Tag Archives: home school

The Realistic Ten Most Important Things to Know About Homeschooling

Someone posted a link to this article about the most important things to know about homeschooling on a local list and I have to admit that it really rubbed me the wrong way. It’s perhaps a telling sign of how far I’ve moved away from some of my idealistic, unschool-influenced roots, but the rah rah homeschooling is perfect mentality is something that grates on me these days. You won’t find many people who are more pro-homeschooling than I am, but I feel like it has to be tempered with a bit of realism. So I thought I’d rewrite their list the way I see things.

Homeschooling is jumping into the great unknown sometimes.
Homeschooling is jumping into the great unknown sometimes.

1. Homeschooling is life changing for you and your kids. You may learn as much as the kids, if not more sometimes. It can change the way you see yourself and your kids if you are willing to let it. Along the way, there will be lots of uncertainty and chaos that you have to learn to live with. Model your learning for the kids and show them your love of reading, problem-solving and creating and it will help them learn those skills too.

2. You don’t need special credentials or even need to be highly educated. The most important thing you need is the drive to do it and the willingness to learn as you go or to admit when you don’t know how to teach something and be willing to find another way for a child to learn. However, not everyone should homeschool. If you don’t feel that drive or if life circumstances make it too difficult, then that’s okay too.

3. Some kids will be easy to teach. They’ll want to learn and you’ll find it easy to satisfy that. Other kids will be resistant to learning. They’ll try your patience. Sometimes it will be the same kid, just on different days. Your primary job is to help your kids learn how to learn and hopefully learn how to love learning. If you keep that goal in mind, it can be a guiding principle, but it doesn’t come naturally to every child.

4. Homeschooling is legal everywhere in the U.S. You don’t need to join a legal defense organization (as in, HSLDA) in order to protect your rights. You do need to follow the laws of your state or jurisdiction, which can vary. Some states require nothing, others require more extensive records. No one should try to use homeschooling to keep their children secret from the government. Ethically, your children have a right to their own homeschool records to prove that they were educated. If you homeschool, you should realize that, sadly, some people do use homeschooling as a way to mask abuse. Don’t be a voice supporting those people. It’s good to stick up for fellow homeschoolers, but put an eye of caution into your view.

5. Most homeschoolers don’t “do school” from 9:00 am until 3:00 pm. Because it’s individualized instruction with a very low teacher to student ratio, there’s a lot less time wasted in homeschooling. However, that doesn’t mean that you necessarily get everything done in as little as an hour. Some days, or even years, you will, and some kids will be fast workers. But other kids will work slowly and other years will take more of your time every day. The most important thing to realize is that your time can be flexible. You can have short days but school year round. Or you can have long days but only school four days a week. You can blend life and schooling more seamlessly or sit down at desks and work hard for several hours then have plenty of play time. There’s not one model to make it work.

6. Socialization is something you have to work at a little harder when your kids are homeschooled. They will not have a ready made peer group and social scene. Sometimes you have to put in time driving them place to place or making friends with the other parents, things that you wouldn’t have to do if they were in school. However, the pay off can be huge. Homeschooled kids can have a much richer social life with people of different ages and experiences than their schooled peers do. They can sometimes avoid some of the negative aspects of socializing in school, like bullying or gender conformity.

7. Skills are important to have. There are lots of different paths and timetables to mastery, but it will be your job to make sure your children acquire those basic skills that people need to function in our world, like reading, writing, speaking clearly, using technology, and doing math, whether it’s learning them slowly through life or teaching them directly from a textbook or something in between. Inevitably, some kids will have bumps in the road and it will be your job to help smooth those out. This means that you don’t necessarily have to teach everything, but you do need to find ways to help your kids learn, and that includes the subjects that you struggled with as a student. If you have something you’re really struggling to teach, it doesn’t mean you have to give up homeschooling. There are classes and tutors out there, it’s just your job to find and use those resources.

