The Daily List is a Fun Way to Get Kids Writing

I’ve been working on getting Jack and Alex to do more writing lately.  Victoria and Rhiannon always loved writing and it was one way they quite naturally improved their handwriting, spelling and composition skills over the years.  Since the boys aren’t as keen to do it on their own, I’ve been finding fun ways to get them writing.

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As long-time readers know, I’ve never been a fan of forced activities.  I want my kids to love to write (and read and learn in general), not to put up with it because they have to.  After all, I want them to be lifelong readers, writers and learners, and this only happens if they learn to love reading, writing and learning.  This has always worked for us, in part because we come up with ways to show them the joy of these things.

Daily lists are a fun and easy way to get this going with writing.

I gave Jack a notebook and asked him to make a list of any 20 things each day.  The list could be of things he wants for his birthday, jobs he might like to do when he grows up, birds he can ID, characters who annoy him on TV, things he likes about Minnesota… Anything.  I help brainstorm list ideas if he comes up blank, but he chooses what he wants to list.  Alex will be starting his own notebook this week, too.

They don’t have to list 20 things in one list if there aren’t that many things that apply.  They can do a couple of shorter lists, such as who their best friends are and who they’d like to get to know better, or states they’ve visited and states they’d like to visit.

 I shared this idea with a friend and she used it quite successfully with her son yesterday.  He has Downs Syndrome and tends to balk at writing.  She asked him to write a list of 10 things he likes on pizza (which he loves).  After he wrote his list, she sat and helped him correct the spelling and they talked about sounding out words and spelling rules.

One of the great things about this is that it works with any age and it can become a journal of sorts.  Keep all the lists in one notebook and have kids date them, and they can look back to see what their favorite books or songs were, what they considered their best qualities, and so on.  It also just helps get you into a creative mindset, and get thinking about those bigger topics like possible careers and things you’d like to get better at.

As always, it helps to have fun notebooks and pens to use, too.  Everything is more fun when you have cool materials to use.  😉

I’m thinking of making up a big list of lists now, and printing it up as books for the boys.  This is working really well for now, though, and I’m excited to get Alex started.

I kind of want to start my own list journal too!

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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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Snow Days

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We’ve been snowed in for two days with a winter blizzard that’s led to closed highways and canceled plans.  While I’ll be awfully tired of this business in a month or two, I kind of like this part of Minnesota winters for now.

We’re forced to slow down, stay home and do cozy things like read, play games and bake.  I take long baths and browse seed catalogs to plan my spring and summer gardens.  I use up apples, pears, berries and pumpkin puree that we put up last summer and fall in homemade muffins and gluten free mix and match snack cakes.  We watch silly British math shows.  The kids have tickle fights and show each other funny videos.

We picked up this geography game for 99 cents at a thrift store and finally got around to playing it yesterday. It was quite old and exceptionally well made, and luckily every piece was still there. It led to quite a lot of great learning about geography and history for Jack,  Victoria and even me.

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This morning, I set the little ones up with a giant bin of snow and ice cube trays of colored water.  They had so much fun mixing colors and experimenting with making tunnels with water.

snowday

Later, Victoria did marshmallow homeschool with Jack, Fiona and Alex while they warmed up with hot cocoa after shoveling the driveway.  She asked them questions related to math, social studies and spelling for them to earn marshmallows (examples for Jack: What’s the difference between a slave and an indentured servant?  If 4x + 4 = 20, what is x?).  She googled questions for various grades in order to come up with good questions.  My kids always love doing marshmallow or chocolate chip homeschool.  Afterwards, Jack asked me to do more algebra with him (no treats involved).

marshmallow

Hopefully, we’ll be able to dig our way out in the next day or so.  If not, I can live with a longer break from the outside world.  We have plenty of groceries, a warm house and a nearly endless supply of games, books, shows, Pinterest crafts and other goodies that I’ve been meaning to get to for far too long now (which led to last February’s Use it Up challenge).  🙂

Stay warm!

Yesterday and Today, In Pictures

Boy, if these photos don’t show what our homeschool is like, I don’t know what does.

Yesterday, we went hiking at Red Rock Dells, a park about 20 minutes from us.

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It was so much fun.  It was nature study, history, science, PE and more.  And it’s just beautiful and good for the soul.

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Today, Daryl took Toria and Alex and some homeschooling friends two hours away to take part in a movie shoot.

