This blog is where we share our homeschooling journey. Our style is eclectic, employing strategies like notebooking, workboxing, and some relaxed unschooling I like to call organic or free-range learning.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

If Your Kid Hates Speaking, Make 'em a Star!

Part of the "If Your Kid Hates..." series...

So we hit on this idea to have Bri make a holiday video for my husband's business. Thing is, people have trouble understanding some of her 7-year-old speak. While we have adapted to her speech it's tough for us at times, too. Stopping several times to have her repeat things, or re-pronouncing them until she gets it right has proven quite frustrating for her. While she doesn't hate speaking per se, she is not wild about us pestering her over enunciation.

All this considered, the video idea might sound like a pipe dream. If fact, it wound up serving our needs well. Since she was excited about the idea of going on camera (in front of a green screen, no less), she was eager to rehearse her lines and work on speaking clearly for the audience. Thus, a perfect "teachable moment" was born. Rehearsing was done from the perspective of all actors needing to practice their lines over and over, and pronounce them clearly, so the microphone can pick up the words.

After days of practice and several "takes" she still had some trouble with the more difficult words--which was fine, since we weren't expecting her to transform overnight--but she did improve her speaking clarity. More important, she enjoyed the process. Also, the video gives her the opportunity to hear how she sounds to others, which is a good tool for her without my having to pester about it. This was successful enough that she wants to do more, so we are planning other short videos for her to tackle in the near future.

Here's the video:

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

If Your Kid Hates Writing, Make 'Em a Novelist!!

Brianna has discovered her first strong school-type dislike: writing. Writing drives her crazy--the mechanics, forming the letters, copying sentences...all of it. Sit her down with a pencil and she yawns incessantly, kicks the chair, groans/whines/moans, and sometimes bursts into tears.

Back in my series about "Teachable Moments," I cited just this scenario and mentioned waiting until the child was ready to tackle a subject naturally rather than foisting it on them hatred-be-darned. Now that we've signed up for a home-based charter program, however, (which requires samples of progress in state standards and a school-wide essay assignment), this isn't a viable option. Time for Plan B.

In my quest to make writing "fun," I've tried several different games, writing with food (including Skittles Spelling and tracing letters into pink lemonade drink powder), as well as a workbook series titled Draw Write Now. (I considered Handwriting Without Tears, but heard mixed reviews as to just how tear-free the lessons were.) In Draw Write Now, each writing assignment includes a lesson in how to draw a picture based on the subject. I figured this fun art component would soften the blow of having to jot down all those pesky words. Still, she balks. Skittles and Lemonade spelling quickly because Skittles/Lemonade artwork/drawing, as she lost interest in forming letters. I had minor success with a game of "Guess What I'm Writing?" and taking turns with the magic slate, but she gives up on it in short order.

An assignment from Draw Write Now: Farm Animals

So now that I've succeeded in seeing my child come to hate writing enough to be happy never to see another word, what now? Enter my latest crazy scheme--I signed us up for the Young Writer's Program in the National Novel Writing Month (November 1-30), which challenges folks to write an entire novel in thirty days.

You might be thinking, "Have you gone mental? A 7-year-old writing a NOVEL--when they hate to write? You'll drive her over the edge!!" Well, I'm hoping to pull my daughter back from the abyss by bringing the fun connotation back into the word "writing." No longer will the term conjure nightmare images of x's that won't slant and hand cramps. Once again it will whip up pictures of magical stories, tales of wonder where she can be anyone, go anywhere, and do anything. In short, we're going back to formula on theory, rather than practical execution. She will dictate her story, and I will dutifully type it and wait for the sunshine and rainbows to return (we hope).

For those of you who haven't heard of this challenge, I highly recommend it. I've participated five years running, and this will be Bri's first time. Young writers can learn a great deal about Language Arts by participating, and the official site ( offers lesson plans by grade as well as a forum. A fabulous home school lesson plan idea for kid novel writing can be found at Little Blue School's blog. I hope some of you will find the fun in writing this November!

