Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Colorful Shape Mobile

So we are taking a break from number sense in math and working on geometry for a little. First Sprout is a very visual learner, so geometry comes naturally in a way that numbers do not. The break has two purposes. First, it allows First Sprout to feel more confident and competent in math. For the first time since school started, math is exciting and fun. Second, it gives me the opportunity to step back and figure out some new strategies for helping her to feel that same sense of confidence and competence in other areas of math as well. I think that part of the challenge is developmental-- conservation still hasn't clicked. So while First Sprout can perform most grade-level math operations, it still requires lots of concrete objects and manipulatives. She still needs proof that 3 + 4 and 4+3 equal the same amount. She still needs reminders on one-to-one correspondence. As a result, organization and carefulness are a huge challenge for us with math.

Thankfully, I have time and flexibility at my disposal. I have the luxury of giving her individual attention and gentle reminders. First Sprout has been working really hard at math, but switching to geometry gives her a break from all of that hard work. It just comes more naturally!

So we have been busy playing with tangrams and pattern blocks, counting sides and angles. Today, we read the perennial teacher favorite, The Greedy Triangle by Marilyn Burns and did a really fun art project. We made a colorful shape mobile.

Here's how the mobile looks hanging from the light over our dining room table.


- 1 or 2 clean, clear milk jugs
- scissors
- permanent markers
- work mat, table cloth, or cookie sheet (to protect your table from the markers... use something that's dedicated or will be dedicated to crafting!)
- single hole punch
- twine, yarn, or string for hanging

Fun for the whole family; however, I highly recommend protecting your work surface!


1. Once your milk jug is clean, use scissors to cut shapes. I cut a variety of circles, triangles, and quadrilaterals (even an octagon or two), but you could cut out whatever shapes suit you. I made a variety of sizes ranging from 1-4" so that we could compare the essential attributes of each shapes.

2. This step is optional, but I had First Sprout sort the shapes before we started. She chose to begin by separating the round shapes from the polygons. Then she sorted the polygons into triangles, quadrilaterals, and octagons. Then she sorted the quadrilaterals even further into trapezoids, parallelograms, rectangles, and squares. It was a math vocabulary workout for both of us!

3. Use an old cookie sheet or table cloth to protect your work surface. Color the shapes using permanent markers. All three sprouts and I got involved in this step. It's a great opportunity to reinforce color and patterns with littler ones.

4. Punch a hole into the colorful shapes, string with yarn or twine, and display any way you choose. We made a mobile, but it could easily be a garland as well. Enjoy your math-tastic work of art!

So pretty with the light shining through. I think we'll enjoy looking at this for a long time.

We are all really happy with the results, and it is adding to the string of successes (seewhatIdidthere) we've had with geometry. I am looking forward to posting more ideas pairing books and activities for learning about shapes. If you have any requests, let me know in the comments!

Happy Learning!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

My Holiday Wish List For Us All

Body Love

May we stop criticizing how we look (especially in front of children). There are so many ways to be beautiful and so many ways to be healthy. Let's quit the body shaming and show love for all levels of ability and sizes and types of bodies.

Hard Emotions 

May we all have a friendly ear and a shoulder to cry on for those hard days, so that we can in turn be that friendly ear or that warm shoulder. Feeling anger, sadness, and frustration do not make you a bad person. Let's all be a little more gentle with ourselves and each other.


May we all give and receive respect. Sometimes it's hard to respect someone when we may not agree with or understand their choices. We all make mistakes. But we are all human, and we all deserve basic human dignity and access to safe, clean, loving spaces to exist.


May we all have the courage to ask hard questions and stand up to defend others. Maybe you choose to share links on social media or maybe you join in with a protest or maybe you write to your local congress person. Maybe you just do the best you can to make it through each day with the challenges you face. Courage has many forms.


May we all have the opportunity to exercise empathy every day. Take a few moments and put yourself in someone else's position-- with compassion rather than judgement. Read stories from the first person point of view, seeking authors who have different lives and perspectives than yours. It's hard to find narratives from people of color or people who practice non- Judeo Christian religions or people of different body sizes or ability levels, but it's worth it.

