Homeschool Discoveries

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

I is for iPad (again) May 14, 2013

Filed under: Technology — kirstenjoyhill @ 11:20 pm

When I decided to participate in “Blogging through the Alphabet” for the second time, I wanted to try and not repeat any “words” I used for each letter last time around.  But I haven’t written very much lately about how we use the iPad in our homeschool, so I am going to “cheat” on my own rules and use “I” for “iPad” again this year.

We’re still using the iPad during the school day at least as much, if not more, than we were are year ago…

Over breakfast or early in the school day, the boys can be found doing their Bible listening using the YouVersion app.

Miss M is often assigned at least one type of educational iPad app for independent practice each day.  She likes Spelling City to practice her spelling list; Mathmateer, Math Blaster HyperBlast, Sushi Math and Marble Math for “fun” math practice; and GeoFlight USA to practice locating the states of the US.

All three older kids practice their phonograms regularly with the Logic of English app.

When it comes time for Logic of English Foundations (spelling/phonics) for Mr. E or BFSU science lessons, I often teach directly from the iPad since I have the teacher’s manuals in Kindle (in the case of BFSU) or iBooks (in the case of LoE).

This year I’ve found playing calming music in the background really helps Miss M keep her stress level down during difficult math lessons, and it’s easy to find soothing instrumental music with the Pandora app.

Of course, we still have plenty of “fun” with the iPad too.  Sometimes it’s a nice break or diversion from the school day for the kids to have an educational iPad turn during which they can chose from any of our many educational apps.   General favorites for free-choice educational turns (besides more time on the apps listed above)  include the “Teach Me” apps (there are levels available for Toddler/Preschool through 3rd grade which each offer a mix of reading, math and other skills),  Splash Math (various levels available), and the Brain Pop Jr. Movie of the Week.  Mr K (age 4), also really likes ABCs of God, Eggy Words and Bugsy Pre-K.

At the end of the day, after school and chores are complete (or sometimes for the boys while they are waiting for Miss M during her guitar lesson), it’s time for anything-goes iPad turns.  This is when the boys enjoy favorites such as Angry Birds Star Wars, Bad Piggies and Minecraft.  Miss M often plays “My Horse” during a fun turn.  Everyone likes the wide array of Toca Boca apps that we own (we have almost all of them!).

The iPad is definitely an educational and fun tool that  I am thankful we have!

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

 

Top Ten Ways to Make Pinterest a Helpful Tool February 25, 2013

Filed under: Technology — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:25 pm

It seems like I read or hear criticisms of Pinterest all the time:  It’s a big time waster.  It’s full of people idolizing beautiful houses and clothes.   It makes people feel inadequate because they don’t have a “Pinterest Perfect” life.   It’s too “busy” and visually cluttered.

Well, that last criticism might be true.  If you don’t find looking at pictures to be helpful way to organize and retrieve information, Pinterest may not be for you.  But if you can see past pin after pin of someone’s idea of a dream house, you can turn Pinterest into a tool that works for you.  I’ve really enjoyed using Pinterest to organize recipes, homeschool ideas, and more.

pinterest post button

Here are a few tips for harnessing Pinterest as a tool for you…not just a time waster:

1. First and foremost, remember that Pinterest is really just bookmarking on steroids, with the ability to see what other people are bookmarking too.  No one (no one!) is doing, buying or using everything you see them pinning.  There’s no such thing as a “Pinterest Perfect life.”

2. Browsing aimlessly through what friends or random strangers pin is not the useful thing about Pinterest — that’s the time waster.  What’s useful is what you pin to your own boards.  So, make yourself some boards that make sense to you.  The board ideas Pinterest gives you when you join are kind of lame.  Make boards instead for your hobbies, holidays, types of food you like to cook, homeschool subjects or other responsibilities you have.

3. Grab a “pin it” button, and “Pin” things you want to find again — helpful blog posts, recipes you run across, products you want to remember for a future holiday, and so on.   You don’t just have to “repin” what other people have already pinned!

