Thursday, April 9, 2015

US Geography in action!

Well, it seems overly simple to call it just geography.

Under the "geography" umbrella we're learning about the natural rock, land, and water formations.

You can file learning about each state's Native people, as well as the current state productions and interesting things that each state is well known for, under "social studies."

Writing it all out and calculating things like mileage and estimated gas usage from place to place counts, of course, as "handwriting" and "math."

In the "science" category we're learning about native plants and wildlife, as well as fossils that can be found to give us a clue about how that area has been throughout history.

And speaking of "history", we're getting a good dose of it, as we learn about how each state was settled, how it has grown and changed, and Presidents and other important people who have come from each state.

This summer we're going on a 3500 mile road trip to attend my sister's wedding in Maine and visit family and friends on the east coast. We've done the trip from Maine to here in California before, when we moved here in 2011, but this is our first time doing the reverse journey and also our first time as a homeschooling family. It seems very natural to turn this into a homeschooling project!

What we're currently doing is, one state at a time, reading books about each state (nothing fancy, just books I picked up from the kids section at the library) and writing information on some simple response sheets that I created. One of the sheets asks for the official "state information" for each place along our route, which is usually contained in a simple list format towards the end of the book. These are the simple facts such as state nickname, state motto, state bird, state fossil, etc. The other sheet has questions that he can pull the answers to from the reading, so he's learning some great research skills at the same time. Some examples are "What types of wild animals can be found in this state?" "What kind of food is produced here?" and "What Native American people came from this state?"

Along the way we are supplementing this with documentaries and video clips and other sources of information about the states we'll be traveling through, and in particular the places where we'll be stopping to explore for a while.

Of course the culmination of all of this learning will be the road trip, which is going to take approximately 12 days. We'll have the binder that we've been filling with all of this information, as well as art that the kids have created about the trip and about each place we learn about, and along the way he will be able to share interesting information with the rest of us as we travel towards each new place. There will be places that the kids identify along the route for us to stop and take a break - for instance, as he was reading the book about Kansas, we learned that there is an insect zoo there, and it's right along the route where we'll be driving! The boys were both very enthusiastic about that, so I'll research it a little further and if it's going to be open and we can afford it, we'll stop for an afternoon there. Each state will have a couple of fun tidbits like this for us to check out.

For the route out there we need to be fairly direct, since we have a deadline (getting there in time to help set up for the wedding) but on the way back we may meander a little bit. My oldest even asked if we could travel along a bit more of a northern route so that we could add some states to the return trip that are new to everyone in the family. I loved that request! When he asked me that, it felt like we were really "getting" it, that he was really interested and engaged.

As this trip gets closer it becomes quite nerve wracking to think of everything that needs to be ready in time to go, but I breathe through it and just think of what an incredible learning experience this is, for EVERYONE in the family! We are all learning together about so many different things, and these are important life skills. Academia aside, our kids are learning how to plan and execute a big road trip. That's so huge! I sincerely hope that when they are grown up that they do some traveling and adventuring on their own, and being part of experiences like this as a family is teaching them how to do that. I believe that this is a life skill to teach our kids as much as we teach them cook and clean and read and write.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Second annual Colored Candy trade-in event.

We had a wonderful time trick or treating, and my kids made out like bandits. We lost track of how many times the buckets were dumped into the master bag, which was carried by Papa Bear as we schlepped down the sidewalk. They had loads upon loads full of delicious lollipops, twizzlers, smarties and bottle caps, gummies, and more.

The only problem is, our 4 year old (that cute little Skeleton Ninja right there) is extremely sensitive to food dye. We go so far as to sometimes say that he is allergic, because that word commands a kind of respect that people don't have for a word like "sensitive" even though it's a really serious issue.

BooBoo on food coloring is a bit like a person on speed. He revs up and can't settle himself down. He feels out of control, it's not that he's trying to be bad but he just loses all of his impulse control, which at the age of four he already has a pretty shaky grasp on to begin with. He loses volume control and he'll become aggressive, emotional, and he'll tantrum and cry very easily. There is some kind of physical reaction, because he will break out in little pimples around his mouth and on his bottom. It may not be a true allergy but it's a reaction to be aware of and to prevent, nevertheless.