Happy Holidays (whatever you may choose to celebrate) from our family to yours!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Balanced Thanksgiving Reading for Children

It was really hard for me last year when First Sprout learned about Thanksgiving at school. She came home from kindergarten talking about the pilgrims and Indians and how they were such good buddies that they sat down to a turkey dinner together. Seeing as how we were at a really progressive school (I thought), I was pretty shocked. My history-buff husband was angry. How could well-meaning people still be teaching the same inaccurate story that we learned as gradeschoolers?

I never confronted First Sprout's teacher about it because I was busy and tired, and oh, the teacher was my boss at the time. But I did decide that I would work hard to start putting together a better list of read alouds for Thanksgiving. I wanted to incorporate more of a Native American perspective (which was harder than I expected) and then supplement  with books that approach the season from a perspective of gratitude.

Without further ado, here is my short list of Balanced Thanksgiving Reading for Children:

1)  Squanto's Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving by Joseph Bruchac. This by far and away the BEST book I have found that teaches actual historical facts about the first Thanksgiving from the perspective of Native Americans. The story is told by Squanto of the Patuxet tribe, and it explains how he was sold into slavery in Spain and traveled to England with the help of monks. There he learned to speak the English language and committed himself to becoming a guide to broker peace between his people and the new settlers. The story is told in an honest way that children can handle. It ends with a message of respect for all people, which is definitely a lesson I want my children to learn.

2) Thanks for Thanksgiving by Julie Markes. This book doesn't have a lot going for it in the way of diversity, but I love the basic message of gratitude that it shares. It describes many of things that a family with three young children might be thankful for at this time of year using a cheerful verse. I love the overall message of thankfulness for family.

3) In November by Cynthia Rylant. I tend to love anything by Cynthia Rylant, and In November is no exception. It's not about Thanksgiving specifically, but the striking language and beautiful illustrations go a long away to evoke the wonder of season. It's a remarkably lovely book that is perfect for snuggling and sharing.

4) Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message by Chief Jake Swamp. This book is based on the Thanksgiving Address used to open government proceedings and official ceremonies for the sovereign tribes of the Six Nations-- Mohawk, Oneida, Cayuga, Onondaga, Seneca, and Tuscarora. It is a powerful message of gratitude for our natural world and all of the wonderful things that it provides for us. In addition to providing more Native American perspectives, it prompts important discussions about the environment and natural resources too.

5) Strega Nona's Harvest by Tomie dePaola. This is another book that's not strictly about Thanksgiving, but the themes of harvest and sharing the bounty of the season with others are certainly fitting. In this story, Big Anthony doesn't quite understand why Strega Nona has to have her garden planted a certain way, so he decides to take some extra seeds and an unused patch of land to try an experiment. He ends up with a great yield-- just not in the way he expected. I love the messages about curiosity, perseverance, and kindness that crop up in this story.

My list is still pretty short for now, but I am on the lookout for new books to add for next year. I know there are some decent books that share the First Thanksgiving story from the Pilgrim's perspective, but my sprouts seem to be getting that perspective from a lot of other places already. My goal with this list is to try finding balance with more mainstream messages about Thanksgiving (and no buckled hats). I also don't want to make our studies in November all about Native Americans, because I prefer to share those books throughout the year as they fit with other seasonal studies (e.g. The First Strawberries is a summer staple around here, and autumn wouldn't be the same without How Chipmunk Got His Stripes). Hopefully, my work in progress will give others some ideas on new ways to approach the Thanksgiving holiday with children.

What Thanksgiving books do you love to share with your families and students? I'd love to get more ideas to add to the list, so feel free to leaves some comments in the space below!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Our Thankful Tree

So last year, my cousins had the wonderful idea to start a thankful tree in November. Each day, every member of the family wrote down one thing to be thankful for on a leaf. It was a project that spoke a lot to me, and I wanted to try it in my home too.

I remembered on Sunday night.

