Kindergarten Fun: Giraffes

The Homeschool Review Crew recently asked on Twitter

I responded

Upper elementary. Reading and basic math are mastered, but you’re not yet to the difficult upper level courses. Lots of fun things to do with the 3-4-5 grade crowd.

I stand by that, but I also think Kindergarten is pretty fun. When you’re not dealing with the frustrations of a child learning all their letters and sounds but being unable to put them together in random scenarios (i.e. outside of Reading Eggs), kindergartners are a great bunch. They have intense interests and very little can sway them from the things they like. This makes it an ideal time to really cater the schooling to those interests, thus creating a fun schooling environment and teaching them that learning is fun.

Dragonfly loves giraffes. Like, really loves them. They’re his favorite animal by far. I don’t know where he developed that love, but I understand it (I love elephants in almost the same way). So I decided to hone in on that love with a kindergarten unit study for him. He and I have been spending the past week or so, and will spend the next week or two, learning all about giraffes. Under normal conditions, we would head to the library and get a stack of books, but we can’t really do that in the age of COVID. (Although, a quick online search tells me that our city library is actually open again with limited hours. I think I’ll head down there today!) Instead, we’re doing a lot of online research and relying on the information that came with our lap book from Homeschool Share.

Let me tell you a bit about Homeschool Share and how I use their resources with my kids. Homeschool Share is a website that’s chock full of homeschooling resources for a wide range of ages. I typically use them for finding the “fun” stuff – primarily lap books – for the younger kids. It was founded in 2004 by Ami, a homeschooling mom of two boys. She initially started it as a forum of sorts, where other homeschool moms could post unit studies they’d written for their own families in order to share and bless others. It quickly exploded, and there are now hundreds of unit studies, lap books, and printables – all available for free. The site is organized by subject, but there’s a search feature too, in case you want to find something specific for your child to learn about (as was the case with Dragonfly and giraffes). If you scroll down on the homepage, you can find the age breakdown of the resources (as opposed to the subject breakdown in the menu bar at the top). It’s really quite simple to poke around, and you’re almost guaranteed to find something you can use. The only “fee” for using the resources is signing up for the email list, but Ami isn’t one to spam your inbox every day.

The giraffes lap book is perfect for a kindergarten student. It’s got 18 pages of mini books (some of them take up more than one page of printing; if I remember correctly, it was 15 mini books total). The entire study is self-contained, with the exception of additional books, which are, of course, optional especially in the digital age. But all the information you need to complete the mini books are included in the first couple of pages of the unit study, so for a basic, generic understanding of giraffes you don’t need anything more. The pages are black and white, which is perfect for allowing your child to color in all the giraffes. Some of them are already shaded, so there’s less to color on those mini books, making them ideal for the days when you don’t have quite as long to work.

What will your student learn in their study of giraffes? Quite a bit for just a simple, 18-page file! Topics covered include giraffe-related vocabulary; giraffe anatomy; diet, predators, and defenses of giraffes; how giraffes live together in herds; names of the different genders of giraffes; fascinating facts about baby giraffes (for example, they are able to stand within 15 minutes of birth and are 6 feet tall when they are born); where giraffes live and what their habitat is like; the closest living relative of giraffes (there’s only 1 known relative of giraffes, the okapi); and miscellaneous fun facts. Did you know that giraffes have such large shoulder muscles because they run “front wheel drive” instead of “rear wheel drive” like most other animals?

In addition to learning about giraffes specifically, one of the things I really like about this lap book is the opportunity students are given to practice their handwriting skills. Dragonfly is still working on reading better, but he’s getting pretty darn good at copying letters from one page onto another in his own handwriting. These papers will make for lovely keepsakes when he’s older.

When Dragonfly and I finish up learning about giraffes, we’re going to utilize the other African animal lap books from Homeschool Share and continue this line of study for quite a while longer. It’s such a fun way to learn (and teach)!

What’s your favorite animal?

Blessings,

Using Movies in a Literature-Based Homeschool

One of my favorite things about using a literature-based approach to homeschooling is that there is so much flexibility! Beyond having your kids read books they’re more likely to find interesting for their learning, you can springboard that so easily into watching movies, too – which is great for sick days, hot days, or any other days when you just need an “easy out” for some reason. Here are some ways to incorporate movies into your literature based homeschool.

