Summer Skills Maintenance

LouisasummerworkSummer time, and our kids’ brains go on vacation. At least, that is what it seems like when we start up school again in the fall!

I have always been amazed that math textbooks are written so that the time period of September through Christmas vacation is “review” to try to help the children remember all the skills they forgot over the summer! As a homeschooler, if you finish a Saxon Math book mid-year you can go immediately into the next Saxon Math book at around lesson 40 and never miss a beat because lessons 1-39 do not teach any new concepts but just review the previous math book. You can get ahead fast in math this way, if you don’t take big breaks of summer forgetfulness!

So, instead of letting those brains veg all summer, how about a daily bite-size? Just enough to keep skills sharp!

This is how my friend Kathy runs her summer homeschool. When summer begins, Kathy makes “Summer Packets”. These are just a few pages stapled together and put in a folder with the child’s name on it. Every morning her children come after chores and breakfast and get their Summer Packet. The work is fun, can be done totally independently without Mom, and takes about 20 minutes. Each packet has a short page of math review, an English page, and some project page that sends them off on a science experiment or nature collection. The children also do their daily free reading. This way the 3 R’s are covered. Kathy buys workbooks and rips the pages out to staple into her Summer Packets. When school starts again, their skills have been maintained, and she can jump right in where they left off. Summer no longer takes a big toll.

AmmonsChartAt my house, I make each child a chart that must be checked off daily. Louisa’s chart has a column for each of these ‘daily do-‘s”: Chores, Scriptures, Journal, Math (10 problems), Piano, Secret Service, and Free Reading. (She has a lot because she is older and used to this system. If you are just starting out, 3 or 4 items on their charts are enough!) I ask each child what is important to them to set as a summer goal, and we add those items too. (I make myself a chart also, and stick it right up on the wall by the kids, so they see I am working on goals every day too).

Each day, before any kind of play, the charts must be complete and checked off. This is just as much a means of keeping me, their mother, on track as it is training them to do some daily maintenance! It is amazing the difference you will see in your kids if you do a little every day!

 

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Using Muscles for Memory

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Wiggles! Kids seem to be full of them and they can make sitting still, learning, focusing, and concentrating extra hard!

If you can’t fight ’em, join ’em. Time to use those big muscles to help kids learn!

I have a chin-up bar hanging over a doorway near where we do homeschool. Over the years of raising lots of wiggly, restless boys (and girls), I have found the chin-up bar to be worth its weight in gold! Tape a scripture or poem to the wall in view of the chin-up bar, and you’ll be amazed at how quickly those children can memorize while they swing.

One mother I know told me she taught her very active son his phonics sounds by placing big flashcards around her large family room and having him run, jump, hop, crab-crawl, somersault, and otherwise use his big muscles to retrieve the cards, making the phonics sound as he went. Pretty creative. Pretty hard to forget information taught that way!

Ammon, my son, was a very wiggly little boy—so restless in fact that he had trouble holding still during school. (He is the one who caused me to write Happy Phonics, a game-based phonics program to teach wigglers to read!) Whenever I tried to go through flashcards with Ammon, he would end up upside down on the couch: his head touching the floor and his feet sprawled up in the air. Rather than spending my time lecturing him, I learned to work with it. I think Ammon learned to read upside down! (He is a studious, intelligent 15 year old now, who can sit still and concentrate longer than I can!)

Thanks to advances in brain research, we now know that most of the brain is activated during physical activity—much more so than when doing seatwork. In fact . . . sitting for more than 10 minutes at a stretch ‘reduces our awareness of physical and emotional sensations and increases fatigue’ . . . [resulting] in reduced concentration and, most likely, discipline problems. Movement, on the other hand, increases blood vessels that allow for the delivery of oxygen, water, and glucose (‘brain food’) to the brain. And this can’t help but optimize the brain’s performance! (More Movement, Smarter Kids by Rae Pica)

So, if you are having a tough time getting your kids to hold still and learn, how about getting them to move and learn?