Since it was already two weeks into November, I decided to incorporate the thankful tree into my planning for the week by creating some leaf templates and printing them on colorful construction paper. We put the tree up Monday and added two rounds of leaves. First Sprout was able to write most of the words independently (although I was willing to help with names by writing them down as a reference). Second Sprout wanted to write leaves as well, and it was a good opportunity to practice kid-writing.

Here are some of the leaves we made. I printed the templates out on colorful card stock, and First Sprout helped with the cutting. We used metallic Sharpie pens to get extra fancy. And for the record, this Mama is thankful for coffee.
 I think we will probably put up another round of leaves next week (maybe on Thanksgiving Day) since the kids keep asking when we can make more. I am thankful happy that everyone is so excited about the project! Once we got going, it was really easy to come up with more ideas.

I used brown packing paper (the kind that comes in boxes from Amazon) to make the trunk of the tree and adhered it to the wall with sticky tack. First Sprout made the sign, which translates to "We are thankful for our family."

It's a lovely idea and a lovely result. I'm so glad that I remembered this project with enough time to get it going before Thanksgiving. Maybe next year I will remember to start earlier in November!

Happy Learning!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Button Box

Since we have been doing a lot of sewing and quilting projects around here, I thought that I would read The Button Box by Margarette S. Reid as part of our morning work. In the past, I have used this book as a way to discuss attributes and classification with my students; however, that was not my intention with the reading.

But then, First Sprout got unexpectedly excited about studying buttons.

This book is amazing, and I highly recommend it!
One of the great things about homeschooling is that I can follow these leads where they take us. So, I pulled out my jar of buttons, an old cookie tray, and a magnifying glass. As First Sprout was describing the various buttons, I introduced the term attribute, and we made a list of various attributes that might apply to our buttons (the book was a big help here).

It made a lot sense to start sorting the buttons based on their attributes. First Sprout was especially interested in the materials of the buttons, so we started there. I stuck some Post-It Notes on a large piece of construction paper so that we could record the data on our different groupings.

As First Sprout says, "we are science-ing the buttons!"

All of our hard word in spelling is paying off here.

Then we decided to try sorting a different way to see what would happen. First Sprout chose to sort by color, which made for some really beautiful groupings. We flipped the construction paper over and used a new set of Post-It Notes to record our data there as well.

Sorting buttons by color was really visually stunning.

Recording our data on sorting buttons by color.

Since this activity turned into such a great success (and I have two more sprouts showing interest in the buttons), I decided to create an activity pack for my Teachers Pay Teachers store called Attributes, Buttons, & Counting... Oh My! It is full of good stuff like attribute charts, sorting mats, and button graphs. We are taking the opportunity to try out our new goodies during the week, and I am adding pictures of the activity pack in use:

Second Sprout uses an attribute mat to sort buttons by color.

First Sprout made an awesome pictograph after sorting buttons by the number of holes.

Until next time, Happy Learning!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Election Day

Voting was definitely the focus of our school work today. I love how homeschooling allows us to use the world as our classroom, and taking a "field trip" to the voting book is no exception. I talked with First Sprout what would happen ahead of time, and we even read through the Step Into the Voting Booth pages at PBS Kids. We especially liked the "Cast Your Vote" feature which helps kids to identify what issues might be important to them in election. Then it creates a "Future Voter's Card" to print for your records. We printed two-- one for our homeschooling portfolio and one for First Sprout's treasure box!

And just because, here are some photos from the big day:

Mama's "I Voted" selfie.

Even Second Sprout's doll joined in on the voting fun.

Third Sprout sure is excited to show off the "I Voted" sticker!

First Sprout added the sticker to the "Future Voter's Card" we printed this morning.

I hope everyone is able to make it to the polls today (if you haven't cast a ballot already).

