Sunday, February 21, 2010
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.
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
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!
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
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
Mexico From A to Z; Kalman
The Kids' Multicultural Art Book; Terzian ****Great find!!!!
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
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
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
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
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
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
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.
- On The Farm/Kids and Critters/Storybook Characters
- Christopher Columbus/Autumn Harvest/The Weather
- Native Americans/North America/The Pilgrims
- The Polar Regions/The Arctic/The Antarctic
- The United States/From Sea to Sea/Moving Forward
- Animals & Habitats: On Land/Ponds and Rivers/Oceans
- Animals of the World Part I: Forest Animals
- 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.
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.
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
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!