Wednesday, November 17, 2010

So Far, So Good

Although Abby has honed her test-taking skills and Ford has proven to be a remarkable student, I find myself reporting that I am the one learning from this public school experience. I want to be totally honest, so here goes. One of my initial reservations about sending my kids off to public school had a lot to do with the fact that they are in the minority. The majority of the students in both of my children's classes are Latino. I was worried about this for two reasons. First, I imagined that there would be a large language barrier and that this barrier would make it difficult for the teachers to do their jobs, thus making the class struggle overall. I also imagined that the parents would be less involved because of the language barrier. I have found these two concerns to be false by and large. I often see Spanish speaking mothers, accompanied by the parent liaison, checking on the progress of their sons and daughters. And a shout-out to the parent liaison who is AMAZING. She translates everything at meetings and virtually kicks ass every day. She may well be the most important person that works there. Secondly, the kids have little communication issues, if any. They're little sponges who learn from each other so quickly that for the most part I don't see it getting in the way of studies at all. My Kindergartner has a couple in his class that don't speak English very well but by 2nd grade they're pretty much on the same page linguistically. I do know that language arts tends to be the tougher subject with a lot of them, but not to the point I expected. They are spelling, reading, and writing away.

Putting all of the academics aside, this is what I have learned most of all. I have learned about my own desire to help. I have discovered unused compassion deep within me. There is a little boy in my daughter's class who I will call Eddie. Eddie is a behavior problem in the class but I was unaware of this until I went on a field trip with them last week. The first thing I discovered about Eddie is that he is very smart. I quizzed him on his spelling words on the bus and he knew all but one and they had just gotten the list. You could see how proud he was of himself and he loved all of my encouragement. Then we arrived at the adult-led field trip and he started exhibiting more and more disastrous behavior. He would do one thing, get in trouble, be removed from the group, return to the group, then escalate the behavior a little more and start the cycle all over again. By the time we were headed back in the building for a craft, he was making everyone (including me) miserable. I took a moment to try and give him some perspective. I told him to start over. He said he couldn't. I told him to brush it off, put it all behind him, and start over. He said it was too late. I told him that it's never too late. I honestly don't think anyone has ever told him that before. Within a minute, he was running to catch up. He wasn't perfect from there on out, but he didn't get into any more trouble and he had a good time. I have seen Eddie at the media center twice since then and he seems so happy to see me. I was pretty tough on him, but I think he may have learned something too. I always wave and say hello to him and that little bit of attention brings a huge smile to his face.

Abby and I talked last night about setting a Christian example for others to follow. I told her that they know us by our actions and I told her how proud of her I was for her compassionate heart and her concern for her peers. I told her that God would definitely use that trait in her. I have always loved that quote from Shakespeare, "All the world's a stage and we are all but players." (or something like that). Even if the world is a stage, life is not a play. It is real. The more we start living the truth in our simple day-to-day lives, the closer we become what God intended us to be. God laid it on my heart to trust Him, to try the public school, to get involved, to push the edges of my life to the limit and do more. That's exactly what I'm doing now and I swear I learn something new about humanity and the heart of Jesus every day. The door to my heart has been flung wide-open and for that I say thank you God!!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Where Do We Go From Here?

I dropped my kids off at school this morning and my three-blog excursion looks to be coming to a close. Do I remove this blog? I guess not. I started out blogging here so that I could organize lesson plans, share ideas, and write helpful reviews on homeschooling books. People may still be searching out a good review on something I have used, so I'm not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Part of me wonders if I should keep it going, turning my focus on school, supplemental ideas, homework, etc... Perhaps I should do that. Someone might find it interesting. Plus, if there is one thing I've learned, it's that you really can't predict what's going to happen in life. We may come back to homeschooling. We may face a particularly challenging event in school that I need to blog about. Who knows. So, I guess that's my new direction.

Now, how about names? I just turned in my check to the PTA so the title officially does not apply! I'm going to have to change it now just to make myself feel better; but expect it to change again (maybe several times!)

For my homeschooling friends out there, please comment here when you want to share something really cool that you've done. I would love to continue to hear about your homeschool experiences even though we have ventured off into public school. In fact, the education of our children is so important, I'd love to hear from parents whose children are homeschooled, or go to public or private school, and I'd love to hear from teachers too. So, if you found my blog and want to share - have at it! My next post will talk about the first day of school. I'm not quite ready to talk about it......right now, I just want to write my ad script for Moe's.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

God Is Calling Me Out

Remember that post where I said, "God called me into homeschooling but I realize that He can also call me out"? Well, I am settling into the fact that it may very well be the case for us. We're moving and buying a home - one that will hopefully be our home for a very long time. My job offer fell through and I'm still plodding along for Skip at AMTC, writing for chicken feed. Thankfully, we can make it work on the income we have coming in. Yet, I feel there are a lot of valid reasons to change course educationally. We may enroll our kids in public school for next year. Here are my reasons:

1. We are called to be a "light to the world" and our homeschool bubble doesn't afford opportunities to show our faith to non-Christians. Is this really relevant? Do you really have opportunity to do this in public school? Why, yes! I have friends who might have turned out very differently if not for the bonds they made with strong Christian friends they met in school. I have put a lot of emphasis on protecting my kids from the dangers of the world and I'm sure I will still do so. However, I believe that only through adversity do we become refined and strengthened. And more importantly, I need to realize that my kids have the ability to impact the world around them. For me, it's a question of trust. If we were missionaries in a foreign land, would I want my children to be isolated from everyone or would I want them out there struggling for Christ? In this area, school is the more difficult path and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Our schools are in crisis right now and we have had the attitude so far that we should run from danger. Well, maybe it's time we entered the fight. By being in a public school, we can become a real part of the school community and affect change.

