Monday, September 1, 2014

Homeschooling Themes and Curriculum for 2014-2015

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Our new school year begins tomorrow! (Who starts school on a holiday, anyway?) Munchkin is officially a preschooler now (age 3) and Bean is still technically a preschooler, but most of her lessons are for kindergarten (age 4 1/2). She'll start Kindergarten officially in January. I've compiled a list of the subjects, themes and curriculums we will be working on this year.

We do not follow any specific curriculum plan. We're eclectic homeschoolers. We do what feels right for us. We're pretty much borderline unschoolers, but we do some traditional activities too. That's because my daughter loves those kinds of activities. So long as she likes them, we will continue using them. We also use flash cards and worksheets, although we don't use worksheets too often. We typically use living books to learn about geography, history, math and science, and read lots of books with interesting stories for literature and literacy activities.

Munchkin hasn't decided what sort of schooling he likes yet. Last school year we involved him in the activities he wanted to participate in and gave him plenty of time to play. We did learn letters, numbers, and lots of beginning concepts. He can count to 5 by himself and up to 20 with assistance. He knows every letter in the alphabet and can read a few short words. He prefers hands-on activities. He loves to listen to music, draw cars and build anything and everything.

Bean enjoys using flash cards and tracing sheets to practice handwriting. She is a very independent child and needs her space. She prefers using online programs for certain subjects (science is almost always hands-on), like math and literacy. She will find any excuse to read a book about something, so she is allowed free range at the library to choose what she wants to learn about. I provide as much assistance as she allows, but she picks up things on her own. For instance, we read books so often that she can now recognize words and can read a few short books on her own. Her favorite subjects are math and science, but reading is her primary focus right now.

Geography - We will be learning about America this year! We will learn about the different states using maps, documentaries, books, travel brochures, and whatever else we come across. We have no yet found a curriculum for this subject that we like. Our geography lessons will typically be paired with our history lessons. Example, if we are learning about the Early Settlers, we will learn about the different colonies and where they lived. We will learn about America both past and present. For little ones, the Good Night Our World books are great. Our favorite is Good Night New Hampshire. These books cover states, countries, the world, and themes like zoos, farms, mountains, oceans, etc. All sorts of things, basically. They're perfect for introducing young children to geography and other fun subjects.

History - Native Americans, Early Settlers, Revolutionary War, Wild West, Civil War. We will also cover the French-Indian War, Pirates, and at the end of the year, we will begin the World Wars, which will lead to modern history. We'll begin world history (beginning with ancient history) next year.We intend to teach history using literature-based activities, hands-on activities, and play activities. Heroes and Heroines of the Past (our review) will provide us with a curriculum to follow. We will learn about presidents, different states, territories and colonies, historical figures and events, as well as anything else we might stumble upon. We will aim to break up American history in blocks, based on centuries (we started with pre-American history and now we are on the 16th century). This Wikipedia Timeline will provide a very basic guideline for our studies. It basically lists people and events based on the date. I'm sure I'm leaving stuff out, but we will fill in as we work through the year. Please keep in mind that while my children are young, we are simply introducing these subjects by setting up small worlds, learning activities and creative crafts, as well as reading plenty of books. Our history lessons will be styled like unit studies and we will incorporate other subjects into our lessons.

Math - Preschool and Kindergarten math. We will be using online programs, such as CTC Math (our review), Mathletics (our review), and Verbal Math (I'll post a review soon). My children love math, much more than I ever will, and request to do math daily. We incorporate math into everyday activities as well, such as cooking in the kitchen (reading and scooping measurements provide hands-on ways to learn), reading price labels at the store and counting money, and telling time (my daughter can already read the clock, which is something that I find amazing). We use pattern blocks, geoboards and other math tools to learn as we go.

Reading - Rosetta Stone Reading for Homeschool (our review) and Essential Skills Advantage (our review) are the primary online programs we use. Logic of English (our review) incorporates reading, spelling and writing and provides many hands-on activities.

