October 2, 2014

Presents the kids can make each other

I'm pretty sure that at least some of the kids should make this for each other for Christmas.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FNge9xiwdc4


October 1, 2014

Kids' Curriculum and Why I Like It (or not)

I recently received an email asking me to review some of the curriculum we use around these here parts.  I've been meaning to post about many things, but the email was a good kick in the heiny to actually do it, so I will.

Miriam, grade 6

Math and Critical Thinking: We have been using Mathematical Reasoning books from the Critical Thinking Co for years now and I love them just as much today as when we started using them.  Miriam is in Level F (grade five) because I keep my kids a year behind in math on purpose.  I do that, for those of you wondering, because abstract thinking skills don't completely develop until a child reaches high school.  If you hit pre-algebra before the abstract thinking skills are in place necessary to understand it, you can experience a great deal of frustration.  Since it is hard to predict how developed each child's abstract thinking skills will be by grade seven, I play it safe and take things slower.  I have not yet encountered a reason to regret this choice.  None of my children have experienced any math angst up to this point (except the first few years when we were using Abeka math) and several claim that math is their favorite subject.

I supplement the Mathematical Reasoning books with some other "fun" math products from the same company.  My favorites are the Building Thinking Skills books.  Miriam finished Level One two years ago and was thrilled when I presented her with Level Two this year.  Note that when each books is listed as a "full curriculum" it means in critical thinking NOT math.  Don't be confused by that.

A list of topics on the front cover includes things like logical thinking, similarities and differences, sequences, classifications, analogies, spatial awareness (Miriam excels at these problems and I stink--it usually takes me triple the amount of time to correct her work, which is always right, than it takes her to do it), vocabulary development, map reading, etc.  

When Miriam was doing Building Thinking Skills Level One, I assigned her six pages daily from her Mathematical Reasoning book and then six pages out of her Building Thinking Skills book.  She would inevitably do 12 + pages out of her Building Thinking Skills book because she thought it was so much fun.

Another favorite from the Critical Thinking Co is Math Detective A1. I must point out that Miriam does not like this book.  She thinks it is way harder than her regular math book.  However, I see a great deal of value in making her stretch herself.  Basically, this book has a bunch of extended story problems that have to be answered with complete sentences.  It is challenging because Miriam can figure out the answers but she has to really stretch herself to come up with the "why" of the answer.  I think that is a healthy exercise for her brain.  However, to avoid contention, I only assign one "problem"--usually a two-page spread with about six questions--a week.  That keeps her muttering to a minimum.

I wouldn't get the Math Detective beginner book unless you have a really advanced reader/writer.  Otherwise, you're just creating a lot of work for yourself.


Language Arts: Ah.  This is a hard one.  I've flitted about more with this subject than math.

First, we are currently using Phonetic Zoo: Lesson Cards for spelling.  I did not buy the whole $99 program.  I only purchased the cards for $15.00.  It is a fine program.  Not spectacular, but not bad.  It might be stellar if you buy the whole kit and caboodle, but I've never found a spelling program I loved and I wasn't willing to invest in another failed effort.

There are three "levels" on the cards.  On Monday I give Miriam a spelling pre-test and have her write each of the fifteen words on one card.  I don't pay much attention to the levels with her.  Then she writes each word she misses three times a day for the rest of the week.  It works.

We use Handwriting Without Tears for handwriting.

For grammar we use Rod and Staff and I LOVE their program. Currently Miriam is working out of Building With Diligence: English 4.  It is aimed for fourth graders and it is way too easy for her and she is flying through it at breakneck speed, but it is a good review while I try to get my hands on the writing program I want her to be using right now but can't afford.

Back to Rod and Staff for a moment.  I think they do everything right with grammar.  They include sentence diagramming from the very beginning.  They build concepts in a logical and appropriate way--without jumping around too much.  They have manageable assignments that I hardly ever tweak to cut back on the amount of work.  I wholeheartedly endorse their grammar series as long as you realize that they excel at teaching grammar and not writing.