 

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Minimum Daily Requirement

candycane7Oh, the holidays and vacation days are so exciting to kids!

And it is nice to have a little break from teaching school ourselves, right?

But I don’t look forward to the days in January trying to re-establish habits and get control of our schooling again. So. . . rather than let completely go of the reins, how about a little “minimum daily requirement” even during vacation days? I’ve found that although there is an initial groan, the kids adjust quickly, view their reduced workload as a vacation, and eagerly get it done in the morning. Because it is such a light load, there’s still plenty of time to play. Even if we get up early and attend some activity, they can get their “minimum daily requirement” finished during quiet time in the afternoon.

Another point in favor that I’ve discovered is that kids, just like adults, like some semblance of order to their day. While free play and vacation is fun, it can also be a bit boring if you are used to having your days busy. Knowing they have a minimum to get up and do puts some order in the day. Some days I find them reading way beyond what is required.

So how much do I require? Well, the plan is to keep them in the habit of doing some mental exertion every day so they can more smoothly transition back into schoolwork when the vacation is over. It can be as simple as having them do 10 math-fact problems, and read a story or chapter in their reading book.

I like to keep music practice going, because it is such a milestone to get them practicing daily in the first place, and they can loose ground so quickly if they stop practicing. Even 10 minutes a day is better than nothing at all.

I want my children to write in their journals every day too. I think it is good for them to get in the habit of record keeping and preserving memories. It is therapeutic to write down your feelings, and helps you sort out your thoughts. It makes a wonderful family heirloom for your posterity—my teens love reading their childhood journals, and I know their children and grandchildren will find them priceless! Besides all this, writing is an important skill that improves with practice. A couple of paragraphs jotted down per day can be finished in just a few minutes, especially if you are typing them on a computer!

So, for my daughter Louisa (11 years), her vacation schedule includes 10 minutes music practice, 2 paragraphs in her journal, 10 multiplication facts problems, and reading a chapter in her book. That takes her about 30-45 minutes. For a younger student, 20 minutes is probably plenty.

Would a little “minimum daily requirement” be good for your children over the holidays?

To your homeschool success!

 

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Lest We Forget

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My son Ammon

No matter what our intentions are, no matter how lofty our goals, it is the disposition of all of us who live on this earth to forget. It seems it is our natural inclination. We know what we want. We are firm in our resolve. Our values are sure. Nothing can shake us from our goal. Nothing, that is, except time. As time passes, we forget. We can’t seem to recall the fervor we began with. We drift into complacency, once again!  New Year’s Resolutions seem like a joke…because by February, most of us can’t remember what we resolved to do.

Accountability is basic principle in dealing with our human nature. We are responsible for our choices! Without a way to report our efforts, our stewardship doesn’t seem as pressing and the natural tendency to forget overtakes us. If we always remembered our good intentions, there would be no need for: speed limit signs, library due dates, exercise programs, college exams, scout badges, electricity bills, budgets, diets . . . and all the other tools we use in remembering our good intentions.

I had a recent experience that reconfirmed the need for accountability reports. I accepted a new responsibility and worked hard, keeping the records as I had been instructed to when I had my orientation meeting. When the weekly report meeting came, I dutifully brought my records, along with my heartfelt commitment. My leader gave my records a cursory glance, and told me to keep at it. Her casualness took away my resolve. It would be nice if I could feel motivated without an accounting, but that is not exactly our human nature. I found myself, the following week, slacking off, not working as hard nor caring as much. A thunderbolt struck my mind—this is what our children feel when we give them work to do and then don’t give them an opportunity to give a thorough accounting of their efforts and praise their work (or admonish hook-142656_1280them to do better)!