8. It’s normal to have doubts. Parenting is full of them and homeschooling can amplify them. But the only thing to do is try your best and keep moving forward. You will make mistakes, but focus on the big picture. Find some friends to help you along the way and encourage you as you go. Homeschooling can be lonely. Having another homeschool parent who can see your kids and tell you how great they are can be a lifeline.

9. Homeschooling is difficult financially. Some primary homeschool parents manage to work, but you will likely sacrifice a full income or most of one in order to do it. That means living on less. If you can do it, it can be worth it. There are creative solutions to make it work, including working from home, starting a business, or co-oping with other parents. However, in the end, not everyone will be able to financially make homeschooling happen and that’s okay too.

10. There is a saying in homeschool circles: “Homeschooling is a marathon, not a sprint.” Trust that it’s a long journey and that you have time to do it. Trust that small mistakes along the way don’t define that journey, even a bad year probably isn’t as bad as you think. Remember that kids are resilient and most kids can learn with minimal resources and just a lot of your support and love. However, also remember that homeschooling doesn’t have to be forever. You can make a different decision later if you need to do so.

The Nitty Gritty Portfolio Post

Question: How do you know how much work to keep?

Question: How do you assess your child if you don’t give grades?


There are lots of different ways to do a portfolio, but I’m going to write about our process.  I previously taught at a school that did portfolio assessment instead of grades so I was greatly influenced by that experience.  We’re required to keep a portfolio by law (keep in mind that if you are too, this is not legal advice as regulations and requirements differ), but we would keep one anyway.  Here’s why:

  • It’s nice to have a set of representative samples and saved items from the year.  My kids (and I) already look back on previous portfolios with nostalgia.
  • It frees you from feeling like there’s some reason to keep piles of artwork and finished workbooks.
  • It allows you to stop and reflect periodically, which can be important for pacing your year, focusing on skills that need improvement, and celebrating growth and change.  After you do the portfolio, you’ll realize that you did something, which will usually let you take a deep breath of relief.
  • It allows the kids to set goals and reflect on their own work and progress.

What You Need

First of all, you need a binder to keep things in for each child.  You use the same binder to go through this process several times over the course of the school year.  I’m especially fond of the Staples Better Binders, which are pricey, but come in pretty colors and are extra durable.  Ours is currently a 1″ binder, which is just enough.  If you choose to keep stuff the way we have, you also need a box of sheet protectors like these.  I know it seems like a terrible waste, but if you’re planning to keep the portfolio long term (as I am) then that helps.  Plus, it helps keep the whole thing easy to browse and uniformly neat.

Next, you need a calendar where you can jot things down.  That, or a really good memory.  I schedule a portfolio day on our calendar every two months.  The purpose of this day is to update the portfolio.  I also use the calendar to jot down every field trip and class we participate in.  You can see it’s a pretty simple affair, just hanging on the kitchen blackboard.  (And made by my awesome friend from old picture books!)

Finally, you need a place to stash artwork and stray worksheets or writings until it’s time to go over it.  For me, the beauty of my system is that we don’t have to consider it until portfolio time.  In the meantime, it gets shoved into a little cubby for each child.  Below is a picture of our cubbies, just two paper trays, all cleaned out.  Usually, they’re stuffed full.

Writing an Assessment

The assessment piece is my biggest task for the portfolio.  There are three sheets of paper that go into the portfolio that I write.  They are:

  1. an assessment of the student for that two month period
  2. a list of all the field trips and classes from that period, as well as some of the books
  3. a very brief summary of our materials and progress for each subject matter

The list is the easiest part.  I simply draw from our calendar to remember all the outings and field trips.  The summary of materials and progress for each subject is also usually very easy.  I update anything that needs to be changed, such as which volume of Explode the Code the kids are on or which topic we’re up to in history.  Each subject only has 2-4 sentences so I keep it short and sweet.