Happy Voting!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Sewing Lessons

When I was teaching at an arts-enriched private school last year, I was fortunate enough to do some sewing with my students on a quilting project for our unit of study on geometry. I was amazed at how eager my first and second graders were-- many of them took to sewing very quickly. First Sprout's kindergarten class was also introduced to some basic stitches by the school's art teacher, and First Sprout has been through many self-designed and self-started sewing projects since then.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine (and the parent of one of my former students) approached me about offering sewing lessons. Like First Sprout, her child had been planning and attempting a lot of sewing projects but was having mixed results. My friend felt like some basic lessons would help give her child the tools to complete sewing projects more successfully. Makes perfect sense.

So I started giving sewing lessons to First Sprout and Friend Sprout-- two so far. I was very fortunate to stumble on this neat series of blog posts on Teaching Kids to Sew. We started by practicing running stitches on Styrofoam plates, but it became clear that my students were looking for a bigger challenge.

First Sprout's stitching sampler (back stitch and running stitch from left to right).

This week, I gave each of the sprouts an embroidery hoop and let them choose patterned fabric. They practiced embroidering around the designs in the fabrics using running stitches and back stitches. Over the next few weeks, we will continue to use the same fabric hoops and gradually learn to use new types of stitches. The end result should be a little stitch sampler that they can keep (and maybe frame if they come out really nice!).

Friend Sprout's stitching sampler (running stitch and back stitch, from left to right).

I also put together little books that illustrate what each stitch looks like. The pages are laminated, hole-punched and clipped onto a ring so that we can gradually add more to the book as they learn new stitches. "My Little Book of Stitches" is up and available at my Teachers Pay Teachers store for anyone who might be interested! The books are really nice to you as a ready reference when learning a new stitch because the laminated pages hold up nicely and stay flat on your working surface.

The first three pages to "My Little Book of Stitches." Moving forward, we'll be adding whip stitch, couch stitch, zig zag stitch, cross stitch and chain stitch to our repertoire.
I am really enjoying the sewing lessons and look forward to getting more stitches down. My thinking is that even the decorative stitches will be helpful in building fine-motor control and confidence with needle work. Then we can move on to skills like patterning and piecing-- fun! I'm keeping my eye for some good starter projects that will help introduce those skills.

I'd love to get more ideas about sewing with children (or any sort of fiber crafting, really!). What skills did you start with? What projects did you create? Please share in the comments.

Happy Learning (and Sewing)!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Pumpkin Week

We have been enjoying lots of fall-themed activities already this month, so it wasn't a huge surprise when the sprouts requested to have  Pumpkin Week next. It was a great opportunity to work on some science and math, in addition to enjoying pumpkin-themed read alouds.
Measuring the circumference of our pumpkin.

We started off the week by reading Pick a Pumpkin, Mrs. Millie! and making some delicious chocolate-chip pumpkin bread (because even pumpkin bread is better with chocolate).
Thankfully the kids liked cleaning the pumpkin out more than I do!

Then we enjoyed reading Pumpkin Day! by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace. We also took the time to observe and measure a pumpkin using non-standard and standard measurements.
First sprout made the excellent choice to group the seeds by tens, we ended up with 750 total-- whew!

After reading How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin? By Margaret McNamara, we made observations about the inside of a pumpkin, estimated the numbers of seeds, and counted them. The sprouts were so excited about carving a jack-o-lantern, that we went ahead and did it the same day even though I had planned on saving it for when we read Five Little Pumpkins.
Appropriately spooky pumpkin face. The sprouts have named him "Wicked Jack."

Pumpkin Week isn't over yet, but we have zipped through all of the big activities I had planned. Tomorrow will probably be time for us to write about the steps to carve a pumpkin, and maybe do some more baking (I'm thinking pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheese frosting!). If the weather cooperates, we will probably head to the local pumpkin patch for even more fun.

Happy Learning!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

25 Super Spelling Activities (Plus 6 More!)

While we spend a lot of time learning through play (which I wrote about here and here), we also spend time on more "traditional" school activities. One thing that I work on a lot with First Sprout is spelling because I feel like spelling and word work provides the necessary "tools" for reading and writing. First Sprout loves to read and writes stories, but learning the steps has been a real struggle. This year, I really want to make sure that she gets a strong base knowledge of word building so that she can apply it throughout her journey as a learner.

