Friday, September 28, 2012

Queen Anne's Lace ~ Outdoor Hour Challenge

This has been the challenge I have been waiting all month to do. Every morning, when I walk at the park, I walk past a huge grouping of Queen Anne's Lace. It is so pretty and I couldn't wait for the kids to get down close to it with me.

Once we got close to it, I wondered if that's really even what it is! Can someone help me identify it? And as luck would have it, right after we arrived and I took a couple of close-up photos of it, my batteries died on my camera. Urghhhh! We have a nice time of exploration, however. UPDATE: On the way to an out of town football game tonight, I think I saw legitimate Queen Anne's Lace next to the highway in several places. We are going to check it out this week!

We used the free notebooking page provided by Barb for today's challenge.

Up close and personal we could see that it was covered in bees, spiders, and fireflies. Most of the "Queen Anne's Lace" was still bloomed and very lovely. We measured it, noted it's characteristics and talked about how different we thought it might look when we come back to visit it in the winter. We decided we would come visit when there was snow on the ground.

I took Barb's suggestion and had the kids take their 3DS devices so that they could take pictures of whatever they wanted on our nature walk. They really enjoyed doing that. Brynne was particularly drawn to all of the wildflowers and changing leaves. This was a nice way to end our month of challenges.

Can't wait to see what's in store for us next month!! Be sure to sign up to receive the October Outdoor Challenge Newsletter!!

Weekly Wrap-up ~ 1/6 of the Way

We just completed our first six weeks. On a 36 week schedule, that means we are already one-sixth of the way done with this school year. What?

With six weeks under our belts, we are in a good schedule and have figured out what is and is not working for us.

What's Working

Starting our day between 10 and 11 a.m. each day is working well. The kids are up around 9:00 a.m. They get up and have plenty of time to play for a bit, have breakfast, get dressed and get ready for the day. Without rushing them along, I find that they are then ready to start schoolwork when I am ready. They usually end up playing the iPad anyway during this time, learning geography, history, math, or grammar.

Starting our school time with Bible is the perfect way to start our day. The kids asked why we always start with Bible. I told them that God likes us to devote the first part of our day to Him each day. It just gets us in a good mood. They are loving our Bible curriculum, Stick Figuring Through the Bible by Grapevine Studies, so we always start out happy.

We draw sticks to determine the order of the rest of our subjects, with Eli and Brynne taking turns drawing. This keeps things interesting and keeps them from grumbling when we are coming up on a subject that's not their favorite.

We do two subjects, take a 15 minute break, do two more subjects, take a lunch break, do two subjects, take a 15 minute break, and then finish with our last two subjects. Our eight subjects are:  
  • Read-a-loud (currently James and the Giant Peach
  • Bible (studied the Tower of Babel this week) 
  • Grammar (this is one thing that's NOT working .. see below) 
  • Writing (this week we worked on writing titles with a theme of "friends") 
  • Spelling (we have completed Step 13 of All About Spelling
  • Math (we moved on to MEP and have been working hard on two-step double-digit addition and subtraction with an ultimate goal of doing those problems in our head) 
  • Unit Study (we rowed Lentil this week ... LOVED it ... you can see our Collage about it at the end of this post) 
  • PE (either riding bikes, scootering, walking, or doing our Family Time Fitness lessons).
While I'm fixing lunch each day, Eli and Brynne do their personal reading. This works really well in our schedule.

Having one full day devoted to Nature and Art is definitely working! We have completed all four of Barb's Outdoor Hour Challenges for the month of September! We did not accomplish that one time last year!

We also concentrate on our artist, either learning about him/her or creating a piece of art ourselves.This week we learned about Monet, did a notebooking page, and watched Youtube videos about his life and art. Remember our Water Lily art we did a couple of weeks ago?

What's Not Working

Really, the only thing that is not working for us is Grammar. Last year Brynne did Easy Grammar. It worked well for her and she zipped through it independently. But this year, with Eli, yuck! We are doing so much reading and writing every day that Easy Grammar is a struggle and we have dreaded it.

