Category Archives: Curriculum

How to Deconstruct a Penguin

penguinsI recently came across this book Deconstructing  Penguins by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone. It’s basically explaining how you can establish a book club for kids and their parents. The Goldstone’s conducted their own parent/child book club for years with such great success, that they decided to put the detais in a book for the rest of us.

Up until recently, I haven’t been a big fan of the novel study curricula available to homeschoolers. These are typically geared towards elementary school kids and are loaded with somewhat predictable questions seeking just as many predictable answers. In short form, if the child has read said book with minimal interest, then it is most likely they will find these types of questions on the fringe of boring. For these reasons I discarded many of these types of novel studies.

Enter Deconstructing Penguins. This book was like a breath of fresh air. It made literary analysis; dare I say…exciting to kids! Not only are kids and their parents encouraged to read the book together, the book created opportunities to get together with other families who have read a particular children’s novel, and dig a little deeper with regards to what the story was really about. I found it almost effortless to introduce the kids to things like protagonist, antagonist, setting, climax, and plot. I also discovered that such an approach to digging deeper into literature really lent itself well to a group setting. The kids fed off each other, brainstormed together, shared different points of view, and…..wait for it…..LEARNED together.

I find as homeschoolers, there are vast amounts of quality time spent in independent learning. Occasionally, I find independent learning can sometimes lack opportunities for our kids to hear others’ points of view. I personally see this as not only beneficial, but also necessary. So, where time allows, I would like to do more of it, and Deconstructing Penguins has provided our homeschool with just such an opportunity.

I highly recommend this book and found it worthy of the valuable real estate in my resource library. Give it a read, and give it a try. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised – and my kids can’t wait to do the next book! (oh, and btw – the parents had fun too!)

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Owl Puke!

Owl Puke BookYes, you read that right – Owl Puke. The technical name would be Owl Pellet, or something much more refined, but this title got your attention, yes?

I recently attended the 2009  Homeschool Conference in the lower mainland of our province. This was their second year however, in a new venue, and even though there was less to take home (vendors brought less merchandise due to space constraints), there were still a few goodies to find. That said, I think I’ll be making the trip to BCHEC conference in Kelowna next year. However, I digress – so back to my finds.

My youngest daughter is a birding (and owl) enthusiast, so when I saw this little package labeled Owl Puke, I couldn’t resist. The kit comes with a dissecting tray, a nifty little book, and a sterilized owl pellet. The fun starts when you get to carefully take apart a most disgusting intriguing little owl pellet and look for the remnants of the sorry little rodent creature who fatefully became this owl’s lunch. What kid wouldn’t love that? Okay, so I wouldn’t touch it, but I didn’t let on. I have, inadvertently passed on some of my own fears to my children in the past, so I carefully concealed my disgust and put on my best enthusiastic face. It seemed to work – in fact, she couldn’t wait to get started.

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Taking apart owl puke, however, takes time and patience to carefully extract teeny tiny little bones, then sort and clean them. But the fun doesn’t stop there. No, after sorting out the sorry remains in this owl’s lunchbox, the kids can reconstruct the skeletons, and then identify the ill fated victim. For your scientific pleasure, I have included a diagram of the skeletal system of a friendly rodent in your neighborhood. Just print it off, then have the kids glue the bones right on top, or mimic the shape on their own piece of construction paper.

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If you wish to conduct this experiment on your own, it’s advised that you acquire only sterilized owl pellets as unsterilized pellets can contain nasty germs. Sterilized pellets can be ordered online at www.hawkquest.org. Needless to say, if you have a young owl or birding enthusiast in your household, I can highly recommend this little kit, it scores high on the Yuck -O-Meter, is suitable for grades 2 – 12, takes more than one afternoon to complete, and is educational money well spent!

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Homeschool Perk #6

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I have been writing a on a continuing theme over at Heart of the Matter Online for the last few months, with the emphasis being on the many perks of homeschooling. Come join me there and read all about this months homeschooling “Perk”: You can Develop Your Own Learning Plan. See you there!

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Book Review – Window on the World

window-on-the-worldI am often asked how I am able to teach to two different age levels. For homeschool families with more than two children, most of them have found ways to overcome this. For the rest of you, I will share how we manage it. There really isn’t any big secret – just a little bit of common sense. Certain subjects like math, for example, are taught individually – ie: each student works through their own math text for each appropriate grade or learning level. Other subjects, like history, science, and geography (and even some language arts) can be what I refer to as “cross taught”.  In other words we conduct our learning on those latter subjects as a group – and in our case it’s only a group of two. I simply expect either less or more of the said younger or older student depending on what assignment we’re working on.

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One of the latest geography books we’re using this year is called Window on the World,  by: Spragget and Johnstone. What I love about this book is it makes cross teaching world geography very simple.  The book features roughly one hundred countries around the world (one country per page), and offers up a brief but interesting synopsis of each country and their corresponding people groups. Presently we have placed the names of all these countries in our  geography jar, and two or three times a week one of these names is drawn randomly . The country is located on both a world map, and the globe. If the interest is there, then related library books about the country’s people, customs, culture, religious beliefs, resources, and native plants & animals are borrowed and read as well. To track our progress around the globe a colored dot is placed on a wall map of the world. To take this  a step further, you can give your student an opportunity (if they like to draw) to draw their own map of some of the countries – rather than coloring in a black line map. Use your imagination and creativity to make it fun!

