Learning to Read

This year my 4-year-old is very excited about preschool. I have made an extra effort to ensure that she has her own special work to do for preschool. Sometimes it’s as simple as pattern block puzzles or color by numbers. Other times, she gets special projects like mixed-media art and using buttons to spell her name.

One of her favorite activities though, is learning to read. When my son was in kinder his teacher gave him a sight word ring and we use that to practice some of our words. Then she uses the tiles from All About Spelling to copy the words onto the board. But what she enjoys most is Teach Your Monster to Read.

Start to Read Pack

Teach Your Monster to Read is an online game that pairs up with the Start To Read pack from Usborne Books & More. The game is free and anyone can register for an account to play, but it works seamlessly with the Start To Read pack. The pack comes with 8 beginning readers, a parent guide, and an alphabet poster to track our letter-learning progress. The readers are dual readers, meaning that the page on the left is meant to be read by the parent and the page on the right is read by the child. The child pages focus on letter sounds and identifying letter combinations that were taught through activities in the parent guide and through practice on Teach Your Monster to Read.

teach your monster to read

My daughter could already identify most of the letters when we started the program, except for the tricky ones that look different in certain fonts, but this has been our first real practice in learning the phonemic sounds. This is new territory for me as my son learned to read without any real instruction. He told me he could read one day and that was that. Now at age 7, he reads well beyond his age. I don’t have an educators background so some teaching experiences seem scary, but the Start to Read pack has been a great guide. I don’t have to guess what to teach, it is laid out for me. I also purchased the Phonics Workbooks and these are fun ways to reinforce learning the letter sounds while using hands-on interactive activities.

phonics workbook 3     phonics workbook 4

I’ve heard of several other programs that I am interested in trying for reading, but for the time being, I am very happy with how this program is working for us. And when my daughter asks me if we can practice reading, it makes my heart smile.

What is your favorite reading program to use with your kids?

 

 

Homeschooling with Netflix

homeschool with netflix

 

We’re Netflix watchers and like many homeschooling families, we’ll be using a lot of Netflix content to explore the topics we are learning about this year. Fortunately, Netflix has a plethora of educational content. From preschool cartoons to documentaries, there is something that covers almost every subject you can think of. In general, most of the shows my kids already watch on Netflix are educational cartoons.

Here are our favorite educational cartoons right now:

The Adventures of the Young Marco Polo – Follow the young Marco Polo on his journey along the Silk Road. The kids were instantly excited about this one as we had been talking about famous early explorers. Seeing what the journey might have been like in a kid-friendly format makes this an entertaining and educational cartoon we love.

Justin Time – Justin travels around the world in his dreams with a few good friends learning about nature, culture, and how things work. This show keeps the kids tuned in and they always have an interesting fact to tell me when the show is over.

Octonauts – This has been a favorite for years and when it finally came to Netflix we were ecstatic. We don’t have cable so this gave us the chance to catch up on old episodes and see what we had been missing. The kids love learning about lemon sharks and loggerhead sea turtles and I am constantly amazed at the informational content they are able to pack into their heads. One mention of the midnight zone and I get a 5 minute review of what it is and what lives there. I love it!

Magic School Bus – The Magic School Bus is consistently fun and educational. Mrs. Frizzle takes these kids on whirl-wind adventures to learn everything about science from weather to suspension bridges. This was on repeat in my house for a good six months and we still go back to watch episodes that complement or science topics.

Peg + Cat – Peg and Cat embark on adventures, all with a basic math foundation at the center of their problem. This is perfect for my preschooler who is learning early math skills, and serves as good repetition to keep my second grader thinking in a mathematical perspective. It’s good for kids to see math being used in a variety of situations. And we love the Peg + Cat songs.

There really are so many great educational cartoons to watch on Netflix. Here are a few more of our favorites that are currently available for streaming (August 2015):

Little Einsteins

Wild Kratts

Fetch! With Ruff Ruffman

Dinosaur Train

The Cat In The Hat

Monster Math Squad

Sid The Science Kid

Special Agent Oso

 

Netflix changes their titles occasionally and I am really looking forward to turning on Reading Rainbow for them. The first season of the award-winning show was just added to the Netflix list and it was one of my favorite shows growing up.

