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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Writing Inspired by Aesop

I like Aesop's Fables. I like the length (short) and the palpability of the message. So many of the fables are still completely viable in our modern society. I have used Aesop's Fables in my parenting and today decided to use it in our home school.

This is the version we own:
It's paintings are beautiful and old fashioned, but there aren't so many pictures that the children aren't allowed to use their imaginations.

I chose several of the most well-known parables and read them aloud to the children.

  • The North Wind and the Sun

  • The Ants and the Grasshopper

  • The Lion and the Mouse

  • The Shepherd Boy and the Wolf

  • The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse

  • The Crow and the Pitcher

  • The Goose and the Golden Egg

We discussed each story, it's moral lesson and it's modern application. Then came the assignment: Write an updated version of one of the parables we discussed.

One story told of a child who played instead of cleaning her room. She then bore the consequence of playing while it was time to work.

One was about a big sister with a wonderful racing bike and a toddler with a tricycle.

Another piece told about a man, deeply in debt, who lost it all through his incessant greed.
Not only did we read, discuss and learn from Aesop's timeless fables, we also integrated their lessons into our lives.

And it got the children writing.


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Autumn Art Projects

Here are a couple of simple and fun fall art projects for your classroom.

First Idea: Colored Leaf Stained Glass

First, we went on a walk around town and picked a variety of beautiful leaves.

(In the interest of full disclosure, this, like all of my good ideas, was not my idea. It was from Brandi. Thanks for the idea!!)

Fold a section of regular wax paper in half and fill it with your favorite leaves.

Fold the paper over your leaves (you may have to rearrange the leaves a bit to keep them from folding or moving).

Put a towel over the wax paper and iron on HIGH heat.

The wax needs to fuse together between the leaves. Don't let the children do this part unless they are mature enough to handle a BURNING HOT IRON.

This one is obviously not ready for that responsibility.

Let the project cool and then trim around the leaves making sure you leave plenty of fused wax paper to hold it all together. Tape them in the window. They look like stained glass when the light comes through.

**Note: I ran out of wax paper before I ran out of crafters. We tried using plastic wrap. It was sooo much easier than wax paper because it clings to itself without ironing. Now, several days after hanging the leaves, the ones in the plastic are curling and browning. The ironing of the wax paper must have helped preserve the leaves because the projects in wax paper look the same today as they did the day we made them.

Second Idea: Leaf rubbing.

Choose leaves with prominent veins. Use a variety of leaf shapes from the round geranium to the pointy elm.

With autumn colored crayons, rub over the leaves. How easy is that?

You can color a border around the page if you want. I like the look of a collage of leaves and colors, but if you are more organized than that, you can draw a trunk and fill the boughs with rubbed leaves.

While the children are doing these projects, it can be a good time to memorize a poem or play rhyming games. Put some apple cider on the stove and enjoy your art time.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Mom and Me Journals

Though I would love to claim responsibility for this idea, it came from the marvelous Mrs. G. Here is our version of it, however.

I purchased a regular composition notebook and wrote our names and the date on the cover. Inside the first pages, I wrote something about my life that would interest my child. In my girls', I wrote about a friend I had when I was her age. In my sons', I wrote about when I got sick at the movie theater. At the end of the entry, I asked a question I wanted them to answer.

I put the journals on each child's bed (with a sharpened pencil) and left. I didn't say anything to them, I just waited. It didn't take long before my girl came to me and said, "There is something on your bed."She had answered my question, then asked a question she wanted me to answer. I answered it. I made sure to skip lines, spell correctly and write carefully. I didn't correct her spelling, grammar or critique her in any way. We were just communicating. I wrote another question for her.

Our writing goes in spurts. Sometimes we'll write several times a day, sometimes we'll skip several days before someone remembers that it is their turn to answer a question.

She is WRITING. Her spelling has improved, her answers are getting longer, her penmanship is easier to read.

My son and I have kept our journal, too, though there is less than with my girl.
It has been wonderful. We have a secret that is just between us; her other siblings are not invited to this club. Mostly, though, we are learning about each other.
We are writing an invaluable treasure.


