Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Small hands, big world

When I feel I've lost my way and am out of touch with what lives outside my window (which actually happens to me quite often- several times a day, usually), we all head outside.  Regardless of the weather.  Sometimes it's a walk around the neighborhood or a more organized activity like a hike, but most often we just hang out in our yard, enjoying the space we inhabit.  Sometimes we just stay in our pajamas.
Nature Journaling in dinosaur jammies
One of my favorite things to do with my five year old is Nature Journaling.  We started when she was four, loosely following Anna Comstock's Handbook of Nature Study (also available free in a digital format of your choice). 

I keep a backpack prepared for her with her binoculars, magnifying glass, colored pencils and journal.  The backpack usually lives in the car because it's the most common place I am when I wish I had it with me.  And yes, my Anna Comstock is actually in the car right now, too.

Journal, binoculars, magnifying glass, pencils and a subject to study
My Grace-Girl has drawn pine cones, butterflies, flowers, rocks, grasses, and, most recently, sunflowers.  I had her pick a specific flower to draw and study.  She went to work looking at it from all angles, examining it, understanding it.  First she drew the heads and leaves of the multi-headed sunflower, then she drew the entire plant as she saw it. We counted stems and leaves as well as flowers.  Here's the finished work.
Pages from the journal
Of course I had some books from the library on the topic in anticipation of the moment and we read them before we came out.  Back inside we finished our study of the sunflower with a nice craft I made up with cut out pictures of the plant's life cycle separated by arrows circling a sunflower we pasted together with bits of paper and actual sunflower seeds.  Fun.  
But back to Nature Study. Here is Baby Rain experiencing her natural world.  
Baby nature study
 It was warm this day and she had been playing in the hose water while sister worked on her journal. 

I'm mostly writing this to encourage myself not to forget to get outside, regardless of the weather or the incessantly needy state of my house (or my blog).  This is not what we do everyday, but it's what I strive to do most days.  :) Thanks for listening.  For more inspiration, check out this amazing blog with great Nature Journal challenges.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Our work-boxes- a versatile rolling cart

I usually shun the word "work" when engaging my kinder-kid in home learning, but it's just so catchy: "Workboxes."  She absolutely loves the workbox method.  She asks for it.  Recently she asked if they use workboxes at NASA training camp (she's contemplating becoming an astronaut).

As a homeschooling parent, my top tools for teaching are books, hands-on activities, and real-life stuff.  But it's fun to add in these tools and tricks to help make learning fun and a well-rounded experience for the kids.  My Grace-girl (5) needed some help becoming more independent (i.e. let mom walk out of the room for two seconds to make sure the baby isn't eating the pet fish).  I think workboxes are a great way to do that.  Also, repetition is key with the grammar stage and where I lack in repetition, I know these games and activities will help pick up the slack.

We only use our boxes a few days a week when I'm busy with projects, planning or cleaning and she needs a few hours of review time (great for practicing new things we learn together on other days).  There are only six boxes, but that seems to keep my kid busy for hours.  She likes to take her time.  The pink box on top is her "tool box" where I put pencils, dry erase markers, or whatever else she will need for her activities.  She looks at the activity, decides if she needs a tool, then goes for it.  Yay for independent thinking and learning!

Practicing word-family recognition
After reviewing just about every blog that talks about workboxes, I decided to invest in some folder games (with the help of a friend's laminator) and wound up making my own number cards that detach by velcro and reattach to the "done" card (on top of the boxes in the above pic- though I later mounted it on the side of the rolling cart).  Couldn't find any I really liked online.

Here are some things I've put into her boxes:
  • Domino math.  I laminated the worksheets (one for adding, one for subtracting) and include the dominoes in the box.  
  • One game that uses clothespins (great for manual dexterity training).  
  • Several write-on/wipe-off writing mats that I'll usually rotate through (just one at a time- I'm not crazy about them, but they seem fun for her). 
  • A mini-book project that will become part of a larger lapbook (we love lapbooks, too- check out this post).  
  • A movement oriented activity, like a series of our favorite Yoga Pretzel cards, for her to get some wiggle time, often accompanied by a snack.  
  • Reading flashcards or a reading book with a little card that says, "with Mommy."
  • A fun cut and paste project or puzzle book.  This one was fun, thought not terribly educational.  It's good, I think, to end with something fun.  
I usually space out the difficult items involving reading and writing between easier ones (or ones that utilize a different skill, like cutting and pasting).  The downside is that she is quickly outgrowing the folder games I made a few short months ago.  Perhaps it's time to think about swapping with a like-minded mama...

Share your experiences, fellow home-educators!  What systems do you use and why?