September 1, 2015

Project-based Homeschooling: Robotics

Over this past year, my eight-year-old (now nine-year-old!) became increasingly interested in robotics. The first robot he learned about was Jibo because my husband was watching videos about this little gadget that might someday be a standard household item. My husband learned about it through all the tech sites and podcasts he listens to, and he showed it to us because he thought it was cool.

Well, my son had never seen a robot before and suddenly he wanted to know more.

We began to watch YouTube videos about all kinds of robots that have been invented and also those that are still being developed. I found it fascinating too. (Did you know there is a hotel in Japan being run entirely by robots?)

My son was already an avid Lego fan. He has sat for six hours at a stretch putting together what looks like to me a complicated and tedious Lego kit. He has been building toys and other cardboard creations for a very long time, and he does indeed seem to have an “engineer’s mind.” (So unlike his mom and dad!) We wanted to support our son’s interest in robotics, so my husband did some research about robotics kits, and we learned about the Mindstorm EV3 kit and some others. But it was expensive, and we weren’t sure just how interested our son was in robotics yet.

Technically, this was my son’s first robot.

To help gauge our son’s interest, we took him to the 2014 Maker Faire in Decatur, GA last October. We knew he’d get to see some robots up close and maybe play with them too. Indeed, there were lots of robots at the fair, and my son was able to try some out. He had a blast.

While we were at the fair, my husband and I took the opportunity to ask some Georgia Tech students what they recommended for young kids interested in robotics. They mentioned the Lego robotics kits and one other one. Since our son was already familiar with Legos, the Mindstorm kit became a good choice for us. Indeed, many of the robots at the fair were made with Legos!

We also learned about hacker spaces and maker groups while we were at the fair and that there are a couple of these places located near us. This is not something we have tried out yet, but it may be another possibility to try someday.

It was around this time that we discovered the series Making Stuff by Nova and hosted by David Pogue. There are four episodes, and we all enjoyed them, but they enamored my eight-year-old, and he has watched them all multiple times. The episode Making Stuff Wilder is his favorite because it’s about bioengineering. I can see where my son’s love of nature and animals crosses with his love of robotics in this field. The first time we watched it, while they were explaining some robot inspired by nature, my son leaned forward in his seat, pointed at the T.V. and said loudly, “I WANT TO DO THAT!”

Ever since, he has said he wants to be an engineer. He also said once that he doesn’t think he wants to be just an engineer. We have let him know that many bio-engineers spend most of their day inside a building with no windows. It’s something to consider. But engineering is a huge field with many possibilities, and as he develops this and other skills, such as pottery and piano, you never know where his interests will intersect or compliment each other. So we feel it’s our duty to support this interest in whatever way we can for however long it lasts.

We wanted to get him the Mindstorm EV3 for Christmas, but since it was an expensive gift, we asked my in-laws and mother, if they might want to contribute instead of giving him a toy. They did. (Thank you!!!) I think it was certainly a gift that will have a longer shelf life than anything else we could have given him. He has been extremely responsible with the robot, taking care to keep the pieces separate from his other Lego kits, and he was also okay with receiving very little else that holiday.

Though I was worried he might lose interest in it over time, he hasn’t. Over the course of the year, he has built every robot whose instructions came with the software, and he has built a few others developed by Lego fans. He has watched YouTube videos to learn about the programming, and he has experimented with making his own programming for the robots. It’s not something he works on everyday or even every week, but he always goes back to it, and we’ve amassed quite a nice collection of photographs of his work.

My son’s latest robot plays a “Which tire is the ball under?” game with you.

It got to a point when I felt he needed more instruction, and we weren’t finding easy tutorials online anymore. I wanted to get him into a robotics class. Well, I searched in vain for weeks, and I couldn’t find anything closer than Atlanta, which is a bit too far for us to travel for a class. Finally one day my husband sat with me one afternoon and we did all kinds of Google searches. That’s when we found Engineering for Kids of Northeast Georgia. At that time, they didn’t have a robotics class, but we decided their STEM Club would be a good a match for our son, and later I was happy to find out they were doing a robotics summer camp (close to us!). So my son recently attended that, and he was happy to have one of his friends in the camp with him too.

So this is where we are so far with his love of robotics. He just turned nine-years-old, and his interest is still strong and doesn’t seem to be going away. We’ll continue to support it any way we can, and I’ll be sure to let you know how it’s going too.

August 27, 2015

Introducing History for Homeschoolers

{Free Online History Classes}

george & shelli-1

George and me

Note: A similar version of this column was published in the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, August 26, 2016.