4.  When you are looking for a new recipe, are planning a homeschool unit study or need to plan a birthday party, search pinterest and google for what you’re looking for.  Sometimes the good “old fashioned” google search will turn up what you need (and then you can pin it for later reference).  But how many times have you searched google only to see the exact same plastic cake topper show up in nearly all of the first two pages of links?  Instead, if you search for, say, “cars birthday cake” on Pinterest, you’ll see the best-of-the-best of some really creative cake ideas that other people have found — and then you can repin them to your own board to decide later which one you want to make

5.  Don’t just follow all your facebook friends.  (And don’t follow the people Pinterest “suggests” when you sign up — they probably won’t be pinning things you are specifically interested in).  Really, you could not follow anyone at all on Pinterest, and just use it for your own personal bookmarking and organizational purposes.   You’ll get the most out of following people on Pinterest if you follow people who have similar interests to your own — so look to follow the bloggers you already read, real-life friends whom you actually share things in common with (not that random person you are friends with on Facebook that you really only met once at a neighborhood coffee shop).

6. Also, as you repin those pins you find from specific searches, look at the boards you are finding those pins on — when you find a great pin from an interesting board, follow that board or all of that pinners boards.  Don’t forget you can follow someone’s boards individually…or if you want to follow most, but not all of someone’s boards, you can click “follow” and then “unfollow” one or two boards if there are just a few you don’t find interesting.

7.  If you’re a homeschooler and you want to follow other homeschoolers to get ideas, check out the Homeschoolers on Pinterest linkup.  Over 600 homeschoolers have linked their Pinterest profiles on that page!

8.  Use Pinterest to collaborate.  Did you know that you can invite other Pinterest members to pin on a board and make it a “group” board?  Whether you want to collaborate with other users of a homeschool curriculum or other members of a committee you’re a member of, you can create boards that others can add their “finds” to as well.  Just remember that to add someone to your board, you need to be following at least one of their boards too.

9.  Don’t forget to write helpful descriptions for your pins.  Not only will this help you later as you are trying to find that recipe or lesson plan idea (in case you forgot what the picture looked like or the picture wasn’t very helpful), but it will make it easier for others who want to repin your pin.

10.  Come back to your boards when you need inspiration!  When it’s your turn to bring dessert for the potluck, you’ll thank yourself for those 50 desserts you pinned, so you can quickly find something you think looks tasty.  🙂

I’m linking up with Top Ten Tuesday @ Many Little Blessings!

Top Ten Tuesday at Many Little Blessings

 

Resource Discoveries: Spelling City and “I See Sam” Readers October 2, 2012

Filed under: Curriculum,Technology — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:18 pm
Tags: ,

Today I wanted to highlight a couple of free resources that have been very helpful to us recently!

First for Miss M, my steadily-improving-speller:

We’ve used Spelling City off and on for the past couple years.  It’s a great website, and you can add your own spelling lists for your student to practice or play games with their words. But I we are super excited that Spelling City now has a free iPad app as well.  That’s just an easier way to use this resource.   I’ve entered our Logic of English Essentials spelling lists so far, and plan to keep doing this as we go along (search for me under username aragon95 if you are also a LOE user and want to use the lists too!).  Miss M likes playing “Hang Mouse” and doing word searches.  I’ve also used their “spelling test” feature for a painless end-of-lesson assessment.   The app won’t give away the correct answer if she is struggling (something that I have, uh, been known to do in the past).  And it is very patient.  🙂

Then for Mr. E, my new reader:

I think especially for those of us teaching reading primarily via phonics (and using as few “sight words” as possible), it can be challenging to find appropriate easy reader books.  We’ve read a lot of BOB books, we have some Nora Gaydos readers, and I’ve found some books that work okay at the library, but Mr. E still needs lots of practice to develop fluency in this beginning stage, so we need more books! I have more on the way that I’ve requested from the library, but I also stumbled upon the I See Sam readers:

Aren’t the characters cute?  This set of readers was developed in 1972, but because of the type of government funding that was used they entered the public domain in 1977.

