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Hijacking the Homeschool Hum-drums

As we spin down toward the holidays at an ever-increasing rate, are you looking at your homeschool days and thinking, “Hmm…. This could use a makeover?” Or worse, are your littles showing signs of being a bit, shall we say, bored with the way things are going?

Usually by now, we homeschool parents have got it together for the year. We’ve chucked those fabulous plans that didn’t work and settled into a nice groove with the ones that did. (And the replacements for the ones that didn’t. And the other cool stuff we came across in August and September.) The problem is that sometimes that groove can slowly… get… more… and… more… blah. Sometimes it doesn’t, but what do you do when it does?

bored littlest

I can always tell when Littlest has gotten to that point. He drifts off during school. Not to sleep, but to Never-Neverland (or more likely to post-apocalyptic Georgia where he tools around on a motorcycle, melts the girls’ hearts, and kicks butt with a crossbow). Once his attention drifts, you can bet your boots I have lost him for the rest of the day if I don’t take drastic measures. Threats–I learned early on–reprimands and the like Do Not Work. In fact, if he feels the least little slight from me, he withdraws even further. I have to sweet him. Do you know what I mean? I have to treat him like he is the greatest kid in the world and it’s my job to figure out how to entertain him enough to bring him back to the lesson. It is not easy. For one thing, he is not a pushover. He sees right through it if it’s false. Then I’m right back where I started.

Middle is easier. For one thing, he is more like me in that he Loves To Learn, No Matter The Subject. He wants to Know Everything. I totally relate to this kid. Anything I want to discuss, research, play… Middle is there with his learning cap on. But even he gets bored sometimes. We all do, right?

bored middle

Picking good reading material is essential to my homeschool. If I sense I’m losing them, I can always say, “Hey, do you want to read another chapter of our book right now?” I promise you that has saved me many, many times. We have almost finished Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, but since it is a family favorite and über-interesting, I’ve fallen back on it a time or two in the last couple weeks.  Honestly, it’s hard to keep it to a chapter or two a day.  This book just builds.  You never want to put it down.

One of the things we do to combat those restless doldrums is spend a lot of time during the holidays learning about the holidays.  I try to pick some new aspect of Native American culture to study in November every year and make the lessons fun, with lots of hands-on activities and crafts.  When I throw this into that daily groove, the littles liven up.  For December, I usually pick a completely new topic to study in-depth.  Sometimes it’s stuff we’ve covered before, but should look at more closely.  This year I think we’ll have some serious music history lessons.  Sure, we’ve covered that before, but never as a unit study.

November books

I lighten the load a bit around this time.  Try to freshen it all up so when the new semester starts in January, they aren’t completely torpid in their attitudes.  Then I can get boring if I want to.  It’s freezing outside; where are they going to go?  hehe

No, really, there are so many ways to enliven your homeschool when you feel it getting monotonous.  iHomeschool Network has a great free printable called Banish Blah: Over 200 Teaching Ideas to Motivate Homechool Kids and Make Mom’s Job Easier.   Sometimes, especially as the weather gets colder, just getting your littles up and moving can enliven the whole lesson, and this gem is full of ideas for doing that while Still Teaching.  I know!

Playing board games is another great way to keep the learning going in a fun way.  In this house, we all love Scrabble and trivia games.  No kidding, we have 6 different Trivial Pursuit games, two versions of Cranium, and 3 Scrabble boards.  We also use Scotland Yard, Clue (we have 2 versions), and Sorry to practice math and strategy.  Pictionary is good for art.  You can have an entire school day of nothing but board games.  Or you can play one board game a day.  Whatever re-engages both you and your littles.

board games

Because the weather is turning glum, it might be a good time to get out of the house.  You know, we tend to want to hibernate as much as the next bear.  Just giving in to that can lead to lethargy.  So find some close, cheap educational outlets, and plan a week of field trips.  And seriously take them all in one week.  When you come back to the classroom the next week, everyone will be recharged and ready to go.  Some of the things we have close by are a Civil War battle site, the original state capital, some very cool caves, a glass factory, an art gallery.  There it is, 5 free or cheap things to do within 20 minutes of my rural farm!  Just think what you could come up with.  It might sound extreme to do a field trip every day, but it’s only one week and it can really make a difference.

