Arc Notebooks for Homeschool

At the beginning of the school year, I knew we would be having a challenging year, with back and forth trips to Atlanta while we were in the process of selling our house, and being in a state of flux. In what can only be described as a Herculean effort (for me at least…), I spent a couple of days getting the ENTIRE school year planned out, printables prepared and organized into folders for 36 weeks. Each week all I had to do was reach for that particular week and distribute any printables between our daily folders. 

This has worked well for the most part. The one drawback I have had, though, is not being “with it” on a Sunday to fill the upcoming daily folders. Some weeks I have scrambled on Monday to get our week started out right.
 

I had a friend recommend the Arc Notebook system from Staples recently, and seeing how I am always looking for ways to be more efficient and productive, I decided to try it out and see if it meets our needs. The Arc system uses a special punch and the pages slip onto a series of discs via openings along the edge, rather than closed holes that are bound by rings. This system allows for easy removal and placement of papers and notebook components. 

Ready-made notebooks can be purchased in letter and junior sizes, and individual components are available separately.
 
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(left) the press and various components for making Arc Notebooks. (center) discs are available in two sizes. (right) We’ve made several notebooks recently, for school, personal bible study and weekly planners. They work great!
 
I have prepared arc notebooks for Kyri, my rising fourth grader, and now for Ender, my 4-year-old starting pre-K. 
 
For Kyri, I have made sections for each of our subjects.  Rather than our weekly folders, all of our printables are now contained in a single notebook, organized by subject. A full year of spelling printables, spelling test pages, math printables and facts practice sheets, geography printables, etc. Now I don’t have to worry about filling daily folders on a Sunday to prepare for the upcoming week because everything is already organized in our notebook. 
 
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(left) We used the larger discs for Kyri’s school notebook. (right, all panels) Kyri’s notebook contains all printables and consumables for her math, spelling, history, geography, bible, and science.
At the beginning of Kyri’s notebook I have included blank checklists, where I list daily tasks I would like her to complete. While most of our morning is spent reading together during Kidschool, she does have independent work as well as some guided work she does in the afternoon (and this material makes up the brunt of her notebook). 
 
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(top, left) We have made junior notebooks for general note taking. (top, right) Weekly planning pages for Kyri’s notebook. (bottom, left) One section of Ender’s notebook contains several Arc zipper pouches. (bottom, right) One section of Ender’s notebook contains letter and number cards for daily practice.
For Ender, his notebook is more for organizing laminated activity packs in zipper pouches. I have letter cards, and matching games, puzzles and sorting activities, all printed and laminated. I have one section for many laminated letter and counting cards, followed by a section of zipper pouches that contain printed and laminated preschool activities. Lined paper and printouts are in another section. I’ll go into specific resources for each grade in separate posts.
 
 

 

Spring is for Plants!

In my previous posts, I have mentioned using Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding for our elementary Science. We have been working through A thread (Nature of Matter) of BFSU Volume 1 all year. I had originally planned for us to start in Volume 2 and continue A thread (this is the Classical schedule coming through…), but over the past several weeks there has been a lack of interest in continuing with atoms and molecules. I think the beautiful weather outside has a lot to do with it! So I did some thinking and decided to reevaluate how we are doing our science. 

 
Bernard Nebel, the author of BFSU, encourages moving between the four “threads” or disciplines (Nature of Matter, Life Science, Earth and Space Science, and Physical Science). I’ve resisted this only because we’ve followed the classical schedule for the past several years, with one subject each year in a four year cycle. But as we move away from the classical schedule a bit, I find myself wanting to jump around a bit (though in an organized way so not stress out my Type A personality). 
 
With that being said, I decided to cover Plants this June. Everything is in bloom, the weather is nice, and we’ve got a great garden in our front yard to study as well.
 
Over the past week or so, we have been studying the basic structures of plants. The core of our lesson has been B10: Plant Science I – Basic Plant Structure. We started with the three basic parts of a plant – roots, stems, and leaves. We discussed how even vastly different plants all have these parts, though often in a modified form. She was fascinated to learn that the spines of a cactus are actually highly modified leaves. 

 

We have a membership with Notebookingpages.com, and I printed up several pages from the Plant Study collection. Over the past week, we have been working through these pages, identifying various plant parts, margin types, leaf arrangements, etc. The Visual Dictionary of Plants is a wonderful resource for learning plant parts.

