Posts tagged ‘first grade’

March 22, 2014

Homeschooling: 1st Grade Art Explorations

When it comes to art, I’m extremely grateful that we’re homeschooling. This may not make me popular, but I have to admit that “crafts” make me cringe.  I rarely look at Pinterest because it makes my head swirl in a bad way.

Don’t take me wrong – I don’t think crafts are bad.  In fact, my kids love them just like most children love them.  My son loves them so much that he likes to look up crafts when he has something in mind he wants to make – I don’t mind that at all. It’s his idea after all, and he’s choosing which craft idea to follow.

I have on occasion (maybe twice?) looked up a specific craft, usually for a holiday like Native American Day. I wanted to teach my son a little bit about Native Americans, and I thought he would enjoy making a “totem pole,” which he did. I have also used crafts and specific art lessons for other reasons, which I’ll explain below.

In general, I don’t like the “Here kids…let’s all make this.” I would much rather give my kids a bunch of paint and paper and let them have fun with it. Let them explore. Experiment. Be creative and come up with their own ideas…not someone else’s idea. If they make a mess, that’s fine with me. (This is one of the reasons that Project-based Homeschooling appealed to me so much. It’s an important tenet in this educational philosophy.)

We are not just bound to paint and paper either. I’ve written about all the supplies I keep on hand, and you can find that here. Also, The Power of Time and Materials is one of my popular posts on this subject.

I realize that most art teachers and facilitators of craft projects would also want exactly what I want… to let these projects lead to the child’s own exploration of art. Get the children excited about creating and making things…. Yes! Exactly. If crafts are used in that way, I think it’s a great idea. But I think they can be over-used, and if the facilitator tries to prevent the child from veering off in another direction (maybe making the craft into something entirely different), that’s bad.

Try putting some art supplies in front of a bunch of children and telling them to have fun. Can they get started on their own? Or do they look at you, helpless because they need instructions? It all depends on how much freedom, time, and materials the children have been given!

I’ve created a room in my house where all our art and craft supplies are accessible to my kids, and at any time, they can say, “I want to paint,” and they can do it. I’ve taught them how to be careful – I usually help them get the paints out, and I have laid down some ground rules such as “the paint stays on the table.” Likewise, I have taught (and I’m still teaching) my kids how to hold the scissors and how to clean up after they are finished.

I’m really happy that by doing this, I’ve fostered some very creative kids. They don’t “create” everyday or even every week, but when I look over all the photographs I’ve taken of their artwork and building projects, I know we’re off to a good start. (And I have a bunch of little child-led projects that I need to blog about. In good time!)

This year my oldest son is in “1st grade,” and I want him to learn more about art. By that I mean formal art – about artists and their techniques. We don’t have time for formal art lessons on a regular basis, but this is a subject that we’ll be building on during his entire education, so that’s okay. And if it becomes an interest of one of my children, we’ll definitely make more time for it.

It’s also important in project-based homeschooling to teach your student how to use tools, different mediums and introduce them to different experiences, so that’s exactly what I’m doing here too. And yes, sometimes it includes a ‘craft.’ See? I don’t think they are all that bad.

I’m going to write about our art lessons in separate posts, but below I’m listing the resources I’ve used and plan to use as we continue our life-long exploration of Art.

  • Discovering Great Artists: Hands-On Art for Children in the Styles of the Great Masters by Mary Ann F. Kohl and Kim Solga – I use the Kindle version of this book, and I like it.  There are lessons and activities about artists starting from the Renaissance and until present time. We have skipped some of them, finding activities that I think my boys would enjoy. (And finding the ones with easy on-hand materials too.) The lessons are simple and short, which is a good fit for my very young children. (This book also has an excellent list of art resources; it’s worth the price just for that!)
    • My main goal with these art lessons is exposing my son to great art. I don’t think he’ll remember the artist’s names (I don’t) or the tidbits about their lives, but it’s a good starting-off place. This book does not contain photographs of the artwork by these artists. I have to look them up online, but I think my seven-year-old and I like that the best: just skimming through some images and seeing something new and interesting. (My four-year-old usually likes doing the art projects, but he doesn’t give a hoot about looking at the art yet.) So far we have studied:
  • Right now my favorite resource for art instruction is Amy Hood’s e-zine {Art Together}. So far Amy has written three magazines, and I’ve purchased them all. They are full of information, activities and encouragement for making art with your children! I have picked activities out of the magazine that I knew my boys would enjoy now, but there’s information in there for deeper study, so I know I’ll be able to return to them in the future. My seven-year-old has enjoyed reading parts of the magazine with me too. My four-year-old just likes to try his hand at the art making. I have not yet had the chance to read her latest e-zine on printmaking (I just purchased it!), but I have read and done these activities from the first two:
    • Making a Color Wheel inspired by {Art Together} Issue One: Color (and I also referred to her very good blog post on the same subject, Make A Simple Color Wheel)
    • Line Art inspired by {Art Together} Issue Two: Line (and I have a great story to go along with this one.)