Spelling - Spelling You See (our review) is a ten-minutes (or less) activity that are worksheets that Bean completes during our literacy hour. They are great because they incorporate different learning styles to practice spelling. You read the word out loud while you trace the word and then fill in the blank letters to practice writing on your own.

Writing - WriteShop (our review) is a product we use mainly for storytelling. We incorporate our sight word tree (which I will eventually post about), flash cards, books and story stones. Small world play and games often inspire stories, which we write down and illustrate using our WriteShop pages.

Literature - Hewitt Homeschooling Lightning Literature Grade 1 (our review) is our curriculum for the year. There are so many great books we will read and each day provides fun activities. There's so much to do with this curriculum and we love it! We will also use sensory bins, felt boards and small worlds based on books we love to read. The majority of our lessons are literature-based and reading is very important to us. Books are the main element of our homeschool and that's the way we like it.

Music - HomeSchoolPiano (our review) is our main source of music study, which teaches piano by watching videos and completing worksheets. We have a full size keyboard that we practice on, as well as many sets of 3-Pard Cards that are used for memory games and matching activities. I also have a handful of music themed felt boards (which I will some day get around to sharing) that we use often and is our fun way of creating our own music!

Foreign Language - We are considering Spanish as a second language option, but as of right now, we are not using an online program or any curriculum. I'll update this when we make a decision.

Art - No specific curriculum, but we paint, color and draw every day. We create tons of arts and crafts and are inspired by nature every day. We keep a Nature's Art Journal at our nature table that we use to draw acorns, pine cones, leaves, flowers, whatever we end up finding outside. We keep a book called Nature's Symmetry at the table next to the journal so they can consult it.

We will use our Learning Wrap-Ups Learning Palette online subscription to work on literacy and math (our review). We now own a physical set of one of their literacy cards, and definitely prefer the physical set but the online subscription is more cost effective. We hope to pick up a few more this year, since they are great for review.

A few additional activities that work for us are:
- Tea time in the afternoon. I read poetry to them while they enjoy their lunch and some tea.
- An episode of Magic School Bus while eating breakfast, which often inspires a science activity that day, such as an experiment or lesson. We also own a few of the books, which means we can read those too and they are great for short unit studies!
- And the best one of all, reading at bedtime. We have become accustomed to preparing for bed an hour early so we can cuddle in bed with a stack of good books. We read a mixture of short stories, picture books, and chapter books, like A Wrinkle in Time, Harry Potter and soon, How to Train Your Dragon! Chapter books are great for bedtime and also introduce them to bigger storylines, which further teaches the concept of plot and character development.
- And last but not least, plenty of time to play outside with their friends! We usually "do" school from 9 to between 12 and 2, depending on what we are working on that day. Then we spend the afternoon until dinner, and usually after as well, outside at the park. They have a wonderful group of friends who are mostly older than them, ranging from age 8 to 13. They also play with other children, some closer in age, depending who decides to visit the park that day. During the summer we take the majority of our activities outside and involve the other children in the neighborhood. They loved the themed arts and crafts activities, story time books, science experiments and nature walks we went on.

I hope that gives you a good idea of what we will be working on this homeschool year! We look forward to sharing more of our activities and experiences with you, our readers. We will also continue sharing reviews, which I hope will help others who are making decisions about homeschooling curriculum and materials.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Essential Skills Advantage Review

