Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Geography - United States Picture Books

I started to write this blarticle before the fourth of July with the intention of publishing it around the holiday.  However, I'm still waiting on a few books such as, "The Little Man in The Map" by E. Andrew Martonyi.  I'll add and update as more books arrive.  Here are the quality books we have found so far. 

Nice to Have on Hand for Reference:

This listing of books includes the books I have found that I either have on hand for reference already, or believe would be a wonderful addition to our ever growing collection.  These books are not really the type a child wants to sit down and read, however, they offer wonderful illustration and information that would help elaborate upon and enrich, trips across state lines and general experiences relating to the geography, natural history of political history of the states within our nation.  We also regularly refer to a Rand McNally Road Atlas and a Wall Map.

Greetings from the 50 States - How they Got Their Names:

This book by Sheila Keenan and Illustrated by Selina Alko has a two page layout for each state.  The illustrations are done as a whimsical and decorative map of the state showing its seal, important landmarks in the state, animals and colors that characterize the state and additional illlustrations depicting something historically important to that state.  The main body of text gives about a two paragraph synopsis of how the state came to earn the formal name it was given.  There is also a secondary bit of text about at least one of the state's nicknames - such as the sooner state, granite state or evergreen state. 

Quilt of States - Piecing Together America:

Adrienne Yorinks made beautiful quilted maps to depict each state as well as maps to depict the entire nation (or at least the lower 48) in 1790, 1803 (fter the Louisiana Purchase), 1820 (Missouri Compromise), 1848 (Mexican War), 1861 (secession), and between 1912 and 1959 before the admission of Alaska and Hawaii.  There is one final map that shows Canada as well as the US in order to include those to final states   where they actually belong on the map.  With the help of 50 librarians from across the country, each state is depicted with a brief summary of the essential aspects of the state's history in terms of how each state became a state in the first place.  Along with each larger map there is also a brief description of the stage of history the map is depicting and what was happening to cause more land acquisition (or the division of the country as in the case of the map depicting our country at the time of the Missouri Compromise and the Map of Secession).  This is, as usual for National Geographic Books, a beautifully done book.

For Reading:

A is for America - An American Alphabet:

NOT to be used as an alphabet book, this brilliantly illustrated book by Scillian is full of tidbits from critical junctures in our history, geographic and historic monuments, important figures from our past such as Babe Ruth, Thomas Edison and Hariet Tubman, and even includes things such as Oreos and zippers.  Pam Carroll's illustrations are a feast that almost seem as though they came first, except they correspond too well with the text for that to be true.  Great for primary grades as a read-aloud.

Scrambled States of America:

This brightly illustrated book has Uncle Sam tell the story about the time all the states decided to switch places with each-other.  It provides an introduction to the states in a general, funny and lighthearted way.

For Perusing:

United Tweets of America - 50 State Birds:

This book by Hudson Talbott shoes that he really has a sense of humor!  With a page for each state (and district), it also contains a little more than just a listing of state birds with little bits of trivia for each state.  Lots of fun for the 8 or 9 year old jokester learning about our country.

America the Beautiful:

Even if you have this wonderful poem by Katharine Lee Bates memorized line for line (or lyric by lyric as it is now known in song, this book is well worth the perusal.  Chris Gall's brightly colored and detailed illustrations draw you right in.  He has really illustrated his great-great-grandaunt's poetry with grace and depth.  He chooses a wide range of moments in our history to illustrate as well.  The pages depict the vast variety with which our nation abounds from a landscape depicting a lighthouse and the edge of the sea across rolling wheatfields to desert mesas and of course "purple" mountains.  He also manages to encompass major moments in our histroy from the Lewis and Clark expedition to the building of our railroads and sky scrapers as well as the incoming flow of immigrants and even 9/11 with one page depicting the firefighters errecting a flag on the ashes of the twin towers in New York.  He also squeezes in different seasons, and important symbols.  I put this one in the "perusal" category because it could be gone over again and again just looking at the gorgeous prints on each page.  An adult needn't know the title or the lyrics to understand what this book is about.  What wonderful conversation starters about this countries geography, culture and history this artwork is.

State Shapes Series:

I read the one about Washington and it was fun  and had a lot of good information, but I did find a few inaccuracies, so use it for fun, but if your kids are using it for research make sure they double check thier findings.

For those Readers with a Daisy Scout:

The Daisy scout's "Between Earth and Sky" journey is a perfect one to accompany a road trip or unit on US geography.  Alice and I have been working on this journey over the summer and will add to it during our trip as well.  Since Alice is not part of a troop and we are "Juliette Scouts" that meet with a few scattered friends that are also "Juliettes" we work in Journeys as thought they are almost like a Unit Study where we can.  If are a family with a daisy scout working on US geography, seeds, habitats, or a host of other scientific and/or ecological topics, this journey will tie in nicely for you.

Your Input:

If there is a book you have read or heard about you would like to review that is not already on the list, please feel free to share what you think.  Even if it's something you haven't read it yet, I might be able to find it and add to the list - just ask.

Things that happen when you say, "I don't know let's go find out"

Alice found a special treasure in our back yard this evening while we were out watering and checking on the veggies.  It was the beautiful feather shown here.

After a few attempts at finding images of feathers from which to identify the bird to which the feather belonged we found THIS fabulous resource: The Bird Atlas.  It is a feather identification atlas and was a really fun way to learn a little bit about feathers as well as how a biological key works for Alice.

Here is one of the possibilities we thought might be a match.  The bird does live here according to the range map we looked at and I've seen it recently as well.

The especially cool part was that now Alice was interested in learning more about the Ferruginous Hawk and she happily spent 30-40 minutes looking at the information on allaboutbirds.org on the largest Hawk species of North America.  I'm not completely convinced we got it right (the feather is far from being an exact match) but she certainly learned something in the process about how to research something to "find out" and we had a good time finding two great new resources.  If you have the expertise to confirm or deny our findings, I'd love to hear from you on the subject.  OR if you've had a similar experience with your little one, please share!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Learning to Write the Alphabet

Before kids can really learn to write, letter recognition lessons must be a thing of the past.  Is your child able to recognize all the letters of the alphabet - in most fonts?  Does your child recognize his or her own name?  Once you know he or she knows all of the letters, begin looking for letter shapes in everyday things.  Can your child find those letters too?  Transition, by tracing those "everyday things" that are letters with your fingers.  Here are some more materials you can "play with" to make sure they really know their letters while also introducing your kid to the idea that he or she can make letters too.

Beginner's Activities:

Coil any of these materials around to turn them into letter shapes.

