Thursday, April 30, 2009

ancient china

As I have mentioned before... we're taking our own sweet time working our way through Story of the World Volume 1. This week we spent some time studying Ancient China.

We watched a couple of Netflix movies.

The first one was...
China - The Panda Adventure (IMAX)

This was had no real tie to Ancient China other than the movie was set in China. We had watched it years before when we studied China when we used Galloping the Globe. As soon as the kids heard we were studying China, they requested that I get this movie again. It's a good movie in the sense that it has amazing footage of the beauty of natural China and the rivers mentioned in Story of the World. The panda bears are pretty cute too (Clara's favorite part). But the basic story is that of a race between a woman (whose husband died in China while studying pandas) and a hunter set on killing pandas. One cub will go missing and the hunter kills the mother panda (Clara was traumatized... briefly). But in the end the woman adopts the remaining cub and takes it back to the US. Footage of the adorable cub cheered Clara up again.

The second movie we got was...
Ancient China: A Journey Back in Time (Lost Treasures of the Ancient World)

Hmmmm.... what to say about this one. It has good information... but, it was DULL! At least to me. I really wanted to like it, but I couldn't. The kids lasted all of the way through it but maybe that had more to do with the fact that they rarely watch TV and they weren't going to give up the opportunity easily than it did with actually liking the thing.

We didn't do so good with movies this go around but we did get some cool books at the library.

Two favorites were....

We started out by reading The Warlord's Puzzle. I mistakenly thought that our shapes tub had tangram pieces in it so I dumped them all out in the floor before I realized that it didn't. I ended up tracing the tangram pieces in the back of the book and cutting a set out for each child. They really enjoyed the book and constantly recite the boy's story about the fish in order to make the pieces into the tile again.

But, I have to say, that the favorite of the two books was Grandfather Tang's Story. The story was about two fox fairies who could change shape.

Here are the two foxes at the beginning of the book...
(side note: this book is great for two kids as there are two foxes who change shape... each child can be one of the characters and rearrange their tangram pieces to make the shape of the animal their fox changes into)

Here is Clara's fox changing into a squirrel (I think)....

Midway through the story, Clara remembered that we had tangrams in our Classic Tangoesgame.... so she got those out so they could use those instead....
Crazy thing is, that night while Clara was at swim, Alex and I walked to the thrift store nearby and found this....
The Fun with Tangrams Kit

We got it, two other math books and an I Spy computer game for $2.40 (you've got to love thrift stores!). It even had the punch out tangram pieces still in the book... however, we just used our plastic ones from the game again.

They've been playing with the book quite a bit.

Here's their favorite one so far....
... I'm not sure who exactly it is supposed to be (since it's just under the heading "faces") but the kids have decided that it looks like Abraham Lincoln and I couldn't agree more.

We read one other library book aloud... The Warlord's Messengers. The kids really enjoyed that book. To be technical, this book is set quite a while after the time period covered in SOTW but it was still a good read. We're going to read The Warlord's Alarmtomorrow.

I checked out a few other library books for the kids to choose from for free reading.

Here are those books:
The Jade Stone: A Chinese Folktale
The Emperor and the Kite
The Sons of the Dragon King: A Chinese Legend
See Inside an Ancient Chinese Town

Thursday, April 23, 2009

All About Spelling

Okay... I think I'm finally ready to type up my thoughts on All About Spelling. :-)

For the past month or so, we've been using All About Spelling Level 1....
After our track record with other spelling programs I was both reluctant and desperate to start something new. At least now I had a better idea about what worked for us and what didn't work. I thought AAS was a good way to go because it seemed to use the basic concepts that I liked about Spell to Write and Read but in a much more user friendly manner (at least for me). I really liked the emphasis on learning the phonograms first and the fact that you actually learn spelling rules along the way.

Okay... Alex is in third grade but I decided to start him on Level 1 anyway. I figured that if this was the right program for us, it would benefit us to start at the beginning (especially with the emphasis on phonograms and rules). Also AAS is written in a way that makes it EXTREMELY easy to go at your own pace. Clara will sometimes take a few days per lesson, while Alex will do more than one a day. I'm finding it very easy to modify for each child. Finally, Alex was not a strong speller (at grade level according to the test in the back of Spell to Write and Read) and needed to build some confidence with spelling... breezing through Level 1 has really helped his confidence level. I'm not planning on retesting him after this book as I don't really expect that his spelling level has increased. What he has gained from this level is a good solid foundation to build on and a boost to his confidence level and I don't think those will translate to a higher spelling score (yet).

