Homeschool Discoveries

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

Collage Friday: Crazy Weather, Robins and Lego Star Wars April 26, 2013

Filed under: Weekly Highlights — kirstenjoyhill @ 9:27 pm

It’s been two weeks now since my last full “”weekly highlights” post.  Last Friday and Saturday I was attending our state’s homeschool conference, and by the end of the weekend I just wasn’t up for trying to remember all that we had done the week before.  🙂  So…now I have to try and remember what we’ve done for two weeks!

We’ve had some crazy weather, that’s for sure!

Spring 2013 Weather


Maybe now we are finally done with snow, and can move on with actual spring.   We are all so ready for nicer weather! Today (the first day of truly warm weather so far this spring),we did a very minimal amount of school work and did some “fun” errands (including a book sale…I love those!), and spent time outside.


Here are a few of our learning highlights from the past two weeks:




1.  – 2.  As usual we’ve been playing lots of RightStart Math games…but it’s a bit of a blur and I can’t remember which ones.  🙂

3.  Mr. E (Age 6, Kindergarten) has been working on beginning multiplication and on learning to tell time to the minute in RightStart C.

4. In Logic of English Foundations, Mr. E is up to Lesson 103.  In the picture he was working on a “silent E sort”  — deciding the reason for the Silent E in a variety of words.  Miss M (Age almost 9, 3rd grade) finished Lesson 33-34 of LoE Essentials in the past two weeks.  This week she had a perfect score on the end of lesson test!

5. – 7.  The past two weeks Mr. K (age 4, Pre-K) has been very into mazes, coloring create-your-own Lego Mini-Figures (I don’t know why I haven’t printed these out before…I guess I kept forgetting!  I think about a dozen of these were colored by the two boys this week!), and lots of pretend play, of course.

8.  Mr.  J (18 months), has been into making messes, of course!

9.-10.   Mr. E finally got to do his Lego Star Wars expert day presentation at co-op (it was postponed from earlier this month when co-op was cancelled due to bad weather).  He did an awesome job!

11.  Miss M is in the drawing/geometry section of RightStart D.  She doesn’t love it as much as she did when we did similar lessons in RightStart C, and she is amazed that I don’t always know exactly how to draw the figures (the manual does not give step-by-step instructions).  I keep reminding her that until the drawing/geometry in RightStart C, I had never even used a triangle or T-square!

12.  After being very interested in Robins and reading a number of books about them, Miss M decided she wanted to make a lapbook about Robins.  She worked on that over the past two weeks and finished it up today.  I’ll give that the attention it deserves in it’s own post sometime next week!


Have a wonderful weekend…we’ll be out enjoying our lovely warm weather!!!!


I’m linking up with Collage Friday, The Weekly Wrap-Up, and The Homeschool Review!

Homegrown Learners

Book Discoveries this Week: Rifles for Watie April 25, 2013

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 9:53 pm

As we wind down our school year and with it, our US History studies for the year, I wanted to do one high-quality read-aloud set in the Civil War time period.  From a short list of Civil War novels I considered, Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith stood out for several reasons:  It won a Newbery Award in 1957, it was a book I remember my step-Dad telling me was very influential to him, and some how I don’t think I had ever read it before. Despite being exposed to many documentaries about the Civil War growing up, I think the only book I read on the topic was Across Five Aprils.

Rifles for Watie follows the story of Jeff Bussey, a teenager from Kansas who decides torifles for watie enlist in the Union army.  He is sick and tired of the “bushwackers” (pro-slavery men from Missouri) who cross the border and attack Kansans who are anti-slavery, and he figures that joining up to fight in the war is the only way he can really do something about it.  Although at first he misses out on actual fighting (and also gets on the bad side of his commander in the process), he eventually is involved in several battles, first in the infantry, then later in the cavalry and even as a scout.

This book is set in the western front of the war.  Bussey and his comrades fight in Missouri, Arkansas and what is now Oklahoma.   While out on a scouting mission, he finds himself in an unusual situation — a remark by his partner on the scouting mission finds them joining up on the Confederate side with Stand Watie‘s Cherokee Mounted Rifles.   For months he plays the part of a rebel, waiting to find out some important information before returning to the union side — and he discovers how surprisingly likeable both soldiers and civilians on the enemy side really are.

Rifles for Watie is quite a long book.  At 352 pages of small type (in the edition we checked out from the library), it took us close to three weeks to finish it!  But our patience in making it to the end of this book was well worth it.  I would say the most exciting part of the story is the final few chapters of the book, when Jeff is embedded as an impromptu spy with the Confederates.  Much of the story gives a sense of the reality of war for the soldiers (lots of waiting, travel and boredom with a few battles thrown in), as well as of the horror of war without being too graphic. We also liked how Rifles for Watie gives the reader empathy for both sides, and for people groups often overlooked in other books about the Civil War, like members of various Native American tribes.

