Category: homeschool

(This rambling post may not be very interesting, but I needed to put some of these ideas down so that my brain can stop spinning!)

I realized the other day that I started doing preschool work with Jonas when he was two-and-a-half… That means we’ve been at this for four years already! (Actually, that makes me feel better about all the breaks we’ve taken… surely we’ve logged plenty of days that way!) In the Elsmere house, we worked at the kitchen table, overflowing to the floor or relaxing on the upstairs couches to read and snuggle together. When we moved here, we kept working in the kitchen – albeit a new table. The layout here gives me a great view of the family room and kitchen while I work with Jonas in the breakfast area, so that has been nice.

But I’ve been brainstorming about having a dedicated space since we moved in. This house’s floorplan has a formal front room and dining room… but we don’t have formal furniture.The front room currently holds a all of bookshelves and a bajillion books, and two old floor lamps which have seen better days.  And since my Dad’s latest visit in June it has gained an antique dry sink and a Panamanian leather rocking chair.

And the dining room, until this week, held our old kitchen table and three chairs, our old coffee table, the dog’s crate, and an odd collection of “stuff” which hasn’t found just the right spot to land in the new house. (I’m ashamed to admit that, since we’ve lived here a whole year already!)

So the plan has been bubbling in my mind… What if I turned the “dining room” into a school room? Of course, the obvious ‘con’ on the list is that we wouldn’t be able to use it as a formal dining space for the next year or so. But since we probably won’t make room in the budget to buy formal dining furniture for at least that long, odds are this room would continue to go largely unused, which makes it an unfortunate staging ground for all the bits and bobs that are still undecided (unhung pictures, baskets I can’t seem to donate because I might need them for something, etc!)

The pros far outweighed the con, in my thinking. A dedicated space would free up the kitchen table to be just a kitchen table. Instead of the rush to clean off breakfast and in order to make room for work – then clean off all the work to make room for lunch – and repeat again in the afternoon… I could have work out on the work table and leave it there! We could just saunter into the kitchen for snack and lunch time.

Also, I didn’t mind having our calendars and wall charts hanging on the tiny wall opposite the breakfast nook, but it’s a high-traffic spot (the thruway from the ktichen into the family room) and things were constantly getting rubbed, marked on, or knocked down last year. In the dining room, I can hang more things (especially the world map, pocket charts, and calendar that I know we’ll use a LOT with our second grade curriculum) and since they are “out of the way” they should hold up better.

Another pro is that I think Susannah and Abigail will feel more “cozy” and close to us while we work; I’m hoping to get Susannah into a routine on the days she’s home (she’ll continue to attend Parents’ Day Out at our church, MWF 9:00-12:30) of working on small tasks and playing with manipulatives and activities that I set aside for “school time”. Wish me luck on that one, haha!

SO – I brought up the idea with Chris. There was a little bit of hesitation on my part, because I didn’t think he would like the notion of having school stuff all over the place. But he was immediately in favor! He said he liked the idea of using this room for *something* and he agreed that will all the projects we’re planning to tackle this school year, we do need more space to spread out.
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As it turns out, this is an even bigger re-do project than I thought it would be. To be fair, the actual setup of this room isn’t the issue, it’s the one-thing-leads-to-another phenomenon that’s getting me.

First, I measured the space I had in mind, then bought and put together a simple white cabinet. Removed all my curriuculm from the kitchen cabinet, and hauled it to the dining room in a Rubbermaid tote.

Now that the upper kitchen cabinet was clear, I was able to relocate the glass & crystal that really belonged there. That freed up a lower kitchen cabinet – which meant I was finally able to unpack my mother’s china from the crates and put it in place there.

Before I unpacked the tote full of curriculum, I had to get the OTHER tote from the garage (which held curriculum and resources from my public-school teaching days) and then I had to clear off the shelf from the under-the-stairs closet.

Since I was doing that, I went ahead and pulled everything out of that closet, vacuumed, and sorted and reorganized. Most everything fit back in very nicely, and a few things were returned to their rightful spots in the coat closet and kids’ bedrooms.

Back in the dining room, I started putting away items in my new white cabinet. I have one bin of materials to store for future years (or to store for record-keeping purposes) and two trash bags (and counting!) to toss. I’ve hung several things on the wall, and I’m making a list for the office supply store — ah, be still my heart. I get a little bit giddy over post-its and white-out and letter trays and pencil boxes. I’ve always gotten a kick out of organization, but since this room is a little bit “on display” I’d also like for it to look nice so I’m going to see if I can find black, yellow, and white accessories to coordinate with the existing red & white walls and the Parapluie-Revel print hanging in here.

I needed to prepare a bin for materials that Susannah can use; I had a bin the right size up in the office closet with the 4T clothes I’ve bought ahead for her. In order to use it downstairs in the school room, I had to empty the 0-6 month clothing from a pink bin and relocate the 4T clothing into that one. Now I have a pile of infant clothing in my room (which will eventually be washed, ironed, hung, and labeled for a consignment sale coming up this fall. I hope!).

