Curriculum

Unit Study: Cephalopods

We finished up our primary curriculum and decided to spend a few weeks exploring some topics of my daughter’s choosing before moving on to MBTP 7-9.  She asked for Blue Ringed Octopus and Giant Squid.  So we took a little time to review classification, talked about Mollusks and then Cephalopods in general.  We reread some of our favorites on evolution and adaptation as we reminded ourselves where these organisms fit in the bigger picture.  We explored ocean and coral reef habitats as well.  I found out she loved working through dichotomous keys of made up fish and then working through identifying coral reef fish; and also pretending to be a conservation biologist identifying organisms by phylum, class and order that divers collected and shouldn’t have.  We also added notebooking pages to our big three ringed binder of the animal kingdom for several species that interested her in particular.

Here are some of the books on Cephalopods, including a handful of fun fiction in the mix, that we enjoyed during this unit study:

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We made use of some toilet paper tubes to create some cute models of a blue ringed octopus, giant squid and a blue octopus.

Next up, she wants to learn all about sea horses and investigate composers and classical music.

 

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Panda Unit Study

We have finished our MBTP 5-7 level and wanted to take a break from it before diving into the next level by doing some unit studies of our own.  I asked my daughter what she wanted to learn about and she quickly came up with a list that included mosaics, mudskippers, more french, how we get different breeds of dogs and pandas.  Mudskippers were tricky, there are not many resources for the early elementary years, but put together enough to last the week.  Pandas though, super easy to find resources and great books and hands on projects.

I used some ideas from this Zoo Curriculum packet which had the added bonus of introducing the eight different types of bears and continued on our basic introduction of animal classification we began in our mudskipper week.  If there is something my girl loves to do, it’s sorting.  It’s easy to come up with panda crafts, coloring pages and mapping activities as well as pretending to be pandas.

Books we used ranged from easy readers she read to me (it’s a general practice we have been doing for over a year where she spends about 20 minutes a day reading out loud), fiction story books for fun, Chinese legends of the mountains and pandas, longer read alouds and non-fiction titles.  Our librarian always knows what we’re studying next when we pick up our weekly pile of interlibrary loan materials :)

We also watched National Geographic and BBC Natural World nature shows to cap it off.

    

      

 

    

 

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Book List Anyone?

We’ve been getting into a nice routine with our homeschooling. We are going at our own pace, expanding on topics when there is greater interest. I’m so proud of the work she is doing and the conversations we end up having through the guidance provided by Moving Beyond the Page. Having school outside on the patio and in her “fort” of her swing set on these gorgeous days. We’ve also hit a stride on our phonics and reading, using Explode the Code with Bob Books and other phonics word family books. Math, we are speeding through book A of Singapore Essential Math K, as I know she understands the concepts already, but am using this as part of her writing practice, but she still has fun with all the manipulatives to play with the ideas.

At the beginning of August, I installed the “My Book List” app on my phone as I was looking for a quick way of recording and keeping track of the books we’ve been reading each week. My daughter loves to be read to and is enjoying being an emerging independent reader, taking great pride in reading to visiting Grandparents. We visit our library at least once a week, sometimes more. In addition to just fun books and Jana’s picks, I have been making good use of Inter Library Loan (ILL). For each unit I’ve researched and looked for recommendations for quality literature that relates to the week’s theme, vocabulary or letter sound. Each week we take a large stack of books to return only to leave with an equally large pile of new titles. Well, it’s the end of two months and there are over 225 unique titles on the list! Note, it does not count multiple reading of favorite titles.

As I have found looking to other sources of book lists a great starting point before tumbling into that rabbit hole of reading book reviews and summaries on Amazon, I’m considering creating lists here to share. As we are in week 10, I already have quite a few good reads for the pre-school/kindergarten set. The Book List app conveniently has an export feature which sent my list in chronological order already loaded with the links to Amazon, so that part is easy. It’s just finding the time :) Either it will be many individual posts or just a page with the list and may or may not contain notes from me. Certainly there have been the ones that really stand out that I may provide commentary on.

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Rearing and Releasing Monarch Butterflies

Just in time for our unit on insects, the “Fireflies” unit in Moving Beyond the Page, we have our first reared Monarch butterflies to release this year. This isn’t the first time we’ve done this, she knows the host plant, can spot the eggs and small caterpillars. Jana has, unsurprisingly, been exposed to a number of entomological experiences throughout her life.

As a naturalist, she is a natural. She has a good eye at spotting something new and different. She continually adds to her collection of “treasures” whether it’s a shell, smooth stone, acorn, interesting leaf or feather. She acted as one of the guides when our garden featured on our neighborhood garden tour, identifying plants, flowers and vegetables (much more knowledgeable than a number of our neighbors I might add). She also has a quick hand, strolling down our driveway she snatched an Eight Spotted Forester day flying moth out of the air asking, “what’s this Momma?” That quick hand is also a gentle hand, befriending a Katydid for six or so hours over the course of a day; or playing with a spider in the kiddie pool for over half an hour floating it on boats and letting it climb up and down her arms. Her general lack of fear of wildlife comes into play while fishing with her Dad as well, she has no qualms reeling in, grasping fish and removing hooks on her own, of which she can identify many common species. But I digress as a proud biologist Momma.

