Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Dear Mr. Blueberry: Family learning activites

Last week we had fun with the book Dear Mr. Blueberry by Simon James. This book is a series of letters between a little girl and her teacher discussing whales. It's super cute and was already a loved and regularly looked at book.

The first day, I read the book and focused on the letter w (for whale). I gave Wyatt (3) his own letter W book. For our letter craft, we made the whales shown to side. The white base is regular printer paper. I cut out the simple whale shape from blue construction paper. The kids glued the whales down, found their W tail fins from an assortment of foam letters I have acquired
(If I were ordering new ones, I'd order these), glued on tissue paper for the water, added googly eyes, drew a mouth, and folded half a iridescent white pipe cleaner into a "W" shape. I glued the pipe cleaners on with felt glue, because that's what I had on hand, but I was planning to use tacky glue.
We also took a look at how long a blue whale is and how big Emily's pond would have to be to hold him. We took chalk and a yard stick to our sidewalk and marked out every three feet. I had the kids count by 3s for the first several, but when they started to lose interest I asked them to mark where they thought 100 feet would be. Some of their guesses are shown below; the thick blue line marks 100 feet. It was fun watching them come up with multiple techniques to make their guesses. Zeke (7) was definitely the ring leader helping everyone while I continued to mark. If I were to do this with only younger kids, I would have shown them what a foot looked like, had them guess and then used a tape measure or rope to find 100 much faster. I purposely chose the yard stick to give the older ones time to watch it unfold and really think about it.
We then went back inside and took a closer look at how blue whales filter their food (mostly krill) through their baleen plates. I placed shredded cheese in a bowl of cool water and had the kids use a basic comb to scoop out the cheese while allowing the water to drain out. Thanks to Learning is Messy for this awesome idea.

The second day, I read the book and talked about letter writing. This activity was primarily chosen for Zeke, but everyone participated at their level. Wyatt's focus was signing his name. I found this free letter writing template that made it easier teaching all my kids at the same time. A quick search on pinterest will give you more options, but I liked that this one was so basic.

I was gone during the day for the rest of the week, so we stopped there, but my other thoughts involved a whale craft made from a paper bag. Simply tie off the end to form the tail, paint it blue, then add eyes and a mouth. Here is a link to a pinterest search if you want a visual.

I've since done some additional work with my oldest on letter writing and addressing an envelope. This would also be a good time to visit your local post office. Our post office requested about 1-2 weeks notice for a small group last time we went. The kids had so much fun seeing how the mail is processed and sorted.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom: Family Learning Activities

My little Wyatt (3) has decided he wants to do school stuff too, so I'm working on a literature and alphabet unit to do with the entire family, but is primarily for him. For the first week, we read Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr and John Archambault.

We began on a whim last week when Claire (2) was looking at an alphabet puzzle. Wyatt was sitting close by, so we sang the alphabet song while playing with the puzzle. I then grabbed Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and used the puzzle to show each letter as I read.

The next day, I stepped up my game a little and put a construction paper coconut tree on our refrigerator and slapped on the alphabet magnets. The kids thought this was awesome! A nice thing about having slightly older children is that they want to play too, so they end up teaching the little ones. We read the book again and I encouraged the kids to play. I find someone doing something with the tree and letters every day.

We started the third day by watching Leap Frog: Letter Factory. This movie helped my older children learn their letters and sounds; Quinn actually learned the sounds before she could identify and say their names thanks to this video.
As our main activity, we examined a coconut. Initially, the kids drew pictures and guessed what was inside. They were all amazed to hear the liquid sploshing around inside. After we observed all we could of the outside, we drilled a hole to extract the water and split the coconut open. Everyone tasted the water and the meat, then drew more pictures.
After we finished with the coconut, we read the book again -twice. You wouldn't think that reading a book for the third day in a row would be entertaining, but the looks on their faces said otherwise.

On day four, we read the book again and learned a little first aid. The letters get hurt when they fall out of the tree, so my husband showed the kids what to do when someone is bleeding. Using ketchup as the blood, he began with cleaning a small amount of blood and putting a band-aid on it. Next the kids practiced what to do if someone is bleeding a lot (put pressure on the cut and call for help). Then the kids practiced bandaging a moderate amount of blood. (Apply a large bandage and wrap with gauze. If it's still bleeding, wrap it again. Get further help.) My husband went a little further than I originally planned, but he's an EMT, so I can't really blame him. We already have a first aid kit that the kids are familiar with, but if yours aren't this would be a great opportunity to start one.

On the fifth day, we read the book again and made name trees. We used printer paper for the base paper and added construction paper and foam letters. The kids found the letters in their name and put them on their trees. We helped the little ones trace and cut their hands, but they glued it together. 

Some additional ideas:
I like Tasty yet Trying's idea of writing letters on a cardboard tube and having the kids match with letter stickers.
I almost put together a basic sensory bin similar to the one found at Natural Beach Living, but I absolutely love the sensory bin found at Enchanted Homeschooling Mom. The latter bin uses letter beads to thread onto a pipe cleaner tree.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Baked Nachos

Lunch is one of those meals that I tend to struggle with. I spend most of my effort on breakfast and dinner, so lunch leaves me wondering why my family needs to eat so often and if it is really my turn to feed them again.
When my kids were smaller, I usually had leftovers from dinner that we could eat the next day and then we'd fill in the gaps with sandwiches, so I didn't have to think about it much. These days, I still have leftovers, but not enough to feed everyone, so I've been forced to think about lunch a bit more.
Being a homeschool mom and having children that do their best work in the morning, means that lunch can't take a lot of time to prepare. These nachos take about 15 minutes from start to finish and my children gobble them up.

