see if they want more.

26.  Geared - Free (free) - This is a fun game where you try to place the gears in the correct place to get the machine working.  Lots of fun for me and the kids.  The 3-yr-old doesn't really get it, but the rest of the boys can figure it out.  I can't get past Level 9 though.  ARGH!!!  This is another game that if they really get into it I would probably buy the full version.  Highly recommended. The 3-yr-old is playing it now! All the boys like it, but they don't play it all the time. Just here and there, which is fine with me.

27.  Kids Numbers Game (free) - This one confused me at first because it had text up at the top like "choose the number six" and gave you 4 choices.  How the heck are my little guys supposed to read that?  Well, you can go into settings and turn the sound on and off.  Now they read it out loud for the younger kids.  Basically you just identify numbers.  Basic and a little on the boring side, but more interesting that plain flash cards.  You can set it for easy, medium and hard and add additional players with individualized settings.  Recommended. They don't play this one unless I ask them to. It's free though so I don't mind keeping it around for math practice now and then.

28.  Pentaminals (free) - If you like tangrams you'll love this game.  You build a shape using various other shapes (that look like animals).  I haven't showed this to my kids yet because I'm having a hard time figuring it out!  Great for logical thinking and spatial reasoning.  May be too hard for younger kids though.  Highly recommended for the appropriate age group. They really struggle to solve these.

29.  preschoolTAP - Animals Time (free) - My 3 and 5-yr-old like this one quite a bit.  Each page shows you 4 different animals.  You tap the "note" button in the middle and it asks a question about size, habitat, name or sound.  I'm sure there are others because I'm always hearing questions I haven't heard before.  If you get it wrong the note turns into a red frowny face and let's you try again.  If you get it right it turns into a green happy face and you move onto the next card.  Not highly educational but there is some learning going on and it keeps their attention.  Highly recommended. Not getting much play these days, but I'm keeping it around because they do enjoy it when they remember it's there.

30.  Runway Free (and yes, it's free) - I love this game.  You have several airports to choose from and you have to make sure that your planes land to refuel and load and unload passengers.  You have to coordinate open runways and how to use the resources you have and there is often more demand than supply.  You have to plan and think ahead.  The one thing that really bothers me though are the ads in the corner.  While none have been inappropriate the kids could very easily hit one and connect where I don't want them to go.  Recommended with reservations because of the ads. I'm the only one who ever really played this. They don't have much interest in it.

31.  Tap Tune Free (free) - I thought this would be a hit, but it's not.  There are various toddler or holiday songs and you tap the screen to speed it up or slow it down.  You can also shake the iPod.  3-yr-old said he hates it and won't touch it.  Not recommended. Took it off.

32.  Monster ABC (free) - The 3-yr-old was scared of it.  It was also fairly boring.  You chose a letter, the monster says it then you tap on a picture and some kid says the word.  Nobody really wanted to play it so I deleted it.  Not recommended. Took it off.

33. Learn Sight Words (free) - Just flash cards but very boring ones.  One time through and I realized the kids would never, ever want to do these.  Not recommended. Gone.

34.  Dino Word Panic (free) - Like Hangman only if you get the letter wrong the dinosaur gets closer to the guy.  There are ads across the top and it wasn't all that exciting.  It was neat that you could choose a category for words like Common English, Sports or Family, among others.  I decided to find another Hangman type since I didn't like the ads.  Not recommended. Removed it.

35.  Pickids Shapes (free) - No, no, no.  They show a word at the bottom like "quadrilateral" and then 4 shapes and you're supposed to choose the right one.  If they had audio this might work, but they didn't.  Explain to me how my preschooler is supposed to read quadrilateral or cylinder.  He was very frustrated with always choosing the wrong shape and there was really no learning going on.  Not recommended. Deleted it.

36.  123 Animals Counting Lite (free) - This asks "How many animals do you see?" then flashes some animals on the screen.  You can tap each one and it will count it for you and leave a number on the animal (so if there are 4 animals you'll see 1, 2 3 and 4 on the screen after you tap them).  Then you choose one of three numbers at the bottom.  Good for younger kids.  I don't think we'll upgrade to the full version.  The Lite has some use, but we'll see in the long run if it gets played with regularly.  Recommended. They don't play this at all. Getting ready to remove it.

37.  ABC Super Match FREE (free) - This is a matching game with letters but they mispronounced a lot of them.  I can see it being very damaging to a child learning the alphabet.  Not recommended. Gone.

Golly, I have looked at a lot of apps!  I think they're great and definitely have a place.  I have to be careful though to control the amount of time my little ones spend on it.  Right now we use it for when I really need him to sit quietly.  We alternate it with workboxes and preschool type activities.  I let the older boys use it "for fun" if they get their work done early or if they are having to wait on me while I finish something.

I might try some audio books next!  I'm just that crazy.

November 29, 2009

Still holding hands

One of the things I love about homeschooling is getting to be with my kids all day long. Ironically, it's also one of the things that is hardest about homeschooling. I have two 9-year-old sons. And they still hold my hand. When we go for a walk around the neighborhood they'll put their hand in mine and chatter along about their day, their thoughts and the things they want to create. When we're shopping in a store they slip their hand in mine and show me the things that interest them and make observations about the people around them. They hold my hand without prompting or embarrassment.

I love the fact that they don't know that moms are weird or embarrassing. No little friends on the playground have told them that I'm not cool. No one has said that only babies hold their mom's hand. I love that they are uniquely themselves and do what they want without measuring it against someone's artificial standard of cool.

