Growing Every Day

Mystery Science

Science and I are getting along better these days.

Growing up, and far into adulthood, I never enjoyed science.  It was too…unpredictable.  And it never failed that what I expected to happen, did not in fact happen.  This frustrated me to all ends.  Now, I find myself having to teach it.  Lord have mercy, and He has.

My husband has a scientific mind.  The type that are never satisfied with the activity at hand, but has the innate ability to ask the inevitable, “What if we did…”.  This is also how Builder thinks and revels in getting to do science activities with Daddy.  However, doing science each week with Daddy doesn’t exactly work well into our schedule.  So though it works every now and then, we needed a different solution for a more consistent science experience.

So, I have pressed on and pressed into the Lord to help me in this area.  One of my realizations is that science truly sets you up to continue learning.  There is no failure in science, only an opportunity to learn more.  In the past, every time my outcome did not match my expectation I became frustrated at my “inability to do science”.  Now I realize when something doesn’t work out as expected, we get to figure out why.  This leads to a much deeper understanding of the topic at hand.

Now that I wasn’t scared of, or even angry with, science I was better equipped to decide how we wanted to approach it.  We did some individual units found here and there on the web.  However, I really felt like I was shooting in the dark when it came to a forward motion in science.  We were just kind of hit-and-missing.  Recently, I found MysteryScience.

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Builder was the main focus for this choice, however, Princess has jumped right in and joined us in science time.  MysterScience has many units to offer from Plants to Weather to Energy/Motion and beyond.  The material age range listed is from 5-12 years old.  This seems to be about right on the lower end since Princess is 5 and can join right in.  We don’t have experience at the upper level as of yet.

Each unit has a set of mysteries revolving around the theme.  We are currently working our way through Plant Adventures and are on Mystery 3 of 5.  Each Mystery has three parts:

Exploration

Each Mystery has a 20-45 min slideshow/video that is narrated and sets up the mystery at hand.  This section teaches all the information along the way that is needed for the upcoming activity.  The video pauses every now and again with a clarifying or critical thinking question to discuss with your student.

Activity

After each exploration, there is a hands-on activity.  From our experience, these have been very clear and the video leads you step-by-step through the instructions.  This has made it very easy to step into a facilitating role.  The activities we have completed have been anywhere from 25-35 min long.  Both Builder (7) and Princess (5) have loved them.

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The activity from Plant Adventures – Mystery 2: Do Plants Eat Dirt?       (Growing radish seeds)

Optional Extras

Each mystery has optional extras to add to and extend learning.  We have used some of these, but not all.  The total process done in one day pushes our boundaries of focus.  I have tried splitting the whole thing into a two to three day process, but the kids are so excited to do the activity once we get to it that I have not wanted to stop them from doing so.

Mystery Science has a free trial and also pricing for homeschoolers, as well as other school pricing.  We are still in our free trial until June 2017 and we will be purchasing the full version once our trial is over.  It has been so much fun and the work put into it by the creators is spot on.  If you have been searching for a good solid science curriculum, I encourage you to check out www.mysteryscience.com.  For me, it was well worth the exploration.

Your Turn to Play ~ What has been the most difficult subject for you to step into as teacher?

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Yeah, kind of a strange title.  Let me explain…

In the past 2-3 weeks, I have seen a huge improvement of Builder and Princess settling down to do their morning work.  Morning is when we largely focus on our math and word work.  I believe three things have contributed to this increase in productivity, and decrease in whining/complaining about getting started with schoolwork.

#1 – a table

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This sounds simple and obvious, but in our house we did not have a place we could all gather and work on things at the same time.  At least, we didn’t have a place relatively workable for all of us.  We could sit at the kitchen table, but that was really too high for the kids to work comfortably.  So, we purchased what is called an activity table.  One day, I pictured us all sitting around a table at their sitting height.  I loved this idea and did some research.  I knew this was an investment I was willing to make in our homeschool and found a basic 2′ x 4′ school table.  The table’s height is adjustable up to a normal desk height which allows it to grow with us through the years.  Builder and Princess just know that when it is school time, we gather together at the “oak table”,  as Builder likes to call it, and get to work.  Having a work space at their own height, I believe, is key.

#2 – a snack

This little key was found quite by accident, which I notice is how many things come to be.  We had breakfast early one day, so as we were sitting down at our new school table I asked if the kids wanted a snack.  Of course, they did.  Lo and behold, they sat eating their snack and then were ready to move on to work since they were already sitting and poised, ready for action.  This is what we have done for the last couple of weeks.  When it is time to transition to school, we move to the table, have a snack, and get to work.  Sometimes they finish their snack before getting started.  Sometimes they start working while eating.  Either way, this mama is happy.

