Friday, January 31, 2014

Even Homeschoolers Get Snow Days

WE GOT SNOW!  I told the boys that homeschoolers don't get snow days, but I was wrong.  Well, partly.  We don't school if Dad is home from work.  It's like no one can focus when Dad's here because everyone wants to play or talk or hang out.  And while most homeschoolers may not get snow days, soldiers do when post is closed.  So amid my very carefully planned week of school, 2 days were taken up by the excitement of snow.  And that's ok.  :)

I took a few photos of their fun--not too many because I don't actually like snow at all, but I've got a few to share with you.  Because it's incredibly funny, and all boys were laughing at the end of this, here's a lovely photo sequence of a little brother's revenge.

Zander planning his attack.
Grabbing up some snow.
Trying to make a snowball (but the snow was very fluffy).
Taking aim.
Got him! 
My little cutie.

Here's the thing...we're doing school tomorrow.  On a Saturday!  WHAT?!  Unfathomable.  However, I had planned this really awesome project of building the Alamo and when we lost track of time, the project got pushed aside.  I think the boys are really going to enjoy it so I don't want to put it off until next week. Plus, we're going to watch the movie, The Alamo, while we're building.  We're going to make dough and dig out little plastic army guys to use.  It's going to be cool.  It won't even feel like school so maybe they won't fuss about it.  Maybe.

I hate to make this a short post, but I plan on posting tomorrow or Sunday to show off our project.  Plus, I'm hosting a meeting at my house tonight and I still have a few things to do to get the house ready for company.  Did you see my post about our light energy lesson?  Did you try to light a light bulb with comb and some hair?  I'd love to hear if it worked for you  (it took us a few tries the second time we did it).

Oh, before I forget.  Check out my littlest guy "doing his school work" before bedtime the other day.  Also, someday I'll learn to turn my phone the correct way when taking a video.  I know.  :)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Three Free Months of SpellingCity!

Have you ever tried +VocabularySpellingCity?  We use it in our homeschool and LOVE it!  Until January 31, 2014, you can receive THREE FREE MONTHS with the purchase of a premium membership!

But wait, I thought SpellingCity was free?

Well, it is.  However, there is also a premium membership option.  It costs just $30 each year and offers some incredible benefits:

  • Automated student record keeping.
  • Unlimited access to vocabulary content!  
  • Premium learning games and activities.
  • Writing practice activities with customizable instructions and videos.
  • Student and list grouping features for differentiated learning.
  • The ability to create assignments for individual students.

With this special offer, you'll receive 15 months for the price of 12!  What a great deal, right!?

Use offer code 3FORFREE at checkout.  

But like I said, you better hurry!  Offer valid until January 31, 2014!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Experiment Fail Into Experiment Success

What do you do when your science experiment doesn't work?  Typically, I try to test out our experiments prior to calling the boys over to the counter.  I like to know something is going to work.  Sadly, I did not heed my own advice when working on this week's science project.  Oops.

What We Tried to Do

We were attempting to make a wet cell battery.  I'm sure for someone somewhere, this experiment has worked.  However, despite our SEVERAL attempts, each time changing something to hopefully produce results, we did not get it to work.  

Essentially, you soak strips of paper towels in lemon juice and layer copper coins (pennies) and non-copper coins (not pennies) in between them.  For example, it would be penny, lemon-soaked paper towel, dime, lemon-soaked paper towel, penny, lemon-soaked paper towel, and so forth.  You end up with a stack of ten coins, layered with the soaked squares.  Then, you wet your fingers with the juice, pick up the stack between your index fingers and it's supposed to give you a little zap!  

We tried strips of paper towels that were 1" by 2" (per the instructions), lemon juice, five pennies, and five nickels.  Nothing.

I did some research on the internet and tried smaller squares (one site said the paper towel pieces shouldn't touch) and replaced the lemon juice with vinegar.  Nothing.

I tried even smaller squares and back to the lemon juice.  Nope.

It was a dud.  I have about a dozen photos of everything we tried but since it didn't work, I didn't think there was any point in sharing them.  

What We Did Instead

I had to think of something cool to bring them back to the science side.   They were doubtful at this point.  Lost interest, wandering away from our "lab."  I had to pull them back in, make them excited about cool science stuff again.  I pulled out my phone and googled away.  I found it.

Lighting a light bulb with just two things, a comb and some hair.  

I gathered our supplies:
A comb and a light bulb on our handy science tray.

My incredibly goofy son and his crazy hair!