A funny side note — as we approached the end of the book and the identity is revealed of a union officer who is selling repeating rifles to Watie to make a personal profit, Miss M said to me, “oh, I totally knew it.  The author foreshadowed that for most of the book!”  I didn’t even know that she knew the word “foreshadow”! We don’t have a lot of discussions about literary terminology, but apparently she is picking it up from somewhere.  🙂

Overall I would say this is a great choice for mid to upper elementary as a read-aloud set in this time period, and is probably enjoyable as an independent read in middle school and up.
I’m linking up with Read-Aloud Thursday @ Hope is the Word!


E is for Educating Myself…and for End! April 21, 2013

Filed under: News and Info,Weekly Highlights — kirstenjoyhill @ 9:35 pm

I missed my usual Friday (or Saturday) wrap up post for this week, because I was furthering my education as a homeschooler by attending the annual MACHE conference in Rochester, Minnesota.  MACHE is the Minnesota Association of Christian Home Educators.

I’ve attended the conference two previous years when it was held closer to my home in St. Paul, MN.  But this was the first time I made the conference more of a getaway.  I went to Rochester with two friends, and we shared a hotel room on Friday night and enjoyed our fun dinner out and staying up late chatting about what we were learning at the conference. Good times!

I enjoyed hearing several informative and entertaining speakers, browsing curriculum, and making a few purchases (nothing too major or exciting this year!).

The kids got the thrill of daddy being their “substitute teacher” on Friday while I was gone.  🙂  I’ll wrap up last week and the upcoming week at the end of this next week.

E is also for End!  As in, maybe someday winter will actually end in Minnesota (though I don’t think that end is actually here yet, with more snow in the forecast this week).  Here’s what we woke up to on Friday morning as I was getting ready to leave for the conference:

Snowy april 2013

Yes, that’s another 6.5 inches of snow.  Luckily most of it has already melted.  But things are still very not-spring-looking outside.

With our unseasonably cold weather, it is hard to believe that the end of our school year is fast approaching.   We have three “regular” weeks of school, then we have our “testing week” (MN is a state that requires annual standardized testing, and we will test over three days with our co-op), and our last week of school (which is made unusual by Miss M’s birthday, a final co-op meeting/picnic, and preparations for a Memorial Day weekend trip out of town).

Of course, learning never has to “end” even when we take a summer break.  (Though one wonders if even at the end of May if the weather will still only feel spring-like…or if we are just going to skip spring this year and go right into summer weather!).  This summer we’ll review math facts, the older two kids will learn typing, and we’ll study some Minnesota history.  And then we’ll start adding subjects back in sometime in July.

I’m linking up with Blogging Through the Alphabet at Ben and Me!  It looks like I’ll be about the 50th blogger to link up for the letter “E”.  Wow!  Head over there to see what other bloggers have thought up for this letter.

Blogging Through the Alphabet


Book Discoveries this Week: Policeman Small and other Picture Books April 18, 2013

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 9:47 am
Tags: ,

Once every couple of months I try and share tidbits about some of the pictures books we find at the library.  Since Miss M and I are still in the middle of a very long read-aloud about the Civil War, it seemed like a good week to do just that.

A little over a week ago we took a trip to the Minneapolis Central library branch downtown.  Among their large collection of picture books, it’s always easy to find books by beloved authors and illustrators – including older books that may not be on the shelf quite so often at our neighborhood branch.

Lois Lenski has a special place in my heart as an author/illustrator–mainly because she illustrated the first four books in my all-time favorite children’s book series, the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace. We own a couple of Lenski’s picture books, but there are many of her picture books we haven’t read yet.  I found a few of her “Mr. Small” titles on our trip to Central Library.

I read “Policeman Small” to the boys at bedtime last night.  Tony was out, so I was pulling policeman smallbedtime double-duty of reading to the boys and to Miss M.  Everyone enjoyed the rhythm of this old-fashioned story of a traffic officer’s day and all the people and vehicles he sees.  I was actually just thinking the other day about what city life was like before traffic lights – I’m sure there must have been a lot more traffic police men doing what Policeman Small was doing in this book.  J  He has a great “manual” version of a stoplight, in a manner of speaking (it’s two “stop” signs and two “go” signs on a pole that can be rotated so one faces each side of a four-way intersection). I’ve never seen a picture of one of these before, but I would have to imagine these were actually used in the days before stoplights.

Here’s another little tidbit about this book I found completely fascinating.  Policeman Small actually opens with “sheet music” for a song about the book’s namesake character.  The words were written by author/illustrator Lois Lenski, and the music appears to have been written by none other than prolific children’s book author Clyde Robert Bulla.  I had no idea he was a composer as well.  We’ve read and enjoyed several books by Bulla.

