Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Library Sale Score!

This is a close up of one of my book shelves. The entire shelf is full of Facts on File science experiment binders. I have Junior Environmental Activities on File, Earth Science Experiments on File, Science Experiments on File, More Science Experiments on File, Junior Science on File, Junior Science Experiments on File, Janice VanCleave's Science Experiment Sourcebook, Nature Projects on File, and Charts on File on that shelf. I have been regularly checking out Science Experiments on File from my local library. While there are still the usual experiments that teach very little, it has some very good demonstrations (I especially like the ones for stalagmites and classification). If there are still a good portion of the experiments that I wouldn't use, why is this such a score? Because I got all of the binders in a box for $6. Yep--$6!

As an example, the Junior Science Experiments on File has experiments for kindergarteners through 6th grade. Safety guidelines, basic skills, physical sciences, life sciences, earth science, and teachers' hints are grouped separately. i've included a couple of examples. The life science example with the celery is a great lower elementary (K through 3) activity especially when the different colored water is used. The pulley demonstrates appropriately a simple machine and gives a point of comparison by moving to a set up using two pulleys. A great experiment for upper elementary (3 to 6).

I would not claim that these books are great. There are just as many (if not more) experiments that I would not bother with as there are those that I like, but the ones I like I like a lot. They are generally more useful than those found on-line. I like the included data table examples and the directions are clear. The experiments do not demand massive expenditures. The equipment is what one would expect to use for any general science.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Visit to Long Island Sound

I have really enjoyed having my kids in a nature program run by Two Coyotes Wilderness School. It is a bit more academic than some other programs, including ones run by the same group, which I enjoy. This was a place we learned about through the program, Silver Sands State Park on Long Island Sound. Being a Jersey girl, this was my first trip to the sound.

There was a boardwalk to cross the salt marsh to get to the shore. I took a few pictures of the view of the walk out.

Here are three birds sitting on top of the marsh.

This is the land bridge out to the island. It is only accessible at low tide, but the island is closed currently due to some bird.

A seagull breaking open lunch.

Some silver sand evident inbetween the copious rocks.

The bird, of course, is only in the water behind the baby.

So many shells!


Monday, September 28, 2009

Software to Teach Music?

Perhaps I was hiding under a very big rock. That can be the only way to explain that I did not know about Music Ace Deluxe. Considering my Amazon page indicated that people who bought this software were also buying all other kinds of homeschool books.

With the financial situation of many homeschoolers (usually one parent who is not working), music lessons may not be feasible. I know they are not within my budget. While I may never be able to afford instrument lessons for my children, I want them to be familiar with reading music and terms used to describe music.

I found out about the software by accident. Once I read about it, however, I decided to give it a shot. It is an older program that was originally programmed for older Windows operating systems. The graphics are a dead give-away to its age. The window size is rather small for today's high resolution monitors too. Many people even reported issues running the program using Vista, though they may have been resolved if they understood they could opposite-click, select properties, and choose a compatibility mode for running the executable.

I have had the program for two days. Both kids loved using it and went through the first four lessons quickly and spent an hour playing the games that help them practice the concepts. Music Ace Deluxe does demonstrate by using a graphic piano keyboard, so it may be nice to have one (either real or electronic). The lessons are short, presenting only a small bit of information quickly and allowing the child to practice applying that information (like picking which note was pitched higher or lower, or moving notes onto the ledger lines). One program can track multiple learners, at least 10. The kids can pick what lesson to use or whether to play a game, or to continue with the next lesson from their last session.

The kids like it and use it, so far. So I like it!

Friday, September 25, 2009

American Historical Fiction for Younger Children

It seems everyone knows about the Dear America series. These are very in-depth historical fiction books that touch on various historical eras of America's past. They are also long! Even older children whose reading level is appropriate may find them too long, or boring, or hard to get into. I was recently introduced to a trilogy of historical fiction books concentrating on the Revolutionary War.

Hannah of Fairfield, written by Jean Van Leeuwen is the first in the series. The next is Hannah's Helping Hands followed by Hannah's Winter of Hope. The stories center on Hannah, a girl living in Fairfield, Connecticut in 1777. She is almost 10 and lives with her mother and father and older brother. This was interesting for us because we also live in Connecticut.

As one would expect, the novel gives a bit of information about life in the Colonial Era. Since Hannah is the main character, we are presented information through her eyes. This limits the Revolutionary War information to the homefront instead battles in the first novel. The second novel includes an encounter with the British forces that has a severe impact on the family. The third novel sees Hannah dealing with some of the hardships of war and her worry for the welfare of her brother. The last book was chosen by Flurpee, 10 years old, for her library book club.

The books were a quick read. Geared toward readers in 2nd through 5th grade, they trend toward the younger range in my opinion. They are short and include illustrations. The vocabulary is easy and the subject matter is sufficiently toned down to avoid serious issues for sensitive children--though perhaps not for the most sensitive.

I found the book we read to be interesting but without the deeper themes of longer chapter books. This a good way to introduce historical fiction for early readers, as a read-aloud, or for older kids who cannot seem to get into longer historical fiction. The interest level for older children may be limited by the short length and easier concepts.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

It's the Round Up!

It's all about the principles!

First On-Line Class

I did it. I just bit the bullet and signed Flurpee, the 10 year old, up for a Time 4 Writing course. I selected perfect paragraphs for her. We'll see how it goes. I know almost nothing about the format of the course. I'm hoping they offer a lesson and then an assignment based on the lesson. I'll let you know!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Elevator Family by Douglas Evans

Our local library has a few book clubs. They have one for 1st and 2nd graders, 3rd and 4th graders, 4th and 5th grade girls, and 4th and 5th grade boys. Having just started, Flurpee got to read The Elevator Family .

