Wednesday, 31 August 2011

More about Science

Another thing that has got me really excited about science for the coming year is finding extra science resources to use.  I have not been too happy about science last year, so we will be focusing our efforts on this subject area this coming year to regain lost ground!

There are many resources out there that are good in their own ways, but I am specifically looking for those that meet the following criteria:
  • experiments that are fun, easy to do, and use easy-to-find materials;
  • the rational behind the experiment results are explained (that was one shortfall of the science book we had used in the summer -- it had many experiments but no scientific explanations of the hows and whys);
  • makes a connection between theory and everyday applicability;
  • inexpensive;
  • follows the topics set out by The Well-Trained Mind
I have found the Science for Every Kids series by Janice VanCleave to meet many of the criteria above.  We will be using three from the series (Biology, Earth Science, Astronomy) this year.

This series is good for experiments and explanation, but they are not workbooks with spaces for the student to write or record any observations in.  Even though these are 'extras' in our science area, I would still like to see Tiger being more involved in the learning, recording and thinking of the experiments than to just have passively have the answers presented to him (via the books).  Therefore, we will be using the Drawing and Notes/Definitions page, and the Experiment page from here along with each experiment.  Since Tiger is not too keen on writing just yet, I expect I will be writing down Tiger's narrations for these science sessions, which is the same approach as we have been using for other subject areas such as history and writing so far.  Gradually, towards the end of next spring, Tiger will be expected to take over the writing for himself.

And when will we do all this, on top of our main curriculum?  Since these are fun topics and extras, we will just spend an hour or so per week on them.  I am not planning on completing each book by the end of next summer.  The idea is to do one or two experiments from each book at our weekly 'extra science' session.

In addition, Tiger has been begging to do a Science Fair.  I think he got that idea from The Berestain Bears.  I have never been to a Science Fair, much less participate in one!  But, can anyone say no to a child who begs to have a go at doing science?  I can't.

Luckily Janice VanCleave has a Guide to the Best Science Fair Projects that I think would suit beginners like us.  I had a quick glance through the book when it arrived.  Tiger is probably still too young to write the project reports and to provide a full blown scientific explanation but we have to start somewhere, don't we?  Looks like this is yet another area in which both of us will learn together, since the whole idea of Science Fair is new to me as well.  We will take this slowly by taking on one project each month.

This leaves us time to build our skills alongside our portfolio of projects, so that when an opportunity for open-minded, real learning and friendly exchange of knowledge comes up in the future, Tiger will be ready to showcase his work.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Carnival of Homeschooling - Logistics

No Fighting, No Biting! blog is hosting the Carnival of Homeschooling this week, with the theme "Logistics of a Homeschooling Family".  This is my first time participating in such a carnival, so I am really excited to see our Summer: Part 1 and Summer: Part 2 posts there.

Do go and have a look at how other homeschooling families work with their schedules, what they have been doing the summer, how they ensure that learning takes place and many other interesting ideas.

Friday, 26 August 2011

All About the Romans

Tiger began his history study (both World History and British History) last September.  Even since then, he had been fascinated by the Romans.  We use Our Island Story as our main text for British History.  With this book, after the first two chapters about ancient Britons (basically the Celts), we quickly moved on to the Roman invasion and their 300+ years of occupation in Britain.  From that point on, Tiger was hooked.  He was mesmerised by the Roman army, he wanted to know all about how the Romans lived; we visited many Roman sites within travelling distance to us; he learnt all about the Romans' major battles; he learnt who the major Roman emperors were.....  He became very engrossed in everything that has to do with the Romans.

Hence, we started Year 1 with the Romans.

Our World History text, The Story of the World Volume 1, covers the Romans towards the end of the book.  By the time July came along and we were ready to make the most of the summer weather, we still had Ancient Rome to complete.

Therefore, after our summer break, the only yet-to-be completed part of Year 1 was Ancient Rome.  I really want to start Year 2 in September without anything being carried over from Year 1, so we had an intensive few weeks concentrating on the study of Ancient Rome.