The assessment is a hardest piece.  I include three different categories:

  • Things to be proud of:
  • Things to work on:
  • Other important things to say:

It may be slightly hard for me to assess how hard this might be for other homeschool parents.  As a teacher, I had to write hundreds of narrative assessments for students over the years.  I can knock these out pretty quickly and I find writing them pretty intuitive.  Basically, I just think about my kids and answer those three questions.  I consider academics, especially the three R’s, social and emotional issues, and behavior.  After I’ve written them, I always consult the Husband and see if I’ve left out anything essential.

The three pages of the assessment get tucked into a sheet protector and go in the portfolio.  These mark the beginning of the assessment period.  They’ll be followed by the goals and sample work.  Then the next set will go in after, keeping the whole thing chronological.

The example below is one of the longer assessments I’ve done.  Sometimes, they’re barely half that.


Next, it’s time to set some goals.  This is a pretty simple process.  I ask the kids to come up with 2-4 goals for the two month period.  They should be realistically achievable goals and as specific as possible.  If a goal isn’t measurable, then it’s hard to know if you achieved it.  I remind the kids they can set goals for reading, writing and math or for other areas of life like sports, games and friends.  Both Mushroom and BalletBoy often set a video game goal, such as to finish a certain level.  Other goals they’ve chosen include to kick the soccer ball during a game, read a certain number of books, and try a certain number of new foods.

I type up the goals (when they’re older, they’ll have to do this themselves) and put that sheet in with the assessment sheets I wrote.

Choosing Examples

Next, we pull out that huge mess of artwork and stray papers.  I stack up the current workbooks with them.  The kids must go through it all and cull until they have chosen a small pile of samples, usually between 5-8.  I put a checklist on the board telling them what categories of work they must include, such as a page of math, a page with writing, a page of logic, etc.  Ideally, they will choose a piece of work that is especially memorable for them or of which they’re especially proud.  You can see the work and the portfolio ready to be sorted (along with BalletBoy’s favorite doll) below.

As they choose samples, I choose samples too.  I also choose “best work” examples, because that’s the type of portfolio we’re compiling.  But you can see below that sometimes, such as BalletBoy’s “black hole” picture, that the choices may mostly be personal.

Anything that is too large to fit in a sheet protector either gets trimmed (if it’s just ever so much bigger) or photographed and printed off.  Each sample goes into a sheet protector and into the binder.  You can see that some bits are sticking up a little above the sheet protectors.

Then (and here’s the relief part), all the other work, including any finished workbooks, go into the recycle bin.  Whew.

Reading the Portfolio

The last step of portfolio process is reading the portfolio.  Each child gets to sit by himself with me to do the first reading. I read them the entire assessment, including the lists (though I usually skip the subjects section).  We talk about anything that comes up in the assessment, such as how they’re going to work on things that have been hard or if they’re really proud of their accomplishments.

Next, he shows off all the pieces of work in the portfolio and tells me about each one.

When we’re satisfied, then I take the front assessment sheet out, the one that says things to be proud of and things to work on, and we each sign it.  Can you see that BalletBoy and I both signed the bottom of the page there?

Finally, each child is expected to show the portfolio to someone else.  Usually this is the Husband, but occasionally it’s visiting grandparents.  They have to show off the work from that section and tell about it.

The Finished Portfolio

At the end of the school year, the portfolio binder has had this same process happen 5 or 6 times and is usually ready to burst.  I also stick other important things inside the pockets, including our co-op’s little yearbook and the kids’ science journals.  The portfolio gets a final read all the way through then goes up on the shelf in the basement.  You can see things shoved into the binder pockets below.

A lot goes into our portfolios, but the reality is that I don’t have to do anything to keep them updated on a daily or even weekly basis.  As long as I jot down one word notes on the calendar for field trips (and, really, even if I forget) and shove all the random doodles I come across into the kids’ cubbies, then one day every two months allows us to get the whole thing taken care of.  To me, that day is worth our time because it does give us room for a little breath of reflection.  Not to mention that it allows me to be lazy about assessment all the other days!


One More Lesson…

Last week, I posted about what I had learned from my career as a school teacher.  As is often the case with posts like that, as soon as I put it up, something else occurred to me, so you can consider this an addendum.

