Wednesday, January 28, 2009

help wanted

Lately the lines between between "school" and "home" have become blurred... one begins to flow seamlessly into the other... there is no clear distinction.

One recent example of this is our "Help Wanted" board. My husband and I decided that the kids needed to work on their money management skills and Clara needed more experience with recognizing and counting coins. So, instead of buying a curriculum, we set up the "Help Wanted" board.

Please forgive how messy my writing is... if you could only see the position I had to be in in order to reach the white board, you would understand. :-)

I don't know how else to write this so I'm going to do it in bullet points:

1. The kids have specific assigned chores that are not on the board.

These are required each day and if done every day, they receive their base pay of $1. If not done everyday, payment for all other chores is forfeited (more on this later).

2. "Help Wanted" chores are completely optional.

We assigned the things that MUST be done (feed the dog, fill the dog's water dish, making beds, etc.). Everything on our list is optional... all things that would be really nice if they happened, but no big deal if they didn't. Or they are things that I was doing anyway... so them doing the item lessened my work, but didn't increase it if they didn't chose that item.

3. All chores pay less than $.50.

We did this because we wanted the kids to be able to reasonably SAVE for the things they wanted... not outright BUY whatever they wanted. We wanted them to really think about what they would use their money for once they had enough.

4. They may only have one chore selected at a time.

When they see a chore they would like to do, they put their initial next to the line. Once it is done, I check it and they may select another chore. This avoids the first one to the board selecting all of the choice jobs, before the other one has a chance.

We're a few weeks into this and so far so good. We had a glitch last week where near the end of the week they both missed a morning of their required chores. By the rules they were to forfeit all of their money earned that week. We quickly saw that this would not work since their motivation to do any chores (even their required ones) waned since they weren't earning anything any more. So, we told them that if it remained just that one time, we would assign them an extra non-paying task during the weekend that would "erase" the missed chore morning. So, one afternoon last weekend they folded and put away all of their clean clothes (which was usually one of the higher paying chores on the board).

Alex is saving his money for a new video game. He has been searching different sites seeing where he would get the best deal. He's thinking about whether he should buy it a) from the Lego store, with the highest price and shipping but he could use a Lego gift card that he has, b) order it from WalMart who has the lowest price but has shipping costs or c) order from Amazon with a slightly higher price but free shipping. I like seeing that he's really thinking about his purchase and what is the best deal for his money.

Clara saw a Webkinz in a store last Tuesday that she HAD to have.. it was the last one and she was afraid that they would be sold out by the time she had enough money saved. So, since she had enough money to pay 1/4 of the cost, I purchased the Webkinz and set up a layaway plan at home. The toy stays on my desk and she is not allowed to play with it until it is paid off. We each have little receipts to keep track of her payments and so she can see how much she still owes. She just made her second payment yesterday and is halfway to owning her toy.

Sunday is pay day here at our house. The kids both dump out their coins and can group them into dollars that can be exchanged for paper dollars. It's good to see them look for different coin combinations to make their dollars.

Oh... totally forgot to mention that as they complete their chores I drop the proper coin payments into their jars that sit on the counter by the "Help Wanted" board. They will count up their money in their jars multiple times a week.

I'm pretty pleased with this experiment so far. I'm hoping that we can add to it as we get further into it... adding things like savings and earning interest. But for now we're just taking it slow... one step at a time.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

fun with language arts..

Yesterday we decided to have a little fun with language arts. It was inspired by an impulse purchase I had made last week at a little local toy store...
Mad Libs

We started out by watching the grammar rock section of our Schoolhouse Rock DVD. We specifically concentrated on the ones about Verbs, Nouns, Adjectives and Adverbs.

After that we started doing our Mad Libs. They loved them! I just switched off between the kids at each blank. By the time we were done, even Clara had a pretty good grasp on what an adverb and adjective was. Clara discovered that the more outrageous the word she gave, the more outrageous the story became. We were laughing so hard at some of the stories. I think we did at least four stories before hunger won out and we stopped for lunch.

