Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Nature & Outdoor Studies

After re-reading some of my old blogs this weekend, I was reminded of the importance of play (unstructured play) & the importance of being outside in nature.  

Both are so important for the growth and development of children.

It helped firm up my desire to make sure we gets lots of time out in nature, exploring freely and letting them use their imaginations.

Being outside allows kids to have unstructured playtime and soak in the fresh air and sunshine.  The benefits of which include:
  1. increased concentration for schoolwork 
  2. lessening of aggression
  3. increased levels of vitamin D (if the sun is out) 
  4. allowing kids to make friends
  5. developing problem solving skills
  6. developing motor skills
  7. developing language skills (through play acting)
  8. learning to think critically
  9. learning self- control

In other words it's just great for kids!

Sounds like most of the skills they'll need later in life- right?!  

Today was a perfect day for this.

We headed to the seashore to explore and just enjoy being outside.

We met up with my family and had a great time searching for crabs, looking for sea glass, finding shells and rocks, and climbing all over the place.  We saw boats and forts and soaked up the fresh air and sunshine.

Alec made a new friend and hung around with her family for a good hour.

The boys all made a dam to hold back the water and brainstormed ways to keep the water in.  They later decided they wanted to allow the water to flow through a bit to keep it clean but to keep all the sand inside so Alec thought to use seaweed as a filter.

The boys watched the cormorant catch a crab and try to eat it.

They went swimming, looking with their goggles at all the fish.

Evan and my nephew had a whole game going while climbing up and down this boulder. They settled down to have their own picnic lunch away from us and we could often hear their laughter and voices through the trees.

We saw lots of ships passing by and the boys were most impressed with the barge pushing the huge ship out to sea.

We found a horseshoe crab shell complete with barnacles, lots of clam- type shells, and what we're pretty sure is a Mockingbird.  Alec recognized the bird due to the variety of calls and sounds we heard.
See the tugboat? 

catching crabs 

Looking at sea snails up close; watching them move around

Checking out barnacles & shells up close 

Watching the sail boats 


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Monday, June 29, 2015

Homeschooling Without A Plan

 This is the first year I've consciously decided to start homeschooling without a schedule.  The last three years I've tried a series of different schedule techniques and felt like a failure when they all flopped by Thanksgiving.

I love to plan everything and anything & schooling was one of those things I looked forward to planning.  I loved knowing I would have all the materials I need for any given week of school and not being caught off guard so I planned a lot in the last three years.

The first year (2012- 2013) I bought a three ringed binder and printed out a weekly template I made up myself on excel.  I divided our day into 5 subjects and left large blocks for filling in what we'd do Monday through Friday across a huge double page spread.  I left our subject areas pretty broad: Math, Language Arts, Science, Social Studies/History, and Art/ Phys. ed/Music/ Specials.

By the third week of school we were so far from our scheduled plan and had signed up for so many field trips and offered classes that we continued to fall further and further from our plan.

By the second month of school I was writing what we had done in each subject area at the end of the week filling it in to keep track.  I usually had many things that we did that fit into multiple subject areas and agonized over where to put them. I finally realized it was silly to go back through reading my blog and write it all down again at the end of the week just so I could have it all in a plan book so we scrapped the schedule.

My second year of homeschooling (2013- 2014): I didn't bother to write down any sort of plan other than to outline a broad daily schedule.  I laminated it, posted it on the fridge, and included time for me to exercise, time to clean the house, run errands, etc.  It was pretty broad and closely followed our normal homeschooling day so I figured we were all set.

Our Schedule: From 6-8 the kids would wake up, eat breakfast, & get themselves ready for the day.  From 8-9 we would do chores and clean the house.  From 9-12 we'd do schoolwork.   I had a broad outline of what schoolwork we'd be doing too.  I decided that from 9-12 they would each read their book/ story for the day, we'd cover each boys' math assignment and we'd work on any group projects for science or social studies.  At noon we'd break for lunch and I would read a story aloud at lunch.  Afternoon we'd cover art or messy science experiments and have plenty of free time to relax, play and catch up on any schoolwork those days when we ran errands in the morning or fell behind. 