When I taught, both in public and private schools, I had the opportunity to work with a lot of students who were classified as having “special needs.”  Many were GT/LD students, a few had Asperger’s Syndrome, some had sensory processing issues, and many were diagnosed as ADD/ADHD or simply had what was termed an “executive functioning disorder.”  The vast majority of them were bright mainstreamed kids, but they had IEP’s and the right to receive services or accommodations (or they would have if they had attended public schools).

When you work with kids who have what is broadly termed “issues” then you start to learn a lot of the different tricks of the trade so to speak.  From reading IEP’s and classroom accommodation recommendations, I learned about things like how chewing gum or popping tic-tacs can help some kids.  From talking to parents and taking seminars, I learned about things like how useful timers and visual cues can be to help kids focus.  From just working with the kids themselves, I learned things like how much it can help to have a kid run around the school before coming back to class.

I’m really blessed that neither Mushroom nor BalletBoy seem to have anything going on with their learning that would ever qualify them for an IEP were they to attend public school.  However, probably the best thing I learned from working with all those kids with “issues” is that there should be no stigma to having issues and that all those learning and focusing tricks that are supposed to be for kids with “issues” are incredibly useful for all kids.  I’m so glad I have experience with them.

The most tangible place that this has come in handy for is BalletBoy’s “chewy necklace.” Long story short, when the kids began getting their 6 year old molars and wanting to chew on things like toddlers, I wondered if it might be part new teeth and part sensory integration.  So I bought them each a big donut shaped necklace from the company Teething Bling.  Mushroom didn’t care much about his and he got over his oral fixation pretty quickly.  But BalletBoy, who has always liked to have a special attachment object, has pretty much attached his to his neck permanently.  And chewing on it really does help him focus, not to mention saves the edge of his shirt from the chewing I suspect he would do on it otherwise.

BalletBoy striking a ballet pose. That chunky pink thing around his neck is his beloved "chewy necklace."

Lessons from a Career in Schools

A lot of homeschoolers are former teachers, like myself.  Part of it, I’m sure, is that people with a general interest in education have a heightened interest in their own child’s education.  However, I’m also sure a big part of it is that people who know the school system the best are the most reluctant to put their children in it.  While I think homeschooling has it all over schooling of any sort, I learned a lot of things from schools about teaching that I use all the time in homeschooling.  While I would never say one needs teaching experience to homeschool (despite what many parents seem to think, I believe nearly anyone can do this homeschooling thing if they truly want to), I am glad I have that experience.

First, a little about my teaching career.  My public school career was pretty short lived.  I simply couldn’t hack being a public school teacher.  The bureaucracy, the attitudes, the terrible curricula and the general atmosphere all turned me off.  Some of the experiences I had would make your mind boggle.  The teacher in charge of all the resources for the history department handed me a box of pencils and two boxes of chalk at the start of the year.  When I asked if I came to her to get more chalk when I ran out, she laughed at me and walked away.  All this while her own closet was a treasure trove of supplies.  The department head once gave me the following “formal” evaluation of his observing my class as he passed me in a busy hallway: “Everything you did was a complete waste of time.”  He never spoke to me about it further.  And those weren’t even my worst experiences in many ways.  If I had stayed there, I’m sure I would have learned something about teaching and education, but I’m not sure how much of it would have been helpful in homeschooling.

I learned a lot more about teaching when I went to work at a small Quaker middle school full of excellent, often very individual kids.  The school where I worked was small and I stayed there a long time so I had the opportunity to work with many different kinds of kids, a few of them for three or even four years in a row, which was a special opportunity.  I’ve since learned a lot of new things from homeschooling. However, here’s a few things that will probably always stay with me that I learned from teaching:

* Take the long view. Mushroom and BalletBoy are young, but having taught so many middle schoolers has helped me think in terms of the future.  One day they’ll be 14 and I feel like instead of thinking in terms of the now, it’s best to think in terms of the journey to get there (and beyond).