Still working on:
~NEED~
tape dispenser
bin for under coffee table

~WANT~
translucent glass vases/bottles in red, orange, green, purple
tissue box in yellow/black/gray
sew a fabric flag banner to hang over front-room entry?

Edited to add
~GOT~

whiteboard eraser
post-it notes
zippered pencil bag
2 stackable, clear, square boxes (crayons)
1 stackable, clear, rectangular box (markers)

4 letter trays (portrait orientation)
magazine file
dining chair seat cushions (yellow/black/gray?)  -note: bought pillow forms and fabric to make myself when I saw how much they were going for online!

Sneak peek: the room is not even done, but the big kids both asked to “do school.” I found Jonas a graphing sheet and a water-cycle mobile to make. Susannah played a patterning file-folder game, and Abigail explored the toys I’d set aside for her. Peaceful fun for all!

I’ve got a couple of weeks to put the finishing touches on. Pictures to come when I’m done!

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A new week, a new science “es-perience” (as Susannah calls them). I’ve been aiming for Thursdays, but this week that was a pretty busy day. We had a guy here all morning to install DirectTV and Chris got his great news about the boards and Miss Deanna came to babysit so the grownups could go out to celebrate! Hence – science got pushed back to Friday. Luckily, the kids had a blast so I think the wait was worth it.

How about a little exploration of magnetism? I did a unit on magnets for my science portfolio for National Boards, so putting this together brought back some fond memories.

First, I gathered some “household objects” on a little tray. I told the kids we were going to guess if each item was magnetic or not. (With a classroom of first graders, I wrote the names of the items. Mostly for Susannah’s benefit, we just placed the real objects on the paper. For a tactile & visual learner like her, this allowed her to better grasp which things “moved” to the opposite box when we checked.) We examined each object and made our guess. As with most kids in this age group, Jonas and Susannah thought that anything made of metal would be magnetic.

When we checked each item, there were a few surprises! The “Finn McMissile” car and the “silver” ring were actually painted plastic, so they didn’t stick to our heavy-duty magnet. The metal spring in the clothespin was magnetic, but the coin, key, and nail were not.
To unlock the mystery of why some metal objects “stick” and others don’t, I pulled out a library book and we read the first few pages together. (It will be a good one for Jonas and I to finish next week, but it was text-heavy and not grabbing Susannah’s interest.) Did you know that it’s mainly iron, cobalt, and nickel which are magnetic?

The next part of our experiment was “the best part” according to both kids. I gave them each a new horseshoe magnet, a piece of construction paper, and a handful of paper clips. Susannah mainly just slung hers around, which is about all I expected from a 3 year old.

Jonas worked carefully with his, trying to figure out how to maximize the number of paperclips he could attract. He discovered that if he made a big pile of the paperclips and put the horseshoe into the pile, then sloooowly lifted it, he could add more paperclips one-by-one. I think his grand total was around 27!

When we finished, we drew and wrote on an “Experiment Page.” (Of which I meant to snap a picture, but apparently I forgot!) Jonas completed his independently; Susannah dictated her words and scribbled a bit of a picture. 
This didn’t feel like as much of an “experiment” to me as last week’s cluster of water experiences, but the kids really enjoyed it. And since my plan for this summer really is just to expose them to as a bunch of  hands-on science projects, I guess it was a success. Plus, I know it’s important to start introducing them to the scientific method. This lesson used “guess and check” terminology and we recorded our question, our materials, our procedure, and our results on the Experiment Page. I’d give us a B+ for this one. 🙂

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For our second week of science experiments, we actually did several quick and easy activities to explore the properties of water (and a little bit of phases-of-matter while we were at it).

Surface tension is awesome. We filled a translucent cup with water and talked about how if we added more water, it would surely overflow. Then I produced a handful of paper clips, and we hypothesized that adding metal paper clips would cause the water to spill out as well. Jonas, Susannah, and I all took turns adding one paper clip at a time, and guess what? It never did overflow! (According to the directions, it eventually should have, but we didn’t have enough paperclips.)

Next, we observed condensation. The kids each filled a cup with ice and water and set them on the deck rail. We came back to check on the cups after two minutes’ and five minutes’ time had elapsed and took note of the fine haze and large water drops that eventually covered the outside of the cups. Amazing!

To experience evaporation, we dipped both hands into a pitcher of water. Then we held one hand still and waved the other hand through the air (some of us waved more enthusiastically than others). Can you believe that the waved hands dried faster than the still hands?

We went inside for the next part of our experiment. A pan full of ice + heat from the stove = water! A pan full of water + continued heat from the stove = steam! We talked a little bit about molecules, but that’s a little beyond the 3-6 year old brain, so I didn’t harp on it too much.

