Activities for the Book “Very Last First Time”

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What was your Very Last First Time? We all experience important “lasts.” Our last first day of school, our last first time going to the dentist, and more. In the book, the main character experiences her very last first time doing something alone-- going and collecting mussels off of the sea bed. Whether you are rowing the book or just enjoying reading it with your kids, here are some extension activities for the book Very Last First Time. | Five in a Row | FIAR | Homeschooling | Unit Study | Hands-On Learning | Play to Learn | Kindergarten | Arctic Homeschooling Activities | Tundry Homeschooling Activities | Books to Go Along With Very Last First Time |

We all have Very Last First Times in our lives. A very last first day of school, a very last first time doing the monkey bars all by yourself, a very last first thing that you’re doing all on your own. For the main character in Very Last First Time, it is the very last first time she’ll ever walk on the seabed by herself. After that very last first time, she will have already done it before. It won’t be a first time anymore.

The book Very Last First Time is so packed with things you can explore and learn: amazing information about Inuit culture, how mussels are gathered, and what an arctic tundra is like. It’s also packed with information about family relationships. It discusses how to handle fear and important situations. Of course, it is also about growing up and tackling new milestones. Maybe you’re enjoying the book with your child for fun. Or, perhaps you’re rowing it as a part of your Five in a Row curriculum. You might even be tackling the book as part of a unit study. Regardless, there are plenty of fun Very Last First Time activities to do with this book!

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7 Things My Son Has Learned from Playing Minecraft Every Day

If Steve and Alex are household names, if your child hears a hiss and thinks "creeper," or if you see everything in block form... you might have a Minecraft player in your house! Don't Panic-- Minecraft teaches some really amazing skills to kids (and adults) of all ages! Here are some things my child has learned from playing Minecraft-- it's incredibly educational, but it also promotes good social skills, too! Here's how.

Minecraft. It’s one of those ubiquitous games that it seems most kids are playing at one point or another. I’m not too worried about the Minecraft fascination, though. The thing is, there’s a lot of educational value in Minecraft. Many schools are even adding it to their curriculum! At first, I really didn’t get the appeal… so it’s a game. With blocks. And… everything is super boxy. And there’s no real end goal* (I’m from the Mario generation… you play the game, you save the princess, game over) which just blew my mind. When we got it, I didn’t think much of the game, obviously. But there are 7 important things my son has learned from playing Minecraft every day.

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Homeschooling Toddlers with Possibility and Practicality

I get questions sometimes about who my homeschool student is. Obviously, my role in teaching Jeffrey is just an occasional support role, helping with a project here and there. But truly, I do homeschool Zach. In the homeschool world, teaching toddlers from a very early age isn’t unusual, but it’s sometimes accidental; as older kids are learning the tot joins in with lessons. However, there are great ways, and great reasons, to be intentional about toddler schooling.

When I say to be intentional, I clearly don’t mean sitting your toddler at a desk from 8 to 3 and giving them lessons and worksheets for hours on end. That’s not how it works. Consider toddler schooling to be a bit like normal toddlerhood, with some educational opportunities thrown in.

You see, toddlers are going to learn whether or not you do any formal homeschooling with them. However, skills can come easier if you’ve trained them from a young age. Think about the recommendations on language learning, and how starting early, even from birth, is a good way to get kids to be fluent in multiple languages. As you get older, it gets harder to learn some skills. Not impossible, but certainly harder.

Those little things like fine motor skills, gross motor skills, language development, and social/emotional skills can all be fostered in a home environment, and that’s where homeschooling your toddler comes in.

Toddler school schedules are very loose, and tend to follow the interest level of your toddler. If you’re introducing something and they’re frustrated, it could give them a distaste for it altogether, so the best times to get them into an activity is when they’re in a good mood and open to the experience. Only you can tell when your child is in the mood and when they’re not.

Our day ideally starts out with reading our Bible lesson over breakfast. Now, I say ideally because this isn’t what happens every morning. But when it does, we enjoy breakfast with a short Bible lesson. We personally love this Little Boy’s Bible Storybook for Mothers and Sons, because it spells things out in simple language, while teaching the core stories and giving us things to reflect on and opportunities to pray and talk together. Of course, you can choose a Bible storybook that works best for you, but keep it simple. At that age, children love being read to, so even if they aren’t grasping some of the core Biblical principals, even just being read to is so important for language development and jumpstarting their interest in reading. Even if you don’t read a Bible lesson with your child, starting the morning with a book together during breakfast is great, but even just sitting down with your toddler and talking to them while you both eat is a great way to start the day off right!