* Education is all about the process. I feel a little bit like a broken record when I say this because it’s so central to my conception of education and so lacking from our school culture that I say it quite often.  This is certainly something I began to see intuitively when I was younger and heard articulated when I was in grad school, but I don’t think I could have come to understand it so thoroughly if I had not taught in a Quaker school.  The endpoint matters and it’s good to have that long view with it in your vision, but the journey must be the focus of the educator.

* Assessment is essential. I started my career in schools with the same angry feelings about standardized testing that I still harbor today.  I also didn’t believe that grades were an expression of learning in any depth that mattered so I tended to think of assessment as an annoyance at the start of my career.  I’m very glad to have gotten over that sophomoric view.  Real assessment helps structure what you do and affirm your path.  It helps you set goals and move forward.  It helps you and your students know your strengths and weaknesses and work from there.  Without assessment of some kind, we’re at sea without anchoring points to mark that journey that is education.  In our homeschooling, we use portfolios to gather work and reflect on it – not because we have to (we’re lucky to have pretty minimal regulation here) but because it’s important.

* Kids need boundaries. This is one of those lessons I always have to keep learning over and over.  I had to learn it in schools, where I initially wanted to keep things as open-ended as possible and I’ve had to learn it over again in homeschooling where I initially wanted to give the kids more control than they were ready for.  But I’ve seen it in practice especially when I was teaching that the more I sat with a kid, providing that structure, making the work happen, the better the results and the easier it was for the future until finally I could see a student who could work independently and who knew where the lines were.  I don’t think it happens intuitively and I’m glad I at least started to figure that out before I had kids.

* DIY curriculum writing isn’t that hard. I think many homeschoolers have a fear of relying on themselves instead of a curriculum.  Because homeschoolers know all the best resources (seriously, this is the arena where school teachers should take the most notes from homeschoolers), we’re using a lot more purchased curricula than I ever anticipated we would.  Some of that is for structure, but much of it is a lack of need to invent on my part what’s already there.  Still, when I was teaching, I wrote all my own lesson plans and curricula every year.  I planned my own courses and structured them however I pleased.  It can be intimidating and occasionally somewhat time consuming, but it’s not that difficult. While I sometimes chafed at having to do what’s called curriculum mapping when I was a teacher, it’s now a skill I’m glad to have acquired.

In Which I Undertake Something Dumb…

We are embarking on a production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  I’m directing it and am in the process of figuring out the casting as well as editing down the script we have so that no one has too many lines.  I am, no doubt, completely and utterly insane.

But, because it’s on my mind, for your use, a post on Shakespearean resources.  I’ve posted about Shakespeare a little before.  Now, a few more things you can use to learn about Shakespeare and specifically The Tempest.

First up, there’s the scripts.  Obviously, you can get the actual text of Shakespeare’s plays most anywhere.  There’s a good chance you already have them in your home.  I have the weighty tome that is The Riverside Shakespeare from my college days.  Of course, if you don’t, there’s always Shakespeare at Project Gutenberg.  Here’s a link where you can see Shakespeare’s works available there.

Shakespeare with Children: Six Scripts For Young PlayersIf you’re working with kids, you might not want the full original versions.  Simply Shakespeare by Jennifer Kroll is a book that includes simple story versions of the plays done as reader’s theater.  For the most part, the language is modernized.  The plays are meant to be done in about 20 minutes.  Stepping things up a little bit, Shakespeare with Children by Elizabeth Weinstein gives slightly longer versions of six of the plays.  These are shortened versions that incorporate mostly Shakespearean language.  This is the version of the plays we’re using, though I’m cutting it down somewhat.  Finally, when I was looking for our script to base our production, I considered both this site and this one.  I thought both looked promising.