The backs of cinema chairs, which are red. A gold curtain is covering the screen at the front of the room.

Compare and Contrast

The easiest thing to do is obviously to compare and contrast the book and movie, if a matching set exists. There are so many fantastic children’s books with equally fantastic movies. One of my favorite examples of this is Charlotte’s Web. It’s a classic children’s book, and for good reason. It teaches strong lessons, but isn’t preachy. It wasn’t written with the intent of teaching those lessons, which is why it works so well. A lot of modern books are “lesson first, story second,” and that’s the wrong way to write. It’s much better when authors write a compelling story that kids will be interested in, and there are some lessons that can be organically gleaned from the story. (Pushing those lessons after the fact is also unideal. Let children make the jumps for themselves when possible.) Not only is Charlotte’s Web an amazing early novel for kids to read, but there are quite a few good film adaptations. The best one is the 2006 version starring Dakota Fanning as Fern and an all-star voice cast for the animals. Holes is another great example. Or the entire Harry Potter series. So if your kids are old enough for some serious critical thinking, have them do a compare and contrast between the books and movies they read. Ask specific questions: why do you think the filmmakers chose to change that from the book? Would you have made that change? What do you think was better in the book? Better about the movie? Which did you like better?

Use the Movie as Incentive to Read the Book

We’ve done this before with our kids. We don’t have a strict “you have to read the book before you’re allowed to see the movie” policy, but I know some parents do, and that works well. But even in a familiar story (a movie your child saw as a young child, for example), giving them the motivation of not being allowed to watch the movie (again) until they’re read the book can be a great motivator.

Let the movie help you explain parts of the book that may have been confusing (or vice versa)

In 2015, I saw the movie The Martian for the first time. It had been on my list for a long time, and I was so excited to finally see it. It was only upon seeing the opening credits that I realized it was based on a book, and I was really interested in then reading the book too. I found both to be fascinating – in fact, The Martian is now one of my favorite movies. I watch it about once a year, even now. But there were parts of the movie that I didn’t fully understand. I read the book, and it was even more complicated than the movie – but in different ways. What I found most interesting about that story in particular was how well the book and movie complimented each other. The parts of the book that were more confusing were clarified by the movie; the parts of the movie that were confusing were clarified in the book. They really do work hand in hand. So next time your student is struggling through a specific part in a book, see if there’s a movie counterpart that might help them to get a better visual on what the story is trying to say.

Do you use movies in your homeschool, or just as fun?

Blessings,

Bible Breakdowns (review)

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew.

Teaching the Bible is of tantamount importance, and simply reading it is the best way to do that. But sometimes a product comes along that does nothing more than help you with that. It doesn’t attempt to insert the author’s own thoughts into the text (like some devotionals). It quite literally just helps you explain the overview of the Bible to your children. This is what Bible Breakdowns from Teach Sunday School does. Nothing fancy, just a basic overview of each book of the Bible.

I received downloadable copies of the Bible Breakdowns, broken into two documents: Old Testament and New Testament. Because I am reading the New Testament together with the younger kids, we focuses on using those pages, particularly the Gospels.

Each Bible Breakdown is 1 or 2 pages, and it gives an overview of a specific book of the Bible. It starts with the name of the book at the top of the page, nice and big. Using attractive graphic design, it also tells you which number and “OT or “NT.” For example, Matthew is 1 NT; Mark is 2 NT; and so on. Underneath the header is a 1-2 paragraph overview of the book, and then the “big info” for the book. This includes the number of chapters, type of book (history, gospel, letter, etc), date written, dates covered in the text, and author’s name.

Once you get through the major, overarching information, the Bible Breakdown takes you on a list of the specific stories covered in that book. It even goes one step further and color codes the “classic Bible stories.” Each verse in the book is covered, so you can easily refer to it and find exactly what’s covered in the book. At the very end, after the verse-by-verse breakdown of the book, there’s a shorter list: the most popular verses in the book. It lists them out in order, and then tells you how that verse ranks in popularity both in comparison to other verses in its book as well as in the Bible as a whole. If you’re looking for memory verses for your kids, this “Most Popular Verses” section is a great place to start!