Some of you know that my husband is a historian and a history professor. He has been teaching history at the college level for over eighteen years. At first, he was very skeptical about online courses, but his fascination with using technology in education slowly led him in that direction.

For three years he taught both online and face-to-face classes, and for one and a half years, he taught hybrid courses. Those are classes that meet both face-to-face and online. After this, he decided to take the plunge and teach only online. At first he wasn’t sure how he would feel about teaching online full-time, but now that he’s been doing it for over three years, we both realize it was a great move, and he doesn’t regret working from home.

Another benefit is that it’s given him time to develop some good online course material that he can use over and over in his classes. He continues to work on this and make it better. His students seem to like his audio lectures too. Thinking back to my college days, I would have appreciated having a recording of my professor’s lecture so that I could listen and stop it to take notes!

I’ve been telling my husband for a few years that he should write a history book for homeschoolers or offer some kind of resource with his knowledge. There are some popular history curriculums for homeschoolers, but none of them are updated with new research, and all of them have their fair share of negative criticism. There is also a lack of good material for the high school level. This isn’t to say that what is available isn’t worthy at all, but I felt my husband could offer another option.

Finally, with my help, he is putting his audio lectures online for free for anyone who wants to brush up on their history. At present historyforhomeschoolers.com has all his U.S. history audio lectures and several of his world history lectures. He will be adding more world history over the next few months, and after all the lectures are available, he will work on adding key words, links to relevant videos and other reputable resources on the web. The idea is to give parents or anyone who is interested in history a starting point in their journey to explore the past.

What a lot of people do not realize is that there is a difference between writers who write about history, but they are not trained historians and then those who are trained historians and write about history. Sometimes journalists or other writers can actually be better writers, bringing history alive for folks like me who don’t have a natural enthusiasm for the subject. This is good and has its place. But when it comes to choosing reliable sources for the best researched and least biased history (of course, all history texts have some bias), you want to turn to the people who have dedicated their lives to studying the subject.

My husband thinks that any book that sparks curiosity in children and gets them asking questions and wanting to learn more has served its purpose. He hopes that his site can offer another step forward for middle or high school students and adults who want to learn more, and as a homeschooling mom, I’m grateful to have his discerning eye when it comes to choosing the right resources – whether online or otherwise – to teach myself and kids about history. This is something I’m going to keep pestering him to work on because I need it myself, and I know if I can use it, other parents will appreciate it too.

Please take a look at historyforhomeschoolers.com, and I hope you find it useful! We welcome any feedback as we add to the site and try to make it the best it can be. And, yes, it will remain free and ad-free.

August 25, 2015

Our Homeschool End of Year Review and Celebration

Our 2014-2015 “school” year ended in July.

Though I haven’t quite caught up my blog with this past year’s activities (I will be doing that soon), we did finish our 2014-2015 year in July, and since the new school year is starting for so many homeschoolers, traditionally schooled kids, and us, I thought I’d mark the occasion here on my blog.

My end-of-year review and celebration is very simple and informal, and it takes much longer for me to get it all together than for us to celebrate it.

  • First, I write up the boys’ progress reports, which are required by law. I use this blog to help me do that! It’s my main record-keeper.
  • I print out the progress report, a list of books the boys have read this year, and I also print out simple “certificates of completion.” They don’t get report cards, but they can at least see they have accomplished another full year of their education.
  • I put together a slideshow on a dvd of the year’s photos, including vacations and homeschool work, field trips and activities, and we all watch it together. I’ve done this for two years now, and we’ve really enjoyed reviewing our year together. (This year, due to using different software than I have used in the past, it was a hard job. I appreciate my husband stepping in to help me get it done!)
  • I lay out the boy’s portfolios, some of their significant work, any certificates or badges they earned during the year, and we snap a photo, which you can see above.

And there you have it. The end of 2nd grade and pre-K.
Where does the time go?!

We have taken a few weeks in August off so that we can concentrate on birthday celebrations, cleaning up the old projects to make room for the new, organizing the calendar for our new school year, getting the new curriculum ready, and, of course, having fun and relaxing.

I’ll be starting our new year very soon, and we are adding quite a lot of work this year since my oldest is turning nine and going into the third grade, and my (gulp!) six-year-old is starting his FIRST OFFICIAL YEAR OF HOMESCHOOLING! In Georgia, we don’t have to report we are homeschooling until our child turns six-year-old. Now I have two official homeschoolers, and I’m very excited to see what this year brings us!

Note: To see the forms I use for record-keeping, the progress report, or to use the same certificate, see my free printables page.

