Thursday, October 23, 2008

Ask Mr. Bear

If you don't already use Five in a Row, or even if you do, you must be sure to read "Ask Mr. Bear" to your little ones! I have been reading this classic to my 3, 4, and 6 year olds during the past few days and they are loving it just as much as their older brother did when he was their age.

The story is about a little boy named Dannywho is trying to find something to give his mother for her birthday. He sets out for ideas and asks each of the farm animals if they have something they could give for the occassion. The hen has an egg, the goose has feathers for a pillow, etc., but the boy's mother already has all these things. In the end, Mr. Bear whispers a great birthday gift idea into Danny's ear.

Anyway, you have to read the book. A large part of the fun comes AFTER you read. My children and I have re-enacted parts of the book a few times. For instance, the guessing session Danny has with his mother towards the end. Also, Danny hops, skips, gallops, etc., throughout the book and we have hopped, skipped, and galloped, throughout our house as well! Yesterday, we went in search of all the items suggested to Danny from the animals. That was huge fun. When it came to the milk and cheese, we had a little snack. Of course, we ended that session the same way we complete our reading of the book - with a great big birthday bear hug!!!!

Last night, as I read the book, I changed all the gift ideas from the animals. Seth and Gloria tried to "remind" me what the correct idea was as they giggled. I made a "mistake" at the end of the book and said that he gave his mother a birthday tickling which I proceeded to give to them. Through absolute fits of laughter, they were able to "correct" me again!

We have had so much fun with "Ask Mr. Bear"!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Our Columbus Day project for the younger children - the Nina, Pinta, and the Santa Maria

To sample some Ancient Egyptian cuisine, we made Barley Cakes.

Much like pancakes, they are delicious hot with butter & honey.

Our Nile River project. We formed the Nile with Sculpey, then placed potting soil along its "banks" and planted grass seed. The outer edges are filled with sand (the "Sahara").

Walking through the marsh along the Nile.:)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Our Journey from Textbook to Unit Study - Part II

For those of you who may not know what a Unit Study is, let me explain. Instead of having several different workbooks with different subjects and topics for each individual child to learn, a unit study will take one topic and use it to incorporate all the subjects for several different age ranges. For instance, if you were to do a study on the Civil War, your English would be to read a book such as "Across Five Aprils" and you would possible write a paper explaining the style in which the book is written. Spelling would consist of words used in articles about the war or from the Gettysburg address (which you may have your children memorize for Social Studies). You may study human anatomy or the development of modern day medicine in science. Most of the books you use would be found in the library. You would do various hands-on projects, such as, recreating a battle using civil war action figures or you would create a large map illustrating General Sherman's march, etc. Baking "hard-tack" (a soldier's food staple) would be a fun thing to do in the afternoon as well. The list goes on.

Unit Studies rarely contain Math, so you have to supplement that course with a textbook or something similar.

I've always been fascinated by the Unit Study concept. My hesitation came as a result of the overwhelming projects often suggested and the lack of pre-planned lessons from the companies offering such studies. I'm a person who can take a plan and get creative with it, but I need the blue-print to get me started.

Not to mention, getting 150 of my children's friends to re-create the First Battle of Manassess complete with large cardboard cannons and a tremendous amount of red dye (for blood, of course) was not something I was excited about doing with a bunch of pre-schoolers and nursing babies in the house!

However, with BJU's announcement of the coming cancellation of our satellite, I began to investigate Unit Studies. I was being pulled in several different directions as once helping various children in various subjects. The idea of teaching most or all of them at one time was beginning to sound very appealing.

So, I found "My Father's World," a great Unit Study which incorporates many Christian biographies as it covers an intense geographical study of the world. Most importantly, it offers a day to day lesson plan to guide me as I attempt to successfully teach my children.

One problem. No one I knew had ever used it. There was no way for me to get my hands on a copy to really look at it to see if it was right for our family. Three hundred dollars is a lot of money to spend on a curriculum sight unseen.

As I was calling and e-mailing various Unit Study moms, I talked to a friend from church. She did not use MFW, but had used a similar curriculum (meaning, it was laid out with a day-to-day plan).

Enter, Learning Adventures. I had not come across this curriculum in my research, but my friend had it on hand and was willing to let me take it home for perusal. I got myself to her house as quickly as I could. The first year is called "A World of Adventure" in which 180 days are spent studying Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, The Middle Ages, The Renaissance, and Reformation, and The Age of Exploration (all in 30-day increments).

As I looked through the massive 3-ring binder packed full of detailed plans, book lists, materials lists, etc., I became quite excited about the prospect of actually taking a completely different approach in our home-school. How could I wait a whole year to try it out? At the same time, we had spent quite a bit of money on a curriculum that we were only into 5 weeks of using.

I broached the subject with my husband.

"I feel bad about possibly dumping something we just spent a lot of money on."

"What? A thousand dollars?"

I must remind you - we're farmers. We're not exactly rolling in the dough. Dirt maybe, but not money!

He continued. "If it's not working and you find something better, go for it!"