 

We will be using Netflix for a lot more than cartoons this year. We are studying exploration, early America, general math and science, and a little bit about everything else. Here are some of the titles we’ll be watching to complement our studies:

Lewis & Clark – A documentary chronicling the Lewis & Clark expedition in search of the Northwest Passage. Visit the National Geographic website to learn more about the expedition and find kids activities.

How the States Got Their Shapes – A documentary covering history, politics, geography and more that explains why the states have their current borders. Visit the website to play the Place the State game.

The Ultimate Guide to the Presidents –  This documentary covers the role of the President through time from Washington to Obama. Visit the website and click on U.s. Presidents to learn more about each president and watch additional videos.

The Men Who Built America – From railroads to automobiles to oil, this series covers the men who mastered the technology that helped grow America after the Civil War.

Human Planet – This series covers what life is like in different parts of our planet, plus the challenges that are faced by both people and animals.

Bill Nye the Science Guy – Who doesn’t love the fun and educational Bill Nye? We’ll be using this show to learn more about science! Visit the Bill Nye website for home experiments and printable activity pages.

Brain Games – This series covers all things brain! Learn how your brain processes information, from fear to optical illusions. This one is great and keeps my kids interested. Also, if you go to the Brain Games website you will find activities to try out to test your brain. Can you be fooled? Note: Some episodes may not be suitable for the younger set. We skipped the one about fear so that the littles didn’t have bad dreams.

 

What are your favorite educational shows on Netflix?

5 Math Books That Make Math Fun

math collage

Math is fun! Studies show that math is one of the most popular subjects among kids in preschool and elementary grades. But the new math curriculum, and math for older students shows a decrease in popularity. But even if your elementary student doesn’t like math, these books will make math so much more fun. With these books they’ll be learning math without even realizing it.

this is not a math bookThis Is Not a Math Book:   Art and math collide as children are encouraged to doodle and pattern their way through number-based activities. Learn amazing facts about math while creating artistic designs.

First Illustrated Math Dictionary: We actually get this book out intentionally. We have used it to make 3-D shapes, draw reflections (symmetry), practice using different units of measure, create number lines, and so much more. Don’t let the words “Math Dictionary” scare you. This is a must have for every early elementary student.

How BHow big is a millionig is a Million?: Pipkin is my favorite penguin and this story takes him on a journey to find out just how big a million is. He discovers lots of things about numbers and quantity on his adventure and the pocket at the back of the book includes a poster to give readers a visual of just how big a million is.

Lift-the-Flap Times Tables: Yep. It says times tables right on the front, but kids love lifting flaps and finding out what’s underneath. They’ll keep flipping and keep reading, which means they’ll keep learning. Easy and fun all in one.

50 brain games50 Brain Games: Flashcards, not a book, but all included in one box with a dry erase pen. This set includes lots of number and logic puzzles that keep minds working and learning. Who knew word problems could be fun!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Book List: Reference Books We Love

reference books

One of the things that we have an abundance of is reference books. Dictionaries, encyclopedias, and subject specific reference guides are some of our most used books. And the benefits extend beyond homeschool. Every student should have access to reference books that are easy to read and understand. Our reference books help us fully understand concepts and subjects we aren’t familiar with. This year I expect we’ll be using our reference books even more as we get into more difficult subjects. I’ve even got a list of books that I’ll be ordering to add to our collection. Here is the short list of the essential reference guides that every elementary student should have.

Illustrated Dictionary – 288 pages with over 1000 illustrations. Inside the Illustrated Dictionary you’ll find a user’s guide, parts of speech and their roles in forming sentences, hints and guidelines for writing and spelling, and a brief history of the English language.

Children’s Encyclopedia  – 320 pages with over 1,500 images. Packed full of information and includes hands on activities and experiments plus downloadable images, quizzes and activity pages. Features all the world maps and flags with facts and records and over 600 hand-picked internet links for additional exploration.

