Posted in learning together

learning together: biomes

While the kids were playing together, I set up an activity for the next lull in their imagination. Pulling out two of our giant whiteboards, I quartered them and placed a biome card (from our Waseca materials) into each of the eight sections: Oceans, Wetlands, Tropical Forests, Temperate Forests, Grasslands, Desert, Mountains, Polar Regions. Pulling out the box of toy animals, I began sorting them into the biomes: zebras in Grasslands, tigers in Tropical forests, dolphins in Oceans.

It wasn’t long before Rondel came out and was instantly engaged, asking if he could help sort the animals. So we sorted together, talking about which biomes would make the most sense for animals which are domesticated, for example, or adapted for a range of habitats. When we had at least a few animals in each biome, I brought out the biome question and answer cards.

There were six questions altogether (asking about temperature, moisture, soil, plants, animals, and humans), and each one had an answer for each biome, so Rondel’s task was to match each answer to the correct biome after I read the card. He only needed help on one or two of the cards, and showed a good conceptual understanding of how the environment differs between biomes, how plants and animals have adapted to different biomes, and how humans have interacted with biomes in different ways (both positive and negative).

I noticed that our animal representation was heavily skewed towards African grasslands and oceans; the Waseca teacher’s guide recommended using animals cutout from magazines, which would increase the diversity, but I didn’t have any that I was willing to cut up. I may just need to buy a big batch of old National Geographics or ZooBooks off of Ebay – old magazines can be really useful craft and learning supplies!

This activity was a good summary of the information we’ve learned about biomes as well as a good overview before diving into more detail on any one area; I think we’ll explore animal adaptations next but I have a lot of ideas.

Posted in learning together

learning together: a "3R's" treasure hunt

Rondel really enjoys looking for treasure (thing-finding in the tradition of Pippi Longstocking, where almost anything can be considered treasure), and as I pondered what to do with our morning (unexpectedly open since Aubade had too bad of a cold to handle the hike we’d planned), I thought he might enjoy following a series of clues to find a treasure at the end.

Because there is always some way to incorporate math, reading, and handwriting into life’s activities (please take that with some humor!), I decided that each clue would be a numerical cipher but that the numbers in the encoded message would have to be determined by calculating a series of math problems. I made short messages like “under the desk” and “lego box”, converted them to series of numbers using a key, and then came up with arithmetic problems at Rondel’s level. He started out with the key and the first clue, which led him to the second clue, then to the third, and all the way to the treasure after six clues in total (probably about 50 math problems all together, which is a lot more than he’d normally do otherwise!). In addition to the math, he got a lot of handwriting practice in from writing down the numerical answer to each problem as well as the corresponding letter value from the cipher, and then even got to do a bit of reading to put all those letters together for each clue.

Above are two examples of keys and clues – the orange set was for Limerick and the red set was for Rondel. Changing the key values to larger numbers would let you create even more difficult math problems without needing to alter the method of encryption. Limerick kept commenting on how the problems corresponding to the letter “A” – where the answer was 1 – were too easy, and a different key value would have eliminated that issue.

Rondel did a whole treasure hunt, despite the difficulty of focusing with two younger siblings running around at high volume and also being very interested in everything he was doing and not giving him any quiet or space! I was really impressed with his determination and motivation, because nothing about this was easy for him but he didn’t give up.

Rondel sitting at the kitchen table with sound-reduction headphones, writing out the answer to one of his clues.
The sound-reduction headphones were a huge help! I could see him relax and focus more easily the instant he put them on.

Limerick wasn’t interested at first, because he isn’t all that into finding treasure, but he like the idea of following a path of math clues so I made a set for him later and he finished his as well! He does not like to write or draw often so pulling him into an activity where he writes this much is a rare and pleasant thing (I think he couldn’t resist the math).

Limerick standing by the kitchen table writing on his clues

One thing I did notice from the activity was that both boys have legibility issues, and I’m going to have to find a way to work with them on pen grip and letter formation that hopefully doesn’t result in daily fights. Rondel’s letters in particular are like people, each with their own personality and opinions, and they dance around the page and swing by their toes and jump on each other’s heads and sometimes sword fight – and they are highly offended by the idea that they should arrange themselves in a neat orderly line! So if you have any ideas or suggestions I would love to hear them.

Posted in family life

independent writing

The boys were trying to be sneaky, scampering through the kitchen when my back was turned, hiding behind the trellised sweet potato vines when I said hi through the kitchen window, running into their bedroom when I peered down the hall.

(They’re not particularly sneaky, but they are very adorable when they’re trying to be.)

At one point Limerick crept silently into the kitchen and proceeded to stare at the water and ice dispenser on the fridge for several minutes, then disappeared again. Shortly thereafter, the boys appeared with the following note:

A piece of printer paper with the message, “PLEEZ MOM CAN U FILL UP MIE WATER”

Rondel needed more water and they wanted to ask in a sneaky way, so they worked together to figure out how to spell the words and Rondel transcribed the message (they had a dispute about whether “water” should be spelled with an “a” or an “o”, thus explaining Limerick’s mysterious visit to the fridge: he’d been checking the spelling (and proving himself right!)). They told me they didn’t know how to spell the word “you” so they just used the letter even though they knew it wasn’t correct 🙂

This is the first time they’ve used writing to communicate, besides a few happy birthday cards, and definitely the first time they’ve written without any external prompting. So I’m most likely inordinately excited about it and am looking forward to more notes of this nature!