I have told you before about the Quiet Time Basket I use to calm rambunctious behavior, but Julie over at Homeschooling-Ideas has some fabulous ideas for Boredom-Buster Kits.  Seriously, she suggests doing these kits up in brown paper bags.  They seem great for things like doctor’s waiting rooms and the like, but wouldn’t it be fabulous if you could grab one when you see a little losing interest in class, hand it to her, and let her re-engage with learning on her own?  Um, yeah!

However you decide to beat the mid-year blues, make sure your littles are having fun with it.  Sometimes just taking a ‘sick day’ can make a difference.  Spend the day baking cookies, watching holiday films, reading picture books together.  Do things that don’t feel like learning.  Give yourselves a chance to recharge.

And remember.  In January, you can be as boring as you want to.  They really can’t go anywhere.

Love wins,

KT

What?! Your Kids Don’t WANT to Homeschool?

I was contacted this week by a beloved family member who, along with his really fantastic wife, has decided to pull his littles from public school this year and give this homeschooling thing a try. I am so thrilled and excited for him and his family and, as ever, pleased to have another family join our ranks.  Unfortunately, my congratulations were not what he was looking for.  He was seeking advice.

Because his kids are being… uncooperative.  And they won’t really tell him why.

Image from theharriedmom.com

Image from theharriedmom.com

I started homeschooling the Littles in their 1st and 3rd grade years of school, so they were close to the age of my family member’s kids.  What did I do to ensure my kids cooperated?  And what should you do if you find yourself at home with littles who aren’t so willing to be homeschooled?

The first thing we did with our littles was establish a clear line between when I was Mama and when I was Teacher.  Granted, we did this by having summer science for 7 weeks before we notified the school of their withdrawal (and so the tradition began).  We told them it was a trial run and if they could learn from me we would continue to homeschool.  But my Littles Wanted to be homeschooled.  So they cooperated. If you have already withdrawn your kiddos from public school and are facing this dilemma, I would try a couple of things.

Establish yourself

First, ask your littles what they like about school.  It can be public school, homeschool, imaginary school, college… Just find out what turns them on to learning. Try to get them to talk about what might be cool about homeschooling.  What do they think would Not Be cool about homeschooling?  Address their concerns.   This can be a conversation as short or long as you want it to be, but use it as a time to let your littles know that when the homeschooling parent says, “It’s time for school,” he or she is no longer Mama or Dada, but a teacher who expects the same respect as their public school teachers.  And don’t just talk, act.  As parents, decide what the consequences will be if your littles don’t show you that respect.  I have to be honest here, when we first started, I utilized the same colored-stick pulling rule as their school did.  Just the threat of being in trouble if they pulled 3 sticks was enough to keep them cooperative and well-behaved.

Also, start out slow.  You have a little time.  So spend a week only schooling for an hour a day, where you are mostly watching for signs of cooperation from your littles.  Let them test you.  Follow through on your consequences.  They will start to see this homeschooling thing is as serious as public school was.  Teach for an hour and a half or 2 hours the next week.  Same deal.  Most homeschool families only school for 3-5 hours a day, so it won’t take you long to build up to speed.

Make a plan

Another good way to garner cooperation is to set a firm schedule for a while and stick to it.  Five years in, the Littles are still up at 7:30 for farm chores and breakfast and in the classroom by 8.  We don’t really waver from that unless someone is really sick.  We have loosened up over the years as to what happens after 8, but that schedule helped them establish that ‘school’ still took place at a certain time.  For the time being, set a time that school is over.  If you are going to allow snack time, do that at a specific time, too.  Kids like structure, and part of their uncooperative-ness may stem from the sudden lack of it.  It’s hard to take it seriously when your mom is in her jammies and you might start school at 9 or 11 or 2, depending on everyone’s whim.