  • Clay rolled into long "snakes" or "noodles". 
  • Jump Ropes.
  • String, yarn, rope, etc.
  • Bendaroos.
  • Pipe Cleaners.
  • Many Capitals can be made with sticks.
  • Shoe Laces.
  • "Walk the Letter" - can they make it in footsteps?  Use footprints in the sand, footprints made with paint on a large surface, or just the imagination.
  • The whole body (You might want to check out this site together too)
  • Bread or pretzel Dough rolled into ropes (Then Bake and you have letter-shaped rolls or pretzels)
  • Glow Necklaces (The really long ones, they are not as flexible as the other materials listed, so you may need to help hold the "corners")
  • Use "Things".  For example spread out a whole bunch of buttons to form letters.  You could also use rocks, Popsicle sticks, paper clips, flowers, flower petals. . .
It is also key that your child has mastered "scribbling" first.  I know, I know - yes I hear you chuckling over how ridiculous that sounds.  I chuckled too, but when I taught in the preschool we worked with the kids on "scribbling skills" and it really did help them when they hit the "fours" classroom and started to learn their letter writing skills.  The fours teachers could always tell who had been at the school and had this part of our curriculum and who had not.  In the beginning, let them scribble whatever they want.  As their scribbles become more and more "intentioned", start giving them challenges like various shapes (especially circles), spirals, straight lines, wavy lines and zig zag lines.  Can they trace these things?  Can they make their own within their artworks?  These are the precursors to writing.

Make sure they see you writing too.  Let them try to imitate you.  When you write a grocery list, hand them a small tablet and encourage you child to "write a list".  Yes, it will most likely really just be scribbles, but are they writing left to right?  Starting at the top and working their way down, do their scribbles look like wiggly lines going across the page and having beginning and ending margins?  Write love letters to them.  It will mean a lot to them and show them how useful writing can be (something I wish I had done more of with Alice earlier).

Now You're Starting to "Get Serious" (Late Preschool/Kindergarten)

A Note on Handwriting Programs:  

There are a ton of options from which to choose when deciding to start doing handwriting with your child.  They all extol their own virtues (of course), but in reality they are all pretty similar in terms of how handwriting gets taught - through lots and lots of practice.  The trouble with having all these different options is it means that between our own individual flourishes in our handwriting AND the different styles for teaching handwriting, we further complicate matters by giving kids multiple ways to write the same letters.  I learned d'nealian style letters, but taught
Alice using Handwriting Without Tears and had to work to make sure I formed my letters the HWT way.  Anyone who will be working with your child on their writing needs to use the same style with which you choose to teach at first.  If there is a second guardian also working on school work with your child, he or she needs to learn the handwriting style being used too.  If your child is in a mortar and brick setting, learn and use the school's preferred style when you are helping your child.  It just makes things less confusing for them.  It is important even to make your circles for your "a's", "o's", "p's" and all the "magic c" letters go the same way (counterclockwise in every teaching style I've seen), because this increases speed later on.  So, whatever program you choose, I recommend choosing one program, studying that program and its letters carefully and then Stick With The One Program.  That way you don't get confused and neither does your child.  

We are using Handwriting Without Tears, because that is what her virtual school uses.  In regard to Handwriting Without Tears (which is super popular right now), it is a good program in that it offers up tools for the preschool child to further aid in letter recognition and the precursors to writing.  In this way the program truly distinguishes itself by ensuring the child is getting the pre-writing skills needed when you start with the very beginning of the program.  It also offers up songs, lessons on proper writing posture (which helps avoid bad backs and carpal tunnel down the road), and "fun" ways to think of letters beyond just looking at their shape on the page.  The program has helps for the visual, kinesthetic and auditory/verbal child, as well as pages specifically designed for use with right AND left handed children (which I can't say for others).  The program also prescribes a unique order to learning the letters that is based on how easy it is to write each letter, rather than alphabetical order - which I like a lot.  However, it is not really a guarantee there will never be any frustrations and it is quite expensive to purchase the whole program.  A lot can be done without all the expense of the whole program.

Don't Start on Paper Too Soon:
Another mistake I made with Alice.  Since I taught preschool, I knew other kids were learning to write their letters when they turned four, and because she had already learned to read, I mistakenly thought Alice was ready.  She wasn't though and I should have known that reading skills and hand writing skills are two very distinct things.  Sometimes I just don't transfer that wealth of knowledge I got in my teaching courses to my own kid.

Alice was experimenting with letters and she was close.  She could already write her own name.  She had chosen a few favorite letters and was very proud of herself for writing those, but she was still "writing large".  Her hands simply weren't ready for completing letters in a defined space or on a line.  I tried to have her write smaller too soon and I wish I had spent more time with large motor activities first.  

Here are some ways to get your kids forming letters using larger Motor Skills as a start before expecting writing on a page, or as a review when everyone just needs a fun break from regular handwriting practice.  I used to do these activities with my "3's" class frequently, but really did largely skip over them with my own little one.  It is okay to do both - especially when writing on paper is directed by the child while you encourage rather than correct (trust me, I'm speaking from the experience of a few mistakes here).

Writing Without Boundaries:

  • Trace it or Draw it in the Sand with large sticks or shovels.
  • Trace it with your Toe (you can also draw it in sand with toes).
  • Write it in the sky (imagine the lines).
  • Write it in the sky with Glo Sticks at night.
  • Use Sidewalk Chalk.
  • Paint it on a cement block wall (or other large, relatively flat surface) with a large paintbrush (like for painting walls in your house) and bucket of water.  The water marks will fade away as they dry, but it is an especially fun way to cool off during "lessons" on a hot day.

Boundaries that are "Big"
For these activities, movement should mostly come from the shoulder - sometimes the elbow, rarely the wrist or fingers.
  • Use large chalkboards or white boards.
  • Big Tablets (one letter per page or very short words).
  • One Square in the Sidewalk.
  • A Portion of a Fence.

To Make the Mundane "Gourmet", they can also "squirt" their letters big with:

  • A can of pressurized whip cream.
  • Shaving Cream.
  • Silly String (make the space REALLY big for success).
  • Water in a spray bottle.
  • Glue.

To encourage your child to begin fitting their letters into a slightly smaller space you can have them "carve" their letters into these materials with their index finger:

  • Shaving Cream.
  • Moon sand.
  • Sand.
  • Jello or pudding.
  • Finger paint rolled onto a page thickly (or let them apply the paint with a finger)
  • Hair Gel

Getting Even Smaller (and more "serious"):

Once you start writing on paper, you can still go back and revisit any of the above activities in order to have a refresher, or if things are getting frustrating and you need to find some joy in handwriting again. Mazes and Dot to Dots are a wonderful way for kids to practice "defined lines" where the lines must go a certain direction and stop at specific places.  Coloring books where they "stay inside the lines" also make for good practice in pencil, crayon, marker, etc. control.  So do many art lessons where a child is drawing or painting a specific object.