August 23, 2015

Greenville County Museum of Art

On one spontaneous morning, we decided to drive to Greenville, South Carolina and visit their Children’s Museum. We didn’t know much about Greenville at the time or how much we’d love it. (We’re definitely going back!) Right next to the Children’s Museum was the county’s art museum, and it was open one hour later than the children’s museum. It was also free admission. How could we not go in?!

We all enjoyed the Children’s Museum, but the Greenville Country Museum of Art was the most memorable part of the trip for my husband and me. It was a beautiful, small museum, and it happened to have the biggest collection of artwork by Andrew Wyeth in the country. I fell in love with his work, and I’m planning to read some books about him. (He was homeschooled!) He is one of the most well-known artists of our time, so you have probably seen some of his work even if you are not familiar with his name.

This museum also let me take photographs of their permanent collection, but I’m not going to post many because I’m not sure they’d like that. My boys really enjoyed this sculpture of the hawks killing a snake, though. Most of the other artwork was paintings on the wall. I will share these little quotes they posted on the wall next to some work by Jasper Johns because I had to agree with him.

This happens to me all the time!

 

August 20, 2015

Art field trip to GMOA again

Before looking at the artwork inside, my boys burned off some energy in the art museum’s courtyard. (We would never allow them to run inside!)

Early in the summer, I surprised the boys one Friday morning by saying that for Art Friday, we were going to our local art museum, the Georgia Museum of Art, which is located on the University of Georgia’s campus. I already wrote a detailed column about this museum, so check that, if you want to know more about it.

What I love about this museum is that it’s free admission (although you have to pay a little for parking), and they let you take photographs of their permanent collection. (Be sure to check rules about photography in any museum you visit.)

My husband I really loved Jay Robinson’s work here.

Except for this one photo, I’m not going to post any of the other photos because I’m not sure they’d want me to post them on Internet. What I do when we’re at a museum is tell my boys that I’ll take a photograph of their favorite pieces. And my plan is to look at them again when we’re at home and learn more about that artist, but we haven’t done that yet (ahem!).

I did take a photo of a piece of artwork by Georgia O’Keefe at this museum, however, and one day at home we read a book I have about her, and we looked at more of her artwork online. But that was my choice.

Both my boys can get tired in an art museum much faster than my husband and me. But I consider it lucky that they remain interested for any amount of time, and I know that by starting young, they will learn how to behave and will learn more about art too. My eight-year-old remains interested much longer than his younger brother. In fact, I think he likes looking at everything. He just wants to go at a faster pace and than my husband and me. He’s good about being patient, though.

As for my five-year-old, he might say he doesn’t like the art, but he’ll pick a dozen paintings that he does like and ask me to take pictures of them. He also loves the benches.

August 17, 2015

Art Lessons + Math

If you read Our Summer Homeschooling Plans, you’ll know I wanted to concentrate on math this summer. I also wanted to keep up with art, and I’m happy to say we did this, and we even got to visit some art museums, which I’ll post about later.

Because of my plan to work on math, I was so happy that my go-to art resource had an issue about art and math. If you haven’t checked out Amy Hood’s e-zine, Art Together, I urge you to look at them. They aren’t expensive, but Amy worked hard at filling them with easy ways to include art into your life. Of course, you have to set time aside and be intentional about this, which is why almost every Friday is art day in my house.

So here’s a little of what we did on various Fridays, using Amy’s Issue 6: Math + Art.

distorted shapes

the five-year-old did this one

Then he took the triangle I made and did something different, which is always okay.

I was the only one that did the paper weaving, although the five-year-old decided to do his own version of it. I don’t require either of my boys to do the art lessons because I think art should be voluntary and fun. If they see the possibilities through what I do, I know they have still learned something.

The best lesson was on the Fibonacci sequence. The eight-year-old loved this, and we watched videos about the Fibonacci sequence to supplement the learning.

Then my son came up with the idea to measure popsicle sticks with Fibonacci numbers and make a little sculpture with it.

Exploring mandalas. This also made a nice lesson on different cultures as mandalas are used in various religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism and American Native American cultures too. Google “mandala” and you’ll find many beautiful images and designs.

See how fun math can be?!

August 13, 2015

Day Trip to Greenville’s Children’s Museum

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, August 12, 2015.

We are having a short “staycation” of sorts while my husband has some time off from work. In order to make the best of it, we thought we’d explore some places we have never been to before, and since it’s too hot to do anything outside, we searched for indoor locations that might be fun. The first place we headed to was Greenville, South Carolina’s Children’s Museum of the Upstate. The drive took about three hours, but it was beautiful, and we were able to see various small towns along the way, including the quaint Anderson, SC.