Friday, October 9, 2009

Rummikub: A Number Puzzle Game

Let me introduce you to a fun numbers game that most of your family can play. This would be a great family Christmas gift.

Once the children can put numbers in order from 1 to 13, they can play this game (though I think the box says ages 8 and up). It can be played by just two players, but is much more fun with three or four (or combine two games and play with up to eight players!).

First, obtain the most beat up table you can find and spread out the tiles. Turn them all upside down.
Everyone draws fourteen tiles and arranges them in their tray in which ever way makes sense to them. Everyone does this differently. Once your child learns the game, don't mess with the way they arrange their tiles. My best player doesn't arrange her tiles at all, but then, she has always been way smarter than me.
Now it's time to play. Each player takes turns laying down as many tiles as she can. The first person to be out of tiles, wins. If you can't go, you must draw a tile from the pile.
You play by laying down a run (at least three consecutive numbers of the same color):
They can be any three consecutive numbers of any same color: Or, play a set (at least three tiles of the same number, but different colors):That's it. It is easy to learn, but the play becomes a great puzzle as more and more tiles are played. Runs can be as long as thirteen tiles (1 through 13) and sets can have one of each color (red, black, orange, and blue), but neither can have less than three tiles.

Sometimes you can rearrange the entire board, just to get rid of one tile.

It is always fun to see the synapses firing--and I'm referring to Mom and Dad, here.
Have fun with yet another way to play with numbers.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Family Read Aloud Novels

Since nursing my oldest to sleep quit being an option, I started reading my pods to sleep each night. The time they stop nursing is also about the time they move out of the crib, under my roof, so it makes for a comfortable cuddle-and-read. Until my oldest was five, we always read picture books. I, like you, have several memorized, such as:A super favorite of mine andbecause no one can beat Seuss for goofy made-up-words rhyming. Also

because I made up a tune for the I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always part which felt like a lullaby--and because it made me cry some nights.

When my son was five, something changed in our family. We decided to home school. The very first thing we implemented in our home school curriculum was the reading of classics as a family. I tucked in our three and five year old, turned out the bedroom light, turned on the hall light, sat in the door frame, and began reading,

Where’s Papa going with that ax?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.

“Out to the hoghouse,” replied Mrs. Arable. “Some pigs were born last

“I don’t see why he needs an ax,” continued Fern, who was only eight.

“Well,” said her mother, “one of the pigs is a runt. It’s very small and weak, and it will never amount to anything. So your father has decided to do away with it.”

They were captivated; I was captivated. After several nights, I knew this would be an integral part of our home education.

In honor of October, dark evenings and cool temperatures (because it is hard to get any of us to settle down to listen to a book when it light and hot at 9:30 pm), I want to refer you to some of our favorites. But first, a few rules:

  1. Make sure everyone has done all of their evening routine such as brushing teeth, getting a drink, putting the bike in the garage and saying goodnight to the pet.
  2. Children have to stay laying down--if a head pops up, I stop reading. The commotion makes it hard for the others to hear and if they sit up, soon their feet are hanging down, and then they are on your lap or playing with toys.
  3. Read, don't talk too much. You know your children. You know whether they understood that last paragraph or word. If they didn't, give a brief explanation and get back to reading. DO NOT use this time to preach, teach or discuss. Preaching, teaching and discussion are necessary parts of active reading, but save that for the next day or the end of the chapter. In-depth philosophising detracts from the flow of the story.
  4. Choose carefully which questions you answer. Suspense is half of why books are better than their motion picture counterparts. Sometimes you have to wait ten whole pages to find out the answer to your question. Again, try not to stop the flow the author so carefully established.
  5. Make your reading time match the attention span of your listeners. If they can only listen for five minutes, don't force them to listen for ten. You don't want them to hate this. Don't worry if you don't read for long at the beginning. After so much listening practice, I'm usually the one to plead to stop because my voice starts to give out after an hour.
  6. If no one likes the book you chose, quit. It's okay if everyone else in the world loves it. There are too many wonderful books to spend your time on crappy ones. Having said this, make sure you give it a good chance. I have a fifty page rule; give the author at least fifty pages to warm up. You might just need to wait a few years and try again when your children are older.