1) Books
Given Tiger's interest in Ancient Rome, it was very easy for him to read all the following supplementary books:



2) Field Trips
a) We visited a gallery of Roman classical sculptures where we spotted the busts of Claudius, Hadrian and Julius Caesar, among many other sculptures of mythical heroes.

b) A walk around the British Museum's Roman Empire gallery and Roman Britain gallery never failed to inspire us to learn more about the ancient times, especially when the visit was enhanced by a knowledgeable guides who told us: (1) a quick summary of the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire using relevant gallery collections; and (2) all about how the culture and religion of Rome were adapted into the Romano Britain culture.

c) Tiger dressed up as a Roman Legionary when we spent another day in London, visiting the area that was known as Londonium during Roman times.

All that remains of the Romans in this area was parts of what had been a Roman fortress wall.

d) We also watched a show of gladiator games at an arena that was recreated at the exact location of what remained of the only arena in Londonium.  The ruins of the actual arena are now preserved at the basement of the Guildhall Gallery.

While waiting for the gladiator games to start, we strolled along a Roman street where reenactors recreated the atmosphere of Londonium by dressing up in Roman costumes and 'working' at different stores to show people some of the items that were traded in Roman times.

An hour later, the main action started.  I had some reservations about taking Tiger to watch a gladiator game, knowing the violence that it involved, even at a reenactment.  However, at the ticketing office I was told that it was a family show and that children younger than Tiger had attended the earlier show in the day.  Tiger had read about the gladiators but I still felt the need to explain to him that what we were about to see was a reenactment, much like the jousting knights we had watched a few months ago, and that nobody would get hurt in the show, but they had to pretend to be so because they were actors acting their parts.  Most importantly, the 'blood' he would see in the show was actually made from red colouring.

After much prep talk and a "Mum, you don't have to tell me all this.  I knew it already." from Tiger, the 90-minute show began with much fanfare and pomp.  The show was very well done, as I could feel the 'bloodthirstiness' of the spectators, which could be easily extrapolated into the late Roman period when the decline of morality marked the beginning of the end for the Roman empire.

3) Hands-on activities
On a more civilised level, we did a few hands-on activities for this topic.

Back home, I pulled out a Gladiators book to consolidate what we have learnt about this very uniquely Roman phenomenom.  This book, or rather this pack, is more than a book.  Tiger spent a few hours going through everything and learning about the structure of the Colosseum.

Tiger also made a Roman tile and a Roman room.  Tiger has become increasingly independent such that he no longer needs my help putting these items together.  When I offered to help, I was told, "No, thank you.  I know exactly what I am doing."

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

A "Typical" Homeschool Day

One of the most frequently asked essay questions on a business school application form in 'ancient' time (i.e. when I went to b-school) was:
Describe a Typical Day at Work

I must have done quite well answering this question because I did receive a heavy package a few months later.  With that, I packed my bags, hopped on the plane, and had a nice swim around the shark pool for two glorious years.

Now that I am in a role that is a few galaxies away from what everyone, including myself, expected me to have, let's see how I fare this time attempting to answer the same question.  A major difference this time is that I am answering this question as part of a fun "Not" Back to School Blog Hop, rather than trying to get past the b-school admissions committee.

Our 'official' start date for Year 2 is September 5th.  However, we have been easing ourselves back into the new academic year's schedule this week, with much success, so I will use that as our basis for a 'typical' homeschool day.

Those who have been homeschooling for a while know that there is no such thing as a typical day.  Although we have a timetable pinned up on the board in front of our work table so that both Tiger and I know what is expected to be done at certain times of the day, the schedule is thrown out of the window if something more interesting than working-at-the-table comes along.  Nonetheless, when we do stay at home for most part of the week, we tend to follow this pattern:

6:30am      Everyone gets up.  We have breakfast together before Tortoise heads out to work.

7:30am      I have a BIG cup of get-my-engine-started coffee, check the emails and world news.  Tiger does his chores and plays or reads.

8:30am      Morning Lessons (Language Arts, Music, Math) start, with a 20-minute break for fruit in mid-morning.  Tiger usually manages to squeeze in some reading at this time.