2. My kids are smart. They're not going to get lost in a classroom and they're not going to feel behind or odd at this point. Some of the same reasons I had for homeschooling are now reasons I believe I should stop. If they go to school now, with the foundation we've established for them, they will likely do very well. I think that both of them may benefit from another teacher. I'm at the point where Abby is getting a little lazy and I'm not type A enough myself to rid her of procrastination or sloth. I think starting school right now would make her realize how smart she is and give her a sense of pride and renew her thirst for knowledge. This is something I can see because I also went through this. My last year of homeschooling was ridiculously lazy and pointless but when I re-entered public school, I realized I had a lot to work with and it lit a fire in my belly to do well.

3. I can still participate in their education as much as I do now. I can still take time with them to make sure that their reading skills continue to grow and that they receive great math instruction. I can be a classroom volunteer and I can oversee every homework assignment and keep communication open with teachers so that my kids stay on track. I may have more opportunity to work on life issues with them and open the doors to conversation about the world around us. I'm not afraid of this, although I know a lot of parents that are.

4. I will have more time. I'm not trying to sound selfish about this one, but I really could use more time. My mom is nearly 80. We lost my dad last year and her health has been waning. She needs more from me now and I'm going to be a block away. Having their education provided for while I take care of my mom's increasing needs and run our household and work.... well that would be nice. And who knows, maybe I'll even find time to write the book I started last fall?

5. I may still need to work more. Who knows what tomorrow may bring? God gave me a half a brain and I can pitch in and help my family if I need to - if that's what He wants - and I'm OK with it. I feel as if we're being prepared for something but I can't quite name what that something is. It may be another job.

6. Baxter is ready for them to go to school. I won't lie and say that he's been really crazy about homeschooling. He has supported me completely. He has never argued against my desire to homeschool. He has always made the children feel happy and proud of their achievements and has loved homeschooling in many ways. However, when the question gets raised and he knows it's his turn to voice his opinions, he wants them to start school now. He's ready for it and he thinks the kids are ready now too. We've had many discussions about the pros and cons and at the end of these discussions, school is winning the fight right now. I am my husband's wife and I want what he wants. Knowing now that a decision to homeschool again would be completely flying in the face of his wants feels completely rebellious, subversive and wrong.

7. They want to go to school. They're curious and they have a very "Franklin" viewpoint pushing the school agenda at them, but they're ready to be a part of a school. It would be a very exciting experience for them.

8. Memories of school. I made some of my best friends in elementary school. My first triumphs and my first disappointments occurred in those early grades. What kind of a person would I be without those events and people in my life? In adversity I became who I am. In friendship I felt appreciated for who I was. School isn't all bad.

9. We can always change our minds. We can always put them in school, try it out for a period, and pull them out if it's a disaster. Knowing that makes it seem almost silly that I'm contemplating it this much.

I started this list, thinking it would have 10 reasons but I only have 9. For some weird, David Letterman-related reason, that really bothers me. Well, if you have another reason either for or against, share it with me! I'll post our official decision in time.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Owen And Mzee

During our Africa Unit Study, my kids had so much fun learning about two unlikely friends, Owen and Mzee. I happened upon the books Owen & Mzee: The True Story of A Remarkable Friendship and Owen & Mzee: The Language of Friendship at our local library. The first tells the true tale of Owen, an adorable baby hippo who is lost from his mother and group after the devastating tsunami of 2006 and the unusual friendship he finds in a 130 year old tortoise named Mzee. The books were great and widely available at local libraries. Better still was the information we found at There is an entire section just for kids that includes sing-alongs, interactive educational games, fun print-outs and more! They are so adorable that I'm tempted to pack a bag for Kenya myself just to get a firsthand look at this oddly-cute couple. If you need a great activity about animals, friendship, or just want something fun to do for a couple of days, I highly recommend a two-day unit on Owen and Mzee.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Garden Project

Planting a garden with your children can be a wonderful thing to incorporate into your homeschool lessons. We have made substantial progress in our garden so far. We should have started planning in January and ordered great seeds in the mail. If you plan ahead, you can get heirloom varieties and hard to find things like garlic and onion sets. However, this didn't happen for me. I got my Burpee seed catalogue and never even opened it. Winter was so long and cold that the prospect of planning for spring seemed to far off to even consider. I waited too long. I didn't wait too long to go buy seeds from a local retailer, however. We spent one day planning our crops and buying seeds. The next day was spent plotting out the garden in the yard itself and beginning the tilling process.

Each seed packet has full instructions on when and what to do. The kids helped sorting out things into the following categories:
  • sow into the ground this week
  • sow into the ground later
  • start indoors

I was able to get peas, swiss chard, lettuce and carrots in the ground on time in the first corner of our garden that we tilled. The next day, we started our seedlings in a tabletop greenhouse that we bought at a big box store. It cost $6 and has 72 plant plugs. That plus the seeds was really affordable.