Encyclopedia of World History – 416 pages of history from prehistoric times to the 21st century. Includes a 12,000 year illustrated timeline, over 100 maps, and amazing facts and illustrations. We use this as our history book and will be developing several lessons from it over the course of the year. This book also includes Usborne Quicklinks and additional links to hand-picked websites featuring information and activities related to in-text topics.

The Science Encyclopedia – 448 pages of science with over 140 experiments, activities and observations. Brilliant images throughout the book with information on everything from atoms to energy to plant life. Quizzes for each section are available in the back of the book plus additional Quicklinks and internet resources. We love this book and are using it as our science book this year.

First Illustrated Math Dictionary – This book clearly explains math concepts, breaking them down into the most basic elements and helping you understand math step-by-step. This is for the early grades from pre-k to 3rd or 4th grade and uses fun illustrations and easy to understand terminology. If you have a student who has a hard time in math, this book is for you. If your student is 2nd grade or above, consider the next level up: Illustrated Elementary Math Dictionary. Just as fun and just as helpful but geared for 8 and up.

All Creatures Big & Small

 

all creatures big and small

We were invited to attend a screening of the movie All Creatures Big & Small, a new movie available exclusively on Google Play. The 80 minute animated film was entertaining, funny, and uplifting. Based on the Noah’s Ark story, two young animals get left behind as the ark is carried away by the flood and together they face the challenges of survival and finding friendship. We left the screening with smiles on our faces and we’ve even watched it again by streaming it from Google Play on our television. Here is the link: All Creatures Big & Small. It is available for free for a limited time so watch it soon!

The screening event  was at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. There is a Noah’s Ark exhibit for kids that is a must see for anyone in the LA and Orange County Area. Lots of area to explore and imagine with opportunities to climb and “feed the animals”. There are family events with crafts, and archaeological dig area, and many other exhibits to view. I’ve wanted to check the Skirball out for quite some time so I was delighted to be invited by Melissa over at Dandelion Moms.

noah's ark skirball

Author of the Month: Barb Rosenstock

author of the month barb rosenstock

So I was walking through the library – quickly – because I already had a bag full of books and my shoulder was about to fall off. But this book caught my eye, so I swiped it on the way past and added it to the load. Ben Franklin’s Big Splash. My son likes learning about Ben and Tom and George, so I figured he might like this one. I was right. We all love this one. So much so that I was prompted to go back to the library a few days later to return some others and search for more Barb Rosenstock books. We found more, we love them all, and I’m about to tell you why.

Ben Franklin’s Big Splash tells the story of Ben as a boy and how he came to find a love of solving problems and creating solutions. It speaks of how he failed, but didn’t let the failure define him. Instead he used it to propel him to find new solutions. It lists his major achievements and includes a timeline of his life. And then I found her website. When I searched for Barb Rosenstock I found something that every homeschooling parent and teacher loves – Educator’s Guides! Yep, all of Barb’s books have educator’s guides that offer activities and lesson plans to help you and your kids learn even more and get the most out of these amazing books. I’m in love.

Here is the list of the other books we picked up at the library and we love each and every one of them.

The Noisy Paintbox (Vasya Kandinsky)

The Streak (Joe DiMaggio)

Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library

The Camping Trip That Changed America (Roosevelt & John Muir)

 

Pick up some of Barb Rosenstock’s books and then visit her webpage here to get the educator’s guides. You can also order her books directly from links on her website.

 

Book cover images courtesy of Amazon.com

Our Book List: What We’re Using for Preschool

preschool booklist

This year we are officially starting preschool with my daughter. While I won’t be forcing any work on her, I want to be prepared with preschool-level curriculum that she will be able to use and learn from. Last year was our first year of homeschool and she loved sitting at the table with us while we did first grade work and I spent a lot of time searching for things for her to do and modifying 1st grade work to fit her level. While my preschooler will spend a lot of time doing creative activities and playing with play doh or sand, this year we’ll be more prepared with other learning activities.

