June 21, 2010

Simple Machines--Levers

The pictures are a little out of order so bear with me. First, a few of the books we used for the first simple machine we studied--levers.

How to Catapult a Castle: Machines that Brought Down the Battlements by James De Winter is awesome. Especially if you have a daughter that is a princess and a son who is a knight. We read this book over a dozen times and my children could have read it over a dozen more. Gold Star Rating!

Move it! Work It!: A Song About Simple Machines by Laura Purdie Salas has to be one of our favorites. Each page has words that can be sung to the tune of Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree but pertains to a simple machine. So you sing things like, "Lift, use a lever, lift, use a lever . . ." Sorry, I couldn't remember the rest and my daughter who has them memorized is too busy on starfall.com to help me out.

Anyway, we love these songs. Great idea, great book.
Simple Machines: Levers by David Glover was informative. I didn't know tweezers were levers. Or nutcrackers. Or scissors. The things you learn. (Please don't mock my ignorance. My hubby has--extensively.)
Levers, Wheels, and Pulleys by John Farndon.

How Things Work: Lifting by Levers by Andrew Dunn.

The following pictures are of us doing lever "experiments." I feel lame saying experiment because you aren't experimenting, you're explaining what a lever is and does. But, the guidebook says experimenting so I shall as well.

The above picture was a fun one. You can make it so your child can pull the rods together even with you and your hubby trying your darndest to keep them apart. Fun.
A tipping scale.

Scissors. We talked about how much extra force you get putting the fulcrum close to what you are cutting.

Prying a little red thing-a-ma-jig out of a gray thing-a-ma-jig.
Studying the directions. (Another pro to the kit--teaches careful reading and following of directions.)
Using a lever to lift lots of books.
Teeter-totter. I mean, balancing based on where the fulcrum is located.

I know this is all pretty simplistic, but my children are young and they LOVED it.

June 18, 2010

Engineering Kit

I am not a scientist. Far from. I am not even interested in science. I don't really care why electricity works or what composes the earth's crust, or even that the earth has a crust.

But I also think it is lame when homeschoolers teach their children everything they love, and avoid those things they don't love. I try very hard to avoid doing that and while I haven't brought myself to touch dinosaurs with a ten-foot pole, I have integrated quite a bit of science into our homeschool.

This engineering kit has been most helpful in doing so.
If you type in Little Labs: Intro to Engineering, you can find it for sale on numerous websites. Here's a link to amazon, but I'm pretty sure I found mine cheaper from a homeschooling store.

Here's my pros and cons.

Pros: I wouldn't have taught simple machines without help. This is the help I needed. Cons: Anyone with any lick of creativity in this area could have come up with their own experiments. In fact, the books from the library that we've used were loaded with easy experiments.

Pros: Everything was in one place and I didn't have to figure out what I needed for any other experiments.

Pros: My children have LOVED it.

Cons: It is a large box that has very few things in it but a lot of packaging.

So, good for me and my family since I need help in the science area, but probably not for a family with a science-oriented (or braver) primary teacher.
Here's the "guidebook." It has lots of illustrations to explain how things go together. And like I said, there aren't a lot of parts involved. I still had Timothy explain to me how to do the first few. I just needed a little reassuring.

Here's the stuff in the box. I know--I was disappointed when I first opened it. $25 for a few plastic parts and some punch-out paper??!! But, we've enjoyed the unit immensely and all the activities are perfect for my children's ages and abilities. After using the product, I am no longer disappointed. It was just what I needed to ease myself into a science unit.

June 17, 2010

Books to Read

Amongst the numerous Magic Tree House books Miriam has consumed lately, she made time for two books that are not Magic Tree House. She liked them both so much she made the point to show them to me and tell me to read them. That's unusual. So, if you have any young voracious readers in your home--you might hand them these two books.

The Boy Who Saved Cleveland by James Cross Giblin is about frontier Cleveland and a terrible sickness that hit most of the people in the tiny settlement. The main character doesn't get sick when everyone else does so he takes on the sizable job of keeping everyone fed. I skimmed through this one and it's perfect for the six to eight year old crowd (and older--amazon had it pegged as grades 3-5, but I think that's pushing the upper limit). Miriam brought it to me and told me it was "great" and I should read it. When I asked her what it was about she said, "A boy who saved Cleveland." Then she made a small sound of disgust, "You should just read it."

