Monday, December 12, 2011

Diffusing the frustration with Sp-e-ll-ing

Spelling...ah...spelling.  My least favorite subject.
Whenever I spell a word out loud I think of that scene from Anne of Green Gables where Anne is the only one in the class who can spell C-H-R-Y-S-A-N-T-H-E-M-U-M.  Even in the movie, it seems so dry and boring.  And yet, we all need to know how to spell.

I searched hard and long for a spelling curriculum that I could love.  After using several different ones, I still have not found one that I love.  But, I have settled for one that I like:)  It is logical, quick, to the point, has the most success for my kids, and is without "busy work" NOT a fan of busy work!  We have enough to do to keep us busy around here:)

However, even with this curriculum, I am met with frustration and even sometimes tears from kids when going through a lesson.  Today, as I was calling out spelling words, I was met with resistance.  It wasn't blatant but I could feel it.  I could tell that things would spiral in a direction that I didn't want to go, so in addition to the new word, I drew a small smiley face on the corner of my marker board.  As I showed my word and we spelled together out loud correcting his word as needed, I saw that the smiley face was noticed and my son returned the favor by drawing a smiley face on his board after he wrote his next word.  So, with the next word, I drew a different smiley face, then another, and another.  Pretty soon, I had a little boy in stitches who couldn't wait to check his word against mine so that he could see the next funny face that I would draw.  Each time he would copy my silly face onto his marker board as he corrected any Spelling errors.

I marveled at just how easy it had been to change the atmosphere around the required spelling assignment.  I didn't have to draw a line in the sand and have a stand off...just a smiley face:)  As I thought about it I remembered several other things that I have done in the past to help make Spelling fun and "hands on".  So here are a few of the things that we have done over the years to diffuse the frustration with Spelling and make it more fun.  Maybe your kids love spelling and beg you to quiz them over their words, but if they are like mine and despise it, here are some things that might give a breath of fresh air to your spelling work...whether you homeschool or not...I'm confident that you do school at home:)

*Before we start spelling each day, I try to keep it in perspective.  Gaining and keeping the hearts of my children and nurturing that relationship is far more important than them being perfect spellers.  So, I try to respond to their stress in a stress-free way:)

Things that we do regularly:

1. I do not give "tests".  Don't kids are still learning to spell and the environment is much more stress free:)

2. I use a curriculum that is quick, to the point, sequential, and can be done in 10 minutes each busy work!

3. I use a marker board to write the words and allow the kids to have their own marker board and marker to write their words.  Amazing how a different writing utensil can make all the difference for those tactile learners.  Spelling is now fun...well at least to some degree:)

In this picture, a dry-erase crayon is being used. 

4. I allow the kids to sit, stand, lie on the floor, etc. and get comfortable.

Things that I do occasionally:

1. Shaving Cream Spelling.  I will squirt a small amount of shaving cream on the table and let them write their words into the shaving cream instead of on a marker board.  After each word, they erase by smearing the shaving cream with their hands.  This is especially great for those "tactile" learners who need to do so much more that hold a pencil.  Just having something cool and squishy in their hands engages their minds in a whole new way.  Clean up is also easy.  Just a quick wash of the hands and a wipe of the table and it is cleaned up.  And, the kids smell great!

 You should see the smiles that accompany spelling on these days:)

2. Ziploc Spelling.  This is similar to the shaving cream but is a small amount of colored hair gel sealed inside of a gallon ziploc bag.  They can write their words in the gel with a finger.  With this there is no mess but the same tactile advantages as the shaving creme method.  The down side is that only shorter words will fit...unless you get a larger plastic bag:)

3. Tile Spelling.  This can be done several different ways.  One is to purchase small one inch tiles and then write letters on them.  Or, we just use the tiles from our Scrabble game.  This lets them "build" the word by placing the tiles in a row.  This will take longer than writing but is so much more engaging:)  The down side to the Scrabble tiles is that they are all capitals and there are no punctuation marks.

4. Color Spelling.  Here they can do each spelling word a different color.  I stick to one color for each word to stay within a reasonable time frame.  Amazing how this little change sparks something within their creative side and connecting the creative with spelling makes them remember it.

