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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Home school ideas and resources

I've had several friends ask me for lists of homeschooling resources, so for ease of communication (and also to prevent me from re-typing the same information every week to different people) I've listed our top favorite resources or teaching methods here.

Teaching Methods:
I seldom did 'workbooks' or used 'textbooks'. The only exception is for the workbook series we loved for phonics and writing. It's called "Explode the Code" and I highly recommend it.

One of our all-time favorite methods was to buy or print blank Bingo cards and fill in the squares with our own information. This is applicable to EVERY subject! Review phonics by writing in the letters of the alphabet and saying "I'm looking for the letter that makes the 'mmmm' sound." If they didn't know the letter symbol to match the sound (such as when you have a younger sibling playing the game with the older one), then I show them a picture of the letter and they visually match it. For other subjects, we'd put numbers on the board and I'd say something like "I'm looking for the number 5" (when you are working on mere number recognition), or "I'm looking for the answer to 5+4" (when working on beginner math), etc. For science we'd write different key words to whatever topic we're learning and I'd ask a question appropriate for the key word, such as "I'm looking for the name of the bone where your knee is" (Patella). For the first bingo they'd get a Skittle or jellybean. They'd also get one for achieving blackout.

We'd also play games by writing sight words on plain index cards and sticking the cards on the wall. I would sit on one side of the room and ask Sarah to bring me the card with a particular word on it. She'd run to the wall and search until she found it and she'd bring it back. She'd read me the word and spell it out loud. For every 10 cards collected she'd get a Skittle or an M&M candy. When siblings play simultaneously, we'd have easy words for Matthew (rat, sit, etc) and harder ones for Sarah (righteous, tough, character, etc) and they'd take turns fetching cards. This also works for many subjects. This method is great because it's active and involves their entire body, making it not only more enjoyable but it imprints on the brain better as well.

For history we loved an unconventional approach. I'd read a chapter to Sarah out loud, then I'd ask her to repeat it back to me. I'd write down exactly what she said in a binder filled with notebook paper. At the bottom of the page she'd draw and color an illustration from the story. In this way you begin to build your own textbook and it's an effective way to gauge how much they understand from your reading. I chose to start history from our religious standpoint and we began with the pre-existence. We discussed the events that happened there and began world history with Adam and Eve. This teaching method would be great for scripture study as well.

For reading skills, I highly recommend buying a cheap copy of the Book of Mormon or Bible. We gave Sarah a copy and had her highlight the words she new on each page. She would do this during home school or during church.  She loved it! This really helped her read better. At first she would just scan the words and focus on any 3-letter words, but this was the single teaching method that helped her the most with reading. Within 2 weeks she moved from reading 'his' and 'the' to reading 'righteous' and 'commandments'. I really believe the Spirit helped her learn.

Audio CDs- I can't say enough about this topic. We have several different CD's that teach through song or story. We keep them in the car and listen to them whenever we're running errands. I LOVE this method. The children listen to the stories/songs very well and learn fantastic information while being entertained. We buy these as gifts for Christmas or birthdays. We learn science, history, and math this way. We also enjoy classic works of literature this way. There are some high-quality children's versions of Shakespeare and other great authors. Be sure to investigate a particular product before buying it though. Just because it says it's educational doesn't mean it's not inane. Too many producers don't have kids and don't know how to really teach them; they try too much to be entertaining and the result is really not worth your investment. Some of our favorites are listed below. 

We LOVE to read out loud as a family. We pick a classic and sit together with blankets in the family room and read for an hour or more. The children love it and so do I. If you're husband does great voices, then you're in for a great treat! I LOVE whenever Nathan reads, and the children are kept laughing most of the time. If you haven't tried this before with your family, start with an easy, funny book like the original Winnie-the-Pooh collection. This will keep everyone laughing the entire time! They are so clever! After the routine is established, you can move on to other books. We've really like the original Alice in Wonderland, Heidi, Sherlock Holmes, and Swiss Family Robinson. Matthew really loved reading a Midsummer's Night dream and didn't want to story to end. Shakespeare does take some explaining, though, so it's not a fast read. This is such a great way to spend an evening or Sunday afternoon!