Like I mentioned, we are reading the New Testament together (me, Grasshopper, and Dragonfly). It’s the first time through the NT with the younger kids, so it was really nice to be able to have the Bible Breakdowns on hand to show them the overview of the books before we started reading. I used the pages as an introduction to the book. We read the top portion of the Bible Breakdown, and that gave the kids a basic understanding of the book and its “goal” for having been written. It gave us just a tiny bit of background about the author, which can be invaluable information – especially for nonfiction books like the Bible.

As we continued to read, I primarily referred to the rest of the breakdown on my end. This helped me to determine a good stopping point each day for our reading. Sometimes that was at an even chapter break, but not always. And while the standard “just read 3 chapters a day” will usually work, it was also nice to have the breakdown handy to refer to larger sections that should be read all in one sitting for context. The Sermon on the Mount is one of these sections. Not only should it be read all together (at least as you’re introducing the idea to your child for the first time), but it’s also not specifically labeled in the Biblical texts as all being one long section. The headers in the Bible tell you “Beatitudes,” “Lord’s Prayer,” etc, but the Bible Breakdown specifically labels those sections as the Sermon on the Mount. This information was really useful to have at my fingertips.

If you’re looking for a Bible curriculum, Bible Breakdowns aren’t it. They are best used as reference for the Scriptures themselves. They don’t tell you what to teach or how to teach it. It’s not a devotional with ideas and concepts added. It is the simplest document in the world, just telling you what to expect from your Bible reading. It’s exactly what I was looking for to help me help the kids understand what’s going on in the Bible.

Make sure to head over to the Homeschool Review Crew to read more reviews!

Blessings,

Spelling Ninja (review)

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew.

Spelling is a subject that is fairly important, but can be tricky to teach. I’ve struggled to teach it in the past because I’m a naturally good speller. I don’t understand having to “learn” to spell; I’ve always just been able to do it well. I had to deal with this a few years ago with Ballet Boy (he’s still not the best, but his writing is at least decipherable now – once you get past his handwriting!). Now that Grasshopper is the age to start dealing with spelling, I wanted to try to nip any potential problems in the bud, so we signed up to review Spelling Ninja from Reading Kingdom.

Spelling Ninja is an online program run through the website (not an app). Once you sign in and choose your student’s name from the list, you’re taken to that student’s home page, from which you can launch the program. It’s recommended that your student plays Spelling Ninja 4 days a week for optimal results.

The “game” itself is easy enough to understand. There is a picture at the top of the screen and a sentence below it. The student studies the sentence and then clicks the little star box when they feel ready. If they take a long time to study, the question eventually starts on its own. To pass each question, they simply have to type the words (spelled correctly, of course) into the boxes. Correct capitalization and punctuation is a must. The picture stays in place throughout the studying and typing process, but the sentence disappears a few words at a time. This means that in addition to spelling everything correctly, you must remember the words (which wasn’t usually too hard, but we did sometimes struggle with the specifics when a certain blank could have two words that both made sense in the sentence). The words in the sentences build on each other, meaning that you’ll see very similar sentences at the beginning (Can these kids read? and These kids can read.), but new words are introduced over time. Then those new words are shown over and over in a variety of different sentences. The sentences get longer and longer as you go because there are more words to choose from. There are 10 sentences per lesson.

When we first started, I had Grasshopper work on this on his own, with me watching to make sure he understood what he was doing. It quickly became apparent that that was not going to work long term. Grasshopper has a working knowledge of the keyboard, but he’s not a typist by any stretch of the imagination. He was having to type every single word many times, even when he got the correct spelling because he couldn’t get it typed in fast enough. So the next day, we switched it up and I did the typing while he dictated the letters to me to spell each word.

We worked 3-4 days a week this way (me typing, him dictating), and we had reasonable success. Grasshopper was able to get most of the words quicker, and there were just a few words that he needed to “study” with each new sentence. I really liked that he was able to get the spellings correct so much quicker over such a short period of time (I saw improvement after just 2 or 3 lessons). However, the time limit of the program was really frustrating for us. Even when I went in and adjusted the amount of time allowed before getting marked “wrong,” we still sometimes struggled. For example, in a sentence that’s 12 words long, you can be working along just fine, get the first 8 words spelled correctly and in the time limit but miss the 9th one. When that happens, you have to retype the entire sentence from the beginning, not just the word you missed. It got to be really demoralizing for Grasshopper and frustrating for me.