After breakfast, we love to do our calendar. Zach looks forward to it every morning, and he sometimes wants to update the calendar’s weather 3 or 4 times in a day, even if it hasn’t changed. We have a great magnetic calendar. Magnetic calendars are great because at a very minimum, they test fine motor skills by getting the calendar set up each day. Additionally, kids learn about sequencing (if yesterday was the 1st, today is the 2nd) at an earlier age, and can help them understand earlier the days of the week. Obviously, when I toddler school, there’s zero pressure for getting him to understand concepts before he’s ready. However, it is an open discussion with him. “Look, Zach! Today is Thursday! On Thursdays, we meet Sarah for coffee, then go to Walmart, so let’s go get dressed!” It helps give him an idea of the sense of routine and helps me give him an idea of our day early on.

Breakfast and the calendar are plenty “school” to start the day, which means Zach is able to have playtime in his playspace. I set up his play space to allow him the most creative and imaginative play possible, inviting him to learn without realizing he’s learning. Some of the features his space includes is a “Construction Zone” complete with a small work bench and play tools that let him imagine he’s hard at work on a construction site, a music space complete with a drum set and guitar, and a climbing space that helps him focus on his gross motor skills with a safe place to climb and play indoors. However, no matter what your space and budget are, you can make sure your child has access to learning supplies. Don’t underestimate what a magnet board or cookie sheet with letter magnets can do, or a set of small hand-held instruments like a tambourine or some bongos. Giving kids access to play that stimulates learning is a great way to help them practice those skills, from fine motor to language development, and it makes it so kids don’t even know they’re learning! I try to give him a mixture of independent playtime and play with me.

I’ve learned to accept the fact that kids need technology; it’s just a fact of life, no matter how much we limit screen time, eventually we have to accept that computers will be a part of life as our kids grow older. We already live in an age of technology. So, before his naptime, to help him wind down, I like to give Zach 20-30 minutes of Kindle time, allowing him a slew of educational apps. Many of these apps have given him his basic counting skills, introduced him to his letters and numbers by sight, and helped him learn more reasoning skills. While obviously, I could have taught him these things, these apps make it fun, and he feels like he’s getting more playtime. Screen time isn’t your enemy; it’s too much screen time that can become dangerous.

After nap, Zach has had plenty of time to unwind and relax, so I like to have him do some worksheets. We like Kumon workbooks that teach him basic cutting and pasting skills, so I start him out with one page from either their Let’s Fold, Let’s Sticker and Paste, or Let’s Cut workbooks, then do an activity from our My Father’s World Toddler or Preschool set using some of the Lauri Toys included, before finishing with one more worksheet. This allows him about 15 minutes of worktime, but helps us not have too much time focused on any one activity. The key with toddlers is to finish before they get frustrated. When you teach, you should always leave them wanting more– which means stopping an activity while it’s still fun and engaging, and not trying to carry it on for too long. As you go through the year, you may find a growing attention span. What might have been only 2 or 3 minutes of interest in a task could turn into 5 to 7 minutes by the end of the year, so you’ll want to adjust time spent doing things.

Zach gets some more playtime, independently, and then as he winds that down, we may do a guided listening activity. One of our favorite ways to practice listening skills is with our Melissa and Doug Wooden Pizza Party Set or our Felt Sandwich set. I’ll make a request: “I want a sandwich that has bacon and peanut butter on it!” and Zach will build a sandwich with those two ingredients. As children develop more skills, you can try to request sandwiches in a particular order, or request some items NOT be on your sandwich. In fact, as kids gain writing skills, they can take your order on a notepad before making the sandwich. It’s something that will grow with kids and let them gain skills over time.

Finally, Zach and I will finish up our lessons with a dance party in the afternoon.  We love to just turn on some music and have fun dancing and singing together. We switch it up– Christian music one day, World music the next, maybe some folk songs another day. I have a selection of CDs in our curriculum that make great choices for exposing him to many kinds of music.

The basic thing is, yes, it’s a great idea to homeschool your toddler, particularly if you have a toddler who needs stimulation to stay entertained. Structure is a good way to get kids into a basic routine and help them expand their attention span. However, homeschooling your toddler or teaching your toddler doesn’t mean a rigid schedule. Play around with it, and keep things flexible. If you see your toddler is stressed out one day in particular, it helps to just take an afternoon off and cuddle. There’s no need to be forceful, and, with toddler schooling or pre-preschooling, there’s no reason that it has to take up more than 30 minutes a day– 15 in the morning, 15 in the afternoon, not including playtime. As kids get older and go through homeschooling, they’ll go longer during the day (for example, My Father’s World’s Kindergarten curriculum is designed to be 60 to 90 minutes of instructional time each day). At this age, 30 minutes per day is a great start, and a great way to get kids engaged.

5 Ways To Experience Spring With Your Kids

Spring is an amazing season filled with all kinds of great sensory experiences for kids. There are new smells, new sights, new life, new tastes… all kinds of amazing things. To help you get a jump start on sharing this awesome season with your kids, here are five ideas on how to experience spring together as a family!

