Another school year done

It is hard to believe but we are finishing up our second year as homeschoolers!

This week we got together with several other homeschoolers for an End of the Year party and Field Day. There were snacks, Field Day games, and awards presented to the children.

Even though we school year round, I really like the idea having this “end of the year” celebration. We do follow the traditional school year to an extent – our Science and History co-op follows the school calendar and so there are some things coming to an end during this time.

We also use the end of the traditional school year as a time to recognize achievement and transition to the next grade. For us there is also a blurry line between grades – we work at whatever level Kyri is at. But to keep things somewhat neat and tidy, we claim a grade level based, on average, on where she is at academically.This also acts as a motivator for her and gives her a sense of accomplishment. Knowing she is finishing up the first grade and becoming a second grader is very exciting for her!

This year, I prepared several awards to recognize her hard work and interests. First, I prepared a Certificate of Completion – recognizing that she has finished another school year and is entering the second grade. Next, I presented her with awards for both her Reading and Math skills. She continues to amaze me with her love of reading, and the enjoyment she gets from working on math. I want to encourage this is as much as possible, and let her know how proud I am of her hard work. Finally, I presented her with an award that recognized a passion of hers – her love of bugs.

Kyri is lucky to not have critical people in her life that would discourage her interest in insects. She loves collecting and studying them, and is quite comfortable handling them. I certainly want to encourage her curiosity and fearlessness, and so I presented her with a Young Entomologist Award.

Kyri was quite proud of her awards, and her Field Day particiption ribbon. She is motivated to finish the last two weeks of school, and then move into her Second Grade year starting this summer.
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Critical Thinking for Kids

I think Critical Thinking is a skill that needs to be fostered as we develop. Too often in our attempt to make life easy for our children, we take away opportunities for them to problem solve and strengthen their critical thinking skills. Our schools unfortunately do much of the same – teaching kids what they need to know rather than how to find the information and what to do with it.

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Kids need to learn through different experiences how to take in all the information available, process it, and come up with whatever “answer” is required. In many situations there is no one correct answer, but it is the process of working through the information that is important.

There are many different ways to “teach” critical thinking skills to children – basically we are providing various situations and scenarios for our children to work through. The methods we use to present these scenarios can vary.

Workbooks/Worksheets

I think I am lucky in that Kyri loves to do fun worksheets. One resource we have used this school year is Lollipop Logic. These workbooks cover a variety of exercises: sequences, relationships, analogies, deductive reasoning, pattern decoding, inference and critical analysis.

 

Games

We have some really fun games we enjoy around here. These are not your typical Monopoly-type games. I have tried to build up our collection of logic games so that we can play and have fun, but still have an educational experience. These games from FoxMind are awesome – they are challenging and a lot of fun. Even for the tougher levels, you can work with your kids and help a little, but still have them do the bulk of the problem solving. Metaforms is a logic game where you follow a set of sequential instructions to fill in a 3X3 grid with colored geometric shapes. Tanagramino is a tanagram game where you are given a list of pieces to use and a final shape to build. Equilibrio is essentially a 3D tanagram game much like Tanagramino.

 

Computer Games and Apps

National Geographic Kids – lots of games here. Kyri LOVES the Dung Beetle Derby, where you have to make paths for the dung beetle to roll… you guessed it… dung!

Minecraft – We just put this on the iPad (the Pocket edition) and Kyri really loves it. She build houses and fences and has fun tormenting zombies. There is a lot of thinking and planning that is required playing in Survival mode.

National Geographic GeoDash – This game involves jumping and maneuvering around to collect animal traits, and collecting animal cards along the way. We just downloaded the second Habitat, which has twenty additional levels to explore. She loves this game, and as an added bonus, she is learning about animals and their habitats at the same time.

Flow Free – This is a really cool app where you connect colored dots in a minimum number of moves, and without crossing paths. The puzzles increase in difficulty as you go up in level.