(I will follow-up with posts about these art lessons and add links as they go up on my blog.)

Future Art Studies

Here are some things I have in mind for future art studies.

  • Oxford First Book of Art – I found this great little introductory book used on Amazon for under $7. Perhaps I need to lay it on the kitchen table and just let the kids discover it! It has some beautiful images of famous artist’s work. It also has some activities and commentary.
  • Museums – My boys are going to have to get a little older (UPDATE: We did take them to a museum!), but I look forward to taking them to some nearby art museums such as the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens. I know the High Museum has Homeschool Days, and the Georgia Museum of Art has some great kid’s programs too. I just haven’t looked at them closely enough yet.
  • And I can’t help but give a plug for home / school / life magazine. (Disclaimer: I’m the senior editor!) We will be offering art resources in this magazine, particularly Amy Hood’s regular Art Start column.
February 3, 2014

Finished 100 Easy Lessons!

(We had a rare snow day here last week!)

Just an update here to celebrate that the seven-year-old finished all the lessons in Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. I’m really proud of him, and I can sense that he’s become more confident and has a different feeling toward learning how to read. Though sitting down to do his lessons is not his favorite thing to do, I think he’s excited to gradually be able to comprehend the written word.

Not much but a little…I have noticed him reading on his own without being asked to.  Once he sat down with me at my computer as I was writing my column, and he read a sentence that I had written!

So where do we go from here?

Well, Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons has a list of books that they recommend starting with, and they offer a word list to go over with the child before they attempt read it. The first few books, I have discovered, are so easy that I’m skipping some of them, but I’ve ordered some of the others from the interlibrary loan system.

While we wait for those, I’m also using something else:

I inherited a Hooked On Phonics set from my aunt who is a retired elementary teacher. She had passed it on to her sister when she retired in case she wanted to use it with her grandchildren, and she never did, so that aunt asked me if I wanted it. Though I’ve heard some criticism of Hooked On Phonics, I never pass on something that is free, so I took it. It’s a huge set, and as soon as I laid my eyes on it, I thought it was too intimidating, and I probably wouldn’t use it. But my son walked into my room as I was looking through it. There are workbooks, tapes, etc. that I will probably never use. (But never say never!)  Then there are these single-page, folded workbooks with just a small piece of fiction or non-fiction on them and some comprehension questions. There must be a thousand of them, and they go from 1st grade level up to college level reading!

Though I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it, I told my son I was probably going to give the set away. My son wanted to see it. (Maybe the fact that I said I was going to give it away made it more inviting?!) He wanted to see those single-page workbooks, and I said casually, “You wanna try to read these?” He tried reading the first one, and he read it just fine. He said after we finished 100 Lessons, he wouldn’t mind working on these. Who woulda thought?

So that’s what we’re going to do. We’re just going read these little passages (that get bigger as the level gets higher). Before he reads them, I have been typing up a list of words that I think may be hard for him, and we go over them.  Armed with those words, he’s been able to read the passages very well, and they make a short and sweet lesson.

At some point he may get bored with these, but I’m hoping by then, he’ll be well on his way into reading books of his own choice.

(I know my aunt is probably reading this, so THANK YOU FOR THE HOOKED ON PHONICS SET!)

January 30, 2014

Legos

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, January 29, 2014.

Legos is all the rage in our house right now. My seven-year-old is happiest when he is at his table putting some kind of Lego kit together. He doesn’t have very many of them, but I have a feeling we’ll be collecting more of them. I don’t mind.

The first time he wanted to try building with Legos was after he watched one of his friends do it, so last year we got him a helicopter-airplane-boat kit. He can only make one of those at a time, so it’s a lot of fun for him to make one, keep it a few weeks, and then he can take it apart and build another one.

This Christmas he got two new sets. The first one he had been asking for because his friend has one. It’s called the Warp Stinger, but it looks like some kind of mosquito to me. The second one was a complete surprise and came from grandma. It’s a coast guard ship. He loves both of them.

I don’t know why people say children have short attention spans. My son will sit at the table straining his neck and shoulders to put these kits together, and even when I try to get him stop for a break, he wants to keep going like some workaholic. If only he approached his reading lessons with the same spirit! I’m happy he likes Legos, though, because it is a very educational toy.