For most of our science teaching, we'd pick a topic and go check out everything the library had about that subject. We used this with History as well. We'd check out all the non-fiction books for a given time period, such as the Renaissance. We'd take our laundry basket and literally fill it with 45 books for the week. This was our most valuable teaching source of information. We had so much fun and we'd sometimes read together for 4 hours in one afternoon. The key is merely to find out what the children want to learn about. If they are self-motivated in learning, you can't keep them away from the books even if you wanted to. Sarah often tried to read at the dinner table. Most of the specific resources I list below are DVD or CD format, only because our favorite books are all free at the library and I haven't written down all the great titles we love there. I've written down the things that I either have purchased for gifts or am planning on purchasing soon. There are lots of DVDs listed, but we really don't watch much TV. We spent most of our time reading and playing.

Another favorite method was to experience the topic and go on a field trip! We explored all sorts of wonderful places and things together! The family memories created are so valuable! I would just teach them whatever we could find about the area/destination.

We also loved doing unit studies...the concept of making all your school work in the different subjects fit around one theme for a period of time. This way the reading, art, and math all match whatever the history or science lessons are about. They loved learning about the planets and made their own planets to decorate their room. Then they filled condiment tubes full of applesauce for 'space food' and they played for hours pretending to be in space on their rocket. They self-initiated all of this after reading with me about the planets that day. Encourage them to explore their own interests and let them make their own crafts so they can be creative.

We invested in a trampoline for the 'recess breaks' in home school. This is one of the best investments I've ever made. Be SURE to do your homework before buying! The market in inundated with cheap trampolines that will break or harm your child! We liked the Staged Bounce model on The jumping surface on our trampoline is covered with numbers, shapes, and math symbols. We do math games on the trampoline by having them jump on math equations. They jump on the '4' then '+' then '5' then '=' then '9'. Get it? It's fun and has lots of game possibilities.

Specific resources we liked:

Story of the World book and audio series by Susan Wise Bauer. We absolutely LOVE these for history!

Jim Weiss, audio book series on CD.  It's a great introduction to classical literary masterpieces such as Dickens, Shakespeare, O. Henry, etc.

Magic School Bus series on DVD. Great for science!

BBC Earth series on DVD. These can be viewed online for free. Great resource for earth science! We love these!

The Electric Company- the original series from the 70's. It's great for phonics and grammar. We really love it!

Little Einstein Dvds- great for art and music appreciation.

PBS- Between the Lions. Good for beginner phonics.

Musical Notebook CD-from Great for learning prime numbers, the 50 states, anatomical names, money values, countries of Central and South America, parts of the inner ear, planet names, branches of the government, etc. A favorite of ours! It happens to be made by a homeschooling family!

Schoolhouse Rock- great for a variety of topics- grammar, sciences, history, government, math, etc. We really LOVE these. Especially the "Interjections" song. Most of these can be viewed freely online on Youtube.

Bob books series- GREAT for beginning readers! This was a huge hit for us. It made reading easy for the kids and it was so fun for them to read on their own in their first book.

Leapstart Learning games for the computer- we liked the math, reading, and logic drills in these. They are available for most grade levels.

Sir Cumference books- ---they teach geometry principles in a fun story format. Very fun and pretty memorable.

Childcraft books- PRICELESS. You an sometimes find a set at HalfPrice books or on Ebay. My kids read them everyday. Not kidding. It's all about sciences and humanities (like the history of language or people around teh world) and full of pictures or little thinking games. I found a set recently that was being sold for ONE DOLLAR per book! If you can find one, I highly recommend it. These are our most used resource!  I can't thank my mother enough for giving us the childcraft set I grew up with. What fond memories I have of sequestering myself away with those books!

"Top Secret Adventures" from the publishers at Highlights. It teaches Geography/Social Studies in a detective style with puzzles. You have to find out who the thief was, what they stole, and where they hid the item. So far he's learned about Brazil, Mexico, Japan, Australia, and few others. Doing the puzzles is great. Lots of good thinking involved and it's fun! One kit comes in the mail every month.

