Homeschool

Tiny Polka Dot Review

Hi Everyone! I am pleased to announce that I am now a part of the Timberdoodle blog team! This exciting news means that Timberdoodle will occasionally be providing us some products in exchange for our review of them. And first up is Tiny Polka Dot!

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Bug really needed his Lego T-Rex to be in this picture.

This bright little box is filled with 66 cards and instructions for 16 different games! All of which are geared toward mathematical development. One of my favorite things about the game is that it includes a “Guide for Grownups” which had some really helpful tips. The last thing written in the guide is: “when your child plays and has fun, they are laying the foundation for a lifetime of mathematical success.” I think everyone who reads my blog entries can see that this product falls right into my play-based learning style. Anyway, continuing on with what’s in the box… I mentioned before that there are instructions for 16 different games. This is great, but I did find some of them to be little vague, especially some of the more difficult games, so you kind of have to (or maybe get to) make it fit to whatever seems to work for your little one. The cards themselves though are physically incredible. Baby Lady preferred to  make a mess with the cards and in all of our time playing so far (which has been several different occasions) we have only had one bend, and it’s hardly even noticeable. This is a huge plus because finding games we can let her play with too is actually very difficult.

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The bright colors really appealed to her, she had a great time just looking at all of the cards.

Now, getting down to some specifics. The whole set has games for a wide range of ages from 3+ – 7+, but I could see some of the games being captivating for much longer. The problem for us is that Bug seems a little too advanced for about half of the games and not quite ready for the other half, so they don’t hold his interest for as long as some of his other card and board games. I actually found myself really wishing we had this last year for Pre-K. The good news for you (and for Baby Lady) is that I just found out that it’s part of the Timberdoodle Pre-K Kit. Though I would recommend it for anyone, not just homeschoolers. I love that it is a fun way to really enforce the most important mathematical basics. Just in the second time we played I noticed and improvement in Bug’s subitizing (which means being able to recognize a number of objects without having to count them). I’m extremely excited to be able to use this in Baby Lady’s curriculum in the future. For Bug it certainly wasn’t one of those games he obsesses over (like Monopoly Jr., which we have played no less than 100 times), but this is probably a good thing because it keeps me from getting bored with it. I would say the reason he didn’t obsess over it was because the games lend themselves toward being one player games (especially Hungry Numbers, which  he says is his favorite), and he tends to prefer multi-player games. But this is actually a plus for me because it keeps him occupied by himself for a few minutes, so I can fold a load of laundry or empty the dishwasher.

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Bug playing Hungry Numbers. We adapted this one by using all of the cards.

Alright, alright, at the end of the day you’re wondering: Is this game worth $14? My opinion: Absolutely. The longevity alone would make it worth it. Add to that the number of games and the ability to adapt those games to your child’s interests, and you’ve got a winner. If you’re interested in buying this game for your family you can get it here, and start earning yourself some Doodle Points for all the other awesome Timberdoodle stuff you’re going to want.

As an added bonus, when you purchase from Timberdoodle, your receipt has an activity sheet printed on the back of it. This time I got a page out of Extreme Dot-to-Dot: Explorers, it was so fun it made me want to buy the whole book for myself.

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My dot-to-dot page. I probably could have done a better job. Oh well.

**Timberdoodle provided this product free of charge, in exchange for a review. Our thoughts are 100% our own.**

Homeschool

I Want To Homeschool! Where Do I Start!?

It’s so overwhelming!

So you’ve decided to take the plunge and homeschool. Now what?

This is pretty much how I felt. I knew for a long time that I was going to homeschool; but when it came time to actually legitimately do it, I had no idea where to begin. I just started googling. Chances are though, that if you’ve decided to homeschool, you have at least one reason why you’re doing it. That is your start. What is that reason (or reasons)? Keep that always in your mind as you go forward.

Everything in the world of homeschool depends on your family and your season of life. Are you removing a kid from public school? Are you starting from the very beginning? The most important question, at first, is: Where do you live? You have to first learn the laws for your state (many have different requirements). HSLDA will have all of the legal information you need, plus some other resources.

Alright, now you know the laws, but you’re still wondering “how do I start teaching?” Many people will recommend that if you have removed a child from public school that you take a small break and reset. While I don’t have any personal experience in this area, I would still recommend it. This will give you some time to observe you’re child and work together to discover how he/she best learns.