 It worked for a while until we got sick of cleaning every day, or until they wanted to start the day with art or science, or that thing called LIFE got in the way of our plan... so, eventually we ditched the plan.

My third year of homeschooling (2014- 2015): I printed out this free homeschool planner.  It was pretty, had so many components to pick and chose from, and I figured three years in I had a pretty good idea of our daily and weekly schedule.

I LOVED this planner.

I had a ball planning our entire school year out.

I spent weeks organizing our school year.

I loved that I could look at a year in a glance.

I printed out the monthly templates and assigned one week to geography, one week to world history, one week to U.S. history, and one week to science; rotating them through the months and year.

I could plan family vacations, themed weeks like Harry Potter, Robots, Star Wars, etc.  We blocked the whole month of December off to focus on Christmas, baking & crafts.

I assigned states to cover with each week of geography and planned to only cover reading, math and one subject each day to allow us plenty of time to deviate and play.

Once I had our year all broadly planned I planned the first four weeks of school; again keeping things broad and general.

I penciled in any classes, field trips, and homeschool meet ups we had.

I penciled in holidays and time off and make-up days.

 I thought we were golden.

I thought I had finally found a plan that would work.

We stuck with it pretty well through September and maybe used it for part of October and then once again we realized our plan was not working for us.  

We dropped some curriculum components that weren't working for us and found that once again I was planning so much into our days that they weren't fun anymore.  We rarely took time off from school to do fun, spontaneous things because it messed with our schedule.

I still had not planned enough time away from school work to fit in that real- life learning we enjoy so much.

 So this year I decided that I'm not planning our coming year; at all!  

This is huge for us and it often makes us the odd man out.  Most homeschooling parents are deep in the planning mode for the next school year around this time and we have little to nothing to add to any of these conversations.  I don't buy curriculum materials, I'm not planning our school year and it seems like winging it is pretty unheard of in most homeschooling circles.

There are those families that do, of course, but we seem to be the minority.  Many families feel that without planning out a schedule or having set goals or a set curriculum to work their way through for the school year means they wont get anything done.

I used to think that too.

But I finally realized that for us it hampered us more than helped us.

I finally realized that we cover a lot in a school year but we rarely (if ever) completed everything, and dare I say it? NOTHING, that I had planned.

We buy a math book and I think we'll do two pages a day and finish by June.  But we don't.  We get half- way through the book, get sick of it or get lured by the appeal of another book, buy a second one and then randomly pick pages to work on until we migrate to something else. Or I'll find some print outs to use a week or two here and there and June comes around and we're only 2/3 of the way through our book.  

 I'll plan to teach about all 50 states picking one a week to cover with the boys and think we'll have covered all 50 states by the end of the year and within a few weeks the boys are complaining they aren't interested in learning about the state anymore right now.

I think in the past three years we've delved deeply into learning about 10 of them or so.

I plan to cover a set amount of years in United States history and then the kids read a book or watch a movie about a totally different time period and we're off and running with that instead.

Having no plan frees us to learn about whatever we want whenever we want and I've come to realize it's what works for us.  So yeah, we're homeschooling without a schedule or plan this year and I can't wait for school to start to see what we'll be learning about.

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Friday, June 26, 2015

The Week We Went to Microsoft Camp

Our 4th week of summer unschooling was busy shuttling back and fort to a mall where the local Microsoft store hosted a free summer camp for kids on computer coding.

We enjoyed listening to our book on CD while driving and exploring a "new" mall.  We did some shopping and Ian went to three different stores checking prices and all of his choices before deciding what to buy.

They made many new friends at camp and it was great to see Alec, in particular, interacting with kids much younger than himself.  Many of the kids at camp had younger siblings hanging around and though Alec usually does not want to play with younger kids I saw him talking and playing with a few of them throughout the week.

Their main focus this week was on computer coding and learning all the ins and outs of the various programs they were encouraged to use.