As extras.  In a zombie movie.  🙂

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Isn’t my boy darling?!

This is the movie they’re shooting.

Daryl just called to check in.  They didn’t wrap up shooting until after seven so they’ll be back late.  They’re excited about going back tomorrow and Saturday, even though it involves an awful lot of sitting around (they’re bringing iPod chargers and more books tomorrow!).

They’re learning lots about the movie business and I have no idea what else (can I somehow make this count for social studies?), but what an experience!

And in contrast, this is what Jack and I were doing while they were filming….

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He stayed home and helped me with Fiona (no zombies under five allowed).  He’s not sure if he wants to have anything to do with this zombie business, though he’s signed up so he can take part if he chooses to.

And we had a pretty fun time on our own.

It’s an odd life, but a fun one!  🙂

The Lazy Homeschooler's Guide to Spelling

You know we’ve never been the school-at-home types around here, and that certainly extends into spelling.

My own personal philosophy when it comes to spelling, after having helped four kids learn to read and then master spelling, is this:

Although reading and spelling seem to go hand in hand, most children fully grasp reading long before they’re spelling well. This is normal, and is not in any way an indication that your child will be a poor speller later on.

You can both suffer through spelling programs and curricula, but it’s not necessarily something your child needs. It’s quite likely that your child will get good at spelling at about the same age whether you use those programs or not.

(You can read the rest of the article here: 12 Ways to improve your child’s spelling)

With all of the kids, I have noticed that they learn to read well and then it is still a couple of years (minimum) before they are naturally spelling well.

With my teens, I also noted that they eventually became very good spellers with very little assistance from me — as long as I was willing to be patient (and a little bit creative in working it into life).

In the elementary years, spelling was the only subject Victoria ever scored at grade level in.  She scored far above grade level in every other subject — even math, which she claimed she hated.  And even then, she only scored at  grade level one year.  That year, we did this a couple of times and by the next year she was above grade level again.

We also do a lot of this silliness, both online (and in emails) and in homeschool journals.  It’s always worked like a charm.

And then we do random spelling, such as calling out words for the kids to spell on car rides.

Right now, we’re working on spelling with Jack.  Spelling was his only grade level subject in his last standardized test (Minnesota requires them annually, though only we see the results).  So September is spelling month.  We’ll continue on into October if he still seems to need it and is enjoying it.  If he’s tired of it by then, I’ll just deploy sneakier methods.  😉

We’re already having him play some spelling games online and trying out some spelling apps on the iPad, and I’m narrating spelling words for him to spell the same way we did with Victoria.  And I’m encouraging lots more writing (wish lists, stories, anything that comes up).  He’s already improving by leaps and bounds.

I am so glad that I haven’t been tied to daily spelling work with four kids for all of these years!  I find this so much easier for all of us.

I’m still looking for the lazy homeschooler’s answer to all those laundry piles, though.

 

For more on the subject, see….

20 Fun ways to practice spelling words

Dozens of free spelling games online!

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?

 

Heading for the Sunshine State

In a little over two weeks, the kids and I are escaping the cold and miserable winter for Florida.

We’re driving with our friends Guy and Val, who are like family to us.  I’ve known Val since high school and Daryl has known Guy since college.  Daryl is staying home (he doesn’t travel well) but the 7 of us are heading to Val’s parents’ house in Florida and whatever fun we can have along the way.

We’re going to be gone for two weeks, but that includes driving time so it’ll probably be just over a week actually in Florida.

On the agenda…

  • Disney World (probably a day at Magic Kingdom and a day at Epcot, which is what I’ve had the most votes for)
  • At least a day trip to each coast
  • Time with Val’s parents, who are generously giving up their house for our crew to go stay someplace quiet at night

And yes, I know that’s not enough time to properly see Disney, but the cost is just too high for more!  Besides, there’s lot of other fun stuff to cram in.  🙂

I am utterly overwhelmed with planning.  Val has put me in charge of researching everything, reserving everything, etc. because “Alicia’s good at finding deals,” but Disney and Florida are some pretty mind-boggling places to research.  I’ve purchased a membership to Tour Guide Mike’s page on Disney and am just going to figure no matter what it will be magical.

It should be fun!

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Tonight’s links…

I love, love, love this book.  🙂


Review: Tree Craft offers easy projects from tree trimmings and found wood

12 Ways to improve your child’s spelling