Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Book Review: Who was Here?: Discovering Wild Animal Tracks

For those kids who loved the little board books of who owns that tail or ears or eyes with a picture and then you guess and turn the page, there is this offering of a book for the older set. On each page is a picture of a footprint left in sand, mud, snow, etc., and clues about the animal. Then, you turn the page, and you are given a paragraph of factual information regarding the animal such as weight, habitat, body characteristics and so forth. Some pages have two sets of animal tracks typically seen together, such as a wolf and moose, with clues for both and then info for both on the next pages. This was just the first amount of text for my K-age and 3rd grade children, and they really enjoyed this book a lot. I loved the illustrations myself too. It was a great evening read for us and would be excellent for a classroom or homeschool study of animal footprints or animal habitats.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Reading with Zachary

Reluctant writers ... I have one, or actually more than one. Last year, we were fortunate to outsource our writing instruction to our local on-site charter school two times a week for my oldest two children. The teacher for this class was just fantastic, managing to even get my most reluctant writer enthusiastic and interested in some of the assignments. I couldn't have been happier. This year though that didn't work in our schedule, so we are back at home for writing instruction. Zach, age 13, is my hardest to encourage to write. He is wonderfully intelligent and creative, and will talk for hours on topics of interest to him. Getting him to write out that information though is like pulling teeth and always has been. He is and always has been an avid reader as well. So, in an effort to find a way to encourage him not only to write required items for history, science and so forth but also write more about things he is passionate about, just to keep the ideas flowing and practice getting those onto the page, his year-long assignment for this school year is a book review blog. He reads several books each week anyway, so this doesn't put any extra load on that. The new component is he needs to choose one book per week that he already read for pleasure and share it with people. Again, this is something he already does. He likes to recommend good books to his friends, discuss books and get their opinions. So hopefully this will be the easiest route for him to just practice the act of writing. He also loves technology, so his blog will also be his technology project for the year. So far, he has just worked with layout and backgrounds, but he is finding new features in blogger he wants to try and ways to utilize his HTML, etc. I'm guessing he will far surpass me in that regard by week 3 of the school year or so. haha. Anyway, I wanted to share that his blog, Reading with Zachary. He is 13 and reads primarily action/adventure/sci-fi in the young adult genre and occasional adult sci-fi if it has been vetted by an adult as okay content wise. He finds some really good ones, so if you or your children have similar tastes, he might offer you some good recommendations. Conversely, maybe he will get some comments of new books he can also try. My question to my homeschooling readers also is what you do for creative assignments for your reluctant writers in the middle school age grouping? Anything interesting?

Monday, August 31, 2015

Book review: Pedro's Journal

Rereading this 8/31/15 with a new crop of youngers: Still love this one. It is a first-person, journal-style account of our fictional ship's boy (Pedro) as he travels on the Santa Maria headed for India. As we know, that is not where he ends up. It is fictional obviously, but a great introduction to traveling to the New World for the youngest readers (2-3rd grade probably) and even younger if you are doing it as a read-aloud. It is short enough to be engaging but not exhausting, and the first-person through the eyes of a child helps reach the audience. I love using this one as a lead-in to the nonfiction parts of this era of history, as well as talking about diary or journal style writing. Other reviewers mentioned portraying Columbus in a negative light, and that is pretty true. My philosophy is presenting a wide array of fictional and nonfiction accounts from different perspectives and talking about them. Especially as you go back further and further in time, you are left with subjective assessments of what really happened, and especially of the personality of those portrayed (well, that is true even today).

Monday, April 27, 2015

Book Review: Africa is Not a Country

Lily is using some of the level 6-8 Moving Beyond the Page curriculum this year, and there we came across the book Africa is Not a Country. I just have to take a moment to rave here. Lily is my third to be doing the whole exploring the geography of the continents and learning about different cultures thing that pretty much every curriculum includes in the early years. It is important, but I have always been kind of "meh" on most of the books we have encountered over the years. They are either not detailed enough but interesting (thinking more fiction) or very detailed but very dry reading for the early years. With that, I was very very pleasantly surprised to see this one.