In order to help him learn to manage his time, I asked one of my children to make up a schedule and then keep a record of how well he was keeping to it. He chose what to do and when on his schedule and he made up a nice planner sheet with the time slots allotted for his work that he could mark off when each activity was completed. The first week, he was full of vigor and vim, feeling the freedom that living your schedule can bring! When we had our weekly accountability meeting, he had some regrets that he hadn’t had a perfect week, but in general, he had done very well. The next week, I was casual about our accountability meeting, letting it slip because we had company. The following week, when I asked for his marked up planner sheet, he confessed he hadn’t kept it at all, and furthermore, why should he if I never ask for a report of it? That was a revelation to me! Of course, we all need an opportunity to report our efforts, and without that accountability, the task gets dull and we forget so easily!

11892In homeschooling, I have found that I have the very most success when I write up a weekly assignment sheet for each child, with boxes to check off when each subject is completed for the day. The children seem to want to see exactly what is expected, and to be able to give an accounting (by checking it off). As long as I am consistent in carefully checking that all assignments have been done each day and in expecting high standards of work, homeschool goes smoothly and the children do their assignments happily and generally steadily. If I miss a day or two of checking up, for whatever reason, I have learned that they inevitably slacken and feel less responsible.

The same thing applies to chores. I keep a chart so that all my children know their jobs. We have a time of day (just before breakfast) when everyone is working and expected to be doing their chores. But, without exception, if I do not check their chores, they will not consistently be done well. We just need that accountability report so much to help us remember!

Not checking up (or asking for an accountability report and then carefully listening) is a disservice we parents unknowingly do to our children. We are training them to be careless and not to believe the things that those in authority say. As sure as we pronounce the command, they will eventually push things to the limit, to see if what we say is what we mean. Some children are eager and anxious to seek the firm boundary and waste no time doing so. Others are less aggressive and may operate without as much checking up. But all people feel more secure when they know exactly what is expected, and that the leaders mean what they say. And all people work a lot more diligently, and more happily, if they face a regular accounting.

Make it work in your homeschool!

 

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Towel Overload

towelWith 9 family members taking a daily bath or shower, wet towels built up quickly! I found myself having to do a load per day of just towels.

I solved this problem by buying 4″ lengths of colorful grossgrain ribbon. I let each member select the color they liked, and write their name on the ribbon in permanent marker. This ribbon was safety-pinned to the edge of a bath towel to last all week long. Every Saturday morning, one of the young children was assigned to go and collect all the towels in a laundry basket to be washed.

Just doing this small thing reduced my laundry load by one-seventh!

I also took a short length of masking tape, wrote each family member’s name on it, and taped it above a towel rack or hook so every towel had a place to be hung up. This necessitated buying some more towel hooks, but that made me realize that without a place to hang their towel, no wonder those towels ended up on door knobs or on the floor. Now, no matter where the towel landed, if it wasn’t in it’s prescribed place, it was easy to see who the culprit was. Since the ribbons were different colors, the owner could spot his towel easily without having to read the name on it. No one wanted anyone else to use his towel, and everyone, including the little ones, become much more responsible!

The result? A drastic reduction of laundry, more neatly hung-up towels (as the owner wanted their towel to dry out well for tomorrow’s shower), and no towels left on the floor!
Hurrah!

 

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Teaching with Movies

popcorn-707364_1280Are you tired, Mom? Wake up to an effortless way to make a lasting educational impact on your children!

We all know how powerful and convenient the “electronic baby-sitter” is! (I don’t think I’d ever get a nap without it.) The “electronic baby-sitter” can be an “electronic educator”—if videos are carefully selected. It can ease our teaching load in a very productive, meaningful way.

We all use resources to help us teach our children, and those supplies vary in their effectiveness; depending on how gripping the read-aloud story is, or how amazing the color photographs in a book on animals really are, for example. Wisely and very judiciously used, I think the television can be the best resource of all. Because so many stimuli hit the brain at once, both audio and visual, it makes a powerful, lasting impression.