These Microsoft camps are amazing.  We highly recommend them to any young kids interested in the very basics of coding.
  • They're Free
  • They allow kids to get hands on experience with various computer programs
  • They are fun and engaging
  • They allow kids to connect with one another over a common interest
  • They show kids all the new technology available
  • They incorporate reading, writing, and math through computers
  • Most of the activities are open ended and allow for a lot of creativity
  • The teachers are positive and encouraging                 
 You can check out some of the games that the boys made this week following these links (unfortunately the larger games they designed are not available on the web only on through the specific game they used):

Checking out the birch tree forest.  We loved
looking up at the "leaves" and trying to
figure out how they made the trees.  
While the camp up most of our week we did other things too.

The younger two boys spent some time at the forge making a new hook & learning how to keep themselves safe from burns and accidents.

They all did some reading too; Ian finished up Catching Fire and told me he couldn't wait for computer camp to end so he could start the third book.  Yep, that's right; he wanted computer camp to end so he could READ!  I never thought I'd hear those words come out of his mouth.

Once again this week we're linking up with Weird UnSocialized Homeschoolers  where you can read all about the various homeschooling families and their weeks.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

10 Truths I've Learned While Homeschooling

  My blog often focuses on what the kids are doing or what the kids are learning while we're homeschooling, but I've learned a lot too over these past few years.  

As our lives go through various changes or seasons, if you will, we adults are always growing, changing, and learning too.  Some of the things I've learned have been due solely to the kids and their interests.  They get so excited about all that they are learning and can't wait to share such wonderful facts with me.  I have learned so much about trucks, hydraulics, animals and Greek/Roman/ Egyptian Gods that it's just unbelievable.

Much of what I've learned is not solely directed by the kids though.

Here are 10 lessons I've learned while homeschooling my boys:

1. I don't have all the answers but Google usually does!

I thought I was intelligent.  I went to school and got really good grades. I went to college and even received my Masters in Education and yet I must get asked at least a dozen questions a day that I just do not know the answers to.  I used to say we'd find a book about it at the library but I've learned that their interests are often fleeting and quick Google search to answer their question is usually all that is needed.  Then if they're intrigued and have even more questions we head to the library.

2. You can plan and plan and plan but you must be flexible enough to let go of the plan when it isn't working

I used to plan out each day, each week and even each year of homeschooling.  But as our days morphed and we deviated from the plans I'd start getting anxious and upset.  My plan book looked so messy by the end of the week and I focused so much on all that we didn't complete.  When I finally tossed the plan and focused on what we were doing each day it was easy to see growth, change, and learning happening.  

3. Kids really don't need to be instructed on everything; they're quite willing to learn on their own as long as they know they can always ask for help

As a teacher I assumed I needed to teach my kids everything.  But I've noticed that so much of what they learn is really self- directed with little to no input from me.  Most of what I teach tends to go in one ear and out the other unless they have specifically asked for my help and are ready to learn the skills I'm teaching.  Kids learn; they're wired to learn all about the world around them.

4. Children's books aren't just for kids!

I have fallen in love with so many children's and young adult books that I might not otherwise have thought to read on my own.  Great authors write books that appeal to everyone and there are many, many, many, amazing authors out there!

5. My kids are AWESOME! and I'm more than happy to be home with them full time 24 hours a day 7 days a week

I always knew I had pretty great kids but I was daunted by the thought of being with them everyday all day long.  I thought I needed the break public school provided to better handle the kids and have more patience with them but in the last few years I've discovered the opposite to be true to me.  We now have so many more wonderful & happy memories & moments to share that it's easy enjoy being with them all day long.

6. Everyone learns differently

I knew this before I started homeschooling but somehow I don't feel like I really KNEW this.  Do you know what I mean?  

I've always said every child is different and learns differently yet used the same set of teaching tools to teach them all.   

Being home with just my three boys has driven that point home so much more.  A textbook or series that works great for one son is a nightmare for another.  One of my boys prefers noise and chaos when doing school and the other needs it quiet and organized just so.  Some like to sit, some like to move; they are who they are and they know how they learn best.