Here’s a few quick tidbits on a potpourri of other picture books we’ve read over the last two months:

When You Meet a Bear on Broadway The boys and Miss M all enjoyed this to some degree, but this was a favorite of mine in the stacks from the last couple months.  When you meet a cute little bear on Broadway…you should help it find its mama.  🙂

I Don’t Want a Cool Cat.  A favorite of both boys, who liked the clever and funny descriptions of all kinds of cats that a girl does not want for a pet.

Dirtball Pete A sweet story about accepting someone for who they really are – even if that means they are covered in dirt!

A Home for Bird. Thanks to Amy for this recommendation.  We all enjoyed this wonderful picture book and read it several times.  The first time, it was fun to try and guess what was going to happen.  Miss M correctly guess that it would end with a cuckoo clock. 🙂

Knit Your Bit – This World War I-era story is another recommendation from Amy that we all enjoyed.  I wasn’t sure if the boys would really be “into” it, but they liked it enough to request it to be read to them more than once.

The Great Doughnut Parade – this was another favorite of mine that the boys liked as well.  Mr. K (age 4) asked many, many times if he could REALLY tie a doughnut to his pants with a string after reading this book.

Two Sticks – A girl with a love for drumming drums her way out of a jam in a swamp full of alligators.  This was a favorite with Mr. E (age 6).

Wumbers.  I feel like I heard about this one from another Read Aloud Thursday post at some point, but I am not 100% sure.  This is a puzzle picture book where the pun-like puzzles come in the form of numbers melded with words. I love books like this, and Miss M really enjoyed it too.  I always find word-play picture books to be not quite as fun as I wish they would be with the boys though, since I have to explain so many of the jokes!  I also just realized that this book is by the same author of a picture book we really enjoyed a few months ago, This Plus That: Life’s Little Equations.

What Can a Crane Pick Up? A classic “truck” book, I heard the boys repeating lines from this book over and over again after we read it.

How Rocket Learned to Read – The boys thought this was okay, but I saw Miss M reading this cute picture book about a bird teaching a dog to read several times while it was in our library basket. 🙂

The Cobbler’s Holiday or Why Ants Don’t Wear Shoes.  This is one of those books that I thought was “okay” and I hoped the boys would only want to hear it once.  We, in fact, read it several times before it went back to the library.  I’m still not quite sure what appealed to the boys so much about this book, other than the ridiculous idea of ants wearing many, many pairs of shoes.  It seemed to me like it should have been a parable of some sort, only I didn’t know what the “moral” of the story was supposed to be – other than that you don’t need shoes to be fashionable.  😉

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



Character Curricula: Idea vs. Reality April 15, 2013

Filed under: Curriculum — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:46 pm

I attend a monthly “homeschool moms support group”  with ladies from my church.  We have small prayer groups, have discussions or guest speakers on various topics, and usually someone shares a short devotion with the group.  This year, the 5-10 minute devotional for each month was supposed to be on a character trait we were learning about or working on with our children.

Here, (with a few edits) are some thoughts I shared with the group tonight:

Last fall, I signed up for this month’s devotional slot with the idea that we would, by now, have learned so much as a family about various character areas.  After all, I was armed for the year with resources to really make “character study” a priority. Although many moms selected a character quality to speak about when they signed up, I didn’t choose one ahead of time since I assumed I might like to pick the best from what we studied this year.

Now it’s time for a reality check.  I bought a Bible study on Proverbs months before our current school year started.  But after a couple weeks of use Miss M, my third grader, thought the “fun” word puzzles were stressful, and just couldn’t wrap her mind around the idea of reading the same verse or short passage several days in a row.  She said, “That’s crazy, mom!”   So, the Proverbs Bible study was put on the shelf to save for another year. It’s a great product — just not the right thing for her right now.

I thought the “We Choose Virtues” cards were so cute when I saw them on various homeschooling blogs I read.  Each character quality or virtue has a “kid” that represents it, along with a verse and a catchy phrase.  But, always looking for the frugal option, I bought a small version of the cards (the flash cards) not realizing that this size of card didn’t have any instructions or ideas for teaching about the virtue like this bigger version did.  I just couldn’t really make very good use of the cards, so most of these small cards got lost in the mess of our school room.  Again, a great product (especially if I would have had the larger cards with teaching ideas), but the reality was different than the dream.

At a conference last year I bought a few resources from Doorpost books.  Just like the “We Choose Virtues” program and the proverbs Bible study, I think these are great resources too.  I bought a couple things we decided just weren’t quite the right fit for us, but I was really excited about this Bible study in particular about various qualities we can “put on” from Colossians 3.  But, when I actually tried to present this material to the kids, it was a bit of a flop.  I don’t think this is the book’s fault – probably more my lack of skill in the style of teaching it required, or the place I tried to fit it into the schedule.  But, whatever the case, despite how much I liked the material, it just didn’t get done.