We gathered around in the dark bathroom and set to work.  You are to run a comb through your hair 30 times to build up enough static electricity.  Then, in the dark, you touch the comb to the bottom of the light bulb.  It doesn't light up the room, but you can see the light flicker.  In a dark room with less than a second to take the picture, there was no way I could capture the flicker.

So began our discussion of electrical and power energy.  I'm really ready to move on from electricity, but I believe we have one more experiment to go.  This time, however, we're busting out our Snap Circuits set and making all sorts of different things.  Plus, it's a box of no-fail fun!

This week, we have a lot of cool learning in store for the boys.  Unfortunately, I planned a big project for the middle of the week when I forgot I had a day long visit to the clinic.  We'll see if we can work around that.  The good news is, the babysitter is in college earning a degree in education.  Score! :)

Also, if you've made a wet cell battery before...what did I do wrong??

Friday, January 24, 2014

Weekly Recap with Video of a Drone

Whew, what a week!  It started out busy but I finally find a nice lull to our evenings around Wednesday.  And we really needed the rest.

Our week started out well with a lovely dinner with friends on Sunday.  I got to entertain and Adam got to bust out his favorite new toy, his Parrot AR.Drone.  Boys and their toys, I guess.  Basically, it's a hovercraft kinda thing that flies around the room (or outside).  It's controlled by a tablet and takes video, but no audio.  Here's a stock photo of a drone:

And now here's a video of the drone flying around my living room while Adam attempts (and succeeds) flipping it for the first time:

We worked on a big science experiment Monday (see my science series blog post) and Adam was able to do a lot of the explaining.  The boys love it when Dad is the teacher and I love it when he's teaching science.  Adisson is about to finish up his electricity unit and move on to organisms.  It will be a fun change of pace as we discuss relationships organisms have with their natural environment during our ecology awareness lessons.  I try to match Zander up with Adisson so we can all do science together.  Zander just likes to be included in "cool 5th grade stuff!"

On Monday night, we attended a hockey game.  It was Scout Night so we included our whole Cub Scout Pack.  It was such an enjoyable evening!  Adisson even got to be part of the color guard so he held the pack flag during the national anthem.  Talk about a proud mama moment!  It was nice to do something fun together as a family and as a group of Scouts.  Fortunately, we have another awesome activity scheduled for tomorrow night, but you'll have to read about that next week.

School Stuff

This week our lessons have included learning more about the Oregon and Santa Fe Trails.  We've discussed hardships faced by those pioneers heading west as well as lengthy discussions about the wardrobe of fur traders (my kids are goofy!).  I'll tell you, though, I'm very excited about next week's project--the plan is to build a model of the Alamo!  

Zander's reading is getting better everyday and he gets so excited about it!  I  love that excitement!!  It's the thing I cling to when lessons don't go as planned, a subject takes longer to learn than expected, when frustrations run amok in our homeschool...I think back to the excitement I see in my son when he finally understands how to read.  THAT is what homeschooling is about.  I get to be the person who will help him when he struggles, to worry when he's not grasping the concept, and the one who gets to see the light in his eyes when he gets it.  It's magical.  

Now, it's Friday.  It's been kind of an odd week with errands to run and Monday being a holiday.  I've decided I want to do something fun this afternoon.  Around here, art class is about as fun as school gets.  I saw this brilliant post about snowman art, an aerial view of a snowman.  I've been waiting for the time to do it.  Now is the time.  :)

My oldest artist.
We discussed the words aerial and perspective.  I asked what the house looks like when we're standing at the bottom of the driveway.  You can see the garage doors, the front door, and windows.  But what does the house look like when Dad flies his drone up above the roof?  That's how we explained the art vocabulary words today.

My music lover doing some rad art.
Sometimes, this little guy above feels like he gets lost in the shuffle.  He's not the oldest who has extra privileges, not the youngest who knows he's my baby.  So I tell him everyday that I love him so much, just as he is, just for being awesome.  He says "I know, Mom, you tell me all the time."  A win for mom.

Batman doing an awesome job at this project.
Jax was very excited at the start of this project because he was doing really well with following instructions.  He's been working on "writing" more lately so he felt like a big kid getting to use a few different art mediums.  He's been able to write his name for a few weeks so he wants to write it all of the time.  Today, he got to use oil pastels and he was excited to make circles and x's.  You know, because those are in his name.   :)

Our finished pieces.
Jax is the bottom right...he was done for today.
He says he'll finish it later.  :)
I've got kind of a big thing coming up tomorrow.  I want it to go amazingly well, but I'm nervous.  I can't wait to share it with you.  Thank you, reader, for spending some of your day in our home, reading about our homeschool.  I love sharing it with you.  