ZPlease understand that I don’t allow much television in my home at all. But in an effort to make our history studies more real, my daughter Julianna and I discovered that many good movies can be as effective as literature in teaching history. Although I always like the book better, there is an unforgettable visual impact that is created by watching a movie. Things we can only imagine when reading, are before us in living color on the television­, such as historical costuming, artifacts from other time periods, manner of speech, and more. For example, “Johnny Tremain” is one movie that dramatically recreates the scene and emotions experienced during those early Revolutionary War times. I found Les Miserables, The Scarlet Pimpernel and Tale of Two Cities  incomparable for understanding the French Revolution. Some subject matter in history is not for young viewers, and I think the French Revolution would be one such topic.

2Q==One drawback in using movies to teach with is that often the story is not portrayed true to the book it was based on, or true to history.  Squanto, a non-animated film produced by Disney, was much enjoyed by our whole family at the conclusion of studying the life of Squanto and the Pilgrim period. Since we had studied in depth, I heard many remarks during the movie from my children, “That isn’t how it happened!”  We still liked it, and found it to be beneficial to our understanding of Squanto. The drawback here, though, is that without a study of Squanto’s life before viewing the movie, a person would get a lot of misinformation.

Another tricky matter is finding quality viewing material. On many occasions, we have brought a video home only to discover 10 minutes into the movie that it was less than excellent and disappointedly had to shut it off. Trying to find a wholesome movie can be like searching for a needle in a haystack. Finding a movie set in a particular historical time period is even more challenging.

We have been delighted to stumble upon a fabulous website that can make using movies a breeze. This unique website, Teaching with Movies, has categorized movies according to their historical time period. Usually movie screening is not up to my finicky liking, but theirs was outstanding. They even have an index of movies that you should not use for educational purposes! I found that the creators of this homey website were almost as picky as I am.

The movies are indexed in several convenient ways: according to minimum age, character development value, alphabetical, and cultural heritage. As well, you can search by title or keyword to find the movie you are wondering about. Each movie is imagedescribed and it’s negative points detailed. Teaching Guides are available right there, ready to print out, for several very good movies, and include discussion questions, background information, and a convenient way to purchase the movie over the internet. This is especially helpful as many of those dear old valuable movies are not easy to find anymore.

Another good resource is the book Learning with the MoviesWritten especially for homeschoolers who want to use movies to enrich their studies, this informative book will guide you through each period of history, from Bible times through ancient civilizations such as Egypt, Greece, Rome, Mayans, Vikings, on to the Middle Ages, Renaissance, Reformation, and right through the centuries into modern history with its multitude of war movies. Other educational or family appropriate movies are included too. I appreciate the author’s objections, which she notes next to the movie entry, keeping negative surprises from coming on your screen unawares. She even notes well-known historical movies that she recommends that you don’t view! A unique and useful book that will make your homeschool much more fun (and educational)!

You’ll be amazed at how useful your television can really be in helping you homeschool!

 

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The “Subject of the Day” Approach

Learning about the ocean, hands-on!

Studying the same subject together as a family, unit studies, has many advantages. It is much easier for mother to teach just one topic, rather than trying to explain several different subjects to several different children each day. The whole family can enjoy discussions together on the same subject. Enrichment activities such as movies, art projects, or field trips on the subject apply to every member of the family. I have found teaching all my children the same subject together has been a most rewarding experience!

When the whole family is on the same topic, you can enjoy a great read-aloud book together! This has been a highlight for us. We read Carry On, Mr. Bowditch when studying the era of the big clipper ships in American History. What a memorable book, and how it made the history come to life! You can also assign individual reading books at each child’s level too.

In my homeschool, we do our unit studies one subject per day. On Monday, we do history together. , Tuesdays we studyWednesday, it’s time for science. We call our unit studies our “Subject of the Day”.

To map out your homeschool’s unit studies, consider following the plan that most publishers use in creating high school or college textbooks:

image-1History is divided into these subject, with a subject focused on each semester or school year:

  • Ancient Civilizations
  • The Middle Ages
  • American History
  • Civics (American Government)
  • Modern World History

thumbnailI have appreciated having the Usborne History books  as basic textbooks, and using The History of U.S. for American studies.  You can teach American Government as a part of American History.