There are 52 short books in the set.   If you are teaching reading via phonics, you only have to introduce a few phonograms beyond the basic single-letter phonograms to have them make sense (ee, th, and wh are the three main ones I’ve seen so far, plus letters doubled at the end of single syllable short vowel words — ll, ff, ss). The level of difficulty increases very, very slowly and there aren’t too many words on each page — features I really appreciate!

Scans of the original books are available here.   Another website, readingteacher.com, has re-formatted the books nicely and even created interactive flash animations/readings to go along with about the first half of the books.  We’re using the printable versions from this site.  It is a bit tricky to navigate and you have to create a free account to access the printable books, but I think it was worth it! (Once you create your account, select “levels”, then after you find the level you want, you can click “parents/teachers” to find the printable books for that level…at least that’s how I got there!).

Since Erik does have some reading experience, I started him out at book 18 (a bit of a random choice — easy enough to build fluency but far enough along to not be too boring).  He loves it so far and has read about five books.

The only downside is, of course, if you want your reader to be holding these books in his/her hands while reading, you’ll have to print them out.  I have a laser printer and the black-and-white pages are pretty sparse in terms of ink use.  The formatting of the books does not lend itself to duplexing, so we’ll use a big stack of paper to print these.  But compared to buying new sets of Bob or Nora Gaydos readers, I am pretty sure we are still coming out ahead.  I think it would be possible to read these on an iPad or other tablet/e-reader type of device, but I am not sure Mr. E would like that as much so we haven’t tried that yet.

Some (or maybe most) easy reader books can be a bit lame due to the limited vocabulary.  In one sense these are just as bad if not worse than others I’ve seen in regards to this measure.  But my five year old and his shadow (aka, Mr K, age 3.5) both think they are hilarious, so no worries about lameness from their target audience I guess!

Have you found any other printable phonics-based easy readers you like? Are there any other great spelling websites we should try?

 

W is for Websites August 1, 2012

Filed under: Getting Organized,Technology — kirstenjoyhill @ 1:29 pm

I’m so thankful to be a homeschooler in the internet era.  It’s hard to imagine homeschooling without the resources, ideas and support that come from the many sites dedicated to or just available for homeschoolers to utilize.

So for my “W” post in “Blogging Through the Alphabet” I thought I would share a few of the websites that I have found most helpful (and refer to regularly) in my homeschooling journey:

1. Pinterest.  Yep, most of you reading this have probably jumped on the Pinterest bandwagon already.  If you haven’t (and you think you can use at least a little bit of self-control to not spend too much time there!), you should check it out.  Think of it like a virtual bulletin board — you can use it to save favorite sites/pages in whatever categories you choose (and then you have a handy visual reminder of these sites you want to visit again!).   You can also search or browse through “pins” that others have saved.  I love following other homeschoolers and seeing what great finds they pin! I’ve found some really great ideas and useful resources here. If you are looking for more homeschoolers to follow on Pinterest, check out this link-up — Over 400 homeschoolers have listed their Pinterest url’s in this link!

2. Homeschool Classifieds.  Looking to save a bit of money on curriculum by buying used? I’ve had great luck finding things I’ve been looking for here.  I’ve never had any problems either buying or selling here (use common sense — it’s not like there might not be a few spammers or scammers hanging out there!), and it helps stretch my homeschool $$.

3. Homeschool Share.   This site is full of free lapbooking printables.  They also have unit study resources, “five in a row” resources and kindergarten kits!

4. A Book in Time. Looking for books or crafts to go along with world history or American history studies? A book in time has many resources, sorted by era.

5. ClipArtETC.  This is a relatviely recent discovery for me — it’s a great source for all kinds of educational clip art.  Be sure to check out their Maps site as well!