If your student knows the keyboard well and can type quickly, then Spelling Ninja would likely be a great fit for you. It wasn’t our favorite program ever, but I can definitely see the benefits to it and am pleased with the successes we had.

Members of the Homeschool Review Crew have been trying out three programs from Reading Kingdom; make sure to click over to the main website to read reviews on Counting Kingdom and Story Smarts as well as Spelling Ninja.

Blessings,

What We’re Reading: October 2021

It’s October already! I don’t know about you, but I’m super excited about that. I adore October and November; they’re my favorite months all year long. And I think there are going to be big changes for our family this month. But for now, my fingers are tied on that front.

Instead, let’s talk about what books we’re reading this month!

Read Aloud

We’re still working through our shelf of beautifully illustrated novels. This month we’re going to spend wrapping up both Pinocchio and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. (We didn’t do as much reading of those as we should have last month.) We’re also reading A Cricket in Times Square, and we will have a review on the Progeny Press study guide for that book later in the month!

Scorpion (9th)

As I briefly mentioned last week, Scorpion is reading Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. He will have a hefty portion of guest posting on that Progeny Press review when it comes up in a few weeks. Scorpion has always loved classic novels. From the time he was very young (like 6), he’s been reading them. Of course, back then he read children’s versions. Now that he’s older, I’m glad that he’ll get the opportunity to read some of them in their entirety rather than as a “Great Illustrated Classic.”

Grasshopper (4th)

We’re making great progress with Wayside School, and when he finishes it we’ll dive into a book I read a few years ago (it’s a kids’ book, but I saw it in the store and was intrigued by the plot so I bought it and read it anyway): Circus Mirandus. This is the story of a magical circus that only those who already believe in it can find. The main character must make himself believe so he can find the circus and get in touch with the one person who can help him save his ailing grandfather.

Me

I recently finished reading a book that had been on my to-read list for months, Sooley by John Grisham. It’s a stray from his normal legal thriller and explores the world of high-end college basketball through the eyes of a South Sudanese young man in America on a series of emergency visas. I love basketball, so I was pretty sure I’d like this book. It was not entirely what I expected, though, and Amazon reviews on the book are mixed. (I would give it 5 stars.) But that’s all I’m going to say for now, because more of my thoughts will be outlined when I feature it in this month’s book club post. For my new book, I’m sticking with my Grisham streak and reading an older novel called The Racketeer.

What are you reading this month?

Blessings,

Science for Little Kids (review)

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew.

The Critical Thinking Co.™ is a favorite in our homeschool. We’ve used many of their books over the years, and always had great success with them. All three of my older children (Ballet Boy, 17; Scorpion, 15; and Grasshopper, 9) have used one of their math books over the years. When they were offered up for review this year, many of the choices were for the Preschool crowd, so I chose Science Mind Benders®: Animals to work on with Dragonfly (5). He’s very interested in learning, and animals are always a popular choice for little kids so I thought it would be a good introduction to science for him.

Science Mind Benders®: Animals is an 86-page, softcover workbook printed in full color. The pages are a bit glossy, so it feels almost like a picture book inside. There are 7 lessons, and each lesson has 7 activities. This gives your child enough time to take the book slowly and reinforce the concepts being taught throughout, making sure they remember they remember what they learned over the long term. At the end of each group of 7 lessons, there is a page of “interesting animals in this lesson” and a review page, which you could use as a quiz if you wanted to.

Because this was Dragonfly’s very first introduction to any sort of formal science lesson, we just started at the beginning of the book and worked our way through. For an older child, you could use this book as a review for certain types of animals and jump around a bit more.

Let’s look at the first lesson – Vertebrates and Invertebrates – fairly in-depth to give you an idea of how you could use this book in your homeschool.

