My 1st Grader’s Ongoing Projects

As I look back over our school 2016-2017 school year, it’s been fun to think about what my boys’ major projects were this year. For my eldest, it was pretty much piano and gaming. But for my seven-year-old, he pursued many endeavors, and I had fun pursuing some of them with him. Yet it was so different from when his older brother was seven and I assisted him with his many building projects at that time. This has also been part of the fun — to see how these boys are both similar and different.

I used to feel that it was a bit of a shame that while my eldest son got so much of my one-on-one attention, his younger brother had to be a sidekick or share my attention. Well, the tables have turned a little bit. Now that my 10-year-old spends so much time practicing piano, I get to spend more one-on-one time with my first grader. I partly use this time for teaching lessons. The other part I let him decide what we’ll do together. Sometimes, he likes to play by himself, and that’s fine too. (Then I can be an audience for my 10-year-old!)

So what does this little guy like to do? Well, I’ll show you. The following are snapshots I took with my phone camera, but each of them reveals a bit of my first grader’s favorite pastimes!

Playing games

Truly, his favorite games to play are digital games. Both my boys adore their digital games, and much of their conversation and make-believe are inspired by digital games. So, I’m going to write a post just about their digital games. (I know I keep saying that — I promise I really am!)

My youngest son also loves to play board games, card games or dice games with me. What I love about this is that many of the games we play help him with math skills, and he’ll insist on doing the counting himself. He likes to be the banker in Star Wars monopoly! As I’ve noticed in the past, he seems to be good at math, and he’s always been a little bit obsessed with numbers. So I’m more than happy to indulge him in this pastime, although I sure wish he weren’t such a sore loser.

Serious Make-believe

While his elder brother used to like building things (but he rarely played with his creations), younger brother will build lots of little things with zoob pieces or Legos and then use them for battle. He covers the entire floor with his imaginary worlds, and for this reason, he rarely wants to go outside — the action is clearly inside! This happens on a daily basis, and I love it!

Drawing and Painting

If you’ve read my blog in the past, you’ll know my son used to love drawing and coloring. For many months, this interest went away, and I thought it was gone forever. But a few months ago, he suddenly wanted to draw and color again. Then painting came back too. He likes for me to draw with him, and I’m more than happy to. Sometimes he’ll try drawing what I’m drawing such as the mug above. I was also drawing mugs as I was working through the exercises in Drawing for the Absolute Beginner. I would love to do more exercises with him, but he resists being taught. So I just do what I want to do, and sometimes I’ll get lucky, and he’ll follow along.

Baking & Cooking

This kid loves to help me bake and make other things in the kitchen, which is a great motivator for me to cook more! (And believe me, I need the motivation in this area.) I’m planning (hoping!) to continue to bake seriously and have him help me frequently. I want both my boys to learn how to cook basic meals, but I feel that this boy may someday be a more serious hobbyist chef, at the very least!

Puzzler

My 7-year-old has always loved doing puzzles. Again, I think it has something to do with that math brain of his, but I’m not sure. He used to put together puzzles often when he was a little tyke, and this year, he got into it again. I also bought some 300 piece puzzles and one 500 piece puzzle, which were harder for him, but I helped, and even the whole family got into these puzzles a little bit because they sat out on the table for awhile. It was a lot of fun, and now I just need to talk him into letting me take them apart so that we can do them all over again!

Piano

This was my 7-year-old’s first year taking piano lessons, and he did quite well! We weren’t sure whether he would like it or not, but he says he wants to keep taking lessons, and he continues to practice once a day for about thirty minutes.

(Obviously, this is the one thing we don’t do while his older brother is practicing!)

 

 

 

 

Last But Not Least: Birds

Again, if you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you’ll know that birds have been this young boy’s major passion for several years now! (See: Birds & Feathers and It’s All for the Birds) He has been carrying around his toy “Chick,” a black-capped chickadee, for well over a year. (You can see it perched next to him at the piano.) He even wanted to be a black-capped chickadee for Halloween, so I made him a chickadee costume! But mostly he’s just had me read to him — just one or two pages at a time — about birds from some bird guides at the end of his lesson time. I’m quite impressed how this has been a steady interest of his for several years now, and though it’s subtle, he continues to learn about birds in his own way.