We're still working on the ability to discuss books.
I picked up Anna on the Farm because it is by Mary Downing Hahn. She wrote the only ghost book I've liked, Wait Til Helen Comes. If you haven' read that one, you should. As for Anna, you should read it too. It is a book my siblings would all like as they tend to think in terms of "city slicker" and "country kid." Numerous contests come to mind . . .. Anyway, it is about a city girl who gets to visit her aunt and uncle for a summer. They live on a farm. I'm pretty sure you guessed that already. The hitch, or major plot element, is the boy Anna's aunt and uncle adopted. Anna doesn't like her new cousin at first, but throughout the book she learns to be a little less rigid in her ideas of behavior and she comes to appreciate her cousin. This is a good historical fiction in that it talks about the shift from girls wearing only dresses to occasionally wearing slacks and that sort of thing.

There you go. I'm sure there are other mothers out there that think finding books for the 6-8 year old crowd is akin to hunting for gold. So much has been written, so little is worth reading.

Happy hunting.

Both of these books are available through the Davis County Public Library System, in Utah.

June 16, 2010

Education and Older Adopted Children Continued, by Kami

So one day when my oldest child was seven months old, my husband and I were asked to take in his young cousin. She was seven at the time and had been floated around to different relatives’ homes her entire life. After much consideration and prayer we agreed, BUT only if it was permanent. No more floating. So we adopted Ana.

Ana was a strange bunch of contradictions. She had been getting herself ready for school, making her own breakfast, etc. since kindergarten, and was fairly independent. Yet I had to teach her how to brush her teeth (and yes it was expected to be done twice a day), use soap, shampoo, conditioner, and actually BRUSH her hair. (That became so much of a fight that finally I let her do her own hair—meaning it wasn’t done—every day but Friday and Sunday for the first year.)

She had been raised watching TV every day, all day. I expected homework done and then I made her correct whatever problems she missed. I expected her to read. She had no interest in reading whatsoever. She had spoken Spanish till age four, but then learned English in school. By the time she came to live with us, she was terrible at Spanish and not much better in English. She was used to eating rice and junk food almost every day. She spent the first six months throwing up about three times a week or more because we made her eat everything I cooked. And I’m not talking liver or stuff like that. Cucumbers, pears, watermelon, and any meat with bones are just a few of the things that set her off. She still hates eating any meat with bones. It was hard. Not to mention my husband was working as a pilot and was only home eleven days out of the month on average.

Our counselor believes Ana is “delayed” especially when it comes to emotional IQ. I’m still having problems bonding with her. Things have definitely improved though. Most of my issues arise now from my husband’s extended family who act as if we’re simply babysitting and not her parents. That's cultural--I try not to be bitter.

So what about my big plans for homeschooling? Personally, I think if I homeschooled her, we’d kill each other. Literally, homework was a fight almost every night the first year. Yet, I worried about her and her slow start to an education. So that the first summer she lived with us I made her read every day, practice her multiplication tables, and complete one section out of a reading comprehension book my dad had given me (that turned into practice on following directions more than anything else—something she needed desperately), and finally, practicing some Spanish. It was supposed to take her about two hours in total time and days that she wanted to, she finished in that amount of time. Most days though, it took her up to six hours to finish. (We have a lot of time management issues to work through still.)

Once she was finished her schoolwork, she complained she was bored because she has no real hobbies or interests to keep herself busy. Mostly she wanted to watch TV, only we didn’t get any television channels and never will, which she thinks is rotten. Also, we lived in an apartment complex that was not the nicest, (police were there four or five times a month on average) and it bothered me when she played with the other girls there because in Hispanic culture (my mom once asked me if I was the only white person living there) girls watch and talk, while the boys play. Lame. It was a long, long summer.

So the next summer I rethought things a bit. My sister said I was practically homeschooling. That wasn’t my intention, I just wanted to keep her busy and help her catch up in school to her level. That summer she did her math worksheet, ones that I printed off from a website called MathStories. I liked it because I could tailor it to what she was having trouble with, like story problems and telling time. I had actually started her doing one every day that winter in addition to her homework. Then she did her reading time and a Spanish worksheet. Lastly, I had her make a notebook about countries. Depending on the day of the week, she had to write about a current event there, make a timeline about it’s history, color a picture of it’s flag, write down ten facts about it (we checked out books from the library), and on the last day she made a collage of pictures from my old National Geographics. She chose which countries she studied.

While she improved on using her time wisely, she took most of the day to finish, which was my intention. I gave her time to play outside while my other daughter was napping, since she didn’t want Elena tagging along. I would like to say it went more smoothly, but that wasn’t necessarily the case. She was doing more work and harder work and she knew it. And if you haven’t guessed I’m a bit of a perfectionist and I don’t let sloppy work slide. She did enjoy studying the countries though. I also read more about adoption and common tendencies among adopted and foster children. That helped me recognize that a lot of her behaviors were simply survival mechanisms and not necessarily “her.”