6. Books Should Be Free.  There are quite a few sites dedicated to free public domain ebooks and audio books, but this one is easier to browse than some of the other sites.  If the public domain book you are looking for isn’t here, check out Project Gutenberg, LibriVox (audio books), Lit2Go (audiobooks), and the Baldwin Project (online children’s literature).

7. Jimmie’s Squidoo Lenses.  Jimmie has created tons of “lenses” (fancy squidoo term for a webpage filled with links and info about a certain topic) on Notebooking, Lapbooking and more.  When I am looking for a lapbook on a particular topic or advice on notebooking, I find myself on one of her lenses quite frequently!

8. 1plus1plus1equals1.  This site with a funny math problem for a name has some of the greatest printables for tots through Kindergarten age.  Carisa has put a lot of time into creating wonderful, free tot packs, preschool packs and so much more.   Following those links to her site will get you links to several other sites with free tot/preschool packs as well.

9. Paula’s Archives.  While not as fancy and modern looking as some sites, Paula’s Archives is packed with useful info on living books for history and science, movies for history, tips and ideas to entertain toddlers during school time, lunch ideas and more.

10. Guest Hollow.  I found a lot of inspiration from this site’s free American History curriculum as I created my history curriculum for this year. Besides two years of free American history plans, Guest Hollow features free curricula for ancient history and various science topics, as well as notebooking pages and other printables.

Those are just a few of the many sites that I have found helpful!  The homeschooling community on the internet is so wonderful, and there are so many free and low-cost curricula and tools for all of us to enjoy!

Linking up with…
Blogging Through the Alphabet Top Ten Tuesday at Many Little Blessings

 

Collaborative Pinterest Boards for BFSU! July 20, 2012

Filed under: Science,Technology — kirstenjoyhill @ 11:42 am
Tags: ,

I’ve been distracted the last couple of days by a new endeavor.  I decided to act on my idea from my Top Ten Random Things post from Monday night and create collaborative boards on Pinterest for users of Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding (BFSU) by Dr. Bernard Nebel to share resources they have found with one another.

BFSU is a great science curriculum in many ways.  It is flexible, thorough and teaches real scientific thinking/understanding – not just memorizing random facts or vocabulary.  On the other hand, it is definitely not an “open and go” sort of program.  It takes teacher prep time to absorb Dr. Nebel’s material and decide how to present it.  Plus there is the time involved to set up demonstrations/experiments and find any other resources needed — pictures, videos, printables, etc.

I had a brilliant idea over the weekend (in my humble opinion). 😉  I thought to myself, why not harness the power of Pinterest to help users save time and easily share the resources they have found or created?

So earlier this week I created 5 collaborative Pinterest boards on my Pinterest profile — One for each “thread” plus a general board for resources that relate to all or multiple threads. (Look to the second row of boards to see the BFSU boards).

I’ve been spending a bit of time this week promoting the new boards among BFSU users, answering questions and adding both new pins and collaborators to the boards.  But hopefully once the boards are up and running they won’t take much of my time — ideally they will save time as Tony and I plan our science lessons.

Here are a few “Frequently Asked Questions” about the BFSU Pinterest boards:

What is Pinterest anyway? And what is “pinning”?

Pinterest is essentially a “visual bookmarking” website. You can “pin” a picture with a description of a web page. You can then organize those “pins” onto various “boards” (imagine like a virtual bulletin board) organized by topic or how ever you want to organize it. Then people who choose to “follow” you (or any one searching through the site) can see your boards and your pins. You can either pin something you find while searching the web or you can “repin” things that other people have already pinned (this just creates a copy of the “bookmark” for your boards/pinterest page). I love being able to glance through pictures from various things I have pinned (desserts from my dessert board, kids craft ideas, homeschool ideas, etc) and quickly find something I’m looking for.

Where do I find each of your specific boards for BFSU:

Will I find this useful if I use a science curriculum other than BFSU?