So, when I realized a few weeks ago that this devotional talk was looming over my head, all I could think of were the negative character qualities I have seen my kids exhibiting.  I’m sure this never happens in your homes, but I just thought about all the ways my kids think of themselves instead of their siblings or of others.  All the times my kids yelled or hit or threw a toy at one another in anger instead of using words to work out their conflicts.  All the times my kids whined and complained or even screamed and threw a fit about schoolwork or chores.  And then there is my lack of character growth to consider.   I thought about all the times I got angry with my kids or lost patience with them as they did all of the above and more.  I thought about all the times I chose laziness or fear or complaining instead of hard work, trust and joy.  And I seriously considered backing out on sharing tonight.  I know that God does not view me or my kids through a lens of failure.  His grace abounds.  But what wisdom do I have to share?

Even though we failed to complete the character curricula that I purchased, I have been trying to make sure the kids read or listen to the Bible each day.  Miss M reads the Bible on her own, and most days the boys like to listen to the audio Bible app on the iPad.  But one day recently the internet was down so the app would play audio.  Instead we snuggled together on the couch and picked up where we left off in 1 John with chapter 4 (I’m going to read starting with verse 7, NLT):

7Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. 8But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

9God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 10This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.

11Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. 12No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.

13And God has given us his Spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us. 14Furthermore, we have seen with our own eyes and now testify that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15All who confess that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God. 16We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love.

God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. 17And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.

18Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. 19We love each otherb because he loved us first.

And I realized, that when I look back at what overall “character quality”, if you want to call it that, that I’ve been dwelling on most with my kids is love.  Doesn’t it all come down to that anyway?  – “The greatest of these is love”  and “Love God and Love your neighbor”

As my kids fight with each other or refuse to do their chores or act selfishly, I’ve been trying to bring it back around to love.  Do your actions show love toward your brother? What would be the most loving thing to do in this situation?  How can you go out of your way to show love to someone else right now? Can you ask God to give you Spirit-filled help to love this person right now?

In considering questions like these, I’m hoping my kids and I can grow in love for one another that honors God and, as verse 12 said from 1 John 4, “brings His love to full expression in us.”

I know I can tend toward being a “box checker” spiritually, and it wouldn’t surprise me if some of my kids had personalities that tend in that direction too.  There are a lot of good things about character curriculum products, but I could see how they could also lead us to feel like we had “checked off a box” of patience or honesty or diligence because we memorized a verse and catch phrase and completed an activity.

I’m not sure what we will do in future years to help our kids grow in character in terms of using a curriculum or Bible study, but at least for the moment, I’m feeling like we can’t go wrong with asking ourselves and our kids, “How can we show love in this situation?”, and praying for the kind of love that we can only have with God’s help.


Collage Friday: Being Flexible and Taking a Few Rabbit Trails April 12, 2013

Filed under: Weekly Highlights — kirstenjoyhill @ 4:44 pm

We had a few unexpected happenings this week….

April Snow 2013

Yes, we got an April snow storm.  The forecast was for such vast quantities of snow that the building our co-op meets in preemptively planned to be closed on Thursday, the day our co-op meets.  So even though we got nowhere near the foot of snow the forecasters said we might get, we still had no co-op.  And the roads in our metro area were definitely icy.  So, Mr. E’s  Star Wars Lego collection was all packed up with no where to go.   He will do expert day later this month instead.


Here are a few other learning highlights from our week:



1.-2: Baking Soda and Vinegar make for a fun rainy snowy afternoon activity.  Even though we’ve done these activities before, it still makes for a fun discussion on various science topics. The kids were thrilled that I gave them a whole bottle of vinegar and a whole box of baking soda and said, “have at it!”

3.  For math this week, Mr. E (Age 6, Kindergarten) continued to review 2 digit addition with Right Start C.  We also hit the lessons with making groups from stars on the flag (pictured) and grouping the dots on a Chinese checker board.  He wasn’t so keen on these activities.  I think this is where his young age for the book comes through — he barely had the patience for the flag, and didn’t have the patience to finish the checker board activity.  I bet it will be a much different story when we hit the checker board again at the end of C (since that will be about a year from now!).

Miss M practiced two digit by two digit multiplication in RightStart D, and did some multiplication and division word problems.  We’re kind of skipping around at this point…next up for her are the drawing lessons at the end of D.

For math games this week, we played Speed (both M and E), Skip Counting Memory (Game P2, both kids), and Find The Two Factors (game P29, just Miss M).