Now, on to the program. I ordered one level one packet (teacher's manual and student material packet) plus one extra student packet. I did this because I am using this program with both kids at the same time. Nothing in this level is consumable (except for the progress chart) so you could use one set for multiple kids if you were not using the same level at the same time. The set really has everything and I was so impressed by the quality of the items!

Here is a look at Clara's card set....
I can tell this set is Clara's because she imediately tried to shut the lid of the box and mashed her first tab. Every set of cards is divided into three sections - Review, Mastered, and Future Lessons. For someone like me who is organizationally challenged... this has been wonderful! With each kid having their own box of cards, I never have to think about where Alex is versus Clara.... I just pull out the cards from the Review section of their box and start with the lesson. I love that the program has lots of review built in.... but that review is customized according to your child's own needs.

Oh... back to the cards themselves.... they are made from bright, heavy paper and came perforated (very well perforated I might add). No cutting or anything so getting started was very easy.

To get started, we practiced the basic phonograms over and over. I sometimes didn't even say we were doing "spelling", it was a game we played at meal times (the cards seem to always be on the dining room table). I also purchased the Phonogram CD-ROM so I could make sure we were pronouncing the sounds correctly. We have used this some, but not that much.... we'll see if we use it more in the future.

Once we got going good on the phonogram cards, we moved on to the sound cards. With these I would say the sounds a letter made and they would have to write down the appropriate letter. Clara really struggles with her fine motor skills and needs extra help with her handwriting so I just typed up the alphabet in StartWrite and let her find the appropriate letter to trace.
Now moving on to the parts that really sold me on this program... the "hands on" parts. Writing is the last step if you do the program as outlined which is great for Clara. With the concentration it takes for her to write, it frustrates her to be learning spelling at the same time. With this program she really knows the word by the time it comes to writing it and she can focus on the writing and not as much on spelling.

First of all, they use tokens to separate each word out into the sounds in the word. They pull a token down for each sound....
This sets the stage for the next step, using the letter tiles....
They start by putting the letters in order and then when given a word, they pull the letters down by sound, the same way they did with the tokens. We do this a lot with Clara. Alex, not so much. Clara needs the "hands on" plus she's just now really learning to spell. Alex doesn't need the hands on as much plus he already knows these words. I just let him go straight to writing the words on paper which is why we can go through a couple of lessons at one sitting. We do, however, get out the tiles with Alex for any new concepts and to illustrate the spelling rules. I love, love, love that this program has the spelling rules. I know it sounds crazy... but I was practically giddy the other day when we learned when to use c and when to use k when the /k/ sound is at the beginning of a word. Not one single program we had used in the past had explained that! (okay... Spell to Write and Read would have explained it if I had been able to figure it out)

Another note about the letter tiles - they are made of a laminated cardstock and are of a really nice quality. You do have to cut them out yourself, but that's not a big deal. They give you the option of ordering magnet backing to put on each tile, but we didn't get the magnets.

So, since I was pleased with Level 1, I placed another order the other day...
I got Level 2 for Alex and the Beehive Reader Level 1 for Clara. Alex hasn't started Level 2 yet (almost done with Level 1) but Clara has started with the reader. Clara is a good reader... she's been reading since she was 4 BUT she has always been a sight reader (she can be very competitive at times and started "reading" Dick and Jane books in order to keep up with Alex who was beginning to read at the time). I thought a good basic phonetic reader would be good for her... especially one that went along with our spelling program. She immediately took it to her room and read it in bed at night. I am, however, having her read it aloud to me. Most of it comes very easy to her but when she does stumble, it has been a good way to show her that the sounds and rules she is learning through spelling apply to reading as well. Since she is a good reader, she really doesn't need a separate reading program.... but this is a really nice supplement to our spelling program that helps her read better. Does that make sense?

Okay, to sum this all up....

I have found All About Spelling to be a good fit for us. The price is reasonable, the materials are reusuable, and the materials are of really good quality for the price. The program makes sense (to me) as far as the word lists and the progression of the program (many of the other programs seemed random to me). The teacher's manual is extremely easy to follow and requires no prep work on my part... I just open it up and get going at spelling time. The program is very easy to modify to your child's individual needs.... spelling with AAS looks very different for each of mine at this point - Clara does lots of tile work with little writing and Alex does very little tile work but lots of writing. It is also easy to choose your own pace without feeling "behind". I can't really tell that it is set up to be a school year program, if you know what I mean.