7. Learning can be so simple and fun and happens ALL THE TIME

 It's hard to shake the mindset of "school" time and play time but I have learned that there is no set line.  Learning can be so much fun that they have no idea that they're even learning.  The best lessons are those that we are unaware of and that can happen whenever & wherever.  We don't need a special building, room, or area to learn.  

8. There's always tomorrow

Often I try to plan so much in our day and we just run out of time.  I used to try and push the kids through the lessons and get them all done so I could check them all of my list but I realized I was interrupting valuable learning time.  Now I know that if we're really immersed in something the other things can slide and we can tackle them another day. I also know that if we're all in a funk or the day is going bad we can take a break and tackle it again at another time.  

9. Don't sweat the small stuff

One thing I've learned these last few years is that I have to let go of my fears more often and look at the big picture.  When I'm starting to feel upset that the house is messy, that one of the boys is struggling with a skill, when dealing with separation anxiety, or that the bickering is driving me up the wall I try to take a deep breath and think "will this still be like this in 5 years or even 10 years?"  Usually the answer is no and somehow that helps me feel better and helps me move on.  

10 My best is good enough

I never expect my kids to do better than their best and it's unrealistic to constantly expect myself to do better and to be better.  

But I am a perfectionist at heart.  It's natural for me to read all the other homeschooling blogs and think "I should do that with the boys",  or *gasp* "I forgot to teach them that", "they're doing so much more with their kids (than I am with mine)", "that sounds like a perfect curriculum set, I should buy that and make sure to do it with the boys everyday instead of always forgetting about it and reverting back to what little we do follow"... those kinds of things.  

We all parent differently, we all homeschool differently, we all are different and that's just great.  

The world would be pretty boring if we were all the same.  

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Top 25 Family Board Games

We love board games!

We have closets and shelves of games.  I'm constantly seeing people asking for good family game ideas and thought I'd compile a list of some of the games that my boys ask to play over and over and over again.

Some games are only for two players (so we'll often have multiple games going on at the same time and then swap players around as games end), some are more suited for my older boys, some may not be technically considered board games but these are all games we love to play.

I honestly believe that every game is educational and love exposing the kids to a variety of games.

We're game to try just about anything (see what I did there?)...  In no particular order here are some of our favorite family games:

1. Life-- We love to change it up by deciding to go to college sometimes and other times not.  My boys have pretty much realized that if you can get the doctor, vet, or superstar card than you'll make a lot of money and probably win the game.  They take turns being the banker and have learned how to make change and add up large sums of money.

2. Monopoly-- Regular and Pokemon version; Monopoly becomes an every man for himself kind of battle in this house.  Trades and alliances are made, we've actually had games where we've run out of houses and hotels.  It's lots of fun and requires the boys to use a lot of math skills.  

3. Scrambled States of America-- I bought this to help my kids learn about the 50 states and I had no idea that we were going to play it so much that we've practically memorized most of the clues!  It's such a fun game for the whole family.  

Scrambled States

4. Beat the Parents-- We've just started playing this fun trivia game that puts all the kids on one team and mom and dad on another.  Mom and dad's questions are mostly about pop stars, cartoon characters and things that the kids think are easy.  The kids questions are about science, life, and the world around us so it's pretty challenging for both sides.

5. Scene it? Disney or the Harry Potter version-- This game that we play along with on our DVD player has been getting a lot of use lately.  We just bought the Harry Potter version (used) and played it 4 times in one week!  We're huge Harry Potter fans and found the game challenging enough and tons of fun.  If Harry Potter or Disney are not your "thing" there are many versions. 

Scene It? Disney Edition DVD Game
6. Sorry Sliders-- This is one game that's great to play with younger kids.  There is no reading involved and the only math is a bit of counting.  Using pawns that look like those in the traditional Sorry! game you slide your pawns individually down a track and try to get them to land on the game board in such a way to give you the point score totals you need to win.  Each player can knock the other players off their spots and it's really a lot of fun.  