Play piggy! When I was a little girl, one of my favorite things to do was dress up in old clothes, have my mom water down a dirt patch in our yard, and let me just roll in the muck. It’s a great sensory opportunity to squish the mud, feel it between toes and fingers, and enjoy the texture. With the right consistency of mud, you can even practice writing letters with your fingers in the mud or spelling words. Otherwise, even the mucky texture is a learning experience all by itself! Pretend to make mud pies, listen to the slurpy sucky sound mud makes when your feet stick in it, and experience the smell of fresh mud. Have some towels on hand, and make sure to schedule bathtime afterwards for easy cleanup!

Plant together, or tend a garden. Zach loved cultivating blueberries with me, and then enjoying the fruits of our labor– literally! Whether you’re planting flowers or food, gardening together is a good sensory activity, plus it allows children a chance to experience growth, cause and effect, and weather, and understand how things are grown. You can discuss color, shape, petal count, and more as you watch your plants grow and change. If you live somewhere where you can’t plant a garden, consider doing a small container garden or an indoor herb garden to get that experience, or…

explore plants in a different setting! You can go on a nature walk locally or visit a local garden center to talk about the colors, petal count, and more of different flowers. You can experience different smells and different sights when you see hundreds of flowers together, and get an appreciation for the plants! You can still point out parts of the flower plant, even if you can’t bring them home.

Get in the kitchen and make a delicious springtime treat! Whether you’re making a seasonal fruit salad with the newest seasonal fruits available, or being inspired by the colors of spring with a sprinkle-topped goodie. There are a lot of good spring recipes right here on DigitalEraMom.com, but any recipe that gets you cooking together this spring is great. From chopping with supervision, to measuring, to pouring and scooping, it’s all educational, and best of all, fun. Some possible ideas are chopping fresh spring vegetables for a delicious homemade pizza, making mini fruit pizzas on sugar cookies, or making a delicious chopped salad. This is especially great to save for a rainy day when you can’t do the other activities on the list!

Don’t underestimate favorites like sidewalk chalk and bubbles! They’re favorites for a reason. Whether you’re drawing a hopscotch board to practice numbers, creating a fun scene, or just practicing fine or gross motor skills while jumping from circle to circle or scribbling a picture, chalk teaches so many valuable lessons. Blowing bubbles is another fun activity, and chasing them is a great way to get some extra energy out. Include some other fun like hoola hoops or cones and you can even have a fun relay race!

Splash during a rainstorm. No lightning associated with the falling rain? Then it’s totally safe to go outside and play or dance in the warm spring rains! Talk about how the rain feels wet on your skin, how it falls from the sky, and about gentle rain sprinkles versus a heavier soaking rain. Make sure you have towels on hand just inside the door, then warm up with a little hot cocoa. Of course, if there is even a hint of lightning, stay indoors! Don’t want to splash DURING the rain? Find some fun puddles post-storm and go splashing in those! Other options are investing in a kiddie pool or water table to splash in on a warm day!

 

What activities do you love celebrating spring with? Share your favorites in the comments below!

Climate and Planting: Charting Bean Seeds

It’s amazing how much a simple change can make a huge difference in the end result. It’s especially true when it comes to climate and how things grow in different conditions (and why a shift in the weather for a given month can drastically change how plants grow).

Have you ever been to the store and found a shortage or a price increase on favorite produce, or even any other product? Well, part of it may not be stinginess on the part of the store, or increasing costs for the farmer. It actually may be directly related to how much product was able to be grown due to rainfall, temperature, and other climate conditions. Things like this winter’s Polar Vortex, or the fact that we’ve had record cold temperatures for the month of March so far here in Kansas, can impact seasonal planting, which in turn may limit the amount of crops produced. When there’s a shortage, prices skyrocket!

You can teach your kids about this concept with this easy experiment that costs less than $1.50 to complete. I’m even including a free chart printable, so stick around for the free download!

Aside from the chart printable, you’ll need some bean seeds, three damp paper towels, three small Ziploc bags, and some tape.

Start by putting a damp paper towel in each of the three bags, and then layer 4 bean seeds on top of the paper towel. The reason you want more than one seed is that, in case one is simply not going to sprout, you have some extras. Not all of them will grow the same in the same conditions due to variances in the beans, so you’ll want more in order to see the general trend, even if you have a “dud bean.”

Seal the bags, and you’ll get a mini greenhouse, basically!

From there, you’ll put your bean seeds in three different places:

-A dark, cold space– we chose a mini fridge that doesn’t have a light, so even if it were opened, in the back of the fridge, very little light would reach the bean during the experiment.
-A dark, warm space– we chose the underbed storage in Jeffrey’s bedroom, which is located somewhat near the heat register, allowing it to be completely closed off from light, but easily accessible when it comes to warm air flow.
-A light, warm space– we chose to tape ours inside a window that gets a lot of light. While the window is above a heat register, we did do this experiment in the winter, and since the other warmer parts of the room don’t get quite enough light, our seed may have had a different-than-usual result due to being cold on one side. We’ll talk about that later.