Observing and identifying my child’s major interests helps me consider how I can continue to support his endeavors. I’ve realized I can do this effectively in these ways:

  • Give him the time and tools. Then get out of his way!
  • Don’t tell him what to do. Get out of his way!
  • But be there. And pay attention. Help him when he wants help. (He won’t always say he wants help. Sometimes he gets frustrated and cries. Sometimes he gets “bored” or tired. Sometimes he needs a break more than my help, and he’ll return to the project later.)
  • Start my own similar projects without expecting him to join me. But the magic is that he often does! 

Both my boys have showed me that these tactics work. Children will feel their interests are validated when they see adults doing the same things! There is no better expression of love than this.

Summertime for a Homeschooling Family

For most families, summertime means a huge change of pace. The children are home and need entertaining. There are trips to the pool, BBQs, family gatherings, outdoor entertainment etc. Well, we don’t have access to a pool, and we rarely eat BBQ, and we see our extended families about the same as always. While we love getting outside, we do that more in the fall, winter & spring when the weather isn’t so unbearably hot…and places aren’t as crowded either. 🙂

Our kids don’t need entertaining. They are home all the time and know how to entertain themselves, if they need to. So mostly, our routine changes very little. I still do homeschool lessons because it’s easier to keep some structure to our days, but I always do something a little different. This summer I’m concentrating on Spanish lessons and read-a-louds. I’m hoping to find a Spanish curriculum that we will stick with, and I have some books I want to read that I didn’t get to in the winter.

But even though not a lot changes, that doesn’t mean summer doesn’t have its seasonal treats, so to speak. Here’s a list of everything I think about when I think about our summers. I’m including some links to posts I’ve written about our summer habits.

  • Going out of town. Though I guess it’s technically still spring in May, that’s when my husband usually has some time off, so if we can swing it, we go on vacation. This year we went west, and it was our most memorable trip yet.
  • Gardening. I always plant a garden, and it has to be watered frequently, which is a good way to get the boys outside even for a few minutes everyday. This year I planted roma tomatoes, cucumbers, basil and dill. We’re also trying to grow milkweed and sunflowers, but so far, that’s not going too well.
  • Plants and more plants. We also have some permanent flowers and herbs in the garden and around the house, and it’s fun to see them come back to life and grow. The boys take good care of their carnivorous plants, which provide insect control and entertainment every summer!
  • Baby Birds. We have two birdhouses around our house, and there’s usually at least one brood being reared at all times during the summer. We’ve also found bird’s nests in our trees and bushes. Sometimes we’ve been lucky enough to see the chicks fledge. These little miracles are my favorite part of summer.
  • Nature Discoveries. Even though we’ve lived in our home for 14 years, there is always new stuff to discover in our wooded yard. Sometimes it’s wild animals, and sometimes it’s plants. This year we discovered we have four wild black cherry trees in our yard! (It produces fruit infrequently, which is why we haven’t noticed them before.) We’ll probably leave the fruit for the birds because we love the birds and are happy to have a natural food source for them. (Well, I think the squirrels are going to finish off the cherries before the birds do.)
  • Lemonade. My 10-year-old loves lemonade, so I make him fresh lemonade every summer. He says mine is the best, and since he’s tasted a lot of lemonade at restaurants and his grandpa’s house, I am going to trust that assessment. 😉
  • Fruit. We love fruit in this house, so we love it when strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, peaches, watermelon, and many other kinds of fruit come into season. My 10-year-old loves fruit too, which makes me happy. Oh, and we love to make smoothies and sometimes margaritas! (Those are just for the adults!)
  • Summer day camps. Every year my boys attend at least one summer camp each. The camps at our local botanical garden are our favorite. I appreciate how the garden gets them involved in nature and with other kids in a way that I can’t, and they take great care of them too. My boys have so much fun playing large group games and activities – something they don’t get at home. It’s a nice change of pace for them, and it’s the only time I get a day off, so it’s a bonus that it’s five days in a row!
  • Homeschool Wrap-up & Planning. Summertime is record-keeping time. I have to write up progress reports, and I print out reading lists and certificates of completion. I put everything in 3-ring binders, and I generally clean up the year’s work. Then I store all that away and I make new binders for next year, and I plan what we’re going to start in the fall. It sounds like a lot of work, but the only thing that takes a significant amount of time is a slideshow I put together with all the photographs from our year. I use that when we have our end-of-year review, and the boys love it.
  • Part of my homeschool wrap-up involves getting my blog up-to-date too, so you can expect a few more posts from me in the near future. 😉

I’m sure I’ve missed something, but that’s pretty much what summer looks like around here. It’s pretty simple, but it’s pretty wonderful too.