With that in mind, I created a series of spelling lists featuring one common spelling pattern each week, progressing from C-V-C words (short vowels) all the way to long vowels. I also try to match our guided reading for the week to the spelling pattern that we are practicing. This provides a natural and effective way of reinforcing the skill. Thankfully, First Sprout is used to this approach to reading and word work from her time in private school last year, so it's easy for us to maintain the routine. She also really enjoys the sense of progress at the end of the week when she can spell her words and read the book; she is motivated to practice!
Number 21: Build the words with magnetic letters.

Today, I thought I'd share some of the ideas and activities we have used (or plan to use) for practicing spelling words...

25 Super Spelling Activities

1. Write or paste words into a Word Journal
2. Create flashcards with pictures on the front and the word on the back
3. Incorporate spelling words into a scenic picture
4. Write the words with vowels in red and consonants in blue
5. Use Elkonin boxes to visualize the shape of the word
6. Write the words in shaving cream
7. Trace words in a sand tray or on sand paper
8. Use PlayDoh or modeling clay to form words (or cut them out with letter cutters)
9. Paint or stamp the words
10. Write the words in the shower with bathtub-friendly crayons
11. Trace the words in a sensory salt tray or rice tray
12. On-the-back writing (Write a word-- one letter at a time--on someone else's back. Then, switch places and guess the word your partner traces on your back.)
13. Form the words using ASL Fingerspelling
14. Bounce a ball or yourself while spelling the word (one bounce per letter)
15. Elbow writing (Use the point of your elbow to trace the word in the air.)
16. Rainbow writing (Use three colors to trace over the word.)
17, Write a story (or sentences) using the words
18. Email a story (or sentences) using the words
19. Write the words on a real or digital scratch pad (We like this one for our tablet.)
20. Write with sidewalk chalk
21. Build the words with magnetic letters
22. Build the words with Tinker Toys
23. Do a Word Search or Crossword puzzle
24. Turn the words into a song
25. Have a good-ol'- fashioned spelling bee!

Plus 6 More!

26. Write the words in ABC order.
27. Trace the words on a homemade sensory bag (You can make one by filling a Ziploc bag with dish soap or hair gel.)
28. Build the words with blocks (Thank you, Heidi!) or letter tiles.
29. Spell the words while swinging (Each time the swing goes up, say a letter-- also thank to Heidi!)
30. Write the words as triangles or pyramids, with each row adding one letter of the word (Thank you, Aubrey!)
31. Turn spelling words into a math activity like this one from Teacher by the Beach (Thanks, Jen!)

Number 19: Use a Scratch Pad app for a tablet or smart phone.
I hope these ideas for practicing spelling prove fun and useful. I tried to incorporate ideas for all kinds of learners (visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic) since it is helpful to practice with activities that meet your child's learning style AND with activities that challenge their style as well. I'd love to get more ideas on what other teachers and families do for spelling with first graders, so please feel free to leave comments!

Happy Learning!

Friday, October 10, 2014

More Learning Through Play

The more I think about the value of learning through play and the unique opportunities we have to use play as a homeschooling family, the more I am trying to find opportunities to make that option available. As I mentioned previously, sometimes the sprouts have different ideas about what they want to learn from play than I do. I am trying really hard to relax some of my expectations and simply observe what they are doing.

This week, the sprouts were clamoring for toys. They wanted toys from their favorite TV shows and movies (in our case, Wild Kratts and Frozen) so that they could incorporate these characters into their play. At first, I tried to talk them into playing with toys that they already had, Or, maybe we could find some other ways to play that I felt would be more constructive-- books, puzzles, blocks, etc.

But then I reminded myself to step back and think about what they were asking.

They were familiar with a set of characters and stories. First Sprout is especially of enamored with Wild Kratts and learns so much from their shows that it's amazing. I am also super familiar with the characters from Frozen, and I have used the dialogue and songs to connect with them playfully (we wrote a ballad about going to the grocery store to the tune of "Let It Go"). Maybe what they were telling me by asking for the toys is that really they wanted more opportunities to engage with the stories and characters. Maybe we could use this as a learning opportunity!