Make a ‘classroom.’ Even if it’s just your dining table or living room floor, designate an area that is for school.  And have school there every day for the amount of time you have set.

Trust me, you can ease up on all of this once you get them in a groove and get them appreciating how much More Awesome homeschool is than public school.

How do you get them to appreciate it?  Make school Fun.

Remember, we are Educating our children, not schooling them in the traditional sense.  We don’t have to teach them like a public school teacher does.  In fact, in some states (including my own), there Aren’t Any Tests homeschoolers have to take.  So we don’t have to teach rote memorization or testing skills the way they do in public school.  We can teach in unconventional ways.

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Make learning fun

Most public school teachers don’t have time for reading aloud with their classes, especially by 3rd or 4th grade.  So make part of your school day the sharing of a story.  And make it a story that will engage the littles You Have, not one that someone says all littles should read (even if that someone is me!).  If you lead with this, they will already be accustomed to listening to you and focusing on you before you move on to history or math.

Do tons of projects.  Reading from a book or doing worksheets or notebooking are good ways to help your littles retain information, but building a volcano is a whole lot more fun that writing about one.  Research has its place but–especially while they’re young–they will likely learn more if they are also getting their hands dirty.

Make a craft.  Every day.  Of course it helps with motor skills and hand-eye coordination, but it also gives your littles something tactile to hold onto and remind them of whatever lesson the craft is related to.  And it’s fun.  Way funner than filling out boring old worksheets.

Do experiments.  There are tons of free science experiment printables on the interweb and so many resources for different experiments your head will spin.  So ask your kids what kind of science interests them and Google experiments.  You could do 3 a day for their entire schooling and still never complete all the experiments you’ll find.

Cook together.  We often find recipes related to what we’re reading, studying in geography or history, or learning about in science and spend time in the kitchen learning math and life skills making them.  Then enjoying them.  It usually means trying something new for all of us, so it helps us remember to be open-minded, too.

Take nature walks every day.  Schedule them into the middle of your school time so your littles get that they are getting ‘out of class’ to learn.  Give them a sketchbook and a couple of colored pencils and ask them to record or draw at least 3 things they see on the walk.  It won’t even seem like learning to them.  When you get back to class, get out your books or magazines or tablets and look up their sightings in greater detail.  Have them record the information under their drawings.  You just had a whole class.

Take field trips.  Often.  Once you’ve established with your littles that this is a serious school, you can step away from the dining table and out into the world.  Go to the zoo, the museum, the park, the local historical site, the house of another homeschooling family.  There is only one Civil War site in our state and we were lucky during our American History year that it is only about 25 minutes away.  Take a field trip every week.  That will convince your littles homeschool is better.

What shouldn’t you do?

I think the worst thing you can do with uncooperative homeschool kids is stand over them with a set of textbooks and worksheets and fight them over what they will complete.  It’s a good way to make them hate school and resent you.  Ease them into it by implementing the above ideas, and keep using those ideas to keep school fresh and interesting for the littles.  Middle is in 7th grade.  We still do a craft and a project every day.  Because why not?  He still enjoys them.  Who told public school officials that 13 year olds only learn with strict reading and writing courses?  He or she was wrong from what my experience has shown me.

Don’t get in a rut.  Remember that schedule I mentioned?  Remember that I also said you can loosen up on it eventually?  That.  When math worksheets or books are getting boring, make games.  When attention is wandering, get active.  There is a terrific free resource over at iHomeschool Network to help you get out of that rut or keep from establishing one.

One of the things I love about homeschooling is that we have the opportunity to play with our kids while they learn.  We get to observe each of our children–see what excites them, what makes them tick, how their brains intake information–and we get to put all that together for a learning experience that is fun for all of us.  We aren’t sitting in desks in rows surrounded by 30 other kids who need to keep up or wait on us.  So be playful.  Be joyful.  Hopefully, they will follow suit.

For more advice on scheduling, look here.  If you need help dealing with your fears, check this out. For a bit more information on nature walks, this might interest you.  Here are some reasons to give your littles for why you homeschool.