12:30pm    Lunch time.  Tiger sets the table and practises karate while he waits for lunch to be served.  We have very simple lunch (sandwiches or reheat of dinner).  After lunch we have quiet times to ourselves.  I catch up with laundry or the dishes, while Tiger practises the piano and plays or reads quietly afterwards.

1:30pm      Afternoon Lessons (Latin, Science, History, Art, Nature Study) starts.

3:00pm      Lessons end!  Hurrah!  I start to cook dinner.  Tiger practises karate and Chinese writing before going out to play.  While dinner is being cooked on the stove/oven, I join Tiger in his play.

5:30pm       Tortoise is back home from work.  We have family dinner together.

6:15pm       Father-and-son time (gardening, tinkle with the car, play games).  Meanwhile, I catch up with chores.

7:00pm       Tiger has a quick shower, brushes his teeth and jumps into bed for his bedtime stories.

7:30pm        I'm off duty!  Once a week I go out to do our weekly grocery shopping.  Another night I go to an art club.  Usually Tortoise and I just sit and catch up with each other's day. Then mindless browsing of the internet kicks in.

10:30pm     Start getting ready for bed.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

2011-2012 Academic plan and approach

The Unit Study approach appears to work well for us, so we will continue with that.  We will start with a medieval tale, The Minstrel in the Tower then proceed to The Travels of Marco Polo, which again ties in with the historical period that we will be covering this year.

The second half of the year will be spent on Shakespeare (to coincide with the Tudor period).  Since this is the first time Tiger will be ‘officially’ introduced to the Bard, our focus will be on familiarity and enjoyment of the stories.  To this end, I will be using the Shakespeare for Kids as a guide for some hands-on activities relating to his life and times.  The main text that we will be using to get to know his stories is Lamb’s version.

Penmanship and Writing
Over the summer, Tiger had been very keen to write in cursive and he had been working on the Handwriting Practice book to get a gentle start.  Now that he has completed this book, we will move on to Cursive Writing made Easy and Fun.  He does not mind penmanship practice as long as it is limited to one page a day.  We will take this slowly and consistently since Tiger has learnt to write in the cursive style, therefore it is only a matter of consistent practice in order to perfect the aesthetics.

Writing With Ease workbook 2 will be our writing book.  Tiger likes to write short notes spontaneously but that is about as much as he would write without showing signs of distress.  Up to this point, he has not shown any burning desire to write stories or poems or anything-unless-absolutely-necessary, so Writing With Ease’s pace is appropriate for him.

Continue with Level 2 of First Language Lessons, using homemade Montessori Grammar symbols as visual aids.

We will be using Wordly Wise 3000 Book 2.

Continue with All About Spelling Level 2.

Mandarin Chinese
We will continue with the same set of curriculum as previous year.  To learn Mandarin in a totally English speaking environment is a very steep uphill climb, and I think Tiger has shown exceptional persistence and aptitude in learning this language, given his environmental constraints.  Therefore, although we will still be using Level 1 of Chinese Made Easy for Kids, I am happy as long as Tiger shows consistent (albeit slow) progress in terms of reading, writing and conversing in Mandarin.

Our core text this year will be Song School Latin, supplemented by games, videos and by our current text.

We will continue with RightStart Maths Level C as our main curriculum.  Tempting as it is to load up with fantastic Maths workbooks to drill Tiger, I have managed to resist doing it.

Speed and accuracy (both of which Tiger happens to fare well so far despite not having had drills put on him) will come with a combination of consistent training, patience and maturity.  The more important reason for not drilling him though, is that Tiger is a Right-Brained (Visual-Spatial) Learner, a characteristic of his that I had established in his preschool years through observation and research.  Workbook-type drills would be torturous for him, since he hates repetitive tasks and learns most effectively through understanding of concepts rather than through rote.  Another obvious evidence is when he 'intuitively' knows the correct answer to a complicated word problem, yet cannot write down the step-by-step explanation or simple equation of how he arrives at the right answer!  In any case, RightStart has just about the right amount of drills that Tiger can tolerate.

In addition to using RightStart as our core maths curriculum, I plan to introduce some fun maths with more day-to-day applicability once a week with Life of Fred: Apples with Tiger.  I expect Tiger will enjoy its humour, application of maths concepts, and minimal drills .  I suspect he will identify with Fred, who shares in his delight of sleeping in a sleeping bag.