Ready to dive in? My next suggestion would be to determine your teaching style, if you have one at all. Remember as you’re doing this to think about your reason for homeschooling. Think about your whole family, not just the child or children you’re going to be teaching. If the curriculum isn’t enjoyable for you as the teacher, your children will pick up on that. Even throughout pre-k I could tell that Bug would notice if I was bored with a particular activity.

Next up: choosing curriculum. For me this was (and still is) probably the hardest part. There are SO many choices. For starters, I would say: check in your area to see if it’s possible for you to attend a homeschool convention. They give you the opportunity to see a wide array of curriculum choices in person. If you can’t, don’t fret too much, you can still do this. I didn’t attend a convention, though I would have loved to, and I managed to find something that I’m confident will be a good jumping off point for us. At this point, once you’ve put the thought into how your kids learn best and how you want to teach, you’ll be able to start your search. Knowing these things will help narrow it down the kinds of curriculum you’ll be most interested in. If cost is a bigger concern (as it is for most), I suggest using your local library for most of your resources. As you may know, we chose to use a Timberdoodle kit for kindergarten. If you’re pressed for time and the search for curriculum is feeling overwhelming, I would suggesting going this route for a few reasons: 1) I believe the range of products included in the kit can work for every child, 2) this large range will give you a better idea of what sorts of materials work best for you, 3) you can jump into teaching immediately and give yourself time to continue researching curriculum. But my biggest piece of advice for your curriculum search is to go with your gut and give something a shot. You can’t know until you try, and if it doesn’t work there is always something else out there. Just in the few short months that I’ve started planning our schedule for next year, I’ve already found a few other types of curriculum that are of interest to me.

I’m not pretending to be an expert in this, but this overwhelming feeling is fresh to me, and I’ve made it through. I feel infinitely more confident now than I did six months ago. I can’t promise that it will be easy, it takes time and effort to find what’s right, as does every other aspect of homeschooling. But it doesn’t have to be so scary. So I say to myself, and to you, that as long as you’re giving it your best effort you’re probably on the right track. It’s easy to see that children are always learning something from every experience. The best thing you can do is give them the foundation and desire to continue learning. Just try to have fun and the rest will come.

 

Homeschool

The Importance of Outside Play

OH MAN! The tears!

We had a freak wave of snow. Snow! At the end of April! Can you believe it? The weather had already become spring-like that month and Bug had gotten used to comfortably playing outside every day. During the winter months he doesn’t get as much enjoyment from playing outside. He tries every day, but the cold always gets the better of him and he ends up back inside after about 20 minutes. When it gets warm enough he’ll spend almost all day out there. When the snow came through I chose not to let him play outside because both kids had just gotten bronchitis and were still getting over it. By the third day the near constant tears were driving me crazy. Fortunately, t-ball practice was later that day.

There seems to be a lot of debate about how much time kids should be playing outside during school hours. I’ve read about many schools even cutting recess entirely from the day. Some other schools were enforcing more outside free play, citing tons of benefits including the kids being all around more focused. Well, here I am with my own little living proof. Our little man (and now even our 1 year old daughter) is happier, more productive, and more focused when he gets to play outside and be free and imaginative. If our back door is open, Baby Lady will just go outside to play all on her own. Being outside fills so many of our kid’s needs. So that’s what we will continue to do as much as possible, and learn so much more because of it.

Homeschool

Timberdoodle Kit: Out of the Box Review

As promised, here is my initial review of my Timberdoodle kit. Keep in mind that I have not yet used any of the curriculum with Bug. I will hopefully follow up with an in-depth review near the end of the school year.

In preparation for our 2017-2018 school year, which will start in August, I took advantage of the pre-sale and purchased the Secular Kindergarten 2017 Timberdoodle Curriculum Kit, in the elite version.

Let’s start with a quick review of Timberdoodle as a company. I have never worked with a company so committed to excellent customer service. Someone is always available to help and they have never failed to answer a question. I’ve even spoken with the same customer service agent enough times that she should be sick of me, but she is always gracious and goes beyond the call of duty, even running to the warehouse once to check my order for me. I feel like any company putting that much care into answering every single tiny question, would hopefully be putting the same amount of care into choosing the best learning products for kids.

