Friday, September 30, 2011

Fall at our house

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Curriculum Fair: History Resources

Curriculum Fair is a place for me to share the curriculum we use. If you check out my other posts in this series,
 you'll see how much we modify and revamp as we go along. Our homeschooling journey is always changing!

We have been using Sonlight since we started homeschooling as the base for our curriculum,  except for the year that we did the Prairie Primer unit study (it was fantastic!) This year, we are changing things up a bit for history, and I decided to add resources from Beautiful Feet for all of the boys.

If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.

-Rudyard Kipling

I've read the same read-alouds twice so far for my first two boys, and I wasn't very enthusiastic about doing them a third time. I wanted to continue with Sonlight, but add in some alternative read-alouds for my sanity! With Beautiful Feet, almost all of the read-alouds are new to us, so I am enjoying the journey with it.

We are using the Early American History for 2nd and 5th grade, with some modifications for each. This program relies heavily on the D'Aulaire books. 

The books are appealing and interesting, and my boys are keeping notebooks with pictures, dictations, facts, and vocabulary words. There are also four one-hour Your Story Hour CDs with stories about Columbus, Lincoln, the pilgrims, and more. My youngest especially likes to listen to these. This program appeals to many different learning styles and seems to be a good fit for my elementary boys. We are able to use our Sonlight Timeline book along with this course as well, so we are just building upon the foundation already established through our years with Sonlight.

My 8th grader is using the Early American and World History Jr. High pack, and he is also keeping a notebook with drawings, maps, vocabulary, dates, and facts. I love the approach that includes world history along with American history. I think it is important to learn how all of history ties together, and the literature approach is right up our alley. 

This level relies heavily on the Genevieve Foster books. Even though my 8th grader is perfectly capable of working independently, we are enjoying reading the Foster books together at my younger son's baseball practices. {You know kids are never too old to be read to, don't you?}

Using Sonlight for so many years has given my boys a strong history knowledge base, and the "real book" approach of all the programs I have mentioned makes history so much more meaningful. I am enjoying learning right along with them.

What do you use for history in your homeschool? I'd love to hear what has worked/hasn't worked for you!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Presto pesto!

Though our garden has about fizzled out for the fall, we still have basil growing strong.  I cut a bunch of it over the weekend and made my first-ever pesto to put in my freezer.  It was easy (key for me,) and it tastes yummy.  

I used four cups of basil leaves, 2/3 cup olive oil, 1/2 cup toasted walnuts, 6 garlic cloves, and salt and pepper, mixed it all up in the food processor, and then put it in small jars for the freezer.  

After doing some research, I decided not to add Parmesan cheese to it yet, because I understand that it doesn't freeze well.  We have two kinds of basil in the garden:  sweet basil and cinnamon basil.  I used the sweet basil this time, but I'll try it with the cinnamon basil next time. 

I got the best birthday present ever last weekend... a freezer!

My boys said that I must be getting old if I get excited about getting a freezer, but I LOVE it!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Rainbow Leaves

   A hint of fall in the air calls us outside with some paints and paper. The kids search for the biggest leaves they can find that are not too crispy, and then they dab and mix until they concoct a combination of colors they are happy with.

It's best to paint it on thick, so it stays wet while you're finishing. Once the colors are applied, press leaves down on heavy paper. I punched two holes in the top of each one and strung them on some burlap twine to bring a little fall inside with a bunting for the schoolroom.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

DIY: Pumpkin Pie Playdough

   My mom made playdough for my brother and me when we were kids, and I always liked it better than the store bought kind.  It is softer, you can make it almost any color you want, and it is like heaven to play with when it is still warm.  I've played around with her recipe to vary it for the seasons, and this one was a hit in our house:

Pumpkin Pie Playdough
{Smells good enough to eat, but don't!}

2 cups plain flour
2 cups water
1 Tbsp cooking oil
1 tsp. cream of tartar
1 cup salt
1 tsp. pumkin pie spice
a few drops orange food coloring

   In large frying pan, mix all ingredients over medium/low heat until it thickens.   Keep stirring until a soft ball forms.  Remove from pan and let cool a bit, then knead until smooth.  You can either add the food coloring straight in, or mix it with the water first to make it easier to blend.  My kids like me to wait until it is cooked and then add a couple of drops of food coloring straight to the dough so they can knead it and watch it blend.  Store in airtight containers in fridge.