Despite a year of struggling with science, Tiger is still very keen on the subject.  Phew!  However, I have had enough of knocking against the wall with trying to get a handle on science using the previous programme.  In the new year, we will be using a new approach to science.

I stumbled upon Integrating Science, Math, and Technology (I. Science MaTe) Curriculum, complete with lesson plans and student workbooks for each 'cycle'.  The best part is that each topic is well supplemented by many related online activities, animated storybooks, and slideshows.

I looked through the 'approach' page and am very pleased to find that this programme actually addresses the interrelatedness of various science disciplines, and acknowledges that a logical, building-block approach to science is essential.  A huge part of my frustration in the previous year was that science seemed to be done in a haphazard way, which did not result in any systematic building up of scientific knowledge - as far as I can tell.  Although the previous curriculum we (attempted) to use claims to do use the same building-block approach, it just did not work for us.

Although this new curriculum seems promising, I am well aware that it probably is not going to be perfect.  For example, some of the materials used in a few lessons are quite specific, such as an 'Inflatable Animal Globe' and different animal 'placemats'.  I will have to improvise and use appropriate substitutes in such cases.

I find the scope and sequence of the various cycles in the curriculum very useful as a guide in terms of narrowing down the areas to cover in the elementary years.  I anticipate having to improvise a fair bit in terms of materials to use the lesson plans but I can live with that.

As this curriculum is designed with the building-block structure, I think it is appropriate for Tiger to start from the Kindergarten level and work his way up, so as not to miss out on any essential fundamental knowledge in the early grades.  Although I am slightly annoyed that we have 'wasted' two years trying to work from the previous programme with no success, thus having to play catch up now by starting from the Kindergarten level, I have decided that we will take our time to acquire the necessary knowledge and enjoy learning science, instead of trying to rush through the lessons to make up for lost time.  Afterall, we want to focus on enjoying the process of learning, rather than winning the race.

In summary, the sequence for each grade (total of 34 weeks) that we will work towards is as follows:
  1. Life cycle (8 weeks)
  2. Water cycle (4 weeks)
  3. Rock cycle (6 weeks)
  4. Plate Tectonic cycle (4 weeks)
  5. Universe cycle (4 weeks)
  6. Applied Science cycle (8 weeks)
In addition, we will be doing some extra work on science this year, both to add some variety to our normal lessons and to really catch up in the subject area.


In this area I take inspiration from Charlotte Mason, in that we will take nature walks (while focusing on one topic per month to observe), supplemented by reading ‘living books’ on nature.  The mistake I made in the past with nature study was trying to study British nature using American texts, which clearly is not going to work since basic things like robins aren't even the same!

The reason I tried to use American texts was because I could not find good quality, contemporary living books on nature for children written by British writers.  Luckily in the summer that had just gone by I managed to find Round the Year with Enid Blyton, which will be our core text for nature study. 

The core text consists of four books: spring, summer, autumn, winter.  Each book has 10 chapters, each covering a different topic.  I hope to cover one chapter each month.  The following is how we will focus our attention in nature in the coming year, based on the chapters from the book:

World History
Continue with SOTW2 and its associated activity book.

British History
We plan to study four periods in British history this year:
  1. Middle Ages (15 weeks)
  2. Tudors (7 weeks)
  3. Stuarts (8 weeks)
  4. Georgians (6 weeks)

Our main text is still Our Island Story.  We will also continue with narration for each chapter, and adding to our timeline as we go along.  We will use the same approach as Year 1:
+ hands-on activities from various sources
+ lots of historical reading

Piano Lesson
This will continue as before with the Level 2 of the Made Easy series .

Music Appreciation
Since Tiger’s piano lesson is now consistent and smooth-flowing, I feel that we can devote half an hour each week (i.e. one lesson out of his five piano lessons per week) to music appreciation.  I will be using Stories of the Great Composers to introduce the composers gently.