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Book Review of Brick by Brick: My Custom LEGO Racer

Author: Chris Capps

I love to read.  It's always been one of my favorite things to do.  As a mother, some of my reading selections have changed over the years.  I now read about parenting, time management, and home organization in addition to interesting fiction stories (which I don't have the chance to read often enough).  Recently, though, I was asked to review a book about LEGO.  If you have followed my blog for more than a week, you'll see we are HUGE fans of LEGO bricks.  It started out with just one LEGO fanatic when my son got his first set as a Christmas gift when he was four, but over the years, all five of us have become LEGO fans.

With this book, I got the chance to combine something I love--reading--with something that I share as a connection to my sons--LEGO.  I love it when worlds combine.

In the beginning, you are introduced to Mad Max.  He takes on the thrill of a lifetime as he details his creation, the X1R Project.  He works for a TOP SECRET company, but is able to share a few details of his project and others that he's completed.  He's commissioned for a prestigious race and makes a racer that dares other cars to even try to compete against him.  The cool part?  He shows you his X1R in very detailed photos, explaining every piece and how each one works to make his racer super fast.  As an exciting surprise, he also shares pictures of his Downhill Race Day!

Not to leave out any part of his team, Mad Max showcases each crew member, security guard, and even Jake, the dog.  My favorite, however, is definitely Aubrey and his spunky mohawk.  There's no shortage of amazing characters in Max's photo album.  Besides, what fun is a book about LEGO without pictures of awesome Minifigures?

However, I think the story following Mad Max's retelling of his amazing race was equally thrilling.  Here, you read how the author of this story, Chris Capps, entered the LEGO Smart Creativity Contest.  I won't give away many details--I don't want to spoil the book for you!--but the journey he took with his family to build something worth entering was awe-inspiring.  I must also say, I got goosebumps when he said they had the chance to meet Stephen Turnipseed, the President of LEGO.  (And yes, that's really his name!)  The result of the contest was....well, to find out, you'll have to read the book!

Side Note: I've finally taken the time to look up the correct spelling of LEGO.  It's just that...LEGO.  Not Lego.  And there are no Legos.  It's LEGO, both singular and plural.  LEGO bricks if you must.  But certainly not Legos.  Sorry for the mistakes in previous posts...I'm now educated on the proper usage.  :)

I received a copy of this book to review.  I was not compensated for my review, my opinions are mine! :)  Besides, who wouldn't love a book about LEGO bricks?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Science Series: Conductor or Insulator?

It's time for Science!

Last week, I told you that I'd be starting a weekly Science Series on my blog to show you some of the cool stuff we are working on in science.  It would have been great for me to start this at the beginning of Adisson's electricity unit instead of in the middle, but it is what it is.

Adisson's lessons in science are from his Time4Learning units.  Right now, we're working on an electricity unit, which he finds very interesting.  I think it helps because his Dad enjoys talking about electricity and knows a lot about the subject, as well, so it gives them something else to discuss together.  Zander is following along in the experiments and learning what he can through his Science4Us activities.  Those resources are where a majority of our information is going to come from in this series, in addition to activities/worksheets/videos found on the internet.

Last week, we discussed electrical conduction.  To help Zander understand some of what we'd be talking about, we read through the electrical energy module at Science4Us.  He became familiar with the words electrical energy, electricity, convert, power lines, and generate.  Adisson's lesson on Time4Learning included keywords like electricity, insulator, and conductor.  An experiment listed through T4L
was set up to determine which materials would be conductors or insulators.  Fortunately, Adam was able to scrounge up a lot of what we needed and everything else was found around the house.  The following is a list of supplies necessary:

  • D cell battery
  • flashlight bulb
  • two 4-inch pieces of insulated wire with ends stripped to expose wire
  • electrical tape
    These are the test items needed:
    • paper clip
    • string
    • small rock
    • screwdriver
    • cellophane tape
    • glass 
    • metal spoon

Adam soldered the wires to the flashlight bulb to make it easier for us to use in this experiment.
He also threw in the popsicle stick as another test item.  

The first part of the experiment involved taping the wire to the light bulb and to the bottom (negative terminal) of the battery.  Then, laying the battery on the counter.  Instructions were then given to pick up the remaining loose end of the wire by the insulated part and touch the exposed end to the top (positive terminal) of the battery.  Because the circuit is complete, which means the electrons can flow from the battery, through the wire and the light bulb, and back to the battery--the light bulb should light.  This was a test in ensuring your light bulb works and the wires are making contact.

The circuit is closed so the light bulb is lit.
Also, I have no idea why he's so goofy in pictures.