My favorite type of homeschool curriculum is “open and go,” which means that there’s minimal prep work involved. This not only makes it easier to keep your homeschool day moving, but it also limits the amount of loose papers and other things you have floating around your school area. This book is definitely an open and go science curriculum. Everything you need to teach your child is included all in the one workbook – a simple lesson teaching children what they will be learning about and the consumable workbook pages for them to do themselves.What this looks like in the Vertebrates and Invertebrates lesson is a page with a short paragraph at the top that you can read to your child or paraphrase to teach the concept, and then the other 4/5 of the page is a series of pictures showcasing the different types of creatures, all separated out so children can get a clear understanding.

Once they have the initial learning done, the next seven pages are activity pages. You could do one activity a day, or all at once, or anything in between. We did one lesson per day because I want my son to tuck away that knowledge and remember it long term, not to just breeze through only to forget what an invertebrate is in two weeks when he’s working on the Mammals and Reptiles lesson.

Examples of activity pages are “point to the pictures of animals that are vertebrates.” This page also comes with discussion questions. Instead of having Dragonfly simply point to the pictures, I had him draw circles around the animals the question asked about. When we got to the question that compared invertebrates with an exoskeleton vs those without, we drew circles and squares to differentiate them. There are some very basic logic puzzles for the children to work through, which is perfect for developing good critical thinking skills. Activity 3 in the lesson shows photos of 6 different animals and you’re given three clues. The child is to determine which clue goes with which animal. Lesson 4 is very much like lesson 3, except that after matching the clue with the animal, the child determines whether each animal is a vertebrate or an invertebrate. Lesson 5 is another logic puzzle. Lessons 6 and 7 mirror lessons 3 and 4. For the review of this lesson, there’s a flow chart. Groups of pictures are shown together and the child determines what word from the “choice box” best fits that particular group. There’s even a bonus question for further research.

Dragonfly and I have had so much fun learning about animals together! We’re not done with this book yet, but we will definitely be continuing to work our way through it. It’s the perfect introduction to both critical thinking and science for my Kindergartner.

Members of the Homeschool Review Crew have been reviewing one of 6 different books from The Critical Thinking Co.™. Make sure to click through and find out more about those books, as well as an introductory article that talks more about the company itself than I got into here.

Blessings,

Homeschool Update: September 2021

We’ve been back to homeschool for nearly a month now, so I wanted to post a little update on how things are going.

Ballet Boy (12th)

Ballet Boy is working hard at studying for his GED test rather than doing set classes. He and I have been working on the courses from ACT Mom (which we reviewed late last month) together. In some ways it’s like schooling a 1st grader again because he’s not confident enough in himself to fully understand the concepts. This means that he’s tentative to work on it on his own for fear that he’ll miss something and not absorb the information properly. So we spend about an hour a day, three days a week working on this course. The videos and quizzes are short, but we spend a lot of time pausing and going over what’s being taught in our own words to make sure he understands what’s going on.

In addition to that, Ballet Boy is taking a self defense (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu) class with Practice Monkeys (review on that in November). This is daily (M-Th), and he does the classes with Scorpion. They seem to be having quite a bit of fun with it. He’s also reading quite a bit and has begun teaching a music class (ukulele basics) to his younger brothers. I truly appreciate his help with that because I am not at all musical (I don’t even really like music that much), but I still think it’s important for them to learn.

He also works 5 days a week, from 4pm until “late” with Will. The two of them are working hard to really build up the publishing business. They’ve put together a product line for our comic as well as the beginnings of some social media for the company. If you like to laugh, give us a follow! Now we just need to really get the word out to start selling the stuff.

Scorpion (9th)

Scorpion is plugging away at his Khan Academy courses. For the most part, I trust him to get done everything that needs to be done each day. I ask him a couple of times a day how it’s going in order to keep him on track (left to his own devices, he’d play basketball and rubik’s cubes all day). I also get on his iPad at the end of the week to make sure he’s been honest with me – so far, he has! As of right now, he’s between 2-10% done with each of his classes. Some of the easier ones (grammar, pixar) he gets through quicker, while things like math and science are more difficult for him.

He is also reading Frankenstein and doing a Progeny Press study guide to go along with it. More on that next month.

Grasshopper (4th)

Grasshopper is my main student this year. The older brother work largely independently, which is really helpful because it allows me to focus a few hours each day on Grasshopper. So far, things are going quite well. We’re (mostly) sticking to the schedule I made each day, and it’s really rewarding to be so productive. It feels good to get through the work each day, knowing that not only are we using our time well, but that he’s getting some really good foundational learning done.

