Up for a Challenge?

I was thinking the other day about all of the challenges our family used to take part in as homeschoolers.  There was the Unplug Your Kids challenge, which issued a different word or theme each week as inspiration (such as purple or bug).  There was the Think! challenge.  I know there were many more, and we took part in some of them regularly.

The idea was that there would be a new theme each week, and families would do some sort of activity in the spirit of that theme and then blog about it and report back with the link.  People were encouraged to see what other families had done and it was also a fun way to find other like-minded blogs to visit.

We came up with the purple cabbage pH experiment for the purple theme.

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For the “fruit” theme, we made watermelon playdough.

watermelonplaydough

For the “smooth” theme we did sensory handwriting in flour, lotion and other materials.

write

We did crayon shirt transfers for the “wax” theme.

crayonshirt

And so on (check out all of the projects we did for Unplug Your Kids challenges here).

Of course, back then we homeschool bloggers were a different sort.  We blogged to share ideas and resources, record our days, and support each other.  It was informal and personal.  There weren’t always pictures and there certainly weren’t SEO words or Pinterest-worthy title pics.  It wasn’t for money or hits, it was just what we quietly did in some of our spare time to connect with each other, help other homeschoolers and log a part of our lives.  I’m not sure how many bloggers of that sort even exist any more, which is probably a big part of why challenges have mostly died off (on the other hand, I know there must be lots of you out there so please holler if you are!).

But in the spirit of “Be the change you want to see in the world,” I thought maybe I could start a weekly challenge if anybody wants to take part.

Each Monday, I’ll issue a theme for the week.  If you want to take part, do some sort of project or activity with your kiddo(s) and blog about it over that week (I think Instagram posts and public Facebook posts could count, too, if you don’t have a blog).  Come back by the next Monday and leave a link to what you did, and check out what others did.

Anybody interested?  Leave a note if you’d like to take part and if there is any interest then I’ll start this month.  🙂

Homeschooling Through Construction Mayhem

There’s been a little more mayhem than usual in our homeschool the past few weeks.  We’re having extensive home repairs done on all four floors of our house (main floor, second floor, attic and basement).

This is what our back porch looked like last week after they ripped out the floor, walls, insulation and ceiling.

porch

To say it’s been hectic is an understatement.

While it will be so worth it in the end, it’s been pretty exhausting — especially since we had just one day notice that they’d be starting on the renovations since we set it all up early last summer!

The construction crew knows we homeschool (of course) and I’m pretty sure they think that involves nothing at all (!) since we’re not doing anything remotely traditional while they’re here.  After all, they’re ripping up floors, walls, counters, windows, you name it, and it’s not like we could just pile into the kitchen to do science experiments and lapbooks all day or read quietly through the hammering and drilling!

Nonetheless, we’ve still managed to learn and play through the chaos.

Here are ten ways we’ve learned and played during the construction.

1. Alex and I have been playing Timeline on the new living room floor.  We have three sets of this fantastic little history card game (Discoveries, Inventions and Historical Events) and love them all.  The other kids have been joining in some of the games too (Rhia even played a few rounds with her college friend one night!).  Not only is it great for putting historical events in perspective to each other, but it’s led to all kinds of great conversations on everything from pulsars to Darwin and Lincoln (they were born the same day of the same year, as you may know).

Pressure cookers are way older than I realized. #timeline #history #homeschooling #handsonlearning #educationalgames

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2. We’ve been reading lots of library books.  Winter is always the time to hit up the library extra often and it’s a good place to escape to when the chaos is too loud, too.

3. The boys have been playing Dragonbox for algebra.  It’s been a while since the kids played it so I loaded it up on Jack and Alex’s Kindles and had them do a little every day.  I’m planning on getting the higher level one (Dragonbox 12+) for Jack once he finishes the original version, too.  The nice thing about educational apps is that kids can just hole up in a room somewhere or just take them in the car with them and use them anywhere.