Interestingly enough, Common Core has broadened the definition of "text" to include a wider range of multi-media material. So technically, we could look examine Frozen for story elements or use it as a basis for re-telling. In the same vein of thinking, we could discuss the difference between fact and fiction in Wild Kratts and explore some science standards too.

The whole idea of taking our screen time and using it to build more learning opportunities really appealed to me because I am already in the habit of watching with them and incorporating what they see into real-world situations. Also, to be honest, I love cartoons.

The glaring problem is that I don't want to buy a lot of extra toys, nor do I want to store them. Then I had an idea while we were talking about Halloween costumes. What if we dressed up dolls that we already have to look like characters the sprouts wanted?

I am a huge fan of Hearts for Hearts dolls for their multiculturalism and humanitarian efforts. Also, they are ridiculously cute and thankfully in my price range. We have been slowly collecting the dolls for the last year and a half, so we have a lots of clothes (both purchased and made) for them as well. Here's what we came up with:

Zelia is dress up as Anna using a motley combination of clothes from other Hearts for Hearts dolls. We didn't really have anything that matched Elsa's dress closely enough, so Second Sprout helped me find suitable fabric from my stash to make a dress. It's not authentic, but it's close enough for imaginary play!
We also dressed Consuelo and Rahel up as Aviva and Koki, respectively, from Wild Kratts. We used a mix of clothes from other dolls and clothes that I made previously to create the "costumes"
The sprouts embraced this plan so whole-heartedly that I was pleasantly surprised. It turned out that they didn't just want toys because of the influence of rampant consumerism; they really wanted the ability to process information they had learned and stories they had seen through play. Although we spend a part of each school day doing more traditional work, we were also able to spend a good part of the day dressing and playing with the dolls. The sprouts spent a lot of time analyzing the characters (in both appearance and action) and creating their settings. It was really amazing to watch them play, and I learned a lot by noticing what they re-created.

As a result, I am more resolved than ever to find more ways to learn through play as part of our homeschooling journey. I am also interested in exploring ways to make our media usage an avenue for learning as well. We don't watch tons of TV, but maybe I will feel less guilty about what we do watch if I am more thoughtful about what we are learning from it.

We are always learning in unexpected and exciting ways! This why I am grateful to be doing what I do where I am right now.

Happy Learning!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Changing Leaves

Mother Nature is ready for a change of wardrobe. Even though we have seen a few leaves changing here and there, this morning we woke up to lots of color all of the sudden. To celebrate, the sprouts and I headed off to the downtown park for a walk and some play time.

Happy Learning!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Learning Through Play

As an educator and a parent, I know about the value of play. Research abounds on the amount of learning that goes on through play, not to mention the benefits to health, creativity, and social skills. And believe it or not, early childhood education and development extends up to second grade, so there is still plenty of need for play in the early elementary years.

Knowing all of this, I still find it hard to just let my children play during the school day. When we do play, I try to add more structure-- to ensure it is educational. I feel like this is especially important because First Sprout would not do any school work whatsoever is she were left to her own devices. There's a huge discrepancy between what I know we are supposed to be covering in our home school curriculum and what we can reasonably accomplish.

Today for example, the sprouts were excited to play with a new Mega Blocks set that they had just been given. We already had a lot of the basic sets, but the new one added some roads and emergency vehicles (ambulance, police car, and fire trucks, oh my!) to the mix. They were really enjoying building a city, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to "guide" their play a bit. I thought: "We have been talking about communities and community helpers, so let's expand this play opportunity as a way to discuss the components of a city. And hey-- let's introduce some literacy by creating signs for our buildings! It'll be so educational!"

My idea worked, sort of. We talked a lot about the things we need in a community: places to get food, places to live, places to find help, places to work, places to play. I had grand ideas of building the hospital, the police station, and the fire station to go with our community helpers theme. But the sprouts were far more interested in other places: apartments, houses, playgrounds, restaurants, grocery stores, and car washes. I decided to roll with it because I realized that those are the places they know. That's what community means to them. (I don't know about the car wash though. We maybe go once a year. It apparently made an impact!)