Moving on to the kit: I have examined each piece and read the handbook, and I could not be more excited. Even Bug said “there’s so much cool stuff!” Here is our kit:

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List of Included Items:

  • 2017 Secular Curriculum Handbook – Kindergarten
  • I Can Doodle Rhymes
  • The Usborne Big Drawing Book
  • Aquarellum Mini – Elephants
  • Big Book of Things to Find and Color
  • Origami Animals
  • Beginning Geography
  • Geopuzzle Complete Boxed Set of 6
  • This Is How We Do It
  • Usborne Sticker Dressing Emergency Services
  • What Your Kindergartener Needs To Know
  • The Reading Lesson Book
  • Spelling You See Level A Universal Set
  • Itty Bitty Phonics Readers Collection
  • Now I’m Reading! Level 1: Big Fun
  • Square Panda Phonics Playset
  • Math-U-See Primer Universal Set
  • ALEX Ready Set Bodies
  • Usborne – Look Inside Your Body
  • Little Labs: The Human Body
  • Visible Human Floor Puzzle
  • My Body in Action
  • ThinkPlay STEM Gears 400pc Set
  • Geo Shape Lacing
  • Developing the Early Learner
  • Little Red Riding Hood
  • Kumon Amazing Mazes
  • Kumon Kindergarten Logic
  • Morph Sunburst Yellow
  • Jumbo GRIP Pencils – 2 Pack
  • GRIP Colored EcoPencils – 12ct
  • Kum 4-in-1 Pencil Sharpener
  • Koh-I-Noor Magic FX PencilsThe Pros and Cons So Far:

As a reminder, I haven’t used this stuff yet, so these are pretty short lists so far.

Cons:

I’ll be honest, the kit comes with a hefty price tag of $789.35. It’s a great deal for the amount of curriculum you get, but still a large sum of money and that can be quite a burden.

Pros:

The flexibility of the schedule is a huge advantage for me. The handbook breaks down how to use the materials on a weekly basis to fill a 36 week school year. The weekly schedule makes it extremely simple to follow the timeline and keep track of what you’ve done. In addition Timberdoodle provides access to their online schedule customizer in case you want to operate on a different timeline like we do.

The amount of stuff. There is enough material that it seems like we won’t get bored and won’t need to supplement much more than with library books for extra curricular reading (because we’d really like to complete the reading list included in the handbook). But it also isn’t too much that things won’t get used at some point.

The ability to read through the handbook and immediately be able to dive in if you want. I am extremely detail oriented, and a heavy planner, so I’m taking extra time to read through all of the parent manuals and really prepare myself. But it isn’t strictly necessary to do that if you’re ready to hit the ground running.

There is a lot of cross-over among the subjects. All of the pieces build on each other and provide repetition without boredom. And as I’ve said before, I very much subscribe to the philosophy that “in  repetition there is learning.”

Will this kit work with your teaching style?

If you’re really strongly into a specific teaching style, I would say probably not (for those who want to know more about teaching style see my post Do I Have To Have a Teaching Style??). There is a huge variety in the material, from workbooks to building sets. It doesn’t lend itself to any particular style. It has good foundational elements of the basics, like teaching reading, math, and spelling. But it’s heavy in the hands-on learning and focuses on teaching a good balance of convergent and divergent thinking, with an emphasis on divergent thinking and problem solving. All in the super-fun form of playing games and building.

Why Did WE Choose This Route?

While I have done TONS of curriculum research, and could have put together my own plan, finding something and somewhere that already has everything I wanted put together for me was HUGE timesaver. And let’s face it, homeschooling is time consuming and anything that helps save time is great.

Being new to homeschooling has come with a certain level of fear for me. I don’t want to mess this up. For Pre-K I put together my own curriculum. I took ideas from all over and designed activities from all of those ideas. I really didn’t feel confident that my own abilities would be good enough to stand alone for Kindergarten. Fortunately, I also feel like there is still a little room for error. At this age I am still going for a strong play-based learning environment, so there’s a chance here for some experimentation. The Timberdoodle kit has so much variety that it will hopefully give us a better, more clear picture of exactly what works best for us. I’m confident that we will learn from using it, even if it’s not the right fit and we don’t continue using their kits in later years.

At the risk of being repetitive, one of the biggest reasons I went with this kit is because of the hands-on style. Because it’s comprised of a lot of toys, but with handbooks for how to use those toys to really teach a huge number of skills.

To sum up: I really think this kit is a great choice for Kindergarten, and it can work for anyone. I am thrilled with the quality of the products we received, and I cannot wait to get started.

Homeschool

Do I Have To Have A Teaching Style??