I know there is a lot of controversy about whether to teach formal grammar at this particular age (ages 7 and 8, 2nd/3rd grade transition). We GET lots of grammar in our reading and writing. But, I just feel like, "why NOT teach formal grammar?" I don't want them to get in bad habits of grammar, and I want them to be able to identify how grammar is working in their reading and writing. And, I'm a grammar freak. It's never too early to have good grammar.

So, it was time to shake things up. Now we are doing a couple of different things each week.
  •  Rainbow Sentences. I made a simple worksheet for the kids to use. They build three sentences, write them on their worksheets, and then write down the subject, verb, and prepositional phrase.
  • Worksheets from These are free worksheets that are grouped by grade. I have them completing a worksheet a couple of times a week from the second grade category.
  • Grammar editing worksheets from When we do these we just do a few sentences a day. I want them to be able to identify mistakes.
What I really want to use for Grammar is Cozy Grammar. However, I don't want to purchase it right now. I still have my library membership in Oklahoma, and our library system has it for checkout. Rick is there and could get it for me and deliver it back. I think I will go ahead and request it and use it for a while.

This was a very steady week. And rowing Lentil by Robert McCloskey was a lot of fun.

1. We had an introduction to fractions by cutting apples into halves and fourths. We also discussed wholes, halves, and fourths pertaining to time and musical notes.

2. To reinforce our lessons on American symbols, we made a crepe paper American flag that we hung on our clothesline in the basement.The kids drew 50 stars with white chalk on blue construction paper. What I loved was when we were done with the flag the kids started singing the 50 States song with their hands over their hearts. It was really cute. We also read two very good books: The American Flag by Jennifer Silate and The Flag We Love by Pam Munoz Ryan.

3. In the story of Lentil, the grumpy old character sucks on a lemon as a way to mess up the band who is playing for the homecoming of the town hero. So, we did a Taste Buds experiment, which was our Favorite Resource this week. We tasted lemon (sour), instant coffee (bitter), sugar (sweet), and salt (salty) and labeled which taste buds on our tongues were the most sensitive to it.

4. We also identified detail in the illustrations by Robert McCroskey. Brynne and Eli each drew a picture of them doing something (Brynne playing volleyball and Eli fishing) and then put detailed action words on it (Brynne's were "boof, bam, boof" for the sound of the volleyball hitting and Eli's was "wiiiishh" which was the sound of him casting his line.)

Here is what you might have missed this week at Journey to Excellence:
I reviewed a great once-a-week unit study product.
We learned about the Autumnal Equinox.
The kids explored one small square.
I shared a new iPad app that my kids are loving!
I revealed my tip for a reusable number line for the kids to use in math.

I am linking up at:

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Thursday Quick Tip

Do you need a number line for your kids to use in math? We use a Hungarian model for mathematics called Math Enhancement Programme, and a number line is used often. I purchased two small white boards from Dollar General for $2.00 each. With a sharpie marker, I made a number line. When the kids need to use it, they use their white board markers to draw their dots and jump lines. (Warning: White board markers over sharpie markers will erase it on a white board. My kids just make their dots and jump lines above it or below it to keep that from happening. That's also another quick tip for you if someone accidentally uses a sharpie marker on your white board. Just rub white board marker all over the marks and erase them.)

Join Marcy at Ben and Me for more Thursday Quick Tips, including topics on marriage, parenting, and schooling.

Skoolbo ~ A FREE Grammar (and more) iPad App

In my quest for a better grammar solution for my two 2nd/3rd graders, I came upon an app for my iPad called Skoolbo. (I was wanting some kind of fun technological gamish type thing involving grammar, to use in rotation with their book work and/or worksheets and Rainbow Sentences because I have seen how much they have learned about geography using Stack the States and Stack the Countries and how much interest they have in the presidents using Presidents vs. Aliens. They actually play these games in their free time.)

"Skoolbo is a literacy and numeracy program with more than 50,000 questions designed to assist 4 to 10 year olds in their journey to mastery of essential reading and mathematics skills." ~ from the website.