Now, put on the flannel, turn down the light, dispense with last minute potty breaks and enjoy any of these family reads.

Charlotte's Web by EB White (Always, always start with this.)
Stuart Little by EB White
The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden
Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder *series*
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis *series*
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen *series*
Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary
Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler by EL Konigsburg
Harry Potter by JK Rowling *series*
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C O'Brien
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald *series*
The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary *series*
The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks
The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix *series*
Little Britches by Ralph Moody *series*
Holes by Louis Sachar
My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
Peter Pan by JM Barrie
Fablehaven by Brandon Mull
The Great Brain by John Dennis Fitzgerald *series*

This is by no means a complete list, but hopefully it will get you started or give you a few new ideas. There are many, many great books for this age that I think are too difficult to read aloud (The Secret Garden and Huckleberry Finn, for example).

Good luck and enjoy the quiet unity of reading the same story at the same time.


Saturday, October 3, 2009

Fun Multiplication Mastery Game

Mastery of the times tables is a vital math skill. You Your child will need it in every facet of math and it makes a big difference if they have the figures down cold.

Some people call this game "Salute" and it is a fun way to practice the times tables. You will need a deck of playing cards (Skip-bo or Phase 10 cards work also--just make sure they have the numbers 1-12).

If your child is just getting started with multiplication, play with only the ace (represents 1), 2's, 5's, and 10's (jack can be 10, queen = 11 and king = 12) and then add in higher numbers as they learn them. For example, my son knows his tables up to twelve, but my daughter hasn't yet learned the 7's, 8's, or 12's. We don't put those cards in the deck for our game.

Once you have selected the cards that will be played, deal the remaining deck into two piles, face down. Give each child a stack of cards, reminding them not to look!

The children sit across from one another at the table and a third person sits on the end. Each child picks up a card and holds it up to their forehead, like this. Then he makes a nice face at his sister.

I said a nice face. There, that's better. The third player, which is usually Mom or Dad, says, "The product of your cards is 66." The Boy cannot see his own card, but knows that his sister is holding a number 6. "I have an 11," he declares. The Girl cannot see her own card, but knows that her brother is holding a number 11. "I have a 6." That's it. They discard their cards, pick up a new one and Mom says, "The product of your cards is 15."

"I have a 5!"

"I have a 3!"

"YES, good job. Next card."

The game ends when they run out of cards. After a couple of times through, you may want to take out the ace, and 10's. After a few more times, remove the 2's and 11's. You can make it as easy or difficult as you want.

Once you know your child won't give an incorrect product, switch places. You hold a card to your forehead and let one of the kids give the answers.

My kids love this game and choose to play even when it isn't school time.


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Emotion is in the Eyebrows

One of my goals for this school year is to have more art instruction. This particular post teaches how a simple change to the eyebrows or mouth implies an entirely new emotion. Here is how it is done:

On the back of a paper plate, draw hair, eyes, nose, and mouth. I chose to go simple so the children could copy easily. Make slightly arched eyebrows at least half an inch above the eye.

(This is where I insert the photo I forgot to take.)
Now, Put a new paper plate over the face and hold it against the window so you can see through the plates. Directly over the original mouth and eyebrows (but on the new plate), draw angry eyebrows and a frown. It may help the child if you trace the hairline also.

Let the child color in the hair (they do not need to draw a new nose or eyes since that will be cut out) while you repeat the process with a third paper plate. This time, draw high, straight eyebrows and a circle mouth.

After your child has embellished as much as they want, you can do the next step.

In a straight line, cut out the eyebrows and the mouths of the last two plates. Stack them on the original plate and staple on one side.

Now you get to play!

Here is surprised . . . or singing.

Just by changing the mouth, you have sad.

Now, change the eyebrows and sad becomes mad.

Mad and yelling . . .

Evil . . .

And, of course, happy and obedient.

My children named their little plate people and had them reacting to life's events all afternoon. Take advantage of showing them how a tiny change, like the lifting of the eyebrows, can change perception, reactions, and meaning. Point it out in cartoons, where it is often exaggerated.