#3 – student bins

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This is something that has helped me and the kids.  We have designated a rainbow drawer for each child.  Any printed material, manipulatives, glue sticks, etc. that may be needed for work that day is placed in the bin and set on the table for the beginning of school time.  This helps me keep accountable as well as helping Builder and Princess see the scope of what needs to be done for the day.  It also helps them know how close they are to finishing, and I think that has helped overall.  If it is not a printed material, a sticky note can be placed in the bin and thrown away once the activity is completed.  When their work is finished, they place it on my desk.  When their bin is empty they can put it back in the rainbow drawer stacker.

So there you have it…a place for bottoms, something in their bellies, bins for the days work.  Three very small things that have made a big difference in our school day.

Your Turn to Play ~ What is one of your most valuable routines or tools?

Princess has been studying the continents and oceans.  The continent of study last week was Antarctica.  I have been using a well put together unit entitled It’s a Small World by Molly Lynch.  Mostly, I try to use free resources I find around the web, but this unit I would purchase again in a heartbeat.  Builder went through this unit a couple of years ago, and is having fun going through it again with Princess.

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Back to Antarctica…

We went over the information in the unit regarding Antarctica.  Since there is not a population to speak of, we concentrated on mostly the animals and the ice!  We took a look at all the different kind of animals that live there.  We watched The Magic School Bus episode In the Arctic.  (I know it’s not the Antarctic, but the info translates!)  This gave a lot of information as to the adaptations of animals to live in such a cold harsh environment.  The unit mentioned above has a fun experiment using shortening in between two zipper sealed sandwich bags to make “blubber gloves” which allows you to keep your hand in ice water for quite a long while.  We didn’t have enough shortening on hand so we did a few different activities.

We used Google Earth to zoom in and take a look at Antarctica.  The free part of Google Earth is all we use and is enough for us.  It really helps Princess bring into perspective where the continents are and get a “real life” look at the different environments.  She has had a blast investigating the earth.  Now, when she colors the continent on her worksheet she wants to see it on Google Earth so that she can color it correctly!

After exploring with Google Earth, Princess and Builder did some ice excavation!  I had prepared two containers with objects placed in water and frozen it for a few hours.  So the kids used pipettes and syringes with warm water to melt their ice blocks.  Builder decided they needed forks (a.k.a. pick axes) to explore and excavate as well.  I placed the ice blocks in a larger tray so that as it melted the water was contained.  This gave us a chance to talk about what would happen if all of Antarctica melted.

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They had a blast with this activity and went on to create two more of their own ice blocks.  So much fun!

Your Turn ~ What activities/units have you enjoyed doing more than once?

Sickness

SONY DSCTwo weeks ago was our scheduled one week break from school.  We had completed 5 weeks of focused learning, and were looking forward to a week off.  It was a good time for all.  Then last week it was supposed to be back to lessons…and sickness hit both kiddos.

Really?

It wasn’t awful, but just enough to take away momentum and focus.  Sinus yuck just makes it that much harder to concentrate or want to do much in general.  So, last week was a miss on getting anything done.  Of course we still learned, read a few books together on the couch.  All-in-all though, not much forward movement.

This is ok.

I know this is truly not a big deal, and one of the perks of being at home to learn.  However, I feel like we are again trying to get back to it all.  Builder and Princess got used to laying around on the couch, and having maybe too much watching time.  And being so young, they just generally got out of the “habit” of school with two weeks off.  We did have a good day today though, so my hopes are high!

 

Your Turn ~ How do you come back from a bout of sickness in your homeschool?

 

A Living Creature

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Image courtesy of namakuki at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One of the bigger ideas of homeschool that I have been wrestling with over the last 2 years (yes, it takes me a while), is that learning is fluid.

 

My experiences in education have not always lent themselves to being fluid.  In a classroom, we did as much fluidity as we could muster.  We pushed back assignments until understanding was there, or mostly there.  We shifted to a fun unit about a topic we had just discovered in another class.  However, the fluid motion of education was very limited. In a sense, I liked this.  It gave me a false sense of control.  I knew where the lessons were going.  I knew how to grade for mastery.  I knew what would be next and the rough timeframe in which it would happen.  Boy, there were a lot of “I’s” in those statements.  Sadly to say, what was taught in the classroom was a large percentage of what was controlled by me and the school district.  And, dare I say, there was much comfort in that.  It felt so good to check off the items accomplished and move on. 

