Homeschool Discoveries

Sharing a few things I've discovered along the way…

Summer Reading May 30, 2012

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:00 pm

Ah, the lazy days of summer…well, as “lazy” as they can be with four young kids involved! Today we enjoyed the second “regular” day of our six week summer break from regular academics —  a.k.a. a day that would have been a school day had we not already started our break!

Reading books is still very much a part of our day, however.  Mr. E is eager to keep progressing in his reading skills.   I gave him the challenge last week to read all 10 books in the Now I’m Reading Level 2 set “Amazing Animals” by Nora Gaydos in order to “earn” a trip to a neighborhood bakery for an Angry Birds cookie.  He read the last four books today!

Even though they were overpriced (so much so that the clerk kept apologizing for how expensive they were!), I bought one for each kid as a fun celebration of a reading goal accomplished.

Our local library does not offer much in the way of summer reading programs — they have volunteers doing fun crafts with kids on many summer days, but no prizes for accomplishing reading goals like some libraries have.  We’ll participate in a couple of book-store sponsored summer reading programs that involve the kids tracking the number of books or number of minutes they read each day.

For Miss M I created a “Genre Challenge” inspired by a similar challenge printable at Walking By the Way.  We haven’t decided on a reward yet, but her challenge is to read a dozen books each with a different genre or characteristic, many of which are not things she would select on her own (such as a non-fiction book about a science topic or a fiction book with a male main character).   I’ll also have Miss M keep a reading log for the first time of all the books she reads.  That’s a habit I want her to start doing all the time, not just this summer!  Just since Friday afternoon when I declared the beginning of summer break, I think she has read at least eight books!

Besides the bookstore reading reward programs, I may set up a few more mini-challenges for Mr. E similar to the challenge that earned him the Angry Bird cookie.  He is pretty motivated to practice reading, but I know that these early weeks or months of needing lots of practice, practice, practice can get tiring…so a few extra motivators certainly won’t hurt.

I’m diving into a reading challenge of my own (inspired by this blog post), though it may be a true challenge to complete it.  I started a Bible-in-90-days reading plan in my YouVersion app on the iPad.  With about 100 days from the day before Memorial Day to Labor Day, that would give me 10 potential catch-up days.  Even with that, I’m not sure it will be very easy to find the time to really read something like 16 chapters a day.  But given that I had gotten into the bad habit of reading a chapter or two a day to the kids and not reading any further on my own, even keeping up partially with this kind of reading plan is an improvement.  As much fun as it would be to read facebook and light novels while I “supervise” the kids in the bathtub-depth backyard pool, I know doing some extra Bible reading first will be a good thing for my spiritual life.


Collage Friday: Traveling, Celebrating, Finishing Up May 25, 2012

Filed under: Weekly Highlights — kirstenjoyhill @ 9:32 pm

It’s been a whirlwind of a week for us as we traveled to visit family, celebrated Miss M’s 8th birthday and declared ourselves finished with the 2011-2012 school year.  With nearly 120 pictures in my folder for the past week, it takes three collages to fit it all in.  🙂  First, the special trip and Miss M’s special day:

The kids love going to Grandma’s house (Tony’s mom) and experiencing the wide open space of the Iowa countryside.  The kids played with their cousins, we celebrated a family graduation and Miss M’s birthday.  She is super excited to have her own tennis racket!

Then right on the heels of the trip, we celebrated Miss M’s birthday on Monday:

Miss M wanted a field trip day for her birthday, so after birthday donuts and pastries for breakfast (our family tradition) and a “reveal” of her birthday present (a small trampoline) we headed for a day at the Minnesota Zoo!  We ate Miss M’s birthday dinner of choice and had a fruit tart/pizza for dessert! What a fun day for a wonderful 8 year old!

Here are a few more highlights from the other four days of our week:

1-3: Miss M finished her Early Flight/Famous Aviators lapbook.  This was her primary schoolwork this week. I really wanted her to finish this up before our summer break, because I was pretty sure that if we didn’t get it done this week it might not get done at all!

4-5: Mr. E did at little bit of math at his request, and started a new “reading challenge.”   Mr. E recently saw a sign at a bakery advertising “Angry Birds” Cookies (and we know this boy loves Angry Birds!). I told Mr. E that if he completed a reading goal we decided on together, we could all go to the bakery for cookies.  We decided that he would read all 10 books in the “Now I’m Reading” Level 2 set “Amazing Animals” by Nora Gaydos.   He’s already finished four books from the set!

6.  We discovered Miss M’s new trampoline has a nice side benefit.   Have a crabby baby? Just set him in a spot on the deck to watch the other kids taking turns jumping on the trampoline.  No more crabby baby!

7. We had our last co-op meeting of the year on Thursday morning.  We were supposed to head to the park for a big picnic after co-op…but we got rained out and had an indoor picnic instead.  After the picnic, we met up with my mom for a brief belated celebration of Miss M’s birthday (one of her gifts from Grandma Karen was her very own sewing box!) and a new summer haircut! (Check out the 4 inch difference in length in Miss M’s hair in the earlier pictures to pictures 8 and 9!).