5. Ladder Spelling.  Here you have them turn a regular piece of notebook paper sideways and write each word vertically in a column.  This one is harder for the visual learner but works great for other learner types.

6. Picture Spelling.  With this, I have them write the word and then draw a picture of the word next to it.  It's fun to see how creative they are.  This is great for any artists in your family...I have several:)

I want to again say that most of these are things that we do occasionally and not every day.  They take a little more time and sometimes require special guidelines, etc..

So, I hope that some of these ideas will breathe new life into your spelling lessons and help to diffuse the frustration that often comes with spelling.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Map skills at the zoo.

We like to go to the zoo...and often.  Now that we have our annual pass, we can go for free as often as we like:)

We also like to learn hands-on and out of the house when we can.  So, I look for ways to incorporate different types of learning into the zoo trips that we take.  This makes each trip unique, keeps the zoo interesting,  and helps us maximize the learning.

Today we went to the zoo and I decided to focus on "map skills".  What better way to learn "map skills" than at the zoo with a map in hand!  I like to let each child pick an animal that they want to see, find it on the map, find where we are on the map, and then route out the way to get there.  It is so much fun and the kids really get a kick out of being the one "in charge".  Everyone gets a turn and it takes us most of the day.

As we were coming up to the zoo the kids wanted to stop and look at the fish, turtles, and ducks from the bridge.  Here is a shot of them looking at a huge goldfish.

And, here is one of my Abby grateful that the Lord decided to give me a daughter!

As soon as we were in the gate, I gave Wesley the map and let him choose the first place that we would go.  I showed him where we were on the map and let him choose something that he wanted to see.  He chose the snakes and frogs.

He studied the map for a while and then, with a little help from older siblings, he pointed us in the right direction and we all followed.

The Arizona trail is always a favorite for the boys:)

So glad we don't have this in our backyard!

After that we decided to have lunch and play at the tree house.  This place is usually a stressful place for me to let them play as there are several different entrances and exits and it's hard to watch them all.  Abby got away from me as a toddler and it took us and our friends a while to find her...all the while, I am thinking about how close we live to the border, etc..  Since that day, the tree house has never been the same to me.  But, this time, construction was going on behind the tree house.  There was a fence around the area and therefore only one way to come and go...nice:)  So, the kids were treated to a rare opportunity to play at the tree house.

After lunch, we walked the African trail to get updated pictures of Wesley holding his toy safari animals in front of the actual animals at the zoo.  He requested this when he found out that we were going to the zoo,  Then he ran and packed all of the plastic animals in a back pack for the trip.  You can see the old pictures on a previous post by clicking here.  Funny how much he remembered the previous pictures and really wanted to take them again:)  You just never know what little thing will mean the most to each one of them and what they will remember.  Here are the updated pictures.  You can't really see the giraffe in his hand as it is camouflaged by the real ones behind him.

Actually all of the "real" animals are hard to have to know where to look but to him they are wonderful pictures!

Here is one of Seth playing with a giraffe in front of the giraffes.  These are great realistic plastic animals that we picked up at Wal-Mart for $1 each several years back.  For a few days following a zoo trip, they become the favorite toys of the preschool kids:)

Brennan and Abby both wanted to go to the "barnyard" area next, so they mapped out the way to get there and led us along the paths.  Here is a picture of Wesley and Abby studying the map together.

Nathan then wanted to see the Bald of his favorite animals at our he led us there.

Here is a great picture of all five of the older kids checking out a small pond on the way.  The photographer in me loves it when they all get together like this on their own:)

You can see my little free spirited two year old trying to jump right in!

Ransom just hung out for the day but seemed to really enjoy the excitement that he sensed in the older kids.  Although he doesn't look too excited here...haha!

So, an entire day was devoted to learning and practicing map skills, and enjoying a beautiful December Arizona day...the best time of year to be in Arizona!