For the basic recipe you'll need:
1 bag tortilla chips
1 can black beans
1 1/2 TBSP ground cumin
1-2 C Mexican cheese blend

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Cover the bottom of a large jelly roll pan with tortilla chips (this may or may not take the entire bag).
Rinse and drain black beans, then put on top of the chips.
Sprinkle cumin over the beans and chips.
Top with cheese and bake 5 minutes.
Serve and enjoy!

To make a more balanced lunch, add diced peppers before baking, then serve with avocado and fresh salsa.

What's your favorite quick and easy lunch?

Friday, June 3, 2016

What I learned from our first year of homeschool

My news feed has exploded with pictures of children and teens finishing their school year. All those pictures have me thinking about our first school year and the not just the lessons my kids have learned, but the ones I've learned as well.
These are the big lessons I've learned from our first nine months as a homeschool family.

Be flexible.
We've had many situations that required flexibility this year, most of them were little things like postponing a lesson, but I also needed to be flexible with my curriculum choices. We started the year with a math curriculum that just didn't work for us. We gave it a fair chance, modifying it after a couple weeks and scraping the whole thing after a couple more weeks.

Trust your instincts.
You know your kids, you know yourself, and you have the ability to receive revelation for your homeschool. If you've studied your options and felt that a particular choice is best, don't automatically disregard that feeling because some disagrees. When I was planning for this past year, I originally picked a different math curriculum than the one we actually started with. When my husband looked at my original choice at a convention, he wasn't impressed. Instead of trying to convince him, I agreed to look at other options. Does it surprise you to learn that my original choice is what we ended up using and loving this year? My husband was still skeptical, but was willing to trust me and give it a chance.

Find a routine that works for your family.
I read numerous scheduling suggestions before starting the school year, so I had an open mind and experimental attitude. I am so grateful for that suggestion, because while our schedule isn't entirely unique, it is has evolved over the year and I anticipate that it will continue to evolve as we go along. To read more about our schedule, click here.

Learn with your kids.
My four plus their cousin at the beginning and end of the public school year.
When I get interested in a topic, I become more animated about it and in turn my children become more excited about it. Knowing what my kids are learning also helps me to bring it up at applicable moments.

Find a mentor (or two).
I feel a tremendous amount of pressure as a homeschool mom. I feel confident in my ability to guide my children through their education, but I still have a lot to learn. It sets my mind at ease to have knowledgeable people rooting for us and willing to help as needed.

If you are trying your best and worried if you're doing enough, then chances are your kids are learning and you're doing just fine. After struggling through the first half of the school year with reading, I reached out to a local teacher friend who assured me that we were on the right track. It turns out I was doing all the right things, we just needed to keep at it. Fast forward several months and both kids are doing great.

Do you homeschool? Are you thinking about it? What would be on your list?

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Freebies I've actually used this month: may 2016

A few weeks ago, I started this series about the freebies I'm actually using. It can be a bit overwhelming to look at the selection of free resources online, so I wanted to help get the word out for the ones we actually use.

We have been working on a large unit study of continents and animals for a few months. We do most of our study through books, visits to the zoo, Wild Kratts, and documentaries; but I found this sample from Mercedes Merrell to add to our science notebooks. I like the picture part of it well enough. A couple of the amphibians looked a little more like reptiles, but they were close enough. I didn't love some of her wording choices for the characteristics chart, but we made it work. An unexpected benefit of this activity was seeing Zeke step up to help his siblings correctly sort the animals.

Quinn (5) finished working her way through This Reading Mama's Reading the Alphabet this month. When we first started, she did each of the activities, but as she learned more of the sight words, she wanted to move faster. Quinn loved the books, rhyming mats, and syllable cards, so as soon as we completed those activities, she wanted to move on to the next lesson. I did print everything though, because I plan to use the program with my younger kids as their first formal lessons.

After finishing Reading the Alphabet, we moved right into This Reading Mama's Learn to Read. The Learn to Read program isn't entirely free, but she offers enough of it free to suit Quinn's needs. The books are a perfect continuation of the Reading the Alphabet program, but speeds up the pace a little by introducing two new sight words per book. The first three books in each short vowel unit focus on a word family and the forth book is a review. As of writing this post, Quinn has only used the -AT, -AD, and -AN family books. I'm purposely trying to take these slow and really work on each of the word families as we go.
Aside from the activities that come with the books, I'm using these roll and read word family worksheets that I made.

Quinn and I are working on counting to 100. She can count to twenty nine pretty well, but after that her speech delay makes things difficult. We just started using these skip counting by 10s puzzles by Klever Kiddos that should help her solidify the names of the tens places. I also found this "I can" game from One Stop Teacher Shop that has the player filling in the blanks on the number line, but she has not wanted to play yet. 

Last, but not least, we used this Memorial Day emergent reader. It made a good introduction to Memorial Day and why and how we celebrate it. It's interactive, so the kids can personalize it.

Did you use any fabulous freebies this month?
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