8. We went to see a musical performance of Pippi Longstocking at the children’s theater on Friday morning.  We’ve been looking foward to this for months, and it was indeed a great show!

9. Today (Friday) was our “official” last day of school before a six week summer break.  We’ll start adding subjects back in after the 4th of July.  We celebrated the end of the school year with a family ice cream outing tonight.  Tony asked the kids what their highlights were from this school year.  Mr. K said, “seeing People Longstocking” (as he was calling it all day long).  Mr. E said “learning to read!”  and Miss M said, “Finding a new spelling curriculum.”  (That really surprised me!).

I’m looking forward to a three day weekend filled with projects around the house, BBQs and 50% off sales at the local thrift stores! Enjoy your holiday weekend!

I’m linking up with Collage Friday @ Homegrown Learners and the Weekly Wrap Up at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers!

PhotobucketWeird Unsocialized Homeschoolers


Book Discoveries This Week: Books about Early Aviators May 24, 2012

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 5:24 am

We’re just finishing up a delight-directed unit study on the history of flight and famous early aviators.  The kids’ interest in this topic was sparked by watching a PBS/Nova video on Netflix streaming about the Wright Brothers.   Miss M wanted to focus primarily on the lives of famous pilots (rather than learning about the planes themselves), so most of our book choices were biographies. I’ll highlight three we particularly enjoyed — two about Amelia Earhart and one about Louis Berliot.

You Can’t Do that Amelia is an easy picture book biography that I read aloud to the boys (several times, at their request!), and Miss M read alone.  This book gives brief snapshots of Amelia at various points in her life — from a young girl who wanted to build her very own “roller coaster” to a woman who wanted to fly alone across the Atlantic.  Many people said, “You can’t do that, Amelia!”.  But she always proved them wrong.   This book stops short of her famous last flight, and doesn’t mention her mysterious disappearance, so it’s a good choice for a younger or more sensitive audiences.

Amelia Earhart: The Legend of the Lost Aviator is also a picture book biography told in story format, but in much greater depth than You Can’t Do That Amelia.  I read this aloud to Miss M, and the boys listened in at some points.  Legend of the Lost Aviator goes into more detail about Amelia’s life in an engaging way.  I felt like it treated the instabilities in her family life (including her parent’s divorce) in a tactful way.  This biography covers many of the major events in Amelia Earhart’s life, all the way through her disappearance and efforts.

The Glorious Flight is another picture book biography that all three kids enjoyed.  This was my first introduction to Louis Berliot, the first person to fly across the English Channel.  Berliot had many unsuccessful attempts before finally creating a plane capable of flying the channel.  The Glorious Flight has beautiful illustrations (It won a Caldecott Medal) to show his various aircraft.   This book is a Five in a Row book selection, and I borrowed the appropriate volume of Five in a Row from  a friend with the idea of using it as a jumping off point for more in-depth study of this book with the boys.  It didn’t work out that way, but I did appreciate reading the ideas in the Five in a Row handbook for discussion and observation points as I read the book to the kids.   I am happy that I bought a copy of this book for our permanent collection!

Here are a few more titles we read as a part of our study:

  • How Airplanes Work – an easy to understand intro to the subject.  The boys liked it!
  • DK Flight – Lots of pictures and details on planes through the years.  We used it for browsing.
  • Charles Lindbergh (Compass Point Books) – A straightforward, factual-style biography that Miss M read on her own.  I think with a bit of searching we could have found a more interesting yet age appropriate book on Lindbergh.
  • Brave Harriet – An easy, picture book style biography of Harriet Quimby, the first American woman to hold a pilot’s license and the first woman to fly the English Channel.
  • Fly High — Picture book style biography of Bessie Coleman, the first African American woman pilot.
  • To Fly: The Story of the Wright Brothers – Fairly in-depth picture book style biography of the Wright Brothers
  • The Wright Brothers: A Flying Start – an even more in depth, factual style biography of the Wright Brothers.  Miss M skimmed portions of this one but didn’t read the whole thing.

I got into the spirit of learning about early aviators with a book selection of my own.  While browsing for books for the kids, I noticed that The Big Jump: Lindbergh and the Great Atlantic Air Race was available for library checkout in Kindle format.  I learned so much in reading this very interesting book.  I previously had the vague impression that Lindbergh was the first person to fly the Atlantic.  He was actually the first person to fly the Atlantic solo and the first person to fly from New York to Paris.  Other daring aviators made the jump on shorter routes before he made his Big Jump.  The Big Jump chronicles the daring early aviators (many of whom lost their lives) who made it their quest to fly the Atlantic as well as discussing Lindbergh’s flight in-depth.

The kids have let me know that they are feeling “done” with learning about this topic at least for the moment.  I was a bit bummed — so many more interesting books we never had time to read or even look for at the library!  The timing works out well though since we are changing gears with our schedule after this week and taking a six week break from most of our studies.   Our library basket and shelves are full of other topics now…but I may have sneaked in a book about Zeppelins in our library bag anyhow.  😉

I’m linking up with Read Aloud Thursday @ Hope is the Word!