Any kind of blocks is educational because it’s an open-ended toy that gets a child’s creative mind going. As small children they build motor skills and begin to realize that they can create things in three dimensions. Blocks can be used to learn how to sort and how to learn about patterns. Legos can be used to teach about engineering and technology, and there are even Lego robotic teams that compete in national competitions.

The educational benefits go on and on. The Lego company has a whole division dedicated to getting Legos into the classroom, and they offer lots of instructional materials on their website too. (See https://education.lego.com)

I like them because they keep my boys busy. My seven-year-old will spend a long time putting one of his kits together, and he rarely needs me to help him. Sometimes I wish he would create something original instead of using the kits, but I find it amazing that he’s able to follow those instructions and put 300 of those tiny pieces together. I would never have the patience to do that.

My four-year-old is not old enough for the kits, but he has a big bin of Legos that he likes to play with. He likes to cover a baseboard with the Legos, or either he’ll build a “city.” He especially likes it when Mama will help him, and I have to say that there’s something relaxing about building with Legos. It’s not one of those toys that are fun for kids but mind numbing for adults. Legos are fun.

Recently I was surprised to find out that you can build almost anything with Legos when I stumbled on the website of an artist named Nathan Sawaya. He has several exhibitions that have toured North America, Asia and Australia. He uses Lego bricks to build sculptures of people, objects and even a red tail hawk. He has turned this simple toy into works of art.  Check out his website at brickartist.com.

Hmmm… Maybe next time I feel the urge to get creative, I’ll go for the Lego bin instead of the paper and paints.

Please share Lego creations from your house!

January 25, 2014

Teaching Children About Money

The Math and the Responsibility

When it comes to teaching my son about money, both the math side and the responsible spending side, it seems logical to me that the only way he’ll learn is to use real money. And learning how to count money is very motivating when you are counting your own money!

Teaching Math with Real Money

For math, we’ve done a variety of things. As I mentioned in my 1st grade math post, I have used some workbooks to teach math, and in the past, I’ve used storybooks and even my own stories to teach about math too. (This is something I will continue to do!) For teaching about money & coins, I’ve also done the following:

  • When my son was first learning his coins, I pulled out a piggy bank of loose change, and we sorted them into piles and rolled them into paper wraps.
  • We also have a fantastic little toy cash register. It comes with pretend money, but we can also use real money with it! The boys love playing “store.”
  • For a Christmas present one year, my brother’s family gathered “Coins of America” collectible quarters and sent them to my boys with some storage folders. The boys had a lot of fun putting the quarters into the folder and learning about each state in the process! (A good geography lesson too.)

Teaching Financial Responsibility

To begin the long process of teaching my sons about financial responsibility, the first thing my husband and I have done has been to talk honestly and straightforward about money. We let them know how much things cost. We let them know our house, our cars and food all cost money, and that’s why we have to work.  A great byproduct of homeschooling is that because the boys are home all day, they see firsthand what it takes to care for a home, and they go shopping with us too.  We discuss what we can and cannot afford to buy, and we talk about how we sacrifice some things in order for me to stay home with them full-time and homeschool.

Note: We don’t pound this into their heads. It’s simply a matter of mentioning it once in a while when a question or issue comes up.

Second, I have a little pouch for each of my boys with their names on it. Whenever they are given a little birthday or Christmas cash, they keep the money in the pouch, and they are allowed to spend it on what they want. (My four-year-old doesn’t understand this as well as his big brother.) My only rule is that once they see something they want, they wait one week to buy it. (I thank Lori Pickert for giving me this idea.)

I was afraid that when I began doing this, my seven-year-old would want the first toy he saw in every store. (He was six when I started this.) But he has impressed me by not doing that. He spends his money, and he hasn’t saved much, but he’s thoughtful about his purchases, and he doesn’t want “just anything.” He doesn’t spend all his money in one place. He’s always willing to wait a week too. So far, he has not changed his mind during that week, but I do think over time, it will teach him how not to be an impulsive shopper…. He’ll understand that the product will still be there, if he wants to wait a while.

I’m also hoping that over time, he’ll begin to see a pattern like this: I really wanted that horseshoe crab when I bought it, but now I rarely play with it. (This is something I plan on pointing out to him on occasion too.)  I’m also starting a spreadsheet that will show how they spent their money, and how much they would have had, if they had saved it.

I think having freedom to make his own decisions with his own money is important, and except for asking him to wait, we’ve let him decide what to do with it.

With a few exceptions, we do not buy him toys other than on Christmas and his birthday. Since he has his own money, we let him buy something, if he wants it.

I should also note that we do not give allowances. Housework is something everybody is expected to do. To earn money, however, I have told the boys that they can do extra work that is beyond our regular cleaning routine. For example, I’ve told them they can help clean the walls and base boards for money, and they have done this on occasion….not very well, but that’s not the point to me. (I might give them $1-2 for this, depending on the amount of effort expended.)