Homeschooling 1st Grade: A Look at Our Year & Curriculum

This year has been going well for my youngest son who is seven-years-old and in the first grade. At the beginning of the year, I gave you a glimpse at the basic curriculum I was going to use, but in this post, I am able to tell you more in depth what he’s been working on this year. In a future post, I’ll write more about his self-led projects.

My main focus for him continues to be reading and math. I don’t worry about finishing any curriculum in a set amount of time. We go slow so that we can keep it light and be thorough. I spend about an hour with him after lunch 3-4 days a week (while older brother practices piano), and we do reading, handwriting, piano theory, math, related games, and I read certain books that I want him to hear (see below). He also does a few lessons with his brother in the mornings — listening to the history lessons or science lessons or other readalouds. Otherwise, he gets to play while I’m working with his brother.

Reading & Language Arts

We’ve worked our way up to lesson 65 in Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, and he’s doing quite well. I am extremely satisfied that I waited until he was seven to start this book unlike my eldest son whom I tried to teach at five. Now I know that’s too young (unless your child is an early reader). The book gets more challenging as it goes along, so I think we may take a break from it starting soon and use some other resources. Then we’ll come back to it in the fall. But I haven’t completely decided about that yet.

I’ve also enjoyed playing games with him that may help him learn to read, such as my sight word game, sight word bingo, and also matching games with words.

We finished Handwriting Without Tear’s My Printing Book, and now I’m having him work in Printing Power.

I wrote about some of the fiction I’m reading to my 10-year-old in 4th Grade Homeschooling: Language Arts, and my 7-year-old sits and listens to some of those books. However, he still loves picture books, and every night before bed, I read something to him. This year I decided to take some of his favorite picture books that we own and order other books by the same author/illustrator from the library. For example, he loves The Mitten by Jan Brett, so he wanted to see more of her books. We got a few of them from the library, and we enjoyed comparing all of them. Then we got Lentil by Robert McCloskey because Make Way for Ducklings is one of his favorite books. (Mine too.) I also got him a big book of Curious George because Curious George has been one of his all-time favorites, and this isn’t the first time I’ve had to get more Curious George from the library. Anyway, it’s been fun to explore our favorite author/illustrators. In addition, I read a lot of Calvin and Hobbes to him. 😉

Math

We finally finished book 1A of U.S. Edition of Singapore Math. I know I probably took way longer with this book than I needed to, especially since my son is quite good at math, but I’m also glad we took our time and had fun with the activities. I will probably begin book 1B soon, but right now I’m taking a break and reading from an old World Book’s Childcraft Shapes and Numbers book, which has some fun activities and stories. (Library sale find!)

I should also mention that my youngest son loves games in general. He especially loves his digital games, which I’ll write about someday, but we also play games together several nights a week for fun. I’ve noticed how these games have quite a bit of math in them, and he enjoys doing the math himself. He can add up the dice in Yahtzee quickly, and he enjoys being the “banker” in Star Wars monopoly. He even enjoys playing the games to memorize the multiplication tables with his older brother, though that is much more difficult for him. So I feel like we’ve gone well beyond the math in our curriculum.

History

I’ve let my first grader listen along to the history lessons I’m giving my 10-year-old. (See Homeschooling: Diving into Human History.) I think he’s a little less interested, and some of it goes over his head, but he also seems to like some of it too. He also enjoys any history documentary we watch together as a family. Overall, I think he’ll get a good general idea of human history, and when he’s older, we’ll dive into it again in more depth.

Science

Science was something we used to do everyday in this house, and we attended many homeschool science classes at the nature center too. But that’s all changed, so now I’m reading our vast collection of science books to my 1st grader (mostly the Let’s Read and Find Out Science books that I picked up at library book sales), and he also follows along with his brother’s science curriculum. He especially likes the experiments! We also watch a ton of science documentaries together as a family.