CDC Solve the Outbreak – This is definitely a lot tougher for Kyri’s age and experience. This app puts you in the role of disease detective. You are tasked with solving a disease outbreak, and as you read details about the case you have to decide what to ask (from a short list of choices) and how to proceed in the investigation. You ultimately determine what caused the outbreak. It is a lot of fun, and it is one that we work on together. I do a lot of the heavier reading (it is designed for slightly older kids) and we talk about the options we are presented with. Even if it is still a little advanced for her, she really enjoys it!

 

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Explore:The Wolf Wore Shoes

We had another fun visit to Friedrich Wilderness Park for the Explore class this week. This month’s topic was “The Wolf Wore Shoes” – this was an exploration of animals in children’s literature.

The kids explored several book selections and discussed whether the animals in the books were 1) real animals doing real things, 2) real animals doing imaginary things (like wear cloths) or 3) imaginary animals doing imaginary things. Kyri had a blast!

After the classroom portion, everyone went for a nature walk at the park, exploring the plant and animal inhabitants there. I managed to keep up with Kyri even though I was wearing Julian the whole time and carrying Ender a fair amount too. He loved the nature walk!

If you haven’t checked out the classes offered through San Antonio Natural Areas, you are missing out!

 

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Learning About Mammals

Our co-op had our second zoo field trip this week. Last month we went at the end of our Bird unit.

This trip we focused on mammals, and we kept track of all the animals that we saw. As we observed the different animals and their names were recorded, we discussed if their names came from their looks, or where they were from.

Kyri and Ender had a fun time seeing all the animals. Kyri says her favorite was the elephant, though I know she was enthralled by all the different wild cats.

The ostriches put on quite a show! They were in a gated area and you could only see their necks and heads from behind the fence. They kept dropping below the fence line and then slowly raising their heads up to peep at the folks watching them. It was very funny!

Kyri really enjoyed our field trip. She loved seeing all the animals. Even though we do not usually go to zoos, I have been trying to use our visit(s) as an educational opportunity. Kyri thought the cheetahs were incredible and was amazed to find out how fast they run in the wild (70 MPH!). I asked her later if she thought they were able to run that fast in the zoo. I explained to her that while it is nice to be able to see the animals and have a chance to study them up close like this, a zoo enclosure is no substitute for their natural habitat.

I was honestly a little nervous to see the elephant exhibit. Captive elephants make me very sad, and I hate seeing how trainers hit them with metal hooks. The last time I saw that was at the renaissance fair in Maryland (had I known they were going to have an elephant there to give rides I would not have gone). Anyway, Lucky, the elephant at the San Antonio Zoo did show off some “tricks” for people, lifting her legs in response to her trainer. In the picture below, you can see the sticks he used to tap her legs – they were long bamboo poles with plastic covers on them. He would lightly tap her leg and she would lift it in response. 

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More Butterflies!

This week we finished up the Butterfly lesson we started several weeks ago when we all got our caterpillars in the mail. Most of the lesson happened at home, as we watched our caterpillars grow larger, form their crysalis and eventually emerge as butterflies.

The kids loved watching them in our habitat. It was so exciting to release them, and watch them explore the flowers in the front yard.

For our formal lesson, I spent a little time going over the body parts of both caterpillars and butterflies. We labeled our diagrams and talked about the lifecycles of butterflies.

Finally, the kids did a simple craft – coloring butterflies to hang as a butterfly chain.

This has been a great learning experience for us, and I know we will order more larvae. This may end up being a spring tradition for us, since it was such a hit around here!

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Planning Ahead

It’s that time already. Time to evaluate what has worked for us (or not) over the course of the school year, and decide what to change up for the upcoming one.

My initial assessment of our school year is that we did not get as much done as I initially planned out on paper in August. While we have kept up with our core subjects – Math, Language Arts, Science and History – I have found our other subjects dragging behind. I know that this year has been hectic due to the new baby, but I am trying to plan for a better schedule to get more accomplished each day.

Our Calendar

We homeschool year round.

Our Science and History co-op follows the traditional school year calendar that runs Fall and Spring. As a result, I do a lot of my planning for the school year with this traditional 36-week schedule in mind. I even view late May as “end of the year” in terms of graduating to the next “grade.”

But I also plan for the Summer session, which typically gives me a ten-week block to cover things that I can’t fit into our schedule during the Fall or Spring.