 
Kyri and I went on a Plant Walk this week, armed with a few nature books and plant identification guides. As we explored, we discussed the three basic parts of a plant, and I asked her to identify various aspects of plants we found, such as:
 
type of leaves – simple or compound
arrangement of leaves – alternate, opposite, whorled, fascicled, or clustered
leaf venation – parallel, pinnate, palmate or arcuate
leaf margins – smooth, serrate, dentate, crenate, sinuate, lobed, or cleft
 
On our plant walk, she was particularly interested in finding a Sweet gum tree, because she had read about it and its identifying features in one of her books. We wrapped up our walk with the triumphant discovery of a Sweet Gum tree at the end of our street.
 
We have built up quite a collection of nature study books, and Kyri absolutely adores them. I can often find her with one or more tucked under her arm. Here are some of our favorites:

Here are several pictures from our walk!

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The Ever Scholar

I’m working on a new project. Well, it’s not really a project so much as a mission. I have always been a book worm, having several books in queue at any given time. But over the last several years, between the pressure of growing a career and the pressures of growing a family, my personal reading habit has suffered.  

 
Now I find myself moving into a new phase. We are officially done growing our family, and my youngest, at 7 months, sleeps though the night regularly. My home routine s becoming more regular as the children get a little older. While my life is far from calm, with a husband, four kids and four dogs, I am finally able to find small lulls to focus on myself again. 
 
Even though I’ve gone through college and graduate school, I will be the first to tell you I still have a lot to learn. I’m not going back to school, though I am about to start a year-long course that I’m really excited about (I’ll post more details on that soon). What I am doing is reading, lots of good books, on a variety of subjects. And I’m not settling for passive reading, just to log books as “read.” I’m reading books “actively,” taking notes and annotating as I read, following rabbit trails when they appear, participating in online book groups and discussions. 
 
I realized that, as I record my notes on the books I am working through, I’d love to share them with others. Since I’m reading several books at a time, and also doing an in-depth Bible study as well, I have decided a new site would be the best thing for sharing. I will be posting my Bible sudy notes, book journaling and other personal scholar notes over at the The Ever Scholar.  I would love to have you follow my reading progress there!

Dissolving, Solutions, and Crystallization

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We just wrapped up  A9: Dissolving, Solutions, and Crystallization. We started our week with some reading, to get an idea of what happens when various substances are put into water. We recently added Chemistry Pre-level I from Real Science-4-Kids as a reference book, and Chapter 6 (Mixtures) was a great introduction to what we covered this week. 

 
Part 1: Some things dissolve: Solutions and Mixtures
 
We covered a few basic concepts first. 
 
What is a mixture? When we combine difference substances, we have a mixture. We talked about a mixture of diffferent types of fruit in a bowl, and various toys in a box. Then, we talked about making a mixture by putting a solid into a liquid, like when we combine sugar and water.
 
For a demonstration, we made up a sugar solution as a demo. After stirring our sugar, we watched the granules slowly get smaller and finally disappear. Our solid dissolves, which means the substance, in this case sugar, comes apart into its basic particles and interact with the particles of water. This makes a special kind of mixture called a solution
 
We compared our sugar water mixture to a mixture of flour in water. After stirring a small amount of flour into a glass of water, we observed our mixture remain cloudy – our flour doesn’t come apart to interact with the water molecules as a solution but instead remains just a mixture.
 
Part 2: Soluble and Insoluble
 

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After comparing sugar-in-water and flour-in-water, we then explored a variety of materials to see what was soluble and insoluble. While we did some basic kitchen items, like vinegar and baking soda, we also found some fun objects like a matchbox car, a small block of wood, and a plastic toy. The kids enjoyed stirring these to see whether they would dissolve.
 
Why don’t certain objects dissolve? This was a great opportunity to review our earlier lesson on solids, liquids and gases, where we learned how objects’ particles are either very close together (in solids), interacting but not closely packed (as in liquids) or not in contact with each other (in gases). Our solid objects, with particles closely packed together, were not able to break apart and interact with the water particles. We prepared a chart to record our observations. 
 

A9 Soluble/Insoluble Chart download

Part 3: Crystallization
 

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We dissolved salt in water to observe not only the process of salt dissolving and forming a solution, but also of salt particles forming crystals. We recently learned about about evaporation, when the water molecules leave the liquid state and go into the gas state. Any solids that are dissolved in the water are left behind and reformed crystals
 
To help with our observation, we placed a couple of teaspoons of our salt solution on a dark plate, and left out to evaporate. We later observed a crusty film where our salt solution was before evaporating.
 