So, where are we now? This past year she was “stuck” in her native country for three months after a family vacation there—missing school the entire time, because our adoption wasn’t recognized. When she came home, things improved immensely. Partly because my husband is home every day now, partly because Ana herself is happier to be with us after her experience, and partly because of me and adjustments I’ve made. I believe that our family has been blessed since Ana was sealed in the temple to us as well. Things aren’t perfect, but then I know they won’t be perfect with my other children either.

Ana’s doing fabulous in school, despite missing so many months, and while reading comprehension and writing is still a problem (she’s not meeting year-end standards), she’s at the top of her class in math. This summer I want her outside playing. (We’ve moved to a much nicer area now—hurray!!) I know play is important and Ana has a pretty non-existent imagination that could use some exercise. I know I’ve been a bit draconian about her schoolwork, chores and piano practicing, and I really think I need to lay off a bit and let her enjoy her childhood more. I still make her read—she doesn’t read on her own, even though I pay her money as an incentive if she chooses books off a list I made. (That’s something I’ve done since she first came to us.) She does one worksheet from the “Spectrum 4th Grade Test Prep” book to review the things she’s learned this past year and again, practice reading comprehension, following directions and test taking strategies. She also does one lesson from “Language Lessons for the Elementary Child” which is a Charlotte Mason style homeschool workbook.

Her new school is bilingual and while her Spanish is much better after her three months in South America, her writing is understandably not good, so to practice I have her write one half-page in Spanish on anything she wants and one half-page in English. My aim was that she could finish it all in two hours (her forty minutes of reading included), but for instance, yesterday she spent an hour and forty-five minutes on the writing part alone. I honestly don’t think it’s because it’s a long assignment, (both the workbooks she can finish in 15 mins when she wants to), it’s more a matter of motivation and time management. Any ideas on this are welcome! I’m really excited that she’s in a bilingual school and hope my other children will have that same opportunity. (It's so sad, my three year old is already requesting, "No! In English-not Spanish!!")

However, I still have reservations about public school. Ana has always and remains very influenced by her peers, to the point where much of the time it’s seems as if she has no real sense of her own self and her own likes and dislikes. (That's part of the low emotional IQ.) That scares me. Really, truly scares me. I still don’t want to homeschool her in earnest because I think our relationship is simply too fragile to take that kind of stress. And with so many little kids at home, I doubt I could give her the one-on-one attention that she requires. Luckily, where we live there’s a very nice charter school that’s available through the middle school years. That’s what I intend to try to get her into once she’s done elementary. School uniforms alone sold me on it. But then, who knows what life will throw at us next and where we’ll end up by then.

June 15, 2010

Simple Machines--Wheel and Axle

The books we used:

How to Catapult a Castle.
Marbles, Roller Skates, Doorknobs: Simple Machines that are Really Wheels by Christopher Lampton. (No pic available.)

Wheels Around by Shelley Rotner. (No pic available.)

Levers, Wheels, and Pulleys by John Farndon.
Move It! Work It: A Song About Simple Machines by Laura Purdie Salas.
The kids, the Dad, and the rubberband car.

A different car.

I love it when the hubby takes over for me.

Simple Machines--Pulleys

The books we used:

How to Catapult a Castle by James De Winter.
Move It! Work It!: A Song About Simple Machines by Laura Purdie Salas.

Heavy Equipment: Cranes by David and Patricia Armentrout. (No pic available).

Simple Devices: The Pulley by Patricia Armentrout. (No pic available.)

Our pulley pulled up many things. One of my children's favorite simple machine so far. Go figure.

Guest Post--Kami on education with an older adopted child

This is the first in a two part series about education and an older adopted child. I asked my sister, Kami, to express some of her feelings about education and adoption as she adopted a 7 year old. Kami discovered she had a lot to say! We split her thoughts into two posts. Kami currently lives in Provo where her hsuband attends BYU.

I am not a trained educator and I do not homeschool. I’ll just say that up front. However, between my husband, my adopted daughter, and myself, I have been exposed to several different forms of education and non-education. For the sake of coherency, I’ll discuss my husband’s and my background in education first. Then in my next post, I’ll share my daughter’s background and what we’ve worked on with her.