While we were planting seeds in the vegetable patch, we decided to get some real grass started in the front yard too, and sprinkle a healthy handful of wildflower seeds in the front flower beds. My small children were able to take part in each step. They learned how to plan, procure, ready the soil, plant, and water. Then, we got two exciting moments this week. God sent us rain to help our seeds grow AND we have germinating seeds in two rows in our indoor greenhouse. Not only is this a great science project for the kids, but it will provide us all with exercise, sunshine and delicious fresh vegetables when all is said and done. So, if you have the chance to, consider putting your books away for a day or two in the early spring and learn some things hands on in the garden with your kids.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Summer Lessons Learned

Some of the most important things about life, I learned outside. More specifically, I learned them playing in and around my grandfather's yard. They lived next door to us and he was an avid gardener. He tended to use too many chemicals for my taste, but his heart was in the right place. His yard was his masterpiece. He had been a farmer of some kind all his life. That's the way people got through tough times back then! My mom grew up with chickens, hogs, and a milk cow. She remembers her grandmother patting out their butter with her own hands. When they ate chicken, her older brother had to wring their necks and she and her twin sister had to pluck them. Compared to how easy it is to procure our ingredients today, it's hard to even compare the two. I might have to travel to several stores if I'm really budgeting and shopping the sales but I am not getting to know our food before I deep fry it.

After living through the depression, WWII, and the 1950's - which were pretty hard in their own right and no one ever talks about that - my grandparents developed some land off Atlanta Rd, back in the woods, and built a house. My parents built there too, as did my aunt and uncle. It was neat living next to my grandparents. It was like having two backyards to play in. Since he was retired and no longer had to raise "crops" or have farm animals, he gardened for pleasure. He planted azaleas, flowering trees, and roses. My grandmother must have loved this so much. I think he pampered her. They built in the early 60's and I didn't come along until 1976 so things were pretty well established by then. I remember thinking that my grandfather was this wise old gardener, who knew everything about how to make things grow. He liked talking to me and telling me stories and I liked listening to them.

One year, he planted a rose bush that was mine. He told me to come talk to it every day and pick off the beetles and watch it for disease. I loved having my "own" rose bush and I remember being afraid to pick the roses on it. I guess I preferred to see it covered in blooms; but if you know anything about roses, you know it likes you to pick them. That rose bush has been gone for years; but when I visit my brother who lives there now, I can still see the rectangular plot of my grandfather's garden and can imagine the exact spot where my rosebush was - second row back third bush from the right.

We have decided to plant a garden this year. I always plant something around the mailbox and in the flower beds but this year I want to grow vegetables too. We have begun planning our garden and will start our seeds this weekend. I hope my kids learn as much from the experience of gardening as I did. What a wonderful way to transition our learning from the classroom to the outdoors for spring and summer!

For helpful information on starting a garden in Georgia, visit the The University of Georgia Extension Service or refer to this helpful article from their office I found online, Georgia Gardens.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Thinking Ahead and Looking Back

It's official: I have begun searching for next year's curriculum. This will be our third year homeschooling and with each year, there will be new challenges. I want to begin first by thinking about our first two years.

In my first two years of homeschooling my kids, I will have completed teaching both of them how to read. This in and of itself is a monumental task. It's funny how little I think about that or dwell on how completely awesome that is. I can really testify to the fact that teaching your children to read is about as rewarding as it gets. In the first two years, we will have used the library a lot, reading our way through countries all over the world and many other subjects too. We have learned the joys of using Internet resources and television. I have become an expert in learning styles, time management, and loving my kids through a variety of frustrating situations. We have joined a homeschool group where we feel we fit in well and is a great source of social interaction. We suffered through one big move in which we downsized our home by more than half, made some sacrifices, and learned what is truly important in life. We also experienced a period of grief when my father passed away and we learned many life lessons together.

Our first two years homeschooling were absolutely the best thing I have ever done for my kids. Homeschooling itself allowed us to relocate with relative ease and gave us the flexibility we needed when faced with a family crisis. In tough times, homeschooling is actually the easier option. I couldn't imagine having my kids in school and trying to cope with either of those situations. Sitting down and thinking about the various challenges we have faced, both great and small, I realize just how wonderful homeschooling has been for our family. Whatever I choose for next year, I know that I'm making a wonderful decision for my family to educate them well.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Australia Unit Study

Do you come from a land down under?? Well, we don't, but it's really fun to spend some time learning about this fascinating place. It really is like nowhere else on earth - a wealth of marsupials, opposite seasons, veggemite, dingiradoos - so much to capture the attention of my little ones. We spent two weeks talking about Australia and its neighbors.

We loved the many animals from our Draw Write Now book series that they included from this area of the globe. We chose to do the kangaroo, koala, echidna, and platypus. Each day we do a DWN drawing, we also read books that focus on that subject. I like to try and incorporate some non-fiction along with a fable, story, or picture book about the animal or element. That way, after the dry science text, my PreK student has something fun to look forward to. It's amazing how much they really learn about just by reading great books. It's not a fancy power-point presentation, but it's very effective. When the subjects are more interesting, you can get away with less creativity. It's when you're studying things that are a little boring to your child that you might have to spice things up more.

Learning about marsupials was great fun. The only thing is, beware the wealth of questions that may follow about sexual reproduction in general. They are starting to be aware of biology more and more and talking about another kind of reproduction is a sure way to bring up the subject. However scary this might be, making it a part of our everyday discussions takes a lot of the mystery out of it and hopefully will lead to great dialogue when they're older.

Some of the books we chose were WAY too focused on evolution and I edited the content for my readers quite significantly. I think it is tempting to throw the baby out with the bathwater here and I refuse to give up a well illustrated book because it's not creation-based. Instead, I just gloss over those areas and avoid some key evolutionary terms here and there.