Take a few minutes to write a hypothesis about what seeds will experience the most growth, and which will experience the least growth. Consider where we typically plant  seeds. Do we plant them where they’ll get sunlight, or where they’ll stay in the dark? Do we plant them when they’ll have warmth, or when they’ll be cold?

Leave the beans undisturbed, aside from your daily charting. Each day, you’ll want to go in and take a note of the beans’ growth, if any, and consider how the growth you’re seeing might line up with the hypothesis you made at the beginning of the experiment. Also be sure to take some pictures of the growth!

For older students, checking the beans every day is a great way to make sure you’re getting the most accurate information regarding the seed growth. However, since growth can be slow during the duration of the experiment, for younger students, it’s okay to check every few days.

Let this go for 2 weeks (allowing you 10 school days to check on the experiment), and on the 10th school day, gather the bags (making sure you keep track of which is which!)

We noticed that, after our experiment, the cold, dark seed experienced absolutely no growth. Not even a little! The cold, dark climate of the refrigerator just wasn’t enough to sustain life for the bean, so it had no result.

Our dark, warm seed experienced the most growth! However, if you look at the color, it doesn’t look very green, like a green bean, does it? It’s got a sickly white color to it.

Finally, the warm, bright plant was checked, and even though it didn’t grow as long as the plant in the dark, it did experience a beautiful green color, showing that it was able to get nutrients from sunlight to become a healthy plant.

One thing to note is that, had our warm, bright plant been kept in a warmer spot farther away from the cold window (or if we had done the experiment when it was warmer outside), the warm, bright plant may have grown longer than the plant kept in a dark, warm room. However, the cold of the window likely stunted the growth slightly.

You’ll also want to be sure you’re measuring your plant using centimeters, not inches. For one, the scientific community uses metric measure as a standard unit for length. Also, can you imagine having your child wait for their plant to reach an inch? Centimeters will be able to be charted earlier, keeping kids interested in the experiment and excited to check their plant to see growth that seems more rapid than growth measured in a longer unit like inches.

Finish the experiment by drawing a conclusion. Why do you think the dark, cold plant didn’t experience growth? Why did the other plants experience so much more? What is the color difference like between the two warm plants, and what do you think this means for the two plants? Was the experiment result close to what you hypothesized when you started the experiment?

To make charting your daily growth easier, I designed this fun chart!

You can download the full-sized 8.5×11 version here. Be sure to encourage your child or student to label the X-Axis and Y-Axis properly. For those unfamiliar, the X-Axis runs horizontally, and for the purpose of this experiment, represents the days of the experiment, with a box for each school day during the experiment. The Y-Axis runs vertically, and in this case, represents length in centimeters.

Enjoy charting, and please come back and share your results here if you try the experiment! I’d love to hear about your experience and results!

My Heart for Homeschooling: Part 2

I’ve previously talked about my heart for homeschooling in part 1 of this post. I feel like there are so many reasons that it is important for me to homeschool my son, and why a lot of other people homeschool, and it’s why I’ve felt compelled to share my reasoning here. After all, if I have a voice, I may as well work to be heard, especially when there are a lot of misconceptions out there about homeschooling.

Homeschool students have a great opportunity for building social skills. One huge misconception is that homeschooled kids don’t have social skills. Sure, there are plenty of examples out there of homeschooled students who have zero skills. But there are far greater numbers of students who have amazing social skills built in homeschooling. My brother, for example, is in competition soccer and takes improv theatre lessons. He’s built a friend group and has social skills, allowing him to be very social and have those great communication skills that are essential. There are many options for homeschooled students to get involved, whether it’s a local group of homeschoolers or an extracurricular activity to join in. Homeschooling isn’t like it used to be; with a growing number of people homeschooling their children, there is a greater number of homeschooled students to connect with, allowing huge networks of students to build, grow, and enjoy each other’s time.

Homeschool students have a lot of extracurricular options. As I mentioned above, my brother, a homeschool student, is able to take improv theatre, play competition soccer, play Minecraft on a server that is specifically for local homeschooled students, and more. Students can take art classes, music classes (both solo and in group settings, similar to a band class), drama, participate in community theatre, play sports both competitively and non-competitively, and more. There are so many options for homeschooled students to learn skills and participate with each other.