Personally, I loved elementary school, hated middle school, and really loved high school. My family moved frequently so I attended schools in many different states—some year-round, most with the traditional summer off. In elementary school I started off slow, in fact I was in remedial reading for a year. I never thought much about it, in fact I felt pretty lucky because I was able to play a lot of games on the computer and paint in that class (what those had to do with reading, I really couldn’t say because I don’t remember, but I loved it). At another point in elementary school, I was in a work-at-your own-pace math class with several different grades all in it together. That didn’t work well for me; I remember goofing around a lot and very little classroom discipline. However, one of my friends, Nathan, finished our textbook and had started the next grade level up by the end of the year.

Middle school I detested for several reasons, mostly social, but frankly I don’t think they have enough advanced or honors classes at that level to keep it challenging either. Then I had one random year at a school with 300 pupils in grades 7-12, and absolutely no classes other than the basics. So basic in fact, that the principal agreed to let me be in the psychology class that had previously only been allowed to 11th and 12th graders (I was in 9th grade) because my mother and I were fairly disgusted with the class choices. I was offered money almost weekly to allow people to cheat off me in that class. I was also frequently asked if my younger sister was a genius (she was two grade levels ahead in math—but in our previous school that was fairly common). What was I supposed to say, “No, actually you guys are just a bunch of backward hicks?” That’s what I thought anyway.

The rest of high school I adored. We moved to a much larger town (in North Dakota standards), which was very conservative. It’s kind of like going back twenty years in time living there. My high school offered plenty of AP programs that made school more challenging, as well as a variety of other classes. I arranged my whole senior year schedule around my floral design class. When I went to university I had no difficulty whatsoever in adjusting and didn’t find it any harder than my difficult classes in high school.

After graduating, I attended a couple different community colleges just for fun (one is the largest in the country), and found them rather pathetic—generally big high schools that aren’t challenging at all. In all I attended five different elementary schools, one middle school, two high schools, three universities and two community colleges.

My husband, on the other hand, only experienced one year in our public school system. Not because he was homeschooled; he was a foreign exchange student to New Jersey. He managed to learn English (yes, he had rudimentary knowledge before coming here, but was far from fluent) and complete 9th and 10th grade requirements in that one year. He thought it was easy. Ridiculously easy. But then in his native country he had gone to a private Catholic school, with the uniforms, mandatory mass, etc. A school where most of the senators’ kids and the president’s kids attended. A bit elite and very demanding. He also had private tutors (for English) and said he spent almost every evening, all evening, doing homework.

Once he graduated from high school, he attended the top university in the country. (He’s from Bogotá, Colombia, which is known as the Athens of South America because of its well-respected schools.) He then went to a private Catholic university for a year and then finally spent a semester at a military university. Upon moving to the States, he went to a community college for a year where he brushed up on his English and did some generals not required in Colombia, and then finished his degree at ASU. He thought ASU was as challenging as the universities he attended in Colombia, and that the community college was a practical way to save money rather than paying the high university tuition for classes that transferred straight across anyway.

I wanted to share those backgrounds because our experiences shaped our expectations for our children and their schooling. Both my husband and I want our children to learn to work hard. That is our main goal. My husband is much better at this than I ever was. He works at school. His mentality is partly shaped by his country (as mine is). In Colombia there aren’t very many good jobs, many taxi drivers are engineers but lack the connections to be hired. You have to work hard to survive. I grew up believing that I could succeed easily at whatever field I chose, and so I kind of half-worked and complained if I actually struggled at something (AP Calculus comes to mind) and then I never really learned it, just managed to scrape by. In college when I was exploring careers, and computer systems was an area of interest to me, I found out how much calculus was required, and I thought, “Oh, well, I’ll do something else then.” Pathetic, really. I want my children to be like my husband. My father expressed once to me that he wished his kids had been a little dumber, because if something didn’t come easily to us like most things normally did, we generally gave up. We grew up lazy—at least academically speaking (with one notable exception).

So how does this tie into public education? Basically because we both agree that public schools, on average, are great and the curriculum can prepare a child well for college and careers. But the key is the desire to learn and work hard, which is taught by parents, not the school. I frequently told my daughter during her end of the year testing that I thought the testing was a joke and that I could care less how she did on it. I think more important than any test she ever takes or material on that test, is the lesson I teach her when I make her continue working on a homework problem till she gets it right. I hate the message, “Do your best, that’s all we can expect.” That “best” implies simply operating at their existing level of competence with no additional work to become better. Really, I expect more. I expect hard work, improvement and thoroughness.

My daughter recently moaned to me about a piano piece, “You can’t expect me to play it perfectly!” Well, actually, yes I can and do. The piece was at her level; all she needed was additional practice to make it perfect. It was certainly not impossible.