Trust me, you don't have to tell me how blessed I am to have a husband like that!!!

So, the next day, I informed the children we were to embark on a trial week. I let them know we were going to put away all but the Math books and begin a new way of learning. So began our study of Ancient Egypt.

We're in our 3rd week and we haven't looked back. My children have frequently mentioned how much fun school is now. One even told me that she looks forward to school everyday! I just ordered my own copy of the study a few days ago.

We have made an easy model of the Nile River which has real grass growing on its banks. We made barley cakes which turned out to be quite good (a lot like pancakes) with butter and honey. Soon, we'll be creating friezes with plaster of paris.

We have covered the story of Joseph and explained the 5 parts of a plot line using this biblical story. We talked about characters, settings, and styles. My children learned about conflict in a story and we discussed the various conflicts found in the story of Joseph.

In science, we're studying deserts. We spent one evening teaching daddy about camels and the many interesting facts we had learned together. Even now, we have 2 jars in our green house filled with water - one with aluminum foil over it and one without. This is demonstrating how clouds keep moisture in the earth and without them (such as in the desert), water evaporates much quicker.

Our spelling words are words that we are finding in our study. The children also have begun a study of latin roots, prefixes, and suffixes to help learn the meanings of various words that have come from them.

Notebooking is another element that we have been able to naturally incorporate into our school. I have different papers with various borders for much of their work - many times they are able to draw a picture that goes with the assignment. They LOVE this part and it allows them to individualize their work.

The children and I are loving spending this time together. We don't spend all day in school, but we spend enough hours to know that they're getting effectively educated. We usually begin at 8:30 and they finish all of their work (including Math) around 1:30 or 2:00. But, they're not stressed out because we've had a lot of fun and variety throughout the day!

I could write so much more, but I will continue to share our days with you throughout the coming year. I am just so thrilled that education has become a JOY at our house.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Our Journey from Textbook to Unit Study - Part 1

Within the past two weeks, the face of our home-school has completely changed. Since our oldest (who is now in 6th grade) began school, we used textbook curricula. This was the best way for me to gage my children's rate of learning and it helped me to stay on track. Textbooks are helpful in keeping the school day organized and predictable.

We began our home-school with books mainly from Rod & Staff Publishers. A Mennonite-based publishing company, their textbooks were completely black & white, but were quite thorough. Some of the history had philosophies reflecting their beliefs, but instead of shielding my children from these, I took the opportunity to show them how others believed and why we believe what God says in His Word. After 3 years of Rod & Staff, my children were getting weary of the pages of rote math problems and having to copy 20 sentences out of their English texts to diagram every day. When you're experiencing burn out in the 3rd grade, it's a sign that things need to change.

Unfortunately, using just textbooks in several different grade levels I was pulled in several different directions at one time. When one child had a question while I was working with another, they had to wait. Inevitably, this would result in the waiting student going off to play or finding some sort of trouble to get into. Not to mention, I had 3 little ones in school, 2 toddlers that kept getting pushed to the side so I could help the students, and I was pregnant again. Whew! I'm getting tired reminiscing!

Halfway through Michael's 3rd grade year, we began to investigate DVD schooling from A Beka and Bob Jones. After much research, we decided that BJU's Home-Satellite program would be best for us. It required a bit more work on my husband's part (recording and burning dvds), but it would grab the interest of our children, they would have "real" teachers teaching them, and it would free up some of my time for other things - such as making sure our house didn't fall down, nursing a baby, and paying attention to our pre-schoolers.

For 2 school years, BJU HomeSat was a life-saver for our family. We knew exactly what our children were learning and they were enjoying most of their classes. As with most schools, you had some favorite teachers and some teachers who really seemed to have picked the wrong occupation. But, it worked for us while I was pregnant with another baby and nursing him.

We began this school year continuing with HomeSat. I now have 4 full-time students and one little guy in K4. Mike began doing the A.C.E. curriculum this year, for various reasons and it seemed to be working for him, though I felt a bit out of the loop with what was really going on. But, if it was working and he was giving me less trouble, I count it a success. My other 3 1/2 students were using BJU. Often, I would find myself pulled in 3 different directions looking for materials for this person's class, helping this one with their assignment, and re-teaching the other one their math lesson. On top of that, my bright fourth grade student was spending 7-8 hours on school work. Something is wrong when a student gets about 2 minutes of play outside and little time to practice her piano or send notes to a friend or someone who is ill.

About a week into the school year, we received a notice from BJU stating that they would be cancelling their satellite program at the end of the 2008-2009 school year. The program is no longer cost effective for them - in fact, the college has been subsidizing HomeSat for a couple of years.

We could go on and continue recording classes for future use - until they update the books and the classes and work are not longer coinciding. But, we thought that this was a good time to see what else was out there.

So, the hunt began and I was led to something I was always interested in, but somewhat afraid of...

The Unit Study.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


As my other blog has various readers - some who may not want to know all the details of what occurs in our homeschool - I've decided to create this blog to update anyone who may be interested in our school day. Please feel free to peek into our schoolroom as often as you like. We'll save you a seat!