Some studies have shown that homeschooled students have better self-esteem. Not only are many homeschoolers removed from the trauma and pressure of bullying (after all, closer-knit class groups for extracurriculars and their school day being spent largely around family versus around peers allows for more close monitoring to stop bullying in it’s tracks, as well as less opportunities to allow it to begin in the first place), but they’re also spending their days in an environment that tends to foster a feeling of safety. When kids feel safe at home, and safe with their parents, they’re able to build that self-esteem in a safe environment. Not to say there aren’t horror stories out there– there are in every situation–but the majority of students who are homeschooled are able to build higher self-esteem. Not only is bullying cut, and a safe environment available, but homeschoolers also tend to learn at their own pace (and challenge themselves). By having a better grasp on their skills and by being able to get personal attention when they’re struggling, rather than being put in a remedial class or being held behind, they’re able to acquire skills without feeling like they’re a failure or having the emotional strain of not being “good enough.” Unfortunately, students who aren’t grasping material well are pushed farther behind their peers, and students who are grasping material too quickly are often slowed down, resulting in a cycle of falling farther and farther behind, culminating in peers, and sometimes even teachers, shaming them. In homeschooling, this isn’t the case. All-around, it’s easy to see why students who are homeschooled tend to have better self-esteem in a loving environment.

Homeschooling is widely accepted. Over 4% of children in America are homeschooled, and it’s growing in numbers every year. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but if you took all of the students in the 10 smaller states in America, you’d get the SAME number of students as are homeschooled currently. It’s a pretty big number, actually. Some universities have specific policies in place for accepting homeschooled students, even if those students didn’t earn an accredited high school degree (since homeschools are essentially unaccredited schools in many states). I went to college with many homeschooled students, and all of them were at or above my level as a student entering from public school.

Students have less access to drugs and alcohol in homeschool, and are less likely to over-indulge later. Studies have shown that students who consume alcohol before the age of 21 and are around it in a peer setting (a party, in a limo on the way to prom, at a friend’s home, even their own home) are more likely to abuse the substance later. Because families that homeschool tend to spend more time together, there’s less opportunity for a student to indulge, say, after school at a friend’s house. Homeschool families don’t really have latch-key kids, so the kids spend fewer hours home alone, with fewer opportunities to get into the wine cabinet. Don’t think private school kids are immune to this trouble, either… it actually turns out that statistically, because families who send their kids to private school tend to have access to more funds, kids are actually MORE likely to use and/or abuse substances than they would in public school… and, other studies have shown that if they are caught, they’re less likely to face serious consequences. By homeschooling, you can remove your child from an equation like that entirely, or at least severely reduce their chance of dealing with it. You can do so even more if you’re a home like mine, where alcohol isn’t even around.

There’s less violence in a homeschool situation. There’s been a lot of talk about bullying, cyberbullying, school shootings, fights, and suicide. While again, there are horror stories out there, homeschool environments are largely safer. There is a lot less risk of cyberbullying when kids are homeschooled, and parents who are involved with their children’s studies (whether they’re homeschooled or public schooled) are more likely to pick up on bullying and help stop violence in it’s tracks. Homeschooling, by nature, requires the involvement of parents, and it’s proven that kids who are homeschooled are less likely to be involved in (as a victim or a perpetrator) violence, whether emotional or physical.

 

I’ve got a lot more reasons for wanting to homeschool, and again, this is just a glimpse. Check out part one, and keep an eye out for part 3, coming soon.

My Heart for Homeschooling: Part 1

I’ve shared on here about homeschooling a few times, and talked about why it’s been important to me. But I will say, it’s one of those topics that I get a lot of questions about. People ask me “Isn’t it time consuming?” Yeah, it is. “Don’t you ever want a break from your kid?” I know I might be weird, but no, I really don’t. There are those times where I’m really craving a hot shower without hearing “Mommy!!!” but for the most part, I love being with my kiddo all the time. “Aren’t you afraid he won’t be a social kid?” Yeah, to some degree. But there are ways around that.

So now, I’ve decided to put all of it on the table and spell out why homeschooling is important to me. If you’re considering homeschooling, this may help make things clearer for you. If you’re not considering it, but you’re curious about it, this will answer some questions, I’m sure. If you’re not into homeschooling, then this might be eye-opening and show you a little bit of my reasoning for doing it.

But first, what is homeschooling? Basically, it is teaching children in your own home. Long before there were schools in buildings kids would go to, there were home schools, where parents taught their children essential skills like money management, clothing repair, cooking, and trades, as well as tasks like how to read (typically to read the Bible or other religious texts).

Schools have a habit of dumbing things down for kids.

Yes, this may be my opinion, but I have to share that kids who are homeschooled tend to be grade levels ahead of children who are public or private schooled, and have higher logic and reasoning skills. Additionally, schools tend to teach towards the test. Do some homeschools teach towards the tests? Absolutely. But I think you’ll find, through digging, that homeschool largely teaches towards practicality. I was public schooled, and so was my brother (much more recently). I cannot tell you the number of hours spent solely preparing to get good scores on standardized tests, to the point that kids learn materials that are beyond their comprehension level, recite them on the test (basic parroting) and then forget them just as quickly as they learned them, only to repeat the cycle again and again. How many times did I start the school year in American History at the beginning of time, only to wind up in the industrial revolution every time? With homeschooling, since it is more individualized, it’s very easy to study and then pick up where you left off, meaning you move from ancient history to modern day and study history in a chronological order, rather than studying parts of history being tested on and moving on.