4.  For History and Science we took a few “Rabbit Trails” in our book basket.  We’re studying the Civil War for history, but we spent some time this week zeroed in on a topic of interest — a confederate submarine called the Hunley (Read my post from Thursday to find out about a book that inspired this rabbit trail).   In the science basket, we now have books about backyard birds, as well as books for the unit I planned on Simple Machines. Miss M told me she was really into Robins right now (we have one, pictured in our top collage, that hangs out in one of our trees quite a bit) and wanted to learn more.  So, we found one book devoted to robins, a few books about other birds we have in our yard, and a few books about backyard birds in general.

5.  For Spelling/Phonics this week, Mr. E completed another five lessons of Logic of English Foundations (he’s up to lesson 95 — it’s hard to believe there are only about another 20 lessons left in terms of what is currently written…he’s almost all the way through!).  He liked the assigned reading of “The Foot Book” and also continued with the next chapter of the Little Bear book he started reading last week.  Miss M worked on lesson 32 of Logic of English Essentials.  This wasn’t her best week testing-wise, but at least most of the mistakes were small ones.


In other fun this week…




1.  We took a trip to Minneapolis Central Library downtown this past Sunday.  It’s truly one of my favorite destinations.  🙂  Behind Miss M is the “Milestones Collection” of important first editions or other rare children’s books that don’t circulate.  One of these days Miss M and I want to make a special trip to go to that room and read a couple of out of print Maud Hart Lovelace books that are hard to find.  🙂

2. Kids making individual apple pies

3.  It was my birthday on Tuesday.  We enjoyed these yummy pastries from my favorite bakery for breakfast (and snack, and breakfast the next day).  We didn’t do a lot of special things on the day of my birthday, but Tony did bring me flowers and made us a yummy dinner and dessert!

4. Best “CT” (Cute Toddler or Cute Trouble) chaos moment of the week — helping himself to the stickers from the art cabinet

5.  Isn’t Mr. J a cute Toddler Darth Maul? 🙂


I just realized that Mr. K, the four year old, didn’t appear in any pictures this week!  I think he was too busy playing with Legos and pretending to be a super hero to stay still for any pictures.  😉


Have a wonderful weekend!


I’m linking up with Collage Friday, The Weekly Wrap-Up, and Homeschool Review!

Homegrown Learners

Book Discoveries this Week: You Wouldn’t Want to Be in the First Submarine April 11, 2013

Filed under: Books,History — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:06 pm
Tags: ,

Providing kids the time and resources to pursue their interests is truly one of the joys of homeschooling.  Sure, there is a lot of time spent practicing math facts and spelling words and the like.  We read stacks of books and the kids find some more interesting than others.  But I just love it when something ignites a spark of true desire to learn all about the topic.

Sometimes, this spark of interest is on a topic I would have never picked or guessed that my kids would get excited about.

A couple weeks ago, knowing that we were getting close to starting a unit on the Civil War, Ifirst submarine grabbed You Wouldn’t Want to be in the First Submarine from the library.  The boys (Mr E, age 6 and Mr K, age 4) have really enjoyed titles from this series in the past.  The You Wouldn’t Want to… series has cartoonish illustrations and the text is written addressed to the reader, as though he or she might really be considering participating in whatever the book is being written about (emphasizing the downsides of these events or time periods, of course!).  I think they have the format down to a “T” in terms of what would appeal to young boys reading historical non-fiction.

You Wouldn’t Want to Be in the First Submarine isn’t really about the very first submarine ever invented.  Rather, it is about one of the first successful submarines — the Hunley, a confederate submarine that was the first submarine to sink another vessel.   Prior to reading this book, I had never even heard of the Hunley.  This book gave a pretty good introduction to the history of this sub.

As I expected, the boys enjoyed it quite a bit.  I didn’t wait for the official start of our Civil War unit to pull it out — they wanted to read it as soon as they saw me grab it at the library. But then what did surprise me was that Miss M (age 8.5) read it soon after I brought it home from the library as well.  She was fascinated by it! I guess I just didn’t peg early submarines as a topic that my doll-and-horse-loving 3rd grader would jump on. (Though maybe early transportation history is her thing — she did request a unit on the history of aviation last year!)

All three kids said they wanted to get more books about the Hunley.  I said, “ok” and promptly forgot about it.  I honestly wasn’t sure this was a topic that we would find much about!  Then this past Sunday we took a trip downtown to the “big library” as the kids like to call it.  🙂  While browsing for other books for our Civil War unit, I discovered they had several books about the Hunley!

I brought them home, and submarine mania ensued.  😉 Miss M has read several of the books already, and asked if we could look up the answers on the internet to several questions we had.  Where is the Hunley now?  (Answer: In a museum in South Carolina.) Can we read a list of all the artifacts found on the Hunley? (No, I haven’t found one single list yet of all the artifacts.)  Do they know yet exactly why it sank? (No, they have theories but still no concrete answers.) The boys wanted coloring pages of early submarines (That was surprisingly hard to find!).