The idea to make signs didn't go quite as I intended either. They basically voted me as the official sign maker, so they were "reading" the signs but not producing any of their own writing. The lone exception is the swing Second Sprout drew for her playground sign. Part of me feels glad that we managed to extend the activity a little bit, but another part feels bad that we didn't extend it enough.

As I was pondering all of these thoughts, I did take a few minutes to snap some pictures of the sprouts at work play.

Our roadway ramps were re-purposed as slides for the playground.

Ariel admires the view from "the best apartments in town." First Sprout informed me that "people could live there for free as long as they were kind to each other."

Building the restaurant proved more exciting than building the super market next door. Going to a restaurant is an adventure, but going to the super market is a chore.

Second Sprout built the car wash with two doors so more than one car could get cleaned at a time.
I truly love watching them play and observing their thought processes while they do it. I know that I learned a lot from our conversations today, and their sense of priorities was eye-opening. I definitely feel like I know a lot more about what community means to them.

But there is still that lingering sense of doubt. Will they learn enough this way? Do they need more structure? How can I support and extend their learning further? How should I handle it when my plans fizzle?

For now, I think I'll hit the pause button on my inner critic and get back to the fun.

Happy Playing!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Autumnal Equinox

To celebrate the first day of autumn in the northern hemisphere, we took a little "field trip" to the nature trail. We used our senses on sight, smell, touch, and sound to notice the subtle changes as the season begins to turn. We noticed the "cool, crisp breeze" and the leaves beginning to change colors. We noticed the sounds of crickets and birds mingling with the road traffic nearby. We enjoyed the scenery and time with each other, and we maybe stopped to take some pictures along the way. Happy Fall, y'all!

The seed pods are trying up, and petals are drifting away.

Holding hands with Third Sprout as we walk along the trail.

Passing though a lovely covered bridge while the sprouts race ahead.

Seeing the changes in the flowers as the summer comes to an end.

With temperatures dipping down into the 30's and 40's overnight, the leaves are starting to turn.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Little House in the Big Woods

When the youngest sprout takes a nap, I have been taking the opportunity to snuggle up with First Sprout to read Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder (sometimes Second Sprout also joins us). I have been wanting to start a chapter book read-aloud for some time, and homeschooling gave us both the time and the requirement motivation. Over the summer, I pulled together a few classics and let First Sprout choose one. She was enchanted by the idea of living in a cabin in the woods-- farming and hunting for food-- and she chose Little House immediately.

As we read, we had some really great discussions about the descriptive language and the lessons that the author shares in the book. Some we agreed with, and others not so much, but it prompted some really wonderful deep reading/ listening skills in line with the rigor required by Common Core. I started trying to to record or re-create some of our discussion questions to line up with Common Core more purposefully. I also created some activities that tied in story elements (characters, setting, problem, events) at a first-grade level. I figure that we already cover these things by reading, so we might as well document them for the portfolio!

I also wanted to create some puppets that First Sprout could use to retell parts of the story. Not only does it allow me to check comprehension, but it is lots of fun too. The sprouts were so delighted that I will probably forevermore be expected to make puppets out of book characters.

Little House in the Big Woods puppets (from left-right: Pa, Mary, Laura, Baby Carrie, and Ma).
After a few days of pulling all of my resources together and aligning standards, I am proud to share a Common Core Aligned Book Unit for Little House in the Big Woods on my Teachers Pay Teachers store. I am looking forward to creating more of these book units throughout the year, and I am trying to think about which books to use. Then I remember First Sprout will probably decide for me-- it looks like Catwings by Ursula K. LeGuin is up next. Until then...