The final project for today was to make yogurt popsicles. We talked a little bit about how to classify yogurt (since it takes the shape of its container, it must be a liquid) and what might happen if it spent a few hours in our freezer. It was hard to wait, but after lunch we tasted the frozen yogurt and decided that it’s pretty delicious as a liquid or a solid!

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It’s Volcano Day!

As I’ve mentioned before, Susannah is a little bit obsessed with volcanoes right now. For weeks I’ve been thinking that we ought to make a baking soda volcano for her, and today we finally did it.

First, I pulled up a great short video about the earth science behind volcanic eruptions.

 I assembled our ingredients and brought everything outside to the deck. We used the vase as the center of our volcano. (If I were doing this again, I’d use something a little bit shorter.) The directions I found online worked great.

I filled the vase most-of-the-way full with warm water. Jonas added red food coloring,  and Susannah put in 6 drops (okay, one generous squirt) of dish detergent. I poured a heap of baking soda into a small ramekin, and each kid added one tablespoon to the vase.

Then we heaped soil around the vase to make the cone of the volcano. (Some online sources recommend making salt dough for your volcano, and I can see why. My vase was pretty tall, so we couldn’t get the dirt to heap high enough to meet the opening, at least working on the cookie sheet. Still – for a 3 and 6 year old, it was close enough.)

The final step is to slowly pour vinegar into the vase. I used apple cider vinegar because it’s what I had on hand, and look at that lovely “lava flow!”

Jonas and Susannah were thrilled and Pax was inquisitive. He even lapped up a little bit of the foamy “lava,” poor dumb pup.

After the lava finally quit flowing, we wrote about our experiment. Susannah used the large doodle pad and I wrote her words; I was really suprised at some of what she retained! Jonas wrote on lined paper and illustrated on construction paper. His text said, “Volcanos. Do not tuch lava becus its hot. What we yoused. We pute bakeing soda in the volcano then we put the drit on the vase. Then we put the vinagr. Eruption lava.”

They had so much fun, and it was so simple, that I think I’ve decided to have a Scientific Summer. It wouldn’t be too hard to pull ideas for 8-10 experiments and do one each week. If we write & draw about each one, we’d have a neat little book by the time school starts back in the fall!

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Most of the time, our homeschool days bear very little similarity to my days as a public-school teacher. Oh yes, we read ‘n write ‘n cipher… but it’s one-on-one (plus a little sister and a baby sister underfoot) so it’s different. Jonas FLIES through some coursework and we linger in other areas. We do a lot of learning “off the record” when a snippet of information he picked up somewhere sparks his curiosity and he wants to know more.

But today was the first day of Jonas’ very first standardized testing, and it was so odd to have this part of my “old life” show up here. As a credentialed teacher, I was certified to administer the ITBS test in our home. The state of Kentucky doesn’t actually require standardized testing for homeschoolers, and because of Jonas’ age he isn’t technically registered as homeschooler yet anyway. (KY requires reporting from ages 6-16; since Jonas turned six in February, this coming fall will be the first year we will need to report to our school system as homeschoolers.) However, we decided that we’d like to see where he tests in terms of grade-level, both for our own information –are there any areas where I might have a ‘blind spot’ that he needs improvement?– and in case we need documention in the future if we choose to enroll him in a public or private school. So, we ordered the first grade level exam and picked a date to begin.

Of course, there are still some differences when doing this test at home; passing out test booklets and pencils to ONE kid instead of twenty goes much faster. And we only had to wait until Jonas finished each section before moving ahead to the next (in a classroom, I’m pretty sure he’d be like I was at that age: first one finished, twiddling his thumbs until he could finally move on when the rest of the group was done).

It’s also okay for him to talk aloud during the test, because he won’t be giving away the answers to anyone else. Halfway down page 3, for example, he bubbled in his answer and exclaimed happily, “This is SO MUCH FUN!”

We completed vocabulary, word analysis, listening skills, and reading today. There are still several sections in to go: language, mathematics (math concepts and computation), science, social studies, and information resources. We’ll be testing tomorrow and, if needed, Friday. Then we’ll mail off the booklets and wait for his scores.

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We’ve been adding leaves each day during our school time. I love especially that every family member ended up on the tree, although that took four days. And I love that “ice cream,” “sandwiches,” and “food” are separate entries.

Also note: this tree is on our ‘school wall,’ which is about a 4-foot long space in between the family room and the eat-in space of our kitchen. It’s a major thoroughfare, and the tree has suffered a few rips over the last two weeks.

And finally, please note that this morning Susannah decided to water the tree. With water from her Kleen Kanteen. Super.

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Meet the author

MICHELLE NEBEL

I write uplifting women’s fiction woven with threads of faith, grace, and Southern hospitality. My blog is where I share a glimpse of my life, and I hope you’ll find the thoughts here encouraging!

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