The illustrations are drawn rather than photos but detailed. The front has a string of kids holding various flags of the countries within Africa. It has a map of Africa in the front with all the countries labeled, but it does break it down into more manageable pieces for the elementary imagination. Example: "If you drew a picture of Africa's landscapes on a large pie and cut it into ten equal pieces, only one pieces would contain all of its rain forests. Four pieces would represent the deserts ...." This is something a kid can understand. Following this, each 2-page spread shows a nice illustration of a family and some about that family in narrative style. The cultural information is nicely included into the text with the focus being on the children described and not the list of details, i.e., "The boys kiss their parents' hands and respond 'Yekenielai,' which means 'thank-you' in Tigrinya, a widely spoken language in Eritrea." In the sense that each page turn encompasses a different region, it reads similar to Children Just Like Me by DK Publishing. That, by the way, is our second favorite for teaching about world cultures to children.

Africa is not a country though is (obviously!) just about Africa unlike the DK book, and it is much much less dense. I think for my family the DK book is better for 3-6th grades, child the Africa Is Not a Country book is suitable for the younger set, down into pre-K. The back does contain a summary of each country with population, capital and so forth for reference, but the focus is really reading it aloud for youngers. Lily really really loved this one for learning. The prior study was Asia, and we did use Exploring Asia by Kalman, but as mentioned above it was data dense and a little dry though still good. This one on Africa though really stands out among the crowd for interest in the youngest students so I had to put that out there!

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Kindle Freebie today: Gold Rust California

Saw this to share, good for teaching the gold rush era or as part of a history of California study, which we are doing currently with Noah as part of the typical 4th grade year state study for him.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Moving Beyond the Page: Culture Unit

We have been dabbling in using Moving Beyond the Page here and there for a couple years now.  I started with just individual units for Zach, mainly literature units to supplement what he was already studying.  Then, as I mentioned earlier in the year, I purchased the entire age 4-5 curriculum for Eden.  That is going really, really well given that I also got the supply kit.  I cannot emphasize what a stress reliever it is to have everything I need for her all organized and ready.  Without that, I think she would fall right through the cracks of daily life in terms of our homeschooling.  As pre-K, she is last priority this year in terms of concrete curriculum. 

Given that the above was going so incredibly well, I got a unit for Lily too this semester.  She usually just tags along with Noah for most things, keeping my life a little easier, but her social studies of Medieval Times, while fun this year, was sometimes a little hard for her personally.  This Culture Unit seemed just the thing for her age, and I have started it on the one day a week when the boys are in on-site classes but she is home with Eden and me.  We are going to look at geography and world cultures geared for age 6-8. 

Our first day, we are looking at an intro to geography and maps, and opened with this book:

A little Armadillo from Texas decides to take a trip to find out where in the world he actually is.  He starts out on foot, mailing postcards back to his cousin in the zoo in Texas.  He travels across plains to cities, further out, meets an eagle who lets him fly higher to see further, onto a rocket ship to go higher, etc. 

The words are rhyming, keeping interest of the kids, very lyrical to read aloud.  Each 2-page spread has great illustrations. 

This book is obviously most interesting if you are from Texas or Amarillo, but for any elementary child it can serve as a jump point to talk about geography and location, a common thing to teach around 1st grade or so.  The book goes from ground to city to state to country to continent to planet, etc.  That is exactly how we used this book, a fun fictional account to lead us into our study of geography with a 2nd grader and a pre-K child. 

The book actually reminds me of a more updated version of this book we found used and have used as a fun fictional account of world geography:

Both books are excellent to introduce geography in a more engaging way than just - this is a map, blah, blah, blah.  Some kids really are into nonfiction and want just the facts, but most of mine I found loved the fictional stuff.  In terms of Moving Beyond the Page, they used our Armadillo to lead up to an Usborne title, Usborne Children's Picture Atlas, which actually is good too.  Lily is absolutely loving her first day of this though, and I couldn't be happier.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Brother printer - today's Amazon Gold Box Deal

I had to share today's Amazon Gold Box Deal because it is the printer we use, and it has saved us a lot versus the old inkjet we had.   The price today is $55, good deal, but anyone who does a lot of printing knows the cost is really the ink not the actual printer.  Though I will say this has lasted us without issues or problems, either directly connected or via wireless connections to our Mac (problems in the past with that with other printers).   I use off brand cartridges from Amazon without problems, so it is fast, does duplex printing and is economical. I miss the color ability sometimes but not too much really.  Just sharing for those in the market for a new printer.