Here are some fun things to write on besides paper:

  • Magnadoodle
  • Glodoodle
  • Aquadoodle
  • Old Carbon Paper
  • Scratch Paper
  • White board
  • Chalk board

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Toddlers and Preschoolers on an Airplane

Since my family lives all up and down the coast, I traveled with Alice by plane a lot when she was little.  Since then, there are even more food technologies (and restrictions) and toys but here are a few ideas I found worked really well for us.


If you can, try to plan the flight for a take-off time that corresponds to sleepy parts of the day.  This might make them MORE grumpy, but it also means they might just sleep for most or at least part of the journey.  That is a very good thing for staving off the boredom that comes with having to sit for too long.

Make it Less Scary:

If this is likely the first flight your child has had that he/she will remember, you'll want to talk about what to expect with him/her before hand.  The more knowledge they have about what to expect, the more in control they feel.  Speak with your child about the noise and rumbling they are likely to hear, popping ears, and the many cool things you are likely to see at the airport and on the plane.  Don't talk about how it might be scary, just talk about it as though it is part of what to expect and be positive about it.  For example, "Planes are so big that the engines needed to move them through the air have to be so noisy that people working on the ground have to cover their ears!  You won't hear that much noise but we will hear some of it.  Maybe you'll even see someone on the ground loading our suitcase into the plane wearing their ear covers."  Talk about it in little bits frequently leading right up to the flight.

Give yourself plenty of time:

Don't be in a rush getting to your flight.  It will stress you and your little one/ones out and starts every one off on a bad foot and in a bad mood.  Instead, give yourself an extra hour or two to "hang out" in the airport.  Since you have a walker he/she will probably want to be on the move for much of the day, so let that energy out now.  You carry the backpack while you let your little one do the walking (yes, especially if you are the only adult, this is one of the times when checking luggage is probably the more efficient plan).  The more walking done now (fun walking that is not rushed), the more physically tired he/she will be and the more likely your little one will be ready to snuggle a bit and read some books.

Plan Ahead with Food:

There are so many wonderful pre-packaged, easy eat foods available these days.  Freeze dried fruits are a yummy and relatively healthy way to stave of little tummy rumblings, as are pretzels, veggie chips (some are healthier than others) and basically anything pretty dry.  Good old-fashioned Cheerios musn't be forgotten either.  In fact, for your 2-3 year olds, The Cheerios Play Book by Lee Wade is a great little board book where kids match up Cheerios to fill in what is missing on the pages to create pictures.  Who says playing with your food is rude?  


You are well served to bring a new book or two as well as a new toy.  These can be offered up as a nice "surprise" when boredom has fully set in and even the most favorite toy or book in your arsenal won't satisfy.  You also might find that some of the items I usually include in my "travel basket" for the car are equally nice on the plane.

Audio Books

For the new book, I recommend one with an audio file - this is a likely to be a new thing and although your two-year-old isn't likely to know when to turn the pages to match the story, having something to listen to that ISN'T your voice can be just the novelty he/she needs.  Don't worry about it and let your little one turn the pages at his/her own pace as she/he listens.  If you have a pre-reader, go ahead and show them how to follow along (most of these audio files have two readings, one that has a sound for when the page gets turned, and then the more advanced version with no signal to turn the page).  

My Favorite for the 2-3 year old audio book is, Down on the Farm by Merily Kutner, but a close second - especially for boys is Good Boy Fergus by David Shannon.

My Favorite for the 3-4 year old audio book is, If you Give a Moose a Muffin by Laura Numeroff.  Laura Nemeroff has done a number of these chain reaction books.  They're all great, I'm really not sure why the moose one is my favorite, it just is.

And for the 4-8 year old I would recommend any of the Skippyjon Jones series by Judy Shachner.  They produce giggles and so much fun - especially the versions with an audio file.

Non-Book Activities:

We loved our travel aqua doodle, although the pens do require water which means buying water once inside the airport, and having a very skilled hand at pouring, or bringing a small funnel.  A Magnadoodle seems like it work about the same as an aquadoodle, but check on whether the magnet and iron filings are going to set off alarms with security or not before you fly.

If you can manage finding a travel sized tube of paint, or have powdered tempura paint, you can do a gallon sized ziploc bag with a piece of paper inside it as a great sensory activity.  Put the paper and paint inside the baggie (double bagging isn't a bad idea), lock it shut and then set it on the tray table and let your child push the paint around with his or her hands.  Its a great sensory activity.

Bring along a fidget (scroll to about midway through blarticle for a description of fidgets and some ideas of different kinds you can obtain) that is age appropriate and new.  You can even make your own.

Have a leap pad, or other computer game type of activity that is still age appropriate.  

We also loved our Imagine With Elmo Magnetic "storybook" with its scenery and magnetic outfits to use on Elmo and Abby Cadabby.

There are also so many ways to play movies these days, it shouldn't be too difficult to bring along a favorite movie or two. 

Don't Forget

Consider your flight an adventure.  If you have an upbeat attitude about how cool flying will be and are well prepared, your child/children will feed off your attitude and mood.  Talk about everything you see. Make sure to bring a sippy cup or the preschool version with the straws that fold in, any lovey your child is fond of and your favorite book too (just in case someone decides to take a nap).  Oh, and I almost forgot, all those extra diapers and wipes - just in case.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Creating a Squirrel for your Felt Board

The toughest shape is probably the first (biggest one on right), but if you think of it as an oval with two circles and triangles (legs) with another oval on top, it may simplify matters.  Go ahead and draw it first, then use your drawing as a "pattern" for the fabric.

For the cheeks shape, I folded the fabric and cut out a circle, leaving just a small bit connected.  When it unfolds you get the eight shape shown here.

Glue or sew the parts together as shown.    
Add finishing touches with a fabric pen.             

Friday, July 27, 2012

A Visit to the History Museum or Reenactment

For the purposes of this article, I am assuming you are studying a specific decade, era, ancient or historical civilization or series of events such as a war, its aftermath and what led up to it.  If you are visiting a large and expansive museum such as the smithsonian, you'll probably want to narrow the field somewhat for your kids anyway, or do a scavenger hunt where the kids are doing one essay question about one era and then finding a specific artifact from another etc.

When The Museum Visit Is Part of a Much Larger Unit of Study:

A trip to the history museum at the beginning or ending of a unit can be a lot of fun because when done well, history becomes a story.  I don't know a single person that doesn't like a good story.  Here are some ways to help your kids use what they see while at the museum to create their own version of the story their way.  These activities would make good final projects, unit projects or capstones to end a unit study related to a specific decade, ancient civilization, or important historical event.  All require a significant amount of research and learning on the part of the learner.  Your trip to the museum would either kick off or cap off this research experience.  