It was just such a fun little "lesson" that I know they'll be begging to do again!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

math doesn't wait for monday

Yesterday while cleaning out a closet where I keep a bunch of homeschooling supplies (we're getting ready to do a big room switcharoo) Alex found these little boxes I had bought at Target back in September. They are little geometry boxes with a compass, protractor, ruler and such inside. I had bought them because they were cheap and I might need them someday. :-)

Anyway... Alex found the box and took a look inside. He was pretty intrigued by what he saw. He wanted to know what everything was and what they were for. Here I began to struggle...

2008 Me: Those are really cool geometry tools Alex. Give me some time and I'll pull some stuff together and we'll do a little unit on them this next week.

2009 Me: Here, let me tell you what they are and what they're used for. And by the way, see that K'NEX Geometry Set on the shelf? You can get that out too.

Which one do you think won out?

I stuck to my new plan, but let me tell you that it was both sooo hard and extremely easy at the same time.
The Hard Part:
It killed me to not have prepared for this. My fingers were itching... I could see the teacher's manual CD in the K'nex kit materials and it was all I could do to keep from telling him to stop everything until I could go upstairs and print stuff off. I kept seeing all we "could" do with this if I just could prepare. I eventually had to walk away.

The Easy Part:
We sprawled out in the floor together and I showed him how to make a circle with the compass and how to measure and draw angles with the protractor. No frills... nice and simple. He then got out the K'nex kit and I walked away. He came running upstairs a while later to show me what he had been doing. Using K'nex, he had made a line, line segment and a ray. He had also made various angles out of K'nex, traced them onto his paper (ack! one angle per sheet of paper... but I let that slide) and then measured them. From there we had a little discussion about acute, right and obtuse angles. We also talked about what is meant by at 180 degree turn and a 360 degree turn. He was excited and engaged! He learned more about geometry in that half and hour than he would have if I would gone the 2008 route (because, let's be honest, something else would have come up and I wouldn't have gotten around to planning the little lesson I promised).

Shortly after this, he abandoned the whole pile of stuff and was off playing with Clara. It was all he personally needed to know at that moment so he was done. Even if I would have gotten my act together, there's a really good chance his enthusiasm for geometry would have waned by the time we worked on it "during school". I might have prepared more (notice I said "might") but he wouldn't necessarily have gotten more out of it.

spoiled rotten

You know... as homeschoolers here in Chicago we really run the risk of becoming COMPLETELY spoiled rotten, don't you think?

I mean, seriously, we have so many fabulous opportunities here. We took part in one on Friday.

We went on a "musical journey"...
... with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to Russia...
It was part of their Very Special Promenade field trip series.

For $10 a seat, we were in a box in the Symphony Center... the box smack dab in the middle! We were watching and listening to the CSO... AND watching dancers from the Joffrey perform selections from Swan Lake and the Nutcracker! The conductor was wonderful... engaged with the kids and educational. It was truly amazing!! Add to all of this that we were sharing the box with our homeschooling friends.

We're spoiled I tell you... totally spoiled :-)

(I had to make due with program photos today, as no photography was allowed)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

testing the waters...

So, I finally wrote out my big homeschooling epiphany the other.... now it is time to put it into practice.

In my newly (self) defined role of "facilitator", I tried out something Tuesday night at the library. While Alex was in book club I roamed the stacks... looking for inspiration. So, while browsing the paperbacks I found a Magic School Bus Chapter book and I just went from there. I ended up picking up the following three books...

I told Alex about them and his eyes lit up... he insisted on taking to bed with him so he could look at them. This was exactly what I hoped would happen.

What I did not expect was for him to emerge from his room at 10:15 to tell me that he had read all three books. He then started spewing out all kinds of information about magnets and circuits. It was amazing to witness... he was so fired up!

He had marked the experiments he wanted to try with kleenex (yes, clean ones) and couldn't wait until today to try them out.

Many of them were almost like magic tricks which made them even more exciting. He passed this excitement on to Clara who signed up to be his "lovely assistant". :-) He set up his "tricks" and started the show!