Geography can either be handled as a separate unit study, or you can study the geography of the places you study in history. When you study American History or Civics, you can study the United States, learning the states and capitals, major landmarks, rivers, mountains, and more.

image-2Science is divided into these subjects:

  • Earth Science
  • Biology
  • Human Body (can be merged with Biology year)
  • Chemistry
  • Physics

Younger children will study Physics on a beginning level: Physical Science (magnets, electricity, states of matter, etc.) while older children advance into greater depths in Physics. Science is great to study together, because all the children, no matter their age, enjoy doing science experiments.  Apologia Science books have geared their textbooks to teaching grades K through 6th all from one science book!  Very handy!

image-3Fine Arts is divided into these subjects:

  • Music Expression
  • Music Appreciation
  • Art Expression
  • Art Appreciation
  • Drama
  • Dance

The Fine Arts lend themselves easily to learning with varied ages. In our homeschool, we have tried a weekly group lesson on music or art appreciation. The Fine Arts can be used to enrich history lessons too!  Every report can use an illustration.

image-4English includes these subjects:

  • Phonics
  • Reading
  • Penmanship
  • Spelling
  • Composition (Writing)
  • Vocabulary
  • Grammar
  • Speech

Because of such widespread skill levels, the only area of English that is easy to teach together in a unit study is usually grammar, and then the younger students must drop out at a point and let the older students move on. I recommend teaching all language arts subjects individually with the exception of poetry which can be memorized together and recited, and speeches which are fun to give to a group. I also read literature aloud which all ages enjoy.

So, let’s get started!  Choose a History subject and a Science subject for this coming school year.  I like to start at the beginning:

Year 1:  Ancient History plus Earth Science or Astronomy

This is a good combination because Ancient History starts with the formation of the earth, and Earth Science deals with understanding the structure of the earth, geology, changes in the earth’s crust, volcanoes, earthquakes, etc.  A good combination!  You can have fun doing some excavating for ancient relics (dog bones?) as well as learning about the earth at the same time!  Astronomy is also a great choice.

Year 2: The Middle Ages comes next. Add the Science of your choice.

Keep going. Map out the next 4 years of homeschool so you cover the basics of History and Science. Fit in Fine Arts to fit your family’s interests.  Learning about the Composers fits marvelously into study of the Renaissance period of history.

You can make the unit study a fun family project by choosing exciting experiences to delve into the subject: going to museums, watching special movies, doing research reports, reading library books, reading aloud a related work of historical fiction, doing an art project about the subject, and digging just as deeply as each child’s age and skill level allow.

Unit studies have one drawback if you have a wide range of ages amongst your homeschooled children. If you teach to the age level of the middle child, then the lesson may be frustratingly difficult for the younger children, and boringly easy for the oldest. To solve this, I have the younger children “drop out” and do a related project when they get restless. You may provide a puzzle, or a coloring page that illustrates something from the unit study, or have a basket of library books on the subject ready to be browsed through. It is amazing how much little ones will glean anyway. I taught a unit on Egypt to my children when Louisa was just 4 years old. For most of the discussion on mummies and pyramids and Egyptian gods, Louisa was just playing with her toys on the floor. One day we were walking through a store when she eagerly pointed out a shape and called it its proper Egyptian name: the “ankh”! It is a symbol that the Egyptians used to represent life. I was stunned! Without any direct teaching, she has absorbed a great deal by just playing nearby. So don’t underestimate how much they may absorb, even if they are coloring instead of looking at you!

For the oldest children, assign a follow-up project that challenges them, such as further researching a related topic and presenting a report, doing a drawing or presenting it to the class later. Give them additional reading on the topic at a higher level also. In this way, a “one-size-fits-all” lesson on the Subject of the Day really does work for the whole family!

imageProjects, hands-on experiments, and applications to real life make unit studies a thrill for your homeschooled children. Here is an example of some ideas that you could use to teach a unit study on “The Human Body”:

Human Body Unit Study Ideas

-make an actual full size outline of the body, putting each organ in place as studied

-visit a physical therapist office and see an x-ray

-get pulled teeth from a dentist to study and and dissolve (using soda pop!)