The writing program I want to be using right now is The Write Foundation: Sentence to Paragraph.  I haven't used this program but I have read several reviews that are very convincing.  Especially this one.    I really think this might be a winner.  I have tried other writing programs, including the Institute of Excellence in Writing and I just wasn't that impressed.  I'm hard to impress.  I'm a professional English teacher.  :)  That said, I have a hard time teaching writing because I feel like my children should just magically know how to write--much like I did.  Instead, I have kids whose favorite subjects are math and science and for whom writing doesn't come easily.  I don't have time to create my own curriculum right now and so I will eventually (too bad I can't sell plasma when I'm pregnant) buy this one and see how it works out for Miriam.

This year I bought Digging Into Diagramming .  I wanted a way to make sure my children were diagramming a few sentences every day--especially Miriam.  I think diagramming is the best way to teach grammar, other than learning a foreign language.  There isn't much on the market by way of straight diagramming.  This book is great in concept and how it builds from simple to complex sentences.  I can't give it rave reviews, however, because it doesn't have as many practice sentences as I would like.  When I say the book doesn't have enough sentences, I mean it.  Each lesson only has one or two example sentences with four practice sentences.  There are 41 lessons, which sounds like a lot until you realize that the kids will only have diagrammed roughly 164 sentences over the course of the year using this book.  It just isn't enough practice.  It does, however, supplement Rod and Staff nicely since those books already have diagramming included.  I still think Digging Into Diagramming is worth the purchase--just be aware of what you are getting.

Cowen, grade 4: Cowen is not an independent reader yet, so that makes everything I do with him a little trickier.  He's getting there, but at his own speed.  Also, I bumped his younger sister up a grade because her birthday was right around the cut-off.  And she's a girl.  And he's a boy.  SUCH A BOY.  Meaning that his development is crazy different than his sisters', or even his younger brother who is a little less of a stereotypical boy.  Cowen and Emeline (grade 3) do the same grammar.  It works.

Math: He's currently using Building Thinking Skills Level One and Mathematical Reasoning Level D.   The skills in his Building Thinking Skills book do not come as easily to Cowen as they came to Miriam, so I am focusing a lot of our math attention on that book currently.  I also started Cowen on learning his multiplication tables on xtramath.com and created a fake student so he could practice addition under a different name.  I did the same thing with Miriam.  We are hitting computation really hard with the oldest two this year.  Once we've finished the Building Thinking Skills book, I'll shuffle Cowen back into his regular math book.  By then he'll know enough of his multiplication tables that the multiplying and dividing work in the math book will be easy and math will remain angst-free.

Small sidenote: I just starting giving weekly first and second place awards to the kids who make the most improvement on their xtramath work.  The improvement in their effort has been downright astonishing.  Amazing what a $1.00 box of candy can do for a child's motivation.

Language Arts: Cowen is working out of the Rod and Staff Beginning Wisely Level 3 grammar book.  I already told you how much I love Rod and Staff.  I take two years to go through the first book--making sure they don't get overloaded.  We do one lesson a day, four days a week.  I don't worry about teaching writing at this stage.  I wait until grade five and with Cowen, I might wait until grade six.

Basically, I'm not really converted to teaching spelling to young children.  Miriam was a terrible speller for years and I kept wondering why she didn't pick it up from reading like I had.  Then, one day, she could spell.  It was awesome.  My son, though, has a harder time with all things verbal so I bought the Phonetic Zoo just to help him practice a little.  I don't insist on memorization of the words. I tried that briefly and it led to much, much heartache.  Instead, I show the kids (Cowen and Emeline) the spelling rule outlined on the card, pick six words, and have them write those six words three times daily for one week.  Then we move on.  My purpose?  To help my kids start to recognize when something looks right and when something looks wrong.  If they haven't miraculously learned to spell by the sixth grade, I'll get more serious about it.

They also diagram one sentence a day from Digging Into Diagramming.  Miriam diagrams four sentences a day, but I don't want the younger kids to get in over their heads too quickly.  They have barely started learning about nouns so I don't want them trying to diagram adjectives yet, for example.