It is not only a FREE app, but can also be downloaded to a PC or Mac.

At first when Brynne tried out Skoolbo, I didn't think it looked like something that would interest us. It doesn't just cover language arts, but also math, and you never know which you are going to get until the next level starts. It has the player involved in a race against make believe characters trying to choose the correct answer first. As Brynne has played more, though, it has opened up other races including vocabulary and spelling. You have to be a quick thinker to play it. It kind of stresses me out! But, she loves it and it is really challenging her to think quickly and to get the answers right so she can win the races.

I am always looking for good educational apps. This one, so far, is a great one. Check it out!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Small Square Study ~ Outdoor Hour Challenge

Last week's Outdoor Hour Challenge was to observe one small square of nature. I took the kids outside and told them to walk around and find any spot around our house that they wanted to observe. Our yard actually would have been a great place to do this because we just moved here and there has not been any landscaping to the yard at all. It is primitive. But, they insisted on going across the street to an empty grass lot that has some shady trees. It was their nature experience, so I relented. They each went to the spot they wanted to observe and I made a, roughly, 1' x 1' square with craft sticks and yarn.

I handed them their notebooking pages and some colored pencils and told them to just observe their square. They could dig around and see what was underground, etc. Sadly, they just weren't really into doing this. It felt like more of an assignment instead of a nature adventure. I think that if they would have chosen a more interesting square (like in our yard), it would have been a little more fun. But, I had them just go with their choices.

They wrote on their notebooking pages the things they observed that were living and non-living. Mostly their squares consisted of dirt, some clover, some dried grass, and some ants.

They drew and colored what they found in their square in the bottom section of the notebooking page and we put them in their nature journals.

This next week we'll be back at the park doing some exploration and completing the last assignment from the September Outdoor Hour Challenge Newsletter. It has been so great to have these ideas and I am thrilled that we are actually going to complete our first full month of challenges!!!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Autumnal Equinox

This past Saturday marked the Autumnal Equinox ... the Fall Solstice ... the first day of Fall. Rick and the kids are really into the solstices. So, we learned all about the Autumnal Equinox on Friday so that we could celebrate it on Saturday. (And celebrate it, we did! The kids participated in our town's fishing derby and then played at the park two different times that day.)

We discussed what the equinox meant, and looked at our globe to discuss it. Then we did the following activities:

Literature (always start with good books!)

By the Light of the Harvest Moon, written by Harriet Ziefert

Fall, written by Anna Claybourne

It's Fall, written by Jimmy Pickering


Wrote a "Fall Things" acrostic poem.

Eli wrote:
Fall has leaves
All leaves are different colors
Light comes from the moon
Love leaf piles
The leaves fall
Harvest food
I love pumpkins
New pumpkins rise
Get pumpkins from pumpkin pile
See pumpkins

Brynne wrote:
Falling leaves
Lilly pads float in the water
Harvest and horses
I jump in the leaves
Now it's fall
Giraffes are very tall in the fall


"Autumnal Equinox" by Teresa Jennings


Green leaves to fall leaves concertina

Now, bring on the cooler weather, pumpkin spice, and changing leaves!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Homeschool Legacy ~ Schoolhouse Review


Unit studies. I love them. And I use them as my primary teaching tool. It typically involves delight-directed learning, literature, and hands-on activities. In my book, that's a recipe for superb learning! We are doing a unit study at all times, a portion of it every day.

I read a book this summer that really inspired me to spend one entire day per week in nature with my children. So, on Fridays we devote our whole day to nature, and also do Bible and art. One of the things that I really wanted to make sure we covered this year was a study on the local flora of our state and community.

So, when we had the opportunity to review Homeschool Legacy's Once-a-Week Unit Study unit called "Forest for the Trees", I was very excited! This would give the kids and I a framework for learning about the trees indigenous to our area.


Although you can go to the Homeschool Legacy website for their Scheduling Tips, the unit study is easily adaptable to any schedule. Like I said, we do unit studies each day of the week. But, in using this one as a Nature study, as well, I was able to dedicate it to Fridays.