Love wins,

KT

 

Make the Coolest Solar System Model Ever

There is a secret reason I love homeschooling, and it has nothing to do with my Littles.  The truth is, I love to learn (and if you ever sneaked a peak at my various college transcripts, you would know I very nearly became a career student).  That need to Know Everything is why I enjoy planning all our classes myself.  It’s why I can’t let go of Any of the books we’ve used or might use or could possibly some day need a page out of for homeschool.  If the book isn’t at my house, how am I supposed to have quick access to its information?

You’re talking to an ex-librarian.  Do not come at me with the interweb.  Books are better.  Infinitely.

(For one thing, no one can shut them down from a whole different country. They’re Here and you’d have to fight me for them to take them from me.  I like that.)

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If you look closely, you can see that the border on our class table is an image of space. We’re nerds.

So now you know the reason I still have this amazing book 3 years after we wore it out during our astronomy class.  And I’m glad I do.  Because if you look back at the pics I posted yesterday of our newly painted desk, you will see that in the first one the solar system model we made that year is sitting in the paint bin and in the second one it has finally been re-hung on the ceiling.  And it really is the Most Awesome Solar System Model Ever.  And it was easy and fun to make.  So I’m going to tell you how we did it.

First of all we used DK’s Space: A Visual Encyclopedia to study not only each planet in our solar system, but the colors of the planets.  We wanted to get them right.  We also used this poster pulled from an old National Geographic.

posterWe ended up with this:

IMG_20150902_145031569Here’s how.

Materials needed:

1 Styrofoam Sheet (ours was approx. 12 x 18 inches, and thicker than you need, but we had it laying around from some package we had gotten in the mail. Frugality.)

1 Bag Various Sizes Styrofoam balls  – 2 1 in, 2 1 1/2 -in, 3 2-in, 2 4-in, 1 6-in (I couldn’t find the bigger (4 inch) balls in a pack.  I had to purchase them separate. Now AC/DC will be stuck in my head all day)

9 Kabob Sticks (We use in them in place of small dowel rods for Everything.  So much cheaper!)

Craft Paints in:

Light blue    Dark Blue

Green       Orange

Yellow      Red

Maroon   Tan

Grey    Black

White

White Yarn (optional)

1 Sheet Cardstock

A Couple of Toothpicks

1 Miniature White Pom Pom

White Glue and/or Glue Gun

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Directions:

  1. First, prepare your space background.  Paint the styrofoam sheet black.  Don’t forget the edges.  Once it’s dry, your littles can dab little white paint stars all over it if they want to.  I used white yarn to denote the paths of each planet (and a guide to tell me where to place them), but you don’t have to do that.
  2. Paint your kabob sticks black.  That way they aren’t so obvious when you’re looking at your finished product.  You can dab stars on these, too, but we didn’t.
  3. Paint your planets.  We started with the sun (a 6-in ball), using a base coat of yellow, then swirling reds and oranges over top it to represent flares and variations in heat.  Next, we painted Mercury (a 1-in ball) a steel grey color, then lightly dabbed on some black to represent craters and other impact basins.  Venus (a 2-in ball), of course, is orange with red and yellow swirls to represent is thick blanket of carbon dioxide gas and heat.  Earth (a 2-in ball), our very own neck of the woods, is light blue with green landforms and a little white to represent our cloud cover.  Mars (a 1 1/2-in ball) is the red planet.  We added some maroon swirls to give it a little atmosphere.  Jupiter and Saturn are both 4-in balls.  For Jupiter, we painted the base tan then swirled some maroon through it to represent the equatorial belts.  We also painted in the Giant Red Spot, or hydrogen storm, that has been blowing nonstop since at least 1664, when the planet was discovered.  For Saturn, we mixed tan and yellow together for the base then used maroon for the huge, hurricane-like storms that blow over the planet.  The blue swirl on the bottom is the outstanding aurora on Saturn’s south pole.  Uranus (a 2-in ball) is a light blue planet with very light green swirls.  Neptune (a 1 1/2-in ball) is also light blue, but it has more prominent green on it, and a white band to represent the ice clouds near the equator.  The Littles insisted on including Pluto, because their hearts were broken when it was demoted, so we whittled a 1-inch ball down, painted it gold, and gave it some black atmosphere.  To this day, it is their favorite part of this model.
  4. Make Saturn’s rings.   We cut a 6-inch circle from cardstock, then cut out the center, leaving a ring of about 1 inch.  Then we painted it tan, yellow, and maroon (from the inside out) in rings to represent the ice and rocks of which they are made.  We glued 3 toothpicks to the undersides of the rings at intervals (if you look closely at the pic above, you can see them) with the long ends pointing toward the center.  Then we stuck the toothpicks into the styrofoam Saturn.  A little hot glue to make sure it’ll stay and boom.  Permanent rings.
  5. Attach Earth’s Moon. This what the little pom pom is for.  You can use several if you want to put moons on all the planets, but I guess we are planet-ist.  We just wanted to depict our own moon.  Glue the pom pom onto one end of a toothpick.  We painted our toothpick black first.  You don’t have to.  Stick the other end of the toothpick into Earth.  You’re done.
  6. Place your planets into space.  If you want to be able to hang your solar system from the ceiling and have it last like ours has, you’re going to have to use a glue gun here.  We took our painted kabob sticks, stuck them into the north ends of our planets, then pulled them back out and put a dab of hot glue in the hole.  Then we stuck the sticks back in.  Once all of your planets have a stick, get out your book, poster, website, acronym–whatever helps you remember their order.  Starting at a far corner of your sheet, attach the other end of the sun’s kabob stick to the styrofoam sheet the same way you attached it to the ball.  Then just ‘My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas’ away, ending with Pluto at the far opposite corner.

I would give you advice for hanging this thing, but I have done it so many different ways over the years that I have none.  We attached floral wire to the back first and tacked it to the ceiling with that.  This time?  Do Not laugh at me.  I hot-glued it to the ceiling.  It’s my classroom, I’ll hot glue if I want to.

IMG_20150902_145046032Love wins,

KT

Teaching STEM When You’re STEM-Challenged

We all know about STEM, right?  That relatively new term that gets tossed about and means Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.  If you’re like me, just reading the acronym can turn your knees to jelly.  I have written before about being convinced by others as a child that I was a sub-par science and math girl, even though I always scored well on what amounted to standardized tests back then.  Before I tackled chemistry with the Littles last year, I had never taken anything remotely approaching a chem class.  I considered myself STEM-challenged.

In some ways, I still am.  Mostly because I don’t have the background education that would serve me well in these later homeschool years.  When I start to plan a science or tech course for the boys, I am quaking in my shoes over how hard it’s going to be for me to teach them something I know nothing about.  Then I get into the planning process and realize I actually know much more than I thought I did, and have to high-five myself for the life lessons that have prepared me where my education did not.

Still.  Some of us are truly STEM-challenged.  Our brains are creative or literary and all that logic throws us for a loop.  Just when we think we’re grasping the information, it slips away like water in a swollen stream.  What do we, as homeschooling parents, do when faced with this challenge?

IMG_20150701_101330985Seek help.  Never be afraid to seek help.  I posted in June about our great find from STEM Fuse, from which we are learning coding so that Middle can follow his dream of video game designing.  It wasn’t my first idea for summer science, but as you know, one of the things I love most about homeschooling is getting to let the Littles lead in terms of their education.  Middle really wanted to learn how to actually create a video game.  I had no idea how to teach him that.  I have never (nor have I ever wanted to) designed a video game.  The classes I took about computer technology took place at least 6 years ago, many of them much longer ago than that.  I have obviously kept my hand in, what with using the computer to create classes, this blog, and a few novels, but not enough, I have learned.  Those things are pretty basic.  I couldn’t write HTML or CSS if you held a gun to my head (please don’t do that).  So I went looking for help.