In addition to this, my 1st grader still loves birds, and we make a point to read a little bit about birds in one of our bird guides after every lesson. This is a self-led project. He always gets to pick what he wants to read, and he usually chooses just one or two pages — perfect, really! I love this long-term interest and how consistent he is with it. I hope he’ll always love birds.

He also mentioned to me recently that he’d like to do more experiments, so we’re diving back into DK’s 101 Great Science Experiments, a book that I used with his older brother. I think his interest is more in doing an experiment/activity than actually learning about science, but that’s okay with me for now, and it’s why this book is perfect too. He can pick any experiment in random order as long as we have the materials to do it, and he’s still learning a little bit about science too.

Music

I’m not sure whether I’ve mentioned this yet or not, but the seven-year-old started piano lessons last October! We asked him if he’d like to try piano lessons since we have the piano and his older brother is a pianist. He wasn’t sure at first, but we assured him we wouldn’t make him continue, if he didn’t like it. Well, he likes the lessons, and he’s already passed the Primer level and well into Level 1. I have no idea if this will turn into a long-term interest or not, but so far he says he wants to continue to “at least until the intermediate level.” For reasons that aren’t relevant here, he goes to a different teacher than his brother, but that is working out well, and I’ve enjoyed learning about how different teachers do things — a good education for me! If anyone is interested, all the teachers that we have had the pleasure of working with have used Piano Adventures for their beginning students. The seven-year-old’s teacher supplements it with other books and sheet music that she owns too. (If you have any questions about our experience with piano lessons, purchasing a piano, or finding good teachers, you are welcome to e-mail me. This is not something I plan to write about in the near future, but I know that for parents who have no musical background, there is a big learning curve! )

Extracurricular

In addition to these lessons, my seven-year-old has attended a homeschool class at the state botanical garden this year. This is a class I spearheaded by asking and meeting with the awesome facilitators at the garden. It meets once a month, and it’s been a great class for him. They get outside on the garden trails, learn about animals and plants, and do a lot of activities. Once they even met at the art museum. I’ve been especially happy with this class because I feel like my older son got to participate in so many classes and camps when he was younger, and his younger brother was just a tag-along then. Now it’s my seven-year-old’s turn to have his own special classes. 🙂

I think that’s about all I can say about 1st grade this second time around. What a difference it makes to have done this once before! It’s been a huge pleasure to spend one-on-one time with him and plan special lessons just for him. He is a pleasure to teach too. I’m a lucky mama.

As always, if you have any questions, ask away!

Homeschooling: Diving into Human History

bookshelf

I’m extra excited to tell you that one of the things I added mid-year are history lessons. If there’s one thing I’ve been wanting to learn more about, it’s history. 🙂

Until now, history is something I have not worried about incorporating into our homeschool lessons for several reasons. First, I don’t think young children need a lot of history unless they are interested in it.** I doubt they will fully understand it or remember it. Also, my husband is a history professor, so I knew we would get a good history education with his help. Indeed, he peppers our documentary-watching with relevant historical facts as needed!

Until this past year, my eldest son didn’t show much interest in history. We watch a lot of documentaries, but when the boys were smaller, they needed to be nature documentaries. They liked animals and nature, but documentaries about people were boring, and frankly, over their heads. However, this changed during this past year~year and a half or so. We have slowly begun to watch other kinds of documentaries such as science, engineering and history, especially those dealing with archaeology. So I saw more of an interest in history creeping up. It was at this time I made my big history timeline, and as we watched or read about historical events or people, we would add a tag about them to our timeline. But I still didn’t do “formal” history lessons.

Then, my boys began to play digital games that incorporated military tanks and ships, etc. In the games, they would learn a tremendous amount about many, real military vehicles, and they soon wanted to know more. One of their Christmas presents was a big book about tanks, and they still study it everyday! This is one of their major interests right now.

My 10-year-old began asking questions about the world wars, and one day, I let him listen to his father’s U.S. history podcast about World War II. It was at this point that I felt we could start history lessons. I considered doing American history first since his interests seemed to gravitate in that direction. In addition, I’ve been reading to them about Native Americans now and then for a while now too. But ultimately, with my husband’s help, I decided to go with World History first because that’s what I wanted to do in the first place, and we happened to find some very cool books that we both loved. (I want to give a shout out to my online friend, Kristina Daniele, for sharing her history resources with me. She helped me get started in my search for history resources that would appeal to my young boys.)