Fast forward to our little home school.  Oh-my-word.  Learning is so very fluid.  In this one year alone we have changed the “structure” of our learning at least 3 times if not 4.  Curriculum has shifted, time frames have shifted, subjects have shifted.  What I thought this year was going to look like, um, yeah, not so much.  But it is beautiful.  It is beautiful to find the right fit for my kids.  To tailor to each what they need, not only in style of learning, but in content as well.  Princess is half way through her “kindergarten” year and I am growing with her, learning the similarities and differences of how she learns compared to her brother.  Being so young, they are both exploring whatever comes to mind, naturally beginning to find interests in life.

We started out the year with a full on-slaught of subjects, until I realized it was really my need of a structured checklist of learning, not what they were interested in learning.  Some of that has stayed, because they need to learn it.  A lot of it has gone on standby because they just aren’t interested or ready yet.  At the moment, each day Princess and Builder have a Math Work focus, a Word Work focus, and a “something extra” focus.  Princess’s extra is Continents and Oceans.  Builder’s extra is working on a family tree.

This is where we are right now.  We throw in some fun science experiments in the afternoon here-and-there, and we are reading through a book at lunchtime about what it would be like to grow up in Jesus’ day.  So, I suppose we are doing more, even if it is not during our “learning time”.  And of course, we are always learning through life.  As I said…fluid.

Your Turn ~ What challenges/adjustments have you run into while homeschooling?

Always Learning

So, Builder and I had real troubles this morning pushing through today’s math lesson. We both ended up in tears, frustration, and a blubbering mess. I leave the lesson frustrated. He is upset because he has upset me, and yet he still doesn’t want to have done the lesson. 
 
Then, we each go about our own business, calming down and taking a break from each other. He eventually starts playing with Princess in the living room. As I am going around emptying the trash, I head into Builder’s room and find this spread out on his bed.
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He had come across the section of continents in his new encyclopedia, got out his geography game, found the correct corresponding continent and was matching the playing cards to the correct country on the board.  He was then finding that country in his encyclopedia. Wow. Can we say, “school”.
 
This homeschooling journey never ceases to humble me. Learning is a much more natural occurrence than we give it credit for. We feel it must be scheduled, and sequenced, confined…And sometimes, yes, but more often than not, this is what happens. Learning happens.  Evidently it was a geography day, not a math day.
 
Sadly, I again realize that too many times it is not my desire for Builder and Princess to know more that pushes me to push when it is the wrong timing.  It is my own insecurities and fears.
Lord, thank you that this journey is ours with You, not apart from You.  I thank you that what you have to place in Builder and Princess is too precious for me to stand in the way.  I thank you that their learning is in Your more than capable hands.  Thank you for the reminders of when I am hindering instead of helping.  Please, Lord, continue to show us how to proceed, when to turn left or right, and when to keep on heading straight.  I am thankful you have already written our path, and we will follow you to the best of our ability.

Ebb-and-Flow

Wow.  It truly doesn’t take long for life to hit warp speed.  That is what seems to have happened at our house.  We have recently returned from a nine day trip up and around New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma.  It was a wonderful trip centered around a beautiful family wedding in Colorado.

With that said, when we returned our rhythm was gone, for myself, the kids, school.  Of course the learning that occurred on the trip and the possibilities for further learning were huge.  However, the day-to-day flow had disappeared.  We are currently in the process of finding our new focus and flow, which seems to be a part of this crazy journey called homeschool.

I have come down to the fact that the next two months are months of completion.  It is time to focus on the units and topics we want to close out and wrap up.  My goals for Builder are to complete his math mastery challenge on Khan Academy, finish our Level 1 spelling, and complete our Volcano lapbook.  In regards to Princess, my goal is to keep on track with her math at Khan Academy, finish up a bone unit she is working on, and complete the set of sight words we are currently working on, from Tweet Resources.  I fully expect to have other learning opportunities arise, but these are my specific goals and focus.  Completing these items will place us in a good position for starting anew in January.

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Outside of completing our focus items, we are starting to memorize and learn the meaning of the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States.  There is a nice set of resource papers over at Kindergarten Nana that fits what we need.  We will use these printables as our diving board into deeper learning conversations.  Each day we will read, The Pledge of Allegiance, published by Scholastic to help aide in memory.

P.S. There will soon be an update on our Water of Life project.  We are done collecting and will let you know the final amount given.

Your Turn to Play ~  What would you like to complete by the end of the year?

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