Things we work on each day:

Words Rock (language arts practice)

Reading Kingdom: Spelling Ninja (review coming soon)

CTC Math

Reading Eggs (mostly for fun, but good practice nonetheless)

Literature (we’ve got a few books going right now; more on them in another post)

Science (the Discovering Disgusting Creatures course on SchoolhouseTeachers.com – he was really skeptical at first, but now he loves it!)

Dragonfly (K)

We’re taking a super relaxed start with Dragonfly, mostly so I don’t have to split my time quite so many ways. He and I spend about an hour a day working on Reading Eggs and Math Seeds, and I try to get him to read an early reader book each week (though that’s a little frustrating at this time). As the weather turns and it’s easier to get more hours inside without the kids bugging me to go outside and play all the time, we will add in more hands-on things with him, like lapbooks. Stay tuned for some of those projects later in the fall and winter!

How is your first month of homeschool going?

Blessings,

 

 

Reading Eggs (review)

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew.

We had such a great time learning with Reading Eggs and Mathseeds last year that I eagerly requested to review it again this year. Grasshopper was really jealous of Dragonfly’s work last year, so I added him to the account this year, and Bumblebee is preschool age now, so he got an account too! Let’s explore Reading Eggs again, this time with all three of my little guys.

Bumblebee (3 years old)

Bumblebee has been using Reading Eggs Junior, a specially designed portion of the app for the 2-4 age group. It is super simple, but has loads of great activities to get your child ready for reading and math, which they will encounter in a couple of years. There are three main sections to Reading Eggs Junior: Books, Videos, and Activities. Bumblebee has been working on the activities exclusively at this time.

In the Activities section, there are 14 different areas to work in: colors, counting, eggs, handwriting, jack in a box, jigsaw puzzles, letter puzzles, matching game, memory, sorting, same or different, sound buttons, sounds, and the alphabet. We have worked primarily on the colors lessons, with a few of the others sprinkled in for good measure. Bumblebee learned his colors really early – he’s known them for months already. In fact, one of his first words when he was learning to talk was “yellow.” He can easily differentiate between the “normal” colors, so he enjoyed being able to do the colors lessons easily. In these lessons, children are shown 2-4 pictures (a butterfly, a fish, a car, etc) with a circle cut out of it. At the bottom of the screen are those cutouts. They simply drag the correct color up to the right picture.

Matching Game has also been fun for Bumblebee. It is very simple (obviously – it’s designed for the very young), with just 3 pairs per game. Whenever my littlest boy got a matched set, he would get so excited!

Overall, he has had great fun with Reading Eggs. He spent the better part of the last year watching Dragonfly with his lessons, so he’s learned through observation that way, and now it’s exciting to let him have his own turn with such a familiar program.

Grasshopper (9 years old)

When you think of Reading Eggs, you probably think of a program for younger kids – those who don’t yet read or who need some remedial help. Grasshopper fits neither of those criteria, but he was always pretty jealous of Dragonfly’s lessons last year. We had a bit of difficulty getting him a proper diagnostic placement test, so instead of using Reading Eggs proper, he’s been using Fast Phonics to reinforce the reading he already does reasonably well.

Fast Phonics uses a “Matterhorn” theme, and the main character is a yeti. Each lesson contains about 20 activities, and they are quite similar to the Reading Eggs activities, but with a focus on phonics rather than sight words. Here are a few words from Grasshopper on the program.

When I play the video games in Fast Phonics, the yeti helps me along the way. The videos help me learn new sounds and it’s really useful to help me learn new words and stuff like that. My favorite of all the games I play on there is the game where the yeti is on the wrecking ball and you have to knock the sounds down (the sounds are engraved on the ice). It’s a really fun game and it helps me to really remember the sounds I’ve learned.

It’s really fun, and Fast Phonics has been amazing. I’m glad I started it.

Dragonfly (5 years old)

Dragonfly has been using Reading Eggs and Math Seeds for over a year now, and it’s been so good for him. He has learned so much through these programs! Let’s talk a little bit about them.