He promised to smile nicely. 

The second part of the experiments was to test which items we had to see which were conductors or insulators.  We needed to place one time at a time on the countertop to test, careful not to touch the item.  Then, touch the top of the battery to one end of the item and the wire to the other end of the item.  Did the light bulb light?  We were warned: Don't keep the electricity flowing through the item for a long time.  Conductors can get hot!  We tested each item on the list and the fell into one of two categories, insulators or conductors.

No light = insulator.

Light = conductor.

We discussed together what happened in the experiment and why some items conducted electricity and some did not.  Prior to testing each item, the boys predicted whether it would be an insulator or conductor.  I wrote down their predictions and then the results.  We had a fun time working on this science experiment together!  This week, Adisson will learn about circuits and Zander will continue watching some videos at Science4Us to better understand what electricity is and how we get it to our home.

Experiment print out from Time4Learning and information from Science4Us.

And there's the first post in our new Science Series!  What did you think?

Friday, January 17, 2014

End of the Week Recap

This year, I'm working on some changes to my blog.  It was just a few months ago that I made a new blog and incorporated some additional social media.  I'm also excited about other changes I have in mind, chief of which is posting more often.  You'll now find our weekly recap on Friday afternoon, a brand-new science series each Monday, and posts about anything else on Wednesday.

I'm thrilled to be doing more of my favorite activity--writing.  I hope you will check-in with us more often as we talk about what is going on in our homeschool.  If you want to be sure you catch every interesting post filled with stories about the silliest kids I know, you could follow my blog via e-mail.  You could also comment every now and then so I know the internet isn't eating my words.  :)  Just sayin'.....

So, what did we do this week?

This week went pretty well.  Adisson is learning about adverbs and critical thinking, but I worry I'm not having him do enough writing exercises.  He's been working on his blog, but I'm still correcting a lot of his posts.  Maybe my expectations of him being able to write with fewer mistakes are rather high, but usually the mistakes are punctuation and capitalization--neither of which he should be struggling to do well.  I think he's going to have a weekly writing assignment for his blog.  He's allowed to write about topics of his choice so he's likely not going to notice when I "encourage" him to write more.

My middle guy turned 7 in November.  I started working with him on his reading skills when he was four.  It wasn't "clicking" with him like it had with his older brother.  I'd put away his lessons for awhile and try again a few months later, but I could tell it wasn't time for him.  Last year, he made progress and could read easy beginner books, but it still wasn't there, he still wasn't ready.  This year, we've been going slowly so as not to scare him away from wanting to learn.  It's working.  :)  When we were out running errands the other day,  he just started reading every sign he could see.  Some were too difficult and he skipped those, but many were words he could sound out.  My heart soared, as did his confidence.  More to come.

Learning + Crafts = Extra Fun!

In Adisson's social studies, we've been talking about the westward movement.  Early American history is fascinating time for me to read about and I think Adisson's been enjoying this time period, as well.  In our discussions and reading about families heading west, we decided to make a prairie schooner.  I found a really helpful tutorial over at The Crafty Classroom.

Zander and Adisson's prairie schooners.

 We also visited our favorite homeschool bookstore this week and picked up a few books about pioneers.  We found this incredible booklet detailing all the aspects of a prairie schooner.  We measured out how big an average wagon was and talked about how we'd have to fit everything we own in that amount of space, careful not to forget the supplies we'd need.

Coming up

As previously mentioned, Monday will be my first post in our new homeschool science series.  We will use Adisson's science lessons through +Time4Learning Online Curriculum and pair Zander's lesson using +Science4Us lessons.  If you aren't familiar with Science4Us, it's an incredible resource for your science curriculum, kindergarten through second grade.  Be sure to look for it on Monday!  

Have a stunning weekend!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

It's Time for Field Trips!

Last week was a busy one for me, but a relatively low-key one for the kids.  After traveling for a few weeks and spending all of our time in Ohio dealing with illness, the boys had asked if we could have a few days of nothing once we got home.  I gladly obliged--but Mom never has a few days of nothing.  And if I thought last week was busy, this week is going to be double the fun.  We're definitely going to be back in the swing of things.

So my last blog post was about my resolutions or goals for the new year.  I only listed a few goals because I'm easily overwhelmed but I'm ready to get started with them.  One of them was more field trips and it just so happens that Adam has Friday off this week so I think we're going to check out a new place.  Here are a few places in the area that I'd like to visit in the coming months

And this week, I'm hoping to check out the Airborne & Special Operations Museum.