Next, picture book versions of the Shakespearean stories are a must.  I think they’re a useful way to introduce the plays all the way up to high school.  For The Tempest, these are the resources we’ve been looking at:

The Tempest retold by Ann Keay Beneduce
The Tempest adapted by Mariana Mayer
Tales from Shakespeare by Marcia Williams
The Tempest by Bruce Coville
Shakespeare for Kids: The Tempest by Lois Burdett
Stories from Shakespeare by E. Nesbit

The Bruce Coville Shakespeare series is especially wonderful.  I have mixed feelings about the children’s illustrations in the Lois Burdett Shakespeare versions.  Plus, the strange poetry she uses to retell the stories isn’t really my style.  However, I know others really like these versions.  Nesbit’s Shakespeare retellings are available at Project Gutenberg here and at Google Books here.

Finally, some resources on Shakespeare’s life are good to have.  We’ve only just begun to explore these, but here are some I’ve found useful.

The Usborne World of Shakespeare by Anna Claybourne
Shakespeare and the Globe by Aliki
Bard of Avon: the Story of William Shakespeare by Diane Stanley

Right now I’m feeling very foolhardy and optimistic about the ability of these kids to do this amazing production.  But ask me again in March if I still think this was a good idea!

Science Week 9: Simple Machines

Welcome to a particularly video-linked heavy edition of our weekly science post.  I decidedly did not want to do science for that day.  Yet somehow it turned out to be a very successful science day.  Go figure.

Simple machines is a topic we had previously done with our co-op last year as part of a larger unit on tools.  Below, you can see Mushroom showing off his ride for “The Screw” on the day we did it.  The kids all made an amusement park for the little plastic figures based on different simple machines then played with them on the various rides.

There were plenty of video resources for simple machines.  First of all, we watched the excellent Bill Nye episode about simple machines.  Next, we tackled the Eureka! episodes from season 2, which dealt with the inclined plane, the leverthe screw and the wheel and the pulley.  As always, those were slightly complicated for the first grade set, but they enjoyed them nonetheless.  Less complicated was the Brainpop Jr. video on simple machines.  Most Brainpop videos are subscription only, but this one is free.

Next, as always, we did something in our journals.  We talked about how machines reduce work, which was very clearly covered in the Eureka! videos.  We looked for examples of simple machines in magazines and newspapers then labeled them.

Then, the real fun began.  We watched several videos of Rube Goldberg machines.  If you go to Youtube and search for “Rube Goldberg” or “Pitagora Suichi” then you’ll find a million of them.  Mushroom and BalletBoy’s favorite is probably this Easter themed one.  We also watched this amazing video from OK Go.  That video also has a TED talk about it, which is an inspiring little thing and fun to watch.  We finished by making our own Rube Goldberg contraption.  I told the kids it had to involve at least three different types of simple machines.  They chose to create something using the wheel, the inclined plane and a pulley.  They knew we were filming this and had already decided it would be their ticket to Youtube fame.  Thus, if you watch the video of their contraption, you’ll hear them screaming, “We’re famous!” when it finally worked.

A Few Good Friends

For most outsiders to the homeschool world, the first question they have about homeschooling deals with what many homeschoolers call “the S word.”  Socialization, that is.  It’s not ever been something that I’ve worried about seriously.  However, now that we’ve been at this for a little while, I’ve started to get a little frustrated by some of the canned responses I see when people talk about that dreaded S word with nervous newcomers and curious outsiders.  The most common response is that there are many opportunities for kids to be with other kids: 4H, scouting, sports, classes, co-ops, churches, recreation centers, and just on the playground or out and about.

That’s true, to a point.  Especially if you live in an urban or suburban area, there’s plenty for kids to sign up for.  I keep paring back our schedule, but at various points in the last year, we’ve had at least a dozen different classes or sports that brought my kids into contact with other kids.  But is that really enough?  Is just being around other kids, even on a regular basis enough?

For me, the answer is no.  I think it’s the quality of the interactions that are the most important.  Neither school nor an active slate of activities necessarily provides a level of quality peer interaction.  At least at school you have a sustained group, which you might not even get in various activities.  By quality I mean I mean developing a friendship and an investment in another person as someone that you care about in your life.  Getting that isn’t necessarily as simple as just signing your kid up for stuff.  Like everything when you’re homeschooling, it usually takes forethought and effort.