I'll be charting our progress here on the blog, as well as the end impact on her current Anti-Writing campaign. Wish us luck!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Living is Learning

Broken arm stage 1=the soft splint

***Update: She finally got the cast off on September 9! The bone was 90% healed, so she wore a splint for an additional week. That meant a total of three months and one week of treatment, involving two hard splints and FOUR casts. What a summer!!***

There's an Alanis Morrissette song that talks about life as the process of learning: You Laugh, You Learn. You Cry, You Learn...etc. Bri found this out firsthand this past month when a simple romp in the grass with her new toy airplane turned into a broken arm. This doesn't mean she's learned to be careful while running (alas), but this rather cloudy kick-off to our summer has had the silver lining of providing a number of educational opportunities. Here's just a few things she's discovered:

1. States of Matter
The process of getting her fiberglass cast put on involves a substance transforming from one liquid to solid, so this was a hands-on chance to observe this in a new way.

Stage 2: the full arm fiberglass cast

2. Chemical Reactions

Also, she found out that the cast got warm while it was hardening up, demonstrating the principle that chemical changes involve the use of energy, which produces heat.

3. Bones and Body Repair
The doctor was nice enough to let Bri look at her x-rays and give us a copy that we can view at home on our computer. She learned about the two different bones in her forearm, and how one bowed (bent) and the other broke in half when she fell. We also have an anatomy book from my college days that has pictures demonstrating the process of bone knitting.

Bri has needed a lot more sleep

4. Health and Nutrition
Sure, we could have given a rote speech about recovery and health, but Bri has learned some things about the direct correlation between how she takes care of herself and her body repairing itself. She started sleeping more since the break, including naps that she'd long since left in the lurch. She learned that her body is diverting energy from certain "extra" activities in order to effect repairs. She's also been a bottomless pit of hunger, with special cravings for meats and dairy products. She discovered that protein and calcium are required for the body to create new bone.

Adjustments are needed for normal activities

5. Cause and Effect
Certainly there was the immediate lesson of Running Without Looking=Broken Bone, but there have been numerous cause and effect opportunities in the aftermath. There's the cause and effect of having to curtail activities, select wearable wardrobe, alter how she does things, etc.

She's learned a good deal more, of course, but this is just an example of how living is learning, and how one event can teach a variety of concepts.

Bri has been less than thrilled to lose out on swimming and other summer activities, but she can still have goofy fun!

Friday, June 11, 2010

When Workbooks are for Unschoolers

I talk a lot on this blog about how for unschoolers, the world is our classroom and life is the curriculum. Now I have a confession to make: We use workbooks and assignments sheets. A lot.

Does this mean we're not unschoolers? Nope. In fact, the reason I started using these was child-lead: Bri wanted them. Not always and not for everything, but they come in handy to augment her "life curriculum."

Just a few of the workbooks we use.
How I use worksheets/books in our "unschool" setting

In our unschool we believe strongly in teachable moments and child-lead learning and use these far more often than rote instruction-on-schedule. However, I also like to bring opportunities to Bri's attention, because one never knows what could become the next big interest. So while many of our activities involve topics she herself has expressed a desire to learn, she will also often respond to prompting with an interesting "potential" activity of many types, including worksheet learning.

Sometimes I'll spot nifty looking workbooks while I'm out shopping. I've picked these up at Barnes & Noble, Discovery Toys and Joann's, as well as for a steal at places like the dollar store and Wal-Mart. I also have some favorite websites I browse for interesting activities and worksheets, and I save loads of them to folders on my flash drives as I run across them. Then when Bri is working on a particular topic, I'll browse my files and print out sheets that look promising. Or, I'll browse when we're in between her specific topics to see what might tickle her fancy, and I'll offer it to her.

Our "in" and "out" boxes for assigned and finished work

Often Bri will pull out a book and ask to work on it together, but because she sometimes likes a "school" feel I might "assign" a page to her (generally before leaving for my swing shift job). We have an inbox for assigned work, and when complete she places it in the outbox for me to check over. I don't force a page on her if she sees it and tells me she is disinterested, nor do I make an issue of it if I come home and she has not completed her assignment. However, I will ask her to identify why she didn't get to it, so we both have increased understanding of how, when, and for what she feels best motivated to do her work.

Do I feel that by not requiring completion or keeping her to a deadline that she is failing to learn about timeliness? No. She has many other opportunities to learn this, such as getting up on time for a special activity, keeping appointments, bedtime, chores (she loves cleaning her room with a timer set), and games involving a time limit.

All in all this has shown me that workbooks and assignments are not necessarily out of the question for an unschooler. Different children have different ways they like to learn, and if a child wants to use these tools, then chances are very good they will learn from them.

Here are a few websites I use for worksheets:

Monday, April 26, 2010

Another Math Game: Receipt Wallpaper

Image courtesy of Stock Xchg

I was tossing some old receipts out of my purse the other day, marveling at how fast the little beggars stack up in my tote. I hit on an idea for a math activity that I know isn't quite new, but one I want to try and maybe add a couple angles to.