Besides books, TV and the Internet are great sources for video of Australia's rich animal life. We saw amazing video of Tasmanian devils, kangaroos, and crocodiles. We also took some time to talk about the original Australians - the Aborigines. We learned about their very unique culture and music. We were able to watch videos on youtube of real Aborigines playing the dingeradoo. And for fun, we watched the old 80's Men At Work video for "Land Down Under." My kids LOVE 80's pop music. HA!

To round out the unit study, we are learning about coral reefs and the Great White shark. NatGeo has a great site for studying the Great Barrier Reef. It is very interactive and gave the kids a sense of being there. Well, that's all for now, G'day!

My book list:

Australia Q and A, by Nathan Olson
Amazing Animals of Australia, J599 Ama
Australian Marsupials, by Peter Crowcroft
Outside and Inside Kangaroos, by Sandra Markle
Snap!, by Marcia Vaughn
Wild Wild World of Koalas, by Liza Jacobs
A Platypus, Probably, by Sneed B. Collard III
Surprising Sharks, by Nicola Davies
This Place Is Lonely, by Vicki Cobb
Uluru, Australia's Aboriginal Heart, by Caroline Arnold

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Book Review: Singapore Math Primary 1A

My Background:

Let me begin this review by stating that math was not my favorite subject growing up. In fact, I hated it in elementary school. If math had been a breakable object, I would have smashed it to bits. If it had been a person, well, you get the drift. I struggled with math from about 3rd grade on. In my senior year of high school, I was in AP Biology, AP English, AP French, AP Government, AP Economics and Algebra II. All my other friends were in Calculus and had taken Algebra II their sophomore year. I obviously wasn't stupid; but I was math-handicapped. Fast-forward to college. I decided to be a captain of industry and changed my major to Marketing for a while and was required to take Trig and Calculus. Not only was it a requirement, but I had to make decent grades too. Thanks to a fabulous teacher (who didn't have my old transcripts in front of him) and a new-found confidence and determination, I discovered that I wasn't bad at math at all. I made a B in Trig and an A in Calculus.

As a homeschooling mom, I have learned a lot from my own personal experience. Whatever your experience was with school growing up, there have to be lessons you took away from it. Both types of teachers shaped how I teach. My university professor's teaching style showed me that even the most complex of subjects can be broken down and taught effectively. My third grade teachers' evil grin and method of sending me to the Principal's office when I couldn't stand up and recite my times-tables showed me a good example of how to create a mental block. I learned from both experiences.

My Experience With the Book:

At the beginning of the year, my first grader was to stay the course from last year: a spiraling method of math learning that she responded very well to in Kindergarten. By early October, I knew things weren't going well and I ordered a new curriculum that was a complete departure from what she had previously been doing. Enter: Singapore Math.

You have heard about Singapore Math before but may not know what it is and what it does. First and foremost, it was designed by The Ministry of Education of Singapore. I never thought I'd be using a curriculum from an Asian government in our studies, however, the statistics were impressive. Children in Singapore perform exceedingly well in math when compared to the rest of the world. I don't think other subjects could be taught in this way; but for math it works well and our own educational establishment could take a few tips from our Asian counterparts.

Unlike spiraling methods, you hardly ever repeat a lesson. There are some short flash-card drills to help in mastering some math facts (like simple addition and subtraction problems) but overall there is very little repetition. This seems a bit scary if you're used to the constant spiraling reviews in systems like Abeka. However, after completing Singapore Math 1A, I can tell you that it works.

The focus of the curriculum is mastery of the material. After my own experience, I understood the importance of truly grasping the operation behind the problems. Every method of learning that the units employ is to aide the child in mastering that step. I have to admit, some of the methods seemed foreign even to me, a grown up, who's been adding and subtracting for a while now! However, they make so much sense that I'm mad I didn't learn math this way as well. When you learn math in this way, it is easy to tell if your child is grasping the material. Your child will either get all the problems right or all the problems wrong. If the problems are wrong, we erase the answers and try the approach again. Once, it was simply a case of tired brain cells. We put the book down, came back three days later, and it was a piece of cake. That is the beauty of homeshooling.

After two months of struggle in the early fall before beginning Singapore Math, my 1st grader is now able to tackle problems like 18-7 or 20-10 with ease. We started Singapore Math 1A in November, right before the holidays, and are just finishing it. That means that we will be doing 1B from now through the summer; but this might be a great thing as far as retention goes.

My Recommendation:

I highly recommend Singapore Math. I am so pleased that we didn't wait to introduce it next year. I think starting on level 2 or 3 might be a real challenge. In fact, with an older student, I would go ahead and start back with level 1 and work quickly to catch up to grade level. Still, if your child is struggling in math, the extra work would be well worth it. Concepts my child is learning now will be applied in 4th grade. That means these are pretty important concepts and having a real understanding of them is key.

I also recommend purchasing the complete homeschooling pack, which includes the textbook, workbook and teacher's manual. The teacher's manual is the curriculum - you couldn't just get the workbook and get by. If you have more than one child, you only need to purchase additional workbooks later. The schedule in the front of the teacher's manual is a great guide but it moves pretty fast. You may need to evaluate your own child's abilities and slow it down a bit. Sometimes our math lessons take over an hour and they are pretty taxing. If you have the time, some of these lessons would be better tackled over 2 or 3 days.

Visit the official website to purchase Singapore Math.
How well do you like your math curriculum? What works for your family?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Book Review: Galloping the Globe

When I set out to design a year of unit studies for my incoming 4-Yr Pre K and 1st grade students, I needed something that was really, really broad but had a thread of unity as well. What better subject to cover than geography! Besides the fact that kids really need geography to better understand the world, its cultures and history, geography could easily be adapted to both learning levels and give us a lot of fun opportunities to do things "out of the box."