The biggest downside seems to be that it requires total "teacher" involvement. I will be honest here... I would love a program that I could just hand to my child in workbook form and have them work quietly on their own and then magically know how to spell without any tears! That's just not going to happen... we need this type of program. It really does not take up that much time (actually less time than our old workbook programs when you count in the time I spent dealing with meltdowns...sigh). I was scared about all of the review built in - phonogram cards, sound cards, key cards, word cards. But then I realized the point of the "review" and "mastered" dividers. We were only reviewing what we needed to review each time.... not the whole stack of cards.

Okay.... I think I'm done rambling! I hope that helps and let me know if you have any questions!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

favorite thing - globes

I will start off by saying that I stink at geography... but I am getting better! :-)

Perhaps because I stink at geography, I have an obsession with collecting globes. One is always within a few feet for a quick check when I need to know where something is.

Almost every globe in our collection was purchased at a antique store for around $20 or less. At first I was concerned about having "out of date" globes in our house when using them for school, but it actually has been a plus.

For example... today Alex wanted to know about the USSR versus today's Russia (he got the Beatles white album yesterday for his birthday and had been listening to Back in the USSR)... we talked about it a bit and then went to the globes to look at the geographical differences.

This particular globe (which sits on top of my desk cabinet) is from the period of the USSR...
We got it down and took a look.

We then took a look at this globe, which was after the break-up of the USSR....
We played a little game of "spot the difference".

That globe above is my favorite. I almost didn't buy it. It was the last globe I purchased. It wobbles a bit and the stand wasn't a favorite.... I wasn't sure what I would do with a globe on such a tall stand... but it was a globe and it was only $25. Now it sits near the dining room table where we do our school work and eat our meals. We refer to this globes multiple times a week.... either because of something in our school work, something we've read in the paper over breakfast, something from our read aloud or just out of curiosity.

In addition to the two globes above, we have several more sprinkled around the house.

This little metal globe bank is tucked away on a shelf by the kitchen....
(it's twin is waiting to find a home in my new office.... if we ever get it done)

This is our one modern globe...
Alex got it as a Christmas present from his aunt and uncle one year. It's especially cool because when you plug it in... you see all of the constellations. This one usually lives in Alex's room, I'm not sure why he brought it upstairs, but he did and it's still here.

This is yet another globe in Alex's room...

I have the itch now to acquire more :-)

Oh.... I found a site one time that gave you the info to date your globes based on country borders and names. I need to find that again... I think that would be a fun "school" activity one day.

And yes.... the rest of my spelling ramblings is coming soon.


Kez - The inflatable globe!!! I totally forgot about that one! We have one bouncing around here someplace too! And yes... the little tin globe is a piggy bank. I think they're adorable... you should see if you still have yours!

Friday, April 17, 2009

spelling - where we've been

Oh wow.... I hadn't really thought about all of the money we had spent on spelling programs until I started to put this post together.... it's a bit ridiculous! Anyway.... homeschooling is a journey and sometimes you read the map wrong and take a wrong turn or two (or three or four)... sigh.

Okay... I mentioned here the other day that we were now using All About Spelling and Jocelyne asked what I thought of it so far. Well... when thinking about that post, I got to thinking about all of the curriculum we have tried so far. I did this mainly to temper my opinion of AAS. I remember being excited about each of the programs below when we started them. I was sure I found the right thing for us each time. I wanted to really think about what didn't work (for us) with the previous programs and see if there was a pattern. Well.... there is a bit of one. One that I wish I could have stepped back and seen before making yet another purchase. Oh well... live and learn, right?

This was our first real spelling program....
A Reason for Spelling

This was a bit of an impulse buy at Mardel one day. Since this was our first spelling program, I didn't think much about the purchase. I thought a spelling program was just a spelling program... not much to think about. So, I bought it and we started using it. This program seemed to teach spelling by giving a list of words and you were to learn to spell them by just writing them over and over filling in worksheets during the week. You had a spelling test on Friday. Alex actually did okay with this... specifically the weekly stuff. But when it came to the review sections, he had retained very little of the older words, just the most recent stuff. This program didn't seem to teach spelling rules either.... just learning to spell through repetition. Spelling does not come naturally to Alex, we needed something more. Spelling became painful and brought on a flood of tears each time so we gave this one up after almost completing the first book.

Next up.....

Spell to Write and Read

So, the next time around I went a complete 180 and bought Spell to Write and Read and all of it's various parts. It was going to be the answer to my prayers... a program that actually taught you to spell using spelling rules and learning the parts before the whole.