What I liked:
  • Each week's lessons start with the Library Reading/Video Choices. And the best part ... the Call Numbers are included!! No more going to the library to look up the books to get the call numbers for the great book search. If our library didn't have the exact book (we have a small library), I was, at least, in the right area to find a comparable one.
  • Each week the Supply List is provided at the beginning of the lesson.
  • The lessons meet some merit badge requirements for Boy Scouts and American Heritage Girls. All you have to do is look for the fleur-de-lis. or AHG hexagon symbol.
  • There are lots of daily activities!
    • Independent Reading
    • Family Read-Aloud
    • Family Devotional
    • Nature Journal Activities
    • Vocabulary/Language
    • Research/Language
    • Art
    • Physical Education Activities
    • Science and/or Field Trips
    • Fun "Stump your Dad Trivia"

What I didn't Like:

It's not really anything I didn't like, just an observation. Although our entire Friday is dedicated to Nature, there was no way we were able to complete all of the activities for that week in one day. It might just be the ages of my kids (7 and 8), or that we get distracted easily and stick to one thing too long. The reason why this isn't a big deal is because you can use all of the activities on your own schedule. We actually used Week 1 over the course of four different Fridays. For that reason, we didn't get very far. But, we have learned a lot so far and it's been very enjoyable! And we still have three weeks worth of activities to do. So, this has turned into a long-term and exhaustive study.

A favorite activity was going to our local park to identify the trees that are there. On just one side of the pond, we found in excess of 15 different kinds trees! We took pictures of each, closeups of the leaves and other specimens from the tree.

We brought home a leaf and specimen and used our Tree Identification Guide to identify the trees. In our nature journals we included the leaf and specimens (if there were any), wrote down our identification of the tree, and then determined if it was Coniferous or Deciduous.

Next we will be tackling Tree Anatomy. It really is great fun! And, it's all for the price of $15.95. You can also receive free shipping on orders of $50 or more. The product is in a physical format purchased from the website.

This is a great product! Other members of the Schoolhouse Crew had the opportunity to review the other Once-a-Week units, including:
  • Horsing Around
  • Knights and Nobles
  • Birds of a Feather
  • Native America
  • Lewis and Clark: From Sea to Shining Sea
  • Early Settlers in America
  • Revolutionary Ideas
  • We the People: Getting to Know your Constitution
  • Weather on the Move
You can see what the Crew thought of the other units by visiting the Schoolhouse Review Crew site.


{Disclaimer: As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, I was provided this product free in exchange for my honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.}

Friday, September 21, 2012

Homeschool Mother's Journal

In my life this week ...

This was what will probably be a typical week for us. I've gotten up each morning for my bike ride and walk after taking Dawson to school, and then come home for a full day of homeschooling with Eli and Brynne. Dawson went to a couple of high school volleyball games (which thrills me that he is getting involved in the social aspect of school) while Eli, Brynne and I enjoyed a quiet night at home. On Wednesday nights, the kids and I walk up to church with a potluck item for dinner before I have handbell choir practice. It is really great to see my little ones interact with the elderly members of our church. Then they get to hang out with my niece, Rylee, in childcare. We go for walks and see lots of family. It's busy, but nice and steady.

In our homeschool this week ...

This has been a yucky week. Tuesday was horrid. As I sit here I don't feel like we did anything! But then when I look at our display wall, I realize that we did lots of storytelling, in written, artistic, and physical form. I had a hard time getting the kids focused because of all of their creative play. We worked all week on a WriteShop Book A writing project called "My Favorite Things." We started with a story web and wrote a "sloppy copy". Then I edited their work and they revised it into a final draft. Then they did illustrations. They wanted 3D characters that they could act out in their illustration, so I helped them cut them out and attach them with yarn.

"I am Brynne. I'm copying the ninja moves from Ninjago at home in the living room. I'm watching the Ninjago shows in order at 12:00 a.m. because I want to be a big girl." Do you notice that in her illustration  she is a princess doing ninja moves? Her 3D illustration is the tornado that the Ninjago characters turn into when they are starting their moves.