What’s exciting about studying history as a homeschooler is that we can start at the beginning and spend time delving into each era, and we don’t have to stop. In public school, I got bits of history in each grade, but I only remember the big events of American history. I know I never studied ancient humans or ancient Egypt. I know I never understood “the big picture” of the human timeline (until now). I am sure when my boys are adults, they will have forgotten a lot of our history lessons too, but that’s why I made the history timeline, I’m going slow, and in high school, we’ll circle around to the beginning again. Even if they don’t remember the finer details, they are going to understand the big picture of human history.

I’m going to write in more detail about our history lessons as we come to each unit. But below is a blueprint of how I’m getting started and what I’m using for our “spine.”

I am using my husband’s history lectures as a “spine” or guide. Even though his podcasts are for college level students, they are short, and my boys can understand most of what he’s saying. I use the “key terms” he lists under the lectures as a guide when I’m searching for additional books at the library. I don’t try to get a book on everything, but for example, under “Mesopotamia,” one of the key terms is “Epic of Gilgamesh.” When I looked up Mesopotamia in the library search engine, I found a storybook for kids about the Epic of Gilgamesh — that’s a nice supplement to our studies on Mesopotamia!

We also bought three history textbooks that we’re reading as we go along too. My husband gets a lot of free college textbooks to review, but we obviously needed books that would appeal to young kids. Finding the perfect world history text for kids didn’t prove easy! My husband and I spent some time searching for books on Amazon, and I checked these out from the library before we bought them. I’m going to list them in order of our preference.

The Kingfisher History Encyclopedia — This is our favorite. It’s a beautiful book with rich photographs and illustrations, and it has all the relevant information in it that we’re looking for. However, this is not meant to be an in depth look at history. Like my husband’s podcasts, it can be used as a starting point. For example, “Ancient Egypt” covers a two-page spread. Still, this is the kind of overview that kids would be getting in a world history class, and you can pause wherever you like and get more books from the library about each section. (This is a perk of homeschooling — no rushing through a curriculum!) As we get further into this book, I’ll be able to tell you more about it.

The Usborne Encyclopedia of World History — This is a great book too with beautiful illustrations and photographs. It doesn’t have quite as many details as the Kingfisher, but it covers everything and then some. We bought this intending to let our son read it on his own. Usborne considers “World History” to also mean “Earth’s History,” and it begins with about eighty pages dedicated to prehistoric time, what fossils are, and evolution, etc. When I think of “World History” I tend to think of that as “Human History,” which is what they do in school. But that makes little difference, and there is something to having the “big picture” laid out in one book. However, we’ve already learned so much about Earth’s history through our science interest that we already know this information. So I’m not requiring my son to read those first eighty pages unless he wants to.

The Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer — We are well aware of the criticisms of these books, but having looked at the first one, we decided we would try it because learning about history through story form might interest our sons. As a history professor, my husband reviews many college level textbooks, and he tells me that many of them have biases. The point is that you should never use just one text as your information source just as you should never use one media outlet for all your current news. By studying many different resources, you will be more informed and better able to find mistakes or biases, and learning how to do that is a good learning lesson in itself. We have not gotten very far into SOTW, and my 10-year-old doesn’t love it, but I think my 7-year-old liked it better. I am not sure we’ll continue with these books, but I’ll let you know.

As we get to each section of our history curriculum, I plan to write short posts about what we’re reading for each. For example, right now we’re studying Ancient Egypt, so I’ll tell you what books I found for that soon.

If you have any history resources you love, please tell me about them in the comments.

**Note: My seven-year-old is less interested and perhaps doesn’t understand the history I’m teaching as much as my 10-year-old. However, I usually ask him to try to listen, but if he’s really bored, I don’t make him. I think he picks up on quite a bit, however. At this point, I’m not requiring any written work. We’re just enjoying reading about history.