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I’ve been amazed at just how much the kids are remembering on their own and are starting to naturally point out things they see in their own environment about some of the countries they’ve explored in this book. New Zealand alone has triggered such observations as New Zealand lamb (at the grocery store), a new Zealand bird – the kiwi (in their bird book), New Zealand Wool (in a clothing label) – and of course their personal favorite: the location of the filming of  The Chronicles of Narnia, the movie. They even made their own observations at just how far these young actors had to travel from their home country England all the way to New Zealand to film this movie.

Overall I highly recommend this book to further the study of geography in your own home learning environment. If your kids are tired of map books, why not try something different? Your little globe trotters will thank you – and you just might learn a thing or two you never new before either. Happy trotting!

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Fun with Electronics!

electronics-kitYou might think that electronics is not a subject that could be enjoyed by a fourth grader, but this post might just change your mind. I too, was a sceptic. Even though I have daughters who are not afraid of getting dirty, or exploring the world of insects and reptilians, I was sure that electronics might have to wait ’til eight grade. However, to my surprise I came across this nifty little electronics kit titled non other than: Fun with Electronics.

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The kit is comprised of a cardboard “workbench”, 52 springs, and various electronic components such as transformers, various capacitors, resistors, transistors, diodes and the like. The kids can (and did) put the entire workbench and all the components together themselves with relative ease. Once the workbench is complete, there are 25 different circuits the kids can build on the bench in order to create various electronic projects, including sound, touch, and light activated switches. Following instructions is critical though, and the ability to troubleshoot a problem circuit or locate a missing connection is necessary and requires much patience. Over all, the projects are quick and rewarding, and if the kids are able to follow verbal instructions well, you can sit and read the circuit patterns to the kids while they go to work and connect it. You can even do so while drinking your coffee – really.

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You may be wondering: Okay, that sounds cool, but I have kids in different grade levels and I simply don’t have time for all these separate little projects. Believe me, I had thought of that too. Which is why this year I have taken a different approach to science. I have two girls in grades 4 and 6 with two different sets of learning outcomes for science. If your kids are old enough, consider teaching the same subject to both grades. This electronics kit was purchased to meet 6th grade learning outcomes, and it happens to be something that my fourth grader is very much into. So, as a result, my fourth grader ends up ahead by meeting these 6th grade learning outcomes ahead of schedule – freeing 6th grade science for well, whatever she may fancy. Even though many of us are enrolled, it is possible to find the scholastic freedom that is familiar to many registered home learners.

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Election Time = Opportunity to Teach Government

We have a Federal Election approaching our True North Strong & Free. That’s right, October 14 is voting day for us here Canadians, and if you homeschool, it’s a prime opportunity to teach government and politics. I recall stressing a little bit last year at the idea of having to cover government for 5th grade learning outcomes – and we all know how exciting teaching government can be (wink). Soooo, luckily I was let in on a little secret from a fellow homeschooler with more experience and wisdom than I. “Why teach government now?”, she said….”Why not wait for an election?” Hmmm, I thought – now that makes sense.

So, here we are at election time, and I have decided to take two weeks straight and focus on Social Studies – with the sole purpose of teaching government and politics. That’s one of the many perks of homeschooling – you can take advantage of these opportunities and digress off the scheduled PLO’s (provincial learning outcomes) with the freedom to cover them in any order you wish. They all get covered in the end, but when opportunities like his come up, it simply personalizes the topic for the kids and gives them something concrete that they can hold on to – solidifying their learning experience.

We are using a nifty little book called Canada Votes, by: Linda Granfield. The book walks you through the basics of Canadian government and election procedures – connecting what the children are seeing around the neighborhood with the election process. In addition, we have been taking it upon ourselves to take note of individual candidates and running parties, as well as investigate what each candidate is standing for. (This can be taken a step further coincidedly with another book called Who Runs This Country Anyway?  by: Joanne Stanbridge) The girls are charged with picking three major points that each candidate is promising and writing them down. As we go along, we are provided opportunities to discuss in depth (according to skill level) what we think of each candidate’s stance on certain issues. By the end of the two weeks, we should be able to make an informed decision as to whom we think should best be suited for the running positions. The children are responsible for this fact finding process and along the way, they are learning a new skill – the skill of applied logic. No mind-bender workbook will provide this kind of logistic opportunity.

I am amazed at the type and depth of conversations we have had so far, and I did not anticipate having these kinds of conversations, but I stand in awe at the natural progression of it all. I imagine as we continue to investigate, we will have many more. So, if you have such an opportunity with your children to tie in government and politics with an election process, by all means do so! You will be amazed at the natural learning that occurs, the life skills that are developed and the character that arises in your children.

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What’s A Light Hut?

As we wind down our school year, I’m trying to stay true to my word of keeping up the learning during our summer break. In order to prevent what I call Imboreditis, I’ve informally planned a variety of learning activities throughout the summer.

One of those activities will wrap up our study of botany. Therefore, I’ve enlisted “The Dad”, to help the kids and I create an indoor greenhouse – one that……

 

Want more? Then head on over to The Heart Of The Matter to read the rest of my post there!

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