Only time will tell if this teaches them to be responsible with their money, but I think it will help. Ultimately, I think children learn from their parent’s behavior regarding money, and if the parents are responsible, the children probably will be too. Modeling good behavior, conversation and real-world experience go hand in hand.

Please share your advice for teaching kids about money in the comments section!

January 18, 2014

1st Grade Homeschool Math

Read these posts to see how we’ve made it this far in math:

I’m a firm believer that you need to find whatever works for you and your child. Don’t be scared to try different things until you find what works!

Last year we completed through Chapter 13 (out of 19) in Life of Fred: Cats, which is the third book in that series.  My son loves Life of Fred. It is story-based, quirky, and you can access the link to my review of it above.  Using it as a guide, I found other ways to practice the math concepts he was learning in that book. But by Chapter 13, it just got too hard for him, so I stopped.

Part of the reason the book got hard was not because of the math. Because Life of Fred is a story, the author brings in anecdotes about other things, which is interesting and educational, but for my six-year-old last year, it went over his head.

I didn’t think he was ready to continue it this year either, so I have been reviewing math concepts with him.  To begin with, we didn’t use anything too exciting. I had some workbooks, so I used those:

I don’t like making my son do a lot of worksheets or workbooks, but in math, it has been necessary in order to hone in on important concepts and help him not forget what he has learned.

All of the concepts he has learned up until now, he’s very good at. He’s especially good at counting coins and telling time! He does well with place value too. He can add and subtract well but he doesn’t have his addition and subtraction facts memorized. I’m not going to worry about that yet.  I’ve noticed that something has “clicked” for him this past year in math (and reading). I think for some children, age seven must be when things come together.

Note: We do math lessons twice a week. Doing more than that has not given me better results, and I think doing more formal lessons would make him hate math. Right now he doesn’t mind it because of the slow approach I’ve taken as well as finding fun ways to learn it. As he gets older, we’ll continue to reassess what his needs will be.

I am planning to continue in Life of Fred again, but I may wait a little while. I have found an app for our iPad that my son and I both like very much, and he’s getting a lot of good practice with it. I like it because it keeps track of what my son is doing, how he is doing, and it automatically goes to the higher level when he has completed a lower level.

  • The app is Splash Math for Grade 1. It costs $9.99, which is much more than I usually pay for an app, but it has been well worth it.

Splash Math is a lot like doing a workbook, but it’s on the iPad. My son likes it much more than doing a workbook, and that’s okay with me. Unlike other apps, I consider this one our “math lesson,” so I sit with him as he works through the problems. Sometimes he needs help reading the word problems. I have also taught him “greater than” “less than” by using this app.

I also like that I can turn concepts on and off. If they are off, they won’t be included in my son’s practice. For example, I can turn off questions about “data and graphs” until I’m ready to teach it to my son. I have found that by sitting with him while he works through the questions, if he comes to something he doesn’t understand, I can explain it to him or do one problem for him, and from then on, he gets it.

My son likes it because he gets rewarded with an “aquarium,” and he gets something new for the aquarium periodically, such as a fish or crab, as he earns more points. The graphics don’t thrill me, and I don’t care for the anvil that you can drop on a crab’s head, but he likes the app, he’s practicing math, and that’s all that matters.

Sum Swamp game is great for practicing early math skills. The little container of vehicles does not come with it, but that’s how my four-year-old plays with it.

My boys’ favorite way to learn math is by playing Sum Swamp. I can’t recommend this game enough. We play it a lot (not just for math lessons). I bought it so that the seven-year-old could practice addition and subtraction, but it has been a great way to introduce the four-year-old to math, and he loves this game. He asks me to play it with him, and he will even play it by himself! (He uses manipulatives to add and subtract. The seven-year-old doesn’t need them.) It’s even fun for me!

Sum Swamp teaches addition, subtraction, the operation symbols + and -, even/odd numbers, and how to be a gracious winner and not a sore loser! Although we’re still working on those last two!

In my next post, I’ll be addressing how I’ve taught my son about money – both how to count it and financial responsibility. (Click here for that.)

That is it for first grade math. Please tell me what resources you have enjoyed using!

January 13, 2014

1st Grade Homeschool Reading

See my previous post, review and photographs of Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy LessonsNo matter what reading program you use, I hope my experience shows you that it’s okay and beneficial to tweak it to meet your child’s needs. And sometimes trying something new helps too.

100 Lessons 2

At the beginning of this year, I decided to start again with Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. I had started that book when my son was a young five-year-old, and he did very well in it up to Lesson 50. You can read about that in my review of that book.