Care will need to be taken with these projects to keep expectations age appropriate.  As a teacher, I always gave a "rubric" to my students at the very beginning of projects like this so expectations on how the kids were to be graded was clear to all parties involved.
  • Documentary: Your children work together to create a video documentary of the "life and times".
  • Writing the Screenplay: Any kid who enjoys writing, might find screenplay writing to be a fun way to explore writing dialog while they also review what they've learned about a specific time or event in history.  If one of your kids is interested in doing this kind of writing, it will make the next idea an even easier one to accomplish.
  • Historical Drama Production:  Have your kids act out an event from history or a "day in the life of a kid from (insert year or decade of study).  Video the production and extend the project with the addition of editing and sound if the time can be devoted to such a project. 
  • You wouldn't Want to have lived in ___ or been a ____:  Have you seen these books?  They have a great sense of humor to them while still be informative non-fiction.  Check out a few and then have your kid write his or her own version of such a book using pictures of artifacts seen at the museum.
  • Newspaper issue as if the history learned was current.  Pick a day.  What were the issues of the day?  Current events?  What might people have been selling?  What kinds of career postings might have been found in the wanted adds?

These options are closer to the single day kind of option you might seek

History Museum or Reenactment Photographic Scavenger Hunt:  Some examples of things on your list for a museum visit might include:
  1. Photograph five different types of clothing that may have been worn by people who lived at the time of study.  
  2. Find three different "inventions" from the decade of study and caption the invention with what it did for society's advancement in your journal.
  3. Find a newspaper headline to photograph from (insert date).
  4. Find an artifact to photograph that tells a story.
  5. Find three different toys to photograph.
  6. Find a series of artifacts to photograph that will show the viewer what daily life might have been like for those people that lived through the (century, decade, slavery, name of war. . .
Essay Questions Sheet:  There are a million questions one could ask from any number of eras, events etc.  but essays are over-used.  Try to throw in a few fun ones that relate to the interests of your child.  Here is an example of a set designed for a middle school student particularly interested in fashion:
  1. Compare the fashions of the (insert era or decade) with the fashions of today.  
  2. How did the clothing of the wealthy compare to the clothing of the poor at this time?
  3. What does the clothing of (insert era, decade or ancient civilization name) tell you about the lives of the people who wore the clothing?  What kind of work did they do?  What kind of climate did they most likely live in?  
  4. What raw materials did the people of this time have to use for making their clothing?  What were the steps for turning these raw materials into textiles and then into clothing?  Who completed each step?
  5. Throw a few more generic questions in their of import to you and your child actually has enough written to put together a short report if you wish to have them do a lesson on how to write a report.
Let's say you have a kid interested in technology, you might start with: Compare what technologies the people of (insert era or decade) had that was important to them and their survival (even the axe was a new technology at one time)? 

Sketch Book Entries:  
  1. Ask your child to sketch 5 artifacts (or people) he or she feels represent the decade, era, event or civilization you are studying and then expect to "defend" or explain why those were the five artifacts chosen over others.  
  2. Have your child do a truncated version of your photographic scavenger hunt (because sketches take longer than photos) 
  3. Have your child answer the essay questions with sketches.


As I said in my first article about field trips in general, many sites you might visit for a field trip will have wonderful resources online for you, or you can call and have suggestions of activities specific to the location and a list of resources offered to you over the phone or email.

Let's say you are at a museum that covers a topic over a span of history such as the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field South of Seattle.  You might ask your kids to compare the first airplanes with airplanes from today and create a timeline that shows their advancement.  The timeline can be visual with sketches or photographs, dates and simple captions, or short essays can explain key moments your child chooses to highlight on his or her timeline.  He/she will need to explain why they chose the specific examples used on the timeline over others.

If you are visiting a museum that is about a specific person or group of people instead of an era or decade, you'll want to ask about that person's perspective on things.  For example, if you are visiting Graceland, you might add into the fashion essay questions how his taste changed as his financial status changed.  You'll probably want to ask about his music too.  

Or, if you are visiting a place like Manzanar, you will definitely want to include questions about what these people probably thought about their imprisonment and how it affected their lives during and afterward. 
Resources by Musea across the Country

The Smithsonian

Jamestown and Yorktown

Directory of Historical Musea and Societies in the US by State and County

Presidential Libraries

Directory of Living History a directory of historic structures, ongoing reenactments and other similar monuments.

There are also many more history musea that are specific to the History of something, for example, transportation, flight, food, fashion, tolerance, black history. . .  If you know of an excellent one in your area you would like to recommend, please leave a comment.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Indoor Fun Family Olympic Games

While we gear up to watch the Olympics in twelve days, why not have your own "family" Olympics around the house ?   Intersperse these "games" throughout the coming weeks to get the family up and moving between events, help your kids with their math skills, and just raise the spirit of the games to a whole new level amongst family members.

By allowing the kids to help with tallying the score, they get practice with adding and counting.  If you want to make this a part of the experience I recommend keeping a small chalkboard or dry erase board - or tablet and pen with the remote.  Do the adding nice and slow together. 


To every one's physical benefit, these activities will keep you and the kids moving moderately while still being engaged in Olympics coverage and create a few laughs too.  In order to keep the spirit of sportsmanship the fore running experience, have the whole family compete against itself by just trying to see how many points you can earn over the course of one evening of coverage as a family.  All of these games have a way to earn points toward the family running total.  Then, the next time you are watching, see if you can beat your previous night's score.