Once we got to the Children’s Museum of the Upstate in Greenville, my boys had a blast. The museum is 80,000 square feet with three floors and 18 interactive exhibits. The first one I found that I liked was the air tunnel. After coming in from the heat, that felt good! But my five-year-old’s favorite was called “3-2-1 Blast Off,” which consisted of a series of tubes with air blowing through them, and when he put a ball into it, he could watch the ball whoosh through all the tubes and then come back out through another tube. We had to visit that one twice. He also loved climbing on the multi-story climbing structure in the middle of the building, and he did that all by himself since his brother wasn’t interested.

My eight-year-old says he liked the race car driving simulator and the Reedy River Bend – the water exhibit – the best. He liked being able to move some pipes around in the water exhibit so that he could manipulate where the water flowed. My five-year-old loved putting his hands in the water fountains and waterfalls, turning wheels and even going under the water and coming up inside a big, plastic bubble.

Anyone from my generation could probably appreciate the gigantic Lite-Brite, which they called Light Waves Ahead. Remember that toy where you could make pictures by placing different colored pegs on a light board? My five-year-old sorted all the pegs into different colors and made a pretty cool hexagon.

My boys also enjoyed the music room, which was called Garage Rock. They were able to play music on instruments made out of tools, plastic pipe, pinball machines and other fun materials. We spent so long in our favorite places that we didn’t even try out all the exhibits, such as the construction zone, the grocery store, hospital, or the T.V. studio where children can produce their own show from beginning to end and then watch it.

What we didn’t know when we ventured to Greenville was how beautiful that city is or that it’s such a mecca for the arts. The Children’s Museum is located on the Heritage Green, which also boasts the Greenville County Library, Museum of Art, Little Theatre, Museum and Gallery at Bob Jones University, and the Upcountry History Museum. You can learn more about each of these at http://www.heritagegreen.org

Since the Greenville County Museum of Art was right next to the Children’s Museum, and the admission was free, we popped in there for an hour before it closed. It has the largest collection of Andrew Wyeth’s paintings in the country, and my husband and I loved his work. The boys found paintings they enjoyed too, as well as a stunning sculpture of two hawks fighting over their prey in mid-air. It was so life-like we first thought the birds were real ones that had been stuffed.

Downtown Greenville was big, but not so big that it didn’t have that small-town charm. It was full of restaurants, shops, art galleries, and theatres. There are also attractions for those who love sports and the outdoors. We are planning to go back to Greenville sometime and explore this lovely city further.

Admission to the Children’s museum was $10 for adults and $9 for children ages 1 – 15. The website is http://www.tcmupstate.org.

August 11, 2015

Civil War Badge

This summer both my boys earned a Civil War Badge from the Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites. The badge was offered temporarily as a way to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the end of the war, and, unfortunately, it’s not being offered anymore. It’s a shame because it was a great way for my boys to pay a little more attention to the historic sites. We haven’t formally studied the Civil War yet, but my son has had a nice introduction through this activity as well as conversations with us.

There were a lot of activities listed that they could do in order to get the badge, and for their age range, they only had to pick four of them. We picked the following four:

  • visit a historical marker that mentioned the Civil War: These are all over the place, so it was easy to find one near our home.
  • visit some civil war soldiers graves: This was also easy for us because every Memorial Day, we visit one of the cemeteries where my ancestors are buried because that was a tradition in my husband’s family. We picked Oconee Hill Cemetery where my grandmother, great-grandmother, great-grandfather and extended family is buried, and this time, we also roamed the older section of the cemetery which is very historical, and we found many Civil War soldiers buried there, including a section with unknown soldiers.
  • listen to popular songs from the Civil War era: I did better than that. I had my boys listen to both Dixie and The Battle Hymn of the Republic, and we watched YouTube videos about the history and significance of the songs.
  • watch one segment of Ken Burns’ The Civil War: That was a cinch too because this documentary is on Netflix. It was a little heady for my young boys, but I was surprised that my eight-year-old found some interest in it. This shows me he’s almost ready to venture into studying history, which hasn’t been a big interest of his.

We have learned about the Civil War in other ways too, but nothing too formal, and this is what we did for the badge. I’m grateful for the Parks and Historic Sites for sending my five-year-old son a badge too even though that was not a recommended age for the badge. Although he might not have understood everything as well as his big brother, he was right there doing all the activities too, and I do feel he deserved it.

Both my boys had fun earning the badge, and I found it a good motivator to get them thinking about history. :)

 

 

August 6, 2015

Project-based Homeschooling: My five-year-old’s Grocery Store

INK Museum’s pretend grocery store

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to take my five-year-old to the Interactive Neighborhood for Kids, or INK Museum, in Gainesville a few times. It was fun going there with him without his brother (who was attending a class next door). We also had the opportunity to meet a friend of his there a few times too, so that was extra fun.