Living in an elevator is not everyone's cup of tea, but the Wilsons sleep in their cozy Otis elevator, eat in it, and even entertain in it. What I enjoyed most was the language. I have not found many clever books for younger readers, but this one fits the bill. Word play like alliteration, synonyms, and homonyms helped make this book enjoyable.

While I enoyed this book overall, and one can only expect so much from a young reader, the story line is disjointed and inconsistent in some areas. Though it is a nit and the overall experience of the book is enjoyable. Even Hanover (at 10 and reading 400 page books) enjoyed the story and especially the clever wording.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Dancing with the Devil in the Pale Moonlight, or The Organization Shuffle

Truly! Reorganizing is like the dance of the damned.

I moved my school room upstairs only to discover that the small area upstairs is ill-suited to an active toddler. Decided to school downstairs (back to that trusty kitchen table). Started moving things down piecemeal as I took books out for reference or regular use. After two months, my ad-hoc shoving of various materials here and there became too much even for me (meaning it looked REALLY bad--I'm good with pretty bad, but I do have my limits--like when I'm actually removing important items for a stash-and-dash clean instead of just mail).

When we first started homeschooling, I used the downstairs pantry for the school supplies, books, . Large, deep at 30", and in desperate need of new shelving anyway, it fit the bill pretty well. Of course, after having moved my school stuff to the NEWER school location, I decided to repurpose my pantry to use it as, um, a pantry plus some boxes of craft items. Now that I have taken it back for school items (again--rinse, repeat) I had to figure out what to do with that other stuff (you know, the stuff that actually belongs in a pantry--the kitchen stuff?).

Which leads to reorganizing the front hall closet.

This is in the back of our front hall closet. The hall closet, for various reasons I am sure, is 3 feet wide by 3 feet deep. That's a whole foot deeper than a standard closet. We moved the hanging rod so we would have room to add wall shelves behind the coats.

Which leads to reorganizing the book shelves next to the TV armoire (now doesn't that sound old-fashioned? I spent more on that armoire than I would spend today to get a 42" HD TV now).

The top shelf is for historic fiction based on periods we're not studying this year in history, Dungeons and Dragons rule books, and pop-up books I don't want the toddler getting his ripping & tearing hands on just yet. The second shelf down holds holiday books, craft books, and the American Girl things. The next shelf has puzzle books and mazes.

The top shelf here has the books Hanover has already read. The second shelf is primarily free-reading choice books along with modern classics (award winners, highly acclaimed, great messages for instance). I ran out of room (of course) and used a suggestion from a friend. I put books in a shoe-box sized bin that can be taken out and the titles perused from the side. It's not as nice as seeing all of the books at first glance, but it will do for now. I had to use many more bins on the next shelf for the Magic Treehouse, Junie B. Jones, and the other overwhelming amount of 1/4" thick books I have for Flurpee.

Which leads to reorganizing the book shelves next to the sliding doors.

This is my primary location for books I may use this school year. Again with the bins! The top of the book case has curriculum books I may need for the kids--like their next math level or science work books. The top shelf has three bins arranged by grade level in which I've put the Ambleside Online curriculum books I own. The first bin is for year 1 and 6 (the ones I don't think I'll be using), the second bin includes years 2 and 3 books for Flurpee, and the third bin has years 4 and 5 books for Hanover. The books that can be related to Europe in some way are placed in the front and American books are in the back (again so I can concentrate on books that are related to our history classes with History at Our House). The books that don't fit into the bins are all the way to the left. The next shelf down has magazines like Which Way USA, Highlights, Spider, Cricket, National Geographic Kids, and others. The bin all the way to the left includes the historical fiction that would fit with our history classes, arranged from earliest periods to later.

Which leads to (sensing a theme?) bringing up another book shelf which then needs to be organized (can't re-organize when it has never been used before). "Book shelf" is a bit of stretch. It's only a book shelf in that it is currently holding books. You smartie-pants will note its uncanny resemblance to basement storage shelves. If I didn't have a toddler with a long reach, I might not have so many book shelves. Since the bottom two shelves are all off-limits, I need to spread out A LOT.

On top I have things I need to get rid of as well as CDs and audio books. The shelf beneath has the CD player and reference books the kids may need or want to use (dictionary, atlas, thesaurus, rhyming dictionary, bird guide, rock guide, and stories from the Core Knowledge series). In front of those are the memory boxes (which I've failed at using before), one for each kid, as described at Simply Charlotte Mason without any of the scriptures, of course. The next shelf down holds the kids actual schoolwork. They each have their own bin so they can find their work more easily and put it away quickly. The red accordian file next to the bins is where I put their completed work. I have divisions by child and by subject (e.g. 'Elisa's History', 'Victoria's Language Arts'). The binder holds the history images needed for class (both Upper El and Lower El get the same images, so I only print them once and put them in a single binder. The kids history notes and geography work each go in their own binder which is kept in their bins.

Which leads to reorganizing the actual books. Consolidating the parenting books to the shelves above my night stand, the sci-fi books to the shelves above hubby's nightstand, and the science text books and lay-man's interpretations to the shelves above my old schoolroom desk. No pics of those because the books have been relocated by there is NOTHING organized about it!

And here is still more aftermath. These are the dislocated appliances from a bakers rack and pantry that got the heave-ho out of their comfortable and well-established abodes. They are currently in appliance purgatory to match my kitchen clutter 2nd level of Hell.

Perhaps this weekend will see me posting my best and final school area pics of the completed project. I'll post hair-raising, stomach-turning, nail-biting before pics as well.