I received one year of the Premium Plan from Essential Skills Advantage to review. The Premium Plan is available for $9.99/month and covers reading and language curriculum from Kindergarten to Sixth Grade. The design of Essential Skills Advantage will appeal to all types of learners. So whether your child is a visual, auditory or kinestetic learner, there will be activities designed specifically for them. This program is interactive and will engage your child and challenge them to want to learn more. 
Here's a quick look at the programs available from Essential Skills Advantage!
The Essential Skills Advantage online program teaches:
Phonemic Awareness - introduces 38 phoneme sounds, teaches how to recognize these sounds in words, and how to add, subtract or substitute these phoneme in words. 
Super Phonics - teaches children how to read the alphabet to complete sentences.
Sight Words - The Dolch Sight Words are the 220 English words that appear in 50%-75% of speaking, reading, and thinking. They are essential to mastering the English language. 
Reading Comprehension - learn to read the meaning, discover the conclusion, identify the main ideas and word recognition. 
Fun with Spelling - teaches the rules to reading and spelling, how to blend words, learn to spell words in context, learn words from memory. 
The menu system makes it super easy to find activities! We typically do not follow a specific schedule, and decide based on preferences for the day what the kids want to learn. So if they want to match letters or listen for the letters, they can pick that activity. Or if they would rather a visual activity for matching, they can do that too. Each group of activities is arranged in an order that is used for progression, but we sometimes work on the activities out of order. It works for us and might not be the way that is best for others. But I find that letting the kids complete activities they want to do keeps them interested and once they master it, they easily move on to the next activity with no hassle. We typically complete a full section before we move on to the next.

Essential Skills Advantage Review
We have been using our computer for this program, so that also means that my kids need to either work together or take turns using the mouse. This program is not compatible with iPad's and Android tablets, which is very unfortunate, because we just got iPads! The kids definitely prefer using their iPads for their online activities. It's just easier to use for little ones and they don't have to wait to take turns, like they have to with the computer. I have high hopes that this program will be compatible with iPad's and tablets in the future. 
The lessons for Kindergarten are arranged like this:
Readiness Skills - Picture Vocabulary, Visual Skills, Auditory Skills, Basic Concepts
Phonics - Alphabet, Phonemic Awareness, Consonants
Sight Words - Word Lists, Colors, Numbers, and More
Stories - Stories

There are so many different lessons available! Each one is broken into three stages and after completing each stage, you will be awarded by the Star System! The Star Chart will show your kids their current grade, their learning progression on a chart, and their best scores. Any scores over 80% will receive a gold star and any scores under 80% will receive a silver star. Children will not feel pressured and will instead be encouraged to turn that silver star into a gold star! Their effort will not go unnoticed.

Here's a visual of some of the activities Essential Skills Advantage offers at the Kindergarten grade level. As you can see, this program covers a huge range of activities and has been very enjoyable to work on!

Find "npmp."

Find the "smallest" shape.

Find the picture that shows the word "open."

Here are a few samples of the differences between the Kindergarten activities and the 1st Grade activities. There are less pictures used in the 1st Grade activities and they focus more on sight words and spelling.

What we liked most:
- Essential Skills Advantage will appeal to all learning types!
- There are so many activities to choose from!
- This program is engaging and interactive.
- Is visually appealing and fun to use.
- It does not focus on just sight words or just phonics. It incorporates several ways to learn to read.

Essential Skills Advantage now offers a sponsored version of their program that is free to users. You can sign-up completely free at Members will enjoy access to every course ESA has to offer, but there will be sponsored advertising and some of the available features will be unavailable.

If you are interested in purchasing the Premium Plan from Essential Skills Advantage, use the coupon code TOS50 to receive 50% off the monthly membership fee! This code will be good until October 1st. The 50% discount will apply as long as you remain a member. The membership fee will be reduced to only $4.99/month/student.


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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Pilgrim Felt Board

If you follow along with our homeschool journey, you probably know that we are working on our Early Settlers unit study. So to add to my children's learning experience, I created a simple Pilgrim Felt Board. I plan on adding more to it, mainly other Pilgrims with more outfits and perhaps a few kids. For now it's just a dress-up activity and they can use the Pilgrims for storytelling too. 

I kept the design simple and similar to our Gingerbread People. The hands and feet have rounded edges. I tried to keep the outfits as similar to what I picture pilgrims wearing, so I stuck to black and white with a little bit of grey... but who doesn't like color? So I added a few outfits in green, blue and brown. 

Here are the pilgrims. At first I made them without hair and then I quickly realized they definitely needed hair. I gave the man long hair, though you can't see it because it is hidden behind his clothes. Also he has green eyes, because they are common in our family, but then I made him a set of brown eyes too, because that eye color is much more common in general.