This morning we enjoyed browsing a lot of pictures of the museum where the Hunley is kept.  The kids asked if we could go there…I had to say, “Sorry, not this year!” It’s about a 24 hour drive to South Carolina from here and our vacation this summer takes us in the opposite direction.  It was hard to cut off the submarine research, but I did eventually have to keep our school day moving along.

I’m still just a bit amazed at how one book from a prolific series of history titles could be so inspiring to an unexpected audience!

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


D is for Dolls (an Expert Day project and book list) April 8, 2013

Filed under: Fun Stuff and Extras,Themes — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:50 pm

In first and second grade, Miss M knew well in advance of “Expert Day” at co-op what she wanted her project to be about.  In the case of her second-grade project on horses, she knew almost a year in advance that this would be her topic of choice.  This year, Miss M had a little bit harder time deciding.  After listening to numerous suggestions from me, she decided she wanted to do her project on the history of dolls.

She says she picked this topic because she is always interested in learning about the kinds of toys in general, and the kinds of dolls in particular, that children played with in different times in history that we have studied.Dolls Expert Day 2013

Like the topic of horses, the history of dolls is a pretty broad topic.  Unlike the study of horses (or even the study of the history of horses, which was the focus of Miss M’s expert day presentation), there weren’t a lot of books available at the library to help us learn about the topic.

We really only found two children’s books that fit the bill in our large library system:

Dolls by Kristine Hooks — a shorter book discussing the history and collecting of dolls

Dolls: An Inside Look from Raggedy Ann to Barbie by Vivian Werner — an older, somewhat longer book covering the history of all kinds of dolls in some depth.  This book was written in 1991, so it doesn’t discuss newer doll “trends” very much, such as the American Girl dolls.

After Miss M read and took a few notes on these two books, we began discussing how she might like to narrow her project down in a way that she could convey the information in a three minute presentation.

Last year we broadened Miss M’s expert day topic by completing a lapbook and reading many library books — but with the difficulty of finding books or pre-prepared products dealing with this topic, it didn’t make a lot of sense to devote a lot of extra time beyond what Miss M would be able to convey in her presentation and display board.

I offered a number of suggestions of how she could focus her three minutes of presentation time — a very broad overview of doll history highlights, a focus on a particular genre of doll (aka rag dolls, baby dolls, etc), unusual dolls, homemade dolls, or highlighting a few popular dolls over the years.

After giving it some thought, Miss M decided she wanted to pick a few “famous dolls” from more recent history and talk about this history of each individual type of  doll.   She chose American Girl dolls, Cabbage Patch Kids, Barbie and Raggedy Ann.

From this point on out, we decided the internet would be her best source of information.  I helped Miss M look at Wikipedia and a few official or reputable-looking collector sites for each doll to learn a few interesting and important facts about their history.  We also put together a timeline of dates for each doll — since with under a minute to talk about each doll, there were many historical highlights that Miss M would not have time to include in her talk.

We did not add in any literature to correlate with this project — but mostly because we have already read a number of wonderful books with characters who are dolls!  Books with “dolls that come to life” in some way are one of Miss M’s favorite types of books.

Last year as read-alouds we read (linked to my reviews):

Hitty: Her First Hundred Years

and The Friendship Doll

Miss M has previously read on her own:

The Doll Shop Downstairs and The Cats in the Doll Shop

The Very Little Princess: Rose’s Story

The Doll People and its sequels

The Story of Holly and Ivy

And of course she loves Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy Stories and has listened to the audio books of both many times.

I think there may be other books we have read together or that Miss M has read on her own, but those are the ones that come to mind at the moment.  🙂

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

Blogging Through the Alphabet


Collage Friday: Simple Machines, Math Success, and a trip to the Zoo April 5, 2013

Filed under: Weekly Highlights — kirstenjoyhill @ 9:51 pm

Things finally seemed more spring-like this week here in Minnesota!  After a nice Easter weekend as a family, Tony left for a trip for most of the week — then he took after afternoon off on Friday after returning home so we could take a whole-family field trip to the MN Zoo!

Here are a few highlights from our week:


1.-2. Simple Machines:  We started a unit on Simple Machines for science.   There are a couple lessons from BFSU Vol. 2 on this topic I meant to look at…but meanwhile, the kids have been busy with library books on the topic and creating their own simple machines (like inclined planes, levers, and pulleys).

3.  Also science-related:  Miss M has taken a real interest in backyard birds, especially robins.  Here the kids are watching a video I found for them about baby robins.  They loved the cute baby birds that seemed always hungry with mouths open wide.  🙂

Not pictured is anything about our new history unit — we started studying the Civil War this week!