However, I'm apparently not bright enough to figure this one out. I tried, seriously I did. Perhaps I'm just too easily overwhelmed and this one seriously overwhelmed me. We tried to use it. We worked on the phonogram cards and attempted the special journals. Eventually I got frustrated and gave up. I have heard from other people who absolutely love this program... I wanted to love it... I just couldn't get a handle on how to use it.

So for third grade, I decided to try this...
Sequential Spelling

Again, I was sure I had found the answer. Sequential Spelling takes one root word and then builds on it to form other words. You do a new list every day. Unless I read things wrong, you don't review words, just give them the list of words, making spelling corrections immediately after they spell the word. This started out good... but quickly went downhill. It was supposed to be for grades K-6 (I think) so I started both kids with it. Not a good idea.... Alex naturally was able to spell better given that he is two grade above Clara... this frustrated Clara. I discontinued the program for her. Alex and I plugged on. He eventually got overwhelmed. He never felt like he mastered anything... it just kept moving forward. We made modificiations.... two days per list, one practice day... one "real" day. But it still didn't work out. Again this one had lists of words with no real explanation of the spelling rules. I love the idea of it.... and after a couple of books of AAS we may come back to it in some form... but it wasn't working to "teach" spelling for us. It might be great to "build" on our spelling vocabulary for us later.

For Clara we've tried...

McGuffey's Eclectic Spelling Book

This is one that I did not end up spending money on, it was a free download from the Project Gutenberg site. Clara was bound and determined to have her own spelling program, so since I didn't have time to research something for her, I downloaded this and got started. Again, we started out pretty good and then stalled out. We hit a stumbling block with her spelling and this book and it included no guidance on how to move past it.

The last attempt was this...

Spectrum Spelling

Poor Clara... I tend to put so much more thought into Alex's curriculum than hers at times. Perhaps because he's older and I always feel like I still have time with her. Anyway.... one day I was impulse shopping my way through a homeschool e-book site and decided to purchase this for Clara. I was so worked up about Alex's spelling (and our trail of failed programs) that I just wanted to give Clara a workbook to do on her own while I focused on him. This one was over before it even began. There was some glitch in the formatting of the download that made the pages a mess.... nothing lined up and about a third of the page was cut off. The e-book company was fabulous and tried to work with the publisher to get it corrected. When they could not, my money was refunded. We tried to work with the messed up pages, but it was frustrating. I could have bought the real book but I could already see that this was not the right program for us either. A hands off workbook approach was not the right route for us.

So, what did I learn from all of this?

1) Workbooks are not the answer for us.

2) We need something interactive and hands on.

3) We need spelling rules and I need clear explanations for the "whys" of spelling.

4) I need something structured but not so structured that it is laid out with a plan that ends with a spelling test each Friday. We need to be able to go at our own pace without pressure. The ones with the 5 day plans gave me anxiety and the feeling of always being behind.

I'm sure there may be more that I think of and if I do, I'll add to this post.

Next post will be (hopefully) be my review of All About Spelling so far.

DISCLAIMER: This post is just about what works/doesn't work for me and my family. I'm sure these are all good solid programs and work fabulously for other people. My reason for posting this because when I was researching programs I wish I would have looked more closely at that details of the reviews rather than just weighing good versus bad reviews. Sometimes the main reason someone gave a program a bad review is the key element that makes things work for your family and would be a positive for you.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

and so it begins...

We FINALLY began Alex's science fair project yesterday. The fair is at a local museum and isn't until mid-June but since Alex will be at camp most of the month of June, he has to have it done early (the wonderful people at the museum are letting him present to the judges before he leaves for camp). June seemed so far off until I started counting up the weeks yesterday... yikes! We're going to have to work hard and fast to pull this off!

Alex became fascinated with the mummifying techniques used by the Ancient Egyptians after we mummified our royal fruit family a while back. He became intrigued by what would happen if we used different substances to dry out the "bodies". This became the basis for his science fair project. Our original "natron" mix was half salt and half baking soda. He wanted to see what would happen if we used only salt and only baking soda.

The project has changed a bit since he originally wrote it up for approval. He was originally going to use hollowed out oranges like we did for our fruit family... but we thought that those wouldn't leave us enough bulk to weigh and see a significant difference. Next we thought about apples.... but I imagined whole swarm of fruit flies taking up residence in our kitchen. So... last minute, we decided to use potatoes.

Also in his original proposal, he wanted to use sand as one of the drying agents like the Egyptians did for their first mummies. But, we never managed to acquire any sand and we needed to get started.

