Monthly Archives: November 2014

Alphabet Train Flashcards, Improved

CabooseYears ago, I created some flashcards with trains and letters on them. This was an effort to teach my child to sound out words by building trains. Today he is a fantastic reader! I finally made better (hand-drawn) versions of the trains and have printed them on flashcard paper produced by Avery. I am getting ready to set up an Etsy page so that you all can purchase these if you like. I will link to it here when it is ready. Note: the caboose and engine do not have letters on them, however the pack contains two of each letter and there are four different train car/color combinations, in addition to the caboose and engine.

Update: These are now available in my Etsy store: Engage and Grow.

Sick and Sleepless

Baby handsI woke up early this morning and couldn’t go back to sleep. My mind is full of the things that Ian has been studying. He is supremely interested in the Underground Railroad, but the stories of the slaves who ran away are so sad. Ian and I went to a Civil War exhibit over the summer, and I couldn’t sleep at all that night. There was a picture of a man who was wearing something around his neck to make it impossible for him to rest his head on anything – to prevent him from being able to sleep or even rest. I cannot imagine a blacksmith making one of those things with a person in mind, nor a slave owner being evil enough to use one. Who thinks of these things?

Now Thanksgiving is coming up, and we are studying the pilgrims and the Indians. And along with that story comes the inevitable questions: are there still Indians in America? What happened to them? And once again, we delve into the depths of broken promises and treating people like animals. Ian is learning just how evil people can be. Normal, everyday people who had friends and neighbors and went to church on Sundays. Because they thought they were justified in their actions.

So he is learning about the human condition, and our potential for evil, but there is still one topic we haven’t breached. One that is so heavy and so horrible that it seems that it should be the stuff of legends. Like once upon a time, there was a culture that was so evil, they actually condoned the slaughter of their own offspring. Their own!! And why did they condone it? So people could have sex anytime they wanted and not have to bother about taking responsibility for anything.

And don’t whine and cry to me about rape. Sometimes bad things happen to people, and I am sorry that they happen, but I personally just came through more pain than I ever imagined possible (not rape, but that is beside the point). I am not even a whole person anymore. If, however, I could have murdered my son to save myself from some emotional or physical turmoil, would I have been justified? It’s supposed to be a rhetorical question…

Don’t people realize that making the decision to murder a completely innocent person should only serve to compound the emotional problems they will face down the road? How can the sacrifice of your very own child do anything to alleviate the fact that you were raped? Do you think that child is not your responsibility just because you aren’t responsible? If someone placed a starving baby on your doorstep, would you feel justified in putting it out of it’s misery because you can’t afford to feed it, and you are too busy to jump through the hoops of placing it up for adoption? I just can’t understand how my own friends and neighbors,  how any real person, can condone anything like this.

Every day, Ian and I learn a little more about the selfishness of early Americans and how they closed their eyes and ignored evil to make their own lives more comfortable. I wonder when the time will come when I will have to inform him that the most evil time in the history of our beloved country is right now? That the human race is more depraved than it has ever been, and it’s right in his own back yard?

5th Grade Science

Small confession: I mentioned in my last post that I have spent very little money on Ian’s curriculum this year. It just occurred to me that his science curriculum is rather expensive, but I bought it years ago when our local homeschool bookstore went out of business. With all of the resources available at the library and on the web, we could probably have done without these books, but because we already have them, we are loosely following God’s Design for Chemistry and Ecology.

On top of the textbooks, we are reading The Mystery of the Periodic Table and an Usborne book of science that also has a section about chemistry. The Mystery of the Periodic Table is an excellent book published by Bethlehem Books. I bought it over the summer at V-Stock, and have since read it for myself, read parts of it out loud to Jesse, loaned it to a college student who is taking chemistry this year, and now Ian and I are almost finished with it as well. It is very well-written and entertaining to read.

ChemistryOn top of book resources, Ian has watched all of the episodes of Crash Course Chemistry on YouTube and a few other videos as well. There is a good one on Netflix called Hunting the Elements. He now knows more about atoms, elements, and their properties than I did when I graduated high school. Thanks to fantastic animations on the web, along with great explanations, all backed up by textbooks, he is better able to understand what is going on with chemical bonds and reactions. I haven’t taught him about chemical equations, but that’s about the only thing he is missing.

Ian has a book with lots of science experiments in it, so when I save up a little money, I am planning to buy what I need from Home Science Tools, so he can have some hands-on experience too!

5th Grade Curriculum Ideas – Reading and Writing

Hopefully some of these ideas will help you as you teach, especially if you are looking for no-cost, low-cost options. I have spent less money than ever this year on curriculum, yet it has been our best year by far.

This year, Ian is doing much more on his own. I am directly overseeing his writing, grammar, and mathematics. We are using IEW, Grammar, Fix It and Singapore Math respectively. If you want to read more about these subjects, I posted about them here. In addition to these curriculum choices, we are doing a few extra things for these topics.