Last year, I had him practice reading with a variety of resources, which you can read about in Homeschooling Reading and Language Arts for Kindergarten / 1st Grade. He was not interested in reading, and even now, it’s not his thing. He loves to be read to, but he doesn’t volunteer to read anything on his own. I decided not to worry about this because I felt reading would “click” for him when his brain was ready for it. (And I’m so grateful we are homeschooling because of this.)

But this year he is seven, and I think it’s important to try to establish those reading skills. I know there’s a lot of debate about letting children read when they are ready, etc., but I’ve decided to take the middle road and while not pushing him beyond his level, I was going to make sure he continued to practice and hopefully progress.

This is why I wanted to use 100 Easy Lessons again. If he could do that, I knew he’d be progressing slowly with each lesson. Two years ago we stopped at Lesson 70, but I decided we’d start back at Lesson 50, which is where the book got hard for my son at that time.

He did not want to do Easy Lessons again, but I told him that I thought he would find them much easier than he did two years ago, and I was right. He was relieved, and I was very relieved! He said he didn’t like doing the lessons, but when he is reading, he seems to enjoy the silly stories, and it isn’t hard getting him to do the lessons.

This is a significant contrast from two years ago, and it confirms my suspicions – If he balks at a lesson, or stares off into space, or fidgets, or acts silly, or slumps out of his chair, then the lessons are too hard for him. If he complains but still does it without a lot of coaxing, then we’re doing just fine.

So we’ve continued to do the lessons, and he has been reading the stories very well! He is reading fairly smoothly, and I’m very proud of him.

Hitting a Snag

At about Lesson 76, my son started to do some of those things I just mentioned: balking, slumping, staring off into space. But just the day before he did fine! There was not much difference between these two lessons, so what happened?

Without much thought, I stopped the lesson and I went to speak to my husband. Later I regretted speaking to him because I thought I reacted too quickly, but it turned out to be a good thing.

I think what I wanted when I talked to my husband was for him to agree that I needed to back off on the lessons. I thought, he’s balking, and I don’t want to push him. He doesn’t like reading, and maybe I’m ruining his potential love of reading. Maybe I need a new strategy.

Well, typical of a man – my husband couldn’t just listen, he wanted to solve the problem.

He thought our son needed to just practice more, memorize words and pick out books he would be more interested in reading. I didn’t argue with that, but when they got home from the library, and I saw the books my son picked out, I panicked. They were way above his level! I thought this had the potential of really discouraging him. But I didn’t say anything because my son was excited about reading those books, and he wanted to read them with his dad.

My ego was a little hurt too, but I’m glad I kept my mouth shut.

My husband started to sit down with my son whenever he could and have him read from those books. He was very patient with my son, and he only made him read 2-3 paragraphs. Some of the words were really hard, and he didn’t make my son read those. My husband made lists of words and made my son write them each three times. (Not my son’s idea of fun, but he has done it.)

In all, those lessons with dad have not been a bad thing, and it’s exposing him to some new words.  I hope it continues to help him and not discourage him.

We also decided I would continue to do 100 Easy Lessons with my son.  I realized what my son disliked the most about this book was having to read the story twice. I already had stopped making him read the vocabulary words twice (because I forgot I was supposed to do this – I’m not reading the script verbatim.)

Without reading everything twice, the lessons go much faster, and he’s doing fine.  No balking or sulking! I’m impressed with how smoothly he’s been reading the text because it’s getting harder!

Luckily the stories in 100 Lessons got a little better right when I needed them to. At Lesson 79, they started to have Part 1 & Part 2, so you have to read the next lesson to see what happens.

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons says that once a student finishes this book, they will be at a second grade reading level. I have no doubt we will finish 100 Easy Lessons this year – we are at Lesson 92 now – so I’m happy that my son is right where he should be!

A few other notes about how I do Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons:

  • I don’t worry about doing a lesson everyday as the books suggests. We do them four days a week.
  • In the beginning it was helpful to read the script, but now that my son knows the routine, it seems silly. I skim over it to see if anything new is coming up, and then I just point to the words and let him read.
  • I don’t make him read the words or story twice.
  • I have found that it helps him if I point to the words with a pencil.
  • There is absolutely no need for us to go over the lessons on the names of the letters because my son learned that when he was two!
  • I don’t read the comprehension questions in the book anymore. Instead I ask my own questions and talk about the passage with my son. It’s much more engaging for him.
  • I don’t make my son do the handwriting practice at the end of the lesson anymore.

Basically, I have tailored this book to my son’s current needs. It works very well that way! No matter what program you are using for teaching a child to read, I would recommend following your instincts and make it work for your child’s needs.

Please share your experiences teaching reading to your children. What resources do you use?