SORRY! Sliders
7. Sorry!-- My kids enjoy the traditional version of Sorry! too.  It's pretty challenging to get all your pawns into your safety zone without getting knocked back to start.  

Hasbro Sorry 2013 Edition Game(Discontinued by manufacturer)
8. Twister-- Great exercise and great fun we love trying to tie each other up in knots.  We take turns playing and calling out the moves and have learned that those who are more flexible are at a definite advantage!  It's always a night that leads to so much laughing.  

Twister Game

9. Mario Chess-- really they would play any version of chess but somehow the Mario characters turned chess into an obsession!  It's been fun learning how to play altogether as a family.  Alec was the one intrigued with chess and taught himself to play.  He often has to coach Evan, Ian or I when playing since we're all just learning.  

Super Mario Chess Collector's Edition Tin
10. Checkers-- Another classic!  I guess the classic games are classics for a reason though.  It's a lot of fun to strategically get your pieces across the game board without loosing too many.

Checkers(Discontinued by manufacturer)
11. Playing Cards-- (while not technically a board game they all mentioned at least one card game and Ian insisted that since you play it when you are bored it's a board game)-- Our favorites are War, Pitch, and cribbage but we've been known to play a mean game of go fish or old maid too.  

Bicycle Standard Index Playing Cards (Pack of 2)
12. Trouble-- I think at one point we had four different versions of Trouble; we had Star Wars, Skylanders, Classic & one other too.  It's a simple enough game and lots of fun.  We love watching the dice pop and trying to beat one another around the board.  

Trouble Game (Amazon Exclusive)

13. Jenga-- skill and steady hands are needed to keep this game going.  It's fun for most ages and many or just a few players. 

Jenga Classic Game
14. Clue-- This was always a personal favorite of mine so I was thrilled when my boys were finally old enough to play! Take your pawn around the board and try to guess who did it, with what weapon, & in what room.  

Clue The Classic Edition

15. Memory-- with so many versions it's easy to find one that appeals to most kids.  The concept is simple enough; flip over two cards at a time, remember where they are and make matches.  However it's not always that easy.  
Memory Game - Spider-Man & Friends Edition
16. Mastermind-- for only two players but still a lot of fun (and we've even had teams playing against the one making pattern).  The object of the game is to pick the pattern of pegs that the code maker put together using reasoning and small clues.  

17. Topple- A fun game for the whole family.  Try to balance your piece on the spot you rolled without toppling the game board. 

18. Spot it! Party-- The box says ages 10 and up but all three of my boys loved all the different versions of Spot It! found inside this box.  The object is to the be the first to spot a set of matching objects between cards so even kids who can't read can easily play.  

Spot It Party Board Game
19 Qwirkle-- Another game that kids can easily play since it only requires matching colors & shapes.  We played the first few times with all the tiles showing and the boys caught on quickly.  They take turns keeping score and again it can get quite competitive! 

20. American Trivia! I actually thought this trivia game was quite difficult but the boys love to play and often win.  It's been a fun way to learn so many facts about the United States and it's history.  

21. Battleship-- though only a two player game we have great fun trying to stump one another and guess where the other person is hiding their fleet of boats.  

22. Guess Who?-- another two player game that my younger two boys enjoy most.  They have to ask a question to help them eliminate a group of possible candidates to guess who the other person has picked.  

23. Scrabble-- My older boys enjoy this classic spelling game.  We take turns being scorekeeper and they enjoy the challenge of finding words and calculating the score to see if it's a "good word" to use or not.  
Hasbro Scrabble Crossword Game
24. Rummikub-- A rummy tile game that's equally fun and challenging for kids and adults.  

25. Zeus on the Loose--  2-5 players can play so it's a great game for families.  We stumbled upon this during the boys' Greek God obsession and loved this simple yet challenging math game.  The object is to be the first person to get to 100; adding up all the cards played along the way.  But be careful the Gods have powers and can subtract from the pile, turn it around, and turn the tides of the whole game.  
Zeus on the Loose
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