Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Review: Escape Monthly

This is a review I was asked to do by Escape Monthly.  They provided me with one free shipment so I could evaluate their product. 

If you've clicked my travel tab up there lately, you know we've been relatively home-bound lately.  Between a new house, a new job, a pediatric hospital stay, $45 co-pays for speech/feeding therapy and my upcoming oral surgeon bills, it just has not been traveling season for us lately.

So when I was contacted by Escape Montly, I was definitely intrigued at the idea of receiving a vacation in a box delivered right to my door step.  Escape Monthly is a subscription service.  Each month, there is a featured destination and you receive a box stuffed full with products to help you feel like you're on vacation even if you've only managed to steal 30 minutes to yourself in tub while small children stand outside the bathroom door yelling emergency questions like, "can I have a cookie?!"

The August box was based on Napa Valley.  When it arrived at my door, I was surprised how much was in it
My box included a pack of loose leaf tea that makes about 20 cups of tea, bath salts good for 1-2 baths, a bar of soap from Napa Soap Company, a bar of vitamin E soap, organic pomegranate body scrub, a loofah, a sample of lavendar body butter, a mud mask, a tube of lip balm, a small box of cookies, two floating candles, a travel guide book for Napa and Sonoma, and a gift card for $50 worth of wine. 
I only had one very small complaint.  When the box arrived at my house in Texas on a 100+ degree day, the candles were pretty melty.  I had to open the box and let it sit in the air conditioning for a while to be able to get them out without ruining them.   Everything else was in great shape and the box came with a more goodies than I expected.   The service costs $50 per month, but if you sign up with the coupon code ESCAPENOW, you can get 20% off for the lifetime of your membership.

The price of the box is a definite savings over buying each of the products separately.  The most fun part is having it all show up on your doorstep though.  I felt like a little kid on Christmas morning opening up the box and unpacking all the goodies inside!  Take a look at the Escape Monthly website to learn more about membership and to sign up. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Back to School!

We officially started our school year today.  Some homeschool families continue to work through the summer, but we are not them.  I bought each of the girls a big workbook for their grade level and they worked on them when they wanted, but we skip the formal teaching for the summer (and for part of the spring too, depending on when they finish their work for the year).  Inevitably, the first of August rolls around and they start BEGGING to do school work.  One of my goals this year was to have everything completely planned out before we even started.  The last 2 weeks have involved a LOT of schoolwork for me, but I accomplished the goal and we're ready to go!  Here's what's on the line up (links may be affiliate links):

Sedona (1st grade, just turned 6, loves math and very talented at it, reluctant but average reader, strongly suspected ADHD):
Math: RightStart Level B.  We've been very happy with it over the last 3 years.
Spelling: She will start All About Spelling Level 1, I suspect it will take her the full year to finish it
Reading: All About Reading Level 2; family read alouds such as Charlotte's Web and Little House on the Prairie
Science: Magic School Bus science plans (free on the Homeschool Belle blog)
History: Ancients Level 1 (made my own, they're available for free)
Handwriting: Handwriting Without Tears
Music: Continue working on John W. Schaum books
Art: Our own lesson plans (available here)
Geography: If she's interested, the Evan Moor 1st grade geography book is available for her, but I'm not going to insist on it yet
Spanish: If she's interested, Rosetta Stone Homeschool Spanish is available, but I'm not insisting on it

Sierra (4th grade, about to turn 9, reluctant but good at math, advanced reader, enjoys "seat work"):
Math: RightStart Level E (I'm starting to stress about where we'll go next.  I'm not afraid of math and would prefer to teach her one on one, but it seems all the homeschool programs are on DVD/computer)
Spelling: She will finish All About Spelling Level 3 and move on to Level 4
Reading: Some books on her reading list are required and others she will get to choose
Science: Science Odyssey, Chemistry from Pandia Press
History: Modern history Level 1 (made my own, available for free here)
Handwriting: doing a little remedial work to see if we can neaten things up.  Going with Handwriting Without Tears
Music: She has learned the basics that I feel are required, I will continue to provide books/instruments for her to work at her own pace as it interests her (she plays on the keyboard almost every day)
Art: Our own lesson plans
Geography: States and capitals
Spanish: Rosetta Stone Homeschool Spanish

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Preschool Trays

I learned a very valuable lesson in our first year of homeschooling: don't discount the toddler.  That first year, I spent so much time preparing to teach my first grader and didn't plan anything at all for her 3 year old sister.  We had a play-doh table set up in the school room and that was it. 

