Adventures for Junior Paleontologists

I took my dino-loving kids to the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology. They have monthly Discovery Days and this month’s theme was Making Monsters: Science in Art. It was our first time to the museum and we instantly fell in love.

For $3 per person we received admission to the museum and got to participate in several awesome activities that blended science and art. We listened to a paleoartist, Brian Engh, talk about how he works with fossils and paleontologists to create the artistic renderings of what they believe the dinosaur looked like and the environment it lived in. What a cool job!

The first activity was about how to draw dinosaurs. We chose from several step-by-step drawing worksheets to sketch the dino of our choice. Next we cut out tangrams and arranged them on the page to create our own dinosaur. Then we chose from a selection of cut-out fossil body segments that we pieced together to create a new dinosaur. Finally, we were given a scavenger hunt list with different Pokémon characters. We had to find the fossil in the museum of the dinosaur that inspired each Pokémon character. Super cool. My Poke-fans loved this part.

  

The Alf is a fantastic location with imaginative hands-on activities that my junior paleontologists enjoyed. We will go back and I highly recommend it. Such a treat on a Saturday afternoon.

And because we can’t get enough fossils, we went to the Homeschool day at the La Brea Tar Pits a few days later. There were very few activities this time around so I was not as impressed, but homeschool day gives us a chance to go down into the Observation Pit which is usually closed unless you’re on a guided tour. We love it down there!

Resources for Junior Paleontologists:

 

 

 

Stretching Our Legs

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I think about my time as a child and all the days I spent sitting bent-kneed at a desk with worksheets and blackboards for my view. I am lucky enough to provide a different experience for my own children. One of my favorite things about being a homeschool parent is our freedom to explore. I like to take the kids hiking during the cooler months of the year. Previously, I focused on shorter hikes with interesting elements. But now we have entered a new phase. The kids no longer complain after the first mile. They look for what’s up ahead and keep moving. I can say code words like “geocache” and they’re on a wild hunt to find one. Or I can bring along my secret weapon – my nephew – wherever he goes, they go. I carry plenty of water and snacks and they keep going.

imag0199 The last two hikes we did were about 5 miles each and we were greatly rewarded for our efforts. First, we went to Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park for a hike to Dripping Cave, AKA Robbers Cave. Legend has it that cattle thieves and train robbers used this cave as a hideout years ago. The trail is relatively easy and mostly flat. We parked at the Awma Road parking lot and hiked the Aliso Creek trail to the Wood Canyon trail. Out and back it’s about 4.6 miles but if you turn off to explore Cave Rock from the Wood Canyon trail you add about another half mile to the hike. When we arrived at Dripping Cave the kids were excited to explore and loved climbing the other nearby rocks. We had our lunch here and then headed back the way we came. We were lucky enough to cross paths with a deer on this hike, which doesn’t happen very often, but the kids were delighted to see it.

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This week we decided to explore Red Rock Canyon near Foothill Ranch. We started at the Borrego Canyon trailhead at Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park. The 1.3 mile trail is very slightly uphill for an easy climb. At the intersection of the Mustard trail we stopped to have snacks and were entertained by a tiny gopher who loves oranges. From Mustard, we connected to the Red Rock Canyon trail and followed a rocky dry river bed, climbing a bit more than we expected. The climbing and rock scrambling was worth it though, as the payoff dropped us in the center of rocky red cliffs that surrounded us with majestic formations carved by erosion. the kids enjoyed climbing and exploring the walls of Red Rock Canyon and we spent a good 45 minutes exploring before heading back. Overall, we hiked about 5 miles round trip for this one, but we enjoyed all of it.

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I love these days where we put the books and worksheets and computer assignments aside and get outdoors and walk the dirt paths to wondrous worlds making memories with our family and friends. Never did I imagine that I would be able to spend the days like this with my kids and I am thankful for the opportunity. They always ask, “Do we have to take the freeway?” Well, yes kids. Because everywhere worth going requires a little bit of effort. But soon, it will be time again to stretch your legs.

What’s your favorite Southern California hiking spot?

New Articles at Dandelion Moms!

So it’s been awhile since I posted here, but it isn’t because I haven’t been busy. I’m also the educational contributor over at Dandelion Moms and I’ve posted a few things there. Check out what I’ve been up to! Just click on the image to read the articles:

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A lesson in the desert is an article about our experiences and education from our camping trip to Joshua Tree National Park. So much fun!

Portrait of happy mother and two daughters cooking in the kitchen

Here you’ll find a few fun activities that will keep your kids brains working this summer. Don’t let them get caught up in hours of video games – get them moving and keep their heads in the game so they are ready for the new year that lies ahead!

I’ll be posting again soon with some of our favorite activities that are educational, but don’t feel too much like school. Stay tuned!

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.

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)!