4.  Fiona, Alex and I have been playing Wildcraft. It’s a wonderful game that I finally broke down and bought last year after coveting it for years.  I love that it’s cooperative and that it teaches so much about helpful plants.  All players work together to get to the top of a mountain and gather huckleberries for a pie for grandma.  Along the way, they run into various maladies (sunburn, insect bite, hunger, sprained ankle, etc.) and they see if they have any of the plants that can help the ailment (jewelweed, field mint, plantain, echinacea, etc.).  If they don’t, one of their teammates can help them if they have a cooperation card, or they can use cooperation cards to pull the player who’s farthest behind up to their space.  It’s a bit like a nature studies “Candy Land” — except everybody works together and it teaches you.  🙂  It’s also just plain pretty!  Fiona especially loves the game and asks to play it constantly.

wild-craft

5. Daryl has been taking the kids hiking and longboarding at the nearby state park.  The weather has been strangely warm for February for Minnesota (we had rain last week!) so they’ve been taking advantage of it to get some much-needed fresh air, sunshine and exercise — and of course, some nature studies!

6. I’ve been teaching the older kids about Kindle publishing.  Now that I’ve published my first Kindle book, it doesn’t seem so overwhelming and I’ve realized what a great tool it could be for the kids to share some of their knowledge and passions.  I told Toria that I would love to see her publish a “Hard Core Nature Studies” book because she has taught herself so much cool stuff about hands-on projects for serious science and nature lovers (like how to whiten bones), for instance.

Shameless plug…. Speaking of my book, it’s free to read if you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited.  Otherwise, it’s $2.99.  There are 52 nature study projects, broken down so there is one a week for all four seasons.  Most of the projects are ones that we’ve done many times in our own homeschool over the years, including lots of our favorites.

naturestudiescover

7. Alex is on a spelling kick.  With all of my kids, spelling was one of the last things to kick in naturally — well after they were reading very well.  Alex was no different, and it was to the point where I cringed when I saw his spelling even though we did play spelling games, talk about spelling rules and activities like that.  As with all of the kids, though, it did finally click and he found his own way to learn to love it and excel at it.

In his case, his spelling suddenly skyrocketed because of two things — texting friends and spelling everything he says to me.  He now communicates half the time by spelling his questions and sentences to me.  It drives the other kids a little crazy, but he jumped a good 2 grade levels in spelling the past month just through these two habits.

(It should also be noted that the two friends that my 9 year-old boy texts the most often are a 9 year-old girl who lives a block away and a middle-aged world-traveled lawyer from Beverly Hills who lives next door to us.  The neighbor has become a close friend to our whole family since she moved in last spring, and it makes me smile that Alex texts her regularly to check in on things.  🙂  I love that homeschooling means that “socialization” occurs with all ages and all types of people, instead of kids growing up segregated into grade-level groups of like-minded peers.  I also love that it often means that kids have no concern about gender or age when choosing friends.)

8. I’ve put on lots of educational TV.  I love having You-Tube, Netflix and Hulu because it means there’s always something entertaining and educational to occupy the kids when things get hectic.  The younger kids particularly like Maths Mansion, which we watch on You-Tube.  It’s the weirdest children’s show I’ve ever seen but it’s oddly hilarious and even the big kids watch it because it’s just so bizarre. It’s a very surreal British show that I read about a while back on another homeschool blog.  It features a villain who traps children in a spooky house and makes them do math to escape and a nice (but ridiculous) guy who teaches the kids the math concepts.  The villain also accosts random real life people on the streets to ask them strange math questions.  🙂  It’s really odd but we like it!  It covers some pretty advanced math for a children’s show, too, and gives the kids problems to solve at the end of each show.  They’ve also been watching Myth Busters, National Geographic documentaries and various other programs.