Being new to homeschooling, I have been doing a LOT of research over the past few years in an attempt to learn as much as possible. But the whole “teaching style” question has been a major struggle for me. For those that don’t know what they are, let me give you a broad strokes run down of some of the more common homeschool teaching styles.

 

1. Traditional

Traditional is pretty much what you would think of if you grew up in a public school environment. There are textbooks, workbooks, and tests. The student learns the information, does the workbook lesson, and takes a test. This style appears to be particularly good for those wanting a very structured environment. It’s also less teacher intensive than other methods. But keep in mind it could leave you doing a lot of grading.

2. Classical

This one is based on 3 stages of development, called the trivium. Younger children start in the grammar stage doing primarily memory work. This is usually through the ages of around 6-9. Next is the logic stage. In this stage your teaching them heavily how to apply logic. This goes through about age 13. The next phase would be rhetoric. This is where you would begin having them communicate persuasively. This style really emphasizes teaching students how to think.

3. Charlotte Mason

Based on the work of Charlotte Mason, a British educator in the late 1800s; this method focuses greatly on learning through literature, and the use of living books. Living books are usually a narrative of the subject you’re studying that will pull the student in and reach their emotions. The approach also involves an emphasis on living what you’re learning.

4. Unit Studies

This is a little self-explanatory. Basically you have a specific subject matter that you’re studying and make all of your school work for the unit relate as much as possible to that one topic. This is pretty teacher intensive and does require a lot of planning.

5. Unschooling

The extreme version of this is that you have no curriculum at all. You let you’re children lead the way, and choose what they’re interested in, the dive wholly into that. This style focuses a lot on learning from life experiences.

6. Eclectic

Which really just means you do a little of everything. This method actually isn’t regularly mentioned, but from what I understand is used a lot.

 

Throughout my research, and after various talks I have watched, I had started to get the feeling that I absolutely HAD to choose one of the first five methods; and if didn’t, then I was doing something wrong. Now, to be fair, a major pro of choosing a particular method is that it’s very helpful when choosing curriculum. A lot of curriculum will tell you what method it follows. Many people say that when you start learning about each of the styles, one will start to speak to you, and you feel called to go in that direction.

After all of my research, and a lot of soul searching, I just don’t feel like we actually fit anywhere in those first five. But here I was feeling like I had to choose, it was something I was supposed to do. Well, I say “nuts to that!” I’m doing it my own way. The point of homeschooling was for us to be able to do what’s best for our children and our family. So that is exactly what I am going to do. Because it’s important to find what truly works for everyone. As a teacher you have to choose what you can do well, and are interested in, so you don’t get burnt out. You have to really know yourself and know your own strengths and weaknesses, because if you’re unhappy, that’s going to translate to your kids. And I also know my son. I know him so well. I know how to choose what will work best for him. So here we are, happily in the eclectic category and paving our own way as usual; because I like and dislike so many things about each style, I want to be able pick and choose.

Sure, this may make it more difficult for me to put together curriculum as the kids get older, but the wonderful thing is that I have learned a lot about each method and maybe that will help with my curriculum hunting. Another good thing is that I, myself, never want to stop learning, and this gives me an opportunity to learn and explore. So, here’s what I say to all of you parents who are struggling with this too: Go with your gut, and never stop learning.

Knitting

Orchid Shawl

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Pattern: Golden Orchids

Yarn: Berroco Ultra Alpaca Fine in Berry Pie

Needles: US6 (I use ChiaoGoo Twist)

Beads: 108 size 6 beads

Measurements: 44in X 19.5in

This is probably one of my favorite projects to date.When I happened upon the pattern in Ravelry, I knew I had to make it for my Grandmother. She is one of my absolute favorite people on the planet; and, no joke, one of my very best friends. I hope she’s really enjoying it. She’s probably making all of her friends in church jealous.

Let’s talk details. This was a tough pattern. It was one of my first times following a charted pattern. I have been knitting for a long time, but I was intimidated by charted patterns and the symbols they use. It turns out that when you have this level of detail, charted patterns are much, much easier. So, if you’re hesitating, give it a shot.