I searched the internet for sources for ideas. One source really stuck out for me, Galloping the Globe. For one thing, it's a single book and the cost was very low ($24.95). Also, it was written for Pre-K through 4th grade (hence, it's very flexible). I have yet to hear anyone who just loved one of these big-box cirricula for every subject (and 2 different grades). So, I took a little extra time to put everything together myself. If this is what you want to do, Galloping the Globe is great. If you're looking for something that can get you through a unit without needing the library or other textbooks, this is not for you.

How it works for me:

The book is laid out very well, with an overview of world geography at the beginning and each continent broken down into its' major countries of study. For the month of December, there is also a "Christmas Around the World unit." For each country, you get a black and white map and black and white flag, both of which can be photocopied for your kids to color and put into their binder. The larger units come with additional aides like mazes and word searches to use. You also get a paragraph introducing the country and a list of books and ideas in most subject areas: geography, history and biographies, literature, language arts, science, Bible, and a list of activities you can do. You will need an additional math cirriculum and possibly grammar as well. I also used a phonics cirriculum for my PreK student. I will caution you, I couldn't find a lot of the books on the suggested list at my local library. However, this has never bothered me. The ones I did find were great and I easily supplemented other books to cover the topics I chose to do. The flexibility of this guidebook is that you can cover the subjects you like within the unit and also outside the unit. I'm using a separate science textbook but the kids like studying the animals within each country we study. This way, they get the best of both worlds. Do your kids already get Bible from another course? Then don't use that section. We decided to create a book over the year with captioned pictures from each country we studied. This is not a part of the Galloping the Globe cirriculum but it's the biggest part of what we do with the subjects they outline. Also, you don't have to cover each and every country. I skipped a few and I'm also adding a few that they don't cover.

The list of activities was very useful. Yes, I could have brainstormed a lot of these ideas myself without the books' help. But let's face it, how much easier is it to have a list in front of you to use when you're already the busiest person on the planet?? Plus, when brilliance strikes and you think of something extra or even better than what's in the book - you're not nailed down to anything so go ahead and do it! I was so proud of a few of my own ideas but didn't feel the pressure each week to come up with new and better stuff!

My recommendation:

The beauty of homeschooling is the flexibility you can have and I think that it gets lost inside some of the huge boxed cirriculums out there. That said, my kids are really young and the subjects aren't that complex as of yet. For us, using the library and getting our hands in what we're learning made this year really fun, positive and informative. Galloping the Globe allowed us to study the greater subject of geography in depth and gave us a sense of unity to the year. It was a great source of books and ideas for our year and I do recommend it for anyone interested in geography unit studies.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Mexico Unit Study

We decided to play leap-frog over the United States and study Mexico after Canada. Mexico was an easy unit simply because of the wealth of information that there is. We checked out some great books about the geography and culture as well as some board books in Spanish that helped me to introduce the kids to the language.

After a page count, I realized that we were running short of space in our spiral notebook of drawings my 1st grader is compiling. Because of that, she only did one language arts lesson on Mexico from Draw Write Now - the cactus.

We spent a day talking about the ancient civilizations of Mexico (Aztecs and Mayans). We spent another day studying the art of Mexico. This was a really rich unit and could be stretched out over several days if you choose to do so. Ancient pottery, weaving, embroidery, painting, classical religious art and more are all a part of their culture. We glanced over all of these and made a great craft out of a book we checked out: The Aztec Codex. Mine was Spanish colors, my 1st grader did numbers, and pre-kindergartner did animals. They turned out great! It was a good opportunity for them to practice making a plan and following it - always nice to help your kids practice this habit!

Our other three days were spent on geography and culture. A cheap and fun field trip to our International Farmer's Market was the highlight of one of our days. After that, we enjoyed some great regional music and food. The kids loved studying the children of the Yucatan. They really took notice of the fact that children in Mexico often have jobs and help to support their families. Life lessons like these are often missed in other settings. We're on to a two week unit study of the US after this. Some of the books we used for Mexico:

Buenas Noches, Luna, (Good Night, Moon); Brown
At the Beach = Vamos a la playa; Stanley
Children of Yucatan; Staub
Aztecs; Hughes
Mexico, DeAngeles
Mexico From A to Z; Kalman
The Kids' Multicultural Art Book; Terzian ****Great find!!!!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

European Unit Studies: Part I

It was necessary for me to split up Europe this year. I did the major countries/units in the late fall and early winter and am saving a handful of other European countries for late winter/early spring. We started with Russia, since it spans both Asia and Europe. It was a fascinating unit.


How I structured this week:
Two language arts lessons came from Draw Write Now: the wolf and brown bear. We used this as a focus to learn about the habits of wolves and bears. The library has lots of great books on both. Beware using the TV when studying bears. I Tivo'd a program that I thought was going to be educational and it ended up showing people getting attacked by bears and it gave my little boy some terrible nightmares!

We also listened to a great recording of Peter and the Wolf, narrated by Sir Alec Guinness. On this day, we read about Russian classical composers and listened to several examples of the music, including Peter and the Wolf and Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite. If you save this for Christmas, a trip to the ballet would definitely be in order. We, however, just watched one on DVD.

There are a lot of great folk stories from Russia and the children enjoyed them a lot. We have a set of Russian nesting dolls that my mother in law bought in Alaska last year and they say "Made in Russia" on the bottom - for some reason commerce really fascinates my little ones.