Schools tend to pigeonhole kids and go with the idea that all kids go through post-secondary education.

Not every student is going to go on to college, be a doctor, or use advanced calculus. Some students are learning those skills that they aren’t likely to use, to the point that they’re not taught skills they need. How many times have you been in line at the checkout somewhere and handed someone cash for your purchase, only to discover that, without a machine telling them, they can’t count change back to you, or even know how much change you’re owed? I’m not saying it’s that way in every case, but you can’t deny it’s probably happened to you. Further, how many of those teens do you think have taken algebra, geometry, trig, but have no idea how to budget or count money? I’d reckon that most of them fall into that category. They’re being prepared for an education they may or may not move on to, but not being taught how to manage their lives.

My boyfriend and I were chatting not too long ago about budget, and about how it was important to him to find out all of the costs, including utilities, and the costs of what furniture he needed, before settling on what apartment to live in. He wanted to make sure that, between rent, bills, and other life expenses (like groceries) that he was choosing an apartment that was affordable, considering his income. He wanted to be sure that he wasn’t choosing an unreasonable apartment, or that he wasn’t skimping where he could afford something more comfortable, so he compared prices.

At the store, it’s something I do regularly… sometimes, with coupons, a name brand is cheaper than an off-brand. Sometimes a big package looks like a great deal, until you end up pricing it out per unit, and find out it’s actually not a better deal at all!

Unfortunately, because school goes with a college-focus, some kids get lost in the cracks. By pushing kids into advanced math and science, some kids are falling behind, despite the fact that they’ll not be using that math in the future. Am I calling for schools to do away with advanced math and science? Absolutely not. It is GREAT… for the kids who will use that in future professions. For others, it’s taking focus away from other things they could be studying that will benefit their future.

There is a local high school here, and yes, a public school (I’ve never said public school is bad, just simply stated that homeschooling is right for my family), that allows students to select a “track.” For example, if you pick the track that you’d like to learn to work in a restaurant, you’ll take classes that relate directly to that and learn everything from front-end (waiting tables, etc) to budgeting and inventory, all the way to the back of the restaurant. Students go on to work in careers in food service, and often become management at these places based on their time at this high school, teaching them hands-on skills that they need for a trade that interests them. Unfortunately, that school is the exception, not the norm.

Because of one-on-one (or one-on-handful, depending on your family size), as opposed to one-on-twenty learning, kids can pick up skills faster. By no fault of their own, teachers are at a disadvantage. Teachers have to teach large amounts of children- sometimes in excess of 20 in a classroom, and when they do, it means that they’re having their attention drawn a minimum of 20 different ways. Teachers not only have to deal with an abundance of learners at different levels, but also with outside forces. When my brother was in school, in a very safe, small-town neighborhood, one student in his classroom was arrested, multiple times, IN class, as early as first grade. When that happens, the entire class stops. And even after the student is removed, the chatter continues. Do you really think significant learning is happening during this time? During homeschooling, you’re streamlining the number of students.  You have only your children, which allows for less distractions. Unless your family is up to something I can’t fathom, I highly doubt any of your students would be arrested during class in their homeschool setting. I think it’s important to also consider that by having a smaller class size, it’s easier to tailor studies to your students. Have a student who is racing ahead in reading? Great! Encourage that with more challenging books and further opportunities to read. Perhaps they’re a bit behind in math? No problem. You have the time and ability to work with them as needed to help boost their math knowledge, or you can go over the problem set as long as they have questions.

In most public school settings, a teacher has a limited amount of time to get a lot of information in. That means they can answer a handful of questions about a task, and then they must move on to the next task. It doesn’t allow children to ask questions until they understand, but rather, allows them to ask just until time is up before being forced to move on.

With a homeschooling setting, you’re able to take the pace that you need to. Even if you have multiple children, you likely have fewer students to divide between than most teachers, and are able to tailor some time to making sure your child firmly grasps an entire concept before moving on.

Food allergies are a big concern for many families. While it isn’t a primary reason that we’ve chosen to homeschool, I know many families who homeschool, at least in part, due to special food needs by their family members. Enter a public school cafeteria and look at some of the choices available. If you have an intolerance to gluten, a peanut allergy, and a handful of other allergies, you’re going to have a very bad time. One perk of homeschooling (but certainly not a primary reason for my family personally) is that anything I’m interested in feeding my son, I can. It means that I can create a well-balanced menu catered to his particular tastes and dietary needs. I can imagine that families who have very specific needs when it comes to diet find this even more appealing.