9. We’ve been dragging out various books in spare moments to learn American history, algebra, science and more.  One of the nice things about having a massive library amassed from thrift stores and the occasional Scholastic book splurge is that we have wonderful books to teach about everything from how gravity works to rocks and minerals.  Today, I grabbed a Scholastic book about “everything you need to know about American history for homework” and we read through the section on the French and Indian war.  Alex figured out how many years ago it started and we read through the causes and results (pretty monumental).  Earlier in the day, I read a picture book with Fiona and Alex about how gravity works (and then added to it since it didn’t do much of a job of explaining it).  A couple of days ago, I went through a college-level “algebra for dummies” book with Jack upstairs when they were tearing up the living room.  These books give us small doses of pretty rigorous information and discussions that we often continue later.

10. Of course, the kids are learning all about construction, electricity, plumbing and renovation work.  I can’t possibly name all the things the kids have learned from the workers and the work they’ve done the past couple of weeks.  When the foreman found out we had an older type of wiring called knob and tube wiring in the attic, he explained how electricity passed through it as opposed to modern systems and what the risks were.

Knob and tube wiring gets its name from the ceramic knobs used to hold wires in place and ceramic tubes that act as protective casings for wires running through wall studs or floor joists. Instead of the three wires found in modern electrical installations, knob and tube wiring has only two — a black (hot) wire and a white (neutral) wire. This means there is no ground wire in the system for excess charge or in the event of a short.

The kids have also watched how counters are replaced, how all kinds of power tools are used, how various kinds of flooring are laid, how a frame is built for a bathtub and shower, and tons more.  Toria talked to the foreman about how many boxes of flooring they’d need for her to do our hallway later on, figuring out square footage for the hallway and factoring in how many square feet are in each box (and figuring the cost).  They’ve learned about plumbing lines, material costs, housing codes and oodles more.

And yes, it’s going to be so worth it when it’s over. Here’s a picture of Fiona practicing drawing and writing on our living room floor last summer.  We had pulled up the big area rug thinking they were going to start on the renovations soon (the original completion date was supposed to be in August!), so we were looking at this floor for about 7 months!

More reading and writing, as requested by Fiona. #homepreschool #handsonlearning #homeschooling #summerdays

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Here’s a picture of Fiona meditating on our new living room floor last week.

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It’s a happy sort of chaos, then, and one we are grateful for!

This was just another example of how well homeschooling can work so well around life.

We have homeschooled through getting snowed in while visiting other cities, making trips to take care of my ailing grandmother, vacations, new babies, Toria’s cancer, Daryl’s hip replacement and all kinds of other challenges.  I am so grateful that with homeschooling, school can so easily fit around life, instead of life having to fit around school.

But boy will I be glad when the construction is finished.  🙂

~ ~ ~

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10 Fun Ways to Learn Today

It’s been a while since I posted one of these so I thought it would be fun to do another.  Here are some fun ways to work in all sorts of subjects with a bit of fun…

  1. Spit ball geography: Get a big world map and play a different game with it every day this week.  For today, try launching spit balls at countries that other people call out!  Here’s how to make spitballs, or you could also use a dart gun.
  2. Balloon challenges: There are all different variations to try with this one.  Blow up a balloon and bop it with family members as you take turns calling out math problems.  Kids have to answer before they bop it back up in the air, and everybody works as a team to try to keep it from hitting the ground.  Or take turns calling out items in a group (for instance, elements from the periodic table, states, words that start with M….).
  3. Sistine Chapel Art: Lots of folks have done this classic art idea.  Tape coloring pages of the Sistine Chapel on the underside of your table and let the kids color them on their backs as Michaelangelo did.  Here are coloring pages to print out if they want to use those (or they can create their own masterpieces) and here’s information on how Michaelangelo created the Sistine Chapel.
  4. Lego homeschooling: Here is a compilation of all sorts of Lego lesson plans, from Lego chemical reactions (complete with printables) from MIT to a Lego balloon-powered car to plans for building the Nile River from Legos to a subscription to the free Lego Magazine and more.
  5. DIY flash cards: Give the kids index cards and art supplies to make some really fun flashcards to teach any math facts they have trouble remembering.
  6. Famous person Who Am I: Gather the kids and put a sign on each one’s back with a famous person written on it.  Have them go around the room asking questions to figure out who they are.  You can use historic figures, artists, authors, you name it.  You can also use elements for older kids (Am I a gas?  Am I poisonous?).
  7. Make an educational video: Challenge the kids to give a 2 minute report on any subject they want to research and record it as a video.  If they like, they can use fun editing apps to add text and music.  If they get excited about the project, you can even start a family blog with a new video every week.
  8. Use window markers to do math problems: Enough said.  🙂
  9. Photography Challenges: Let the kids use a digital camera and agree on some fun challenges such as taking a picture of something for each letter of the alphabet, 3 kinds of clouds, each state of matter, etc.
  10. Do the purple cabbage pH experiment: This is one of our all time favorite science experiments.  Even I have fun mixing and matching to make the cabbage water turn colors (and even turn it back!).