Here he is making the compass spin...
and here's Clara, the "control", not making the compass spin...
See... nothing up my sleeve...
.. hey WAIT... is that....
a MAGNET I see???
Yep, it was. He then took great pride in telling me why each trick worked out the way it did. They did a bunch more that I don't have photos of.... I'll tell you this though, I think they ended up magnetizing all of my butter knives in the process of setting up some of the tricks. :-)

Then, I dug out some science supply kits we had that went with a curriculum we didn't end up using and in the kits, he found enough stuff to do some of the experiments from the Batteries book.

Here he is making an electromagnet and seeing how many paperclips he could pick up...
This afternoon we made a solenoid as well.

It was a wildly successful experiment for me... I guided but did not push. He picked it up and totally ran with it.... taking Clara along for the ride. Alex read information, comprehended it and was able to explain it, in his own words, back to me. And this was all done with such excitement and wonder.

I'm realistic enough to know that this will not happen every time... but if it is only half of the time, I think that's good enough for me.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Doll People

The Doll People

We just finished reading The Doll People yesterday. I have to say that we LOVED this book. This was Alex's book for the book club he participates in at the library. He usually reads the books himself, but this month he was deep into Inkheart, lacking motivation to read something called "The Doll People" and then add in there that Clara expressed an interest in the book. So, it because our read aloud.

It was so much fun! Alex loved it every bit as much as Clara (in fact he gave it a 5 out of 5 star rating at book club last night). It has a bit of adventure and mystery.... strong female main characters and a great story about dolls who are alive. I always hesitate when doing book reviews since I don't want to give too much away.... so this will be brief. :-)

The kids got into this book so much that one night they created the Doll family and the Funcraft family out of Clara's dolls (and what the Clara didn't have, Alex made out of Legos). They even rounded up some animals so they could have "rancher family". This book truly captured their imaginations.

Anyway... now Clara wants me to track down the other books in the series since she loved The Doll People so much. Clara sits through most read aloud books but this one was the first that she really, really got into... she has proclaimed that it was her most favorite read aloud ever.

Now on to our next read aloud! :-)


(the photo above has nothing really to do with this post... I just feel all posts should have a photo)

That's my word for 2009 for our homeschooling journey.... TRUST. This all has to do with the epiphany I alluded to in an earlier post.

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately and here's where I'm at right now...

I need to TRUST my children more on this journey.

I need to TRUST that when they balk at certain things and struggle with others, it is not (always) because they're being difficult and don't want to work that day... but because whatever we were doing doesn't work for them. It doesn't fit their interests, their learning style or the pace they need to work at. I have been extremely guilty of trying to cram Clara into Alex's mold and getting frustrated when it doesn't work. I need to see that it is not always defiance at work, but her need for something different.

I need to TRUST that left to their own devices at times they actually come up better "educational experiences" than I could have ever have thought up for them. Plus there's the added bonus of their enthusiasm for those projects they devise themselves.

I need to rethink my TRUST in "curriculum". Okay... that sounds odd... I'm not saying that I don't trust curriculum.... but I'm talking more about my thinking that somewhere out there is the perfect curriculum that will solve ALL of my homeschooling problems.

I need to TRUST myself in my thought that the way I learned in school is not the only way to learn. There is no one right way to learn, different things work for different people.

I need to TRUST myself as the facilitator of my children's educations. Notice that I did not say "teacher".... I am the facilitator. We will learn together, I will provide educational opportunities, I will gather materials, I will say "oh, I didn't know that... tell me more".... my job is not really to teach them anything, but to help them learn.

I may have more to add to this but at least I've got the start of it written down.

Funny thing is... this whole thing came from a freak out I had about spelling. I kept looking for that one "perfect" curriculum that would magically teach my children to spell. Then I thought about school spelling programs a moment.... they don't exactly teach a child to spell (stay with me here)... they give them word lists, spelling rules, some worksheets and tests... just like almost every curriculum I had looked at and/or purchased (I have quite a collection). Where the child truly learns to spell is outside of this curriculum either through activities created by the teacher or at home with their parents... through a myriad of ways... drills, flashcards, writing out the words, spelling games, computer games, etc. The list goes on and on... but it all comes down to what works best for that particular child. I needed to stop looking for a curriculum to solve my problem for me, I need to trust my children when things didn't work and I needed to trust that I could come up with ways that would help facilitate the learning to spell process.