  1. Family Room Half Pipe:  Which family member can tag opposite walls in the room the largest number of times during a commercial?  Go one at a time and give the adults obstacles to weave between to slow them down a little and even out the contest (winner gives his/her number of tags as the point value for the contest to the running family total).
  2. The Contest of the Cranes: Who can stand on one leg the longest? Just stand up and hold one leg up high.  Use your timer and whoever is left in crane stance the longest gets to give their points to the family total (one point to the family for every ten seconds the winner was able to stand one legged)
  3. The Wiggle Worm: Who can continue to make the silliest movements and faces? Whole family votes on who was silliest simply by laughing at the competitor.  The number of commercials that play while the family continues sustained laughter is the number of points the family earns.  Take turns until everyone has had a chance to keep the laughter flowing. 
  4. The Crab Walk: With Tummy toward the ceiling and hands and feet on the ground as your "legs", crab crawl down the hall, or do laps around the dining table.  Move around the table or up and down the hallway sideways.  The family member that can make no part of his or her body touch the ground except hands and feet for an entire commercial while moving non stop earns the family points for the number of "laps" he or she completed.
  5. Egg and Spoon Relay:  Get out those plastic Easter eggs from Easter and fill the smaller end with a few coins or marbles (something to add a little weight).  Each family member gets a spoon.  Try to move as many eggs from one end of the house to the other in a relay fashion passing the eggs from spoon to spoon without ever touching the eggs with anything other than your spoons.  Time is up when the commercials are over.  The number of eggs you move without them splitting open and spilling their contents is the number of points the family gets toward their running total.
  6. Balloon Bounce:  (singles version) Blow up a balloon for each family member (two or more for those who need an extra challenge) and see who can keep their balloon in the air the longest.  This will be challenging for little ones with only one balloon, but if older kids have to keep two or more balloons in the air it increases the challenge (and evens the odds a bit).  The minute a balloon hits the floor that person is out. The last one standing gets to give their number of bounces as points for the family total. 
    Or do the whole family team version (particularly good for young families that have children still learning to count).  For this, everyone works together to keep the same balloons from hitting the floor.   The family score is the number of bounces you count together. 
  7. And he Wins by a Nose!:  Roll a ball such as a tennis ball, soft ball, or other ball of a moderately small size across the room only using your nose to make the ball move.  How many "laps" can each person do in the span of one commercial?  The one with the most laps in a single commercial gets to contribute their lap number as points toward the running family total.
  8. Mushroom Heads: balance the couch cushions on your heads.  Whoever keeps a cushion on their head (without touching it with hands) for the longest time while walking around the room gets to contribute the number of commercials for which the cushion was balanced on his or her head to the family's running total score.
  9. Card Toss:  Get out your biggest mixing bowl and give everyone a different set of cards.  The youngest kids get to be closer to the bowl than the older ones, but spread out around the bowl fairly evenly otherwise.  At the beginning of a commercial toss the cards one by one into the bowl for the duration of the commercial.  If every one's decks are different you can still determine an individual "winner" if you wish, or just apply the total number of cards to the family point total.
  10. Sock Ball Toss:  Get a few baseball caps out and use these as "catchers". See how many times  you can toss a sock ball (two rolled up socks) from one family member to the next without the ball hitting the ground in the span of only one commercial.  If the sock ball hits the ground start over at zero again.  At the end of the commercial the number of catches gets added to the family score.
For more ideas for zany games you can do at home go to Minute to Win It.  Good Luck and Go for the Gold!  For a schedule of Olympics coverage, http://www.london2012.com/schedule-and-results/

These activities can really be done while watching any event real-time on TV (Oscars Night would work too for example).  Anytime you have something you want to watch but won't be able to fast forward through the commercials, this is a great way to shake things up and keep it interesting.
With a stop-watch in hand you can also adapt these activities for any rainy day when you just need a little movement.  Skip the part where you use a commercial and simply set your stop watch for 30-40 seconds or longer if you wish for each game you play.  Just be sure you use a consistent time to keep things "fair".

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Upside Down Hike

Looking for something different to do this summer?  Go on an upside down hike.  This hike is not taken walking on your hands - though if you can walk on your hands up the hiking trail your young child will LOVE you for it (talk about coolest parent in town!).  Instead, it is an upside-down hike because you turn over rocks and logs and things to see what you can find underneath.  You are turning things along the trail upside down.  Wear a pair of gardening gloves (prevents most scratches and bug bites), sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat.  I also recommend wearing long pants to avoid brushes on the legs against thorns and toxic plants.  Review your toxic plants before you go and avoid poison ivy in addition to anything else that might cause problems like nettles.  It also might be helpful to have a magnifying glass and field guide about amphibians, insects and reptiles common to your area.  You can find all kinds of things under rocks and logs that will be fun to observe.  Please try to mind your trail manners and return rocks, animals, logs, twigs and any other native object you move back to its original position before moving on further down the trail (this keeps the interesting life you've uncovered, healthy and alive).  Enjoy what you see together.

Art/Science: practice sketching some of what you see along the way together.

Writing Skills: Have your child write a description of a favorite critter that was found along the way.  Or have him/her sit quietly and describe what he or she observes while sitting there.  Suggest using all the senses as starting points for this type of a journal entry.  What does your writer see? smell? feel? etc.

Geography/Map Skills: Make a map of the trail as you walk it, draw in landmarks together.

Reading/Literature (mostly non-fiction): Check out any of the numerous books on insects, lizards, or reptiles you might find under the rocks and logs you overturn.  A perfect one for this activity is Minibeasts Under a Stone.  Read the books together before you go and then make a picture book together of your finds after you've returned.

Science: Learn what makes a bug a bug, and an amphibian an amphibian etc.  There are numerous book resources about this topic and activities to do to really make learning about these critters fun. If you really want to learn more about Creepy Crawlies spend some time with it and make your upside down hike the introduction or the finale - either way its lots of fun.  Here is a link to many internet sources and not surprisingly, the San Diego Zoo also has some info on the matter for kids.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Pretend Mail Delivery

This activity is pretty fun, helps your child practice matching skills and number recognition, helps your child practice large motor skills, and gets your kid/kids outside for a little while doing something fun and different.

Things You Will Need:

  • Some Junk Mail
  • A pretend car or child-sized, scooter, bicycle, tricycle or other "vehicle" for the postman.  If necessary, the vehicle can be your child's own feet, but it is typically more fun in a "vehicle" with a basket, trunk or a satchel for transporting the parcels either attached to the vehicle, or safely worn by the child.
  • Large Sharpie.
  • "Mailboxes" - these can be actual boxes, big sheets of paper, or squares marked out with sidewalk chalk.

What to Consider:

The child will be "delivering" the mail to three or four "addresses" you create.  The idea here is to practice matching in a fun way while also developing familiarity with numerals.  If you have a two year old that is just getting to know and identify single digits, you'll probably want to make your addresses, single digit addresses.  If, on the other hand, you have a four year old that is happily counting to 50 or more, you might want to make things more complex by adding a few more addresses and using numbers with three or more digits (112, 1043, 3260, and 1057) for example.  It is not important that the numbers be sequential or realistic in terms of address proximity.  

What to Prepare:

  1. Using the Sharpie, cross out any real addresses or anything that might become confusing for the child.
  2. In the largest area without text on the envelope or magazine write one of the numbers you have chosen.  Make a few pieces of mail for each address.  You can also use scratch paper or construction paper with a number taped to the envelope to "cover" confusing texts and pictures if you would like.
  3. Create your "homes" or "mailboxes" and make sure each has an address that clearly matches the mail you've made. 

To Do:

Shuffle the Mail, hand over to the postal worker and let the deliveries begin.  Play along, wave to the post person, sign on a clipboard to accept a package delivery, involve the neighbor kids as "other neighbors" to receive mail. . . You get the idea.  


You don't have to use this exercise only to practice math.  It also works wonderfully with colors, shapes and anything else you might like to practice matching - just pretend the concepts to be matched are the address.  You could even do an exercise with Capital Letters on the "homes" and their matching lower case versions on the "mail" to be delivered for pre-reading skills.