Big, BIG mistake.  A bored 3 year old can wreak havoc on your teaching plan.  While visions of an idyllic, serene, glorious homeschool day danced in my head, she was plotting how to get her sticky hands on every book, destroy the printer, and sneak into the kitchen for a few sharp and pointy objects.  The first few weeks, I don't think I made it through more than one sentence at a time before I had to stop and rescue either our supplies or the toddler, sometimes both.

Sedona got bigger and babies aren't too much a hindrance while they can be contained by a high chair, so I never really fully addressed this problem.  This year though, we're back to having a (soon to be) 3 year old, plus I now have two children in need of a fair bit of direct teaching.  We also have this fabulous space in our new house with plenty of built-in shelving.  I decided it was time for a good ol' fashioned homeschool montessori set up.

While not ideal, I decided to use steam table trays to hold each activity because, well, they're cheap.  There are also a few wooden bowls I inherited from my grandmother sprinkled in there.  My focus was on activities that suit her interests and also help with some of the sensory work she needs to do.  I plan to change out the activities through the year to keep them interesting.  It's not exactly a full montessori room full of options, but I'm hoping it will keep her busy while her sisters get through their lessons.  I'm debating taking the doors off the front.  On the one hand, she should really be able to see all of the activities available at once.  On the other, I'd like to be able to close them off and send a clear message that they're only for school time (I know, I know, she should be able to learn anytime, but I need her occupied at certain times).

If you want to do something similar, but don't have much space, I've seen the fabulous idea of using plastic drawers.  Each drawer can hold a tray, or if they're easy to remove, the drawer itself can be the tray.

For those without montessori experience, the idea is to provide a child directed learning environment.  They are given a block of time to do the activities they are drawn to.  They are taught to get out one tray, take it to their work space, interact with the items on the tray (depending on what they are, there may need to be some guidance from a teacher at first), then the tray is cleaned up and returned before another tray is pulled out.

Here are some of the trays we're starting with:

The general shelf set up.  This is about 1/4 of the space I have available
 Transferring small objects with tweezers.  Works on fine motor control and she can also do patterns with the colors/sizes
 Cutting.  I'm providing spring loaded scissors to start with and just cutting strips into squares (which can be used in art projects).  Later in the year, I'll draw guidelines to follow (wavy, Vs, etc..) and move to regular scissors
 Stringing beads on pipe cleaners.  I'll trade out the beads throughout the year and trade the pipe cleaners for yarn (with a yarn needle) when she gets a little more coordinated:
 Match the animal to the picture.  I have a few sets I can trade out and later on the animal could be matched to the letter it starts with.
 Match the colors on the clothespins with the color cards.  Aside from matching and colors, working the clothespins helps with fine motor skills.  I have leftover clothespins that I'll use for working on patterns
 Cloud dough.  1 part oil to 8 parts flour.  I'll be adding in small containers to use.  This is fun for any kid, but I'm mainly including it for sensory work.  I also have a bin of unpopped popcorn and a bin of water beads that she uses for sensory practice.
 Sorting/matching.  Fall themed beads (from the floral section of the craft store) to be sorted or laid out in patterns
 Old game pieces we have where the shapes/colors can be matched to the cards
Primary/secondary color discovery bottles.  Red and blue lamp oil (very hazardous if swallowed...super glue the caps on and always supervise) combined with colored water.  The blue/yellow will mix to make green, red/yellow will make orange and red/blue will make purple.
Some other trays I plan to start with but haven't set up yet:

Transferring water: Provide small containers to pour water back and forth, or droppers to transfer water.  Keep a sponge on the tray to facilitate the child cleaning up after themselves