Tiger is ready to be introduced to art skills.  Whereas previously we had been focused more on crafts, I am becoming increasingly convinced that art skills, when introduced gently, can greatly help one to create a more thoughtful piece of work, rather than the result being a hit-and-miss or a stroke of luck.  In this new academic year, we will have two one-hour art sessions per week: one for art skills, the other for art appreciation or artist study.

Art Skills
In this one hour, we will mostly use Art is Fundamental as our spine book.   The book is a not so much a hardcore skills book, although it does impart important and basic art skills without appearing to be overly demanding on small children.  The book has a three-year lesson plan so we will start from the beginning and keep going until completion.  Once a month, we will use a session to work on representational drawing skills from Drawing with Children.   This book’s layout is not exactly user-friendly but it is by far the best in terms of teaching representational drawing to children that I have found.  I think I can live with using it once a month, rather than trying to use it as a core book.

Art Appreciation
I like Discovering Great Artists’ low-key, chronological approach to this subject.  Instead of sticking to one artist each week, I would like to take a more flexible approach in art, in the sense that we might end up learning about a particular artist for several week, taking project inspirations from the numerous art books we have lying around, or from the Art Project for Kids blog.

In addition, I intend to supplement each lesson with additional information found at a new BBC Your Paintings website, which I absolutely love because it also tells us where in the UK we can go to see the actual paintings!  The website is a one-stop shop for artist study, in my opinion -- biography, examples of major works, gallery links of where the actual paintings are in UK, video clips.... etc.  I love it!

Tiger will continue with his regular 3 hours of karate training each week.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Summer: Part 2

Spending a whole day at the beach and trampolining -- two activities that Tiger has consistently done in the past two summers.  Now that we have been to the beach for a second time this summer, and Tiger has bounced to his heart's content at two trampolining sessions, I think we have pretty much ticked all our boxes for summer!

I am planning an 'official' start of Year 2 in the first week of September, so we have been easing into the mentality of more structured lessons gradually.  A short transition period is good for a number of reasons:
1) it give us both time to get used to the idea of structure;
2) it gives me time to test out a slightly revised schedule, and to make any changes to it as necessary;
3) it gives me time to test-run a few new resources that I hope to use in the new academic year, and make changes to them as necessary (which happens quite often, as veteran homeschoolers will no doubt understand).

So, what have we been doing so far:

At the beginning of August, we continued our own little 'summer school' at home.  It was soap-making week, so we bought the necessary kit and made it!  Tiger chose the type of soap base he liked, as well as the ingredients and the mold, bearing in mind a limited budget set by me.  Soap making using a ready soap base turned out to be easier than I had imagined.

Tiger had wanted to make soap since last summer, so I am glad we finally got round to doing it.

Spending time outdoors, especially in the summer, is another must for us.  This summer we have been going on longer (approximately 4 or 5 miles) nature walks frequently.  It has been amazing for us to find some very interesting sights just by walking down a previously-unexplored country lane.

When the weather permits, Tiger spends most of his days in the back garden, specifically living in his cardboard house.  The cardboard boxes are very versatile -- at different times, they have been used as a fortress, a castle keep, a bird-hide and a two-bedroom house.

Tiger also attended a weeklong karate summer school, from which he passed his grading examination and is now an orange belt.  In the particular karate system that he is learning from, an orange belt is 4 grades up from the beginner (no-belt) grade.

A personal milestone this summer is that Tiger is starting to have wobbly teeth!  We are all very excited about it.  You can see from the photograph that the new teeth have already started to grow.  Wow, I guess losing his baby teeth marks the end of the period we call "early childhood"!

This post is linked up to the All Year Round Blog Carnival: Summer edition, and has been featured in the All Year Round Blog Carnival Week 28: 7 Blogs in Summer.


Friday, 5 August 2011

Summer: Part 1

We have had a month of summer -- it started when I declared summertime at the end of June.  I had every intention of slowing down our pace and relaxing.  We did that to some extent, in the sense that we did formal lessons at about 20% of our normal rate.  However, learning has not stopped even though we have drastically cut down on formal sit-down lessons.  I am still fully engaged with Tiger everyday in various activities.  Maybe because of our engagement in non-lesson type activities, I feel more like a 'normal' mum, than a homeschooling mum/teacher. 