N is for Next Year May 23, 2012

Filed under: Curriculum — kirstenjoyhill @ 8:24 am

We’re finishing up our current school year….so it’s the perfect time to think about next year, right? Next year I’ll have a third grader (Miss M), a Kindergartener (Mr E, who will be working above that level in many areas), and a young preschooler (Mr K will be 3.5 at the start of the new school year).  And of course baby J will still be the baby of the family (though he will be more like a toddler by the time I am writing next year’s next year post!).  🙂

Some of my curriculum decisions were very easy, as we are continuing right on from where we are now:

For math we use Right Start.  Miss M completed a little over 100 lessons in level C during her 2nd grade year.  We’ll pick up Level C right where we left off, and then move on to Level D.  Mr E seems like a natural at math.  We’ve informally used level A this year.  I am currently planning on starting Mr E with Level B (also a starting point for Right Start Math), and seeing how that works out for him.  If you want to read more thoughts on why we like RightStart, check out this post.

For spelling (as well as some grammar/composition), we will be using the Logic of English Essentials curriculum.  This is not exactly a continuation, since we’ve only been using it since mid-April.  But once I bought it, I just couldn’t wait to try it out! We’ve done a few formal lessons, and will continue to learn/review the phonograms and play games during our six week break.   This is a new curriculum, and judging from the search terms people are using to find my blog,  readers want to know more about it!  I’m hoping to post a review with a few more detailed (albeit initial) thoughts within the next week or two.  Miss M will be using this curriculum fully, and I will be including Mr. E as best as I can.  He will not be able to move as quickly as Miss M, so it might be a challenge to use it to its full potential with him this year.

I don’t plan on doing any other formal grammar or composition/writing curricula with Miss M this year.  My plan is to begin more detailed grammar study in 4th grade.   Since Miss M findings writing to be very frustrating due to her difficulties with spelling, the composition exercises in LOE  as well as copywork and incidental writing for history or science will be plenty until her spelling improves.  If we see a marked increase in her spelling abilities and confidence, I may assign more writing.

For phonics/reading with Mr. E, we’ll continue with Phonics Pathways, until it proves to be unnecessary or no longer useful.  We’re currently up to page 95, and working on long vowel sounds. Of course, we do lots of practice outside of the Phonics Pathways book with easy-readers I have around the house or check out from the library.

For literature/read-alouds, I will do as I did this past year and make a list from the many sources I’ve found to inspire book-list-making.    I’ll make lists for read-alouds with Miss M at bedtime, read-alouds for the whole family (or at least the two older kids), and books I will ask Miss M to read on her own.   I’ll be planning some of our choices to coincide with our history studies.

For science,  we will continue with Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding (BFSU).  We are close to finishing Volume 1 (we may finish it this summer), and we’ll start volume 2 after we finish it.   I haven’t written about BFSU on this blog yet, but I’m sure I will get to writing about it eventually. 🙂  Science is a family subject for us taught primarily by my husband.

Some decisions are a bit harder, as they involve finding new resources and making decisions from among many options:

For history this year, I know we will study American history from the explorers and native people to sometime just before the Civil War.   I know I want to incorporate a lot of literature.  I know I want to use lapbooks/notebooks and maybe a few hands on projects or other experiences.  I also know that I haven’t found any one curriculum or list or curriculum package that is just what I want… and I have spent hours researching the options!

I’m not sure I’ve even found a spine or key text that  I like.  I am confident in my ability to put together a list of books, so if all else fails we’ll just do that.  Currently, I am intrigued by “A Living History of Our World: America’s Story Vol. 1”  by Angela O’Dell.   But I haven’t gotten my hands on a copy yet to see if meets the many criteria I have for a US History text!  Overall, I will be planning our history studies with Miss M in mind, but I am hoping for spine text that Mr. E can reasonably join us for, as well as asking him to join us for some read-alouds that he will find interesting.

For Bible and character growth, I will continue to ask Miss M to read her Bible each day, and will aim to read the Bible to Mr. E (and Mr. K if he chooses to listen).  Maybe before the year is out, Mr. E will be reading it on his own! I’ll also be adding in an assigned Bible study for Miss M.  I bought a Proverbs Bible study for kids from B to Z publishing at our regional church conference this winter, but we haven’t used it yet.  I think I will be having Miss M work though this workbook next year.  At the MACHE homeschool conference I bought a few resources from Doorposts Books that I hope to worth through as a family the summer and into the next school year as well to continue building Godly character qualities into our kids!

For handwriting and and copywork…I am wavering in my decision.  Miss M has used A Reason for Handwriting Level C to learn cursive, and I have been pleased with it overall.  So much so that I bought Level D for her continued practice and Level A for Mr. E to practice printing.  Then I started to wonder if I wouldn’t rather assign cursive copywork to Miss M based on Bible verses I would like her to learn or copywork related to history or science.  Also, the Logic of English Essentials curriculum recommends starting with cursive first, so I am not quite sure what I want to do with Mr. E.  He already knows his manuscript uppercase and some lowercase letters.  At first he wanted to learn cursive…now he’s not so sure.  I’ll keep both books for now and think on it a bit more before fall.