Pre-Roadtrip Checklist

Don't Forget to Tell Your Bank

This way you don't wind up with your cards not working because the bank is trying to help and shut down your card for security reasons (or in my case, because there was a security breach days before I left and they sent a new card by snail male and gave everyone three days to use their old cards and then automatically shut everyone down without a phone call).  These measures are in place for your security but can really pose a problem for you while you are on the road if you don't plan ahead.

Pre-Trip Inspection at your local mechanics

Your service manager can check fluid levels, tire pressure and other basics just to be sure your car is in safe condition for driving over the long distance AND that it is running as efficiently as possible which will save you money on gas mileage.

Emergency Kit for the Car

Make sure you have your star wrench, jack, spare tire, and jumper cables as well as a flashlight, small pressure gage, emergency yield sign or flares and a patch kit so that should you have a flat, dead battery or get in an accident you have what you need to get moving again.  Should you need a tow or additional help, make sure your AAA membership is up to date.

Emergency Kit for the People

Of course "minor emergencies" can happen along the roadway too.  If you are prepared, most of these kinds of emergencies can hopefully remain minor.  Keep some food and bottled water in the trunk  along with a well-stocked First Aid Kit.  Such kits can be purchased premade but here is a checklist to help you create your own if you wish.

You also won't want to forget your cel phone and its car charger, but for safety's sake, please only use it when you are pulled over and hands free. 

Travel Bucket and Entertainment

A travel bucket will help keep the kids entertained and cut down on sibling (or friend) rivalries.  Fill yours with a few old favorites and a new surprise.  Books, toys and travel games should all go into the travel bucket a few more new "surprises" stashed in the glove compartment to add to the mix before the fighting begins, but as it appears the kids are getting desperate.  Here is a link to my original article about travel buckets how to make them and what to put into them.
I haven't used a lot of technological gadgets for road trips in the past years, but we are adding a DS to the mix this year as well as my ipod instead of CD's (we got an adapter for the car this month).  If you would like to incorporate technology into your bag of tricks to keep your kids entertained, this blogger has some great information for you.

Travel Comfort

If you have a child still at that age where they throw things, try Nini Bungees to help you find all the toys, sippy cups and pacifiers that get dropped (or tossed).

If you expect your child to sleep along the way, make sure to make or obtain a Seatbelt Snoozer.
Make sure to bring a favorite blanket or throw for those sleepy moments too.

Even if they are done with diapers, wipes are a great item to have along to wipe any mess up, cool hot faces, and to dry-wash hands after a stop for gas.
DON'T FORGET to hang a trash bag where your kids can use it!  I have one designed for cars I hang on the headrest of the passenger side bucket seat that I line with plastic grocery bags.  I nest about ten grocery bags together and anytime we stop, I pull out the inner most bag and trash.  The next bag is already there and ready to go.  It just keeps things cleaner, less cluttered and more comfortable.

Food Safety and Convenience Considerations:

Of course you can't forget their little tummies (or yours because a well fed and hydrated parent makes for a safer, more alert and more patient driver).
If you will bring meats or dairy (or anything else you would like to make sure to keep cool for that matter), here are two GREAT ideas to help keep the cooler cold without hogging up space with dripping ice. 
  • Freeze Green Grapes the night before you leave.  They will act as ice would (until you eat them) and they are a fabulous snack to have, frozen or thawed.
  • Freeze wet, but not dripping, sponges.  Even if a hole gets poked in the sandwich bag you put the sponge in, you won't wind up with drips and spills.  This avoids the wet mess of loose ice and sponges are a lot less expensive than the cooler bags you can buy for this purpose (which still drip if punctured).

If I'm traveling without my hubby, I keep the cooler on the floor in the front seat for easy access.  When he is with us, we actually squish it into the "hump" between the seats.  It keeps the cooler out of the sun, out of the way, but within easy reach so we aren't pulling over for every little tummy rumble. 
In this picture you can see the frozen grapes and frozen sponge (in a sandwich bag) that will keep everything that needs to stay cool, cool.  You can also see the assortment of things we might bring thought the sandwiches and baked goods for breakfasts are missing from the photo.
If you don't already have a soft cooler with additional pockets, I highly recommend splurging and purchasing one.  They come in medium sizes that are not terribly expensive and work perfectly for the car (the one above was $20 and works perfectly for two of us for a three day trip).

Such coolers have multiple pockets and some even have options where one area is for items that you want to keep with the "ice" and there is another separate pouch nearby for keeping things cool but not quite as cold.  This is a great place for stashing fruits and veggies as well as chocolate or those yogurt covered raisins and trail mix that includes m&m's or chocolate chips.  Ours also has outer pockets the chips and crackers and things can go in so much of the food is together, but not ALL refrigerated. 

Here are two links that list food safety considerations for when you pack foods: My Recipes Packing Your Cooler and Picnic Safety.


My favorite packaging invention is used for packaging foods like Gogo Squeeze and Buddy Fruits that come in the nice little pouches the kids squeeze to eat.  These are great because the food inside is yummy, they are easy to pack, pre-portioned, and the left over trash is slim and doesn't require a lot of space (which is better for the environment too).  However, unlike "Go-gurt" they don't just squeeze out so easily that when you pick up the package food comes flying out of it leaving you with a huge mess (As a preschool teacher I cringed when I saw go-gurts in my kid's lunches - it was less messy to squirt it into a paper bowl and give them a spoon with which to eat their yogurt).

Other standards could include:
  • Presliced fruits such as melons and apple wedges (spray apples with a little lemon juice).
  • Preshelled pistachios mixed with craisins
  • Sweet Peas still in the pod
  • carrot sticks with a tiny Tupperware of peanut butter for dipping.
  • Peanut drizzled popcorn (or other fancy popcorn that makes it yummy even if it is "stale" like caramel or chocolate).  or flavored mini rice cakes.
  • Many people recommend pre-shelled, hard boiled eggs.  We're not big eaters of hard-boiled eggs and I don't like the resulting whoopee cushion sounds and accompanying smell a few hours after eating these eggs.  If you don't have this problem, enjoy your eggs, if you are like me you might bring a protein shake for each of us for each day we will be traveling instead.
  • Dry cereal favorites, pretzels, goldfish crackers or chips (proportioned is a good plan for avoiding mindless munching AND fights between siblings/travelers).
  • Clif Kid bars and fruit ropes (only one per kid, per day - especially if you also do the shake or egg)
  • A special treat as a surprise such as astronaut ice cream, something to make them laugh (or gross them out) like chocolate covered grasshoppers, or a food they love but don't get very often.
  • A special treat for you.  If you go all healthy all the way, it is more likely you'll find yourself pulling through the drive-thru more than you had intended. 