When we first began our kindergarten co-op last year, the other three families and I agreed that the highest goal we had was to create a sense of community among the kids and to develop their friendships and ability to be together as a group.  We don’t sit around thinking about that and talking about how to do it.  The nuts and bolts of what we’re learning about and what time we’re meeting and who paid for the tickets to a certain show and so forth get a lot more conversation.  However, we all have an unspoken agreement to think about the group in these terms.  What activities are we doing that allow them to work together?  What are we doing that allows them to share?  Are they getting enough time together to just be kids with each other?  These are the sort of lenses through which we judge our time together.  For us, it has been really organic because we all come from the same sort of assumptions that this sort of socialization – the kind that’s about community and friendships – is the most important thing.

The simple truth is that it takes thinking about free time, especially free play, as time well spent and not time wasted.  Schools have forgotten this as they eliminate recess left and right, that they’re harming kids’ ability to learn to interact and work things out.  Doing things together – sharing a meal, going for a hike, taking a trip, or spending a long lazy day at the park – is time that kids need to build real friendships.  Obviously, some kids, both schooled and homeschooled, are lucky enough to have a neighborhood of friends and opportunities to hang out with them by just running down the street.  But I’ve found that most homeschoolers don’t and even many schooled kids don’t have that these days.  Our friends live all over the place so it takes me believing that it’s worth it to haul the kids across town “just” to play.

Seeing Mushroom and BalletBoy build those friendships and take such joy in their friends warms my heart.  They get giddy about seeing them, even though they spend time with their friends often.  They hug their friends.  They really know them and know their likes and dislikes.  So while it has taken some thinking and effort on our part, I think the dreaded S word is actually a benefit to homeschooling, especially because I trust they’ll have many of their friends for years to come.

Impromptu Co-op Conga Line!

Bayeux Tapestry

I want to get back to blogging some of our lovely history projects and things for the year.  We’re loosely using the second volume of Story of the World. We had an especially good time with the Vikings, but we moved on to the Normans and have gotten into the middle ages properly now.  That meant time for some fake stained glass.

Now that we’re onto William the Conquerer, that rhyme with all the kings of England has been stuck in my head…  “Willy, Willy, Harry, Ste, Harry, Dick, John, Harry Three…”

Anyway, to make our Bayeux Tapestry, we used some heat transfer crayons I had and a scrap of fabric from my fabric bin.  Mushroom colored Edward the Confessor’s funeral as well as the arrival of the comet.  BalletBoy did William sailing across the channel and Harold getting hit in the eye with that arrow.  We enhanced it a little with some fabric markers.  Then, to finish it off, I let the kids pick a special stitch from my sewing machine to sew a border on the top and bottom.  I helped them operate the machine.

By the way, we found excellent resources for the Norman invasion online.  If you don’t already know the BBC Schools site, then it’s always a wealth of information.  We’ve used the Primary History section before, and we really liked all the resources about the Norman invasion and the Anglo-Saxons.  However, nothing topped this video I stumbled across on Youtube.  It’s just…  well, it’s pretty excellent.

Science Week 9: Pressure

I’ve got that David Bowie and Queen song stuck in my head this week…  “Under pressure…  Pushing down on me…”

Okay, now that we had a musical segway, onto pressure.  We began, as we usually do, by copying the definition of pressure into our science journals.  Then, to demonstrate right on the notebook, we each picked a colored pencil and experimented with different pressures.  You can see Mushroom at it below.  We also just tried putting pressure on different things and talking about the things that put pressure on us.

Then, we headed outside to hammer in some nails.  First, we tried hammering them in upside down to show how a sharper point can be influenced by pressure.

When we came inside, I showed them this video from Youtube where a teacher demonstrates laying on a bed of nails and having a cement block broken over another bed of nails on his chest.  The kids were as fascinated and appalled as the students in the video.  We used it to talk about how the pressure was spread out.  BalletBoy and Mushroom have actually lain on a bed of nails before at the Maryland Science Center, where they have a machine that allows the nails to rise slowly to ensure that the pressure gets distributed evenly.