Posted in wwlw

what we’re learning wednesday, episode 10

To incorporate some math into our current space-themed enthusiasm, I came up with a new game that we have been calling Space Race. All you need are three dice, a deck of cards, and some sort of token for each player, so it’s pretty easy to set up.

Using all 13 cards from one suit, we have enough cards to represent the sun, all 8 planets, and 4 dwarf planets (Limerick’s favorites). While you could line up the cards from 1-13 in order from the Sun outwards, Limerick prefers to assign each card to the appropriate planet according to its ranking by mass, as follows:

Sun13 (King)
Mercury5
Venus7
Earth8
Mars6
Ceres1
Jupiter12 (Queen)
Saturn11 (Jack)
Uranus9
Neptune10
Pluto4
Haumea3
Makemake2

In the table above note that the dwarf planets are italicized and that Uranus, despite having a larger diameter than Neptune, has less mass and is therefore given a smaller number. If you had cards going up higher than 13 you could incorporate more dwarf planets, but that would also make the game longer.

On a player’s turn, they roll the three dice and attempt to use the three numbers rolled to make the number of the planet to which they wish to launch a probe. Once they show how they can reach a planet’s number using basic arithmetic (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division), they can place a token on that planet’s card to symbolize the successful mission of their spacecraft. If the player is unable to make the number of any planet to which they have not already launched a probe, that turn is considered a “failed launch” and play proceeds to the next person. The goal is to be the first player to send spacecraft to the Sun and all the planets.

We have these awesome cards with non-standard suits, one of which is little rocket ships! And the face cards, while still called J, Q, and K, have the correct number of rocket ships on them which is helpful for this sort of game. We use brain flakes for our tokens since we have a lot of them in multiple colors, but Legos or coins would also work well.

If the game is too easy or goes by too fast with open-ended launch destinations, a more challenging variation is to select a specific order in which the planets need to be reached – smallest to largest or center of the Solar System outward, for example. Limerick prefers this variation; it forces him to be more creative with his use of the numbers while also removing the need to decide which planet to choose when there are multiple options. Rondel prefers the original more flexible version, however, since it allows him to launch to the first planet he is able to find a solution for and lets him play with the math skills he is more comfortable using. I would encourage the more flexible version if you have players who are primarily relying on addition and subtraction, and the ordered variant for players who are comfortable with simple multiplication and division as well. Either way, it’s fun and it’s good math practice – always a winning combination 🙂

Posted in family life

lift off!

Our biomes curriculum started off by introducing our planet’s location in the Solar System – it’s kind of important, after all, since the sun plays such a crucial role in shaping climate, determining the seasons, and maintaining life. It’s intended to be just a brief overview, before diving down more deeply into Earth itself, but both Rondel and Limerick have become completely, utterly captivated by outer space.

Limerick in particular has attacked it with his rather academic and obsessive bent, spending hours poring through images of the sun and the planets (always in order, from Mercury outward, including the dwarf planets), asking me to read and reread the books we have in the house, getting out the play dough day after day to model the solar system and using the kitchen scale to make his planets as close to an accurate scale as he can. (Since it’s finicky in its old age and won’t switch from standard to metric units, he’s gotten some practice working with pounds and ounces as well. It is rather irritating when something needs to be 1000 times larger than something else and you have to divide by 16 to get the correct number of pounds.)

 

(I may be to blame for his obsession with accurate scaling… for our first solar system activity, we made a scaled model of the solar system with play dough, based on NASA’s mass estimations for each planet, and measured out the appropriate distances between the planets so we could set them up down the hallway. Jupiter was so much larger that we ended up making a new double batch of play dough, using it all for Jupiter, and scaling everything else in relation to that.)

From top left, clockwise: all eight planets before placing them relative to the “sun” (the bookshelf); the whiteboard with calculations (and on the bottom a comparison of Jupiter’s mass in kg to various family members in kg); Jupiter looking out toward the other gas giants; Neptune looking in toward the “sun”; Jupiter looking in toward the inner planets.

Over the weekend, both boys decided to make paper models of the solar system as well, not to scale, but showing all the planets and the sun. They even wrote labels for each planet, which is the most handwriting they’ve ever done at one time! (Rondel’s picture is on the left and Limerick’s is on the right – Rondel included Ceres, a dwarf planet in the asteroid belt, and Limerick gave his sun quite a few solar flares.)

They’ve also been asking to read from our (admittedly small but at least quality) space book collection at bedtime and throughout the day. We’ve been cycling through Our Solar System by Seymour Simon (published in 1992, and lacking a lot of newer information), The Magic School Bus: Lost in the Solar System (published in 1990, so the same problem), and Astronomica by Fred Watson (published in 2011, absolutely massive, with amazing images and detailed information which I have to skim through to read at a level the boys can understand).