For Breakfasts:  Pre-made favorite muffins (I bring, zucchini, carrot or bran muffins), scones and/or croissants.  As a special treat I also do Nutella pockets (essentially chocolate croissants).  Save the scones for the last day because they hold out the longest and then pull in somewhere and get hot cocoa (or chocolate milk in the hot months) to dip the scone in (or chase it with) as a special treat.  Eat these with some type of fruit you've packed and a protein shake or squeeze bag treat that contains yogurt.
For Lunches and Dinners: Sandwiches, cold pizza, or cold fried chicken fingers (or other boneless cut) - just make sure you hand out the wipes ahead of time and have plates and a veggie with peanut butter for dipping such as celery or carrots with a handful of pretzels or chips and a few slices of cucumber or melon.
Eat one fast food meal.  You are on vacation after all right?  For ideas to make healthy choices in the drive through, check out the book and website, "Eat This Not That" by David Zinczenko. 


I try to have us do the eating in the car.  That way stops can be about having a chance to move around instead of becoming an opportunity to sit some more.  Plan ahead and choose a few parks along the way where you can stop for 30-40 minutes and bring a ball to toss around or a similar favorite for out doors.  Every one will stay in a much better mood this way (though I'm not guaranteeing complete harmony).
If you want to take advantage of your drive and are willing and able to make the trip a bit longer, you can use our national parks as places to stop, go for a short hike and see the visitors center and then grab a camping site or hotel room to crash before starting off in the car again the next day.  Or you can stop in the major cities along the way and take advantage of one of the city museums, landmarks or events before crashing for the night and heading off again the next day. 

Settting Up Field Trips

Contrary to popular non-home schooler rumors about home schooling, we do know there is a difference between a day at the museum and a field trip to a museum.  In both instances, the intention is to have fun and to learn.  However, on a field trip, you have much more specific learning objectives, whether the trip is a visit to a farm, an "archeological dig", or a zoo.  So how do you make sure your objectives are achieved without feeling like the "Hall Monitor"?  How do you assess what they really absorbed and differentiate that from what they were simply "exposed to" during your trip?  This can be especially difficult when you can't go preview the location.

Field and Natural History - Children's Room

As a classroom teacher, I found the best way to handle time at a museum, zoo, aquarium or other similar location was often to hand each kid a clipboard full of things find.  The kids then had activities to do related to their finds or questions to answer.  There was always more than they could complete, but I told the kids how many they HAD to do, and how much extra credit they would get for each "extra" activity completed.  The kids could split into their smaller groups and feel they got to "socialize" as well as have some choice in what they spent their time observing (I was a middle school teacher), and I still had evidence of work done and observations made as well as a tool for assessing understanding.  Of course I had to circulate in the space and watch them for safety and behavior (as did the other faculty and parents along as chaperones).  Although I don't let Alice go off on her own, I still find this is the best approach to field trips in the home school curricula as well.

Wherever it is you wish to go, if it is a "public space" such as any of our National Parks, a Museum, or a Zoo, the location will most likely have some wonderful resources to help you "pre-plan" your trip.  If the location doesn't offer anything online, give them a call.  These locales - however small - are there to educate the public and some one will help you be aware of what to expect, if not offer up an entire pre-made packet for each grade level in your family.  This is also a great way to get "freebies" The Mt. Lassen area National Forest Service, gave me some absolutely wonderful materials that I will be able to use for multiple applications over the next few years when we walked in because we felt like checking out the visitor center one day.
U-Pick Orchard
Places like a u-pic, are more of a business location than an education location.  However, it will likely be a shorter stint at the actual farm or orchard.  You can still have them find where numbers are used at the location, and some orchards will let you tour the grounds and ask questions about production etc. if you set up a group tour ahead.

Here are some generic ways to cover field trip day at educationally oriented locations without a lot of front end work on your part.  You can use one idea, all of them or anything in between for almost any educational location:
  • Photographic Scavenger Hunts: If you have some idea what your kids will see before hand,  give them a list of photos to "find".  At a zoo, your list might be as simple as, find 3 animals from each continent, or photograph 3 examples of vertebrates from each of the five major vertebrate classes (mammals, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and birds).  Older kids would then also record information about the animals they photographed, such as its common and scientific name, range and maybe even do a behavioral observation for at least one of the animals.  At a history museum, perhaps they need to find 5 photos that show what daily life was like in the ____'s, 5 photos that show important people from the era of study, and 5 photos that show inventions important to the time.  I've written a blarticle about doing these more generically already so if you'd like more information about photographic scavenger hunts, click here.  I've used them a lot alone and in combination with other things.

  • The KWL: Before you go, talk to your kids about the location you will be visiting.  "K" stands for "Know".  Brainstorm things you already know about the topic covered there.  For example, if you will be visiting a museum about modern art, make a list of things you already know about modern art.  List some artists with whom you are already familiar, talk about expectations etc.  "W" stands for "Want to Learn".  On the way, each child makes a list of things they want to know more about (this can be really tough if the trip is a first exposure, but works well if you've complete some things related to the topic already).  Do they want to see more by a favorite artist?  Do they want to learn more about how modern artists complete their work?  Are they hoping to learn more about a particular media? "L" stands for "Learned".  After the trip, each child brainstorms all the things he or she knows now.  In other words, what has been learned.  Compare lists and clip them all together.  If you are going to a National Park, you might talk about the geology, biology, or history associated with the location.  If you are going to an aquarium, you might  list what is known, wanting to be learned, and learned about marine life.  You get the idea.

Farm Tour - Helped put Out Feed
  • Complete a "Travel Journal Entry".  I have outlined four methods to encourage your kids to journal while traveling in an educational way in this blarticle.
  • Tell your kid/kids, they will be making a pamphlet about the location.  Gather pamphlets about other similar locations for the kids to view and tell them what you like about each pamphlet you've chosen and what is absolutely required in their pamphlet before you arrive.  They'll need photos and graphics.  They'll need to include a map, so having some sense of what there was to see will also be required.  They will need to choose "highlights" to feature, and they'll need to clarify why a trip to this location is beneficial - what is to be learned from attending?  The can take notes while in attendance and actually create the pamphlet upon returning home.
  • Do you have a child with a passion for the dramatic?  Have him or her do a movie documentary about the location and his or her day in attendance there.  He/She can pretend to be a field journalist.  You'll (or siblings) will need to help get video footage on the day of the visit, but more notes can be taken and editing with voice overs added can be done at home the next day with your movie/DVD software.  I LOVE iMovie and iDVD.     

For more specific ideas, keep an eye out for my "Field Trip" series of articles this summer where I will give ideas, list resources, and give more ideas more specifically to location types.