Here is the list of books we checked out at our local library:

The Nutcracker, Hoffman

Life Cycle of a Wolf, Kalman

Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States, Riordon

Russia in Pictures, Marquez

The Cat and the Cook and Other Fables of Krylov, Heins

Bears, Gilks

There's a Wolf in the Classroom!, Weide

Fox Tales, Wheeler

Another Celebrated Dancing Bear, Scheffrin-Falk

The Mitten, Brett

Best-Loved Folk Tales of the World, Cole

The Bird of Time, Yolen


Germany was a little rushed and not as successful due to family issues that were going on at the time. However, we managed to get our lessons in and added a few German themes along the way. We read a book about Beethoven and listened so some of his famous pieces. We read two fairy tales and did a Draw Write Now picture of Goldilocks and the Three Bears for a language arts lesson. We watched a great travel show on PBS about Germany. We also ate Wiener Schnitzel and potatoes for dinner one night. There is a lot you could do with Germany that we didn't do. However, I have to realize and get used to the fact that in a school, things get lost and glossed over all the time. One week of less-intense lesson planning is perfectly acceptable, especially since I'm still covering the bases with math and reading.

Here are the books we checked out for Germany:

Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Aylesworth

Hansel & Gretel, McKay

Ludwig van Beethoven: Musical Genius, January


Italy was fun but after the lack of focus with Germany, I tried to do too much. Our lessons took too long and I found them losing interest at points. We attempted to study Renaissance Art. Aside from being really excited at all the nude paintings and giggling up a storm, they weren't really interested in this. I think I did too much reading and I should have used more visuals from TV or our computer to engage them in the subject. One thing they did love was "Painting the Sistine Chapel," in which you tape a piece of paper on the bottom of a low table (we used their easel), lay down underneath it, and paint something. It's a lot harder than you think it would be and you can more easily get a sense of how difficult this was to do in real life!

Another subject we studied was Galileo. With additional planning, this could have been great. I should have taken them to an observatory but, once again, due to family circumstances, we couldn't accommodate a field trip. We also watched a program about Venice and learned about canals. We didn't do any Draw Write Now lessons for this unit. Instead, we took lessons from our English Primer and worked on grammar.

We ate several Italian meals, including an Italian-American lasagne, one of my kids' favorite dishes.

Here are the books we used from the library:

Fables of Leonardo da Vinci, Nardini

Michaelangelo Buonarotti, Raboff

Starry Messenger, Sis

Italy, Borlenghi

Michaelangelo, Venezia

The Renaissance Art Book, O'Reilly


After two hard weeks, France was a lot of fun. Since I have a background in French, I'm pretty comfortable teaching them simple words and phrases, as well as songs. We did include two language arts lessons from Draw Write Now: the goose and swan. We spent our first day studying the geography of France and learning a bit about their history and culture. We spent the second day on performing arts in which we watched a DVD of The Paris Opera Ballet and listened to a great CD called "French Playground." The third day we learned about Marie Curie and focused on science. We also watched a travel show that showcased several different regions of France.

The fourth and fifth days were focused on the Impressionists. We read several great books that are written to the elementary grades. Everything on the list by Le Tord and Anholt were great. After studying Impressionism, we took advantage of some gorgeous fall weather and painted "en plein aire"...aka...outside. We painted on real canvases with real paint, not the washable stuff. The kids wore smocks and we painted our beautiful trees. It was a beautiful time for us to enjoy together and the paintings themselves turned out great! They are proudly displayed in our home now.

One of the best parts of this unit was the food. We ate French food at almost every meal. Quiche, croissants, croque monseiurs, roasted chicken with vegetables provencale, salade niscoise etc... At the end of the week, we had a delicious brunch at Douceur de France in Marietta. This is hands-down my favorite restaurant in Les Etats Unis! In fact, I love them so much, here's a plug for their new Roswell location! We gorged ourselves on the most heavenly hash browns and fresh baked butter croissants. I had a goat cheese omelet that was so rich it's unbelievable. We also bought beautiful pastries afterwards. I've been to Paris and this place is the real deal. After this week, the whole family was saying, Vive la France!

My list of library books for this unit:

French Playground (sound recording)

The Paris Opera Ballet (DVD)

The Value of Learning: The Story of Marie Curie, Johnson

Charlotte in Giverny, Knight

France, Spengler

Count Your Way Through France, Haskins

Cezanne from A to Z, Sellier

Camille and the Sunflowers: A Story About Vincent Van Gogh, Anholt

Degas and the Little Dancer: A Story About Edgar Degas, Anholt

The Magical Garden of Claude Monet, Anholt

A Blue Butterfly: A Story About Claude Monet, Le Tord

A Bird Or Two: A Story About Henri Matisse, Le Tord

Our Favorite Stories, Gavin

Great Britain

Our Great Britain unit was pretty good. I had intended to ask my brother in law if he could play his bagpipes for them but it never happened. Oh, well! We listened to some CD's and that was fine. We spent a day on geography, the rise and fall of the British empire, and famous British landmarks. The rest of our week was exposure to British literature, one of my favorite topics of interest. Paring down something like Shakespeare for young children is tricky. My 1st grader liked Romeo and Juliet, but my Pre-kindergartner did not. He loved the classic Winnie the Pooh stories and we read them all. You could also do the Beatrix Potter books, but we had just read them over the summer. We all loved the book, Smudge, the Little Lost Lamb.