I love the relationship we have. We can talk about anything, and do. We can laugh and learn together. I know everything that went on in their day and they know about mine. They confide in me, they listen to me, they want to be near me and cuddle with me on the couch.

Some day those boys won't want to hold my hand, but for now I cherish every minute of it. Some days those hands are covered in dirt and sweat and sticky food or things I don't even want to think about. But they put their hands in mine and I love it.

I must confess that I'm glad I have younger sons, because I'm assured years of hand-holding. I just wish I had a hand for each of them.

November 23, 2009

Vegetarian Korma

Everyone really enjoys this and I love that the kids are eating a ton of vegetables.  It's got a long list of ingredients, but it comes together quickly.

1 1/2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 onion, diced
1 tsp. minced fresh ginger root
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 potatoes, cubed (you can substitute cauliflower for some or all of the potatoes)
a few handfuls of baby carrots, sliced
1 (4 ounce) can tomato sauce
2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tbsp. curry powder (you can use garam masala or a mixture of the two)
1 c. frozen green peas
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped - I don't use peppers at my house so I consider this optional
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped - I don't use peppers at my house so I consider this optional
1 c. coconut milk 
1 bunch fresh cilantro for garnish
hot cooked rice
naan if you're feeling adventurous

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in the onion, and cook until tender. Mix in ginger and garlic, and continue cooking 1 minute. Add the potatoes, carrots, tomato sauce, salt and curry powder. Cook and stir 10 minutes, or until potatoes are tender (I add in a bit of water now and then if it's looking too dry or sticking to my pan). Add the remaining ingredients (but not the rice and naan!).  Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 10 minutes. Garnish with cilantro to serve.   

Serve with rice and naan.  You could add spinach, broccoli or garbanzo beans or pretty much whatever you want.

Black Beans and Quinoa

We've recently discovered quinoa and love it.  This is a fast, delicious dish.  My kids love that they're eating "an ancient grain." Quinoa is sometimes hard to find but most big grocery stores have it.  Otherwise, check your local health food store.

1 tsp. vegetable oil or butter
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
3/4 c. uncooked quinoa
1 1/2 c. vegetable broth
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (I don't add this; I sprinkle it on the adult's servings)
salt and pepper to taste
1 c. corn kernels, frozen or canned
2 (15 ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 c. chopped fresh cilantro

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the onion and saute until lightly browned; add the garlic the last minute or two.  Throw the quinoa into the saucepan with the onions and add the vegetable broth. Season with cumin, cayenne pepper (or hold till later), salt, and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes.  Stir the corn into the saucepan, and continue to simmer about 5 minutes until heated through. Mix in the black beans.  Sprinkle cilantro on each plate - my kids won't eat cilantro (I don't know what's wrong with them).  The grown-ups at my house like to sprinkle ours with cayenne. 

November 20, 2009

How I do science...

....or the continuing saga of how I'm trying to figure it all out.

So, we're a Charlotte Mason family. We're supposed to spend lots and lots of time outdoors interacting with nature. Only I live in Texas and during the summer it's hot. Ridiculously hot. So hot that after 5 minutes outside everyone is begging to come back inside. We are all very thankful for air conditioning and fans! Our seasons of outdoor time are consequently flipped. We spend a lot of time inside during the summer and more time outside during the fall, winter and spring. Three of the five of us home during the day also have allergies to all growing things outside. I tend to avoid pollen whenever possible.

And therefore we do lots of science in the house. Ms. Mason would probably shake her head at me, but it is what it is. We do, for the most part, use living science books and lots of hands on experiments. I've been known to use (okay, I've tried to use) textbooks. The Christian Kids Exploring whatever books didn't work for us. I wanted to poke my eyes out with the Exploring Creation With ______ books and my kids ASKED me to stop. (more on that in another post)

After several years of trying to make those books and others work we finally settled on something that fits our style. Is it the best way to do science? Probably not. Is it strictly Charlotte Mason? Not really. Do my kids love it and look forward to science every day? Yes. Success!!!!

I made a list of subjects I wanted to cover in the elementary years (basically before 7th grade). We take turns picking a subject and then check out lots of books and movies about the topic and throw in some hands-on experiments/crafts/whatevers and we're set. Sometimes it takes a few weeks, others a few months. We just go until we're ready to move on. Since I have 3 school-age kids they each take a turn picking and the fourth pick is mine.

We do use the Real Science 4 Kids books - we all love those. You can see how we use them here.  For the rest I pick a 'spine' or guide book for a subject, one that is fairly comprehensive for the subject and then we add in whatever we can find at the library.  I have started buying most of the spines I want because we have always lived in book-poor library areas and often can't find many good living books.  Being the book snob that I am I like to own at least one or two good books on any given topic that we're studying (I typically buy them used though).  But you don't have to be a snob like me.  You can use the library and inter-library loan.

These are the topics we're going to try to hit over the next few years, hopefully at least twice, at different levels:

Dinosaurs - because we have a houseful of boys
Physics (using the Real Science 4 Kids books)
Sound and Light
Electricity and Magnetism
Forces and Motion
Simple Machines
Chemistry (again, using the RS4K books)
African Savanna
Ponds (including reptiles and amphibians)
Sonoran Desert
Rocks and Minerals
Woods (forests and mountains and all things in them)
Human Body
Tropical Rain Forest
Weather (including natural disasters)
Astronomy
Oceans and Coral Reefs
Caves
Arctic Tundra
Swamp, Wetlands and Grasslands
Backyard (including birds and insects)
Farms (animals and crops)
Technology and Inventions
Community (like 'where does garbage go' and such)

We usually do animal study as relates to the specific area. If we were studying the ocean, for example, we'd study jellyfish, whales, sharks, etc.