Emeline, grade 3 

Math: Emeline has a September birthday so she's technically in grade two, but I bumped her up to grade three one year to suit other purposes, and now she's still there.  It doesn't really matter except she's flying through her math book (the younger grades have much shorter books).  She doing Mathematical Reasoning Level C which is one year higher than I meant for her to be in (it's the second grade level).  After she completes it I will have her switch to the Building Thinking Skills Level One book just to slow her down a little before putting her into the third grade level.  She'll still be farther ahead than any of my other children were at her age.  We might have to take some time off math books to work on Mind Benders or something if I feel she's getting grumpy about math.

Language Arts: See Cowen.


Eli, kindergarten

I don't really do much with my kindergarten kids.  I want him in the Mathematical Reasoning Level A book right now, but money is tight with the baby coming and I haven't been able to get it for him yet.  He works on xtramath.com and loves that.

As for language arts, he does the I See Sam program that I've reviewed before to learn to read.  Love that program!  Then he writes funny sentences that I make up like "Dad sat on the fat cat."

This was probably longer than you wanted and less helpful than I hoped.  If you have any specific questions, shoot them at me and I'll do my best to answer.








September 23, 2014

Children's Extra Reading Evaluation Post: Rats, Bulls, and Flying Machines; Magic Tree House Monday with a Mad Genius and Leonardo da Vinci

First, a review of Rats, Bulls, and Flying Machines: A History of the Renaissance and Reformation (nonfiction) by Deborah Mazzotta Prum.  I linked to amazon in case you want to read more reviews.  Miriam, age 11, is being interviewed by me--her mom.


Did you enjoy this book?:  "Yes, I loved it.  I want more books like it."

What was your favorite part?: "All of it.  I liked reading about Shakespeare and Leonardo."

Anything else you want to say about the book or the author's writing style?: "I learned what a papal bull is.  Papal means having to do with the Pope and bull is a word meaning document issued by the Pope.  The author had lots of good little cartoons.  The author was talking to you like she was a cartoonist, kind of.  She was funny."

Who would enjoy this book?: "I think people that like cartoons that add funny bits to a history book.  I think age 9 to old age would like this book."


Emeline (age 7, grade 3) reviews Monday with a Mad Genius by Mary Pope Osborne (fiction).

Did you enjoy this book?: "Yes, I did.  It was very, very fun. Leonardo da Vinci and the two kids were fun to read about."

What was your favorite part?: "About Leonardo da Vinci's big bird."

Did you learn anything about history from this book?:  "I learned tons!  I learned that Leonardo was a great painter and a great architect."

Who would enjoy this book?:  "Kids that are 8, 7, and 6."



Emeline's review of Leonardo da Vinci: A Nonfiction Companion to Monday with a Mad Genius.

Did you enjoy this book?": "Yes, I did.  It was very, very awesome.  I liked the things it taught me about Leonardo da Vinci.  His most famous painting is the Mona Lisa.  I really liked how he paints and draws.  I really want to go and see the Mona Lisa."

Did you learn anything about history from this book?:  "I learned tons about history."

Who would enjoy this book?: "You would [meaning me, but probably you too!], Dad would, Miriam would, Cowen would, Kiersten would."




September 17, 2014

Cortes, Pizarro, and Exploring Turns Into Conquering

Cowen and Eli were riveted by the books we read on this day.  The girls were still a little meh.  If I had more time I would think of something to get them invested, but I don't have time.

I did one very smart thing for the day we talked about the Aztecs and Incas and that was having a bunch of books on hand with photographs of real relics from the civilizations.  We didn't read all the books, but the kids have been poring over them in their free time.

We did read Francisco Pizarro by Jeff Donaldson-Forbes.  I didn't realize that Pizarro lacked even basic honor and decency.  Sad.


We also read Aztecs and Incas AD 1300-1532 by Penny Bateman.  I couldn't find a picture but it is available at the Davis County Library in Utah.  I thought it had a good overview of both civilizations.

For the children's perusing pleasure, I had the DK Eyewitness book Aztec, Inca, and Maya on hand as well as the World Book reference titled The Aztec.  The children also enjoyed flipping through The Incas by Tim Wood because it has see through, cut-out type pages.  (Funny: Miriam just walked by and saw me holding the Tim Wood book.  She said, "That's a good book."  So there you have a firm endorsement.)