So, here we are at the beginning of 2009 with a fresh outlook on our homeschooling journey... let's see where it leads.

Monday, January 19, 2009

extra credit?

It's funny.... since we've adopted a new attitude in regards to school lately, "school" never seems to stop. It just becomes part of our lives.... a part that isn't packed up and put away for the weekend and after 3:00 on weekdays. It's amazing to witness.

So, back this past summer, I was telling a friend of mine that we were going to be working our way through The Story of the World Volume 1this year. Knowing Alex the way she does, she suggested that we get this book she had seen on Amazon....

It was a very good call! Alex loves this book! He has studied it over and over and has picked a project to start on with his dad. They went to the hardware store last weekend to get their supplies (Jeff said that they got some strange looks from the staff as they kept consulting the book as they selected their supplies). That was another thing that excited me about this book. I do so much of the school work with the kids and this was a cool way to get Jeff involved with what we're up to.

Anyway... while waiting for time to start the construction on their catapult.... Alex decided the he would attempt building a trebuchet out of Legos.

He had been working on it alone for a few days... constantly peppering us with questions about its construction. Finally on Sunday, he had the basic structure done and from there it became a several hour family project. It was so much fun lying in the floor together... testing, analyzing, rethinking, retesting, etc.

Here's Jeff getting ready to fire the trebuchet...
(yes, the ammo is an "enemy head" as Alex had read in the book... sigh)

Making some modifications...
Ready.... aim....
Here are a couple of (poorly shot) videos of a couple of firing attempts...

one not so successful one...

and one successful one...

Please ignore the various color casts of the photos... I have color cast issues :-) And, I was also having video issues this morning so one video was uploaded via blogger and another via photobucket... let's hope they work!

Thank you!

I just wanted to write a quick note of thanks to those of you who have commented on my blog posts recently! I rarely EVER get comments so this past week has been quite a treat!

I know to some, three comments is no big deal but for me it's HUGE.... so thank you Audrey, Alycia and Jules!

You all made my day! :-)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

diagramming sentences = fun?

I never thought so... and quite frankly, neither did Alex. That is, until yesterday.

I typed a bunch of sentences out and printed them. I then handed him scissors and hand drawn sentence diagrams for him to use.

He then went to town cutting up his sentences and diagramming them...
It was pretty cool to watch. He actually got really into it! He kept yelling out all kinds of revelations he was having as he diagrammed. He actually could see relationships and really "get" the concepts when the grudge work of actually writing everything out was removed. I'm not saying that he's never going to have to write things out again.... but removing that element, especially when learning new concepts really helps with Alex.

I'm not sure why I couldn't see this before. I think it is possibly because I get caught up in the way I learned in school.... so many work sheets and so much writing.... all individual work with little interaction with the teacher (or the actual material for that matter). This all goes along with my homeschooling epiphany I referenced the other day.... I must get around to writing that post.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Our homeschool is an ever evolving beast. :-)

I had a homeschooling epiphany the other day (which I'll expand on later) so we're trying some new stuff this week.

I've said it before and I'll say it again.... I struggle with language arts (LA). It was never my strength growing up.... I was more into math and science. Anyway, because of this I have been all over the board with language arts... I have completely ignored it (not the best solution), bought workbooks and curriculum to do it for me and now I'm finally trying a mix - using curriculum in our own way. We're taking the books and going off road. :-)

So, Clara has really been struggling with LA because she struggles with handwriting. She also isn't particularly the sit at the table and do a workbook type (well, at least not for too long). So, I decided over the weekend that I would try typing up and printing out some of the exercises from their LA books. I decided to try this because I really felt that she did get more of the concepts than it appeared when she had to write things out.

So, here's day one...
I decided to use the grade 2 Rod and Staff grammar book I had bought for Alex last year. To start I just typed out some sentences from the book, cut the words apart and let her arrange them back into sentences.... looking for clues to help (capital letters and punctuation). She really enjoyed that. The next section was about sentences versus phrases.... so I typed up their list of each along with the headings "sentence" and "phrase", cut them out and let her put them in the proper columns. Again... fun and quick. Finally, so she can keep working on her handwriting, I typed out a few of the sentences in StartWrite for her to trace and then copy.