Reading:

Start To Read Pack – The Start to Read Pack introduces letter sounds and follows the synthetic phonics system. It comes with 8 beginning readers, an activity book that reinforces the letter sounds, and a colorful poster to help us identify and master our letters.

Very First Reading Set – This 15 book set includes level one readers that focus on shared reading – the parent reads one page and the child reads the next. The pages that children read helps them master word sounds and builds up reading confidence. The end of each book includes story review activities, sequencing, and phonics lessons. The set also comes with a parent guide and online resources for additional learning resources.

Start to Read Pack

Math:

First Illustrated Math Dictionary – We’ve got this on our shelf already but we’ll be using it a lot more this year. The math dictionary introduces basic math concepts from counting to shapes and so much more (great for pre-k through 2nd or 3rd grade as it covers fractions and symmetry and lots of other advanced topics). It includes activity ideas as well. We’ll focus on learning the concepts and use our math manipulatives kit (bear counters, rulers, pattern blocks, etc.) that we got for our math program last year. If you want to know more about how we use our manipulatives kit (because we use it all the time) read my math post here.

Wipe-Clean First Math – This wipe-clean activity book comes with its own dry erase marker so kids can practice their early math skills in a fun way. We have others from this series and they get used constantly around here!

first illustrated math dictionary   first math

Spanish:

My First Spanish Word Book – We’ll be using this book to match words with pictures as we begin our adventure in preschool Spanish. She’ll get additional practice from the books her brother and I use that are closer to his level.

My First Spanish Word Book

Writing:

For writing practice we’ll be doing a lot of pencil and paper, but we’ll also have these two wipe-clean books on hand: Get Ready for School abc & 123 and Ready for Writing.

get ready for school abc & 123   ready for writing

 

What will you be using with your preschooler this year?

The Quest for Curriculum

quest for curriculum

So the search is on. I am on a mission for the next two months to pin down the products I want to use to kick off our school year in September. I say kick off because we used a significant amount of our first grade curriculum by winter break last year. Now I have a better idea of the types of things I want to include, the things I can leave out, and what we will be able to add and vary throughout the year. For anyone considering homeschool or also searching for educational material for the upcoming school year, here are some of the choices I’ve got on my list, though I haven’t narrowed it down  to the finalists yet!

Language Arts:

All About Spelling – Last year we used level 2 so we’ll be moving on to level 3. This was one of our most enjoyable curriculum purchases. There are lots of little magnetic letters and word cards, but they make learning so tangible and interactive and easy to digest. Kids need to do more than listen to rules and read sight words and this set gave us lots of tools to work with. The pre-scripted teacher’s guide is also one of the easiest tools I had for first grade. All I had to do was pull it out, open it up, and we were ready for our lesson. We usually only needed about 20 minutes for a spelling lesson which is so doable any time of the day.

All About Reading – I’ve heard a lot of great things about the All About Reading program, and since I love the spelling side, I may try this out for my 4-year old.

Write Source – I like the way these are laid out to teach different writing traits and styles. I was going to purchase this last year but never got around to it. I hope to include it for our second grade studies.

 

Math:

Saxon Math by Houghton Mifflin – We used Saxon Math 1 for first grade and we purchased the manipulatives kit which we love and use often (read more about our math manipulatives here). I think we will end up using this program again but I’ve got a few others on my list that I may try in addition to this program.

Life of Fred – I’ve heard a lot of good things about this program and it takes a different approach to teaching math. Might be a fun twist to our traditional routine. Last year I tried to break our math studies up – using curriculum a few days while focusing on telling time, counting money, learning measurements, etc. – on other days. Life of Fred could be a fun alternative.

Math-U-See – Another program I have heard good things about. I haven’t done a lot of research into this one yet but I’ve got it on my short list.

 

Science:

Science Fusion –  This is the program we used last year and my son loved it. It comes with a work text that the student can write in plus online access to interactive online lessons, experiments, and additional printable worksheets and learning material. I liked the program but the only drawback was that I found it a bit difficult to navigate some of the online content and it took me a lot of time to get our lessons together because of this. Someone more savvy may find this program easier to use. We may go ahead an choose this program again for the simple fact that it was one of my sons favorite parts of school.