As I am evaluating our school year and what we managed to cover and what got put to the side, I am realizing that I need to be more realistic in what I think we can cover during the Fall and Spring sessions. I planned the year in August with the idea that we would cover all of our core and secondary subjects (more on this below) during the Fall and Spring, and Summer would be a lighter schedule but still much of the same.

Realistically, though, I need to use Fall and Spring primarily for our core subjects and use Summer for most of the secondary topics I want us to cover. Planning with this schedule in mind will do a lot for my sanity. I found myself getting so stressed out this year when we wouldn’t get to all the stuff I had on our school schedule for the day or week.

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Our Core Subjects

Our Core Subjects are Math, Language Arts, Critical ThinkingScience and History.

With our co-op we cover Science and History during the Fall and Spring, following the traditional 36-week school, for the most part.  We have one day a week where we do group activities – interactive lesson, crafts, etc. We also have a fair amount of reading during the week for these Subjects. Because we follow the traditional school year schedule for co-op, we don’t have Science or History planned for the Summer.

Language Arts encompasses a lot of things. Spelling, Phonics, Reading Comprehension, Grammar, Writing, and Handwriting – all these things fall under Language Arts. I have to take the long view for something so expansive. I don’t plan our Language Arts studies with just Fall and Spring in mind. This is one of our year-round subjects. We cover Language Arts topics four days a week, and this has been working well for us.

Math is another year-round subject for us. This year we focused on First Grade skills – Addition, Subtraction, Place Value, Fact Families, Geometry and Measurement, Time and Money, and Word Problems. Like Language Arts, we strive for four days a week for our Math work, and will continue this schedule through the summer. We will start Second grade material in the Fall.

Under the umbrella term Critical Thinking, I include Logic exercises, brain teasers, inference activities, puzzles, tanagrams, things like that. We have been using different resources for this, and I think these “brain warmups” as I refer to them are an important part of our schooling. This is definitely one of Kyri’s favorite subjects ! These activities are easy to fit in during a typical school week, so we will be continuing these year round.

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Our Secondary Subjects

Subjects that I would consider secondary include Nature Studies, Five in a Row, Art and Music Appreciation, Foreign Language, Computer Science, Good Citizenship and Bible. Note, this isn’t a reflection on their importance, but rather how and when they are scheduled.

Nature Studies are an important part of our schooling – we participate in different outdoor programs offered by the San Antonio Parks and Rec throughout the year. These classes are offered monthly and Kyri really enjoys them. Kyri also spends a lot of free time outdoors exploring and collecting bugs. While I really want to incorporate a Nature Journal into our routine (Handbook of Nature Study is a wonderful resource for this!), it just hasn’t happened yet. One of the upcoming classes Kyri is signed up for actually involves making and using a Nature Journal. I am also hoping to put together a recurring Nature activity through our local homeschool group.

We use Five in a Row (FIAR) as a supplement, rather than as our main curriculum. We take a couple of weeks to row the reading selection, and then discuss topics from the manual. In addition, this year we started putting together lapbooks that go along with our reading selections. Kyri has really enjoyed this part of our FIAR work and we will continue doing it this way. Since this isn’t our main curriculum, we only row a book once or twice a week, taking two or three weeks to work through our reading and topics. Even though adding the lapbook component has made for more work (rather than just discussing as we go) I think it has been worth it. My plan is to continue rowing once or twice a week, and spending three weeks on one book selection.

This year we starting using Harmony Fine Arts for our Art and Music Appreciation. This is a wonderful curriculum and we have enjoyed it. It is layed out in a 32-week schedule and follows a classical schedule. This year we have been using Grammar Stage Year 1. The way the program is planned out, you spend four weeks at a time on one artist and one composer. We fell behind around Christmas and have only started to get caught up. My plan at this point is to follow the typical schedule as written during the summer months and relax it a little during the Fall and Spring, taking eight weeks to cover each artist/composer combo. This will spread the 32-week plan out to cover the entire year and take the pressure off to get everything done.