 

Autumn Musings

Ft. Yargo State Park

Autumn is one of my favorite times of year, and this autumn has certainly been full of interesting happenings both in my home and in the world at large. I have gotten a little exhausted at following the news and social media, so I’m limiting my time on that. While I’m disappointed with the election results, unlike so many people, I wasn’t surprised by it. I respect the democratic process, and I’m going to hope that things will be well. This doesn’t mean I’m not concerned or wondering what I can do. I am charged with the duty to raise my boys to understand that we must act out of kindness and love first and foremost. We also need to learn how to walk a mile in another person’s shoes so to speak, which I think many people on both sides think they are capable of doing, but they really are not. This includes trying to understand why others make the decisions they make and even why they decided to vote the way they did and not assume the worst of everybody. Even if that’s very hard to do, we must try.

One of my favorite posts I’ve read lately is by Jennifer L. W. Fink, who writes about what I’m determined to do better than I could. If you get the chance, go read How to Raise a Decent Human Being.

On the home/school/life blog, Amy also listed a few ways you can get involved with the political process with your kids, if that’s something you feel you’d like to do.

***

The best way to live daily life, in my humble opinion, is to pay more attention to nature. Nature can certainly be cruel, but it helps me understand the world, humans, and that we’re part of something much bigger. Nature is also beautiful and inspiring, and that gives me solace.

Ft. Yargo State Park

On that note, we have spent some time out in nature a few times this autumn. For the autumn equinox, we drove down to Dauset Trails in Jackson, Ga. One other day, we spent some time wandering around Ft. Yargo State Park, and most recently, we went to Unicoi State Park to walk a lovely little trail around Burton Lake. The last time we walked that trail, my youngest son was in a stroller.

Our outdoor excursions are rarely planned. We usually wake up, realize it’s a good day to go somewhere, and then I frantically gather our things and get ready to go.

Barred owls (my favorite) at the Dauset Trails Nature Center.
Barred owls (my favorite) at the Dauset Trails Nature Center.

We also spend time in our yard, which is a haven itself. It’s fun to inspect what insects hang out around my son’s carnivorous plants, and to see all the leaves change color, which is happening right now in Georgia. And just yesterday, a gorgeous red-tailed hawk landed in the leaf litter right outside my bedroom window, and she stayed there long enough for my boys to come get a good look at her. We think she was trying to get a mouse or a vole, but she finally gave up. The crows and squirrels were sending out frantic warning signals while she was here too. It was quite exciting for us to watch!

***

I feel like this has been the most academic year we’ve had homeschooling so far. I’m really enjoying it. That part of my brain that likes to organize and plan is getting a good workout! We do our lessons most mornings, and then the day is full of piano playing. My youngest son started taking lessons this fall, and it’s such a joy to hear him remind me that it’s time for him to practice! He takes this very seriously! He also tells me he only wants to learn piano up through “level 2,” and I told him that’s fine. Any music education benefits one’s brain. (I highly recommend following that link to a very cool video that will explain exactly how it benefits the brain.)

Dauset Trails Nature Center
Dauset Trails Nature Center

My 10-year-old has started taking lessons with a new teacher – his third teacher. It’s been quite a job to find the right teacher for our son who is moving so quickly to a higher level of classical piano. And finding someone who communicates with us well and whose schedule works well with ours is important too. If you are a parent who has no music background, there can be a steep learning curve when it comes to helping your children get the proper tools and teachers for their needs. It all depends on your child’s goals too. We have learned a lot, and I’m very thankful that my husband has been hands-on and so supportive of my son’s musical endeavor. I think we’ve finally got him in the right place, so I’m very excited and looking forward to the future.

Unicoi State Park
Unicoi State Park

One thing we haven’t been this year is social. This was kind of bothering me, but I’ve come to terms with it. Playing piano does not seem very social because my boys aren’t going to a classroom with other kids to take lessons. It’s a one-on-one session with an adult, but though this is different than our past extracurricular activities, I think it’s a great experience too. They are each forming a relationship with their teachers, working toward goals, and getting all those other benefits of learning music. As my husband reminded me, if they stay with music, they will eventually participate in music camps and play in ensembles, which will connect them to other musicians. We’ve already begun to take our eldest son to classical concerts and live music in town, and we’re starting to recognize some of the same faces each time in the crowd. Perhaps if we keep going, we’ll eventually connect with those people who so obviously care about classical music as much as we do. So I feel this is a year of digging into academics and music, and other opportunities will arise in the future, as they always have.