Houghton Mifflin Science – This is the other science program by Houghton Mifflin (also publishes Science Fusion) and we got the first grade set by mistake last year so I was able to see the difference between the two. This is more expensive but it has its benefits. For example, the printable materials and teacher resources come on a cd-rom that is much easier to navigate and you can quickly select and print the resources you want to use for the lessons. This is the same text that many schools use for their science curriculum and there is a homeschool version as well as a teacher’s version.

Apologia – This creation-based curriculum is on my short list. I like the areas of emphasis like botany, astronomy, and zoology.

 

Social Studies:

Harcourt Horizons – For first grade we did a little bit of everything for social studies. We didn’t have a specific curriculum to follow. I like the idea of having it all in one place when I want it, but being able to branch out when we are feeling adventurous. I’ve heard good things about this one so I may consider it for our 2nd grade studies.

 

What are your favorite curriculum programs to use? Do you buy specific and structured programs or do you use other resources? Please share your favorites (and your least favorites)!

Summer + Giveaway = Best Summer Ever!

summer giveaway

I have a lot to be excited about right now. A – It’s summer vacation! Today is our last day of school and I look forward to spending time unhurried and unplanned. B – I found a great character building activity book that I love and the kids love, so we’re going to add those activities into our days when we’re hanging out at home with nothing to do. C – I’ve got a giveaway going on for some of the fun activity books I sell as an Usborne Books & More Independent Consultant. I wanted to be sure to tell you about the giveaway with plenty of time to enter. If you win, you’ll get 3 activity books – Optical Illusions Activity Book, What Shall I Draw?, Awesome Doodle Pad – and a set of Brain Games wipe-clean reusable flash cards. The books are super fun and perfect for introducing to the kids when they start complaining that they have nothing to do. To enter the giveaway visit Dandelion Moms here.

Yes, I am excited about not having to plan for lessons every day, but we are a learning house and we will continue to add educational elements to our days. One thing we will be doing is continuing with our character building activity book. Daily Character Education Activities (affiliate link) has 180 lessons that focus on citizenship, compassion, fairness, honesty, respect, responsibility, self-discipline, integrity, trustworthiness, and perseverance. This week we talked about how being a good citizen means respecting all creatures – including animals. We talked about how we can help the animals around us, and how we can respect their space. We are also learning a song that is included in the book about character and the kids really enjoy learning the new verses every week.

daily character education activities

The book gives several ideas for making bird feeders including pretzel hangers, pine cone feeders, and apple treats, but we decided to try the cereal feeder. We took a long piece of yarn and strung it with Cheerios and hung it on our tree that is frequented by bird friends in the morning hours. This activity was great for both of my kids. My first grader still enjoys activities of this nature and it’s a good fine motor skill workout for both of them (ages 7 and 3). We didn’t spot any birds feeding from our cereal but both strings were empty the following day – I’m guessing from the opossum or rats that hide quietly in the tree. Either way, the kids were excited to see that their feeders had fed something.

 

cereal feeder

 

Happy summer! How do you plan to pass the time?

Countdown to Summer

countdown to summer

While some people are already into their summer vacation, we are still going, with just a a little more than a week left. We finished all of our curriculum that we purchased at the beginning of the year, and now we are reviewing a few of the things my first grader needs work on and doing deeper research into topics we are interested in. As the end of the year approaches, I decided I wanted to give my son an end of the year survey. He filled out a birthday questionnaire the other day and I loved his answers so I look forward to seeing what he has to say for this one. Here’s a copy of the questionnaire if you’d like to try it with your kids too.

End of the Year Questionnaire

In addition to review, we are doing some character building activities and we’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors to wrap up the year. Do you go full steam to the end of the year or do you wrap it up when you’ve covered all the bases? What do you like to do when you’ve used up all of your curriculum?

 

Also, here are a few free storytime apps available for iPad. I don’t have an iPad so I haven’t been able to try them out yet. Hopefully they’ll be available for android soon as well!

Bloomie & the Birthday Blunder   not without bear

 

 

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