Anna is off in Arizona visiting one of her best friends, so I have one less child to occupy and educate for the week.  Now I’m off to find some Lego fun to play with Jack, and then I have a small girl who’d like to “eed yots of books!,” a boy who’d like to play a phonics game, a teen who wants to do some poetry exercises and a house that could use several hundred hours of cleaning (let’s be honest, it’ll be lucky to get one!).   🙂

February's Plan: Try it Out, Use it Up!

You know how I love to have themes this time of year.  Well, I’ve decided on the theme for Feburary… Try it out, use it up!

We have so many things we’ve accumulated that we still haven’t used, done and tried…

  • Board games
  • Science kits
  • Art supplies
  • Recipes
  • Pinterest ideas
  • Exotic foods
  • Craft kits
  • Books…

So every day of February, I plan to do/try/make/read/use up at least one thing that we previously were leaving to sit unused…

I want to use up the urad dahl beans that I got from the Middle Eastern store in NY and the canned jackfruit that is supposed to be the world’s best shredded chicken substitute for vegetarians and the apple pie filling that we canned last September…

I want to try out the science kit we picked up at a garage sale and have sitting in the front porch closet and the box of soil we received to sift for fossils from a university project and the laminating machine I’ve never even taken out of the box…

I want to make at least a dozen recipes that are dog-eared in cookbooks and still  haven’t tried.

I want to try at least 10 homeschool ideas that I have pinned on various boards.

I want to use up a ton of art supplies!

I want to actually finish any history book we’ve ever purchased as a read-aloud.  🙂

And so on.

I’ll report back as I go.  Wish me luck!

 

A Few Good Links (Spelling, cooking, plant families and more!)

Here’s a few assorted links I’ve found lately that I thought were worth keeping.

I’m posting these here in case they help others and also so I can find the sites later when I need them! 🙂  I’d pin them but in most cases, they don’t have pinnable images.

4th Grade Spelling lists… We don’t usually do anything formal in spelling.  (Here’s a tip from a mom who’s HSed to the teen years– spelling is one of those things that takes care of itself very well through the rest of life if you have a child who likes to read and write.) That said, Jack could use a boost and we’re doing some weekly spelling words now and trying to make it fun.  This site has lots of easy printable lists and you don’t need to sign up or jump through any hoops (and other grades, too).

Acids and Bases (Science Fair Projects and Experiments)… Wow, this site looks awesome.  The projects are categorized and look really interesting.  It’s a no-frills site, but one I want to spend more time investigating.

Culinary Skills Challenge… This is something I want to do with my kids this month.  It’s part of a group challenge that we’re not going to take part in because the official one is wheat-based and my girls would probably say they’re too shy to take part right now, where kids are challenged to bake a muffin recipe and then make changes and present an improved muffin to the judges.  I think it would be awesome fun to use one of my basic gluten free muffin recipes and do it as a family project.  I love the chart and the idea of changing one thing at a time and logging the results.  (Click on baking science guidelines for their rules, their basic wheat-based muffin recipe and their chart in PDF form.)