What have I missed????  I'm sure there is something I forgot.  Or somethings.

Some of these we've already done and I'll post about them soon.  Others we have yet to hit.  For now, this is working for our family.  What works for yours?

Nicolaus Copernicus

Nicolaus Copernicus: The Earth Is a Planet
This was a lovely little book about Copernicus.  The illustrations were colorful and done in an "old-fashioned" style which made the book feel authentic.  The information was interesting and easy for the kids to understand while still explaining clearly what he thought and discovered.

I thought it sufficient for the elementary grades.  My fourth-grade boys really enjoyed it, but I almost wished it had been a little longer and more detailed for them.  Almost.  Any older and you'd probably need a different book.

There are not many children's books on Nicolaus Copernicus.  Fortunately, this is a great one.  Highly recommended for your study of the middle ages or astronomy.

November 17, 2009

Getting Kids to Clean

As I've mentioned in a previous post, cleaning the house is not my favorite thing to do. Here are a few fun things I invented to help my boys clean their junk without complaining.

Secret Ninja
For this game I whisper their mission, "Secret Ninja, go pick up 8 toys." They give me a little bow and quietly run off to pick up 8 things and then return and report, again with a little bow. I keep giving them different numbers, all whispered, and they keep running off to do it. The goal for them is to be so quiet that I can't hear them leave or return.

The younger boys get smaller numbers, and the older boys get up to the 20s. The beauty of this is that they'll clean for hours and I can do other things like wash dishes, fold laundry or lay on the couch reading a book. I'm not sure how to adapt this for girls. Perhaps they'd like to be secret ninja princesses.

Draw a number
We started this when the oldest boys were 5ish. I wrote down the numbers 0-10 on separate pieces of paper (I made two sets) and put them in a small box. When it was time to clean they would draw a number then pick up that number of toys. The number was put back into the box and they'd keep drawing until the room was clean.

As they got older we added the numbers through 20. Just make sure you have that zero in there because there's nothing better than getting that 0 and watching your brother put 13 things away!!! After doing this a few times they were able to run the system on their own. I just handed them the box and they cleaned the room by themselves.

The picture chart
It was/is often overwhelming for the boys to enter a completely trashed room and know where to start. A shovel? Bulldozer? Move to another state? I made a simple chart with pictures of various items with the written word next to it. For example, there would be a picture of "books" then the word "books". They would start with the first item listed and put all of those things away, then move to the next item listed.

I sometimes cut pictures out of magazines, printed them off the internet or drew them by hand. We had pictures for Books, Action Figures, Balls, Cars, Trains, Animals, Clothes and Magnetics. Everything else I would help take care of because a) it was mostly clean by that time and b) the chart was for the little guys and they were usually pretty tired by the end.

As the boys got older they didn't need the chart anymore. The 9-yr-olds are golden now, but the almost 6-yr-old still needs some direction.

What fun things do you do to get your kids to clean?

November 12, 2009

Books on Charlotte Mason

I was introduced to Charlotte Mason over 4 years ago, before we'd "officially" decided to homeschool. We were just going to "try homeschooling for kindergarten" and well, we got hooked. Wait, I have to back up. A wonderful friend made the startling confession one day that she was homeschooled. My husband and I gasped. But...but...she was normal. Homeschoolers weren't normal. (or so we thought at that point in our young lives) So I started asking questions and one day her mom was in town so I started asking her questions and this lovely woman said, "Charlotte Mason." Well, I started reading about Ms. Mason's ideas about education and knew it was what I wanted for my family.

My biggest problem at the time though was time. I needed to start right then. In fact, I needed to start several weeks before I started. I didn't have time to read Charlotte's six long volumes. So I took the cheater way's out and read books written by people who had read Charlotte's works.

And this is what I thought about those books....

A Charlotte Mason Education by Catherine Levison

I love this book. The author takes the essentials of the Charlotte Mason method and organizes them into easy to understand sections.

This book doesn't go through and discuss all of Mason's works. It's just the facts, ma'am. And it's exactly what I wanted. I already had a pretty decent understanding of CM and needed to figure out how to implement it

The topics in this book are things like science, math, history, narration and poetry, along with a good many more.  Levison walks you through each subject and helps you understand how to approach it using the Charlotte Mason method.

This book has an honored place on my shelf and I refer to it regularly.

More Charlotte Mason Education

This is the second book by Catherine Levison. Like the first book, it is more a how-to manual than a discussion of Mason's philosophy. I appreciate how the book is organized. It has just the information I need without having to dig around. I love this book too and use it often.

The topics discussed in this volume deal more with, among others, planning your semesters, choosing books and using short lessons.

A Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola

I had such a hard time getting through this book. It was slow and touchy-feely and was way too much work to figure out what I wanted to know. I was looking for the answers to "What did Charlotte think about this or that" and "How did she suggest teaching __________?"

I like the Catherine Levison books so much better because they're easier to read and give the basic information quickly, in an extremely organized fashion - no need to flip here, then there, then somewhere else.

This book might work for someone who really wanted to take a lot of time thinking through guided questions.

Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home by Elizabeth Foss

If you're familiar with Charlotte Mason, this book will largely be redundant. If you're not familiar then this is a nice introduction.

I found a few ideas that I'd like to implement and a few reminders of things I'd read previously and had forgotten about. It's not a book I feel like I need in my permanent home library though.

I did enjoy the personal stories and examples of how to make things work with a larger family. It can be a bit 'bossy' at times though so you just take what you want and leave the rest.

The book is written from a Catholic perspective so there is a lot of material which would only relate to Catholics. I didn't mind this as some of the scripture quoted is applicable to most Christian faiths. I did get a bit irked at sentences similar to "Catholic homeschoolers sacrifice more than any other homeschoolers" and other such treats. I don't think Catholics have a corner on the market of sacrifice. I think most homeschoolers sacrifice a lot of their time and energy to educating their children.  In fact, most moms do, no matter their religious beliefs.

I do think it's worth checking out from the library, before you buy.

Some day I'll get around to reading all of Charlotte's works. Some day I'll be caught up on laundry too. For now I use the aforementioned books.

Now, off to do laundry.....

November 3, 2009

Timer School

I am not a natural born housekeeper.  I know how to do it, I'd just rather not.  I'd much rather be reading or sleeping or getting a root canal or languishing in a prison during the French Revolution than do housework.   I should have a better attitude about it, I really should.  And I'm grateful I have a house and that it needs work.  But the honest truth is I hate cleaning it, and it always seems to need to be cleaned.  So more often than not my house looks like a tornado, or four, blew through it.  Some weeks days I just pray nobody will drop by.

When things reach the point of mom's-going-to-blow-if-things-don't-get-picked-up (that's the scientific name for it) we do Timer School.

As a rule I'm opposed to using a timer during school.  I think it's artificial and turns learning into "school".  But for Timer School we use a timer.  And I'm okay with it.  In fact I love it and just might marry it.

We set the timer for anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes.  I usually use 15 minutes because it's long enough to get stuff done without being too long.  We rotate between school, play and clean, in whatever order I feel like that day.  Yesterday we did clean, school, play.  Every 15 minutes the timer would beep and we'd immediately stop what we were doing and move to the next thing.  Most lessons were completed within that 15 minutes, but if they weren't we'd just finish them during the next round.

By the end of the day (3ish) the house had gone from disgusting pigsty disaster to pretty darn clean.  All the school work had been finished and the boys had had almost 2 hours of playtime.  I'm always amazed at how much we accomplish on Timer days.

The beauty of this is that the kids know playtime is coming so they don't complain about having to clean.  And they know there is a time limit on cleaning so it won't go on forever (which has been known to happen in this house).  I typically work during the "play" hour too, or spend it with the 3-year-old if he's needing special attention.

Today we did Timer School again to finish the house.  I'm very pleased with where we are now and think I just might be able to stay on top of it this time.  Famous last words.....

October 28, 2009

The Art Bucket

I am not crafty.  Nor am I artistic.  Those genes all went to my siblings.  I got the hayfever gene.  Where is the justice?

But my seasonal allergies are not the topic of this post.  Instead we will talk about The Art Bucket.  Genetics, being the fickle thing it is, skipped me but hit my kids.  Hard.  They love crafts and creating and doing.  In order to facilitate that I created an art bucket.  Well, to be perfectly honest I created it mostly for that, but also because they kept taking my "teacher supplies" and when we'd go to do a science project or craft I wouldn't have what I needed.  But the first reason sounds nicer, doesn't it?

So, they have a large plastic container with the following items:

1.  Pipe cleaners (aka chenille stems) - these can be used for a bazillion things.  Right now they are using them to make Transformers.  A lot of Transformers.
2.  Pom-poms
3.  Googly eyes
4.  Scissors
5.  Tape
6.  Glue - both white and stick
7.  Felt
8.  Watercolors
9.  Pastels - both chalk and oils
10.  Sequins, jewels and other shiny things
11.  Beads of all shapes and sizes
12.  Popsicle/craft sticks
13.  Toothpicks
14.  Straws
15.  Construction paper
16.  Colored pencils, crayons and markers
17.  Yarn
18.  Craft foam, some sheets, some assorted beads
19.  Stickers - regular and foam

They have free access to this at all times.  The only rules being they have to put all the stuff away when they're done and they need to use a Messy Mat (a large plasticy mat to protect the table).  I have been amazed at the things they have created - bats, owls, adorable cards showing me with enormous googly eyes, robots and the list goes on.  If they run low on something they let me know and we restock.  We also keep our eyes open whenever we're shopping for cool things to add to the bucket.

Now my supplies are safe and they can create whenever the mood strikes instead of waiting for me to haul everything out of the closet.

Educational movies we love

I use videos in my home for several reasons.  First, one of my sons learns amazingly well by watching a video.  Second, some days I just need to catch up on laundry or people will be naked and a video teaches while I wash.  Third, I can't practically show them some of the things they can see on a video.  I have no jungle animals or historically recreated villages in my living room (darn it).  And fourth, they're fun.

I'm fairly selective about what they watch, however.  We don't even have TV.  Well, we have a TV but it's only hooked up to the DVD player.  These are the movies that pass muster in my home, and that they watch over and over and over again. In no particular order....

1.  The Leap Frog videos.  I especially love Letter Factory and Talking Words Factory.

2. Word World. A fun, simple way to learn how letters come together to make words.

3. Super Why. Who wouldn't love a super hero who teaches you to read? There are currently only two discs out now. Who do I talk to about that?