So, we got started. Here Alex is weighing potatoes to make sure each pan had approximately the same weight in potatoes...
Once we separated the potatoes into 5 pans worth of potatoes weighing about 8 oz each, Alex cut each potato in half to increase the surface area...
Here are the five pans waiting for their drying substances...
We determined that three cups of the substance was needed to properly cover the potatoes, so Alex measured them all out and filled the pans...
So, here's the view of our lab (formerly my kitchen)....
From left to right we've got kitty litter, the control (just potatoes), salt only, baking soda only, and 50/50 salt and baking soda mix.

We weighed all of the filled pans as well.

I typed up a few quick charts for Alex to fill out so he could keep track of his data. He also has a journal that he took notes in while we worked. This is really going to be an interesting experience for all of us!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

what we're reading now

The Giant Rat of Sumatra: or Pirates Galore

Don't you love it when I don't post for a week or so and then post multiple posts in one day? I'm not sure why I do that sometimes, but I do. I have one more in the works (a review of what we think of All About Spelling so far)... but I'm not sure when I'll get to it.

Anyway... back to our read aloud. :-)

We are currently reading The Giant Rat of Sumatra by Sid Fleischman. It is the book club book at the library for April. I am so glad that Alex decided to participate in the book club.... we have discovered so many good books through the club. Alex started out with reading the books himself... but one came up that interested Clara so I read it aloud. Clara so enjoyed participating in the book club discussions too that we're now doing the book club books as read alouds.

We started this book on Tuesday.... the kids are LOVING it. They kept begging for just one more chapter so we read SIX chapters on Tuesday alone. I think we read another five today. The book has the added bonus for them of being set in Mexico. It is actually set in the San Diego area before it was part of the United States. It is set during the war between the US and Mexico which Alex had read about when we did our short little study of Mexico before our trip. The book has adventure, drama and comedy as well.... combined with short cliff hanger like chapters... a great combination for us.

Anyway... so far so good on this one.... I can't wait to see where it's going!

growing back into picture books

I can't tell you how excited I am to be back in the picture book section of the library again! I LOVE the picture book section. I thought we had left it behind... Alex was now into chapter books and Clara had her readers.... our read alouds were chapter books now too.... we had no use for picture books.... or so I thought! Then I started reading more and more about the benefits of using "living books" in homeschooling and things started to change.

A few months back I blogged about how I was compiling a reading list for Clara each week and in those lists were several picture books. Well.... that idea snowballed. Not only did Clara read all of the books but so did Alex. So now I no longer make a reading list for Clara. I pick a topic (based on Story of the World, a science interest, season, holiday, upcoming trips... whatever) and collect a stack of picture books from the library on that particular subject.

The kids LOVE this! The main reason I no longer make a reading list for Clara is that she will select a stack of books from our library basket to read in bed each night completely on her own.... Alex does the same. Alex will still read his chapter books at bedtime, but will have a little picture book "appetizer" before diving into his main course :-)

Here's a partial stack of what we checked out this week...
Given that it's spring now... we have quite a few books on flowers and seeds.

Looks like your typical picture book, right? Well... take a look inside...
There is all kinds of great information inside this colorful little book from the "kiddie" section! Parts of a flower... life cycle of a butterfly.... stages of germination... types of clouds... and so much more all along with the story of a girl and her garden. And to think I thought I had no use for picture books anymore!

Flip, Float, Fly!: Seeds on the Move

A beautifully illustrated book with simple text about the different methods of seed dispersal...

(please forgive the slightly out of focus photo above)

I thought the illustrations in this book were gorgeous....

It includes lots of great information as well.... my problem with it?

A lot of the text is in cursive...
Which poses a problem.... mainly for Clara.

Our next topic in Story of the World is Ancient India. So I visited the folktale section as well and picked up several retellings of Indian folktales...

I have no requirements in regards to the picture books. They're free to read them or not read them whenever they want. They don't think of them as "school" at all. I also have to try to not think of them as "school" too much or I tend to get upset when they don't choose to read a certain book (if it's a book I feel strongly about, I will commit to reading it during school time). However, they usually work their way through about 80% of what we bring home. They do oral narrations of most books without knowing it. Usually from me saying "oooh... that looks like a cool book... what's it about?". :-)

Another reason I love the picture book section... it's been a great way to get Clara to read more challenging text without forcing longer chapter books on her. She's ready for harder text... but she's not ready for a longer story that will take her several days to read. These books have more difficult words in them, but also have good picture clues and good definition clues in the text since they're written for a younger audience.

Anyway.... sorry about the long rambling post... I'm just had to share my excitement! :-)