---If you need a gluten-free homemade playdough alternative, try this recipe, and let me know how it turns out.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

DIY: Punkin' Heads

Feels Like Fall...

wooden fence post
orange latex paint
black and white acrylic craft paint
silk leaves, straw, pipe cleaners, or raffia
sawtooth hangers for back if you want to hang them

   Saw fence post into pieces ranging from 6 to 12 inches.  You can make a bunch of these  with one fence post.  If you aren't going to hang them, try to get at least one end pretty flat.  Sand edges to get rid of spintery pieces, then paint with two coats of latex paint (paint bottoms too if hanging.)  After paint dries, have kids paint faces with craft paints and then hot-glue leaves, straw, etc. on top.

   We saw these several years ago in Gatlinburg, decorating our cabin entryway.  I couldn't wait to try them myself, and they were super-easy to make.  

Friday, September 16, 2011

Curriculum Fair: Filmmaking {Crafting curriculum to meet their interests}

Curriculum Fair is a place for me to share the curriculum we use. If you check out my other posts in this series,
 you'll see how much we modify and revamp as we go along. Our homeschooling journey is always changing!

My eighth-grader has become passionate about filmmaking, from scriptwriting to directing to camera-operating.  He started with a flip camera, then added a camcorder and a stop-motion animation program with a webcam.  He's been working all summer cutting grass to save money for a "really nice" camera, and everything on his Christmas list is related to that (boom mic, lights, reflectors.)  He now spends most of his free time writing scripts--pages and pages of scripts.

Stop Motion Animation

My son has already produced both live-action and stop-motion movies to the delight of all of our family members (grandparents make an especially appreciative audience.)  Stopmotion Explosion: Animate Anything and Make Movies- Epic Films for $20 or Less has been a great jumping off point into the live action stuff that he really wants to do. 

For part of his literature/language arts and elective studies this year, we are incorporating "film" into our curriculum.  It hasn't been easy to find resources appropriate for teens, but I have managed to put together some things that are working so far.

Free Resources

Educational guides and lesson plans for movies such as Because of Winn Dixie, Hoot, Where the Red Fern Grows, Bridge to Terabithia, Narnia, Holes, City of Ember, and more are available as free downloads from Walden Media.     We have used these guides along with the novels and the movies as "going beyond the book" studies.

The Scriptfrenzy site features a young writer's program, where participants write a complete script in one month, and their site is also full of resources for writers and teachers--you can download workbooks and a writer's "bootcamp" for elementary, middle, or high school students.

Film Curriculum

After checking out and reviewing some books from the library, I ordered Filmmaking for Teens: Pulling Off Your Shorts for us to use throughout the year, and it has turned out to be a great resource:

I also found Movies as Literature curriculum from Design-a-Study:

These will be the base for our coursework, with all the other above-listed resources as supplements to this course.

The Movies as Literature course is an intensive study of movies as short stories. This program is not just about watching movies. Each movie studied includes 25 discussion questions, including topics for compositions and extended activities with either reading assignments, history research, or other movies related to the one being studied. Movies include both classic and modern selections, including Shane, The Quiet Man, Rear Window, The Maltese Falcon, E.T., The Philadelphia Story, and several more. For Shane, we are reading the novel before watching the movie, and the topics studied in this lesson will include:

Character development vs. stereotypes
Film techniques
Plot development
Character motivation
Underlying messages about:  what makes a man, what makes a hero, whether or not the end justifies the means, whether 'A man who lives by the sword, dies by the sword,' the positive contributions of God-fearing families to settlements in new territories.

The student workbook isn't required for the program, but I bought it so that I could make notes in my book and my son could have his own book to follow along in as we discuss the material.  Although this is a high school level course, language arts is my son's strongest subject, so we are using this for eighth grade.

Enthusiasm for Learning

Above all, I want my kids to be excited about learning, and if I can incorporate their interests into our curriculum, a huge plus to homeschooling, they will be more enthusiastic and motivated.  I love it when they ask me to "do school."

I'd love to hear what you do for electives in your homeschool!

*2014 Update: We recently discovered Compass Cinema, and we've added the DVD curriculum to our fine arts course for high school. Click below for details on this excellent program:

{This post contains affiliate links}

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

George Washington Carver

Part of the Christian Encounters series, George Washington Carver by John Perry is the biography of a man born into slavery who went on to achieve what seemed impossible.  A fascinating man, a well-written biography: this one is a keeper. {Click here to read the rest of my review!}

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Garden endings

   Our garden is winding down for the season.  We planted some broccoli and lettuce, but the bunnies have found them, so we are wrapping it up until Spring.  We let some of our okra grow really large, and we have them spread out to dry on the back porch.  The kids think it's neat that they seem to pop open at the seams as they begin to dry out, and then they feel like balsa-wood airplanes when they dry completely.  After seeing these cool vase fillers, I decided that some homemade oddities would make a thrifty substitute. 


Monday, September 12, 2011

Giveaway & Review: JumpStart

J-man is learning to control the mouse and use the keyboard.