What things do you do with your family to learn outside of the classroom?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Literature Unit "Snow Treasure"

One of my favorite ways to teach is through themed Literature units.  It just makes everything seem so alive and real to study and learn about what your literary characters are experiencing.  Most books can bing in History, Geography, Science, and some Math without the kids even realizing how much they are learning.  When I taught in the classroom, I would do a unit every year on "Where the Red Fern Grows"...such a great book for 10-12 year old boys (but if you intend to do this book, be aware of the language).  :)

So, this year I decided to have my two older boys participate in a Literature Club.  It is just one of those things on my educational "bucket list" that I want all of my kids to experience at some point.  So this year Nathan and Brennan are in a Literature club with ten other boys and so far it has been fantastic!  Each mom takes a turn hosting a monthly club and December was my turn to host.  We chose the book Snow Treasure.  I thought I would post here about all of the things that we did as a resource for anyone who might want to teach a unit on Snow Treasure.

The most helpful thing was that my wonderful husband took the day of the club off work to help me prepare during the morning, be available to run any last minute errands (or let me run the errands without kids!), and manage the little ones during the club.  Hooray for involved husbands and dads!!

Here is what we did:

First of all, we read the book:)  I knew that we would use The Socratic Method and that I wanted to teach the kids about setting, genre, personification, and cliffhanger.  So, I taught my own kids about personification and then had them listen for personification in the story as we read it aloud.  (We do "read aloud" with all six kids most school days.)  Amazing how much having something to listen for in the story helps my tactile learners sit still and listen:)  As we found good examples in the story, I jotted them down to use in the Lit club.  Then at one point, I had so many good examples that I would never use them all in the club but my kids kept insisting that I write them down...haha.

Before the actual day of the club, I gathered together shoe boxes and spray painted them gold to look like bricks of gold bullion.  Then, I had on hand lots of art supplies (construction paper, cotton balls, glue, scissors, clay, foam cut-outs, and little plastic soldiers, etc.) so that they could open their "bricks" and create a diorama inside.  Here is the link that I printed and gave to each boy to explain the steps in making a diorama and keep in their Literature notebooks.
How to make a shoebox diorama.

I found a page about the author that I also printed and we discussed in the club.  Each boy put a copy of this in his notebook as well.  It was really hard to find a good biography and picture of  Marie McSwigan but I found something that would work.
Author page.

Each boy received a world map with Norway colored and a map of Norway to also place in their notebooks.  Here are those links. 
World map with Norway colored. Map of Norway.

My boys and I decided to have a meal for the club much like the one that the children would have eaten at the farm after delivering the gold bricks.  So, we had our triple crockpots going  with meatballs in one, potatoes in another, and cabbage in the last.  We intended to have a variation of "iced cookies" for the boys as well but I actually had my daughter and an older sister of one of the Lit club boys preparing them during the club...haha.  But, with their help, the cookies were ready by the meal at the end of the club.

Being the planner and schedule person that I am, I had the three hour club scheduled out by time for each event.  This was really helpful as I was teaching to make sure that I was leaving enough time for all of the fun things that were planned.

Snow Treasure Book Club Schedule

Ice breaker game (15 min) 1:00

Intro Activity - (20 min) 1:15 "Make “wanted” posters"

Author – hand out sheets (10 min) 1:25 "Hand out author sheets and Norway fact sheet"

Story Chart/history (20 min) 1:45 "History of Norway, WWII, invasion timing, map"

Literary Terms (30 min) 2:15 "Setting, Personification, Genre, Cliffhanger"

Activity (45 min) 3:00  "Make a diarama"

Meal (30 min) 3:30

Game (20 min) 3:50  "Jeopardy remix"

Host gifts (10 min) 4:00

Things ended up a little different than I had planned...but there was a plan to fall back on!
After the teaching time, we went into the backyard to make dioramas and then had a Norwegian dinner.
We ended the club with a rousing game of "Snow Treasure Jeopardy".  I used a posterboard and post-it notes to create the game with two post-it notes for each question (one for the question and one to cover them up until needed).

My little ones were around and loved all of the action, but Peter was there to put them down for naps, etc. when the time came:)

I'd love to hear any ideas that you have for teaching Literature...Snow Treasure...or any book!

Homeschooling...You've come a loooong way baby 2.Curriculum

Curriculum is a passion of mine.  I LOVE to search for curriculum and keep looking until I find the one that is just right for my family.  Right now we use several different core curriculum items and then season it all with several other things that I love:)  I look forward to the spring each year because that is when I start planning the next year's curriculum.  Some of it doesn't change but a few things do from year to year.  Well, that is now...but when I was a homeschooling child it was quite different.