We also made a straw by twisting up a piece of paper and securing with tape. This straw was then placed in a jar of salt solution. Our liquid wicked up the paper straw and after the liquid evaporated, a salt crust (crystals) was observed on the surface of the straw.
 
This lesson helped reinforce our earlier lessons on the particle nature of matter, and the states of matter. Understanding this particle nature is essential for upcoming lessons on atomic and molecular motion.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Finding Children’s Books

childrensbooksI am always on the lookout for excellent book selections for the children. We love illustrated books and try to read several throughout the week as part of our school day. I will often find the children reading them together in the evening as well. 

 
While I can scan the shelves or displays at our library branch easy enough, and we do tend to come home with several books that we just grab off the shelves, our library system has several branches and content changes as books are reshelved where they are returned. 
 
I also prefer books that I’ve read some feedback on or that have been recognized in some way for their content. I regularly sit down with book lists compiled from various websites and request them from our library. Then I can pick them up from our branch’s hold shelf. Super easy! Here are some of my “go to” resources for children’s book recommendations.
 
ALA Book Awards
 
Various book medal awards are given each year by the American Library Association to recognize outstanding books. The Caldecott medal is awarded each year for children’s picture book, and the award goes to the artist, regardless of whether they are also the author of the book. The Newberry Medal is awarded each year to the author of the most distinguished contribution to  American children’s literature. The Silbert Book Medal is awarded to the author and illustrator of the most distinguished informational book each year. 
 
Current medal recipients, as well as winners from previous years, are listed on the ALA website. Additional award lists can also be found on the ALA website under Youth Media Awards.  The ALA also puts together a list of Notable Children’s Books. This is an excellent source of children’s book titles to include in your weekly reading.
 
SB&F Prizes for Excellence in Science Books
 
Science Magazine also includes a roundup of science and nature themed children’s books each year when they publish the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prizes for Excellence in Science Books. Often there are medal recipients included in this roundup. Current and previous years are available here
 
Goodreads
 
Goodreads  is also another great resource for book recommendations. You can “Explore” book selections by genre, and see new releases as well as most read each week. There are also Lists  – Goodread members often put together lists of their own recommendations or contribute to larger lists that are searchable. Each book selection includes reviews and commentaries by members. 
 
Pinterest
 
Pinterest is a great resource for book lists. A simple search for children’s literature will turn up a large selection of blogs and websites that contain children’s book recommendations. These book lists range from the top books “all children should read” to content specific titles such as “books about courage.”
 
Author’s Websites
 
Another way to find books is to explore a particular author. Once we’ve read one book from a particular author, we usually seek out other titles, which are often award winning books too. A simple Google search will usually turn up an author’s website and book list. For example, right now we are reading through several selections by Molly Bang. Look for an upcoming post on a science series she has put out! 
 
 
 

Learning with the Tuttle Twins

I think one of my most important jobs as a parent is educating my children about their inherent rights and liberties that exist regardless of politics or government. I believe that growing up with a firm understanding of their rights will allow them to function more confidently in the world. 

 
This past Spring we discovered a wonderful resource for learning about some of these topics. Connor Boyack’s new series, The Tuttle Twins, presents some of these ideas in a colorful, fun format that is easy to understand by a younger audience but not over-simplified.
 
The first book in the series, The Tuttle Twins Learn about the Law, introduces children to some of the ideas that Frederic Bastiat covered in his well-known collection of essays, The Law. Through colorful illustrations and fun conversations with the main characters, Ethan and Emily, concepts such as legal plunder, which might be a little heavy for younger audiences, are readily understandable.
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Kyri loved The Tuttle Twins Learn About The Law, and carried around Bastiat’s The Law for weeks afterward, reading the essays.
 
We were SO excited when this first book in the series was released! Kyri walked around the house reading this book, as well as her own copy of Bastiat’s The Law, for weeks. We had wonderful conversations about the topics the book introduced.
 
I was excited to learn about the much-anticipated follow-up book that was published just before the holidays – we preordered and Kyri received it as a Christmas gift! In the second book in the series, The Tuttle Twins and the Miraculous Pencil, Ethan and Emily learn about what is really required to produce something simple that we probably take for granted every day – the wooden pencil. Boyack has presented the ideas from Leonard Read’s classic essay, “I, Pencil”  in a fun way for children to really comprehend how the free market works. 
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Kyri was amazed to learn about the complicated family tree of the simple wooden pencil.
 