It’s important for my youngest child to get to do some things without his brother because big brother can certainly influence him. Sometimes this good, but sometimes, it isn’t. For example, when my oldest was this age, he did not care a flip about playing make-believe in INK’s exhibits. Instead, he was more interested in the trains, airplane, musical instruments and building supplies. However, his younger brother liked all that and the opportunity play pretend, although he was very specific about where he wanted to play pretend. Mostly, it was in the grocery store.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. He is a great help to me and his dad at the real grocery store! He wanted to shop twice, and I think he would have been content to stay in the store, if I had not reminded him we had a short time to see the whole museum.

After going to INK a few times and seeing how much he enjoyed the grocery store, I asked him if he’d like to make a grocery store in his room, and he was thrilled about that! So we worked on this for awhile, saving some recyclables and adding to the store whenever we could. He got a little carried away, and eventually I had to tell him he had enough groceries!

We also have a toy cash register, which isn’t in the photos. I had some baskets that I gave to my son in lieu of shopping carts. He also wanted to make some shopping carts, and we worked hard on that one day. We never finished because after trying out different supplies, we couldn’t figure out how to make the wheels work. But we may try again, if my son wants to.

We added more groceries (recyclables) over time. Now those shelves are full!

Big brother mans the pizza parlor in the grocery store. Later we wrote all the pizza specials on that big easel.

We played grocery store a few times, and our friends enjoy playing in it when they came over. Now it’s a little messy and neglected. But I’m sure we’ll clean it up and play again. :)

August 1, 2015

In the Heat of Summer

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on July 29, 2015.

I don’t know about you, but it’s always around late July that I start looking forward to fall weather. It’s so hot and humid that whenever I muster enough motivation to go outside, I feel like I’m walking through soup. That takes the fun out of being outside.

It’s also this time of year that our garden suffers the most. Even with all the rain that Georgia has been getting, we seem to live in a dry bubble, and though we water every evening, the plants are starting to play dead. Certainly there are other things I could do to help the garden, but lack of time and the heat makes that a small priority.

If I had my way, I think I would just read all summer. Right now I’m reading Memoirs of a Keisha. It’s been on my bookshelf for only fifteen years, and I’m so glad I’m getting around to reading it. Most evenings I’m staying up past my bedtime because I can’t put it down, which means during the day I’m kind of sluggish, but I can also blame that on the heat, right?

I wonder what my boys might think about someday when they look back on their summers of youth. My guess might be gardening, however pitiful of a garden it might be, playing with their water squirt toys, listening to the loud cacophony of frogs out their bedroom windows at night, fresh fruit (my eight-year-old loves fruit), and summer camps.

Summer means camps. My eight-year-old has been going to day camps for several years now, and he loves them. He gets to pick whichever two camps he’d like to attend, and so far, one of the camps at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia is always a must. They run some great programs out there. Last year the one he attended was about water and water animals. This year it was about Georgia critters.

He also picked a robotics camp run by Engineering for Kids in Northeast Georgia. The camp was held last week at the Sims Academy of Technology and Innovation – what a wonderful facility. My son had a great time in the camp and seemed to learn a lot, especially since one of his friends also attended the camp.

Though we couldn’t afford more than two camps for him this year, he has also picked a pottery camp at Good Dirt Studios in Athens before, and those are excellent camps as well. He told me the other day that next year he wants a pottery camp again.

My five-year-old attended his very first camp this year, so that was extra special. Since he loves art, we picked the art and music camp at the botanical garden for him. He told me he was scared of attending camp but also a little excited. After the first day, however, those fears melted away, and he wanted to go everyday. He even participated in a performance with the other kids on the very last day.

Now that camps are over, it is time to think about bringing this “school” year to a close. I always celebrate that by showing the boys a slideshow of what they did during the year. I’m also busy at work planning for next year’s curriculum, and now that my eldest will be in the third grade, we are going to have a lot to do. We’re transitioning to a higher level of learning and that is exciting, though a little nerve-wracking, for me.

But we still have August to swelter in, and I have a couple of birthdays to plan too. Time is moving very swiftly, and while I wish it would slow down, I wouldn’t mind that cooler weather getting here a little faster.

What are your summers filled with?

###

P.S. In the coming weeks, I’m going to try to wrap up some of our homeschooling activities for the year on the blog as this is one of the mediums I use for record-keeping. So look out for some posts about robotics, our history timeline, a make-believe grocery store, and more.

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