January 11, 2014

First Grade Homeschool Priorities

Homeschooling is exciting to me. I can think of a hundred different things I want to introduce to my children, and then I get frustrated that we don’t have time to do it all. There’s simply no way around that. However, when I lay out my priorities, I see that we are achieving quite a few of the most important ones. That is an achievement, and I know I should consider anything else icing on the cake.

I promised a post about our priorities for this year a long time ago, and it’s taken me a while to gather my thoughts about that, but finally, here it is. I struggled with this post because my priorities for my boys have not changed from when they were five and two years old. I wondered if there was any point in writing a new post. Briefly, this is what I wrote two years ago:

As I look back at this list, I’m happy to realize how over two years I have been able to keep these a priority! I emphasize over two years because it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture on those bad or lazy days!  So allow me to boast a little bit:

  • Imagination/Play/Motion – My boys play, move, and use their imaginations everyday!  They create things and come up with their own crafts, and they have plenty of time for playing make-believe too. There are days I don’t think I’m accomplishing anything, but it is on those days my boys have more freedom to create and play. I know that setting up an environment where they are free to do this has been a huge help in achieving this goal.
  • Literature – We read lots of books, and I make up a story for my seven-year-old every night before bed. My husband has told my four-year-old a story about Dig Dig the T-Rex every night for about a year now! Even on days that it feels like nothing else was accomplished, we end our days with book reading and storytelling. It’s an established ritual, and I can easily forget that it’s very much a part of homeschooling too.
  • Nature – I want to get outside everyday, but this just doesn’t happen. Yet when I think about our hikes, the classes at the nature center (which usually include a hike), and play dates at the beautiful parks in this area, I know we’ve done a good job of exposing our boys to nature. And that doesn’t even count our daily dose of nature documentaries!
  • How to find answers – Over two years my husband and I have done a very good job of honoring our son’s questions. I get frustrated that I don’t always have a notebook to write them down, and many of the questions slip through the cracks, but he continues to ask questions, and we have honored his interests. I have taught him to use the computer, library, and I’ve modeled how to ask experts when possible. This is a priority that is woven into our everyday parenting, so over the long haul, it will get done.
  • Spend quality, stress-free time together – I’ll be honest. Our time is not always stress-free. Daily life with children is hard, and no matter how much I’d like to ignore it, there are chores and work to be done too. But in general, I think our life is pretty good. My husband works at home, and we enjoy being together. We can sleep late, start and stop school & projects when we need to, watch T.V. together, and we take field trips whenever we can. As long as I don’t panic about the small stuff, it’s a good life.
  • Teach Responsibility/involve him in my work – I think this a positive byproduct of homeschooling. When children are home everyday, they have to see what it takes to make a household work. And, with everyone home all day, the house gets a lot messier, so they have to help. There is no way around this. We also do not hesitate to talk about money and how much everything costs. When mom and dad have to do their work, the kids know why. Though I have not involved my son in blogging/writing, he is aware of what I do, and he likes to look at my blog. He is interested in photography, and now both our sons have their own cameras!

Our priorities have become the stuff of daily life. How awesome is that? These will never go away.

So what about the first grade priorities? They have turned a little more academic, though I strive to balance that with everything you just read about, and I want to go at my son’s pace. These are the big priorities for this year, in order of importance:

  • Teach him to read. I know there’s a lot of differing opinions about teaching children how to read vs. letting them go at their own pace. While I didn’t want to push my son beyond his level, I felt that at age seven, there was a good chance he would be ready to go to the next level, and I was right. I don’t think he would have gotten here on this own, so I’m glad we’ve continued to practice reading at an easy-going pace.
  • Math practice. I wanted to make sure my son was solid on some math concepts, so instead of moving forward in Life of Fred, I have been having my son practice math. It’s going well, and I’ll tell you how I’m doing that in an upcoming post.
  • Giving him time for project work.  I wanted to make sure he had time to pursue his own interests, which is mostly in science and building projects. By keeping my other academic priorities light, he’s had plenty of time for this. I’ve written about some of his project work, and I’ll continue to do so as time allows. He has been dipping into various projects this year, including his carnivorous plant project, building DNA models and learning about DNA, building ship models (and in the process learning about history), and doing small crafts that he picks out and loves to do – like making paper airplanes and cutting out snowflakes.

I should also mention that I consider a lot of this work both “project work” and “fulfilling a typical course of study.” My son’s interest in nature and science has meant that we make attending the Homeschool Science Classes at the Sandy Creek Nature Center a priority. I never miss a class unless we’re sick! My four-year-old has also been taking the knee-high naturalist class this year, just like his brother did at four-years-old.