For preschool with Mr. K and some “fun” Kindergarten stuff for Mr. E, I’ll be using free printables from some of my favorite sites (I hope, if I can manage to get organized enough to do that!).   I’m also mentally tossing around ideas about how to incorporate some literature based or topic based unit studies/delight directed studies.   Despite their difference in academic ability levels, I think topic-wise Mr. K and Mr. E should still have a lot in common for their interests and types of books that will hold their attention for literature based studies.   I’m not too concerned with actual “preschool” skills for Mr. K…if he learns a few more letters and numbers that’s great…if not well…he’s still only three and has plenty of time to learn!

Health and P.E. are part of the Minnesota state requirements of what you agree to do if you are homeschooling.  We fulfilled this requirement informally, through our co-op and through science lessons (in the case of health).  I’m not sure if I’ll plan something formal for these subjects or not.

I don’t have any formal plans as of right now for art and music.  My kids do a ton of art and crafts on their own (as well as doing art at our co-op).  I have materials on hand for art instruction if they ask for it.   The jury is still out as to whether or not Miss M will begin piano lessons this coming year (we don’t even have a piano or keyboard yet, so it is a theoretical discussion indeed at this point!).   I would love to incorporate more art and music appreciation into our homeschool, but I know from past failed attempts that it is easier said than done!  I’m still pondering whether or not I want to make a formal attempt next year.

I’m linking up with Blogging Through the Alphabet @ Ben and Me!



Collage Friday: Tests and Games and Silly Fun May 18, 2012

Filed under: Weekly Highlights — kirstenjoyhill @ 9:41 am

The end is in sight!  This is our second-to-last week of school before we take a six-week break from almost all schoolwork, though it was hardly a normal week!

Miss M took the Iowa Test of Basic Skills on Monday and Tuesday.  Minnesota is a fairly lightly regulated state when it comes to homeschooling — besides filing a minimal amount of paperwork each fall, students age seven and up need to take a nationally-normed standardized test.  Any test is fine, as long as it gets done!  Some families opt for an oral exam like the Peabody, some families hire a private tester to do a written test, some families purchase and administer a test themselves, and some do what we did — join with other families (in our case, from our homeschool co-op), to do testing in a small group situation.

I wanted Miss M to feel comfortable with written standardized testing right from the start, so there’s less stress and change for her as she gets older and has to take tests that really “count” for something.  And I knew I couldn’t administer a test at home.  Besides the huge number of distractions in our house (well, three brotherly distractions!), I’m not sure I could be fair and unbiased as a test administrator for my own child!  Other than the time involved (3 hrs on 2 days this year, and it will take three days next year when she is a 3rd grader!), the co-op testing situation worked super well for us.  Miss M tested with one other 2nd grader, while I read a test to a 1st grader from another family (1st and 2nd grade ITBS tests have most questions read aloud).  The boys got to hang out with all the other younger siblings who were not testing, with a few moms who were not reading or supervising a test.  We won’t find out the results until July, but Miss M seemed confident and at ease about the testing process, so I am sure she did her best!

Besides the testing all morning on Monday and Tuesday, a big focus of our week school-wise was playing games:

We played games for quite a while on both Wednesday and Thursday (and maybe we’ll do that today too — we’ll see how things go!).  The highlight of our game playing for the kids probably a game I created that they named “Phonogram Treats.”   I showed the kids Logic of English (LOE) phonogram flashcards, and they got a piece of candy for saying all the sounds of the given phonogram correctly.  We cheered on the three-year-old, Mr. K, for saying anything remotely close to a correct sound or letter name and made sure that with enough hints, he ended the game with plenty of candy in his bowl too. We also played a Logic of English game called Dragon from the LOE games book. Mr. E chose not to play with us and Miss M and we found this game was not quite so fun with only two players — but at least it was good practice.

Miss M requested fraction games from the RightStart games book for our math game time.  She decided after taking the Iowa test that she had “forgotten everything she knew about fractions”.  🙂  A quick review of the RS fraction chart brought it all back to mind, and we enjoyed “Fraction War” and “One”.  Mr E played “One” with us (making rows of fraction cards to equal one), and it was impressive how well he was understanding fractions after just a short introduction to the subject and playing the game with us.  Joan Cotter is so right — even Kindergarteners can understand fractions by playing games!

The boys continued the game playing theme on their own by dumping out a variety of card games, and playing a few by their very own rules, including a messy, crazy version of Uno.  🙂

Here are a few other highlights from our week:

1. and 2.  We kept things light and fun on Monday and Tuesday after testing.  We celebrated completing the day of testing on Monday with our first water gun fight of the year.  We celebrated completing the test as a whole on Tuesday with Miss M’s choice of lunch — her favorite take-n-bake pizza and watermelon (our first watermelon of the spring/summer as well!)

3. The boys enjoying their library books

4. The kids decided to hold a “funniest costume contest.”   After I refused to pick a winner, they demanded I put the picture on FB to have my friends vote.  After not-quite 24 hours of voting, I think Mr. K (the pirate-cheerleader-granny as one friend called his costume) will be the highest vote-getter.  Many friends declared it a three way tie and also refused to vote.  😉

5.  Artwork created by Miss M and Mr. E.   Mr. E drew the toucan-like bird in the upper center of the picture.  His drawing skills have taken a massive leap forward in recent weeks!  I continue to think I don’t really need to teach these kids how to do art or drawing…they are so creative and talented all on their own!