Homeschoolers have a tendency to finish school early. Once finished with high school, students often have the option of going to many schools around the nation, or even getting an online college degree. In some cases, homeschool students can earn a two- or four-year degree before their public or private schooled counterparts, allowing them a chance to get ahead in a job market and earn experience in the “real world” while their peers are still in college. While obviously this won’t happen in all cases, I’ve seen many examples of this happening personally, including friends I interacted with in college. Mind you, in public school, I was able to graduate a full year early, which meant that I was one of the youngest people in my university. However, I clearly wasn’t the youngest; everyone younger than me was homeschooled. It just opens a lot of doors that might not otherwise get opened.

You’re able to set your own goals for homeschooling. Homeschooling can be tailored to your child’s interests. My brother is a very hands-on learner, so rather than reading about electricity, he’s able to experience it firsthand by assembling his own circuits. To learn fractions, he can use cooking or other hands-on examples. His goals, along with my mother’s goals for him, allow him to achieve great results. I can set specific goals for my son, like mastery of alphabet and numbers, and then when we achieve those goals, we can plan new goals and build upon what we’ve learned. Because we’re able to do individualized education and paying attention to personalized needs moreso than in a public school setting, you’re able to meet goals more quickly.

 

I hope this shows you a little bit of my heart for homeschooling. I have a lot more reasons to discuss, so this will be the first in a multi-part series. Please stay tuned for the next part, and definitely feel free to share it with your friends who may be considering homeschooling!

Molten….toothpaste?

I’ve mentioned time and time again that the hands-on experiments we use in our homeschool classroom are what helps connect information and really solidify a concept. The more we homeschool, the more I realize I’m learning right along with Jeffrey.

When learning about magma, we talked about how new landmasses are formed by volcanic activity and that magma not only forms earth, but also moves the earth that is there, changing and re-shaping it as it flows through.

While the ideal way of learning this concept would be to visit someplace like Hawaii or Iceland, where volcanoes reign supreme, we figured we could get the picture at home with some easy household objects: some dirt, some toothpaste, and an empty yogurt cup.

Any size or shape will work fine for the experiment. We went with what we had on hand… Yoplait.

Using scissors, cut a hole in the base of the cup, about enough to fit the toothpaste tube’s tip in, without having it any larger than that.

Then, stick the tip of the tube through the hole, so you can see the tip going into the cup.

Just like this!

Fill the cup with dirt. There, now you have your earth’s crust.

Now start squeezing. Hypothesize… what do you think will happen?

Remember, the toothpaste represents the magma, the dirt represents the earth’s crust, and the cup is just a good container to help hold it in.

As you squeeze, the magma will raise and move the earth, which is one way mountains and islands are formed and shaped. Then, some magma will actually begin seeping through as the crust cracks and moves.

I love when a relatively simple, easy-to-assemble experiment can really show exactly how something works. To me, it is invaluable to not only read about it, but to physically, tangibly see how it works. Now, go grab your toothpaste and try it out!

Two Days with the T-Bot II

Typically, school follows a pretty set routine where we continue on in our My Father’s World lessons. This week, however, dad has been off work for a random vacation, which meant it was a good opportunity for Jeffrey to deviate from his standard lessons and give dad an opportunity to teach.

We’ve had the Pitsco T-Bot II for several months now, just waiting for the perfect opportunity to open up the box and get to work on it, and the time was finally there. What better way for dad to teach a school lesson than to do something fun for both of them, involving a very fun lesson in hydraulics.

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The T-Bot II challenge kit came with a lot of parts. In addition to the entire robot kit, the challenge kit included some items for additional challenges plus a teacher’s guide for activities.

Jeffrey and dad got down to work.

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They popped all of the laser-cut pieces out, one by one.

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They measured parts and cut them.

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They got everything organized and in order.

Then, the real work began.

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He glued the pieces and worked with focus on each piece. Jeffrey has a natural instinct when it comes to putting things together. He can usually figure out that sort of thing without looking at the instructions. However, in some instances, he did double check his work against the very detailed images and diagrams in the instruction manual.

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Because the T-Bot II is powered by hydraulics, it takes water to make it move, rather than solar, battery, or other forms of power. That means that it needs some sort of connections to power it. These syringes provided the link between the control panel and actual movement.

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It was great seeing dad and Jeffrey work together to build the project, side by side.

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Jeffrey had the reins, but dad stepped in to help when needed, sometimes providing a stabilizing hand or clarifying something in the assembly instructions.

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Jeffrey was able to do a lot of the work on his own, though, with dad’s watchful eye.

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Over the course of a day, the robot started to come together, piece by piece, screw by screw, syringe by syringe.

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Finally, it was time to connect the syringes in the robot to the syringes that control it.

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By the time the tubes were connected and the robot was mobile, it was finally time to stop for the day. The next morning, both boys were up and at it, ready to construct the control panel and the challenges for the T-Bot II to perform.

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One of my favorite parts of the T-Bot II project was the little details. For one, the robot actually looks like a person, with arms and eyes and everything. Additionally, the control panel tells you exactly what each syringe controls and how pushing or pulling on the syringe will effect the movement of the robot.