The boys are excited about any field trip, but when Dad is able to come along with us, it turns into something extra special.  In fact, the other day when I was getting Jaxon breakfast after Adam had already gone to work, Jax asked "Why is Dad gone and you are here?"  Hmmmm. :)

Anyway, this week will be the week we get this train back on the track.  School, chores,'s all back in full force.  As far as school goes, here's what we have in store:

Adisson working on a birdhouse with his Memaw in Ohio.
In Social Studies, we will be discussing the movement west and pioneers.  We'll be making a prairie schooner (well, Adisson will make his, I'll help Zander with his, and Jax will start with his, get bored about three minutes in and I'll finish it) so look for pictures of our project!  For Science, Adisson will continue learning about circuitry.  He has a really awesome Snap Circuits kit that we'll use to practice some hands-on learning.  In Language Arts, he'll be reviewing adverbs.  In Math, he'll be finishing up a volume of his Life of Fred studies.

Zander working on his birdhouse.
Zander will continue working on his reading fluency.  After his Time4Learning Language Arts lessons, we'll practice what he's learned with some easy reader books.  He gets very excited to read a new book.  In Math, Zander is learning about fractions (obviously in very simplistic terms).  We'll continue discussing citizenship for Social Studies and his Science lessons will be about living/nonliving things.  

A clock and a pizza party from his Aunt Ree!
We're going to be reading through some Sesame Street books and practicing letter recognition. He'll have some time on the computer because he has to be just like his big brothers.  He's not working on SAT games or anything, but he needs his turn to play!  Jax got a super neat clock for his birthday so we'll be using it for some Math fun.  This will be good for Zander, too as he's learning to tell time.  

Speaking of Jaxon, my littlest guy turned 4 over the weekend.  In some ways, I can't believe that my youngest son is already 4.  I can't believe this is our last baby, but I won't open that can of worms here.  I'll be typing through tears if I start talking about how my kids are all growing up!  He said he had a great birthday!  Today, we worked on moving Jaxon into Zander's room and turning Jaxon's room into a playroom.  The two of them are thrilled with the outcome.  Yay!

My birthday guy enjoying some birthday fro-yo!

I've got some great blog posts in store for the coming weeks.  I would be THRILLED if you'd consider subscribing to my blog.  What an awesome way to support a homeschooler, right?! :)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Homeschool Goals for 2014 about a difficult trip!  Sick kids, snowy weather, all five of us catching a short-lived flu ON THE WAY home.  Goodness!

So we're home now and there is a mountain of tasks that need to be completed.  The van was emptied of all our Christmas goodies and luggage, which is now scattered throughout the house.  The Christmas decorations need to be taken down and put away.  We're still on a very light school schedule so the rest of the month needs planned out as far as homeschooling goes.  In Ohio, I spent a lot of time thinking about how I want to reorganize parts of the house so I want to get started on that project.  Sigh.  One thing at a time, Nicole.  :)

I want to share New Year's Resolutions with you this week since we're well into the new year.  I'd love to have a big list of all the specific things we're going to accomplish this year, but I have to think realistically.  Life happens here, a lot, so I want to be sure to set myself up for attainable goals.  I also want to limit myself to just a few resolutions so success seems possible, likely even.  Here ya go:

More Science  
My boys love science.  They love it when it's dirty and messy or when we get surprising results.  They love to gather around the kitchen counter and work on a cool project together.  This year, I'm aiming for more science projects.   If I'm putting a time frame on it, I want to do a big project together once each week.  Each of them do science activities as part of their daily lessons, but this is more than that.  It's us together, learning together.

More Field Trips
And man, do they love field trips.  Especially when we get together with our homeschool friends.  I don't blame them, I love field trips, too!  We're in a season of life where a stroller isn't necessary and a big diaper bag full of bottles isn't being lugged around.  Each of them enjoy the places we go.  This is such a great time to cultivate those learning experiences.  Ideally, I'd like to check out a new place each month and also try to visit some of our favorite places again.

More Structure
The boys don't necessarily say to me, "Mom, make our day more structured," but it's a need I have to make our days run smoother.  I'm hoping to implement a system of earning screen time next week so we can have more control over that aspect of our day and also work on training up some fellas that can take care of themselves and a household.  There's not a single reason I can think of that my sons can't be more involved in the upkeep of our home.

There you have it.  I know, I don't have a list of ten goals, each one more specific than the last.  And that's ok.  This is what will work for our family.  I'm excited about it because I'm already thinking of ways to implement the changes I want to see.  There are other things I want to do--like include more Legos into our learning and read more books together, but I want to keep my list short.

Do you make New Year's Resolutions, whether for homeschooling or not?  What are some of yours?  Comment below.