6. Another week, another trip to Ikea to meet an out-of-town friend.  Seriously, we had not been to Ikea for months, and now we’ve been twice in two weeks! This time we met a college friend of mine visiting from Colorado.  The kids enjoyed afternoon treats and a movie in the kids area while my friend and I chatted!

7. Our flight unit study continues.  This week read read about Charles Lindbergh (book not pictured) and Louis Berliot.  I found a PBS/NOVA video about Berliot at the library that we all enjoyed watching together.  Miss M completed a few more lapbook pieces as well.

Later this afternoon we leave for a weekend trip to visit my husband’s family in Iowa and hopefully catch up with a few friends as well.  As much as I would like to get a bit more school-ish stuff done today, I have a suspicion that today will be mostly consumed with errands and packing as we get ready to go.  It never seems like it should take very long to just pack for a two day, two night trip…but somehow it always does!

Have a wonderful weekend!

I’m linking up with Collage Friday @ Homegrown Learners and the Weekly-Wrap Up @ Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

PhotobucketWeird Unsocialized Homeschoolers


Book Discoveries this Week: Phantom Tollbooth and Baby Island May 17, 2012

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 11:29 pm

I’m going to share about my two most recent bedtime read-alouds with Miss M for this week’s Read-Aloud Thursday, since only one of them was fully a read-aloud.   Miss M and I read part of Baby Island together (maybe about half), but I “caved” and let her take the book to read much of it on her own.

Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster is a language-lover’s delight.  Milo,  a rather bored-with-life boy, finds that a tollbooth has mysteriously appeared in his bedroom.  There’s nothing to do but get in his toy car and drive through the tollbooth’s gate and see what happens next.  Milo finds himself transported to a strange land with characters like Tock (a watchdog with a giant clock for a body), the whether man, the not-so-wicked-which, the Humbug, and police officer Short Shrift.  Milo’s quest is to complete the seemingly impossible task to rescue twin princesses Rhyme and Reason and return them to their kingdom (where their presence has been sorely missed, due to the lack of their namesake qualities while they have been missing).

I love puns and other types of word play. I would seriously consider putting up signs like this.   Phantom Tollboth is full of verbal humor. I was a little bit worried early on in the book that Miss M would miss a lot of the humor by not being able to see how various names in the book are spelled as I read aloud to her.  I showed her some of the names and explained a few jokes, but I found she was enjoying the book and finding it funny even without me doing this very often.

Quite often I heard Miss M repeating one of her favorite quotes from the book.  At one point, officer Short Shrift throws Milo and Tock in jail with a sentence of six million years.  However, after a few hours hearing the sad story of their jail-cell-mate (the not-so-wicked-which), they discover they can press a button and leave any time they wish.  The which tells them, “Oh, he likes throwing people in jail but he doesn’t care about keeping them there.”

We both enjoyed this book quite a bit.  I guess the most hearty recommendation comes from Miss M who spontaneously exclaimed at the end of the book, “That was one of the best books I’ve ever read!”

After finishing Phantom Tollboth, we started in on Baby Island by Carol Ryrie Brink.  We read and enjoyed Caddie Woodlawn (also by Carol Ryrie Brink) earlier this year, and I was interested in giving another of her books a try.  I saw this title on one of the many book lists I have been browsing lately, and requested it from the library.

In Baby Island, Mary and Jean are traveling on a ocean liner alone, heading to meet up with their father in Australia.   They love babies and toddlers, so when the ship seems about to sink, their first thought is of the small children they have befriended.  Through a series of miscommunications and mishaps, they end up alone in a lifeboat with four small children, ages 4 months to 2 years.   They soon reach an island they dub “Baby Island” and begin the task of raising these four babies.

I found Baby Island to be a light read, and not one that seems to have faired well against the test of time.  There seemed to be a lot of dated expressions and concepts that were perhaps common at the time the book was written, or in the recent past.  But it seems puzzling today why anyone would think, for example, that “bananas before breakfast are bad for the digestion.”

This story was easily at Miss M’s reading level, and I wasn’t quite as enamored with the story as she was, so when she begged to continue reading the book on her own one night after our read-aloud time was done, I gave in and let her (usually I say “no” because I really want to share our read-aloud’s together!).   This is truly a story for children (probably girls in particular) — Especially those who are enamored with babies and delight in the fantasy of living on a desert island with some cute kids to take care of.

I, on the other hand, could sympathize more with how the parents must have felt being separated from their young children for so long (In the book, 12 year old Mary hopes the mom of three of the four kids is enjoying a nice vacation!), and kept pondering how the 4-month-old could possibly thrive on canned mild and goats milk.   Of course, no mention is made of having to wash out dirty cloth diapers!

This story doesn’t have the universal appeal to all ages that many of our read-alouds have, but it was a fun story for Miss M to enjoy much of on her own.

I’m linking up with Read Aloud Thursday at Hope is the Word!