This series is wonderful and I can’t recommend it enough. Check out the links above and see for yourself – the illustrations are amazing and the stories are powerful. You can also click on my affiliate link to the left of the page to read more about The Tuttle Twins series.

Dreaming Dots

Kyri and I love DK’s My Art Book. This is our main art resource this year and it has wonderful information and projects to work through. Each section has a two page lesson on an art form or particular artist’s style. This is then followed by a detailed art project. The pictures are stunning and really make it easy and fun to complete the projects.

This week we had a lot of fun learning about aboriginal Australian art, and decorating our own rocks.

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We used smaller rocks than suggested in the book (because that is what we had on hand), and acrylic paint to decorate. We outlined our animal shape on each rock and then painted. We paused a few minutes between colors to keep paint from mixing. One optional step we did not do was coat the rock, or at least the painted part, in varnish to protect the decoration. We had a lot of fun with this and will end up doing several more, so we may end up varnishing them after the next batch.

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Air is a Mixture of Gases

This year we have switched over to Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding. We are focusing on Chemistry topics, and so are working through primarily A thread in Volumes I and II.

This past week we’ve been working on topic A7,  Air: A mixture of gases (mixtures and chemical reactions).

Air is an excellent example for understanding molecules, mixtures and chemical reactions. Air is made up of nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide. Oxygen is required by animals for respiration, and carbon dioxide is produced as a waste product. The oxygen and carbon dioxide in air are held constant in the atmosphere by green plants, which use carbon dioxide and emit oxygen. We’ve covered photosynthesis previously, in Biology as well as earlier this year when learning about energy, so this cycle is familiar around here. Here is a video that sums covers the Carbon Cycle.

We also love the app My Incredible Body  and learned all about respiration to get a better understanding of how we as animals breathe in air to bring oxygen into our body, and breathe out to expel carbon dioxide.

Air is made up of matter and has weight

Sometimes when we can’t see something, like air, it can be a little difficult to understand how it is made up of matter. To help visualize this, we set up this simple experiment. We started by tying string around the center of a wooden dowel, making sure the dowel was balanced. We then blew up two balloons, one much fuller than the other. We tied each balloon to an end of the dowel, spacing them the same.

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Kyri is a pretty smart cookie, so she expected the balloon that was inflated more to weigh more as well since it contained more air. As expected, the heavier balloon pulled its end of the dowel down lower!

Burning Requires Oxygen

We next set up a simple demonstration. Placing a tea light in a shallow plate of water (be sure to not cover the candle!), we then covered the candle with a jar and observed how, after just a short time, the flame sputtered and then was extinguished. I explained that the wax was the fuel (potential energy) and burning released this potential energy as kinetic energy in the form of heat and light. Oxygen is necessary for the fire to burn the fuel. Air is made up of approximately 20 percent oxygen, so in an enclosed jar, the oxygen is used up fairly quickly. Once the oxygen is used up, the flame goes out!

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Mixtures and Chemical Reactions

When we started discussing mixtures, we used some simple examples to understand – a mixture of coins or a bag of mixed candy. In those simple examples, the individual components didn’t change and were identifiable. But sometimes when components are mixed, a reaction occurs and the components are broken apart and new components formed. Our second demonstration involved the release of carbon dioxide during a chemical reaction.

Baking soda and vinegar can be mixed, and when they react carbon dioxide is released. This is a fun chemical reaction because of the intense fizzing!

Burning Releases Carbon Dioxide

Similarly, when a candle is burned (also a chemical reaction!), carbon dioxide is also released. Carbon dioxide, like air, is not visible. But we used a fun demonstration to produce and observe carbon dioxide.

We lit a tea candle in a shallow plate, and in a half-pint mason jar combined 1 Tbsp baking soda and 1/4 cup vinegar (Pour slowly to prevent fizzing over!). The carbon dioxide that is produced from the reaction remained in the jar and because it is heavier than air, can actually be “poured” like a liquid. We carefully tipped the jar toward the flame, as if we were pouring but taking care to not pour out any of the liquid contents. While we couldn’t see the carbon dioxide directly, we could observe the flame sputtering and finally going out, as the carbon dioxide poured over the wick and prevented the flame’s access to oxygen.

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