Here's Alex's...
He's working in book 3. We haven't gotten very far into it. We stopped for a while when he got into his daily paragraph editing work sheets. Thankfully though, we had stopped right before a review section.

Here he is sorting sentences into columns of "commanding", "telling" and "asking" sentences...
Now, he's cutting up those same sentences in order to separate them into columns of "subjects" and "predicates"....
He had always tolerated his Rod and Staff grammar (once we stopped writing everything out)... but this was the first time that he really got into it and seemed to enjoy it. Figuring he could always use some extra handwriting practice... I did the same for him as I had done for Clara.

After our LA work, it was time for a spelling game...
Snap It Up! Phonics and Reading Card Game, Word Families

I was the referee and the official middle card turner over person. It was a good learning game for Clara and a good review game for Alex. They enjoyed it enough that they think we should get the Snap It Up gamesin all varieties. :-)

I also wanted to show off this little beauty...
My very own Automatic Playing Card Shuffler!! I'm terrible at shuffling cards and so many of the kids' games involve shuffling cards.... I actually used to avoid playing card games with them... but NO MORE!!! :-)

After the traditional round of Snap It Up, we split the ending cards between the two of them and also split the beginning cards.... they then tried to be the first one done with forming words with all of their endings...
It was a good experiment!! However, since it's a little more labor intensive for me, I'm hoping I can keep at it.

Friday, January 9, 2009

let the games begin!

One of my goals for the new year is to get back to playing more games for school. I used to be so good about this with Alex, but I fell off the wagon a bit when it came to Clara.

Since Clara can always use some extra help with spelling, we got out this game yesterday....

It was fun.... but I learned quickly that we couldn't play it the traditional way (2 player).... Alex was just too fast. So for the second round, Clara went alone...
and she got different points for her words depending on the level of help she needed. Alex kept track of it all on the easel. We had a really good time playing together and I look forward to making games a bigger part of our school.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Yesterday was SO MUCH FUN!!! I love it when a project becomes something that we're really into instead of "just school".... if you know what I mean. The kids were into this project anyway... but given that they had been reading some ancient Egypt books on their own, they had their own ideas on how we should do things.

The Story of the World activity book has you mummifying a chicken... I just couldn't do that... it just icks me out just thinking about it. So I went searching around the web looking for alternatives. I found these instructions on the Tweaked Academy blog. They were just what I was looking for!

In the meantime... the kids had been reading these two books....

Ancient Egyptians (History Dudes)
(thanks for letting us borrow this Jennifer, Alex loves it!)

... and had some ideas of their own.

Namely, the addition of Anubis...

Or the priest who acted as the chief embalmer who wore the mask of Anubis (god of embalming). I didn't know about this because I was so focused on the actual embalming that I didn't pay much attention to the ritual of embalming. The kids rushed down to Alex's room to make him an Anubis mask which we then taped to his ski mask.

The chief embalmer marks the line on the left side of the bodies for the "slicer" to cut along...
Here is a shot of our dearly departed royal family and the elements needed for their proper burial...
I got to be the "slicer".... which had the added bonus of being chased from the room and having "stones" thrown at you by the other embalmers since "his bloody work insults the gods". I had them make paper stones so I got to run from kitchen (I did put the knife down first) while being pelted with paper wads! Good times! Honestly... the kids LOVED it!

Here they are removing the "organs"...
and anointing the bodies with wine (rubbing alcohol and red food coloring in a Dr. Pepper how's that for fancy?)....
The little packets above are the "organs", we're embalming them too.

Then we mixed up our "natron"... and started covering the bodies...
I think I ended up using three and a half boxes of baking soda and two and a half canisters of salt. I just mixed it up in equal proportions until the bodies were covered. I have some extra so I can replace the natron when needed.

Oh... and last night the kids used the hieroglyph stamps from their kit to make name labels for the mummies. On Monday we had watched a special about the Screaming Man on the National Geographic Channel and they kept stressing how important it was for mummies to be buried with their names.... a nameless mummy could not get into the afterlife. So, they had to have names... however, for now they are mom, dad and Tut. :-)

So... that was our day yesterday! Hopefully today will be as fun but without the mess! lol!