I enjoyed showing them the Crawford family coat of arms as well as teaching them about their ancestry from Whales, England and Scotland. Food for this unit is not nearly as wonderful as the previous two. We wanted to go out on Saturday for real Fish N Chips. There is a great pub in Sandy Springs that is kid friendly and has the old red British phone booths and really authentic atmosphere. Sadly, sickness kept us inside that day and we had to settle for Captain D's instead! Don't laugh, a friend of mine said the fish is pretty close!

Celtic Bagpipes (recording)

A Midsummer Night's Dream for Kids, Burdett

Romeo and Juliet for Kids, Burdett

Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare for Children, ?

United Kingdom in Pictures, Campbell

United Kingdom, Innes

Brave Highland Heart, Kellerhalls-Stewart

A Picture Book of Florence Nightingale, Adler

Smudge, the Little Lost Lamb, Herriot

Classic Winnie the Pooh, Milne

Knights and Castles, Osborne

Oh Canada! Unit Study

After studying The Arctic, we traveled down the tundra to our neighbors to the north - Canada. We started with a North America overview, as I always do when we study a continent for the first time. I once again attempted to use the library for great books but was somewhat disappointed at the selection. I discovered some books about Canada later that I missed because my search was mainly in the geography section. In that section, I only found one book: Canada in Pictures. It was okay but not great. One book I stumbled upon was fabulous: A Prairie Boy's Winter. This was one of those books that was just meant to be. It has about 50 beautiful illustrations by the author (some of which are hanging in famous museums) and each illustration has a written page to go along with it. It begins at the start of winter in Canada and ends with the coming of spring. It's biographical account is true to life and very interesting. Coming from the southern United States, it can be hard for me to imagine snow drifts deep enough to almost cover the utility poles. We also loved reading about the way kids amused themselves in the bitterly cold winters there - and were amazed that they would often play outside!!

Other areas we covered were the Mounties, Moose, Caribou, Northern Forests, Hockey, Maple Trees & Syrup.

I checked out a book about making syrup that is one of my favorites, Sugaring, by Jessie Haas. The setting is Vermont but that's just a border issue. People in Canada make maple syrup the same way we do. The story is sweet and my kids love the beautiful pictures.

Some activities for your Canada week:

  • Color or make a flag of Canada

  • Learn some French-Canadian expressions

  • Watch a Hockey match (preferably one w/ a Canadian team)

  • Play stick hockey or go ice skating

We used Draw Write Now to do pictures for the picture storybook my 1st grader is making. The pictures we chose were caribou, moose, and sledding children.

Book Review: Draw Write Now

I purchased the complete set of Draw Write Now books by Marie Hablitzel and Kim Stitzer to add to our reference library and to use as a supplement to our year of unit studies. With a focus on geography, the Draw Write Now books add a wonderful dimension when discussing the animals and habitat of any part of our world. Although you can purchase each book separately at any bookseller, the complete series includes:

  1. On The Farm/Kids and Critters/Storybook Characters

  2. Christopher Columbus/Autumn Harvest/The Weather

  3. Native Americans/North America/The Pilgrims

  4. The Polar Regions/The Arctic/The Antarctic

  5. The United States/From Sea to Sea/Moving Forward

  6. Animals & Habitats: On Land/Ponds and Rivers/Oceans

  7. Animals of the World Part I: Forest Animals

  8. Animals of the World Part II: Grassland and Dessert Animals

Over the year and week to week, we have used between 2 and 4 books for any one unit so having the whole set has given us lots of enrichment. The basic set up of each book is easy for any child in kindergarten or older to use. The table of contents is pictorial and separated by several sections. I have used this as an introduction to looking things up in a reference book by instructing my 1st grader to find it on her own and turn to the page number.

Each illustration is broken down into simple steps that most children can copy. Sometimes we have had some struggles with the steps but you quickly learn when to step in and assist and when to just allow the child to work it out on his or her own. After drawing the picture, she adds colors and shading with colored pencils. We then pick 2 of the 4 written lines as a caption for the picture. Her pictures are drawn directly into a spiral-bound blank picture storybook which I purchased at a school supply store. If your child has much difficulty copying things step by step, or needs to start over frequently, OR if you aren't using a particular theme, you may want to use loose sheets of paper. However, it is nice for a child to have a whole book at the end of the year. So, if you go this route, I recommend having the pictures bound at the end of the term or year.

These books are not encyclopedias. You will need to find information about each animal or subject from other sources. We use the internet and our local library. The books have given us a sense of unity throughout the year and have tied what might have felt like a lot of random information into a neatly bound postcard of what we studied this year. The best part of the books is that she will have made a whole book of her own at the end of the year. She guards it closely and I'm the only one who has seen it. Unveiling day will no doubt be a really big deal! She wants to show it to everyone in the family including cousins and even some friends so this shows her level of pride she feels. This also made her take her work seriously and try her best, which is hard for some 1st graders to do. Knowing that everyone will see it someday made her really focus on what she was doing.

The books are easy to use and she has learned how to copy things step-by-step. It has improved her hand-eye coordination, her artistic abilities, and her printing. Today, she actually commented that, "the writing part is easy for me now. It used to be hard but now I'm really fast!" That shows me that the books have accomplished exactly what they were supposed to do. She has learned to draw real pictures and write real words now in first grade. In conclusion, the Draw Write Now book series is a wonderful source for any family or classroom. I wholeheartedly recommend them. After this year, I am pretty confident that my kids will continue to go to them on their own for help in drawing whatever they find themselves doodling.