4. Between the Lions. Three out of my four kids adore these and will sit and watch them still at 9. My youngest, now 3, runs screaming from the room when we turn them on. One of our libraries had the whole set; it was heaven. I have not seen a library since so well stocked.

5. The Best of Beakman's World - My younger sister watched this when she was little. Oh, how things don't change.

6. Bill Nye the Science Guy, with a caveat. He does have some evolution in a few of his videos. We've really hammered this topic here so the boys don't get confused, but be aware that it is present. That being said, Bill does a fantastic job showing, and explaining, a variety of really cool science topics. My kids want to be him when they grow up.

7. Popular Mechanics for Kids - I love to watch these with the kids; they are funny and we learn a ton.

8. Liberty's Kids - we're studying American history right now so I bought this for them to watch 'whenever'. They've watched the whole series 5 or 6 times already FOR FUN. They are always telling me interesting things about what we are studying and saying, "I learned it on Liberty's Kids."

9. Magic School Bus - all four kids love these. Sometimes it gets a little heavy-handed with saving the world, but mostly it's just fun science.

10. Mathtacular - It's math. And it's spectacular. And yes, my kids pull it off the shelves to watch "just because it's funny and we learn a lot." We have the first 2 volumes which cover most of the basic elementary math concepts. There's a third I need to get still. The best price is at Sonlight.

11. Reading Rainbow. And yes, I sang the song while I typed it. They have so many neat episodes and such a wide variety. Make sure you watch all the bonus features too.

12. Meet the Sight Words. I bought one on a whim then went back for the others when my kids begged for more. They are basically animated flash cards but my two youngest love them. And now they can read those sight words. The 3-yr-old is thrilled to be able to recognize words in the books we read and I have to make sure I pause so he can read them all by himself.

I'm not a big fan of the Eyewitness movies. They work evolution into just about everything, like weather. Huh? And National Geographic for Kids has some good ones, but enough bad that I'm not entirely comfortable with them.

I don't have a problem with most things by Schlessinger Media. We especially enjoyed the Ancient Civilizations for Children series and what we've seen of the Science for Children series, we've liked. Libraries seem to carry a lot of their videos; I wish our current library did...

While I don't like the TV to babysit my children, it does have a place in our home and in our homeschool.  What educational movies do your kids love?

October 27, 2009

Homeschooling amid crisis

I have four boys.  Sometimes we have a crisis.  My husband is in the military.  We move a lot.  He deploys.  More crises.  I've been on bed rest with my last two pregnancies.  One of those boys came extra early and spent some time in NICU.  Crisis.  The flu.  Colds.  Broken bones.  Crises, crises, crises.

Life happens and sometimes school doesn't.  At first I would beat myself up and think I was the world's worst homeschooler.  I knew I was dooming my children to mediocrity.  The foundation I was supposed to be laying was a crumbling network of sand and pebbles.

But I was wrong.  Maybe my kids spent a little more time playing than they did 'hitting the books' but they developed strong friendships with each other and the older boys learned to take care of their younger brothers.  And they learned how to entertain themselves; I rarely hear "I'm bored" in my house.

I've spent much time filling my house with mind-challenging activities, with toys and manipulatives that teach, with engaging books and educational movies.  When crisis time hits we fall back to the basics - I read outloud a lot.  And we play.  Or they play while I pack/unpack, lay on the couch or mop up the puke.

When we're in crisis mode I try to have them do something math related, a worksheet, a lesson, a game, or maybe they just build something and we call it geometry.  I also try to have them write.  Having a copywork system already going definitely helps.

Other than reading aloud, I just (try to) relax and work our way through whatever chaos we are living through.

Here is a list of things I have loved having in my home.  They make me feel that play time is actually learning time.

1.  WEDGiTS

2.  Lincoln Logs

3. Super Magz - magnets, only better because they're stronger.  You can build really tall, big things and they won't collapse.  I've tested this theory with over 500 magnets.

4. Straws and Connectors - you can build so many great, crazy things with these.

5. Legos. It took me 9 years to embrace Legos, but I'm okay with them now. We have a gob of the K'nex brand 'brick' sets and they work with the Legos. Way to play nicely, guys.

6. K'nex and Kid K'nex - there are a bazillion different kits you can buy for these and they all work together. My kids love to follow the instruction booklets but they also spend hours coming up with their own creations.  Garage sales and thrift stores are great for these.  They may not have all the parts or the booklets, but my boys don't care because they can make ninja weapons or space stations.

7. Plastic animals. As weird as that sounds they have been the foundation for a myriad of imaginative play scenarios. Same with "guys" whether they be cowboys or Indians or knights or Power Rangers. They all rise to the occasion.

8. MightyMind and his friend Super Mind . Oh, I just saw they have an aquarium version. I want that now....

9. Various blocks and building materials. Even Cuisenaire Rods and centimeter cubes and pattern blocks work.

10. Bionicles. While not strictly educational these toys do teach them how to follow the instruction manual. And they use fine motor skills. They also use a lot of imagination by creating their own creatures and then they produce movies with them. (I can justify just about anything!)

I think my boys would be eternally happy to get any and/or all of the above for every birthday and Christmas until they're 50. And I love to give them because they get used.

So when a crisis hits I can take a deep breath and let them go, because I know they'll learn something.

