Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Spies, Spies, spies

 For our reading curriculum we are using the Digital Reader Subscription from Pioneer Valley. I have always loved Pioneer Valley's books, and was thrilled to discover that this spring they quickly put them on-line to make them accessible to all of us stuck at home without our school libraries. Truthfully, I'm not sure I would have been up for homeschooling a first grader if I hadn't had such a great resource. You are able to input your children's reading levels and they provide your child a digital bookshelf with books at that exact level. 

My third grader stumbled upon their spy series - which is a collection of fiction (graphic novel style) and nonfiction stories about spies. Who doesn't love espionage? Even better - the fiction stories take place in the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC - which I have never taken my children to - AND is one of the few museums open right now. Hello, field trip! 

We also happen to be halfway through the first novel in the Book Scavenger series, which has introduced us to ciphers and secret codes. We've also spent the morning writing each other notes in code - just like the books from the Pioneer Valley website and Book Scavenger. 

I had not been to the Spy Museum since it first opened - maybe 18 years ago. At the time I remember thinking it would be awesome to come back with a fourth grader, but that was about all I could remember. I hoped it would give us enough context for connecting with some of our social studies or science content.

We spent forever there - despite the fact that we were starving. Your ticket is only good while you are in the museum and there is not a place inside to get food. My husband and I would have left far earlier if listening to our stomaches was up to us, but every turn seemed to bring some other inviting investigation that needed to be explored. 

The museum is designed for 9 year olds and up, and we certainly felt that. There were a few movies and exhibits I hurried them through, only to hear my six year old say "Hey! They cut that man's head off." GREAT. I also wasn't prepared for all of the context. Join a CIA team to decide whether to bomb Bin Laden? Extremely well-done exhibit that makes you feel like you are in the situation. Yeeeet... there is a reason a six year old and nine year old are not invited into the situation room. Part of why we were there so long was that each exhibit required context. Osama Bin Laden? My 9 year old correctly pointed out that spring 2011 was before she was born - and by the way, why are they going to KILL that guy? Um... where to begin?

I want to go back in four or five years - when both girls know more world history and understand more of the nuances in politics. 

Still, they loved it. The cipher exhibit was a win, as was anything associated with our individual spy missions. We all got into it and were quickly enthralled with the puzzles and games. We bought cipher rings so we can write each other secret messages as well as a secret code book that will let us decode messages from famous people around the world. This will go right into the ancient civilizations that the third grader is studying. 

I give the museum props for their COVID safety measures - they give you a stylus upon entering to use whenever you want to touch part of the exhibit or the computer. These came in very handy. Being there on a Tuesday morning it was practically deserted at first, and we never had that "I can't believe I have to share a space with this guy that can't figure out how to put the mask over his nose." 

So... maybe listen to the 9 and up age recommendation, but even if you don't there is a lot to get out of the museum. A creative high school world history teacher could probably teach an entire class within the museum. Our brains hurt but despite that both girls are home playing spies. Off to use my cipher ring to send some messages... I wonder if decoding "clean the playroom" will be motivation to actually clean it :)

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Boxcar Children Love

 Early on in our COVID-19 quarantine time my daughters discovered the Boxcar Children audiobooks. My girls have always loved audiobooks and our public library seemed to have an un-ending amount of digital audiobooks in this series. We dove in. We needed something for them to do while we were working and they could somehow spend hours listening and re-listening to these stories. 

Guess what. The library's collection is NOT unlimited. We've heard them all. Many, many times. We've bought them the actual CD's.  We downloaded them from audible. We had drama over them using my audible credits to buy $3.00 books. (Turns out there is no reason for mommy to panic - audible will let you return a mistakenly bought book). 

We may as well have had the Alden children move in with us in March. Benny, Violet, Jessie and Henry have become a part of our lives in the last six months. So much a part of our lives that when we got caught in a rainstorm at the Natural Bridge park my youngest said under her breath "Grandfather Alden would have known it was going to rain." This was not a one-time occurrence. She often told us how Grandfather Alden would have handled a situation better than we have.

I don't know if you are familiar with this series or not. ORiginally written in 1924, it begins with four children who are on their own and end up living in a boxcar. By the end of the book their kind (and father wealthy) grandfather finds them and takes them to live with him. For the 16 more books the children and grandfather have adventures and solve mysteries. 