Antarctica/The Arctic Unit Study

This is a little late in coming, so it will be drastically condensed. Please note that a good many of my ideas come from Galloping the Globe. It is a great and affordable reference tool for unit studies in geography for K-4th grade.

This was a great cold weather unit study - especially since the kids saw a good bit of snow and really cold temperatures this year!

To help your child learn the difference between South Pole/North Pole, I recommend focusing on Antarctica for the first 2 days and The Arctic for the other 3 days. For a 4-day week, just split your week in two. If your kids are older, you may want to spend a week on each. There is a lot you could build into this with science, depending on the age of your children. We began with a discussion of the earth itself, located the poles, and discussed why it is so cold there. GoogleEarth is my favorite resource for discussing where things are in the world. Frankly, we just don't have room for a big globe.

Any books you find at the library that talk about this area of the world would be great. Antarctica has no culture but you can focus on the scientists that live there and the animals that call it home.
  • Spend some time learning some terms like pole, iceberg, floe, glacier, etc...
  • Watch "March of the Penguins" -- my kids loved this movie and it is completely educational. If you rent the DVD, there is also bonus material about the way the scientists lived while they were on Antarctica. You may want to save this for the 2nd day but it is also very fascinating.
  • Draw Write Now pictures on penguins and auroras and books about them
  • Since there is no real "country" there, have your kids design a flag for Antarctica and explain why they chose the particular design that they did.

The Arctic

Begin by explaining that this is an area of the world that includes parts of 3 different continents and go over what these are. Again, I checked out a lot of books. However, since we spent so much time on climate w/ Antarctica, I focused more on the richer animal habitat of the Arctic and the indigenous peoples that call it home. The culture was very interesting.

  • Draw Write Now pictures about the polar bear, Inuit, whale, or caribou
  • For a craft project, use some old cereal boxes and make "snowshoes" - this requires only that you break down the boxes and use the largest pieces for the show shoes. Trace around each foot and cut out shapes several inches larger than your child's foot. Using a hole punch, punch several holes on the outer edges of the cardboard and lace them with old shoelaces. Tie them on over your child's shoes and...voila! You have "snowshoes". Then you can let them put on all their heavy clothing and pretend to be Eskimos (or Inuits, whichever you prefer).
  • Watch "Arctic Tale." This was put out by the same people that did March of the Penguins and it's also great. Narrated by Queen Latifah, it has a compelling story that pulls them in and your kids won't even realize that they're learning.

Monday, February 8, 2010

USA Unit Study

For studying America, we have used some great books from the library to teach everything from folklore and folksongs to actual historical accounts and geographical facts. I also purchased a Melissa & Doug 50 states wooden jigsaw puzzle to help them to eventually learn the states and capitols. A note about this: if you buy a state puzzle, make sure you get one where each state is a piece by itself. Many are picture puzzles that do not help your child learn the shape of the states and this is itself very important to being able to locate the states on a map.

We're using Draw Write Now to add to the Picture Storybook my first grader is creating. We chose pictures and text of: Don't Tread On Me revolutionary flag, The Statue of Liberty, Bald Eagle, Opossum, Raccoon, Skunk and Porcupine. Each picture she draws is the focus of that days study. For the revolutionary flag, we learned about when we declared our independence and fought the revolutionary war. For the Statue of Liberty, we read a book about the story behind it. For the bald eagle, we discussed the meaning of freedom and liberty and the importance of symbols. For each other animal, we used the Internet to find out what part of the US it lives in and then learned about its habits, life cycle and unique characteristics. My 1st grader is learning about doing internet searches and this gives her the opportunity to practice searching each day. I also try to incorporate an easier craft and maybe a short story on each lesson for my 5 year old. For example, when we studied opossums, we read the story of Brer Possum and Brer Snake (from an adaptation of the Uncle Remus stories) and my younger student made a picture, using pre-cut parts of the opossum, including the pouch with a tiny pink baby inside.

The best book for folksongs and American legends was published by Scholastic and is titled, "From Sea To Shining Sea." The kids love singing the folksongs and I have recorded versions of a few. For independent reading, she started her first American Girl book, "Meet Felicity," which takes place during colonial times. Other great books we checked out at our local library:

  • The Pilgrims of Plimoth, written and illustrated by Marcia Sewell

  • America, A Patriotic Primer, by Lynne Cheney

  • When Washington Crossed the Delaware, by Lynne Cheney

  • Our 50 States: A Family Adventure Across America, by Lynne Cheney

  • A is for Abigail: An Almanac of Amazing American Women, by Lynne Cheney

  • The New Big Book of U.S. Presidents, by Marc Frey and Todd Davis

  • The Story of the Statue of Liberty (a Graphic Library Book), by Xavier Niz

  • Froggie Went A-Courtin', by Harriet

  • She'll Be Coming Around the Mountain, edited by Ann Owen

  • How to Bake an American Pie, by Karma Wilson

After reading about western exploration through Appalachia, we did construction paper collages of "The Wilderness Road" as an art project. Some additional activities to consider:

  • Bake an apple pie

  • Make food from different regions of the U.S.

  • Visit Washington D.C. or other historical monuments

  • Have your child write a paper or do a project about a famous American, a president, or one of the 50 states.

  • If you have older kids, have them learn the states and capitols. If this is easy for them, have them learn about the inner workings of our government, including the branches of government, how many congressmen and senators there are, and the names of important political figures in our current administration. This is also a great opportunity to learn about the election process, especially if you happen to teach it leading up to a November election!

Happy learning!