All of the smaller pieces are glued on, so they don't get lost. I used Elmer's Craft Bond glue, which works amazing on felt!

Here are some of the pieces removed. I made sure the figures had the same shape as the clothes so it's easier to match them.

Bean loves her dress-up felt boards!

She especially likes having different outfits to choose from. 

I plan to make more of these historical themed felt boards throughout the year. It will be a fun way to explore different cultures in the future, too!

These were so simple to make! It took a grand total of maybe 30 minutes to make a couple figures and a handful of outfits. 

I'll be going back to make a few Native Americans and then next we will make some Wild West, Pirates, and Revolutionary and Civil War themed figures for our historical felt boards!

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Friday, August 22, 2014

UberSmart Math Facts Review

We received the UberSmart Math Facts from UberSmart Software to review. This is a program that is designed for children in grades K-6, although it could still be used by children who are older if they need help reviewing math. It can be used by 8 or more students. This was a software that we downloaded onto our computer. The software requirements are Windows 7, 8, XP or Vista only.

UberSmart Math Facts can be used to practice Dot Cards (domino style), Keyboard Entry, and Flash Cards. Addition, subtraction, multiplication and division are covered on the software. You have the option of using addition and subtraction to go up through the 9's, and multiplication and division can go up to the 20's. Mainly this software offers the math facts as flash cards and timed tests.

We have only used the UberSmart Math Facts to begin lessons on addition. We have been leaning more towards geometry lessons lately, since that is their interest, but this program came at a perfect time. Bean has always been interested in math and loves to count everything she sees. We have begun activities that involve addition and subtraction. We use a combination of hands-on activities, flash cards (because while flash cards don't work for every child, mine actually love them), and verbal math lessons. We try to keep worksheets to a minimum.

Here's a few sample flash cards of how this product looks:

UberSmart Math Facts Review

Some of the flash cards will ask you to type in the answer.

UberSmart Math Facts Review

These flash cards make it really easy to memorize math facts!

UberSmart Math Facts Review

Our favorite flash cards are the dot cards. I prompt the kids to count each dot and then complete the question. It's a fun way to practice that doesn't involve worksheets.

UberSmart Math Facts Review

We like the UberSmart Math Software because it's a convenient way to review math facts all in one place. I only wish that there was an app version! My kids find that it is much easier to use their iPads for online activities. It means that they can use it independently without assistance, which they sometimes struggle with at the computer. It will help the child if they already have an understanding of math concepts before beginning to use this program.

We really like the simplicity of the UberSmart Math Software. My children are still learning the concept of addition and subtraction, which we prefer to use hands-on lessons for, but it's nice for them to practice with visual math too. We use the dot cards for addition and subtraction, but do not use the timed tests option.

The UberSmart Software costs $24.95 and does not require any addition products. It's a nice little helper for math lessons and provides simple flash cards to help children remember their math facts. It's easy to download and set up and you can use it immediately. We prefer the dot cards for now, but I expect they will be using the other cards in the next few years!

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Native American Books for Kids

We recently finished up our first unit study! It was on Native Americans and we learned quite a lot! My kids loved all of the activities we created and especially loved all the books we read! We lean more towards literature-based learning in our homeschool (instead of textbooks or worksheets), and obviously hands-on learning. For this unit, we visited one of our favorite stores, the Used Book Superstore, and picked up 24 books for $55! (And got $15 in "Bob's Bucks.") Can't beat that! But we also visited our local library and used some books that we already had on hand from previous trips to the bookstore. We have quite a collection on this subject now and I know they will be read many times in the upcoming years.

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We read a few different types of books, but they all fall into the "living books" category.

Chapter Books:
Morning Girl by Michael Dorris (used with our Moving Beyond the Page curriculum)
The Courage of Sarah Noble by Alice Dalgliesh (used with our Progeny Press literature guide)
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell

Some of our favorite books for this unit were written by Joseph Bruchac.