Yes, you will!  The only thing that won’t be very useful is lesson code designation in each tag (and maybe some BFSU specific lesson plans on the General board).  But otherwise, Thread A is loosely Chemistry and some Geology resources, Thread B is Life Science resources, Thread C is Physics resources and Thread D is Earth/Space science resources.  The ideas and resources pinned could generally supplement any curriculum.

How can I help? How can I collaborate on your Pinterest boards?

To collaborate on the BFSU boards, you first need to be a member of Pinterest (see next question if you don’t know how to do that).   Next you should probably “follow” the board(s) you want to collaborate on.   Then just leave a comment on one of the pins or send me an email with your Pinterest user name (kirsten @ tonyandkirsten dot org).  I will invite you to be a collaborator and you will get an email from Pinterest saying you need to accept the invitation in order to be able to pin on those boards.  Once you accept the invite, the BFSU boards will show up in your list of board options when you go to pin something.  Don’t forget to put the lesson “code” in the text of the pin (C-7, A-3, etc)  to make it easier for everyone to find resources related to a particular lesson.

If you don’t want to join Pinterest but want to contribute to the boards, feel free to email me sites/pages that you think should be pinned or if you are a member of the Well Trained Mind forums, you can leave a comment in this thread with your pin suggestions.

How do I join Pinterest? Do I have to have a Facebook account?

You need an invite to join Pinterest.  You can request one on the site (not sure how long it takes to get it) or you can request one from anyone who is currently a member.  Feel free to email me for an invite.  You do need either a Facebook or a Twitter account to get a Pinterest account.  A bit silly, I know.  If you are avoiding Facebook for whatever reason (and I know a number of people do avoid it!), it is not very difficult and less invasive to sign up for a Twitter account.  You can mark your Twitter profile as “private” and not add any or follow anyone, and this should be enough to get a Pinterest account.

What if I don’t want to join Pinterest? Can I still see the links that everyone Pins?

Yes, you can see the boards and pins and follow the links without joining.

 

 

I is for iPad April 17, 2012

Filed under: Technology — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:41 pm
Tags:

I’ve been participating in Blogging Through the Alphabet, hosted by Marcy @ Ben and Me.  It has been great fun trying to think of something related to homeschooling (since  this is a homeschooling blog, after all!) for each letter of the alphabet.  I feel like this letter “I” is a bit of a lazy effort, since “iPad” is not a real word, and I’ve already written a lot about how we use our iPad.

But since it happens to be a Tuesday as I am writing this, I wondered if I could challenge myself to think of TEN ways we use the iPad for homeschool. (Then I can link up to Top Ten Tuesday!).

1. Let’s start with the obvious — educational apps/games.  I think there’s probably got to be an app out there for pretty much any subject to teach or review. Apps for Homeschooling is a great resource to find educational apps.

2. Occupying the boys (ages 3 and 5) while I try and focus with Miss M (age almost 8/2nd grade).  While I prefer the boys to play quietly, or work on their own while I do the subjects that require my one-on-one attention with Miss M (like those tough math lessons on 4 digit subtraction!), the reality is that some days they are running in circles past us while pretending to be “Angry Bird Clone Trooper Jedi With Really Loud Guns and Light Sabers!” On those days, sometimes it is “iPad to the rescue” to provide a few minutes of peace and quiet.

3.  I love reading ebooks on my iPad, and I also use it occasionally to read aloud to the kids.  With the wealth of free public domain ebooks, free and inexpensive kindle finds or an ebook checked out from the library, there are so many options available!

4. I came up with a new option for Mr. E, my budding reader, last week — an easy-to-read Kindle book on the iPad! I was recently tipped off to The Literate Child, a page you can “like” on Facebook to receive notifications of free children’s books for Nook and Kindle.  Mr. E enjoyed the novelty of reading a book himself (with a bit of help from me) on the iPad.  I’ve also let Miss M read a Kindle book on the iPad on occasion.