I should interject here and mention that my husband has made his own priority this year. Since my son is interested in science and asking copious questions we can’t answer, he has started to read a middle high school science book (and guess what? it’s hard!), and he plans to continue on to the high school textbook when he’s finished. I thought this was ambitious and unnecessary at first, but he’s enjoying telling our son about what he’s learning, and I think it’s good for my son to watch his father take on the process of learning a subject for himself. That is modeling positive behavior, right? He has said that even if our son doesn’t go into science, he wants to learn about it because now he’s interested in it! And there is something to be said to have a base of knowledge so that when our son starts to seek answers to his questions, there will be someone helping him understand the information he finds.

A lot of the books we read have to do with science or history, and when we watch television, we watch nature and science programs or other shows that lead to good conversations. (Right now we’re watching The Andy Griffith show. We’ve talked about history, family values, stereotypes and more by watching that show!)

So much overlaps in our homeschool. If you homeschool, I’m sure you will understand.

Of course, we study other things, such as Spanish, different cultures, religions, art, and financial skills. These are priorities, but I’m not listing them as first grade priorities because these are things that I want to teach slowly, over the course of their childhoods and teenage years. At some point they may become more prominent in our everyday teaching, but for now, I think these are best done through books, conversation, fun lessons, and other means. Like I wrote before, learning is like a chain link fence, and we add links here and there through age-appropriate activities.

But reading is an essential skill that is the foundation for independent learning! And math skills build upon one another…it’s important to master one concept before moving onto the next. So we’re working on these. And project work is my son’s work, and that is what all this learning is for in the first place!

Thank you for reading this long post! I will follow up with more specifics about our 1st grade reading and math lessons.

February 19, 2013

Homeschooling Reading and Language Arts for Kindergarten / 1st Grade

Last year I wrote a post titled How I’ve Taught Kindergarten Reading, and now I’m following that up with our reading progress this year. I have titled this page Kindergarten / First Grade because I really don’t know what level my son is at, but I’m guessing somewhere between K and first.  If your child is five or younger, I suggest you start with that post. Now my son is six-and-a-half.

I read over last year’s post with a little trepidation. How far have we come? I can’t say my six-year-old is reading independently or that he’s excitedly delving into chapter books on his own. Frankly, he’s just not that interested in reading (or math, for that matter), but we have made good progress.  He says he likes our lessons, but he doesn’t ask for more.

Since he doesn’t balk at his lessons (like near the end of Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons), and he’s quite agreeable to teach, I feel we have finally gotten into our groove when it comes to learning reading (same for math).

In other words, I’m not forcing anything, but I don’t wait until he says, “I want to learn how to read” or shows an interest.  I do that for most other subjects, but I strongly feel that he’ll be more capable of doing the things that interest him once he learns how to read (and do basic math). I also feel that the earlier he can learn these skills, the easier it will be for him.

So how have I taught him?  Like always, I have used my instincts, and as for curriculum, I have pulled from many sources. I’m fortunate to have been given many educational tools!  It would be foolish for me to buy something unless I knew for sure my son needed it.

Time Spent Teaching

As far as formal reading lessons, I still alternate reading and math lessons Monday-Thursday mornings, although I’m flexible if we get busy. I also use Fridays for catch-up, if needed.  We spend about 20~45 minutes on a reading (or math) lesson.

Resources Used**

The main resource that I started out with was passed on to me from a friend who is a retired Kindergarten teacher.  Ready to Read Phonics by Educational Insights.  The reason I gave it a try is because the lessons are on cassette, and all my son has to do is follow along in a workbook and listen. I feel strongly that he is a auditory/visual learner, so I thought he would like it.  I stop the cassette and repeat some of it when it goes too fast.  The set also has some fun games and simple books to read.

This set has proven useful, but by itself, it has not taught my son to read. The instructions say to repeat the exercises until the child has mastered them. (A lot of reading and math sources say this.)  Well, my son is NOT interested in repeating anything, and I don’t blame him!  After one time, it gets boring for me too.  So I’ve done one lesson at a time, and I have followed them up with several days or weeks of other lessons going over the same material.  Simply put, I have used it as a sort of teacher’s guide.

The second main resource I have used is My Big Phonics Word Book written by Cass Hollander and published by McClanahan Book Company.  Each page spread goes over one letter blend, i.e. “-ag,” “-am,” “-ap,” etc. all the way to “-unch.”  We read each page, and then we use the accompanying stickers in a notebook, and I have him write the words corresponding to the pictures.

**These items may be old and not as accessible, so I encourage you to simply look for cheap workbooks at various stores such as Walmart, Target, a grocery store or teacher’s store. Go to library book sales. Exchange with other homeschoolers. You can adapt many simple materials to teaching basic concepts. There’s no reason to spend a lot of money.