4.  Mr E is mostly ready for his turn at “Expert Day” next Thursday at co-op.  He selected, printed, cut and glued pictures on his board.  We also worked together on his 3 minute presentation, and he practiced it for Grandma and for friends.

5.  In Spelling/Phonics this week, Mr. E completed 5 lessons of Logic of English foundations.  He’s up to lesson 90 already!  He liked a list of words early in the week that he turned into two silly sentences: “Mothers have apple seeds.  Birds have buckets.”  (I think mother, apple, seed, bird and bucket were the five words on the list).  Meanwhile Miss M finished lesson 31 of LOE Essentials.

6-7.  Math can sometimes be a struggle for Miss M.  We experience more frustration with math than with any other subject.   We made a few small tweaks this week that I felt really made a big difference for her:  We tried to do math most days earlier in the school day than we have in the past, we put classical music on in the background, a few days I photocopied a section of the teacher’s manual (with answers then blacked out on her copy) for her to “read along” with me, and I was able to identify the fact that one thing that was frustrating her on Thursday was a lack of space for long multiplication problems, so on Friday I taped up a large sheet of paper to do the work on!  I think we “officially” did 3 or 4 lessons of RightStart D this week.  But I am super pleased that Miss M went at the beginning of the week having no idea how to do two digit by two digit multiplication, and by Friday told me it was “easy peasy lemon squeezy”  (a favorite expression of hers).

Mr. E worked on Roman Numerals this week in RightStart C, as well as playing a few games!  Games played this week by Miss M and/or Mr. E included Rows and Columns, Corners, Speed, and a four-digit subtraction game (that I have already forgotten the name of) that proved to be way more fun than I thought it would be!

8.  Most weeks lately we’ve headed to the Gymnastics studio for open gym, but this week we went to an open gym/indoor play area on Monday afternoon (we needed to be out of the house for a bit while some work was being done).  J was thrilled that he could play here too (he’s not old enough to play at the gymnastics open gym.  We also took a trip to Trader Joe’s afterwards as we were quite close by.  We bought some treats and fun food items.  “Cookie Butter” might be one of the tastiest foods ever invented!

9.  Most of our snow has finally melted! Grandma Karen came for a few hours on Thursday, and the kids enjoyed doing sidewalk chalk with Grandma.

Minnesota Zoo Outing:

We enjoyed our trip to the Zoo this afternoon, though the temperature started dropping quickly after we arrived, and by the time we were walking from the “farm” area back to the main buildings, it was snowing!  We weren’t really prepared for the sudden change in the weather, but had fun anyway.


Just for fun…here are some of my favorite pics of  Mr. J, our 17 month old from this week.  Toddlers are such a riot!


I’m linking up with Collage Friday, The Weekly Wrap-Up, and Homeschool Review!

Homegrown Learners

Thoughts on Formal Grammar Instruction

Filed under: Curriculum — kirstenjoyhill @ 12:07 am

In my recent post about our experiences with The Sentence Family, Ashely asked in the comments if I would share more thoughts about my decision to delay grammar instruction. I thought about just writing a comment in reply, but as I gathered my thoughts I realized that they would be more post-like in length.  So here it goes… 🙂

I didn’t necessarily start out my homeschooling journey intending to wait until later elementary school to start grammar instruction.  As I read books about various homeschool philosophies, there was a time when the Classical model of education sounded a bit appealing.  One thing the classical philosophy of education recommends is extensive memorization in the elementary years, including memorization of grammar knowledge starting at an early age.

The closer I got to starting “real” homeschooling (not that teaching a 2 year old the alphabet isn’t “homeschooling” in some sense…but, I think you know what I mean!), the more I realized that many aspects of the classical model didn’t really fit me, and I wasn’t sure they were going to be a good fit for my oldest child either.  The truth is, I hate verbatim memorization.  I have memorized a sad few number of Bible verses in my lifetime.   Miss M showed no particular strength at being able to memorize things, and, in fact, seemed to struggle with even very basic memorization.

Now, I know that Classical education isn’t all about the memorization, but some of the most popular Classically-influenced curricula for grammar instruction are basically about rote memorization of grammar information, possibly before a child is really old enough to need it or apply it.  I looked at a popular curriculum called First Language Lessons, and I thought it would drive me crazy repeating some of this grammar information over and over again in order to get a first grader who could barely read to memorize the definition of a noun.

I had to take a step back and ask myself, “What is the point of grammar instruction anyway? Can a student be successful without it?”  My own grammar instruction was pretty minimal.  By sixth grade I remember being bored out of my mind that we were learning again that year about nouns and verbs and subjects and predicates.  I don’t recall any formal grammar instruction after sixth grade, though I am sure we must have studied a few punctuation rules here and there in junior high.