"Classic Starts" series you find at Barnes and Noble. They are 4 or 5 dollars a piece but hard bound! He's read Robinson Crusoe, The adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Call of the Wild, The Three musketeers and others. I love them too. They are simplified but true to the original story and style of the author and glaze over some of what would have normally been too graphic for kids.

 General Suppliers:

A great resource for browsing resources is We do much of our birthday and Christmas shopping through them. It's a home school family that catalogues their favorite tools and sells them all in one locations so you aren't hunting around online for hours. Some of their recommendations we've liked and some we haven't liked. Everyone's preference is different.

We also really like Lakeshore Learning online. They have a store near us and I love to go browse. Most of their products are overpriced, but it's a GREAT place to get your own ideas of how to apply it at home with your own supplies. This is where I had the idea of making our own bingo games. They have an entire AISLE full of just Bingo games in different topics. The games were $10 each, but a pack of 100 blank Bingo cards was only $5. There's also a lot of neat science supplies there. 

I hope this information is helpful for you! We have found that we much prefer to buy educational things rather than toys for holidays.  Some great things to consider  are science kits (think ladybug hatchery, butterfly home, ant farm, magnifying glasses, bug-catching kit, etc), hands-on crafts (embroidery, painting set, art set, craft supplies, etc), educational games (Frog Juice, Chess, Sum Swamp, Life, Battleship, Memory, High-ho Cherry-O, Uno (even a three-year-old can play Uno! It's a great family game!), Pay Day, Tangrams, puzzles, etc), books, audio CDs, and educational DVDs.

This all said, here is the most important part: Ponder and Pray.  There may be something you could bless your children and family with that you haven't even thought of. Also, God knows your children much better than you do, and He knows how they will learn the best. There were so many times when I struggled trying to teach my kids. Sarah would put up a mental wall to the extent that she wouldn't even acknowledge me when I told her I loved her. I tried every way I could think of to show my love for her because I think it's critically important for them to know I love them. I had to pray and ask God how to get through to her and it was something no one else could have suggested. He told me to clean her room for her. That changed our entire relationship and helped our home school experience.

He created your children so He knows them best. Pray and He will lead you to what your family needs. Everyone is different and only He has the answers you'll seek.

I've been asked what we do for spiritual teaching, and I'll do a post on that topic soon. It's a whole article by itself!


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Gail said...

I now understand why you went to a more secure comments system.

Great resources, thanks. Eric and Daniel are getting Story of the World audio books for Christmas. I intend to listen to them while driving to and from math and choir meetings, both of which are in downtown Austin.

Science is definitely my weakest point. We frequently don't get to it, but when we do, it's hard to differentiate, since Eric has practically memorized his science encyclopedia, but Daniel is only interested in the hands-on, practical applications as they pertain to, say, building a catapult.

My biggest problem with science is that I seriously must /prepare/ a lesson.

For history, we read and then discuss a section of Story of the World. (The discussions, with the deeper critical thinking and applied social studies components are my favorite).

English I can handle on the fly. I pick something the kids needs to work on. We have vocab workbooks, or a stack of books I can assign them to read, or I teach a grammar lesson about something I've noticed needing attention. I also try to issue a weekly writing assignment.

Math is easy since we work out of textbooks and I always know what comes next. My biggest issue there is that Daniel's Bear pops up on Every Single Assignment! (And most of the time, it's my fault.)

But science...ew. I haven't found a textbook I like, especially not one appropriate for different levels. I have abunch of different books and workbooks, but no integrated curriculum, and to make a science lesson work, I must do a lot of research in advance, like watching five youtube videos and choosing the best one. (Oh, the horror--yes, I know that isn't actually very painful, just time consuming.)

The big problem there is that normally science just falls into my lap. Like if we start discussing the industrial revolution during history class, I think "Oh! We should cover the steam engine!" But then I lose the kids while I try to find a useful resources on it.

Do you have any other really helpful science suggestions? I do like Magic School Bus. I suppose I could take each book and plan a week of study around it...

Great idea, thanks!