Which makes holiday celebrations and all of their delicious candy treats really difficult. Everywhere we turn there are more treats, everywhere, from everyone. So many of them, and so many pretty colors! Such a fun treat, until you have a child who reacts to them the way that BooBoo does, and then you look at all those appealing goodies and see poison. Valentines Day, the holiday of red dye #40, the brightest and most toxic of all the food dyes, is the bane of my existence.

But we really enjoy Halloween, and our kids love getting access to the candy bowl, and they really do a good job of limiting their candy intake. I'm very lucky and I don't worry about them sneaking candy when I'm not paying attention, or gorging themselves until they're sick. They're very good about it. We want to let them enjoy their treats since it's pretty rare for us to have candy in the house. So, to make it a win-win situation for everyone, we instituted the Colored Candy Trade-In Event!

The rules are simple. The day after Halloween, we hit the stores. Drug stores, grocery stores, anywhere that sells Halloween candy. There are major discounts on Halloween candy on November 1. The kids get to rummage through the bins and pick out bags of their very favorite treats, with the only rule being that the treats must be dye-free. (Thankfully we don't have issues with things like nuts, dairy, etc. but this could be adapted.) It has to be within reason. I set a price limit. It's amazing how much 50% and 75% off candy you can buy for $20. :)

When we get home the candy gets dumped into a big bowl, and then another big bowl (the trade-in bowl) is set out. The kids rummage through their candy stash and bring me their colored candy, we count it, and I pay out chocolate and other dye-free treats in exchange for all of the brightly colored corn syrupy yumminess. They have an absolute blast, they love filling up their bags with treats that are their most favorites, we fill up a big bag of candy for Papa Bear to bring to work to share, and BooBoo doesn't spiral into food dye induced meltdowns. It's a solution that works well for everyone!

Friday, October 24, 2014

The adventure begins.

This was originally posted on another hosting site on October 15. Since then I've become aggravated with the other hosting service and moved my blog over here to Blogger where I know how to do everything that I need to do and everything works properly, LOL! Enjoy. :)

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We are a brand new homeschooling family.

Well, I'm not brand new to homeschooling. I was homeschooled, from K-12, so the truth is I have a great deal of personal experience. Some aspects of my experience were wonderful, some not so much. We've always planned that once our kids aged out of the K-6 Montessori school we'd switch to independent study, so it's sort of been part of our plan, but this year our son started third grade and for a variety of reasons it just started to feel like now would be the right time to make that transition. And then, once the wheels were set in motion, it happened much faster than I expected it to. The general consensus was that since it was still early in the year it was better to switch him now than to wait, so we made the decision on Friday and we had our first meeting with his new teacher/advisor on Monday morning.

Tuesday (yesterday) was our first official day of independent study work, because we spent most of Monday just getting organized and learning about all of the curriculum and supplies we'd brought home. (I'll explain more in a future post about the wonderful program we're involved with.) It was a rousing success and we were all happy with how the day went. Even our 4 year old had work time with a special packet and then some creative activities. Our third grader was able to be very flexible about what he chose to work on, and he got really interested in the science chapter about alternative energy, so he ended up completing his entire science packet in one shot. 

We're all feeling extremely positive about this new chapter in our lives. The kids are enthusiastic, and yesterday I really felt for the first time in a long time that I had a good handle on things and was doing a great job doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing. It's hard to describe. It felt like by taking the public school schedule out of the equation, I was able to much better manage and meet all the needs of all of my children, without having to compromise one for the other. Nobody needed to delay a nap even though they were crying and exhausted because it was time for school pickup, our oldest was able to do his chores and other things that are required of him without feeling burned out and tired from being at school all day, and our 4 year old was engaged right along with us and felt like he was being homeschooled just as much as his brother!

By now several of my friends have asked me to write about our new adventure, so here it is. This will be a tremendous help for me too, because I'm staying very busy working on really dry and dull things like organizational by-laws and articles of incorporation for a nonprofit organization I'm working to start, so I really need a fun writing outlet. 

Thank you for following along!