What it is:

My kids have enjoyed learning and playing as we have explored the online worlds of JumpStart and MathBlaster to the point where they ask me if they can have a turn with it more often than they ask if they can watch television or play the Wii. JumpStart learning offers a free limited membership or a paid membership for $7.99/month, $74.99/year, or $149.99/lifetime, and you can add up to six players in the account. The extras for the paid membership include:

  • Access to thousands of member-only learning games
  • Practice hundreds of additional skills for school
  • Download four PC games ($80 Value)
  • Hatch, raise and train mythical creatures
  • Bonus membership to

What we like:
JumpStart includes several areas for kids to explore. StoryLand is geared towards preschool age,  AdventureLand and MarineLand are suited for early primary, and FutureLand is appropriate for later elementary. My kids' favorite "place" is the Enchanted Sanctuary, where they have hatched their own baby dragons which they feed and play with. 

Kids begin by creating and personalizing an avatar called a "Jumpee" by picking out hair color, clothes, and accessories and giving it a name. They can also adopt pets and furnish a house. My detail-oriented boys spent focused time getting theirs just right. 

What they learn:

As kids navigate through the virtual world, they will practice reading, math, art, and critical thinking skills through the various missions and challenges. They also hone their computer and keyboarding skills, which has been a real plus for my youngest. Although the play seems to outweigh the learning, there is learning involved, and because it is fun, kids beg to do it. 

MathBlaster, an outer-space adventure, is especially fun for my older elementary child, and it includes math concepts from 1st to 6th grade through training as a Blaster in the Intergalactic Space Patrol.

The JumpStart site is also loaded with extras for parents and teachers, such as crafts, science activities, and worksheets. There are parental controls as well, so kids can play freely in a controlled setting. 

JumpStart is generouly giving away a free 3-month subscription to both JumpStart and MathBlaster to one lucky commenter on this post.  Simply leave a comment for a chance to win! This giveaway will remain open through September.
{This giveaway has ended!}

{I was provided with a JumpStart membership at no cost by Knowledge Adventure in order to test the products’ abilities and give my own personal opinions on it. The opinions I have given are mine and may differ from others but were not influenced by the company or the free product provided.}

Record Keeping: Field Trips

   Whenever we go on field trips or attend classes, I document those days in my lesson planner.  I use a binder for my record-keeping, and I have it organized into several sections.  One section is devoted to field trips and classes.   I use the same form for field trips and classes.  My Field Trip form is simple, but it covers what I want to keep track of.  I print them on cardstock and fill in the place we went or the name of the class we attended, the date, and resources I want to use to enrich the experience, such as books, videos, websites, etc.  I also add in any follow-up activities such as nature journals, reading assignments, or further research that I want the kids to do.  Then I write about what we did, what we learned, and what I want to remember about the field trip and attach tickets, brochures, pictures, etc.  I also print out a few photos and either add them to the page or put them into page protectors and insert them behind the page.

   If we receive any class handouts, I will usually put one in a page protector here as well, unless they get filed in my kids' notebooks.  It's also nice to add in information on pricing, phone numbers, web addresses, etc. for future field trips to the same places.  My style of documenting is to write a narrative of the experience and include things that stood out or that we might want to revisit later on.  An example of this from our recent trip to a wildlife park is, "The presenter explained the difference between a tortoise and a turtle and identified their body parts.  The kids all got a chance to touch the tortoise."  The kids eagerly share what they learned with Daddy when he gets home, and I will be sure he asks them how you can tell a tortoise from a turtle. 


   My resource list for this field trip included: Answers in Genesis Zoo Book.  In this section I might also include reading assignments, websites, movies to watch, or other subject-related assignments.  When we visited a nuclear power plant, I included reference pages from my son's science book and a web address for an online video about nuclear energy.  For follow-up activities to our wildlife park visit, the kids will document what they want to remember in their nature journals, either with drawings, words, things they collected on the field trip, or photos we print out at home.  We found some peacock feathers which my youngest will put in the pocket of his journal. 

   At the end of the year, my planner ends up looking like a scrapbook because it is filled with so many memories.  I've tried various ways of record keeping in our eight years of homeschooling, but for now, the binder method works best for me.  I like being able to rearrange things, add pages as needed, and even move everything into a larger binder if needed as the year goes on. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011


On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream--
’Tis the star-spangled banner, O! long may it wave
O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

-Francis Scott Key (1779-1843)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Where we've been...

Celebrating a birthday with 5 teenagers and 2 little brothers...

with 14 candles this year.
Building this, and discovering that we only had 599 of the pieces.

Dreaming up a lego neighborhood.

Getting ready for Fall with some new broccoli and lettuce plants.

Cheering for Fall ball.