Lastly, after reading books, looking at books, and finding the Incan and Aztec empires in the children's atlas (I tell you, Cowen is obsessed), we watched a movie.  I broke all my personal and family rules and let the children watch it before I had seen it.  Therefore, I cannot say anything about the quality/accuracy/appropriateness of the movie.  The boys said it was awesome, but it had quite a bit a fighting and some artwork with nudes.

Here's the linky to the Cortez movie: http://youtu.be/A8niQ1ZAbwU

September 15, 2014

Columbus and Magellan

We haven't done as many activities with history as I would like.  Part of that is my being preggers and tired, and the other part is that we are still getting in the swing of things.  Hopefully more time will be devoted to history in the future.  Hopefully, I'll figure out how to put myself to bed at a reasonable time so I get up earlier.  That would help too!

Here are a few of our favorite books from our Columbus/Magellan day.

How We Learned the Earth Is Round  by Megan Lloyd is my favorite that we read.  It had a lot of great information, but it was very child-friendly and accessible.  I highly recommend.


1492: Year of Columbus by Genevieve Foster was also pretty good.  We skipped a few pages about the Aztecs and Incas because I knew we were going to study them more in-depth later.

I didn't love any of the Magellan books.  Magellan and Da Gama: To the Far East and Beyond wasn't terrible, but it had too much info for my younger kids.  I skimmed it with them and mostly talked about Magellan.

Cowen is definitely more interested in the explorers than my girls.  He has happily pulled out our children's atlas every time we've read an explorer book--just to make sure he knows exactly where the explorer traveled.  It has been fun to engage with him and answer his questions.  The girls . . . eh.  They aren't as interested.

All my children, however, loved this handy dandy little video about Magellan:





I also thought this one was pretty informative, although not as entertaining:






September 14, 2014

History Review Days

We've been accomplishing a great deal these past few school weeks.  We've ironed out the last of the new work assignments, got into the groove of doing diligent school work every day (except Tuesdays, when I've been bottling).  We've read and laughed and  . . . not laughed.  

Since it had been awhile since we focused our attention on history, I decided to do a bit of review.  We started with a large review timeline.  I wanted something the kids could manipulate.  It took a bit of jogging their memories, but eventually the timeline took shape.  Obviously, since this timeline covered the history of the world since the creation to the end of the Middle Ages, I really limited the events to the highlights. 




We also read some books to review.  One of our favorites was Joan of Arc by Diane Stanley.

We also really liked The Silk Route: 7,000 Miles of History by John S. Major.

We read those books, and a few others, to review what was going on in the world and to set the stage for the major world exploration we studied next.  I wanted the kids to understand how Europe received goods from China and India and how the balance of power and prices changed when Islamic empires shut down the overland trade route.  We read a little bit about Marco Polo and then we did one of my favorite things.  We mapped.










The purpose of the map was to remind the children of basic divisions of power in Europe going into the Age of Exploration when things started changing fast.  We also looked at a map of Asia and Africa, but I couldn't find a good outline map for those areas.  

http://whi.weebly.com/uploads/6/6/6/1/6661760/2103871_orig.jpg

Lastly, we made individual, and slightly more detailed, timelines on calculating machine paper.  I love that stuff for timelines.





There are lots of places online that offer a highly simplified overview of world history.  I used one of those sites as a reference when choosing the events for the timeline.  Mostly I wanted to remind my kids of things we spent time on in the hopes it would all come back to them.  It did--for Miriam at least.

Here's what is included on Miriam's timeline:

Timeline Events:

8000 BC: beginning of farming

3100 BC: Egypt is ruled by pharaohs

3000 BC: Sumerian civilization began; cuneiform writing

2000 BC: First Chinese dynasty

1200 BC: Oldest known civilization in the Americas, Olmecs

800 BC: Greek city-states formed, democracy explored

776 BC: First Olympic games

550 BC: Cyrus forms the Persian dynasty

334 BC: Alexander the Great conquers his empire

27 BC: Roman way of life spreads throughout the Roman Empire—mightiest empire in the ancient world

AD 33: Jesus is crucified

AD 410: Barbarians plunder Rome marks the beginning of the end of the Roman Empire