I found a class.  Already prepared and mapped out, all I have to do is give it.  If you’ve been reading me for very long at all, you know this is not something I do.  My STEM-lacking education at least gave me the skills to provide some kick-butt history, language arts, art, and music classes.  I use resources from other homeschooling blogs, but I often make my own worksheets, notebooking pages, and unit studies because…. Well, it’s fun.  I Love It.  And I’m stubborn.  I took on this responsibility and I intend to be the person who does most of the work.  I cannot make myself change that mindset.  Except.  I don’t know anything about writing code or designing video games.  So I found a class.  That someone else put together.

IMG_20150701_101345452Can I thank STEM Fuse enough?  I don’t think so.  Though the course is set up to be done in 18 weeks in a public school, because science and cursive are our only concentration for the summer, we have 2-3 hours a day to work on it.  And since it’s so interesting to the Littles, they don’t mind doing it for that long.  We are already in what should be the 8th week of the course, and we’ve only been at it for 2 & 1/2 weeks.  (Don’t you just Love Homeschooling?!)  Today the Littles created the background and main character for their first game.   A big step away from my original advice of, “Take this binder and fill it with paper and write down every single idea you have.”  It was good advice, don’t get me wrong.  But this class is actually getting them closer to being able to take real action toward achieving their goals.

By the same token, when we started chemistry last year, I wasted a lot of money on books that seemed like what I wanted but ended up being over all our heads.  I kept looking.  It wasn’t until mid-year, but I finally found something that Really Taught Us about chemistry.  We proceeded with glee.  The original problem was that I didn’t know where to start, and I didn’t think to ask for help.  Remember that stubborn streak I mentioned?

Sometimes we can’t do it on our own, and that is okay.  If you think of yourself as STEM-challenged, there are lots of online resources that can help you move forward with your child’s education full of confidence.  Here are a few:

STEM Fuse

This site offers lots of STEM courses and advice, and there are serious discounts for homeschoolers.  But hurry up–right now they are $50 a course, but on 8/7/15 they will go up to $100 a course.  I happily paid $50 for the course we are taking now, and it is worth every penny.  There are courses in reading, math, computer programming, health sciences, and business.  There are webinars offered on building your own coding courses and sneak peeks of their products under the Education tab.

National STEM Centre

This site is British, but don’t be intimidated.  I get their newsletter, and it is always full of great resources for teaching STEM subjects.  It’s also really interesting to see what Britain is doing in terms of STEM advancement.  Just getting a worldview on education is a total bonus for me.  Their latest newsletter included info on engaging space lessons, Lego robotics, and extending thinking in primary science.  Their eLibrary tab offers tons of free pdfs to help you plan your STEM classes.

The STEM Education Resource Center at PBS.org

This is another site that offers free resources for all STEM subjects, for grades k-13+, including PBS-grade videos which are awesome.  I have found, when teaching science, that videos can go a long way toward explaining certain materials because of their combination of audio and visual instruction.

EarthSky

I have mentioned this site many times on the blog because it is so incredibly magnificent.  A true feast of astrological and geological information and pictures that are out of this world (sometimes literally), this is one you should refer to often.   Sign up for their newsletter.  I have received it for years and I still look forward to seeing it in my inbox.  It’s among my top 5 fave sites for our homeschool.

NASA for Educators

NASA’s site is amazing in and of itself, but its resources for educators are outstanding.  They offer the latest news, apps, and ebooks available in Kindle, EPUB, and pdf files.  The site can be a bit disorienting to navigate, but be patient–a wealth of knowledge is there.

Free Technology for Teachers

This site gives advice about how to teach tech to your kids.  It offers a really cool array of information on what to do to add tech to your classes.  Check it out, and try not to be overwhelmed–when I say an array I mean a Vast Array.  I heart this site in a big way, especially now that we are definitely adding technology to our curriculum.

I hope these sites help you feel more comfortable and less challenged with STEM.  As parents of the modern age, we’d better get with it! haha  I wish you luck on the journey.

Love wins,

KT