Our next series of experiments came mostly from this website.  I’ve used some of their experiments before for other topics.  We tried the experiment with the lemon diver, where you make a little slice of lemon dive down by changing the air pressure, however, we couldn’t get a balloon to fit over the lid of the jar properly.  Doing the marshmallow faces also fizzled out.  I’m pretty sure the seal on the jar was airtight.  However, I think I might have needed to buy the really nice marshmallows to make it work.  I think the cheap ones weren’t puffy (and therefore air-filled) enough.

However, we did a number of variations on this experiment where you keep things dry by using air pressure under the water.  Even though it was simple, the kids were enthralled that you could hold air under the water.  Also successful was when I gave each kid a little bowl and a piece of cardboard.  When you fill the cup with water, put the cardboard on it and make a snug seal, you can flip it over and remove your hand.  The pressure will keep the cardboard in place.

To finish off our experiments with water, we put some holes into a plastic bottle and watched how the greater pressure at the bottom pushes the water out farther.  This was a good jumping off point to talk about how the changing air pressure can make our ears pop and how if you dive to the bottom of a deep swimming pool you can really feel the pressure.

To finish us off, I let the kids all try out the air pressure gauge for the tires on the car.  One tire was a little low, so we stopped and filled it on the way to take our science pals home.  I love it when science and errands come together!

Measurement Books

One of our co-ops is starting a new theme on measurement.  We often do very little to go along with our co-op themes.  We might check out a few books from the library and we talk about what we’re learning about in the co-op, but otherwise, I haven’t been connecting it with other aspects of our schooling.  However, this time around, I thought it might be a good chance to take a break (mostly) from our math curriculum and do a unit on measurement at home too.  I bought the Math Mammoth blue series book on measurement.  Here are the kids measuring their new books with paperclips and crayons.  BalletBoy insisted that they all needed to be green crayons for some reason.  Some of the content is a little too sophisticated for my first graders, but much of it will be a good little text for us to do as we explore the topic.

We also checked out an absurd pile of books on measurement from the library.  Here are some highlights.

Measuring Penny by Loreen Leedy
As always, Loreen Leedy’s clever book leads the pack for measurement.  This is a classic one.  A girl measures her dog in every way she can imagine for a school project.  It’s an inspiring sort of book in that it’s easy to use it as a jumping off point for measuring more things.

Room for Ripley and Super Sand Castle Saturday by Stuart J. Murphy
We found these two titles from Stuart J. Murphy’s MathStart series.  They’re both good.  In the first, volume is explored in simple terms as a boy fills up a bowl for a new fish.  In the second, many kinds of measurements are explored as kids build sand castles.

How Tall How Short How Far Away by David A. Adler
This cheerfully drawn book gives a quick introduction to the history of measuring length, showing little pictures of Egyptians measuring with their arms to make cubits.  After talking about what measurements we use today for length, it invites the reader to think about which ones are right for which tasks.

If Dogs Were Dinosaurs by David Schwartz
This book, along with its companion, If You Hopped Like a Frog, use excellent illustrations to show a comparison of sizes and lengths.  This is a creative little book that’s short enough to be enjoyed by younger kids, but interesting enough to be enjoyed by adults.  There’s no story, but each page is a thought provoking little summary.

How Fast Is It? by Ben Hillman
This book, with glossy photoshopped images, was full of fun facts comparing the speeds of different things.  Each page had a different topic.  It highlighted not only some of the fastest things, but also just compared some unexpected things like the speeds of swimming birds and flying fish.

Science Factory: Units and Measurements by Jon Richards
We checked out several measurement activity books, but all of them quickly went back to the library except this one.  Almost all the projects in this book involve making your own measuring devices, such as an hourglass with two bottles and a balance out of a coat hanger.  I want the kids to make a measuring wheel and measure the distance around our block.