I’m planning on finding some supplementary books from the library about different space missions and picture book biographies of people involved in space exploration, so we can incorporate some history into our space study as well. We’ve already made a timeline with the lives of family members and individuals from books we’ve read, so it would be natural to include important dates in space exploration. Since ASU has a large space exploration exhibit and 3D show open to the public, I’ll probably try to incorporate that as well. And while Limerick has already used math with all the scaling he’s done, I’d like to find a way to show the boys how much math was used in designing spacecraft, planning missions, and charting the orbits of planets – Rondel enjoys math far more when it involves a topic he’s interested in. It might not have been my original plan for the beginning of the school year, but what’s the point in homeschooling, after all, if you can’t be flexible and use your children’s interests to motivate their learning?

Posted in sqt

{sqt} – july quick takes: getting ready for school

  1. School starts early here in the valley, and while we’re not tied to any specific school schedule, I’m feeling ready to settle into more routine and structure than we’ve had in our (very fun and very busy) summer so far. Actually, for the first time in my life I’m creating tentative weekly and monthly schedules and will be trying to keep track of things in my own custom planner! I have never been able to maintain a planner for more than a week, so we’ll see how this goes.
  2. The most exciting part of preparing for school has been making a list of all the books I want to buy 🙂 My husband will probably arch his eyebrows at me and comment about our lack of shelf space, but I currently have forty-five books on my list and I’m sure I’ll come up with more!
  3. I’m also thinking of purchasing a science curriculum – I found one that is about climate and biomes from a Montessori background, and while I definitely can’t buy all the physical props to go with it, the curriculum itself still looks like a solid introduction to those topics (very beautifully and thoughtfully laid out). Rondel moved up to a full-day scholarship amount through our state’s ESA program, so we have funds to cover more than speech therapy this year and I may be a bit over-excited about it…
  4. Rondel turned six this month! I haven’t uploaded any of the pictures from my camera yet, but he had a great party with both sides of the family present. He has so much energy now, and so much creativity, and such a love of nature. He’s also starting to decode words and is willing to spend more time practicing writing, so I think we have a pretty solid foundation going into the school year.IMG_3056
  5. One of my other major areas of focus this year is going to be on the saints. Probably more than half of my picture book list is about the lives of various saints, working out to about 1-2 every month (I have several from the library as well – I work at the university, so I can get year-long loans on most of the children’ books, for school purposes). Each saint portrays a slightly different way of loving and following God, and inspires us to love and follow Him in our own way. The community of saints is such a powerful and beautiful reality – and the stories of the saints help us see how the truths of the faith that we hear at church and read in the Bible can be lived out in different cultural and personal circumstances.
  6. Music and art is another thing I want to be more intentional about this upcoming year. Rondel especially loves to make crafts, but he needs a lot of help and things can get messy and I know the creativity won’t be able to shine as much as it could unless I schedule it in and make myself deal with the mess 🙂 And since we do have some auditory sensitivities in the family, I may gently ease into music by making some simple instruments during our craft times, and then using them while singing together. Actually, if you have a list of high quality folk/traditional children’s music I would absolutely love it…
  7. Most importantly, our schedule is full of wide open times to play, explore, and go on adventures and trips. Routine provides stability, but flexibility and (some, minor) spontaneity provides a spark of excitement and energy.

How are you preparing for the new school year? Anything especially exciting or new? Also, don’t forget to visit This Ain’t the Lyceum for the quick takes linkup today!

Posted in wwlw

{wwlw episode 10} – CVC words

All credit for this game goes to Ruth Beechick! Her books are full of good ideas and perspective on education.

The boys had been walking around talking about different letter sounds and trying to find objects that started with each letter of the alphabet in order, so I thought that it would be a good time to introduce more phonics games. CVC words are the easiest place to start, so we started there.

I cut two pieces of card stock into sixteenths. On each of the sixteen blue rectangles I wrote a consonant; on five of the orange rectangles I wrote a vowel (some consonants don’t show up that often in three-letter words, so it wasn’t hard to find a few to leave out). We spread them out, face down, on the table, and took turns drawing three cards.

The first time we played, we earned a chocolate chip just for sounding out the potential words. The second time, though, we only earned the chocolate chip if our three letters spelled a real word. So our beginning level helped to build confidence in the rules of sounding out words, while the harder level forced the boys to think of the collection of letters as a word instead of just a series of sounds.

Chocolate chips are an exceptional reward in our family 🙂 By the end of our second game, the boys were almost literally rolling on the floor in laughter at some of the words (real and otherwise) that our randomly-drawn letters spelled – and in the meantime, their speed at decoding those words had increased significantly.

I think next time we play I’ll make an extra “e” card with the chance to earn an extra chocolate chip for successfully sounding out a real word made with the three random letters and an “e” at the end – it’ll be a good way to practice the short-to-long vowel change!