For writing, I am spending a few minutes per day dictating to him from Little House in the Big Woods. As I dictate, he writes. He always tries to spell everything on his own, and I will stop and correct him as we go. Sometimes, this spawns a discussion about various spelling rules. So far, this exercise seems to be more productive than regular spelling lists.

In addition,  I have just printed off some texts in cursive that I intend to have him trace. The first one I have printed is the initial paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. We should start this exercise tomorrow. While we haven’t formally taught him to write in cursive, we realize the importance of being able to read original historical documents. I also intend to order a book that contains pictures of some of the originals in order to have him practice reading them.

My excuse for not teaching him cursive was the fact that typing seems like a much more important skill right now. That, and he is still struggling with the physical motion of writing at all, although he is improving in leaps and bounds this year. So he will spend about 5-10 minutes per day typing. We have tried two or three typing programs geared towards children, but Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing is still his favorite.

I have been reading to Ian like crazy lately. Not just living history and science books, but Uncle Eric too (which is his favorite series so far). We are also reading tons of fiction together. I am beginning to wonder if we should have gone with the Sonlight curriculum this year! On second thought, they are quite expensive, and we are doing well using whatever we can get our hands on.

I am simply falling in love with our local library. I never appreciated them because they have catered mostly to children, and I never had much use for them before. Almost all of their adult books are either outdated or pop-fiction, neither of which I enjoy. But now that Ian and I are reading together so much, I am rethinking my opinion of our library.

I think there must be a homeschooling family that is selling their old books to our nearest V-Stock, because I have found tons of great resources there lately.

Also, as I mentioned in my last post, we have found LibriVox quite invaluable. Right this moment, we are listening to nursery rhyme recordings.Educational Audio Since yesterday, when he listened to The Story of Dr. Dolittle in its entirety, he has listened to the first hour of The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle, a bit of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, and now nursery rhymes. I know it seems he is too old for nursery rhymes, but I skipped over them inadvertently when he was younger, so we are filling in the gaps in his education. They are quite pleasant! I am also intending to use this site for catching up on some poetry and perhaps listening to a few things in Spanish. The usefulness of this site seems endless!

Wow, I had intended to fill you in on what we were doing for some of our other subjects this year, but this topic got away from me, so I will save those for another time.

Devouring the Classics

Thanks to Ian’s recent leap in reading speed, I now have hope that he will be able to eat up books very quickly for the rest of his childhood. However, because he still doesn’t necessarily enjoy the act of reading itself, he still isn’t reading for pleasure. I must tell him to read, or it doesn’t get done. Even when I think I am being clever by telling him he can either go to bed or stay up and read for an hour, he chooses to sleep. Even when I allow him to earn money or lego pieces for his time spent reading, he still chooses not to. He flat out doesn’t like to read.

Because I still want him to read, but because I don’t want to torture him, I am only requiring him to read his Bible and 30 minutes a day of something else. (Right now, that “something else” is the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.) So he still reads for about 40-45 minutes a day. Beginning in January, I am thinking of kicking it up a notch, by having him read for two 30-minute sessions per day.

Unfortunately, unless he suddenly develops a great interest for books over the next year or two, he won’t have time to read the classics during childhood. I don’t want him to miss out on this important aspect of our culture. The other day, while wandering around our local library, I stumbled upon some books on cassette tape. Many of them were classics. So I immediately came home and purchased a little Walkman from eBay.

Yesterday, my husband helped me hook the Walkman up to some speakers, and I played “The Boxcar Children” for Ian while he was playing Minecraft. He happily listened to the entire book in one sitting! I started to wonder if there were any online recordings of books in the public domain. After searching a bit, I stumbled upon LibriVox, which is a community of people who have recorded themselves reading books and poetry from the public domain.

The ClassicsAs I type this, Ian is listening to the last chapter of Doctor Dolittle. He has been listening for the last three hours while playing with his Legos, and that’s all it takes to get through the whole thing. So, needless to say, I am quite excited. With tools such as my local library and online audio classics to choose from, I feel as though he can listen to a classic all the way through at least once a week. It doesn’t feel like cheating because I am still having him read quite a bit, just not as much as I read when I was his age. I am just happy that he will be able to enjoy the classics growing up!

A Laid-Back Approach to Language Learning

Laid BackWhile I have been tackling Spanish head on, I am taking a more laid-back approach with Ian. He has been watching tons of Spanish cartoons so that he can become accustomed to the way Spanish sounds. In all actuality, if he knew as many words as I did, I suspect that he would be able to comprehend the spoken language much better than I can at this point because he has spent so much time listening to it. To encourage us to start speaking Spanish in the home, I went to Babelfish and typed in several phrases that I commonly say to Ian over the course of a day or a week. (And by several, I mean four pages worth!) O.0

Yesterday, I started incorporating these phrases into our daily conversations, following up with the meaning of each phrase in English. It’s simple and easy, but very educational and fun! We are already speaking Spanish to one another, and I hope to increase the frequency of using these phrases slowly over time, as our knowledge increases.