AD 527: Justinian 1 becomes Byzantine Emperor

AD 622: Muhammad starts religion of Islam

AD 814: Charlemagne unites much of Europe, starts the Holy Roman Empire

AD 900: Viking Age

AD 1066: Battle of Hastings; William the Conqueror defeats the Saxons

AD 1099: First Crusade

AD 1279: Kublai Khan conquers China

AD 1298: Marco Polo publishes his adventures


AD 1347: Black Death arrives in Europe


Here's a video that might also be valuable if you are reviewing.  http://www.historycentral.com/dates/Overviewhistory.html  It is a link to a 15 minute video that discusses all major world events through AD 1500.

And that was the first two days of history of the new school year!

September 1, 2014

Calendar Magic



Today I labored, as is only appropriate on Labor Day, over the school year calendar.  I like to have the year mapped out (a residual effect of being a professional teacher or just Type A behavior?) and now that it is, I haven't stopped patting myself on the back.  The calendar worked out brilliantly.  We're studying the pilgrims (legitimately) the week of Thanksgiving and the Revolutionary War (legitimately) the week of July 4th.  How is that for amazing?

Granted, my yearly plans never go as planned but let me have a few more minutes to gloat over my calendar's awesomeness before I face that reality.

I spent all day poring over my two spines: The Age of Discovery by Timelink and The Elements: Ingredients of the Universe by Ellen McHenry.  I will also be using Ellen McHenry's second chemistry course, Carbon Chemistry, but I don't own it yet.

I broke everything down into pieces and then assigned each piece to a day.  So very, very time consuming, but so very, very worth it for me.

September is devoted to history.  Here is how it breaks down--

3rd: Joan of Arc, any other catching up, start timelines on paper roll

4th: map practice, what the world looked like at the end of the Medieval period, work on timeline

5th: Columbus and Magellan, read books about them, map where they went, discuss expanding world

8th: Cortes and the Aztecs, Pizarro and the Incas, Jacques Cartier in Canada--maps and timeline

10th: Ottoman Turks under Suleiman 1, Babur in India and the start of the Mogul Empire, maps, any documentaries I can find, books if I can find them

11th: Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, Calvinism, Venn diagram for Catholicism and Protestantism, Henry VIII divorces first wife so England breaks with Catholicism

12th: Review of major world religions, Venn diagrams, books

15th: overview of Renaissance, definition of rebirth, ancient Greeks, ancient Romans, humanism--humans can accomplish anything--focus on this life instead of afterlife, Medici (look for documentary), patrons, Gutenberg

16th: Painters that made a difference: Titian, Raphael, Michelangelo, Donatello, etc., try to draw like one of them

17th: Perspective, Erasmus, Machiavelli (maybe)

18th: Guest lesson on perspective, draw

22nd: Durer, Hans Holbein, Leonardo da Vinci, try to make one of Leonardo's inventions

24th: Akbar--Mogul India--map; Toyotomi Hideyoshi--Japan, maps, timelines, Africa beginning of slave trade, French Civil War

25th: guest artist--another perspective lesson

29th: Spain's Golden Age; empire, Cervantes, El Greco, defeated Portugal, Dutch revolt against Spain, map Spain's empire

October 1st: Elizabethan England; England's Golden Age, new worlds, Richard Chancellor

2nd: Shakespeare

3rd: Pirates/Spanish Armada



At that point, we start chemistry.  I assigned one week to each chapter in the chemistry book, so I won't bore you will listing the dates here.

I wrote out the whole year like this.  Granted, I might end up scratching some things (like Machiavelli), depending on what is available at the library and how interested I think my children will be.  We might spend an extra day on pirates if I find enough cool things to justify it.  My schedule is usually pretty fluid, but having it laid out allows me to focus further planning on the nitty gritty of how I'm going to introduce the ideas to my kids.

Having everything outlined also allows to me focus my library searches and limit how many books I have out from the library at one time.  It also allows me to figure out how extra reading assigned to Miriam and Emeline fits in with the overall calendar.

Today was so productive!  I keep thinking I should work on school some more but . . . I think I'll rest on my laurels, read a novel, and eat something Chinese.  Happy labor day!