Foods and plants that are related… This is interesting to me as the mom of allergic kids and also just as science.  It’s a very comprehensive page of info about what families various plants, seafood, etc. are in and how people can react to other seemingly unrelated things because they are actually related, like this part:

Cross-Reactions between Trees and Foods – Oral Allergy Syndrome – AAIA Quarterly Volume 29 Fall 1993, Dr. Ham Pong “Oral Allergy Syndrome” — allergy to a pollen triggers itching of the mouth when related foods are eaten. See Oral Allergy article on Articles page.

Foods associated with BIRCH pollen allergy: apple family (apple, pear), Plum family (almond, apricot, cherry, nectarine, peach, plum, prune), Parsley family (carrot, celery, fennel, parsley, parsnip), Walnut.

Foods associated with RAGWEED pollen allergy: banana, melons.

Foods associated with GRASS pollen allergy: melons, orange, tomato.

Foods associated with MUGWORT (Artemisia vulgaris) pollen allergy: – apple, carrot, celery, melons

Reading which family various things are in is quite interesting, too.  Or perhaps I’m just a geek!  That’s pretty much confirmed, too!  🙂

In other news…

Don’t forget that Pi Day is coming up!  Here’s oodles of fun stuff to do to celebrate.

I’ve also written recently about How to prepare your daughter for her first period, a recipe for Easy (I swear!) gluten free and dairy free glazed donuts, a new site that features kids’ science projects with theme challenges, and how kids can sign up for a free 2-year subscription to LEGO Magazine.

And now, I’m back on toddler duty.  I wonder what the odds are that Fiona would like to relax in a bath and look through gluten free cookbooks and garden magazines with me?

 

The Maud Hart Lovelace Reading Challenge

We’re taking part in a fun challenge this month.  We joined in the MHL Reading Challenge.

It’s especially timely for us since we’re leaving today for History Fest, where we’ll be running the Betsy-Tacy booth in costumes and teaching old time games and such.

Click here for more info on MHL and Betsy-Tacy (the books are based on the author’s early 1900’s childhood growing up in Mankato).  Click here to see more about History Fest and why I am so enamored of this fabulous event.

We’re starting the chalenge with book one, back at the start, when the girls meet at age five.  We’ll see how far we get in the month.  I’d really like to get to some of the older books like when they’re in high school or when Betsy gets her first apartment.  They’re quick reads so we’ll see how much ground we can cover.

Care to join us?

10 Fun Ways We've Learned and Played Lately

Here’s a bit more of what we’ve been up to!

  1. Victoria has been drawing wildflowers she found in the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer magazine.  They’re lovely!  She gave me a picture of a lady slipper because she said she thought it would remind me of spring.  🙂
  2. Daryl read Jack a picture book about St. Patrick’s Day that included the history of the holiday and Irish immigrants in America.
  3. The kids watched a documentary about Andrew Jackson.  Among the facts they taught me:  he loved to write but was a terrible speller, he hated paper money (and ended up on the $20 bill) and all about how he got the scar on his face, his famous duel and his wife’s first husband.
  4. Victoria continues to write in her journal in Viking runes.  Since they didn’t have all the letters we have, she has to be really creative in how she words things.
  5. The girls have been playing on Horseland.
  6. Jack has been playing lots of physics games online (link last week, I’m too lazy to look it up again!).
  7. Victoria read “Dear Mr. Henshaw” and started “The Spiderwick Chronicles.” Anna read “The Spiderwick Chronicles” and is reading something that escapes me.  There are lots more but those are the only ones I remember.
  8. We joined the 100-Books-a-month challenge and I’ve started a log of the books so I should be better at telling what books we’ve read.  🙂
  9. I dreamed up this fabulously fun drawing craft with our electric griddle.  It’s probably been done a million times but it was new to me and the kids all loved it.  It made a bit of a mess but even I liked doing it!   I’ll post a tutorial soon.                              
  10. Daryl and the kids have been doing Readers Theater plays, including one about the Boston Tea Party, one about an earlier folktale like Cinderella and an old English story called “Master of Masters.”