Here are the highlights of what we have done for the first half our summer:

Outdoors:  Lots of it!  Afterall, that is how we mark our summer.  I have taken up running for 3 to 4 times in the evenings each week, while Tiger has been cycling lots more and for longer distances.

Also, the beach!  For us, Summer is incomplete without a trip to the beach at least once!  It was a pebbly beach so Tiger spent his time throwing pebbles while trying to skim them.

I combed the beach and found a few natural treasures.

A starfish washed up on the beach.  I put it back in the sea after taking this picture.

The remains of a crab.
We have also been continuing with our family nature walks.   These walks usually last around 2-3 hours each time, so we have been getting quite a lot of these in, thanks to the longer daylight hours.  One special occasion this summer is particpating in the BioBlitz at a botanical garden.  Tiger learnt about lichens, marveled at exotic plants and flowers, netted insects, identified birds, dipped in a pond thriving with wild life....

A grasshopper resting on Tiger's finger.

Summer Schools: Tiger successfully completed 4 of the in-house half-day 'summer schools' that I had created for both of us to do together.

First we had a week of Art School, which became a trial run for a new art curriculum that we will start using in September.  Tiger responded enthusiastically to all the art sessions wherein we covered the basic elements of art such as colours, symmetry, different representations of the same subjects.  At the end of the week, I gave Tiger a home-made Certificate of Completion, which he was happy to receive and to display on the wall.

Tiger's work from our Art Summer School

The following week we decided to have an impromptu Famous Five Summer Adventure Week.  Tiger received his Certificate of Completion at the end of the week, having successfully completing the following tasks:
- read all 21 books in the series;
- made food inspired by the recipes or food mentioned in the Famous Five books (we made Ginger Beer, an Upside Down Pineapple Cake, a Cherry Cake);

Upside Down Pineapple Cake
Cherry Cake
Homemade Ginger Beer (non-alcoholic)
- have an adventure in a tent (Tiger converted two huge cardboard boxes into a one-bedroom playhhouse in the garden and spent most of the week living in the playhouse, eating and drinking inside it and pretending to be guarding his 'castle' from potential invaders);

- have a proper English tea with fine china tea set.

English Tea for one.
Science Summer School kept up Tiger's enthusiasm for science experiments with us doing 5 very short experiments each day.  I let Tiger choose the experiments from this book.  He mostly chose experiments in the Physics and Chemistry sections, which surprised me slightly since we have not formally covered these areas before -- maybe that was why he wanted to try them!  Anyhow, the experiments were quick and easy to do, with a one-paragraph explanation of what was behind the results.  Examples of our learning from the experiments were:
- Find out which liquids an egg will float in;
- Make a milky plastic;
- Find some materials that can dissolve in water;
- Watch stars aooear when tiny crystals grow;
- How can sound waves be collected and directed;
- See how sound can be amplified;
- Find out how differently pitched sounds are made;
- Investigate shadows and see how they work;
- Observe multiple images made with reflection;
- See how watert reflects light;
- Made our own sandstone;
- Investigate the shapes of continents and the history of the Earth.

Tiger also narrated from 4 topics of his choice from the How it Works Annual.  The narrated topics were:
- Planets of the solar system;
- Life of a Roman soldier;
- Volcanoes explained;
- the Earth's structure;

Although it had been a fun week, I personally do not think Tiger has learnt much from doing science in such a haphazard manner.  We definitely need a more robust science curriculum.

We did Aesop's Fables in our week of Literature Summer School.  Since Tiger has read the entire story to himself, I used the time this week to work on his storytelling skills.  First, I had Tiger read the story to me as if he were a professional storyteller.  To do this, Tiger had to use different voices to represent the different animals, as well as to act out the stories.  This was followed by a few comprehension questions and discussions about the moral of each story as well as how they relate to our lives.  Each story was also accompanied by a simple science experiments and/or research topic, as well as a related craft.

Our summer continues with Part 2 (August), which will be updated at the end of the month.

 This post is linked up to the All Year Round Blog Carnival: Summer edition, and has been featured in the All Year Round Blog Carnival Week 28: 7 Blogs in Summer.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...