Thirteen Moons on Turtle's Back: A Native American Year of Moons (we found this printable from Rhythm of the Home - the link to the original post is not working, which is why I directed you to the printable)
The Earth under Sky Bear's Feet: Native American Poems of the Land - We love reading poems during tea time!
Between Earth & Sky: Legends of Native American Sacred Places
Arrow over the Door (chapter book)
Native American Animal Stories
The First Strawberries: A Cherokee Story
The Trail of Tears (Step into Reading)
Children of the Longhouse
Eagle Song (chapter book)
The Warriors

Books about Native American children
Children of the Earth and Sky: Five Stories About Native American Children by Stephen Krensky
Children of the Wind and Water: Five Stories About Native American Children by Stephen Krensky

Encounter by Jane Yolen. I suggest reading this book with Morning Girl, as it is about the same tribe (Taino).

Books by Gloria Dominic - These were my sons favorite! He loved the artwork and these stories kept him very interested. 

Sunflower's Promise: A Zuni Legend
Brave Bear and the Ghosts: A Sioux Legend
Coyote and the Grasshoppers: A Pomo Legend
First Woman and the Strawberry: A Cherokee Legend
Red Hawk and the Sky Sisters: A Shawnee Legend
Song of the Hermit Thrush: An Iroquois Legend

Coyote Places the Stars by Harriet Peck Taylor - Goes well with Thirteen Moons on Turtle's Back. This story tells of how the constellations were named.

The Very First Americans by Cara Ashrose - Simple book to introduce children to Native American tribes and culture.

If you Lived with... Is a fantastic series that we plan to continue reading! These books were so informative and were great resources on learning about different tribes. I only wish they had more of them!

If You Lived With The Cherokees
If You Lived With The Iroquois
If You Lived With The Hopi Indians
If You Lived With The Indians Of The Northwest Coast
If You Lived With The Sioux Indians

A River Ran Wild: An Environmental History by Lynne Cherry - Was a story about a local river. I knew about this issue, since we learned about it in school. It was one of the ways we incorporated science into our lessons and even went down to the river to check it out.

The True Story of Pocahontas by Lucille Recht Penner

Our absolute favorite books for this unit study were written by Paul Goble. He has written over 30 books that depict the life and stories of plains tribes Native Americans. We have not read every single one, but we intend to! Each one is fantastic, especially to learn from! Many of the titles you will probably recognize from seeing in school or at the library.

The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses
The Gift of the Sacred Dog
Buffalo Woman
All Our Relatives: Traditional Native American Thoughts about Nature
Dream Wolf

The books written by Terri Cohlene were another series of legends that Munchkin loved. His favorite was Turquoise Boy and it inspired many sensory bins and art activities.

Dancing Drum: A Cherokee Legend
Turquoise Boy: A Navajo Legend
Clamshell Boy: A Makah Legend
Ka-ha-si and the Loon: An Eskimo Legend
Quillworker: A Cheyenne Legend
Little Firefly: An Algonquian Legend

Cherokee Stories
The First Strawberries retold by Joseph Bruchac
Sequoyah's Talking Leaves by Mary Dodson Wade

Northwest Coast
Song of Sedna by Robert D. San Souci
The Last American Rainforest: Tongass by Shelley Gill
Raven: A Trickster Tale from the Pacific Northwest by Gerald McDermott
The Boy Who Dreamed of an Acorn by Leigh Casler and illustrated by Shonto Begay

Pawnee Stories
The Mud Pony: A Traditional Skidi Pawnee Tale by Caron Lee Cohen and illustrated by Shonto Begay

Choctaw Stories
Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship & Freedom by Tim Tingle

Navajo Stories
Ma'ii and Cousin Horned Toad: A Traditional Navajo Story by Shonto Begay
The Magic of Spider Woman by Lois Duncan and illustrated by Shonto Begay
How the Stars Fell into the Sky: A Navajo Legend Jerrie Oughton

Older children might enjoy some books written by Joseph M. Marshall III, such as The Lakota Way: Stories and Lessons for Living and The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History.

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