This year for Computer Science we started off with Scratch and Python Turtle. We have struggled to keep this as a regular part of our weekly schedule though. Kyri gets plenty of computer time during the week and so I know she is quite computer savvy. However, I think dedicated lessons on Computer language are going to have to be part of our Summer schedule. One thing  I do plan on introducing is Minecraft. She loves video games and I think she would really take to it. I am hoping that if we spend our Summer working on Computer language skills she can be more self-directed during the Fall and Summer and it won’t need to be a dedicated topic in our school schedule.

I initially started off this Fall planning to do Bible stories as part of our weekly schedule. However, Kyri started participating in AWANA through a local church this year, so we have used our AWANA reading and memory verses instead as our lessons. She has really enjoyed the experience and we will continue in the Fall (AWANA only runs through early May). I also plan on signing the kids up for Vacation Bible School this summer. I am happy with this setup for Bible lessons and don’t plan to add anything else to our school schedule at this time.

Foreign Language has been tough to keep up with. I started this Fall planning on covering basic Spanish with Kyri and it has always gotten pushed to the side when our schedule has gotten hectic. As a result, we have gotten very little done. I’m still trying to figure out how best to schedule this for us. I am considering scheduling it like our Art and Music – schedule it regularly during the Summer and keep it light during the Fall and Spring.

Here in Texas, we are required to cover Good Citizenship – it’s one of the few requirements we have here and also pretty vague in what is expected. Last summer we covered basic Civics – Symbols of America to meet this requirement. This is definitely one subject that will be done in the Summer months. I am working on my lesson plans now for the upcoming summer. We will cover basic Civics and characteristics of Good Citizenship. I am putting together a 10-week schedule of topics and will post a more detailed write-up of the coursework as we get closer to summer.

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Supplemental

Kyri is very much a self-directed learner. She gets interested in something and follows up on it on her own. I try to encourage and foster this as much as possible. I mentioned her being very computer savvy. We have put a large selection of apps on the iPad for her use – educational apps that she loves to play, but we know she is learning at the same time. She has her favorites and I’m working on writing up reviews currently to share our experiences with everyone.

We spend a lot of time exploring the many wonderful opportunities for homeschoolers in San Antonio. She gets a lot out of our library classes, nature classes, museum trips and Botanical Garden visits. I think they are more impactive than sitting around doing worksheets or reading, and I try to remind myself of this whenever I find us falling behind our “schedule.”

As we wrap up our second year as homeschoolers (already!) I am feeling pretty good about where we are at. Kyri is learning and having a great time. She is a motivated learner and I just love being her teacher. I think as we continue to evolve as homeschoolers, we will find our groove; we will find the schedule and routine that works best for all of us.

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*** I’ll be reviewing in detail some of the curriculum we have used, or are planning to use this coming year. Look for these reviews in upcoming posts.

 

 

 

Growing Up Wild: Backbone Bonanza

We participated in this month’s Growing Up Wild class offered through San Antonio Parks and Rec. This month’s topic was Backbone Bonanza. There were educational crafts and a nature walk as a group to try and spot different vertebrates in the park. Rabbits, birds, squirrels, even a gentleman’s very large dog! A small trail was observed crossing our walking path, and we saw footprints in the soft dirt. Off in a clearing the group could clearly see two large deer. It was wonderful!

I’ve talked about Growing Up Wild in the past.  I went to a workshop with several other homeschoolers and took home the curriculum guide. We have been participating up until recently with a small co-op working through the guide. Now that the Parks and Rec folks are offering monthly programs, we are taking advantage of their knowledge and expertise.

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Big Bugs, Little Bugs

This month Kyri has participated in one of the wonderful Science courses offered through SREIT, a local educational resource that provides Science enrichment activities for students of all ages. If you haven’t checked out their course offerings, you are missing out!

Kyri participated in a two-part class called Big Bugs, Little Bugs. She learned many different facts about insects, and got to observe and handle some live specimens as well.  She had such a blast handling the mealworms – she insisted on bringing one over to me. I made sure to check her pockets so that we didn’t end up with any new insect pets at home. At the second class, she  got to observe an Emperor Scorpion and a Tarantula during the class. She was so excited! I’ve got a junior entomologist on my hands!

 

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