The Zoo: Polar Habitats
If you will be taking friends with you, I recommend you include them in the "educational" activity as well.  It is a lot easier for every one to have positive energy about the activity if every one is involved. (or they'll bond - siblings too - grumbling about what a fanatic their mom is.  Either way you really are winning).  Have a "presentation party" a week later when everyone who attended can share their "products" and everyone's parents can see the cool stuff all the kids did before you show the latest movie out on DVD, or play lawn games, or splash in the pool or simply, "chill".  Have fun.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Enemy Pie

In light of the impending return to school in the fall for many kids, there are some out there that are worried about classmates they may encounter and others that will quickly find themselves "enemies" at school.  Even if they don't attend a mortar and brick school, kids come into contact with kids with whom they simply disagree, rub the wrong way (or are rubbed the wrong way), or who (in the worst cases) bully others.

Should your child encounter any of these "enemies" this wonderful picture book might prove a great resource to get a discussion going with your child about his or her feelings on the matter and how best to approach this "enemy" they are encountering.  I'm not saying a book can totally solve a serious bullying problem, but in most cases of dispute between a couple of kids, this book is likely to be a great help (and No, it does not offer up a recipe for simply poisoning the other kid).

The book is actually ten years old now and was featured on Reading Rainbow so there is a blog all about enemy pie, how to buy it, and resources for related lesson plans and, if you can, organizing a visit by Derek Munson to your school or home schooling cooperative so he can really send the message home about how to make an enemy a friend (Based in Vancouver Washington).  For lots of great ideas check it out!   

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Routines - get up and go and bedtime

Part of my background includes working in a classroom that was specifically designed for kids with ADD and ADHD.  So, when I realized I was getting really annoyed with having to remind my daughter 20 times that she was supposed to be brushing her teeth, I decided to get creative instead of mad.  The thing about kids with ADD and kids that are still very young (you know, preschool, early elementary. . .) is that it really isn't about NOT paying attention it is about paying too much attention to the wrong things - like how much fun it is to use the toothbrush with bubbles dripping from it as a writing utensil on the bathroom mirror.

It occurred to me that perhaps if I gave Alice something she would be forced to pay attention to that was ongoing (and not me) during her morning and bedtime routines it might mean less work for my husband (who frequently does both routines) and myself.  So I made a play list.  Here are some of the songs we work with and I have to say, we've been doing our morning and bedtime routines this way for about five months now and I'm really glad I did it.

When Will My Life Begin from Tangled - brushing hair
Blow the Wind Southerly - brushing teeth
Aint no Bugs on Me - flossing teeth, rinsing and getting job checked
Ants in my Pants - Getting into or out of pajamas
Splish Splash I was takin' a bath- washing feet and hands on non-bath nights (for bath nights we simply pause the music while she is bathing).
Here Comes the Sun - to wake up and get out of bed (she has a little warning this way,
                                   but knows how long she has for "stretching").
Eine Kleine NachtMusik for picking out tomorrow's outfit
March of the Toys, Whistle while you work and Happy Working Song would all work for clean up
Sunny side of the street for grabbing school stuff and getting started or out the door depending on the day.
I've got the sun in the morning and the moon at night for application morning sunscreen
Drip Drip Drip or Dear Sylvia (from an album called Beethoven's wig) for remembering her eye drops (she has dry eyes)
Gathering school bag on days

We have quite a list of lullabies as well.
Some I can list of the top of my head are:
All the little ponies
Winken, Blinken and Nod
Nightingale and a few others from Norah Jones
Beetles Blackbird
Selection of songs from lullabye renditions of Led Zeplin
Selection of soft and slow classical pieces
A few selections from Allison Krauss
Selections from The Vitamin Strin Quartet

If you already have something like this, or were to give it a try what are some of the songs you might use?

Friday, July 20, 2012

There are Really Only a Few Essentials

It is really easy to get caught up in developing "the perfect classroom" and wanting to have this wonderful space full of beautiful educational items for your child to "enjoy" (That all cost a pretty penny).  There are also a lot of companies out there that want you to believe their stuff is the best, but really there are only a few items you MUST own to successfully teach your kids at home other than shelter and food that is.
  1. The usual supplies you would need to send them to a mortar and brick school anyway: a few organizational items like folders and notebooks and something to write with and something to write on.  Having a white board and markers is great. You use less paper when you use it and its easy to erase, but paper and pencil works well too and then you have a record of the work your child has done.
  2. A World Map and or Globe:  Once you have one hanging up in a convenient spot in your home (hopefully near where you do most of your lessons) you'll be amazed at how often it gets referenced.  The key is making sure it is convenient.  If its a map, don't roll it up and keep it somewhere - it really is important to have it hanging up and available.
  3. A library card:  There simply is not a better way to have access to hundreds and hundreds of resources for you and your child.  Aside from books, libraries offer music, movies, activities and their librarians.  Wonderful resources in and of themselves that are severely under-used in most cases - they have quite an education and can offer up sound advice about reference tools (on and offline) as well as how to navigate their spaces, how to get involved in local book and writing clubs and your children's librarian can probably offer some of the best ideas about fabulous books to read with your child for almost any occasion.
  4. A journal:  Whether you keep your journal on your computer, in a tablet, a special book or in a public blog online, you'll need a record of the lessons you complete with your child and sample work he or she has done for state requirements (which vary from state to state) and to help you successfully comply with school attendance regulations.
  5. A computer and Internet hook-up: This provides you another window to the world.  Many of the educational videos we watch are accessed online.  A great number of resources I have used were found and accessed online.  The world language program we use is a series of videos and computer games,  There are online dictionaries, thesauri and a world of information - just make sure you know the basics about distinguishing between reliable information and that which is not and teach your kid those basics along with safety guidelines regarding Internet use.
  6. A Stopwatch:  I know, this one may surprise you, but there are quite a few times in science and PE when you find a stopwatch necessary.  Also, setting a child against the clock to clean up, practice and hone a skill like addition, or finding things on that world map is a surprisingly frequent aspect of schooling.
  7. Desire: A desire to learn, connect and be with your child through the great days and the fabulous days as well as the dismal ones.
  8. Creativity: Especially on those dismal days, you may find thinking outside the box a huge help, but when your lessons are also "outside the box" - or at least seem so to your kids - everyone has more fun.
  9. Time: It takes a lot of time to home school, research, prepare, etc. are all a part of your day in addition to the time you actually spend with your child.
  10. Patience and Perseverance: Learning is a process, not a destination.  Patience and diligence through the tough parts of that process are essential.
Anything else is gravy!  I have a lot of gravy, but its still just gravy.  Note the Parents Spending Portion on the chart to the right, be heartened and remember how little the difference in result is between a higher portion of spending and a lower portion of spending.