To give you an idea of how to incorporate a second language into your daily activities, here is a list of just a few of the phrases I looked up:

I love you!

Good morning!

May I come in?

Let’s do your math.

Have you eaten anything?

Eat some spinach.

Do you want some hot chocolate?

Drink some water.

Write your outline.

Do you want me to read to you?

Let’s go to the library.

Let’s have lunch.

Read your Bible.

Play your instruments.

Let’s write a paragraph.

Watch something in Spanish.

Did you use your metronome today?

Let’s ride our bikes.

Let’s play a game.

Clean up your toys.

Do you want to invite a friend over?

Brush your teeth.

Get ready for bed.


Have fun learning!

An Unexpected Leap in Reading

Ian reads for thirty minutes every day. Every once in a while, I sneak a peak at what he’s reading to see how much ground he can cover in a half hour. I am used to being discouraged and finding that he only reads eight or nine pages in that amount of time (from the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, which has a ton of pictures). He has been a good reader for a long time now, but not a very fast one.

I never told him that I spThe Readery on him, until yesterday. He accidentally read for an extra five or ten minutes because he didn’t hear the timer beep. Out of curiosity, and because it’s been a few weeks, I checked to see how much ground he covered. Thirty-two pages!!

At first, I thought I must have been mistaken. I was sure the bookmark had been on page 129 when he started, but maybe not. So I checked with Ian. “Where did you start reading today?” He showed me, and I still almost didn’t believe it.

In the last month, he has more than doubled his reading speed, so of course I began to ask myself why. Nothing much has changed, except the fact that I have been spending a ton of time reading to him. And then it hit me…Spanish!

Last month, Ian and I watched several movies in Spanish over the course of a couple of days. I blogged about it, so some of you may remember that we used subtitles, but Ian couldn’t read them fast enough. Well, he has been watching cartoons in Spanish almost every day since the last time I posted about it, which was almost a month ago. He ran out of movies that he was super-familiar with and has been watching a cartoon series, which he has watched all the way through once before.

He has been using subtitles the entire time, and has learned to read them fast enough to understand what’s going on!

I have been a musician for some time now, but my sight-reading skills never developed until I was placed in a setting where I had to read music under pressure – which I did by playing in church all the time and going to jazz band rehearsals. I knew this concept worked with music, but it never occurred to me that it would work with reading words. I wonder if it will work with anything? If so, how can I create an environment that puts pressure on him to remember his math facts faster, for instance? Any ideas?

Life Lately

Well, I have pretty much settled into a routine of work, homeschool, Spanish. When I am not working or schooling Ian, I am studying! Throw in some church, homeschool choir, and family time, and that’s my life right now.

I am really enjoying this school year with Ian – more than any year previously. I’m not sure what the difference is except for the fact that I can tell he is really absorbing everything he is learning; that is so satisfying for me to observe and be a part of. We have been trying to study a few things from lots of different angles. For instance, he has some textbooks that cover chemistry, and we are reading a book about the development of the periodic table. He is also watching a lot of YouTube videos to support what he is learning, and I would like to do some experiments as well. I am thinking about ordering all of the lab equipment and ingredients he would need to do all of the  experiments in his curriculum, but it’s going to cost quite a bit, so I need to save up. One of the nicest things about homeschooling: we can do all of our studying upfront, and end the year with a bang! – or, the experimental aspect, rather.

The greatest overall improvement in Ian’s schooling this year is in mathematics. We are still going through the entire multiplication deck once every week or so, and working on any trouble spots throughout the days in between. His understanding of the math has always been fantastic, so now that he has a better grasp on his facts, things are just swimming along in that department.

Also, thanks to a writing project (the Minecraft book, as I mentioned in an earlier post) and the curriculum from Institute for Excellence in Writing (also covered in an earlier post), I really feel like I am doing a better job as Ian’s teacher in making sure he is prepared for writing in college or in life.

Reading. We are reading a ton this year. I have always avoided Sonlight’s curriculum because I figured it wasn’t right for us, but after this semester, I am beginning to wonder if I am not tailoring Ian’s homeschool in exactly the same manner. It’s a miracle to me that we are enjoying it so much, but I like the way it’s turning out. He has been reading a lot more on his own as well, although almost never for pleasure still – mostly for required reading. But I do try to choose books that will be entertaining for him. (And I allow him to choose some as well.)

Work is cool – I’m really liking it still. Not much to say, although working with large volumes of people really does try one’s patience. I have to keep reminding myself that anyone could be having a bad day at any time.

MexicanSpanish is a lot of fun, although it’s hard to gauge how much progress I’m making. I’m working and reading from several different books, just trying to grasp the language as a whole. Depending on the topic and the verb tense, my understanding can be as high as 90% or as low as 50%. I am still enjoying it though, so I will keep plugging along.