M is for Minneapolis and May Day

Filed under: Fun Stuff and Extras — kirstenjoyhill @ 7:26 am

I had so many ideas for blog posts starting with M — Messes, Math, Music, Museums…

But I decided to go for something a bit more unique to us — My city Minneapolis, Minnesota and a unique celebration in our neighborhood for May Day.

Despite the drawback of cold, snowy winters, Minneapolis is a beautiful and fun city to live in, and a city with so many great resources for homeschoolers:

  • We love the many, many beautiful parks, lakes and trails in the city.  Almost every park has a free wading pool! Many of the parks offer reasonably priced sports programs and other activities.  Miss M even did pottery classes at our neighborhood park last year!
  • So many wonderful museums, historical sites and other attractions in Minneapolis and in the larger Twin Cities (aka Minneapolis, St. Paul plus their suburbs) metro area.
  • Our huge downtown library with many neighborhood branches, plus the resources of the entire county library system.
  • Enough homeschool groups, co-ops, classes and activities that you can really say there is “something for everyone” somewhere in the Twin Cities metro area.  (I guess this can be a drawback in some ways as well — one family can never do everything, so I sometimes feel bummed that we can’t do many of the neat things I hear about! We are in a stage of life where it’s difficult to do too many organized classes and field trips…something that will change I am sure as the kids get older!  With so many options even just for choosing a co-op, there’s the potential to spend hours doing research to find which one is “best”).
  • Opportunities to be exposed to lots of cultural diversity.  I’m sure this isn’t unique to Minneapolis, but I like the fact that my kids are playing at the park right along side kids speaking Spanish and kids from Somali families that may dress differently than we do…but they are all kids, just playing together at the park.   If anything, I wish we had more opportunities to not just see a variety of people around us from various countries, cultures and races, but to really interact and get to know them (since in reality, most of the people we spend time with regularly still look a lot like us!).

Within Minneapolis, we live in a neighborhood called Powderhorn Park (named after, yes, the park in our neighborhood!).  It’s a fun, quirky and diverse area.  We have a really unique neighborhood celebration called May Day.  It’s usually on the first Sunday of May.  This year, it got rained out and had to be postponed to the next weekend (which was this past Sunday, on Mother’s Day).

The May Day festival brings out tens of thousands of people from the neighborhood, the city, and well beyond.  There’s a parade like nothing I’ve ever seen anywhere else, and a festival in the park that includes some of the “normal” stuff like food vendors and music…and also a pageant of sorts that celebrates the arrival of spring in a way that is, well, pretty pagan (with elements of things like bowing down to the sun).

The pageant is a bit much for us, but the pagan element of things in the parade is a bit more subtle. We feel like we can enjoy the beauty of the artwork in the parade, appreciate the diversity of cultures, opinions and world views represented, and use it as a good opportunity to teach our kids how to respect and appreciate all they see around them in our neighborhood while still viewing it through the lens of our Christian worldview.

It’s so far from the typical parade you almost have to see it to “get it.”   The only motorized vehicle in the parade is the obligatory police car at the beginning.  Everything else is human/bicycle powered! The parade always tells a story in a few “acts.”   Usually the story has something to do with protecting the earth, conserving resources, the evils of hyper-consumerism, and sometimes a jab or two at big business.   There are always a number of fun musical groups — rag tag “marching bands” of local residents of all ages, a calypso band, and a couple groups of traditional Aztec drummers and dancers.   The parade ends with a “free speech” section where anybody or any group can march to promote or protest anything they please.   This year we left before much of that section came through.  It can get a little crazy!

Our kids love the crazy and beautiful costumes and the fun music.  As they are getting older, it spurs all kinds of interesting questions and discussion (both the parade itself and the people gathered to watch it).  Miss M asked why a particular group of people was dressed all in black.  My flippant response was “oh, because they think it’s cool to do that.”   Tony had a more thoughtful response, something along the lines of how people often feel they have to dress a certain way to fit in, and many people who choose to wear all black may do so because they feel like they don’t fit in or have been hurt by the culture around them.

I’m glad he had such a thoughtful response, because I want my kids growing up thinking in a caring way about all the kinds of people they see around them, and how they might be able to show them the love of Jesus.

To see what other bloggers are writing about for the letter M, visit this week’s Blogging through the Alphabet @ Ben and Me!



L is for Lapbooks May 14, 2012

Filed under: Fun Stuff and Extras — kirstenjoyhill @ 3:29 pm

Lapbooks are one of my favorite “special” things about homeschooling.  It’s a type of project I had never heard of until we were homeschooling, and something that it seems few people outside of homeschooling have ever heard of.  Maybe you could say it is one of homeschooling’s “best kept secrets.”

What is a lapbook? A lapbook is a project (usually on one topic) composed of multiple small, paper “mini-books” folded together, then glued into a file folder or perhaps onto individual pieces of cardstock bound together in some fashion. If you are new to lapbooking, I recommend this Squidoo lens as an excellent introduction to the topic.

Over the past three years, we really haven’t made as many lapbooks as I hoped we might.  As  a part of a geography study when Miss M was in Kindergarten, we made an extensive lapbook on Antarctica, and started (but unfortunately didn’t finish) lapbooks on China and a general one on the Seven Continents.  We used a lot of free resources to make these, mostly from a great site called Homeschool Share.