Once you have cued the kids into noticing, they will see eyebrows with artist's eyes.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Elementary Education and the Computer

There are several schools of thought about young children and computers. I happen to believe that a child needs early exposure if he is going to keep up with the rapid advancements in computer technology. My children start on the computer as soon as they can work a mouse--usually by the end of their second year. Here is how it works in our home:

Logistics and Safety

Each member of the family has their own account on Windows. I, as the administrator, have a lot of control about which sites they enter. I have strict filters installed and each child is regularly reminded of internet safety. They are never aloud to use their own name, give my birth date if one is needed, know not to disclose information like location, and, as an added precaution, the computer is right in the living room so there is always someone peering over the player's shoulder. Even with that, there are sneaky predators. The children do not have their own email account and are quick to tell me if something uncomfortable happens. (For instance, my daughter had a boy come up to her in a game who had a heart above his head. She left the area, he followed her. She put a grumpy cloud over her head and ended the game. She immediately told me about the situation and I praised her for not letting it go too far.) They should be taught that pushing Alt+F4 will close an open screen since some ads or pictures will pop up despite filters. By pushing Alt+F4, they don't have to look for the X, they can just get it off the screen.


There are several sites that are for the youngest players (Fisher-Price, KneeBouncers, and some on PBS Kids, for example) that get them comfortable moving the mouse, clicking on items and learning how to navigate a site--even though they can't read. As they get older, the free educational games on the internet are exhaustive. I spend some time about once a quarter searching sites, updating games based on the child's skills and eliminating the sites that received an icy reception by a child. I have put some of our favorites on the sidebar. Because each child has their own account, I can bookmark only games at their level. Each homepage is specific, too. The five year old, for instance, has PBS Kids for her homepage while the ten year old has NASA. Also, each child has a school folder. During school hours, only the highly regulated games within the school folder may be played. Starfall may be fun, but is way below my eight year old daughter's level. It is not an approved school game for her.

After School

There are several activities that are harmless and entertaining, such as Pixie Hollow. This computer time is earned. Because I have control over time limits (it shuts off at a certain time), I can give them "one hour when you finish the dishes."

You have to put in a bit of time before you give your children access to the computer and you have to know that your computer screen will always have fingerprints on it. I think, however, that they benefit from being familiar and comfortable with a computer for as long as they can remember.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Practice Quick Basic Addition and Multiplication

This dice game is a favorite at our house. It helps all of us recall sums and products with speed, encouraged by competition. It is super simple to learn and can be adjusted somewhat to the students' level. It can be played individually, in pairs or as group.

Addition: Toss the dice and add the numbers before the other guy. The end. Isn't that easy? Two six sided die are perfect for beginners and trains the players to know sums without having to think.

Example: 3 + 5 = 8

You can move up to twelve sided dice (you can find them here) once you have mastered the sixes.

Example: 6 + 8 = 14

Multiplication: Toss the dice and multiply the numbers before the other guy. Again, start with six sided dice and move up to the twelve sided dice when you are ready. To play this game with multiplication, the students ought to have the times tables basically memorized. With frequent play, they will increase their speed speedily! (Ha, ha! Alliteration!)

Example: 12 x 4 = 48

Just a note: please, please teach your families the times tables up to twelve (or beyond). My elementary education only taught to the tens and I still struggle with twelves. We use twelves frequently in both measurement (five feet equals sixty inches: 5 x 12 = 60) and time (seventy-two hours equals three days: 6 x 12 = 72).

Okay, do you does your whiz kid want an even greater challenge?

Obtain four dice in two different colors. First add the similar colors then multiply their sums.

Example: (white) 6 + 4 = 10; (red) 5 + 3 = 8 Then multiply: 10 x 8 = 80

Need to see it again?

Example: (white) 6 + 2 = 8; (red) 5 + 3 = 8 Then multiply: 8 x 8 = 64

You and your children will become proficient at these basic addition and multiplication problems in no time at all. Have fun and don't go too easy on 'em!


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