"I am Eli. I go under water in the pool at Johanna's house. It's fun at 1:00 p.m. because the sun is brighter. I learned to swim faster."  We used the Who, What, When, Where, Why, How model to come up with our facts. Eli's 3D character is a swimmer.

I realized that they were always asking how to spell the days of the week, so we took a break from All About Spelling this week to learn those words.

We also started back with MEP (Math Enhancement Programme). It has been our Favorite Resource this week and every week we have used it in the past. I have seen tremendous mathematical skills in Brynne as a result of this FREE program. It is a Hungarian model of mathematics and involves problem solving and reason. Most answers are worked out in the head in a puzzle-type fashion. If you are frustrated with your math program, I advise that you give it a try!

Helpful homeschooling tips or advice to share ...

Sometimes even though the planner isn't getting the intended number of checkmarks for completion, much education is happening through free play.

I am inspired by ...

Other blogging moms, both veterans and not. Laurie from Keeping it Simple and Heidi from Home Schoolroom are two of my favorites these days.

Places we're going and people we're seeing ...

Brynne had her first play date this week with a granddaughter of one of my mom's friends (and one of my walking partners). Dawson has hung out with his new friends, Peyton and Aaron. They are going to be great friends. They come in the house and talk with me, and just crack me up with their teenage-boy conversations. We've visited my grandma, visited with my sister and aunt who were visiting, seen my parents and gone to church.

My favorite thing this week was ...

The study of the Fall Equinox we did today, including "Fall Things" Acrostic poems, and our summer/fall tree concertinas.

What's working/not working for us ...

EasyGrammar has been lagging along, so we have made a change.

Questions/Thoughts I have ...

This has to do with my tip above. When should you shut down your kids' creative play to "do school"? This week, they were in the throws of creativity! They spent hours this week drawing "characters" on paper and coloring them, cutting them out, and play acting with them. I was getting ready to get them moving with our assignments today, and then overheard them discussing how to equally and fairly divide 7 of their characters between the two of them. They did some mega learning, but at the expense of our scheduled lessons.

Things I'm working on ...

Balance in our school day. I want to figure out the right length of lessons, a good order of subjects that has us sitting and then up and around in good measure, and a way to get that ever-important read-a-loud prioritized. Is it always a work in progress? (Yes, I know the answer to that.)

I'm reading ...

For over a month I have been reading The Secret Lives of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. Reading has not been my priority. No wonder it hasn't been in our schooling either.

I'm cooking ...

Easy, kid-friendly food. And I am really watching Brynne's milk intake and making sure she is getting the right amount of fiber. Her tummy is really affected by those things.

I'm grateful for ...

The flexibility to take care of my kids' needs during the day when we are having a bad day. At school, they would have some troubles with a lack of focus. Eli would be toast if he didn't have a very caring, patient, and involved teacher.

I'm praying for ...

Kiley Palmer (please join me). She is the teenaged daughter of one of the homeschooling families in our Coop in Oklahoma. She was diagnosed with leukemia this week and had surgery to install a port for her chemo.

A photo, video, link or quote to share ...

What else has been going on around here?

Linking up with:

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Thursday Quick Tip

I have learned that we do much better in our day, and accomplish more, if I don't have a minute-by-minute schedule. (I can't believe I am putting that in print.) Instead, I have a planner page that includes each subject and I write in the lessons I want to accomplish each day.

For the first couple of weeks, we started at the top and worked our way down. But that even got monotonous for me, and I love order. I felt like the kids were getting a little bored, too.

So, I came up with an easy system to allow our days to vary just a bit. I wrote each subject on a large craft stick and put it in a mason jar adorned with a ribbon.

We always start with our Bible lesson. After that, the kids take turns pulling out  a stick to tell us which subject to do next. This puts a little mystery into our day, and helps with the slumps and grumbles that were occurring as we approached the subjects that were the least favorite.

I'm linking up with Marcy at Ben and Me. Let's see what other useful tips we can learn.