Then the summer in between Miss M’s K and 1st years, Miss M wanted to make a lapbook about the Besty-Tacy books.  Not finding any resources already created for a lapbook on this topic, I spent hours creating one from scratch.

You can download the templates for yourself at homeschool share if you are interested in it!

Last year (Miss M’s first grade year), we didn’t end up doing any lapbooks.  By this spring, Miss M was interested in giving lapbooking a try again.  This time, we used a lapbook kit e-book from In the Hands of a Child for the first time for Miss M to create a lapbook about horses:

We have two more lapbook projects going currently:  a lapbook on flowers and other plants, (to go along with our current science studies) and a lapbook about early flight/famous pilots to go along with our current unit study on that topic.  I’m using a combination of free printables from homeschool share and other sites, as well as some portions purchased from Hands of a Child and Currclick.

Miss M really enjoys the “crafty” aspect of lapbooking.  She enjoys the cutting, pasting, coloring and drawing.  She doesn’t enjoy the writing aspect of lapbooking quite so much. When she was younger, she didn’t like trying to write in a small space.  Now that’s less of a problem, but she gets easily stressed out about not knowing how to spell the words she would like to write.  Some of the Hands of a Child lapbooks are available with the text already filled in (sometimes in a “traceable” font) — though I wonder if this produces quite as much learning about the topic in question!  I’ve also had her at times narrate to me what she would like to say in a particular lapbook piece.  When Miss M was younger I would write in the mini-book for her, or now I might type up her narration and have her copy it into the lapbook piece.

Assuming Miss M’s enthusiasm for lapbooks continues, I am hoping to incorporate even more lapbooking into our homeschool next year (perhaps also mixed in with some notebooking). I have purchased several Hands of a Child lapbooks at deeply-discounted sale prices (watch both the Hands of a Child site and Currclick for regular sales and even free titles!) to go along with some of the history and science topics we’ll be covering next year.  Maybe we’ll get Mr E in on the lapbooking act next year too!  So far his patience for anything related to lapbooking has been cutting out pictures and gluing them into a folder.  But as he gets older, I’m guessing he will enjoy making lapbooks too.

To see what other bloggers thought of to go along with the letter “L” visit “Blogging through the ABC’s” at Ben and Me!



Collage Saturday: Flight, Flowers, Fish, and a Frenetic Day May 12, 2012

Filed under: Weekly Highlights — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:19 pm

Do you ever have those weeks where you waaaay over estimate what you can accomplish? Capped off by a day where you pack in waaaay too much activity?  That was my day yesterday and my week in general.   We still had a great time.  But I did figure out that just because we decided by the end of last week to take a break from new math and spelling lessons for several weeks, that doesn’t mean we can expect to  play a bunch of educational games and spend a bunch of time on a new unit study and practice for standardize testing and plan some special outings (in a week when we also have our co-op)…and expect to actually get that all done.  Lesson learned!

Our frenetic day on Friday wasn’t originally planned that way.  I started my week thinking that baby J had a pediatrician appointment on Wednesday, and that after the appointment my mom would meet up with us to go to the Sea Life aquarium at the Mall of America to take advantage of their special homeschool discount week.  Then on Tuesday I discovered the appointment was really on Friday, and my mom let me know that her schedule changed and Friday would be a better day for her to come too.  Meanwhile, I had previously signed up for a Friday time slot to bring a meal to a family from our church who recently had a new baby.  And Miss M was having an early birthday sleep-over with her two best friends starting after dinner on Friday.  Yep, I was crazy agreeing too all that action in one day!  But we survived and a good time was had by all.  🙂

The Sea Life Aquarium was fun, and probably at least a little bit educational:

My favorite part was the bright blue frogs.   That and watching baby J watch the jelly fish! After lunch at the mall, we spent the afternoon in the kitchen cooking up a storm — a double-sized dinner and treats for the slumber party:

 That’s a heart-shaped red-velvet cake, homemade berry “sorbet” (from a magazine recipe that Miss M really wanted to try), and a strawberry Jello with strawberry puree and pineapple.  I think I must have had too much puree in the Jello, however, because it didn’t hold the shape of the mold at all!

Miss M’s actual birthday is a week from Monday, but this was the best date for the sleep over.  The girls stayed up until almost midnight, then were up by 7:15 or so on Saturday for raspberry waffles and lots of crafting and playing before heading home.  I was pretty exhausted by the time they left!

Here are a few other highlights from the rest of our week:

1.  Monday turned out to be our only day for game playing. Miss M and I played more Multiplication Memory in the morning, while in the afternoon Mr E and Miss M (and Miss J, Miss M’s best friend from across the street) humored me by playing Phonogram Hopscotch when they really just wanted to be riding bikes and scooters up and down the sidewalk.