Other than this, I have used games, videos and reading practice:

Games**

  • Long vowel “Go Fish.” ~ On index cards, I wrote out 36 long vowel words, and I made sure there were two of each long vowel sound. Deal six cards to each player and the rest goes into a pile. Player #1 asks Player #2 for a specific long vowel sound (i.e. “Do you have a long vowel e card?”) If yes, Player #2 gives Player #1 that card. If not, Player #2 says “Go fish,” and Player #1 must draw card from the pile. If Player #1 gets a match, he keeps them and sets them aside. Take turns until all the cards are used up. The player with the most matches wins. Be sure to read the words as you play.
  • Blends and digraphs “matching or memory game.” ~ I used a small blends and digraphs chart that someone gave to me, but there are many to be found on the Internet, such as this one. Simply make two copies, cut out the squares, and paste them to heavier paper, if needed. Mix them up, and spread them out on a table. Each player takes a turn turning over two cards, trying to make a match. If they find a match, they put it aside in a pile. Keep taking turns in this manner until all the cards are matched up. The player with the most matches wins.
  • My sight word game (sometimes the three-year-old plays this using letters.)
  • Sight word bingo 

**Note that you can adapt these games to teach a variety of skills.

Our favorite videos

Reading Practice

Most importantly, however, I have started a reading practice with my son. I try to get him reading even if it’s 2~3 pages in an early reader. This is where I know we’ve progressed because last year this was almost impossible for him.  Now it’s challenging, but he can read!

As we’re reading I remind him of all the phonics rules we’ve learned and the various blends. I don’t make him suffer through words if he doesn’t know them, but I do try to get him to sound the words out.

Our favorite early readers are the We Both Read Books, and my son’s favorite titles are Just Five More Minutes, Animals Under Our Feet, and Fox’s Best Trick Ever.

Language Arts

Last but not least, we make language arts part of our daily routine. I don’t have to worry about ‘teaching it’ because it’s going to happen no matter what.  Please see:

Since my son and I love stories so much, I have used this opportunity to teach him the elements of a story using a few worksheets in Story Elements by McGraw-Hill Children’s Publishing.  I’ll write more about this in an upcoming post.

Writing Practice

We don’t have a regular writing practice yet. My son isn’t particularly interested in writing at this time, but he has good handwriting skills, which luckily came easy to him. I have him write periodically for special purposes such as:

  • The phonics workbook (see above)
  • Our snake book project
  • Whenever an occasion comes up (and we take advantage of every holiday) to make someone a card or write a thank you note, I have my son make a card and copy a note in it.
  • My son also knows I’m available if he wants to dictate a story or letter for me to write for him, but so far, we’ve only done this once.

I hope this helps you think about how you can teach reading in a relaxed and eclectic manner! 

February 11, 2013

Inspire Kids: “Strange Worlds” Photography

This inspiring video was sent to me by Coleen. Thanks, Coleen!  Unfortunately, I can’t embed it into my website, so you’ll have to follow the link below.

By day, Matthew is a professional fashion photographer. By night, for the last five years, he’s been creating large dioramas of tiny environments and photographing them. If you knew nothing about his process, you’d think his photographs were of real life places. ~ ‘Strange Worlds’ photographer aims to trick the eye

What I really love about this is that the artist talks about how discouraged he can get creating these dioramas, which can take 3-7 months to build. I stopped the video during that part and tried to emphasize it to my six-year-old because I’ve been trying to find ways of showing him that all artists and builders have to work through frustrations.

“But I found that making mistakes was the best thing for the work because I was able to discover methods and strategies to build future landscapes.” ~ Matthew Albanese

It didn’t seem like my six-year-old was really listening when I tried to emphasize that, but he did enjoy the video.  At any rate, I’m glad to have this on hand for future reference.  (After all, there have been times when I thought my son wasn’t interested in something I was trying to tell him, but at a later date, he’s brought it up again.)

Click below to go to the video and article, and Enjoy!

Strange Worlds’ photographer aims to trick the eye

pink columbines This is a new series I’ve started under the tag “Inspire Kids.”  If my six-year-old loves it, then maybe your children will too!

January 28, 2013

Inspire Kids: International Space Station Tour

This video requires no introduction. How cool is this? My six-year-old loved it.  I heard a resounding “OOOOoooo….Ahhh….” as she entered the cupola and looked down at earth.

This was filmed in November 2012.

(If you subscribe to my blog by e-mail, you may have to view this post on the Internet to see the video.)

pink columbines This is a new series I’ve started under the tag “Inspire Kids.”  If my six-year-old loves it, then maybe your children will too!

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