October 23, 2009

Real Science 4 Kids

My kids are science junkies.  If they have a choice between some popular current movie and Bill Nye, they'll choose Bill Nye.  And speaking of popular, they love Popular Mechanics for Kids.  And all sorts of other science-y things.  They want to grow up to be scientists or space station builders or work with robotics while being a zookeeper.  They'd also like to figure out how to access the Power Grid and make Power Ranger Morphers.

So we do a lot of science in my house.  Most families do science a few days a week.  We do it five.  If I didn't I'd have mass rebellion on my hands instead of must major chaos.

That being said we've tried a few different curricula and ways of doing science.  Most of the science books we've tried we have not liked.  But we absolutely love Real Science 4 Kids.  Love it.

We started at the Pre-Level and are now working our way through Level 1.  The books take college level science and write it in a way that kids can understand.  They don't dumb it down; they just explain it really well.  Last year my then 4-yr-old was able to explain chemical bonds after sitting in on his brothers lessons.

The illustrations are excellent and really add to the child's ability to understand the material covered.  The text is bigger than most textbooks which makes it easier for kids to read.

And I just said textbook, which is a bad word if you follow Charlotte Mason.  Yes, I use a textbook.  But it doesn't feel like a textbook.  It is engaging and interesting and whole.  It reads like a story.

My only real complaint is that each book is only 10 or so chapters long.  That takes us about 10 weeks to get done.  Technically you're supposed to use all 3 books in a level during one year, but that can get expensive.  My compromise has been to add in various 'living' books to each chapter and then take short breaks to explore other science topics not covered in the books.  Right now the topics covered by RS4Ks are Biology, Chemistry and Physics.  We've taken time out to learn more about birds and the ocean and the human body.  Next is space and then we'll go back into Physics.

Things I love about Real Science 4 Kids:
1.  Written clearly and intelligently.  Treats the kids with respect.
2.  The books are truly beautiful - great illustrations, glossy pages, shiny cover.
3.  No creationism or evolution.  Straight science.  I get to add in my own stuff.
4.  The experiments correlate well with each chapter.  And they're fun.

Things I don't love:
1.  Can get expensive - especially when you need the text, the teacher's manual and lab books for several kids.
2.  The books are short - we want more!

I should mention, you can view all the books online at the link above.  Every page of every book.  How's that for being able to decide if you like the book or not?

We'll be using RS4K throughout the rest of our homeschooling career, but I know we'll use a lot of living books too.  I'll be adding posts with the lists of the books we've used and liked, as well as the ones we didn't so you can avoid those!

Simply Charlotte Mason

We started out homeschooling using a Charlotte Mason approach. It just seemed to fit our family's learning style and what I wanted our days to look like. Four years later we're still following it, mostly.

One of the biggest helps to me, and which I only recently found, is Simply Charlotte Mason. They have an excellent blog which walks you through all of Mason's ideas and how to apply them in your school. If you want to know what Charlotte Mason is all about, stop here first. They also have an excellent, and free, curriculum guide. There are many products to purchase as well, but I don't have any of those so I can't comment.

They also host a forum where you can ask just about anything related to homeschooling or CM and someone there will answer. (And sometimes that someone is me!) It's been such a blessing for me to have a place to go to talk with mothers who've been down in the trenches for years and can give some insight or wisdom or just a cyber shoulder to cry on.

For the first few years I put together all my book lists for history. It took many, many hours of pain and suffering and no sleep to do this, but golly we were having fun. After I found SCM I still created my own book lists because obviously their lists couldn't be as good as the ones I put together. And here's where I show that I was wrong....I was wrong. After moving for the 8th time in 7 years I decided that just this once I'd use their suggestions. And they have all been excellent. With a few additions I found from the TruthQuest guides I had history planned in a few hours and we've been enjoying some truly excellent books. I have learned my lesson - trust SCM.

Just wanted to pass on an excellent resource.  Long live Charlotte Mason!

Brain Pop and Brain Pop, Jr.

We first heard of this through Homeschool Buyer's Co-op. We watched all the free videos we could and decided it would be worth the smallish monthly fee to get a subscription. We love it.

But what is it? Brain Pop and Brain Pop Jr. have many, many, many short animated videos on various subjects. We've watched videos on the brain, snot, aliens, the water cycle, motion, classifying animals, and arrays. Actually, we've watched a whole lot more than that, but I'm pretty sure you don't want me to show you the entire list.

Brain Pop is geared for kids in 3rd or 4th grade on up. Brain Pop Jr. is for the younger set. My kids (ages 9, 9 and 5) have watched videos from both sites and have been able to understand them. There are short quizzes your child can take after each video as well as games and activities.

I usually turn it on during breakfast or lunch and they take turns choosing videos (they are 3-5 minutes long). It's a fun, easy way to get some extra learning in or to review a subject we've already learned about.

Thus far I haven't had any problems with content aside from a little "save the world and go green" stuff. I get a little defensive about how hard they push that on kids. Other than that, I've been okay with everything.

There are multiple free movies you can watch on either site and they change every week. Check them out and see if this is something your kids would like.

Rain Player

Rain Player by David Wisniewski
We read this as part of our ancient American study of the Mayans. The boys really liked it. The illustrations are superb and bring a lot to the story. The story itself is sensational, as are most legends/fairy tales, but that's what makes it fun. As with all things Mayan, there are a lot of references to their gods.

Valuable addition to study for the Mayan culture. It makes it very easy for the little ones to feel involved too.