Each lesson consists of about 12 activities. The first activity is typically a video to introduce a specific word or sound. Each of the activities after that reinforce the concept taught in the introductory video. You can easily tell how many activities are in a specific lesson by looking at the pop out menu on the left. It shows exactly what activities your child has done, the one they’re currently on, and those that are upcoming. Each lesson uses a mix of different activities, and there are more than 12 games, so no two days are quite the same.

Some of Dragonfly’s favorite games are the frog hop one (which is just like the old “Frogger” game, except you have to land your frog on the truck with the word of the day); the planet match one (where you are given 3 planets each with a word; when the star appears, you match the word on the star to the appropriate planet); and the painting game (it’s like a paint by number, except it’s a paint by word; the child reads the color word and then colors that section accordingly). When all of the activities for the lesson have been completed, the child is awarded with an Egg, which hatches open and reveals a creature. After every 10 lessons, there is a 15-question quiz. The child must get at least 11 questions right in order to move on to the next ten lessons.

Math Seeds is much like Reading Eggs except for Pre-K/K math. Because math is an easier subject for a lot of kids, the lessons are longer and there’s a quiz (“Show Me Your Skills!”) after each lesson. There are a series of activities/games, and at the end of the lesson the child is awarded with a Seed that has a creature in it.

Here are a few words from Dragonfly:

The activities help me read and it’s really fun. I’m really good at it. I always do it. I love it.

As you can see from my kids’ own words, we love Reading Eggs and Mathseeds! This will continue to be a staple in our homeschool for many years to come.

Make sure to click through and read more reviews from other families.

Blessings,

 

Why We Use a Literature Based Approach in Homeschooling

I’ve mentioned before (but only in passing) that I prefer a literature-based approach in homeschooling. It didn’t used to be that way. When the teenagers were small, we were more workbook based, but it wasn’t enjoyable for anyone. That’s not to say that everything needs to be fun all the time, especially in schooling, but if your kids aren’t engaged in what’s being taught, they won’t retain any of the information you’re imparting to them. And that’s if you can even get them to do the work in the first place.

Two children are standing in a forest with mythical light. Each one is holding and reading a book.

About the time Ballet Boy was 9 and Scorpion was 6, I joined the Homeschool Review Crew for the first time. Leading up to that point, I’d read an ebook called Homeschooling: Take a Deep Breath – You Can Do This! by Terrie Lynn Bittner. I got it for free at some point in an Amazon promo, and I mostly read it during the nights when I was up with a baby Grasshopper. (It doesn’t appear to be available as a Kindle book anymore, but you can get a paperback copy for about $15.) That book changed our homeschool permanently! There were so many ideas in there for how to run a homeschool, particularly one that didn’t look like “school at home.” It was there that I learned about lap books and that playing games could be a reasonable – and successful – form of learning. I learned about Unit Studies, and that was the method of schooling that really spoke to me the most.

Some of our earliest unit studies were Penguins and Newspapers. I created my own studies for the boys, and all were based around – you guessed it – a book. When we studied penguins, we read Mr. Popper’s Penguins. I created a spelling list for each of the boys revolving around penguins and the antarctic. We created a lap book, and generally had fun learning together. For our newspapers unit, we read Henry and the Paper Route, learned about how paper is made (including creating “wood pulp” from existing paper and reforming it into our own new paper), and took a field trip to the local newspaper office. Those are some of my fondest memories with my older boys.

It was around this time (the next school year, I want to say) that I found Ambleside Online, and we did an entire school year using their curriculum. It’s a lot of reading, but such a good curriculum if you’re looking for something based on “living books” (novels and picture books rather than textbooks). Doing that year of Ambleside, I realized just how much I wanted to incorporate books into our homeschool. They are so vital to memorable learning, and I’m forever grateful I finally came around to a different way of teaching my boys.

These days, we get a lot of review products to incorporate into our school days, but I still favor a literature heavy approach. We read a ton of books together, and going heavy on the literature is a good way to incorporate a lot of different learning styles into a single teaching session. Obviously you can’t do everything together when you’re teaching different ages, but you definitely can read books to many children at once. And they’ll all absorb different things from the same book.