I do wonder about how to motivate learning without relying on grades as a benchmark. Sometimes in school it is easy to get that A grade without learning anything. And while you have some fabulous teachers, there are some horrid teachers too. Also, I think as far as public schools are concerned, middle school is the low point. There’s generally no advanced or honor classes yet, kids are mean, and peer pressure is at it’s height. If I did homeschool, I would do it during my children’s middle school years.

That actually had been my plan. By the time my first child hit junior high, I would be done having kids, all the rest of my kids would be in elementary school, and I would homeschool just for those few years of middle school. I could focus on that one child (or maybe two). She would be old enough for me to actually talk with about more advanced subjects without hesitation and analyze deeper issues. And then hopefully by the time that child returned to high school she would be mature enough and balanced enough (done with puberty) to be her own person and not as influenced by peer pressure. And prepared to work hard in high school.

Then life happened and Ana came home and plans changed.

June 14, 2010

Guest Post--Kayli Reviews a Nature Book

Kayli is my sister and writing buddy. She has four children--Jethro, Hazel, Ethne, and Talmage--and she currently lives in Switzerland. Her husband recently wrote a guest post for me about his views on education that you can read here. You can find out more about Kayli and the other Swiss Bells here. As a sidenote, Kayli isn't a homeschooler, but if she ever changed her mind she'd be a good one!

Book Review for The Kids' Nature Book – 365 Indoor/Outdoor Activities and Experiences (Revised Edition) by Susan Milord

(LINK to it on Amazon)

One early spring day, I was very excited because enough snow was gone and the air was just warm enough that the kids and I could go outside and play for a significant amount of time without frozen feet, hands, and noses. When we came back inside I was inspired to buy a book to keep us outdoors doing interesting things in nature all year. I read reviews for a few different books and ended up with The Kids' Nature Book. I bought a used copy of it through abebooks.com.

I think it is WONDERFUL. I very heartily recommend it. It says for children ages 4 – 10, and my children aged 1-7 have all participated in the activities in it to varying degrees. The book offers ideas of outings, things to observe outdoors, craft projects, simple experiments, games, and suggestions for stories and poems to read. I really can't begin to tell you all of the topics it explores – weather, habitats, flowers, animals, clouds, recycling, beaches, astronomy, insects, plants, adaptations, art supplies from nature, the ocean, pets, Indians, etc.

I really like how it is set up. It has an activity for every day of the year (tied to the seasonal happenings), and each week has a unifying theme like watching birds in flight or exploring in and around water. So I really like that you can pick up the book anytime and go to that day and have a topic offered. That being said, I don't usually follow the suggestions day by day, like a calendar. Usually when we get the urge to do something from the book, we do several of the activities on one day. Of course, you can do things more selectively-- skip around and find topics on whatever suits your fancy.

It has a ton of great ideas, and lots of great information. My son Jethro likes to pick it up and just read it (but then, he always has liked reading non-fiction type books. Weirdo.). Now I've TOLD you it's fun, let me SHOW you.

We gathered frog eggs from a pond to watch their development from eggs to tadpoles to frogs. We have two that are still alive and one of them recently sprouted his back legs. It's really exciting.

We did some activities about rainbows, like creating a rainbow by filling a glass full of water and placing it on a sunny windowsill.

Then we bought some colored paper and made a wreath using “Japanese folding techniques.”

Jethro found an experiment that he thought sounded cool, so he started setting it up (without asking for permission or help) and when Brett saw him getting stuff out and asked him what he was doing, he read about the experiment, also thought it was cool, and helped him finish setting it up. They created stalactites and stalagmites by filling small jars with water and baking soda and tying a weight to each end of a string and placing the ends in the jar. These are not the greatest pictures, but I think you can see that we did grow some stalactites.

One day without really intending to do an activity from the book, I happened to see a fiddlehead of a fern – something I had seen and read about in the book, so I took a picture of it. The same day, Jethro came home and showed me a fiddlehead he had picked. He told me, “The book says they're eatable, so should we eat it?”

I can't remember if the book suggested a nature notebook or not, but I decided to give the kids a notebook, and Jethro has done some recording in it. Hazel mainly draws pictures and says whether it's a sunny day or rainy day. (I love his picture of eggs, tadpole, developing tadpole, and frog at the bottom.)

We picked some flowers and dried them. Jethro really wanted Brett to build a plant press, which he probably would have if he had any tools or materials, but instead we just used a book.

So, five stars and all that. Go get it if you're interested in helping your kids- and yourself- learn about and enjoy nature.