It was really not a difficult decision.  There just wasn't much to choose from back in those days.  There wasn't all of the curriculum designed specifically for homeschool families that I am aware of (other than ATIA which was still a pilot program when we joined) . My parents used theme units from Advanced Training Institute of America and also basic Math, Language Arts, Literature, History, Science, Geography, etc from Bob Jones.  It was books, flashcards, and tests at the kitchen table...or sofa...back in those days.   I remember when A Beka first came out with a video homeschool program (on VHS! lol).  You would receive the VHS tapes in the mail, watch a classroom teacher teaching their students, and then complete the assignment.  It was the new exciting thing!  Haha  The choices really were slim and sometimes you had to hammer a square curriculum into a round hole to make it work in the homeschool setting.

Oh, how it has changed!!

Now, every summer when I go to the homeschool conventions, I am amazed all over again.  There is a plethora of curriculum, materials, etc. designed specifically for the homeschooling family.  What a change!  And, there are now tons of great programs that utilize multimedia in a way that was impossible twenty five years ago, when I was homeschooling.  From flashcards at the kitchen table to full multimedia computer programs in one generation.

Homeschooling surely has come a looooooooong way!  Goodbye denim jumpers.  Homeschooling has a new face...and new curriculum choices:)

Can't imagine what it will be like in the next generation...

Did any of you homeschool in the 80's?  I'd love to hear any memories or funny stories.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Dinner is Served

So, once again, I over estimated how many days that my family would be content to eat Thanksgiving leftovers.  I love eating leftovers because it means less time in the kitchen creating something new.  I don't really love to cook in the everyday while managing the kids.  Holiday cooking is different it...and love to involve the kids in the process.  After Friday, they were ready to move on...but I didn't plan this in my grocery shopping.  I LOVE cornbread dressing, turkey, potatoes, and cranberries and could eat this meal regularly.  But, my family doesn't agree with me.  So, I was looking for a quick and easy change from holiday leftovers and noticed that I had several tomatoes left that I didn't use up along with some broth and heavy whipping creme.  Perfect ingredients for tomato soup!  So, I chopped the tomatoes (normally I would use some onion or leek but didn't have any on hand today) and simmered them in the broth with a little garlic, pepper, basil, and oregano (also didn't have fresh spices so dried would have to do).  I started these ingredients simmering at our lunch break and started up the bread maker as well.

Here are the ingredients simmering.

 Here they are after simmering for a few hours.
About an hour before dinner I used my hand blender to puree the tomato mixture and added a little of the heavy creme that I had left from making whipped cream for pies.  I don't strain out the skins and seeds as I like to eat whole foods as much as possible.  They really puree quite nicely and you don't have the mess of trying to strain them out.
Here is a picture of the soup after being pureed and with the heavy cream added.

Add in the warm whole wheat bread and dinner is served!

Nothing like warm tomato soup and fresh bread on a cool evening:)  Not one kid complained about the soup even though they knew it was tomato...nice.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Family Photos

New family's been a while.  We haven't had family pictures done in four years...too long and too many changes.  So, this year I had a dear friend take pictures of our family at a local park one Sunday afternoon.  It was quite a rush as we went from church to lunch with friends then home to change and straight to the naps...yikes!  I was a little concerned about what the kids would be like but they did pretty well.  They were a little squirrelly from all of the sitting still that day but the pictures came out wonderfully! 

Here are a few family hard to get everyone looking and smiling at the same time!

I love this next one.  Wesley is just plain confused about what he is supposed to do...meanwhile Ransom has grabbed on to Abby's hair.  Being a photographer's daughter, she knew to keep that smile but her expression is priceless:)
Here are a few shots of the kids together or in groups.
 Love how Brennan is taking care of his little buddy in this shot!

 Love the little feet.

 Nathan Robert 10
 Brennan John 8
Abigail Christine 6
Wesley Micah 4
 Seth Lewis 2
 Ransom Elliot 9 months
 Abby and Mommy
 Love these...each one a little different.

Fun day and lots of pictures to remember this phase of our lives:)

Thanks to Joy of My Heart Photography for the amazing pictures!