17 books isn't too bad, you must be thinking. 

17 is the original amount of books from the original author. Now there are over 100 books. The children have gone from seeing horse and buggies going down the road to talking on cell phones. My girls haven't questioned this. Their disbelief is suspended despite the fact that sometimes the oldest boy is 18 and in college, and sometimes he is 14. His age literally goes backwards. Doesn't matter. My kids love these books. 

The one aspect we do get held up on is that these four kids never fight. Ever. 100+ books and we have let to hear one argument. They discuss, disagree, and investigate, but there are no "I hate you and wish you weren't my sister" moments. No one gets upset or frustrated with each other. Perhaps this is why these four children have been such great quarantine companions. 

So, since we have memorized most of these stories, I've used these books to my advantage for homeschooling. We've printed out both maps of the US and maps of the world so that we can track their adventures. My girls will now forever remember states, climates, and landmarks based on what was happening to the Boxcar Children. I imagine one of my girls in her 20s visiting a new state and thinking, "Why do I already feel like I've been here... my friend... no wait, not a friend, just a book character was here before." 

In addition to our new found map skills, my children's vocabulary has also exploded from these listening to these books. The other night my youngest made a statement about elephants and I thought she was making up words. I literally cannot remember the word she used, but it turns out it was a real word and she used it appropriately. She also, at this moment, is typing that a character "howled". I've taught first grade for a long time, 

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Almost two weeks down

 Two weeks into homeschooling and so far I love it. I say that as we are all having a grumpy day and one of my children even said to me "your face looks mean today." Yes, darling. This is my serious teacher face. The 'no nonsense, I'll just repeat myself until you answer the question' face." BUT... regardless of our grumpiness, I love it.

We start each day by reading a poem from Sing a Song of Seasons poetry book a friend gave me years ago. The girls each have poetry journals they can use to draw the mental images they make as we read the poems. 

We follow this with math from the Right Start math curriculum. It's manipulative and game based, so we often end up with some competitive games before moving on to reading and writing.

Yesterday I realized that we hadn't been to the library since the quarantine began, and that we'd never actually walked to our neighborhood library, despite the fact that it is less than a mile from our house. Maybe less than half a mile. Suddenly, feeling flushed with time, we wandered to the library as a part of our reading adventures. The girls loaded up on books from various genres (we talked about genres - totally a lesson, right?) and headed home to actually read the books we read.

In writing, one of my children announced she wanted to learn how to write plays, so she is working on taking a story she wrote before and turning it into a play. The other daughter is working on a diary with descriptive words to illustrate her days. After an entire six months of her playmates being the Alden children from the Boxcar Children series, her vocabulary is similar to the wholesome Gertrude Warner's stories. I about fell over when I saw she'd written "the sun is delightful and full of music" in her diary. 

For art we tie-dyed shirts and then, because of the evil teacher I am, we wrote how-to story together about how to tie-dye.

I crawled into bed with a sense of peace, or if not peace, at least the feeling you get when you know you are in the right place at the right time.

Of course, it's not all roses and sunbeams. Today we are all slightly grumpy and put off. I'm trying to think about what I want them to do today while also thinking about my mounds of work for my other jobs and projects. To make homeschooling possible I've carefully stacked clients into two days a week, given myself two days of homeschooling with my girls, and a work day. When I'm not with my girls they have work to do on their own. It's a fine balance, but I *think* it's working. And it's incredible to watch them learn.  

One of my other projects is teaching an inclusive augmented learning pod for Joey's Foundation. Check out what we are doing on the blog at their website! 

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Putting it All Together in Colonial Williamsburg

When I realized we had a trip planned to Colonial Williamsburg and that we are homeschooling it started to occur to me that I could really make the most of this trip. Since I am not using a curriculum, but am trying my best to follow the Virginia Standards of Learning, this trip seemed like the perfect opportunity to blend our learning objectives in science and social studies.

We started the week before traveling reviewing the different regions of Virginia (which is a first grade SOL standard). My girls have experience traveling around the state so we were able to compare our real-life experiences to the different land regions. 

Each girl has a field notebook for science and social studies, so I printed out small maps of Virginia (when you hit print you can just select '2' per page or '3 per page' to make anything smaller) that they could color and glue into their notebooks. 