-get a large bone from the butcher to dissect and study

-watch baby animals (or a real human baby) being born

-conduct a physical fitness program and keep records of strength and endurance

-put together a skeleton model

-study sleep and dreaming

-do experiments using a stethoscope, listen while resting and after running

-make a working model of a part of the body

-learn about the government food group recommendations

-study about Daniel in the Bible, and how he refused the king’s rich foods and prospered

-hold your fingers against a flashlight in a dark room

-put your ear next to your sibling’s throat while he is chewing–wow, what noise!!

-find out who can wiggle their ears, roll their tongues, or who has double joints

-chart the baby’s naps

-find out why people snore

-make thumbprints, footprints, hand-prints using ink or poster paint

-watch the pupil contract quickly when a light is shone in an eye

-study brain sizes: yours, the brain of a bird, the brain of an elephant

-put your name on a gallon of water. At the end of the day, measure how much you drank.

-interview a track coach about how to keep the body in top performance

       . . . to name just a few!

Over the years of homeschooling, I gravitated to using the Subject of the Day method.  It gave us clear direction, a sense that we weren’t missing anything, and a thrill for learning!

To see our favorite resources for each grade level, take a look at our Curriculum Kits.

 

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Setting Up a Family Schedule

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Some of my kids at Arches National Park

As much as I hate to be confined to a schedule, I have to admit that it is very liberating to the whole family to know what to expect. If I don’t follow a schedule, life goes somewhat like this: get up late, work on something that is high priority (in my nightgown), get waylaid on a long phone call while the kids wreck havoc, fix breakfast when the complaining gets too loud, get dressed because it’s too late to exercise now, try to pull homeschool together late and unorganized, fix a quick (rather than nutritious) lunch when the complaining gets too loud (about 2:00 p.m.), feel discouraged because I’m so far behind, etc. Get the picture? It is a downward spiral because you get to bed late because you are so far behind on fixing dinner, and so you are off to a worse start the next day.

Reality is that I never exactly meet my own time schedule. It does serve to keep order in our home, however. If school is scheduled to start at 8:45 a.m. and I see that my watch says 8:30 a.m. while I am still in my nightgown, I really pick up my feet and move. A schedule is not to make your life miserable as much as it is to motivate you to carry out your own good intentions.

Here is our current (ever-changing) schedule for the school year. In the summertime, we have a family work time in the garden during the first hour of homeschool. Then I only require personal scripture study and journal writing, a math lesson, and some reading (the 3 Rs). I always have several boxes of library books. We try to flow with the seasons since we live in an extreme climate, so we begin our summer schedule as soon as the weather warms up enough to be outside. We sometimes don’t begin full-time school in the fall until the first serious storms force us back inside and back to the books. Here is our schedule for the school year:

HOPKINS FAMILY SCHEDULE

6:15     Wake up, personal prayers
6:20     Family scripture study
7:00     Chores
7:45     Breakfast
8:15     Personal grooming, bedrooms in order
9:00    Homeschool until noon
11:45    Mom checks that all schoolwork is done
12:00   Lunch preparation (assigned child helps)
12:30   Lunch
1:15      Lunch cleanup
1:30     Quiet reading (or listening to tapes) for children
Naps for Mom and little ones
2:00    Free time  (Can do jobs for $, play with friends, etc.)
5:15     Dinner preparation (assigned child helps)
6:00    Dinner
6:45    Dinner cleanup, dishwashing
7:30    Family Prayer, prepare little ones for bed
8:00   Children up to 10 years old go to bed
9:00   Children 11–15 years go to bed
9:45    Teens 16+ go to bed, Mom and Dad talk
10:30  Mom and Dad go to bed

 

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