Paint daubers: There are lots of possibilities with these.  Painting pictures, filling in blanks on number cards, marking letters

Felt boards: I plan to have one big board and to change out the shapes available throughout the year.  One will be making faces, one will have shapes to put together a house/yard

Buttoning: I'm going to put together a board with big buttons so she can start practicing how to do them herself.  As time goes on, it will be replaced with smaller buttons

"Egg" on a spoon: There will be a big spoon, a few egg-type objects (probably easter eggs with something in them to give them some weight), two baskets and a length of ribbon.  Child lays out the ribbon with a basket on each end and walks along the ribbon to transfer the eggs (with the spoon)

Here's hoping for a stress free (okay, less stress) school year!!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Vine Sphinx Moth

We got a cool surprise the other day.  The girls said there was a giant moth on the window.  I took a look and had to run and grab my camera. 
Aren't the markings impressive?  I'm pretty sure it's a vine sphinx moth, Eumorpha vitis. Wing span is usually something like 3.5-4 inches across, and I'd say that's how big this one was.   It seems the caterpillars feed on grape vines and we have some of those in the yard, so maybe there are more of these guys hanging out. 
Of course, I asked the girls why they thought those markings might be useful and they said it could camouflage itself in a bunch of twigs.  Then Sedona says, "and in this sweater, I can camouflage myself in a leopard pack!!!"

Monday, August 19, 2013

Ancients, Level 1 History Lesson Plans

We're almost ready to start school for this year!  For the most part, I have been able to use the same materials with Sedona that I used with Sierra (with small changes here and there to accommodate her learning style).  However, when Sierra was in first grade, I really floundered with history at first.  It took me a while to learn how to make it more interesting and to become a more effective teacher.  So, I had no lesson plan in my files to follow for this year and needed to make up a new one.  Like the others, this is also on google docs for you to download for free and all I ask is that you link to this post when sharing rather than sharing the file directly.   We do follow a secular history curriculum, so some of you will want to read through the Usborne Prehistoric World book, in particular, ahead of time and choose alternate sources for some of the material.   Even if you have another history plan you're following, there are a lot of hands on history activities included that you may find useful.

Link to free ancient history level 1 lesson plans

Monday, August 12, 2013

Early Elementary Art Lesson Plans

Last year, I made myself an art lesson plan to follow because I'm very math and science oriented and it's not in my nature to provide art opportunities for the girls.  Having a plan made it easier to do art with them more often (though we still didn't do all the projects on the list, we ended up skipping around some).   When I asked the girls what they wanted to learn about this year, Sedona told me math and "ART!  Lots and lots of art!!!"

So I made up another art plan with all new projects to try out.  There are some in here that will be rather involved and take several days to complete, like homemade batik t-shirts, and others that are quick and easy without much, if any, parental oversight.

My girls will be 1st and 4th grade this year and will do the same projects.  3 year old sister may play along with some of the more simple ones, complicated projects will wait until nap time.  Of course, I've put the plan up on google docs for you to download for free if you'd like to use it!  I only ask that you share the link to this post rather than sharing the plan directly.

Link to free elementary art lesson plans

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Modern, Level 1 History Lesson Plan

It's been a doozy of a week.  Some family health issues, my lower back locked up, a girl scout trip.  I've also been buried under books.  I wish I was joking, but there were times I was completely surrounded by books and completely overwhelmed.  Writing this year's history lesson plans kicked my rear.  Modern history is definitely harder to plan than any other time frame.  There was so much I wanted to include that I had to continually remind myself that this is the "get acquainted" level and every detail was not needed.  Sources were also more difficult.  I feel like the closer I got to modern day, the harder it was to weed through everything and find a somewhat unbiased source.

But, it's done now!  As with other years, it's also available for free to anyone who wants to use it.  I only request that if you share it with others, you share the link to this post rather than sharing it directly. 

This plan roughly covers 1850-present (there are a few pre-1850 events) for an upper elementary student.  Even if you are following another history curriculum, you may find resources and activities here you want to include.  There is much more internet usage in this one compared to previous years, so please be careful about internet safety! 
Link to free Level 1 Modern History plans


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