Geography - Virginia Regions
This gave way to discussing how the differences in the regions impact how people live and make their money in the region, which is another first grade SOL objective. (For my third grader, this is a great warm up to discussing ancient civilizations. We've established that how people live is influenced by the environment. We'll pull out that concept later.) 

Economic Standards:
How people live based on their land leads into learning about both first and third grade economic standards as well. (Goods and services, producers, consumers, making choices, and specialization). 

Here are some of the resources I found and printed for my girls to put into their notebooks.

Studying maps of Virginia also leads to the first grade standards of reading a map, using a map key/legend, and a compass rose. 

Science - Ecosystems
Before we dove into the history of Jamestown and Williamsburg we also looked into ecosystems. This is a second/third grade standard and I knew that understanding the wetlands that surround Jamestown would help understand the history there (hint: the mosquitos and lack of water).

Around this time we also found a snail in the backyard and made a habitat for him, which played right into this discussion. 

In studying ecosystems and our snail we also looked at producers, consumers, and decomposers (third grade standard), as well as the food chain (first grade). This also laid some groundwork for how the animals in the new world worked together, and how humans changed that as they settled into Jamestown. (Another first grade AND third grade SOL). 
For all of this we drew a lot of pictures in our science notebooks. I haven't saved the youtube videos we watched, but there are so many out there that a quick search found an abundance of videos on ecosystems, consumers/producers/decomposers, and the food chain.

And so, we were ready to dive into the historical aspect of Jamestown and Williamsburg. 

Khan Academy has excellent videos on this time, and while I thought they would be over my first grader's head, she loved them. 

 fantastic resource about Jamestown is from National Geographic. It has interactive games that let the children learn a history lesson through performing the game (what is more accurate, a riffle or a bow and arrow?) and my children watched/played these games so much that by the time we were hearing lectures in person they already knew the answers. They must have watched and played these games for days before we left... they were particularly fascinated by the Pocahontas story. 

We also watched some of the great videos Colonial Williamsburg has put out on what life was like then - including (my girls' favorite) what clothing was like that. 

After a week of intense study we were excited and ready to get into the car, travel through both the piedmont and tidewater regions (with our maps so we could note how the land changed as we drove) and head to Williamsburg. 

Stay tuned for our adventures in Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown!

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

And now... for homeschooling!

 For the next chapter in my education life I have the opportunity to take what I've learned from 17 years in education and apply it to my own daughters. 

After some long, late-night conversations where my husband and I weighed the pros and cons of every possible different learning situation out there we decided that homeschooling was going to make the most sense for our family. I love my girls' public elementary school and it felt like a loss to submit the paperwork to withdraw them. Knowing those teachers, I also 100% believe that my girls' school is going to knock virtual learning out of the park. 

But... after a rough spring I realized that if I am going to be home in the room with my children while they are learning, I want to be the teacher, not the enforcer. I don't want any more fights about when to sit in front of the computer, how to sit so the teacher can see your face, being both tech support and the social-emotional counselor when the computer crashed during small group with teacher... And I didn't want any other occasions of being told "Mommy, stay out of it, you aren't my teacher. My work is fine." Followed by my ever mature response, "I've been teaching small moments longer than you've been alive, kiddo. I know I know what your teacher wants." 

And so, we have taken the homeschooling leap. Today, while all over our region teachers and students are going back to school for their first virtual day, my girls and I are entering our first official week of our new routine. We've had a three week long slow-start. We spent the first week preparing for our trip to Williamsburg, Virginia. We dove into studying Virginia landforms, history, geography, economy, and ecosystems. Then we spent a week visiting Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown. The third week of our "slow start" we got into our math curriculum (We are using Right Start) and got comfortable in our math routine.

Today marks our first full day of homeschooling. Interrupted, of course, by a sudden run to the pediatrician (but hey, easy to get an appointment, everyone else was in school). 

And right this instant? We are having family independent writing time, where each of us is silently working on our writing. Or at least pretending to work on our writing. We'll see what each girl has to share during the writing conference portion of this experience.

I am still seeing clients this year, as well as working on some other exciting projects. But after some creative scheduling we've made it possible to also be here to teach my girls.

So stay tuned, for at least two days a week we will have family writing time, so I hope to actually stay somewhat up to date on this blog.