Happy Learning!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Morning Meeting

I have a little bit of experience with Responsive Classroom in both public and private school settings, and I knew that I wanted to bring the idea of the morning meeting into our home school. I love the idea that our first half hour of the day helps me to connect with the kids and set the tone for the rest of the day. I try not to take it for granted that my family is connected simply because we are family; connection takes lots of communication and thoughtful interaction. We get time to build our family "community" at other points during the day (e.g. family dinner) but it is nice to start the day on a positive note.

The other great part of morning meeting is that it provides a fun and practical way to reinforce learning standards in literacy, math and science. Many parts of our morning meeting will probably look familiar to other school teachers-- I used many components in my own classroom last year. Other parts have been influenced by Common Core. We are still in the process of developing our morning meeting, but I thought I'd share what we have going on so far.

1. Read Aloud
I really struggled with how to turn traditional school greetings into something that makes more sense for our family. Normally, we have already had breakfast and lots of conversation by the time we start our morning meeting. I wanted to find a way to connect and introduce our work for the day that felt more like "family" and less like "school." One morning, First Sprout asked if we could start the day with a read aloud, and it worked. Snuggling up with a story turned out to be the perfect way to start our day!

2. Morning Message
After reading a story, we turn to the dry-erase board for our morning message. This gives us a chance to talk about what is coming up for the day. We also get to practice literacy skills such as sight-word recognition and letter sounds. As the year progresses, we will work on word chunks and phonics patterns in the message too.
Blanks in the morning message provide an opportunity for the sprouts to interact and engage. Sometimes First Sprout likes to flip the script and write the message with strategic blanks to challenge me.

3. Calendar
I decided that I wanted to use a "real" calendar for home school so the children could get a sense of time passing through the year and gain real-world skills (although we also have a lovely felt calendar that the kids play with). Ideally, we are supposed to circle today and then cross off the day(s) that have passed (this can get a little dodgy if First Sprout does it independently). We also try to mark special days that we are looking forward to so we can talk about how many days are left to go.
We are looking forward to the first day of autumn!

4. Days of School
In my classroom last year, the students tracked the Days of School with a little straw chart organized into hundreds, tens and ones for teaching place value. I found that my students had a really hard time generalizing that practice into other parts of math, so I was already looking for alternatives when I decided to homeschool. We write the number on a dry-erase pocket to practice number formation, and we also add a penny to our "Days of School" jar each day. We are up to 16 pennies, as of today. I plan on working with money a lot this year since it is such an important real-world skill, and when we start looking at exchanging coins, we will have a nice jar of pennies to get us started.
Our penny jar looks so empty! I'm sure it is going to fill up quickly.

5. Weather
In Pennsylvania, we have Core standards in both Science and Math that call for students in first grade to be collecting and analyzing data (based on these Common Core standards). I wanted to bring this idea into Morning Meeting through creating a series of weather graphs that would help us to gather different kinds of data every day. The Daily Weather Bar Graphs probably look pretty familiar to other teachers-- this is similar to a lot of pocket charts I've seen for tracking weather each day. First Sprout decides whether the weather is sunny, cloudy, rainy  or snowy and colors in a box above the appropriate heading to create a bar graph for the month. I wanted to push a bit by adding some more sophisticated data collection in the form of Daily Temperature Line Graphs as well. After we add a box to the bar graph, First Sprout checks the temperature on my smart phone-- which is great practice for reading two-digit numbers. Then we line up the day of the month (x-axis) with the temperature (y-axis) and plot our data point. For now, First Sprout likes connecting the dots to see the daily ups and downs, but at the end of the month I will show her how to average the line to make observations about the general trend of the temperature through the month. Math and Science skills galore!
We are seeing a cooling trend this month. Seeing the data is helping us to understand changes in the weather when the season turns to fall.
Our Days of School counter and our weather graphs hanging from the wall.

6. Warm up
I like the idea of ending our Morning Meeting with a little bit of movement. So far, it has been harder to do this than I anticipated. However, one of my goals this week is to add just one yoga pose in at the end of our morning meeting. Hopefully this will help us slow down and continue mindfully with our morning!

Do you have morning meeting, circle time, or something else similar? I'd love read about how other homeschool families start their day, so please share in the comments below.

Happy Learning!