The Librarian Who Measured the Earth

The Librarian Who Measured the Earth by Kathryn Lasky

Very excellent book. It took us several days to read it as the text is deep. The math was over their first grade heads, but they still really enjoyed the story. The illustrations enhanced the telling as well.

This tells the story of Eratosthenes, the ancient Greek librarian who figured out how to calculate the circumference of the earth.

We will read this again for both middle and elementary study. I wish more books were like this.

d'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths

D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths by Ingri and Edgar d'Aulaire
I did not read this to my kids. I read through several books on Greek myths to see which one I'd use for middle school. I thought we'd wait until them to dig deep into the gods and goddesses. For elementary we just did a brief intro.

Now to this book....I didn't like it much at first. But after looking through several others this one began to really shine. The text flows easily and is written clearly and it covers a large variety of myths. I didn't like some of the illustrations.

I liked Myths to Read Aloud by William Russell the best, but it is not illustrated. (Duh, it's for reading aloud). I think we'll read through both his book and this book in middle school and discuss the differences/similarities.

The First Marathon: The Legend of Pheidippides

The First Marathon: The Legend of Pheidippides by Susan Reynolds
What you need to know to begin with is that I'm a big baby.

So, we read this book and it's all about courage and sacrifice and honor and all those wonderful things. And the book is very well-written and pulls you right in. We get to the end and I'm bawling like a baby. I can barely finish the last few pages. My kids see my crying so they start crying and pretty soon it's just a room full of weeping, snotty people.

They asked why I was crying so we were able to talk a little about how heroism like this touches me deeply. We ended up having a great discussion.

We read the book several times before we returned it to the library.

Definitely read this in your study of ancient Greece. A beautiful telling of the legend of Pheidippides.

The Great Alexander the Great

The Great Alexander the Great by Joe Lasker

I had a hard time finding a book about Alexander the Great for my first graders. But when I found this, the search was over.

This book was very well done. It had nice illustrations which portrayed a lot of information without being gory. It didn't contain much, but it was enough for our purposes.

You really wouldn't be able to use this for middle school, but it is very nice for elementary.

The Trojan Horse: How the Greeks Won the War

The Trojan Horse: How the Greeks Won the War by Emily Little
I previewed several versions of the Trojan horse story and this one won. It told the story simply and without a ton of gore. Obviously it had to leave a lot out (it's a children's book for heaven's sake) but it was a nice, solid introduction.

The kids picked it up and looked through it over and over again. We finally bought it. I'll definitely use again for the elementary kids. For the older ones they'll read Rosemary Sutcliff's Black Ships Before Troy.

Pyramid

Pyramid by David Macaulay
We looked through this, but didn't read the text out loud. I didn't think my elementary set would understand it and it was a little slow to boot. They did really enjoy the pictures and it helped them visualize the things they'd read about in other books.

It's a valuable visual resource, but may not work for younger kids. I'll have to try it again when they're older.

October 20, 2009

Workboxes - Charlotte Mason Style

If you homeschool you've probably heard of workboxes.  It's all over the place, ad nauseam.  Never one to jump on the band wagon I stayed far, far away from them.  Until one day I caved and thought I'd at least figure out what the brouhaha was all about.  After reading for a while I could tell that it did not fit well with the Charlotte Mason approach to homeschooling.  It was mostly worksheets or busy work (or so I thought).  So I ignored it.

Several months later, and with everyone still talking about it, I did some more research.  This time I saw how a few people were using it in a more CM-friendly way.  I sat down and made a list of things I thought would work and talked with my husband.  We decided to take the plunge and started doing workboxes about 2 months ago.  Thus far it is working very well.

My two older boys, ages 9, are learning to be more independent and to manage their time.  My 5-yr-old is also learning how to work solo and to sit still for longer than 3 minutes.  Even my 3-yr-old is in on the action with lots of fun and educational activities.

So, how did I reconcile my Charlotte Mason beliefs with workboxes?  I'm glad you asked.  First, there are many things I wanted to get to in our day, but it just didn't happen.  Workboxes were a great way to add those things in.  Second, I saw that a lot of their schoolwork could be put in the workboxes and done on their time thus freeing me up to do other things.

Right now each boy has 6 boxes.  We chose to use the larger plastic drawer style because we don't have a lot of room for shelves full of shoe boxes and frankly I think that looks messy.  And my 3-yr-old loves to dump things out.  I also bought several digital timers from the Dollar Store which are kept in a small box on top of their workboxes.  We're at a point where we need more boxes though.  More on that in a minute.

To make it easier on myself I've created index cards with the name of each potential activity on them.  For example, one card might say, "build something with Lincoln Logs for 15 minutes", another might say, "play with Creativity Express on the computer for 15 minutes" or "use the Wedgits to create something" or "play Swamp Sum with your brother" or whatever.  We all have (or at least I do) closets full of awesome things we've bought over the years, but can't find the time for the kids to use.  By writing everything on cards I can easily see what I have and make sure I'm rotating through them.