2.  Happy Baby J hanging out outside on Monday, watching the big kids ride bikes/scooters and play hopscotch.

3.  Mr E did a bit of reading and math this week, mostly on Monday and Tuesday.   Here he is on Tuesday showing Mr. K how to make the stairs on the abacus.  Mr. K wore the bee costume all afternoon that day.  🙂  Tuesday was a big day for Miss M and I to work on test prep (we have standardized testing next week — it’s a requirement in MN).  She learned the difficult lesson that if you do a four digit subtraction problem and get an answer that is not among the choices listed, it really is the student who is wrong, not the test booklet.  A tough lesson for a 2nd grader to come to grips with.  At least it was tough for my 2nd grader who is not used to multiple choice tests!

4. We have a Family Science Night nature walk on Wednesday night to discuss flowers and other plants and how they adapt to their environment.  With our schedule freed up during the day on Wednesday from our initial plans of appointment and aquarium, we were able to accept an invite from friends visiting from out-of-town for an early lunch meet-up at Ikea.  Between that and a much-needed grocery store trip…it turned out not to be a big school day for us!

5. Thursday afternoon was our second-to-last co-op meeting of the year.  Miss M has been preparing for the geography challenge since January, and she passed!  Students at our co-op are rewarded with $5 if they complete the geography challenge for their grade.  Miss M proved she could locate all 50 US states on the map to earn her five bucks.

6. & 7.  Sprinkled in throughout the rest of our busy week was our new “delight directed” unit study on flight.  We took a trip to the big library downtown last Saturday and found many books on flight.  Miss M wanted to focus primarily on famous early pilots, so we came home with picture book biographies on fliers like Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Erhart,  The Wright Brothers, and more.  Miss M read several on her own, I read one out loud to all the kids, and read a couple of the shorter ones to the boys that Miss M had read herself.  Miss M also got a bit of a start on a lapbook about early flight and famous fliers.   The kids were so excited to tell everyone this week that they “know stuff about a bunch of famous pilots” as Mr. E likes to say.  Our study will continue for the next couple weeks.

Have a wonderful Mother’s Day!

I’m linking up with Collage Friday @ Homegrown Learners and the Weekly Wrap-up @ Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

PhotobucketWeird Unsocialized Homeschoolers


Book Discoveries this Week: If Waffles Were Like Boys…And Other Picture Books May 9, 2012

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:59 pm

We took a trip to the “big library” (aka the downtown Minneapolis Central Library) this past Saturday.  Despite being less than 15 minutes from our house, it still seems like a big undertaking to get there and parking is not free, so we end up going just a couple times per year.  Every trip there is a real treat because of the vast selection of books available to us!

I’ve had a hard time lately feeling inspired by the picture book selection at our regular neighborhood library branch.  I’m sure there are still plenty of gems to be discovered, but I feel like I keep seeing a lot of the same old books.   With a selection of many thousands of children’s books, it wasn’t hard to find something new at Minneapolis Central!

One of our favorite finds from this library trip is If Waffles Were Like Boys by Charise Mericle Harper and Scott Magoon.   The title caught my eye as I was browsing the stacks, and I brought it home without much of a glance at the contents.   It  turned out to be delightful! We read on the first pair of pages, “If Waffles were like boys…breakfast would be a battlefield.”   Mr. E started laughing in a nearly-uncontrollable way at the sight of the fighting waffles, and didn’t stop until the book was over.  Then we read the book again!   Any boy (or any mom of a boy!) will relate and probably enjoy the various scenes showing everyday-life objects coming alive in all the ways boys love to play.

We also really liked A Place for Zero by Angeline Sparagna LaPresti.  Mr. K picked this one off the shelf.  We told him the title, and he remembered it long enough to ask for it by name a couple days later!  Zero is a number living in a land of mostly digits 1 through 9 (and, it seems, a “plus”, a “multiplication” and an infinity.”   The other numbers can all play “add-em-up,” but poor Zero doesn’t add up to anything, so he’s left out.  He needs to go on a quest and find his life’s purpose! This was a cute and even heartwarming book, as zero learns all the things that make him special.  There’s even cute baby zeros (since that’s what you get when you multiply by zero, of course!).   The boys loved it too, asking for me to read it again right after I finished the first reading.  I spied them flipping through this book several times throughout the day.

Here a few more quick takes on some of the books we’ve been enjoying this week:

Pickles. Please by Andy Meyer.  Maybe you’ve heard of  “Pinkalicious”? Pickles, Please is for the “picklicious” crowd.   Alec loves pickles so much, but no one else understands — until he goes to the pickle factory!

The Day Roy Riegels Ran the Wrong Way by Dan Gutman is a football tale based on a true story with a great lesson — It’s okay to make mistakes — even big ones!

My Chincoteague Pony by Susan Jeffers is one I picked out for Miss M because I thought she would enjoy this sweet story of a girl who wants a pony of her own.  If you have a horse-lover who is too young for Misty of Chincoteague or a bit older reader who still appreciates a good picture book, this story might be a good fit.

Welcome to Monster Town by Ryan Heshka.  We found this title at our neighborhood library branch a few weeks ago.  We have “visited” Monster Town many times in this clever story where “Frank N. Stein, master electrician, appears shockingly good at his work,” and monster children ride the “ghoul bus.”  A great story for kids that like monsters (and puns).

{Photo Credit}

Visit Read-Aloud Thursday @ Hope is the Word for more great read-aloud suggestions!