Somehow, I made it through learning to write various forms of essays and research papers in high school, easily got A’s on nearly every paper I wrote in college, and got a degree in English with an emphasis in Rhetoric and Professional Communication.  And I did all of this without so much as a single higher-level grammar course, and without being able to diagram a sentence or really explain what a dangling modifier might be.

How I learned to be a good writer (at least, good enough for A’s in college), is still a bit of a mystery to me.  I think a good deal of it must be attributable to a natural skill or inclination toward writing.   So, I think it is very possible to be successful with a minimum of formal grammar instruction.  I have a desire now, myself, to study formal grammar — but mostly for the sheer joy of better understanding the English language (and to be a better editor — my co-editor corrects my punctuation way too often!).

Now, back to my journey in homeschooling.  Few people teach grammar in Kindergarten anyway, and at the beginning of her first grade year Miss M was still struggling to get beyond three and four letter words in reading.  Sometime during the late fall of her first grade year, her reading skill exploded without further intervention from me.   Her spelling skills did not take off, so we focused on spelling.

Meanwhile, we were not doing very much writing either.  Miss M started out her school years being pretty writing-phobic.  At first it was a fatigue issue — she couldn’t write more than a few words without getting very tired.  Later, I think it was more of an issue related to her difficulties with spelling (though I am not sure she could have articulated that).  Since Miss M wasn’t doing a lot of writing, grammar seemed relatively…irrelevant.  Yet, when Miss M would orally dictate to me something she wanted written down, her sentences were naturally full and complete, and typically quite grammatical.  So, even without formal instruction she was clearly picking up on something!

By second grade, I was still spending a great deal of time on spelling with Miss M.  We tried out a couple more spelling programs to see if we could find one that would “click.”   Writing was still frustrating — she would write something, and not only could I not understand what she wrote due to the spelling mistakes, she herself couldn’t even decipher it later.

By the spring of Miss M’s second grade year (about a year ago), I discovered Logic of English and we got on the road to better spelling in a way that really works for Miss M.  Spelling is still a bit of a struggle, but it is so much better now that she is finally this year willing to do some writing.   Now, Logic of English Essentials does have grammar instruction, but in order to spend more time on spelling we have simply skipped the grammar portions.  We’ll be going back through LOE-E next year with more advanced words, and we will probably cover some of the grammar at that time.

With smoother sailing in the spelling arena, I finally felt like a bit of grammar instruction might be welcome.  Curricula that teach in the form of a story are always a hit with my kids, hence my decision to try out first the Sentence Family, and now a classic public-domain book called Grammarland.

A final piece of that decision to wait until sometime “later”  for grammar was the advice my good friend and co-editor gave me.  She is a seasoned homeschooling veteran who has now graduated all her children (and several have gone on to writing or other language-related careers.)  D. V. recommends Winston Grammar and advises, “Instead of teaching them the same things every year from an A Beka workbook, which they will promptly forget, let them slowly go through these two work books, and that’s about all they need to know.”

This advice seems so wise to me! A common complaint about grammar programs is how repetitive the are!  Why not just avoid the repetition in the first place and teach this information at an age when the student is truly ready to remember it.

She also mentions that standardized testing is often not done until 2nd or 3rd grade anyway (it’s age 7 by Oct 1st here in MN, so some test as early as 1st grade) — and even those first standardized tests only expect a knowledge of the most very basic grammar terms like noun, adjective and verb and a few common-sense things about writing (like using a period at the end of a sentence).

The Winston Grammar website itself offers this advice on when to begin instruction: “Most grammar concepts are abstract with the exception of nouns (things a child can hold in their hand), action verbs (things children do) and adjectives (descriptive words such as colors or numbers). State of being verbs, helping verbs, nouns that are concepts (such as a May 1, or love, happiness, etc), many adverbs, all the ways nouns and pronouns are used (direct and indirect objects, predicate nominatives, etc) are all quite abstract. Until a child has developed their abstract thinking skills, which usually occurs about 5th-6th grade or 10-12 years of age, trying to teach and have him/her retain abstract concepts is very difficult. My advice is to not worry much about grammar until 5th grade. If you feel a great need to do grammar, then just start with the very basic concrete nouns, action verbs, and adjectives.”

So what will I do with Miss M? Next year, when she is in 4th grade, we will try Winston Grammar along with some of the LOE-E grammar instruction.  But if it is a struggle, we will wait again.  I think most of what is truly key to know about grammar could be learned in a very short time when a child is at the right age and stage of maturity. Meanwhile, I will be looking for my own reference or text to help me become a better editor.  Commas, clauses and dangling modifiers watch out! I may finally learn some editing based on technical details rather than intuition!