So, in those 6 boxes the boys might find the following:
1.  Scripture verses to read - always.  The first box every day contains a small card with the verses they should read that day.  They also keep a copy of their scriptures there so they don't have to hunt for them every day.
2.  Copywork.  I put their copywork folder in a drawer with a sticky telling them how many pieces of paper they need to draw from the copywork jars.  They do this 2 or 3 times a week.  Occasionally I'll have them do copywork from something we read in history or science or poetry.
3.  Math drill worksheets.  I'm not a fan of worksheets, but math is the one area that they need them.  I photocopied the drill sheets from the back my RightStart book and they do those 2 or 3 times a week.  The other days they play some of the games either by themselves or with each other.  To make things extra fun I throw in logic games once in a while like Rush Hour or Mighty Mind or something from the Critical Thinking Skills books.
4.  Narrations - I will include a blank piece of paper with instructions as to what they should 'narrate' such as 'draw how food is digested' or 'draw a picture of Plimouth Plantation'.  Sometimes I'll include a notebooking page where they illustrate on top and write a few sentences on the bottom.
5.  Piano practice.  There's a card that tells them to go practice the piano for 15 minutes.  This is done daily.
6.  Exercise.  I vary this - some days it tells them to ride their bikes or to play the Wii Fit or to go for a walk with their brother and dog.
7.  Handicrafts - I either include some craft materials in their workbox and tell them to go create or I have a card in there which tells them to make something.  Sometimes it's up to them - "create something" other times I'll say "using glue, pipe cleaners and pom-poms to create something".
8.  Explode the Code and Growing with Grammar.  Some might argue that these are not CM resources but I find them very helpful in learning to read and understanding the language.  Two or three times a week I'll stick in a page or two from one or both of these books.
9.  Various games, puzzles and building toys.  I use the index cards as mentioned above to fill any additional boxes.
10.  The last box usually has a piece of candy and a reward such as "go for a bike ride" or "play the Wii for 20 minutes" or "read a comic book from mom's secret stash".  Yes, I keep a secret stash of comic books with which to bribe my kids.

As you can see there are a bazillion things I could put in their workboxes so it never gets boring for them.  Scriptures, exercise and piano are daily.  The other ones get rotated through.  And now we need more boxes!!!

Instead of getting more big ones (at $30 a pop) we were talking about getting the tiny little drawers that could be used for holding the index cards only.  They cost about $5.  The cards could go in those drawers and things like their copywork notebooks and math worksheets could go in the larger drawers.  We'll see....

The 5-yr-old is in kindergarten.  His workboxes contain the following:
1.  Scriptures - but he reads these with me.
2.  Handwriting practice - I give him a whiteboard and an index card with various letters or numbers or words to practice.
3.  A phonics or Explode the Code worksheet.
4.  Some sort of skills worksheet like "circle the item that doesn't belong" or "mark the tallest".  I know, I know, I said I hate worksheets, but they do have a place for new learners and he sure loves them.  Sometimes it's an actual skill like cutting paper or gluing or lacing or threading.
5.  Hands-on games and activities.
6.  Exercise
7.  Piano practice
8.  I use the index cards for him too and he often builds with K'nex or Lincoln Logs or magnets.

The 3-yr-old has mostly fun educational games that I've made.  I'll have to do a separate post on those.  His boxes are downstairs where we do most of our reading and he is learning to pull out an activity and sit quietly working on it while we work on school.

From what I've read the woman who came up with the idea of workboxes does not fully approve of people modifying her system.  We further modify (golly I feel bad) it by not even using the workbox labels!  The boys know you start at the top and work your way down.  Most people have the child take the velcroed number off the workbox and place it on a strip showing the work was done.  My kids don't really seem to care about that.  They do it, they enjoy it, they get done and move on with their day.

I feel like we're getting more done in each day now and the boys are feeling more confident in their education.  I think it's a great way to help them work towards more educational independence.  Workboxes also help keep the kids productive when I'm doing dishes or teaching a brother independently or whatever it is I do during the day.

Overall I'm very pleased with the way the workboxes have improved our school days.  I think they most definitely can be used in a Charlotte Mason way!

October 19, 2009

The Gilgamesh Trilogy

There are three books in this trilogy by Ludmilla Zeman -  Gilgamesh the KingThe Revenge of Ishtar and then The Last Quest of Gilgamesh .
We totally loved this trilogy. My kids spent hours looking at the pictures and asking me to re-read it to them.

Granted, it's a violent story so some of you may not want to read it to begin with. But it's handled really nicely and isn't all gory and gross while still retaining the original themes.

I do believe the first book is the one where "they explore the ways of love together". My kids didn't even catch that so I didn't dwell on it. It may become an issue worth discussing when they're older. The art is done in the style of what has been found during that time which was another way to learn about the time period.
I like to find children's books of classic/adult books and have them read it when they're young. Hopefully when they're older they will better understand the classic works because they are already familiar with the characters and plots. This series was exceptionally well done.

Who's in Rabbit's House

Who's in Rabbit's House? by Verna Aardema
This book kicked off our love for African tales. My kids couldn't get enough of them. The pictures are bold and colorful. The story is clever and just plain fun. We loved making the noises that go along with the actions. My kids re-enacted this book for months afterwards. We used this for our study of Africa, but love to read it any time we can.

Misoso: Once Upon a Time Tales From Africa

Misoso: Once Upon a Time Tales from Africa
by Verna Aardema
We liked this collection of 'creation' type stories. Each is short enough that you can read one or two a day. Good selection from various countries with a map showing where each story is from.

Black Ships Before Troy

Black Ships Before Troy by Rosemary Sutcliff
I really enjoyed this book. The illustrations are excellent and the story is very well written. I think it does a fabulous job taking the essentials of the Iliad and turning it into something children/young teens can understand.

I haven't read it to my kids yet. The subject material is a bit intense and rather bloody. I will have them read it during the next cycle of ancient history (5th grade).

I also think if you're intimidated by the Iliad you could read this to understand the original work. This may be all you (or a child) needs.