We'll be saving all our receipts for one month. That's every single one, from the 75-cent candy bar at the mini mart(remember when they were only a quarter?) to our endless loop of tape at the grocery store. All fast food. Every gas purchase. You get the picture.

Each time we bring home a receipt, it gets taped to a wall set aside for that purpose. I'm betting our new wallpaper will spread like wildfire. After the month ends, it'll be time to add up the number of receipts collected, as well as the total spent. (Good long hand or calculator practice!)

From this, several lessons can be taught (not all of which will be just to my child, I'm sure!)...

1. The sheer math value of counting/adding money spent.
2. The tie-in implication of budgeting (we could buy more toys, but this is what we spend).
3. The environmental considerations of our spending habits.
4. Sorting and categorizing of expenses. (What gets bought the most?)
5. How to save strategies (what if we bought less fast food meals next month?)

...and so on. With a little ingenuity, I'm betting all school subjects could be somehow tied in to this activity.

I think this will be an eye-widener for parents as well as kids, and something we can all learn from. I'd love to apply this on a broader scale, such as making this a year-long project if the one-month trial goes well. And just think, come tax time we'd have all our receipts handy!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Host a "No Math" Day!

Image courtesy of Stock Xchg

I was reading posts on one of my homeschooling groups (CA-Homeschooling-HSC, a wonderful bunch of folks and information), and someone pointed out, "I challenge people to try and have a day without math."

My eyes popped wide and I thought, "What a great idea!" The more I thought about it, the more I decided we are going to try this out as a home school activity.

What's "No Math" Day? Just a typical day, but the rule is the family cannot do any activity that involves math. What a joyous announcement THAT would be for the math-haters in the house, eh?

But then, let them see what happens when they try to live out the day.

1. TV? How can you watch it when channel selection involves numbers? So that's out.
2. Cooking? Can't measure ingredients. Only food that needs no measuring can be eaten that day.
3. Fast food instead? Money's out of the picture, so forget that and any other shopping as well.
4. Games (video,board games, sports)...not if points have to be added up for it, etc.

Sorry, no-can-do that restaurant milk shake if there is no math!

The level of strictness applied toward defining "math-related" activities can be adjusted based on the age/maturity of your child and your own interest, but even in broadest terms what an eye-opener this could be! This could demonstrate much louder than any lecture just how much of our lives are dependent on math. The activity might not make converts out of the anti-math brigade, but it will get them willingly participating in the very subject they're not allowed to DO that day!

I'll post back once we've done this activity at our house with a status report. Granted, Bri is not a math-hater by any stretch, but her eyes do glaze over faster at times in this subject than most others. I'm curious to see what we all learn from it.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Blah Bulletin Boards? Never!

Among our other Earth Day projects this year, I decided to make a bulletin board to display the calendar items I've been using to help Bri get a better sense of time than she was getting from her Jonas Brothers calendar (though she digs the kewl photos!).

Here's the "plain" bulletin board before her calendar was added. It was simple to make, and she absolutely adores it! It's fun, yet isn't too busy for the display items to stand out.

Here's the finished product after adding her calendar stuff. For fun we also included a little weather report. Click on the photo to enlarge it and you'll see the calendar items sit inside a clear pocket along the bottom. This was the trickiest part of the whole thing, but it wasn't too hard.

This could have been done as a flannel/felt board, but I opted for a wipe-clean base for three reasons. First, this sits on our dining table (resting against the wall) and I didn't want a spill wicking up and ruining it. Two, I already had the laminated weekday/month/date cards, and didn't want to redo or alter them for a fabric board. Third, I was hoping to get away with using items I had on hand.

Here's how I made this:

1. I used spray adhesive to glue construction paper to represent grass/sky/sun/tree onto a standard sheet of foam core. (With Earth Day in mind, I "recycled" paper that already had been used on one side.)

2.To add the pocket, I cut a sheet of clear shelf paper a few inches over the length of the foam board. I folded the top down lengthwise about 2/3 of the way to make the double layer pocket, yet still leave a single layer of "sticky" paper along the whole bottom edge. I positioned the long pocket, folded the edges around to the back of the foam board, then secured it using packaging tape.

3.The sets of calendar items (obtained courtesy of are stacked in order and slipped into the pocket. Each day we pull the prior weekday/date/etc out and slide it to the back so the current day is displayed.