So this year with our Monarchs, we’re taking our “citizen science” a step further and participating in a tagging program through Monarch Watch. It’s just a small way to participate in the “bigger picture” with Jana. She’s four and a half. She gets it; although she was a little sad to let the butterflies go (she really wanted to keep them), she knew we have to help take care of “her little buddies.”

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Moving Forward

Wow, almost ten months ago I posted the conclusions I came to about what direction I wanted to go with home schooling.  The Secular, literature based unit studies with hands on projects conclusion.  Well, now we are moving forward with Moving Beyond the Page.  I had been coming back and looking at this “boxed” curriculum several times over the previous months.  It caught my attention with how aligned it was with my philosophies and approach, that the subjects are all integrated; science, social studies, math and language arts all revolve around the weekly theme.  I particularly liked the book selections for the units.  I liked the flexibility the curriculum presents within itself based on your child’s ability and interests.  I decided it would be worth it to pay for pre-packaged organization and supplies for all projects and neatly outlined lesson plans.

14468762884_19f3cccd5a_mWhen the “big box” was delivered, I figured it would take a few weeks to orient myself with the literature and methods.  We would then ease into the lessons before the fall when we would have a more regular schedule.  But as soon as I opened the box, Jana wanted to start right away.  The parent guide is so well prepared, that just a few minutes of prep work at the the beginning of the week to make sure you have all materials on hand and read the lesson of the day ahead of time is all you need to get started.  So we did.

I knew as soon as I set up the first weeks worth of lessons (each unit is set up to do one lesson a day, with five lessons per unit in the 4-5 year old package), that Jana would want to do everything in one sitting.  It’s all fun for her.  She requests to “do school” everyday and we have done two lessons in one sitting because she wants to see what’s next.  She even wanted her school work on the 4th of July, but I convinced her that since we would be at our family picnic (42nd year and running) all day for the holiday, that it was okay to skip a day :)

It’s fun for me too, to just open and go and knowing I am equipped with the tools and have the supplies on hand for dozens of creative ways to teach and for Jana to learn without having to add to my already burgeoning craft supplies. We can easily add to or expand upon units in our own ways as well.  Her library card has been getting a work out finding complementary literature.

I’m excited to see how this goes, I’m confident we have found the right fit for our family.

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What Curriculum To Use?

This is a loaded question and it invariably comes up in any conversation with fellow homeschoolers about homeschooling, “so, which curriculum are you using or going to use?”

When I say there are a lot of options out there, I mean A LOT. Where to start? Well, that is basically the point that I am at. How to sort the wheat from the chaff when I’m looking at a silo full of choices. I need to consider my daughters style of learning, will this be a good fit for how she learns? What time of day is she most receptive to learning? Although this does feel like an impossible task, it also highlights the beauty of being able to choose a curriculum and homeschooling in the first place. There is no “one size fits all” curriculum. Especially not in schools where your child is one of 20+ children trying to be taught within the same mold, at the same time and in the same time frame. This process will, with no doubt, involve trial and error, stops and starts, until we find the right fit for us.

I can tell you from my research a number of the big buzz words that describe the direction I hope to go in our future. Secular. Literature based. Unit Studies. Learning through play. That could be just one sentence. Secular literature based unit studies is an apt description, while learning through play. Many homeschoolers start their year by asking their children, “what do you want to learn about this year?” and developing an overarching theme integrating language arts, science, math, social studies, reading, writing, art for a week long theme (for early elementary) to a month or more of concentration for older students. I can follow my daughter’s lead on her interests. And if our early morning and before bed routine of her sitting down and saying, “I want to have a conversation. Let’s talk about trolleys!” (or trains, or clouds, or spiders, or what ever the topic du jour happens to be), is any indication, then we’re all in for some fun and diverse learning adventures.

We are still in early days and our days of “schooling” are not at all structured. What we do right now, we do because it works for her at 3.5 years old. I keep a bin with a number of workbooks (aka her puzzle books), some manipulatives (pattern blocks, attribute blocks, snap cubes) and a stash of paper, which is next to her little work table with the always available crayons, scissors, stickers and glue. We work in these books together when she goes to them and brings them to me. In this way, I know she is receptive, nothing is forced, and we can end up spending over an hour with solid, determined concentration.

So what is in this bin of books? So far, the favorites, as evidenced by my daughter picking them over all others include the following:

A few from the Critical Thinking Company:
can you find me thinkingbuilding

She blew through a book of beginning sequencing involving cutting and pasting pictures according to a short story:
sequence

A variety of Kumon workbooks, including tracing, easy mazes and scissor skills. A few with “getting ready to read” activities. She has completed a number of these books already.

This bin has a focus on refining fine motor skills and puzzle solving. But most of our day is spent learning through play and there is nothing here that isn’t outside the ordinary for most preschoolers. We spend a lot of time outside, working in the garden, digging in the mud, playing in the sand box, swinging on swings, drawing with sidewalk chalk, blowing bubbles, catching ball or frisbee, playing chase. We read a lot through out the day and making a weekly trip to the library to get an influx of new material has been brilliant. She helps me in the kitchen when cooking and baking, scooping, measuring and stirring whenever she can. She wants to be my helper around the house, loving folding and putting away small towels and sorting everyone’s socks out to their respective drawers when I’m doing laundry. Everything is a learning opportunity.

I think we have a fun foundation of activity to build structure on to. This is a learning experience for me as well. So far, the more I research, the more excited I get about the prospect and the quieter my lingering doubts become. I can do this and do it well.

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