Unicoi State Park
Unicoi State Park

***

On another note, I’ve been working on a few projects of my own, and this blog has been (and will be) quieter as I continue to work on them. First, I will write my grammar curriculum review for the next issue of home/school/life magazine, which will come out in January. Second, I’ve finished a rough draft of a little book about homeschooling first grade, and I’ll continue to polish it in the coming months. (I will be looking for some discerning writers to read it and give me feedback too. If you’re interested, please e-mail me.) I also have a few other small projects to take care of too.

In addition to this, November is my annual “decluttering month.” Every year I ask the boys to go through their toys and pick out what they don’t want to play with anymore so that we can give it to charity. This year feels like the SUPER PURGE. My boys have finally reached a point when so many of the toys that we have are not interesting anymore. My youngest son mostly plays with dinosaur and animal figures and zoob pieces. Legos are still popular around here too. But so much stuff is GOING, and not only toys, but books and clothes and homeschool supplies too. I am quite in awe at how my boys are growing and changing and becoming more selective about their play and activities. And I’m proud of myself for LETTING GO. 🙂

***

If you have a question about how we homeschool or about our curriculum or anything else, please just ask. I am happy to chat by e-mail or perhaps write a blog post about it. I can always use ideas for what to write about, and I want to be as helpful to you as possible, so please let me know what you’d like to know. Besides this, your e-mails keep me going. 🙂 Thanks for reading.

Homeschooling 1st Grade Curriculum

This is my second time homeschooling 1st grade, and it’s so much easier. Once you gain experience homeschooling, you realize how little you need to worry about first grade, and you’ll already have most of the resources you need!

It could be that my youngest child is a little easier to work with too. Since he has the advantage of watching his older brother do lessons, he accepts it as part of our day. (He still groans about them a little, though.)

I spend about an hour with my 1st grader approximately 3~4 days a week on lessons that are just for him. Our curriculum is very simple, and we usually do one lesson or two pages at a time.

Reading

We started Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons again. If you want more information about this book, click here. Last year I attempted it with him, but it got too hard, so we stopped, worked with Starfall.com & the Brainquest Star Wars workbooks, and now we’re back at it. I think it’ll go smoother this year.

He is working through Handwriting Without Tears’ My Printing Book.

As far as language arts, I read many books to him. I’m not going to go into that here since I’ve written about our “readalouds” many times before.

Math

We are using the U.S. Edition of Singapore Math. We are almost finished with level 1A, and we’ll be moving into 1B next. These levels do not necessarily correlate with grade level, so you’ll need to read their website to see where your child should start, if you want to try this program. You’ll need to purchase the teacher’s manual, textbook and workbook for each level.

I have enjoyed using Singapore, and I think it’s a thorough program. I go slow, making sure we do all the activities, textbook, workbook and games, but I could easily go faster, if I wanted to. There is some prep time involved, but it has been pretty easy once I got the hang of it.

That’s the core of his curriculum! In the first grade, I don’t think we need to do more.

But remember: He joins his older brother for some work too, such as listening to books, memorizing the times tables, or watching a 15-minute educational video. We also watch science and nature documentaries everyday as a family. When I do art projects, they are usually for him because he’s the one that likes doing art. He also has had a long-time interest in birds, which I just wrote about.

This year, I also signed him up for a once-a-month homeschool nature class at the botanical garden. (I’m the one who asked the garden to create a homeschool class!)

Do you have a first grader? Tell me how that first year is going. 🙂

Project-based Homeschooling: It’s All for the Birds (in a good way)

A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song. ~ Chinese proverb

seven-year-old's bed
Guess whose bed this is?

In past years, I wrote a lot of posts with examples of project-based homeschooling in our home, mostly because my eldest son was always making things. This year I have written only two! This is because both boys have been pretty singular in their interests lately. My seven-year-old, while he still loves dinosaurs, and he loves playing digital games more than anything in the world (and I know I should write a post about that), has had one on-going interest since he was what? Four? Five maybe? I’m not sure, but it’s been a long time. I wrote about his interest in birds and several projects he did a year ago in Project-based Homeschooling: Birds & Feathers

But this year, I have less tangible projects to write about, and that’s okay. Sometimes PBH isn’t about making things. Sometimes, it’s about playing make-believe or talking about an interest. Sometimes the doing may not seem educational in the traditional sense. Sometimes it’s a small observation here, or a short burst of activity there. Sometimes it’s simply loving something and enjoying its presence. But there does seem to be a slow progression toward a deeper understanding of the subject.