5. Dance party! While I have had great aspirations of setting up playlists to listen to particularly appropriate educational songs or Bible songs I would like the kids to learn, that has not actually happened.  What has happened is we have put on an a Pandora station for a quick dance break, soothing background music, or even music by which to play some variant of “musical chairs.”

6.  On our “Family Science Nights,” my husband often pulls out the iPad to show pictures or videos of something he would like to illustrate, especially for biology related topics.  Wikipedia is a great source for all kinds of science-related pictures.

7. Would you believe we don’t seem to have a stand-alone calculator in our house? When Miss M’s math curriculum called for a calculator we first tried using my phone,which proved to be a bit small for her.  The iPad, however, was a nice over-sized calculator once we had a calculator app installed!

8. We’ve had the iPad on hand to use in place of a paper atlas during history lessons.  We only have a simple, free world map program currently.  However, I have often wished we had a nice, historical atlas to refer to! Maybe that will be a future purchase. For now our free world map app is enough for me to remind Miss M of the location of Britain or Japan.

9.  Of course, the iPad works just as well as a computer for doing research on various books, curricula or projects we might like to utilize in the future.  I love how easy it is, though, to hand it to the kids to show them various ideas (for, say, art projects they might like to do).

10. Finally, I like having a quick way to document and share things we are doing during our school day.  I try and take a lot of pictures on my camera, but it takes multiple steps to share those photos (take the card out, import into a folder on the hard drive, export to a smaller size, etc).  Up until recently, my phone was too slow and clunky to do this easily.  But, with the iPad handy, I can easily snap a quick picture to share with friends and family.

This list doesn’t even include ways I have thought of using the iPad but haven’t actually tried yet: for audio books, as an electronic replacement or supplement to a paper planner, or using an ebook version of a textbook!

Have you used an iPad in any other ways in your homeschool?

Linking up with:

Top Ten Tuesday at Many Little BlessingsPhotobucket

 

Tech Tuesday: How to Create Your Own Copywork or Handwriting Pages April 3, 2012

Filed under: Technology — kirstenjoyhill @ 11:09 pm
Tags: ,

A friend asked me today if I knew of a website to easily create custom copywork IMG_6335pages with traceable letters.  I knew I had heard of one, but I didn’t have it bookmarked.  A google search revealed that Worksheet Works has a free handwriting practice sheet generator with options for both print and cursive writing styles in either solid or dashed text.  I haven’t tried it yet, but I think it’s exactly what my friend was looking for!

I’ve always made custom copywork or handwriting practice pages using either Microsoft Word or Microsoft Publisher.  There are several free printing and cursive handwriting fonts.  Check out this page at about.com and this listing at fontspace.com for several options.

One aspect of making a practice sheet in Word or Publisher that always befuddled me a bit was creating the blank lines below or next to the text as a space for doing the copying.  The best I was able to come up with copying a free blank handwriting page into the file as a picture or graphic.  This was a clunky solution but better than nothing.

This post at HSclassroom.net alerted me to a better solution.  Some handwriting/penmanship fonts (including one I had installed, penmanship print), include a blank rule, accessible by using the ` key (this is the symbol below ~, in the upper left of your keyboard).  Brilliant!  I also learned a new trick from reading this thread at the Well-Trained mind forums — in Word, type several asterisks in a row like this *****, and then hit enter.  You’ll get a nice dotted line that extends across your page.  This might come in handy for certain handwriting situations as well!

Finally, if you are looking for a more fully-featured custom copywork or handwriting solution, many people seem to like StartWrite.  I haven’t tried this software, but from a brief look at their website,  I see it includes many neat features like fancy borders, colored text, easy-to-insert graphics, start-point dots, and more.  This software will run you $24.95 or $39.95 depending on which version you select.

I haven’t made many copywork or handwriting sheets lately — Mr. E is just getting to the point of more interest in writing, and Miss M gets a lot of cursive practice with her “Reason for Handwriting” workbook.  I also hadn’t yet installed a cursive font that I was really happy with.  But doing this research for my friend has given me renewed interest in doing this!