4. The mini "weather report" is available at Sprout Online's coloring pages. I cut it out and laminated everything with clear vinyl. Using the same basic idea I did for the board, I made a clear pocket for the little weather signs to slip into. This I attached to the foam board using brad fasteners. Each day the proper sign (sunny, cloudy, etc) is slid into view in the pocket.

There's still room to display other special items of interest like photos, theme letters/numbers/words, etc. Meanwhile, since we live in a tiny apartment and space is at a premium (not to mention our fondness for teaching Bri about recycling/reusing things), I want to spray-adhesive fabric to the entire back of the board so we can flip it around for use as a felt board.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Virtual Field Trips via Webcam!

As with most homeschoolers, Wonder World Academy enjoy numerous field trips. Whether to the library or post office, museums, parks, or Disneyland, our class room is constantly on the move. But there are times when it is not feasible to go a-roaming, such as when our schedules are overworked, the weather uncooperative, or our child is feeling poorly and not fit for public consumption.

Enter the internet, land of a million opportunities to discover new things about our world. While we frequently "visit" different places online, it can be most fun to visit "live" via streaming web cams piping in the latest and greatest adventures of wildlife, farm life, etc. This has become a great educational opportunity whereby we can snuggle up together on the couch, then visit any number of locations to watch polar bears swimming at the zoo, hummingbird babies in their nest, or puppies entertaining the world with their antics. Questions always arise while we watch, so this "couch time" is always educational. How many schools out there can boast one field trip per month, let alone every day? And I love that we can learn even on days when our child is not feeling the greatest, days she would ordinarily have to stay home from regular school and "miss out." Instead, these opportunities help cheer up an under-the-weather youth.

To find live web cam opportunities, try OR Google "live web cam animals" or a specific location. PARENTS: Due to the adult nature of many web cam internet broadcasts, do be sure to supervise searches for live feed field trips.

Here's a favorite a fellow homeschooling family shared with us recently:
Live TV : Ustream

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Top iPhone Apps for Homeschoolers

If your household acquired an iPhone or iPod Touch for the holidays (or prior), you can use it to enhance your family's homeschooling experience. There are tons of add-on applications you can install for your child's (and your!) learning. Best of all, many are free or cost only a dollar or two.

Here's a rundown of some of our favorite iPhone apps:

1. Stanza
Read books anywhere, right on your iPhone/iPod. This free ereader app not only allows you to download ebooks off the web, but you can transfer files and books from your computer as well.

2. ABC Tracer
A great activity game that teaches the mechanics of writing letters. Your child traces over letters, and the program colors the line red or green depending on whether they are tracing the right direction. Fun and effective for emerging writers.

3. GoSkyWatch Planetarium
An awesome astronony app. Point your iPhone/iPod at the sky and this app will identify stars, planets, and constellations where you are. Also has a full 180-degree rotating display to "see" the night sky in other parts of the world. Over 200 images of planets and more. At $5.99 it's the most costly of the apps on this list, but worth it.

4. Google Earth
A 3D map program that shows landmarks and lets you zoom in on any spot on the planet. For a lighter version of this, try Pocket Earth.

5. Moon Globe
Same 3D idea as Pocket earth, but for the moon. Highly detailed, with over 1800 landmarks identified. Very cool.

6. NASA app
Very cool linkup to space agency news, videos, mission info, photos, and more.

7. Art
View thousands of famous works of art by more than 200 of the world's greatest artists. Link off to websites for artist biographies, play quiz games, and more. This is only 99 cents, but there is a free "lite" version as well.

8.A Bee See Sight Words
Darling talking flash card game that introduces over 300 words. There is a free lite version that you can try out to see if your child likes it.

9. iReadMusic
A fun app that teaches your child to read musical notes via a series of games. Multiple instruments to choose from, including guitar, piano, and mandolin.

10. iWriteWords
Teaches kids to write upper case letters (there's now a lower case version available too) by a set of games. A good progression game after ABC Tracer.

11. MathSplat
A game set that teaches addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

12. Mathemagics
Mental math tricks that will let your kid pluck complicated answers from thin air!

13. Japanese Phrases
Yes, you can learn languages on your iPhone--a lot of them, actually.

So how do you get these apps? Visit the iTunes store (using the app store button on your iPhone, the iTunes program on your computer, or Google it online) and search apps to find a ton of educational and fun experiences for the whole family. Enjoy!