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The syringes were filled with colored water so we could see how things worked and moved and distinguish the parts of the robot’s hydraulics.

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The robot was able to easily manage challenges with the help of Jeffrey’s hands on the controls, showing the robot exactly what to do.

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I would explain more, but really the images don’t do it justice. I’ll just let you see for yourself…

The T-Bot II from Pitsco provided hours of entertainment and education to both Jeffrey and dad. Additionally, the teacher’s guide is filled with challenges that will help Jeffrey continue to learn math and science while providing a tangible enhancement to his education.

It was amazing to see how he had learned how to build and operate the T-Bot II, and it was fantastic to see him working side-by-side with dad. We’ve already decided we will be getting more products from Pitsco in the future, because this was truly one of the best projects we’ve worked with all year. Jeffrey’s fascination with it truly showed that this is an area that interests him.

On the Pitsco website, there are plenty of options for amazing projects to help kids learn about robots, engineering, math, science, and more, in very tangible, hands-on ways. Jeffrey is such a hands-on learner that this is a great supplement to the other parts of his curriculum.

The best part is that the Pitsco items are pretty darn affordable. Oh, and you can buy the T-Bot II in a 10-pack so it could be used for classes, large families, or boy/girl scout troupes. Or, you can buy it with the challenge set (shown in the video) or you could even buy the challenge set separately if you decide to add it on later.

I couldn’t recommend this set even higher. It’s an amazing tool to teach kids a lot of great technology. Honestly, at 23 years old, I had never really understood hydraulics, and I was amazed at how this robot worked. Even Zach at 18 months old loved watching the T-Bot move back and forth, up and down, with just the push of a syringe.

I am so glad Jeffrey got the opportunity to build the T-Bot II, and I can’t wait for him to continue using it in activities throughout the rest of our school year.

I’m Homeschooling My One Year Old

Yesterday was the first day back to school for our 11 year old student… that means it’s time for all of us to hit the books and study countries and cultures, the topics of our curriculum this year. But that could mean that there’s a one year old feeling left out because attention is taken away from him. And that’s why, much to the frustration of many other parents, I’m starting him in a homeschooling study, too.

Let’s get one thing straight. When referring to the little one, I’m using the term “homeschool” very, very loosely. His homeschool consists of the following:

-Some reading time, both with mommy and by himself

-Some music time, both dancing to the rhythms on a CD, and making our own music with store-bought and homemade instruments

-Art time, allowing Zach to color, paint, look at paintings and photographs, and explore messy art activities (like shaving cream bath paints)

-Structured play, such as play involving sensory boxes, his sand and water table, homemade crafting, sensory games using taste and smell, and more activities that we play and work on together.

-Free play, where he can do whatever he likes (provided it’s safe!) both indoor and outdoor, whether he’s climbing or crawling or playing with the dogs, or choosing to spend more time making music long after our lesson ends.

Zach won’t be in any formal structured schooling for more than 45 minutes each day, split into 4 short lessons to keep his attention span, with plenty of free play, napping, and time with momma in between. For our homeschooling, we take inspiration from several books, from Pinterest, from other homeschool families and bloggers, and from my own creative inspiration.

I am not going to have lessons where I say “Okay, Zach, time to sit down and do math for 15 minutes.” Instead, I pose an invitation, such as “Look, Zach! Here are some pom poms and tongs. Can we put some pom poms in this muffin tin with the tongs?” I’ll demonstrate the activity, and then give him an opportunity to try it, or to make the task his own, or to work on a different task. If he turns down the invitation for an activity, we just move on.

It’s all about following a child’s leads and helping him have a positive learning environment, and giving him invitations to learn.

But why, you might ask. Why am I taking time to homeschool a one year old?

Because, kids get bored with free play. Zach likes to play with his cars and climb on his playset and spin around in circles, and roll balls across the floor. But after a certain amount of time, this makes him fussy and frustrated. Giving him structured activities throughout the day show him that mommy values him, and values learning, and wants to give him a new experience or activity.

Kids also look up to other kids. Even one year olds have their idols and heroes. Zach’s uncle is his hero, and crazy enough, if his uncle is working on a writing project, Zach wants that pen so he can do his own project. If Jeffrey is working with clay, Zach wants some clay. Learning is a very good skill to encourage him to emulate. I want him to know that it is very cool to mimic Jeffrey’s learning.

And, honestly, it gives Zach a chance to practice the skills he’s already good at, stimulating his self-esteem and sense of accomplishment. It also gives him a chance to be challenged and learn new skills he doesn’t yet have, which will help him develop.

When homeschooling a one year old, you have to remember that it is all about play. It’s about play that is just for fun, about play that helps teach new skills, and about play that really enforces skills we know. It’s about staying consistent, but also moving forward.