This is what my son’s love of birds looks like this year:

My seven-year-old's bird collection and then some. The one he is holding is
My seven-year-old’s bird collection and then some. The one he is holding is “Chick.”

His constant companion is Chick, an Audubon black-capped chickadee made by Wild Republic. Chick is carried around the house, slept with, and travels with us in the car. The only time he’s not within reach of the seven-year-old is when he’s lost (3~4 times so far), but eventually he’s found and restored to his owner. This bird is so well-loved that the sound it made died a few months ago, and it’s been washed and sewed up twice. We tried buying another chickadee, but Wild Republic has changed their products, so the new chickadee looks different, and the sound died almost immediately! (Not an experience we usually have with these quality toys.)

While no new bird has been able to usurp “Chick” in my son’s heart, this doesn’t stop him from wanting more birds. He’s always asking for one, and since we can find these birds in most museum gift shops, he has amassed quite a collection of these birds. He even wrote Wild Republic to tell them they should make a golden-crowned kingletand they wrote back, sending him two, complimentary birds!  The boys recently put all of them together on our sofa for a group photo (above), but believe it or not, a few of them are missing! lol

We’ve been lucky to see some new birds in the wild this year, and it’s always exciting to come across them in our travels, on our hikes, or in our yards. Both my boys are very adept at using the iBird app on the iPad to look up information about the birds, and my seven-year-old will sometimes sit down and look at this app for a long time by himself.

Loons are one of my favorite birds.
Loons are one of my favorite birds.

But as the facilitator of my boys’ educations, I do keep an eye and ear open for opportunities to support them, if they have an idea to do something. Or, if a special opportunity comes up, I pounce on that too. This happened twice lately.

When we visited Chicago in September, we went to the Field Museum. (We never not go to the Field Museum when we are in Chicago.) I remembered their fabulous Hall of Birds, so I told my husband we had to make a point of going there again because the seven-year-old was too little on prior trips to remember it. So we went there first thing, and we all had such a wonderful time looking at the birds.

Standing in front of the chickadees.
Standing in front of the chickadees in the Field Museum’s Hall of Birds.

When you have a little person in your family who loves birds, everyone suddenly loves birds. Then again, who doesn’t love birds?

Later during the trip, we encountered some fabulous birds on our walk through the Chicago Botanic Garden. Most of these we had seen before, but we never had such long looks at them before. We saw Mallard ducks, Canadian geese, goldfinches eating the seeds from large sunflowers, and most exciting of all…the black-capped chickadee!

Chicago Botanic Garden
Chicago Botanic Garden

Note: The black-capped chickadee does not live in Georgia. The Carolina chickadee lives here. However, when I looked up the difference, I found out that they look exactly the same. The difference is in their songs and the ranges they live in.

While we were walking around the botanical garden, the seven-year-old said to me, “We should read more about birds.” This excited me very much because so far, he hasn’t wanted to read much about them. I promptly reminded him that the storybooks I bought him for his birthday all featured birds, and in the back of those books, they had bird facts we could read about…..

***INSERT LOUD BUZZER***

Ahem. That was an example of me taking over my son’s project. This is not recommended in project-based homeschooling. And what did it do?

My son shut down. He said, “No! Never MIND.” And he wouldn’t talk about it again.

***Insert me shuffling away with my tail between my legs.***

What should I have said? I should have said, “Okay. What do you want to read?” And left it at that.

But I did redeem myself. Later at home, when we were getting back into our routine of doing lessons every morning, I said to my son, “You mentioned that you would like to read more about birds. Would you like to do that during lesson time?” I received an emphatic “Yes!” Then I asked, “What do you want to read?” At that, my son went and got a little, old bird guide that my dad had given to him. He was very clear that we would read the entries for one or two birds each day….birds he would pick out randomly. Then we’d move on to another, similar book.

This makes sense to me. At seven-years-old, my son isn’t ready to understand lengthy science texts about birds, but these short little descriptive paragraphs are perfect. He picked out what he’s ready for. So that’s what we’re doing, and even though it takes only five minutes, it’s a very exciting step in this long-term interest.

Please tell me what interests your kids today.