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My shawl ended up being significantly smaller than that of the original pattern. In the original it measured 70in across by 25in down. My blocked measurements were 44in across by 19.5in down. This is because the pattern calls for a fingering weight yarn. I used a finer yarn that would be considering closer to a lace weight. I chose it for several reasons. The first being that the color caught my eye. The second was the feel. The alpaca was so soft, but still provided enough structure to define the detail of the orchids. The third being the price. Berroco is a good way to get a “fancier” yarn than you can just pick up at a craft store, without the hefty price tag of, say, a Madelinetosh. And anyone who knows me knows my weakness for Madelinetosh, but it’s not always practical. Back to the size. I did attempt to make it larger by following the pattern’s instructions and adding a repeat of the body chart. This was successful until I got to the beaded section at the end and realized I wouldn’t have enough yarn. This resulted in me starting over for the second time.

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In the end, the most time consuming part was the beading. You don’t have to use them, but they really add so much, and draw attention to the orchid petals. If I were to make this again, I would definitely use a fingering weight yarn. I also blocked a little differently so my bottom edge is not as “scalloped” as the original, I would probably change that as well. All in all, this was a fun project. I would definitely do it again, and I don’t often say that.

Homeschool

A Family Affair

I’ve mentioned before that I am not going it alone here. Not only is my husband a very active participant, I like for my son to play a part in choosing his education.

But let’s start with Daddy. I read an article recently that was titled something to the effect of: Homeschool Dads – More Than Just a Principal. At times it can seem that way because I am so frequently consulting with him on matters of curriculum choices and costs (though he has taken a “no expense spared” approach to the children’s education, so sometimes he can be less than helpful on that front). His most active role is as a teacher. Currently he is not teaching in our classroom setting (that could be changing), but that doesn’t make him any less of a teacher. Part of the reason we homeschool is so that our children have a firm grasp of how to live life when they’re in the world on their own. This means Daddy spends a lot of time teaching the basics. He teaches how to bathe, and brush teeth, and eat the right foods, among many other things. We also consider the time when we sit down for dinner, and Daddy tells us about his day, a learning moment. And a very fun one at that. Another very important job of Daddy’s is as reinforcer. He spends a lot of time asking questions about Bugsy’s day. When he comes home from work, especially at dinner, Bug recounts his day. Daddy pushes for lots of details. He gently corrects mistakes and consults with me to make sure there is no confusion (because with a four year old, sometimes things get lost in translation). On a constant basis Daddy reiterates everything Bug is telling him, and everything I have told Daddy that we’re working on. For example, this week we’ve been working on learning to tell time, so Daddy regularly asks Bug what time it is. This holds well with my philosophy (borrowed from someone else) that “in repetition there is learning.”

As far as Bug’s participation, being his teacher is a delicate balance. In some areas I take a strong leadership role. For the most part I am in charge of the timeline and getting us started each day. There are times when I guide his focus to keep him on track. There are also times when I do have to push him to do some of his less enjoyable tasks. But at this stage I prefer to give him choices. I find that letting him choose which activity we do keeps him more engaged. I also try to make sure that every learning activity is something enjoyable for him. I’m not naive enough to think that he will always love every aspect of school, even now he doesn’t love learning to write, but while he is young, especially, I want as much as possible to be fun in order to develop an early love of learning. And going forward I can always to my best to attempt to make things fun. This is part of the reason I have ordered such a hands-on kindergarten curriculum, holding with my other philosophy that children learn best through play.

Along with this we also all enjoy learning new things together. I make a point of showing Bug my enthusiasm when he asks a question and I don’t know the answer. It’s always fun to find the right resources and find the right answer together. And because we have a great deal of Usborne (I have a fabulous consultant, feel free to shop) books, we usually have a fun book to give us the information we’re looking for.

Moving forward, I would like to add that outside influences have been frustrating for us personally. For starters, Bug has a very particular learning style. He is a very meticulous person, and so far operates best under strict consistency. There are many times when others have attempted to teach him something and it almost entirely conflicts with the way we have been teaching. This causes Bug so much confusion that we almost have to start over. We also have issues with people underestimating his abilities, or rushing to give him answers. We’re working to get everyone on the same page, and make very opportunity one to learn something, because we believe everyone in his life has something wonderful and educational to offer him. This is a difficult task because we have a large family, and don’t exactly have everything worked out ourselves yet (we’re all new to this). But it can be done, and will be great for the kids. It’s all very exciting really.

So don’t be afraid to get your whole family involved in all of the learning. And don’t feel like you’ll be completely alone in the world of homeschool if it’s something you’re considering. In so many ways it can bring everyone closer together.

On a lighter note, I learned today that it is apparently homeschool teacher appreciation week. So my sweet husband has delivered a glass of wine and piece of chocolate to my end table as a gift. See? Not alone here.