You don’t have to “write” your own curriculum if you want to try a literature-based homeschooling approach. There are lots of options out there. One that I haven’t used, but I have gotten a sample of and think has amazing potential is from Leah at As We Walk Along the Road. She even has quite a few free literature unit studies! Homeschool Share has lots of unit studies based on children’s books (both picture books for the younger crowd and kid novels). Progeny Press is an obvious choice for making sure your students get “more” out of each novel. The list goes on and on.

What’s your homeschooling style?

Blessings,

Keeping Your Homeschool Day on Track

The most important thing you’ll do as a homeschool parent is make the decision not to send your kids to a traditional school. Next on the list is choosing curriculum (ideally based on your child’s learning style).

But once those two decisions are made, the next most important thing is making sure you actually get through all of the lessons you need to each semester/year. Making sure you stay on track will keep your child moving through the grades “properly.” And this will assure success later in life. Not only will they “finish” school with their peers, but they will learn the importance of sticking with things until they’re done. If they decide to enter the traditional work force and get a job, this will keep their employer happy. If they opt instead to start their own business, then they will have a huge advantage over a public schooled peer in that they already know how to stick to their own schedule instead of someone else’s.

But how do you do that? Especially if you’re schooling different kids in different grades? Over the years, I’ve had varying degrees of success with keeping on track. Looking back, my most successful year was the year we had a paper planner (and I was only working with two elementary-school aged kids). I know that sounds kind of dumb; of course things will be easier to keep on track if you’re working from an actual planner as opposed to just kind of “winging it.” But to a certain extent, that’s easier said than done. See, with winging it, all you have to do is make sure you have a pile of books and all your online subscriptions up to date. With a planner, you have to actually take the time in advance and write down everything you want to cover each day. It’s more work for Mom! But that’s precisely why it’s such a better system. When you put that work in prior to needing it, it’s almost like you feel obligated to follow through. If you don’t, then all that planning time was wasted. And we don’t want to waste our time! So take the time to plan, and then make sure to pull those plans out each school day and follow them.

Which planner should you use? The short answer is “whichever one works best for you and also fits into your budget.” That school year I mentioned before, the one where I felt the most on the ball? I used The Well Planned Day planner. I won it in a giveaway, and I adored it. I haven’t used one since, but if you can swing it, I can’t recommend it enough. It runs about $40 on Amazon, and is worth every penny (assuming those pennies don’t stretch your budget too thin, that is). One of the things I liked so well about it was that it had monthly and weekly pages, and the weekly pages had enough space to plan for multiple children. It was so easy to write out the lesson plan for each child and have them all in one place, where I could quickly glance at the day’s plans and see what each of them needed to do. It was a dream.

But I haven’t used a paper planner for homeschool in many years now, and I can feel it in my own self. I know in my head that things aren’t the same as they were that year that we used a good planner. So this year, I’m going back to a good, monthly and weekly, paper planner.

I found a great digital option using my SchoolhouseTeachers.com membership that I’m going to use this year. It’s called the Schoolhouse Smart Planner (if you don’t have a SchoolhouseTeachers.com membership,  you can purchase the planner – physical or digital – for about $35), and it reminds me very much of the Well Planned Day. (Though to be fair, I haven’t used or seen a Well Planned Day planner in about 5 years, so I could be remembering inaccurately.) But it has everything I need, which I described before as reasons I loved the other one so much: a monthly calendar and a weekly calendar with space for more than one child. The monthly calendar is great for “at a glance” things like appointments, while the weekly is perfect for writing down the specific lesson plans for each child. And beyond that, there are other pages that give you a different “at a glance” specifically designed for homeschool. What I mean by that is that the pages include “semester” and “annual” goals for each child. There’s a page to manage your household budget and your homeschool curriculum budget. There’s a reading log, and even a page specifically for making sure your preschooler knows what he needs to know for Kindergarten readiness. And the best part is that because it’s digital, you can simply print out the number of pages you need of each style of page. For example, even though there’s technically only one page of weekly planners, you just need to print multiple copies of that page when you set up your printer.

When you get all your pages printed out – however many you decide to print – you can take the printouts to any office supply store and have them bound. If you have your own binding machine, even better! With your new planner in hand, you just need to write down all the assignments for each day, and then execute them. It’s amazing how much simply having a written list of things to do (and cross off!) will help keep you organized and on task.

How do you keep your homeschool days on track?

Blessings,